Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dr. Stu on Dr. Who: End of Time Part 1 (long)

So... Waters of Mars I didn't blog about but it was pretty darn good. Especially the end where they finally acknowledged that Tennant's doctor has always had tendencies to be an arrogant twat and needs a companion to keep him in check. To be honest I never felt Rose would be the one to do it - she was always eager to fan the flames of 10's ego. But its always nice to see Tennant's sometimes smug Doctor taken down a peg or two. This only really started happening in Season 3 with episodes like 42, Human Nature and the Master Trilogy taking the Doctor to the very edge.

I must admit I was somewhat wary of Simm's master returning... as you may know I didn't think too highly of the original John Simm episodes. Derek Jacobi on the other hand was the bomb - he nailed the part in the 5 seconds he played the Master. The Master is supposed to be like Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock. A true Moriarty Master hardly ever gets his hands dirty - he has minions for that. He is a sinister, distant and aloof figure - thinking of the grand scheme. He should appear austere, respectable and sophisticated on the outside and yet is completely evil. Instead we got a Master who listens to Scissor Sisters, is clearly barmy and yet became Prime Minister of Britain for no reason that seemed relevant to the plot later on...

Anyroads - I was sure it wouldn't be that bad? Simm can do nasty when he wants - perhaps the script would be better.

Mother of All Spoileryness Warning for End of Time Part One

The End of Time Part One

The episode starts off rather nicely with Wilf and a mysterious woman (who I think is meant to be a Time Lady) chatting about the Doctor in a chapel in (drum roll...) London, Earth, 2009/10. Then we see the Doctor turning up on the Ood Sphere listing all the unseen Big Finish adventures he's had. It's all a bit silly and I wished we'd followed him immediately after Water of Mars's great cliffhanger. He meets the head Ood and is given a peak at the script visions of Wilf, Dave Harewood, Lucy Saxon and the Master.

There's a rather pointless sequence where the Disciples of Saxon, a group who believe Harold Saxon (the Master) should live again ('cos he was such a wonderful chap who inspires loyalty) break Lucy Saxon out of jail to extract DNA or some maguffin off her to resurrect the Master. We learn who took the ring off the remains of the Master in Last of the Timelords and are completely underwhelmed as it is a random unnamed woman. Lucy however thought there was a possibility the Master might come back and made an anti-Master-Resurrection potion and has moles who have infiltrated the Disciples of Saxon. She uses it while I ponder the following nits/plotholes:-

1: If Lucy Saxon thought there was even the most remote possiblity the Master might come back WHY DIDN'T SHE TELL THE DOCTOR ABOUT IT?
2: Doctor 10 didn't notice that fecking massive ring in the cremated remains of his nemesis? What - is he attention deficit? Was there a mirror nearby when he was cremating the master...
3: Why did the Master bother to kill himself and go through this whole convoluted resurrection scheme?
- What if the Doctor had put his corpse in the TARDIS?
- What if the Doctor had cremated him in the TARDIS?
- What if the Doctor had taken his ring off him?
- What if the Doctor had taken his wife away from Earth?

The Master's escaped from the TARDIS and the Doctor before you know - ask the 7th Doctor if you don't believe me. This resurrection put me too much in mind of the ridiculously convoluted plot in the Torchwood episode They Keep Killing Suzie wherein Suzie relied on a resurrection glove that had never worked in the past to bring her back to life.

Most of my concerns are rendered moot as there is a massive explosion killing Lucy, the Disciples of Saxon, and any point to this scene*. We then cut to David Harewood, staple of all BBC drama at the moment (and wasted as he was in Robin Hood), talking about some alien technology they've got off Torchwood's** latest car boot sale and how they reckon the Master is alive and will prove useful. The narrator tells us they're idiots so we don't have to worry too much about their scheme, whatever it is, coming to fruition.

We then cut to scenes of the Master inexplicably wandering round some (fairly extensive) ruins near Lucy's prison in present day London. He seems to have developed superpowers, including lightning, flying and turning into a Martian from Mars Attacks! Which leads to niggle 4:-

4: Why did the anti-Master solution turn him into Superman?

He needs to keep replenishing his lifeforce apparently, as he kills some homeless people and the staff of a burger van that operates out of these London ruins (obviously the derelict area is a good place to sell sausage in a bun) whilst eating like Mr Creosote from The Meaning of Life. He pointlessly bumps into the Doctor and runs away from him, leaving him in the clutches of Wilf's randy OAP army - the Silver Cloak. We learn in 21st century BBC tradition these unlikely pensioners tick every Politically Correct box in the book, flirt with the Doctor and then bugger off. This leaves the Doc and Wilf to actually act - after all the "essential" plot development so far there's a nice scene where the Doctor tells Wilf he's dying (after all if some psychic bint on the Number 200 Bus told me I was dying I'd be buying a plot of land for my grave), and some talk about Donna marrying a guy who looks a little like her old fiancee. Inexplicibly the Doc ditches Wilf and runs back to the wastelands and into the Master again. The Master beats him with his lightning and flying powers, but not before the Doctor gets to listen into the Sound of Drums the Master's been harping about since RTD rewrote his character forever.

To be fair this is one occasion where Simm's*** Master actually stopped chewing the scene for a few minutes but before long he's captured by David Harewood's marines. Which leads to concern #5:-

5: Oh come on - you're saying that with all his new powers the Master was captured? You could argue he allowed himself to be captured, but given he knows nothing about Dave Harewood's alien device plot there's no reason for him to do so.
6: Why not capture the Doctor as well? Dave Harewood seems to know all about the Master but nothing about the Doctor which is... unlikely given how active Drs 9 & 10 have been and that we had a group of OAPs recognise him earlier. (Yes - I know Wilf told them about him, but still).

The Doc meets up with Wilf again and through some oblique clues provided by Donna rushes through some plot developments and porcupine aliens to fail to stop the Master accomplishing his latest "plan" - to make everyone on Earth (except the Doctor, Wilf and Donna) into clones/copies of himself****. Obviously he's never read Shatnerquake - that's not as much fun as it sounds.

It finally seems we're in danger of having a cliffhanger which involves John Simm clones "humorously" in variety of getups (including women's clothing - thanks RTD!) giving the thumbs up and generally mugging the camera. Thankfully for no discernible reason we cut to the narrator of this episode, Timothy Dalton, who it appears is a Time Lord and starts going on about how somehow the Master has inadvertently brought them back. He then starts yelling about the End of Time and For Gallifrey, leaving us going OMG The Time Lords are back! Yay! And wondering how all this mess is going to be neatly resolved in 75 minutes on New Year's Day.

Although I'm often critical of RTD's episodes I did love Rose, The End of the World, Midnight and even Love and Monsters (right up until we had the implied oral sex with a paving slab, something I'm amazed wasn't censored). However for every Rose there is at least two World War Threes, with farting aliens talking about dalliances with farmboys. Aside from the fact I don't think he sees the Master in the way I see him his season finales have had plotholes you can drive flying double-deckers through - preferring emotional content and a bullet point list of 'memorable scenes' over sensible well-thought out plots. To be honest RTD would make an amazing co-author but as the dominant force behind Doctor Who he has a tendancy to write plots that any script editor worth his salt should send back covered in red pen decrying the lack of logic in them.

So in some ways its good that RTD is leaving - I feel I'm going to like a Steven Moffat penned finale more than an RTD finale. He really should've let someone else write the major 'event' stories. Moffat on the other hand is capable of writing very, very clever scripts - akin to the Douglas Adams scripts Tom Baker excelled at. RTD's turkey is getting a little cold - I'm glad there's only another round of turkey sandwiches to gobble, but put me down for that last helping - it might still be good. Or it may fail to explain everything to my satisfaction*****.

5/10 - Could Try Harder (To Be a Coherent Story)

And now the ranty footnotes:-

* My comment, over the pandomonium of my folks chatting was, "I liked it better when the Master came back to life without any explanations."

In my view if you had to do this kind of scene it would've been more spooky if it was a brief flashback when the Doctor first re-encounters the Master.

Doctor: You are dead.
Master: So you thought, but I prepared for that contingency. My followers on Earth, the Disciples of Saxon, had orders to perform a ritual to resurrect me if I died.
(Cut to people in Satanical robes performing the resurrection stuff we see in the episode)
Master: Something went wrong though...
(Cut to explosion)

** Gaddamit - another reference to Torchwood and how useless they are with keeping alien technology under wraps! Seriously - the show went from 1963 without mentioning Torchwood (because RTD hadn't taken over invented them they were so secretive) - now they're behind every alien tech disaster in Doctor Who! Even old ladies in downtown Cardiff know about them.

*** Simm is a good actor BTW - watch any episode of Life on Mars or his episode of Cracker. He is especially good at scary murderers, but in my opinion his acting chops are wasted playing the Joker-Master. Of course from interviews I've read he enjoys playing the part as a kind of panto villain.

**** One thing I'll hope we'll ditch in the Steven Moffat era is the routine plethora of 'world-shattering' plotlines. Since 2005 the entire planet has experienced the following:-

  1. has seen ghosts

  2. has been invaded by said ghosts who turned out to be Cybermen

  3. has been invaded by Daleks, twice in some cases!

  4. saw the President of the USA killed by the Master and aliens

  5. had the planet moved

  6. had all the people of a correct bloodtype stand on the edge of a ledge

  7. had all the children stop what they were doing and acting as mouthpieces to a bunch of aliens

  8. had bad dreams about John Simm, and been unable to concentrate because of him

  9. turned into John Simm

The last 4 in particular realistically would have incredibly widespread effect on people. Consider for example people worldwide in 'critical' jobs and situations - for example defusing a bomb in the bomb squad, driving a car at high speeds down a motorway, operating heavy machinery, walking the tightrope in the local circus and so on. Bear on mind it's the entire planet - statistically a lot of these situations should pop up and a lot of unfortunate people would all probably die. Repeatedly.

***** Concerns like

1) Why are the Time Lords back?
2) Why do they want the End of Time to happen - doesn't that mean they're out of a job?
3) How on Earth does the Master's latest idiot plan lead to them existing again? (I think I know how they'll explain this - if they bother)
4) What's so special about Wilf?
5) If Donna gets her memories back then why doesn't she explode as previously promised?
6) Why are the Ood appearing to the Doctor? Why is their future connected with 21st Century Earth? Surely they'll be better off without humanity enslaving them (which might explain their advances in civilization)
7) What exactly does the Immortality Gate do? Does it heal entire civilizations?
8) Why hasn't the Master made the Master-clone-Martha-Jones jump off a roof in revenge for her part in deposing him in Last of the Time Lords?
9) Does the Master now know everyone on Earth's thoughts and secrets?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dr. Stu on Dr. Who

No - not Waters of Mars. I'll maybe blog about that again at some point. For now move along if that's what you're interested in.

I've not been blogging a lot recently - I'm twittering a lot more these days. One of the results of my twittering was that recently the lovely people at the WhoCast reviewed the Company of Friends, a Doctor Who audio play starring my favourite Doctor, Paul McGann. I felt it was only fair I reciprocate and make my thoughts known (particularly as one of the podcasters sounded in physical pain due to his experiences).

I personally was not too fussed about this release - I'd rather Big Finish had created 4 short McGann plays in keeping with their own continuity. In my mind the McGann audios are the canon eighth doctor era and creating a series of 4 short audios that link with the novels and comic books was a cluster-frak in terms of continuity. There are events in these separate continuities that invalidate the other continuities and at times don't even link with the current television series.

For example in the comics Ace dies, the 7th Doctor and Sarah-Jane hang out and Rassilon is a good guy who the Doctor has met time and time again. In the novels Gallifrey is destroyed, but not by the Daleks, Romana regenerates again and becomes an enemy of the Doctor and so on.

As for the novels there are dozens of 8th doctor novels, but I'm not that much of a fan to read them - especially as they did not conclude before the 2005 series came back.

It's also worth considering that the last time Big Finish explicitly addressed the separate 8th doctor continuities it was in Zagreus - and was (in my opinion) a bit of a disaster. With this trepedation in mind I did however listen to the plays over the summer break, whilst in darkest Exmoor and have finally got round to blogging about them. Here is a breakdown of the 4 plays:-

Benny's Story - I'm not familiar with the Bernice Summerfield range. I have some Benny novels, but they were given to me for free as the result of a botched order from Big Finish and currently take up space in my wardrobe rather than my bookshelf (don't ask!). She was a companion of the 7th doctor for a large portion of the pre-1996 novels and teamed up with the McGann doctor in another novel, and (in a wafer thin example of author-surrogacy) may have slept with him. This story is unremarkable and seems to play off the novelty of having McGann and Bernice in a fairly ho-hum corridor chaser. Sadly, not being a fan, the novelty is lost on me. 4/10 - but as Lisa Bowerman (Benny) has graciously added me as a friend on Facebook I'll up it to 6/10 and promise to one day listen to the Bernice Summerfield range.

Fitz's Story - I -really- liked this one. Maybe I miss the fact that the Doctor never seems to get a 'normal' bloke as his companion. Case in point, Captain Jack, C'Rizz and Turlough all having their own peculiarities. It's a light, comedic episode which is hilarious partly due to the infomercials that McGann's doctor performs against his will (and is that him doing additional accents?) and due to Fitz's comedic nature. The only problem is the continuity of Fitz's tenure coincided with another companion, Anji, who (suspending disbelief) spends the whole episode badly hung-over and unable to take part in the episode. 7/10

Izzy's Story - I actually bought the 4 volumes of the McGann Doctor's comic books - this is where Izzy comes from. Izzy, a very loud shouty girl, leads the Doctor off in search of a rare 2000AD-esque comic book. Hilarity ensues - though I was not taken with the actress playing Izzy. This was a reasonabble showing however - and weird enough to be an example of the daftness of the 8th doctor's comics. 5/10

Mary's Story - This was the one I expected I would like the most as it did not have to frak around with the 8th doctor era. I did like it the most, though the writers felt the need to have McGann list companions from all the different types of spin-off novel, audio etc. at one point.

Storm Warning, the first McGann audio, had a throw away reference about Mary Shelley (as did Shada if I remember correctly, though that also implied Chronotis was there). This personally annoys me slightly as I liked to assume Storm Warning was set immediately after the TV Movie.

A later McGann play (Terror Firma) made it clear it was not as it retroactively added two companions called Samson and Gemma who had been adventuring with the 8th doctor prior to Storm Warning. Interestingly the reason for this addition was because an earlier McGann play had referred to "Sam", a companion out of the novels. This was meant to allow the audios to exist in their own continuity as the Sam was retroactively made to fit "Samson", a male companion. Of course these plays have references to the novel-Sam as well as the audio-Samson.


This episode shows Mary Shelley become a full blown companion and of course has some very clever Frankenstein allusions. As the WhoCast pointed out technically it's a multi-doctor story, and one that would be relatively easy to do in the TV show. It takes place both at the start and possibly near the end of the McGann era. It is very clever, aside from the unnecessary fanwank of having the Doctor feverishly name Gemma (retconned audio companion), Compassion (novel companion), Destrii (comic companion), Charlie (audio), Lucie (audio), Alex (unknown), Tod (unknown) and Retha (unknown). Tin of worms for table one!

It would be very easy for me to be harsh in my criticisms of this play but it is very clever, very well acted and despite its continuity headaches is the best of the bunch. I do hope we see more of Mary's saga however. 9/10

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let's Play Ultima V Lazarus - Warriors of Destiny

Over the past few months I've been amused by a Let's Play of Ultima VII - one of my all-time favourite games as long-time viewers will no doubt be aware. A Long Play (LP) is basically a semi-humorous commentary when playing a game, a bit like Rifftrax or MST3K.

It looked like fun so I decided to try one for Ultima V: Lazarus - the fan remake of Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny. Feel free to watch as I find new ways to plumb the depths of dorkiness. Here is a link to the full playlist - I've posted over 10 videos to date.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fistful of Audios: Hornet's Nest 1

I listened to the first Fourth Doctor audio. Sadly I was underwhelmed by this audio - it wasn't bad, but sadly it was nowhere near as good as the first Eighth Doctor audios.

Tom refuses to work with Big Finish - the audios are from the BBC Audiobook team who up until now have only had Tom reading novelisations of old TV episodes. Tom has a habit of avoiding working in the same area as other Doctors. When offered scripts from Big Finish he unkindly mentioned he put them in bin - amusingly one of these scripts is by the guy who wrote all five of these new audios. Supposedly he suggested doing new material and is more comfortable working with his chums at BBC Audio than Big Finish. Perhaps he feels more comfortable with them than the Big Finish crowd (who are by all accounts nice people who make nice lunches).

The format is somewhat schizo - switching from audiobook to audioplay for certain scenes, but with dollops of narration (mainly from Tom). The basic story is that Retired Captain Yates has been lured to The Nest, a cottage the Doctor owns in Sussex. (Let's be honest it was never going to be outside the home counties). He proceeds to tell Mike about his recent adventures relating to a group of hornet-like aliens that he has trapped in his cottage - or have him trapped?

The Doctor is suspiciously similar to the 70 odd-year Tom Baker. He complains about his old bones, lives in a cottage and walks his dog (called Captain) in the countryside. There's the occassional witty remarks but most of his time is spent narrating his story to Mike.

The guy who voices Captain Yates is relatively flat. As the initial narrator he is competent but when he reacts indignantly to the Doctor, demanding to know what's going on, it does not sound so different from the tone he narrates with.

Truth be told this would be a reasonably good story but some of the really witty bits are narrated flatly rather than acted. There's still some good stuff from Tom when he's not in narrator-mode, but the only characters with voices are Mike Yates, the housekeeper and Mister Noggin.

Additionally this is 1/5 of the full story, and despite appearances to the contrary does not stand on its own terribly well. It ends with a cliffhanger of the Doctor preparing to tell yet another story to Yates. Will Yates survive? Probably. Will my interest survive? For now. I do hope this series is a success and leads to a proper series of audio plays.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The 100 Best Computer Games Ever?

Ok, been reading the Empire Magazine Top 100 games list and thought I'd weigh in on it. I never owned a console prior to my Wii, so the games I have played on this list are mostly limited to PC, Amiga and Commodore 64.

Firstly, there is no clear indication how the Top 100 were assessed. I personally think it should be on durability technical merit and originality. Looking at this list there are too many FPS games - Doom and Quake are fair enough. But Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Halo and so on? I suspect like "Who is the best Doctor Who polls" there is a slight bias to newer games.

Secondly there are too many series of games salamaied. While I agree Resident Evil or Grand Theft Auto (probably) merit mention I don't think a series should count more than once unless the game is sufficiently distinct from its predecessors. So GTA 1 and GTA 4 are fair game, but GTA 3, Vice City, 4 and so on are all essentially the same game tarted up slightly.

#100 Speedball 2 - I never really saw the appeal of this game. I guess it was Grand Theft Auto for the 90s.

#98: Worms 2 - Worms is pretty good isn't it?

#95: Alone in the Dark - no, not the new quasi-emo version Atari made, this is the 1920s era Call of Cthulhu inspired masterpiece that basically launched the 3D survival horror genre. Personally given this ground-breakingness I would rate it higher than any subsequent 3D horror game.

#93: Dungeon Master - this was similarly groundbreaking, the first 3D realtime RPG. I personally preferred Eye of the Beholder or Knightmare but this clearly belongs here on this list.

#91: Another World - actually really surprised to see another Amiga game. This isn't particularly significant in my mind beyond some pretty graphics.

#88: Thief II - Thief defined the sneak 'em up genre, while Thief 2 was pretty much the same game, only prettier and with more sneak 'em up type missions and less Raiders of the Lost Ark scenarios. This game came with medieval robots. And some neat fan missions.

#87: Lemmings - surprised this is so low. Good game. Loved the music.

#86: IK+ - this was an awesome game. I have it on my Wii. Should be higher in the list. Should also be remade... hmmm.

#81: Sim City - this is too addicitive and too lowly rated here.

#77: Day of the Tentacle - great game.

#72: Diablo 2 - never really saw what people saw in this game. Diablo 1 & 2 seemed very shallow dull games to me.

#71: Quake - never got into Quake like I did with Doom.

#70: Guitar Hero - not sure this belongs on this list.

#69: Secret of Monkey Island - should be higher. Recently remade, with (I wish) MI2 to follow.

#61: Gauntlet - classic!

#54: Silent Hill - this was quite a scary surreal game. I really need to reinstall this and finish it. The movie wasn't bad (despite what everyone else thought).

#53: Tie Fighter - a good solid flight-sim that was much much better than X-Wing.

#49: Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion - I have to admit I was hooked on Oblivion for a while, but after completing both the Knights of Nine expansion and the main plotline I began to by the Shivering Isles feel it was a bit repetitive and samey feeling, with any characters you meet lacking any depth. A bit like how Elite gets if you play it for waaay too long. Not really a classic, but very very pretty - I also find its predecessor Morrowind lacks any real direction in how to get started which makes it difficult to play.

#43: Sensible Soccer - Despite a lifetime aversion to football I believe I found this quite fun on the Amiga, although when I played it there were absurd scored like 42-26. Good football simulator and actually fun as well.

#41: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem - This is probably the game on the list I've played most recently on my Wii. It's really quite good and has the distinction of being a game that made me scream like a little girl whilst playing it in front of Naomi and Claudia. Lovecraftian horror agogo with time-hopping sections involving characters going from Ancient Rome to the Gulf War and the ability to suffer insanity. It starts with screaming in the background, then you start walking into rooms upside down. Flies crawling inside your TV. Phantom ammo and hallucinated enemies. Messages telling you that you must buy the sequel or that the game has crashed. Scary stuff!

#34: Resident Evil 2 - yes, this is a serious scary game, but is it scarier than Alone in the Dark was?

#31: Knights of the Old Republic - this is the best RPG I've played in a long time with a plot to rival Empire Strikes Back. Slightly hampered by a dodgy rushed sequel that promised an as-yet undelivered 3rd installment, which is now going to be the MMOO.

#30: Resident Evil 4 - wow, they really like Resident Evil. Certainly a better game than RE2 I wonder, was it really scary and such a big advance? Fuelled my fear of masked men with chainsaws.

#28: Tetris - should definitely be higher in the list. This game's got some serious durability and replay value.

#25: Resident Evil - ok, this list is definitely overdoing it on RE. This is not as scary as 2, but does have 'excellent' voice acting in the original version.

#22: Grand Theft Auto 3 - I presume they are going to have IV or Vice City (my favourite), San Andreas (2nd favourite despite the gangsta talk subtitles really needing their own English subtitles!) show up later.

#19: Baldur's Gate 2 - excellent RPG, though I feel it is a little too high in this top 100.

#17: Mario Kart - the original. Me-likey. Wii version is a fixture in my household.

#16: GTA IV - haven't played this but I told you it'd be here.

#13: Elite - oh hell yeah! But why isn't it in the Top 10? Or is Elite 2: Frontier going to be there?

#11: Planescape Torment - surprisingly higher than BG2 this is a game I continually start to play and end up stopping. Perhaps I find Planescape too weird for my tastes compared to conventional D&D (Baldur's Gate) or Star Wars (Knights of the Old Republic). I need to reinstall it though and give it a 20th chance.

#10: Goldeneye - personally I thought this game was overrated.

#7: Doom - I was wondering when we'd get to this. Technologically I would say Wolfenstein 3D deserves an honourable mention too!

#6: Street Fighter 2 - I used to be a master at this, tanning all and sundry when I was a teenager and hearing cries of, "Stop using the same sets of moves on me." Definitely a fair ranking.

#3: World of Warcraft - haven't played it (which is why I occassionally see sunlight and feel the sun on my skin) but this is overrated. Ultima Online was the first successful MMO and should occupy this spot if you have to include an MMO. Which you shouldn't IMHO.

#2: Final Fantasy 7 - suffers from Planescape Syndrome - I keep promising myself to play through it fully so I can watch the Advent Children movie. FF7 personally I find less immersive than Knights of the Old Republic or Baldur's Gate 2 (which in turn are less immersive than Ultima 7 or Ultima 5 Lazarus). Good game but massively overrated, including sadly in this poll.

#1: Super Mario World - again good game but overrated! Is Mario World the greatest game really? It's fun, but it's not exactly a classic as its superceded by later Mario games.

What's missing?

Personally I'm sad Frontier, Elite 2 didn't get in. With a realisticish physics engine, a good representation of our solar system allowing you to fly from London to Tokyo, or off to Alpha Centauri and beyond it's a classic I still reply.

If Mario World is #1 surely Sonic should be in there somewhere. (Personally I think Super Mario Bros was more significant than any further Mario spin-off).

Ultima Underworld - the first ever game to use proper 3D rather than the 'cheat' that Doom or Wolfenstein 3D, allowing you to swim under bridges whilst maintaining the ability to walk over the bridge, not to mention its relatively more sophisticated interactions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Return of Tom Baker to Doctor Who

No Tom's not going to appear in the TV show in some kind of Time Crash event as he told Doctor Who Magazine he would not want to do that. Instead he is starring in a new series of Doctor Who audios, called Hornet's Nest, featuring his doctor post-Invasion of Time, travelling to 2009 and renting a cottage on the south coast of England and getting into all sorts of whacky adventures.

These are made by the BBC, not Big Finish, which is a little bit of a kick in the teeth to that company, but sadly Tom Baker seems to do things his own way, rather than associating with anything involving the other doctors. His reason for doing these audios is (very Tom Bakerish) that he was sick of saying no to the various reprisal offers he gets, and because he wanted to work with Nicholas Courtney (or more likely go down the pub with him after recording).

Interestingly his companion is Mike Yates, a Pertwee-era companion. Sadly it was originally intended to be a very old Brigadier, but poor Nicholas Courtney is not very well. I hope he has a speedy recovery and gets involved in a 2nd series of Tom Baker audios. I also hope people's bank balance can afford all these radio plays from Big Finish and the BBC.

A dedicated website is being setup by the BBC and it looks like just the thing before the next season of McGann audios start up in December again!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Highlander Audios

Big Finish, the guys who make Doctor Who audios, Stargate audios, Sapphire and Steel audios, 2000 AD audios and even audios for the recently cancelled Robin Hood have started making Highlander audios. Yay!

I recently purchased the first one with a view to listening to it on holiday it looks very cool and is explicitly set during Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source, even explicitly referencing significant events in Endgame (no - not that one - they reference the villain!) It's narrated by Adrian Paul, who has a bit of an accent, but with a 2nd voice typically as the villain of the piece.

I've bought the other 2 audios as well and hope to have the last one when it is released. Sadly given the dismal activity on their forums and the other Highlander forums I don't imagine a 2nd season being commissioned - I never thought of Highlander the TV Series as that popular in the UK - which is Big Finish's main market. However if I'm wrong I'll be queueing up to buy more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ultima: My New Project

For the last month or so I've been experimenting with XNA and C# to see how difficult it is to write a complex game. I've decided to remake Ultima 1 - the old RPG that launched my favourite series of games.

Ultima 1 was programmed by Lord British, the cool yet eccentric game-pioneer who is now so rich he is one of the first space-tourists and lives in a castle full of secret doors and medieval memorabilia. (Who wouldn't given the option?)

He had a bit of a kitchen sink approach to Ultima 1 - it was a learning exercise in programming rather than a commercial product. While ostensibly a fantasy game there are definite sci-fi elements. You can pick up a pistol or a laser gun, at one point you must enter a space-ship and shoot down 20 enemy craft and so on. I probably won't remake the space portion or include the 'sci-fi' elements - except as an easter egg - rather I will try to reconcile it with later Ultimas which became much more fantasy and less sci-fi.

I've stuck to using a 2D tile engine, even going so far as to use the original map bin files as a basis of recreating a detailed map of Sosaria.

This was relatively challenging as the information in the original map files was so crammed (2 tiles per byte) that the C# libraries were relatively poorly equipped to hanlde them. They can read bytes, but I found it difficult to read in a 4 bit number. I can't remember how I got round this, but I did.

Character generation is almost finished.

You can create a fighter, druid (who used to be clerics in Ultima 1 but changed as there are no clerics in later Ultimas but plenty of druids), thief (who'll be good at stealing things) and wizards (who'll be pretty powerful spellcasters but weak at everything). I won't include the option for changing races, except possibly as an easter egg. So there will be no playing elves, dwarves or bobbits (hmm!) as the protagonist in later Ultimas is revealed to be a human from Earth.

Currently you can wander around all of Sosaria (though I plan on doing a major inclusion of details to make it a little more interesting) and both towns and dungeons are awaiting placement.

Limited combat is possible, as is the inclusion of wandering monsters.

However this will not be a 1:1 remake - the plot will be different. In the original you had to collect 4 gems to use in a time machine. In this plot you will have to find the gems and summon a silver moongate. There will be subplots and the hero will initially be confined to Lord British's lands.

I still have to build towns from scratch, implement some sort of dialog system and ideally have guards patrolling 'civilized' areas. I also really need to find some way of getting my own tiles - the ones here are modified from Ultima 6 and really need replacing to take advantage of the higher resolution XNA offers. Sadly, not being an artist myself (obvious by some of the screenshots) that could be a while.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guess Who Avoids B&W Films?

Oscar Meme

Films that have been nominated for the Best Film Oscar. How many have you seen?


1927-1928: Wings; The Racket; Seventh Heaven

1928-1929: The Broadway Melody; Alibi; The Hollywood Revue of 1929; In Old Arizona; The Patriot

1929-1930: All Quiet on the Western Front; The Big House; Disraeli; The Divorcee; The Love Parade


1930-1931: Cimarron; East Lynne; The Front Page; Skippy; Trader Horn

1931-1932: Grand Hotel; Arrowsmith; Bad Girl; The Champ; Five Star Final; One Hour with You; Shanghai Express; The Smiling Lieutenant

1932-1933 Cavalcade; 42nd Street; A Farewell to Arms; I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang; Lady for a Day; Little Women; The Private Life of Henry VIII; She Done Him Wrong; Smilin' Through; State Fair

1934: It Happened One Night; The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Cleopatra; Flirtation Walk; The Gay Divorcee; Here Comes the Navy; The House of Rothschild; Imitation of Life; One Night of Love; The Thin Man; Viva Villa!; The White Parade

1935: Mutiny on the Bounty; Alice Adams; Broadway Melody of 1936; Captain Blood; David Copperfield; The Informer; The Lives of a Bengal Lancer; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Les Misérables; Naughty Marietta; Ruggles of Red Gap; Top Hat

1936: The Great Ziegfeld; Anthony Adverse; Dodsworth; Libeled Lady; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; Romeo and Juliet; San Francisco; The Story of Louis Pasteur; A Tale of Two Cities; Three Smart Girls

1937: The Life of Emile Zola; The Awful Truth; Captains Courageous; Dead End; The Good Earth; In Old Chicago; Lost Horizon; One Hundred Men and a Girl; Stage Door; A Star Is Born

1938: You Can't Take It with You; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Alexander's Ragtime Band; Boys Town; The Citadel; Four Daughters; Grand Illusion (La Grande illusion); Jezebel; Pygmalion; Test Pilot

1939: Gone with the Wind; Dark Victory; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Love Affair; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Ninotchka; Of Mice and Men; Stagecoach; The Wizard of Oz; Wuthering Heights


1940: Rebecca; All This, and Heaven Too; Foreign Correspondent; The Grapes of Wrath; The Great Dictator; Kitty Foyle; The Letter; The Long Voyage Home; Our Town; The Philadelphia Story

1941: How Green Was My Valley; Blossoms in the Dust; Citizen Kane; Here Comes Mr. Jordan; Hold Back the Dawn; The Little Foxes; The Maltese Falcon; One Foot In Heaven; Sergeant York; Suspicion

1942: Mrs. Miniver; 49th Parallel; King's Row; The Magnificent Ambersons; The Pied Piper; The Pride of the Yankees; Random Harvest; The Talk of the Town; Wake Island; Yankee Doodle Dandy

1943: Casablanca; For Whom the Bell Tolls; Heaven Can Wait; The Human Comedy; In Which We Serve; Madame Curie; The More the Merrier; The Ox-Bow Incident; The Song of Bernadette; Watch on the Rhine

(at this point, sanity prevails and the Academy only accepts five nominations each year)

1944: Going My Way; Double Indemnity; Gaslight; Since You Went Away; Wilson

1945: The Lost Weekend; Anchors Aweigh; The Bells of St. Mary's; Mildred Pierce; Spellbound

1946: The Best Years of Our Lives; Henry V; It's a Wonderful Life; The Razor's Edge; The Yearling

1947: Gentleman's Agreement; The Bishop's Wife; Crossfire; Great Expectations; Miracle on 34th Street

1948: Hamlet; Johnny Belinda; The Red Shoes; The Snake Pit; The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

1949: All the King's Men; Battleground; The Heiress; A Letter to Three Wives; Twelve O'Clock High


1950: All About Eve; Born Yesterday; Father of the Bride; King Solomon's Mines; Sunset Boulevard

1951: An American in Paris; Decision Before Dawn; A Place in the Sun; Quo Vadis; A Streetcar Named Desire

1952: The Greatest Show on Earth; High Noon; Ivanhoe; Moulin Rouge; The Quiet Man

1953: From Here to Eternity; Julius Caesar; The Robe; Roman Holiday; Shane

1954: On the Waterfront; The Caine Mutiny; The Country Girl; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Three Coins in the Fountain

1955: Marty; Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing; Mister Roberts; Picnic; The Rose Tattoo

1956: Around the World in 80 Days; Friendly Persuasion; Giant; The King and I; The Ten Commandments

1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai; Peyton Place; Sayonara; 12 Angry Men; Witness for the Prosecution

1958: Gigi; Auntie Mame; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The Defiant Ones; Separate Tables

1959: Ben-Hur; Anatomy of a Murder; The Diary of Anne Frank; The Nun's Story; Room at the Top


1960: The Apartment; The Alamo; Elmer Gantry; Sons and Lovers; The Sundowners

1961: West Side Story; Fanny; The Guns of Navarone; The Hustler; Judgment at Nuremberg

1962: Lawrence of Arabia; The Longest Day; The Music Man; Mutiny on the Bounty; To Kill a Mockingbird

1963: Tom Jones; America, America; Cleopatra; How the West Was Won; Lilies of the Field

1964: My Fair Lady; Becket; Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Mary Poppins; Zorba the Greek

1965: The Sound of Music; Darling; Doctor Zhivago; Ship of Fools; A Thousand Clowns

1966: A Man for All Seasons; Alfie; The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming; The Sand Pebbles; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1967: In the Heat of the Night; Bonnie and Clyde; Doctor Dolittle; The Graduate; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

1968: Oliver!; Funny Girl; The Lion in Winter; Rachel, Rachel; Romeo and Juliet

1969: Midnight Cowboy; Anne of the Thousand Days; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Hello, Dolly!; Z


1970: Patton; Airport; Five Easy Pieces; Love Story; MASH

1971: The French Connection; A Clockwork Orange; Fiddler on the Roof; The Last Picture Show; Nicholas and Alexandra

1972: The Godfather; Cabaret; Deliverance; Sounder; The Emigrants

1973: The Sting; American Graffiti; The Exorcist; A Touch of Class; Cries and Whispers

1974: The Godfather Part II; Chinatown; The Conversation; Lenny; The Towering Inferno

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Barry Lyndon; Dog Day Afternoon; Jaws; Nashville

1976: Rocky; All the President's Men; Bound for Glory; Network; Taxi Driver

1977: Annie Hall; The Goodbye Girl; Julia; Star Wars; The Turning Point

1978: The Deer Hunter; Coming Home; Heaven Can Wait; Midnight Express; An Unmarried Woman

1979: Kramer vs. Kramer; Apocalypse Now; All That Jazz; Breaking Away; Norma Rae

1980s (where I was born and thus might have a chance?)

1980: Ordinary People; Coal Miner's Daughter; The Elephant Man; Raging Bull; Tess

1981: Chariots of Fire; Reds; Atlantic City; On Golden Pond; Raiders of the Lost Ark

1982: Gandhi; E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; Missing; Tootsie; The Verdict

1983: Terms of Endearment; The Big Chill; The Dresser; The Right Stuff; Tender Mercies

1984: Amadeus; The Killing Fields; A Passage to India; Places in the Heart; A Soldier's Story

1985: Out of Africa; The Color Purple; Kiss of the Spider Woman; Prizzi's Honor; Witness

1986: Platoon; Children of a Lesser God; Hannah and Her Sisters; The Mission; A Room with a View

1987: The Last Emperor; Broadcast News; Fatal Attraction; Hope and Glory; Moonstruck

1988: Rain Man; The Accidental Tourist; Dangerous Liaisons; Mississippi Burning; Working Girl

1989: Driving Miss Daisy; Born on the Fourth of July; Dead Poets Society; Field of Dreams; My Left Foot


1990: Dances with Wolves; Awakenings; Ghost; The Godfather Part III; Goodfellas

1991: The Silence of the Lambs; Beauty and the Beast; Bugsy; JFK; The Prince of Tides

1992: Unforgiven; The Crying Game; A Few Good Men; Howards End; Scent of a Woman

1993: Schindler's List; The Fugitive; In the Name of the Father; The Piano; The Remains of the Day

1994: Forrest Gump; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Pulp Fiction; Quiz Show; The Shawshank Redemption

1995: Braveheart; Apollo 13; Babe; Il Postino (The Postman); Sense and Sensibility

1996: The English Patient; Fargo; Jerry Maguire; Secrets & Lies; Shine

1997: Titanic; As Good as It Gets; The Full Monty; Good Will Hunting; L.A. Confidential

1998: Shakespeare in Love; Elizabeth; Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella); Saving Private Ryan; The Thin Red Line

1999: American Beauty; The Cider House Rules; The Green Mile; The Insider; The Sixth Sense


2000: Gladiator; Chocolat; Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich; Traffic

2001: A Beautiful Mind; Gosford Park; In the Bedroom; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Moulin Rouge

2002: Chicago; Gangs of New York; The Hours; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Pianist

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Lost in Translation; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Mystic River; Seabiscuit

2004: Million Dollar Baby; The Aviator; Finding Neverland; Ray; Sideways

2005: Crash; Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Good Night and Good Luck; Munich

2006: The Departed; Babel; Letters from Iwo Jima; Little Miss Sunshine; The Queen

2007: No Country for Old Men; Atonement; Juno; Michael Clayton; There Will Be Blood

2008: Slumdog Millionaire; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Frost/Nixon; Milk; The Reader

Stuff I've Been Reading 2: Chaosium Cycles

These books, published by Chaosium - the ones who brought you my favourite RPGs Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon - are a series of tie-in fiction for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. I originally bought the Klarkash-Ton cycle and the Tsathoggua cycle as they seemed to be the only reasonably priced Clark Ashton mythos fiction collections on the market. The Tsathoggua Cycle had quite a lot of other authors writing about the frog-faced Old One and the standard veered from okay to pretty good.

However reading the adverts in the back made me desperate to buy the the Antarktos Cycle, a rather weighty tome consisting of fiction relating to HP Lovecraft's novel At the Mountain of Madness.

The idea behind each of the Cycle books is that they show the evolution of a theme or character used in Lovecraft's fiction. They typically start with the precusors to Lovecraft (such as Machen, Poe or so on), reprint one or two stories by Lovecraft and move on to the better pastiches. Each story has a short introduction by the editor explaining its reason for inclusion (and giving the end away in one of them dammit!)

The Antarktos Cycle starts with stories such as Edgar Allen Poe's Narrative of Gordon Pym and The Thing From Another World (or rather Who Goes There?). Neither are Cthulhu stories but they are linked by a common theme of alien evil in the Antarctic. I was especially keen to devour The Thing and was surprised to find how close to the John Carpenter movie it was, even explaining more of the Thing's nature and psychic powers.

Over the course of my holiday in York I devoured the Innsmouth Cycle - which contains precursors to Shadows over Innsmouth like "The Harbour Master" by Robert W. Chambers and Fishhead. The Harbour Master is about a fishman menacing a small cove with unique wildlife while Fishhead is about a mutated fishlike fellow who is murdered by a group of hicks and gets revenge from beyond the grave. The later pastiches that follow Shadow over Innsmouth are pretty good. The Deep Ones was a bit 60s for me, while Live Bait was full of twists and turns.

Another good collection is the Hastur Cycle which reprints classic Chambers stories like The Yellow Sign and the barmy Repairer of Reputations as well as a rather freaky story called The River of Night's Dreaming.

Sadly it seems to be a bit of a trek to track down these books. I assume they had limited print runs but there are quite a few I fancy. Bizarrely the Cthulhu Cycle is near-impossible to find for less than £60, as is the Ithaqua Cycle, the Book of Eibon (the third Clark Ashton collection, though to be fair it only has 2 of his stories in it), the Mysteries of the Worm, the Sub-Niggurath Cycle, the Azathoth Cycle, Robert E. Howard's Nameless Cults and other collections. There is over 20 titles here - yet only about 5-10 seem to be readily available.

There are also some "new" collections from Chaosium like Frontier Cthulhu, High Seas Cthulhu and so on. However I suspect these will not be quite so good - besides I really want a copy of the older material first!


I've been away to York with the Lady over the bank holiday weekend, finally making use of the arbitary holiday I am forced to take. In this time I managed:-

  • To board a Tour Bus of the City

  • Walk the Walls

  • Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre - which sadly loses steam after the rides

  • Undertake the seemingly obligatory ghost walk in the evening with a theatrical fellow in a frock coat and top hat

  • Overheat on a boat cruise

  • Eat too much nice and expensive Italian food

  • Walk so much I got a little sunburned while da south was drenched in rain.

The last time I was in York was with my primary school in 1990 or so. Thankfully this time there was no weirdness with closets. I was sharing with Hoppy in 1990 - if you know him you'll not be surprised by this revelation.

Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lovecraft on YouTube

Here are some of the best Lovecraft movies on YouTube IMHO... Shadows over Innsmouth - The Musical

The Terrible Old Man - the Cartoon

Shadows over Innsmouth - The Radio Theatre Version

Shadow out of Time

The last two are radio shows I really want from here.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

New Lord of the Rings Movie Online!

Honestly - this is very impressive for a $5,000 movie - the Hunt for Gollum is based on some of Tolkien's notes on how Aragorn and the elves of Lothlorien captured Gollum and learned that he had told the forces of Mordor about the name of Baggins.

Visit the site and see the movie now!

Stuff I've Been Reading 1: Robert E. Howard's Horror

Reading the works of Robert Howard and HP Lovecraft has reawoken my mythos obsession to such an extent that lately I have come to the realisation that there is an extensive amount of Cthulhu mythos stories not penned by the gentlemen of Providence himself. As a learned fellow with a thirst for knowledge I have been dipping in and out of collections of these works for a while. Conan stories on their own can be repetitive.

Firstly I obtained a Wordsowrth edition of Robert E. Howard's horror stories. Many of the stories therein are part of Howard's contribution to the Cthulhu mythos. However Howard differs from Lovecraft in that his hardbitten main characters do not go insane
but rather tend to go beserk and rip the tentacles of the evil critters to pieces. Also a lot of these heroes seemed to be named Steve for some reason. Another recurring trend, which I must confess I was getting a tiny bit tired of, was that in a REH horror story the hero bangs his head and remembers a previous life experience, such as becoming a raider named 'Conan of the Reavers', that relates to the
catacombs he is exploring, or the cairn he is excavating. Thoth-Amon, a villain from Conan, is mentioned in a few of REH's stories. Thankfully the reincarnation stories have varied resolutions and one of them, "The Cairn on the Headland" is excellent in its use of Norse mythology.

Howard has also written more conventional horror stories featuring Hitchcock-like bird (""Pigeons from Hell"), vampires ("The Horror from the Mound") and Werewolves ("In the Forest of Villefere" "Wolfshead"). Annoyingly the book points out that Villefere and Wolfshead are part of a trilogy of stories Howard wrote. The third story, aptly named Wolfdung, is not included - why is never quite explained. I suspect Wordsworth editions only republish work that is now in the public domain and I believe Wolfdung is not in the public domain.

Overall any of Howard's horror work is well worth a read. Just do not read three 'bump, oh I was a Viking raider in a past life and now know that Ianto Davies is descended from my hated enemies the Welsh and must now I must murder my friend" in one go.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I finally got round to seeing Inalienable on DVD. This is a film written by Walter Koenig and stars a virtual who-is-who of science fiction. The main character is played by Richard Hatch who is most famous Apollo from old Battlestar Galactica. Hatch is a research scientist who is infected by an alien parasite that forces him to give birth to a child.

Now you'd think that the parasite would be evil - mutating Hatch's character or turning into a Godzilla type monster. It actually protects Hatch while it is gestating and after the kid is born Hatch actually bonds with the child when the US government then takes that child away and separates Hatch and the alien-child. It becomes obvious that Hatch and the alien need each other for their physical and emotional well-being.

Hatch's lover starts a massive campaign to free and reunite the 'father' and 'son' which, with the aid of some leaked footage on the internet, culminates in a massive legal battle between Hatch and the US Government. Sadly the entire story is rended moot by a hasty ending that neatly resolves everything in far to neat a manner - which is sad as being a single standalone movie it could end however its author sees fit.

The first third of this film feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone, the second third is definitely ET and the end is a legal drama with a sci-fi twist. It actually works quite well - the lousy ending aside and is thought-provoking, if the morality is perhaps a little too "thump on the head", and a little black and white.

For example - Koenig plays Hatch's hateful boss, who inexplicably is put in charge of separating Hatch and his kid by the US government. Koenig relishes this role as it is in the vein of Bester from Babylon 5. While this relationship is explained in the third act he is portrayed as evil with a capital E. Amusingly Patricia Tallman, Walter Koenig and Marina Sirtis all play various bad guys working for the government. Which struck me as odd as they all played telepaths in their various sci-fi incarnations.

There is little moral ambiguity in the 2nd and 3rd acts - the Feds are evil. In particular the government prosecutor in the trial does not seem to have to rely on any facts, making claims like "There might be hundreds of these parasites out there!" without any evidence. They also cheat - wheeling in last minute evidence on two occasions.

The film is well worth checking out! 7/10.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Site Migration... Sometime Soon!

Finally got round to launching my personal domain and a hosted site archiving all the Onnwal material from the Living Greyhawk campaign. It's hosted by who actually seem to be providing a pretty good free hosting package - you get FTP accounts, php and MySQL thrown in for free!

As soon as I figure how I will be migrating this blog over to - don't hold your breath though, that might be a while.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Doctor Stu on Doctor Who

This year is apparently going to be the year of the McGann. As David Tennant is taking the year off and there's hardly any shows on TV Big Finish have ramped up production of the 3rd season of Doctor Who starring Paul McGann.

There are 9 episodes as part of the regular season - Orbis, Hothous, The Beast of Orlok (which sounds interestinh), Wirrn Dawn, The Scapegoat, The Cannibalists, The Eight Truths, Worldwide Web and a Christmas special called Death in Blackpool (which I hope will write Lucie out, not because I hate her but I'd rather she left before the doctor-companion relationship gets stale like with Charley).

As if 9 audio plays is not enough there are two more releases - Company of Friends is a series of audio adventures featuring the 8th doctor and a non-audio companion. The first one features Izzy, the 90s sci-fi geek he hung out with in the comics (which aren't half bad!). The second stars a guy called Fitz from the Eighth Doctor novels that never really concluded because of the new series (though to be fair with over 73 novels in that series they could've wound it up I'm sure). The third features Bernice Summerfield who appeared in other novels I've not read and really can't be botherred to. The last one however team McGann's doctor up with Mary Shelley, a story that has been referenced a lot in the Eighth Doctor audios.

I must admit I am quite meh about Company of Friends. It sounds interesting but in terms of Eighth Doctor continuity it's a cluster-frak. The novels and comics completely contradict the audios and TV show (Ace dies, the 7th Doctor and Sarah-Jane hang out, Rassilon is a good guy, Romana regenerates again and this time becomes evil) and at times are completely bizarre (the Doctor and Izzy meet the actor Tom Baker in one comic). I'm not so sure why they feel the need to do link the disparate continuities - I'd like a series of audios with new companions rather than ones taken from various spinoff sources.

An Earthly Child - this could be interesting. It's the subscriber special and it looks damn tempting. The 8th Doctor returns to Earth to check on his granddaughter Susan. Except she has had a son, played by Jake McGann, Paul McGann's son.


Finally listened to the Eight Doctor audio Orbis. Despite some negative reviews I found this story to be quite fun and yet has the underlying darkness of the Vengeance of Morbius.

Basically after Morbius the Doctor was marooned for 600 years on the planet Orbis which is inhabited by peaceful jellyfish who are under attack by a race of evil oysters.

It does have some really nice bits like the Doctor being more pleased to see his companion is wearing tights than actually seeing her for the first time in centuries. The quote "Tonight we bury our dead, tomorrow we build stilts" is awesome BTW. Also it looks like an arc may be in store for this season which is good as season 2 really suffered from a lack of a coherent storyline.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

xkcd is real!

I have to admit this cartoon struck a chord with me as it literally happened to me the other fortnight. I had this bizarre dream I was in an English exam and was suffering extreme writers cramp as it's been far too long since anyone made me write an essay by hand. Then for some bizarre reason I decided to ask the invigilator if I could use the bathroom (feeling especially ashamed as never once in an exam have I had to bother the invigilators).

Then things got a bit more bizarre...

Rather than going to the bathroom I discovered I was in fact in the little woods near my home in Monifieth, trapped down a steep slope by the riverbanks and struggling to climb back up due to the writer's cramp. Somehow I managed to get back to the exam room and write my essay, which I just knew was really rubbish and didn't answer the question at all.

Then I woke up, remembering I'd graduated. Twice. Not in English.

I'm sure you really needed to know this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

They Bleed Me Dry...

As I noted earlier I'd bought the Centenary Edition of Robert E. Howard's Conan short stories. It's a beautiful black hardback volume. True to form I've discovered there are at least two companions volumes I'd like to get my hands on.

Firstly there is Conan's Brethren - a forthcoming volume collecting Howard's other creations including Solomon Kane and other characters I know nothing of. However I have heard of Kull - another barbarian who used to act as a backup feature in Savage Sword of Conan.

Kull I am reasonably familiar with -- I've plopped the kingly sum of £3 (inc. p&p) to buy the 'awesome' Kull the Conqueror movie on DVD. It stars Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame stretching his acting range as a barbarian in a mythical world. Originally intended to be the third Conan movie (King Conan or some such) it was turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger and rewritten to be a Kull movie. It's genuinely held as a bad movie and airs on sci-fi but it certainly isn't Uwe Boll.

Apparently Red Sonja was not a creation of Howard's but rather an addition from the comics in the 70s. This is interesting as the character went on to spawn a dreadful movie starring Briget Neilsen and Arnie (not playing Conan in name due to some bizarre movie rights thing). She nows stars in her own comic series and there is a new movie in the works by Robert Rodriguez with his missus in the titular role.

Second up is this amazingly neat volume collecting some of Lovecraft's best stories. I probably already probably have all these in some scruffy paperbacks back in Scotland but a volume like this is beautiful and apparently comes with a map of Arkham.

It does worry me though that most of my current reading interests are more at home in magazines than books, but hey ho!

Literally Raising the Dead

So, new Red Dwarf in less than a month's time. Not bad since it's been nearly 10 years since the last episode ended on yet another cliffhanger. Given the delay between Red Dwarf VI and VII due to rape trials and so forth I was always surprised Red Dwarf VIII ended on a cliffhanger. This cliffhanger was of course like the last one resolved in a deleted scene which could easily be tagged on to explain it. In case you have no idea what I'm gibbering about here's the cliffhanger and deleted scene...

Not sold on the need to resurrect Red Dwarf. I personally liked Red Dward VII (Stoke Me A Clipper was my favourite ever episode of RD) but when I hear about things like :-

  • No Kochanski - she has apparently died... again

  • Rimmer is a hologram. He died... again.

  • No Holly... again. Apparently Lister left the taps on. In real life Norman Lovett reckons they were too cheap to bring him back

  • Some sort of bizarre Coronation Street crossover.

I don't exactly overflow with confidence. Add to the fact the cast look ancient, as evidence by the following:-


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Actor We Need Right Now...

You need to have seen Dark Knight and be up on Bale's T4 rant to appreciate this:-

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Rant About Drizzt

In addition to enhancing my literary collection I've recently purchase graphic novels of Dragonlance and 'the Legend of Drizzt' off Amazon. I have to admit that I only bought the first book, the Crystal Shard because it was so unbelievably cheap, but I enjoyed it enough to buy all but the Halfling's Gem in graphic novel form (because it's a bit more expensive).

I'm not a big fan of the novels. I read 'The Crystal Shard' a few years ago when a friend lent it to me (and now I think on it I need to return it). I believe it was R.A. Salvatore's first book and dear god I hope so, it was dreadful. It doesn't help that I loathe Forgotten Realms, viewing it as a rip-off of Greyhawk (where drow, duergar etc. originate from) and Lord of the Rings (meddling pipe smoking wizards anyone) with a smorgasboard of whatever else people were working on for TSR at the time. So I am a tough audience. You may wish to avert your eyes from spoilers....

The part that really sold me on the dreadfulness of the Crystal Shard was the start of a chapter that went something like, "Drizzt readied himself to attack the crystal fortress armed with his scimitars, magical panther and the flour he had stolen off the giants he had just slain and decided on a whim to take as a souvenir."

Can you guess which item Drizzt uses to save the day? Well it is the clearly telegraphed souvenir flour - used to cover a magical solar-powered crystal that receives its energy from the sun and weaken it. Now Drizzt isn't portrayed as a kleptomaniac who insists on stealing something from every fight, nor is he ever shown to be a baking enthusiast, so this smacks of very, very lazy writing. Especially when the drow can magically by will create magical darkness - though having Drizzt's racial abilities save the day is only marginally above John Barrowman's Captain Jack's immortality being the only thing that can stop a massive demon from destroying Cardiff in terms of sheer cringe factorness. But better than inexplicably stealing flour to use later.

Thankfully the graphic novel does not include the awful flour scene, which gives it bonus points in my book. I even had to reread the Crystal Shard in Waterstones to make sure I didn't imagine the flour incident.

Overall though the series still lacks any real characterization. Drizzt and his chums are all invincible at the start of each book and never really seem to develop. Drizzt's development in his prequel trilogy is as follows:-

Book 1 - Drizzt is well hard but unhappy because all the drow are evil.
Book 2 - Drizzt is well hard but unhappy because he's living underground and having to fight monsters and his own people.
Book 3 - Drizzt is well hard but unhappy because everyone on the surface judges him by his dark skin (gee, there's a subtle metaphor).
Book 4 - see Book 3 for details, except now he has some invincible friends.

Bruenor - a gruff but secretly caring dwarf (gee!) who remains gruff for the two books he is in before, in an underground dwarven city lost to a great shadowy evil, he appears to die falling to his death with said shadowy evil. He gets better and comes back to life in later books. I think he is then called Bruenor the White but I could be confusing this with a better book. He also finds some magical armour his dad owned in the Mines of Moria... I mean Mithril Hall.

Wulfgar - a barbarian eventually raised by dwarves he starts off not very hard. Then Bruenor gives him a magical warhammer. This makes him as hard as nails.

Cattie-Brie - raised by dwarfs and inexplicably a hard-as-nails fighter. Her character development is that she finds a magic bow in a dwarven fortress (why dwarves have magic bows I dunno) and kills a human being (which is apparently a lot harder to do than killing evil dwarves and makes me wonder how in D&D terms she could be as hard as nails and yet still).

Anyroads, it's the lack of any depth or character development that make me feel these stories work best as comics rather than as novels in themselves.

By Crom a Good Read!

I recently bought myself the Conan centenary edition as a prezzie. I'm not much of a book reader (preferring audiobooks lately, though my interest in them has waned). I've only ever really read the comics as a kid and of course watching the two Arnie films (which were intended to be but 2 in a long series of movies).

The first two short stories, "The Phoenix on the Sword" and "The Scarlet Citadel" are brilliant, if a little unoriginal (though given they're early pulp fiction they were probably original in 1933, which is pre-Lord of the Rings). The stories in the book are sorted by publication date, which is a little odd as both stories are set when Conan was king, i.e. towards the end of his career. However Howard writes incredibly vivid battle scenes and there seem to be a lot more resplendant mailed knights in Conan's world than I remember in the comics - probably more my unfamiliarity with the King Conan era.