The Voyage of Charles Darwin

Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on February 12th, the birthday of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist whose On The Origin of Species famously introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwins birth, and – in November – the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work.

As such it seems appropriate that, while poking around YouTube I should stumble across the entire series of The Voyage of Charles Darwin. This is a six-part BBC series dating back to 1978 that depicts the life of Darwin and his formulation of the theory of evolution through natural selection. There is also an epilogue (which I havent watched yet, but will be doing soon) that throws some light on the origin of man, and his history.


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A number no more

Patrick McGoohan, the co-creator and star of The Prisoner died yesterday aged 80.

Although McGoohan did do a fir bit of work on ths stage, and signed a five year contract with Rank, resulting in several major roles, most notably as one of the Hell Drivers in 1957, he will always be best known for his TV work. After Danger Man, he became involved in his most iconic role as Number 6 in The Prisoner which he also produced and occasionally wrote and directed.

The surreal and allegorical series combined elements of spy fiction, science fiction and psychological drama resulting in something both unique and uniquely influential. The series followed a former British secret agent who, after abrubtly resigning, was kidnapped and held captive in a small coastal village by an unidentified power seeiking to establish the reason for his resignation. Throughout the series, Number Six attempts both to escape and to defy the various attempts to break his will. He also tries to discover which side his captors work for and the identity of the mysterious Number One, who runs The Village.

Way ahead of its time, the series featured striking and often surreal storylines and themes including hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of indoctrination. The influence of the series can still be seen today in modern series such as Lost and Battlestar Galactica as well as in films such as The Truman Show.

io9 has found a pretty good interview with McGoohan from 1977 in which he explains that he decided to help create The Prisoner because he was bored with the television of the time. He pitched the show to Lew Grade on a Saturday morning and by Monday had the budget to go ahead. McGoohan thought his concept would only sustain seven scripts, but Grade insisted on a full season of 26.

I remember seeing The Prisoner when it was retransmitted back in the early 90s - even then it was still one of the freshest and most memorable programmes on TV. McGoohan famously turned down the roles of both James Bond and Simon Templair, preferring to reinvent the secret agent archetype rather that simply follow it. Were all a lot richer as a result.

You can watch all of the original episodes on the AMC website, courtesy of the people who are remaking the show.

Another Remake: Day of the Triffids

Having decided already that the Survivors remake is a huge success, the BBC has announced plans to remake The Day of the Triffids.

My immediate reaction to this was less that enthusiastic, not least because I have been quite disappointed with Survivors so far. The first episode was over-long, too glossy and badly let down at the end by a potentially very hackneyed coda. The second episode felt like an hours worth of filler.

On reflection, I still think this is a bad idea:

Updating the sci-fi tale for modern audiences, the two-part drama revolves around a hunt for alternative sources of energy after the worlds fossil fuel supply runs out.

First of all, Im not convinced that the story needs updating. Its a classic tale of civilisation collapsing and a look at how the survivors might start to rebuild their society. Granted, if the BBC were planning to make a grittier adaptation that stuck closer to the novel than the 1981 series, then this might be a good idea.


Bringing a further terrifying dimension to the drama, the Triffids will also be recreated in high definition for viewers with HD televisions.

I have a nasty feeling that the producers are planning something glossy and mainstream that will look a bit dated almost as soon as the filming ends.


The first episode of the BBCs remake of their 30 year old SF series aired last night and – for the first time in a long time – I sat down to watch it. It wasn’t a bad start to the series but nor was it a great one.

There is a tendency these days to respond to any news of a remake to ask why bother. It’s a bit of a kneejerk response to assert that anything that was worth seeing the first time around should just be screened again and to assume that anything being remade was worth seeing the first time around. While it’s true that many remakes are dire, the approach does have value if the remakers have something new to say with the existing story.

The idea of a virus wiping out most of the population is certainly still resonant and it’s a theme that has been returned to many times in TV, film, novels and elsewhere. So I’m not sure why they felt the need to spend so long setting it all up.

The first half hour of this 90 minute episode is spent introducing the characters and explaining the background. The problem is that we already know the background and, with post apocalyptic fiction such as this, it’s the characters’ actions after the event that is interesting, not the constant reminders of their otherwise normality.

That said, once Abby Grant (Julie Graham) wakes up in her nice suburban home to discover that everyone else is dead things do start to pick up quite nicely. We are introduced to the major characters – again – as they encounter each other in the remarkably tidy wasteland in which everyone drove home and parked properly before suddenly dropping dead.

The programmes did manage a few moments of real tension, but on the whole it all felt a bit too glossy. We’re told about how horrific a city full of dead bodies might be, but what we see is a small group of people driving around on completely deserted roads. But the real clanger was a remarkably silly coda that hints at a very hackneyed (sub-)plot revolving around evil government conspiracies and all the attendant stereotypes.

Although this first episode had its moments it did feel a lot more like an extended prologue than anything else. I am intending to catch episode 2 but I really do hope that things improve from here on in.

Now thats what I call a dead parrot

William Berg, an American classics professor, has discovered (via Slashdot) that the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch is 1600 years old. The original version, told by Greek comedy duo Hierocles and Philagrius, concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service.

His companion replies: When he was with me, he never did any such thing!

The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD and which has now been published as an ebook.

Timelord Rap

Chris Morris returns to film?

Satirical genius, Chris Morris has been developing a comedy about Islamic terrorists, centring on a group of would-be suicide bombers from the North of England. Morris has said of the project that he wanted to do for Islamic terrorism what Dads Army did for the Nazis by showing them as ‘scary but also ridiculous’. And not a moment too soon.

However, both the BBC and Channel 4 have rejected the comedy as being too controversial for TV.

The good news, however, is that Film4 is putting up the money to develop the project as a film.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman told trade magazine Broadcast: ‘Channel 4 has a long history of working with Chris Morris, and a significant funding contribution towards his latest project is being made.

‘It was agreed at a very early stage that the project would work best as a film and from this point was developed through Film4.’

There is no title, script or release date as yet. But if this does go all the way into production then we can all look forward to Morris big screen début.

Time to buy a new phrasebook

The Klingons for Jesus are coming

In fact not only should Klingons worship Jesus but Jesus is the messiah the Klingons have been waiting for all along.

Its certainly the most consistent religious website Ive seen in a long time.

Via Pharyngula

Alex De La Iglesia to film The Yellow “M”

From Twitch comes some good news for fans of Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. He has signed on to direct and co-write a live action adaptation of Edgar P. Jacobs The Yellow “M”.

Things are even better for Spanish speakers (and those of us who remain optimistic about subtitled DVD sets) as he is also co-writing, co-producing and directing a 26 episode Spanish SF sitcom called Pluton Verbenero which is slated for a September première.

Everything I know about my manager I learned from Star Trek

According to io9, there are seven types of manager and all seven types have been a Star Trek captain. So if you want the know how to handle a bad boss, a knowledge of science fiction television is invaluable.

The politician. On the surface, hes a big swaggering warlord but it only takes a glance to realize hes really just a conniving weasel. Hell say anything to get ahead, and always manages to wind up in charge because he maneuvers all the smarter people into destroying each other while he remains unscathed. If you start doing too well or - worse yet - become too popular around the office, he orders you to do an impossible task and then blames you when you fail. Or he tries to maneuver you into self-destructing somehow, by giving you contradictory or unrealistic orders.

I really liked this one, for reasons which I probably shouldnt go into on a publicly accessable blog.