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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Paul M. Cray's LiveJournal:

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Monday, December 29th, 2014
4:40 pm
Atomic Razor and atomicrazorfeed
Although it would be good to be able to be automatically repost Atomic Razor posts to my LJ, in the meantime the workaround is to friend atomicrazorfeed.
Sunday, December 28th, 2014
5:18 pm
Self-Consistent Timelines

Over the last year, I have been blogging heavily at Atomic Razor with 280 posts since 31 December 2013. There is an RSS feed. It would be good to have some way of automagically posting the Razor entries to my LJ without having to cut and paste. If anyone has ideas, please let me know. As a taster of what is on the Razor, below the cut is today's entry on Self-Coinsistent Timelines.

Self-Consistent TimelinesCollapse )

Sunday, November 10th, 2013
11:48 am
The Zeroth Doctor
Who is Hurt!Doctor? The generally accepted theory is that he is the regeneration between the 8th and the 9th Doctors who was responsible for the destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War. There are three problems with that theory: (a) Nine and Ten spent a great deal of time mopping around and being all angsty about the terrible things the Doctor did in the Time War; (b) would the average casual viewer actually remember/care anything about the Time War from several seasons ago now (and in Davies's tenure)? (c) it would be very boring. There are a few other possibilities: a future Doctor, but that's been done (the Valyard), a 2.5 Doctor, but that's incredibly obscure, some kind of alternative Doctor, but again that's been done (the Dream Lord amongst others).

My preferred theory, and naturally I am not the first to come up with the idea, is Hurt!Doctor is the Zeroth Doctor. The title of the episode "The Day of the Doctor" suggests that the story will be about how the Doctor got his name. This is the 50th anniversary special. One would expect it to be about the beginnings of Doctor Who in some way. The Doctor's pre-"An Unearthly Child" is essentially totally unexplored (and there are those such as Dr Sandifer who would wish it to stay that way) and thus is replete with unused potential unlike the Time War (how would a 8.5 Doctor fit in with the continuity of the novels and audios?). A Zeroth Doctor would ft better with what we see of Clara helping One steal the TARDIS. Finally giving the Doctor an origin story would set the programme up for the next fifty years. As an added bonus, if there were a Zeorth Doctor, Eleven has thus used up all his regenerations and Twelve can start again with a whole new set after various travails that can drive the Christmas special. (I remember talking to my brother about the regeneration limit after "The Deadly Assassin" back in 1976 and him reassuring me that they would come up with something when the time arrived.)

Yes, you're right, Hurt!Doctor will probably turn out to be 8.5 Doctor. If that happens, colour me disappointed. A Zeroth Doctor seems much more interesting and much more Moffat to me. Of course, with a bit of timey-wimey, Hurt!Doctor might turn out to be Zeroth, 2.5, 8.5, future and alternative Doctor. We'll know in two weeks. 

Sunday, October 20th, 2013
10:09 am
Worlds Apart
I was in Liverpool on Friday and I had just walked past the Adelphi on my way back to Lime Street when I spotted what looked like a comics shop and "sci-fi" collectables shop and I thought "I don't remember that being there from the Liverpool Eastercons. Should I go in? I don't know when the next train back to Preston is. I might miss it. Oh, what the heck, if life gives you a comics shop, go in it." There were a lot of comics in the shop, although no non-comic-related books that I could find. I suspect there must have been some somewhere surely. The main thing that struck me was the shop was full of schoolchildren. OK, about half a dozen mid-teenagers, boys and girls, in school uniforms. And I thought that was me thirty years. OK, there was no comics shop in Preston and I was more interested in RPGs and written sf, but the very fact that there are still 15-year olds doing what I did/would have done at 15 gave me hope for humanity. And to think that if you were a 15 year-old male sf fan you might able to meet girls who were interested in sf!

I bought a copy of the new-style Interzone as I felt I ought to buy something and it was by far the most plausible thing that I could find aligned to my own current interests. But I got something much valuable from the shop: a renewed faith in the future. And I didn't miss my train.
Saturday, May 25th, 2013
11:27 am
Summa Technologiae
The most exciting news of the week was the discovery, via the KurzweilAI.net daily newsletter, that Stanisław Lem's Summa Technologiae is finally available in English translation. This is a book that I have wanted to read for years. It sounds absolutely amazing, although whether it can possibly live up to my expectations is another matter. Still, I now don't have to learn Polish in order to read it in the original. Unfortunately, there is no Kindle edition available yet, but I have ordered the hardback and can hardly wait for its arrival (early June, I hope). 
Saturday, September 8th, 2012
11:10 pm
Doctor Who: "The Chase"
Terry's back to the portmanteau style of "The Keys of Marinus". I wonder whether people noticed or minded at the time. And here he gets to incorporate plenty of comic relief into the mix. Well. he did begin his writing career as a sketch writer for the likes of Tony Hancock. And I wonder  what people made of that. The Daleks were at the height of their popularity and Hugh Weldon for one was keen on seeing them back in the show as soon as possible. Nation clearly struggled to come up with plots that could sustain a story for much more than an episode or two ("The Daleks" is basically a three-parter welded on to a four-parter.). Amongst Who writers he wasn't alone in that, but those other writers made the effort to plough on for four or six episodes of a halfway coherent story as, indeed, Nation himself managed to do in his five 1970s stories (exactly how much help he got from the script editors then is a very interesting question). So what we get here is an episode of the TARDIS crew mostly messing around with the Spacetime Visualiser, some business on a desert planet inhabited by amphibians, comic scenes, for certain values of "comic", at the top of the Empire State Building (Peter Purves playing Morton Dill, a stereotypical Southern hick: oh, how they must have laughed), and on board the Mary Celeste, an episode set in haunted  house that is not all it seems and a finale involving a Dalek replicant of the Doctor (it wasn't an especially good idea then and it wasn't be a good idea now - I'm looking at you Stephen Moffat) and another attempt to create the new Daleks on a jungle planet.
Just three adventures with them in and already the Daleks are already declaring that the Doctor is their greatest enemy. That seems fast going even for the Doctor who didn't even seem to have heard of the Daleks less than two years ago in "The Daleks". Of course, the Daleks in "The Chase" might be Daleks from the future that have met and been defeated by many incarnations of the Doctor. I don't think that was what Nation was thinking, but then today we can't help from wondering why the Doctor conceals his knowledge of the Daleks from his companions in "The Daleks". Phil Sandifer in his rather wonderful TARDIS Eruditorium is keen on the idea that the Doctor's pre-"An Unearthly Child" career is brief. I'm not so sure. The Doctor lies. And he's a manipulative bastard, One every bit as much as Seven or Eleven. I find it more plausible that the Doctor lies about how much he knows about the Daleks than in his name-dropping from history. I don't see why he shouldn't have coached the Mountain Mauler of Montana. Three was keen on his martial arts, so why not One in his younger days? I'd much rather have a Doctor who is telling the truth about that kind of thing, even if he is not letting on everything he knows about a good many other things to his companions.

To the audience in 1965, there is no reason not to take everything they are presented with at face value: the Doctor has met and defeated the Daleks twice already, and that's enough within the narrative logic of Saturday evening teatime telly Today, with 47 years of continuity to wrestle with, we can't help speculating about untelevised adventures with he Daleks, both pre- and post-AUC. We might, for instance, wonder what kinds of things Susan was learning at the Academy, but perhaps the Time Lord education system works more on the principle of the gradual revelation of hermetically concealed truths. A bit like the Masons or the Mormons or the Scientologists. Or the British education system. How much does Romana know about Daleks in "Destiny of the Daleks"? But then she is a fresh graduate of the Academy whereas Susan has dropped out relatively early on when she absconds with her grandfather. Perhaps she never got to courses on the Daleks. It'll be years though before we start hearing about the Academy, much pondering what Susan might have doing there. For most viewers of the day, the Doctor had already done plenty enough to earn the Daleks' ire.  

As for the comic Daleks, we had Daleks on Skaro who turned out to be one of the scariest things ever followed by scary Daleks in an occupied Britain. So perhaps, in Nation's mind, doing funny Daleks was the logical way to go. No doubt there were plenty of Dalek jokes around then in the era of Dalekmania as now, so running with the gags might have made sense. It's noteworthy that the next Dalek story was co-written with Dennis Spooner and also has something of a portmanteau format and that when Nation comes back to the Daleks in 1973, it will be with a retread of "The Daleks" Nation only had so many ideas and it will be David Whittaker to take the Daleks to new heights. It's a pity that only one of his thirteen Dalek episodes survives.    

But, of course, it's not comic Daleks that are the real milestone in "The Chase", but the return to 1960s Earth and departure of Ian and Barbara. The scenes of the couple (and surely they are)  joyfully cavorting through are one of the highlights of the Hartnell era. They were shot (they are still photographs) by Douglas Camfield as part of the production of the next story. Ah, the simple pleasures of a trip by Routemaster through the streets of the C20th metropolis after sojourns on Skaro, the Sense-Sphere and Mechanus! This is one of the points at which Who could have ended. Ian and Barbara are the show's original heroes with the Doctor more as an antihero to start with. But that didn't last as the Doctor turned out to be not quite what he might at first have been. The Doctor will prefer to keep some young male muscle around for a while (if you include UNIT, until Season 13), but it's been clear for a while now exactly who is top dog in the TARDIS. The Doctor doesn't need Barbara and Ian any more, even if he hasn't quite realised that to himself yet, and neither does the show. Ian and Barbara are so good that's a shame they do leave, but it probably makes sense for this story arc to be completed in a way that is true to the goals of the characters. They might have a bit of explaining to do though about exactly where they have been for the last couple of years.  

Supposedly, had there been a third Who/Dalek film, it would have been have based (naturally enough) on "The Chase". It's a pity that it wasn't made and it would have slotted in well enough with the British sub-genre of portmanteau horror films and the forests of Mechanus and the Mechonoid city would have been quite something in garish colour. Who knows what US audiences would have made of it, no doubt even less than of the two films that did get made, but it would have livened up rainy afternoon in the mid-70s in the UK perhaps even more than the other two Cushing films did. Certainly out of its context within the unfolding text, it would, had the script anything like fidelity to the television version, have been a genuine curio.I wonder whether they would have played the comedy up or down. They could have got Jim Dale to play the Ian character and Barbara Windsor the Barbara character or, perhaps, a young relative of Doctor Who. And if Peter Cushing were unavailable to reprise his role, possibly they could have drafted in a comedy actor to had made such an impact as Doctor Fettle in Carry On Screaming...   

Now Write On...

Barbara and Ian crop up a fair amount in various deuterocanonical texts. We might reasonably hope that William Russell will get to be in the series proper again during its 50th anniversary year. They could do something really touching and invoke the memory of Jacqueline Hill.

There is probably much that could be done with the Space-Time Visualiser. For instance, why has the Doctor not got it out again? And there is something of a body of work about the Mechonoids (or, indeed, Mechanoids). With modern special effects including CGI, we could enjoy vast hordes of the terraforming dodecahedrons as they raise cities of the jungle, desert and tundra of planets through the galaxy in preparation for the arrival of the human colonists. Things might get interesting when the colonists do eventually arrive. Perhaps even a descendant of Morton Dill.
Saturday, August 11th, 2012
12:07 am
Doctor Who: "The Space Museum"
"The Space Museum" is arguably the first ordinary Doctor Who story: the first sf four-parter. Now you might say that "Planet of Giants" was originally supposed to be a four-parter and, indeed, will be again soon after a fashion. But "Planet of Giants" is technically a sideways story, whereas "The Space Museum" is a futuristic adventure of the kind that would not feel very out of place in the Williams or Nathan-Turner period. We are going to be seeing a lot of this kind of stuff in the years. Unfortunately, "The Space Museum" is also not very good. We've seen some of that already and we are going to be seeing a lot of it in the future. But then as Lawrence Miles said recently, the fact that most Doctor Who is not very good doesn't matter. There is much more to Doctor Who than whether or not most of it is actually any good.    

But, then again, "The Space Museum" is also in some ways a sideways story. The TARDIS has skipped a time-track and the crew discover that they have been shot, stuffed and mounted in the Space Museum on the planet Xeros. That's not a bad idea (how could it happen?), a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey quantum gravity stuff that Moffat or RTD might have come up with. The classic series didn't do very much with time paradoxes or alternative worlds, so it is interesting to see an very early example of this, not that it is done well, but that it is done at all. (And, see also, "The Time Meddler" in two stories' time, so perhaps there was something in the air in 1965.) We get decadent imperialists with South African accidents, feeble student revolutionaries in turtlenecks, that old trick with yarn for when you're stuck in a labyrinth and the Doctor hiding inside a Dalek shell. It all sounds a lot more fun that it actually is. It certainly sounded more fun in the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special. A lot of stories did. Glyn Jones is still alive and still writing. Perhaps they could ask him back. As with so much much Who, the real problems here are the actors, the director and the script editing (in that good script editor can always do something with a script - if they have the time). In different circumstances, this might have been at least somewhat even livelier if never quite "Carnival of Monsters", another sideways story in a politically unstable society. Perhaps Robert Holmes was watching.       

Now Write On...   
We see another space museum, the largest in the universe, in "The Time of Angels". And Moffat throws it away in a couple of minutes. Of course, the Doctor could go back. Apparently he goes there regularly to keep score. And Moffat threw away a library the size of a planet. How could he not do something interesting with that. I had that idea years ago and now it's ruined, at least for Who. I could reclaim it as a trope for That leaves feeble revolutionaries - there's probably some mileage in that - or the TARDIS skipping a time-track. And that will never get old. (Do Nye/Moffat explicitly nod to this story in "Amy's Choice"?) The TARDIS crew turn up somewhere to discover not only that not only are they already huge celebrities, but in some way that's surprising and troubling to the crew. Perhaps they are gladiators in a society in which political power comes from the arena. So the crew have to discover how they ended up in such an unexpected situation and work out how to deal with the fact that their other selves appear to be starting to rather enjoy themselves.

And we should have someone hiding in a Dalek shell again.   
Sunday, July 8th, 2012
1:44 pm
Grandfather of Assassins
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of Grandfather of Assassins. I recall from my AD&D days that the title of fifteenth level assassin was Grandfather and discovering from the Encyclopaedia Britannica that the Grandfather of Assassins was another title for the Old Man of the Mountain, the ruler of the fortress of Alamut and the head of the cult of assassins based there. Now we know that the Doctor is a grandfather (or, after the Time War, was), but we know every little about the Doctor's family. We don't know how many children he had (or indeed exactly what being a father or grandfather might mean to a Time Lord - looms and Jenny and all that), much less how many grandchildren. How much do we really know about the House of Lungbarrow and the Pyrdonian Chapter and the lengthy training of the Doctor and other Time Lords at the Academy? He know that the Time Lords in general and the Doctor himself don't seem that ninja-like. But, for the usual reasons of plausible deniability, the CIA or other Time Lord bodies might choose to have the training of assassins outsourced. The Assassins of Alamut would be the perfect organisation to outsource it to.

It would thus be perfectly natural for Susan to want to visit her siblings or cousins at Alamut. She might well be unaware of the exact nature of what it is that they are being trained to be and might well feel moral qualms when offered a chance to join them. It is entirely plausible that the First Doctor would know exactly what was going on Alamut and that it was not necessarily a librarian internship. A problem is that the First Doctor doesn't control the TARDIS's destination and Alamut might be a bit too much like the settings for "Marco Polo" and ""The Crusade" to be different enough for Barbara and Ian. Of course, we could make this a pre-"An Unearthly Child" story and perhaps even explain what the First Doctor was doing on Earth in the first place. When did the Doctor make his first televised controlled journey in the TARDIS? Perhaps the Doctor is sent there by the Time Lords. Zoe was a librarian, so one could imagine Two, Jamie and her ending up at Alamut and Two not wanting to reveal to his companions that he suspects that they might be on a CIA mission (foreshadowing of Season 6B?). Alamut seems like somewhere that Leela would have plenty to do and the novel could also be a homage to "The Robots of Death". Romana I would be good. There could be a Key to Time wild goose chase, setting up a clue for a televised story, and the Guardians of Time could make an appearance. Seven and Ace might be a good pairing as it would be quite different to any of their televised adventures. Going against the grain, Five, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. Now that would be a real writer's challenge to do something interesting with that crew. I am sure Alamut would offer plenty of possibilities to breath a bit of life into those three. I almost thinking on the basis of casting against type that that is going to be our stimulating choice. Where might a suitable gap be to fit this story in?.                
Saturday, June 30th, 2012
11:20 pm
Doctor Who: "The Crusade"
There are only two missing episodes from Season Two (it is the shortest season of early Who at 39 episodes, but not really that much shorter than the other Hartnell/Troughton seasons), and if there were to be two missing episodes from this season, we would rather they were from "The Space Museum" or "The Chase". "The Crusade" is a very solid historical and the audio tracks for episodes 2 and 4 unfortunately don't allow us to imagine what is going on as easily as is the case for the missing episodes of the more straightforward Base under Siege story of "The Moonbase". With the "The Reign of Terror" shortly to be released with its two missing episodes, we can hope that "The Crusade" might be revisited. I could certainly do with revisiting it myself. It's a over two years since I saw it and there are a great many potentially ticklish obstacles to be navigated here by the production, although I think on the whole I think there are navigated successfully, although it is a pity that the BBC resorted to blackface. This is very far from the debacle it might have been in less sensitive hands, but I think a second "viewing" is in order with an eye to determine just how orientalist the story is.

I recall a duplicated sheet from second year history with a cartoon of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin shaking hand and a caption declaring that the Third Crusade was a draw. Saladin was "our" kind of "Turk" in popular imagination (mostly it seems owing to Sir Walter Scott), which helps to make the whole production less freighted than it might have been - or might be today. As with "The Aztecs", we get some cod-Shakespearean dialogue, but, with actors as skilled and well-cast as Julian Glover, it works in context and the audience of the time probably would have expected it, being more familiar with that kind of thing than today's. Bill Russell gets to do much the kind of thing that we got to do in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Barbara has a meaty subplot. I'd need to see it again to determine just how similar Barbara's predicament here is at one point to her predicament at one point in "The Keys of Marinus".  

"The Crusade" has a special place in Doctor Who lore as one of the three DW novels were published in the 1960s. It was Whittaker's most substantial script up to that point so it is perhaps little wonder that he chose it as the one to novelise. I remember my eldest brother returning excitedly from Hewitt's, our local newsagent, to announce that three DW novels were now available. The copy of Doctor Who and the Crusaders, with its wonderful Chris Achilleos cover, might still be in the house in Preston somewhere, along with the other two and some other DW novels I got later. I remember considering it a curious object as a child - pure historicals were something that belonged to a remote age. Sadly I don't think I have ever read it;  certainly, if I did, I don't recall anything of it other than its mere existence, but there must be lots of fans (my brother amongst them?) who did need read. Indeed, there must have a number of fans who during the interregnum between 1966 and 1973 came across it in libraries and jumble sales and the bookshelves of their elder siblings. I wonder what they made of it and I wonder how it stands up now.

Now Write On...
I can't see the BBC doing the Levant in the studio these days. But, heck, they could go there on location. What about something set in C9th Baghdad or C12th Alamut? The Doctor and co. turn up at Alamut to consult a rare manuscript in the library  The Doctor finds himself investigating a series of murders - in a fortress of assassins. This could be a homage to The Name of the Rose as well as to the richness of Islamic culture. The shadow of orientalism lies heavy, but a writer of sensitivity with knowledge of the period could do something very interesting here I think without falling into those traps.
Saturday, May 26th, 2012
6:48 pm
Doctor Who: "The Sensorites"
"The Sensorites" is not very good. In fact - whisper it quietly - it is probably worse than "The Keys of Marinus". At least, that had a portmanteau format and, if you didn't like one setting there, there would be another along in a minute. Here we get six episodes in which almost nothing seems to happen, certainly nothing of any real interest. The Sensorites themselves, leaving those pesky feet, do actually look surprisingly good, in spite of the zips, although the idea that are all identical is clearly absurd,  They must be the most timorous race in the universe. This is not a promising premise. They are afraid of everything it seems (bright lights, loud noises, making decisions) even if they do possess some pretty advanced technology (see later) and apparently don't need vacuum suits (perhaps there is a pressurised walkway around the spaceship). If this were a story of the Sensorites overcoming their timorousness with the Doctor's help, there might be something to get our teeth into, but the humans are as bad as the Sensorites. Lorne Cossette did not so much phone in his performance as radio it in by Morse from the Southern Ocean, but at least Stephen Dartnell is trying. A bit too hard. It's not until we get to meet the Commander that things liven up. We can see what the story should have been about and this fits with the theme of Newman's Yesterday's Enemy. A problem was commissioning a writer who clearly had little feel for sf. For all his many flaws, Terry Nation at least had some. "The Sensorites" needs a lot more shaping from Whittaker and Lambert, but it probably looked better on the page and much of the blame has to be placed at the hands of the directors and, to a lesser degree, the actors. "The Sensorites" could probably have been saved by cutting it down to four episodes and increasing the amount of screentime of the Commander and the survivors of the original Earth expedition. As it is, this is probably the weakest story to date and had things gone on like this, it's hard to imagine that the programme would have long survived. Luckily, every story is a reboot for Who. Things can get better.     

The best thing on the DVD is Toby Hadoke documentary "Looking for Peter". Peter R. Newman's short life and scant career are a tragedy of unfilled potential. He suffered writer's block and worked as a porter at the Tare Gallery. He died after a fall at the gallery in 1975, aged just 48. He never got to have the consolation though "The Sensorites" isn't very good, he and it aren't and won't be forgotten.  

Now Write On...

It is as much, if not more, than the Sensorites could hope for that the RTD created the Ood as an homage to them. The Sensorites are able to remove the TARDIS lock and thus prevent the Doctor and co. getting back in. No other race manage to do that, which suggests either that the Sensorites are a lot more advanced than they look or that the have access to Time Lord(-level) technology that few if any other races in the Whoniverse do. There's a hook there: someone removes the TARDIS lock and the Doctor has to find out where they got the the technology to be able to do that from. It turns out to be the Sensorites. Of course, that just raises another question... I also think there might be some mileage, if handled delicately enough, in the idea of a group all the members of which appear identical to members of the group, but which are clearly differentiable to other people.  
Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
12:09 am
Doctor Who: "The Web Planet"
It's a pity that the "The Web Planet" isn't actually very good and, indeed, at times doesn't merely verge on the ludicrous, but smashes right through the ludicrosity barrier and just keeps on going. It is an attempt to do something different with Doctor Who and the lore has it the failure of the story is the reason why we've been pretty much stuck for the last 47 years with either aliens who look exactly like humans or aliens who look exactly like humans in rubber suits. In fact, in "The Web Planet" we aliens who look exactly like aliens in rubber suits (butterfly-humans and weevil-humans), but at least they were making an effort and the Zarbi at do look like giants ants rather than ant-humans (OK, OK, giant ants with human legs). As for the venom grubs, well, I think we have to remember that all of this probably made a whole lot much more sense to the average viewer in 1965 than it does today. The heyday of the cosy duopoly was an era when ITV could show opera in primetime and "The Web Planet" is best thought as a piece of experimental ballet-theatre (indeed the Menoptera were choreographed by a choreographer from the Royal Ballet). In many ways, NuWho - modern television in general - is much more sophisticated than Classic Who. But most viewers in 1965 with access to at the very most three channels and would have had a much more varied and richer televisual diet than many viewers today, Sky Atlantic and boxed sets of The Wire notwithstanding. Today the notion of spending six weeks doing experimental ballet-theatre on kids' sf show in primetime seems unimaginable, but in the mid-60s people would have seen it as another part of the televisual tapestry and thought little more of it. Whether they liked it or not is another matter and certainly this kind of thing wasn't tried too often again (but see, for instance, "The Underwater Menace", of which we now have a whole extra episode to look forward to), but "The Web Planet" definitely made some kind of impact at the time. Doctor Who and the Zarbi was one of the three DW novels published in the 1960s and the first DW annual is full of the Zarbi and the Menoptera, including, of course, feature them in living colour on the cover. OK, they didn't have the rights to the Daleks and I think the Voord are in there somewhere too. If only "The Web Planet" had had a more engaging story and they had somehow managed to transcend the limitation of the budget and the available technical resources, we might have enjoyed a much more varied range of aliens over the last decades. Or at least we'd have more period curios to look back at and ponder upon.

Now Write On...
Just imagine a sequel to this with modern effects. And a half decent plot. OK, OK. That's never going to happen. There was saying current in the Moorcock New Worlds era that the only truly alien planet is Earth. I recall Steve Gallagher opining that all aliens are really humans in rubber suits. But the one thing that an actual alien wouldn't be is a human in a rubber suit. Pace Wittgenstein, if an alien could talk, we would not understand ver (see, for instance, "The Creature from the Pit"). And it's pretty clear from the last couple of decades of planetological research that there are some really wacky worlds out there (not that plenty of writers haven't come up with those without recourse to the latest scientific thinking). So someone should take half a leave out of Hal Clement's books, but add in psychology that is a product of the aliens' evolutionary history. Imagine a story set on a hot Titan orbiting a gas giant around a red dwarf. Gravity would be so low that flight would be easy in the thick atmosphere. And just pick an interestingly different (to humans) reproductive strategy and imagine the consequences extended to a technological civilisation. I am sure we can do better than "The Power of Kroll"        
Friday, September 16th, 2011
12:10 am
Red Rose on a Shirt, Trophy Still Gleaming, 77 Years of Hurt, Never Stopped Us Dreaming
Well, this was a day I never expected to see. The first Wisden I owned was the 1977 edition and Lancashire finished 16th in 1976 in the County Championship (Andrew Kennedy bizarrely Young Cricketer of the Year) compared to 4th in 1975 (there was a 1976 Wisden in the reference library at Fulwood library). That was the beginning of a miserable run in first class cricket for Lancashire and the cause of much soul-searching on my part. How my ten year old self would have loved today! Of course, Lancashire have had two good runs in one-day cricket, but it's not quite the same and they came second by one point to Nottinghamshire in 1987, but it is the championship that all true fans have been demanding all these years. To be fair, Lancashire have finished second five times since 1998, but not since 2006. And it nearly didn't happen today. If it hadn't been for a deeply improbable rearguard action by bottom of the table Hampshire following on against Warwickshire, it would all have been for nothing. But after struggling slightly to scuttle Somerset for as small a sum as we would have liked, Lancashire were set an eminently defendable 211 in quick time. Somerset must have fancied their chances, certainly of a draw. But, amazingly, they polished off runs for the loss of just two wickets to win by eight wickets and bring the county championship trophy back to where it belongs after 77 years. Luckily, I didn't actually burst into tears at work on hearing the commentary of the winning runs. This was an amazing effort by a team that blended youth and experience. Kerrigan for England surely. And now all they have to do is an establish a dynasty. There is a precedent for that in Trafford, I understand. Essex won their first county championship in 1979 and proceded to five more over the next thirteen seasons. That would be all right, but why not go better and make it eight in a row to put the legendary Surrey team of the 1960s in the shade? Come on, Lancy!  
Saturday, March 26th, 2011
8:43 pm
Confused? It is
Practically every second advert on UK TV seems to be for an insurance price-comparison website - or an insurance company telling us that we won't find them on insurance price-comparison websites. This is notable contrast to the US. They did have some annoying adverts for particular firms, but nothing like the saturation level bombardment we have here. Do they even have insurance price-comparison websites in the US? There are 50 different insurance markets (plus DC, Puerto Rico...), but some of those markets are quite large (California, say). Can you market across state lines or is there some obscure inter-state commerce regulation that prohibits this? Would it even be possible to have a state-based site or to do various regulatory issues or a lack of effective competition prevent such things?

Anyway, getting back to the UK. Confused.com launched a new campaign a new months ago. Of course, if you know it's for confused.com, you'll be fairly safe ground. The banner being towed by the animated plane at the end of the spot seems to be promoting loveconfused.com. This is just a place-holder site. Quite why confused.com haven't acquired it is a mystery; presumably the owner is demanding too much money. Although why confused.com are encouraging us, presumably to love confused.com, when it is a ruddy insurance price-comparison website and has nothing to do with small furry animals with East European accents I am not sure. I keep expecting the advert to drop the "love" bit, but it hasn't after several months (interestingly, a new spot in the same animated style makes no reference to "love"). But it is one of the great enigmas: why did no-one at the agency, client or focus groups spot the potential for the consumer to be "confused"?    
Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
5:01 pm
Vanity of Vanities
On the strength of the blurbs, it is hardly to wondered at that Sir Stuart had to set up his own press to see his books in print. I suppose even MPs should be allowed their recreations, and, of course, self-publishing will prove an increasingly popular and valuable channel in the future.

Also, in terms of cover design, Sir Stuart could have learnt something from Berthold Wolpe.
4:26 pm
Friday, January 7th, 2011
11:54 pm
Play for Today
Talking of no-brainer commissions for TV executives: Play for Today. Reading about the kinds of things that were broadcast makes me weak with desire. The depth, breadth, seriousness (with the opportunity for comedy) and sheer ambition of what was produced is quite extraordinary. The past is another country and at least in so far as these kinds of things were broadcast a better one. To think, this is what was provided for primetime audiences. And ITV used to show opera.

And what he need isn't a single short series of one-off plays on BBC4 or even BBC2, but the proper thing: a five year commitment from the BBC to produce 26 new original plays to be shown at 9:00 on BBC1. The project would allow new writers, directors and actors to learn their trades through a BBC repertory company. Perhaps a new Mike Leigh or Dennis Potter might emerge. Imagine the places we'd go! Of course, there was much that by the numbers, plain dull or simply.nugatory. But at least people were given the chance to do something interesting and see something interesting - and very often it worked magnificently.

I know, I know. Television in the UK in 2011 just doesn't work like that. and the world is a poorer place for it.

See also http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?page_id=858.
Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
11:40 pm
A Fiver or Two
I got two fivers among the cash I got out of a Barclays cash machine in Chiswick the other day. It is years since I can remember getting a fiver out of a cash machine. I can only hope that this "trend" continues in 2011. (Well, it won't technically be a trend until I have got fivers from two other cash machines, preferably non-Barclays ones.)
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
12:06 am
Doctor Who: "The Rescue"
I quite liked "The Rescue". At only two episodes, it's the length of a NuWho episode and it is very easy to imagine it being remade as one. The Doctor has been to the planet Dido before, but things are very different now to when he first visited. This is a situation that will reoccur through the series as a way of deepening the mystery by shifting it from "Where are we?" to "What's gone wrong?"

Who did the Doctor visit the planet with? Susan? He is clearly missing her, which is hardly surprising given her unceremonious dismissal from the TARDIS. Luckily there is an al-purpose Susan replacement to be found on the planet. It is noteworthy that Susan is replaced by an almost identical character. Why did Carole Ann Ford leave the series? And why wasn't she replaced by XXX from "The Dalek Invasion of the Earth"? Susan was presumably supposed to be 15-16 in "An Unearthly Child", although, of course, we now know that she is a Time Lord and thus we might not feel quite as bad about the Doctor abandoning her with a virtual stranger at the supposed age of 16-17. How old is Vicki? (Maureen O'Brien was 21 to Jackie Lane's 24.) Vicki is is the audience-identification character for the young segment of the viewership. It'll be a while before it is realised that one isn't actually needed (indded, right at the end of the Hartnell era with "The War Machines"/"The Smugglers"). But they could have rung the changes by making the character from contemporary Earth (too much like Barbara and Ian) or from the past (we'll certainly see that) or alien (with the exceptions of Susan and Romana, who don't really count being a Time Lords like the Doctor, I don't think we have had that) or a boy (Adric!). We might be concerned that someone in the production team either has a bit of a Lolita complex or perhaps even more disconcertingly believes that a section of the audience has something of as Lolita complex (see in particular "The Space Museum" and possibly "City of Death").            
Now Write On...
Given that the Doctor has been there twice, a third visit to is perhaps overdue. Just how have the Dido people got on since the destruction of Koquillion? And the Robinsonade is a sub-genre that appeals so directly to elemental components of the human psyche is never going to get old (survival in a hostile environment and the imposition of order on chaos). What about the Doctor encountering Robinson Crusoe himself (after all he has met Gulliver)? Who indeed did leave that footprint? Or the Doctor could encounter Crusoe's real-life prototype, Alexander Selkirk. Lots of opportunities for a C17th romp there. Or what about the Doctor being stranded sans TARDIS on some alien world? (Of course, in "Inferno", the Doctor describes himself as" a shipwrecked mariner" with the non-functioning TARDIS on Earth.) This gets us back to the notion of time in "Doctor Who". The notion of unseen adventures has always been there. See "The Romans". And there is no reason why the ellipsis could not be 10 years rather than a few weeks. In fact, this kind of timey-wimey stuff quite appeals to Moffat. See for instance "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "The Eleventh Hour" as well as Rory waiting for Amy in "The Big Bang" (see also "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood", but then that was based on a novel, where it is easier to get away with this sort of thing, and "The Girl Who Waited"). It would be easy to imagine the Doctor being stuck somewhere remote and having to do something interesting for a few years. Another Shakespeare crossover suggests itself, this time with the Doctor as Prospero. And, of course, that would get us the double whammy of Forbidden Planet too.     
Thursday, May 6th, 2010
9:57 am
Think Strategically, Vote Tactically
The one certain winner from the today's election is the Atlanticist neoliberal economic elite and their lackeys in the political class. But such is politics. The thing is does matter how is in power, even if it doesn't ever matter as much as it should. Consider the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the poster-child of the Conservative Party and the test-bed for the kinds of policies and politics that a Cameron administration will put in place. Then imagine that multiplied by 200 across the country and amplified by a factor of 5 or 10 or 50 because of the Tory government in Westminster: it is the central government that pays for and thus gets to decide most of what actually happens to people around the nation.

Strategically, the goal is clear: a Tory government will not be as bad we imagine, it will be worse. Our vote is a tool and we must use it operationally to bring about the least worst result  or, if you prefer, to avoid the worst result. So the question to ask when one enters the polling booth is this: how can I cast my vote to maximise the chance that a Conservative MP will not be elected in this constituency. If that means voting LibDem, so be it. I have voted LibDem myself many times in the past year even though they are not my team. If that means, as I will have to do this evening, voting for an odious party hack, so be it. She is better, far better, than the alternative of the even more odious Tory rent-a-candidate. I suppose it would even mean voting Green if one lived in Brighton Pavilion, although frankly the last thing this country needs right now is self-righteous, swivelled-eyed loons in parliament. But better a non-Tory one. Because that is the ultimate issue: we vote for a MP, but get a government and we must do what we can to try and ensure that the next government is the one of the complexion that will spend less time, even if only slightly less time, stamping on the face of humanity.
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
9:17 pm
Doctor Who: "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"
I actually think this is better than "The Daleks", which I know goes against both the critical consensus and my own criteria for what makes a good DW story. But although TIoE is set on Earth, it is set in the C22nd (albeit one that looks a heck of a lot like 1964 London) and the invasion has already been successful. The title is thus something of a misnomer: it should be "The Dalek Occupation of the Earth". What we had here is no lame attempted invasion of a contemporary Earth by half a dozen ineffectual aliens. The Daleks have reduced the Earth's population to a state of servitude, which means that, for once, they must have done some things right - even if before the story begins. But the sight of the Dalek emerging from the Thames at Queen's Wharf by Hammersmith Bridge (sadly not Kew Railway Bridge, much less Kew Bridge itself as I have seen claimed) must have been quite something. And frankly there is something scary about Daleks on the streets of London, even if 1964 they probably couldn't have got up the Albert Memorial steps.  

The ending is surely one of the saddest scenes ever to appear in the series. The Doctor locks Susan out of the TARDIS and makes a speech at her. No wonder she and David can't look one another in the eye. Of course, Time Lord "years" are different to human ones and so Susan isn't quite 16 going on 17 in the way that she might seem, but it's hard to believe that their relationship will be happy (or even a long one). Susan may also know things about the Time Lord reproductive system that may be news to David (of course, that might not necessarily be a problem).

Obviously the plot doesn't make any sense. But the sense of a city and a country under occupation is effectively invoked. We have the resistance, but we also have the black marketer and we also have the ordinary, decent folk - who will report Barbara and Jenny to the occupiers in return for a some scraps of food. Given human nature that's a scene that few of us can watch with complete equanimity. In 1964, the memory of the threat of occupation was only 20 years old (and the fear that next year it could easily be the Red Army on the streets of a nuclear-devastated capital).

Ian though at least manages to keep his suit and key on throughout. This is 1964 and perhaps Bill Russell might have thought himself unlucky not to have been in the running for the role of James Bond; he certainly offers a decent simulacra of the part. Still it is terribly incongruous to have him dressed like all the time.  But, of course, it was a more elegant age.

And the Robomen are clearly there because children will be able to imitate them in the playground. Which seems an oddly Steven Moffat kind of thing to put in.

I suppose the notion of that the transport museum might contain a 1930s lorry in working order isn't that silly. It's the kind of thing that they have in museums after all. Interesting though that the Daleks are clearly allowing some kind of ongoing maintenance of the exhibits, but I suppose that is part of British "Keep Calm and Carry On" pragmatism even in the C22th that the museum volunteer would to keep everything in order: they might not have much else to do. Where Barbara got her HGV training is another matter: she's surely too young to have been in Wrens or some such. But perhaps there's a missing adventure.

Now Write On...

This one has a sequel built in. The Doctor says he will come back to visit Susan. He didn't say when or which incarnation of himself it would be. Assuming that humans still have more or less the same longevity as today in the C22nd/C23rd, Susan is going, sooner or later, to find herself a widow. And before that she may have a lot of explaining to do as she ages so much more slowly than her husband. Assuming that some crisis in newly liberated Earth doesn't lead to her overnight changing into someone else. There is plenty her grandfather could help out with.

The problem is that there aren't any Time Lords left now except for the Doctor. So we can't and visit Susan because she presumably was rubbed out of history in the Time War. And she only exists in the memory (recall the Doctor's conversation with Victoria in "The Tomb of the Cybermen"). The more I think about it the more I realise that getting rid of the Time Lords was the Worst. Idea. Ever. Because it traps the Doctor as the lonely god. We can only hope that the Moff will bring the Time Lords back again. Permanently.

Other possibilities include scenarios set in occupied areas: the resistance in WWII Europe or, in an alternative universe, an occupied Britain. Another possibility is a successful invasion. Given that the Earth is invaded unsuccessfully so often and given that the Daleks did manage to do it properly once, perhaps some species might come with a plan more cunning than even the Doctor can counter. 
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