Friday, 23 January 2015

Scribble Creatures Spotlight: Return to Oz

It's the new year (well, it's January anyway) so there's no better time to start a new regular feature for this blog! From now on, once a month I will put a spotlight on something - be it book, film, television series, fictional character or otherwise - that goes under-appreciated in the big wide world but I think deserves your attention. This month, we kick off this new feature with a trip to a magical world. And you and you and you'll be there...


I've always been fond of the Oz books. If memory serves, I believe they were the first of the classic children's fairy tale fantasies - the Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan - that I read. Equally, everyone's favourite 1939's The Wizard of Oz was watched over and over again. But my favourite story set in the marvellous land of Oz was definitely Wizard's often misunderstood younger sibling, Return to Oz. While its predecessor is forever lauded, Return is often consigned to 'Weirdest Movie Sequel' Lists. Weird it may be but, rather than being a failing, that is really one of its charms.

Six months after her first journey to Oz (but actually made 46 years after Wizard), Dorothy has been having trouble sleeping so she is taken to Dr Worley's asylum to be cured by electrotherapy. But a storm one night saves her from the horrible place and puts her back in Oz which once again desperately needs Dorothy's help...

For starters, Return makes a cleverer move than most film sequels by actively aiming for something new. Unlike the passable Oz: The Great and Powerful, Return to Oz does not just leech off the original, instead translating elements of the classic film to suit its own purpose. One of the most striking ways in which it does this - at least for a child - is by literally bulldozing through the unhampered gaiety and joy of Wizard's Oz. The shining Emerald City is reduced to ruins and all your favourite characters - the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion - have been petrified into stone. From the off, the film makes sure we know we are in a different kind of Oz.

Possibly the film's most famous attribute is its scares, with many claiming it to be too scary for children. Personally, I wouldn't agree with that as I think its scares are one of the great delights of watching this as a child as well as underlying an important message. There is something sinister at every turn in this film - Nurse Wilson and the screams in the asylum, Princess Mombi's severed heads and, of course, the cackling, creaking Wheelers - yet like all the best fairy tales, this is offset by the knowledge that it will get better. Through the course of the story, Dorothy bands together with some new allies (who could be boring analogues of her more famous friends - Tik Tok = Tin Man, Pumpkinhead = Scarecrow - but they have enough of their own personality to set them apart) and is sure that she will be able to restore everything to the way it should be.

The reason Return to Oz is, I think, unfairly compared to Wizard is because people expect it to be full of songs and cheer. Instead it is a completely different beast, an alternate take on the same ideas. A wonderful, dreamlike film, it emphasises the questionable nature of Oz as a real place or a hallucination by the use of its surrealistic, offbeat stylings. The Wizard of Oz may be a delightful daydream but this is the scary yet meaningful nightmare that never leaves you.


More Like This: 

Tin Man

Return to Oz is by far from the only subversion of the popular Oz image. A few years ago there was this SyFy mini-series remixing of the Wizard of Oz story which employed more overtly fantasy genre elements. Starring Zooey Deschanel, it saw Kansas girl DG sent by a storm to the other world of The Outer Zone to stop the evil witch-queen Askedelia. It's a strange idea, to take one of the very first fantasy novels and redo it with modern fantasy clichés but if you can accept the premise it is a likeable runaround with comic relief coming from Alan Cumming's Glitch, a man missing part of his brain (you don't have to go see the Wizard to have the brains to guess who he's based off).

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

It would be easy to assume that Return to Oz was inspired by Tim Burton's own gothic fairy tale films, if it wasn't for the fact it came out before he was around. While many of his works have a similar tone to Return, the closest film to it in his oeuvre would be Alice, another creepier retelling-cum-sequel to a classic children's fantasy story. It is certainly inferior to Return but it is far from as bad as the critics say, featuring a likeably spirited Alice in Mia Wasikowska and, as ever from Burton, an eye-catching visual style.

Coraline

It really wouldn't surprise me if Neil Gaiman was a fan of Return to Oz, as his work and the film share a similar 'scairy tale' tone. The crossover between the two is no more evident than in Gaiman's Coraline. Both feature capable young girls thrust into a nightmarish other land containing twisted versions of people they know in the real world. The finale of Coraline always reminds me of the climax of Return in that they both feature the villain letting the girl play a game to find an object which will save her loved ones.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Monthly Mini-Reviews: December - Christmas Special

Well, it's that time again. Christmas has come and gone and it's literally only just turned New Year...
Oh, I can't lie. I'm afraid there's been a technical mishap here at Scribble Creatures HQ. This post, my Monthly Mini-Reviews Christmas Special, should have gone out in the first days of January but that doesn't seem to have occurred. I do apologise - I've no idea how that happened. It seems there is a Ghost of Christmas Past in the machine...
And speaking of ghosts in machines:

Black Mirror: White Christmas

It was only natural that Charlie Brooker's techno-paranoia anthology series would get a Christmas special. After all, what says Christmas more than a reminder that the future is just around the corner. Acting as the series usual trilogy of stories all in one, this feature-length episode serves us three interconnected tales from a chilling near-future (all based around Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall who both give terrific performances). First and foremost, Brooker's writing is once again on top form - the bleakness and the strangeness are cleverly ofset by the razor-sharp wit and satire that runs throughout. The second segment is the weakest and I have to say I saw some of the twists coming but that does not take away from the... enjoyment seems like the wrong word to attach to something so grim. So was it a white Christmas, after all? No, No, it was black. So very black.

Good Omens (radio series)

Following on from the terrific radio series of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere it was a no-brainer to adapt Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's comedy about the end of the world as a festive treat.
The story  - a distinctly British way of approaching the apocalypse - transitions well to the medium, ably helped by the drama's amazing cast. Comedians Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap are great choices for the roles of angel/demon partnership Aziraphale and Crowley (though I imagine many are still holding out for Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston if the story ever makes it to film) and are well supported by Merlin's Colin Morgan, Paterson Joseph and Louise Brealey amongst others. Overall, I may have preferred Neverwhere but this was still a wonderful slice of alternative Christmas entertainment. Well, nothing says Christmas like the Antichrist.

The Golden Compass

I've been avoiding The Golden Compass for years now due to its lacklustre reputation for being a poor adaptation of Phillip Pullman's popular His Dark Materials books. This Christmas, however, I gave in and gave it a go. Sadly the general consensus is right. Clearly made in an attempt to create another Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter franchise, the film has neither the flair nor confidence of those films and on top of that struggles to adapt Pullman's plot to the screen. That said, there are some pluses- if the script and direction are a bit lacking the visuals are terrific as Lyra's alternate world is brought to life with a vivid psuedo-Steampunk feel. Likewise, Nicole Kidman exudes icy evil as Miss Coulter and Dakota Blue Richards makes for quite a good Lyra. Despite these successes, though, The Golden Compass is not quite pointing in the right direction.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Leaving behind the Christmas viewing, we turn to something I was lucky enough to get for Christmas - Neil Gaiman's latest book! In it, Gaiman weaves together two traditional tales to form an original feminist fairy tale. As the book's blurb says 'no one is waiting for a prince to appear on his trusty steed here' - it is a queen who risks life and limb to save the sleeping beauty in this story. Gaiman's prose is as crisp and as evocative as ever but in truth the book belongs to both author and illustrator as Chris Riddell's illustrations, beautifully rendered in monochrome and gold, are as equally impressive as the writing. I have been a fan of Riddell since reading The Edge Chronicles when I was younger so am over the moon he is now Neil Gaiman's resident illustrator. A true piece of art, The Sleeper and the Spindle is a proper old-fashioned storybook that takes us back to once upon a time...

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Doctor Who - Review of the Year: 2014

Happy New Year, everyone! Now that 2014 has been engulfed in volcanic flames only to be reborn as the completely different 2015 (this is a ham-fisted Doctor Who reference, by the way) it's time to take a look back at the year just past. But this isn't a review of trivial things like world events, this will be a review of what's most important: the year in Who.


Starring: Peter Capaldi (the Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Ellis George (Courtney) and Michelle Gomez (Missy) with Nick Frost (Santa Claus)
Written by: Steven Moffat, Phil Ford, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Thompson, Gareth Roberts, Peter Harness and Jamie Mathieson
Directed by: Ben Wheatley, Paul Murphy, Douglas Mackinnon, Paul Wilmshurst, Sheeree Folkson and Rachel Talalay

Best Episodes

Robot of Sherwood
While it won't be one of the most remembered episodes of Series 8, I have a great deal of affection for Robot, particularly the way that it completely ignores the new moodier tone of Series 8 and delivers a hilarious swashbuckling adventure that could have come from any year of 21st century Who.

Flatline
Both of newcomer Jamie Mathieson's stories this year were belters but this one just pips Mummy on the Orient Express to the post. It's a creepy, clever story with a terrific monster in the Boneless and applause must be given for the amount of comedy mileage that is made from the Doctor being stuck in the tiny TARDIS.

Death in Heaven
'Dark Water' was really just a 45 minute long teaser trailer but this second part of 2014's series finale certainly packed a punch. With emotional moments abound, it gave us two well-executed monsters in the Master and her Cybermen as well as the amount of action and surprises as is customary for these occasions. The best finale since Series 5.

To read my reviews of all of Series 8, click here.

TARDIS Team

Firstly, surely the biggest change to the Doctor's character since the show's revival was made in 2014 as Mr Capaldi took over the role. A lot has been said about him returning to the style of classic Doctors but really the Twelfth Doctor is in a league of his own. He may have the dress sense of Pertwee and the crotchetiness of Hartnell but the hatred of soldiers, forgetfulness and gloomier outlook on the universe is new. That said, he may have already developed some of his own quirks but I don't think the Twelfth Doctor is one who has arrived fully formed. Whereas Ten and Eleven began their lives like baby kangaroos and gradually got weighed down by responsibilities and losses, I imagine we will see Twelve go in the opposite direction and have his lack of faith in himself and the universe overturned.
Perhaps for the first time in the show's history, both Doctor and companion underwent a regeneration this year - in a manner of speaking. The Clara of Series 7 was a bubbly young woman still raw from her mother's death when she was younger: she was the Doctor's 'impossible girl' who was absolutely devoted to him. In Series 8, Clara was a much more mature woman, with a life away from the Doctor in her job at Coal Hill School and in her doomed relationship with Danny Pink. Importantly, cracks also began to show in her relationship with the Doctor. The change wasn't a gradual one but rather - in classic Doctor Who style - an instant reboot, done to spice things up. As much of an improvement as it was, the difference in the two personas of Clara is a little jarring. But then, if any companion was to have different personalities it would be Clara 'Scattered throughout the Doctor's timestream' Oswald. As 'Last Christmas' ended with the two still travelling with each other, maybe we will get another regeneration of each character next year.

Story Arc

Ostensibly the main story arc of Series 8 was 'the Missy mystery' which consisted of the aforementioned Mary Poppins making enigmatic appearances at the ends of certain episodes. In reality, though, this was the B Story Arc, relegated to tagged on scenes. Due to this series' renewed emphasis on character, the real story arc of this year was the triangle of relationships between the Doctor, Clara and Danny. I can't say I was the biggest fan of this 'love' triangle as I think it tilted the emphasis of the show away from ordinary people travelling with the Doctor to a sort of quasi-superhero/secret identity story with Clara struggling to keep both sides of her life in check. However it was a brave experiment that must be commended and resulted in many fine performances from the three main cast members. Next year, however, I do hope the show will once more be about, as Rory once said, 'planets and history and stuff.'
On the other hand, when 'the Missy Mystery' reared its... umbrella in the series finale I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn't particularly been inspired by Missy's scattered cameos but I loved Michelle Gomez' madcap performance as a female Master and, in a series of brave experiments, I count her as one of the most successful. While it would perhaps be a tad predictable to have Missy at the heart of next year's story arc here's hoping she comes back as soon as possible.

The Doctor and Clara will return in 'The Magician's Apprentice'...

Friday, 26 December 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Last Christmas

'Last Christmas, the Eleventh Doctor went away. But, the very next day, the Twelfth Doctor came. This year, to save them from fears, Santa turned up on a sleigh...' 


'Every Christmas is last Christmas.'

After the harrowing events of series finale 'Death in Heaven' the mid-credits reveal of Nick Frost as Santa Claus seemed utterly ridiculous. This was a year where the show had aimed to be darker and more sombre - and now it was introducing the decidedly magical and whimsical figure of Father Christmas into the Doctor Who world. It can't be real. Surely it was all a dream? Well, yes, it may have been. But, that's a long story. 

Yes, as if to assure fans that he had not gone insane, Steven Moffat shrouds Santa Claus' (début?) appearance on the show in a very traditional Who plot, albeit with a few clever twists. In fact, the whole thing was boldly cerebral for a Christmas special, on a day when we traditionally use our stomachs more than our brains. Not to mention creepy, The Kantrofarri are something of a hodge-podge of familiar monsters (the episode itself even acknowledge's Alien's influence on them  - resulting in the story's best line from the Doctor: 'There's a horror movie called Alien? That's so offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.') but very effective nonetheless and fit well into this year's rousing roster of revolting reprobates who have suitably Moffatesque creepy powers including the Foretold and the Boneless.

Much like the previous two Christmas specials, 'Last Christmas' was an important instalment of the series ongoing plotlines rather than the traditional (this is Doctor Who's tenth annual Christmas episode, facts fans) standalone episodes. As such its heart is the Doctor and Clara's relationship, once again showing us that, though their friendship has not been easy this year, they have a deep affection for each other than keeps them together. The most touching and poignant parts of the episode are Clara's dream of a perfect Christmas and the Doctor's late arrival at Clara's. The scene with the elderly Clara, one who has travelled the world just as the character wished to do way back in 'The Bells of Saint John' and who needed the Doctor to help her pull a cracker just as she did for him in 'The Time of the Doctor', appeared to be a sad but fitting end for Miss Oswald... but appearances can be deceiving. Despite the evidence of the end of Series 8, the two best friends are sticking together. 

So what's next for the Doctor and Clara? I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of Faye Marsay's gobby Shona - the most fun and developed of this episode's guest stars. Perhaps the Doctor and Clara will gain a new companion in the first episode of Series 9, which we already know will be called 'The Magician's Apprentice.' After all, it was Shona who called the Doctor just that in this episode...

Although reminiscent of Inception and Who episode 'Amy's Choice', 'Last Christmas' was a highly original episode compared to most Christmas specials. Santa Claus' appearance was much publicised but really he and his comedy elves were just the tinsel decoration on the story branches of this Christmas special tree (yeah, I'll stop now) and was all the better for it. This was not my favourite Christmas episode but if every Christmas special is as good as 'Last Christmas' then we are sure to have a very merry Christmas for however long the Doctor Who Christmas tradition goes on for. Doctor Who - it's a long story.  

Nobody likes the tangerines - what's to be the Doctor's Christmas present this year?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Doctor Whos of Christmas Past - Version 2.0

A few years ago I made a handy go-to guide of Doctor Who's Christmas specials. Since then the Doctor has fought living snowmen, met his end on the planet Trenzalore and we've all got a little older. This year the cranky Twelfth Doctor comes TARDIS to sleigh with Santa Claus himself in 'Last Christmas' so it seems a perfect time to treat you all to an updated look at the Doctor Whos of Christmas Past...



The Christmas Invasion

Story: As the Doctor recovers from his recent regeneration, the Earth has to face the threat of the skeletal Sycroax without his help. Will he wake in time to save the world? And, more importantly, what will he be like?
Thoughts: Who's first Christmas special and still one of its best. It ingeniously makes us wait a whole forty minutes for our first proper meeting with this new Doctor  - which allows us to follow Billie Piper's Rose as she has to adjust to the change and fill the Doctor's role herself. With extra kudos for being a proper sci-fi story while also thoroughly Christmassy, this one's a ball!
Christmas Rating: 4 Christmas Puddings!

The Runaway Bride

Story: The Doctor suddenly finds himself with a new companion - mouthy bride-to-be Donna - who somehow ends up in the TARDIS rather than the alter. However, it seems something much bigger is happening this Christmas - something creepy-crawly...
Thoughts: A fun Christmas romp that well fits a day when everyone wants a jolly old time. Looking back now, its interesting to see Catherine Tate as someone quite different from the more rounded Donna from Series Four.
Christmas Rating: 3 Christmas Puddings!

Voyage of the Damned

Story: Taking a trip on an ill-fated starliner called the Titanic, the Doctor - accompanied by ambitious waitress Astrid - has to save the crashed ship's passengers from the deadly Host. With the ship threatening to destroy the Earth, just how many can the Doctor save this Christmas?
Thoughts: Essentially a Doctor Who disaster movie starring Kylie Minogue, 'Voyage' could have gone very wrong but thankfully its great fun. Aside from Kylie, the ensemble casts each get a chunk of the action and you find yourself playing the 'oh, I hope they (don't) die' game.
Christmas Rating: 3 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The Next Doctor

Story: During a Dickensian Christmas, the Doctor has a shock as he meets - the Doctor!
While coming to terms with his apparent future self, he also has a truck-load of Cybermen aided by the sinister Miss Hartigan. Surely two Doctors combined can stop the Rise of the Cyberking?
Thoughts: A total blast from start to finish, this is Davies' second-best Chrimble special. Initially feeling cheated by the reveal about Jackson Lake, I now have a great liking for David Morrisey's turn as the flamboyant would-be Doctor. Plus, a Victorian Christmas is always good.
Christmas Rating: 4 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The End of Time (Parts One and  Two)

Story: When the end of time itself is predicted, the Doctor is drawn into a battle that encompasses the whole of the human race, his greatest enemy and the return of something he had thought forever lost. This time the Doctor can't win. This is the Doctor's final battle.
Thoughts: As epic in terms of storytelling as Doctor Who has ever been, this is a grand, rather melancholy exit for David Tennant's Doctor that must have the most characters and places ever featured in a single Doctor Who story. On the downside, it's not all that Christmassy.
Christmas Rating: 3 Christmas Puddings!

A Christmas Carol

Story: To save a honeymooning Amy and Rory from crashing into Sardicktown, a Victorianesque world (that has flying fish!), the Doctor must teach the miserly Kazran Sardick the meaning of Christmas and to be a better person. Can the Doctor play the Ghost of Christmas Past well enough to save his best friends - and the heart of Mr Sardick?
Thoughts: My personal favourite Who Christmas special. Its also one of my favourite adaptations of Dickens' novel. Michael Gambon is terrific as Sardick, making the change in his character thoroughly believable, Matt Smith proves himself once again an absolute star while Steven Moffat delivers one of his best ever scripts. Superior Christmas entertainment.
Christmas Rating: 5 Christmas Puddings!

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Story: 1941, Madge Arwell and her children are evacuated to the country for Christmas where they encounter a quirky gentlemen with a blue box that houses another world inside. This winter wonderland is not as harmless as it once seems, however, as acid rain and the menacing Wooden King and Queen demonstrate...
Thoughts: Evoking CS Lewis' perennial children's classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an excellent idea from Moffat for a Who Christmas special - and he certainly pulls it off. Claire Skinner is fab as, I suppose, the stand-in companion while its all a light-hearted runaround with a tender centre (in the form of the loss of Madge's husband). Perfect for Christmas Day!
Christmas Rating: 4 Christmas Puddings!

The Snowmen

Story: On Christmas 1892, living snowmen threaten to take over the world - and even those intrepid investigators, the Paternoster Gang, can't stop them. At least the Doctor is around. Oh, if only he wasn't retired...
Thoughts: Christmas belongs to the Victorians, as this charming adventure with lashings of Henry James and Arthur Conan Doyle (and a huge dollop of Doctor Who nonsense for good measure) confirms. A rare Chrimble special that serves a purpose in the wider series arc - and is all the stronger for it.
Christmas Rating: 4 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The Time of the Doctor

Story: There is a message being beamed across the stars. The Doctor and his greatest enemies are gathered around a small planet to discover its meaning. The planet is the fabled Trenzalore, where the Doctor shall meet his end, and the message is the oldest question in the universe: 'Doctor Who?'
Thoughts: Much like 'The End of Time' before it, 'Time' has the tough task of providing a satisfying finale for a popular incarnation of the Doctor as well as a cheerful Christmas special - and is even more admirable as it does it in less than half the runtime of its predecessor. Moffat's script gives Number Eleven a fitting end and, as ever, Matt Smith gives a beautiful performance as the man who stayed for Christmas.
Christmas Rating: 3 1/2 Christmas Pudding!


And there we have it. As a Doctor Who fan I find it rather wonderful that Doctor Who is so wrapped up in the Christmas season that its a constant fixture of festive telly. After filling up on huge dinners, millions gather round their sets to watch a Doctor Who specially tailored for this time of year. And, as this guide shows, they're guaranteed something special.

Next time: This Christmas Doctor Who puts the claws in Santa Claus as the Doctor and Father Christmas team up when terrifying monsters cause havoc in the North Pole. 25th December at 6.15 pm on BBC One.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Next James Bond Film is... SPECTRE



The title of the latest James Bond film (the twenty fourth since the film series began fifty two years ago) has been revealed. And it is called...


DAH-DUM (or however else you represent the opening sting of the Bond theme). 

For those not in the know of James Bond history, Spectre is not only an oddly supernatural sounding title for a spy thriller it is also the name of Bond's greatest adversary. SPECTRE is a vast criminal organisation which Sean Connery's Bond (and briefly George Lazenby's version) tried to bring down throughout his tenure, It stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (with an acronym that forced they had to be evil). The organisation has been absent from the film series since Roger Moore took over as Bond in the 1970s but fans have predicted the return of SPECTRE in some form ever since Daniel Craig's rebooted iteration of the character discovered a new criminal organisation in town; Quantum, who were behind the exploits of his first two films. With the reveal of this film's title, it seems they might not be two distinct entities. Perhaps Quantum was a cover name for SPECTRE all along... 

The other big news today is the reveal of the cast. Of particular interest is Andrew Scott, known to Sherlock fans as everyone's favourite good old-fashioned villain Moriarty. It's thought that he will play another villain here, a mole inside MI5, but his casting might just be a clever move by the filmmakers to play off his status as a 'villain actor' to derail suspicion from the real mole. Who knows? 
Also in the cast is Christoph Waltz (who can be soon seen in Tim Burton's new film, Big Eyes). It is thought that he will be playing the traditional head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the original bald man with a white cat on his lap who became the clichéd image of a supervillain. Whether this is true or not the film does look set to follow Skyfall in taking classic Bond stylings and giving them a 21st century twist. 

Truth be told, the title strikes me as a bit odd - it's a bit like the next Batman film being called Joker or calling the next Sherlock episode, in which Andrew Scott will also appear, 'Moriarty.' Still, whatever the thoughts about the title let's hope the film can recreate the quality of previous Daniel Craig Bonds, Casino Royale and Skyfall (we don't mention Quantum of Solace), two films whose spectre will surely be hanging over this one. 


If you like James Bond and want to stay on this site (don't be shy - grab a chair, feed a fish) then you can read my review of Skyfall here


Spectre will premiere in cinemas in November 2015


Monday, 1 December 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: November - Sherlock Holmes Special

With the airing of Series 8, it's all been a bit Doctor Who crazy at Scribble Creatures over the last few months, and I feel I've been neglecting my other great fictional interest, Sherlock Holmes. November turned out to be a very Holmesian month with the release of Anthony Horowitz' Moriarty, a follow-up to his successful Holmes pastiche The House of Silk, and the opening of Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, the new exhibition about the detective at the Museum of London. Pulling these facts together, I deduced that I should dedicate this month's Mini-Review post to the world of the Great Detective. Now read on - the post's afoot.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

For many fans the premise of The Beekeeper's Apprentice and its many sequels is simply sacrilegious to the Holmes canon. It not only concerns Holmes' adventures after his retirement in Sussex - away from his synonymous London - but pairs him with someone other than Watson - Miss Mary Russell, a very modern (for the 1910s) young woman. Fans need not worry though as Laurie R King crafts a fantastic Holmesian pastiche, featuring a gripping mystery but with a strong heart in the growing friendship between Russell and Holmes. Russell herself is a very likeable character. She could come across as Mary Sue Russell as she worms her way into the circle of familiar characters - including a fleshed-out Mrs Hudson and her kindly 'Uncle John' - but she impresses us with her competence straight away. Like the best modern Sherlock Holmes stories, it is more invention than imitation but is peppered with pleasing references for Holmes fans who may be put off by the story's different take on Holmes. This fan, however, can't wait to read the next Mary Russell adventure.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Speaking of different takes on Sherlock Holmes, they don't come much more different than Guy Ritchie's blockbuster that reinvigorated the Great Detective's popularity, just a smidgen before Sherlock came along. When I first heard of this film I expected to dislike it but was pleasantly surprised. Its action-packed steampunk feel is infectious rather than annoying and, beneath the additions of fights and explosions that was made much of, the film sports a great 'Sherlock vs the supernatural' mystery that ends in a threat to the British Empire. And it finds time for cameos from Irene Adler and Moriarty himself. On the behind the scene documentary on the DVD, the cast and crew are eager to emphasise that their film is surprisingly close to Conan Doyle's originals. It's not but in this case that's no bad thing. Sadly I was less taken with the sequel but if they ever do a third film I hope it can reach the heights of this one.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 

As I had claimed November as Sherlock Holmes month, I couldn't resist a rewatch of my favourite Sherlock Holmes film. Generally forgotten in the filmography of revered director Billy Wilder, Private Life is an under-appreciated gem of a film, at times hilarious, thrilling and touching. Many criticise it for not delivering on its premise of exploring, well, you've read the title but I would say the film is clever enough to give a deeper look at the man beneath the logical mind while still providing a fun adventure about the Loch Ness Monster. The film was famously slashed by half of its original three hour running time before its release, but I really don't know how that extra time would have improved on the film as it is. I could go on but some idiot made this a post of mini-reviews. Instead, I'll let Past Me tell you some more about it here.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

By the time he wrote his last Sherlock Holmes stories - or 'police romances' as he called them - in the 1920s, Conan Doyle was long past caring for his most famous creation but, thankfully, that does not show when reading The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle clearly tried to spice things up for himself as some of these stories take unusual forms, in terms of narration - two stories are written from Holmes' perspective rather than Watson's and one is from an omniscient third person point of view - as well as narrative - one story, 'The Creeping Man', borders on science fiction. The other collections of the Canon are generally regarded more highly than this one but these twelve tales of deduction are still very enjoyable and essential for any reader of Sherlock Holmes. Despite his reluctance, we can be thankful that Conan Doyle continued to write for Sherlock Holmes all his life, giving us sixty fantastic stories that form the bedrock of an entire genre.

Pick of the Month: As I have only revisited the others on this post this month, the coveted prize has to go to The Beekeeper's Apprentice for introducing me to a new book series I must get my hands on. The choice was really quite elementary.
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