Saturday 31 August 2013

Trading Futures, by Lance Parkin

The Troughton serial Enemy of the World is set in the early years of the Twenty-first century and is possibly the Doctor Who story most heavily influenced by the James Bond movies. Lance Parkin's Trading Futures is also set in the early Twenty-first century, just years before Enemy of the World. Appropriately, Trading Futures is from cover to back a homage to James Bond in all its glory. This novel has some of the key ingredients of James Bond, non-stop action, multiple locations, a sexy female spy (with the amusing name Malady), a girl in a bikini (in this case Dr. Who's companion Anji Kapoor) and lots of devious scheming. There is also a British agent called Jonah Cosgrove, who is clearly intended as an elderly version of James Bond.

This story is very much focused on Anji. She takes on an almost Doctorish role, effortlessly gliding through the adventure, improvising at every problem. She seems completely at home and at ease in this environment; only decades away from her own time and guided by the assumptions of markets and capitalism. I love Anji. Being a Tory and a right-winger, I'm inevitably going to like a character who is a capitalist who supports the establishment. It's remarkable how much Anji stands out in Doctor Who because of her contrasting values. This is especially striking in this novel when she defends the arms trade. I can't imagine any other companion expressing such sentiments. Even if the Brigadier probably would agree with her, writers would never have a beloved character like him defending the arms industry. Anji offered a right-wing diversion in a franchise that was consciously left-leaning. Of course, it would be awful to have a character like Anji in Moffat-Who. Doctor Who has turned into a show that is essentially conservative due to the unreservedly middle-class nature of its characters and assumptions. It has nothing to offer in the way of challenging society. As much as I am a Conservative, I prefer Doctor Who being left-wing, rather than having absolutely nothing to say except middle-class sentiments.

Both the Doctor and Fitz take a back seat in this story. Despite his secondary role, the Doctor is portrayed here as an unstoppable, seemingly indestructible whirlwind of energy. Fitz gets a really memorable role in this novel when he is mistaken by aliens as the Doctor. He does an absolutely fantastic job of improvising as a Doctor-stand in, attempting to say Doctorish things. It is remarkable that no other companion (that I'm aware of) ever got to do this.

Lance Parkin had me in fits of laughter with this book's warlike alien race, the Onihr. The Rhinoceros-like Onihr are deliberately portrayed as a bogstandard naff Doctor Who alien species. In a really Monty Pythonesque scene, they torture Fitz with a rubbish torture device called a 'Pain Inducer.' They even change into scarlet cardinal-like robes before operating it.

Despite my enjoying Trading Futures immensely, I did feel it had two problems. The first was the excessive number of factions at work. I don't think the two minions of Sabbath contributed anything useful to the plot. They could easily have been dispensed with, but seemed to have been brought in to keep up with the story arc about the villainous Sabbath. Secondly, speaking of villains, I think a story that emulates James Bond needs a much stronger villain. Baskerville is not particularly memorable and never captures the glamour and style of a Bond villain.

Sunday 25 August 2013

That Doctor Who Blog: Future Failure

That Doctor Who Blog: Future Failure:

Sooner or later Doctor Who will be taken off our screens again. It won’t happen under Moffat and it’s unlikely to happen under whoever replaces him, whoever that may be. But it will happen. The programme has already been back on television for eight years. It can’t continue indefinitely. Even if it’s for three or four years it’ll disappear.
And when it does disappear from our screens I think it’s currently running the risk of being looked on as a broken show in much the same way as the ’89 incarnation was. It’ll be for different reasons of course. In place of wobbly sets people will talk of wibbly wobbly plotting (see what I did there?). That’s something that the next showrunner could fix, but something tells me they won’t. Even if they move away from Moff’s time-tangling shenanigans I can’t anyone creating a strong enough identity for the show to rid it of the image the current man in charge has created.
Which will almost certainly lead to Doctor Who being remembered as a convoluted, complex show about time travel paradoxes. Which it’s not of course. But not all of the original series was badly made. Most importantly the final three years of the original series were actually pretty well put together. But because of a few dodgy episodes and bad decision twenty-six seasons are remembered by the general populace as being pretty ropey television.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Starlight Robbery, by Matt Fitton (Big Finish Audio)

The prospect of Elizabeth Klein meeting the Sontarans was certainly exciting one. So far, the only recurring monster she had encountered was the Selachians from the BBC novels. This audio will be followed by a story with the Daleks. I am not the kind of fan who thinks everything is better with Famous Monsters, but as a massive Klein fanboy, I'm keen to see her do cool stuff like fighting Daleks.

The premise of Starlight Robbery is that Garundel, a Salamader-like arms dealer holds a galactic arms auction to sell weapons to the war-like races of the universe. The highlight of the auction is the Persuasion Machine, the key component of which is Kurt Schulk. Determined to recover, Schulk, the Doctor sends Klein and her lab assistant Wil Arrowsmith to infiltrate the auction. This being a cosmic auction, fans will inevitably find themselves being reminded of Alien Bodies. This story does not come close to the surreal brilliance of Alien Bodies, but it is still funny and enjoyable in a number of ways.

Given the way Nu Who has treated the Sontarans, it is a bit disappointing that the Sontarans here are mostly played for laughs. They are given distinctive voices, which is helpful, but they have none of the intimidating presence of Lynx. However, Garundel, the Urodelian merchant, truly is a character worthy of Robert Holmes. He is hilariously played by Stuart Milligan in a camp American accent. Like the best of Robert Holmes' villains, he is ridiculous up until the point when you realize he is a cold blooded killer who is actually deadly serious. There is a wonder transition between Garundel being funny and Garundel finally becoming deadly serious. In a shocking moment, he shoots dead his former associate for her betrayal.

Starlight Robbery does a lot more with Klein than the disappointing Persuasion. There is a nice moment when she complains about the absurd leather uniform the Doctor has given her as a disguise. She is more compassionate and humane here than her Nazi alternate self, showing shock and disgust at Ziv's death, but she is still cold and detached about Garundel's fate. In an interesting moment, she gives an uncomfortable pause before replying when she is asked by the Sontaran marshal about motherhood. I am a bit worried about the revelation of a connection between Klein and Schulk. I do hope the writers do not make Klein's backstory even more complicated than it already is. I think she deserves to be developed as a proper rounded character, rather than turned into a Moffat style cosmic pixie girl like Amy Pond or Clara.

Will remains as annoying as he was in the previous story. He does have a few good moments, however. One really appreciates his sense of wonder and fascination at everything he sees. He is incredibly impressed with the twenty-first century mobile telephone, coming as he does, from either the late eighties or early nineties. I'm not convinced by the implication that he has not had much experience with women, given the rugged good looks he displays on the cover of Persuasion. The Doctor is largely left out of the action until the third part. I rather like the way Garundel points out his un-trusting, controlling nature.

One complaint I have is that during the auction, there is a lot of screaming in the background. Presumably, this is on video footage that is being played to the guests. However, the noise does give the confusing impression that the weapons are being demonstrated on live victims, a notion that would rather conflict with the dialogue.

I am not really a critic of the arms trade. Governments need weapons and somebody has to manufacture and sell them. Of course, such companies can have unethical practices and there so there is a need for them to be regulated. Given those reservations, I was rather surprised how little this story attempts to satirize or critique the arms industry. I can imagine what a leftist like Jack Graham would say about this story. He would probably point out that the villain turns out to be just a small-time conman, and not a powerful corporation, thus avoiding critique of capitalism. Most of the outrage that the characters express toward Garundel is over the fact that he is ripping off his customers rather than his involvement in the arms trade.

I think Starlight Robbery goes on a little too long. It could probably have been finished in three parts, rather than four. It is however, a vast improvement on Persuasion and is enjoyable throughout.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)

Being an huge fan of the Virgin New Adventures, I was really keen to hear a Companion Chronicle starring Bernice Summerfield. Not that I am actually a fan of the character. I find her a bit too overconfident and clever, as well as annoyingly Leftist in a self-righteous way. Arguably, she is a Mary Sue for fannish Doctor Who writers. Yet it is significant that she was the first non-televised companion to have her own Companion Chronicle. She is indeed a memorable and popular Doctor Who companion in her own right. She is also a character who is always going to deliver great dialogue, even if it is irritatingly cocky.

While there are a lot of continuity nods to the Virgin Doctor Who novels in this story, this very much feels like a Bernice Summerfield adventure, with the futuristic archaeologist once again investigating another weird planet. The Doctor takes a back seat for much of the story, with the focus thrust onto Bernice. Unlike a typical Katy Manning or Carole Anne Ford companion chronicle, this is not really about the Doctor. Yet the descriptions really do manage to create a mental image of McCoy's mannerisms and evoke nostalgia for both Seasons 24-26 and the Virgin novels.

I rather wish that this had been a story featuring 'New Ace' as well as Bernice. I would love to have heard Lisa Bowerman attempting to create the mature voice of Sophie Aldred's character. Incidently, I rather felt that Sophie Aldred failed to really capture the Virgin books conception of Ace in Shadow of the Scourge.

It's not the most exciting story. It's a little bit 'talky' with some big information dumps and it does not move all that quickly. Nevertheless, it kept my attention better than a lot of audios and delivered a reasonably interesting, if not altogether Earth-shattering tale.

Lisa Bowerman delivers the narration expertly, and unsurprisingly so given that she has directed plenty of companion chronicles. A lot of reviewers have complained about her imitation of McCoy's voice. She does not get it quite right; it's a bit too Scottish, nevertheless it is fun to listen to. Lisa Bowerman's skillful delivery is not really matched by her co-actor, Charlie Hayes, who fails to really bring much to her role.

For those who love the Seventh Doctor in a linen safari suit, this is definitely worth a listen.

Saturday 10 August 2013

For everyone claiming that Moffat chose Capaldi because he was “the best for the role”

Fandoms and Feminism:

For everyone claiming that Moffat chose Capaldi because he was “the best for the role”


He didn’t even let anyone else audition.

It wasn’t like a diverse group of actors of all races, ethnicities, genders, and talents showed up and were all carefully considered and Capaldi was simply the most choice of the lot.

He was the only one Moffat even looked at for the role.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Find and Replace, by Paul Magrs (Big Finish Companion Chronicle)

Having experienced the disappointment of another white male being cast as Dr. Who, it was refreshing to get some Iris Wildthyme. The eccentric female Time Lady (?) is played by Katy Manning, and so with Katy resuming her old role as Jo, she effectively plays two parts, as well as voicing the Third Doctor when he appears.

I really don't care much for the character of Jo Grant, nor am I a fan of the Pertwee era, yet somehow I am drawn to the Companion Chronicles featuring Jo. Perhaps I appreciate the earnestness with which Katy Manning performs them, as well as the creativity with which the writers approach this popular, but difficult era of Doctor Who.

The beautiful cover tells you that you are in for a nostalgia trip on this audio. Indeed, this is very much a passionate celebration of the Pertwee era. You can just feel Katy Manning's delight in her memories of the show as she performs here. When Jo describes the feel of Dr. Who's velvet coat, one feels this is just as much Katy Manning's feeling as the character she is playing. The affection and tenderness displayed in the final parting scene between Jo and the Third Doctor is heartbreaking.

The premise of this story is that Jo, having been parted from the Doctor for over twenty years, bumps into Huxley, a creature called a Novelizer. This Novelizer informs her that her memories have been corrupted. She never knew the Doctor and had instead been a companion of Iris Wildthyme, while assisting MIAOW, the Ministry for Intrusions and Ontological Wonders. Both Jo and Iris are sceptical of this claim and travel back to the 'Seventies' to prove Huxley wrong.

There are so many great elements to this story; the nostalgic affection for the show's past, the fact that every line uttered by Katy as Iris is hilarious and the Novelizer's constant and breathless narration. I have only two real complaints about this story. Firstly, I object to the Pertwee era being called the 'Seventies.' I think those stories were set in the 1980s. Admittedly though, this story rightfully reflects the strong 70s character of the era. I also find it disappointing that Paul Magrs has ostensibly contradicted and effectively upstaged his novel, Verdigris, in which Jo meets Iris. Nevertheless, despite these complaints I found Find and Replace a truly enjoyable and heartwarming listen.

Shabogan Graffiti: Nerd Evidence

Shabogan Graffiti: Nerd Evidence:

Nice one, Jack! Keep on blogging!

STFU Moffat: "Why does it matter that it's another white guy?"

STFU Moffat: "Why does it matter that it's another white guy?"

Tuesday 6 August 2013

The New Dr. Who Really, Really, Really Should have been Black or Female

A response to GerryD on TARDIS Musings: You Can't Please All of the People All of the Time...

Gerry wrote:

"I've made my views on the ethnicity of the role clear before. I would only want to see an actor from an ethnic minority if he was the best for the role - but would have serious concerns about tokenism - giving it to a black actor just because there hadn't been one before. Positive discrimination is, well, a different form of discrimination. A white actor would be denied the role because of his colour."

You have to look at the big picture. Women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately represented in key sections of society. This has to be taken into consideration within the selection process.

Suppose the prime minister appointed only white males to the cabinet. He could argue that the people he chose were the best men for the job and that they had the talents he was looking for. However, we would rightly be inclined to be suspicious of this selection and could reasonably protest that there might be women or black members of parliament who possess the talents for ministerial office.

No doubt Peter Capaldi is a brilliant actor and will do great stuff with the role of Dr. Who. However, are there no female, black or Asian actors who could have done great stuff with the role? Gerry says a black actor would have been fine if he was 'best for the role.' Just what does it mean for somebody to be 'best' for the role of Dr. Who? Every single actor who played the lead character has brought something different to it. Troughton's approach to the part was utterly different to David Tennant's. To say that Peter Capaldi was the predetermined choice to be Dr. Who is ludicrous.

Supposing the next Doctor is played by a white man. What if the show should continue for long enough for there to be twenty Doctors, all played by white men (and a line in The Deadly Assassin is not going to stop that). At what point do we start to get uncomfortable about the fact that the Doctor has been played by a string of white men?

Gerry continues:

"Are the people arguing for a black Doctor, applying the same logic, equally arguing for a black Monarch? We haven't had a black king or queen before, so we really should have one next?"

Gerry is comparing apples to oranges. Nobody chooses who becomes the monarch. The person next in line succeeds to the throne. When somebody who is black marries into the royal family, we will get a black king or queen. The person who plays Dr. Who, however, has been chosen by the producer with the approval of the BBC. That is a decision. That Moffat has overlooked all the talent present in female, black and Asian actors and sees no problem with every incarnation of the Doctor being white shows just how lacking he is in political awareness. Shame on him.

Sunday 4 August 2013

The Conservative Party is more progressive than Doctor Who

And the new Dr. Who is... another white bloke.

We Tories field parliamentary candidates who are female, black and Asian.

In 2013 everybody knew the BBC was going to cast a white male as Dr. Who and they didn't defy our expectation.