Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ian Levine's Shada: A Review

Shada is for many the holy grail of Doctor Who stories, the one unfinished Tom Baker story from the Douglas Adams golden era (an era that Stephen Moffat dryly states began and ended with all-time classic City of Death). It was unfinished due to industrial action in 1977 preventing the completion of its studio-time. A fair chunk of the studio work had been completed, and all of the location work shot in Cambridge had been finished so it has stuck in a lot of fan's craw that production was never remounted. Shada saw outgoing producer Graham Williams and outgoing script-editor/writer Douglas Adams replaced by well-known producer JNT (who would hold the job until the 90s) and Christopher H. Bidmead who both wanted to take the show in a different, less joky direction and thus a remount did not happen.

Shada currently exists in three legitimate forms - the DVD/VHS release with Tom Baker sorta out of character providing narration explaining the missing scenes, the Paul McGann/Big Finish audio/webcast version available here with the 8th Doctor filling in for the 4th Doctor in an audio adaption of the original script (with extra scenes to explain the 8th Doctor's presence) and most recently a novelisation by Gareth Roberts almost ghost-writing as Douglas Adams with a substantial RTD-era influence.

However a fourth unofficial version has been made - utilising the existing live-action footage and new  animated sequences to cover the unshot parts with as many of the original cast returning to voice their characters. The fan animators were contacted by Ian Levine, a controversial 'super-fan'/record producer with deeps pockets who is responsible for the return of a number of missing classic Doctor Who episodes and served as an unofficial fan consultant in the 80s.  (I'm also obliged to say he played a part in the making of the record Doctor in Distress and claims he was denied credit for the writing of Attack of the Cybermen).

Levine wanted his animation to appear on the recent Shada DVD but due to politics and perhaps the irregular way he went about this production it was not. Whether that was the case is debatable and the kind of discussion to get you banned off Gallifrey Base or shouted at on Twitter. There's also some unpleasantness between him and some of the animators that he took public on Twitter - so suffice it to say this is a controversial bootleg version! Let's move on to actually reviewing the product...
I watched this with my girlfriend who is a big Douglas Adams fan but a stranger to classic Doctor Who. She often finds classic Doctor Who hit-or-miss. Meanwhile  I am a big fan of Douglas's Doctor Who I've never actually read any of his books. I have watched the original Shada VHS, the Big Finish audio is one of the first and best audios I've heard, and I've even listened to the audiobook of Gareth Robert's novel, read by actress Lalla Ward. So I like to think I knows me Shada.
The episode we watched was on a Raspberry Pi running RASPBMC (basically we watched it on a small HD-ready TV). There's a DVD version out there, but as my lousy cheap DVD/TV combo no longer plays DVDs we didn't watch that version.

Sadly the first piece of animation we see in
this special edition is a great view of the phone
as Chris Parsons twitches and glides
across the room.
The bulk of episode one was previously filmed live-action material, with it being primarily the conclusion of this episode aboard Skagra's ship that is animated. However our first piece of animation concerns Chris Parsons in his lab. This animation is less than stellar here as you can see - and you can play a drinking game with how often the Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey changes size in the different animations.

As one proceeds further into Shada more and more of the episodes consists of newly animated material. By and large the artwork ranges from okay to beautiful, with excellent likenesses. It is clear several artists worked
The book size changes throughout the
animated segments and appears to be
in a different time-stream from the humans.
on this however, and some are better than others. The animation is perfectly serviceable - a lot of classic Who was static scenes with a lot of dialogue. However the animation tends to be poorest whenever there is any real action - for example
Ian Levine Presents: Doctor Who on ice!
this gif of Romana and Skagra struggling in a corridor of his ship. Movements range from fluid to "Doctor Who on Ice", like this clip of Romana walking across a room. It seems like the animation is typically a rough 10-15 FPS, akin to some of the jerky animations one gets on the reconstructed episode DVDs. Often the characters seem stiff, twitchy and move in a very un-lifelike manner.

Action scenes are not the
animators forte I'm afraid.
Episode 2 sees the introduction of Paul Jones as Tom Baker as the Doctor. While Levine was able to reunite most of the cast to record their dialogue for the animation Tom Baker's fee to record the remaining dialogue for this story was way out of the project's budget, and instead Paul Jones was brought on board. He does a reasonable Tom Baker impression, but it is clearly an impression and lacks the cadence and subtleties of the real man. However his delivery of the final lines of the story sound like he is reading from the script, while the real Tom Baker would have delivered it as the boggle-eyed loon we all love him for.

Judge Mr. Jones's impersonation for yourself... here's the first animated Tom Baker appearance:-

Lalla Ward can't help but sound slightly older than in the live-action sections but overall the quality of the cast is good. Sadly the worst offender in the cast is the person who does the voice of Professor Chronotis in Episode 5, replacing poor Denis Carey who passed away in the interregnum. However if you can look past these things it's a pretty solid reproduction.

Overall this is an impressive fan project, albeit one whose legalities are highly debatable. The animation ranges from superlative (some of the initial scenes in Shada are of comparable quality to the Invasion animation) to comparable to fan animations on youtube. It is probably not ready to be released on DVD but with some retouching of some of the poorer animations, and getting a certain Mr. Baker to replace Mr. Jones's impersonation this could be a real treat. The jump from animation to live-action was not as jarring as I'd thought, though I'd prefer it if it was either all animated or all-live action.

However for me, the Big Finish version is my favourite as it is a rebooted production with an all new cast. Kevin Fox is a wonderful Chronotis, Suzanna Harker is wonderful as Claire, Andrew Sachs is a better Skagra to Christopher Neeme (though Neeme makes an excellent Sith Lord)...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dr Stu on the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

Here it is - my reflections on Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary... Beware, spoilers, controversial opinions and Baker-bashing abound.

Yeah, those 5 heads belong on those 5 bodies guys.
(At least they didn't break out McGann's Dark Eyes outfit).
The Light at the End: Let's start with Big Finish's This is a pretty good audio teamup with Doctors 4-8 taking on the Beevers 4th Doctor era Master. I think the reviews I've read are correct, it's a fun romp but it is nothing special in terms of storyline. It's written by Nick Briggs who takes a lot of flack as he is the Dennis Waterman of Big Finish (produces, directs, stars at the Daleks, makes the theme tune). He has written a few truly excellent stories in his time, and he has written a lot of ho-hum Dalek run-arounds on audio to keep himself in the acting booth.

All 8 classic incarnations of the Doctor are represented, the dead ones by sound-distorted impersonators. It's a lot darker than the show with *gasp* a child being murdered by the Master's miniaturization gun at one point.

Highlights are Tom Baker  taking part in a multi-doctor story as the 4th Doctor, and of course my two favourite Doctors, 4 and 8, teaming up to solve the plot initially. Sixie gets to look all smug and superior over all the other Doctors, part of something I call the "Sixie-Sucked-On-TV-So-We-Must-Make-Him-Look-Good-Next-To-The-Other-Doctors Big Finish Compensation Factor".

Lastly - the CGI on my limited edition cover is terrible! 7/10

An Adventure in Space and Time: This was a great docudrama but it really seemed to have two threads to it. One thread was the story of struggling actor Bill Hartnell and his story as he gets to grip with playing the Doctor and falls in love with the show, only to tragically be forced out by ill-health and infirmity. It's a tragic and poignant tale that is beautifully underplayed.

Single female lawyer TV producer, struggling to survive in a
man's world... Zzzzzzzzz... seen it!
The second thread by contrast has the subtlety of a sledge hammer and is one that I think tickled the politically correct cuddly-lefties at the BBC. The heartwarming tale of a female producer (Verity Lambert - first woman producer at the BBC) and her Asian director (Waris Hussain - marvel as he can't get served in the BBC bar for his colour) fighting to survive in the smoke and alcohol sozzled male dominated BBC boys-only-club. We get to see all the snubs, , but in many ways the narrow focus on these two seems to reflect poorly on the fact the show was largely created by committee, rather than the work of these two. Especially since they both end up leaving Doctor Who and the narrative half-to-two-thirds of the way through the show.

I'm no expert on the backstory of Doctor Who but I knew for a fact Mr. Hussain directed a chunk of the first season's episodes (including the amazing first episode) but the show makes it look like he pretty much single handedly directed the entire first run of Hartnell's doctor and his leaving to do Passage to India left them all bereft. I guess poor Daleks director Christopher Barry and later-director John Gorrie were not politically expedient enough to warrant a mention. Perhaps that's splitting hairs, but it is a bit of a shame to be left out for not being a minority.

The performances are great however, even if the focus of the story is spotty at times. Bradley nails it as Hartnell while at the other extreme a lot of the extras playing his (unspeaking) later companions and associates look nothing like their counterparts. Shearsmith makes a passable Troughton (who would be a nightmare to find a real look-a-like actor to play the role) though thankfully we were spared Gatiss as John Pertwee in an unfilmed account of Hartnell's time on the Three Doctors that might have served as an epilogue. Matt Smith even shows up, which is nice (even if it'll be an obselete cameo in 1 month, *sniff* *sniff*).  8/10

Night of the Doctor: see my previous blog post. This was awesome. 10/10

The Last Day: Aside from the iTunes carfuffle this was more typical of what a Doctor Who minisode has been to date. A cheap looking puff piece that does not particularly add much to the story. There are Two Timelords with strong London accents, a smattering of Robocop and a genuinely frightening premonition jump-scare. 4/10

Day of the Doctor - This special reminded me of the End of Time, except done a lot better. My main complaint about this special is the length, 75 minutes is too short when the piece of turd that was End of Time is over 2 hours!!

Especially when they had the gall to release something that short in cinemas. I was tempted to go see this in the cinema but since the last time we went to the cinema when it wasn't Orange Wednesday it cost us £40 for tickets and refreshments I couldn't really justify paying that much cash to see something that was free on TV.

The story is a bit silly to begin with. There's a lot of daftness/kewl factorness just to show off the 3D effects, notably Clara driving her motorbike full pelt towards an initially closed TARDIS entrance and UNIT's aerial surveillance failing to notice her do this and minutes later picking up the TARDIS with a crane to take it to London with both the Doctor and Clara in it and unwilling to use any of the TARDIS mechanisms that could easily free it.

The special has two main arcs - the resolution of the Time War arc from 2005, and some Zygon shennagians in London, Earth, center of the Doctor Who universe. The zygon stuff was great - though I expect we shall see zygons again in Cappaldi's reign to justify the expense of the excellent costume. It does kind of fizzle out at the end of the episode.

The Time War is shown again, as is Gallifrey, though the events of End of Time, which seemed to show nearly every Timelord as being thoroughly evil enough to countenance the destruction of all reality to save their skins, is conveniently sidelined. Instead of Dalton's High Council we see the War Council of Gallifrey (presumably in Arcadia). They don't exactly seem fluffy-bunny types but oddly the whole "Timelords are as bad as Daleks" thru-line from the Night of the Doctor is not really picked up on in this episode, which felt a little odd. Again this reminds me of how Doctor 10's megalomaniacal episode in Waters of Mars was never really addressed in End of Time or in any of 11's subsequent episodes even though it felt like it was setting up some kind of future payoff.

I did like how unlike in End of Time not every Timelord/Gallifreyan is shown to be a combatant. Though once they showed there were kids on Gallifrey for me it removed all tension that the Hurt-Doctor was going to push the button and destroy Gallifrey. In Nu Doctor Who kids are always the expression of innocence, purity, nobility and wisdom. Nothing bad can ever happen to them when the Doctor is around, especially not pre-watershed. In real life they are a more diverse bunch.

A lot of people wish the McGann doctor had appeared in this episode and he could have worked
to be honest. Given they'd shot Night of the Doctor I was expecting some sort of cameo from him and from Peter Davison, who I thought is pretty much Doctor Who royalty, Moffat's favourite doctor and has already surprised. I was a bit surprised we largely just got the 2 NuWho Doctors and Hurt.

That said they needed the Hurt Doctor as sadly there is not that much contrast between Doctors 10 & 11. Both are youngish, suit-wearing, fun-loving, not-too-serious, catchphrase spouting, sonic wielding men. Sure there's some differences, Tennant's doctor is a smooth Johnny-Cool figure while Smith's doctor tries to be cool but is in fact awkward and nerdish, but compared to say Pertwee's played straight Doctor 3 and Baker's Doctor 4 the difference seems almost insignificant. In fact I've bemoaned that there is not enough difference between 9, 10 and 11. NuWho Doctors are all relatively young, pop-culture quoting, slightly clownish characters.

"Doctor no more."
Even the title credits aren't buying it John.
Hurt was definitely more of a classic Pertwee/Hartnell type doctor, providing seniority and poking fun at the silliness of modern Doctors.

There had been all this speculation that Hurt's 9th Doctor had done something so terrible that he could no longer lay claim to the title of Doctor during that incarnation, and that in Night of the Doctor he was some sort of Warrior-Doctor. I'd imagined his younger self as being some sort of Khan figure from Star Trek: Into Darkness wielding a badass gun, taking no prisoners and generally being somewhat undoctorish as he rained a 12-pack of extra caffeinated woopass on the Daleks. However as soon as the character was revealed in Day of the Doctor I saw he was playing the Doctor with the same level of moral fiber we are used to. So we probably could have gotten away with McGann minus the crankiness. I'm pretty certain McGann's doctor would know what a cuppa-soup was, so why not Hurt's?

I loved Hurt's portrayal by the way - but I'm saddened we now have a 2nd Mayfly doctor, and one who probably isn't in a hurry to return to the series. Hurt's getting on in his years and it is unlikely he is going to want to revisit the series. There's also little of an era to the Hurt Doctor as he seems to exist solely for the duration of the Time War, something that I suspect does not lend itself to solid TV or even audio narrative.

Conspicuous by his absence is Christopher Eccleston. I suspect in an earlier draft or synopsis of the story it was Eccleston's newly regenerated doctor who was about to blow up Gallifrey and would have filled the Hurt Doctor's part (albeit with the problem again that his Doctor is somewhat similar to 10 and 11). Even worse is the fact we see poor Hurt regenerate into Eccleston's promotional image, though hearing his first words of, "I survived and Gallifrey is gone. S**t!" probably wouldn't have been in keeping with the upbeat ending they were going for in this show.

Whether it was timing, Chris's policy never to go back or that the producers of the 2005 show burned some really massive bridges with Chris (who by all accounts wasn't happy with the working environment of the show for the crew) man! Even poor Moffat has made some vague comments about how he'd really hoped to bring Eccleston on board.

Eccleston's refusal is all the more frustrating as it was pretty clear to me that Davison, McCoy, McGann and Colin "I was better on audio" Baker would have given their right arms to be in this special. So we had the ironic situation where the 1 Doctor the producers seem to have wanted flat out refused it, while a handful of the classic doctors were really keen to be in it. I imagine Baker's fee could have saved him from appearing in Big Brother XXV wearing his clown costume and reminding folk he was in Doctor Who once.

Still all 13 doctors show up in the end, mostly in recycled footage and some CGI that is better than the Light at the End box but still has a way to go. There's a Capaldi blink-or-you'll miss it shot of his eyes and more interestingly a Tom Baker cameo as (possibly) a future incarnation of the Doctor. However as a homage to the past there's little nods to the 1st Doctor's era in Coal Hill school and Totter's Yard and one of the characters wears a 4th Doctor scarf. There's not really a lot of homage to all 50 years. Certainly the 80s, 90s and bulk of the 70s felt a little overlooked while this really does feel like a NuWho celebration since the Time War is a 2005-thing, mixed in with a few old references. I'd have liked to have seen Ian Chesterton cameo, and possibly we could see what became of Susan or Romana (possibly something ghastly in the Time War).

Overall a solid episode. I guess as the 50th episode it was never going to reach my lofty expectations and I suspect the BBC did not give it the budget and scheduling it really deserved. I mean 75 minutes guys, really?! 7/10

The Fiveish Doctors: This is comedy gold, though only if you watch Doctor Who and know a little bit about the fandom. A rather deranged Peter Davison teams up with a brilliant Sylvester "Did I mention I'm awesome in the Hobbit in the last 5 seconds?" McCoy and of course Colin "No Career Besides Big Finish and Reality TV" Baker try to get into the 50th anniversary special with cameos from McGann (who Colin Baker seems envious about the fact he is still able to get work), Moff, Peter Jackson, Sir Ian McKellen and perhaps John Barrowman's greatest appearance in a Doctor Who story. One that made me have to pause the iPlayer and walk out the room laughing hysterically.

Somehow McCoy has convinced me he is charmingly drunk and asleep but
Baker just doesn't look convincingly asleep even in this shot.
(Also next trip to the Doctor Who Experience I plan to pay in Barrowman CDs from Grouchos in Dundee).

Arguably this and Night of the Doctor are the best parts of the show. I don't know why but I found Colin Baker just a bit annoying in all this silliness. His girth means he dominates a lot of the shots and I suspect it's a little too close to home for the 13th best Doctor of all time (Peter Davison once said if his acting career ever fizzles he won't have to worry for money after all Colin Baker survives well enough on convention appearances). 10/10

Moffat realises that
1Direction + Doctor Who
were the obvious crossover!
The Afterparty: Disaster.

Bring all the Doctor Who companions of old and get some twit and Zoe Ball to completely capitalize on them being there. Get the Moff, Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman and frigging John Hurt on stage for 1Direction - a Simon Cowell manufactured boy band running a competing livestream event - to interview them whilst having them contradict Zoe Ball's assertion they'd been watching it live in LA and basically ask "Was it any good?" Interview friggin' Adric randomly of all the companions (apparently he's still available for acting work, someone ring Uwe Boll!) and watch in awe as Zoe and her chucklehead chowder brained sidekick fail to remember any of the old actor's names and refer to them by their character's names.

On the other hand Matt Smith accidentally appeared to gave 1D the bird and the internet got to see Moffat give a double facepalm. Also Tom Baker got to run roughshod over Chucklehead during an interview and it was nice for him to mention he is still the Doctor in Big Finish and the BBC Audios. Bizarrely the Doctors and Nick Briggs never seem to mention BF enough in any retrospective interview on shows like Doctor Who Confidential style interviews - I assume they regularly have to cut round any such mentions because of the BBC's policies.

I can honestly imagine the commissioning meeting for this went along the lines of,"That Next Doctor Live event was brilliant. It got loads of ratings. Someone call Zoe Ball and get her to do another one. Never mind that the 25 minutes before we announced Capaldi was utter guff people tolerated while they were waiting for the announcement."

Monkeys and toasters again. 3/10

Summary: Given that there really was only 2 episodes of Doctor Who made this year (again a crying shame, I'd have loved a Children of Earth mini-series style release or even an animated 3D cartoon featuring the older Doctors) I am amazed Moffat kept his word of taking over TV. However it seems he had to do a lot of creative accountancy and a lot of the good stuff wound up on the BBC red button service and relatively cheaper looking webisodes. The highlight of the anniversary for me was both Night of the Doctor and the Fiveish Doctors. Roll on Time of the Doctor and the Capaldi era.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lamentations on a Forgotten Heroquest

So, there was a kickstarter for Heroquest 25th Anniversary Edition by by a company called Gamezone.

Was being the operative word.

Then after it was shutdown over IP violation it reappeared on a Spanish crowdfunding site... for 4 hours.

My first thought on seeing the site way back before the kickstarter launched was it looked a little dodgy. Nice graphics, but the site as in Spanish, not English, (which is odd as Heroquest in my mind is a British game) I got a vague sense this was not a legit organisation.

Later English additions to the site did little to dissuade my feeling of dread, especially the logo "Everything you will ever wait is here". When you spend your life reading emails and reports written in pigeon-English, you dread seeing it on an actual product. I was only vaguely tempted to pledge to the campaign - the proposed miniatures looked great, but the lack of proper English really put me off. I was also therefore dreading any tinkering with the game - especially since they were proposing to add 15 new heroes. I just doubted their ability to not affect the game balance.

Lastly there were going to be no fimirs.

Sadly this was a render of the final product, rather than an
actual prototype. One of the main critiques of the KS was the
lack of any real groundwork prior to launch.
Odds were the kickstarter was going to be shutdown, most likely by Games Workshop who in lieu of making games these days litigate at the first hint of encroachment on their property. As they made the minis this seemed inevitable.

However the Kickstarter was shutdown at the request of smaller company Moon Design, a company that owns the Heroquest trademark in America as part of the Glorantha RPG range. They had been approached by GameZone and had asked to see a letter from MB Games allowing GameZone to remake Heroquest. GameZone would not produce one and it came to light they own the Heroquest trademark applied to toys in Spain but do not actually have any rights to the game itself.

To be honest I'd almost overlook the IP violation as it is pretty clear as far as Games Workshop and MB are concerned this game is dead in the water. However GZ seems to a bit of a fly-by-night outfit. It is a real shame HQ died out the way it did.

Now excuse me while I kickstart Advanced Heroquest in Kazakhstan.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dr Stu on Dr Who: How Night of the Doctor Saved the 50th For Me

It's fair to say my attitude to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary so far had been bah-humbug. With very few new episodes being aired (the Series 7 episodes we got were left-overs from last year, and only 2 episodes have been filmed this year), the sole announcements of only the returns of the Tennant doctor was mildly interesting but the return of Billie "I think I've returned to Doctor Who enough" Piper had me despairing. Meanwhile An Adventure in Space and Time seemed more like a curio than a replacement for the other 11 or so episodes we normally get in a year, and it seemed there is no shortage of tacky merchandise being released so the Beeb can apparently milk the show and minimize their annual output of the actual show. In fact even the finding of the Web of Fear and the Enemy of the World only served to enhance my cynicism, which could be summed up as, "Gee, if only the BBC had had TV channels to show these recovered episodes on instead of being forced to release them on iTunes for £9.99 a pop."

Incidentally I still expect Episode 3 of the Web of Fear to be found in time for a double-dip DVD release. So does Frazier Hines apparently.

My only real hope was for Big Finish's Light at the End, a celebratory audio featuring Doctors 1-8, which I bought the Limited Edition Deluxe release (naturally it came in 3 releases of increasing price, the Limited Edition is the mid-range at £40), as I like the 8th Doctor - who sadly has not had any other Big Finish release since November 2012. (During the Tennant-march-of-Death specials year McGann's Big Finish output was huge).

It was good by the way. Doctor 8 teams up with Doctor 4. Whoop!

Anyway, last Thursday I came back to my office from teaching a class to find on my feed a review of something called the Night of the Doctor from Stuart Reviews Stuff (another Stuart, not me, he makes much better reviews) with an image of the new-look 8th Doctor crumpled on a rock, bleeding. 6 minutes later I think I went through the highlight of the anniversary - if they cancelled the special now I'd shrug and say, "Oh well, at least we got Night of the Doctor."

He was very cagey when I said it was
a shame he wasn't in the 50th.
Now you might think this was a massive spoiler but during a visit to the Doctor Who experience I got chatting to one of the chaps who worked there while buying some souvenirs. He listed off all the doctors he'd met, and mentioned Paul McGann had filmed some material for one of 5 mini-episode prologues to the 50th - enough for a fleeting cameo. I was skeptical, saying Paul had tweeted he wasn't involved but the guy seemed adamant, saying he knew a lot of the inside things that went on regarding the show. He was right it turns out.

This is an amazing 6 minute episode. My summary would be "Caves of Androzani on steroids, only darker and 6 minutes long".

My two minor niggles are:-

1. It's 6:49 long, not 90 mins. (Hey a fella can dream).
2. We almost, almost got to see inside the 1996 TVM TARDIS, if only that silly, silly girl hadn't deadlocked the door. (To be fair that might've ballooned the minisode budget a little).

But really it's perfect. McGann nails every minute of the minisode We have an older eighth doctor, sans wig, wearing a really cool outfit that resembles his first appearance (frock coat, winged shirt, cravat/tie etc.) and IMHO much cooler than the outfit McGann started wearing for his Dark Eyes era, which to my mind is a cool coat and then whatever the actor was wearing that day (apparently a white T-Shirt and jeans). It'd be like if Tom Baker decided he hated scarves and turned up in a biker jacket, jeans and shirt to film.

TVM, Dark Eyes boxed set and Night of the Doctor Eighth Doctors
Something I did not expect was that the Doctor namedrops his audio companions Charley [Pollard], C'Rizz, Lucee [Miller] and Molly [O'Sullivan] before he downs his chalice of regen-a-juice. Given we know that he definitely believes all of these companions except Molly are dead (and that's only because we've not gotten to the end of the Molly era yet in the audios) I fear for the Irish nurse's future.

This weekend there was another scifi con at the Space Centre and I had a brief chat with Nick Briggs about the minisode. If I recall correctly he told me the following:-
  • Apparently Paul McGann asked Nick's advice on whether or not to do this episode, which Nick said, "Er... YES!" So THANKS NICK!
  • The scale of the production for this minisode exceeded what one of the producers (not Moffat) was comfortable with.
  • We probably won't see the Night of the Doctor costume in Dark Eyes covers for a while, as Big Finish had a hard time getting Paul to pose for new pictures and want to use those.
  • Stephen Moffat said (half-jokingly I assume) one of the reasons for this episode was so Big Finish could have more pictures of Paul for their covers.
Anyway, we got to see the Eighth Doctor's regeneration and proof he was rattling around during the Time War. Hopefully now Paul's been to Cardiff and acted his socks off he might get called back sometime. If you feel inclined I'd suggest sending praise to the BBC about the decision to bring McGann back by clicking here, or signing one of the many petitions to say we'd love to see him back.

Now I'm under no illusion internet petitions rule the world.

The BBC might ignore you, Paul might decide he's done enough now (and fair play to him), or the BBC might do something with this. Given both spinoffs, Torchwood and SJA, are for various tragic reasons over a Stephen Moffat Eighth Doctor spinoff, series of straight to DVD/Web episodes or even a one-off TVM would all be awesome. But if this is the last TV appearance of Eight I'm happy. Go check out the audios!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stuff I Have Been Reading: Legends of the Dark Knight

In anticipation of Arkham Origins I've been reading Legends of the Dark Knight, an old series of comic books released after DC's Crisis on Infinite Earth reboot designed to show early tales of the Caped Crusader. In particular two stories are worthy of comment so far.


This is a story that predates Bane's introduction to the Batman mythos by a few years deals with Batman getting hooked on the stuff after he fails to rescue a little girl in a cave-in. Conveniently the creepy father of the girl is able to hook him up with the pills and tries to use them to turn the Dark Knight into a zombie-addict. The pills make Batman stronger, but dumber.

Having failed to completely zombify the Dark Knight the evil scientist and his military buddy decamp to Santa Prisca where they proceed to zombify the military buddy's slow-witted son. He goes from nice "alright" kid to ruthless killer in a rather brutal manner (these comics were not for kids!)

Aw... ain't it sweet.
Wait, what's this below?
Drugs are bad. We get it.
Well worth a check out, if only for beardy Batman on drugs, and Batman punching a shark (no shark repellant was used).
Seriously, beardy batman!


This one is memorable for all the wrong reasons. In the seminal Batman: Year One there was a scene that is almost wholesale lifted in Batman Begins where he uses a sonic device to summon a flock of bats. Among the many things that they do is block the vision of a helicopter carrying snipers, causing it to crash. This is the story of the pilot who was crippled for life in the wreckage of said helicopter. But luckily he was a half-German fellow with an evil Nazi warcrimes mother who worked on experimental tech and was able to give him an exo-skeleton suit. She is also waiting to find an ubermensch to breed with - and has decided Batman is the man for her. The Flyer, her son, lures Bats to their underground base. Which leads to this scene:-

Holy Bat Rape! The Climax? I don't wanna see that...

One of the things I liked about LotDK is most of its stories exhibit a certain groundedness in reality. Not to the extent of Nolan's Batman movies, but more like the first Burton movie. It boggles my mind that a gritty noir story like Batman: Year One should be referenced in a story that is... well... less grounded with cybernazis and worse.

Anyway - Year One made a spiffy straight-to-DVD feature. Well worth checking out.

and here is my favourite scene from its quasi-sequel Dark Knight Returns.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stuff I Have Been Reading: Runefang

Runefang. Picked this up cheap at the Student Nationals this year along with the first two Age of Legends: Nagash stories.

It's a quest for a maguffin - the missing Runefang of Solland, a former province of the Empire that was razed by orcs and subsumed by its neighbour, Wissenland. A Runefang is the magic sword each of the Imperial Electors (i.e. top noblemen) wields in battle, and this particular Runefang was half-inched by the orcs. Unfortunately it is the only weapon that can destroy the undead liche that is currently ravaging Solland and Wissenland.

Runefang is an odd book.

Firstly it is set during the Age of the Three Emperors, something I did not realise until half-way through the book when a Reiklander knight enters the scene and the various politics and multiple Emperors are finally mentioned. As such it possibly belongs in Games Workshop's Age of Legends line. Certainly I feel I missed the bit where this was explained to me, though I did wonder why none of the Elector Counts matched the Warhammer canon ones.

Secondly it (or perhaps I) cannot seem to decide who its main character is. Inevitably a rag-tag band of heroes are setup to find the Runefang. There's a baron, his deformed enforcer, several knights of the Southern Sword, a dwarven engineer, a Solland archer, a halfling cook/thief and his ogre sidekick, a witch of Morr and her templar bodyguard, and numerous men-at-arms lackeys. While they're off questing the book often shifts to the perspective of the heroic Count Eldeberd and his general who have to try and stop the undead army from razing Wissenland to the ground as well as stop the neighbouring province of Averheim from deciding now would be a good time to invade, settle some scores and liberate the peasants.

It's difficult to get attached to the large number of protagonists as many of them are dispatched with gusto that would make George R. R. Martin gasp. Also the quest seems a bit linear. Basically the witch and dwarf work out where they should go, they go there and find what they need. Perhaps both of these comments are due to the ~400 page limit that seems to dominate all game fiction books. Remember Game of Thrones might have a cast of 20 or so POV characters but those books typically weigh in at around 800-1,000 pages with smaller typeface.

Werner keeps it interesting - there is a twist in the quest for the Runefang, although one that means not much is resolved about the titular artifact (whose fate is pretty clear in Warhammer canon apparently). There is also treachery in the group as well as bandits, orcs and undead to assail the heroes and lots of mass combat against undead legions (though that boils down to the Duke trying X and it not working against the undead several times). However I feel the book really lacks a heart to it. There's perhaps too much emphasis on combat and battles than on making the quest really interesting but that is often a flaw with Warhammer novels. However it is a fairly vicious story in terms of body counts - don't get attached to any character!

Overall a reasonable read, but not Werner's best. I would also liked to have seen more of the politicking but I assume some of Werner's other Age of Legends books will cover this. It does make me sad that Chris Pramas's mooted Age of the Three Emperors sourcebook never came about during WFRP2E's development.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nationals Swag

The Nationals were here again this year, and despite the fact they I only decided to go as a player on Friday night, rather than booking months in advance, I played in the D&D 3.5 category which included Pathfinder. I didn't win. Leicester Sabres did however, which makes next year's commute (assuming I'm not doing a UCAS Day or some such) more manageable than the 7am dash to Sheffield both days.

It was my first ever game of Pathfinder, and the setting was a kind of Wild West Arctic wasteland. Overall I like a lot of the changes they made to the D&D 3.5 system but they seemed relatively 'minor' to justify buying another rulebook (I have the Pathfinder Core Rulebook but have struggled to see any significant differences from 3.5 in the core game). An example of the minor changes I liked included having a Perception skill instead of Search, Spot and Listen. This makes more sense as smell is an often overlooked skill in RPGs.

The other game was D&D 3.5 and was also fun. However perhaps it was the characters I played (Half-El.f Bard on day 1, Halfling Expert on day 2) but I found I seemed to derail the plot a lot and get creative with the characters skills. For example in Pathfinder I used Summon Instrument to create a wind-shield by summoning a pipe-organ to block a doorway. I also charmed a giant worm and if it didn't do flame damage on touch I'd have happily re-enacted Dune. However having a massive worm sidekick made up for the fact I perhaps wasn't the most min/maxed Pathfinder bard.

I also had the chance to pick up some indie RPGs from Patriot Games in Sheffield, who seem to specialise in that sort of thing. I'll be going back there. I was hoping to get a copy of Once Upon a Time by the Great and Powerful James Wallis and other decent chaps but they only brought 1 copy with them! So I ended up spending more money than I should on some cheap Warhammer novels and the following beauties:-

The Committe for the Exploration of Mysteries. I just liked the cover. Haven't read it, it's a Victoriana type game.

Forsooth is a Shakespearean roleplaying game where you all make up a Shakespeare play by playing the actors. It sounds a bit like Baron Munchausen with more rules but looks silly enough.

Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies looks like a 7th Sea clone, but I'm assured it has its own identity. It's about Musketeers and skyships, so it must therefore be awesome.

I hope to inflict these games on people in the future.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fiction: For Want of a Grail

I used to write the odd article, adventure and such like in exchange for a small amount of cash and last year the Black Library, publishers of Warhammer fiction, had an open submission month. It seemed like an excuse to do some writing and I thought after all the critiquing of their novels on this blog I'd have a go at writing my own short story - a kind of psychological horror story about a quixotic senile knight hunting a witch in a backwards rural village in Bretonnia (basically a backwards Arthurian medieval France setting) while his squire, a treacherous fellow who uses the knight's senility and rank to get an easy rise, dissuade the knight from his investigations. There's also some stuff about an evil version of the Grail I eventually put into last year's Nationals module.
Anyroads, I wrote a synopsis and a short 1,000 word sample. Black Library then announced they didn't want a synopsis and it seems the original synopsis is lost to hard disk crashes.
Since Games Workshop never got back to me in nearly a year I guess they were after more teenage-friendly action and less psychology, so I'm posting it here for general comments/critiques.
For Want of a Grail, A Warhammer Fantasy Short Story by Stuart Kerrigan
Overview: The Questing Knights of Bretonnia who find the Grail become Grail Knights but what of those who do not succeed yet remain bound by their oath to stubbornly continue their quest?
Sample 1,000 words:
The mood in the common room was as cold as the snow that carpeted the village commons Jacques thought. On a normal night Beyonne’s keg house echoed with sounds of ribald jests, grumblings and tales of mundane drudgery. Tonight their nerves were on edge and their glassy eyes squinted into their glasses of cheap wine.
Jacques cursed under his breath. The drinks were flowing as slowly as the conversation. His eyes scanned the length of the dirt covered bar looking for a dirty glass to spit and clean. Suddenly the door to the keg house opened and the barkeep felt the kiss of the chill wind upon his skin. A single figure stood by the door, his stooped form in silhouette from the single lantern hung from the rafters that bathed the room in urine-yellow light.
The man moved towards the bar with a pronounced limp on his left leg, and when he at last stood in the light Jacques saw the man had a weathered countenance. He was bald as an egg, wearing a brown eye-patch over his left eye to match most of his mismatched leather jerkin. A scar marred his left cheek and when his right hand slammed onto the bar Jacques noticed a mere three digits.
“My liege, Sir Brisbois, Knight of the Quest, finds this weather too cold for his liking,” said the man in a deep, scratchy voice. “He wishes to stay the night in your fine establishment.”
Jacques stood at once to attention, “Aye milord.” Perhaps tonight would not see his takings down. Knights were a capricious breed - unschooled in matters of commerce they were often unwittingly generous, but if they found the service wanting their anger could be great.
The ill-favoured character nodded in acknowledgment and exited the tavern, leaving the door open. A few moments passed and the warmth continued to escape the common room. Then he returned, holding the arm of his master.
The knight that entered was thin and stooped under the weight of his armour. A short untidy white beard ordained a wrinkled and elderly face and matched the crop of hair on his head. He wore what had once been fine, albeit old-fashioned, plate mail that was now encrusted in dirt and rust. Some of the ringlets of his cuirass and underlying hauberk lay broken. A still-fine silver-hilted long blade and a cruel looking double-handed sword were girthed to his left side. Jacques grandfather and great-uncles had been men-at-arms. From them he knew that a squire who kept his knight’s raiments in such a shabby manner would be horsewhipped to within an inch of his life.
The rogue who accompanied the knight led him down to a table near the bar and pushed him onto the bench non-too-gently. “Bring him wine,” said the squire. “And bring me some too.”
Jacques dusted off a Bastonne vintage he kept under the bar and brought it to the table along with a pewter goblet. The squire gleefully seized both saying, “This’ll do for me. Bring him the house red.”
Jacques looked uncertainly from the braggart to the knight, but the old man still shook from the cold of the winter night. Jacques returned with a chipped pewter goblet full of the local red. The old man slowly drained it while the braggart swigged from the bottle.
“Thank you Grenell,” said Brisbois hoarsely.
“That’s not my name,” said the rogue, ignoring the knight and speaking to Jacques. “Not that he knows or cares anymore. Milord here is forever listening to the dragon as the Bastonne’s would say.” He tapped the side of his temple whilst rolling his eyes in mockery. “The real name’s Malloc.”
“Have you tended to the horses?” asked the old man, oblivious to his squire’s disrespect.
“Of course I have milord,” said Malloc patronisingly. He handed Jacques a silver penny and whispered, “Have your boy stable his mule out front. The thing’s half dead with cold. Old devil thinks it’s an elven steed gifted him by the Lady.”
Jacques brow creased, partly in confusion and partly in disgust at this so-called squire. Before he could decide how to respond he was joined by Russo, a dirt-covered farmer who had been sat by the hearth. The peasant stooped unsteadily over the knight’s table. He focused on the old warrior and knelt in supplication, “Have you come to deliver us from the devils sir knight?”
Brisbois said nothing, tilting his head and seemingly staring past the peasant with his tired grey eyes.
“Horrors plague the farms sir. Last week my cow, she gave birth to a two-headed calf, she did and the others say I be…”
The peasants head hit the table as Malloc backhanded the peasant. He laughed, “Livestock are not our concern peasant.”
Tears formed in Russo’s eyes as he lifted his head, a nosebleed mingling with the filth and straw on the common room floor. Jacques took a deep breath and turned to the knight, “A month ago someone snuck into the barn and cut Dominic’s prize sheep open. Its entrails were snakes and when he found the carcass and the snakes bit him. He died days later he did. An’ there’s been more over the last few moons.”
“Enough!” said Brisbois, surprising even Malloc with the sound of his voice. “I have heard enough!” The knight reached his feet unsteadily, shaking as he did. He drew his double-handed sword in his palsied hands and moved it an uncertain arc over Malloc’s head. The squire recoiled, ducking under the table. “You have described to me the signs that a daemon infests your town of…”
“Beyonne, milord,” said another peasant to nervous chuckles. “Yer in the back of Beyonne.”
Brisbois continued unphased, “Of Beyonne. By the Lady I swear to you I shall find your demon and excise it from your soil, and regain her favour.”
The peasants chattered excitedly. Brisbois unsteadily lowered his sword to the table and knocked over the bottle of Bastonne red.
Malloc cursed under his breath. This had become more than an overnight stay in Beyonne.