Whoniversaries 31 May

i) births and deaths

31 May 1983: birth of Reggie Yates who played Martha’s brother Leo in the 2007 series of Doctor Who.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

31 May 1969: broadcast of seventh episode of The War Games. The Doctor and friends start a rebellion, capturing the 1917 chateau from General Smythe.

31 May 2008: broadcast of Silence in the Library

One more month to go in this project. We have made a start at transferring the Whoniversaries to a Google calendar, and hope that we’ll be able to generate at least an RSS feed out of it. More details when we have it up and running.

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Whoniversaries 30 May

i) births and deaths

30 May 1938: birth of Christopher Robbie, who played the Karkus in The Mind Robber (1969) and the Cyber-Leader in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 May 1964: broadcast of “The Warriors of Death”, second episode of the story we now call The Aztecs. In his efforts to regain entrance to the tomb, the Doctor is inadvertently responsible for poisoning Ian.

30 May 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of Inferno. The Doctor is imprisoned, but escapes, trying to stop the drilling of the planet “screaming out its rage”.

30 May 2003: webcast of fifth episode of Shada. The Doctor and friends evade the Krargs and return to Cambridge, and then go to Shada where Professor Chronotis reveals his true identity as Salyavin.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 5-30-2011

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Gibbon Chapter LII: The limits of the early caliphate

My thoughts here. The Arabs fail to capture Constantinople or to hold Rome or their gains in France, and start to lose ground to the Byzantines as well. Much discourse on Arabic learning. Gibbon concludes that three reason they failed to make much headway after the eighth century were:

  • "When the Arabian conquerors had spread themselves over the East, and were mingled with the servile crowds of Persia, Syria, and Egypt, they insensibly lost the freeborn and martial virtues of the desert."
  • "The sect of the Carmathians [Qarmatians] may be considered as the second visible cause of the decline and fall of the empire of the caliphs."
  • "The third and most obvious cause was the weight and magnitude of the empire itself."

Also some reflections of mine on happiness, and on science and learning.

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May Books 14) Fables vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges

Catching up with this series since the next volume after this has got a Hugo nomination. The ‘crossover’ of the title is between the Fables of the series (Snow White, Jack Horner, Bigby Wolf) and a new group of characters, the Literals, led by the powerful Kevin Thorne who can alter the world simply by writing it. The story was originally published as part of three different lines (Fables, Jack of Fables and The Literals) so this is one case where compiling the narrative within a single set of covers is definitely helpful to the reader. There are some good characters and some neat character moments, and I hope we will see more of the Page sisters in future volumes. But the core concept of a character whose power is so immense that he can destroy everything else is actually quite difficult to make interesting, and I kept thinking that Doctor Who did this better in The Mind Robber back in 1969.

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Barcelona 3, Man Utd 1

I watched a football match last night for the first time since the (disappointing) World Cup final last summer. I’m generally not much of a sports fan, but this match had been hyped so much that I wanted to share the mass viewing experience and also hoped that it would be a genuine pleasure to watch. I have also, in the vaguest possible way, been pro Manchester United for most of my life – basically because all the kids at my primary school supported either them or Liverpool, and on the whole I liked the Liverpool supporters less. Back in 1977 this gave me an immediate thrill as Man United beat Liverpool in that year’s FA cup final. (Also even at a young age I was aware of the drama of the Munich air crash, years before I was even born.)

However, they were comprehensively outclassed by Barça last night. It was a bit humiliating to watch, in some ways – I see the post-match stats say that Barça had possession more than twice as often as Man U, and that they had 22 shots at the goal to Man U’s rather miserable 4, and though I wasn’t keeping as close tabs as that, the 3-1 result was an accurate reflection of the relative skills on display. One friend commented on Twitter that Barcelona were doing to Man United what Man United has been doing to every other team in England; I can’t comment on that, but I had to admire the way in which their crackling energy as a team translated into results.

Which brings me to a final point: One of the ways in which experiencing this sort of event has changed is that thanks to social media one can share the experience online with people around the world (well, in this case Europe). It can pull in all kinds of people: the Finnish foreign minister tweeted in such cryptic terms about his support for Man U that the Swedish foreign minister worriedly asked him if there was some civil war brewing? (Two weeks ago they had exchanged tweets about the world ice hockey final, in which Stubb’s team thrashed Bildt’s 6-1.) But for me it was also a nice way of being in touch with old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades, knowing that we were watching and enjoying the same match along with millions of others around the continent. The world is becoming smaller, and that is not a bad thing.

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May Books 13) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 4, by Fumi Yoshinaga

This is the first manga series I have really got into (I bounced off the first volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha a few years back) and I will start with some general reflections. First, it is easy to read these too quickly. The sparse black and white illustrations, the subtleties of the difference in appearance between characters, the condensation of the equivalent of many prose paragraphs of plot and emotion into a single frame, all male it important to take these slowly and sensibly. Second, I was a bit unnerved at first by the stylistic device where people’s faces go all cartooney when they are in the grip of strong emotion (usually anger); but in fact this is a fair metaphor for what it feels like, and to an extent what it looks like, when one is consumed by rage, joy, sadness or whatever, and I have not only got used to it but practically welcome it as an extra signal to the reader.

Volume 4 of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is a transitional work, covering the end of the reign of Iemitsu, zooming rather rapidly through the thirty year reign of her successor Ietsuna, and then getting stuck in to the career of Tsunayoshi and the arrival at her court of the young nobleman Emonnosuke. It is also about the historical legacy of Arikoto, a central figure of the previous two volumes, whose valet ends up as Tsunayoshi’s father.

The background to the story is of course a Japan which has lost 75%-80% of its men; but I feel the plot is more and more about the exercise of power, Iemitsu’s wise and enlightened decisions – including “coming out” as a woman ruler and permitting other lords to do the same – contrasted with Ietsuna’s indolence. We then see Tsunayoshi as largely concerned with using power for her own sexual pleasure, to the annoyance of her courtiers, and the end of the book suggests that Emmonosuke’s arrival will take her and her rule in a new direction, though we cannot be quite sure what. It’s enough to make me want to get the next volume anyway.

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Whoniversaries 29 May

i) births and deaths

29 May 1928: birth of Frederick Jaeger, who played Jano in The Savages (1966), Sorenson in Planet of Evil (1975), and Prof. Marius in The Invisible Enemy (1977).

29 May 1938: birth of Barry Jackson, who played Ascaris in The Romans (1965), Jeff Garvey in Mission to the Unknown (1965), and Drax in The Armageddon Factor (1979).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 May 1965: broadcast of “The Death of Time”, second episode of the story we now call The Chase. The Aridians capture the Doctor, Vicki and Barbara, and are about to hand them over to the Daleks when a Mire Beast attacks and they are able to escape.

29 May 1971: broadcast of second episode of The Dæmons. Giant footprints and a heat barrier beset Devil’s End; the Doctor and Jo discover a miniaturised spaceship inside the abandoned dig.

29 May 2010: broadcast of Cold Blood. The Doctor manages to negotiate an accommodation between Silurians and humans, but the situation breaks down again, the Silurians return to sleep for another thousand years – and Rory is killed and then erased from history!

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May Books 12) Doctor Who Annual 1984

I felt the stories in this annual had a slightly more didactic edge to them than usual – bringing peace through negotiations, diagrams of how osmosis works, a story about exporting criminals from which Tegan is mysteriously absent. No comic strip, for the first time, but two pieces about Who continuity – the annual starts with a review of the five Doctors so far and there’s a quiz as well – and an interview with two of the designers. And the Brigadier seems to have rejoined UNIT (Turlough is also in that story, “The Nemertines”, so it’s definitely set after Mawdryn Undead). Another decent enough effort, anyway.

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May Books 11) Feed, by Mira Grant

This was pretty much my first exposure to the zombie apocalypse sub-genre, but I must say I rather enjoyed it; set a quarter-century after the dead rose in 2014, it is the account of a group of newsbloggers who follow a presidential campaign in a much altered America. Good marks for a vivid depiction of a paranoid environment where everyone has to submit to blood tests practically every time they enter a building, and also for the central character and narrator of most of the book, Georgia Mason, whose sardonic humour at the horror around her just makes the impact all the greater when the humour runs out. I was a bit disappointed that the plot was not a little more complex; I could see the way things were going from the middle of the book, and hoped there would be an unexpected twist (hoping that even more after page 518) but there wasn’t. Well, I don’t think it will be at the bottom of my Hugo votes, but it won’t make the top either.

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May Books 10) The Dimension Riders, by Daniel Blythe

A Seventh Doctor novel in the New Adventures series, featuring a renegade Time Lord disguised as the head of an Oxford college and equipped with a killer android who he is using to execute the sinister plans of his horrible ally. Not quite as good as that description sounds; there are some very graphic battle sequences in the future space station to which the 1993 Oxford setting has a mysterious link, and some nice nods to Gallifreyan continuity, but it’s a bit like trying to rewrite Shada as a slightly more coherent and violent novel. Decent enough but not top of the range.

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Another Garret tribute

Here, written by my one-time co-author Noel Whelan, including this anecdote:

I, along with the Northern Ireland elections expert Nicholas Whyte rushed out a Tallyman’s Guide to the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections. Such was the rush that the book contained tables with columns which had not been completed. At the launch, a sharp-eyed photographer captured Garret, with his own calculations, handwriting in the missing figures to his own copy.

I can absolutely confirm this and still have the photograph of Garret completing page 44:

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Whoniversaries 28 May

i) births and deaths

28 May 1935: birth of Anne Reid, who played Nurse Crane in The Curse of Fenric (1989) and Florence Finnegan in Smith and Jones (2007).

28 May 1940: birth of Frank Cox, who directed directed part 2 of The Edge of Destruction (1964) and parts 5 and 6 of The Sensorites (also 1964).

28 May 1968: birth of Kylie Minogue, who played Astrid in Voyage of the Damned.

(Births also of Patricia Quinn and Faith Brown in 1944, Michelle Collins in 1963 and Carey Mulligan in 1985; much as I enjoyed their appearances in Who, they don’t fit my criteria for a full mention.)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 May 1966: broadcast of first episode of The Savages, the first episode not to have an individual title. The Doctor, Steven and Dodo are welcomed by the Elders, but something very sinister is going on with their savage neighbours…

28 May 2005: broadcast of The Doctor Dances. The Doctor realises that the gas mask zombies are being created by escaped medical nanocytes, and set matters aright.

28 May 2011: broadcast of The Almost People.

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Kiss of Death

The latest in the main range of Big Finish’s Doctor Who stories, this has the reunited team of the Fifth Doctor, Turlough, Tegan and an older Nyssa starting off with taking a holiday which descends into a surprising exploration of Turlough’s past. By complete coincidence I was listening to this over the same four days this week that I rewatched Frontios, a story with some very similar elements – underground mysteries, Turlough’s past, Turlough’s romantic interest – which Kiss of Death does rather better. (In fairness to Frontios, there are also some things that it does well enough which Kiss of Death does not try to do at all.) As with any established companion, giving Turlough an extra back story was always a bit risky, and spinoff fiction has on occasion done this as clumsily as the TV series (eg Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma). But Stephen Cole does it really well here; he has confessed in previous commentaries to his fascination with Turlough as a character, and now he has written what is, and will probably remain, the best Turlough story. I can strongly recommend Kiss of Death to any fan who knows a bit about Turlough but doesn’t utterly hate him.

The one disappointment is the aural realisation of the hidden monster, the Morass, whose voice was distorted beyond comprehensibility. It’s really rare for BF to have serious problems in this regard – the only other case I can remember was a Bernice Summerfield play, The Poison Seas, which featured Sea Devils so sibilant that their dialogue could not be made out. But it’s disappointing when it happens.

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2011 Hugos: Best Novella

This year’s list is a good one, none of the stories being as bad as the worst in the other fiction categories.

5) One has to start pruning somewhere though, and Elizabeth Hand’s “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon“, though itself a nice characterful story, is only barely sf; it’s really about some present-day employees of the Smithsonian setting up an elaborate stunt to cheer up a dying colleague. There is a counterfactual backstory – the Bellerophon of the title is a pre-Wright Brothers aeroplane, most records of which have been lost – and a mysterious event at the end which may (or may not) have an sfnal explanation. But it doesn’t really pass the “what I point to” test which I would generally require of a Hugo winner.

4) “Troika” by Alastair Reynolds has a great concept – cosmonauts investigating a Big Dumb Object, and a well-executed sting in the tail about the reliability of the narrator. But I was irritated by the Russian setting; although the story nominally takes place in the middle of this century, the technology and politics felt very like Western perceptions of the Cold War Soviet Union to me, and indeed Reynolds has his future Russia reverted to Communism and, even more improbably, enjoying a monopoly of spaceflight – even if the Americans and Europeans should for some reason give it up, I can’t really see the Chinese doing the same. So, good marks for the non-human bits, less so for the human bits.

3) Rachel Swirsky’s “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath The Queen’s Window” won the Nebula this year, making her the youngest winner of the award since Ted Chiang in 1990 and the first winner of either Hugo or Nebula to have been born in the 1980s. I liked the story though I wasn’t blown away by it. The core idea again is great, the narrator being a woman in a vaguely High Fantasy society who is killed on the second page and is then repeatedly reincarnated by a series of future savants with varying motives and decreasing knowledge of her real background. I felt the execution was a bit disjointed and sometimes a little flat, but obviously the Nebula voters took a different view.

2) Geoffrey Landis’ “The Sultan of the Clouds” is very colourful – oligarchs and revolutionary pirates operating out of airships in the middle atmosphere of Venus, with the eponymous Sultan’s sekrit plan being one of globe-spanningly breath-taking audacity. The narrator’s difficulties in coping with the reactions of his colleague (and ex-lover) to the unfamiliar sexual politics of Venusian society are also convincing, if not always comfortable. It’s a bit steampunkish, which will put some readers off though I don’t mind if it is well enough executed, as is the case here.

1) I’m frankly astonished that Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects didn’t win the Nebula. (Originally published separately so counts as a May Book for my log.) Chiang’s few stories are always memorable; this one is about intelligent software pets, and the human owners who become fascinated with them, and how changing circumstances – both the shift in fashionability and power of online environments and the altered circumstances of the humans in them. It is really poignant and will ring very true for anyone who’s been online for more than five years, anyone who has children, and anyone who is interested about reading about either of those experiences. Charles Stross summed it up well as “that very rare thing: a science fictional novel of ideas that delivers a real human impact” and I think that whatever wins the Hugo, this is the one story from all three of the short fiction lists of 2011 that will be remembered for many years to come.

Previous Hugo category write-ups: Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form, Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form.

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Whoniversaries 27 May

i) births and deaths

27 May 1926: birth of Peter Ling, who wrote The Mind Robber (1968).

27 May 1981: death of Kit Pedler, who co-wrote The Tenth Planet (1966), The Moonbase (1967) and The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 May 1967: broadcast of second episode of Evil of the DaleksThe Time Monster. Stu has been aged by the effects of TOMTIT; the Master evades Benton by tricking him.

27 May 1996: broadcast of Doctor Who: The Movie on BBC (it had already been shown in the USA and Canada).

27 May 2007: broadcast of The Idiot’s Lantern. The Doctor prevents The Wire from feeding on the energy of TV owners watching the 1953 coronation.

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Whoniversaries 26 May

i) births and deaths

26 May 1913: birth of Peter Cushing, who played Doctor Who in the 165 and 1966 films.

26 May 1927: birth of Julia Smith, who directed The Smugglers (1966) and The Underwater Menace (1967).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

26 May 1973: broadcast of second episode of The Green Death. The Doctor investigates the mine and the green slime in order to rescue Jo, despite obstruction from Global Chemicals.

26 May 2007: broadcast of Human Nature. To avoid The Family, the Doctor becomes a human, teaching in an English boarding school in November 1913; but they track him down.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 5-26-2011

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May Books 8) Who on Earth is Tom Baker? An Autobiography

Four years ago I listened to an abridged audio version of this book, read by the man himself; now I’ve finally read the whole thing, fourteen years after frenziedly speed-skimming a newly published copy in an Oxford bookshop without actually buying it. It is quite an extraordinary and painful book, by a man who doesn’t much like himself and, to his continuing amazement, found in his early 40s that everyone suddenly liked him. Baker confesses many tales of personal betrayal, of lovers, colleagues, relatives, and himself; he is rather fascinated by his own awfulness as a human being, and he achieves the difficult task of communicating his fascination to the reader, because he is also very funny. The book (deliberately, I think) doesn’t do justice to himself; I was struck, having read this just after listening to Big Finish’s April podcasts, which feature a long interview with him divided into several sections, by the fact that most of the anecdotes he shared this year with Nicholas Briggs were very different from the stories spun for his readers in 1997. I also take a wild guess, judging from hints dropped in interviews, that he has actually had some serious and effective psychotherapy; no mention of that in the book, which itself may have been a cathartic experience to write, but also perhaps writing about healing and acceptance might have spoiled the story.

If you are looking for insider information on Doctor Who, this book doesn’t give you much – perhaps 30 pages out of 270, and the show’s history has been better chronicled elsewhere (including in the DVD commentaries to which Tom Baker has contributed). But if you are interested in reading a peculiar personality study, written by its own subject, this is one of the more memorable ones out there.

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Thin Ice

Another of the Big Finish “missing stories”, this one drastically expanded by Marc Platt from a note he did for Andrew Cartmel shortly before Old Who was cancelled. I find Platt’s work a bit hit and miss, but this was a hit for me: the setting in Moscow in 1967, with the human side of Cold War relations between Britain and Russia colliding with Ice Warriors hunting a malevolent relic and also a plot line which I recognised from one of the later BBC webcast stories. There’s a slightly dubious sfnal enhancement of the human reproductive process, and I also found the music occasionally intrusive and not a perfect match for the 60s setting (though an excuse for that is given in the commentary extras). Those points apart, it is so much better than last year’s Sixth Doctor/Ice Warrior teamup, the dreadful Mission to Magnus, which should have stayed lost. Thin Ice was worth reviving.

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Whoniversaries 25 May

i) broadcast anniversaries

25 May 1968: broadcast of fifth episode of The Wheel in Space. The Doctor fights back against the Cybermen, and sends Jamie and Zoe on a dangerous spacewalk.

25 May 1974: broadcast of fourth episode of Planet of the Spiders. Tommy is healed by the crystal, but Sarah and then the Doctor are captured by the spiders.

ii) date specified in canon

25 May 1977: the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher attend the opening of Star Wars (in David McIntee’s 1998 novel, Mission: Impractical).

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Whoniversaries 24 May

i) births and deaths

24 May 1944: birth of Fiona Walker, who played Kala in The Keys of Marinus (1964) and Lady Peinforte in Silver Nemesis (1988).

24 May 1945: birth of Graham Williams, producer of the 15th to 17th seasons of Doctor Who (the fourth to sixth Fourth Doctor seasons, from Horror of Fang Rock to ShadaThe Invasion of Time and City of Death, and author of the unbroadcast story The Nightmare Fair which brought back the Celestial Toymaker (and was released in audio format by Big Finish in 2009).

24 May 1986: death of the great Robert Holmes, script editor from Robot (1974-75) to Image of the Fendahl (1977), and author of The Krotons (1968-69), The Space Pirates (1969), Spearhead from Space (1970), Terror of the Autons (1971), Carnival of Monsters (1973), The Time Warrior (1973-74), The Ark in Space (1975), Pyramids of Mars (1975), The Brain of Morbius (co-author, 1976), The Deadly Assassin (1976), The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), The Sun Makers (1977), The Ribos Operation (1978), The Power of Kroll (1978-79), The Caves of Androzani (1984), The Two Doctors (1985), The Mysterious Planet (1986), and the first episode of The Ultimate Foe (1986).

ii) broadcast anniversary

24 May 1969: broadcast of fourth episode of The War Games. the Doctor tries to outmanoeuvre the Security Chief, but is trapped in a shrinking SIDRAT.

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Whoniversaries 23 May

broadcast and related anniversaries

23 May 1964: broadcast of “Temple of Evil”, first episode of the story we now call The Aztecs. The Tardis lands in medieval Mexico, where Barbara is received as the reincarnation of the priest Yetaxa.

23 May 1970: broadcast of third episode of Inferno. The Doctor realises that he has travelled to a parallel Earth. (This is the one with the famous eyepatch scene.)

23 May 1988: release of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” by The Timelords (later the KLF). A true cultural millstone milestone.

23 May 2003: webcast of fourth episode of Shada. The Doctor and Chris discover Skagra’s store of genius minds.

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May Books 7) The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain

Apparently this was one of the books that cemented the young Mark Twain’s reputation, an account of a cruise to the Mediterranean by a group of several dozen American tourists, taking in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Constantinople, Russia’s Black Sea coast, the Holy Land and Egypt. It’s a work of poking fun at the Old World and also at the New, steeped in the inevitable prejudices of the day but with some decent lines.

Some of the scenes are made all the more vivid because we readers know what has happened since 1867. The description of Père Lachaise cemetery for some reason omits the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. The party encounters the Russian Emperor at Yalta, in the very hall that would be used for the famous conference of 1945. Many of the ethnically mixed communities they visit in the Eastern Mediterranean became very unmixed over the next century.

The story kicks into epic gear when the group gets to the Holy Land, the ultimate goal of the journey. I was particularly interested in this to compare with my great-grandfather’s account of a similar pilgrimage from nine years earlier. Their stories basically agree, though Mark Twain is robustly cynical while John Joseph Whyte is a devout Catholic; except in one respect – Whyte frequently comments on how fertile the land is; Mark Twain finishes the section with a memorable description of its barrenness. Had the climate changed in the meantime? Or was the American fitting the facts to the story he wanted to tell?

There were a fair number of travel narratives around by 1867 – it was perhaps a more familiar genre then than it was now – but I suspect this is one of the few still read today, as a humorous and contemporary account of Americans dealing with other cultures. Not completely convinced that it merits the attention it gets, though.

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Doctor Who Rewatch: 22

I was surprised by two things about Terminus on this rewatch. First, that it is so very slow and padded – barely enough material, really, for even one episode of New Who – just how long are Tegan and Turlough stuck in the tunnel for? An awful lot of running, or staggering, through corridors seems to go on.

The second thing that surprised me was that despite the slow pace I actually rather liked it. I could see what was going on; I liked the look of it, with even the Garm’s costume passing muster for me this time; I got the sense of desperation. Though I still think that the idea of there being an exact centre of the universe is as dubious now as I did when I was fifteen.

I also like the development of the relationship between Tegan and Turlough, and Nyssa gets one of the better departure narratives (with Tegan sweetly desperate to keep her on). It’s not one of the great stories but it’s not awful either.

So, farewell then, Nyssa of Traken. Before this rewatch I would have rated her in the top half of my companions list; now I am actually not so sure. She is not well served by the scripts, having been imagined as the brainy one but ending up as the pretty but quiet one, tending to be acted upon rather than acting in her own right. Castrovalva, where she takes charge given Adric’s absence, the Doctor’s indisposition and Tegan’s incomprehension, is almost her best story. When there are two of her in Black Orchid, we hardly notice.

Nyssa has had a decent afterlife, though, with several good audios featuring her and the Fifth Doctor, and the current Big Finish sequence which unites an older Nyssa with the younger Tegan, Turlough and Doctor who left her on Terminus. Sarah Sutton still rises to the occasion, especially given decent material.

I came to Enlightenment rather late in my first watching of Who, and that’s a shame because it really is excellent. Doctor Who has actually quite often resorted to the concept of powerful godlike entities whose powers reach just far enough for the plot to work, but never before or since with quite such style and panache. I just love the creepiness of Marriner and the episode one reveal that these are ships in space. Lynda Baron is fantastic, and I had forgotten that she doesn’t appear until the third episode. I am also in the minority that find Leee John’s performance acceptable, if not stellar.

It’s also a decent conclusion to the Turlough / Black Guardian plotline, which was not always executed elegantly but works well here; and all three regular characters get some very good moments. It is the first outing for the Five / Tegan / Turlough team, and a promising start.

Another season, another historical two-parter. The King’s Demons suffers from some basic structural flaws. The central historical plot point is bludgeoned into us and features the Doctor correcting Tegan on an aspect of history where in fact he (and the writer) are wrong and Tegan is right. Again there seems no obvious need for the Master to adopt a disguise; while it does explain Sir Gilles’ awful accent, that is putting the cart before the horse. It would be just about excusable as an emotional investment in building up a new companion, except that of course Kamelion barely appears again. Much the worst story of this run.

(Am I right, by the way, that King John is the first real historical figure portrayed in a Who story since Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday? Of course it’s not the real King John, so I suppose the gap really runs to George Stephenson in the season after next.)

I do not think you can look at The Five Doctors as a normal Who story. It was the first ever special, a format we take for granted now but which was unknown then. But more importantly, it is a story purely about jamming as many returning characters together as possible – Susan and the ersatz One, the Brigadier and Two, Sarah and Three, the cameos from Jamie-and-Zoe, Mike-and-Liz, the Master, the Cybermen, a Yeti, a rather pathetic Dalek; we are just glad to see all of these elements brought together in 90 minutes between the opening and closing titles – particularly of course given recent sad events.

When I first watched it, some of this was lost on me; I barely remembered Pertwee (Tom Baker was and is my Doctor, and I was very disappointed by his absence) and had seen Hartnell and Troughton only in An Unearthly Child, The Krotons and The Three Doctors. Now, having been watching an episode a day for over a year and a half, I appreciate what a wonderful nostalgia trip it is, and I am content.

(Though I’d love to see if any fan, through heroic retconning, has explained how the Time Lords warn the Doctor about the Master in Terror of the Autons, have to be reminded of his existence by the Doctor in The Deadly Assassin, locate him swiftly in The Five Doctors, and then get completely infiltrated in The Ultimate Foe.)

Having described The King’s Demons as the worst of this run, Warriors of the Deep is not exactly a high point either. A lot of the fundamentals are there – the base under siege is a tried and tested formula, not in fact used as such in Who for a very long time; the idea of a subversive faction taking advantage of the non-human incursion goes back to Power of the Dalekslook very good. Apart from the obvious problem of the Myrka, the reptiles in general move so slowly that they lose credibility as a threat; and while we get a decent sense of the psychology of the base, its geography seems rather ill-established.

I don’t usually delve into the back story here, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the line-up of Pennant Roberts and Johnny Byrne, who were both capable of much better, to check out what had happened. Byrne claimed that his script had been cut to ribbons and made much more violent by script editor Eric Saward; more importantly, studio resources and time for recording and rehearsal were abruptly removed by the calling of the June 1983 general election, which partly explains why the show feels so flat and largely explains why the Myrka looks quite so bad; it was not actually ready. (I still think the fungoids from The Chase win the prize for the worst monster ever, but I’ll admit that it is a close call.) So it is all Margaret Thatcher’s fault. (Except not really; though she teased us until the last possible moment, June 1983 had always been the most likely date for her to go to the polls, and the BBC should have planned accordingly.)

Hey, it’s another two-part story with roots in a past period of English history! For the second time in four stories, and the third in three seasons. For once, the fundamentals are fairly sound, but the execution a bit haphazard – most notably, the Malus itself rather fails to be scary despite smoke machines and dramatic music, there is an awful lot of infodumping for little emotional payoff, and we have yet another Tardis invasion of both bystanders and the Malus somehow penetrating it. Polly James does her best bit it’s not really convincing.

Tegan’s grandfather is about the same age as her late aunt, but I suppose that’s not out of the question.

Nice for the team to get a break and relax after it’s all over. NB that The Awakening is the first story since Black Orchid, almost two seasons before, not to feature a returning villain or companion.

A rather less impressive run this time, only Enlightenment really good and Terminus and The Five Doctors OK. My next run has both Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma

< An Unearthly Child – The Aztecs | The Sensorites – The Romans | The Web Planet – Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown – The Gunfighters | The Savages – The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace – Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen – The Wheel In Space | The Dominators – The Space Pirates | The War Games – Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil – The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils – Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks – The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders – Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons – The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora – The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock – The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation – The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks – Shada | The Leisure Hive – The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis – The Visitation | Black Orchid – Mawdryn Undead | Terminus – The Awakening | Frontios – Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos – In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet – Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield – The TV Movie >

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May Books 6) Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder

I rather enjoyed this: a canter through the history of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Sartre, as told in a series of mysterious communications from an enigmatic teacher to instruct 14-year-old Sophie. I loved the moment when she learns about Aristotle and immediately goes home and tidies her room – would this tactic work for real teenagers, I wonder?

Then the narrative form abruptly lurches sideways about two-thirds of the way through, and we realise that this is not quite the book we thought we were reading – and in fairness it is a move that has been well enough signalled. This leaves Gaarder with minor difficulties in resolving the plot, but that doesn’t matter all that much.

On the substance: I have (whisper it softly) never been terribly excited about philosophy, but Gaarder does unpack the relationship between Hegel and Kant better than I have seen elsewhere, and also guided me through the relationship between philosophy and literature (at least of the last three centuries or so). So I learned something, which was partly the point.

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Hugo and Nebula winners over 65

asks, I answer:

Hugo winners over 65:

Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) 1976, Best Short Story, Catch That Zeppelin!
Peter Beagle (1939-) 2005, Best Novelette, Two Hearts
Frederik Pohl (1919-) 1986, Best Short Story, Fermi and Frost
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) 1992, Best Novelette, Gold – Asimov had died before the award ceremony
Clifford D Simak (1904-1988) 1981, Best Short Story, Grotto of the Dancing Deer
Jack Williamson (1908-2006) 2001, Best Novella, The Ultimate Earth

Nebula winners over 65:

Connie Willis (1945-) 2010, Best Novel, Blackout / All Clear 
Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) 1975, Best Short Story, Catch that Zeppelin!
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-) 1995, Best Novelette, Solitude
Peter Beagle (1939-) 2005, Best Novelette, Two Hearts
Jack McDevitt (1935-) 2006, Best Novel, Seeker
Harlan Ellison (1934-) 2010, Best Short Story, How Interesting: A Tiny Man
Clifford D Simak (1904-1988) 1980, Best Short Story, Grotto of the Dancing Deer
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-) 2008, Best Novel, Powers
Carol Emshwiller (1921-) 2002, Best Short Story, Creature
Carol Emshwiller (1921-) 2005, Best Short Story, I Live with You
Jack Williamson (1908-2006) 2001, Best Novella, The Ultimate Earth

I somehow doubt that anyone will break Jack Williamson’s record any time soon…

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Hugo and Nebula winners under 30

(that is, under the age of thirty when the award was announced or retrospectively might have been announced)

Hugo winners under 30:

Hal Clement (1922-2003) 1946 retro-Hugo, Best Short Story, Uncommon Sense
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) 1946 retro-Hugo, Best Novel, 
The Mule
George R.R. Martin (1948-) 1975, Best Novella, A Song for Lya 
C.M. Kornbluth (1923-1958) 1950 retro-Hugo, Best Novelette, The Little Black Bag
Samuel R Delany (1942-) 1970, Best Short Story, Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones
Damon Knight (1922-2002) 1950 retro-Hugo, Best Short Story, To Serve Man
Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) 1966, Best Novel, … And Call Me Conrad 
Larry Niven (1938-) 1967, Best Short Story, Neutron Star 
Spider Robinson (1948-) 1977, Best Novella, By Any Other Name
Spider Robinson (1948-) 1978, Best Novella, Stardance (with Jeanne Robinson, who was already 30 by the time award was announced) 
Joan D. Vinge (1948-) 1978, Best Novelette, Eyes of Amber

Nebula winners under 30:

Ted Chiang (1967-) 1990, Best Novelette, Tower of Babylon 
Samuel R Delany (1942-) 1966, Best Novel, Babel-17
Samuel R Delany (1942-) 1967, Best Novel, The Einstein Intersection 
Samuel R Delany (1942-) 1967, Best Short Story, Aye, and Gomorrah 
Vonda N. McIntyre (1948-) 1973, Best Novelette, Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand 
Samuel R Delany (1942-) 1969, Best Novelette, Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones
Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) 1965, Best Novelette, The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth 
Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) 1965, Best Novella, He Who Shapes
Rachel Swirsky (1982-) 2010, Best Novella, The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window
Alexei Panshin (1940-) 1968, Best Novel, Rite of Passage
Michael Moorcock (1939-) 1967, Best Novella, Behold the Man
Spider Robinson (1948-) 1977, Best Novella, Stardance (with Jeanne Robinson, who was already 30 by the time award was announced)
Lisa Tuttle (1952-) 1981, Best Short Story (declined), The Bone Flute
Gordon Eklund (1945-) 1974, Best Novelette, If the Stars Are Gods (with Gregory Benford who was 34 when award was announced)

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