Links I found interesting for 30-01-2013

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January Books 8) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do.’

I had almost no expectations of this book except that I expected it would be a competent enough YA novel. It is better than I anticipated, a pretty ruthless indictment of reality television and game shows (nihil sub sole novumThe Goodies were satirising this king of thing in 1976) combined with a pretty strong socio-economic critique making it one of the most politically interesting sf books for the target audience that I have read for a while. It is also well written; although one has a fairly clear idea of how the books will end, there is enough tension and well-described imminent danger to keep the pages turning, and also by the last page there remains considerable emotional baggage to sort out. So I will probably get and read the next in the series.

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Torchwood, Series One (first part)

Next in line of my Doctor Who rewatch is the first ever Who spinoff to run for more than an episode. Well, it's better than K9 and Company in oh so many ways…

You can tell that Torchwood is going to be all grown up; the word "fucking" is used two minutes into the first episode, Everything Changes (the only other particularly adult incident is Owen's implied drug-induced threesome). After that, it's surprisingly watchable. Eve Myles returns, this time as Gwen Cooper, policewoman, rather than Gwyneth, haunted maidservant; she has a murder mystery to solve, and actually solves it, despite the murderer's unwitting accomplice drugging her with amnesia juice (this episode is rather worryingly relaxed about non-consensual administration of drugs – see the threesome incident again).

Though of course that is not really the point; it's about her being Rose, encountering the charismatic, strangely costumed King of Adventure and joining his team. And for her and us, it is learning about Torchwood. There's Captain Jack; there's the doctor who did the autopsy on the alien pig, though she seems to be a computer geek now; there's two good-looking men and a girl who dies. Apart from the stashes of alien technology, it is quite difficult to associate this crowd with the people who shot down the Sycorax and hosted the grand battle of Cybermen versus Daleks in London. The first and last words Jack says to Gwen in the episode are "What do you think?" After the first 50 minutes, I'm not quite sure.

Watching the episodes one a day as I do meant that I had a break between Everything Changes and Day One, whereas on first watching we had the latter broadcast immediately after the former. (I should also add that while the 45-minute Who episodes fit quite nicely into my usual morning commute, the 50-minute Torchwood episodes sprawl out a bit so I either start watching while shivering in the shelter at the train station or have to save the last few minutes for lunchtime or the way home.)This is the episode with the orgasmic alien, and it's considerably weaker than I remembered. The worst bit is Owen's sheer nastiness to Gwen, and the failure of the rest of Torchwood to call him out; then the alien herself (as will be typical for Torchwood baddies) does several things that are necessary for the writer's convenience but make little sense in terms of the plot – I mean, really, sperm donors? Sarah Lloyd Gregory is great as both Carys and the orgasmic alien, but the show is still feeling its way. (One nice touch – Jack rescuing the hand rather than chasing the alien, and the variation on the Who theme playing as he does so.)

But Ghost Machine I thought was a very different matter. For the first time we have the standard Torchwood opening sequence, which makes one feel a bit more grounded. Here we had John Normington turning up as a lost evacuee from Old Who, and Roj Blake, once framed as a paedophile in the far future, being blackmailed as a rapist in our world. There was a nice feeling of a sordid but perfectly normal underworld of Cardiff society interacting uneasily with the alien phenomena of Torchwood's sphere of existence; and of course the tremendous scene with Jack teaching Gwen how to shoot. The biggest problem is that the ending is a bit of a cop-out, though again I wondered if it was a bit of a homage to Gauda Prime.

Cyberwoman is a guilty pleasure for me. I know that a lot of the plot makes little sense, I know that the skimpy costume worn by Caroline Chikezie as Lisa is sheer exploitation, I can agree that it is deeply flawed, yet I love Gareth David Lloyd's portrayal of besotted obsession turning to appalled realisation (Torchwood settling into its stride of bonkers horror, with some brilliant cinematography), and I also like the fact that for the first time it becomes clear that this Torchwood is part of the Whoniverse Torchwood. I will admit that it's not great art, yet I enjoyed it again. Quite possibly I have no taste. (I have never claimed that I do.)

And then, gosh, we have PJ Hammond contributing Small Worlds, a marvelously creepy story, with the little girl from the family of The Idiot's Lantern transported fifty years forward and 200 km westward to Cardiff, and enjoying an obsessional relationship with malignant spirits which appear to be time-travelling fairies (little Lara Philipart is pitch perfect as Jasmine). This episode makes a lot more sense than most Torchwood this season, and if anything I wish the director had made more of the fact that Jack and the team are completely defeated here (and of course it is not the last time that Jack allows a child to be sacrificed to inhuman forces).

More bonkers horror with Countrycide, where unusually apart from our lead character there is no alien or sfnal presence at all in the story (I think the last one we had like that was Black Orchid). Again, so much of the plot makes no sense at all (and the banter between the team at the campsite is pretty unfortunate) and yet I find the way it looks pretty compelling. I was gripped, even knowing what was going to happen, even knowing that (again) it is deeply flawed. The scene of Jack bursting in on the tractor to rescue everyone is pretty hilarious as well, possibly even in a good way; though the end nudges downwards with the gratuitous Gwen/Owen affair.

Where Cyberwoman was Ianto's episode, and Out Of Time will be Owen's, Greeks Bearing Gifts is Toshiko's. up to now she has been the background Asian geek girl, basically the same character Naoko Mori played in Absolutely Fabulous but with firearms; now we have her vulnerability exploited by an evil sex alien which tears people's hearts out. And we get extra bonus idea lifted from the Buffy episode Earshot, which here is only a subplot rather than the point of the episode. Danielle Denby-Ashe is excellent as Mary, and Naoko Mori finally gets something to do as Tosh.

They Keep Killing Suzie is back to bonkers horror, with an excellent return from Indira Varma as Suzie, returning from the dead to deal with her own personal demons, identifying Gwen as her supplantor in every respect and gaining revenge by leeching away her life force. It is a shame that Team Torchwood didn't take more advantage of Suzie's exceptional gift for forward planning back when she was still alive!

The whole of Torchwood is a guilty pleasure for me; I like it much more than I probably should (though it's worth remarking that audience appreciation index ratings were generally in the mid-80s), and it was great fun watching these episodes again.

Next up comes the rest of this first series, also Catherine Tate's Who debut and the Sarah Jane pilot.

< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose – Dalek | The Long Game – The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 – The Girl in the Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen – Doomsday | Everything Changes – They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes – End of Days | Smith and Jones – 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood – Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen – The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned – Adam | Reset – Exit Wounds

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Links I found interesting for 29-01-2013

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Ow ow ow

A few weeks ago I booked in for an allergy test – the one where they tape lots of potentially allergenic substances to your skin to see if it reacts.

I should have done it last week, but had to postpone when I unexpectedly spent last Monday in an ice storm in Munich airport and needed the rest of the week to catch up.

So I went to the dermatologist this morning, and she merrily stuck squares soaked in various substances to me, covering it all over with a huge bandage. She will check them on Wednesday and make a final assessment on Friday.

And I can’t have a shower until Friday. I think it is decades since I went as long as four days without a shower. (Obviously I can wash by other means, but Thursday evening’s posh reception will be interesting.)

And the worst of it, as I am now realising, is that the bandage is really itchy; it is deliberately placed in the most inaccessible part of my back, and in any case, if I actually am allergic to any of these things, of course it’s going to bloody itch – until Friday, for the next four days!

I just hope I actually am allergic to something or other, to make the whole exercise worthwhile.

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January Books 7) Challenges for EU foreign policy in 2013 ed. Giovanni Grevi and Daniel Keohane

"The profile of the Union is not tainted because others are threatening it or advancing alternative, more viable political or economic models. What chiefly dents the credibility of the EU is that Europeans have not been practicing what they preach as consistently and effectively as they committed to do, at home and abroad." (Giovanni Grevi, in the introduction)

This is a 100-page book brought out earlier this month by the Spanish-based think tank FRIDE, which is producing better and better material these days. It is a good global review of the political situation in various parts of the world, with some policy ideas for how Europe could deal with them. "Europe" here is writ pretty large, with an emphasis on collective action by member states rather than tinkering with the Brussels machinery, and this is no self-indulgent back-slapping exercise of misty-eyed idealism about peace and harmony. It leads upfront with three areas of foreign policy where the EU has not delivered on its rhetorical commitments – promoting democracy (by FRIDE director Richard Youngs), fighting climate change (Bernice Lee and Diarmuid Torney), and developing a security/military capability (Daniel Keohane) – and takes a hard look at why the EU is failing in these areas and what could be done to reverse the drift. Of the other chapters, I particularly appreciated the ones on supporting democratic transition in the Arab world (Kristina Kausch) and on crises in Africa (Damien Helly).

This is not a book about the problems of the Euro or how to solve the economic crisis, but it lurks behind every chapter; the fact is that EU leaders have been too absorbed with fixing the finances to look outside over the last few years. In addition, internal leadership on this issue is, to be charitable, weak. In my own opinion the EU is actually a less powerful foreign policy actor now than it was ten years ago. In 2003 European peacekeeping troops were deployed to Macedonia. Now a civilian mission is securing an airport in South Sudan. It's rather a drop in scale of ambition and effort. FRIDE's analysis is a good starting point for discussing both how to try harder and if it s even worth trying.

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January Books 6) Human Nature, by Paul Cornell

‘I’ve discovered a lot in the last few weeks,’ Smith began. ‘I’ve found out that being the Doctor… it’s not about having special knowledge or abilities. It’s about not being cruel. It’s about not being afraid.’ He walked into the middle of the clearing, searching for the right words. ‘There are monsters out there, yes. Terrible things. But you don’t have to become one in order to defeat them. You can be peaceful in the face of their cruelty. You can win by being cleverer than they are.’

This is still the only Who novel to have been adapted for television rather than the other way round. I first read it, gulp, seven years ago – the first Seventh Doctor novel I ever read – and would have been rereading it anyway as I shall be rewatching the TV episode soon.

Now that I have read the previous 37 New Adventures, I still think this is one of the best in the series. It is better than most Who novels as a standalone (though Niall Harrison found the continuity heavy going), the major reference to previous novels being to Benny’s loss of her lover in the Albigensian crusade. The Doctor is absent from most of the book and needs to be explained to his own alter ego, John Smith, whose final sacrifice is very effective.

An easy Bechdel pass with Benny bantering with a group of women at a bar in the prologue.

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Links I found interesting for 27-01-2013

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January Books 5) Faces in the Pool, by Jonathan Gash

I heard his voice exclaim, ‘Listen to the noisy sods.’ And a female voice, husky with love, said, ‘Never mind them, darling. Come back here.’ And I thought another thought, except this one was even more stupid. I actually recognised her voice, until I corrected myself. It couldn’t be, never in a million years.

This is the most recent Lovejoy book, published in 2008, and since the author turns 80 this year I guess it may well be the last. (Though not for me; eleven down, thirteen to go.) It is a rather confused affair; an older Lovejoy, more narcissistic than ever, gets swept up in a massively weird conspiracy by the stranded dregs of colonialism (who of course tend to have retained fantastically valuable antiques). As well as Lovejoy’s East Anglia base, we get taken to various parts of England with a climactic scene off the coast of Blackpool. Lovejoy turns out to have a son who has inherited his gift of divvying (the supernatural ability to detect genuine antiques) and is the most memorable new character in the book; also, remarkably, his long-suffering apprentice Lydia develops a sudden burst of characterisation, not that it does her much good. And Lovejoy manages to bed pretty much every female character over the age of consent, though not very explicitly. I won’t recommend this as a book to start reading the series with; though it seems that this is where it finishes.

Fails the Bechdel test at the third hurdle. There are many women characters, who frequently talk to each other, but Lovejoy himself is invariably the topic of conversation.

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January Books 4) Making Ireland English, by Jane Ohlmeyer

“My advice to you is to marry as soon possibly as you can. Do not marry in England; for such a marriage will prove your ruin… There are some good Catholic wives to be had in England; but now it is a great venture. Never bring a Protestant wife into your family. Marry in your country as all your predecessors have done.” (Lord Trimleston to his son, 1686)

A pretty massive book in which Ohlmeyer looks at the turbulent seventeenth century in Ireland (really the shorter period between the Flight of the Earls and the Williamite victory) through the lives and deeds of the people who saw themselves as Ireland’s natural leaders – the resident peerage. My personal interest in the subject is that the Sir Nicholas Whyte/White of the day (not the Elizabethan statesman, but his grandson) married the daughter of Viscount Moore and managed to bag Viscount Galmoye (probably), Viscount Dillon and the Earl of Carlingford as sons-in-law; though the White/Whyte family are not mentioned directly in this book, their relatives certainly are.

Ohlmeyer’s argument, to summarise brutally, is that the Irish peers were engaged in a nation-building project, almost all of them committed to support for the British monarchy (as it became in 1603), but not necessarily to the Dublin government (let alone the English parliament), and committed to a paradigm of honour which included most importantly serving the Crown in peace and war, but also meant ensuring that the peasants didn’t starve and securing the familial succession so that succeeding generations could keep up the tradition. This last point comes up again and again; Ohlmeyer denotes substantial and separate chapters to birth, marriage and death among the peerage, and it is striking how often lines simply expired – underage heirs might be vulnerable to disputed successions and seemed to die early themselves rather often, and of course the wars of the 1640s and 1690s took their toll as well.

A lot of the noble houses switched religion over the decades – not just as a result of mixed marriages, but also as a result of individual conversions; but there always remained a critical mass of Catholics, if a minority, among the peerage, accepted by Protestant peers and by London as a critical part of the fabric of Irish society, until the 1690s when most of them converted or fled, ending the nation-building project. I still find it quite difficult to get my head around the fervently Catholic Irish peers wishfully thinking that James I and VI or Charles I or II was going to restore Catholicism, or even allow them to hold the public offices from which they were barred, and I suppose it is a triumph of Stuart statecraft that allowed them to think so (having said which, they were not the only ones who thought the Stuarts might be soft on Romanism, and if they were reading hard line Protestant pamphlets they would have had fuel for their fantasies).

Ohlmeyer sends a rather exhausting amount of time on the statistics and patterns of landownership (and the maps used to illustrate are not terribly clear). But one point I took away that I had not previously realised related to the Cromwellian land settlement. Ohlmeyer confirms the traditional historical version that many Catholic landowners were dispossessed entirely or transplanted to Connacht. However, a significant minority of these dispossessions were overturned on appeal to Charles II, particularly of peers who had good connections at court (and the Irish peers, Catholic and Protestant, had by and large supported Charles in his exile, which turned out to be the way to bet). Either way, peers as a group ended up owning more of Ireland’s acres at the end of the process; it was the smaller and less influential dispossessed or transplanted landowners who had no redress.

Anyway, a minority interest, but plenty of food for thought.

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Links I found interesting for 26-01-2013

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Links I found interesting for 24-01-2013

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Links I found interesting for 23-01-2013

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January Books 3) The Hive, by Charles Burns

This is the second of a trilogy by Burns which started with X’ed Out, and leaps between three different storylines: Doug’s memories of his life in our world, in particular his enigmatic girlfriend Sarah (who has a fascination with Louise Bourgeoisalter ego Nitnit in the alternative insectoid world of The Hive; and the romance comics which are common to both worlds. It seems almost as if Burns is interrogating the medium of comics from two different directions, Bourgeois’ startling and disturbing images and the conventionally fluffy romance stories. There is also clearly a deep revelation to come in the third and final volume about what happened between Douglas and Sarah, and I find myself rather hoping that it is something sufficiently disturbing to justify the emotional energy of the story rather than some relatively generic story about growing up.

Bechdel fail at the second step – it is a tight narrative of a male viewpoint character (or characters), and while there are numerous female characters, none of them talk to each other.

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Doctor Who Season 2 (2006), Second Half

(Tardisodes: first, communications between Gemini and Preachers; second, Cybus taking over the world.) I had forgotten just how good Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel actually is. The visuals are superb – the Zeppelins over London (and the spectacular Zeppelin scenes at the end), the marching Cybermen, Battersea Power Station as slaughterhouse. The story doesn’t shrink from killing off sympathetic characters – Jackie, Ricky, Mrs Moore. Sure, some plot elements are lifted from Genesis of the DaleksThe Five Doctors.)

I have written previously comparing the politics of the parallel world here with that of Inferno, which ended Pertwee’s first season. But another aspect that makes the parallel world story effective is that both Rose and Mickey find that their loved ones are still alive in Pete’s World; and yet it is far from being a perfect place. (I do hope that they nailed down that carpet before going to Paris.)

Mickey is the first companion in New Who to leave the Tardis of his own volition. (The only other one is Martha. By contrast, it was more usual than not in Old Who for companions to apparently decide for themselves that their time was up.) I cannot be alone in finding the Doctor’s mockery of him, especially in Season One, rather uncomfortable viewing; it’s not enough to steal the guy’s girlfriend, you have to rub it in as well? But Mickey is much better served by his Season Two character arc: he comes to the realisation that he is no more than Junior Sidekick (as he puts it, “the tin dog”) to the main characters, expresses his distress, gets nowhere and decides to do something else with his life. It is a more compelling story than most Doctors get, never mind their companions.

(Tardisode: the Wire consumes Grandma’s face.) I liked The Idiot’s Lantern more on this viewing than previously, but that is not saying a lot. The concept is good, and the faceless people are genuinely horrific; the Doctor and Rose, liberated from caring about Mickey, are on top form; and Euros Lyn shoots a lot of it from tilted cameras to keep us watching. Maureen Lipman is not given a lot to work with but doesn’t with great gusto, and I also liked Debra Gillett as Rita Connolly.

But the Connolly family subplot doesn’t work for me. This is not a Very Special Who episode of Doctor Who about mummy and daddy not loving each other any more; the presentation of the parents’ relationship is both clichéd and unrealistic (how fortunate that the house is in Grandma’s name!), and for me the story is the weakest since New Earth as a result.

NB that there is no such person as the King of Belgium. Our head of state is the King of the Belgians, and presumably has that on his business cards.

(Tardisodes: two linked pieces about Captain Walker, a book found by the Galis expedition, and the Ood. Apparently they still have MacBooks in the future.) I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won’t) and perhaps it’s a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster – though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil – but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.

(Tardisode: Kennedy, played hereby a different and presumably less expensive actor, tracks down LINDA and eats the woman who makes his tea.) Love and Monsters is one of the most daring episodes of Who ever. Paul Cornell has written a spirited defence of the story as an episode about fandom, about the show Doctor Who rather than its central character, and he makes a good case. But the fact is that this had not been done before in New Who, and only really in passing in Old Who (most notably in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though talk of fans of the Doctor goes back to The Savages). The episode is doubly daring in that it is the first of the Doctor-lite episodes that we now accept as a regular event in New Who. It is a bit bizarre, and it doesn’t fit with the previous run of the programme at all, but I think it’s OK for Who to be experimental occasionally and that it more or less works.

(Tardisode: a Welsh bloke appears to be doing a children’s version of Crimewatch in a London street. It is rather bad.) I was a bit surprised to be reminded that Fear Her was by far the lowest rated episode of New Who in the DWM top 200 stories poll a while back. It is a simple low-cost story, thrown together at the last minute because Stephen Fry’s script didn’t work out, but it is tremendously effective at what it does. It addresses dysfunctional families and child abuse far more effectively than The Idiot’s Lantern from only a few weeks earlier, and Nina Sosanya is simply superb as Trish (and young Abisola Agbaje very impressive as Chloe). It has a couple of weak points – poor Huw Edwards gets given an awful lot of info-dumping, and the emotional climax goes on for a bit too long – but I feel this one is unfairly underrated. Note the Doctor’s casual reference to having been a father once… Also, this story, like Dalek, is set in 2012, which seemed safely distant at the time of broadcast but now feels so last year.

(Tardisodes: a journalist gets scrobbled while investigating Torchwood; another gets scrobbled by Cybermen while reading the news.) David Tennant’s first season finale has a lot of good bits and some less good bits. While the ghosts themselves are rather intriguing, the means and motivation for the Cybermen to disguise themselves in this way are never explained (as often with RTD episodes, we invest in a very detailed set-up referencing contemporary culture which then turns out to be irrelevant); and much though one’s heart melts for Rose and the Doctor, perhaps the final scenes in Canary Wharf go on a bit. But this isn’t actually a pair of episodes about plot; it’s a series of dramatic reveals – Mickey’s reappearance; the Daleks’ reappearance (which had us and even some visiting non-fans on the edge of our seats when first broadcast); Pete and Jackie’s reunion; Yvonne’s survival; and the parting of the ways again. And all of those, with a partial reservation about the last, are done very well, and it looks good, and you believe that ten square metres of plasterboard in a studio is a gateway between dimensions at the top of a skyscraper. And New Who turns a corner, having replaced its main cast within two years of starting; Old Who didn’t completely change the guard until two stories into its fourth season. It is important to demonstrate that the show can go on even if the faces change, and now we have got there.

(And I was completely unaware of Catherine Tate’s existence before seeing her at the end of this.)

I was uncertain about whether I should do a separate write-up for Jackie. But her appearance in Love and Monsters convinced me; this is actually someone whose life is in general worse off because of the Doctor’s intervention. Just as Mickey reasonably resents the man with the blue box stealing his girlfriend, Jackie hates him stealing her daughter, and the show is often more sympathetic to her than the title character. Jackie is a reminder that while the Doctor may be saving worlds, his effects on people at the micro level can be pretty destructive. (Sarah Jane Smith, of course, actually comes out and says this.)

I’ve just finished the second volume of Philip Sandifer’s Tardis Eruditorum collections of essays, and he has some particularly interesting things to say about Victoria, as the first Old Who girl companion picked who was already a child star, and that making her a “female peril monkey” rather than the audience identification figure is a very big and unexpectedly successful step. RTD (and Bilie Piper, of course) made Rose the audience identification figure, but gave her two things a companion had never had before: non-Tardis travelling friends and relatives who we see in their first story who don’t immediately die, and a strong romantic relationship with the Doctor. It is a considerable report of the show’s treatment of Its regular characters, and it grated a wee bit for some of us Old Who fans who remembered  nostalgically the days when companions appeared out of nowhere, enjoyed travelling with the Doctor platonically and left as abruptly. But we were wrong and RTD was right.

And the bat-shippers therefore do have a point. The first two seasons are as much about Rose as about the Doctor. She’s not just an audience viewpoint figur who has to have stuff explained to her; she’s not just (indeed, hardly ever is) a screaming peril monkey; she’s someone who goes on adventures with her exciting new best friend, who she would quite like to be more than a best friend – not so much audience identification as audience wish fulfilment. The show has never had a companion like that, and Piper does it very well.

The Tardisodes have been largely forgotten since 2006, and on the whole this is fair. The best one is the prequel to The Girl in the Fireplace, which briefly and effectively shows us the fate of the Madame de Pompadour and her crew. The later ones look like cheap afterthoughts, trailers for a slightly different show. The prequels of the Moffat era have generally been better conceived.

Overall this is a decent run. The closing two-parter isn’t actually as good as the two previous two-parters, but it’s still good enough. The Idiot’s Lantern Is weak, but much of Old Who was worse. Most importantly, the show demonstrates that it can one again triumphantly survive a change of lead actor, and Rose gets the best departure arc of any Who companions before Rory and Amy. And she deserves it.

OK, on to Torchwood…

< The Curse of Fatal Death | The Webcasts | Rose – Dalek | The Long Game – The Parting of the Ways | Comic Relief 2006 – The Girl in the Fireplace | Rise of the Cybermen – Doomsday | Everything Changes – They Keep Killing Suzie | Random Shoes – End of Days | Smith and Jones – 42 | Human Nature / The Family of Blood – Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords & The Infinite Quest | Revenge of the Slitheen – The Lost Boy & Time Crash | Voyage of the Damned – Adam | Reset – Exit Wounds

My job in Up-Goer Five

Describing my job using only the thousand most common words in English:

There are people who run some places (or who would like to run them) who do not find it easy to talk to people who run other places, but would like to do that more often and better. I help the first group of people to talk to the other people.

Try it yourself.

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BSFA short list on Goodreads and LibraryThing

Goodreads Librarything
number average number average
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson 1445 3.41 267 3.65
Dark Eden, Chris Beckett 138 4.09 30 4.50
Intrusion, Ken MacLeod 115 3.40 64 3.97
Jack Glass, Adam Roberts 79 3.89 18 5
Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison 52 4.19 31 3.5

NB that only one Librarything user has rated either of the last two, which is why those numbers are italicised.

Full shortlist (including short fiction, art and non-fiction) is here.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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Links I found interesting for 17-01-2013

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Links I found interesting for 14-01-2013

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January Books 2) The Indestructible Man, by Simon Messingham

Indestructible Man

“You’re not the Doctor. It’s a trick. You’re one of those doubles, Mr Mackenzie told me.”
“I don’t know who this Mr Mackenzie is, Jamie,” said the Doctor. “But I assure you that I am definitely me.”
“You’re dead.” He looked the Doctor up and down. “You’re not the Doctor. I want to go back.”

A slightly unusual Past Doctor Adventure here: the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe end up in a future which is based very strongly on the work of the late Gerry Anderson, the Tracy family of Thunderbirds fame translated into the Sharon family with their Lightning rescue craft, and various other adaptations from parts of the Andersonverse that I don’t know as well.But this future is a dystopia where society had collapsed globally, and which is under threat from the Myloki (who combine attributes of both the Mysterons and the attackers of Earth in UFO). It is lovingly drawn, and my lack of familiarity with the source didn’t spoil my appreciation of the detail. Messingham also has the Doctor and companions go through hell – the Doctor so badly injured before the story starts that he almost regenerates, Zoe drawn into a doomed love affair, Jamie traumatised and distrustful – which is not at all true to the series of the time, but does take the characters to interesting places. However, though I liked the setting and what was done with the regulars, I wasn’t really grabbed by the plot such as it was, and too many of the borrowed Anderson characters – especially the women – were simply background coloration.

A bare pass for the Bechdel test (and I think some readers would fail it). Zoe is often thrown together with some of the aforementioned cardboard women characters and it is suggested that they have conversations, which may not always be about men. (I am going to try and systematically tally this for all fiction I read this year.)

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January Books 1) The Doctor’s Monsters, by Graham Sleight

The Doctor's Monsters

How much do monsters have a choice about being monstrous, and how much can they outgrow their natures?

Getting the year off to a good start with Graham Sleight’s analysis of 29 of the Doctor’s best known monstrous adversaries, and what they actually mean in story terms. Fellow fans will enjoy Sleight’s take on the various creatures, whether we agree or disagree – for instance, he argues that if Kroll had been realised better on screen, The Power of Kroll might have a far better reputation as a story. But mainly he looks at the effect of monsters on the other characters in the story, on the viewer and to an extent on themselves. The people who will really get something out of this book are those with a strong interest in cinematic and television depictions of monsters, combined with a passing familiarity with Who, rather than the other way round.Having said that, the book looks very much at Who in its own terms without tying it particularly to other screen sf or fantasy, and jumps around quite a lot in historical timeline (which I think was a good way of getting the Whovian reader to think about it a bit more; the non-Whovian reader won’t care). The Daleks get four separate chapters – original story, pre-Davros, post-Davros and New Who – and the Cybermen get three – up to Return of the Cybermen, Earthshock to end of Old Who, and New Who. 

My copy unfortunately was marred by production errors, including a complete lack of page numbers. The material deserved better from the publisher (I.B. Tauris), but Who fans and media fans more generally will enjoy it anyway.

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