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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Eight Out Of Ten...

Eight movies I'm really looking forward to seeing in 2010:

Legion


Alice In Wonderland


Solomon Kane


Clash Of The Titans


Iron Man 2


Kick-Ass


The Book Of Eli


Sherlock Holmes
(I realise this opened on Boxing Day, but I haven't got to see it yet)

The (Model) Train Now Arriving At HeroPress Towers Is...

Rachel's beloved 20-year-old model train layout, Midale, arrived at HeroPress Towers today - courtesy of her parents.

This marks the start of the next phase of decorating - Rachel's hobby room (ie. the back bedroom). We've still got her giant dolls house to move over from her parents', although that will almost certainly require "man with van".

Both that dolls house and Midale were built by Rachel's very talented dad - who will be returning soon to fix the battery on Midale as, at the moment, the church bells and the smoke generator aren't working!

The layout has faded with age, despite being kept undercover, but we like to think of it as 'weathering'.

Over the last few years Rachel and I have accumulated a host of new 'N' gauge people and buildings for the village, which will eventually need to be sited (I have dreams of a massive expansion project, but Rachel has put her foot down there... as it is her layout!).

Expect updates throughout 2010...

DVD Of The Week: District 9 (2009)

The aliens arrived 20 years ago, parking their broken-down transport ship over Johannesburg, South Africa. Eventually humans made contact and, upon entering the ship, discovered hordes of malnourished insectoid aliens - who were quickly dubbed 'prawns'.

A refugee camp was established, which, over the years, grew to become the ghetto known as District 9 - as the alien population grew in size and clearly had no way of getting home (wherever that may be).

Interest in alien weaponry attracted massive corporate interest as well as that of local crime lords but (un)fortunately the high-tech weapons were keyed to alien DNA and so wouldn't work for humans.

After two decades of bubbling racial tension between the humans and their unwelcome alien neighbours, Multi-National United, the corporation controlling the camp, has decided to relocate it further away from Johannesburg and sent in some pencil-pushers, backed up by trigger-happy mercenaries, to serve eviction papers on the 'prawns'.

In charge of the operation on the ground is Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a rather bumbling jobsworth who accidentally becomes infected by some strange fluid he stumbles over in an alien's shack.

This sets off the whole train events that becomes the meat of District 9 as Wikus rapidly begins to change into something "not quite human", and his former employers and the area crime boss want to get their hands on him as his mutated DNA now allows him access to the alien weaponry.

Starting off as a rather hit-and-miss faux fly-on-the-wall documentary, Neil Blomkamp's movie suffers initially from being unable to stick truthfully to this format - inexplicably interjecting scenes that the human characters ("the film makers" and archivists of 'found footage', CCTV camera shots etc) couldn't possibly have witnessed.

However, after about 50 minutes this artifice is abandoned in favour of a straight-forward, high-octane action movie as Wikus and his new-found alien friend, 'Christopher', launch an attack on Wikus' old workplace to retrieve the only existing sample of the "strange fluid".

The story then becomes the classic mismatched, 'odd couple', buddy movie as human and alien fight a running battle back through the settlement camp - with Wikus morphing from the sniveling underdog into a battle-hardened, alien-loving Rambo figure.

The virtual stunts and special effects are quite stunning in District 9, quite often being so breathtaking that it takes a moment to register what you've actually witnessed and for the full awesomeness to sink in.

While the plot may not be that blindingly original or that deep, there is an air of verisimilitude that eventually settles over the movie that makes you forget that the aliens are computer-generated and convinced that a ghetto slum like District 9 really could exist if alien refugees actually turned up on our doorstep.

While most storylines reach a satisfactory conclusion within the film's one hour 50 minute duration, its ending is left nicely open for a possible sequel that could see District 9 develop as an Alien-style franchise.

Music Of '09...


Lady Gaga - Bad Romance

2009 According To Adam And Joe...


A four-minute summation of the past 12 months from The Adam & Joe Radio Show on BBC6Music.

The sad news is that the show is going on an extended break for the start of 2010, while Joe Cornish goes off to direct his first motion picture.

Luckily I have an iPod full of their old podcasts (even dating back to their XFM days) and a DVD of their TV show highlights, but it won't be the same...

Come back, Adam & Joe... we miss you already!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top Of The Pile: Gotham City Sirens #6

I can't believe I was on the verge of dropping this title (for purely financial reasons, I must stress).

It's the end of the year and it struck me just how much I was spending each month on comics; so felt I needed to cut some from the my pull list - and went for the easy option of thinking I'd just let all the Batman-related titles slip.

But then I actually sat down and read through them... and realised I was making a big mistake!

Gotham City Sirens follows the misadventures of three secondary characters from the Batman universe (namely Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn) and has been a decent read up until the current storyline, about the return of The Joker's 'first' partner - Gaggy - and with that Paul Dini has elevated the title to a whole new level.

Bitter dwarf Gaggy was an advocate of Joker's old style (tricks, puns, Joker-themed vehicles etc) , but not so keen on the current, psychotic Joker and also not so keen on The Joker's ex-girlfriend, Harley Quinn, who replaced him in the killer's affections (or so he sees it).

Equal parts funny and tragic, the tale of Gaggy - and his attempts on Harley's life - make for highly entertaining (and quite old school) reading; complemented by Guillem March's beautiful artwork.

Gotham City Sirens is definitely staying on the list; at least for now. I'm not entirely convinced of the longevity of a title centred around three quite random Batman villains, but we'll see where it goes and if Dini can maintain the story quality of this issue.

Spellfury - Episode Seven...

The elf maiden Druinia's Dungeons & Dragonsy story continues to unfold in bite-sized chunks as the latest episode of Spellfury is released online...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Virtual Fun Gets Solid: The multi-talented Felicia Day and Dark Horse Comics bring her popular online series, The Guild, to comic book format in March with a three-issue mini-series.

(2) Make It Sir: Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard - aka Patrick Stewart - is in line for a knighthood in the New Years' Honours.

(3) Doctor To Save Harris Tweed: Matt Smith's 11th Doctor may be able to save the ailing Harris Tweed industry by his adoption of the material for his signature outfit.

(4) Turning Savage: Savage Worlds licensee Talismon Studios has decided to focus its efforts on that popular RPG system and to prove its dedication has changed its company name to Savage Mojo.

(5) Can't Get Enough Yoggie Goodness: The web's foremost Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian website, Yog-Sothoth.com has launched a streaming radio service playing selected highlights from its podcasts as well as fresh material.

(6) Wisdom Of Solomon: Get your hands on the official 'behind-the-scenes' guide to the Making Of Solomon Kane, the keenly awaited Robert E Howard adaptation coming to the big screen soon.

(7) Knight Time Is The Right Time: Online retailer Noble Knight Games has signed an exclusive distribution deal with Rob Kuntz's Pied Piper Publishing, the home of genuine old school material from Gary Gygax's Original Campaign. Noble Knight will also be stocking Swords & Wizardry.

(8) Get 'Em While They're Young: Role-playing games suitable for children and families (including a Harry Potter game!)

(9) The Horror, The Horror! George Romero's seminal Night Of The Living Dead coming at ya in colour and 3D. Just because it's in the public domain doesn't mean everyone needs to play with it... leave it alone, people!

(10) Zombie Lady Parts: Wargames Factory is now offering a sprue of female zombie parts to build your own 28mm female flesh-eaters.

(11)
Princess Of Mars: The Asylum's mockbuster of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess Of Mars is due out on DVD today.

(12) Clock Ticking...: Big Finish's license to publish and sell the Short Trips collections of Doctor Who stories expires on New Year's Eve, so get your orders in fast and grab some bargains!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Introducing James "Bicky" Bickmore...

This is my character for Pete's Top Secret S.I. campaign that the Tuesday Knights started earlier this month.

I haven't played, or read, the Top Secret books for a good couple of decades but there are some very useful websites out there to help guide people through the process of playing this old school game, such as Spys R Us.

James "Bicky" Bickmore
British
Age: 36
Height: 6ft 1"
Eyes: Dark blue
Hair: Black

STRENGTH: 38
REFLEX: 64
INTELLIGENCE: 76
WILLPOWER: 34
CONSTITUTION: 63
MOVEMENT: 51
DEXTERITY: 70

Psychological Profile
Cruelty: low; Loyalty: high; Sanity: some; Selfishness: some; Passion: high; piety: low; slight paranoia and pipe smoker.

ADVANTAGES:
Fearlessness
Sixth Sense
Internal Compass
Toughness (1pt)

DISADVANTAGES:
Addiction (pipe tobacco) 2pt
Dependents (wife and daughter) 3pt

SKILLS:
Basic Firearms (0) 70%
Basic Melee (0) 35%
Pistol (1) 75%
Wrestling (1) 51%
Cryptography (2) 86%
Pilot (Jet) (0) 70%
Computer Use (0) 76%
Basic Science (0) 38%

Following in his father's footsteps, both as career-military and a keen pipe-smoker, James went into the RAF straight from Cambridge and put his sharp mind to working at cracking codes and ciphers. During a training flight with his commanding officer, Captain Harold ‘Windy’ Miller, he was involved in an encounter with a supposed UFO (chance are it wasn’t anything extraterrestrial, really!).

Shortly after they’d reported the incident, ‘Windy’ Miller was killed in a motorbike accident and James began to get paranoid that “the authorities wanted to silence him as well”. Ignoring the fact that Windy had always been a bit of daredevil, James became obsessed with UFOs and things that were generally out of the ordinary.

Not that it affected his job or social life in any way. He still married the gorgeous, half-Swedish Anja – but it was her father, Matthew Talon (a former CLASSIFIED for Orion) who took note of James’ excellent analytical skills and suggested to his ex-employer that James might make a good recruit.

James and Anja have been married six years and have a two-year-old daughter, Tabitha (aka Tabby).


NOTES: I realise the campaign is straight (not sci-fi/X-Files), so the whole “UFO” obsession is simply a quirk of his character – I don’t expect him to actually meet any aliens!!! But if this campaign should run and run I think there are plenty of 'hooks' in the character's background to tie in future plots and sub-plots.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Book Of The Month: Prisoner Of The Daleks

A TARDIS malfunction sends The Doctor back before The Time War to a period in The Dalek War (which followed the Earth-Draconian unrest that the daleks engineered, with The Master's assistance, in the 25th Century).

He falls in with a rough and ready group of dalek-hunting mercenaries and gets drawn into a dalek plot to tap into a temporal anomaly (the Arkeon Threshold) and use it to overpower the Time Lords.

This is Doctor Who as a grim and gritty war story, and not the usual kid-friendly fair I associate with this current run of BBC Doctor Who novels.

There's some pretty nasty torture - even a slightly graphic torture of a dalek, which is brilliantly penned by Trevor Baxendale to evoke a sense of sympathy for the creature - and harrowing death scenes.

While not on the Tom Clancy or David Drake level of technophilia, Baxendale still manages to give tantalasing insights into such things as the structure of the dalek military and what defences go into their outer casing, while propelling his plot along with the broad scope of a Hollywood war movie.

All the characters - again, including the daleks - are well-developed and convincing, with the diverse personalities, all with their different motivations, of the bounty hunters The Doctor strikes up an uneasy alliance with being particularly intriguing.

It isn't long before we are as invested in their safety as The Doctor is, and feel his grief if anything happens to them - if they are a surly bunch of thuggish misfits for the most part.

I must confess though that I 'cheated' slightly with this book, in that I didn't actually read it but listened to a fantastic, unabridged reading by Nicholas Briggs (the voice of the daleks - and many other monsters - on the TV series, as well as one of the head honchos at Big Finish), who gave every single character a unique and distinctive voice and made it feel as though I was almost listening to one of Big Finish's full-cast plays.

And, of course, you know with Briggs you're going to get the definitive rendition of the daleks (much to the amusement of Rachel who could hear them screeching at me in my headphones), again with different tones for different daleks - but all delivered in that infamous, stark, grating, nightmare-inducing ring modulated voice.

If it wasn't for the retro-futuristic steampunk stylings of Philip Reeve's Fever Crumb, Prisoner Of The Daleks would be my unquestioned book of the year.

Ladies & Gentleman, Please Put Down Those Presents And Welcome...

The latest festive follower to join the HeroPress superteam is:

* Arrun

Friday, 25 December 2009

Doctor Who: The End Of Time (Part One)

As a 'part one', I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that a lot of The End Of Time (part one) felt like 'set-up' for the New Year's Day episode.

And while not plumbing the creative depths of that previous Christmas train wreck that was Voyage Of The Damned, there was still a lot in The End Of Time that seemed either wrong or simply padding.

The 'resurrection' of The Master appeared more like a magic ritual from a Sinbad movie - but I could let that slide with the old excuse that 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'.

I could even overlook The Master's transformation in to a comic book supervillain (leaping around and firing energy bursts from his hands like... well... like The Acrobatic Flea actually!), but the scene that really stuck in my craw was when The Doctor was chasing down his arch nemesis, the most dangerous man on the planet (and a man he is able to 'sniff out' with his built-in Time Lord detection ability) he stops mid-pursuit to pose for pictures with some pensioners and get his bum pinched by June Whitfield!

It's that level of puerile humour I won't miss with Russell T Davies' departure from the show. Of course, Doctor Who can be funny - but it's a question of timing and that was totally the wrong time to shoe-horn in a pointless, light-hearted interlude.

And also the green-skinned, spiky-headed aliens - what precisely did they add to the story?

Conversely, there was some great RTD material in the episode as well. The Master's "masterplan" for remaking the world in his image was, of course, brilliant and barmy in equal parts; and I have my own theories on the enigma that is Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins).

Spurred on my Renegade Time Lord's assertion that Wilf's name is an anagram of 'Time Lord WTF' (and we all know the show's affinity for anagrams) I'm beginning to wonder if Wilf is actually a manifestation of The Watcher (as seen in Logopolis) and will ultimately merge with the 10th Doctor to regenerate into the 11th...?

The End Of Time (part one) was a highly entertaining episode, but it would have been very run-of-the-mill without the brilliant cliffhanger ending. I, for one, am delighted that The Time Lords are back (a nice 'welcome to your new job' present for incoming showrunner Steven Moffat).

This was the first time in the episode that I felt that frisson of excitement I usually get watching great television. I'd managed to avoid spoilers as much as I could in the run-up to the episode, but had an inkling that The Time Lords were coming back; however it looks as though The End Of Time (part two) could be the epic send-off that David Tennant's Doctor deserves.

On the off-chance that you think I'm being overly critical of this episode, I'd like to point out that I go into every episode of Doctor Who wanting to like it, but I'm not so fanatical in my devotion to the show that I can turn off my critical faculties and simply fawn over it - regardless of the odd moments of disappointment and 'less-than-brilliance'.

And I didn't even touch on the bizarre 'Obama' cameo (where's a fictional president when you need one?) or Timothy Dalton's canine slobbering...

Jack Bauer Goes on The Naughty List!


from Rebel Christmas Cards.

Happy Christmas!



A glorious mash-up of 2001 and Doctor Who (featuring The First, Second, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors!) - posted by TardisTimegirl.

Merry Christmas To One And All!



And finally for this Who-themed Christmas, an animated sequence from one of the legendary 'lost' stories The Daleks' Masterplan - brought to life by Whosprites (aka Garrett Gilchrist of Orange Cow Productions).



Don't forget at 6pm (GMT), on BBC1, The Master returns in The End Of Time, Part One!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Doctor Who: The Caves Of Androzani (1984)

On the eve of the Tenth Doctor's last story it seems only fitting to visit another of The Doctor's great swan songs: The Caves Of Androzani, which saw Peter Davison bowing out of the role to be replaced by Colin Baker.

The Fifth Doctor and Peri arrive on the barren world of Androzani Minor and stumble into the middle of a guerrilla war in the planet's underground network of caves, where the age-retarding substance spectrox is being harvested (seemingly from the guano of giant bats).

A rebel army of androids, led by the hideously scarred and utterly bonkers Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable), are fighting the military forces of Androzani Major, led by General Chellak (Martin Cochrane). However what neither side realises is that both are being funded by powerful business magnate Trau Morgus (John Normington), who controls the mining operations and is delighted that the war is keeping spectrox supplies scarce and the market price sky high!

Upon seeing Peri on his monitor screens, the lonely and deformed Jek develops an all-powerful obsession for The Doctor's buxom American companion and becomes determined to capture her and keep her down in the caves with him.

Throw in an unstable planetary structure that causes red-hot mud bursts periodically and large, humanoid, armadillo monsters (or magma beasts) that occasionally wander into the populated areas of the caves and you have a recipe for a great Boys Own romp with a mature, multi-layered script from Robert Holmes.

On top of all this, early in the first episode, The Doctor and Peri become exposed to raw spectrox and contract spectrox toxemia which slowly starts to kill them.

Their conditions worsen through the ensuing episodes until finally The Doctor has to descend into the dangerous, oxygen-starved depths of the caves to retrieve the anti-toxin (the milk of the queen bat), while all-out war is raging around him.

The clever politics, and dark cynicism, of Holmes' script prove once again why he is one of the most popular writers in the show's long history.

A grim and brutal tale, which climaxes in a massive (bloodless) bloodbath killing off every (male) character in the story and leaves The Doctor facing the fear that he may not regenerate because of the toxin in his system.

Eventually he undergoes a difficult regeneration into The Sixth Doctor and things will never be the same again.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Best News I've Heard All Year...

My jaded geek heart soared the other day when I read the news - on the io9 website - that Peter 'Lord Of The Rings' Jackson is going to make a movie (or series of movies) based on my favourite literary series, Philip Reeve's Hungry Cities (or Mortal Engines) sequence.

If Jackson treats this adaptation with the same level of detail and respect that he lavished on the Lord Of The Rings movies, I'll be a very happy man.

And, on top of that, I also discovered that Philip Reeve has a new book, set in the same steampunky world, coming out in April, a sequel to the brilliant Fever Crumb (itself a prequel to his first four Hungry Cities books) entitled A Web Of Air.

This I found out from Mr Reeve's brand, spanking new - and rather gloriously illustrated - blog: The Curious World Of Philip Reeve, which even includes a "deleted scene" from Fever Crumb.

Just keeping my fingers crossed now that the news about the movie adaptation is true.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) A Dungeon Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas: The latest updated version of Greyhawk Grognard's Castle Of The Mad Archmage (his 'olde school' tribute to the original dungeons of Gary Gygax) is now available for free download.

(2) Flash Slowed: The sixth, and final, issue of Flash: Rebirth - about the return of the fastest man alive to the DC Universe - has now been pushed back to a March 2010 release date.

(3) Misfits Return: E4's excellent superchav show, Misfits, about a bunch of young offenders coping with sudden metahuman powers is coming back for a second series.

(4) Tony Stark Brings The Awesome: Check out the first official trailer for next year's Iron Man 2.

(5) Arkham Updated: At the end of this month Chaosium is releasing Arkham Now, a Call of Cthulhu supplement which brings HP Lovecraft's legendary city into the 21st Century.

(6) Mad As A Hatter: Disney has released a new, full-length trailer for Tim Burton's stunning looking Alice In Wonderland movie.

(7) Are You Ready To Rumble? Pinnacle's free Savage Worlds' miniatures mass combat system, Showdown, is now available for download.

(8) Angels Return: Incoming Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has confirmed that the next series will see the return of his terrifying Weeping Angels, from the episode Blink.

(9) What Are The Chances? Game author and fellow blogger Tim Brannan looks at dice probabilities and using different dice in games systems like Unisystem and Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space.

(10) Have A Dickens Of A Good Gaming Christmas: Tim Brannan does it again! Just in time for Christmas, he's posted up Ghosts Of Albion (the game he wrote for Eden's Cinematic Unisystem line) statistics for the supernatural characters of Charles Dickens' festive classic A Christmas Carol.

(11) How Wold Newton Changed The World: Win Scott Eckert explains the origins of the Wold Newton Family, as created by the late Philip José Farmer, which embraces characters as diverse as Doc Savage, James Bond and Harry Flashman.

(12) Ten And Out: Liz at The Park Bench opines on the departure of David Tennant from Doctor Who.

(13) Sing-A-Song Of X-Men: Bryan Singer confirms he is directing X-Men: First Class about the origins of mutant superhero group The X-Men.

(14) Three Wise Buys: The Core Mechanic blog recommends three books to improve your roleplaying experience.

(15) Three Simple Rules: Rule Of The Dice offers three simple rules to consider when starting an RPG campaign.

(16) Wheaton's Back On The Air: Ubergeek Wil Wheaton has 'relaunched' his infrequent podcast, Radio Free Burrito.

(17) UFO Trilogy: Not only is Ali Larter poised to join the cast of the new UFO movie, but it is proposed as the first part of a trilogy.

(18) Taking The Mickey: Doctor Who star Noel Clarke (aka Mickey Smith) dropped in to his old primary school to give acting tips to children taking part in the school nativity.

(19) Give The Dog A Name: The names of the first 13 episodes of the Australian Doctor Who spin-off K9 have been revealed, kicking off with Regeneration (see below).

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Scores On The (TARDIS) Doors...

ERA 3.32

With my review of The Two Doctors this morning, I have finished reviewing all of the Sixth Doctors televised adventures (to date) and am able to tally his Enjoyment Ratings Average for his run in the TARDIS as 3.32 out of five.

The highlight of his adventures, for me, was Revelation Of The Daleks, while the low-point was The Ultimate Foe, the final chapter of Trial Of A Time Lord.

For those who haven't noticed, in the right hand column of HeroPress, I rate every TV episode I review on a one to five scale (five being the highest).

This subjective score records how much I enjoyed the show - not necessarily how good it was! - and allows me to conjure average scores for seasons etc

There's a slightly more detailed explanation back in July, 2008: It's A Numbers Game.

I have to stress that this isn't a very scientific method as (is obvious to anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics and statistics) The Doctors who appear in more episodes tend to find their ERA's "averaging" out while those who appear in less are more capable of hitting higher scores overall (or lower - in the case of the unfortunate Eighth Doctor).

Anyway, to put The Sixth Doctor's ERA into some form of context here are The Eighth (who has only appeared once on television) and The Ninth Doctors' scores. Come the New Year - after The End Of Time (part two) - I'll be able to give The Tenth Doctor his score as well.

ERA 3.65

ERA 2.5

It's all just a bit of meaningless, harmless fun - but what can I say, I'm a stats geek!

My scores for other televised areas of the Whoniverse...

TORCHWOOD

Season One: ERA 3.31

Season Two: ERA 3.81

Season Three: ERA 4.4

SARAH JANE ADVENTURES

Season One: ERA 3.58

Season Two: ERA 4.42

Season Three: ERA 3.58

(new) DOCTOR WHO

Season One: ERA 3.65

Season Two: ERA 4.08

Season Three: ERA 4.18

Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (1985)

The Second Doctor is dispatched by the Time Lords (with Jamie McCrimmon) to investigate time travel experiments at Space Station Chimera in the Third Zone and gets entangled in a Sontaran attack on the station.

Meanwhile, The Sixth Doctor and Peri are relaxing, doing a spot of fishing when The Doctor has a 'funny turn'

Believing that an earlier incarnation is being killed, he decides to seek medical help from an old friend, the eminent geneticist Dastari (Laurence Payne), who dresses like he's in a Buggles video and happens to be in charge of Space Station Chimera.

Arriving there, The Doctor and Peri discover the place ransacked and deserted except for the corpses of the slain. Trying to deactivate the station's defensive computer system - which is trying to kill them - The Doctor and Peri stumble upon Jamie hiding out in the service ducts and claiming that "the Doctor has been killed".

The real mastermind behind the attack, Chessene (Jacqueline Pearce, sultry Servalan from Blake's 7) has left for Earth with one of the Sontarrans and her colleague Shockeye (John Stratton) as part of an elaborate plan to use The Second Doctor's genes to crack the secret of time travel.

Shockeye and Chessene are both Androgums, barbaric hedonistic humanoids, but Dastari has conducted numerous experiments on Chessene to overcome her natural instincts and boost her intelligence. He is now working with his protégé - and the Sontarans - to obtain the final key to unlocking time travel.

Following the trail of breadcrumbs, The Sixth Doctor, Peri and Jamie head to 1980's Spain to rescue The Second Doctor and put a stop to Chessene's plans.

From the story's great opening, starting in black and white and gradually fading to colour, with The Second Doctor - which must have wrong-footed its 1984 audience wonderfully - The Two Doctors quickly develops into a surprisingly intelligent conspiracy, especially as various parties try to double-cross each other further down the line.

Shockeye is a wonderfully grotesque creation of writer Robert Holmes, a chef driven by an overwhelming desire to sample as many and varied foods as he can lay his greasy hands on. The particularly clever touch is that, as an alien being, he regards humans as simply another 'dumb animal' ripe for butchery and sampling.

This strong element of the story attracted some criticism at the time (apparently from BBC Controller Michael Grade) for its 'cannibalistic' content - but, of course, anyone with a brain would realise that it's no more cannibalistic than a McDonald's advert for quarter pounders as Shockeye isn't human.

In fact the whole 'meat is murder' message is dolloped on with a trowel throughout the story and while the plot jumps slightly off the rails in the final half-hour when Dastari implants Androgum DNA into The Second Doctor (at Chessene's insistence, so she has a mate), the main problem with The Two Doctor's actually comes in the shape of the other aliens in the tale: the Sontarans.

Not only are the wasted as 'hired muscle' (although they talk about great plans and space fleets, we don't see any evidence of this) but they're simply wrong here: their heads look like bad Halloween masks with barely animate lips and not only are they considerably taller than most of the other humanoids in the story, but they're also noticeably different heights themselves - which is rather odd for a clone race of stumpy, potato-headed aliens (as seen in The Sontaran Experiment).

There are also some particularly violent moments in The Two Doctors, including one of the most shocking - and possibly gratuitous - murders of a minor supporting character. The Sixth Doctor kills one of the aliens with cyanide in a rather "unDoctorly" way as well.

Then, of course, there's the issue of where this all takes place in The Second Doctor's timeline, as he's freely talking with Jamie about The Time Lords - but the Time Lords aren't revealed to Jamie (or the audience) until The Second Doctor's last story, The War Games.

Canny fans have devised the Season 6B theory to get around this - which is wholly acceptable in a series based around time travel!

But for all these comparatively minor issues and the pointless location shooting in Spain (so producer John Nathan-Turner could have a holiday in the sun), The Two Doctors is a far better story than it possibly should have been because of Holmes' crafty script and the central performances of the two Doctors (Patrick Troughton's third and final return to the role), their traveling companions, Dastari and the two Androgums.

And, as a special Christmas treat to all my fellow Periphiles (and celebrate the fact that I have now reviewed all of Colin Baker's episodes as The Sixth Doctor), I leave you with reminder of another reason why this is such a stand-out story...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The First (Of Many, No Doubt)...

There are plenty of blogs out there devoted to the study and discussion of Doctor Who in its many incarnations, but as far as I am aware Drew Wood's Wibby, Wobbly, Timey Wimey... Stuff is the first dedicated to the new Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space roleplaying game.

Drew also writes the colourful Realm Of Dungeons & Dragons blog.


I'm looking forward to seeing more Adventures In Time And Space-dedicated blogs and websites popping up in the future - bulging with original ideas, conversions of old game material, adaptations of Classic Era and new monsters, supporting characters etc - to complement the grand work already being done by gamers over at the fan forums.

Help Spellfury Bag A Streamy Or Two...



Last month I was singing the praises of online fantasy serial Spellfury, a glorious live-action homage to Dungeons & Dragons, and now its excitable and talented writer/director/special effects guru Travis Gordon is appealing for your support in the upcoming 2010 Streamy Awards.

The Streamys', according to their Facebook page, were "created to recognize and honor outstanding achievement for shows produced originally for broadband distribution, and recognizes both the shows themselves and the people who make them possible, through awards in 24 categories covering the arts and sciences of making web television".

Travis would like us to vote, in particular, for Julie O'Halloran in the Best Female Actor In A Web Drama Series category. Julie stars in Spellfury as the elf maiden Druinia.

Of course, it wouldn't hurt to submit a vote for Spellfury as well while you're there!

It's not the most straight-forward voting system, but if it helps draw attention to this wonderful web series then it's worth a bit of effort on our behalf.

Go on, faithful reader, show your support...

DVD Of The Week: HG Wells' First Men In The Moon (1964)

It's the early 1960s and a multinational United Nations space flight to the Moon believes it is making man's first expedition to our planet's satellite... until they discover a tattered old British flag and the remains of a document dated 1899.

When the information is "beamed" back to Earth, an investigative team sets off to trace the woman mentioned in the document and end up in Dymchurch, on the South Coast of England, where clues lead them to a nursing home and an old man called Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd).

Horrified to discover that man has (once more) landed on the moon, Bedford then recounts the tale of how he - a struggling playwright, wannabe businessman and part-time con artist - his American fiancee (Martha Hyer) and their eccentric neighbour, the 'mad' scientist Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) ended up being the "first men in the moon".

Cavor had invented a metallic paste that, when hardened, made objects weightless; and he used it to coat the sails of a 'travel sphere' he built in his greenhouse - with the express aim of going to the moon!

Unfortunately when our Victorian pioneers get there, they find the place isn't deserted, but home to a race of insect creatures called Selentites.

After the initial 'shocking discovery' by the 60s' astronauts, it's a good three-quarters of an hour - half the film - before Bedford and his colleagues actually set foot on the moon, and despite the gentle humourous banter between the characters, there's no denying that we really want to get to the lunar action.

However, once there, with the combination of charming Victorian scientific naivety and the genius of special effects-meister Ray Harryhausen, HG Wells' First Men In The Moon stands up surprisingly well, despite its age.

Sure, you can sometimes see the strings when the explorers are jumping about in zero gravity and the CSO/green screening is quite obvious, but the movie is 45 years old.

Nevertheless, the script by Nigel Kneale (creator of Quatermass) and Jan Read has a timeless intelligence about it that sees Cavor trying to teach the Selenites about the best of humanity while the belligerent Bedford introduces them to the human propensity for violence with his "hit first, ask questions later" attitude to the aliens which borders on xenophobic racism.

The final third of the film, under the surface of the Moon, is incredible, regardless of the slightly dated effects, with the human interaction with the various castes of the Selenite civilization: from the multitudinous skittering drones to the more intelligent scientists and finally the quizzical supreme leader who - like Cavor - wants to find out all he can about this strange new species he has encountered.

HG Wells' First Men In The Moon is a wonderful film that rises above its Boys Own Adventure roots thanks to a first-rate script, that proves, like many Doctor Who stories - and other decent science-fiction works - that man is the real monster in these circumstances.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Merlin: The Last Dragonlord

Determined to go out in a blaze of glory, the final episode of Merlin's second season - The Last Dragonlord - kicked off in media res, on the third night of The Great Dragon's attacks on Camelot (as shown in the preview).

Even Merlin (Colin Morgan) finds himself impotent against The Dragon, his magic proving as useless as the crossbow bolts, swords and spears of the knights defending the castle.

Just as the defenders are giving up hope, Gaius (Richard Wilson) tells magic-hating Uther (Anthony Head) that he might know the whereabouts of the last "Dragonlord" (a group of sorcerers who could communicate with, and tame, dragons).

It was thought that Uther had had all the Dragonlords slaughtered, but as Gaius confides in Merlin soon after: he helped Balinor (John Lynch), the last of his kind, to escape. And then drops the bombshell on Merlin that Balinor is also his father!

This rich, dark, emotional episode is heavy with epic echoes of both Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars.

While Merlin may have looked to Lord Of The Rings for visual inspiration (Camelot under siege at night stirred memories of Minas Tirith, while the village and inn Arthur and Merlin visit on the hunt for Balinor bore a strong resemblance to Bree and the Prancing Pony), the father-son dynamic between Balinor and Merlin was straight out of Star Wars - right down to the final "ghostly voice" advising Merlin to "use The Force" when facing down The Great Dragon.

The inevitable plot twist that lead into the story's third act wasn't unexpected, but certainly didn't undermine the gravitas of the moment and set the ball in motion not just for the conclusion of this episode (and this season), but also moved Merlin up a notch on the sorcery power scale for the show's third season.

A strong ending to a season that may have started on familiar ground, but soon came on in leaps and bounds, pulling some genuinely surprising, interesting and intriguing tricks and plot hooks out of its magical hat along the way.

Snow News Is Good News!

There was no new snow today, but I don't think the temperature got above freezing in Tonbridge and so everything remained pretty much as we'd left it yesterday.

Rachel managed to get to her friend's wedding outside Derby okay (no thanks to an expensive mix-up on Virgin rail over the cost of her ticket), so she's got the family camera; however I'm rather pleased with the picture I took above on my old mobile phone at sunset and sent to Twitpic for my Twitter feed.

Haven't seen a forecast yet for tomorrow, so not sure how smooth travel conditions will be for Rachel's return journey.

Camelot Burns!



The fiery finale of Merlin is at 5.45pm on BBC1 today as The Great Dragon, freed from years of imprisonment under the city-state, exacts revenge on King Uther and his subjects.

I can't believe how this programme has turned me around in this season. Having found the first very weak and unengaging, this year's stories (starting around week five, with the two-parter Beauty And The Beast) have been in a different league.

At last an overarching story is developing and it doesn't feel as though elements of Arthurian myth are simply being cherrypicked as "gimmick-of-the-week" to be forgotten about at the end of the episode.

Not only is the story growing, but the characters are being allowed to develop as well - particularly Uther (Anthony Head), Arthur (Bradley James) and Gwen (Angel Coulby). The latter has totally won me over, having dismissed her in the first season as a very wet and insubstantial Guinevere.

Now that the love between Gwen and Arthur is blooming, it has allowed Angel Coulby to come out of herself and show us what the programme's showrunners obviously saw in her when they cast her.

Bottom Of The Pile: Adventure Comics #5

Even Geoff Johns can drop the ball occasionally; he's not bulletproof as Adventure Comics issue five proves. While I may not have had as an extreme problem with this issue as some quarters of the Internet, it was still a pretty lame issue.

Superboy-Prime - the "star" of this issue - lives, effectively on our world where the adventures of his heroes and peers are recorded in the fictional comics published by DC Comics.

A grumpy teenager at the best of times, Superboy-Prime - having been attacked by by an other-worldly Black Lantern Alex Luthor and Black Lantern zombies of all the people he's killes on previous rampages, decides to vent his anger on the staff of DC Comics... while fighting the flying zombies!

Superheroes breaking the fourth wall and meeting their creators can work in certain, rare circumstances (e.g. Animal Man meeting Grant Morrison back during his run on that title, or The Fantastic Four meeting Jack Kirby the other year), but this isn't one of those times. It's an ill-timed joke that falls flat.

I'm not really a fan of Jerry Ordway's art at the best of times, but here the awkward contrast between his "generic" superhero/villain faces and the attempted 'life-like' renditions of his DC colleagues is just very uncomfortable; they look like badly animated cartoons with photo-realistic heads stuck on them (often not even particularly convincingly).

I'm sure the staff at DC all thought this was hilarious - to have a superhero brawl crashing through their offices - but this is a massive in-joke that should have stayed in an internal newsletter, not clogging up the large part of one of the publisher's major Superman titles.

Superboy-Prime makes a great villain - as evidenced in Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds - but doesn't have the interest-factor to hold up a title on his own; he is a born antagonist who needs a big hero (or group thereof) to work off of.

The Superboy supporting feature in Adventure Comics #5 is better than the lead piece, but suffers from being pulled from its usual headline slot in the title and squashed into the back, making a crucial plot development in the ongoing story of Conner Kent feel rather truncated.

Here's hoping Superboy returns to his proper place for the next issue - that is front and centre, with the lion's share of the page count, rather than playing second-fiddle to a second-string villain.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Please Wish Season's Greetings To...

Our pre-Christmas new recruit to the HeroPress superteam is:

* Johnny Mulder of Muldercomics, Blog Magazine De Comics y Cultura Pop

Friday, 18 December 2009

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times...

The world looks wonderful outside our windows today. We had about four or five inches of snow overnight in Tonbridge and more is predicted for later this afternoon and into the evening. The sun was out briefly but has now scurried away behind grey curtains.

The roads are virtually impassable and when Rachel went to the train earlier to see if she could get to work, there were none running. She's now headed off again with the hope of getting a train to London (and out of the snow zone), so she can try to make it to her friend's wedding outside Derby tomorrow.

She's caught a train to London okay, so hopefully the rest of the journey will be reasonably straight forward as the news says we're pretty much at the heart of the worst-hit area.

Top Of The Pile: Blackest Night - The Flash #1

I was enjoying the first issue of the latest Blackest Night three-part spin-off - The Flash - until the final page, then I felt a broad grin spreading across my face and gave writer Geoff Johns a "virtual high-five".

The Flash and his Rogues' Gallery have been an important part of superhero lore for me since my first encounters with American comics back in the early 1970s.

I've always enjoyed the simplicity of the characters - on both side of the law - as they were all built around a single concept or power, then that single power was dissected to the nth degree to add spice and variety to their M.O.

In Blackest Night: The Flash issue one, my first Flash - Barry Allen - is acting as a global messenger for the forces of good, alerting heroes to the threat of the Black Lanterns but also dealing with his own problems with the Reverse-Flash who claims to have been traveling backwards in time and dogging Allen even before he became The Flash - to the extent of taking responsibility for the murder of Barry Allen's mother.

Meanwhile The Rogues are getting together to face off against their dead counter-parts, with the idea of a preemptive strike - which leads to the wonderfully gung-ho final image of grizzled old Len Snart - aka Captain Cold - declaring: "Let's go shoot some zombies."

I wasn't initially that taken with Scott Kolins art for this issue, the first page looking rather scratchy, but as it progressed I realised that his style was well suited to the frequent speed lines and blurred images one associates with The Flash.

There was a lot of recapping as well in the early parts of the story, but Geoff Johns still managed to weave in some new information which justified going over old ground, resulting in yet another superb chapter of this mighty fine cross-title saga.

It almost seems a shame that it's got to end - and I still worry that the climax will be some deus ex machina, a massive reset button or just a bit of a cop-out.

Of course, I also have to weigh this against the fact that the Blackest Night saga is being authored by the mighty Geoff Johns...

Snow Joke, But I Like It!

The weather forecast was right!

The snow is falling thick and fast this evening and settling deep; which looks gorgeous but is a potential problem for Rachel who is due to be heading off for a wedding in the Midlands tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Everyone Loves Doctor Who!

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space has been released into the wild for about a week now and the response from the game buying public has been universally ecstatic!

Even SFX magazine gave it four stars out of five, with their only (rather lame) criticism being that they foresaw squabbles over who would play The Doctor (clearly not grasping the simple fact that the game can be played in an infinite number of flavours beyond slavishly aping the TV show).

Meanwhile, the fan forums are going from strength-to-strength as more people sign up everyday, while elsewhere on the Interweb:

Big Bang Is Back!

The third season The Big Bang Theory starts in the UK tonight at 9pm (on E4)!

Three Beautiful Things About Christmas...

Christmas is just around the corner - bringing with it, amongst other things the next Doctor Who special (which will be David Tennant's penultimate appearance as The 10th Doctor before he bows out on New Year's Day) - and I'm as excited as I am every year about my favourite holiday.

Over on Clare's world famous Three Beautiful Things blog, she said some lovely things the other day about the Christmasisation of HeroPress Towers (i.e. the home of Rachel and myself), so I thought I would return the favour with my own "three beautiful things" about this lovely time of year.

(1) "I love coming into Tim and Rachel's house at Christmas: it's so full of details. I catch sight of a Christmas apron, and a plate of biscuits for Santa, and a ceramic nativity. Their Christmas tree is the throw-it-all-on variety, and it looks absolutely magical, with something wonderful on each branch." - Clare, Three Beautiful Things.

(2) Snow!Who doesn't love snow? This picture comes from the fall we had back in February, but more is predicted for this week.

(3) Presents!Presents that don't just come in the form of the physical objects left under the tree by some passing red-suited superhero, but those that come in the form of wonderful TV specials, filling up on turkey-based meals and the joy of spending time with one's family.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Welcome To The Orion Foundation...

A new era for the Tuesday Knights kicked off yesterday, not only with a new face behind the Gamesmaster's Screen (Pete, running his Top Secret SI campaign) but a new member at the table, Kevin - Nick's best man from his wedding last month.

Pete talked us slowly and carefully through the character creation system, a clever mix of rolled statistics and points-buy, and we all came up with nicely varied characters.

Mine is James 'Bicky' Bickmore, an ex-RAF code breaker with a penchant for UFOlogy; while Clare is Hermione Stone, a former St Trinians pupil and ex-army athlete.

Nick and Kevin came up with a pair of East Europeans: Oleg and Bruno respectively. Oleg is a former Russian agent who defected just before the Berlin Wall came down, while Bruno was born to Eastern European parents on the Isle Of Wight and was a once a member of the British Olympic rifle shooting team.

We were all recruited to the international philanthropic Orion Foundation and having made it through basic training were selected to be agents for the Orion SOE (Special Operations Executive).

After the reasonably lengthy character creation process, Pete ran us through the start of his introductory assignment - which mainly consisted on a guided tour around Orion's underground base in the London Docks and a brief overview of our mission (stop gun smugglers, working for the evil Web organisation, who are supplying guns to terrorists and crime gangs in the UK) before packing us off to our full briefing (which will be at the start of the next session).

We even got in a bit of "at-the-table LARPing" when we first arrived at Orion's "front organisation" for our 'meet-and-greet' and we had to go through a thumb print scanner... as ably demonstrated above by Nick and Kevin!

Pete has been buying up old Top Secret SI material from eBay for months, but - of course - much of it, being written in the '80s, is incredibly dated now and so he has been going through everything meticulously updating it as best he can.

For instance, we've all been equipped with snazzy iPhones with some very Q-branch "apps" (such as calling in a Titan Team - basically the marines - or converting your phone into a hand grenade) - which have seemed like science-fiction if they'd been included in the original game.

Pete even produced three briefing files (pictured above) for our characters on Orion's global operations, their archenemy Web and our own branch (Orion UK). While the main files were still 80 per cent original Top Secret material, the Orion UK file was 100 per cent Pete!

It made a pleasant change to be a player, not knowing what was round the corner, and I'm looking forward to us getting out "in the field"... and seeing how long before everything descends into anarchy!

Our boss, Mr Jacobson, stressed that we were to "avoid killing innocents" and "avoid attracting media attention"... obviously Mr Jacobson has never played an espionage RPG before!

Top Of The Pile: Doctor Who #5

As with A Sting In The Tail, the penultimate audio play in Paul Magrs' recent excellent Hornets' Nest serial, issue five of Tony Lee's ongoing Doctor Who comic - the third part of his four-part Fugitive story arc - was the episode with a lot of running about and recapping, before next issue's big finale.

Picking up from the end of issue four, The Tenth Doctor and his three fellow prisoners (draconian, sontaran and ogron diplomats on their way to a peace conference) have crash landed on a desert planet.

They have all been arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to serve time on Volag-Noc (the prison planet).

However, it isn't long before a ship full of judoon - at the command of Mr Finch of the krillitane - arrive to recapture them.

The Doctor outwits the rhino-headed mercenaries and takes off, with his reluctant comrades, in the judoon craft.

We are reminded again why Mr Finch and his race are so opposed to the peace conference, but then Tony Lee throws an added twist into the script with another level of deviousness; the krillitane's sights are set much higher than simple profit from this particular war.

Mr Finch is also making a move back at the Shadow Proclamation base, having already usurped control of the judoon, as he is now stepping up his scheme to topple The Shadow Architect (the head of The Shadow Proclamation).

Quite a breathless issue, packed with witty banter between The Doctor and his draconian ally. As all the protagonists and antagonists are maneuvered into their final positions, there's also some more somber moments as The Doctor is forced to face the long-term consequences of his actions (something first touched on in the last issue).

Certainly not as strong a read as the earlier two issues of this four-issue arc, Doctor Who issue five remains a well-illustrated and well-written tale. Now all the players have been returned for a face-to-face confrontation I'm sure Tony Lee will be tie this story up in a spectacular style next issue.
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