Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor Review

Was there any way that this story could possibly live up to expectations? THIS story, THE 50th Anniversary story, THE story with the Tennant/ Smith team-up (with Rose Tyler too), THE follow-up to “The Name of the Doctor” with the scary “new” Doctor played by John Hurt, THE story screened simultaneously across the globe and shown in 3D in cinemas. Surely it can’t live up to that kind of hype? Except it does.

I’ve cheerfully criticised much of what’s gone on in the Name of the Moffat (Series 6, for example) but with these 72 minutes of undiluted Whovian fun, the Moff has nailed it.
Simply watching it in the cinema made it special to start with. First off, we were treated to Strax, the comedy Sontaran, telling us how to behave, then an intro by Smith then Tennant sparring about the wonders of 3D. And then the story began. Moffat started plucking the heartstrings of the fans right from the get go – we open with the original 1963 titles and music and the opening shot is a copy of THE opening shot, before we open out to reveal full colour and find Clara working at Coal Hill School (Chairman of the Board is I. Chesterton – one the Doc’s very first companions). Applause all round.

It’s not all nostalgia; there is an actual story going on. It weaves from the “Fall of Arcadia”, the pivotal event of The Time War, where John Hurt’s “War Doctor” has to commit the act that will destroy Daleks, Time Lords and Gallifrey itself and end the universe-spanning conflict altogether. To do this, he must activate The Moment, a weapon so devastating that it has its own conscience – manifested as a character from the Doctor’s future, being Rose Tyler/ Bad Wolf – a slick way of bringing Billie Piper into the story without the complications of picking up Rose herself. It is Rose that stays the War Doctor’s hand and sparks the “timey-wimey” events that bring three Doctors together.
From here, we catch up with the 10th Doc in Elizabethan England, finding himself involved in a Zygon plot (and getting himself engaged to Queen Elizabeth herself). The 11th Doc dives through time and, at last, the two meet, followed swiftly by the War Doctor (“I’m looking for the Doctor” he says, “You’ve come to the right place,” says No 10).
Fun and jollies with the Zygons (who are on fairly scary form actually) follow, before we get back to the serious business of hitting the Big button that will wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks. At first, Nos 10 and 11 are simply there to be with the War Doctor to press the button and share the burden...BUT, Clara does what Clara does and persuades them to find another way – saving the Doctor(s) yet again.
And it’s a way that brilliantly brings in all of the other Doctors – and we mean ALL of the other Doctors including a brief shot of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and provoking a fair few shrieks from the cinema audience.
The day is saved and, thanks to a very familiar “curator”, the Doctor is given new purpose – to find the lost planet of Gallifrey.

There’s so much to love here – Smith and Tennant are on OTT form, both firing on all cylinders in a display of constant one-upmanship – when the War Doctor arrives we get a wonderful parallel with the original Three Doctors – I was half expecting Hurt to say “so you’re my replacements, a dandy and a clown.” Hurt is more subtle, as expected from the Doctor that’s suffered 400 years of brutal warfare and must bear the heaviest burden of all.
The battles on Gallifrey are suitably epic – scenes that could never be conceived back in the Classic era, but they are kept at an appropriate level – the explosions do not overtake the drama.

This story could have been a weighty, “dark” episode – but instead, Moffat gives us mostly a fun-filled, old fashioned monster (Zygon) romp, fun that is bookended by the darker material.
There’s a lot of humour – No10 and Elizabeth (after Queenie dispatches her Zygon double she notes that “while I may have the weak and feeble body of a woman, so did the Zygon”), the superb and complex way the three Docs work out how to disintegrate a solid wooden door with their sonic screwdrivers (letting the War Doctor’s screwdriver start the calculations that will take 400 years and thus be completed by the 11th Doc’s screwdriver) before Clara opens it and reveals it was unlocked anyway. There’s great supporting characters; Clara and Rose, Kate Stewart and her UNIT team, Queen Elizabeth. There’s a long, long scarf and a Fez (“Can you not walk past one without putting it on?” quips Clara). The aforementioned glimpse of Doctor no 13 (which means Doc’s 10 and 11 should be moved up to Nos 11 and 12). And then there’s Tom Baker – the man who will always be, perhaps, THE Doctor.

The way that the Doctors save Gallifrey is truly inspired – presaged by their attempt at door disintegration, they form a plan to make the planet disappear and let the Daleks destroy themselves – but it will take centuries to make the calculations says the Time Lord General. But that’s OK, because when the First Doctor is the first to start working on it, then they have centuries.

And so, what could have been a very good story of 3 Doctors becomes a truly great story of 13 Doctors.

This special was described by its Producers as a love letter to the fans; and there’s a lot of love on display. From the Tardis swinging across London, and a full on Dalek planetary assault, and horse rides with the Queen, and Timelord paintings, and sonic screwdriver rivalry, acknowledging the UNIT dating conundrum... to the darkest decision of all, the regeneration loop all wrapped up and the impossible girl reminding us all that the Doctor is called The Doctor for a reason. And, a terribly familiar curator launching the show into the future.

The Day of the Doctor is many things – it is a celebration of the show’s rich and wonderful past, it is a celebration of its current and hugely successful present and it is a hint of a thrilling future. Past, present and future – it is a show about time travel after all.

Happy Birthday Doctor Who – it’s been a hell of a ride so far, and who knows what the future holds? Who knows? Who knows.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obama pulls a Homer

It strikes me that the recent turn of events surrounding Syria, the Chemical weapons, threatened military action and so forth, have resulted in President Obama “pulling a Homer”.

For those not-so-dedicated Simpsons fans, the phrase is defined as “to succeed despite idiocy” – in the episode “Homer defined”, Homer accidentally causes the nuclear plant to go into meltdown, then, by dumb luck, manages to avert the meltdown and save the plant, Springfield etc.

With Syria, when Obama declared that using Chemical weapons was a “red line” that Assad could not cross, he effectively forced his own hand into action when these vile weapons were deployed.

If only it were as simple as Fox News would like – The US of A could destroy Assad’s Chemical weapons capabilities, deal a crippling blow to his evil regime, and the “good guys” of the Syrian resistance would sweep Assad from power and a new era of peace, democracy and better oil trading with the West would begin. Of course, Obama found himself in a far more complex situation. IF, it could be proved that Assad deployed the chemical weapons, IF it were possible to locate the weapons, If it were possible to destroy them without civilian casualties, IF the US could do this as part of a truly International effort with a UN mandate...then, just maybe, all would work out fine.

But, with his major ally showing no stomach for any action (being Britain, and I suspect a possibly relieved David Cameron who may have looked weak when he lost the vote, but at least avoided getting sucked into conflict), Russia and China certainly not letting any use of force to pass through the UN, and the US Congress being mighty reluctant to authorize military action – Obama found himself looking ineffective and guilty of making empty threats.

This is where dumb luck (for Obama) comes in – a casual remark by John Kerry suddenly becomes a Russian Peace initiative.

On the surface, you could say that Obama comes out of this looking terrible - the Russians bat the useless American efforts at sabre-rattling aside, prevent escalating violence and bring Assad to the peace table. And a humiliating address to the American people by Putin in a US newspaper can never be a good thing to happen under your Presidency.

However, looking at this in another way....

With the threat of American force, Obama has made Russia, who have long stood in the way of any sanctions that might have curbed Assad’s brutality, come to step up and actually take some responsible action. Russia may score a few points right now, but if/ when Assad fails to comply with demands to surrender his chemical weapons, they will surely be forced to take a harder line.

So – Obama may succeed in removing Assad’s WMDs, he also may have neutralized future Russian blocks to meaningful further action against Assad; which also means Assad loses a lot of the support of one of his biggest allies. Obama has not handed Syria to a bunch of extreme Jihadists by just cutting Assad’s regime away – and he’s managed to do this without firing a single American bullet.

Bush used shock and awe (and billions of dollars and thousands of lives) to achieve only worldwide contempt for the US and plunge Iraq into bloody civil war. Obama made a threat and may have neutralized a brutal and oppressive regime.

Time will tell of course – I think there is, sadly, a lot more blood still to be shed by the people of Syria. While the various deals/ proposals etc being bandied around at the moment may offer a glimmer of hope that, at least, the Chemical weapons may be taken out of the equation, history tells us that strong words frequently mean nothing.

But, if this does turn out to the good – ie Chemical weapons removed and destroyed, Obama may well have scored a significant victory – even though it might come about in spite of, instead of because of, his actions.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Doctor Who - Season 7 Review/ rambling....

First things first Season 7 was way better than Season 6. A quick and dirty recap of Season 6:
Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon – a cracking start, nasty aliens, clever resolution with intriguing hints of the larger story to come.
The Curse of the Black Spot – the worst episode since Love and Monsters. Down there with The Twin Dilemma awfulness.
The Doctor’s Wife – sort of interesting, but over-indulgent
The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People – actually, quite good
A Good Man goes to War – a long way up itself, but with enough thrills and spills to be fun, a good twist but let down by the revelation that River was Amy’s daughter
And then came the second half....

Let’s Kill Hitler – Poor
Night Terrors – seen it all before
The Girl who waited – YES, Amy loves Rory, how many times do we have to be told? And look, a robot thing with a catchphrase.
The God Complex – seen it all before, in fact, two episodes ago.
Closing Time – oh please...
The Wedding of River Song – and reset.
So overall, a decent start which nose-dived in the second half. Which brings us to Season Seven. We’ll ignore the 2011 Xmas special because it was terrible.

Asylum of the Daleks – superb, best NuWho since...possibly since Who returned.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship – almost daft, but they pull it off. A decent villain for a change.
A Town called Mercy – predictable but good stuff.
The Power of Three – surprisingly good despite being yet another sodding character piece.
The Angels Take Manhattan – Weeping Angels have jumped the shark, although the Statue of Liberty as Angel was impressive. But this was good because we finally saw the back of Amy and Rory who had gone on way too long.
The Snowmen – superb, best Nu Who since...oh, Asylum of the Daleks.
The Bells of St John – watchable but not what you’d call good.
The Rings of Akhatan – oh dear, is it Season 6B revisited?
Cold War – thank God NO – Ice Warriors return in style.
Hide – haunted house stories are getting a bit tired, but solid work.
Journey to the Centre of the Tardis – bleuurgh.
The Crimson Horror – Another good villain – that’s two in one season.
Nightmare in Silver – the best Nu Who since....The Snowmen
The Name of the Doctor – a bit of a reset but a good tease for the 50th Special.

My overall gripes are Amy and Rory dragging on and how the mid-season break distorts the flow of stories – we’re just waiting for the mid-season “event”, the rest is almost filler (if sometimes very good filler). Clara was superb in Asylum and the Snowmen but took a few stories to pick up again. Cold War saved the second half and Nightmare brought it home with gusto.
All in all, a great improvement and a great new companion gee’d things up nicely. Season 6 just bogged itself down in too much Amy/ Rory-ness – Season 7 was a return to plain old villains and monsters (and returning villains and monsters), with Daleks and Cybermen getting their best outings for a long while, the revived (should we say defrosted) Ice Warriors and reintroduced Great Intelligence. Matt Smith continued to rise above some mediocre material, but thankfully, not too much mediocre material – in Nightmare in Silver, I’d argue he hit his highest notes yet. Sadly we’ve only got two more adventures with him – the Big Special and then the Xmas episode.
Coming up, though, is even greater excitement – we hope. Who is this “other” Doctor played by John Hurt? What fun and jollies will go down in the 50th Anniversary Special, with Doc no 10 and Rose Tyler returning? And how will No 11 regenerate into No 12 – in the form of Peter Capaldi?

My personal hopes for Season 8:
No mid-season break – 13 straight episodes, please.
Slow down a bit for longer two-parters. Maybe even try for a meaningful three-parter.
Enough of the mysterious companion nonsense. Clara’s role is to have stuff explained to her (and thus, us), lose the Doc and meet the locals and tell the Doc where he is going wrong. She is along for the ride because it is fun; not because she is in love with the Doc or getting over something, or because the Doc is finding out who she is. Note how I have refrained from saying that her role is to look pretty. This is 2013, you know....
How about a nasty, villainous villain doing something nasty that the Doctor will sort out? No need for paradoxical timey-wimey-ness.
New villains and new monsters – once we’re past the Big 50, let’s put the old stuff on ice for a while, shall we?
An episode (or two) commissioned from a bright new writer based in New Zealand, shot in Wellington and directed by my chum* and almost neighbor, Peter Jackson.

Anyhoo - that's my wrapping up. Now, go and buy my ebook, ideal for Dr Who fans -

*When I say chum, I have seen him drive past my bus stop several times in his lovely silver Aston Martin DB5. If he stopped and said Hi, I’m sure we’d get on like a house on fire.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Iain M Banks - a wee tribute

Iain Banks, one of our finest sci-fi writers, indeed one of our finest writers, died on June 9th, 2013. It’s always sad when one of your favourite artists passes – the notion that I won’t get to read another new Culture novel, or enjoy the jet black humour of his, supposedly, mainstream fiction is heartbreaking.

“Excession” was the first of his books that I read – a terrific piece of space opera that, for me, blew the genre apart. At the time, to my shame, my sci-fi reading had largely deteriorated to Star Trek and Star Wars levels, in prose at least. In comics I had soared with Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman (among others), but my novel reading remained distinctly pedestrian.
And my rambling attempts at writing had been at wonky, quest based (Tolkien rip-off) sword and sorcery, and a space war-based (Star Wars rip-off) sci-fi.

And then, I picked up “Excession” from the library and realised that imagination could fly so, so much farther.

The Culture (Bank’s super-advanced space-living, egalitarian, super-liberal society) was light years away from the simplistic societies envisaged by the two big sci-fi franchises. Let’s face it, much as I still love Trek and SW, they are really just Earth bound stories and characters thrown into space. They are hardly “real” sci-fi in that they hardly deviate from modern Earth technology. A gun with a laser beam is still just a gun.
Banks took a step back and really thought about where technology could take us.
The stars of the Culture are not boldly going humans – it’s the vast “minds” that are the heart and souls of the city-sized starships. In Excession, the villains of the piece, for want of a better term, are not sinister megalomaniacs intent on conquest and power, it’s a bunch of many legged gas balloons whose whole society revels in cruelty and oppression. And even the “Afront” pale in comparison to the grim society of “the Player of Games”.
The “humans” in the Culture can simply “gland” mood enhancing drugs into their systems, they can transfer their minds into other bodies (alien, human, whatever), they can change gender, they don’t die - unless they choose to, and even then they may be uploaded to a virtual heaven long before they finally decide to switch themselves off.

After reading Excession, my Star Wars rip-off was retired. My Tolkien rip-off is not quite dead, but if it is ever resurrected it will be in a radically different form.
I can’t claim that my writing will ever reach Bank’s giddy heights of imagination, but the lesson learned is that I have to try.

And his so-called mainstream work? Read “The Wasp Factory” and ask yourself how mainstream that is.

When I see yet another sodding vampire/ werewolf/ shadow world beneath our world/ kids of destiny with exceptional powers story on the shelves – I wonder how those writers live with themselves. Of course, my own work is probably a pale rip-off of Iain Bank’s so I can’t get too judgmental.

I have few regrets in life, BUT – on the one time I actually got to meet the great man, I didn’t ask him anything. He was signing copies of “Dead Air” in a bookshop near my work one lunchtime – I bought a copy in a rush and got it signed for my brother as a Xmas prezzie – I was rushing so much I didn’t think to ask him to explain what the hell “Walking on Glass” was about, or just what that thing was in “Excession”, or at what point in writing “Use of Weapons” did the big twist come to him....

I was lucky enough to meet his one-time publishing editor, John Jarrold*, who explained how he handled the big twist in the publicity and just why “Inversions” is actually a Culture novel, NOT sword and sorcery as my non sci-fi reading friend once thought.

For those who have not read Iain Banks, I’d suggest starting with “Consider Phlebas” as a first Iain M Banks – it’s the first Culture novel and a great trip around how it works. As for the equally superb Iain Banks (without the M) work – maybe try “Espedair Street” as it’s not as jarring as “The Wasp Factory”. Frankly, anything with his name, with or without an “M” will take you places that you never thought you’d go.

To those who knew and loved Mr Banks, their loss must be immeasurable and my thoughts are with them. One hopes it is a small comfort that his work will live on, and continue to excite readers forever.

A wee bit of Culture fan-fic/ flash fic.....

“I need to sublime.”
-Ahem, the Culture does NOT sublime.
“Ok, how can I shuffle off this mortal coil?”
-There’s always the after-life. And there’s lots of options.
“No. That’s just a different kind of physical plane. I want out. Altogether.”
-Tricky. No one has died in the Culture for millenia. Ten thousand years ago, some guy managed to get his body dropped into a star from a non-Culture ship a long way from any Culture influence. Even then, we were able to reconstruct him.
“I know. And I wish you’d never bothered.”
-Heh. No one f**ks with the Culture.

And at some point I will do my Doctor Who Season 7 summing up – hell, what about the Doctor meeting the Culture? Now that would be a Who story and a half...

*And if it wasn’t for John Jarrold, I probably wouldn’t still be trying to write to this day – but that’s another story.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

DOCTOR WHO REVIEW - The Name of the Doctor

The Name of the Doctor

I feel a little conned. I did NOT learn the Name of the Doctor. River Song knows it, and seems to be the only one that does. When did he actually tell her?
However, apart from a niggling manipulation of our expectations, this episode was almost an epic conclusion to the series and prequel/ lead-in/ cliffhanger for the 50th Anniversary story.
I say “almost”. This is a story that you don’t want to step back and think about too much. Motivations for the Conference call between Madame Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara and River seem somewhat spurious. The whispermen are not really explained. The Great Intelligence’s Great scheme to wipe out the Doctor seems a little simplistic and considering how terrible and dangerous mucking about with time is, the Doc seems to make easy work of doing just that.
On the plus side – there is tremendous pace – the Whispermen can’t be stopped by a wave of the Sonic screwdriver so when they’re after you, you’d really better run. Trenzalore is brilliantly realised and the colossal expanded Tardis is a sight to behold.
The opening is one for old fans (such as myself) to love – the scene where the First Doctor goes to steal a Tardis with Susan (which surely tells us that Susan is a Time Lady – could she regenerate at some point?. One assumes she still lives on future, post Dalek Invasion Earth). And then, fleeting glimpses of the other Doctors and Clara – she is The Impossible Girl, destined to save the Doctor over and over again.
The explanation is a classic bit of Moffat timey-wimey-ness; she has to throw herself into the Doc’s timeline to counter-act the Great Intelligence’s effect after he threw himself into the Doc’s timeline, which is why she can keep on turning up to save the Doctor’s life. Which begs a paradoxical question – so where has she been all this time?
And then, the explanation of the episode title – not the Doctor’s name as in first name and surname, but “IN” the name of the Doctor – all of which sends us charging into the forgotten Doctor, as played by John Hurt (and with a big shiny caption to make sure we understand who he is), which will roll into the BIG 50th anniversary.
I could criticize this episode – essentially it’s a load of running around heading ever closer to a terrible place with terrible consequences – but when they get to the terrible end, it’s really a chance for a load of exposition and it’s all sorted out by a leaf. But it’s done with a lot of style, so we’ll let it go.
And now that we know who Clara is, hopefully she can stop being a story arc and finally step up to being the sassy and saucy wonder that we loved in Asylum of the Daleks. With the announcement that Matt Smith will be leaving us after the 50th Anniversary story and then the 2013 Xmas episode, we should get to see Clara usher in a new Doctor. Exciting stuff ahead.
Next week, I’ll chuck together a rambling appraisal of the whole of Season 7. In the meantime, we’ll bring in the last episode of our flash-fic/ fan-fic. I was completely stuck for an ending, having written myself into a total hole. BUT, hey, we have a fresh new slice of Who canon to work with now....

Consequences of Time Episode 8

“What about reversing the polarity flow?” said Clara.
The Doctor paused. Had Clara always been there? Did she get out of the van with Graf? No time to care. Graf didn’t seem fazed.
The Doctor ran to the big box. Graf took a step, Clara caught him.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” muttered the Doctor. He made an adjustment, fired up his sonic screwdriver.
The thundering soundwave floored them all.
Time flickered. As the Doctor, Graf and Clara stood, a crowd of bewildered people stood around the machine. The wind was rising. No-one was dying. No-one had died.

And there we have it. Once again, the value of pre-planning comes to the fore and would have meant me not having a colossal cop-out, reset button ending. However, if it’s good enough for Steven Moffat, it’s good enough for me.
Tomorrow – a wee tribute to the Great Iain Banks, who has sadly passed away, although one assumes he has been uploaded to the Culture.

Friday, May 31, 2013

DOCTOR WHO REVIEW - Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver
Now we’re cooking with gas, or to be more accurate, Neil Gaiman is. I said in my review of Cold War that it was nudging The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks in quality. Nightmare in Silver is right up alongside those two – rating as one of the best Nu-Who’s of them all, and definitely the best Nu-Who Cyberman story.
This season has been a little uneven, but the consistent note of excellence has been Matt Smith – and in this story he is better than ever. He gets to play the Doc (of course) but is also on fire as the Doctor possessed (implanted?) by the Cyber-planner consciousness. I’ve often found a lack of strong villain characters in Nu-Who, but this season has made amends (Daleks being supremely villainous, that nasty sod with the Dinosaurs, The Great Intelligence, Celia Imrie, the Ice Warrior, Diana Rigg) – and Smith, himself, provides possibly the best.
There is strong support all round – the soldiers are great, Warwick Davis is wonderful and Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara is now firing on all cylinders – being put in charge by the Doc, and making sure that no one blows up the planet.
The Cybermen get a thorough upgrade (naturally). Part of me worried that they were turning a bit Borg, especially the implants and ability to upgrade on the fly. However, as we Who fans all know, the Borg were ripped-off Cybermen in the first place (I’m ashamed to say that the Borg were the Cybermen done right) so I see this episode as just the Cybermen retaining their place as THE sci-fi cyborg/ robot men type of villain. Frankly, even The Terminator would have trouble against these Cybermen.
The story has mystery, then pace, then action, then scariness, then a big reveal, and then a big explosion. What more do you want?
Next time – The Name of the Doctor. Which has some of my UK chums in a right tizzy – in a good way....

And now, can I possibly make some sense out of this flash fic story?

Consequences of Time - Episode Seven

“Would you be the Frozen Terror?” asked the Doctor.
Graf started walking forwards. The wind began to pick up again.
“Stop,” shouted the Doctor. Graf halted. The wind died.
“So?” shrugged the Doctor. Beside him, Graf gasped.
“All wind stops,” said Graf. “No wind, no power, no people.”
“Wind happens naturally. You don’t need people to fuel it,” said the Doctor.
The Doctor used the Sonic Screwdriver. Not good, not good at all.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror Review

The Crimson Horror

And to think, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. How wrong can you be? This was an absolute corker. Mark Gatiss, who wrote the earlier corker “Cold War” produces the goods again.
I was ready to hate Strax – but he wins me over, he is a comedy character but he is let loose to be a proper warrior as well.
Perhaps the Victorian era is overly used in Nu-Who, but the Doc has a very solid reason to go there as part of the quest to figure out what/ who Clara is.
Our Silurian and her lady-friend are on good form investigating the weird goings-on, and actually rescuing the Doc (to some extent). Smith, as always, is on excellent form, and JLC finally gets a decent outing as Clara – bringing the sauciness and sassiness of her debut stories.
With Diana Rigg, we have a proper villain – a thoroughly nasty piece of work, perfectly willing to do nasty experiments on her own daughter (played by her actual real daughter, Rachael Stirling). Stirling is superb, blind, disfigured, abandoned yet still capable of compassion and fury. And Rigg is a villain to the end – as she dies she asks her daughter “Can you forgive me?” The daughter replies “never”. “That’s my girl,” says Mum with pride before her last gasp.
All that AND a sort of cliff-hanger/ lead-in to next week as the kids that Clara nannies for discover her time-travelling antics (although Clara seems bemused by the pic of her in Victorian London...) and insist she takes them along...
....along to meet the Cybermen in the next episode it seems..

And now, fanfic/ flashfic..

Consequences of Time – Episode 6
The wind stopped. “That’s better,” said the Doctor. He looked up, but didn’t let Graf go.
“What have you done?” grunted Graf, his voice muffled with his face in the snow.
The snow, which had obscured everything, was now settling. A dark shape ahead was materializing as the view became clearer.
“Your frozen terror,” said the Doctor, letting Graf raise his head.
“What is it?” he asked. The Doctor climbed off. Both men stood.
“No idea,” said the Doctor as he walked towards the large, black cube.
“STOP RIGHT THERE, OR DIE!” boomed a huge, electronic voice. The Doctor stopped.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Doctor Who Review - Journey to the Centre of the Tardis

At first glance, there was a lot to like here. Creepy monsters chasing our heroes (and villains) around the surreal depths of the Tardis – all very well realised and managing to overcome a severe case of “running down corridors”. Alternate console rooms, a library with the “History of the Last Great Time War” and the Eye of Harmony itself. Unfortunately, it’s all too obvious for a story set on the Tardis to go nowhere – and that’s precisely where this story goes.
A gormlessly contrived reason for the Tardis “crashing” on a salvage ship (they turn off the security settings so Clara can have a go at flying the Tardis, in an attempt to get the Tardis to like her). Three brothers (or rather two and an android) who come from a long line of grubby workmen in space (Alien, Darkstar, The Impossible Planet, 42 and so on...) decide they will tear the Tardis apart. Oh come on – seriously, a bog-standard salvage crew try to take on the Tardis?
To be fair, I quite liked the brothers – they were interesting enough, enough amorality without being actually evil and even a fair bit of genuine good.
Smith, as always, on excellent form. JLC, on good form, but again given little by the script. There’s a possible revelation in the library, a neat plot twist about the salvage crew, a thundering confrontation between Clara and the Doc, a rip-roaring cliff-hanger as the monsters trap the Doc and Clara on a bridge across a seething fire or vortex or something....
And then, as too often happens with nu-Who, especially the Moffat version, the Doc hits the reset button and everything is sorted out again. Tardis goes merrily on its way and so do the salvage boys with never the twain having met.
I assume this Clara storyline is going somewhere – despite Clara being none the wiser, I guess she has to have some important timey-wimey place in the scheme of things. Maybe she’ll turn out to be Amy’s mother or something.
Next week we have The Crimson Terror – with the ridiculous comedy Sontaran, Strax. I don’t like Steampunk, and I’d rather have my Sontarans being Born to Fight warriors instead of jokes. I am looking forward to it, honest.

However, it’s all very well for me to criticise – can I do any better?

Consequences of Time – Episode Part 5
The people started running, into the storm and where the severed head had come from.
“Stop,” screamed the Doctor but his voice vanished in the howling of the wind. More body parts were flying back, blood sprayed through the swirling snow, red and white stripes flew through the air.
The Doctor ran after them. Graf, the last in the line stumbled and looked back at the Doctor. “I must,” he shouted.
“No, you don’t,” shouted the Doctor. He hit Graf with a rugby tackle and the two slammed into the icy ground. “Now, what happens if we stay here then?”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Doctor Who Review - Hide

“Hide” starts off as a ghost story, and a good one too. The ghost is suitably whispy and creepy and even quite scary. The streams of fuzzy photos with the ghost’s face in full Scream mode are very good at making the point.
The Doctor and Clara wander in; Matt Smith is superb as usual, Clara still seems to wonder why she is there (the character, Jenna-Louise Coleman is a great actress but the character seems a bit stuck).
Of course, this is Doctor Who, so the supernatural isn’t supernatural at all. The story flips direction as the Doc reveals what’s really going on – a traveler trapped in time is providing the ghosty-ness.
The monster chasing the time traveler is suitably horrible, although the time-traveler doesn’t get a character at all. The whole story has a final twist when the Doc realizes that the monster isn’t being monstrous at all, it just wants to get back with its mate that has been trapped in “our” universe.
Solid stuff, scary when it needed to be, neat sci-fi twists and a pretty smart resolution. I can’t see this becoming a classic, but it is a decent story that continues to put this season on track after its first couple of stuttering episodes.
And on...

Consequences of Time Part 4
The Doctor stumbled in snow, followed by Graf, the terrified sacrifice. The truck sprayed ice as it sped away. The others staggered in hysterics, all with no place to go.
A howl echoed around them. Ppeople starting walking towards the sound.
“Maybe we should head away from the terror?” shouted the Doc. Graf stopped. He was very conflicted.
“I don’t want to die,” he screamed, “but I must go”.
Another howl came with a ground-shaking thump. A dark flurry swished through and a woman vanished with a scream.
Moments later, the severed head flew back, bouncing at the Doctor’s feet.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Doctor Who Review - Cold War

Now this is more like it. The very welcome and excellent return of the Ice Warriors (well, one of them anyway). A serious villain, with serious power and strength in a smart setting with a great bunch of supporting characters. Definitely the best episode since Xmas, and only a smidge behind The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks.
What’s to like?
The setting – in the midst of the cold war, and trapped on a Soviet, nuclear submarine, with the Tardis deciding to do a bunk just as the sh*t hits the fan. The submarine is suitably claustrophobic, and also starting to come apart. Water is sloshing everywhere and reminding everyone of just where they are – trapped a kilometer or so underwater.
Supporting characters – the Captain, played by Liam Cunningham and fresh from a great role in Game of Thrones, is superb. He’s loyal to the motherland but also fully aware of the threat that his vessel represents. The second in charge is far more ideologically driven and you know he is bound to be the one who will be plunging the situation towards a full-on nuclear war.
And of course the GREAT David Warner – playing a cynical Soviet scientist with a love for Western 80’s syntho-pop. Warner is someone that would play a superb Doctor (and has on the “Unbound” Big Finish audios). He’s on good form here, although it would have been better to have more of him.
Smith is, as usual, terrific. Clara is warming up nicely – stepping up to face the Ice Warrior alone (shades of Rose and the Dalek) but there’s no cozying up to the monster here.
The Ice Warrior – Skaldek is his name and he’s apparently a 5000 year old Martian legend. The Ice Warrior design is subtly updated, and retains its bulky power and strength. Skaldek has character too – he has warrior’s code of honour, he’s smart, devious and brutally murderous when it’s called for. A great touch was letting us see a full Ice Warrior’s face for the first time (and was it slightly Silurian-ish? But then, both species/ races are reptilian – maybe a distant evolutionary connection?).
Cold War is a terrific nod-wink to the old base-under-siege of Troughton’s time – but has enough additional oomph to make it solid 21st century Who.
Next time – “Hide” – hmmm, haunted house....
And on with the flash-fic/ fan fic:

Consequences of Time – Episode 3
“We’re going to the Frozen Terror?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes,” the terrified man replied. “We must go. Sacrifices are needed to keep the Terror from consuming the world.” The other, scared people nodded.
The Doctor checked his sonic screwdriver. It would be easy to stop the truck. Probably not hard to disable the guards, turn around and rescue the “sacrifices”. But that wouldn’t stop this terror thing.
“Is it much further?”
The scared man checked his watch. “Should be any time now.”
The truck lurched to a halt. A howl, that made the steel walls vibrate, screeched through the air.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Doctor Who Review - The Rings of Akhatan

An episode of a few neat little bits, but an overall sense of ho-hum, another character piece...
What was to like? As always, Matt Smith brings the weight of ages and childlike wonder to his portrayal of the Doc, usually all at the same time. Space moped thing was fun (although, with an anti-grav bike in the previous episode we have a danger of repetition – hopefully there won’t be more bike riding shenanigans coming up). Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara continues to be almost impossibly pretty, but is yet to turn into the sassy, confident girl of her first two outings. But it is coming, she’s a good assistant, her heart is most definitely in the adventure.
It was good to see it was Clara’s regular, human experience bearing the enormous sense of wonder and possibility that defeated the...uh...thing at the end. While Matt Smith delivers his declaration of the Doctor’s awesomeness with great oomph, it is, again, something we are seeing a bit too much of. Yes Doc, we know you’ve been everywhere and done everything.
And this brings me to the “what’s not to like?”
Defeating the “thing” (we’ll get to that) by just talking to it. Is that it? Seriously, does the Doctor not need to reverse the polarity flow? Is there nothing technical that he can do? Does he not need to outwit the villain? At least last week, the Doctor did show how smart he is by blind-siding the villainess. Nothing so clever and subtle here.
Maybe we’ll let this go – I suppose this is an example of what makes Clara a good assistant, as it was she that provided the “real” experience to overwhelm the thing.
Ok, The thing – a big red, planet thing was the villain of the piece. For most of the episode they had us getting worked about a big mummified, scary monster that was waking up and trying to break out of its cage – which then turned out to be just a stepping stone. There was, as usual, some faceless goons stomping about for the sake of it, but otherwise, just a big churning, planet thing. Ho hum.
Fortunately, Clara was just so human and tragic and tearjerking and caring and everything (although the Tardis doesn’t like her..) – oh, was this just another sodding character piece?
This is the problem with these character driven story arcs – ultimately it’s all about what/ who Clara is, the individual stories just lose their impact beneath the weight of the BIG story – similar to that big crack in time/ space and what it had to do with Amy (and frankly, I still don’t know. Apparently the Silence is coming. Did it come? Are we still waiting?).
Bring on Episode 3 (or is it episode 8, or 9 if we count the Xmas Special...) – Ice Warriors, a big, fat nasty villain/ hardcore monster.

And on with out Fanfic flash fic:
Consequences of Time - Episode 2
Cold. Couldn’t the Tardis land somewhere nice? As a flurry of snow landed on his tongue, he could tell it wasn’t just water ice. A hint of something, but what?
A truck, with wheels taller than the Tardis, thundered out of the snow and squealed to a halt. Two big, armoured figures jumped down and grabbed the Doctor’s arms. “Get in,” screeched a voice.
He was hurled into the truck. The interior was crammed with scared people. The hatch was shut and the truck roared off.
“Anyone know where we’re going?” asked the Doctor.
A man wailed “To Frozen Death.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells of St John Review

Who returns - and as such, I'm going to try to record my review on this blog each week, with a stab at a wee bit of Fan fiction in the form of a Who story told in by Drabble episodes(100 words, exactly) each week. In theory, there's eight episodes of the series, so we should get 800 words of Who story.
On with the review: The Bells of St John
At long last, Series 7 continues. I was not a fan of splitting up Series 6 (to be honest, I was not a fan of Series 6 overall) – knowing the split was coming turned the first bunch of episodes into just a series of fill-ins, with little larger story arc hints, which would reach a big cliff-hanger at the end of them. If the second half had been more impressive then maybe the approach could be forgiven. Unfortunately, the rest of the series was largely forgettable. In fact, sitting here writing, there’s no stand-out episode that I can think of. I can think of plenty of stuff that annoyed me - another haunted house story, another story where people are snatched from the real world, another bunch of “monsters” that lurch around being scary with their one scary line repeated over and again and so on. The Cyberman story was very poor and the finale made even less sense than the previous series. And the ensuing Xmas special (The Doctor, the Wife and the Wardrobe) was the weakest yet.
And so we come to Series 7, part 2. Thankfully the first part of this series was way, way better. The incredible “Asylum of the Daleks” was the best Dalek story since...”Genesis of the Daleks” (THERE, I’ve said it!), and the best NuWho since “Time of the Angels” back in series 5. Amy and Rory, who so totally outstayed their welcome, are finally gone. The Xmas episode (“The Snowmen”) was possibly the best Xmas Special of them all. So here we are with new companion Clara (despite being killed, again, in the Xmas Special) keyed up for her “proper” debut. Everything is going fine.
Except, “The Bells of St John” is a somewhat seen-it-all-before adventure. People being snatched from reality; a repeated line ("I don’t know where I am.."); a cold-hearted woman in charge of shady organization behind it all; unexpressive robot/ monster goons lurching around, which also crossed-over into the spooky kid area. These are all Moffat-isms which have been around since “The Empty Child” – and it’s all getting a bit tired to me.
Clara, so flirty and smart and hot in Asylum and at Xmas, is nowhere near as exciting this time round. I’ll let this go, even in the space of this episode she was transformed from computer illiterate to genius so the version we caught up with in “Asylum” could be where she is headed. We could be in for quite a journey.
There were things to like – the Doc’s anti-grav bike riding up the side of the Shard; his cunning switch with the “spoonhead” that impersonated him, in fact Matt Smith in general keeps even the poorer episodes watchable.
It was great to see the Great Intelligence turning up again, and turning Celia Imrie (always great to watch) back into a child was genuinely chilling and showed what a ruthless villain he is.
I’ll call this episode solid, but not good. If Clara can return to the form she had in her previous two outings, then one hopes for better things to come. And please, can we give the mind-control, spooky line, boring monster stuff a rest now?

OK, Drabble time - we need to give this adventure a name.. so, in keeping with the fact that it is made up as we go along we'll call it:

Consequences of Time - Episode 1
The Tardis had landed. The Doctor tried to ignore it but the still time rotor and no sense of motion through the vortex reminded him that they were going nowhere.

It was hardly the first time that the Tardis had taken charge but he was determined to enjoy a decent bout of melancholia without saving someone, some people, some planet or some universe.

He huffed in a chair, threw a pebble into the swimming pool, played Angry Birds on the scanner.

Eventually, he gave up and stomped outside. “This had better be good, old girl” he said as he left.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Long time - no blog....

Long time no blog – fortunately Cassie Hart (go read her superb blog now) wondered where I’d been so I’ve hit the keyboard again.

The usual worthwhile distractions (work/ family/ exercise) and the usual worthless distractions (TV/ Internet) have kept me from blogging – I will also claim that some actual writing has even been getting in the way. We’ll get to that, but first, my rundown of what media I’ve been sucking up recently-ish:

I’ve been experiencing...

Morrissey at Wellington Town Hall – yes, the Miserable One himself graced the coolest little capital in the world (says Lonely Planet). A cracking gig in a reasonably small venue – having seen him at the cavernous Albert Hall and massive Glastonbury Festival this gig was a far more intimate affair.

And being this intimate, I was able to witness every ounce of anguish that poured from the Moz’s sweating brow. As he wailed “and you go home, and you cry and you want to die” it was every bit as powerful as the lyric he laid down nearly 30 years ago. The shirt was torn off, the followers were touched, a painful departure from stage was made. In an interview the Great man stated that “it’s never a performance”. If that’s true, it must be mighty painful being Morrissey. However, I’m certain I saw a smile crack his face at one point (probably when he told an audience member that she couldn’t be his eighth friend). Heaven knows, not so miserable now.

Which brings me to....

I’ve been reading....

Morrissey and Marr: The severed alliance – THE biography of The Smiths. Their backgrounds, their childhoods, their teens, their coming together, their four or so fiery years in the spotlight and eventual break-up. Does this book explain the, surely, traumatic event(s) that marked Morrissey out as the patron saint of the outsider and the loner? Do we understand how he came to be filled with such outraged angst? To be honest, no. This makes it no less a fascinating read, but my conclusion is that he’s simply a miserable, full-of-himself sod. However, he is also an enormously talented and charismatic sod.

I’ve been watching....

Doctor Who Xmas special – In which we return to the wonderful Osman from Asylum of the Daleks, called Clara now and inexplicably (so far) living in Victorian London. A huge improvement on last years miserable Xmas special, a great intro to the new assistant who has instantly erased the long overstayed Amy and Rory from my mind. Geronimo, as the Doc might say.

The Campaign – an almost very good Will Ferrell send-up of US politics, pitching two congressional candidates at each, with both stooping as low as possible in the hunt for votes. It suffers from what many US movies suffer from – it wimps out at the end. Imagine if Brian got rescued at the end of Life of Brian to give the film a more fuzzy feel? That’s what happens here. They were almost on the point of greatness, skewering the warped values of US elections but can’t bring themselves to go all the way – let the warm fuzzies come in and spoil the ride. To be honest, a quick glance at Fox News shows that the actual US political process is so twisted it should be impossible to satirize, but this film ALMOST went there...

Looper – not half as clever as it thinks it is. Washed out, grainy graphics and odd CGI facial enhancement does not disguise some enormously contrived circumstances.

Argo – a very well made film, but essentially, it all comes down to whether or not our heroes can walk through passport control. What if the focus were reversed? This could be a story about the desperate hunt by the security forces to capture a bunch of devious foreign spies? I don’t know, in this day and age it’s hard to be on America’s side about anything.

Django Unchained – at first, I quite liked it but then got, sorry, Tarantino is in danger of becoming a one-trick pony. Lots of stylish, slick and darkly witty dialogue, lots of characters on the edge of fury and violence, lots of opportunities for actors to prove just how good they are – and way too much bloodthirsty, unnecessary violence. I wouldn’t mind so much if Tarantino had something to say, but there’s nothing here beyond telling us that the slave trade meant wicked people did wicked things. I know that without having to put up with the protracted screams of a man being ripped apart by savage dogs.

Hitchcock – two brilliant actors (Hopkins and Mirren) play fascinating characters in a portrait of the great Director and his equally great (but much unsung) wife – while making the slasher movie of slasher movies, Psycho. And it’s got Scarlett Johansson.

I’ve been writing...

I’ve finally got sat back at the PC and continued Ken’s miserable journey to “The Camp”. I’ve also been fleshing out back story and a few plotlines for my possible space opera/ alien invasion saga. I had a sudden bolt out of the blue last night when I realized that revenge is always such a great motive – I need some of that in the story. Simply finding stuff is never enough.

This blog’s drabble – Tarantino in 100 words:

I seeing you, sitting there, being all charming, enjoying my fine wine and my fine women and being just the finest gentleman there is on God’s clean Earth. But you know what else I seeing? I seeing a dirty sombitch who’s wanting to take my money and my bitches and stab my honest soul right through my honest heart. Ain’t that the f**kin truth? Ain’t it? BANG BANG BANG, AAAGH, AAAGH AAAAAGH F***IN SOMBITCH AAAGH BANG BANG GLUG, PLOP, GLOOP BANG. (Pause) Now that’s how we do it down south. Elroy? Get your sh*t. (Cool record plays, roll end credits)