Reality is the playground of the unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, the Supernatural, Swords, Sorcery, and Star Stuff

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Winter of Who...

With October knocking at our door tomorrow, so begins the great winter of Doctor Who, which will end with the death of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and see his rebirth as Matt Smith's 11th Doctor.

A special edition of Doctor Who Monthly is published on October 1, concentrating on The Doctor's most memorable and loyal companion - Sarah Jane Smith.

This is then followed, two weeks later, on October 15 by the launch of the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures on BBC1, which in turn ties into the forthcoming six-part online animation Dreamland, featuring David Tennant's Doctor.

October 15 also sees the simultaneous release of both the new issue of Doctor Who Monthly and the next issue of the Official Torchwood magazine.

The Doctor's cartoon adventures in Roswell, New Mexico, lead into The Waters Of Mars, which is expected to air mid- to late November (around the same time that Cubicle 7 finally publishes its long-awaited Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space roleplaying game).

The Waters of Mars is the start of David Tennant's concluding trilogy of televisual adventures in the TARDIS, which then wrap up over the Christmas/New Year period with an epic two-part finale.

This will see the - no doubt tearful - exit of one of the most popular Doctors and his regeneration in his new look: Matt Smith.

According to Richard Curtis, the Four Weddings And A Funeral scriptwriter - who is penning an episode for next year's Doctor Who Season Five - Matt Smith's travels in the blue police box could begin as early as February.

This may have been a lean summer for Whovians, lifted only by the strength of Torchwood: Children Of Earth, but it looks like the drought is over and, once more, we're going to be inundated with brand new adventures in the Whoniverse.

Auton-Matic For The People...

The idea of a warehouse for storing recovered alien or supernatural artifacts is a simple one and ripe with storytelling possibilities.

It has featured in the Indiana Jones movies, is the central raison d'etre of television's new Warehouse 13 and even made it into the Whoniverse at the end of Season Two of The Sarah Jane Adventures - with UNIT's Black Archive.

In the cracking little 1997 adventure Auton, from independent film makers BBV, it is another UNIT warehouse (possibly even an antecedent of the Black Archive) that becomes the focus of the action when a bunch of stored Autons are accidentally reactivated and begin killing.

UNIT scientist Dr Sally Arnold (Bryonie Pritchard) is experimenting with an inert Nestene energy unit, when she unfortunately reactivates it; one colleague is killed in the subsequent explosion and, unknowingly, another is duplicated and becomes the "voice" of the Nestene Consciousness.

Dr Arnold calls in the UNIT Containment Team, but it's not long before they realise they are not dealing with an alien infection outbreak, but a gang of reawakened Auton dummies, brought back to life by the re-energised Consciousness.

The Containment Team is led by the enigmatic, but excellent, Bill Nighy-like Lockwood (Michael Wade) and his assistant, Dr Daniel Matthews (Reece Shearsmith, of The League of Gentleman).

Written and directed by Nicholas Briggs, now the voice of the daleks in the new Doctor Who and main man at Big Finish, Auton follows a very straight-forward plot that utilises two strong elements from the Doctor Who mythos (UNIT and the Autons) in a Thing/Alien pastiche of people trapped in a confined area with a monster.

Barring establishing shots at the beginning and end of the piece, the entirety of the action takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the warehouse.

A kind of sequel to Spearhead From Space, the hour-long film even manages a sly reference to 'the man' himself, when an important device is being discussed that was designed by "John Smith" (The Doctor's most common pseudonym).

The character of Lockwood was created by Nicholas Briggs as a last-minute replacement for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, as actor Nicholas Courtney was unavailable.

As much as I like The Brig, Lockwood is a fascinating character because - unlike The Brigadier - there's no automatic sense of bonhomie and trust. There's also something obviously out-of-the-ordinary about him as he demonstrates some kind of telepathy; the Nestene posing as warehouse archivist Winslet (George Telfer) even says Lockwood is "connected to something".

The first part of a trilogy, the resolution of Auton is not about UNIT's temporary triumph, but about Lockwood gaining a new 'recruit' on his team and opening the door for the next part of the tale.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Dalek Meets Its Match : A man from Bognor Regis, Sussex, has taken two years to build a life-sized dalek out of 480,000 matchsticks.

(2) Drawing Out Dru: A video interview with actress Juliet Landau about the Drusilla issues of the Angel comic, which she co-wrote.

(3) Buffy Baby: Sarah Michelle Gellar (aka Buffy Summers) and hubby Freddie Prinze Jnr have had a baby girl called Charlotte.

(4) Buffy - Season Nine: Joss Whedon confirms that once the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight comic book series from Dark Horse wraps up, a Season Nine will definitely follow.

(5) Dollhouse On Death Row Already: The second season of Dollhouse premiered in the States to the show's worst viewing figures to date.

(6) Heroes Down, Big Bang Up: The new season opener of Heroes tanks in the US, while Big Bang Theory rockets!

(7) HeroClix Returns With A Vengeance: The revitalised HeroClix line is relaunching with Marvel HeroClix: Hammer Of Thor.

(8) Elementary, My Dear Ianto: Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd joins Star Trek: Enterprise's Dominic Keating in Asylum's next direct-to-DVD mockbuster, Sherlock Holmes, which sees the venerable hero defending London from giant monsters!

(9) There Can Be Only One... More: The Highlander franchise is getting another chance at life thanks to Fast & Furious director Justin Lin and the scriptwriters of Iron Man, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.

(10) Two X-Projects In The Pipeline: X-Men franchise producer reveals plans for X4 (with the original cast from the earlier films) and New Mutants film, based on the Marvel comic book.

(11) Star Wars Tops Hit Parade: the music of the original Star Wars movie has been voted the best sci-fi film score by readers of Total Sci-Fi.

(12) Riding High: David Goyer is working on a Ghost Rider sequel, with the idea that Nic Cage will return to the lead role.

(13) Flying Again: Body horror auteur David Cronenberg is remaking his 1986 horror classic The Fly.

(14) There's Gold In Them Thar Fields: a haul of 1,500 gold artifacts has been unearthed in a Staffordshire field, the largest Anglo-Saxon treasure collection yet discovered in Britain.

(15) Water On The Moon: New data from the Moon suggests "a surprising amount" of water in the Lunar soil. Could be an important stepping stone to further space exploration.

(16) Ultramarines: A 70-minute, animated Warhammer 40,000 movie, Ultramarines, is being developed as a joint project between Games Workshop and Codex Pictures.

BREAKING NEWS - (17)
Primeval Lives! Time-travelling/dinosaur-hunting Primeval has been given a new lease of life by BBC America and UKTV, three months after it was axed by ITV for being too costly to produce.

Monday, 28 September 2009

One, Two, Freddy's Coming For You...


While, like the majority of film fans, I'm getting slightly sick of all the remakes coming out of Hollywood - especially of classic horror movies - here's one I'm genuinely excited about, as it's rebooting my favourite horror franchise: A Nightmare On Elm Street, due April 30, 2010.

Okay, so large portions of this trailer look as though they were lifted directly from the 1984 original, and I haven't got to used to Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger yet, but I've always been quite willing to cut Freddy some slack...

Top Of The Pile: Superman - Secret Origin #1

Do we need yet another retelling of the most famous origin story in superhero comics? Of course not.

But when the reteller is Geoff Johns, already my favourite writer at DC, and the artist Gary Frank, Johns' old partner from his popular run on Action Comics, how could I say no?

Clearly heavily influenced by John Byrne's seminal Man Of Steel series from 1986, which totally overhauled the generally wild and silly treatment Superman was getting at the time and brought one of DC's tentpole characters into the world of mature storytelling and decent continuity.

Johns has already mined Superman's rich mythology in the last few years (e.g. his reimagining of Brainiac and the Bottle City of Kandor - which, of course, led to the current 'New Krypton' predictament in the main Superman titles) and now it's his time to refine the accepted story of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman and nudge him into line with the ever-changing DC Universe (as he did with Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in 2005).

This first issue, although it tells us little new about the early years of Clark's life in Smallville with Ma and Pa Kent, still manages to homage the 1960s take on Superman's arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, by introducing him as a fellow Smallvillite - rather than dropping him into the story later as the Metropolis magnate.

Johns also introduces some nice touches about Clark's glasses and the design of the Superman costume.

Frank's delicate, detailed art gives the young Clark a definite air of 'Christopher Reeve', which is no bad thing as - to most of the world - Reeve was the actor who convinced us a man could fly and will always remain "the face of Superman" (despite the rapidly declining quality of the later films in the '70s/'80 movie franchise).

Although Clark is initially horrified by the revelation of his extraterrestrial origins, Johns wisely didn't saddle us with pages and pages (or even issues and issues) of Smallville-level moping and angst, that I had feared might be the direction he would be told to go.

By the end of this first issue, Clark is already wearing the famous costume... and Frank still manages to make him look like a wonderfully uncomfortable teen!

Superman: Secret Origins, issue one, is a clear demonstration of Johns' writing prowess that he can take an origin we all know so well and, without totally tearing its guts out, still present it in a way that makes it feel fresh and new.

It's a reassuringly familiar story being retold by a couple of old masters, with a selection of their personal touches, and I, for one, feel safe and comfortable in the knowledge that they're not going to let me down.

Bring on issue two and the Legion of Superheroes...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

DVD Of The Week: Franklyn (2008)

Every year I must see hundreds of trailers for films that I never hear of again, that don't even make it to the cinema and disappear into DVD purgatory.

At the start of this year I caught a dazzling and confusing trailer for Franklyn on the excellent movie site Quiet Earth, then saw and heard nothing more about the film until I stumbled across it in the HMV sale the other week (the same sale where I picked up Twilight).

A wonderfully odd and very British film, Franklyn takes place on two parallel worlds - modern day London and Meanwhile City, a dystopian Victorian-punk metropolis - telling the stories of four seemingly unconnected individuals.

In Meanwhile City, a place where everyone must have a religion, a godless masked vigilante operates, Preest (Ryan Phillippe). Released from prison after four years he is determined to track down and kill The Individual, the mysterious leader of one of the city's many cults.

In London, though, a more mundane kitchen sink melodrama is unfolding.

Milo (Sam Riley) has been jilted at the altar and keeps chasing after a partially-glimpsed woman he believes is his childhood sweetheart and first love; Emilia (Eva Green) is a suicidal student who makes her increasingly reckless self-harming into video art projects; and Peter (Bernard Hill) has come to the city to try and find his missing son - an Iraq war veteran he believes is living rough on the streets.

The film is in no hurry to tell you what's going on, and it's a good hour before strange elements start to appear in the "real world" portion of events.

Franklyn's central theme is faith, belief and delusion but it is only as the third act draws near and the connection between the worlds is established, that you begin to suspect that maybe certain characters may actually be angels (or some similar creation; people who appear when you really need help and guide you in the right direction).

Written and directed by Gerald McMorrow, his only major movie project to date (he wrote and directed a short in 2002 called Thespian X), it is difficult to say too much about the tightly plotted story without giving too much away.

Although Ryan Phillippe brings a certain element of Rorschach to his masked persona, all the core performances are outstanding in Franklyn.

The movie boasts a supporting cast that includes the likes of Susannah York and Richard Coyle, but the most memorable turn is certainly Eva Green as the Goth artist with a death wish. She dominates every scene she is in with her wild intensity - reminiscent of her role in The Golden Compass, but having far more to work with.

All the disparate story threads tie together in the end, thanks to the intercession of certain 'supernatural' (for want of a better phrase) forces for an unexpected, but ultimately optimistic, ending.

Even by the time the final credits roll, don't expect to have been spoon-fed explanations; while plenty becomes clear in the telling, the details and connections are left to your own creative imaginations.

The soundbite on the DVD cover describes it as "if The Matrix Met Donnie Darko", but I'd say a closer comparison would be a combination of Dark City and Twin Peaks, because Franklyn avoids the superficiality and pseudo-pretension of the former pairing and maximises the intelligence and creativity of the latter.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Merlin: The Once And Future Queen


The prospect of a Gwen-centric episode, ascertained from the episode title, filled me with a certain degree of trepidation, but ultimately Angel Coulby - Gwen - was one of the shining lights in this sorry affair.

By giving her a larger role, the actress made me realise I had judged her too harshly in earlier stories because she had never been given room to grow into the role and actually "act".

The Once And Future Queen began as a two-pronged story; Prince Arthur (Bradley James) realised his knights were "cutting him some slack" when jousting, because of who he was, and so decided to "go undercover" and enter the next tournament in disguise.

Meanwhile King Odin (Fintan McKeown), who we have never seen or heard of before, had hired a dreaded assassin, Myror (Adrian Lester), to murder Arthur in revenge for the prince killing his own son in a duel.

Eventually, obviously, the disparate threads meshed as they both revolved around Arthur, but before that could happen the young prince, staying in Gwen's house to maintain his disguise, had to learn "humility" by experiencing some of Gwen and Merlin's life outside of his pampered castle lifestyle.

This actually looked for a long while as though it was going somewhere, with both Angel Coulby and Bradley James putting in their series-best performances, as respect and then romance began to blossom between the future husband and wife.

Unfortunately, right at the last moment, writer Howard Overman had to have Arthur press the massive "reset" switch, telling Gwen that just because they kissed didn't mean anything could happen again between them because his father wouldn't understand.

This means it's pretty safe to say that this sub-plot certainly won't rear its head again - much like the other fragments of the "real" Arthurian mythos that have leaked in for single episodes and then are never referred to again.

But that wasn't Overman's worst script crime - firstly, he decided to equip the assassin with an arsenal of anachronistic weaponry (my favourite being the spring-loaded lance that he had somehow concealed on his person).

Then, for no logical reason, he made this "great assassin" Myror disguise himself as a knight and face Arthur in a joust (with the spring-loaded lance that had magically appeared!); instead of stabbing/shooting Arthur in the back when he wasn't wearing plate armour over a chainmail vest... like a proper assassin would do, don't you think?

And let's not even mention Myror's Spider-Man-like wall-climbing demonstration up the side of the castle.

I realise Merlin is a fantasy, and it's not a historical representation of any particular period of our feudal history (which is why I can forgive him the snazzy crossbows; fit to grace any Dungeons And Dragons adventurer's equipment list), but the stories still have to make sense and this didn't.

One can only suspend disbelief so far, but the idea of legendary assassin - a master of stealth and murder from the shadows - deciding to face the kingdom's foremost jouster in a tournament, while the target is fully armoured, is plain and simple nonsense.

And it's such a shame, because I really thought the series might have turned a corner by introducing the romantic connection between Gwen and Arthur, it certainly brought out the best in both actors, but eventually even that got thrown away.

Next week:

Let Zygons Be Zygons...

Zygon: When Being You Just Isn't Enough is not the Doctor Who you watched as a child or even the Doctor Who you now watch on television and DVD.

If anything, it's closest to a story from the first season of Torchwood.

Through the subtleties of English copyright law, independent film company BBV obtained the rights to a variety of Doctor Who monsters and characters - either directly from their creators or, in some cases, the BBC ; but were never actually allowed to come out and say that these videos (now DVDs) and audios were in any way associated with Doctor Who.

Although everyone knew they were...

These were the Dark Days of Doctor Who, post-Survival, when the show had been off the air for years, with no, apparent hope of ever returning.

All were very family-friendly, as far as I can tell; as die-hard fans of the show BBV knew their target audience, which makes Zygon - their last video production in 2007 - a bit of an oddity.

As you can clearly tell from the (slightly censored) DVD cover shot,there is a lot of nakedness (both male and female) in the hour-long story. The back of the box is less subtle with three clear pictures of nude men and women .

It's actually a bit of a shame that that was the easy angle BBV went with to sell the film on. Yes, there is plenty of man- and lady-bits on display, but it's all very casual and there certainly isn't any graphic sex, and it's really only a minor part of the film.

The story opens with electrician Mike Kirkwood (Daniel Harcourt) visiting his psychiatrist Lauren Anderson (Jo Castleton) - a character who appeared in an earlier BBV film, Cyberon.

Mike has been having vivid dreams about being a shape-changing alien called a zygon and he wants Lauren to reassure him that he's really just a normal guy.

Unfortunately, as she soon finds out after being hassled by the thuggish Bob Calhoun (Keith Drinkel) who wants her to help Mike "remember", he really is a zygon.

Mike is actually Zygon Commander Kritakh and Bob is his associate, Torlakh. The pair have been on Earth for 20 years and Mike has somehow lost his memory and now believes he is human.

Bob - a wanted murderer - needs Mike to get his memories back so they can continue their mission (sabotaging power plants to increase the amount of pollution in the atmosphere, to make Earth a suitable home for a zygon invasion fleet).

To speed up the process, Bob somehow grants Lauren a portion of his alien power, so they are mentally-linked and she can shapechange as well - a glorious head-rush of power that makes her indulge her suppressed hedonistic desires (which mainly revolve around shopping and nudity) before succumbing to guilt over what she has done.

Many levels up from a fan film, Zygon is a competent, if low-budget, science-fiction thriller, with an engaging trio of central characters, whose increasingly complicated lives you can't help but get caught up in.

Producer/Director Bill Baggs wisely limits the special effects, making them minimalisticly effective in the process, and restricts full-on exposure to a zygon in its true alien form to a single, brief scene.

In trying to be a complex study of identity theft (not in the straight-forward, stolen credit card sense) and desire, the narrative occasionally skips a beat but stays on target more often that not.

Zygon
poses some surprisingly big questions and manages to tell a good story in the Doctor Who universe about the "everyday" lives of one of his most iconic, second-string monsters.

Having only starred in a single television adventure, Terror Of The Zygons, their natural appearance was so dramatic that they remain some of the most recognisable creations in the Whoniverse Rogues' Gallery (outside of the A-Listers, like daleks, cybermen, sontarans, autons etc).

David Tennant has even said they are his favourite monsters from the show!

If nothing else, Zygon proves there is enough versatility in the aliens to tell "human" stories and to warrant a return in the new iteration of Doctor Who... but probably with less harsh language and exposed flesh!

Unless, they pop up in Torchwood, of course, then all bets are off...

[NB. Zygon action figure available from Forbidden Planet]

Friday, 25 September 2009

Doctor Who: The Aztecs (1964)

After the disappointment of The Keys Of Marinus, the BBC was playing to its strengths with its next story, a sumptuous historical costume drama: The Aztecs.

The TARDIS lands inside an Aztec tomb in 15th Century Mexico and Barbara is mistaken for the reincarnated spirit of the dead high priest Yetaxa.

The First Doctor, Ian and Susan are assumed to be her servants, but when Barbara learns of a human sacrifice to be made in her honour to summon rains to break the current drought she sees it as a chance to use her position to change the Aztec's ways.

The Doctor is horrified - stressing that "not one line" of history can be rewritten - but this doesn't stop Barbara from interceding in the sacrifice.

High Priest Tlotoxl (John Ringham, who hams his role up wonderfully, as though he is in a Grammar School production of Shakespeare, complete with sneering asides to the audience) starts to doubt Barbara's credentials as a minor deity and so begins a Machiavellian power struggle as various priests vie to prove or disprove her divinity, while The Doctor attempts to find a way back to The TARDIS (sealed behind a one-way secret door in the temple).

For those who thought The Doctor's love life was an invention of the Russell T Davies era, look no further than his wooing of Cameca (Margot Van de Burgh) in this story. The rogue spots her the moment he is led to the "Garden Of Rest" - for city residents over the age of 52 - and homes in on her so he can work his charms; the old dog!

However this charm rapidly turns to heartache when, having "accidentally" gotten engaged to Cameca, she realises that The Doctor will have to leave soon. He seems genuinely moved that he will be leaving her behind and even appears to consider taking her with him, but time is against them.

With Ian having convinced Barbara that she cannot change the mindset of a nation, the TARDIS crew direct all their efforts toward finding an escape before one or more of them become sacrifices to the gods.

How different things would have been if Cameca - as a potentail wife for The Doctor - had been allowed to travel away with the others...

Although not unpopular, the historical stories were gradually phased out of Doctor Who - the science-fiction stories were always the real ratings winners - to be replaced by the pseudo-historical tales which invariably feature some alien interference with Earth's history and The Doctor's efforts to ensure things stay on course and "not one line" of history is rewritten (well, give or take a few minor exceptions... he is The Doctor, after all).

Doctor Who: The Keys Of Marinus (1964)

When Doctor Who began on British TV back in 1963, the stories alternated between Earth-based historical yarns and futuristic, science-fiction fare.

However, the popularity of The Daleks meant there was a demand for more sci-fi stories and thus the father of the daleks, Terry Nation, rushed out The Keys Of Marinus in just four weeks... and it shows.

Starting on the very poetic island of glass in a sea of acid, I had high hopes that this would be a triumph of the imagination over budgetary limitations.

Sadly, I was wrong.

An episodic treasure hunt - the type of thing that would later become a staple of Dungeons & Dragons adventures, video games and cheesy fantasy films - with each episode being a new "quest", The Keys Of Marinus is further hampered by a slew of dodgy props (the ping-pong ball eyeballs on the brains in jars, for instance), klunky dialogue and padding.

Arriving on the planet Marinus, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are quickly shanghaied into tracking down the four hidden key elements of the planet's defence system, which has the power to control the minds of everyone on the planet and thus eliminate war, crime etc

It had been disabled when the enemy Voords found a way to resist the mind control device, and now they are trying to obtain it for their own ends.

Arbitan (George Coulouris), guardian of the Conscience of Marinus, the 2,000-year-old computer system, believes he has modified the machine so that it will now be able to stop the Voord - but he needs the "keys" to reactivate it.

The Doctor's plan to split the party, after their first adventure in the City of Morphoton, is totally bonkers and illogical and is there purely to justify William Hartnell's absence from the next two episodes (he was on holiday!).

Marinus, like Flash Gordon's Mongo, is a series of unconnected city-states, each with totally different inhabitants and traits, resulting in a series of quests dotted with a jumble of nonsensical and unexplained tricks and traps.

The plot rapidly degenerates into a tangle of contrivances and logic leaps that ultimately makes the resolution of the conflict with the frog-suited Voord almost an afterthought (look out, though, for the Voord tripping over his own flippers in the final episode!).

Individually, each mini-adventure has the potential to have been quite exciting, but each is dismissed in a single episode and never allowed to fully develop.

Sadly, The Keys Of Marinus is one of those black and white Doctor Who stories that hasn't aged well, and at 145 minute duration (six episodes), the randomness of it all can get quite irritating at times.

And Susan and Barbara scream... a lot!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

What's Bubbling In The Vortex...

With the release of Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space roleplaying game still about two months away, I've started to mull over some ideas for a campaign with The Tuesday Knights next year.

Nothing is set in stone yet, as I want to read the game first and see what ideas that sparks, but the three campaign formats I'm currently considering are:

(a) A Team Of Investigators For The Shadow Proclamation: Although The Shadow Proclamation turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax when they finally appeared in The Stolen Earth (a couple of albinos hanging around in an office foyer), I still liked the idea of the organisation that Russell T Davies had been foreshadowing (pun unavoidable) throughout the new life of Doctor Who.

Tony Lee has also done a bit of work fleshing out The Shadow Proclamation in recent issues of the on-going Doctor Who comic, which I'd mine for nuggets as well, and I liked the idea of the team being able to call upon a strong-arm, brute squad of Judoon if a case required it.

The strength, and possible weakness, of this set-up is that it would mean the players could be "assigned" a task every game session.

(b) Members of An Earth-Based Organisation: If the players are members of UNIT or a branch of Torchwood, that has the advantage of immediate familiarity and accessibility, but I worry that - given the game's potential scope - limiting the players to present-day Earth might, ultimately, be a bit frustrating. It might also, eventually, become slightly contrived if the players are having to deal with the "alien-invasion-of-the-week" syndrome.

(c) A Time Lord And His/Her Companions: The classic Doctor Who set-up that has worked for almost 50 years on television. While this seems the most obvious arrangement, and I'd probably opt for Clare playing the Time Lord (Lady?) and Nick and Pete her companions, a lot depends on how the game handles the power differences between Gallifreyan Time Lords and mere mortals.

Although it is not the style of the show, I don't want to replicate the Buffy The Vampire Slayer situation where the supercharged Slayer excels in everything while her Scoobie Gang just hang around in the background talking amongst themselves - unable even to punch out a vampire!

I'm sure this has been taken into consideration - it is rather core to the game - but, like I said, I want to see how it is handled mechanically before electing to take this route.

I've also been thinking about "casting" the Time Lord and my favourite English performers for the role at the moment are:

Stephen Fry

Derren Brown

Alan Davies

Of course, if we go for this option, the final decision will be down to The Tuesday Knights, and if Clare takes control of the keys to the TARDIS we might even see a a Time Lady as the headliner of the show, with a gaggle of male companions.

These are all very early stage ideas, and I have to confess that my favourite is currently the "investigators for The Shadow Proclamation", but I haven't even discussed any of this with my players yet.

I'm also open to ideas and suggestions from HeroPress readers, naturally, and am basically testing the waters at present as we await the arrival of the glorious box set that will (hopefully) be the future of roleplaying... for myself and The Tuesday Knights at least!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Doctor Who: The Tribe Of Gum (1963)

Picking up from the end of An Unearthly Child, with the TARDIS and its passengers back in Earth's Stone Age, The Tribe Of Gum focuses on the fight for supremecy within a nearby caveman tribe as Za (Derek Newark), son of the previous Great Firemaker, and newcomer Kal (Jeremy Young) vie to be the first to bring "fire" back to their tribe.

Kal ambushes The Doctor as he goes to light his pipe and takes him back to the tribe with stories of 'fire coming from the man's fingers' and him 'breathing smoke'.

Ian, Barbara and Susan follow Kal's trail to the tribe and rush in to try and rescue The Doctor... and end up prisoners!

The tribe's Old Woman (Eileen Way) fears change and, in particular, fire and so frees the prisoners - on the condition that they leave.

While, The Tribe Of Gum isn't exactly the blockbuster of excitement we might expect for the first story of a new series, it is peppered with some lovely dialogue (such as Kal describing The TARDIS as a 'tree' because that's the only frame of reference he would have had) and interesting character work, such as The Doctor's initial reticence about having anything to do with Ian and Barbara.

He is actually very dismissive and condescending about both his new shipmates and the primitive inhabitants of Paleolithic Earth.

When Ian, Barbara and Susan save Za from a savage beast attack, for a moment it looks as though The Doctor is going to smash his skull in with a stone rather than get involved with "the savages" and it is only Ian's intervention that prevents The Doctor from committing murder.

Poor Susan, on the other hand, despite her initial heroics by attacking one of the cavemen in an attempt to rescue her Grandfather, is mainly there to scream at the slightest surprise or misfortune, while Barbara, again having started quite solidly, rapidly goes to pieces as the full impact of the situation dawns on her.

The Doctor himself - unlike future incarnations - is physically weak and lacking in stamina and it's up to Ian to be the group's muscle and the glue that holds them together (although he, at first, unlike Barbara, doesn't believe The Doctor and Susan's claims that The TARDIS has brought them back in time).

Beyond this merry-go-round of escape and recapture, not much actually happens in The Tribe Of Gum - there's a protracted fight between Za and Kal, a lot of sitting around and a quite a bit of running, all of which feels like padding to modern sensibilities.

The most interesting aspect of the story, besides The Doctor's various quirks, is the emphasis on the malfunctions of The TARDIS, particularly its sudden inability to not change shape (Susan says it had previously been a "pillar and a sedan chair") or go where The Doctor wants.

Of course, it is this unreliable navigation that lands the time travellers in their next, landmark, adventure by taking them to Skaro: the blasted home world of the daleks!

Your Favourite Feline...

The votes are in, the catfight is over and the readers of HeroPress have decided that the definitive, live-action, portrayal of Catwoman is Julie Newmar from the original 1966 Batman TV series, with a staggering 50 per cent of the votes.

From the get-go, it was a two-horse race between Newmar, who is appearing with fellow Batman alumni Adam West and Burt Ward at the inaugural Anaheim Comic Con early next year, and Michelle Pfeiffer, from Tim Burton's 1992 Batman Returns.

Up until last night, Pfeiffer - who eventually netted 43 per cent of the votes - and Newmar were tied in the polls but a last minute rally by old school Julie Newmar fans finally clinched victory.

Way behind these two, TV's Eartha Kitt polled four per cent, Halle Berry, from the 2004 Catwoman movie, managed two per cent and poor Lee Meriwether, from the old Adam West Batman TV movie, got no votes.

As always I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to vote and leave comments and I look forward to your input in the next HeroPress opinion poll.

DVD Of The Week: Twilight (2008)

I realise I'm in danger of losing a large chunk of whatever little geek cred I had in the first place, but I have to confess that I thought Twilight was pretty good.

All the raging controversy and backlash across the interwebs had piqued my interest in this film, which probably would have passed under my radar normally as "a kid's film".

And that's what it is: a 12-certificate (in the UK) child-friendly vampire love story.

I'd been thinking of renting it from Blockbusters for ages, but then came across a copy in the HMV sale the other day for little more than it would have cost me to rent it for just one night.

If you're a hardcore vampire nut I can see there's a lot to dislike in it, but this film isn't really for you... it's for teen girls and emo boys who aren't old enough for the blood and guts of a real vampire film (or True Blood).

There's actually a surprising amount going for Twilight, anchored as it is around the two strong central performances of the young lovers Bella (Kristen Stewart) and brooding 'vegetarian' vampire (like Count Duckula), Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).

When her mum decides to go "on the road" with her new baseball-playing hubby, Bella moves from sunny Arizona to the dull and overcast small town of Forks, Washington, to be with her dad, the town's chief of police.

Starting at a new school, she quickly befriends a decent group of people but is drawn towards the mysterious outsider Edward Cullen - and his clique of equally pale and insular fellow Cullens (all adopted children of a local surgeon).

Edward, initially, appears to spurn Bella, but she eventually discovers this is because he is afraid of losing control of his animalistic, murderous vampire nature. He is drawn to her because, while he is a telepath, he is unable to read her thoughts - an obvious reversal of the Sookie-Bill dynamic in True Blood (the first Sookie Stackhouse novel was published four years before the first Twilight book hit the shelves in 2005).

The central human/vampire romance however is convincing and develops at a believable pace, although Bella's decision to not run screaming for the hills when she discovers Edward is a blood-sucking vampire definitely smacks of hormones overruling the head.

All is going smoothly, with Bella and the secret family of vamps, until a murderous trio of hostile vampires breeze into town and start feeding on the locals - much to the annoyance of Edward's kin.

If you can get round the fact that vampires are, for all intents and purposes, serial killers and mythological bogeymen, and this film - and presumably the books they were based on - has stripped them of all their traditional weaknesses and turned them into unstoppable, Michael Jackson-pale, brooding superhumans.

There's none of this 'needing to invite them into your house', 'keep them away from mirrors' malarky and forget about sunlight making them burst into flames, all it does in the Twilightverse is make vamps "sparkle" (and supposedly more attractive to humans)... which is pretty lame.

All power and no weaknesses makes the vampire lifestyle of Twilight rather appealing though and Edward's whining to Bella that he is a "monster" and that she shouldn't dream of becoming like him seems rather hypocritical as the way vamps are set up here there doesn't appear to be any drawbacks to getting your fang on.

But this gratuitous disregard for vampire tradition aside, Twilight is a surprisingly inventive, interesting and engaging teen movie.

To be honest it's probably easier to stomach if you pretend they are saying "demon" or some other monster whenever anyone uses the word "vampire".

It's quite simply done - they don't even appear to have fangs, anyway!

The first half-hour or so of the movie, in particular, in the build-up to Bella discovering Edward's secret is very engrossing and even once the romance blooms it's nowhere near as sickly and insipid as I feared.

Later on there's a great pivotal scene where Bella joins Edward and his family playing baseball in a thunderstorm, which was not only visually interesting but also sets up the moment when the "good" vampires cross paths with the "evil, trouble-making" vampires and spark off the final act conflict.

I'd say if you've been wavering about seeing this, go in with an open mind and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Twilight basically removes the whole "creature of the night" aspect of vampires; cherrypicking random traits and ideas from a variety of other sources and downplays the more horrific elements to warrant the low age certificate.

It's not great cinema or even wholly original but, as a different spin on the 'vampire' archetype, I enjoyed it for what it was and I think, if you give it a chance and can forget about other vampire representations in the media for a couple of hours, so will you.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...



(1) One, Two, Freddy's Coming For You...: Filming has begun on the definitive Nightmare On Elm Street documentary, Never Sleep Again, which is due for release next year.

(2) Chicks Dig Time Lords: Mad Norwegian Press is publishing Chicks Dig Time Lords in March next year, a collection of essays on Doctor Who with a female perspective - including input from Whoniverse stalwarts like Sophie 'Ace' Aldred, India 'Charley' Fisher and Lisa 'Benny' Bowerman.

(3) Past Is Prologue: There are 42 complete Classic Doctor Who stories yet to be released on DVD and The Daily P.O.P. plans to review (or is that preview?) all of these tales ahead of their eventual release.

(4) Book Of Mysterious Goodness: Artist Alex CF is releasing a monograph collecting his Lovecraftian/steampunk/horror-themed projects to date. Everyone needs a copy of this book!

(5) HeroClix And HorrorClix Live Again: Toy firm National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has acquired the defunct Wizkids.

(6) Star Tours Upgrade: The brilliant Star Tours ride at Disneyland and Disney World, in America, is closing in October 2010, but opening again in 2011 with a more up-to-date format.

(7) Harrison's Ready To Crack That Whip: Harrison Ford says he's ready for the fifth Indiana Jones film, provided "the script is good".

(8) Don't Be An Idiothole: As an addendum to my own comments on the superb Adam & Joe Show, a fellow fan has produced a very useful guide to everything you need to know about the funniest podcast/radio show on the BBC and its hosts.

(9) Hogwarts On The Horizon: Plans have been unveiled for the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter attraction to open at Universal Orlando Resort in the spring of 2010.

(10) Pop Goes The Wizard: Dungeons & Dragons-themed soft drinks! Really...

(11) Vampires Take Over: Derek Gunn's acclaimed Vampire Apocalypse novels, about Earth under vampire domination, are to be adapted as graphic novels by New Baby Productions.

(12) Night Of The 3D Dead: George Romero's seminal Night Of The Living Dead is being remade in 3D and CGI. It sounds awful and probably won't get anywhere, but you've been warned...

(13) Crisis On Two Earths: Next year's Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths direct-to-DVD film is teased on the forthcoming Superman/Batman: Public Enemies animated movie.

(14) Get Inside Cubicle 7: Read an online interview with the heads of British games company Cubicle 7, Angus and Dominic.

(15) Tiny Rex: Three metre dinosaur found in China, which predate the famous T Rex by 60 million years, turns out to be the genetic "missing link" to its mighty descendant.

(16) The Force Is Strong In Tesco: Head of the "Jedi Church" is asked to leave a Tesco store because he refused to remove his hood - claiming it was part of his religion!

(17) Dr Horrible Hijack: Another chance to see Dr Horrible 'hijack' the broadcast of The Emmys.

(18) Lucie Bows Out: The hugely popular character of Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) is leaving the TARDIS in the first episode of the 8th Doctor's fourth season of original Doctor Who audio plays from Big Finish. Perhaps she may, one day, appear in the television show?

Monday, 21 September 2009

If It Moves, Model It...



It has been four years since Rachel and I last attended the Southern Model Air Show at the Hop Farm in Paddock Wood (home also to the annual War & Peace Show), but it had certainly grown during those years.

To call it simply a 'model aircraft show' is a bit of a misnomer as there are static displays, and water tanks, for model boats; another area for radio controlled car stunt demonstrations and a tent for dolls house-scale caravans (complete with occupants) and life-sized, mobile daleks!

We split our time between watching the aerial performances, which culminated in the simulated bombing run in the video above, and wandering around the numerous trade tents and other model zones.

A selection of pictures can be found here.

One of the highlights of the day, of course, was the wonderful display of daleks - which, apparently, do a lot of charity work!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Top Of The Pile: Faction Paradox #2

Don't you just hate "market forces" and the fact that some comics live and some die just on the whim of a fickle public?

Faction Paradox issue two was the last of this line from Image, killed before its time due to low sales, yet in just two issues Lawrence Miles had introduced readers to more fresh and fantastic ideas than some mainstream comics have in their entire, lengthy runs.

He scatters innovations through his work like rose petals before a blushing bride, drawing easy comparisons with Grant Morrison's mind-boggling Invisibles - although there are more differences than similarities between the two titles and one is certainly not a pale imitation of the other.

Who knows, maybe with the current resurgence of interest in all things Doctor Who a forward-thinking comic book company like IDW (which, of course, publishes the brilliant on-going Doctor Who series, various one-shots, mini-series and Classic reprints) might pick up the line and allow Miles to finish his masterplan.

Issue two opens with with a beautiful explanation of how Faction Paradox created their "Eleven Day Empire", by striking a deal with the British government of 1752 to purchase the days that would be lost when the nation's calendar was brought in line with the rest of Europe, then moves
swiftly to pick up the action from the end of the last issue.

There are multiple threads running through the story as different parties pursue their own agendas in the court of George III, using magic, murder and misdirection to their own ends.

As before there are another six beautifully illustrated text pages giving further insight on the universe of Faction Paradox, all - like the strip itself - bubbling over with remarkable creations and hints of subterfuge going on 'behind the scenes' on both a human and cosmic scale.

These two issues, sadly bereft of a conclusion, have virtually overloaded my brain with images and concepts that I can't wait to now explore in Miles' Faction Paradox novels, but I'd still like, one day, to see this comic book brought back to life under the mighty creative team of Lawrence Miles and artists Jim Calafiore and Peter Palmiotti.

As much as I normally love my brightly costumed superheroes, if I had to make a choice between the two genres - at gunpoint, obviously - I'd take a new issue of Faction Paradox every time.

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (1963)

This week I showed Rachel the very first episode of Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child - to gauge her opinion of what I regard as one of the single, finest episodes of science-fiction ever screened.

I'm pleased to report that she enjoyed it; her only problems were the graininess of the image (well, it was filmed in 1963) and she couldn't accept Susan (Carole Ann Ford) as a 15-year-old. Rachel said: "She looked more like 30!"

Could anyone have imagined, when this episode was first screened 46 years ago, the infinite possibilities for storytelling that were being opened up?

Kicking off with a pitch-perfect first episode helped Doctor Who hit the ground running, dropping hints about the mysterious genius schoolgirl, Susan, and her enigmatic Grandfather (William Hartnell) and posing many questions that - to this day - remain unanswered!

Coal Hill School teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), teachers of science and history respectively (the two subjects the series was initially most interested in), want to find out more about their star pupil and head to the address the school has for her.

It turns out to be a junkyard where they meet a strange, white-haired old man (The Doctor) who tries to drive them off and stop them poking around an old police box (where Ian thinks the man might be holding Susan prisoner!).

Instead Susan opens the door of the police box and the teachers walk in... to find themselves in the control room of the TARDIS... and nothing will ever be the same again, either for them or for the viewers.

How mind-blowing must it have been in 1963 to watch these people step through the doors of a 'normal' police box and find themselves in the vast, hi-tech expanse of a space and time ship?

William Hartnell's Doctor, at this stage, is still rather irascible and certainly doesn't appreciate the interference of two busybody teachers into his time on Earth (fixing the TARDIS and, we discover many years later, dealing with the Hand Of Omega).

Hence, his rather impetuous way of keeping his and Susan's secret - transporting the TARDIS away randomly, taking Ian and Barbara with them!

The TARDIS clearly isn't fully repaired as its first televised journey manages to knock Ian and Barbara unconscious and The Doctor and Susan appear rather strained by it as well.

They have travelled back to Earth's Stone Age and that is a story (called variously The Tribe Of Gum, 100,000BC, The Stone Age, The Cavemen etc) that I shall review later as I feel An Unearthly Child would suffer if lumped in with this subsequent, less-than-enthralling adventure.

Of course, the main thing is that Rachel didn't fall asleep or wander off while An Unearthly Child was playing and allowed me to explain to her why this one episode is so important - because without it we wouldn't have over 40 years of Doctor Who and all the books, CDs, magazines, action figures etc

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Merlin: The Curse Of Cornelius Sigan



Much to my surprise Merlin's back on our screens, with promises of a much improved season, possibly boosted by the arrival of a new servant at court in the form of scheming Cedric, played by none other than Mackenzie Crook, having jumped ship from the late lamented Demons.

Cedric is a thief masquerading as the obsequious servant to again access to Arthur's bedchamber where there are keys that will allow him to enter a recently unearthed tomb filled with treasure.

The Dungeons & Dragons tomb, complete with traps and treasure, is the final resting place of the great sorcerer Cornelius Sigan whose magic helped build Camelot, but was then sentenced to death because he had become too powerful and so cursed the place.

Having got into the vault, Cedric becomes possessed by the spirit of Sigan and animates all the gargoyles around the castle to attack the inhabitants.

What started off as a rather typical episode of Merlin gradually developed into a half-decent adventure yarn, especially when the 'transformed' Cedric was launching his attack on Camelot.

Another strong moment came when Merlin (Colin Morgan) had to strike a bargain with The Great Dragon (john Hurt) to earn the 'spell' that could defeat Sigan - a deal that will almost certainly come back to haunt him later.

However, the series still suffers under the need for the the dull bromance between Merlin and the annoying Prince Arthur (Bradley James) and pretty much ever time the annoyingly drippy Gwen (Angel Coulby) appears on screen - you can just feel the energy being sapped out of the room, shoulders sagging and limbs groaning as she 'blah blahs' through her lines.

Conversely, the show's strengths have also remained, from Anthony Head's superb turn as King Uther, and Richard Wilson as Gaius to Katie McGrath as Morgana.

The CGI monsters are still a bit of a mixed bag - the giant bear/boar thing that Arthur and his cronies were hunting wasn't a 100 per cent convincing, but the gargoyles - probably because they were filmed at night - were superb.

But there were definite signs of improvement over the previous season's very mediocre fare, so I'm starting to hold out hopes that, while this is very unlikely to ever develop into a great show, perhaps it will be able to hold its own as a half-decent one that will provide adequate dinnertime entertainment on Saturday evenings until we get Doctor Who back.

Top Of The Pile: Faction Paradox #1

At an age when young boys were reading Lord Of The Rings (often multiple times), I was getting stuck into Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy and the mind-blowing world of global conspiracy theories, secret societies and the reimagining of historical events.

This was just one more wild element that played into my ideas for our Villains & Vigilantes campaign - and eventually HeroPress itself - and I was forever scouring libraries for reference books on Adam Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati.

Sadly, post secondary school, that particular fascination became overwhelmed by all my other eccentric and varied 'areas of interest', but it's never been completely forgotten... and I still have my dog-eared copies of the three Illuminatus! books on my shelves.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to a more recent dalliance - over the last couple of years (since discovering the Magic Bullet audio drama CDs, purely by chance) - with Faction Paradox, which, on a very basic level, is Illuminatus-style conspiracies writ on a cosmic scale.

The CDs led me to Lawrence Miles' books and the original range of CDs (from BBV) and eventually the comic book series from Image, which sadly only lasted two issues (because the comic buying public of 2003 was as parochial and fickle as it is today).

Faction Paradox grew out of the BBC series of original Doctor Who novels and is way too complicated to try and explain here, but suffice it to say the concept took on a life of its own, eventually shedding direct references to The Doctor, Gallifrey and The Time Lords (it was a spin-off of a spin-off and has attracted a certain cult following).

The comic was supposed to be an ongoing series - and rather sadly Lawrence Miles (who not only created Faction Paradox, but penned the comics as well) has written a lengthy letter in the back of this premier issue seeded with a multitude of hints about his plans for a lengthy run with numerous storylines.

Issue one is really just an establishing issue, but complemented by the incredible pencils of Jim Calafiore and the inks of Peter Palmiotti, it throws the reader in at the deep end: the court of King George in London, 1774, and political manueverings of two Faction Paradox ambassadors (check out their amazing costumes) as they fend off off the machinations of the American delegate.

There's a bit of magic; talk of time travel, rituals, and using 'history' as a weapon; a strange creature in the cellars under Buckingham Palace; and an inquisitive maid servant, just to begin with.

Personally, I found it one of the most engrossing and enthralling comics I had read in a long while - making the series' abrupt tremination all the harder to come to terms with. Had it been a crock, I could have understood why Image pulled the plug, but its real quality, fascinating alternate history/speculative sci-fi/mysticism all rolled into one.

Who couldn't fall in love with the idea of Faction Paradox taking the 11 days that were "lost" when British calendars changed, to bring them in line with the rest of Europe, to create their Eleven Day Empire, a shadowy replica of London?

Backing up the main story (Political Animals) are six pages of 'period' text, superbly setting the scene, hinting at the background of Faction Paradox and the 'War In Heaven', examining some artifacts of the time and generally easing any newbies into the wild world of Faction Paradox.

Clearly this was a comic heaving with potential, well written and well illustrated, but presumably a bit too 'out there' for mainstream comic buyers.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Top Of The Pile: Justice League - Cry For Justice #3

While I am pleased now to be wrapped in the warm embrace of the DC Universe, having pretty much shut the door on Marvel, that doesn't mean to say that DC is going to get an easy ride from me.

After a couple of very shaky issues (for instance, well-known heroes seemingly acting out of character and shouting about "JUSTICE" ever other panel - and what was that bizarre, and rather inappropriate, talk of 'threesomes' in issue two?), I went into issue three of Cry For Justice with a heavy heart, expecting more of the same.

And initially it did feel like more of the same, like watching a slowly unfolding car crash in comic book form as the supposed heroes continued down the same path of character implosion we'd seen previously.

At that point it was only Mauro Cascioli's beautiful, dark, moody painted artwork that was keeping me hanging on.

But then suddenly, almost exactly halfway through the comic, everything changed. The focus switched from the heroes to the villain of the piece, Prometheus (a Grant Morrison era JLA adversary), and then James Robinson's much lauded writing prowess shone through.

Suddenly I was gripped; I wanted to know what this "anti-Batman" was up to, what he wanted all this technology for and what his masterplan was!

Suddenly it felt like we were reading a entirely different comic to the one where random superheroes had been flailing about blindly with no sense of direction.

Suddenly everything came together and it began to look as though Justice League: Cry For Justice may not be the lame duck it had originally appeared to be.

And at least the Green Lantern/Green Arrow breakaway League has some real big hitters in it (e.g. Atom, Captain Marvel, Supergirl, as well as its two 'founders'), unlike the mainstream Justice League at the moment. I couldn't see Plastic Man lasting very long in this surly crowd.

Morrison Under The Microscope...



This looks like a fascinating documentary about a fascinating man, Grant Morrison - one of the most innovative and inspirational comic book writers of my generation.

The film is coming out next year from Sequart in association with Respect! Films, and will be followed by a documentary on the history of the X-Men comics.

Both sound like "must have" DVDs for 2010.

[Thanks to The Daily P.O.P. for the heads-up about this.]

Dollhouse: I Like It!

I've been meaning to write about Dollhouse for some time now, especially as the first season is over and the second is just around the corner, but I was never exactly sure what to write.

First off, I have to say, that Fox - or whoever - seriously miss sold this series before it hit the airwaves. The series I saw advertised was certainly not the series I actually saw.

Before it aired in the UK, I had the distinct impression that it was some Alias-clone with Eliza Dushku uploading a different persona each week to save the world from bad guys or some such nonsense.

It certainly didn't appeal to me and I really thought Joss Whedon had dropped the ball on this one. To be honest I wasn't even going to watch it, and I actually missed the first run of the first episode and just recorded it on repeat on a whim "because it was Joss Whedon".

And I was hooked from that opening episode.

The first few do suffer from the "identity-of-the-week" syndrome, but there is so much more going on in the background that I let that slide.

For starters Eliza Dushku's Echo (aka Caroline) is not the protagonist of the story, that's FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, who played one of my favourite characters on Battlestar Galactica, Helo), who is trying to track down the missing Caroline and discover the truth behind the urban myth of the "Dollhouse".

The titular Dollhouse itself represents the show's antagonists - and it's one of the only times I can think that a TV serial has been named after the bad guys rather than the heroes.

The top dogs of the Dollhouse are all interesting, flawed characters, particularly head scientist Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), the jovial Joseph Mengele experimenting on his live subjects to test the limits of the human body and mind, justifying it to himself that it is for the "greater good"... but mainly because it is fun.

Then, at the other extreme, we have the "actives"/"the dolls" - people who've effectively sold themselves into slavery for five years to be used by the Dollhouse - who are blank canvases until Topher pours their latest "identity" into them.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for them? They did volunteer, after all. But then they have lost their free will and become automatons at the beck and call of the Dollhouse, and the shadowy corporation, Rossum, behind it.

In an unusual step the final episode of the first season, Epitaph One, jumped into the future and showed a post-apocalyptic world where Topher's imprinting technology has almost gained a life of its own, running wild through the populace and causing chaos and anarchy.

Of course, this isn't the actual end of the Dollhouse story arc, just a stopping-off point at some later stage - opening the door, as it did in the denouement, for new and different stories - but it certainly won't diminish the dramatic impact of any stories told between now and then.

As we know from all good, long-running, serial drama, many things can happen along any individual character's personal voyage through life and it's that journey - almost more than the end location - that makes for interesting story telling.

Dollhouse is certainly not the rehash of Firefly or Buffy The Vampire Slayer which I think some of Whedon's fans were hoping for; what it is is inventive, intelligent science-fiction storytelling.

It may have been slow taking off, and there are unlikely to be any musical episodes in the near future, but I think we're also safe to assume that it's not going to turn out that it was all "God's plan" (it still grates even now that Battlestar Galactica opted for that awful, awful explanation to tie-up all the random wierdness in their story... but I'm going off on one now).

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Wordle, Wordle, Wordle....

Inspired by the ever-excellent Darius Whiteplume, over at Adventures In Nerdliness, I've created a piece of "Wordle art" from entries on HeroPress.

I think the software only used recent entries because I certainly haven't mentioned Starro that much, but I guess I do write about The Doctor, Daleks and Time quite a bit. Hmmmm?

Book Of The Month: Time And Relative

Growing up as a casual Doctor Who fan I read a few of the Target novelisations, but was only vaguely aware - in later years - of the Virgin and BBC books that followed The Doctor's adventures once he was off our television screens.

In those days, Doctor Who was very much a visual thing to me and it is only lately that I have come to realise the true wealth and expanse of the literary Whoniverse.

Where better then to start a concentrated delve in to the wealth of Doctor Who fiction than with one of the most highly regarded (as far as I can find out) stories - Kim Newman's novella Time And Relative, from small press publisher Telos?

What particularly drew me to this story was that it was a First Doctor story set before the show's first actual episode, An Unearthly Child (one of my single favourite episodes of the show and which I intend to review shortly) and told from Susan's point-of-view in the form of a diary.

Where the story is at its strongest is when it gets inside Susan's head as she tries to work her way through the fog banks in her mind and remember details about her life before she and her Grandfather arrived on Earth in "the Box" (the word TARDIS is never used).

Both she and The Doctor have had memories erased and mental blocks put in place by the Time Lords, who, while she defends them, come across as very Orwellian in their totalitarian rulings.

Read now, in light of recent innovation in Doctor Who, Susan's adventure reads like an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures set in 1963, but those tales are always a positive, bonding experience for the youngsters involved; Susan and her friends - John and Gillian (no, not THAT John And Gillian) - all drift apart in the end, once they discover her 'secret', adding a level of poignancy that Susan's ultimate loneliness echoes that of her Grandfather.

One of Newman's other strengths is in capturing the voice of The First Doctor; he only reappears as an active participant in the proceedings towards the end of the book, but from the moment he starts talking you can hear William Hartnell's voice loud and clear.

However, he isn't quite The Doctor we know from the early years of the TV show just yet; it is this story - set during The Big Freeze of 1963 (but extending it for dramatic purposes to April, when really it came to an end in March) - that helps him shake off his Time Lord indoctrination/brainwashing and sets him on the path towards becoming the 'man' we know today.

The frozen atmosphere of London, 1963, hangs over everything in this book and the all-pervading thick snow is inescapable.

Providing you can get to grips with the idea that animated, killer snowmen would actually be quite terrifying then the simple story - effectively a journey from Coal Hill School to the junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane, where The Doctor is working on "the Box" - is very engrossing.

But Time And Relative's merit lies not in its action sequences, but in its character work - primarily fleshing out Susan, and then, by default, laying the groundwork for the character of The First Doctor to grow from.
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