Monday 30 May 2011

What to drink when watching Doctor Who

As a day job, I am an alcohol misuse worker, offering guidance and support for people who drink too much. So maybe I shouldn't be writing this.

Feel free to offer any alternative suggestions.

First Doctor era

Red wine

Second Doctor era

Scotch whisky

Third Doctor Season 7

Dry white wine

Third Doctor Season 8

Rose wine

Third Doctor Season 9

Sparkling white wine

Third Doctor Seasons 10-11

Brandy or cognac (just don't offer any to Sarah Jane Smith)

Fourth Doctor (Hinchcliffe)

A dark ruby ale

Fourth Doctor (Graham Williams)

A light golden ale with strong hoppy notes

Fourth Doctor (John Nathan-Turner)

An Espresso Stout

Fifth Doctor Seasons 19-20


Fifth Doctor Season 21

Gin and tonic

Sixth Doctor era

A Bloody Mary!

Seventh Doctor Season 24


Seventh Doctor Season 25

A Jack Daniels and coke

Seventh Doctor Season 26

Pear cider

Violet, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

David Collings gave a chilling performance as a ruthless, cold-blooded Doctor in the Unbound audio Full Fathom 5. That story made me want more of that alternative Doctor, even if the ending did make him seem like a moron.

Violet, his vampire companion, is entirely my creation. Obviously a darker Doctor will have a darker companion!

The renegade Time Lord known as the Watcher was in big trouble. He ran through the maze of trenches looking for an escape. In the distance he heard the thunder of artillery and the thudding of shells. Was it Kaleds shelling Thals, or Thals shelling Kaleds?

His pursuers were gaining on him. If only he could reach his TARDIS! He tripped and fell into the mud. He looked up, realising with horror that he had come to a dead end in the trench. He turned around to see his pursuers bear down on him.

The first one was a woman, a tall young woman with pale skin and chestnut hair. She wore a camouflage-patterned combat suit and a blaster gun was slung over her shoulder. A 'Chairman Mao' cap completed the outfit. She opened her mouth, baring a set of terrible fangs. 'A vampire, like in the legends of Gallifrey!' he realised with horror.

The second pursuer was a tall man wearing a black dinner jacket with a bow tie. If he had been a human, he would have appeared to be in his early sixties. A shaggy mane of grey hair framed his face. There was a hard and grim expression on it. The Watcher recognised this man. It was another renegade Time Lord, the one known as the Doctor.

"We meet again, Watcher," said the Doctor.

"You know what I am doing here, Doctor," said the Watcher. "You know what is going to come from Skaro. You have seen what the Daleks are going to do when they begin their conquests. We have to stop them!" he pleaded.

"For a Time Lord, you're a fool," replied the Doctor. "You thought you could take it upon yourself to make just one nice little clean intervention. Prevent the Daleks from ever existing. If you had spent centuries travelling through time and space as I have, you would know that it is never that easy. You are risking the future lives of millions. What you are suggesting could have untold consequences. We may be renegade Time Lords, but we have a responsibilities. You were about to betray that responsibility."

The Watcher rose to his feet. "Doctor, please..."

The Doctor ignored him and turned to the woman. "Violet, kill him quickly."

"No!" screamed the Watcher.

Violet pulled a staser pistol from her belt and pulled the trigger. A blast of light struck the Watcher, killing him instantly. Violet had a great fondness for stasers. Such a slim, elegant little weapon. Its slender barrel betrayed the massive energy discharge it fired. One blast from a staser would cause immense destruction to even a Time Lord's body. There was no prospect of regeneration after being hit by a staser blast.

"Well done, Violet. I would have let you feed on him, but there isn't time. This whole area is likely to be bombarded by that artillery. We have to get back to the TARDIS fast. Besides, I don't like being around at these crucial moments in history. It makes me nervous," said the Doctor. He put his arm around his companion and the two of them made their way back through the trenches, the sound of the bombardment coming ever louder.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor made himself a cup of tea and settled down in a wicker chair. Killing Time Lords was never an easy task; it was disturbing to kill one's own kind and especially those who one had known for many years. Nevertheless, the Watcher had been crazy to think that he could make such a colossal intervention in history. He felt no uneasiness about being given this mission by the Celestial Intervention Agency.

Violet padded in. She had stripped off her combat gear and taken a shower. She now wore spotted pyjamas. She dropped into a wicker chair, curling up her bare feet beneath her. The Doctor rose to make Violet a cup of tea.

"I don't understand, Doctor," said Violet. She spoke with a refined, aristocratic accent. She had been the daughter of Lord Carvourne of Reymount before becoming undead. "You never seem that bothered about the laws of the Time Lords normally. Why are you so horrified about the Watcher intervening this time?"

"The Watcher has seen all the horrors that the Daleks will unleash upon the universe. He thinks that because the Daleks are evil, they need to be eradicated. Unfortunately, he has not spent as long travelling the universe as I have. He has not realised how many far worse horrors are lurking in the dark places of the cosmos. Evil things sometimes keep other evil things in check," replied the Doctor.

"Just like you keep me in check," said Violet with a smile.

"Exactly," laughed the Doctor.

Violet was absolutely right. He was keeping her in check. Back on Earth, Violet had killed countless victims, bleeding them dry. He might have killed her, as he did other monsters, but sometimes monsters could be useful. He had taken Violet and trained her to become his strong arm woman. He disliked carrying weapons himself; it was always easier to find a peaceful solution when one was unarmed, but he liked to have a armed assistant around for contingencies.

Violet was a vampire and she still craved blood. To meet her needs, he had taken up pig farming and bred a whole herd of pigs on board the TARDIS for her to feed on. He also carried a chemical substitute in case they ever got separated from the ship. He had no intention of ever becoming Violet's victim. When he was especially pleased with her, he would offer her his arm or neck to give her a little taste. Time Lord blood was a great delicacy for her. It was not something he allowed her too often. That was the wonderful thing about her blood thirst. It meant that she could be manipulated so easily. He had often chosen companions who were addicted to drugs. As long as he was the one with the supply on the TARDIS, he could get his human assistants to do what he wanted.

As a Time Lord, he had a duty to kill vampires on pain of death. He had done so before, but he did not feel bound by this rule. The Yssgaroth and their vampire offspring might once have been the greatest threat to the universe in the Dark Times, but things had changed. Perhaps it was good for the vampires to be around. It reminded the Time Lords that they were not invulnerable. Most ironically of all, it was a shocking reminder that they were not the first race to posses the ability to regenerate.

The Doctor knew that one day he would kill Violet. His companions always turned on him in the end. He had killed his last companion, the genetically engineered super-soldier Jameson Bourneville. Jameson had been useful, but he proved to have too many moral qualms. He might have been created to be the perfect assassin, but he did not have 900 years of experience of travelling time and space. Nobody, no matter how powerful could ever thwart the Doctor.

Violet deserved a treat. As he poured her tea, he took out his pocket knife and made a slight tear to his hand. He let a little blood flow into the teacup and passed it to his faithful companion.

Sunday 29 May 2011

The Almost People

It is difficult to review a two-part story without the risk of repeating oneself. Some of my comments from the review of The Rebel Flesh apply here. Most importantly, the story is weakened by the lack of future world-building. We are not given any further information to explain the presence of the acid, the reason for the use of a monastery as a factory (apart from saving money on studio sets) or how this future society works. It is hard to engage with the story because of the lack of clarity. This becomes far worse in this episode, because so many confusing elements are introduced. Furthermore, we get a whole level of narrative overlapping with the ganger plot relating to Amy's pregnancy.

So much of this story makes little sense. The duplicate technology is problematic. It is suggested that the gangers are exact copies that are in theory so similar that they could replace their originals. Yet in Jennifer's case she possesses the complete ability to manipulate her form and even double herself. We also get no explanation of the ganger Doctor's mysterious knowledge concerning Amy's pregnancy. As for Amy not being the real Amy, this is a narrative trainwreck. So is Amy a ganger? If so, how come the Doctor can reduce her to goo? It has been suggested that she is a different kind of duplicate that has no sentience and merely acts as a repository for Amy's consciousness. How the Doctor could be so sure of that is another question. I like stories like Warriors' Gate and Greatest Show in the Galaxy, where you have to puzzle things out a bit, but unlike this mess, those stories are satisfying as narratives.

The CGI for Jennifer's monstrous form is pretty naff. I think having Jennifer turn into a monster was unnecessary. She was frightening enough as somebody who wanted to kill humans. Her question about who the real monsters are was embarrassingly cliched and unhelpful. It also raises another question, were the original crew aware of the discarded ganger remains? If so, were there no moral questions in their minds? The moral dilemma side of this story was not really handled effectively, even with some of the interesting dramatic exploration of questions of identity. Part of the problem is the lack of a villain. The suggestion is there that the Company (capital C as with all big bad sci-fi corporations) is up to no good. Yet if the writer wants to go down that alley, he ought to have given the Company a larger narrative presence as an antagonist, using some representative to enforce its interests. Cleaves does not seem to take on that role. In the end it just seems like the Company lacked foresight in its use of technology and would inevitably change its ways, rather than deliberately pursuing an unethical course.

I don't like the idea of the Doctor being duplicated very much. The Doctor is a Time Lord. He is an amazing, unique being. It ought to be impossible to replicate such a creature just from goo.

The Almost People has some enjoyable drama, but is a rather unsatisfying story. By the way, I am writing this while drinking a bottle of Fuller's ESB. I am amazed how much quicker my thoughts seem to flow when I am drinking.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Strange England, by Simon Messingham (Virgin New Adventure)

Another Victorian house, another bunch of weird characters, and another artificial environment.

Simon Messingham clearly wanted to be Marc Platt in his early career. In this novel we get a Victorian house with weird characters, a glowing being and lots of talk about things changing. Does that sound like a certain story by Marc Platt to you? It turns out that this is an artificial environment created by a TARDIS. Does that sound like another Marc Platt story? I don't like Ghost Light and I found Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible a bit too heavy, so a story that attempts to hybridise the two is not really going to catch my interest. It does not help that the Virgin New Adventures had gone to town on artificial environments, so a another one here is not terribly interesting.

Ghost Light just about worked by showing (in a rather cartoon way) how the Victorian era could be a little strange from a contemporary perspective. Strange England rather misses the point and assumes the reader will recognise some kind of normality in Victorian England and then attempts to make this already alien environment weird. It does not work. Victorian England is already an alien place to the contemporary reader, so trying to turn it into a surreal Wonderland does not work. One stars to get tired of all the strange and bizarre elements that Messingham throws in to keep us puzzled. The slow pace makes it especially tedious.

Strange England is filled with violence and pain. I am a little more accepting of violence in the NAs than I am in the television series (or Big Finish). The NAs were aimed at an adult audience and were trying to push boundaries. I don't like the violence, but I understand and appreciate what they were trying to do. I think Messingham goes rather too far. A lot of the violence of this book feels quite pointless and gratuitous. We did not need it. Thankfully, after all the violence and horror we at least get a nice happy ending for the two main minor characters.

Strange England was very much one of the weaker New Adventure novels. It could almost make you wish you were reading a Mark Gatiss novel. Almost.

Friday 27 May 2011

Klein and the Evil Quarks, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Klein encounters the dreaded Quarks! I love bringing the TV Comic stuff into other Doctor Who eras.

This story features Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. It is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest

The TARDIS had taken the Doctor and Klein to a mysterious spacecraft floating in space. They had sought out the craft's control centre to find some clues. The Doctor examined the banks of machinery and navigational computers.

"It rather seems that these controls are not designed to be operated by humanoid limbs. In fact, I would say they are meant for robots," declared the Doctor.

"How fascinating. A robotic crew. So there might be no life forms on board this vessel at all?" asked Klein.

"I suspect not," replied the Doctor. "This technology seems familiar. I must have seen a ship like this a long time ago."

The Doctor pulled out several electronic devices from his cavernous pockets. Tinkering with the machinery, he established an interface with the ship's computer.

"Ahh. Bad news, Klein. I have just realised what technology this is. We are on board a Quark ship," the Doctor announced.

"Quarks?" Klein queried.

"Evil robots. I haven't time for a lecture. I need to work out the deactivation code and shut them down before they get to us. According to the computer, there are six of them on board this ship."

The Doctor frantically entered various codes into his interface device.

Suddenly, the sound of heavy, clunking metallic footsteps could be heard from the corridor. A lumbering machine marched into the control room. It had a cuboid body from which protruded it's featureless mechanical arms. Its head was a sphere covered in spaghetti-like nodules with several spikes jutting out.

The robot spoke in a eerily girlish voice. "You are Dr. Who! You are an enemy of the Quarks! You must be taken prisoner and interrogated!"

"Chatty as ever," said the Doctor, as he continued to tinker with the computer. "Got it," he cried and punched in the deactivation code. The Quark ground to an immediate halt.

Klein stared at the metallic horror. The robot was one of the most ridiculous machines she had ever set eyes on, and the feminine voice seemed to add to the comical effect. Nevertheless, she had certainly noticed how terrified the Doctor had become when he realised that Quarks were on board.

"They are quite terrible machines. They have enormous firepower in thos clumsy metal limbs," said the Doctor.

"Who built them?" asked Klein.

"The Dominators, a cruel race of intergalactic conquerors. They make your Third Reich look like amateurs. The Dominators suffered from a falling population, so they engineered their mechanical warriors to act independently and sent them out into deep space to conquer other galaxies," replied the Doctor.

The Doctor unscrewed the back of the Quark and began examining the machinery inside. Klein peered over his shoulder, not wanting to miss the chance to examine an alien robot. "They haven't changed the basic design since I last encountered them. This Quark battleship must have been sent out centuries ago."

"Herr Doctor, I couldn't help but notice that the Quark addressed you as 'Dr. Who," she said.

"Ah, the secret is out," replied the Doctor. "I went through a phase of using the name Dr. Who a long time ago. I was a very different man back then."

"Is that your real name, Herr Doctor?"

The Doctor winked at Klein. "Klein, if you want to discover all my secrets, I think you can do it without my help."

'What of it?' Klein thought to herself. She doubted knowing the Doctor's name was going to help her outwit him or enable her to gain control of the TARDIS. Though she could not help but feel curiosity about it.

A thought crossed Klein's mind. Could she use this formidable machine to help restore the Third Reich to glory? If she could get to the 1940s, could she bring this robot as a trophy? Then she realised that there was no way the Doctor would allow her to bring it into the TARDIS. On the other hand, some of the circuitry that the Doctor had pulled out of the robot would fit in her pockets quite nicely. If she ever got back to the Reich, German scientists would get the chance to examine and exploit them. The opportunity was for the taking.

The Taking of Planet 5, by Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham (BBC Novel)

The creature was unlike everything. It required an effort of will to even look at it. It was a void, a chasm, an absence made visible, it was everything made nothing. Faced with it, the brain rushed to fill it with detail, any detail, a black world-devouring octopus, a spider with eyes the size of Mars, a crooked cube unfolding, a ruined city cluttered with insane memorabilia, a cartoon character with eye sockets crammed with worms. Phantom images projected by the tottering brain into the yawning absence of the creature.

To say that The Taking of Planet 5 looks to Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies for inspiration is a serious understatement. Not only does it use the concepts introduced in Alien Bodies, but it also has such a similar style that it might almost have been written by the same author. Of course, Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham have not outdone the master of cosmic madness. The Taking of Planet 5 is not such a good novel as Alien Bodies, but it is still a worthy successor to it.

Like Lawrence Miles, the authors of this book place world-building before the story. While the novel is an important landmark in the development of the story arcs relating to the regular characters, the novel is less interesting for the story itself and more for the glimpse it offers into the depth and scope of the Doctor Who macrocosmos. As with Alien Bodies, there is an unsettling sense that weird and unexpected things are being done with the Doctor Who mythos.

This novel is remarkably similar to the much more traditionalist Quantum Archangel, by Craig Hinton. Both books are sequels to Seventies stories, but they also share the common interest of grounding their vast cosmologies in hard science. Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham take their science seriously (just like Lawrence Miles takes his British Cultural Studies seriously). The novel even has an appendix explaining its cosmology in scientific terms with references to real sources (as an Evangelical Christian I was pleased to spot a book by William Lane Craig among them).

The Taking of Planet 5 continues the War in Heaven story arc first introduced in Alien Bodies. This time we get to see a little more of it and a glimpse of just how much the future society of Gallifrey has been changed by the War. We also get the fascinating revelation that the Time Lords have perfected regeneration to such a level that they can take a non-hominid form; in this case Lovecraft's Elder Things, as described in At the Mountains of Madness. Faction Paradox only get a mention this time. The Celestis and their hellish realm o Mictalan apparently meet their end here. It is cool, but it is perhaps a sign that the BBC editors were wanting to eliminate the various concepts introduced by Miles. It is great to see the Time Lord, Homunculette again (why couldn't he make some more appearances?), though it would have been nice to see more of his Companion/ TARDIS Marie.

When I first read about the plot of this story, I was a bit disappointed. Having read the references to the various Great Old Ones in the New Adventures, I had hoped that nearly all the Lovecraft stuff could be true within the Doctor Who mythos. Here we find out that the Doctor is a personal friend of H.P. Lovecraft, both men sharing a mutual love of ice cream, and he knows full well that At the Mountains of Madness and its primordial entities are fictional. Nevertheless, the Doctor discovers that somehow they have become real. The Taking of Planet 5 is something of a tribute to Lovecraft. Like any Lovecraft story, there is a strong sense of lingering atmosphere and cosmic unease. I will confess I punched the air when Compassion came under the psychic influence of the fictional reality and spontaneously quoted Lovecraft:

"They were the mankind of their epoch. Scientists to the last. Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn- whatever they had been, they were men!"

The connection drawn between the Elder Things enslaving the Shoggoths and the Time Lords enslaving the TARDISes is an extremely clever and thoughtful use of the source material.

Appropriately, given the Lovecraftian theme, The Taking of Planet 5 is a sort of sequel to Image of the Fendahl. This is rather obvious from the cover picture. The Fendahl creature does not actually appear in the story. Instead, we get the Fendahl Predator, an even more horrifying eldritch entity. I can't help wondering if there is a slight pastiche intended in the idea of a being that feeds on a being that feeds on all life. The Fendahl Predator is a Memovore, a being from outside the universe that eats concepts. Simon Bucher-Jones contributed to Lawrence Miles' The Book of the War, in which Memovores were also featured. The Book of the War seemed to take a very Platonic metaphysic, with concepts having a very actual existence.

In my judgment, this is one of the best portrayals of the Eighth Doctor. Fitz is a simply glorious character; he is so down to earth. In The Taking of Planet 5, we also get a rare glimpse of Compassion's personality. Most of the BBC writers had no idea how to write Compassion, so they got into the bad habit of writing her out. Like Seven-Of-9 in Star Trek Voyager, it is her coldness and matter of factness that is so appealing. In this story we get some major clues about her identity. The scene where the three regulars discuss the identity of the Enemy is particularly fun. The Doctor concludes that in the end they will probably turn out to be just "Yartek, leader of the alien Voord with a big stick." His reference to Transformers and Saturday morning television is nice.

The Taking of Planet 5 is not especially well written. The plot is dense and a little hard to follow. A lot of the human characters are utterly uninteresting. Nevertheless, it is deeply enjoyable for its fascinating concepts and vivid cosmological themes.

Recommended soundtrack for reading: Preemptive Strike 0.1 'Extinction Reprogrammed'

Thursday 26 May 2011

Historical Note, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

The opera was mentioned in Ben Aaronovitch's New Adventure novel, Transit.

Taken from "Whispers of the Doctor: Conspiracy Theories regarding a supposed Traveller in Time and Space," by Sydney Scully. Published by Vulcan University Press, 2210

'We mentioned in chapter four the bizarre UNIT Incident 17, where the Doctor and his UNIT allies were alleged to have faced demons and figures from Arthurian mythology. This story inspired the highly regarded opera "Il Dottere Va in Viaggio" by Marconi Paletti (such an incident is ONLY believable in an opera in our opinion). UNIT Incident 17 has a peculiar connection with Ganymede Correctional Facility, one of the largest penal institutions in the Solar System.

Ganymede Correctional Facility, located on the largest moon of Jupiter, was founded in 2170. It had previously been a vast and impregnable military fortress. During the Dalek invasion of the Solar System, Ganymede proved to be so well defended that it remained one of the Earth Military's last bastions, even as the other planets of the Solar System fell into Dalek hands. After the Daleks had been driven from Earth, it was discovered that thousands of men and women had collaborated with the Daleks. There being a lack of suitable prisons on Earth, the fortress was hastily converted into a vast prison complex. After 2187, Ganymede Correctional Facility became solely a women's prison. It has won several awards for the firm discipline and orderly regime that is exercised within its walls.

According to our Doctor-watchers, Morgaine, the evil sorceress behind UNIT Incident 17 has been imprisoned for over two hundred years since the late Twentieth century and is currently held in Ganymede Correctional Facility. According to this conspiracy theory, the Doctor arranged for Morgaine to be transferred from custody on Earth to the military garrison on Ganymede in order to keep her secure during the Dalek invasion. After the conversion of the garrison to a prison, she allegedly remained an inmate there. Not only is it alleged that the incredible Doctor wielded such influence over a course of governments for over two hundred years to ensure the continued imprisonment of this presumably unhappily long-lived individual, but he also provided helpful tactics to the Earth Military to ensure the security of Ganymede, not to mention suggesting using it as a prison for collaborators after the war. As with all Doctor-related conspiracy theories, this ascribes to him almost omnipotent power.

Despite the absurdity of this urban myth, a number of pieces of evidence have been cited by Doctor-watchers. Veterans of the Dalek War testify that an unknown female prisoner was held in solitary confinement in the military garrison on Ganymede. Naturally, this tells us little. Were there no spies or deserters captured during the war? A number of former inmates at the prison have testified that they knew the immortal enchantress. Readers may judge for themselves the reliability of convicted collaborators, fraudsters and smugglers.

Sceptics have frequently pointed out that if Morgaine did exist and had the powers ascribed to her by those who take UNIT Incident 17 seriously, it would surely be impossible to imprison such a person. Doctor-watchers claim that the Doctor used his occult knowledge to provide a means of imprisonment for the sorceress. It is claimed that the walls of Ganymede Correctional Facility are covered in mystical markings that generate a magic field to hold her and prevent the use of her powers. This claim is rather harder to refute. It has been confirmed through photographic evidence that Ganymede Correctional Facility does feature many unknown inscriptions on its walls. Oddly, these markings also match those found in a number of older prisons on Earth. Prison authorities insist that these markings are purely decorative in nature. We might be surprised that a strict prison regime like this would be so concerned about aesthetics, but in our judgment this gives no credence to this altogether implausible story.'

Tuesday 24 May 2011


"I offer you fear in a handful of dust."

Snakedance is a sequel to Kinda in the best way possible. The two stories complement each other perfectly. Where Snakedance follows the format of traditional Doctor Who, Kinda is wildly experimental. Where in Kinda, Davison was a bit of a wet fish, in Snakedance he is breathtaking. Where Kinda left the regulars on the periphery, Snakedance puts them at the centre. Where Snakedance is heavy on expository material, Kinda leaves the reader to figure it all out. Where Kinda is somewhat heavy, Snakedance has many light-hearted moments. The complementary nature of the two stories demonstrates the wisdom of packaging the two DVDs together. Opinions divide on which story is the better. I have tended to say Kinda is the stronger, but I think my opinion has changed and I now feel that Snakedance is just a little better in the balance.

The production of Snakedance is really handsome. The sets are not massively realistic and look theatrical, but they are very well designed. The costumes are quite glorious. Best of all, the aesthetics contribute to a sense of history and the feeling that Manussa is a real place. It is the small aesthetic details that make such a difference- the puppet show with the Mara, the big Mara prop, the Attendant Demons, the delightful ritualistic language used in the festival. As was pointed out in the DVD commentary, it would have been nice to have had the serpent skull be seen in some of the ancient artefacts, but this is a small omission. Incidentally, it is haqrd not to be reminded of Faction Paradox when one sees that serpent skull appearing! The Six Faces of Delusion is a very nice aesthetic touch, though it is quite unbelievable that nobody had figured out the deal with the sixth face. The reader is left to think about how The Six Faces of Delusion fits into the themes of the serial.

Nobody gives a bad performance in Snakedance. Sarah Sutton is not quite as dull as usual, even if she does give a terrible scream at the end of one episode. Thankfully, she is out of those awful, unflattering velvet trousers from this story onwards. Janet Fielding gave a wonderful performance as the Mara-posessed Tegan in Kinda, but it was cut a bit short and the Mara moved on the less impressive Aris. In Snakedance, Tegan is under the Mara's influence from the beginning until the end. I think Tegan's Mara voice in Kinda was not so deep and more naturalistic. I preferred that, but Mara-Tegan in Snakedance is still excellent. Janet Fielding also got to demonstrate her versatility by playing a child-like Tegan during the excellent hypnosis scene. For much of Season 20, Peter Davison continued to give performance that was similarly lukewarm to that of Season 19. Nevertheless, in Snakedance, he really is quite amazing. He is so full of energy. Just watch him interrupt the dinner party! His reaction is also quite delightful when Ambril sarcastically pretends to believe him.

The guest cast are all excellent. Of particular note is Collette O'Neil as Tanha. Tanha's son Lon, is played by a young Martin Clunes. His television debut is quite impressive. Ambril is also quite impressive, especially his breatless excursions on the history of his Manussan collection. Even some of the smaller parts such as the fairground man are brilliant and I particularly like the megaphone man.

If you are in it for the scary monsters or you want hard science fiction, you probably won't like Snakedance. However, if you want great drama, an intelligent script and an aesthetically perfect production, you will be captivated by Snakedance.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Blasting Monsters, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Venussa gets to do her Ripley turn!

I introduced Venussa(played by Eileen Helsby) from The Ark into the TARDIS with the Second Doctor, John and Gillian in Tears in Paradise. The Molgs are my creation.

Venussa made her way warily through the dimly lit tunnels of the Molg hiveship. Occasionally she would have to shoot down the Molgs that barred her way. The blaster was heavy in her hands. It was an ugly and brutal weapon, but she was glad that the Doctor had provided her with it.

The Doctor had gone to the nerve centre of the hive ship in order to put it out of action. He had entrusted Venussa with the task of rescuing John and Gillian from the Molgs before it was too late. 'What a responsibility,' she thought to herself.

Venussa's arms and legs had become covered in slime. Some of it was from the tunnel walls, and some of it was from the Molgs she had blasted. She wore only a sleeveless top and denim shorts, with sandals on her feet. The Doctor had suggested she might do better to wear more substantial clothing, but she had grown up wearing the minimalist tunics of the Guardian women. Just a week ago, the Doctor had taken her to some period in Earth's past where he had made her wear some horribly restrictive clothing. She had never imagined that her ancestors could have worn so many layers! She had noticed John seemed less uncomfortable around her when she was dressed like that. Poor boy. If only he knew what it was like living in the Security Kitchen, with both men and women doing their business with just a curtain to keep up a pretence of privacy. He would have learned not to blush in the Security Kitchen!

Forget the slime. She had a job to do. She had to get to John and Gillian fast. She had seen the gruesome remains of beings that had been harvested by the Molgs.

She had known John and Gillian for barely a month, but already they felt like a little brother and sister. John felt shy and awkward with her, but she knew he liked her. Gillian had become an affectionate sister to her. Gillian had spent so long in the company of her brother and grandfather that it was a great relief to talk to have female company in the TARDIS. The thought that the pair of them were in danger was unbearable.

Venussa knew about monsters. She had spent the first twenty years of her life as a slave to the brutal Monoids. However, there had always been a half-heartedness to the Monoids' tyranny. When the shooting started, they turned out not to have much stomach for violence and they gave in. These Molgs were an altogether more terrifying and vile adversary.

She came to a junction in the tunnel. She checked the device that was leading her to John and Gillian's biotraces. Just as she returned the device to her belt, a Molg jumped from the ceiling, shoving her toward the wall with its spider-like limbs. It moved its octopus-like head towards her, tentacles reaching for her face. Her blaster had been sent crashing to the floor. Grabbing the knife at her belt, she slammed it with all her might into one of the creature's eyes. Gurgling, it fell back. Seizing her chance, Venussa grabbed the blaster and fired. An explosion of slime told her she was not going to be wearing this outfit again.

She gunned down several more Molgs that approached her from the tunnel. She was surprised by how few they were; the Doctor must have been keeping them busy with his sabotage efforts. She kept here strange wailing noises. Was it some kind of alarm?

Finally, the bleep of her scanner became louder. She had reached her quarry. In a small chamber, she found John and Gillian, unconscious and bound with slimy webbing. She checked their biosigns with her scanner. They were alive.

She gave Gillian a kiss on the forehead and freed her with her knife. She did the same for John. The two teenagers struggled to rise to their feet. "Are we still on the hive ship?" mumbled John as he woke.

"Yes, we are," snapped Venussa. "We need to get out of here and back to the TARDIS. Try to walk on your own, but if you can't, lean on me."

John and Gillian were a little unsteady on their feet, but they managed to walk unaided.

The Doctor suddenly appeared. "Well done, Venussa, I knew I could rely on you," he said.

"How did the sabotage go, Doctor?" Venussa asked.

"Splendidly. I've sent their biomass-processor into overdrive. Eventually, it will become unstable and cause the hiveship to break down. The Molgs will mostly be occupied with trying to sort it out. If they succeed in repairing it, I very much doubt the ship will be fit for carrying out any invasions. It's time to go, Venussa," he explained.

The Doctor had triumphed over the monsters once again and Venussa had been a part of it. It had been terrifying, but it felt right. The Doctor had saved her people, now she was helping him to save others. In all her time as a slave, as a childless and frustrated wife and as a grieving widow, she had never imagined a career shooting down monsters and fighting them with knives. What a strange new path she had engaged on with her wonderful new family.

The Rebel Flesh

This one comes a little closer than previous efforts to being a decent story. However, it still threatened to send me to sleep.

On the positive side, the look of the gangers was great. It was also good to see an attempt to create a more futuristic look. That was a little spoiled by the unexplained decision to set the story in a medieval monastery for no apparent reason (other than saving money). It is also interesting to see the Doctor knowing more than he is letting on, just like the Seventh Doctor.

This is let down by a sense of predictability. Inevitably, we get the gangers going rogue, lots of running around, all the menace of a base-under-siege and most tedious of all, a load of moral dilemmas about the rights of duplicates. Something done to death on Star Trek and sort of inevitable in a science fiction show. It just does not interest me. Maybe it's because I am so confident in my rejection of a physicalist view of human consciousness. I believe the mind is not something that can be located purely in the biological organ of the brain. I am confident that a duplicate of that sort would be a mindless zombie. Likewise, I am confident that genuine artificial intelligence is an impossibility, so I hate stories about evil computers like Face of Evil. This is a genuinely Doctor Whoish story, but that does not make it good in itself. The Troughton demonstrates how boring a run of base-under-siege stories can become.

One thing which was very much missing was scene setting. It was quite unclear how far into the future this was, why acid was being pumped around, what was generally going on in the world or why this was being done in a monastery that ought to be subject to conservation efforts. Despite the slightly slower pace, we still needed a bit more time to get a feel for this future society.

One thing on my mind is why the gangers wear the same clothing as the originals. I know they don't expect the gangers to go rogue, but they must surely be prepared for them to become unstable. It's like they are just gearing to re-enact The Thing.

Am I never satisfied?

I have read some fans speculating that this is story is the 'Genesis of the Nestenes.' That would be a total contradiction of what we have been told in Spearhead from Space (set before this story) that the Nestene Consciousness began its conquest of space a thousand millions ago. The novels also tell us that the Nestene Consciousness was born from the Great Old One Shub-Niggurath when the universe was still young. Then again, I am not sure that Moffat cares that much about Doctor Who continuity, so you never know.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Live 34, by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown (Big Finish audio)

Breaking news on Live 34: The Doctor is bringing down the government!

Big Finish has often shown a tendency to go for very traditional, old-fashioned Doctor Who stories. It is refreshing to get an audio that ditches the standard Doctor Who format. Live 34 is a story told entirely through radio broadcasts. It is a great idea that needed to be tried. I wanted to like this story a lot, so it was quite a shame to find it a little disappointing.

I think this audio could have been more imaginative in its use of different media. Radios do play more than just political interviews and documentaries. I am not sure this audio works hard to keep our interest (except with a few shocking descriptions of unseen incidents of violence). It is difficult to listen to this without feeling rather uninvolved.

My biggest complaint is that the ending falls very flat. We have a deus ex machina solution to the problem of the corrupt regime. We also get a science fiction revelation for the reason for all the killings and disappearances that is not particularly convincing. The audio is also severely weakened by the performances of some of the main guest actors, most notably Zehra Naqvi (as Charlotte Singh) who is not taking it all terribly seriously.

Sylvester McCoy is very strong here, with his vocal sparring in the interviews and at the final confrontation. I do question the idea of the Doctor becoming a politician seeking election. It seems so different from his usual unorthodox strategies. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine how else he could gain so much airtime on the radio program otherwise.

Sophie Aldred is the same as ever. Philip Oliver is good as Hex, but he is not given a lot to do. I don't warm to this TARDIS team, however, because I am such a big New Adventures fan. I rather feel that the NAs provided sufficient exploration of the development of Ace and the Seventh Doctor. It is unfortunate, but I really don't see what Big Finish can contribute to the Seven/ Ace 'arc.'

I am a bit unclear as to what period in the history of the Whoniverse is set. Most of it suggests the same era as The Happiness Patrol, but the reference to the Earth being 'abandoned' suggests that the authors intended it to be set after the solar flares, which does not seem right.

Live 34 was a brave attempt to do something different, but it falls flat, not least because of the lack of ideas.

Friday 20 May 2011

The Inquisitor, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

This is a crossover with Warhammer 40,000. Warhammer 40K is the intellectual property of Games Workshop.

Ultramarine Commander Tygerius stood with the Inquisitor in the colossal battleship and stared through the viewscreen at the planet Knuhm.

The fighting was over. The rebellion on Knuhm had been crushed. The combined forces of Space Marines and Imperial Guard had yet again triumphed over the evil of Chaos. Yet at what cost? Thousands had died and a major part of the planet's population had been wiped out.

They had seen some terrible sights as the full power of Chaos had been unleashed. Foul horned daemons armed with terrible swords, hideous women with clawed limbs riding on impossibly slender beasts, shimmering pink and blue creatures that shifted their form and maggot-infested one-eyed beings that oozed slime. The Space Marine officer tried to banish these thoughts from his mind.

"You must forget what you have seen," said the Inquisitor, as though he was reading Tygerius' very thoughts. "The lure of Chaos can play on the mind through simple knowledge."

"Those rebels were fools to think they could traffic with such monstrosities," said Tygerius.

"Those who hunger for power and resist the Emperor's will are easily ensnared. Chaos awaits in the dark places of the universe. These are terrible things; things that are against everything we believe in. This is an evil that goes back to the dawn of time," replied the Inquisitor.

The Inquisitor was from the Ordo Malleus, the Daemonhunters. He had spent a lifetime battling horrors that other men could never imagine.

"What now for Knuhm?" asked Tygerius.

"The planet will have to be cleansed completely," replied the Inquisitor. "I am ordering the Exterminatus."

'No, not the Exterminatus!' thought Tygerius. The entire planet would be bombarded with virus bombs. Not one inhabitant would be allowed to survive. Even the Imperial Guard who had fought so hard would be wiped out. A terrible waste of life.

"As I said, just the knowledge of Chaos can be a lure and allow it to gain a foothold in this universe. The people of this world have seen too much. I cannot allow that knowledge to pass freely."

Tygerius had heard much about this particular Inquisitor. He was known to be particularly ruthless. His true name was unknown, but they called him 'The Destroyer of Worlds.' He had even heard darker rumour. He was known to be unorthodox in his methods and perhaps suspect in his loyalty to the Emperor. The most shocking rumour was that the 'Destroyer of Worlds' was not even human, but a Xeno!

It was hard to believe the rumours when one looked at the Inquisitor. He was so short and not at all threatening to look at. He spoke softly with an air of mystery. He could even at times be comical, even when he was angry. While other Inquisitors wore magnificent armour and carried the most deadly weapons in the Imperium, this one wore just a simple white suit and a colourful tie. Bizarrely, he went unarmed. On the other hand, he was usually accompanied by a female warrior who carried devastating heavy weapons. The 'Destroyer of Worlds' preferred others to do the destroying for him.

The Inquisitor gave a bow and returned to the strange blue box that he somehow teleported himself in. With a wheezing, groaning sound it disappeared taking away its mysterious owner.

Why Romana is more interesting than River Song (and it's not just that Burberry cap!)

Forget for a moment all that continuity about the Time War and imagine if the character of Romana had been introduced in a Moffat story and had been a regular feature in the last two seasons. I think it is safe to imagine that Romana's identity as a Time Lady would be concealed and only revealed as a dramatic discovery at the end of the season.

If that had been the case, we would have missed out on an awful lot. Romana was not a character that was always served well by script writers; at times they did not seem to know what to do with her. Nevertheless, when Romana was used effectively, her Time Lady status was always fundamental to her. If the viewer was unaware that Romana was a Time Lady, so much of her dialogue and character development would lack impact. Right from the start when Romana first appear in The Ribos Operation, we see how her status colours her introduction to the Doctor. She knows who he is, but she is disappointed by him. She embarasses him by pointing out his low grades at the academy and speculates about his psychology. Having a Time Lady in the TARDIS shines a completely new light on the Doctor. Her regeneration scene might be silly, but it was interesting in the way it contrasted with the Doctor's regenerations (we could not have had that had we not known she was a Time Lady). When Romana became more pro-active than the Doctor, in Androids of Tara, and more frequently in Season 17, we were able to think of her as being a sort of female Doctor.

City of Death would not be nearly as good a story without the knowledge that Romana is a Time Lady. It allows her to approach saving the world in a completely dispassionate way, to be haughty to Duggan and justifies her closer, more affectionate interaction with the Doctor.

Contrast this with River Song. She interacts with the Doctor in a way that no other human character does. It seems wrong and we want to know why, but this is kept secret. In fact, the secret of River Song's identity is constantly being dangled in front of us. It is really the only interesting thing about her. However strong Alex Kingston's performances, River Song is essentially a cardboard character. She is simply there to fuel speculation and to tantalise the viewer in the wait for the big revelation. There is no character development to enjoy, no subtlety in her interaction with the Doctor (they just behave like a bickering couple with the odd racy comment here and there) and her only good lines are cheap laughs.

Romana is a character that survived her onscreen appearances. She returned in the Virgin New Adventures and then regenerated as Lord President of Gallifrey in the BBC books. Big Finish have given us an whole audio series featuring the Lalla Ward Romana as Lord President. It seems unlikely that River Song will last so long as a character. Once we find out what the deal is with her, she will be dropped from the show and nobody will care about her any longer. Big mysterious story arcs will never beat simple ande effective character development.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Season 17

I really do like the Graham Williams era, but I don't think I can really put in much of a defence for Season 17. It really is poor in a number of ways.

This season saw the arrival of a new script writer, Douglas Adams, who had written The Pirate Planet. Adams' strength was in comedy. It is fair to say that he was not well attuned to writing serious science fiction. This is very obvious in the way that Season 17 allowed comedy to become too central to the show. Tom Baker seemed to cease being a protagonist in the stories and became a sort of comic host. At times it could be very funny, but at other times the excessive humour seemed to swamp any sense of atmosphere or menace. When in The Horns of Nimon, the Doctor is threatened with arrest, execution and torture, he jokes about it. We all laugh at that moment, but there is a sense in which there are too many moments like this. The Doctor had become invulnerable an almost uninvolved.

The other problem of this season was the woefully poor quality of the productions. Of course, the cheap sets and costumes could be explained away by the much reduced budget, but this is not an excuse for some of the terrible acting and direction. It seems like everybody at this stage had ceased to take the show seriously. Contrast this with An Unearthly Child, the very first serial of the show. Even people pretending to be grunting cavemen and women avoided the pitfall of sending it all up. This would be unimaginable in the 17th season. The program was desperately in need of a big shake-up. Thankfully, this was to come in the next season under new producer John Nathan-Turner.

Season 17 saw a new face of Romana in Lalla Ward. Lalla lacked the strong acting talent of Mary Tamm, but she seemed to take her role more seriously than her predecessor. She was also helped by the fact that writers made Romana into a much stronger character. The Horns of Nimon sees her become in every way a female Doctor.

For all the underwhelming efforts of this season, strangely it gave us one of the greatest ever Doctor Who stories, City of Death. This truly is a quite delightful story its glorious humour accompanied by the most delightful portrayal of a Doctor/ Companion relationship ever. City of Death seems to have everything that one could want in a Doctor Who story, plus an added touch of class.

I don't find this season at all impressive, but I would rather watch one of these stories than one of the more awful Pertwee stories or one of those frightfully grim Hinchcliffe efforts.

Destiny of the Daleks- 5/10

I frequently change my mind on the merits or demerits of this story. It is basically a Terry Nation space-romp revitalised with Douglas Adams' humour. It makes the worrying suggestion that the Daleks are robots.

City of Death- 10/10

A diamond in mud. How did such a brilliant story get into this season?

The Creature from the Pit- 3/10

A really unimpressive story. Those Fagin-wannabes were a really bad idea.

Nightmare of Eden- 4/10

A great story let down by atrocious acting and appalling production values. This has to be one of the cheapest looking stories ever.

The Horns of Nimon- 6/10

I do like this story, even if it is a bit silly. Best of all, I love how Romana is used so effectively in it.

Shada- ?/?

The great or not so great unfinished story. Fans like to imagine Shada would have been the redemption of Season 17. What is left of it looks like a load of rubbish to me.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Lawrence Miles on the Doctor Who Brand

Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who Thing- Sell Sec 2: "The Deadly Art of Doctor Who"

...we note that all the factors used to keep the series solvent in the 20-teens are favourites of the modern sci-fi fan. You know the ones I mean, you can count 'em off yourselves. Ratings are always a treacherous guide, but is anyone really surprised that viewing figures went back up for "Curse of the Black Spot"? Doctor Who vs Pirates vs Mermaids isn't terribly original, yet at least it puts the programme in a different space from anything else on TV. Well, until the Johnny Depp movie a few days later. An Angel-age storyline about a time-baby pregnancy, or snatches of future events that aren't designed to be comprehensible even to the dedicated viewer, are of no interest to anyone except - ironically, given recent controversies - the kind of people who care about spoilers. If the Termite Art version of television provokes the viewer into going outside and poking around to see what's there (and I still hold that this is what most good telly does, especially children's telly), then this is more like siege conditions. Branding always closes the gates. This is your product, you don't need anything else.

Anomalies Can Cry, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Another story about Big Finish character, Elizabeth Klein. Klein is a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline and was briefly a companion of the Seventh Doctor. This is set between A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest.

Klein is a very cold, hard-edged character. I wanted to explore her softer, more vulnerable side. This story underlines just how tragic Klein's story is, something that is very easy to forget.

The Doctor had returned to the TARDIS, leaving her to enjoy the solitude of beach.

Klein felt deliciously cool in her light summer dress. The sun was still warm as afternoon turned to evening, but the ocean breeze was cool and refreshing. She had dispensed with her sandals and walked barefoot, feeling the fine green sand between her toes.

The scene was so beautiful. The green-sanded beach seemed to stretch for miles, framed by shiny green cliffs. The sea was golden, reflecting the magnificent golden sky above. Here and there, peculiarly shaped green rock formations jutted out of the golden waters, the waves lapping around them. Strange birds cried out in the air above (or were they flying reptiles or mammals? Klein wondered).

Klein felt her eyes moisten as she drank in the sight in her solitude. She was almost certainly the only human on this planet. Just this moment, she wished that somebody else was there to enjoy the glorious sight with her. She almost wished the Doctor had not returned to the TARDIS. 'No,' she told herself. 'Never mind the Doctor. Forget about him.'

Jonas. The name returned to her mind like lightning. Seldom did she allow herself to think of her lost lover. From her world. Her timeline. The world that was supposed to be. It seemed like eternity since Jonas had held her hand or kissed her. How she missed his strong embrace!

Jonas was gone. Erased from history, along with everything in her world. Of course, there must be a Jonas in this timeline. He had been born before the war, before the Doctor's meddling, so a version of him must still exist in this timeline. She knew, however, that this would be a different Jonas, a man who had lived a different life, with different memories. Not her Jonas. A man who had never known her, never loved her and never known her love for him.

Klein hated to think about it, but she was horribly aware that there must be a another Elizabeth Klein in this timeline. A Klein who had been born in England before the war, like her and who had gone through the same trauma of internment with her German parents by the British. Yet this Klein had never seen the victory of the Third Reich and the magnificence of its triumph across the world. This Klein would have grown up thinking that the Allies were supposed to win the war. This was the Klein who belonged in this timeline. Not her.

Klein wept with grief as she allowed herself to dwell on the enormity of her personal loss. Everyone she had known and loved had been erased from history. She was utterly alone in this unfair world.

The Doctor called her a 'temporal anomaly.' It was another way of saying she was a nobody, a non-person. She might be an anomaly, but she was a human being and she felt loss like any other. She needed the love of friends and family like any other person. The Doctor had taken all of that away from her.

Klein continued to stare out at the beautiful, but uncaring horizon, her eyes filled with tears. She realised what the Doctor was doing to her. He was manipulating her yet again. By taking her to so many beautiful locations, he was trying to soften her; to trick her into letting down her guard. Just another of his games. She was not going to let him win.

When she was a child, during the war, she had been an 'anomaly.' A child of German parents on British soil, she was deemed to be an 'enemy alien.' She and her parents had been taken from their home and interned by the British government. The Doctor was doing exactly the same thing to her. To him she was an anomaly, another enemy alien. He might like to pretend that she was his travelling companion, but in truth, it was just another form of internment. The Doctor was keeping his enemy alien under guard.

As Klein treaded softly back to the TARDIS, her bare feet still enjoying the soft green sand, her heart burned with the desire to get even. The Doctor would regret manipulating her.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

St. Anthony's Fire, by Mark Gatiss (Virgin New Adventure)

This post got removed during last week's blogger problem.

The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice meet reptilian genocidal religious fanatics and human genocidal religious fanatics.

Mark Gatiss is really not a good writer at all. He seems to either come up with unimaginatively traditional Doctor Who stories like Nightshade or else 'everything but the bathroom sink' jumbles like Victory of the Daleks. St. Anthony's Fire, is very much in the former, like his previous New Adventure.

The biggest problem with St. Anthony's Fire, apart from the very standard Whoish plot, is the all-out assault on religion. This novel seems to suggest that everybody who has faith is a deluded fool and all religion causes terrible atrocities. The Betrushian religion is built on a misunderstanding about an alien race's activity and leads to genocide. The Chapter of St. Anthony's Fire kidnap people, brainwash them, force them to endure terrible suffering for no reason and commit genocide. There is not the slightest suggestion in the book that some religions might 1) be true, 2) be believed by intelligent people, 3) not commit terrible atrocities, 4) Do acts of kindness and benevolence. Obviously, there are lots of oppressive religious groups in the world, but the kind of one-sided attack on religion in this novel is clumsy and unpleasant.

Even as a critique of religion, St. Anthony's Fire fails because it does not portray any appealing side to religion. An intelligent critique of religious belief and activity has to address the fact that religion does appeal to people. The Chapter of St. Anthony (how they came to centre their religion on a minor saint makes no real sense) are so horrible and brutal that nobody would ever want to join them. Hence, they have to brainwash their converts. Yong, the Chapter's leader is a cartoonish character who tortures kittens. He is a sort of religious version of Fu Manchu.

Gatiss is okay at writing for the Seventh Doctor, Bernice and Ace. The problem is that he does not do anything interesting with the regulars. Ace only joins the Chapter because she has been brainwashed, so nothing much new is revealed about her through it. We get an old-fashioned companions separated from each other and the Doctor routine, just like the old days. The resolution of the book is uninteresting too. We get a very Star Trekkish technobabble-based solution to the problem.

Just wait until Mark Gatiss becomes the next producer of Doctor Who.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Conundrum, by Steve Lyons (Virgin New Adventure)

'I trusted you,' stormed Ace, waving a trembling finger in Benny's face. 'I trusted you and you grassed me up to the bloody Doctor!'

'Don't you play the injured party with me!' she snapped grabbing Ace's arm and pushing it roughly away from her. 'I've bent over backwards to accommodate you- I should have known from the start, you're nothing more than a selfish maladjusted killer!'

In my opinion, Conundrum is the best of all the New Adventures. It has an experimental style and offers a playful postmodern touch, but is also highly readable. I first read Conundrum when I was 13 and found it much more enjoyable to read than some of the other Virgin New Adventures. I found it puzzling that the two companions seemed to be so moody and that Ace hated the Doctor so much, but I accepted that. When I later came to watch the Seventh Doctor televised stories, I was surprised to find that Ace was not as moody and aggressive as she is in this novel.

Conundrum is a sequel to The Mind Robber. I would venture to say that this sequel is actually a bit better than the original story, which had a rather weak plot. Lyons creates a very English provincial town in a rural backwater and populates it with a weird collection of cliched characters from different literary genres. The plot seems to shift from murder mystery, children's' adventure, superhero comic and horror until we discover the nature of this world. Cleverly, the story is narrated by the Master of the Land of Fiction and so we get a narrator who interacts with the characters he is describing. One of the most hilarious moments is the narrator's amazement at the Doctor's ability to come up with a scientific explanation for a superhero gaining his powers.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this story was the soap opera drama between the Doctor, Ace and Benny. This was the high point of the NA angsty phase, but it was Steve Lyons who really made this drama fun. Many people love the New Adventures for introducing Bernice, but hate the way they handled Ace. I am the opposite. I don't like Bernice at all, but I love the NA version of Ace. Lyons manages to show the nasty side of Bernice, presenting her as a self-righteous, hypocritical and manipulative bitch. I find Bernice too overconfident and too clever for her own good. I find it impossible to identify with her. NA Ace on the other hand, is a loser. She is a talentless failure who blames everybody else for her problems and just wants to lash out. That is a terrible attitude to have, but it's easy to empathize with her. There is something of Ace in most of us who aren't lucky enough to be as confident and clever as Bernice.

I am not entirely happy with the suggestion that John and Gillian were not really companions. I suspect that back in the 90s, Doctor Who fans were a bit more closed-minded about what could be considered canon. These days, many fans would be more open to seeing the TV Comic as canon. Of course, that Conundrum is canon need not rule the TV Comic out of the canon. The Doctor never actually denies having two grandchildren called John and Gillian, he just does not recognise the Land of Fiction duo as being them.

The revelation that the Land of Fiction was originally created by the Gods of Rrrragnarok is cool.

Conundrum is the best of the Virgin New Adventure novel and should be essential reading for any fan.

Lawrence Miles' response to The Doctor's Wife

Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who Thing: Oh, All Right

'To be honest, it's not atypical for Neil Gaiman to take something innately complex and shape it into something incredibly crass and attention-grabbing: if you can turn Death into a goth pin-up, then the TARDIS isn't going to stand a chance. The obvious thing to say at this point is that in a phase of the series where the only impressive thing the Doctor can do is flirt, and where every scene has the emotional depth and maturity of Han Solo saying "I know" before being pushed into the carbonite, the TARDIS was inevitably going to become the latest in a line of inflatable dolls posing as female characters.'

Also, don't miss his great comment about spoilers:

'Possibly, just possibly, the best way to deal with "spoilers" is to make stories that remain watchable even if you know what's going to happen. Rather than, say, stories that depend on relentless story-arc twists and idiotic clues as to what's going to be at the end of the season. Y'know. Just a thought. From someone who knew the ending of "Genesis of the Daleks" several years before he actually saw it.'

The Doctor's Wife

Before reading my review, I recommend reading a great review on The Daily POP. It makes some excellent points about the faults of this story.

I have not read a huge amount by Neil Gaiman. He strikes me as the sort of writer who is just a bit too cool for his own good. He is certainly a very popular writer and this story has been massively overhyped. The Doctor's Wife is certainly better than the boring and tedious two-part story that opened the season and the half-hearted pirate romp last week, but that is not saying an awful lot.

Unsurprisingly, given the similar titles, The Doctor's Wife shares some of the main faults of The Doctor's Daughter. Both stories give us a relation of the Doctor who is not really any such thing. The idea of the TARDIS being the Doctor's wife is admittedly more interesting than an artificially created daughter, but the execution is not much better. Both Jenny and Idris turn out to be likable, but generally uninteresting characters. Both stories had the potential to radically shake-up the format of the show to make it more interesting. Imagine how fantastic it would have been for the fourth BBC Wales season to have gone back to the format of the first season, with the TARDIS being a family again, with the Doctor being a kind and protective father as he was to Susan and Donna taking on a motherly role, as Barbara had so beautifully done. It would have made the fourth season so much stronger. Likewise, having the TARDIS taking on a permanently humanoid form would have been a really interesting development in the show. Of course, watching both stories you are absolutely certain that the producer is not going to be bold enough to do those things (and if a new permanent character was going to be introduced, you would probably have already heard about it). Hence, watching The Doctor's Daughter you know that Jenny will be killed off at the end and watching The Doctor's Wife, you know that Idris is doomed. Both stories feel like Star Trek episodes where everything is returned to normal at the end.

Neil Gaiman tries to do far much in this story. He wants to deal with the Doctor's relationship with the Time Lords, he wants to bring back an old monster, he wants to explore the TARDIS, he wants to examine the Doctor's relationship with his ship, he wants to introduce the kind of freaky gothic characters that inhabit all his stories, he wants to bring in lots of continuity references (the snake tattoo is a subtle one), he wants to revisit Edge of Destruction and, like every other current Doctor Who writer, he wants to kill Rory. The episode suffocates under the weight of all that Gaiman is attempting to squeeze into it.

The plot of the story is incredibly predictable once the main elements have been revealed. You know that the House will chase Amy and Rory around the TARDIS corridors, you know the Doctor and Idris will get to the TARDIS with their ramshackle model and you know that Idris will defeat the House by returning to her original form (thus sealing her death warrant).

One thing that really annoys me about this story is the fast pace at which the dialogue is delivered, a problem I seem to have had with every story in this season and the last. There are probably some great lines, but I just can't catch them all as the cast speak so quickly. Remember the Kangs in Paradise Towers? They spoke so precisely and with such clarity that they were not really believable, but at least you could follow what they were saying and appreciate the cleverness of their lines.

I am not altogether convinced by Suranne Jones' performance as Idris. I have seen much more impressive madwomen in films and television. The flirting and bickering between the Doctor and his 'wife' is dreadfully unsubtle and not terribly believable. As is pointed out in The Daily POP review, it is not all clear that if the TARDIS did have a human personality, she would be at all like the flighty, manic and flirtatious Idris. One suspects she would much more like the human TARDIS that we got in the BBC books, the austere and cold redhead, Compassion. It was a great idea of the BBC books to create a humanoid TARDIS, but just like Moffat, the writers did not know what to do with her.

It was nice to finally see a little more of the TARDIS, but it must be said that what we got was very disappointing- just some very boring corridors. It looked to the uniform functionality of Castrovalva, rather than the mad array of peculiar and surreal rooms in The Invasion of Time.

This is yet another disappointing installment in the new series and yet more evidence that the writers and producer are unable to address the tired and stale format of current Doctor Who.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Justice, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

Naturally, you have to have a fight in a 'Girls in prison' series. I kept it short because I don't like violence.

Morgaine slammed her fist into the other woman, knocking her to the ground. Before her opponent could rise, she gave her another kick with her bare foot. Certain that her opponent had been felled, Morgaine stepped away from her and slipped her flip flops back on.

Ganymede Correctional Facility was a tight operation, with discipline strictly enforced. Violence was generally rare, but occasionally it happened. Mali, Morgaine's opponent had been bullying weaker inmates and taking advantage of them. This was not something that Morgaine tolerated on her watch.

Morgaine addressed the other women gathered around. "Hear me. If I hear of any other woman in here abusing others, she will answer to me, Morgaine the Sunkiller. We are sisters in captivity. We are all in this place together and we will live like sisters. Does anybody object to that?"

There were no objections from anyone. Every inmate knew that Morgaine was a strange creature, perhaps slightly mad, but they feared her prowess as a fighter and respected her sense of justice.

At that moment, prison guards burst into the recreation area, shouting for the inmates to return to the cells, while Mali was picked up and carried to the medical wing. Morgaine was harried with the other women back to the cells. She suspected that the guards could have got involved earlier, but they probably thought Mali had it coming.

Morgaine knew the prison staff would examine the video footage and that she would do time in the punishment wing. 'What does that matter?' she thought to herself. In her world she had ruled over millions, in this prison she was determined to be a leader amongst the inmates. It was her duty, as a queen, a warrior and a noblewoman.

Meanwhile in another time and another place, the Doctor thought of Morgaine. From a distance, he had kept an eye on her during her imprisonment. He knew of the kindness she had showed to other prisoners. He knew how she had fought against both prisoners and guards who had been cruel and abusive. He knew how much Morgaine had done to redeem herself.

'Can I leave her locked up forever?,' wondered the Doctor. 'Has she proved her self worthy to be released?' It was a question he had asked himself many times. He had ordered that Morgaine be locked up. She had been locked up for about two hundred years now. How many centuries would he keep her in there for? Was it just for her to stay in prison until the end of the universe? It was a question the Doctor agonised over.

'No, I can't risk releasing her,' decided the Doctor. So many times had he pondered the quandary of Morgaine and come to that same conclusion. Morgaine was a creature of chaos. She was too unpredictable, perhaps too unstable. Even if she returned to her own universe, there was no guarantee that she would stay there. Morgaine was much safer locked up.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Isobel and the Rani, by Matthew Clarke (my fan fiction)

This story answers the question of how the Rani knew about Mel in Time and the Rani.

Isobel Watkins appeared in The Invasion. My story Celebrity Yacht Party introduces this middle-aged version of Isobel Watkins.

St. Tropez, 2003

The Rani did not care much for going to Earth. It always meant disguising herself in local costume and adopting the primitive cultural norms of the many cultures on the wretched planet. However, she needed information badly and this was the place to go.

The Doctor had made so many visits to Earth that he had become and irregular but not unfamiliar presence to its inhabitants. In the twentieth century had emerged the peculiar phenomena of Doctor-watchers, individuals who took an obsessive interest in the person of the mysterious Doctor. Few of them had any accurate information and most of them had the most improbable theories as to the Doctor's identity. Nevertheless, the individual that the Rani was consulting had an advantage over the other Doctor-watchers- she had actually met the Doctor. Isobel Watkins was one of the many humans who had been tangled up in one of the Doctor's tiresome little adventures. Over the years she had maintained contact with the Doctor and had met every one of his incarnations. Whether the Doctor was happy about it or not, she was actually working on the first ever biography of the Time Lord. TARDISes were programmed to avoid out of sequence encounters between Time Lords and so the Rani could be sure that her TARDIS had brought her to a period in which the Doctor's current incarnation had visited most recently. All she needed to do was to charm this human woman into helping her.

The Rani's heavily shoulder-padded tunic and tight trousers were never going to look right in this particular era and so she had instead opted for a red dress. It had to be expensive-looking; the moorings of St. Tropez was the haunt of rich humans who delighted in nothing but flaunting their good fortune. These humans seemed to love money as much as her own people loved power.

When she arrived at Isobel's private yacht, the Rani was met by a member of the crew who instructed her to remove her shoes before coming on board. The Rani slipped out of her stiletto sandals and padded across the gang plank in her large bare feet. She was thankful that in this regeneration she was tall enough to manage without the added lift of her heels. Humans were so precious about their worldly goods. She cared little for the state of her own TARDIS, provided it was functional and sterile.

On the deck she was met by a middle-aged woman with fair hair. She had a healthy tan from enjoying more sun than the average human on this continent. She wore a white dress and like the Rani, was barefoot.

The Rani knew she was expected. She had contacted Isobel via the Internet and had prepared a cover story. "Isobel, I'm Melody Lakeland. I'm delighted to meet you. It was very gracious of you to invite me here," said the Rani.

"The pleasure is all mine, Melody," Isobel replied. "It really is dolly to meet somebody who knows the Doctor well." The Rani was quite unable to place Isobel's nasal accent. Still, she was hardly the expert on human accents.

The Rani handed to Isobel the suitcase she had been carrying. "A present for you," she said. "The robes the Doctor wore when he was at the Prydonian academy." Of course they were no such thing. They were in fact the robes the Rani herself had worn at the academy. How was Isobel to know that the robes had been worn by a cute little girl in pigtails and not a snotty-nosed fair-haired boy? The Rani was rather glad to be rid of the robes; she had no sentiment or nostalgia for her school days.

Isobel seemed overjoyed by the gift. "Oh, that is so dolly! How can I ever thank you. To think these are clothes worn by the Doctor in his childhood. I am being a terrible hostess. You must sit down and have a glass of wine."

The two women sat down to share a bottle of wine. The Rani hated socialising, and she was starting to hate this sentimental fool of a human, but she knew this was necessary to her mission.

"So tell me, Melody," enquired Isobel. "How did you come to know the Doctor so well?"

"It's hard to explain," replied the Rani. "You could say it's a timey wimey thing. I keep bumping into him at different stages of his life. I meet his later incarnations first then I am working my way down. Eventually I will become the Doctor's wife, but this has not actually happened yet. Timey wimey, as I said."

"You become Mrs. Doctor!" exclaimed Isobel. "That is so dolly! How lucky for you! When did the two of you get hitched?"

"It has not actually happened yet. It is part of his timestream, however. You could say we have a non-linear relationship," explained the Rani.

Isobel seemed completely baffled by this, but she was clearly quite excited about it all. This was entirely the Rani's intention. She felt quite pleased with herself for duping Isobel into believing this absurd story. 'Timey wimey non-linear relationship' indeed!

The Rani moved on to the subject of Isobel's biographical research. "Tell me about the book you are writing, Isobel."

"Yes, my biography of the Doctor. I have met all of the Doctor's incarnations- so far, I think. I have spent time with all of them. I have photos, I have interviewed some of the main people he knew on Earth. It is going to be a quite fantastic read. Some of the UNIT stuff was difficult to research, with it being a top secret security organisation. But I had a lot of help on that front from my dolly husband, Dmitri. He used to be a KGB agent, you know," said Isobel.

"I mentioned to you that I was interested in finding out a bit more about the Doctor's current incarnation. The loud one who wears that awful coat. You have met him, I trust?" asked the Rani.

"Yes, I have met him alright. I find him rather dolly. He seems to enjoy attention more than the last one, and I am only too happy to oblige. He seemed quite delighted when I told him about the biography project."

The Rani smiled at this. "I have not met this Doctor yet. I have met all the others. The thing is that I always have to tread carefully when it comes to his fellow travellers. I don't want to make them jealous. I have to keep them on side. It would really help if I could find out as much as possible about who he is travelling with currently."

"Of course. You mentioned to me that this is what you wanted and after you gave me those robes, how could I refuse? I have had several holidays with this Doctor and I spent almost a week with him and his dolly assistant Mel in Paris. I took so many photographs and videos. You can have copies."

Once the material was in the Rani's hands, she wasted little more time. After offering Isobel some pleasantries, she made a quick get-away from the boat and grabbed her shoes.

When she had returned to her TARDIS, the Rani pored over the materials. Contrary to her lies to Isobel, she could only ever meet the Doctor in linear succession. It was the built into the very nature of the Time Lord's travel machines. The last companion to come to Earth would be the one the Doctor was currently with. This Mel creature. The Rani noted her hair, her features and the clothes she wore.

In front of her audio-visual monitor, the Rani imitated the energetic power-walk of Mel. In front of her mirror, she practiced the beaming grin. Again and again she attempted to master the high-pitched nasal voice. Even alone in her TARDIS, it felt humiliating, but nobody could master time and space without tears.

On my other Blog

Shoes Off at the Door, Please: Hey, Buddhists take their Shoes Off!

I mention Doctor Who on my other blog.

Monday 9 May 2011

Seasons of Fear, by Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox (Big Finish Audio)

I’m the original discriminating buffalo man
And I’ll do what’s wrong as long as I can

You can't go wrong with Paul Cornell, and Mrs. Cornell also proves to be a pretty fine writer (just listen to her brilliant historical The Council of Nicaea).

Seasons of Fear has been described as a 'road story' in the model of The Keys of Marinus and The Chase. The episodes move from one historical location to another, yet are united by a single plot. This works reasonably well. We also get a touch of The Space Museum thrown in, with the revelation that the Doctor will be killed in the future by the villain.

Sebastien Grayle is one of the best conceived Doctor Who villains ever. He has been granted near immortality and so we are able to see him at different stages of his prolonged existence. This echoes the common theme of Doctor Who, that 'immortality is a curse. not a blessing.' Over the centuries, Grayle descends into increasing madness and depravity. The real tragedy of his character is that this course of villainy began simply with bitterness over a simple matter of land inheritance. Paul McGann's Doctor reacts in abject horror at the idea of this long and bitter existence over a course of life apparently longer than his own.

This story offers us the return of a sadly neglected monster. They don't appear until they end, but they fit the story very well, especially with their catchphrase about a certain journey. I can't help laughing when I hear their voices.

I don't think it was really necessary to imply that Edward the Confessor was an homosexual. I also think the two Georgian characters were not very believable, but these are minor complaints.

India Fisher's Charley comes across well, though this was the first audio I hear with her. This is an audio that is definitely worth getting hold of.