Monday 29 June 2020

Two new critical review books are upcoming from Pencil Tip Publishing.

What the Fans Think presents "unapologetic and critical fan reviews and assessments" of popular sci-fi and cult series. The series now presents What the Fans Think: Torchwood and What the Fans Think: Blake's 7

The Torchwood volume covers all forty-one televised episodes of Torchwood including Children of Earth and Miracle Day, while the Blake's 7 volume covers all fifty-two episodes from all four television seasons. Each book includes one review by me ("From Out of the Rain" from Torchwood season two and "Time Trap" from Blake's 7 season one).

 Both books will be available to order via Lulu in late summer or early autumn this year. The exact price is yet to be announced but a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Monday 22 June 2020

WHO REVIEW: 'Scratchman' by Tom Baker

This was one of the great unknowns of Doctor Who. An original Doctor Who movie for the 1970s, Doctor Who Meets Scratchman (occasionally Doctor Who and the Big Game, which is a less exciting title) was a script written by Tom Baker and Ian Marter to feature themselves and Elisabeth Sladen. It never happened, and the details of it were left obscure until 2007 when Marcus Hearn uncovered the original scripts and wrote an in-depth article on it. Before this, we knew that it involved the Doctor facing a figure that may have been the Devil himself, and that they wanted to get Vincent Price for the role (there was also a plan to get Twiggy on as the companion when it looked increasingly unlikely it would involve Sladen and Marter).

Then came the announcement that Tom Baker himself was to novelise the script. In fact, at first James Goss was down to write it, following his successful novelisations of City of Death, The Pirate Planet and the other great unmade movie project, The Krikkitmen. With all the Douglas Adams scripts covered, Scratchman was the only Tom Baker script left to novelise, unless they try to get a book out of Exploration Earth. It turns out that Goss's name was just a placeholder to keep the surprise of Baker's authorship under wraps, although I suspect he had at least some involvement, since some of the prose does sound like his. On the other hand, Baker is an established writer himself (treat yourself to the wonderfully disturbing children's book The Boy Who Kicked Pigs), and much of it just sounds like pure Tom.

We'll never really know just how much of it was Tom's own work, how much was from Marter's scripting, and how much was assisted with by Goss, but the final result is an absolute joy. There have been a couple of novels told first person by the Doctor, and the Fourth Doctor at that, but they never really feel like they're actually giving us a glimpse of the Doctor's personality. Tom Baker, of course, knows his Doctor inside-out, and it's a pleasure to have him tell the story. The book is full of wry observations, non sequiturs and absurd metaphors, but the silliness doesn't overtake the mounting horror of the book. To begin with, the misfortune is no greater than a trampled picnic (but even the Doctor seems ready to burst into tears at that), building to the extermination of an island population as they are horribly transformed into scarecrows. It sounds ridiculous and probably would have looked so on screen, but in prose it's nightmarish. The scarecrows, weirdly enough, are a vanguard for the Cybermen, who have allied with Scratchman foolishly. It's a sort of dry-run for a Cyber-conversion virus. On the island, though, even these deadly threats pale into comparison with the dreadful local busybody, Mavis Tulloch...

The second half of the book takes place in Scratchman's dimension, going full-on surreal and delving into some truly unnerving imagery. Whether Scratchman is the Devil or not (and that would open up a few continuity questions with the other Devils on Doctor Who) he's a being who revels in fear and power and forces nightmarish visions on his victims.In fact, visions of the past and future are a big part of this story. The Doctor faces visions of his past enemies, and even scarecrow versions of his former selves, but there's also signs of things to come. Sarah sees her own future adventures up to and including her own spin-off series, and there are sneaky cameos by the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors. It's very much a modern reworking of the old script, using the intervening decades to add all sorts of nods and winks to the story. The entire tale is folded into a framing story where the Doctor has to justify his adventures to (yet another) Time Lord court. So, really, the entire thing is a vision, and who knows just how much is true?

Scratchman is a daft old romp while also being a solid horror story, which is about as perfect an evocation of the prime of Tom Baker's Doctor Who tenure as it's possible to be. It's a tragedy that neither Sladen nor Marter are here to see it finally come to fruition (Marter presumably would have co-written this with Baker had he not died so tragically young). It's even better listened to, with Baker giving his all with an absolutely raucous narration. Easily one of the most entertaining Doctor Who novels in years, and probably far better than a movie ever could have been.

Placement: Sarah and Harry have already encountered the Loch Ness Monster, so it's after Terror of the Zygons. They're taking a holiday when the story starts, so this is presumably a breather after The Android Invasion and before The Brain of Morbius, when Sarah is back to travelling with the Doctor alone.

Sunday 21 June 2020

A Life in Pubs 5) Bar Said

This is another one I've no pictures of, and it's not like a google will help. Way back in 2006 I did a short spell of voluntary work in Tanzania. Staying on the edge of a village in Tendaguru, in the Arusha district of northern Tanzania, this was what people think of when they say "deepest Africa."

If you travel to one of these places on one of these programmes, you stay in a big complex with all the other volunteers and some staff who're generally from the local community. It brings a lot of money into the local economy, and one thing you'll always find is a bar, set up just outside the complex. There was one outside the place I stayed in Thailand when I volunteered there, and that was great fun, but Said's is the one I remember best.

Nothing but a shack with a one-man bar and some fridges run on a portable generator, some benches, chairs and tables, and a couple of holes in the ground behind some walls to act as toilets. It was the barest possible thing that could be called a pub, but it was a joy, and that was down to the people. Not just the other volunteers, mostly from the States but also from the UK, NZ and Australia, some of whom I'm lucky enough to still count as friends. But also the locals who'd drink there, some of them trying to sell us stuff but also happy to sit down and share a drink and a chat about life out there. And Said himself, a huge bloke with a great sense of humour who used to tell us a different story about his background every time we asked.

But no pictures from dark nights sat at those wobbly tables. So I'll have to represent Bar Said with a bottle of Tusker, our favourite African beer. Bia yangu, Nchi yangu!

Sunday 14 June 2020

Why does everything have to be so POLITICAL?!!!1!

The BBC Doctor Who social media team have posted a statement about racial equality and standing with Black Lives Matter. The last Lockdown story mentioned the protests currently sweeping the world. Now some fans are complaining that Doctor Who should just be escapist fiction and not bother people by being all political.

These people have apparently missed the point of the entire franchise so far. Doctor Who has been political, and indeed, predominantly left-leaning, since 1963. If you can't see that for yourselves, here are some examples from the last fifty-six years.

An Unearthly Child/100,000 BC: Ian teaches the cavemen that “Kal is not stronger than the whole tribe,” providing an early lesson in socialism and democracy against authoritarianism.

The Daleks/The Mutants: An extended lesson on the danger of arms races and eugenics, although it does stray worryingly into Aryanism with the “perfect” blonde Thals.

The Aztecs: Barbara tries to instil modern western values onto another culture, and is doomed to fail.

The Sensorites: Exlpores the damage wrought by colonists on another culture, although reveals some latent racism with aliens who can't tell each other apart because they all look the same.

The Reign of Terror: It's the French Revolution, fer cryin' out loud.

Planet of Giants: An environmentalist tale where the travellers tackle pesticide pollution.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth: Not so subtle allegories of Nazi occupation and slave labour, with a futuristic resistance movement.

The Romans: Explores the horrors of slavery.

The Crusade: A pretty even-handed tale of the Crusades, with decent and cruel people on both the Christian and Muslim sides.

The Space Museum: Vicki leads a youth revolution against a colonial force.

Galaxy 4: Fixes the questionable racial politics of The Daleks by having the blonde humanoids be the villains and the ugly aliens be the good guys.

The Massacre: War and slaughter between Christian denominations.

The Ark: A parable on colonialism and indentured servitude, as the (all white) survivors of the human race keep the dark-skinned Monoids as a servant class until they rebel.

The Celestial Toymaker: Dropped the ball on that one. Pretty racist, even for 1966.

The Savages: A planet where the dark-skinned “civilised” folk rule over white-skinned “savages” and use them as a resource.

The Tenth Planet: Exploring the risks of extensive surgery and over-conformity. Seems old-fashioned now but topical at the time.

The Moonbase: A very deliberate attempt at a multinational base crew.

The Macra Terror: A very sixties exploration of conformity with a touch of McCarthyism.

The Ice Warriors: A look at the dangers of excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Although they got it the wrong way round back then and thought it might cause global cooling.

The Dominators: Pro-violence, anti-protest, anti-hippies. Political, yes; good, no.

The War Games: A long treatise on the horrors of war and conquest, and how people will fight blindly for their leaders.

Doctor Who and the Silurians: The rights of the indigenous against the rights of newcomers.

The Ambassadors of Death: A story about how extremists will lie, cheat and use people to further their agenda, and the human fear of the other.

Inferno: The perils of progress, set against a background of a Britain under fascist rule.

The Mind of Evil: Is it right to take away the capacity of men to do evil? What are the rights of prisoners?

The Claws of Axos: The dangers of unfettered greed and national interest against the greater good of the world.

Colony in Space: While agrarian colonists fight with corporate miners for who has the rights to a new planet, no one asks the natives what they think.

Day of the Daleks: Discusses the morals of collaboration with an occupying power and terrorist action to avert a war.

The Curse of Peladon: An extended metaphor for Britain's entry to the European Common Market, with a side of interference with developing cultures.

The Mutants: The whole thing is a thinly-veiled look at British colonialism and South African Apartheid, with segregated teleporters for natives Solonians.

Frontier in Space: Interstellar politics, looking at the risks of miscommunication between cultures, with a bit on unfair treatment of political prisoners.

The Green Death: Pro-environmentalist, anti-corporate look at pollution and the exploitation of miners.

Anything with Sarah Jane: 70s men try to write about feminism.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs: An environmentalist story that looks at the risks of going too far, into extremism.

The Monster of Peladon: Miners rights and the influence of foreign powers, especially during a time of war.

Planet of the Spiders: Barry Letts's big book of Buddhism.

Robot: The villains are a “progressive” terrorist group who want to run the world as a rationalist meritocracy (but are also weirdly sexist).

Genesis of the Daleks: All about war and thinly-veiled Nazis.

The Masque of Mandragora: Rationalism and science vs. superstition and faith

The Deadly Assassin: Of course this is about Gallifreyan politics but it's amazing how many people miss that the Time Lords here are a parody of the British establishment.

The Face of Evil: Rationalism and science vs. superstition and faith

The Sunmakers: Robert Holmes complains about taxation.

The Ribos Operation: Rationalism and science vs. superstition and faith, again.

The Stones of Blood: Please tell me you can see the lesbian subtext in this story?

The Power of Kroll: Anti-colonialism, albeit through a pretty racist lens.

Nightmare of Eden: Anti-drugs story.

Full Circle: It's an alien society, but there's a lot here about how people in positions of power will lie to keep their power safe, and how people will follow anything if that's what they're used to.

Four to Doomsday: Not perfect, but Who's biggest attempt to show different cultures on screen. Tegan speaks an Aboriginal dialect, which is a pretty big deal.

Kinda: Another Buddhist parable.

Warriors of the Deep: We're still in the Cold War, and a century later, there are two power blocs threatening the world with destruction.

Planet of Fire: Rationalism and science vs. superstition and faith once more.

The Two Doctors: Robert Holmes teaches us about vegetarianism.

Remembrance of the Daleks: Ace is disgusted by the casual racism of the 1960s, while a neo-Nazi group works with the Daleks, who have a renewed interest in eugenics leading to their civil war.

The Happiness Patrol: Space Thatcher rules through fear in a society where people can't express their true emotions. People take to the streets in demonstration and commit destruction of property to make themselves heard. Has been seen as a gay rights allegory, your mileage may vary.

The Greatest Show of the Galaxy: About the perversion of sixties ideals to eighties consumerism.

Ghost Light: Ace remembers the racial attacks on her friend Manisha by white kids, ending in the firebombing of her house. Also mocks British imperialism.

The Curse of Fenric: In reality, the Cold War is just coming to an end, and in the story, the British and Soviet troops join forces to defeat a weapon of mass destruction.

Survival: More lesbian subtext.

Rose: A little bit on plastic pollution for a quick bit of environmentalism.

The End of the World: Religion is banned on Platform One.

Aliens of London/World War Three: “Massive Weapons of Destruction.”

The Long Game: Explores the insidious power of the media, and how it can twist our view of the world by controlling the news we read and hear.

Anything with Captain Jack: RTD's so-called gay agenda (although Jack's pansexual).

Boom Town: “Cardiff could fall into the sea and for all London cares.”

The Christmas Invasion: “Tell the President that he's not my boss and I'm certainly not turning this into a war.” Then has Harriet Jones destroy the Sycorax ship in a reference to Thatchers order to destroy a retreating ship in the Falklands War.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: The dangers of unchecked technological advancement and consumerist culture.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: Science vs. religion again, but fails to explore the concerning parallels between the Ood and black slavery.

Fear Her: Explores abusive family life.

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday: The villainous head of Torchwood wants to bring back the British Empire.

The Shakespeare Code: Doesn't dwell on it, but it does touch on the poor treatment of the mentally ill.

Gridlock: Rationalism vs. religion again, and you're missing the snark if you think RTD has suddenly gone pro-religion here. It's people's faith that has kept them trapped, unquestioning, in this impossible situation.

Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks: You can't look at the Depression and the homeless of New York without looking at our own economic system and its failures.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood: A whole story purely about the horror of war, the folly of blindly following orders and why we must “never forget.” Plus, the classism an racism that's still deeply embedded in British culture.

Voyage of the Damned: Discrimination against cyborgs stands in for any oppressed group you want to identify with, with a side of corporate greed.

Partners in Crime: The obesity epidemic and the monetisation of health problems.

Planet of the Ood: Addresses the slavery issue from “The Impossible Planet” with a look at corporate greed as well.

Midnight: The most RTD thing ever: people are stupid and awful, especially in a group.

The Beast Below: The possible perils of democracy, and is it ever OK for one group to suffer for another to thrive? Plus a gag about Scottish independence.

Victory of the Daleks: You can't make a Churchill story without it being political. This one comes down on the “Churchill was a war hero” side of history.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone: This, and later stories in River's era, redress the balance somewhat when looking at religion.

Vincent and the Doctor: Yes, talking about mental health is political too. The way the mentally ill are treated by society is still an issue.

The Day of the Moon: Canton's fiance is a black man, which is too much for America in 1969 and, let's be honest, today.

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People: Could be looked at as a piece on slavery, or on workers' rights, or human rights in general.

A Good Man Goes to War: The fat-thin-gay-Anglicans... Moffat's gay agenda was much bolder than RTD's.

Let's Kill Hitler: Literally attacking Nazis.

Closing Time: Comedy, yes, but with a little look at same-sex parenting.

A Town Called Mercy: This one's about how we treat soldiers after they return from war.

Cold War: If the title and setting aren't a clue...

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: I'm sure this one didn't mean to be political, but making the three criminals who are ordered around by the Doctor young black men was perhaps a subconscious statement on someone's part.

Deep Breath/The Girl Who Died/World Enough and Time: For someone who eats meat, the Twelfth Doctor makes a lot of comments about how pigs have feelings and your bacon sandwich once had a mummy and daddy.

Into the Dalek et al: The Twelfth Doctor is distinctly anti-military in the beginning.

Kill the Moon: Comes across, deliberately or not, as a take on the abortion debate, but without ever picking any side of that debate.

In the Forest of the Night: Love the trees.

The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar: The old “would you kill Hitler as a baby?” debate.

The Zygon Invasion/Inversion: A serious look at how refugees are demonised by our society when all they want is to live peacefully within it; how so demonising other cultures leads directly to the radicalisation of members of those cultures; how tit-for-tat violence is unending and escalating; ending a rallying anti-war speech.

Face the Raven: More refugee/asylum seeker allegory.

Anything with Bill: You can't make a conscious choice to feature a black lesbian character without it being a political statement. More than ever, this was Moffat saying “this show is inclusive.”

Thin Ice: The Doctor talks long about how our compassion defines how good we are, not how we exploit those weaker than us; then he punches a racist right in the face.

Oxygen: Far in the future, the Doctor dismantles capitalism (allegedly), for treating people as disposable resources.

The Pyramid at the End of the World/The Lie of the Land: Join forces to save your world against a greater enemy. Failing that, fight the system.

Empress of Mars: A look at British imperialism and our treatment of other races. Originally started as a Brexit parody.

The Eaters of Light: A pretty even-handed look at the conflict between indigenous cultures and invaders, and how working for an army does not automatically make one an enemy. Plus, pointing out how LGBT people are in no way a new thing.

World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls: “Like sewage, and smart phones, and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable.” “Never read the comments!” Making its allegiance to the left pretty clear here, even before the “stand and fight because it's right” speech.

The Thirteenth Doctor era so far: Deliberately the most ethnically diverse TARDIS team and writing staff in the series' history.

Rosa: An episode about protesting against racial discrimination and segregation, and a warning that we should never get complacent for racism is always there, at the edge of being “acceptable” again.

Arachnids in the UK: A muddled environmentalist message.

Demons of the Punjab: An exploration of cross-religious relationships and the damage that the British occupation of India and the following Partition did to millions of people. Also a look at how easily people can become radicalised.

Kerblam! A look at corporate greed and workers' rights, which somehow manages to come down on the side of Amazon.

The Witchfinders: None-too-subtle attack on sexism and misogyny.

Resolution: Among the Dalek attack, a message on coming together to fight common threats and a poke at Brexit.

Spyfall: Looking at the contribution great women have made to history and how they are overlooked; the danger of corporate greed and commercial control of the media and Big Data; plus Nazis are bad.

Orphan 55: Seriously blunt environmentalist message.

Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror: A little bit on treating immigrants with respect and courtesy.

Fugitive of the Judoon: Perhaps it shoudn't be, but casting a black woman as the Doctor is definitely political. Plus, the Judoon's shoot-to-kill policy when faced with the tiniest assaults is clearly an attack on the US police force.

Praxeus: A better environmentalist message, specifically about plastic pollution.

Can You Hear Me? A reminder that Islamic culture was far more advanced than western culture for centuries, and a discussion of mental health issues. Plus, a pro-police piece for a change.

The Timeless Children: Again, having children of various ethnicities play the Doctor's earliest incarnations is a definite statement.

So there we have it. Doctor Who has been political since the very, very beginning, right through to today. If you can't see it, you've really not been paying attention.

Thursday 11 June 2020

Doctor Who: The Final Lockdown

So, Emily Cook's lockdown extravaganza has come to a close, after a host of special stories and video events. I haven't talked about "The Descendants of Pompeii" or "The Zygon Isolation", which are really just little asides to bring some of the actors back for their respective episodes' watchalongs. It's the final two stories, written by the two previous showrunners in their last ever Doctor Who stories, honest, but I'll believe that when I don't see it.

"The Secret of Novice Hame" acts as a sequel to "Gridlock" from series three, released after the New Earth double-bill watchalong. It's a rather beautiful final memoir from Novice Hame, the redeemed Cat Person who cared for the Face of Boe, with Anna Hope reprising the role after thirteen years. Murray Gold is back to provide the music, and David Tennant lends his voice as the Doctor.

It's a sweet coda for a character who inhabits a world that's the most fairy tale RTD's Doctor Who ever got. There are all manner of races inhabiting New Earth now, five billion and a whack years in the future. My favourite element is Hame reminiscing about all the other Doctors she's bumped into over the years, men, women and animals. Maybe Paul Hanley's Silurian Doctor can exist after all. JuanMao's artwork is really lovely and absolutely matches the feel of it.

Placement: During the Doctor's fairwell tour in The End of Time.

"The Best of Days" is the last of the lockdown specials and would have gone out after the "World Enough and Time"/"The Doctors Falls" watchalong, except that was scrapped due to all the horror going on in the news. Perhaps the fridging of a black companion, however temporarily, wouldn't have been the right message right now. Still, the story itself is uplifting and topical, and I don't care what you say, Doctor Who is intrinsically political and you can't escape that. Of course Bill is going to talk about the pandemic and BLM marches, for crying out loud. Doctor Who exists in a sort-of parallel world where current events from the real world happen, but are usually overshadowed by fictional events. Real life is what carries on when the Doctor's away.

I love the idea that Nardole and Bill kept in touch after the Doctor vanished into the Vortex, with Bill living her long afterlife with Heather (even if they are on a break) and getting back to some normality after seeing the stars together. Hearing that things are pretty quiet near her is funny though. Bill's uni was in Bristol, and the story was released shortly below the protesters there righteously tore down Edward Colston's statue and dumped it in the harbour.

And that woman with beautiful eyes who Bill has a crush on - she has to be the Thirteenth Doctor, right?

Placement: After "The Doctor Falls" for Bill and Nardole. After "The Ghost Monument" for the Doctor?

Saturday 6 June 2020

REVIEW: The New Legends of Monkey

I stumbled across this one on Netflix. It's from 2018, and it's only the latest in a long line of series and films based on Journey to the West. The version we know, of course, is Monkey from the late 70s, which was the dubbed over version of the Japanese series Saiyuki, which was a Japanese series based on a Chinese story, filmed in China and Mongolia. This one is clearly heavily influenced by Monkey, but this one is an Australian/NZ/US co-production, filmed in Australia I think but with a cast that's mostly Kiwi.

It's very much a kids' show, with 25 minutes episodes with simple, straightforward morals and some gentle humour. This is, in no way, a bad thing. There's a lot of room in my viewing for a show like this, and it's an awful lot of fun. It's funny seeing something so clearly based on the old Monkey, with its various ridiculous elements remade for kids who were too young to see even the repeats of the British version, but that's the joy of these remakes. I had no idea the series was such a cult classic in Australia before I caught this one and read up on it.

Still, this is very much its own thing, even if it is based on the old Monkey. And really, that's great. There have been dozens of adaptations of Journey to the West, itself based on ancient Chinese folklore, itself rooted in earlier Asian mythology. I caught one version in Thailand some years ago, which was dubbed in Chinese and subbed in Thai, and I could still tell roughly what was going on. This is rather different. It's only loosely based on the Chinese roots, instead coming up with a new fantasy world, and there's as much introspective angst as there are comedy pratfalls and choreographed fistfights. It's almost tokusatsu in places, but it's a very beautiful, well crafted sort of fantasy battle world. Think the Power Rangers movie reboot, rather than the 90s series, maybe with a bit of Farscape thrown in.

The four core characters are there, now played by very beautiful young people, a long way from the ugly monsters that populated the original book. In fact, pretty much everyone in this is gorgeous. Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are all there, albeit nearly unrecognisable from the familiar versions at first glance, but this is Tripitaka's story. In a clever reference to the original, in which the beautiful young actress Masako Natsume played the monk, this version of Tripitaka is a girl who poses as a monk in order to escape an attack on the monastery where she was raised. She's played by Kiwi actress Luciane Buchanan, who gives the part a nice mixture of wide-eyed innocence and gritty resolve. It's her journey from a frightened girl to the saviour of the west that is the central story of the series.

In rapid succession, she meets Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy. This is a universe of gods and demons, although spirits might be a better word. The only difference is that the gods are immortal and the demons live for six hundred years, although that can be circumvented with powerful magics. Also, the demons generally have white-blond hair, making them look somewhere between Spike from Buffy and the zombies from iZombie.

Monkey is, of course, the most powerful of the gods, but after being imprisoned for five centuries, his powers have waned to the point of uselessness. He's freed by Tripitaka who joins him on his quest to stop the demon king from achieving immortality. Played by Australian-Thai actor Chai Hansen, Monkey is as arrogant as you'd expect but learns a bit of humility as time goes by. It's still hugely satisfying when he finally gets enough power to summon his iconic cloud in the final episode. There's also a hint of attraction between him and Tripitaka, which is interesting considering that it begins when he believes her to be a boy. (Neither Pigsy nor Sandy are either surprised or bothered when they learn she's a girl.)

Pigsy, the voracious monster of the old stories, is now a big chap who still has a healthy appetite for all of life's pleasures. Played by Josh Thomson from NZ, he's a very likeable character, and I like how when we first meet him he's in the lovelorn thrall of a demon countess. Sandy gets a gender-switch, played by Australian Emilie Cocquerel with what might be an attempt at a cod-English accent. She's a batty sort, having been trapped alone for a long time, but perhaps the most compassionate of the three non-humans in core cast. She's also the cutest person in the cast and my firm favourite. Both Sandy and Pigsy are described as gods, rather than the cursed monsters of the old stories, but Sandy was shunned as a demon in her youth. It's an intriguing bit of backstory, suggesting gods are born to mortals, but given that Sandy looks Caucasian and has white-blond hair, it looks like she might be a demon after all...

There's been some talk about the racial casting of the series. It's hugely diverse, with people from all manner of ethnic backgrounds, and I can't say I'm happy with people calling it whitewashing - more than half of the core cast are non-white, roughly even in the overall cast and the ones that are white are mainly monsters. The core cast includes two New Zealanders of Tongan descent, a white Australian and a Thai Australian, which is a pretty good mix, although it is odd having a series based on Asian folklore with precisely half an Asian in the main cast. Still, the series seems so far removed from the original works as to make me wonder if this even matters anymore.

Your mileage may vary, but I found The New Legends of Monkey to be a very enjoyable little adventure. A second series has reportedly been recorded and was scheduled for release this year, but there's no sign of it as yet. I hope it appears in time, and I look forward to rejoining the prettified cast of godlike entities.

Thursday 4 June 2020

Batwoman moves on

I still haven't finished season one of Batwoman. I've not been gripped by it; the episodes I've seen don't quite seem to know what tone they're going for. It mostly seems to be after the same gritty, semi-realness as Arrow first went for, and that eventually bored me away, but it did lead to the great Arrowverse. Still, it's worth sticking with, I feel, and I'm interested on seeing where things go.

Sadly, it seems the series will have to develop in a different direction to its original plans. After filming for the first season was cut short due to the pandemic, Ruby Rose announced she wouldn't be returning for season two. The reasons behind her decision aren't clear. It has been reported that she has been suffering from a back injury, which would certainly make recording an action series difficult, but she has stated herself that this wasn't the reason. Another report has suggested the long filming hours, combined with filming in Vancouver a long way from her home, made it difficult for her, and also cited friction on set.

I also wonder if Rose is leaving due to all the shit she's received from "fans." There was a ridiculous backlash to her casting as Kate Kane, a character portrayed as lesbian in the Batwoman comics. Some of the more conservative fans kicked off about "virtue signalling," "SJW pandering" and the usual knee-jerk crap purely because of the casting of a queer actor as a queer character. On the other side, the queer fan community had many people objecting because Rose, who identifies as lesbian but also as gender fluid (she uses feminine pronouns). This, apparently, makes her not a real lesbian, and for some, means she shouldn't be playing a lesbian character. Rose was simultaneously too gay and not gay enough.

The shitstorm forced Rose off social media, and I cannot imagine this didn't have something to do with her leaving the show. Why would she want to continue after that reception?

It was announced yesterday that the showrunners are looking to replace Kate Kane with a new character, rather than recast her and carry on. This is understandable, since DC has a long and storied history of legacy heroes whose titles are passed on (Batwoman has been portrayed by two characters, although with almost identical names). On the other hand, the series is so entrenched in Kane's relationship with her sister (the villainous Alice) and cousin (Batman, Bruce Wayne), that reworking it for a new character seems destructive. Given all the sci-fi gubbins in the Arrowverse, it wouldn't have been too difficult to find a way to make recasting work.

The new Batwoman has been described as an LGBT woman in her mid-twenties, currently named Ryan Wilder, although it's also been suggested that this is just a placeholder name. (This might even indicate a recognisable character from the DC universe is being repurposed as Batwoman). Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Stephanie Beatriz has expressed interest in the role, and I could absolutely see her as Batwoman, although at thirty-nine she's a good deal older than the character description. (Although she is a mere five years older than Rose.)

Crew Dragon Endeavour

With everything else happening lately, I neglected to post about the launch of the Dragon-2 class spacecraft Endeavour on the 30th of May. Initially planned for the 27th but delayed due to poor weather, the Endeavour carried Colonel Douglas Hurley and Colonel Bob Behnken to the International Space Station.

Fully titled the Crew Dragon C206 Endeavour, the spacecraft was developed by SpaceX as a new means of manned spaceflight. The original Dragon-class vessel was improved to the Dragon-2, with both a Crew and Cargo variant designed. The SpaceX Demo-2, as the mission is officially named, was the first manned spaceflight from the US since the last Space Shuttle mission, taken by the Atlantis in 2011. It was launched by a Falcon9 rocket, also designed by SpaceX.

It represents a major step forward in joint space travel cooperation between the private and state sectors, as a joint mission between SpaceX and NASA. The capsule is of course named for the Space Shuttle Endeavour OV-105, which replaced the destroyed Challenger in 1987. A follow-up mission is planned for the end of August. I can only imagine they keep their astronauts in strict quarantine given the latest conditions.

And yes, I know this is a massive vanity project for Elon Musk, but then, if it worked for Zefram Cochrane...

Crew Dragon Endeavour approaching ISS

Tuesday 2 June 2020


I've been wondering whether or not to write anything about the current horrific state of affair in the US following the murder of George Floyd. I'm not there, I'm not directly affected, I've already lost friends who are directly affected by the riots and who disagree with my stance.

But I feel it's important to make my stance clear. I've posted about it plenty on social media and I think anyone who follows my blog will know where I stand. I stand with those protesting against the oppression of black people in America.

Am I happy that there are riots? That it's come to violence? Of course not. But every form of peaceful protest has fallen on deaf ears. The system of justice and government in the US is intrinsically against anyone who isn't white, straight, rich and male, but black people are treated the worst. When society is systemically so against you, the only way to fight is to fight.

Still, the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, even in spite of this. Most of the property damage has been by white supremacists or undercover police intending to incite anger against the protesters. There are reams of footage, easy to see online and being reported around the world showing the brutality of the police. Against protesters, against medics, against reporters, against bystanders, against people in their own homes surrounding the conflict. Yes, there are some good cops standing with the protesters and engaging with them, which is wonderful. Yes, there are bound to be some violent thugs and opportunistic looters amongst the protesters. They are the minority. If the violent protesters give the rest a bad name, what do the violent police do to the force? What do the ones who have murdered black people with impunity done to the force?

Now, with Trump ordering the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Washington, DC, in order to co-opt a church for a press op, then ordering police and the military to retaliate against the protesters, his presidency has finally tipped completely into a dictatorship. He has declared Antifa - not an organisation, merely a like-minded cloud of people who are opposed to fascism -as terrorists. You are supposed to be against fascism.

A lot of us in the UK have been saying the US is heading towards a civil war, and I'm of the opinion the nation won't exist by 2040. This would seem to be the start of it. It's going to get worse before it gets better, and I am very, very worried about my friends in the States.

And no, I still don't blame the protesters.

REMEMBER: Riots and protests got your your rights. Stonewall was a riot started by a black woman of colour, without which queer people would have few of the rights they have today.

REMEMBER: Just because you don't have it easy, doesn't mean you are not privileged. I've dealt with some difficult things, but my skin colour and racial background has never been the source of that. It is always going to be easier for me in western society than it would be if I were black.

REMEMBER: Yes, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Hispanic and other minority ethnic groups suffer from systemic racism as well, but not to the terrifying degree that black people do.

REMEMBER: Trans women of colour are the single most mistreated group of people in the US, suffering a hugely disproportionate  number of murders and miscarriages of justice.

REMEMBER: We are not innocent in the UK. Our police force is less dangerous and less racist than in the US, but unpunished murders of black people in custody still happens far, far too often.

REMEMBER: It's not about black vs. white, it's about good people vs. racists and brutes.

REMEMBER: There are violent people of all colours and backgrounds. There are good people of all colours and backgrounds. Anyone can do something wrong, but the police should be, must be, held to a higher standard. They should be the best of us, not the worst.