Watching Charlatan (C64)

Since I’m in a demo-ish mood, let’s do something different and watch a demo rather than playing a game! Charlatan by Solomon of the Beyond Force was released in early 1989 and, after the relatively simple intro, launches into a part which was incredibly impressive at the time since it moved a rainbow of colours around in ways that seemed impossible. The heart of this demo is an FLI routine in all but name – Solomon is credited with having pioneered the routine but didn’t christen it, that came later – which forces the VIC-II to fetch colour data on each raster line rather than for every character row. That display routine is paired up with a processor-intensive chunk of code which refreshes the colour data for that part of the screen once per frame.

At the time it was released the results were absolutely stunning and I remember it just leaving me completely gobsmacked; I just about understood how regular vertical colour splits worked enough to realise that it couldn’t be done that way and I was almost fooled by the baloney in the scrolltext since the only other solution would have been characters and the effect was displaying far too much colour to be handled that way. It eventually took my friend Matt who was a far better coder than me prodding around and working out that it relied on VIC-II “features” and, once aware of that, I did produce something similar which worked in a similar way to Charlatan‘s wonderfully hypnotic sort-of-sequel Splitter did.

It could have been a teensy bit tidier around the edges – the timing at the top of the screen isn’t stable and the grey area could have been blanked simply by enabling multicolour mode and changing the bit pattern for the part of the screen where the effect is – but Charlatan was released during the early, “Wild West” era of demo coding when getting an innovative new routine out into the world was as important if not more so than aesthetic concerns. And the movement of both the FLI effect and the animation are still hypnotic after nearly thirty years, which was the primary motivation for my “remaking” the former for MD201509 a few years back…

Watching Taxi

Taxi is a 1998 action comedy about a newly qualified taxi driver Daniel who has dreams of being a racing driver but instead ends up on the wrong side of the law by breaking the speed limit several times over with a copper in the back of his souped-up cab. But rather than losing his license, Daniel is instead offered a deal; he can get off the charges by helping officer Émilien capture some brazen, Mercedes-driving bank robbers, putting both his knowledge of high-performance cars and incredible driving skills to good use in the process.

The idea that Daniel likes speed is set up during the opening credits with a record-setting wild moped ride through Marseilles on his last day as a pizza delivery rider, but it’s the first outing in the heavily modified Peugeot taxi where things really take off. A desperate-looking passenger offers a wodge of cash to reach the airport in time for his flight and, after a flick of some switches and change of steering wheel, the now transformed taxi gets him there with time to spare even if his lunch barely makes it to the destination with him. The car transformation is reminiscent of Knight Rider’s later episodes when KITT switches to super pursuit mode – in fact, I think some of those same sound effects are used here too – which was always a favourite moment for me as a teen.

One of the people behind Taxi is writer Luc Besson – probably better known for his action movies such as the Transporter series, The Fifth Element and the fabulous Taken – and, although the story is more light-hearted overall than those examples, it’s also engaging, with most of the main characters either being likeable – even the bungling Émilien who is, essentially, a blackmailer although his heart isn’t really in it – or cringe-inducing like the almost constantly ridiculous Commissaire Gibert.

The DVD can be picked up cheaply since there regularly seem to be copies of the subtitled widescreen version in charity shops or second hand stores like CEX or Cash Converters for under a quid. I purchased the dubbed, 4:3 ratio version where these screen grabs came from for a paltry 50p yesterday, but after so many passes at the subtitled French original it feels a little surreal, in part because the voices have English rather than American accents I sort of expected. If anyone is tempted after reading this, it’s also worth being a little cautious when shopping for the disc since there’s an American remake starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon which copies the original film’s plot relatively closely but is nowhere near as good on the character interaction or development fronts.

Watching Twice Upon A Time

Before I start, there won’t be a blow by blow account of the story but it’s not really possible to discuss the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon A Time without… well, spoilers sweetie. There have been a few days since it was originally broadcast – I’ve already watched it twice, three times if you include the slightly skippy run yesterday to scavenge images from iPlayer – but, if you haven’t already seen it, carrying on might give away things you were trying to avoid before watching.

First off, as a long-serving Doctor Who fan – who was there in the “the wilderness” after cancellation, through the darker tones of New Adventures books and dashed hopes after the TV movie wasn’t picked up – I am a sucker for a multi-Doctor story. The fanboy in me just adores them and my Beloved had to literally suffer me screaming like a horror movie victim when the first Doctor appeared at the end of the last season because, despite my attempts to avoid spoilers beforehand, I’d heard rumours about David Bradley returning for Christmas and was only an organised religion away from praying it was true.

The main theme throughout was death; both of the Doctors were edging inexorably towards their regenerations despite railing against it, the Captain slowly coming to realise that his number was up having being snatched out of time and Testimony is, in essence, the Doctor Who universe’s version of the afterlife. That might all seem rather morbid especially for the time of year but Doctor Who is one of the few television programmes that can potentially carry something like that off and still resolve everything on what is essentially a positive note. The “Christmas miracle” was one of those moments in history where humanity did something positive so I was pleased that the writers didn’t alter what happened to give the Doctor credit, merely “borrowing” the event for a good purpose.

Peter Capaldi really shines as the Doctor, spending most of the story going from dark and brooding to full of joy before either rolling his eyes to the point they almost become detached or having his ego thoroughly punctured by what his former self just said. Mark Gatiss puts in a lovely, understated performance as the Captain who somehow comes across as befuddled and quietly frightened throughout whilst maintaining the stiff upper lip needed to support his moustache and Pearl Mackie as Bill is great as always, brimming with energy and asking sometimes difficult questions but also the voice of reason for those moments when the Doctor needs one.

But it’s David Bradley as the first Doctor who pretty much steals every scene he appears in, from the moment he takes over during a William Hartnell speech as the footage rather beautifully transitions from deliberately grainy black and white 4:3 ratio out to glorious 16:9 colour. It’s quite uncanny really; he nails the delivery and mannerisms yes, but isn’t merely doing an impression. I’ve seen a few people online complaining that the character is shown in a rather misogynistic light, but that tone is consistent with the original. My Beloved and I have talked about this and agree that we’d both rather see that level of accuracy with him subsequently being shot down by his future self or Bill than have those cracks be papered over. That’s the Doctor we get in the Hartnell stories so changing him now just wouldn’t be right.

As the Doctor himself notes, there isn’t actually an evil plan to thwart – most of the actual danger in the story comes from trying to find out what’s actually going on since Testimony insists on being rather vague until the Doctor’s worked it out for himself – but it’s still enjoyable to watch them getting to the point where they realise. Ultimately we knew where this one was going, but there were some lovely, tear-jerking surprises and references to stories past during that journey.Peter Capaldi’s final speech might be a little drawn out for some – it felt that way for me the first time as well presumably because I was waiting for the fireworks, but not on the second pass – but Twice Upon A Time was a solid story overall and a fitting final salute to the Moffat era of ‘Who and Capaldi’s time as the Time Lord.

We didn’t get to see much of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, but her entrance and rather abrupt, cliff-hanging exit were well done and I’m looking forward to seeing where she and new show runner Chris Chibnall are going to either take or indeed be taken by the TARDIS.