Friday, January 2, 2015

Moving Forward

I have seriously been considering what my next step is and I think I have it. I have quite a bit I need to get done in 2015 that isn't writing related and other than a vague sketch, I really don't know where Ven Zaran and his friends and enemies are headed. I think I will visit with them in a new series of short stories, but I have two other ideas that are burning to be written. So, with the completion (expected to be soon) of the sixth novel focusing on Ven Zaran, I will step away from that journey for a little bit and delve into two other worlds in two stand alone novels.

As I did once before, I think I am likely to sky my annual November marathon. It has suddenly become very important to get the very cluttered basement of my house sorted out and arranged in a manner that will let me get some serious work done down there. It takes time to develop a new universe and for one of the projects I have in mind, it requires finding an old file before I begin.

So, after the release of the project I am currently working on (tentatively titled A Piece in the Game) sometime in November of this year, it might be a while before you see a new novel. But never fear, I have several in the works and one of them will be done before too long, but even a professional writer must make room for the mundane tasks of daily life. I'm a bit of a packrat and I've let it get away from me. Time to do something about it.

What you will likely see next from me are stories of some new traders and more about Stormy and Jim. I have quite a few ideas and some episodes in their lives that need to be covered before their paths meet up with Wally's and Ven's. For those who have grown fond of the Zaran Journals characters, there is much more coming, just be patient. I'm at least going to be a bit faster than Greorge R.R. Martin is with his next Song of Fire and Ice book.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Colin Baker Years - An Overview

As I watched Colin Baker's short tenure as the Doctor, I couldn't help feeling he got the shaft. His characterization was daring and bold, and not just in clothing. He tried to strangle his companion, temporarily fixed the Chameleon circuit, and was put on trial. But beyond the story, the show was put on hiatus with no new episodes airing from March '85 to September '86 and Colin Baker was fired, not even a proper exit.

In watching these episodes I wonder what might have been. If Colin Baker had more say in his character, if the series would have had a fresh producer to breath new life into it, or if the BBC had not been intent on trying to kill it. But then I am thankful to Big Finish for showing us what could have been.

Overall I rate Colin Baker's portrayal and excellent. However the writing and production declined from previous years and the format changes led to The Trial of a Time Lord being the shortest season yet of Doctor Who. Unfortunately the next three were just as short. The stories were good, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

The Twin Dilemma - The newly regenerated Doctor is suffering from manic episodes and is drawn in to a scheme by a former teacher to help save a world. While the manic scenes didn't play very well, the story is good. The end result is somewhat forgettable.

Attack of the Cybermen - In the season opener, the Doctor fixes the Chameleon circuit and for the first time we see the Tardis change, into first an organ than a cabinet. We also find ourselves back at 76 Totters Lane where we first found the Doctor. A nice touch. We get a revisit from an old human adversary from the previous season and a revisit to Telos from Tomb of the Cybermen. And not only are there nice references to the past, but they are all found in one of the outstanding episodes of the season.

Vengeance on Varos - We all have our personal tastes and this episode was not to mine. The ideas were interesting, but didn't come off well. The couple in their room were interesting and gave insight into how the voting worked, but was largely a distraction. The story had a lot of danger and action, but the drama didn't work well.

The Mark of the Rani - The return of the Master and the introduction of the Rani. The Doctor and the Master both stumble on the Rani's project to harvest a chemical from humans to help control the people of the planet she rules. The Rani is unscrupulous, but very intelligent and it really does take both the Master and the Doctor to beat her. A good outing.

The Two Doctors - This has always been the highlight of the Sixth Doctor for me. Unlike all the other multiple Doctor stories, this one really works and is more than a nostalgia fest. It is the longest story of the season and the first "6" parter since the unfinished Shada. The only down side is that the setup for the Second Doctor is completely anachronistic as the Timelords were not mentioned until Jamie's last story. But once you get past that conundrum, the two Doctors make this one of the greats of the series.

Timelash - This episode gets a bad rap, but in watching it I found it quite enjoyable. The inclusion of Herbert is fun and the rest of the story is typical Doctor Who fare.

Revelation of the Daleks - This episode had an interesting idea and some great guest stars, but didn't come off well. We have Davros trying to create a new breed of Daleks and between the Doctor and the others who call in the regular Daleks, he really doesn't stand a chance.

While Trial of a Time Lord was broadcast as a single story, it was written in four sections with the four sub-stories which is how I will review them.

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet - The Doctor is put on trial for meddling. The first piece of evidence is his visit to Ravelox. He finds several mysteries there and the remains of a base controlled by a robot. Glitz is his main adversary as both are trying to get to the heart of the complex for different reasons. Glitz is trying to steal information from a bleeped out source. The story is well done and the characters are rich and interesting. The Valyard claims victory, but the story was not convincing for his case.

The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp - When companions leave, you hope they have a good exit. Peri is probably the most misfortunate of companions since Dodo. We are left thinking she died and the impression that it is largely because the Timelords pulled the Doctor out when he still had a chance to save her. While this story works in the setting of the trial, for a companion we have spent the past two seasons with, it was an awful exit. I feel that it really ruined the episode. If we could see how the story really played out, it might be good, but as it is, it is less for the way Peri left.

The Trial of a Time Lord: Terror of the Vervoids - When it comes time for the Doctor to present his case, he pulls up a future encounter where he ends up on a ship and his help is requested. It is a great whodunit episode and Mel is nicely introduced. While the Doctor sees the episode as a good example of how he helps when the need arises, the Valyard pulls out that he committed genocide because he destroyed all the Vervoids.

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe - It is rare that your best enemy comes to your rescue, but that is just what the Master does. He reveals the Valyard is really a side incarnation of the Doctor, an amalgum of evil from between his twelfth and thirteenth (this would be eleventh and twelfth in the new counting) incarnations who wants the Doctor's remaining regeneration. This leads to a confrontation in the Matrix, much like the one in The Deadly Assasssin. Mel and Glitz are brought in as witnesses and help the Doctor defeat the Valyard. Though only two parts of the overall story, it was well written and the bizarre nature of the matrix was fun to see again. The high point was finding out that Peri didn't die, but had been saved and married King Ycarnos (Brian Blessed).

Overall, The Trial of a Timelord is well done and the trial has some real danger to it as the charges keep getting worse. But the purported death of Peri left a sting that I think doomed Colin Baker, even though it had nothing to do with him. He became the scapegoat of the bad ratings and it got a facelift in the form of a new Doctor and new title sequence.

Colin Baker is not my favorite Doctor, but he had some really good episodes and he played the part with gusto. Thanks to Big Finish we can hear what we were denied on television and we have far more audio episodes that really do Colin Baker's portrayal of the Doctor justice. We get more Peri, more Mel, and a couple of new faces (voices?) for companions. None of his episodes are the worst the series has to offer and it has some gems, but overall these episodes are a letdown from previous seasons and it is obvious why the ratings declined, but it is more the production than the acting or even the writing.

Last Christmas

This years Doctor Who Christmas episode felt like it came from Philip K. Dick. That is a good thing in case you are wondering. I loved how it made you question reality and how it included Santa Clause.

We were immediately presented with Santa Clause and two elves on the roof of Clara's building. The Tardis soon materializes and the Doctor whisks Clara away to the North Pole. They find a base under siege and things quickly go bad, but it looks like they got out just in time.

The episode continues to play with reality with Santa Clause serving a very significant purpose right up to the end. The dream crabs were fantastic and terrifying monsters. While the majority of the story was kind of light hearted, the implications of not knowing if you are dreaming or awake are scary and very much in keeping with the type of story Philip K. Dick usually told.

But at the end we finally get an answer to whether Clara is stay on the show or not. I liked the way it turned out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Davison Years - An Overview

Since during the 50th I ended up watching so many Pertween and Tom Baker stories (and since I have seen them over and over so many times) I have temporarily skipped them and gone on to the Peter Davison years. It was interesting watching the Fifth Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor at the same time. Some very interesting parallels. Some people think that story arcs are more part of the new series, but the Fifth Doctor had several arcs that were quite strong.

Peter Davison's era started with a return to the more filled out cast of the early Hartnell and Troughton eras. Other than the odd episode, none of the other Doctors have had such a full cast. Davison's era has one major flaw - the writers couldn't grasp how to deal with three companions at once and they used several tricks that in the long run make some of the stories weaker.

But as I traverse the end of the Classic Series, I find that I must rate the series in two ways. One by the individual stories, and the other by the Doctor, his companions, and his adversaries. While the individual stories are sometimes a bit weak, the characters remain good in spite of that.

Castrovalva - This story is mostly a vehicle for the Doctor's post regeneration trauma. It is also the third Master story in a row. The Escher-esque location is interesting and the Master's trap is good, but the story seems weak. Davison gives a masterful sequence where he channels his previous personas and the touches of past incarnations are nice. 

Four to Doomsday - Some really excellent guest stars help carry off this story. The Doctor and his companions need to save the Earth from a danger before anyone on the planet is even aware that there is danger. The aliens have been to Earth before and the time spans are astounding and the characters who populate the ship add some nice depth.

Kinda - Insanity is the danger in this story. Not one, but several people, including Teagan, go a bit crazy. The Doctor has to trace the problem back to the source and finds that Teagan has set something loose.

The Visitation - While trying to land at Heathrow, the Tardis misses and lands hundreds of years earlier. The Tardis crew discover an alien invasion and a plot to destroy humanity. In the process of stopping the alien menace, they witness a fire start in London.

Black Orchid - The first historical drama since Highlanders using one of the same tricks to keep the Doctor and his companions in place, The Tardis vanishes so the Doctor accepts a mis-identification and has a chance to play cricket and get involved with a mystery. The story is short but memorable.

Earthshock - The Cybermen are back. They are set on crashing a ship into Earth, setting off a huge explosion. The Doctor tries in vain to stop it, only managing to move the ship in time. Adric is determined to succeed and stays behind needlessly and is killed when the ship crashes on Earth in Mexico leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Time-Flight - A Concorde vanishes and the Doctor has a plan to find it and rescue the passengers. The Master is back, this time in disguise and trying to take control of a powerful artifact. The cast of characters all have something to do, including the second Concorde crew. It makes for a very exciting episode. At the end the Doctor leaves Teagan on Earth since he has finally returned her to her own time.

Arc of Infinity - What do Amsterdam and Gallifrey have in common? Omega is back, exactly 10 years after his first appearance. Teagan is looking for her nephew but only finds his friend. The Doctor is faced with death because the Timelords don't realize the nature of the being trying to take over his body. It is a fascinating story. It gets off to a slow start, but by the end it is really good. A nice cameo by future Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.

Snakedance - The Mara (from the story Kinda) is back, this time trying to regain physical form. This was an interesting story guest starring a very young Martin Clune. He is superb as the spoiled heir to the throne.

Mawdryn Undead - Not only is the Brigadier back, but twice over. Several stories weave together to come to a single conclusion. A race who pilfered Timelord regeneration technology are cursed with eternal life in quickly degenerating bodies. They want the Doctor to free them by giving up his remaining regenerations. In order to save Nyssa and Teagan, he must do that. Because the Brigadier is not a Timelord nasty things can happen if his two selves touch, but that is what happens at the exact right moment, saving the Doctor, Nyssa, and Teagan. This episode also introduces Vislor Turlough, a person out of time or place (it is never clear if he is alien or a future human - I assume future human is the more likely) who is in service to the Black Guardian, who has finally tracked the Doctor down (check out The Armageddon Factor from several seasons previous).

Terminus - Turlough's sabotage forces the Doctor to land in a very unusual way (by linking a door inside the Tardis with a door in a ship). They are tied to a plague ship that is docking at a healing facility, except few get healed and the process is far from accurate. They are taking advantage of a unique radiation leak from a derelict ship. The Doctor realizes that this ship may have caused the explosion commonly known as The Big Bang. This story holds a special place for me as I read the novelization long before I got to see it. Probably one of my favorite Davison episodes, except the part where Nyssa decides to remain to perfect the treatment process.

Enlightenment - A unique race with ships sailing on solar winds, with one of the contestants out to kill the others. Turlough is conflicted and doesn't want to do what the Black Guardian wants. The prize of the race is big and the Guardians power rests on who wins. This is a fun episode and really well done.

The King's Demons - This nice two parter is almost a historical story, except the Master is up to his normal tricks, this time trying to disrupt history by preventing the Magna Carta from being signed. It introduces Chameleon, a robot who can take on different identities. Chameleon ends up joining the Tardis crew, but isn't significant until his last story.

The Five Doctors - A personal favorite (and I only watch the original version, not the special edition). A wonderful romp through Doctor Who history with the return of 2 of the previous actors and a marvelous stand-in for the First Doctor. The sad point is the Fourth Doctor, but I think that makes the story stronger. Lots of familiar faces, including from Arc of Infinity. A wonderful way to celebrate the 20th Anniversary.

Warriors of the Deep - The Tardis lands in the future where the Silurians and Sea Devils have formed an alliance with the intent to attack a human missile base to set off a global catastrophe (reminiscent of the US/USSR cold war). The Doctor tries to act as negotiator, but is thwarted by circumstances and stubbornness. It is a very poignant story as he is once again unable to save the ancient species.

The Awakening - A quiet village is reenacting a series of battles and events from their past. But this is awakening an ancient evil that crashed there long ago. The Doctor manages to save the day with little loss of life, though historians would not appreciate him sacrificing the village church to do so.

Frontios - Far in the future, at the end of time, past where Timelords are supposed to travel, one of the last human colonies is struggling for survival and feel that the meteor showers that have killed so many are a form of attack. It turns out they are right. Tractators are behind their troubles and a race memory that Turlough carries provides the key to beating them. Lots of people die, but the colony survives. A bittersweet victory for the Doctor.

Resurrection of the Daleks - The Daleks are at it again. They are after a cure for a virus and seek the help of Davros, a prisoner of the humans. They have linked to 1984 to overcome the prison's defenses and it catches the Tardis. Again many people die. The Doctor manages to win by using the virus. Davros, who thinks he is immune, is caught by the virus on the prison after he releases it himself. Teagan chooses to leave, finding all the death to be too much.

Planet of Fire - An artifact is uncovered on Earth, but it is not terrestrial. The Doctor investigates even though Turlough tries to prevent it. The Master is back and is controlling Chameleon again. This time a young girl gets trapped in the Tardis while they go to a planet where Turlough's people have been exciled. In the end, Turlough risks his freedom to call in help from his people, only to learn his punishment has been lifted. The Master's plans go awry, Chameleon is destroyed, Turlough stays with his people, and Peri begs to stay on the Tardis.

The Caves of Androzani - While looking for quality sand to make a new glass part for the Tardis, the Doctor and Peri are poisoned. The only remedy is a legendary creature, but to get it, they have to contend with a convoluted situation that pits two men and their followers against each other. In the end the Doctor is only able to get enough of the remedy for Peri. Instead of dying he regenerates. This episode has some glimmers of genius, but is obscured by too many things going on.

The Davison era has some really great stories. Few are terrible, the worst ones being just a bit weak and not truly bad. But the good ones are truly great. Davison's Doctor is fresh and different, while still being every bit the Doctor. The companions are fresh and different. It is nice to see how Turlough wants to be good, but his past never quite lets him come up to what we expect of a companion. Though not my favorite era, it is quite enjoyable.

Next up is the Sixth Doctor. My old video tape collection was missing a large chunck of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors so many of these stories are ones I have not seen very often. Then I'm just going to finish off the original series and the 1996 TV movie before jumping to the Eleventh Doctor. I've only watched most of his stories once.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Missy's Army of the Dead

I seriously debated about how to handle reviewing a two part finale. In the end I decided to treat it as one story and write one review.

This story has just about the most shocking opening of any Doctor Who story. A major character, Danny Pink, dies in a senseless accident. When Clara's grandmother tries to comfort her, Clara points out how boring Danny's death was. And she is right. There was no monster, no great evil, no alien presence, just a car.

But what follows is a stupendous story as the Doctor tries to find a way to help Clara. The Tardis telepathic circuits take them to a mausoleum where they encounter Missy, who claims to be an interface android. Something is quite off when she kisses the Doctor as part of the official greeting. The incident throws the Doctor off and he never really recovers for the rest of the story.

We also see that Danny is in the afterlife and he has a visitor. In a flashback, we see Danny in war and his face when he killed someone and his visitor is the boy he accidentally killed.

We are introduced to Dark Water by Dr. Chang. It filters out all non-biological material so only the body shows. The mausoleum is filled with liquid filled tomb with skeletal occupants, but at Missy's command, the water starts to drain.

In quick succession we learn that the Tombs contain Cybermen (a nice reference to the Troughton story) and that Missy is short for Mistress and she is the new incarnation of the Master.

The Cybermen take to the streets when they are greeting by a seemingly insane group of people who take selfies with the Cybermen. But it is quickly revealed that these are undercover UNIT soldiers led by Kate Stewart. The Cybermen take off on Missy's command and on Kate's order, both the Doctor and the Master are drugged.

The Cybermen have flown into the sky, one to each major population center of the world, and then exploded, creating a cloud that seems to only rain on graveyards. In the afterlife, Danny is told he is going back and his body has had an upgrade. Cybermen rise from graves all over Earth. Danny, still in a funeral home, sits up, encased in silver.

The story seems pretty straight forward. The Master is using Cyberman technology to conquer the world, but this is the Master and all is not as it seems. That plan would be too simple. Instead the Master has something else in store.

The writing is outstanding, as it has been all season (or series for my UK friends). The emphasis has been on the characters, their interactions, and how they deal with the monsters. This story brings that theme to the front by making that the key aspect of the story. The Cybermen aren't important (and they really aren't true Cyberment since they are Missy's creations) as much as what they signify is.

When it comes down to the end, not only do we have a huge chunk of character development happening for the Doctor, Clara, and Danny, but for Missy as well. Even her story carries over from her last appearance. Missy is trying to force the Doctor to be like her, to use power. But like the Doctor's oldest friend and bitterest enemy always does, Missy underestimates what the Doctor is capable of.

The finale of this episode was poignant and emotional. The Doctor sees the solution and takes it. Happiness is not the goal - survival is. The Doctor and Clara come away scarred and going their separate ways. We'll see if that holds for the Christmas Special.

The acting this season has been amazing. Capaldi carries off a very alien and Timelord performance and Coleman nails a companion who knows the Doctor probably better than any other. Gomez has been intriguing as Missy and has pulled off the witty yet insane part of the Master's latest incarnation.

And as an added bonus, I complied the facts Clara gives about the Doctor and the facts Danny gives about Clara.
I was born on the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm a Time lord, but my Prydonian privileges were revoked when I stole a time capsule and ran away. Currently pilot type 40 Tardis. I've been married four times, all deceased. My children and grandchildren are missing, and I assume, dead. I have a non-Gallifreyan daugher, created via genetic transfer.I'm the Doctor.My name isn't Doctor.I don't even really have a doctorate. Well, Glasgow University, but then I accidentally graduated in the wrong century, so technically...

Clara [Oswin] OswaldBorn: November 23rd, 1986.Father: David James OswaldMother: Elena Alison Oswald



Monday, October 27, 2014

Global Forestation

What is our relationship to the plants on our world? The answer to that question is key to this week's Doctor Who episode. Clara and Danny have taken a group of kids from Coal Hill School to spend a night in a museum. On that night, the world is covered with a global forest.

The story opens with the Doctor trying to figure out why he is in a forest instead of in the middle of London when a young girl stumbles on his Tardis. She sees the markings on the outside and asks for help.

In the past 50 years, the series has visited many scary forests. Some have turned out benign and others have been filled with terrors. The danger from this mystery overnight forest felt imminent until the truth started to come out. And at that point you realized the danger was from another source.

The thing I loved about this episode was the twists the story went through. Unlike some other episodes, this one spent most of its time on the story while keeping the Doctor, Clara, Danny character arc around, but not in the forefront. The danger was real and the focus was on the crisis. It was a refreshingly well written episode. There wasn't too much of anything and just enough of everything.

Perhaps this one will not go down as one of the greatest episodes, but it is a fantastic, solid episode that is the best of what Doctor Who has always been. With this episode, series 8 has nailed the perfect mixture of the classic series and the new series.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stealing a Tie

The next episode of Star Wars Rebels (available now on Watch Disney XD or airing next Monday on Disney) is a fun romp.

There isn't a lot serious going on this time around, but Ezra is starting to fit in with the crew. This time around he and Zeb are sent to go get supplies. Well, they aren't getting along and things don't go well. One thing leads to another and Zeb steals a Tie Fighter, even flying it sideways through part of the city.

This is a good early episode, focusing on a couple of characters and is the sort of misadventure you can imagine Han Solo getting into at some point. It feels very Star Wars. Rebels is quickly growing on me and I look forward to see where it is going.

If you get Disney, chances are that you can setup Watch Disney XD on your iOS or Android device. If you also have Chromecast, the app works with it so you can watch things on your TV.

Now, I don't intend to review every episode, but I thought it was worth doing this time because the episode was quite fun. Keep watching, I'm sure it is going to get even better.