Sunday, 23 August 2015

WHO REVIEW: The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure





Colin Baker's made himself something of a controversial figure in the last month or so, predominantly with comments made in an interview intended to publicise this very release. Frankly, this isn't terribly important, and will be forgotten about soon enough. Mr C. Baker has never been shy when voicing his opinion, and more power to him. It's something he has in common with the incarnation of the Doctor he portrayed. The Last Adventure is a celebration of Baker and Doctor, a combination of actor and character that have stood against disproportionate criticism since their debut, over thirty years ago. It's time to celebrate all that's loved about Doctor no. 6, from his not-so-humble beginnings to his domination of Big Finish's audio series today.

A box set comprising four hour-long stories, The Last Adventure is rather like BF's earlier celebratory anthology releases, writ large. The stories span the Doctor's post-Trial period of adventures, which is entirely appropriate – it's this part of his history that is wholly missing from the TV series. The only problem with this is that Peri has no part to play, which is a pity, seeing that she was the sixth Doctor's main companion on TV. Still, we have a broad array of adventures here with many of the Doctor's friends from his sixth life taking part, in a series of adventures that are linked by the presence of the Valeyard. Caution – by necessity, this review contains significant SPOILERS.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Regeneration Rundown - updated!

With the release of Big Finish's sixth Doctor boxset The Last Adventure, now would seem to be the time to update the list of regenerations, first and last lines.

This has been somewhat complicated of late, with the numbering of the most recent few Doctors being called into question. To begin with, it's easy: same number for the Doctor, life and incarnation. Now it's fiddlier, but hopefully this rundown makes it clear. The Doctors are numbered one to twelve, with the War Doctor, unnumbered, between the eighth and ninth. Incarnations refer to distinct faces, while lives refer to how many times the Doctor has regenerated. So, Peter Capaldi is the twelfth Doctor, but the thirteenth distinct incarnation. Smith to Capaldi was “regeneration number thirteen,” so he is on his fourteenth life. (I choose to use incarnation to refer to a form, not a lifespan; others disagree. It's really a matter of semantics, there's no right or wrong.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

REVIEW: Lucifer - pilot episode

Lucifer is one of the greatest comic series of the modern period. It was perhaps inevitable, in the current comics-obsessed climate, that a screen adaptation would be optioned. As with its parent series The Sandman, it's often been argues that it would be impossible to adapt for the screen without losing what made it so remarkable in the first place. Warner Bros' new TV version is a powerful evidence for that argument. Judging by the "leaked" pilot episode, the series will be, if you will excuse the pun, diabolical.

A short introduction: while Lucifer is, of course, one of the most widely known beings in all mythology, the comicbook version is not as famous as his quality would suggest. In short, one of the first two entities created by God (the other being the Archangel Michael), Lucifer rebelled against his Father and when defeated was consigned to rule over Hell, a ten billion year sentence which he found insufferably boring. Shortly after his introduction in Neil Gaiman's seminal Sandman, he decided to abandon Hell and go make his own way in the world. This led to Mike Carey's spin-off series, in which Lucifer fought to take control of his own destiny, away from the omniscient controlling will of God. Lucifer, as a comic series, was beautifully, angrily written, utterly disrespectful, and quite brilliant. The news that DC intend to renew the series after almost ten years is worrisome in itself; apart from the fact that the series had perhaps the most perfect and final ending of any story I have read, the New 52 iteration of the title character lacks the intelligence and nuance of Gaiman and Carey's original.

And then we have this embarrassment. Even from the initial description, this sounded awful. Reimagining the series as a supernaturally-themed cop show is both the most depressingly unoriginal and painfully inevitable way it could have gone. I've nothing against the format - I enjoy a cliched set-up as much as the next telly watcher, and paraprocedurals are a popular and growing subgenre. But honestly, it really is the laziest possible way to adapt this material, and frankly displays a complete misunderstanding of everything that made the original so compelling. The wrongness of the approach is almost boundless. Rather than the aloof and complex character of the comics, the TV Lucifer is a sex-obsessed prick who is entirely bound up with humanity. His superpower is seemingly that everyone wants to have sex with him, which automatically makes him the sort of character I will dislike on principle. It also smacks of a desperate need to make this PG-rated fluff "edgy" and controversial. There's sex everywhere in this episode, never shown because of course they're not allowed to actually let anyone see a nipple or anything, but continually referred to because that's what passes for adult drama in the minds of the series' creators.

Beyond this, though, the character is completely misinterpreted. Maze, a feebly watered-down version of the comics' complex demoness Mazikeen, asks why Lucifer would care about a human life, and she's entirely right to ask. The comicbook Lucifer never displayed compassion. Humanity, for most part, were at best an amusement and mostly beneath his notice. He would never display compassion, although he may step in to save a life if it belonged to one of the very, very few beings he respected. He most certainly would not go to great lengths to investigate a murder of someone he was briefly involved with in his earthly holiday. It would be beneath him.

I can try to watch the show without the original in my mind, but even then, it's terrible. It's not without some charms, in fairness. Tom Ellis is charming in the lead and is genuinely fun to watch at times, while Lauren German is watchable as his unwitting partner, Chloe. The problem is , they've got such poor material to work with. The problems with Lucifer's character I've outlined, but then there's Chloe, whose sole point of interest is that she doesn't want to have sex with Lucifer. Other than that, she's a walking cliche. She's a female cop in a male-dominated force, she's a single mother with a difficult relationship with her ex, and I'm nodding off just writing this. In what is presumably an attempt to make her a little more interesting and "edgy" (there's that word again), she once took her top off in a movie. Well fuck-a-doodle-doo. I know primary school teachers who are edgier than these characters.

I'm struggling to find anything else to praise in this episode. The effects were pretty good, I guess. The angel Amenadial (D.B. Woodside) looked really quite impressive with his wings unfurled. That's about it. The dialogue is appalling, the performances largely forgettable, and there's not a shred of originality to be found. As an entirely new property, I would have forgotten about it almost immediately. As an adaptation of a truly great comic series, it's an insult. At least it's already pissing off some hardline Christian types, so I guess that's something.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Iris Wildthyme, throughout time

Iris Wildthyme will shortly be with us once more, in the latest anthology from Obverse Books, The Perennial Miss Wildthyme (available for pre-order now). But who is this mysterious woman, who travels the multiverse in an interdimensional double-decker bus, seemingly a TARDIS that happens to be smaller on the inside than the outside? This self-described "Trans-Temporal Adventuress," a batty old fag hag who's centuries old even when she's young, unstoppably youthful when she's already old and who's best friend is a talking stuffed panda? A woman who has had many faces, who claims to be a Time Lord and yet says she's nothing of the sort. She knows she's a parody of the Doctor and this just makes her love him more. An old, mad fag hag who can't be trusted, who steals others' adventures and rewrites history to make them her own. A character with as many origin stories as she can think of on the spot, who loves a bit of splishy-splashy and is never without a cigarette?

Trying to make sense of Iris's many lives is a fool's errand, as she'd be the first to tell you. And she might warn you about the spoilers, but I doubt it. Here we go anyway...

The First Iris: Iris was (probably) born on the outskirts of Saga City in the Clockworks of the Obverse, and was christened Lilith. She lived with her aunts until she found the wreckage of her magical bus, which she piloted out of the Obverse and into universes new. (Iris's origins were seen in the novel WildthymeBeyond!) Other origin stories suggest she actually grew up in similar circumstances in the wilds of Gallifrey, but this may be a retelling of her origins fitted to suit the history of the primary Doctor Who universe. Or perhaps the Clockworks and Gallifrey are nothing other than reflections of the same realm.

Much, much later in her first life she resembled the poet Edith Sitwell (whose look was not entirely unlike a female version of the first Doctor). She has been described as “a very old, imperious Iris... a grand dame glittering in a carapace of ebon pearls,” (from the DWM article “Bafflement and Devotion”). This version of Iris appeared, briefly, at the end of the story “Came to Believe” in the anthology Wildthymeon Top, and in the later collection Iris: Fifteen.

The Second Iris: This incarnation usually goes by the name Brenda Soobie, and is described as a Scots-Caribbean songstress. She appears physically to resemble Shirley Bassey, only with a different regional accent, of course. This version of Iris appeared in the novel Mad Dogs and Englishmen (with the eighth Doctor, after one of the destructions of Gallifrey), and the multi-Iris story “The Golden Hendecahedron” in Iris: Fifteen.

The Third Iris: The most frequently encountered version of Iris in the BBC books range, this incarnation is said to look like Beryl Reid. A long-lived, perpetually middle-aged incarnation, this Iris smokes like a chimney and carries a laser pistol. It was during this lifespan that Iris first met her travelling companions Tom, Jenny and Captain Turner, all of whom she'll travel with again in later life (or lives). This Iris first appeared in print opposite the fourth Doctor in “Old Flames” (in the collection Short Trips), and later the third Doctor in the novel Verdigris and the eighth Doctor in The Scarlet Empress. It was after this adventure that she regenerated, with the help of some Hysperon honey, into her fourth self, having previously been poisoned by toxic Dalek meat.

The Fourth Iris: One of Iris's younger incarnations, something she at first enjoyed but later came to dislike, missing the clout and authority of an older body. She looks uncannily like Jane Fonda in Barbarella, often wearing catsuits and twirling laser pistols about. This Iris made her first full appearance in the short story “Femme Fatale” (in More Short Trips), where she described herself as “Iris Mark Six,” but it's now clear that she is the fourth Iris. She was the heroine of the collection Iris Wildthyme of Magrs, also appearing in the novel The Blue Angel, the charity short story “Iris Explains” and a few others. She has worked both for UNIT (briefly) and its Darlington-based rival, MIAOW. “The Golden Hendecahedron” makes it apparent that this Iris is the same as the occasionally mentioned “Iris with a long white braid,” who is simply a much older version of this body. She later had her appearance changed by the Clockwork canons for selling fake exercise videos.

The Fifth Iris: A very little seen incarnation who has so far only appeared in “The Golden Hendecahedron.” Initially red-haired, into 70s fashions and with brown eyes, she later started to go grey, and one eye turned blue after she peaked at a space explosion. She didn't mind, since it made her look like David Bowie.

The Sixth Iris: Nowadays the best known Iris, this is the version who appears in Big Finish's productions and the bulk of those from Obverse Books. This version of Iris was first described as looking like Gracie Fields, but since she is voiced in all her audio appearances by Katie Manning, she has been illustrated like that as well. Flamboyant and a heavy drinker, this is Iris's most famous and incorrigible self. She has appeared with the fifth Doctor in ExcelisDawns, the sixth in TheWormery and bumped into the third and eighth in the Companion Chronicles, where she also teamed up with Jo Jones (nee Grant). Yes, they're both played by Katy Manning, and no, Iris's previous encounter with Jo in Verdigris was not mentioned once. You can't expect that kind of consistency from Iris.

This Iris has starred in five series of audios for Big Finish (so far), travelling with Tom, Captain Turner and Panda at different stages. She's also the main character of the bulk of the short story collections. She's most commonly associated with Panda, and supposedly met him in this lifespan, via Tom. However, he's also been seen to travel with her fourth self, and was present at her very first encounter with the bus. It's possible Iris's adventures with Panda form one big temporal loop. She's been married, had children and grandchildren, but this was merely the flicker of an eyelash in her long life.

Possible Future Irises:

We've had several brushes with Iris's future selves, and while it must be stressed that these are only potential futures, these are the Irises we've met so far, including several from “The Golden Hendecahedron”:

The possible seventh Iris looks like Phyllis Diller, never stops talking and has the loudest, most abrasive laugh of any woman in the cosmos. She's physically elderly but doesn't dress like it.

The following Iris is nothing more than a ventriloquist's puppet, cursed to spend this entire lifespan in this reduced form by the Gamesmaster.

The next Iris after this had the physical form of a statuesque black man in drag, and wore a long, honey-coloured wig. As she said, she may sometimes be a man, but she's “always a lady.”

The final future Iris we met in this story was a tall, lisping incarnation who looked like Carol Channing. She smoked a pipe, wore a floral suit and was quite commanding.

The collection Iris: Fifteen included many stories featuring other versions of Iris. One such Iris, in the story “Gimme Shelter,” had recently regenerated into a teenaged form with frizzy blonde hair. She wasn't happy about this as she couldn't get served.

The story “God Engine Rhapsody” featured an Iris with an American accent and crimson-and-platinum hair.

A very sexy version of Iris became involved with MIAOW in “Our Tune.” She had jet black hair, and ruby red lips that matched her figure-hugging outfit. This Iris might be the same as one who featured in a later story, “Ouroboros,” with so-black-it's-purple hair, a trim figure and green eyes.

“The Wildthyme Effect” featured an Iris who was based in the sixties, owned a shop and was “proud to be a woman of means.” I have a suspicion that this is the same version of Iris who later became a star making televised recreations of her adventures, and dropped Panda in favour of the more marketable kangaroo, Hoppy.

The story “Samsāra” sees a new Iris, of Indian looks and accent, born from fire in front of her startled companion.

It's possible further incarnations feature in this collection, although some are given scant description and might be ones we know already. The piece “Iris at the V&A” describes images of Iris from various points in her timestream, including some of those above and more, such as an Iris with bright red hair with the look of, according to Panda, “a lesbian space pirate," (possibly the fifth Iris, possibly not).

Beyond this book, we know that seven of Iris's incarnations were present in the Death Zone due to a plot by the mad Time Lord Morbius. We have also met two future Irises on audio, although neither is quite the Iris we know and love.

Dan Hogarth played a male Iris in the audio adventure The Two Irises. He looked rather dashing in a velvet jacket, and shunned alcohol. This should've been the first clue: this wasn't really Iris at all, but a projection by her TARDIS-bus to stand in her place while she was away. This faux Iris took the name Hillary and settled down to life as a barkeep in Spain.

Finally, there's Bianca, voiced by Maria McErlane. Encountered as the villain of The Wormery, this is Iris's final form, her equivalent of the Valeyard. Bianca guts her bus and turns it into a transdimensional cabaret club, intending to forcibly bring peace to the universe. She tried to steal Iris's remaining lives but was defeated, and seemingly faded from existence.

The Original Iris:

Iris made her first ever appearance in the novel Marked for Life, part of a run of works set in and around the fictional Phoenix Court. These novels aren't sci-fi or fantasy per se, but working class, queer fiction with a dollop of magical realism. The original Iris Wildthyme was an elderly lesbian in a relationship with the main character's mother. She had a double-decker bus, of course, but this one was resolutely fixed to one spot. However, this Iris claimed to have for hundreds of years, and at the climax of the story, seemingly met her death, only to transform into a baby in what was very clearly a Doctor Who-inspired regeneration. Baby Iris continued to appear in the Phoenix Court novels, and after many years, the adult Iris appeared in her original universe in the short story "Hospitality" in the collection Iris: Abroad.

The original Iris was described by other characters as overweight, but was in fact quite tiny, merely swaddled in many, many layers of clothing. The image conjured is of the grandmother in the Giles cartoons, but with more glamour. Not a Time Lord or a Clockworker, she's earthly but seemingly immortal, compared to Orlando. Is this Iris the version who appears in the Obverse segments of the Doctor Who novel The Blue Angel, on a version of Earth that seems at once closer to our own and further away than the one regularly saved by the Doctor? In a strand of the novel that may be less or more real than the Doctor's adventures? And how does she relate to the temporal adventuress who put the Doctor there, living a life in a single old house from which various lodgers come and go?

Who knows who Iris really is. All we know is that there's no point asking her; you can't trust her answers anyway...

With thanks to Paul Magrs, the creator of Iris Wildthyme all those years ago. What wonderful lunacy you started!

Casting Call: DC television villains

Following my round up of the various heroes set to appear on DC series this coming season, here's the current info on the many villains being introduced. This may be updated soon - I've been hoping to see casting news regarding Mr. Freeze, Flamingo, Non and Red Tornado.

Caspar Crump
Vandal Savage (Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow)

One of DC Comics' most persistant and deadly villains, Vandal Savage was born Vandar Adg around 50,000 BC, becoming immortal when he later encountered an irradiated meteorite. Over the millennia, he has been known as Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Jack the Ripper, Vlad the Impaler, Blackbeard and various other violent individuals from well known history. He might even be Cain, and thus the first murderer in historical record. The similarly powered Immortal Man and Resurrection Man are his longest serving foes, but over the years he's faced pretty much every major DC hero (and Captain Kirk). His parallel world alter egos have been even more pernicious, and he has been encountered in various points in the timeline by time travelling heroes. With enhanced strength, speed and endurance, he's a formidable foe, but the real threat is from his tactical genius and his lust for power. Oh, and he's Grendel's dad.

Savage has made several animated appearances over the years, and some very similar characters have been featured in live action series (one time Superman Dean Cain played Curtis Knox in Smallville, a character who was intended to be Savage until this was changed due to rights issues). His upcoming appearance is thus his official live action debut. He's set to be the Big Bad of Legends of Tomorrow, the superteam brought together purely to fight him. Described as having "the greatest army ever assembled," his reign of terror throughout history means they'll be using time travel to battle him. Caspar Crump is a Danish actor, little known in the English-speaking world, will appear in all three live action Arrowverse series. I've never seen him act, but god he looks perfect.

JR Bourne
Jeremy Tell/Double Down (Arrow)

A fairly recent addition to the Flash's rogue's gallery, Double Down is a con artist, a compulsive gambler and a murderer, who uses a powered-up deck of cards that is bonded to his very skin. JR Bourne can be recognised from various genre appearances including Stargate SG-1, Josie and the Pussycats and Teen Wolf. This is the character's first live action appearance, and while he's set to debut in the third episode of Arrow's next season, I would not be surprised to see him return to face his traditional foe, the Flash.

Alexander Calvert
Lonnie Machin/Anarky (Arrow)

Created by the prolific Alan Grant, Anarky is one of Batman's most popular foes, so much that he got his own spin-off series in the nineties. Lonnie Machin was a child prodigy who grew up to use his considerable gifts to further his anarchist, anti-statist activism. Little more than a kid when he first appeared, Anarky is a mirror to the Dark Knight, a vigilante fighting not criminals, but the whole structure of modern society. More an antihero than an all out villain, Anarky is the latest of many Batman-linked villains to be adapted for Arrow (a character he has rarely met in the comics). Although he's been used as the main antagonist for the animated series Beware the Batman and the game Arkham Origins (voiced by Wallace Langham and Matthew Mercer respectively), this will be his first live action apperance. Alexander Calvert has had loads of junior roles on TV.

Adam Copeland
Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher (The Flash)

From a family of superheroes and villains, Albert Rothstein has been both in the course of his comics career. An experimental procedure by his grandfather, the villain Cyclotron, gave him the ability to control his molecular structure. As a hero, he's also gone by the name Nuklon, and has served in the JLA and JSA for a time. He has, however, gone rogue on occasion, and can be a dangerous foe. In the first season of The Flash, Alber Rothstein is seen on a list of the people who were killed in the particle accelerator accident that gave that series' metahumans their powers. Clearly, he survived, and is set to return as a villain, with the intent of killing the Flash. Given that even such scoundrels as Captain Cold and Heatwave have been brought into the Legends of Tomorrow superteam, I think it's safe to say Rothstein will eventually turn to the side of the angels.

Chris Browning
Ben Krull/Reactron (Supergirl)

A persistant enemy of Supergirl (and her alt-world equivalent, Power Girl), Ben Krull is a Viet Nam vet, who went nuts and massacred a village of people. Serving with him was Joshua Clay, later known as the hero Tempest, who used his energy powers to blast Krull down. This had the side effect of granting Krull radiaoctive powers, which he later used in his villainous career. He's been part of the Suicide Squad and the radiation-themed team the Nuclear Legion, but more often works alone. Lately, he has been given a Kryptonite heart, which naturally makes him a particularly dangerous foe for Kryptonian heroes like Supergirl. He's set to appear in the third episode of the Supergirl series, played by Chris Browning, one of those actors who's been in everything over the years, usually in tough guy roles.

Brit Morgan
Leslie/Livewire (Supergirl)

Livewire is a villainess introduced in the 1990s animated Superman series, before being incorporated into comics continuity, not unlike the more famous Harley Quinn in the Batman series. Voiced then by Lori Petty, the live action version of the character is to be played by Brit Morgan, who has comicbook adaptation experience from The Middleman, but is better known for her role as Debbie in True Blood. Working for the same media company as Kara, Leslie is sure to cause problems both in everyday life and in her supervillain guise. Leslie is converted into pure electrical energy, with corresponding electromagnetic powers. She most recently showed up to menace Batgirl.

Justice Leak
Hellgrammite (Supergirl)

Another Superman villain to be repurposed for the Supergirl series, Hellgrammite was, initially, Roderick Rose (also known as Robert Dobson), an entomologist who experimented with insect DNA, transforming himself into a powerful insectoid creature. As well as the expected insect-y superpowers, such as super-strength, the ability to leap great distances and an inpenetrable exoskeleton, he also had the unpleasant tendency to infect others, transforming them into his larvae. (A hellgrammite is, in the real world, the larva of the dobsonfly.) The Supergirl version is going to be reimagined as more straightforward alien villain, played by Justice Leak, whose name is perfect for a supervillain in itself. He's appeared in several indie films, and is best known for the movie The Great Debaters.

James Frain
Theo Galavan (Gotham)

James Frain has experience in a comicbook universe: he was rather brilliant as Leet Brannis in Marvel's Agent Carter. The English actor has also appeared in True Blood, The White Queen, True Detective, Oprhan Black and Grimm, but is perhaps most recognised for his role in The Tudors. He's playing a new character to the mythos. Theo Galavan is a powerful business, whose altruism hides "a centuries old vendetta." He and his sister (see below) are set to cause chaos in Gotham, leading to various villains taking on their characters.

Jessica Lucas
Tabitha Galavan/Tigress (Gotham)

As with so many DC heroes and villains, the Tigress persona has been shared by several characters, going right back to Action Comics #1 in 1938. However, the Gotham character sounds like she's based on the most recent Tigress, Artemis Crock, who has made it to the New 52 continuity and appeared in several animated outings. Some versions of the character have Wolverine-like animal abilities, including superhuman strength, an enhanced sense of smell and enhanced stamina, but the modern version is simply a highly trained combatant and marksman. Her skill with a bow and arrow is phenomenal (an earlier Tigress became the villain known as Huntress, another identity taken by various individuals, one of whom appeared in Arrow).

Tabitha Galavan is said to be the sister of the aforementioned Theo, and acts as his lead enforcer. Jessica Lucas has appeared previously in Cloverfield, Evil Dead, She's the Man and Melrose Place.

Leo Fitzpatrick
Joe Pike (Gotham)

Joe Pike is set to be a fairly major pest to Gordon and Bullock in the coming season, over the course of several episodes. He's described as the leader of a gang of arsonists, and doesn't have any explicit links to any comicbook villains (yet). Several fans have suggested he's going to become Firefly, a pyrotechnic villain from the Batman comics (in which his identity was one Ted Carson). There's also a reasonably obscure Wildstorm villain named Pike, who DC have the rights to, but it's unlikely he has anything to do with this. Leo Fitzpatrick found fame as Johnny Weeks in The Wire.