31 December 2011

TacOps 4 AAR coming


Since July, I’ve been playing a PBEM game of TacOps 4 against GCoyote from Armchair General. That game is now completed – yes, I lost, but I don’t think I did too badly.

We’ve given each other the force passwords and I’m going to provide an AAR based on the replay, as well as what each of us were sort of thinking at the time.

I hope you'll enjoy it.

After Pearl Harbor: Part 4 - The Worst Defeat - Singapore

Lt. Gen. Percival leading the surrender party at Singapore

Part One Part Two Part Three



The British, it is often said, maintain a stiff upper lip in even the worse circumstances. These gentlemen certainly look like they're doing so.

That must have been utterly hard considering what had just happened - and what would happen.
****
One of the best ways to understand why British Empire had all these outposts in far-flung obscure places is to plot some of them on a map. Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Suez, Aden, Diego Garcia, Singapore, Hong Kong. As you can see, they all provide coverage of key trade routes to China and India.

Singapore, today a very prosperous limited democracy, covers a key route between the Indian Ocean to the west and the South China Sea to the east. It's one of the world's busiest ports and its strategic value from a purely geographical point is obvious. Therefore, the British invested large amounts in its naval defences, believing that it would be impenetrable from a seaborne invasion. Nobody, from the lowest ranking officer up to Churchill himself (who said in The Second World War that someone, himself included, should have seen it coming), thought that the Japanese would attack from the north, as surely the Malayan jungle was impenetrable.

Of course it wasn't.

****
On 1 February 1942, the Japanese reached the shore opposite Singapore after riding their bicycles through the Malayan jungle. The British were again woefully unprepared - they hadn't even implemented rationing - but still had superior numbers.

The first Japanese move was a feint attack by Yamashita's badly depleted forces (he was, in fact, outnumbered three to one) on 5 February against the island of Pulau Ubin to the north-east of Singapore island - a move that led Percival to move his key ammunition stores to the east. The Japanese then attacked from the northwest on 8 February. Australian forces from the 22nd Brigade fought off the initial landing attempts, but eventually succumbed to Japan's superior artillery and air support - the limited Allied fighter force did not last long against greater Imperial Japanese numbers. Percival believed that further landings would came from the north-east and so did not reinforce them - the Brigade were routed on 10 February.

Percival (told by Churchill to fight to the end) also started destroying docks and fuel dumps - while this stopped the Japanese from getting them, the effect on morale was highly negative, but worse was to come. A million people, mostly civilians crowded into the increasingly small area that the Allies controlled and food and water began to run out. Boats trying to leave were strafed by Japanese fighters, who now dominated the sky.

Percival was urged to surrender by his senior officers on the 13th but decided to fight on while he still had water, although he did ask for authority to surrender from London - which he eventually got.

14 February would see the Japanese commit another bloody massacre, killing 321 people in the Alexandra Barracks Hospital, usually by bayoneting them. Only five people were known to have survived. When Yamashita had about this, he had the soldiers responsible executed. This was just one of the atrocities committed.

The following day, Percival's forces were running out of ammunition and only had enough for two more days of fighting - although he didn't know the Japanese weren't much better on this front. At 1400 local time, deciding not to risk any further civilian casualties, he surrendered his forces unconditionally to Yamashita. 80,000 Allied soldiers became POWs, where most would spend four years in horrific conditions - many would never return. Thousands of Indian soldiers would switch sides and fight alongside the Japanese - but most of that army stayed loyal.

It was the biggest capitulation in British history. Part by bluff, part by superior fire power, Singapore had been taken by a numerically smaller force. The Australians were now worried about their own territory and rightly so - the Japanese seemed unstoppable.

****
But they weren't. As we shall see in the next post, Japan was to suffer two massive reverses in the following months.

Happy New Year

I'd like to wish all my readers a good 2012. I'll be outlining my blogging plans for 2012 in the next couple of days.

28 December 2011

Lance Corporal 1 Star - More Battlefield 3

My kill:death ratio, which was an embarrassing 0.2 on BF2 is now heading towards 0.3. Perhaps it's a lack of lag, perhaps it's something else.

I've now reached the rank of Lance Corporal 1 Star and am only a thousand or so points away from Lance Corporal 2 Star - I'll probably hit the rank in my next play session and get a shiny new weapon for all the infantry classes.

Got a gripe about jets - I know that people hogging them was a problem in BF2, but they've been tweaked badly here. A new jet player finds himself with a gun only aircraft with no IR flares. It's very hard to even get the initial points for those. Once a player gets IR flares, he's near indestructible to ground fire - any Igla/Stinger launch takes a long while to lock before inevitably missing. Add infinite cannon ammo to that and you've got a serious problem in conquest. Where is this mobile AA anyway?

27 December 2011

The Magical Trees of Androzani (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.X, "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe")

There’s always one Christmas present that you really weren’t expecting, either in a good way or a bad way. This year, it was Androzani popping up again in Doctor Who.

“The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” is clearly inspired by the Narnia novels of  C.S. Lewis (who died on 22 November 1963, a day before the first airing of “An Unearthly Child”), where a family go to a country house and discover a doorway into another world – Moffat has stated as such and is clearly a big fan of the series, although he doesn’t like the religious bits. I like the religious bits as a Christian, but we’ll have to agree to differ there.

This story starts slowly and rather patchily – the pre-titles sequence is rather poor, but things get better once Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner from the wonderful comedy series Outnumbered, turning in a great performance), a recently widowed mother of two takes her two children to Uncle Digby’s house and one of them decides to open their Christmas present early.

“Space Narnia” is a wonderful setting and a great environment, playing host to a story of great pathos [Are you sure you know what that means? – Ed. Oh, stop being such a Scrooge!], humour (the trademark Moffat wit is fully present, especially with the three soldiers) and adventure. The climax is a bit predictable and some of the stuff might not stand up to a second viewing, but I enjoyed the second half considerably, making up for a lacklustre second half. Glad to see Amy and Rory – they’ll be missed once they go. The sets are great and it’s a shame that Doctor Who Confidential is no longer with us to explore the making of this special in more detail.

Matt Smith’s performance is highly praiseworthy. He’s really established the Eleventh Doctor as a unique character, being his own manic style to the role in a way that you can’t imagine David Tennant doing. Long may he continue in this role.

It’s not perfect, but the few sprouts are balanced out by some truly great turkey. A lovely Christmas treat – it’s just a pity we didn’t get a little after-dinner morsel, e.g. an episode title, to whet our appetite for 2012.

8/10.

Quote of the day 27 December 2011

"The Devil may have all the best tunes, but he has a rubbish wardrobe."

Lucy McGough on Gallifrey Base, discussing Morgana's choice of outfits in Merlin.

After Pearl Harbor, Part Three: The Bicycle Campaign - Malaya

Japanese troops advance through Kuala Lumpur
Part One Part Two

Part of the Japanese work in South-East Asia had already been done for them - the fall of France allowed for them to use the colonial territories of Vichy France as a staging area i.e. French Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). From there, it was a short sail across of the Gulf of Thailand to the British colonial possession of Malaya.

Malaya was an area rich in natural resources that the Japanese Empire needed - rubber and tin, as well as serving to put Borneo, Java and Sumatra, with plenty of oil within their reach. Hit by embargoes from the US, the UK and the Netherlands (the latter controlling Indonesia) for their earlier actions in China, the behemoth needed all of this just to sustain its economy. Add to that further "strength-in-depth" against air attack and the attraction was obvious

Just after midnight on 8 December 1941 (in fact seventy minutes before the Pearl Harbor attack commenced), the Japanese invasion force, hidden by bad weather and in one case shooting a Catalina that had spotted them before it could report their position, landed in Thailand and Malaya. British aircraft tried their best to stop them, but to no avail, although the Japanese did take heavy casualties at Kota Bharu.

The words "to no avail" crop up a lot in this narrative. Again, the British were woefully under prepared for jungle warfare - in fact many thought the Malayan jungle an impenetrable barrier. The Japanese weren't much better, but at least they had a good idea. Bicycles. They could carry far more than a regular foot soldier could and so the Imperial forces "requestioned" them from the local civilians and retailers. As for the British - their troops were undertrained, their aircraft e.g. Brewster Buffaloes were obsolescent and some units lacked proper communications.

Not only that, some of the responses were poor. Singapore was hit by an air raid on 8 December and a blackout still wasn't ordered. Facilities were not properly destroyed when abandoned - the British failed to destroy the radio facility on Penang when they evacuated it on the 13th, so the Japanese got it intact four days later and used it to taunt the Singaporeans, asking "How do you like our bombing?". The troops then looted Penang and massacred the ethnically Chinese residents - a move that went too far even for the Japanese, who eventually executed three soldiers over it. General Wavell, in charge of the local area for the British, kept overruling tactical commander Lt. Gen Percival, but never removed him - a half-measure that just wrecked morale.

On 11 January 1942, the Japanese took Kuala Lumpur with limited difficulty and headed down the island towards Singapore despite the British blowing bridges as they went - that great British fortress was in sight. The British had suffered two divisions worth of casualties - the Japanese only five thousand men. The local civilians of course had it far worse - the precise numbers killed during the invasion and subsequent occupation is unknown due to the destruction of records, but was likely between twenty and fifty thousand.

Malaya was one massive defeat for the British - but worse was to follow.

26 December 2011

St. Stephen's Day

Today is Boxing Day. It's also St. Stephen's Day.

St. Stephen was the first of many Christian martyrs, stoned to death on the orders of the Sanhedrin for "blasphemy" with the backing of Saul (see Acts 6 and 7), who would shortly after change sides in a dramatic manner and later become another Christian martyr himself.

Christians are still becoming martyrs today in many countries, or having to worship in secret. Whether it's in yesterday's bombings in Nigeria or detention in prison camps in North Korea, people still pay the ultimate price for following Jesus.

We have it so easy in the West.

All the best at this festive season to those who cannot wish each other Merry Christmas openly.

24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas as we remember God's ultimate present - himself.

19 December 2011

After Pearl Harbor, Part Two: The Philippines

US and Filipino troops surrendering at Bataan
Part One

Barely ten hours after the strike at Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked the Philippines. While the defeat of American and Filipino forces, so far away from reinforcement and home in the former case, was inevitable, it certainly wasn't easy for the Japanese.

For the Allied POWs afterwards, it was horrific.

****

The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands in the Western Pacific, forming the eastern edge of the South China Sea and a valuable springboard for any force going from China to Indonesia and Malaysia. When I think of the islands and their people (who are currently dealing with a horrific typhoon), I think of the large number of merchant mariners that hail from the country and also of au pairs - the Philippines is a country that a lot of people leave to get work and then send money back to. I also think of Imelda Marcos and her shoes.

Of course, much of this was in the future. When war broke out, the Philippine Islands, as they were then, were an American-ruled autonomous territory, having been gained from Spain in 1898 in a war perhaps best remembered for William Randolph Hearst's sensationalising and "yellow journalism". A Commonwealth at this point, the islands were heading for independence, which was going to get rather delayed.

****
Certainly there had been an idea that an attack on the islands was possible in the light of US sanctions on Japan. Certainly far more possible than an attack on the United States proper at Oahu. Douglas MacArthur was called out of retirement, given $10m and 100 B-17s, then got told to prepare for an attack. He parked his bombers on the northern part of the islands, where US politicians believed they would deter Japanese aggression and allow an attack on Tokyo if required, recovering to Soviet airbases around Vladivostok.

Not a smart move, that one. Even less smart was the delay in moving the B-17s out of Japanese attack range so the bomber pilots could have a party. As they were recovering, the Japanese attack arrived and took out half of MacArthur's air force on the ground. Bad hangover doesn't quite cut it.

On the same day, the Japanese landed at three sites (Lingayen, Lamon Bay and Mindanao), taking airbases to support their drive south. The American response, which should have been a delaying action and arguably guerilla warfare, basically started off by putting inexperienced Filipino troops on the beaches against combat-hardened (in China) Japanese. Naturally, they got routed.

The advance was quick. On Boxing Day, the capital Manila was declared an open city, not that it stopped Japanese bombing and the city fell on 2 January 1942.

The Americans and Filipinos eventually retreated down the Bataan peninsula on Luzon to Corregidor, fighting delaying actions along the way including the last cavalry charge in US history. They tried to hold out for a relief force which would not show up. They certainly fought valiantly, but to no avail. 9 April 1942 would see the largest surrender of US forces in history and another month of bloody fighting saw the rest of the islands taken.


****
For the Americans and Filipinos that surrendered, it was the start of hell on earth. 76,000 POWs were forced to march 60 miles in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Travelling in high humidity, with little food or water, those who collapsed were often killed by bayonets, shot or even driven over. Thousands died, viewed by the Japanese as not human just because they had surrendered. It was rightly judged a war crime.

Just one of many that Imperial Japan would commit in South-East Asia, as we shall see.

Kim Jong-Il dead at 69

The death of North Korea's "Dear Leader" from a heart attack is not something I'll be mourning. At any rate, it reminds all dictators that the Grim Reaper has the ultimate power.

18 December 2011

'The Killing' theme music

In answer to my final question...

It's in "Download" - the third ringtone. Please be advised that the rest of the site contains spoilers.


Det er sket et mord (Grand Review: 'The Killing II')

[My review of the first season can be found here.]

 

The problem with sequels is that bigger is not necessarily better. It’s alas a problem that the second outing for Sarah Lund, the jumper-clad Danish detective has. The body count here (not counting [spoiler]) is seven in ten episodes, whereas the original had three in twenty. However, it does not stop The Killing II living up to its prequel.

 

So, it’s two years since the ending of the previous story. Sarah Lund has been basically sacked and sent off to do passport control at an obscure Danish port. Troels Hartmann, one assumes, is busy being Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, but we hear nothing of him.

 

When a lawyer is found murdered in Memorial Park in Copenhagen, the police initially suspect her husband – until a video apparently from Islamic extremists turns up on the internet. The only person who can solve the case (which says something about the Danish police if it does) is none other than Sarah Lund, especially when former Danish soldiers start being killed, half of a dog tag left by their body. Meanwhile, new Justice Minister Thomas Buch (who does some great comic relief at times, especially when drunk) tries to find out just what was going on with his predecessor and Afghanistan veteran Jens Peter Raben escapes from prison…

 

Basically, we’ve got a serial killer drama. I am starting to find serial killers more than a little clichéd and frequently find myself wishing that a moratorium on them in TV dramas would be implemented. I doubt that’ll happen though. A number of the old tropes get trotted out here – including the climax, where it was pretty obvious that [spoiler] was not actually [spoiler] (but it’ll sting in the morning). I spotted the Afghanistan connection nearly straight off and also that Sarah was right about [spoiler] (although I didn’t see she was wrong about [spoiler]).

 

The political ducking-and-diving as Buch discovers that something is rotten… no, that’s so bad a gag I’m not going to use it… is enjoyable and very twisty, particularly the very downbeat ending – like the first season, justice is not fully done. The main crime itself is well plotted and has plenty of neat twists and turns too. Mind you, the contraction from 20 episodes to ten and the ramping up of the body count means that we lose a lot of the family stuff that worked well in the previous season – it seems like the families of the victims get completely ignored. In a way, I actually wish it was a couple of episodes longer as it feels a little rushed at times.

 

All in all, though, The Killing II is a superb crime drama and I look forward to seeing the third and final season on BBC4 sometime next year (so pull your finger out, people).

One last question, where can I get the theme music from? It’s great.

 

8.5/10.

 

PS The title is Danish for “There’s been a murder”. With the body count, things did get a bit Taggart at times.

Vaclav Havel 1936-2011

Leader in the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia dies.

The peaceful fall of the odious Warsaw Pact regimes was one of the 20th Century's best moments. Plus, anyone who rides around his palace on a scooter is certainly someone worth respecting.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Havel.

10 December 2011

Some more great stuff from Battlefield 3

  1. You can get points for healings, revives, capturing flags and even having people spawn on you. Great when you have poor shooting skills.
  2. Rocket launchers are great fun - especially when you blast two enemy coming up the stairs (and kill yourself in the process, mind)
  3. One of the dogtag options ("Are those subtitles?") references the Mine comedy fan videos. Great tribute, DICE!

08 December 2011

After Pearl Harbor, Part One - 7/8 December 1941

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It also marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Japanese invasions of Thailand, Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island.

When the Japanese launched that six-carrier strike on Oahu, it was only the first attack of a major offensive of the size and scope that even Hitler never tried to pull off.

The attack on HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, 10 December 1941
Three days after the attack, the only two remaining Allied capital ships in the Western Pacific, the British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse were sunk by a Japanese air strike. The still operational capital ships in the entirety of the Pacific were the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, heading back for California. Winston Churchill himself described it as the biggest shock he had in the entire war.

The Japanese aim was to create a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" basically a massive empire with rich resources and plenty of small islands they could use as airbases. Those islands, places like Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Saipan would become household names, small rocks in the ocean that were worth little apart from their location.

In the six months that followed, Japan almost achieved its goal - it got to within bombing range of Northern Australia, was banging on the door of British-controlled India and even took some of the Aleutian Islands, the chain of islands running west from Alaska. Only one event really stopped them - the Battle of Midway.

The next four parts of this will explore the early defeats of the Allies - Philippines, Malaya and Burma, as well as rightly one of the most renowned carrier battles in history. It will also look at the crimes committed by Japan - for Pearl Harbor was but one day of infamy among almost a decade.

Part Two

03 December 2011

Upcoming plans

Some plans for December.
  1. A review of The Killing II.
  2. A review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe".
  3. After Pearl Harbor - a look back at the start of the Pacific War. This will be a five-part series, with one part devoted to Singapore.

30 November 2011

Speaking of Battlefield 3

I love a stunt video.


Battlefield 1943

On a lighter note, I got Battlefield 1943 free this weekend just gone because of the whole legal action thing. Got to say I thoroughly enjoy it - it combines the best of both settings for the games.

Also, the provision of a dedicated air warfare mode makes the pilot in me very happy - I like to fly in this game.

29 November 2011

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement

More austerity for longer, lower growth and rising unemployment. £5bn of public spending moved into building projects that won’t be shovel ready for months if not years and won’t benefit most people anyway. To top it all, this is dependent on the Eurozone crisis being sorted out.

 

I expected economic growth with high unemployment when this Coalition came to power – they’ve given us stagnation.

 

2015 can’t come soon enough.

26 November 2011

Strikes on 30 November

I have decided, after some thought, that I back the TUC strikes on 30 November and would take part on them if I was a member of a participating union.

My reasons are as follows:
  1. While I feel that something does need to be done about public sector pensions; this should be a change only for new joiners rather than existing employees. I do not feel that making existing civil servants work longer and pay more while getting less is correct - it is a fundamental change to their contract.
  2. The arguments about the conditions in the private sector are a logical fallacy - what they are doing is not a reason for the public sector to do the same.
  3. The arguments about turnout are also spurious. An abstention is not a "no" and anyway, most politicians weren't elected by a majority of their electorate.
  4. Lord Hutton's review points out that many of these pension schemes are not "gold-plated" at all - in half of public sector workers get less than £5,600 a year.
  5. The "£500 million" cost that the Coalition cites is nothing compared with the cost of the too far and too fast cuts.
I don't want to see a strike - I want to see a fair deal. The current proposal isn't.

20 November 2011

An Infinite Supply of Sidewinders: Battlefield 3 thoughts

I've been playing Battlefield 3 lately on the PS3, mixing between the single-player story and the more enjoyable multi-player.

This is not to say that the SP game isn't interesting, but after the superlative Half-Life 2, I've seen better. One particular area of comment is the fourth mission, "Going Hunting".

Essentially a rail-shooter, you play a female F/A-18 WSO who has to shoot down Iranian Fulcrums (not "Flankers" as IGN says - no tail booms), take out radar sites and mark targets for JDAMs. While enjoyable, having an infinite supply of AIM-9Xs to hand does damage the realism some what.

Although not as much as getting from the Persian Gulf to Tehran in under ten minutes...

Anyway, I'm glad to see Glenn Morshower (Agent Aaron Pierce from 24) in both voice and face form as one of the cut-scene people.

13 November 2011

In the defence of freedom

Today is Remembrance Sunday, where we remember those who died in the service of our country.

Many might feel that our involvement in many recent conflicts has not been in the defence of Britain at all; instead getting involved in other people's wars for material gain.

Yet, when you look back at our martial history, there have been surprisingly few conflicts that we've actually entered because we've been directly attacked. We declared war in the two World Wars in defence of Belgium and Poland respectively, certainly not being successful in the latter case as Poland spent almost fifty years under foreign control. In fact, we could have stayed out of both conflicts and remained independent.

What kind of nation would we be though if we did that? Certainly not as respected as we are. In fact, not entering the Second World War would mean that Hitler could have dominated Europe and be in a greater position to attack us.

I think Rudyard Kipling summed it up perfectly in his poem Dane-Geld:  


It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
  To call upon a neighbour and to say: --
"We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight,
  Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
  And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
  And then  you'll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
  To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
  We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
  But we've  proved it again and  again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
  You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
  For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
  You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
  No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
  And the nation that pays it is lost!"

Our servicemen and women have not put their lives on the line for their country - they have put their lives on the line for something greater; the principle that people should be free to determine their own destinies, rather than dictated by strongmen. For that, I thank them.

03 November 2011

Skyfall

On or shortly after 26 October 2012, I will be visiting a cinema to watch the fifth James Bond film I've seen in one. It's got an intriguing title and an intriguing premise.

Anyway, it's Bond. Even the worst of those are watch-able.

02 November 2011

Battlefield 3 on the PS3

Got Battlefield 3 in the post today and had a go on it this evening. I definitely prefer the multi-player to the frustrating and stage-managed single player. Only thing I want is two-seater jets...

Two very impressive remote control planes

Both fighters from the Wing Commander series.

30 October 2011

Screenshot 3: Flying over London Town


Flying over London (you can see Tower Bridge in the bottom left) in an A-6 Intruder in the open-source flight simulator FlightGear.

29 October 2011

The end of 'Irregular Webcomic!'

One of the internet's longest running webcomics, Irregular Webcomic! (which was actually daily for nearly all of its run) is coming to an end after 3198 strips and over eight and a half years. Dr David Morgan-Mar must be congratulated for an amazing achievement that was done largely on his own and for the people it's brought into the webcomic business.

Thanks for all the great puns and the interesting annotations - which I'll be following as IWC becomes a blog.

20 October 2011

The end in the gutter

The death of Muammar Gaddafi, apparently killed trying to escape after being found in a drainpipe, demonstrates just how far he had fallen from the beginning of this year - and it was all his own fault. I do not celebrate the death of anyone, but I will not shed any tears for a man who will in all likelihood face eternal punishment for his crimes.

19 October 2011

Firefly with Time Travel (Review: 'Doctor Who' 8.15-8.20, "Colony in Space") - Part One

[For most of its history, Doctor Who was split into serials each under one title with multiple numbered episodes, usually four or six, but ranging from one to fourteen over the classic era]

A group of intrepid colonists leaving an overcrowded world are facing crop shortages as a mining corporation tries to get rid of them. Suddenly, a spaceship arrives.

It sounds like an episode of Firefly – in fact it’s a serial of Doctor Who aired in 1971, before Whedon had even turned seven years old.

Series 8 of Doctor Who, the second colour season and the second featuring the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) would introduce two of the show’s best known characters, both of whom made appearances as recently as 2010. One of these was Jo Grant. The other was the Master.

Roger Delgado’s portrayal of the Master (it is not a spoiler to say he appears in this story, as he’s on the DVD cover) is a marked contrast to Simm’s madder than a roomful of Victorian hatters approach. He’s urbane, witty – but still utterly insane (telephone cable strangulation, anyone?). Think of Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes – the writers certainly were.

Before we begin, it’s worth setting the scene. After having to call the Time Lords for help (their first actual appearance) in “The War Games”, the Series 6 Finale, the Second Doctor was put on trial for meddling and convicted. His sentence was to forcibly regenerated (a word not yet in use) and exiled to Earth in the 20th century, losing his ability to control his TARDIS. He crash landed, ran into UNIT and the Brigadier, dealt with the Autons (Series Seven’s “Spearhead from Space”) and got a job as their scientific advisor, with a scientist assisting him called Liz Shaw. She lasted for one season – mainly because the new production team (Producer Barry Letts[2] and script editor Terrance Dicks[3]) felt they needed someone who could better act as audience surrogate – i.e. ask the Doctor what’s happening. The team also made the show lighter and more fantasy-based than the “hard sci-fi” Season 7 [1].

With Liz gone, the Doctor found himself saddled with a new assistant, who had used good old fashioned family connections to get herself a job with UNIT. Josephine “Jo” Grant (Jones these days, as she recently appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures), a sometimes ditzy blonde who had failed her Science A-Level, proved her worth in other ways, being not too shabby in a fight.

“Colony in Space” is Jo’s fourth story and her first trip in the TARDIS – in fact she’s never even been in it up to his point and doesn’t believe it’s a time machine that’s bigger on the inside. In fact, it’s the first off-world story since “The War Games”, as the Letts-Dicks team were worried that the show was losing its best selling point and came up with a solution to work around the exile….

 

[1]That’s not to say it isn’t a good season – “Doctor Who and the Silurians” and “Inferno” are rightly considered classics.

[2]Letts died in 2009 – “The Waters of Mars” was dedicated to him.

[3]Still alive. Wrote an awful lot of Target novelizations and other tie-in books.

15 October 2011

A Category 2 Show (Grand Review: 'Torchwood: Miracle Day')

Apologies for the delay in this, I’ve been very busy.

 

Russell T Davies OBE can be a notoriously variable writer when it comes to actual quality of work.  His four season and four specials tenure on Doctor Who saw him write classics such as “The Waters of Mars”, mediocre stuff like “New Earth” and stinkers like “Love and Monsters”.

 

While his time as lead writer on the show has now ended, he is still involved in the Whoniverse with two of his own creations, although one of these, The Sarah Jane Adventures, has now been ended by the tragic loss of Elisabeth Sladen.

 

Torchwood, his first spin-off, revolves around a secret organisation of alien investigations led by pansexual immortal former companion to the Ninth Doctor, “Captain Jack Harkness” played with considerable matinee idol swagger with by John Barrowman. Being a far more dangerous organisation than even 24’s CTU, at the end of Season Three (Children of Earth) only two of the “original” five members were still alive, with Captain Jack going off-world to get away from what he’d had to do at the end of that event.

 

As we begin this season, Gwen Cooper, now with baby Anwen and husband Rhys, is living in a remote area of Wales. Jack is somewhere.

 

In the USA, convicted paedophile and child murderer Oswald Danes is about to get a lethal injection and a man called Rex is about to crash his car and get a pole through his chest. Neither actually die. Nor does anyone else.

 

You see, humanity suddenly stops dying, which is going to cause some problems. Not so much in the field of overpopulation (we’re already heading for a population of 9 billion by 2050 as is) but in the situation of a huge number of people who should be dead but are still in some form functioning. The solution will not be pretty. It’s up to Jack, Gwen, Rex, Dr Vera Juarez and a CIA analyst named Esther to get to the bottom of all of this.

 

It’s an intriguing, globe-trotting tale that uses both its US and Welsh locations well, but it runs into problems – lots of them.

 

One thing that became obvious during this ten episode run was that it shouldn’t have been ten episodes. This story could have been effectively told in eight and stretching it to ten caused a lot of unnecessary drag. This especially applies in the closing episode, where I was mentally wishing that they’d just get on with it. There’s keeping the audience in suspense and then there is frustrating them – this entered the latter. The “solution” is unconvincing – yes, I know this is a show that involves a time travelling police box.

 

There’s other problems too – some of the characters aren’t all that good. Oswald Danes, while well played by Bill Pullman, seems ultimately unnecessary to the plot. We didn’t need an evil paedophile here – it’s like he was added solely for ratings. Jilly Kitzinger was better, but still lacked something.

 

It’s not all bad though. People still get “killed” in this and some of the deaths are truly shocking. There’s also a particularly disturbing scene involving a broken neck. The overall plot is good and has a few nice red herrings – it’s just a pity it wasn’t shorter. Eve Myles is particularly good in this and sparkles in her scenes with John Barrowman. There are some very thrilling moments and some truly great humour. Also, the end scene is rather interesting and sets things up for another season…

 

If we get another season – the continued existence of Torchwood as a viable show remains clear. Certainly, with the mediocre performance that was Miracle Day, I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t come back.

 

6/10.

03 October 2011

The second question is... (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.13, "The Wedding of River Song")

What is Steven Moffat smoking?

 

In an episode that brought us cannibal skulls, people being killed by eye patches and Winston Churchill as the Holy Roman Emperor, disembodied talking heads was actually pretty sane, if only because I’ve seen it in Futurama. Even by the Moff’s trippy standards, this was far out.

 

“The Wedding of River Song” answered a lot of questions and left others unanswered; as is the way with the season finales since 2005 (the concept didn’t really exist in the era of the First Seven). We finally found out the truth about River Song and the whole thing with “The Impossible Astronaut” (got to say this: the Moff does simple but great get out stuff, even if this sort of thing has been done before in Who). Then we got stuff unanswered about the “Fall of the Eleventh” and “Silence must fall”… Hey, RTD didn’t answer everything either, like who was that woman in “The End of Time”?

 

As season finales go, this was a mixed bag. We had a superb performance from Matt Smith, who despite being the youngest man ever to take the helm of the TARDIS (I believe he’s still younger than Davison was in his first season) plays a 1100 year old man with aplomb. The other leads were great and Amy’s particular decision re a certain character was very well-played. The last scene where the first question was asked – a great ending.

 

However, a lot of this seemed to flow poorly and a case of throwing in creatures just for the sake of it. “The Big Bang” used its menagerie far better and while the Moff clearly loves his alien creatures, you can do the Mos Eisley Cantina one too many times. We didn’t need Winston Churchill either.

 

I’m not saying this was poor, but it could have been a lot better – only the brilliant ending scene put this into the 8 category.

 

Finally, I must thank Steven Moffat for mentioning the Brigadier in this story. I know a lot of fans were upset that Nicholas Courtney didn’t get an on-screen tribute caption this season, but I feel that the scene when the Doctor is informed of the Brig’s death (a key turning point in the story) was a wonderful tribute to the man and the character.

 

8/10.

28 September 2011

Mass. Effect (Review: 'Rizzoli & Isles' 1.1, "Pilot")

Since September 2000, when CSI first arrived on US screens, forensics has become sexy. You could fill a Tube carriage with the glamorous pathologists, anthropologists and trace analysts that now parade across TV land. From Nikki Alexander to Danny Messer to Temperance Brennan to Nick Stokes, people who die in crime shows can be assured that someone pretty good-looking (and sometimes inappropriately dressed for the job) will help bring them justice.

 

Rizzoli & Isles is not really an exception to this. Dr Maura Isles, played by Sasha Alexander (Kate Todd in NCIS back in the day) is a tall bottle blonde who in the words of another character, always looks like she’s about to do a photo shoot and wears high heels to crime scenes.

 

Enough about her for the time being though. R&I, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, is another one of those buddy cop shows where two chalk and cheese characters trade witty remarks while solving relatively fiendish crimes. There’s Isles, a slightly odd coroner and Detective Kate Rizzoli, a short-tempered world-weary cop, who solve murders in Boston, hence the Irish jig theme tune.

 

This opener doesn’t waste time having everyone meet everyone – we’re straight in with a rather grisly plot involving a serial killer’s apprentice and the serial killer himself, played by a guy who I think was Ira Gaines in the first season of 24. The latter, you see, once almost killed Rizzoli and she still bears the scars from where he nailed her to the floor. The only reason this guy hasn’t got a needle yet is that MA doesn’t execute people and so he’s in jail. You just know he isn’t staying there for long…

 

I’m going to call this show Grizzly & Smiles. A dark plot involving horrific murders is counter-balanced by Rizzoli getting saddled with a mangy dog (she’s got an allergy) and the two leads eating cat food. There’s the second best tactical use of a flare I’ve ever seen and a rather chilling/thrilling climax as the serial killer decides to finish what he started. Much of it is telegraphed, but so was ‘Allo! 'Allo! (RIP David Croft).

 

Only real gripes with this were firstly the slow pace and the lack of any explanation of what happened to the old detective who get a cut on his throat.

 

A show with real promise – it’s already got a third season in the States. I’ll be along for the ride.

 

8/10.

26 September 2011

Another case of sequelitus (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.12, "Closing Time")

“The Lodger” was one of the surprise hits of Season 31 and so it’s not too surprising that James Corden was asked to reprise his character in this season.

 

In retrospect, it might not have been a good idea.

 

“Closing Time” sees the Doctor, nearing the encounter with the Impossible Astronaut as seen in the season opener, take a trip to Colchester to meet up with his mate who I have now managed to completely forget the name of. They investigate some mysterious activity at a department store and encounter Cybermen, where the guy learns the power of love.

 

I wasn’t too impressed with this episode – while there were a lot of good elements in it, they didn’t really gel into a coherent whole.  Matt Smith was excellent, but James Corden lacked a certain something. The plot seemed pasted on for the humour, when the humour should have been integrated into the storyline (see “The Empty Child” as a demonstration of how to do this properly). The best bit was the ending, despite feeling a bit tacked on.

 

All in all, this was a poor episode made average by Matt Smith and quite frankly the worst one of this half of the season.

 

Suppose we’ll find out how Amy Pond became famous next week.

 

5/10.

19 September 2011

That's going to scare some adults (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.11, "The God Complex")

It’s a good thing I don’t suffer from a fear of clowns, Weeping Angels or gorillas, because I might not have made it through this episode, which was seriously freaky – and rather hard to understand (more so in some areas than Inception).

 

The Doctor, Amy and Rory end up trapped in a bad 80s hotel with a Muslim nurse, a mole, a Trekker and a gambler, which also contains a minotaur. This really strange plot description hides what is actually a rather good episode. [To be honest, Silent, you can describe many greats in strange ways -Ed]

 

In fact it’s very good – not a classic, which it would need to be to warrant a 9 or a 10, but a good old-fashioned romp (albeit a disturbing one) with a lot of running around identical corridors [Perhaps they’ve got budget problems – but then again judging by the CGI… - Ed]. There’s a real sense of terror and the gradual killing of the characters a la certain Agatha Christie novel, Alien or other things like that.

 

The supporting cast are very good; David Walliams excels as a mole and the first Muslim in Doctor Who since well, “The Crusades” (I may be wrong on that) also comes across a well-rounded character. Yet again, the dialogue from Toby Whithouse (who gave us Sarah Jane and Rose’s memorable verbal one-upmanship in “School Reunion”) sparkles and produces memorable one-liners. Plus Caitlin Blackwood as Amelia, who must be considered a recurring character by now, was great without even saying a word.

 

Only real issue I have is the ending. I mean it’s obvious that’s not the end for Amy and Rory. Right? Right?

 

8/10.

12 September 2011

For the fourth time: Two is better than one (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.10, "The Girl Who Waited")

Since Steven Moffat arrived as EP, this show has been getting seriously, seriously timey-wimey. This episode is a case in point and it wasn’t even written by the Moff, but by Tom Macrae.

 

I’ve got a feeling that this episode was the cheap one, although the large amounts of CGI in part refute that conclusion. Mind you, this is the most white we’ve seen in Who since “Warrior’s Gate” and arguably the most TARDIS time we’ve seen in years.

 

The story is a very interesting one – with Amy getting stuck in a separate time stream to Rory and the Doctor, then the two arriving 36 years too late to rescue her. Mind you it lacks something in the execution – perhaps a general pacing issue. If I notice the time during an episode and how long I’ve got left, then something isn’t working.

 

However, there’s plenty that works. The idea that a person in an alternative time stream might not want to erase themselves from existence isn’t that common in these sorts of stories – I think the only other time I’ve seen it recently is in the Stargate SG-1 movie The Ark of Truth. The concept of Twostreams is interesting, even if I can’t get my GCSE in Science Possessing head around it. However, the best part of this episode was undoubtedly Karen Gillan, who definitely proved once and for all that she is more than a pretty face and a nice pair of legs. Getting to wear a good amount of ageing makeup, Gillan had the hardest job of the episode and pulled it off with aplomb. Plus I’m sure she enjoyed decapitating robots – who doesn’t?

 

The ending was something of an issue for me – Amy Future’s decision seemed a bit off after the rest of the episode. Matt Smith does one of those alien moments that every Doctor gets every so often, which doesn’t quite work here.

 

Overall, this story lacked a certainly something to make it great. I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse. It’s good though.

 

Next week, a nasty hotel.

 

7/10.

10 September 2011

Ten years since 9/11

Tomorrow marks ten years since the September 11 terrorist attacks. While the West has made many mistakes and done some wrong in its response to the attacks, let's make something clear to these terrorists: your actions were not justified, still are not justified and never will be. You are never going to win.

04 September 2011

That's going to traumatise some kiddies (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.9, "Night Terrors")

Seeing Amy Pond turn into a wooden dolly is the stuff of nightmares. It was disturbing even for a seasoned adult who finds The Omen to be a comedy. I’ll get to that in a minute.

 

Mark Gatiss has been a bit of a hit-and-miss writer for Doctor Who – with works varying from the good “The Unquiet Dead” to last season’s stinker “Victory of the Daleks”. “Night Terrors” will definitely be considered one of his successes.

 

The Doctor, Amy and Rory are summoned through the psychic paper to help an eight-year-old kid who seems to be scared of everything (and suffering from OCD to boot). Shortly after their arrival, while looking for said kid’s residence, Amy and Rory have a frightening lift ride and end up in a creepy house. The Doctor finds the kid and discovers a truly scary cupboard…

 

After some initial comedy with the search for the house, this episode gets very creepy very fast. The fact that nearly all of the episode takes place in darkness massively helps with the atmosphere. The plain face dolls also qualify as horrific in a way that a Sontaran doesn’t quite do – the lack of expression makes them scarier. There are some very interesting horror/sci-fi concepts here, but that’s not what people will remember. This episode enters Moffat levels of scary; many kids were probably scurrying behind the sofa at much of this. The tension is racked up throughout and there aren’t even any spring-loaded cats to provide a temporary respite. The horror is genuine, not comical gore, especially the people turning into dolls.

 

I’ve gone on record as saying I prefer two companions to one as it allows for separation of one them while keeping the other two to have chemistry with each other. This is further demonstrated here with Amy and Rory, who get on well together (of course, they are married to each other) and have some great dynamic in the house.

 

While everyone does well, special pride of place in the acting department must go to Daniel Mays as Alex, a “muggle” who just thinks that his child is strange and, as we discover, has a bigger effect with that thought than he realises. It’s a far cry from his great turn on Ashes to Ashes.

 

Only flaw in this? The climax was a little overlong and predictable. It’s not too bad, but you have to be pretty near perfect to get a ten from me.

 

In summary, this is an excellent episode, which is well written, well-acted and well-paced, with a great hook, line and sinker. It’s one of the best episodes of Season 32.

 

Next week looks very interesting too.

 

9/10.

30 August 2011

Your existence will continue (Review: 'Doctor Who' 32.8, "Let's Kill Hitler")

Well. Well well well well.

 

That was not your usual episode of Doctor Who, to put it mildly. You don’t usually get that many revelations in a single episode.

 

Shortly after Steven Moffat won yet another Hugo,  one approaches “Let’s Kill Hitler” looking forward to an excellent romp with a very interesting title. We got a romp alright, but it was rather a lightweight one. The fact that the story hung together at all was because of the chemistry of the three leads and Alex Kingston.

 

The pre-titles sequence is classic Moffat-era. Amy and the Doctor creating a crop circle to call the Doctor is something that wouldn’t have happened in the RTD era, let alone the pre-1989 show. Then having their sparky naughty best mate Mels show up and comment that “You never told me he was hot” adds another strange dimension to things, as after the titles we look back at the past of Amy, Rory and Mels.

 

Crashing in Hitler’s office in Berlin in 1938, where they stop a robot full of tiny people from killing the Fuehrer, things then starting getting very arcy. Mels gets shot – and then regenerates into everyone’s favourite time-travelling archaeologist – River Song. Then the robot decides it’s going to kill River/Melody for the crime of killing the Doctor. Cue some fun in miniature, River stealing people’s clothes and some very polite homicidal security robots.

 

Alex Kingston is great in this episode. Time Lords do tend to go a bit funny post-regeneration and she is very funny after this one; demonstrating a woman who ultimately is changed for the better by a “good man” (I can see some feminists having a go at the entire River Song arc now).

 

Gillan and Darvill just go with the flow of the crazy story and demonstrate that they’ve thoroughly settled into the TARDIS by now.

 

Matt Smith manages to get upstaged by Alex Kingston and to be honest spends much of the time gurning. While he’s certainly proving to be a superb Doctor, this isn’t one of his finer performances, especially nearer the end.

 

While there are certainly some very interesting science-fiction elements in the plot and the comedy stuff is a treat, there’s a good amount in the episode. Hitler only serves to appear for five minutes and get shoved into a cupboard – this episode could have worked without him and it’s clear the title was just to draw people in – many of whom were going to turn up even if this was called “Tiny People in a Robot”. The whole thing seems to be a mishmash of popular Moffat and even RTD elements, trying to play to the crowd without actually providing a good story. It’s got to rate as one of the Moff’s worst eps.

 

It’s not to say it’s not good; it definitely creates some interesting plot points and it’s definitely entertaining. It just could have been better – Steven Moffat can do so and has done so. The show will survive at this standard, but it is capable of much more and hopefully we’ll see that.

 

One last thing – I really like the Doctor’s new coat.

 

7/10

21 August 2011

Number, number, weight, division

It seems that Gaddafi's rule in Libya is heading very much into its final days. If he had any sense, he'd flee into exile. Sadly, I doubt he'll do that.

(the title is from the "writing on the wall" part of the Book of Daniel - a Middle Eastern ruler is killed the night after he finds out what the writing means)

19 August 2011

In which Tokyo gets blown away - literally (Review: 'Akira')

I don't think irony is the correct word for starting to watch a film that features a Japanese city getting blown up in the opening scene on 6 August. If anyone can help with this, please let me know.

Japan has a rather different attitude to the animated medium than "the West". In the latter, animation is viewed very much as a medium for children, with what adult-orientated stuff there is tending to be things like South Park and Family Guy.

The Japanese medium of anime demonstrates a rather more "mature" way of doing things. Seeing that Syfy was showing 1988's Akira (dubbed into English, BTW), considered one of the classics of the medium and a good introductory work, I taped it*. Let me be the first to say that this film is definitely not for the kiddies - the BBFC rated it a 12 in 1988 and you can make a very good case that it should actually be a 15. Strong language, some nudity and a lot of bloody violence dominate the film.

So, onto the plot, an adaptation of a 2182-page six-volume manga that does make some major changes to condense the story into two hours. In 1988, World War Three broke out and in the process Tokyo was destroyed. 31 years later, Tokyo, now Neo-Tokyo, has been rebuilt. However, it's a city very much on the edge. Riots are frequent, as are terrorist attacks. Motorcycle gangs (they're called bōsōzoku in Japan) openly fight each other in the graffiti-covered streets. You wouldn't want to visit there for the upcoming Olympic Games, let alone live there.

A pair of gang members, Kaneda and Tetsuo, are engaging in a running street battle with some clowns (literal clowns, not what Don Flack from CSI:NY would call "clowns", so not one for those with coulrophobia), when Tetsuo sees a mysterious grey kid and crashes his bike. The military arrive and capture the pair of them.

Tetsuo starts developing mysterious - and destructive - powers, such as blowing people away. He escapes and goes on a very violent rampage. Kaneda and his friends, as well as some terrorists he's met along the way, have to stop Tetsuo before it's too late.

The film is a deeply complex one, with dozens of layers and a plot that you really need Wikipedia to fully get to grips with. At times highly trippy (Tetsuo sees some truly weird hallucinations at one point), at others, it is extremely dark. We see Tetsuo, who had been bullied when younger and has an inferiority complex, turn into a truly nasty being, literally and metaphorically. The government of Neo-Tokyo are venal and corrupt, the security forces highly brutal nearly to a man (it's worth noting that the Colonel is the only military character who emerges with any real credit). The word "dystopia" genuinely applies here. The ending is fully understandable, if not necessarily entirely morally justifiable.

The English language voice acting is of a high quality, but special attention must be directed to the animation. With a budget estimated to be over a billion yen (about $11m), a record for a Japanese animation, production was done by a special committee called the AKIRA Committee. Every sen of it shows on the screen. The climax itself features detail in an animation that would be impressive in a Pixar film today.

Problems with Akira? Mostly minor ones of sufficient magnitude when taken together, dock this down a point. I also get a feeling the version I watched got edited a bit for commercial presentation.

However, none of these are sufficient to ruin what is a superb film, which I would highly recommend if you're at all interested in Japanese media. Or just great film in general.

9/10.

* Mind you, if you're a member of Generation Y, chances are you've watched some anime without knowing it. I'm talking about Pokémon.

14 August 2011

Going beyond the Fringe

I recently purchased the first season of Fringe on DVD and I intend to review every single episode of it on this blog.

Having heard good things about it and being a fan of Alias (the only multiple-season show I own in its entirely on DVD), also by JJ Abrams. I tried out an episode from Season 3. It was very confusing and this show is clearly going to need me to have my brain in gear.

Reviews will be done when I actually watch the episodes, so it might be a while yet.

Also, I'm not going to do a full review of Carte Blanche now. I'll just say that it was very average and while the opening premise was good, it lacked something in the execution.

08 August 2011

London Riots

Please can someone tell me what these people think their actions will achieve. Riots didn't bring down Thatcher, that's for sure.

06 August 2011

Ratings agencies

Standard and Poors have downgraded the US debt rating to AA+ with a negative outlook.

I find myself increasingly wondering how on earth these unelected bodies gained so much power in the global economy.

Message to governments everywhere: act in the interests of the people, not the ratings agencies.

26 July 2011

23 July 2011

The death of Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was a huge musical talent and she'll be deeply missed by her many fans.

I'm going to hold off commenting on certain issues until the cause of death is determined.

22 July 2011

Oslo bombing

I'm watching the footage of the aftermath of the Oslo bombing; if people had actually been in work at the time, this would have been far worse - it's already pretty bad.

How to win a Fighting Flattops game

Battle of Midway scenario, playing the US. A group of enemy aircraft are detected heading for the Midway base. They turn back due to lack of fuel. I reckon that there is a carrier along their return route and sent a Catalina over, which duly finds one.

I then launch 70 dive bombers from my carriers, form them into one group and send them to attack. Result: four carriers hit, one of which sunk.

The other player concedes.

It was my first victory as well.

21 July 2011

The end of the Shuttle programme

The final Space Shuttle flight has now finished - ending a 30 year programme. It's a sad moment, but hopefully other reusable spacecraft will follow.

It was always a rather cool concept and long may it be remembered.

17 July 2011

The coolest Doctor Who fan collaboration I've ever seen



The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra play "I Am The Doctor", The Eleventh Doctor's leitmotif

(hattip: Gallifreyan Embassy and @wilcantrell)

16 July 2011

Review update

I didn't get the pilot of Falling Skies watched in time - but may well do a "Grand Review" of that. It's a very interesting show.

Just watched the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Again, this will get a Grand Review. Opener was average mostly, but improved vastly near the end. Didn't like the stupidly long trailer at the end though.

14 July 2011

2011 Emmy Nominations

While I haven't taken media gongs exactly seriously since my experience with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or more recently Avatar), I still maintain an interest in the subject.

The 2011 Emmy nominations came out today.

It's interesting to see multiple nominations for The Good Wife; it's one of those critical successes that these sort of bodies like as opposed to the more populist stuff like NCIS. Peter Dinklage's nod for his role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones is also well-deserved; he was the best thing in a work that really overdid it on the old Language/Sex/Violence/Other.

Mad Men also gets a good number of nominations; it still remains an excellent show.

07 July 2011

The end of News of the World

The news of the imminent ending of News of the World came as a bit of a surprise to me; I don't think I'd expected that. All I can say is good riddance.

A comprehensive investigation into "phone hacking" must take place, ideally under oath. Those responsible for it must be punished; if true, it went far beyond any responsible journalism and was in many cases utterly wrong.

I hope we do not see a Sunday Sun, but I doubt it.

05 July 2011

30 June 2011

World of Warcraft becames subscription free

BBC news story.

Very interesting. Now if they did it for EVE Online, I'd be there faster than you could say "explosion in a girder factory".

The Biggest War in History, Part Eight: The past as present

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin, Germany (from Wikipedia, taken by "Victorgrigas")
Part Seven
Aftermath and Legacy

The population pyramid says it all. Even today, the Great Patriotic War continues to have a demographic effect on Russia and the other 14 nations that comprise the former Soviet Union. The male/female balance in the USSR tilted decisively in favour of women as a result of the huge numbers of men killed in the war - even today, there is still a noticeable imbalance between men and women, worsened by lower male life expectancy due to widespread alcohol abuse.

Everyone in the country was touched by the war in some way even if they survived; particularly those who liberated the death camps. The biggest and bloodiest war in history had devastated large parts of the country. If the Second World War still resonates even among young children in the UK today, then the effect must be just as large in Russia and the other republics.

A large number of war films and TV series were produced (and are still produced) by Soviet/Russian companies; most of these are not particularly well-known in the West. I've only heard of a few (Seventeen Moments of Spring, for example) and seen none of them - my Russian is only basic at best and I'd need subtitles to watch them.

Stalin's victory in the war led him to a wave of popularity that lasted until the Secret Speech in 1956 - he still remains pretty popular in Russia today, much to the puzzlement of Western commentators, including myself. His well-known paranoia remained and only his death in March 1953 prevented another major purge.

The USSR gained a considerable amount of territory from the war - including parts of Germany, Poland, Romania and Finland, as well as ending the independence of the three Baltic republics that had gained their freedom in 1918. It also retained a fear of attack from the West - with Germany now replaced by NATO, led by the United States. The retention of very large military forces, as well as the large-scale naval build up under Gorshkov, all stemmed from a desire to defend the Motherland, rather than wanting to take over the world (not that spreading communism wasn't part of Soviet foreign policy).

Of course, the large Soviet military meant that the West, fearing an attack itself, spent considerable amounts of money on weaponry itself.

It can only be said that if Hitler had never come to power, the world would be a much better place.

Reflections

The sheer scale of the Great Patriotic War boggles the mind. I visited Auschwitz a few years ago and saw one of the rooms they had where the pile of shoes that had been found when the camp was liberated. That's the moment that the sheer scale of The Holocaust hit me fully. Ten million was only really just a number until then. 26.6 million (and those were just the people in the USSR) is now a far realer number.

There was a casual indifference to human life on both sides during this conflict. I've yet to mention the Soviet tactics of NKVD commissars shooting retreating forces and the use of penal units to clear minefields by running across them. The latter sounds more like something someone would do in a computer game. Of course, the Germans were far worse - Hitler's lack of grip on military realities doomed millions.

I think the memories of this war, combined with the threat of nuclear destruction, has helped us ensure broad levels of peace in Europe for over 60 years. Hopefully, the memories will not die with the veterans.

I will close with one simple word in Russian to those who helped bring down the most evil man in history:

Spasiba.

29 June 2011

The Biggest War in History, Part Seven: Reaping the Whirlwind

Soviet soldiers hosting the Soviet flag on the balcony of Hotel Adlon in Berlin after the Battle of Berlin.(Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA), via Wikipedia
Part Six

As 1945 began, any sensible military commentator on either side (if there had been any publicly writing on the German side) could see that the Thousand Year Reich was not going to survive the year, especially as it was outnumbered six to two million on the Eastern Front, while running out of fuel and ammunition.

Many of the German High Command knew that and that the best thing to do was make peace, although the chances of a negotiated peace treaty had now gone out of the proverbial window, especially after the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. In fact, some of them had tried to remove the biggest obstacle to peace, namely Hitler himself, the previous July in the failed Valkyrie plot.

Adolf Hitler had lost it by this point. He still believed that he could win the war with the new wonder weapons he was bringing into service. Some of these weapons, such as the Me-262 jet fighter, would have been good had there been sufficient numbers of them. Others, like the V-2 short-range-ballistic missile, were just sucking up increasingly diminishing resources as the strategic bombing efforts of the Allies took their toll of German manufacturing - and civilian lives.

Now hiding out in a bunker under the Reichs Chancellery (one that wasn't really up to a command and control job due to lack of communication equipment), Hitler tried to give orders to units that when they still existed could not hope to fulfil them.

Until Hitler was eliminated, by one means or another, a good number of Germans were going to fight on. For others, there was another reason - it was a matter of defending their own country. In the east, it seemed for many to be a choice between Red or dead.

As the Soviet forces advanced, they began to loot, rape and murder on a massive scale, taking their revenge for what the Germans had done to them. Of course, most of them didn't and historian David Jones suggests that only 10-15% got up to this sort of thing. My response to that is: 10-15% is very high by any normal standards. A massive flight of refugees ensued as Germans fled west to try and escape the Soviets - 425,000 refugees were evacuated by sea, the biggest such evacuation in history.

In one case, a cruise liner packed with refugees, M.S. Wilhelm Gustlof, was misidentified as a troop ship by a Soviet submarine and sunk. It is estimated that 9,400 people drowned - making this the worst maritime disaster of all time. It's also one of the least remembered.

Lead up to Berlin

The Soviets launched another massive offensive on 17 January 1945 from bridgeheads on the Vistula river in Poland. The forces soon entered pre-war German territory and by 31 January, they were less than 40 miles from Berlin on the Oder river; soon to form part of the post-war border of East Germany. The fortress cities were generally surrounded by Soviet forces. Some of these cities would end up with different names after the war, such as Danzig (Gdansk) and Breslau (Wroclaw).

By April, Vienna and Budapest were under Soviet control; the final target, Berlin was now in sight.

The Final Battle - Berlin

The reasons for the Western Allies not getting to Berlin first are both clear and unclear. Certainly, there had been a hard slog through the Ruhr area - indeed, all the way from Normandy. There was still a lot of "mopping up" to do and concerns about a "National Redoubt" forming in the Bavaria area, where the die-hards would make their final stands. However, in an environment where it was increasingly clear that the USSR was not playing ball with regards to freedom post-war, Eisenhower's declaration of Berlin as a secondary target when he tended to link military action to political objectives is strange. Churchill disagreed, but the US stuck to their guns.

Stalin wanted the glory as well. He told the Western Allies that the offensive on Berlin would be in the second half of May and would only involve secondary forces; as the Allies cleared the Rhine and the Weser, he moved up the attack into late April. The stuff about "secondary forces" was a lie, because the forces who would attack were led by Marshals Zhukov and Koniev, two of his two commanders.

The 1st Belorussian (Zhukov) and 1st Ukrainian Fronts were basically allowed by Stalin to race for the city; whoever got to Lübben on the Spree river would have first crack at the city. It was clear from the force dispositions that the former would have the easier job.

Berlin's defence fell to Generalleutnant Helmuth Reymann; the eventual "plan" involved three defensive rings and various obstacle areas. It was a good plan - it just completely lacked the materiel and the men to put it into effect, even when the elderly Volksturm and juvenile Hitler Youth brigades were thrown in.

As mentioned, Zhukov had the easier job of the two relevant Soviet commanders - he almost managed to mess it up.

On 16 April, a massive artillery barrage kicked off Zhukov's part of Operation Berlin around the Seelow Heights, the last major defence line before reaching Berlin itself; 10,000 guns fired for 20 minutes, before 143 searchlights turned on to help the attacking Soviet troops, with the artillery moving its aim forward to the German positions.

Unfortunately for Zhukov, confusion ensued as marshy terrain caused coordination to break down and a massive traffic jam ensued as bridging units were moved up. Zhukov threw in his tank armies and just made things worse. The German defences eventually cracked - but it took four days and a lot of casualties.

On 18/19 April, the final RAF raid on Berlin took place. On 20 April, bombing of the city by Soviet artillery began, while elements of the German 9th Army launched desperate counter-attacks at Frankfurt-an-Oder. The German leader celebrated his 56th birthday and was seen for the last time in public.

Two days later, the Red Army was in the suburbs of Berlin. At this point after discovering a counter-offensive he'd ordered of the SS units Army Detachment Steiner (basically a big corps in reality) had never been launched and his worst enemies were in the capital, Hitler decided to stay in Berlin until the end; the concept of Hitler fleeing abroad has been explored in some works of fiction, but he'd just be too recognisable (maybe).

Berlin's taking was a much faster, but ultimately more successful version of Stalingrad. The fighting took on a house-to-house, room-to-room nature, particularly in the final assault on the Reichstag. It could take hours just to cross a street.

On 23 April, Hermann Goering, at Berchtesgaden, told Hitler that if he hadn't heard from him by 11.00pm that night, he was going to take over as he assumed that the Fuhrer was not free to act. Hitler was enraged and promptly sacked the overweight Luftwaffe head from all his positions.

25 April was marked by three developments of note, the linking up of US and Soviet forces at Torgau, the encirclement of Berlin entirely.

Over the next seven days, facing intense resistance but still with overwhelming numbers, the Soviet forces pushed their way through Berlin. The narrow streets were dangerous for tanks - there could be a Panzerfaust-carrying German in any window - and just as unpleasant for the infantry. Civilians just had to survive as best as they could.

An attempt to relieve the city by the Germans was launched on 26 April and completely failed; large elements of the 9th Army were surrounded the same day near Halbe. 9th Army, desperate to surrender to the Western Allies instead of the Soviets launched a desperate breakout west that actually succeeded and got them to 12th Army's lines on 1 May.

On the night of 28/29 April, the Soviets had reached Anhalt station, a major rail terminus in central Berlin (it no longer exists - it was closed in 1952 and knocked down in 1960, although an S-Bahn station of that name remains present). This was half a mile from Hitler's bunker, where he would marry his mistress Eva Braun that morning and write his will.

On that same day, Hitler heard the news of Mussolini's death at the hands of Italian partisans and was informed of just how bad the situation now was. With the Red Army beginning to attack the centre of the city, the man who had once ruled an empire running from Brest to the outskirts of Moscow decided that he would take the easy way out. The next day, Adolf Hitler, quite possibly the most evil man in history, shot himself, his wife taking poison. The SS did a botched job on cremating his body - it would take the Soviets to finish the job properly. In 1970, they dumped his ashes in the Elbe river.

The Red Army launched a massive assault on the Reichstag that afternoon - a decision to go into a pretty worthless building (as it was largely damaged due to the 1933 fire), albeit one that was heavily defended, was largely for propaganda reasons - a false report of the Soviet flag being raised there had led to large numbers of war correspondents turning up and the local commander did not want to disappoint them. With the clock running down to May Day, it was a race to get a flag onto the roof, but it was duly done so with 70 minutes to go. Then promptly taken down again by the Germans again. It would take a further two days to fully clear the building.

[The famous Reichstag flag-raising photo is actually a re-enactment with the flag in a different position and taken during the day as it was too dark at the time for a decent photograph.]

On 3pm on 2 May, General Weidling surrendered the remaining forces in Berlin, although resistance continued for a few hours afterwards.

The Soviet and Polish forces took over 300,000 casualties in the assault (based on the usual 1 in 4 deaths as was common at the time, we're looking at nearly 100,000 dead); the German and civilian figures are estimated at approximately 22,000 dead each. In addition, a million Berliners were now homeless.

The Final Days

The Germans essentially completely collapsed after this point as forces began to surrender en masse. In the West, British Field Marshal Montgomery launched an attack into Denmark to liberate that country before the Red Army could get there and got the surrender of forces facing him at Luneberg Heath on 4 May, promptly nicking the original of the surrender document for his own collection.

On 7 May, General Jodl went to Rheims offered to surrender all forces facing the Western Allies to Eisenhower. Ike told him that he would only accept the surrender of all German forces and negotiations would be broken off otherwise. The Germans had no choice to accept and it was agreed that the war would end at 2301 Central European Time on 8 May. This would be 0101 Moscow time, which is why they mark the end of the war on 9 May instead.

Some fighting would continue in the east until 13 May as the last elements of German resistance were suppressed - on a Dutch island called Texel, Georgian soldiers in a German unit revolted and a battle between them and the Germans with Dutch help on the former side continued until 20 May.

For most citizens of the Soviet Union, on 9 May 1945, the bloodiest war in history that had killed 26.6 million of their fellow countrymen and women, leaving every family with at least one family member dead, the war was over.

The impact, though, had only just begun.

Part Eight