Saturday, 31 October 2015

Feast Of Samhain.

It is the very cusp of Samhain and darkness beckons. The long cold nights are upon us and we need something to mark its arrival. Me, I like to make an effort to mark the occasion with a few good books with a Halloween or at least Edge Of November feel. Even if I have read the books in question before.This year I picked up;
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell should be read once a year every year starting at the beginning of October and devoured by gas light. Or a reading lamp. It is a remarkable piece of work by two men on the very top of their game. Thought provoking, savagely scary and a terrifying glimpse into a personality from the pit. A Twenty Four Hundred and Ninety-nine Penny Dreadful..
Never read anything by Rob Zombie but I liked his Halloween movies. Especially the feast of The Pumpkin King dream sequence( although it may not have been called that.). A real Mad Hatter's Tea Party.The mother of Mysteries on a huge white horse is the stuff of nightmares and the horrible violence in his movies remain just that;Horrible. The Harry Potter books may have neutered witches to a degree, as the Twilight books seem to have done to vampires, but this book will serve to remind new readers why they used to be feared. In Rob Zombies hands the lines between bad behaviour and just pure evil become so blurred there is no difference.
The first James Herbert I have read since whenever and a reminder of why I liked his stuff when I was growing up. British horror pulp that draws you on and on into a place where all the monsters hate you.
 This final book choice was this one I only tracked down after a recommendation by the terribly well read Joe Gordon of Forbidden Planet International's blog.(Check out his wonderful Woolamaloo Gazette. You will find a place to go you will never tire off.) A truly awful human being travels through time slaying those who shine for him. It is dark but quite brilliant humane writing. By which I mean Lauren Burke really nails the monstrous quality that some of us possess. Despite the title it is not a light read.
Or perhaps you are feeling particularly louche and wish to be read to rather to do it one-self . You have got to hear this performance by the very heaven mister Tom Baker on You Tube. His warm brown autumnal tones lure you to a world of scary bliss. I have suggested before it is worth seeking out and I will add  a super hurrah to that suggestion.
                                        Best of the Season to anyone, if anyone is, reading this.
                                                               You especially.
                                                            You are my favorite.

Stand And Deliver.

Ishildr has grown to have a touch of The Catwoman about her, That is to say she is playing a dangerous game of robbing the rich to give to the er...well, to keep for herself. This is exactly the nasty sort of personal habit immortals are inclined to develop as they face the unending decades which turn into centuries without full stops; just doing daft things to pass the time. Like The doctor spending all his time protecting humanity when he really should find something useful to do..actually that is a wonderful thing to do. More Power To His Elbow!Was this episode the second part of a two part story or was it the second of two tales in the very long life of a girl who died and then lived again. We learnt it was not even just the second time The Doctor saw Ishildr as he claimed to have watched with pride as she opened a leper colony. Although the casuality with which he mentioned it she could have won an egg and spoon race. Poor Ishildr struggling with coming to terms with outliving every one she loves and the only person who could perhaps guide is hiding behind a bush smiling at her efforts to better the lot of her fellow man.
              I thought this was a bit cruel and a very alien thing to do on behalf of The Doctor. Which of course he is, alien that is. If Clara suffered an ingrown toe-nail he would bend the laws of space and time to suture her. Did The Doctor learn nothing by his treatment of Jack Harkness?
              Was that not a sensitive turn by Rufus Hound(What a great name.)Never more so than when he played for time to escape the rope for just a few moments more. Funny and even tragic by turns. Ishildr made for a very dandy highwayman and easily made the transition into a buxsome lady of the manor. The Coucteaux-like alien made a nice lady bird books fairy tale villan. An alien that looks like a lion and is called Leandro. If he had looked like an elephant would he have been called Elephanto? Or if he looked like a badger would he have been called Badgerdo? Ah with these historicals they are spoiling us.
                Beautiful looking episode. All forest and Olde Worlde Englande. Happy days.
                Wonder if that was really Clara who entered The Tardis at the end of the episode? With Zygons about you can never be really sure. After all Amy Pond once burst like a pod of milk and Clara looked pale to me..almost milky...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Where History Began.

It just one of those moments of cosmic alignment or at the very least a delicious slice of serendipity but the latest volume of Doctor Who A Complete History is an edition that covers the first two episodes. Trying to explain just where all that telly magic germinated is a bit like catching stellar lightning in a test tube and studying it to break down its imaginative components. Pretty damn difficult but stunning all the same.
              There is stuff in this volume which will just make you sigh. It is delightful.
               Photographs you have never seen before and anecdotes as familiar as old songs you never get tired of listening too. They are waiting between the covers of this book. You can almost smell that cold night on 23rd November 1963 when it all began.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

An Earthly Gift.

Just look at this wee thing of beauty. The high church Hartnell himself lovingly crafted and hand painted in fine detail (Oh thats Ye Old Toyshop Keeper in me talking. Sounds a bit corny I know but I do love this range of figures) Just feels so right on the cusp of the dark November nights a-coming that this figurine should appear.
              "If you could touch the alien sands and hear the cry of strange birds,
               and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"
                        William Hartnell/Doctor Who/An Unearthly Child.
                                                     November 1963.

The Witch Hunters.

There are just some places and moments in human history which as a time-traveler it would probably best to avoid. Particularly if by your very nature you are possessed of an unearthliness that would lead you to stand out at the best of times. Consider how young Susan The Doctor's grand daughter was the original unearthly child and you would rightly think that the village of Salem at the very height of the notorious witch trials is not the best place to be when you look like the off-spring of Queen Titania of Faerie( I never thought they made enough of the wonderfully cast Carole Ann Ford as Susan Of Galifrey and her alien other-worldliness . Look how amazing and suggestive of an arch degree of intelligence and mystery they exude.) Yet the author Steve Lyons pulls it all together giving a plausible and faithful to the period of the show explanation for this classic Tardis crew deciding to rest up in such a dangerous location. He does a great job recreating the dynamics and characters of Hartnell's A team. There are some moments and particular actions I do not think would be allowed to have happened in that era of BBC broadcasting but he does not stray too far and remains smartly within the boundaries of tasteful discretion when dealing with subject matter that spirals to the depths of cruelty that human beings are capable off. Cotton Mather, Tituba the slave, Abigail and her twisted pals are all here in the text as The Doctor and his companions are truly in The Crucible and all seems lost at more that one point in the tale. Finding themselves caught up in the web of time and clutching at the threads it is built off not knowing which will seal their doom. It is a powerful atmospheric tale and a great  beginning to a series of BBC Who books called The History Collection. Journeys with The Doctor in various incarnations with different companions. I have seen all the covers and they make a very striking set.It would have been lovely to have produced the series with old style Target Chris Achilleos covers. They hold up so well themselves after all these years and would have made a nice tribute and gave a knowing sense of continuity. One of the earliest historical books  I read was The Crusaders by David Whitaker and I thought it was really exciting with a legendary (to my young mind.) Tardis crew. As I came on board with the third Doctor and Jo Grant Ian, Barbara and Susan had traveled with the Doctor a hundred years before when the whole world was in black and white. A summer was a lifetime at that age.
              I do not know if it is a by product or side effect of having been brought up a catholic but I find religious fervor or hysteria terrifying. Just as for the sake of love people will do the most inhumane things in the name of religion.It is like some constantly mutating virus that devours its host. A human stew and the secret ingredient is madness.This novel does not shy away from such notions and is all the stronger for it. I found the plight of one of the central characters to be so engaging and scary that it took me out of that comfort zone that usually comes with books outside of the regular canon. The writing was so strong I remembered this was actual human history and the real cost that came in human life. The Doctor struggles to do the right thing, trying to balance his responsibility to the web of time and his duty of care to these human beings he spends so much time with. I felt genuinely moved and like his companions hoping for things not to end the way I knew they had to.
              The Crucible by Arthur Miller( Norma Jean's Himbo.) is a timeless piece of work whose major themes are almost transferable to any era it is revived in and the text of that play is more than just referenced. I believe all the victims of this particular witch hunt were granted posthumous amnesties generations after their brutal treatment and terrifying executions.
               I do not believe the dead care about such things.
               Only the living can learn.

Heroes and Hybrids.

The Girl Who Died.What a fantastic tale. Worthy enough to be told about a crackling smoky fire in a Viking long-house. One small band of Viking heroes and their wondrous strange visitors taking on a band of space bullies who intend, drink them! A tale worth recounting as might have been told in the glory days of Noggin The Nog(Who joyously got a name check. Hope Peter Firmin was watching.) For me it was one of those episodes that felt it had a transcendentally running time in that they managed to get so much into a single story. That said it was not even the end of the story as the epilogue suggests so much more.Not as much as the preview of next weeks off course.
           What a lovely shot that was too; near the beginning of the episode as we watched The Doctor wipe his shoe on the grass and Clara leaned out of the open doors of The Tardis. The forest at night and the glimpse of the interior of The Doctor's home. Just Lovely. One of those quiet moments that makes one sigh. And smile.
              More talk of hybrids too. A theme? Coming from a hybrid himself. Oh yes, do not discount the facts we learned about The Doctor in the television movie. That he is half human. Like it or not the discovery made by The Master is canon after all. Yet no one ever mentions it. As if a human heritage is something to be ashamed off.
               Another theory off mine with regard to continuity came to nothing. I had thought the young Viking Ashildr would prove to be some human incarnation of The Master's daughter. An adopted child abandoned or seized by the Vikings in some earlier raid. Well if the Master/Missy would go to the trouble of hiding himself/herself  at the very end of time why not hide the only person he/she felt kinship with some where in a dark age? I suppose the story of the girl who died has still to play out but I do not think this will now prove to be the case.
(This is one of Peter Firmin's wonderful pieces of art. I use only with respect and affection for his work. Seek out The Noggin The Nog dvd. It is a truly wonderful thing.)

The Monogram Murders.

Someone other than Christie writing Hecule Poirot! Why, when I told the vicar he almost choked on his port. "the Deuce you Say!",he exclaimed in red faced clerical bemusement. Being something of a rum old fop himself I knew he would soon be intrigued by the idea and take a peak . I mean how could he resist the beautifully designed cover with its self aware art deco frippery.
               I wonder if it was difficult for Sophie Hannah to decide to take on the character of Poirot and the vanished world he used to navigate through. I imagine during Agatha Christie's own life most of her readers may have found her characters worlds fanciful and remote but the modern world makes them seem even more so. For me it is one of the present delights of picking up an Agatha Christie without a thought for when it originally published. I think Sophie Hannah has done a sterling job which is to say she has made a shiny and eye catching addition to a published canon which has literally topped the billion mark in world wide sales. I cannot visualise a billion of anything( probably explains why a billion billion Daleks attacking The Doctor's home-world did not freak me out too much. Mind you a single demented one chasing Rose Tyler around an underground base was pretty nerve wracking.) much less a billion books. I am trying as I write his and am basically seeing a huge ladder built out of books tottering Babel-like to the heavens.
               Whilst out for an evening meal during a sojourn from his own life Poirot finds himself drawn into an entirely mannered mystery that really kicks off when three bodies are found in the same hotel each with a monogrammed cuff-link  in their mouths. Twists and turns abound  in the shape of a quaint but unfriendly old English village as well as the introduction of a new sounding board for Poirot's "method" named Edward Catchpool. He fills the space normally occupied by the faithful Hastings but has something of a difficult past himself which pops into existence in memory bursts provoked by the infuriating nature of the case and his exposure to Poirot's peeling of the onion.
                 The er, onion of mystery, so to speak.
                 I have read so many Sherlock Holmes stories written by someone other than Conan Doyle the idea of some one writing Poirot or Marple does not strike me as some sacred cow to remain untouched. Yet one of the delights of TinTin for me has always been the idea that it is almost all the work of the one man. Would I feel differently if there had been a TinTin written by say..Alan Moore or Garth Ennis. A story drawn by Eddie Campbell or John McCrea. Who can say? The are all great artists and writers in their own way and on their own paths but where would they have taken that brave little Belgium reporter and his little dog. Blistering Barnacles can you imagine the mouth on Captain Haddock if Garth Ennis wrote for him. T'would make a whore blush. Sadly I have become aware that Herge' relationship with his creation was a difficult one and I have read comments by Agatha Christie that would lead me to believe she had similar feelings about her little Belgium Detective. Could it be said that all creative people create their own Frankenstein monsters or is it perhaps limited to fictional characters who come from Belgium?
                  Agatha Christie wrote with a brevity that belied her understanding of the darker side of human nature. Every now and again she really shone a light on the perverse nature of some of the complex drives that make up human relationships. Consider how often the motivation for some terrible action by one person against another turns out to be the pursuit of some unrequited feeling.
                  Love is generally the psychopath hiding in the darkened library with the blood stained candlestick.
                  That lovely cover was the work of Harper Collins Designs led by a senior designer Heike Scussler and I think it so craftily captures the era the story is set in and the lofty notions of so many of the protagonists. The fog of time has drifted across the age yet in old photographs and at work like this the period remains very much alive.
                   Unlike the three victims at the black heart of The Monogram Murders.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Roll Over Beethoven.

Who wrote Beethoven,s Ninth? Well, I will tell you who it was'nt. It was not some "dude" who travelled back through time. Honestly,Bootstrap paradox aside, unquiet alien giants using the souls of the dead as buoy markers aside, anachronistic self fulfilling narratives aside, I am still reeling from the shocking idea that the Doctor would encourage anyone to use the word "dude" he did four weeks ago. Terrifying stuff. Scarier than the skies of Galifrey being filled with a billion billion Daleks..Well, maybe not quite as scary but it was certainly disturbing. Mind you I did believe when the Doctor hilariously and quite innocently misused the word "cool" I did fear the word "dude" might no be too far behind.
          Even ten years into New Who it still remains something of a surprise to see the Tardis used for the purpose of exploring the possibilities the ability to travel in such a strangely wondrous way throws to different writers. In the hands of someone like Toby Whitehouse it becomes a mind bending adventure involving loss and the fore knowledge of impending loss that constrains its protagonists rather than freeing them up. A Tivolian concept if ever I heard one( And how great was Paul Kaye as Prentis the Tivolian Undertaker.)
           I am at present settling down with a cup of tea to await a meeting and conversation with a future self who is on his way down my own time-line to explain the resolution of Before The Flood.
           Fortunately I believe it is possible to enjoy things without entirely understanding them.
           It is a defense mechanism brought on by growing up in Northern Ireland.
           Oh I do like the artwork on the cover of this weeks Radiotimes . It reminds me of old naive tourist poster artwork "Visit The Fjords Of Norway" or "Try Our Swiss Log!" or even the kind of stirring art usually found on a box of porridge oats depicting some giant muscly Scotsman hurling his caber. How brave and determined our heroes look.
            I only wish The Doctor was holding his sonic screwdriver instead of a sword.Although The Doctor was a sly dab hand with a sword back in the day. Remember him leaping all about Count Grendal's castle during his time on Tara? They all thought he was a buffoon who would chop off his own toe but he surprised them all. Our hero is never more dangerous than when all about him underestimate him, Ah The Androids Of Tara. The Quest For The Key To Time. Romana!
              The noblest of them all.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Grave Undertakings.

                An underwater base situated near a drowned village is stalked by the troubled ghosts of lost crew members and led by a spooky grave digger from the depths of space. A Tardis materialisation not driven by a story arc. A fast paced and gripping old school base under siege story. Last Saturdays Doctor Who episode Under The Lake was very heaven indeed.
               That looks like the ghost of an alien Undertaker and that has got to be an otherworldly space hearse of some kind. I got the feeling one had overturned on the way to a funeral and we were seeing the casket with the deceased waiting to be buried. Certainly had a funerary air about it as did the main ghost stomping around the corridors of the base. I was very surprised when I watched the credits roll and saw the actor who was under the Undertaker's hat the immensely talented Paul Kaye.Loved the whole atmosphere of this episode. The Poe-like atmosphere  of a sunken city and the spectral shapes that walked there.
               The sight of the final ghost appearing from the murky depths was easily the best cliff hanger I have seen in a whole week..

Radiophonic Times.

                                                 This is what Time and Space sounds like.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Big Bang Generation.

          Boom!What a title. There is a big bang in it but probably not the one you are thinking off. Nor is it referencing the USA born television series with a similar name which constantly references our favourite BBC born television series.
           It is a novel quite full of surprises as it even features a different companion to Clara Oswald. Although again not the one I was really expecting(There is even an explanation for this in the afterword). Having now finished this third book in The Glamour Chronicles I suspect it was even for the better as those fantastically confounded expectations gave way to fantastically satisfied ones in their place. Certainly one of my favourite figures from The Doctor's past and one we do not see enough off. I do not want to say who as I was delighted to meet them yet again and was not surprised by the ease with which they find their place in the present canon. I hope the current team responsible for the televisual version of the man from Galifrey take note. This is a true friend of the Doctor and has moved through many different mediums and even incarnations. Perhaps some onscreen time is due. Although that characters very presence in this novel may answer that suggestion.
             A great read. Quite epic in scope and containing at least one beautifully written paragraph that stands amongst the best writing in a Doctor Who novel I have read.
             These three books feel like a self contained mini season.
             They are already sitting very comfortably next to last years season eight box set in my own collection. They would grace anyones book collection.

The Doctor's Premonition.

                                                                 (from my sketchbook.)
                                        "The Doctor reeled in shock as a sudden premonition of
                                         some terrible future event swept through his mind."

Royal Blood

          The Doctor and Clara emerge from the Tardis and find themselves embroiled up to their necks in a game Of thrones mini-sode..of sorts.On a world where technology is falling into a state of retrograde condition and where even the stone work is beginning to crumble> They are caught up in a series of machinations that give them a birds eye view of a state a state of decay. It feels like a story excised from the first series of peter Capldis turn as The Doctor. Actually it feels very much like one of those episodes where there seems to be more time spent in Clara's company than The Doctor's. The characters are spot on though, all the dialogue coming out of the right faces in the right, if you follow me.
            Una Mc Cormacks last Doctor Who book was set during the Matt Smith era( The Kings Dragon ) and it had a similar medieval world feel to it and it is obviously a period and an atmosphere that lends itself well to a character like The Doctor. One which does not require a gun to solve problems.(Not when The Doctor can get some one else to use one on his behalf as Davros might suggest.Oh that Davros, he never has a good word to say about anyone.) Interestingly,that previous novel serves as an illustration for just how different the atmospheres are each Doctor brings to his era. The novels may share a sort of period feel in terms of fantasy world themes but the very different Tardis teams give each novel a very distinctive feel.Imagine for yourself if Tom Baker had visited Peladon in his first season as Jon Pertwee had done in his last.
              Now imagine Peter Capaldi setting down on that same stormy medieval world bedevilled by ghosts and Ice-warriors and royal Beasts.
               The Eye-brows Of Aggedor.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Lighthouse Keeper.

                 There is a light that never goes out.In this case it is the light atop the lighthouse on the remote Scottish island of Eilean Mor. Yet one dark night in 1900 a three man crew manning the lighthouse vanished without trace never to be seen or heard of again. Stopped clocks, abandoned posts, no clue as to what occurred. It is a mystery that echoes down the ages to the present day when a team of enviromental researchers arrives to document the wildlife and ecology of the island. Almost from the beginning they experience sights and sounds beyond their understanding as the world as they know and understand it takes a turn for the terrifying.
                  There is just something about the idea of a haunted lighthouse, an isolated group of scared people and a mystery that defies easy explanation which makes a heady brew that is intoxicating. I have been hooked on the idea of a lighthouse crew in danger I believe since I  first saw the Triffids put one under siege in the movie version of Day Of The Triffids.It was off course cemented forever there after The Horror Of Fang Rock.One of the true classics in the fourth Doctor/Leela season. As a slimy glowing eyeball shaped alien shifted shape and created mayhem on the benighted rock which was tended in order to save lost souls from a watery grave. Talk about a base under siege story.

                   Alan K. Bakers novel set in two time periods ramps up a sense of growing unease in both that turns to full blown horror. It is detailed and atmospheric and peopled with characters that feel very real. When the inexplicable occurs they behave as a normal person would and points it out rather than gazing enigmatically into a foggy night in search of gravitas. As I always suggest in moments of extremity "If You Are Scared Scream!" .the rocky landscape and remoteness of the island where the researchers find themselves walking in the footsteps of vanished men is a sterling location for mystery. I was at times reminded of MR James, of HP Lovecraft and the Cthullu Mythos and I was especially reminded of William Hope Hodson's House On The Borderlands.All very strong and very positive associations. I bullet point them in the hope of broadening this novels appeal. I picked it up after midnight on a rain lashed night and my background music off choice happened to be Low by David Bowie and by the time the second side was playing the text and the music were truly wedded.
                   Really gave me a late night to remember.

Davros' Eyes.

"Do not Trust Him, Doctor!", it was nearly impossible not to scream it at the television as Davros wept and slowly creaked open his deathly dark eyes. Eyes he never used presumably because he chose not to. That Julian Bleach; he really nailed it." Huh..maybe he means it" was gut wrenching, as believable as a horribly scarred genocidal genius half Kaled half Dalek scientist can be. What a two hander the scenes between The Doctor and Davros became. That dank hospital/infirmary on Skaro felt like a stage in the Globe as these two talented men circled each other with dialogue that set the scene on fire. The echo of that scene filmed so long ago in Genesis Of The Daleks when The Doctor put to Davros the very same choice he had only recently been forced to face. To which Davros responded "To know that life and death on an enormous scale was within my choice...that the pressure of my thumb breaking the glass of a capsule would end everything...such power would set me among the Gods...yes,I would do it!And through the Daleks I shall have such power!"
           Skaro and the interiors of the Dalek city were very wonderfully realised.
           With Skaro back in the heavens how long will it be before Gallifrey returns?

Doctor Who;Deep Time.

A trilogy of doctor Who books have just hit the bookshelves in a store near you under the title of The Glamour Chronicles. In typical New Who Post Modern Timey-Blimey a trilogy that can be read in any particular order. So I believe to be the case but I may be wrong. I frequently am.
            Who writers seem to love their subject matter and always try to evoke the era of the particular characters they are using. In this case we are in the company of the Doctor and Clara. Some writers succeed more than others in recreating the tone of their era of choice but all generally reward in some way. This book by Trevor Baxendale is one of those that rewards more than many others. It certainly evokes the current era echoing the relationship between the Doctor and Clara Oswald just perfectly. It is not a two note tune however and the supporting characters come alive(and die quite violently and horribly in some cases) as they embark upon an epic journey on a lost Phearon trail. Before too long the companions find themselves lost in more than just space and find themselves passing through a series of very hostile enviroments, Each one imperilling and testing them to the very limit. To a degree that characters in these tie-ins are not normally subjected too and it is an all the more powerful read for this reason. in fact in reading this book I came to suspect that Tregvor Baxendale may have been exposed to The Planet Of The Daleks at a very early age and been traumatised by the actions of a nasty plant on that nasty jungle  planet Spiridon. For he seems to try dealing with that trauma by out-grossing what he witnessed in that episode a long time ago and far away in continuity, by having a very nasty plant do something even more horrible to an unfortunate star pilgrim. This is one plant I never wish to see pop up on Gardener's World. Although, come to think of it..
               I may well be projecting this into the text because like a lot of Doctor Who followers I think about the past to an unhealthy degree but whether or not this is the case Deep Time is a great read that certainly feels strong as a stand alone story. It might well prove to be a strong part of a greater whole which only reading the other two may reveal. On the strength of this one I look forward to that experience.
                And just for the sake of it heres an image from back in the day. Back in the days of VHS tapes when the impossible became possible and you were actually able to own whole stories of your absolute favorite television show to watch in your own homes.
                 Yes, I know, VHS tapes. recordings on tape? Unthinkable in this era of Holo-pills.
                  Just pop your favorite shows in your mouth and watch them in your head.
                  After all We are all citizens of the future now.

Sea Monkeys.

                                                               (From my sketchbook.)