Sunday 26 June 2016


TOS 2-22) Return to Tomorrow
Captain Kirk vs. Space Ghosts

I think the episode order's gone wonky somewhere along the line, but here goes another episode!

The Mission: Explore the far reaches of unexplored space and answer that mysterious signal...

Planets visited: Unnamed in the broadcast episode, the planet is named Arret in the script (which is, of course, Terra backwards). Class-M once, it's had its atmosphere ripped away leaving it desolate and uninhabitable. It's significantly older than Earth. The only area with an atmosphere is deep below the surface. It lies in a system three weeks' signal time from Starfleet.

Alien life forms: Sargon and his people once had a great and advanced civilisation, but destroyed themselves in war after they began to think of themselves as gods. They were originally humanoid, but when their bodies died, the last three of them - Sargon, Henoch and Thalassa - stored their minds in orbs below the planet's surface. Sargon stayed awake for the last half million years, sending out his thoughts to try to find someone else in the universe. Sargon and his lot are basically ghosts; he even says he is "as dead as my planet." They need bodies to rebuild their lives and ask to borrow the crew's bodies so that they can build new android frames, but the human form isn't capable of maintaining their minds for long without burning out.

Six thousand centuries ago, the Arretians began colonising the galaxy. Sargon thinks they may have been the ancestors of humans and Vulcans. While this is dismissed by the human representatives, Spock says that it would explain some holes in Vulcan prehistory.

Captain James T: Kirk risks the potential dangers of beaming into a planet to make contact with the source of the psychic signal. He also seems surprisingly keen to let Sargon borrow his body, making a big speech about how "risk is our business," even though it's pretty clear that it will go horrendously wrong. He says he'll only go head if it's a unanimous decision, but then talks everyone round with some flair. He's convinced that the Arretians will propel humanity ten thousand years into the future. He ends up dead, but gets better.

Captain James T:  Sargon is a noble, idealistic individual, still in love with his wife, Thalassa. He's clearly used to his orders being obeyed, but swears he will let the Enterprise go free if Kirk and his colleagues are against the idea. Shatner reaches new levels of thespian intensity as Sargon.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Spock is keen to explore the ancient civilisation below the planet's surface. His body is more capable of supporting the alien energy forms than the pure humans'. He is able to hide his mind in Chapel's body to help give Henoch the runaround, perhaps giving a look ahead to The Search for Spock. Nimoy is absolutely brilliant at playing a completely new character.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin:  Henoch is an out-and-out villain from the get-go. He's flirtatious, arrogant and excitable. He uses his powers, enhanced by Spock's own telepathy, to take control of Chapel so that she sabotages Kirk/Sargon's medication so that his body will fail and he can take over. He turns Thalassa against him and basically sounds like he wants to rule the galaxy.

The Real McCoy: Bones is, understandably, frightened of being through miles of solid rock. He's also the voice of reason here, pointing out that allowing unknown aliens to borrow your body is clearly insane and that it's just a little concerning that they've demanded the captain and the first officer. Beneath all that, he feels it's just indecent.

Great Scott: Initially against the bodyswap idea, Scotty is the most swayed by the promise of technology. Kirk promises him a starship engine no bigger than a walnut. James Doohan also provides the booming voice of Sargon (he'll be doing a lot more of this sort of thing in the animated series).

Future Treknology: The aliens create android bodies that use blobs of jelly to perform bodily functions, but will be far more limited than human bodies.

Trek Stars: Diana Muldaur plays one-off character Dr. Ann Mulhall, and her possessor, Thalassa. Mulhall is an astrobiologist, so it's a bit of a surprise she isn't seen before or since.As a lieutenant commander, Mulhall is the highest ranking female Starfleet officer seen in the original series. Muldaur makes a slight character very memorable, and is equally good as the corrupted Thalassa. She'll be back in the following season as Miranda Jones, and throughout the second season of The Next Generation as Dr. Pulaski.

Sexy Trek: As soon as Mulhall arrives, there's romantic music. Thalassa and Sargon get it on in Mulhall's and Kirk's bodies. Henoch, in Spock's body, flirts like hell with Chapel, before hypnotising her.

Cliche Count: Averted when the redshirts are left behind on the transporter pad.

The Verdict: If you accept the conceit of the crew being utterly idiotic, this is a strong episode with a great performance from Leonard Nimoy, getting to be a villain and clearly having a whale of a time.

Brucked it.

I think this says it all, really. The problem with a referendum is that every idiot gets a vote. The higher the turnout, the more idiots vote, it seems. How dare you vote on something you don't understand? Had these been the most popular searches the week before the vote, I would have been relieved. Instead, it happens afterwards, when it's too late.

There were several good reasons to vote to leave the EU. I disagreed with them, strongly, believing that we got a great deal more from the EU than we gave to it. A number of my friends voted to Leave; I felt they were wrong to do so, and still do now, but they had well considered reasons. However, there are undeniable truths to be learnt from analysis of the polls. Votes to Leave skewed heavily with increasing age. Asking younger people why they voted to Leave, and they tend to answer either that they thought it would be better for the economy, our influence or the NHS, or that they aren't really sure why. Asking older people why, they either say that they don't know why, or come out with some nonsense about "taking our country back" or "becoming independent," neither of which makes any kind of sense since we have been an independent sovereign state throughout our time in the EU.

Another trend evident from the polls is that people with better educations tended to vote Stay, while lesser educated people voted Leave. Again, that's not to say that everyone who voted to Leave is foolish, but there's a clear trend. People who voted to Leave, in general, simply do not understand what they have done. The number of people who have since expressed regret at their vote is telling, but it's too late. They should have questioned it before they voted, not after.

Generalisation is a dangerous and unfair thing, but the results are telling. The bulk of people who voted to Leave were older, clinging to an ideal of a Britain which never really existed. The worst I've heard is an idiot who skipped into my place of work, actually dancing with joy, because apparently his friends "died in the War for this." It's a level of idiocy and cultural distortion I cannot stand. WWII was a fight against fascism, that led to greater unity. The Brexit campaign was the opposite. In just the first weekend after the referendum, there has already been a marked increase in verbal abuse against immigrants and citizens of non-white backgrounds. Brexit supporters claimed that this was not a campaign of xenophobia and racism, when the evidence shows it clearly was. The worst kinds of people are already using our leaving as an excuse to let their vitriol run,

There's also the spectacular gullibility of the Brexit supporters. Farage, Hannan and the Boris promised to spend the money previously sent to the EU on the NHS; Farage retracted this immediately once the results were in. Racists and cowards who voted on the promise of a reduction of immigration have since heard from Hannan that this was never possible. People who fell for the idea that we'd have more to say in our trade agreements have since come had to accept the truth that, outside the EU, we'll have less of a say. While the scaremongering on the side of the Stay campaigners was appalling, it was better than the blind rhetoric of the Brexiters, lapping up the bile of the Murdoch press (media owned by an amoral financial tyrant who will see his fortunes improve with less EU control).

On the first day after the referendum, billions had been lost from the UK stock market. Banks were having crisis talks, having lost a quarter of their value overnight (I wonder how long I'll keep my job). The pound had dropped further against the dollar than anytime in the last thirty years. The UK has lost more money in one weekend than it spent on the EU in fifteen years. Our ability to control our destiny in Europe - a continent that we shall forever be part of - has been reduced by our blinkered decision to distance ourselves from it. There will be yet further cuts to try to cope with the fallout. Strong Leave-vote regions, such as Cornwall, are now campaigning to somehow have their EU grants retained. It's too late. You've told the EU to get lost, they aren't going to prop you up anymore. 

While the debate was filled on both sides by scaremongering and rhetoric, one thing that continually came from financial experts was the promise of fiscal chaos if the vote went to Leave. Shock horror, they were right. Imagine that. But no, people didn't want to hear that, as a virulant strain of anti-intellectualism was spearheaded by the likes of Gove. The Murdoch press told us that a vote to Leave was a vote for democracy, and people believed, instead of actually looking at the facts and seeing that there is more power to voters when it comes to EU appointments. Now we can look forward to an unelected Prime Minister, most likely that vicious ball of fuzz, Boris Johnson. A man who never expected to win, who has no plan at all in place for how to take Britain into this new era. A man who changes his allegiance as easily as his socks. A man who is a notorious and outspoken homophobe (oh yes, the protection of LGBT people in the UK is also an EU law. I'm genuinely frightened for anyone who isn't white, British and straight). 

Some people had good and considered reasons for voting to Leave. They were wrong. I don't blame them, I blame the blinkered, the gullible and the elderly who voted to destroy their own descendants' future. Maybe, after a decade of uncertainty and recession, things may stabilise and improve. Maybe England and Wales will sit alone, bankrupt and hate-filled, while Scotland and Northern Ireland take their chance to rejoin Europe and make something of their place in the world. Well done, everyone. You failed.

Monday 20 June 2016

Anton Yelchin

This truly is a tragic loss. Anton Yelchin was only twenty-seven when he was killed, seemingly as the result of a dreadful accident. Yelchin was best known for his role as Chekov in the new iteration of Star Trek, and his sudden death is going to put a very different complexion on the experience of watching Star Trek Beyond. Yelchin was a fine young actor, although it's clear we had yet to see the best from him. He was the best thing in Terminator Salvation and the Fright Night remake. The bulk of his work I have yet to see, but one thing that I can vouch for is Odd Thomas, a hugely underrated supernatural adventure in which he plays the title role. He'd already been cast in further roles that he will now never play.

Yelchin's personal life makes for some interesting reading itself. Born in Leningrad to a Jewish family, he was raised by people who had experienced a great deal of persecution under the Soviet regime. His family fled the USSR when he was only six months old, having received refugee status. His family were sportspeople and artists, so it's not surprising that he went into the performing arts, beginning acting at the age of nine, beginning a rich career that also involved time in a punk band. He could have gone on to do great things.

Sunday 19 June 2016

WHO REVIEW: The Two Masters Trilogy




Big Finish has been especially open to fan demand over the last year or so, and one thing that many fans - including myself - have often hoped for is a "multi-Master" adventure, to compliment the many multi-Doctor stories on the roster. Now that BF have two regular actors in the role, at different points in the character's history, they've finally been able to craft this story. Rather than a one-off, the concept has been used for the latest trilogy of main range releases, with the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors each taking a chapter. Initially, it seems a straightforward structure, with Geoffrey Beevers portraying his calcifying version of the Master in the first release, followed by Alex Macqueen as his campier, later incarnation, before they team up for the finale. However, these temporally complex stories make it a little more complicated than that.

The trilogy starts with And You Will Obey Me, written by BF stalwart Alan Barnes and tightly directed by Jamie Anderson. Pitting Peter Davison against Geoffrey Beevers, it gives us a combination of hero and villain that we never experienced on television, with Beevers making his one screen appearance as the Master one serial before Davison took over as the Doctor. They work well opposite each other, with the most mild-mannered of Doctors providing stark contrast to this exceedingly sinister and cruel Master.

The story starts on a surprisingly light note, with the Doctor attending an auction for a mysterious but familiar grandfather clock. This begins a sequence of events that leads him to team up with Annie (Sheena Bhatessa), before becoming involved in a plot that stretches from the 1980s to the 21st century, as the Master manipulates three youngsters in a terrible plot. The story takes both Time Lords in unusual directions, with the Doctor put through the moral wringer and the Master becoming a deeply twisted father figure. While he is as sadistic and callous as we've ever seen him, Beevers's Master displays a little more flair and humour here than we're used to. Nonetheless, his final actions are quite horrific; this is the Master at his most coldly evil. It's a strong adventure, with some emotional clout, the only weak element being the alien hunters pursuing the villain. They're rather too cliched and uninteresting to make much impact.

Vampire of the Mind provides a solid middle adventure that pushes the overall story along with some intriguing questions. Once again, the combination of Doctor and Master works well. Both Baker's Doctor and Macqueen's Master are toned down a tad from their usual level of bombast, but their respective egos are enough to create a storm. The Master is somewhat more vulnerable here than we've known him in this incarnation; his memory is full of holes and he is somewhat desperate, but this only serves to make him more ruthless and cruel than ever.

Justin Richards pens the script, and while he's never going to be known for experimental material, he's always good for a straightforward and effective adventure. Vampire of the Mind gives the Doctor another one-off companion - Dr. Heather Threadstone, played very well by Kate Kennedy, and someone I'd be keen to hear return. The Mind Leech - the vampire of the title - is both a pitiful and frightening creature, and once more the Master has taken on an ally/slave that is more than he can fully handle. There are some fun pokes at the cliches of Master stories here, and it ends with a believable, albeit possibly unnecessary, reason for the Doctor to forget about this out-of-sequence encounter with his enemy.

The final instalment, The Two Master itself, is the strongest and most enjoyable of the lot. It's hard to explain just why without spoiling the plot, but some elements are too good not to gush over. Bringing the Master together in two incarnations had the promise to be a Doctor-Doctor encounter turned up to max, and this is just what we have, with the two versions of the villain butting heads as much as they admire each other, double crossing as often as they work together. The Master's cruelty and callous disregard for life reaches new heights here. It seems the Master cannot be trusted by even himself. Hilariously, the dying Master, who is here being manipulated by a lunatic cult, manages to steal his own body. Thus, for much of the runtime we have Macqueen playing the Beevers Master and vice versa. This is just one element of a time-bending storyline that involves whole sections of the timeline vanishing and a threat to the entire universe. It's bizarre and pretty ambitious; suitably apocalyptic for the clash of Masters.

The time-tearing shenanigans also give the trilogy the perfect get-out clause for out-of-sequence meetings and continuity quandarie, and although we finally get to learn what happens to the Master to leave him in the terrible state he was when found on Tersurus (leading into The Deadly Assassin), the nature of the story makes everything questionable enough to ignore this going forward if so wished. As with both previous stories, this is ably directed by Jamie Anderson, although he does overuse the dialogue-free sound in certain sequences. The weakest elements of the story are, sadly, the heroes. Lauren Crace is fine as Jemima, but she's a completely generic companion role to perform, while Sylvester McCoy becomes hard to understand in some of the more dramatic scenes. He does, however, nail the final victory over his doubled-up foe. The Two Masters is a highly effective finale to a very enjoyable series.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Having A Red Dwarf Organised Night

That was our team name. Unfortunately, the acronym does spell HARDON.

Last night, in my greatest quizzing performance since my team got an unprecedented perfect score at the Geekest Link Star Trek special, I attended a Red Dwarf quiz. Along with my lady Suz (the quotation queen), Nick and Steve (quizmasters themselves), I spent a fine evening at the Hope and Ruin public house. It was an excellent quiz, well structured, covering Red Dwarf series I to VI (with a bonus question on each series from VII to X. I wanted a question on series XII, because only I would have had a chance to get it right). There was a picture round, two sound rounds (classic next lines) and a full round for each series. It was also hilarious, with a wonderful turnout. The pub was packed, not a seat spare, and there were people who'd come from as far afield as Newcastle just for the quiz. Even a Czech stayed in the country for a few days longer in order to join in (Red Dwarf  is very popular in the former Czechslovakia). There were prizes for the best team name (a sugarpuff sandwich) and for last place (a pea on toast). Absolutely brilliant stuff. And we nailed it.

Props to Steve for coming up with that name.

Thursday 9 June 2016

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues - Come Not Between the Dragons

The latest and sixth episode of the Star Trek Continues fan series is one of the best so far. Unlike the majority of episodes in the series - indeed, in fanfilms in general - "Come Not Between the Dragons" doesn't focus on returning characters, recognisable aliens and continuity points. Instead, it embraces the spirit of Star Trek by exploring the universe and encountering strange new life forms. In this case, the dragons of the title: gigantic "nomadic extremophiles", or cosmozoa (utilising Christopher Bennett's word there), one of which breaches the hull of the ship in order to hide out.

While the episode starts as a monster hunt, it isn't long before one of the crew makes contact with the alien, Usde. The crewman in question, Eliza Taylor, is played by Gigi Edgley, who I didn't recognise straight away because she wasn't painted grey. It's great to see the series continue to utilise actors from multiple sci-fi series. After faces from Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers and Doctor Who (the Doctor himself), we get a guest spot from FarScape's Chiana. She's a great addition to the crew, which takes time to feature more of the regular cast than usual. Usde itself is a brilliant creation, a mix of puppetry and CGI used to create the metallic creature and its much larger, space-dwelling assailant.

The episode takes a turn towards "The Naked Time" territory in the second half. Every Trek series has an episode with the regulars acting out of character (usually at least two, one of which is a Mirror Universe ep). This time, energy waves emitted by Usde's pursuer drive the crew to distraction, beginning with irritability and ending with irrational acts of rage. It's a more cliched aspect to the episode, but it feels very Trek and makes for a tense situation in which to embed the alien contact story. Add in a little of Star Trek's perennial obsession with father figures, and you've got what would have made a classic episode of sixties Trek.

Monday 6 June 2016

Sun's out, guns out (and hold the door)

There's been a marked upturn in the quality of my weekends lately. No more twelve hour shifts, rather more sunshine and pub lunches. Weekends spent with my lady Suzanne, catching up on superhero shows and comedy nights. It's actually been pretty good. I'll remember to reread this when it's not feeling so great.

This weekend just past, although I had to work Saturday morning, I then immediately head off to Brighton for the Brighton Film and Comic Con. It's the first one I've been to, and, to be honest, I was glad when I heard it was a poor one. It was OK, but nothing special. It lacked atmosphere. I'm a little dubious about how conventions work anyway. Famous people sit down and wait for geeks to pay to meet them. It's a good moneymaking scheme, I guess. I'm much more up for the talks. Working meant that I missed Chris Barrie's talk, and Suz managed to get a chat and handshake off him (but that serves me right for not taking her to see Red Dwarf XII being filmed). I did get to meet Brightonian legend Robert Rankin, which is always a pleasure. And briefly Sylvester McCoy, who was pretty grumpy and unapproachable because I didn't have twenty quid for an autograph. Then again, Peter Capaldi is charging $100 Stateside.

However, we did see this guy

And this guy

I'm not even a big Game of Thrones fan, but Daniel Portman and Christian Nairn were brilliant in their talk. Daniel in particular was hugely entertaining. They answered some of our questions, and we kind of met them briefly on the way out. We think they should have a chat show - or a flatshare sitcom.

In the evening, I caught up with my friend Steve, former quizmaster of the Geekest Link and all round good egg. I chatted with his good friend Tom de Ville, who's a screenwriter for such series as Urban Gothic, Hannibal and Stan Lee's Lucky Man. He also wrote the original script for The Quiet Ones. He had some interesting things to say about the industry, and was a very nice gent too. It was a very fun night altogether.

Sunday was blazing hot, so Suz and I went down to the beach to catch up with some and get sunburnt. In the afternoon, Samantha Pressdee had organised a Free the Nipple rally. It was a bit of fun to get a point across - it's a hot summer's day and every other bloke was wandering around half naked, whatever the state of him. But if a woman has her top off, it's not only frowned upon, she could be arrested for exposure. It's ludicrous. It was a good event; there were quite a few of us, a good mix of different sorts of people, and we pocked up recruits along the way. I wasn't to keen to see a couple of skinheads there, but they didn't cause any trouble. I'll admit it was good to see lots of attractive ladies with their tops off, but once we were all together and walking along, it didn't feel sexual at all. Just very comfortable. There were a few pervs out, of course, and being Brighton, there were as many old dykes taking snaps as old men. Only one woman reacted with disgust, actually covering her son's head with a scarf so he wouldn't see "the naked people." 

It was also good for me and Suz. We're both pretty unconfident and sensitive in our bodies, so going topless in public was daunting for both of us. It felt pretty great, even if my pasty white torso did get singed. There are a few pics going round, although the local paper is trying to find some without nipples, which just goes to show, really.

If you look closely you can spot us.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Comics Round-Up: End of May 2016

DC Universe Rebirth #1 (DC)

Another year, another DC relaunch. I had no problem with the New 52 on the whole, and cutting back on the history of the franchise to refresh it was a good idea in principle. Individual titles didn't always work so well, but the principle was sound. Now DC looks to relaunch again, by revealing the story behind the previous reboot. Therein lies the problem; DC are so obsessed with their own history, every reboot draws on previous reboots and makes everything more complicated instead of simpler.

Still... this special (and thankfully affordable) issue makes for a very readable excursion. As a Flash convert, bringing Wally West back into the mix from the Speed Force, having him try to break back into the narrative by desperately interacting with other characters, works for me. This isn't very good storytelling, but it is an interesting look at the nature of storytelling, as the relic of a defunct narrative breaks through to a later version, while uncovering the machinations of another narrative altogether.

Still... making Dr. Manhattan the omnipotent mastermind behind the destruction of the DC Multiverse is brave, idiotic and hilarious all at once. Although the G Johns and his guys will need to watch out for Alan Moore trying to kill them with snake magic.

Scooby Apocalypse #1 (DC)

Not content with aggravating fans of Watchmen, DC is utilising its Hanna-Barbera rights to mess with Scooby-Doo. Also out if mega-crossover Future Quest and upcoming is a Wacky Races-meets-Mad Max series, but firstly in the Scooby-Doo universe (the Scooby-Dooniverse?) is this, a reimagination of the basic set-up of those old cartoons set in a near-future on the verge of global apocalypse. What people don't see to realise is that they're taking the piss. This is pretty hilarious, with hipster Shaggy, evil scientist Velma and cerebrally-enhanced Scooby making for a ridiculous new take on very tired material. I like it.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8 (Marvel

Never anything less than a joy, this series now sees Doreen face the perilous world of online dating. To be honest, there's not much to say about this plot-wise; it's a series of funny moments between Doreen and her little cadre, followed by snapshots of increasingly terrible dates. The night out with the broken-hearted Sentinel would be the highlight of the issue, if it hadn't opened with a Twitter conversation between SQ and Galactus.

Doctor Who Magazine #500 (Panini)

The anniversary issue hits, lathered in nostalgia. The strip is nothing more nor less than an all-out celebration of the strip's history, since it first landed in 1979 and went off on its own strange tangent to the Doctor Who universe. All the characters are there, with the notable exceptions of Fey and Shayde (we really need to see what happened to them). But seeing them all together, saving the day with the twelfth Doctor, is wonderful, especially seeing Izzy and Destrii at peace all these years after the eighth Doctor comics. Just lovely.

Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters #1 (Dark Horse)

A new three-part Lobster Johnson story, and while there's not much to it story-wise, the artwork is as gorgeous as ever, and the action is is spot-on. Gigantic robot monsters plaguing 30s America is a hard sight to beat. Simple, but fun.

Tank Girl: Two Girls, One Tank #1 (Titan)

Another day, another issue one... this is a fun relaunch though, with Tank Girl's biggest fan nicking her legendary tank and running rampage with it. Dirty and debauched, with plenty of action and unexpected references to beach holidays in Worthing. Always a pleasure.

Overwatch #1/McCree: Train Hopper (Blizzard)

A Comixology freebie, this is the first in a series of one-offs to gain interest for this range. A fantasy-tinged issue is already out, but for now, this is a fun, if brief, excursion across a science-fiction western landscape. I like a hardboiled monologue.

PS - Captain America is a HYDRA agent, if you hadn't heard. Didn't buy it, why bother? The twist is everywhere already.