Tuesday 28 April 2020

The Time Lord Victorious

This is a bit exciting: the BBC has announced a major new series of releases under the umbrella title Time Lord Victorious. So far, it's been the Beeb and Big Finish who've released the initial info, but it's set to include material and experiences from everything from comics to escape rooms. The main press release gives some information, while the teaser trailer is pretty nothing-y.

It's not set to start till September, which might actually be a little optimistic if they're pushing live experiences like escape rooms, given we might still be under lockdown then. We'll see though. If it is as broad as it sounds, it will likely be very expensive to buy all the different media and experiences for the story, but hopefully there'll be a solid core story that can be enjoyed without breaking the bank. It puts me in mind of the huge comicbook crossovers that Marvel and DC do from time to time, that require buying several issues from multiple titles to follow the overall story, and are almost inevitably disappointing. On the other hand, it's exciting to have various different ranges, which are usually quite separate, working together on a storyline. The last time there was a concerted effort for spin-off material to work together was probably in the mid-nineties when Doctor Who Magazine tied its comics directly to the New Adventures novel line. (It also means I'll probably end up re-subscribing to DWM after letting my sub end for the first time in almost twenty years.)

I'm very excited to see the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Doctors involved in a story together, which is a combination we've never had before. It's very rare that 20th and 21st century Doctors meet in expanded media (Eight isn't exactly Classic Series and he's more 21st century than 20th but he did arrive in 1996 and his licensing is mostly tied up with the original run.) I expect we'll have audioplays featuring both McGann and Tennant, hopefully together, although I highly doubt that Eccleston will be involved in any way. It would be an amazing and welcome surprise if he was though, and having Nine facing Ten, even just in prose or comics, is something to look forward to.

Given the title, and the scary, beaten-up Tenth Doctor in Prydonian robes, I think it's safe to assume that this involves the Doctor at the end of The Waters of Mars, possibly going off on a tangential timeline rather than getting to grips with himself. The official Doctor Who site's story page even has a placeholder entry for it after Waters which is a unique step, so it's safe to say this ties into the Doctor's crazy dangerous turn in that episode. I imagine we'll see Eight and Nine confront Ten rather than simply working with him, although I'd put money on everything being reset at the end so it can proceed to The End of Time and the regeneration. And defending "the universe from a terrible race"... that's got to be the Time Lords, hasn't it?

Sunday 26 April 2020

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 2-10 - 2-11

2-10) The Dauphin
Oooh, Wesley in Love

The Mission: Transport a princess from her inhospitable safe world to her equally inhospitable homeworld.

Planets visited: Klavdia 3 and Daled 4: Two planets with almost identical atmospheres. They don't look very pleasant from orbit, and we don't see the surfaces. Daled 4 has at least one inhabited moon (where Anya is from), and the planet is the homeworld of the allasomorphs. The planet completes one revolution per orbit, so it is permanently locked with one side in day and the other in night. The two sides have been at war for their entire recorded history. Salia's parents come from different sides of Daled 4, and so she is destined to reunite the two factions.

This isn't a planet. It's a picture of a planet.

Alien life forms:

Allasomorphs: Shapeshifting beings whose natural form is a sort of glowing white ribbon of energy. Both Anya and Salia are allasomorphs, capable of shifting their molecular structure into that of other life forms. They've both taken human form for the voyage, Salia as a beautiful young woman, her protector Anya as a nasty old bag. Behind closed doors Anya turns into a serious fitty when she's trying to reassure Salia, then a sort of teddy bear thing that's probably supposed to be cute but is frankly terrifying. In sickbay, Anya decides she has to kill a contagious crewman and turns into a huge hairy beast, more than capable of overpowering Worf. She's a cocky bitch and thinks she's far more powerful than anyone on board (they could just beam her into space). When she threatens Wesley, Salia turns into an even bigger monster.

Shut Up, Wesley: It's a Wes episode. He falls head over heels in love with Salia the moment he sees her (I guess that's why they call him Crusher). In fairness, she's a beautiful girl who's into magnets, so she's a science nerd's wet dream. Wes gets so distracted he forgets to go to work, and spends his time asking various staff members for love advice. He then loiters outside her quarters until she comes out.

Amazingly, he manages to get somewhere with her. He woos her with chocolate, because while she's an alien, she's still a girl and girl's love chocolate, right? It helps that he's a total choco hipster snob. He takes her to see planets and asteroid belts on the holodeck, and continues to see her even after Anya and Picard both warn him off, but he treats her like shit when he realises that the pretty girl he's been snogging isn't her real form. He comes round in the end though.

The Picard Manoeuvre: 

Number One: Riker gives Wesley a crash course in romance, which consists of a series of nauseating lines that make him seem like a complete creep. He tries them out on Guinan, though, and she's totally into it. No wonder she got married twenty-three times.

Son of Mogh: His advice to Wesley is terrifying, but there's a hint that he's taking the piss. He begins by screaming at him, before suggesting that women throw stuff and claw at you, while men recite poetry and duck.

He's emasculated by Anya's ass-wipping of him, but develops huge respect for her and hopes to meet her again, to fight on the same side. (He should have looked her up during the Dominion War, she would've been handy then.) He says "the body is just a shell," and that you shouldn't be fooled by someone's appearance.

In Therapy: Troi can sense that the aliens are hiding something, and that their emotions don't match their outward appearances, but that's about as useful as she gets in this episode.

Stellar Cartography: By this time, only 19% of the galaxy has been charted. On the planet Thalos 7, they age cocoa beans for four hundred years.

Sexy Trek: Wil Wheaton got his first screen kiss here from Jaime Hubbard, who's ten years older than him. Good for him.

Space Bilge:  Riker says of Klavdia 3: "How could anyone exist in an environment so totally hostile to human life?" apparently forgetting that they're ferrying aliens. The crew also express surprise at how similar the atmospheres are between the two planets, which is surely the point. It wouldn't be much use sending Salia to a safehouse on a planet where she can't breathe.

Why does Picard continually open channels to Salia's quarters and then ask if he can turn the viewer on? Is he trying to catch her in the nip?

Everyone is stunned to meet a shapeshifter, who have apparently only been rumoured before, but even restricting to episodes broadcast before this Starfleet has documented shapeshifters including Vendorians, Excalbians and Antosians, and the Enterprise crew have met Q, for crying out loud.

The Verdict: Given that it's a Wesley episode, and Wesley romance at that, this episode isn't bad. In fact it's rather sweet. Still, anyone who thinks Wesley's life is wild and fascinating really has had a sheltered upbringing, and it can't be that hard to impress someone who's never tasted chocolate before.

Lockdown ramblings

I think the above is rather beautiful. All the living Doctors (well, nearly) together to praise the doctors and carers and medical supporters of the UK. Matt Smith has a very nice house, I like that Colin Baker's wearing a Thirteenth Doctor T-shirt, and if anyone wants to bitch about Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin being on there, they can fuck off. It's a pity Eccleston didn't do it, especially as he's such a vocal NHS supporter, but there's a lot of complications between him and the BBC so better not go there. Tom Baker is OK! Although he's looking so old now. David Bradley is missing too, although you can watch him on season two of After Life, if you don't mind crying your bloody eyes out.

It's a good, important message. I've not been joining in with the raucous applause and saucepan rattling, mainly because it winds the dog the hell up as it is, but I totally support people celebrating the NHS like that. I support the idea of Comic Relief and Children in Need coming together (which isn't that big a deal, they're both run by the BBC) to raise money in an impromptu event, to support those in particular need right now. Even though there's still the sour taste left by people in luxurious mansions telling us flat-dwellers "we're all in this together" and the super-rich asking that we delve into our pockets to donate. Stephen Fry and Prince William had better have coughed up some serious money.

That's the problem. With every glorious coming together like this, I can't silence my cynical side. (Which is, you know, my main side. It's probably three sides out of four, like a grumpy rhombus.) The Big Night In event wasn't to raise money for the NHS per se, but that's the unspoken understanding. I'm not going to go into the government's response to the pandemic in much detail, there were mistakes but I think it's been largely sensible except for the baffling refusal to engage with the EU over ventilator supplies. However, having spent ten years systematically defunding the NHS, then making all foreign-born doctors and nurses feel unwelcome in our country, clapping for them seems a bit offensive. The NHS isn't perrfect, but we're lucky to have it, and it's been so utterly shafted by the Conservative government that it's barely able to cope with the normal level of healthcare needed.

No we have old men and women raising money for it, and doing incredibly well. It's amazing that they've achieved that, and if anyone wants to give extra to the NHS, good for them. But the NHS is not a charity, it is a national organisation that is paid for by taxation. We have already paid for the NHS, only to see funds diverted and the organisation eviscerated. This is a clear step along the path to the NHS becoming a private organisation supported by donations, and that is appalling.

Meanwhile, we have tax dodgers like Gary Barlow asking us to donate to national causes, and the Prime Minister, among others who voted against a rise in nurses' pay, clapping the workers they've deliberately harmed. It's sickening.

Please come together and celebrate, and give what you can. But don't believe it when we're told we're all in this together.

Doctor Who Lockdown - More Shadows

Doctor Who alumni continue to spoil us with new stories and performed texts to accompany the watch parties that have been running throughout the lockdown. As I said before, new Doctor Who by Paul Cornell is a good thing, and he has followed up "The Shadow Passes" with two narrated stories, "Shadow of a Doubt" and "The Shadow in the Mirror", to form a "locked-in" trilogy.

When Human Nature was published back in the 1990s, it made a huge splash among fans, as did most of Cornell's New Adventures novels, and its reputation was such that it became one of the novels made available for free on the BBC website. It was no surprise when Cornell adapted his own book into the script for the episodes "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" in 2007 for the Tenth Doctor and Martha. The original got a new lease of life in the last few years with Lisa Bowerman - Bernice Summerfield in the Big Finish audio series - narrating the BBC audiobook release off the back of the 50th anniversary.

The two versions of the story, one with Ten and Martha, the other with Seven and Benny, had a lot in common but also some huge differences, being written for different central characters, different media and a different century. To those of us who like our Doctor Who to fit together into a seamless whole - which is impossible, but never mind - it was hard to see how both versions of events could have happened to the Doctor. The new stories not only follow up the Doctor's inhumanly harsh judgments in the TV version, but also nod at how both versions can still be "real" in Doctor Who's multiverse.

The Tenth Doctor's punishment of the Family of Blood was his most alien moment in the series, and the whole story saw him act both cruelly and cowardly. Perhaps, though, this wasn't his inhuman side, but his most human nature coming to the fore. It depends how you look at it. Either way, his imprisonment of Daughter/Sister-of-Mine in the realm of mirrors was both fantastically evocative and horrifying, and has inspired multiple incidences of fan fiction (all still valid in this storyline) to see the Doctor coming to terms with their actions. "Shadow of a Doubt" sees Benny encounter the alien girl in the mirror, with Bowerman performing, and "The Shadow in the Mirror" sees the Thirteenth Doctor, a more compassionate incarnation, fresh from her own isolation in "The Shadow Passes," finally take pity on the girl. Lor Wilson reprises her role as Daughter-of-Mine almost thirteen years on to read the story.

They're both excellent, and I love the little nods at other versions of the Doctor - future, past or parallel - that hint at every story being a valid as every other. The girl mentions both the Seventh and Twelfth Doctors, but also a "thin, white aristocrat" (I want to say Lance Parkin's 42nd Doctor, but it could be any number of versions, most probably the Shalka Doctor since it's Cornell); "the one who couldn't walk" (the child-like version in a wheelchair glimpsed in RTD's novelisation of Rose) and "the one with red hair who thought he was the last." That final incarnation being the Doctor who will become known as Merlin, whose presence was felt throughout the New Adventures and hinted to be the Doctor's ultimate future.

As Parkin once wrote for the Doctor to say: "...one of the things you'll learn is that it's all real. Every word of every novel is real, every frame of every movie, every panel of every comic strip."

Monday 20 April 2020

Doctor Who Lockdown: "Farewell, Sarah Jane Smith"

This one brought tears to my eyes. With the lockdown fan rewatch of "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End" coincided with the ninth anniversary of the death of Elisabeth Sladen. So Russell T. Davies gave us a brand new short story about her funeral, some undisclosed time after the end of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I can't begin to cover how much this means to us as Doctor Who fans. Liz Sladen was probably the single most beloved companion actor in the classic series, and bringing her back in the revived series made her beloved by a whole new generation of fans. A kid who started watching SJA when they were five would be eighteen now. Even the new kids have grown up now.

Part of me wants these characters to carry on forever after their actors have passed away, and there's no reason they shouldn't. There can still be endless stories set in years past for Sarah Jane (and years future, this is a time travel show).  But giving the character an end like this, and a heartfelt send-off, is a beautiful way to pay tribute to not only the impact of the character but the actor behind them.

Jacob Dudman is as excellent as ever in his reading (is that his studio? Does he have that at his home?) just like he was in RTD's last video story. But what really sets this apart is the inclusion of other actors paying tribute. Katy Manning and Mina Anwar appeared alongside Sladen during SJA, while Sophie Aldred would have made an appearance in the fifth season had it been completed. It's nice to know that their story together still "happened" in the Whoniverse.

It's a pity Yasmin Paige doesn't appear as Maria, but Daniel Anthony and Tommy Knight are back as Clyde and Luke, and blimey, it's like they haven't aged. The beautiful Anjli Mohindra appeared on Doctor Who itself this year as the Skithra Queen, but it's wonderful to have her appear without the latex. There's no mistaking the emotion they show here, it's so moving.

The story itself is slight, of course, but it's there to hang the emotions on. When Katy Manning appeared as Jo back on SJA, RTD couldn't help but throw around new fates for every companion he could had time to mention. He does the same here, dropping little snippets of character development and new adventures. Luke's married to Sanjay - his best friend mentioned in the series who would have been revealed as his boyfriend had it not been cancelled - and it turns out Nyssa and Tegan are a couple, because of course they are. I can't wait to hear how Big Finish try to twist their continuity to fit that in. He even drops a mention of Grace Holloway in there.

It's a pity the Doctor doesn't make an appearance. I can understand why, but a little cameo could have worked. Could Tom Baker have not phoned one in? (Has anyone checked on him, by the way? Is he OK?) It's still utterly beautiful though. I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear (Suz bawled her eyes out).

Saturday 18 April 2020


2-9) The Measure of a Man
Everybody Needs Good Androids

The Mission: Prove Data's right to choose in a Starfleet court of law.

Planets visited: Not one.

Starships and Stations: Starbase 173 has been established near the Romulan Neutral Zone in response to the recent Romulan contact and the devastation along the front, soon to be discovered to be the work of the Borg (see TNG 1-25). There seem to be Anticans on the station. There's an office of the Daystrom Institute and the sector's JAG office on the station, the latter run by Philippa Louvois. She's the only legal staff member at the moment since they're still staffing the station.

Elementary, Dear Data: Starfleet has evaluated Data and concluded he is not a sentient being (which isn't really in line with hints in earlier episodes). Bruce Maddox of the Daystrom Institute has ordered him reassigned to Starbase 173 in order to be disassembled. He looks genuinely alarmed by this idea, and doesn't trust Maddox not to cock it up.

Since he can't simply refuse a reassignment (and an appeal would take too long to be useful, no doubt) Data decides to resign his commission, which Maddox intends to block on the basis that the android is the property of Starfleet. The senior crew hold a goodbye party for Data. He keeps quite a lot of old tat in his room, including a book that was a gift from Picard and a hologram of Tasha. He seems quite embarrassed when asked why he keeps this, and clearly still has feelings for her, even if he can't quite articulate them. He believes that he must protect Soong's dream by staying alive and intact (this will change as the years go by).

Maddox calls Data "it" and doesn't treat him with respect. Louvois calls him a toaster, but comes round eventually. Data is magnanimous enough to agree to work with Maddox in the future, which is pretty damned big of him.

He's never played poker before, and he's not very good at it yet. He's very easy to bluff. He holds the Legion and Medal of Honour and the Star Cross. His brain can hold 800 million bits of data (this isn't actually terribly impressive compared to the human brain, the capacity of which is unknown but estimated to be at least a thousand times more than this). He has an off switch in his arm, which is easily detachable.

The Picard Maneouvre: Picard shuts down Louvois's flirtation straight away and really hasn't much time for her. To begin with he tries to see both sides of the argument for Maddox's work, but soon realises how dangerous this is. He realises how Maddox is refusing to respect Data's rights as a person, and the risk of mass-produced androids becoming a slave caste. He speaks of a whole group of androids being a race - both of these things eventually come to pass in Star Trek: Picard. He successfully forces Maddox to confirm Data's sentience accrding to his own definition. He still values Guinan's counsel and takes it on himself to defend Data, eventually winning the argument and securing his right to choose.

The edited version of the episode available today states that Picard's first posting was on the starship Reliant.

Number One: Louvois assigns Riker as the nextmost senior officer to act as counsel for the prosecution. he immediately refuses, but since this would forfeit the trial and make Data a loser by default, he agrees. He puts in serious work as prosecutor, doing his best to portray Data as an object, but is clearly torn by his loyalty.

Geordi Shore: Geordi doesn't get a lot of screen time but is clearly cut up by Data's resignation. He should have had a chance to defend him in court though.

Lady Bones: She's present at Data's goodbye party and has clearly changed her mind about him. Data has some respect for the doctor.

Hat-tastic: It's Guinan who gets Picard to consider the horrifying ultimate result of Maddox's mission.

Sexy Trek: Philippa Louvois is an old shag of the Captain's from years ago, who still has a thing for him, although he remains pissed off with her for when she prosecuted him with zeal for the loss of the Stargazer. She says he's "still a pompous ass and a damn sexy man."

Cliche count: This is the first appearance of the now traditional Enterprise-D poker game. The players in this episode are Data, Riker, Pulaski, La Forge and O'Brien.

Future History: This is the first mention of the Daystrom Institute, named for Richard Daystrom (see TOS 2-20). It'll be mentioned many times throughout TNG, DS9 and VOY, and finally appear in Picard.

Future Treknology: Maddox has built a positronic net but it's not up to scratch. He plans to continue Soong's work and use Data's brain as a model to create an improved net and thereby build more androids. He says there are negligible risks to Data but no one believes him.

Future Echoes: This episode will have huge repercussions in Star Trek: Picard, with events on Mars happening almost twenty years after this.

Best lines: "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well there it sits - waiting!"

"I'm sick to death of hearing about rights!"

"Pinocchio is broken; its strings have been cut."

The verdict: An exceptional episode, one with real impact and relevance today. While we're nowhere near the point where we'll have to have these discussion about artificial intelligence, the treatment of one group of people as lesser, disposable or a commodity is never far behind. It's vital that this story is told again and again, through whatever metaphor.

Making Riker the prosecutor is contrived, although it leads to some effective scenes. Wouldn't it have made more sense to make Dr. Pulaski the prosecutor if they were set on having a regular character do it? In either case, there's an obvious conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, this episode is a brilliantly written piece of science fiction drama held up by an excellent performance by Patrick Stewart and fine support from Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes. One of the all time greats of TNG, it's hardly surprising that it became the basis of Picard. The extended modern edition is particularly worth watching for some nice extra scenes.

Friday 17 April 2020

Star Trekking

I've a little article over on Vocal about Star Trek: Discovery. Who do we think we should see return from the classic franchise for an appearance in Disco season three? Have a look here to see what I think. I earn a tiny penny on Vocal, too, so any clicks are appreciated.

I'm also planning to bring back the old Captain's Blogs as well. I let those drop a while ago, mainly because other things took up my time but also because I had two episodes left in TOS season two and they're bloody awful. However, I enjoyed those blogs and I think I'll get back on them, including getting back on TNG. After all, the next one there ties in very nicely to Star Trek: Picard.

Doctor Who Lockdown: "The Shadow Passes"

Maybe scratch that, I think this might be my favourite Doctor Who extra this month. Paul Cornell - one the greatest Doctor Who writers of the modern era - has written a new short story, "The Shadow Passes," with sees the Thirteenth Doctor and fam making their way through their own lockdown.

It's a timely piece, but it's a brilliant Thirteenth Doctor story regardless of topical setting. I think Cornell really nails how being female really changes how the Doctor is perceived by so many people, and it gives us a better insight into her character than most stories. There's some very sweet interplay between the Doctor and Yaz as well - #thasmin

Steven Moffat has also provided a Thirteenth Doctor story, "The Terror of the Umpty Ums," - his first ever time writing for the incarnation - and while it's a sweet story with a nice punch to it, I prefer Cornell's. He's got a way of getting into the Doctor's head that somehow makes them more mysterious, not less.

As an aside, this is first time I've really explored the official Doctor Who website for a long while, and it fills me with a quiet satisfaction to see all the different TV stories stacked up like this.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

The Doctor's Wife and the Pretty One

Of all the Doctor Who lockdown events, this has to be my favourite. For the rewatch of "The Doctor's Wife" came with a specially shot scene, written by Neil Gaiman and featuring Arthur Darvill. You can watch "Rory's Story" on YouTube, following on from Amy and Rory's stranding in New York in "The Angels Take Manhattan." I love that these videos are clearly being recorded in people's flats and in cupboards, and that Karen Gillan blatantly recorded her bit down the phone.

I'm not on Twitter so I haven't actually followed these live rewatches, but thankfully we can catch pretty much everything on Tumblr and everywhere else on the internet, including this, the first version (of many) of the opening scene of "The Doctor's Wife."

Friday 10 April 2020

REVIEW: Red Dwarf: The Promised Land

You've got to admire Red Dwarf's ability to continually come back from the brink. The series has appeared to be dead so many times over the years, only to pop up again a few years later. The fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth series all looked like they could easily have been the last, and yet, here we are again, with a thirteenth installment of the long-running show.

This time, though, we get a feature-length special rather than a full series. Doug Naylor and Channel Dave have tried this before, of course, with the not-so-great Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, which we got in lieu of a full ninth series (with the mythical Series IX officially the best ever, even though we never saw it in our reality). In that case, the special was edited into three half-hour episodes, and by all accounts, the shorter movie edit on the DVD release it better. Red Dwarf: The Promised Land is presented as a TV movie, although it was still broadcast in two separate parts (presumably for repeat showings). Still, run together as they were last night, it's clear that this is Naylor's chance to finally do a Red Dwarf movie.

Call me unsophisticated, but I really enjoyed The Promised Land. It's very openly trading on nostalgia, presenting something of a greatest hits compilation for the faithful. This is unlikely to win over any new fans, even as the script takes time to introduce new viewers to the basic concepts with some handy infodumps. The Cat People are the single biggest element of the series that was crying out to be explored (there's no end of fanfic featuring them, and an episode was planned for Series VII but proved too expensive to shoot). The idea of Lister being a god to people is wonderfully ridiculous but hasn't been played with since "Waiting for God" in Series I, and the impact on the Cat himself of this has gone completely unexplored.

It's a slightly schizoid script, half low-brow gags, half philosophical musings, but wasn't that always the best of Red Dwarf? We have Lister torn between his honest duty to his followers to tell them who he really is, his discomfort at being a figure of worship, and the pressure of destroying their beliefs in their time of need. There are also some pretty deep moments between the characters, with Rimmer achieving a sudden moment of clarity as to his status as a simulation of a dead man, weirdly enough after an unusually insightful word from the Cat. When he and Lister talk, Lister remains unable to tell Rimmer he likes him, even though, after all these years, they're closer to each other than anyone else. He's just incapable of actually manning up and telling Rimmer he cares about him, but then he comes out with a beautiful analogy about moonlight, and it's honestly really affecting.

Some of Red Dwarf's best moments are when it swerves from comedy to drama, particularly when Rimmer is presented in a sympathetic light. I'm thinking "Better Than Life," "Stoke Me a Clipper" and "The Beginning," all of which have their best moments giving Rimmer the chance to express how sad a character he is. (Not sad, you know, but sad. Although he is pretty sad.) Of course, all of those have hinted at character development for Rimmer, none of which has been followed up from. Dialogue in The Promised Land pretty much confirms that this is the original Rimmer from Series I to VII, to went off to become Ace, and that there's not been any real change to him as a character in spite of this. Sitcoms can often be like this, but it's a shame we can't move the characters on a little more. Doug Naylor has often given Rimmer a heroic exit (the aforementioned "Stoke Me a Clipper" and sacrificing himself in the novel Last Human), and I honestly thought Rimmer was done for here. But there he is, back again, but at least he gets the chance to give up his superhero status to save Kryten.

Oddly, there's more exploration of Rimmer than the Cat here, although he does get to be the focus of the best moment in the show, when he gets converted to the cult of Cloister. Making him Rodon's brother is a bit naff (and they have to cover the blatant age difference) but having Cat choose to stay with the Dwarfers was a gorgeous moment. I enjoyed Ray Fearon as Rodon, a suitably nasty Cat king, although the rest of the Cat People included were pretty average sitcom actors. Nothing wrong with them, ferals and acolytes alike, but nothing particularly outstanding. I was intrigued by having a signing character, but she immediately starts to talk, and the idea that her belief in Lister is what brings her to words is disappointingly skirted over. Not sure how that would have played for deaf/mute viewers, interested to find out. Please comment!

It's fair to say that a lot of the good jokes here are tried-and-tested. The memory erasure joke with Kryten and Rimmer is just the Holly-Agatha Christie joke from Series II, for instance. But then, is that so different from watching the same old episodes over and over again? If Red Dwarf is to have a future, it needs to do more and newer things, but there's nothing wrong with a nostalgic fan outing. The Rimmer upgrade subplot being a case in point: the run through of Rimmer's earlier outifts (complete with dreadful wig) is a fun bit for die-hards, but the Diamond Light superhero upgrade is something new (and distinct from the Ace Rimmer version of events). The new jokes a re a mixed bag, but I refuse to accept that the cat-flap thing is a bad move. Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's also quietly ingenious, making Rodon's followers come crawling to him as they enter. Red Dwarf is often cleverer than it looks. Although, fair, the sex change joke was awful.

Finally, a word on the return of Holly. It is, of course, fantastic to have Norm back, after his brief guest role in the last episode of 2017. Having a reset is a great idea, with the by-the-book Holly (basically Queeg) kick everyone off the ship working well as a set up, but we were all waiting for proper Holly to come back. All due respect to Hattie Hayridge, who's brilliant, but Norman Lovett's trademark deadpan performance absolutely makes all Holly's material. It's great to have all the guys back - although Norm and Rob Llewellyn have actually hardly appeared together in the series so far.

Altogether, this was a fun look at Red Dwarf in a new format, with some more breathing space. It all feels a lot less rushed than episodes have in recent years. While it's not a great template for the series going forward, it's a good starting point. If Red Dwarf is going to continue, it needs to start playing with the format and content more, but for now, this is a fine start for a new, modern Dwarf. And if it turns out this is the end of it, then The Promised Land is a beautiful send-off.

Good Psycho Guide: Three-and-a-half out of five chainsaws

Fancy Visuals: The Cat fleet turning into a pussycat face is very silly and I really like it, especially the reveal at the end .

Rimmer turning black-and-white was a nice touch; Grant and Naylor wanted to do that right back at the beginning of the series, but in 1988 the tech required was beyond their limited budget. It wouldn't really make much sense having the technology to resurrect someone as a hologram but only be able to manage monochrome, but the low power mode justifies the joke for this episode.

The best visual joke is the fag stuck in Luna's ear, just like Lister used to do in Series I.

Continuity Bollocks: Lister is stated once again to be the last human being alive, so I guess Kochanski and the rest of the resurrected Red Dwarf crew are just dead now.

Friday 3 April 2020

WHO REVIEW: The Target Storybook (ed. Steve Cole)

Next in my Doctor Who review catch-up is this lovely tome, a perfect Christmas present that I read through in just a few sittings, but then neglected to write-up for three months. The Target Storybook is a gorgeous tie-in to the recently resurrected Target range of novelisations (which kicked off my stop-start Who novelisation quest), complete with a lovely Achilleos-style cover illustration by Anthony Dry and very Target-esque internal illustrations by Mike Collins. As a heartwarming touch, the collection is dedicated to the late author Tommy Donbavand, who died in 2019.

There are fifteen stories in the Storybook, kicking off with a Thirteenth Doctor tale before moving through incarnation, and bookended with another story that ties into the Thirteenth Doctor's adventures. The conceit of this collection is that many of the stories tie into, sequelise or take place during established stories - classic missing adventures. As you'd expect, they're a mixed bunch, and there's a good combination of classic Who authors, new series TV contributors and unexpected newcomers.

"Gatecrashers" by Joy Wilkinson gets the collection off to an entertaining start. Wilkinson was a coup for series when she wrote "The Witchfinders" for series eleven, so bringing her back for this collection is a canny move. It's a fun adventure for Thirteen and her fam, but with a decent sci-fi moral, as they arrive in a society where everyone lives separate, enclosed lives, with occasional interactions by teleporter. It's easy to imagine this making a solid TV episode.

Placement: Late on in series eleven - after "The Witchfinders" works fine.

"Journey Out of Terror" by Simon Guerrier comes with a perfectly Hartnell-eqsue title and riffs on one of the Doctor's stranger moments in The Chase. For "Journey Out of Terror" takes place in the episode "Journey Into Terror," where the Doctor and company land in a haunted house and the Doctor, bafflingly, declares they've entered the dark realms of the human subconscious. Guerrier's story enters a fantasy realm that's quite different to the First Doctor's usual remit.

Placement: During the final scenes of "Journey Into Terror, " The Chase episode four.

"Save Yourself" by Terrance Dicks is the final story by the late, great Uncle Terrance, and it wouldn't be Target without him. He was never shy of exploring his own continuity, and this is no different, taking place during the infamous "Season 6b" era, as a direct follow-up to The War Games. Season 6b is pretty well-worn now, but this story puts a new spin on the idea. It's a great little adventure and nice send-off for Mr. Dicks.

Placement: Sometime after The War Games.

"The Clean Air Act" by Matthew Sweet is a solid Third Doctor story, which sees the Doctor and UNIT up against an environmentalist group. It's good to see the Third Doctor split between the establishment figure he appears to be, the military force he associates with and the hippy types he sympathises with. It's a bit preachy, but that's true to the Third Doctor.

Placement: The Doctor's still on Earth but it seems later on, so probably between The Time Monster and The Three Doctors.

"Punting" by Susie Day takes the idea of putting an adventure inside an adventure to the next step, and puts an adventure into an adventure that took place inside an adventure. Ever wondered what the Doctor and Romana got up to in the Time Vortex during The Five Doctors? No, me neither, but this is good fun and with some genuinely funny moments.

Placement: During Shada and/or The Five Doctors.

"The Dark River" by Matthew Waterhouse If you wondered why Adric made it to the cover illustration along with fourteen incarnations of the Doctor, this is why. I didn't think I'd love a Matthew Waterhouse story, but my Haywards Heath comrade provided one of the best stories in the book. It's a bit of a serious thing, to take on racism in the old American South, but this adventure, which gives Adric and Nyssa their own companion, James, makes a pretty tasteful go of it. The best part though is a brand new renegade Time Lord, going here by the name of Doc Ashberry, a larger-than-life old friend of the Doctor who's an absolute hoot.

Placement: During The Visitation episode four for Adric and Nyssa.

"Interstitial Insecurity" by Colin Baker Waterhouse isn't the only actor to write for his character in this collection. Colin Baker has written for his Doctor a few times over the years, and while he, naturally, has a good grasp of his character, his prose doesn't make the smoothest reading. Still, this is a pretty good story, seeing the Doctor entering the Matrix to prepare his defense in his trial, with a short-term companion named Anosia, who's quite charming. It's a bit of a hack job to try to make the Sixth Doctor look better than the trial made him appear, but it works.

Placement: Between episodes eight and nine of The Trial of a Time Lord.

"The Slyther of Shoreditch" by Mike Tucker Always a reliable writer for the Seventh Doctor and Ace (although what happened to Robert Perry?), Tucker provides a great story that brings together elements of Dalek stories from throughout the franchise. We get elements from The Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, while it all pushes towards the inevitability of the Time War. Plus, the heinous theft of long johns.

Placement: During Remembrance of the Daleks.

"We Can't Stop What's Coming" by Steve Cole is a rare fish: a post-2005 Eighth Doctor story that follows the Eighth Doctor novel series. Not too surprising coming from Cole, who ran the BBC Books Doctor Who range for several years. This story is a hybrid between the old EDA era and the Time War flashback era, seeing the Doctor, Fitz and Trix dealing with an abuse of causality under the heavy threat of the upcoming Time War.

Placement: Some time after The Gallifrey Chronicles.

"Decoy" by George Mann Really the only person to write the War Doctor had to be George Mann, who provided the excellent Engines of War. It's a brief but punchy story, drawing on the Nestene involvement in the War but focusing on the Doctor's tenuous alliance with Rassilon. It's a great dissection of just how the Doctor would fight a destructive war, while still remaining the Doctor. Having the previous two stories weighed down by the Time War's approach only adds to it.

Placement: Right in the middle of the Time War, probably before the War Doctor titles from Big Finish.

"Grounded" by Una McCormack We don't quite get a Five or Nine story in this, but Nine's absence is felt more, since this isn't even a companion story. No, this is a Clive story, running on the recent fan consensus that the conspiracy theorist/Doctor Who fan stand-in survived "Rose" and had further adventures. This is a rather lovely story, seeing Clive and son finding an alien in their neighbourhood. Very sweet.

Placement: For Clive, some months after "Rose."

"The Turning of the Tide" by Jenny T. Colgan Doctor Who-wise, I associate Jenny Colgan more with the Eleventh Doctor after her excellent novel Dark Horizons, but she totally nails the Tenth Doctor and Rose as well. Unexpectedly, though, she decides to give us a story of the Metacrisis Doctor and Rose, showing us a glimpse of what a personal, Earthbound affair with the Doctor might be like. It goes in a different, more intimate direction than Big Finish's version of their lives on Pete's World. This is a cracking story of impossible storms and aliens after Earth's oceans, and the impeccable Doctor-Rose team makes it one of the strongest in the book. Plus the little one-off bug companion is the sweetest.

Placement: Over a year since "Journey's End."

"Citation Needed" by Jacqueline Rayner although ostensibly an Eleventh Doctor story, covers far more than that, spanning several billion years and taking things right up to the end of series eleven. It's stylistically the most interesting and unique of the stories in the collection, told by the Encyclopaedia Gallifreya, a sentient TARDIS database, essentially the Matrix but held within the medium of bottles of liquid. Fascinating and funny in equal measures.

Placement: All over the place. The Encyclopaedia was briefly seen in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS."

"Pain Management" by Beverly Sanford is a rollicking story that tells what happens when Missy tries to be good. Set right at the end of the Twelfth Doctor's life, it sees the Doctor and his university crew take in a rock concert and sees events spiral out of control from there, showing that the Missy is still the Master and can just as easily end the world when she's trying to be nice.

Placement: Between "The Eaters of Light" and "World Enough and Time."

"Letters From the Front" by Vinay Patel The author of "Demons of the Punjab" provides a prequel story, told in epistemological style by Prem and an alien Thijarian. It's a finely written look at war and sacrifice, and explores why the Thijarians gave up their bloodthirsty ways. Not really a Doctor Who story, but that just makes the collection richer.

Placement: Some years before "Demons of the Punjab."