28 July 2014

'Fringe' 1.5: "Power Hungry"

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

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

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


25 July 2014

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

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

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

The 15th novel in the 73-book series, The Scarlet Empress was the second published DW work by prolific writer Paul Magrs (after a short story, also featuring Wildthyme, in the first Short Trips anthology[1]) who would later write the strange Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This is just as strange.
Where we're at
This is the early part of the Eighth Doctor's history; here he's travelling with the book-only companion Samantha 'Sam' Jones, a blonde, spiky woman from modern Earth... he likes those a lot, doesn't here.

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

What works
  • Iris Wildthyme a gin-soaked old lady who travels through the vortex in a double-decker bus that is smaller on the inside than out and is even dodgier than the TARDIS, is an enjoyable character with a lot going for her. She's also clearly a huge fibber, claiming adventures that we know the Doctor had. She also has a key weakness that is important to the plot.
    • It's worth pointing out that this is not the Katy Manning incarnation of the character; it's an earlier version, which I only found out about from TARDIS Data Core; this is the 'Beryl Reid' version, which works just as well.
  • Eight is well written and gets some good moments throughout the story.
  • There are some good meta-fictional discussions here, which the last owner happily pointed out.
  • There is definitely some strange and at times disturbing imagery; a trance with the seven previous Doctors' heads on spikes for example... as well as some bears who shave themselves and the heavily tattooed Scarlet Guards... who can meet a horrible fate.
What doesn't
  • Sam isn't a hugely impressive character; she has her moments, but there are far better out there.
  • The book itself is a bit hard to follow and the plot isn't always entirely clear.
  • The large number of past references can be a bit excessive... and suddenly going into first person mode for characters is a bit jarring.
An enjoyable tale with some very unusual imagery... but not one I'd read again in a hurry.
[1]A different version of Wildthyme appears in some non-Who novels by Magr.

18 July 2014


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

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

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

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

13 July 2014


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

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

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

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