Monthly Archives: May 2017

Doctor Who: 12 Stories for 12 Doctors (part 1)

In case you couldn’t tell from my semi-regular ramblings about obsure audio plays, I’m something of a Doctor Who nerd. I’ve seen every episode (even the ones missing from the archives – I watched fan-made reconstructions and liked them), listened to many, many hours of Big Finish audios, read a whole stack of books, and even delved into the comics, on occasion. My biggest ambition right now is to one day write an official Doctor Who story.

In short, I love Doctor Who. So, without further ado, over the next three weeks I’m going to share with you my top 12 Who stories – one for each Doctor!

Time_meddler_uk_dvd1. The Time Meddler (William Hartnell, 1965)

The final story of the second season, and, in my opinion, Doctor Who’s most underrated game-changer. During the Hartnell era, the show alternated between sci-fi and historical stories, and The Time Meddler is initially played as a historical: the Doctor and his companions land in 1066, on the eve of the Norman Conquests. But all is not as it seems. A mysterious monk has moved into the previously deserted local monastery – and he has technology from the future!

In retrospect this’ll sound like a common or garden Doctor Who story, but this was the first time the show really blended sci-fi and history like this, introducing what would become one of its genre mainstays.

And that’s not all. Episode two has what is, in my opinion, one of the most game-changing cliffhangers in Who history, when Vicki and Steven discover the secret behind the Monk’s time travel…

Plus, it’s just an all-round fun story, with a delightful villain, new companion Steven Taylor, and William Hartnell at his funniest. Thoroughly recommended.

(Runners up: The Aztecs, The Tenth Planet)

51kU8Y-t1CL._SY300_2. The War Games (Patrick Troughton, 1969)

Patrick Troughton’s final story, and probably the single biggest gamechanger in the show’s history. It’s so well-known in the fandom, I’m not going to avoid spoilers: in The War Games, the words ‘Time Lord’ are uttered for the first time. The Time Lords themselves appear for the first time in episode 10, and boy do they make a memorable entrance.

And yes, episode 10 – The War Games has a run time of over four hours. The Time Lords don’t show up for three and a half. What happens in the first nine episodes? Well, the Doctor and companions Jamie and Zoe land in the middle of the First World War, arrested, and tried as spies and deserters. The commanding officer is secretly an alien, who hypnotises his human underlings into pronouncing them guilty! Zoe and Jamie are sent to different prisons – and the Doctor is sent for execution!

The Doctor is saved from his execution – by (watch closely) soldiers in US Civil war era uniforms. Then Jamie meets his cellmate – an 18th century Redcoat. And then things get weird.

The War Games has been accused of padding, and to be honest, it’s true. It probably ought to have been a six-parter. But it’s ten straight episodes of Patrick Troughton – I’m not about to complain!

(Runners up: The Mind Robber, Power of the Daleks)

Dvd-spearheadSE3. Spearhead from Space (Jon Pertwee, 1970)

I’m not going to lie, Jon Pertwee is far from my favourite Doctor. It wasn’t hard to pick a favourite of his stories – in his whole 5-year run there’s only a handful I wholeheartedly like. Fortunately those I like, I really like.

Spearhead from Space was Jon Pertwee’s first story, Doctor Who’s first story in colour, and an all-round radical departure from what had come before. Due to budgetary constraints, it was decided to ground the Doctor on earth for a while, so he begins this story newly regenerated and sent into exile by the Time Lords.

For the next couple of seasons, there’s no time travel, no new planets, very little of the TARDIS – just the Doctor dealing with alien menaces, practically in the viewers’ back garden. This earth seasons, for all they can be a bit samey, have a reputation for being especially scary.

Spearhead from Space is a prime example. It introduced the Autons, who, frankly, have never been as scary since, deep, deep in the uncanny valley. Compared to the rest of the Pertwee era, it’s a snip at 4 episodes (a little under two hours) and perfectly-paced. I really can’t recommend this one enough.

(Runners up: The Time Warrior, The Monster of Peladon)

Warriors_gate_us_dvd4. Warrior’s Gate (Tom Baker, 1981)

One of Tom Baker’s last stories, and highly underrated, in my opinion. Actually, I think his whole last season is underrated, but Warrior’s Gate is undoubtedly the highlight.

The final story for companions Romana and K9, Warrior’s Gate is in some respects the true end of the Tom Baker era – his remaining two stories have a downright funereal tone and devote a lot of time to introducing new companions for incoming Doctor Peter Davison.

What’s it about? Good question. Trying to escape from the E-Space, the pocket dimension where they’ve become trapped, the Doctor and his companions land in a mysterious white void. Also in the void is a human slaving vessel, also trapped… and a castle. The castle is some kind of interdimensional gateway and by stepping through a mirror within, you can travel into the past. Maybe.

The humans are carrying a cargo of alien Tharils, whose psychic abilities power human time machines. The Tharils built the castle and used to enslave humans, until they were overthrown themselves. They’ve somehow predicted this whole thing and are quietly manipulating events to their advantage. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the white void is shrinking…

Warrio’s Gate is seriously weird and seriously creepy. Some sequences are dripping with symbolism. Others are cryptic ethical commentaries. Even the Doctor doesn’t seem to fully understand what’s going on. The human characters certainly don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve watched it several times and I still don’t get it. But I love it to bits.

(Runners up: Genesis of the Daleks, The Robots of Death).

So, that’s my first four picks. Next week: Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester Mccoy and Paul McGann.

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My Week In Writing (28/05/17)

20170527_203809I didn’t find a new job this week – not that I really expected to, but it would have been nice. I’ve applied for 15, though, and had an interview, so… hopeful?

I’m still struggling to process the fact that I’m leaving my job. It’s especially weird because my work is so repetitive and so thankless that it messes with my sense of time – intellectually I know I’ve been doing it for 2+ years, but it’s been the same working day over and over so it still blows my mind a bit that it’s been more than a couple of months.

So, I’m sort of simultaneously terrified at the prospect of the whole structure of my life changing – entirely of my own choosing – and feeling a bit like ‘phew, everything’s finally going back to normal’. This was always meant to be temporary, y’know?

On a lighter note, I’m just below the halfway point on reading through Summer and enjoying my new draft very much. Fingers crossed it’ll be smooth sailing from now on – so long as I don’t encounter any tricky problems while reading the second half (I found one fairly significant continuity error in the first half) I’m all but finished.

Settlement 359 is at 145k and climbing. And – brace yourselves – I actually started writing the climax. The actual, proper, climax. It’s now in progress. It’s all very exciting. I might even finish this thing before the end of June.

This week I’ve been reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which I’m enjoying, but it’s been slow going – largely, I think, because the Russian names are confusing me so I keep losing track of which character is which!

I listened to two Doctor Who audios, The Burning Prince and Moonflesh, both Peter Davison stories.

The Burning Prince is the first volume in a multi-Doctor trilogy (I didn’t get the second two volumes – they weren’t on sale). It’s a rare solo Fifth Doctor story – he doesn’t travel alone on screen, ever, so expanded universe writers have to be creative if they want to get him by himself! It’s unpredictable and action-packed, all around a bit of a rollercoaster ride. It’s also one of those Davison stories that’s a full-on bloodpath. Brutal stuff. Not a classic of the range by any means, but solid.

Moonflesh is the first volume in a trilogy of stories featuring the Fifth Doctor, TV companion Nyssa, and new companion Hannah Bartholemew (I bought all three – they were all on sale). An enjoyable enough story, but I’m feeling a slight sense of trepidation, going into the rest of the trilogy – Hannah’s heavily implied to be a lesbian (and a butch lesbian – a first for Doctor Who, as far as I know) but best as I can tell her sexuality is never confirmed, and I accidentally spoiled myself for the ending of her last story, which is, erm, tragic. Hopefully it’ll all be handled well.

I finished the third season of Jago and Litefoot. My favourite season, so far, though that’s in large part because it’s the most Doctor Who-y, due to the addition of Tom Baker companion Leela to the main cast. A really strong run of stories, anyway, blending an ongoing story arc about rifts in time with some very strange, very sad human dramas.

I’ve also been listening to The Second Imaginary Symphony, a mini series from podcast The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air. It’s whimsical, melancholy show that blends storytelling with an ongoing plot about a lonely janitor who works in the Eiffel Tower. The Secondary Imaginary Symphony is a standalone story from the same world, with the same lovely, relaxed tone. I’d recommend checking it out.

And I just started watching Anne with an E, which so far is a beautifully done adaptation. Much heavier viewing than you might expect – there’s some scenes I think I could have done without, but it is what it is.

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Happy Blogiversary

sprinkles 3

a celebratory cupcake

Thanks to my Facebook memories, earlier today I learned that I created this blog on May 24th 2012, making somesuchlike five years old today. Congratulations, blog!

Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy with job hunting this week so write a proper update. So instead, I’m going to be ironic and deeply lazy.  The below is a list of essays I would love to write for this blog… if I was smarter… and had more time… and more energy.

  1. The Ever Present novel – what’s that all about? The one discussed on my current writing projects page. How did I come to write it? How did it go from its original concept, through many drafts, to what it is today? Why did I fill it with references to previous drafts that no-one but me will find funny? All this and more in a personal reflection on my childhood that I tried to write but gave up on when I realised even I couldn’t sort this tangle out.
  2. Why write fantasy? I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m ‘wasting’ my writing talents. I disagree (naturally) and feel what I’m doing is important. Why? A bunch of reasons, I guess, but primarily because it’s fun.
  3. Why write YA? Similar to the above, although in this case I’ve yet to figure it out myself.
  4. What’s ‘boy’ sci-fi? During my MSc, I had conversation with a tutor. When I said I write fantasy, he mentioned there was a student on the course who wrote sci-fi. When I said I also write sci-fi, he said, ‘oh, but he writes boy sci-fi’. Never forgotten that conversation, still not over it!
  5. Am I Scottish? Born in England, to Scottish parents, I have a lot of feelings in this area. I wrote a poem once. It wasn’t very good, so I won’t share it.
  6. Why’d you study classics? Another one that more than one person has questioned. Another one where the answer boils down to, essentially, because I love it, but there’d be an interesting discussion along the way.
  7. Why all my characters are lesbians now. I made a decision a while ago that from now on, by default, all my protagonists would be lesbians. (Note: this does not apply retroactively, for the most part.) It’s both very simple and very complicated, I suppose. I went on a journey to get to this point.
  8. Why I love Doctor Who. Self-explanatory.
  9. Why I love: Submachine, Welcome to Nightvale, Steven Universe, *insert a bunch of other things I love here*. I have a lot of feelings about the media I love.

So, that’s my list – today, anyway. Coming next week, something Doctor Who related, most likely.

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My Week In Writing (21/05/17)

20170521_175211Well, first of all the big news: I resigned from my job this week. I’m still hoping to find an entry level position in publishing, but I can’t stomach staying in my current job any longer. Four more weeks and I’m out. Hopefully moving to some kind of temp job. I’m trying not to think about it too much, when I’m not actively job hunting – this level of uncertainty is a terrible thing!

That out of the way: I started reading Summer and marking it up for a final round of edits. So far I’ve found two glaring flaws I’d previously missed, one of which I’m pretty sure has been there since draft one. I have no idea how I missed it for so long! I’m on chapter three, and stalling to do some minor re-structuring.

Settlement 359 has passed 140k and despite my best efforts, I’ve started a part eight, titled Freefall. Things kept getting worse and worse for my protagonist, so I rolled with it and now she’s struggling to recover from mental time travel-enduced amnesia. However, I’m pretty sure part eight will be the last one… I’ve been saying this for a while.

I’ve started work on an entry for Big Finish’s annual short story contest. Torn between two ideas, not sure which is best, and as I don’t have to have a completed story to enter and I can submit more than one, I might as well try and do both.

Speaking of Big Finish, this week I listened to a William Hartnell era Lost Story called The Dark Planet, which was both a fairly typical sixties Doctor Who story, exceptionally dark, more or less impossible to do on film now let along fifty years ago. I’m not surprised it didn’t get made. It’s fascinating listening, though.

This week’s Doctor Who, Extremis, was absolutely phenomenal. Beautifully executed mindscrew and absolutely terrifying – my only concern is how they’re going to top it with the (by the looks of it, more conventional) follow up!

I started reading Darling by Jackie Kay, which is slow going because you can’t just rush through a poetry collection, you have to pause and contemplate, y’know?

Next week, I’m planning to listen to some monthly range Big Finish stories with the Fifth Doctor (my fav!) and start reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the last of my birthday books. Otherwise, I’m job hunting relentlessly.

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How I wrote a novel on purpose: Ash

“The wind’s blowing from the north.”

I don’t say anything. Above us, the sky is solid black, and the wind tastes like smoke.

“That’s a good sign, ye ken. Your mother’s a north witch.”

“I suppose.” I look at my trainers. The toes are scuffed to hell and back. They’re starting to pinch. We were supposed to be going shoe shopping next weekend.

“You’ll be a north, one day.”

I look up at Heather. She’s smiling down at me nicely, her bobble hat pulled low on her head. That soft, sympathetic smile I’m going to be seeing a lot of shortly, and I’m already sick of it. “I guess.”

Up until last November, I’d never done National Novel Writing Month properly. Although it’s not enforced, technically the rules request that you start a completely new project rather than continuing something you’ve already started. Almost all my NaNoWriMos have been continuations of existing projects.

(And before anyone asks: no, of course I didn’t count what I’d already written towards my NaNoWriMo total. I started a new document each time and ‘married’ the sections together later. I don’t know why some people find this difficult to understand!)

Come late October 2016, I had two projects I wanted to work on: my 2015 NaNoWriMo, which was a fairly successful attempt at my ‘big’ novel, and Settlement 359. Both were, at the time, stalling. Neither thrilled me. As late as the first regional meeting, I still hadn’t made my mind up.

Then, on the night of October 30th, I had a dream. My dream went something like this: I was a teenage girl in some kind of magical world. I was sent to live in a big house with several other girls (one was a young Natalie Portman). The house had magical paintings on the walls that were part of a protection spell.

After a spell in the house (ha) I was menaced in the garden by a demon that took the form of a hooded figure. It moved very slowly towards me and it was important that I walk rather than running away, if I wanted to escape alive. After that I was taken out of the house and to somewhere safer.

I woke up, and thought there’s a YA fantasy novel in that dream. Then I thought, this is fate.

So, come November 1st, I started an entirely new novel, with an entirely new fantasy world. I went in with a solid idea of how magic would work in this world and the ‘demon in the garden scene’ as my goal to work towards (I figured it for an act one climax, of sorts).

Otherwise, I was winging it. I threw in new characters whenever I got bored. It’s in a first person voice, which is a first for me in long-form fiction. The central plot twist came to me in the bathroom at work. It was all very exciting.

I wrote about 70k during the month of November and this past January I finished it off, bringing it up to 83k, which isn’t too bad for a rough first draft.

What’s it about? This is the ‘official’ blurb at present:

Ash’s mother is a witch. Ash’s mother has disappeared. Locked in a safehouse for young witches, Ash tries to make sense of what has happened and of her destiny, but the force that took her mother is closing in, and a snap decision to protect a human girl threatens to break everything apart.

It’s structured, I hope, a bit like an unfurling flower. It opens in a world very like ours, but with the occasional witch. Each bit of new information given about witches, their origins, and their powers, renders the world they live in stranger and more alien. About halfway throught, the main character and her friends journey into the Land of Fairy and it just gets weirder from there.

Ash is on hold at present, until after I finish editing my other novel… and writing my other other novel… you get the picture. But it was a lot of fun to write and I’m very pleased with the result – looking forward to writing that second draft, just as soon as I have the time.

“This is Fairy, Ash. Anything is possible.”

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My Week In Writing (14/05/17)

20170512_155627I’m in Berlin! I’m writing this in my hotel room, with a view of a rather orange abstract nude painting. My window looks out over downtown.

I’m here with my parents, primarily to look at museums. We’ve done the Neues, for Egyptian artefacts, and seen the very famous Nefertiti. We’ve done the Altes, for Greek and Roman stuff, and seen the Severan Tondo, which I was excited about, my stepdad was interested in, and my mum, I think, was just sort of confused by.

We did the Pergamon, which was a touch disappointing because as it turns out, the Altar of Zeus plus a whole wing of the museum is under long term refurbishment – but there’s still a lot of very exciting stuff to see.

And then we had a look around the Bode, where we saw some more recent (ie, after the fall of Rome) sculpture, including a Donatello that we had to chase all around the renaissance galleries in search of!

We’ve always been around the cathedral – me and my mum climbed the dome while my stepdad stayed on the ground, being afraid of heighs and in possession of a dodgy knee. I probably should have stayed with him, cause it turns out the stairs up to the dome are far more nerve-wracking than I’d expected. The way up wasn’t so bad. Down was harrowing.

20170513_123140We stopped by Checkpoint Charlie, mostly to have a nose around and take some pictures – we didn’t do the museum but did have a look around the shop, which has the most surrel array of Berlin Wall themed tourist tat. I bought a piece of the wall. Or I think I did. No way to tell if it’s genuine wall or a bit of some other wall.

We’ve also had some very nice cake, admired some modern architecture, and stopped by the Haagan Dazs shop (twice).

Other things I’ve done this week: I made some good progress on editing Summer. It’s on hold till I’m back in the UK, but I’m finally starting to feel like I can actually make it into a good book.

I’m trying to keep up with Settlement 359, but it’s slow going because I don’t have the energy, and because I’ve reached a tricky bit.

I finished reading The Circle Opens and I have three out of four reviews posted on Goodreads. And I read Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, which was a fascinating and moving read.

Next week, I’m going back to Scotland, catching up on some TV I missed, and for one reason or another, I’m not thinking much beyond that.

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Review: The Cat Returns

220px-Cat_Returns

(Note: between job interviews and anthology submissions, no time to write a proper blog post this week. So, here’s one I made earlier –  ie, dug out of my drafts from 2013.)

Whisper of the Heart was a reasonably complex and original coming of age story with a perfect blend of fantasy and realism – but evidently the most popular part was the dapper talking cat, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, for he got a kitty-themed film all to himself.

It’s a much shallower film than its predecessor, with less detailed animation and a straightforward fairytale plot. Schoolgirl Haru saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat transpires to be the Prince of Cats, and his father, the Cat King, is so grateful than he insists Haru take the prince’s paw in marriage. Not enthused at the prospect of marrying a cat, Haru seeks the help of the Cat Bureau. Therein enters the Baron, a living cat figurine who is determined to save Haru before she is transformed into a cat forever…

It’s pretty standard children’s fantasy far, with a lot of kitties – and I mean a lot. If you’re a cat person you will probably like this film. If you’re not a cat person you might come out of it hating them.

The ending is something of a disappointment, with Haru having grown as a person by virtue of… I don’t know, adventure? And cats? But it’s worth a watch, partly for the star-studded English dub (Anne Hathaway as Haru, Tim Curry as the Cat King, Cary Elwes as the Baron) and partly because it’s pure kitty-filled fun.

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