Who Review: The Mutants

The Doctor is tinkering with the TARDIS, trying to get it working, when a capsule arrives from the Time Lords. This multi-faced container can only be opened by the intended recipient, so the Time Lords control the Doctor’s TARDIS to take him where he needs to go. Jo travels with the Doctor to a space station orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th century. There they encounter the Overlords, Earth colonists who rule the planet, but are on the verge of withdrawing. The security officer, known as the Marshal, opposes withdrawal, and conspires to have the Administrator from Earth assassinated as he is about to grant Solos independence. The Marshal takes command and accuses Ky, one of the Solonians attending the Ambassador’s speech, of murder. Caught up in the confusion, the Doctor and Jo run into Ky who activates the message capsule. The message is for him! But before they can do anything about it, Ky takes Jo hostage and escapes back to Solos. The Doctor, meanwhile, remains a guest of the Marshal and his chief scientist, who together plan to reconstitute the lethal atmosphere of Solos making it deadly to the native inhabitants, but friendly to humans. The Doctor needs to fulfill his mission from the Time Lords, but how can he as a prisoner of the Marshal? And how will he rescue Jo from the Solonian tribes, and the mutant creatures (“Mutts”) that roam the poisonous planet…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Bob Baker and Dave Martin return as writers for this six-part story. Once again, we see the production team trying to escape the confines of Earth-bound stories, this time having the Doctor play messenger boy for the Time Lords. It’s a bit of a flimsy premise for getting the Doctor away from 20th century Earth. There are many other Time Lords they could have used, least of all one who’s supposed to be serving time for interference. Perhaps they appreciate his tenacity and ingenuity, and are willing, therefore, to take the risk that he will do the job? I’m not 100% convinced, but it serves the purpose as a plot device.

On the whole, “The Mutants” is a good, solid story, with plenty of hot political topics running through, not least of which are colonialism, racism, and ecology. The Earth Overlords are the dominant people, and they treat the Solonians as their underlings. Even the space station has segregated areas for Overlords and Solonians. As for the “Mutts,” the Overlords regard them as dangerous monsters that deserve to be destroyed.

One of the ingenious plot surprises is the fact that these mutants are not, in fact, monsters, but are the next stage in the Solonians’ natural life-cycle. Like butterflies, the Solonians transform from humanoid to “Mutt,” and then finally to a kind of super being, able to control energy and fly through walls. The Overlords’ experiments on the atmosphere of Solos has affected the natural cycle of change, so people are transforming into “Mutts” ahead of schedule, “like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis in winter,” as the Doctor puts it. Thankfully, with the information from Ky’s message, and a special crystal, the Doctor is able to put things right.

The Marshal is a wonderfully evil character, full of ego and malice. His eventual demise is a bit of an anticlimax, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. On the one hand, you kind of want the Solonians to make the most of his sudden defeat and take revenge on him. But having the Marshal zapped into non-existence removes the possibility of revenge, which, I think, is the better path. It certainly gives the Solonians the moral high ground.

The mutant costumes aren’t bad, especially for their time. It’s hard for 1970s monsters to not look like people in costumes, and here we have a valiant attempt to make giant bug-like creatures that are unnerving, at least in design if not in execution.

Probably the most awkward scene is when Jo and others are about to be sucked out into space after a hole is blown in the side of the space station. The hanging-on-for-dear-life acting goes on a bit long, and they all look like they’re just waiting for someone to shout “cut!”

Aside from these few weaknesses, “The Mutants” is a worthy addition to the Whovian playlist. Perhaps not vital to one’s DVD collection (unless, like me, you’re a completist), but certainly one to watch.

The UK Has Left the Building…

brexitYesterday, Thursday 23rd June, 2016, will go down in history as the day the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union by means of a national referendum. The vote was close, 52%-48%, but in this kind of nose-count vote, the majority wins no matter how small the margin. The UK is not the only country to have left the EU–Greenland left the EEC (the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU) in 1985. But, no disrespect to Greenland, that was hardly as momentous as a major economic power such as the UK leaving.

Why is this so dramatic and historic? Here are some consequences as I see it:

  • Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU. With the UK now leaving, Scotland may have another referendum on leaving the UK so they can join the EU as an independent nation.
  • Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Southern Ireland, already an independent EU member, might renew their campaign for reunification with the North. I suspect the issues that separate the two halves of Ireland run too deep for this to be seriously viable, but it’s possible. Certainly, the border between the two countries will become very interesting, since it’ll now be between an EU-member country, and an independent country.
  • Experts suggest it will take up to two years for Britain to fully disentangle itself from the EU. It’s been a member for over 40 years, so there will be lots of discussion and negotiation. This could be the most messy divorce the world has seen. Or it could be smooth and amicable. Time will tell.
  • Other EU members with disenchanted citizens might be inspired to hold similar referendums (referenda…?), which could potentially damage, if not destroy, the EU, taking Europe back to the days when it was a continent of independent sovereign countries.
  • Britain will now have to re-negotiate its trade agreements with European countries, as well as other countries with whom their relationship has depended on, or has been affected by, their European membership.

The vote was very close, so it will be interesting to see how things actually pan out. Almost half the country disagreed with the decision, not to mention half of the governing party, so it would seem advisable that the British government act carefully to make sure the UK’s exit is done in the best way for the country, paying due respect to those that dissented.

In all honesty, I didn’t expect this result. I thought the Brits would feel they are so entrenched in Europe and European affairs that it would be more trouble than it’s worth to leave. But the British people have spoken. And now the world watches…

UPDATE: Friday morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation. Cameron was a lead campaigner for the “Remain” side, and he felt that since the country voted to go in a different direction, he is not the person to lead the country in the months and years ahead. For those who don’t understand British politics, this doesn’t mean there’ll be another general election for Prime Minister. When Brits vote for leadership, they vote according to party. Whoever is the leader of the party with the most votes becomes Prime Minister. So what Cameron is calling for is his party, the Conservative party, to choose a new leader. He has recommended the new leader take office by the next party conference in October, so for the next few months, he will stay on and try to bring stability in the wake of this decision. I daresay the party will select a leader from among the many Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) who voted to leave the EU. As well as being Prime Minister, Cameron is also MP for the district of Witney in Oxfordshire. When he steps down, he will, more than likely, continue in that role, so he will still sit in parliament to represent his constituency. Any questions? 🙂

Who Review: The Sea Devils

The Doctor and Jo visit The Master, who is under lock-and-key in a small island prison. While there, they learn that ships have been disappearing without trace for no apparent reason. At first the Doctor suspects the Master is somehow behind it. But, of course, the Master is in prison and under guard 24/7, which makes such an idea highly implausible. After visiting the local Naval Base for more information, they make their way to an old sea fort the Navy is planning to convert into a testing center. This old fort appears to be at the center of the disappearances. When the Doctor and Jo arrive, they discover the place deserted except for one dead man, and another babbling about “Sea Devils.” Then the boat they came in is destroyed, leaving them stranded. And something else is in the fort, a creature the Doctor has encountered before, staking a claim to the Earth. Only this time, they intend to follow through with that plan, and they have terrestrial help. It seems the Doctor’s worst fears might not be so far fetched…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Sea Devils” is a six-part story, written by Malcolm Hulke, who also wrote the Silurian story in the Third Doctor’s first season. The creatures don’t refer to themselves as “Sea Devils” because they were originally supposed to be Silurians, though I think they’re now actually cousins of the Silurians. Whatever the relationship, their purpose is the same: reclaim the planet that was once theirs before man took it over.

Classic Who costumes regularly come under fire, and I understand why. Prosthetics and latex application techniques were still fairly primitive in 1972, even outside the BBC, so the results were often far from what the designers would have preferred. That said, I think the Sea Devil costumes are pretty good for their time. I like the turtle-ish mouth, and the watery eyes, which give that sea creature feel to them. Of course, they’re nowhere near as good as they would be today, but that’s an unfair comparison.

This story marks the return of the Master, after being captured at the end of “The Daemons.” As usual, Roger Delgado plays him with gentlemanly menace. When he tells the Doctor how time in prison has made him reflect upon his life, and that he has everything he needs “except my freedom,” we almost feel sorry for him. But of course, it’s all a sham, and when the Master’s hold over the prison governor, Colonel Trenchard, becomes evident, we aren’t really surprised. Perhaps one of the best moments in the story is the scene that opens with the Master watching “The Clangers” on television. For those don’t know, “The Clangers” was a popular children’s stop-motion animated series. Each five minute episode revolved around these pink knitted aliens with long aardvark-like noses that live on a planet somewhere. They only talk in whistles and whoops, and a narrator tells the stories and supplies a translation of their noises. It was one of my favorite shows when I was a young child. The Master is fascinated by them, and rightfully so! 🙂 This scene was replayed, sort of, in the Tenth Doctor story, “The Sound of Drums,” where we see the Master watching “Teletubbies.”

One thing about the Master’s appearance in “The Sea Devils” that I’m not totally sold on is why the Sea Devils are so willing to form an alliance with him. They say they need him to build the machine that will reawaken the other Sea Devils around the world, but looking at the technology they already have, why couldn’t they do this themselves? Maybe I missed something? I don’t recall the Silurians needing help with their hi tech alarm clock. It seems the Master needed the Sea Devils more than they needed him, so he could take out his revenge on the people who locked him up, and on the Doctor, since he likes Earth so much.

What else to note? This is the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver in the Third Doctor era. He uses it first as a mine detector, and then to detonate the mines when pursued by a Sea Devil.

Overall, I would rate this a good story, though the theme’s basically the same as the Silurians: the Sea Devils want to reclaim Earth, and find a willing accomplice on Earth. The authorities are skeptical at first, but then want to blow up the Sea Devils. The Doctor wants to negotiate peace. The difference between this story and “The Silurians” is that the Sea Devils reject the Doctor’s offer to negotiate with the humans, forcing the Doctor to blow up their base.

That repetition of plot is probably my biggest criticism of the story. Otherwise, this is definitely not a waste of time. Not essential, and not the best, but good and worth seeing.

Links and Stuff

We’re starting with fashion this week. In particular, shirts. Namely, to tuck or not to tuck. As far back as I remember, I’ve always tucked my shirt–button-down, polo, t-shirt, whatever–into my trousers, jeans, or shorts. My mother would always tell me to “tuck yourself in,” and maybe I never got out of the habit. The other day, I came home from work, removed the button-down shirt I was wearing (tucked in), and threw on a t-shirt. I knew I would be going to exercise shortly, and I would change my shirt before doing that, so I didn’t bother to tuck it in. My children couldn’t believe their eyes. One even remarked that I looked like a completely different person. All I did was not tuck in my t-shirt! What’s with that? Have I been doing something wrong all these years? The kids say letting your shirt hang out is the thing to do these days, with the possible exception of button-down shirts–though even there, the preference is not to tuck. And you know, my observations at work this week seem to bear that out. If I was someone else, and not too old to care, I might now be self-conscious about tucking my shirt in. But this whole incident has made me curious: is this really a thing? Is it the trend now, both with men and women, to let your shirt hang over your trousers? I admit, I thought people did it to hide the fact their trousers are a bit more snug than they would prefer. But no–there are some quite trim looking guys and gals at work who fly their shirt tails. Is this another fashion trend I’ve let pass me by?

Now, to the links! First, I want to disavow any connection with the Tropical Storm that invaded the south east coast of the U.S. last week. It might have been my namesake, and it may have been wet and full of wind and bluster, but it wasn’t me. Really.

Thanks to Twitter, my attention was drawn to this very interesting audio clip that came to light earlier this year. It’s the only recorded interview with Harper Lee, author of the classic novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Lee was a notorious recluse, refusing interviews for much of her life, so this is a precious insight into her thoughts and motivations, recorded only a few years after the book was published. It’s especially interesting to hear why she thinks Southerners make better story tellers. If you have ten minutes to spare, it’s worth your time.

Speaking of writers, prolific self-published author Emma Adams announced this week that she has an agent. Why would a self-published author, and one who seems to be pretty committed to self-publishing, want an agent? Usually, you get an agent if you want to go the traditional publishing route, and be published by, say, Penguin, HarperCollins, or any number of the larger publishing houses. Emma says she still wants to continue self-publishing, but having an agent will help her with things like foreign rights sales, and dealing with audio books. I wanted to share this with you, first because it’s cool news and worth sharing, and second, to show how publishing is changing with the times. I think these kinds of hybrid models will become more popular given how hard it is to get a foot in the door of traditional publishing, and agents find new ways to use their skills and resources to help a broader range of authors, traditional and non-traditional.

Now this is fun, and requires no commentary on my part: Rancher on horseback lassoes would-be bike bandit in Walmart parking lot. A warning to bike thieves looking to ply their trade in Oregon.

And finally, my condolences to those who lost friends and family members in the shooting in Orlando early Sunday morning. Whatever your thoughts or beliefs about gun control, homosexuality, Islam, or any of the other issues raised by this event, two things are clear. First, the gunman was an evil man committing an act of monstrous evil. And second, those he killed were human beings made in the image of God. Genesis 9:6 tells us that murder is the worst of crimes because God made man in His image. To kill someone is to desecrate and dishonor one who bears that image. It should grieve the hearts of all people, especially Christians, that someone should do something like this. There’s more I could say, but now’s not the time. I simply pray for healing, and for Gospel light to bring peace, mercy, and repentance to bear.

How was your week? Was your shirt tucked? 🙂

 

Who Review: The Curse of Peladon

The Doctor thinks he might have fixed the TARDIS when he and Jo find themselves transported to the somewhat barbaric kingdom of Peladon. They arrive just as delegates from the Galactic Federation are convening to consider Peladon’s petition to join. The young king believes this to be their way out of the dark ages. Peladon is rich in minerals, and the Federation will open doors to trade, and new cultures and ideas. But not everyone is convinced the king has Peladon’s best interests at heart, least of all those who see joining the Federation as an abandonment of the old traditions. Councellor Torbis encourages the king in his ambitions for Peladon, but the High Priest Hepesh warns that the king will bring the ancient curse of Aggedor upon them if he turns his back on the old ways. When Torbis winds up dead, there is fear that Hepesh was right. The Doctor and Jo, passing themselves off as the delegation from Earth, can’t leave without trying to help. After all, they might well be Aggedor’s next victims…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Script Editor Terrance Dicks and Producer Barry Letts were clearly very anxious to get the Doctor roaming time and space again. The Doctor’s Earth exile was a burden handed to them from the end of the Second Doctor era, and while it was good for a few episodes, they found it too limiting. With all of time and space to explore, confining the Doctor to fighting alien visitations with U.N.I.T. gets old very quickly. One way out was to have the Time Lords send the Doctor on errands, returning him to Earth afterwards. We saw this in “Colony in Space,” and we see it again in “The Curse of Peladon.”

Brian Hayles, creator of the Ice Warriors (which feature prominently in this story) wrote “The Curse of Peladon,” and a good job of it he did too, I think. It’s a neat four-parter, with a credible story and plenty of intrigue and action. At the time of writing, Britain was considering entering the European Economic Community, or the “Common Market”–the forerunner to the E.U. The political arguments of the day seem to be reflected in Hayles’s story. That’s not a criticism, but a point of interest, and it goes to show how universal themes are often at the heart of some of our most controversial issues. Tradition versus progress. Individualism versus globalization. The old tried-and-true ways versus the new and risky.

This is a great story for Jo Grant. She takes charge of the situation, concocting the story that she’s a princess, and the Doctor is her underling. She’s shows strength dealing with King Peladon (played by Patrick Troughton’s son, David), especially since the king appears to be spinally challenged. He starts off unsure, dependent on his advisers with no confidence in his own ability to make wise decisions. By the end of the story, he proves himself a worthy king and leader of his people. And I’m sure Jo had no small role in that. She also takes the initiative in trying to figure out who is behind the attempts to kill delegate members.

Perhaps the biggest fail of the story is the Aggedor costume. Aggedor is supposed to be a mighty, fearsome beast. But when we see him, he’s hardly very large and imposing. I wouldn’t expect anything like what they could do today, with modern technology and budgets, but I think it falls short, even by 1972 standards. Alpha Centuri’s costume is also a bit dodgy (its multiple arms are clearly strung together to give the impression of movement), but on the other hand quite creative. I’d like to see Alpha Centuri return in the New Series; it’d be interesting to see what a better budget could do for him… her… whatever.

Also, subtly hinted at throughout is the idea that “religion” and “superstition” hold back progress. Certainly, the religion of Aggedor, with its primitive rituals and barbaric punishments, is a good caricature of such “religion.” As far as I could tell, though, the problem wasn’t Hepesh’s intransigent adherence to the old faith, but the lack of tolerance on both sides for each other’s perspective. There was no allowing for the possibility that the Cult of Aggedor could continue under the new king without imposing itself on everyone, giving the king freedom to make decisions without having to get the High Priest’s blessing.

All in all, “The Curse of Peladon” is worthy of your time. Not must-see Who, but there aren’t many stories that are, though most are good enough to warrant the Whovian’s attention. This one is certainly good enough.

What are your thoughts regarding “The Curse of Peladon”?

What Do You Do With an Evil Book?

In this “Links and Stuff” special, I want to give some thought to an interesting quandary faced by the German government this year. On January 1st, 2016, Adolf Hitler’s MEIN KAMPF became public domain in Germany. MEIN KAMPF, or “My Struggle,” was written by Hitler in 1923 while in prison for his role in a failed coup in Munich. The book discusses his vision for Germany, in particular his desire to rid the world of Jewish influence, which he believed to be the reason for all that is wrong. The values that drive the ideology behind the book became the values that drove Hitler as leader of the Nazi Party, and made him one of the most reviled men in human history.

The book was enormously successful during Hitler’s life. When Hitler committed suicide at the end of World War Two, the state of Bavaria claimed his property, and, with the cooperation of the German government banned MEIN KAMPF. This ban held sway in Germany from 1945 to 2015. On January 1st, 2016, the first day of the year after the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s death, in compliance with German copyright law, all his works fell into the public domain, and all previous legal restrictions became moot. The Institute of Contemporary History in Munich undertook the publication of the first German edition (with annotations) of MEIN KAMPF since the War. Within hours, it had sold out on Amazon.

The publication of MEIN KAMPF in Germany has not been without controversy. The main fear is that its availability will stir Neo-Nazi sentiments, or give fuel and inspiration to existing Neo-Nazi groups. For this reason, some have opposed publication, and others have advocated restricting its availability. However, the book has been available in most other countries since 1945. The book’s U.S. publisher, Houghton Mifflin, published the book in 1933 until the U.S. confiscated the rights after the war. HM bought the rights back off the U.S. government in 1979, and have been reprinting ever since, reportedly selling about 15,000 copies a year.

What would you do with a book like this? Should it be freely available, or should it be banned? And what about all the money publishers make from the book–who should get that money? Is it okay for the publishers to keep it, or should they donate it? This has been an on-going issue for Houghton Mifflin, as reported in this Boston Globe article.  It seems they kept the profits from 1979-2000 (estimated between $300,000 to $700,000), but since then have been donating the money to groups like the Anti-Defamation League. Recently, they’ve broadened their horizons beyond Holocaust awareness groups to include groups that promote tolerance generally. Not all of these organizations want the money, however. To some, it’s like taking drug money. Consider this. The publisher has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from the book over the past few years. That’s a lot of copies sold, which means a lot of people are still buying it. Is that good?

As for banning the book, that opens up a whole other bag of worms. Most advocates of free speech oppose banning books, even the most controversial ones, on the grounds that people have a right to decide for themselves what they will buy and read. Even if it’s a book by Adolf Hitler. But should this book be available to Neo-Nazis, or even young, impressionable teenagers? What kind of damage could exposure to these ideas do?

Here’s what I think. Yes, you could ban the book, or make it so prohibitively expensive to purchase that only government institutions and universities could afford it. The danger with that is you give the book a perceived value way beyond its actual worth. There’s a principle in retail whereby people will assess the quality of a product by its price. How often have you bought, say, a watch, a necklace, or some electronics at a ridiculously low price, and wondered, “what’s wrong with it?” That’s because you expect products to be priced according to their worth. If something is cheap, then it’s probably crap–that’s our perception, anyway. And this is why many products aren’t priced as low as they could be: if it’s too affordable, people see it as cheap and worthless. So I would make MEIN KAMPF available as a free e-book in every country, and sell the print version at cost. That way, no-one makes a profit from it, and it gets the price value it deserves.

As for the fear that people will be inspired by it, the fact is people buy into corrupt ideologies all the time. Simply banning a book, or making a piece of literature hard to obtain, won’t prevent this. Unfortunately, our society seems to think the way you deal with unpopular or “offensive” speech is to ban it, whether by law or by public shame. People these days don’t want to have their ideas hashed out in public discourse. It’s easier to thrust a finger in someone’s face and say, “I’m right, and you’re an idiot!” It’s easier to win an argument by suing someone than debating them. If we are convinced Hitler was evil, surely the best approach is to educate people on what Hitler said, and why he was wrong, not to silence him.

What do you think? Ban, burn, sell for profit, sell at cost, make freely available, or something else…?

Book Review: TRICKSTER by Jeff Somers

Lem is a Trickster, scamming his way through life, using his magical abilities to survive. But in Lem’s sub-culture, magic costs, and the payment is blood. Most of Lem’s ilk, mages, use other people’s blood–“bleeders” they call them. Lem’s conscience won’t allow him to do that, so he is constantly cutting himself for the power to play small mind tricks, or to make dollar bills appear to be twenties. Other mages have an entourage of bleeders, and are willing to kill to perform more complex magic. As you might expect, the most powerful magic requires the most blood. And when Lem and his best friend Mags stumble upon a girl in a car trunk, he realizes from the invisible rune tattoos covering her that someone is up to something big. A mage of great ability is planning the spell of her dreams, one that will require the blood of millions…

Ideas are commonplace; everyone has them. How many times have you heard someone say, “That would be a good idea for a book”? Scan the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Each one of those books started life as an idea. For each one, there are countless ideas that never grew beyond a thought. I daresay a lot of those unborn ideas would have made marvelous stories. But ideas alone don’t make good stories. What makes a good novel is a good idea well executed. The idea of using blood to perform magic is clever. It’s both limiting (characters with unlimited power can become boring very quickly), and creates potential drama. It also sets up the premise for a thrilling novel: What if a mage is prepared to commit mass murder on a horrendous scale just to serve her own needs? Thankfully, this idea is in good hands with Jeff Somers.

To begin with, Jeff doesn’t bog the reader down with backstory, or info dump on magic and the mage society. He throws us straight into the action with Lem and Mags, and slowly explains the world through them. The summary I gave above is based on a few chapters worth of story. In the hands of a lesser writer, the reader might be easily confused, having no idea what’s happening. But Jeff manages to engage us with the story, and feed us what we need to know along the way.

The story itself is also well developed. We start with the discovery of a girl in a bathtub, and then to the girl in the trunk. Lem and Mags  find themselves sucked into a situation they would rather not be a part of, with mages way beyond their league. But as every other avenue of help is torn from them, they soon realize it’s up to them to step up and do something, or the consequences will be too devastating to contemplate. Jeff stacks the odds firmly against our young mages, which is good for page-turning drama.

Jeff’s characters are far from black-and-white. Lem has a moral code that won’t allow him to “bleed” anyone but himself. This helps him sleep at night, but he has no qualms about using magic to manipulate and steal from people. Mags is Lem’s best friend. He’s a big guy, well-built, and will use his strength to protect Lem, which is good because his magical skills are fairly rudimentary. The rest of Lem’s world is one where you have to watch your back, even with people you think you know, which is where having a loyal friend like Mags is a rare blessing.

The one drawback to the book for me was the use of profanity. There’s a lot of it, which is not something that appeals to me. But that’s a taste issue. People who don’t mind (or who might even enjoy) a lot of f-words in their stories will enjoy this novel even more than I did–and I enjoyed it a lot. I don’t recall many, if any, sexual references. I would give it an R for the language, though, as I said, people who have less of an issue with that may drop the rating to a PG-15. Definitely a solid four GoodReads stars. I would especially recommend TRICKSTER to those who like urban fantasy.

UPDATE: Jeff informed me via Twitter that TRICKSTER is now Part 1 of the book WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE. Part 2 of the book continues the story. Also, be sure to check out Jeff’s website and blog, and sign up for his newsletter by going HERE.

Who Review: Day of the Daleks

It’s the late twentieth century, and international affairs on Earth have reached a crisis point . Sir Reginald Stiles is trying to organize a peace conference at Auderly House in England, hoping to avert World War Three. When he encounters what appears to be a ghost threatening him at gunpoint in his study one night, his assistant contacts U.N.I.T. Stiles immediately dismisses the apparition as nonsense, but the Doctor isn’t convinced. Then a mysterious soldier appears on the grounds of the house, dead. His weapon is centuries ahead of its time, and the box he’s carrying turns out to be a time travel device. The Doctor manages to activate the device, but with no apparent effect, so he and Jo volunteer to keep watch at the house overnight while Stiles heads off to China. The next day, they are visited by three of the mysterious soldiers, intent on killing Stiles. Mistaking the Doctor for the diplomat, the leader orders his immediate execution to save the planet from a war he will start. A war that will lead to global devastation, enabling the most ruthless race in the universe to step in and take over…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Jon Pertwee’s third season as the Doctor launched in January 1972 with the return of the Daleks after a five year absence. Louis Marks’ original tale didn’t feature the Daleks, but having just obtained Dalek creator Terry Nation’s permission to bring them back, Script Editor and Producer team Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts wanted to feature them as soon as possible. Marks managed to find a prominent place for them in his scripts, and the result was record ratings for the show.

It’s to Marks’ credit, I think, that the Daleks don’t appear to be late additions. Their role in the story is quite well defined as the brains behind the government, using people to do their dirty work, which is often how they operate. The story of how they rose to power, and found people willing to help them, doesn’t seem contrived.

The story itself is good, and I can’t find any major plot holes. Even the possible objection that, given the ability to travel in time, any failure to stop World War Three could be fixed by simply going back in time again and correcting whatever went wrong, is addressed, though perhaps not very satisfactorily. The “Blinovich Limitation Effect” is given as a reason why you can’t change something you did in the past, rather like the “fixed point in time” is given in the New Series. It’s not really a solid reason, but more like a patch over a potential plot hole.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is the fact that, while the resistance fighters have all along been blaming Stiles for the explosion that resulted in the death of the conference delegates and the start of World War Three, it was in fact their own tampering in time that caused the fatal explosion. This kind of temporal paradox was not new to science fiction, but it hadn’t really been explored in Doctor Who until now, and it’s rather cleverly done here.

I have mixed feelings about the fact that you never really know what’s going on until the last episode. At the beginning, you learn about the rebels and their desire to kill Stiles. You then learn about the government and their oppression of people in the future, and then you discover that the Daleks are the ones in power. By that time, you have all the strands of the story in your hand, waiting for an explanation to tie them all together. That explanation comes in the form of expository dialog in Episode Four. On the one hand this structure keeps the audience in suspense and tuning in each week to find out what’s going on. But on the other, it leaves the audience frustrated, and perhaps confused, and not really engaged with how the Doctor’s going to solve the situation.

I definitely felt the absence of the original Dalek voice actors in this story. The Dalek voices in “Day of the Daleks” just don’t cut it. I’m not sure why Roy Skelton or any of the other voice actors from five years ago weren’t used, but these sound very odd and very out of place. Also, while the Ogrons make for a good, menacing kind of thug monster, they sound like the Gumbies from Monty Python:

The DVD release features a second disc with a “Special Edition” version of the serial, with CGI special effects, and replacement Dalek voices performed by New Series Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs. These Dalek voices are definitely an improvement, but I could do without most of the new CGI effects. The DVD came out in 2011, and already they look dated. The only effect I think stands up well is the improved laser blast.

This is one worth watching, simply because it’s a good story, though you will have to overlook some of the production failings noted above. The pace also demonstrates why, with few exceptions, four parts are better than six or seven. Also of interest is the Doctor showing himself to be a wine connoisseur, and the Doctor shooting an Ogron unprovoked. Terrance Dicks regards this as a mistake, since the Doctor would never use violence except when attacked or to defend someone else who is being attacked.

Links and Stuff

It’s June already, month six of 2016. Time keeps rolling on. So, before we get to the links, a quick update on the short story I finished a few weeks ago. On the evening of May 31st, I submitted that story to a magazine, having edited and polished it to where I think it’s nice enough to be seen in public. Of course, submitting to a magazine is no guarantee it will be published. It just means a popular mystery story publication has it in its inbox. It might be a few months–perhaps up to six or eight–before I even hear whether or not they want to publish it. But it’s a start. An important start. And hopefully not the last short story I unleash on the world. I’ve got ideas for more, so we shall see…

I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories called TRIGGER WARNING to help spur me on to write more. There’s nothing like reading short stories to learn the art of short story writing. The short story form allows for exploration of ideas, and even dipping into a variety of genres, without the commitment of a novel. Much the same could be said about flash fiction, only with short stories you have a bit more room to develop characters and build the story.

This leads nicely into our first link of the week: this piece by Amber Sparks from Electric Lit about short stories, and those who write them. It’s true that many people see the short story form as a stepping stone toward writing a novel; that any short story writer worth their salt will one day, inevitably, put away the toys and go play with the big kids. The fact is, while a number of novelists also do well at short stories (Gaiman, and Stephen King, for example), not every short story writer can, or even wants to, write a novel. The unfortunate side of this is the fact that major publishers aren’t particularly interested in short story collections, especially from relatively unknown writers. So there’s not as much money in short stories. It’s a shame, and hopefully a situation that self-publishing, and other non-traditional venues can help resolve. Amber’s article is worth reading, whether you’re a reader or a writer. Food for thought.

Continuing the writing theme, archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the earliest sample of writing in Britain. According to this article on The History Blog, the writing dates from around the mid-first century, and is in Latin. Back then, they wrote on wooden tablets coated with beeswax that they would scratch with a stylus. It seems some of these tablets have survived, and while the beeswax has long since gone, with technological wizardry, they can make out the scratch marks left behind on the wood. The one they think is the earliest is an ancient I.O.U. Another has the alphabet, indicating it belonged to a school child. How cool!

Switching gears completely now, I couldn’t help but note this article on The Hill, where popular news anchor Katie Couric “takes responsibility for deceptive editing in gun documentary.” It seems she put together this documentary, and in one part she edited an interview with a gun advocate in a way that made it look like they had no answer to her question. She says that wasn’t her intention, though she acknowledges it could be interpreted that way. My point has nothing to do with the gun control debate here in the U.S. Rather, it’s this statement from Ms. Couric: “I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.” A question for Ms. Couric: did anyone think you made them look bad? Answer: YES. So why is your apology conditional? Why not apologize to those people who believe you made them look bad? Which leads to the broader question: is an “I’m sorry IF…” really an apology? Isn’t it an apology with a get-out clause? If you’re really sorry, just say you’re sorry. “I know the way I edited the piece made the people I was interviewing look bad, and for that, I’m truly sorry. That wasn’t my intention. Please forgive me.” Doesn’t that sound a lot more contrite and genuine than “I’m sorry if anyone felt that way.” That just smacks of, “I’m sorry you felt that way, but you’re wrong.” What do you think?

Finally, another celebrity death to report. This time, it’s the popular English comedy writer Carla Lane [Warning: there’s a video clip in the link that starts automatically]. I don’t know how well-known she is outside the UK, but she was responsible for some good shows like “The Liver Birds,” and, “Butterflies.” She also had a big hit in the 80s with a series called “Bread” that I didn’t watch much of, though I caught the episode featuring Paul and Linda McCartney (of course). If you get the chance to catch any of these, they’re worth your time. Aside from being funny, the dialog is top notch. Carla was 87, so she lived a good innings. Still, it’s sad to see another celebrity pass from us.

Any thoughts, or links and stuff of your own to share?

Who Review: The Daemons

The eyes of the nation are on Devil’s End, a village where a Bronze Age mound is about to be excavated. Local white witch, Olive Hawthorne, warns against the project saying untold evil will be unleashed by disturbing the site. No-one believes her, except, oddly, the Doctor. Jo is surprised given the Doctor has just lectured her on the superiority of science over superstition. But the Doctor’s concerns aren’t about the supernatural, but about an ancient visitor to Earth who is about to be awakened, and is ready to wreck havoc across the entire planet. What the Doctor doesn’t know is that this ancient visitor has an ally, the mysterious new vicar Mr. Magister, whose interest in the occult seems at odds with his profession. Using centuries old rites and incantations, Magister is determined to help his new friend achieve his goals. The Doctor must stop him before it’s too late.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Doctor Who does Hammer Horror in this five part story written by “Guy Leopold”–a pseudonym for producer Barry Letts and his writing partner Robert Sloman. And there are plenty of Hammer tropes to enjoy, including villagers with their traditions and folklore, Morris Dancers who turn violent, a white witch foretelling doom, and a vicar who doubles as a red-robed Satanic priest holding occult rituals under the church. Toward the end, we even very nearly have a human sacrifice!

“The Daemons” was much praised for its well-written script and better-than-usual special effects when it first broadcast in May and June of 1971. Over the years it has received more mixed, maybe jaded, reviews, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. Undoubtedly the script is one of the better of the Pertwee era. This is partly due to the fact that Barry Letts, the show’s producer for the past couple of years, co-wrote it, bringing to bear his intimate knowledge of the characters, and careful observation of the actors.

Personally, I think the effects are good for their time. These include giant hoof prints in a field seen from a helicopter, an archway cut into a heat barrier enabling U.N.I.T. soldiers to pass through, and a church blowing up at the end. All these were done with video trickery and models–no CGI. I’m impressed, anyway.

The U.N.I.T. technician called upon to help the Doctor in this story is Sergeant Osgood. If you’ve been following the New Series, you’ll recognize that name. Osgood was a U.N.I.T. scientist in “The Day of the Doctor,” reappearing in New Series Seasons Eight and Nine. Though never explicitly stated, according to Steven Moffat, New Series Osgood is, in fact, the daughter of Sergeant Osgood. What did you expect with a fanboy running the show? 🙂

This is a good story, but it’s not without its problems, chief of which is the ending. Terrance Dicks says he doesn’t like it because it doesn’t make sense. Azal, the last of the Daemons from Daemos, has been on the Earth for thousands of years, helping mankind grow in knowledge and skill. The Earth has been an experiment for the Daemons, and Azal will soon decide whether or not to end the experiment and destroy the planet. In the end he decides to pass on his power to the Doctor, but the Doctor refuses. Somewhat put out by the Doctor’s snub, Azal decides to gift his power to the Master (who was posing as the vicar, Mr. Magister). Before doing that, he takes the Master’s advice and attacks the Doctor, intending to kill him. Jo, however, throws herself in the way, offering her life in place of the Doctor’s. This illogical act of self-sacrifice confuses Azal who has a sudden existential crisis, resulting in self-destruction, taking out the church as well as himself. Dicks’ problem with this is the fact that, having been on Earth for thousands of years, Azal would have witnessed countless acts of selflessness, so what Jo did shouldn’t have been such a shock to the old alien. I would add to this the fact that throughout the story, the Doctor has pushed science over superstition, and yet it was something as unscientific and intangible as Jo’s love for her friend that defeated the bad guy. Surely it would have been more consistent for the Doctor to come up with a scientific weapon to destroy Azal?

Of course, the story is typical of Doctor Who in that it wants to be theologically agnostic, but can’t help leaning toward skepticism, or outright atheism, while on the other hand upholding logic, reason, love, good, and evil, for which there are no scientific explanations. The Doctor tells Jo there’s a scientific explanation for everything in life. He warns her that the Daemons are far more real than any “mythical” devil, but they are not evil, simply amoral: they will help as long as they somehow benefit from helping. And yet the Daemons punish failure with destruction, something the Doctor wouldn’t consider “amoral.” Further, the Doctor tries to persuade Azal to leave by making a moral argument based on how much his “help” has actually increased man’s power of self-destruction. It would be better for mankind, he says, if Azal were to go. Clearly, the Doctor thinks the fact that man can blow up the Earth many times over, thanks to Azal’s training and guidance, is a bad thing. From a purely rationalistic point of view, why is this the case? And who has the right to say it’s bad? Indeed, by confronting Azal, the Doctor is saying he is wrong. On what scientific basis does the Doctor object to Azal’s experiment? One could write an entire thesis on the moral conundrums bubbling under the surface of Who, so I’ll leave it at that.

In short, despite the dodgy ending, “The Daemons” is a good story, a great script, and worthy of your time.