Archive for October, 2010

right, now strictly speaking, berthaBertha wasn’t a robot, she was a factory machine who would usually solve the crisis of the day by manufacturing some vital item. nevertheless, i reckon she definitely qualifies through virtue of having big robot hands, a big robot mouth, and generally being totally sweet. i remember watching this show in my very early childhood and being wowed by the important socio-economic class issues of the time. i mean, who could forget the episode where the workers go on strike and shut Bertha down? of course, the bit where they go on to scab after being tempted by a large pot of tea somewhat ruins it, but we’ll forget about that… there was definitely a worker/boss divide in the show that mirrored the miner’s strike going on at the same time.

Tom Berthaback to the robots. Bertha made a range of items such as springs, garden gnomes, other robots, cuckoo clocks, windmill shaped money boxes… Bertha truly is the most versatile factory robot ever created. hardly surprising that the bosses often relied on her as their best machine! i have to say, my memories of the show are somewhat vague, and it’s only the theme tune that sticks well in my mind. all the other details i’ve had to look up, but this has jogged my memory, leading me to remember that there was in fact another robot in the show called T.O.M. (Talk Operated Machine). i’ve been watching some YouTube vids and i forgot how cool he was! especially when he dropped a plant pot on one of the boss’s head from the top of a flight of stairs. this was during the workers’ strike. great show of solidarity T.O.M.!

anyway, i’m off to watch as much Bertha as i can find on YouTube. i’ve given you two cool robots for the price of one in this issue, so that should keep you ticking over for a little bit. all i need to do now is get rid of the theme tune that’s running round and round in my head…


Introducing Nigel

this is Nigel. he’s my robot and myrobot toy sister bought him for me for Christmas a few years back. he’s quite a simple robot – he doesn’t want for much, apart from being wound up every now and then, at which point he wanders round for a bit, before descending into another bout of listlessness. he doesn’t talk much either, in fact i don’t think i’ve ever heard him say anything. he just sort of stands there on my shelf most of the time, looking down at me from the top of my pile of DVDs. he’s great though, whenever i need him he’s always there. nice and reliable. i think the time might be right though for Nigel to see some of the world, as all he’s seen so far is the two bedrooms i’ve lived in since he was given to me. it’s time to show Nigel what he’s missing out on. the adventure starts here, young Nige.

Sparky the Robot

i went to Glastonbury Festival this year, and in amongst the various bits of music, artwork, craft areas and marketplaces, i came across one of my favourite things i saw this summer. an actual adult sized robot called Sparky, that walked (well, it kind of rolled about on wheels), talked and interacted with an audience of kids and adults. i’ve not seen anything quite like it, and things like that are often the kind of thing i saw as a kid featured on Tomorrow’s World. even today, i’d be impressed to see something quite so sophisticated on one of those gadget programs, so i was slightly taken aback to find something like this rolling about a field in Somerset.

the robot itself has that classic old school look, as if it was put together by some mad inventor out of spare parts from around the house (actually not too far from the truth! Sparky is made from recycled household objects), and he shoots water from his hand, as well as being quite capable of nodding, waving and spinning round. the most impressive thing is that at first Sparky appears to be completely autonomous, independent of any creator or controller. he certainly had most of the kids enraptured as he reacted to their behaviour and even had some running away in fear (though this may have been because of the water he squirted at them!). hopefully he’s got a whole new generation of children cowering in fear of the coming robot invasion. it was only after a good long while that we managed to spot Sparky’s handler, posing as an onlooker, smartly controlling the bot from behind his back, with what looked like an iPhone hooked up to a remote control. very impressive. anyway, i’ve been checking out Sparky’s website and he’s available for gigs, so take a look. you never know when you might need to hire a robot…
edit: thanks to my mate Jenny whose pictures i’ve nicked!

R2-D2 swimsuit!!!

if i was seeing someone right now, they would definitely be getting this as a christmas present. i’m not even a massive Star Wars fan, but the nerdiness:sexiness ratio has made it instantly desirable. now all i need to do is find a hot female geek to lend me $85, and i might be able to buy it for her… available from here, should anyone feel like splashing out.

special prize for anyone who manages to find me a C3-PO mankini or any other sci-fi related swimwear.

The First Men in the Moon – review

wow! how good was that? Mark Gatiss has long been one of my favourite comic actors, ever since he burst into the mainstream consciousness with the League of Gentlemen. his dedication to the sci-fi genre is well documented, with him being the author of several Doctor Who books in the 90s, but his CV has been well enhanced in recent years with writing credits on the Sherlock Holmes remake, The Quatermass Experiment, the new series of Doctor Who and his History of Horror trilogy, currently showing on BBC4. Gatiss has proven his credentials as a connoisseur of the peculiar, and this didn’t disappoint.

as you might or might not know, i’m a big fan of sci-fi, and i’ve recently started to check out a few of the old sci-fi classics. while i’ve worked my way through The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon is not one i’ve got round to reading yet. that wasn’t going to stop me tuning in for this show though, and from the start we were introduced to the eccentric british gent that we’ve seen Gatiss performing before in previous shows. Gatiss plays that slightly twee and offkey character so well, and his part as Doctor Cavor has a charming air of buffoonery, not least as he frequently proclaims that he and his fellow adventurer Mr Bedford (played by Rory Kinnear) will be absolutely fine… probably.

the low budget for this gives the adaptation that distinctive lo-fi BBC feel, but that doesn’t detract from the piece, as it’s for precisely these kind of productions that BBC4 gets its good reputation. as well as Gatiss’s usual excellent performance, his script contains no mean amount of humour, delivered excellently as he proclaims the moon to be some kind of desolate outpost, like Wales.

i’ve always been fascinated by the novels of HG Wells and his early brand of science fiction. it always delivers that curious mixture of modern science fiction ideas before their time coupled with edwardian Britain. it’s clear where much of the modern steampunk genre takes its influence from, and yet many of these ideas are contained within damning allegories of imperialist rule and human society at the turn of the 20th century. this adaptation plays on that splendidly as intrepid scientist and explorer, Cavor, battles against his businessman companion, Bedford, who appears determined to seek some kind of advantage from his visit to the Moon, whether it be in the form of requisitioning treasures or returning with guns to conquer the civilisation they discover. it finished on a sad note, with no little amount of pathos in Gatiss’s familiar acting style.

as i’ve already mentioned, i’ve yet to read the original novel myself, but i’d love to hear from anyone familiar with it who watched the adaptation, with your views on how successful you thought it was. i’m going to chalk it up as another success for Gatiss and his ever increasing pedigree in all things weird. good job BBC4 and more like this please! by the way, don’t miss The Quatermass Experiment (original film version) on BBC4 tomorrow at 10.45pm!

uh oh…

The First Men in the Moon

just a quick heads up that a new BBC production of The First Men in the Moon is going to be televised tomorrow! the TV adaptation of HG Wells’ classic novel has been written by self confessed sci-fi geek Mark Gatiss and should be worth a look, if it follows the Gatiss trend of turning out great television, with his recent series, A History of Horror and the remake of 1950s classic, The Quatermass Experiment. Gatiss takes a leading role in this remake, along with fellow League of Gentlemen stars Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton who will be playing the Moon and Sun respectively! (should be interesting seeing how that works out…) fingers crossed, this is going to be a faithful adaptation of the original novel, and another show to add to Gatiss’s growing reputation as a sci-fi/fantasy afficionado.

it should be appearing on BBC4 tomorrow night (that’s Tuesday 19th October) at 9pm, though as with most of my televisual viewing, i suspect i’ll be catching it on iPlayer at a later date. possible blog to come when i’ve watched it. let me know if anyone who reads this manages to see it!

i started writing this blog entry in March, and it’s only taken me 7 months to finish it. suffice to say stuff happened that meant i didn’t pay as much attention to the blog as i should have done. shameful i know. anyway, i’ve finally got back in the mood for it, and with me starting a uni course recently, i might be a bit better at writing the odd blog about something which takes my fancy. inspiration is a bitch sometimes. on my course, there are even a couple of sci-fi novels, so if you’re very lucky(!), you might even get me copying an essay or two onto my blog! anyway, on with the robots…

it’s not often i get to talk about two of my favourite things in the same piece, but in this case, my robot of the day has a slightly more cultured background than first appears. Robby the Robot, first appeared in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet (and after that, numerous other tv and film appearances), which is of course an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. that means that Robby, one of the earliest and most iconic examples of robots on film, was based on the Shakespeare character Ariel. it may only be me, but i reckon that’s pretty cool. of course those who might be familiar with Forbidden Planet, probably know that it also starred Leslie Nielsen as Commander John J. Adams in his breakthrough movie role, and it’s worth checking out for this alone.

the film’s poster features Robby in an iconic pose, menacingly carrying a classic 50s pin-up girl. this pose has been copied and adapted ever since, yet ironically, this was not a scene in the movie. Robby was in fact a friendly robot, with the only instance of him carrying someone being the rescue of an injured male character. nevertheless, Robby became a huge star, appearing in Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Wonder Woman, Gremlins, The Simpsons, Futurama and even as a prop in a Doctor Who episode. i could probably go on and on about Robby, going through all of his appearances, but it might get boring after a while. to you anyway. suffice to say, that Robby is one of the original, one of the best and one of the most recognisable robots in the world today. that’s he’s inspired by a character in one of my favourite Shakespeare plays just makes him even more ace.