Book Review: FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao

Xifeng lives the life of a peasant with her seamstress aunt, practicing the family trade. Though poor, she has her natural beauty, a place in her world, and the love of Wei, one of the local craftsmen. But the marks on her back betray the cruel beatings Xifeng receives at the hands of her aunt. And yet both she and her overbearing guardian sense Xifeng is destined for greater things. Indeed, her destiny, if she chooses to pursue it, will take her to the royal court, and even a position of power in the continent of Feng Lu. So says the darkness that writhes within her. A darkness born of magic. But to gain the world, Xifeng will have to give her soul to that darkness. She must choose between poverty and power, love and selfish ambition. A home with Wei, or a throne beside the Emperor. And the darkness within will not make the choice easy.

Julie and I used to frequent the same YA blogs, so we’ve been writing acquaintances for some years. I remember a thousand-word flash fiction contest we both entered, where we had to write stories based on a picture prompt. As I recall, Julie’s story was a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it involved a walking tree operated by levers. It was so creative, and so well-told, I knew when I read it Julie was destined to be published. And here we are! Her debut novel. And it’s wonderful to be able to say, “Told you so!” 🙂

Naturally, my expectations for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS were high, and Julie doesn’t disappoint. She has created a rich fantasy, almost fairy-tale, world based in East Asian culture, with characters that pop out of the pages. Xifeng is an interesting protagonist, because, without giving too much away, she’s not your average heroine. Indeed, throughout the whole book, her motives are torn between self-interest and doing what’s right. As the story goes on, one side gradually dominates the other. But needless to say, she’s not always very likable, and it’s to Julie’s credit that you feel any sympathy for her, or root for her in any way.

There are twists to the story, and characters you need to keep an eye on. Things are not always as they seem. This is the first of a multi-novel series, so the book ends on a cliff-hanger, with loose ends that need to be resolved. And that’s probably as much as I can say without spoiling it for you!

I don’t usually read YA Fantasy [Side bar: Xifeng is 18 at the start of the novel, which is a little old for a YA protagonist. Yet the voice and style of the novel is definitely YA, which goes to show, age isn’t everything for YA.], but I looked forward to this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a couple of s-words, and some gruesome images, so on the whole, I’d rate it a PG-15. But it’s elegantly written, and well deserving of your attention. I could see this being picked up by Studio Ghibli, so if you like their movies (think “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”), you’ll particularly enjoy this book. An easy 5 Goodreads stars.

Who Review: The Keeper of Traken

Back in N-Space, the Doctor and Adric find themselves close to the planet Traken, part of the Traken Union, an empire whose controlling Source has enabled its inhabitants to live in peace and harmony for many years. The guardian of the Source, the Keeper of Traken, is on the verge of death, and will soon be succeeded by one of the ruling consuls, Tremas. The Keeper pays the Doctor an unexpected visit in the TARDIS to ask for his help. He senses some great evil about to befall Traken. A malevolent force has infiltrated Tremas’s family, which includes his second wife, Cassia, and his daughter, Nyssa. Cassia has been tending to a Melkur in the grove of the capital. Traken is used to receiving Melkurs–corrupt visitors drawn to Traken that become calcified due to the overwhelming harmony and peace of the planet. These creatures don’t usually last long, but for some reason, the Melkur under Cassia’s care still stands. The Keeper fears the influence of the Melkur, especially at such a volatile time for Traken, with the Keeper about to die, relinquishing the Source to his successor. If this evil should get control of the Source, it will be an unimaginable catastrophe, not only for Traken, but, given the great power contained within the Source, perhaps for the universe. The Keeper is not exaggerating, especially when the Doctor discovers the true nature of the Melkur, and his intentions…

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!

Written by newcomer, Johnny Byrne, “The Keeper of Traken” is one of the gems in this season, though it changed somewhat between Byrne’s writing and broadcast, largely due to broader changes within the series that producer John Nathan-Turner was keen to implement. This means the story serves as a vehicle for the introduction of soon-to-be new companion, Nyssa, as well as building up to the departure of Tom Baker. We also see Adric come into his own without the dominating shadow of Romana to steal his thunder. He and the Fourth Doctor work well together, with the Doctor allowing Adric to share in the problem-solving, treating him as part of the team. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the story is the return of The Master, last seen at death’s door and sporting the skeletal look in “The Deadly Assassin” five years previously. More about that in a moment.

In terms of production values, there’s a lot to like. The costumes look good, the sets are magnificent, and even the Melkur statue has an eerie quality to it. The “laser gun” type effects are clearly period and don’t hold up so well. What can you say? The effects team did the best they could with what they had. However, there’s not much to detract from the enjoyment of the story. Indeed, the design supports the story very well.

Tom Baker puts in another flawless performance as the Doctor, with some nice light touches of humor. Matthew Waterhouse is surprisingly good in this story. I really do think Lalla Ward’s departure was the best thing that happened for Matthew. There’s a chemistry between Adric and the Fourth Doctor that is begging to be explored, but sadly doesn’t make it beyond the next story. I would have loved to have seen this developed, with the Doctor mentoring Adric in a sort of professor-student relationship. There also seems to have been an attempt to return to the original concept for Adric as a kind of “Artful Dodger”-type character, betrayed, perhaps, by his ability to pick locks. Sarah Sutton is superb as Nyssa. She plays her with conviction, and is totally believable as the young girl suddenly caught up in a difficult and dangerous situation, and having to come into her own. Her character was originally only written for this one story, but Sarah delivered such a good performance, Nathan-Turner offered her a spot as a regular companion.

Byrne’s original script did not bring back the Master–this was Nathan-Turner’s idea, requiring a rewrite to include him. But it works. And the hints of his return are dropped slowly throughout, first with the withered hand controlling the Melkur, and then the fact the Melkur somehow knows the Doctor and the TARDIS. Near the end of episode three, we finally see the decaying face behind the Melkur, and, in the event the audience doesn’t recognize him from “The Deadly Assassin,” when the Melkur appears on the Keeper’s chair, you can hear the TARDIS materialization sound in the background.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the story. First, the use of terms like “hugger-mugger” and “rapport” seem out of place for an alien planet. Especially “rapport.” This is a French word, and the Trakens give it the same meaning when they talk about having “rapport” with the Source. When did the Trakens learn French? How did this word come into their vocabulary, their technical vocabulary, no less? Science fiction does this a lot (i.e., put English colloquialisms or foreign loan-words on the lips of aliens) and it makes me cringe.

The only negative design element worth comment, in my opinion anyway, is the Master’s costume. It simply doesn’t look as good as the original skeletal face in “The Deadly Assassin.” It’s not nearly as creepy, and makes him look a lot better off than he did five years ago.

Toward the end of the story, the Doctor sets us up for the next serial by commenting on the need for the TARDIS to be repaired. Adric wonders why he doesn’t go ahead and fix it, to which the Doctor quips, “This type’s not really my forte” (har har–his TARDIS is a type-40). Another set-up for the next serial is the appearance of the Master’s TARDIS disguised as a grandfather clock (as it was at the end of “The Deadly Assassin”). After taking over Tremas’s body (Tremas, by the way, is an intentional anagram of Master), the Master takes off in his TARDIS, leaving us the impression that we’ll see him again soon. The story ends with Nyssa looking for her father, which is both heartbreaking, and makes for a sort-of cliffhanger.

I’m actually going to call this one a Must-See for Who fans. Season eighteen is one of my favorite Fourth Doctor seasons, and this story shines as an example of everything that’s good about it. It’s fresh and original, with great acting, a good script, and good production values.

Who Review: Warrior’s Gate

Still trying to escape E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric find themselves caught in a neutral zone between universes. The TARDIS is visited by a lion-like man named Biroc, who travels to them on a time wind which fries K-9’s memory wafers. Biroc delivers a cryptic message before disappearing again. Intrigued, the Doctor sets out to explore this neutral area, hoping to find a pathway through to N-Space, normal space. Meanwhile, the crew of a vessel, similarly caught in this universe intersection, come upon the TARDIS, and take Romana captive, believing her to be a “time sensitive” and able to help fix their ship’s engines. It seems they are holding the lion-like people, Tharils, captive, and using their abilities to try to navigate their way out of E-Space. Meanwhile, the Doctor stumbles upon a banquet hall, shrouded in dust and cobwebs, and a mirror wall guarded by robots. That mirror could be the key to escaping E-Space if he could only find a way through. To make matters worse, the neutral space is contracting, and if the Doctor doesn’t hurry up and find a way out, they could all be trapped in E-Space forever…

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!

Written by another series newcomer (the fourth new writer this season), Stephen Gallagher, “Warrior’s Gate” started out as an epic script that the producer and director had to whittle down to T.V. dimensions. This probably accounts for the relatively dense nature of the story. It’s a good story, and well-written, but it marks a departure from previous Doctor Who stories in that it is quite “heavy.” Around the basic core story, there are layers of philosophy, science, and subtle messaging that sometimes muddy the waters, and leave the viewer a bit confused unless they are paying close attention.

The basic story revolves around the Tharils, who are able to use time winds to travel in space and time. At one time, they were hunters, enslaving people throughout galaxies and times. But then a group of their slaves built robots, Gundans, which they used to turn the tables on the Tharils, subduing and enslaving them. The large ship that shares the neutral void with the TARDIS is, in fact, a slave ship carrying Tharils. While the crew of the ship want to escape E-Space, the Tharils want to throw off their oppressors and be free. The Tharils now recognize the evil of their past, and desire to simply live their lives in peace. In the end, once the slave ship is destroyed and the captured Tharils safely rescued, Romana decides to stay in E-Space and help Biroc. He needs a Time Lord to help free all the other Tharils throughout time. K-9 has the data they need to reconstruct a TARDIS, so he stays with them. Besides, if he returns, he will suffer the effects of his damaged memory wafers.

Layered on top of this basic story, there’s talk of the I-Ching, chance, and coin tossing, among other things. Then there’s the rather unusual direction from Paul Joyce, who wanted to treat the story more like a movie than a T.V. show. This led to some interesting choices, including upward shots (usually disallowed because the camera would be pointing at the studio lights), and use of the fairly new hand-held camera for some first-person shots. Though these rankled the powers that be at the BBC, they ended up being quite effective, and contributing to the sophistication of the story.

“Warrior’s Gate” doesn’t require a lot of special effects, and the only “monster” costumes are the Tharil heads and hands, which are actually quite well done. The models in the model shots sadly can’t avoid looking like models, though they do the best with what they’ve got. Some of the CSO (“green screen”) effects are a bit wonky, but, again, the BBC didn’t have the technology to do much better.

At the end, we say goodbye to Romana and K-9. I can’t say I’m all that sad to see Romana go. This incarnation of the Time Lady is not my favorite. I much preferred Mary Tamm’s interpretation, and, to be blunt, while Lalla Ward is a good actress, Mary was better. Probably the thing that separates them the most is the way Mary avoided being overly theatrical, a trap Lalla fell into more than once. But that’s just my opinion. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d kept K-9, but he had been around for a few years, and it was probably time to remove that crutch. The Doctor will have to figure things out without recourse to a mobile computer.

With the Doctor and Adric now well on their way to N-Space, thanks to the Tharils, the next adventure awaits. But time’s running out on Doctor number Four. It was during the making of this serial that Tom Baker announced his departure after seven years on the show.

As with this season, and the “E-Space Trilogy” as a whole, I recommend this adventure. It’s not must-see watching, but it’s a good story, and the different approach to directing Doctor Who is worth the attention.

Published!!

The October 2017 issue of Empyreome Magazine went live yesterday morning (Saturday, October 7), featuring my story, “Time in a Bottle”!!! I’ve been throwing exclamation points and being generally obnoxious all over the internet telling the world, so I thought it about time I announce it on my blog.

To answer those questions I posed last week:

What’s it called?

“Time in a Bottle”

What inspired it?

Believe it or not, the Jim Croce song, “Time in a Bottle.” In the song, Croce yearns to be able to bottle up time, so he could have an endless supply to spend with loved ones, and do the things he wants to do. Jim recorded the song in 1972, and it was released as a single in 1973 after his untimely death in a plane crash.

Where can I find it? When will it be available?

It’s available now, right here: Empyreome, Vol.1, Issue 4.

I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

The Unique Power of Reading, Part 2

Last time I talked about the power of reading to communicate with the dead. Well, better put, to have the dead communicate with us. Though the author may have shed the chains of mortality many decades ago, their thoughts, ideas, and stories are still with us, and we can read them and hear their voice speak to us from the page.

Let’s push that idea a little further. If you read this blog regularly, you know about Doctor Who. Even if it’s from seeing (but not necessarily reading) the Who Reviews. Doctor Who is a TV show about an alien who travels in time and space in a police box called a TARDIS. The remarkable thing about this TARDIS, aside from being able to travel in time and space, is the fact that it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. On the outside, it looks like a blue box, barely big enough for two people standing. Inside, there is a cavernous control room, and a seemingly-infinite number of rooms and corridors and cubby holes. There’s a whole world, a whole dimension of existence, within those walls, that can swallow you up and keep you exploring for days.

Not only can a book take you back in time so you can hear Dickens tell you about Victorian London through the eyes of Oliver Twist, or have Agatha Christie transport you to Twenties England with Hercule Poirot, but within it’s covers is a vast world to explore. In fantasy novels, the world will be mapped and detailed, such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Lewis’s Narnia, or Rowling’s wizarding world. In these tales, and others like them, you get a sense of vastness, of places unexplored, expanses that are as limitless as your imagination. Other novels will take you to real places, maybe places you’ve never been, captured in a moment of time. Whether it’s the smells, culture, and drama of Haiti in Edwidge Danticat’s BREATH, EYES, MEMORY, or Kabul at the turn of the twenty-first century in Khaled Hosseini’s A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS.

Wherever it might be, imagined or real, within the space of a few hundred pages between two covers, you have your very own TARDIS to travel the universe and traverse the space-time continuum, to visit strange, and not-so-strange new worlds, without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair.

Reading gives you the power to be a Time Lord!

And when things in this world seem to get out of control, and become hard to deal with, that can be a wonderful thing.

Who Review: State of Decay

In their search for a way out of E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 land on a primitive looking planet with near-Earth atmosphere. The inhabitants of a nearby village live in fear of the three lords who rule over them in the castle. Once a year, guards come down to the village and select certain villagers to go back with them. They are never seen again. As the Doctor and Romana investigate, they discover the remnants of technology. Some of the villagers, in defiance of the lords’ edict banning the acquisition of knowledge, have been working on getting the equipment to work. With the Doctor’s help, they discover computer files that speak of a ship called the “Hydrax” which seems to have been pulled into E-Space many years ago. Its crew of three, however, are unaccounted for. Meanwhile, the stowaway Adric comes upon the same village after the Doctor and Romana have left, and inadvertently finds himself chosen to go to the castle. It’s only when the Doctor and Romana explore the castle that the horrible truth of what’s going on dawns on them. The planet has become the feeding ground for one of the Time Lords’ oldest and most fearsome foes, and now the Doctor and Romana are on the menu…

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!

“State of Decay” started life as a script offered to the production team by former script editor and writer, Terrance Dicks, back in 1977. However, the BBC were about to screen an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and they were afraid the Doctor Who serial would be perceived as a send-up of the classic drama. The “vampire story” was shelved, and Dicks came up with “The Horror of Fang Rock” to replace it. When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer in 1980, he came upon “State of Decay” in the production office and told new script editor Christopher Bidmead he wanted to do it.

It’s a good story, as one might expect from a veteran Who writer like Terrance Dicks, supported by some great acting from most of the main cast, and superb set design. It’s an oft-repeated fact that during this period in its history, the BBC were second-to-none when it came to costume dramas and depicting the past. The future (i.e., sci-fi), not so much. The medieval, pre-Gothic look to the castle is wonderfully conjured up, along with appropriate costumes for the three lords. When a set can make you forget the paltry budget, you know the designers have done well. The vampires are a lot more Hammer Horror than they are, say, classic Hollywood or Bram Stoker, but that was intentional, appealing to what was most familiar to the audience at the time.

The effects are a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole good. The swarming bats could have been a disaster, but with some stock footage and careful (and sparing) use of model close-ups, I think they get away with it. However the model tower, village, and scout ship look like models. Unfortunately, I don’t know that they could have done much better given the time and money at their disposal. Probably the worst effect of the whole show is the hand of the “Great One” coming out of the ground near the end. I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for how bad it looks. But it’s followed by one of the best effects, where the three lords age and crumble. Very creepy, chilling, and well executed.

Adric. Oh, Adric. I think the biggest problem with Adric is the part is too big for the actor. Matthew Waterhouse was still a teenager himself, and not very experienced. And it shows. Yes, Adric is a precocious brat, but that’s part of his character arc. Here he “out-logics” K-9 to escape from the TARDIS, and then appears to betray Romana to the vampire lords. He later says it was a bluff, that he was trying to rescue her, but given how little we really know him, for a while we could easily believe he was really back-stabbing her. In the hands of a more seasoned actor, this might have been done less awkwardly, and with more credibility. I guess my verdict on Adric is, don’t judge the character by his actor (sorry Matthew!).

One minor story quibble: the Doctor “remembers” in episode three the stories told to him about the Vampire Wars, and the fact that all the Giant Vampires were killed except for one who “disappeared.” I would have thought this would have occurred to the Doctor much earlier, when he was talking about how every culture throughout the universe has vampire legends. It’s interesting that Dicks introduces the concept of a great rivalry between the Giant Vampires and the Time Lords, and yet this has never been explored in the T.V. series since (at least up until now). Rather, it’s been left to the original novels (both Virgin and BBC), and the Big Finish audio adventures to pick up the theme and run with it.

The story ends with the Doctor telling Adric he’s going to take him back to the Starliner (see the previous story, “Full Circle”). Will they get there? That remains to be seen in the final installment of this trilogy, “Warrior’s Gate.”

To sum up: a good story, worthy of your time. Not classic or must-see Who, but very enjoyable.

Breaking News: I Sold a Story!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen–I’m going to be published! The folks at Empyreome Magazine (that’s pronouned em-peer-ee-ohm) have deemed one of my stories worthy of publication in their illustrious journal, and to that end are willing to part with hard-earned money to place my story in their October 2017 issue. Granted, it’s not a lot of hard-earned money since they are a young enterprise, and still growing. Nevertheless, like the widow’s mite, it’s not the amount that matters. In this case, it’s the fact they saw value in my work that matters to me.

I’m particularly pleased this story is going to be published. It’s one of my favorites, and through Empyreome, more people will have the opportunity to read it than I can reach with my meager online presence.

What’s it called? What inspired it? Where can I find it? When will it be available? I will post a link to it on this blog when the October 2017 issue of Empyreome goes online. You will be able to read it on their website in HTML, or you can purchase a digital copy in pdf and other e-book formats. I’ll also answer these and any other questions you may have at that time.

Until then… 😀

The Unique Power of Reading, Part 1

Most people in the world can read. About 98% of Americans are literate to some extent. Heck, you’re doing it right now! Unless you just came to look at the pictures. And if you say, “yes, I’m just here for the pictures,” then AHA! Caught you! You had to read that statement to agree with it. So, admit it: you read. Along with the vast majority of the people around you. Which means, like many of us, you probably take the fact you read for granted. Like many, myself included, you pick up a book, a magazine, turn on the internet (I know you don’t turn on the internet… it’s just there, like radio and bacteria…) and take in the words in front of you.

But have you thought about what you’re doing? Really thought about? Let’s do that for a moment.

What does it mean to read? Reading is the receiving end of an act of communication. Someone, somewhere, somewhen wrote something to entertain you, or to inform you, or to make you think. You read it, and, as a result, you are entertained, informed, or thinking about what was written. No other species on the planet can do that, which means you and I are very, very special. There are 8.7 million species on the planet (according to The Internet), but ours is the only one that reads. Sure, birds can sing to each other, and skunks stink love messages. But when was the last time a skunk captured their smell to send to their hottie? Birds don’t make mp3s of their music. And cats don’t send each other hate mail…

We humans have a complex variety of communication methods, most popularly using words (not discounting body language, sign language, and emojis). With these words we make each other laugh, express the deepest longings of our souls, sass each other, educate each other, and tell stories. We like that last one especially. And from Egyptian walls to parchment to the printing press, we’ve taken time to capture those words and ideas for posterity. Which means, I don’t have to summon H.G. Wells from the dead to hear his story about the Martians invading London. Or do I? Because when I open this book…

… and start reading:

“No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…”

H.G. Wells is speaking to me from the grave. His words from 119 years ago are alive in my head as I read them. The same pictures he painted in the minds of his Victorian audience begin to form in my mind. Wells’s body may be long gone from this earth, but his voice lives whenever I pick up and read his work.

Reading has the power to bring the dead to life!

Consider that next time you read a book by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, or Ian Fleming. They are still telling you their stories, even though their physical voices have been silenced. When you read their words, it’s as if they are sitting right there with you, speaking to you. Entertaining you. Informing you. Making you think.

More on the power of reading in the next post. Stay tuned!  🙂

Who Review: Full Circle

Romana’s in a funk. The Time Lords want their Time Lady back, so they have recalled the TARDIS to Gallifrey. After all, she was only on loan to the Doctor for the “Key to Time” adventure, and now she’s overdue her return. But she doesn’t want the adventures to end, and doesn’t fancy the prospect of the staid, safe life back home. The Doctor isn’t unsympathetic, but he’s in enough trouble with the Time Lords, so he dutifully plugs in the coordinates and sets course. But something goes wrong. There’s a bump, a shift, and when the TARDIS lands, the scanner doesn’t appear to be working. A careful examination of the coordinates reveals that they are negative. They are no longer in “normal space.” And they are not on Gallifrey. In fact, they are on the planet Alzarius, whose inhabitants live on a Starliner that crashed thousands of years ago. They have been gathering food and conducting repairs, ready for the day of embarkation, when they will leave for their home planet of Terradon. But not all of the Alzarians live in the Starliner. A group of youngsters, “Outlers,” have chosen a life outside, living in caves, and stealing riverfruit to survive. It’s a rough life, but better than the boring existence in the ship. Except when Mistfall comes. That’s when a noxious gas fills the air, and the marsh creatures emerge from the water to terrorize the land. Adric, a young Alzarian, one of the “Elites,” eager to prove himself to his Outler brother, finds himself outside and injured as Mistfall starts. The Doctor and Romana take him in, but the marsh creatures are coming. Finding themselves trapped in this strange world, our heroes need to uncover the mystery of Mistfall so that they can escape and find a way back to N-Space…

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!

“Full Circle” is the first installment of a three-part story arc known as “The E-Space Trilogy.” The next two stories, “State of Decay” and “Warriors Gate” continue and conclude the adventure. This story was written by a newcomer, Andrew Smith, who was only seventeen at the time. Andrew had been submitting ideas to previous script editors, but it wasn’t until this particular story crossed new script editor Christopher Bidmead’s desk that his dream came true. It needed work, which wasn’t unusual for new writers, but between them, Smith and Bidmead crafted one of the better stories of the season.

The first episode is mainly concerned with setting up the trilogy premise, and establishing Alzarius, its inhabitants, and the back story to the adventure. We spend at least half the episode with the Starliner and the Outlers, not the TARDIS crew, which is unusual. But there is a lot to explain: the various strata of society (the regular people, the Elites, the Deciders, the Outlers, the Marshmen), the planet itself, Mistfall, why they are there, and what they are doing. And all of these elements are important for the plot. They establish Adric’s character as an Elite with particular skill in mathematics and a strong connection to the Outlers, as well as giving clues to the true nature of the colony.

The plot rests on an acceptance of Neo-Darwinian Micro-Mutational Evolutionary Theory. As a Christian, I do not accept NDMMET, but for the purpose of fiction, I can suspend my disbelief because, frankly, it makes for a good story (NDMMET is useless for science, so it may as well be employed for fiction). There are three “big secrets” at the heart of the plot–so this is a huge spoiler if you haven’t watched “Full Circle”: 1) there is no Terradon–the colonists are on their home planet; 2) the Starliner is ready to leave at any time, except no-one knows how to pilot it; 3) the spiders, the Marshmen, and the colonists are all genetically linked as three stages of an accelerated evolutionary development over many years. Over the course of the story, various hints are dropped (Adric’s knee healing in a matter of minutes, the fact the Mistfall air isn’t poisonous but is rich in nitrogen, the affinity spider-bitten Romana has with the Marshmen, and so on), but the Doctor clearly has his suspicions, which he proves by microscopically examining samples from a spider and a Marshman. The way these threads are drawn throughout is well done.

“Full Circle” certainly doesn’t suffer in the story department, nor in the set design. Both the Starliner and the caves look good, and the choice of outside location works well for Alzarius. Even the mist on the water is believable, especially as the Marshmen rise up out of the watery depths. My only gripe in terms of the design is that the caves would have looked even better filmed as opposed to video taped (as they did for the jungle setting in “Planet of Evil”). Tom Baker is, once again, on fine form, as are most of the main cast. The younger actors give stage-y performances which is a little distracting. And while Matthew Waterhouse does okay as Adric, that assessment makes concessions for his youth and inexperience as an actor, which really shows when he plays against Tom Baker and some of the other more veteran actors. I have to say, Lalla Ward seems to tend toward the same kind of stage-y, overdramatic performance that we see from the kids, which is disappointing after a great run of actors playing Doctor Who companions. She’s a decent actress, but after the likes of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), or Louise Jameson (Leela), I expect more.

As I said, the Marshmen looked quite effective on film, rising from the murky depths, but on video tape and on dry land, the costume flaws are more than evident. As is always the case with Classic Doctor Who, the design team is working with a very tight budget, and you have to applaud the creativity behind what they accomplish with so little money. When the effects and costumes work, you don’t notice them (e.g., Davros in “Genesis of the Daleks” or Linx, the Sontaran in “The Time Warrior”). Here, the costumes are very noticeable.

There’s a nice touch at the beginning of the story when the Doctor mentions the Key to Time, and looks forward to seeing Leela and Andred where he left them on Gallifrey. Viewers might have forgotten this detail, and it provides some motivation for the Doctor to obey the Time Lords’ summons. At the end of the story, our travelers are trapped in “Exo-Space” or “E-Space.” They determine that they stumbled through a CVE, or Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Their only escape is to find another CVE that will take them back to N-Space (“Normal Space”). They also have a stowaway on board, a fact that will be revealed in the next story, “State of Decay.”

As with all the stories in this season, I think “Full Circle” is worth watching. Not classic must-see Who, but entertaining, and with a plot that keeps you engaged, and some interesting characters.

 

NaNoWriMo 2017, Here I Come!

NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–is soon upon us. For the month of November, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people will attempt to write a novel at least 50,000 words long. The novel can be about anything, and the author can approach it however he or she wishes (plot, edit as you go, “pants,” hybrid plot-pants (which has nothing to do with gardening), etc.)–in fact, there aren’t many rules. To do it “properly,” you must start the novel with a blank page, and complete at least 50,000 words by November 30th. You can plan, research, draw characters, create character bios, even cast the movie version of your story as much as you want prior to November 1. However, you are not supposed to begin the actual novel until day one of the challenge.

I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and completed a 70,000+ word novel. After editing and revising, it plumped up to around 80,000 words, and I even queried it, to no avail (obviously, otherwise I’d have an agent and maybe books published). But it was fun, and showed me how productive I can be if pushed. Given my renewed focus on writing, it seemed only right that I should give NaNoWriMo another go. So that’s what I’ll be doing for the month of November.

If you’ve never tried writing a novel, you may think 50,000 words is a lot of words. You’re right. It is. There are many who start NaNo and don’t finish. So you will excuse me if blog posts are a little light and perhaps not as frequent in November. I will try to post quick updates to Facebook and Twitter, so follow me there if you want to find out how I’m getting along.

If you’d like to give NaNoWriMo a try, go to the Official Site and sign up! If you’ve signed up, hunt me down (my user name is cds) and be my buddy. 🙂

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?