Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Unhelpful Dr Who Radio Times Listing Game

Oh good, it's been long enough since I last wrote an article where I just plugged something into the BBC Genome search to see what I could find that I can do another one -- erm, by which I mean, here's a special New Year's Eve treat. Some of the Radio Times descriptors for episodes of the BBC's popular science fiction serial Doctor Who have tended to be very unhelpful or vague when divorced from the context of the rest of the listing, so I've compiled a list of some and now challenge you, the reader, to tell which episode they're from. All the descriptions are reproduced in their entirety, with answers at the bottom of the post.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Lisa the Pre-Empted

This started out as a Twitter thread, but I reckon I can summarise it better over here...

For the ninth season of The Simpsons, a few episodes were held over from the previous production line, as is the standard practice. For some reason, however, one of the holdovers - "Lisa the Simpson" - seems to have been delayed for an unusually long time.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Just Ask For South By South East... Again

Earlier this month, I went looking for an obscure television series. In fact, it was so obscure, I wasn't absolutely certain it existed. Thanks to the excellent Steve Williams, who dug out his old Radio Times, we now at the very least have definitive proof that it did:

Steve also uploaded the mag's brief interview with Anna Massey and the original listing, which makes him even more excellent than previously described.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Doctor Who: "Twice Upon a Time" Review

Much like the episode that preceded it six months ago, "Twice Upon a Time" is a deeply mixed bag, and in that sense representative of the era it marks an end of. When it's on form, it belongs in the same category as the portrayal of Vincent van Gogh's battle with mental illness. When it isn't, it ranks alongside the revelation that Davros had eyes all along.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas / Long Reads #2

Merry Christmas, one and all! All being well, my review of the Doctor Who Christmas special should be up at some point between broadcast and New Year's Eve. Until then, it's been a few months since I last rounded up all the blog's long (or long-ish) reads, so now seems a good time to do so with the new articles written since then. Take the two posts together for a sort of review of the year, if you like.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Broken Gamebooks #7: Creature of Havoc

There's only one error to discuss here. But it is quite possibly the most celebrated error in the history of interactive fiction in print, and it would be remiss of me to run a series on such errors without including it.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Life is Rough When You Lose Your License

Between 1992 and 2001, the American video game developers Humongous Entertainment cornered the market in point-and-click 'edutainment' computer games aimed at small children. They gave the world Freddi Fish, Spy Fox, Putt-Putt and Pajama Sam, selling over 15 million copies of the games. The games released in the company's heyday have proved so enduring that they're still finding a new audience today, having been re-released on Steam.

In 2001, Humongous' owner ended up in financial straits, and over 40% of its staff were laid off, and the company was sold. The new owners tried their hand at releasing one more game, Pajama Sam 4: Life is Rough When You Lose Your Stuff, which came out in 2003, around two years after the previous Humongous game was released. It does not have a very good reputation.

(Sidenote: There was another game released post-takeover as well which also went down badly, but Life is Rough... came to be seen as emblematic of what went wrong with the takeover, which is why it's better-known in Humongous fan circles. No more point-and-click games were released afterwards, but the company did continue with its Backyard Sports series of sports-simulator games.)

Some of the reasons for why it's so badly remembered are the natural and unavoidable results of the gap in production and change in staff: Sam's new voice actor didn't go down well, for example. They try, actually quite valiantly, to retain the way the previous games looked, but it seems some new graphics engine was being used that stops that from being entirely successful. However, there are other factors at play... ones that definitely were under the makers' control.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Celebratory Niche

Exactly one year ago today (to the minute), the first ever article was posted on Ludicrously Niche (which was then known as Something Witty, since retitled to better reflect the blog's contents). To celebrate, here's the story so far.

The very first article arose out of a discussion with Red Dwarf script editor Andrew Ellard on Twitter about an adventure gamebook he was trying to identify. You can find that discussion here, here and here. I was thus inspired to write about those gamebooks, and needed somewhere on the Internet to discuss it; the blog was thus born with this article. Then I got the idea for something else - reviewing more gamebooks off the back of the first article actually being quite interesting, and then other stuff, such as a game taking the piss out of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn I'd first had the idea for several months previously, and now it finally had a home to go to. I have since managed to keep it updated at least once a week with whatever I've thought of and then subsequently thought "hm, I could get something out of that", mostly to distract myself from the horror of the news. The blog has had over 7,000 pageviews, and only 6,987 of those were me. It's a success!

So, then, just a quick piece to mark the occasion. Much thanks to all the readers, and everyone who's linked to it elsewhere and ensured that I can be sure that at least some of those pageviews are actually real people. Here's to many more posts about broken adventure gamebooks.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Just Ask For South By South East

The year is 1986, and some fourteen years before he invents Alex Rider, one of Anthony Horowitz's first major successes is the first book in the Diamond Brothers series, The Falcon's Malteser. It's successful enough to get a movie adaptation, retitled Just Ask for Diamond, in 1988 (retitled Diamond's Edge in the US).

Horowitz went on to write two more Diamond Brothers books: 1987's Public Enemy Number Two, and 1991's South by South East. (He revisited the series over a decade later for four novellas: 2003's The French Confection, The Blurred Man and I Know What You Did Last Wednesday, and 2007's The Greek Who Stole Christmas. A grand finale to the series, The Radius of the Lost Shark, has been promised since 2003 but has yet to be published, although a short story was published in the Guardian in 2011.)

In 1991, South by South East was adapted as a television serial for ITV (I do not know whether or not it was for CITV specifically) under the title The Diamond Brothers, lasting for six half-hour episodes (they may have skipped Public Enemy Number Two because of concerns over content, and/or because it features several sequences that would be nigh impossible to film). The Diamond Brothers were played by the same actors who played them in the film, Dursley McLinden (also known as Sergeant Mike in the 1988 Doctor Who classic Remembrance of the Daleks) and Colin Dale. And that's virtually all we know about it.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Edit Wars #5

Update! (Inserted at the top of the article for reasons of importance.) Since writing this piece some 15 months ago, I have since discovered that some of the sources I used for it were based on garbled information about the filming of Series 3; although More Panda Monium was dropped during filming, that was an entirely separate incident to the one that resulted in injury (which happened when the robot activated without warning), and the name of the robot involved is not known. See this page on the Robot Wars Wiki for more information.

A kind-of, sort-of appendix to the Edit Wars series of articles, here, and specifically the fourth one. (The series has long ago stopped being about actual edits and more about stuff that happened backstage that wasn't mentioned on the show for obvious reasons, but there's not really a snappy title for that.)

As already covered there: there was a serious health and safety incident during the filming of the third series of Robot Wars, where a robot (by the name of More Panda Monium and pictured above, incidentally) malfunctioned in the pits and put its weapon through someone's foot, leading to some of the filming being shortened or cancelled outright because of the resulting health and safety investigation.

Now, in the same series, and also covered in that article, Pussycat was disqualified for using an illegal hardened steel blade that shattered on the arena wall. Were those two facts connected? If the first incident hadn't occurred, might Pussycat have been allowed to go through? Did the impaling lead to an immediate, much stronger enforcement of the health and safety rules?

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Repeat Offenders

This is not the Sixth Doctor.
There are only so many actors in the world, and it is therefore quite likely that sooner or later, any long-running TV show will begin to reuse the same ones in different roles. Paul Barber has had five different  guest spots in Casualty over twenty years, for example. But this article isn't about him, it's about Doctor Who.

The 2005 revival frequently featured actors who'd appeared in the original 1963-89 run, the first such example being William Thomas, who appeared in a small role in part 2 of Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988 before getting killed off in the pre-titles sequence to 2005's "Boom Town". He then went on to play the recurring role of Gwen Cooper's father in the 2006-11 spin-off series Torchwood. However, until the tenth series of the revival in 2017, it was uncommon for the show to reuse actors who'd already appeared in another episode of the revival (excepting very minor roles and people in monster costumes). Then Jennifer Hennessy, previously Valerie in 2007's "Gridlock", showed up in two episodes as Bill's foster mum, Moira, and Joseph Long - who turned in a heartbreakingly good performance as Mr Colasanto in 2008's "Turn Left" - played the Pope in the rather less-good "Extremis".

So, continuing on this theme, here are some particularly notable repeat performances in the show's 54-year history...

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Would I Redesign Sets to You?

Welcome to the official Ludicrously Niche examination of the set design for the BBC One panel game Would I Lie to You? If you have literally anything else to do with your time, now would be an excellent moment to go and do it.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Appointment with Appointment with F.E.A.R.

Right, there's been altogether too many negative articles criticising gamebooks for being broken on this blog of late, when the truth is that I love adventure gamebooks. So, in a bid to redress the balance, here's the first of an occasional series where I pick out a gamebook I particularly like and gush about it a bit. You may be able to guess by the title of this post and the picture above which one is first up.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Hospital Radio Times

It's time for one of the blog's old standbys: sticking a search term into the BBC Genome and seeing what comes up. After several searches failed to produce anything that was sufficiently interesting to write a blog about, I ended up searching for Saturday-night stalwart Casualty.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Broken Gamebooks #6: Legion of the Dead

Been a while since we did one of these, so I thought I'd finally finish up the GrailQuest series. Legion of the Dead is the series' grand finale - according to author JH Brennan, the gamebook market suddenly started to tail off at this point and the series was cancelled, although Fighting Fantasy was only halfway through its original run at this point. Brennan was well aware that this was to be the series' swansong, as the book is upfront about being the final volume from page 1. It's certainly got a plot to suit it - Zombie Merlin is leading the titular Legion, hell bent on destroying Avalon!

Now, Legion of the Dead is quite a curious thing. It's not actually a broken gamebook, as far as I can tell. However, whilst it avoids some of the inconsistencies noted in the previous two books, there are certain things which lead me to believe it was written in something of a rush.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Robot Draws

At the dawn of the 21st century, Robot Wars was deemed popular enough to have its own magazine. The first incarnation, published by BBC Magazines, ran for 20 issues, covering the end of the third series and all of the fourth before being canned for generally being a bit rubbish. (There was a second incarnation attempted for the sixth series, which was published by Panini and generally quite good, but it was unfortunately a casualty of the show's erratic scheduling and move to Five, lasting for just seven issues.)

The magazine included a comic strip in every issue; these started out as 'origin stories' for the House Robots based on the programme's original publicity material (we touched on these in the review for the Robot Wars Technical Manual). However, around the time the magazine was being published, the programme was shedding its 'post-apocalyptic' aesthetic in favour of something lighter and softer, and as a result the comic was changed to 'Fantasy Fights': cartoon realisings of dream match-ups suggested by the readers. And fantastical they were indeed. So much so, in fact, that here's a blog post taking the piss out of some of the more ridiculous things in them.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Exit (Fashion) Pollice

(Look, if you want to try and come up with a better title for this article, then be my guest.)

One of the biggest moments of a UK election night is when the exit poll drops, and all the parties who don't like the result argue about how it's obviously wrong for hours until the actual results show it was right all along. The burning question: is there an article that comments on the graphics and accuracy of some of the BBC's exit polls over the years? There is now!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Change and Decay

This is a follow-up to last week’s piece on the many lives of Dr Who, and a thought I had whilst reading it… which led me to a conclusion I don’t really like.

All shows depend on change. Any long-running show will need to renew itself every few years, and Doctor Who just so happens to have an in-built mechanism to do that to its lead character. But that’s not the only way in which the show changes. In 1970 the show’s entire format changed by exiling its lead character to Earth; this was a change producer Barry Letts had inherited from the previous production team, and he managed to get multiple second winds by occasionally letting the Doctor sojourn off-planet again, before finally freeing him from his exile permanently in 1973. In 1982, following a bad run of ratings for Tom Baker’s final season, the decision was made to take the show away from Saturday nights and run it twice-weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays instead. Both of those changes coincided with a change of Doctor, but ones that didn’t included the first ever change of companion in 1964, the replacement of Philip Hinchcliffe as producer with Graham WIlliams in 1977, and the decision to make the 1986 season one long 14-part story. The point is: every few years, the show needs a shot in the arm, and it can run on that for a few years before it’s time for the next dose.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Dr Who and the Regenerationometer

During the recent couple of months where people were speculating on Peter Capaldi’s replacement as Dr Who in the BBC’s long-running Saturday teatime drama, one particular name became heavily rumoured. And a lot of people weren’t very happy, because that name wasn’t seen as a particularly ‘radical’ choice.
It’s an interesting point (unlike most other discussion of the show on the internet). How ‘radical’ were the previous choices to take over the part? Using the patented Regenerationometer, I set about finding out…

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Blackadder Radio Times Synopsis Guide

Remember a while ago, I said that back until some point in the mid-nineties, TV producers used to write their own synopsises for the Radio Times, and the makers of sitcoms used to have a bit of fun with this? Well, the ones for Blackadder are particularly good. So much so, in fact, I’ve used the power of the BBC Genome to compile them all in one place for easy reading. Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Have I Got Graphs for You

Have I Got News for You has now been running for 27 years, making it a panel show you can make some graphs from. So let's have a go.

First of all, every guest presenter ever (not including repeat appearances):

Next, all guest presenters sorted by occupation, including repeat appearances:

And finally, every MP who has ever appeared on the show sorted by how prolific they are (only includes appearances by sitting MPs, so does not count any appearances made after they were an MP, MSPs or MEPs):

There'll probably be some more of these at some point in the future. Heaven help us.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Ludicrously Niche Remastered

I have gone back and updated a few of the articles on the blog since they were first published, so unless you obsessively check each and every post on a daily basis (which, looking at my pageviews, seems unlikely) you might have missed some new information. Here's just a roundup of that, then.

The Simpsons on the BBC: A Ludicrously Comprehensive Timeline has had several updates and new information added since it was first posted back in December; another trailer for the show's BBC One premiere has surfaced, and a few other facts are new as well. This remains one of my favourite things I've ever written, so I am pleased to get the opportunity to plug it again. Similarly, The Red Dwarf BBC Broadcasts Guide has had some new information added too.

Back in Edit Wars #4, I mentioned Robot Wars Revealed, a behind-the-scenes spin-off which was thought to be completely lost; one episode has since been found to have survived, and there's a link to it in the article now.

Finally, I attended Fighting Fantasy Fest this weekend, and The Fighting Fantasy Collection Audit has been brought right up to date as a result. (FFF is unquestionably the best convention I've ever attended, incidentally.)

That's all for now. Proper updates will resume next week.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Prince of Shadows

Gary Chalk collaborated with Joe Dever on the first eight titles in the Lone Wolf series, but then the partnership broke up. One of the results of this was Chalk's next project, the short-lived Prince of Shadows gamebook series, which lasted for just two titles released in 1988 and 1989, “Mean Streets” and “Creatures from the Depths”. Beyond having the same illustrator, the two books have a rather similar feel in their premise, worldbuilding and rules… in fact, you have to wonder if Dever wasn’t tempted to call his lawyer at any point. One way in which these books were very different, however, was their size and internal format. Permit me to demonstrate the former point:

So, what are they like inside? Ask that question not a moment longer, as here’s a blog post that’s going to tell you all about them.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Scenes From the Dwarf

The Penguin 60s range, as published at some point in the mid-late nineties, was a series of pocket-sized books about various subjects. The range included cookbooks, retellings of ancient myths and, in this case, a selection of Red Dwarf script extracts, billed in Grant Naylor’s introduction as “the least unmemorable scenes”, and also containing material cut from the broadcast versions. We were still a good few years away from actually getting to see the deleted scenes through the magic of DVD, so this was definitely the book's biggest attraction when first published. As part of my continuing commitment to write about things that are of interest literally to me and me alone, here is an analysis of the book’s contents.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Table Comparing Tenures of Prime Ministers With Those of Doctor Whos

Doctor Who
Prime Minister
November 1963 to October 1964
William Hartnell
Alec Douglas-Home
October 1964 to October 1966
Harold Wilson
October 1966 to June 1969
Patrick Troughton
January 1970 to June 1970
Jon Pertwee
June 1970 to March 1974
Edward Heath
March to June 1974
Harold Wilson
June 1974 to April 1976
Tom Baker
April 1976 to May 1979
James Callaghan
May 1979 to March 1981
Margaret Thatcher
March 1981 to March 1984
Peter Davison
March 1984 to December 1986
Colin Baker
September 1987 to November 1989
Sylvester McCoy
January 1990 to November 1990
Sylvester McCoy (series off-air, technically still incumbent)
November 1990 to April 1996
John Major
May 1996
Paul McGann
May 1996 to May 1997
Paul McGann (series off-air, technically still incumbent)
May 1997 to March 2005
Tony Blair
March to June 2005
Christopher Eccleston
June 2005 to June 2007
David Tennant
June 2007 to January 2010
Gordon Brown
January 2010 to May 2010
Matt Smith
May 2010 to December 2013
David Cameron
January 2014 to July 2016
Peter Capaldi
July 2016 to December 2017
Theresa May

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Now That's What I Call One Song to the Tune of Another

Here’s one of the great baffling questions of radio comedy: Why has there never been an I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue compilation release, made up purely of the very best examples of One Song to the Tune of Another?

Just to prove such a release would work, I have come up with my own tracklist for it, consisting of my favourite examples from the show:

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Star Wars on the BBC

It is time, once again, for me to plug the name of a popular franchise into the BBC Genome and see what comes up. This time: Star Wars!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Broken Gamebooks #5: Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is probably the greatest single achievement of the Fighting Fantasy range, if not the choose-your-own-adventure genre as a whole. Aimed at an older audience than the main FF range, the four books add up to one massive story with over 2,000 references all told, and are best remembered for some horribly gruesome death scenes, Goya-inspired illustrations and (as befitted the target audience) being really very difficult indeed. But what we’re here for is to discuss the logistical errors in them.

The second book, Khare Cityport of Traps, has no major errors that I can see – certainly nothing that would render the game (unintentionally) unwinnable. The other three, however...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Long Reads

Bit stuck for things to blog about at the moment, I’m afraid. (There’s a couple of Doctor Who pieces I’d quite like to write, but I want to wait until some of the Series 10 reviews have been bumped off the front page first.) So, to fill time: as the blog is now seven months old and has over 50 posts to its name, I’ve picked out all the long read (or long-ish read, at any rate) articles that I think are particularly good and stuck them in one place for the interested.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Fighting Fantasy Collection Audit

(NB: Welcome to the new Ludicrously Niche schedule… he said, to both the regular readers. Now the Doctor Who reviews are finished, plan is for a new article every weekend for as long as I can keep it up.)

The 25th May, 2017 was a stupendous moment for my adventure gamebook collecting, for it was the day I found the only Fighting Fantasy book I’d never read (or, at least, the only book in the main series), number #56 Knights of Doom, in my local second-hand bookshop for the princely sum of 50p. Which was at least £30 less than any online seller was asking for it. (To boot, they also had an original copy of the final book in the original series, Curse of the Mummy, which I only owned as its Wizard Books reprint.)

Now I own every FF gamebook, I thought I’d audit my collection, and in doing so provide a blog post that was literally of interest to me and me alone.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Doctor Who: "The Doctor Falls" Review

“The Doctor Falls” is Peter Capaldi’s third and final series finale, and Steven Moffat’s sixth and also final, although there’s still Christmas to go. Perhaps appropriately, this episode sums up how I feel about their tenures as a whole. The best of it belongs with Vincent van Gogh’s battle with mental illness, whilst the worst of it belongs with the revelation that Davros actually had eyes all along.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Have I Got Radio Times Listings for You

Way back in the 1990s, the producers of TV programmes used to get to write their own synopsises for episodes that would be used in the Radio Times. This was particularly interesting when it came to comedies. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, writers of Red Dwarf, liked to slip in extra jokes: here’s a good one from the original broadcast of “White Hole”, and one from “Better than Life” that subsequently ended up adapted for use in an episode the following year. David Renwick, writer of One Foot in the Grave, deliberately submitted highly misleading descriptions; the ‘unlikely love affair’ described in the synopsis for the first showing of “The Exterminating Angel”, is in fact Margaret trying to set up Mr Swainey on a date, whilst Victor ‘taking to the road’ refers to his new job as a chauffeur.

Whilst having a good laugh at some of these, I thought: What about non-scripted comedy shows – more specifically, panel shows? Did the producers of those ever think to muck about with their listings in such a way? So I trawled through the BBC Genome for every mention of Have I Got News for You it had, and here’s what I found.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Doctor Who: "World Enough and Time" Review

The ever-traditional two-part Doctor Who finale gets underway with a pre-titles sequence where the Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS, lost in an icy desert, seemingly about to regenerate. Whilst it’s undoubtedly a striking image, it leaves me worried we’re going to get our least favourite type of Steven Moffat: the “deliberately pitching the entire thing to a tiny section of the audience” Moffat. That doesn’t really tend to work out well. But what of the episode itself?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Robot Wars Poetry Collection

I’ve discovered that, scandalously, there is nowhere on the Internet that collects every single rhyme Craig Charles signed off Robot Wars with on one page. Enjoy.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Doctor Who: "The Eaters of Light" Review

“The Eaters of Light” marks an interesting milestone for Doctor Who: the first time the revived series has used a writer from the classic series. Rona Munro contributed the final serial of the original run, Survival, a story often held up as being a template for Russell T Davies’ revival. (NB: Wikipedia goes by the rules that serials should be in italics, but single episodes should be in quote marks. There’s a bit of trivia for you.)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Sit in a Bottle

I’m sure you all know what bottle episodes are. They’re episodes of television shows that are filmed only on pre-existing sets, with few (if any) actors other than the regular cast members. (They may also be told in real time, but that’s not a prerequisite.) For this reason they tend to be known as “the cheap one”, or “the one that’s replaced another episode that’s fallen through at the last minute”. Anyone who knows anything will know that this does them a grave disservice, as they often lead to some of the greatest moments their respective series will ever produce.

I really, really like bottle episodes, because of how much their minimalistic approach reveals about the show, they produce some of the best performances from the show’s cast members, and they often have fascinating stories behind their production. I particularly find them interesting in the case of audience sitcoms – that’s basically live theatre playing out in front of an audience. So I thought I’d grab one example each from three different audience sitcoms and see what each one tells us, if anything. (I considered widening the scope to include drama series… but the article started getting a wee bit over-complex. Maybe another time.)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Doctor Who: "Empress of Mars" Review

(Foreword: I was at a Who convention this past weekend. Apart from explaining why this review is later than normal, it also meant that I watched this episode on a big screen in the company of over 100 other fans, most of us in various states of inebriation. The next day there was also a panel featuring Ian Hallard and this episode’s main guest star Adele Lynch, from which I was able to glean a few bits of interesting information about this episode I’ve slipped into this review.)

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Broken Gamebooks #4: Revenge of the Vampire

Time once again to examine the flaws of an adventure gamebook in unnecessary detail. This time it’s one of the last books in the greatest gamebook series of them all, Fighting Fantasy. The fifty-eighth and penultimate book in the original series, Revenge of the Vampire, is notable for going for silly money on eBay these days, having one of the most gruesome death scenes in gamebook history and, yes, a few logistical problems.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Doctor Who: "The Lie of the Land" Review

“The Lie of the Land” chimes with the rest of its series: there are both good and bad elements, and unfortunately the less-good stuff drowns out what I actually like about the story. To try and do this review a bit differently, I’ve broken the episode down into two corresponding lists.