Somewhere in East Germany… a James Bond-alike spy has broken into a presumably sensitive location and found information that must be ferried back to HQ safely, with the first step being a scramble down the side of a four storey building to where his tricked out sports car is waiting, pausing only to blast a couple of alerted guards along the way. After that it’s a manic dash to the coast where the car dives into the water and in classic 007 fashion turns into a submersible, ramming a diver as it escapes.
Developers Future Projects had already released several demos with a similar, animation based style, but Futurevision #1 is by far the most involved; it tries to present itself as in the style of a movie from the moment the screen turns black after a forgotten greeting is issued – going back in to update the list and then crunch the demo for a second time would have taken hours rather than seconds – with the opening text fading in and out. Then there’s the flurry of spy-based action and a “to be continued” message that, sadly, was never followed up upon because, sadly, Futurevision #2 didn’t happen.
This isn’t doing anything radical on the code front and there are a couple of rough edges here and there – when the second picture is swapped in there’s some temporary glarging up of the music for example – but there does appear to be a well written scripting engine under the hood which controls the action, so the data basically tells objects where and when to spawn, change states or move. That’s an assumption on my part of course and it could just be a series of bespoke routines handling each individual state but I can’t help thinking that, whilst that would be okay for the previous, smaller Future Projects animation demos, it’d be fairly bonkers for something on this larger scale.
And I’ve got to say that whilst the graphics are pretty good throughout – the little soldiers have a surprising amount of character despite not having many frames of animation – it’s the music playing behind the action which really steals the show for me; this tune was composed by Ramiro “Extermer” Vaca – he went on to collaborate on the soundtrack for Turrican with Stefan Hartwig and Chris Huelsbeck – and slots together nicely with the on-screen action in the same way that Bond themes composed by pop artists usually tend to work in context. And the music doesn’t stop at the story’s cliffhanger, playing on continuous loop in the background for anybody wanting to read the scrolling message.
Before I properly get going here, we’re not going to talk about specific plot points but anyone reading this before watching The Woman Who Fell To Earth for themselves might want to rectify that situation before continuing – if nothing else, you’ll at least be better armed to disagree with me! So for everyone still reading… now the default disclaimer is out of the way, here we go with a new season of Doctor Who, a new Doctor in Jodie Whittaker and three new companions all in need of an introduction.
My Beloved and I sat down to watch it together and enjoyed meeting all of these characters for the first time, learning more about them and finding out how they were connected to and interacted with each other; obviously we knew who the actors were going to be well in advance because that’s how the hype machine works these days but it’s always fun to actually see them in action as it were. That said, it’s been a few years since I last visited Sheffield but I don’t remember it being quite that dark and forbidding… perhaps I just managed to avoid the more ropey, alien-invaded areas?
The response online has apparently been mixed and I’ve already seen this episode described on social media as the “worst opening of a new series” amongst other things, but that rather implies a lack of previous Doctor Who experience on the part of the commenter… this was a post regeneration story and those have always been relatively weak in part because they need to dedicate time to establishing the new Doctor’s character. Other elements tend to be left aside to make room for that process, so classic ‘Who brought us “gems” like Time And The Rani, which I’d argue that still stands as the worst opening of a new season and is incredibly unlikely to ever lose that dubious “honour”. And don’t get me started on The Twin Dilemma…!
So the villain was okay but two dimensional enough to slip under a badly hung door and I felt that the resolution of Twice Upon A Time’s cliff hanger was something of a letdown (oh dear… sorry about that) but at least easily retconned, but as a whole The Woman Who Fell To Earth did what needed to be done in a more than reasonable fashion. The companions will no doubt be fleshed out as the season progresses but are already interesting enough that I want to find out more, the story was a “fun romp” and the new Doctor is a little scatterbrained but charming and likeable, with lots of energy which makes her a good counterpoint to Capaldi’s more brooding and grumpy rendition.
The new version of the theme works nicely with lots of Radiophonic Workshop overtones – I’m thinking it’s an improvement over the last season personally – and I’m very interested to see where things go especially after the cliffhanger and the roll call of upcoming guest cast – again, some people on the interwebs have complained that they felt this showed a lack of confidence on the BBC’s part but it’s no different to the season-wide trailers we’ve seen previously and actually less likely to spoil future episodes in the long run – so roll on next Sunday evening and, whilst I’ sort of expecting a certain missing element to remain so for a while longer, we also have that reveal to look forward to.
I was saddened to hear that Ben Daglish passed away last Monday; I’d only seen him play on a couple of occasions at Back In Time events and we’d met very much in passing at the same time – my own shyness prevented me from taking full advantage of those opportunities – but he, along with people like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway was behind a significant chunk of the soundtrack from my formative years, composing for games I enjoyed including Krakout, Hades Nebula, Return Of The Mutant Camels and many more on the C64.
Ben also produced a number of demos with his friend and regular collaborator Tony Crowther under the We MUSIC banner – they put out a great cover of Stairway To Heaven amongst others – but there’s one that always stands out for me personally; it’s been known by a couple of names over the years including Space Gladiator but the filename on the version I received as a teenager was 10 Minute Trap. There are two flavours available with the sparser version hidden within the game Trap itself – the cassette inlay features a screenshot with the caption “hi scorers should enter re-arranged MODE” as a hint – as well as being available separately, but a retooled version also exists which added a couple of logos and an upscroller, this was released to promote UK online service Compunet and is the one I’m most familiar with personally.
The demo itself is very much built around the music, which is nearly ten minutes long and truly epic in scale – the burly, sometimes titular Space Gladiator at the bottom left of the screen accompanies parts of the music with his drum and will sometimes practise or just watch the action when not required – and there’s a window looking out on a couple of barren planets where the story unfolds. As the music gets going a flying saucer arrives to beam down a spaceman, leaving him behind to witness what appears to be a pitched interstellar battle with multiple craft flying past, missiles smashing into one of the planets and occasional stroboscopic flashes which are all tied into the soundtrack. I’ve always felt sorry for that spaceman actually, he looks rather lonely stranded there and observing from his solitary platform and waving at the UFOs as they whiz past!
The Compunet version’s scrolling text talks about the various online services available, sometimes punctuating events in the main window as it does so – the phrase “you’re never alone with Compunet” rather ironically appears as the spaceman is dropped off for example – and I’ve always rather liked that integration, the advertising could just have been wedged in with absolutely no regard to the original demo but time and thought obviously went into this. It helps that 10 Minute Trap is already an engaging, unusual demo of course, which is also why I’ll sit down and watch the Compunet version a couple of times a year just because I can… although subsequent viewings will be a little sadder knowing that one of its creators is no longer with us.