Tuesday 29 August 2017

REVIEW: Grave Warnings

Ed. Bob Furnell, Robert Mammone and Jez Strickley

Pencil Tip Publishing is one of the newer small presses, and while it is so far known best for TV tie-in works, it is already expanding in a new direction: original horror fiction.

Grave Warnings is a compact, evocative book of horror stories, with five authors penning short, punchy tales of terror. Although the title and cover to the book would suggest that this is a collection of ghost stories, it's more varied than that. Although ghost stories do feature, the five tales cover an impressive array of styles and genres between them. If there is one thing that links the stories, it is that the true horror is often not at the hand of something supernatural, but is very human in origin.

The collection opens with “Deceased Estate” by Sarah Parry, a very effective story that sets the grim tone for the book. Parry cleverly shifts the storytelling from light and conversational to desperate and horrific, creating a chilling tale with a hint of a modern Lovecraftian vibe. In spite of the inhuman monstrosities it hints at, “Deceased Estate” is a warning on the perils of unchecked greed.

The theme of avarice continues with Craig Charlesworth's “The Dumb Show,” the most traditional ghost story in the collection. A fun pastiche of Victorian-era short stories, Charlesworth's story is a penny dreadful that sees money-hungry men try to use a haunting to their own financial advantage, even as one tries, or claims to try, to turn over a new leaf. The biting final scene proves that it is the living that present the most to fear.

The Specimen” by Jodie van de Wetering is a brief interlude between the heavier stories, and introduces a man whose unwholesome pastime leads to his becoming truly lost to nature. It's the shortest but most immediately potent story, simply and effectively told.

Hannah G. Parry presents “The Citizen,” an unassuming title for a disquieting and powerful story. Although it is a ghost story, “The Citizen” inverts the usual conception of a haunting in order to make her protagonist question his choices. It's an unsettling tale of cowardice and brutality, emotions so easily entwined, set against the very real, very human horror of revolutionary France, when Paris was, not for nothing, known as the Land of Fear. This story is my personal highlight of the book.

Finally, “Vacancy” by Hamish Crawford brings us back to seemingly ordinary life, with a story that makes us question the protagonist's sanity as he relates the story of how his life changed when he took in a new lodger. With only a hint at something supernatural, “Vacancy” draws on some of the same concerns as “The Citizen”: that we, as men, can commit acts we never thought we were capable of.

Grave Warnings is a a pleasantly unsettling set of stories, and I look forward to more.

Purchase as copy here.

Monday 28 August 2017

REVIEW: 'Aliens in the Mind' by Robert Holmes

The classic BBC radio drama Aliens in the Mind is currently available to stream on BBC Radio 4 Extra. A fine science fiction tale from the mind of great scriptwriter Robert Holmes, you can listen to it here (at time of posting, the serial is on episode three of its six-part run). Here is my old review of this story, originally posted on The History of the Doctor.

Aliens in the Mind began life as a submission for the Doctor Who in the late 1960s by the now legendary Robert Holmes. Then titled Aliens in the Blood, it would have featured the second Doctor, Jamie, and presumably Zoe. For various reasons, it wasn’t picked up, but the outline was several years later to form the basis of this radio serial. Holmes was apparently unable to write the script himself, and it was instead handled by one Rene Basilico - although, having been unable to find any further information on this individual, he may be a pseudonym for all I know.

Rewritten in its entirety, the story is centred on two academics, John Cornelius and Professor Curtis Lark, played by two absolute legends of horror and sci-fi. The more stoic and mild-mannered Cornelius is played by Peter Cushing, while the witty American parapsychologist Prof. Lark is voiced by Vincent Price. Cushing is, of course, perfect in his role as a gentlemanly surgeon, while Price is as wonderfully fruity and sardonic as ever. Honestly, I could listen to that man read out telephone book - what a marvellous voice he has, capable of making anything seem witty or haunting. The duo are old acquaintances, reunited when their friend, Dr. Hugh Dexter, is killed under mysterious circumstances.

Travelling to the remote Hebridean island of Lerwigh, the doctorish duo discover that Baxter’s death is just one part of a far greater mystery. For the Lerwigh is plagued by something known as ‘island sickness,’ a strange affliction that affects the locals minds in their teens. Further investigation reveals that this is merely the maturation stage for a race of mutants - human anomalies with telepathic tendencies. Tendencies that even they, for the most part, are unaware of. They’d be harmless were it not for the occasional second-stage mutation, the so-called Controllers or Masters, who have the ability to psychically control the main mutant populace.

Uncovering the signs of a conspiracy, the pair take the young Flora (Sandra Clarke) away for examination. To all appearances, she is nothing more than a mentally-disabled young adult, but is, in fact, a budding Controller, able to call her fellow mutants from anywhere within a mile radius to obey her every command. In London, they discover that the ongoing emigration from Lerwigh has created a greater threat to humanity than they could ever have realised.

It’s a slow-paced drama, concerned with gently racking up the tension rather than providing action and thrills. It’s perhaps too slow at times, dragging a little in the middle episodes, although continual revelations and plot developments maintain interest. Cushing and Price dominate a fair-sized cast, their voices always distinct against the array of Scots accents. Scenes which have them simply sitting down to dinner are used to summarise the plot, with a smattering of banter to keep it diverting. There are flashes of Holmesian wit, but the dialogue does sometimes slip into dry exposition. Nonetheless, the tension gradually mounts to a chilling finale, which manages to tie up the immediate threat, while leaving the ending open to the greater consequences. Who fans will enjoy hearing Richard Hurndall in the cast, bringing two substitute first Doctors together. There’s some subtle but effective sound work, including some very restrained gunshots, but the main strength of the play lies in Price and Cushing’s earnest depiction of the concepts, which take in telepathy, hypnotism, slavery, politics and eugenics.

While not the classic Holmes’s reputation might suggest, Aliens in the Mind is a worthwhile and intriguing example of audio science fiction.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

DANDY SPACE LOG 2-12 & 2-13

The grand finale of Space Dandy!

Season Two, Episode Twelve - Dandy's Day in Court, Baby!

Dandy stands trial for murder, as the Gogol Empire closes in.

He's Dandy, Baby: Dandy is on trial for the murder of the Lumeshian Guy Reginald on the planet Suburbia. Having heard about the presence of a rare Lumeshian on the planet at BooBies, Dandy travelled there to capture him. A DNA scan of Dandy comes up negative, but his Pyonium levels are increasing exponentially. Dandy sleeps through his entire trial.

He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: Dandy doesn't list Meow as a crewmember, and once tried to sell him to a petshop but they wouldn't buy him. Meow waited at the emergency exit during the supposed murder, and pretty quickly turns against Dandy, saying that he always thought he'd snap eventually. He spends most of the trial tweeting.

He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby:
QT is also called as a witness, along with Scarlet and Honey. QT was minding the ship at the time of the incident. Dandy wanted to buy "one of those R2-D2 type robots" but ended up with QT, and he was too much trouble to take back.

We're Alien Hunters, Baby:

Lumeshians: An extremely rare alien species, the registration of which would fetch a fine one million woolongs at the ARC. Judging by Guy Reginald, they are tall, blue humanoids. Reginald suffers from sleep apnoeia, and had entered a state of hibernation mistaken by the coroner for death due to his unfamiliar physiology. Reginald was formerly a notorious masked wrestler.

Sundry aliens: The prosecutor of the trial is a weird jackal-shark creature. The lead judge is a toothy whale creature with a hint of Vogon about him. They both speak with a Southern drawl. The counsel for the defense is a vaguely insectoid, green quadruped.

Let's get Our Asses to BooBies, Baby: Honey isn't pleased that on his last visit to BooBies, Dandy ordered a coffee and stayed for "like, five hours." Dandy was snuggling up to Rose Reginald, Guy's wife, a tall, beautiful and very chesty humanoid.

I Know This Planet, Baby: The planet Suburbia is five thousand parsecs from planet Turbo, home to two baseball-playing, Twitter-obsessed kids called Hiroshi and Skipjack.

Phenomenology, Baby: Pyonium, or Mega-Pyonium, is a recently discovered particle that bends time and space, allowing travel across dimensions, and theoretically contains incredible levels of energy. Intense emotional states can interact with Pyonium, potentially propelling matter across incredible distances or across dimensions, for instance, the bloodlust and fury Hiroshi felt at his "friend" Skipjack for blocking him on Twitter propelled his Pyonium covered baseball from Turbo to Suburbia, seemingly because of the magnetic effect of Dandy's own Pyonium levels.

Dr. Duran is the galaxy's foremost expert on Mega-Pyonium. He refers to it as the God Particle. (Professor Higgs will be pleased, he never liked people using that name for his eponymous boson.)

The Bottom Line, Baby:  A pretty average episode that mostly exists to clarify what Pyonium does and set up the grand finale. The furious level of in-jokes has long settled down by now, but the episode still finds room for references to Star Wars, Samurai Champloo, The Shining and Twelve Angry Men. The mad Dandy-esque space science is good fun. The ending is worth it, though: a thousand insectoid Gogol warriors appear outside the courthouse to capture Dandy, leading into...

WHO REVIEW: Titan Eleventh Doctor comics - Year Two

A belated review of the most recent complete run of Doctor Who comics to feature the eleventh Doctor (I may cover Ten and Twelve later, we'll see). Titan Publishing's "Eleventh Doctor, Year Two" ran from late 2015 to the end of 2016, but I've been catching up via the UK reprints in Tales from the Tardis, which appear on stands about six or seven months later. The storyline has also been published in a series of trade paperbacks: The Then and the Now, The One, and The Malignant Truth, so there's no shortage of ways to read the story.

And a truly excellent story it is. The full "year" comprises a fifteen issue storyline, from "The Then and the Now, Part One" through to "Physician, Heal Thyself," charting an epic adventure that crosses the Doctor's timeline from the depths of the Time War to the high times of the eleventh Doctor. Written by Rob Williams and Si Spurrier, the series features a number of artists, although for me, Simon Fraser's idiosyncratic style suits the story best. Regardless, there's a consistency to the story's art in spite of the mix of artists, a rare feat for an ongoing strip with different artistic contributors. It's a story that deserves a strong visual style, as it demands that the story sticks in the mind.

If you're not a fan of the Time War mythos that has become so important in modern Doctor Who, you won't enjoy this series. Although the Time War was an essential part of the backstory of the ninth and tenth Doctors, the series moved on from it during the time of the eleventh, only for it to become the driving force of the fiftieth anniversary special. The comic series revives this focus, bringing the eleventh Doctor and his comic strip companion Alice Obiefune into contact with the his war crimes. The Doctor doesn't even remember the apparent genocide at his own hands, and it is most certainly impossible for elements to be spilling out from time-locked events into his relative present. Nonetheless, the Doctor and Alice are pursued through time and space by the eponymous Then and the Now, a warping ripple in humanoid shape that is both a bounty hunter and a walking temporal paradox.

It isn't only Alice that joins the Doctor. On the course of his travels he is joined by various other adventurers, not least of whom is Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer! Anyone who's read my reviews of the seventh Doctor comics will know that I'm not a fan of Daak. He's a one-note joke on the sort of macho 90s antihero that is unbearable unless written with considerable finesse. Thankfully, then, here he is written with finesse, becoming a far better foil for the eleventh Doctor than he ever was for the seventh. It actually works very well, since the eleventh Doctor can be just as manipulative as the seventh, and has no qualms in using Daak as a blunt instrument.

Another blunt instrument the Doctor is fond of is River Song, whom he breaks out of prison to ehlp him on his mission to track down the truth of his own past. Then there's the Squire, a frankly wonderful new creation. The Squire is an elderly space knight who supposedly acted as companion to the Doctor during the War. The Doctor, however, has no memory of her, and the truth behind his faithful companion's past is just one of the mysteries he has to explore.

Events conspire to drag the Doctor and his team throughout the continuum, from a Sontaran battlefield to the prison asteroid Shada. The current crisis is entwined with the Doctor's past, and two whole issues go by without the eleventh Doctor's appaearing at all. Alice is drawn back, in an apparently impossible manoeuvre, to the depths of the Time War, to come face-to-face with the War Doctor, who then leads the storyline until future and past catch up. The War incarnation is not alone, however. Needs must as the devil drives, and he has allied himself with the Master, here presented in a previously unseen incarnation that appears as dark-haired young boy, which is even more sinister than it sounds.

Where we find the Time War, we find Daleks, and this story presents the worst, most monstrous Daleks ever. The Volatix Cabal are an elite group of Dalek mutants created to fight the Time Lords, not unlike the Cult of Skaro, except that these Daleks have taken creativity and individuality to its extremes. Twisting their bodies and minds into horrific shapes, they have driven themselves insane, and seek to spread pain and fear throughout time, screaming "ExterminHATE!" wherever they go. They are an absolutely absolutely terrifying creation, and their distorted forms are the enduring image of this story. However, Abslom Daak was born to kill Daleks.

In a story that twists and turns into paradox after anomaly, the Doctor faces consequences of his hardest choices. I often felt during the early 21st century series that there was scope for more exploration of the fallout of the Time War and the Doctor's actions within in, and these comics are a perfect example of the stories this approach can generate. Showing the Doctor in his worst but most interesting light, Titan's "Eleventh Doctor, Year Two " is a superior Doctor Who comic.

Monday 14 August 2017

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

I expected something a little weirder from Valerian. The trailers and publicity materials pushed the sheer number of bizarre aliens and incredible vistas that Luc Besson has gone to lengths to recreate in the most expensive independent film in history. However, underneath the admittedly spectacular visuals and quirky asides, Valerian's story is very straightforward and pretty ordinary.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a long-running French comic, Valerian et Laureline, which ran all the way from 1967 to 2010. Like many in the English-speaking world, I've never read it, although I am aware that it has had a big influence on many science fantasy writers, artists and creators over the years. This makes it hard to say whether Besson drew on other space adventure properties when he wrote and directed the movie. I'd expect it to look and feel a lot like his previous fantasy epic, The Fifth Element, but Valerian also has a distinct feel of Star Wars in many sequences. Is Besson drawing on the biggest space fantasy series ever, or is it simply that George Lucas was influenced by Valerian et Laureline as much as people say?

The opening of the film is just perfect, taking us on a tour through the history of space travel and particularly, the development of a huge space station in Earth orbit. It drifts from 2001 evocative realistic hardware to Star Trek-like interstellar diplomacy. It's exactly how I'd open a grand space opera. It introduces the primary setting of the movie, a gigantic conglomeration of alien environments clustered around the onetime space station named Alpha, the so-called City of a Thousand Planets.

Visually, the film is absolutely incredible. I've said before that modern sci-fi blockbusters have become essentially animated films, and Valerian takes this trend further even than Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. Save for a handfull of scenes, almost every moment in the movie is filled with CG aliens of all shapes and sizes, or against a background of mind-boggling cityscapes, impossibly deep caverns and alien palaces. The most inventive environment appears early in the film, at the Big Market, a huge bazaar that exists in two different dimensional plains (and there was me thinking it was in Newcastle).

There's no faulting the look of the film, it's array of extraterrestrials or its fabulous locations. However, they make for a background for quite uninteresting human characters. Valerian and Laureline, spatio-temporal agents for the Human Federation, are played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavingne, who are very pretty but don't add a lot else. Neither actor has a great deal of charisma to me, and the two baby-faced space agents don't inspire much interest as protagonists. The actors also lack chemistry with each other, which is a problem when a laboured romance is at the heart of the story. You know the sort of thing - he sees himself as a bad boy, she thinks she's too good for him, they love each other really, surely he'll break through her shell, etc. Seen it a thousand times before.

The central plot concerns the fate of the planet Muul, a lost paradise world once inhabited by peculiar, beautiful and quite dull alien beings. There's a rot at the heart of the Federation, and the disenfranchised aliens hold the truth. Perfectly solid, if unoriginal material, and the plot chugs along quite nicely. It's energetic and fun, and there are some very entertaining action set pieces. The problem is that I can't find myself caring much about either the two leads or the pacifistic aliens. I'm more interested in the various ne'er-do-wells we glimpse in the Big Market and in the underworld of Alpha. The best character is a shapeshifting coelenterate who doesn't even make it till the end of the second act, but at least she's a sexy invertebrate and is played by Rihanna.

Good fun and very pretty, but two-dimensional and with some truly terrible dialogue. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it, but given the choice, I'm never going to put Valerian on instead of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars, or, for that matter, The Fifth Element.

REVIEW: THE SLIDE by Victor Pemberton

Sadly, it has been reported today that Victor Pemberton, one of the truly great scriptwriters, has died. I thought this made a good occasion to re-upload my review of his highly regarded science fiction radio serial, The Slide, first broadcast in seven weekly parts in 1966.This review was written for The History of the Doctor, hence the very Doctor Who-focused elements in parts.

Victor Pemberton is best remembered by Doctor Who fans as the author of the Troughton serial Fury from the Deep, as well as the later audio release The Pescatons, starring Tom Baker. This is of course just one facet of a prolific career in television and radio (including work on the UK version of Fraggle Rock!), including this well-remembered radio serial from 1966. Contrary to popular fan myth, The Slide was never submitted as a Doctor Who story, although its success did likely have a bearing on Permberton’s later working for the series, and there are some similarities to Fury from the Deep. However, these are mostly restricted to the environmental themes of the plays, and the relentless, inhuman nature of the threat involved. If anything, The Slide has a more Quatermass­-y vibe, full as it is with realistic people and concerned scientists being caught up in unfathomable events.

Set in the small English town of ­­­­Redlow, The Slide pits it and its inhabitants against a constant onslaught from nature. At first a sudden, unexpected tremor creates a vast crack in the main road; then, at night, a thick, greenish slurry begins to seep from the crack, sliding impossibly up the road against the gradient. A deceptively gentle pace continually piles events upon the characters, so that each episode drives inexorably towards a terrifying conclusion. The Mud forms a continuous slide in the night, encroaching further and further into the town, while at day it solidifies into an immovable, impenetrable mass.

Themes of environmentalism and the conflict between human progress and natural order are at the forefront here. The play begins with the small scale crisis of townsfolk against a progressive developer who has made sweeping changes to the town’s environs. This is then reflected in macrocosm, as the Mud sweeps away the town to create its own environment, one of stillness and darkness. It even touches on an almost Gaia-like hypothesis, as the Mud is revealed to not only be alive, but intelligent, and some come to believe that the Earth herself is reacting against humanity, endeavouring to scour them from the surface. It does take the scientific elite an astonishingly long time to realise that it is sunlight that is causing the Mud to solidify in daytime, thus presenting a solution, but otherwise the bouts of theorising provide some of the most intriguing and enjoyable segments.

What makes the serial so effective, however, is its focus on real human characters, brought to life by some of the era’s most talented actors. The onslaught of the Mud leads to the rural townsfolk to lose their faith, to turn against one another, or to sink into depression. It’s a grim portrait of human frailty under pressure - although the revelation that the Mud is exerting a hypnotic influence is perhaps a bit much. Maurice Denham portrays ­­­­Hugh Deverall’s gradual collapse from influential developer to incoherent madman with alarming realism, while Dr Richards, the local GP, struggles to maintain his stiff upper-lipped composure in face of the onslaught. Meanwhile, the great Roger Delgado raises above a phony South American accent (“The surface of thee Earth is like thee theen crust of a pie…”) to create a powerful performance as the geologist Joseph Gomez.

The writing and performances are ably supported by some sterling work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Perfectly created everyday sounds are thrown into sharp relief by the screeching whine emitted by the encroaching Mud, amongst which is some brave, highly effective use of silence. The Slide is a classic piece of science fiction, a masterful look back at the days of truly great radio.

Sunday 13 August 2017

Comics Round-Up: First in Ages!

I cut waaay down on my comics purchasing this year due to the fact that the things cost an absolute fortune to keep up with. Currently, I have only one item on my pull list: Ghostbusters 101, which I plan to review in full once it's finished. However, I decided to pick up a few one-offs over the last few weeks just to see what new things were on the shelf, and thought it was high time for a little round-up. Plus, I'm going to be catching up on some recommended titles in the trades and graphic novels, for review as well.

America #4 (Marvel) I was so up for an America Chavez series, but this wasn't all that. It's interesting exploring her backstory, and I guess that was always how a series centring on her had to go, but America is one of those characters whose mystery is a big part of her appeal. That, and punching things. Maybe this was an off-issue, but among all the glitzy visuals, the story didn't do much for me.

Astonishing X-Men #1 (Marvel)

The X-Men, who have about twelve series on the go at any one time, get their latest issue one. And, well, it's not bad. There's a strong hook - the Shadow King is making his comeback via the minds of the world's psychics, and almost overcomes Psylocke. She calls out to various mutants to help fight him: Angel, Bishop, Gambit (who comes in two with Fantomex), Rogue and Old Man Logan. There's some very clunky dialogue as different characters (some from different universes) get each other up to speed, but the interplay is pretty fun otherwise. The last page reveal, while a bit predictable, is effective enough.

Bill & Ted Save the Universe #2 (Boom!)

Blast, I missed the first issue. I'll have to keep my eyes open for it. This is a treat. They've been to the past, they've been to the future, they've been all around the afterlife, but one place they haven't been is outer space. Apart from the obvious fun to be had with Wyld Stallyns meeting aliens, this series introduces their long lost mothers into the mix, plugging a big gap in the narrative of the films by revealing that they've actually been travelling the universe to prepare other civilisations for the coming of the Stallyns. Rufus is satisfyingly shifty and the dialogue for the guys is spot on. The art by Bachan and Guimaraes fits the mood perfectly as well. Definitely plan to pick up issue three.

Centipede #1-#2 (Dynamite)

Just out in digital, and this is really pretty good. Adapting an extremely simplistic Atari game into a comic is always going to be a challenge, no matter how much fun it is, but this works, because it allows itself to be a simple tale and focuses on straightforward beats. Elements like the last man alive and an unstoppable threat never get old. There are some great emotional beats in here as well, which come at you in between the highly effective monster attack panels. It's a shame we ca't escape Joseph Campbell even on an alien planet, but this is nonetheless a fun way to spend a few minutes.

Shade, the Changing Girl #8 (DC's Young Animal)

DC's latest imprint includes this new update/sequel to Shade, the Changing Man, and I've only now come round to reading an issue. Young Loma, an avian alien from the planet Meta, follows in the footsteps of her hero Rac Shayde and comes to Earth. I finally picked this up because the cover features rainbow-feathered dromaeosaurs and that is guaranteed to appeal to me. Actual dinosaur content of the issue is minimal. It took me a while to get up to speed with what was happening here, but the disjointed uncertainty of the story is the point. Interesting, probably needs to be picked up as a trade so I can really get to grips with it. 

Saturday 12 August 2017

Top of the tree in what's ostensibly still the most powerful country in the world, and somehow they still don't think it's good enough.

They march in, angry that the chief figure of slavery and oppression is no longer permitted as a figure of reverence.


And when violence breaks out, as it so easily does, the weight of the law will crash down hardest on those who are fighting to recognise that their people are the oppressed, not these conservative cretins. How many neo-Nazi, modern KKK bastards will face actual consequences for their actions today? How many black counter-protesters will see the inside of a cell?

Wednesday 9 August 2017

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues 9 - "What Ships Are For"

Before they begin their two-part finale, the Star Trek Continues team present a stand-alone episode that embodies exactly what classic Star Trek was all about. "What Ships Are For" is a story with a strong, simple but effective moral message that would fit in perfectly in Trek's classic run, although it has a particular resonance with today's concerns.

The episode is set on and around Hyalinus, a misshapen asteroid that is inhabited by a sophisticated race of people who are slowly making their way out into the wider universe. When Kirk and co. beam to the surface in order to make official contact with the Hyalini, they find a monochrome world, completely leached of colour. It's a great visual hook, and particularly striking in contrast to the rainbow colours of the series as a whole. It becomes clear that Hyalinus is bathed in solar radiation that prevents the eyes' cone cells from functioning, so that no one on the surface can see colour. It's a bit of a question then why the Hyalini evolved cones in the first place, although it's said that the radiation has been increasing over the last few centuries so presumably once they functioned normally. The increasing radiation is also causing a sickness to appear among the population.

Kirk takes an inhabitant of the planet back to the Enterprise - the youngest and prettiest, obviously - and introduces her to the world of colour. It becomes clear that there is another species in the system, the Abicians, who are considered backward, savage immigrants and refugees, violently kept away from Hyalinus. However, it becomes clear that there are thousands of Abicians living on the planet, fully integrated. Should the Federation help counteract the radiation and allow the people of the planet to see in colour again, they will be able to see the aliens living among them, with potentially violent consequences.

It's a pretty obvious metaphor for racism and xenophobia, but I enjoy episodes with a strong, in-your-face moral sometimes. Just like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," this episode knocks you on the head with how ridiculous it is to judge people based on the colour of their skin, but being obvious about it doesn't make it any less true or important. A little more subtle is the pro-refugee message, pushing the message that a nation cannot thrive by shielding it from outsiders, something that both the US and the UK could learn to accept. There's a fine line that points out that compassion can exist alongside fear and pride, another thing we could stand to learn.

It's a decent script, written by Kipleigh Brown, who also plays Lt. Smith (who surprisingly barely features in the episode). The are some elements, particularly the interplay between Kirk, Spock and Bones, which don't flow very well and feel forced in. The main cast, though, improve in their roles all the time, with Vic Mignogna now giving an almost perfect reenactment of Shatner's Kirk. There are good turns by Elizabeth Maxwell as young alien Sekara and Anne Lockhart as her foster mother Thaius. Lockhart is another actor who is best known for a major sci fi role, in this case Sheba in the original Battlestar Galactica. The big draw here though is John de Lancie, making a powerful guest appearance as Galisti, ruler of Hyalinus. It's a welcome surprise that he isn't playing Q, but an entirely new character, one who has some excellent confrontation with Kirk. He's undeniably a highlight of the episode.

Although there are elements in the episode that call back to the series as a whole, "What Ships Are For" plays down it's connections to the Trek mythology. There's a mention of yet another two Constitution-class ships being lost from service, which is presumably going to tie into the finale and the Enterprise's part in the revamp of Starfleet. There's another moment which ties into the Motion Picture, which signifies the end point of Star Trek Continues, and also provided a laugh: the crew get their first glimpse of the beige pyjamas that pass as uniforms in that movie, and promptly declare that they'll never be seen dead in them. It's a fun little nod to the movie, and also ties into the overall episode with its tale of drabness and lost colour. The only other element I picked up that tied into the mythology was that the Enterprise's next mission is to Daran 5, which would be a follow-up to the events of the third season episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky."

Beyond these gentle nods, though, this a fun, effective episode that stands proudly on its own two feet.

"What Ships Are For" can be watched here.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Two short films

Two short animations that have been gaining attention and are worth sharing far and wide. The first only went up two days ago, and celebrates love and diversity. Too cute for words.

"In a Heartbeat" is by Beth David and Esteban Bravo.

The second film has been around since February but somehow I've only just stumbled upon it. It's an excellent sf short and cooperation vs. greed.

"Wire Cutters" was made by Jack Anderson and is hosted by omeleto.com