Sunday 26 July 2015

WHO REVIEW: Temporal Logbook (Furnell, Mammone, Strickley)

Doctor Who fanfic collections - “fanthologies” - have been around for donkey's years, but there's been a lull since the series returned to TV. It seems that we're now getting something of a resurgence in the form, following the War Doctor collection Seasons of War, and with several collections lined up. The latest, Temporal Logbook, comes from Pencil Tip Publishing, and is edited by Bob Furnell, Jez Strickley and Robert Mammone, all of whom have been part of the very long-running and acclaimed fanfic series The Doctor Who Project. It is also one of the best such collections I've read, featuring an exceptionally high standard of work.

Temporal Logbook takes a very simple, but undeniably effective, approach: twelve stories, one for each official incarnation of the Doctor, collected in chronological order. If there's a theme for the collection, it's the effect that the Doctor has on people's lives, but beyond that, this is a broad and varied selection of stories mixing numerous styles.

The stand-out stories for me are the fourth adventure, “The Eternalist,” by Craig Charlesworth, and the eleventh, Michael Itig's “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.” The former has a fascinating central concept, that of a boy who can perceive all moment in time at once, developed into a gripping but contained story with a strong element of horror, and a pitch perfect representation of the fourth Doctor. It also has perhaps the best description of the nature of time I've ever encountered. In “Heaven and Hell”, the Doctor becomes involved in the life of Pete, an older gay man, whose life is being swallowed by regret. A powerful treatise on depression and hope, it's an exploration of gay life in the UK that comes across as deeply personal. Really quite beautiful.

Relationships and personal demons feature strongly in the collection, with the more modern, emotionally aware approach given to older Doctors. The opening story, Michael Baxter's “A Modest Intervention,” is an unusual tale for the first Doctor, in which the time traveller takes a puckish glee in matchmaking. Not the sort of thing we normally expect the first Doctor to be concerned with, but he does engage it with very good reason. The fifth Doctor encounters an intriguing and controversial figure in the person of Charles Dodgson. With “Impossible Things Before Breakfast” Hannah Parry has a wonderful way with Carrollian whimsy, tying it to a strong character piece, and making unexpected parallels between the author and the Time Lord.

Several of the stories are steeped in continuity, which is fine and dandy; this is a collection for fans, after all. It's not continuity for the sake of a nod and a wink, though; it's all in the service of a good story. J. E. Remy's second Doctor story, “Breathe,” has a very Moffat-ish title, but is actually a full-on dive into the series' mythology. Featuring Time Lords a-plenty, it investigates what happened to Salamander after he was swept away into the Time Vortex. “The Telemacad” is another story that follows up on a television serial. A third Doctor story by Benjamin Pocock, it's set in ancient Greece and written in a pseudo-classical style, something which is hard to pull off without becoming trite or dull. Pocock succeeds in crafting an enjoyable tale, with portrayals of Three and Jo that are completely recognisable, even translated through archaic style. Hamish Crawford's “Mud and Metal” is the missing adventure of the ninth Doctor versus the Cybermen, a fun tale with a touch of horror.

Other tales take what could be well-worn ideas and give them something new. “The Brain Drain” by Ian Larkin has the Sixey and Peri encounter a mind-sapping cyborg, but makes her the central character, and a sympathetic one at that. Sarah Parry's “A Plague on Both Your Houses” has an excellent visual – the creepy, beaked plague doctors of the time of the Black Death – and uses it to create a gripping tale for the seventh Doctor and Ace. Some stories pair the Doctor with new companions, such as Nick Mellish's enjoyable “Changed and Confused.” A story featuring the eighth Doctor and taking place on the edge of the Time War, it's fairly slight, but has strong characterisation for the Doctor and his short-term assistant, Delaylia, a young Time Lady who is coming to terms with her first regeneration. Also, it has Voord in it. I like the Voord. Also featuring a new companion is the tenth Doctor story, “The Creature of Vengeance,” (a proper Doctor Who title there). This takes Ten and his unwitting travelling companion Sophie on a trip to Prague, for an adventure with Nazis and a memorable monster.

The collection ends with a story from the always excellent Meg MacDonald. “Many a Weary Foot” has a subtle nod to series continuity, featuring a lonely, withdrawn twelfth Doctor between the episodes Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express, who finds solace in an unlikely place. It's a straightforward character piece, no monsters, no threats to history, and beautifully told, with an extra little something for fans of the modern era of Doctor Who. It rounds off the collection perfectly, showing us the effect that an ordinary human being can have on the Doctor. An excellent conclusion to a collection I can heartily recommend.

You can buy the book from Lulu.

Saturday 25 July 2015

REVIEW: Strangeness in Space


Well, that was stupid. Rather like the classic work of literature, Trev and Simon's Stupid Book. The latest crowd-funded extravanganza from Clare Eden, previously producer of the Parsec Award-winning The Minister of Chance, only rather less sensible than that and with more shoe puns. Strangeness in Space is a free-to-download audio comedy to kids of all ages, featuring the sort of sophisticated wit you might expect from a moderately talented dry cleaner (who doesn't do duvets, naturally). Written by Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson - better known as Trev and Simon - this is half an hour of joyous absurdity that appeals to the simple fool within all of us.

Trev and Simon play Trev and Simon, each one half of the 80s synth pop duo Pink Custard, while Sophie "Ace" Aldred plays Sophie, previously manager of the NASA Space Centre gift shop (actually a dream job of mine). As a vendor of toy space shuttles and astronaut ice cream, Sophie is by far the most qualified of the three to lead their accidental mission into space. Lost in a distant galaxy and bound for the planet Mirth, their only assistance on their quest a not-so-hyperintelligent robot named LEMON, what hope do these hapless humourists have against the Featherheads?

The cast is rather spectacular, not only the core trio doing what they do best, but also sometime-Dalek Barnaby Edwards as LEMON and the wonderful Doon Mackichan as the easily distracted narrator Bounty Flightingale. This is but the first episode, with episode two hopefully coming soon. Already recorded, episode two requires a little more funding for post-production. The future of the series will feature such luminaries as Rufus Hound, Carol Cleaveland and Peter Guinness. 

It is entirely free, but isn't on general release until the 1st of August. If you want an early listen, spending a few quid in the Space Shop will net you a link to the download, and will help get episode two funded. 

Suitable for children and idiots, Strangeness in Space is a nostalgic and wonderful bit of nonsense.

Try it if you like; Live & Kicking; late 1980s Doctor Who; eggs. 

Friday 24 July 2015

Peculiar Times: Furthest Tales of the City

Another exciting publication from Mr Philip Purser-Hallard, from Obverse Books.

Peculiar Times: Furthest Tales of the City: You (Yes, you over there! Pay attention!) will be pleased to learn that the fourth anthology of City of the Saved  short stories,  Furthest ...

Sunday 19 July 2015


Ant-Man is a fun, exciting superhero flick, a solid instalment in Marvel's ongoing mega-franchise. While it's never going to set the box office alight like an Avengers film, it's a great experience – better than many would have expected it to be. Indeed, Ant-Man went from being a fascinating new production with real potential to seeming like a sure-fire bomb, simply by losing its original director. That question is going to hang over it forever, of course – just what would Edgar Wright's Ant-Man have been like?

Several critics have pointed out that Ant-Man, as it exists today, would have made more of a splash back in 2008, say, had it been made as Marvel's inaugural release instead of Iron Man. It shares a lot of DNA with that film, being a fairly straightforward origin story for a potential superhero who has a long way to go to learn to be heroic. This could have happened; Edgar Wright started work on the project way back in 2006, but his commitment to other productions, most significantly The World's End, kept him from working on it for long stretches. While Ant-Man sat on the back burner, both the eponymous hero and his partner the Wasp were kept out of Marvel's roster of films; indeed, Janet van Dyne was written into Joss Whedon's earliest scripts for The Avengers before being removed.

That said, there's no guarantee that Ant-Man would have been made a headlining hero back then. The Hank Pym version of the character, along with Janet's Wasp, were founding members of the Avengers in the comics. Now though, they look like the quaint sixties throwbacks that they are. Shrinking superheroes are a harder sell in the 21st century, when there's a temptation to be deathly serious about everything. It's for this reason that Edgar Wright, and his co-writer Joe Cornish, seemed like such a perfect fit for the project. Creators with a background in eccentric comedies and a demonstrated love of the absurdity of comics, they, if anyone, could find a way to make Ant-Man work. When Wright walked after eight years working, on and off, on the production, his cast almost walked with him. Quite what happened we still don't know, although by most accounts it sounds like Wright's vision was too different from the rest of Marvel's stable.

However, that seems a little hard to credit now. While Ant-Man has similarities in content to Iron Man, it's tone and style are distinctly different. The film it's most similar to is Guardians of the Galaxy, both due to its action-comedy style and its loveable crim leading man, but it doesn't really feel quite like any of the Marvel films so far. There's a warmth and real-world familiarity to the movie, amongst all the hyper-technology and ant wrangling. At its heart it's a story about family, about two men who are deeply flawed but will do anything to do right by their daughters, even if their understanding of what's right is skewed at times. Wright's version, I would imagine, would have leant further on the comedy, and have felt more like the aforementioned World's End than GotG. Ant-Man is full of comedic material, but it's not an out-and-out comedy. That's not to say it isn't funny; some scenes, particularly in the final act, are quite hilarious. However, the balance between pathos and humour isn't as deft as in Wright's work.

We'll never know, of course, unless an unexpected director's-remake arrives ten years down the line. Much of the original script is said to survive in the final version, reworked by Adam McKay and leading man Paul Rudd. Peyton Reed directs, and while he lacks the flourish of Wright, he does a fine job and handles some truly complex and spectacular sequences well, both for dramatic and comedic purposes. The effects are, as we have come to expect, excellent throughout; only the de-ageing effects during the opening flashback scene struggle to convince, and then only at certain angles. (This is a field in which effects have truly come forward, as evidenced also by the latest Terminator instalment.) The continual zapping of people and objects between sizes leads to some brilliant sequences, but it's the fight in the child's bedroom in the final act that really triumphs. It's here that the juxtaposition of action and comedy works best, with an effective guest role for Thomas the Tank Engine (Triple-T. E. to his fans).

Shrinking men have a long and illustrious history in genre works, but it's the Ant-Man's ability to control ants using special apparatus that is the hardest sell for the film. There's a suitably just-about-plausible explanation for it, but it's hard to swallow. Thankfully, the script accepts how utterly ridiculous the film's premise is, comments on it and moves on. Again, it's why a comedic approach works best; audiences would laugh at, not with, a straight telling. In spite of an attempt to make us root for one of the ants, who is christened Anthony, the critters are never made into characters in the piece, but they're more than tools. An army of chitinous pets with the best of training. Still, the movie does include the most heart-breaking ant-related moment since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

It's a far more focussed, contained affair than Marvel often give us. Their self-styled Phase Two has been all about cross-pollination, with no film standing on its own. While Ant-Man still has links to other films in the franchise, it's the most standalone story for some time, not including Guardians of the Galaxy. Aside from the post-credits scene and some cheeky nods to Spider-Man and the like, the appearance of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon is the only element that truly ties the film to its sister productions, and although it works well, it does seem quite forced in. Nonetheless, this is a far, far tighter production than the exhilarating but flabby Age of Ultron.

What also sets this apart from most of Marvel's films is that Scott Lang is an ordinary guy. OK, he's an exceptional safe-breaker, mechanic and electrical engineer, but he's still just a bloke who's made some mistakes and is trying to sort himself out. Paul Rudd may not be everyone's idea of leading man material but he's perfect for Lang, likeable but believable when it comes to the more heroic side of things. His feeble gang of friends provide suitable comic relief, particularly Michael Peña as the relentlessly positive Luis. Abby Ryder Fortson steals her scenes as Cassie, Lang's young daughter, and gets some of the funniest lines of the film. Michael Douglas is spot-on as Hank Pym, the first Ant-Man, now an old man with a life of regrets. Pym is not the most likeable of Marvel's characters, and making him into a secondary character rather than a lead was a wise move, especially as some of his more egregious character faults are still visible. Douglas manages to portray him both as dignified and a little pathetic. Standing out is Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, Pym's daughter and reluctant ally in the raid on the laboratory. She starts off as a hard, unlikeable character, but becomes immeasurably more vulnerable and open as the film progresses without losing any of her strength, resolve or toughness, and it's rare that we get to see that of a female character. She's still relegated to sidekick status here, but at least she'll be taking wing as the Wasp in a future film someday.

Ant-Man has a better villain than we've seen in a long time. Darren Cross is no Loki, but he has character and definition that has been sorely lacking in Marvel baddies of late. While he does have the basic supervillain qualifications – sociopathic tendencies and a desire for power – he also has character and motivation beyond that. Resentful of both Pym and Lang as the former's earliest protege, Cross's vindictive behaviour actually has some motivation behind it, however simplistic. He's also given life by a very charismatic Corey Stoll, who brings the villain to life in a way that Ultron, Ronan and Malekith never achieved. The only problem is that, once he dons the impressive Yellowjacket armour, he is rather swallowed up.

In its final act, Ant-Man takes a brief sidetrip that opens up possibilities for the future. Lang falls into the quantum realm (Microverse, Subatomica, whatever you want to call it), an element that I understand was added in the script reworks. Although brief, the sequence is spectacular, and leaves open the potential for other mysterious realms to be explored in future films, something that could work well for Thor or Dr. Strange. There are other directions for the character to take in the almost inevitable sequel, from taking the opposite direction and becoming Giant Man to bringing back Janet van Dyne from her quantum exile (the character being very obviously kept unrecognisable so as not to cause problems with future casting decisions). Maybe a bigger role for Judy Greer, playing an irritating mother in her second blockbuster of the year (after Jurassic World). Just so long as they can sneak an Archer quote in. At the end of the day, though, Ant-Man has potential to take his place as one of the Avengers. We shall have to see how his appearance in Civil War plays out.

Saturday 18 July 2015

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-18 - 2-19

2.18) The Immunity Syndrome
Captain Kirk vs. the Space Amoeba

The Mission: Investigate the loss of communications with the starship Intrepid and solar system Gamma 7a.

Planets visited: None

Space Phenomena: The Enterprise encounters a zone of darkness, a sort of hole in space, a black spot that is not solid, liquid or gas, nor a dust cloud or nebula. It's a region composed of some kind of energy entirely anthithetical to the energy that exists in ordinary life. The Enterprise launches a telemetry probe, which is blasted with noise before ceasing to function. Even at 100,000 km, the zone starts to drain the crew's energy, first making them inordinately tired before causing the more susceptible members to slip into comas. When the ship is swalloed up, all the stars vanish from view. Within the zone, all actions by the ship operate in reverse; to try to reverse away, the Enterprise has to thrust forward.

Alien life forms:

The Space Amoeba: At the centre of the zone is the creature, a gigantic single-celled organism comprised of protoplasm, 11,000 by 3000 miles across. It's a huge, red, gelatinous blob, constantly shifting in form. Emitting a field of negative energy, it drains the life force of everything in its vicinity, including the crew of the Intrepid and the billions of inhabitants of system Gamma 7a. What's worse, it's preparing to reproduce by fission.

Vulcans: The Intrepid is manned solely by Vulcans (so mixed species crews are probably quite unusual in this period). Since the physics of the dark zone operated contrary to logic, the Vulcans were unable to conceive of what was happening to them, and were wholly unprepared to escape. According to Spock, Vulcan memory goes centuries and cannot recall a conqueror.

Captain James T: He sounds absolutely knackered even before all this crap starts. We never find out what mission they've just come from, but it was clearly exhausting. Kirk's looking forward to a nice bit of R&R at Starbase 6. The Starbase instead sends him on this mission, and he's not exactly happy about it. When it comes to investigating the creature, Kirk of course insists he go in, even though he is the least qualified. He's pretty unfair to Spock, bitching when he doesn't have sufficient data to tell him exactly what's going on. He'd be completely lost without him. He's torn up over the decision to send one of his closest friends to their likely death. It's Kirk who eventually conceives of killing the alien using antimatter.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Spock feels the death of the crew of the Intrepid, a psychic episode in which he is overwhelmed by the death of four hundred Vulcans. He's hugely critical of human attitudes to death compared to Vulcans'. Both Spock and Bones volunteer to investigate the amoeba; Spock wins out in the end because of his physiological and emotional strengths. Plus, he has a personal stake, after dealing with the deaths of all those Vulcans. He's ready to sacrifice himself, but in his determination finds a way for the Enterprise to destory it. When he thinks he's going to die, he makes a log leaving everything to the crew.

The Real McCoy: Bones has the medical knowledge to explore the alien, and he's dying to explore this unknown creature. He considers it the greatest experiment ever. He hypothesises that humanity's purpose in the universe is to act as antibodies against these alien infections. There's a ridiculous rivalry between Bones and Spock, but at the end of the day, they have great respect for each other. Spock thinks McCoy has a martyr complex, however.

Space Bilge: Space Amoeba Drinking Game: take a shot every time a character says “penetrate.” This can also be played with most Next Generation episodes. (Yes, we're puerile.)

The Verdict: A classic science fiction story, with a great, tense build up. We don't see the monster until twenty minutes into the episode. The effects for the alien are amazing, especially in the original version. It's also a great episode for the central team of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, their individual strengths and weaknesses coming together to save the ship.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

The Temporal Logbook

A new Doctor Who fanthology is now available for purchase, with all proceeds going to the Positive Living Society of British Columbia, a charity that supports people living with AIDS and HIV in Canada. The book includes stories featuring Doctors one to twelve, by some of the best writers in fandom. Many of the people behind the collection have been part of the acclaimed fanfic series The Doctor Who Project.

You can buy the book via Lulu.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

It's Pluto Day!

Today, after nine-and-a-half years travelling through space, the spacecraft New Horizons made its closest approach on its flyby of Pluto. The icy dwarf planet is currently over three billion miles from Earth. The image above shows the planetoid in high resolution at New Horizon's closest approach, while below is a composite of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, to scale by size of body but not distance (in reality, the Earth could just about fit between the two). Armed with an array of spectrometers, radiometers and telescopic cameras, the spacecraft has been relaying data not only about Pluto-Charon, but also Jupiter and its moons, and the space dust that swarms through the Solar System. It's a relief considering how much can go wrong on such a long journey, especially considering the ship's main systems went offline in a hairy moment ten days before closest approach

We've learned an enormous amount about Pluto, not all of it dry technical details that astronomers and physicists will spend years pouring over. Some facts just leap out. Pluto is a reddish colour, with a large, whitish patch in a rough heart-shape covering much of one hemisphere. It has a thin atmosphere which is losing gas, and this has previously distorted measurements of its size. Now that we can look closer, we can get an accurate measurement. Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km (+ or - 20 km), which means it is definitely larger than Eris after all (the diameter of Eris being a little less at 2336 km +/- 12 km). Which is a little ironic, considering that it was Eris' supposedly larger size that finally kicked off the (already simmering) debate concerning whether or not Pluto is a planet. 

Now that we know it's a little larger than previously thought, this means it's also of a lower density than astronomers had concluded earlier, which in turn means it is icier than previously suspected. More ice: less rock = a less dense overall body. Much of this ice forms a polar cap on Pluto, previously unknown, which is comprised of frozen methane and nitrogen.

Charon, on the other hand, is a whitish-grey colour, and has no appreciable atmosphere. The diamater of Charon is 1208 km, which was already calculated but has now been confirmed. With nitrogen gas escaping the Plutonian atmosphere and detectable at distance of over six million km, Pluto and Charon may share an atmosphere, making them even more like a double-planet than already thought.

This is just the start of it; New Horizons is still sending back data and scientists will be analysing it for a long time yet. Meanwhile, New Horizons will continue on its journey, with NASA set to choose a new target for it to travel towards on its long journey out of the Solar System. You can read all about the mission here.

Monday 13 July 2015

The Men Who Would Be Doctor - Updated

And so, in a quiet moment, I updated this, with a little information that came to light over the last few months.

Saturday 11 July 2015

July Comics Catch-Up

A few bits and pieces picked up over the month o' Julie. EDIT - 18/7 - popped a couple more acquisitions on rather than start a whole new post.

Batgirl #41 (DC)

A good issue, worth picking up, since it represents a pivotal point in Barbara Gordon's life. After all, not only was she bound to discover there was a new Batman in town, but eventually she'd learn that he was her father. I like that they didn't bother keeping this a mystery for her and just had him come right out with it. Now that he's been tasked with bringing in all vigilante heroes, Jim Gordon is pitted against Babs... although I find it hard to believe can't recognise Batgirl is his own daughter. The returning villainess I've never heard of is less interesting.

Superman/Wonder Woman #18 (DC)

The problem with both Marvel and DC is that any time there's a big shake up or plot development, it's necessary to pick up reams of comics to get the full picture. The changes with Batman and Superman require, what, seven titles to fully appreciate? Anyway, this is pretty good stuff. It's an appreciable change in status quo to have Wonder Woman the more powerful of the couple. It's good she's there for Clark, they're really putting him through the ringer in this storyline.

Ghostbusters Get Real #1 (IDW)

A cracking crossover following the popular GB/TMNT, with another cross-dimensional shift between New Yorks. Very much aimed at dedicated fans of The Real Ghostbusters, this takes place within the episode "Janine Melnitz, Ghostbuster," with the 'Busters shunted into another reality in an encounter with the god Proteus. Schoening and Delgado work together to make brilliant artwork, which changes subtly between the realities - the quality of the lines and depth of colour improves when the RGB 'Busters arrive in the IDW comic universe. Just lovely.

Saga # 30 (Image)

The Eisner Award-winning series comes to a temporary close, resting for a few months between runs. This is a better issue than we've had for a while, really pushing the narrative forward and leaving the characters in very different places to where they started. It's got to be said, though, there's not a lot of story in this issue in real terms; it's a couple of major events, violently told.

The Spirit #1 (Dynamite)

Dynamite have picked up the rights to Eisner's classic hero, and this is their first issue, which I finally got round to picking up. This is the first Spirit comic for a while, I think. I love the Golden Age revivals, and this is a strong opening, concerning itself with the Spirit's absence, rather than actually having star in his own comic. A brave approach, and one that works. Of particular note is the strong characterisation of Ebony White, a problematic character when handled poorly. Looking forward to issue two next month, plus Dynamite's relaunch of The Shadow.

The Wicked + The Divine #12 (Image)

As with Saga, not much actually happens here, but what does happen feels significant. To be fair, nothing was going to match last month's climax, so this issue was inevitably going to be a bit of a letdown. It's going to be guest artists for six months, and I'm not particularly keen on Kate Brown's work this issue. I don't feel it really suits the comic. But it's only one issue.

Deadpool: All Good Things tp (Marvel)

Collecting issues #41 to #44 and #250, because Marvel numbering makes no sense ever. This is the grand finale for Deadpool, and works well in collected form. I really enjoyed this; bloody, irreverent and strangely touching. Deadpool finally manages to find some peace with himself and even gets to settle down into a strange, but affirming, family or friends. Then the universe ends. Tsk. It's kind of amazing that the only thing that could kill Deadpool is being hit by a planet.

Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders #1 (Marvel)

Mostly avoiding the Secret Wars stuff but bought this one recommendation... and yeah, it's really quite good. Dr. Faiza Hussain debuted in Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI-13, and having her take on the mantle of Captain Britain for Battleworld, itself the conjunction of all the realities that the Captains defend, makes sense. This then segues into Mondo City, a Mega City One pastiche... I don't know how this will progress beyond Judge Dredd vs. Marvel, but this could be quite brilliant.

21st Century Tank Girl #2 (Titan)

Missed issue one, but I watched the movie yesterday and got a hankering for Tank Girl. A tankering. The new adventures of Tank Girl, Jet Girl and Booga have all the subtle wit of their predecessors. There's a seventies theme to this issue. It's all written by Alan Martin so it's the genuine article, and out of the strips, the opening "Nanango '71" works best, partly because the artwork feels like the classic run. Jonathan Edwards's art suits the comedy dreamscape of "Journey to the Centre of the Tank," though (also, the Doctor's in it). Plus, the cover is at least twelve times sexier than cheesecake Starfire or Power-Girl comics.

DANDY SPACE LOG 1-12 & 1-13

Oh my stars and garters, there's been so much on that I almost forgot to finish up with season one of Space Dandy, Here's the final two episodes, with season two to follow in the near-ish future.

Season One, Episode Twelve - Nobody Knows the Chameleon Alien, Baby

Dandy and co. attempt to capture a shapeshifting alien for a huge bounty.

He's Dandy, Baby: If he makes a 100 million woolongs, he plans to eat at BooBies three meals a day, and then live off the accrued BooBies points so he can eat there even more. He's not really bright enough to realise that a Chameleonian is not the same as a chameleon. In times of danger, his Dandy sense tingles. Dandy finds a huge-lipped female alien strangely attractive, which even Meow thinks is gross. He's not terribly good at catching aliens, and has only been bringing in worthless specimens. Eventually he gets himself banned from the Registration Centre for trying to catch Scarlet. Dandy is especially easy for the Chameleonian to imitate, because his thought processes are so predictable. Eventually, he becomes so unsure whether he is the real Dandy or not he suffers an existential crisis. His favourite sport is the ladies' hundred metre breaststroke.

He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: If he makes 100 million woolongs, Meow plans to just sit in the sun, drink beer and lick himself all day. He enjoys octopus popsicles.

He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby: QT enjoys himself this episode, unexpectedly discovering the joys of fishing and becoming quite obsessed with it for a period. He spends so long fishing that the three of them forget what they were originally hunting for.

We're Alien Hunters, Baby:

Chameleonian: Worth a wopping 100 (cha-)million woolongs at the Alien Registration Centre, the Chameleonian gets its name because it can change its appearance, although there the resemblance to chameleons ends. Although, presumably the sophisticated shapeshifter could turn into a chameleon, though. Nobody knows what they really look like, although the one we meet does take on an amorphous, blackish form between shapes. The Chameleonian is cunning and very hard to trap. It's brought onto the ship because it was disguised as a tsuchinoko and got caught by QT when fishing, which was a stroke of luck, really.

The Chameleonian is a bit of a dick, really. When it changes into a humanoid form it hides on the ship, coming out at night to use Dandy's toothbrush and look at porn on QT's phone. In the course of the episode it turns into Dandy, QT, Meow, Scarlet and Dr. Gel, before it's finally revealed that it was, in fact, the Narrator all along. Which doesn't really make any sense, especially given what we eventually discover about the Narrator's true identity.

Baranian: A purplish, crab-like creature, worth 128 woolongs.

Pelorian: A pink, flabby creature, worth 64 woolongs.

Rakendrian: Worth 32 woolongs. Looks kind of like a lipstick with an eye on it.

Unnamed alien: A flat creature that Dandy brings in only goes for a measly two woolongs.

Tsuchinoko: A legendary creature in Japanese folklore, a sort of fat serpent with ill-defined powers. Clearly the tsuchinoko exist in Dandy's universe, and live like fish on certain planets. QT is thrilled to catch a black one, but it is not what it seems.

The Scarlet Woman, Baby: Scarlet really has had enough of Dandy and his gang's incompetence in the alien catching business. She doesn't take kindly to being mistaken for a Chameleonian.

There's Bad Guys Too, Baby: Dr. Gel has completed work on the ultimate weapon, the Hyperdimensional Magic Hand, a system so sophisticated it can find its target anywhere in the universe of time and space. Unfortunately, it can't tell the real Dandy from the Chameleonian. Dr. Gel gets into a fight with this interloper, that ends with them both yelling "Who is the Doctor?!" at each other in a deliberate Doctor Who reference.

Don't Quote Me, Baby: "Man, I can't believe I put my butt on it."

The Bottom Line, Baby: A good, fun episode, although the fishing aside goes on a bit too long. The quiz to determine the real Dandy, as well as being a riff on Who Wants to be a Millionaire ("Is that your final Dandy?) was done before, possibly better, in the Red Dwarf episode "Psirens," though. There are some nice Aliens nods in the episode too.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Saturday 4 July 2015

REVIEW: Lost on Mars by Paul Magrs

Paul Magrs tends to write stories that take a whimsical, askew look at mundane life. While he does employ science fiction tropes, particularly in his Doctor Who work, the fantastical is never far away.Lost on Mars, as the title suggests, takes a classic sci-fi setting – that of a struggling human colony on the Red Planet – but injects a large dose of the fabulous. There are elements of Steampunk and horror in its make-up, but foremost it is in the tradition of classic children's literature. Lost on Mars is a potent coming-of-age story, in which our heroine, Lora, is forced to grow up in order to survive in a terrifyingly unpredictable world.

Unlike most of Magrs's work, which is intrinsically English, Lost on Mars has more in common with frontier stories like Little House on the Prairie. Our Town, the ramshackle settlement on the Martian plains, is home to Lora and her family, three generations under one roof, including Grandma, one of the original colonists who came from Earth at the end of the 21st century. In spite of the futuristic setting, life there is more like the late 19th century edge towns in the Old West, or Australia. Life involves constant hard graft, and Our Town is a safe place in a wilderness filled with unknowable dangers. Until the Disappearances start, and even the town provides no safety. There are some genuinely unsettling moments as people are slowly picked off by a largely unseen Martian force, and the overriding feeling throughout the book is one of ever-present uncertainty and danger.

Magrs's Mars (perhaps we should call it Planet Magrs) is home to a baffling array of life forms, from the unthreatening reptilian livestock the townsfolk depend on, to a variety of more sophisticated, and potentially deadly, Martian natives. Phantom-like Martians appear to be the cause of the Disappearances, and even Lora's unexpected friendship with one of their number does little to lessen the sense of menace that their presence engenders. Forced to flee Our Town, Lora and her remaining family and friends take their chances in the wilds of the Martian outback, where things only get stranger and more uncertain. The plot doesn't let up for a moment; as soon as it seems the true nature of the story is clear, everything is called into question by another unexpected revelation. The story ends up in a place quite unlike where it began, the nature of Lora's world now unclear. Every revelation is questionable, every answer suspect.

Lora is a fine protagonist, a fully realised character who develops from girl to young woman as her life changes and she grows into new responsibility. Her brother Al, although not as significant to the story at first, undergoes similar development. Family is at the heart of the story and the characters' actions. This is a new and fascinating world that Magrs has created, although some elements familiar to his readers show up, from mention of “Celestial Omnibuses” to the essential batty old ladies that he loves so much. Then there's Toaster, the adorable Servo-Furnishing, a sentient sunbed who acts as pet, butler and friend to Lora and her family, and whose first iteration appeared in the author's 2007 Doctor Who novel, Sick Building. It's also good to see that, although it is far from a focus of the novel, there is a queer presence among the cast of characters. Although the setting is new, this feels absolutely Magrs.

The first in a trilogy, Lost on Mars ends with some closure but with a stack of mysteries left unsolved. This is an excellent book for young readers and has plenty to offer old types too. It would make for an excellent Sunday night family drama, should the BBC survive long enough to revive the artform. Book two quickly, please.

Lost on Mars can be ordered from Firefly Press and is also available from Amazon. It is also available on Kindle.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Fanfilm Catch-Up: Star Trek Continues & Predator: Dark Ages

There have been some very interesting fan productions coming out lately. I've taken a look at two of the most interesting, plus caught up with some news about upcoming productions.


There aren't all that many Predator fan films, presumably because making a Predator costume is bloody expensive. Those that do exist are often very impressive, with high production values and fine performances. Predator: Dark Ages is a perfect example of this, a much-anticipated film written and directed by James Bushe.

Unlike most stories featuring the Predator, this is a period piece, set during the time of the Crusades, a period that's especially topical right now considering the poor relations between the Christian and Muslim communities. The story features a group of Knights Templar, led by Adrien Bouchet, are forced into an uncomfortable alliance with a Saracen, played by Amed Hashimi, to hunt down the "demon" that is already hunting them. The core cast, which includes Sabine Crossen as a formidable female warrior, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Jon Campling and Joe Egan, are all impressive, and the Predator, played by Philip Lane, looks fantastic. Running in at a little under half an hour, the story is necessarily simple, but plenty of incident is packed into that time. It's effectively directed and just gory enough to make the Predator a serious threat. I enjoyed the nuanced relationship between the two leads - both flawed men from opposing walks of life, who slowly learn to trust each other in face of a greater threat.

An especially good fan production. Watch it here.


This is the fourth episode of the fan series Star Trek Continues, which carries on the adventures of Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise beyond the final episode of the original series and into the fifth and final year of the legendary Five Year Mission.

The first thing you're confronted with when streaming "The White Iris" is Doctor Who's Colin Baker, as subtle and low-key as ever, in multicoloured robes and a blue goatee. This unexpected clashing of two great fandoms sets the scene for a fun if melodramatic fifty minutes in which Captain Kirk (Vic Mignona) is injured and confronts the ghosts of his past, as various deceased past loves come to haunt him. Star Trek Continues is fan-pleasing comfort food, and this episode is an excuse to sit Kirk down and examine both his commander's guilt and his womanising ways. While I'd really like to see something a bit more solid and original from the team, it's effectively done and it's interesting to watch the good captain grow into the more emotionally mature individual we saw in the movies. It looks as spectacular as ever, far better than even Paramount's remastered episodes of the original series.

Mignona, who also co-writes the series, is really becoming quite excellent as Kirk, while Chuck Huber's take on McCoy is really coming into its own. Colin Baker plays Amphidemus, the leader of an alien planet set to join the Federation, and he certainly seems to be enjoying himself. Gabriela Fresquez looks spot-on in her brief role as Rayna Kapec. There are some nice nods to the past future of the series, with both a primitive holodeck made good use of, and Marina Sirtis providing the computer voice. Watch it here.

In other Trekkie news, Star Trek: New Voyages is pushing ahead with its 2015 Kickstarter campaign, and has already hit its original target and is now looking at various stretch goals. Meanwhile, a long-gestating fan project, Star Trek Beyond, has been forced to change its name due to clashing with the upcoming thirteenth movie; however, Paramount have invited creator Michael Gummelt to pitch for a new TV series, which is fantastic news. Star Trek Uncharted is a better name anyway.