Whoniversaries 22 May

i) births and deaths

22 May 1944: birth of John Flanagan, co-writer of Meglos (Fourth Doctor, 1980)

22 May 2001: death Jack Watling, who played Professor Travers in The Abominable Snowmen (Second Doctor, 1967), The Web of Fear (Second Doctor, 1968) and Downtime (unofficial, 1995).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

22 May 1965: broadcast of "The Executioners", first episode of the story we now call The Chase. The Tardis crew play with the Time-Space Visualiser and land on the planet Aridius, where the Daleks have pursued them.

22 May 1971: broadcast of first episode of The Dæmons. As archæologists open the ancient tomb at Devil's End, strange and deadly events occur around the village.

22 May 2010: broadcast of The Hungry Earth. The Doctor, Amy and Rory discover that a near-future Welsh drilling project is finding more than it bargained for.

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430 days of plague: first dose

I’m cheating a bit by writing this on Saturday morning and backdating to the moment last night when I got my first dose of Pfizer.

My arm is a bit sore, thank you, and I am braced for further reactions today, but it’s a lot better than the alternative.

Apart from that, I went into Brussels again on Thursday and had my first outdoor coffee meeting with N, who worked in my then office exactly ten years ago (see current bookblog nostalgia posts) and has gone on to greater things.

The reasin for going in was another office leaving party, in the park (again note that we were largely maintaining social distance and sticking to smaller groups).

It was really nice to see restaurants opening up again – the first picture below is from Thursday, the second from March last year as the lockdown hit, from the same point on Place Lux.

And the Belgian numbers have continued to show drastic improvement. The death rate is already below where it was before the October lockdown, and the hospital numbers will reach that milestone today or tomorrow.

I have to correct one statement in my last entry: I forgot that I nipped across the border to France for a haircut in December, so it is only five months since I left the country; probably not a record for my lifetime, though I suspect the longest such period in thirty years.

Our current TV fixes are Stranger Things, Au Service de la France, Monty Python and Friends. Who needs new stuff??

I went to Mons on my day off for Ascension, and have another museum trip planned for Monday.

Stay well, all.

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Friday reading

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Last books finished
All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma
Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens: Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor, by Frank Collins
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Finna, by Nino Cipri

Next books
Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Vol. 2 by William Moulton Marston
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, ed. Alex Dally MacFarlane

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Whoniversaries 21 May

i) births and deaths

21 May 1953: birth of Trevor Cooper, who played security chief Takis in Revelation of the Daleks (Sixth Doctor, 1985) and Friar Tuck in Robot of Sherwood (Twelfth Doctor, 2014)

21 May 1985: birth of Calvin Dean, who played the Slitheen in the form of a boy called Chris in The Gift (Sarah Jane Adventures, 2009) and security guard Ha-Ha in Nightmare in Silver (Eleventh Doctor, 2013).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

21 May 1966: broadcast of “The O.K. Corral”, last episode of the story we now call The Gunfighters, and the last episode before 2005 to have an individual title. Doc Holliday and the Earps shoot it out with the Clantons, to the detriment of the latter. NB that Doc Holliday and Kate Horony are the last two historical characters to be depicted in TV Who until George Stephenson in Mark of the Rani (1985), 19 years later.

21 May 2005: broadcast of The Empty Child; first appearance of Captain Jack Harkness and first contribution to New Who by Steven Moffat. The Doctor and Rose find London in the Second World War infested by zombies with gas-masks.

21 May 2011: broadcast of The Rebel Flesh. The Doctor must mediate between the original workers at an acid-mining factory, and their rebellious artificial duplicates.

iii) date specified in-universe

21 May is a crucial date in the plot of The Ghosts of N-Space (Third Doctor audio, 1996).

In the Days of the Comet, by H. G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

So said one of the two men who got into the train and settled down.

The planet earth passes through the tail of a comet, and as the result of a massive collective shift of spiritual consciousness, human society is transformed into a polyamorous happy new state of affairs. It goes on for a bit longer than that, but that's the gist. Really rather earnest, even by Wells' standards. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by H.G. Wells. I am hoping for better with the next, Kipps.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 20 May

i) births and deaths

20 May 1926: birth of John Lucarotti, writer of the stories we now call Marco Polo (First Doctor, 1964), The Aztecs (First Doctor, 1964) and The Massacre (First Doctor, 1966)

20 May 1961: birth of Owen Teale, who played security guard Maldak in Vengeance on Varos (Sixth Doctor, 1985) and cannibal leader Evan Sherman in CountrycideTorchwood, 2006).

20 May 1966: death of Mervyn Pinfield, who was Associate Producer for Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child (First Doctor, 1963) to The Romans (First Doctor, 1965) and also directed The Sensorites (First Doctor, 1964), Planet of Giants (First Doctor, 1964) and The Space Museum (First Doctor, 1965).

20 May 1977: death of Lennie Mayne, who directed The Curse of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1972), The Three Doctors (Third Doctor and guests, 1972-73), The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974) and The Hand of Fear (Fourth Doctor, 1976)

20 May 1982: birth of Jessica Raine, who played Emma Grayling in Hide (Eleventh Doctor, 2013) and Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time (docudrama, 2013).

20 May 1993: death of William Emms, author of TV story Galaxy 4 (First Doctor, 1965) and the widely and justly forgotten Sixth Doctor game book, Mission to Venus (1986).

20 May 1996: death of Jon Pertwee, who played the Third Doctor from 1970 to 1974, with occasional returns to the role.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

20 May 1967: broadcast of first episode of The Evil of the Daleks. The Tardis is stolen, and when the Doctor and Jamie pursue it, they find an antique shop with added Dalek.

20 May 1972: broadcast of first episode of The Time Monster. The Newton Institute near Cambridge is in fact run by the Master, who summons Kronos.

20 May 2006: broadcast of The Age of Steel. The Doctor and friends manage to infiltrate Cybus industries and destroy the Cybermen.

20 May 2017: broadcast of Extremis. The Pope asks the Twelfth Doctor to investigate a mysterious book called the Veritas.

20 May 2020: webcast of Listen, a poem by Stephen Moffatt tying in with the epuisode of the same name.

also 20 May 2020: webcast of Fear is a Superpower, last words from Danny Pink.

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The Evidence, by Christopher Priest

Second paragraph of third chapter:

My hosts now were two graduate students, one male, one female, from the Revisionist History Department. In the noise I could not hear their names clearly. I liked them both and was attracted by their easy conversational style and, as an unsought-for bonus, by their apparent familiarity with several of the books I had written. Without going into my reasons in detail, I asked them both not to address me as Doctor, saying I preferred the use of my given name. They were fine with that. The ice was being broken in many different respects.

Christopher Priest's latest book returns us to the Dream Archipelago, with the story of Todd Fremde (which is almost German for "strange death"), a mystery writer who gets sucked into a real mystery in the course of giving a lecture at a far-off university, in a world which is very like ours, except that a phenomenon called "mutability" blurs reality often and confusingly. Twins and magic pop up again, as they have done in a lot of Priest's other work (notably The Prestige). I see some reviewers complaining that the situation, and the mystery, are not adequately explained at the end, but I felt very much that the journey is its own reward (we are practically told as much in the text). Recommended, though I think I would not tell anyone to start reading Priest with The Evidence. You can get it here.

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My tweets

  • Tue, 12:35: Good to see that the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has a sense of humour! https://t.co/izd1AuZ0cZ
  • Tue, 16:05: How often have age cohorts been on the winning/losing side? https://t.co/VTgVZOKUJo Looks at age cohorts and UK elections. A majority of those born in the 1950s have backed the winning side at every election in their lifetime. But those born in the 1990s have always lost.
  • Tue, 18:44: June 2011 books https://t.co/U51xMNDYbr
  • Wed, 09:30: Whoniversaries 19 May https://t.co/LuzvS8avT8
  • Wed, 10:45: RT @mattshuham: I spoke to the “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley’s attorney, Albert Watkins, for this story. Here’s what he had to say… https…
  • Wed, 10:53: With Monday being a holiday here, I’m planning to go to @MuseeMariemont, near Charleroi, to visit the exhibition “Le Monde de Clovis” about the Merovingians. I am willing to give others a lift to/from Brussels – two spaces left. Let me know in reply, or by message.
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Whoniversaries 19 May

i) births and deaths

19 May 1935: birth of Michael Wisher, who appeared as TV anchor Wakefield in The Ambassadors of Death (Third Doctor, 1970); factory owner Rex Farrel in Terror of the Autons (Third Doctor, 1971); Kalik in Carnival of Monsters (Third Doctor, 1973); most iconically as Davros in Genesis of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1975); Magrik of the Vogans in Revenge of the Cybermen (also Fourth Doctor, 1975); Morelli in Planet of Evil (yet again, Fourth Doctor, 1975 – his third role in four stories); and Robar the ship's engineer in Shakedown (unofficial, 1994). A man of many faces, as you can see.

19 May 1944: birth of Colin Spaull, who played security chief Lilt in Revelation of the Daleks (Sixth Doctor, 1985) and Mr Crane in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel (Tenth Doctor, 2006).

19 May 1947: birth of Michael Cochrane, who played Charles Cranleigh in Black Orchid (Fifth Doctor, 1982) and Redvers Fenn-Cooper in Ghost Light (Seventh Doctor, 1989).

19 May 1982: death of Elwyn Jones, who is credited with co-writing The Highlanders (Second Doctor, 1966-67), though the lore is that in fact he didn't do any of the actual writing.

19 May 2006: death of Peter Bryant, script editor of Second Doctor era Who from the second half of Evil of the Daleks (1967) to The Enemy of the World (1967-68) and then producer from The Web of Fear (1968) to The Wheel in Space (1969).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

19 May 1973: broadcast of first episode of The Green Death. The Brigadier and Jo go to Llanairfach in Wales to explore why people are turning green.

19 May 2007: broadcast of 42. The Doctor and Martha have 42 minutes to save the S.S. Pentallian.

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June 2011 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, 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.

Much travel and confusion in June 2011. We had a family trip to Sint Truiden on the 2nd, which was very enjoyable.

I also too a detour on the way to work one morning to visit the Enclos des fusillés / Erepark der gefusilleerden.

Not sure if it was June or May 2011 that Luxembourgish J left my office and went on to set up a tremendously successful League of Young European Voters in the run-up to the 2014 European elections, and now works for her home government. Her replacement was Belarusian N, the first person from her country that I had ever worked with. (But not the last, as we shall see.)

Mid-month I had a fairly crazy trip to the USA, to New York for work and then to Washington to give my video deposition in the case of Milan Jankovic v. International Crisis Group, a defamation law suit relating to two of the reports I had overseen at my previous job. It took another six years, but the case was eventually thrown out. It was quite an intense experience to be grilled by lawyers for eight hours. My flight back was then five hours late taking off and landing; on arrival in Heathrow, I lost my phone getting off the plane, which was an immense hassle and required me to change my phone number to the current one. I went direct from Heathrow to Manchester for the ordination of my son's godmother; once we eventually got home, I started another trip to Moldova only a couple of days later. Here's the new ordinand cutting her cake:

With lots of sitting around on planes, I read 31 books that month.

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 32)
Robert A. Heinlein in Dialogue With His Century, Vol 1, by William H. Patterson Jr
The Business of Science Fiction, by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg
The Complete Book of Thunderbirds, by Chris Bentley
The Spanish Inquisition: A History, by Joseph Pérez
Questioning the Millennium, by Stephen Jay Gould

Fiction (non-sf) 4 (YTD 25)
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
Hunger, by Knut Hamsun
Fleshmarket Close, by Ian Rankin

sf (non-Who) 8 (YTD 37)
Blackout, by Connie Willis
China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen F. McHugh
Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock
Man Plus, by Frederik Pohl
Irish Magic II, by Morgan Llewellyn, Barbara Samuel, Susan Wiggs and Roberta Gellis
Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia
When Santa Fell To Earth, by Cornelia Funke
Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds

Doctor Who, Torchwood, Sarah Jane 7 (YTD 40)
The Taint, by Michael Collier
Something in the Water, by Trevor Baxendale
Short Trips and Side Steps, edited by Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Rayner
Wraith World, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
The Doctor Who Annual 1985
The Left-Handed Hummingbird, by Kate Orman
Demontage, by Justin Richards

Comics 7 (YTD 15)
Fables Vol 14: Witches, by Bill Willingham
The Unwritten, Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, by Mike Carey
The Unwritten Vol 2: Inside Man, by Mike Carey
Grandville Mon Amour, by Bryan Talbot
Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, by Howard Tayler
Autonomes, by Santi-Bucquoy
Eerste Keer, by Sibylline

~9,100 pages (YTD ~42,400)
8/31 (YTD 27/149) by women (Atwood, Willis, McHugh, the Irish Magic II authors, Funke, Rayner, Orman, Sibylline)
0/31 (YTD 9/149) by PoC

The best three of these were Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close, which you can get here, and the first two volumes of Mike Carey's The Unwritten, which you can get here and here. I really bounced off When Santa Fell To Earth, and didn't much care for Schlock Mercenary or Monster Hunter International either. You can get them here, here and here.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 18 May

i) births and deaths

18 May 1928: birth of John Abineri, who played van Lutyens in Fury from the Deep (Second Doctor, 1967), Carrington in The Ambassadors of Death (Third Doctor, 1970), Railton in Death to the Daleks (Third Doctor, 1974) and Ranquin in The Power of Kroll (Fourth Doctor, 1978-79)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

18 May 1968: broadcast of fourth episode of The Wheel in Space. The Cybermen emerge and start to take over the Wheel.

18 May 1974: broadcast of third epsiode of Planet of the Spiders. While exploring the meditation centre, Sarah is transported to Metebelis Three, and the Doctor follows her in the Tardis.

18 May 2013: webcast of Strax Field Report: A Glorious Day.

Also 18 May 2013: broadcast of The Name of the Doctor. ending the regular stories of Series 7 of New Who. The Doctor is summoned to Trenzalore where it was said he would fall. But what does the alleged site of his final battle have to do with the mystery of Clara Oswald? Can the Paternoster Gang help him avoid his apparent destiny? And who's John Hurt playing?

iii) date specified in canon

18 May 1969: setting of much of Paul Leonard's 1999 Eighth Doctor novel, Resurrection Man.

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The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her second thought, which she vocalized, was, “Oh, shit.” Whether one is theoretically expecting to get a toothbrush (or whatever) through the ribs, when the sharpened object is honing in on you, carried by someone who looks like her job on the outside was strangling livestock, it’s all right to let out a little profanity.

Sequel to The Collapsing Empire, which was a Hugo finalist in 2018. Where the first volume had grand sweeps of interstellar space, the second concentrates very much more on court politics in the capital of a galactic empire which is being undermined by the collapse of the wormhole network on which it depends. The political and sexual intrigue is well done, but I keep running into the same problem with Scalzi's books, which is that all the characters sound the same. You can get it here.

This was my top unread sf book, and my top unread book acquired in 2019. Next on those piles respectively are The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams, and City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett.

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My tweets

  • Sun, 12:56: River Runner https://t.co/9l5fB5eNGa Track the path taken to the sea by a raindrop anywhere in the contiguous USA.
  • Sun, 14:46: I’ll admit that transfers between SDLP & UUP in last Assembly election were effective, though votes fell in such a way that SDLP benefited more in terms of seats. BUT my point is that it didn’t resonate with voters. SDLP had worst 1st prefs %ge result ever, UUP not much better. https://t.co/m3zMmUFHdQ
  • Sun, 14:48: RT @John_Cotter: This tweet highlights some interesting themes I’m noticing amongst Brexiteers 1. Some Brexiteers are now acknowledging th…
  • Sun, 15:51: Christopher Eccleston returns as the Ninth Doctor https://t.co/ZRdDcuoEoq
  • Sun, 16:05: A Night with the Missus: H.P. Lovecraft in Greenwich Village https://t.co/uScXKWpuH2 Appreciating architecture.
  • Sun, 20:48: RT @drsammytweets: Still processing my first run in with the police… I’ve been doing a lot of cicada interviews & with national news out…
  • Mon, 08:58: I generally like and admire @b_judah’s work, but he is seriously off the mark here to put Prodi and Renzi in the same category as Sarkozy. Even Schröder has not been accused of breaking the law, however dubious his choices. Disappointingly lazy writing. https://t.co/Yl0y6ZQEaN
  • Mon, 09:30: Whoniversaries 17 May https://t.co/9HBx4OUPzY
  • Mon, 10:45: RT @robinlustig: This is probably the best background piece I’ve read over the past week. (And I’ve read a *lot* of them). https://t.co/KkW
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Whoniversaries 17 May

i) births and deaths

17 May 1943: birth of David Simeon, who played Private Latimer in Inferno (Third Doctor, 1970) and TV anchorman Alastair Fergus in The Dæmons (Third Doctor, 1971)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

17 May 1969: broadcast of fifth episode of The War Games. The Doctor infitrates the Chief Scientist's laboratory, but Jamie's raid on central control goes badly.

17 May 2008: broadcast of The Unicorn and the Wasp. The Doctor and Donna arrive at a house party in 1926 and, together with Agatha Christie, defeat the Vespiform.

17 May 2011: broadcast of The Custodians, nineteenth episode of the Australian K9 series. "Little Green Men" is a new virtual reality game sweeping the nation, the brainchild of a company with designs on taking over the youth of the world. The game has a hidden secret: a link to a strange telepathic alien who turns humans into his own kind.

17 May 2020: webcast of The Descendants of Pompeii. Evie and Maxine discuss the way their family seems to be protected.

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Christopher Eccleston returns as the Ninth Doctor

Like a lot of fans, I was hugely excited at the prospect of more Doctor Who stories featuring Christopher Eccleston being produced by Big Finish, his first performance in the role since leaving the show in 2005. The first of them, Ravagers, came out on Thursday when I was in Mons, and I confess I immediately sought out sufficient wifi to download it to my phone on the spot. (These days, I listen to Big Finish plays via the app on my iPhone, either through the system in the car or through ear buds while I'm out walking or shopping.)

There are three 45-minute plays, or rather a single story in three 45-minute episodes, and another hour of behind-the-scenes. The trailer video actually gives a fair taster. This isn't Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat writing, and there's no Billie Piper; instead we have Nicholas Briggs with an ambitious and somewhat confusing story of time travel, in which Eccleston gets to reprise some of his best lines from TV.

We have a new companion, Nova, played by Camilla Beeput, and a villain, Audrey, played by Jayne McKenna. Neither seems to have done Who before. Eccleston sparks well against both of them. It's a complex timey-wimey story, in which we meet both Nova and Audrey at different points of their personal timelines out of order. I confess I found it difficult to follow, and the Nova thread flowed in the wrong direction for her character development. The core of the story is that there is a massive game whose participants are the unwitting tools of an alien threat, but I did not really grasp how all the bits of plot added up – there's a section in 1959 London infested with Roman soldiers, and another segment at the Battle of Waterloo (so points at least for visiting Belgium).

Basically, it's great to hear Eccleston again, clearly enjoying himself. The BTS chat has a lot of interesting thoughtful commentary from Eccsleston and others, especially Nicholas Briggs. Eccleston is particularly moving about his father's illness intersecting with the 2004-05 filming.

This is a major event for Big Finish and for Who fandom generally. However, it lacks the oomph that I felt when it was all shiny and new in 2005. Tom Baker's first audios, the BBC Hornet's Nest series, similarly seemed to me a bit unmoored, putting a familiar character in a context that didn't quite suit. Baker has long since found his gear and is a fantastic performer now. (Not to mention the redemption of Colin Baker's character through the audio adventures.) So I'm hoping for better things to come. And I'm not saying that Ravagers is bad, just that I had expected (perhaps unfairly) a little more. For three audio plays (plus the BTS tracks), it's pretty good value, and you can get it here.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 16 May

broadcast and production anniversaries

16 May 1963: date of a note with the title '"Dr. Who" General Notes on Background and Approach for an Exciting Adventure – Science Fiction Drama Series for Childrens Saturday Viewing', signed by Donald Wilson, C.E. Webber and Sydney Newman. Click to embiggen.

16 May 1964: broadcast of "The Keys of Marinus", sixth episode of the story we now call The Keys of Marinus. Susan, Barbara and the Doctor expose Eyesen and Kala and liberate Ian; the Voords have taken over the Conscience, but Ian gives them a false key and it explodes.

16 May 1970: broadcast of second episode of Inferno. More slime bubbles up, infecting Stahlman; and the Doctor vanishes, with Bessie and the Tardis console.

16 May 2003: webcast of second episode of Shada. The Doctor, Romana, K9 and Chris find Skagra's invisible spaceship.

16 May 2013: release of Strax Field Report – The Name of the Doctor.

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Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1993, and six others: Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. It lost in another five categories, all to different films, including one to that year’s Hugo winner, Jurassic Park.

That year’s other Best Picture nominees were In the Name of the Father and The Piano, which I have seen, and The Fugitive and The Remains of the Day, which I haven’t. Apart from the two just mentioned, I had seen another six films made that year: Jurassic Park, Groundhog Day, Philadelphia, The Three Musketeers, Much Ado About Nothing and Dave. I must say I really like them all, but I do think that the Oscar voters made the right choice. IMDB users rate Schilndler’s List top film of 1993 on one system and second to, bizarrely, Dazed and Confused (a film I don’t think I had even heard of) on the other. Here’s a trailer.


I spotted no actors who had previously been in a Hugo-winning flm, or in Doctor Who, and only one actor who had previously been in an Oscar winning film. It is Ben Kingsley, here the most prominent Jewish character, accountant Yitzhak Stern, and eleven years ago in the lead role in Gandhi.

In case you didn’t know, it’s the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist during the second world war, who rescued over a thousand Jews from extermination at Auschwitz. It is based on a Booker Prize-winning novel. I think it is the only Booker winner to also be an Oscar winner; I count four based on Pulitzer winners (You Can’t Take It With You, Gone With The Wind, All the King’s Men, and Driving Miss Daisy).

It’s also almost entirely in black and white. The last film in black and white to win the Oscar was The Apartment in 1960. Schindler’s List is the most expensive black and white film of all time, and also the highest earning. It’s a tremendous device to make us feel simultaneously distanced and involved in the action, especially combined with the handheld camera documentary style filming. Life happened in colour in the 1940s, of course, in Eastern Europe as everywhere else. But our historical memory of the period in general is in black and white. The colour Nazis of Spielberg’s earlier films Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are a bit comical. These Nazis are not, just as the black and white Nazis of Casabalanca are not. And the film’s exceptions to the black and white rule are all the more memorable as a result.

I have to say that it’s a rather male film. The women are not as central to the action as the men. I was interested that one vivid incident, when the engineer Diana Reiter is shot dead for offering structural advice, was based on fact. It is also interesting that the real Diana Reiter was 40 when she died, and she is played by 26-year-old Elina Löwensohn.

We’ve had several Oscar-winning films which looked at Jewish identity and anti-semitism in different times and places. (The Life of Emile ZolaGentleman’s AgreementBen-HurAnnie HallChariots of FireDriving Miss Daisy; the word “Jew” is not mentioned in Casablanca, but the subtext is very present.) Schindler’s List is at its heart the story of Schindler and his antagonist Goeth, and only then of the people he saved, but it is such a long and wide film that we get a much much better exploration of these issues than in any of the others. The story is brought home to us directly at the very end, where the real survivors saved by Schindler, accompanied by the actors we have just seen playing them on film, honour Schindler’s grave in Jerusalem.

Apart from that caveat, the film is indeed a masterpiece, telling a grim story at length (still leaving out a lot of what’s in the book), exploring the ambiguity of Schindler who did things that are normally considered bad (fraud, theft, forgery) to ameliorate something much worse (genocide). The settings are convincing. The music is unforgettable. Here’s Itzhak Perlman playing it in concert.


It’s also carried by Liam Neeson in the central role. Schindler is complex but I think not ambiguous; he enjoys the pleasures of life, but is also shocked and repelled by what is happening to the people around him, and is in the position where he can make a small difference to some.

It’s difficult to know what else to say. I’m putting it right at the top of my rankings, in fifth place overall, just behind Chariots of Fire, but ahead of Rebecca.

I also went and read the novel by Thomas Keneally, first published as Schindler’s Ark and then retitled Schindler’s List to capitalise on the film. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

With some hundreds of other captured Polish officers from Przemyśl, Pfefferberg was on his way to Germany when his train drew into his home city of Cracow and the prisoners were herded into the first-class waiting room, to remain there until new transport could be provided. His home was ten blocks away. To a practical young man, it seemed outrageous that he could not go out into Pawia Street and catch a No. 1 trolley home. The bucolic-looking Wehrmacht guard at the door seemed a provocation.

It’s a great book, and the great film that was made from it inevitably cut out some important details. The core of the story is still the same – the sensualist Schindler, who succeeds in saving a few lives, with perhaps more of an emphasis on the people he saved as well as the people he opposed and the women he loved. But the book has time to show us the overall context. There’s an interesting cameo in an early chapter from a policeman who complains that the entire railway system is being diverted to transporting Jews, rather than the soldiers who might actually help win the war. It made me wonder briefly if the Germans could have won the war if it had not been accompanied by a policy of genocide. But of course, if there had been no policy of genocide, there would probably have been no war.

There’s another interesting moment in the book when Schindler goes to Budapest to brief the Jewish Relief Organization on what was happening to Jews in Poland. This again is based on fact. In these days of instant news, which I guess we’ve had more or less since the 1960s, we forget just how difficult it was to get information, even about mass murder to which there were hundreds or thousands of witnesses. By 1943, the first reports were already out there – the New Republic broke the story in December 1942, rumours had reached Anne Frank and her family in hiding a few months before that. But Schindler was able to provide a dangerous and direct link between the Zionist relief funds and the surviving Jews in his part of the world. I find this particularly brave. Budapest was not home territory, the Zionists were not people who he knew, in the same way that Poland and the Sudetenland were.

But the most striking difference between book and film is the detail of suffering which the book can describe but the film cannot. Actors in 1992 were able to convincingly portray the terror and trauma of fifty years earlier. They could not portray malnutrition and disease. It’s a comprehensive and convincing account of what life was like both inside and outside the camps, when horror and tragedy were everyday occurrences. Really very much worth reading, whether or not you see the film. You can get it here.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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Whoniversaries 15 May

i) births and deaths

15 May 1925: birth of Roy Stewart, who played Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen (Second Doctor, 1967) and Tony in Terror of the Autons (Third Doctor, 1970).

15 May 1937: birth of Darrol Blake, director of The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor, 1979)

15 May 1990: death of Peter Grimwade, director of Full Circle (Fourth Doctor, 1980), Logopolis (Fourth Doctor, 1981), Kinda (Fifth Doctor, 1982) and Earthshock (Fifth Doctor, 1982) and writer of Time-Flight (Fifth Doctor, 1982), Mawdryn Undead (Fifth Doctor, 1983) and Planet of Fire (Fifth Doctor, 1984).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

15 May 1965: broadcast of "The Final Phase", fourth episode of the story we now call The Space Museum. The Xerons revolt and kill the Moroks, allowing the Tardis team to escape.

15 May 1971: broadcast of sixth episode of Colony in Space. The Guardian destroys the ancient weapon, and himself; the IMC surrender to the colonists; the Master escapes, and the Doctor and Jo return home.

15 May 2010: broadcast of Amy's Choice. Amy is forced to choose between different versions of reality by the Dream Lord.

iii) dates specified in canon

15 May 2008: death of Donna Noble's father, Geoff.

15-18 May 2009: events of Gary Russell's 2009 novel, Beautiful Chaos.

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Friday reading

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett
All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma
Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens: Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor, by Frank Collins

Last books finished
Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally
Cloud on Silver by John Christopher
DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles

Next books
Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Vol. 2 by William Moulton Marston
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, ed. Alex Dally MacFarlane

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Whoniversaries 14 May

i) births and deaths

14 May 1925: birth of Ysanne Churchman, the voice of Alpha Centauri in The Curse of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1972) and The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974), a Spider in Planet of the Spiders (Third Doctor, 1974), and returned at the age of 92 to reprise Alpha Centauri in The Empress of Mars (Twelfth Doctor, 2017), which must make her the oldest person to have been creatively involved with the show in any medium

also 14 May 1925: birth of Tristram Cary, who wrote incidental music for six First Doctor stories and two later ones. Here’s “The Forest”, from the story we now call The Daleks.

14 May 1927: birth of Dennis Chinnery, who played Albert C. Richardson (the first mate of the Mary Celeste) in The Chase (First Doctor, 1965), Gharman in Genesis of the Daleks (Fourth Doctor, 1975) and Sylvest, father of the twins in The Twin Dilemma (Sixth Doctor, 1984).

14 May 1942: birth of Prentis Hancock, who played a reporter in Spearhead from Space (Third Doctor, 1970), Vaber in Planet of the Daleks (Third Doctor, 1973), Salamar in Planet of Evil (Fourth Doctor, 1975) and The Ribos Operation (Fourth Doctor, 1978).

14 May 1973: birth of Indira Varma, who played Suzie Costello in two episodes of the first series of Torchwood (2006).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

14 May 1966: broadcast of "Johnny Ringo", third episode of the story we now call The Gunfighters. Ring arrives in search of Doc Holiday, with fatal consequences for Charlie the barman and (indirectly) Warren Earp.

14 May 1996: broadcast of Doctor Who: The Movie on Fox. The Doctor arrives in San Francisco at the end of December 1999, and regenerates after being shot; the resurrected Master attempts to take the Doctor's body and/or destroy the Earth, but Grace prevents him.

14 May 2005: broadcast of Father's Day. Rose prevents her father's death, causing tremendous paradoxes which can be fixed only for a very high price.

14 May 2011: broadcast of The Doctor's Wife. The TARDIS as you have never seen her before.

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Whoniversaries 14 May

i) births and deaths

14 May 1925: birth of Ysanne Churchman, the voice of Alpha Centauri in The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The Monster of Peladon (1974), and a Spider in Planet of the Spiders.

also 14 May 1925: birth of Tristram Cary, who wrote incidental music for six First Doctor stories and two later ones.

14 May 1942: birth of Prentis Hancock, who played a reporter in Spearhead from Space (1970), Vaber in Planet of the Daleks (1973), Salamar in Planet of Evil (1975) and The Ribos Operation (1978).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

14 May 1966: broadcast of “Johnny Ringo”, third episode of the story we now call The Gunfighters. Ring arrives in search of Doc Holiday, with fatal consequences for Charlie the barman and (indirectly) Warren Earp.

14 May 1998 1996: broadcast of Doctor Who: The Movie on Fox. The Doctor arrives in San Francisco at the end of December 1999, and regenerates after being shot; the resurrected Master attempts to take the Doctor’s body and/or destroy the Earth, but Grace prevents him.

14 May 2005: broadcast of Father’s Day. Rose prevents her father’s death, causing tremendous paradoxes which can be fixed only for a very high price.

14 May 2011: broadcast of The Doctor’s Wife.

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The 14th Mons International Political Posters Triennale; and flints.

Today being a day off work, I took myself off to Mons for two minor attractions which I hopes would together justify the visit. (They didn’t quite.) The Mons Memorial Museum is hosting the 14th Mons International Political Posters Triennale, which is a collection of about a hundred posters, plus a couple of dozen more from Portugal, on political themes. It wasn’t realy for me, though a few caught my eye for different reasons. This is the overall winner:

I liked these two.

I am not sure what this commentary on Bart De Wever actually means, but I can probably get behind the sentiment.

These three posters about North Korea are interesting because the creators are all from the People's Republic of China.

Of the Portguese posters, this caught my eye for its use of colour.

There is a tank outside the museum.

The neolithic flint mines near Mons are probably worth visiting in non-COVID times when you can actually descend into the depths. I may return in better days.

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Whoniversaries 13 May

i) births and deaths

13 May 1938: birth of Milton Johns, who played Benik in The Enemy of the World (Second Doctor, 1967-68), Guy Crayford in The Android Invasion (Fourth Doctor, 1975), and Kelner in The Invasion of Time (Fourth Doctor, 1978)

13 May 1946: birth of Tim Pigott-Smith, who played Captain Harker in The Claws of Axos (Third Doctor, 1971) and Marco in The Masque of Mandragora (Fourth Doctor, 1976).

13 May 1949: birth of Zoe Wanamaker, who played Lady Cassandra in The End of the World (Ninth Doctor, 2005) and New Earth (Tenth Doctor, 2006).

13 May 1957: birth of Frances Barber, who played Madame Kovarian in Series 7 of New Who (2011).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

13 May 1967: sixth episode of The Faceless Ones; last appearance of Michael Craze as Ben and Anneke Wills as Polly. The Doctor brokers a deal between Earth and the Chameleons, and departs with Jamie.

13 May 1972: broadcast of sixth episode of The Mutants. Ky is transformed into a superbeing and kills the Marshal; Sondergaard stays on to help the other Solonians transform.

Neither The Faceless Ones nor The Mutants is my favourite story of the era, to put it mildly, but it’s an odd coincidence that the six episodes of each were broadcast on the same dates, five years apart.

13 May 2006: broadcast of Rise of the Cybermen. The Doctor, Rose and Mickey arrive in a parallel world where Rose’s father is still alive and the Cybermen are coming.

13 May 2017: broadcast of Oxygen. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole investigate a strange space station, but are interrupted by walking dead in spacesuits… and the Doctor is blinded.