14 August 2014

A full throttle adventure (Review: 'Doctor Who: Engines of War', 2014)

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I believe that Steven Moffat now ties the record for most incarnations of the Doctor created under his tenure as showrunner; at three[1]. Eleven, Twelve (who seems to be getting excellent reviews from the "Deep Breath" previews) and the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt.

For those of you who haven't seen "The Day of the Doctor" yet (and why haven't you), the "War Doctor" is the incarnation of the Doctor between McGann and Eccleston; the one who fought the Time War and who as a result is the Doctor's biggest secret. A grouchy and stern old man who renounced the name 'Doctor', he is also a deeply compassionate individual who wants to end the war... although he is horrified at what he might have to do to end it.

After his three appearances in the TV show, the War Doctor is now making his first appearance in Doctor Who's vast expanded universe in an original novel by George Mann, who has previously written an Eleventh Doctor novel. From this, it's clear that he's more than just a one-trick pony.

Where we're at

Set towards the end of the War Doctor's long life (he ages a great deal between "Night of the Doctor " and "Day"), he doesn't have a regular companion and nor does he want to take the risk of acquiring one.

The plot

Arriving on the war-ravaged human planet of Moldox, the Doctor teams up with a local woman to stop a Dalek plot to win the Time War and gain control of all history.

What works
  • Cinder. The "guest companion" in this one is a Dalek hunter only known as 'Cinder', who lost her family in the Dalek invasion of her homeworld. She proves an able and fierce ally of the Doctor, who is willing to let her carry a weapon with her (provided she doesn't actually use it). Well written and very interesting.
  • The War Doctor. An excellently portrayed character both on screen and in print, this Doctor combines a strong heroic streak with the irreverent attitude demonstrated through all his incarnations... and maintains his standards through all the horror.
  • The Time Lords - we get the return of Rassilon as portrayed by Timothy Dalton and some extensive sequences on the Doctor's home planet, including one place I didn't expect. The rottenness in the state of Gallifrey is visibly dripping in these scenes and some very dodgy stuff is done.
  • The Daleks. Well developed, not prone to being defeated in stupid ways and their relationship with a certain Time Lord is well explained.
What doesn't
  • We get one recurring character too many coming back.

Conclusion

A superb novel featuring a Doctor who will hopefully become a more regular feature in the literature - he's fully earned his place here.

9/10

[1]John-Nathan Turner was in charge for the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors.

12 August 2014

Robin Williams 1951-2014

I've seen a number of films featuring Robin Williams, most recently Night at the Museum 2 where he played Teddy Roosevelt. In everything I saw him in, he never was anything but highly entertaining.

His death, which appears to be suicide at present, is therefore a deep loss for not only his friends and family, but everyone on this planet; one of the finest comics of the last century has gone.

Rest in Peace.

04 August 2014

100 Years On

Today marks a century since the British entry in the First World War; fighting was of course ongoing at this point in a number of areas - France and Germany were already at war.

It's pretty much impossible to forget the World Wars in the UK; visual reminders in the form of war memorials exist in every community in this country - we lost over a million of our people in the first conflict. The legacy of the events of June-August 1914 and the four horrific years of bloodshed after resonate to this very day.

There are many lessons to be drawn from this conflict and many reflections to be drawn from it. One useful thing to do is think about what might have happened to you if you'd been around at that point.

I suspect I'd have ended up in the trenches myself... and considering I don't like mud, it would have been horrible to put it mildly.

Wars of these sort affect everyone... and this is one reason why they mustn't happen again.

28 July 2014

'Fringe' 1.5: "Power Hungry"

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Nobody expects the Olivia Inquisition!
Yes, it's been over a year since I last watched an episode of Fringe and with the Star Wars gig, Abrams' star has risen considerably (no pun intended).

So, back to one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen; this one involves a delivery guy with an enhanced electromagnetic field that means he unintentionally overloads electronics when stressed. This episode starts with him causing an elevator to crash killing eight people (he survives)... much like The Blacklist, this show loves a good horrible death to begin with.
So, Dunham and the Bishops (that's a good name for a rock band) are on the case, in an episode that has some good moments - especially for the delivery guy. You feel for him, although the plot has been used before (indeed in the early chapters of the first Harry Potter novel). However, a cliched villain (he's British) lets this one down a lot.

There's a bit involving pigeons that's just hilarious... John Bishop is a wonderful 'mad scientist'. Liv gets some visions of her dead (or at I think he's dead) former boyfriend that involve her snogging him. Watch out, you'll be engaging in nocturnal pottery before you know it.

7/10

25 July 2014

Bears do other things in the woods (Review: 'Doctor Who: The Scarlet Empress', 1998)

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Yes, I admit that I've been picking these novels for a certain interest factor... and this one was chosen for it being the first appearance of a Time Lady called Iris Wildthyme. In fact it's the second, but never mind that.

****
I picked this BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures story up second hand on Amazon; I would like to thank the previous owner for adding some annotations to the pages that were actually helpful in explaining some jokes that I would have otherwise missed.

The 15th novel in the 73-book series, The Scarlet Empress was the second published DW work by prolific writer Paul Magrs (after a short story, also featuring Wildthyme, in the first Short Trips anthology[1]) who would later write the strange Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This is just as strange.

Where we're at

This is the early part of the Eighth Doctor's history; here he's travelling with the book-only companion Samantha 'Sam' Jones, a blonde, spiky woman from modern Earth... he likes those a lot, doesn't here.

The plot

The Doctor and Sam arrive on the planet Hyspero, a world of wonder, magic and the dangerous ruler called the Scarlet Empress. Teaming with Iris Wildthyme and a group of strange aliens, they engage in a epic journey across the planet.

What works

  • Iris Wildthyme a gin-soaked old lady who travels through the vortex in a double-decker bus that is smaller on the inside than out and is even dodgier than the TARDIS, is an enjoyable character with a lot going for her. She's also clearly a huge fibber, claiming adventures that we know the Doctor had. She also has a key weakness that is important to the plot.
    • It's worth pointing out that this is not the Katy Manning incarnation of the character; it's an earlier version, which I only found out about from TARDIS Data Core; this is the 'Beryl Reid' version, which works just as well.
  • Eight is well written and gets some good moments throughout the story.
  • There are some good meta-fictional discussions here, which the last owner happily pointed out.
  • There is definitely some strange and at times disturbing imagery; a trance with the seven previous Doctors' heads on spikes for example... as well as some bears who shave themselves and the heavily tattooed Scarlet Guards... who can meet a horrible fate.

What doesn't

  • Sam isn't a hugely impressive character; she has her moments, but there are far better out there.
  • The book itself is a bit hard to follow and the plot isn't always entirely clear.
  • The large number of past references can be a bit excessive... and suddenly going into first person mode for characters is a bit jarring.
Conclusion

An enjoyable tale with some very unusual imagery... but not one I'd read again in a hurry.

7/10

[1]A different version of Wildthyme appears in some non-Who novels by Magr.


18 July 2014

MH17

The crash of Malaysian Airline flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine is a deep and shocking tragedy... but I don't believe it was an act of terrorism.

From the evidence that the Ukrainians have released; it seems to have been a case of gross incompetence by the separatists and those training them. Misidentification of an airliner as a military cargo jet is easy when you don't know how to use your equipment properly... and when you're not given clear orders about engaging hostile aircraft.

There needs to be an impartial investigation, those responsible need to be dragged through the courts on manslaughter charges, there needs to be a long-term peace in Ukraine... and the ICAO needs to re-evaluate how it handles civilian flights over warzones. I myself flew over Iraq in 2009 on my way to Dubai; the insurgents there didn't have any high altitude capable SAMs... but people clearly thought that this wasn't the case in Ukraine.

For 296 people, that view was fatally incorrect. May they rest in peace.

13 July 2014

Gaza

Another year, another batch of unpleasantness in the Middle East. This whole conflict is what happens when stupidity meets stupidity.

Firstly, the Israelis; their continued building on Palestinian lands, contrary to international law, is only serving to isolate the moderate forces. Their large scale use of air strikes is killing a lot of civilians (although any estimate given by Gazan health officials must be treated with a degree of caution) and combined with what looks like collective punishment is causing the embitterance of another generation. The Israeli PM may claim he wants peace, but he doesn't seem to be acting like it.

Yet, the Palestinians aren't blameless either. Hamas' rocket attacks are not only ineffective, they're counter-productive; Israel can carry on with its actions because it's got hundreds of reasons to do. The Palestinian Authority is ineffective; if they'd done a better job, Hamas might not have the power they have.

It's going to need better leadership on both sides to bring this thing to an end... because neither side can win it.