July Books 26-34) The other Sixth Doctor novelisations

My vague ambition to read all the novelisations of Doctor Who stories before my vacation did not come off, but I did at least finish the Sixth Doctor novels on Eurostar on Tuesday.

26) Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos, by Philip Martin

I mocked Martin’s misuse of the word “vulpine” in an earlier entry

27) Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker

This is the first of the Bakers’ novels, and sets a standard for what is to come – too many exclamation marks, not quite enough extra background to make sense, and a less than coherent plot (though better here than on screen).

28) Doctor Who – The Two Doctors, by Robert Holmes

This is much the best of the Sixth Doctor novels, and it’s a shame that Holmes didn’t write any other novelisations. Somehow he seems very much in control of his material, especially filling out the background of the Androgums and the Shockeye/Chessene relationship. This is basically the only Sixth Doctor novelisation that one could recommend to a non-Who reader with confidence.

29) Doctor Who – Timelash, by Glen McCoy

It’s not a fantastic book, but it is at least at the level of quality of the average Who novelisation, unlike the original series which; it makes you realise just how much the TV original suffered from a) Paul Darrow’s overacting as Tekker and b) the pathetic hand-puppet monsters. One of those cases where the reader’s imagination is better at supplying the effects.

30) Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks, by Jon Preddle

This is the last of the New Zealand fan-produced novelisations (apart from the one of City of Death which I haven’t yet got hold of). Preddle says in his introduction that there are two ways of doing these books, the right way and the Terrance Dicks way, and he is conscious of having gone for the latter option. This isn’t really fair on Terrance Dicks, who is a more than competent writer when on form, or indeed to Preddle himself, who has turned in quite a reasonable adaptation of what was a decent enough story to begin with, with extra characterisation of the Happy Repose setup (and unhampered by one particular rather weak performance).

31) Doctor Who – The Mysterious Planet, by Terrance Dicks

This is, however, not one of Dicks’ greatest efforts. I’ve noted before how the Dicks/Holmes combination is only rarely successful on the printed page, and this, the last of the sequence, is fairly typical, a faithful recounting of what the viewer sees on the screen without much added. There are some mystifying slips, Peri’s full name being given as “Perpegillian”, for instance. It also fails (as did the original TV version) to establish the Time Lord trial setting convincingly (let alone fit it into continuity).

32) Doctor Who – Mindwarp, by Philip Martin

This is my favourite of the televised Sixth Doctor stories, but Martin doesn’t quite do it justice on the page. In particular, the questionable reliability of the narrative in its own terms was made to work well on screen, but comes over as a bit of a cheat on paper. Also the “happy ending” for Peri is even more of a copout here than it was on screen (though at least Yrcanos shows some more romantic interest in her in the book).

33) Doctor Who – Terror of the Vervoids, by Pip and Jane Baker

This is the best of the Bakers’ Sixth Doctor novelisations, though this is not saying a lot. Basically this is because the plot actually makes sense, and the novel is not cursed by the actual appearance of the Vervoids on screen. However, there is still an excess of exclamation marks.

34) Doctor Who – The Ultimate Foe, by Pip and Jane Baker

Alas, it doesn’t matter how many exclamation marks you add, this remains an incoherent story; and while the Bakers valiantly attempt to fill it out with extra detail, it is basically beyond salvation from the start.

The biggest surprise for me in reading these was that the Peri/Doctor relationship actually works rather well on paper, even if the books themselves are generally not particularly great. I’ve noted before how the printed page tends to flatter the screamy rather than the brainy companions, and Peri, though nominally brainy, is in fact screamy. On screen, one sometimes wondered what she was doing travelling with the Doctor at all; the friction often seems nasty rather than affectionate. On paper, it somehow works better. I still think that the original ending to Mindwarp rather than the “happy” ending is a better close to her story, though.

As for the Sixth Doctor as a whole: fannish collective opinion does not rate the era highly (all but one of the stories are in the lower half of the dynamic rankings table, with The Twin Dilemma and Timelash in the bottom two slots). On TV, it’s pretty clear that the good stories are Revelation of the Daleks and Mindwarp. The best of the books, as noted above, is Robert Holmes adaptation of his own The Two Doctors, though I am struck by how often I felt the novelisation was better than the TV original; the problem was really the production values in general rather than the scripts per se.

The only other Sixth Doctor book I have read is Simon Forward’s Telos novella Shell Shock, which I rather enjoyed (though wondered about the characterisation of the Doctor). I have the three “missing season” novels on the reading pile.

On audio, Colin Baker has shown what he is capable of with decent material to work from, not only with Nicola Bryant and Bonnie Langford, but also with the brilliant Maggie Stables as older companion Evelyn Smythe. I particularly recommend The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Bloodtide and The Wormery, though the Evelyn/Doctor relationship is always fun. (I am not a fan of Frobisher though.) Indeed, Baker has turned his hand to writing himself.

To the McCoy era now!

July Books 24) A House for Mr Biswas

24) A House for Mr Biswas, by V.S. Naipaul.

This was one of the books I bought in order to broaden my acquaintance with the Nobel Prize winners for Literature. It is a rather touching tale of Mohan Biswas, from an Indian family on Trinidad, and his quest to have his own house. There are a lot of interesting cultural and dynastic dynamics – Mr Biswas’ clever son Anand is clearly a reflection of the author in some way, so presumably Mr Biswas himself reflects Naipaul’s father. The human and physical geography of Trinidad – or at least some small parts of it – is very memorably portrayed.

I found myself dissatisfied with the book on two counts, one minor, one rather more serious. The minor point is that, after a blow-by-blow account of most of Mr Biswas’ life, the last few years are telescoped with what feels like somewhat indecent haste, which rather blunts the tragedy of his relatively early death (no spoilers here – it is foreshadowed in the first chapter).

The bigger point is that although we get most of the book from Mr Biswas’ own point of view, and most of the rest from Anand’s, almost all the women appear as incomprehensible, irrational characters. (With the exception of Mr Biswas’ boss during his brief spell as a civil servant.) I regretted that we never heard his wife’s voice clearly, and the monstrous mother-in-law presumably would have had her side of the story as well.

Still, at a time when I am struggling through Keay’s History of India, I felt that this book set half a world away gave me a much better sense of Indian culture.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 23) The History of Richard Calmady

23) The History of Richard Calmady, by “Lucas Malet” (Mary St Leger Kingsley Harrison)

I got hold of this via Project Gutenberg largely because it is supposed to be based on the life of Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh; I had no idea that I would be so completely captivated by it. The author was the daughter of Charles “Water Babies” Kingsley, and carved out a significant reputation at the end of the nineteenth century. Richard Calmady was one of her major literary successes, a controversial novel which deals frankly with sex, disability and religion, condemned as “vicious” by no less a critic than Charles Francis Adams in the columns of the New York Times. It is one of the best books I have read this year, and I am simply stunned that I had never heard of the author before, and that Richard Calmady never made it into the canon (and is not easily available in dead tree format either). It would make the basis of a great film or TV series.

Richard Calmady is born to a landowning family in the 1860s, with only vestigial legs (differing from his model, Arthur Kavanagh, in that he is English, not Irish, and has full use of his arms). The book traces his psychological journey and his relationships with his mother and three other women; the characters are vividly sketched (as indeed are numerous male foils to the action) and there are numerous beautiful descriptive passages – mostly of the English countryside around the Calmady estate, but also with a memorable section set in and around Naples.

The author’s sympathies are clearly with both the spiritually inclined mother and the feminist Honoria St Quentin (who describes herself in one memorable passage as “not what you call a marrying man”). There is also a surprisingly profound undercurrent of spirituality (tarnished, unfortunately, by a slightly naff ancient curse), which would probably be the biggest block to the book’s success in today’s market – that, and the rather ostentatious wealth of the Calmady family and their friends, the twittish Lord Fallowfield and his children. It is also a very long book, but it really carried me along. Strongly recommended.


A rare f-locked entry from me, with notes of my summer movements:

1) tomorrow in London all day. Mostly for work, though I hope to get to the Waterstone’s on Trafalgar Square about lunchtime.

2) Setting off on holidays on Friday; taking Fergal to London on Saturday for the Doctor Who exhibition at Earl’s Court at 11, and then the Science Museum (at his request), then on to Northern Ireland on Sunday.

In Norn Iron for the guts of three weeks; then to Kidderminster for the next round of the nuptial celebrations, which neatly fits with my attending the Sunday of DWCon – will no doubt see many of you there – and then home on the (UK Bank Holiday) Monday.

3) Probably off to Cyprus for work almost as soon as I get back. There is no rest for the wicked.

Posted in Uncategorised

Recent adventures – wedding and birthday

First off, my gallery of the wedding of and Mrs . The first three pics are from the civil ceremony on 4 July; then the rest from the religious ceremony on 11 July, six from the church, and seven from the reception, of which I admit that only two are of the happy couple themselves, five of our son and/or his second cousin, and one of ‘s cousin and her partner who were at our table. It was a great day, and we also have videos (not totally audible) of the speeches.

Next up, F’s birthday, which began on Friday with the usual examination of the spoils:

Followed by a party yesterday at which his baffled young Flemish friends were introduced to the star attraction:

F was determined that his party should have an Ancient Egyptian theme, though was concerned that this might not be totally consistent with Daleks. Luckily I was able to put him right. So we have the Walking Like An Egyptian game, the provision of dates and figs, and the pyramid-shaped birthday cake.

Great fun was had by all.

Posted in Uncategorised

In the sunshine

Ahh, the joys of sitting outside on a beautiful summer day, waiting for my lunch to arrive (and so posting a quick entry from my phone).

People complain about the weather in Belgium, but coming from Belfast (unlike most of the complainers, who tend to come from points further south) I don’t object to the rain, and the warm days like today are more numerous and pleasant than what I grew up with (though of course with global warming, that is now true of Belfast as well). And the winters are pretty mild, considering this is the same latitude as Calgary.

So, reasons to be cheerful. And here’s my lunch.

Posted in Uncategorised

I do not think that word means what you think it means

“I just won’t look!” Peri said, clenching her eyes shut but feeling the stiff vulpine feathers that had now emerged almost fully all over her arms.
(Philip Martin, Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos)

Vulpine feathers, eh?

With extra irony, the chief villain is given to malapropisms due to a faulty translation unit. The omniscient narrator has no such excuse!

Posted in Uncategorised

Reader’s block

Am reading two rather tough books – tough for different reasons – at the moment. First up is John Keay’s India: A History lent me on the long term by a Norwegian colleague in the job before last; as you may have noticed I have been trying to prioritise my stack of unread history books this year. The basic problem with the early chapters are that he has almost no historical narrative to tie his descriptions of the archaeological evidence to, and I find it therefore a bit difficult to keep straight in my head. And I am looking at the end of the book and thinking, hmm, another 500 pages of this…

The second book is a rather amazing lost classic, The History of Richard Calmady by Lucas Malet (a pseudonym for Charles Kingsley’s daughter Mary) which I’m reading on my Palm Pilot courtesy of Project Gutenberg. I got hold of it because the main character is based to a certain extent on Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh; it is proving a fascinating and attractive read, and I find myself wondering if Thomas Hardy is really so much better than this author that he deserves to be remembered while she is forgotten? But it is also very long – originally published in three large volumes, and I have barely started the second. Amd again, knowing that I will have to get through it all on the squinty Palm Pilot screen is a bit dismaying; I think the only book of this length I’ve tried reading this way before was A Feast for Crows, and I’m looking at the end and thinking, hmm, another 2500 pagedowns of this? Unfortunately Calmady doesn’t seem to be available in dead tree format for a reasonable price.

So I am looking through the other books at the top of my TBR pile, and hoping that one of them will be suitably diverting to help me get through Keay and Calmady. But am putting off Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos until tomorrow’s commute.

Posted in Uncategorised

A 1906 scandal: the dubious death of my great-uncle

In my genealogical surfings I have come across this account of the death of my grandfather’s eldest brother, John Nicholas Whyte (1864-1906), which I knew from family lore had been quite a scandal at the time. Bizarrely enough it comes from the archives of a New Zealand paper, the Hawera and Normanby Star, from July and August 1906.

3 July 1906

[under “Home News Brevities”]

At Westminster, London, the inquest was resumed on Major J. N. Whyte, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who died while undergoing Christian science treatment at Eaton Terrace, London. Captain Douglas D. Baynes, of Clanricarde Gardens, Bayswater, a practitioner of Christian science teaching, said he first met Major Whyte in September 1904. The witness was previously told Whyte was in a serious condition, and was anxious to have the Christian science treatment. Witness wrote that if Major Whyte wanted Christian science treatment he would do his best for him if he were willing to abandon all recourse to the use of material means as a cure for disease or sickness. Witness’s charge was one guinea a week. He continued to treat Major Whyte down to [missing line] by witness himself. At the first Major Whyte was paralysed and suffering great pain, but from the time the treatment commenced the pain ceased. It was denied that Christian Scientists had ever promised that he would have the use of his legs in a fortnight. It was admitted that deceased while under science treatment also received material treatment. The inquest was again adjourned.

5 July 1906




At Westminster, on May llth, Mr John Troutbeck resumed the inquest on the body of Major J. N. Whyte, D.S.0., of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who died whilst undergoing Christian Science treatment at Eaton terrace, London. The deceased major was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In February, 1903, whilst hunting at Hinckley, he broke his spine. Sir Victor Horsley and several other prominent physicians attended him, and he was also treated in various nursing homes. Later he underwent the Christian Science treatment, which consisted mainly, it was said, in reading prayers. The Court was crowded, mainly with fashionably attired women.

On the Coroner taking his seat he said Dr Henry Huxley would go into the witness box with regard to a statement attributed to him in the evidence of Nurse Jones. Dr Huxley said he desired to say that the statement that he influenced Major Whyte in favor of Christian Science was absolutely without foundation, and was a pure invention.

Mrs Esther Maria Grant, recalled, and questioned by Mr Hempson, said she saw Mrs Whyte, the mother of the deceased, in March last.

Mr Hempson: I will read what Mrs Whyte says: “I thought he was very seriously ill, and I wished he should have proper medical advice.” — I do not remember it.

Questioned by Mr Kingsbury, witness said if a wish had been expressed that deceased should have medical advice she would have retired from the case.

Dr Freyberger said he found a number of bed sores on the bodyone of which comprised an opening to a large cavity which had superficially destroyed the lower end of the hip bone. In his opinion the immediate cause of death was exhaustion in consequence of general blood-poisoning and that death was accelerated by want of proper medical care and attention.

Dr George Robert Adcock said he ceased to practise a year ago last February. He had suffered from ill-health, and was cured by Christian Science. He was a student of Christian Science, and was asked to see Major Whyte, and recommended him to use Ektagon powder for his wound, which became better.

Did you attribute that to the powder? — I thought Christian Science was doing it.

Witness added that deceased did not wish to use anything that was likely to be antagonistic to Christian Science. He explained to Mrs Grant that the powder was not a curative agent, and t&en Mrs Grant allowed him to use it.

How would you treat bed sores? — Medically.

Is antiseptic treatment contrary to Christian Science treatment? — I am not far enough advanced in Christian Science to answer that question. It was not allowed to be used.

Then why did you use the powder? — For cleanliness. I will not say it was altogether scientific.

The Coroner, in summing up said he could not help being struck by the fact that what had been done by Christian Scientists had been done for money, but he could not say that the evidence tended to make them amenable to the law unless a conspiracy could be proved. But the point came in as to the responsibility before the law of Dr Adcock. There was a statement that when asked by Mrs Whyte if he would attend the deceased as a doctor he said he would. The jury, after deliberating in private for a quarter of an hour, returned a verdict of manslaughter against Dr Adcock, who was committed for trial. They also wished to give the strongest possible censure on Captain Baynes, Mrs Grant, Mr Smith, and Nurse Jones. On the application of Mr Kingsbury bail was granted to Dr Adcock, two sureties in £100 and himself in £200.


As a result of the verdict of manslaughter returned by the Coroner’s jury, Dr George Robert Adcock (39), described as of Ebury street, Pimlico, was charged at Westminster with feloniously causing the death of Major John Nicholas Whyte by wilful neglect.

After his arrest, said a police inspector, several small glass tubes containing tabloids of morphine, sulphate, and a compound of strychnine, an empty tube, and a hypodermic syringe were found on the accused. The doctor stated that he was taking the tabloids for indigestion. He (the inspector) informed defendant that they were marked “Poison,” and he could keep them.

In reply to the Magistrate, the Inspector said he did not know much about the doctor. He had given an address in Ebury street, but he had not been there recently. Witness thought be was a well known man among the Christian Scientists, but be was a properly qualified medical man, and one of some standing.

The Magistrate said he would like to know a little more about these drugs before he granted bail. The Inspector stated that the little tabloids were a strong poison. Four to six would kill anyone.

The accused, was remanded, the Magistrate refusing bail.

[A cable which came to hand on Monday stated that the jury had disagreed at the trial of Dr Adcock.]

23 August 1906



On taking his seat at the Old Bailey on July 3, Mr Justice Bigham made an important announcement with reference to the Christian Science case tried before him the previous week and which ended in the jury disagreeing on Saturday.

The accused was George Robert Adcock, a Christian Scientist, of Ebury street, Pimlico, and he was charged with the manslaughter by neglect of Major John Whyte, of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Addressing Mr. Charles Mathews, who was one of the counsel for the prosecution, his lordship ‘ said that he had carefully considered the evidence in the case, and had come to the conclusion, that a conviction would be undesirable.

In his opinion, the evidence was not sufficient to support a conviction. He added that he did not wish to interfere with the course the Treasury might think fit to adopt in regard to the case, but he thought it desirable that they should know his opinion.

Mr Mathews replied that he was quite sure that the views of bis lordship would receive every consideration from the authorities.

His lordship, we understand, was influenced by the attitude of the jury in the remarks he made. Only three – and of these one was doubtful — were in favor of a conviction.

Several members of the jury were seen yesterday by a Daily Mail representative, and they were each emphatic in their declaration that they had acted entirely on their own initiative in disagreeing. After the judge’s appeal they had hopes that they could have returned a verdict and would have done so but for the opposition of two men who were thoroughly opposed to any consideration of Christian Science.

“It was mere prejudice,” said one of the jurymen. ‘”I have no sympathy with Christian Science, and think it a very mistaken notion. I am a plain man and could describe it as absolute nonsense. But what were we to do? The prisoner had met the dead man at church, or whatever you like to call it. They had got friendly, and most of us were convinced that the offer of a guinea a week simply was pocketmoney.”

The case was sufficiently visible to give rise to a parliamentary question and debate in the columns of the New York Times; clearly there were competing narratives of a moral panic about Christian Science cultists, and a unjustified witch-hunt against a retired doctor who was following his patient’s instructions. (I am quite sure that my great-grandmother was contributing to the first of these.)

Major Whyte was not married and (as far as we know) left no children; I am puzzled however by this street bearing his name on the northern edge of São Paolo, Brazil, but perhaps it is someone else!

Posted in Uncategorised

The Dominion of the Ionian Islands

‘s interest in matters counterfactual was piqued by my post about Arthur Kavanagh’s 1860s cruise. He raised the question of what it would have taken to have a Dominion of the Ionian Islands in the British Commonwealth some time in the twentieth century, amd speculated that they might have got there quicker than India (1947) if not as quickly as Ireland (1922).

Well. When the United States of the Ionian Islands were created in 1815, they were the only Greek-speaking territory outside Ottoman rule. Once the independent Greek kingdom had come into existence in 1830, though, I think it became a matter not of if but when Ένωσις would take place, and the examples of the Italian Risorgimento, the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia, and the expansion of Serbia add to the impetus.

A couple of things might have slowed this down. First, the immediate political context of the handover in 1862-64 was to stabilise the rule of the new British-backed King of the Hellenes, the young George of Denmark. If King Otho had held on – indeed, if Athens had started pursuing anti-British policies around the Ionian Islands, as it did around Cyprus a century later – helping the Greek kingdom would have been a much less attractive option.

Second, the Suez Canal was opened in 1869 and suddenly the Mediterranean became the key shipping route to India. Of course, the British still held Gibraltar and Malta and had a large influence in Egypt, and picked up Cyprus in 1878; but had the Ionian Islands still been under the Union Jack when the canal opened, they would have suddenly acquired much greater strategic significance. (Especiallu if, since we are in the realms of the counterfactual, the Brits had somehow lost Malta in the meantime.)

However, I think that unless the Greek state had failed catastrophically, or never come into existence, the Ionian Islands would have become part of it sooner or later. While Gibraltarians do not feel Spanish, and the Maltese are neither Arabs nor Italians (and were actually offered full integration with the UK at one point), the Ionians clearly did identify as Greek (as even the hostile Kavanagh bears witness). The gradual disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and expansion of the Greek state (Ionian Islands in the 1860s, Thessaly in 1881, then Crete in 1906, then Macedonia in 1912-13, then the Dodecanese in 1947; with certain setbacks in 1923 and in Cyprus more recently) is a compelling narrative, which fits in also with the growth of the other Balkan states (the future Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania).

Perhaps a reforming Ottoman Empire could have resisted fragmentation, become a credible partner for the other Great Powers in maintaining stability, and created a viable system of internal autonomy for its minorities that did not inevitably lead to independence or merger. In that case one could see a British presence on the Ottomans’ Adriatic flank continuing for much longer. It doesn’t necessarily get the Ionians Dominion status terribly quickly though; Cyprus had to wait until 1960, Malta to 1964 and Gibraltar is British still.

Of course the process of Risorgimento / Ένωσις does not inevitably lead to that conclusion; there are a number of examples of states whose majority is ethnically similar to their neighbours, but who end up on the other side of the border for historical and geopolitical reasons – most recently Kosovo, but also Moldova and Austria (all three of which were indeed united politically with their ethnic kin during the second world war, after which the winning powers broke them off again); and more locally to this discussion, the case of Cyprus, where a Greek attempt at annexation in 1974 foundered in military defeat.

Sometimes the process can even go into reverse, as happened ultimately with Yugoslavia (and, farther off, Somalia, where a British colony united with its ethnic kin in 1960 but has since had second thoughts). I suppose the last possibility to look at is that the government in Athens might have treated the Ionian Islanders so badly after 1864 that some or all of them would have revolted back into the arms of the British, or possibly the Italians, or like Mayotte opting for an uneasy separatism. There were indeed frictions, but basically there was more willingness to make the deal work than to cause trouble (which is the important difference with the Yugoslav and Somali cases).

Anyway, I’m glad that asked the question, and I hope you are too.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 21-22) Two Sixth Doctor novelisations by Eric Saward

21) Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma, by Eric Saward

It’s not a big secret that the TV original of this is by far my least favourite Classic Who story. I am none the less utterly amazed by how much worse the novelisation is. Saward attempts to channel Douglas Adams by giving us lots of extra humorous background detail, but it doesn’t work for two reasons: less importantly, because he does significant violence to continuity (especially in the back-story for Azmael) without putting anything more interesting in its place; but more crucially because he simply isn’t very funny. The strangulated sentence structure and poor proof-reading (“gawdy” for “gaudy”, “balk” for “bulk” and at one point “Meersham” for “Meerschaum”) further detract from the presentation of what is an unattractive story to begin with. By the law of averages, there must be some turkeys among the various spin-off novels but I would be astonished if any were quite as bad as this. Doctor Who and the Visitation is so much better than this that I had difficulty believing that they were by the same author.

22) Doctor Who – Attack of the Cybermen, by Eric Saward

I braced myself for more horrors with the next book in sequence, especially given that the TV version was pretty dire; but actually it is nothing like as bad as I feared. Indeed, in some respects it scores over the original – no awful music, no wobbly sets, and a significant rearrangement of the narrative to put (quite sensibly) all the scenes on Telos together in the second half; and even a decent attempt at creating sympathetic viewpoint characters. It still has some awful flaws – again, a lack of proof-reading (“wrung” for “rung” is a particularly good one); too much pointless, inconsistent background rambling; plus, even with structural improvements, the basic story remains rather dire. So I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a completist. (Unlike Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone at all.)

So basically my reading of the Sixth Doctor novelisations has not got off to a promising start.

Posted in Uncategorised

Doctor Who: The Best of the Best

There were some surprises here, most of all the surprise that more people voted than in the previous poll. Myself, I find it much easier to decide which story I like least than which I like most; perhaps I am unusual in that regard.

Anyway, as before, going in order of decreasing consensus by Doctor.

Ninth Doctor: The runaway winner – by a far greater margin than for any other Doctor – was Steven Moffat’s The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances with 43 votes out of 63 (including mine). A very long way behind came Dalek with 7 votes, then Father’s Day with 5, Rose and Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways with two each, and Boom Town with one. (And three saying they were all brill.) This basically isn’t surprising, though the margin of victory perhaps is.

Father’s Day thus establishes itself also as the most polarising Who story ever, coming third in the vote for Best Of Nine and joint third in the vote for Worst Of Nine; apart from the special case of the TV movie, it was the only one to get four or more votes in both polls.

Fifth Doctor: The Caves of Androzani has a pretty commanding lead, with 18 votes out of 47 (including mine). In joint second place, though a long way behind with 4 each, are Kinda, Earthshock and The Five Doctors, with Castrovalva, The Visitation, Black Orchid and Enlightenment on two each and a vote for each of Arc of Infinity, Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Warriors of the Deep, Frontios, Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire. And two saying they were all great. Again, I can’t say I am surprised by this outcome.

Kinda turns out to be another polarising story, joint second in the poll for Best Of Five and third in the poll for Worst Of Five. Black Orchid also scored notably in both. It is notable that the Worst of Five poll produced the most decisive result, and the Best Of Five the second most decisive. When they got it right in those days, they got it right; and when they got it wrong, they got it wrong.

First Doctor: The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with 16 votes out of 48; more than twice as many as the second placed story, The Aztecs which got 7 and The Daleks with 4. Three votes go to both The Romans and (my own choice) The Daleks’ Master Plan, with two each to An Unearthly Child, The Edge of Destruction, The Keys of Marinus and The Time Meddler and single votes for Marco Polo , The Chase, The Myth Makers, The War Machines and The Tenth Planet (and also for each of the “all great”/”all terrible” options). I can understand the winner, which is the best of the surviving longer First Doctor stories; but I really think that if you like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and are prepared to submit to the tyranny of the audio format, you will love The Daleks’ Master PlanAn Unearthly Child got two votes in both polls. You either like it or you don’t (though I question whether any of those who voted it as Worst Of One had actually seen The Chase). I cannot quite believe that anyone voted for The Chase as Best Of One who has seen any other First Doctor story (bar The Sensorites).

Sixth Doctor: Revelation of the Daleks is the winner here with 14 votes out of 43. There is then a fairly neat gradation: The Two Doctors gets 7, The Mark of the Rani 6, Vengeance on Varos 4, Mindwarp 3 (including mine), and, rather incredibly, two votes go to each of Timelash (the winner for the Worst Of Six poll) and The Ultimate Foe. Four hated ’em all, one loved ’em all.

I don’t really understand this, to be honest. Neither of the top two stories seems to me at all special, except that they are not quite as bad as the worst of the Six era. I stand by my own choice of Mindwarp as the most interesting and innovative Six story.

Seventh Doctor: Remebrance of the Daleks squeaks it over my own choice, The Curse of Fenric, by 13 to 12 (out of a total of 47). Incredibly, Battlefield came third with 6, then Dragonfire, The Happiness Patrol, Ghost Light and Survival with three, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy with two and Paradise Towers with one. (Likewise one for “All terrible”.)

As with the Worst Of Seven poll, I find these results utterly incomprehensible; how anyone can rate the cheap and shoddy Remembrance and rambling Battlefield over the masterful Fenric and subtle Ghost Light is beyond me.

Fourth Doctor: Genesis of the Daleks is narrowly ahead of City of Death by 13 vote to 11 (out of 49); and in fairness, it is a tough call. Some way behind are The Talons of Weng-Chiang with 6, The Robots of Death with four, and Pyramids of Mars and (my own choice) The Deadly Assassin with three; scattered individual votes for The Ark in Space, The Android Invasion, The Brain of Morbius, The Masque of Mandragora, Image of the Fendahl, State of Decay and Warriors’ Gate, with two for “all great”.

With slight reservations for a couple of the last group, these stories are all fantastic. Terry Nation becomes the first of two writers to win two of these polls.

Second Doctor: The Mind Robber has it with 11 votes out of 46. It is followed, in neat descent, by The Tomb of the Cybermen (8), The Invasion (7), The War Games (5), The Evil of the Daleks (4), The Highlanders (3) and (as points out) The Web of Fear (2) with scattered votes for The Faceless Ones, The Ice Warriors and The Wheel in Space. (And two for “all good”, and one for “all bad”.) Although my own vote was for The War Games, all the top five picks are memorably excellent. I am a bit surprised by the popularity of The Highlanders.

Third Doctor: Inferno is well ahead of the opposition, with 11 votes out of 48, more than twice as man as its nearest rivals, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Dæmons which both got five. They are followed by The Three Doctors and The Green Death with four each, Terror of the Autons and The Claws of Axos with three, Spearhead from Space, The Mind of Evil, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders with two each, and single votes for The Ambassadors of Death, Day of the Daleks, my own eccentric choice The Curse of Peladon, The Sea Devils and Frontier in Space. Uniquely, nobody went for either the “all great” or “all terrible” options. My own tastes are clearly well out of whack with the rest of fandom here.

Tenth Doctor: It is not surprising that Blink, my own choice, won with 14 votes out of 62, giving Steven Moffat his second victory (and thus level with Terry Nation). I was surprised, though, not just by its relatively low score – this was the least decisive of the nine serious contests – but by the following placings: Human Nature / The Family of Blood with 11, The Fires of Pompeii with 7, The Girl in the Fireplace with 5, and Midnight with 4. The two most recent season finales, Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords, and Turn Left / The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End each got three, with two for two-parters The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday and Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead and individual votes for the Children in Need Special (which I suspect is an error for Time Crash), Love & Monsters, The Shakespeare Code, Time Crash in its own right, The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky and The Unicorn and the Wasp, with three diehards insisting they were all good. There were a couple of odd omissions – was nobody as impressed with School Reunion or The Doctor’s Daughter as I was? And I am struck by the convincing lead of The Fires of Pompeii over Midnight, which I would have put the other way round. But chacun a son goût.

Eighth Doctor: 10 out of 54 of you voted for the TV movie. The other 44, including I should say myself, thought it was a stupid question.

So that’s it. Thanks for playing, and I shall probably do the same this time next year or thereabouts.

Posted in Uncategorised

Political post #3 of 3: Sarko v the Plain People of Ireland

It may not have been apparent to President Sarkozy just how ill-advised his recent remarks on the Lisbon Treaty were. In Brussels circles, the official orthodoxy remains that the treaty should be ratified by all member states before the end of the year, and that the process in Ireland is not finished. In real life, of course, the process in Ireland is finished; there will be no second referendum, even though this is the preferred option of 26 other governments.

Context and nuance are everything of course, and we don’t know if President Sarkozy was simply making the normative statement that for the Lisbon Treaty to survive, it is necessary to have another Irish referendum, or that the Irish must (with all the undertones of compulsion) vote again; both would roughly be covered by “Il faut“. I’m open-minded, though also aware that the latter is entirely possible.

(Also subject to interpretation are his remarks last week about the tradeoff between further enlargement and Lisbon. When he said that the Treaty issue must be “settled” before any more countries can join the EU, did he deliberately not stipulate that it should be approved?)

The wider problem is that many inside the Brussels beltway just don’t get how serious the problem is. Someone terribly well-meaning invited me to join a Facebook group the other day whose description began: “EU should not be a hostage of 1 milion Irish who voted NO to the Lisbon Treaty.” Well, too bad; it is – and had there been similar votes in other countries, I can easily think of half a dozen which would have produced a similar result. As I’ve said before, I rather feel that the drafters of the grand design have been asking the wrong questions.

Posted in Uncategorised

Political post #2 of 3: Belgium v Belgium

I was at a breakfast meeting this morning (ugh! Getting up at unaccustomedly early time) and found myself sitting (as Facebook folks will have noticed) next to one of the numerous living former prime ministers of Belgium. Although the meeting was on entirely a different topic, I could not resist asking him what he thought of the current crisis situation. He said that he felt the big mistake had been to allow the federal Belgian electoral cycle to get out of step with the regional elections: everyone was now positioning themselves for the 2009 polls for the various sub-national parliaments and Europe. I asked if there was now a chance that the federal elections could be brought forward to help resolve the crisis. He pointed out that the root cause of the current crisis is precisely the nature of the arrangements for the elections to the federal Belgian parliament, so unless that is sorted out first, the legitimacy of any new federal elections is not clear.

Leterme’s government lasted longer than I predicted (since I actually predicted he wouldn’t even get to the start of his term, never mind the end). My prediction now, in full knowledge of my previous inaccuracy, is that his party – whose new leader lives in the next village to ours, and used to be one of our numerous record-breaking female local councillors – will dump him and either find a different potential prime minister, or (more likely) opt to back someone else’s candidate while licking their wounds, as they did last December. And Belgium will muddle through for another few years.

Edited May 2014 to add:, now that he is no longer one of Belgium’s living ex-Prime Ministers, I shall reveal that my interlocutor at breakfast that day was Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Posted in Uncategorised

Political post #1 of 3) Ros v Lembit

Last night I attended the summer party of the Brussels branch of the [UK] Liberal Democrats, where the guest of honour was Ros Scott, the blogging Baroness. She is campaigning for the position of President of the overall party, to be elected in a few weeks from now in an all-member ballot. The other likely candidate is Lembit Öpik MP, who lost by a fairly substantial margin to Simon Hughes in 2004 (though he got my vote).

I didn’t know a lot about Ros Scott before last night, but she talked a good line on how to run the party better; mostly to do with parts of the machinery I have had little to do with even in my more activist days, but it all seemed to make sense. Also it cannot be said that the events of the last few years have made Lembit’s powers of judgement look particularly impressive, and I suspect that a lot of us who voted for him last time will be somewhat leery of repeating the experience. So as of now, the blogging Baroness has my vote; and good luck to her.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 16-20) The last Fifth Doctor books; and Fifth Doctor roundup

16) Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep, by Terrance Dicks

Slightly more interesting than the standard Dicks effort, with an attempt to reflect the political agenda that Malcolm Hulke brought to the original Silurians and Sea Devils. Also, of course, scores over the TV version in that the Myrka is described rather than seen. However Dicks seems to have difficulty deciding whether he is writing about the Third Doctor or the Fourth (it doesn’t really seem to be the Fifth).

17) Doctor Who – The Awakening, by Eric Pringle

Often the novelisations of two-part stories bring new material and imagination to the narrative, and I thought at first that this was going to be one of those, with good introductory description (especially of Jane Hampden, one of the great companions who never was). However, the pace isn’t really sustained, and the plot sinks under its own flaws; notably, Pringle misses the opportunity to make something more of the Malus’s physical appearance on the page, and the whole thing ends up essentially as a cut-down version of The Dæmons.

18) Doctor Who – Frontios, by Christopher H. Bidmead

I had moderately high expectations of this after reading Bidmead’s other two, and I wasn’t disappointed; this is the best of the Season 21 Fifth Doctor novelisations (though they are not a fantastic batch). I noted for the first time how each of Bidmead’s stories involves a transdimensional threat to the structure of the Tardis, a tinkering with one of the basics of Who which few other writers have attempted. The story works decently enough on the page, though Turlough’s insights into the Tractators could have done with more explanation. An interesting characterisation of the Doctor, absent-minded and failing to tell his companions what is going on.

19) Doctor Who – Resurrection of the Daleks, by Paul Scoones

Another of the New Zealand fan publications, and a decent effort, drawing in some of the background material invented by David Aaronovitch for his novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks but otherwise sticking fairly closely to the story as broadcast, including the humungous body count.

20) Doctor Who – Planet of Fire, by Peter Grimwade

This was a somewhat frustrating read. There are some significant improvements to the story as broadcast – the background to Kamelion is explained a bit more, and it is clear right from the start that he is probably fatally damaged; also there is more of a feeling of difference between Sarn and the site of Howard’s dig (clearly in Greece or Cyprus rather than the Canaries). But the exposition of Turlough’s background should have been more substantial, and Grimwade occasionally resorts to jarring contemporary metaphors which don’t really suit a Doctor Who narrative; the line about the Carmelite nuns in a disco will linger unpleasantly in my memory for some time.

And so it’s goodbye to Tegan, the Old Who companion whose relatives we meet in greatest numbers (her aunt, her cousin, her grandfather), though this is one of the themes of this period of the show (Adric’s brother, Nyssa’s father and stepmother, Turlough’s brother, Peri’s stepfather; and much later, Ace’s grandmother and mother), and the only one after Sarah who finishes in much the same place as she started, if a little older and a lot wearier.

But in fact Tegan’s promising and plentiful background material isn’t really handled consistently (with the honorable exception of the Kinda/Snakedance sequence). One story she is desperately trying to get back to Heathrow, the next she doesn’t care. It is an illustration of how Old Who was not particularly good at story arcs for its characters.

In the novels, her characterisation never really takes off on the page, with a couple of exceptions: her reaction to the Doctor patronising her in the print version of The King’s Demons and her increasing unhappiness in Scoones’ Resurrection of the Daleks. It’s a bit surprising, because a) Janet Fielding’s acting is a good deal more memorable on screen and b) as a general rule the screamier companions tend to come across better in print.

We also come to the end of Turlough‘s story here. I feel that the TV version of Turlough gets off to a less than credible start: he seems an unlikely tool for the Black Guardian’s revenge, and indeed isn’t a very good instrument of same. But Strickson does the communing with the crystal very well, and in his later stories (Frontios in particular) he is a solid performer. His character is more interesting in the novels than on screen; I guess that if you are working on a one-word character sketch, “shifty” gives you more to work with than, say, “Australian”. However (and this goes back to my point about Tegan) it is irritating that his background only emerges at the last moment, and while it explains some of what has been going on it doesn’t fully satisfy.

For completeness, I note that I’ve listened to three of the Turlough audios, of which the best is Loups-Garoux.

And, since I read Terrance Dicks’ rather flat adaptation of The Caves of Androzani a year ago, that takes me to the end of the Fifth Doctor‘s run as well. My two polls on the best and worst stories of each Doctor’s era (full analysis coming soon) were pretty emphatic in their choices here, and I agree with the conventional wisdom: The Caves of Androzani was the best, and Time Flight the worst. The others that I enjoyed were Castrovalva, The Visitation, Snakedance, Enlightenment and The Five Doctors (though the last much more for the nostalgia value than for any artistic merit). But the lows were much lower than for any previous Doctor. Time Flight has particularly poor production values and plotting, but it just happens to be the worst of a generally poor bunch. If I had to sum it up, I would say that this was when Doctor Who started to look cheap rather than magical.

Davison has a slightly wobbly start (notably in the first story filmed, Four To Doomsday but generally rises above his material, like the professional he is (Anne and I have been enjoying A Very Peculiar Practice over the last couple of weeks). Tom Baker was an impossible act to follow, but once Davison settles in, his empathic young technical wizard persona is very engaging. I was not totally convinced when I watched in the early 80s, because he Wasn’t The Real Doctor, but now that I am more familiar with his other predecessors and successors I am more prepared to admit that he did a good job, and I cheered like anything when he returned for a few minutes last year.

One of the striking things about the Davison era is the extent to which the Tardis gets cluttered. For much of the period there are three regular companions in the Tardis, for the first time since 1967 (and indeed the non-robotic companion count was at one or less for the five years between Terror of the Zygons). On top of that, the Fifth Doctor has a worrying propensity to allowing people to use the Tardis as a taxi. In the old days it was a sanctuary only breached in extraordinary circumstances; but Five thinks nothing of using it to give people a lift up the road. (This is of course partly because he is better at steering it than most of his predecessors.)

The best of the novels are the adaptations of Black Orchid by Terence Dudley, Terminus by “John Lydecker”, and Castrovalva by Christopher H. Bidmead. None of them really catches the Fifth Doctor’s character particularly well, and in a couple of cases (notably The King’s Demons and Frontios) they are seriously off-beam. Davison’s performance is probably the least quirky of any of the ten so far, and I guess that makes it difficult for writers to get a handle on, especially when adapting to another medium. I should add that I enjoyed but was not overwhelmed by the two other Fifth Doctor books I have read (Cold Fusion and Goth Opera).

Davison has done some of the best of the Big Finish audios; apart from Loups-Garoux, named above, and several excellent ones with Nyssa (The Mutant Phase, Primeval, Spare Parts, Creatures of Beauty and The Game) there is also the solo Omega, which continues the story of Arc of Infinity only rather better, and the cracktastic Peri and Erimem pairing, where the characters are on the whole more fun than the plot (with the glorious exception of The King-Maker, which I listened to a couple of weeks ago but have yet to write up).

Previous summary posts: the Fourth Doctor, Third Doctor novels, Second Doctor novels, First Doctor novels, the first three Doctors on screen.

Posted in Uncategorised

Comment spam

I’ve had 19 comment spams in the last 24 hours, all from different dummy LJ accounts. Have the rest of you had more, fewer or about the same?

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 15) The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva

15) The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva, by Arthur Kavanagh

My latest little project is to read up on the fascinating Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, whose life story combines my interests in Irish history and disability. I have ordered all three available biographies second hand, but was delighted to discover that the one book which he himself actually wrote is available in its entirety, complete with colour prints based on photographs which he took, online via Google Books.

The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva is a travelogue of a shooting cruise which lasted just under six months, from October 1862 to April 1863, taking Kavanagh and his wife and friends to Corfu and the surrounding coastline. (No mention is made of Kavanagh’s children, though we know from other sources that at least two and probably four had been born since his marriage in 1855. Presumably they were left behind in Ireland.) It was an interesting time to visit politically; King Otho of Greece had just been overthrown, and the British government had promised to hand over Corfu (and the other Ionian Islands, under British rule since 1815) to the new Greek king, George of Denmark. Kavanagh was there in the last few months of the British presence, and makes it clear that he deeply regrets the decision:

I do not mean to say that either tact or civility would have made the Ionian race satisfied with their position, not at all. Proud, restless, querulous, and variable as the wind, the most that could be said is, that they might have been more dissatisfied under any other protectorate, and about the worst that can be wished them is that they may be left to govern themselves. As they now stand, they have a long list of vexatious, trivial grievances, to place in the scale against great and substantial advantages. When they grumble at their taxes do they consider the millions of English money that have been spent, and are daily in course of being spent, in and upon their island. When the English are gone, what will their market be?

One senses that he may have had some other, larger British-ruled island in mind apart from Corfu.

But excursions into politics are rare (having said which, Kavanagh got elected MP for Wexford only a couple of years later). Mostly the book is about the technicalities of crewing a yacht from Ireland to Albania, and then shooting lots and lots of animals when they got there. (The final death toll, proudly printed on the last page, is “Pigs 10; Snipe 45; Deer 6; Plover 6; Jackalls [sic] 6; Pigeons 24; Hares 4; Swan 1; Geese 13; Bittern 1; Duck 54; Sea Pheasant 7;  Widgeon 152; Bargander [?] 3; Teal 102; Grebe Duck 4; Woodcock 203.”) Lots of discussion of the locals and their quaint habits, and of the ecology of the shoreline. They ranged quite a long way both north and south, but Corfu was their base.

Kavanagh was only in his early 30s at this point, but had already had an adventurous life, which he occasionally reminisces about. I found this passage about his famous trip of ten years previously particularly interesting for its echoes of Hopkirk’s The Great Game:

We started by Norway to make our way overland to India, went through Norway, Sweden, into Russia, through its immense extent to the Caspian Sea, visiting the great fair of Nizni Novogorod. We made our way across the Caspian from Astrachan to Asterabad and were caged for a day in the latter town in a sort of wooden structure, in the middle of the only square, and pelted diligently by the hospitable inhabitants with rotten eggs and bad oranges, soft things no doubt,but not the less trying to the temper. Thence we went from the north to the south of Persia, intersecting Kourdistan and Louristan, in the former of which lively spots I found poor Conolly’s prayer book, and was shewn by an interesting Kourd the very tree to which he and poor Studdert [sic] were tied and foully murdered, the Kourd said because they would not become Mussulmen: we had no intention of being turncoats either, but I expect we owed our whole skin to our poverty, possessing little more than our rifles, horses, and a change of clothes, one shirt off, and another shirt on ; I don’t mean to say, fair reader, that these were all we started with, but, certainly, they were all we had left, and the Kourds may have reasoned that it was hardly worth risking three of their precious lives in exchange for ours, the value of our possessions included.

The thought of Kavanagh, with his disabilities, being put on public display like that is pretty revolting. But I am very intrigued by the mention of Conolly and Stoddard’s fate, and Conolly’s prayer book – most accounts have the two meeting their doom in Bukhara, 1000 km to the east, and Conolly’s prayer book, now in the National Archives, was supposedly presented to his widow by a Russian who picked it up in Bukhara many years later. Also Asterabad (now Gorgan) is in northern Iran and does not appear to have been part of the Khanate of Khiva, let alone under Bukhara. Kavanagh knew how to tell a good traveller’s tale.

The striking thing about the whole book is that Kavanagh was sufficiently confident in his personal security to go wandering around the frontier between a fading Ottoman empire, an evacuating British protectorate, and a Greek kingdom recovering from revolution, with his wife and various retainers. The worst hassle he reports experiencing is when he is taking photographs of the local women, and has to get their husbands to stop them raiding his darkroom materials. Perhaps there are bits of the story he didn’t tell. (He himself starts and finishes with the yacht; his wife and the other women come to the Mediterranean by train and commercial steamer.)

And there is no mention at any point of his disabilities. (The closest we get, perhaps, is in the incident of the women and the photographic stuff, where it is clear that he is unable himself to take physical measures to stop them.) As a narrative on its own merits, The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva is not especially remarkable; but in context it is extraordinary.

Bronisław Geremek, 1932-2008

Very sorry to see that Bronisław Geremek has died in a car crash in his native Poland. He was a tremendously impressive figure; I had the pleasure of dealing with him a bit when I worked for ICG, as he was on the board, and for an elder statesman with his tremendous career history he was always very approachable. He was 76, but still vigorous.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 14) Peace

14) PEACE, by Gene Wolfe

A very layered narrative, the life story of Alden Dennis Weer and of his small-town mid-western neighbours and family, with frequent excursions into history and fantasy, the boundary being rather blurred. As often with Wolfe, a lot is unsaid (I don’t think, for instance, we are told that Dennis pushed Bobby Black down the stairs to his death but it is strongly implied). Not as demanding as some of Wolfe’s books, but not as engaging either.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 13) The Periodic Table

13) The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi

A very neat and thought-provoking series of autobiographical sketches (plus a couple of short fiction pieces), each based around one particular chemical element. Levi uses the metaphor to explore several aspects of his own life: growing up Jewish in Fascist Italy, being an industrial chemist, surviving Auschwitz. Fascinating and absorbing.

Posted in Uncategorised

Wiki translation fun

Chinese: 異世奇人
Korean: 닥터 후
Japanese: ドクター・フー
Hindi: डॉक्टर हू
Hebrew: דוקטור הו
Farsi: دکتر هو
Russian: Доктор Кто
Bulgarian: Доктор Кой

Apart from the last two, I have no idea about the pronunciation – open to being enlightened!

Posted in Uncategorised

2008 films 3) Der Untergang

I was inspired to watch this account of the last days in Hitler’s bunker by ‘s thought-provoking (but mildly spoilerish) review, and was completely gripped throughout. Berlin has always been a place of fascination for me; I remember when I first went there in 1986, when the Wall was still very much there, the sense of truncation as you looked at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines stopping abruptly; and I remember going back in 1992 and walking under the Brandenburg Gate where I had taken pictures of the Wall from both sides six years before. And I was familiar from skimming the historical literature with the basics of the story of late April and early May in 1945. It would be possible (and I am sure it has happened) to do a very poor and cliched dramatization, but this is very good.

Partly this is because of the viewpoint character being a young woman, Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge. She and Eva Braun and the other women of the bunker tend to be background figures in the standard historical accounts. By foregrounding their stories, Der Untergang makes this a story about human beings rather than about politics – certainly, human beings in an insane and deadly situation which is of their own making, but it makes the whole thing very watchable. (Having said that, I share ‘s dissatisfaction with the ending, for much the same reasons.)

The other superb thing about the film is Bruno Ganz’s performance in the key role, a completely gripping and convincing portrayal. One point that struck me especially was his accent – as pointed out a while back by , it is actually pretty harsh, a clipped mock-demotic contrast to the more mellifluous Hochdeutsch of the rest of the cast. It is an exaggeration – I tracked down some original recordings on Youtube to compare – but it helps enormously to convey the character – the abbreviated but intense vowels a metaphor for his career.

Indeed, more generally I found the film particularly shocking and direct because it was in German, not a translation. German is the foreign language in which I am best qualified (A-level) and for me it is a medium of well-meaning academic articles, great and less great literature and (in my later teenage years) occasional flirtation. I was never especially interested in war films, so never particularly subscribed to those stereotypes. But Der Untergang puts it right in your face: this language which I use for ordering food and drink when I change planes in Vienna is also the language of genocide and total war.

I understand that there are several versions of the English sub-titles out there, which is just as well – the ones I was watching with occasionally missed catching important nuances and inexplicably omitted entire lines (an early crack about the Asiatic hordes, a later report that they could hold out for only twenty hours). Unfortunately I am not quite brave enough to watch it without them.

Posted in Uncategorised

July Books 5-12) Eight Fifth Doctor novelisations

Continuing my project, these are the novelisations of the Season 20 stories, plus one that got away from Season 19 and the anniversary special. A number of these confounded my expectations.

5) Doctor Who and the Visitation, by Eric Saward

I may have unconsciously been avoiding this one, given how generally hostile I feel about Eric Saward’s impact on the programme. But in fact it is a perfectly decent narrative; good character moments especially for Nyssa and for the actor / highwayman Richard Mace (who is consistently described as “portly” which is at variance with the TV version). Better than I had expected.

6) Doctor Who – Arc of Infinity, by Terrance Dicks

A rather run-of-the-mill Dicks effort.

7) Doctor Who – Snakedance, by Terrance Dicks

Another rather run-of-the-mill Dicks effort, which is a shame as the TV version was one of my favourite Davison stories.

8) Doctor Who – Mawdryn Undead, by Peter Grimwade

I was bracing myself for another terrible book after the awfulness of Doctor Who – Time Flight. But in fact I was pleasantly surprised; I think it is a better story in the first place, but Grimwade is able to bring in a bit more characterisation to new companion Turlough and the Brigadier, and a bit more background to the public school. Not bad at all.

9) Doctor Who – Terminus, by John Lydecker / Steve Gallagher

This was one case where my expectations were not confounded: as with Doctor Who – Warrior’s Gate, we have here a decent enough space opera sf novel which happens to have the Doctor and companions dropped into it. A number of things work better here than they did on screen – most notably, the Garm, which was all too obviously a man in a silly suit on screen; but also the raiders Kari and Olvir, and the sense of corporate greed and despair. One of the better Fifth Doctor novelisations.

It struck me as noteworthy that both Gallagher’s stories put the Doctor and friends at a significant point – Warrior’s Gate at the zero coordinates, and Terminus at the centre of the universe.

10) Doctor Who – Enlightenment, by Barbara Clegg

I had been looking forward to this, having enjoyed the original version very much, and for most of the book I appreciated the little extra bits of detail Clegg brought to the narrative – it’s a story where both companions do unusually well in terms of characterisation. Oddly at the very end it completely ran out of steam. The broadcast version’s studied but attractive ambiguities over who has actually been thrown off Wrack’s ship, and what Turlough’s choice actually is, completely fail to transfer to the printed page. There are ways of doing this, but Clegg was obviously unable to do more than transcribe what was on the screen. A disappointing end to what had been a promising book.

11) Doctor Who – The King’s Demons, by Terence Dudley

Again my expectations were confounded, but not in a good way. Like Dudley’s previous two-parter, Black Orchid, this brings the Doctor and companions to an English country house where they get falsely accused by the local aristocrats. But here the extra detail injected to bulk the story up to novel length really doesn’t help. The early chapters have the Doctor being unkind and patronising to poor Tegan, with no hint of underlying affection between them. The one area which could have usefully been expanded, the hasty introduction of Kamelion at the end, has been left little changed. Not much good, really.

12) Doctor Who – The Five Doctors, by Terrance Dicks

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It is fundamentally very nice to have the old companions back (though poor Susan is a bit underused). The Gallifreyan plotting makes very little sense, as usual, but it is tremendous fun, and one feels that Dicks was enjoying this despite the extraordinary pressure he was under to produce it. Oddly enough it is the Fifth Doctor who comes across least memorably here. More on this in a future entry.

This brings me to the end of Nyssa’s run on the show. As with a lot of the brainier companions, she doesn’t transfer particularly memorably to the printed page. Although she does bring with her a tragic back-story, losing first her father and then her whole homeworld, this fades more and more into the background as time goes on. Having said that, there are a couple of stories – eg Black Orchid, Terminus – where she is pretty central to the action and this works well.

Nyssa of course continues to feature on Fifth Doctor audios from time to time, including on several of the best Big Finish stories – The Mutant Phase (with Daleks), Primeval (a sort of prequel to The Keeper of Traken), The Game (which brings back William Russell rather gloriously) and two particular favourites, Creatures of Beauty (which has a very unusual format but none the less works) and most of all Spare Parts (the origin of the Cybermen). Any or all of these would be a decent jumping off point to get into Big Finish, if you haven’t already done so.

Posted in Uncategorised

Top tips

I had been puzzling for months over the amount of free space on my ThinkPad laptop – it claimed to have only 5 GB free out of 50, but adding together all the visible files barely got me to 25 GB. None of the various defragmenting and data scrobbling tools made much difference.

But I found the answer. The Thinkpad’s automatic backup system had set up an extensive and unnecessary catalogue of system restore points. Deleted them all, and, hey presto, 20 GB liberated just like that!!!!

Posted in Uncategorised