Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fill My Eyes With That Double Vision

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 4.01

Title: The Android Invasion
Written by: Terry Nation
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith
Adversary: The Kraals
Originally Aired: November 22-December 13, 1975
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah find themselves in the English village of Devesham near a Space Defence Station. The village seems deserted, the telephones don't work, calendars are stuck on the same date and white-suited figures are wandering about aimlessly. Who are the Kraals and what are their plans for Earth?

My Review:

How did I not know this was written by Terry ****ing Nation???? Learning new things every day, I guess. But that means that I've reviewed two Terry Nation stories for this project - but none of his Dalek stuff.  Let me take a moment to allow myself a bit of a giggle over that.

Okay... giggle over.

Before I started this project, I made up the list of stories I wanted to review.  Every time I thought of a story to include for most of the Doctors, this was me:

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But when it came time for me to pick stories to review for Tom Baker, this was me:

...because I seriously have no idea what Fourth Doctor stories are the ones that don't get much attention - or undue negative attention.  As far as I can tell, anything in which the scarf makes an appearance is treated like the Second Coming (which still doesn't quite explain the fanboy glee over "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," but never mind).  Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the Fourth Doctor's stories fairly well.  But in my quest to give love and praise to some unloved and unpraised stories, I felt like I'd hit a wall with this era.  So, I did what anyone presented with such a problem would do. I brought in the experts, which in this case turned out to be my friends Shaun and Glenn from Traveling the Vortex (I'm sure Keith would have helped too, if he wasn't in the same relative-newbie boat that I'm in). They both gave me great feedback to work with, for which I am very appreciative. And because of their feedback, this section of Librarian in the TARDIS is going to take a slightly different route, but no less interesting and fun (I hope).  I am very appreciative of their help and I really hope I do this era justice in their eyes.

When I got their collective lists and I saw that “The Android Invasion” was included, I was floored! Mostly because when I saw this story, I was quite taken with it.  I didn't think that it would be lesser-regarded (or maybe it’s just that other stories - “Pyramids of Mars,” “Genesis of the Daleks,” “The Ark in Space” - get more attention).  But it’s one that I quite liked.  At the time of my first viewing, I really didn't think too much of why I enjoyed it.  But on this go-round, where I’m requiring myself to be more critical, I've come up with several reasons:

Sarah Jane Smith: I was really glad that this story was suggested to me because I would not have been happy if I couldn't gush over Sarah Jane at least once during this blogging project.  Anything with Sarah Jane is gold.  From my first introduction of her in “School Reunion,” I could not help but think “She is a very special lady.”  Not just to the Doctor, but to fandom in general.  You ever meet someone in person or see someone on TV and immediately like them?  Not necessarily because of any special talent or flamboyant nature, but because you think it would be a treat to just sit down and talk with them over lunch?  For me, Elisabeth Sladen was one of those people.  I never met her, though heaven knows I would have been very honored to do so had I been given the opportunity.  And she probably would have been gracious and sweet and humble about it.  Now that I've seen more Tom Baker stories, I've come to the conclusion that he was at his very best when Sarah Jane was at his side.  He seemed to lose a certain shine when she left (personally, I think the reason “The Deadly Assassin” has no companion in it was because Sarah Jane left an indelible mark and they needed some time to reset things before the Doctor got a new companion).

Something I loved about The Fourth Doctor Revisited special BBC America showed in April was how they highlighted that Sarah Jane was the Doctor’s best friend.  I think David Tennant was the one who said that Sarah was the companion who was on equal footing and would do anything for the Doctor.  Hell, she saves his life twice in Episode 3! And she's the one who rigs up the electric trap for the guard so she can escape and get the Doctor out of the disorientation chamber (I think that's what that is).  While Sarah Jane would do anything for the Doctor, she also doesn't take any of his crap.  He teases her, she teases right back.  And they're marvelous to watch - they’re almost like a brother-sister relationship.  No slight meant against Leela or Romana, but it feels natural and right that Sarah Jane and the Fourth Doctor be together.

Turning UNIT On Its Head: I suppose one reason "The Android Invasion" doesn't fare so well with fans is that it feels like the last, pitiful gasp for UNIT.  While that argument is valid, I like to take a different approach here.  I feel like there is a distinct desire to do something slightly unexpected with UNIT - not unlike the alternate-universe!UNIT in "Inferno" (which seems to be a fan-favorite - and with good reason).  But it's like they wanted to bring that alternate-universe home to the real world - like they brought Pete's World Cybermen through the Void in the new series.  So, let’s create a village straight out of “The Twilight Zone” where everyone is an android controlled by an alien invasion force and - just for kicks - we’ll throw in some of the UNIT guys to be androids too!  It’s a fascinating concept - especially since the Doctor and Sarah Jane don’t know what’s really going on for the better part of two episodes.  But they see their friends and think “Okay - things are going to be okay!” and, nope - they’re really not.  Because these guys really aren’t their friends.  They’ve just “borrowed” their friends’ likenesses (without permission, I might add).

You Just Crossed Over Into...: I LOVE that the story opens with the mystery of the deserted village and all the strange things that the Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter in the first two episodes (and they don't get properly solved until Episode 3).  I'm not as big of an aficionado of The Twilight Zone, but it's something very much fixed in my consciousness (Dad watches the marathons every New Years - I'm still trying to convince him the Doctor Who is right up his alley... not having much luck...) and I can't help but be reminded of the tropes that Rod Serling used to scare the shit out of my parents when they were kids (hell, I get scared by this stuff.  Probably why I love the atmosphere of black-and-white Who).

The Kraals: On the surface, these guys look like Sontarans that got left out in the sun too long.  And considering all the iconic* villains the Fourth Doctor encounters in his time (Sutekh, Scaroth, Davros, the Wirrn, Morbius, the Zygons, Chancellor Goth, that giant rat in the London sewers - okay, now I’m just poking the fanboy bear), the Kraals could easily get lost in the shuffle.  Let’s face it - Four has a ton of one-off villains and it’s hard to keep track of them all. But I like the Kraals.  They’re kind of a butt-monkey villain - but they still possess some style.  Not the least of which is convincing Crayford that he’s lost his eye and doing it so well that not once does he ever lift up that eyepatch just to look at the scar (I took to calling it the “Hipster Eyepatch” while I was rewatching this - and now that I think of it, maybe it’s a nod to “Inferno.” Sure, we’ll go with that.  As is often said on Tumblr: “Headcanon Accepted”).

(Can't resist including a little '70s rock for this next one - yeah, it's a little bit after "The Android Invasion," but it still works)

Playing for Two: I LOVE the android doubles!  Anytime a show can get away with having one actor play two parts and those parts be on screen simultaneously is really cool to me.  I couldn't begin to tell you why, but I like it.  I think I like seeing the range that an actor can pull off.  I mean, Harry and Benton's android doubles were trippy enough, but Sarah Jane pull a gun on the Doctor was the world's biggest double-take/whiplash ever!  By episode four, you know what's going on with the invasion force and you have to work to keep track what side everyone is on.  Which is why the Doctor android getting shot at the end was such a kick in the head - for a moment, you think that the Doctor actually has been shot!  But no, the real Doctor reprogrammed the android to act like the real Doctor and that threw everyone - including poor Sarah Jane - for a loop.  The trope is used to great effect in this story and that adds to its likability.

All in all, "The Android Invasion" is a wonderful character piece for Sarah Jane and the Doctor.  They have to depend on each other in this story - there's no one else they can turn to for help (until Episode 4).  The villain is a little goofy, but still enjoyable.  The plot is something new and refreshing for Doctor Who (though I wonder if Terry Nation wasn't inspired - at least in part - by Rod Serling at some point.  The first two episodes are very reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone").  If you ask me, "The Android Invasion" deserves a spot on the pedestal next to "Pyramids of Mars" and "Genesis of the Daleks" (maybe "Talons" can be convinced to bump down and make a little room).

*I really hate the word "iconic." Can't we come up with another word that means about the same thing?
Previously, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 3.03 - The Doctor's Family UNIT

Next Time -
Review 4.02 - This is not cheating! But how can I resist a returning "not-companion"?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Doctor's Family UNIT

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 3.03

Title: Last of the Gaderene
Author: Mark Gatiss
Team TARDIS: Third Doctor, Jo Grant, the UNIT boys
Adversary: The Master, The Gaderene
Originally Released: January 2000
Range and Number: Past Doctor Adventures #28

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

2000 BBC Books Edition -
"My name is Bliss," said the newcomer, "and I bring great news for you all!"
The new owners of a Second World War aerodrome promise a golden dawn of prosperity for the East Anglian village of Culverton. The population rejoices - with one or two exceptions. Former Spitfire pilot Alec Whistler knows the aerodrome of old, having found a strange, jade-coloured crystal there years before...
When black-shirted troops appear on the streets, Whistler takes his suspicions to his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor and Jo are sent to investigate and soon discover that all is not well in the seemingly idyllic village.
What are the black coffin-like objects being unloaded at the aerodrome? What horror lies behind Legion International's impeccable facade? And what is the monstrous creature growing and mutating in the marsh?
As Culverton gears up for its summer fete, the Doctor finds himself involved in a race against time to prevent a massive colonisation of Earth. For the last of the Gaderene are on their way...

2013 BBC Books Edition -
The aerodrome in Culverton has new owners, and they promise an era of prosperity for the idyllic village. But former Spitfire pilot Alex Whistler is suspicious – when black-shirted troops appear on the streets, he contacts his 
old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart at UNIT. The Third Doctor is sent to investigate – and soon uncovers a sinister plot to colonise the Earth. The Gaderene are on their way...

My Review:
The last couple of Pertwee stories I’ve reviewed have departed a bit from the norm of the Third Doctor’s era. “The Curse of Peladon” - while certainly one of my favorites - don’t employ any of the usual tropes of this era. “The Last Post” involves UNIT and much of Season 7, but it’s Liz Shaw rather than Jo Grant as the companion (not to take anything away from Liz because I think she’s one of the best, even if she gets overshadowed by what comes later). But I felt good about highlighting these other aspects of this era because the book chosen to be part of the 50th Anniversary reprints for the Third Doctor has everything that the Third Doctor is associated with - this is the salad days of UNIT. In fact, this story has a distinct “The Daemons” vibe - they aren't really at UNIT HQ, everyone’s scattered around the area, the Master is playing second-fiddle to the real bad guy of the piece, but the Master is still making his presence felt (not to mention a classic Doctor-Master barb-trading session in which each insults the other’s Time Lord cred, friends and... maybe their mothers come up. I’m not too hip to Gallifreyan slang, but I think it happened in there somewhere).  Basically, if Jon Pertwee is your Doctor or if UNIT fries your bacon, you will love this story.

(Oh - and Spitfires. Can’t forget the Spitfires. I wonder if Mark Gatiss had that in mind when he wrote “Victory of the Daleks.” For me, Mark Gatiss and Spitfires go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Sort of a strange connection, but there you are).

Really, the stars of this story are the Doctor, Jo and UNIT.  There are a requisite number of one-off characters, but they only serve to make the main players look good.  Yes, you're going to say "But that's what the one-offs are supposed to do!"  Well, they did their job very well because I don't remember them very much.  But I do remember all the wonderful scenes between the Doctor and Jo, the Doctor and the Brigadier, and anything with Sergeant Benton.  Just for good measure, there's a scene where the Doctor makes his own nitrous oxide out of fertilizer, iron filings and a kitchen sink.  Definitely something I could imagine Three doing in a televised story (Jon Pertwee: The Original Mythbuster).

Not to spoil anything (oh, who am I kidding? This is a Spoiler-and-a-Half) - this may even possibly be where the Master regenerates. At least, the Master mentions that he’s going to miss this body - that it had flair and style (something along those lines). We never actually see it happen because we’re too worried if the Doctor is going to make it out of the Deadly Column of Light, but it is nice to see the Master’s regeneration alluded to in a Pertwee-era story. Particularly since Roger Delgado never did get a proper send-off in the TV show (understandably - and tragically - so). Maybe that’s just as well, and why in all the incarnations of the Master, the character may be dead and dusted, but he always manages to come back in some capacity. It’s yet to be seen if the New Series will ever bring him back again, but he has been known to return from worse... okay, maybe there’s never been anything worse than being time-locked with Gallifrey and the Time Lords... but still - he’s a wily old fellow.

To wrap up: This was a very fun story.  I enjoy UNIT immensely and I was glad that this book came into to represent that element of Doctor Who for this project since I also wanted to highlight other lesser-attended-to aspects of Three's run.  It's hard to let everyone have their say in a project like this, even though that's what I want to do.

And if I had a hard time letting all of Three's friends and villains have their moment in the sun, just think how much more difficult it's going to be in the next round? (Spoilers, sweetie!)

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 4.01 - Rod Serling Does Who (or Philip Hinchcliffe Does The Twilight Zone - take your pick)

Previously -
Review 3.02 - The Following Takes Place Between "Spearhead from Space" and "Inferno"

Thursday, May 23, 2013

RiffTrax Does Who

Yes, it's non-canonical (depending on who you ask) - but the RiffTrax guys are tackling the Peter Cushing Dalek movies from the 1960s (at least, their take on the first one is coming out this week).

No better excuse to finally get around to checking these movies out, right?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Name You Choose is a Promise You Make

Spoilers for "The Name of the Doctor."  Right after Wash "I'm a Leaf on the Wind" gets killed (oops - spoilers there).

Can I just take a moment to blow a huge, frickin' raspberry at all the dipshits who actually thought we would hear the Doctor's name?  My hell - They were never actually going to tell us his name!  How many misleading episode titles have there been in Doctor Who?  And not just with Moffat - does "The Next Doctor" ring any bells?

And then, after I'm raspberry'd out - I want all the entitled little brats in fandom who've been pissing and moaning this season to write letters of apology to Steven Moffat.  Because, frankly, most of you guys' behavior this year has been nothing short of appalling.  You've all acted like babies and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.  Dislike an episode or a story or whatever, that's fine - but there's no need for all this angst and panic and blame.  The majority of us have enjoyed this season and we don't need you all coming in to take a dump on something we love and you profess to love, but I think you really just love to criticize.  So, if you're going to continue to do that - might I ask that you take your ball of malcontent and go home?  I don't need your negative shit around here.

(Will they actually write or apologize or even act like they're ashamed?  Probably not. Because that's what little babies do. They have no shame).

Okay - my review:

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That was THE BEST DAMN EPISODE of Doctor Who the guy has ever written (yes - even better than "Blink" or "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang").  I'm not entirely convinced it wasn't the 50th Anniversary episode - it had all the Classic Doctors (either seen or heard), it added to the mythos of the Doctor - AND WE NEVER HEARD THE DOCTOR'S NAME! River said it to open the tomb, but we didn't hear her say it and in the long run - the Doctor's name wasn't important (not until... well, I'll get to that in a bit).

I did NOT want this episode to end.  Even when I knew we had to be getting close, I purposely did not check the timer on my player because I didn't want to think "GAK! Five minutes left!"  The whole thing was tightly woven, it brought in elements of things that I thought were forgotten (even clear back to River Song being saved in the Library databank).

I loved the concepts and idea behind the Doctor's tomb - that he doesn't have a body to bury, but just his timeline woven around were the TARDIS console used to be.  Because - he really wouldn't have a body.  Not one that's seen and been through everything he's seen and been through.  It's just fitting, in a way, that a Time Lord wouldn't have one body to bury because he's died so many times.  The entire idea pays homage to the Doctor's whole life - and not just certain pieces of it.  No wonder he'd have to lock up his tomb securely.  Especially considering what happens with Dr. Simeon and Clara.

And that cold open!  I thought I was going to fall over from excitement.  Clara was a Time Lady on Gallifrey and told the Doctor which TARDIS to steal (the navigation was shoddy, but it'd be more fun that way).  All her moments through the Doctor's timeline - and seeing all the Classic Doctors - but not exactly seeing them. THAT'S how you do a 50th anniversary tribute! (HOLY CRAP THERE'S SIX! AND THAT'S "DRAGONFIRE!" AND "ARC OF INFINITY" AND - AND - AND - *dies*)  And she did it to save his life.  She wouldn't have done it if she hadn't been the Doctor's companion... but she wouldn't have been the Doctor's companion if he'd never seen her in his timeline (it's the chicken-and-the-egg conundrum/paradox/thingy.  It's Doctor Who, it's time travel - I just go with it).  It's probably one of the most brilliant things I've seen in a long time.

Dear Sweet Scorby - I loved this episode to pieces!  I don't know how it could have been any better.  I can't say anything bad about it, I have no suggestions for improvement, I can't think of anything that bothers me - it all makes sense and it all falls into place and it's just... beautiful.  The acting is top-notch - not just from Matt and Jenna, but Vastra's group as well (and how River Song works right alongside everyone else as though she's been there the whole time - which, in some ways, she has).  Working Clara seamlessly into Classic Who was probably not an easy task, but I thought it looked great (mad props for getting Hartnell and Troughton in color too).  I just want to bake a plate of cookies and send them to Steven Moffat for such a flawless and exciting piece of television.

So - I've got to talk about The Huge Reveal.  Apparently, there were a few spoilers roaming around concerning John Hurt, but I didn't look at any of them, nor did I partake in any discussion.  I just left it alone and got on with my damn day.  But when Simeon rattled off the Doctor's other names - and mentioned the Valeyard (which, THANK YOU Steven Moffat for putting that one in there), I wondered if that was going to play a role later.  And... I think this is it.  I think the Moff is going to give us the Valeyard in an alternate timeline and Ten and Eleven have to put a stop to it and that's going to take care of that Continuity Snarl.

Quick check of Twitter - I'm already seeing people who "need" to rewatch this episode.  And, weirdly, I do not.  I'm going to rewatch it anyway, just to get all happy and giddy and go "HOLY SHIT!" again.  But I understood it quite well on the first go-round.  Vastra, Jenny and Strax call a meeting of the Doctor's current companions-plus-his-wife because of information concerning the Doctor's secrets, The Doctor goes to Trenzalore to save his friends from Dr. Simeon and the Whispermen, gets tricked into going into his own tomb, Dr. Simeon sneaks into the Doctor's past to screw with things, history gets rewritten so the Doctor loses all those times he was supposed to win, Clara follows Simeon into all those timelines to fix things, history's happy again, the Doctor dives in to find Clara, John Hurt is a future incarnation of the Doctor that may or may not be the Valeyard, but let's wait until November 23 to find out, mmmkay? Might have missed a few minor details that I'll pick out later, but beyond that - easy peasy.

Other Things:
- Sexy's window broke :( Someone on Tumblr pointed out that Big!Sexy still had a broken window in the same place. Which did nothing for my emotional state (I've learned that if you want to bawl your eyes out, just go to Tumblr).

- The Doctor called Angie and Artie "Little Daleks" when they ditched him in their game of Blindman's Bluff. After last week's episode, I'm inclined to agree with him.

- "I think I've just been murdered." Jenny!  JENNY! :( :( :(

- River Song got her goodbye. Dammit...

- Clara's leaf came back!  She's a leaf on the wind!

- I think Moffat broke all my feelings.

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Bottom Line: "The Name of the Doctor" was a superb finale.  It did everything we were promised, plus more.  It was a fitting conclusion to this 50th Anniversary season and a brilliant lead-in to the 50th Anniversary Special in November.  It gave everyone their due, moved the story along, and paid tribute to the past while also looking forward.


Some Housekeeping -

I found this article that questions if the doomsayers have any kind of leg to stand on.  How much moaning and bellyaching has their been on Twitter and elsewhere about this season?  How much calling for Moffat's head on a platter and heartburn over What Should Have Been?  It's driven me insane, personally.  Hence, my raspberry-blowing at the beginning of this review.  And after this episode I hope they all like the taste of crow.

And kudos to the internet for not spoiling the episode after those Blu-rays got shipped out early (heh... oops).  Because Doctor Who fans are (largely) not jackasses (at least, where spoilers hare concerned.  They're jackasses in other ways that are not the purview of this blog to enumerate, although Rassilon knows I want to) - we got this adorably charming little clip of Matt Smith and David Tennant just being... well, see for yourselves.  If this doesn't make you giddy for the 50th... I don't know what will.*

*I actually know one thing that will make people giddy for the 50th, but it's a Spoiler-With-A-Capital-S-For-Sweetie.  And I don't think it's been released through official channels - but... oh what the hell. I'm posting a link...


Of course, if you don't give a flying monkey turd about spoilers, feel free to click away (scroll down for the really good stuff) --> Link To Spoilers

(I know, right????)

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Friday, May 17, 2013

We Interrupt Reviews and Geekery to Present...

A Birthday Playlist!

Just thought I'd post some random favorite songs for my birthday.

This one's not music, but I'm going to see Star Trek: Into Darkness tonight and ItsJustSomeRandomGuy is always appropriate - for birthdays or otherwise.

And, of course, no birthday playlist would be complete without this tomfoolery -

 (I torture other people with that last one year round - it's only fair that I get similar treatment ^_^)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Following Takes Place Between "Spearhead from Space" and "Inferno"

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 3.02

Title: The Last Post
Written by: James Goss
Team TARDIS: Third Doctor, Liz Shaw, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Adversary: Daniel Prestaigne, The Apocalypse Clock
Release Date: October 2012
Range and Number: Companion Chronicles 7.04

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
People are dying. Just a few, over a period of months... but the strange thing is that each person received a letter predicting the date and time of their death.
Throughout her time as the Doctor’s assistant, Liz Shaw has been documenting these passings. Her investigation ultimately uncovers a threat that could lead to the end of the world, but this time Liz has someone to help her.
Her mother.

My Review:
One of the most grievous errors that gets made in assessing the Doctor's various companions is the short shrift given to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.  Yes, she was only there the one season. No, she never traveled in the TARDIS (thanks either to Time Lord exile or BBC budgetary issues - take your pick).  But she is one of my favorites and no discussion of the Pertwee era would be complete without remarking on her additions to the show.

Something I hadn't known until very recently was how close Doctor Who was to being canceled in 1970.  On the "Spearhead from Space" DVD, there's a documentary about this transition period for the show and they discussed how most of the BBC brass figured that Doctor Who had a good run, but six years was good enough for any show and it was time for something completely new.  But they didn't have anything in mind, so they granted Doctor Who a one-year reprieve until they could decide what to fill the slot with.  In many ways, Doctor Who gave the BBC a completely brand new show within the old one - the Doctor was stranded on Earth, UNIT became a permanent fixture, and it was in color!  And the companion? Well, the companion wasn't going to be a traditional companion.  At least, not that you could compare to what had come before (though I'm going to try to).

Liz Shaw is the scientific advisor for UNIT (at least, she is until the Doctor comes in).  She isn't this wide-eyed kid that the Doctor charms with promises of adventures in time and space because, well, he doesn't have that to offer anymore.  Liz is a very competent career woman with her own objectives and goals and scientific achievements.  Furthermore, she doesn't take crap from anybody, not even the Doctor.  She does come to trust him, however, especially in instances where she is waaaaay out of her depth (to be fair - everybody's out of their depth when shop-window dummies start attacking people or when the Silurians come out to play).  Liz is the type of companion the show hadn't seen... probably since Barbara Wright - a mature, adult woman who's got her life pretty well in order and doesn't want to do anything to upset that, but all that gets knocked askew when the Doctor comes into the picture (though obviously, Liz's experiences are drastically different than Barbara's - but the basis for both characters is remarkably similar).

Doctor Who is at its best when change is in the air.  The most obvious types of change are changes in the Doctor or companions, but that could also mean change in producers or storytelling techniques or episode format or villains.  I contend that, outside of the 2005 revival, the 1970 season was the time that Doctor Who experienced the most change.  Everything was brand new - even the adversaries (Daleks or Cybermen  never even came up, nor did any references to past companions).  It is against this backdrop "The Last Post" is set.

(Ha. Wondered how I was going to transition, didn't you?)

"The Last Post" starts out with Liz having lunch with her mother, Emily.  Right off the bat, Liz Shaw is getting the kind of treatment that I imagine she would had she been around for more than one season.  Emily Shaw (played by Rowena Cooper) is as different from her scientifically-minded daughter as it is possible to be - Dame Emily (as other characters refer to her as, and it fits perfectly) is an expert in medieval belief systems at Oxford and she doesn't give a whit about science and would much rather discuss art, poetry, mythology and superstition.  It would be so easy to say that Liz and her mother don't get along based on their different academic pursuits - but it's the exact opposite!  Emily is very proud of her daughter, even though Liz diverged from the family tradition of the arts (I call it a "family tradition" because Liz's sister, Lucy, is an architect and it's implied that most of the family has gone into artistic fields).  And Liz actually goes to her mother for help in solving a problem that seems to have its roots in the supernatural.

This story takes the idea that all the strange deaths that happened in Season 7 were loosely connected, in that the people who died were sent letters telling them the date and time they would meet their end.  I'm not as well-versed in Season 7 as I'd like to be, but in the interview included at the end of this audio, writer James Goss said that there were so many government officials who died in Season 7 of really bizarre causes and he wondered if maybe there was a reason for all of that.  The story as a whole takes place throughout the events of Season 7 and there are plenty of fun little mentions of the stories from that season (alien plastic, lizard men, missing astronauts - just to name a few).  Turns out that these officials were all on a committee to predict life expectancy - but they ended up dependent on a machine that could ultimately predict the end of the world (a machine, interestingly enough, that has its roots in WOTAN from "The War Machines" - there are some nice little nods to that story as well).

The framing device in this story - as with all the Companion Chronicles I've reviews thus far; I'm beginning to think this is a trend - is really clever.  The first scene in the story has Liz and her mother in the same place talking to each other, just to establish the characters' relationship.  But from there on out, the narrative takes the form of letters and phone calls between Liz and Emily.  That framework gives the story room and time to take place over the course of a full season (how long that is in real time, who really has a clue?) and it also gives Emily's character time to grow and the listener to become familiar with her.  After all, as a companion's mother she should be a very sympathetic individual.

I have to give some mention to the Brigadier. He is simply delightful in this - even through Liz’s POV. When Liz says “The world is ending,” the Brigadier replies “Does the Doctor say so?” (the Doctor’s been knocked out by a sting from an alien scorpion thing, but he’s okay). I loved this because even though the Doctor and the Brigadier disagree on various things and bicker from time to time, he still trusts the Doctor.  It's just fun to still have the Brig around in Big Finish, even though Nicholas Courtney has passed.

There are some particular lines in this story that I just love.  Liz is usually seen as a straight-laced, mature, responsible person - which she is.  But she also has a bit of a snarky side and Goss gave her some great dialogue to work with (and I have to point out that Caroline John still sounds like Liz Shaw from 1970 - I could easily imagine Liz as she was on TV in this story).  Some of my favorites:

- "The Brigadier even reads neatly." (Caroline John's impression of the Brigadier is just lovely).

- (Speaking about Prestaigne): "If the Doctor were here, he'd break out the Venusian Akido. I just wanted to kick him in the shins."

- (Speaking about the Doctor): "The first time he came to UNIT he looked like a geography teacher."

This one isn't Liz's, but it's good anyway -

The Apocalypse Clock: "Doctor who? He is required" (cute little nod to "The War Machines")

A few words on the interview included on the audio: as I listened to the interview, I felt incredibly sad. Mostly because Caroline John passed away a few months after recording this, but also because she, Rowena Cooper and the production team all talk like there will be more Big Finish stories with Liz and her mother. The idea sounds incredible because Liz and Emily are such great characters. Even though they’re both very different - Liz is a scientist and Emily is into the arts - there’s still a lot of love between this mother and daughter combination. You don’t often get that - usually when there’s a parent-child dichotomy, they end up fighting at some point. While Liz and Emily do have their moments of being annoyed with each other, it never becomes heated or angry. There’s always a softer element of love and admiration between the two - a definite family bond that would have been lovely to see again.

When I heard about the passing of Caroline John last summer, there was a great sadness.  I really liked Liz as a companion and she's one of those people that I would love to have met at a convention and just be able to say how much I enjoy her performance in Doctor Who (along with Jacqueline Hill and Michael Craze and Mary Tamm and Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen - yeah, pretty much everyone ever).  But I am grateful for the stories she did leave us with and that we all get to keep Liz Shaw with us as long as we want to.  With that in mind, I'd like to end this review with Babelcolour's tribute to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw -

*I owe a debt in part to io9's lovely article they posted soon after Caroline John's passing asserting how the character of Liz Shaw helped saved Doctor Who in 1970.  It's a wonderful little read, so go check it out.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 3.03 - Oh, were you using this planet? My bad...

Previously -
Review 3.01 - Those Best Suited to Rule

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Taking a Mulligan

This has been bothering me for the better part of an hour (or since I posted my "Nightmare in Silver" review - whatever came first).  I had a really hard time reviewing this episode.  I watched it twice, I took notes, there were parts that I loved.  But on the whole... it kind of left me feeling... empty.

I'm a middle-of-the-road Neil Gaiman fan.  I love his stuff for younger readers - my favorite of his remains The Graveyard Book.  I loved Coraline (both the movie and the novel).  Stardust was good (though the movie was better).  Anansi Boys was, frankly, hilarious.  But there are a few things of his that I just do not care for.  American Gods, Neverwhere and The Sandman are all things of his that I just couldn't get into (I may retry American Gods, simply because I liked Anansi Boys so much and that's sort of a continuation).

In his review of "Nightmare in Silver," Chip of Two-Minute Time Lord mentioned that when Gaiman gets to create his own universe within the universe and be quirky and off-beat, he does great work (I'm paraphrasing).  That's what "The Doctor's Wife" is and it's phenomenal.  But when Gaiman has to stay within another set continuity, it sort of, kind of doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to.  That's probably what happened with "Nightmare in Silver."

Don't get me wrong - I still liked the story.  Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Warwick Davis absolutely rocked it!  The updated Cybermen look great - even if it'll take some getting used to their new abilities (what - now they're the Flash?)  There were other small parts that I enjoyed (that I talked about in my laundry-list review)  But those were just parts of the greater whole that didn't quite fit together.

I think I'm hesitant to say anything negative about this season because there has been so much negativity from fans.  I don't know why, but fandom behavior in recent weeks has really affected me.  It shouldn't... but those things tend to get to me (even in real life - when someone is unhappy or upset or yelling or just being generally nasty, I get really shaken by it and I have to retreat into myself until the nastiness has blown over).  I don't want there to be contention and rage and hatred toward something I love so much.  But that also doesn't mean I should not say I liked something when I really didn't (and I didn't even dislike it that much - this one's just middling for me.  It's not terrible, by any stretch).  Shoot, I can easily say that I disliked "The God Complex" - why can't I say the same for this?

Anyway - I'm taking a mulligan on this one. Let's go get ready for "The Name of the Doctor," shall we?

"Dancing With Myself" or "Wicked! Tricksy! False!" - Review of "Nightmare in Silver"

I picked two videos as my Spoiler Buffers this week because - why the hell not?

Also, this -

When "Nightmare in Silver" ended, I had to think for a bit about what I thought of it.  Obviously, this thing has Neil Gaiman written all over it - even moreso than "The Doctor's Wife." To be fair, "The Doctor's Wife" was very continuity-heavy and basically a love letter to Doctor Who as a whole (I AM NOT COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS!)  But in this, Gaiman's sophomore offering for Doctor Who, it seems like he got to do more of his own schtick with ideas and characters that he could have used for his own original work.  I mean, Cybermen attacking a dilapidated amusement park because that's where children come and they need children?  The Army of Misfit Toys?  And the reveal of who the Emperor is? (that's got Captain Shakespeare-from-Stardust-levels of bait-and-switch there).  The Doctor arguing with the Cyber-Planner in his own head? (a Cyber-Planner that calls himself Mr. Clever, moreover).  Yup, this is Neil Gaiman all right.  There's just all these fun little quirky things right alongside all the terror and peril. Even some of the visuals hearkened back to others of Gaiman's works - like the Cybermites crawling out of the old and clunky Cyberman looked like something from the movie Coraline.  And I got a distinct impression of The Graveyard Book from the first look at the amusement park - more about the atmosphere than anything.

(Also - Natty Longshoe's Comical Castle)

I really liked this story, but it's hard to describe anything beyond that.  There were some fantastic moments.  Matt Smith doing the Gollum/Smeagol-type exchange with the Cyber-Planner was a lot of fun to watch and he does the whole slimy villain thing very well.  Clara being in charge of the Army of Misfit Toys was awesome (did anyone else catch Hipster!Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom? Good times).  Warwick Davis was great as well.

So... why didn't I feel all "Whoo-hoo!" about this one?  Everything says I should totally be in love with it, but I'm not quite there.  My enjoyment of it reaches about as high as "Cold War" did - which was a great story, but not my absolute favorite.  Didn't hate it, though.

Mostly, I came up with a laundry list of things to comment on.  So - here's my list (buckle up - there are a lot) -

- The psychic paper makes a return! (feels like it's been a while since it's been used).

- Interesting that chess takes such a huge part because the last Doctor Who novel I reviewed was "Dreams of Empire" and they used chess in that story (and sandwiches, which Artie brought up early in the story)

- Funny insect collection - like the Zarbi and Menoptra from "The Web Planet"? (okay, that's stretching the nods to the past a bit, isn't it?)

- The only real nod to the past in this story was the past Doctor's faces and regeneration and ... the Time Lords, I guess? ("Ten complete re-jigs" - loved that line)

- Angie and Artie - Artie didn't do a whole lot before he got taken over by the Cybermen. Angie was definitely had the annoying, moody teenager thing down. For a long time, we've wondered how cool it would be for Eleven to travel with kids and now that he has - it turned out the Cybermen needed them too. That sucks.

- This exchange between Clara and the first leader of the Army of Misfit Toys:
"I trust the Doctor."
"You think he knows what he's doing?"
"I'm not sure I'd go that far."

- What's interesting is when the Doctor first met Clara, she'd been converted to a Dalek.  And in this story (the second-to-last of the season), the Doctor very nearly becomes a Cyberman.  What are the two most recognizable Doctor Who monsters? Daleks and Cybermen.  I have no idea what that means - if anything - but it's something I thought of ("She Said, He Said" sort of helped on that score)

- The Doctor vs. Cyber-Doctor in the Doctor's brain - THAT was cool.  I loved the Doctor's background was golden light with Gallifreyan symbols and the Cyber-Doctor's was blue with electricky-metallic things.  Just a really cool look.  Also - Gollum/Smeagol - he turned his head depending on who was speaking - metal-face for the Cyber-Planner and regular face for the Doctor.

- The Doctor straightens his bow tie just as he's about to win at chess (except not at chess) and then he straightens it again when he actually defeats the Cyber-Planner.

At the end of this - I'm sort of feeling a little sad.  Maybe it's because the season's ending and we're getting to the Big Humongous Reveal in "The Name of the Doctor" (relax - they aren't really going to reveal his name. Keep your hairnets on) - and then there'll be the 50th Anniversary Special and... the end (oh - and Christmas).  While I'm excited beyond belief about the 50th - in a way, it feels like we've been building this up to be the End-All-Be-All Doctor Who event (which it certainly is), but I'm going to be sad when it's all over because I've enjoyed all of this so much.  I don't know that anything will be this awesome after this.  I mean, I hope it does because I don't want to look at November 23, 2013 as the day that Everything Ended...

Oh, hell - I'm getting morbid.  Just - I liked "Nightmare in Silver," all right?  That's really all I have to say about it.

For now - here's "She Said, He Said" - the prequel/prelude/intro/lead-in/short bit/banana daiquiri for next week's episode.

"Who are you? Where are you from? What set you on your way? And where are you going?"

(Chills, Dear Reader. I got chills).

(Also - Clara is too perfect? How? Oh gosh - this is going to be nuts!)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Those Best Suited to Rule

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 3.01

Title: The Curse of Peladon
Team TARDIS: Third Doctor, Jo Grant
Adversary: High Priest Hepesh, Arcturus (Spoilers. Sorry).
Originally Aired: January 29-February 19, 1972
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia)-

The Doctor and Jo make a test flight in the TARDIS and arrive on the planet Peladon. Seeking shelter, they enter the citadel of the soon-to-be-crowned King Peladon, where the Doctor is mistaken for a human dignitary summoned to act as Chairman of a committee assessing an application by the planet to join the Galactic Federation.

My Review: 

“It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. 
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In Traveling the Vortex’s recent Third Doctor Retrospective, the Vortex Boys asked the question “What defines this era the most?” Rightly so, they cued into things such as UNIT, the Master, gadgets and gizmos, Venusian Akido - things to do with the earthbound stories representative of the Pertwee era. And, let’s be honest, most broad reviews of the Pertwee era make great mention of those things. So when it came time for me to choose the televised story I wanted to review for the Third Doctor, I didn't want to rehash the same stuff that everyone else talks about. Don’t get me wrong - UNIT is awesome. I love UNIT. The Brigadier, Benton, Liz Shaw (who gets unfairly overlooked in so many things) - the dynamic within the UNIT family is a treat to see (even Captain Yates - before he turned to the dark side). But I wanted to give the non-UNIT stories of the Pertwee era some love because they often get ignored simply for not being representative. While “Carnival of Monsters” would have been an easy choice because it is generally well-liked (I enjoy it immensely), I also love “The Curse of Peladon.” And I was unpleasantly surprised to see that this story is not highly-regarded by fandom. When that came to my attention, my choice was made even easier.

Sometimes the politically-focused stories in Doctor Who get the short end of the stick in fandom regard.  But "The Curse of Peladon" balances out the political strife with a fair amount of suspense and action - but also a lot of heart.  While I was rewatching this, I ended up taking lots of notes about the politics these characters find themselves in - to the point that I actually had to pause the DVD and write out my thoughts on what was going on.

The Delegation is made up of people who have been around political games for a long time and play the game they same way they breath, eat and poop - it's just a fact of life for them. Kind of like Game of Thrones, but with less incest (there's another Wife-in-Space-ism for you - and they just finished their last review of the Classic Series. Sad day...)  I guess this could be a commentary on politics in real life (uh-oh - I'm bringing politics into my reviews...) in that normal, sane people who would never seek political office in a million years look at the permanent political class largely as a group of sleazeballs who are only in it for themselves and their lackeys while paying lip-service to the people who put them into office.  Generally "getting things done" in political office means being cynical and mistrustful and assuming that the people you deal with do the same kinds of underhanded, sleazeball things that you do (because that's how everyone lives their lives, don'cha know?)

Thing is, in "The Curse of Peladon," King Peladon genuinely wants to be a good king and serve his people - he is a man in whom there is no guile.  He believes the best in people - mostly because he hasn't had his ideals beaten out of him yet. That also means that his politically savvy advisor, Hepesh, thinks he can play Peladon like a naive little puppet.  Hepesh probably would have gotten away with it too - if it hadn't been for that meddling Doctor (and Jo - but I'll get to Jo's role in all of this).

The Doctor's seen his share of political intrigue and what-have-you.  But the Doctor is the kind of guy that runs from any offer of political power (for all reports that the Doctor is a mad man, at least on this score he is as sane as you or I - unless you, Dear Reader, are the sort of person that wants to run for public office, in which case what the hell is wrong with you???)  Thing is, the Doctor is the very person who would be most suited to public office simply because he would see it as a job to do, do the job, and go on to something else.  The Doctor sees through all the political intrigue and tells the truth (seeing as he really doesn't have any reason to lie - he doesn't have a dog in the fight over Peladon joining the Galactic Federation.  He's not even really the Earth Delegate).

I've got to talk more about Jo in this story. She really shines here, and not just because she gets to play the role of a badass Earth princess (anyone who can climb a mountain AND sneak out a window into a storm in high heels is pretty tough). Jo is a lot like King Peladon - she too is one in whom there is no guile.  Even more than the Doctor, I think Jo was the one to really throw a monkey wrench into Hepesh's plans to rule behind a puppet king.  Jo was probably the first person Peladon met that wasn't trying to maneuver into power and who genuinely wanted to do the right thing.  It was probably quite the revelation to Peladon to discover that he wasn't the only one in the universe not scheming for personal ends.  The funny thing is, Jo has even less of a reason to want peace than the Doctor - she's not from this time period and it didn't even matter to her what became of the Galactic Federation or Peladon or any of it.  But she sees a way that she can help and she just does it, regardless of what happens to her in the long run.  That's more or less why Peladon likes Jo - he sees someone he can finally relate to and that he could be happy with - but the poor guy does a really bad job of communicating.  He's not used to relating to people beyond political alliances (which he's probably been trained to do from a young age, never mind forging personal connections).  That doesn't sit well with Jo, sadly.  Because I almost wish that she'd stayed behind with Peladon (that could be more a result of me finding Cliff Jones to be a complete and utter dork).

This side of Jo was a big surprise for me because it was the first one I'd seen with her outside UNIT.  To this point, I'd assumed that Jo was the sweet, sassy, spunky little blonde girl in awesome '70s boots that made the Doctor look good.  Don't get me wrong, I love sweet and sassy Jo.  But in this story - the first one that she doesn't have to compete with all the UNIT boys - Jo gets to show off why she is the Doctor's companion.  The Doctor takes only the very best, after all, and Jo is no exception.  Her contribution to Team TARDIS is along the lines of what Jamie did - Jo has a lot of heart.  She cuts straight to the center of Peladon's dilemma between honoring the traditions of the people who raised him and changing a few of those traditions in order to do what is best for his people.  I don't think any other character could have - or would have - done as much.  She proves that honesty is her best trait - her best weapon, if I may use the term.  And that's just as important as knowing which polarity to reverse and when to reverse it (or even proclaiming that "girls can do whatever boys can do!" as happens in the sequel to this story "The Monster of Peladon," which I'm not as fond of.  I'd rather the girls actually do something than sit around and philosophize about how wonderful it is to be liberated.  Liberation isn't worth much if you don't do anything with it).

All this blog space and I haven't even talked about Aggedor yet!  Well... there's not much to say about the guy.  He's a teddy bear with horns that lives in the catacombs under Peladon's castle (palace? stronghold? I can't recall...)  The Doctor puts Aggedor to sleep with a metronome-hypnotizer-thing and a Venusian lullaby, which is pretty cool, but not much to write home about beyond that.  But I wouldn't mind an Aggedor plushie.  He's sort of cute (but Arcturus looks like that Jamaican-shrunken-head-thing in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Seeing as that is my second-least favorite of those movies, that is not a compliment).

"The Curse of Peladon" is a nice mix of political intrigue, heart, mythology, character development and, yes, a little bit of romance.  This story gives Jo Grant time to shine and kick ass in her sweet, endearing, charmingly girly ways.  No other companion has been given the title Princess of TARDIS, and it's one that suits her very well.  Even more than King Peladon, Jo has the whole "benevolent ruler" thing down pat.  The only thing that would make this better is if she had gotten to use her talents in that area in the long term.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 3.02 - Where have they taken you, Elizabeth Shaw?

Previously -
Review 2.03 - The Celestial Chessmaster

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Never Had a Friend Like Me - Review of "The Art of Wishing"

Title: The Art of Wishing
Author: Lindsay Ribar
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Year: 2013
Reading Level: Age 15 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life. 

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie's ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn't know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else's hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie -- he's also a sophomore at Margo's high school, and he's on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.

My Review: 
With the oversaturation of paranormal romance in YA (and romance in general, let's face it), I was a bit reluctant to give this book a try.  I mean, you can only do the "Girl falls in love with werepig because... destiny... *twinkle, sparkle, OMG*" angle so many times before most people say "Okay, *wipes hands* we're done with this" (and by "most people," I mean me).  I mean, genies? Really?

Maybe I'm just a sucker or it had been a while since I'd read anything YA, but I decided to give this one a try.  And, funnily enough, it did not suck.  Far from it - this was one teen paranormal(ish) romance that I rather enjoyed.  Once I started it, I wanted to keep reading (and it's been a while since I had a YA book where the characters didn't leave me wanting to strangle them).

Margo is a normal teenage girl with normal teenage interests and normal teenage problems.  The most she is worried about is getting the lead in the school play, which she is a shoe-in for.  But then this timid little sophomore named Vicky gets the lead role and leaves everyone wondering why (and it's not on the merits of her singing or acting talent because she is terrible).  Turns out Vicky has a friend named Oliver who is a genie (even though he looks like a normal 15-year-old boy). Getting the part in the play was an indirect result of her second wish for people to like her.  But Vicky is unhappy with the way her wish turned out (she didn't want to suddenly become the most popular girl in school - she just wanted a few friends), so she ditches the genie's ring which Margo finds later.  Margo becomes Oliver's "master" (which is an odd term for it - and the characters even admit as much), but it turns out that there's more to genies and wishes than getting three wishes and then you're done.

The mythology of genies in this universe is really interesting and something that I was fascinated by.  Ribar's genies are shapeshifters and they can take on the form of whatever their masters are comfortable with - even down to personalities and interests.  I know - you're all thinking "Is that how Oliver gets Margo to fall in love with him?"  And if Ribar hadn't addressed that the way she did, this book would not have had the satisfying ending that it had (I don't want to spoil anything, but Margo and Oliver's discussion about that particular issue is one of the highlights of the book and made me love both those characters even more).

(And the fact that they make fun of the whole supernatural romance plot gives me so much glee that it's not even funny. The only thing that would make it better is if they had actually referenced "werepig" in their conversation, but I'm pretty sure that it's copyrighted - see link above).

One thing that bugged me, but it's something that bugs me about YA books in general is that Margo's parents are just not there.  Her parents are divorced, but they recently got back together and remarried and are on, like, their fifth honeymoon.  Which sounds strange, but I guess you have to eliminate the parents in a teen-centric book when the teen has to keep things secret from her folks, but you'd rather not make the teen an orphan.  However, Margo's relationship with her parents does play a role in the B-plot of the story, though it isn't resolved very well.  But I guess there needs to be something to do in the sequel, even though I think there's going to be plenty of that in just dealing with the genies and the fallout of the ending.  Oh well - it gave Margo a great excuse to write a song using the talent she discovered with her first wish.  I'm just hoping there will be some closure with her folks by the time the series is over ("The Rules of Remembering" is due out next year and a third as-yet-untitled novel will be released in 2015).

This book provides a nice balance of contemporary and fantasy and plenty of humor.  The characters and settings feel real and they are a delight to read.  Super-cute and super-fun and plenty of drama and adventure!  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Celestial Chessmaster

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 2.03

Title: Dreams of Empire
Author: Justin Richards
Team TARDIS: Second Doctor, Jamie, Victoria
Adversary: General Cruger, the VETACs
Original Release Date: August 1998
Range and Number: Past Doctor Adventures #14

Synopsis - (from TARDIS Wikia)
1998 BBC Books Edition -  The history books were clear: the once-proud Haddron Empire, fatally weakened by civil war, was finally brought to its knees by a catastrophic explosion. But, then again, history books can lie...

Landing in what seems to be a medieval castle, the Doctor and his friends discover that the final act of a drama that has torn apart a stellar empire is being played out around them.

Who is the man behind the mask, and how are his chess games linked to life and death in his fortress prison? What is the secret of the suits of armour which line the banqueting hall? Who is on the battle cruiser that is getting closer all the time, and what will they want when they finally arrive? The pieces are all in place, and the TARDIS crew soon find themselves under siege. With both deadly robot troops and human traitors to defeat, it seems the future of the entire empire hangs in the balance...

2013 BBC Books Edition -
On a barren asteroid, the once-mighty Haddron Empire is on the brink of collapse, torn apart by civil war. The one man who might have saved it languishes
 in prison, his enemies planning his death and his friends plotting his escape. The Second Doctor arrives as the last act of this deadly drama is being played out – and with both terrifying killers and cunning traitors to defeat, the future hangs in the balance.

My Review -
(Helps to have a synopsis or two, doesn’t it?)

If you read the last book review I did for “Librarian in the TARDIS,” you know that I started to have second thoughts about including novels in this project. At first, I thought that maybe I was taking on too much and the books were too complicated to review (at least, compared to the audio/visual media I was reviewing elsewhere). With books, you really have to focus on the characters you know and recall how they act and sound in your imagination. And when you have something so vivid in your mind for the Doctor and his companions (characters you already have a reference for from TV and audio plays), sometimes you shortchange the one-off characters that only exist within the pages of the novel you’re reading. Sometimes, these one-offs become, well, cardboard (as I referenced early and often in my previous book review). So, was I doing a disservice to these stories by expecting them to be as fantastic as anything Big Finish or the television stories presented? Was I being too harsh, too critical, too (dare I say) entitled?

But then I picked up “Dreams of Empire.” And my fears for the future of the project were soundly put to rest. Truly - “Ten Little Aliens” really was that mediocre (I've since read another First Doctor novel that I wish I’d reviewed instead because it was so good.  In fact, I still might review it just as a stand-alone post.  It’s “The Time-Travellers,” in case you’re interested).

The premise of “Dreams of Empire” alone is intriguing. In the specially-written-for-the-50th-Anniversary Introduction, author Justin Richards talks about how the idea for this novel came as a result of watching a documentary about Julius Caesar and thinking a string of “What ifs?” pertaining to the Roman Empire. What if Rome had stayed a Republic? What if Julius Caesar had been defeated after crossing the Rubicon? Well, they couldn't have executed Caesar as a war criminal because he was so popular, but what if they’d simply imprisoned him? Of course, as a good Doctor Who fan, you can’t ignore these changes in time without considering how they’ll affect the rest of established history. This is probably why, instead of setting the story in the Roman Empire of Earth, this is set in the midst of a civil war on an alien planet with comparable events to Roman times (even some comparable characters - see if you can guess who the Expy for Julius Caesar is).

“Dreams of Empire” is more a political thriller than anything, but still distinctive as a Doctor Who story. Richards is careful to portray the Second Doctor as close as possible by referencing his mannerisms and frenetic personality (and I can’t help but imagine every intonation of “Splendid!” in Patrick Troughton’s voice - even with that little happy clap that is so reminiscent of the Second Doctor). Team TARDIS’s opening scenes (which came much earlier than in “Ten Little Aliens”) served to set me firmly in the story with this Doctor and these companions - with the Doctor forgetting how many sandwiches he’s pocketed from the plate Victoria offers him because he’s so caught up in working over the TARDIS console. Not to mention Victoria’s quiet patience with the Doctor over the way he responds to her thoughtfulness in making lunch. Though Jamie does say “Thank you” to Victoria when the Doctor pretty much ignores her gracious act. In fact - *puts on shipping goggles* - there are a lot of wonderful moments between these two in this story, giving some credence to the Jamie/Victoria ship (nope, those goggles weren't going anywhere anytime soon ^_^).

Jamie and Victoria really step up and have a lot of great moments in this story.  They both have major parts to play in the narrative while the Doctor is off doing his own thing. One thing I've enjoyed about Jamie and Victoria is that they tend to take a more active role as companions.  Either from their own initiative or because the Doctor tells them to, the Second Doctor's companions often end up with a lot more to do in the story and that's just fun (and it definitely brings the "Team" into "Team TARDIS").

There is one scene in this book that I just love and I want to recount it a bit here - Prion (who is Consul Trayx's adviser and bodyguard) takes Jamie and Victoria away from the most dangerous part of the fighting. Jamie is suspicious of Prion because Prion does everything so perfectly, but Victoria seems to have a fondness for the man (which seems to irritate Jamie all the more - bless). Turns out, Prion is actually an automaton (his real name is Prion Seven), which is why he looks and acts so perfect. This revelation makes Jamie feel better about the situation, but Victoria feels like she’s been deceived. It’s just one of those moments that lets Jamie and Victoria’s personalities shine through the prose and reminds you that, yes, these are the same characters you remember from the show.

I would be very remiss if I didn't mention the chess motif that winds itself throughout the narrative (but not in an obvious or heavy-handed way. It fits quite well in the story).  Admittedly, I know very little about chess.  My knowledge of the game is limited to the names of the pieces and and the kinds of moves they can make, but other than that, I stink at it. But that didn't keep me from enjoying the use of chess in the story - not to mention the overhanging threat of who the real chessmaster is. I can't go into it too much without spoiling everything, but it was a nice little touch (the three sections of the novel were named after the three traditional stages of a game of chess - that was something new I learned from reading this book. Doctor Who is an educational show, after all!)

The action ramps up towards the end, which certainly brings to mind the ramp-up in action in the last episode of a Classic Doctor Who serial.  I love it when the novels still hearken back to the format of the TV show.  There have been New Series novels that I felt could have fit the format of a New Who two-parter with just a little tweakage here and there, which makes it easy to picture this story as a TV story.  That doesn't take anything away from the unique characteristics of the book format (because there are things you can do in books that you could never do on TV, nor would you want to), but it's just nice to feel like all these stories are still part of one big universe.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and a wonderful addition to the 50th Anniversary celebrations.  I can see why this was included in this reprint line - a definite treasure for the Doctor Who family.

PS - Contrary to my subject line, the Celestial Toymaker has nothing to do with this story. I just thought "Chess --> Chessmaster" and "Space --> Stars --> Celestial" - HEY! This could work! (it was either that or "War Games")

Next Time, On Librarian in the TARDIS - 
Review 3.01 - If it's Pertwee, then he must be Earthbound.  Except... when he's not. But everything's better with princesses!

Previously -
Review 2.02 - A Reunion of Friends

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Darkness and Light - Review of "Iron Man 3"

[I saw this movie last night and I have so, so many scattered thoughts about it (all of them good, don't worry), but I want to get something coherent out before tomorrow when all the geek-blogs get their Siskel and Ebert crap together.]

Spoiler Warning!

How does a movie bring you down to the depth of despair, but still makes you laugh out loud?  I have no idea. But Iron Man 3 did exactly that.

What I have loved about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how much character development there is across the board.  Even the "sidekicks" get it (Pepper got quite a bit and I think Jane Foster is going to get some similar treatment, if the trailer for Thor: The Dark World is any indication).  It would have been so easy for them to take Tony Stark and send him straight back to his garage, snarking with JARVIS and being his same sarcastic-yet-lovable self.  And while we get some of that in Iron Man 3, it is clear that we are firmly into Marvel: Phase 2.

Just to get an idea for how clear this is - I took notes for this movie while in the theater.  Because I am just a nutcase like that.  And a good portion of my notes (the few I managed to get written down while my eyes weren't glued to the screen) were things like:

- new tone for post-Avengers Marvel
- darker tone - really digging it
- closer and tighter shots - more claustrophobic
- taking some cues from The Hunger Games - televised politics, terror in front of the camera
- some lighter moments - hearkening back to the earlier Iron Man movies, but still so dark

Basically, this movie felt like they were taking cues from The Dark Knight, but not completely.  This is still Tony Stark, not Bruce Wayne.  The filmmakers don't ignore what makes Tony Stark's story so compelling and why he is such a popular character - he a brash and cocky guy, but he still has his share of vulnerability and he deals with it in the most unorthodox ways.  The movie even touches on that at the end - the Iron Man suit has become a cocoon for Tony to wrap himself in and shut himself off from the world, even to the point that he builds the suits during his prolonged bouts of insomnia.  Now, he did that even before he became Iron Man - he wrapped himself up in the "live fast and free" lifestyle that we saw at the beginning of the first Iron Man and that we see here at the start of this movie (just to remind us how far Tony's come).  For most of his life, Tony has pretty much been a jerk to other people.  But even through all that, there's always been this little spark of goodness that started building the day Tony escaped from being held hostage in Afghanistan.  That's what Iron Man was about - a real pain-in-the-ass guy who learned to be somebody that could actually be a hero.  While he never loses his swagger or his bravado (for better or worse) - but he's living for something beyond himself.  And that is a beautiful thing to watch.

I've never kept it secret that of all the Marvel superheroes, Tony Stark is my absolute favorite.  It could be so easy to write him off as this self-centered, pompous jerk - but you never feel like that's his whole story.  And the reason for that is that his friends are still there for him, though they don't lie down and take Tony's crap the way a lot of other people do.  Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, even JARVIS (even though he's a programmed entity - but he still gets his digs in) - you can't be a total waste if you've got people of that caliber behind you.  And I think that's the story of the first two movies (plus The Avengers).

So, Iron Man 3 is what you get when you take Tony away from everything that's supported him throughout his life (especially since becoming Iron Man) and make him do everything on his own with very little outside help.  Now, Tony doesn't trust anyone beyond himself and a few close friends.  Which is why taking him to Rose Hill, Tennessee in search of Extremis was a brilliant move on the screenwriters' part.  As tough as Tony acts and talks, he is almost worthless without outside help.  Especially in this movie, where he's dealing with the PTSD and frequent panic attacks (those scenes where Tony just about loses it - those were hard for me to watch, but they added so much to the story).

I guess the main thing I took away from Iron Man 3 is how vulnerable Tony Stark really is.  And he shows that vulnerability by locking himself away from everyone he cares about (even Pepper - though he does tell her that she's the only reason he's been able to keep it together since New York) and building more Iron Man suits.  What I thought had been a massive spoiler in the trailer turned out to be a "Holy crap - this is... wow!" moment.  Because Tony has been working on all these suits and all these different modifications (like the fact the suits can move on their own without having someone inside them), just to keep the bad memories at bay.  And none of that is working for him.  Even when one of the suits threatens Pepper, Tony just breaks down the pieces, but he doesn't get rid of it.  Contrast that with the end of the movie when Pepper's become one of the Extremis soldiers and that same Mark 42 suit targets her, Tony has JARVIS blow up that suit (and he subsequently destroys the rest of the suits - meaning that he doesn't need them anymore.  He doesn't need to work on all that stuff just to keep his sanity together).  The final scenes of the movie show that between his house in Malibu being attacked and the battle on the oil rigs in Florida, Tony's figured out that he doesn't have to hide from his weaknesses anymore.  He can still be Mr. I'm-So-Freaking-Awesome-and-Badass, but also recognize that he needs help from other people just as much as they need him.

I came to these conclusions after discussing the ending with my roommate - the ending where Tony has surgery to remove the shrapnel from his chest, thus rendering his trademark electromagnet completely unnecessary.  While I did a bit of a double-take at that at first, it makes a lot of sense the more I think about it.  And this is going to sound odd, but go with me here on this - the shrapnel was almost a lame excuse for Tony to stay "special."  What I mean by that is that Tony thought he's only worth something if there's some external force making him remarkable - his company, his money, his inventions, his fast-living lifestyle.  But the arc reactor and Iron Man slowly replaced that - and his experiences made him reassess what was really important (the events of Iron Man 3 - like coming thisclose to losing Pepper and everything else around that - probably moved him further to that end).  I mean, he still has this need to tinker and fix things (because that's what he does - he even signs his note to Harley as "The Mechanic") so Iron Man isn't completely gone - it just isn't going to take over Tony's life.  Besides - he can still be a superhero.  But it's going to be in a much different place in his life and it won't be so connected to him as it was when he had this glowing metal thing installed in his body.

Wow. I've spent most of this review navel-gazing and I really haven't talked much about the rest of the movie.  I did NOT see the Mandarin twist coming.  I thought the trailer had spoiled all the cool stuff - like multiple Iron Man suits and Pepper getting a suit (which, I thought that was awesome when Tony saved Pepper by diverting the suit to get her out of harm's way).  But to turn the Mandarin into this complete and total joke - and then reveal who the real Mandarin was… holy crap on a cracker, that took some balls in the screenplay department!  That was either going to be totally awesome or totally shit.  And it went the former route (thank goodness).  It was brilliant turning it into the loser who is almost in direct competition to Stark Industries (remember Justin Hammer?  Yeah, he was a dork), but it turns out that said loser is really kicking everyone's ass seven ways to Sunday.

Other things I liked -
 - Happy Hogan is a "Downton Abbey" fan.
 - The giant bunny. Tacky, yes. Endearing and really funny? Of course!
 - The whole movie takes place around Christmas and was released in May.
 - Pepper: "That was really violent!" (I think in the comics, she gets a suit and becomes Rescue. Which, I would not be opposed to that happening in the movies).
 - Harley! I mean, I never envisioned Tony Stark getting along with a kid without there being major character issues, but those interactions were gold.
- The Barrel of Monkeys skydiving scene - and then it turns out Tony wasn't in the suit at all (but I did scream when that semi busted up the Iron Man suit - and then all of a sudden, Tony's talking again.  Like it's no big deal).  I mean - jeez - way to scare the crap out of me!
- I talked a lot about how dark this story is - but there was TONS of humor in the dark moments too.  I don't know how many times I burst out laughing right in the midst of something so grim and dark and serious.  I thought the movie struck a perfect balance between both extremes and I appreciated that a lot.
- Post-credit sequence - turns out this whole movie has been Tony laying on Dr. Bruce Banner's couch and telling him the story.  After enjoying Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers, I was thrilled to see him back in even this small capacity.  Bruce and Tony need more screen time together.  They're just awesome.

All that being said - I liked the changes and the newness of this movie.  At the same time, I'm a little worried that we've seen the last of Tony Stark (at least, the Tony Stark we've come to know and love).  There are rumors that Robert Downey, Jr. is wanting to call it quits, which I can see why and I would almost be okay with… but at the same time, I'm not ready to say goodbye to Iron Man.  I mean, I love all the Avengers and the Marvel characters, but for some reason I cannot get enough of Iron Man.  He is hands-down my absolute favorite and I love the way RDJ plays him and I'm not ready for it to be over (at least, not without more warning than a credit sequence showcasing all three Iron Man movies).  I guess I can get over it and enjoy the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - but it's not the same (I don't do well with change, guys.  I just don't).

(Dear Disney/Marvel - If Robert Downey Jr. asks for more money - give it to him! Don't care how much it is - it's worth it!!)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Sunburn from Hell - Review of "The Crimson Horror"

Spoilers for "The Crimson Horror" below the video of Darth Vader reading for TomTom (it makes sense in context) -

The last few weeks of new Doctor Who have been all over the place, both in terms of storytelling and fandom reaction.  And that doesn't even account for the mouth-frothing that's accompanied the news of No Classic Doctors in the 50th Anniversary Special (seriously, people - if it's really that important to you, go pre-order "The Light at the End" from Big Finish - they've got all the bases covered.  And here's the link to the special edition, if you're like me and inclined that way. I was upset about it, but there's been so much malcontent in the last few weeks, I'm just tired of it).  It's really been a full month-and-a-bit to say the least.

Which is why "The Crimson Horror" is so very welcome.  No returning monsters, no fanwank, no insanely high expectations - just a straightforward pseudo-historical mystery with sunburned zombies and a prehistoric red critter chewing on an old woman's clavicle while it poisons the entire world.  As Madame Vastra said: "Business as usual."

I honestly had nothing invested in this story going into it.  I'm not familiar with Diana Rigg (I, like Shaun of Traveling the Vortex, thought she was the same woman as the hemovore in "Smith and Jones").  I was looking forward to seeing Vastra, Jenny and Strax again (having met Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey at Gallifrey One this past Feburary, so there was that whole "Squee! I've met them!" factor).  As far as I am concerned, "The Crimson Horror" was an inoffensive, fun little romp.  A little something to let us all stand back and catch our breath before going into the home stretch.

That's not saying I didn't like it.  I loved it!  There were so many fantastic little moments - not the least of which was Strax teaming up with Thomas Thomas to find Sweetville (it was cute, it was clever, it was funny).

Oh hell, I'm just going to list everything -

- Clara busting up the rocket launch with a chair instead of the Doctor using his sonic.
- By that same token - Ada killing the little red poison creature with her cane instead of the Doctor taking it back to the Jurassic period.  These ladies are just more direct in their approach.
- Jenny bribing the girl to cause a diversion while she sneaks around the factory (and the girl's teeth - that was funny).
- Anytime Strax said anything.
- The one guy passing out every time he saw/heard something alien.
- The Doctor waving off Jenny's questions about Clara - "It's complicated!"
- The reference to a "gobby Australian" whom it took the Doctor forever to get to Heathrow Airport (anything referencing the Fifth Doctor's era is pure joy in my book).

I do have to praise the way this story was structured.  Back in the days of two-parters, the first part of this story would have been spent with the Doctor and Clara sleuthing around after the Crimson Horror and the cliffhanger would have been them getting dipped in the vat of red candy coating.  Then, the second episode would have started with Team Vastra doing their own sleuthing around trying to find the Doctor.  But with that nifty old-timey-type flashback, we got all the pertinent information and exposition in half the time (which also created som fun tension and drama).  Everything was paced perfectly and done beautifully.

I kept waiting for some great big hammer to drop pertaining to Clara or some other whatchamawhozit, but it never really happened.  Not until she gets back home and the kids she nannies for show her the pictures they've found of her in history (it's a plot device, it might be a little contriver - I don't care. I'm going with it because it's cool).  There's a little hiccup in the exchange with the whole "I was in Victorian Yorkshire, not London," but it gets shelved aside when the kids figure out that Clara's a time traveler and they want a turn.


Cyberman on See-Saw photo 51zhio.gif

AVPM Totally Awesome photo tumblr_lazxgjFoAr1qbdk0e.gif

I have nothing more to add.  Other than I am a happy little Whovian and my "May the Fourth Be With You" has been pretty much fabulous. So, have another Star Wars-themed TomTom ad to round out the day. Just because I love you guys! :)


May the Fourth Be With You!

Seeing as it's Star Wars Day (officially? unofficially? doesn't matter), it's time for some Piano Guys action!

This video never gets old -

Also - it's Free Comic Book Day at the library and I've already given out a ton of comic books this morning (plus I snagged one for myself).  And my roommate and I are going to see Iron Man 3 tonight AND there's a new episode of Doctor Who later today.

If I get to heaven and it doesn't resemble today at all, I will be severely disappointed.