Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Forgotten Lives 2 - now available to pre-order!

I am very excited to announce that Forgotten Lives 2, the follow-up to 2020's fantastic Forgotten Lives anthology, is now available to pre-order from Obverse Books


Forgotten Lives collected eight stories, one for each of the so-called Morbius Doctors, mysterious regenerations of Doctor Who briefly glimpsed in the Tom Baker serial The Brain of Morbius, and since reinforced by the controversial retcons of "The Timeless Children." 

The second volume brings back the original authors and more, with each of these incarnations having new adventures and enjoying more fascinating exploration. Discover untold chapters of the Doctor's long life, experience new worlds and even glimpse a regeneration or two...

I am very  pleased to have been chosen to write for this collection by editor Philip Purser-Hallard (creator of the remarkable City of the Saved stories). I have contributed "The First Englishmen," an adventure for Morbius Doctor #3, who looks like 20th century TV producer Christopher Baker, and his mischievous children. Of my various silly little Doctor Who stories, this is one of my favourites. I've read the proof of the book, and I have to say, it really is a tremendously strong collection.

All proceeds from Forgotten Lives 2 will be donated to UK Alzheimer's charities. Be sure not to wait too long - the book is set to be released on August 8th 2022, and is only available by pre-ordering. Once these orders are in and they've been published, that'll be it.

Eight Doctors, sixteen authors, twenty-four stories, and a wonderful cover by the fabulous Cody Schell, Forgotten Lives 2 is available to pre-order from Obverse Books at this link right here.

Friday, 24 June 2022

New reviews on Television Heaven

 After something of a hiatus, I am back on a more regular footing with my reviews. (Big things occurring in real life I'm afraid, you know how it is). As such, there are a whole bunch of new reviews up on Television Heaven:


The X-Files comes to a close with its tenth and eleventh seasons - the revival years.

Buffy season four and Angel season two keep us moving in the Buffyverse.

Another long-running season-by-season review begins with DC's Legends of Tomorrow.

And a mere six months after Christmas, here's the David Tennant version of Around the World in 80 Days.


While you're there, check out these great reviews of Picard season two and Philip K. Dick anthology series Electric Dreams by John Winterson Richards.


Lots more to come in the near future!

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

REVIEW: Jurassic World Dominion

 


I don't really get the poor reviews Dominion is getting. I can absolutely agree that a sixth film in the franchise was unnecessary, but then, no sequels were ever really necessary or could hope to match the original Jurassic Park. Even Chrichton's The Lost World struggled to justify its existence in that respect, and the film version even more so. Dominion is about making a comment on the modern world and the commodification and exploitation of science, and the lengths to which those on the top of the capitalist world will go to to ensure their own dominion. That's what it's about, but it's not what it's for. It's there because we want to see characters we like running away from dinosaurs, because that is entertainment.

So no, I don't get the vitriol, because Dominion kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. On a purely visual level, there were elements here that surpassed anything that has gone before in the Jurassic Park saga. The raptor chase through Valetta – utilising the Atrociraptor mainly, I feel, for the cool name – is a fantastic juxtaposition of visuals and a truly breathtaking action sequence. Sights of dinosaurs sloping into town, a Brontosaurus blocking a highway because it just doesn't know where it's found itself, are beautiful (and far more effective than the T. rex-does-Godzilla attempt of The Lost World). The impossibly vast Quetzalcoatlus – inflated beyond even the giraffe-sized creature's natural scale – providing a hazard to aircraft is what this series is all about. Plus, we finally had proper feathered dinosaurs, the imaginary science of the films catching up with the real science of palaeontology, which has revolutionised our understanding since the novel was originally published.

It was fitting for the film to bring back the original three leads of Jurassic Park. I've said it before, but it's never really, truly a Jurassic Park film without Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant (one of the reasons I have a soft spot for the much maligned Jurassic Park III). Some viewers disliked that Grant, now old, bearded and solitary, is a rather lost figure at the beginning of the film, but it's absolutely fitting that he would gravitate back to the familiar world of fossil hunting, the last bastion of the world before dinosaurs walked again. He retains strong chemistry with Laura Dern's Ellie Satler, who gets to shoulder most of the trio's half of the film. Satler was always the most impressive of the characters when it came to surviving in the Park, and it's only right that she gets much of the limelight here.

Having been wasted in a cameo in Fallen Kingdom, Jeff Goldblum gets to play Dr. Ian Malcolm for real again. While he does, as always, play himself, Goldblum is able to make Malcolm into a character again with a genuine reason to be involved, instead of just a celebrity stop-off of quirky delivery. This half of the film, which stays resolutely away from the other side for much of the runtime, gives the old guard a chance to shine, without the newbies overshadowing them. There's able support from Mamoudou Athie as Ramsay Cole, the turncoat PA and communications head at Biosyn, who puts in a classy performance. Making Lewis Dodgson the villain was a clever idea. While it was a shame to have to recast him (but look, no one is going to work with Cameron Thor, if he was even out of prison in time to film it), Campbell Scott makes for a suitably nefarious billionnaire. Linking him back to the character who was barely seen but was ultimately behind the chaos of the first film is a great touch, especially since Dodgson was such a major character in the novels. Here, he comes across as less of a scientist than in the books, and more an evil Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Which is to say, a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.

Frankly, the classic characters overshadowed the Jurassic World crew. Chris Pratt still remains a likeable presence as Owen Grady, but by now his Velociraptor whisperer schtick is getting a bit old. Still, he handles the action scenes excellently and has great chemistry with Isabella Sermon. As the teenaged clone Maisie Lockwood, Sermon steals her scenes: a gobby, angry posh girl with an entirely justifiable chip on her shoulder due to her unique and unexplained past. Bryce Dallas Howard does well as Claire Dearing, especially in her action scenes where she portrays a tangible desperation (the slow escape from the Therizinosaurus is one of the most nail-biting moments in the franchise), she lacks chemistry with Sermon and, surprisingly, with Pratt.

DeWanda Wise, on the other hand, has palpable chemistry with Pratt. So much so, in fact, that the only way to keep her character Kayla from falling into Owen's arms is to make her gay. Kayla could be a stock action film character – she's a daredevil pilot, a criminal finding her principles again, etc. – but Wise has enough charisma to carry the part off and make her a success.

Are there problems? Of course there are. While keeping their storylines linked but separate for so long helps, the film does feel overstuffed two sets of heroes: six adult leads and one child is a lot to juggle. This means some elements feel a little cut short: Grant and Satler's revival of their relationship seems a bit forced, and Maisie's discovery of her mother is swamped by the many other elements jostling for attention. The monstrous locusts work as an immediate threat, but not a world-ending catastrophe. Surely even a company as powerful as Biosyn would be investigated if their crops were the only ones not being threatened by this sudden and impossible strain of genetically-engineered insects?

The fight between the Giganotosaurus and T. rex is presented as being a climactic moments, but neither has had much impact on the film by that point, and so feels unearned. While there's something more to it if you know that this is the same T.rex Grant, Satler and Malcolm faced in the original film, nothing is made of this in the film itself. In the end, I was cheering more for the poor, blind, herbivorous Therizinosaurus than either apex predator, but the final fight fell flat. The similar battle between T.rex, Indominus rex and the Mosasaurus, that this was clearly meant to evoke, worked far better, even if it was more far-fetched (even the utterly mismatched Spinosaurus vs. T.rex fight in JPIII was better).

There are some huge logistical problems with the set-up, of course. Supposedly, all these dinosaurs are roaming loose after they escaped from the house at the end of Fallen Kingdom – really, all of them? Even the Brontosaurus that clearly couldn't have fit in there? Even the Mosasaurus that lives in the bloody sea? Dr. Wu's redemption is nice, but far too easy, with the final end of the film feeling anticlimactic.

In spite of those hard-to-swallow pieces, this was a cracking dinosaur movie. Anything that presents a dinosaur black market, complete with dinosaur smugglers and trained raptor attack dogs, in the bowels of the Maltese capital, with a truly gorgeous, beaten-up old Carnotaurus as the main attraction, is a winner in my book.


Thursday, 16 June 2022

WHO REVIEW: Wink (Out of Time 3)




The third, and officially final, release in Big Finish's Out of Time series (although I'd be astonished if Tennant doesn't return with McCoy, McGann or Even Eccleston in the future), is "Wink," a clever response to the 2007 classic "Blink" and subsequent stories featuring the Weeping Angels.

Having faced the Daleks with his fourth incarnation and the Cybermen with his fifth, you might expect that the Tenth Doctor would face another classic Who monster alongside his sixth self. However BF instead pit them against the Angels, further  cementing their status as the top monster created for the revived series. It's not the first time BF have used the Angels, and they still seem a difficult and strange choice for audio.  Lisa McMullin's "Wink," though, utilises them in a genuinely inventive and effective way. 

The story sees both Doctors arrive on Lucidus Silvara, a planet that is bathed in all-encompassing white light that blots out everything else, rendering anyone who arrives there essentially blind. The colonists on the planet have therefore developed into a civilisation that doesn't even have a concept of sight. McMullin puts real thought into how such a society might function, including a fascinating art gallery based entirely on immersive soundscapes. The people's use of a vague, undefined sense called "intuit" is a bit of a handwave though. Props, though, for crafting a script in which the dialogue is as natural as it is here, without any of the "point and describe" style that Big Finish so often falls victim to.

Such a place would seem like a perfect hinting ground for the Angels, but it's more complex than that, and the beings are fleshed out in some interesting ways. The Angels have been drastically overpowered in return appearances, but "Wink" makes some of the these abilities a strength, notably including their use of a dead victim's voice in a far more dynamic and effective fashion than originally managed in "Flesh and Stone." We're also given a fascinating insight into the Angel's reproduction, a cleverly high-concept development from their previously seen abilities. 

Putting the Sixth and Tenth Doctors together was bound to result in something of a stand-off. Pitting the Sixth Doctor against the only incarnation who's more full of himself than he is could have been explosive, but Six behaves with remarkable restraint. Baker gives a strong performance, while Tennant occasionally veers into the self-parody he was guilty of in his alter episodes. It does lead to some fun sniping between the two incarnations, who are more similar than they might like to admit. 

Together with fine support from Joanna van Kampen and Ayesha Antoine as one-off companions Estra and Padilla, and Clive Hayward as the Angel Dax, "Wink" works very well and is ultimately the strongest of the Out of Time line. 

Placement: The Tenth Doctor appears to be on his runaway side-trip between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, but isn't spouting on about Time Lord Victorious stuff so probably nearer the latter. For the Sixth Doctor, more uncertain, although Ten gives him the idea of dressing in blue so before he first does so in Real Time. Given that he's travelling alone, perhaps just before he meets Evelyn in The Marian Conspiracy.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022