November 17th, 2013

doctor who

50 years of Who: 2013

It's the end - but the moment has been prepared for!


Collapse )

The first Who from 2013 that I encountered: Not the best of starts with Eoin Colfer's short First Doctor story, A Big Hand for the Doctor, published in January.

My favourite Who from 2013: Perhaps you'd better ask me a week from now, or on Christmas Day. I've enjoyed it all, but I admit that I had a particular grin for The Night of the Doctor when it came out last Thursday. There have been some decent books too, including Alastair Reynolds' The Harvest of Time, and I'm way behind on audios (and even further behind on writing them up), but must commend The Auntie Matter and the anniversary special The Light At The End.

Moving swiftly on from: After A Big Hand for the Doctor, the only way was up.

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

In conclusion: Doing these posts has been quite hard work, but also good fun. I hope you've enjoyed them too - I've certainly appreciated and enjoyed your comments - and maybe they have inspired you to seek out some Who that you might not have previously thought of. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to do the comics as well; maybe I can bring them in in ten years' time...

Someone asked me the other weekend if I had a favourite year. I have several. The first three Tom Baker years, 1975, 1976 and 1977 for television; 1995 and 1996 for the Virgin books; 2002-03, and later 2010-11, for Big Finish; 2007 and 2008 for everything.

I'm updating all of the posts in this series with a full set of links to each entry - as first posted on my own LJ, rather than the reflections to the doctorwho or who_at_50 communities. Feel free to browse back!

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

November Books 2) The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I, by Stephen Alford

More reading for me in my slowly progressing Tudor history project, this is a study of how the leadership of the English government maintained an intelligence service to protect the realm, in particular the Cecils and Sir Francis Walsingham. I'll say up front that I had a couple of disappointments - there is very little about Ireland, and I'd hoped for at least a passing mention of John Bossy's Giordano Bruno theory and didn't get one. But I was very satisfied with the overall detailed picture of the Queen's advisors, determined to preserve her rule at all costs, much more ruthless than she would have been (as witness her dithering over the execution of Mary Queen of Scots) and also somewhat more anti-Catholic.

It's easy to overlook two very important facts about the historical situation: first, that nobody knew that Elizabeth would live to 1603, and the uncertainty about her succession, which she deliberately fostered to some extent, was profoundly destabilising to those who wanted to think ahead to the next reign; and second, that information just did not really flow between countries - there were no newspapers, statesmen did not give interviews, official communications between rulers and magnates had to be supplemented by intelligence gathered by agents in important centres abroad. One of the tools of statecraft therefore was to have a widespread network of contacts, who would demand regular payment in return for information; this still happens today, of course, but unlike today there was almost no OSINT to check the HUMINT against. Another important point is that most of the information was channeled to the principals directly, and never shown to anyone else except, if really necessary, the Queen.

Given these two factors, Alford makes it almost uncontroversial, though of course potentially very dangerous, that Walsingham essentially framed Mary Queen of Scots for execution through the Babington Plot; although Babington himself, who was only 24, was clearly a rather slender reed for the restoration of Catholicism, Mary was an ever present temptation for someone more competent while she lived. Walsingham and Cecil were ruthless, but they had seen the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and indeed had perpetrated plenty of sectarian violence themselves; they knew perfectly well what awaited them in the event of a further change of official ideology. Elizabethan England, providing security at home for economic stability and some encouragement of culture, at the cost of repression of the surviving loyalists to the former regime and paranoia about their foreign allies, seems not so very different from Pinochet's Chile, or the less corrupt Eastern European countries under Communism.

I guess that most of the Irish records of the period were destroyed in 1922 (there's an sf story to be written about some future archivist time-travelling back to rescue documents from the explosives) but I can speculate that it was more difficult for Irish viceroys to set up such a system. They tended to serve only a few years, and had much less time to build networks of personal contacts - indeed, Cecil back in London had his own sources, and Irish chieftains often used their own personal channels to communicate with the Queen over the head of the Dublin administration. Part of the English problem in Ireland was simply not understanding what was going on. Of course, whether that has really improved in the last four centuries is a different matter...

November Books 3) Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction, by Michael White

For me as teenage reader, the Foundation trilogy was one of my gateways to science fiction, and I later read various of Asimov's other works (some written up here and here, but also including some of his non-fiction and detective stories); I don't think he produced much sf of note after his initial burst of creativity, and particularly dislike The Gods Themselves. I vaguely hoped that this would provide me with a decent glimpse into Asimov's mind, but it's basically a pretty pedestrian biography, not probing very deeply into what Asimov thought he was doing, why he was doing it, or why it worked; he wrote this book, married these women, had affairs with these other women, got lots of money and hated flying. It's not quite as disappointing in terms of wasted effort as that Heinlein biog from a couple of years ago (did its second volume ever appear?), but this is really not the way to do it. I gave the book away to the TAFF fund auction at Novacon, and I hope the person who bought it enjoys it more than I did.

The author claims to have been a member of the Thompson Twins, though this is not easy to verify from websites actually about the Thompson Twins. (On further examination, he and his girlfriend did play with them for a few months in 1982; she lasted longer, but fell harder when they gave her the push.)

November Books 4) Reading the Oxford English Dictionary, by Ammon Shea

There seems to be a bit of a trend of books about people doing pointless things (eg How To Sharpen Pencils); this is a harmless addition to the sub-genre. I'm sympathetic to people who set themselves mildly absurd reading projects, I'm sympathetic to people who suddenly discover that their eyesight is not quite as good as they thought, I'm sympathetic to philology and the derivations of words, and this book ticks all those boxes without stretching the reader very far. The 26 chapters each have a chapeau of a few pages of narrative about the reading process, or about Shea's earlier life, or (not as much as I'd like) about how the OED itself came to be, followed by a few quirky words. I was a bit surprised that "moreish" is considered quirky - I think of it as pretty mainstream. But there you go; perhaps it's something more on this side of the Atlantic.

November Books 5) SLEEPY, by Kate Orman

A New Adventure novel featuring the Seventh Doctor with Roz, Chris and Benny as companions, landing on a planet where there are various human colonists in distress and conflicting AIs trying to restore the status quo, of which the key AI is called SLEEPY. Unfortunately the AI characters, though not physically anthropomorphic, rather pushed my "I hate cute robots" button and I couldn't really get to grips with it.