Author Archives: cds

About cds

Writer, theologian, musician Colin D. Smith shares thoughts on these topics and others.

And the New Doctor Is…

As most people know by now, Peter Capaldi is stepping down as Doctor Who this coming Christmas. At the end of the Christmas special, Doctor Number 12 will regenerate into Doctor Number 13. As usual, speculation has been fierce over who will be taking over the role. Yesterday, the BBC announced the name of that person.

And it’s either a shock, or not a shock. Maybe a “Blimey!” moment (as it was for my brother). If you are trying to avoid finding out before Christmas (good luck with that), CLICK HERE NOW.

If you’re still reading, you probably already know that the new Doctor will be…

 

Jodie Whittaker. No, that’s not what she will be wearing. But, yes, the new Doctor will be female. First, for those who don’t know Jodie, probably the most internationally high-profile role she has had so far is as Beth Latimer in the series Broadchurch, which was written and produced by in-coming Doctor Who show-runner, Chris Chibnall.

Why is this a shock or not a shock? It’s a shock because for the last 54 years, the Doctor has been played by a man. This is the first time in the show’s history the Doctor will be played by someone of the female gender. Why is this not a shock? Because for the past three years, Steven Moffat has been toying and teasing the idea–one might say he’s been laying the groundwork–by having the Doctor’s Time Lord arch-nemesis, the Master, regenerate into a woman (“Missy”–short for “Mistress”), and making other subtle (or not-so-subtle) references to the fact Time Lords are not locked into a single gender.

Some will not take this news well. Especially for some long-term fans of the show, used to a male Doctor, this will be a step too far. They will talk about how it will change the tone of the show, or the dynamic between the Doctor and her companion, and how it’s like having the next James Bond be a woman. Some may even become TARDIS Vacantists (a little theological humor there, courtesy of one of my pastors. Thanks, Todd!) As someone who has been a fan of Doctor Who all his life (and that’s a long time, folks), I say… hogwash. There is nothing in the Whoniverse that says a Time Lord must remain the same gender with each regeneration. Yes, it will shake things up a bit. There will be a new dynamic in the TARDIS. More than likely a new companion. I hope they give her a male companion, just as they have tended toward giving the male Doctor a female companion. Though, frankly, I’m just interested to see how it works out.

As a fan, I hope it’s a success. I hope the Doctor’s gender is not an issue in the show. It’s “An Adventure in Space and Time,” after all, not “An Experiment in Social Engineering.” None of the Doctor’s traditional enemies will care whether the Doctor’s a boy or a girl. What difference does it make to a Dalek, or a Cyberman, or the clone-race Sontarans? The Master might get a kick out of it, but who’s he/she to talk (assuming Missy regenerates…)?

My final word on the matter is actually my brother’s (thanks Ian!):

“I hope she gets a lot of support and not just mad, foaming so-called Who ‘experts’ kicking off about what supposedly can and can’t happen in a fictional TV programme.”

Amen.

Welcome to the Whoniverse, Jodie Whittaker!

What do you think? Excited? Scared? Share in the comments!

Writing about Writing

You might notice that the tag-line to this blog says “Reading Writing Music Theology Etc.” If you’ve been following for any length of time (well, not any length–I mean, if you’ve been following for a few days this wouldn’t appy) you’ll have seen book reviews, Music Mondays, Sunday School Notes, Doctor Who stuff, and other things. But where’s the writing? Sure, I’ve posted some flash fiction from time to time. But you may have noticed I’ve gone quiet when it comes to writing tips and publishing advice.

Back when I started this blog, oh some six years ago now, I did a mini-series (a costume drama, I think) on querying agents, giving tips and suggestions. I was, at that time, querying my first query-ready novel. I had done a lot of reading, and I wanted to sum up all my research and offer it up to the world.

Since that time, however, I’ve done some hard thinking. You see, I am, and remain to this day, an unagented, unpublished writer. So my expertise in publishing is as good as my reading and conversations I’ve had with agents and published writers. I don’t have anything to offer by way of good, positive experience. When I look for query advice, there are two types of people I consider SMEs (Subject Matter Experts):

  • The people who read queries as a job requirement and necessity (i.e., literary agents and editors)
  • People whose queries have secured them multiple requests from agents, or, who have secured agency representation as a result of their queries. In other words, people who have written successful queries. Queries that have produced the desired result.

I am in neither of these camps. So why should anyone listen to what I have to say, when you have plenty of SMEs telling you what you want to know?

As for writing tips, sure I can tell you what works for me. But I have nothing to show for my writing so far, so why should you care what works for me? Clearly what works for me doesn’t yet work for many other people. Again, when I want writing tips, who do I turn to? Published authors whose work I like, people who have demonstrated ability with the craft of writing, and have, as a result, written work that is salable and/or critically acclaimed.

So, at least for now, until I have a credible enough platform from which to pontificate, I’ll gladly point you to SMEs. But unless, for some strange reason, you want to read my thoughts on writing, how I go about composing prose, or whatever, I won’t be posting “tips and tricks” here. Or anywhere else. It just seems a little presumptuous, and a bit arrogant, of me. After all, in the immortal words of the Eighth Doctor, “Who am I?” (Whovian in-joke). So here are some SMEs to get you started. You can easily Google for more:

Query SMEs:

Query Shark/Janet Reid

Carly Watters

Publishing Crawl (Pub Crawl)

Various Tips from Literary Agents

… and other Literary Agent blogs.

Writing SMEs:

Stephen King (his book ON WRITING)

Jeff Somers

Writer’s Digest

James Scott Bell

Who Review: The Doctor Falls

On board a spaceship that is so large, time travels faster at the bottom than the top, the Cybermen are building recruits at break-neck speed. Not only the old Mondasian type, but also weapons-grade Cybermen, fully armored and ready to fight. Their mission is to find all the humans on the ship and upgrade them. The Master has been helping them along, but his plan to kill the Doctor personally is foiled by the fact the Doctor updated the ship’s software, expanding the definition of human to include beings with two hearts. The Time Lords, and Bill, now a Cyberman, manage to escape with Nardole’s help to another floor. Here there are lush fields, woods, and a solar farm. But they need to prepare. The Cybermen are coming, and, being lower down in the ship, time is on their side. Can the Doctor possibly fend off a relentless attack of Cybermen? If the odds aren’t stacked against him enough, the Master and Missy have their own agenda. Will even Missy, who seemed to be turning to the side of right, abandon him in his hour of greatest need? With his own time drawing to a close, growing weaker by the hour, this might be the Doctor’s last stand…

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

This was definitely an explosive finale, and a set-up for what could be an interesting Christmas episode. We’ll talk about that in a moment. My main disappointment was that the Doctor didn’t regenerate, so we still have no idea who Thirteen will be. We came close–we got the glowy hands and even a bit of facial fire, but no. He held it back like a full bladder in the movie theater. But he can’t hold off the inevitable, no matter how much he complains. And I guess that will be the theme of the Christmas story: letting go and moving on. But not until you get to the bathroom.

We start the episode establishing that the Doctor is not in good shape. He’s been beaten around by Master Missy, and hugged by a Cyberman that Bill put paid to with her snazzy new head weapon. One could ask how a laser on the head is an upgrade to humanity, rather than enhanced intelligence, for example, but maybe this version of the Mondasian Cyberman has moved beyond the portable light set they used to use for killing people (see “The Tenth Planet”). Missy tells the Doctor she was really on his side all along, and knocked herself out–I mean, knocked the Master out, to prove it, thus aiding their escape.

Throughout this episode, Bill is a Cyberman. But we don’t always see her as a Cyberman; much of the time, we see her as she thinks of herself–human. Except when she looks in a mirror, and then she sees herself as everyone else does: a Cyberman. It’s a good effect, and gives us one last chance to bask in Pearl Mackie’s amazing talent as an actress (at least in Doctor Who–I’m sure we’ll see her again in other things). The scene with the Doctor as he tries to break the news to her that she’s been Cyber-ized is so well played. Pearl owns the dialog and makes it emotionally real. I have to say, the whole Bill/Cyber-Bill switching was very effective, and managed to evoke sympathy for her, without losing sight of the fact that the Cybermen are really bad creatures that need to be defeated. Indeed, Bill gives the Doctor permission to kill her if and when the Cyberman programming takes her over completely.

Once more, Nardole is a gem, and provides the lighter touches to what is really quite a grim story. His parting speech was suitably Nardole, but also quite touching. “I’ll never find the right words” sums it up perfectly. Hats off to Matt Lucas, probably the biggest surprise of the season for me. I’ve said it before, but I didn’t expect to like Nardole, yet he grew on me. In many ways he reminds me of Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s companion for most of his tenure. Down-to-earth, witty, not afraid to question the Doctor’s judgment, but fundamentally loyal to the end.

I know Steven Moffat relished the opportunity to write for both the Master and Missy. And they were very good together, especially as Missy plays turn-coat on him-her-self. Just this past week I learned that Michelle Gomez had decided to leave the role, so with the demise of both the Master and Missy, that leaves open the question of whether the Master will return. How can he return? The Master shot Missy will a full dose of his lethal laser screwdriver which means she can’t regenerate. But this is the Master we’re talking about. How often has he come back from certain death over the past 46 years? Plenty. And, as if in parallel to that, the Doctor was shot multiple times by a Cyberman such that even he believed he was dying. The fact he didn’t regenerate until Bill’s tear triggered the process leads us to believe that, without Bill’s unintentional intervention, he would in fact be dead. Deceased. An ex-Time Lord. Could something similar happen with Missy? I imagine it will. And the next Master will come with a clean slate, and all this talk of standing with the Doctor long forgotten.

So Bill is dead… but not quite… or not really. The return of Heather the Pilot from episode one was a surprise, and she was a useful plot device to get the Doctor and Cyber-Bill back to the TARDIS. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; Moff likes this self-referencing, bringing back characters from earlier stories we had forgotten about, and using them to save the day. Maybe a bit deus ex machina, but I suppose we had to get the Doctor back to the TARDIS somehow, so I can live with it. In my review of the previous episode I said I hoped that was it for Bill, as much as I liked her as a companion. While Moff didn’t somehow magically un-Cyberman her, through making her a water-entity like Heather, he opened the possibility that Bill could return, though not as a regular companion. Moff’s intention was to keep Doctor Who an optimistic, positive show in the midst of so much negativity. Previous companions have died without a happy ending (Katrina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, Peri–at least for those who don’t buy the whole King Yrcanos story), but this is NuWho, and in NuWho, even companions who die move on to something nice (Rose with her human Doctor, Amy and Rory together, Clara with her diner). Some may object, but I’m okay with that–as long as they stay gone. Let’s have finality and closure. Of course, with Moff departing, it’s unlikely Bill will return, and I hope Chris Chibnall will only bring her back if a story demands it. Maybe the 60th anniversary story?

Now let’s talk about the ending, and the teaser for Christmas. The TARDIS has taken the Twelfth Doctor to a snowy wilderness. He stumbles out of the TARDIS, falls to his knees, and fights against regeneration. A figure in the distance comes closer. His voice is familiar. Why… it’s David Bradley reprising his role as the First Doctor from “An Adventure in Space and Time,” Mark Gatiss’s brilliant docu-drama on the origins of Doctor Who made for the 50th anniversary. The set up for Christmas, then, is the Twelfth and First Doctor… doing stuff! Since there will be a regeneration at the end, I expect the episode will be an hour-long dialog/adventure convincing the Doctor to let go and change. But I understand what Moff’s up to–at least I think I do.

One of the problems having a leading character who can regenerate when he dies is that the Doctor is never really in any life-threatening danger. Spider Man could be shot. Batman could fall and break his neck. Even Superman could overdose on Kryptonite. The Doctor would just change into a new person. What the new series has tried to do is introduce the idea that regeneration is not an easy way out. It’s painful. It means changing into someone you don’t know. The Doctor gets comfortable with each persona, so a change is like moving house: an enormous upheaval to go through, and it takes ages to settle in and get to know the new surroundings. The Tenth Doctor loved his incarnation, and didn’t want to leave it. Eleven seemed okay with the change, though he had just been granted a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords, so it would have been a bit churlish to get uppity about it. Twelve, now, is resisting. He’s not done. Or maybe there are other reasons he wants to stay as Peter Capaldi. I expect we’ll explore this more at Christmas. I hope there’s more to the story than just Twelve and One chatting about life for an hour, as interesting as that might be. Good theater, perhaps. But as Steven Moffat’s final Who, I’m looking for a strong story, explosions, and plot twists. In other words, no Bill the Snowman. Please!

To sum up, I think this was a fitting conclusion to an excellent season. A “Must-See” for Whovians–this and the previous episode, and for everyone else, great acting, great effects, and everything you could want from good television. Definitely not a waste of your time.

What did you think?

Program Note: The Who Reviews are taking a break for the rest of July. We’ll pick back up with my review of the Classic Fourth Doctor story, “Destiny of the Daleks” the first Tuesday in August.

Who Review: World Enough and Time

The Doctor believes Missy really wants to shed her evil ways and become good, so he devises a test for her. The TARDIS picks up a distress call, and responds. Wherever they end up, the Missy will be “The Doctor” and lead Bill and Nardole in figuring out the problem, solving it, and saving lives, just as he would. Bill is not too thrilled about this plan. She doesn’t trust Missy and is afraid it’ll backfire. The Doctor assures her he will be monitoring the situation, and will intervene if things go awry. They land on a colony ship in distress. Missy, Bill, and Nardole determine that the ship is trying to pull away from the event horizon of a black hole, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Then they are confronted by what seems to be sole survivor of a miles-long ship that was carrying hundreds of people. And he’s pointing a gun at them. The Doctor intervenes, but that doesn’t improve things. In fact, a shot is fired, and someone dies. They are taken to the lower part of the ship where they will be “repaired.” However, the ship is so long, there is a significant time difference between the two ends. But that’s not the only surprise waiting at the bottom of the ship. It seems the crew didn’t all die. At least not in the traditional sense. They too were repaired. And the ship isn’t from Earth, as they at first thought, but from a planet very like Earth–its twin, one could say. For both the Doctor and Missy, the past is about to catch up with them…

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

The spoiler-free version of my review is as follows:

OH MY GOODNESS!! You… wh… huh?? Ha! Awwww!!! What?! Oh my! In other words, you will really want to watch this episode, and probably the next one too since it’s part one of a two-parter.

Now the spoilery version:

All season we’ve been promised the return of the Mondasian Cybermen–the original Cybermen from 1966–and John Simm as The Master. Steven Moffat decided to keep us waiting the whole season for the realization of his promise. And what a way to do it! I’ve said before in my reviews that Steven Moffat was by far the best writer of the Russell T. Davies era, but his writing suffered when he took on show-running duties. Some of his stories have been good, but others have been below par. His plots have tried too hard to be clever, and at times his attempts to be unconventional or surprising have resulted in stories that, to some degree, lack credulity. In this story, however, he gives us a Cyberman origins story (itself a daring move to make) that I can buy. On top of that, he throws in at least one twist that caught us all by surprise: Bill getting shot and turned into one of the first Cybermen.

There were other potential plot surprises: the return of the Mondasian Cybermen, and the return of the John Simm Master. If we had not known about these months ago, they would have been truly amazing surprises. The Master’s disguise as Razor is one of his best yet (some of his Classic Series disguises were quite… um… not impressive), and it took me a while before I started getting suspicious. Of course, if I hadn’t been expecting John Simm, I probably wouldn’t have been looking for him under the make-up, and that would have been a surprise of “Earthshock” proportions.

For his final finale, Moffat also took the opportunity to resolve an old issue among Whovians: “Doctor Who.” We know that’s the name of the show, but the title character has always been called “The Doctor,” except for a couple of instances where he is referred to as “Doctor Who.” The one that springs to mind most vividly is in the First Doctor story “The War Machines,” when WOTAN, the computer, says “Doctor Who is required.” So, which is it? Missy solves the problem for us: “Doctor Who” is his real name, or at least the name he originally chose. But it was too “on-the-nose” in the mystery department, so he shortened it to “The Doctor.” I think that’s as good an explanation as any, and probably better than most.

As we’ve come to expect with NuWho, the effects, scenery, costumes are all top-notch. I liked that the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver doubles as a marker pen (watch for that in the shops in time for Christmas). The fact he carries a screwdriver around with him, not a gun, is so typically Doctor Who, so it only makes sense that there’s a pen hidden inside, not a knife. We aren’t told if the blue guy on the ship is of the same race as the blue people we met in “Oxygen,” but knowing Moffat’s penchant for arcs and self-referencing, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But what about Bill? Is that it for her? Is she now a Cyberman, i.e., for all intents and purposes, dead? Or will the Doctor do something to bring her back? As much as I’ve enjoyed Bill as a companion, as well as Pearl Mackie’s outstanding performance, I want to say that I hope not. I really do hope this is it for Bill. It was heartbreaking to see her get shot, and to be betrayed by Razor after all the time she spent with him while waiting for the Doctor. I think it would undermine the drama, and ruin the tone of the finale if she were to suddenly be brought back. And please… PLEASE… once she’s gone, let her be gone. All those Danny and Clara reappearances after their demises became really quite annoying in the last two seasons. Let them go, Steven. Kill your darlings and let them go.

This was an excellent episode of Doctor Who. I want to say “Must-See,” but it has a context. For the Whovians who know the show’s history, yes, this is “Must-See.” For everyone else, I would encourage you watch it. And I hope I can say the same for part two, “The Doctor Falls.” We’ll have to wait and see…

What did you think?

“No, Mr. Smith, I Mean… Where Are You *REALLY* From?”

This is a question I’m never asked, despite the fact I am an immigrant. I came to this country 25 years ago, and became a naturalized citizen 13 years ago (which is why I now spell “naturalized” with a “z”… which I still call a zed. What can I say? A leopard can’t change his alphabet). However, I came here from England; I’m white, and I look Western European, and English is my first language (albeit the Mother form of the American hybrid). Which, I believe, is largely why I don’t get asked that question. My original English accent has faded somewhat, but from time to time an astute listener will pick up on my enunciated “t”s, and that unmistakable sound of authority and intelligence, and infer that I’m not American born-and-bred. At that point in the conversation, the person might ask, “Where are you from?” But they often preface the question with a reference to my accent, and they never use “really“. Sometimes they hazard a guess that ranges from Australia to Scotland, with the more adventurous going for South Africa, though most of the time they figure it’s “the UK” or “Britain” (probably hedging their bets, just in case I’m actually from one of those weird sub-genres of English called “Welsh,” “Scottish,” or “Irish”). I don’t mind being asked, and I will talk quite freely and happily about my English-Irish-Scots-Welsh origins.

But not everyone feels that way. Especially if the person asked happens to have a non-English sounding name, and has English as a second, third, or fourth language, and is not white. I have to confess, I used to glibly ask people who don’t look or sound like me where they’re from, and would get a little frustrated when they would reply with some US city. I’m fascinated with foreign cultures and languages, and all I want to do is learn more about them first-hand. What’s the harm in that? After all, I don’t mind being asked about my British background!

To my surprise, there’s a lot of harm in asking. And I’m surprised that I’m surprised. Let me put myself in the shoes of someone who is a first generation immigrant to the US from a non-English-speaking country–maybe even non-white. I don’t look like everyone else, I don’t sound like everyone else, and all I want is to settle down, work, raise my family, and be treated just like everyone else. Then someone asks me where I’m from, and all of a sudden I’m different, foreign, maybe even not welcome. This feeling only intensifies if I’m second or third generation from a non-white country. I can sound like the natives, but I don’t look like them, and my name isn’t like any of their names. Still I get the “where are you from?” question.

Here’s my dilemma (speaking now as the white British-American dude): I want immigrants and their children to feel welcome, loved, part of society… but I also want them to feel good about their cultural roots, and be able to talk freely about being (or their family being) from China, Iran, or wherever, without at the same time feeling un-American. Watch Disney Channel for any length of time, and you’ll see their celebrities and viewers talk about their ethnic heritage, and celebrate cultural diversity. So why does this only seem to happen on television? How can I ask you “where are you from?” without making you feel uncomfortable?

The simple answer: I can’t. At least not when I meet you for the first, second, third, or perhaps even fifth time. The consensus opinion I have heard is that the only context in which I can get away with such a question is one of friendship and trust. I have to befriend you, so you know I care about you for who you are, that you are more to me than just an ethnic identity. Then, and only then, can we talk cultures and languages without anyone feeling judged. And the reason I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about my British heritage is thanks to a thing we call white privilege. That term is a hot potato in American society, but like it or not, in this case, it applies. Let’s be frank: because I’m a white English-speaking person, when someone asks me where I’m from, I’m not afraid they want to deport me, and I’m not afraid they think I’m a terrorist. The UK is a friendly country, and everyone loves the Brits and their wacky sense of humo(u)r and their Queen and Doctor Who and Monty Python, so I’m not going to get asked whether I’m from the “good” Korea, or whether I’m a communist, or what it’s like to live in a free country at last. The red carpet awaits me as soon as I open my mouth. Like it or not, that’s white privilege. I’m not happy about it. Not at all. It makes me boil, in fact. It’s sinful. But it’s real.

But what about my curiosity? People fascinate me, especially people who aren’t like me, and come from places that are strange to me. I want to learn. I want to understand. What’s wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong with it: it’s fundamentally selfish. Is my curiosity more important than someone else’s feeling of security? Is my desire to learn more important than someone else’s desire to feel welcome and accepted for who they are? Maybe the answer is to treat people as fellow human beings first. When we love and appreciate one another as fellow creatures created in the image of God, maybe then we can celebrate our rich ethnic and cultural diversity without the shadow of fear and suspicion.

Just a thought. 🙂

PS: As I was considering this post, I came across an article on CNN.com by Tanzina Vega on the same subject. Here’s her take on “Where are you really from?”

Book Review: THE LAKE by Lotte and Søren Hammer

The skeleton of a young woman is discovered, tied to a stone, in a lake deep in the Danish countryside. The woman’s identity is a mystery; no one matching her description has been reported missing. After months of fruitless investigation by the local police force, a media scandal brings the case to nationwide attention and is quickly handed over to Konrad Simonsen and his team from the Copenhagen police force. It soon becomes clear that this unknown woman is the key to a sinister world of human trafficking, prostitution, and violence. A world where everything comes with a price and no mistake goes unpunished.

I was sent a copy of THE LAKE by a nice publicity person at Bloomsbury with the thought that I might review it. I don’t consider myself a book reviewer, though I review books… which I suppose makes me a book reviewer of sorts. But I certainly don’t review books simply because someone sent me the book asking me to review it. When people do that, there’s the assumption you’re going to love the book and write a glowing review, and if you don’t write a glowing review, feelings get hurt, you get nasty mail and defamatory Tweets and all that nonsense–I’d rather not go there. But if someone sends me a book, and I deem it worthy of a review, I’ll be glad to oblige.

In the case of THE LAKE, I have to say I didn’t fall in love with the book, but it was good, and had some features that made it worth reading, and of interest for a review. Let me start by saying that it is a translation from the original Danish. I have conflicting thoughts when it comes to books in translation. First, I know that when you translate, you never fully get across the author’s voice. It’s impossible, because you have to take their words and convey them in a language that doesn’t share the same idioms, cadence, grammatical structure, and so on, so aspects of the author’s style are bound to get lost. On the other hand, you don’t want the translator to simply render the whole novel as if it’s set in your culture, because then it becomes a different story “based on a novel by…” THE LAKE is translated by Charlotte Barslund, who is Danish by birth, but has lived in the UK for the past 33 years, so she is fluent in English. Her translation is a little stilted at times, but that was actually a good thing. The book is set in Denmark, and the characters are Danish, so it works that the English feels a bit ESL.

But there’s a twist! The English is actually British English, and the translator uses British idioms, even though this is the American edition of the book (published by Bloomsbury USA). “Of course!” you say. “Ms. Barslund has been living in the UK for the last 33 years.” But I find it interesting that Bloomsbury didn’t try to Americanize her work. Mathematics is “maths,” cell phones are “mobile phones,” colors are “colours,” and there are hundreds more little turns of phrase that reminded me of my homeland and made me smile. This is by no means a negative, but something for US readers to bear in mind.

But what about the story itself? This is the fourth novel to feature Konrad Simonsen, Detective Superintendent of the Copenhagen police. There are, in fact, seven novels in the series so far, but I think they’ve only got as far as translating the fourth, so this one is new to the English-speaking world (the original Danish title is PIGEN I SATANS MOSE, “The Girl in Satan’s Mose”–intriguing, huh?). I have not read any of the previous stories, so I came to this one not knowing any of the recurring characters–I presume the Countess, Arne Pederson, Pauline Berg, and Klavs Arnold have been in previous stories..? In any case, my lack of history with the series didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. The Hammers (a brother and sister writing team) gave as much background as necessary without long “catch-up” passages for those, like me, late to the party. Though I have to say, it didn’t feel as if Det. Simonsen was really the star of the show here. He is the lead investigator, but I didn’t find him and his Copenhagen police team nearly as interesting as the bad guys.

The book starts like an episode of “Columbo,” showing us the crime, and identifying the perpetrators, so we know up-front who did it and how. But there’s more to these criminals than this one horrible act. There’s a whole family business lurking in the background, and all kinds of intrigues and deviousness going on there. The daughter of the family, Benedikte Lerche-Larson, is perhaps the most fascinating character of the whole story. She is both the dutiful daughter, and also the head-strong independent woman, pursuing her education, and making herself integral to the business. She appears cold and amoral, doing whatever it takes to keep things going. And yet she risks it all getting emotionally invested in someone.

All the acts of violence in the story have connections to the main puzzle: the murder of the woman in the lake. And as Simonsen and his team gradually put the pieces together, they uncover something much larger, much more horrific, and more far-reaching than they could have imagined possible. We, the reader, are always ahead of the police, since we are given front-row seats to each criminal act–at least for the most part. The Hammers plotted the story well so all the pieces fit at the end. However, I didn’t find it at all predictable; while the ending is satisfying, it didn’t tie together as neatly as I expected. There’s one major loose end the police weren’t able to knot… and I daresay that will come back to haunt them in future stories.

To sum up, this is a well-plotted detective thriller (though I use “thriller” very lightly–there aren’t any car chases, shoot-outs, or moments of life-or-death tension for the good guys one might normally associate with the genre). There are some sexual situations, but given that human trafficking and prostitution are part of the story, that’s only to be expected. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes. The acts of violence are a bit brutal. With few exceptions, the language is fairly PG-13. Overall, I’d rate the book an R, because of the subject matter and the violence. It’s a borderline 4-Goodreads-stars novel, but I would have liked to have had more sympathy and connection with the lead character, so to be fair I’ll have to give it 3 stars. Nevertheless, a good read, and one I’d recommend to fans of detective fiction.

THE LAKE will be released in the US on July 3, 2017. You can pre-order it now.

UPDATE: Here’s an interesting article on The Invisibility of the Translator by Stefan Kielbasiewicz from Asymptotejournal.com.

Who Review: The Eaters of Light

The TARDIS lands in second century Aberdeen, where Bill wants to prove a theory to the Doctor. The history books talk of the disappearance of the ninth Roman legion, but Bill is convinced they just vanished, or left. The Doctor counters that they were annihilated in battle, even though no physical evidence of their existence has ever been found. However, the missing legion soon comes to light. The Doctor and Nardole find their shriveled remains scattered across a field near the woods. Death by light deprivation. Meanwhile, Bill manages to find the remnants of the army: a small group of frightened teenagers living in underground caves. They rescue her from the mysterious monster that has been tormenting them, driving them into hiding. That strange creature with glowing tentacles wiped out almost the entire legion. And now it’s coming for them. The Scottish Picts are also living in fear. It was they that set the monster on the marauding Romans, but that monster is now loose, and, as the Doctor and Nardole explain to them, unless that monster is sent back to where it belongs, the sun, the stars, and life on Earth is doomed.

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

The big story with Episode 10 of Season 10 is that it was written by Classic Series writer Rona Monro–not only one of the few women to write for the Classic Series, but the woman who wrote the last story of the Classic Series, “Survival.” We’ve had Classic Series Doctors, companions, monsters, and directors, returning to the New Series, but Rona is the first returning writer. I don’t know why there’s been such a hesitation over the last 12 years to bring back Classic Series writers. Maybe they’ve all moved on and are not interested (some of them have, sadly, moved on permanently and are not able), or maybe the New Series production team didn’t think the Classic writers could handle the new style and new format. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see a familiar name, and I hope this is the start of a trend. There were some talented writers emerging in the late 80s, some of whom plied their skill post-TV Who in the Virgin and BBC book ranges. I think they would do well with the New Series. We’ll see.

That said, I was hoping “The Eaters of Light” would be the knock-out, best episode of the season. It’s good, very good, in fact. For a start, it’s an interesting premise for a story: settling a historical argument. After all, Bill just has to produce a Roman soldier to show they lived, and the Doctor just has to find a battlefield littered with bodies. And so they go their separate ways, not a care that they might be walking into danger. Which, of course, they are. The Doctor and Nardole end up with the native Picts, while Bill ends up with the Roman invaders. The Doctor had mentioned before that the Picts liked to tell stories of other worlds, and they created cairns believing them to be portals to those other worlds. Except one of them actually is, and the young Pict leader, Kar, was guarding the cairn, but opened it for the monster to get out and destroy the Romans. The Doctor isn’t shy about making sure she understands the stupidity of what she has done. And that stirs her resolve to make it right.

When Bill first encounters a Roman soldier, she laments not learning Latin so she could speak to him. But then she discovers that he can understand her–she is speaking Latin though it all sounds to her like English. Then later, when Bill and the Doctor bring the Picts and the Romans together, Bill notes she can understand them both, and they can understand each other. Long-time Whovians are well aware of the TARDIS translation capability, and Bill figures out this strange telepathic power is somehow connected to the Doctor. The other eye-opening insight Bill gets is how much a common language levels the playing field. Indeed, when the Picts and the Romans all speak English (to her ears, at least), they sound much more their age. From that develops a plan for the two former belligerents to join forces against a common foe: the monster.

In the end, when they force the monster back through the portal, we expect the Doctor to volunteer as gatekeeper, keeping back the monsters. Of course, he would be there for a long time, but the TARDIS will take Bill home. After all, the Doctor can regenerate, and guarding humanity is what he does. But neither Bill, nor the Picts are having any of that. Indeed, the young Pict leader steps forward and claims it as her duty. The young Roman leader volunteers to stand with her. And indeed, all the Romans and Picts are ready to keep the monsters at bay. It’s all very heart-warming, though I’m not sure how that would work. The Doctor offered his services because, as a Time Lord, he has an infinitely greater life span than all those humans put together. I’m not sure how that suddenly became irrelevant. Granted, time slows down in the portal, so a couple of minutes becomes a couple of days. But that still means the humans will only be able to guard the gateway for a very limited time. Nevertheless, the Doctor is forced to accept the humans’ view of things, and he leaves them to get on with it.

I thought the crow noise was a nice touch. We are told early on how the crows in those days talk. They say “Doctor” and “Monster,” though we hear them say little else. The Doctor laments that the crows got fed up of humans not talking back to them, which is why in Bill’s time they just sound grumpy. By the end of the story, we know the real reason for the sound they make.

So, “Eaters of Light” is a good story, and fits in with the other good stories this season. But it’s not a classic or “Must-See.” Rona Munro lived up to the expectation of giving us a good story, with interesting, well-crafted characters, and a good plot. But it’s not exceptional, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s good enough, I think, to consider bringing back other Classic show writers.

The end tag with Missy is interesting. Is she really remorseful? Was that tear a crocodile tear, or was it genuine? Could it be she’s softening, and truly desires a restoration of the friendship she used to have with the Doctor back in their Academy days? Is this something the John Simm Master will have to snap her out of? Whatever’s going on, Steven Moffat is setting us up for an explosive finale, which begins with the next episode…

Did you enjoy this episode? Are you excited for the next? Thoughts? Theories? Share!

Who Review: Empress of Mars

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole infiltrate NASA to watch the first pictures sent from a probe orbiting Mars. This probe is equipped with new technology that can “see” beneath the Red Planet’s ice caps. To their surprise, they discover a message spelled out with rocks, a message that indicates humans had already visited the planet. Not just humans, but British humans. The TARDIS team take a trip to Mars, traveling back in time to 1881–the year the message was made. There they find a team of Victorian soldiers, with an unlikely man-servant whom they have named “Friday.” He’s an Ice Warrior, one of the native inhabitants of Mars. But why is this noble warrior willing to trade his freedom for no apparent gain? Indeed, he has not only given shelter to these human soldiers, but has also given them a powerful blasting tool, allowing them to mine the planet for its precious metals and gems. The Doctor smells trouble, and his suspicions are confirmed when the soldiers uncover what appears to be the tomb of an Ice Warrior queen. The tomb is gilded, or possibly made entirely of gold, with jewels set around the edges. Enough to make any poor, greedy Victorian soldier drool. The Doctor fears this may not be the final repose of the dead, but merely a chamber for the sleeping. And if awakened, there may not be just a queen to deal with, but a whole hive of waking Ice Warriors. The Doctor’s warnings go unheeded, and he and Bill can only watch as his fears come true…

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

We last saw the Ice Warriors in Matt Smith’s final season when Mark Gatiss brought them back in a story called “Cold War.” In that episode, the Doctor, Clara, and the crew of a Russian submarine encountered a single Ice Warrior, separated from his kin by thousands of miles, and thousands of years. Aways looking for a new angle on old foes, Gatiss pits the Doctor against an Ice Warrior queen on the Ice Warriors’ home planet. Neither of these–a female Ice Warrior, and the Ice Warriors at home–have featured in previous stories. As is befitting a Victorian setting, the Victorian soldiers have come to Mars to colonize and claim it for Britannia. They got there thanks to a lone Ice Warrior who crash landed in the South African veld (sometimes spelled “veldt”–a term that refers to the South African plains), where these soldiers were stationed. In return for helping him fix his ship, the Ice Warrior promised to take them to Mars and reward them with the mineral riches of his world. When the Doctor meets the soldiers, they are mining Mars with the equipment provided by the Ice Warrior. Knowing the Ice Warriors of old, the Doctor is troubled by this, and immediately suspects an ulterior motive. When they eventually stumble upon the tomb of Iraxxa, the warrior queen, surrounded by a hive of Ice Warriors that kind-of resembles the icy tombs of the Cybermen (as seen in “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Attack of the Cybermen” in the Classic Series), the Doctor’s suspicions are confirmed. The Ice Warrior wanted to return to his hive, and made use of the soldiers to that end. The hive has been frozen for 5,000 years and is long overdue a wake-up call. However, while the hive has slept, Mars has become a desolate wasteland, and no longer suitable for their habitation. All this comes as a shock to the queen, but the Doctor hopes to use the Ice Warriors’ situation to bring about a peaceful end.

This was a good story, though not one you want to spend too long picking at. If you take it all at face value, it works well enough. But you don’t want to ask questions like:

  • Why was this lone Ice Warrior away from his hive, while the rest of them slept for 5,000 years?
  • How could Victorian soldiers help an Ice Warrior repair his space ship?
  • Why did the Ice Warrior need these soldiers to get to his hive? Couldn’t he have used the mining device himself?

Of course, these questions might have been addressed and I wasn’t paying attention. Still, it’s an interesting idea, i.e., Victorian soldiers on Mars. It’s a shame it doesn’t have enough time to develop fully, which is why some of these plot holes get glossed over. I was afraid we were going to get another “non-enemy” story, where the bad guys aren’t really bad, just misunderstood. The Ice Warriors aren’t really bloodthirsty, power-hungry Martians, as their name might suggest. Rather, they’re just another alien species trying to survive in a rough universe. If you’ve read my past reviews, you know I like my baddies to be bad, so I struggle with the idea of this warrior race being so easily talked into peace. But I can give this story a pass since it seems to be a prequel to the 1970s “Peladon” stories (“The Curse of Peladon” and “The Monster of Peladon”), where the Ice Warriors have joined the Galactic Federation, and are now trying to be play nice with the rest of the universe. Gatiss is perhaps suggesting that this incident, where the Martians are forced off their home world, is what precipitated their change of heart.

As usual for New Who in the 2010s, the effects and the acting are exceptional. The Ice Warrior costume was always one of the more impressive designs of the Classic Series (even in the 1960s), and New Who tries to stay close to the original concept, with some enhancements. The empress is a bit screechy, almost to the point of annoying. Her voice reminds me of the Racnoss, the red spider encountered by the Tenth Doctor in “The Runaway Bride.” I guess if you’re a woman trying to do a shouty-hissy kind of voice, it’s hard not to get a bit raspy. Aside from that, Adele Lynch does well as the lead baddie, especially considering she doesn’t have huge TV resume (at least according to IMDB). Another new talent “discovery” for New Who?

I can’t leave this review without calling attention to a couple of particularly cool references. First, did you spot the painting of Queen Victoria? If you’ve been watching New Who, you might recognize the portrait as that of the Pauline Collins Queen Victoria from “Tooth and Claw.” This is only right and proper, since that’s what Queen Vic looks like in the Whoniverse. A great piece of thoughtful continuity. And then there’s a cameo at the end that made my Whovian fan-boy heart flutter. I won’t give it away, but I will note that the voice was done by the same person who did it in the Classic Series. That person is 92 now, making them the oldest returning Classic Who cast member.

When the TARDIS crew first lands on Mars, Bill falls down a shaft, and the Doctor sends Nardole back to the TARDIS for some rope. As soon as he enters, the TARDIS dematerializes, taking him back to the Doctor’s university quarters. Why did the TARDIS do this? Apparently, Mark Gatiss wrote “Empress of Mars” before Nardole became a regular character, so this was how he wrote him out. At first it looks like we’re just getting rid of Nardole to simplify the story. Okay, technically we are. But Gatiss and Moffat use this happenstance very creatively when Nardole then appeals to Missy for help to get the temperamental TARDIS back to Mars in 1881, playing into the broader Missy/Vault story arc. Nardole gives Missy use of the TARDIS, and she successfully navigates it to Mars, where they pick up the Doctor and Bill.

But now Missy is out of the vault. And what’s that look she gives the Doctor? Why does she keep asking if he’s all right? Does she have something to do with the TARDIS going wonky in the first place…?

“Empress of Mars” is a good story, worthy of the season. Not one of the best, and not one that will stand heavy scrutiny, but worth watching.

What did you think?

It Was 50 Years Ago… this Past Week…ish…

Okay, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring as the opening line of the album, but yes, this past week (Thursday and Friday) marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landmark album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” According to my resources, the official release date was June 1, 1967 in the UK, and June 2, 1967 in the US. Others may say differently, but this is my blog, so we’ll go with what I’ve always known. Don’t mess with my memories, okay?!

Over the past few years of this blog, I have alluded to having somewhat of a preference for the Beatles’ music, so it would be remiss of me to let this moment in history pass without saying a word. One might argue I did let it pass by not posting something last Friday. Well… I’m here now. Better late than never. Man, you people are sassy today!

I’ve been trying to remember when I first purchased the Sgt. Pepper album (as one does when one is trying to be productive). It was the first Beatles album I bought. I remember surveying a number of parents (one, to be precise–my Dad… and maybe a couple of his friends) to determine which Beatles album should be my first. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my Beatles fandom began with the assassination of John Lennon. But I didn’t immediately run out and buy a bunch of Beatles records. I was only 10, so I didn’t have that kind of money. Also, it was on the Six O’clock News, and the record shops usually closed by 5:30. Rather than make me an overnight Beatles devotee, that event heightened my Beatles awareness. As 1981 unfolded, however, my appreciation for the Fab Four developed.

Have you ever tried to remember when something happened by reconstructing events around it? “I know it was after that time because I didn’t have that…” or “It was before then because we were living here…” Since I have no written record of the day I walked into that record shop (was it Woolworths, or Chadds… or somewhere else?), I have to reconstruct.

Spring-ish, 1981: Trip to the Isle of Wight. This was a class trip that the final year students at my primary school took. Our teacher was the awesome Mr. Jim Cobbett, AKA The Best Teacher I’ve Ever Had. With his awesomeness on full display, he tried getting us into the mood and spirit of the forthcoming trip by having us re-write the lyrics to the Beatles song “Ticket to Ride,” but as “Ticket to Ryde” (Ryde being a port town on the Isle of Wight where, as I recall, our ferry from the mainland would be docking). To assist the Philistines in our classroom of eleven-year-olds, he brought in his copy of “Help!” and played us the original. I’m pretty certain at this point I didn’t own any Beatles records, but thought it cool Mr. Cobbett liked The Beatles.

Spring/Summer 1981: Stars on 45–the Beatles Medley, a single that made a big splash in the UK charts, and even made number one in the US. Recorded by Dutch producer Jaap Egermont and a bunch of sound-alike session musicians, “Stars on 45” was a medley of Beatles songs played to a constant, incessant, beat-clap drum track. It started a medley craze in the UK during the early 1980s, with everything being made into a medley from classical music (“Hooked on Classics”) to the Beach Boys, to Stevie Wonder, to the phone book… okay, maybe not the phone book. But you get my drift. The point here is that those little snippets of Beatles songs only fanned the flame of fandom (see what I did there? 🙂 ). Some of the songs I knew from the fact I was alive, and anyone with a heartbeat in the UK at that time knew at least a couple of Beatles songs. Others I didn’t know at all and was curious.

Christmas 1981: I’m as sure as I can be that this was when “Santa” got me the Red and Blue double-album compilations. On reflection, these albums (which are available on CD and download now) are the best introduction to the Beatles’ music a n00b could ask for. The Red album covers 1962-1966, the Blue 1967-1970, and between them you get all the Beatles singles, plus some notable album tracks. “Sgt. Pepper” is represented by the title track, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “A Day in the Life.” I recorded all four LPs to cassette (two cassettes, one for each collection), and would play them on my bedside tape player as I was going to sleep. There’s nothing like being half asleep while the middle section of “A Day in the Life” plays. It still gives me warm fuzzies thinking about it today. Anyway, those four songs are all I knew of Sgt. Pepper at that time.

 

Summer 1982: We went to Ireland and stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousins for a few weeks. At the time of this trip, I had the book SHOUT! by Philip Norman, my first Beatles book (not the most accurate history of the Beatles and their times), and I purchased Paul McCartney’s single “Take It Away,” which was new to the charts. I’m confident I had Sgt. Pepper by this time.

1993: I remember taking a briefcase into school one day that contained all my Beatles albums for a friend to look at. Not only did I have them all, I knew them all well. It was also this year that I started collecting the Beatles singles, ordering them one at a time from my favorite local retailer. Each week I would order a single and pick up the one I ordered the previous week. Oh how Amazon has spoiled us!

In conclusion, after all that rabbit trailing down memory lane, I’m convinced I purchased Sgt. Pepper sometime in 1982, probably Spring or Summer. Of course I couldn’t buy just any old copy:

I did later get the “proper” version:

So there’s my tribute to Sgt Pepper. Some day I’ll talk about the songs. What I won’t talk about is how I bought the CD in 1987 when we were celebrating 20 years since it came out. That’ll just make me feel old…

Who Review: The Lie of the Land

As a result of events in the previous story (see “The Pyramid at the End of the World”), the world has been taken over by the Monks, and all the inhabitants of Earth have been brainwashed to believe that the Monks have always been there. Every significant event in the development of the human race was inspired and encouraged by the Monks. Without the Monks, mankind would have died out centuries ago. At least, that’s what people are being told to believe. And on the basis of this “truth,” the inhabitants of Earth are willing to subjugate themselves to their benevolent dictators. After all, isn’t that how it’s always been? “Truth” deniers are sent away to labor camp, or executed. Yet somehow, Bill has survived, holding out hope that the Doctor will save the day. That the images of the Doctor reinforcing the history of the world as told by the Monks is just a ruse, part of some grand scheme he has to bring them down and set the human race free. He can’t really be working for the Monks. Can he…? Bill is about to learn some very uncomfortable truths. And an unlikely ally will give her the secret to defeating the Monks. But will it be worth the price?

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

This episode is the third in the “Truth Monk” trilogy–which is what I expect this will be called. Last time, Bill ceded control of the Earth to the Monks in exchange for the Doctor’s eyesight, which enabled him to escape the exploding test lab. Throughout that story, the Doctor warned people not to relinquish control to the Monks. The price would be too heavy; whatever would happen to the world, it would be worth it not to give control over to the Monks. But Bill ignored him…

Now the world is under the Monk’s control. But they took a sneaky way in, by means of transmitters in every city that fill everyone’s minds with the idea that the Monks have been around from the beginning of time, even though they’d only been around for six months. Bill knew the truth, however. And to make sure she didn’t forget, she created an “imaginary friend” version of her deceased mother to talk to. In the tradition of the best Who writing, this seemingly daft, but touching tribute to Bill’s mum proved to be the Monk’s downfall.

Yes, this is another great piece of Who story telling. It’s a shame Peter Capaldi couldn’t have had two previous seasons as good as this. Season nine was good, but not as consistent, and it suffered from Clara, “the impossible girl who we now totally understand but don’t know what to do with.” (Don’t get me wrong, Jenna Coleman was great, but they should have left the reveal about the “impossible girl” until the end of her time on the show, i.e., last season.) Brilliant writing, and two phenomenally good actors firing on all cylinders, is making this season one of the best of the Moffat era, at least as good as Season Seven–Matt Smith’s last, oddly enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m warming to Nardole a lot. At first I thought he would just be a plot device, or some useless comic relief. But I think his character truly compliments the TARDIS team. Matt Lucas plays him with just the right amount of comedy: enough to bring a smile, but not too much that it detracts from the drama. And he’s not simply the Curly of the trio. He’s smart, and actually offers ideas and encouragement to the team. In this episode, he makes use of an electronic tracer he found in the TARDIS to help him and Bill find the Doctor. Of course, it turns out this was all part of the Doctor’s scheme to escape from the Monks, so the Doctor may well have told him where to find it. Even so, Nardole sold the idea to Bill as if it was his own, and in his lovably charming way, convinced her to go along with the plan.

And then we have Missy, the monster in the vault. Bill’s reaction to her is great, because she does look like a harmless woman. But I think she becomes convinced listening to Missy talk, especially when she reveals how to stop the Monks. I’m not a fan of the Missy-Master, but I have to hand it to Michelle Gomez for really selling the character as extremely dangerous without having to argue the case; just by the way she talks, and her mannerisms. Superbly done. But the tears at the end, when she and the Doctor are talking–is she really beginning to regret her past? It’s hard to believe, but maybe she does start to turn good, which is where the John Simm Master comes in…? We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. 🙂

Two thumbs-up from me for this story. I hope the season continues on this roll.

What did you think?

By the way, have you noticed the retro posters I’ve been using for each New Who story over the past few years? They’re designed by Stuart Manning, a freelance graphic designer based in London. The “Truth Monks” poster used in this story, and featured above, was actually commissioned from Stuart by BBC Worldwide! For my indie writer friends, Stuart also does cover artwork. His is top-quality work (as you can see), so I imagine he doesn’t come cheap. But I bet your books would look awesome with one of his designs. Worth an inquiry…)