October 19th, 2013


Links I found interesting for 19-10-2013

doctor who

50 years of Who: 1984


Warriors of the Deep
The Awakening
Resurrection of the Daleks
Planet of Fire
The Caves of Androzani
The Twin Dilemma

Doctor Who - Mawdryn Undead (5)
Doctor Who - Kinda (5)
Doctor Who - Snakedance (5)
Doctor Who - Enlightenment (5)
Doctor Who - The Dominators (2)
Doctor Who - Warriors of the Deep (5)
Doctor Who - The Aztecs (1)
Doctor Who - Inferno (3)
Doctor Who - The Highlanders (2)
Doctor Who - Frontios (5)
1985 Doctor Who Annual (6)

The first Who from 1984 that I encountered: Again, I had a clash with music lessons, but caught some of Warriors of the Deep in January. I was 16.

My favourite Who from 1984: It took me a while to come round to it, but definitely Caves of Androzani.

Moving swiftly on from: The Twin Dilemma. Deservedly last in most polls of all Who stories. (Though we are fortunate to have been spared The Prison in Space and Mission to Magnus.)

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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The missing Doctor Who episodes: some speculation

Like a lot of people, my heart leapt back in June when the original rumours of a rediscovery of many Doctor Who episodes began to circulate; circumstantial evidence began to accumulate; and then hopes were dashed by a pretty definitive statement from episode-hinter Phil Morris, followed, after speculation refused to die down, by a further denial from episode restorer Paul Vanezis.

We now know that Morris and Vanezis's statements were, basically, untrue. The latest Doctor Who magazine has interviews with both. Vanezis now says that he restored most of The Enemy of the World on 28 April and The Web of Fear on 31 May, which is rather difficult to reconcile with his comment in August that "I wasn’t directly involved in the discussions... it does appear to have been a private collector [...] who was basically time wasting". The April and May dates also mean that while Morris, who must necessarily have handed them over to Vanezis by this point, may have been technically correct to say in June that he "DOES NOT HOLD ANY MISSING EPISODES OF THE LONG RUNNING DR WHO SERIES", his further comment that "THEY ARE NOT MISSING BUT DESTROYED THE END", let alone "I will be making no more statements on this subject" are thoroughly falsified by subsequent revelations.

So where does this leave us? It means the only thing we can rely on from the episode-hunters is actual real episodes that have been recovered, rather than anything they may actually say; there is clearly an internal culture of not just discretion and stonewalling, but actual untruthfulness. There may well be very good reasons for this of which I am unaware (and I must say that just a quick glance at the episode-hunting discussion boards reveals a rather poisonous debate environment, in which I think I too would be very wary of showing my full hand, if I had one). But my conclusion is this: the rumours that there are in fact even more episodes being held somewhere will now gain credibility, rather than losing it, in the face of official denials.

(As John Cleese's character in Clockwise says, "It's not the despair - it's the hope!")

October Books 11) Mortal Clay, Stone Heart, by Eugie Foster

...some folks do indeed look at me funny when I tell them about having a pet skunk, even after I assure them that yes, he was descented.   But most people, the ones who share with me the conviction that a house isn't a home unless it's got someone four-legged and furry in it, just smile and let me ramble on.   Hobkin enriched my life and reminded me to run for the joy of it, lookit the magic all around us, and to laugh every day.
Not a quote from a story, but from one of the afterwords Eugie Foster has provided to each of the short pieces in this collection. As mentioned previously, Eugie has had some bad news recently, and I am warmly recommending 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. Whereas Returning My Sister’s Face had a generally Asian theme, Mortal Clay, Stone Heart is more general in its range, though there's a recurrent theme of stories involving cute animals (not one, but two with skunks). The linking thread, if there is any, is of variable form and substance, of emotions and sometimes betrayal; some of these stories are just vignettes of a neat idea, some are longer with twists in the tail. They're all pretty good, and you should buy it.
train, tintin, leuven

October Books 12) De Sigaren van de Farao [Cigars of the Pharaoh] by Hergé

This is generally regarded as the first "proper" Tintin book, and I had of course read it ages ago. I now realise that it shares a lot of the flaws of the generally disregarded first three, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America; there are brutal racial stereotypes, most of the story being set in Arabia and India, with the odd token African; the plot, such as it is, revolves around a rather ludicrous criminal conspiracy with a tendency to hide in well-lit and well-ventilated underground lairs (just like the Soviets did in the earlier book); and there's a rather disturbing obsession with mental illness as comic relief. One interesting point is that the villains are involved in illegal drug trafficking, specifically cocaine with hints of heroin, a theme Agatha Christie also used in Evil Under the Sun a few years later. Another is the self-reference - an Arab chieftain greets Tintin by showing him a copy of Tintin in the Congo which he has acquired (more recent editions paste in instead the cover of Destination Moon, which actually comes later in the sequence). Basically not really as good as I had remembered, alas.
doctor who

The Enemy of the World

It's so very weird to think that less than a month ago, I was reading Barry Letts' reminiscences of why The Enemy of the World wasn't as good as he would have like it to be, reflecting on Phil Sandifer's championing of it as the best story done thus far, and regretting that I'd never be able to know for sure. I had the audio, I've watched the reconstruction, I have read Ian Marter's adequate novelisation, and these are all OK faute de mieux. But now we have all six episodes restored, in decent quality, for our delectation and delight, and we can decide for ourselves whether to believe Letts, who directed the story, or Sandifer, who was born almost fifteen years after the only time it was ever shown on British TV and like me had never watched any beyond the surviving third episode.

And Sandifer is right. This is a true gem to have uncovered. The two particular set-piece scenes that I had really hoped would work - Salamander entering his secret underground lair, and the confrontation between Salamander and the Doctor at the end of the story - more than lived up to my expectations. (Letts is particularly regretful about the latter in his memoirs, and there is perhaps an element of haste about it, but it is still pretty damn good.) More than that, this is a superb performance by Patrick Troughton, as two very different characters, each of which at various time pretends to be the other - I am a sucker for these blurred-identity yarns anyway, but Troughton takes this to a level that is not managed in any other Doctor-meets-his-double story.

Most of the rest is great too - Carmen Munro plays Fariah, possibly the most interesting non-white woman in the whole of Old Who (not a lot of competition - Ping-Cho and Shou Yuing are the only others who come to mind); the other cast are good too, both the above-grounders and the undergrounders; and even the third episode stands up way better in full context, with the comic Australian chef not quite so out of place when we know more about his environment. It's a story that has generally been a bit overlooked, as the only one of Season 5, the Monster Season, that lacked actual monsters; that will change now, as fannish wisdom adjusts to the newly revealed reality.

October Books 13) The Slow Empire, by Dave Stone

You have no doubt heard the stories of this magnificent, illustrious and quite obdurately enigmatic personage and wondered if they can by any way be true. Well, as a close acquaintance and valued confidant of the man in question, I am here to tell you that each and every one is as true as the day is long on Drasebela XIV, a place where – as even the most ignorant and parochial know – the sun and thirteen rather extraordinarily luminous planets never set. Except, of course, for those stories that aren’t. But then, there’s no helping those.
The last novel I read by Stone was the mildly comic New Adverture, Sky Pirates! which worked for me slightly against my instincts. The same was true of The Slow Empire, where there is a comically pompous narrator but a real evil empire to fight and destroy, lots of stuff for the Doctor and companions Fitz and Anji, and some genuinely novel riffs on traditional sf and Who tropes. The latest in a run of good Eighth Doctor Adventures.

October Books 14) The Flood, by Ian Rankin

'Another refill is needed, I believe. I hope you are a good listener, Iain. This is not the most pleasant of stories.'
This is the first book Ian Rankin wrote, and the last one left unread on my shelves; it therefore marks the end of a reading project that I began four years ago. There isn't really a mystery here - it's just a story of adolescence and twisted family dynamics in small-town Fife, with both long-buried and more recent sexual secrets taking their toll on those who have to keep them. I actually found the resolution a bit too easy, but the rest of it shows a great story-teller in the making.