Tuesday 30 September 2014


Well, I've been watching lots and lots of Spider-Man lately. I'm on a bit of a Spidey-thon. Arachnophilia. There have been more than a couple of screen Spider-Men over the years, and with Marvel gearing up for the mighty Spider-Verse event, it seemed apropos to catch up on them all. They all have an official reality numerical designation, you know. So, here we are, a quick overview and opinion of all the Spider-Man series ever to show up on television. Unless I've missed one.

Spider-Man (1967-70)

The very first Spider-Man series was an animation, its imagery based on the classic Ditko/Romita comics. While it it lasted for three seasons, it's not great. Focusing on Peter Parker's work at the Daily Bugle to the detriment of any other aspects of his personal life, it sees Betty Brant as his main love interest, although not much is made of this. He mostly divides his time between getting pictures of himself in costume and clearing his name as various villains scheme to set him up as a criminal. Pretty much every first season episode sees J. Jonah Jameson running a story outing Spider-Man as a thief, before having to retract it at the end. The voices are strange; Paul Soles provides Parker's voice, nasally and higher-pitched, before putting on a deep, “heroic” voice for Spider-Man's scenes. It's almost like an Adam West Spider-Man, which doesn't work at all. On the other hand, Paul Kligman is absolutely spot-on perfect as Jameson. He's probably the best screen Jonah until J.K. Simmons in the 2000 movies.

The villains are pretty flimsy. While the first season brought in various foes from the comics, they were shabby, dumbed down version. Norman Osborn is a magic-obsessed prat, which admittedly explains his tendency to dress as a goblin. The Lizard is a scheming freak who accidentally transformed himself while testing a swamp fever innoculation. Quite often, these episodes were interspersed with more generic stories, with Spidey fighting ice-men from Pluto and other such oddities. In the second and third season, almost every episode involved a faceless space monster or magical foe, often utilising recycled footage from Rocket Robin Hood, a short-lived crappy cartoon series from the same studio. Not the best example of a Spidey cartoon, but it's good fun and it did give us the classic theme tune. Altogether: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...

Spidey Super Stories (1974-77)

Argh, this is so sweet! Spidey Super Stories are tiny little adventure skits aired as part of The Electric Company. They're distinctly limited, with Spider-Man played mute by a dancer, only communicating in speech bubbles. We never see him out of costume or doing anything much other than fighting villains created for the show, like the Tickler, the Spoiler and Dr. Fly. It's cheap, bares only the slimmest resemblance to the comics and is very much for young children, but god it's got charm. The Super Stories were narrated by some pretty excellent talent, not least a young Morgan Freeman, who played various small roles in the show as well. Everything is better with Morgan Freeman narrating. He even got to play Dracula. The show was followed by a comicbook version by Marvel, which introduced various Marvel characters to younger readers. They also included an evil anti-Spider-Man called Web-Man. Awesome stuff.

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-79)

The first proper live-action Spidey production, this began with the made-for-TV 1977 movie titled simply Spider-Man, which was released theatrically across the world, becoming the first Spider-Man movie. This was well-received enough to spawn a full series, although only a further twelve episodes were made. It was only really a TV phenomenon in the States; overseas it was mostly retooled as theatrical movies, with the two-parter “The Deadly Dust” released as Spider-Man Strikes Back and the final feature-length episode “The Chinese Web” released in 1980 as Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge. Videos of these used to knock around a lot when I was a kid.

Nicholas Hammond is pretty good as Peter Parker, even if he is the wettest version of the character ever (and that includes Toby Maguire). The rest of the cast are generally fine, although I'm not enamoured with either of the Jamesons. David White is really, completely wrong, and though they replaced him for the main series, Robert Simon is still not right for the part. They're just not nasty enough. Jameson needs to be a complete angry bastard. Michael Pataki is amazing as Cpatain Bambera, the major police character. Trying to make a Spider-Man series on a 70s TV budget was probably a bit much to ask, and the stunts are a bit ropey. Still, sometimes they really pull it off, and it's generally entertaining; more so in the series than the pilot, actually, which spends too long setting up Spider-Man's origins. There's a serious lack of strong villains though, with the pilot involving a hypnotic guru. There are some mind-control gasses and an evil Spidey-clone though. A bit like Spidey Super Stories.

Spider-Man (1978-79 Toei series)

Now, this is insane. Marvel sold the rights to a Japanese company called Toei in return to rights for some of their properties, and so they made a tokusatsu series. Which, for the westerners among us, is the Power Rangers school of television. So instead of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, Takuya Yamashiro is given powers by an alien called Garia, from the Planet Spider, in order to fight the villainous Professor Monster. He also gives him a spaceship called the Marveller. Oh, and this spaceship turns into a giant robot called Leopardon. Apart from the outfit and a couple of powers, Supaida-Man has barely any resemblance to the Spider-Man we know. It's as entertaining as these kinds of shows ever are, though, so if you want some mindless fun, you could do worse. Marvel liked it enough that they made it available on their website at one point, and Takuya is even expected to turn up in the upcoming Spider-Verse comic series. Things we learned from this series: the Japanese term for web-slinger is apparently “Spider-String.”

Spider-Woman (1979-80)

I'm fond of Spider-Woman, even though she was invented to retain copyright over the “Spider” trademark. This is one of the cheapie cartoon series that used to clutter up the airwaves on Saturday mornings, with the expected recycled frames and poor animation grade. Still, it's pretty good fun if you're not expecting anything special. I'm including it here because Spider-Man does make a couple of guest appearances, including in the first episode. Jessica Drew is a fine character, and really is one better than Peter Parker in most respects. She edits her own magazine instead of just taking pictures, has all of Spider-Man's essential powers plus flight and electrical “venom blasts” as well, and she does that cool spinny thing that Wonder Woman does. She battles robot mummies from space (a couple of years after Pyramids of Mars, but surely coincidental), Amazon warrior women and barely recognisable versions of established Marvel villains. Shame about her sexist sidekick and the racist bits, but it was the seventies.

Spider-Man (1981-82)

One of two Spidey cartoons that aired on separate networks in the 80s. Although officially separate, there was some crossover between the two. It wasn't as popular as stablemate Amazing Friends but is actually rather better. Pretty decent animation and a faithful look for the characters, although Parker's a bit of a prettyboy. There are plenty of villains from the comics, both from Spidey's rogues gallery and the Marvel universe beyond. For this series, Dr Doom was cribbed from the Fantastic Four to be the main recurring villain bent on world domination. It's basically a sequel to the 60s series, with Betty Brant as the main romantic interest again and another brilliant Jameson with the voice of William Woodson. What is it about Jonah that makes him the standout character in most series? Aunt May is a bit mindless, though. Neil Cross makes for a great Green Goblin, and returned for the 90s series. Definitely one of the better animated versions of Spider-Man. It was released on DVD as Spider-Man 5000, for some reason.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-83)

Well, this is cute. Peter Parker, Bobby Drake and Angelica Jones are the Spider Friends, three teenagers who have superpowers. Aunt May is, naturally, oblivious. The original plan to have the Fantastic Four's Human Torch in the gang fell through due to rights issues, so Spider-Man and Ice Man are joined by Firestar, a fire-throwing mutant, who was created for this series but became popular enough to appear in the comics. Together, the three of them battle various villains and low-level threats. The set-ups for the stories are weirdly askew. In one, the three of them go to a superhero fancy dress party. As fun as it is to see Firestar cosplay as Spider-Woman and Ice Man as Captain America, Spider-Man is lazy enough to dress as himself. The Green Goblin attacks, wanting to turn everyone in the city into goblins (in this version, Norman Osborn is a reasonable guy but transforms into the Goblin, rather like the Lizard). Even more baffling is the episode in which the Chameleon invites the Spider Friends to a party, along with Captain America, Doctor Strange, Shanna the She-Devil and a particularly stupid version of the Sub-Mariner, and then proceeds to bump them off in ridiculous ways. Fortunately, Miss Lion, Aunt May's dog, can smell through his disguises. Is there any greater cartoon sin than the cute, funny dog? Still, Frank Welker's in it, and that's always a plus.

If you're looking for The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider-Man (or the reverse), that was this show repackaged with episodes of the Hulk animated series of the same time. The Marvel Action Universe was the repackaged bundle of various cartoon shows, including both 80s Spidey series, The Incredible Hulk, The New Fantastic Four, Pryde of the X-Men and non-Marvel titles like Robocop and Dungeons & Dragons.

Spider-Man (1994-98)

The best of all the series, still unbettered. This was a Marvel in-house project that followed the success of Saban's X-Men series, although having two different studios owning the rights didn't stop the two shows crossing over. Indeed, almost every major Marvel hero of the nineties turned up at some point. Much better than X-Men, or the Marvel Action Hour cartoons that followed it, it stands up well today. It's pretty breathless, charging through plots in order to fit its brief runtime, but packs the emotional beats of Peter Parker's story in well, something other series didn't always manage. Most of the best-remembered storylines from the comics were adapted, with tweaks – for example, Mary-Jane taking on some of Gwen Stacy's storylines. However, it was hobbled somewhat by network execs vetoing elements that were considered too violent or upsetting for kids. So, in spite of its relatively mature writing, it was bowdlerised. Gunshots never connected and no blood was allowed. Even Morbius, the Living Vampire, had to cry for “Plasma!” and sucked it out through suckers on his hands, because fangs were too nasty (actually pretty cool, albeit baffling). Even the word “sinister” was considered to much for the little ones, so the Sinister Six became the Insidious Six. This despite X-Men having a villain called Mr. Sinister.

Each season from the second had an overarching title and a running story arc. The best was undoubtedly the second series, “Neogenic Nightmare,” which dealt with Parker's genetic mutation as a result of his spider bite. Beginning with the Kingpin recruiting the Insidious Six while Spider-Man's powers are in flux, it sees him seek help from the X-Men, who have their own trouble from a villain voiced by David Warner (the sign of a successful cartoon in my opinion). Spider-Man goes on to battle the Punisher, the Vulture and Morbius, the Living Vampire, and sees him mutate into the hideous Man-Spider. This made an impression on me as a kid. It ended with a reality hopping extravaganza that brought Spidey together with his various alter egos to stop his dark self, Spider-Carnage. All this, and a theme tune by Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Whenever I read a Spider-Man comic, it's Christopher Barnes's voice I hear as Parker.

Spider-Man Unlimited (1999/2001)

The 90s series was successful enough to get a spin-off, and deeply weird it was. Fair enough going in a new direction, but this was peculiar, taking place on the mysterious Counter-Earth on the opposite side of the sun. Spider-Man hitches a ride on a spaceship to stop a powered-up Venom and Carnage, and ends up on a world ruled by the gene-splicing High Evolutionary and his mutant animal knights, the “Beastials.” He gets himself a new costume and meets various alternative versions of characters, including a heroic Green Goblin and a version of Electro who's an actual electric eel. So, yeah, weird. It didn't last beyond one season. Original pitches including a world in which Uncle Ben never died and Peter became Venom sound more interesting than what we actually got, but fiddly rights issues with Sony and objections from Marvel put paid to that. It's pretty much standard sci-fi cartoon fare with Spider-Man grafted on, although I do like his hi-tec costume (except the web cape, that's naff).

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)

AKA “MTV Spider-Man.” I'm afraid I never made it to the end of episode one. Ostensibly a follow-up to the first of the Sam Raimi movies, this is an absolute mess. With awful CG animation that looked dated even on broadcast (seriously, Reboot looked better than this) and witless dialogue, this is poor. Neil Patrick Harris voiced Spider-Man though, which is pretty cool. Pity they couldn't have given him some better material.

The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-09)

Finally a worthy successor to the 90s Spider-Man, this series ran only for two seasons due to rights issues between Sony and Marvel. It's a real shame – this is genuinely good stuff. While the artwork is unusually simplified and cutesy for a Spidey cartoon, it's effective and works well with the fast-paced, action-packed stories. The series takes many of the classic stories and characters from the comics as inspiration, but streamlines it all, with some characters being combined to simplify things. We actually get to see Peter at college for most of the series, grounding the character again. This really is excellent stuff, properly entertaining and with a lot of heart. One oddity is that, due to more rights issues, the Kingpin couldn't feature, so his place was taken by Tombstone. Spidey spends much of his time battling the various crime syndicates in the city, with Norman Osborn tasked by Tombstone to create superpowered foes to keep him distracted from the real crime. It's a clever approach. Also, Mysterio is hilariously camp, and it has the angriest, shoutiest Jameson ever. The theme tune by The Tender Box is incredibly catchy. Sadly, due to the cancellation, we never got to see Peter finally get together with Gwen Stacy, leaving us hanging. I may never forgive this.

Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-present)

The current Spider-Man series, and really not bad. This takes Spidey's wisecracking to its logical limit, breaking the narrative for comical asides every two minutes, which is either funny or irritating, depending on your taste. Unencumbered by the same restrictions as the movies, the Marvel Animation studio can cross over to other series as much as they like. So this sees Spidey join the Avengers as part of a new team of young heroes, along with Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist and Power Man. All of whom live and school with Peter, with Aunt May seemingly oblivious to the proliferation of superhumans living right under her nose. In fact, May is barely recognisable, having reached the end point of her gradual evolution from doddery old mare to ass-kicking middle-aged raver.

With Brian Bendis in creative control, this mixes his Ultimate Spider-Man comics line with various elements from the mainstream comics and the movie franchises. The series features heroes and villains from throughout the Marvel universe, and crosses over with sister series The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (which is very good) and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH (which is dreadful). There are some great voice stars too, including J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Clark Gregg voicing Agent Coulson. It's good fun, and even features the Guardians of the Galaxy in a couple of episodes. My mate Rob “the Riddler” Riddle calls it “not bad, for a 'modern' cartoon,” which is pretty high praise from him. It's just been relaunched with the subtitle Web Warriors, which will see multiple Spider-Men come together, including Donald Glover voicing Miles Morales.

Fun fact: Christopher Barnes, the voice of Spider-Man in the 90s series, voices Electro in this series, and is back to play the alt-Spidey Spyder Knight.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes: Maximum Overload (2013)

This is just great. It's only twenty-two minutes long, and it's a blatant attempt to sell a video game, but it's just so funny. “My Spider-Angst is tingling!” It's a brilliant pastiche of the current Marvel films, only with added Spider-Man. Doctor Octopus looks genuinely good in Lego, the Mandarin gets the funniest lines and there are kebabs. And J.K. Simmons, once again, as J. Jonah Jameson. Short but wonderful.

News from the Whoniverse

Firstly, some sad news. Maggie Stables has passed away after a period of illness. Doctor Who fans may know her as the voice of companion Evelyn Smythe in the Big Finish audio series. In addition to other roles for the company, including the revolting Ruthlie in their first Doctor Who release, The Sirens of Time. She first appeared as Evelyn in the story The Marian Conspiracy, opposite Colin Baker, and continued as the companion of the sixth Doctor for many adventures, including the BBCi webcast Real Time. She was an excellent actress, but I shall leave it to others more eloquent than I to pay tribute.

DWW tribute to Maggie  Doc Oho article: Why I love Evelyn

In rather happier news, there are some new projects from the worlds of DW fandom. Perhaps most exciting is a brand new short story anthology from Declan May: Seasons of War. With contributions from such notable authors as Paul Magrs, Jenny Colgan, Lance Parkin, Kate Orman and many more from Doctor Who prose fame, plus new authors, Seasons of War will chart the events of the War Doctor's life. It is being published in memory of Paul Spraggs who died earlier this year, in order to raise money for www.caudwellchildren.com. A full press release can be found here.

The talented chaps at www.ministerofchance.com have begun a Kickstarter fundraiser to finance the production of a full-length Minister of Chance film. A prologue has already been produced, but funds are needed to create the full movie. The plan is to create the film in four chapters, each to be made available to backers upon completion. Starring such talents as Julian Wadham, Lauren Crace, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and Jenny Agutter, The Minister of Chance promises to be a phenomenal piece of work - providing it secures funding.

Finally, Obverse Books' have no released Iris Wildthyme of Mars, featuring several wonderful authors, and me. It is available in hardback at £14.95 and ebook for £6.99. I'm an orfer!

Pinched from Tumblr

Tuesday 23 September 2014

It's what you do with it that counts

Dirk Loechel has finished his ultimate update to his gigantic starship comparison chart (that's a gigantic chart of gigantic starships). He's not the only person to produce these charts, but his are the best and most exhaustive. This is massive, so click on the image to be taken to DeviantArt where you can see a larger image and download the full-sized one. As Dirk states in his FEQ, things like the Death Star, V'Ger and other super-enormous structures are just too large for this chart, without losing everything else due to resolution limits. The TARDIS is on there, but it is both far too small to see at this scale, and infinitely large so impossible to resolve on the screen.

Monday 22 September 2014

WHO REVIEW: 8-5) Time Heist

The great strength of contemporary Doctor Who is its variety. If you don't like one episode, then there's no need to worry, because next week it'll be something completely different. Each episode riffs on a recognisable genre, be it steampunk, sci-fi adventure, historical humour or existential horror. This week, it was the turn of the hustle and heist. It's a straightforward enough idea: take four unlikely characters with their own strengths, stick them with an underhand mission and follow the twists and turns. It's a popular style, and there are any number of movies and TV series trying it. Doctor Who's gift is to mesh its genre-of-the-week with its own blend of science fiction, fantasy and horror to create something new. At it's best, it creates something truly unique. Sometimes it's a crashing failure. More often than not, it's a qualified success, greatness tantalisingly just out of its grasp. So it is with Time Heist.

The risk with any kind of genre lift is falling foul of the clichés. When you knock two genres together, there are twice as many clichés to avoid. The heist is a plot-heavy story type; forty-five minutes does not leave much room for exploration and originality once each set piece has been resolved. Time Heist is populated by the thinnest of characters, none but the Doctor really getting any but the most perfunctory of characterisation. It is perhaps for the best that the Doctor is front and centre here, one again the leading man in his own show after several episodes in which he was, to a greater or lesser degree, sidelined. There's less focus on the effect the Doctor has on others here – although that is still present – and more on the man himself. Nonetheless, even the Doctor's characterisation is fairly shallow here. There's his “professional detachment,” an excellent choice of phrase there, along with his arrogance, his controlling attitude, and his barely submerged self-loathing. This is all something worthy of far greater exploration, but there just isn't time for it in a single episode story.

Thankfully, Peter Capaldi is more than capable of filling in the gaps here. He can give the shallowest of material depth. Even the necessary expositional scenes, little more than the Doctor standing around explaining things, are a triumph when Capaldi lets rip. The darkness we've been promised is there, an intensity in his gaze that imbues even the flimsiest scene with fire. This Doctor is cold, but it's a shell. He has emotions, but he puts them aside for the mission. Soldiering on, not looking back until the job is done. “He's not really like that,” says Clara, and while there's a sense that the line is there to reassure the viewers still reeling from the loss of cuddly Matt Smith and charming David Tennant, there's a truth to it. The occasional moment, when his awkwardness becomes apparent, or that huge grin breaks through, reminds us that our Doctor is still there underneath.

With the Doctor at the forefront though, it is Clara who is pushed to the sidelines, and with such a paper-thin character to begin with, she can't survive it. Jenna Coleman does what she can with the material, but there's so little of it to go round. Unlike the other two comrades we find ourselves with, Clara seems to have no purpose on this mission. She's just there because she's the companion, so she has to come along. There's no sense that the Doctor actually required her on this mission, save for the desire to risk her life in a huge display of showing off. Perhaps they should have gone to Brighton after all. I might've bumped into them there.

The other two bank robbers, Psi and Saibra, are somewhat better, given the opportunity to at least express reasons for being involved. Unfortunately, it's here that the episode first slips into cliché. A cyborg who can interface with the computer systems and a shapeshifting mutant who's practically dropped out on an X-Men comic (really, she's one part Mystique to two parts Rogue). They're the most likely characters we'd expect to see in a sci-fi bank robbery, save perhaps for some nutter with a blaster gun, and this being Doctor Who, weaponry is kept to a minimum. Thankfully, both Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner are both capable of holding a scene and give the characters life beyond their two-dimensional concepts. They're likeable enough that it would actually be a pleasure to see them again in the series. Given Psi's exchange with the Doctor towards the end, I feel we might.

Ms, Delphox and her progenitor, Madame Karabraxos, are equally thinly sketched, but somehow it matters less when we're talking about the villains. Staggering greed and sociopathy are precisely what this story needs in its antagonists. Keeley Hawes does a beautiful job in bringing both characters to life. They are naturally similar, but distinct, Ms. Delphox's confident demeanour nothing but a mask compared to Karabraxos's calm self-assurance. Even there, though, the cracks begin to appear when the Doctor faces her down. Under normal circumstances, we'd expect the Doctor to bring Karabraxos's world crashing down around her. This time, however, he is constrained by causality. Her bank may be destroyed, but Karabraxos lives a long life, only to find some sort of redemption at the end of her days, and the Doctor must let it all pass so that the correct chain of events can play out.

We've seen cyborg, shapeshifters and the monstrous corruption of wealth many times, but Time Heist does have some new material. The Teller is a truly exceptional creation, an intriguing concept brought to life by an effects team at the top of their game. While the idea of a psychic protecting a corporate establishment isn't original, in the normal run of things we'd expect some ethereal being or a bald-headed mystic. Something serene, standing, or more likely hovering, apart from the grubby humans around it. Here, though, we get the complete opposite. A leathery-skinned beast howling with anger and pain, its huge body bound in disturbingly Guantanamo Bay-like orange overalls, the Teller is far from the usual sci-fi telepath. The use of a combination of animatronics and costuming is a wise decision, giving the creature a powerful physicality that a CG rendering would lack. The blinking eyes on the end of its slug-like antennae seem alive but alien. It's an excellent addition to the parade of Doctor Who monsters.

Time Heist combines these elements to create an enjoyable romp with a darker edge, but it is somewhat lacking in impact. Perhaps this is down to the sheer predictability of its story. While a little predictability is fine, even entertaining, as the viewer can enjoy spotting what's coming up, the various twists of Time Heist were all so readily signposted that they failed to make any kind of impression. The Doctor reacts with surprise when he realises that “this isn't just a bank heist – it's a time-travel heist!” Yet this is, in the grand tradition of Doctor Who serials of old, given away in the title. The identity of the Architect as the Doctor himself is so obvious that the surprise reveal is nothing of the sort, while the shredders, supposedly deadly disintegration devices, are given a visual effect so reminiscent of a thousand teleporters over the years that this too is no surprise. The only element that may come as a surprise to attentive viewers is the identity of Karabraxos, but even then, Ms. Delphox's comment that her “face fits” hints so heavily at her nature that this was at least guessable.

Perhaps this is missing the point, though. Obvious though the twists are, they keep things moving through the forty-five minutes of airtime and prevent the story from being just a runaround in some corridors. With all the cast giving it their all, even unsurprising revelations have resonance and make for diverting entertainment. All in all, while the ingredients of this story may largely be obvious and old-hat, the recipe as a whole is an enjoyable one. Time Heist is entertaining mid-season Doctor Who, enlivened by some fine performances, particularly from our leading man, who is making his mark as a truly magnificent Doctor.

Links: The Doctor previously used memory worms to wipe people's recollections in The Snowman.

When Psi is browsing the files for data on criminals, he brings up images of various beings, including  The Trickster and Androvax the Veil from The Sarah Jane Adventures, Captain John from Torchwood, Kahler-Tek the Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy, Abslom Daak from the DWM comic strips, an Ice Warrior, a Slitheen, a Terileptil and, bizarrely, a Sensorite. The idea of a criminal mastermind Sensorite is strangely appealing.

Threads: Nice dark shirt for the Doctor this week. Clara's date outfit is a fun suit-like number, which is handy for looking the part in an off-the-cuff bank heist.

Best Line: "Shut up, everybody. Just shut up! Shut up, shut up, shuttity-up-up-up!"

Saturday 20 September 2014

Capaldi in Space

There are some great little programmes hiding out on BBC Radio 4-Extra. This week I listened to The Further Adventures of the First King of Mars, which actually came out in 2008. It was originally written by Nick Walker to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik 1's orbital mission. I'm not sure of the connection, seeing that Sputnik never went to Mars, but never mind. It was repeated over the week in five fifteen-minute installments. A canny move, seeing that is read by Peter Capaldi, and thus serves as something to keep all the Doctor Who geeks going between episodes.

We all hoped that the twelfth Doctor would be like Malcolm Tucker in space, and while there's a touch of that to the character, it's Capaldi's mission captain here who is really the holder of that mantle. OK, the swearing isn't there, but god, this is an angry, overbearing and utterly disturbed man on a mission to Mars. The first manned mission to the red planet, totally ruined by having this man in command, utterly unsuited to the role and totally out of his depth. Over five short episodes there is a crash-landing, a death and an astonishing discovery that leaves the mission in tatters and the nature of Mars changed forever, all recounted by Capaldi with increasing hysteria. All hinging on his accidental running down of a space centre chimpanzee. It's just wonderfully bizarre, and Capaldi's caustic telling makes it. This should be repeated every year; it's a brilliant piece of cynical, completely British science-fiction. 

Thursday 18 September 2014


Listen. You don't need to worry about this episode removing the mystery from the Doctor. That final sequence, in which we finally, unexpectedly find ourselves in a barn on Gallifrey, under the bed of a crying boy who will one day become the Doctor. Yes, we've learned a little more about the Doctor's life. That's not the erosion of mystery, that's the addition of depth.

Listen. You don't need to know whether or not there was a monster. That's not a loose end, not a vital piece of information that is necessary for your enjoyment. That is mystery. We keep questioning after the episode has ended. Questioning what we have learned about the Doctor, and whether or not he was right to be searching for a being that is perfect at hiding. Is there something hiding under our beds, or has the long voyage through the universe simply compounded the Doctor's innate fear? We'll probably never know, and that's good.

I do not understand the fans who are gnashing their teeth because we never got a confirmation of the existence, or otherwise, of the monster. Leave the viewers questioning; it's oldest trick in the book, and one of the most effective. It's hardly any different to the rightly lauded Midnight, another episode in which the nature of the monster was left completely unexplained. (Hey, for all we know, it's the same creature.) We have more questions this time, of course, but that's what makes it all the more effective.

This is Moffat doing what he does best. Not Moffat by numbers, but Moffat doing his most Moffat-est work. It's hard to credit, at first, why the Doctor would be wondering about being who can hide so perfectly when he has already encountered the Silence, but then, he probably would have forgotten, wouldn't he? Sure, this is Moffat reusing old tricks, but using them to such profound effect that it hardly matters. There's a theme running through this season, concerning the Doctor's decisions and judgment. After all this time, is his judgment failing? Have the age old fears he's been living with all along really taken their toll? Or is there really something hiding in the shadows? Personally, I think the darkness is just getting to the Doctor, but who knows? Moffat loves his misdirection. Perhaps this will be followed up. Or perhaps it really was just some seriously creepy kid hiding under the blankets.

Listen is, for all the fannish quibbles, is the most positively received episode so far this year. It balances the teatime horror of the Doctor's ghost story with Clara and Danny's deeply awkward romance. Moffat uses his experience with sitcoms such as Coupling and Chalk to craft a painful first date. It's a less comfortable meeting of farce and fear than this episode's closest precursor, the superlative Blink. Danny and Clara simply aren't as likeable or believable as Sally and Larry. Clara is strikingly insensitive at times; perhaps hanging around with this new Doctor is rubbing off on her in bad ways. Danny is understandably sensitive about his background, but comes across as brittle. It's hard to see these two lasting.

On the other hand, the remaining sequences are perfectly done. At first, we find ourselves accidentally in Danny's childhood, unexpectedly under a different name and at a children's home. In another example of excellent child casting, Remi Gooding makes a completely convincing younger version of Samuel Anderson, and sells Rupert's uncomfortable night terrors brilliantly. Capaldi is astonishing in this scene. He manages to be both terrifying and reassuring, his stand-out speech to Rupert a highlight of the episode. “Fear is your superpower” is the message for the episode, and the truth about the Doctor's ongoing fight against the monsters. Yet this scene still has time to defuse the tension with a laugh (the Where's Wally​ exchange being funniest moment in the episode), before cranking the tension right back up with the shape under the bed.

So, with Dan the Soldier Man, the Doctor and Clara influence Danny's entire life. They then explore his future, his probably descendant Orson having been flung to the end of time in an atmospheric sequence where the Doctor steps too far. Much like his first self back on Skaro, he potentially endangers his companions for the chance to explore something alien beyond the horizon. Or perhaps it really was just the hull cooling that spooked him and he nearly asphyxiated for nothing.

With Clara influencing the TARDIS through the disturbingly biological-looking telepathic interface is a clever touch, and with the Doctor explicitly removing the safeguards we are allowed to visit areas we normally wouldn't. The Doctor specifically states that they shouldn't go so far into the future, but he never gets to make same comment on the past. Like the Doctor influenced Danny's development, Clara influences the Doctor's. Too far? Perhaps. Doctor Who fans are notoriously precious about their favourite character, but making Clara the most defining element throughout the Doctor's life might be stepping a little far. Yet this is perhaps Clara's strength as a character. Being so generic a companion might give her the potential to become something archetypal. Regardless of where he is taking the character, Moffat has crafted the most beautiful scene between Clara and the young Doctor. She even drops in one of the Doctor's most famous lines, from his very first story. It's a wonderful moment. It's a surprising insight into his childhood. I never envisioned him in any kind of agrarian background, or that he would have to choose between the Time Lord Academy and the Gallifreyan army.

As a cheap episode with barely more than the core cast, Listen relies on the strength of its script, direction and performance. It has the guts to scare children, and to defend itself for this approach. It even makes us question the nature of the Doctor himself. What are the fans so scared of?

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Tenuous @ Best: Rats Leading the Sinking Ship

Some more nonsense from my brother:

Tenuous @ Best: Rats Leading the Sinking Ship: I had been watching a favourite movie film of my childhood, Disney's Basil the Great Mouse Detective. It was a nostalgic indulgence and...

Saturday 13 September 2014

Comics Round-Up September

There's a lot coming out right now, so I've had to drop a few titles. Might pick them back up somewhen along the line. It's still all very Marvel for me, right now. I won't be picking up anymore comics till payday, so that'll be under October's reviews.

The Mighty World of Marvel #3 (Marvel/Panini)

I think I've been seduced by these bumper UK reprints. This is chock-full of Marvel superheroes, with no fewer than eighteen listed on the inside front cover. It's such a busy magazine that I shall review each segment separately.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 This is the first part of the "Angela" storyline, whereby, as a consequence of Neil Gaiman's defection to Marvel and the end of a years long legal battle with Todd McFarlane, a character from Spawn is uncomfortably inserted into Marvel continuity. To be honest, I can't say I am impressed by Angela based on her first appearance here. She looks like a skinny chick in extremely inefficient armour that barely covers her tits and who has serious anger issues. Still, as she has now been retconned as Thor's half-sister and is set to join the Avengers, she's worth keeping an eye on. The rest of the strip is great though. Brian Michael Bendis has a great knack with snarky characters, so it's a treat to see his take on Tony Stark and Rocket Raccoon hanging out. Plus, this is just after Stark and Gamora have been shagging, so everything is super-uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Drax is being seriously unpleasant to the Badoon, Mantis is being mysterious and cheeky, and Quill makes the baffingly ill-thoughout decision to ask Thanos for help regarding the fracturing of reality.

Daredevil #26-27 I haven't read any Daredevil for ages. This includes two stories, both by Waid and Samnee. "Punching Cancer" is a touching little story in which Foggy Nelson learns to deal with his cancer by talking to some kids about his experience with superheroes and drawing up some comics with them. Really lovely. On the other end of the emotional scale, "Devil's Due" is a brutal story which pits Matt Murdock against the now horribly crippled Bullseye. It ends with a truly nasty example of poetic justice, and god, it's grim. I wouldn't like to read stories like this every week, but wow, this is bold stuff. At first, Javier Rodriguez's art seemed too cartoony for the subject matter, but on reflection it works, in a nineties Batman kind of way.

Avengers Arena #3 "Earth Girls Aren't Easy" is a slight story, but one that sets up some great characters for later exploration. It's the tried,. and tired, idea of taking a bunch of heroes and villains and pitting them against each other on Murderworld, only this time, they're mostly untested youngsters. Cammi Benally is a great character; not a mutant, not a cyborg, she's an ordinary human girl with no superpowers who happens to have been abducted by aliens and is fricking awesome and hard as nails. Even X-23 doesn't match her for sheer tough girl charisma. Should be fun to see where this is going.

Wolverine and Deadpool #3 (Marvel/Panini)

In the title for "Marvel's Toughest Heroes," things have finally moved on from the Savage Land for the fun, rather cute intermission that is "Ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!" It's date night for the X-Men, and it's all as inconsequential as that sounds, but it's a welcome breather. I'll be honest, I'm lost now when it comes to all the politics and soap opera in the X-Men titles, so this all took a little getting up to speed. The next installment goes... back to the Savage Land. Still, this is more fun, with Wolverine heading a bunch of misfit X-students on a survival course. Plus points for including a cheat sheet of all the characters, minus points for all those poor dinosaurs who get cut up while minding their own business. Oh, and Wolverine's brother Dog Logan is back. Deadpool, meanwhile, is still fighting dead presidents, even though that story seemed to come to a nice conclusion last month. There are some great moments, but the joke is wearing thin now.

Saga #22 (Image)

I'm running out of things to say about Saga. Even when it's on an off issue, it's well ahead of most titles. and on a good issue like this one... Let's just say the shit hits the fan here. Things have been gearing up for a clash between Marko and Alana, and the fallout from that should be immense. Plus, we get to meet King Robot! Also, Saga is probably the only regular title with a letters page worth reading these days.

Ms Marvel #7 (Marvel)

An intermediate sort of issue, linking the Wolverine/Inventor story to further ongoing events, and beginning to explore Kamala's status as an Inhuman. The greater mythology stuff is less interesting than the details, though, Giving Kamala the teleporting dog Lockjaw as a sidekick is a stroke of genius, perfectly fitting the joyfully silly nature of the strip. At the same time, the story is able to look at more serious issues, such as Kamala's struggle to balance her superhero life with school (shades of Peter Parker there) and commenting on how it's always children who suffer the most when adults go to war. Fun, dotty, but occasionally profound stuff.

Captain Marvel #7 (Marvel)

Still a good, easy superhero read, if a bit lightweight and brief. Captain Marvel is running alongside Guardians of the Galaxy now, the two of them crossing between each other. This might mean dropping this title since I'm behind Guardians with the above reprints. The Danvers/Rocket interplay is good fun, but it's Danvers's relationship with her unwanted sidekick Tic is stronger. So, a fun series, but one I could stand to let go right now.

Rocket Raccoon #3 (Marvel)

Blam blam blam blam! "I'm gonna kill you in the face!" Yep, this is deep stuff. I've finally realised what the artwork reminds me of - those Where's Wally? activity books that came out with the TV series. I don't think there's a link, but maybe Skottie Young had some involvement with them. Who knows? Blam blam blam! Raccoons.

Ghostbusters #19 (IDW)

Oh, I really don't want this series to end. One more issue left, I understand, so this is building to a climactic conclusion. Dapper Dan seems to be at his happiest when he's drawing his favourite monsters from the animated series, so he has a field day with issue, which takes place largely inside Ray's mind. Both Gozer and Tiamat have taken up residence within him to battle it out. While they both take forms fans will expect - Gozer picks Stay Puft and Tiamat appears as she did in the cartoon - various other creatures from the animated days get used as avatars. It's a lovely touch in a well-told issue, leading to Winston's grand stand. So, while I don't want it to end, I am dying for that last issue.

2000 AD Prog 1898 (Rebellion)

I pick up 2000 AD occasionally. It is something of a British institution, after all. It's generally all a bit too grungy and macho for my taste, but sometimes a cover feature catches my eye. The Roman horror of "Aquila Carnifex" is very good, well written by Gordon Rennie and with suitably nasty artwork from Leigh Gallagher. And Dylan Teague's colours - just lovely. Moore and Reppion's "Black Shuck" is also very good, making it a worthwhile grab. The anthology nature of 2000 AD means as many hits as misses, of course, "Jaegir: Circe" is fine, if grim as hell, Judge Dredd does his usual stuff, and "Brass Sun" is just completely meh,

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 (Titan)

I forced myself to pick between Titan's two Doctor Who titles this month, so the tenth Doctor has been dropped and Eleven wins out. Especially important to let one go, as a twelfth Doctor title is on October 1st. Anyway, I think I made the right choice here. This is really great stuff. While "The Friendly Place" is somewhat similar to "Welcome to Tickle Town" from DWM a few months back (a risk when multiple companies have rights to the same characters), it's a hell of a lot better. Alice is proving to be a fine companion, the Doctor is characterised with just the right balance of optimism, world-weariness and whimsy, and the short, one-part stories are adding up to something bigger already. Simon Fraser's art is a bit scrappy, but that really suits this title. If you missed any of the covers from the first issues of either series, by the way, this includes a covers gallery. If you didn't miss any, how the hell did you afford them all and what did you do with them? There must be more covers than pages. It's ridiculous.

Fire and Stone: Prometheus #1 (Dark Horse)

This is another huge crossover event, but the Prometheus title alone is only four issues long (until the next story starts in February). Might look at getting the trade if it collects the Aliens, Predator and AvP strips together. Anyway, this is a pretty good start. Taking place twenty-five years after the movie, it introduces a new crew following up on the lost Prometheus mission, When they arrive on LV-223 (or possibly LV-426, there's some confusion), they discover a huge ecosystem, teeming with life. The alien ants are pretty cool. There a re a lot of characters introduced, and my simple mind is already muddling them up, but I am confident Paul Tobin can tell a more coherent story than the twerps who wrote the film.

Edge of the Spider-Verse: Spider-Man Noir (Marvel)

Right, so I dropped Amazing for Noir this month. There's just too much Spider-Man right now. While the link up to the Spider-Verse storyline at the end  is a bit clunky - I guess that's hard to avoid - the actual story here is a bit of a cracker. Spider-Man always benefited best from the Noir treatement, and this works as well as those original strips. Mysterio is an obvious choice for the setting, and this version, a stage magician, actually makes a formidable foe for Noir Spidey. The mystical elements of the Spider-Man Noir origin story tie it all to the Spider-Verse reasonably well. I really like Richard Isanove's art. Just gorgeous.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Life During Wartime

That marvellous colouriser, Stuart Humphreyes aka Babelcolour, has created the latest in his series of Doctor Who tributes. This latest one is an absolute belter, celebrating the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt in The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor. Babel's done amazing work with very little material, using some shots from other films to add some glimpses of this Doctor's younger days, before the grey hair and the beard. Amazing stuff, and with a beautiful choice of music.


Monday 8 September 2014

WHO REVIEW: 8-3) Robot of Sherwood

Well, that was a tonic. As much as I've been enjoying this new, darker Doctor, I was beginning to fear that it was going to be grimdark from here on out. Certainly, pre-season trailers focused on the “into darkness” aspect of the latest set of stories, and while there's plenty of mileage in that, a full season of cheerless, serious stories would soon become very tedious. It's not Doctor Who if we're not having fun. Thankfully, Robot of Sherwood has reminded us that it's entirely possible to ask serious questions about what it means to be a good man, and still have some laughs along the way.

It certainly looks like this is to be another divisive series. We're only three episodes in, but they're already polarising critical and fan opinion, and even a seemingly innocuous romp like Robot of Sherwood has split reviews down the middle. There are many for whom this episode simply didn't work. The complaints have been various. “The plot was too thin,” often from the same people who are quick to moan that the stories are now too complicated. “It was too silly,” from people who have apparently forgotten that they're watching a series about a man in a magical police box who fights monsters with a screwdriver. However, the one that seems to be cropping up most often is this: that the episode doesn't work with Peter Capaldi. Now, I can see the argument here, but I have to say, this is quite simply wrong.

Robot of Sherwood is a straightforward, daffy runaround, and it does feel very much like a leftover Matt Smith episode. However, unlike Deep Breath, which felt like a Smith episode by dint of reusing his characters and settings, Sherwood has the overall feel of his stories. The eleventh Doctor, if we've forgotten, experienced some very dark storylines, but the overwhelming sensation of his tenure is one of light-hearted, breathless overexcitement. If anything, Robot of Sherwood is lighter and frothier than any of Eleven's stories, something that makes it feel like an outlier in a season that seems dedicated to darker moods. In retrospect, it isn't Deep Breath that is Capaldi's Robot, but this one. Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot of Sherwood, if you will. It's a straightforward yet effective approach: stick the grumpy twelfth Doctor in a silly eleventh Doctor adventure, and see what happens.

Capaldi's cynical Doctor deforms the story. It's still a comedy, but of a different flavour, as this more curmudgeonly Doctor warps the episode's style around him. Imagine Matt Smith in this episode; he'd be leaping around having the time of his life. He'd be thrilled to meet Robin Hood, even as he questioned his existence. It would very probably be the Doctor who got the final showdown with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Capaldi's Doctor approaches the whole thing very differently. The only reason he even goes to Sherwood Forest is to prove himself right, even acknowledging that Clara is going to be disappointed. Armed with two millennia of experience, the Doctor is so sure of his own knowledge that he can't contemplate that he is actually wrong about Robin Hood. The Robin he is confronted with is so utterly opposite to his character – jolly, dashing, swashbuckling – that they immediately rub each other the wrong way. The rivalry that results is funny precisely because it's so absurd. The Doctor doesn't believe that Robin is even real, and yet he has to prove himself against him. He absolutely has to be right, in all matters, and this is what blinds him to the truth of the situation. What results is rather like Victor Meldrew sharing a dungeon with Lord Flashheart.

There are major flaws with this episode, of course. As excellent as Jenna Coleman is when facing Miller's Sheriff, her gooeyness opposite Robin is a step back for her character. It's also hard to believe that Clara's number one historical hero is Robin Hood, something that nothing in her character has suggested before. The Merry Men get as much screen time as they deserve, but far more should have been made of Sabrina Bartlett as Maid Marian, instead of relegating her to a minor side character. The joke of having a genuinely little Little John isn't new either; Maid Marian and Her Merry Men included the wonderful Little Ron. The absurdity of the plot reaches its nadir when the golden arrow is pinged into the hull of the spaceship, somehow providing it with the surge of power it needs to reach orbit. However, while the plot is simplistic and the episode doesn't make the most of all its elements, there's no denying the sheer fun of it all.

The episode evokes past eras of Doctor Who in several ways. Most immediately brought to mind is the 1983 two-parter The King's Demons, in which Bad King John appears, only to turn out to be a robot. Thankfully Sherwood doesn't resemble The King's Demons in terms of quality. The element most evocative of eighties Who is Ben Miller's arch take on the Sheriff of Nottingham. He appears to have been deliberately made to look as much like Anthony Ainley's version of the Master as possible, and at some moments appears to be directly recreating his performance. Indeed, the inevitable “he's the Master!” cries began even before the episode aired, and while this is the sort of scheme we can imagine the Master being involved in on one of his quieter days, he is of course nothing of the sort. The revelation that the Sheriff is, in fact, cybernetic is somewhat lost in the final edit. While he is a wonderfully camp villain and a joy to watch, the Sheriff never really convinces as a genuine threat. So, just like the eighties Master, then. Other viewers will find elements of the Pertwee era in this episode. Indeed, I half expected the Sontarans to be behind the scene, as they were the last time we saw robotic knights, back in 1973's The Time Warrior. The Doctor himself though most evokes the Troughton period of the series. Not in his performance as such, which is closer to Hartnell's or Pertwee's, if any, in this episode, but in what he stands for. The Doctor is explicitly socialist here, siding with the downtrodden and instigating a peasant's revolt. He even refers to Robin Hood as “the opiate of the masses,” and declares that the best thing for keeping a population at bay is “the illusion of hope.” This element of his character, sometimes lost among all the great Time Lordliness, is at the heart of this Doctor, and evokes something of the anarchic element of the late sixties serials. It's quite appropriate that Patrick Troughton, the very first televisual Robin Hood, makes a brief appearance in the episode.

That's not to say that Capaldi doesn't get his fair share of swashbuckling. He even gets a “Hai!” The great sword vs. spoon fight is sure to go down as one of the highlights of the season. The early inclusion of this mockery of the classic Robin Hood bridge fight signposts exactly what sort of adventure this is going to be. Robot of Sherwood displays a joy in playing with the conventions of the adventure genre, and the many years of Robin Hood films in particular. The casting of Tom Riley as Robin is a canny choice. Currently best known for his role as Leonardo in Da Vinci's Demons, he has plentiful experience in portraying a fantastical version of a historical figure, for whom legend has also begun to eclipse historical truth. Riley nails the sort of Robin Hood that Mark Gatiss has chosen to recreate. Explicitly evoking Errol Flynn's classic 1938 turn as the hero, it's a resfreshing change from the ever-so-serious take on the character that more recent, “realistic” interpretations have offered.

That's the central joke, of course. The Doctor cannot believe that Robin Hood exists because the legend is too outlandish. The debate goes on regarding Robin's historical providence, with many still believing that the legends are based on a historical truth. In Robot of Sherwood the legends are entirely true, that Robin Hood was just as over-the-top and ridiculous as the stories suggest. We spend the episode waiting for the Doctor to discover Robin's true nature, something that even the title is suggesting is unearthly. The Doctor throws in references to Miniscopes and other such daft ideas, as if such a thing was somehow more feasible than a real Robin Hood. The Doctor rejoices when he finds the hidden spaceship, claiming to have finally found something “real.” Of course, that's the joke. “When did you start believing in impossible heroes?” the Doctor asks Clara, and in a truly lovely moment, she replies, “Don't you know?”

Gatiss's script revels in the fiction of the Doctor. “Remember, Doctor, I'm just as real as you are,” says Robin at the episode's close, a knowing wink at the audience. The Doctor is explicitly paralleled with robin Hood, the Time Lord of Gallifrey with the Earl of Locksley. “I'm no hero,” says the Doctor, but Robin disagrees, revealing, as Clara had already seen, that the clichéd swashbuckler is just a character he plays. People need heroes to help then become better themselves. The Doctor is wrong when he claims that Robin Hood gives the illusion of hope. Heroes give people real hope, and that's why we need stories like Robin Hood, and yes, Doctor Who. With Robot of Sherwood, Mark Gatiss manages to explore the question of whether the Doctor is a good man without a moment of po-faced grimness.

Links: The Doctor at one point suspects he's in a Miniscope, the alien entertainment device seen in 1973 serial Carnival of Monsters and also in 2011's live show The Monster are Coming! He also suggests that Clara might wish to visit the Ice Warrior hives; he and Clara previously met the Ice Warriors in last year's Cold War. The robots' ship is bound for "The Promised Land," the supposedly mythical destination of the Half-Faced Man in Deep Breath. Unlike that episode and Into the Dalek, we saw no one go to meet Missy in "Heaven," however, unlike those episodes, no one willingly sacrificed themselves, which may be significant.

Threads: The Doctor has mixed up his outfit a little, wearing a burgundy shirt that looks spot on with his navy coat. Clara togs up in mediaeval fancy dress; Jenna Coleman really looks fantastic in period clothing.

Familiar Faces: David Benson has a fabulously over-the-top turn as the king's herald. Benson is particularly well known for his turns as Noel Coward, but Doctor Who fans know him best as the voice of Panda in the Iris Wildthyme audioplays. In the first of these, Wildthyme at Large, he and Iris encountered none other than Robin Hood.

Best Line: "Can you explain your plan without using the words 'sonic screwdriver?'"

Friday 5 September 2014

Laniakea and Dreadnoughtus

Blimey, this is an exciting time for science geeks. Two pretty amazing discoveries were published in the last couple of days that I have to share here. BIG discoveries.

Firstly, a whopper of a dinosaur. Dreadnoughtus schrani is the newly named BIGGEST DINOSAUR EVER. Well, at least, the largest dinosaur for which we have decent remains. Most of the truly gigantic sauropods leave only a few bones, from which size is estimated based on other, better skeletons. This can, of course, lead to some major disagreements and arguments and a bit of extreme guesswork. However, the skeleton of the new dinosaur is remarkably complete, and palaeontologists are able to estimate its length and mass far more reliably than usual. And they've picked a fantastic name - Dreadnoughtus. Just yells "I am a big dinosaur!" Much data here.

Dreadnoughtus was a titanosaur, which weren't always as vast as they sound but did include some of the most enormous dinosaurs of all. The sample appears to have been 26 metres long (85 feet), and according to the bone growth patterns, it wasn't even fully grown. While some slenderer genera such as Diplodocus grew longer, and some such as Antarctosaurus may have been larger overall, Dreadnoughtus, being so well documented already, gets the crown as the big, fat king of the dinos.

But if that isn't big enough for you, check out Laniakea. Astronomers at the University of Hawaii have charted the distribution of matter throughout the universe and used this data to map the large-scale structure of the universe. Amazingly, they've actually managed to map the galactic supercluster in which our galaxy lies. We've identified distant superclusters before, but charting the part of the universe we're actually in is naturally more difficult. Yet now the bods at Hawaii have done so, and identified precisely where we are in the supercluster, which they have named Laniakea, from the Hawaiian words for "immeasurable heaven." Vaka rangi.

The Local Group is attracted to the nearby (in supergalactic terms) Virgo Cluster, and it and the many other galactic clusters spiral around the Great Attractor, aka the Norma-Hydra-Centaurus Cluster. Laniakea is estimated to contain 100,000 galaxies and is over 500 million light years across. It's gradually drifting towards the Shapley Supercluster, in the whole gigantic system of galaxies stretching across billions of light years. IFL Science has a rundown of the discovery and a gorgeous video of our place in the supercluster.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Obversally Yours

Woohoo! Iris Wildthyme of Mars is now available for pre-order from Obverse Books!

The latest set of adventures featuring time-travelling adventuress Iris Wildthyme and her animal friend Panda, IWoM is to be released on the 30th of September. It features stories from all sorts of excellent authors, including editor of the book Philip Purser-Hallard, Ian Potter, Simon Bucher-Jones, Selina Lock, Dale Smith, Juliet Kemp, Richard Wright, Rachel Churcher, Mark Clapham and Lance Parkin, Aditya Bidikar, Blair Bidmead, and also me. It is availabel at a reduced price for pre-order in hardback and ebook formats.

Also on the way is another volume from Mr. Purser-Hallard, the third anthology of The City of the Saved. Tales of the Great Detectives takes us beyond the end of time and explores the many facets of the greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. It too is available for pre-order in hardback and ebook for release on the 30th.