July 19th, 2009


July Books 24) The Plotters, by Gareth Roberts

A Doctor Who Missing Adventure novel, featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and the Gunpowder Plot. I think this is the first Who book I have actually given up on. I found the first hundred pages stylistically dull, historically stupid (James I's father was not blown up at Bannockburn, the Doctor is rather unlikely to have tried staying at monasteries in England in 1605) and really offensively anti-Catholic. I skimmed a couple of online reviews of the whole thing to see if it might be worth persevering, but I rather got the impression that it just gets stupider and more annoying. I am glad to say that Roberts' other efforts at this period (DWM comic strip "A Groatsworth of Wit" and TV story "The Shakespeare Code") are much more successful.

Edited to add, March 2012: I have given this another try, and I withdraw the judgement that the book itself is anti-Catholic, but stand by the rest.

Linkspam for 19-7-2009


The big Big Finish post

It is ten years today since Big Finish released the first of its Doctor Who audio plays, The Sirens of Time by Nicholas Briggs, which brought together Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy to defend Gallifrey against the eponymous Sirens. Since then, the main sequence of audio plays featuring the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors has reached a tally of 122 (mostly four episodes of 25-30 minutes in length); there has been a separate sequence of Eighth Doctor plays (three sets of eight two-part episodes); the first four Doctors have been brought back through the Companion Chronicles (20 so far); and there are dozens of other out-of sequence plays featuring the Doctor and spinoffs which don't. (Big Finish's own website is sometimes a bit tricky to navigate: the best listing of the complete set of stories in on Wikipedia.) By some counts, Planet of the Dead is the 200th televised Doctor Who story; Big Finish hasn't quite caught up with that total yet, but will do so in the next year or so.

With all of that material out there, Who fans who have not yet got into it may be intimidated out of making the attempt. I would strongly recommend making the experiment. But before getting into particular recommendations, it is worth considering the environment where you can listen. I happen to have a commute of a bit over an hour from home to work every day, broken into three unequal segments (home -> Leuven, Leuven -> Brussels, Brussels -> office). Having episodes of half an hour or so fits this rather well; I can switch off as the closing title music rolls, and ponder what may happen next. I also find that listening while I am exercising - variously at the gym, cycling, or on the Wii (with the TV's volume turned down) - works for me. If you don't have a space in your day of half an hour when you can switch your brain over to largely aural stimuli, however, there may not be much point in trying the Big Finish audios.

The original actors (Davison, C Baker, McCoy, McGann) usually seem to enjoy reprising their roles; likewise Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Nicola Bryant as Peri (most of her audio plays are actually with Davison rather than Baker), and the less frequently used Bonnie Langford as Mel and Mark Strickson as Turlough. Janet Fielding has returned once as Tegan but apparently will do so again for three plays next year. (I'm afraid I'm not a big fan of Sophie Aldred's acting as Ace; Adric has returned for one play as well, but not as we knew him.) Big Finish have also brought in completely new actors to play regular roles as companions. The best of these as an actor has been Maggie Stables as Professor Evelyn Smythe, who has been a super foil to Colin Baker's Doctor. I have also particularly enjoyed Caroline Morris as Egyptian princess Erimem, travelling with Five and Peri, and India Fisher as Edwardian rich girl Charlotte Pollard, travelling first with the Eighth Doctor and now, for reasons which have not been made entirely clear, with the Sixth. One crucial figure in all of this is Lisa Bowerman, who has only done a couple of Doctor Who audios as Bernice Summerfield (originally a Seventh Doctor companion from the Virgin New Adventures) but whose independent series as Benny launched the Big Finish colonisation of the audio corner of the expanded Whoniverse.

My favourites, then, of the Big Finish output are as follows:

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I hope this rather lengthy but very incomplete survey will encourage a few more people to try the Big Finish experience!

July Books 25) The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston

An interesting memoir of life as a Chinese girl growing up in California, very much concentrating on the Chinese family background and history, including untold stories, the nearness of myth and of symbolism, the alienness of the Californian environment (the "ghosts" of the title are non-Chinese people). A good read, also mercifully short.