30 March 2012

Bradford West

Just when I thought I'd heard the last of George Galloway...

Clearly some in Labour got complacement - there is still a significant group for whom this guy walks on water - but I see no reason to panic as yet. Let's see how we do in May and October first. Also Bradford is an unusual place politics-wise.

The Tories can't crow about this - they did even worse - while Calamity Clegg is a liability to the Lib Dems.

As for Mr Galloway, let's see how he actually does as an MP instead of a cat...

28 March 2012

Bases under siege - Doctor Who Season 4 (1966/67)

This 43-episode fourth run could be called “The Lost Season” of Doctor Who – not a single story is complete and three are pretty much entirely missing in video form. The basic reason for this is that the show’s overseas popularity dropped after the end of Dalekmania and so there were less copies of stories from this time made for foreign sales.


A further note on missing stories – a few of the early stories marked as complete are actually missing small bits due to the recovered prints having been partly censored for content purposes by foreign broadcasters, particularly the Australians.


While Innes Lloyd would stay on as producer, Peter Bryant would take over as script editor towards the end of the season. Both companions at the start of the run would go, but the biggest change of all was something that the audience never saw coming in.


The Smugglers (4 episodes, all lost)


Ben, Polly and the Doctor arrive in 17th century Cornwall in this pure historical revolving around a search for the treasure of Captain Henry Avery[1] and a smuggling ring. When the Doctor learns of a riddle revealing the treasure’s location, he gets kidnapped…


The Tenth Planet (4 episodes, Episodes 1-3 survive with only small bits, especially of the regeneration sequence, surviving from Episode 4)


Arriving at the South Pole in the then-future of 1986, the crew discover that a tenth planet[2] has been discovered in the solar system and its inhabitants are heading this way, with the intention of saving their planet through destroying their own. Those inhabitants are the Cybermen, who look and sound a bit different to how they do today.


This story is best remembered for its ending, where the Doctor, who has been feeling distinctly off throughout the story, collapses on the TARDIS floor and transforms into a completely different man. In a world where we get our new Time Lord announced almost a year before he first appears on screen and the Internet allows for spoilers to go around the world faster than you can boil an egg, try to imagine the shock that an audience would get when it’s dropped on them without any warning.


The Cybermen


Created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (the show’s scientific adviser), the Cybermen were a result of Pedler’s fears about developments in medicine – a race that had achieved immortality at the cost of individuality. The original human-ish faces and sing-song voices of “The Tenth Planet” wouldn’t last, but the cyborgs were an instant hit and would appear three more times under the next Doctor. They are rightly considered number two in the show’s panoply of monsters and of course still turn up today.


The Power of the Daleks (6 episodes, all missing)


Naturally, all this concerns Ben and Polly, especially as this guy’s clothes have also changed with this appearance. However, this new younger man soon convinces them that he is still the Doctor and the crew arrive on the planet Vulcan, where a crashed spaceship contains two of the most terrible creatures in the universe. Creatures that are going to reproduce…


I’ve heard the audio of this story, the first not written by Terry Nation in some form and from what I remember, it’s pretty good.


Patrick Troughton – the Second Doctor


Patrick Troughton (1920-1987[3]) was an actor with extensive experience in a variety of roles ranging from Robin Hood to Father Brennan in The Omen. A shy publicity avoiding man with a complicated private life, Troughton’s casting was welcomed by Hartnell.


Troughton wanted to differentiate his portrayal from his predecessor and his eventual choice (after some initial ideas that were less than good) of style was a “cosmic hobo”, with a far more Chaplinesque costume than Hartnell – a man who hid a keen mind and a strong sense of cunning under shambolic attire. It was the right call and his Doctor would become one of the most-loved in the show’s history (many poor stories are saved through his performance alone), with his influence carrying through to this day.


The Highlanders (4 episodes, nothing survives except for some clips from Episode 1 cut by Australian censors)


The penultimate pure historical in the show’s history (the last being “Black Orchid” in Season 19), this sees Team TARDIS arriving in Scotland in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden[4], where they help a group of Highlanders fleeing the aftermath of the battle, in an adventure that involves the Doctor in drag and also pretending to be German.


Key in this story is the first appearance of James “Jamie” McCrimmon, who would join the TARDIS crew, stay until the end of the Second Doctor’s era and become one of the show’s most popular companions.


The Underwater Menace (4 episodes, 2 and 3 survive)


Involving the lost city of Atlantis, Fish People and a mad scientist trying to destroy the world (while chewing the scenery), “The Underwater Menace” has a reputation for being a very poor story – I can’t really comment as I’ve not experienced.


The Moonbase (4 episodes, 2 and 4 complete)


In which the Cybermen try to take over a weather control station on the Moon in 2070.


“Base Under Siege”


“The Moonbase” is an early example of a classic type of DW story known as “base under siege”. Take a small isolated facility (preferably with corridors), add a motley cast of stock characters who are suspicious of our time travellers, place a deadly monster inside and watch the terror rise as the guest cast start dying one at a time. It’s cheap and cheerful (although not for the characters), perfect for when the budget doesn’t stretch to something more ambitious. This stock plot is common in the show (one even turns up in Season 32) and a veritable Troughton era cliché.


This is not to say that these stories can’t be good – some of the show’s best stories (e.g. “The Horror of Fang Rock” from Season 15 and “The Waters of Mars” from Season 30) are of this type.


The Macra Terror (4 episodes, none available)


An idyllic holiday camp hides an alien secret. Listened to this on audio and I quite liked it, IIRC.


A new title sequence debuted in this story, this one featuring the Doctor’s face (as would all title sequences until 1989)


The Faceless Ones (6 episodes, only 1 and 3 complete)


A contemporary story involving aliens kidnapping people to steal their identities, this story also sees the departure of Ben and Polly


The Evil of the Daleks (7 episodes, only Episode 2 survives)


Initially meant to be the final Dalek story[5] to allow Terry Nation to try and get his Dalek series sold to the States,  this seven-part epic set mostly in 1867 sees the Daleks trying to distil the “Human Factor” and become invincible. It sounds very good on audio, although it has been argued that the actual on-screen action wouldn’t have been as good.


A new companion joins Team TARDIS here, one Victoria Waterfield, daughter of one of the characters here. If one companion lives up to the stereotype of Who companions as screamers, it’s her, although she was quite capable of handling herself and eventually embraced the miniskirt. Alas, with only one story of hers complete (“The Tomb of the Cybermen”), she’s a bit forgotten.




[1]Him from “The Curse of the Black Spot”.

[2]There are now officially eight, of course.

[3]In what some might incorrectly term “ironic”, he suffered a fatal heart attack in his hotel room while attending a fan convention in Florida.

[4]The final defeat of the Jacobite uprising, an attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne, led by James II’s grandson, Charles Edward Stuart, aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.

[5]Naturally, it wasn’t and one Dalek was left alive at the end to allow for a return, although it would be Season 9 before they appeared again.

26 March 2012

That's how you do space warfare (Review: 'Honor Among Enemies' by David Weber)

You may or may not be aware that I am trying to get a sim going at Phoenix set in the Honorverse of David Weber’s novels starring Honor Harrington. As such, it seemed appropriate for me to review one of the books – in this case, the sixth novel, which I have just finished reading.


I would like to start by praising the London Libraries Consortium. This particular service allows for a library user registered in one borough of Greater London to order a book on reservation from another for a very small fee and this is how I have managed to read a good number of the books in this series.


So, as Honor likes to say, let’s be about it.


The Honor Harrington series


Often described as “Horatio Hornblower in space”, David Weber’s series is set two thousand years in the future, when humanity has spread out among the stars. While faster than light travel is possible, communication in real-time between the stars is not and so things are rather “Age of Sail” like where it might take weeks for information on a battle to reach home and starship Captains have to make a lot of decisions without consulting higher authority due to lack of time. The diaspora of mankind has formed into a number of Star Nations, such as the Star Kingdom of Manticore (think Britain) and the People’s Republic of Haven (think a cross between Revolutionary France and the USSR), who are as of Honor Among Enemies, fighting a war with each other.


The star of this series is Honor Harrington, an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN), a hard charging, very intelligent officer with a propensity for ending up where the fire is hottest and succeeding against huge odds (she’s been criticised for being a “Mary Sue”, which is partly justified, but only partly, because she can be ruthless at times). In the first novel, On Basilisk Station, then Commander Harrington’s aging cruiser stopped a pre-war Havenite attempt to take a key Manticoran system via subterfuge in what is still the best space battle I’ve ever read, setting her on the path to fame, fortune and ennoblement. It hasn’t been an exactly smooth path.


Where we’re at


As this novel starts, Captain Harrington is still in half-pay “exile” (a result of her actions in Field of Dishonor) in the Star Kingdom’s allied state of Grayson, where she is a national hero, high-ranking noble and second highest ranking admiral in their growing navy. She wants to go home and one of her political opponents, trillionaire Klaus Hauptman, arranges for her to do exactly that. Manticore has been suffering increased losses of merchant shipping in the fairly lawless Silesian Confederacy and they arrange for her to be placed in command of a squadron of Q-ships (disguised merchants) to tackle the problem, figuring that either she’ll get rid of the pirates – or vice versa.


Manpower shortages mean that Honor has to take along the best of the newbies and the dregs of the rest of the RMN, as she heads west for the Confederacy…


What works


Weber’s vision of space combat is one of the more plausible (on relative standards) I’ve seen. Unlike the “fighter jets in space” style combat prevalent in much of sci-fi (*cough* Star Wars *cough*), this is a universe involving relative motion and engagements at multi-light-second ranges, with some interesting tech features that make the space combat interesting and provide nasty surprises for both sides. It’s also a brutal, deadly business – hits here will generally kill at least some of the hundreds of crew and the chance of going up with all hands is pretty high, with a good number of the supporting characters not making it to the end of the book. The final battle is worth the price of admission alone as Honor faces the possibility of real and total defeat in a vicious, desperate action to save a civilian liner.


The Silesian Confederacy and the Andermani Empire haven’t been really explored in the five books previously and the nuances of each are interesting to learn here – such as one Andermani Emperor who got herself legally declared male to take the throne and also the endemic corruption in Silesia.


The villains in this piece are well done. The pirates, led by a power-mad former dictator who thinks nothing of using nukes as a negotiation strategy (the final confrontation being a highlight of the novel), are a reminder of why old-school pirates were considered “enemies of all mankind”. In contrast, the regular ‘villains’ of the series, the Havenites, come off with great credit as a number of officers ignore their orders to act against these pirates, even to their own cost.


We also get an illuminating perspective into the lives of the enlisted RMN personnel through a subplot where a shipboard bully and thug is finally brought to heel via the actions of two of the new recruits – the choices of one Aubrey Wanderman aren’t ones I would have made, but one can understand them.


Finally, my printing of the book contains a “flip-book” style animation of an exploding spaceship – a good bonus.


What doesn’t


At times, this feels like the edited highlights of a soccer match, with frequent time jumps and a general lack of flow between chapters. There are also some rather large coincidences here and there. The Wanderman sub-plot is interesting (as mentioned), but ultimately extraneous to the whole story. One feature of the climax is a bit clichéd as well.




While this is arguably the weakest of the six novels I’ve read so far, it is still a highly entertaining read and I would recommend it.



25 March 2012

TacOps AAR Part 14

0940 to 0949


This time period started off with a large-scale artillery exchange that each side focussed on the units on the front lines (especially those around Objective D) – on the whole I came off worse as a good amount of my artillery missed. A T80U tried and failed to hit one of my MG units at 1900 metres with DU and machine gun fire, which punctuated the continuous explosions.


A close range fire fight at 0942 eliminated my easternmost infantry squad in grid square 1100 and so I lost further battlefield perspective. I still hadn’t noticed the main enemy advance in the north and wouldn’t.


Speaking of Objective D, most of the REDFOR units there were now on foot – they wouldn’t be able to reach the goal line. If I’d fully realised/appreciated this, I might have looked elsewhere. Oh, well, now I know. I can also see that the units west of it in 0603 were far too closely bunched together – in fact, I really knew that at the time and couldn’t do much about it.


0945 and 0946 saw several units eliminated around D as the OPFOR supporting attack (as I know now it was) took heavy casualties, although it ultimately achieved my opponent’s desired effect. Coyote moved his main attack in the north south 1.5 km as he thought correctly that I didn’t have observation of the low ground there. That main attack now came under intense ATGM fire from my main line and also was attacked by a M1 unit I’d parked in front of it – said platoon was eliminated in the space of a turn from Red’s own missiles. To cover, I was now diverting every vehicular unit I could in a desperate attempt to slow down the enemy – reacting to his moves rather than making him react to mine, which is the behaviour of someone who is heading for defeat. The move wasn’t working as he had the distinct firepower advantage.

As 0950 came around, Red had gotten a good couple of companies through my line and had a good regiment or so coming up to follow them… In retrospect, there was more chance of Wayne Rooney kicking a football through my window than me winning this now.





23 March 2012

The Screwtape Letters - CS Lewis

I'm currently reading this 1941 epistolary novel (that's a novel of documents) by CS Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia - I recently finished the very good The Magician's Nephew.

For those of you not familiar with it, Screwtape is a bunch of letters from a senior devil (Screwtape) to his junior devil nephew (Wormwood) advising the latter on how to keep people away from "The Enemy" - God, taking place around the early part of the Second World War.

As a Christian (like Lewis was), I'm finding this novel really thought provoking and illuminating about the behaviour of others and myself. Would recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it before - even if they're not a Christian.

21 March 2012

Budget 2012

Like the raising of the tax threshold and the increases on cigarette duty - but can't stand the cutting of the 50p tax rate and further cuts in corporation tax. Also, that regional-based pay is going to cause a strike.

Many will be paying less tax - because they'll be earning less...

18 March 2012

TOAW III Turn 17: Enemy breakthrough

I clicked the “Change PO mode” button by mistake, which may have had the effect of resetting some force tactical stances and eroding fortifications, but something certainly has gone wrong:



A decent penetration down south has ended and the UN forces now have a gap in my lines that I can’t easily block. I’m down to only a marginal victory at the moment and I’ve started to pull back some of my forces to a more defendable line – not all of them have made it through. It’s worth noting that I am playing this Communist-style – throwing my forces into attacks they can’t win, purely to slow the enemy down. I might change my force disposition to “Ignore Losses”, but only if the border is crossed.


Even the fortified troops have been dislodged – let’s hope that I can stop them before they get too far north.



17 March 2012

TacOps AAR Part 13: Mind the Gap - or it will cost you

0930 to 0939


My artillery started with a fairly effective strike on the northern forces – taking out another armoured vehicle at 0930 and another at 0931. However, an airstrike on a pesky 120mm mortar unit failed when my aircraft was shot down by Iglas.


Also in the north, Red’s advance ran into some of my M1s and an exchange of gunfire took out both the Abrams and a BRDM unit. He was also popping down a lot of smoke – in fact this was to obscure my visibility of his forces. Something to remember for future. I lost another M1 unit at 0934 and REDFOR now had a pretty much open path to the goal line. I wasn’t going to be able to stop him in time.


Much of this battle involved long-range firing of some sort. The tank gun and missile fire proved deadly to both sides, but the small arms fire, not so much. I’ve never fired a machine gun in my life, but I am imagine they are not all that accurate at over a kilometre.


Artillery continued to tear up the battlefield, as my ICM shells cracked upon a couple of BMP2s and forced their passengers to have to walk. Coyote went after one of my Javelin units and inflicted some casualties as well. Those Javelins were going to pose a danger to his vehicles and I understand why he wanted rid.


It was even clearer at 0938 as the Red forces in the centre of the battlefield got into range of said Javelin units and took a heavy pounding – most of those units would advance much further. I knocked out a T80U unit at 0939, but there were still a lot of enemy on the battlefield:


16 March 2012

Doctor Who Season 3 (1965/6): More Change

Before we begin, I would like to remind people that this obviously contains spoilers. However, since many of these events took place over 20 years ago, one can safely say that the statute of limitations on these are long expired. Won’t reveal too much though.

Season 3 saw that further changes in the production team and cast. Verity Lambert left the show. Her replacement, John Wiles, getting unhappy at Hartnell’s failing health and high salary, wanted to recast the lead actor and was even preparing an explanation that wouldn’t have involved regeneration in “The Celestial Toymaker”. The higher-ups renewed Hartnell’s contract anyway and vetoed another suggestion for a Cockney companion. Wiles walked and script editor Donald Tosh followed him.

The new production team of Innes Lloyd as producer and Gerry Davis as script editor got on better with the BBC execs, starting to develop an alternative way of writing out Hartnell…

The cast also changed a lot – there are no less than seven companions during the course of this season and no-one is there for the entire run… Some of them go out in interesting ways, as we shall see.

45 episodes in this season – most of them (28) not available. In fact, only three of the ten serials of this season are complete. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Galaxy 4 (4 episodes, only Part Three available and that was only recently discovered)

The crew arrive on an arid planet, where two spaceships have crashed and are being fixed. One is crewed by the beautiful Drahvins, the other by the hideous Rills and their robot drones called “Chumblies”[1]. Things are not what they seem…

Mission to the Unknown (1 episode, lost)

The only serial that doesn’t feature the Doctor or any companion, this is basically an extended trailer/prequel for “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, in which a Space Security Service agent and his two comrades stumbles upon a Dalek-led plan to conquer the Milky Way. Naturally, it does not end for them.

The Myth Makers (4 episodes, all missing)

A trip to the siege of Troy that sees the Doctor come up with the wooden horse idea and Vicki fall in love with a Trojan prince and leave, being replaced by handmaiden Katarina…

The Daleks’ Master Plan (12 episodes, only 2, 5 and 10 available)

Who ends up going out of an airlock in episode 4, becoming the first companion to die in the show’s run. In this twelve-episode epic, Team TARDIS have to stop the Daleks from using a “Time Destructor” to implement their evil plan. With Katarina dead, the team are joined by one-shot companion Sara Kingdom, who also snuffs it.

Containing the show’s first Christmas episode, the comedic stand-alone “The Feast of Steven” that ends with the Doctor toasting the audience, this also features the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney, who would later play the much loved Brigadier, as Bret Vyon.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve (4 episodes, all lost)

The 1572 massacre of five to thirty thousand Huguenot Protestants in France probably qualifies as the most obscure historical event to feature in Doctor Who by some margin – I’m only aware of it through the fact this story was made.

The best known feature of this story that is only available on audio is William Hartnell playing two roles – the Doctor and his physical doppelganger the Abbot of Amboise. The two never meet, but Steven certainly gets confused.  Difficult to imagine something like this today, but it could happen.

At the end, the Doctor and Steven land in 1966 London and encounter a new companion, Dorothy “Dodo” Chaplet, who enters the TARDIS while looking for a real police box to report a child being run over[2].

The Police Box

The initial idea had been to have the TARDIS change shape in each story to blend in with its surroundings, but that swiftly fell afoul of budget problems. The distinctive design would have been common on the streets of the UK at the time when the show began, although most of them have now gone. Also most of them never quite looked like the TARDIS – which is based on a 1920s design. Since the boxes have gone, the blue police box has become so associated with the show that the BBC won a trademark dispute with the Metropolitan Police on the essential grounds of ‘squatter’s rights’.

The exterior prop has changed over the years – subtle changes like the writing on the panel, height and exact shade. There have even been jokes about it.

The interior is more interesting, but we’ll cover that another time.

The Ark (4 episodes, all available)

Not to be confused with Season 12’s “The Ark in Space”, although the concept of humans leaving Earth is similar, this one features the Doctor, Steven and Dodo landing on a spaceship carrying Earth’s surviving life on a 700-year journey to a new world, travelling with a one-eyed servant race called the Monoids. Dodo has a cold, which causes problems. Once that’s sorted out, the crew leave – and arrive back on the ship at the end of its journey (remember the story lengths were not advertised in advance), where the Monoids are now in charge.

An interesting story with good production values, but probably too rushed.

The Celestial Toymaker (4 episodes, only 4 exists in full)

Entering a strange domain presided over by the immortal Celestial Toymaker (played by the late Michael Gough, best known for his portrayal of Alfred in four Batman movies), the Doctor is forced to play a 10-piece Tower of Hanoi game called the Trilogic game, which he must complete in exactly 1023 moves. Meanwhile, Steven and Dodo have to play a series of deadly childhood games to find the TARDIS.

Must read the novelisation or get the audio of this someday. Speaking of the audio, this story contains the old politically incorrect version of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, containing a racial slur instead of the word “tiger”. Said word is talked over by the narration in the audio release.

The Gunfighters (4 episodes, all available)

The last story with individual episode titles of the classic era, this sees Team TARDIS arrive in the Wild West. Tombstone in fact. Containing a specially-written song and generally a comedic serial, it’s one of the lowest rated in the show’s history.

Can’t remember much of this – probably best as it’s not popular with the fans.

The Savages (4 episodes, all lost)

Steven’s final story is another “things aren’t what they seem” story involving an apparently idyllic world and the draining of life force. Steven is in fact asked to become the leader of the planet at the end, which means the Doctor leaves the planet alone with Dodo – the first time that the Doctor has travelled on his own with a female non-blood relative (he’s only travelled with two – Susan, his granddaughter and his mother-in-law Amy Pond).

The War Machines (4 episodes, all available)

An interesting, reasonable story that involves a computer called WOTAN trying to take over the world from the BT Tower[3]. Dodo leaves (via note!) at the end of the story and two new companions enter the TARDIS – Ben Jackson and Polly something.

This is the first serial set in the present day (or close to it) entirely – something that would happen a lot more in the future. For in these stories, the Doctor is beginning to ail. Soon, the show will change entirely…

[1]No, not Chumlees. I can hear The Old Man from Pawn Stars commenting right now that would be truly disturbing.
[2]What happened to the kid?
[3]Which at the time was – I am not making this up – not included on official maps as it was technically a state secret.

10 March 2012

Iran, nuclear weapons and an Israeli strike

There is no direct evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but there is a lot of indirect evidence:
  • The construction of ballistic missiles that are useless for anything bar attacking cities and employing WMDs
  • Enriching uranium far beyond the levels needed for a civilian nuclear programme.
  • Building underground nuclear facilities
  • Generally unpleasant rhetoric towards a state that is in no position to attack it directly and has never done so.
  • Support of terrorism against said state
  • Refusal of a perfectly decent offer for enrichment outside the country.
There's generally no smoke without fire and the UN is right to order Iran to stop enrichment until safeguards are in place. None of us want a regime like that with nuclear weapons. If they were to use them against Israel (it would only take two or three nukes getting through Israeli missile defences to effectively destroy that country), the consequences would be devastating for Iran as well - but you bet the leadership won't be taking any of them.

That said, a unilateral Israeli strike could cause serious consequences of their own.

As you may or may not be aware, I am currently running an RP revolving around the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. While I have made some slight tweaks to the scenario for gaming purposes and allowing for the 2015 setting, the scenario is based on real and projected capabilities of both sides.

So here are some of my thoughts on what might happen:
  • An Israeli strike might not destroy all the facilities, but hitting the right ones could slow the regime down considerably.
  • There is extremely little Iran can do to stop an Israeli strike from succeeding with its air defences.
  • A strike may well eliminate any support for the reform movement in Iran, but that movement seems, sadly, to have largely stalled. I may be wrong on this and I'm sure Jams can help here.
  • Any attempt by Iran to mine the Straits of Hormuz not only gets the US involved, it gets Oman, the UAE and the GCC involved.
  • Iran cannot close the Straits long-term - any attempt to do so will result in the loss of the bulk of its naval and air forces.
    • The best Iran can hope for is a few symbolic losses of Western assets, say a destroyer or two.
  • Iran's ballistic missiles at the moment will not do serious long-term damage to a nation used to rocket attack. Witness the lack of impact that the V2s had on Britain - and Iran has less missiles.
    • In fact, Iran poses no threat to the continued existence of Israel without nukes.
  • While a war may drive Iran to develop a nuclear weapon - it will never be allowed to actually develop one by the United States and other Western powers. A full-scale invasion might well follow.
  • The economic damage of Iranian strikes against the GCC would be considerable, particularly in terms of oil prices.
  • Israel will need to present very strong evidence of an Iranian nuclear programme to win over a global public opinion that is hostile to it.
I don't want a war with Iran, but I don't want an Iranian bomb. What is needed is for both sides to come to the table and talk. The US and Israel should make statements that an attack will not take place unless clear red-lines are crossed - such as actual moves towards constructing a nuclear device.

Otherwise, either way, a lot of people are going to die.

09 March 2012

'Castle' 4.1: "Rise"

This is not a review.

While the resolution to the cliffhanger was as expected as the result of a Russian presidential election, this was a highly enjoyable episode. Not exactly typical of the show, but still just as good for it.

By the way, Mr Moffat, if you could get just one of the stars of this show guest starring in Doctor Who, I would be very happy.

07 March 2012

A nice slice of pizza (Review: 'Leverage' 3.5 "The Double-Blind Job")

A good varied television diet consists of a variety of food. Solid dramatic peas, nice fresh comedy juice - and pizza.

Leverage, a show that can essentially be described as an American version of Hustle albeit with more safe-cracking and hacking, is one of my pizza shows. The plots aren't too demanding and the characters are vibrant with a hint of spice, even if Parker's brain works in mysterious ways.

In this episode, the team have to bring down a corrupt corporate executive who is trying to launch a new drug that is an exact copy of a...

[Edited to remove spoilers - Ed.]

All in all, this is an enjoyable episode. The characterisation continues to be great, the plot is clever and the twists are enjoyable. Wasn't too keen on the end, where [Spoiler]. Also, some of the stuff mentioned, if true, is ever so slightly alarming.

Glad that FX are now showing this - I've been waiting ages for Season 3.


PS Won't be reviewing the Castle season opener on tonight - will be doing an episode later in the season though.

TOAW III: A nice little diversion.

Turn 13 in my Korean War game. I've been hardening up my defensive line SE of Seoul, but have taken offensive action elsewhere. Particularly down in the SW of the map, where my forces have made a thrust for a city and triggered a flood of refugees. I doubt I'll be able to help them out and they will inevitably crumble, but I've still got plenty of VPs at the moment.

04 March 2012

TacOps AAR Part 12: the other well-known Abrams

0920 to 0929


Red split his forces into two at this point – to disguise the primary northern thrust.


The southern force was now running into my armour and an infantry squad bit the dust as a result. At 0922, a BTR unit drove next to an infantry squad and suffered death by LAAW. There was little fighting during the first few minutes.


At 0925, one of my tank units got taken out by AT-7 Saxhorn ATGMs  – I’m sure M1s are better than that. I know Challenger IIs certainly are (one got pounded by RPGs during Operation Iraqi Freedom and survived intact, with the only injury one broken wrist). The advance tank and infantry units certainly did some damage to Coyote’s forces, although probably not enough.


During this time, I was also trying to kill the northern force, but lack of a firm location on the units meant my artillery mostly missed or just suppressed a vehicle. HE ammo isn’t very good at handling armour at all.


At 0929, a 122mm howitzer and ZSU-23-4 arrived with the southern force. The latter of those would become a pain in the neck.


Cairo: A story by Silent Hunter

This short work is set in the universe of my sim Fighter Ops. For those of you not familiar with the RP, it revolves around the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. This and other stories will attempt to capture some of the background of the war, focussing on elements that might not be immediately obvious.



Ibrahim was going to make a killing, his brother thought as he watched some of the produce that the guy had probably sold earlier this morning start to burn. From his office in El-Mogamma, an Egyptian government complex looking out onto Tahrir Square – that one – he regularly had a ringside seat for the regular protests that occurred there. He himself had been in one himself, back in the heady days of February 2011, where he had faced off against the security forces representing the government. El-Mogamma, a building given by the Soviet Union and built in classic imposing Communist style, had been a symbol of the hated Mubarak regime and also bureaucracy in general.


For his contributions to the revolution, he’d found himself Director of the Passport Office, where he was responsible for renewing visas of tourists, issuing passports and so on, which meant he was working in this place. Speaking of tourists… he hoped that this latest protest wouldn’t harm the country’s tourist industry more than some of the decisions of this government had already.


After the military had handed over power, the Muslim Brotherhood had formed a government – and then immediately started fighting among themselves. Two distinct factions had emerged – what might be called the moderates and the hardliners. The moderates wanted to maintain the links with America and the peace treaty with Israel, while the hardliners didn’t – some of the hotheads actually advocating open war against the Jewish state. The ministerial carve-up had kept the hardliners out of defence and also security – but given them the justice ministry. Where they’d started to implement sharia law in a rather haphazard way that in his mind was wrecking the tourist trade.


The attacks on Coptic Christian organisations that Social Solidarity and Justice were widely accused of turning a blind eye to were raising hackles in Washington. The ban on alcohol sales entirely was starting a growing bootlegging industry and Egypt already had a suspected “Nucky Thompson”. The imposition of spot fines on tourists wearing overly revealing clothing, even on beaches, was in danger of turning the country into a laughing stock.


What was happening now was probably something minor that would be largely forgotten in a week, but it wasn’t going to help. Following the Israeli attack on Iran last night, a large group of protestors had gathered in Tahrir Square, where they were burning American and Israeli flags. These were one of the things that Ibrahim sold and he knew that they would be heavily discounted today..


As the man watched, his intercom buzzed. He turned and pressed the button.


“What is it?” he asked. Another male voice replied, sounding annoyed.


“We’ve got one of the new guys. He’s refusing to process an Israeli man”.


The Director shook his head. There were always people like this who took exception to Israelis, particularly those with Palestinian ancestry. You usually just dealt with them by moving them to another queue or giving them a verbal slapping.


“I’m on my way”, he said.


The Director left his office, closing the door behind him and walking slowly, but surely towards the main processing area, briefly stopping to use the lavatory. He heard a faint pop, which sounded like a firecracker. When he heard five more, he sprinted towards the processing area, just as another shot rang out.


The area was one of panic as people either fled for their lives or cowered in terror. Four bodies lay on the floor bleeding, one of which had a pistol by his side. Another woman was screaming in Egyptian, blood running down her arm.  A security guard had his weapon still drawn, staring in horror at what had just happened – and what he had ultimately had to do.


“What happened?!” the Director yelled, “What happened?”


“He just pulled out a pistol and started shooting”, the guard said as he lowered his weapon, “Yelling something about death to apostates…”


The Director saw who one of the dead bodies was – the same guy he’d come out to see. If he’d been just a few seconds earlier – he might also be dead. As other police officers arrived on the scene, the Director had a strong suspicion of who was behind this attack. He cursed Israel – and Iran. He suspected that this was only the first of these attacks. He looked down at the body of the gunman and wished him an unpleasant time in hell.


He took a seat and pulled out his mobile phone to tell Ibrahim he was OK.



Been a while since I did a Christianity post, so here we go:

If you take a look at any news site or paper, you will see countless examples of man's inhumanity to man. In fact, it's surprising that God doesn't just decide to wipe us all out and start over.

It's even more surprising that he sent his Son down to us and allowed him to be killed by us - then use said act to allow everyone who sincerely wishes it to forgiven of their sins, regardless of how heinous they are.

That, my friends, is true love.

01 March 2012

History of Doctor Who: Season 2 (1964/5)

The second season of a show is often where it starts getting good. The actors have settled in, the writers all have an idea of what is going on and what works is clear.

Unless, you’re dealing with a show like Doctor Who, where the cast chops and changes frequently. In Season 2, all three original companions left and the show changed script editors (a role just as important as producer back then) twice. So, it is fair to say that things are a bit uneven.

This 39-episode season (in fact, the first two stories were filmed in the first production block and held back) is the best survivor of the six black-and-white seasons, with 37 episodes surviving intact.

Planet of Giants (3 episodes, all available)

The first story set on modern Earth, this one involves an error on landing and the crew becoming miniaturised. This idea was one of those considered for the first story and rejected – perhaps it should have stayed that way, because no-one really likes this one. In fact, it was originally recorded as four episodes and the last two parts edited down to one, with the other material totally junked.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 episodes, all available)

The late Jon Pertwee, who played the Third Doctor[1], once remarked that a Yeti in Tibet is less scary on one “sitting on the loo in Tooting Bec”. That is to say that bringing an alien menace into the everyday world can be more effective than the affairs of a bunch of aliens far from Earth. Some of the best stories and scenes have taken place in ordinary surroundings.

The title of the story is a bit of a misnomer – when the characters arrive, sometime after 2164, the Daleks, who yell “Exterminate” for the first time here, have already conquered Earth. In a story that sees Daleks roaming London streets and doing Hitler salutes (remember the Second World War was still in many people's memories), the sink-plunger crew hit the big time.

The story ends with Susan falling in love with a resistance fighter and not sure whether to stay with him or look after her grandfather the Doctor, has the latter make the decision for her, locking her out of the TARDIS and taking off. The last part doesn’t really happen after this, but Susan is not the first companion to fall in love with someone she’s just met and leave as a result.


The arrival of the pepper-pots was just what the show needed to turn it from interesting into a smash hit. After “The Daleks”, an encore was inevitable and the creatures would appear in two stories a season for the next three (but then take a break until Season 9).

The wave of popularity was massive. Comic strips, toys galore, a stage play and two colour feature films would follow  - remakes of the first two stories starring Peter Cushing as a human Doctor, which are not considered canonical. Terry Nation went to America and attempted to get a Dalek-based TV series going, but it fell through for various reasons before even reaching the pilot stage.

The craze eventually ended around 1967 and the ratings would not go back up to the 1964/5 levels until we got into the Tom Baker era.

The Rescue (2 episodes, all available)

A two-part character piece that is rather well done, involving a crashed spaceship whose survivors are terrorised by a monster. This one introduces Vicki (last name not given on screen, Pallister in the spin-off media) who joins Team TARDIS here.

This appears to be the first time the Doctor leaves the parking brake on – the ship is seen “materialising” (first use of that term too) with the distinctive sound effect.  That effect, BTW, was realised by scraping a key on a piano string and looping it over itself a few dozen times.

The Romans (4 episodes, all available)

The crew go on holiday in Rome in 64 AD. You can guess what’s going to happen. A story that combines high farce (including a scene where the Doctor convinces an audience of his lyre playing skills without playing a single note), low puns and some quite serious stuff about life in the Roman Empire, this one is well remembered and liked.

The Web Planet (6 episodes, all available)

Someone randomly chancing on a re-run of this one might wonder if they’d taken something illegal by mistake – this is trippier than some of Moffat’s stuff. A tale where every character bar the regulars is a giant creepy-crawly of some form[2], this is what Top Gear calls “ambitious but rubbish” – especially by modern standards with the costumes involved.

The Crusade (4 episodes, only 1 and 3 available)

A 12th century set historical set in Palestine and revolving around one of the “holy wars” that Christianity and Islam fought around that time over the possession of Jerusalem. Haven’t experienced this work.

The Space Museum (4 episodes, all available)

A story that opens timey-wimey style with the TARDIS “jumping a time track” and the crew seeing themselves as exhibits in a futuristic museum, which they then realise they have to prevent by engineering a revolt.. It’s an intriguing idea, which then fails utterly in the execution, although there are some amusing moments

The Chase (6 episodes, all available)

The second Dalek appearance of the season, in which the Daleks develop time travel and chase after the team in another multi-location story. It’s a run-around and a curate’s egg[3] of a story, notable for three things:
1.       The departure of Ian and Barbara, who ultimately use the Dalek time machine to get home.
2.       The arrival of Steven Taylor, a stranded astronaut, who stows away on the TARDIS (along with his toy panda, Hi-Fi). Taylor was played by Peter Purves, who would later become a Blue Peter presenter
3.       A clip of The Beatles appearing (due to licensing issues, this is not on the Region 1 DVD release).

The Time Meddler (4 episodes, all available)

The show’s first “pseudo-historical” and the first time we encounter a Time Lord not the Doctor or Susan – the Meddling Monk. Arriving in 1066, the team discover that said Monk wants to change the course of British (and by extension human) history.

[1]With a show nearly fifty years old, it is the case that a few of the key figures are no longer with us. Every week or so, Doctor Who news sites post the obituary of one guest star or another. The first three Doctors have all died – Hartnell passed away in 1975.

[2]Insects only applies to segmented creatures with six legs.

[3]Mixture of good and bad.