October 13th, 2013

doctor who

50 years of Who: 1978


The Invasion of Time
The Ribos Operation
The Pirate Planet
The Stones of Blood
The Androids of Tara
The Power of Kroll (first 2 episodes)

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil (4)
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock (4)
Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen (2)
Doctor Who and the Time Warrior (3)
Doctor Who - Death to the Daleks (3)
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion (4)
Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment (4)
1979 Doctor Who Annual (4)
Terry Nation's Dalek Annual 1979

The first Who from 1978 that I encountered: I definitely watched Underworld on first broadcast, starting 7 January. At least after that the only way was up...

My favourite Who from 1978: It's a very difficult choice between the end of episode 4 of The Invasion of Time, one of the best twists in the history of the show, and the opening scenes of The Ribos Operation, with the fantastic banter between Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. The latter is of course the better story by far.

Moving swiftly on from: Underworld, especially the appalling CGI.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

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October Books 6) Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber

Norman Saylor was not the sort of man to go prying into his wife's dressing room. That was partly the reason why he did it.
Oh dear.

Oh dear.

There are things that Conjure Wife does tolerably well. Set in a New England college in the 1930s, it can be seen as in some ways a taproot text for future campus horror stories; the climax where Saylor attempts to rescue his wife's soul is well-paced and gripping; there are some very effective descriptive passages. But these cannot excuse the fact of the central premise of the book: all women are, in fact, clandestine witches, and keeping it secret from us men (and from each other to an extent). The mind boggles; I guess the kindest thing to say is that the genre has come some way since 1943.


Miserable weather outside, yet I find it strangely comforting to be indoors listening to the rain rattling against the windows. The fact is that Belfast, where I grew up, is pretty wet. Comparing its average weather with that of my wife's home city, I see that Belfast comes out as wetter for every month but April and May, where they are the same. Belfast is particularly wet in October, so I guess rain at this time of year is especially nostalgic for me.

People complain about the rain in Belgium too; Brussels is indeed wetter than Belfast in April, May and June, but otherwise Belfast wins - and even in April, May and June, Belfast has more rainy days; more ongoing drizzle and damp than short sharp showers.

I am a bit sceptical about the numbers given for average sunshine hours per day in each month, especially for December. I can just about believe that Brussels gets 5. It seems a bit harsh to say that Belfast gets none. And it is physically impossible that Birmingham should get 11!

October Books 7) The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

But as for the old structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its boards, shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and meanest part of its reality. So much of mankind's varied experience had passed there,—so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed,—that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.
When I was about six, I remember a family trip to Salem, MA, where apart from the various witchy stuff we were encouraged to look at the House of Seven Gables. I'm not a huge architecture fan now, and I definitely wasn't then, and I was left a bit confused as to what a gable actually was, and very confused as to why it should matter. Forty years later, I am now tolerably certain of what a gable is, but just as unsure as to why the House of Seven Gables matters. I thoroughly bounced off The Scarlet Letter a few years back, and I did not find The House of Seven Gables any better. To be honest it lost me in the second chapter, where the author attempts to engage our sympathy for poor Hepzibah, whose unearned income has dwindled to the extent that she must, horror of horrors, face the awful humiliation of opening a shop. Apparently H.P. Lovecraft was inspired by Hawthorne's luridly over-written style, and the hints of supernatural operation across the generations that form background colour to the story; if so, I think Lovecraft did it better, and certainly more subtly (not an adverb often used of Lovecraft). But the characters are dull and stereotypical, the narrative both meandering and predictable, and the whole thing just not worth reading.

October Books 8) The Far Side Of The World, by Patrick O'Brian

'These youngsters think too much of their ease,' said Jack. 'They are nothing but a parcel of helots.'
'Pray have helots a particular nautical signification, like dogs, mice, fishes and so on?' asked Stephen.
'Oh no, just the ordinary sense of idle young devils, you know - limbs of Satan. I must stir them up, and make their lives a misery.'
This is more like it. I was vaguely under the impression that this came next in the series after Desolation Island; it doesn't (there are another four in between), but it doesn't really matter. The plot as such is pretty minimal - Aubrey is sent to pursue an American ship in the South Atlantic and the Pacific, with a dramatic denouement - but there's a lovely comforting amount of social, historical and geographical detail through which we navigate, including a thrilling passage where our heroes are captured by Polynesian warrior women. There's a brilliant bit about the difference in working cultures between warships and whalers, which may perhaps be O'Brian's response to Melville fans. My one complaint is that my copy of the book is missing pages 183-214, so I had to check Wikipedia to discover the end of the subplot involving the aging midshipman and the gunner's wife. But I'll look out for more of these, not as a top priority but as a very pleasant read.

October Books 9) Returning My Sister's Face, by Eugie Foster

When I was a little girl, I thought my mother’s name was Yuki, which means snow. That was part of her name, but I didn’t learn the rest of it until the night my father died.
I've known Eugie Foster online for maybe ten years now, but shamefully haven't read much of her actual work, apart from her Nebula-winning story "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast". Eugie has had some bad news recently, and so I have done as she suggested and got the ebooks of her two collections, Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice and Mortal Clay, Stone Heart and Other Stories in Shades of Black and White. Judging by the first of these, I warmly recommend that you do the same.

Returning My Sister’s Face is a collection retelling various Chinese, Japanese and Korean folk stories - legends, ghost stories, what you will - in contemporary idiom and often with a slightly different take, at least according to the (very helpful) afterwords for each story. This isn't a part of the world whose cultures I know much about, but there is a certain universality of narratives of love, family, betrayal and the blurred boundary between human, animal and spirit. I was particularly struck by her two different takes on the Yuki-onna legend, bringing some agency to this enigmatic figure. In one or two cases I did feel a chime of familiarity - "The Raven's Brocade" (from the Japanese original about a crane) is not far from European animal wives, though with some unfamiliar twists. But mostly these were insights into a new legendarium for me, lucidly and passionately told.

October Books 10) Warchild, by Andrew Cartmel

Roz stared out and saw it on the door step.
The white dog.
I see that I gave very high praise to the previous Cartmel novel in the New Adventures series. I was not as convinced by this one; I kept feeling that I had forgotten important bits of continuity, and the plot seemed to be trying to merge high-school supernatural, spy stories and possessed-animal-horror without the same success that Buffy had; while from the Whovian end, the Doctor and companions didn't really have all that much to do with events. I did develop an interest in the emotional journeys of the main guest character and his son, but was generally a little disappointed.