Saturday, October 26, 2013

Big Finish's Mighty Mouse Moment

Librarian in the TARDIS - Bonus Review #3

SPOILER WARNING! This review contains some mild spoilers for “The Light at the End.” I stay away from major plot elements, but I do mention a few minor things that most “Spoiler Free” reviews have taken pains to omit. Read at your own risk!

Title: The Light at the End
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Team TARDIS: Seriously? If I list everybody, we’ll be here all day!
Adversary: The Master
Originally Released: October 23, 2013
Range: Special 50th Anniversary Release

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors...

It's the day that Bob Dovie's life is ripped apart...

It's also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart...

From suburban England through war-torn alien landscapes and into a deadly, artificial dimension, all these Doctors and their companions must struggle against the power of an unfathomable, alien technology.

From the very beginning, it is clear that the Master is somehow involved. By the end, for the Doctors, there may only be darkness.

My Review -
(I'm making a habit of this "Bonus Review" thing, aren't I?)

When many fans heard the news that the BBC’s officially official 50th Anniversary special wouldn’t have any Classic Doctors, the uproar was... somewhat deafening (and I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed myself - even though in my brain of brains, I knew there was no respectful way they could do that. Not on TV - and then they managed to do that with “The Name of the Doctor,” but that’s another discussion). But when we heard further news that Big Finish had their own 50th Anniversary special to contribute to the festivities, well, a lot of people (yours truly included) had this to say about it -

(I swear, there were probably fans filking this song to fit the situation in their heads).

All the Doctors who’ve ever done anything for Big Finish, the main companions who’ve turned up for the ride, PLUS a shedload of cameos from other companions, AND they’ve finagled a way to get Doctors One, Two, and Three into the story???

(the download, though. I have nowhere to store CDs anymore).
Okay, since last spring, we’ve had developments aplenty in the 50th Anniversary department and, speaking purely for myself, I don’t think we’re in any danger of “The Day of the Doctor” being a disappointment (the perpetually malcontented notwithstanding). Still, it’s very fitting that Big Finish got “The Light at the End” together and that they did it so spectacularly - pretty much par for the course with Big Finish’s output. And it’s even more amazing that they got it out a month earlier than most people expected (“most people” meaning “me”).

Now, from a fan’s perspective, multi-Doctor stories are really, really cool. In a fan’s mind, all the Doctors and all the companions exist together in the same space. We may not see them in a story all together, but they are all part of the same franchise and the same over-arcing stories. That’s why there is so much multi-Doctor and companion fanart. Here are but three examples (I have these wallpapers on a rotation on my laptop - they make me giggle) -

Doctor's Girls Wallpaper by ~mimi-na on deviantART

Doctor's Boys Wallpaper by ~mimi-na on deviantART

Muppet Dr Who by ~mimi-na on deviantART

(Yes, Muppets. Your arguments are invalid)

The tough thing about creating multi-Doctor stories is things get a little tricky. Beyond actor availability (whether it’s schedules simply not matching-up or something much more major like the fact that many past Doctors and companions’ actors are no longer with us), there’s the issue of a decent story that gives all the characters enough to do that it’s worth having them around. “The Five Doctors” did it brilliantly - it’s a story that knows it’s fanwanky-celebration of the show and it doesn’t try to be anything else other than that. And the audience is okay with that. Personally, I watched “The Five Doctors” before I’d seen any other Classic Who. I knew enough going into it that I treated it like a sampler of all the Classic series had to offer. When it was over, I wanted to reach back and learn who these characters were and see more of their stories. Consequently, I absolutely adore Classic Who. And I’m somebody that used to shy away from black-and-white TV shows, but now the black-and-white Doctor Who stories are among my favorites!

Anyway - back to “The Light at the End.” I don’t want to give anything major away, but I do want to hit on some of the things I loved about it -

Let me start with the special version of the theme tune, which is a fantastic mix of all the different versions of the theme, plus a few additions that the Big Finish music crew threw in to make it all work. And it is PHENOMENAL! Now, I don’t know if it’d work in a regular Main Range story, but for this 50th Anniversary Extravaganza, it fits the bill perfectly. What’s great about the opening theme tune is that it creates an atmosphere in which you know that they’re throwing the kitchen sink into this story, and everyone’s excited about it. It’s fireworks and cannons and bright lights and razzle-dazzle and AWESOME!

But then you have the ending theme. They end - not on the HUGE BLOWOUT theme - but on the simple end-credit theme from the First Doctor’s era. It fits so well with the tone of the ending of the story - you could almost imagine this being a TV story: You’re sitting in front of your TV, having enjoyed this feast of sights and spectacle, but are slowly reminded of the show’s humble-yet-brilliant beginnings. The original Delia Derbyshire theme playing it’s haunting melody as you imagine the screen flashing through black-and-white scroll of the credits (which would be a lot longer than the average Hartnell-era cast and crew list, but you get the idea). And you’re back to where everything started. Which is what the 50th Anniversary is supposed to be celebrating.

There are some great interchanges between the eras and I don’t want to spoil too much, but I have to make mention of the interactions between the Fourth Doctor and the Eighth Doctor. I love that they have (as much as they can) the oldest Doctor playing off the youngest Doctor. Now, I don’t know if Tom Baker and Paul McGann were actually recording their lines together at the same time or if those audio tracks were mixed in post-production, but it actually sounds like Four and Eight get along splendidly. I never would have pegged those two incarnations of the Doctor as being friendly (it just never crossed my mind), but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked and I could actually imagine Four with his scarf and mess of curly hair working together with the dapper and suave Eight and I just loved it.

As I am wont to do, here’s a list of things that I found absolutely charming -

- When the Sixth Doctor and Peri see the Seventh Doctor and Ace, Six says “That’s a future version of me.” Peri replies, “And a future version of me!” You wouldn’t think Ace and Peri would get along, but they actually do.

- Leela’s insistence on calling Charley “Charlotte.” Leela and Charley worked just as well as Four and Eight did.

- Ace: “Weapons don’t always work.” Says the girl carting around homemade Nitro-9 in her backpack...

- Five and Nyssa. Just... Five and Nyssa. All of their scenes. Their placement within the story is one of the most masterful things I’ve seen Big Finish do in the history of ever! I will love them until the end of all things and no one can convince me otherwise.

Of course, everyone was curious how in the world they were going to get the First, Second, and Third Doctors into this story. And I have to say, Big Finish carried it off in the best way they possibly could (and in such a way that gave me “Fangirl SQUEE!” all the way down the freeway - I admit to bouncing up and down in my seat and clapping my hands while the car was speeding along at 70 mph on the freeway. But it was only once - okay, twice - and there wasn’t much traffic anyway) and it’s actually kind of a no-brainer, when you think about it. Especially if you’ve ever listened to any Companion Chronicles featuring William Russell or Frazer Hines and heard their performances of the First and Second Doctors, respectively. Sure, you’re fully aware that it’s not actually William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton, but there’s a little bit of audio wizardry that goes on that makes it okay. And I’ve never heard Tim Treloar before (at least, his name wasn’t familiar to me), but his Third Doctor was really great and I have nothing but high praise for it. So, yay Big Finish for using the resources you have!

Now, it’s me you’re talking to. And you might be wondering (or you might not be) - how was the story, oh She Who Loved Story Above All Else. And I will say this - even though this was a multi-Doctor and multi-companion full of whizz-bang and flashing neon lights and pure awesomeness - the story was top-notch. Nary a plothole remained after all was said and done and everything was explained to my satisfaction. And there was even a little emotion to bring it all home (there’s a little moment at the end when the Third Doctor says something to Sarah Jane - and you know darn well that Elisabeth Sladen would be in on this thing if she were here to do it - that’s just about when I lost it). The story was full of happy moments and sad moments and poignant moments and funny moments - everything that Doctor Who has been to so many people in the past 50 years. It may have not always been on the best terms with the audience, but the audience kept coming back. And even brought a few new friends along the way.

Thumbs up, five stars, 10-for-10, standing ovation - whatever ranking system you want to apply here, it applies. Big Finish lived up to their name and gave us all a cracking good story to help us celebrate and honor the show we love so much. And when the adventure is over, echoing through all time and space, are these simple words -

“Come along. Back to the TARDIS.”

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 11.2 - Winter is coming (direwolves not included. Darn it).

Previously -
Review 11.1 - While Greater Love Lies Further Deep

Thursday, October 24, 2013

While Greater Love Lies Further Deep


Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 11.1

Title: The Beast Below
Written by: Steven Moffat
Team TARDIS: Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond
Adversary: Hawthorne, The Smilers (is there really an adversary for this one? It’s sort of ambiguous)
Originally Aired: April 10, 2010
Number of Episodes: 1

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
For Amy Pond's first trip in the TARDIS, the Eleventh Doctor brings his new companion to the 33rd century, where all of Britain's citizens live onboard Starship UK, searching for a new home amongst the stars as the Earth is being roasted by solar flares. However, the Doctor soon finds something amiss onboard the vessel. The citizens appear to fear "the smiling fellows in the booths" and ignore crying children. What is going on? What secrets does Starship UK hold at its depths, and who is hiding them? Soon, the Doctor is forced to make an impossible choice. No matter what he chooses, death is the only outcome.

My Review:
Everyone praises “The Eleventh Hour” as a fantastic piece of television. As well they should. Matt Smith’s first full episode as the Doctor is a roller coaster ride of timey-wimey adventure and mystery and quirkiness meant to show the audience that David Tennant and Russell T Davies may have moved on, but Doctor Who is still in excellent hands. Things may be different, but this amazing show that you fell in love with a month ago is still that same show and it’s going to take care of you through the good times and bad.

(Well, for me it was a month).

Series 5 was so very different in tone and pacing from what I’d come to expect from Doctor Who. But for this initial season under the guiding hand of Steven Moffat, a few bits of the formula carried over. The first episode was to introduce the new companion (and Doctor, in this case). The next two were a story set in the future and a story set in the past. Then a two-parter, then a couple of rompy one-offs, another two-parter, two more one-offs to ramp up to the two-part finale. That’s the big picture we’re dealing with here. Keeping that formula for Matt Smith’s first season was a great way to keep the fans comfortable while everything else around the show changed. And, to be honest, some of us newbies needed that time to process everything that had happened and get used to how Doctor Who handles change.

Going into Doctor Who, I knew that change was a huge part of the show and I accepted that - even celebrated it. Well, I knew it in theory, at least. But until I’d experienced it for myself, it was all nebulous and abstract. I didn't really get it. One of the very first things that I found very jarring, was the tone of the stories (considering how much I go on about story and plot, this should surprise precisely no one). Series 5 has often been called the “fairy-tale season.” The stories in this season certainly do have an ethereal quality to them in the settings and the music and the characters. “The Beast Below” is a wonderful example of how things had changed. Even the clues to the mysteries that set the story in motion - the water glasses, Liz X’s mask, learning the truth of Starship UK and then forgetting - these make for a tone that is so very different than anything RTD ever did, but that we got hints of in Moffat’s writing before he became showrunner. Now, I love love LOVE fairy-tales, but it wasn't something I’d encountered in Doctor Who to that point and to suddenly hit that tonal-shift nearly put me off the show entirely. And it took me a while to be okay with Matt as the Doctor.

But I will tell you precisely when I was totally on board with the Eleventh Doctor. And it wasn't in “The Eleventh Hour," like it was for a lot of other people. It was in “The Beast Below.”

It’s really down to Amy Pond. Isn't that what the companion does - helps the audience cope with change? And now that I think of it, the whole “getting us through regeneration” phase was turned around in this case. The Doctor met Amelia Pond as a seven-year-old girl, but then she changed (well, he was late) and he had to come to terms with the fact that the girl he was knew was different. In many ways, “The Eleventh Hour” is the Doctor meeting young Amelia Pond and coping with the fact that she becomes adult Amy Pond the same way the audience was coping with the fact that Matt Smith isn't David Tennant (and some of us got through it better than others).

The moment Matt Smith became the Doctor - for me - is at the end of this story. And it’s not so much what the Doctor does, because the Doctor’s mad as hell about the whole situation - that part actually kind of scared me. But then Amy turns it all around and shows that the Doctor isn't really this angry, ragey character. All because she manages to put two and two together and figure out what’s really going on with the star whale and the children. She gets Liz X to “abdicate,” thus freeing the star whale and dooming everybody onboard.

Except... nothing happens. Other than a few tremors that uncouple the main structure from the star whale, Starship UK flies on as it always has. Because, as Amy says (emphasis added) -

“The Star Whale didn't come like a miracle all those years ago. It volunteered. You didn't have to trap it or torture it. That was all just you. It came because it couldn't stand to watch your children cry. What if you were really old and really kind and alone—your whole race dead, no future. What could you do then? If you were that old and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn't just stand there and watch children cry.”
It is worth noting that, to this point (more or less), the Doctor’s been traveling by himself. This is the first story in a couple of years that wasn't introducing a new companion. This is the first story since 2008 that we've had a steady Team TARDIS. The Doctor’s been hopping around willy-nilly and - he’s probably forgotten how to be the Doctor. We’re often reminded (whether in so many words or just by his actions) that the Doctor needs somebody. And Amy Pond - without even meaning to - demonstrates this so beautifully, simply by acting on the things that she’s observed and putting it all together in a way only she can. She’s been building up all these hopes over the years about her “Raggedy Doctor” and she (thinks she) knows what he’d really be like. To her everlasting credit, when the Doctor demonstrates one moment of anger and weakness, Amy stands up and basically says “This is not you - this in not how you’re supposed to be” and she reminds him of who he really is.

(And I’m gonna get a little schmaltzy here for a minute, and I know that fanboys don't like to get schmaltz in their Doctor Who, but it's worth it to me and I'm going to write about it).

I've talked about how when I started watching Doctor Who, I was in a rather desperate place in my life. I didn't have anything to look forward to. No goals, nothing that was very important to me. I was just going through the motions and I didn't feel like I had anywhere to turn to. And then I discovered this nutty little British TV show with its wonderful time- traveling alien and his companions and the fantastic adventures and stories and it just set my imagination ablaze. Even now, when I get lost in those dark corners of my mind, I watch an episode or listen to a Big Finish audio or read a novel or scroll around Tumblr. And there are other shows I watch that help through the tough times, but Doctor Who was the first show that made me realize that this was something good in my life. That looking at these stories and characters and analyzing them was something my mind loved. Something that would pull me out of the bleakness and sadness I’d been pushed into - and that it wasn't something to be ashamed of or hide from the the people in my life who love and care for me but Just Don’t Get It. My stresses and heartaches would still be there when I came back out, sure, but when I had the stories to turn back to, I felt like I could deal with them better (and there really is nothing like the sheer silliness of “Doctor Who and the Pirates” when you don’t feel like there’s anything in your life to laugh about).

At this point in my Who experience, Amy’s words resonated with me. Compared to the Doctor, the oldest human would be considered a child. And, considering how high-and-mighty the ancient race of Time Lords is/was, the Doctor probably shouldn't take on human companions. He ought to be above associating with such lowly creatures. But he does. Why? To show off? Partially. To have a friend? That too. But who does he choose usually? There are so many different companions from so many different backgrounds and their reasons vary widely. And this may be a stretch in many cases - but somewhere along the line, most companions express a wish for something new and exciting. They were bored with normal life. So, they ran off with a strange alien to travel through time and space and have grand adventures. Even when the adventures over, their lives will never be the same. And honestly - neither will mine.

So, there you go. One little line at the end of, “The Beast Below” helped me realize the good things in my life. That, coupled with the “Pile of Good and Bad Things” scene from “Vincent and the Doctor” encapsulates Doctor Who for me. Why it’s so important to me and why I love it so very much. In reality, it has very little to do with science-fiction and alien planets and time-travel, even though I enjoy those things. To me, it’s about loving something simple and brilliant and finding the good in it, even amidst the bad that everyone else keeps pulling out of it to fling in your lap. And honestly, I get tired of picking out bad things and fighting over it. Sometimes, I just want things to work out perfectly and be good all the way around. And the Doctor - with consistent reminders from his companions* - does that quite well.  Which makes him (and his companions) the kind of characters I want to keep me company.

To end this review, here’s a video I made a while ago when I had video-making software that actually worked (don’t know what happened). It probably says much better in 3-and-a-half minutes what I've been trying to ramble on for five paragraphs about.

Doctor Who - My Pile of Good Things from Wildcat Media on Vimeo.

*Hold onto that “consistent reminders from his companions” thought for a future review - I’m going to come back to that).

PS - Liz X is an amazing character. Before I really got on board with the River Song storyline, Liz X was the one I wished could come back more often. I still harbor a long-shot hope that she’ll turn up for another cameo one day.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Bonus Review #3 - “What’s so special about the 23rd of November 1963?” “As far as I know... nothing!”

Previously -
Review 10.3 - Family. It’s About Time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Who's Waldo - or Where's Doctor - Oh, You Know What I Mean!

Well, folks, we're in the homestretch regarding Doctor Who 50th Anniversary celebrations (Librarian in the TARDIS is no exception - two more reviews to go!)  As such, the official promotions are ramping up.  Feast your eyes on the latest tribute trailer (which may end up being a teaser for "The Day of the Doctor) -

Plenty of fannish eye-candy as well as some vocal cameos (I caught both Peter Davison and Paul McGann's voices echoing Matt Smith's in a few places).  And if you're like me and want to pick out all the little treats hiding in this quick 1-minute trailer, Kasterborous has a fantastic shot-by-shot photo gallery on their Facebook page that you can pour over to your heart's content.

(Also - I'm kind of hoping we get this version of the theme on a soundtrack at the very least. It's probably too much to hope that it'll be in the actual special, but I actually love it).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lessons in Unity and Friendship - Review of "The Year of the Book" by Andrea Cheng

Title: The Year of the Book
Author: Andrea Cheng
Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 2012
Recommended for Ages: 8 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world. Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.

My Review:
This is my second year as a reader/reviewer for the Beehive Book Awards (sponsored by the Children's Literature Association of Utah - must plug) and when I got the long list of books the committee was considering for next year's nominees, I was sort of... underwhelmed. Mostly because I was only familiar with one, maybe two, books on that list. But I figured this would be a great chance to discover some new titles and, who knows, I might fall in love with a few. Enough to write about them on my blog perhaps?

Well, I've finished a fair few already. Some have impressed me, some not so much. But none (so far - it hasn't even been a month) have enchanted me like The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng.

Most of the time, when I've read multicultural literature, I've felt very excluded.  Like, because I'm white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, I'm not supposed to relate or even care about these characters. At best, I'm supposed to be indifferent to these people. At worst, I am supposed to be a racist jerk. This "world" is not for me, nor am I supposed to feel like I want to gain entry. These worlds have been built up for a specific group of people and I am not part of that group, no matter how well-meaning or interested I may be - The fact remains that I am part of this arbitrary "majority," thus I am an unwelcome outsider for reasons outside of my personal control.

Quite frankly, it's insulting. Particularly because I've never had a racist tendency in my entire life, nor was I raised to be that way. But because of that feeling I've gotten from books in this genre, I've tended to shy away from multicultural literature. I got the message, people. You don't want me reading it. It's not for me or people who look like me. I'll just take my ball and go home, okay? (I am side-eyeing you so hard right now, The House on Mango Street).

But every so often, a book comes along that is considered "multicultural," but is also inclusive of everybody. A book that doesn't hide a main character's ethnicity, but also doesn't exclude the arbitrary "other" that our society has built-up to keep our little groups apart. A book aimed at children, but teaches everybody that you don't have to look or act or speak like the main character in a story in order to relate to them.

Anna Wang is a nine-year-old girl who wants to make friends. But she's shy and would much rather read a book than anything (oh gee - where have I heard that before? *points to self at nine years old*). Her mother, Mary (who's from China), works as a cleaning lady in an apartment building, while she studies to be a nurse. Her father (who's of Chinese descent, but from San Francisco) is a store manager. Anna goes to Chinese School as well as everyday public school, even though she has only been to China once and that was when she was too young to remember. Her mother speaks very accented Chinese and struggles to learn English, which sometimes embarrasses Anna.

This story is so different from any kind of "multicultural" novel I've read for the simple fact that Anna does not use her perceived differences as an excuse for her problems, nor does she use them to purposely exclude others. In her mind, there is no reason that she cannot be friends with the other girls in her class. In fact, it is her kindness toward another girl, Laura, that wins her the best friend she could possibly have. And Laura, whose parents are going through a heated separation, is only too glad to have a friend. Laura even asks Anna about Chinese culture and language and works to understand her new friend's background. There is zero prejudice here - real or imagined. It is childlike innocence and acceptance at it's finest and one only hopes that Anna and Laura stay friends throughout the years.

It's evident where Anna learns kindness from - her mother, Mary Wang, is one of the sweetest, most hard-working women in children's literature - probably in all kinds of literature as well.  Mary often takes Anna with her to work when she cleans the apartment building and one of the tenants in the building, Mr. Shepherd, is an elderly widower who needs help getting around, but still tries to be independent.  The first time we meet Mr. Shepherd, he has fallen out of his wheelchair and needs help to get up. And he only fell out in the first place because he was trying to get one of his late wife's dresses out of the closet because he thought Mary would like it. This first scene (and the brilliant illustration by Abigail Halpin) is such a touching moment - Anna and Mary helping the sweet, old Mr. Shepherd up and visiting with him because it's the right thing to do.  No distinctions made between American and Chinese - just human beings helping one another.

Mr. Shepherd isn't the only character who Anna is kind to. She laughs at Ray's, the crossing guard at her school, silly jokes.  She sends a card to Ms. Simmons', her teacher, ailing mother.  She befriends and helps Camille, a girl from Chinese School who transfers to Anna's school when Camille's parents discover that Camille has a learning disability and this other school is better equipped to help her. And she helps Laura, even though Laura was originally part of a group where the ringleader made it a point to ignore Anna - but then Laura ends up ostracized from the group as well. Anna remembers how it felt to be ignored and, rather than snub Laura for whatever part she played in that, Anna becomes her friend. Which ends up being so very crucial when Laura's parents split up and Laura ends up staying with Anna's family for a little while. There are hints that a lot more going on behind the scenes with Laura's parents that don't even enter into Anna's young mind, but as an adult reading this book, I was quite scared for Laura. But the narrative handles that situation so beautifully for a young audience - all kids need to know is Laura needs a friend and Anna is going to be that friend and I really appreciated how much talent it takes to write something like that. For that plot aspect alone, I have nothing but high praise for Andrea Cheng.

I haven't even really talked about Anna's books yet! The books Anna reads are integrated into the story so beautifully, it's almost impossible to have this story work without them.  So many of the key events in this story are tied to the books Anna is reading at the time (or she is reminded of books that's she's read before).  During Thanksgiving, she reads My Louisiana Sky, which helps her deal with the fact that her mother is still learning how to drive and doesn't speak perfect English - she likens Tiger Ann's struggle with her mother's disability to her own wishes for a "perfect" mother.  I love the paragraph Anna writes about the book:
I never thought of what it would be like if your mother was mentally retarded. At first, the girl wished she had a normal mother, but then she realized that she loved her mother the way she was. (Cheng, 69)
I totally love how many books Anna reads and how she relates them to herself.  Even Little Blue and Little Yellow becomes a Halloween costume for her and Laura (they paint a yellow circle and a blue circle on two pieces of posterboard that they loop around their necks) - even though people think that they're supposed to be a Visa card (which is hilarious to me, because that's MasterCard they're thinking of - which is red and yellow), Anna and Laura just have fun with it.

Another thing I love about Anna is that she's a far cry from being characterized the way many nine-year-old are in modern children's literature - she's not selfish or whiny or dominant. She loves her family and she's respectful of her parents, even though she sometimes wishes things were different. She tries hard to be kind to others, even when they are not kind back. She embraces her Chinese heritage and answers honest questions that people have about it (to their credit, the people in Anna's life are genuinely curious and politely ask Anna about Chinese culture and she is happy to share her knowledge). Anna is a remarkable role model for children to emulate - not just children who may be in "minority" group, but everybody.

This story made me feel like I wanted to be Anna's friend because of her kindness and intelligence and personality. And having a friend who could teach me Chinese would just be an added bonus. But beyond wanting to be Anna's friend - I actually feel like she would accept me as her friend. The tough issues were dealt with in a very age-appropriate manner, which I appreciated tremendously. But beyond that - this was a fantastic example of how kids don't see color or race or any of those boundaries that society has built up to keep everyone divided. Nobody needs to be a bully, nobody needs to be a victim. Friends are friends, people are people - and we need so many more stories to remind us of that. If you don't know where to start, The Year of the Book is a beautiful place to begin.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Family. It's About Time.

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 10.3

Title: Beautiful Chaos
Written by: Gary Russell
Team TARDIS: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble (and I’ll include Wilfred Mott, just because)
Adversary: Mandragora Helix, Dara Morgan, Madam Delphi
Originally Released: December 2008
Range and Number: New Series Adventures, #29

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
Wilfred Mott is very happy: his granddaughter, Donna, is back home, catching up with family and gossiping about her journeys, and he has just discovered a new star and had it named after him. He takes the Tenth Doctor with him to the naming ceremony. But the Doctor soon discovers something else new, and worryingly bright, in the heavens – something that is heading for Earth. It’s an ancient force from the Dark Times. And it is very, very angry...

My Review:
More than any other book (mostly because I’d hadn’t read any Classic Doctor novels), this was the one that I was most excited to see in this reprint range for the 50th Anniversary. Chronologically, it’s the last novel to be published with Donna as a companion and it also serves as a final goodbye to her story. But it also sort of sets up what comes next for the Noble family - even though it was published a year before “The End of Time” aired on TV (not sure what Gary Russell knew beforehand, or if he’s just really good at guessing. Either way, it’s a real treat). I didn’t know any of those details the first time I read this, though. I loved it on its own merits - just because it’s a fantastically beautiful story and there was something that drew me in. I think of all the novels they could have chosen for the Tenth Doctor, this is the one that most accurately represents how the Tenth Doctor solidified my love of Doctor Who - the reason I continued on in the show and into the fandom.

This story has all the hallmarks of an RTD-era story. One of the biggest differences between Classic Who and New Who that I've often heard talked about between is the greater emphasis on the companions’ family and friends in the new series. In our modern of television, that seems like a no-brainer. Family relationships are often explored in-depth on many popular TV shows - but back in the 1960s and beyond, it wasn't that big of a deal. Especially (I suppose) in science-fiction TV. Because the focus was typically on alien threats or sciencey explanations, not on characters’ background and family ties. The characters were largely a vehicle to tell an alien invasion story and didn't matter a whole lot. But think about it - did Sarah Jane’s Aunt Lavinia worry about her when she didn't come back from UNIT? How did Ian and Barbara’s family and friends react to their disappearance and inexplicable return two years later? What happened in the aftermath of the death of Tegan’s Aunt Vanessa? (oops - spoiler alert for “Logopolis” on that one) Scads of fanfiction has probably been written about these (and other) questions from Classic Who because, well, our modern perceptions about characters have changed. It’s not just about plot-driven stories (though heaven knows I love a tightly-woven plot) - you also need sympathetic characters to relate to and, sometimes, that involves bringing in their families and friends. And because those are largely missing from Classic Who, the fans step in and fill in the gaps.

(Speaking of fanfiction filling in the gaps in companions' lives, here's a wonderful story dealing with Ian and Barbara's return home and how they have to deal with friends' and family's questions about where they've been: Homecoming by Kazzy)

Now that I've got that tangent out of my system - "Beautiful Chaos" starts out with the Doctor bringing Donna to May 15, 2009 - the one-year anniversary of her father’s death. Donna's mother, Sylvia, is as abrasive as ever, but Grampa Wilf is understanding and loving and patient toward his granddaughter. The Doctor, sensing that he could be an unwelcome addition to this solemn day for the Noble family, takes off in search of some clue that has mysteriously appeared on the psychic paper.

(And, looking at the date, I realize that this probably creates a huge issue with the events after “Journey’s End” - what with Donna having had her mind wiped and all - but the fun of the novels is that their canonicity is very fluid. And if you don’t look too closely at it, you can enjoy a great little story without having the panic of “Canon Blinders” getting in the way of your fun. Thus, is the appeal of Doctor Who. At least, in the opinion of your not-so-humble correspondent, it ought to be).

As far as this story’s placement within the events of Series 4 (from Team TARDIS’s point of view, anyway) - At first, I was certain that this novel is set somewhere after “The Doctor’s Daughter.” But there was one line that made me think it could be after the Library two-parter. The Doctor is contemplating giving someone a hint about their personal future, but then he thinks that might not be a good idea. And then there’s this one sentence in its own paragraph:

“Spoilers, as someone once said.”

So, while there’s no more concrete evidence than that, I actually think this story comes some time after the Doctor and Donna’s trip to the Library. Which, given the bleakness and emotional roller coaster that was, puts even more poignancy into it. Like I wasn’t already thisclose to crying.

Anyway - back to House Noble: Wilfred has two new things in his life - (1) a not-girlfriend, Henrietta “Netty” Goodhart (subtle one there, Gary) and (2) Wilf has discovered a new star, which the Royal Planetary Society has named the 7432MOTT in Wilf’s honor. But the new star isn't everything it seems - it’s actually a Chaos Body, one of a number of unexplained space phenomena that are actually attached to the Mandragora Helix that has come to take over the population of Earth.

(If “Mandragora Helix” sounds familiar, that’s because this story is a sequel-of-sorts to the Fourth Doctor story, “The Masque of Mandragora.” I have seen “Masque,” but I don’t remember what happened. It’s one of those that I sort of lost interest in partway through and it just became background noise while I was doing something else and when it was over, I was left thinking “What the crap just happened?” Maybe your experience is different. If it is, let me know.)

The Mandragora has taken over a number of people and they’re converging on the Doctor because the Mandragora remembered how the Doctor stopped it all those centuries ago and it wants revenge. And it’s going to take it on the Doctor’s friends before it actually takes over the Doctor (a Time Lord would be a great little host for the psychic-based Mandragora). However, Netty, volunteers to be bait for the Mandragora - because Netty is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the Mandragora could take her over and if she “slips” into an Alzheimer’s episode, the Mandragora won’t be able to do anything and could be defeated.

(Tissues, anyone?)

This, understandably, upsets Wilf and, by extension, Donna. But once she understands the dangers and what’s at stake, Netty is insistent that she be the one to take the risk. And the scene that follows is handled so beautifully and so touching that you almost forget about the huge, impending alien threat. Ultimately, this story is more about the human relationships - first, the family relationships with Donna, Sylvia, and Wilfred; second, the relationship between Wilfred and Netty (and, to a lesser-degree, between Sylvia and Donna’s father, Geoff). And it makes sense to have that kind of shift in focus, especially since the Doctor has lost his home and family - no matter how terrible the Time Lords became, there still must have been friends or family that he left behind.

Now, I know there are probably going to be a few fanboys who’ll get all bent out of shape over those “icky feelings and emotions” getting into their Doctor Who - there is a serious alien threat in the story that you can focus on if you choose to (I deliberately did not include any of the spoilery details of the Mandragora’s plans to take over the universe, so you can read all about that yourselves). But what I love about this story is that the fear of alien threat is compounded by the connection I (as a reader) have to the characters involved. It brings the story home and makes me feel even more invested than I was before. And it also allows me to read more into other stories from Doctor Who’s past and make other connections and read between the lines - and probably write fanfic in my head (though I don’t know if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to write my own).

To conclude - fantastic story, bit of a tear-jerker, lovely character moments, return of a Classic Who villain (which, you’d only notice if you were familiar with the Mandragora in the first place), and it all makes for my favorite New Series Adventure novel. Highly recommended and, with it being reprinted for the 50th Anniversary, now is a great time to add it to your bookshelf.

(C’mon - do it! You know you want to!)

Another Thing I Noticed But Couldn’t Shoehorn Into My Review - The Tenth Doctor hates bow ties. When he’s getting ready to accompany Donna and Wilf to the big Star-Naming Banquet with the Royal Planetary Society, he has to dress up in black-tie and he remarks that bow ties make him look like a waiter. Obviously, formal dress bow ties are slightly different than the Eleventh Doctor’s professorial bow ties, but it was a hilarious remark, knowing what the Doctor’s next incarnation’s dress sense becomes. Almost makes me wish Ten could meet Amy Pond.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 11.1 - The One That Saved My Life (not exaggerating in the slightest - you’d think I’d get tired of telling this story...)

Previously -
Bonus Review #2 - The Enemy of My Enemy

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Enemy of My Enemy

Librarian in the TARDIS, Bonus Review #2

Title: The Enemy of the World
Written by: David Whitaker
Team TARDIS: Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield
Adversary: Ramon Salamander
Originally Aired: Dec 23, 1967-Jan 27, 1968
Number of Episodes: 6

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
On Earth in 2018, the Doctor and his companions are enmeshed in a deadly web of intrigue thanks to his uncanny resemblance to the scientist/politician Salamander. He is hailed as the "shopkeeper of the world" for his efforts to relieve global famine, but why do his rivals keep disappearing? How can he predict so many natural disasters? The Doctor must expose Salamander's schemes before he takes over the world.

My Review:
The idea to review this story came to me on my way into work today right after I finished watching “The Enemy of the World” on iTunes (let that statement sink in for a bit...) Because this was one that I thought I would enjoy watching and I am so very pleased to report that it lived up to my expectations. So, why not slot in a special Bonus Review to go along with the rest of my 50th Anniversary reviews? (it’s my blog, my project, I do what I want!)

Let me back up - last night, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and the various fansites were all aglow and abuzz with the joyous news of the return of “The Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear” to the BBC archives. The joy was even more palpable because both of these stories had been made available to the public immediately via iTunes, with the further announcement of DVD releases for both (“Enemy” next month, “Web” in January 2014). I hadn’t intended on getting either one of them quite yet, mostly because my personal finances are a little bit strapped at the moment (don’t worry - things are fine. It’s just that there are certain things in life that take precedence). However, upon doing a few further calculations, I reasoned that I could purchase one of these two stories. I settled on “The Enemy of the World” because I had watched Episode 3 on the “Lost in Time” box set some months ago and for whatever reason, that’s the one out of all the missing Troughton stories that really resonated with me at the time (I know people are the most excited about “The Web of Fear,” and I will be getting to that one eventually and I have no reason to say anything against it - if indeed there is anything negative to say about it at all. I just haven’t seen it yet, so I have no idea).

So, “The Enemy of the World” it was. And after a 3+ hour download (I’m on my internet provider’s “It’s Better Than Nothing” El Cheapo plan), I was ready to tuck in and enjoy a veritable feast of Who.

And what a feast it was! There are so many things to love about this story and I’ll probably only be able to go in-depth on a few, but it was so very worth the ten bucks (plus whatever the DVD ends up costing - because I’m likely going to drop dineros on that as well).

Here I am wishing they'd taken this approach
with all of the DVD cover art! Oh well...
One of the greatest things about this find of Classic Who is that these are two stories that restore the lovely Miss Victoria Waterfield (played by Deborah Watling) to our screens. I’ve said before that I found the dismissal of Victoria as “just a screamer” not very fair, but I didn’t have much evidence to support that. But I am tired of the surface impression of the early Who female companions just being screamers in short skirts (I could do an entire essay on the many ways in which those assertions are wrong - with specific examples - but the people who need to hear them wouldn’t bother to read it anyway). Granted, the Victoria I found in “The Enemy of the World” may be a bit timid, sure. But there’s nothing wrong with being shy and reserved. Remember - Victoria joined Team TARDIS as a result of the death of her father and she didn’t have anywhere else to go (not really). Imagine being thrown into a situation like that - you don’t know who you can trust or how you’re going to be taken care of. Some may not like the idea of Victoria being the poor, weak little girl who needs a big, tough man to protect her - and I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that she needs a man, per se. But what she does need (and what everybody needs at one point or another) is a friend. The Doctor and Jamie become Victoria’s friends because they care about what happens to her. That doesn’t make someone weak or insignificant or less-valued. That makes someone human. And, as often happens on Team TARDIS, those friendships evolve into a feeling of family. Sure, you’re hopping all around in space and time and running from frightening monsters and crazy psychopaths - but as long as you’ve got your adopted family with you, things are going to be just fine. And on that level, I love Victoria’s characterization. I love her bravery and her courage. I love her dependability. I love that she gets scared, but she still steps up when she is needed. That’s what makes a hero. It’s not necessarily the willingness to throw a punch that makes someone heroic

(Though I wouldn't trade Jamie knocking out a hostile on the beach while shouting “Creig au Tuire!” for anything - that was awesome. But that’s in Jamie’s character and there are things that I love about Jamie that make him different from Victoria or Zoe or Ben or Polly - but I talked a lot about that in my review of “The Evil of the Daleks,” so I’ll let that analysis stand on its own).

But there are a fantastic couple of scenes in Episode 5 where Jamie and Victoria have been captured by Salamander’s men and they’re being interrogated by Benik. And Benik is quite the horrible little sadist. He threatens Victoria, which upsets Jamie but there’s nothing he can really do about it - not without getting Victoria hurt or killed. There were some moments where I actually thought “Holy... this is supposed to be a kids’ show!” (before amending my own thought - “family show.” Still, it was scary stuff! And I’m 28!)

I really liked the iTunes
 cover art for this story - nice
and intense!
But then the Doctor comes in, clearly impersonating Salamander and fooling everyone - including Jamie and Victoria - and says that he will continue the interrogations. Which he does - even with Benik and Benik’s little “puppy dog” (as the Doctor calls Random Guard #3) out of the room. And Victoria has had it! She finally tells off “Salamander” and yells what a horrible man he is and all the things she and Jamie found out about him while they were sneaking around his compound in Episodes 2 and 3 - which amounts to the proof the Doctor has been looking for when Astrid and Giles first asked him to help them bring down Salamander (plus, Benik comes back, still thinking the Doctor is Salamander, and hands him some documents to sign. Who knew the catering bills would be so damning?) Jamie gets in the fracas too, thus proving to Bruce that Salamander really is a creep.

And then - just when Victoria and Jamie are so angry that they’re probably going to beat the crap out of “Salamander” (yes, even sweet, innocent Victoria is pissed enough at this point to throw a punch or two), the Doctor reveals to his friends that it’s really him. But neither Jamie nor Victoria quite believe it (who can blame them?) and it’s only when the Doctor plays “air-recorder” (in one of the most heartwarming and delightful moments I’ve seen Patrick Troughton display) that both Jamie and Victoria recognize their friend and their reunion is something that should be ranked on one of those “Top Doctor Who Moments” lists that someone somewhere has probably compiled (we Whovians are fond of our lists).

I haven’t even gotten into any plot elements of this story! The storytelling in “The Enemy of the World” is just so tight and engaging. The only reason I realized that I had already watched four episodes when I suddenly felt very sleepy, on account of it being so late (I decided to go to bed at that point and save the rest for when I was fully alert). This story trucks. It moves and it’s interesting and it’s just so much fun to watch! Patrick Troughton is simply brilliant as both the Doctor and Salamander. The best part about his performance is the subtle differences when he’s the Doctor impersonating Salamander. You know that he’s playing the Doctor playing a different role, but even if you didn’t know that, you would probably be fooled right along with Jamie and Victoria and the rest. And the other characters are phenomenal too. I think my favorites were Astrid and Fariah - Astrid’s kind of the action-lady who saves Team TARDIS from the guys hunting Salamander on the beach at the beginning and Fariah is Salamander’s food taster who actually hates Salamander and she ends up helping the Doctor escape (and sacrificing herself in the process, but her death scene is really quite good).

I could go on and on about this story and how much I enjoyed it. But it’s also such a wonderful treat to FINALLY have it back. It was one of those that I pretty much had resigned myself to never being able to see, but I figured I could listen to the audios and read the novelization - but there’s so much that you miss with just having those little pieces of the story. You miss the facial expressions and the movements and the scenery (the wallpaper in Salamander’s compound - yeah, even that made me laugh) and you miss just what kind of people these characters are. Animation and recons help, but there really is nothing like seeing the story as it was originally broadcast.

Of course, rumors persist and there’s always hope - however dim - for more finds. This huge discovery has brought the number of missing episodes down to 97 (down to double-digits! HOORAY!) and there are expert archivists out there still searching for whatever else they can uncover. There’s still a long way to go to having a complete collection of every Doctor Who episode ever made - and who knows whether or not that’s actually possible...

But for now - we dance!

Other Librarian in the TARDIS reviews of the Second Doctor -

Review 2.01 - A Work of Heart (TV: The Evil of the Daleks)
Review 2.02 - A Reunion of Friends (Big Finish: The Forbidden Time)
Review 2.03 - The Celestial Chessmaster (Novel: Dreams of Empire)

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 10.3 - The Most Ancient and Noble House

Previously -
Review 10.2 - Life Can Be a Bumpy Ride, Let the Doctor Smooth It Out

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Missing No Longer

I've been posting all over Twitter and Facebook about the news and it seemed silly, in a year where the Librarian in the TARDIS has been hopping all over time and space, to not devote some blog space to this momentous event.

Turns out all those crazy, overblown rumors were true - at least, that there have been nine previously missing classic Doctor Who episodes recovered.  Details of the find and today's press screening are here (background info on missing episodes in general - if you need it - can be found here).  We now have "The Enemy of the World" in its entirety and "The Web of Fear," minus Episode 3 (which, undoubtedly, will be animated in due course for a future DVD release).

Some months ago, I borrowed the "Lost in Time" DVDs set from my local library and I, like many other Whovians, mourned the fact that I couldn't see these stories in their complete forms.  I was especially heartbroken after seeing the one episode of "The Enemy of the World" that was available (that was episode 3) because that seemed like a remarkably fun story (I loved Jamie and Victoria's interactions in that one - and how wonderful is it that we have more Victoria stories!  There are so few of hers available).  "The Web of Fear" seems to be one that's fairly well-loved that I just haven't gotten around to experiencing, but I love the Brigadier and that's his first appearance as the Brigadier (though he was Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart at the time), so that's just as exciting.

What's interesting is that the Great Intelligence featured heavily in the most recent season of Doctor Who, even though neither of the Classic Who serials that it was featured in were available.  But now, we have one of them ("The Web of Fear").  I don't mean anything by this - other than that's pretty serendipitous, if indeed it was a coincidence (I'm inclined to think that it is because the Great Intelligence didn't show up until last year's Christmas Special and that was filmed last August, so that's a hell of a long time to be sitting on news like this).

In the run-up to this announcement, everyone had their pet episodes and everyone was saying "I hope they find X!"  I admit, neither of these were on my radar, but I'm glad to have them nonetheless.  And of course, I hope that more are found.  But for now - I'm off to iTunes!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We Now Join the Fangirling, Already in Progress

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martins/Griffin
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Recommended for Ages: 17 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Review:
Fandom. It's an odd little thing, isn't it? I'm sitting here, having finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell the night before a potentially BIG, HUGE, EARTH-SHATTERING announcement about the discovery of "a number" of heretofore missing Doctor Who episodes hits the internet (my ever-optimistic heart wants that vague "number" to be over a hundred, but my realistic brain keeps tempering it down to three). Earlier today, I listened to the latest Verity Extra! in which the Verity! ladies squeed about all the Doctor Who delights that fill them with glee (to borrow a phrase). Mere weeks ago, it was announced that JK Rowling is writing a new spin-off movie in the Harry Potter world and around that same time, I officially joined Pottermore (the two events aren't really connected, but they're related). The Legend of Korra is in full swing and I've fangirled incessantly over the episode from two weeks ago in which we saw a photograph of Aang and Katara's family (I reblogged that probably twenty times on Tumblr and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon).

Fandom. It's become a way of life for me. And that is why I totally, utterly, completely adored Fangirl.

Fangirl is the story of Cath Avery, a college freshman who is a superfan of Simon Snow (very much a Harry Potter franchise analogue, just to avoid any lawsuits or whatever. Which is fine. The franchise itself isn’t nearly as important to this story as what it affects in one of its fans).  She writes fanfiction and not just any fanfiction.  She is right in the middle of an epic work of Carry On, Simon, as the rest of the world anticipates the eighth and final book in the Simon Snow series.  But other things in her life try to pull her away.  Her twin sister, Wren, once a fervent fellow fan has drifted away in favor of boys and booze.  Cath's father isn't taking the departure of his daughters so well (their mother left their family a long time ago).  Cath's roommate looks upon Cath's fannish-ness with some disdain (at least, at first).  And the major that Cath chose (English) isn't as accepting of her fanworks as she initially hoped.

I relate to Cath on so many levels, it's kind of scary.  Even down to majoring in English because I thought it would be a great excuse to enjoy writing and literature (yeeeeaaahhh... not so much.  At least, not the kind of writing and literature I was interested in.  Not to sound completely morbid or anything, but I can understand why Sylvia Plath stuck her head in the oven).  My freshman year of college, I was all kinds of hyped up about Harry Potter (and about Lord of the Rings, to a lesser-extent).  And it annoyed my roommates - especially the one that was on a very pointed campaign to be engaged by the end of her freshman year (amazingly, she got some poor schlub to slide a ring on her finger with two days left of Finals Week. Me? I'd only recently realized that you could get married in college (I was - still am - a late bloomer). Being the affable, easy-going person I am, I tried to temper my enthusiasm for it, but I eventually learned not to hide my fangirly ways from the people I'm around because they're going to come out anyway and it's best if I do it on my terms and I found that most people respect me for it (and it's not like I'm trying to hide a drug addiction or something anyway - what do I have to be ashamed of?)  I never really wrote fanfiction, though I had plenty of ideas that I could just never see myself writing.  But that doesn't mean I don't understand the process of immersing yourself in fandom when times get tough.  I do it all the time.

It's amazing that we've gone so long without a book like Fangirl, but Rainbow Rowell's got the whole fangirl thing down pat.  There are plenty of coming-of-age books where the protagonist is still in high school and just trying to navigate the stormy seas of adolescence - but those stormy seas usually involve learning how to socialize with the right crowds of people, getting good grades, initiation into wild parties, peer pressure, getting along with parents.  Never has a book taken a coming-of-age that involved online fandom, which is something that (I think) is sorely needed for this new generation of people who became adults on the internet.  We really were the first batch of kids who connected with people, not based on geographic location, but based on common interests.  I can honestly say that the majority of the people in my age group and immediate area drive me up the freaking wall (certainly there are exceptions and they know who they are).  But when I meet my online friends in real life, we have a blast!  And it's because we've bonded via Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook over these stories and characters.  One of my favorite moments in Fangirl is when Cath meets a girl whose been reading her fanfiction and the girl gushes about it to Cath (though the girl doesn't realize that she's talking to the author of the fanfiction and Cath doesn't say anything).

I realize that this isn't so much a review of this fantastic novel (which you all should read whether or not you understand fandom at all) - but it's given me an avenue to explore my fangirl-ways and to geek-out over the things that I love.  Because that's what this book is - it's a celebration of all things fangirl (and fanboy, come to think of it) and it's a love-letter to all the fandoms that have gotten through those long days when we all felt alone or misunderstood or abandoned.  I think everyone gets that way and we all need something to pull us out of the dark places.  I know my fandoms have been a vital part of that for me (among other things) and that's why I appreciated Cath's story so much.  It doesn't matter that her fannish-ness manifested in a way that's totally different than mine - I understand the culture.  And I love it so very, very much.

I don't know what I'd do without it.

Afterword: It's interesting (for me) that this book came out this year because, after the utter disappointment that 2012 was to me, I declared that 2013 would be the Year of the Fangirl - meaning that I would not expect anything of 2013 except for things that I knew for certain were coming.  Most of that meant the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, new Marvel Universe movies as well as Agents of SHIELD, The Hobbit, Gallifrey One, the rebooted Sailor Moon anime (which actually got pushed back to 2014, but that's neither here nor there) and a whole host of other things that I can't remember right now, but they were important.  It's just a personal thing and not really a wide-spread event, but I like it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Life Can Be a Bumpy Ride. Let the Doctor Smooth it Out

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 10.2

Title: The Forever Trap
Written by: Dan Abnett
Team TARDIS: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Adversary: Ilk, Nanovores
Originally Released: October 2008
Range and Number: New Series Adventure Audio Stories #2

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Doctor and Donna are imprisoned on the Edifice - and become neighbours to a terrifying assortment of aliens. When the TARDIS is invaded by a holographic marketing scam, the Doctor and Donna find themselves trapped on the Edifice, a purpose-built complex of luxury apartments in space. Their new environs leave much to be desired: millions of beings from across the Universe have been gathered to live side by side in similar apartments. Instead of creating neighbourly affection, it's led to terrible battles being waged in the corridors and on the stairwells. The Doctor and Donna must cross the paths of deadly alien mobs as they search for the Edifice's ultimate authority. Who - or what - lies at the heart of the incredible complex? What destructive scourge is eating away at the Edifice itself? And are the Doctor and Donna trapped forever in this living hell?

My Review:
Now that it's fall and a lot of TV shows are beginning their new seasons, I've picked up a few new interests.  And there are a lot of things that I've really enjoyed.  But at the same time, I can't help but think "How many different stories can you tell with just this group of characters and this very same premise?  You guys have gotta come up with some good stuff or it's just not going to work in the long-term."  And that's just a fact of television (and movies, to a lesser degree).  But Doctor Who doesn't have that problem.  As long as there are writers willing to write for the show (and in some cases, "willing" is more like "breaking down the door with a bulldozer"), it never runs the risk of getting old and tired.  Oh, you might have to change out actors, producers, writers, etc. - but there seems to be a never-ending supply of new people waiting in the wings to do something new with that same premise. Whether that's writing TV episodes or novels or comics or audio plays - it's so darn versatile.  And that's something that occurred to me while I was listening to "The Forever Trap" and that's primarily why I chose to review this story.

Let me back up a bit so you know why I say that: There was this little lull period between the time I finished New Who and when I started seeking out Classic Who. I loved Doctor Who and was sold on it now and forever. But I reached the point where most people mainlining a TV show go “Now what?” I wasn't quite sure that I even wanted to try out Classic Who - my faith in my ability to enjoy old-school TV wasn't as strong then as it is now. Oh, sure, I loved the original Star Wars trilogy and preferred it to the newer, flashier, CGI-ier prequels (there’s something about practical effects that grounds a sci-fi/fantasy story in reality) - but could I handle it on TV?

Instead of jumping right into Classic Who, I sought out the New Series novels. And their audiobooks. A great many of which were read by David Tennant, which I quite enjoyed (did you all know he’s actually Scottish?) (and before someone goes all indignant fanboy on me, that was a joke). Thing is, most of the audiobooks I found had a corresponding novel to go with them - hence the “book” part of “audiobook.” But those were the straightforward “someone is reading the book to you chapter-by-chapter.”  But "The Forever Trap" is slightly different than that. It’s by no means a full-cast audio, or even a two-person audio (eg - Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range). This particular story is Catherine Tate reading this story, just as though it were an audiobook. But there is no actual published novel and the narrative makes use of music and sound effects throughout the story.  The best way I can think of to describe this is it's a melding of audiobook and audioplay.

The story itself starts with Donna and the Doctor in the TARDIS.  The Doctor is tinkering with something under the TARDIS console and Donna's just sort of watching him when this hologram-thing just appears inside the TARDIS console room.  Now, Donna knows this is supposed to be impossible because, well, she did it before and the Doctor said was supposed to be impossible.  The hologram is actually an offer for an intergalactic luxury apartment in The Edifice - it's basically a spambot sent to advertise random crap.  Donna and the Doctor vehemently express their disinterest when the TARDIS jolts and Donna accidentally brushes up against the pamphlet the spambot is offering. Touching the pamphlet constitutes a binding contract and the Doctor and Donna are immediately transported to the Edifice as though they agreed to move in.

Inside their new apartment, the TARDIS is shut down, there's a welcoming bowl of fruit, and the view outside is a magnificent melding of Gallifrey and Chiswick.  Some of the neighbors are friendly, some are outright hostile (who in their right mind would put Sontarans and Rutans on the same floor?), and some are dead (that's what happens when you transport alien jellyfish to a place with no water).  The Doctor and Donna make it their priority to find out what happened to a nice, respectable, legitimate business enterprise into a prison full of people who were tricked into coming here - and why.

I could spoil the ending for you - but the ending is actually what makes this story so enjoyable.  Maybe a veteran Whovian can see it coming a mile off, but when I listened to it for the first time I thought it was quite the little twist.  This was one of those stories that impressed me with the sheer scope and imagination that this franchise was capable of. It's one thing to talk about "Oh yeah - the characters can go anywhere in time and space" and to simply know that as a fact of the show's premise - but to actually see that in practice is a very remarkable thing.

Shifting gears a bit - I've got to talk about Donna Noble.  As much as I love Rose and Martha, Donna is probably my hands-down, favorite companion of New Who.  Maybe it's because her story mirrored mine the most when I was first watching the show - someone who wants to be independent and successful even though outside circumstances have blocked her path, yet she keeps on trying.  Not just trying, but trying in the most unconventional ways.  And when she finally gets her chance with the Doctor - she positively shines.  She has some fabulous moments in that one season she got, but my absolute favorite comes at the end of "The Fires of Pompeii" where she pleads with the Doctor to save just one person from the volcano.  To this point, Donna had proven herself to be smart, funny, and sassy - but in that moment, she showed what she meant when she told the Doctor that he needed someone to make him better.  And in so many ways, the Doctor made her a better person too - helped her with her confidence and self-worth (I make it a habit to ignore how her story ended - in my headcanon, the Time-Lord-energy-stuff is only a problem if she travels in the TARDIS, but she retained all her memories and (more importantly) the growth she experienced in her time with the Doctor. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it).  Probably the best thing about "The Forever Trap" is that it's more of Catherine Tate being brilliant as Donna.  Her reading of the whole story is very good, but anytime she gets to be Donna is just wonderful.  I don't know if Catherine Tate won any awards for her time on Doctor Who, but if she didn't, that is a crime against humanity (well, a crime against the acting industry, at least).

If you like the Tenth Doctor, if you like Donna Noble, if you like audiobooks and audio plays, or if you just like more Doctor Who, this story is certainly one you should seek out and give a shot.  It's different, but it's a good kind of different. Which, I guess sums up all of Doctor Who.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Bonus Review #2 - Christmas has come early, Whovians!

Previously -
Review 10.1 - Nope, I Like This One Too. Get Over It.