Links and Stuff

So here we are, the end of the week, and time for another Links and Stuff. Social media has been buzzing about the Republican National Convention this week. In a not-quite-as-packed-as-it-could-have-been auditorium (many stayed home to leave plenty of room for the nominee’s ego), Donald Trump was officially crowned Miss Republican U.S. Presidential Candidate 2016–for the sake of “unity” (the sash looked delightful). Also, the current Mrs. Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democrat Convention speech (it seems she’s a big fan of the current opposition), and former candidate Ted Cruz was booed for telling people to vote their conscience. I think that about speaks for itself. Now on to other business…

In house-hunting news, we paid a visit to the bank this week to see if we can actually afford to move. Thankfully, they said yes, we can. So now we know how much spending money we have (at least in theory–it’s a pre-approval, so it’s all theoretical money. Can we buy a theoretical house with it?). Our prayer is that there are some nice choices within our price range. We’ve sent some options to our realtor, so hopefully we’ll go looking again very soon.

The other main moving activity happening in the Smith household is, of course, packing and cleaning. My wife’s mom and sister have pledged to visit one day a week until we move to help, and they have been a great help so far. A bunch of things we thought we needed have been carted off to the dump, or to Goodwill. I have yet to even begin packing my books. The thought fills me with dread. “At least pack the ones you’re not using,” my beloved says to me. But what if it’s two months before we move? I might need… all of them!! To encourage my efforts, she brought home some special boxes:

BoozeBoxes

Unfortunately, they’re empty. But it’s the thought that counts, I suppose.

Let’s do some links. First, Barnes and Noble. We’ve all heard about how hard it is to be a brick-and-mortar book store in an Amazon-dominated universe. And as large as B&N is in the U.S., they have been closing stores and struggling to figure out their place in the online retailing world as much as the local independents. Their latest strategy is to offer self-published books for sale in their stores. Usually, these books are only available electronically, or from BN.com. To be able to go into a national chain and pick up a paper copy of someone’s self-pubbed novel is a bit of a novelty. There are, of course, restrictions. You have to be a Nook Press author (Nook being B&N’s brand), and have ebook sales of 1,000 or more. But I suppose that’s fair enough, or you’ll have every self-pubbed Tom, Dick, and Harry Harrison wanting to have their books on the shelves. And while there are a lot of good self-published novels available online, there are also a lot of… well… not so good ones. 🙂

I have just one more link to share with you this week. It seems Ladybird books are still going strong in the UK, to the point where there is now a line of parody “adult” Ladybird books on subjects such as “The Meeting,” “The People Next Door,” “The Hangover,” “The Hipster,” and “The Zombie Apocalypse.”

Can you get Ladybird books outside the UK? In the event the answer to that question is “No–what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks are you talking about, Brit boy?” let me explain. Ladybird books are colorful, usually beautifully illustrated hard cover books for children that started way before I was born. They cover a wide range of genres and ages (I think they are aimed between 5 and 11 years old). There’s a line of story books, but also there are history books, books on science, architecture, crafts, cooking, even religion. Here’s a sampling from my archive (soon to be boxed for the upcoming move *sniff*):

Ladybird_Books

See the “Kings and Queens of England” books, up there on the top left? I LOVED those. They were among my first history books when I was but a wee laddie. My mum bought me one of them to keep me pacified on a visit to the dentist. Here’s the story of Harold II (the one who lost the Battle of Hastings):

Ladybird_K&QEI_Page

And here’s a page from “The Lord’s Prayer,” intended for a younger audience:

Ladybird_LP_Page

… or maybe not. 🙂

Ahh… nostalgia! Now, compare that to the new parody version, and you’ll see how remarkably clever they are:

If you’re outside the UK and want to get hold of these, you can order from Amazon.co.uk. And with the current pound to dollar exchange at the lowest it’s been for decades, now’s a good time to buy!

That’s all from me for this week. How’s your week been?

Who Review: Carnival of Monsters

His exile over, the Doctor planned to use his first post-exile self-piloted trip in the TARDIS to visit Metabelis 3. However, he and Jo end up on the SS Bernice, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. They are caught and held as stowaways, but manage to escape, only to find that no-one on the ship remembers them, resulting in them being recaptured multiple times. And everyone seems to repeat the things they said and did only ten minutes before. If this wasn’t strange enough, a Plesiosaurus rises from the ocean, causing panic on board the ship.

Meanwhile, on the planet Inter Minor, members of the ruling class oversee the arrival of their first alien visitors since opening up to foreigners. The two Lermans, Vorg and Shirna are “entertainers,” and the main feature of their act is a miniscope, which they brought with them. This device contains miniaturized life forms from various galaxies, which can be viewed in their habitats on a screen. Among their collection is a vessel containing “Tellurians”–people from Earth. Only there seem to be a couple of extra Tellurians roaming around inside the miniscope…

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!

At the end of “The Three Doctors” (the previous serial), as a thank-you for saving their planet (and the rest of the universe), the Time Lords release the Doctor from his exile. At last, the production team are free from the shackles of Earth imposed on the show by their predecessors at the end of the 60s! This story, therefore, marks the first time the Doctor has flown the TARDIS himself, unaided by the Time Lords, since 1969.

“Carnival of Monsters” was broadcast over January and February of 1973, and was written by Robert Holmes, his first Doctor Who script since “Terror of the Autons” in 1971. I’ve probably said this before, many times, but I consider Robert Holmes to be the finest Doctor Who script writer of the classic series, perhaps one of the best in the show’s history period. And he doesn’t disappoint with this imaginative and well-written story. The idea of the Doctor and Jo trapped inside a carnival peep show along with other “specimens” is irresistible. But Holmes doesn’t stop there. The people of Inter Minor are not all like-minded. In fact, we see shades of opinon, from the president, who wants to open the planet up to alien visitors, to some of his highest officials–including his own son–who disapprove quite strongly. These dissenters consider aliens to be lesser creatures, and resent having to treat them with respect. They conspire to have the Lermans deported, but then hit upon a new scheme that would discredit the president and have one of them succeed him.

It was not uncommon for Who writers in the 1970s to draw upon current events for their stories. On January 1, 1973, the UK’s 1971 Immigration Act came into force, giving opportunity to Commonwealth citizens to live and work in the UK. That same day, the UK joined the EEC, or the European Economic Community, often referred to as the “Common Market”–a precursor to the modern European Union. Those opposed to these measures feared foreign labor taking the jobs of natural-born Brits, and the loss of British independence. I don’t doubt these things influenced Holmes as he developed the script for “Carnival.”

Despite the budget and technology of the time, I think the design and production team did about as well as they could for this story. The set depicting the interior of the miniscope works well, and even the Drashigs are about as monstrous a monster can be when you don’t have the luxury of animatronics and CGI.

The cast of characters Holmes developed are nuanced and well-conceived. Vorg is the consummate showman, willing to bluff his way through any situation, and always on the look-out for a patsy to con with the old “three magum pods and a yarrow seed” trick. Shirna, his young assistant, is a willing accomplice, though she has more of a conscience, and will eventually tell the truth, especially when it’s evident Vorg’s lies aren’t working. The three Inter Minor leaders we encounter, Kalik, Orum, and Pletrac, are not of the same mind. Kalik is the conniver, scheming his way to power, while Pletrac wants to play by the rules.

This serial sees the Doctor make use of his sonic screwdriver to ignite gas to scare away Drashigs. However, when Jo suggests he use it to escape the ship’s cabin, he tells her it only works on electronic locks. In future Doctor who stories, the Doctor will lament that the sonic screwdriver won’t work on wood.

A few other things of note. The Cybermen make a brief appearance as one of the creatures in the miniscope. This is one of only two appearances they make in the Third Doctor’s era, the other being as a hallucinatory image in “The Mind of Evil.” Terrance Dicks has made no secret of the fact that he hates the Cybermen, which explains their absence during his time as script editor. Finally, in a scene where the Doctor is working on the miniscope, Vorg turns to Shirna and says, “You know, Shirna, he could lose that nose of his just like that.” Holmes will write another reference to the Third Doctor’s nose in “The Time Warrior.” Clearly he thought it quite a distinguishing feature! 🙂

This is must-see Who, if only because it’s Robert Holmes, and I think every Whovian should be familiar with all of Holmes’ stories. But it also happens to be a great four-parter, well worth your time.

Music Monday: Senses Working Overtime

XTC - Senses Working OvertimeXTC* were one of those British bands that had some successes, and had a following, but were never on the mega-star level. The first song of theirs I heard was “Making Plans for Nigel” back in 1979. That song gave them a reputation for quirky, catchy tunes with thoughtful lyrics, usually written by singer/guitarist Andy Partridge. But “Senses Working Overtime” is by far my favorite of theirs. Again, there’s a quirkiness to it, but it’s incredibly catchy, and very creative. More about the song in a moment.

I don’t really have a particular story to share about this tune, but listening to it does conjure up a particular time in my life. It’s 1982, somewhere around February, and I’m in my first year at Hereford Cathedral School. I’ve settled in at my new school, I’ve made some good friends, and I’m managing to keep my grades decent. Mathematics is a struggle, but Divinity (i.e., Religious Studies), History, Music, and English are fun. My senses are working overtime…

I see my form room (“home room” in the US?), Room D. This is where we gather for morning roll call, and hear announcements before going to chapel in Hereford Cathedral. It’s a ground floor room with a bay window that looks out over a lawn. I remember gathering with other “freshers” the previous summer for orientation on that lawn. As I sit in my chair, the large door is in front of me. The white board is over on the left-hand wall, and our lockers are on the right-hand wall.

I hear the bell for end of the lesson. Classes are about 40 mins long, and we have seven of them each day in different locations around the school campus. This must have been either English or Divinity, because our form teacher, Mrs. Howard-Brown, teaches those in our form room. She’s still talking as we close up our books, but we wait to be dismissed, even though the bell has sounded. It must be lunchtime because…

… I can smell the aroma of cooking from the cafeteria, which is next door to our building. I don’t get my lunch from the cafeteria often–hardly ever, actually. I bring my lunch to school, which saves us money, and, quite frankly, the smell from the cafeteria is not particularly appetizing. Somehow it always smells the same, no matter what’s on the menu: a kind of bland cabbage mixed with the sharp tang of ammonia. But the most memorable smell from Room D is the carpet. Over the summer they laid a new carpet, and the smell of the glue is still strong. To this day, whenever I smell that carpet glue, it takes me back to Room D.

I touch the wooden desk, feel the scratch marks of previous occupants, the varnished wood splintering under my fingers. I get out my lunch box, which has a matching flask containing coffee or tea–I don’t recall. Then I taste my lunch. Sandwiches. Possibly chicken spread (a kind of paté that comes in a jar, made for spreading on sandwiches) and a Mars bar. Ugh–Simon brought sardine and onion sandwiches again. Nasty!

Now let’s talk about the song. For starters, here’s the lead sheet. Click on the picture to download a pdf of the words and guitar chords:

SensesWorkingOvertime_lead

A few notes on the lead sheet. The sections in square brackets [like these] were edited out of the single version. I believe they are on the album version. Also, guitarists, don’t feel compelled to play the bass notes on the “One, Two, Three, Four, Five” part–that’s covered by the bass guitarist on the track. Finally, the G#m-F# and C#m-E chords at the beginning and through the verse are actually implied–they don’t play the full chords. The acoustic guitar seems to be doing this for those chords (click to enlarge):

SensesWorkingOvertime_Guitar

The “x”s mean “don’t play.” For this section, the strings you do play should be muted. If you listen to the track, you’ll hear what I mean.

I’m not sure what Andy Partridge intended the song to be about, but it seems to juxtapose the darker things of life–greed, poverty, injustice, death, etc–with the richness of the world around us. Despite all the negative stuff going on, this world is full of beauty and wonder that we often struggle to take in through our senses.

Here’s a video of XTC playing the song:

Any questions? Don’t forget, if you have any Music Monday song requests, just mention them in the comments, or email me.

*Do you get it? XTC = Ecstasy. Clever, huh?

Links and Stuff

Sorry for the late posting. Of course, if you’re reading this post days after I post it, you won’t know it’s late. And for all I know, most of you meander by here when you get the chance, not necessarily the day I post, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. On with the Links and Stuff!

I’ve figured out a new strategy for getting people to my blog:

Now just wait… 10,000 Pokémon GO players are about to descend… 😉

Thanks to the Pokémon GO craze, Nintendo’s stock has skyrocketed over the past week. Not only did shares jump 25%, but it seems the company increased its value by something like $7 billion. In a week! Pokémon GO is also the top downloaded game of all-time.

No, I haven’t downloaded it. I have way too many distractions in my life already. I’d never get anything done! That’s the main reason I don’t visit Facebook very often. Which reminds me, if you’ve found my Facebook page (I have one), and “friend request” me, unless you are family, or I know you from church, don’t expect to hear back. It’s not personal, I just don’t use Facebook except to sometimes respond to messages from family and church friends. Outside of family and church, you’re more likely to connect with me by following me on Twitter. I’m trying to be better about tweeting and following people, so if you want to read my attempts at wit (I’m not judging you–really), find me there. Maybe if my writing career takes off, I’ll set up an author FB page… we’ll see.

Speaking of writing, something strange happened. I wrote a children’s book. And I don’t mean YA (Young Adult)–I’ve written a couple of those, and I don’t think I write YA well. This is a young reader-type book, the kind of thing your parents might read as a bedtime story, or a teacher might read to a kindergarten class. The kind of story I used to write and enjoy when I was that age. And I like it. A lot. In fact, I’m going to query it and see if I can get some agent interest. I’m also thinking of a Middle Grade story I’d like to write. It’s actually a lot of fun writing for that younger age group. I’m not much into profanity, sex, and violence in literature–I certainly don’t like writing it–and while YA and adult novels don’t have to include such things, it’s nice to write in a category where not writing sex, f-bombs, and gore is considered a plus!

Last of all, a quick update on the house-hunting (see last week’s post for background). We met with our realtor and looked at some properties online, some very nice, though a bit out of the way for us (both distance and price). We then visited a couple of houses we had looked up, one of which being “The Castle” (again, see last week’s post). My goodness it’s a nice house! Very spacious, with teak floors, a large kitchen, even a mother-in-law suite with an external staircase so guests can come and go without disturbing the rest of the house. But it’s sooo beyond what I can afford. Pity. The only critique from the kids was that it seemed a bit impersonal, and not very home-y. That’s a fair point, though I imagine once we got all our stuff in there, we’d make a home of it. One can dream. Anyway, after setting the bar impossibly high, we looked at a second place that was liked by 1/8 of the family. SecondBorn loved it, but the rest of us were not convinced. My biggest problem, aside from the fact there was no study for me, was that it wasn’t move-in ready. I’m not a handyman, and we don’t have a lot of money to spare for “projects,” so when we walk around a house identifying things we will need to change, that’s a red flag for me.

Next week, we talk to the bank, and hopefully see some more houses. 🙂

How has your week been?

Who Review: The Three Doctors

Strange lights, disappearances, and the sudden appearance of deadly blobby creatures capture the attention of U.N.I.T., but it’s not just on Earth that weird things are happening. The home planet of the Time Lords is experiencing a critical power drainage, and the source seems to be a black hole. With all their resources tied up on the problem, the Time Lords send the Doctor’s second incarnation into the Third Doctor’s time stream to help him figure out what’s going on. However, their constant bickering requires the intervention of a third party: the First Doctor. But he is caught in a time eddy and can only appear on the TARDIS scanner. Nevertheless, he is able to get his two other selves cooperating. They determine that the blobs are energy creatures chasing after him. The only way to get to the source of the blobs is to allow himself to be captured. But the world they are entering is controlled by an evil genius that might be more than a match for even three Doctors…

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!

As 1973 approached, those astute minds behind Doctor Who realized this would be the tenth anniversary year. How to celebrate? Why not have a story that brings all three of the Doctors together! So script editor Terrance Dicks, and producer Barry Letts, called in Bob Baker and Dave Martin (who had previously penned “The Claws of Axos” and “The Mutants”) to come up with a script. They contrived the black hole crisis as a way to force the Time Lords to break the laws of time and get the Doctors together. Initially the First Doctor was going to be running around with his two successors, however illness meant that William Hartnell couldn’t sustain the stress of the shooting schedule. Terrance Dicks, therefore, rewrote the script to allow Hartnell a cameo part, appearing on the TARDIS scanner to guide his other selves.

The story gets mixed reviews from the fans, but on the whole I like it. One interesting creative decision was to have a Time Lord villain other than the Master. Instead, they introduce us to Omega, a Time Lord of legend, who gave up his freedom so that the Time Lords could have the energy they needed for time travel. They thought he had died in the supernova Omega created to provide this power, but he had in fact been trapped in an antimatter universe, where everything that exists does so by the power of his will. By tapping into the black hole’s singularity, Omega is able to convert matter into a form that can exist within his antimatter world. That’s how the Doctors (and Jo, and the Brig, and Benton, et al.) are able to be there. Omega’s plan for revenge centers on convincing the Doctor to take over sustaining this world so he can be free to leave.

I think the resolution to the story was cleverly executed. After the TARDIS and U.N.I.T. HQ is transported to the antimatter world, the Second Doctor complains that he can’t find his recorder. After this he periodically makes mention that he wants to find his recorder. His almost childish attachment to the instrument seems a bit pointless, until we get to episode four, and we see that the Second Doctor’s recorder had fallen into the TARDIS’s force field generator. In there, it was protected from the antimatter conversion, so it was still matter. When Omega knocks it out of the force field generator, it destroys Omega’s world–but not before the Doctors jump in the TARDIS and escape, of course.

That brings me to some of the story’s weak points. First, in reality, I doubt the Doctors would have had time to escape in the TARDIS once the matter recorder interacted with the antimatter world. But that’s where the “fiction” in “science fiction” kicks in. After all, it would hardly be a good birthday celebration if they killed off the Doctor.

Also, when the Doctor discovers that the blobby creatures are after him, his first thought is to escape Earth in the TARDIS to draw them away. How would he have done this? He’s still exiled to Earth. The only way he has been able to travel in the TARDIS before now was either because the Time Lords controlled the TARDIS, or he hopped a ride with the Master’s TARDIS. And then, later in the story, the Doctors travel to Omega’s place in the TARDIS. How? Did Omega control the TARDIS? If we’re being consistent, the Doctor certainly couldn’t have done it.

When the Doctor takes on Omega in a battle of wills, we see the Third Doctor and Omega wrestle. Literally. I thought this very strange. Why couldn’t it have been a mental battle, like the Fourth Doctor will do with Morbius in a later story? Making it an actual, physical fight makes no sense to me. These are two scientists, not WWE wrestlers duking it out.

On the plus side, “The Three Doctors” is a good Jo and Benton story. Jo shows initiative and comes up with some helpful ideas. Benton shows himself to be a good U.N.I.T. soldier, able to accommodate the strange things happening, and not lose his head. It appears Fraser Hines had been asked to reprise his role as Jamie McCrimmon, the Second Doctor’s long-standing companion. However, Hines’s schedule prevented him appearing, so Benton got a lot of Jamie’s lines. Shame. It would have been fun to have Jamie in the mix.

I also noted that the Second Doctor offers the Brigadier a jelly baby. Was this the first time the Fourth Doctor’s confection of choice was mentioned? I don’t recall, but since we’re only a few years from the Fourth Doctor’s first appearance, I think this is significant.

Finally, I liked the ending, with Ollis and his wife. After all the sci-fi shenanigans and explanations, this was a nice exchange. “Where have you been?” “You’d never believe me woman. Supper ready?” 🙂

While not the best Who story, I would call it must-see Who. After all, it’s the first anniversary special, and the first (and last) time we see Hartnell, Troughton, and Petwee together, so it’s a significant piece of Who history. Also, the squabbling between Troughton and Pertwee is priceless. They play off each other so well, it’s a shame we have to wait another ten years to see them together again.

Links and Stuff

I completely forgot about “Links and Stuff” last week. I’m probably the only one who noticed, but in the event someone was disappointed, sorry about that! To the stuff…

We have a couple of cats who live outdoors, and we often leave cat food for them. During certain times of the year, we also get visits from opossums (opossa?) that like to eat the food we leave out. But a few weeks ago, we were surprised to see raccoons!

Raccoon_1

Awww! Isn’t he cute? Or she. It’s hard to tell from this angle. And s/he’d probably rip your eyes out if you try to find out. Anyway, I can’t say I’d ever seen a raccoon up-close-and-personal like this, so it was a first for me. Here s/he is with a paw full of cat food:

Raccoon_2

This week, our landlord informed us that he intends to sell our house, so we are currently looking for somewhere to live. We’re not out on the street–we’ve got at least 30 days to move. We’ve had enough of renting, so we’re shopping for digs, and at the moment we’re looking at places online. The kids have found our “dream home”–it’s not far from us, and would easily accommodate all eight of us, plus my books, and probably a small village. It’s also more than twice what I can afford, but I’m relishing the moment. It’s not often all six kids agree on something. We plan to start working with a realtor (“estate agent” in the UK) soon so we can go look at places (including “The Castle,” as it is now known). Please pray for wisdom, and that we find something suitable at a suitable price. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Now to some links…

Here’s a post by literary agent Jessica Faust on the distinction between a “writer” and an “author.” The terms are often used interchangeably, but it’s both helpful, and challenging to consider the difference–especially if you’re a writer who aspires to be an author. What do my writer/author friends think about this?

The Brexit vote a few weeks ago may, at first, seem to affect only the UK and Europe, but many US companies have interests in the UK (and vice versa) that could be affected. Not least are publishing companies. This Bookseller article considers the challenges faced by the publishing industry in light of the Brexit vote, and how it plans to ride the rough seas ahead.

And finally, another Brexit link, but this time it’s an interview by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour with British MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and Brexit supporter, Daniel Hannan. I have to say, sometimes I cringe watching interviews, especially when I think the interviewer is being unfair, asking leading questions, or obviously digging for a soundbite and not listening to the person they are interviewing. Regardless of your thoughts on Brexit, you have to hand it to Mr. Hannan for not letting Ms. Amanpour get away with anything. Please don’t assume I agree or disagree with Mr. Hannan–I simply like the way he stood up for himself in this interviewWarning: The video starts when you click the link.

How have things been with you these last few weeks?

Book Review: VITA BREVIS by Ruth Downie

Disclaimer: A publicist at Bloomsbury sent this book to me thinking I might enjoy it. She did not ask me to review it, and did not make receipt of the book conditional on any kind of review, good or bad.

VITA BREVIS (Latin for “life is short”) is the seventh book in Ruth Downie’s “Medicus” series, featuring doctor/sleuth Gaius Ruso. As you might have guessed, the series is set in the days of the Roman Empire. This particular story takes place in Rome, the year being 123 A.D. I have not read any of the previous books in the series, so for the first few chapters, not only was I following the story, but I was acclimatizing to the setting, and getting acquainted with the characters. Some, if not most, seem to be regulars. Thankfully, Ruth made this fairly painless, providing sufficient background so a newbie like me could quickly assess how each character stood in relation to our hero, without getting bogged down in re-telling the previous six novels.

It seems our hero, Gaius Ruso, has been in Britannia and has moved his wife and newborn to Rome at the invitation of Accius. Accius is a former legionary tribune, and now head of the Department of Street Cleaning, a man of some stature. Ruso isn’t sure exactly why he is in Rome, until it comes to light that one of the city’s doctors has gone missing. The doctor’s patron, Horatius Balbus, a prominent property owner and developer, employs Ruso to take his place until he should return. Ruso and his family move into the doctor’s house, which has recently acquired a barrel outside the door. To his wife’s consternation, the barrel contains a dead body. Having dead bodies outside your door is not the best way to establish a reputation as a trusted medical practitioner, so Ruso, encouraged by Accius and Balbus, starts to look into where the body came from, and what happened to the previous doctor. In doing so, he opens a can of worms that puts himself and his family in danger from some powerful people.

Regulars to the blog will know that I am a big fan of Gary Corby’s “Athenian Mysteries” series set in Ancient Greece. Like Gary, Ruth manages to drop you into the ancient world without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. All the details are there, food, smells, customs, and dress, but they are woven seamlessly into the fabric of the narrative. Some of these details were quite fascinating, including the medical remedies Ruso uses, as well as the whole issue of medical ethics, which plays a strong part in this particular story. Ruso and his wife, Tilla, pick up a couple of British slaves, and it’s interesting to see the way they are treated. One of the slaves, Esico, comes across at first as a disgruntled young man who could be a bit of a handful, yet I grew to like him as a character. The fact that Ruso’s wife is also originally from Britannia, and, it seems, a former slave, adds to the family dynamics. She can relate to their new slaves, and, in fact, they provide her with a comforting reminder of home so far away from her homeland. And yet, as the mistress of the house, she needs to remember her station and theirs.

But the story comes first, and I like the way Downie keeps the various plot strands moving, whether it’s the hunt for the missing doctor, or trying to resolve Accius’s love life, or dealing with the neighbors and their wagging tongues, and the followers of Christus and their illegal meetings upstairs. I have to say, I was impressed at the portrayal of Christians in the story. It’s hard to avoid imputing the modern church into a second century context, but Downie handles it well. She doesn’t get into doctrine, but doesn’t avoid the fact that Christians would have argued with each other, just as they do today, while still caring for one another.

I give VITA BREVIS an easy five Goodreads stars. There’s some mild profanity, but nothing that would put it beyond a PG-15, maybe even as low as a PG-13. If you like historical fiction, I’d recommend this book, and possibly the series, though I need to go back read the previous six novels before I can say that with certainty. And given as much as I enjoyed this novel, I will be doing just that.

Who Review: The Time Monster

The Newton Institute at Cambridge University is experimenting with time. Under the direction of Professor Thaskalos, Dr. Ruth Ingram and Stuart Hyde are using TOMTIT, Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time, to move objects from one location to another. Key to the experiments is a trident crystal belonging to Professor Thaskalos. While the Professor’s assistants see great potential benefit in TOMTIT, Thaskalos has only one goal: calling Kronos, thought by the Ancient Greeks to be a god, but which is, in fact, a mighty Chronovore that devours time. With Kronos in his control, Thascalos believes he would have limitless power.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is picking up disturbances in time, tracing them to a location that recent studies suggest is the location of the lost city of Atlantis. When the Brigadier informs the Doctor that he has been invited to witness a demonstration of TOMTIT, the Doctor’s interest is piqued. Even more so when he discovers the name of the Professor in charge. Thascalos is Greek for Master. Suddenly, TOMTIT takes on a deadly importance. The Doctor and Jo must hunt down the Master, even to Atlantis itself, to stop him before he releases Kronos, and brings about the end of all creation.

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 Time Monster” is the last story in Doctor Who’s ninth season, Jon Pertwee’s third as the Third Doctor. Robert Sloman is listed as the writer, though, as with all his stories, producer Barry Letts was his uncredited co-writer.

The story is not a fan favorite, though I think it’s not bad. Not the best, but entertaining enough. The device the Doctor constructs Magyver-fashion to block the Master’s attempt to call Kronos is quite far-fetched. Forks stuck in a cork balanced on something with a disc on top, and a cup with tea leaves placed on top of it all, spinning around of its own volition? It should at least be powered by the sonic screwdriver–something that makes it a little less like a Blue Peter project. And the acting by the support cast in Atlantis is very wooden, and comes across like a second-rate Greek tragedy. These scenes are saved by the creative set and costume designs, and good performances by George Cormack and Ingrid Pitt.

Yes, Ingrid Pitt, famous Hammer Horror actress. I’m sure that was a coup for the Who team–a sure fire way to boost the adult audience, even if she is slightly more attired than she would normally be in a Hammer movie. Slightly. Her flirting with the Master is fun (and I bet Roger Delgado enjoyed that immensely), but even better are her put-down lines. The Master has never been so wonderfully dissed as he is by Queen Galleia, and King Dalios (Cormack) for that matter.

Once again, the production team are anxious to get the Doctor away from Earth. This time they accomplish it by having his TARDIS follow the Master’s. First he dematerializes inside the Master’s TARDIS. This is not a good idea, as he soon learns–and maybe this is why later, in the Fourth Doctor story “Logopolis,” he recognizes the dangers inherent in such a maneuver. The Doctor eventually manages to follow the Master to Atlantis, but I get the feeling script editor Terrance Dicks is so frustrated with the situation, he would go to almost any lengths to get the TARDIS off of Earth. And with the methods used here, I think we’re scraping the barrel of ideas.

This is the first Doctor Who story that really plays around with time, having localized slow down of time, as well as characters made to grow very old, or become very young (baby Benton!). For a show about a time traveler, it’s strange that it has taken nearly ten years to do this.

We also get our strongest hints about the sentient nature of the TARDIS. Jo comments that the Doctor talks about it as if it’s alive, to which the Doctor replies that it is, in a way. He also references the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits, and we see its ability to tap into the Doctor’s mind and relay his thoughts.

Bessie gets an upgrade in this story. The Doctor fits a “Super Drive” feature, making the car travel incredibly fast. The Doctor assures Jo that his reflexes are better than human reflexes, so he is able to control Bessie even at high speed. And the brakes have been modified so they absorb the inertia even of the passengers, preventing people from flying into the windshield when he stops the car.

As I said, it’s not a bad story, and worth watching for some of the better scenes I mentioned above. I was particularly glad to get it on DVD since my VHS version had bad sound, and not long after I purchased it on VHS, the price shot up beyond what I was willing to pay to replace it.

Happy Independence Day!

I missed my blog’s fifth anniversary (June 17th), and I missed this past Friday’s “Links and Stuff,” and I don’t remember when the last “Music Monday” was, so I thought I’d better at least acknowledge Independence Day here in the U.S.

As an ex-pat Brit, this might seem like an awkward celebration for me. But it’s not really. For a start, my family heritage is more Scots-Irish and Welsh, and none of them were on good terms with the English Red Coats. And while British blood runs in these veins, I declared my national allegiance over ten years ago when I became a U.S. citizen. This is my home now, and if it wasn’t for those brave souls willing to risk treason by signing a piece of paper in a sweltering room in Philadelphia that summer day in 1776, so much of my life would be very different.

It’s a sobering fact, well brought out in the musical and movie, “1776,” that, if the revolution had failed, each signer of that Declaration of Independence would be liable for a sure death sentence. Those people believed this experiment was worth that much, and that the alternative was that much worse.

So, as a former Brit, I salute those who put their names to a document that changed the world:

  • John Hancock (1737 – 1793)
  • Samuel Adams (1722 – 1803)
  • John Adams (1735 – 1826)
  • Robert Treat Paine (1731 – 1814)
  • Elbridge Gerry (1744 – 1814)
  • Button Gwinnett (1735 – 1777)
  • Lyman Hall (1724 – 1790)
  • George Walton (1741 – 1804)
  • William Hooper (1742 – 1790)
  • Joseph Hewes (1730 – 1779)
  • John Penn (1740 – 1788)
  • Edward Rutledge (1749 – 1800)
  • Thomas Heyward, Jr (1746 – 1809)
  • Thomas Lynch, Jr. (1749 – 1799)
  • Arthur Middleton (1742 – 1787)
  • Samuel Chase (1741 – 1811)
  • William Paca (1740 – 1799)
  • Thomas Stone (1743 – 1787)
  • Charles Carroll (1737 – 1832)
  • George Wythe (1726 – 1806)
  • Richard Henry Lee (1732 – 1794)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)
  • Benjamin Harrison (1726 – 1791)
  • Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1738 – 1789)
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734 – 1797)
  • Carter Braxton (1736 – 1797)
  • Robert Morris (1734 – 1806)
  • Benjamin Rush (1746 – 1813)
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
  • John Morton (1724 – 1777)
  • George Clymer (1739 – 1813)
  • James Smith (1719 – 1806)
  • George Taylor (1716 – 1781)
  • James Wilson (1742 – 1798)
  • George Ross (1730 – 1779)
  • Caesar Rodney (1728 – 1784)
  • George Read (1733 – 1798)
  • Thomas McKean (1735 – 1817)
  • William Floyd (1734 – 1821)
  • Philip Livingston (1716 – 1778)
  • Francis Lewis (1713 – 1802)
  • Lewis Morris (1726 – 1798)
  • Richard Stockton (1730 – 1781)
  • John Witherspoon (1723 – 1794)
  • Francis Hopkinson (1737 – 1791)
  • John Hart (1711 – 1779)
  • Abraham Clark (1726 – 1794)
  • Josiah Bartlett (1729 – 1795)
  • William Whipple (1730 – 1785)
  • Matthew Thornton (1714 – 1803)
  • Stephen Hopkins (1707 – 1785)
  • William Ellery (1727 – 1820)
  • Roger Sherman (1721 – 1793)
  • Samuel Huntington (1731 – 1796)
  • William Williams (1731 – 1811)
  • Oliver Wolcott (1726 – 1797)

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.