All posts by IanW

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E6

A reassuringly solid and mushroom-free episode.

Relationships between mentors and mentees are at the heart of this episode, as we see Captain Lorca bond with his new security officer Ash – whose only fault seems to be lying about the number of hologram Klingons he killed to make the captain look good – and Tilly announce that he considers Michael her mentor. Then, of course, there’s the relationship that’s arguably at the heart of the whole series: the one between Sarek and Michael.

The pre-credits sequence expertly sets these three duos up, a (hopefully) intentional laugh coming from Michael and Tilly’s running gear being emblazoned with the word ‘DISCO’, which, in the 23rd Century, everyone just takes to be the beginning of the word ‘Discovery’. And, while Ash and Lorca blasts computer-simulated foes, Sarek faces real danger: a suicide bomber from the murderous Logic Extreme faction, Vulcans who believe their species to be superior and the Federation of Planets a “failed experiment”.

Beaming the bomber outside the ship, Sarek survives, but the explosion still cripples his ship and severely injures him. Dying, his subconscious mind reaches out to Michael – the two sharing consciousness ever since he performed a mind-meld on her to save her life. That it was Vulcan extremists who bombed the learning centre on Vulcan in an attempt to kill the young Michael is just one revelation. The other comes as a shock to Michael as well as the audience: that Sarek was forced to choose whether to send Michael or his half-human son Spock – hooray for this fan service – to the Vulcan Expeditionary Academy and chose Spock. When Sarek told his would-be assassin that “in times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial” he could also have been talking about Michael; does knowing this unpalatable truth harm or heal her relationship with Sarek?

With Sarek rescued and recuperating on board Discovery, Michael’s heartfelt vow that she and her “father” will have “this conversation one day” seems one the show’s writers intend to keep. For this and many reasons, Sarek is a most welcome addition to Discovery’s crew.

Elsewhere, while Michael boosted Cadet Tilly’s confidence by insisting she join the mission, Lorca did the same with Ash; as expected, both newcomers excelled themselves with a typically Trek ability to follow orders, but not blindly. Failing to follow orders is also Captain Lorca’s greatest failing. Well, that and lying during his psyche test and almost shooting his friend and lover, Admiral Cornwell, with a phaser. Her capture at the hands of the Klingons, and Lorca’s sudden reluctance to mount a daring rescue, puzzles Saru and has viewers wondering about his motives. As Cornwell intends to relieve Lorca of his command, is the Captain willing to sacrifice her life to keep his job?

Damn, and just when Michael has come round to thinking of Lorca as a mentor, telling him she considers it an “honour” to serve under him. How long is that going to last? And, with Michael and Ash perhaps showing the first sign of romantic feelings (or at least a solid, flirty friendship), will Lorca’s two biggest fans both have to deal with the monster he may be becoming?

As good as last episode, with the added benefit of being suitable for children (a touch of throat-slashing notwithstanding), Discovery needs to maintain this level of quality – and mention the magic mushrooms as little as possible – having Stamet’s say “groovy” was a low point – if disgruntled fans are going to be wooed back.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E5

Uncharacteristic F-bombs mar what would otherwise be a solid episode.

We open with Michael’s nightmare in which she subconsciously realises something perhaps she and all the other Star Fleet scientists, brought up since birth with the Prime Directive, might have been expected to suspect: the tardigrade is sentient and feels pain. This spanner in the works of the Federation’s secret weapon is one focus of the episode, while the other allows us to see Captain Lorca in action.  Captured pre-credits, he’s imprisoned by Klingons with two personifications of of his own  nature: the pragmatic survivor Harcourt ‘Harry’ Mudd (Rainn Wilson; The Office’s Dwight with a beard but similarly poor social skills) and idealist Star Fleet rating Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).

The Klingon regime is their own version of The Weakest Link, in which two of the prosoners simgle out which one of them is to be beaten each day.  Of course, while manipulative Harry doesn’t have a scratch on him, Lorca won’t play that game and her and Ash use some teamwork – it comes over as subtly as He-Man’s end of episode chats to camera – to escape. It’s fun but all a little too easy, though it does set up two villains for a return visit; as well as Mudd we have sadistic Klingon commander Dennas (Clare McConnell) who will presumably wish to continue her creepy and abusive relationship with Ash. “Ugh,” grunts Lorca upon hearing of her intimacy with Ash, “humans don’t even have the requisite number of organs for Klingons.” Too. Much. Information.

Which is a criticism that can perhaps be levelled at Discovery. While some Trekkies are going into meltdown over the show (and I’m not just talking about the bigots who’ve objected to the ‘lack’ of white characters – one can only imagine the torrent of bile they’ll spew upon learning of Stamet’s sexuality) over the continuity problems Discovery poses, they do have a point that the use of use of pan-dimensional mushrooms as a plot device is pretty darn silly. It’s not quite a midichlorian-level narrative offence but it comes close.

Space mushies aside, Discovery remains a solid and gripping show, with the dynamic between the characters its primary strength. Michael and Saru’s relationship continues along its uneasy path, and seeing the Kelpien officer in the captain’s chair was quietly captivating. Ash promises to be a welcome addition to the crew – a straightforward space hero in the Kirk mould – and Stamet’s mental and physical wellbeing after he injected himself with tardigrade DNA is a storyline that will, we hope, bring some of the mind-bending pseudo-science babbling that is a much-loved hallmark of Trek.

One more complaint: Trek has always been a show that kids can watch along with adults, a la Doctor Who or Lost In Space. The violence, though bloodier than previous series, hasn’t quite yet crossed the line but, with the use of the F-bomb, Discovery has no vanished behind a curtain marked ‘adults only’. It is this that is Discovery’s real misstep and one they would do well to rectify.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E4

A little unremarkable compared to the previous three, but a solid episode nevertheless.

It’s a sign of a good series that Discovery, even in its fourth episode, succeeds in wrong-footing its audience while still keeping us gripped.  That said, the violent death of Security Chief Landry feels like the squandering of a character with a lot of potential – “It’s amazing how much I hate Vulcan proverbs” is just one of many great sardonic lines she’s been given.  That is, of course, if this really is the end of the road for her and the other dead characters.

But, for those of us who assumed the monster was some sort of Alien-style bio-weapon, it was pleasing that we were as wrong as Captain Lorca. That it turned out to be the missing component in the mushroom-powered propulsion system (yeah, when you say it out loud it does sound pretty lame) was a neat twist. There are parallels of course, between the tardigrade creature and Michael, as she warned Lorca that she wasn’t the person he believed her to be. Regardless, both she and the creature enable the Discovery to materialise above the mining colony and, though they saved many Federation citizens, dozens of Klingons are killed. Whichever way Michael cuts it, she’s a formidable addition to Lorca’s crew which he denigrates as “the tip of the spear – a science vessel full of wide-eyed explorers.”

Time is spent this episode on the Klingon disciples of T’Kuvma, particularly his anointed torchbearer Voq. We see that the 24 houses aren’t quite as united as the prophecy would have us believe, as Voq is betrayed by Moklai clan leader Kol (Kenneth Mitchell). He’s saved from death by L’Rell (Michelle Chieffo) who, in an earlier scene, partook in the Klingon version of flirting. Voq grunting, “Shall we uncouple” (talking about the dilithium generator they were removing from the crippled starship Shenzou, of course) was a rare moment of humour. That the renegade couple, a Klingon Bonnie and Clyde, have a clear objective – to win the war against the Federation single-handedly – is a deft piece of plotting; all-out galaxy-wide war is all well and good for a backdrop but we need stories that revolve around individual characters.

That an inordinate amount of Discovery’s characters are already dead, as well as a lot of people in Michael’s past, does suggest that time-travel is going to play a part in future episodes. It may also come to explain why Michael’s infamy as a mutineer seems at odds with Star Trek canon – some fans are frothing at the mouth over the fact Spock, in Original Series episode Turnabout Intruder, makes the observation that there has never been a mutiny in Star Fleet history. You’d think he’d perhaps add, “Uh, apart from my adopted sister…” Could it be that Michael is going to get to go back and undo some of the worst moments in her life?

All in all, a solid episode and, compared to the preceding three, relatively unremarkable. But it’s still a gripping step along the road of what is fast turning out to be the best Star Trek series since The Next Generation found its feet in its third season. That not all Trekkies agree goes without saying – especially those with froth around their mouths…

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – S01E03

Another nigh-on flawless episode kicks us into the story proper with faces old and new, and a scary, scary monster.

After hitting the ground running with last week’s near-perfect two-parter, Star Trek: Discovery wastes no time in delivering the goods. Pre-credits, we’re told it’s six months after the Battle of the Binary Stars plunged the Federation into total war with the Klingon Empire and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is on board a prison shuttle. One of her fellow cons says 8,000 people were killed at the battle. “Eight thousand and eighty-six,” corrects Michael, both with Vulcan pedantry and the very-human sorrow born of immense guilt. Again, we’re reminded, that Michael is a product of both races.

But Star Trek: Discovery isn’t all about feelings, it’s about exciting action. Cue an electricity-munching lifeform that kills the pilot and wrecks the shuttle’s nav system. They are, Michael coolly says, going to drift until either the air runs out or they freeze to death. While her fellow prisoners panic and struggle, Michael sits, calm and still – clearly death would be a sweet release. And then – we’re still not even at the credits, remember? – it happens. A starship glides into view, tractor-beam twinkling: the USS NCC103 Discovery.

The rest of the episode is, technically set-up for the rest of the series, though hidden inside a brilliantly structured and well-written story.  Deciding to open with last week’s backstory eps was a stroke of genius, as there’s so much mystery on board the Discovery that having to discover why the war had broken out, not to mention Michael’s childhood, would have been too much.

As it is, Michael is the audience’s eyes and ears as we’re taken into this new and sinister star ship; “Have you even seen a black Star Fleet badge?” asks one of the prisoners – this is clearly a Black site, Federation-style. We meet Head of Security Landry (Rekha Sharma) who snarls, “We’re unloading all kinds of garbage today – even Star Fleet’s  first mutineer.” Though she’s a brooding and largely silent presence for much of the rest of the ep, she establishes herself as a brilliant character and one we’re no doubt going to love butting heads with Michael.

There are familiar faces, too, including a fleeting glimpse of Keyla (Emily Coutts), now sporting a brain implant, and Saru (Doug Jones). Most definitely fulfilling the Spock/Data role on Discovery, he’s a wonderful creation; placid, polite but pathologically pessimistic, he’s like a lanky, alien-version Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. His relationship with Michael is already complex. While he considers her “the smartest Star Fleet officer” he’s ever known, now that he’s Number 1, he intends “to do a better job of protecting my captain than you did yours.”

Three more new characters complete the roster of discovery’s central cast, and all are fantastic in very different ways. Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is Michael’s well-meaning but hyper-nervous cabin-mate,  while Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is an arrogant scientist who openly hates having to focus his talents on the war effort, and also quickly becomes jealous of Michael’s superior intellect. How he’ll feel that she’s joining the crew we are yet to see – but chances are he won’t exactly be breaking out the party poppers.

And last, but – oh, boy – not least, is Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs). As different from Kirk, Picard, Janeway or the other guy, he’s the embodiment of his times: in six months Star Fleet has gone from “we never shoot first” to creating bio-weapons that, as Michael points out, are against the “Geneva Protocols of 1928 and 2155”. Lorca shrugs. This is war and he’s “been given the discretion to fight this war any way I see fit”. Which, of course, includes making Michael a member of his crew.

In amongst all this character-work, the writers also manage to fit in a brilliant thrill-ride as Michael joins the away team to board the stricken USS Glen. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Alien and, more recently, one of the major plotlines on The Expanse, but Discovery really owns it. It’s scary and, with the twisted and malformed bodies of the Glen’s crew, quite possibly the most horrific scenes Trek has ever seen. Have there been any complaints yet?

Michael’s recitation of Alice In Wonderland was a wonderful and surreal touch during her tense scramble through the ship’s conduits, given extra pathos by the revelation that her foster mother used to read it to her. That she was given a name – Amanda – surely means she’s going to play a part in future episodes.

So, another nigh-on flawless episode, and one which kicks us into the story proper. The new propulsion system is intriguing – if it can transport us in the blink of an eye to spy on distant worlds, can it also flash us back in time? Will Michael find herself face-to-face with her dead parents? Big, big questions that are somewhat put on the backburner by the fact that Captain Lorca has the hideous bio-weapon monster beamed on board his ship. That surely can’t end well. And Kirk thought he had trouble with tribbles…

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here


Part of the Gods And Monsters saga from Cutaway Comics, Sutekh – The Heretic is a one-off tale featuring the Egyptian god of death, the Tythonian Beast himself: Sutekh the Destroyer.

Rescued from oblivion, fallen God Sutekh the Destroyer leads an unlikely army of liberation to free a far flung galaxy from the clutches of evil demon Azag. But will the found adoration of billions of freed slaves be his undoing?

Publisher Gareth Kavanagh picks up the story: “It was an irresistible chance to introduce Sutekh, the Egyptian god of death into the narrative. The dramatic potential of a one-shot having him wreak havoc was ideal for Ian to get his teeth into. And then there’s the potential of pairing Sutekh and Omega against each other in future volumes… it’s going to be epic!”.

Written by IAN WINTERTON (Demon of Eden, the Ballad of Halo Jones stage adaptation) with art by ADRIAN SALMON and lettering by COLIN BROCKHURST. OMEGA & SUTEKH is presented as a full colour prestige format comic with extras and a VAM disc packed with goodies.

Sutekh comes in a prestige comic together with an Omega adventure, written by MARK GRIFFITHS, with art by JOHN RIDGWAY. It can be purchased at the Cutaway Comics site here.

To view a trailer, animated by Mel Meanley, and written and directed by me, featuring Gabriel Woolf — who played Sutekh in 1974 Doctor Who story The Pyramids of Mars — click here.


Commissioned by Doctor Who fanzine Vworp Vworp!, A Meeting On The Common is an adaptation of the opening chapter of David Whittaker’s 1964 novel Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure With the Daleks. Written and directed by me, with stunning animation by Mel Meanley and atmospheric music from Andromeda Burrowes, it stars the voice talents of Steve Noonan, Adam Grayson, Helen Stirling and Kerry Ely.

It can only be watched on the DVD that comes free with Vworp Vworp! issue 6 which can be purchased here. Or, on YouTube, watch the teaser and the trailer.

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Discovery – S01E1 & S0102

Pitch perfect: this is TV trek that’s every bit as good – and maybe better – than JJ Abrahm’s feature film reboot.

Set phasers for goosebumps as Discovery’s cold open sees would-be Klingon prophet T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) giving a chilling declaration – in subtitled Klingon for extra Trekkie titillation – to his followers. His intention is, evoking ancient Klingon messiah-god Khaless, is to unite the 24 warring Klingon houses and declare war on the ever-encroaching Federation. His battle-cry ,“Remain Klingon”, some have noted is similar to a certain President’s insular cry of America First.

From there we travel to a distant desert world where our lead Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green – excellent; she’ll be a show-in come awards season) and Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) do what all Star Trek crews do in pre-credit sequences: nonchalantly save an alien civilisation from extinction in a manner that is both exciting but pleasingly swift. Dialogue is snappy, the production values first-rate and the cast all pitch-perfect. Better yet, the quality doesn’t waver – this is TV trek that’s every bit as good – and maybe better – than JJ Abrahm’s feature film reboot.

The clue to the show’s apparent success (we’re going on the first two episodes here) can be found in the credit sequence. Though undoubtedly modern and stylish, it’s chock-full of classic Trek iconography. Similarly the music, which occasionally recalls the menace of the Daredevil theme, is liberally sprinkled with musical motifs from the classic series’ scores. This approach continues into the show proper, as sound effects first heard in the 1960s bleep and whoosh on the soundscape, and the spaceships and uniforms all look like those on the original show. Only better.

Set a decade prior to the starship Enterprise’s five year mission, the narrative of Discovery is kicked off by the Federation’s first encounter with the Klingons in a century (events which included those seen on the franchise’s last TV outing in 2005, Enterprise). Detailing those events is hard without committing spoiler crime, but suffice to say the action of this two-part opener takes place close to an accretion belt (where new planets are slowly formed, science fans) around a binary star system. We also spend some time, via flashback, seeing how Michael came to serve under Captain Georgiou seven years previously.

Michael is an outstandingly well-drawn character, and the fact she’s subtly steeped in Trek canon only adds to that strength. In the most basic way, she’s a mix of Kirk and Spock. Born human, she’s orphaned by Klingons (Kirk’s son, famously, was killed by Klingons) and adopted by Spock’s father, Sarek (James Frain, best known as the evil Theo Galavan in Gotham), and raised to be ultra-logical. She thus embodies the show’s age-old examination of logic versus emotion and, by the end of the second episode, she makes a decision that is, in a way, based on both at once. She wants to save her friends and believes doing so is “more important than Star Fleet’s principals”.

As well as the strong central characters, the two-parter is powered by a ticking-clock narrative that barely lets up. It’s never less than thrilling and, it has to be said, much more violent – whether hand-to-hand fighting or in a fantastic epic space battle – than most of Trek has ever been. Then again – there is a war on. Or is there? I guess we’ll find out.

Better than any Trekkie could have hoped for, Discovery is also accessible to casual viewers. Its storylining is so brilliantly tight, and the plot hurtles in truly unexpected directions, that most people will be desperate to beam down to Episode 3 as soon as humanly – or Vulcanly – possible.

This review was first published on the website Vodzilla in 2017. To read it there, together with many more of my reviews, click here.



With Audible’s Sandman adaptation due out in July, Ian Winterton spoke to radio drama pioneer Dirk Maggs about his 30 year quest to turn Neil Gaiman’s ground-breaking comic book into an “audio movie”.

“I will show you terror in a handful of dust.”

These words, featured in print adverts in 1988, introduced the worl d to a new comic book series from DC’s Vertigo imprint: The Sandman. Written by a then largely unknown Neil Gaiman, it told the tale of Dream, known to many as Morpheus, one of the seven Endless. A dizzyingly brilliant blend of mythology, history and fantasy, it quickly transitioned from cult hit to mainstream success and Gaiman, along with Alan Moore and Frank Miller, became part of the late-80s graphic novel renaissance.

Unlike countless other comic book creations, Sandman was never adapted into other mediums – until now. But it’s not a film, or a TV series or a video game, but an audio drama, with no less a legend than Dirk Maggs at the helm. A pioneer in

the field these past 30 years, his innovative and varied body of work includes radio versions of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and Judge Dredd.

“I discovered early on,” he says, “in the late 80s, early 90s, that I had a knack for taking comic book material and editing and massaging it in such a way as to make driving, exciting audio which sounded just like a film but had no pictures – which were created in the listener’s brain. We expanded into Dolby Surround, we introduced especially composed scores – it was all happening.”

Of all the superheroes getting what Maggs describes as his “audio movie”, there was one above all others that he was desperate to adapt: Sandman.

“DC at that time were based in New York City,” Maggs recounts, “and I hit it off especially well with their Business Affairs Manager, Phyllis Hume, a feisty no-nonsense Brooklynite who had a wonderfully dry sense of humour and didn’t waste praise where it wasn’t earned. She told me to read this ‘amazing’ new series coming out on DC/Vertigo. I read the first issue and was blown away. It was a monumental work of literature written for a 22 page comic book –punchy, direct, uncluttered by stereotypes, and exactly the sort of material I knew I could turn in amazing audio.”

He pitched it to the BBC and… they passed.

“It was frustrating,” he sighs, “but Neil wasn’t the figure he is nowadays and they were wary about having too much comic book entertainment – wary of ‘dumbing down’,  perhaps. It made no sense to me because it was ready made for the audience the BBC networks – particularly Radio 4 – supposedly wanted to attract: anyone under 50, basically. I pitched it several times over the years, but they just couldn’t see it, not even when Neil became a respected and applauded novelist and screenwriter.”

Disappointing though this was, Dirk’s correspondence with Gaiman turned into a friendship – and they discovered that they had both been close to Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who died aged just 49 in 2001.

“Neil was mentored early on by Douglas,” says Maggs, “while he changed my life when he chose me to adapt his later Hitchhiker novels for radio.”

While Sandman remained elusive, Maggs’ friendship with Gaiman bore other audio fruit as the years 2013-2017 saw BBC radio commissioning audio movies of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Stardust, Anansi Boys and, co-written with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens.

This flurry of activity coincided with one of the stranger consequences of our internet age: the return of audio drama. Though it had never gone away for UK citizens, thanks largely to BBC Radio 4, audiences across the globe rediscovered this lost artform. And were willing to pay for new content.

Enter Amazon’s audiobook arm, Audible, brandishing chequebook. Maggs, with his reputation for turning properties with cult cache into unmissable radio, was tasked with adapting Alien spin-off novels. The results were astounding and, as many reviewers noted, far superior to the dreary prequels being churned out by Ridley Scott at the same time.

Then it happened – DC contacted Maggs and Audible: would they like to adapt Sandman?

“I many ways it’s perfect that we’ve had to wait,” is Maggs’ philosophical take. “Neil says he’s glad, too, because we’re better at what we do. The Sandman is like a good wine – it grows richer and more complex the older you leave it, and I don’t think I could have brought out half of its quiet complexities 25 years ago.”

And there’s the added bonus of Amazon-Audible’s deep pockets, which enabled Maggs to assemble a huge cast, including many “very famous” actors – none of whom Maggs can yet reveal.

“Strictly embargoed, I’m afraid,” he says. “But all I’ll say is it’s strange we didn’t record in Los Angeles considering the Hollywood talent we secured.”

Of Dream, himself, Maggs won’t be drawn, except to say that the actor in question was his first and only choice.

“Oh heck, what can I say? He was always there. He has exactly what Dream needs to come to life … and he is amazing.”

Recording was divided between London, New York and Atlanta, Georgia – the location of The Walking Dead’s production base. If there’s a conclusion to be drawn from that, Maggs is keeping his lips firmly zipped. Either way, it’s “by far the biggest cast” Maggs has ever had on a single project.

“I make it 70, on a quick head count. All are brilliant, there really are no exceptions. Everybody brought their ‘A’ game. In the ensemble sessions last October we had up to 15 people at any one time in a studio built for a third of that number. But everybody was so into the material, and the characters and stories themselves are so gripping that where possible I ran the whole story in one go, recorded voices-only to the mics. It was absolutely enthralling to hear it performed like that. And it wasn’t just the stars who made it sing – the whole ensemble absolutely soared into the realms of Dream. Listening to it now, in post-production where I’m currently labouring, it’s all sounding amazing.”

One cast member who has been announced is Neil Gaiman himself, on board as the narrator. To create the narration, Maggs made the inspired choice to draw, not only on the words printed in the comic books, but Gaiman’s actual scripts.

“It is one of the most exciting things about this project,” Maggs enthuses. “The scripts are  a window into what is going on in Neil’s mind, as he is writing the stories. And they are poetry. There’s a scansion to his writing, a rhythm that can be gentle or formal, from blank verse to iambic pentameter – and of course Will Shakespeare does feature in two of the stories in this first series. Part of the joy of the process was to hear our actors – some senior Shakespearian ones too – breathing life into these lines, lifting them off the page, giving them that rhythm. There were times in studio where shivers ran up my back as dialogue I had only ever read off the page burst into vibrant, living existence.”

Maggs even incorporated a passage from Gaiman’s private papers.

“It’s never been heard, or read by anyone but Neil,” Maggs explains. “He wrote some background on the creation of Dream’s talisman, his Ruby, and I placed it during the confrontation with Doctor John Dee, because it’s the subject of the story and it is beautiful and riveting.”

The whole experience has been a “privilege” says Maggs. And not, it would seem, just for him. Gaiman himself has quietly expressed a joy at revisiting stories he wrote 30 years ago, though he doesn’t recognise the person he wrote them as himself. Maggs says:

“At the end of a particularly good mixing day a short while ago I emailed Neil and said, ‘This stuff just comes alive – damn, you’re good.’ He came back saying he’s not sure he recognises the person who wrote it because it was so long ago. I assured him that whoever that person was, they had created magic – and it translates beautifully into our strangely visual realm of pure audio.”

A slightly shorter version of this feature appeared in SciFiNow in April 2020.


INTERVIEW: Cast and crew of Brit body-horror ‘Await Further Instructions’

Is there anything more terrifying than being stuck in the house – unable to so much as wander onto the patio for a crafty cigarette – with your own family? Yes. Imagine that scenario but ON CHRISTMAS DAY. Such is the inventively claustrophobic premise of Await Further Instructions, which sees grumpy patriarch Tony trapped inside with his nearest and not-so-dearest over the festive season. The force imprisoning them is some sort of sentient black goo, and the only contact they have with the outside world comes from the ever-vigilant television. Its first message: AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.

Melding savage satire with gleefully grim gore Await… has been a hit at horror fests across Europe and beyond. VODzilla caught up with the team at Manchester’s Grimmfest back in October and discussed our trust in TV, dysfunctional families, body-horror and Brexit.

IN CONVERSATION: Ian Winterton with Gavin Williams (screenwriter), Johnny Kevorkian (director), Jack Tarling (producer) and Grant Masters (lead actor).

So, congratulations on a brilliantly taut horror film. How did it come about?
Gavin Williams: I had the idea 10 years ago, New Year’s Eve 2008, and I was travelling down with my then girlfriend and I’d bought an album by a band called The National and this song comes on called Apartment and the lyric is ‘Stay indoors until someone finds you / do whatever the TV tells you’ and that rattled around my brain and I started thinking it was a good set-up for a horror film
Johnny Kevorkian: They can’t work out what it is – is it terrorism or whatever – they can’t get out and they then have to figure out…. It communicates with them via the TV. It sends them their first message ‘Await further instructions’.

It was conceived of during the festive season and is set over Christmas – was that always part of the idea?
GW: Not immediately but when you start developing an idea, you take the premise to its logical extreme to up the tension, the conflict. One thing about being an independent filmmaker is you’ve got no money so you look for an idea can you make cheaply. This was set in one location, so it has that idea of conflict baked into it. My first thought was it was a horror film so lots of teenage kids trapped in a house but then I realised it had to be a family – the hierarchy of that, and dysfunction that can be transmitted down the generations. So it soon became about being stuck in a house, unable to get out, with your family. For most people that would be bad enough but when you think ‘When would that be the worst possible time to happen?’ then the answer is Christmas.
Especially with racist granddad – Game of Thrones’s David Bradley.
JK: Getting him attached to the project was a highlight. And he was, of course, utterly brilliant.

With Granddad’s racism, and his antipathy towards his grandson’s Asian girlfriend, and also Grant’s character, Tony, the father, stuck in between the older and younger generations, how much did recent events play into the film?
Jack Tarling: You mean Brexit? Well, the funny thing is, it was shot in 2015 so it was pre-Brexit. But these things don’t come out of nowhere. At the time David Cameron’s talking about migrant swarms coming into the country and that sort of thing so, looking back, it was in the air. And, of course, on the TV.
Grant Masters: There’s also the religious aspect to my character. There’s media indoctrination but then he’s influenced by something older – religious indoctrination. Which, obviously, is heightened because it’s Christmas.
GW: And TV is sort of this god, too, that you dedicate your life to for hours and hours each week.
The uninvited guest.
GW: Yes. The TV is the antagonist but, in a way, the family do it to themselves. This is what society is – all this bad stuff simmering away just under the surface.
JK: What was good was having quite a long rehearsal period – on the set – so the actors can come together to really feel like genuine family.
GW: Also, as I was first working the idea up, the Credit Crunch was kicking of, and there were lots of people on the TV hearing that there wasn’t any money in the banks and so going down to the banks and queueing up outside banks themselves. So the panic and paranoia that the media can generate and, broader than that, the idea of technology and how, as a layman, a lot of it you can’t understand. If the TV tells you something, is it safer to follow instructions?
JT: There was a delay after the shoot because we had to wait our turn for the CGI and various other things – but that delay has helped us a lot in a way because we’ve since had the rise of nationalism, Brexit, Trump. I keep saying I’d like to shake Trump by the hand.

Ugh. You don’t know where they’ve been.
JT: [Laughs] No. Maybe not then.

The single location really works and it’s testament to your set designer that it’s all actually shot in a studio – you really can’t tell.
JT: We hear that a lot. To get cast and crew into a real house with all the equipment wouldn’t leave much room for creativity.
JK: Yes, Nina Topp, our production designer, was brilliant. We basically shot it outside Yorkshire on three stages. One whole stage was the living room and kitchen, and then the stairs and the upper level, and then the final phase. It meant I could design the shoot down to the last detail – the set was designed to incorporate room for cameras to make certain shots. I had to work all that out beforehand and Nina’s design took all that into account.
JT: It’s a studio in North Yorkshire, about half an hour out of York. The shots of the town is actually a village about 20 minutes away called Hemingbrough.
Thanks to IMDb I can tell you that Await Further Instructions is the only film to have ever been shot there.
JT: [Joking] Maybe I’ll use that as part of the marketing…

It’s testimony to the writing that, although there are all these current issues swirling about beneath the surface, it’s not too on the nose. For this reason – social commentary coupled with very gory body horror – it brings to mind the films of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg.
GW: It’s all those things – it’s about a range of issues which will give it more of a shelf life.
You shot the whole thing in five weeks?
JT: Yes, and a week of that was the end sequence.
It’s hard to talk about without spoilers but this very much focuses on Tony…
GM: How much can we talk about it without spoiling it?
JT: Well, the sort of techno-Hellraiser transformation is up there on the poster. There are certain things we really don’t want to reveal, but if we don’t let people know that there is going to be some juicy horror, then the audience might not buy a ticket. The poster lets people know to expect some Cronenberg-style body-horror, but the wider story, why they’re locked down in their house, we don’t want to give that away.

The film boasts some very effective in-camera visual effects which adds to its Eighties horror vibe.
JK: The Fly is very much an influence – the transformation. But all that Eighties horror, yes. Using practical effects, before CG. Everything you see on screen here is practical effects – we’re using puppeteers, wires, prosthetics – it was physically all there.
GM: Dan Martin did the effects – all the stuff on me. He came in and put it on me every day. And we had technicians on set and a puppeteer for some sections. He’s worked on stuff like Ben Wheatley’s High Rise and A Field in England, and he was working on something massive at the same time and he kept coming to our set and saying, ‘I much prefer doing this’.

In this era of bland 12-certificate so-called horror movies, there are some refreshingly horrific scenes. The in-utero baby and the skeleton, for instance… But it’s still only a 15 – what do you have to do these days to get an X-certificate?
JT: Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it to get an 18 as that would limit its commercial potential.
So, Tony, how was that last week of the shoot? Gruelling?
GM: I’ve worn extreme make-up for a few stage jobs before but this was the first time I’d done it on film. I had to be on set for 4am for a week – different layers of the prosthethic s had to be put on. The worst thing was the contact lenses – constantly having to drop water into my eyes. But, really, I loved it. What actor wouldn’t? And being the monster was a real key change after four weeks of playing grumpy dad.
JK: The last film I did had 25 effects shots and this has more than a hundred – and most of them practical effects. I loved the fact that, in the script, you really don’t know where the story is going to go. So many scripts you get to read are samey and wouldn’t be a challenge to do as a director – this was the opposite.
JT: But it’s the characters first – they’re real and three-dimensional. That way the situation, the horror, has more emotional impact. Mike Leigh meets David Cronenberg somebody said…
GW: I’m very, very happy with that description.

This interview appeared at here


A pleasure cruiser chugs up the Thames in the mellow sunlight of a beautiful summer evening. On board, a handful of journalists sip champagne on deck, watching London slide past – the Eye, the Town Hall, swanky apartment blocks and, up ahead, that little slice of Downtown Manhattan, Canary Wharf.

“I love it,” enthuses John Mackenzie, a film director who looks like a weather-beaten version of Jeremy Beadle. “I think it’s fantastic. I love high-rise buildings. I want them to spread up the river some more.”

Having been in the business since the late sixties, Mackenzie’s best known for classic Brit gangster movie The Long Good Friday, the Special Edition DVD release of which has prompted today’s jaunt.

Back in 1980, according to Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine, Docklands represented “more acutely and extensively than any area in England the physical decline of the urban city and the need for urban regeneration”.

In a word, it was a shit-hole. Mackenzie knows better than most how radically Docklands has changed. Not only was the site utilised for its grimy locations, but it was integral to the plot. The film’s antihero, Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), is a gangster desperate to turn legit who sees the undeveloped wasteground as the key to his salvation. Twenty-five years on, it adds an air of prophecy to an already outstanding film.

“We deliberately set it in Docklands because we knew it was going to be huge,” Mackenzie tells Hotdog. “We didn’t know how but we knew it was going to be developed.”

We’re below decks now, in a dining area that, alarmingly, recalls the room in the film where Hoskins brutally thrusts a wine glass into the neck of Derek Thompson, who later found fame as Charlie in Casualty. He’s just one of many ‘faces-of-the-future’ that further bolster the film’s visionary credentials. There’s Dexter Fletcher, Helen Mirren, Eastenders’ Gillian Taylforth and, as a homoerotic hitman, Pierce Brosnan. Mackenzie humbly attributes this talent spotting to “great casting director”, Simone Reynolds.

“Brosnan… As soon as we put him on the
screen… click.”

“She wheeled ‘em in and I picked ‘em. I’m a great believer that some people are born for celluloid. Brosnan was. As soon as we put him on the screen… click.”

With a first-rate supporting cast and a phenomenal performance from Hoskins, …Friday was considered an unequivocal success by all involved. Except the backers.

“They thought it was unpatriotic and pro-IRA,” Mackenzie recounts. “They thought they’d have their cinemas bombed. I said, ‘If it’s pro-IRA, why would they bomb it?’ They decided they’d sell it as a package for TV and chop it down from 105 to 70 minutes.”

If that wasn’t insulting enough, the company took the astonishing decision to dub over Hoskins’ allegedly impenetrable Cockney accent.

“I was so incensed when I heard about this that I went crazy in a corner of Soho,” laughs Mackenzie. “But, as it turned out, that was our ace card because they’d just gone too far. Bob was going to sue them and he got all sorts of high-profile actors like Alec Guinness willing to stand up in court. They got scared and so, when George Harrison and his Handmade company got involved, we were able to buy it pretty cheaply.”

A modest hit when it was eventually released, …Friday has since come to be recognised as one of the best British movies ever. Its influence can be felt in numerous other films, both homegrown (Lock, Stock) and foreign (Pusher). Given its popularity, it’s perhaps unsurprising that rumours of a sequel have been rife. Surely this would ruin the film’s audacious ending?

“I killed Harold 25 years ago and he’s staying dead.”

“It would,” agrees Mackenzie, “which is why I would never do one. But I’ve been inundated by Bob and Barry [Hanson, producer]. Because you never saw Harold get killed, they want him to have jumped out of the car or something. But there’s no way I’m going to cheat like that. I killed Harold 25 years ago and he’s staying dead.”

This article appeared in Hotdog Magazine in 2005.