Tag Archives: Doctor Who

repost: review of “Doctor Who and the Pirates” from Big Finish

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Title: Doctor Who and the Pirates

Produced by: Big Finish

Series: Sixth Doctor and Dr. Evelyn Smythe

Summary: Evelyn arrives unexpectedly at the quarters of one of her former students, Sally, and proceeds, with the Doctor’s help, to tell a story of piratical adventure to the protesting Sally.  With each episode, this story takes another unexpected turn.

Unexpected Thing: Since it includes Gilbert and Sullivan music, I was under the impression that the story would be silly and lightweight.  I should have known better, given Big Finish’s other productions.  I can’t blow this for you, but just have some tissues nearby, ok?

Now, this my first Big Finish download, and I’m glad that I started here.  (Don’t worry if the sixth doc wasn’t your cup of tea on tv; he wasn’t mine, either.  He’s good here, and they make fun of his silly coat.)  I’ve been in love with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas for many years, and the pastiches of their songs are what attacted me to this story in the first place; so, let’s begin with the music…

The compositions here are very, very strong.  Gilbert was a brilliant lyricist, and many writers since have been baffled by trying to update his lyrics.  The production team here did a lovely job within the second and third episodes, with the highlight being Colin Baker’s solo “I am the very model of a Gallafrayian Buccaneer.”  [That one’s getting separated and going with my Chameleon Circuit playlist. 🙂 ]Very clever work, chaps.  The overture (which is actually played at the end) combines the Who theme baseline with several themes and harmonies from a variety of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.  It’s beautiful and worth the price of the download alone.

Another particular bit of loveliness, given my love for words, is the nature of the meta-narrative (these elements are strongest in the first episode, but resonate throughout).  Evelyn is telling the story, but she keeps getting confused and having to go back and change bits.  In addition, we soon learn that she also is hiding something.

If you don’t wish to know any more, go to the Big Finish site and download it now.  http://www.bigfinish.com/43-Doctor-Who-and-The-Pirates

**** Here there be spoilers****

Soon, the story spirls out of control, as Evelyn gets in too far before realising that she can’t escape the story without finishing it, including the parts she doesn’t want to remember.  Only after listening to the entire story does the subtitle (common in G & S works) carry its meaning and impact : The Lass That Lost a Sailor.

Speaking of Young Jem, Doctor Who as a program is rather known for its high body counts, especially of nameless soldiers, guards, and townsfolk.  Just look at Resurrection of the Daleks, for heaven’s sake!  After a while, as viewers, we come to regard these deaths of nameless guys as blasé.  In this story, though, the author writes a very powerful argument against our callous attitude towards the death of extras and minor characters.  The name games that Evelyn plays with the sailors first establish them as fairly interchangable, but this comes to an unexpected fruition in the deaths as the story continues.  Each murder builds in power, until Jem’s death becomes unbearable.  We don’t even hear/ see it, but Jem’s murder forms the crux of the story and lends it heart-breaking strength.  In fact, the tone change as we approach it provides such glaring contrast to earlier episodes that it reveals them to be Evelyn’s attempts to whistle in the dark.  It also gives us a glimpse, perhaps, why the Doctor gallavants with such jocularity around the universe, even though he carries with him the weight of constant death and evil.

Following up on the lessons we and Sally learn as we hear the story, the Doctor’s final scene alone with Sally provides a capstone to the adventure.  It could very easily have descended to preachiness, but it rather neatly side-steps this.  Instead, it just reinforces what we are all thinking, as we muse with Sally.

Overall– a strong story that unexpectedly stayed with me.  I’d definately recommend it for anyone who likes radio drama, G & S, or the Doctor.

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long long overdue review: “Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical”

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Title: Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical

Author: Rob Shearman

Pub: Big Finish, 2009

Genre: Short Stories/ Novellas

Awards Won: Shirley Jackson Awards, Edge Hill Short Story Readers Prize,  2010 British Fantasy Awards

 The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s exactly what a short story collection should be– rather like expensive chocolate truffles.  The best way to enjoy is to slowly nibble just one at a time, savoring the flavors  and the artistry.  Then, put the book down.  Wander off, cook, feed the cat, mail the letters, or do the laundry.  As you do, the memory of the story, the ethereal taste, will ghost just along with you.  Then, sometime later… an hour, a day, just as the flavor fades… you’ll come back and taste another– different from the first and yet just as exquisite.

The second thing you should know about this book is that it’s apparently impossible to review it without resorting to lyricism.   

Shearman’s narrative style is deceptively straight-forward.  No flowery flights of language.  He creates a world in just a few deft strokes, that we completely recognize as our own–

–just to pick one, the opening of ‘Your Long, Loving Arms’ introduces us to Steve: “In the end, it was the afternoons that were killing him.  The evenings were fine.  The evenings, he could cope with.  He wasn’t working in the evenings, it was true, but that was okay, lots of people didn’t work in the evenings. He’d play with Ben a bit, like a normal dad, might read him a bedtime story if Ben fancied it. Like a normal dad, and in a normal family too, he’d cuddle up with Cheryl on the sofa and they’d watch a spot of telly, and at last Cheryl would say that she’d best go to bed, she had to be up early in the morning. And he’d go with her, though he didn’t have to be up early, not any more” (87).   Simple enough, right?  and heart-breakingly recognizable in these days of unemployment and redundancy–

— then Shearman slips our world just a little bit sideways with a word, but ever so gently that it seems the only natural way to be.  So, our Steve, in an attempt to stem the tide of those lengthening afternoons, enlists in the Tree Scheme: “It was funny– after an hour or so you didn’t feel the stiffness in your arms.  First they numbed, then felt like something detached from the body altogether.  And when the breeze fluttered his leaves, Steve thrilled to it– the wind just teasing them, they didn’t seem so much blown about as stroked” (92).  You need to read it now, don’t you?

Hence why, though his stories are often nominated for Fantasy and Horror awards, they’re not really either, in the traditional sense– but in the sense that we are amazed and terrified by ourselves, reflected back in one of those mirrors where it’s just twisted enough that you recognize a stranger’s face in your own.  Plus, what the labels tend to set aside is the humor woven deftly into the fabric of these stories.  Not the burst into laugher in public kind– though you might, as I did, get asked what you’re grinning about, which you will find yourself utterly unable to describe– but that kind of communal recognition that life is a funny old thing, after all, but it’s ours.

Sitting here, writing this and flipping through the book to find my favorite to tell you about, I keep finding one favorite and then another and then another, but all for different reasons.  Each story’s narrator is unique and both exactly like someone you know and completely unlike anyone else at all–some through the delicacy of third person [including “Love Among the Lobelias,” “Roadkill,” and “Love in a Time of Sharing”] and some through the intimacy of first [including “Not About Love,” “Be of Good Cheer,” “14.2,” and “At the Crease”].  Tenderness, shyness, loss, loneliness, hope, cynicism, yes, and longing too– the stories are about love, after all.  And, along the way, perhaps just a tinge of that fear of love gone a bit (well more than a bit really, a very very lot) wrong, there’s “George Clooney’s Mustache.” 

The third thing you should know about this book is that picking a favorite story is too hard.

Go on then.  Here you are: http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/love-songs-for-the-shy-and-cynical

apologies

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Hi, folks–

I’m completely chagrined to see that it’s been since April– (April!!)– since I posted anything here.  Summer’s nearly over, and I miss blogging, but as the podcast has just taken off in an amazing way, along with other very nice things as well, so this has kind of slipped through my fingers. 

I’m updating my book lists here today, and I’m going to try to post up at least one thing a week for awhile, to get back into practice.  It should help a bit that we’ve started doing a book discussion group called Ark Between the Covers as a tangent with the podcast [check out the Facebook group HERE].  We’re beginning with Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in honor of its anniversary.  I’ve never read it (I know?! right?), so this should be interesting.

I’m also in the middle of reading  Birthmarks by Sarah Dunant (a good Brit detective story recommended and lent to me by a friend), Tangerine by Edward Bloor (previewing, as it’s the novel we’ll read as part of our new curriculum this year), and Blue Box Boy by Matthew Waterhouse (an autographed copy! a kind gift, and a really good read, especially for any classic Who fans).

While I get myself sorted out and organized over here, go and cheer on Lulumankiller at Life Under A Rock, as she does a really cool Read-a-Thon this weekend.  We loves her!

repost: Review of “The Shadow in the North”

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With Doctor Who reappearing on the BBC last week and on BBCAmerica next Saturday [April 17th] with Matt Smith as the new Doctor, I thought it would be appropriate to repost this review.  The movie below now stars 2 DW alumni. 

title: The Shadow in the North

from: PBS Masterpiece Mystery / BBC

based on: “The Sally Lockhart Mysteries”

by Philip Pullman

length: 86 minutes

I was predisposed to enjoy this because I liked Billie Piper as Rose in “Doctor Who” and one of the supporting actors (playing Jim) is Matt Smith, who is to be Doctor # 11. This is a nice opportunity to have them both in the same production. They do, indeed, do nice enough work, though the script is quite weak for Smith’s character. I have also already seen the first film in this series: “The Ruby in the Smoke” That one was ok—reminded me rather of Dickens’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” having an strong set-up and a weak finish (yes, I am aware that Dickens never finished the manuscript, but other authors have), along with a very obvious villain. However, I liked Sally, Jim, and Fredrick enough to keep watching and to look forward to the next one. I actually looked up the novels, but my library didn’t have them.

As for “The Shadow in the North,” it gains points for having a less obvious plot and a more complex group of supporting characters (Alistair MacKinnon & Axel Bellmann, particularly) than its predecessor. Unfortunately, Sally and the other main characters suffer for it—they don’t, frankly, get much to do. Poor Fredrick is reduced to appearing in a variety of unconvincing disguises and then (spoiler music, la la la la la) being killed just as he was getting interesting. The plot moves from clear realism through to the super-natural, though I would have liked to have the final “ghost” scenes better supported. They seem to appear out of nowhere.

(ok, personal rant here, nothing to do personally with Pullman’s work, but I HATE when authors kill off the romantic partners of their strong female characters just as they were about to be happy together. Why?? Why fall back on the idea that happily married/ affianced characters can’t be interesting? Why not let them be together & then work in the relationship’s ups and downs into the story. Diane Mott Davidson has done a lovely job of that. So, why make your main character broken and fragile, especially when the main thrust of the story is not her romantic entanglement, but actually the mysteries or adventures? Edna Buchanan, Patricia Cornwall, Philip Pullman… take note and stop it, already!)

Right, back on track (pun intended)—the idea of the deadly train engine was unusual and chilling, and the final set piece with Sally, when you don’t know what she is planning, is well done.

Overall: worth the watch, but mostly for Piper’s and Smith’s fans. 

For more, see below:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/shadow/

I’m officially a podcaster!

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I’m very very excited because today marks my official debut out there in the vast world of podcasting.  We’re on iTunes and everything!  Our little show, called Professor Dave’s Ark in Space, is Dave and I having a discussion about what elements of our culture mark the best and the worst of humanity, and generally having a great time while we’re at it. 

If you feel inclined to give us a listen, here are the links:

iTunes–   http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/professor-daves-ark-in-space/id359160686

libsyn– http://www.profdave.libsyn.com/rss

If you love it, we also have a facebook group– just search for Professor Dave’s Ark in Space.

Enjoy!

A toast to Who fandom

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dwcast1.jpg image by palaeogothica

Today marks the 46th anniversary of Doctor Who’s premiere on British television, so I thought I’d chronicle for you my introduction into its fandom. 

Though I’ve watched Doctor Who on and off for many years, and I was completely excited when it came back on Sci-Fi Channel, I wasn’t involved in any fandom activities at all.  In fact, I didn’t know there WAS a Doctor Who fandom, really.  The only people I knew who liked it were my siblings and my mom.  My biggest exposure to other people liking the show was during pledge breaks on PBS during Sci-Fi Saturday Nights on WXEL back in the day.

The 4th Doctor was my Doctor.

Buying my ipod last autumn really marked my entry into a huge world that I never knew was there.  While I was discovering podcasts of radio shows I liked, I stumbled across The Whocast.  They were the entry drug.  The discovery that not only were there other people out there who knew about and liked Doctor Who, but there were A Lot of them, was pretty astonding.    After listening to the back catalog of Whocast, I found that I most enjoyed the episodes with Tony, so I then back-tracked to Staggering Stories, and then on their recommendations, over to Tin Dog Podcast and Radio Free Skaro.  I was introduced to Big Finish.  I was now well and truely hooked.  Now The Flashing Blade, The Minute Doctor Who podcast, the Two-Minute Timelord, and Bridging the Rift make the regular rounds on my itunes each week.  There are many, many more people all over the world who contribute their own unique talents and perspectives to the discussion– and how awesome is that!

The really great thing about learning about Doctor Who fandom is finding that it was composed of groups of intelligent, erudite, and entertaining people who use their mutual understanding of the show’s 46 years to frame discussions about literature, art, philosophy, morality, history,  politics, and more [If you ask them, they will deny this, but it is true]. 

Sooner or later, of course, I wanted to be a part of the discussion.  I sent in feedback and began writing my own episode reviews,  and that’s when I learned another important part of this fandom– it’s collaborative.   This isn’t some clique of uber-fans who set themselves high above the plebs– far from it.  They actively encourage more people to come to the party and to play on their playground, and they embrace new fans and old alike.  It’s this inclusive joy that makes being a fan fun. 

  I worked up the bravery last weekend to attend my first real fan-event– a Hurricane Who viewing party of “Waters of Mars” over in Orlando.  I had a fantastic time, and much like the fans I’d met on the podcasts, the people were intelligent, fun, and welcoming.  It was a wonderful experience.

So, today on Doctor Who’s anniversary, I raise a glass to the fans– Thanks for being fan-tastic!

 

 

I’ve got a lot of listening to do

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First off– you guys rock!  I haven’t had this many views in one day for ages.  So, thank you all very much, and please come back and play soon!  (and leave comments so I know who you are, please.  I would like to visit your blogs, too.)

Secondly,  I have 4 new Doctor Who-esque podcasts to listen to now: Staggering Stories, Flashing Blade, Radio Free Skaro, Tin Dog.  I love you guys, but everyone comes out on a Sunday!  I end up listening to you all at once, and then having nothing but old ones all of the rest of the week.  Yes, I know I should pace myself, but it’s not going to happen.

Third, I have just realized that I never reviewed the third recently-released Torchwood radio play, so I think that will be the next one up to bat (or, perhaps, the brilliance that is “Jeeves and Wooster”).  Which ever I choose, you all have some treats coming!

this is my ipod.  i love him.

this is my ipod. i love him.