Doctor Who Book Review: Plague of the Cybermen (by Justin Richards)

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Spoilers, ish.

No one really seems to know what to do with the Cybermen now, do they? Or at least, in terms of New Who material, I’m not all that familiar with any recent Big Finish outings.

At any rate, there seems to be a desire to change the Cybermen, presumably to give them some sort of edge. This isn’t really a problem, apart from the way it’s manifested itself – slowly but surely, the Cybermen are being turned into Borg. In Nightmare in Silver, they were Borg in spirit – connected to a hivemind, constantly adapting to the situation, and with an overall ‘leader’.

This novel turns them into the Borg in terms of physicality. It takes the idea of Cybermen as scavengers on their last legs and runs with it; in a reversal of the Cybermen concept, these Cybermen are having to harvest flesh and blood limbs to replace their own broken or missing metallic ones. It’s an interesting idea, and is a pretty good use of body horror – the only problem with it is one of coincidence really. If it hadn’t been for Neil Gaiman’s recent Borg-ification of the Cybermen, I would’ve  seen this in a much more positive way; in the way it deserves to be seen, really… but when reading it now it wasn’t as impactful as it could’ve been, and it came across as a bit distracting.

As to the rest of the novel, it’s a pretty traditional fare; it’s a base-under-siege story, essentially, with a slightly macabre atmosphere. And a well written one too. (Admittedly, elements of the plot riffed upon Richards’ earlier novels, such as The Clockwise Man and The Resurrection Casket, even copying a few of the jokes!) The style of prose was good (which is definitely a good thing; I don’t know why, but sometimes Justin Richards’ novels seem… off slightly? It’s probably just me) as was the characterisation of Matt Smith’s Doctor. It was exactly right, striking the balance between silliness and seriousness. Richards’ even managed to throw in a few morbid jokes, and make them feel in character. That’s a pretty impressive achievement.

Overall, I did like this book a lot, and would probably read it again. So…

7/10.

Related:

Doctor Who Book Review: The Shroud of Sorrow

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On Love & Monsters and Turn Left

doctor who love & monsters turn left elton pope donna noble rose tyler absorbaloff russell t davies tenth doctor

Isn’t it interesting that one of New Who’s most reviled episode follows the same theme as one of it’s most lauded?

Love & Monsters came 153rd in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll; Turn Left came in at 12. Suffice to say, there’s a pretty large gap between them in people’s affections. (At risk of losing all credibility and each of my followers, I actually really, really, really, like Love & Monsters*)

Love and Monsters follows the story of Elton Pope, telling the tale of how his life, and those of the people in London, were affected by the Doctor. Turn Left follows the story of Donna Noble, telling the tale of how her life, and those of the people of the world, were affected by the Doctor.

It is the same theme, the same central concept. The only difference is the way in which the idea was approached. Love and Monsters is what happens when the Doctor is there; Turn Left the story of when he isn’t. Despite the superficial differences, it is still the same idea – it’s how the Doctor affects people. (Taking it a bit further, you could argue that Love and Monsters is about the accidental evils that he causes, and Turn Left is about the greater evils that he prevents.)

I suppose the reason why Love and Monsters isn’t appreciated as much as it should be is the Abzorbaloff**, which is certainly a shame. It’s really a brilliant concept, when you distill it down to it’s base elements – it’s about the removal of your autonomy, isn’t it? (It is) I wonder if people would like this episode more had it featured, say, the Zygons or the Krillitanes in the place of the Abzorbaloff – but I think that would probably be to the episodes detriment, on the whole…

So, that’s why New Who’s alleged-second-worst episode is, in fact, very, very similar to it’s sixth best.

* As much as I like the episode, I think they made a mistake with the title – it really, really should’ve been called “Love ‘n’ Monsters”

** Yes, I like the Abzorbaloff as well.

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Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor on Akhaten

doctor who the rings of akhaten sixth doctor colin baker speech matt smith eleventh doctor clara oswald series 7 youtube

What if The Rings of Akhaten was written for Colin Baker’s Doctor?

I imagine it’d look a bit like this…

(It’s not a brilliant video, I’m aware of that. But it’s the best I could manage…. I wanted to try and put Peri in, but I figured that’d be really difficult. So for this video, let’s say Six is travelling with a Clara echo)

Doctor Who Book Review: Shroud of Sorrow (by Tommy Donbavand)

doctor who book review the shroud of sorrow tommy donbavond eleventh doctor clara oswald wobblebottom

Wow.

I want to post the blurb here, first of all.

23 November, 1963

It is the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination – and the faces of the dead are everywhere. PC Reg Cranfield sees his late father in the mists along Totter’s Lane. Reporter Mae Callon sees her grandmother in a coffee stain on her desk. FBI Special Agent Warren Skeet finds his long-dead partner staring back at him from raindrops on a window pane.
Then the faces begin to talk, and scream… and push through into our world.

As the alien Shroud begins to feast on the grief of a world in mourning, can the Doctor dig deep enough into his own sorrow to save mankind?

You’d think that this is a relatively serious book, wouldn’t you? One with quite a mature tone – after all, it does have a rather mature theme (death and the stages of grief), so you’d expect it to be a generally mature book, right?#

And… well, I suppose it is in places. But in other places, it’s the exact opposite. The tone is as malleable and inconsistent… clay in water? Does that analogy work? Probably not. But the point stands – the tone of this novel is ridiculous. You’ve some very serious moments on one end of the scale, such as the introductory scene for FBI Agent Warren Skeet (this scene fleshes out his backstory, and depicts the death of his former partner) but on the other side of things you have Wobblebottom.

Yeah, you read that right. Wobblebottom.

You see, around halfway through the novel the Doctor, Clara, Warren Skeet and Mae (another new character) travel to the previous world which the Shroud had attacked, and they find the remains of the civilization. In what should have been a very complex and intelligent segment of the novel, the Doctor & co find a group of crazed tribes, each defined by a separate feeling – different emotions took over after their grief was removed, and so they become Tremblers (fear) or Ragers (rage) or Wanters (averis). That’s a pretty bold and interesting concept, I think, which should have been explored much more fully, and with a great deal more intelligence – instead we’re soon introduced to Wobblebottom and Flip flop, leaders of the Circus resistance.

It’s… it’s a nice idea, that a Circus is trying to give people back their emotions through happiness… but it doesn’t work, not in this scenario. It just undercuts everything that had been built up already. Not that much had, admittedly – the tone was always going to be an issue, what with the way the Doctor has been characterised in this novel. It’s as though all the whimsy, all the jesting, all the not-at-all-serious-and-sometimes-borderline-irritating aspects of the Eleventh Doctor have been distilled and put into this (it really is a pastiche, the sort of thing you find in juvenile fan fiction. The Doctor even calls the TARDIS “sexy”. Twice. Like… what?). It’s a terribly misjudged piece of writing, one that doesn’t deserve to be likened to Matt Smith’s brilliant portrayal.

The other issue is a gratuitous overuse of continuity. And I mean that quite seriously – continuity is great, but this is too much. Way, way too much. A couple of examples –

  • The policeman at Totter’s Lane. (He’s totally superfluous to the plot, sadly)
  • 23 pages in, and we have a reference to Astrid. Seriously?
  • The Fast Return switch is introduced in the most poorly written way (“What’s that?” “Oh, it’s the Fast Return switch”) simply so it can be used as a plot device in a few pages time. (And it barely makes sense there either)

Given that the final confrontation is, essentially, a huge continuity fest (flashbacks from painful moments in the Doctor’s lives) I would’ve expected all those little things to have been cut right down. They do get very, very distracting, and can bring you right out of it. Especially when it’s wrong, for goodness’ sake! (Admittedly, the larger moments – flashbacks and a joke sequence – do work very well, but they feel cheapened by all the other, prior references)

So… eh. This book was not a good one, to be honest. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anything beyond completion’s sake, unless you enjoy that more whimsical tone of story. Certainly one to avoid if you’re expecting a serious novel, in the vein of prior stories (I was actually expecting this to be sort of similar to Vampire Science, but… it couldn’t be further removed from it)

2/10

Related:

Doctor Who Book Review: Plague of the Cybermen

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Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes guy ritchie robert downey jr jude law rachel mcadams mark strong poster hd review

Okay, so, I watched this film this morning for the first time, and thus I have Some Thoughts Upon It.

Generally, it was pretty good. Just that though, nothing more. “Pretty Good” is my verdict. There were lots of things that came together which were all good things, and came together to be… pretty good.

I liked Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, I thought that was a good choice, as was casting Jude Law as Watson. They both did really, really good work. (Incidentally, this is the first, and thus far only, iteration of Sherlock Holmes where I’ve understood “shipping” the pair together. I got that subtext from here. Although only for about half the film.)

This film’s version of Irene Adler was, I think, a much better version than the one from Sherlock; not from the acting, but the relationship between her and Holmes was a better one in this film, I think. The rivalry-stroke-friends kind of thing, where they like each other, but not necessarily the way the other operates, and gravitate (?) between friends and enemies. I like that sort of relationship between characters. That’s how the Master and the Doctor should be portrayed, I think, and it’s similar ish to Clark and Lex in the middle seasons of Smallville.

(Also, speaking of Irene, there didn’t appear to be as many issues with her as the Sherlock version, though if there were, please someone point them out to me)

The other big thing was Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, which I think was one of the best things about the film. In making him a more supernatural character, it gave the film a sort of Indiana Jones-y feel – our normal (ish) character, facing the unknown. So, yeah, that was pretty cool. It’s also, I think, quite unique to this film – it’s not really something Sherlock or Elementary could pull off, not really.

(Something that I didn’t initially notice, but saw on the Wikipedia page for the film, is that this is quite like The Hound of the Baskervilles; a potentially supernatural threat which is eventually explained away as natural.)

My one complaint about the film is that the first two thirds or so weren’t particularly engaging – and I think that’s why the film is only “pretty good” and not “pretty awesome” which it really could’ve been. I’m not sure why it wasn’t engaging – maybe it was just me, I suppose. But… I guess it’s because they were just “doing stuff” and not really getting to the heart of the issue, which was Lord Blackwood. So I suppose if the Supernatural aspect had been really played up a lot more, then it would have been a much better film.

Also, that shot of Lord Blackwood hanging from the partially assembled Tower Bridge should have been the closing scene. It was a pretty haunting image.

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The Flash Trilogy Movie Pitch

the flash ezra miller seth grahame smith phil lord chris miller rick famuyiwa movie pitch dc extended universe grant gustin film

So, at the same time that the Batman v Superman film was announced, it was also said that a Flash movie would be made for 2016, leading into a Justice League movie in 2017.

Assuming that it’s a success, sequels will be in order. This here is the plan they should try to follow…

The Flash

This. This is the film they should make; it’s pretty much the best possible way of doing things.

But to set up for a sequel, one last thing has to be added at the end, post credits…

EXT: STREET – DAY

An ELDERLY WOMAN is crossing the street using a zimmer frame.

A close-up shot reveals she has a hearing aid, meaning she’s deaf – so she can’t hear the car speeding towards her!

People on both sides of the street are yelling at her, trying to gain her attention, but to no avail – she just can’t hear them. And then, there’s a flash of red and yellow light! The elderly woman is gone!

In fact, she’s on the other side of the street, standing with… THE FLASH! He saved her from the car!

Whilst the Flash is being applauded by the gathered crowd, the camera stops on a MAN lingering in an alley.

He is wearing a dark blue suit with a red shirt. He takes out a phone, and begins to speak into it.

MAN:
You were right Max… he is one of us.

And, at that, he is gone – in a red and blue blur. He can run as fast as the Flash.

END OF MOVIE

So, that’s the post-credits teaser idea that leads into the next film: The Flash is not alone.

The Flash: Speed Force

So, at the end of the last film, it would have been established that the Flash, Barry Allen, is not alone.

But now, the story has to be a little bit more than that. What I’m thinking here is that it should become a film about what being super-powered will make you, as a person. How it changes your life, beyond the actual ability to run fast – what makes one person a villain, and another a hero – or, indeed, makes them do nothing. Which means, of course, you need to be able to contrast different people against each other.

The film should open with a brief re-introduction to the Flash; who he is and what his powers are. A quick action set piece, probably a car chase sequence – something to easily show he’s a good guy and he runs really really fast.

Anyways, what needs to happen is for Barry to meet the other Speedsters (because that is, for whatever reason, what they’re called). A group of them (at the minute 3, but possibly it should be expanded to 4?) meet up regularly to discuss, analyse and try to understand their abilities. The 3 of them are…

Jay Garrick: The oldest of the group, and it’s leader. He is quiet and reserved, but commands a lot of respect.

Max Crandell: Tending to go by the name of ‘Max Mercury’, he is a very intelligent man.

Savitar: Refusing to go by any other name, Savitar is somewhat of a wild card in the group. Manic and obsessive, no one really understands him.

To go with the theme of “How do you change when you have superpowers?” each character has to have differing reactions to said powers. So…

Jay Garrick: Let’s say, then, that Garrick has grown to hate his powers. When he was young, and first gained his powers, he used them to much the same affect that Barry did – although never became quite so famous, since there wasn’t a huge amount of media coverage back then.

But, being older than the others, he has come to notice a side effect of the powers – as you use them, your ageing process slows down. Which means he should be 80 – but is in fact 50. And his wife, whom he loves very dearly, is 80 for real; and he can’t be with her. He can’t watch as she slips away from him. I don’t care that you grew old, I care that we didn’t grow old together, so to speak.

Max Mercury: He’s researched the Speed Force. A lot. In fact, he’s come to be an expert on it – because that’s what his powers drove him to do. He wanted to understand, to research, to make it tangible to him.

Savitar: Savitar has come to view the Speed Force very mystically, as something that was granted upon him by a higher power – which is why he’s taken the name of the Hindu God of motion. He’s also developed a bit of a God Complex; he considers himself better than all of the ‘mortals’ and only begrudgingly respecting his fellow Speedsters. Savitar wants to be better than them as well – and the only way for that to happen is if he has more speed.

So, that’s our theme, and our characters. But we also need a plot.

If Barry has been doing his superhero thing for a while, then he’s going to have garnered a few enemies. One such enemy is a mob boss who operates in the city – Barry has more or less shut down his entire operation (this is shown over the course of the film, so there are still some action sequences to stop people getting bored).

Eventually, the mob boss, whom we shall call Moran, has decided to fight fire with fire – he wants fast crooks to beat the fast cop.

His gang, his mob, they realise that there’s a group of people who are researching the Speed Force – and so they kidnap Max Mercury and Savitar. Max is the brains, and Savitar is the hostage.

Max does the research, and finds out how to induce/remove speed from people. Savitar, meanwhile, goes completely crazy and is ready to become the big bad guy.

From there, the final act is a relatively simple sort of big fight. Garrick is guilted into using his speed powers to help Barry save the pair of them from the boss. Garrick ends up fighting the henchmen, whilst Barry is fighting Savitar – because he went totally crazy.

So what should happen then is that Barry kills Savitar, effectively saving the day – but not at a cost Barry is happy with.

That’s pretty much the end, but… I’m thinking there should be some sort of scene in which Garrick’s wife is made younger as well, just to make him happy, and complete his character arc.

Next film…

The Flash: Legacy

Final part. Probably going to be quite long and rambly, because I’m working it out as I go along.

At the end of the last film, events would have culminated in Barry killing Savitar. And this is something that should feed into his position in this film – he should be wondering about his place in the world as a hero. Believing he’s not suited to have these powers, to be in such a position of authority.

The film would start, then, by showing that Barry isn’t being the Flash anymore; in the months since Savitar’s death, he has retreated back into his real identity, working as a police scientist.

Perhaps as well the police have decided that the Flash is a danger to them – it was alright when he was helping old ladies cross the street, but now that he’s killed a person, that’s remarkably dangerous. Someone with powers like that, going around killing people? It’s not a notion they would even want to entertain the possibility of.

From there, we would bring in Professor Zoom. But we’d call him Professor Thawne, because it’d seem a bit cheesy to call him Zoom.

Let’s say that he’s been talking to Barry, offering him counsel on his life (Barry hasn’t told him that he’s Flash, but Thawne is evil and so already knows this. Maybe Barry told him he falsified evidence or something). But by way of giving him this counsel, he’s also sowing the seed of doubt within his mind, reinforcing the belief that Barry isn’t good enough to be the Flash.

And then Thawne goes out and does evil things at superspeed – killing people, theft, probably vandalism as well – which gives the Flash a bad name. Which means that the people of Keystone City will believe that the Flash is, in fact, evil.

What I’m really thinking here is that it would be similar to Moriarty’s plan in the Sherlock episode “The Reichenbach Fall”, mostly because I can’t really think of anything else for him to do. In the second film Barry would have fought Savitar, so there’s already been a superpowered fight; there needs to be something different. So the angle that I’m thinking it should be is a bit more psychological.

And the idea of Zoom discrediting better fits with his actual backstory, I think – crazy obsessive from the future who wants to become Barry Allen. How to make that fit in exactly I’m not sure; I suppose it would just be part of his final “I’m evil” reveal.

Eventually they do need to have a super speed battle, I suppose; it should come within the last twenty minutes or so. And then… I think Barry should sacrifice himself to destroy Zoom. Possibly they both end up inside the Speed Force or something like that. That’s a pretty good way of nodding to the comics, but isn’t absolutely finite if the powers that be ever want to bring Barry back.

This should probably be called The Flash: Legacy, because that does fit in with the theme, to a degree; it’s the legacy of Barry’s prior actions that haunt him at the start, and it is his legacy that Thawne wants to destroy.

But maybe this whole thing is just a bit rubbish… hmm. I don’t know.

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Sherlock vs Elementary

elementary vs sherlock benedict cumberbatch johnny lee miller lucy liu martin freeman johnlock steven moffat mark gatiss robert doherty comparison better

Elementary is better than Sherlock.

It’s kinda weird to be saying that, especially considering what pretty much everyone thought when it was announced.

Sherlock had had a very successful first season, everyone was amazed at how brilliant it was, and everyone was applauding Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman – pretty much everyone who was connected to the production really. “Why, it’s so original and innovative to have Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day!” the people would say.

And then along comes the announcement that an American network is going to be making their own version. Sherlock Holmes in modern-day New York. With a female Watson. “Probably so they can sleep together” the people would say. The whole thing does sound a lot like gimmicky plagiarism really, doesn’t it?  At least at first.

So when I saw Elementary was on, I decided to watch it, mostly out of curiosity. To see how bad it would be, really.

And I was amazed at what I saw. At the minute, I’m about halfway through the first season – I think I’ve reached episode 14 by now? I am totally and completely convinced that Elementary is better than Sherlock. 

A big part of it is probably due to the format of it – half a season of Elementary is equivalent to all of the Sherlock we have at the minute, meaning Elementary has quantity on its side. But it’s also been quite intricately plotted – over just 12 episodes, the Holmes and Watson from Elementary have developed more than their Sherlock counterparts had in the same amount of time. And I have no doubt the Elementary characters are going to develop even more.

I’d also argue that Johnny Lee Miller’s interpretation of Holmes is much more faithful to the Doyle books than Benedict Cumberbatch’s ever has been – whilst that’s not to say that Cumberbatch doesn’t always do brilliantly, Miller is more of a Sherlock Holmes than he is. (That’s probably worth another post someday)

I also think that Elementary has actually been able to perform better than Sherlock because of the different approach to the source material which it took. Rather than adapting famous Holmes stories, Elementary has taken the characters – pretty much as they were, albeit with a few changes to their backstory, and, indeed, gender – and placed them into new settings. This gives it all of that innovation and originality than people lauded Sherlock for, and expected Elementary to lack. (It’s also probably worth noting that Sherlock has only really adapted three of the original stories, meaning that what Elementary does isn’t all that different)

So, that’s why I prefer Elementary over Sherlock. I’ll probably write another post about how the Holmes (and maybe Watson) from Elementary are more faithful to the original stories… sometime next week. And maybe even individual episode reviews, I don’t know.

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Now You See Me & Twists in Films.

now you see me jesse eisenberg dave franco woddy harrelson isla fisher mark ruffalo plot twists hd wallpaper four horsemen banner cast

So, Now You See Me was the film about magicians. Specifically, magicians who use their skill in illusion to rob banks, which brings them to the attention of the police, so there’s a confrontation there. It was very good, extremely clever, and quite funny in places. Well acted, well directed, well written. Beware the last act though, there’s some weird stuff at the end. I recommend watching it anyway. There, review done.

Spoilers and analysis-y stuff here…

Throughout the film, there was the question of who the mastermind was behind the magician’s plot – they had been giving instructions by a mysterious benefactor, and part of the police investigation was trying to find out who this person was.

The film actually went to great lengths to suggest that it was the French Interpol Agent, Alma Dray – she had an interest in magic, and various questions were asked (but never answered) to call her allegiances to light.

In the end though, they revealed it was the policeman, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who was the mysterious benefactor. His motivation? A dead magician, whom Alma Dray was an expert upon, was his father. And the only prior hint towards this was the hypnotist noticing he had “mommy issues. Or was it daddy?”

That’s akin to Han Solo saying “I have a friend who wears a black mask” and then turning out to have been the Emperor.

The twist came totally out of left field, and had essentially no prior set up at all. This is A Very Bad Thing. A twist should, whilst still being a surprise, have enough set up for it to make sense in hind sight. This didn’t. (There’s a famous crime writer, Ruth Rendell, who writes her novels as though the Butler did it; then, when she has finished the novel, she changes the outcome and goes backwards through the novel, tweaking it and rewriting it so the new outcome makes sense)

But the real reason this is a problem is because it devalues everything prior to the revelation. This is in part because everything Mark Ruffalo’s character did then becomes… irrelevant, but it is also because his character was the audience surrogate figure, the one who was finding out how the magic trick worked at the same time we were is why it didn’t work.

That’s what makes this twist different to, say, “Luke, I am your father” – it takes away from the film in hindsight and on repeat viewings, rather than adding a new dimension to it.

At least, I think so.

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