Wednesday 27 January 2021

Bafflement & Devotion - out very soon

Don't forget to order your copy of the new charity anthology Bafflement & Devotion: Iris at the Edges, featuring lost, forgotten and mysterious stories starring that gin-soaked lady time traveller, Iris Wildthyme.

Stories by Iris creator Paul Magrs include "Bafflement & Devotion" itself, the tete-a-tete between Iris and the Eighth Doctor originally published in Doctor Who Magazine; "In the Sixties," originally printed in Walking in Eternity; "Being an Extract from The Amazing Adventures of Iris Wildthyme on Neptune," originally printed in Tales of the Solar System; "An Unearthly Palaver," originally written for the "G'Day for the Doctor" convention; "Hospitality, from Iris: Abroad; "Entertaining Mr. O" from Perfect Timing and "It's Raining Again," with Stewart Sheargold, originally from Perfect Timing 2.

Stories by other ne'er-do-wells include "Iris Explains" by Lance Parkin, featuring the Eighth Doctor and originally included in Missing Pieces; "No Place Like Home" by Stuart Douglas, originally printed in Shelf Life; "Iris Wildthyme and the Spider from Magrs," by Alan Taylor, and "Cabinet of Changes" by Philip Purser-Hallard, originally in Walking in Eternity; "Deleted Scene from The Key Lime Pie 2 Time" by Cody Schell from a bonus ebook for Iris: Abroad; and "When Iris Met Tommy" by Stuart Douglas, from A Second Target for Tommy

Other stories have never been in print before, including "Faking It" by Philip Marsh, the mysteriously unattributed "Lost, Presumably Illogically Ignored," and my own Ninth Doctor and Iris story, "A World Apart."

You can order the paperback for £16.95 here, but I don't know how long it will be available so best get on it, chuck.

Sunday 24 January 2021

WHO REVIEW: Forgotten Lives, ed. Philip Purser-Hallard


It's surprising that it's taken so long for a book like this to appear. We've had anthologies with unknown, invented and alternative Doctors before (such as Unbound and Walking in Eternity, and even to an extent with the BBC's Short Trips and Side Steps), but remarkably, no one has ever sat down and put together a collection revolving around the ever-controversial "Morbius Doctors" before.

Perhaps it's the controversial nature of these mysterious pre-Doctors that has prevented most fans from engaging with them. Fandom has had such a rigidly defined idea of who the Doctor is for so long that versions of the character that contradict this have been thrown out. Even before the eight faces of the Doctor appeared in the mind battle with Morbius, there were more versions of the Doctor than the official four incarnations played by Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker. The introduction to Forgotten Lives chats happily about these extra versions, from Peter Cushing's eccentric inventor Dr. Who to Trevor Martin's theatrical incarnation, and goes on to say:

"When The Brain of Morbius episode four showed us (and it did so deliberately and, whatever the more conservative species of old-school Doctor Who fan may tell you, with no significant ambiguity) that Hartnell's 'first' Doctor had at least eight predecessors who'd never been on screen, it was really nothing revolutionary – just part of Doctor Who's long history of reinvention and revelation."

This is, of course, completely true. The eight faces seen in The Brain of Morbius were always and explicitly intended to be earlier faces of the Doctor, and while it's possible to interpret them as faces of Morbius or something more contrived, this requires deliberate misreading of the scene. Of course, this contradicted pretty much everything else on screen up to that point and beyond, besides very tiny hints at bits of the Doctor's life we hadn't seen. It was one of those oddities that exist in the series' continuity, which by 1976 was already full of curiosities and contradictions.

Aside from the lightest of touches and one inarguable cameo in Lance Parkin's Missing Adventure Cold Fusion twenty years later, these well-dressed gentlemen (being in actuality production team members in fancy dress) were forgotten about and dismissed by licensed fiction and mostly by fandom at large. Which was a crying shame, because the idea that there were some secret lives before Hartnell's Doctor is just so much fun that it's surely impossible not to want to play with it. Finally, Chris Chibnall's latest season of the revived TV series bombed continuity with the notion that the Doctor has had countless lives before, and explicitly included the Morbius Doctors in this by showing them in the Doctor's bombardment of memories. (Of course, if you wanted to be a real stick in the mud you could insist she was just remembering the mind battle and that they were still the faces of Morbius, but really, where's the fun in that? And would Morbius have such a fine selection of hats?)

So it's now quite right that Obverse Books presents us with a collection of full-fledged adventures for these Doctors, taking those tiny glimpses and extrapolating them into eight new versions of the character. These are timely children, indeed, and whether you're an old-school fan who's been pondering their existence since 1976 or a recent viewer who's desperate to know more about the Doctor's mysterious and ever-contradictory backstory, Forgotten Lives is a must. And nothing here, in The Brain of Morbius or The Timeless Children stops Hartnell from being the First Doctor. He always will be, no matter how many faces retroactively come before him.

Eight authors bring to life eight Doctors, in this beautiful volume illustrated by the uncomparable Paul Hanley, who I believe must have depicted more incarnations of the Doctor than anyone in his artwork. If there's one complaint to be had about the book it's that Hanley's artwork isn't given enough prominence inside, but I understand this is due to costs. Nonetheless, you're missing out if you only see the cover versions and the black-and-white prints at the back of the book, and must check out the full portraits on Hanely's Patreon. However, each of the plates in the book includes a wonderfully silly note on "The Changing Face of Doctor Who" which makes up for the lack of colour and clarity.

The collection kicks off with "The Knocking in the Mine Shaft," which puts the Christopher Barry Doctor, the earliest of these incarnations, in an adventure in historic Cornwall that involves spooky goings on down the tin mines. Drawing on the local folklore of the Knockers – mining goblins with a perfectly sensible name – who naturally turn out to be of a more extraterrestrial origin than expected. The Doctor here is very much a medical doctor, a practising one at that, who goes by the pseudonym of Doctor Medec and has very much assimilated into the local community by the time this adventure starts.

Each story presents a distinct era of the Doctor's life, and the feeling, in general, is that a very long time passes between each one. Collection editor Philip Purser-Hallard presents the next Doctor, portrayed by Robert Banks Stewart, who speaks with a distinct Scottish accent (I had in my head the voice of Bill Paterson as I read the dialogue). While still flitting about time, this Doctor has a base in WWII London where he acts as an observer for his superiors, while also being the most alchemical of this always mercurial character. The story is told by his secretary, the charming Miss Weston, who joins him on his investigation into what's essentially a vintage take on Terror of the Autons, but both funnier and more atmospheric than that implies. There's a fair bit of The Avengers (Steed and Peel, not Marvel) in there too. This Doctor has some of my favourite characterisation in the book, really coming alive on the page via the tellings of Miss Weston. His bow-tied far future self would be very disappointed in his lack of knowledge when it comes to silent comedy, though.

The Doctor's lives span long enough that we hear of multiple different families, but only in Andrew Hickey's "The Cross of Venus" do we actually see them. Featuring the Christopher Baker Doctor, this story feels rather like one from an old World Distributors annual, except that it's very good indeed. It's a clever extrapolation backwards (a backstrapolation?) to the 1940s, imagining how Doctor Who might have existed then, and sees the characters travel to the distant space year 1975 and the first manned mission to Venus. There's some clever playing with expectations when it comes to the nature of the villain, but the most striking element of the story is that the Doctor is travelling with his two precocious children Jilly and Cedric. They're wonderfully drawn characters, and I can't help but wonder... is one of them the parent of John and Gillian?

Based purely on the fleeting images of the Doctors, my favourite was always the fourth (or fifth in the reverse-order they were shown): Phillip Hinchcliffe's Cavalier incarnation. With so little to go on but their fabulous outfits, it's not surprising that many of these Doctors make a big deal of their clothes, and this flamboyant fancypants is no exception. He's only just regenerated, allowing for an age spent in the TARDIS fixing his look. This Doctor's wonderfully full of himself and I love him for it, sashaying onto a planet and immediately getting locked up, and naturally taking it upon himself to overturn the entire civilisation's corrupt legal system. Kara Dennison's "Gauntlet of Absolution" is a cracking adventure.

At the halfway point comes the only Morbius Doctor to have appeared in licenced print fiction before, the blond and bearded Douglas Camfield incarnation. This version always looked like a real charmer, but interestingly, Lance Parkin takes a darker, more serious view of him in "Past Lives." Parkin, of course, is the one writer who absolutely had to write for this collection without fail, and his story, while the briefest, is one of the most fitting thematically. Dealing with a Doctor seeking to secure justice against galactic war criminals, this story says a lot about retribution and responsbility with admirable restraint. I also feel that this is what Chibnall's version of the forgotten Doctor was trying to be, rather than what we got. However the Thirteenth Doctor complains about how harsh and ruthless Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor is, her actions are no different to what we've seen various Doctors do before. The Camfield Doctor seems like he could genuinely take a step too far.

Aditia Bidikar has a unique voice within Obverse Books and Doctor Who fiction and it's always fascinating. "Valhalla Must Fall!" is a strange and intriguing tale that covers things from millennia-old virtual lives to a sentient mountain. In amongst these mind-bending concepts (careful, your brain case might explode) is the Graeme Harper Doctor, and the character has never seemed more otherwordly and mysterious. Each of these Doctors has their own parallel story in Hanley's illustrations, but with Harper's it's truly a whole adventure, as Hanley not only discovered a remarkable truth about the director's appearance in that odd costume but (with a nudge from Cody Schell) made this Doctor less gender-specific than we might have thought. Bidikar's story goes out of its way to never refer to the Doctor by any pronoun – they're always "the Doctor" – and so salt-of-the-earth bloke Harper becomes the face of a genderqueer incarnation.

Jay Eales provides the penultimate story, "The Other Side," and it's one of the best in the book, a storming adventure story which sees the Doctor land in a civilisation seemingly split in two by an alien forcefield. A rather Orwellian story of abuse of power, it sees the Robert Holmes Doctor, resplendent in his finery and chewing on his pipe, acting as a rather unwilling agent for the Time Lords. Rather like the Black Widow in The Avengers (Marvel, not Steed and Peel), this Doctor has red in his ledger and is only going along with these missions because he's trying to tip the balance back in the right direction. Plus, he's kind of kept on a lead. While he's perhaps the most troubled Doctor, he's also tremendously charismatic, forcing his way through the story on sheer personality. Things don't always go to plan for this incarnation though, and an unexpected encounter with his own future sees him at his most vulnerable.

Finally, the eighth of the pre-Doctors stars in Paul Driscoll's "Doctor Crocus and the Pages of Fear." George Gallaccio's Doctor always looked like the most fun travel with out of the eight, based more on the extra behind-the-scenes photos which showed him with a lovely, twinkling smile. Driscoll's jumped on that, with this dimpled Doctor revelling in his appearance as just "made for the 1880s." However, he arrives in what would be a contemporary adventure for an incarnation set before Hartnell and just starting out, so it's predominantly in the 1950s. The story deals with the notorious moral panic around comicbooks at that time, which is just like the moral panic around heavy metal in the 1990s and violent video games in the 2000s. It's quite right that the Doctor would be repelled by the idea that children can be warped by slightly dangerous adventure stories, games or music, but this is just the doorway into a ripping sci-fi adventure.

I really can't praise this collection enough. Each of the eight stories is a great success and each Doctor a bold and unique version of the character. It's an excellent set of stories and I recommend it heartily to any Doctor Who fan who's looking to broaden their horizons within the show. My only gripe is that I'm tremendously envious I wasn't involved.

The Obligatory 'Who Should be the Doctor?' Post I suppose

 So, allegedly, Jodie Whittaker is leaving Doctor Who at the end of the thirteenth season. This may or may not be true. Three series over four years is, after all, pretty much the standard tenure for a television Doctor these days. On the other hand, it may be bollocks. It's all started because The Mirror, which has about a 50/50 record of actually reporting the truth in these matters, broke the "news," just like they do every year with every Doctor. By law of averages, occasionally they are right. Unfortunately, because the news these days seems to involve people making shit up on social media and this then being reported as a source, every online paper has been running it. And, of course, this has brought all the haters out with their predictable petty comments.

But let's just say for the moment that she is leaving. I mean, if not this year, it can't be too long before she decides to hang up the screwdriver, so let's have a look at the favourites and see who's worth considering if I was suddenly miraculously made showrunner tomorrow. Let's be clear that, firstly, the BBC has made no comment so it's still not clear that Whittaker is leaving, and secondly, at this stage a bookie's favourite just means more people have bet on it, there's no actual relation to fact.

I do like that the various suggestions have been across the board in terms of gender and race, which is a refreshing look at how people are viewing the character now. Personally, I feel that a person of colour is likely for the Fourteenth Doctor, and we'll probably have a man, because I doubt the Beeb will have the guts to go for a woman of colour yet (I realise we've had that with Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor, but she's a guest star rather than the star, and while they've made a big deal of her in publicity material, there's a big difference between the two.) But, I may well be completely wrong. I probably am.

Richard Ayoade

The hot fan favourite. I'm in two mind about Ayoade. On the one hand, I really like him, he's got a very Doctorish feel to him and is a joy to watch on TV. On the other, I'm really not sure if he's a decent enough actor to make the role work. Everything I've seen in him has him basically as his himself, and while that's a big part of any actor's performance as the Doctor, I'm not sure he could pull of anything more than that. I imagine the outfits would be amazing though.

Kris Marshall

Again? This is who The Mirror "revealed" had got the role last time, if I recall correctly, so that tells you everything you need to know about their reliability. I'm of the same opinion as I was before: I like him, he'd be fine, but he's about the most obvious and unadventurous choice you could possibly have for the part.

Michaela Coel 

One of the bookies' favourites, mainly I should think because her star power has rocketed lately. I've not yet seen I May Destroy You, which I must remedy very soon, but Cole is a tremendously talented actor and is brilliant in The Aliens. There's something a bit alien about her and she has amazing charisma, and I think she could be very interesting. And clearly the door is open for a woman of colour, so it is possible, however unlikely I think it will be at this time. However, she's said she definitely isn't involved in the series, so unlikely to happen.

Jo Martin

Highly unlikely, I feel, for both the reasons above and because she's already been established as some mysterious past version of the Doctor. However, they could always make it work in some timey-wimey fashion. Martin made an excellent Doctor for her brief appearance, and I'd definitely like to see more of her in the role, one way or the other.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Well, obviously she'd be fantastic, but she's probably too big a deal now, what with Hollywood roles and writing Bond films and all. But she'd be the perfect combination of posh, weird and sexy, so here's hoping.

Jodie Comer

Jodie Comer is another actress who's become a big deal lately, with Killing Eve propelling her to stardom. She's certainly got the acting chops and can give the right sort of unsettling yet fascinating performance the Doctor needs.

Michael Sheen

According to some reports, the favourite, and a much more traditional choice than most of the above. Probably much too expensive for Doctor Who now - Staged is a one-off exception between mates - but he'd be pretty spot on in the role. Plus, it'd be owrth it just to see him share the screen with David Tennant again in a multi-Doctor story. It's about time we had a Welshman in the role, too.

John Boyega

Again, probably to big a deal to get now, but a potentially good choice. He's an excellent actor, but I'm not quite sure I can see him as the Doctor. Willing to be disproved though.

Reece Shearsmith

He made a dreadful Patrick Troughton in An Adventure in Space and Time, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't make his own Doctor work. I've never really seen him as a potential Doctor, but I could be convinced.

Ben Whishaw

Never going to happen. Much to big a deal already. Still, he's just about perfect if you're after a young, Matt Smith-esque Doctor. He'd be great, but again, a very obvious choice. Still not going to happen though.

Monday 18 January 2021

Spooky Goings On at Television Heaven

 My classic genre TV bingewatch is well underway, with four new reviews up on Television Heaven.

The first two seasons of The X-Files are now reviewed, the beginning of a complete eleven season trek through the whole thing. This should be a lot of fun; I've just reached a couple of episodes I'd missed on the original airing on not caught up on in my season three rewatch, and by the time I get to season nine it's going to be pretty much all new to me. It's fun watching these back after all these years, having watched the original broadcast as a kid. My god, that title sequence looks naff now.

Anyway, you can read my season one write-up here and season two here.

I'm also continuing on my Sapphire & Steel reviews, with two serials a month going up. You can now read my reviews of the bizarre Assignment Three and the wonderful Assignment Four

As an aside, as I write this, I realise something sobering: The X-Files is now older than Sapphire & Steel was when The X-Files started.

WHO REVIEW: All Flesh is Grass (Time Lord Victorious)

Well, this is the big one. It's the epicentre of the Time Lord Victorious storyline, the return to full length prose by the Eighth Doctor, the unprecedented team-up of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Doctors and a right royal monster mash to boot.

In the the cliffhanging final scene of The Knight, the Fool and the Dead, the Tenth Doctor, beginning his crusade against the Kotturuh and death itself, is confronted by the Eighth Doctor on a Dalek warship, and the Ninth Doctor on a vampire coffin-ship. This ties in with the DWM comic strip and with the Big Finish audios, the latter of which I haven't got round to yet, but it's all easily pieced together with the brief exposition from the Eighth Doctor and Brian the Ood. You could enjoy this plenty as a prose-only event, but grabbing the other formats builds a bigger picture. I'm less clear from the story here how the Tenth Doctor comics and the Dalek cartoon fit in, but I think they're knock-on effects of the Tenth Doctor's disastrous alteration of history here, which has brought his earlier selves back to fight him.

Una McCormack is one of the most prolific modern Who writers. With this novel, she's written for eight incarnations of the Doctor, I think (plus a ton of Star Trek novels and some Blake's 7 material). She gets the Doctor down to a tee, notably the differences and similarities between his incarnations. It's fun having Eight, Nine and Ten together since, while being successive (well, almost) they have wildly different ways of approaching things. The Eighth Doctor here is still fundamentally optimistic but sarcastic as hell, the Ninth Doctor is tending his war wounds and the Tenth is so fundamentally full of himself he knows he's his own worst enemy. I mean, he's literally his own worst enemy in this one, but you know what I'm saying. Yet they also work so brilliantly together. It isn't long before Ten stands down and the three Doctors try to work out a way to get out of this mess without making things worse (and just possibly making things better), and they work tremendously well as a team.

There's a lot of colour in this novel. The Ninth Doctor gets a short-term companion in the form of Ikalla, a vampiress who develops considerably throughout the novel (or perhaps the Doctor just learns to see her differently). Eight doesn't have a companion really, but is accompanied for a good portion by Brian, and also Hector, a spider plant (so that's where he came from! Monstrus Beauty now makes perfect sense). He has some great interplay with the Daleks, particularly the Prime Strategist who's become such a persistent character in Time Lord Victorious. Ten saddles himself with some galactic mercenaries but can't help feeling sorry for them and overpaying. It's like he's trying to prove he's the big bad God of Time but can't help feeling a bit bad about it all the time.

It's a rattling good read, anyway. I mean, it's got a vampire Dalek in it. How can you not love that? 


For the Eighth Doctor, uncertain. It's straight after the BF Time Lord Victorious audios, but while they and this show him in his Time War costume, he reads as much younger and more positive here. He's perturbed by the idea of a universe without Gallifrey, but not distraught, so this is surely before the first destruction of Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell (most new series books would ignore this but given the cross-pollination of ranges going on here I can't believe McCormack didn't at least consider this). I could happily see this placed during the earlier EDAs, especially as he mentions Romana and K9, tying back to the Shada webcast, which is very early on. 

For the Ninth Doctor, in between the penultimate and closing scenes of the DWM comic strip Monstrous Beauty, while Rose is recovering. Some time between "The Long Game" and "The Empty Child," most likely (could be either side of "Father's Day").

For the Tenth Doctor, immediately after The Knight, the Fool and the Dead, itself immediately after "The Waters of Mars."

Monday 11 January 2021

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-13 - "That Hope is You, Part 2"


 So, that's season three, rounding things off with the last part of a multi-part adventure that, for confusion's sake, advertises itself as the second part of the opening episode of the season. I guess there's something thematic going on here, probably to do with connection. That's been the theme running through the season and this episode in particular, getting hammered home by Burnham at the close just in case it went over your head.

It works, though. This was a busy, action-packed episode that still had plenty of heart, tied up most of the loose ends of the season and set up the next. Still, there was something just a little dissatisfying about the way some of the previous episode's threads were handled. Osyraa, having been knocked back by Vance, loses all the complexity she'd shown in the last episode and reverting to a straightforward, moustache-twirling villain. Not there's no room for moustache-twirling villains in Star Trek, but she was becoming something more. It also seems unlikely that the Emerald Chain is really done for without Osyraa if it's as entrenched and expansive as she decribed it last week. Sure, killing off its leader will have massive repurcussions, but an alliance that large isn't just going to disappear overnight (even the Star Wars sequel trilogy worked that one out). Then again, maybe the Chain isn't as powerful and sophisticated as Osyraa made out. More disappointing was the lack of Aurellio, who made one moral stand and then got knocked out for the remainder. He looks like he could be a recurring character next year, but we shall see.

It's a bit of a shame to see Tilly hand over command to Burnham so quickly, but then, while she acquitted herself well, it was unfair of Saru to put her in that position in the first place. In the meantime, though, we got some pretty awesome action heroine stuff from Michael and some lower decks leadership skills from Tilly. The DOTs didn't make as much of a difference as I'd expected, but at least Owo got to do something this week, saving the goddamn ship by holding her breath like a boss and climbing through the nacelles under low-oxygen conditions. (Let's gloss over just how and when these nacelles are attached to the ship, since they seem to be free-floating except when someone needs to get to them.)

The final fight between Burnham and Osyraa was a treat, as good as anything we've come to expect from Chris Pine in the Abrams/Lin movies. The space battle, on the other hand, was a let down. I know I've moaned before about the battles in Discovery being too busy to follow, but this was the opposite extreme. Starfleet, led by Voyager for maximum fan credentials, joining forces with the Ni'Var fleet (predicted that one easily enough), take on the Viridian/Discovery and we scarcely see it.

Back on the Khi'eth, Saru helps Su'Kal work through his problems, with both Doug Jones and Bill Irwin giving beautiful performances. The heavy work had been done two episodes earlier, and this was more about moving events to their conclusion in an emotionally satisfying way. Meanwhile, Adira and Gray get their own moment of holo-cosplay, with the human becoming Xahean and the Trill becoming Vulcan. There's still not much actual point to this (or logic), but it's fun to see the regulars as different aliens. The most significant part of this, though, is Gray's becoming visible to the others, and his heartbreaking acceptance that he will become a ghost again if he leaves. In the absence of Daddy Stamets, Hugh takes Adira and Gray under his wing, and it's all very touching. There's a beautiful message here about Gray being "seen," a wonderful nod to the series' newfound commitment to trans issues. It doesn't matter what the transphobic naysayers come out with, Discovery is saying to its trans actors and viewers, "you are seen." It's a lot subtler than the connection theme, celebrating Ian Alexander's identity without ever coming out and saying his character is trans (although he may well be and is according to publicity), supporting the NB Adira/Blu del Barrio at the same time.

On the ship, things are rather more brutal, with Book getting tortured and various people getting blasted. There's still plenty of time to fuel the connection theme, though, with Book recovering remarkably quickly (adrenaline or not) and becoming the new link with the spore drive. Now we don't have to rely on Stamets to jump, because Book can use his empathic powers to connect to any organism and travel the mushroom highway. Well, it makes about as much sense as the spore drive ever did, abd it brings Book into the fold more solidly than ever. He's clearly here to stay, and I'm glad.

In the end, everything is looking rosy. The Disconauts' work over the last few months is paying off, the Federation is getting back on its feet and even helping its allies across space. Burnham's promotion to captain is about the least surprising development possible, but it comes at the right time. For all this series was initially pushed as being different for not following a captain (and it's rotating COs have reflected this, as well as lending some credibility to the setting, since transfers are part and parcel of military service), this was clearly always Michael's path. I'm relieved to learn this won't see Saru leave the series (he's still a captain after all – will he get a new ship?) and while Burnham's habit of demotion-and-promotion makes Kelvin universe Kirk look stable, it's a fitting development. I'm assuming Tilly is still First Officer, although surely she'll need to be promoted at least to lieutenant for that?

In spite of some story threads losing their tension, the finale works, and leaves the season on a hopeful note for a change. Each season of Discovery has been better than the last, and I'm looking forward to see just how much further season four will take us. A few strange new worlds, I hope.


In changing to the new uniforms, Burnham has switched department colours: the old Discovery uniforms has gold for command and red for ops, as is standard in 22nd and 23rd century series, while the 32nd century uniforms are the other way round, in line with 24th century style. They're a rather boring shade of grey otherwise, though.

It's announced that Trill has rejoined the Federation in the closing scenes of the episode, confirming once and for all that they were definitely members previously. There's a hint that Ni'Var will follow, but no mention of United Earth.

Adira's "disguise" as a Xahean reminds us the aliens who were created for Short Treks and Discovery season two, but it's surprising we haven't heard anything about them this season. Given how rich Xahea is in dilithium, you'd expect we'd hear something about the planet in the 32nd.

Detmer/Owo shippers are out of luck - even after almost certain death they only hug. 

Predictions sussed:

Things I predicted completely wrong: Su'Kal is exactly as he appears, and not an elderly and mutated creature. I'd even wondered if the kelp monster was his real form. Nope, he's just fine. Although if he's adapted to the radiation levels in the nebula, you've got to wonder if he can survive outside of it.

Things I predicted completely wrong: Lt. Willa has been almost completely forgotten, and is not the new recurring character she looked like she'd be in "Die Trying." She gets a few moments here though.

Things I happily predicted correctly: Vance is not a villain, in spite of everyone insisting he must be because he's an admiral and they're always dodgy (and Oded Fehr plays a lot of villains).

Continuity questions:

There are plenty of questions and ongoing mysteries still left to answer in season four or even later. Not least of which is the tie to the Short Treks episode "Calypso." Zora's evolution is clearly a continuing theme for the next season and at some point the Discovery has to be abandoned, leaving the AI alone and integrated with her systems. Which now seems odd considering that here the nascent AI was able to be downloaded into a series of drones. Another major anomaly is that the Discovery seen in "Calypso" is still in its original configuration, but it's since been refit to 32nd century standards. Plus the ship is apparently abandoned for a thousand years, so either it goes back in time or the term V'Draysh is still in use in the 42nd century.

Who is the original Cleveland Booker? Book's mentor is clearly going to turn out to be someone significant, either by the role they play or a link to an existing character. It's bound to be explored in season four.

I can't imagine the Jah-Sepp are going to be pleased when Starfleet start playing in the mushroom kingdom again/ Have the Discovery crew forgotten that they were killing the other dimension's native inhabitants by using the spore drive? Or do they just think they'll be extinct by now anyway so they can get away with it?

Saturday 9 January 2021

CHROMAKEY Issue 5 now available

 The latest of the cult television print magazine Chromakey is now available to order from

This issue includes articles on Project Blue Book (which I've never seen but now make it a point to search out), The Year of the Sex Olympics, Battlestar Galactica, Knightfall and more. There's not much from me this time, just a slight reworking of my Stargirl season one review. However, I can thoroughly recommend this issue as having some really excellent material. It's available for only $7.99 US (that's about six quid).

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Mary Anning Rocks

 There are only eight days left to fund the Mary Anning Rocks campaign, raising funds to give the great fossilist the memorial she deserves by building a statue in her honour in her home town of Lyme Regis. 

Designs are completed for the statue, which will, if funded, sit in the Jurassic Coast of Lyme Regis, Dorset. If you'd like to help commemorate one of the greatest palaeontologist of all time, still so unfairly overlooked by history, then click here to read more and donate. (Look, David Attenborough has backed it, and you can't argue with him.) 

Television Heaven Magazine Issue 3 now available


The third issue of TVH magazine, TVH Goes to the Movies, is now available to download for free in PDF format. This issue Laurence Marcus and his team of telly addicts look back at TV series that spun off to film and vice versa. With articles on Callan, Casablanca, Morecambe and Wise, Dragnet, the David Croft sitcom films and more, there's a wealth of classic material covered. Also on offer are articles by myself on the two Doctor Who Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing, and a bit more recently, the wonderful animated series The Real Ghostbusters which followed the 1984 movie. 

You can download and read the issue here.

Sunday 3 January 2021

WHO REVIEW: 12-11 - "Revolution of the Daleks"


After a very peculiar year, Doctor Who gives us a special which perfectly fits the times. Which is pretty remarkable, since this was all recorded before lockdown was even on the horizon (aside from a couple of picked up scenes, according to reports, but I couldn't tell you which these were). Aside from the sheer amount of hugging going on – not allowed these days – there's a distinct lockdown feel to the entire story, beginning as it does with the Doctor suffering enforced isolation, and continuing with a reunion with friends she hasn't seen for months. It's serendipity, but it adds something to the episode.

It's an interesting but effective choice to make a special so directly linked to previous episodes. "The Timeless Children" was ten months ago (the same time the Doctor's companions have been waiting for her, which is a nice touch), but the more direct precursor is the last special, Resolution, which was exactly two years ago. Thankfully, the concepts being followed up on are pretty straightforward and easy to grasp if you have missed or forgotten about the earlier adventures. Even the Timeless Child revelations boil down to "the Doctor learned something about herself that she doesn't understand" and this is enough for the special. She's reeling, the details aren't important right now.

The Daleks are the big draw of the episode, of course, but there's plenty of time spent on the Doctor and her many companions. The prison scenes are fun – lovely cameos from some old monsters – but the toll it's taken on the Doctor is clear. She's essentially in solitary confinement for most of her time there, it appears, which we learn has been decades. It's not even clear that she's tried to escape. I mean, it's the Doctor, so you'd expect her to, but she's still dealing with the revelations about herself and it seems she's spent a lot of her confinement just stewing over that. The other big deal of the episode is Jack, making his first proper return to the series after his cameo in "Fugitive of the Judoon." John Barrowman steps back into his role like he's never been away, and he shares a great, easygoing chemistry with Whittaker. Having the immortal Jack wait a full nineteen years in prison so he can get close to the Doctor is wonderful, and shows that he's learnt some considerable patience during his centuries of life (he did spend two thousand years in a grave once after all). On the other hand, having Jack swagger in and rescue the Doctor does make her seem like a damsel in distress, which is not where the Doctor should be at all.

In fact, Jack takes on a lot of the Doctor's role as the fun adventurer for the episode, as the Doctor herself doesn't quite slide back into her usual happy-go-lucky mode, and quite right too. It's wise having both the companions and the Doctor feel each other's absence for some time, although I wonder if the Doctor will ever tell them just how long it was for her. We know the TARDIS has a tendency to take the Doctor to where she's needed rather than where she wants to go, so I feel that arriving ten months late was a deliberate move on the Ship's part. Time for the fam to grow as well. I love how Yaz, Ryan and Graham are still investigating, but aren't immediately up to spin-off series standard. They still need a little time traveller help. Jack has some great chemistry with the team, but particularly with Yaz, who's slotting into the trainee Doctor role that Rose, Clara and indeed Jack all had as their character arcs. As with them, Yaz is clearly in love with the Doctor, but cannily, Chibnall is keeping any feelings the Doctor has for her ambiguous. She's certainly very happy that Yaz isn't leaving...

It's Tosin Cole as Ryan who comes across strongest though, which I admit, was a bit of a surprise. As I said when reviewing Resolution, Cole is strongest with the real life emotional scenes rather than the sci-fi gubbins. It's quite right that it's Ryan who actually sits down with the Doctor and persuades her to talk, and that he's the one who makes the decision to stay on Earth. He's developed just as much as Yaz, but in a different direction, and being the more down-to-earth of the two her naturally elects to stay on solid ground. Cole's magnetic in these quiet, dialogue-based scenes. The only companion who gets short shrift is Graham, a shame considering he's also leaving. Still, his final moments on the TARDIS are lovely. He clearly wants to continue travelling with the Doctor, but stays behind out of loyalty to Grace and Ryan. It's a quiet but powerfully effective moment from Bradley Walsh.

Following up on the Dalek scout from Resolution is a good decision. Everything in the episode is a consequence of previous events, rather than yet another unlikely situation coming out of the blue. The scout design was controversial (because no one's ever happy) but I liked it, but given that it was designed as a kitbash Dalek built on the run it didn't seem like it could be followed up. Having a bunch of humans acquire the remains and use it as the basis of their own Daleks is a clever way of reusing and reviving this new design. The new Earth Daleks work brilliantly, with the scout design built upon to become something sinister and imposing. Sadly, they're rather wasted. We know from the beginning that somehow an actual Dalek will find its way into the drones, but there's virtually no time to see the drones in action before this, or the effect this has on the British populace. Equally, once the drones have been co-opted by the Daleks, we have scarcely any time with them before the bronze Daleks wipe them out.

Still, there's some excellent Dalek action on display. I enjoy how in both episodes there's a focus on how the Dalek is a life form, not just a war machine (even if the Doctor refers to the mutant as "the creature that lives inside a Dalek," but I guess that's just simplification for Robertson). The Daleks are almost as dangerous outside their casings as they are inside, and honestly more frightening. The episode does rerun the previous special a bit, with the Dalek possessing Leo, but this doesn't last long and is more of a way to get from one part of the story to another. Having Leo clone the previous story's Dalek (cannily revealed to have a genetic memory as well, so it can pick up where it left off) is a great way of kicking off the plot, but I feel they missed a trick. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is excellent as the young scientist, but having him as just a patsy and then killed off wastes him. He could have been a Davros figure, working with the Dalek.

Instead we get Chris Noth back as Jack Robertson from "Arachnids in the UK" nearly three years ago. I doubt anyone was desperate to see him again, but to be fair, he's much more entertaining this time round. Noth hams it up marvellously, and he's written as more deliberately villainous, so he's far more effective as a baddie. However, it's infuriating that once again, he gets off scot free. Surely they're building up a third appearance where he finally gets his comeuppance? Dame Harriet Walter, playing the power hungry politician Jo Patterson, is completely wasted. She's a great actor and makes for a great villain while she has time, but is also killed off far too quickly. I think it's inarguable that there are pacing issues in the episode, with some parts run virtually on fast forward. It brings to mind the seventh series during Matt Smith's tenure, when episodes were run at an absolutely breathless pace. It's certainly a fun, exciting episode, but the plot needs room to breathe as well as the characters' relationships. Still, for sheer spectacle, this is great stuff.

The Doctor's been through a rough time, of course, but she's particularly ruthless here, which, personally, I love. None of that nonsense about claiming to be pacifist or complaining that the other Doctor picked up a gun. The Doctor here tricks one lot of Daleks into coming to Earth to wipe out another lot, in the full knowledge that she'll have to destroy them too. It's a pretty mental plan, but it works, and the ruse of trapping the entire Dalek force in a collapsing TARDIS is brilliant. Again, incredibly ruthless though; that TARDIS is a living being as well. Can't imagine the Doctor's TARDIS was pleased about that.

Finally, we look to the future. We can look forward to an eight episode season this year, a sensible compromise in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. I'm glad we don't have another year without a series, and I'd much rather a shorter one than none at all. I would be very surprised if we don't see Graham and Ryan again, or Jack, and the dialogue around the latter checking in on Gwen certainly sounds like a hint we might see a Torchwood revival of some kind. (Chibnall, of course, was showrunner on the first two seasons of that.)

The sudden reveal post-credits that John Bishop is to join the cast was a surprise, but a welcome one. I enjoy his stand-up, and we've had enough comedians cast in the past that turned out well for the series (going right back to Pertwee, really). We'll see what he's like, but I'm optimistic. Interesting that we're getting another older man in the TARDIS as well. It's been confirmed that he's a new companion, however the BBC made such a big deal before about there being an entirely female TARDIS team for the first time that surely we'll get an episode or two with just the Doctor and Yaz? In any case, Bishop's character is called Dan, which is good news. About time we had a Dan in the TARDIS.

Monster, Monster, Monster

The prison asteroid (a whopping 79 billion light years from Earth, which is absurd) has amongst its inmates a Sycorax, a Weeping Angel, a Pting, a member of the Silence, an Ood, and hiding i the shadows, a Thijarian and a Skithra.

Ryan and Graham are keeping tabs on international paranormal events. They're off to look for trolls in Finland – that has to be the Sontarans we've seen filming, right? - and gravel creatures in Korea.

The Doctor starts a (mercifully short) Dalek civil war here. This is at least the third time she's done that.

Saturday 2 January 2021

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-12 - "There is a Tide"

 The grand finale of Discovery's third season continues with "There is a Tide," which has the unenviable position of being part two of a three-part adventure. Nonetheless, this episode worked really well for me, tying up a lot of the ongoing plot of the season and setting up what looks to be a strong finale. 

In itself, the episode works strongly. On the one hand we have the commandeered Discovery and the grand retaking of the ship from Osyraa's forces. Burnham gets to do Die Hard, right down to direct references like the shoes and the baddie falling to their doom. It's just a shame that this didn't come a week earlier, because it would have been on Christmas Day (or Eve in the States). This is adrenaline-fuelled stuff, which makes for a strong contrast for the more talky elements elsewhere in the episode. 

Some of my favourite scenes are those between Anthony Rapp's Stamets and Kenneth Mitchell's Aurellio. There's a real meeting of minds as two very similar characters from opposite sides interact, and it's clear that Aurellio is beginning to question his loyalty to Osyraa, but at the same time, he's not wrong: she and the Chain have done some real good out there while Starfleet have been isolated. Mitchell is excellent - I didn't even realise that this was the same guy who'd played a bunch of Klingons in the first two seasons (Kol and his father Kol-Sha, and Voq and L'Rell's son Tenavik). OK, the heavy make-up is part of that, but they're also remarkably distinct performances. I'd also missed that Mitchell is suffering from ALS (motor neurone disease to us Brits) and is now confined to a wheelchair, and it's excellent that he has a new role that incorporates that. Rapp is also truly excellent in this episode, not only against Aurellio but against Burnham. He's absolutely right, as well. Burnham has had everyone following her whims whether it was to save the galaxy or just Book, and now she's spouting off about sacrificing people for the greater good. No wonder Stamets is furious with her.

The scenes between Vance and Osyraa are remarkably strong considering they amount to nothing but sitting around chatting for a long time (a good old Star Trek meeting). Oded Fehr really impresses here as Admiral Vance, clearly someone who wants to do the right thing but held back by his, perfectly natural, suspicions, and, once feels, just a bit out of his depth. Janet Kidder is so much better in the revised role of Osyraa. Even though she's hampered by some weird prosthetics (couldn't they just have painted her green and been done with it?), she gives a strong performance as a more complex character than we originally met. Osyraa was such a two-dimensional villain when she first showed up, but this version is far more interesting. Osyraa genuinely seems to want to make an alliance between the Federation and the Emerald Chain work, making some very good arguments for why it's necessary for the galaxy to move forward. Equally, she has been responsible for some terrible things so it's understandable why Vance, even as he begins to accept her proposals, demands she stand trial for her crimes as part of the armistice. I mean, it's definitely not something you should throw down on the negotiating table right there and then (wait for some back-up on both sides, for crying out loud), but it does make sense.

I like that there are no easy answers here. Osyraa has done good and bad, but so, I imagine, has Starfleet. Vance is insistent on sticking to Federation principles, but that just makes me wonder if Starfleet didn't do some shady shit beforehand that they're trying to make up for. They certainly have just as poor a reputation on the frontier as the Chain does. I loved that Osyraa referred to Vance as having a chain of planets, and herself having a Federation, which is sounding more and more like the actual state of affairs. At the same time, she's holding a ship and crew hostage, which is not the right way to start peace talks.

Not everything works well. Jake Weber is still a weak link as Zareh, and the character has no reason to be there. He's been bumped up from local crook in the middle of nowhere to a major part of the Chain's heirarchy with no link in-between, and he's not a strong enough character to bother bringing back anyway. Also, why does he have gnarly frostbite? It's the 32nd century, they can get that fixed. It's just for showing off. There's some strong material with Tilly and the Disconauts in captivity, but there's so much focus on Michael that the rest of the characters are pretty swamped. And it's a brave decision to leave Saru, Adira and Culber in the nebula and never once switch back to them. It makes their absence more keenly felt, but also makes this episode a little disjointed from the last. 

The sneaky (but obvious) trick of the Sphere data/proto-Zora hiding as some old footage and then downloading into the DOT robots is a nice touch, and leaving the reveal for the end of the episode sets up some fun potential for the final episode. Altogether, really good stuff.


So, I was pretty much spot-on with regards to the courier transwarp network. It's absolutely full of bits of debris and looks absolutely deadly. Did the Federation build this at some point between the 24th and 31st centuries, only for it to fall into disuse after the Burn? Or is it a natural network, like the Underspace seen in VOY: "Dragon's Teeth?" Or is it even a remnant of the Borg transwarp network?

The Chain soldier who goes after Burnham in the Jefferies tubes (and gets very nastily killed for her trouble) is of the same species as Kima, the young girl seen in the Picard prequel "Children of Mars" that aired as the last (for now) Short Treks episode.

There's an extended bit about how the Federation replicates food from shit, which is a nice moment for Vance to make Osyraa wince, but it's really perfectly sensible. Real space crews rework waste products to remove the water for reuse, and in Enterprise's time poop was used as raw material to be resequenced. And frankly, if you're using a replicator and breaking everything down to its component atoms it really makes no difference where it came from; it just needs to be organic so you have the right selection of elements.

Deep Space 253 has been running without Starfleet oversight for almost a century and trading with the Chain. Aside from the wonderfully high number (it's a long time since DS9), it shows that the Federation really is only tenuously holding together.

The USS Song is another Eisenberg-class vessel, like the USS Nog.

Picked up from the more eagle-eyed commenters: the stardate on Osyraa's armistice document is a whopping 29141429.1, which probably suggests it's about time to come up with a new dating system.

Burnham sends a message to her mum, so odds-on the Vulcan/Romulan force from Ni'Var will come to the rescue when the replicater raw material hits the fan in the final episode. Perhaps a hint at Ni'Var rejoining the UFP?

This is the 800th episode of Star Trek altogether, if you include all the films and shorts.