Sunday, 29 November 2015

Best Of Times.

                                                     T'was the Night Before Christmas
                                                         And all through the house,
                                                         Was the sound of a Zygon
                                                             chewing a mouse.
                                                  (Oh Boy William Mcgonagall
                                                          would turn in his grave.)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Abominable Times.

Monkey Queen.

                        (From my sketchbook) Even The Planet Of The Apes had a medieval period.

A Lost Talisman.

Read this great double bill of books by Jonathan Aycliffe at the weekend. A Saturday night horror double bill if you will. Two books written in a style and using subject manner that strays very close to similar stories you may have read before but remain strong original tales in their own right. There is something almost seductive about the familiarity that feels like a familiar tune played on surprising and haunting instruments. Of the two I found The Talisman particularly affecting. (Possibly because I spent some of the best years of my life working in a store called The Talisman.) The Lost reminded me of some of the great horror novels of my youth that involved Satanic rumblings and Biblical prophecies whose time had come. Books such as The Omen, The Sentinel or The Apocalypse. big world ending stories that reek of sulphur. The Talisman charts the moral decay of a young Romanian immigrant and his dreadful heritage. There is some icy story telling here as a young man of the west strays into haunted regions. Damning himself and those he loves. It is also told in the same format as Bram Stoker's Dracula as a series of journal entries and letters. Yet it does not feel in the least tired.
           The book jacket designs are beautifully old school and the authors influences are literally worn on the sleeve of the volumes. They are old influences to be sure but the storytelling and dialogue are thoroughly modern.
             There are many dark areas of this world which remain unexplored and perhaps we are all the better for this. The many antiquarian explorers in the pages of MR James stories who dig too deep who go too far. Jonathan Aycliffe seems determined to follow in their footsteps.
              I for one will be cautiously watching where he goes.
              Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind me.

If I Only Had A Brain.

                                                    The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Let Me Be Brave.

                                                                 Clara, Clara, Clara.
               She faced the Raven last night and it extinguished her life. Blew it out in a black smoky cloud. What a dark moment. The darkest since the show returned in 2005. All the adventures this young woman shared with The Doctor. All the wonderful things they saw and did together and it ended on the rain slick cobbles of a dark street in London that exists slightly outside the world we know. Much like the fictional world The Doctor belongs to. I have never seen The Doctor so helpless so impotent in the face of an unrelenting gruesome fate. Some spark seemed to go out of him as his friends end drew near and I could not help but say "MY DOCTOR WOULD NEVER ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN."
                 And then I realised I said it to an empty room.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Maius Intra Qua Extra.

The bulk of the story being told in this remarkable book is set in Hulton College in Norfolk which is a boys school set during an age on the very cusp of a war which will change the world forever. Beginning with the assassination of The Archduke Ferdinand  by a Serbian terrorist which will set the ball rolling on a series of events which will culminate in the youth of Britain and Europe dying in their thousands in the most atrocious ways thought possible up to and beyond the ken of man.It is also the novel  upon which the highly regarded and much loved David Tennant era two part story is based. The novel is different from that stunning wee gem in the crown of that wonderful period but is also basically the same. The same intense and even emotional tale of a Timelord in search of humanity and a deeper understanding of the fragility of life and our may-fly hold on it. It is a great coming of age too. If you have ever had a Tom Boys School Days moment when you fell into the hands of a Flashman type school bully you will also have a lot to identify with in this novel. William Golding understood the nature of the wildness that exists just beneath the surface of us all and the kind of situations when we will answer that call of the wild. So does Paul Cornell.
The Doctor becomes  a human being using a device that is pure magic science. A Prospero charm that allows him to alter his entire DNA as well as rewriting his memories from an ancient cosmic being to that of a little Scottish school teacher raised by a stern minister father in Aberdeen. He becomes that which is most alien to him; a one hearted ordinary man. In the television version Daved Tenant dazzled as both The Doctor and John Smith, playing both differently if both wearing the same face. In Paul Cornell's words Sylevester Mc Coy excels delivering two career best performances, if you follow my line of thought. In Paul Cornell's hands and under the direction of his story telling Sylvester delivers two very strong characterizations though both of a different nature retain the same face in the theatre of the minds eye. To the point where I believe this very talented writer could pursue a career in the FPI as a profiler  such are the almost poetic observations with which he conjures up the ticks and winks that form a person. The lovely Benny is the companion here herself going through the traumatic aftermath of the loss of a loved one.It is Benny who originally bore the responsibility of care that Martha Jones inherited for the television adaption. Benny is a wonderful character in her own right with a history across different mediums that stretches back longer than most incarnations of The Doctor. This is another book in The Doctor Who History Collection and I had almost forgotten they are all reprints. Remembrances of a time when The Doctor was kept alive by virtue of the Virgin novels and the ever faithful ever excellent Doctor Who Monthly. In his forward to this novel Paul Cornell mentions how his proceeding book was the subject of scathing reviews and yet for the life of me I caqnnot remember which one it may have been. He is such a good writer it is hard to imagine any of his work being pooh-Pooed! Mind you some of the Doctor Who fans have exacting standards, impossibly Galifreyan standards. 
This is no rose tinted vision of a vanished England. This is a hard tale of innocence progressing towards manhood and to some degree the same process moving in a backwards direction. It mirrors the contrariness of human nature and almost succeeds in dazzling us with its reflected visions of a bygone age. It is about cowardice and bravery and it is about war and peace.
Mostly though it is about human nature.

Beloved Poison.

Beloved Poison has a sepulchre timber in its tone. The is a tale full of bones, bones of those disinterred and the bones of past deeds haunting the present. It is an assured confident read and one that rips along at an exciting pace. One that just does not allow for a tea break. I found myself so engaged by the plight of the central character and her identity struggles in an age where the rights of women were given slight regard that I almost forgot the rhubarb pie I had bought for a late supper. That may sound faint praise but I do like a cup of hot sweet tea and a slice of cake.( It is the legacy of Jon Pertwee's Worzel Gummidge I suppose.) The main character is Jem Flockheart a Woman born with a flaming port wine stain on her face who must masquerade as a man in order to pursue her chosen profession as  an apothecary. It is her story and her struggle which we follow through a sometimes heartless world of dirt and filth and grime from the stews of the desperately poor to the terrifying operating and dissecting theatres of St Saviour's infirmary itself. Her courage and decency shines a light down a hard and dark road. From the road to Newgate and the gallows where the baying mob gather like some precursor to the X factor hurl spite and bile.
It is a very grimy tale that shares the atmosphere of Andrew Miller's amazing book Pure as it shares a character charged with the performing of a task entrusted to the main character in that book; The removal of hundreds of the buried dead from the ground which was to be their last resting place. It seems such a profane ungodly to do;to disturb the rest of the dead. Even more so given the religious fervor that so dominated the age these events take place in during which the tangible and the unseen seem to share seem to live beneath the same roof.That they would consider doing such a thing seems quite modern in intent and the disregard it infers. Being brought up in a religion that confers such respect upon the ways death is dealt with and the notion a deceased loved one has but stepped from the room would seriously incline one to leave the dead where they lay.
              Mind you seeing the film Poltergeist at a formative age would also have a similar quality.
Poison is everywhere in this novel. As are vast quantities of human waste and effluvia. The disposal and dispersal of which is very important as life as they know and practice it could slow to a very messy and very smelly stop drowning in the stuff. Old wisdom and the use of medicines and poisons also abound as the centre for the tale is the hospital of Saint Saviours. An ancient temple of healing nearing the end of its days and facing imminent demolition. The hospital must close and the dead must be moved and rising to the surface are dark secrets amidst all this upheaval almost passing unnoticed until the murder of a brilliant but controversial doctor raises the spirit of unanswered wrongs. There is a growing certainty that amongst these gathered healers is a person well versed in the very art of murder and who better to perform such an act than one who also knows how to save.
The main character mentions this at one point and utters a truth that almost puts a rope about her neck. Really just doing the work of cruel eyes which already have her in their sights.
                 Atmospheric and even educational to a degree (If you are considering ways of dispatching someone using the god given greens of the earth.) Beloved Poison is a gripping read which makes you care for the great unwashed in a surprising way.

Mark Gatiss Has Murdered Sleep.

Saw a wee preview of this story and Peter Capaldi was saying he thought this episode would lead to quite a few sleepless nights and how right he was. Especially the closing moments with that very unsettling reveal and the entirely creepy manner in which it was delivered. the disintegrating face and the ghastly modulated speaking voice of the human face of The Sandman. I liked the idea of the remoteness of the station and its majestic orbit. It recurs again and again in science fiction this idea of lonely remote bases that become dangerous places thanks to our native hubris and our constantly poking around in things better left alone. If we are not flying too close to black holes in search of impossible planets then we are plundering the dreamscape in search of nightmares.
           Just finished a great book by Mark Gatiss called The Roundheads and I have long been a fan of his work in the many fields he works in and I always look forward to whatever it is he is up to. I especially loved his time with The League Of Gentlemen and the MR James biography he did for BBC Two. I wonder if he has ever been troubled by sleepless nights,I certainly think with this story he might inspire a few.
           It is about time Reece Shearsmith appeared in Doctor Who. I remember watching him in A Field In England and thinking I was watching the next Doctor. He never has to raise his voice to unnerve and his comedic timing is excellent. There is just something Timelordy about him.
           Nice to hear the Doctor quote a bit of Shakespeare without name dropping past association.
           There is a touch of Prospero about Peter Capaldi.
            I suppose it is because The Tardis is like a magic island in space.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Foggy Notions.

Was not expecting just how dark this book got. Ironic given it is during the great smog that almost smothered one of the great cities of the world.I suppose I actually I did not see what was coming. In keeping with a book set during the great smog which rolled over London in 1952 which after it cleared revealed a death total of four thousand people (Although it is strongly suggested there were many many more and the government of the time played with and suppressed the actual final death toll.).Throughout the history of cinema and fiction there is a wealth of material that suggests all manner of swarthy nocturnal behaviour in the fog shrouded streets of Limehouse or Whitechapel in the Victorian or turn of the century eras yet this astonishing period in the life of a world capital never gets mentioned. Men, women and children choking on a blanket of a natural and man-made fusion of sickly thick smog as it billowed and rolled across whole communities leaving death and misery in its wake. It is the stuff of nightmares. It is the stuff of the twentieth century.
The Doctor and his best friend Sarah Jane Smith travel in The Tardis back to the East End of London 1952 to unravel a mystery discovered in a photograph from this very period. The tone of the story is steeped in  melancholy from the very beginning. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are not long back from The Doctors second visit to the planet of Peladon. A visit that almost ended with The Doctor losing his life. A gloom seems to hang in the air around this marvellous being. Soon the crystaline cost of that previous visit to the fabled blue planet Metebelus Three is due to be paid as the Great Ones web reaches across space and time to ensnare The Doctor. Perhaps he senses he is nearing the end of his days with this familiar old face and that sense manifests as an air of melancholia.
This is a fantastic setting for The Tardis to arrive in. A terribly British disaster the result of a series of variables probably unique in the galaxy. David bishop's characterization of The Doctor and Sarah Jane as she was at this stage in her life are spot on. I saw that slightly sharper jaw and the more pronounced mix of bravery and intelligence she radiated as a fierce free thinking young woman. This is the same Sarah Jane who won our hearts all over again when she graduated to her own show but at an earlier stage in her life. Still some one who will not be pushed about or bullied and will always try to do the right thing despite the odds. It has to be said that the force they oppose in this story is a horrendous one that would be hard pushed to be realised in the modern incarnation of the show and would certainly not be transmitted before the watershed. The more monstrous characters being some of the East End gangsters and not the horribly alien ones. Some of the events that take place are quite awfully distressingly magnified by the attempts of those poor victims enduring them to beg their creator for help that never comes. Maybe this was the authors intentions.
               This is the third of the historical adventures I have read in this particular collection of Doctor Who books. These are three fabulous faces staring out from the spines of these books on my bookshelf. An always welcome sight. The first two I read had their dark moments but this one pushed things a bit further. Perhaps it was because in relative terms this book takes place in a period relatively familiar to the here and now that the events as they occur seem easier to identify with. Or perhaps it is my own working class upbringing in a working class area.
                The fog of history parts to reveal a...fog.

Its All Fun And Games.

Did some work for Outsider Games, a wee comic strip with art by PJ Holden, a preview for their Wailing Heights, an ambitious interactive game from the creative cauldrons that are the minds of Stephen Downey and Kevin Beimers (just check out their production blog at for yourself). It is always a blast to work with the intensely loveable PJ. The man has a personality that travels well. Just ask some of his comic fans as far away as China and Hollywood(, Bangor, County Down.)
             A new musical form is born in this story. A Barber Shop Quartet and Rap Mix.
             Unquestionably masculine harmonies and narcissistic self aggrandizing  poems about how important the person expressing themselves are and how pointless every one else is.
              The spirit of the age done in a retro-stylee.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Infinite Inversions.

I Remember back in the fledgling days of punk being introduced to the poems of Wilfred Owen. You would have thought I would have learned about this man's work at school but alas we were thinly read at our school. A chap called Igor who dressed like something from a Victor Hugo novel and was missing a few front teeth told me about Anthem For Doomed Youth after I asked about a home made tee shirt he was wearing with the words of the poem written on it. He was something of a singular scarlet bloom was old Igor.It was an awakening of sorts for me, a call to arms to learn more, or rather the beginning of a deep rooted refusal to bear arms except as a very last resort.
             It is a very powerful piece of work and Wilfred Owen most have been something of a very special man. He died a week before the end of the war. The Great War as it was known then and now. Although history had a rather nasty lesson still to teach us regarding such a premature baptismal naming.There are now no survivors of that terrible war who may tell us in their own words what we very badly need to  hear. The inexorable march of time has reduced their number to zero.
             It is surely not hubris to try to speak for them or on their behalf or even to repeat the written form as laid down by those who lived it. The rights and wrongs of any conflict have so much power on their own it is hard at times to distinguish the loss. Perhaps that is what lay behind that powerful speech by The Doctor last night during the Zygon Inversion. His powerful denouncement of the refusal to seek compromise and the ignorance of the weight of responsibility that come with the decision to inflict suffering for its own sake.There is no cause more self defeating. War as a statement of what we are capable off, the hideous slouching terror shambling towards Jerusalem, the endless search for peace, the inversion of the best of us.Was it a coincidence this episode and the themes it invoked aired the night before today; Remembrance Sunday? Actually I do believe it was but in my confused little world I forget the whole world does not watch my favourite television show and a moment that makes me rise to my feet barely ripples on the shared cultural zeitgeist. Chances are though if you are reading this you might spend spend some time there yourself.
               Just wanted to say hello.

(Do you think that this will become recognised as the moment in many people's minds that Peter Capaldi truly became The Doctor. I have read him say in interviews that at times he looks in the mirror and he does not see The Doctor looking back. Maybe the mirrors he has been using are broken..)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The One You Were Expecting.

Great beginning to this new mini-series with this truly wonderful incarnation of The Doctor( well, truthfully I pretty much feel that way about all of him-wonderful chaps all.) George Mann delivers a lovely wee script that is refreshingly  brought to life by artist Emma Vieceli. There is a lightness of touch at work here and it has a romantic gentle quality that lends itself to that Paul McGann Aura.
             Hello Josephine Day.

Miss Zygon.

So Clara My Clara is actually a" Zygon his Zygon." not quite in the manner I expected but what a sneak. And what a lot of Zygons hidden amongst the population of the Earth, twenty million, that is twenty million pass ports with a blank space where a face should be. I cannot think why such a fantastic looking alien creature would want to masquerade as generic mac brown wrap human beings unless it is as the Doctor suggested and they are actually just trying to get state benefits. The Zygons are such fantastic looking creatures and all their bio-tech is equally fascinating, very squidgey.
  The Doctor fairly came to grips with their organic machinery slipping and sliding all over the "frondiness" of that control panel. Dipping and slapping away like a Zygon driving test instructor.
That raspy breathy way of speaking is just the perfect delivery for otherworldly threats. They must constantly have to modulate the way they rasp. There are after all only so many Fisherman's friends one can suck. Oh-er! I had hoped The Loch Ness Monster was going to put in an appearance. I have never forgot the sight of The Skarassen chasing The Doctor across the heather blanketed moor following the signal device in his pocket. I suppose with another episode of Zygon naughtiness to go. It is not too late to repeat that exciting adventure. Complex political analogies aside you cannot beat our hero being chased across a lonely Scottish moor by a fabled monster to up the thrill factor. Those orange skinned impersonators live on the lactic fluid of their specially engineered and swamp reared beasts. They milk them like giant prehistoric cows. It may sound disgusting but its no worse than a town centre full of stunned shoppers quaffing down slurpies composed of no matter found in nature. The milk of human blandness.
Oh by the way, did you happen to see the portrait of The Doctor in his first incarnation hanging on a shabby wall in UNIT HQ? It was on the supporting wall beneath a flight of steps that Kate Stewart raced down. It is a real charming painting of the old high church one himself all somber Edwardian Boffin. Maybe it will one day be part of The Great Curator's collection..
                     Who knows...

The Shining Girls.

Have you ever looked at a piece of art that you find an incredible creative act and yet you would struggle to describe as a thing of beauty because the subject matter it depicts is so horrendous? So you furrow in some dark soil hoping to unearth some adjective that does justice to the feelings stirred by your sensory interaction with an artists creation. When you look at something as disturbing as certain pieces of art by Goya or Francis Bacon or William Blake which also touch you on some entirely humane level. One that makes you want to shed a tear that has nothing to do with grief.
Lauren Beauke's The Shining Girls touched me on just such a level. Not just be engaging with the craft of storytelling which is totally in tune with the times you are living through. (Sensibility-wise not enduring a series of connected murders mind you.) The novel skips through decades down a bloody chronology locking the reader into the narrative in an uncomfortable fashion that by virtue of witnessing we feel almost complicit. It is a terrifying level of empathy created by a very talented writer. The time traveling killer in this book is a beast loose in amok time. One of the vilest creations I have ever found in print. Just as the young heroine is a luminous joy of a brave heart. I almost hesitate to use the word but as I put down my copy of The Shining Girls on the monday morning following the Saturday night I picked it up one word came to mind...

Some houses are born bad. It was probably Shirley Jackson or Stephen King Or Richard Matheson who suggested this. A rabid collection of something that is more than just bricks and mortar. All bad angles and nasty views, patient and cruel. There is just such a house in The Shining Girls. One that should have been torn down and the ground cemented over so that no bad seed could once more take root there.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

A Cavalier Attitude.

Oliver Cromwell and King James The First are at each others throats and at least one head must roll, the Roundheads and the Cavaliers are out to ruin the party for everyone else whilst Puritans and press gangs roam the streets. These are just some of the reasons a first time traveler through all of space and time may wish to avoid this particular period in English history. Yet the immensely talented Mark Gatiss takes us on a journey and a truly thrilling pulp ride through this very period into the very maw of one of English histories great beasts;Oliver Cromwell. Off course it is all history now but there are parts of Ireland where this man's name is synonymous with great evil, the very Devil himself. Even the people of England judged him harshly, digging him up two years after he was buried so that they could hang his corpse as a traitor and a kingslayer.
This is an interesting Tardis team in that the bulk of their on-screen appearences are amongst those stories wiped from the BBC archive. Mark gatiss does a great job of once more breathing life into The Doctor's youthful and hip young companions, by swinging sixties standards they are positively groovy baby, although The Doctor and Jamie share a special chemistry These travels in human history are fraught with peril but that is all part of the great adventure. As The Doctor himself will shortly say to incoming companion Victoria Waterfield "no one else can do what we do."With the great adventures come great risks but memories of gold. Consider not the hideous dungeons so much as the magical moments such as the companions visit to a frost fair. Eating chest-nuts brazier warm and toasty whilst your breath freezes in front of your face. It is a magic moment and Mark Gatiss understands this. his characters are capable of great humanity and humour as well as brutality and cruelty. this is the truth of history.
                    This is the truth of us. The Doctor is just visiting.