Young Legionary by Douglas Hill (Victor Gollancz, 1982) Serving as a prequel to Hill’s Last Legionary quartet, this fix-up novel follows a young Keill Randor (aged 12, 14, 16 & 18) through four challenges on his way to becoming a Legionary of Moros. Easy SF action escapism for middle-grade readers.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown dir. Bill Melendez (CBS, 1966) For the most part a stilted rehash of the comic strips, watchable only for the original and moodily evocative Flying Ace turned Downed Pilot animation. Commonly hailed as a masterstroke, the use of authentic child voices results in a jarring school-play amateurism.
Tintin in Tibet by Hergé; trans. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Methuen, 1962) A straightforward travel adventure with a touch of mysticism and, unusually for Tintin, no antagonist (and no guns!). Although Hergé plays with reader expectations and includes plenty of slapstick, this volume carries a bleakness that appears reflective of his own inner turmoil.
The Captain [German: Der Hauptmann] dir. Robert Schwentke (2018) [Subtitled] A German deserter in the final weeks of the Second World War stumbles upon the uniform of a Luftwaffe captain and assumes his identity. A tense, grimly realised true story that unflaggingly defies audience expectation of some high-minded purpose behind the deception.
One Hundred and One Black Cats by Stephen Mooser; ill. Quentin Blake (Scholastic, 1975) It’s hard to believe Mooser was paid for this early middle-grade reworking of the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’. It’s fun enough but overly simplified, blandly written and drained of mystery. Wholly unoriginal, save for Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
Guns Akimbo dir. Jason Lei Howden (2020) Daniel Radcliffe works hard to carry this stylised and at times highly violent action comedy. (‘Comedy’ is used here advisedly; a pervasive graphic novel vibe all but obliterates the film’s understated New Zealand humour.) Clunky characterisation and scripting undercut the intended satire.
The Ring O’Bells Mystery by Enid Blyton; ill. Gilbert Dunlop (William Collins, 1951) This third ‘Barney’ mystery might easily have been written during a languorous English summer. The rustic idyll shines warmly from its pages and the adventure unfolds slowly, picking up pace only in the concluding chapters. A pleasant read enlivened by chaotic animals.
Sapphire & Steel, Assignment 5 by Don Houghton & Anthony Read (ITV, 1981) Different writers but the usual mix of otherworldliness and off-kilter intrigue as Sapphire & Steel investigate a 50-year timeslip with built-in murder mystery. The interdimensional operatives again prove remarkably ineffectual in employing their special powers, thereby stretching the story to six episodes.
The Diary of River Song: The Furies by Matt Fitton (Big Finish, 2018) Audially a bit chaotic and not much of a story in its own right, though sufficiently holistic to tie up the third series. Peter Davison has a small role but the true strength of this production lies in its otherwise all-female cast.
Men, Martians and Machines by Eric Frank Russell (Dennis Dobson, 1955) A fix-up novel in which Russell’s characteristic humour is tempered in favour of fully realised SF space opera. Few who’ve read these four interlocked novelettes/novellas will ever forget their mixed-species crew, nor the ingeniously bellicose alien environments that Russell conjures for exploration.