February 23rd, 2008

doctor who

Logopolis, Kinda, Snakedance

Those of you who care will have noticed that I'm working my way through classic Who in vaguely historical order; so since I finished the first three Doctors last year, I've been gradually ticking off the Tom Baker stories. The result of this has been that I am now least well versed in the Davison era, so I have been compensating a bit - Logopolis, Tom Baker's last story, ends with Davison's first though wordless appearance in the role, and Kinda and Snakedance are an interesting pairing, featuring the only returning monster of the Davison era (guest appearances in The Five Doctors aside). Also, all three stories are, in a deep sense, weird, trying to fit a lot more intellectual concepts into the Who format that usual, with varying degrees of success.

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sarahjane

The Sarah Jane Smith audios, series 2

I wasn't overwhelmed by the first series of Sarah Jane Smith audios, but the second run is brilliant. Clearly Big Finish have rather hit their stride with the various spinoff series, I Davros also being a pretty unqualified success. And as with I Davros, I reckon the Sarah Jane plays would be fairly accessible to a non-fan, perhaps even more so; the setting is contemporary, and the only heavily sfnal element is in fact Sarah's own personal history (apart from the ambiguous ending). They form a single story arc, and all of them are by David Bishop, whose novel Who Killed Kennedy I enjoyed last year, and whose Test of Nerve, from the first run of SJS audios, turned out to be rather prophetic in its tale of terrorist attack on the London Underground.

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One of the triumphs of the stories is the way in which families turn out to be important, more important than gangs of conspirators. We have Will Sullivan (played by Tom Chadbon = Duggan in City of Death) and his vanished but adored brother Harry, and the mother and daughter team of protesters, Maude and Emily, in the third story; and the revelation about Josh in the last story as well. And of course we listeners know that there is another family relationship there as Natalie is played by Elizabeth Sladen's daughter Sadie Miller.

Finally, it is a bit surprising that the same mistake was made three times of giving Sarah a Harry Sullivan-lite gormless male sidekick - Brendan in K9 and Company, Jeremy Fitzoliver in the two Third Doctor audios, and Josh in the first series of Big Finish's Sarah Jane adventures. Turning Josh into a deeper and more rounded character here was one of Bishop's best moves. Removing the twittish male side-kick altogether for the new TV series was an even better move.
earthsea

February Books 16) Matter

16) Matter, by Iain M. Banks

The latest Culture novel by Banks; speaking in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, he said that he felt he is mellowing as he gets older, and the book is strikingly domestic - I can't think of another Culture book which has such a focus on family. Here we follow the tale of three royal siblings - the sister who ran away from a primitive society to join the Culture, the older brother who is on the run believed dead in battle, and the younger brother who has accidentally become king - as the main set of plot strands. The background for much of the story is the Shell world on which the family originate, a massive nested structure of concentric spheres, more reminiscent of Ringworld than Rama but borrowing from both. I found it not a stretching but a satisfying read; the ending was abrupt, but fitted reasonably well with the accelerating pace throughout the book. If I'm nominating for next year's Hugos this will probably get a vote from me.