Tag Archives: scifi

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.

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

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!

 

 

a beginner’s guide to Douglas Adams

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 Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who …

You know that favorite thing you have– the one that you are zealously delighted to introduce to everyone around you?  That one that you can’t remember not loving?  That one that you quote from pretty constantly and crack in-jokes about with the two other people you know who are as nutty about it as you are?

For me, that thing is Douglas Adams, and I know I’m not alone. 

In fact, at this very moment, you may be sitting next to an Adams-addict.  One might be your teacher [Hi, kids.  See you all on the 24th]. One might live upstairs.   One might be your boss.  You are surrounded by Adams-addicts everyday.  How can you tell, you ask?  Do you need a magic decoder ring?  Is there a litmus test?  Do we all wear tee-shirts?

I want this.  I want this shirt.

 Here’s the test; are you ready?  Turn to any person you happen to meet, and simply ask him or her, “What is the meaning of life?”  If the answer comes back, “Forty-two,” then you, my friend, have found yourself an Adams-addict.

So he’s got a lot of fans.  Big deal– so does professional wrestling , and that’s just dumb [sorry, Jerry 😉 ] 

Well, do you remember when you first read Shakespeare and Greek mythology in high school, and then you started to see quotations and references to them everywhere?  Then you figured out that they had been there all along, but you’d never noticed, because you just didn’t know?  Adams is like that.   In fact, in science-fiction writing, there is such a thing as the “obligatory Hitchhiker’s reference.”  It appears in nearly every work of sci-fi written post-1980.  Go ahead– Google the phrase– you’ll see.

Why do we all love Douglas Adams so much?  Because the man looked at the world in an incredibly unique, intelligent, positive, and humorous way.  Then, he wrote it down. 

I could go on at length about his technique, perspective, and utterly original spirit, but I think that would spoil it for you.  Part of what draws Adams-addicts in is discovering for ourselves something new and precious every time we read his books, listen to his radio shows, watch his films, play his video games, use his towels [yes, you read that correctly– towels].

I’ll tell you how I got into Adams, but we have to go back a bit:  My father was in the Air Force in the mid-seventies, and he was stationed in England.  My mom, after their wedding, went to live with him.  Now, she didn’t have a car, didn’t know anyone, and had a husband who worked 24 hour shifts– so she spent a good deal of time listening to the radio and watching television.  She saw and enjoyed Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s on tv.  Flash forward to about 1992 or so.  We were all living in South Florida.  My sister and I were hooked on Sci-Fi Saturday Nights on our local PBS station [WXEL].  Hitchhiker’s came on.  My mom said, “Oh, I remember this.  It was funny.  Let’s watch it.” 

I distinctly remember sitting on the cool tile floor and leaning against the couch, as the three of us watched the mini-series.  Yes, it was super cheesy in many places, but gosh, it was brilliant!  Then, my sister and I discovered the books, then his other novels… and in college, I began reading his non-fiction.  “Last Chance to See” is a wonderfully powerful book.  I found copies of his radio play scripts, watched his Doctor Who episodes, read his obituary with a deep sense of loss, and now I love “The Salmon of Doubt,” a collection of all sorts of writing that his friends rescued from his hard drive.  I have a particular fondness for the audiobook, to which many of his closest friends contributed.Ask any Adams-addict, and he or she will have a similarly personal story about discovering the brilliance that is Douglas Adams.

So, I will leave you with just a few examples of why I love Adams:

“The ships hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don’t.” 

“Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, ‘We don’t demand solid facts!  What we demand is a total absence of solid facts.  I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!'”

 

“‘And I am Dr. Desiato’s bodyguard,’ it went, ‘and I am responsible for his body, and I am not responsible for yours, so take it away before it gets damaged.'”

“One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of acidentally becoming your own father or mother.  There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with.  There is no problem about changing the course of history– the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw.  All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.  The major problem is quite simply one of grammar…”

 

“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.”

“‘My name,’ said the mattress, ‘is Zem.  We could discuss the weather a little.’  Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.  ‘The dew,’ he observed, ‘has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.'”

 

Are you intrigued?  Good.  Go down to your library and pick up your copy today.  Then come back and leave your favorite quotation in the comments!  Till then, my hoopy froods, Don’t Panic!

By Grabthar’s Hat!

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 Ah, all good things (?) must come to an end, and so it is with Tom and Lalla’s visit to the “Leisure Hive.”   Here is part 4’s commentary.  Part 3 is skulking here.
 

When we last visited the Leisure Hive, the Earth businessman had just been unmasked as a reptile to gasps of horror!  (Stella Luna says, “Let me at him!  Migaow!”)

Drats! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it, too...

1. Interesting use of pyramid as viewscreen.

2.  I like the march theme playing behind Son-of-Mine’s rant here.

3. Why is he so terrified of the reptile?  I mean, I share the fear, but dude, get some dignity.

4. Ohh– an imposter!  I see.  Where’s Doctor McCoy when you need him? “Jim, this man is a Klingon!”

5. Ah- a nice twist on the enemy/ non-enemy.

6. You tell him, Chief Inspector!

7. And there goes your plot, regenerator boy!

8. “You don’t cross your bridges until they’re hatched.” 🙂

By Grabthar's Hammer, you will be avenged!

By Grabthar's Hammer, the Ambassador shall be avenged!

 

9. Way to threaten an ambassador of peace there, boyo.

10. Tom is looking mischeivious here.  What is he up to?

11.  By Grabthar’s Hammar, he will be avenged!

12. “We are the army.”  Oh dear.

13. Why is the dawn so crucial to the plan?

14. OK- when your self-appointed leader demands unquestioning obedience AND starts referring to himself in the plural, it’s a bad sign.

15. Reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated.

16. How can she so quickly find the Doctor on her scanner?

17.  Oh just reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and get on with it already!

18. Oh!  Poor Formazi!

19. Does he realize that the mask looks like the “Pyramids of Mars” guy?  Do they have the same hatter?

Pyramids of Mars snazzy hat

20.  Oh dear– their marching looks too much like the Rimmer puppets dancing to the Rimmer song to be taken seriously.

21.  Army of clones is a good idea, though.  Has he met the Sontarians?

22. We do have tons of dramatic eye acting in this episode.

23. Oh, cute little trick!  Lucky Son-of-Mine wore that helmet into the machine, wasn’t it.  Isn’t Tom much taller, though?

24. Useful plot device.  It’s what happens when a non-scientist tries to make clones.  They are always unstable.

25. Where did Romana find his clothes?  umm… never mind.

26. Finnegan, begin again.

27.  Now Son-of-Mine is just a hystrical child throwing a temper tantrum.

28.  Is the poor woman going to have a mustache?  I think they did a Star Trek episode like this.

29. Yes, bring him up properly this time!

30.  Ah– I’m glad to know the Ambassador/ Chief Inspector didn’t get blown up. 

31. Black Guardian: “a galactic hobo with ideas above his station”  Ha!  And no more randomizer.  A nice ending.

 

So, the destruction of the randomizer also brings us to the end of this series of random comments.

Did you enjoy them?  Would you like to see more?  Are they all rubbish?  Drop me a comment.

in which we finally meet the aliens.

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 We’re back with episode 3 of “Leisure Hive”– a classic Tom Baker Doctor Who story.  If you missed episode 2, find it here.

As we rejoin Tom & crew, he had just been turned ancient by the video-effects box.

 

This gives a new meaning to "Old Who."

This gives a new meaning to "Old Who."

 

Away we go, then…

1. A  nice review of previous episode, though repetitive music make it hard to build suspense.

2. Hey– he can’t complain.  He could be Gollum-Doctor.

3. No, duh.  He just came out of the box– of course he hasn’t seen himself!

4. Where does Harden get off giving orders?

5. Son-of-Mine seems inordinately please with himself.  Why?  What devious thing is he planning?

6. Yes, yes, yes.  Sand.  We know!  Being spied on.  We get it.

7. How would he know?  Romana’s the brains.

8. How does Son-Of-Mine intend on wearing that helmet?  It looks solid.

9.  Is Pangorn conspiring with the reptiles?

10. “Dignity.  Always Dignity.”  [See “Singing in the Rain”]

11. Um, as Harden has already proven himself useless, and this is your last hope– that’s a dumb decision, La Presidente.

12. No, No… we’re not part of a conspiricy.  Not at all.  Nothing to see here.  Move along

Move it along.  No alien conspiricies here. 

"Move it along. No alien conspiricies here."

.

13.  With the old make-up, Tom’s eyes are even more powerful.

14.  Cool-looking contract plastic/ paper.

15.  Ah, political plot thickens.

16. OOOh– so this is “The Doctor’s Daughter” all over again but done properly! 

17.  Where did the other “disfigured” mutants go?  They sound interesting.

18.  The Formaci sound like R2D2.  Why isn’t the Tardis translation circuit working?

And so another episode ends with the reveal of the alien– I’m glad that they saved it for so late in the game.

Hi,  here we are.  How are we for time?

Hi, here we are. How are we for time?

Next up, the final episode.  Huzzah!

Video effects of Doom!

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Right, well—to begin, I must say that I’m glad that I’ve already taken the notes on this episode because I just spent the better portion of the afternoon reading “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell (review in a few days), and going back to snarky Doctor Who comments is quite the rugged transition for my brain.

 

So, here we go back to “Leisure Hive” episode two.   For episode one, click here.

 

I dub him Son-of-Mine.

I dub him "Son-of-Mine."

As we view the reprise, ol’ (oh, he really is here, poor fellow) Tom is once again torn asunder by video effects of DOOM.

  1. Wait—reprise made it look like Romana was dragging the scarf!  I thought it was the Doc.
  2. Why does Reptile try to kill Doctor?  What’s his motivation?
  3. Such a cheat—that resolution!
  4. Oh look, ANOTHER Earth shuttle.  This is beginning to feel like Star Cops.
  5. Umm, a strangely directed capture scene.
  6. Just a note—his sonic screwdriver looks almost exactly like the doohickey I used for melting wax when learning pysanka.
  7. Ah, well… yes… have dabbled just a bit in time travel.
  8. Romana is just showing off.
  9. I don’t like Tom’s red coat at all at all.
  10. La Presidente doesn’t seem to mourn her husband all that much.
  11. These reptiles do have a penchant for turning knobs and screwing with machinery.
  12. Ah, now we see how war + hive + death + children all tie together.
  13. Why does anyone trust this scientist?
  14. Also, why does beard-boy (who should be easily identifiable as evil b/c he is wearing a beard in Doctor Who) look so familiar to me?
  15. Oh yeah—of course they ‘ll want to just watch on the viewer.  The Doc will be fine with that.
  16. Aging make-up & acting nicely-done.
  17. WAIT—why did plans for not revealing the deception suddenly change?  Did I miss something?
  18. Claw/ doorway look strangely out of proportion to one another.
  19. Dude!  Green = Death!  Run Away!
  20. Good job showing only bits of the monster.
  21. Poor blind beggar!  Is his prescription really so strong that he can’t even see giant green lizard monsters without his glasses on?
  22. It would be awfully hard to strangle someone with that scarf.
  23. “Arrest the scarf, then.”  Ha!
  24. I like how Romana is a competent teacher here, instead of the silly school-girl she is often dressed as.  Bring back Mary Tamm, I say.
  25. Experiments are boring to watch, especially when done with colored plastic and kool-aid.
  26. Is Son-of-Mine only allowed to speak while standing?  Why does he keep bouncing up and down in his seat?
  27. He is also a bit too gleeful to have found “a test.”  I’m worried.
  28. Oh dear, are we going to melt the Doctor?
  29. Another nice job on the aging make-up; though he does look like a cross between Santa Claus and Rasputin.  An unnerving idea, that.

 

Rasputin + Santa Claus = ol Tom 

Rasputin + Santa Claus = ol' Tom

 

Well, that was a good one.  Lots of plot.  Sufficient corridor running.  Nice aging effects.

Coming soon… part 3… of DOOM!