November 2023 books

Travel this month: Oslo, Paris, London, and tonight in Natick, MA, via Copenhagen.

Non-fiction 8 (YTD 79)
Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost
The Hand of Fear, by Simon Bucher-Jones
Dalek, by Billy Sequire
All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham
One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy 
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton
Many Grains of Sand, by Liz Castro

Non-genre 2 (YTD 27)
The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
Under the Yoke, by Ivan Vazov

SF 5 (YTD 159)
The Road to Amber, by Roger Zelazny
My Real Children, by Jo Walton 
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 32)
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, by David Fisher
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who: Dalek, by Rob Shearman

Comics 2 (YTD 26)
Facing Fate: Vortex Butterflies, by Nick Abadzis et al
Eldrad Must Live! by Bob Baker, Stephen B. Scott,  Andrew Orton and Colin Brockhurst

4,400 pages (YTD 82,000)
7/21 (YTD 141/330) by non-male writers (Murphy, Norton, Castro, Walton, Byrne, Leckie, illustrators of Vortex Butterflies)
None (YTD 42/330) by a non-white writer
9 rereads (The Prisoner of Zenda, My Real Children, The Girl in the Road, Ancillary Sword, The Metamorphosis, Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, Doctor Who: Dalek)

338 books currently tagged unread – down 6 from last month.

Reading now
None – typing this up just after I finished The Metamorphosis on the plane.

Coming soon (perhaps)
Facing Fate: The Good Companion, by Nick Abadzis et al
Doctor Who: The Star Beast, by Gary Russell
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, by Terrance Dicks
Invasion of the Dinosaurs, by Jon Arnold
The Haunting of the Villa Diodati, by Philip Purser-Hallard
Giants at the End of the World, by Johanna Sinisalo
Recollections of Virginia Woolf by Her Contemporaries, by Joan Russell Noble
Atlas of Irish History, by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Jaren van de olifant, by Willy Linthout
Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
A Long Day in Lychford, by Paul Cornell
The New Machiavelli, by H. G. Wells
Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez
Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Notes from the Burning Age, by Claire North
Land of the Blind, by Scott Gray et al
Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne
How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
The Pragmatic Programmer, by David Thomas
“Georgia On My Mind”, by Charles Sheffield
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless
The Unsettled Dust, by Robert Aickman
Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Second paragraph of third chapter:

In due course Oswald left his minor public school at seventeen, and went straight into the RAF, where he ended up in Bomber Command. He was killed in the autumn of 1943 flying a raid over Germany. Patty went home to Twickenham that Christmas, all heartiness and perpetual appetite, in the middle of a late growth spurt. She found her mother trying to be proud of her heroic son but succeeding only in being desolate. Her father looked ten years older. She knew she was no compensation to them for Oswald’s loss, and did not try. Her own loss was constantly with her.

A novel of a woman whose life bifurcates when she accepts – or rejects – her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in the 1940s; we follow her through two different timelines of England (mostly) in the late twentieth century, with neither timeline being the same as ours – one is a little more hopeful, with colonies on the moon; one less so, with war and conflict. I enjoyed it and was moved by it, but not as much as by Walton’s previous Among Others. I found the biographical details of the main character’s parallel lives a bit staccato in places, especially towards the end, and I wasn’t at all convinced that her early decision was a plausible jonbar point for the two histories – though that appears to be the point of the story. However the depiction of how differently family dynamics can play out under varied circumstances is compassionate and convincing.

It was one of the novels submitted for that year’s Clarke Award, when I was one of the judges, but in the end we didn’t even shortlist it. It did, however, jointly win the Tiptree Award (along with The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne), and was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and a bunch of others. You can get it here.

The Road to Amber, by Roger Zelazny; and the story behind “Manna from Heaven”

Second paragraph of third story, “Come Back to the Killing Ground, Alice, My Love” (as presented in this collection; in earlier publication this text is merged with the previous and following sentences to form a longer first paragraph)

At first I didn’t recognize her. And when I did I knew it still couldn’t be right, her, there, with her blindfolded companion in the sandals and dark kimono. She was dead, the octad broken. There couldn’t be another. Certain misgivings arose concerning this one. But I had no choice. Does one ever? There are things to do. Soon she will move. I will taste their spirits.

I complained last month that I had already read all of the stories in the fifth volume of the collected Roger Zelazny. More of the material in this final volume seemed new to me; it starts with an adaptation of the Grimm tale Godfather Death, which Zelazny also turned into a musical (never staged); the final Amber stories are here, but so also is some background writing about Amber which was not widely available in his lifetime; and there are some non-fiction pieces about his concept of his own craft, as well as emotional reminiscences about Zelazny the man and mentor, from friends and family. It’s a thoroughly satisfactory capstone to the five volumes that went before.

I am very glad to report that NESFA, the publishers, have just released all six volumes in epub and mobi format. I was happy to spend quite a lot for the hard copies, with the gorgeous Michael Whelan wraparound cover, but for a lot of fans $9.95 for the electronic version makes more sense. But if you want to, you can get the six volumes here, here, here, here, here and here.

The majority of the sort fiction here was previously published in the 2003 collection Manna from Heaven, which I read in 2005 and was underwhelmed by. A commenter on my original Livejournal post had this to say:

Manna from Heavan is a piece of trash…

There are very good reasons why you were *underwhelmed* by the book. One of the big collectors Scott Zrubek, (laughingly misspelled in book) bought the rights to print Roger’s short-stories and had a Pre-determined list for inclusions. Then he asked for suggestions on story inclusions, then ignored them all and did exactly what he wanted to, its what I call *hardheaded*. He also had a pre-determined name for the book, his favorite story Mana from Heaven, but the estate said that name cannot be used for legal reasons, so again with a hardhead, he changed the Mana to Manna simply so he could keep his original title. But the crowning mis-achievement is that despite offers of financial backing (ahem… me!) he proceeded to use a friend of his to actually produce the book, and all the hype about a wonderfully bound, high-quality acid-free paper with smythe-sewn binding, etc, etc, became a total piece of well…. the paper couldnt be any cheaper, the binding couldnt be any cheaper, the boards warp over time, etc. etc. etc. as his *friend* gave the printing to the cheapest bid and the book was printed in TAIWAN. His friend went for the bucks of profit and the book went to the dogs.
Just thought you might want to know what happens when *one* man and *his* friend decide to ignore all reason and requests and produce an item on their own as a lasting legacy to someone HA HA HA….

This provoked a response from a Livejournal user using the handle “madmoravian”, who from context must be Scott Zrubek:

Unfortunately, some of what you say is true and some of what you say is completely unknown to me.

My goal with the book was to get stories that had not seen the light of day back before the public’s eye. The stories I could get my hands on (there are some stories of which I have no copies) were not all of the ones I wanted to publish. Also, because of space reasons for a commercially viable book, a number of stories are sitting on the editing floor. Calling me “hardheaded” is, to me, a bit callous, considering the struggle I had deciding which ones went in and which ones were left out and which ones I had access to.

Someone had to make the final call and, since I’d paid for the rights, I figured it should be me. I put 6 years of my life into the book and quite a bit of money. I’m pleased with the way it turned out, but not overjoyed. Could it have been better? Absolutely. There are a number of things that occurred during the process that I would love to be able to change. Alas, ’tis not to be.

My favorite story of the book is not “Mana from Heaven”. Probably “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountain” is. I thought that title to be an appropriate one for the entire book, with either spelling of mana/manna. I don’t know whether I came up with that for the title of the book, or if one of the other two folks involved did.

I’d be interested to know who you are. Granted, this occurred a long time ago, and I could be forgetting facts, but I don’t remember offers of financial backing from anyone. Financial backing was not the only consideration, there had to be a way to get the book out and distributed. The method that actually occurred pretty much fell flat on its face, but it looked good at the beginning.

I personally don’t believe that I ignored all reason and requests. I ignored some reason and was not able to fulfill some requests, but that is life as a human being, is it not?

I know nothing more.

The Road to Amber was the sf book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Giants at the End of the World, edited by Johanna Sinisalo, the 2017 WorldCon anthology.

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Before all of these looms Adventure, Warren Robinett’s second game for Atari. (His first, Slot Racers, was a combat racing game in which each player navigated a rudimentary slot car through a maze, attempting to fire a bazooka and hit the opposing player’s car.) Robinett was the first Atari employee who had a degree in computer science, which may have had something to do with his visiting the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and encountering another kind of maze there – one that would inspire the cartridge he created. The game he devised was not at all obvious at the time, but it would manage to establish the basic conventions of the graphical adventure.

I know very little about computer games, and still less about the early history of the Atari system; but sometimes it does you good to read about a field of human endeavour with which you are completely unfamiliar. This is a tremendous analysis of how coding is affected by external factors, especially the way in which the business of game development is financed and structured, but also from learning about player preferences and making crazy bets about game features which turn out to pay off (or not).

This slim volume looks in depth at six games, only one of which I had heard of – Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but also in passing at the other games developed before or at the same time in each case, to paint a picture of the intellectual moment in which the writing of the game took place. There is a modest amount of machine code, but a lot of analysis of how ideas get turned into player experience. I don’t think I have retained very much of the information, but I come away struck by the cultural profundity of the whole enterprise. Recommended even for those like me who are not immersed in the subject. You can get it here.

This was my top book acquired in 2019 which is not by H.G. Wells. Next on that pile is The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless.

Sunday reading

Under the Yoke, by Ivan Vazov
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton

Last books finished
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne
The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham
One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy 

Next books
Many Grains of Sand, by Liz Castro
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

Doctor Who: The Star Beast

This afternoon I hunted down my very dusty copy of The Iron Legion and refamiliarised myself with the story of Beep the Meep, as originally told in 1980. Reaction on social media ranged from “That’s an impressive artistic team” to “I spent 12p out of my 50p pocket money on that”.

It a great story, with the first ever non-white companion becoming part of the Doctor’s adventures. I was not living in the UK when it was first published in the spring of 1980, but I must have caught up with it pretty soon, at the latest when it was republished in 1984. So I’ve been wondering how Beep the Meep could be put on screen for almost forty years. I was glad to see about 60% of it transferred to tonight’s story.

Stunned to see just how much you would need to pay for a second-hand copy of The Iron Legion, but you can try and get one here.

I also had a listen while out at the shops a bit later to the 2002 Big Finish audio The Ratings War, by Steve Lyons, which brings back Beep the Meep as a sinister broadcasting magnate and has a lot of sly references to the state of Doctor Who at the time, delivered pointedly by Colin Baker. The central theme was used for a couple of TV Ninth Doctor stories a couple of years later, but it’s still worth a listen to get a sense of where things were at the time, and it’s actually available for free from Big Finish here.

So, wasn’t tonight’s episode brilliant? Tennant and Tate back on form, resolving some of the dangling plot points from 2010, incorporating almost all of the good bits from the 1980 comic strip, and with some suitable reflections on who the Doctor is, and what it means to be human in all our forms. (The coffee bit at the end was just a bit silly, but I forgive it, just because). I’m really hopeful for a new surge of consistent quality for the next two weeks, and beyond. The music was good too. But yeah, I loved it.

Edited to add: Just watched the behind the scenes video. Real lump in the throat to see Dave Gibbons and Pat Mills reacting to a 40-year-old story hitting the screen.

Doom’s Day: 24 Doctor Who stories in different media, of which less than half feature the Doctor

For the 60th anniversary, we have been given a slightly weird thing: a 24-part story featuring a time-travelling assassin called Doom, in which the Doctor figures only occasionally, told across various media with, frankly, varying degrees of success. The two big problems are that murder isn’t actually all that funny a topic, so it’s awkward to find the tone for a set of funny stories about assassination; and that Doom actually isn’t a very good assassin, in that all of her missions seem to end in failure.

Hour One, by James Goss (online story) – third paragraph:

“I’m dying.”

As my regular reader knows, I’m normally a huge fan of James Goss’s writing, but I’m afraid that this first chapter made very little sense to me. You can read it here for free.

Four Hours of Doom’s Day, by Jacqueline Rayner, art by Russ Leach, Mike Summers and Roger Langridge (comic strip supplement to DWM #592) – second frame of third story:

Again, I normally enjoy Jacqueline Rayner’s prose, and again, I felt that this was far too rushed; the four stories have only 16 pages between them, and the first has only two. We get an appearance from the Sixth Doctor, and separately we also get Jo Grant, River Song, Cybermen and Nestenes. But there’s really not much there.

A Doctor in the House? by Jody Houser, art by Roberta Ingranata, Warnia K. Sahadewa, Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt (Titan comics) – second frame of third story:

Given a bit more space to breathe in – 64 pages across the four stories – I enjoyed this much more; also there’s a nice consistency in that Missy appears in each of the four, creating a fun dynamic with our heroine, and the Twelfth Doctor turns up in the last of them. It’s not yet out as a single volume but you can get the two issues here and here.

AI am the Doctor, by Mario M. Mentasti (video game)

I downloaded the Lost in Time videogame purely so that I could get to this installment of the Doom’s Day story. It is an exceptionally dull game, where you don’t have to do much except poke at the screen to score points, interrupted by occasional bits of plot. If you play the game for long enough, you get to the two Doom-related bits. I poked my way through to the first of these, realised that I had not absorbed any of the plot, closed the game down and have not started it up again.

Extraction Point, by M.G. Harris (novel) – second paragraph of third section:

Huh, cave art. Didn’t expect that.

Four more stories in which the Ninth Doctor appears briefly in the first and the Second Doctor plays a larger role in the last. (There is a confusing misprint on page 220: “The Doctor was already lowering herself into the elevator” which from context should clearly be “himself”.) It’s Harris’s first contribution to Who, and as with some of the other Doom’s Day components I found it a bit rushed. Still, interesting use of shape-changing aliens – the Kraals and Slitheen do have that in common. You can get it here.

Wrong Place at the Right Time, by Garner Haines (video game)

As mentioned above, I lost patience with the Lost in Time game, which this is part of, and did not get to this bit.

Four from Doom’s Day, by Darren Jones (audiobooks)

Four more stories, of which my favourite was the first, read by Sooz Kempener (who also reads the last of the four) and involving Ian and Barbara on a Mediterranean cruise. The Twelfth Doctor shows up in the last of them. You can get them here.

Dying Hours, by Jacqueline Rayner, Robert Valentine, Simon Clark and Lizzie Hopley (Big Finish audio plays)

These are the only parts of Doom’s Day that actually feature actor Sooz Kempener in the title role, along with Becky Wright as her controller Terri. Probably each of the audio plays took more combined creative effort from all the the professionals involved than any of the other segments, and it certainly pays off; you can’t rush an hour-long story with real actors into two pages of text. Even so, the four plays have various levels of success; the one that worked best for me was the last, The Crowd by Lizzie Hopley, which brings Doom into contact with the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard (a welcome return from India Fisher) at the scene of the murder of Thomas Becket. You can get it here.

Out of Time, by James Goss (online story – third paragraph:

The Doctor.

Actually this is short, funny and to the point; the First Doctor shows up and sorts everything out, though in such a way that, once you pause for thought, you slightly wonder if it all really mattered that much in the first place. You can read it for free here.

And finally, there’s a game called Doom’s Minute on the BBC website. It took me a while to work out how to play it, and it’s not all that exciting, but you can play it here.

I can see why the BBC decided to try and do a multiplatform story – it’s a good idea to try and draw those who may not have been into all of the available varieties of media together. Sooz Kempener is a great performer and it’s a shame that we only actually get her in the audio plays towards the end. But this honestly felt rather rushed in places; the bits that worked best for me – the Big Finish audios and the Titan comics – were probably the ones that took the most energy and creativity, and it shows.

Dalek, by Billy Seguire (and Robert Shearman)

Happy 60th birthday, Doctor Who! This week, I’ve been blogging Doctor Who books, and here’s another one.

The first New Who episode with a Dalek was shown the Saturday before the 2005 UK election; I was blogging a lot about New Who at the time, and celebrated the Radio Times cover:

I hugely enjoyed the actual episode:

That was excellent. An existential Dalek, no less! The back-story of the Time War comes into clearer focus. The mutant inside was, as put it, “suitably squamous and rugose, not to mention dripping with mucus”. The three-way relationship between the Doctor, Rose and the Dalek. (Oh yeah, and Adam. Who is a bit pretty.)

I’ve watched it a couple of times since, including the lockdown group watch in 2020, and enjoyed it every time.

Coming back to it now, I felt that Corey Johnson as Van Statten is perhaps a little underwhelming, but the rest is still great. We know a bit more now about Eccleston’s personal demons, and it deepens my appreciation of his performance.

The second sentence of the third chapter of Robert Shearman’s novelisation of his own story is:

It might be thought that they had been paired deliberately as comic contrast. But they hadn’t. Van Statten didn’t have that sort of sense of humour. And now as he swept into the Cage operations room, they both snapped to attention and saluted. They knew that their boss wouldn’t acknowledge them, that he probably wouldn’t even notice they were there – but it was the correct form of the thing. If they were surprised that he’d brought the intruder with them they didn’t show it. They were paid not to be surprised.

When I first read it two years ago, I wrote:

Great novelisation of one of the great New Who episodes. You have seen the show, here’s the writer’s cut, as it were, giving new background to a number of the characters, smoothing out a couple of plot kinks, with combination of tight-third for Rose interspersed with notes from the omniscient narrator explaining what was happening. We lose a couple of the good lines (“He’s a bit pretty” / “I hadn’t noticed”) but we get a lot more in other areas. Well worth adding to the collection. You can get it here.

Coming to it again just after rewatching the TV episode, I noticed several significant points that I should have remarked on first time around. Goddard is actually an FBI plant, and takes over operations from Van Statten a bit earlier (which makes sense). We get a lot more about everyone’s background, including the security guards. Adam’s personal weapons cache has been built up by him in case he might need to shoot his way out. It’s very satisfactory.

I am in a mood of tracing roots of stories at the moment, so I listened again to Shearman’s earlier Big Finish play, Jubilee, which is credited on screen as the basis for Dalek. It was the 40th Big Finish audio, produced in time for the 40th anniversary of the show in 2003. When I first listened to it in 2007, I wrote:

Jubilee was of course the basis for the superb Ninth Doctor story Dalek. I was surprised, though, by how different it was. There are similarities – the first confrontation between Doctor and imprisoned Dalek, the relationship between Dalek and companion (done more convincingly on TV), the Dalek’s quest for orders (done more convincingly here); but there is a huge difference in setting, the audio play taking place in an alternate 2003 where the world is ruled from London by the villainous Mr and Mrs Martin Jarvis, thanks to the Doctor’s intervention a hundred years earlier. And yet this doesn’t fall into the category of Doctor-returns-to-the-scene-of-a-previous-adventure stories, because the earlier Sixth Doctor is still there. It’s a good one, but the TV version is I think better (not always the case; see Spare Parts).

I confess that on this listening I didn’t feel that it worked as well. The two core moments – when first the Doctor and then his companion meet the imprisoned Dalek – are both very good and ended up much less changed for the TV story. The first half is fine, as we get dug into the horror of an parallel timeline where the UK’s dictatorship maintains its position by whipping up fear of the Daleks; but I felt it lost the run of itself at the end, with too many cases of characters revealing that their real motivations are completely different to what we had been told; and I did not feel that all the plot strings were tied up. There is some great humour – especially the opening sequence which parodies the whole concept of Doctor Who – but some dark shifts of tone which seemed to me dissonant rather than masterful. It’s probably fair to say that fannish expectations were different back in 2003, when it looked like the Wilderness Years would last for ever. You can get it here.

Billy Seguire has delivered an excellent analysis of the story and everything around it in this Black Archive. It has nine chapters and an interview with Robert Shearman, so I’m afraid I will run through them fairly quickly, while still recommending the book to the interested reader.

The first chapter, “‘And Now I Know Your Name’”, looks at the significance of the epsiode’s one-word title and the way in which Daleks can be named; the Dalek of the episode is referred to subsequently as “Metaltron”.

The second chapter, “The Myth of the Great Curator”, looks at museums in Doctor Who; there are plenty of them.

The third chapter, “‘That’s What They Called It the Last Time’”, looks at the evolution of the story from Jubilee to the TV story and then to the novel. Its (long) second paragraph is:

Words like ‘adaptation’, ‘remake’, and ‘reboot’ are all used to describe a work that is drawing on a past version of itself. ‘Drawing’ is a loaded word in this context, one which can apply either to what an adaptation takes, as in drawing water from a well, or what it defaces, such as drawing a shape on a blackboard. Both meanings apply to the concept of adaptation through the way the past and future versions interact. In the case of Jubilee, becoming ‘the story that became Dalek’ breaks it down to those elements which were carried forward and removes contextual factors like the anniversary nature of the story, or public perception of the sixth Doctor, from consideration. In a sense, this applies to any progression of history. Our present circumstances come into play when interpreting the past in a way that wouldn’t have applied to contemporary analysis. History requires perspective. Yet adaptations are unique in that they allow us to bridge, and affect our understanding of, two distinct periods through direct contrast. There’s a continuing presence of the original in an adaptation that links it to the past work. There is also a way in which the original is now affected. When someone says that a revived work ‘ruined their childhood’, what they really mean is that the new work has infiltrated their perception of the original, that the elements that made it work were removed. This is particularly true in ongoing works, such as the Star Wars franchise, where new entries are made to fit into various states of canon or validity. An adaptation is different from a sequel because they tell the same story. Some elements are bound to contradict, meaning whichever version becomes the prime text often directly overwrites the original.

The fourth chapter, “‘And When I Close My Eyes’”, looks at the story as a portrayalof consflict-related trauma in the context of Abu Ghraib and the conflicts of the early 21st century.

The fifth chapter, “‘And You Made Me Better’”, looks at the character of Rose as a transformative agent for the Doctor (and the Dalek).

The sixth chapter, “Who Owns the Internet?”, looks at the portrayal of the online world in the story, which came just before the growth of social media. (Van Statten’s original name was “Will Fences”, but this is obviously too close to Bill Gates.)

The seventh chapter, “The Dalek Surprise Party”, looks at how Joe Ahearne’s direction and Murray Gold’s music maintain our attention.

The eighth and longest chapter, “In the Absence of God”, makes a convincing case that the Daleks tell us something important about religion and belief. A couple of previous Black Archives have made the mistake of banging on about theology too much, and this seems to me much better-judged.

The ninth chapter, “‘Why Don’t You Just Die?’”, looks at the tricky topic of how suicide is (and can be) portrayed in Doctor Who.

An appendix includes an interview with Robert Shearman, with some interesting reflections on the creative process.

The scene which I’m in some ways happiest with, just because I just think it’s got the best bit of writing in it, is the scene where Chris [Eccleston] gets really angry and goes off about van Statten dragging the stars down. That got very nearly cut. After being filmed, Joe Ahearne said to me, ‘You know, I don’t think we need that.’ I said, ‘Could we keep it?’ And he asked why and I said, rather painfully, ‘It’s just the bit I like the most.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, all right.’ I mean, bless his heart because that’s not his job, and you don’t need it. You don’t. But it’s still a scene which, when I watch Dalek, I remember writing that bit and being quite proud of it. I’m really pleased that it survives.

And unusually there is an online supplement, a chapter that didn’t fit into the book, looking at the online extras surrounding the 2005 relaunch in general and Dalek in particular, including a game where you actually play the Dalek trying to escape and finish by exterminating the Doctor!

A solid and interesting piece of analysis which deepened my appreciation for a favourite story. 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) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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) | 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 Hand of Fear (TV, novelisation, Black Archive); also, Eldrad Must Die!; also, Eldrad Must Live!

I think I missed the first three episodes of The Hand of Fear in October 1976 – I don’t know what would have taken nine-year-old me out of the house on those Saturday weekends, though I note that my grandfather died suddenly the night the second episode was shown, which must have led to some family disruption the following week.

However I vividly remember the fourth episode, with the barren, abandoned planetscape of Kastria, Eldrad shockingly crushed and then transformed from woman to man, and then the abrupt departure of Sarah Jane Smith, after three and a half years in the TARDIS. I enjoyed it a lot at the age of nine, even without having seen the story that got us there.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I wrote:

This may not be the greatest of stories – I rather missed UNIT being able to let the Doctor take control of the quarry and the nuclear plant – but it is still rather fun. In particular, it’s unusual for the Doctor to be so thoroughly hoodwinked by the bad guy (or gal in this case), and I rather liked the setting of Kastria. Of course, everyone remembers this for Sarah’s departure, but I could entirely sympathise with her fury at getting hypnotised yet again (I haven’t counted, but it must have been roughly the fourth time in five stories).

For my Great Rewatch in 2010, I wrote:

The Hand of Fear is two decent but not terribly memorable stories joined together – the first two episodes being the Nunton nuclear plant invaded by an alien, and the second two being the Destiny of Kastria once Eldrad arises. I remember first time around being really shocked by the moment the female Eldrad is apparently crushed to death. Most of the story is however fairly unremarkable; what makes it linger in the memory is of course Sarah Jane’s farewell, scripted on the spot by Baker and Sladen – I found I had something in my eye while watching it.

Maybe I was just in a good mood – if memory serves me right, I watched it on the way home from Oslo – but I enjoyed it a lot this time round. Out of sequence, I did not mind the absence of UNIT so much; I did like the awful horror of the power station, with the director’s tense farewell phone call to his family; and Judith Parris really steals the show as the first version of Eldrad. Having said which, Elisabeth Sladen is on top form here, and Sarah really does get one of the best farewells of any of the classic companions, perhaps only Susan and Jo are in the same league. There’s a nice piece about the story from 2011 in the Guardian.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is:

Tom Abbott was being surprisingly co-operative. At first the
Doctor’s reception had been rather hostile, but his insistence that
no one blamed Abbott for the accident and that Sarah was
comparatively unhurt, and above all his production of a set of
impressive credentials from some secret Government
establishment called UNIT, had all combined to put Abbott in a
more friendly frame of mind. He had even agreed to move the
old blue police box, in which the Doctor stored his equipment, to
a safe part of the quarry, and look after it until the Doctor had
time to arrange for its removal.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

A pretty standard retelling of the TV original, without much added or taken away. The story line seemed slightly clearer on paper, but maybe I just was not concentrating sufficiently when I watched it. On the other hand, Dicks does not quite do justice to Sarah Jane’s farewell scene.

I think that’s not quite fair; as the co-creator of the UNIT years, Dicks does add a bit more material to link The Hand of Fear with continuity. But basically this is a book to reassure you that you can re-experience the TV serial, in an age before video recorders. You can get it here.

It did strike me that the cover, by Roy Knipe, has Sarah not in the Andy Pandy suit that she wears on screen, but in what is frankly a much more sensible blue outfit, with the same red top and headscarf.

Left: book cover (scanned from my own much-loved copy, hence creases); right: TV series

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought; so I went back and re-listened to the 2013 Big Finish story Eldrad Must Die!, which I consumed shortly after its release but never got around to writing up here. It’s by Marc Platt, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough, and I’m afraid it’s not all that brilliant; poor old Turlough gets possessed as usual, and Stephen Thorne shows up as the male Eldrad and shouts. There’s a nod also to J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World. You can get it here.

More intriguingly, shortly before his death in 2021, Bob Baker (who with Dave Martin wrote the original story) published a sequel, Eldrad Must Live!, through Cutaway Comics, illustrated by Stephen B. Scott, Andrew Orton and Colin Brockhurst. This is the second frame of the third page:

As you can see they’ve caught Glyn Houston’s portrayal of the director rather well. It seems that Eldrad’s traces were not completely removed from the nuclear reactor, with predictable consequences, and a mysterious woman supposedly from the authorities shows up; however I’m afraid that the comic ends in mid-story, promising that it will be picked up in Cutaway Comics’ main sequence of Gods and Monsters; and this has not yet happened as far as I know. But you can get it here. I got only the PDF rather than the physical version, which comes with extras.

Simon Bucher-Jones has produced a really good Black Archive on this story, considering mainly the horror tropes. It’s quite long but has only four chapters.

The first and longest chapter, “Why Are Hands So Significant?”, looks at the history of the hand in art from the stone age onwards, and at the precedents for detached hands in horror films, looking at the obvious Addams Family, The Beast with Five Fingers and Carry On Screaming, but also a 1963 B-Movie called The Crawling Hand which features a detached body part from a spaceship explosion.

The second chapter, “‘Eldrad Must Live’: Three Types of Fear in The Hand of Fear“, points out that the hand itself doesn’t strangle anyone and isn’t bloodied; so why is it scary? Or even, is it scary? Bucher-Jones diverts via the Flixborough disaster to considering the story’s plot structure and how the narrative beats function. He’s not completely certain that it all works, but I’m more confident that it does.

The third chapter, “The Thing from the Aeons: Fossil Horror and The Shadow Out of Time“, looks at how ancient figures coming back to life are treated in Doctor Who, linking Eldrad with Omega, Davros and Rassilon. Its second paragraph is:

We discussed in Chapter 1 why the hand is a potent image in horror and fear, and in Chapter 2 how the ‘idea’ of Eldrad adds or transcends the physicality of that horror, being presented as a dark religion that afflicts and repurposes the mind, but there is a further aspect of the horror in The Hand of Fear in the first episode, which we have not yet touched on.

The fourth chapter, “Gender (and Other) Issues in The Hand of Fear“, briefly considers a) the fact that Judith Parrish’s female Eldrad is much better than Stephen Thorne’s male version; b) how the Hand could have landed relatively undamaged; c) the morality of the Doctor’s disposal of Eldrad; and d) the perfection of the final scene with Sarah’s departure.

An appendix, “Kastria and the Kastrians”, considers the difficulties of locating Kastria and of the Kastrians’ biology.

It’s a rare case among the Black Archives where I think I like the story more than the writer does, but in any case he does a good job 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) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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) | 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 Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope; The Androids of Tara, by Terrance Dicks and David Fisher; and a play by Paul Cornell

David Fisher’s novelisation of his 1978 Doctor Who story, The Androids of Tara, has recently been published in paper form (it had been around as an audiobook for ages). It is a story which draws very strongly on the 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope,so I thought I should go back to the beginning and re-read that as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter of The Prisoner of Zenda is:

I took an early luncheon, and, having bidden my kind entertainers farewell, promising to return to them on my way home, I set out to climb the hill that led to the Castle, and thence to the forest of Zenda. Half an hour’s leisurely walking brought me to the Castle. It had been a fortress in old days, and the ancient keep was still in good preservation and broad moat, which ran all round the old buildings, was a handsome modern chateau, erected by the last king, and now forming the country residence of the Duke of Strelsau. The old and the new portions were connected by a drawbridge, and this indirect mode of access formed the only passage between the old building and the outer world; but leading to the modern chateau there was a broad and handsome avenue. It was an ideal residence: when “Black Michael” desired company, he could dwell in his chateau; if a fit of misanthropy seized him, he had merely to cross the bridge and draw it up after him (it ran on rollers), and nothing short of a regiment and a train of artillery could fetch him out. I went on my way, glad that poor Black Michael, though he could not have the throne or the princess, had, at least, as fine a residence as any prince in Europe.

In case you don’t know, the story concerns one Rudolf Rassendyll, a minor English aristocrat, who visits the central European kingdom of Ruritania only to discover that he is an exact double of the new king. The new king gets drugged and kidnapped by his half-brother, who is scheming to take the throne, and Rudolf is co-opted to pretend to be the monarch, through the coronation, and courting the lovely princess Flavia. There’s lots of exciting sword-fighting and derring-do, especially around the castle of Zenda where the real king is being held, and the half-brother’s henchmen include an evil Belgian. It’s a slightly deeper book than most readers may think, with reflections on dynastic duty and honour, and it’s a cracking good and short read. You can get it here.

I remember hugely enjoying The Androids of Tara when it was first broadcast in later 1978; I would have been eleven. When I came back to it in 2008, having read The Prisoner of Zenda in the meantime, I wrote:

Almost all of The Androids of Tara is basically a lift from The Prisoner of Zenda – Romana actually finds the fourth segment of the Key to Time, the ostensible point of the plot, in the first episode while the Doctor is off fishing. But it is all great fun – Mary Tamm gorgeous as ever in all her parts (ie all her roles), the villainous count yelling “Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”

I noticed that Declan Mulholland, playing the Count’s sidekick Till, did so with a marked Ulster accent. I checked back on his one previous appearance in Doctor Who, in The Sea Devils, but his character is too busy dying in agony to really display much of an accent there.

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

The Androids of Tara is one of the most shamelessly derivative Who stories ever, so obviously ripped off from The Prisoner of Zenda that apparently even some of the lines are the same. But it’s done with great style and affection, with particularly the guest cast enthusiastically in it – most especially Peter Jeffrey’s evil Count Grendel, but the others as well (and a special shout-out for Declan Mulholland’s Ulster/Mummerset accent as Till). In a season where every story is a quest for a segment, it’s refreshing to have the segment found in the first ten minutes and then get on with the planetary intrigue. Mary Tamm doesn’t have to do much as Princess Strella, which again is a sign of the times.

One minor casting point is that this is the last of Cyril Shapps’ four appearances in Doctor Who, playing the Archimandrite this time, and the only occasion on which his character is not killed off.

On reflection, the story’s relationship with The Prisoner of Zenda is a little more complex than I said in either of my previous write-ups. The Doctor and Romana land in the middle of a Zenda-like plot, but take it in some different directions (and some similar). Rather than the central character being the King’s double, it is his sidekick who is the princess’s double; but the doubles double up thanks to the android theme, with Mary Tamm playing four different roles in the end. Several of the set-piece scenes are indeed lifted directly from Anthony Hope, but with variations – the drugged drink combines two slightly different events from the book; K9 intervenes directly to assist both getting into the Pavilion and getting out of the castle. (In fact we see more aggressive action from K9 here than usual.) Contra what is sometimes asserted, I don’t think any of David Fisher’s lines is a direct lift from Anthony Hope. But it is recognisably the same story, rewritten to have the Doctor, Romana, K9 and android duplicates.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation is:

‘Castle Gracht, my dear,’ said Count Grendel proudly. ‘Ancient home of the Grendels of Gracht.’

When I reread this in 2008, I wrote:

Another standard Dicks write-what’s-on-the-screen treatment.

Not much more to say. You can get it here.

It is delightful that we now have Fisher’s own version of the story, filled out in a number of directions. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The reason for this was that Madame Lamia had become interested in the crystal that the stranger had been found with. Lamia had broken two diamond-tipped drills on it and not even scratched the surface. Yet this strange woman, who was the spitting image of Princess Strella, kept insisting it was quartz. But it was like no quartz that Madame Lamia had ever seen. However, her concentration was shattered by the Count’s entrance at full gallop roaring like an angry bull.

As previously mentioned, this is actually the 2022 print version of a 2012 audiobook, slightly adapted for the page (as Steve Cole explains in an endnote). It is thoroughly satisfying. The social structure and recent history of Tara are explained in depth, if still not completely believably, and it’s very clear that the relationship between Count Grendel and his engineer Madame Lamia is sexually as well as economically exploitative. The whole thing feels very much bulked up rather than padded out, and I’m very glad that the BBC asked Fisher to have another go at it before it was too late. You can get it here.

For fun I went and reread Paul Cornell’s sequel, “The Trials of Tara”, which you can find in Decalog 2: Lost Property, a 1995 anthology of short stories which you can get here. I didn’t especially call attention to this story when I first read the book, but it’s an entertaining mashup of the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield returning to Tara to find that things have gone wrong in their absence, with that notorious android, the Candyman, also turning up, and the whole thing told in (more or less) iambic pentameter as a stage script, with elements of pantomime (Benny cross-dresses, the villains are appropriately villainous). The third scene opens as follows:

Scene 3. Another clearing, with TARDIS

Enter the Doctor and Bernice.

Doctor: This is the sweet and charming planet Tara.
Home to android smiths. And nobles.
On which I own a field or two of land
Having earned it. In royal serrvice.
My intent is to visit my old friend
Prince Reynart, and his princess bride Strella,
Who did resemble my friend Romana.

It’s actually really amusing, and I should have paid more attention on first reading it; it was a nice chaser to the three books. I don’t know of any other Taran spinoff fiction.

Facing Fate: Vortex Butterflies, by Nick Abadzis et al

(This week is going to be all Doctor Who blog posts. You have been warned.)

First and second frames of third part:

I’m getting to the end of the Titan Comics series about the Tenth Doctor, with companions Gabby and Cindy from New York and also Noob, an incarnation of the Osiran deity Anubis; just one more to go after this.

I thought this was rather good; the Doctor leaves his companions in 2009 Willesden, where they befriend Sarah Jane Smith, and they separately explore a kind of meditation on the Doctor / companion relationship, with some lovely art and a couple more cameos from other characters from the TV series. You can get it here.

Sunday reading

The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne
One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy 
The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham

Last books finished
Dalek, by Billy Sequire
All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Next books
Three Plays, by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton

Doctor Who novels, as recommended on LibraryThing and Goodreads, part 2

See previous post covering the Sarah Jane books, also Class, the three Companions novels, Missing Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures, and the Sixth, Thirteenth, Fifth, Eighth and Twelfth Doctor books.

Seventh Doctor novelisations and New Adventures

The top Seventh Doctor book on Goodreads is the second in the series of 74 New Adventures published by Virgin during the Wilderness Years, starting with Seven and Ace and expanding to include other companions, notably Bernice Summerfield. Timewyrm: Exodus shows veteran Terrance Dicks on especially good form, taking the Doctor and Ace to a Hitler Won timeline in the early 1950s. You can get it here.

The top New Adventure on Goodreads is Paul Cornell’s Human Nature, still the only novel on which a TV adventure for a later Doctor was based. You can get it here.

My own favourite of the New Adventures is the Sherlock Holmes / Cthulhu mashup All-Consuming Fire by Andy Lane. You can get it here.

The top Seventh Doctor novelisation on both LibraryThing and Goodreads is Ben Aaronovitch’s adaptation of his TV story Remembrance of the Daleks. You can get it here. My own favourite is Doctor Who: Dragonfire, by Ian Briggs, which you can get here.

Third Doctor

The top Third Doctor book on LibraryThing is Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of Day of the Daleks, definitely one of his better books, in which freedom fighters from the future attempt to infiltrate the present day to cause a strategic assassination. The book was one that I pored over as a kid, and inevitably when I watched the original TV story I was disappointed. You can get it here.

My favourite Third Doctor novelisation is Malcolm Hulke’s treatment of his own script for Jo Grant’s last story, The Green Death, which you can get here.

The top Third Doctor novel on Goodreads is from the BBC’s Past Doctor Adventures, Last of the Gadarene by Mark Gatiss (one of the few people who has both appeared in the show and written for it). It’s a story set in the UNIT era with aliens infiltrating a village fete. You can get it here.

Second Doctor

The top Second Doctor novel on Goodreads is a 2012 book by renowned hard sf author Stephen Baxter, probably the most prominent writer to top any of these individual categories for sole authorship of a novel (but see below for short fiction and joint authorship). The Wheel of Ice takes the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to a human colony in the outer solar system, a classic Troughton-era base under siege, with added marital discord and stroppy teenagers. There are ancient, weird aliens, and a mystery stretching across millions of years, which entirely convince the reader that this is a Stephen Baxter novel. There are also various pleasing references both to Who continuity and to Baxter’s other work, none of them crucial to enjoying the book, which is also probably my favourite Second Doctor book. You can get it here.

(Though I must point out that “The Wearing of the Green” is not a Jacobite tune. Wrong island, and more than half a century out.)

The top Second Doctor book on LibraryThing is the first Troughton-era novelisation published, Doctor Who and the Cybermen, adapting the TV story The Moonbase. I don’t rate it as highly as The Wheel of Ice, but you can get it here.

50th anniversary e-shorts

I have been tweaking these individual categories for each Doctor to look at novels only, because in most cases the numbers are hugely distorted by the short stories published individually and electronically by Puffin in 2013 for the 50th anniversary, many of which are more popular than any of the novels featuring those Doctors. At the top of that list, on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, is the one that came out the week of the anniversary itself, ten years ago this month – Nothing O’Clock by Neil Gaiman, which takes the Eleventh Doctor and Amy to a creepy house with shades of Coraline and Sandman. I like it a lot too, and you can get it here.

The other one I particularly liked in this sequence was Michael Scott’s Second Doctor story The Nameless City, which nicely salutes the Cthulhu mythos. You can get it here, and you can get a collection of all of the stories (now increased to 13) here.

War Doctor

There is one novel featuring the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt; it is Engines of War by George Mann. I didn’t find it much to my own taste, but you can get it here. The Big Finish War Doctor series is much better.

First Doctor

The first and (IMHO) the best of all the old Target novelisations is also top of both the LibraryThing and Goodreads charts: originally published in 1964 as Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, now generally just known as Doctor Who and the Daleks, the novelisation of the second broadcast Doctor Who TV story, and the one which made the show such a success; later also made into a cinema film starring Peter Cushing.

David Whitaker, who adapted the book from Terry Nation’s script, rewrote it as if it was the very first of the Doctor’s adventures, told entirely from the point of view of Ian Chesterton, a teacher who becomes the Doctor’s companion along with granddaughter Susan and her tutor Barbara. There’s lots of lovely extra detail given to the story of the Daleks and Thals on Skaro, and the Daleks themselves are more interesting than they have often been since. It’s a firm favourite of mine, and you can get it here.


There are 19 original Torchwood novels, and most of them are pretty good. Top of the charts for both LibraryThing and Goodreads is the first in the sequence, Another Life by Peter Anghelides. There is lots of good Torchwood stuff, a body-hopping alien, a spaceship which endangers Cardiff, a former lover of one of the team (Owen in this case), all against a gloomy backdrop of awful weather littered with variously dead bodies. I like it too and you can get it here.

Having said that, my personal favourite of the Torchwood books is the much later First Born by James Goss, who I find one of the best Whoniverse writers currently working. It’s a kind of prequel to Miracle Day, with Gwen and Rhys in hiding, and weird children being weird. You can get it here.

Eleventh Doctor

The top Eleventh Doctor novel on Goodreads is Touched by an Angel, by Jonathan Morris. It is a story of car crashes and mixed-up timelines with the addition of the Weeping Angels, who both create the possibility of temporal paradox and hope to feed off it. Morris does a beautiful job of conveying the history of the relationship between the car crash victim and her husband which is central to the narrative, and the Angels also come across superbly. It also has the Doctor, Rory and Amy. You can get it here.

The top Eleventh Doctor book on LibraryThing is The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett, which is also my favourite of the original novels, a Christmassy story of a generations-long terraforming plan. You can get it here. But I like Steven Moffat’s novelisation of the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, even more; you can get it here.

Ninth Doctor

The third highest rated Doctor Who book on LibraryThing, and fourth highest on Goodreads, and top Ninth Doctor book on both systems, is Gareth Roberts’ Only Human, which I think benefited from being one of three released in September 2005, when people were starting to get thirsty for new Who material.

It is largely set in Bromley, where the Doctor and Rose get involved with Neanderthals, local homo sapiens, and humans who have travelled there from the far future, all under threat from ambitious monsters and monstrous ambition. Meanwhile, in the early 21st century, Jack Harkness is helping a displaced Neanderthal settle into contemporary Bromley. There is a certain amount of playing the situation for laughs, but also a bit of exploration of what it is that makes us human. You can get it here.

It’s my own favourite Ninth Doctor novel too, and it’s a shame that the author himself has turned out to be an intolerant bigot.

Fourth Doctor

The top Fourth Doctor book by ownership, and second highest of all Doctor Who books, on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, is another by Gareth Roberts, his 2012 novelisation of the unshown Fourth Doctor TV story Shada from Douglas’ Adams script featuroing the Doctor, Romana, K9 and Cambridge and an ancient Time Lord secret.

I enjoyed it; I wrote at the time that Roberts had teased out threads of narrative left him by Adams, thickened them up and knitted them into a warm colourful and much longer scarf of story. The means and motivation of Skagra and Salyavin are fully explained. In addition, we have the extra romantic depth we had always hoped must be there between Clare and Chris, nicely contrasted with the relationship between the Doctor and Romana. You can get it here.

I must add that I enjoyed even more the novelisation of another Douglas Adams script, The Pirate Planet, this time by James Goss (who is one of my favourite Who writers anyway) which you can get here; and I retain affection for Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation of Genesis of the Daleks, which you can get here, and which is the top traditional novelisation on Goodreads; and his Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster, the top traditional novelisation on LibraryThing, which you can get here.

Tenth Doctor: The Winner

The top Doctor Who book by ownership, on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, is Jacqueline Rayner’s The Stone Rose. It was the very first Tenth Doctor novel to be published, in April 2006 just before the start of Series 2, and was then republished in 2015 which will have given it an extra boost.

It features the Tenth Doctor and Rose with Micky and Jackie, sorting out the mystery of a statue of Rose dating from Roman times in the British Museum. Solving the mystery takes a certain amount of timewarping, mostly during the reign of Hadrian, and dealing with an advanced technology indistinguishable from magic. You can get it here.

My own favourite Tenth Doctor novel is Beautiful Chaos, by Gary Russell, with the Doctor, Donna, Wilf and an old enemy in contemporary London. You can get it here.


I hope that this has been interesting, and will encourage you to look out for more Doctor Who books by more writers. The late great Terrance Dicks has the most books by far on my lists, but I’ll always look out for more by James Goss, Steve Cole, Paul Cornell, Justin Richards and Jacqueline Rayner; and indeed most of the others. The core of Doctor Who will always be TV dramas, but books, audios, games and especially comics (not mentioned here) have a venerable history with the franchise as well. Go, and enjoy them.

Doctor Who novels, as recommended on LibraryThing and Goodreads, part 1

It may not have escaped your notice that the sixtieth anniversary of Doctor Who is in a few days. This blog is primarily a book blog, so I’ve done a bit of analysis of which Doctor Who books are particularly well known on the two main online book catalogue sites – LibraryThing and Goodreads. Personally I remain a LibraryThing loyalist, but I have to recognise the reality that Goodreads’ user base is at least an order of magnitude higher. I’ve looked at the statistics of the various series of Doctor Who books on LibraryThing and Goodreads, splitting differences by multiplying together the number of owners of the book registered on LibraryThing, and the number of Goodreads users who have rated it (Goodreads also allows you to see the number of users who say they own the book, but it’s trickier to get to). In a fair number of cases, the same book comes out on top, but there are differences as well, and in every category I’m also giving my own personal favourite, which is usually different again.

A lot of western Whovians are unaware of the full variety of the runs of novels and other written fiction related to the show, but I was struck by how much the New Who books matter to the Chinese fans who I met in Chengdu. Here I’m listing the most obscure categories first, and the most widely owned and rated book of all Doctor Who literature (which is the same on both systems) at the end. What book is that? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see, because this post got too long for one day…

The Sarah Jane Adventures

The much-missed Elisabeth Sladen starred in three and a half series of the spinoff Sarah Jane Adventures before her untimely death in 2012. The BBC took an interesting approach to linked publications: some of the SJA episodes, especially from the early seasons, were novelised from the scripts; but there were also a number of stories released only as audiobooks, and it is the second one of these, The Glittering Storm by Stephen Cole, that has the top rating on Goodreads and on the two systems combined.

Like most of the Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s about alien intrusions into our world, this time featuring respectable ladies engaging in burglary. It was the second of the audios to come out and must have benefited from marketing to the Goodreads audience demographic. You can get it here, but it’s not my favourite among the audios (which are generally one of the better is least well-known series of Who publications); I recommend The Thirteenth Stone, by Justin Richards, and Deadly Download, by Jason Arnopp.

The most popular of the novelisations on LibraryThing, and on the two systems combined, is the very first, Invasion of the Bane, written by veteran Who writer Terrance Dicks, who was the script editor for the show during the Pertwee years in the early 1970s. It’s a straightforward screen-to-page exercise, with the character who was axed after the pilot episode somewhat underplayed in the book. You can get it here. Often the first in a sequence of books bubbles to the top of reader ratings.

The top novelisation on Goodreads is the last of them, Death of the Doctor, by Gary Russell, which features a guest appearance from Matt Smith’s character and also from Katy Manning’s Jo Grant/Jo Jones. Again, multi-Doctor stories, which this almost is, tend to do well, as we shall see. You can get it here.

My own favourite is the late great Rupert Laight’s novelisation of the first regular episode, Revenge of the Slitheen. You can get it here.


The 2016 spinoff Class, set in Coal Hill school where the show started in 1963 (and where the Twelfth Doctor later worked as a janitor) ran for only eight episodes, but had three spinoff novels as well, and a fair number of Big Finish audios reuniting some or all of the TV cast. Of the three novels, the top-ranked on both Goodreads and LibraryThing is The Stone House, by A.K. Benedict, a fairly straightforward haunted-house story that I think has a slightly better cover than the other two and maybe enjoyed greater sales. You can get it here.

My own favourite of the three was the first, a social media tale called What She Does Next Will Astound You, by James Goss, who is one of my favourite Who writers, always delivering really good quality stories, but has never written for TV. You can get it here. (The third book is Joyride, by Guy Adams. Complete the set if you like.)

The Companions of Doctor Who

Another long-forgotten set of three spinoff books still has more traction than either the Sarah Jane stories or the Class novelisations: they were published in 1986 and 1987, and feature recently departed companions from the TV show without the Doctor. The top novel of the three on LibraryThing, in second place on Goodreads by a hair, is Harry Sullivan’s War by Ian Marter, who as an actor had actually played Harry Sullivan in the first Tom Baker season and wrote a number of novelisations for Doctor Who and other franchises. I wasn’t wowed, but you can get it here.

Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, by Tony Attwood, is a shade ahead of the other two on LibraryThing, probably because it was the first published. Turlough ends up at the centre of a galactic conspiracy where the villain’s name is Rehctaht, which tells you all you need to know. You can get it here.

Surprisingly the novelisation of an actual TV story, K9 and Company by Terence Dudley, fails to score top place on either system; I think it’s much the best of the three, and you can get it here.

Sixth Doctor

The top Sixth Doctor novel on both Goodreads and LibraryThing is one of the BBC-published Past Doctor Adventures from 1999, reissued with a new cover in 2013: Players by the veteran Terrance Dicks. He has the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering Winston Churchill at various points in his career, with a look-in from the Second Doctor and Jamie. It’s the first of three books by Dicks featuring the Players, the other two being Endgame (Eighth Doctor) and World Game (Second Doctor). You can get it here.

The top Sixth Doctor novelisation on both LibraryThing and Goodreads is also my own favourite Sixth Doctor book, the novelisation of The Two Doctors, by Robert Holmes. You can get it here. If I am not allowed a multi-Doctor story, I’ll take the Telos novella Shell Shock by Simon A. Forward, which you can get here.

Thirteenth Doctor

One of my personal frustrations with the Chibnall era is that little attention was paid to spinoff material beyond the TV programme itself. The last few Doctor Who annuals are by far the least impressive in sixty years. There are a grand total of ten books featuring the Thirteenth Doctor; there are thirty-two featuring the Sixth. She has been the least well served of any of the Doctor’s incarnations.

LibraryThing users, Goodreads users and I myself all agree that the top of the ten is Juno Dawson’s The Good Doctor, in which the Doctor and friends return to a world centuries after their adventure there, to discover that their first visit has become the founding myth of the dominant oppressive religious cult, with Graham remembered as the Doctor, the Doctor herself largely forgotten, and their own past used to justify slavery. It is very well done and packs a lot of action and thought into 227 pages. You can get it here.

Missing Adventures

Virgin published 34 Missing Adventures of Doctor Who between 1994 and 199. These were the first original novels featuring a Doctor other than the current incarnation (at the time Sylverster McCoy’s Seven), during the period when Virgin also had the New Adventures franchise (which we’ll get to in due course). The first published of these is also top by a decent margin on both Goodreads and LibraryThing; Goth Opera by Paul Cornell (who we’ll meet again), a sort of sequel to the Fourth Doctor TV story State of Decay involving the Fifth Doctor, Tegan Nyssa, Romana, vampires and cricket in Australia. You can get it here.

As is often the case, I differ from the conventional wisdom, and my own favourite of the Missing Adventures is Evolution by John Peel, a glorious Victorian romp featuring the young Arthur Conan Doyle and an even younger Rudyard Kipling, combined with affectionate references to Horror of Fang Rock and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. You can get it here.

Fifth Doctor

The top novel on both Goodreads and LibraryThing set during the Fifth Doctor era is one of a number of multi-Doctor stories that will be on this list, Doctor Who: The Five Doctors, Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of the 20th anniversary TV show in 1983 (which he also wrote). In case you have forgotten, the Fifth, Second, Third and an ersatz First Doctor join forces to defeat various baddies on Gallifrey. It was all pulled together rapidly, and if memory serves correctly was actually published before the TV episode was broadcast. You can get it here, and rather cheaper here as part of the new Terrance Dicks collection.

Purists may grumble that they want to know which novel featuring only the Fifth Doctor is top. On Goodreads, it’s the novelisation of his first story, Doctor Who: Castrovalva, by the TV story’s writer Christopher H. Bidmead, which you can get here; on LibraryThing, it’s Goth Opera, already described.

Personally my favourite Fifth Doctor novel is The Sands of Time by Justin Richards, a sequel to Pyramids of Mars with a nod also to Black Orchid. You can get it here.

Eighth Doctor Adventures

The BBC published no less than 73 Eighth Doctor novels between 1996 and 2005, and on Goodreads the most-rated of them is the very first, The Eight Doctors, once again by Terrance Dicks, which sets up the character and new companion Sam for many future adventures. You can get it here. If again you complain that you’re not counting multi-Doctor stories, the next on Gooreads is the second Eighth Doctor novel, Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, which again brings back the vampires to contemporary San Francisco. You can get it here.

The top Eighth Doctor Adventure on LibraryThing is EarthWorld by Jacqueline Rayner, which features a murderous amusement park, lots of mad alien stuff and entertaining misinterpretations of Earth history. I enjoyed it and you can get it here.

None of the Eighth Doctor novels is a standout favourite for me as with some of the other categories, but I want to call your attention to Escape Velocity by Colin Brake, set largely in Brussels and featuring the Atomium on the front cover; at one point the Doctor and friends run past the building where I worked between 2008 and 2014. You can get it here.

Past Doctor Adventures

At the same time as the BBC were publishing the Eighth Doctor Adventures, they brought out an even longer series of novels featuring the first seven Doctors. Top of these on Goodreads is Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole, taking the First Doctor, Ben and Polly to an asteroid where there is also a sequence of mysterious murders taking place. Cards on the table: I personally didn’t much like this one, but you can get it here.

I liked much more the top novel of this sequence with LibraryThing readers, Festival of Death by Jonathan Morris, which successfully channels the glory days of the Tom Baker / Lalla Ward relationship. You can get it here.

Again, I don’t have a standout favourite from this run, but I’d call your attention to another First Doctor novel and another Fourth Doctor novel. Salvation by Steve Lyons brings the Doctor, Steven and Dodo to New York where they encounter angels and Dodo’s accent gets changed. You can get it here. Eye of Heaven by Jim Mortimore brings the Doctor and Leela to Rapa Nui / Easter Island and asks some interesting questions about colonialism. You can get it here.

Twelfth Doctor

Goodreads and LibraryThing users concur in that the most popular Twelfth Doctor book on both systems is Silhouette, by Justin Richards. His name has already been mentioned, but I want to emphasise that he has written more Doctor Who books than anyone except the late Terrance Dicks, and I think may well overhaul him if given a chance by the BBC. This particular novel is a fun reunion of the Doctor and Clara with the Paternoster Gang (Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax) investigating a peculiar series of murders. (I’m noticing that this is a trope that pops up more than once in popular Who novels; and indeed TV stories.) You can get it here.

I too enjoyed it, but I’m also going to call your attention to Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light, Rona Munro’s novelisation of her own TV story, which gives the characters and setting (Roman era Scotland, menaced by a transdimensional alien) a lot more detail. You can get it here.

Tomorrow we’ll cover the Seventh, Second, First, Eleventh, Ninth, Fourth and Tenth Doctors, with a side order of Torchwood, the War Doctor and the 50th Anniversary short stories.

Life Ceremony, by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Second paragraph of third chapter (English version, haven’t been able to locate the Japanese original):

Yoshiko had just turned seventy-five. She had never had sex and hadn’t kissed anyone either. She had never even once had intercourse with her older husband, who had died five years earlier. Both of their daughters had been conceived by artificial insemination, and she was still a virgin when she became a mother. Both daughters were now married, and she was thoroughly enjoying living alone in the house her husband had left to her.

One of the books submitted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, sadly not eligible as it is not a novel but a baker’s dozen of unconnected short stories, vignettes of life in a series of different worlds which are not quite like ours. The creative use of human body parts, including discreet but socially sanctioned cookery, is a recurrent theme. These are all very weird and disturbing but also memorable, and recommended if you think you can take a bit of body horror. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a non-white writer. Next on that list is Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse.

Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Kialan, in spite of Clennen’s rebuke, seemed unable to stop making outspoken remarks. “You know, that cart is really horribly garish,” he said, on the second morning. Perhaps he had some excuse. It was standing against the dawn sky, as he saw it, and Moril’s red head was just emerging from it. The effect was undeniably colorful, but Brid was keenly offended.

I had read this ages ago, probably soon after it came out in 1975. It’s the first published of one of Diana Wynne Jones’ cycles of novels for young adult readers, the Dalemark Quartet. Our protagonist, teenage Moril, is the youngest boy in a family of travelling musicians and players in a fantasy world where there is magic, dynastic politics, and feuds between local warlords. His life is disrupted by a brutal murder in an early chapter, but this brings him an ancient cwidder – a musical instrument which seems to be in the lute family – which turns out to have its own special powers. There are some beautifully observed family and social dynamics, and some rather stunning descriptive passages. I’m not sure if this book is as well known as it deserves. You can get it here.

This was my top unread sf book, and my top unread book by a woman. Next on the first of those piles is Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez; next on the second is Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett

Second paragraph of third section:

The storm was really giving it everything it had. This was its big chance. It had spent years hanging around the provinces, putting in some useful work as a squall, building up experience, making contacts, occasionally leaping out on unsuspecting shepherds or blasting quite small oak trees. Now an opening in the weather had given it an opportunity to strut its hour, and it was building up its role in the hope of being spotted by one of the big climates.

Years since I had read this, and it was a happy return. This is the book that brought back Granny Weatherwax from Equal Rites, establishing the Witches as a new centre of activity within the Dicsworld mythology. I had forgotten how theatrical it is – the plot borrows heavily and consciously from Macbeth and Hamlet, and of course has a troop of travelling actors as an integral part of the plot. But Pratchett himself was very consciously theatrical in his public presentations, from what I remember. He clearly knew a fair bit about stagecraft. Some bits of the story are a little silly (time-slipping an entire kingdom by sixteen years?) but this has aged better than most of that year’s Hugo shortlist. You can get it here.

This was the top Terry Pratchett novel that I had not yet written up here. Next is my favourite of his books, Small Gods.

The Colour of Magic | The Light Fantastic | Equal Rites | Mort | Sourcery | Wyrd Sisters | Pyramids | Guards! Guards! | Eric | Moving Pictures | Reaper Man | Witches Abroad | Small Gods | Lords and Ladies | Men at Arms | Soul Music | Interesting Times | Maskerade | Feet of Clay | Hogfather | Jingo | The Last Continent | Carpe Jugulum | The Fifth Elephant | The Truth | Thief of Time | The Last Hero | The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents | Night Watch | The Wee Free Men | Monstrous Regiment | A Hat Full of Sky | Going Postal | Thud! | Wintersmith | Making Money | Unseen Academicals | I Shall Wear Midnight | Snuff | Raising Steam | The Shepherd’s Crown

Politics: Between The Extremes, by Nick Clegg

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“This is terribly awkward,” he [David Cameron] admitted. “The thing is … George has for so long had his eye on Dorneywood… He’s very close to me… Would you mind if he used Dorneywood instead of you?” He then proposed that I share the foreign secretary’s traditional grace-and-favour countryside retreat, Chevening, rather than Dorneywood, which was ordinarily used by the number two in government.

Published in 2016, just a year after the catastrophic defeat of the Lib Dems under the author’s leadership in the 2015 election, this is both an apologia and a call to consciousness. Clegg is clear about his mistakes, and in general accepts some share of the blame; though at time of writing, he still didn’t quite grasp how bad the debacle on tuition fees was in terms of betraying the trust of a lot of his own party’s core and new voters; he still didn’t realise how bad a mistake the AV referendum was in the first place, rather than going for proportional representation at local government elections in England and Wales which the Conservatives would likely have accepted; and while he accepted that the austerity narrative was fatal for his own re-election chances, he doesn’t appreciate the Lib Dems’ own role in that. Certainly what pushed me (temporarily) out of the party in 2013, despite having voted for Clegg as leader in 2007, was that Lib Dem ministers seemed to be exulting in the welfare “reforms” that purported to help the disadvantaged by giving them less money, and I could not take that. Come 2015 the Lib Dems needed a good and coherent narrative of what they had achieved in government, did not have it, and are still paying the price.

Those blind spots aside, the book is a very interesting reflection on UK politics as seen from the vantage point of the leader of the minority party in the UK’s first coalition government since 1945. I accept some of his points. First, a centre-left coalition in 2010 would not have worked. The numbers just were not there, and there would have been another election in six months which the Conservatives would have won with a large majority after the economy tanked. Second, of course the Lib Dems in government were never going to get everything they wanted. However, they made some bad strategic choices about what to get, and I think failed to respond to the tactical sneakiness of the Conservative establishment – especially Gove and Osborne. Third, it is the norm rather than the exception for junior coalition partners to lose seats, often a lot of seats, at the next election. (Though perhaps the Lib Dems could have prepared better for this both internally and with external messaging.)

The central message of the book is that the liberal centre of politics still matters, and is deserving of support, in an age of increasing populism. 2016 of course was the year of Brexit and Trump, and populism clearly remains very strong. Although I still count myself a liberal, it’s rather difficult to point to liberal successes since 2016. The Belgian prime minster right now is from the Flemish liberal party, who are currently polling at 8%, with the far-right Vlaams Belang in the lead with three times as much support. (And that’s just figures for Flanders, rather than Belgium as a whole.) The ruling Liberal Party in Canada is currently polling fourteen points behind the Conservatives. Whatever you may try to assert about being right in the long term, it looks like today’s voters are looking to the extremes.

One of the points of Clegg’s book that has dated most since 2016 is the assertion that Labour is unelectable. That was perfectly true under Jeremy Corbyn, whose flaws were manifest, but it’s obviously not true now, when the Tories are desperately claiming that an opinion poll result showing them less than twenty points behind is evidence that they can cling on. Keir Starmer will win next year’s election, and win big. The curious thing is that this is probably also good news for the Lib Dems, who have tended to do well when Labour does well. There is clearly a large-ish group of voters who normally vote for the Conservatives, will never vote Labour, but will vote for the Lib Dems, if they can be persuaded that they don’t need to fear a Labour government. If you plug the current poll numbers into Electoral Calculus, the Lib Dems make substantial gains just on a direct swing from Conservatives to Labour, and tactical voting is likely to magnify that. In the 1997 election, when Labour got a huge majority, the Lib Dems went from 18 to 46 seats, an increase of 156%. To equal that scale of gain next year, they’d need to go to 28 or 29 from the 11 of 2019 (now 15, thanks to by-election gains), and that seems very plausible. It won’t get them into government, but it puts them back in play for a future hung parliament.

Anyway, I read less about UK politics than I used to, but I am very glad I read this. You can get it here.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest on my unread shelves. Next on that pile is Many Grains of Sand, by Liz Castro.

Winter, by Ali Smith

Second paragraph of third chapter:

This is happening some time in the future,. Art is on a sofa holding a small child in his arms. The child, who has been learning to read, is sitting on Art’s knee flicking through a book pulled out at random from the bookcase next to Art’s head. It’s an old copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A short but great book, about a mother and son who don’t really like each other; the mother’s sister, who doesn’t get on with her at all; and the young Croatian woman who agrees at the last moment to pretend to be the son’s girlfriend at the family Christmas gathering, the real girlfriend having dumped him and hijacked his social media accounts. There’s a lot here about family dynamics, contemporary politics, environmentalism and the Greenham Common campaigners; there’s also a bit of a riff on A Christmas Carol, not so much a rewriting of it as a reflection. I found it all pretty powerful. Recommended, perhaps especially as a Christmas present (though for people who won’t worry that there is a hidden message in your giving it to them). You can get it here.

This was both my top unread book by a woman and my top unread non-genre fiction book. Next on the first of those piles is Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones; next on the other is Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard,

Sunday reading

All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Last books finished
The Hand of Fear, by Simon Bucher-Jones
My Real Children, by Jo Walton 
Doctor Who: Dalek, by Rob Shearman
Eldrad Must Live! by Bob Baker, Stephen B. Scott,  Andrew Orton and Colin Brockhurst

Next books
The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany, by Robert S. Blackham
Dalek, by Billy Sequire
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne

The Paris Peace Forum, in comparison with a large science fiction convention

I have spent the last couple of days at the Paris Peace Forum, which takes place around 11 November every year in, er, Paris, in the old Bourse building, now the Palais Brongniard. There have been loads of interesting discussions about the state of the world, with guests including a dozen or so presidents and prime ministers (including Emmanuel Macron of course), but I found myself looking at it to an extent with a convention-runner’s eye, especially so soon after Chengdu WorldCon, which again was a bit different from the usual North American / European fan-run convention experience. Like Chengdu, the Paris Peace Forum had more resources poured into it than your average Worldcon; but even so, those resources are not infinite.

The most familiar aspect of the Paris Peace Forum was the fact that there were up to nine parallel programme items running most of the time.

The usual happened – it took me several goes to get used to the conference layout, two sessions which both looked interesting were scheduled against each other, also I was too late to get into the one panel that a work colleague was on. A couple of the panel venues were in more or less open spaces, with panelists miked up and the audience equipped with headsets for translation or just augmented hearing where needed, which struck me as an innovative use of space.

Almost everything was in-person, though one of the panels I went to featured a video message from President Zelenskyy, which again you’re less likely to get at a science fiction convention.

From the SF point of view, there was a particularly interesting panel on Safe and Sustainable Lunar Development, featuring the Lunar Policy Platform, which has been set up by the San Francisco-based Open Lunar Foundation. The good news is that there is lots of international law already applicable to the Moon, including a legal obligation on lunar bases to accept visitors from other lunar bases. The bad news is that there is no real way of enforcing this; and the prime real estate around the moon’s South Pole has a smaller area than the greater Paris region, so there’s less room than you might have thought.

Also of sfnal interest, Chen Qiufan, who now generally goes by Stanley Chen, author of the recent Chinese sf bestseller Waste Tide, was on a panel about the social impact of AI along with Brad Smith of Microsoft and Gabriela Ramos of UNESCO. We had a wee chat afterwards – he missed Chengdu Worldcon but was understandably keen to get my perspective on it.

Melissa Bell of CNN, Chen Qiufan and Brad Smith of Microsoft looking at Gabriela Ramos of UNESCO, while she appears on the screen behind them.

Most of the panels were on broad thematic issues and how they affect world peace, rather than specific conflicts or potential conflicts (I attended a private conference about many of those last weekend in Oslo). Perhaps as a result the discussions were fairly optimistic about the long term – with sufficient food will and energy, solutions can be reached, and many of them have already been identified. There were a couple of exceptions – Ivan Krastev was typically acerbic and thought-provoking about EU enlargement. He was one of many friends and former colleagues who I bumped into over the weekend.

Four people who used to work at the International Crisis Group, one of who then went back and now runs it.

After another panel, someone came up and asked me if I was the guy with glasses and a beard who had asked the last question. Unusually, I was not; it was the political scientist and former US government and UN official, Barnett Rubin, who is shorter, older and more American than me. I got a photo with him later to prove that we are different people.

Separated at birth? (Mine in 1967, his in 1950.)

There was a nice display area of projects seeking or already receiving support from the Paris Peace Forum and its partners. There were groups of stalls on topics such as gene editing and artificial intelligence which would not have been out of place at an sf convention; however others, such as “Fishing for Empowerment in Sierra Leone”, might be a bit further from fannish interests.

Rather than the fan-run parties of an sf convention, the Mayor of Paris invited us to the gloriously decorated City Hall for a reception on Friday night. It’s a fantastic venue, though I am sorry to say that the mayor herself spoke for a bit too long. However, the Prime Minister of Barbados then responded on behalf of the participants, a lovely emotional well-pitched speech. Her name is Mia Mottley and we will hear more of her, I expect.

Ángel Gurría of the Paris Peace Forum, Barbados PM Mia Mottley, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo

I don’t often write about work stuff here, but this was a bit out of my usual professional orbit and remarkable enough to be worth noting. And the closing ceremony had a lovely dance performance too.

Many thanks to Fabienne for the invitation.

No, But I Saw the Movie: The Best Short Stories Ever Made Into Film, ed. David Wheeler

Second paragraph of third story (“Blow-Up” / “Las Babas del Diablo”, by Julio Cortázar):

Puestos a contar, si se pudiera ir a beber un bock por ahí y que la máquina siguiera sola (porque escribo a máquina), sería la perfección. Y no es un modo de decir. La perfección, sí, porque aquí el agujero que hay que contar es también una máquina (de otra especie, una Contax 1.1.2) y a lo mejor puede ser que una máquina sepa más de otra máquina que yo, tú, ella – la mujer rubia – y las nubes. Pero de tonto sólo tengo la suerte, y sé que si me voy, esta Remington se quedará petrificada sobre la mesa con ese aire de doblemente quietas que tienen las cosas movibles cuando no se mueven. Entonces tengo que escribir. Uno de todos nosotros tiene que escribir, si es que todo esto va a ser contado. Mejor que sea yo que estoy muerto, que estoy menos comprometido que el resto; yo que no veo más que las nubes y puedo pensar sin distraerme, escribir sin distraerme (ahí pasa otra, con un borde gris) y acordarme sin distraerme, yo que estoy muerto (y vivo, no se trata de engañar a nadie, ya se verá cuando llegue el momento, porque de alguna manera tengo que arrancar y he empezado por esta punta, la de atrás, la del comienzo, que al fin y al cabo es la mejor de las puntas cuando se quiere contar algo).Seated ready to tell it, if one might go to drink a bock over there, and the typewriter continues by itself (because I use the machine), that would be perfection. And that’s not just a manner of speaking. Perfection, yes, because here is the aperture which must be counted also as a machine (of another sort, a Contax 1.1.2) and it is possible that one machine may know more about another machine than I, you, she – the blond – and the clouds. But I have the dumb luck to know that if I go this Remington will sit turned to stone on top of the table with the air of being twice as quiet that mobile things have when they are not moving. So, I have to write. One of us all has to write, if this is going to get told. Better that it be me who am dead, for I’m less compromised than the rest; I who see only the clouds and can think without being distracted, write without being distracted (there goes another, with a grey edge) and remember without being distracted, I who am dead (and I’m alive, I’m not trying to fool anybody, you’ll see when we get to the moment, because I have to begin some way and I’ve begun with this period, the last one back, the Blow-Up one at the beginning, which in the end is the best of the periods when you want to tell something).

An anthology of 18 short stories which were all adapted into well-known films. I remain fairly illiterate in movie lore, so I’m sorry to say that I have seen very few of the classic movies represented here; the ones I knew were “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, source for All About Eve; “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams, source for It Happened One Night; and “The Sentinel”, by Arthur C. Clarke, source for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I had seen two of the other films, but not previously read the original stories: Guys and Dolls, based on “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” by Damon Runyon, where I think the show is better than the original, and Psycho, which is very different from “The Real Bad Friend” by Robert Bloch to the point that I actually query the strength of the connection between them. Also, which I have not seen Stagecoach, Ernest Haycox’ story “From Stage to Lordsburg” seems to me rather derivative of Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”.

There were several here that I liked, enough to make stronger efforts to see the films: “The Fly” by George Langelaan, “The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern which was the source for It’s A Wonderful Life, “The Day of Atonement” by Samson Raphaelson which was the source for The Jazz Singer, and “Mr Blandings Builds His Castle” by Eric Hodgins, which became Mr Blandings Builds His Castle. On the other hand I could not make head nor tail of “The Tin Star”, by John M. Cunningham, supposedly the basis for High Noon.

Long out of print but a quirky and interesting collection. You can get it here.

This was the non-genre fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next on that pile is Bulgarian classic Under the Yoke, by Ivan Yazov.

The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos, by James F. McGrath

This was the closing story of Jodie Whittaker’s first season as the Doctor. On first watching, I’m afraid that I was unforgiving.

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos: (See also Matt Hills at DWRMatthew Kilburn at STT)
It’s not unusual for Doctor Who to muff the final story of the year, both in Old Who (The Time Monster in 1972, The Armageddon Factor in 1979) and New Who (Last of the Time Lords in 2007, Dark Water/Death in Heaven in 2014; not to mention End of Days, the appalling last episode of the first season of Torchwood, also in 2007). It’s still disappointing when it happens, though, and I felt that the final episode had a particularly complex setup (the Ux requiring considerable suspension of disbelief) which then failed to pay off emotionally or even dramatically – it seemed rather bathetic to lock the villain in a box from which the next space tourist will surely release him. Bradley Walsh’s Graham did get a bit of closure, but at the end of it all I didn’t really feel I understood the point of the whole journey. Maybe things will become clearer on New Year’s Day.

I rewatched it again for this post, and felt even less engaged, taking it on its own rather than as the last in a sequence of ten episodes. I could not really get into the plot; and to take a small but important point, the lighting of the whole story was dim and dull, as if we weren’t really expected to pay much attention.

When Twitter user @Heraldofcreatio ran a poll to rank all 296 Doctor Who episodes to that date, The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos ranked dead last, behind even The Twin Dilemma. I think that is a little unfair – there are several stories that I like less from both Old and New Who. But I rank it pretty low.

James F. McGrath is a theologian, and has chosen to take this Black archive as an opportunity to grind some personal axes against the yielding structure of a not very good Doctor Who episode. The result, as sometimes (but rarely) happens, is a book constructed to defend a not terribly good story by linking it to the writer’s personal interests. McGrath argues that The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos is making some terribly important theological points; I would feel more kindly towards the book if he admitted that it does not make them terribly well. (You’ll have deduced that this is not my favourite Black Archive.)

A longer than usual introduction places The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos as the final story in the Thirteenth Doctor’s first season.

The first substantial chapter, “What’s in a Name?”, asks whether it’s “the planet Ranskoor av Kolos” or “the planet of Ranskoor av Kolos”, and wonders how the Ux actually relate to it.

The second chapter, “The Ux’s (Misplaced) Faith”, tries to disentangle what the Ux understand by a Creator and how that relates to Tzim-Sha.

The third chapter, “Tzim-Sha’s (Delusions of) Godhood”, looks at whether or not Tzim-Sha is a god. Its second paragraph is:

By the time Tzim-Sha and the Doctor meet again after a period of thousands of years, Tzim-Sha has had ample opportunity to develop a plan for revenge and to become powerful. He tells the Doctor, ‘You have made me a god’, in a manner that may be intended to taunt, but also seems to reflect a genuine belief. Previously, we considered the basis for the Doctor’s insistence that Tzim-Sha is a false god. Here we can approach the matter from the other side and explore what framework would allow a particular being to think of themself, and be thought of by others, as a ‘god’. The category of ‘god’ has traditionally encompassed entities that are similar to what Doctor Who depicts as powerful alien entities. It is a lack of familiarity with humanity’s many polytheistic traditions that probably accounts for the facile dismissal of the notion that ‘god’ could be an accurate label for such entities. Divinity has historically been defined in terms of power in many cultures, and that attribute is to the fore here2, as evinced in Tzim-Sha’s words:

‘It has taken thousands of years. Every fragment of scientific understanding the Stenza ever possessed, allied to the impossible power of the Ux. You will see, Doctor. I must be a god. I have the powers of one… This shrine is the weapon. The Ux worked so hard to keep me alive. And they’re right to worship me. I am unstoppable…’

2 On power and divinity see Smuts, Aaron, ‘The Little People’; Litwa, M David, Iesus Deus, pp58, 80.

The fourth chapter, “The Doctor’s (Flexible) Creeds”, looks at the Doctor’s own ethical framework when challenged by a Creator figure.

The fifth chapter, “Graham’s Devotion (to Grace)”, looks further at the Doctor’s ethical framework for dealing out judgement (to Tzim-Sha, the Daleks, the Family of Blood, etc).

The brief conclusion, “Travel Hopefully”, is succinct enough and true enough to the rest of the book to be worth quoting in full:

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos provides wonderful food for thought. The Doctor’s experience as a student and as an educator has sometimes briefly come to the fore in the plot of previous episodes. Here, however, we actually see the Doctor’s core convictions and pedagogical strategies articulated, exposed, and tested in a far more explicit and sustained manner than is typical. The episode thus provides a wonderful starting point either for wrestling with contemporary issues in the real world using Doctor Who as a base, or for exploring faith and morals in this fictional universe, which may or may not be in some sense ‘divine’ in the perception of at least some of those who inhabit it. To end with some sort of definitive summary or answer would be at odds with the ending of the episode. Indeed, it would clash with it in an extremely jarring manner. This study of major themes in the episode – such as faith, godhood, family, ethics, and power – does not grasp everything the episode has to offer for careful viewers. It points to important questions and invites you on a journey.

Keep looking. Travel hopefully. Doctor Who will surprise you… constantly.

Completists will want this, and perhaps those who want to find links between Doctor Who and theology as well, but I felt that it stretched its analysis rather further than the material warranted.

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) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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) | 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)

“Even the Queen” and Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Next in my sequence of joint Hugo and Nebula winners, this short story and novel by the same writer both won both awards made in 1993 for work in 1992, so the 1993 Hugo but 1992 Nebula in each case. I wrote them both up twenty years ago (Doomsday Book and Even the Queen), and was generally positive about both.

The second paragraph of the third section of “Even the Queen’ is:


For the first time in this sequence of posts, I have revised my views sharply downwards. I actually considered skipping my usual post of my previous opinion and just writing afresh. But I think I ought to be honestly in dialogue with my former self. So here goes. In 2002, I wrote the following (dead links trimmed):

As has not been unknown on other occasions, the voters got it right. “Even the Queen” is a real jewel of a story, combining humour with a glimpse of a future made possible by an advance in technology. In this case, the outrageous technological advance is that menstruation has become an optional extra. The narrator is a woman judge; her mother a doctor; and her mother-in-law a very senior international diplomat. The father of the narrator’s two daughters is not mentioned, and nor is the father of her granddaughter. The only man in the story is the narrator’s clerk. The general sense is that in this very-near-future world, women are free both to pursue careers and to raise children.

And yet this is no feminist utopia. Indeed, the butt of much of the humour is feminism, or rather its loopier extremes:

In the first fine flush of freedom after the Liberation, I had entertained hopes that it would change everything – that it would somehow do away with inequality and matriarchal dominance and those humorless women determined to eliminate the word “manhole” and third-person singular pronouns from the language.

Of course it didn’t. Men still make more money, “herstory” is still a blight on the semantic landscape, and my mother can still say, “Oh, Traci!” in a tone that reduces me to pre-adolescence.

The main joke of the story is that the “Cyclists” of the future – inspired by “a mix of pre-Liberation radical feminism and the environmental primitivism of the eighties” – reject the technological advance offered by the abolition of periods, in the name of “freedom from artificiality, freedom from body-controlling drugs and hormones, freedom from the male patriarchy that attempts to impose them on us” (basically much the same rhetoric used in our world by the more evangelical advocates of natural childbirth). Perdita, the narrator’s younger daughter, is thinking of joining the Cyclists; the narrator herself uncomfortably defends her decision in the name of Personal Sovereignty, “the inherent right of citizens in a free society to make complete jackasses of themselves”.

This should make the alert reader realise that actually the abolition of menstruation is not the only advance that society has made. There are repeated references to the entranchment of the principle of “Personal Sovereignty” and to the “days of dark oppression” which came before. It sounds as if the “Liberation” may have included a libertarian component at least as important as the biological advance at the heart of the story. [Here I think I completely missed the point.]

(Inspired by a post to humanities.philosophy.objectivism, I tried to find political science or literary roots for the phrases “Personal Sovereignty” and “days of dark oppression”. For “Personal Sovereignty” I drew a total blank; though some commentators invoke the concept in discussions of Rousseau, Locke, Hobbes, etc, the original writers themselves don’t appear to have used the phrase, though it does crop up fairly consistently in recent libertarian discourse. Wordsworth, writing romantically of the French revolution in his “Descriptive Sketches“, and Wilde, writing ninety years later in similar vein of the Risorgimento in “Ravenna“, both use the phrase “dark oppression” to describe what had gone before, and it also appears in one of the more lurid passages of Shelley’s “The Revolt of Islam“, but I am inclined to feel this is coincidence and that I have been Taking It Too Seriously.)

The alert reader will also realise that while the joke of the story is on the Cyclists, the humour of the story depends on the family interactions between the four generations – the narrator, her mother, her mother-in-law, her elder daughter and her granddaughter – who gather at a restaurant in an attempt to brow-beat the recalcitrant Perdita. Anyone who has – or fears they have – relatives like that will appreciate the way Willis characterises them. The story ends with two minor surprises, that the narrator’s clerk gets off with her elder daughter, and her younger daughter gives up being a Cyclist when she discovers that menstruation hurts. [Here I mistook a silly narrative trick for genius.]

Not everyone sees the point of “Even the Queen”. They are supported in their error [sic] by Willis’ own tongue-in-cheek comment that “I was just a tad vexed at radical feminists who were always after me to write a story about women’s issues. So I did.” I know there are many people out there who simply don’t get or don’t like the story; for me personally, considering all six short stories to have won both Hugo and Nebula, it’s a close run between “Even the Queen” and Simak’s Grotto of the Dancing Deer as to which is my favourite (the others being Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” and “Jeffty is Five”, Bisson’s Bears Discover Fire and Bear’s “Tangents”). [There have been several better ones since.]

Right. Re-reading the story twenty years later and twenty years older, it is a mean-spirited skit on feminism. In the world of the story, the abolition of menstruation has immediately resulted in the emancipation of women everywhere (except that “men still make more money”). Considering how embedded the patriarchy is in real life, this is a deeply dishonest and disempowering message. Considering also how technology does or doesn’t spread between and across cultures, it’s a thought experiment that assumes that everyone is a white American, or behaves like them. (The jokes about peace processes and conflict resolution are in particularly poor taste.)

There could be a great story to be written about how improvements in women’s healthcare could be rolled out globally, yet fought by conservative politicians at home and abroad; except that it’s actually happening in real life, in Texas and Alabama, never mind other cultures; it is journalism rather than sf. The story misses the point of what is really going on so badly that it’s offensive. If I had had my eyes open in 2002, I could have seen it even then. I’m dropping it to the bottom of my list of Hugo and Nebula winners in this category, along with “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”.

Other short stories on both final ballots that year: “The Arbitrary Placement of Walls”, by Martha Soukup, and “The Mountain to Mohammed”, by Nancy Kress. Also on the Hugo ballot: “The Lotus and the Spear”, by Mike Resnick, and “The Winterberry”, by Nicholas A. DiChario. Also on the Nebula ballot: “Lennon Spex”, by Paul Di Filippo; “Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats”, by Michael Bishop; “Vinland the Dream”, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

The Hugo for Best Novelette went to “The Nutcracker Coup”, by Janet Kagan, and the Nebula in that category to “Danny Goes to Mars”, by Pamela Sargent. The Hugo for Best Novella went to “Barnacle Bill the Spacer”, by Lucius Shepard, and the Nebula to City of Truth, by James Morrow.

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, won both Hugo and Nebula for Best Novel. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Dr. Ahrens had come in first, and then Mr. Dunworthy, and both times Kivrin had been convinced they were there to tell her she wasn’t going after all. Dr. Ahrens had nearly cancelled the drop in hospital, when Kivrin’s antiviral inoculation had swelled up into a giant red welt on the underside of her arm. “You’re not going anywhere until the swelling goes down,” Dr. Ahrens had said, and refused to discharge her from hospital. Kivrin’s arm still itched, but she wasn’t about to tell Dr. Ahrens that because she might tell Mr. Dunworthy, who had been acting horrified ever since he found out she was going.

Back in 2001, I wrote:

Doomsday Book is a story of time travel, in the same series as “Fire Watch” which also won both awards and To Say Nothing of the Dog which won the Hugo. Reading it soon after The Dispossessed, I was struck by a couple of (presumably unintentional) similarities: the narrative structure, of alternating chapters set at different time periods; the fact that in both novels a key plot element is the petty squabbling among academics researching the nature of Time. However Kivrin, who is sent from a near-future Oxford to the fourteenth century as a university project despite the warnings of Dunworthy, the story’s other main character, is not a revolutionary like Shevek, but a historian, doing research on what the fourteenth century was actually like.

Thomas M. Disch, in his incisive but sympathetic survey The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, comments on the propensity of sf writers to try their hand at historical novels, and vice versa. “The reason for the crossover phenomenon lies in the similarity of the task: to create a densely imagined world, with social protocols and physical environments radically unfamiliar to most readers. That skill, learned in one genre, can be readily transferred to the other.” And if there’s one point where Doomsday Book is outstanding, it’s the portrayal of the fourteenth century as an alien environment – smells, bells, and a chill December wind – and the shock and dislocation experienced by the historian who travels there. (Of course her shock and dislocation are enhanced by illness.)

On the other hand, some readers complain that the future Oxford of Doomsday Book is quite improbable. It does indeed feel more like a future projection of the pre-Thatcher Oxbridge whose remnants were still just visible in my time at Clare College in the late 1980s, dominated by a hierarchical male establishment, obsessed with petty rivalries to the extent of overriding sensible safety precautions in order to prove a point, with no telephones anywhere when you really need them. (I once read the biography of an early 20th century Cambridge physiologist who carried out weird blood transfusion and oxygen deprivation experiments on himself and his students, and as a result died of a heart attack one day trying to catch a bus on Silver Street Bridge. I hate to think of what happened to his students.)

Of course any sensible forecast of what Oxford will look like in the middle of this century, with or without the Pandemic, must look very different from the Oxford of Doomsday Book (apart that is from the irritations of dealing with American tourists). There will be more women in senior positions; safety regulations will be stringently applied, and senior academics will be as much subject to them as anyone; time machines, when available, will be on a university-wide basis rather than attached to the individual colleges; and everyone, and I mean everyone, will have a mobile phone. [Two lost reviews] remark that bells ring out a message of redemption in both time periods of the novel, but the real future Oxford will resound to a medley of electronic trills in the quads.

But guess what? It doesn’t matter. The Oxford of Doomsday Book is no more an attempt at predicting the future than Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is an attempt to consider the implications of life on a flat planet. [A lost review] picks it up as a point of contrast with the medieval period; the 21st century can fight disease with technology, but the 14th has to find the spiritual resources to accept its own limitations. Anne points out that there is a strong sense of the spiritual in both parts of the story: religious services are prominent events, and both Kivrin and Dunworthy are confused with divine beings at different stages. Willis uses the two settings of the book as a stage for a wrenching story of love, death and loss, with a hint of redemption at the end.

The key relationships are quasi-parental – [A lost review] notes the way Kivrin takes on parental responsibilities for the children of the household where she ends up, and in the future, Dunworthy’s lover, Mary Ahrens, is caring for her great-nephew Colin, who by the end of the book has himself become attached to Dunworthy as a surrogate son. The parental relationship between Dunworthy and Kivrin, of course, is at the heart of it. These contrast with more destructive relationships: the undergraduate William Gaddson and his mother, in 21st century Oxford; Lady Imeyne and her son’s household in the medieval period. And there is illicit love: Lady Eliwys and her steward; William Gaddson and his many girlfriends; and Dunworthy and Mary Ahrens, this last so understated that one could be forgiven for missing it. As [a lost review] points out, where Albert Camus used a sparse narrative technique to emphasise existential distance, Willis is capable of using the same technique to develop our empathy with the characters (even more true of Le Guin in The Dispossessed).

A couple of technical points on time travel enable the plot: in Willis’ universe, the space-time continuum itself has a built-in inertia that prevents the occurrence of paradoxes. This is much more important in the later To Say Nothing of the Dog, but it’s an imaginative leap by the author which means that many of sf’s hoary clichés of time travel can be sidestepped. At the same time, the extra precise measurements necessary to ensure the time traveller’s safe return are fundamental to the plot. It hangs together a lot more convincingly than, say, Doctor Who. [Fight! Fight! between my 2001 self and my 2023 self.]

Two things have happened since 2001 which have caused me to revise my opinion of Doomsday Book downwards – though not as sharply downwards as with “Even the Queen”.

The first is that Willis’ awful Blackout / All Clear two-part novel won the Hugo and Nebula eighteen years after Doomsday Book, and I realised that her poor research and clichéd portrayal of Oxford academia can’t be excused with ignorance, but is part of the goal of her writing, reconstructing a romantic nostalgic vision of England as seen by dewy eyed Americans. The second is that we have now actually lived through a global pandemic, and Willis’s portrayal of what it might look like is so far out of whack that it hurts.

Two essays written by Gillian Polack and Lydia Laurenson in June 2020, as we began to get to grips with the pandemic, are more sympathetic than me. Even so, Gillian Polack spots the trick Willis is pulling on the reader:

Willis presents an emotional relationship with the past, and convinces readers that this emotional relationship is a true depiction of history. That’s very clever writing and very powerful.

(But not actually true to history.) Laurenson looks more at the religious aspects of the book, and I’m glad that it resonated with her. Both pieces are still worth reading, three years on, for perhaps a more balanced view than mine.

Anyway. Next up in this sequence is “Georgia on my Mind”, by Charles Sheffield.

Earthshock, by Eric Saward, Ian Marter and Brian J. Robb

I vividly remember watching Earthshock on first broadcast in 1982, at the age of fourteen, and, like many viewers, being pleasantly thrilled by the appearance of the Cybermen in the first episode, and then traumatised by the demise of Adric in the last. This was only a few months after Blake’s 7 ended with the entire team being mown down by the bad guys. BBC science fiction was getting brutal. (It always had been, but it was possible to pretend otherwise.)

When I rewatched it for the first time in 25 years in 2007, I wrote:

As it happens I’ve just been reading Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles on the first two Cyberman stories, The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, and it’s interesting that Cyberman stories seem particularly lacking on plot plausibility or scientific credibility (particularly as the scientific credentials of their co-creator Kit Pedler were widely touted by the BBC). I think the Cybermen are particularly naff here (but I haven’t seen Silver Nemesis, so there may be worse in store for me). Their plan makes no sense at all, they are less strong than their android slaves, and their failure to shoot all their enemies when they have the chance is totally illogical. In addition the Cyber-controller comes very close to displaying emotions (“Excellent!”).

Another annoying thing about the story is the way in which the troopers and scientists all merrily crowd into the TARDIS, which has normally been the private space of the Doctor and companions (indeed, we see Adric’s own teenage private space in the first episode – he likes decorating it a lot more than Susan did). Once Cybermen start wandering all round the TARDIS shooting people (like the unfortunate Professor Kyle, played by Clare Clifford who was later to try and seduce Anna/Daniela Nardini in This Life – and wouldn’t you?) it almost feels like just deserts for being over-hospitable to armed earthlings. Earlier Doctors would never have allowed it. (When Salamander violates TARDIS sanctity in The Enemy of the World, he gets sucked into the vortex.)

One good thing about the story, and a striking contrast with The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, is the number of women in leadership roles – Professor Kyle, Beryl Reid as starship captain, plus numerous others. And unlike some commentators I thought both Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton turned in good performances in their roles.

I remember at the time, when the first episode was broadcast, being slightly startled by Adric suddenly developing a personality after a year and a half of appearing without one. Of course this was build-up to him being killed off in the last episode, and that sequence, the credits being rolled in silence over a picture of his gold star for mathematical excellence, is still effective now; shame they didn’t spend more time on building up the character over the previous months.

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

Earthshock is a different matter [to Black Orchid]. It has brilliant bits and terrible bits. The bits I don’t like: the adolescent spat between Adric and the Doctor, a bolted on bit of inconsistent characterisation to make us feel more interested in Adric before he dies; the androids, which make no sense; the Cybermen’s plan, which makes no sense at all (though that at least is traditional for Cyber-stories); the Cyber-Controller’s emotional glee; the Tardis becoming not only a taxi but a battleground, which runs against all the history of pre-JNT Who. (I’m glad that New Who has kept it as a place of refuge on the whole.)

But there are a couple of brilliant bits as well. The Cybermen’s watching of clips from The Tenth PlanetThe Wheel in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen is actually rather reassuring that this is still Doctor Who, despite the full turnover of cast in the last year or so and the new style of the JNT era, and equally reassuring that these Cybermen (despite the personal peculiarities of the Cyber-Controller) are the same as the ones we saw before – this is the first returning villain who actually looks the same as last time they appeared since Destiny of the Daleks two years ago (the Master doesn’t count). It may be a new-look show but it is still our show.

The other brilliant bit is the killing off of Adric. Purely in dramatic and strategic terms, it’s a masterstroke; this may still be our show, but we shouldn’t think it is safe any more. One of the weaknesses of the end of the first (but not the second or third) series of Torchwood was that we rather felt that the regular characters who were killed would probably come back, and to be honest I feel that way a bit about the current Who season; but from this day on one could never feel that about Old Who. Yes, of course we’d been there before in The Daleks’ Master Plan; but one can’t really call Sara Kingdom or Katarina (and I’d argue for Bret Vyon to be in the same category) long-established characters, and anyway that story had been broadcast before many first-time watchers of Earthshock (myself included) were even born. One can forgive Earthshock a lot for its dramatic success of killing Adric.

Poor old Adric, anyway. At the time I didn’t deeply dislike him, but there was certainly a feeling that the Tardis was too full – I had never seen the older stories with more than two companions, and the dynamics were unfamiliar to me, and frankly not all that well worked out. It got a bit tedious that in a majority of his stories, Adric appears to defect to the bad guys, particularly since Waterhouse’s acting abilities really weren’t up to it, but with three companions there’s not a lot else for them to do. He does have one or two good moments – his awe of Tom Baker in Logopolis (definitely not reciprocated) and his final words (which only on this time of watching did I realise referred to his inability to return home). But he will be well down most people’s list of memorable companions, apart from the manner of his passing. (I do recommend the Big Finish audio, The Boy That Time Forgot,  where Andrew Sachs plays an older insane Adric who is taking over the Earth with mutant scorpions. Peter Davsion comments, “So imagine my surprise when I saw that they had brought Adric back, only this time he is being played by … an actor!”)

Rewatching it this time, I did feel a real thrill when the archive footage of previous Doctors was shown, and the ending retains its tension even if you know what is going to happen. But I was even more annoyed than on three previous viewings by the Tardis’s role as killing ground, and by the narrative disconnection; what the heck are the Cybermen doing in the space freighter in the first place? Still, the two high points do outweigh the negatives. Just.

(See also one of the funnier posts in the very funny Wife in Space series.)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation, by Ian “Harry Sullivan” Marter, is:

The Doctor stopped in the entrance. ‘Wait. I have a feeling we shouldn’t go any further,’ he warned them.

I did a long piece on Ian Marter’s novelisations for Strange Horizons long ago, and said this about Doctor Who – Earthshock:

The 1982 Fifth Doctor story Earthshock famously, shockingly, killed off the Doctor’s companion Adric in battle with the Cybermen. While the descriptions in early chapters of people being melted into puddles of liquid by androids seem like yet another gruesome addition of detail by Marter, in fact for once his novelization, published in 1983, stuck pretty closely to the original broadcast version—indeed more so than for any of his other novelizations. Unfortunately this does also emphasise the numerous flaws in the plot—not, of course, Marter’s fault but among many crimes which must be laid at the door of the television script’s author, Eric Saward. Why are the Cybermen hiding on the spaceship? Why aren’t their weapons as good as their androids’? How did they get the bomb onto Earth in the first place? Faced with this material, Marter did a barely adequate job of the novelization.

Rereading it, I found no reason to vary my opinion. Marter did a couple of very good novelisations, but this was not one of them. The cover is a photo still of the Doctor about to shoot something, which grates for several reasons. You can get it here.

The other important and relevant source that I have read since 2011 is Matthew Waterhouse’s autobiography, Blue Box Boy, where he is frank about the reasons he was written out.

The Black Archive on Earthshock, by Brian J. Robb, has only three chapters, but they are long and it is one of the longer books in the sequence.

The first chapter, “Everyone Loves Adric”, looks at how the character evolved, rose and fell, with brief reflection on other teen genius characters (eg Wesley Crusher), and plenty of detail on the strategic choices made by the production team and the reasons for them, starting from Tom Baker’s last season.

The second chapter, “The Saward Imperative”, looks at the specific roles of writer Eric Saward and director Peter Grimwade in writing the story, and considers Saward’s attempt to be true to previous Cyberman stories and Grimwade’s directing technique (good with lighting, less good with actors). The Christopher Priest affair is touched on, but I have heard all about that from a more reliable source. (This is the chapter that deals most with the actual topic of the book.)

The third and longest chapter, “Nostalgia and Cynicism”, looks at the success of Earthshock at the time, but also at how the wrong lessons were learned from it, empowering Nathan-Turner and Award to delve back into the show’s history as it went forward, which in the end killed a lot of the potential creativity. Its second full paragraph is:

There can be little argument that whatever other failings John Nathan-Turner may have had, he was a showman who understood publicity and the various ways to bring much-needed attention to an almost 20-year-old programme. His instinct for ‘gimmicks’, whether in casting (Beryl Reid) or the individual elements (Cybermen) that could make up a Doctor Who story, was unsurpassed. He was willing to take a chance on talent and to develop the skills of actors, writers, and script editors, although perhaps not always successfully. In Saward, Nathan-Turner found the creative talent that would define much of his period in the job and reshape the programme – for good and bad – for the 1980s.

This is not just a book about Earthshock, but a guide to the trajectory of the whole Nathan-Turner / Saward era, and it works very 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) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: 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) | 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) | 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)

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Along with Alexander and Alfred, Charlemagne is one of a handful of kings who gets awarded the post-nominal accolade “the Great.” His early life remains mysterious and the stories are assembled from various sources, but it seems he was born around 742 CE, just at the time when the Plague of Justinian was dispatching millions at the eastern edge of the moribund Roman Empire. The precise place of his birth is also unknown, but it’s likely to be in a town such as Aachen, now in contemporary Germany, or Liège in Belgium. Even Einhard, his dedicated servant and biographer, wouldn’t get drawn into the specifics of Charlemagne’s early life in his fawning magnum opus, The Life of Charles the Great. The very fact that this account exists—probably the first biography of a European ruler—is testament to how important he was (or at least was seen to be). In many European languages, the word “king” is itself derived from Charlemagne’s name.

A good summary of where we are with the study of human genes, genetics and genomes, a subject that I have thought about at great length during my genealogical investigations and also my previous pieces on Richard III and the most recent common ancestor. (Rutherford covers both of these topics in detail.) He goes into the very slender genetic basis for race, criminal disposition or many other characteristics that have been said to be biologically predetermined, and explains why it is More Complicated Than That.

In other words, my prejudices were reinforced, but authoritatively, and although the style gets a little too jocular in places for my taste, I still recommend it strongly. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired last year, and my top unread non-fiction book. Next respectively on those piles are How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and The Pragmatic Programmer, by David Thomas.

Sunday reading

My Real Children, by Jo Walton 

Last books finished
Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones
Life Ceremony, by Sayaka Murata
Facing Fate: Vortex Butterflies, by Nick Abadzis et al
The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, by Terrance Dicks
Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost
Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara, by David Fisher
The Road to Amber, by Roger Zelazny
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, by Terrance Dicks

Next books
All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne
The Hand of Fear, by Simon Bucher-Jones

Countries I have visited

I am just back from a quick trip to Norway, my 58th or 59th country depending on how one counts certain places. Mainly for my own records, here is the full list. The country that I have visited but not returned to for the longest time is Liechtenstein.

United Kingdom – lived there most of my life to January 1997 (mostly in Belfast and Cambridge) 
April 1967 born in Belfast September 202356family party in Northern Ireland
?May 1967 visit to my mother’s family in Dublin September 2023 56travel to family party in Northern Ireland 
?September 1967 visit to my grandmother in Rome February 202052 weekend trip to Rome 
July 1970 family holiday in Nice September 2023 56passed through on Eurostar
?July 1972 family holiday August 2022 55 changed planes in Montreal 
US – lived in Stoneham Massachusetts 1973-4 
?July 1972 family holiday February 202355 Gallifrey One in Los Angeles
?July 1975 summer holiday in Zlatni Piasaci (Golden Sands) July 2022 55 conference in Sofia 
?July 1975 summer holiday in Mamaia November 2001 34 conference in Sinaia 
?July 1976 family holiday in Sliema November 2007 40 changed planes en route home from Cyprus 
10 Spain 
July 1977 10 family holiday in Sitges May 2017 50 in and out of Barcelona airport for Andorra conference 
11 Andorra 
July 1977 10 family day trip during Spanish holiday May 2017 50 conference in Andorra-la-Vella 
12 Netherlands – lived in Wassenaar 1979-80 
August 1979 12 family lived in Wassenaar for a year May 2023 56 weekend in Amsterdam 
13 Belgium – have lived here since January 1999 
October 1979 12 family trip November 202356 live here 
14 Germany 
February 1980 12 family day trip November 2023 56 changing planes yesterday on way home from Oslo 
15 Luxembourg 
February 1980 12 family day trip October 2022 55 afternoon with cousins 
16 Austria 
March 1980 12 family skiing holiday in Lermoos July 2022 55 changing planes to and from Sofia
[SFR Yugoslavia] 
August 1980 13 family holiday near Ljubljana August 1985 18 astronomical youth camp in Crni Vrh, Slovenia 
17 Slovenia 
August 1980 13 family holiday near Ljubljana June 2018 51 changing planes on way to Skopje 
18 Croatia – lived there May-December 1998 
August 1980 13 family day trip to Zagreb June 2023 56 conference in Zagreb 
19 Switzerland 
August 1980 13 family holiday in Lucerne April 2023 55work trip to Geneva 
20 Liechtenstein
August 1980 13 family day trip 
21 Monaco 
July 1981 14 family day trip 
22 San Marino 
July 1981 14 family day trip 
[Berlin/German Democratic Republic] 
June 1986 19 long weekend visit
23 Vatican City 
August 1986 19 visited while interrailing  January 202052visited while in Rome for a work trip 
24 Denmark 
August 1990 23 passed through by train en route to and from Finland December 2016 49 changed planes en route from Chicago 
25 Sweden 
August 1990 23 passed through by train en route to and from Finland December 2016 49 changed planes en route to Chicago 
26 Finland 
August 1990 23 holiday in Valamo Monastery November 2018 51 conference in Helsinki 
[Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] 
August 1990 23 visited Tallinn, Estonia, on a day trip 
27 Estonia 
August 1990 23 visited Tallinn on a day trip 
28 Portugal 
April 1992 24 visited Porto while interrailing February 2010  42 conference in Viana do Catelho 
29 Cyprus (including Northern Cyprus)
October 1993 26 stayed near Larnaca on honeymoon May 2014 47 working visit 
30 Bosnia-Herzegovina – lived there Jan 1997-May 1998 
August 1996 29 passed through Neum en route from Dubrovnik to Spilt by bus February 2019 51 visit to Banja Luka and Sarajevo 
31 Hungary 
February 1997 29 spent weekend in Pec September 2014 47 conference in Budapest 
32 (North) Macedonia 
April 1997 29 ten days working tour of country June 2018 51 work trip to Skopje
33 Serbia (not counting Kosovo) 
March 1998 30 seven days working tour of country August 2022 55 work trip to Belgrade
March 2000 32 conference in Prishtina March 2019 51 conference in Prishtina 
35 Israel 
May/June 2001 34 conference in Tel Aviv/Caesarea and visit to Jerusalem 
May/June 2001 34 drove through Latrun corridor, stayed with friend in East Jerusalem after Israel conference 
36 Moldova 
September 2001 34 conference in ChişinăuJune 2011 44 work trip to Chişinău
37 Montenegro 
January 2002 34 working visit to Podgorica May 2022 55 work trip to Podgorica 
38 Greece 
April 2002 34 conference in Thessaloniki June 2007 40 work trip to Thessaloniki 
39 Czech Republic 
April 2002 34 conference in Prague June 2018 51 changing planes on way home from Dubrovnik
40 Georgia 
July 2003 36 working visit to Tbilisi May 201649 conference in Tbilisi 
41 Slovakia 
November 2003 36 conference in Bratislava October 201952 conference in Štrbské Pleso
42 Armenia 
May 2004 37 working visit to Yerevan 
43 Azerbaijan 
May 2004 37 working visit to Baku 
44 Russia 
June 2004 37 working visit to Moscow 
45 Albania 
April 2005 37 conference in Tirana April 201850 work trip to Tirana 
46 Ukraine 
November 2005 38 conference in Kyiv May 201548 work trip to Kyiv 
47 Turkey / Türkiye
March 2006 38 working visit to Istanbul February 201850 gave a lecture in Istanbul 
October 2009 42 changing planes en route to Juba April 2010 42 changing planes en route to Juba 
[Sudan, under previous borders] 
October 2009 42 work trip to Juba July 2010 43 work trip to Juba
49South Sudan 
October 2009 42 work trip to Juba July 2010 43 work trip to Juba
January 2010 42 changing planes en route to Juba April 2010 42 changing planes en route from Juba
July 2010 43 changing planes en route to Juba July 2010 43 African Union summit
September 2013 46 conference in Krynica-Zdrój May 2016 49 changing planes en route from Tbilisi
53 Iraq 
March 2015 47 conference in Sulaymaniyah 
54 Nigeria 
July 2015 48 work trip to Abuja 
55 South Africa 
September 2017 50 conference in Johannesburg 
October 2018 51 weekend in Riga 
57 China 
October 2023 56 work trip to Beijing, WorldCon in Chengdu 
58 Norway 
November 2023 56 conference in Oslo 

Sex Education

I don’t feel like writing a long analytical piece about the recently concluded Netflix series Sex Education, so this is going to be mainly uncritical squee. It’s four series of eight episodes each about teenagers at school in a very fictional English town (where numerous aspects of the set-up bear little relationship to the English education system or indeed to British culture generally). The lead character is Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) whose gay best friend Eric (incoming star of Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa) encourages him to set up a sex education clinic at school, in collaboration with wild-but-smart girl Maeve (Emma Mackey). Gillian Anderson puts in a star turn as Otis’s mother Jean, who actually is a sex therapist. All of them have romantic troughs and peaks, as does the extensive supporting cast.

We decided to watch it to get acquainted with Ncuti Gatwa in advance of his appearance on Doctor Who, and really we were not disappointed. Anne argues that the entire series should be treated as speculative fiction anyway, because it’s obviously happening in a parallel Britain where schools are largely privately funded, and where various other implausible things happen in terms of the social context. So you have to suspend your disbelief a little. But once you do, you are swept into a beautifully constructed and often vey funny world of characterisation, with most of the characters following their own arcs, some of them getting to surprising places. Ncuti Gatwa stands out but does not dominate as Eric.

The other two characters who always drew the eye were Emma Rainey as Maeve and Aimee Lou Gibbs as her blonde friend Aimee (presumably it was not planned that actor and character would have the same name). The last season has a particularly effective episode revolving around a funeral which gets superb performances from both (and they are both generally very good).

Just as important as the plot, in times where sexual minorities are being demonised by people including the British Prime Minister, the ethos of the show is empowering and liberating. The actual sex advice given is sound and sensible, and the repressed authority figures get their comeuppance. There’s decent representation of disability too. Perhaps the lack of racism encountered by the non-white characters is a little too good to be true. There’s a very powerful scene at the end of the second season where Aimee’s friends join her in solidarity on the school bus, after she has spent several episodes dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

This episode, the seventh of Season 2, is the top-rated on IMDB and I think justifiably so. The second-highest rated is the fifth episode of series 3, where Otis and Maeve get stranded together during a school trip to France.

I would enter one mild note of annoyance. Lily, played by Tanya Reynolds, is the science fiction fan in the story. I felt that her portrayal tipped a bit more into mockery than was necessary. Most sf fans don’t actually believe, as Lily apparently does, that aliens are about to land. It’s a flaw in an otherwise very enjoyable show. (And she gets mercilessly written out at the end of the third season.)

That aside, I recommend it with no other reservations, and I’ve left out a lot of the good stuff here – the rotating head teachers, Gillian Anderson’s character’s arc, Maeve’s self-discovery in America, the surprisingly positive portrayal of Christianity in Eric’s family. You’ve just about got time to get through all 32 episodes before the era of Ncuti Gatwa’s as the Fifteenth Doctor begins.

About Time 9, by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Firsts and Lasts It’s the end of a trilogy of stories set in the same time-period (as per X3.3, “Gridlock” last year), with the forty-second story getting another visit after X2.8, “The Impossible Planet”, and X3.7, “42”. The ood aren’t afflicted by any ultimate-source-of-all-evil this time, so we have our first recurring friendly aliens since the show’s return.

Second paragraph of sidebar essay to third chapter:

For those of us raised on 1970s Doctor Who, where the conditions of a world fed into the story-telling right from the start, obvious mismatches such as this can be distracting. Take a relatively simple tale such as “The Mutants” (9.4) or “The Caves of Androzani” (21.6), where the basic knowledge every child had picked up from the Moon landings or news items about pollution was deployed in a conceptually exciting and intriguing way (regardless of the execution), then compare it to The Mill’s persistent inability to get phases of the Moon right, and you’ll see why experienced viewers get a little peeved.

Latest in the magisterial set of books about Doctor Who (I have previously read volumes 1, 2, 3, 3 (revised), 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8), this covers Series 4 of New Who, the season with the Tenth Doctor and Donna, and also the 2009 special, with a side order of the Proms concert Music of the Spheres, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and the animated Dreamland story. This actually came out in 2019, but I only got it in August, and with David Tennant and Donna Noble about to return to our screens, it’s a timely read.

As usual, there is lovely detailed analysis of each story, including all the sections familiar from past volumes plus a new one, “English Lessons”, explaining cultural allusions which may not be as clear to the non-UKanian reader. None of these stories has yet been covered by the Black Archives, so you can’t really compare and contrast, but I feel comfortable that the two series are doing different things and both doing them well. In particular, the chapters on Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight and The End of Time were very good.

I’m sorry to say that I did not feel the same way about the sidebar essays accompanying the analysis of each story. There are two standout pieces in the middle of the book, one on the history of the online spinoffs of the show, and one asking “Why Can’t Anyone Just Die?” in the Moffat version of the show, a valid question answered in forensic detail. But in general the companion essays seemed to me a notch or two below the very high standards set in previous volumes, most of them dedicated to exploring obscure rabbit-holes of continuity which I find it difficult to care about.

However, it’s comprehensive on the actual episodes, and the Black Archives you would get for the same price would cover a fraction of the material. So I would still recommend it to the analytical fan, just not as highly as some of the earlier volumes. You can get it here.