August 13th, 2005

doctor who

The Chase

Bought this 1965 Doctor Who series on video at Worldcon, along with Remembrance of the Daleks. My hopes were not especially high, as I knew that the Empire State Building, the Mary Celeste and Dracula's castle are settings for parts of the story. But I didn't really know quite what to expect - the only other William Hartnell series I've seen is An Unearthly Child, way back in 1983 when it was repeated for the 20th anniversary. It's also the first time I've watched any entire series of the "old" Doctor Who since the new one started.

Before I put the lengthy comments behind the cut tag, let us just all agree that it is a real shame that Brian Epstein vetoed the idea of the Beatles appearing as themselves but much older, playing at a fiftieth anniversary concert set in, I suppose, 2013. Apparently the Fab Four were on for it but their manager was not impressed, so at least we get a rare studio clip of them playing "Ticket to Ride". This also gives us a couple of good lines, as the Doctor complains when the machine is switched off that "You've squashed my favourite Beatles", and Vicki tells us that she has "been to their memorial theatre in Liverpool… but I didn't know they played classical music!" (But how does Ian know the words to "Ticket to Ride"? After all, he left Earth the day after President Kennedy was assassinated...)

Well, to my surprise there were some more tolerably good bits. The Mechanoid city was great. The Dalek/Mechanoid battles were fun. The rapidly rotating planet Aridius was well done. The Dalek's emergence from the sand dune at the end of the first episode is pretty good. To my surprise, I even quite liked the Mary Celeste bit, though my wife and mother-in-law snorted with giggles, and the final shots of the deserted ship with the last view of the name plate was quite effective. And there was a real feeling of time passing for the characters, not just the rapid rotation of Aridius but also the meals, the Doctor and companions sleeping, things we don't often see happening.

Other good bits: The location scenes on the planet Aridius (though it also appears to be the setting for the Gettysburg Address). the scene where the other three think they've lost Vicki, and her attempts to contact them from the Daleks' time machine. Peter Purves' performance as Steven Taylor, stranded rocket pilot and Ben Gunn lookalike. Indeed all three companions are on form throughout, even Barbara playing machine guns with the Doctor's Dalek-killing device. Hartnell, when he's awake, is good, but he fluffs a number of lines and was perhaps personally upset at the departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, leaving him the sole survivor of the original cast. And their departure is a rather moving moment as well.

My one complaint of Vicki/Maureen O'Brien isn't really her fault, but has to do with the crapness of three of the monsters. On four occasions she is attacked - by a Mire Beast, an Aridian, and two Fungoids - and more or less has to walk into them - I think she actually has to wind the Mire Beast's tentacle around her own neck. She pulls it off well, but the only monsters that are any good in this story are the Mechanoids, and that's not saying a lot.

Oh yeah, and the Daleks. Can't count, fall off boats, can't kill Frankenstein's monster or Dracula, easily confused by Barbara's cardigan. But this is because they are being funny, which is sort of OK but you don't want it every time. The robot Doctor I didn't mind too much, but he fluffed the crucial line which was supposed to let the companions know he was the fake - the script says he addresses Vicki as "Susan", but I missed it.

The first two episodes, on Aridius, have good settings and filming - had Dune already been published before this story was written? In magazine form, surely, but maybe not yet as a novel. But the Aridians and Mire Beasts are ludicrous. The Empire State Building scene was simply pointless. The Mary Celeste, as I said earlier, I rather liked.

The Hammer House of Horrors sequence worked rather better if the Doctor's theory was right - "we were lodged for a period in an area of human thought" - rather than it being a festival sideshow in a 1996 where the Chinese rule Ghana. But maybe that, too, is but an area of human thought. (At the very beginning Ian is reading a book called "Monsters from Outer Space - Science Fiction". The ISFDB doesn't seem to have heard of this one, so presumably it has yet to be published in Our Time Line, or else is imported from the one where the Chinese rule Ghana.)

I really hated a) the jazzy intro music, b) the time vortex shots and c) the Shakespeare meets Elizabeth I scene.

Sorry this is a bit disjointed. Lots more in-depth analysis of The Chase by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore here, by Paul Clarke here, by Cameron Mason here, and by numerous reviewers here.

August Books 9) The Last Journey of William Huskisson

9) The Last Journey of William Huskisson, by Simon Garfield

It is a story that most people in England (but very few elsewhere) have vaguely heard of - on 15 September 1830, at the opening ceremonies for the world's first ever passenger steam railway (between Liverpool and Manchester), a leading politician was run over and killed by Stephenson's Rocket because he had not taken sufficient care before crossing the track to start a conversation with the Duke of Wellington. This little book (which I got remaindered at £3.99 from the original £14.99) tells the story both of the earliest development of the railways, and of the unfortunate Rt Hon William Huskisson MP.

Huskisson seems to have been very accident-prone, politically and physically. Collapse )

August Books 10) Peace Without Politics?

10) Peace Without Politics? Ten Years of International State-Bulding in Bosnia, International Peacekeeping vol 12, no 3, Autumn 2005; ed. David Chandler.

A collection of eleven essays on the intervention of the international community in Bosnia, by some of the leading writers in the field; papers produced my my own employers in the days when we concentrated much more on Bosnia are cited extensively, and I know several of the authors personally. Very thought-provoking, and also mercifully brief (170 pages, fairly large type).

There is an opening debate in the form of an introduction by Chandler arguing that the international community's efforts in Bosnia since 1995 should be seen as largely self-serving and ineffective, an article by Sumantra Bose making the opposite argument, and a full article by Chandler restating his position in greater detail. Even though Chandler thus gets two bites at the cherry, I find his arguments totally unconvincing - he really doesn't understand the EU, which from his description appears to be a power-hungry monster straight from the pages of the Daily Mail - and Chandler is supposedly a leftie! I agree with almost everything Bose says about the international intervention's sucesses and failures; he also has some trenchant criticisms of my own employers' output from the period before I worked for them.

The next section includes a very good article by Dominik Zaum on how the payment bureaux were abolished; a sightly too short assessment by Gemma Collantes Celador about police reform; and a rather too long piece by Daniela Heimerl on refugee return, which didn't advance my knowledge beyond when I last looked at the issue in December 2002.

Then a rather fascinating bunch of four papers. The first, by Vanessa Pupavac, looked at international gender policies in Bosnia - normally a topic that doesn't excite me much, but she had some very interesting analysis of two very specific and rather different sub-topics, the gender provisions in the electoral law and the provision of micro-financial assistance to female entrepreneurs. Unfortunately her conclusion was basically just to say that it's all very complicated, but it was interesting to get there. The next, by Adam Fagan, was even more interesting, challenging received wisdom on NGOs and civil society development in general and in the Bosnian context in particular; again, I could have wished for more meat in the conclusion, but I liked it.

Then Florian Bieber has a compare and contrast exercise on Brčko and Mostar, given the heightened but different levels of international engagement in both towns. I agree with his conclusion that the more intrusive regime in Brčko, rather than the policy followed in Mostar of well-meaning rhetoric followed by humiliating concessions to local warlords, was more successful for precisely that reason, but blinked a bit at one or two inaccuracies. Even more so with Roberto Belloni's article on refugee return in Prijedor, a place I used to know pretty well, where I found myself alternately nodding firmly in agreement and wincing at misprints - the letters č and š written as c and s, but ć remaining ć, and Kozarac, the small town at the centre of the narrative, acquiring an extra diacritical mark to become Kožarac. I'd still like to know more about the precise circumstances in the local political micro-climate of Prijedor that made it such a success - obviously the former local police chief getting shot dead while resisting arrest by British troops in July 1997 improved matters immensely (not a statement I make lightly), but there must have been more to it than that.

Michael Pugh's article on the political economy of Bosnia was so full of jargon that it became utterly incomprehensible, and I skipped it. The final essay, by Richard Caplan, takes a fair look at the international actors present in Bosnia and their relative lack of accountability, and then actually makes policy recommendations. Most of these are fair enough, though I would have a minor concern that creating new mechanisms for accountability might actually entrench the international actors who should be planning for their own withering away.

Didn't have to pay for this - it arrived somehow on my desk at work - but I think it's pretty good.