29 April 2012

Local elections 2012

If you're a British voter who can vote in the local elections on Thursday, I would like you to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you and your family better off than you were in May 2010?
  2. Do you think this country is a better place than it was in May 2010?

26 April 2012

Doctor Who Season 6 (1968/69): The road to Gallifrey

We're in your city, killing your dudes

The archival situation is a lot better here – of the 44 episodes, 37 are complete and another two have been officially ‘restored’ via animation. In fact, every story bar one is ‘intact’ in the archives, so I’ll stop discussing episode availability unless needed (a couple of Pertwee stories are not complete in colour).

Patrick Troughton had decided to do three years and call it done, but there were other issue behind the scenes. Bryant and Sherwin had to produce the two-part broadcast pilot for a show called S P Air that didn’t go to series (and about which I can find nothing – one assumes it’s been junked). Then Bryant had health problems, putting Sherwin increasingly (and then formally) in charge and making Terrance Dicks script editor.

This season is generally a bit uneven. For every classic, you’ve got a clunker or an average effort.

The Dominators (5 episodes)

Reduced from six episodes to five by Sherwin, which resulted in the two writers, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, insisting the story went out under the pseudonym Norman Ashby. A tale involving the TARDIS crew having to persuade a group of pacifists to resist some aggressive aliens and their deadly robots (the Quarks, who would make some later comic strip appearances[1]). Generally held as a bit of mess – audience research at the time was not kind to it. I can hardly remember it.

The Mind Robber (5 episodes)

Expanded from four episodes to five at short notice (Sherwin wrote the first and arguably the best episode un-credited), resulting in some rather short episodes, this trippy tale sees the TARDIS crew trapped in “The Land of Fiction”, meeting such public-domain fictional staples as Rapunzel and the Minotaur. It also has Jamie change actor for two episodes via a very good in-story reason as Frazer Hines had come down with chicken pox.

While perhaps primarily remembered for one particular shot of Zoe at the end of Episode One, it’s a real classic.

The Invasion (8 episodes – 1 and 4 are missing, but were recreated with only minor changes by animators Cosgrove Hall for the DVD release, so this story must be called complete)

Another classic story, with the iconic image of the Cybermen near St. Paul’s Cathedral (see above), I personally found it a tad slow for my liking. The Cybermen try to invade Earth (with the help of a couple of memorable human villains [Packer!]) and the Doctor teams up with the newly created UNIT, headed by the newly promoted Brigadier to stop them. Very high production values (and MOD cooperation) mean there is a lot of action here.

This is also Terrance Dicks’ first time as script editor.

Terrance Dicks

Terrance Dicks (1935-) must be considered one of Who’s elder statesmen. Spending almost six seasons as Script Editor (this and the entire Pertwee era), he also novelised a considerable number of the classic stories for the Target Books range, wrote six TV stories himself, contributed a number of original novels during the hiatus years and also did some direct-to-video stuff of which we’ll discuss much later.

While I don’t personally agree with his “all Doctors are essentially the same” approach, his contribution to the show is pretty much unmatched, certainly by anyone still living.

UNIT Dating

OK, people, follow me here a second:
·         “The Abominable Snowmen” takes place in 1935
·         “The Web of Fear” takes place roughly forty years later, so c.1975
·         “The Invasion” takes place four years after that, c.1979
·         Ergo, the Third Doctor and Fourth Doctor UNIT stories must take place in the early 1980s.
·         There is a whole slew of technology in the shows that was not in existence at the time (video phones, BBC3, laser weapons, trips to Mars from a British space programme[2]…) and in-jokes about political events, e.g. a Prime Minister called “Jeremy” a reference to then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe[3].

However, wait a second…
·         Most of the cars on screen have near-contemporary licence plates.
·         Mao Zedong is still alive as of “The Mind of Evil” - he died in 1976.
·         Sarah Jane Smith says in “The Pyramids of Mars” that she’s from 1980.
·         There is pre-decimal currency in use in “Doctor Who and the Silurians”. The UK went over to decimal currency in 1971.
·         In “Mawdryn Undead”, the Brigadier retired from UNIT in 1977 and was teaching at a public school in 1983!

The production team avoided mentioning on screen dates to avoid potential continuity problems, but what this resulted in is a rather large conundrum that taxes fans to this day and has actually resulted in a few jokes on the subject turning up in various media (including “The Sontaran Stratagem”)

The Krotons (4 episodes)

The first story penned by Robert Holmes, one of the show’s most celebrated writers (of whom we’ll talk more about later), this reasonable story sees Team TARDIS help a slave race overthrow a crystalline alien race. Also features a mind probe [No! Not the Mind Probe!].

The Seeds of Death (6 episodes)

The return of the Ice Warriors, this story (which I really must see the end of) sees the Martians try to take a futuristic Earth using a teleporter network.

The Space Pirates (6 episodes, only Episode 2 survives)

A regular-light story by Robert Holmes, this “space western” (over 30 years before Firefly) involving a conflict between some pirates and law enforcement.

The War Games (10 episodes)

Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks end the era of the Second Doctor in style. The crew arrive in what they think is the Western Front in 1917… in reality, it’s part of a training world for one of the Doctor’s own people, who is out to conquer the universe. Haven’t actually seen all of this, but the last three episodes are some of the most significant in the show’s history.

With the situation getting desperate, the Doctor calls in his own people, the Time Lords (first named here). They deal with the problem, but then take the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to their home planet (as yet unnamed). Jamie and Zoe are sent back home, their memories of all bar their first stories erased. Meanwhile, the Doctor is convicted of illegally leaving his home planet and “meddling”.

His sentence: exile to Earth in the 20th century and a forced regeneration…

Season 6B

There is a narrative gap between the Doctor’s sentence and the start of Season 7, in which the Third Doctor is seen for the first time. A lot of things including the Doctor knowing about Jamie and Zoe’s fates in “The Five Doctors” mean he must have had further adventures after “The War Games” – a number of “expanded universe” works also suggest this. It’s widely believed by fans that the Doctor actually did some work for the Time Lords’ Celestial Intervention Agency before being sent to Earth - the so-called Season 6B.

The decision to change the show to an Earth-based one with the Doctor in exile was basically budgetary – the money wasn’t stretching. Unable to match Star Trek (making its first UK airing during the season gap), they decided to have the monsters come to the Doctor in near-contemporary Earth.

The Doctor was going to be getting a job with UNIT…

[1] We’ll be discussing the “expanded universe” of Who (comics, audio dramas, novels and video games etc.) between Season 26 and Season 27 – i.e. between talking about the classic and new eras.
[2] In reality, the United Kingdom has only launched one satellite (Prospero) on its own. All other British space activity has been under the auspices of the European Space Agency and the five British nationals who have gone into orbit went up either in the Space Shuttle or a Russian Soyuz.
[3]The February 1974 general election actually produced a Hung Parliament (no party having a majority), with Labour gaining most seats, but only second place in terms of the popular vote.

25 April 2012

Welcome to the new recession

The UK has officially re-entered recession.

You know, when this government took power, I thought it would fix the economy and the deficit at the cost of massive social damage to this country. They can't even do the former.

22 April 2012

TacOps AAR Part 17: Payout time

1010 to 1019


To misquote a misquote of Jim Callaghan, former British Prime Minister, “Counterattack? What counterattack?”


1010 saw Red engage in considerably more fire than I did, including three highly effective counter-battery artillery fires on my remaining on-field weaponry. I was either low on ATGMs or had forgotten to reload, but my actions were like King Canute trying to stop the tide…


In fact, OPFOR’s BMPs were filling the air with Spandrels, making my AAVP7s go up more frequently than caravans on Brainiac: Science Abuse (I hope I’m not making too many British references here).


At 1012, the lead element of the northern attack ran into my last-ditch units and a heavy exchange of bullets, grenades and missiles followed, destroying a large number of vehicles on both sides. While Red was nearing 01 Easting, he had not got over the finish line yet – he would take four minutes to do that.


The Red advance began curving its way through the gaps between the trees in the NW corner of the map and with eyes on the last ditchers, Coyote dropped artillery like it was going out of fashion on them – many of his on-map units now in range and joining in. Nearly every one of his shots inflicted casualties and while I tried to take out his artillery units on map, it was to no real avail – I did score a good number of hits, but the fire kept on coming.


If this was a soccer game, Blue supporters would be heading for the Tube by now. In fact, I tried to withdraw two lots of APCs from the battlefield (to report back on my abject failure), only for all of them to get ATGMs in the rear.


1015 saw the SMAW unit in 0105 fire a slew of LAAW missiles at a BMP2 unit only to get cut down by a massive amount of vehicle fire. The following turn, Coyote dropped smoke on the last ditch units, then followed it up with high explosive, effectively putting the guys out of the battle temporarily or permanently. He got six units across that turn, followed by 14 at 1017.


In the south at this time, OPFOR’s attack ran into a Javelin section that eliminated its lead unit, while the Javelins in the north also got a few more shots off.


At this point, the bookies would have started paying out. There were only 13 minutes of this game left to run – Red had already gotten 3% of his units over the victory line and the rest were closing fast, in fact his central mounted units were now joining the northern attack.


The Bridge and Doctor Who

Just watched the first episode of the Danish/Swedish (it's a co-production) cop show The Bridge. Got to say that I'm enjoying it - I definitely prefer Saga Norén to Sarah Lund. She kind of reminds me of a cross between Temperance Brennan and Parker from Leverage, only Swedish.

Grand Review is going to happen for this - I also plan one for Ringer.

I've also started listening to "The Daleks' Master Plan" on audio - expect a review of that as well.

19 April 2012

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

Part One


Gallifrey (we haven’t heard that name yet and won’t until “The Time Warrior”). Three Time Lords discuss the fact that the Master has got his hands on a secret file on “The Doomsday Weapon”. They decide to send the Doctor to sort this out. They don’t inform him of this – they just dematerialise the TARDIS while he’s showing Jo around.


Arriving on the planet Uxarieus in the year 2472, the Doctor and Jo find an agrarian colony led by a man called Ashe – a group that is trying to forge a new life away from an overcrowded and repressive Earth. While they have an uneasy truce with the “primitives” who live on the planet, their crops are failing and a “monster” is attacking their outer settlements. A survivor from an earlier colony arrives, claiming that the monsters and the Uxarieans wiped out the rest of his people.


Soon, a spaceship from the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) arrives, led by the nastily urbane Captain Dent and are “shocked” to discover there is a colony already there, so calls in an Adjudicator from Earth to resolve the dispute. The Doctor discovers the true identity of the monster, Jo gets kidnapped and then open fighting begins between the two groups of settlers. Then, the Adjudicator arrives…



The problem with a lot of the six-parters of classic Doctor Who is that they’re two parts too long. “Colony” is another classic example of a story that would have worked better in four 25-minute parts (i.e. 100 minutes, just a tad longer than a DW two-parter today) – tightening up the dialogue and making the thing less of a run-around that some of 1970s and 1980s Doctor Who ends up being.


Malcolm Hulke, who wrote or re-wrote eight Doctor Who stories and created the Silurians among other creatures, was a strong left-winger, never afraid to add political themes to his stories – this one discussing American colonisation is a particular example of his work. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but the whole story falls apart in the execution.


The dialogue is very un-naturalistic and ‘stagey’. If this was made today, it would be a lot more free-flowing and snappy – Joss Whedon would have a lot of fun with a story like this. While real speech contains too many pauses to be really acceptable for a television audience, there is going too far and this sounds too polished, especially for a bunch of poor farmers who speak in Received Pronunciation[1].


The pace is plodding and it just feels like a run-around much of the time. That said, the final episode is pretty enjoyable and kicks things up nicely. The effects are well, dated, but they generally are for early 1970s Who.


It’s by no means a bad story – Jon Pertwee is at his charming Edwardian best, Roger Delgado is suitably slimy and Katy Manning demonstrates why she is so popular among fandom. The overall plot is a good one and battle scenes involving slug-throwing weapons always feel more real to me (other Firefly fans as well, I’d say).


All in all, there’s been worse, there’s been better. Wouldn’t recommend this for a first timer to the show, but after a few, who knows.





[1]Received Pronunciation (RP) or The Queen’s English is the “standard” English pronunciation that most native Anglophone people don’t use in their everyday speech. It’s the sort of accent commonly associated with BBC newsreaders and sci-fi of this era. Tom Baker and the late Lis Sladen both hail from Merseyside, but both utilise RP accents for their roles. RP is declining in use (even the Queen is sounding less RP as the years go by), although it is still around and disconcertingly common among British characters in US drama, even those played by British actors, with few notable exceptions. I personally joke that the LA air does something funny to British actors’ vocal cords.

12 April 2012

TacOps AAR Part 16: Boom and boom

1000 to 1009

Red started this period by engaging in a lot of long-distance shooting of low value infantry squads it could have safely ignored and by launching an airstrike with a MiG-27 that failed due to three Stingers shooting the thing down. This is not to as I was any better – I lost multiple air strikes to precisely the same cause, only the missile was called something different.

Red’s northern advance towards 04 Easting ran into the anti-tank units I’d concealed between the clumps of trees in a desperate attempt to slow him down. The exchange of anti-vehicle fire resulted in a large number of vehicles brewing up, the air filling with burning fuel and people.

1002 saw further damage being done on both side – a successful air attack on my part taking out a few vehicles with infantry fire killing an Igla/SA-16 unit, although said squad was then eliminated. Coyote crossed 04 Easting and took out the Javelin unit at 0404 that had caused him quite a few problems.

Coyote’s notes at this point have him feeling he was making better progress than expected and suffering ‘acceptable’ losses. Considering how much of my force he’d eliminated (70% to his losses of 19%), he was probably right in saying so. He also intended to move his centre force to support one of the other attacks within 15 to 20 minutes.

My artillery fire was starting to slacken now – with Red’s own units getting closer, he was able to take out some of my own mortars with some lucky shots at 1003. OPFOR was now truly through my lines. This wasn’t to say I wasn’t getting kills on him – I was (more than I remember getting looking at the replay), but my hits were drops in the ocean compared to the forces he had available. In fact, he could have punched through at the centre and the south as well if he wanted to.

1006 featured a lot of flying lead as REDFOR broke through in the south, the enemy unit in 0401 made its presence felt and a lot of infantry units finally gave up the ghost. 03 Easting had now been breached and all that was stopping Coyote from the goal line were two Javelin units and an M1 unit. That latter tank didn’t last long.

Red’s central forces were at this point variously committing north or south – mostly north. They had little need to worry about my thin blue line, now mostly scattered infantry squads.

As 1009 came round, OPFOR ran into the first of the last-ditch Javelin sections in the north. It seems that Coyote thought this was a counterattack. If only it had been that organised…

10 April 2012

Mitt Romney

So, Mitt Romney is the de facto Republican nominee. Now we get to see if he gets more or less a percentage of the popular vote than John McCain did last time. I get a feeling that it'll be less... The more I read about this guy, the less I like him.

(Incidentally, I think Obama will get less than 2008 - but will still win. A noticeable third party guy may turn up and take a good number of votes - not enough to pick up any Electoral College Votes, though)

08 April 2012

TOAW III Turn 19: Evaporation Day

I've got good news and bad news.

The good news is that I've gotten some more air support. From the Chinese - who have decided to contribute a large number of MiG-15s - two groups to start with, with three more coming. I decided to deploy one of these units in Pyongyang to begin with as it would be closer to the front. In the UN half of turn 19 that force came under heavy air attack, taking considerable losses, but also inflicting them at a greater than 1:1 ratio on the larger prop-driven blue/green forces.

The bad news - many of my units have now fallen apart under the strain of the fighting and UN attacks; basically most of the men are scattered, dead or POWs. I'll get some of them back as the units are recreated over the next few turns, but the UN is getting alarmingly close to the 38th Parallel and my VP count is dropping gradually...

Happy Easter!

I’d like to wish all of my readers a very Happy Easter, as we remember the unique and defining moment in human history, for many reasons.



01 April 2012

TacOps AAR Part 15: What's the collective noun for anti-tank fire?

0950 to 0959


This turn started with a bout of vehicles blowing up – in my case with four AAV7s going down to some 2k plus range fire from Coyote’s Spandrels and two of his BRDMs being written off by the infantry squad in square 0901, who were certainly going out with style. This was followed up by an intense vehicle shootout in the north of the map as an M1 platoon went all guns blazing at a large mass of vehicles and did well, while a lucky Red artillery strike on 0701 inflicted several casualties on one of my southern unit groups – a follow-up strike eliminating several squads.


0952 saw one of the most impressive bouts of anti-tank attackery in the entire match as another Spandrel unit took out an M1 section in one volley from half-way across the map.


This period was definitely intense – with the rattle of assault rifle and machine gun fire heard across the map, generally making move resolution arguably lengthy and tedious. Artillery fire showed our relative knowledge of each other well – Red was engaging in effective counter-battery fires, while I was just blasting away at pretty much anything I could see, with a priority on mechanised units. This is not to say that I wasn’t having success in this - as OPFOR’s first units to cross 05 Easting got themselves wiped out to a man by a combination of AT and artillery fire – he didn’t get any more across until 095945.


My thin blue line was slowly being eroded and bypassed, but they were giving a good account of themselves – with several enemy units being taken down as they advanced. The centre of his attack was taking heavy casualties and Coyote diverted forces to the south as I wasn’t giving it the attention that he wanted me to.


0956 and 0957 were bloody – Red’s artillery was getting increasingly accurate and focussed on the Javelin units in 0404, which had contributed a lot to the attack on the northern units that, like the rest of his forces, were moving slowly but surely west. Also, much of my on-map artillery was either gone or suppressed.


I’d gotten some air support back at this point and launched an airstrike at 0958, but the zone was too hot and the strike was aborted. Pity, that bomb could have done a lot of damage.


As 1000 arrived, the overall scores were as follows:


Time Left: 60 minutes

Mission results:

    Blue - ABCDE Accomplished

    Red -

    Red exit % - 0

Point results:

    Blue Attrition Points - 9347

    Red Attrition Points - 21650



Red had roughly eight clicks to go – but his work was almost done.


Palm Sunday 2012

Two years ago, I did a series on Holy Week - here's my Palm Sunday entry.

One further addition to that - picked up today - if people were willing to have their coats trampled by a donkey for Jesus, then they must have clearly loved him. Who of us here has ever done that for someone who isn't a head of state or our significant other - if at all?