February books

Non-fiction 4 (YTD 13)
The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life, by Marcus Du Sautoy
Timelash, by Phil Pascoe
Listen, by Dewi Small
Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle

Non-genre 1 (YTD 3)
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

SF 19 (YTD 41)
σ2 (did not finish)
Roadside Picnic, by Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky
Wild Cards: Deuces Down, ed. John J. Miller
χ2 (did not finish)
ψ2 (did not finish)
ω2 (did not finish)
α3 (did not finish)
β3 (did not finish)
Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser Hallard
ε3 (did not finish)
ζ3 (did not finish)
Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C Clarke

Doctor Who 3 (YTD 8)
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro
Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell
Doctor Who: Timelash, by Glen McCoy

Comics 1 (YTD 5)
Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al

6,100 pages (YTD 16,000)
12/28 (YTD 29/73) by non-male writers (McGowan-Doyle, σ2, τ2, υ2, φ2, χ2, ψ2, α3, β3, ε3, Munro, η3)
9/28 (YTD 14/73) by a non-white writer (ρ2, σ2, τ2, υ2, φ2, χ2, ψ2, α3, McCoy)
385 books currently tagged “unread”, 31 less than last month after some recalibration.

Reading now
Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
The Best of Ian McDonald

Coming soon (perhaps)
Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean
Warring States, by Mags Halliday
The HAVOC Files: The Laughing Gnome, ed ???
Kerblam!, by Naomi Jacobs and Thomas L. Rodebaugh
The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords, by James Mortimer
The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits, by Simon Schama
Galactic Girl, by Fiona Richmond
The Deep State of Europe: Welcome to Hell, by Basil Coronakis
Creation Machine, by Andrew Bannister
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel
Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue, ed. Sheree Renee Thomas
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville
Redwood and Wildfire, by Andrea Hairston
My Family And Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell
When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation, by Paula Fredriksen
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
A Marvellous Light, by Freya Marske
The Revolution Trade, by Charles Stross
Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern, by Mary Beard
The Cider House Rules, by John Irving
“Bears Discover Fire”, by Terry Bisson
Partitions irlandaises, by Vincent Baily and Kris
Falling to Earth, by Al Worden
Love and Mr Lewisham, by H.G. Wells
The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman
Winter, by Ali Smith

May 2020 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 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.

We continued to labour under COVID restrictions in May 2020, but our office had reopened for one day a week by the middle of the month and I certainly took advantage of being able to (cautiously) share physical space with colleagues.

I also indulged in some nostalgia, digging out photographs from my 21st birthday party in 1988. The lady in the red jacket later married the guy who is visible over my shoulder, who was one of my co-hosts. The lady in green married another of the co-hosts. The fourth co-host was the much missed Liz.

We finished the month with a visit to the park at Tervuren on a blisteringly hot day.

I kept up my ten-day plague posts:

And I did a last few videos from the village.

I read only 18 books this month.

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 26)
The Hunt for Vulcan: …And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe, by Thomas Levenson
Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones
A Sacred Cause: The Inter-Congolese Dialogue 2000-2003, by P. E. Winter
Roger of Hereford’s Judicial Astrology: England’s First Astrology Book?, by Chris Mitchell
A border too far: the Ilemi triangle yesterday and today, by Philip Winter

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 12)
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
The Accident, by Ismail Kadarë

sf (non-Who): 9 (YTD 65)
Riverland, by Fran Wilde
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey
Arthur C. Clarke’s Venus Prime 1: Breaking Strain, by Paul Preuss
Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut
The Nightmare Stacks, by Charles Stross
The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht
Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison

Comics: 2 (YTD 15)
Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz, ed. Shannon Watters
The Wicked + The Divine vol 1: The Faust Act, by Kieron Gillen etc

5,000 pages (YTD 33,500)
6/18 (YTD 43/124) by non-male writers (Jones, Wilde, McGuire, Dorsey, Olbreht, Walters)
0/18 (YTD 13/124) by PoC

The best of these was my former colleague Philip Winter’s account of peacemaking in DR Congo, A Sacred Cause, which you can get here. I also enjoyed rereading The Godfather, which you can get here, and reading for the first time Make Room! Make Room!, which you can get here. Nothing too awful this month.

Sunday reading

Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C Clarke
The Best of Ian McDonald

Last books finished
Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle
ε3 (did not finish)
ζ3 (did not finish)

Next books
Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean
The Face of Britain, by Simon Schama
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel

Los Angeles: A bookshop and a cemetery

Just a few more photos from last weekend, taken after I wrote my blog post on Monday.

First of all, a nice fannish moment in the hotel lobby with Daniel Anthony, who played Clyde in the Sarah Jane Adventures, and does not appear to have aged in the last ten years.

Also, fashionable slippers that I envied a little.

Then we went up to Hollywood with a bunch of Doctor Who writers, first stop the Mystery Pier Bookshop, owned by former actress Pamela Franklin and her husband. (She was out shopping.)

They specialise in first editions, including signed copies of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and of Queen Victoria’s Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands.

Then it was on to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which has a tremendous setting.

We were there to pay our respects to Tony Beckley, who played Harrison Chase in The Seeds of Doom (1976) and was one of the first prominent British actors to die of AIDS, in 1980.

We held a little commemoration.

Other interesting graves there include Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, with the epitaph “That’s All, Folks!”

This extraordinary grave belongs to Mike Szymanski, who is still alive:

Another striking monument to Romanian film director Mihai Iacob:

I had no idea that there were so many Armenians in the film industry, or in Hollywood at least:

And the cemetery has peacocks, though we are advised not to feed them.

Finally, H and I had a good long chat with Kenny Smith of Big Finish on our way home as he too was flying to Heathrow. He grumbled that I didn’t mention that in my previous post, but in fairness that was written first thing Monday morning, hours before we flew together!

The Karmic Curve: How to have it (nearly) all, but not all at the same time, by “Mary I. Williams” (Ian Vollbracht and Nadine Toscani)

Second paragraph (with heading) of third chapter:

Tip 7 – Well-trained, well-educated, enthusiastic

We may be woefully out of date, but we struggle to improve much on the ancient advice on how to succeed in an Oxbridge interview. Well-trained means you know your stuff. Well-educated means you have some breadth, knowledge of the world, and at least an inkling of the social skills you’ll need to get on over time. We can’t teach you these things here, but any good interviewer will certainly test them.

I picked this up after a positive mention in POLITICO years ago, but have only now got around to it. It’s a book about managing work-life balance, a genre I used to read fairly frequently but haven’t looked at for years (perhaps because I feel my work and life are a bit more balanced than they used to be). The point of local interest is that the authors are based in Brussels, so some of the anecdotes have more resonance for me than might be the case for most readers.

It’s quite a thin book, to be honest, but there are a couple of good points. One nice tip is to have a special email account to which you send the venting emails that you might otherwise foolishly send to colleagues and contacts. I also liked the characterisation of the Scrappy-Doo in the workplace:

They work hard all of the time, battle for everything, and then wag their little tails whenever Uncle, or Auntie, Scooby gives them a cookie. And bosses love them for it. Note also that scrappies may be bright and capable, but this is certainly not a requirement for moderately – in some cases hugely – successful Scrappy-hood, however exhausting it may be.

We’ve all known people like this, and indeed a lot of us have been people like this at some point in our career; and the authors give some useful tips on dealing with Scrappies compassionately but effectively.

You can get it here.

This was the shortest book that I had acquired in 2016 which was still on the unread shelves. Next on that pile is Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser-Hallard.

Death Draws Five, by John Jos. Miller

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It certainly wasn’t his brain. If he’d thought about it at all, he’d have run away from the flying bullets. Whatever it was that made him accompany Ray was something deeper in his make-up. His heart. Perhaps his gut. His reaction was more instinctive than rational. Jerry would have sighed to himself if he’d had the time. He’d always considered himself a smart guy, and this was just crazy.

A full-length novel in GRRM’s Wild Cards series, which I got in the same Humble Bundle as the Amber prequels. The setting is a roughly contemporary America decades after thousands were infected with a virus that gave them varying superhero powers. A former President and a dissident wing of the Vatican believe that the child of two such “Aces” is the Messiah reborn, or possibly the Antichrist. It’s tricky to handle this topic in pulp format, but Miller makes a good fist of it.

Unfortunately I’m going to complain again about the formatting of the electronic book. Most of the chapter headings have been displaced to the end of the book, as a weird appendix, and that means the text is not broken up helpfully for the reader. The publisher, iBooks, folded before the paper version of the book went on general release, but that’s no excuse. It’s not as bad as the Zelazny collection, but it’s not good.

You can get the Tor re-release here; hopefully it won’t have the same problem.

This was the SF book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next is another Wild Cards book, Deuces Down, an anthology edited by Miller.

Neptune, vols 1 and 2, by Leo

Second frame of third page of volume 1:

It’s the end of three years in Paris, of boring courses, unpleasant trainings and being forced to follow military discipline, which I can’t stand.

Second frame of third page of volume 2:

They finally let themselves be convinced, given that our minds were made up. Once the decision was taken, we got on with our preparations and said the difficult goodbyes to our comrades.

As my regular reader knows, I have a long-term fascination with the Aldébaran series of bandes dessinées by Brazilian-French artist Leo. Last year he published a two-episode story, Neptune, which takes us on the next steps of the story of the series’ central character, Kim, and her new young colleague, Manon. Despite their young age, their life experience makes them ideal members of a team sent to explore a mysterious alien structure that appears in Earth’s solar system; it’s a nicely done homage to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama, and other similar stories. The mysterious object turns out to contain some mysterious humans in a jungle habitat filled with new forms of alien life, so Leo executes his usual flamboyant otherworldly landscapes. It’s a good taster for the rest of his works, so if you want to see if Leo writes the kind of bandes dessinées that you might like, you could do worse than starting with Neptune. You can get volume 1 here and volume 2 here in French; volume 1 comes out in English translation next week, and volume 2 in April.

April 2020 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 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.

Not surprisingly, I went no further than Brussels in April 2020, and that was only once to deliver essential supplies to two colleagues who had joined just as lockdown hit. We met in the open air by the monument to the brave carrier pigeons of the first world war.

I kept up my ten-day plague posts…

…and also my occasional videos about our village.

The last Sunday of the month was my birthday, and I had a virtual party on Zoom to which dozens of friends and relatives came. It was very affirming.

I read 28 books that month.

Non-fiction: 4 (YTD 21)
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara
The European Parliament, by Francis Jacobs, Richard Corbett and Michael Shackleton
Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski
The French Connection, by Robin Moore

Fiction (non-sf): 3 (YTD 10)
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
Muddy Lane, by Andrew Cheffings
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy

sf (non-Who): 14 (YTD 56)
The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Linklater
Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher
Prophet of Bones, by Ted Kosmatka
The Wicked King, by Holly Black
The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsin Muir
A Woman in Space, by Sara Cavanagh
Catfishing on Catnet, by Naomi Kritzer
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson – did not finish
Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee
The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells
The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Comics: 7 (YTD 13)
Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
Wiske, by Willy Vandersteen
Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Barabas, by Willy Vandersteen
LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin
Torchwood: World Without End, by John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano
The Heralds of Destruction, by Paul Cornell and Christopher Jones

7,800 pages (YTD 28,500)
14/28 (YTD 37/106) by non-male writers (O’Meara, Levy, “Kingfisher” [Vernon], Black, Jansson, Muir, Cavanaugh, Kritzer, Solomon, Lowry, Xu/Walker, Liu/Takeda, Okorafor/Ford, Barrowman)
5/28 (YTD 13/106) by PoC (Levy, Solomon/Diggs, Xu, Liu/Takeda, Okorafor)

I particularly loved Catfishing on CatNet, which you can get here, and The Lady from the Black Lagoon, which you can get here.

A Woman in Space, by “Sara Cavanaugh” (surely a pseudonym) is so bad that it must be deliberate. You can get it here.

Gallifrey One, 2023

Those who don’t know or don’t especially like Doctor Who may well query why a middle-aged Brussels lobbyist should devote any time at all to a family TV show which started the day after the Kennedy assassination. Query all you like; I have never made any excuse for seeking escapism. Brian Aldiss once said that good sf is not about asking “What if…?” but about saying, “My God, what if…!?” and Doctor Who at its best does that – whether it’s about schoolteachers trapped in the Stone Age or youths being kidnapped to be turned into cheetahs or a cosmic villain dancing to Boney M in the Winter Palace in 1916. It unites the consistent formula of the hero who is just a little more than human with the companions who represent the reactions of us, the viewers, to what is going on.

I’ve spent this weekend at Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, the biggest annual Doctor Who convention anywhere in the world. It was my fourth time there, and somehow I enjoyed it even more than the previous three occasions. Part of it was surely the presence of recently departed star of the show Jodie Whittaker, whose charm and enthusiasm captured everyone. I had a brief chat with her where I mentioned her role in the great Belfast film, Good Vibrations. “I love that film!” she exclaimed, and I noted the present tense. “But the accent was a bit hard.”

Let’s be honest, this was the point of the trip.

Having just flown in from Sydney, where she has been filming a new series after a year off, she did two interviews on stage, which were of course packed; and then charmed us at the closing ceremony by showing off her badge ribbons, a strip which must have been 15 metres long. A particular highlight which I missed, though my friend H was there, was her performing the script from her own last episode, taking on different roles.

There were some very good panel discussions and other interviews as well. Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Janet Fielding (Tegan), who both made reappearances last year, decades after they had been written out, did a hilarious double act on stage and then also provided commentary for the latest episode, which they are in, along with Chris Chibnall, the outgoing showrunner who wrote it.

Both are quite short so they insisted that fans getting photographed with them use a chair.

One particularly moving event was the screening of the film Doctor Who Am I by Matthew Jacobs. He wrote the script for the 1996 TV Movie, which turned out to be a false start, but had been into Doctor Who as a child – his actor father played Doc Holliday in The Gunfighters, a 1966 story which climaxes at the OK Corral. The film is about his personal reconciliation with Doctor Who through fandom, and particularly through an earlier Gallifrey One convention; so I had the weird experience of watching it while sitting in the room where several scene were actually filled (see eg 1:44 in the trailer). I had the pleasure of chatting to Jacobs a couple of times in the bar.

The other nice small event I did was a Kaffeeklatsch with Frazer Hines, who played the Second Doctor’s companion Jamie in 1967-69, and Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton who played the Second Doctor. They have known each other since Michael was fifteen (“..and I was seventeen!” Hines quipped) and both in fact have performed as the Second Doctor in audio plays. They talked a lot about acting and a bit about Doctor Who. Hines also did photo shoots with his fellow companion Wendy Padbury, who played Zoe.

My other celebrity photoshoot was with Katy Manning who played Jo Grant in 1971-73, literally fifty years ago. Immediately in front of me in the queue was a small child dressed as the alien Alpha Centauri which appeared in two of her stories. I said to her, ‘That was awfully sweet, wasn’t it?’ Her eyes welled with emotion and she grabbed me for a hug.

Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, was also there, looking better than the last time I saw him in 2020, as was his companion Bonnie Langford – I did not go for a picture as I have one with both of them from a previous convention.

The Old Who team, somewhat blurry: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford, Katie Manning, Sophie Aldred, Janet Fielding, Wendy Padbury, Frazer Hines.

That’s enough about me. The other big big thing about Gallfrey One is the cosplay. Some of the ones that caught my eye:

Loads of people dressed as the Thirteenth Doctor
There is more than one way to cosplay a Dalek.
A Drashig and Vorg, from the 1973 story Carnival of monsters
Three Tenth Doctors, or as someone put it on Twitter, the 0.3 Doctors
Martha Jones and the Fugitive Doctor
Third Doctor, Seventh Doctor, Fourth Doctor

And finally, H and I, who had travelled over together, were charmed to meet with S, a fellow fan and emigrant who lives in Gent. S and I turned out to have a lot of people in common, and we did a fair bit of hanging out together. It’s not just the old friends you meet, it’s the new friends you make.

An Irishman, an Englishman and a Scotswoman walk into a convention

I had a blast, and I will hope to go again.

Listen, by Dewi Small

Listen, from the first series of Doctor Who episodes starring Peter Capaldi, is one of my favourite stories of the era. Not a lot actually happens. We get the opening of the relationship between Clara and Danny Pink; we get an encounter from the far future and a descendant of Danny’s; we get the Doctor investigating a phantom in everyone’s psyche; and we get Clara intervening at a key point in the Doctor’s own childhood. It’s not crammed with action. But perhaps, by not trying too hard, we end up with a better outcome.

One of its successes is the very last scene, which sets up a sort of recursion, with the Doctor’s future personality explained to him by Clara, using words originally crafted by Terrace Dicks. It contrasts with a lot of the other revelations we have had about the Doctor’s origins over the years (most recently the Timeless Child) in its subtlety and ambiguity – almost answering a question with another question. It’s also noteworthy that we don’t actually find an answer to the Doctor’s question, and yet the story is satisfactorily closed.

I also think it’s worth noting that the disastrous date between Clara and Danny riffs off one of Moffat’s most consistent and successful themes, of people miscommunicating. My personal favourite example of this is the Coupling episode, The Girl With Two Breasts, followed by the scene with the twins and the pickpocket in the Tintin movie. But here this situation is played not for laughs but as a deadly serious case of PTSD, and it is done very well.

Dewi Small has written one of the shorter but punchier Black Archives about this story. In a brief introduction, he sets out his stall: this story is based on psychology and he will use a Freudian lens to look at it. It works a lot better than the similarly psychological Black Archive on The Face of Evil.

The first chapter, “What if the Big Bad Time Lord doesn’t want to admit he’s afraid of the dark?”, which takes up more than 40% of the whole text, explains the Freudian concepts of the Uncanny and repression with reference to Who and Henry James, and looks at the significance of the barn.

The second chapter, “I Don’t Take Orders, Clara”, looks at the role of Clara and how it transcends the usual role of the companion in Who.

The third chapter, “A Soldier So Brave He Doesn’t Need a Gun”, unpacks the character and importance of Danny/ Rupert. Its second paragraph is:

 The new Doctor sets out the revised terms of his and Clara’s relationship when he addresses his ‘many mistakes’ and tells her that he’s ‘not [her] boyfriend’ at the end of his first episode Deep Breath (2014). However, Clara was almost immediately repositioned into a new romantic coupling, providing another layer of impediment to the continuance of the previous relationship between her and the Time Lord.

The brief fourth chapter, “This is It, The End of Everything, The Last Planet” looks at the end of the world as presented in Listen and Utopia, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Fredric Brown’s “Knock”.

And there is a brief conclusion saying again how good the story is, which I agree with.

This is a brief review of one of the briefer Black archives, but I recommend it. You can get it here (NB the picture on the page is for a different book).

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Sunday reading

Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright
Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle

Last books finished
ω2 (did not finish)
α3 (did not finish)
Doctor Who: Timelash, by Glen McCoy
β3 (did not finish)
Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser Hallard
Timelash, by Phil Pascoe
Listen, by Dewi Small

Next books
The Best of Ian McDonald
Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C Clarke

Timelash, by Phil Pascoe (and Glen McCoy)

Before I start – Colin Baker is here at Gallifrey One this weekend, and looking well – last time I saw him was in Brussels in 2020 and he seemed a bit frail, but it looks like the last few years have been good to him.

I remember catching the second episode of Timelash, but not the first, when it was first broadcast in 1985, the month before my 18th birthday. My main memory is that it was pretty obvious who Herbert was meant to be, and otherwise it did not make a lot of sense.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I was apocalyptic:

Timelash comes very close to The Twin Dilemma as being the worst Who story ever. Paul Darrow is just awful. Really awful. The glove-puppet aliens are just awful. Really awful. The pointless continuity with an unbroadcast Third Doctor story is just pointless. The inclusion of HG Wells is just stupid. The climbing wall scene is especially unconvincing. And what happens to all the people exiled to the twelfth century? Are they just left there? The only saving grace is that Colin Baker’s Doctor is a little less annoying here than elsewhere. But that is not saying much.

When I came back to it a couple of years later for my Great Rewatch, I was more forgiving:

One of the things I didn’t like about Timelash was the same essentialism [as with the aliens in The Two Doctors] – the Borad being evil at least in part because he looks evil. Another is the fact that the time travel part of the plot is rather botched (I am a fan of the twelfth century and would have liked to see some action there). But actually the story as a whole, and Paul Darrow, annoyed me much less on this viewing. Most of the plot makes sense, and is in keeping with the spirit of Who. While the production values are rather poor, everyone does seem to be aware of this and carries on as best they can in the circumstances. And having had almost 19 years with no real historical figures portrayed as a speaking role, now, with H.G. Wells, we have two in the same season. But I think he is the last in Old Who. (The Queen and Courtney Pine in Silver Nemesis don’t count, as neither speaks and the latter is not portrayed by an actor but by himself.)

I have to confess that this time around, I swung back to my earlier opinion. I found the script so annoying, the momsters so amateurish and the treatment of Peri so offensive that I was rather distracted from the actual plot. It is certainly in my bottom ten Old Who stories, maybe in my bottom three. I can only really recommend it to completists and to fans of Paul Darrow. 

Pennant Roberts directed some very good Blake’s 7 episodes, and also The Face of Evil and several other Who stories. But somehow the magic did not work here; a number of scenes seem very under-rehearsed, and the lead actors don’t seem to be under control. Clearly a lot of energy and money had been used up in earlier stories in the season, and in the pantomime which JNT was also directing Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Author Glen McCoy, who at the time was working as an ambulance driver, had never written for television before, and has since developed a career as a motivational speaker. Incidentally he was the first person of colour to write a Doctor Who script – he describes himself to me as Anglo-Indian. (The first non-white director was Waris Hussein, way back at the start.)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

Peri was more than delighted, and left her position by the central console, assuming the problem had been solved. Yet her approach received an unfriendly glare from the Time Lord. Peri stopped in her tracks. ‘It is okay now, isn’t it?’

When I first read I it in 2008, I wrote:

It’s not a fantastic book, but it is at least at the level of quality of the average Who novelisation, unlike the original series; it makes you realise just how much the TV original suffered from a) Paul Darrow’s overacting as Tekker and b) the pathetic hand-puppet monsters. One of those cases where the reader’s imagination is better at supplying the effects.

As I already said, this time around I was so annoyed by the TV story’s flaws that I rather forgot that there was a plot when watching it, and reading the novelisation was a useful reminder that there was some purpose to all the running around. Some (but not all) of the sillier lines are cut. A surprising amount of the action is reported indirectly rather than in dialogue.

Given that McCoy wrote the book as well as the series, this is the first Doctor Who novel by a non-white writer. You can get it here.

Phil Pascoe reveals at the end of his Black Archive monograph that he actually loves this story, and it is intimately tied to very pleasant very personal childhood memories. It’s not the first Black Archive about a story which the writer loves but fandom generally doesn’t, so it’s always interesting to see what approach is taken. As he explains in the first chapter, “The Waves of Time”, Pascoe has decided to look at the story through the lens of H.G. Wells, and the extent to which he “haunts” the text. As I have myself been working through Wells’ novels (next up: The World Set Free), I found it an interesting approach.

The second chapter, “Working for the Benefit of All Karfelons”, looks at the economic set-up of the planet Karfel and applies a Wellsian critique to it.

The third chapter, “Don’t I Have a Say in All This?”, looks at just how badly Peri is treated in the story nd links that rather weakly to H.G. Wells’ feminism in theory and practice. The second paragraph of this chapter is:

I want to emphasise that I do not believe that anyone involved in making the story deliberately and maliciously set out to make a work which discriminates against women. However, there is much in Timelash that, to 21st-century audiences, would appear sexist. Does our unhaunting of the text require this Black Archive to become an apologia, or are some of the more egregious aspects of the story beyond reasonable defence? We encounter the problem, in reconsidering a piece of popular culture from decades past, of it no longer meeting today’s standards or expectations. Timelash can also be haunted from its future, our present, distorting the picture of how the story did what it did in its historical moment of 1985.

The fourth chapter, “Can’t You Speak, Dumbbell?”, looks at voices: interruptions, Paul Darrow’s performance, the Old Man as ventriloquist’s dummy, and the number of times people speak out of shot (to which I would have added the novelisation’s frequent use of reported speech).

The fifth chapter, “Science… Fiction” looks for Wells’ direct influence on Doctor Who and finds some, though not especially in Timelash.

The sixth chapter, “Food Which is Rightfully Ours”, looks at human meat in Who and Wells, and veganism and vegetarianism in Doctor Who.

The seventh chapter, “I Didn’t Realise Dying Heroically Was Such a Strain on the Nerves”, looks at two scenes near the end (in the Tardis console room) written by Eric Saward because the original script under-ran, suggesting that they subtly critique the entire story.

The eighth chapter, “Strange How You Can Forget What You Used to Look Like”, looks at the furniture, asks what the title actually means, and then leads into the ninth chapter, “Wish I Could Have That on Tape”, which attempts to reconstruct the Third Doctor’s adventure on Karfel.

The tenth chapter, “…Wash Us All Clean”, disarmingly admits the writer’s fond childhood memories of the story, separated from fan criticism.

The whole thing is interesting, though not all of the interesting parts are about Timelash. Perhaps that is just as well. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell

Second paragraph of third chapter:

James shot to his feet. ‘Smugglers? Quick, everyone! Split up! Hide!’

Next in the series of novels exploring the timeline of Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, this one has a solid enough story with our hero incarnated into an ally of his own granddaughter and zooming back in time to investigate alien doings at a stone circle on the moor near the Brig’s childhood home. It’s a decent enough reheat of several well-worn themes. I’m afraid I almost tossed it aside after an excruciating yokel pub conversation in the first chapter, but it was just about worth persisting with. You can get it here.

I see that another version of the story has been published from Lucy’s point of view. Not sure that I will bother.

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro

Rona Munro is the only person to have written stories for both Old Who and New Who, having scripted the very last Seventh Doctor story before the cancellation, and then this story for the last Peter Capaldi season. I also saw one of her other plays at the Web Theatre in Newtownards in 2013, a single-actor piece with the only member of the cast playing three parts. I can’t remember the name of the piece, but research suggests it may have been “Women Behaving Madly”.

The Eaters of Light is a rare Doctor Who story set in Scotland (though filmed of course ni Wales) – especially considering that Capaldi and Moffatt are both Scottish, it’s a little surprising that they did not go there more often. It’s less surprising that they got a Scottish writer of the calibre of Munro to take them there. I rewatched the story before reading the new novelisation, and as I had expected, I enjoyed it a lot. (Here’s the BBC page if you want to refresh yourself quickly.)

The Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive in Scotland and decide to investigate the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. They travel back to the first century AD and get involved in the local conflict between Picts and Romans, but manage to persuade both to unite in the face of a Cthulhoid alien enemy attempting to breach the boundaries of the universe. It’s a very simple plot, but it’s very nicely done, with some nice reveals when, for instance, Bill becomes aware of the TARDIS translation circuits, or the two factions realise just how young each other are. At the end of the episode there’s a coda with Missy being released from imprisonment by the Doctor. Season Thirteen is my favourite of the Capaldi seasons and this story is one of the reasons why.

The novelisation of the story, also by Rona Munro, was one of the few Doctor Who books released last year. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Inside Nardole looked around in appreciation. Every surface was painted and decorated: every bowl, every bit of wall, every stool, every piece of cloth. Everything carried geometric patterns in red and blue, green and brown, yellow and purple, the designs echoing the tattoos and the knitted clothes the fierce little people around them were wearing.

The book, as with the best Who novelisations, brings more joyous detail to the plot and fills out the author’s intentions. (174 pages for 45 minutes is pretty generous by the historical standards of novelisations – compare the 143 pages that Terrance Dicks got for ten 25-minute episodes of The War Games.) It turns very much into a story of Picts and Romans, with the Doctor and friends intervening in a local story. This makes the ending, where they reject the Doctor’s help and take responsibility for guarding the Gate themselves, all the stronger. Some of the nicer one-liners are lost, but this is a differently shaped story and in some ways it is stronger for it. The scene with Missy at the end is omitted. Strongly recommended. You can get it here.

Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al

Second frame of part three:

This was the first in the IDW series of Tenth Doctor comics, published in 2008. I realised that I have read most of the others in this sequence – The Forgotten, Through Time and Space, Fugitive, Tesseract, and Final Sacrifice. The others are all by Tony Lee and all, to be honest, better. This has six loosely linked stories which don’t really cohere internally and with art which, while very nicely executed, doesn’t always end up looking much like the Tenth Doctor or Martha Jones as we know them. Though I did appreciate the reappearance ot the Cat People from Russell’s long-ago novel, and smiled at this in-joke in a brief discussion of E.R.:

Doctor Corday is of course played by Alex Kingston, whose run as River Song started while these were being published.

Still, it’s enjoyable enough popcorn for the fannish mind. You can get it here.

Next post in this series will be the Titan Comics album Revolutions of Terror.

Battlefield, by Philip Purser-Hallard (and Ben Aaronovitch, and Marc Platt)

When I first watched Battlefield in 2007 I was not at all impressed.

Battlefield must have been the killer blow which led to the cancellation. It is simply awful. The story is incomprehensible, the direction (particularly of the all-important action scenes) both uninspiring and incoherent, the supposed killer-end-of-the-universe monster is atrocious, and the background music some of the worst of all time. I haven’t seen much late-eighties Doctor Who, but I shall be very surprised if I find another story as bad as this. I am among that minority (even among the small number who have watched it) who thought Ben Aaronovitch’s other story, Remembrance of the Daleks, was bad too, so it comes as little surprise to me.

Surely the programme’s makers must have realised what a risk they were taking with an uneven writer for the opening story of a season where the entire programme faced cancellation? [In retrospect this was very unfair of me, and I have enjoyed a lot of Aaronovitch’s other work.] Ye who complain about Torchwood, or about how not quite every story of new Who comes up to the standards you have come to expect of Buffy or Battlestar Galactica, some time please sit down and watch Battlefield, and marvel.

Anyway, I should not be wholly negative. [Indeed.] Nicholas Courtney puts in one of his best performances as the Brigadier, and has a great confrontation scene with Jean Marsh playing the chief villain. (The two of them had appeared together in Doctor Who 23 years earlier, playing brother and sister galactic agents in The Daleks’ Master Plan.) But that’s about it; even McCoy and Aldred seem to have little idea of what is going on.

Curiously I was much more forgiving when I reached it in my Great Rewatch:

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

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

Rewatching it now, I confess I have swung back again to my first take. It seemed to me incomprehensible and badly made. The direction is dull and the music intrusive and inappropriate. Nicholas Courtney is still very good, but (having been reading some military memoirs recently) I wondered about the nature of UNIT hierarchy, and who precisely was giving him orders to go to Carbury and why these were not communicated to Bambera. The final scene is terrifically stupid, though at least it established that the Seventh Doctor can cook.

The novelisation is a different matter. The second paragraph of the third chapter of Part 1 is:

The roads were slippery with the wet green leaves stripped from the trees by the storm. Zbrigniev’s training took each obstacle of debris in its stride, but although the onslaught had died, the UNIT car never topped fifteen miles an hour.

I wrote in 2008:

I’m not the greatest fan of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the original script, but Platt has taken the story and makes it work really well on paper. It makes you realise just how much of the TV version’s problems were down to poor direction, bad music and lousy acting. We get some lovely back-story for the Brigadier and Doris; we get just enough explanation for the Doctor being Merlin to leave room for further speculation without just being stupid; we get the Bambera/Ancelyn relationship decently treated as well. Interestingly Platt has broken the story up into four parts which more or less coincide with the episodes as broadcast, the only novelisation where I remember this being done. [Actually not the only one; see also: Galaxy Four]

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with Ace and Shou Youing defending each other against the forces of darkness (in the book, we are not distracted by their awful acting).

I still agree with all of that. The middle and end of the story still don’t make much sense, but the beginning is very well developed and that gives you enough momentum to keep going. Intriguingly, Platt’s future Doctor has red hair. You can get it here.

I was very curious as to how Philip Purser-Hallard would approach this story for the Black Archives. In his earlier monograph on Dark Water / Death in Heaven, he persuaded me of some of the redeeming features of a story that I still don’t like very much. Other Black Archive writers have tried the same – thinking here of L.M. Myles on The Ambassadors of Death. But there are other possibilities – James Cooray Smith, writing on The Ultimate Foe, my least favourite of all the stories so far covered by the Black Archive, analyses in forensic detail just how it came to be such a mess.

Purser-Hallard disarmingly admits in a prologue that many of the criticisms of Battlefield are valid, but “despite the story’s various missteps and mishaps, it succeeds in certain important respects, and it is this tension in which this book is most interested.”

The first chapter, “One Painstaking Layer at a Time”, looks at the first two versions of the storyline, both of which made better sense, and the changes made to the script at the last moment. He makes the point that the armour worn by Morgaine and her knights should have been obviously high-tech, as described in the script, and the decision to just use ordinary armour instead had a serious impact on the quality of the story as broadcast.

The second chapter, “Daleks, Master-Plans”, starts by comparing and contrasting Battlefield with Remembrance of the Daleks, and then looks at the Cartmel Master Plan, and the (slim) possibility that Bambera might have returned in future seasons if Old Who had not been cancelled.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, “This Thing About King Arthur”, is:

One method is to construct a science-fiction story with parallels to a myth – more often than not a classical myth – and usually to flag the fact in dialogue. This is the approach taken to, for instance, the myths of Jason and the Golden Fleece in Underworld (1978), the Minotaur in The Horns of Nimon (1979-80) and the Minotaur again in The God Complex (2011). Another is to suggest that elements of various mythologies are real, but explicable through science fiction tropes, generally ancient visitations by aliens – the view taken of the Titan Kronos (and the Minotaur again) in The Time Monster (1972), the Egyptian god Set in Pyramids of Mars (1975), and the apocalypse-heralding Norse monster Fenrir in The Curse of Fenric. (This is also a common approach to invented alien religions, for instance in The Face of Evil (1977) and Planet of Fire (1984).) A third variant consists of stories where, rather than inspiring a myth, the alien takes advantage of an existing one to deceive the superstitious locals. In the earliest example of this, The Myth Makers (1965), the alien masquerading as Zeus is the Doctor himself; a more recent one is the Mire warlord who impersonates Odin in The Girl Who Died (2015).

The chapter looks at sources for Arthuriana: Roger Lancelyn Green, Boorman’s Excalibur, The Mists of Avalon, the comic series Camelot 3000 and the BBC series Knights of God which starred Patrick Troughton but was not shown until after he had died. (I am surprised not to see T.H. White or Monty Python on that list.)

The fourth chapter, “The Legendary Arthur, Yes”, looks in detail at the Arthurian roots of various characters and concepts in Battlefield, running into problems with Bambera who is not a brilliant match for Guinevere. This chapter alone takes up a quarter of the book. I think this is trying a little too hard.

The fifth chapter, “Builder of Worlds”, points out that Battlefield is set not in 1989 when broadcast but in an unspecified near future where the UK has a king and various other things have happened. (God be with the days when you could get a vodka and coke, a lemonade and a glass of water for much less than a fiver.)

The sixth chapter, “Is This War?”, examines the story’s depiction of the military and the Doctor’s relationship with them, and the concepts of “honour” and “shame”, the latter of which is used euphemistically by Bambera as a swear word.

The seventh chapter, “Sufficiently Advanced Magic”, points out that the 1988 and 1989 stories had more overtly magical content, and that Morgaine’s witchcraft is in the end her undoing.

The eighth chapter, “Britishness, and Other Identities”, looks at how the story’s heterogenous concept of Britishness is developed further in Aaronovitch’s (excellent) Rivers of London books, and also looks at just why that last scene is so bad.

The ninth chapter, “It’s Only a Trap”, comes back to the Bambera/Guinevere question, and also looks at how future incarnations of the Doctor might appear in the current Doctor’s story. As noted above, Platt’s future Doctor in the novelisation has red hair.

In the conclusion, Purser-Hallard rather disarmingly confesses that “for many years – 16, to be precise – [Battlefield] was my favourite story.” (Sixteen years from 1989 takes us to the dawn of New Who.) I’m really charmed that he managed to resist the temptation to go full-on apologetic for a youthful enthusiasm, and instead provided a thoughtful analysis.

But I still wonder about a few things, notably, why are the direction and the music so awful? It’s a book that answers a lot of questions, but not all of them are the ones I would have asked.

Anyway, you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Horror of Fang Rock, by Matthew Guerrieri (and Terrance Dicks)

It’s Gallifrey One this weekend, and I’m travelling to Los Angeles today; the next few reviews here will accordingly be of my recent Doctor Who reading, starting with an old favourite seen through new eyes.

I remember vividly watching Horror of Fang Rock when it was first broadcast, kicking off the 1977-78 season of Doctor Who, keeping us entranced for the four weeks that it was on. I really enjoyed it then. On rewatching in 2008, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a very bleak and horrific story. Indeed, it made me reflect that for all his cuddly public personality, Terrance Dicks’ actual writing is often rooted in pretty horrific stuff – vampires, Frankenstein, King Kong, and his first ever story, co-written with Malcolm Hulke, was The War Games which surely has the bleakest ending of any classic Who.

This is the one with the Rutan, the electrical alien foe of the Sontarans which can change shape and indeed does so as it picks off the inhabitants of the light-house one by one. There is one actor of dubious talents, but fortunately his character is the first to die and the others all give it their best.

This is the last story in which we just have the Doctor/Leela Tardis crew, and it’s worth pausing to reflect that this was surely one of the greatest ever combinations, with a consistent run of four good stories (Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang and this one). Leela could so easily have been a one-joke character, but in Louise Jameson’s portrayal she is completely credible, always earthed in her own identity, able to clash and spark with the Doctor, playing the dramatic role of a companion as the one who gets things explained to her not because she is stupid but because she is different. She is the one companion who we see the Doctor trying to change and educate, and that somehow makes it all work much better. After watching the Troughton stories over the last year or so I decided I was a huge fan of Wendy Padbury’s Zoe; but now I see things in Leela that passed me by as a ten-year-old. (Meaning the integrity of her performance, of course.)

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2011, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a strong start to Season 15, with Terrance Dicks proving once again that he can actually write. Sure, it’s a base-under-siege story; but it’s one of the better ones, with everyone being killed off except our crew in the end.

It is a particularly good story for Leela, who is utterly exasperated by the screamy Adelaide (she does a brilliant eye-roll when Adelaide faints) and stuns the other Edwardians with her relaxed attitude to death; it makes her horror when Reuben-the-Rutan is unharmed by her knife all the more striking. It’s a bit un-Doctorish to wipe out the entire Rutan mothership as they land, but gives a satisfying bang at the end of the story.

I stand by all of that. A few more things struck me this time. We never actually find out the details of Palmerdale’s nefarious plan, except that it’s clearly indicated that it is dishonorable, and it’s also clearly indicated that Adelaide is more than a secretary. There’s an interesting untold story there. Also, the music is very good. Also, unfortunately, the Rutan is not all that well realised, a weak point in what is otherwise a strong story. Still, I realliy enjoyed rewatching it.

For those of us in the Worldcon community, one of the Doctor’s lines in particular has a strong resonance:

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

‘That’s what happened, according to the Doctor. Massive electric shock, he said.’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock is a case of Terrance Dicks adapting one of his own TV scripts, which gives him even more than his usual degree of confidence with the material, and he uses the opportunity to fill out the Edwardian background of the story rather satisfactorily.

I don’t completely stand by that judgement now. One point where the novelisation is consistently out of step with the TV version is that the Doctor is cheerful, funny and charming, whereas Tom Baker’s portrayal on screen is moody and Olympian. Baker apparently did not like Dicks’ script, and his bad mood carries over into his performance, but it makes it all the more watchable; this is not a funny story and a funny Doctor would have been jarring. Perhaps this is Dicks, again belying his cuddly reputation, getting obscure revenge on Baker. If you want to judge for yourself, you can get it here.

I keep on saying this about the books in this series, but with occasional exceptions it keeps being true: Matthew Guerreri’s Black Archive monograph is really good, taking us deep into the roots of the story. I have two minor complaints, and I’ll mention the first now: I wish it had been longer.

A prologue references the infamous Max Headroom incident of 1987, which Guerreri witnessed at first hand, and reflects on the manifestations of intrusion and discontinuity in the story. Like all of the chapters, it is prefaced with a literary quotation.

The first of four long chapters, dubbed “Part 1”, has the title “Technology and Character”. It starts with Robert Louis Stevenson’s credentials in lighthouse construction, goes on to E.G. Jerrome’s 1966 Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys, compares the lighthouse crew and the production team to the Three Body Problem, looks at Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday’s contributions to lighthouse lamps, examines diamonds as a focus, explains Marconi, comes back to Robert Louis Stevenson on island life, and finishes on the timing of the Doctor’s presence on Fang Rock.

“Part 2: Time and Class” starts with Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse, quotes John Stuart Mill and Ronald Coase on lighthouse economics, ponders the fate of Palmerdale’s sailors and Skinsale’s ethics, returns to Virginia Woolf and her father Leslie Stephen and the letters Q and R, sticks with Woolf’s take on Einstein and her Orlando, detours a little to Roger Fry and the obscure late nineteenth century writer Grant Allen, and briefly considers the diamond again.

The second paragraph of “Part 3: Time and Terror” is:

In 1847, after taking up residence in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, mansion that had been George Washington’s headquarters during the war’s Boston campaign, Longfellow returned to Portland. He took a holiday at the Verandah, a new hotel that would help create Maine’s reputation as a vacation playground for well-off New Englanders. During that sojourn, the poet did not visit the Portland Head Light, but he did see the ‘Two Lights,’ twin towers at the southern end of Cape Elizabeth. Longfellow climbed to the top of the western tower to take in the views.

It starts with Longfellow’s poem, “The Lighthouse”, looks at the Rutan’s roots in Lovecraft and Verne, goes in detail into Lovecraft’s “The White Ship” and “The Color Out of Space”, considers why green should be so awful anyway, and briefly reflects on the Flannan Isles.

“Part 4: Fact and Fiction” looks in detail at Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera The Lighthouse, considers The War of the Worlds, reminds us about Dudley Simpson’s music, mentions the Tarot, looks at William Wilfred Gibson’s poem “Flannan Isle” which is (mis)quotred by the Doctor at the end, and finishes with a note about narrative.

A brief epilogue considers the story about a lighthouse left unfinished by Edgar Allan Poe at the time of his mysterious death.

There’s a lot here, and it expanded my list of books that I want to read (or re-read) much more than I really need right now. You can get it here.

My only other complaint, and it’s a small one, is that I’d have liked to see a nod to the Andy Frankham-Allen novel in the Lethbridge-Stewart sequence, Beast of Fang Rock, which is well worth a look (and you can get it here).

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

March 2020 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 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.

This, as you may remember, was the month that the world ended. When I woke up in Cambridge on the morning of 1 March, I had no idea that it would be my last time outside Belgium until July. I visited B a week later, on Sunday 8 March, which was just as well because we were told on Friday 13 that we could not see the girls again until the pandemic situation allowed. As it became clear how things were going, though not how log it would last, we had a gloomy socially distanced farewell lunch in the office with the last few colleagues before lockdown hit. (Colleagues in the picture are from Cyprus, the USA, Israel, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Italy.)

And that was that; we were all working from home, and not allowed to see anyone outside our own households. It also coincided with the close of Hugo nominations, the only time of the five times that I have been involved that we did not use the Kansa system first developed by Eemeli Aro in 2017; it was a complete nightmare, on top of everything else.

I marked the passage of time with two videos about our village:

and with the first of what would become a long series of ten-day updates about life in plague times.

Despite the interruption to my commute, I read 26 books that month.

Non-fiction: 5 (YTD 17)
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of Scandinavia’s Utopia, by Michael Booth
1493, by Charles C. Mann
Strategic Europe, ed. Jan Techau
Red Notice, by Bill Browder
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith – did not finish

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 7)
Small Island, by Andrea Levy
Midnight Cowboy, by James Leo Herlihy

sf (non-Who): 17 (YTD 42)
The Golden Fleece, by Robert Graves
Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (did not finish)
The Green Man’s Foe, by Juliet E. McKenna
Fleet of Knives, by Gareth A. Powell
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow
Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman
Ragged Alice, by Gareth A. Powell
The Survival of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
The Winged Man, by E. Mayne Hull
Excession, by Iain M. Banks
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine
Blake’s 7 Annual 1979
Blake’s 7 Annual 1980
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djélì Clark
Blake’s 7 Annual 1981

Doctor Who: 1 (YTD 6)
Doctor Who: The Macra Terror, by Ian Stuart Black

Comics: 1 (YTD 6)
Die, vol 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles

7,400 pages (YTD 20,700)
9/26 (YTD 23/78) by women (Levy, Hardinge, Hurley, McKenna, Newman, McGuire, Hull, Martine, Hans)
3/26 (YTD 8/78) by PoC (Levy, Thompson, Clark)

Thumbs up for Deeplight, which you can get here; thumbs down, I’m afraid, for Atlas Alone, which you can get here.

At The Edge Of The World, by Lord Dunsany

Second paragraph of third story (“Mlideen”):

All in the Middle City stood the Temples of the city’s priests, and hither came all the people of Mlideen to bring them gifts, and there it was the wont of the City’s priests to carve them gods for Mlideen. For in a room apart in the Temple of Eld in the midst of the temples that stood in the Middle City of Mlideen there lay a book called the Book of Beautiful Devices, writ in a language that no man may read and writ long ago, telling how a man may make for himself gods that shall neither rage nor seek revenge against a little people. And ever the priests came forth from reading in the Book of Beautiful Devices and ever they sought to make benignant gods, and all the gods that they made were different from each other, only their eyes turned all upon Mlideen.

I did a lot of work on Lord Dunsany’s uncle, Sir Horace Plunkett, for my PhD research many years ago, but have only limited familiarity with the nephew’s copious output of fantasy writing. (I read The Gods of Pegāna ten years ago.) This is a selection of his short fiction assembled in 1970 by Lin Carter, as part of his ongoing efforts to cash in on the success of The Lord of the Rings, with some interesting biographical detail of how and when each set of stories was written.

If you’ve read one Dunsany story, to be honest, you’ve read them all. The descriptions are good and the use of language very effective. But nothing very much happens; there are few surprises or moments of tension, and no memorable characters or grand themes beyond exalted whimsy. That was my prejudice before reading the collection, and I’m sorry to say that it was confirmed.

Dunsany was clearly an influence on both H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien, and thus on all of their successors, but I think that both were better writers. Dunsany evokes your sensawunda, and makes you feel that there is a magical world just around the corner, out of sight; but both Lovecraft and Tolkien did the same and added a lot more depth and structure to their respective mythologies. With Dunsany, you feel that he is just telling you another story; Lovecraft and Tolkien take you into the depths of their detailed imaginary worlds. Lovecraft also adds horror, and Tolkien moral courage, to give extra dimensionality to the narrative.

Don’t get me wrong, Dunsany is a good writer, but he paved the way for better. (See also, “Lord Dunsany: The Geography of the Gods”, by Vernon Hyles, in More Real Than Reality: The Fantastic in Irish Literature and the Arts, edited by Donald E. Morse and Csilla Bertha.)

You can get this collection here. This was my top unread book acquired in 2016; next on that pile is The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life, by Marcus Du Sautoy.

Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol

Second paragraph of third chapter:

President Trump and his allies prepared their own fake slates of electoral college electors in seven States that President Trump lost: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And on December 14, 2020—the date when true, certified electors were meeting to cast their electoral votes for the candidate who had won the popular vote in each of those States—these fake electors also met, ostensibly casting electoral votes for President Trump, the candidate who had lost.

Like the rest of you, I was utterly appalled by the extreme right wing attack on the Capitol on 6 January 2021, a direct attempt to overturn the 2020 election result by violence. What was not clear on the evening, but has now been made very clear by the labours of the Select Committee set up by the House of Representatives to look into the events, is the extent to which this was a part of a premeditated and criminal plan by Trump to illegally remain in power.

The evidence is clear. Most of those who testified to the Select Committee were Republicans, a number of them working directly for Trump in the White House. I myself said on the record to Bloomberg News, the day after the election, that there was little chance of the election result being overturned in the Supreme Court because there was no case. Eight leading conservative American lawyers have reported clearly and succinctly on the justified failure of all of Trump’s legal challenges. Nobody who has looked into it can seriously maintain, in good faith, that there is any doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s win in the election.

Bad faith is a different matter, and the Report lays out how Trump cast aside the sensible lawyers and started to take advice from those who told him what he wanted to hear, culminating in the massive effort on 6 January to intimidate Vice-President Mike Pence into breaking the law and disqualifying enough valid votes for Biden to enable Trump to remain in office. I must admit that Pence comes out of it rather well, sticking to his position even when the mob came within a few metres of the office were he was being protected.

The Republican National Committee does not come out looking as good. They supported Trump’s hopeless legal challenges to the election results in the states, and also legitimised his shameless and aggressive personal bullying towards election workers – some senior state officials, some just ordinary folks who happened to attract the president’s ire. They also benefited from the fraudulent fund-raising to “Stop the Steal”, which continued long after the result was beyond any doubt. It is sickening that the mayhem and deaths of 6 January were instrumentalised as a marketing tool.

The National Guard also comes out looking bad. Although there had been internal discussion of how to use them in support of public order, delays in the command chain meant that by the time they got authorisation to assist the hard-pressed police, the riot was over because the President had called it off. There are also constitutional ambiguities about Trump’s role as commander-in-chief, but the report is clear that this was not the problem on the day.

But it all comes back to Trump. There is no smoking gun demonstrating that he had operational command and control over the mob. But there is plenty of evidence that they thought they were taking orders from him. For three hours they rampaged through the Capitol while friends, allies and family begged Trump to speak out against the violence; and as soon as he told them to disperse and go home, they did. The evidence from White House staffers who were there on the day is particularly chilling.

Anyone who defends Trump, let alone the rioters, over 6 January 2021 is not worth listening to. He decided that he did not like the election results; he desperately looked for legal ways to overturn the vote, and did not find any; and he attempted to use mob violence to cling to power. He is not fit for office, and nor is anyone who supports him.

You can get the report and supporting documents here (here’s the link for the report itself).

Sunday reading

Doctor Who: Timelash, by Glen McCoy

Last books finished
Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell
Wild Cards: Deuces Down, ed. John J. Miller
χ2 (did not finish)
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
ψ2 (did not finish)

Next books
Timelash, by Phil Pascoe
Peculiar Lives, by Philip Purser-Hallard
Madam Secretary, by Madeleine Albright

The multiplication of descendants of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

One of the things that lurks at the back of my genealogical / DNA research is the question of how rapidly lines of descent can be expected to increase.

My Murray grandfather had nine children by two marriages, seven of whom are still living; I am the oldest of his twenty-two grandchildren; between us we have I think twenty-eight great-grandchildren; and the first two of the next generation arrived in the last couple of years.

Me and the first of my grandfather’s great-great-grandchildren.

My Hibbard great-great-grandparents had five children, of whom one died young and another never married; ten grandchildren, five of whom have living descendants; sixteen great-grandchildren, ten of whom have descendants (and two are still living); and twenty-three great-great-grandchildren, including me and Sally Seaver.

It can go the other way of course. While my Hibbard great-great-grandfather has many living descendants, more than half of them are from his oldest surviving child (who also married early and thus got ahead of the game); his younger son’s living descendants are me, my two siblings and our five children, a total of eight after four generations.

These things are of course very dependent on time, place and social class, but I am hoping for a metric which would at least allow a rough comparison of rates of increase. One of the best chronicled lines of descent over the past 180 years, albeit of very rich white Europeans, is that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Allan Raymond has a fantastic website investigating this, which appears to be complete up to early 2019. Vic and Al had nine children, all but one of whom had kids themselves; 42 grandchildren, 87 great-grandchildren and 142 great-great-grandchildren.

I’ve plotted the increase in both total and living descendants on a log scale in the graph above. Their first child, and therefore first descendant, was “Vicky“, the Princess Royal and later briefly Empress of Germany, born on 21 November 1840, nine and a half months after her parents’ wedding on 10 February. She had eight children, born between 1859 and 1872, and died on 5 August 1901, aged 61 (outliving her mother by less than a year).

Victoria and Albert’s tenth descendant was the first grandchild born after their nine children together, none other than Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, the son of Princess Victoria and the short-lived Emperor Frederick III. He was born on 27 January 1859, a year after his parents’ wedding. He had seven children between 1882 and 1892, ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918 and died on 4 June 1941 aged 82.

Victoria and Albert’s hundredth descendant was born on 2 July 1903 as Prince Alexander of Denmark, though that is not how he is known to history. He was the only child of Princess Maud, the fifth of the six children of King Edward VII, and Prince Carl of Denmark. In 1905, Norway became independent and elected Prince Carl as the country’s new king; he ruled as King Haakon VIII until his death in 1957 at the age of 85. His son then ruled as King Olav V of Norway until his death in 1991 at the age of 87. (King Olav’s son, Harald V, inherited the throne and is still living; he turns 86 later this month.)

But in 1903, a number of Vic and Al’s descendants had already died, so the moment when Victoria and Albert’s living descendants exceeded a hundred was when Princess Ileana of Romania was born on 5 January 1909 (23 December 1908 by the old calendar). Her mother, Queen Marie of Romania, was the daughter of Prince Alfred, the second son of Victoria and Albert. Ileana was the fifth of Queen Marie’s six children. She had six children with Archduke Anton of Austria, born between 1932 and 1942. Ileana was exiled from Romania with the rest of the royal family after the Second World War, and died aged 82 in January 1991 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Victoria and Albert’s thousandth descendant is King Olav V’s great-grandson, Prince Sverre Magnus of Norway, born on 3 December 2005. Under Norwegian law his older sister Ingrid Alexndra is ahead of him in line to the throne, as is his father. By my calculation, extrapolating from Allan Raymond’s lists, the number of living descendants of Vic and Al will surpass a thousand later this year (2023) or early next year (2024).

Total descendantsLiving descendants
Time interval 1st to 10th18.2 years18.2 years
Time interval 10th to 100th 44.5 years50.0 years
Time interval 100th to 1000th102.4 years~115 years

I conclude two things from this. The first is that the rate of increase slows down dramatically after the first couple of generations. The second is that factors of ten are probably too blunt an scale to get a really good feel for the numbers.

Here’s the same graph, redrawn to powers of 2, with the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 16th, 32nd, 64th, 128th, 256th, 52th and 1024th descendants indicated, both living and total.

There are a few familiar names there. (And some unfamiliar ones: you may not have heard of Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Vic and Al’s fourth child and second son, or his own unfortunate son, another Prince Alfred.) There’s also a small accounting issue – the birth of Tatiana Mountbatten in 1917 brought the number of living descendants of Victoria and Albert over 128, but it was almost immediately sharply reduced when the Russian imperial family were killed in the aftermath of the revolution, so it was not until the birth of Prince Philip of Greece, Tatiana’s first cousin, in 1921 that the number went permanently over 128.

Endogamy is not really an issue here. There have been only 22 marriages where both partners were descended from Victoria and Albert, and only three in the last 50 years (compared to seven such marriages in the 1930s when the pool of descendants was a lot smaller). I previously calculated that about a quarter of Vic and Al’s living descendants have more than one line of ancestry going back to them, but this proportion has been fairly stable for decades. So I don’t think it has a big impact on the growth rate.


If we do the same table as before, tracking the moments when the number of descendants doubled, we can see that it has slowed in recent decades.

Total descendantsLiving descendants
1stPrincess Vicky, Empress of Germany, 1840-1901Princess Vicky, Empress of Germany, 1840-1901
1.0 years1.0 years
2ndEdward VII (1841-1910)Edward VII (1841-1910)
2.7 years2.7 years
4thPrince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1844-1900)Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1844-1900)
8.7 years8.7 years
8thPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884)Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884)
11.3 years11.3 years
16thPrincess Elizabeth of Hesse (1864-1918)Princess Elizabeth of Hesse (1864-1918)
7.7 years10.0 years
32ndPrincess Margaret of Prussia (1872-1954)Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1874-1899)
19.1 years21.2 years
64thAlexandra Duff / Princess Alexandra, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959)George VI (1895-1952)
19.9 years(22.0 years)
25.6 years
128thPrince Alfred of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1911-1911)(Tatiana Mountbatten, 1917-1988)
Prince Philip, 1921-2021
30.5 years38.7 years
256thInfante Alfonso of Spain (1941-1956)Prince Christopher of Yugoslavia (1960-1994)
28.3 years26.4 years
512thPrincess Veronika Biron von Curland (b. 1970)Prince Philipp of Prussia (b. 1986)
37.0 yearsprobably 39 or 40 years
1024thPrince Gustav of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (b. 2007)not born yet, likely in 2025 or 2026

Just to grimly reflect that three of the above died by violence: Elizabeth of Hesse killed by Bolsheviks, the younger Prince Alfred probably as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot, and Alfonso of Spain accidentally shot by his brother (who later became King Juan Carlos).

To finish up with one more graph, this tracks the average annual increase in the number of descendants since 1900, both living and total. It is interesting that there is a visible cycle of higher and lower rates of increase; and the most recent years appear to show a continuing deceleration, with the lowest growth for a century. But I think it is unlikely that the number of living descendants will ever decrease, and of course it is impossible that the total number of descendants can ever do so.

Moonlight (Oscar-winning film)

Moonlight famously won the 2016 Best Picture Oscar, despite a mistake during the ceremony when La La Land was incorrectly announced as the winner. That was the year that I was the administrator of the Hugo Awards for the first time, and we immediately took steps to minimise the risk of that happening during the ceremony in Helsinki. (In fact, one of the presenters did open the wrong envelope on the night, but the slip was caught before most people noticed.)

Moonlight won two other Oscars, Mahershala Ali as Best Supporting Actor (for Juan, the father figure in the first section) and also for Best Adapted Screenplay. Usually when an Oscar-winning film is adapted from another source I try to read it for comparison, but Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue doesn’t seem to have been published.

The other contenders for Best Picture were Arrival, which won the Hugo, and Hidden Figures, also a Hugo finalist; and Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Lion and Manchester by the Sea, which I haven’t seen. La La Land won the most Oscars that year (six).

Again, I have seen very few films from 2016 – I think none at all apart from the Hugo finalists. Moonlight is a very different film, and it’s difficult to give a comparative ranking, but I would put it at least equal with Arrival. IMDB users rate it only 18th and 29th on the two rankings, which are topped by La La Land and Deadpool, with Arrival and ten other films ahead of Moonlight on both lists.

Here is a trailer.

None of the actors had been in previous Oscar, Hugo or Nebula/Bradbury winning films. In fact, it’s striking how few of them had any film track record at all – IMDB lists this as the first screen appearance for more than half of the 25 named cast, and most of them have done little else. There are a couple of exceptions; Mahershala Ali as Juan is one of them, and so is the fantastic Janelle Monáe as his girlfriend Teresa. (Both were also in Hidden Figures the same year.)

Set mostly in Miami but with a few scenes in Atlanta, this is not the first Oscar winner with a Florida or Georgia setting, but it is the first to be filmed on the real locations – the outdoor scenes of It Happened One Night are rather obviously filmed in California, and the Georgia of Gone With the Wind is mostly in the studio.

It’s the story of a young gay black man growing up in Miami, told in three parts with three different actors playing the protagonist (10-year-old Alex R. Hibbert, 20-year-old Ashton Sanders and 25-year-old Trevante Rhodes). Adjusting for inflation, it is apparently the Oscar winning film that had the lowest production budget ever ($1.5 million at 2015 prices).

I thought it was very good. My biggest complaint is that despite its relative brevity (111 minutes, 16th shortest of 95 winners) it actually moves rather slowly at times. The story is a simple one told well. Although it’s fundamentally about the protagonist and the men in his life, the women get decent screen time too and Noemie Harris got an Oscar nomination as the protagonist’s mother.

I raised an eyebrow at first at the choice of music – a mix of classical-style orchestral and contemporary including rap – as I’ve seen other films get a bit unstuck by relying too heavily on the violins. But in fact I concluded that the balance is good. The fact that the orchestral music was composed specially for the film probably helps.

The first of the three sections is outstanding, while the other two are merely very good. We begin with bullied little boy Chiron being informally adopted by Juan and Teresa while neglected by his mother. There’s a particularly charming scene where Juan teaches Chiron to swim – apparently Alex Hibbert, playing Chiron, really could not swim so he is barely acting.

The middle section sees a teenage Chiron seduced and then betrayed by his childhood friend Kevin, and the end has the two of them meeting again after a decade and getting some closure. The whole thing is beautifully filmed and staged, and the cast, despite their inexperience, are entirely convincing. Definitely glad I got to this one.

I’m ranking Moonlight a quarter of the way down my table of Oscar winners, just below Gandhi but ahead of Amadeus. Next up is one that I have already seen, but will rewatch for the sake of context: The Shape of Water, which will take me up to ninety.

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)

The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and an unexpected family connection

Second paragraph of third chapter of The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo:

When I mentioned Gatsby in Daisy’s own house, in front of her own husband, there was nothing in my mind that connected him with Lieutenant Jay Gatsby. That man was fresh out of Camp Taylor with a commission purchased with the very last of his money from Dan Cody and only one pair of decent shoes. The eager young lieutenant had a wondering hungry eye, and the beautiful man in the lavender suit pin-striped in gray had obviously never been hungry a day in his life.

I’m more than a little dubious about the Hugo Award for Best Editor, Long Form. It seems to me that most Hugo voters, as readers, are not well placed to judge the extent and value of an editor’s contribution; if a nominee happens to have edited a lot of good books last year, is that luck or judgement? Be that as it may, last year’s Hugo packet included this as part of the credentials for Ruoxi Chen, who went on to (relatively narrowly) win the award; I didn’t read it then but I have read it now.

Folks, it is a real treat. I had no idea. It’s a re-telling of The Great Gatsby from the point of view of Jordan Parker, the #2 female character in the original, just as the original story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, who is definitely the #2 male character in the story. But it’s not quite Gatsby as we know it. Jordan and Daisy are still from Lousiville, Kentucky, but Jordan is an adoptee from Vietnam. Everyone (well, every main character) is queer and polyamorous. And magic works; not everyone can do it, but Jordan can, critically altering some of the key moments in the book.

I don’t know Gatsby well, but I found myself compelled to have it to hand to read in parallel with The Chosen and the Beautiful to enjoy even more what Vo has done with such a classic text. The overall arc is the same – it’s almost surprising how little the emotional dynamics are affected once you know for sure that everyone is shagging, rather than merely suspecting it – but it’s very pleasing, very moving and very nicely done. If you didn’t save it from the Hugo packet last year, you can get it here.

I went back and reread The Great Gatsby, properly as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

When I first read it in 2004, I wrote

[A] very good short novel, with the setting of 1920s New York and Long Island vividly described, including barely surreptitious widespread use of alcohol and a surprising amount of promiscuity, but overlying this a much more interesting story of personal aspiration. Strongly recommended.

ObBalkans: Gatsby had a war medal awarded to him by the King of Montenegro

I enjoyed it again. It is very digestible, and the emotional arcs of young(-ish) people hurtling into a new age are tremendously convincing. You can get it here.

Since reading it first time around, I’ve been getting acquainted with my American grandmother’s early life; she was three years younger than Fitzgerald, and so almost exactly the same age as the fictional Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Parker. In fact Fitzgerald knew and corresponded with my grandmother’s step-brother, Van Wyck Brooks, though they were on somewhat different literary wavelengths, and Edmund Wilson even wrote an imaginary conversation between them for The New Republic in 1924, the year before Gatsby was published..

Browsing Fitzgerald’s biography, I was struck by a familiar chord in a mention of his colonial-era ancestors in Maryland. (He himself was born in St Paul, Minnesota and was always conscious of his Mid-Western origins.) A little digging, and I worked out that we were in fact fifth cousins three times removed, both of us descended from Philip Key (1696-1764), who emigrated from London around 1720, and his first wife Susanna Gardiner (1705-1742) whose ancestors had been in Maryland since the 1630s. F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald; he was named after the composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, who was his second cousin three times removed and my second cousin six times removed – we are all descended from different sons of Philip and Susanna.

I doubt that either my grandmother or her step-brother, let alone Fitzgerald, were aware of the genealogical connection. According to his daughter, Fitzgerald was not very interested in his Maryland ancestry. On our side, the link was through my great-grandmother, who had died when my grandmother was six, before my great-grandfather married Van Wyck Brooks’ mother (who had also been widowed). My grandmother was brought up to a certain extent by her dead mother’s sisters, who would certainly not have approved of Gatsby (either the character or the book) and anyway she lived in Europe and Asia for most of her adult life.

But sometimes it’s a small world, isn’t it?

The Chosen and the Beautiful was my top unread book by a writer of colour. Next on that list is The All-Consuming World, by Cassandra Khaw.

February 2020 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging at the end of October 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 the month with a Bulgarian TV interview about Brexit, which had just happened:

With no idea of what was to come, I did a lot of travelling in February 2020; a work trip to the FAO headquarters in Rome, right beside the Circus Maximus;

with a statue sculpted by Gina Lollobrigida, who died last month:

I had my last transatlantic flight for two years to Gallifrey One in Los Angeles:

And went to another convention the next weekend in Brussels, where I slightly crossed the streams by going as a Ghostbuster but getting Doctor Who photos with Paul McGann, Alex Kingston and the Paternoster Gang:

And finally a trip to England at the end of the month, finishing at a friend’s birthday party. Little did I realise, as I fell asleep in Cambridge on 29 February, that it would be almost five months until I next left Belgium.

I read 20 books that month.

Non-fiction: 6 (YTD 12)
The Idea of Justice, by Amartya Sen
The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn
The Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant – (did not finish)
A Popular History of Ireland, by Thomas D’Arcy McGee – (did not finish)
H.G. Wells: A Literary Life, by Adam Roberts
J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for Lúthien: the “gallant” Edith Bratt, by Nancy Bunting and Seamus Hamill-Keays

Fiction (non-sf): 2 (YTD 5)
A Killing Winter, by Tom Callaghan
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

sf (non-Who): 8 (YTD 25)
Shadow Over Mars, by Leigh Brackett
Arc of the Dream, by A. A. Attanasio (did not finish)
The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
The Aachen Memorandum, by Andrew Roberts
2020 Vision, ed. Jerry Pournelle
Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Rosewater Insurrection, by Tade Thompson

Doctor Who: 3 (YTD 5)
Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment, by Ian Marter
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen, by Terrance Dicks

Comics: 1 (YTD 5)
The Wicked + The Divine vol 9: Okay, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson & Clayton Cowles

5,800 pages (YTD 13,300)
4/20 (YTD 14/52) by women (Mendlesohn, Bunting, Brackett, Anders)
2/20 (YTD 4/52) by PoC (Sen, Thompson)

The best books of this month were all BSFA nominees, two novels and one non-fiction:

  • Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky; get it here
  • The Rosewater Insurrection, by Tade Thompson; get it here
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn; get it here

On the other hand I completely bounced off Arc of the Dream, by A.A. Attanasio, after ten pages; simply too badly written. (You can get it here.)

Rise of the Dominator, by Robert Mammone

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Ruth Winters looked up from reading a report; her lips pressed tightly together, her eyes narrowed.

Another in the sequence of Lethbridge-Stewart novels where the Brigadier and two of his friends have had their consciousnesses sent wandering back along their timeline. This was not one of the better ones. A surviving Dominator from earlier in the series is mixed up with organised crime and Nazis in 1973 London, while the events of The Silurians and Ambassadors of Death take place elsewhere. Really annoyed me by misspelling a couple of German names – Bormann becomes “Boorman”, the Ahnenerbe becomes the “Annenerbe”; I think putting Nazis into a 1970s spinoff Doctor Who story is lazy anyway, but not getting the German words right is positively indolent. Anyway, you can get it here, and I look forward to the end of this rather disappointing subsequence in what has generally been a good series.

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness

Opening of Part Three:

The sound of water. Light up on Boa Island. Craig rests, smoking. Pyper enters.
Craig: Well?
Pyper: Good. Good place.
Craig: I hoped you’d like it.
Pyper: You rowed out here every day?
Craig: When I had the chance and I wanted to be on my island.
Pyper: Your island?
Craig: Sorry. Boa Island. I stand corrected. I meant when I wanted to be on my own.
Pyper: Nobody ever comes here?
Craig: Very few.
Pyper: Strange.
Craig: This place? Yes.
Pyper: The place is definitely strange, but strange too, people shouldn’t come.
Craig: Why should they come here?
Pyper: The carvings.
Craig: What are they?
Pyper: Signs.

This play won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize in 1986, and I was lucky enough to see it thirty years later, at the Abbey Theatre for the 2016 production commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Reading the script now can’t really do justice to the memory of the theatre production, which starred Donal Gallery as Pyper, and crucially used the space of the stage to make the story come alive.

It’s a reflection on eight soldiers recruited to the Ulster Division during the First World War, exploring their understanding of the universe, life, love and loyalty. The narrative is bookended by Pyper in old age reflecting on how he survived and his friends did not (so the fact that seven of the eight die is signalled early on).

I find the third act the most effective, the eight characters back home on leave and split into four pairs, two on Boa island, two at a church, two at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and two at the Field where Orange marches finish (which historically was at Finaghy, close to where I grew up, though I do not know if that was the case in 1915 or 1916). It gives the men a chance to explain themselves to each other, a sympathetic but informed audience.

By the lakeside in Fermanagh, Pyper and Craig make love, which must have been rather shocking in 1985 and was still a bit unexpected in 2016. (Also the weather must have been very good that day.) All of the characters reflect on the place of Ulster in Ireland, in Britainm in Europe and in the empire. There are some very good lines:

Old Pyper: Those I belonged to, those I have not forgotten, the irreplaceable ones, they kept their nerve, and they died. I survived. No, survival was not my lot. Darkness, for eternity, is not survival.

McIlwaine: The whole of Ulster will be lost. We’re not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you’ve seen this war. We are the sacrifice.

Younger Pyper: I have seen horror
Elder Pyper: Ulster
Younger Pyper: They kept their nerve and they died.
Elder Pyper: Ulster
Younger Pyper: There would be and there will be, no surrender.
Elder Pyper: Ulster
Younger Pyper: The house has grown cold, the province has grown lonely.
Elder Pyper: Ulster
Younger Pyper: You’ll always guard Ulster.
Elder Pyper: Ulster.
Younger Pyper: Save it
Elder Pyper: Ulster
Younger Pyper: The temple of the Lord is ransacked.
Elder Pyper: Ulster.
(Pyper reaches toward himself)
Younger Pyper: Dance in this deserted temple of the Lord.
Elder Pyper: Dance

You can get it here.

This was the non-sf fiction book that had lingered longest on my unread shelves. Next in that pile is The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman, by Flann O’Brien, but it will have to wait until I have finished my 2016 books.

Ewart-Biggs Prize winners: Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, by Frank McGuinness | From A Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb, by Timothy Knatchbull | Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, by Julieann Campbell | The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923, by Charles Townshend | The Whole and Rain-Domed Universe, by Colette Bryce | The Sun is Open, by Gail McConnell

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, by James Moran

When the TV story The Fires of Pompeii was first shown in 2008, I wrote:

I must have been one of the few kids of my generation who voluntarily did Latin O-level. There were two of us in the class; our teacher was from Achill Island, and had studied classics in Galway through the medium of Irish (which she also taught at our school). However we used the Ecce Romani books, not the Cambridge Latin Course, so missed out on that particular set of in-jokes.

But I loved the Doctor’s shifty acknowledgement of responsibility for the Great Fire of Rome, and my Big Finish sympathies were satisfied with the fact that there was no explicit contradiction with what Seven and Mel were up to on the other side of town. I also liked the new take on the Tardis translation effect – “Look you!” – and the way in which the Doctor accepts responsibility for causing the eruption. There was that one moment reminiscent of the “You lucky bastard!” scene from Life of Brian, and I am aware that volcanoes on the whole do not contain such conveniently located corridors, but I was willing to take the ride.

It was also one of the lockdown rewatches organised by Emily Cook (who deserves a medal from the wider Who community).

Also during the 2020 lockdown, James Moran wrote a webcast sequel with descendants of the Pompeiians in today’s Britain:

It was great fun to rewatch it for this post, especially now that we know we’ll see Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan again. (Karen Gillan is the first of the soothsayers to appear, in an episode filmed ten weeks before her 20th birthday.) The Tenth Doctor / Donna dynamic is fantastic – they are just friends, but very good friends even though this is only their third adventure together.

(Though Anne said, after I showed her an episode of Galaxy Four soon after rewatching The Fires of Pompeii, “Wasn’t it great when they didn’t feel that they had to emote all the time?”)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of James Moran’s novelisation is:

The villa was a big, open-plan design, with a large atrium and living area leading off to smaller alcoves. Four large hypocaust grilles in the floor constantly pumped out thick gusts of hot steam. There were vases, plants, busts, statues and gaudy chunks of decorative marble everywhere. Caecilius was a man who liked art, the fancier the better. But there was something about this blue box that intrigued him more than anything. He’d always admired modern art, especially the way it was occasionally hard to tell what was actually art and what was just a weird lump of material. It was a matter of will, sometimes. If you said something was art, and said it loudly enough, people would believe it, even if it looked like a child had made it; especially so in some cases. Plenty of modern art was undeniably beautiful, of course, but it was all subjective in the end. As long as you liked something, and it gave you pleasure, then it was art, and nobody could tell you otherwise.

This is great fun, with the episode script faithfully delivered to the page and more detail added, including that Caecilius and Metella’s son Quintus is gay and the following jewel about Donna’s life:

In the Temple of Sibyl, Donna was not in a good mood. It was fair to say this was probably the worst mood she’d been in all year.

And she’d had a pretty spectacularly bad few months, even before reconnecting with the Doctor. In any other year, being hunted down by a lunatic alien nanny and lumps of living fat would have been the worst thing ever – but this year, that barely scraped the top five. There was the disastrous night out chasing a taxi driver she thought was an alien in disguise, which resulted in her online taxi app somehow dropping her passenger rating to below zero. That was quite an achievement; the company actually sent her a certificate. Cancelled her account, of course, but they were still impressed. Then there was the Bad Haircut Incident of February, which her friends and family were ordered to NEVER mention again, even though it had grown out since and she had deleted all photos of the offending barnet. And then there was the speed-dating evening her mum had forced her to go on, during which she had slapped three men, punched two, and been barred from an entire street. And those were just the top three bad things to happen. There were so many others she wished she could forget, too, including the event everyone simply referred to in hushed tones as KebabGate.

But none of them had ended with her tied to a sacrificial altar, in a creepy secret temple, with some sort of spooky druids standing around chanting and waving knives. So this pipped them all to the top spot. By some considerable distance. She just hoped she would live to tell the tale.

I complimented the author on this and he was good enough to reply.

It’s exactly what you want from a novelisation – captures the fun of the original TV episode and adds a bit more characterisation and background. (Except for the Pyroviles.) You can get it here.

Sunday reading


Last books finished
Complexity: A Very Short Introduction, by John H. Holland
The World Set Free: A Fantasia of the Future, by H.G. Wells
Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al
σ2 (did not finish)
The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life, by Marcus Du Sautoy
Roadside Picnic, by Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, by Rona Munro

Next books
Lucy Wilson & the Bledoe Cadets, by Tim Gambrell
Wild Cards: Deuces Down, ed. John J. Miller
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

Square numbers ending in repeated digits

A mathematical curiosity that I have been thinking about.

You have probably noticed that 12², in base 10, is 144. (Actually the square of the number 12 in any base from 5 upwards is always 144 in that base, for fairly obvious reasons.) You might not have noticed that 38², in base 10, is 1,444. I did notice this and wondered if it’s possible to find squares with ever increasing numbers of 4’s at the end.

The short answer is no. The long answer is that, apart from the obvious case of square numbers ending in 0, if you are sticking to base 10 the most repeated digits you can have at the end is three 4’s, as in 38². All square numbers in base 10 ending in 1 have an even number in the tens column. (01, 81, 121, 361…) All square numbers in base 10 ending in 9 have an even number in the tens column. (09, 49, 169, 289…) All square numbers in base 10 ending in 5 have a 2 in the tens column. (25, 225, 625…)

All square numbers in base 10 ending in 4, however do have an even number in the tens column (04, 64, 144, 324…) so one in five of them will have two 4’s at the end. Square numbers in base 10 ending in …44 can have either an odd or an even number in the hundreds column, and it’s not much work to show that any number in base 10 of the form 500n ± 38 (where n is an integer) will have a square that ends in …444. However that is the end of the story, as the number in the thousands column will always be odd: 38² = 1,444; 462² = 213,444; 538² = 289,444; 962² = 925,444 and so on.

That’s in base 10. Other bases are a different matter. (Though again, in every case, you can always get square numbers which end in increasing 0’s.) In base 2, all odd squares end in ..001, so there is no chance of repeated digits at the end other than 0. In base 4, all odd squares end either in …01 or …21.

For odd numbers, however, there seems to be no limit. In base 3, for instance, the number 121 (base 10) the square of 11 (base 10) is 11,111 in base 3 (81+27+9+3+1). In base 5 and above, square numbers that end in 1 can be multiplied by 4 to get more square numbers that end in 4.

And larger even numbers may offer more flexibility too. In base 16 (hexadecimal), the square of 497 (1175 in base 10) is 15,111 (1,380,625 in base 10); the square of DC5 (3,525 in base 10) is BD9,999 (12,425,625 in base 10).

Anyway, that’s as far as I have got for now.