November 2nd, 2013

doctor who

50 years of Who: 1998


Kursaal (8)
Option Lock (8)
Longest Day (8)
Legacy of the Daleks (8)
Dreamstone Moon (8)
Seeing I (8)
Placebo Effect (8)
Vanderdeken's Children (8)
The Scarlet Empress (8)
The Janus Conjunction (8)
Beltempest (8)
The Face of the Enemy (3, sort of)
Eye of Heaven (4)
The Witch Hunters (1)
The Hollow Men (7)
Catastrophea (3)
Mission: Impractical (6)
Zeta Major (5)
Dreams of Empire (2)
Last Man Running (4)
Matrix (7)
The Infinity Doctors (?)
Short Trips
Perfect Timing
Tempest  (Benny)
Walking to Babylon (Benny)
Oblivion  (Benny)
The Medusa Effect (Benny)
Dry Pilgrimage  (Benny)
The Sword of Forever  (Benny)
Another Girl, Another Planet (Benny)
Beige Planet Mars  (Benny)
Where Angels Fear  (Benny)

Bernice Summerfield: Oh No It Isn't!
Bernice Summerfield: Beyond the Sun
Bernice Summerfield: Walking to Babylon

The first Who from 1998 that I encountered: I bought Walking to Babylon on a whim in 2002. I had no idea about Bernice Summerfield and didn't spot that the People were meant to be the Culture, but I enjoyed it anyway.

My favourite Who from 1998: Eye of Heaven, an excellent Leela novel. This is a good year for the Past Doctor Adventures generally (including the squeetastic The Face of the Enemy). I also liked the first Bernice audios from Big Finish,

Moving swiftly on from: Genocide was the first Eighth Doctor Adventure that I read, and I was underwhelmed.

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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Links I found interesting for 02-11-2013


October Books 17) The History of the Hobbit vol 2: Return to Bag-End, by John Rateliff

This isn't so much a second volume as a second half of Rateliff's book; the first numbered page is 469! So the two really need to be read as a single unit. Having recovered from this discovery, I still enjoyed the detail on Tolkien's construction of the original text of The Hobbit, the subsequent revisions to bring the Gollum episode and other elements better in line with The Lord of the Rings, and finally his abandonment of an attempt to rewrite the entire thing to get rid of some of the continuity errors (eg, what did the dwarves do with their musical instruments after they played them in Bag End?) at the behest of an unnamed female friend who persuaded him to let the text be.

Rateliff incudes more nuggets of analysis of the story's roots in literature and in Tolkien's other writing, in which the Father Christmas Letters, written around the same time, are a prominent source. The best bits were in the first volume, but I did find it interesting to note that Tolkien drew more illustrations of Smaug than of any other character in his legendarium, and Rateliff teases out Tolien's fascination with dragons from the first thing he could recall ever writing, as a small child, through Beowulf and the early versions of what was to become the Silmarillion, to Smaug. There's also an interesting reflection on whether the Arkenstone is a Silmaril: it is, and at the same time it isn't, and the fact that we ask the question at all says interesting things about concepts of canonicity.

The two volumes are really for completists only, but strongly recommended for them.

October Books 18) The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple

I had been disappointed with the first book I had read about India by Dalrymple, but this is a much more interesting historical narrative about the war of 1857. Dalrymple has two main characters in his tale: the eponymous last Moghul Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who unintentionally found himself at the head of an anti-colonial movement that shook the British Empire to its core, and the city of Delhi itself, which was forever changed by the conflict, its human inhabitants expelled and much of its architecture mutilated.

To an extent, one bloody conflict is very like another, but there were some striking points in the narrative. First off, that the British came very close to losing, several times; had the Indians been just a little better organised, they could have taken the besieging British force from the rear at their leisure, or indeed crushed them when they finally entered Delhi at the end of the siege. This would have needed better leadership than Bahadur Shah Zafar and his sons were able to provide; but not very much better. My father always used to say that armies in general are so badly run that it is fortunate that they usually only have to fight other armies, which tend to have exactly the same problems.

Second, it was very interesting to see how a complex ethnic conflict, with Muslims and Hindus on both sides, became simplified by British commentators in the immediate aftermath as a matter of European civilisation versus Islamic extremism. There were indeed Islamic extremists, Wahhabists even, associated with Bahadur Shah Zafar; they arrived late and were ineffective and indisciplined, except to an extent in intimidating their own potential allies. But their presence was used as justification for the brutality of the British response, and as the basis for the Western interpretation of the war. Dalrymple doesn't over-egg the comparison with more recent events, but he really doesn't have to.

Third, knowing very little about Delhi and its history, I could still share Dalrymple's grief at the destruction of the old, mixed, liberal, cultural, educated city, a choice partly brought about by the conduct of the insurgent forces but mainly by deliberate choice of the victorious British. It may not be too much to say that the conflicts of ninety years later, and after, had their roots in the sack of Delhi in 1857. A more dignified outcome then could have made for a better transition all round subsequently.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this.