Monday, 31 October 2011

REVIEW: Misfits 3.1

Fantastic! While I may have a job that precludes any chance of taking in a party, and had to watch shop during the Brighton Zombie Walk for yet another year, this Hallowe'en still promises to be a good'un. I'm off to see Ghostbusters on the big screen for the first time tonight, but until then I've kept myself busy with some spooky classics (Poltergeist, H.P. Lovecraft short fiction and plenty of episodes of Trap Door) and the first in a new series of Misfits.

It's got a tough job this third run, with Robert Sheehan moving on to bigger and better paid things. Nathan, everyone's favourite foul-mouthed superhuman, is now gone, although fans can catch up with his exploits in Vegas in a special online short. It's a shame we couldn't have him back for a full farewell episode, but never mind. Replacing Nathan was never going to be easy, but creator and lead writer Howard Overman just about manages it with the new dropout Rudy. In some ways, he does come across as a Nathan stand-in: he's smutty, sex-obssessed, completely self-absorbed and the prime source of comedy in the show. Still, he's different enough to show promise as a successful character in his own right, with a vulnerability that Nathan rarely showed, something that could make him more likeable in the long run.

Two things make Rudy work. First is Joseph Gilgun's performance, at once swaggeringly offensive and surprisingly sympathetic. The other is the nature of his power, which sees him split into two individuals, representing the light and dark sides of his personality. Rather than going down the obvious 'evil twin' route, instead this gives us a larger-than-life version of Rudy with a positive attitude, and a depressive, restrained version who is both more sensitive and more given to self-loathing and self-pity. Combined with Rudy's past with Alisha, this promises some very interesting character exploration, with plenty of pussy gags thrown in for good measure.

Rudy's entrance pushes the remaining cast member into the background quite drastically, but that's a necessary sacrifice for a successful introduction. We've plenty of time to see how they're developing into their new powers. These mostly have potential - Simon has limited precognition, Alisha can step into other people's shoes, and Curtis can change sex - all of which could provide strong storylines and tell us something new about their characters. Kelly, on the other hand, gets a joke power: she's a rocket scientist, blessed with superior intelligence - but only for designing rockets. Still, with the mysterious power trading superhuman Seth set up to be a major recurring character, I wouldn't bet on any of these powers to stay the length of the series.

As a whole, the episode is pretty solid, although nothing special. The humour and dialogue doesn't seem as strong or fluid as before, but should improve as the new group dynamic develops. The freak-of-the-week is pretty good, a psychotic blonde with the ability to stall time, although she's dealt with pretty perfunctorily. The corpses continue to pile up, and surely that's got to start having some consequences soon. Hiding the murder of their probation officer was the main thrust of the first series' ongoing story; nowadays, the gang seem free to off as many people as they need to keep their lives conveniently mutant-free. It's important for the show to hold onto some semblance of reality; the whole thing could come crashing down if it descends too far into comicbook fantasy territory. On the basis of this episode, though, the future looks fucking brilliant.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The song is ending, but the story goes on

A couple of things have come to an end lately, through necessity or choice. The Whoniverse has got a little smaller. Sadly, The Sarah Jane Adventures have finally reached their end. Of course, there is very little that could have been done about this. It is fortunate for fans of the character and the series that the first half of the proposed fifth season was filmed at the end of the fourth. Plans for further episodes were halted by Elisabeth Sladen's tragic death. I understand that there may have been talk of continuing the series in an amended format, although this is probably just the work of the Internet rumour mill. Perhaps Katy Manning could take over - The Jo Jones Adventures? Perhaps the 'kids' could continue, carrying the series on their own. Perhaps there might be a way, but it could never be a true continuation. The show belong to Sladen, and it's right that it ended with her. I hope that perhaps one or more of her sidekicks might turn up on Doctor Who one day, but otherwise, it's quite right that the series has ended.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Panic Moon

Just a quick post to say that the new issue of Panic Moon is out. It's a great little fanzine, printed at A6 size so that it's super-convenient to slip in your pocket to read on the way to work. Panic Moon is created by Oliver Wake, and includes articles and reviews by a whole lot of Doctor Who fans - including a couple by me. There's a good mix of views inside, on both the latest episodes and the original series, and there's some gorgeous artwork.

It's super cheap too - £1.20 in the UK including postage. If you fancy a copy - and I heartily recommend it - you can order one here.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Who Review: Tsar Wars by Paul Magrs

Tsar Wars is the first instalment in Serpent Crest, the third series of BBC/Tom Baker/Paul Magrs audio Doctor Who. The first run, Hornets' Nest, went for an unusual style, somewhere between a narrated audiobook and a Big Finish-styled audio drama. It was an approach that took some getting used to, but was ultimately successful, primarily because Magrs's lyrical prose so suits Baker's distinctive voice and eccentric performance. Demon Quest followed a similar route, but Tsar Wars takes a more traditional tack and opts for a full-cast audio play. It makes for an easier listening experience, but does rob the story of much of the uniqueness of previous episodes.

Fortunately, Magrs's trademark whimsy is still present and correct. The story is based on a series of dreadful puns - the Tsar Wars are fought by the Robotov Empire, a galactic imperium ruled by androids who have overthrown their human masters. It's more of a standard sci-fi setting than the walking, stuffed badgers of Hornets' Nest, but it's early days - there's plenty of time for further absurdity in later instalments. Really, the pseudo-Tsarist trappings are an excuse for Tom Baker, and guest star Michael Jayston, to essentially reprise their roles from Nicholas and Alexandra. While Jayston - already a major figure in Who, thanks to his role as the Valeyard - plays the Robotov Tsar, Baker plays not only the Doctor but also Father Gregory, basically space Rasputin. To me, Baker's return to the role of the Doctor has previously sounded more like a channelling of his own eccentric self. A peculiar old man living in a Sussex cottage who used to play an alien Time Lord, and now returning to be play a peculiar old man living in a Sussex cottage who happens to be an alien Time Lord. Here, he sounds somewhat more like the Doctor, but still an older, more avuncular, less abrasive version (not unlike Peter Davison more seasoned performances in his audio plays). He's completely different as Father Gregory, the only human trusted by the Robotov aristocracy, hamming it up magnificently and evidently having a wonderful time.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

'The Silent Stars Go By' and the future of Doctor Who novels

There's been a marked improvement in the range of Doctor Who novels of late. I'm not alone in missing the ongoing range of adventures for the eighth Doctor, and the 'past Doctor' adventures that were released along side it, which were released by the BBC in the years before the return of the show to TV. This was itself the continuation of a tradition started by Virgin, which published New and Missing Adventures in the 1990s. There were clunkers, yes, but overall, we were treated to a collection of complex, well-written, full-length prose adventures for Doctors one through eight, many of which really pushed the envelope of what Doctor Who could be. The more recent releases, featuring Doctors nine, ten and eleven, have been shorter, more simplistic, and often rather generic. There have been a few excellent examples, and the range in, undeniably, a huge success, yet I'm pleased that the BBC has begun to allow a little experimentation and development again.

Firstly, the regular range has improved of late. I began to regularly buy the novels again once the eleventh Doctor arrived, in order to review them for The History of the Doctor. The fact that they could be bought super-cheap from Sainsbury's didn't hurt. And, although they've been good fun, with some fine examples of the style, they've mostly stuck to the lightweight formula. The last batch of three, however, was a great improvement. Naomi Alderman's Borrowed Time, George Mann's Paradox Lost and Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris make for the best batch in a long time. Add to these the superb and suprisingly mature Dead of Winter, James Goss's novel from the previous lot, and there are clear signs of improvement.

Most encouraging of all, however, is the introduction of sporadicly released novels in a larger, longer format. First was The Coming of the Terraphiles, by the legendary Michael Moorcock. Some dislike the fact that this is a typical Moorcock novel that happens to feature the Doctor, but I loved it, and now want to read more from an author about whom I'd heard good things but not previously tried. The Silent Stars Go By, the new novel by Dan Abnett, doesn't quite live up to the expectations due to it's predecessor, but it's a grand read. Essentially a Christmas special, albeit one not actually featuring Christmas, it draws the reader into a world of devestating cold with great skill. I put it aside for a few days - it arrived on my doormat on October 1st, during a week in which Britain was experiencing unseasonably warm weather - and picked it up once the temperaturees began to drop on Earth, as well as Hereafter. Abnett perfectly nails the regular trio of Amy, Rory and the Doctor, and his Ice Warriors are a joy, all raw power and aggression. Aside from the somewhat increased length, there's not much to distinguish it from the main range; but, considering how good this has lately become, this isn't actually a bad thing.

Dan Abnett isn't such a draw to a non-fan audience as Moorcock, but he is the tie-in king, hugley popular with fans of Warhammer novels and having been involved in numerous other shared universes. He even wrote for the nineties Ghostbusters comic, which is very cool. Nonetheless, I'm more enthused with some of the names announced for the future. Shada, the abandoned script from 1980, is due to be novelised by Gareth Roberts, whose recent work on the TV series (he wrote The Lodger and its sequel) has been Doctor Who comedy at its best. While this is a project and an author more likely to appeal to established fans such as me, the adaptation of a Douglas Adams script should turn a few heads. Better still is the announcement that both Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter are to write full-length Who novels. Reynolds and Baxter are two of the most talented, highly regarded hard sci-fi authors writing today, and the prospect of Doctor Who written with their skill and style is very exciting. I just hope Baxter doesn't have to pull out, as he did with his Big Finish script. It also means that, after seven years, we'll finally be getting new novels for old Doctors, with Roberts taking on the fourth, Reynolds the thrid and Baxter the second. This, and the direction of the main range lately, give me hope that Doctor Who novels could be entering a new age of quality, sci-fi adventure.

Monday, 3 October 2011


I'm not going to do a full review for The Wedding of River Song - to be honest, I'm so ambivalent about the finale that I don't know where to start. Tremendous fun yet disappointingly predictable in many ways, the ending was a dreadful cop-out. Yet the build-up was a joy, with some truly memorable scenes. I suspect it'll be more enjoyable on later rewatches, without the overbearing expectation and hype. As a single adventure, it delivered. As the culmination of two years of ongoing mystery, not so much.

Nonetheless, the slate has been, if not wiped clean, then giving a good scrub. With the Doctor pretending to be dead - not that it can really matter much to his enemies, when any of his earlier selves could pop up at any point in history - perhaps we'll get a more mysterious, less overt sort of Doctor hiding his interventions, like in the early days. I hesitate to make predictions, but the rallying cry of "Doctor who?" (guessed that was the question a while ago), along with "the Fall of the Eleventh," plus the upcoming fiftieth anniversary, suggests to me that in 2013, a mystery concerning the Doctor's origins will be revealed, and a regeneration will occur. I may well be wrong, but it seems plausible to me. Matt Smith is explicitly signed up for the anniversary, but there's no word on his carrying on any further...