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Start of term = busy = also tired when not actually busy = still haven't finished writing up the Starburst Film Festival I attended in late August. Friday and Saturday are covered at the links; the schedule for Sunday is here, with what I did below.

Sunday schedule.jpg

Space-flight and puzzle games

This day saw a late, lazy start, which meant a very welcome chance to catch up on some sleep. Our first appointment this time was in the gaming area, where you could play an 'I Can't Believe It's Not Star Trek!' simulator / role-playing game, with each person playing a different crew position. I haven't done much of this sort of gaming, so I was a bit worried about messing everything up by just being totally unable to understand or operate the controls, but the people running it were very welcoming and helpful, and by the end of our 50-minute session I felt properly in command of the various things I was supposed to do and was really enjoying myself. My particular role was steering the ship, and although I did accidentally put it into reverse at one point when we were supposed to be going forward, once I'd figured out what everything I could see on the screen meant I think I did a pretty good job of conducting us around our various different missions. Meanwhile, innerbrat as our science officer scanned the ships and space-stations which we encountered to figure out what we should do about them, and newandrewhickey quietly redirected the ship's energy supplies to shields, engines, manoeuvrability or whatever as appropriate. We had a Captain from the game's developers to tell us what to do, but he was no dictator - rather, it was entirely part of the game's set-up that we would talk to each other as well and make decisions together, which was lots of fun. It's a pity we only got 50 minutes on it, as I think we were just getting to the point of mastering our techniques and being ready to direct more of the play ourselves when the session finished, but it's certainly something I enjoyed and would want to do again.

Also, because it was pretty quiet up in the games area on Sunday lunch-time, after we had finished the space-flight game, they also offered us a chance to have a quick go at a puzzle-solving team game called something like 'Keep Talking And Nobody Dies' (can't remember the exact title now), which if anything was even more fun. The scenario was basically the classic action-movie trope of someone trying to defuse a bomb, and having to be given instructions on how to do it without getting blown up by someone else at the end of a phone line who can't see the bomb itself. So innerbrat was on a lap-top looking at various diagrams, while newandrewhickey were frantically thrashing through a manual across the other side of the table, trying to identify the correct situation that she was in, and give her the right instructions in order not to die. E.g. exactly how many and what coloured wires did she have, and therefore what sequence should she cut them in, or which of twelve possible very similar-looking mazes was she in, and therefore which direction did she need to move in? We felt very accomplished after playing two rounds of that without blowing innerbrat up!

Interview with Toby Whithouse

Next up was a one-to-one interview with Toby Whithouse, who has written extensively for Doctor Who and Torchwood, and is the creator and head writer of Being Human. I'd already very much enjoyed hearing him talking about School Reunion the previous day, and getting to hear more detail about his work on Being Human in particular was excellent. He talked about what a demanding job being a show-runner for anything is, and how he had come to see Russell T. Davies' work on Doctor Who in a very different light once he undertook Being Human himself. He also talked about how the concept for Being Human had initially come about, including the fact the the original idea actually hadn't involved supernatural creatures at all, but was based around a house-share between a recovering sex-addict, a person with anger-management issues and an agoraphobic. Only later on did he have the idea to splice that together with another separate concept he'd come up with about vampires, werewolves and ghosts - and of course the rest is history. He also talked about how the various characters' arcs had developed - e.g. that they always knew Mitchell would in some way be brought down by the dark shadow from his past that was the Box Tunnel massacre, though the details were worked out along the way. And said he felt that he was proudest of all of the 'middle act' of the final episode when all three characters are living separately in their ideal worlds as the Devil attempts to break them apart. I can definitely see his point, there - it is powerful stuff.

23. Aliens (1986), dir. James Cameron

This was introduced by Philip Lamont, the production designer, but I think we sneaked in a bit late after the Toby Whithouse interview and missed most of what he had to say. In any case, I can't remember much of it. The film was great, though! It is a very long time since I've seen it, and I realised that I have muddled up a lot of this and Alien between each other in my head. I'd also completely forgotten that the line "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." was an actual real line spoken in all seriousness by Ripley in this movie, rather than a parody extreme reaction for comic effect, as it has become in popular culture. But my own moments of cognitive dissonance aside, it stands up extremely strongly thirty years after its release, and indeed badly shows up a lot of the SF and / or action movies made since for utterly failing to follow its lead in creating strong, three-dimensional female characters and showing up the consequences of men trying to side-line and silence them.

Red Dwarf series XI: exclusive first episode preview and interview with Doug Naylor

Finally, in one of the festival's many timing infelicities, we found ourselves rushing from Aliens to join the queue for this, rather than having time to eat first as the schedule had suggested. It was worth it, though, and definitely exciting to get a sneak preview of a TV episode which hadn't been officially aired yet. We were all sworn to secrecy regarding the details of it, but since it has aired publicly in the time I've taken to get around to writing about it, I don't need to worry any more! The episode we saw was the first of the new series, Twentica, which to me felt very much like classic Red Dwarf back in the day - the crew all just as we remembered them, a neat but not too heavy plot-of-the-week and lots of good jokes. The only noticeable difference was that visually it looked a lot slicker, with some really nice sets, props and special effects. I wouldn't say the episode was blow-you-away, change-your-life amazing, but that's not really what you expect from Red Dwarf anyway. It always was a nice bit of fun, with occasional moments of brilliance. That said, in spite of seeing this preview, I don't seem to have settled in to watching the actual series as it started airing, so I guess it could have been a little stronger to really hook me in. Most of what Doug Naylor said afterwards can be read just as well on the main Red Dwarf Wikipedia page, except that as well as revealing that season XI had been filmed in a single block alongside season XII, due out next year, he also revealed that they were now working on seasons XIII and XIV. So it looks like Red Dwarf really is back to being a regular fixture, and that is definitely all to the good.

Finally, it was time to depart, sad that it had already all come to an end, but already making plans for future fantastic film-related adventures as we bid one another goodbye. I'll certainly come back for another Starburst festival if they do it again next year.

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