Wednesday 30 December 2020

WHO REVIEW: The Knight, the Fool and the Dead (Time Lord Victorious)

This novel is part of the already quite sprawling Time Lord Victorious event, and while some of these different elements seem quite tenuously related the main strand, this is right in the very centre of it all. Picking up pretty much straight after the Doctor goes all power mad at the end of The Waters of Mars, it sees him travel back to the Dark Times at the very dawn of the universe simply because there's no one around to stop him.

It's a bit of a retcon, the whole concept of this crossover, since on screen the Doctor appeared to get the stuffing knocked out of him by Adelaide Brook's death and renounced his Time Lord Victorious ways... but then he did shoot off for a victory lap around the cosmos rather than go face his fate when the Ood showed up. So while it doesn't quite fit to the letter of what we saw, it does fit the ethos, with perhaps the most arrogant of Doctors (yes, even more than Six or Three) throwing his weight around. 

The BBC could have got someone a bit more... daring, I guess, to write this essential novel, but then, I suppose you want a safe pair of hands for something like this, and Steve Cole is a good choice in that regard. His prose is solid and easy to read, he has a good grasp of the Doctor's character(s), and he has a lot of experience. He was the range editor for the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures novels for a good while, wrote a bunch of them (often under pseudonyms Michael Collier and Tara Samms), came back for the New Series Adventures, did a whack of Big Finish audios, some Iris Wildthyme short stories, about a hundred comic strips for Battles in Time back in the early days of the new series. Basically, he's got form, and while some of his work is pretty forgettable, he's also responsible for some of my very favourite Who stories.

The Dark Times turn out to be a lot brighter and more lively than we might have expected from previous glimpses (something even the Doctor notices). This is an era before the invention of death, when everyone is immortal, barring accidents. It's a fascinating concept, and I wish there'd been scope for more exploration of how societies would evolve in such a fundamentally different universe. After throwing around Dark Times concepts in the other stories and showing us glimpses of the Kotturuh, this book brings them front and centre. They're truly nightmarish, Lovecraftian creations, and for reasons of their own, have given themselves the mission to assign limited lifespans to all of the universe.

It interesting seeing the Doctor confronted with what something that's part of his established ancient history, only to be reviled at the visceral personal cost of it. It's a great inversion of the situation in The Fires of Pompeii, and it's good to see the Doctor on the wrong side of destiny. Of course, this is the Doctor, who can overthrow empires when he's in a good mood. In a bad mood, he starts his own crusade against the Kotturuh and vows to rewrite the entire history of the universe. In spite of Cole's background on the BBC EDAs, this novel reads a lot like the New Adventures, with a frighteningly powerful Doctor facing threats from the dawn of time and meeting aliens with bizarre names, complete with interludes showing the First Doctor (and the Eighth and the Ninth, for that matter).

The Doctor finds himself working with Brian the Ood, an absolutely lovely creation; an Ood assassin with a split personality who places all his worst impulses in "Mr. Ball." I can see why Brian's been picked as a recurring character in TLV. The incidental characters are pretty solid, but none of them really stand out in the same way as Brian.

The book ends on one hell of a cliffhanger, with the Doctor taking on the mantle of the Time Lord Victorious once again and sets out to remake the universe to his own design... before two familiar faces turn up. While it's not the standout work of Doctor Who some of the hype built the TLV novels up to be, this is a solid novel with some powerful moments that sets up even more exciting things to come.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

It's still the Christmas season, and on Television Heaven you can enjoy two new reviews of classic Christmas TV films: there's The Flint Street Nativity from 1999, and the wonderful Lost Christmas from 2011.

Plus, you can still read these Christmassy pieces from before:

The Porridge Christmas Specials (1975 &1976)

The Good Life - "Silly, But It's Fun" (1977)

Blackadder - the Specials (including Blackadder's Christmas Carol, 1988)

A Christmas Carol (2019)

Sunday 27 December 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-11 - "Su'Kal"


After the last fortnight's diversion to write out Georgiou, we get back to the main arc plot with the first part of a serialised story that will head out the season. Decoding the data from the Verubin Nebula, Discovery heads to find the Kelpein ship and its one remaining survivor: the eponymous Su'Kal, who was only a child when the ship crashed into a planet in the middle of the nebula. However, things are hotting up with the Emerald Chain: Osyraa has been posturing near Kaminar (pretty much confirmed as still a Federation member) in an attempt to draw Saru out so she can capture Discovery for its spore drive. She's not wrong thinking that it will get Saru worried, but hasn't reckoned on another Kelpien crisis to drag him to the other side of space. In a classic series move, an away team with all the most vital members of the command crew go to the crashed ship: Saru, because Kelpiens; Burnham, to keep an eye on Saru; and Culber, for his medical expertise (the place is riddled with radiation). Saru leaves Tilly in charge as Acting Captain, and she's pretty awesome, even when Osyraa turns up and attacks.

It's a strong, inventive episode, even though the actual plot is very straightforward. It's full of fascinating visuals and cutting dialogue, and the major characters pretty much all get a moment of focus (although the Adira/Gray plotline, while reopened, is still on the backburner). One thing I neglected to mention last week was how well Book has integrated as an unofficial member of the Discovery crew, and he continues to work well this week as a problem solver/local knowledge guy/handy space pilot. The main focus, though, is naturally on Burnham, Tilly, Saru and Culber, the latter of whom is particularly impressive. Since returning to the world of the living, Culber has slowly come to terms with his new existence, and is the only member of the original crew for whom arriving in the future has been nothing but positive. In the 32nd century he has found a purpose, and isn't afraid of risking his life if it means he may save another. Wilson Cruz puts in a beautiful performance.

Beaming to the ship, the away team find themselves in a truly spectacular holographic environment. It's like a gothic fantasy realm, a very different sort of location than most in Star Trek (you get a bit of that in Klingon stories sometimes, otherwise it's very rare). More interestingly, the programme changes the appearance of the away team so that they don't spook Su'Kal. This doesn't really make any sense, but it's a fun touch making Burnham a Trill and Culber Bajoran, but the big change is Saru. For the first time in the series, Doug Jones gets to play his character without make-up, and it really hammers home just how brilliant an actor he is. He's at once almost unrecognisable and absolutely Saru. You have to wonder just how compromised (shades of Spock in Star Trek 2009 there) Saru is becoming due to the involvement of the Kelpiens, and whether he'll actually be rejoining the ship when this is over. 

Burnham doesn't really get anything new in the way of character development, but there are some very nice moments with Saru, and her role pretending to be a hologram for Su'Kal is a strong scene. Perhaps the most impressive actor in the episode, though, is Bill Irwin as Su'Kal himself. He gives an astonishingly good performance as a character who is not only an alien, but who has been alone since childhood and is unused to the company of anyone who isn't a hologram. It's an endearing and fascinating performance, and that's before the sudden revelation that he caused the Burn.

Su'Kal's unexpected ability - seemingly due to his body adapting to a radiation-soaked environment on a planet made from dilithium - means he can emit a huge wave of energy that destabilises dilithium. It really puts me in mind of X-Men, with someone who has an innate ability that could endanger the world (or galaxy, in this case). Indeed, I wonder if the hyopthesis that Su'Kal has adapted due to his environment is wrong, and that he's a mutant, and was stranded in the nebula deliberately. But maybe that's a stretch. There's a strange but intriguing side plot involving a kelp monster that represents Su'Kal's fears, which surely has to lead up to something bigger.

Meanwhile, Discovery is attacked by Osyraa, and Tilly is brilliant as Acting Captain. Mary Wiseman gives a great performance as someone absolutely bricking it but still determined to command the ship. Osyraa is better this time round as well, with Janet Kidder appearing much more imposing and threatening this time round. Her psychological tactics work well with Tilly, although she doesn't break through, but her experience means she's clearly going to get the better of the ensign (at least in the short term). This is what happens when all your command crew bugger off on an away mission. Tilly's initial plan to jump away and come back for the team is, of course, absolutely the right thing to do, even as Stamets protests. In the end, though, the Chain come for the ship and we end on a great cliffhanger. 


The original title for this episode was "The Citadel."

We see some footage of the admission of the Kelpien and Ba'ul Alliance into the Federation. It seems that not only is Kaminar still a Federation member in 3189 - and being threatened by the Emerald Chain - but that the two intelligent races of the planet made peace and unified prior to joining.

The planet Su'Kal is stranded on is named Theta Zeta and is classified as class-Y, an especially hostile class that was introduced on Star Trek: Voyager.

The Kelpien starship is named the KSF Khi'eth 971014. I'm guessing KSF stands for Kelpien Space Force or similar. I don't know who Keith is.

Kelpiens show red spots on their temples when pregnant. There's a hologram of a Kelpien elder on the ship, which Saru says appears far older than any Kelpien he's ever seen. We don't know how long Kelpiens live, and Saru probably doesn't either, given the culling, but Su'Kal's been alone for about 120 years. That said, it's possible he actually looks older than he appears here, and it's more holographic trickery.

Discovery can cloak now, which might have been worth mentioning. Gratifyingly, though, there are still limits to cloaking devices, and the ship can't jump while cloaked. Given the lack of zap-zap action, ships probably can't fire while cloaked either.

There's a network of transwarp conduits that the couriers use - which allows Osyraa to get to Verubin quickly - but they're incredibly dangerous and Book thinks she's nuts for using one. Presumably they need to be maintained in some way to keep them safe for travel and the dilithium shortage has led to their being neglected.

There are some fun aliens in the holo-flashback of Kaminar's induction into the Federation, including a guy with a halo of tentacles on his head. They wear yet another new Starfleet uniform but we still don't know when this happened.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-9 - 3-10 - "Terra Firma"

It's the first two-part episode for a while, and... well, I enjoyed it up until Georgiou went to the Mirror Universe. After that, my god, did it become boring.

The problem with the Mirror Universe is that it's an idea that becomes stale quickly. Discovery season one just about managed it for an extended run of episodes, but then we had the primary crew to maintain contrast. This time, we're spending time with nothing but a bunch of power-hungry murderers, and it's tedious. Enterprise got away with it with "In a Mirror, Darkly," because it had at least some humour, we knew the equivalent characters well, and the chance to learn about the history of the Mirror Universe was interesting. And they through some classic aliens in, which were the main draw for many of us. On Deep Space Nine, the Mirror Universe episodes were funny, we only got one a year, and even then they started to wear thing by the seventh season.

In "Terra Firma," we spend the better part of two hours in the company of an utterly reprehensible woman, who we're supposed to feel sympathy for, and for all of Michelle Yeoh's acting skills (and she really is excellent), it's just very hard to care about what happens to her. So this mass-murdering monster is going to vapourise? Fine, good riddance. She's been a tedious character anyway until this season's improvement in her writing, but it's not enough to actually care about her. Villainous characters on a road to redemption is a well-run road, and it can work very well. In recent years, redemption arcs for villains, especially female villains, have been a big thing - Missy on Doctor Who, about 90% of Once Upon a Time - but you have to have enough charisma to actually want the villain to succeed. You have to want to see her do better. I just don't care about Mirror Georgiou enough.

I can see why Georgiou and Burnham care for each other; they remind each other of the person they lost through a betrayal and it gives them a way to make amends, through which they have come to genuinely care about each other. But why the hell do any of the rest of them give a damn about Empress of Evil? Tilly even gives her a hug, for crying out loud. And as for the officer's mess toast for the worst person any of them have ever met... you can't convince us that either the characters or viewers care about her by having a few speeches and a toast afterwards. I get that, past the fourth wall, they're sending off Yeoh, but the whole point of this endeavour was that she'd get her own series, so we'll see her again in a year or two, once she's finished with Shang-Chi

It begins well. Georgiou's affliction is genuinely interesting, and having Kovich (aka Cronenberg, don't just call him Cronenberg, remember his name) explain the effect via a fan-pleasing bit of exposition is fun.Added to this is the ongoing mystery of the Burn, which is finally heading towards some kind of resolution thanks to the source of the distress call at its origin being identified. The ship is Kelpien, which potentially adds a whole other layer of intrigue and divided loyalties for Saru... or might amount to nothing. We don't know yet. Vance inexplicably allows his most valuable ship to go off on a jaunt into the unknown to help a genocidal dictator from a parallel universe, so we get to visit another planet thousands of light years away, where Burnham and Georgiou are greeted by the mysterious Carl. (You think a cosmic entity called Carl is silly? The Kelpien ship seems to be called Keith, so whatever. Prosaic names are in in the 32nd century.) 

Carl is fabulous. Paul Guilfoyle makes him both mysterious and likeable. He's an all-powerful celestial being who smokes a cigar and loves puns (really bad ones - our senses of humour are identical). He's very Doctorish, really, and the immediate question is, what or who is he? Is he a Q? A Prophet? The Guardian of Forever? Well, the clues were there for that last one, not least the issue of The Star Dispatch newspaper he was reading, complete with an Edith Keeler-related headline, but there were several other Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed, so it could all have been a red herring. I had kind of hoped he'd be something new - Discovery has been trading very heavily on established alien races lately - but making him the Guardian works. It's fun, it's a nice callback, and why shouldn't the Guardian have evolved during a millennium of dealing with humans? It also calls back to Harlan Ellison's original intention that the Guardian was one of a race of powerful beings, not the portal itself. Here, he's both!

Sadly, it's all to facilitate that interminable trip to the Mirror Universe, where everyone scowls and wears bad emo make-up and hams it up atrociously. Sure, the cast all look like they're having fun, but it's so tiresome. It almost works with Mirror Burnham, Captain Killy, etc. but they're characters are too broadly sketched. They're just bad. That's all there really is to them. The minor counterparts could have worked, but we don't know enough about the prime versions of Detmer, Rhys, Owesekun et al for their evil opposites to mean anything. We just get a long sequence of nasty soldier types strutting about and being violent. All to show how Georgiou has apparently turned over a new leaf. Yeah, her hands were tied when she killed Burnham - it was life or death - but that's only after torturing her for days. The scenes with the apparently nameless Mirror equivalent of Saru are better, and it will be interesting to see if there are real repercussions for the Kelpiens in that universe (I had presumed Georgious was planning to make them into a secret army, but that's not going to happen now). Otherwise, though, it's not enough to show that Georgiou has improved from what she was before. She's on the way, yes, but not enough to be let loose on the universe. 

Ultimately, Prime Burnham had the best version of this story: she skipped the entire Mirror Universe sequence and saw Georgiou just pass through a door. At least the uniforms looked smart.

Planet Notes: 

Dannus V (or Dennis V as I kept hearing it) is located at the galactic rim, on the cusp of the Gamma Quadrant.

Kepler-174d, where Mirror Burnham committed some colourful atrocities, is a real planet. With a mass 5.4 times that of the Earth and roughly twice the radius, it's considered a mini-Neptune-like planet. Its the outerrmost of three known planets orbiting a star 1269 light years from Earth, in the constellation of Lyra.

The main shipyard for Mirror Starfleet orbits Epsilon Indi II, a mere twelve light years away. It has one know jovian planet and two brown dwarf companions, any one of which might be considered Epsilon Indi II under Trek nomenclature.

Risa in the Mirror Universe looks very different to its Prime Universe counterpart. It even has a ring system. Prime Risa has two moons, so I'm guessing they were destroyed in a battle against the empire and what's left of them makes up the rings.

Timeline Data: Part one features the first direct confirmation of the Kelvin timeline in televised Trek, by way of a Betelguesian time soldier named Kor who originated in 2379 of that reality. Kovich refers directly to the reality being created by a Romulan temporal incursion. Being seperated from both his native time and reality destabilised Kor's matter and he disintegrated, the same thing that's happening to Georgiou. Neither Spock nor Nero and his crew suffered this in the 2009 Star Trek but that was a much smaller jump in time. The Romulans survived twenty-five years in that reality, but they did create it, so perhaps that made a difference. Spock died after five years, but he was 161 years old.

The Interdimensional Displacement Restriction was part of the Temporal Accords, and banned travel between realities. Except, again, there will be people from realities where it isn't banned who use it and could cross over to the prime timeline happily.

It's unclear if Carl actually sent Georgiou into her own past or merely created a false timeline to test her. If the former, then presumably the history of the Mirror Universe has changed, or at least, a divergent timeline has been created. It's at least hinted that the latter is the case, but it's not quite clear. 


It's interesting that Georgiou refers to the entire empire as Terra, not just the Mirror Earth. But why is the rallying cry for the empire "Terra Firma?" That just means "solid ground." 

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Blackadder at Television Heaven


All five of my reviews on the Blackadder saga are now available at Television Heaven, covering the entire story from beginning to end, with the Christmas and New Year specials up just in time for the festive season. Links are below!

The Black Adder - the first series and the pilot episode
The Specials - Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, Blackadder's Christmas Carol and Blackadder Back and Forth (plus a round-up of the sketches)

If you fancy watching the short form and sketches, there's a YouTube playlist here for you right here, even including a Children in Need appearance that ties into Blackadder the Third.

Friday 11 December 2020

Thoughts on the Disney/Marvel announcements

 Disney has just emptied a bucketload of new series and film announcements onto the internet to gear everyone up for the next phase of its media empire. Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a new wave of Star Wars properties and more, there's a lot to take on, but he's my thoughts on the MCU revelations. (I'll get to Star Wars eventually, but I'm not even up to date on The Mandalorian yet. However, really suspicious of the idea of bringing back Hayden Christiansen.)


She-Hulk: Confirmed to be starring Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, this will be a Disney+ series. I was hoping for Gina Camaro, but Maslany is a solid choice (presumably the She-Hulk herself will be at least partly CGI). No surprise that Mark Ruffalo will be appearing as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, but very surprised and pleased that Tim Roth is back as Emil Blonsky, aka the Abomination. He was the best thing about The Incredible Hulk back in 2008.

Secret Invasion: Good news, but no surprise. The involvement of the Skrulls in Captain Marvel and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos pretending to be Nick Fury all pointed to the Secret Invasion storyline coming to fruition. Presumably this will have an impact on the films in time, but for now, this is another Disney+ series. Marvel have tried to tie together their TV and cinematic productions before to limited success, but this looks like a far more sophisticated effort. Mendelsohn and Sam Jackson both confirmed back for this.

Ironheart: The occasionally controversial (for small-minded people) new Iron Man comic treatement, Ironheart features Riri Williams as a young genius who creates her own biomechanical armour suit. The Disney+ series will star Dominique Thorne. Could be well worth watching.

Armor Wars: Less interested by this one. Do we need both? This has Don Cheadle back as Rhodey/War Machine dealing with the fallout from Stark's death when his technology falls into unscrupulous hands. Should be good, but just not sure these need to be separate series.

I am Groot: This sounds very silly: a series of Disney+ shorts revolving around Baby Groot, with "new and unusual characters." Could be a good chance to involve the more ridiculous and out-there ideas from the Marvel universe (Howard the Duck please!) No word on whether Vin Diesel will voice Groot.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special: Now this is just fabulous. Prior to the third Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2023 (finally confirmed to have James Gunn onboard without a doubt), this is a wonderfully daft thing to do. A homage to the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special, this is bound to be all kinds of ridiculous. Lined up for 2022, presumably for Christmas unless they bring it forward for a Thanksgiving drop.

Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel 2

Really looking forward to this one. I adored the first couple of runs of Ms. Marvel comics, and I'm stoked to see her on screen. Iman Vellani stars as Kamala Khan, and from the brief glimpse here, she seems perfect. She'll also appear with Ms. Marvel's idol in Captain Marvel 2, confirmed to star Brie Larson (so much for the stupid rumours that she was being recast), with Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau.

What If? and Loki

Not going to overload this post with videos, but here's the link to the dazzling trailer for What If? and a fun first look at the Loki series. Both are set for Disney+ next year, dealing with the MCU's expansion into the Multiverse. What If? looks particularly fun, with some of the best of the MCU cast involved (although clearly not everyone is voiced by their original actor). Hayley Atwell as Captain Britain? The inevitable introduction of Marvel Zombies? I'm in. Loki looks like it's going to embrace the alt-reality elements as well, with the introduction of the Time Variance Agency. A crime thriller with time travel and Tom Hiddleston? Can't go wrong.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

This is going to be fabulous, but the news today is the casting: Rachel McAdams is returning as Christine Palmer, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo and Benedict Wong as, well, Wong. We already knew that Elizabeth Olson was onboard as Wanda Maximoff, but the big news is the confirmation that dimension-jumping America Chavez is involved, played by newcomer Xochitl Gomez.

Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania

I love how silly these titles are getting. We expected a third Ant-Man film, but it's good to get confirmation of the title, which implies some exploration of the Quantum Realm, aka the Microverse. It was revealed a little while ago, but I'm still excited for Kang the Conqueror to finally make his big screen debut played by Jonathan Majors.

Fantastic Four

The least surprising but most welcome revelation, the Fantastic Four property is now back with Marvel following Disney's acquisition of Fox. Jon Watts, set to direct the third MCU Spidey film, is on to helm this. No cast news yet, but we can expect some crossover elements, if not with this film, with a follow-up, given the close links in the comics between the FF and Spider-Man, Kang and the Secret Invasion.

Casting round-up!

Almost out of breath now, so a quick rundown of casting news. Hailee Steinfeld is Kate Bishop in the new Hawkeye series on Disney+ (I foresee next gen crossovers with Ironeheart and Ms. Marvel). Hilariously, Christian Bale's role in Thor: Love and Thunder is Gorr the God Butcher, an alien being committed to killing every god in the universe. They won't be recasting T'Challa for the second Black Panther film due in 2022, instead "honouring his legacy." I presume that means a new Black Panther, but I think we can rule out Shuri, since Letitis Wright's in trouble these days for stupid online behaviour.

Spider-Man 3 casting round-up!

Now this is ridiculous and wonderful. The third, as-yet-untitled Spidey film is clearly taking Tom Holland's requested route and piling straight into a live-action Spiderverse story. Presumably they got sick of him spoilering things in interviews so just went with his idea from the outset. Holland is confirmed, of course, along with Zendaya as MJ, Jacob Batalon and Marisa Tomei. But there's also official confirmation that Jamie Foxx is back as Electro (from The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and now Alfred Molina as Doc Ock (from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2). Emma Stone is in negotiations to return as Gwen Stacy, and rumour has it that Andrew Garfield, Tobye Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have been approached to reprise their version of Spider and MJ. Plus Benny Cumber as Dr. Strange, presumably handling the interdimensional stuff.

WHO REVIEW: The Daleks series (Time Lord Victorious)

Terry Nation tried to take the Daleks to the United States and develop their own series right back in 1966. It's taken over fifty years but the malicious pepperpots finally have their own TV vehicle - of a sort. As part of the Time Lord Victorious crossover, the BBC YouTube channel has released a five-part animated series for streaming. Apart from the fact that it's the only completely free item of Doctor Who released as part of the initiative (even the TV series technically costs the license fee if you wanted to catch up on that), it's a fun little diversion that's easy to enjoy without reams of foreknowledge.

Still, it does tie into the overall story, albeit peripherally. As yet I've not made too much headway into TLV, but this, as best I can make out from the online guides, leads into the Defender of the Daleks comic story from Titan. The storyline sees the Dalek Emperor and the Dalek Strategist from that series leading a campaign against a deadly, seemingly unstoppable threat from another dimension, named simply "the Entity." We don't see much of this being, or beings, mostly just green light emanating from a dimensional rift, but its forces absolutely wipe the floor with the Daleks. 

Each episode, only about thirteen minutes long, sees the Daleks take on another race in their attempts at universal domination/survival. "The Archive of Islos" sees the Emperor try to take over a galactic database tended by a race of robots, only to get double-crossed by them when they hand the Daleks over to the Entity. "The Sentinel of the Fifth Galaxy" sees the Strategist travel to an abandoned colony (possibly Spiridon, but probably another planet in the same campaign) to contact the Sentinel, a surprisingly cutesie robot called R-41, to reactivate an army of Daleks for the upcoming war. "Planet of the Mechanoids" sees the Emperor and Strategist desperately turn to their old enemies the Mechanoids, now evolved into something more sophisticated, in an alliance against the Entity. This continues with the two forces double-crossing each other in "The Deadly Ally" and "Day of Reckoning," while trying to battle the Entity as well.

It's simple, straightforward space adventure stuff, with lots of blasting lasers, swarms of robots and nice big explosions. Profound it isn't. But why would it be? This is a kids' cartoon series intended to distract for quarter of an hour a week, and on that level, it works perfectly. Some fans are complaining about the standard of animation, but frankly, for a webcast cartoon about killer robots this is absolutely fine. It's bold, colourful and easy to follow. The voice work is great; Nick Briggs is as good as ever as the Daleks, with his Emperor being particularly impressive. Anjli Mohindra voices the Mechanoid Queen, with Ayesha Antoine as other Mechanoids and the Chief Archivian. Thankfully, the Mechanoid voices are far better than the irritating ones from The Chase - far more human but still recognisably Mechanical. R-41 is voiced by Joe Sugg, who makes the robot likeable but untrustworthy. 

While this is intended for young fans on the surface, underneath it's a clear love letter to classic Doctor Who and Dalek stories. Longtime fans will get a buzz from seeing old favourites from the Dalek Chronicles comics such as the Golden Emperor and the Mechanoids realised on screen for the first time in decades, or ever. The links to the rest of TLV is flimsy - the story just seems to be the Daleks getting beaten up by various aliens before turning the tide moments before utter defeat - but in this case I think this is a strength. This is a bit of fun that stands on its own nicely.


Out of Time is the first in a trilogy of audios from Big Finish, which are each going to be released a year apart - pretty restrained for the company, who normally chuck out a major box set every couple of months when there's something significant to shout about. Each one features the Tenth Doctor teaming up with a classic series incarnation, and a fan favourite monster. Next year we'll have The Gates of Hell with David Tennant and his father-in-law against the Cybermen, followed by Wink in 2022 with Colin Baker and the Weeping Angels. 

First though is Out of Time itself, which sees Tennant team up with Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. This is, of course, a big thing, with the two most popular Doctors by any reasonable measure joining together for an adventure. This doesn't, however, automatically mean it's going to be any good, although you'd at least expect it to be pretty entertaining. Which, in all fairness, it is. It's a slight story, more of a runaround than anything, but then again, does a release like this need to be anything else?

The Tenth Doctor pops in for a visit at the Cathedral of Contemplation, a huge, mysterious structure outside of time where anyone from any era can attend for solace. He's in a mood because he's avoiding his impending regeneration, and has gone there on his big holiday before facing The End of Time. However, the Fourth Doctor is already there, having picked up a temporary travelling companion in the form of Private Jora (Kathryn Drysdale), a young deserter from the 26th century.

There's some enjoyable farce as the Tenth Doctor avoids (poorly) letting on who he is to his earlier self, while secretly hoping he'll work it out. It doesn't take Four too long to get the measure of him, and he pretty quickly squashes Ten's sulk about the future. Four's meeting himself in a new form, and for him, it's confirmation that he'll survive, whereas for Ten regeneration is death. 

However, Jora's space commander dad turns up looking for her, followed by a phalanx of Daleks, leading to the two Doctors working together to run rings around them as they plan to use the temporal powers of the Cathedral to invade the Earth and win the war. The Doctors' eventual victory is pretty cunning. 

While there's nothing really unusual or outstanding here, it's a pretty fun little adventure, livened up by some wonderful chemistry between two beloved Doctors who, for the most part, keep on the right side of self-parody while doing a bit of a best-of performance. And after all, isn't that why we're here anyway?

Best Lines:

 "More like apres-deva-vu: knowing what's going to happen but only after it does. Maybe it's always like this when I run into them... well, I wouldn't remember."

"Old school? I prefer to think of myself as classic!"


For the Fourth Doctor, in the period between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil. For the Tenth Doctor, during the gap between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, but presumably after the Time Lord Victorious period. For the Daleks, the 26th century, in the Second Dalek War that followed Frontier in Space - except that they're Time War Daleks, so presumably travelling back along their own timeline, which ties into the events of the novel Prisoner of the Daleks.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Coming soon from Obverse Books: Iris Wildthyme anthology Bafflement and Devotion

 I'm very excited to announce that my story "A World Apart" is set to be included in a brand new charity anthology from Obverse Books, which collects various lost, limited and out-of-print stories starring transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme. My story - which I wrote about fifteen years ago! - features the Barbarella incarnation of Iris, the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack. As well as this there are brilliant stories by Lance Parkin, Simon Bucher-Jones, Philip Purser-Hallard and, of course, Iris's creator Paul Magrs.

From the press release:

A blonde in a catsuit flirting with the 8th Doctor, a scruffy old dear exploring a universe hidden in a cupboard in the Bus, the spitting image of the glorious Katy Manning on Neptune with its anatomically extravagant inhabitants, an elderly author of lesbian fiction …Iris has had a lot of faces, and been to a lot of places. She’s been all the way to the edges and back again, so it any wonder some of her adventures have been misplaced over the years, or grown tricky to uncover?

Here, gathered together for the first time ever in a new charity collection, are the Iris stories which appeared in charity anthologies, on convention stages, got lost on old web servers and fell down the back of the sofa…a selection of tales, both old and new, from the very edges of the Obverse…

Many of these stories were included on charity anthologies in years gone by, in magazine publications or on long-deleted websites. Of the ones I've previously read I can say that there are some absolutely brilliant stories included. 

You can pre-order the book from Obverse Books, for £16.95 with all profits to Project Muyembe, a charity that supports pupils in Uganda with no access to higher education.

Monday 7 December 2020

 Two more Star Trek novels reviewed for Ex Astris Scientia: The recent Picard novel The Last Best Hope and the 1980s TOS novel The Three-Minute Universe.

The full list has been added to the Trek reviews page.

Thanks to Bernd Schneider. 



Has there been too much of the Master lately? Big Finish, BBC Books and others have out out a hell of a lot lately, and the fans have too (hey, I've contributed to some of it). Missy's appearance on the TV series seems to have kicked off a fan obsession with the character, with the various iterations and regenerations appearing more often than ever before, with multiple multi-Master events as well. It could easily see the character becoming overused to the point of sickness, but for now, I'm enjoying the extra adventures for the character. (We've even got Eric Roberts back, although I'm way behind on the various releases.)

Of all the incarnations, it's Missy who's the easiest to imagine having her own adventures, as a sort of wicked pseudo-Doctor. I've not picked up the first boxed set from BF, but the second one was recommended to me as having some irresistible ideas. This is true, but the execution isn't quite there.


The real draw of the set, "The Lumiat" sees Missy acting out her most vicious plans in an attempt to get the Doctor to pay her some attention. However, when a mysterious time-travelling woman turns up to fix things, it's not the Doctor at all, but someone calling herself the Lumiat, and she knows an awful lot about Missy and her plans. 

The big spoiler: the Lumiat is Missy's next incarnation, having come into existence when Missy utilised a desperate gambit to create a new life cycle when she was left for dead on the Mondasian colony ship in "The Doctor Falls." Sh'es a sort of anti-Valeyard, by her own admission, being all that's good from Missy manifested (incidentally, the way they talk about the Valeyard makes it sound like Missy's got a crush on him). Gina McKee puts in a good performance as the Lumiat, who's just similar enough to Missy to be believable as a future incarnation, but she does inevitably come off as a basic Doctor-clone sometimes too. 

To be honest, I'm amazed the Beeb signed off on this. The inference of the story is that the Lumiat is immediately prior to the Dhawan Master, although there's plenty of ambiguity, and there's also a get-out clause regarding the process of her regeneration disconnecting her causally. For now, at least, this is the official story for the Master. The episode itself isn't anything spectacular, but it does cast a fascinating light on Missy (here clearly prior to her appearance in series eight) and how she changes over the course of the programme.


A direct sequel to the first box, with Missy once again involved with two plucky Victorian schoolchildren for whom she had played governess. Of course, I haven't heard this, but the story itself lays everything out so it's very easy to follow. Missy as an evil boarding school headmistress is pretty irresistible, and she's relentlessly entertaining. The kids are fine, I guess, but there's only so much plucky well-spoken enunciation that I can enjoy. Dan Starkie is as fun as always as Strax, posing as "Mr. Strackie," and this episode apparently ties into one of the Paternoster audios. It's a nice tying together of the expanding Victorian era of the spin-offs. On the whole, pretty good fun.


The strongest story of the set, "Treason and Plot" sees Missy stuck in London in 1605 in time for the great Gunpowder Plot, doing her best to unstick history so that the Time Lords will turn up to fix things, allowing her to make her escape. However, a probationary Time Agent named Rita Cooper turns up and does her utmost to keep history on track. It's a great runaround with the plot constantly twisting as Missy tries to divert history and Rita tries to put it back. The least continuity-laden of the episodes, it works better for standing alone. Ony Uhiara is great fun as Rita, and I could easily see her turning up in future audios.


On paper, this is a great idea. The Monk and Missy meeting up (for the second time after a previous adventure in the first set, and again, plenty of exposition here to bring me up to speed), each one trying to pin the Master's former crimes on each other. Rufus Hound is still brilliant as the latest incarnation of the Monk (the third? I'm really not sure) and he could honestly make the transition to the TV series. 

Unfortunately, this is also the latest of BF's recent obsession with the Ogrons, the worst possible aliens for lengthy dialogue on audio. Fair play to the actors involved for trying, but extended speeches by people doing painfully slow "I'm...not...thtoopid...I'" voices becomes unbearable after about five minutes. Didn't get anywhere close to finishing this one. A really shoody end to an otherwise pretty entertaining boxed set.

Saturday 5 December 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-8 - "The Sanctuary"

Discovery settles into a groove with another episode that exists solely to service the ongoing storyline. Quite a lot happens this week, though, so there's no chance to be bored. Every main and recurring character at least gets a moment, and most get some actual exploration and development. There's plenty of action too.

The crux of the episode is Book's being called home, leading to a formal request by Burnham to ferry him there on Discovery. Normally, we'd expect her to chloroform Saru, lie to Stamets, steal the ship and mushroom her way there against orders, but it seems she's finally learned her lesson and decided she's going to do things the Starfleet way. She and Saru speak to Admiral Vance, putting their case forward, and he agrees, with condition that they will merely be observers and get out there at the first sign of trouble (like that's ever going to happen).

Understandably, Vance is concerned about pissing off Osyraa and the Emerald Chain, who are basically holding Book's planet Kweyjian to ransom. It's sad to see Starfleet so in the shadow of a more powerful organisation though. Not even United Earth Starfleet back in Archer's day would let another power push them around like that. Of course, for all Osyraa's power, it looks like the Chain's influence is largely down to bluster. They're desperate – the revelation at the end that they're nearly out of dilithium is no surprise.

It's good to meet Osyraa at last, every bit the big green bully we expected, although as yet, I'm not super impressed by Janet Kidder. After all the build-up, she just doesn't have that much presence, even if she does do the classic evil villain thing of feeding her lackie/son figure to a monster when he fouls up. I can't help but feel that she must answer to someone or something else.

The biggest part of the episode is the look into Book's backstory. We learn his name isn't Cleveland Booker at all, but Tareckx, because we like hard to pronounce names on Star Trek. He's gone home at the request of his estranged brother (not by blood, you understand) Kyheem (a strong performance by Ache Hernandez), who, like him, is an empath capable of manipulating animals. There are more questions raised about Book's people than answered. Are they all empathic like this? Are they human (or part-human) as they appear to be? The implication of this episode is that they were pre-warp until fairly recently, which is itself intriguing if they're a human-related people. (Could Kwejian actually be Terralysium? Surely Burnham would have noticed.)

The planet is being assailed by sea locusts (actually blue bug-type things), who have come inland, and only the Chain can repel them, in exchange for tranceworms for slaughter. Thankfully, Discovery uses its magical tech to amplify the brothers' psychic powers the same way they did with the Kelpiens last season, and explicitly solve a problem that has been troubling the planet for over a century. Because they'e Starfleet and that's just what they do.

Before this top-notch bit of Trekking, which now has even the most cynical on the Starfleet bandwagon, it's interesting just how hated Starfleet and the Federation is, by both the Chain and the Kwejian people. It certainly sounds like everyone blames them for the Burn, but it's more than that. Starfleet must have got up to something shady in the past for everyone to have such a problem with them.

Back on the ship, Saru tries to perfect his captain catchphrase (just like Freeman on Lower Decks). Personally, I think he should go with "Engage." It's a timeless classic. Tilly shows that she makes a very fine captain's assistant – sorry, First Officer – but she does come up with some slightly rum ideas. It's her idea to send Detmer as a "rogue agent" to attack Osyraa's ship, reasoning that it gives Starfleet plausible deniability. That sort of thing might work with legality-minded cultures like the Sheliak, but I can't see the Chain given two hoots about that kind of nonsense. Osyraa leaves the episode pissed off, and there's going to be some serious repurcussions from this. Vance is going to be livid.

It does, however, give us some excellent Detmer time. She and Ryn take Book's snazzy assymetrical ship for a spin, in a very Star Wars-y bit of flyby space-shooting. It's a visal triumph and the most entertaining part of the episode, and it looks like some old-fashioned manual piloting has cured Detmer's blues (please don't let her be magically over her PTSD like that). Ryn proves to be an entertaining character, genuinely funny in places, and he gets a nice moment with Tilly (well, you can't have a husband-wife team on the cast without giving their characters a moment, can you?)

The most intriguing part of the episode is Georgiou's story. We get to see Culber's hard side, which is his usual fluffy side but without compromise, as he practically forces her to undergo an atomic scan to find out what the hell is wrong with her. Georgiou spends her time retaliating with venomous barbs and threats, but it's plain to see she's absolutely terrified. She's dying, and something altogether weird is happening to her. Whether this is due to Cronenberg directly, or is the result of the Mirror Universe being now disconnected, remains to be seen, but it looks like she's falling apart both literally and figuratively.

Lovely Adira finally comes out as non-binary to Stamets, who naturally takes it in his stride. It's a brief but heartwarming moment, and it's all the more affecting knowing that Adira's coming out reflected actor Blu del Barrio's. Adira and Stamets make for a very lovely team, and they remove his hard edges better than even Culber does, but the resident pseudo-Trill is struggling with their new existence, especially as Gray's stopped popping up for ghost chats. The team manage to make some headway on the Burn mystery though, finally working out it originated in a specific nebula, from which that mysterious music is emanating. Very intriguing.

That was a very bullet-pointy review, but it was a very bullet-pointy episode, checking off each bit of character and plot work to incrementally move the series forward. The mystery of the Burn is moving forward, as is the Emerald Chain plotline. It still feels like there's a lot to cover in the five remaining episodes, assuming of course that everything is set to be resolved this season. Entertaining as it is, there's something a little dissatisfying about this instalment. Since the beginning, Discovery has been caught between two stools: trying to be both weekly episodic television and a bingeable Netflix series where each episode is merely a chapter to spur you onto the next. Episodes like "The Sanctuary" will no doubt play better when rewatching the season in one go.


This episode very nearly shares its title with an episode of DS9 (season two's "Sanctuary," where millions of refugees from the Gamma Quadrant wanted to settle on Bajor). After nearly eight hundred episodes, this sort of thing happens.

They could have called it "Pulling the Chain." Much funnier.

The Emerald Chain has been flagrantly violating the Prime Directive, making dodgy deals with pre-warp cultures. To be honest, it doesn't look like anyone but Starfleet cares about the Prime Directive anyway, and given that warp drive looks to be on the way out, surely a new metric of a civilisation's development should be thought up?

Book's ship has transwarp... but it only has a 50% chance of making a successful, survivable trip. I imagine it uses a ton of dilithium as well.

Suz's observations:

"They're just wearing dressing gowns."

"Do you reckon they (the Kwejians) are related to the Betazoids?"

"See, he (Stamets with Adira) gets it! Because it's the future and people aren't dickheads!"

"I like the wooden western-y guns."

"It's got a bit Firefly."

"Say 'Punch it!'"

Wednesday 2 December 2020

TREK REVIEWS on Television Heaven

 The new "Best of..." feature at Television Heaven continues with two reviews of classic Trek episodes (that's classic episodes of Trek, not episodes of Classic Trek). 

"Distant Origin," my favourite Trek episode ever, is up as the Best of Star Trek: Voyager, while the heartbreaking "The Visitor" is the Best of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

While you're there, you'll find the Best of Red Dwarf, the Best of Doctor Who and, from John Winterson Richards, the Best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There'll be more to come soon.

Sunday 29 November 2020

WHO REVIEW CATCH-UP: Stranded vol 1

The latest of Big Finish's Eighth Doctor boxed sets, Stranded is set to be another four-box series comprising sixteen linked stories which will play out over the next couple of years. I've let these slip over the last few years; Dark Eyes started very promisingly but carried on too long and lost focus, although it was enjoyable throughout, while Doom Coalition never really engaged for me. I haven't even looked at buying Ravenous, although the write-ups suggest some intriguing ideas. 

Stranded, though, intrigued me from the start. Putting the Doctor in a new, self-imposed exile on contemporary Earth is irresistible. Indeed, I'm surprised the television series hasn't tried it for a year to mix things up while saving costs. Expense isn't such an issue for Big Finish - setting a story on Skaro costs the same as setting it in Croydon - but the dramatic potential is promising, and it certainly makes for a new direction for the series. And let's be fair, Doctor Who audios could do with some new and interesting ideas lately. The series features the Doctor living with Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), his now stalwart companions, in a converted house in London (amusingly converted to flats after his old companion Thomas Brewster sold it). The TARDIS, meanwhile, is just a police box, sitting on a street corner and turned into makeshift mini-library.

Of course, the Eighth Doctor's been here before, back in the BBC Books "Earth Arc." This is quite a different take on exile for him, though - the books had the Doctor living without his memories, spending over a century on Earth and very much alone. There are similarities, though - the Doctor searching for his old life (which he knew he was missing before, even if he couldn't remember it), feeling increasingly isolated, and occasionally almost crossing paths with other iterations of himself. This time there's no risk of him bumping into the Third Doctor during a previous exile, but the Twelfth Doctor's subsequent self-imposed exile is finishing around now. The Eighth Doctor's life was always marked by a complex timeline where past and future threatened to intercede.

Plus, it's 2020 now, and Big Finish are making a bold and deliberate move of support to the LGBT community by having a new companion who happens to be trans enter the scene, and engage in a same-sex relationship with an existing companion. This is good, important stuff, and I'm pleased we're seeing moves like this now, even though we're not quite there on TV (in spite of the attacks on "wokeness" the series is getting).


The big draw of this set, of course, was the inclusion of Tom Baker as the Curator. There's absolutely no ambiguity about his identity at all anymore - this is the Doctor, far in the future, although just how far is endlessly open to question. The Curator, it seems, spends much of his retirement tidying up after his earlier selves and keeping them out of trouble (shades of Merlin there).We meet Ron (David Shaw-Parker), who lives at the Doctor's house on Baker Street with his husband, and also happens to work at the local lost property office, run by an alien named Midge (Robert Portal). The Curator uses this as a sort of sorting office for the various bits of extraterrestrial bric-a-brac he and other travellers have left lying around. The Twelfth Doctor has given Midge a Pandora Bolt, a security device that instils fear and paranoia, which then comes into Ron's possession and affects those living in the house.

It's a slightly contrived set-up (like that's unusual in Doctor Who), but one that works very well as a way to introduce the various new characters that inhabit the Doctor's reduced world. In honesty, not much happens during the episode, but that's kind of the point. This is a mundane story - mundane as in worldly, rather than dull - concerned with the ordinary battles and relationships of everyday life. The Doctor, of course, is singularly inept in this area, so Liv and Helen are left to do much of the everyday work and engagement. There are a lot of characters introduced, just like it would be moving into a new flat in a busy house. Among the most notable is Robin (J.J. Davison), a teenaged boy who has just moved in with his dad and almost runs away. The Curator talks him out of it, and in time (over the course of the set) he develops a pleasant friendship with the Doctor. 

Some of the best moments are between Helen and the Curator - hilariously, Helen theorises that he's an incarnation of River Song - and naturally between Helen and Liv, who are both more suited at Earthly life than the Doctor and lost in time. (Helen being from the sixties and Liv from the far future.) The little oddities of early 21st century life are fun to view through their eyes, but there's the ongoing theme that people really aren't all that different whoever they are.


While she's introudced in the previous episode, Tania's main involvement in the story begins here. Played by Rebecca Root, she comes across as a very ordinary but perfectly charming woman, and there's the beginnings of something close between her and Liv almost straight away. While Liv and Helen integrate into the household, the Doctor continues to struggle with a mundane (in both senses) life, and his sanity is already suffering. When someone is violently attacked in a local park, the Doctor sets it upon himself to solve the crime and bring the assailant to justice, which does not put him in the good books of the police. The Doctor is depressed and desperate for some adventure in his life, but even when it comes to crime and "real" adventure, he is spectacularly unsuited to human life. It's a rare story where the Doctor has to face the limitations of his abilities. There's some real tragedy in this episode, not least when Liv is shot in an entirely pointless altercation. On the plus side, in hospital she and Tania finally ask each other out, and Liv - being from a more civilised century - is entirely unphased to learn that Tania is trans.


Respect to Big Finish for not thinking that merely making a character trans was enough to autmoatcially make her interesting. While Tania appears like quite an ordinary person, she has a secret life, as evident from the end of part one. Tania, it turns out, works for Torchwood, and has been placed at Baker Street to keep an eye on the Doctor. Torchwood are well-informed enough to realise that the Eighth Doctor is too early in his timeline to know about them, and equally that this means he must be protected or their own existence could be compromised. She's assisted by PC Andy (Tom Price) who fits perfectly into the set-up and adds a solid comedic element to the story. After two episodes mostly concerned with the everyday problems of life on Earth, the sci-fi side picks up here, with the mysterious Mr. Bird moving in and tinkering with their tellies to undertake shifty surveillance. It's solidly entertaining, but least effective of the set.


This final episode starts off with the joyfully mundane, as the Doctor wins a ton of cash on a quiz show (and, wonderfully, thinks he'll be allowed to go back and do it again next week) while Liv and Tania plan a romantic dinner date, to which the Doctor then invites himself and the entire household in an attempt to build the community. It's fun sitcom stuff that sees the Doctor finally settling in, so naturally it can't last. His presence on Earth for so long has led a group of aliens from his own personal future to track him down, who intend to take him out before he can influence their timeline and cause their ruin. This is, of course, paradox on top of paradox, and that's just the sort of thing the TARDIS needs to provide a burst of temporal energy to kick start its regeneration. So, an end to the exile is in sight - in three boxed sets time, of course. The sudden intrusion of alien assassins during a major dinner is fun,  and after the strained attempts to keep life "normal" in "Must-See TV" is effective, but the first two episodes, which were largely concerned with more realistic concerns, were stronger. "Divine Intervention," and the set as a whole, work, but I fear the promise of the original concept is already being lost. We shall see - it's certainly enough of a success to make me want to pick up Stranded 2.

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-7 - "Unification III"

This was the episode I was most excited about when the titles were announced. "Unification" and "Unification II" made up a major two-part episode of The Next Generation, bringing Spock into the series and beginning his (and by extension, Picard's) involvement in Romulan society and the beginnings of reunification between Vulcan and Romulus. It was almost inevitable that Vulcan and Romulus would be united in the far future, especially after Romulus itself was destroyed. I was also looking to the inevitable scene when Michael found out what her brother got up to after she left him, and the look of shock when she found out what a legend he was didn't disappoint. 

There's a few moments that take the biscuit when it comes to believability. With the knowledge that the Federation has lost most of its members, wouldn't Saru and Burnham have looked up the situation and seen who was still involved? Equally, I can't believe that no one thought to mention the SB-19 experiment and how Vulcan was convinced it was the cause of the Burn. I know that Starfleet have dismissed the idea, but surely it was worth pointing out to the woman who had made it her personal mission to solve the crisis? 

Still, accepting all this, I love some of the details. Of course, Saru and Burnham aren't aware that the Romulans and Vulcans are related, and still distrust the Romulans. I love that Burnham is convinced that the Romulans are the ones who forced the Vulcans to leave the Federation, when actually it was their idea. All of this ties back to TNG, where we first encountered not only the reunification movement but also Vulcan separatists. It's not all blatant stuff like a clip of Spock from "Reunification II" and Michael's mum turning up (more on that in a minute); all the elements of the episode act to tie disparate parts of the franchise together, in a remarkably fluid and non-fanwanky way.

The journey to Ni'Var, the planet formerly known as Vulcan, is an exciting prospect, so it's tremendously disappointing that we never set foot there and this is left as a bottle episode set on Discovery itself. We get to see different factions of Romulans, Vulcans, and Romulo-Vulcans (mixed race people, I guess) at the logical talk-off the t'kal-in-tet, but there's never a real sense of place. Bringing in the Qowat Milat, the truth-speaking ninja space nuns from Star Trek: Picard, is another nice touch. 

Again, it stretches belief when, not only are the Vulcans impressed that Burnham is there (how the hell do they even know who she is? I know she's the most important person in the galaxy but that was meant to be kept on the downlow), but her mum is now part of the Qowat Milat. It leads to a very nice scene where Mama Burnham uses her powers of absolute candour to put Michael on the spot and actually admit what's driving her these days, but it's still an absolutely ridiculous coincidence. Then again, adventure fiction is full of such contrivances.

The other major element of the episode is Tilly being made Acting First Officer, which is also absurd but works dramatically. Of course it has to be Tilly, who is the heart of the series and the crew. It's ridiculous in realistic terms, since she's the lowest ranking member of the crew, but then, we do know that Saru is a big fan of Captain Pike (he did promote Kirk to Acting First Officer in the other timeline, and that was straight from cadet). It's silly, but it works in terms of the series, although I would like it if Admiral Vance has a word or two with Saru. 

There has been some comment that, for all the talk of exploring a bold new future, there's been a lot of time spent on reworking the franchise's familiar elements. We've seen 32nd century Earth, Trill, the Andorians and Orions, and now the Vulcans and Romulans, so this is a fair criticism, but there's good reason to explore how the major elements of Star Trek's "present" have changed over the centuries. After this, we've only really got the Klingons to go as a major culture to explore (although there's mileage in the Ferengi, Cardassians, Borg and Dominion as well), but it's important to the overall story. Nonetheless, after 900 years, having a minor or completely unknown race in a major position of power would be more satisfying. 

Regardless, Vulcan's future is an essential part of the Star Trek story. As long as you can accept the absurd level of contrivance, this is a satisfying episode, even though very little actually happens in it. It fills in another vital element of the new future, with a powerful emotional story along the way.


The name Ni'Var is an astonishingly deep cut bit of fanlore. News to me but a really clever callback. It had previously been used as a Vulcan ship name on Enterprise as well. 

With this episode, the Romulans join the Vulcans as one of only two alien races to appear in every Star Trek series (unless you count Short Treks as a series, in which case the Romulans and Klingons are joint with a series each to go).

No one mentions the Romulan supernova, nor that Spock tried to stop it (and is presumably recorded as having died in the nova). Even on Picard no one mentioned Spock's involvement in the supernova crisis; presumably there's a rights issue regarding the material from the reboot films.

Why were the Vulcans experimenting with a dilithium replacement when the Romulans have been using quantum singularity technology for centuries?

If the t'kal-in-tet has been used since the time of Surak, that puts it at around 2800 years old.

There's a moment when Tilly points out space is three-dimensional. Characters in Trek seem to need reminding of this surprisingly often.

It's impossible to use a microscopically small time variance to triangulate events when dealing with astronomical distances. Time isn't constant, and over light years the variance could be enormous. But then, if we think along those lines, warp travel causes all kinds of problems of causality.

After the USS Nog two episodes ago, this week we hear of the USS Yelchin, named for the late Anton Yelchin. My emotions can only take so much.

Other starships mentioned include the USS Giacconi, presumably named for Riccardo Giacconi the astrophysicist, and the Gav'nor, which sounds likes a Klingon ship (or possibly cockney). 

Tuesday 24 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-6 - "Scavengers"

Season three approaches its halfway point and for the first time gives us an episode that doesn't really feel momentous, although it certainly has its significant moments. That's not to decry the episode; "Scavengers" is a solidly entertaining hour of space adventure and forwards the overall season story arc nicely. It's merely that after episodes where we 1) arrive in the far future; 2) reunite with the crew; 3) reach Earth; 4) visit Trill and explore brand new characters and 5) rejoin Starfleet, this is the first case of business-as-usual for the Discovery crew. However, business-as-usual for Burnham means disobedience, bordering on mutiny, so it's not uneventful.

Admiral Vance has accepted Discovery into the fold and Saru and co. have accepted the refit, although they're still somewhat distanced from the rest of the fleet. Three weeks doesn't seem long enough to refit the entire ship with 900 years worth of advancements, nor to train the crew up on everything they've missed. Still, it's all very swish. The USS Discovery NCC-1031-A, as it now stands, has been kitted out with everything from free-floating warp nacelles to programmable matter, and super-advanced badges which act as communicators, holographic tricorders and personal teleporters. It all screams "far future!" and I love it.

On the outer edge, though, life's still grim as hell, and Book is in irons on the planet Hunhau, part of the Emerald Chain. Burnham wants to go rescue him, especially as he was looking for a black box from one of the destroyed ships. The plan being that by collecting enough of these, they can triangulate the origin point of the Burn, which is a solid idea and it's hard to see why no one has thought of trying it at any point in the last 120 years.

Of course, Saru has other ideas. Discovery is now Starfleet's rapid response ship, thanks to the spore drive, and Vance has presented the crew with their own mission. So Burnham goes off against orders, because of course she does. I mean, she's not wrong (even Vance accepts that the intel was worth it, and chastises Saru for not coming to him) but she can't continually disobey direct orders and finally gets busted down because of it. Not that I imagine being science officer instead of First Officer will make much difference in the long run, but at least it's something. 

Out on Hunhau, Burnham and Georgiou (I don't know, she's probably bored) play as antique hunters looking for vintage tech (I laughed more than was sensible at the reference to self-sealing stem bolts, and still no one seems to know what they're for). Georgiou finally has some character beyond "EVIL" now, and she and Burnham make a solid double-act. Empress of the Galaxy is also having some serious flashbacks to traumatic events in the Mirror Universe (if that's not a tautology), which seemingly stem from whatever happened between her and Cronenberg. 

It's a packed actioner, with exploding heads, blaster fights against alien militiamen and death-defying escapes. It's hardly the deepest episode, but a good shoot-em-up goes a long way to keep things entertaining. Book remains one of the best things in this season - his presence was sorely missed during the last couple of episodes - and he has his own solid friendship with Ryn, an Andorian who's fallen out with the head of the Chain. I really enjoyed the poor, mutilated Andorian, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he made it through the episode. He could be an interesting addition to the ongoing cast, if he sticks around, and at the very least, I feel he's going to lead us towards a final confrontation with the Emerald Chain.

Of course, he chemistry between our two double-acts is nothing compared to that between Burnham and Book, who finally kiss... although it's actually not been all that long for us as viewers. It's a canny move; we get all the tension of a year-long "will-they/won't-they" without any of the boredom, as they go straight into "yes they will."

There's a charming subplot in which Stamets bonds with Adira, whose unique position is keeping her isolated from the rest of the Disconauts. It results in a fun three-way pseudo-conversation between the two of the them and the ghost of super-cutie Gray. It's refreshing to see Stamets just accept that Adira's dead boyfriend still talks to her, after all the weirdness he's experienced and his own boyfriend coming back from the dead. There's some fun chemistry between Rapp and del Bario too, and we could end up with an interesting friendship between the two geniuses.

A solid episode, if not a groundbreaking one, and there's nothing wrong with that.


Some fans have a weird problem with the addition of the "A" to Discovery's registration, something we've only seen used for successor ships before. It makes perfect sense, though. The ship is listed as destroyed, and its presence is a violation of the Temporal Accords, so labelling it as a new ship is a logical subterfuge. Or maybe they've just changed the registry system over the course of nine centuries.

Noah Averbach-Katz, who plays Ryn the Andorian, is Mary "Tilly" Wiseman's husband. He also runs a D&D group with Anthony Rapp, Emily Coutts, Blu del Bario and Ian Alexander, which is very cute.

There's a fun running gag where Linus the Saurian continually materialises in the wrong place. In fairness, it's not clear how anyone's supposed to instruct their personal transporters, since they don't give them verbal commands and there's no visible interface.

Book was heading to the Bajoran Exchange, hinting at a link between Bajor and the Emerald Chain. Then again, there's a Bajoran among the slaves on Hunhau, so relations can't be peachy keen between the two groups.

Monday 23 November 2020

The Very Best of Doctor Who

 It's November the 23rd, 2020. 57 years ago today, Doctor Who made it's first appearance on BBC1. You have to watch Doctor Who today, it’s the law. 

So it’s appropriate that today I have a new piece on Television Heaven, about that greatest of Doctor Who serial, City of Death

“Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.”

Monday 16 November 2020

WHO REVIEW: Time Lord Victorious comics

The massive, multimedia crossover event Time Lord Victorious is already a bit of an overstretch for most of us fans. I'm torn between the excitement and intrigue of such an expansive storyline, and the money-grabbing enormity of it all. I never like the huge crossover events that Marvel an DC periodically do, where you have to buy three dozen comics to understand what's going on and it costs you a fortune. On the other hand, this is new ground for Doctor Who and it is my number one fandom, so the excitement is there. So I'm going to pick and choose and and where I can.

Some people are questioning why they're focusing on the Tenth Doctor and an event from his era of the series, and apart from the obvious popularity of the incarnation, there's the fact that the BBC can't make it appear, intentionally or otherwise, that any purchase is necessary to follow one of their broadcasts. So tying into the current series with the Thirteenth Doctor is a no-go. Even then, she's not entirely absent from the proceedings.

 DEFENDER OF THE DALEKS (Titan Comics: Time Lord Victorious)

The first of two comic strips opening the event is this, Titan's latest miniseries, released as two monthly issues. In it, the Tenth Doctor is pulled into a divergent timestream whereupon he is forced to aid the Daleks in their fight against a terrible power from the dawn of time. 

This is Jody Houser's story, following on from her work on the Thirteenth Doctor comics, where last we saw the Tenth Doctor involved in his own future (but I've not read that one yet). It's well-written enough, but for all the shouting about it, it's not all that much of an event. The Doctor reluctantly teaming up with the Daleks has been done before, and better, although at least the Dalek Prime Strategist, a new character, adds an air of sophistication. The Golden Emperor appears as well, harking back to the early "Dalek Chronicles" days of the tie-in comics. He's had a bit of an updated design but he's still iconic, and this sets up the Daleks! animated series nicely.

My main problem is the villains, the Hond. Although there's an interesting concept behind them - the sort of metaphysical idea that used to show up in the New Adventures days - design-wise they're just mud monsters, and that's really not all that interesting. Also, while I understand this crossover is designed to be expansive, we're already expecting another terrible threat from the Dark Times, the Kotturuh to threaten the universe. Do we need to introduce another? Still, there is a similarity with the Ancestor Cell, from the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel lie, which suggests the Hond as another potential identity of the Enemy. With Faction Paradox suddenly being mentioned in other prose stories lately, this might not be entirely trivial. 

Altogether, the adventure is fine, but underwhelming. Nice artwork by Roberta Ingranata.


Doctor Who Magazine jumps in on Time Lord Victorious with a three-part comic story featuring the Ninth Doctor. DWM has skipped the comic strip for a few months to save money - the impact of COVID on sales - and makes an event out of bringing it back. We haven't had a past Doctor comic in DWM since the nineties, I believe, and while it's back to business with the Thirteenth Doctor next month, this does make it rather stand out. Like Defender of the Daleks, this features a threat from the Dark Times, but this is something we know and expect. Nine and Rose find themselves back at the dawn of time in the middle of the Eternal Wars, when the Time Lords fought the Vampires. 

It's a clever way of having the Ninth Doctor meet the Time Lords - although according to this, it's so early in their history that it's before they were time travellers. They're the Space Lords of Gallifrey, led by an angry female general who we learn is an early incarnation of Rassilon. It seems that every Time Lord must have a new regeneration with a different ethnicity or gender these days - and I'm all for it. Better than all those endless old white blokes in big hats.

I'd had an idea to write about a Vampire ship years, ago, and never used it, but in my mind it was something organic and far more like a perverted form of TARDIS. I love what Scott Gray and John Ross have done though - flying castles and crypts! The vampires themselves are disappointingly traditional, with only a brief appearance of a Great Vampire storming through the black, but it works pretty well. I particularly like the use of Cucurbites - blood-drinking space weapons - that first appeared back in the Eighth Doctor comic "Tooth and Claw." (The story also reference the episode "Tooth and Claw," just to mix things up.)

It's a pretty solid adventure with some vampire tropes being exercised, but it's the glimpse of the ancient Gallifreyans that's the most interesting. 

Sunday 15 November 2020

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-5 - "Die Trying"


It's surprising that Discovery's latest season has pushed ahead so quickly. I had fully expected a year of tracking down Starfleet and the Federation, yet here we are, at episode five and already we've met the Commander-in-Chief. You've got to wonder exactly what Saru and Burnham thought they were going to find when they got to Starfleet Command. Given free reign to fly around the galaxy on whatever mission they see fit, they seek out a command structure and then act all surprised when they're given orders. They even object to the Discovery being retrofit, which isn't a bad idea seeing that their technology is 900 years out of date.

The episode gets off to a gorgeous start as Discovery enters a sort of warp bubble in space, inside which is the new Starfleet Command and a gigantic shipyard. It's five minutes of pure fan-pleasing geekery, with the bridge crew geeking out just as much as the viewers. After four episodes on the fringes of society and on self-isolated planets (albeit with bits of hyper-advanced tech), it's pleasing to see the series embrace the futuristic in a big way. The new shipyard is an immense playground of starships both recognisably Starfleet and truly out there, up to and including a self-enclosed rainforest. There are plenty of references for fans, too, (more on them below).

Of course, we can't hang around looking at pretty ships forever, so on with the plot. Starfleet Command is just as futuristic as the outside would suggest, with artificial intelligences everywhere (including an umpteenth generation EMH) working alongside the organic officers. There's a fine line between making it impressively futuristic and recognisably Starfleet, and they get it pretty spot on here. Allegedly the civilian government of the Federation is here too, but we don't see any evidence of that. Starfleet and the Federation have often been presented as interchangeable and it's always uncomfortable when they are. More than ever it looks like the UFP is under military aegis here (seemingly backed up by a line from Saru), but that makes sense in an era where everything has been knocked back by a massive catastrophe.

Oded Fehr - so often a shifty villain - is very good as the C-in-C, Admiral Vance. Thankfully, the writers have avoided the cliched "badmiral" route and given us a commanding officer who isn't cuddly and trusting but isn't a villain either. Vance, although a bit of a dick when he's dealing with the Disconauts, is right not to trust them from the off, having only their word for their identity and origins. Amusingly, the super-secrecy around Discovery and the spore drive comes back to bite them, since there are no records whatsoever of their mission to the future and the ship is listed as destroyed. (Not that we should necessarily expect any records on them to have survived from over nine centuries earlier, however good the tech is.) 

The resulting debrief is one of the most entertaining parts of the episode, with each crewmember giving a rundown of their highly improbable adventures (Hugh's recount of his murder and Reno's whole so-what? approach being highlights). Surprisingly, though, it's Georgiou who turns out to have the most interesting part of this story. After owning the various holograms with some ingenious low-tech hacking, she finds herself face-to-face with a mysterious individual in big glasses who's played by none other than David ruddy Cronenberg. It's a wonderful sequence, with Cronenberg's character voicing the legitimate question of what the hell Georgiou is even doing here in the future on Discovery. We get no answers, beyond the already obvious "because of Michael," but it's worth it just to see the Emperor rattled. Cronenberg (I don't care what his character's name is, I'm inevitably going to call him Cronenberg anyway) reveals to her that the Empire fell (which, as DS9 viewers, we already knew) and that the two universes have drifted so far apart that no contact has been made between the two in five hundred years. It's hard to tell, but there's a hint that he's speaking from personal knowledge rather than reeling off historical data. It's very intriguing. It ends with Georgiou completely unsettled, possibly even controlled, although it's impossible to say for sure what's going on with her yet. (She's not wearing the big glasses, which poo-poo'd our theory that they were the controlling intelligence.)

Alongside all this is Burnham's mission to prove that a) Discovery and the Disconauts still have a place in Starfleet in 3189 and b) she's actually capable of showing respect to her seniors occasionally. Permitted to take Dsicovery on a voyage to find a cure to a prion plague that's killing a bunch of Kili refugees (a pleasantly retro grey-type alien), she's joined by Lt. Nhan and Dr. Culber on a mission to the USS Tikhov (now known forever as the USS Teacup because we weren't listening properly to begin with), an ancient seed bank now run by members of Nhan's own race, the Barzans. 32nd century officer Lt. Willa (Audrey Jackson) is along to keep an eye on things, coming round quickly to the Disco way of doing things and blatantly being set up as a new recurring character.

But there are a lot of characters now, and it's getting very heavy, so to make room, someone has to go... and they write out Nhan. Gorgeous, bad-ass, mysterious Nhan, after three episodes as a main character, gets dumped before we really get a chance to know her. Thankfully, this episode goes a long way to fleshing out her character, allowing Rachael Ancheril the chance to show off her acting chops a bit before she stays behind to look after the seed bank, but still, it seems a waste. She keeps mentioning Airiam, and that just drives home that the writers are doing the same thing: giving us a strong episode for a character we've been waiting to see more of before writing them out. At least Nhan can (and probably will) show up again.

Naturally, the Disconauts show this futuristic fleet the Starfleet way of doing things, with compassion, risk-taking and teamwork. It's cheesy but it works, and Discovery is assured of its place in the 32nd century (a quick retrofit might help though, guys - remember how your shields were knocked out in one shot a couple of episodes ago?) Saru gets a nice speech about the Renaissance (the artist he talks about, Giotto di Bondone, died in 1337, which amusingly makes him ten years closer to Discovery's own time than their new home). Plus, he knocks Burnham down for shooting her mouth off every chance she gets and seriously jeopardising their relationship with Starfleet, which is harsh but very, very fair. 

It's a good, solid episode, leaving us with two mysteries: the cause of the Burn, and the nature of this piece of music which has Burnham so bothered as it follows her around. It's quite Doctor Who-y. Hopefully they don't drag the mystery out too long...

Starship porn:

The shipyard includes starships with organic hulls and entirely projected holo-ships (please call one the Enlightenment - one of you guys must be a Red Dwarf fan). Among the ships we see are a new USS Constitution and the USS Voyager NCC-74656-J, which looks like an updated Intrepid-class design. Tilly says that makes it tenth generation, but is corrected to say it's eleventh, presumably having forgotten the original letter-less one, but I dispute that - most registration systems wouldn't include the letter I because it's easily mistaken for the number 1.

The best of all is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it USS Nog, a huge ship named for the first Ferengi in Starfleet, confirmed behind-the-scenes as an Eisenberg-class vessel, in honour of the late Aron Eisenberg. I could cry.

A tenner says we'll see a new USS Enterprise by the end of the season.

Future history: 

Vance points out that since the Federation spent the 30th century fighting to uphold the Temporal Accords, and that time travel is now outlawed, the Discovery crew's presence is a crime. Which just shows how futile and illogical it would be to outlaw time travel once it's been developed, since people will inevitably arrive from before it was banned.

Barzan joined the Federation in the 25th century; Kaminar at a point unknown. We don't know if they're still members in 3189. At its height, the UFP had 350 member worlds (up from around 150 in 2373, and speaking of full members, not the undoubtedly thousands of colonies). It's now down to thirty-eight.

The Burn is confirmed as having occurred 120 years previously, so c. 3069.

The Andorian-Orion alliance is called the Emrald Chain and is a major threat to the Federation. It's just annexed Sigma Draconis (home to three inhabited planets in the Trekverse and uncomfortably close to Earth at a mere nineteen light years away).

Crew roster:

Detmer's debrief shows she's in no shape to be on active duty yet she's still sent to pilot Discovery to the Tikhov and then straight out again on the new mission. Give the poor woman a week off.

Tal gets taken to Command with Saru and Burnham... and then completely disappears for the remainder of the episode.