November 2020 books

Non-fiction: 2 (YTD 46)
Selected Prose, by Charles Lamb (did not finish)
Mahatma Gandhi: His Life and Times, by Louis Fischer

Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 35)
The Inside of the Cup, by the other Winston Churchill

sf (non-Who): 7 (YTD 99)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Borderline, by Mishell Baker
SS-GB, by Len Deighton
Painless, by Rich Larson
The Time Invariance of Snow, by E. Lily Yu
Blood is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon
More Real Than Him, by Silvia Park

Doctor Who: 5 (YTD 16)
The Nth Doctor, by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier
The Official Doctor Who Annual 2021, by Paul Lang
Doctor Who: Mission to the Unknown, by John Peel
Doctor Who: The Mutation of Time, by John Peel
The Astraea Conspiracy, by Lizbeth Myles

Comics: 5 (YTD 44)
Neil Dreams, by Neil Gaiman
An Honest Answer & Other Stories, by Neil Gaiman
The Daleks’ Master Plan, adapted by Rick Lundeen
The Empire Strikes Back, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon
Return of the Jedi, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon

4,000 pages (YTD 62,800)
6/20 (YTD 75/239) not by men (Baker, Yu, Solomon, Park, Lofficier, Myles)
3/20 (YTD 22/239) by PoC (Yu, Solomon, Park)
3/20 reread (YTD 37/239) – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Mission to the Unknown, The Mutation of Time

Current
Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle
Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake
After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry
Terms of Endearment, by Larry McMurtry
Tono-Bungay, by H.G. Wells

Coming soon (perhaps)
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
"The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley
The Company Articles of Edward Teach/Angaelien Apocalypse, by Thoraiya Dyer
Above/Below, by Stephanie Campisi
Planetfall, by Emma Newman
The Anything Box, by Zenna Henderson
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Volume 1: A New Beginning, by Jody Houser, Rachael Stott, Giorgia Sposito, Enrica Eren Angiolini
Our War: Ireland and the Great War, by John Horne
Utopia For Realists, by Rutger Bregman
Ormeshadow, by Priya Sharma
Greybeard, by Brian Aldiss
Kaamelott: Het Raadsel Van de Kluis, written by Alexandre Astier, art by Steven Dupré
Goodbye To All That, by Robert Graves
Foucaults Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, by Nick Mason
The Home and the World, by Rabindranath Tagore
A Buzz in the Meadow, by Dave Goulson

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Whoniversaries 30 November: Unearthly Child #2, Invasion #5, Dragonfire #2, Silver Nemesis #2

End of another month. I've started reposting these to the Facebook Doctor Who group, where people seem to like them

broadcast anniversaries

30 November 1963: repeat of "An Unearthly Child" and first broadcast of "The Cave of Skulls", the first and second episodes of the story we now call An Unearthly Child. The Tardis has landed on a primitive world where the travellers are taken captive by cavemen.

30 November 1968: broadcast of fifth episode of The Invasion. Isobel, Jamie and Zoe enter the sewers and are confronted by a deranged Cyberman.

30 November 1987: broadcast of second episode of Dragonfire. Mel and Ace are pursued by the dragon; the Doctor and Glitz work out where the treasure is.

30 November 1988: broadcast of second episode of Silver Nemesis. Rather confusing battles between the Cybermen and neo-Nazis.

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February 2009 books

This is the latest post in a series I started a year ago, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started February with a trip to Geneva, and then went to the USA for my usual east coast run, starting with Boskone and continuing to Washington and New York. I should have mentioned in my January write-up that Iain Banks spoke in Brussels at Scotland House. At work there was significant news in the big picture, as Kosovo declared independence and the Greek Cypriots voted out their hardline president and voted in a more pro-peace process candidate (who unfortunately turned out to be a complete idiot). On the smaller scale my Spanish intern S left for a public affairs job with a big petrochemical company; she has moved into corporate sustainability and social responsibility, and is either in Mexico or New York these days, I've lost track. Her replacement E was German, and actually reminded me after I'd hired her that her sister is a friend of mine (their surname not all that uncommon).

With the massive amount of US travel, I got through 31 books in a 29-day month.

Non-fiction 12 (YTD 16)
The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
The UN Sanctions against Yugoslavia, by Rita Augestad Knudsen
Understanding Somalia and Somaliland, by Ioan Lewis
The Lyncher In Me, by Warren Read (racist violence among historical family members)
Africa: A Biography of the Continent, by John Reader
Sarajevo Rose, by Stephen Schwartz
The Presidential Book of Lists, by Ian Randal Strock
Imagining the Modern: The Cultures of Nationalism in Cyprus, Rebecca Bryant
Divided Cyprus: Modernity, History and an Island in Conflict, eds Yiannis Papadakis, Nicos Peristianis and Gisela Welz

Write It When I'm Gone, by Thomas M. DeFrank (about Gerald Ford)
Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, by Stephen Jay Gould
Kosovo: What Everyone Needs To Know, by Tim Judah

Non-genre 2 (YTD 6)
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Scripts 3 (YTD 7)
All's Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare
Measure for Measure, by William Shakespeare
Othello, by William Shakespeare

SF 6 (YTD 12)
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller jr
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by JK Rowling
The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by T.E. Lawrence
The Stand, by Stephen King
Red Branch, by Morgan Llewellyn
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow

Doctor Who 6 (YTD 7)
Foreign Devils, by Andrew Cartmel
The Doctor Who Annual 1967
The Coming of the Queen, by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett
Doctor Who: The Ghosts of N-Space, by Barry Letts
Short Trips: Repercussions, edited by Gary Russell
Only Human, by Gareth Roberts

Comics 1 (YTD 2)
H.P. Lovecraft's The Haunter of the Dark, by John Coulthart

9,200 pages (YTD 14,900)
7/31 by women (YTD 10/51)
0/31 by PoC (YTD 1/51)

The best of these were sf classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, a re-read, which you can get here, and Jill Ker Conway's autobiograhy, The Road from Coorain, which you can get here. Unimpressed by two of the Doctor Who books, Cartmel's novella Foreign Devils, which you can get here, and also Short Trips: Repercussions, a rare miss in the anthology series, which you can get here.


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Whoniversaries 29 November

i) births and deaths

29 November 1942: birth of Michael Craze, who played Ben Jackson, companion of the First and Second Doctors, in 1966-67.

29 November 1971: birth of Naoko Mori, who played Toshiko Sato in the first two series of Torchwood (2006-08) and the Doctor Who episode Aliens of London (Tenth Doctor, 2005) – in fact, in the very first scene fimed for New Who.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 November 1975: broadcast of second episode of The Android Invasion. The Doctor realises that their surroundings are fake, including the android Sarah.

29 November 1980: broadcast of second episode of State of Decay. The Doctor and Romana realise that the castle is the spaceship Hydrax, and that the vampires are draining blood from the villagers.

29 November 1986: broadcast of first episode of The Ultimate Foe (ToaTL #13). Mel and Sabalon Glitz arrive to help the Doctor's defence, sent by the Master; the Doctor and Glitz pursue the Valeyard into the Matrix.

29 November 1989: broadcast of second episode of Survival. The Doctor and Ace explore the planet of the Cheetah People further, and Ace starts to change into one herself.

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Return of the Jedi (also comics adaptation of Empire Strikes Back)

Return of the Jedi won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1984. The other finalists were, in order of finishing, The Right Stuff, WarGames, Brainstorm and Something Wicked This Way Comes. All were cinematic productions. I haven't seen any of the others (NB that The Right Stuff has no speculative fiction content, even though it is about astronauts and spacehips.)

All the old gang are back, so I'm not going to run through the usuals, except to note that this is the fourth consecutive Hugo-winning film to star Harrison Ford (after The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner). I will not two somewhat obscure Doctor Who crossovers.

Warwick Davis, who was only 11 at the time of filming and was given the part after Kenny "R2D2" Baker got food poisoning, plays Wicket the Ewok; you can't see his face but he already has his characteristic posture. He has of course gone on to greater things including Porridge in the Neil Gaiman-scripted Doctor Who episode Nightmare in Silver (Eleventh Doctor, 2013).

Much more obscurely, Claire Davenport plays the Fat Dancer in an early scene here, and also played the Empress in the lost Doctor Who story Marco Polo (First Doctor, 1964). I am not sure if any pictures of her in that role survive; if she's the woman in the picture below, she's very heavily made up.

Well, we actually have a second named woman character here, Mon Mothra who appears out of nowhere in a single scene.

Meanwhile Princess Leia is famously objectified.

Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian, reinvented as a rebel general despite his shifting loyalties (and poor leadership skills) demonstrated in The Empire Strikes Back.

So it's making a token effort towards diversity, with the emphasis on the token.

In two and a quarter hours, not a lot actually happens in this film. The first third or so is very fast-paced, but the momentum is lost towards the end, particularly when the Ewoks appear to be waiting anxiously for something to happen. I have to say that I also find the central moral dilemmas of both Luke and Darth Vader unconvincing. We never have the slightest hint that Luke is flawed enough to be seriously tempted by the Dark Side of the Force; and on the other side, Anakin's deathbed conversion seems abrupt and out of character from what we have seen before.

But but but. When the action is happening, especially in the first half, it's breathtaking. So many fight scenes and just so much brilliant cinematography. The animations are very good as well, perhaps a little bit more obviously related to the Muppet Show than in the previous film, but that's not such a bad thing. And the decision to cast actual people as the Ewoks was inspired (even if not quite as interesting as the film seems to think).

I'm also going to call out one truly lovely moment of characterisation of a minor player, when Paul Brooke, as the Keeper of the Rancor which Han Solo and Luke Skywalker have just killed, mourns the loss of his monstrous charge.

All in all, though, I'm with the consensus that this is the weakest of the three original films. (What a shame that they never made any of the promised prequels.) I'm putting it half way down my list of Hugo/Nebula winners, below Bambi but above Fantasia.

There's a comics adaptation too, but before I go there, I bought an electronic version of the comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back shortly after I watched it back in October; but that was the weekend that I lost my iPad, so I did not get around to reading it until now. The second frame of the third (of six) parts is:

There's a whole new team working here – the first Star Wars adaptation was written by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin and drawn by Steve Leialoha, but the other two of the original trilogy were written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Colombian artists Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. It sticks pretty closely to the film, shot for shot; the art is perhaps better executed but less imaginative (if you see what I mean). I do love the frame-by-frame animation that you get on the Kindle version.

You can get it here.

The comic adaptation of Return of the Jedi has only four issues, rather than the six for the two previous films. This is the second frame of the third part:

The action sequences, which are after all the main point, are well done, and here the animation is especially rewarding.

In general I approve of the tightening up, yet despite my complaints above about the overall thinness of the plot, I felt that we skipped a couple of interesting points here; most notably the ghost scene at the end with the shades of Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi is absent, and though it's a bit silly I felt it gave closure to the story. Anyway, you can get the comic adaptation here.

Next up: Terms of Endearment, that year's Oscar winner. Next up for Hugos: 2010.

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Whoniversaries 29 November

i) births and deaths

28 November 1987: birth of Karen Gillan, who played Amy Pond in the Eleventh Doctor era (2010-12) and also one of the Soothsayers in The Fires of Pompeii (Tenth Doctor, 2008).

ii) broadcast anniversary

28 November 1964: broadcast of "The Daleks", second episode of the story we now call The Dalek Invasion of Earth. On the flying saucer, the Doctor passes the Daleks' intelligence test and is made ready for robotisation.

28 November 2015: broadcast of Heaven Sent. The Doctor is trapped in a mysterious castle. Over and over. For billions of years.

(Two exceptionally good episodes today.)

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The Nth Doctor, by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Among the new concepts developed by [Johnny] Byrne were (a) the destruction of Gallifrey by Varnax, combining the climax of [Mark] Ezra's script and Demos's apocalyptic fate from The Time Lord, and (b) the introduction of the Doctor as having become the victim of amnesia, an idea which had only been hinted as in The Time Lord's Version 3, and which had the dramatic merit of enabling the spectator to discover the character and his origins in a progressive, suspenseful fashion.

This is the story of several film treatments for Doctor Who written between 1987 and 1994 by Mark Ezra, Johnny Byrne, Denny Martin Flinn, the not-yet-disgraced Adrian Rigelsford, John Leekley and Robert DeLaurentis. Apart from Rigelsford, these are all serious writers with serious records, and it's interesting to see how the pressures of cinematic production and consumption formed what now seems the inevitable Philip Segal end product of 1996. Various plot elements came and went – one can see some threads emerging in New Who of both the RTD and Moffat eras; some of the outlines are clearly a four-part TV story written as a film script. It's interesting that the one-off female sidekick and the streetwise kid sidekick became established at a relatively early stage. My jaw dropped at the brief involvement of Leonard Nimoy, which I don't think I'd known about, but I was less surprised at the crucial role of the Gallifrey One convention in the story. (Just this year, it was the place where Big Finish persuaded Christopher Eccleston to come and record some audio plays for them.)

Anyway, I think this really is for completists only. Normally when I say that, it's about something that isn't very good; in this case it's because none of these scripts was ever made, and none is likely to be made now, so they are of limited relevance to the wider history of Who. Still, you can get it here.

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Whoniversaries 27 November

i) births and deaths

27 November 1918: birth of Peter Tuddenham, who was the voice of the computer in Ark in Space (1975), the voice of the Mandragora Helix in The Masque of Mandragora (1976), and the voice of the Brain in Time and the Rani (1987). Blake's 7 fans remember him also as Orac, Zen and Slave.

27 November 1935: birth of Verity Lambert, who was the very first producer of Doctor Who (1963-65).

also 27 November 1935: birth of Johnny Byrne, writer of The Keeper of Traken (Fourth Doctor, 1981), Arc of Infinity (Fifth Doctor, 1983) and Warriors of the Deep (Fifth Doctor, 1984).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 November 1965: broadcast of "Devil's Planet", third episode of the story we nowcall The Daleks' Master Plan. The Doctor, Steven, Katarina and Bret Vyon escape Kembel but land on the prison planet Desperus; as they take off again, a deranged convict holds Katarina captive.

27 November 1993: broadcast of second episode of Dimensions in Time, but we don't talk about that.

27 November 2003: webcast of third episode of Scream of the Shalka. The Doctor confronts the Shalka, who fling him into their wormhole.

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Thursday reading

Current
Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle
Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake
The Inside of the Cup, by the other Winston S. Churchill
Painless, by Rich Larson

Last books finished
Doctor Who: The Mutation of Time, by John Peel
The Astraea Conspiracy, by Lizbeth Myles
SS-GB, by Len Deighton
The Empire Strikes Back, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon
Return of the Jedi, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon

Next books
After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry
"The Persistence of Vision", by John Varley

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Whoniversaries 26 November

i) births and deaths

26 November 1929: birth of William Dysart, who played Alexander McLaren in The Highlanders (Second Doctor, 1966-67) and Reegan in The Ambassadors of Death (Third Doctor, 1970).

26 November 1977: birth of Ingrid Oliver, who played Osgood and her Zygon double in 2013-2015.

ii) broadcast and webcast anniversaries

26 November 1966: broadcast of fourth episode of The Power of the Daleks. The rebels try to use the Daleks; but the Daleks are reproducing…

26 November 1977: broadcast of first episode of The Sun Makers. The Doctor, Leela and K9 land on the planet Pluto, where the sinister Gatherer oppresses the people with heavy taxes.

26 November 1993: broadcast of first episode of Dimensions in Time, but we don't talk about that.

26 November 2006: broadcast of Greeks Bearing Gifts (Torchwood), the one where Toshiko finds a pendant and is seduced by an alien.

26 November 2009: webcast of sixth and final episode of Dreamland. With the Viperox invasion in full force, the Doctor needs the help of Rivesh Mantilax to activate the genetic device.

26 November 2016: broadcast of the Class episode The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did. While the students are in detention, Miss Quill goes on a metaphysical adventure to win back her freedom.

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Secret Army: Third series, third book and Andy Priestner’s indispensable guide

The third series of Secret Army is a real masterpiece of story-telling. The first series and second series had a fairly static situation, with a sort of resistance-romp-of-the-week plot, though with the extra tension that regular and semi-regular characters got killed off at fairly frequent intervals. But the last thirteen episodes are driven by the approaching Allied armies, who landed in Normandy at the end of the second series; the end of the German occupation is coming, and everyone will have a reckoning, like it or not. Even with victory in sight, the resistance is torn ideologically, with Lifeline under threat from the Communists; and Albert spends most of the series in jail on suspicion of murdering his wife, which enables the rest of the cast to show their talents.

As usual I'm going to single out a few episodes for attention. I've generally avoided calling out appearances in Secret Army of actors who also appeared in Doctor Who and other things that I love and follow, but for the fourth episode, A Safe Place, it was irresistible.

Yes, in only his second year as a professional actor, that is Anthony Stewart Head, later of course to be Giles in Buffy (and the leader of the Krillitane in that great Doctor Who episode School Reunion), this time the co-ordinator of the Germans' latest wheeze to disrupt the network for crashed allied airmen. And as second German radio operator, it's Guy Siner, memorable to Who fans of course as the young General Ravon in Genesis of the Daleks, but also later to appear in all 85 episodes of Allo! Allo! as Lieutenant Gruber.

The episode is also remarkable for the scene set in a gay bar in downtown Brussels, which I present here.

With 1970s BBC shows you can never be entirely sure, but I think it's a scene more sympathetic to the clubbers than the Nazis.

The climax of the entire show is the confrontation in the Candide in episode 10, Collaborators, between Reinhardt of the Luftwaffe and Albert and the rest of Lifeline. But neither side realises that the Communist resistance are not far away… and because Albert's cover has been so good, many people think that he has been too close to the Germans. In the 42nd minute of the 40th episode, we get here:

The next three episodes are almost unbearably tense, as our heroes get to grips with the new state of affairs. I'm really at a loss to think of any other show which had a fairly static (if perilous) situation informing the background of 90% of the total run time, and then threw our characters into completely new circumstances at the very end. Since so many key characters have already been killed off, we really don't know who will live and who will die. It's a tremendous arc of storytelling.

Some bits don't work as well as others. I think the plotline in which Reinhardt is executed by his own side feels rather bolted on, a historical curiosity (in that there was one real execution of a German officer by his own side after the war was over, but in the Netherlands not Belgium). I think also if I'd been watching an episode a week rather than one every evening, the romance between Monique and an English officer would have seemed a bit less whirlwind. But it's high time she got over Albert anyway. And apart from what happens to Lifeline in Brussels, the drama of Kessler's ultimate escape, facilitated by his Belgian girlfriend Madeleine, is tremendously effective. I give you the last six minutes of the show, complete with end titles, starting with Kessler's exit in style.

This series was first shown on Saturday nights in late 1979, after Doctor WhoDestiny of the Daleks, and then it tracked City of Death and The Creature from the Pit, concluding the same evening as Nightmare of Eden. (Spoiler: the Secret Army finale was better.)

There is once again a book-of-the-series, Secret Army: The End of the Line, by chief writer John Brason. It is largely a novelisation of three episodes: the bubonic plague one, Ring of Roses, mentioned above; the raid on a V2 launch site, Just Light the Blue Touch PaperThe Execution, with linking narrative. The second paragraph of the third chapter, "Just Light the Blue Touch Paper", is:

Monique turned to Alain. ‘And you said you thought I was being followed yesterday?’

I think if I had been advising Brason, I'd have suggested giving even more time to the climax of the story and dropping the earlier bits. The plague episode is particularly weird to watch in 2020, but I think it's a dramatic miss as the tension of the situation is resolved in a bound at the end. The V2 episode looks great, but surely our heroes are acting somewhat out their usual mandate here? As it is, the two penultimate episodes, Days of Judgement and Bridgehead, are dispatched in about three pages. However, at the end, everyone is where they are meant to be, and the book purchaser of 1979, who would have had no idea that in forty years' time we could stream the whole show, would have been glad to be reminded of a few key moments. You can get it here.

It would have been completely impossible to write this series of posts without Andy Priestner's indispensable 650-page The Complete Secret Army: the unofficial and unauthorised guide to the classic TV series, which you can get here. It's structured in a way that makes it difficult to determine which the third chapter is; this is the second paragraph of the intro to the section covering the third series.

Given that the third series is regarded as such an unequivocal success, with startling first transmission viewing figures (even for those episodes unaffected by the ITV strike), it is fascinating to discover just how much of that which made it on screen had been shaped by circumstance rather than as a result of Glaister and Brason's original plans, and how their crucial decisions, some of which were made very late in the day, ensured that it would be a series that would come to be regarded as one of the best BBC dramas of all time.

I am spoiled by the vast amount of Doctor Who analysis out there, but it's still gratifying to see good television subjected to good criticism. It's a book that is definitely a labour of love, but a love that is not blind and doesn't flinch from pointing out the show's occasional weaknesses.

Priestner takes us through the creation process, including the nuts and bolts of filming (though I wish he'd been a bit more specific about the Brussels locations) but also the backgrounds of actors, writers and directors, and an examination of influences on the show, and also its shadow cast into the future (including a despairing section on Allo! Allo!). There's a heart-breaking account where he gets the cast together years later to reminisce about their days on the show, and then discovers that the precious video he made of their conversation was taped over to record a family barbecue. (We've just been going through the video tapes in the attic ourselves, which tugs at the heartstrings a bit.) If you're thinking of revisiting Secret Army, now that it's easier to do so than ever, I recommend that you have Andy Priestner by your side.

I'll do one more post in this sequence, covering the Episode That Was Never Shown, and the series and book of Kessler.

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Whoniversaries 25 November

i) births and deaths

25 November 1990: birth of Sophie Hopkins, who played April MacLean in Class (2016).

ii) broadcast and webcast anniversaries

25 November 1967: broadcast of third episode of The Ice Warriors. The Ice Warriors injure Jamie and capture Victoria.

25 November 1978: broadcast of first episode of The Androids of Tara. Romana finds the fourth segment of the Key to Time, but she and the Doctor get enmeshed in the local dynastic struggle.

25 November 1983: UK first broadcast of The Five Doctors.

25 November 2009: webcast of fifth episode of Dreamland. Deep beneath the Dreamland base, the Doctor faces the malevolent Skorpius Flies, whilst Jimmy and Cassie get caught up in the Viperox attack on Dry Springs, while trying to protect the TARDIS…

25 November 2018: broadcast of The Witchfinders. Team TARDIS lands in early 17th century England in the midst of a witch trial, and King James becomes suspicious of the Doctor.

iii) dates specified in-universe

25 November 1974: setting of Hide (Eleventh Doctor, 2013).

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Neil Dreams / An Honest Answer, by Neil Gaiman

Two more short comics from the Neil Gaiman Humble Bundle that I invested in some years back.

Neil Dreams is in fact a compilation of two issues of Rick Veitch's series Rare Bit Fiends, in which he asked well known comics creators to retell their dreams. Both are pretty brief. The second frames of the third pages of each are as follows:

It's as interesting as most cases of people telling you about their dreams, which is to say, not very.

The other short, An Honest Answer and Other Stories, brings together three very brief meditations on the creative process, the first two ("An Honest Answer" and "From Homogenour to Honey") illustrated by Bryan Talbot and the third ("Villanelle") by Dave McKean; this is the second frame of the third.

Brief work which doesn't require much analysis. I normally link to places you can buy these books, but they are not available anywhere.


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Whoniversaries 24 November

i) births and deaths:

24 November 1999: death of Hilary Minster, who had two rather minor roles as Thals – Marat in Planet of the Daleks (Third Doctor, 1973) and an unnamed soldier in Genesis of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1975), but is of interest to me as the only person to have been semi-regular character in both Secret Army, where he played Hauptmann Muller, and Allo! Allo!, where he played General von Klinkerhoffen – a high ranking Wehrmacht officer in both cases.


ii) broadcast and webcast anniversaries

24 November 1979: broadcast of first episode of Nightmare of Eden. Two spaceships collide coming out of hyperspace; the Doctor, Romana and K9 start to uncover murky doings with the addictive drug vraxoin.

24 November 2008: broadcast of second episode of The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah's parents sacrifice themselves to prevent the Graske's plan.

24 November 2009: release of fourth episode of Dreamland.

iii) date specified in-universe

24 November 2119: setting of most of Under the Lake / Before the Flood (Twelfth Doctor, 2015) – we are told that the very first section is on 21 November 2119 and then the TARDIS arrives three days later.

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January 2009 books

We saw in the New Year with Anne's brother and his wife, and a big chunk of slow-cooked venison; and then immediately zoomed off to Birmingham to watch John Barrowman in pantomime. While we were in the theatre, it was announced that Matt Smith would be David Tennant's successor on Doctor Who. Otherwise I didn't travel and it was cold.

This was also the month that I set up reading lists using LibraryThing.

Non-fiction 4
The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, by Des Ekin
Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer
How To Read Shakespeare, by Nicholas Royle
Geschiedenis van Cyprus, by Alain Blondy

Non-genre 4
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
Fortunata and Jacinta, by Benito Pérez Galdós
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, by Samuel Johnson
The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley

Scripts 4
The Merry Wives of Windsor, by William Shakespeare
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare
Troilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare

SF 6
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling
A Case of Conscience, by James Blish
Most Ancient Song, by Casey Flynn
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Stainless Steel Rat Omnibus, by Harry Harrison
Farmer in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein

Doctor Who 1
Twilight of the Gods, by Christopher Bulis

Comics 1
32 Stories, by Adrian Tomine

5700 pages
3/20 by women
1/20 by PoC

Totally delighted with Hamlet, which you can get here, and Twelfth Night, which you can get here. Utterly repelled by The Fountainhead, which you can get here.


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Whoniversaries 23 November

Nothing very significant today, is there?

Oh, hang on…

i) broadcast and production anniversaries

23 November 1963: broadcast of "An Unearthly Child", first episode of the story we now cal An Unearthly Child, and the first ever episode of Doctor Who. Teachers Ian and Barbara follow their mysterious pupil home to a police box, which contains the time and space ship – the TARDIS – of the enigmatic Doctor. It transports them – but to where?

23 November 1968: broadcast of fourth episode of The Invasion. The Doctor and UNIT rescue Isobel and Zoe; and Jamie and the Dioctor witness a Cyberman emerging from its cocoon.

23 November 1983: first broadcast of The Five Doctors, in the USA. (British audiences see it two days later.) The First, Second, Third and Fifth Doctors are united on Gallifrey to play the Game of Rassilon.

23 November 1987: broadcast of first episode of Dragonfire, introducing Ace. The Doctor and Mel land on Iceworld where they encounter their old friend Sabalon Glitz, and a stroppy waitress.

23 November 1988: broadcast of first episode of Silver Nemesis. The Doctor and Ace go back and forth between Windsor Castle in 1988 and 1638, dealing with the Nemesis meteor and Lady Peinforte's status; then the Cybermen arrive.

23 November 1989: Silvester McCoy records the voiceover at the end of episode three of Survival, the very last words of Old Who.

23 November 2009: release of third episode of Dreamland.

23 November 2013: broadcast of The Day of the Doctor. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors get together with the War Doctor to deal with the Zygons, Gallifrey is saved, and who's that at the end?

also 23 November 2013: release of The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, which I would have loved to bits anyway, even without the crucially important fact that I myself am briefly visible in it about 8 minutes in.

ii) births and deaths

23 November 1914: birth of Roger Avon, who played Saphadin in The Crusade (First Doctor, 1965), Daxtar in The Daleks' Master Plan (First Doctor, 1965) and Wells in Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD (Cushing movie, 1966)

23 November 1916: birth of Michael Gough, who played the Toymaker in The Celestial Toymaker (First Doctor, 1966) and Hedin in Arc of Infinity (Fifth Doctor, 1983). He was also married to actress Anneke Wills.

23 November 1963: birth of Joe Ahearne, who directed Dalek, Father's Day, Boom Town and Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways (all 2005).

23 November 1966: birth of Michelle Gomez, who played Missy in 2014-17 vs the Twelfth Doctor.

23 November 1990: death of Mostyn Evans, who played Dai Evans in The Green Death (1973) and the masked High Priest in Death to the Daleks (1974).

23 November 2003: death of Bill Strutton, writer of The Web Planet (1965) and the novelisation Doctor Who and the Zarbi.

23 November 2010: death, two days after her 73rd birthday, of Ingrid Pitt, who played Galleia in The Time Monster (Third Doctor, 1972) and Solow in Warriors of the Deep (Fifth Doctor, 1984) and co-wrote The Macros (originally submitted in the mid-80s, made by Big Finish as a Sixth Doctor story in 2010).

iii) dates specified in canon

23 November 1638: The Doctor launches the Nemesis statue into space. (Silver Nemesis, 1988)

23 November 1863: death of Victoria Waterfield's mother (according to Marc Platt's 1996 novel Downtime).

23 November 1963: setting of the K9 story The Cambridge Spy. (For my money, the worst episode of the entire show.)

23 November 1997: Re-coronation of Elizabeth II, attended by the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9 in Lance Parkin's 1997 novel The Dying Days.

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Doctor Who and Belgium: the complete(ish) list

Tomorrow is the 57th anniversary of the first Doctor Who episode. To commemorate the occasion, I've updated my list of all the times Belgium is mentioned on Doctor Who on TV (plus the Sarah Jane Adventures) and compiled them for you, in historical order.

I've also made an even fuller list of all of the references I felt worth including to Belgium in the Whoniverse as a whole. It's striking that the Doctor seems to have been at the famous battlefield football match during the Christmas Truce of 1914 several times over (though perhaps there was more than one football match). The First World War is a favoured topic for writers, so I've given those stories a tinted background. (NB however that the First World War scenes of The War Games are explicitly in France.)

I'm sure that there are some I have missed; do let me know.

Story: The Unicorn and the Wasp
Year of setting: 800 AD (flashback from 1926)
Year of broadcast: 2008
Doctor: Tenth
Medium: TV
Writer: Gareth Roberts
Director: Graeme Harper

DOCTOR: You know, I've been to Belgium. Yeah. I remember I was deep in the Ardennes, trying to find Charlemagne. He'd been kidnapped by an insane computer.

Story: The Lonely Computer
Year of setting: 800 AD
Year of publication: 2008
Doctor: Ten, with Donna
Medium: Short story, on BBC website
Writer: Rupert Laight

'We're heading for Belgium, actually,' said the Doctor, without looking up.
The TARDIS suddenly jolted to a stop.
'Belgium?!' yelled Donna. 'I don't think so!'
But the Doctor had already sprinted over to the main doors and yanked them open. Donna trotted down the ramp to join him.
'I ask you,' she said, 'what's the point in Belgium?'
'They do fantastic lace,' offered the Doctor.

Year of setting: 1538 (in part)
Year of release: 2016
Doctor: Eighth, with Liv Chenka, Helen Sinclair and River Song
Medium: Big Finish audio play
Writer: Matt Fitton
Director: Ken Bentley

Thomas Cromwell decides to leave for Flanders to find a bride for Henry VIII (a bad move, as it turned out) and puts aside thoughts of the supernatural.
Story: The Astrea Conspiracy
Year of setting: 1666
Year of release: 2019
Doctor: Twelfth
Medium: Big Finish audiobook, read by Neve McIntosh

Writer: Lizbeth Myles
Director: Nicholas Briggs

Aphra Behn is in Antwerp, preventing a plot to assassinate Charles II, and a strange Scottish man turns up trying to restore the timeline.

Story: World Game
Year of setting: 1815 (the Belgian bits anyway)
Year of publication: 2005
Doctor: Second, with Lady Serenadellatrovella (Serena for short)
Medium: Novel
Writer: Terrance Dicks

Someone is trying to alter the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, and the Doctor is sent by the Time Lords to set things right. (A Season 6B story.)

The Doctor and Serena sat at a pavement café table in the Grande Place in Brussels and watched the world go by. It was a pleasant sunny morning in June 1815 on the eve of Waterloo. The battle was still unfought, history still unchanged.

‘This mission seems to involve a great deal of sitting in cafés,’ said Serena.

‘It’s the Continental lifestyle,’ said the Doctor.

Year of setting: 1815
Year of release: 2012
Doctor: Sixth, with Flip and Davros
Medium: Big Finish audio play
Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Nicholas Briggs

The Daleks are in 21st century London, but in fact Davros is also trying to alter the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo.

(Several scenes are set in Wavre, the rather nondescript provincial capital of Brabant-Wallon, which I pass through most mornings when I get the train to work. I've never seen any Daleks there myself.)

Story: Year of the Pig
Year of setting: 1913
Year of release: 2006
Doctor: Sixth, with Peri
Medium: Big Finish audio play

Writer: Matthew Sweet
Director: Gary Russell

Toby the sapient pig is in hiding in Ostend.

(Also fearures Adjoa Andoh, who played Martha's mother  in New Who, Maureen O'Brien, who played Vicki in Old Who, and Michael Keating, who played Vila in Blake's 7.)

Year of setting: 1914
Year of publication: 2014-15
Doctor: Tenth Doctor, with Gabby
Medium: Comics (Titan)
Writer: Robbie Morrison
Artist: Daniel Indro
Colourist: Slamet Mujiono
Letterers: Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt

When Gabby and the Doctor arrive by accident in No Man's Land in July, 1916, they're met by Corporal Jamie Colqhoun — a soldier who knows from bitter experience that there are worse things than the Jerries out in the rat-strewn trenches. Things that drift through the smoke of a thousand cannon shells, and move only when you look away. Shadows that flit over artillery-blasted field hospitals and throw their terrifying wings over the living. Statues that steal your life in an instant. The Weeping Angels. But in a conflict where the life of young men is cheap, and thousands die every day — are the Angels actually offering salvation?
Story: Warfreekz
Year of setting: 1914
Year of publication: 2006
Doctor: Tenth, with Rose
Medium: Comic, in: Doctor Who Adventures issue 5
Writer: Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross
Colourist: Adrian Salmon

The alien Warfreekz are enjoying the slaughter in the Forest of Mormal; the Doctor and Rose stop them.

(Incidentally the Forest of Mormal is just over the French border, so this may not actually be set in Belgium at all, but of course in the fog of war nobody can be quite sure where they are.)

(Apparently an earlier story in the same magazine but the same authors has the Doctor finding a "Belgian phrasebook" in his pockets. Hmmph.)

Story: Brotherhood of the Daleks
Year of setting: reference to October 1914
Year of release: 2008
Doctor: Sixth, with Charlie Pollard
Medium: Big Finish audio play

Writer: Alan Barnes
Director: Nicholas Briggs

The Doctor recalls his visit to Folkestone where he met Jessica Borthwick in October 1914 when she was taking Belgian refugees across the Channel in her yacht while under fire from the Germans.

Year of setting: 1987 with reference to Belgium in 1914
Year of release: 2013
Doctor: Sixth (twice), with Mel
Medium: Big Finish audio play
Writer: Matt Fitton
Director: Nicholas Briggs

Most of the play is a complicated origin story for Mel, but there's a reference to one character losing her husband in Belgium in 1914.

Story: Twice Upon A Time
Year of setting: Christmas 1914
Year of broadcast: 2017
Doctors: Twelfth and Firist
Medium: TV

Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Also 2018 novelisation by Paul Cornell

The First and Thirteenth Doctors, both on the verge of regeneration (or not, depending) get caught up in a final adventure for them both which starts on the battlefield and ends with the Christmas Truce. You've probably seen it.

Story: Deep and Dreamless Sleep
Year of setting: Christmas 1914
Year of publication: 2006
Doctor: Tenth
Medium: Short story, in The Sunday Times
Writer: Paul Cornell

Daniel Francis Thompson, aged four, and the Doctor also visit the battlefield to witness the Christmas Truce, where the Doctor referees the famous football match.

Story: The Little Drummer Boy
Year of setting: Christmas 1914
Year of publication: 2003
Doctor: First, with Steven and Sara
Medium: short story, in Short Trips: Companions edited by Jacqueline Rayner
Writer: Eddie Robson

The Doctor, Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom, having survived their adventure in Hollywood, find that the TARDIS is constrained to visiting various places at Christmas only, including the Christmas Truce, where Steven participates in the famous football match (maybe there was more than one of them).

The slaughter of the trenches of the First World War was an image that had easily resonated down the four centuries to Steven's time. He'd expected to see tentative men keeping their heads below the tops of the trencftes,a deadly impasse.He hadn't expected to see the opposing forces mingling in the middle of No Man's Land, talking as best they could in spite of the language barrier, and sharing cigarettes. A sizeable group, down in one of the dugouts, was the source of the singing that Steven had heard. There was even a game of football taking place between the enemy trenches.

This seems to be the earliest visit to Belgium in the Doctor's personal timeline.

Story: Never Seen Cairo
Year of setting: Christmas 1914, and briefly a year later
Year of publication: 2004
Doctor: Fifth, with Peri; and briefly Seventh
Medium: short story, in Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, edited by Paul Cornell
Writer: Darren Sellars

The Fifth Doctor and Peri encounter Edward Woodbourne in the trenches (and the football match, again). A year later, the Seventh Doctor delivers a letter from Edward to his widow. (Not a spoiler, the story starts there.)

The Doctor was certainly an odd chap, much more friendly than any of the officers who'd visited the trenches.

Story: Horrors of War
Year of setting: 1914, just after the outbreak of war in Belgium.
Year of release: 2018
Doctor: Third, with Jo Grant
Medium: BBC audiobook, read by Katy Manning
Writer: Justin Richards

The year is 1914, and the Great War is just getting started. In a field hospital in Ypres, Belgium, Nurse Annie Grantham receives two visitors: a distinguished doctor and his administrative assistant, Miss Grant. They have many questions to ask of Annie, and of her distressed and wounded charges.

The Doctor is returning to a scenario he encountered long ago: a version of the First World War where the Archduke Ferdinand wasn’t murdered, leading to changes all along the subsequent timeline. He now suspects that someone is at large in 1914, intervening in events with some unknown purpose.

Story: The Haunting of Malkin Place
Year of setting: Flashbacks to 1917
Year of release: 2017
Doctor: Fourth, with Romana II
Medium: Big Finish audio play

Writer: Phil Mulryne
Director: Nicholas Briggs

It's 1922, and the Doctor and Romana get mixed up with a dubious spiritualist (played by Simon "Arthur Dent" Jones). Young Maurice does not seem to have fully escaped the Third Battle of Ypres.

Story: Timechase
Year of setting: unspecified First World War
Year of publication: 1975
Doctor: none, just Daleks
Medium: short story, in the 1976 Terry Nation's Dalek Annual
Writer: Terry Nation (presumably)
Also 2018 audiobook version read by Matthew Waterhouse
A story that is not very subtly based on the 1965 TV story The Chase. The Daleks pursue our protagonists to various places, including the trenches, where they unintentionally blunt a German advance.

(NB the earliest published reference to Belgium in spinoff fiction, as opposed to TV Who.)

Year of setting: 1944
Year of publication: 1999
Doctor: Eighth, with Sam Jones and Fitz Kreiner
Medium: Novel
Writer: David A. McIntee

The Ardennes, December 1944: the Nazi forces are making their last offensive in Europe — a campaign which will come to be called the Battle of the Bulge. But there is a third side to this battle: an unknown and ancient force which seems to pay little heed to the laws of nature.
Where do the bodies of the dead disappear to? What is the true nature of the military experiments conducted by both sides?
The Doctor, Sam and Fitz must seek out the truth in a battlefield where no one and nothing is quite what it seems…
Year of setting: 1949, flashbacks to Belgium 1944
Year of publication: 2003
Doctor: Unknown (possibly Shalka Doctor?)
Medium: Novella
Writer: Daniel O'Mahoney
Also audio read by Terry Molloy

Protagonist Honoré Lechasseur was wounded fighting in Belgium in 1944.

Story: Good Night
Year of setting: 1952 (probably)
Year of release: 2011
Doctor: Eleventh
Medium: DVD extra
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Richard Senior

Doctor: River! I'll see you in Antwerp! Tell Marilyn she's too late, she'll have to use the biplane. Take care!

Reference presumably to Marilyn Monroe who the Eleventh Doctor met (and possibly married) in 1952.

Story: The Idiot's Lantern
Year of setting: 1953
Year of broadcast: 2006
Doctor: Tenth, with Rose
Medium: TV story
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Euros Lyn

Guard: Wait, wait, wait! Where do you think…
(The Doctor shows him the psychic paper.)
Guard: Oh! I’m very sorry, sir. Shouldn’t you be at the Coronation?
Doctor: They’re saving me a seat.
Tommy: Who did he think you were?
Doctor: King of Belgium, apparently.

(Of course there is no such person as the King of Belgium. Our head of state is the King of the Belgians.)

Story: The Faceless Ones
Year of setting: 1966
Year of broadcast: 1967
Doctor: Second, with Ben, Polly and Jamie
Medium: TV story
Writers: David Ellis & Malcolm Hulke
Director: Gerry Mill
Also novelisation by Terrance Dicks

Commandant: Splendid, Splendid. I'll take that Brussels call now.

Doctor: There's just one thing, Commandant.
Commandant: Yes, yes, right.
Doctor: Our Tardis. Our police box.
Commandant: Ah Bruxelles. Oui, j'écoute. [Excruciating accent]
Doctor: The police box on the runway.
Commandant: Oh, yes, of course. Jean, see that the Doctor gets his property back, will you? Goodbye, Doctor, and thank you so much.

(The first time any part of Belgium was mentioned in the show. Lost from the archives, sadly.)

Story: The Time Monster
Year of setting: UNIT era
Year of broadcast: 1972
Doctor: Third, with Jo, Brigadier, Benton, Yates and the Master
Medium: TV story
Writer: Robert Sloman,

Director: Paul Bernard
Also novelisation by Terrance Dicks

Percival: But I'd stake my reputation on the professor's integrity.
Cook: You already have, Charles. You already have. A foolish gamble gone wrong. Now, it's not surprising that you lost.
Percival: Please, Humphrey!
Cook: I can see no alternative to a full Whitehall inquiry. I can only hope that we don't have to parade our dirty linen at Westminster, not to mention Brussels.

Story: The Man from DOCTO(R)
Year of setting: post-UNIT era
Year of publication: 2003
Doctor: none, just Harry Sullivan
Medium: short story, in Short Trips: Companions edited by Jacqueline Rayner
Writer: Andrew Collins

‘And so the girl gets on this blooming great spaceship with the seeding device to save an entire alien civilisation,and promptly leaves the planet. Leaving me to get back from the Belgian Alps without my passport’ Harry sat back and swirled his brandy. ‘Fortunately, I know a chap at the Embassy…’

Downing their pints, Chumpy Withers and Buffy Worthington were chortling in gleeful disbelief. Buffy gave him a shrewd look. ‘Does Belgium actually have Alps,old man?’ he asked.

Harry looked up sharply, then cleared his throat, ‘My round, I think,’ he said,and headed for the bar.

Story: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith
Year of setting: 2009, Brussels visit implied in early 1990s
Year of broadcast: 2009
Doctor: Tenth, but it's Sarah's show
Medium: TV – Sarah Jane Adventures
Writer: Gareth Roberts
Director: Joss Agnew
Also novelisation by Gareth Roberts

Gita: So, Peter, where are you heading after the reception? Somewhere exotic?
Peter: Afterwards is a surprise.
Gita: It can't be any worse than our honeymoon. Total disaster.
Haresh: I enjoyed it.
Gita: Brussels. There's nothing there!

Story: Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman
Year of setting: 1994
Year of broadcast: 1994
Doctor: no Doctor, just Susan, Ian and Barbara
Medium: BBC audio play
Writer: Adrian Mourby

Jane Asher plays Susan, James Grout is Ian Chesterton, Andrew Sachs is Temmosus, Peter Woodthorpe is the researcher, finding out what exactly happened to her. It turns out that in 1994 she is working in Brussels (in a job that in our time stream was not actually invented until 1999). See the video (well, pic with soundtrack) for the full story.

Story: Escape Velocity
Year of setting: 2001
Year of publication: 2001
Doctor: Seventh, with Fitz Kreiner and introducing Anji Kapoor
Medium: Novel
Writer: Colin Brake

After five years as an item, three living together, Dave and Anji had come to the conclusion that they were meta-morphosing into some kind of off-the-shelf parody of a married couple long before their time. This year they had decided to do something about it, and their joint New Year’s resolution had been to do Wild and Spontaneous Things.

‘I’m really not sure Brussels was quite the right choice to be a Wild and Spontaneous Thing,’ moaned Anji, hugging her elegantly-cut designer coat tighter against the cold, drizzly wind. She started walking again, quick but small steps taking her back towards the centre of the city. Dave hurried after her, speculating – not for the first time – as to whether his long-time girlfriend had hidden powers of telepathy.

Story: Death in Heaven
Year of setting: Unspecified, probably 2014
Year of broadcast: 2014
Doctor: Twelfth, with Missy
Medium: TV
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay

Missy: In fact, you know what? Just for that, I'm leaving. Boys, blow up this plane and, I don't know, Belgium, yeah? Kill some Belgians. Might as well. They're not even French. Byeeee!

Story: An Extraterrestrial Werewolf in Belgium
Year of setting: Unspecified, probably 2015
Year of broadcast: 2015
Doctor: no Doctor, but Iris Wildthyme
Medium: Big Finish audio play, in the Wildthyme Reloaded collection.
Writer: Scott Handcock

Director: Scott Handcock

Iris Wildthyme and her friend Edwin Turner visit Mechelen, between Brussels and Antwerp, and have a typically eccentric adventure with a Flemish werewolf.

Story: Time Crash
Year of setting: beyond time and space
Year of broadcast: 2006
Doctors: Fifth and Tenth
Medium: TV
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Graeme Harper

The Fifth Doctor: That's an alert, level five, indicating a temporal collision. It like two Tardises have merged, but there's definitely only one Tardis present. It's like two time zones or more at the heart of the Tardis. That's a paradox that could blow a hole in the space time continuum the size of….

Well, actually, the exact size of Belgium.

That's a bit undramatic, isn't it? Belgium?

Undramatic, eh? I guess I'll take what I can get.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that!

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250 days of plague: not much to say

I've committed myself to doing updates every ten days on the general situation; there is not much to report from real life since last time, though I was very unreasonably excited about having an actual in-person work meeting last Tuesday. (With an ambassador, who is of course not subject to Belgian rules, though we naturally observed correct hygiene protocols.)

We’re also under stronger restrictions about visiting B, so in retrospect I’m very glad I took her to Hélécine three weeks ago. She’s allowed one regular contact (Anne) and once occasional contact (me), but I can’t see her on my own and can’t touch her (not that she is very touchy-feely anyway). This is annoying, but it’s understandable and it’s nothing like as bad as the spring when we could not see either of the girls for three months. U has continued to go back and forth between us and the residential centre. Her school has closed, of course.

The big story for me is that the numbers are now definitely going in the right direction. Hospital numbers peaked at 7485 on 4 November and are now 5017, almost a third lower. The ICU peak was more recent, on 10 November, at 1474, now 1201, down by 20%. Deaths seem to have peaked at 214 on 6 November, and are at 150-ish for the most recent complete days. Looking back to May, when the restrictions were eased enough for some office work to resume, hospitalisation numbers were then 3,000, ICU numbers 600, and deaths 80-ish, so I think we have some wasy to go still.

It felt like this second wave took longer to peak than the first, but in fact that’s not true. As I said in a previous post, in the spring, the lockdown hit on 17 March, and the peak of hospitalisation was reached on 6 April, 20 days later; the peak in intensive care on 8 April, 22 days later; and the peak of fatalities on 12 April, 26 days later. This time around the lockdown was announced on 16 October but went into effect on 19 October. The peak in hospitalisations was only 15 days later, the peak in deaths 17 days later and the peak in ICU 22 days later. However the peaks were higher in two out of three cases – the exception is deaths, which have been fewer than in the spring, presumably in part because they are now taking better precautions in care homes and in part because the most vulnerable are already dead.

The really encouraging number is the fall in the number of detected infections, a leading indicator (which however is reported late), where the peak weekly average (for 22-28 October) was 16,142 and the most recent number (for 12-18 November) is 4,166, a drop of 74%. The methodology of testing was changed in October but I think before that peak occurred. (They are changing back again tomorrow, to testing anyone who wants to be tested, so that will cause a bump in the figures.) The government’s adviser Steven Van Gucht said a couple of weeks ago that he reckoned the peak had been around 29 October, and he seems to have been about right.

One local point of interest is that our own municipality currently has the fourth lowest infection rate of anywhere in Belgium, and of the big cities Leuven is doing the best by far. We take our crumbs of comfort where we can get them.

And I have had a tweet that went viral.

Our new prime minister got some headlines by saying that Christmas should not be a time for parties. In the spring it was about eight weeks before we had a partial return to the office. I think it’s likely to be longer this time round.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 22 November

i) births and deaths

22 November 1920: birth of Paul Erickson, author of The Ark (First Doctor, 1966).

22 November 2007: death of Verity Lambert, the very first producer of Doctor Who (1963-65).

ii) broadcast and webcast anniversaries

22 November 1975: broadcast of first episode of The Android Invasion. The Doctor and Sarah arrive at the village of Devesham, to find peculiar behaviour from the villagers, a lost astronaut and sinister guards in white suits.

22 November 1980: broadcast of first episode of State of Decay. The Doctor and Romana explore a very low-tech village, and are attacked by bats.

22 November 1985: Children in Need features four Doctors and fifteen companions.

22 November 1986: broadcast of fourth episode of Terror of the Vervoids (ToaTL #12). The Doctor kills off the Vervoids and is accused of genocide.

22 November 1989: broadcast of first episode of Survival. The Doctor brings Ace back to Perivale, where a black cat is transporting people to another world, where the Doctor meets the Master.

22 November 2009: release of second episode of Dreamland.

iii) date specified in canon

22 November 1963: assassination of John F. Kennedy, as described in Who Killed Kennedy? by David Bishop, and apparently witnessed by the Ninth Doctor according to Clive's research in Rose (2005).

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The Daleks’ Master Plan

Let me tell you about the glorious and lost Doctor Who story, The Daleks' Master Plan. Broadcast in 12 weekly episodes in the winter of 1965-66, with a prequel episode five weeks earlier, it was a peak of ambition for the black and white era of the programme. Due to the BBC's failure to realise that its own product was of future value, it was one of the first stories to be purged from the archives, as early as 1967-9. Two episodes were retrieved from a Mormon temple in London in 1983, in circumstances that remain unclear. A third turned up in the possession of a former BBC engineer in 2004. The other nine (or ten, counting the prequel) are presumed gone for ever. So when we experience The Daleks' Master Plan today, through whatever medium, we can never experience it as its original viewers would have; but we can approach it through reconstructions, through audio narration by Peter Purves, through John Peel's novelisation, and also through a recent comics adaptation by Rick Lundeen. I have previously written about it and its various iterations here, here, here, here and here

The story is set in the year 4000, and concerns the discovery by the Doctor and his friends of a conspiracy between the Daleks and the Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen, who we take to be a benevolent dictator-type figure with a cult of personality, ruling a thriving economy with colonial ambitions, mineral exploitation and a sinister security service – inspired no doubt by Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portuigal, both of whom had been in power for three decades when the story was made. Mavic Chen is one of the great Doctor Who villains, believing that he can use the Daleks for even greater power than he currently holds, via the feared Time Destructor. But the Doctor steals the core of the Time Destructor, and is pursued through time and space by the Daleks.

It's a story that marks an interesting shift in the core narrative of the show, coinciding with the departure of the original producer Verity Newman and her replacement by John Wiles. The Doctor was originally a mysterious and cantankerous eccentric from another time and place; now he becomes a somewhat superhuman hero from a far future society, a vision that has stayed with us ever since. The Doctor spontaneously decides to infiltrate the Daleks' summit meeting himself and steal the tarranuim core; he is insufferably snobbish about the quaint technology of the year 4000; his non-human physiology survives the Time Destructor. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we only really see this under the new management of Season 3.

The surrounding cast are interesting as well. We start the story proper with the Doctor accompanied by Steven Taylor, a future rocket pilot, and Katarina, a handmaiden to the priestess Cassandra who they have just recued from the fall of Troy. Katarina, the shortest-lived companion of Old Who, is written out in episode four; so is Bret Vyon, a security agent played by Nicholas Courtney, later of course to become the Brigadier, who we meet in the first episode and also looks likely to become a companion (but unlike Katarina, was never billed as such). In the first four episodes, in fact, we have the Doctor with effectively two male companions and one female – a pattern that was not repeated until the arrival of the Thirteenth Doctor in 2018.

Episode four also sees the introduction of Sara Kingdom, another security agent, played by Jean Marsh. She must have been the highest profile actor to appear as a companion so far, other than perhaps William Russell, and after her probably only Bonnie Langford in Old Who (and Billie Piper, Catherine Tate, Matt Lucas and Bradley Walsh in New Who) exceeded her level of celebrity at the point they came on board the Tardis. She

As well as the Daleks, we also encounter a time-travelling Monk, who had previously appeared in an earlier 1965 story in which he attempted to change the outcome of English history in 1066 but was outwitted by the Doctor. Until the end of the Patrick Troughton era, the Monk was the only other member of the Doctor's own people who we met (except, presumably, his granddaughter Susan). He pops up in two episodes towards the end.

The story is a bleak one. Sorry for the spoiler, but Katarina is killed by launching herself into space with a deranged criminal to save the others; Bret Vyon is killed in error by Sara Kingdom, who turns out to be is own sister; the Monk ends up marooned on an ice planet by the Doctor; and when the Time Destructor is finally activated, Sara Kingdom suffers the same fate as the Daleks and is aged to death (the Doctor being less badly affected). The two credited authors, Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner, both made most of their career in comedy, so it's impressive that they pull off the tension.

Up to a point. There is a straight comedy episode in the middle of the story, broadcast on Christmas Day 1965; the TARDIS lands at a police station in England and is mistaken for a real police box, and then visits a 1930s film studio in Hollywood for merry chaos. At the end, the Doctor pours champagne for Steven and Sara, and then breaks the fourth wall, wishing "a Merry Christmas to all of you at home". The next episode has a couple of funny moments at a cricket match and Trafalgar Square, but mostly gets back to the serious business of fighting Daleks. It jars modern sensibilities, but in context I think it works – the previous five episodes of the story (and the last of the previous one) have been unremittingly grim, and there's more of that to come, so it's nice to have a change of tone.

I also should mention the single-episode prequel, Mission to the Unknown, the only Doctor Who story in which the Doctor himself does not actually appear. It features special agent Marc Cory on the planet Kembel, uncovering the Daleks' sinister intentions but losing his life to the sinister pepperpots. The episode is lost, but it was daringly recreated by the drama department of the University of Central Lancashire a couple of years ago, doing their best to be true to the original production values (and coming close to succeeding).

Going back to the original version: there is so much to like about it. It all looks good. Unlike in some later years, the constraints are not so much the production values as the technical limitations – if you know what you are looking for, you can see the actors huddle in the restricted angle of view of the cameras, and the careful choreaography of the Daleks so that they look menacing rather than fragile. The sets are economical but generally impressive as well, as far as we can see through photographs and the surviving episodes. The music is just superb. There's a compilation on Youtube here:

I first encountered it through the audio narration by Peter Purves, releasaed by the BBC in 2001 and still available at a price. Purves had a deep affection for Hartnell and for this story, and provides the narration of what we would have seen on screen pretty intensely and convincingly. This the first Doctor Who story that I got to know entirely through audio when I was first discovering the black and white era, and I listened to it again the other week; the magic is still there. Also available on Audible since that's how things go these days. Perfect for a long car journey (and I do mean a long one – it's a good six hours in total).

The reconstructions of the missing episodes by Loose Cannon are available on Dailymotion as of this writing, and can probably also be obtained by the usual methods. If you're in a TV watching mood, they are as close to the original experience as you can get, but the three surviving epsiodes really bring home to you what has been lost.

John Peel was given the job of turning the story into a Target novelisation, and was given two books totalling 331 pages to do it – a bit more generous in terms of pages per episode than some of the medium length Old Who stories got. It's one of the better novelisations, with some of the trickier plot points retconned and a lot of establishing background given for the setting. Chen's plan turns out to involve eliminating most of humanity, which is more extreme than we are given to understand in the TV version. There's an odd plot alteration at the end of the second last episode/beginning of the last, where the Doctor is captured along with Steven and Sara rather than evading the Daleks as on TV; perhaps it is a bit more logical. Anyway, there are plenty of copies floating around on the second-hand market; you can get the first volume, Mission to the Unknown, here and the second volume, The Mutation of Time, here.

Also floating around the darker corners of the internet you can find a PDF of a twelve volume comics adaptation of the story by Rick Lundeen. He skips the comedy Christmas episode, but otherwise remains pretty faithful to the script, adapting the visuals for the comics genre. Unconstrained by the technical limitations of the camera, he is able to give the story a lot more colour and movement; well worth trracking down (also, in these hurried times, a quicker read than the novelisations). And he gives Sara Kingdom a very sexy figure.

Here are three different takes on the same scene from the second episode so that you can appreciate the different approaches of each creator in each medium. The Doctor has disguised himself as an alien delegate to infiltrate the meeting (that's William Hartnell in the hood and cloak). Here is the original TV version.

Here's John Peel's adaptation from the first book, Mission to the Unknown:

‘Search for him!’

Watching the Dalek glide away on its task, Mavic Chen felt a deep satisfaction. Capital! The more trouble he could stir up between the Daleks and these ridiculous allies of theirs, the better. When everything was finished, there would be that much more left for him to grasp…

The Doctor watched his three young companions scurry towards the large starship on the launch pad, and nodded with satisfaction. Now it was time for him to make his move. He had managed to conceal his own unease about his foolish plan from the others, but he was not at all sure he was being very wise. Still, they had to know what the Daleks were planning, and this was their best chance.

Pushing his fears down, the Doctor pulled the hood over his head, and started walking towards the doorway to the building.

The door hissed open, and a Dalek glided out. The eye-stick spun to examine him. The Doctor swallowed instinctively, and hoped that his disguise was as effective as he had believed. If the Dalek suspected his identity for a second, his life would be forfeit.

‘Delegate of Zephon,’ the Dalek grated, ‘the meeting is about to begin.’ The Doctor waved his hand, and the Dalek spun about and led the way into the city. As he entered, the Doctor seized his chance to look around. The walls and floors were all constructed of metal, since the Daleks found this easiest to travel over. It also served to carry auxiliary power for their units, in that strange form of static electricity they had mastered centuries before on their home world of Skaro. These Daleks could move freely about without needing metal below them, thanks to solar panels about their mid-sections, but they still constructed their buildings of pure metal.

One large window faced out at the space-port, but there was no one in the room now who might see Bret, Steven and Katarina as they crossed the open space to the Spar.

The Dalek led the Doctor into a short corridor, and from there into a large, dimly lit room. Some twenty feet away, a meeting table was illuminated. About one side was the Black Dalek and several of its minions.

The Black Dalek! This had to be important, then, for the Black Dalek was second in the Dalek hierarchy, and rarely left the planet Skaro. Now, more than ever, the Doctor knew he had to discover what was happening here.

‘You seem lost, representative Zephon,’ said Mavic Chen.

The Doctor recalled seeing him land in the Spar, and there was no doubt now of his identity. ‘Here is your place, next to me.’

The Doctor didn’t dare risk speaking, so he grunted in reply, and moved to the lectern that the traitor had pointed to. Glancing around, the Doctor recognized no more than two of the other species present. These were beings from the outer galactic groups indeed!

The Black Dalek had had enough of delays.

‘Representatives,’ it stated, ‘I have important news. The manufacture of the Time Destructor has now been completed.’

By the sighs and excited looks on the face of the other delegates, the Doctor realized he was the only one who had no idea what a Time Destructor was. Still, it sounded ominous enough, and given the Dalek capacity for inventiveness when it came to mass destruction and murder, it was certainly a weapon to be reckoned with.

Clearly, the Dalek was pleased with the effect its words had had. ‘It lacks only its Taranium core to activate it. Mavic Chen will speak.’

A born politician, Chen could never resist the chance for a speech.

And here is Rick Lundgreen's economic graphic adaptation:

Anyway, if you are not all that familiar with Old Who, particularly the partially lost episodes, and want to improve your knowledge, I think The Daleks' Master Plan (and the prequel Mission to the Unknown) will well reward the time investment needed to experience them. Rather a delight to return to it in days of not getting out all that much.

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