January 16th, 2021

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Whoniversaries 16 January: Peter Butterworth, Romans #1, Terror of Autons #3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

i) births and deaths

16 January 1979: death of Peter Butterworth, who played the Meddling Monk in The Time Meddler (1965) and The Daleks' Master Plan (1966)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

16 January 1965: broadcast of "The Slave Traders", the first episode of the story we now call The Romans. The Tardis crew are relaxing in a Roman villa. The Doctor and Vicki decide to walk to Rome, and the Doctor takes on the identity of a murdered musician. Barbara and Ian are captured by slavers.

16 January 1971: broadcast of third episode of Terror of the Autons. Plastic daffodils are programmed to asphyxiate people all over Britain, and the Doctor is attacked by his telephone cable.

16 January 2008: broadcast of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starting the second season of Torchwood. This is the one with James Marsters appearing as Captain John Hart; the team prevent him from destroying Cardiff and he disappears remarking that he has 'found Gray'.

16 January 2012: broadcast of first episode of K9’s Question Time, a segment of Stargazing Live. Here are the first three episodes.
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Aliens (1986)

Aliens won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1987, beating in order Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Fly, Little Shop of Horrors and Labyrinth, in that order - a year when all the contenders were cinematic. Weirdly, I'm not entirely sure that I have seen Star Trek IV; I have definitely seen Little Shop of Horrors though. IMDB users rate Aliens ahead of the other contenders, top of the year on one ranking and fourth on the other. I'd certainly rate it ahead of Little Shop.

Two returnees from Hugo or Oscar-winning films. Most obviously, Sigourney Weaver is back from Alien as Ellen Ripley, having also briefly appeared at the end of Annie Hall as Woody Allen's latest girlfriend.


And Alan Polonsky, the unnamed insurance attorney in an early scene in Aliens, apparently played Paxton in Chariots of Fire; but I have been unable to work out who Paxton is in the earlier film. Here he is in Aliens.

This film does only one thing, but it does it very very well for two hours and seventeen minutes. It's not quite as good as the original - few sequels are - but the whole thing comes together on a single trajectory to a very gratifying conclusion. It looks good, it sounds good, and it very nearly smells appropriately disgusting. I'm not a big fan of military fiction in general, or of MilSF in particular, so I find the early scenes of the marines getting it together irritating rather than entertaining. But then their discipline and experience turn out to be worth very little against the implacable xenomorphs. In case you have forgotten about it, here's the trailer.

A lot has been made of the film's approach to womanhood and motherhood. Others have gone into this in greater detail, for instance here. I must say I haven't given it a great deal of conscious thought, but the resonances certainly enhance the viewing experience, compared to the average action/horror film where the heroic men protect the wimminfolk. I have watched very few horror films, and not read a lot of the genre; the best counterpart I can think of where the horror is continually ratcheted up until almost the final page is H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. The final sequence in particular is a masterpiece of tension.

I'm putting this in my top ten Hugo-winning films. There's not a lot more to write about it - as I said, it only does one thing - but I'm putting it ahead of The Empire Strikes Back and behind Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Next in this sequence: The Princess Bride.
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Two Thirteenth Doctor comics by women: A New Beginning and Hidden Human History

The creators of Doctor Who comics were for a long time the most male of the various parts of the Whoniverse. I noted in a history of the 1964-79 strips that the first mention of women in a creative capacity was on page 570 of a 603-page book, on work done in the 1990s. The first woman credited in the main Doctor Who Magazine comics series was Annie Halfacree (now Annie Parkhouse), who did lettering for the Sixth Doctor strips starting in 1984. The first woman to write a Doctor Who comic appears to have been Kate Orman, with a Third Doctor adventure, "Change of Mind", published in Doctor Who Magazine in 1994. Her novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, published the previous year, was the first original Doctor Who novel by a woman.

By contrast, the first show-runner of the TV show was a woman, Verity Lambert, the first woman director was Paddy Russell for the 1966 story we now call The Massacre, and the first credited woman writer was Leslie Scott, for the following story which we now call The Ark - though it is disputed as to whether she actually worked on the script, whose other credited writer was her husband Paul Erickson. The next credited woman, adn the first with a solo credit, to write for the TV show was Barbara Clegg, for Enlightenment in 1983, and nobody disputes that. (She will turn 95 this year.)

(I did a complete roundup of women who had written for Who in 2012; if I updated it now, I think the list would be a good deal longer. NB that a couple of earlier stories which I classified there as comics are more properly described as illustrated prose.)

Anyway, it's not exactly premature and entirely appropriate that Titan have commissioned an all-woman team for their current run of Thirteenth Doctor comics, written by Jody Houser with art by Rachael Stott, Roberta Ingranata, Giorgia Sposito and Enrica Aren Angiolini. I have not seen the publishers make a big thing about this, but the connoisseur will spot it quickly if they don't already know, and the casual buyer probably won't care.

Second frame of third part of A New Beginning:

The art in both books is gorgeous, and the brisk and charming script captures the nuances of the four lead characters rather well, especially Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. The story of A New Beginning is frankly a bit dull. It follows on from incidents in earlier Titan comics which I haven't read, with the TARDIS crew pursing a mysterious portal from which a hand emerges, beckoning. We get from A to B to C with some time-travelling incidental characters. More or less satisfying, but not very deep. I wondereed if the team's creativity was a bit stifled by having to round off an existing platline. Anyway, you can get it here.

Second frame of the third part of Hidden Human History:

The second volume, on the other hand, I thought a lot better. The companions are given a bit more inner life than usual, as it turns out that they are all fans of a podcast about obscure historical events (which sound plausible, though I have not checked to see how many of them are real). The alien enemy becomes humanised through contact with the Doctor, and we end up with a story where everyone wins, told across a set of neatly portrayed historical scenes. To be honest, I'd recommend starting with this one. You can get it here.

These both bubbled successively to the top of my pile of unread comics in English, one towards the end of last month and the other earlier this month, so I'm giving this post two bookblog year tags. The next is volume 3 in the series, Old Friends.