Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Little Light on the Past

Three Science Fiction Authors That Inspired Me As a Child
by Margaret Fortune

Ask any science fiction writer to name the authors that inspired them, and you’ll likely hear some very familiar and famous names: Asimov, Clarke, Wells, Dick, Heinlein, Herbert, Verne. The list goes on and on, and no one’s list is quite the same. However, when I think back to my childhood, to the very first science fiction books that captured my imagination and inspired a love of sci-fi in me, it’s not the famous names that leap to mind. It’s the authors who wrote science fiction for children. Since it’s unlikely you’ll find these names on most people’s lists, I thought I’d shed a little light on a few sci-fi authors that maybe aren’t so well-known.
As a child, I was a voracious reader, and the library often felt like a home away from home. Now there wasn’t much science fiction for children at that time, at least not that I found, but there was a little bit. In particular, three authors—all female, interestingly enough—who first inspired me to dream of space stations, underground cities, and alien planets.

Louise Lawrence
I fell in love with her first book, Andra, from the moment I read it. Andra tells the tale of girl living in a rigid underground city in a future where Earth’s surface has been destroyed. Blinded in an accident, she’s given a brain graft from a boy who died in the 1980’s to save her sight. Not only does she wake up with the ability to see again, she has the ability to see a past Earth that was still green and free. 

This may be the first dystopian book I ever read, and I was enthralled by this restricted society and the rebellious girl who would challenge the authorities to ask for something better. The ending was both truly terrible and truly perfect at the same time, and this is one story I have never forgotten.

H.M. (Helen Mary) Hoover
Space stations, alien civilizations, colonies on Mars, underground cities. H.M. Hoover seemed to write it all, and she was, without a doubt, my favorite science fiction author as a child. The Delikon, Away is a Strange Place to Be, The Winds of Mars, This Time of Darkness…I honestly don’t think I could pick a favorite. These books, among many others, were all wondrous in different ways. What I will say is that these were the books that truly transported me to far-off worlds. That made me contemplate what it would be like to live on a space station or to discover an alien civilization…or to be conquered by one! 

Monica Hughes
I first saw her book, Invitation to the Game, in a weekly reader at school, and had to read it based on the cover alone. Set in an overcrowded futuristic Earth, this is probably one of, if not the first book, I read dealing with virtual reality simulations. However, it wasn’t this book, but the one it led me to, The Keeper of the Isis Light, that really left an impression on me.

The Keeper of the Isis Light tells the tale of an orphaned girl raised by a robot on an alien planet. As a baby, she was physically modified to withstand the environmental dangers of the planet, and though still human, looks distinctly different. Having never seen another human, she’s excited when a new colony comes to settle her world…only to find out that different isn’t always considered a good thing. This book’s commentary on what it truly means to be human—both inside and out—is a lesson worth remembering.  
These days, there is no shortage of MG and YA science fiction to inspire today’s youth. YA sci-fi is booming, from dystopian epics like Veronica Roth’s Divergent, to space adventures such as Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, to alien invasion stories like Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave. And as a YA crossover science fiction author, I hope my stories will one day inspire readers, both young and old, as well. The same way I was once inspired by battered old library books from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s that contained amazing stories and added their own small piece to the world of sci-fi. 

Bio:  Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six, and has been writing ever since. She has a BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota – Morris, and her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Nth Zine, Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, and Space and Time. Her science fiction novel Nova is the first of a five book series coming from DAW Books in June 2015. 
Twitter: @mara_fortune

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rise and Fall of the Eleventh

In this round of viewing, I am endeavoring to make sure I have seen every story at least twice. since I know what episodes I've had in my collection and when and how many times I've viewed them, I have skipped Doctors Three, Four, Nine, and Ten. Three, Four, and Seven I have seen uncountable times, but I only recently got my hands on the missing episode reconstructions for Doctors One and Two and filled in seasons twenty-one and twenty two completing my Fifth and Sixth Doctor collections. That left Eleven and Twelve to watch again.

It has been a marvelous experience to dive in with Matt Smith and really see him. His performance was brilliant. As the youngest actor he could have taken it many ways, but he played it as a very old man in a young body.

Unlike the Classic Era, the New Series often features many shorts and minisodes. I have not included those here, though I did watch them all. Also, the two parters are listed as a joint title.

The Eleventh Hour - Ameilia, fish fingers, and custard. The newly regenerated Doctor crash lands in Amelia Pond's back yard. He has two issues to solve - to fix the Tardis and to figure out what the crack in the wall is. He ends up putting the Tardis first and doesn't return for many years. He does it in a brilliant way which gives a good introduction to his Doctor. His choice of costume matches and he ends up looking like a 50's college professor. A fabulous story.

The Beast Below - The United Kingdom is replicated on a space ship that carries the last survivors of Earth. But something is amiss. There is no engine sound or vibration and people disappear. It turns out that the designers had captured a giant space whale and are forcing it to propel their ship. They hadn't even asked if it was willing. This story was good fun and the portrayal of a future Queen of England was marvelous.

Victory of the Daleks - Churchill calls and the Doctor answers, but something is amiss. A scientist claims to have invented armored soldier. The Doctor isn't fooled, if it looks like a Dalek, it must be a Dalek, even if they keep repeating that they are England's soldiers. Once they confirm the Doctor's identity, their plan is unleashed. They release a new breed of Dalek. This was an unusual episode with some nice ties back to Power of the Daleks and some nice twists. A good Dalek tale.

The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone - A throw away line from her first appearance sets the stage for this River Song story. The crash of the Byzantium turns out to be a weeping angles story of excellence. Even viewing it a second time it took a moment for the Doctor referring to the natives having two heads to click that the statues only have one. The crack that appeared to the audience but not the Doctor in the previous two stories plays a major role and we learn that to be sucked through the crack is to be wiped from existence. This two parter is fantastic and full of action and adventure. The angels are well used and River makes the story a lot of fun.

The Vampires of Venice - Rory joins Amy and the Doctor and they head back to Venice, but something is wrong. At first it appears to be vampires, but the Doctor can tell they aren't and wonders what is so terrible that it doesn't mind being though of as a vampire. The creatures have a plan for taking over the Earth so the Doctor must stop it. A well done story and a good first story for Rory (well, second, but the first traveling in the Tardis).

Amy's Choice - Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are faced with a dilema, which reality is real and which is a dream. It prove a nearly impossible decision and it falls to Amy to decide. This was a well written and executed story.

The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood - Homo-reptilia are back. They aren't quite the Silurians who faced the Third and Fifth Doctors, but they are related. A drilling experiment has touched off their perimeter alarms and awoken a small portion of the homo-reptilia below. The factions have different ideas, some want to kill the humans some want peace. Near the end the find a crack and Rory is pulled through. When the peaceful faction wins out, the Doctor has them sleep for another thousand years and two of the humans join them. This story was an interesting way to bring back an old adversary and give them a fresh look. A well done story that certainly ends better than the previous encounters did.

Vincent and the Doctor - Richard Curtis gives us the Doctor, Amy, and Vincent Van Gogh. The troubled painter can see a creature that no one else can see. The Doctor identifies it when Vincent paints what it looks like. The Doctor wants to take it to join its fellows, but there is no way to communicate and they end up killing it. The ending scene at the museum pulls at the heart in typical Richard Curtis fashion. He should definitely do more.

The Lodger - This Amy light episode has the Doctor becoming a roommate with a man who has an interesting neighbor upstairs. People keep disappearing. It turns out that it is a time machine looking for a pilot. The design is important later, as many things in this season are. Very well done.

The Pandorica Opens & The Big Bang - A legend comes to life. The Pandorica is a box that holds the most dangerous being the universe has ever seen. Leave it to River to find it under Stonehenge. Romans, Cybermen, Daleks, and more show up as the Pandorica opens. All these enemies of the Doctor (for the Romans are actually Autons, including Rory) have come together to create the Pandorica to contain the Doctor. The cracks in the universe are the Tardis exploding and they think they can stop it this way. Rory struggles to maintain his identity but fails and kills Amy. But in a loop (because if he doesn't the universe will die because the Tardis is exploding with River inside) the Doctor comes back to tell Rory how to get him out and they put Amy in and Rory and Amy go forward the hard way while the Doctor jumps forward and has the younger Amy open the Pandorica. They have a Dalek to contend with to make trying to find a way to save River, the Tardis, and the Universe harder, but they manage to succeed, but the Doctor is on the wrong side and is no more. Until Amy remembers him, then he is back in a Tux to dance at her wedding. A whirlwind series finale that delivers.

A Christmas Carol - The Christmas episode always happen at Christmas and this one just happens to be on an alien planet where the Doctor gets to Scrooge a bitter old man. Fabulous music and a wonderful story make this an awesome Christmas episode.

The Impossible Astronaut & Day of the Moon - What a way to start a new series. The Doctor, now two hundred years older, dies in Utah and the Doctor (the younger version), River, Rory, and Amy must find out what happened. The trail leads to the White House then Florida where they find an Apollo space suit filled with alien technology and the Silence. The Doctor manages to stop the Silence, but they fail to find the girl intended to fill the suit. Delightful teasers. The story delivers but is not the best of the series.

The Curse of the Black Spot - Pirates and a water sprite open the story, but all is not what it seems. A dimensional ship and its healing hologram have them trapped. A fun story that has some nice surprises.

The Doctor's Wife - The title conjures images of River Song, but that is not what this story is about. Neil Gaiman delivers a triumph by having the Doctor follow a old distress beacon of a Timelord. Which of course turns out to be a trap. The lifeforce of the Tardis is placed in a human and the Doctor and his Tardis carry on a fun banter while Amy and Rory try to avoid dying in the hijacked Tardis shell. The Doctor has a few tricks up his sleeve that land him back in the console room and the Tardis is restored. One of the best of the Eleventh's stories.

The Rebel Flesh & The Almost People - Not every story carries a message, but this one did. In no uncertain terms it addressed the disposal of technology when it becomes so advanced that it seems alive. People inhabit synth flesh and to work in hazardous situations. But when events conspire to give the syth flesh a life of their own, things get dangerous. At the end of the story it is revealed that Amy is a synth flesh body and has been since Florida 1969. A fantastic story.

A Good Man Goes to War - The Doctor is after Amy and he pulls in a bunch of favors to do it. River mysteriously refuses. Demon's run is the target and the Doctor manages to take it without a fight. They rescue Amy, but her baby is gone. River reveals that she couldn't help because that baby is her. She is Amy and Rory's daughter. This story was a bit over the top, but good none the less. River's role is fantastic.

Let's Kill Hitler - So if the girl in Florida was River, what happened to her after that. Well, she went and found her parents (after at least one regeneration, maybe two) and grew up with them. It turns out Amy named her daughter after her best friend who.... is her daughter. The twists just make the head spin in a good way. But that body is shot and regenerates into the familiar face of River. Fun stuff and a good story.

Night Terrors - The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive at an apartment building with strange things happening. The alien at work is just trying to find a home and they help it. It is a sweet story and a nice break from the intensity that preceded it.

The Girl Who Waited - What difference a choice makes. Amy is trapped in a faster time stream in a facility where terminally ill patients die. When the finally find her, she has been there for 30 years. She only helps them on the promise that she gets to live too, but the Doctor could never keep that promise. A very poignant ending.

The God Complex - Random people are trapped in a hotel and if they find the room intended for them they start worshiping the creature that will kill them. The Doctor finds a way to break the connection and reveals that it is a hologram hiding a prison. The monster dies. A chilling episode with the crack from the previous season making an appearance.

Closing Time - A light break. Looking back to the season opener, this is the Doctor's last stop before Lake Silencio in Utah. It is a sequel to the Lodger and features a crashed Cyberman ship causing havoc in a department story. Nothing really special, but still a good story.

The Wedding of River Song - The Doctor shows up for his execution and there is no surprise that it is River inside the space suit. But she won't kill him and it tears at the fabric of time causing all time to happen at once. In the end he convinces River to both marry him and kill him and the timeline is restored. But is the Doctor dead? No. He borrowed the Teselecta from Let's Kill Hitler so that he was both at Lake Silencio and safe from harm. It was a fun and surprising solution to the dilemma. A good season finale, though it came at it from a strange angle.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe - From Dickens to Lewis. This story is set in WWII and features a woman helping the Doctor and then him helping her in return. A very uplifting story..

Asylum of the Daleks - The Daleks need the Doctor's help. A ship has crashed on their asylum and something is wrong. As the Doctor investigates, he encounters Oswin, a survivor who has managed to avoid the Dalek Nano traps and can hack any Dalek system.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship - The title says it all. An ark created by the homo-reptilia is on a collision course. The crew have been killed by the collector who has seized the ship. A interesting collection of companions, including Nefertiti, round out the story. This one was pure fun and a joy to watch.

A Town Called Mercy - The Doctor returns to the old west, but this time with some aliens to contend with. A cyborg is out for revenge on his creator but ends up becoming sheriff. Some good moment in a good story.

The Power of Three - Black cubes have invaded Earth and the Doctor is intrigued. He stays with Amy and Rory to check it out. when things start, UNIT gets involved and their new science advisor is non other than the Brigadier's daughter. And interesting idea and nice to see UNIT back.

The Angels Take Manhattan - The weeping angles have taken over a hotel in 1930's New York. They are tapping people and feeding off of them. Rory is their next victim. They use a paradox to escape, which clears New York of the angels, but there is a survivor who again takes Rory and Amy follows him. The Doctor is devastated. One of the most incredible exits for a companion. For while they are gone forever from the Doctor's life, they are not dead and life out their lives in New York, with Amy becoming a writer.

The Snowmen - The Doctor has retreated to 1890's London, with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, to mourn (or sulk, whichever seems to fit). But living show and a charming governess named Clara change his mind. He tried to offer Clara the Tardis key, but is prevented and Clara falls, mortally injured. His adversary is the Great Intelligence (last encountered by the Second Doctor) who has just formed. He defeats the Great Intelligence, but cannot save Clara. Only at her funeral, where he sees her headstone and her full name, Clara Oswin Oswald, does he realize it was her on the Dalek Asylum. The mystery is fantastic and the story was quite good.

The Bells of Saint John - Deep in the middle ages, the Tardis phone rings. It is a young women needing computer help. It is Clara and the Doctor is intrigued. The enemy turned out to again be the Great Intelligence and the Doctor defeats it for a fourth time. A great story.

The Rings of Akhaten - The Doctor takes Clara someplace spectacular and alien where Clara encounters a young girl. Turns out she is the most important person and to rescue her Clara has to do something amazing. A nice twist on the Doctor always saving the day. A somewhat slow story, but not too bad.

Cold War - A nice double meaning title. During the Cold War, the Doctor and Clara materialize on a Russian submarie, It has just brought aboard a block of ice with something inside. It turns out to be one of the most famous of the Martian Ice Warriors. He is soon lose on the ship out of his armor. The Ice Warrior ship that come to his rescue brings the entire submarine to the surface. Unlike the redesign of the Silurians, the Ice Warrior design remains unchanged, except that it is now armor instead of their skin. A nice change and a well written episode.

Hide - When is a ghost story not a ghost story, when it is the echo of a lost time traveler. Well done twist after some really scary scenes. Love this one.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS - While trying to teach Clara to fly the Tardis, the Doctor lowers the shields and the Tardis is attacked by salvagers. The Tardis is going to explode and the Doctor slips through a crack in time and delivers a message that lets him raise the shields in time and avoid the salvagers in the first place.

The Crimson Horror - There are some stories that just work because of who plays the parts. The Pater Noster gang is back and Diana Rigg guest stars. Some great material and a nice Victorian themed alien encounter. A favorite of mine.

Nightmare in Silver - In the far future, Cybermen have advanced to a horrifying state and nothing can stop them. In a game of surviving until everyone could be saved, the Doctor nearly doesn't make it except that one of the kids Clara cares for guesses the secret that saves the day. The Cybermen were truly frightening in this one and the solution is drastic, but effective. And how could Neil Gaiman not deliver an excellent story.

The Name of the Doctor - Who is Clara? Why has the Doctor met her three times? When the Great Intelligence sets a trap for the Doctor and nearly wins, it is Clara who steps in to beat the Great Intelligence. She splits herself through the Doctor's timestream where she suggests which Tardis the First Doctor should steal and encounteres him many other times. The Doctor jumps into his own timestream to save her. They encounter one of the Doctor's many secrets right before they escape.

The Day of the Doctor - 50 years to the day from the first episode, the story starts up at Coal Hill School with Clara teaching. She goes to meet the Doctor but as soon as she is in the Tardis, the Tardis gets picked up. Kate Stewart and UNIT have a mystery. On Gallifrey, the War Doctor, the incarnation the Doctor has tried to forget, comes to the point where he can take no more. He stead the Moment, a dangerous weapon, to end the war. But the Moment is sentient and appears in the guise of Rose Tyler (as Bad Wolf). She opens a door in time that lands the War Doctor, Eleven and Ten in Elizabethan England. Zygons and Queen Elizabeth give the Doctors a challenge, with Ten being forced to carry through with his promise to marry the Queen. In the 20th century, they settle the Zygon problem and the War Doctor makes his decision. But this time he is not alone (or maybe he never was). This time there is a solution, but the result looks the same as if he had used the moment. He regenerates as he takes off in his Tardis. Ten returns to his wanderings, and Eleven contemplates a painting, only to have a mysterious curator tell him it is called Gallifrey Falls No More. Epic.

The Time of the Doctor - A message is being sent out and the Doctor has to know what it says. The message is coming through one of the cracks caused by the Tardis exploding and it is from Gallifrey. He can't answer and can't leave so he stays. He twice tries to send Clara away, only for her to end up being there at the end. Becausse of what she says, his fellow timelords give him a new set of regenerations. Eleven falls and Twelve takes the stage. Again, epic.

As you can see from my reaction, I loved this Doctor and his stories. One of my favorite eras. Not everyone feels that way, but that can't be helped.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy - The Soul of Star Trek

I have been lost in contemplation after this morning's news that Leonard Nimoy passed away. From his recent emergency hospital visit, the signs were there that this might not be far off, but it was still quite shocking. I'm not sure how long it will take to truly process this, but one thing I quickly realized was the Nimoy was the soul of Star Trek.

Leonard and his son Adam, from a blooper reel

I guess to make sense of that I'd better first explain a few things. Gene Roddenberry had a unique vision of the future. It is one where racial and gender barriers are dissolved and humanity lives at peace with the other species in the Federation. This is best shown in the series by the Vulcan IDIC emblem. It stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Roddenberry strove for this from the first pilot, filmed over 50 years ago. He cast a woman first officer and an alien science officer. While he was not able to keep the woman first officer, science fiction made keeping the alien an achievable task. So Spock stayed on.

Through the series, the character of Spock challenged viewers with his alien attitudes and logical outlook. He was a constant comment on humanity and Roddenberry's vision of our future. But in all the banter between characters, the differences between Vulcan and Human were never a cause for discrimination. A Vulcan stood in for all the differences in our own society that Roddenberry did not dare comment on, but since Spock was alien, he could, and in the way he wanted.

So while Roddenberry was the creator and dubbed the Great Bird of the Galaxy, it was Spock and the actor who portrayed him that were really the soul of Star Trek. The superior quality of the two movies he directed and had a hand in writing really speak to how in tune with Star Trek Nimoy was.

So today, with his passing, Star Trek has lost its soul. But he is not gone. He lives on in all the performances he gave, all the scenes he directed, all the lines he wrote or altered. Leonard Nimoy, the soul of Star Trek is gone, but Spock Lives.

And I just wanted to close with a message of condolence to his family and close friends. Especially to his wife Susan, daughter Julie, and son Adam, as well as his castmates, Bill, George, Nichelle, and Walter. Although Spock rarely smiled, Leonard had a very nice smile that was often captured when the cameras were not rolling. He will be greatly missed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The McCoy and McGann Years - An Overview

The Classic Era ended with the shortest serving Doctors. While Davison, Baker, and McCoy each served for roughly 3 years each, the series ran for less and less time. From 1970 through 1985 (Colin Baker's first full season) the series roughly 26 half hour episodes or the equivalent in 13 45 minute episodes (if you edit pretty much any of the classic 4 parters into one movie, they usually run 90 minutes). However, during the Classic Era's last 4 seasons, it got dropped to 14 25 minute episodes. So while Sylvester McCoy has more stories, Colin Baker has more screen time, making each of the last three Doctors of the Classic Era successively the shortest serving Doctor. It was shortly followed by the 1996 TV Movie (alternatively titled The Enemy Within) which was the only screen appearance by Paul McGann who reigns as the shortest serving Doctor (I'm ignoring the War Doctor in all this as that would get entirely too complicated).

However, it also created a unique situation where both Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann are the longest serving Doctors. Sylvester McCoy first graced our screens in September 1987 and last appeared in March 1996. Paul McGann first appeared in March 1996 and wasn't technically replaced until March 2005 and didn't regenerate until November 2013. Stretching until 2013 is a bit much since that is the tenure of 3 other Doctors, but just going from the first appearance of their incarnation to the first appearance of the next incarnation puts McCoy at just under 9 years and McGann right at 9 years making them the two longest serving Doctors. And during that time, McGann was doing canon audio adventures.

So let's take a look at two of the shortest yet longest Doctors. I've included Dimensions in Time, Shada, and Night of the Doctor for the sake of completeness.

Time and the Rani - The Tardis is attacked and the Doctor is injured and regenerated. That might have been a bad enough start, but the Rani then gives him amnesia and pretends to be Mel. The Rani is up to another of her crazy plans and the Doctor must first see through her ruse and then stop her. It has some very good points, but it is overall a weak story.

Paradise Towers - This is the first spooky episode. An deranged architect haunts his last creation and seeks to kill everyone so that it is left pristine. There are some moments typical of the 7th Doctor's era that are kind of silly, but the danger seems real and the characters are good.

Delta and the Bannermen - A romp in the 50's including aliens and the CIA. Some parts of the story are a bit silly and somethings happen without much reason, but overall a fun story.

Dragonfire - The low point of the first season. The baddie never feels dangerous. It is nice to see Glitz again and the introduction of Ace is interesting. The young girl is a poignant sub plot that is really good, but the rest of the story just kind of fails. It features one of the most innovative and interesting alien robots of the entire series.

Remembrance of the Daleks - To celebrate 25 years, the Doctor ends up in London in late November 1963. Not only that, but Totters Lane and Coal Hill School are featured settings and the first touch of the Cartmel Masterplan appears - the Hand of Omega. It is a very good story. One of the best of the 7th Doctor's Era. The homages to the beginning are not heavy handed and really work. The Hand of Omega is probably the only weak point, but it provides a way for the Doctor to defeat his greatest enemy in an exciting way.

The Happiness Patrol - This had the potential to be a really bad story. In fact, in my mind it was. But on viewing it anew things came into focus and I really enjoyed it. The Harmonica player's scenes were the key. That really made me look close and see that this episode was very well written and the idea was very intriguing.

Silver Nemesis - Probably my favorite of the 7th Doctor's episodes. It is a second 25th Anniversary story and takes place in November 1988 and the first episode aired on the 25th Anniversary on November 23, 1988. It is another Cartmel Masterplan story, but this time it is more believable. Lady Painforth was a delightfully evil character and so obviously self deluded that it was fun to watch. But she had secrets that she only hinted at and she, the Fourth Reich Nazis, and the Cybermen played off each other with the Doctor brilliantly playing them all. I never tire of this one.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - This story started out bad. The first two episodes probably could have been edited together for a 3 part story and given some extra time for Silver Nemesis. But after two episodes of evil and seemingly murderous clowns, we start to get to the heart of the story and it turns itself around and the Doctor gets a truly great adversary.

Battlefield - Another great. We find out that the Doctor will be Merlin at some future point in time. But Arthur, Morgaine, and the entire Arthurian legends are revealed to be people from another dimension. Arthur is dead in a ship under the lake. Morgaine tries to obliterate him at last and grieves when she learns of his passing. We get to see the current UNIT Brigadier, the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (along with his wife which makes the later casting of Jemma Redgrave a masterwork of visual continuity), and the casting of Jean Marsh as Morgaine brings two stars of the epic The Daleks' Masterplan back 24 years later. The special effects are a bit of a distraction, but the story is well written and well done. Another favorite.

Ghost Light - This begins a trio of stories that has long had me disliking the character of Ace. The stories are too Ace centric, but on this viewing, I didn't find that such a bad thing. The Doctor takes Ace back to a mansion in Perivale that she torched when she was younger to find the source of the evil she felt. It was an ancient survey of Earth that has gotten derailed and the Doctor manages to derail the danger by setting some of the inmates free. Except for the Ace subplot, this was a story of gothic darkness worthy of the early Tom Baker years.

The Curse of Fenric - I didn't used to like this episode, but this time I really loved it. I think I was too focused on how this story is Ace related. This time, the heart of the story came through and this is one of the 7th Doctor's best stories.

Survival - It is sad that the series had to end with this as the last episode. The worst Master story every. Anthony Ainley did a fantastic job, but the story around the Master lacked... a lot.

Dimensions In Time - Ah, the lame 30th Anniversary special, aired in 2 parts. The shortcomings of this story relate to the hurried nature of the production, the short running time, and the merger with Eastenders. It has good potential and given a good script and a descent running time, it would have been fantastic. As it stands, it is more a fun romp through the living Doctors and their companions and it includes the only interaction of the 6th Doctor with the Brigadier, making both character and actor the only one to interact with each incarnation. The Brigadier met the First Doctor in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors and Nicholas Courtney guested in The Daleks' Masterplan with William Hartnell. Everyone was looking good and even Tom Baker participated.

The Enemy Within - As a follow up to the Classic Series, this story had some flaws. When you compare it to the New Series, some of those flaws drop away. It features the Doctor's first kiss with a companion and a statement from both the Doctor and the Master that the Doctor his half human. That has never been touched on again. The story itself is Master centric and is the best Master story in years - probably since the Fifth Doctor's era. Eric Roberts does a good job, but nowhere near as good as some of the other actors to hold the role. Still, a well done effort. Bad ratings in the US kept it from being picked up as a series. That was bad at the time, but considering how it came back later, that may have been a blessing in disguise.

Shada - This story was written for Tom Baker. It was partially made, but production stopped because of a strike and was never finished. Several different releases of it have appeared, from an early fan attempt with the script text from the missing scenes to Tom Baker narrating the missing action, to Ian Levine's attempt to animate the rest (which got leaked but appears it won't be released because Tom Baker wasn't involved even though all the other living principle actors were). This is a different take. The premise is that because of the footage used in The Five Doctors, the events never happened so the Doctor goes to Gallifrey, where Romana II is the President, and cons her and K-9 into going back to find out what Professor Chronotis wanted. It follows the original script with Paul McGann proving that he was a strong Doctor able to pull off a classic story. It was animated in a primitive fashion, but is very enjoyable to watch. The story is brilliant and it was fun to see it completed for the first time in this way. Makes me wish Ian Levine could get Tom Baker to do his lines and get and official BBC release.

The Night of the Doctor - One of the most delightful surprises served up for the 50th Anniversary. This little vignette reveals that the Time War has begun but the Doctor is trying to stay out of it. A worthy effort, but the Sisterhood of Karn convinces him the the innocents of the universe need him to act, so he accepts their potion to direct his regeneration. The Doctor exits and the Warrior enters (aka the War Doctor)

As I have run through most of the John Nathan-Turner years, I have noticed a steady drop off of production values. The writing, music, directing, and special effects went from the solid years of Peter Davison in a downward spiral. I have no issue with the way each of the actors portrayed the Doctor, but the show definitely suffered. It then sprung back with the 1996 movie, laying the seeds for the 2005 revival.

Watching now it is quite easy to see why the show faded. Just what is behind the causes of that can be disputed. Some lay the blame on the BBC itself, some on John Nathan-Turner. Between the cancelled season in the middle of Colin Baker's Era and the lost Season 27 and beyond, and the poor production quality, the show just wasn't what it was. There are some magnificent stories that were told and all four of these Doctors, 5, 6, 7, and 8, have gotten to show another side of their era in the Big Finish audio stories. These additional stories often rival the televised stories and they really fill in a lot that was missing.

We almost had a chance to see what McGann could do, but hearing it is nearly as good. The popularity of The Night of the Doctor really shows what an important place his Doctor has in the series. It is really the end of the Classic Era and a transition to the new.

Now, I may have had a few complaints about the last 8 seasons of the Classic era, but they are full of enjoyable moments and enjoyable characters. Even the worst of the stories are still quite good compared to other franchises even if they don't hold up as well as other seasons.

My viewing now jumps to The Eleventh Hour from 2010. I'm watching all the Doctors where I haven't see every episode at least twice. I could write these reviews for John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant era from my head (and for completeness I might go ahead and do just that, we'll see), but there were far too many stories from William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Matt Smith that I felt they deserved a separate viewing. The order has been a bit enlightening in many ways.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Star Trek at 50 - Beyond Shatner, Nimoy, & Kelley

As Star Trek begins hitting its 50 year milestones (which will culminate in the 50th Anniversary of the airing of the first episode on September 8, 2016), it seems like a good time to look at where Star Trek is today.

50 years ago, The Cage was in the can and the 11 foot model of the Enterprise had been delivered. Today we have three concurrent productions of Star Trek. Oddly enough for a franchise that started with a series that lasted only 3 years before launching a series of films, and spawning four other series with unique characters, today's Star Trek has ignored all of that. We aren't revisiting Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer; it is Kirk that features in all the current productions.

Probably the most widely known are the feature films with Chris Pine playing Kirk. While they have been wildly popular, most fans of the original series have not appreciated the writing. I find the cast to be expertly chosen and they act the parts well, but the two movies they have done so far were created by people who were not fans of the original series and don't seem to understand it at all. They are more action adventure and less substance.

The other production is actually a pair. Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Phase II share virtually everything, but there are some major differences, including who plays Kirk. New Voyages is a continuation of the series. It has seen the return of Walter Koenig, George Takei, D.C. Fontana, and David Gerrold, as well as others. James Cawley both produces and stars and Kirk. Partway through production they decided to take a different approach. Before Star Trek arrived on the big screen in 1979, it was destined to return to the small screen in Star Trek: Phase II. Several scrips were written, sets were built, and work began on redesigning the ship. In the end all that got scrapped, but now Cawley and his production team are picking up a lot of those pieces. They have done two of the stories and the Enterprise has received a partial refit. Also Cawley has stepped down as actor to concentrate on production and Brian Gross has taken over the role of Kirk.

This production has been around a while. It started out with fairly low production values and has gradually increased. It has also had quite a variety in actors and features Scotty with a mustache. The writing and acting has been stellar. A far better offering that what the two movies by J.J. Abrams gave us. Chris Pine may be a fine actor, but his acting can't overcome the bad writing and questionable production choices.

The third production has been different from the beginning. Vic Mignogna has been associated both with the New Voyages/Phase II production as a director and guest star, and with Starship Farragut (where he first appeared as Kirk). Mignogna and the producers of Starship Farragut joined together to create Star Trek Continues. Starting with the vignettes, the production has striven to match the original series. The first was a remake of the last original series episode, Turnabout Intruder. While not an exact shot for shot remake, it shows how close they are trying to get. In my opinion they nailed it. Mignogna stars as Kirk, with the usual complement including Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame as Sulu and Chris Doohan filling his father's shoes as Scotty. In the three released episodes, they have had Michael Forrest reprise his role as Apollo, Lou Ferrigno as an Orion slave trader, and Eric Grey as a Starfleet Officer. The production values match the original series and it is endorsed by Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett. Colin Baker is slated to guest star in their fourth episode.

For fans of the original series, Star Trek Continues is as close as you will get to that long dreamed of fourth season. Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II is not more than a step behind. Every story out of both those productions IS Star Trek where the movies missed their mark. All three productions have new stories in the works. Episode 4 of Star Trek Continues has been filmed and episode 5 is in production. Star Trek: Phase II (as it will be know from here out) has three episodes in production at various stages. The film series is now in different hands, with Simon Pegg (Scotty) writing the third film (who happens to be friends with Chris Doohan). It gives hope the films might recover from the disaster that was Star Trek Into Darkness. What it does promise is an exciting 50th Anniversary for 2016. There will be plenty of new Star Trek and it will all feature Kirk and crew, even if the actors aren't the same. Each of these productions does the characters justice (well, we hope the new movie will succeed where the other two failed) and is a tribute to the vision Gene Roddenberry had.

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.