On the antiquity of Presidents

As I continue my reading of Tudor history in Ireland, it suddenly occurred to me that the designation of various Englishmen as ‘Presidents’ of Munster and Connacht during the reign of Elizabeth I must be one of the earliest examples of the use of the word ‘President’ in English to refer to a senior government official.

Looking at the Oxbridge colleges, the following were founded before the reign of Elizabeth I and have a President as Head of House: Queens’, Cambridge (1448), Magdalen, Oxford (1458), Corpus Christi, Oxford (1517), St John’s, Oxford (1555), Trinity, Oxford (also 1555). I don’t know if there were other Oxbridge college heads who changed their titles over the centuries (and maybe some of those five were originally called something else).

Are there any other early examples of the word President being used to refer to a senior official, especially a senior government official? Probably the OED would tell me.

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August Books

non-fiction 11 (YTD 46)
Full House, by Stephen Jay Gould
The Plot Against Pepys, by James Long and Ben Long
Primate Robinson, 1709-94, by A.P.W. Malcolmson
The End of the Peer Show? ed. Alexandra Fitzpatrick
A Reader’s Companion to A Civil Campaign, edited by Nikohl K. & John Lennard
Science & Technology in 19th-Century Ireland, ed Juliana Adelman & Éadaoin Agnew
Granuaile: Grace O’Malley – Ireland’s Pirate Queen, by Anne Chambers
Early Christian Lives, ed. Carolinne White
George Herbert, Priest and Poet, by Kenneth Mason
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Practical Guide, by Elaine Iljon Foreman and Clair Pollard
Neurolinguistic Programming: A Practical Guide, by Neil Shah

fiction (non-sf) 7 (YTD 35)
Niccolò Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett
Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb
The Broad Highway, by Jeffrey Farnol
Old Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac
The Collector of Treasures, by Bessie Head
The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

sf (non-Who) 6 (YTD 49)
Western Shore, by Juliet E. McKenna
Last Call, by Tim Powers
Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Jewels of the Sun, by Nora Roberts (barely qualified as sf due to having two friendly ghosts)
The Second Interzone Anthology, ed. John Clute
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Doctor Who / Torchwood 5 (YTD 54)
Another Life, by Peter Anghelides
Lords of the Storm, by David N. McIntee
No Future, by Paul Cornell
Dominion, by Nick Walters
Trace Memory, by David Llewellyn

Comics 2 (YTD 19)
Mourir à Creys-Malville, by Santi-Bucquoy
Lichaamstaal Wordt Banaal /When Body Language Goes Bad, by Scott Adams

~8,400 pages (YTD ~58,100)
13/31 (YTD 41/203) by women (Fitzpatrick, Nikohl K, Adelman/Agnew, Chambers, White, Foreman/Pollard, Dunnett, Lamb, Head, Stowe, McKenna, Roberts, Atwood)
2/31 (YTD 11/203) by PoC (Shah, Head)
Owned for more than a year: 14 (The Handmaid’s Tale (reread), Timescape (reread), George Herbert, 2nd Interzone Anthology, Early Christian Lives, Western Shore, The Naming Of The Dead, The Plot Against Pepys, Dominion, No Future, Last Call, Tales of Shakespeare, Granuaile, Full House)
Also reread: None (YTD 25/203)

Programmed reads: 17 books from 17 lists
a) The Plot against Pepys (non-fiction in order of entry)
c) Full House (non-fiction by popularity on LJ poll)
d) Tales of Shakespeare (non-genre books by entry order)
f) Uncle Tom’s Cabin (non-genre fiction by popularity on LJ poll)
g) 2nd Interzone Anthology (sf anthologies in order of entry)
h) Western Shore (sf non-anthologies in order of entry)
i) Jewels of the Sun (sf in order of LT popularity)
j) Last Call (sf by popularity on LJ poll)
k) Timescape (Nebula winners in sequence)
l) No Future (New Adventures in sequence)
m) Dominion (Eighth Doctor Adventures in sequence)
o) Lords of the Storm (other Old Who by popularity)
q) The Naming of the Dead (Rankin’s Rebus novels, in order)
r) Granuaile (Tudors and Ireland)
s) Collector of Treasures (books by PoC in order of entry)
t) George Herbert (books on the shelves at end 2005, otherwise not accounted for, going backwards in LT entry order)
v) The Handmaid’s Tale (books I have already read but haven’t reviewed on-line, ranked by LT popularity)

Coming next, possibly:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell (already started)
Pirate Queen: The Life of Grace O’Malley, 1530-1603, by Judith Cook (already started)
Ha’Penny, by Jo Walton (already started)
Stalin Ate My Homework, by Alexei Sayle (already started)
A Virgin’s Diary, by David Wilbourne
George’s Secret Key to the Universe, by Lucy Hawking
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
The Sharing Knife: Passage, by Lois McMaster Bujold
With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, Vol. 4, by Keiko Tobe
The Return of the Shadow, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Doctor Who: Nuclear Time, by Oli Smith
All Clear, by Connie Willis
British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years, Two Surveys, by Paul Kincaid and Niall Harrison
Constantinople, by Philip Mansel
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Storm Harvest, by Robert Perry
Tragedy Day, by Gareth Roberts
Unnatural History, by Jonathan Blum
Exit Music, by Ian Rankin
John Henry Newman, Edward Elgar and the Dream of Gerontius, by Percy M. Young
Other Edens: No. 1, ed. by Christopher Evans
Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 8-31-2011

  • Ten years on, Osama bin Laden’s caliphatist dream is not one step closer to being realised, and his nihilist vision of Islam never gained support from anything more than a miniscule fringe of his intended audience. Muslims were simply not interested, and by the time he was killed in his hideout in Pakistan, the Arab world was too busy pursuing positive goals, like fundamental freedoms and democracy, to notice. In that, there is a lesson in humility for the international community.
  • The great Irish novelist Flann O’Brien’s debut, At Swim-Two-Birds, should have sealed his reputation as the equal of Joyce and Beckett. At long last, in the year of his centenary, the world is catching up.
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August Books 31) Lichaamstaal Wordt Banaal /When Body Language Goes Bad, by Scott Adams

I found I had acquired this Dilbert collection translated into Dutch for some reason. As per usual, variations between the surreal, the banal and the bleakly plausible from the world of work. I particularly liked the one about two guys emailing each other, each demanding that the other call him back, when they are actually in adjacent cubicles.

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Baked trout with orange and coriander

4 fresh rainbow trout, emptied, 180-240 g each
Salt and pepper to taste
Adequate amount of vegetable oil
80 ml fresh orange juice
30 ml fresh lemon juice
30 ml fresh coriander, chopped
zest of one or two oranges
zest of one lemon zest
2 cm fresh ginger, chopped
30 g brown sugar

Then you:
Pre-heat oven to 180° C.
Open the trout and season.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
Cut out four rectangles of aluminium foil measuring 35 x 30 cm each.
Lightly brush with oil.
Place a trout on each sheet of foil and divide coriander mix equally: put half of stuffing inside fish and remaining over it.
Fold the foil to make 4 packets. Tightly seal the edges.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (I tried 15 but found they needed a bit more time.)


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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 8-29-2011

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August Books 30) The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

One of my rereads of classic sf, the story of a very near future America which has been taken over by a sexually repressive theocracy, told by a woman who is being kept as a breeding slave by one of its leaders. Just a few points which jumped out at me:

I accidentally read this at the same time as Uncle Tom's Cabin, which made for some interesting resonances – here, the Christians are very much the bad guys (and women), but people are again property, especially for sexual exploitation, and there is again a network to smuggle escapees to Canada. I'm sure that Atwood had Uncle Tom in the back of her mind as she wrote; I wondered also about Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 as a source (but it's a very long time since I read it).

The slide into totalitarianism is very fast – Gilead is explicitly described as late twentieth century at the end of the book (the suggestion being that it lasted only a few decades). The rapid transformation of the entire system of government of a superpower looked more imaginative in 1985 than it did only a few years later. I had forgotten that the terrorist attack which allowed the extremist takeover was blamed on Islamists, which doesn't look so far-fetched now but surely must have raised more eyebrows in 1985 when the book was first published.

I set off a debate a few entries back on whether "chair" is the first syllable of "charity", as Offred says in Chapter 19. It's clear to me that Offred is speaking in Atwood's own accent, where "Mary" and "Harry" rhyme (whereas for most English speakers the vowels in "chair" and "Mary" differ from those in "charity" and "Harry"). The setting is no further south than Washington DC, and possibly further north (the only other places mentioned are Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, NY; and Seattle). A friend of mine from Essex once told me, "I don' really 'ave an accent", and Atwood may have had the same delusion (I am sure it's been pointed out to her since).

OK, holiday over, gotta pack…

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August Books 29) Trace Memory, by David Llewellyn

I am still not up to date with the current Torchwood but making up for it with the original run of novels, of which this sadly isn’t one of the better examples – somewhat clunky prose in places, and the plot of The Time Traveller’s Wife forced into the mould of the Torchwood format. (Unlike certain recent episodes of New Who, which have taken the concept in a totally new direction.) For completists and Ianto/Jack fans only, I think.

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August Books 28) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This is a very effective narrative, written by a white Northern Christian woman for white Northern Christian women, and pushing all the buttons – the slaves are devout, their owners are not; the system operates to break up slave families at the behest of the law; parents helplessly watch their daughters being debauched by their owners. These days of course the central moral point is redundant but the outrage remains fresh.

I was surprised to find it actually quite a subversive novel in terms of gender. Women could not vote, and the male constitutional order is found morally wanting by them – Chapter 9, where a Northern state politician, who has just voted to enact a fugitive slave bill, is then forced to shelter the fleeing Eliza and Henry by his wife, has the excellent title “In Which it Appears that a Senator is but a Man”.

Poor Tom is a rather two-dimensional character in the end, but he is not the only one. There are better slavery narratives out there (thinking of Frederick Douglass in the first person and Fanny Kemble in the third) but I can fully see why this was such an effective book in its day.

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August Books 26-27) CBT and NLP

Two pop psychology books I picked up the other day out of curiosity, from a series with the unwieldy name -> Introducing – The Practical Guides: Big Ideas For Real Life which also includes volumes on child psychology, sport psychology and the “psychology of success” with more promised to come.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Practical Guide, by Elaine Iljon Foreman and Clair Pollard

I have read a little about CBT from such sources as novels and the blogs of friends who are undergoing it; what pushed me into getting this was a recurrent problem with insomnia, which is one of the things CBT is supposed to help with. The book does indeed offer some useful advice on what to do in the middle of the night, and other useful guidance on quelling anxiety. My main takeaway from it, I’m glad to say, is that my mental health is probably better than I had realised (there is much description of symptoms which I don’t think I have). In any case, CBT offers some tools to improve it further.

Neurolinguistic Programming: A Practical Guide, by Neil Shah

I had heard about NLP partly from a couple of professional contacts (who I now suspect have been using it on me) and partly from a rather skeevy article about the “online seduction community” I read a while back. This book is rather more breathless than the CBT one, less well written but with more practical exercises. I quite liked the idea of analysing amd changing your own discourse to make yourself a more effective communicator; I was however skeeved out by the gleeful way in which the author suggests that one can coerce others to do your will; it seemed to be lacking a moral compass. There may be a fine line between persuasion and manipulation, but I think the line is definitely there.

There are probably better books out there on both topics but these are not bad starting points.

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Pronouncing “chair” and “charity”

(Inspired by Chapter 19 of The Handmaid’s Tale: “I sit in the chair and think about the word chair. It can also mean the leader of a meeting. It can also mean a mode of execution. It is the first syllable in charity. It is the French word for flesh. None of these facts has any connection with the others.”)

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 8-26-2011

  • A couple of the report conclusions are worth pointing out:
    We found no basis to conclude that the [Climategate] emails were evidence of research misconduct or that they pointed to such evidence.
    That’s clear enough, I think. They also said:
    There is no specific evidence that [Mann] falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct.
    A big claim by the deniers is that researchers were using "tricks" to falsify conclusions about global warming, but the NSF report is pretty clear that’s not true. The most damning thing the investigators could muster was that there was "some concern" over the statistical methods used, but that’s not scandalous at all; there’s always some argument in science over methodology. The vague language of the report there indicates to me this isn’t a big deal, or else they would’ve been specific. The big point is that the data were not faked.
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Rewatching Who, 1963-1996

So, now that I have finished, what do I think of it all?

Those who don’t know or don’t especially like Doctor Who may well query why a middle-aged analyst of international politics should devote any time at all to reviewing the 700-odd broadcast episodes of a TV show which started the day after the Kennedy assassination and ended in those weeks between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of the Ceaușescus. Query all you like; I have never made any excuse for seeking escapism. Brian Aldiss once said that good sf is not about asking “What if…?” but about saying, “My God, what if…!?” and Doctor Who at its best does that – whether it’s about schoolteachers trapped in the Stone Age or youths being kidnapped to be turned into cheetahs. It unites the consistent formula of the hero who is just a little more than human with the companions who represent the reactions of us, the viewers, to what is going on.

As a fan, the act of watching the whole show from beginning to end is well worthwhile, and I am very grateful to Paul Cornell for suggesting it to me many years ago. There is no better way available now of getting a sense of the shifting dramatic and cultural environment which shaped the show, and indeed British television more widely. I have revised my opinion of many stories upwards just because I now have a better sense of the context in which they were originally made and watched, rather than judging everything against my fond memories of the Baker/Hinchcliffe/Holmes era.

I have lost count of the number of stories which were improved as a watching experience for me by taking them an episode at a time, rather than running through all four, or six, or seven in a single evening. It is not the way most TV (including New Who) is made these days, so it takes a little readjustment. It also wasn’t a perfect system at the time, and those 25 minutes varied in pacing and padding. Sometimes they are not very good; sometimes they are brilliant. Good writers and directors sometimes came up with terrible stories. Some great stuff was produced by people who never worked on the show again. (There were also a few stories which didn’t work for me as well this time – the Romans, The Ark, Planet of the Daleks – maybe I was just in a bad mood during the weeks in question.)

It hasn’t changed my take on the various Doctors very much, except that I now rate Seven ahead of Five and Three, and I think previously he would have been behind both. I have, however, changed my view of the companions – mostly positively (Vicki, Jo, Tegan, Ace) but not always (Liz, Peri). And while the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era remains my favourite, I can now acknowledge the strengths of some of the other creators of the show, and perhaps be a bit more compassionate about the problems that others were dealing with.

I shall still have difficulty remembering the order in which some stories were broadcast in the mid-Pertwee era and from late Davison to early McCoy. But each of the Old Who stories now has a definite place in my memory, as part of the sequence of the show as a whole, in a way that is simply not possible without doing the rewatch from the beginning. As someone who generally had an untroubled childhood, watching the old episodes which I saw first time round takes me back to simpler times. But it’s good to get a feel for how they fitted into the overall pattern of the show’s history.

How to do it

What advice would I give to anyone else contemplating this task? First, and most obviously, make sure that you have access to all the stories! The missing episodes present a particular challenge here. I chose to watch reconstructions while having the script to hand. I have also seen an argument for watching two different reconstructions simultaneously. But actually I think that it may be preferable to switch to audio only and listen to the BBC recordings of the original shows with linking narration by the actors who played the companions (preferably with access to the script or a transcript). However I would make some definite exceptions in that policy. The Marco Polo reconstruction is particularly good, as are the animations for the two missing episodes of The Invasion. The linking narrative for the audio-only version of The Macra Terror is particularly bad. And it is a shame not to experience the few remaining fragments of the last episode of The Tenth Planet.

Second, you need to have a reliable set of twenty-five minute slots in your day. This runs into problems in the later stages, with K9 and Company, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, the whole of Season 22 and The Movie (if you include it) all overrunning the time period by quite some way, but you just have to plan ahead. I lost several days getting used to the change at Resurrection of the DaleksWhat is canon?

I included the reconstructed Shada, K9 and Company, The TV Movie and more controversially In a Fix with Sontarans and also Dimensions in Time. But I could have also counted either or both of the Fourth Doctor / Sarah audios, and the Sixth Doctor / Peri audio Slipback, which were all produced more or less in continuity sequence. More adventurously, I could have counted in the recently produced Big Finish lost stories of the First and Second Doctors, the 1990s third Doctor audios, and possibly the Big Finish Companion Chronicles, which were not produced contemporaneously but are I think not too numerous to be digestible. I don’t think it would be practical to include the Fourth Doctor Hornet’s Nest and Demon Quest audios, let alone the Big Finish full cast stories with the Fifth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor and Seven/Mel.

There are an awful lot of Doctor Who books out there. I managed to factor in reading the relevant 1966-86 annuals (and the early spinoff novella Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space) at more or less the points in the sequence when they would have first been published, and also some (but not all) of the collected comic strips. I wish I had read more of the comics, and the Dalek annuals, but otherwise I think that’s about as far as you can practically go. The published spinoff fiction is too concentrated around particular convenient moments of continuity, as I detailed here, and of course runs out of control once you hit the New Adventures books. I would recommend that rewatchers who have not done so already sample a few books per Doctor (and maybe also a few audios) as they go.

That’s all, folks

Anyway, a two-year project is now complete. (I shall pause for a while before attempting post-1996 Who; when I do, I shall start with the four webcast stories and The Curse of Fatal Death.) Though it was sometimes a bit of a burden to write up the stories as I watched them, and I am sure that I have not done justice to some of them, there was never a day that I did not look forward to watching the next episode, and never a moment when I wondered if this rewatch was in fact a good idea. Thanks to all the creators of Who, living and dead, in front of and behind the camera, for giving me such enjoyment.

Full index:
1: An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction, Marco Polo, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs
2: The Sensorites, The Reign of Terror, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan, The Rescue, The Romans
3: The Web Planet, The Crusade, The Space Museum, The Chase, Barbara, Ian, The Time Meddler, Galaxy 4
4: Mission To The Unknown, The Myth Makers, Vicki, The Daleks’ Master Plan, Katarina, Sara Kingdom, The Massacre, The Ark, The Celestial Toymaker, The Gunfighters
5: The Savages, Steven, The War Machines, Dodo, The Smugglers, The Tenth Planet, The First Doctor, The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders
6: The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, Ben, Polly, Evil of the Daleks, Tomb of the Cybermen
7: The Abominable Snowmen, The Ice Warriors, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, Fury from the Deep, Victoria, The Wheel In Space
8: The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death, The Space Pirates
9: The War Games, Zoe, Jamie, The Second Doctor, Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, Inferno, Liz Shaw, Terror of the Autons
10: The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, The Dæmons, Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon
11: The Sea Devils, The Mutants, The Time Monster, The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, Frontier in Space, Delgado’s Master
12: Planet of the Daleks, The Green Death, Jo Grant, The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Monster of Peladon
13: Planet of the Spiders, The Third Doctor, Mike Yates, Robot, The Ark in Space, The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen
14: Terror of the Zygons, The Brigadier, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, Benton, Harry Sullivan, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom
15: The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane Smith, The Deadly Assassin, The Face of Evil, The Robots of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang
16: Horror of Fang Rock, The Invisible Enemy, Image of the Fendahl, The Sun Makers, Underworld, The Invasion of Time, Leela
17: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, The Armageddon Factor, Romana I
18: Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, The Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden, The Horns of Nimon, Shada
19: The Leisure Hive, Meglos, Full Circle, State of Decay, Warrior’s Gate, Romana II, K9, The Keeper of Traken
20: Logopolis, The Fourth Doctor, K9 and Company, Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, The Visitation
21: Black Orchid, Earthshock, Adric, Time Flight, Arc of Infinity, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead
22: Terminus, Nyssa, Enlightenment, The King’s Demons, The Five Doctors, Warriors of the Deep, The Awakening
23: Frontios, Resurrection of the Daleks, Tegan, Planet of Fire, Turlough, The Caves of Androzani, The Fifth Doctor, The Twin Dilemma, Attack of the Cybermen
24: Vengeance on Varos, Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks, In A Fix With Sontarans
25: The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Peri, Terror of the Vervoids, The Ultimate Foe, The Sixth Doctor, Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers
26: Delta and the Bannermen, Dragonfire, Mel, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Happiness Patrol, Silver Nemesis, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
27: Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, The Seventh Doctor, Ace, Dimensions in Time, The TV Movie, The Eighth Doctor

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Doctor Who Rewatch: 27

It’s the end! But the moment has been prepared for…

In my last post I recanted my previous disdain for Remembrance of the Daleks, and uneasily anticipated that I might have to do the same for Battlefield. And so it proved to be; I take it all back, or almost all. Even if the precise background to the intrusion into our world of the Arthurian mythos as interplanetary battle is not really spelled out, it is generally pleasing, and especially pleasing to see the Doctor made to play the role of Merlin in someone else’s drama. (He is definitely more of a Merlin than a Prospero.) The many effects all work to enhance the story, and we have the excellent Bambera / Ancelyn subplot (it was nice to be watching this so soon after Bambera’s return in Tony Lee’s play Rat Trap for Big Finish) and the Ace / Shou Yuing spark too.

Most importantly for us longterm fans, we also have the final return (for Old Who) of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. It allows him to return to military heroism as he did when we first saw him stalking Yeti in the Underground, rather than the blimpish buffoon of the later Pertwee years; even better, we have Courtney sparking against Jean Marsh as they did, briefly, in 1965 in The Daleks’ Master Plan. The moment when the Brigadier chops the Doctor in order to take the final confrontation himself is fantastic, as is the Doctor’s reaction when he thinks the Brigadier is dead (as had been the original intention of the script). It’s a strong enough start to a strong season.

I was amazed, rewatching Ghost Light, by just how good it is. Densely packed with literary and cultural and scientific references, transformations, and bizarre imagery, it is a real feast for the viewer. Even if I am still not totally certain I know what it was all about, I find it utterly fascinating; the cast seem to be reasonably surefooted in the peculiarity of what is going on, and the music and sets all add up as well. Having had my view of the worst Seventh Doctor story confounded on this rewatch, I felt confirmed in my view that Ghost Light is the best; and as it was the last story actually filmed, we can say that Old Who ended on a real high.

I watched the original version of The Curse of Fenric this time rather than the director’s cut, and noticed only one significant difference – we cannot hear what the Doctor is saying when he makes his profession of faith to ward off the Haemovores, whereas the director’s cut makes it clear that he is reciting the names of all his companions in a litany. It’s another excellent story, with the plot of human conflict being exploited by non-human forces which has a venerable pedigree in Who, and the continuing accumulation of details about what the Doctor may really be up to – and, almost two years after her arrival, more about what Ace is there for – I think only Turlough acquires a comparable amount of back-story in the course of his time in the Tardis, and Ace’s tale works much better. My only quibble about The Curse of Fenric is that I have never been impressed by the Haemovores, whose costumes are a bit cheap-looking to the point that we have to be told to be scared of them by scary music.

It has to be said that the season ends on a slightly flatter note; Survival is the weakest story of the final four. I still liked it more than last time: after Nicholas Parsons as a vicar, Hale and Pace as sinister grocers actually make sense; the continued exploration of Ace’s past makes sense (in Old Who it was very rare for a companion to be brought back by the Doctor to have an adventure in their native time, whereas under RTD it became a fairly standard storyline); the Cheetah People / Master plot very nearly makes sense; and for us Big Finish fans, it’s great to see Lisa Bowerman (who is actually the very last person to be killed by the Master in Old Who). But there are a few too many scenes of people standing around with their hands by their sides watching other actors say their lines, always a visible sign of under-rehearsal, and some of the interior sets (thinking especially of Midge’s bedroom) don’t really fit; and poor Anthony Ainley looks very ill. (Interesting coincidence – Ainley, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred all have the same birthday, 20 August.) However, it just about comes together, and the Doctor’s final monologue never fails to leave a moistness in the eye.

McCoy is really good as the Doctor – from the very first moment when he leaps up in the Rani’s laboratory, we know this guy is going to be fun, rather than painful, to watch. Even the early stories are always watchable, and in the later series as his character becomes darker and deeper, with his past activities hinted at rather than explained in detail, he has really got into it, and one senses a synergy which hasn’t really been there since the Baker/Hinchcliffe/Holmes years. Even in his rather underscripted return in the TV movie he remains very watchable. Of all the Doctors, McCoy is the one of whom my opinion has most altered (and for the better) as a result of this rewatch. I’ve continued to enjoy him in Big Finish audios – the most recent, Robophobia, being an excellent sequel to Robots of Death – and of course the Seventh Doctor was at the heart of the first huge range of spinoff books, the Virgin New Adventures, which I am gradually working through (my favourite is Andy Lane’s Cthulhu crossover All-Consuming Fire).

As with McCoy’s Doctor, I have drastically revised my views on Ace for the better as a result of the rewatch. Sophie Aldred was not the first actress in her mid-20s asked to play a teenager on Who, nor was she the last, but she does a great job of capturing youthful resentment, angst, energy and vulnerability. It helps also that the scripts start to examine not only the Doctor but also Ace as personalities whose backgrounds are unknown to us but can be further explored. She wobbles a bit – I think she slightly loses concentration in Battlefield, for instance – but when she is on form, as in both Curse of Fenric and Survival she is powerful and moving.

Survival is also the last appearance for Ainley’s Master, who was also in the last stories of the Fourth and Sixth Doctors and the second-last story of the Fifth. As noted above, Ainley looks physically ill so it’s not a great outing for him. Ainley is in general badly served; he never quite has a chance to develop the rapport with any of the Doctors that Delgado did with Pertwee (comes closest with Davison, perhaps); and the Master’s means and motivation are hopelessly jumbled. Ainley normally manages to play it with gusto even if the role is increasingly pantomime villain. Almost every story he is in seems to end with him doomed to certain death from which he inexplicably escapes, apart from the very last, ironically. It was a good idea of Nathan-Turner’s to revive the Master in the first place, just somewhat flawed in the execution.

To round out my final rewatch entry to my standard half-dozen stories, I have included Dimensions in Time and The Movie. Dimensions in Time is, alas, rubbish. It has some good moments – the warm rapport of the two Doctor/companion pairings from the original series which make it onto the screen here (Seven/Ace and Three/Sarah – Five/Peri/Nyssa doesn’t count); the march of the costumed monsters just before and after the cliffhanger; Richard Franklin’s insane cameo as Mike Yates; the Brigadier in his helicopter. But some of the invocation of nostalgia might have been better left imagined than realised – thinking especially of the awful costumes and lines given to Victoria and Leela, the terrible lines given to Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Rani’s out-of-place companion, and the bizarre and otherwise unconnected introductory monologue of Tom Baker’s Doctor. (Notes for canon-fodder: which K9 is it that appears with the Seventh Doctor? And this is the one televised encounter between the Brigadier and the Sixth Doctor.) It’s almost fun – that’s a bit harsh, it is fun in places – but I think others attempting a rewatch of the whole of Who can skip this in good conscience.

And last but not quite least, forward another three years to The TV Movie. It actually has a lot of good points – the repeated motif of eyes, a lot of the business of the Doctor explaining himself to himself as well as to the rest of the world, the comedy moments mixed with SFnal horror. Daphne Ashbrook is channelling all of the female Classic Who companions, with added snogging (and in fairness a much more complicated love life than most companions arrive with); Eric Roberts is I think rather good with the somewhat two-dimensional character he is given, though of course it’s difficult for Old Who fans to accept a Master without either a beard or poached-egg eyes. The script tears big holes in continuity about the Doctor’s genetic heritage and the location of the Eye of Harmony, but I think it does make sense in its own terms (apart from the reset button that allows the dead companions to be resurrected); however, it just doesn’t lead on to great things in the way that An Unearthly Child did thirty-three years before.

Knowing what we do now about Who since 2005, The TV Movie feels like a dead end in continuity, though I was surprised by the number of elements have been first properly seen here and carried through to New Who – including some of the musical themes, which are very close to some of Murray Gold’s work. But of course that is the narrow TV viewer’s perspective; the Eighth Doctor continuity goes on in comics, books and audios, in three separate streams, all rooted in these 85 minutes of movie.

McGann, once he has regained his memory and before he gets tied up, is a rather good Doctor; he combines a wizardly young fogey with a bit of an air of surprise and almost annoyance that the world is not quite as he would wish it to be. He is at his best with Daphne Ashbrook, and fans of McGann’s audio performances will remember that the high points there tend to come with interaction with India Fisher’s Charley Pollard and Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller. Whereas the more alien Doctors of Old Who were alien because they were hiding their nature from us, the Eighth Doctor doesn’t even fully know himself. It would have been nice to have had more of him.

These six stories obviously break into two groups. The final season of Old Who is rather an uptick after years of flailing; the conventional defence that it was just getting into its stride has a lot of merit. The two other stories considered here are perhaps reflections on old Who, one as a misconceived nostalgia-fest, the other an attempt to reframe it as an American TV show, neither of which really works as Who (though as I said I think The TV Movie largely succeeds on its own terms).

The last four stories of Old Who are 14 episodes, almost the same length as the 13 episodes originally commissioned in 1963 which make up the first three stories. The biggest change is the character of the Doctor, who arrives as possibly dangerous and alien, but ends as the heroic wizard-scientist – a transition that actually is more or less complete by the end of The Edge of Destruction, rather than any later. We’re down from three companions to one, but with a more physically active Doctor that makes less difference to the pacing than one might think and of course makes it easier to bring in recurring characters like the Brigadier and the Master. And the Tardis is still the Tardis, and the theme tune still recognisable.

I’m doing a separate wrap-up post for the whole rewatch. Meanwhile, all together now:

Diggerdydum, diggerdydum, diggerdydum, diggerdydum
Diggerdydum, diggerdydum, diggerdydum, diggerdydum
Wooo-oooo! Wooo! Oooo!

For those of you who have been, thank you for accompanying me on this journey through time and space.

< 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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August Books 25) The 2nd Interzone Anthology, edited by John Clute

I think all of the stories in the 1987 collection were new to me. A lot of them seemed to reflect the Zeitgeist of Thatcherism and Cold War – in particular, two memorable pieces by Paul J. McAuley and Lee Montgomerie. I will also remember Brian Stableford’s cryogenic survivor who finds himself alive but not immortal. All of these stories are pretty good, and I don’t think any of them figured on the Hugo or Nebula shortlists of the day.

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Paradise Lost

My non-Who audio listening recently has been a BBC radio dramatization of Milton’s epic poem, in 41 12-minute episodes. It is tough going in places, but probably not as tough as reading the original would be. I found the most interesting sections to be Satan’s council of war near the beginning, which presumably Milton based on his imaginings of meeting of the leadership in the Civil War, and the “lascivious” behaviour of Adam and Eve after the Fall. Denis Quilley is fine as the narrator, Ian McDermid very good as Satan, and I also liked Linus Roache and Fedara Holmes as Adam and Eve. And I was amused by the phrase “access denied” in one of the early episodes.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 8-23-2011

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August Books 24) Jewels of the Sun, by Nora Roberts

I got hold of this because for some reason I had got the impression that it belonged on my list of sf and fantasy books set in Ireland. But apart from a couple of friendly ghosts, this is basically a bog-standard romance where the American heroine realises that her destiny is to drop her independent academic career and marry the sexy Irishman so that she can be a barmaid in his pub. Of course, he has to ask her very nicely first. Not really recommended.

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August Books 23) The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin

This is a particularly good book in the Rebus series. Rebus and Siobhan Clarke find themselves investigating an apparent serial killer and a dead junior government minister in the week of the 2005 G8 summit and the 7/7 bomb attacks in London; very often when mystery writers try to fold real life events into their novels they fail, but this works brilliantly, as Rankin takes us to meet well-meaning protestors, dodgy defence contractors, obstructive special branch officers and a local politician on the make, combining it with a final twist reminiscent of Agatha Christie except frankly rather better executed. I am getting a bit tired of Cafferty always turning up, but otherwise this is very strongly recommended.

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August Books 21) Early Christian Lives, ed. Carolinne White

Six biographies of important figures in early monatsticism – Athanasius’ life of Anthony, three short biographies by Jerome, Sulpicius Severus’ life of Martin of Tours and Gregory the Great’s life of Benedict. They all live holy lives and perform many miracles (often involving expelling demons from the possessed). Arians and other heretics are at least as bothersome as the pagan authorities (and more so after the early fourth century). Devils take on physical form and wrestle with our heroes. I had come across some of this material in Gibbon (who hates monks and all they stand for) but it was interesting to see it in its own context.

I do find it striking that the Christian tradition links spiritual excellence so closely with self-denial. I know that this is the case for some others as well – the heroes of the Ramayana are forever performing feats of asceticism – but now that I have read Rumi, it is pretty clear to me that this is a policy choice rather than a necessity for spirituality. Christianity missed out by not balancing the ascetic school with institutionalised pleasure.

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August Books 20) Granuaile: Grace O’Malley – Ireland’s Pirate Queen, by Anne Chambers

A fascinating account of a shadowy historical figure of varying spellings, an exact contemporary of Elizabeth I, who appears to have used her own resources to prey on shipping along the Atlantic seaboard of Ireland; it’s difficult to be sure what is fact and what is fiction – did she really give birth on board one of her own ships, and then a few hours later struggle to the deck to take pot-shots at Algerian raiders? did she really kidnap the son of the Earl of Howth in retribution for a failure of hospitality? – but it adds up to some interesting material, and Chambers is frank about the gaps in her knowledge, as well as giving us some of the primary documents in an appendix.

The first edition of the book was published in 1979, a very different time for stories of Irish feminist heroes who threaten to divorce their husbands and then take handsome young lovers. For me, though, the most interesting point was the ability of Granuaile to appeal over the head of the local English administrators to the royal court, and her straight-faced ability to portray herself as a loyal subject beset by venal officials (and the paranoid and counterproductive reaction of those officials to her approaches). Chambers writes Granuaile into a traditional English v Irish political paradigm, but there is more going on here. I wish I knew more about the access of male Irish chieftains to the court; I feel I don’t have enough information to know how unusual Granuaile’s treatment was.

Anyway, an interesting read.

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August Books 19) Timescape, by Gregory Benford

Written in 1980, with storylines set in 1962-63 and 1998, this is a scientists' sf novel, the future 1998 world facing ecological and social catastrophe and its physicists trying to communicate with their predecessors to prevent it from happening.

As a Cambridge NatSci graduate I loved the visceral detail of the decaying 1998 setting, though Benford failed to predict one element of real life decay, the extinction of independent bookshops – he still has Bowes and Bowes open and staffed by attractive young women, when in real life I think it closed in the early 90s.

But it's a bit less satisfactory as a novel than I remembered it from my first reading. Both ends of the time line feature almost entirely male working environments, with the odd distant woman scientist collaborating but the protagonists enduring varyingly problematic sex lives with their various female partners. I was not completely convinced, though I can see that it's written from the heart.

And the sending-messages-through-time plot, the core of the book, actually doesn't work very well. Rather than the messages from 1998 inspiring scientific research to get the world out of the mess it is in, they accidentally prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that seems to be the crucial point of departure which kicks the 1963 world out of our timeline and into a better one. Why Kennedy's survival should make the difference is not really explained. (And the elaborate system developed by the 1998 scientists to check that their message is getting through is unnecessary given that their telephone system still works.)

Though I do like the nod to Silverberg's Dying Inside, whose protagonist makes a brief appearance on page 273.

Timescape won the Nebula in 1980; of the other nominees, I have definitely read the Hugo-winning The Snow Queen and The Shadow of the Torturer and I may have read Beyond the Blue Event Horizon but am not sure. I have not read, or even heard of, Walter Tevis' Mockingbird or Robert Stallman's The Orphan. I think it's one of those years when the Nebula went to the kind of novel that would normally have a better chance of winning the Hugo, and vice versa.

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2011 Hugos – some (not much) analysis

Full stats are here.

Best Novel: Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (beating Feed, which got the most first preferences, by 24 votes on last count; The Dervish House came fifth, though the honours were fairly evenly divided, third place going to Cryoburn by a six-vote margin over The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Best Novella: The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (a pretty clear result: the others, in order, ranked 2) "Troika", 3) "The Lady…", 4) "The Sultan…", 5) "The Maiden Flight…")

Best Novelette: “The Emperor of Mars”, Allen M. Steele (again a clear result with clear rankings for the others: 2) "Eight Miles", 3) "Plus or Minus", 4) "That Leviathan…", 5) "The Jaguar House…")

Best Short Story: “For Want of a Nail”, Mary Robinette Kowal (a clear result, with fans of Kowal's story also liking "Amaryllis" which came second; "The Things" third and "Ponies" fourth.)

Best Related Work: Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (followed by Heinlein biography, then The Business of Science Fiction gets third place by three votes from Writing Excuses and Bearings – the only nominee not available electronically – a lon way behind.)

Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan (by 14 votes from Dos Santos; Martiniere is second, Dos Santos and Picacio joint third – the only tie of the night – Eggleton fifth.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Inception (by a massive margin; the others ranked How To Train Your DragonHarry Potter 7.1Toy Story 3Scott Pilgrim.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang” (followed by Vincent and the Doctor and A Christmas CarolFuck Me Ray Bradbury actually got the most first preferences but was overtaken by Whovian transfers, and eventually takes fourth place by ten votes from The Lost Thing.)

Best Editor, Long Form: Lou Anders (by 23 votes from Buchanan; others rank Meacham, Gorisky, Feder, Mamatas, Ulman.)

Best Editor, Short Form: Sheila Williams (Schmidt top on first prefs but loses by a wide margin on transfers; Adams takes third place by six votes from van Gelder, who ends behind Strahan in fifth.)

Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse (followed by Fables: WitchesSchlock MercenaryGrandville Mon Amour and The Unwritten in that order; I find this incomprehensible.)

Best Semiprozine: Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker (Locus top in first preferences but must settle for second place; Interzone takes third from Lightspeed by five votes; Lightspeed nine ahead of Weird Tales for fourth place.)

Best Fanzine: The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (followed by File 770 and then StarShipSofa which was top in first preferences, Challenger beats Banana Wings for fourth place by seven votes.)

Best Fan Writer: Claire Brialey (by six votes, over Steven H Silver who has to settle for third place behind Chris Garcia; James Bacon also six votes ahead of James Nicoll for fourth place.)

Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster (by one vote over Randall Munroe who was way ahead on first preferences; others rank 3) Starkey, 4) Stile, 5) Wayne)

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Lev Grossman (by fifteen votes over Lauren Beukes; 3) Saladin Ahmed, 4) Dan Wells, 5) Larry Correia.)

Congratulations to all winners! Eleventh Hugo (and fifth Hugo/Nebula double) for Connie Willis (born 1945); fourth for Ted Chiang (born 1967); third for Allen Steele (born 1958); first for Mary Robinette Kowal (born 1969).

Well, I guess I can't complain too much; I voted for the winners in Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, and Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, and I'm not too disappointed by the winners of Best Novelette, Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form and the John W. Campbell Award. Still shaking my head over the appeal of Blackout/All Clear and Girl Genius though.

Nominees that weren't: 

"Elegy for a Young Elk" by Hannu Rajaniemi missed the Best Short Story list by 0.75 of a vote, if I have my maths right. 

Ellen Datlow missed Best Editor, Short Form, by a single vote. Notes from Coode Street was one vote away from the Best Fanzine list. 

"A Jar of Goodwill" by Tobias Buckell and "The Naturalist" by Maureen McHugh both missed the Best Novelette list by two votes. Guy Lillian III missed the Best Fan Writer list by two votes. Spring Schoenhuth missed the Best Fan Artist list by two votes.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor missed the Best Novel shortlist by four votes (China Mieville's Kraken missed it by six). I see last year's winner still got ten nominators for Best Graphic Story, where Hereville by Barry Deutsch missed the list by four votes. 

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach missed Best Related Work by five votes.

Both David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden decliend nomination for Best Editor, Long Form, resulting in the multiple tie for fifth place which gave us seven nominees. (Toni Weisskopf was two votes adrift.)

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Gibbon Chapter LX: The Fourth Crusade

A very good chapter on a tragic and horrible episode, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, illustrated by lucid narrative and pungent analysis. We haven’t had a chapter relating so closely to a single set of military incidents since Chapter XLI on Belisarius in Italy, which was good, or Chapter XXXI on the Sack of Rome, which was a refreshingly direct chapter after several dull ones. In a grand sweeping history like this, which covers 1300 years in 71 chapters, it makes sense to occasionally zoom in on key moments of inflection, and this is certainly one of them – the capital of the Eastern remnant of the Roman Empire, destroyed by the heirs of the West. Gibbon is helped, as he readily admits, by the survival of two eyewitness accounts of events from opposing sides, to both of whom he extends an essential sympathy while at the same time sparking off them. It enables him to show himself at his best.

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August Books 18) Dominion, by Nick Walters

An imaginative combination of the elements which make up a Who story: the Tardis, with Eight, Sam and Fitz, lands in Sweden in 1999, but an unstable wormhole is allowing nasties from a dying dimension through, and the Doctor has to save the nice aliens before it is too late, with no help from UNIT. Well described, and the nice aliens have an interesting biology. Though I was sorry that the nice Swedish girl didn’t get to go with the Tardis at the end.

An old joke, but still a funny one

A man in a hot air balloon over the Belgian countryside realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below.

Descending a bit more he shouted, “Excuse me, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don’t know where I am”.

The woman replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above the ground, between 40/41 degrees latitude, north, and 59/60 degrees longitude, west.”

“You must be a middle-grade Commission Official”, said the balloonist.

“I am”, replied the woman, “How did you know?”

“Well”, answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you have delayed my trip.”

The woman below responded, “You must be a Senior Commission Official”.

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “But how did you know?”

“Well,” replied the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

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