Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Doctor Who Season 3 - "42"

IceD-T anyone?

Sorry - the bad pun is my way of relieving my feelings over this episode which seemed so promising and was so poor. Chris Chibnall, the man largely responsible for the much-maligned (by the fandom of the Whoniverse) Torchwood spin-off from Doctor Who (which stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness), wrote "42". It's set in real-time (like 24), but in 42 minutes rather than hours. I've never seen 24 but I know plenty of addicts so I was quite excited by the idea - and the set up seemed fairly interesting: the Doctor and Martha find themselves on a spaceship that's 42 minutes from crashing into a sun. What made the story so poor for me, was how it rehashed ideas from New Who's seasons 1 and 2, without doing them better, or very differently, or any more compellingly.

So, to begin at the beginning. The story starts with the Doctor fixing up Martha's phone so that she can now call anyone anywhere or anywhen (echoing Nine's fixing of Rose's phone in "The End of the World" but without the funny dialogue). The Doctor tells her it's a "frequent flyer's" privilege (OK, that did make me smile). Martha's about to test this out when the TARDIS picks up an emergency distress call, onto which the Doctor latches (and is it me, or is he using his feet to reach switches and buttons on the console rather more often this season?). They land with a bump, go outside and find it's boiling hot. Three members of the spaceship's crew - the Captain (played by guest star Michelle Collins), one older man and one younger man explain the situation, and then a young female crew member comes racing into view as the doors start slamming and locking behind her. The Doctor immediately suggests using the TARDIS as a "lifeboat" off the ship, but finds the room in which she's landed is incredibly hot (so hot, in fact, that the TARDIS' wooden exterior ought to have gone up in flames !) and she can't be accessed (echoing "The Impossible Planet" where the TARDIS is "lost" in an earthquake).

They then spend the rest of the episode trying to get the engines on the spaceship working again, trying to open the 29 doors between them and the front of the ship so they can "jump-start" the engines - which involves Martha and the young crew man Riley in a pub-quiz race against time - all the doors are deadlock sealed (so the Sonic Screwdriver can't be used to open them since, as we know from "School Reunion" the Sonic Screwdriver can't open deadlock seals) and each one is coded to a randomly generated question, the answer to which can only be entered once (which must be the most pointless, senseless security system ever invented!) Riley tells Martha that the crew got drunk one night and thought up the questions, figuring they'd be the only ones who could answer the questions, thereby ensuring the ship could never be hijacked - though looking at it, I had to wonder who would *want* to hijack such a junk heap! Of course, some members of the crew have changed since the questions were set, leaving the Doctor to supply the fourth number in a mathematical sequence of Happy Primes (which results in him lamenting dumbing down since no one, apparently, teaches recreational Mathematics any more). Interestingly, given the Tenth Doctor's credentials as a fan of 20th century popular Earth music (as established in Season 2's "Tooth and Claw" and "The Idiot's Lantern"), he couldn't answer the question about who had the most pre-download hits Elvis or The Beatles - which results in Martha making use of her new "Universal Roaming" on her phone, to ring her mum and ask her to find the answer online (and her conversation, where she pretends to be on Earth not half a universe away from home, echoes "The End of the World" again when Rose rang her mum from Platform One).

To complicate matters (as if they're not already complicated enough), the Captain's husband has been possessed by something mysterious (echoing season 2's "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit" two-parter in which Toby Zed is possessed) which causes him to kill two of his fellow crew members and "convert" a third to its cause (just as the possessed Toby kills Scootie Minestra and converts the Ood to the cause of the "Devil" in that two-parter). The Captain's husband goes after Martha and Riley, and they hide in an escape pod, which is then launched from the ship. The Doctor arrives too late to stop this, so shouts for a spacesuit so he can go through the airlock and activate the magnetic mechanism that's on the outside of the spaceship to pull the escape pod back. Martha has every faith in the Doctor rescuing her and Riley, but still makes a tearful phone call to her mum to tell her mum that she loves her, and ask her to tell her father, brother and sister that she loves them. We see a mysterious woman (much like last episode's mysterious man) apparently recording and/or trying to trace Martha's call on behalf of the mysterious Mr Saxon, but she's thwarted when Martha winds up the call after Mrs Jones starts asking if Martha's with "that man" (the Doctor).

The Doctor manages to re-engage the magnetic clamp to recall the escape pod but whilst he's standing in the airlock watching for it to return, he sees that the sun is alive (don't ask!) and is infected as the Captain's husband had been. Of course, not being a human, he's able to resist the infection longer and Martha arrives in time to help him to the medlab where he tells her to freeze him at -200 degrees for ten seconds (see picture above). The Doctor is panicking about the fact that the infection in him will get stronger the nearer the ship gets to the sun, but Martha assures him that she'll save him, just as he saved her. Of course, the Captain's infected husband notices the power surge in the medlab and cuts the power before the temperature can reach -200 and freeze the infection in the Doctor's body. So the Doctor sends Martha to the front of the ship to eject all the fuel the ship is carrying - the crew have been "mining" the sun as a cheap (and illegal) source of fuel, and the fuel is carrying living particles from the sun. Martha initially refuses to leave the Doctor but he insists. In the meantime, the Captain's gone to restore the power to the medlab but her husband stops her. She runs off and he follows, and she sacrifices herself to take him with her out of the airlock and into the sun (echoing Rose's actions in sacrificing Toby Zed to save herself, Zack and Danny on board the rocket that's flying away from the planet orbiting the black hole in "The Satan Pit").

Having ejected the fuel, the ship's engines are restored, the Doctor discovers the TARDIS is only marginally over-heated instead of reduced to cinders, and he and Martha go off, leaving Riley and Scannell (the only other surviving member of the seven-person crew) to await rescue. The episode closes with the Doctor giving Martha a key to the TARDIS on a chain (another frequent flyer privilege) and a quiet "Thank you."

The only thing that saved this episode from earning a 1 out of 5 rating is the lovely work done by the team at The Mill and the team headed up by Ed Thomas; the moments between Martha and the Doctor in the TARDIS; and the terror displayed by the Doctor when he knows he could become a monster instead of being the one who fights the monsters.

Fortunately the upcoming two-parter "Human Nature" / "Family of Blood" is written by Paul Cornell (an adaptation of his Seventh Doctor novel Human Nature) who was responsible for writing one of my favourite season 1 episodes, "Father's Day".

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Tar Man - Linda Buckley-Archer

WOW !!

I finished reading Linda Buckley-Archer's The Tar Man in bed last night, losing sleep to finish it because the story had got so exciting I couldn't bear to put it aside. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Gideon the Cutpurse, when I read it last November (Review) so I had high hopes of this tale being as good as the first. My expectations were surpassed. The Tar Man is a totally compelling read.

The story is split between two main narrative strands. The Tar Man's experiences in 21st century London where he begins by causing havoc with an astonishing horse-riding stunt, and the experiences of Kate Dyer and Peter Schock's father in 18th century England and France. At the end of Gideon the Cutpurse, the Tar Man took Peter Schock's place and managed to travel to the 21st century, stranding Peter in the 18th century. He's taken under the wing of Gideon Seymour and his friends, and grows to maturity. When Kate and Peter's father try to use the anti-gravity machine to get back to 1763 to rescue Peter, they accidentally find themselves in 1792 instead, by which time Peter is now in his early 40s and the same age as his father. When he realises what's happened - that Kate and his father haven't aged and are looking for 12 year old Peter (only a few days have passed since Kate got back to the 21st century), he pretends to be Gideon's half-brother Joshua because he can't face the idea of telling his father who he is, knowing that his father has come for a 12 year old boy, not a grown man. So Peter travels to Derbyshire to tell Kate and his father that Peter Schock went to America twenty years ago and hasn't been heard from since (which is actually the fate that's befallen Joshua Seymour). The pair decide to return to the 21st century, but the anti-gravity machine won't work. They travel to London and visit Queen Charlotte (who had befriended both Kate and Peter during their visit to 1763, and remained friends with Peter after he was stranded) and Sir Joseph Banks, a distinguished scientist, in the hopes that Sir Joseph will be able to fix the machine. He cannot, so he recommends they visit the Marquis de Montfaron who has lately come from Revolutionary France and will, he believes, be able to assist them. Unfortunately de Montfaron is not in England, but still on his French estate, having refused to flee. So Kate, Mr Schock, Peter (in the guise of Joshua Seymour) and Hannah (Peter's housekeeper) set off to visit de Montfaron at his estate near Arras, braving the Revolutionists to do so.

Whilst this is going on, the Tar Man is settling into life in 21st century London - carrying out a series of daring thefts, spending money lavishly and trying to impress. He's aided by a young woman named Anjali whom he had saved from a gang of youths in the Underground, and his young apprentice, Tom, who had also travelled to the 21st century (during the events described in Gideon). When the Tar Man fails to blackmail his way into an exclusive London Club and Tom is killed trying to protect Anjali from the leader of the gang that had attacked her, he comes up with a new plan. He's going to steal one of the anti-gravity machines (there are now three in existence), travel back into time to his childhood and change his personal history to give him a better life.

Kate and Mr Schock succeed in finding de Montfaron and he is persuaded to return to London with them after his estate is plundered by the Revolutionists. He fixes the anti-gravity machine and they are able to return to the 21st century, taking de Montfaron with them. Whilst they've been trekking to France and back, Dr Dyer (Kate's father) has succeeded in travelling back in time to 1763 and locating 12 year old Peter Schock. And by this time, Kate and Mr Schock have discovered that "Joshua Seymour" is really the grown-up Peter Schock.

Having been reunited, the Schocks and the Dyers together with Anita Perretti (one of the NASA scientists who was working on a similar anti-gravity machine to the one that Dr Dyer was working on in Derbyshire), de Montfaron, and Inspector Wheeler (the policeman in charge of the hunt for the missing Kate and Peter) are having a celebratory lunch at the Dyers' farm, when the Tar Man arrives. He kidnaps Peter and Kate and steals the two anti-gravity machines, disappearing back to the 18th century with the intention of changing his own personal history.

This is a fairly complex plot and will require the reader to pay close attention to follow the various narrative strands in order not to get lost, but such attentiveness is amply rewarding by the gripping tale that unfolds. I was particularly intrigued by the conversations that the grown-up Peter has with both Hannah and Queen Charlotte with regard to what will happen if 12 year old Peter is found and returned to the 21st century. Will they have never known the grown up Peter? How will his disappearance from the 18th century timeline affect them and history. There are some interesting points raised here that will be familiar to anyone who's enjoyed a lot of time-travel narratives (as I have in various formats).

The Tar Man is out in September published by Simon and Schuster. My advanced copy was received (gratefully) from the author, Linda Buckley-Archer.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Doctor Who Season 3 - The Lazarus Experiment

This story starts with the Doctor attempting to drop Martha back at home after her extended "one trip" with him, but a news flash about an experiment for which Martha's sister is handling the PR intrigues him, so although he pops off in the TARDIS, leaving Martha virtually in tears, he pops right back again saying "Sorry, did he say he was going to change what it means to be human?" Given the Doctor's love of humanity (why else does he hang around Earth so much with the whole of time and space as his playground), that was bound to catch his attention ! It seems that Professor Richard Lazarus (Mark Gatiss) has discovered a way to rejuvenate human beings, thereby making them virtually immortal but, as is usually the case with immortality, it comes at a terrible price. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure, representing the same Mr. Saxon who's funding the experiment, tells Martha's mother that her daughter's new best friend is very dangerous. For some reason that I couldn't fathom (even after watching the episode three times!), Mrs Jones believes the man who tells her this and gives the Doctor a slap; at least the last time he got slapped by a Companion's mother (Jackie Tyler in Season 1's "Aliens of London), she had the excuse of the Ninth Doctor having kept Rose away for 12 months rather than the 12 hours he'd thought they'd been gone. The Tenth Doctor actually brings Martha back after a mere 12 hours away (that encompassed 3 adventures: "The Shakespeare Code", "Gridlock" and Daleks in New York), but gets a slap anyway - which seems rather unfair. I can't understand Mrs Jones' hostility at all. It's not as if the Doctor looks dodgy - far from it, actually, since he's wearing his tux !

Anyway, Lazarus' experiment goes badly wrong, leaving his body to undergo a genetic mutation that turns him into a huge, ugly scorpion-esque creature that proceeds to drain people of life and rampage around the Lazarus Labs building. The Doctor thinks he's killed it by "reversing the polarity" (a nod to Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor) of the device that Lazarus had used to rejuvenate himself, whilst he and Martha are hiding in the device, the Lazarus-monster is outside but turns the machine on with them inside it. Alas, Lazarus isn't dead and he drains the two paramedics who were trying to take his body away, and then holes up in Southwark Cathedral, a place he knows well as he used to shelter there as a boy during the Blitz. He and the Doctor have a philosophical discussion about longevity (which they'd already discussed after Lazarus rejuvenated himself). The Doctor says that facing death is part of being human, but Lazarus contradicts him saying that "avoiding death, that's being human. It's our strongest impulse." So the Doctor tells Lazarus
A long life isn't always a better one. In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust. If you live long enough, Lazarus, the only certainty is that you'll end up alone.

Some fans see this as yet another reference to Rose, but I don't think it's just that. It's a reference to the fact that the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, he's lost his whole family and his entire race, in the last few years, not just Rose. And Gallifrey is gone - as he so eloquently told Martha at the end of "Gridlock". And I think the Tenth Doctor's very tired of the struggle - especially against the Daleks (in the Dalek 2-parter he comments of the Daleks "They always survive and I lose everything."), but also the struggle against everything else that keeps trying to destroy the universe/humanity.

I liked Martha in this episode - from her glee at over-riding the Lazarus Labs' security so that she get everyone out, the fact that she insists on going back for the Doctor when he's the last person left in the building (which is very reminiscent of Rose insisting on going back to Satellite Five for the Ninth Doctor in season 1 finale "The Parting of the Ways"), to her insistence on going with the Doctor after Lazarus escapes from the ambulance into the Cathedral (and this in spite of her mother's objections), and the fact that she actually refuses to go with the Doctor again for just one more trip, pointing out that he isn't being fair to her and accusing him of seeing her as just a passenger (which he denies she ever was). The way the Doctor gives in so easily to her objection proves that he still wants her along, but he had to give her the chance to go back home and see her family, and the chance to decide not to go on travelling with him.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Catherine Fisher's Incarceron was kindly loaned to me by Lady_Shrapnell of So Many Books.

Incarceron is a prison - the only prison - of the future. Sealed away, it is a closed system which nothing can enter or leave. It's believed by those on the Outside to be a paradise, the ultimate in rehabilitation therapy. When all criminals and dissidents were sent to Incarceron a century and a half ago, along with seventy of the Sapienti (the scholars/scientists who designed it) they thought they were creating a paradise from a hell. However, the Sapienti plan didn't work and Incarceron has become a sealed world of savagery where dreams of Escape are the only crumbs of comfort anyone has. To make matters worse, the prison has taken on a life of its own and become sentient.

One young prisoner, Finn, is different to the other prisoners. He has visions which Gildas, the Sapient who belongs to the same tribe as Finn, believes will lead them out of Incarceron, although Finn believes they are memories of his life Outside Incarceron.

Outside is also a prison. Technology has been rejected in favour of an authoritarian and feudal regime (similar to our 17th century) which insists on everything being in Era, a peculiar regression to which the world moved following the Years of Rage (it's hinted that the world went through a major war, which in part led to the decision to build Incarceron and regress to the past. The royal court is a place of intrigue, plots and politics, but Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron is due to be married to the royal heir, an arranged marriage that was organised after the first heir died of a fall from his horse at a young age. Claudia's intended husband, Giles' step-brother, is a useless brute to whom she dreads being married.

However, both Finn and Claudia find a pair of identical crystal keys that allow them to communicate with one another and they set on a path that will make the worlds of Incarceron and Outside collide...

This was a fascinating book. It's a mixture of historical, Science Fiction and fantasy elements combined. The historical elements are those that relate to the Outside; the SF elements relate to Incarceron, which it turns out, is a vast prison that's been compressed into a tiny cube that hangs from the Warden's watch chain; and the fantasy elements are related to the sensibility that Fisher has adopted. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but the story feels like a fantasy tale but it's got strong SF elements in it.

Incarceron is not a stand-alone novel - Fisher is apparently working on a second book - which is just as well, because the ending of this one is rather abrupt - a cliff-hanger in fact. Claudia manages to use her father's Key to enter Incarceron and bring Finn Outside (she believes he's not really a cell-born prisoner, as others have suggested, but Giles, the royal heir to whom she was originally betrothed), but Finn's oath-brother Keiro and a slave girl named Attia (who had helped Finn and owes him her life) are still trapped inside Incarceron as the Key can only take one person Outside at a time.

I don't think this is Fisher's best book - I've enjoyed others (such as Corbenic) far more, but it is intriguing and thought-provoking.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Doctor Who Season 3 - "Daleks In Manhattan", "Evolution of the Daleks"

This two-parter was written by "Doctor Who" scriptwriter, Helen Raynor (she's the first female writer of any "New Who" episodes), turning in her first ever "Doctor Who" scripts.

Daleks in Manhattan

The Doctor and Martha land in New York City in 1930, where people are disappearing from Hooverville, a miniature city where the homeless live in the middle of Central Park. The trail to find the missing people leads them into the sewers beneath Manhattan where they encounter a group of men who've been transformed into pig slaves – and the Doctor discovers that the Daleks, who have some sort of diabolical plan for the Empire State Building, are behind it all.

The Daleks of this story are the four remaining members of the Cult of Skaro (Skaro is the planet on which the Daleks originated). The Cult has been created to come up with imaginative ways of surviving (imaginative being the operative word here - Daleks generally don't have much use for imagination), and they are the only four survivors of the Battle of Canary Wharf that we saw in the season 2 two-part finale "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday" - the four escaped the Battle by using an "emergency temporal shift" - which lands them in New York in 1930. They've decided that the way to survive is to create Dalek-Human hybrids through genetic experimentation. One of the four Cult members, Sec, assimilates the man who's been helping them to prepare the Empire State Building for their project. He becomes a very weird looking man with a tentacled head and one eye (above left), and rather odd, misshapen hands.

Evolution of the Daleks

After Sec becomes the first Dalek-Human he's ready to implement his plan to create an army of Dalek-Humans to remake Earth into New Skaro. But the "human factor" has unexpected effects on Sec, leading him to alter his plans and enlist the Doctor's help as an ally, a move that makes his fellow Daleks uneasy (to the extent that two of them have a conversation in the sewer that leads to one of them looking over its "shoulder" - metaphorically since Daleks don't have shoudlers! - in a beautifully realised moment of Dalek paranoia that made me laugh out loud).

From Sec's slow development of something that approaches human compassion because of his human side, to the army of Dalek-Humans questioning their orders with a straightforward "Why?", this episode has some surprising moments that make it the stronger of the two. It's also surprising that Sec keeps a bloodthirsty Dalek from killing the Doctor – who at that point is actively shouting at the Dalek to kill him. David Tennant's increasingly multilayered performance as the Doctor is a joy to behold. The Doctor's horror and near-suicidal anger at the death of Solomon is astonishing, as is his confusion and dawning hope at Sec's gentle ascent into humanity. Martha gets some great moments in this episode, including a heartbreaking conversation with Tallulah over the times when, as the Doctor looks at her, she knows "he's just remembering" Rose. Freema Agyeman plays this moment with such anguish that it's enough to make me want Martha to have a lot more screen time than she's actually got so far this season.

My biggest disappointment with the second episode was when the single surviving Dalek (Caan) from the Cult of Skaro does another of those blinking "emergency temporal shifts" and disappears again - though I confess I was relieved that the Doctor didn't shout "Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnn" after him!

One of my favourite bits was the Doctor discussing the use of music "Music. You can dance to it, sing with it, fall in love to it" - at which point he stares into the eyestalk of one of the Daleks and it "blinks" (closes and then opens the "shutter" in its eyestalk) - which is a fabulous little moment.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lady Friday: Book Group Discussion

Garth Nix's Lady Friday is the fifth of the seven "Keys to the Kingdom" series. In it, Arthur, a 12 year old boy who's been chosen as the Rightful Heir of the Keys to Kingdom the first Creation of the female Architect, must find a way of claiming the fifth Key from Lady Friday. She sends Arthur, the Piper (one of the Architect's sons) and Superior Saturday (the female Trustee of the Architect's Will who appears to be the prime mover against Arthur), a message saying that she has abdicated her role and left her Key, a mirror-like device, in her Scriptorium in the Middle House, for which ever one of the three of them can find it and claim it first. Arthur then has to get himself to the Scriptorium to claim the Key, but he decides instead to find the fifth Part of the Will, reasoning that it will be likely to help him to free itself. All seven parts of the Will of the Architect are embodied in animal forms and each one represents one of the seven Heavenly Virtues, just as each Trustee embodies one of the seven Deadly Sins. Since each part of the Will is imprisoned somewhere by one of the Trustees, Arthur believes that freeing the fifth part of the Will should make him more likely to succeed in laying claim to the fifth Key.

Like the fourth book (Sir Thursday), Lady Friday is a rather darker book than were the first three (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday and Drowned Wednesday). And not only is Arthur in danger. His friend from the Secondary Realms (as Earth and other planets outside the great House are known), Leaf, has been captured by Lady Friday, as has Leaf's Aunt Mango. She must try to remain alive and active so that she can rescue her Aunt from Lady Friday, who uses her Key to "taste" mortal experiences (she withdraws the memories of older people using the power of the Key and drinks the memories to give her experience of human emotions). Unfortunately having one's experiences drained leaves a mortal in a vegetative state from which there is no recovery (making it akin to Alzheimer's Disease).

Things I like about this book:

1 - Arthur's insistence to Dame Primus (who is a Denizen comprising the first four parts of the Will) that he loves his adopted family and that he doesn't want to be a fully-fledged immortal Denizen himself. Dame Primus is scornful of Arthur's expression of love - interestingly, since that is supposed to be the most important human emotion.

2 - The fact that Arthur is no longer refusing his role as the Heir - despite his desire not to become a Denizen. He retains the fourth of the Keys, following his encounter with Sir Thursday, and he isn't afraid to use it when necessary, even though he knows that its uses takes away his mortality. (An interesting philosophical comment on power and humanity.)

3 - The fact that Arthur is turning into a capable leader and that he isn't allowing Dame Primus to boss him around any longer. Since he is the Rightful Heir, she should only advise Arthur, not try to manipulate him (as she clearly does in the first two books). He starts thinking for himself and making his own decisions.

4 - I was fascinated by the Winged Servants of the Night and the role they play in the story, especially with regard to the fifth part of the Will. I like the way Nix leads the reader to believe that the fifth part of the Will is a terrifying dragon-like creature that eats people (well the Winged Servants at any rate), when in fact, it merely eats their clothes, and then the Servants stumble off in horrified embarrassment to find places elsewhere in the House (except for One Who Survived the Darkness).

So what do you think of the series and of this book in particular ? What worked for you, what didn't ? Did anyone read this book without having read the previous four titles in the series ?