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My Week In Writing (11/06/17)


Look what came in the post!

Just a short update this week – I continue to be trapped in job search hell. One of the application forms I filled out today felt eerily familiar – so much so that I had to go through my files, just to make sure I hadn’t applied already.

As it turns out, I had – way back in September. I’ve applied for all the jobs in Edinburgh, and now I’m going around a second time…

Settlement 359 is, sadly, stalling right before the climax. I know where I need to get but I haven’t quite figured out how to get there. I just don’t have the mental energy for it at present.

Good news, though – Wednesday is my last day at my job, so pretty soon I’m going to have all the time in the world. I’m taking a week out, then doing doing some social media volunteering.

I read Sirens by Simon Messingham, one of the books I’m reviewing for Shoreline of Infinity. It certainly wasn’t boring – I blazed through it – but I have some, hm, complicated feelings about it and I admit I’m a touch disappointed. I’ve read one of his Doctor Who novels (The Indestructible Man) and thought it was pretty good so I was expecting more interesting things.

I listened to Big Finish’s Fifth Doctor Boxset, which features two stories, Pyschodrome and Iterations of I.

Both stories feature Matthew Waterhouse reprising the part of Adric for the first time since the 1980s. I’ve heard him reprise the role before, for A Full Life, but this was the first time I’d heard him in a full-cast play, and it really was a joy.

Adric is (unpopular opinion) one of my favourite companions and a big part of the reason why I got into Classic Who. The two stories provide a lovely set of bookends for season nineteen, Pyschodrome adding some much-needed character bonding and development, while Iterations of I provides some more conventional Doctor Who action. If you’re into the Peter Davison era, I thoroughly recommend it.

I also listened to the first two installments in last year’s Master trilogy, And You Will Obey Me and Vampire of the Mind. I enjoyed them, but I’m reserving full judgement till I listen to the conclusion, The Two Masters.

And – as you can see! – I got The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Tale, a bumper collection of behind the scenes interviews. I made a start on it today, and I’m having a great time.

Next week, I’m going to leave my job. It hasn’t sunk in yet and probably won’t until it’s really over. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.


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Doctor Who: 12 Stories for 12 Doctors (part 2)

index5. Earthshock (Peter Davison, 1982)

This wasn’t an easy pick – Peter Davison is my second favourite Doctor, after the great Troughton, and I love… well, most of his serials, in all their gritty 80s glory. But while there are many that are better made and more interesting, Earthshock is the one that I always come back to.

The return of the cybermen following a seven year absence, Earthshock is basically Tomb of the Cybermen meets Alien. Which is to say, it’s more or less wall to wall action, with some great character moments, some bizarre directorial decisions, and some truly shocking violence (if you don’t mind spoilers, look up the ending on Youtube and count how many times the cyberleader gets shot. Just count ’em).

The TARDIS got really busy in season 19, with three companions vying for the audience’s attention, so a decision was made to make one story focusing on each companion. Nyssa gets to meet her double and go to a fancy dress party, Tegan gets possessed by a demon, and Adric gets to… save the world, at great cost. I won’t spoil it, but Earthshock gets darker than you’d expect real quick. Thoroughly recommended.

(Runners up: Enlightenment, Kinda)

512J6DAQAKL._SY300_6. The Two Doctors (Colin Baker, Patrick Troughton, 1985)

This… was an easy pick, actually! Much as I love Colin Baker’s Doctor, his two-year run was, shall we say, not the best Doctor Who has ever been. But it did produce this madcap gem. Patrick Troughton had such fun filming the twentieth anniversary special that he asked if he could come back once more – and this time he brought Frazer Hines!

In The Two Doctors, the Sixth Doctor crosses his own timeline to rescue his younger self, and becomes embroiled in an adventure involving Sontarans, cannibal aliens, and a butterfly hunter. The action takes place in and around Seville (New Orleans was planned, but proved too expensive).

The Second Doctor and Jamie part of the plot is so confusing that it’s sparked an elaborate fan theory that’s led to the writing of multiple expanded universe stories. The ethics are so weird that one reviewer proposed that author Robert Holmes is straight-up playing mindgames with the viewer – side with the villain and you’re agreeing with a eugenicist. Side with the Doctor and you’re siding with a bigot.

In short, it’s a bit of a mess. But it has Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in one last outing together, a messy Robert Holmes script is still a Robert Holmes, and I just find it all-round endearing.

(Runners up: Revelation of the Daleks, Terror of the Vervoids)

515KXGV2R7L7. The Curse of Fenric (Sylvester McCoy, 1989)

Another difficult choice – pretty much every story to come out of seasons 25 and 26 is pure gold. But at the moment, my favourite has to be Curse of Fenric.

Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, originally introduced as more of a clownish figure, was increasingly played as a chessmaster, and Curse of Fenric is the result. Years – perhaps centuries – before, the Doctor bested the Elder God Fenric in a game of chess and imprisoned him in a bottle. But Fenric’s influence never died and now he’s breaking free, in the middle of a WWII power struggle between Britain and Russia for the ultimate code-breaking machine… also, there’s vampires.

The Curse of Fenric is a startlingly grown-up story, with a simmering undercurrent of sexuality and some major emotional punches in the gut. It’s also really complicated, like a lot of Seventh Doctor stories – I’d recommend watching the director’s cut, which smooths out some of the more confusing plot points.

Above all else, it’s a story about Ace, the Doctor’s companion, overcoming her fears, maturing, coming to terms with her trouble childhood. Ace has perhaps the most emotionally complex arc of any Classic Who companion, and it’s a real shame that it was cut short.

(Runners up: Ghost Light, Remembrance of the Daleks).

The_Chimes_of_Midnight_cover8. The Chimes of Midnight (Paul McGann, 2002)

Here’s a really tricky one. To date, Paul McGann has only appeared in two televised Doctor Who stories – Doctor Who aka The Enemy Within aka The TV Movie, aka the 1996 special that introduced him, and Night of the Doctor, a short prologue to the fiftieth anniversary special. Of those, Night of the Doctor is quite definitely my fav.

But in this instance, it really wouldn’t feel right not to look at the expanded universe, because that’s where Paul McGann’s Doctor really lives, with something like sixteen seasons of audio adventures under his belt. And of those, I have to go right back to the beginning, to The Chimes of Midnight, recently voted Big Finish’s best ever Doctor Who adventure.

The Doctor and his companion, Charley Pollard, land in a deserted Edwardian townhouse that seems to be frozen in time. Meanwhile, in an indentical house, a group of servants are preparing Christmas dinner. When the clock strikes ten, the two merge – and the Doctor and Charley promptly find the body of the scullery maid, Edith Thompson.

Fortunately, the rest of the staff are absolutely certainly that the Doctor is a detective from Scotland Yard. No-one can agree on the date. Charley starts seeing Edith Thompson’s ghost, who tells her that Edward Grove is alive. Every time the clock strikes the hour, someone dies.

And then things get weird.

The Chimes of Midnight is one hell of a ride, blending surreal horror with farce, managing to be in equal measures uproariously funny and deeply disturbing. I really can’t recommend it enough – you can download the mp3 from Big Finish for £2.99. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

(Runners up: Immortal Beloved, Solitaire)

Next week: the New Series Doctors!

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My Week In Writing (04/06/17)


Inspirational posters

Unemployment still looming. I’m trying to stay focused on the positive aspects, i.e. starting a week on Thursday, I don’t have to go to work any more.

My company’s already hired my replacement, which feels a little weird. It also means that he gets my desk, so I’ve been sitting at my line manager’s desk while he plays an elaborate game of musical chairs with himself. It’s a much nicer desk. The days have been going very fast – I don’t know if it’s being in better surroundings, the knowledge that it’ll be over soon, the fear that it’ll be over soon, or just that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts!

Earlier this week, my new deskmate said to me, more or less out of the blue, “something something-seller?”
“I’m sorry?”
“I said, once you’re unemployed, maybe you’ll write a bestseller!”

To my knowledge I’ve never talked to her about my writing before, so I was a mite puzzled, but I told her I’m writing a book so… yeah, it’s a possibility. I’m closer to writing a bestseller than a person who has not written a book at all!

I’ve been taking a semi-break from writing this week – I can feel myself starting to burn out and unfortunately it’s the less essential stuff that has to go first. I did start a new story, inspired by listening to The Adventure Zone.

I got a thousand words in before it occurred to me that the premise could have some weird racial overtones if not handled very carefully, so it’s on hold already, which is probably for the best.

This week I listened to Tomb Ship and Masquerade, the latter two volumes in a trilogy featuring the Fifth Doctor, old companion Nyssa, and new companion Hannah Bartholemew. I’m a touch underwhelmed – they’re both decent stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed Masquerade, but I’d expected a trilogy introducing a new companion to… promimently feature said new companion?

Hannah doesn’t figure that heavily in her introductory story, doesn’t show up until episode four of Tomb Ship, and largely takes a backseat in Masquerade before suffering a very unpleasant fate. I’m disappointed but I knew it was coming, so I’m not that disappointed.

I also listened to Jago in Love and Beautiful Things, the first two installments in the fourth season of Jago and Litefoot. I still have some, hm, complicated feelings about the series as a whole, but this season is shaping up to be very enjoyable.

I’ve been listening to the new season of Alice Isn’t Dead, which continues to be super creepy and hauntingly beautiful, and working my way through The Adventure Zone. Catching up on the latter is a strange experience at the moment – the current arc has provoked some discussion, so it’s been difficult to avoid spoilers and every time I see people talking about it it’s like getting a glimpse of some dark and terrible future…

I finished reading The Bear and the Nightgale, which took me a while – I just found it hard to follow. I want to review all the books I read this year, but I’m drawing a blank on this one cause I just plain didn’t get it!

The last couple of episodes of Doctor Who have been a bit mixed – The Pyramid at the End of the World was, while not as good, an entirely worthy follow-up to Extremis but then The Lie of the Land, despite a really exciting trailer, was surprisingly bland. The ending was super disappointing. Ah, well. Next week’s episode looks like fun!

And I made maple syrup flapjacks, which came out pretty delicious!

Next week is gonna be my last full week at work, which feels really strange. I don’t think I’ll fully get my head around what I’ve done till I’ve finally left for good!

I’m going to be spending it working my way through the Doctor Who audios I’ve bought and not listened to and trying to get through as much of The Adventure Zone as I can before I leave my job – can’t concentrate on audio stuff unless I have something mindless to do with my hands!

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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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