Smith and Jones

It was good.

Lots of references back to the very first episode, “Rose”.

Lots of references forward to “Mr Saxon”.

Good to have a “brainy” companion. (check: Zoe; Liz Shaw; maybe Romana; er, that’s it, unless you count Adric or Grace.)

Saturday nights are now sacrosanct.

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Friends and blogrolls

Nice to see a few more people popping up on the friends notifications recently – feel free to introduce yourselves below, and maybe tell me how you found me.

Checking out whose blogrolls I am on (other than Livejournal) and there are more than I thought. Some I know (Making Light, A Fistful of Euros, Old Rottenhat, The Genre Files, The Early Days of a Better Nation, Paul Cornell's House of Awkwardness, Love and Liberty, inuit bikini scarlet carwash/Hunting Monsters, Percy's Depressed, Young Fogey, Yank in Ulster, Sixth International, Adventures of a Drama Queen, Nicu Popescu, Belgian Waffle, Tim Roll-Pickering) and some I don't, or don't think I do (EU Pundit, Random Acts of Alex, Corcaighist, De Leyenda, Quotidian Hell, Kay Abroad). Anyone in the latter category seeing this entry, or any other casual readers, do feel free to introduce yourselves as well.

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Three Big Finish Audios: Phantasmagoria, Whispers of Terror, The Land of the Dead

Ten months on from hearing the first of them, I have spent my commuting time this week alternating between reading Proust and listening to the next three audio plays in the Big Finish audio series, dating from 1999 and 2000. Phantasmagoria takes the Fifth Doctor and Turlough to the early 18th century in London; Whispers of Terror takes the Sixth Doctor and Peri to a political assassination in a future Museum of Aural Antiquities; and The Land of the Dead takes the Fifth Doctor, but this time with Nyssa, to contemporary Alaska besieged by creatures from the Permian era.

There was nothing very special about Phantasmagoria, except that it shared a plot twist with The Stones of Blood and I thought got away with it better. The soundscape of London was quite nicely done, though the writers seemed confused about who Queen Anne’s father was (making me wonder for a bit if this was supposed to be some parallel universe; but no, it was just a mistake). Since I was never a huge fan of Turlough, his presence here didn’t really excite me.

Whispers of Terror did make something special of the audio environment, with the Museum of Aural Antiquities being a place which for obvious reasons loses little by being portrayed through sound alone rather than vision as well. The Six/Peri banter was pleasantly nostalgic too. Sadly the plot was fairly obvious right from the word go, with a silly twist at the very end.

I enjoyed The Land of the Dead much more, not for the reasons I had expected. I would defend Nyssa against the likes of The Guardian who put her far down the list of companions, but Sarah Sutton is not especially outstanding here. Davison, however, is, and has a brilliant rapport with guest actor Lucy Campbell, whose performance here is memorable but appears to have done almost no other acting work apart from a bit part in another Stephen Cole Big Finish audio. Also the story is surprisingly good, with the archaeological delvings of the scientific researchers mirrored in the psychological delvings of the two main male characters into the circumstances of the tragic accident involving their fathers from decades before. The two actors slightly struggle to bring it off but it kept my attention.

Well, tonight we have the real thing starting again!

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Meme time

No surprise.

I’m a Mandarin!

You’re an intellectual, and you’ve worked hard to get where you are now. You’re a strong believer in education, and you think many of the world’s problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. You have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates you when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power. You believe that people can make a difference in the world, and you’re determined to try.

Talent: 36%
Lifer: 28%
Mandarin: 79%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

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I see the Hugo nominees are now out (and the story of how the list hit the web is an interesting study in the transmission of information in itself).

For the first time since I started following these things properly, I don’t think I have read a single one of the fiction nominees, either short or long. Will put that right of course. I have at least seen three out of five of the Short Form Best Dramatic Presentation nominees (the four Doctor Who episodes) and read one of the Best Related nominees.

One or two people have noticed the rather shocking fact that precisely one of the twenty fiction nominees is by a woman (His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik). On the one hand, she should be comforted that women have scored better in the Best Novel category over the last few years (four of the last ten winners, with eleven novels by women among the fifty-one nominees).

On the other hand, as I’ve pointed out before, the Hugos are much more male than the Nebulas: in the last ten years (ie Nebulas dated 1996-2005, Hugos 1997-2006) women have won 23 of 40 Nebulas (57.5%) but only 9 out of 40 Hugos (22.5%). I’m critical of the Nebulas in general but this is one respect in which they have a better record than the Hugos.

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The Mind Robber; the Deadly Assassin

This was a fortuitously good paired viewing of Doctor Who stories, the first being the 1968 Second Doctor story with Jamie and Zoe, shown between The Dominators and The Invasion, and the second a Fourth Doctor story without companions, which I remember vividly from its original broadcast in 1976.

The Mind Robber features… Oh, let’s get it over with. Zoe. Nobody can keep their hands off her. Certainly not the Doctor (see right). Certainly not Jamie. And the first episode ends like this. In the fourth episode she has a catfight with a caped and masked comic book superhero and wins. No wonder today’s Guardian lists her as one of the top five companions ever! I have to say that I can’t think of a more confident and sexy performance from any of the companions in any other old Who story; Leela, I think, comes closest but that is not very close. (Of course, if we count new Who as well, nobody can hold a candle to John Barrowman.)

And the confidence on her part (and indeed that of the rest of the cast) is remarkable because in fact the story very clearly doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Doctor and companions are trapped in the Land of Fiction by its Master (not that Master but a different cosmic villain of the same name). We have a forest made of words. We have Jamie transformed into a different actor for an episode, to cover up the fact that Frazer Hines contracted chicken pox. We have clockwork soldiers. We have Rapunzel, we have E. Nesbit’s Five Children, and best of all we have Lemuel Gulliver, played superbly by Bernard Horsfall (and more on him later). We have glorious moments of Jamie and Zoe becoming fictional, becoming hostile to the Doctor, being nostalgic for their lost homelands (to which of course they will be returned by the end of the season).

But we also have Doctor Who coming close to breaking the fourth wall, not in the overt way of the First Doctor in the Daleks’ Master Plan (or the charming Morgus in The Caves of Androzani), but in terms of exploring Story and what it means to be in one. It’s fascinating and bizarre and I’ll have to re-watch it soon, along with all the DVD extras. And not just because I want to ogle Zoe again.

As for the Deadly Assassin: I was really a bit worried about watching it this time round; could it possibly be as good as I remembered it being from when I was nine years old, over thirty years ago? But yes, yes it is. Tom Baker is at the top of his form, combining humour, moral outrage, and determination to do the right thing by his home planet and people, even if they seem at times equally determined to do the wrong thing by him. And Robert Holmes’ superb script has so many memorable moments – here’s an early one, spoken by the exasperated official trying to pin the Doctor down who comes closest to filling the companion role. There’s a great Doctor/Tardis love moment as well.

Yet there are a couple of oddities. One, which is nothing to do with the series as originally presented, is that it has been preserved only as a 90-minute movie, which is rather annoying for those of us purists who like the old cliffhangers. Another, which is very bizarre indeed, is that there are no women visible anywhere in the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin. (Helen Blatch plays the disembodied voice of the Time Lords’ computer system.) This is of course the only story featuring the Doctor with no companion (unless one counts The Runaway Bride), but it really does seem peculiar. One could probably do a short list of stories featuring only male guest stars (?The Moonbase?) but I think this must be the only one with no women on the screen at all.

The interesting linkage with The Mind Robber is that for much of the story the Doctor enters a constructed, invented world, in which he has to battle an artifical reality and try and impose his own will on it. There is an interesting compare-and-contrast between the Second Doctor urging Jamie and Zoe to deny the existence of the unicorn charging at them, and the Fourth Doctor denying the fact that he has been wounded in the leg – same theme but pointing to the very different ways the series as a whole was going in 1968 and 1976. Like the Land of Fiction, the world inside the Matrix of the Time Lords turns out to be under the control of a cosmic villain called the Master – and this time it is that Master, reappearing for the first time since 1973, but horribly altered; with an audacious plan to seize control of the universe by tapping the very power of the Time Lords themselves. (The reality-altering theme is nicely echoed in the final episode by Cardinal Borusa’s attempt to impose his own version of historical reality on recent events.)


As I hinted at above, The Deadly Assassin has Bernard Horsfall returning – this time not as Gulliver (left), but as Chancellor Goth of the Time Lords (right). (I believe he is a Thal officer in Planet of the Daleks too, but haven’t seen that yet.) Horsfall also appeared in the last episode of The War Games in 1969 (middle), pronouncing sentence of exile and regeneration on the Doctor. If we are meant to read the two characters as the same person – though they have very different haircuts – then The Deadly Assassin represents the Fourth Doctor not only overcoming the Third Doctor’s unfinished business with his arch-enemy, but also reversing the Second Doctor’s defeat by the Time Lords in general (and by this one in particular).

Anyway, these are both essential viewing for the Who fan, and I think The Deadly Assassin keeps its place at the top of my personal list of Greatest Ever old Who stories, despite its lack of gender balance.

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Does anyone out there have experience with fundraising software such as Raiser’s Edge, ebase, Donor Perfect, Exceed! or Convio? Would much appreciate a chat if you do.

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Just a thought

I attended a speech given by US Undersecretary of State Nick Burns on Monday. In the course of his remarks, he described the USA and Russia as having an “open relationship”.

Isn’t that the kind of relationship in which both partners agree that it’s OK to shag other people?


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Not as easy as you might think.

1. Where is your cell phone? Here.

2. Describe your boyfriend/girlfriend? Wife.

3. Your hair? Clean.

4. Your mother? Away.

5. Your father? Dead.

6. Your favourite item? Gadgets.

7. Your dream last night? Curtailed.

8. Your favourite drink? Wine.

9. Your dream car? Smooth.

10. The room you are in? Office.

11. Your ex? Lesbian.

12. Your fear? Injustice.

13. What do you want to be in 10 years? Political.

14. Who did you hang out with last night? Wife.

15. What you’re not? Stupid.

19. The last thing you did? Emailed.

20. What are you wearing? Suit.

22. Your favourite book? Genre.

23. The last thing you ate? Greek.

24. Your life? Busy.

25. Your mood? Tired.

26. Your friends? Numerous.

27. What are you thinking about right now? Quiz.

28. Your car? Renault

29. What are you doing at the moment? Typing.

30. Your summer? Resting.

31. Your relationship status? Married.

32. What is on your tv? Nothing.

33. When is the last time you laughed? Today.

34. Last time you cried? Year.

35. School? Rathmore.

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Big day

1) The UN Special negotiator, ex-president Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, has recommended independence for Kosovo. See his letter to Ban Ki-Moon here and his full recommendations here.

2) Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams have agreed to govern Northern Ireland together, starting in a few weeks’ time. See Slugger O’Toole’s quick links to everyone’s statements here.

I’ve been expecting both of these to happen for some time, and in neither case is the story over yet. But it’s a big day none the less.

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March Books 14) 1599

14) 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, by James Shapiro

The last book I read about the events of a single year in a single country was a bit of a disappointment. This is not. Shapiro has done a brilliant job of painting a picture of London in 1599, the year that Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and started on Hamlet, going through as many surviving books and documents from that year as possible, mooring his narrative quite firmly in what facts we have, frank about the extent to which he is speculating when he does.

For those who are not London residents (maybe even for those who are) the first interesting page is the very first, with a map of London in 1599. My own business in the city these days tends to be concentrated around Whitehall and Westminster, so there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance at seeing them so far outside the old city limits. And while I knew that the Tower roughly marked one end of the City, I didn’t realise that St Paul’s marked pretty much the other end. Even by Pepys’ day, sixty years later, a lot of the West End had been built over. Shakespeare’s generation must have been the last for whom Lincoln’s Inn Fields really were fields.

To my surprise, Ireland also looms heavily in the story. At school we were taught a bit about the Nine Years’ War of 1594 to 1603, which led to the Flight of the Earls 400 years ago this coming September. (I bet English schoolchildren are not taught about it at all.) But to get it from the English perspective is very interesting.  Here you had a seemingly unending overseas conflict pitting English soldiers against bitter and successful insurgents, to the point that the government as a whole was becoming deeply discredited by its failure to win and the waste of money and soldiers. So, no resonances with the situation of 400 years later at all then.

The book also brought home to me how little I know Shakespeare. I “did” Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet at school, and I guess I have picked up a certain knowledge of a few others by seeing them on stage and screen since (Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, er, that’s it). Also I used to spend tedious amounts of time arguing the authorship question with Oxfordian wingnuts on hlas. Now I want to go out and buy the complete BBC Shakespeare DVD collection. But then I saw the price. Maybe I’ll try and borrow them from the in-laws.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner.

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I see that the prime minister of Armenia has died suddenly. I had lunch with him (or rather was in attendance at a lunch with my then boss) in 2004. Not quite as dramatically as his predecessor in 1999, or the prime minister of neighbouring Georgia in 2005, but still rather a shock to the political system. Armenia is one of those oddities, a multi-party system with distinctly authoritarian tendencies. President Kocharian is due to stand down next year, and his hand-picked successor, the current defence minister Sarkisian, is giving a talk in Brussels next week. I think I may go to that, if it is still on.

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Why is it always the good ones?


 comes the news that the BBC shop in Belfast, along with the BBC shops in Norwich, Tunbridge Wells, Kingston-upon-Thames and three in London (but not those in Brighton, Leicester, Birmingham, Eastbourne and Liverpool), is to close by end of next month. Bah.

Bah. I am still mourning New Worlds in London (March 2005) and the ABC bookshop in Leuven (December 2005).

This is another manifestation of the power of the internet, as demonstrated to me a few days ago in Vienna.

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Today’s famous birthdays

The German foreign ministry is sending me lots of exciting emails about the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. This is indeed significant, but I had a look at Wikipedia for today’s other anniversaries, especially birthdays. Quite a lot of them, mostly famous actors:

A good reason to commemorate Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor Who. But my mind is slightly boggled by the fact that both Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, and Richard O’Brien, the originator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, turn 65 today.

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Weather in Kosovo

While the grenade attack on Wednesday night did not cause me any personal inconvenience, the same may not be true of last night’s snowfall…

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Thai rather than Japanese

Met up with a friend for dinner last night; he asked if I fancied trying the city’s only Japanese restaurant. Somehow I felt this might be a bad move, and we opted for the Thai restaurant instead. Which was just as well, because during the evening someone threw a hand-grenade at the Japanese restaurant. Nobody injured, and only “minor material damage” reported; but I think I was happy to just have conversation rather than explosion with my meal.

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A sign of the times?

Just looked in on the American Bookstore (or “International Bookstore”, as it has rebranded itself) on the Rechter Wienzeile here in Vienna. On previous visits I’ve found it a very pleasant place to browse, but came away with nothing this time; the SF section seems to be less than half its former size, with chick-lit filling much of the gap.

I asked the man behind the counter (the proprietor, I suppose) if I was right to think they had cut back in that area. He confirmed my suspicions, adding that most SF fans (in Vienna, at least) are now shopping on the internet.


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March Books 11) Master of Earth and Water

11) Master of Earth and Water, by Diana L. Paxson and Adrienne Martine-Barnes

Cuchulain seems to be a far more popular subject of modern fantasy drawing from the Irish legends than Finn MacCool. In fact, I can’t remember coming across any other version of the latter apart from Lady Gregory, who I must have read over thirty years ago, and I must admit I am hazy on most of the details.

This is a fairly fat novel, dealing entirely with the boyhood deeds of the hero and concluding with the only incident I can remember from the original legend (the cooking of the Salmon of Wisdom). It is a good effort, a Bildungsroman about a character with superhuman powers, and with unusual care taken to avoid anachronism – no Christian-era personal names, no potatoes, not too much wishful thinking about how perfect and emancipated pagan Irish society was. I enjoyed it more than I had expected to.

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March Books 10) Glorifying Terrorism

10) Glorifying Terrorism, ed. Farah Mendlesohn

This is a collection of short stories, mostly sfnal, some by people on my friends list, pulled together in protest at the recent UK legislation banning literature or speech which glorifies terrorism.

An British friend of mine reacted with condescension when this book came up in conversation recently: the view was expressed that it was basically a publicity stunt, with the people behind it seeking a kind of martyrdom for free speech by being prosecuted under the legislation. I think my friend came close to completely missing the point. The fact that such a case is unlikely to be prosecuted says much more about the silliness of the legislation than about any silliness of intent of the editor and authors. The mere existence of the book on the shelves of the bookshop is itself subversive of a bad law, and helps to raise public awareness, and perhaps to make people question their government’s actions more thoroughly. Not that I have struck very hard against the UK legislation myself, in that I bought the book in Dublin and read it in Belgium (and am writing this en route to Austria).

Oh yeah, none of the stories is bad either. Many of them go for standard sfnal riffs of humans occupying alien planets (or vice versa) and the underdog biting back; the most memorable of these for me was “Execution Day”, by Marie Brennan. Some take a different tack; I particularly liked Ken MacLeod’s piece, “MS Found on a Hard Drive”, which assembles various of his musings on the subjects of terrorism and contemporary (or near-future, or recent past) Scottish and Irish politics. (Some of us were fortunate enough to hear Ken reading the first half of it in Dublin at P-Con.) Charles Stross has a neat epilogue as well, suggesting that the Labour Party will come to its senses, but not until long after it is too late. A collection worth looking out for on its own literary merits, quite apart from the political point being made.

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I have now updated the webpage for each constituency on my site – East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, West Belfast, East Antrim, North Antrim, South Antrim, North Down, South Down, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Lagan Valley, East Londonderry, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, Strangford, West Tyrone, and Upper Bann. And the sun has just come out.

Edited to add: I see that the SDLP are criticising Sinn Fein for – get this – daring to canvass and campaign efficiently. The nerve of them, seeking to maximise their vote in order to win more seats! It’s pretty clear from the election results that the SDLP would never Stoop to such strategic activity!

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Wingnuts return

A somewhat extraordinary blog entry attacking me by name, but completely incorrect about a) my current employers, b) my previous employers’ source of funding and c) my own views on the issue which so exercises him. In his previous entry (which he links to) he accused me of working for the CIA.

Oh well, one can certainly experience worse personal abuse on-line, I suppose.

Edited to add: I see he’s posted it to and as well. Fortunately nobody reads usenet any more.

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March Books 4-9) The Dodo Sequence of Doctor Who novels

4) Doctor Who – The Massacre, by John Lucarotti
5) Doctor Who – The Ark, by Paul Erickson
6) Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker, by Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman
7) Doctor Who – The Gunfighters, by Donald Cotton
8) Doctor Who – The Savages, by Ian Stuart Black
9) Doctor Who – The War Machines, by Ian Stuart Black

Feeding my unhealthy fascination with the First Doctor’s companion Dodo, I borrowed ‘s copies of the Target novelisations of her stories and found them pretty easy to get through. They are all between 120 and 150 pages long, and not particularly taxing. I read them in sequence, but in fact there is little real sense of continuity between them; fans will find more to tickle their obsessions in the four spinoff novels featuring Dodo, whose collective pagecount certainly exceeds that of the six discussed here.

The novelisation of The Massacre strays furthest from the story as broadcast: we experience it as a flashback from the First Doctor’s point of view, at a moment when he has temporarily made his peace with the Time Lords and is relaxing in the garden from which he is wrenched for The Five Doctors. Rather than the Doctor disappearing from the scene as he does in the TV story, here he and Steven get completely sucked into the Protestants’ attempts to discredit the Doctor’s double, the Abbot of Amboise, and to be honest it is all rather confusing; apparently the story had to be rewritten to allow for Hartnell’s health (or the unusability of Lucarotti’s original script, depending what version you believe). We get the impression that because of the Doctor’s interference to save Anne Chaplet, the Time Lords get grumpy with him again. There is also circumstantial evidence to support the Wood/Miles view of what was going on after curfew, though they are wrong about the chariot pulled by greyhounds (they are Alsatians). Dodo does not appear at all except in that her arrival is referred to by the Time Lords in the epilogue.

Like Lucarotti, Paul Erickson added some extra chrome into the book version of The Ark which was, I suppose, not realisable on screen, notably the numerous different habitats on the Guardian/Monoid spaceships, and a second invisible Refusian. Also the motivation for the Monoids’ peculiar decision to send the Doctor and Dodo on an exploratory mission is (just about) rationalised. I had forgotten just how bloodthirsty the climax is, as the Monoids wipe each other out in a firefight (and here Erickson gives in to Ian Marter-style temptation to make the fighting even more vicious on the page). I felt, however, that the characterisation of the first Doctor was a bit shaky, with a bit too much use of “old chap” which is not really one of his catchphrases. (Sarah Crotzer disagrees on that point.)

Alison Bingeman is currently the story editor for a US/Canadian TV series called Whistler which I have not previously heard of. Apparently she was married to Gerry Davis, who heavily revised Brian Hayles’ original scripts for The Celestial Toymakeragrees.)

Donald Cotton’s novelisation of The Gunfighters is, I think justly, acknowledged as one of the great Target novelisations. It takers the basic theme of the televised story, but messes around immensely with the actual plot and details, especially in the last episode. (Again, Sarah Crotzer has analysed this in detail). As with Doctor Who – The Massacre, the story is told in flashback, but this time it is the dying Doc Holliday recounting events to Ned Buntline. The whole thing is done in a brilliant pastiche of Western idiom, and it is very entertaining. (Though I am in the very small minority in fandom who actually enjoyed the “Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon”, a song linking scenes of the TV version which is of course dropped from the novel.)

The two Ian Stuart Black stories both deal with the misuse of technology by humanity, though in the first case it is humanity which is more in error and in the second it is clearly the machine which is the villain. The novelisation of The Savages sticks pretty closely to the TV script, and there’s little more to say about it than that (and Sarah Crotzer has said it). The Doctor’s most amusing line has been cut for some strange reason.

Black played around a bit more with the plot of The War Machines, and it is generally to the book’s benefit. Whereas in the TV version, the Doctor rather incongruously walks straight into the heart of the British scientific establishment and is accepted immediately, here he engages in a combination of forging letters of introduction and invoking Ian Chesterton, now, we are told, a senior scientist (he must have achieved that pretty quickly in the year since the end of The Chase, but let that pass). Also the War Machines themselves, liberated from the clunky restrictions of television production, come across as distinctly more menacing. One feels that this is what Black really wanted the TV show to be like, especially since for most of it he sticks fairly close to the script (including the Doctor’s closing rant).

In conclusion, I found these books a pretty easy read when feeling generally somewhat run down. They do feed into my thoughts on Dodo as a character, but I will save that for another day.

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The Savages

Right, that’s it decided: I very much prefer the audios with linking narration to the fan reconstructions of “lost” Doctor Who episodes. Especially (though not only) if Peter Purves is doing them. The Savages is a real little gem of a story, even if it does have one of the most amusing lines in the whole of Doctor Who. The incidental music is particularly impressive (which of course makes more of a difference for a story that’s on audio only); it is by Raymond Jones, who also wrote the music for The Romans, and very little else (Wodehouse Playhouse, according to imdb).

The story itself is a clean and simple classic Who plot: the Doctor arrives in an apparent paradise, discovers the evil going on behind the scenes, and fixes it. No aliens, no monsters apart from the human beings and their misuse of their own powers, and indeed nobody dies; several important ethical themes are addressed (as explored by Fiona Moore in one of her excellent essaysthe next story.

Anyway, the audio CDs are strongly recommended.

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St Patrick’s Day

Thannks to , the Letter To Coroticus.

Am feeling better this morning than I have for the last three. I went to an early St Patrick’s Day reception in Belfast on Tuesday night, and either I overdid the canapés or they overdid me; definite internal discomfort ever since. Presumably the saint was expressing his disapproval of untimely commemoration. Still, a quiet weekend is indicated.

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