Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative
Home Of Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Superheroes, Swords, Sorcery, Sci-fi, Smeg, and Silliness
Monday, 30 April 2007
Sunday, 29 April 2007
In those days, the BBC did period pieces very well, but alien planets not so and Ghost Light plays to that strength immediately, being set entirely within a Victorian mansion.
But this is more than just a plain, old haunted house story ... with its neanderthal butler, creepy housekeeper (in the style of Mrs Danvers), debates about evolution against creationism and Lovecraftian twists of strange, alien creatures in the basement and an insane big game hunter.
From the pen of Marc Platt, this story is derived from his proposal for the legendary "Lungbarrow", a Gallifrey-based story about the Doctor's history, that eventually morphed into one of the rarest and most sought after of the 'New Adventures' line of spin-off novels, then published by Virgin.
Ghost Light is not the most straight forward of Who tales, although the central conceit of an ancient alien life form cataloguing all life on Earth, but constantly finding his work incomplete because lifeforms are evolving, is simple to grasp, if not to fully appreciate.
Sadly, the production over-reaches itself in the execution of the main alien lifeform who comes across as no more threatening than Liberace, and is the only aspect of the yarn that really dates it.
As a sign of the plans script editor Andrew Cartmel had for the series, Ghost Light just makes you wish he'd been allowed at least another season to show the potential left in the old warhorse; although the tone of his dreams (if not the fine print) echo in Russell T Davies' current incarnation of the BBC's flagship science-fiction show.
Saturday, 28 April 2007
A non-stop story, with death, threat, humour ("Gammon radiation?") and heroics, as well as scientific gobbledygook, pig-mutants, Dalek-mutants and proto-robomen - this 45-minute burst of Who genius had it all and was, if possible, even better than last week's!
Any fears I may have had about this being the last we see of the classic Daleks was soon put to rest, with Helen Raynor's strong script; leading to some nice touches, such as a pair of the Dalek's exchanging "what the heck?" looks as Dalek Sec explains his wild racial blending schemes to the Doctor.
Two-parters in new Who have similar running times to old Dr Who four-part stories, allowing for more character development, and these two episodes, with their cast of supporting characters who could all be potential travelling companions if Martha ever gets bored, could easily have been old school Who, but with a bigger effects budget.
Evolution of The Daleks leaves the door open for next year's Dalek story (I think we can guarantee there will be one!), but let's hope the team follow this year's example and place it mid-season, rather than at the end, so the whole story can focus on the Doctor duelling wits with Daleks and not need some cheesy Deus Ex Machina to tie up all the loose ends in the allocated time slot.
Friday, 27 April 2007
This podcast is so addictive - I don't even really collect Star Wars merchandise that much myself, I tend to dabble more than collect in any hardcore, queue up in the middle of the night for the latest releases, sort of way - but their self-deprecating weekly anecdotes of the pursuit of the latest Hasbro figure or Gentle Giant bust is heartwarming; a joyful celebration of the child-like innocence of genuine geekdom.
Every episode has a unique strand where Arnie and Marjorie count back the years from when the first Star Wars film was released (1977) to the present day, looking at what merchandise was available, what's still available from that year, and the films we were watching and songs that made the charts.
Recent episodes have hit the 'Dark Ages' of the late 80s/early 90s when the flame seemed to have gone out of the Star Wars Universe and the only beacon of hope was West End Games fantastic role-playing-game (of which Arnie was a big fan).
Naturally relaxed in front a microphone, the knowledgeable and funny Carvalho's will also be hosting panels on collecting at Celebration IV, the forthcoming mega-party in L.A. to mark the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars, and I believe they're attending the European Celebration at ExCel later this year as well.
They converted their basement in to a "museum" of Star Wars figures, props and merchandise, which they have named the Sithsonian, and this is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming fan documentary, The Force Among Us, due out next month.
Arnie and Marjorie: HeroPress, and collectors of all type around the world, salute you for your contribution to Star Wars fandom!
Thursday, 26 April 2007
After years of badgering from fans, George Lucas finally released the original trilogy - in their original theatre format, sans CGI 'tweaking' - as a "bonus" disc on yet another release of the souped-up movies.
Finally, we can travel back to a time when Han shot first, Jabba didn't appear until Return of The Jedi and Mos Eisley was sparsely populated.
Not that I had a problem with many of the "adjustments" Lucas made to the film in later years - I especially enjoyed the repopulating of Mos Eisley so it looked like a bigger city - but as celebrity geek fan the mighty Simon Pegg, of Shaun of The Dead, Spaced and Hot Fuzz fame, said in a recent interview on StarWars.Com: "I never once sat there in the dark thinking, 'This is good but what it really needs is a Jawa falling off a dinosaur in the background.'"
Star Wars - before it became Episode IV - stands alone, on its own merits, as a brilliant piece of epic storytelling and movie making. It's very satisfying to, once again, be able to enjoy it in its original, raw form.
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
Every series has the budget-saving "bottle episode" (minimal locations, lots of talk) - so, why not The Dresden Files?
This set-up showcases the Harry-Bob dynamic very well and highlights Harry's slow transformation into David Addison (Bruce Willis' character in Moonlighting), which wouldn't be an entirely bad thing!
There's even a traitor in the midst of the trapped wizards (whose eventually unmasking is a not an enormous surprise) and a real, honest-to-God, CGI demon creature turns up, just to stretch the budget a bit.
Unfortunately, for an episode that stands out for some great editing and direction, the demon's defeat is sudden and not very well explained, which limits this otherwise engaging episode to an A- Grade.
Things That Go Bump isn't the most original episode of this series, but is delivered with enough style and imagination to show that The Dresden Files has legs ... if the Sci-Fi Channel lets it run.
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
However, back in March, for its fifth episode Meeples and Miniatures reviewed and compared the prepainted figures and starter sets for both AT-43 and Battlefield Evolution.
While the wonderful French sculpting on AT-43 won pretty much universal praise (there was some concern about the cost of the Initiation Box Set, the fact that you only got a stripped down version of the rules, and the age of the target audience), Battlefield Evolution took a pounding for the quality of its figures. Host Neil Shuck dismissed the tanks he had seen for Mongoose's game as "over-priced toys".
I've only heard these two episodes of Meeples and Miniatures so far, but the 20 minute to half hour duration makes it an easy pick-up show and while not as in depth as, say, All About Miniatures (a monthly American podcast that can run to almost two hours), it's always interesting to hear a different perspective on your hobby from a knowledgeable source.
Monday, 23 April 2007
The ones that spring to mind, besides Dragon, are Different Worlds (originally from Chaosium) and White Dwarf (from Games Workshop).
Yes, younglings, there was a time when White Dwarf was more than a monthly catalogue for Games Workshop. At one time it stood proud as a leader in the field of roleplaying magazines, but as the roleplaying market has contracted, so the support magazines have disappeared.
In fact, I can't think of any dead tree publications now that deal solely with this 'ancient' hobby (except specialist publications like Worlds of Cthulhu, but then again, that's more like a semi-regular supplement for Call of Cthulhu than a magazine).
That being said, even though I don't play any Games Workshop systems, I'm still a subscriber to White Dwarf ... for the "pretty pictures". This stuff is porn for the hobby gamer, their photospreads are works of art, layouts and dioramas that mere mortals such as I can only droll over and aspire to imitate in our works. Not that I paint miniatures - there are professionals for that (and now more and more companies are selling figures already painted) - but the scenery is breathtaking and genuinely conjures up alien planets or fantasy environments.
Yes, it's nice to look over the price lists and think how much I'm saving by not being a Warhammer addict, but the main purpose of the magazine for me is mental fuel and inspiration.
Sure, I could get it from the Internet, but having the pictures to hand (and, sometimes, the step-by-step guides on how they built this or painted that) is a very useful tool. Like all things Games Workshop, it's not cheap (£4 an issue to non-subscribers), but you get what you pay for and, like all porn, you're not buying it to read the stories anyway!
Sunday, 22 April 2007
Created by freelance games designer Chad Underkoffler, PDQ powers games from the supernatural Dead Inside to the superheroic Truth & Justice, as well as being licenced out out to other companies for fantasy adventures in Questers of the Middle Realms and fast-food ninja hijinks in Ninja Burger!
Chad's recent Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo - fairytale roleplaying in the style of Oz, Narnia, Peter Pan etc - has won great praise in the gaming community and he is currently working on Swashbucklers of The 7 Skies (flying ships, cloud islands, pirates etc).
HeroPress caught up with Chad a couple of weeks ago ...
(1) PDQ seems the antithesis of so many modern crunch-heavy games. Was it designed as a reaction to such monolithic systems?
Absolutely, for a couple reasons that are all intertwined. First, as a working adult, it's a lot harder to make time to game. This includes everything from digesting rules, to creating characters, to scheduling a face-to-face session with others, and then the actual sitting down and playing.
My - and I suspect other folks' - time is valuable, and I'd rather spend that in play than in play prep. It only takes five to 10 minutes to come up with a PDQ character, maybe 15 to 20 if you sit down without any concept or knowledge of the setting you're playing in.
Second, as aging destroys my brain cells, high-crunch games just seem harder to fully understand. It's probably more a function of time, interest, and enthusiasm, and since all three of those are at a premium for me these days, there's no real impetus to learn the ins-and-outs of a complex edifice.
Third, I find that high-crunch games tend to simulate physical reality in some regard. I don't want that. If I wanted physical reality, I'd bang my head against the wall. What I want is narrative reality -- I want the games I run and play in to be like a story, like a novel or a cartoon or or a play or a movie.
Lastly, it seems to me that many high-crunch games ignore or downplay emotional and social reality in favor of physical reality. Add into that the oft-debated virtues of social interactions being primarily rule-based ("I roll versus Fast-Talk!") or roleplaying-based ("I say to the bookie, 'No, Who's on first...'") is an example.
I wanted to provide a simple, unified mechanic that could be used for combat and debate, with inputs for both rules- and roleplaying-based approaches. PDQ goes low-crunch and simple to simulate character traits and abilities that are important in terms of narrative. That is, the fact that someone will never quit or is empowered by True Love or is incredibly likeable is as useful in the game as being good with a sword or nimble as a cat.
(2) PDQ has been used to fuel such varied games as Truth & Justice (superheroes), Zorcerer of Zo (fairy tales) and your new game Swashbucklers of The Seven Skies (airborne piracy). Do you think there is any genre it couldn't be adapted to handle?
I don't think so, at least not in terms of genre. In terms of tone, however, I think that any game that's focusing on the minutiae of simulating physical reality (no matter what the genre) will probably not be best served by PDQ.
(3) What can you tell us about Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, and what unique spin does it put on the PDQ system?
Buoyed up by the responses to the slight rules tweaks in ZoZ,and the more extensive modifications seen in (licensed games) Ninja Burger and Questers of the Middle Realms, I'm "remixing" PDQ a bit. It's essentially the same as it was before, but I am shifting the perspective on and responsibility for success and failure in the rules. I'm also planning replacing the current "conflict situations" rules with "duelling rules" that are quite different -- pending successful playtesting of such, of course.
(4) Zorcerer of Zo was unique in documenting your own campaign - in parallel with the rules system - as a useful example of actual play. Will Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies do something similar and, if so, can you recount any memorable incidents from playtesting so far?
I plan on doing something similiar, but not the same. This time, I'm running two different playtest groups myself before going to blind playtesting by others, a Pirate group and a Musketeer group, of four people each.
I think that going into the level of detail I did on the ZoZ campaign would make the resulting book simply gigantic, so I'll probably limit myself to highlights. I will be tapping playtesters for their comments and opinions, however.
Playtesting "proper" hasn't actually started yet as of this writing (April 12, 2007) - the first sessions are scheduled for next weekend.
Part of the issue here is that each group is meeting once a month, in order to accommodate all of our different schedule. However, I did have a joint meeting of most of the players in both groups, to discuss setting information, answer questions, provoke ideas, and spark some ideas for their characters.
Once I have all their characters in hand (only one or two folks haven't yet gotten me their write-ups), I can start generating adventure ideas for them.
A couple memorable incidents did come out of that first meeting, though (in addition to clarifying and improving some of my ideas about the setting and such, of course).
The first thing was that one of the players quickly created a character who is a heckuvalot like Sabatini's Captain Blood in background – but he's never read the book or seen the Errol Flynn movie!
The second neat thing was that the Musketeer group took a single sentence in the manuscript and developed a whole new Cloud-Island culture for their base of operations - and that's definitely gonna be in the final book.
The last thing is that in discussing his character with one of my players, I realized I had made a Terrible Error in a whole chunk o' rules, and was able to recraft them to something a little less game-breaking -- all before we sit down at the table. I am so looking forward to these sessions. I am STOKED.
(5) When is Swashbucklers of The Seven Skies likely to hit the shelves?
Unknown. If fortune smiles, the end of this year. However, I doubt my primary playtesting will be done within 6 months (that's as long as ZoZ took), and I really need to test out these rules before I revise the manuscript.
This is going to be a long production, but that's okay – it gives Team S7S time to solidify the rules and setting, nail down a consistent look and feel of the end product, and generate a tremendous amount of illustrations for the book.
Fred Hicks, of Evil Hat Games and Layout Guru for S7S, convinced me to open up my design process for S7S, and I increasingly think, given the long-term development process for this work, that letting people know it's being worked on will be a great boon.
You can see my design blog in my LiveJournal using the following link: http://chadu.livejournal.com/tag/s7s
(6) As the author of Truth & Justice you clearly have a love for comic books. Are there any titles around at the moment that you would recommend to people?
I only buy Invincible, Usagi Yojimbo and Tom Strong in trade paperback, because I *cannot* read just one at a sitting, they're that good.
Willingham's Fables and Jack of Fables rock, and I've been enjoying Morrison and Dini on Batman and Detective Comics, respectively.
My life is bereft now that Nextwave is over, but I'm still enjoying Newuniversal. Astro City, of course. Amazing Spider-Man, Checkmate, and Noble Causes have gone a bit downhill, but I still dig 'em.
(And where's my last issue of Planetary, consarnit?)
Saturday, 21 April 2007
Using pig-men to kidnap humans to use in their fiendish experiments, the Dalek's (even though there are currently only four) are on top form in this story although the ending momentarily made me wonder if next week's continuation of the tale will be the last appearance of the classic Dalek (just voted the best alien in the new Dr Who universe by visitors to the BBC's Dr Who website). But once you consider that the Daleks are as iconic as the Tardis - and a valuable merchandising resource - that seems ultimately unlikely.
Another crackling episode that paves the way for a thrilling climax next week. My one criticism would be: let this be the last animal-based alien/monster for a while. Please.
My main purchases were some more units for our AT-43 campaigns, while Nick stocked up on Battlefield Evolution from Mongoose (expect to see a Battle Report soon). Unfortunately, although the hall was bulging with beautiful, painted terrain for sale, there's no point me investing at the moment because it'll just go straight into storage until Rachel and I find a new (bigger) home. Next year, however, I expect to be using a shopping trolley to bring my purchases back!
Friday, 20 April 2007
Don't you just wish people really spoke like this? A sparkling ping-pong of wordplay, back and forth ... instead of just grunting and mumbling! The writers of the dire Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter comic - which so desperately wants to be this cool - should take note: this is how to write banter!
Slightly concerned by the kilt-wearing Scottish zombies - who reminded me of the ghosts from Garth Marenghi's Dark Place (the Scotch Mist episode) - and the announcement in the letter's column that Faith will be coming to England in a future issue (England usually gets a very raw deal in comic books written and drawn by Americans).
But Buffy Season Eight's first story arc (The Long Way Home) continues apace and is the closest thing we fans will get to a new television series of The Scooby Gang's antics.
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Abbie (bridesmaid) - big fan of Charmed (has multiple DVD box sets)!
Aime (bridesmaid) - Welsh policewoman, which is virtually like being a member of Torchwood!
Kendra (bridesmaid) - works in a London towerblock, which is almost like being a member of Torchwood!
(BEWARE: This video clip of a comedy skit contains bad language that some people may find offensive)
If there's one thing, besides his spot-on character-driven writing, that you can't fault Russell T Davies for: it's his enthusiasm for Doctor Who. As the man who brought the show back to life on the BBC after so many years, he may sometimes play fast and loose with its tangled mythology and his action scenes are not always up the standard of his emotional ones, but he loves this show and will do everything he can to get as many people as possible to share that love.
However, you have to wonder if his idea of slapping a big picture of the "surprise" monster from this weekend's Daleks in Manhattan episode on the front cover of the new issue of The Radio Times (other listings magazines are available) kind of spoiled the surprise a bit? Unless, of course, it's a canny double bluff.
Ever since I "accidentally" read online that the mysterious Void Ship in Army of Ghosts last season contained Daleks - thus ruining the big reveal for me - I have tried as hard as possible to avoid spoilers for the series. But this is - literally - in your face and very difficult to avoid as its on every magazine shelf in every newsagent in every village, town and city in the country.
Up until this point, I didn't even know there were going to be Dalek/human hybrids - just the annoying Pig Monsters we'd seen squealing around in the trailers! So I am a bit ticked off that the BBC has chosen to spoil its own surprise, but I'm still holding out hope for that unpredictable clever twist...
Wednesday, 18 April 2007
Starting with a "previously on ..." (always a good sign for continuity), then jumping straight into the meat of the episode with Dresden's new girlfriend (whatever happened to Susan?) stealing Bob's skull, What About Bob? is a lot darker and more sinister than recent episodes (particularly last week's Charmed-lite debacle), exploring both Bob's backstory and Harry's childhood, his father's death and his subsequent upbringing by his creepy uncle, Justin Morningway (Bob's original owner).
Sprinkled with flashbacks and tie-ins to earlier episodes (including Detective Murphy's brush with black magic in The Boone Identity), the story ups the ante for Harry as Murphy reopens the five-year-old investigation into the death of Justin Morningway, suspecting that Harry may not be as innocent as he always claimed. Tensions rise as their friendship is put to under severe pressure, and even Bob's loyalty is sorely tested as a surprising Big Bad (who, sadly, doesn't appear to be sticking around) offers him the chance to regain his corporeal form.
Magic is well used, the direction and editting is great, the story holds together and everyone acts their socks off - making What About Bob? the best episode of the series to date and sealing it with a well-deserved A+ Grade.
However, it's not certain yet whether we'll get any more episodes of this calibre as The Sci-Fi Channel in the States hasn't decided yet whether to renew the show. Fans have already taken it on themselves to apply a bit of "people power" here.
Meanwhile work on The Dresden Files RPG continues apace, as is highlighted in an excellent interview with the Evil Hat team of Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks over on the latest The Game's The Thing podcast.
Survival was the last of "classic" run of Doctor Who, screened by the BBC in 1989.
It was a sad end to a once-great show, an embarrassing mess of a story that pulled out all the cliches from a gravel pit planet to unconvincing alien costumes and a nonsense plot hampered by a 50p budget and bargain basement effects.
When a story opens with shots of an animatronic cat less convincing than Salem in Sabrina The Teenage Witch, you know you're in trouble ...
Although I never really "got" Ace as a companion and she seems even more dated now, I felt Sylvester McCoy's Doctor was underrated. He gave the character a dark edge that is now de riguer for the Doctor, despite the awful question marks all over his costume (which McCoy wanted to get rid of).
The story of Survival (something to with a planet to cat people, teleporting kittens and The Master) is redeemed by two factors: the Doctor's final monologue to Ace as they walk off and clues towards the recipe for saving the show all these years later.
Script Editor Andrew Cartmel had plans to keep the show alive in 1989 that now seem remarkably similar to the blueprint that Russell T Davies has used to regenerate Doctor Who into the most popular show on British TV. The "Cartmel Masterplan" had more Earth-based adventures; a darker, more mysterious Doctor; and a strong, female companion the audience could more readily relate to and empathise with.
Not part of the "masterplan", but still a taste of the future, is the pointless camp celebrity cameo by comedians-of-the-time Hale and Pace (whatever happened to them?) as a pair of bickering shopkeepers.
Endgame explains that by 1989, Doctor Who had outstayed its welcome at the BBC and seen better days - as evidenced by Survival - but its position wasn't helped by the fact that upper management at Aunty Beeb just didn't understand or like science-fiction shows, so it really didn't stand a chance.
Intriguing plans for the never-filmed season 27 of Classic Who included a giant space opera epic about the politics of food aid (which the writer admitted would have looked awful on a BBC budget so they'd pretty much scrapped it anyway), an Ice Warriors story in London and Ace becoming a Timelord. There was also a proposal for a new companion - a sexy, upper class cat burglar!
Last year, we managed, pretty much, a race a month until December when we staged a prize-giving ceremony in a local Indian restaurant (it's tradition that before each race Pete cooks us up a massive curry or chili dish).
The 2007 season start was delayed by Pete's studying for a professional qualification, which required mountains of homework and all his free time. But that's behind us now and last night the cars were lined up for the Montreal Grand Prix.
Each of us has two drivers in our team, and Pete's number one driver (Mehatte Mecoate) stormed to victory, after my Whitey Whitehouse misjudged his gears in one corner, letting Mecoate through, and never regained the lead.
Meanwhile Nick's Jock Saway (last year's Lewis Hamilton) stalled on the grid at the start and never got into the race - finishing last in a very poor show. However, his Team Flamers' colleague Antonio Wasp (last year's Formula De world champion) started on last place on the grid and carved his way through the pack to steal a spectacular second place.
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
Launched this week, SciFiNow is thick, glossy, monthly from Imagine Publishing, the Bournemouth-based publishers that I did a week's work experience with when I was at university, working on the short-lived Uri Gellar's Encounters paranormal magazine (i.e. a Fortean Times clone).
Imagine is best known for video game and computer mags, but SciFiNow isn't much of a leap for them as it's still archetypal geek fodder... just with prettier pictures and tasty actresses.
As a first issue, it's all glamour and shine, but a lot of the content is sadly below par. On one hand, it appears to have been put together some time ago as there are plenty of "to be announced" tags for things that have now been announced and some things that are just incorrect - such as slamming The Runaway Bride DVD for having no extras, when it has an hour-long documentary about the Children in Need/Dr Who concert.
Yet, while it obviously had a long deadline and therefore a lot of time to put it together, it is still littered with typos - the best I've found so far being in the TV section where the title of a future Dresden Files episode is listed as Things That Go Bum (instead of "Bump"!).
However, my biggest complaint with what I have read so far is the general negative attitude of many of the contributors. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror and cult TV by their definition require a large suspension of disbelief, but the writers of SciFiNow seem so intent on being controversial that many of the pieces come across as being rather cynical.
For instance, rather than just jumping on the Lost backlash bandwagon, I would have been more impressed with a "Why Lost is Still Great" article, encouraging people to stick with it and show their support for innovative, experimental TV.
As it is, the same people who heralding the first season of Heroes as "the next big thing" are the same ones who praised Lost's first season, then turned on it in the second and third seasons because they couldn't be bothered to invest the time in it and had found new toys to play with. I'm predicting a Heroes backlash in a year or so ... and I'd expect SciFiNow to be at the head of the charge, if the magazine is still around.
I did like SciFiNow's TV listing section - a day-by-day run down of the best of geeky TV - and many of the articles were very interesting, such as the 10 years of Buffy, the retrospective of the 10 Doctors, the guide to the Friday 13th movies, the overview of the disco-era Buck Rogers TV series etc, and their comic book section was informative (if slightly outdated), even though it ignored the existence of DC Comics, chooseing instead to focus on Marvel and the small/indie press.
But nothing in the magazine was particularly original. It even has a "spoiler zone" (although not sealed) in the same vein as SFX, but then again I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery!
And one other thing. It's front cover is unfortunately very similar to the latest issue of the offical Doctor Who magazine ...
Monday, 16 April 2007
Then last October, disaster struck and I swore off cassette tapes forever! I'd had enough with them breaking, snagging in the workings of the tape player, the variable audio quality and so on.
But what to replace them with? I had - and still have - a big complaint about "books on CD". You can't bookmark them in any way. A tape will obviously start again where you last stopped it, but a CD always goes back to the beginning when you turn it off. So with audio books you have to aim to finish at the end of a particular track/chapter and then remember which one the next time you start the CD.
However, technology has moved on and - slowly - so have I. I have finally entered the 21st Century and downloaded a couple of audiobooks from iTunes, direct into my iPod! A big step for me.
At the weekend, while staying over at Rachel's parents', I listened to my first book all the way through: The Dalek Conquests, by Nicholas Briggs.
This is a history of The Doctor's archenemies, peppered with clips from the TV series, written and read by Briggs (the voice of the modern Daleks and, I believe, one of the founders of Big Finish).
The Dalek Conquests walks the listener through all the Dalek stories from their first appearance through to the end of Christopher Eccleston's short run as the ninth Doctor.
Unfortunately for anyone trying to weave a consistent mental picture of these creatures' evolution "in universe", this documentary follows their history as it unfolded on the television. Therefore as soon as the Daleks developed time travel skills all bets are off for following the paradox-inducing logic. A more straight-forward summary of Dalek history can be found on the BBC website here.
But that doesn't matter - Brigg's official audio documentary is great fodder for fan speculation and makes an enthralling summary of one of the the most iconic science-fiction alien races.
Sunday, 15 April 2007
The games played faster and smoother than last time, because we had a better handle on the introductory mechanics - but now I have to start reading the main rule book in earnest, to get the most from these gorgeous prepainted figures.
All this was afternoon's antics were in preparation for next Saturday's Salute, the UK's largest wargames show, at ExCel in London, where Rackham (manufacturers of At-43) have promised a big demonstration display, as well as lots of new products to buy.
This also meant a strategy meeting to decide which tables to hit first - Nick has a very long shopping list (which includes a meaty amount of Battlefield Evolution figures and vehicles from Mongoose, that I'm really looking forward to having a chance to game with).
Told primarily from the perspective of young Art Mumby - with occasional chapters 'stolen' from his teenage sister Myrtle's diary - Larklight is a tale of pirates, space monsters and friendly aliens in a Victorian steampunk universe not unlike that found in Frank Chadwick's Space 1889 roleplaying game.
Although written for a teen audience, there is plenty for us older readers to enjoy - from the simple rip-roaring adventure and humour to the 'in-jokes' and sly science-fiction references that range from Star Trek to War of The Worlds.
If you're already a fan of Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet then you'll be familiar with the breathless pacing, beautiful worldbuilding and deft prose, but if you are drawn to this by the idea of Victorian steampunk then you will not be disappointed and will, hopefully, then be tempted to check out the Mortal Engines books.
A sequel to Larklight, Starcross, is due out in October this year.
Where applicable I've included a note of last month's figures for comparison.
Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 14 April): 1,469 (720)
Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 24 (22)
Top 5 Countries of Origin:
United Kingdom 45% (43%)
United States 31% (29%)
France 5% (3%)
Canada 5% (6%)
Thailand 2% (-)
Most Popular Entry Pages:
(i.e. what brought people to the site)
For this, we can take it as read that the most popular "entry page" is always going to be either the current top story or just general browsing, but after that the pages that have brought the most readers to this site have been:
1. Six Of The Best With CLARE GRANT
2. Sounds Like Doctor Who...
3. Six Of The Best With FRED HICKS
4. Extreme Monday!
5. Great Gaming Idea...
I was surprised to see Extreme Monday up there, as it's pushed the Who Watches The Watchmen piece out of the top five. This latter article had accounted for a massive influx of new readers, directed here from the Gerard Butler website.
Again I'd like to thank again my interviewees for taking the time to indulge me. Both of these pages have proved very popular - it's very gratifying to see the Fred Hicks interview still up there after all this time. Fans of Fred may be interested to know that next week's interview subject is Chad Underkoffler, of Atomic Sock Money Press.
Saturday, 14 April 2007
The problem is the action-part of the episode is really just padding for the emotional interaction between the two time travellers that comes in at the end of the story; the actual meat of Gridlock - Martha and some people we don't care about being attacked by giant alien crabs [which happen to be monsters from the Second Doctor era story The Macra Terror] and then escaping without any real threat to life and limb - feels like light-weight filler we have to sit through to get to the 'bigger picture' segment.
Up until then the story plays out like part of a story that we've jumped in in the middle of and never really goes anywhere ... like the cars stuck in the eternal jams of New New York.
The futuristic gridlock is a direct lift from the clogged freeways of 2000AD's Mega-City One and the 'homage' is cemented by the Doctor meeting a virtual clone of Judge Dredd's old pin stripe suited informant Max Normal.
Even Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon seems wasted as a cat-person who spends all his time stuck behind the wheel of a flying car. Gridlock looks wonderful, but save for the Face of Boe's "final secret" and the frank talking between Martha and The Doctor in the final scene, I really couldn't see the point of this tale.
Friday, 13 April 2007
Thankfully there is enough good material in this galactic re-imagining of Treasure Island to overlook such silliness; although the anachronistic introduction of a robot called Elvis also sticks out like a sore thumb!
The Doctor and Rose find themselves on a strange steampunk world called Starfall, after the TARDIS cuts out passing through the 'zeg' - an area of space that acts like an electromagnetic pulse, freezing all its electronic systems.
There, amidst the gas lamps and steam-powered robots they meet a selection of archetypal characters, and get drawn into the hunt for the long-lost treasure of pirate Hamlek Glint.
While The Resurrection Casket has a twist that I didn't see coming, it is, of course, David Tennant's reading that makes this story worth the price of admission. His characterisation of the different characters is distinct and his timing is perfect.
A little while ago, I made a wild claim about the lack of Dr Who "full-cast audio plays" - completely forgetting about Big Finish, a production company whose primary function is to continue the Dr Who legacy in professional audio play format.
Featuring the voice talents of recent Doctors - Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann - and their companions, these are all original (possibly canon) plays, released on a regular basis. These include the new Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) stories that were first broadcast on BBC7 earlier this year.
The only disc I currently own is The Reaping, a solid, small-scale tale of Colin Baker's Doctor and his feisty American companion Peri returning to New York, 1984, to investigate the death of the father of one of Peri's friends.
This story also stars Babylon 5's Claudia Christian as Peri's mother. Set four months after The Doctor first met Peri in Lanzarote, The Reaping also tackles the emotional aftermath for companion's families after their loved one is whisked off to part's unknown by the mysterious Doctor - a strong element of the new TV series.
And there's cybermen!
Short of being a Dalek episode I couldn't have asked for much more from Doctor Who. Before Martha Jones came on the scene, Peri (Nicola Bryant) was always my top companion (inching ahead of Leela and Nyssa)...
Thursday, 12 April 2007
One example they used was the forthcoming 28 Weeks Later (the sequel to 28 Days Later), from which they brainstormed an awesome dystopian All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign.
My own contribution - as a source of inspiration for epic Art of War scenarios for Warhammer Ancients as well as scenarios for Qin: The Warring States RPG - would be The Curse of The Golden Flower, which opens here tomorrow.
Wednesday, 11 April 2007
Playing like a blend of later season Charmed and Murder, She Wrote, pretty much everything that could have been wrong about this story was.
Starting off with a twist that even Jessica Fletcher could have foreseen: Harry is plot-twisted into taking a private eye course so he can stay working as a consultant for Chicago Police Department, only his tutor goes and gets himself murdered under mysterious circumstances. This leads Harry to team up with the tutor's assistant, Claudia Black (of Stargate SG-1 and Farscape fame), to find the killer.
All the good work of recent episodes is thrown out the window as, for instance, Harry uses modern technology (a snazzy compact camera) without any handicap and a major character issue is introduced that could be a big problem in future episodes (the dramatic effect ley lines have on Harry) if it isn't forgotten as quickly as you can say: midichlorians.
The plot is so unnecessarily complicated that Bob is required to deliver an embarrassing infodump just before the third act so both Harry and the viewers have a vague idea about what's going on - if they even care by this point. Claudia Black certainly doesn't seem to - she drifts through The Other Dick with a confused look on her face, as though she's trying to find the way off set ... or at least her agent!
Even much of the magic feels wrong in this episode - such as Harry's force shield, which seems to take a different form every time it's used, and his flippant rewriting of the name on the detective agency door at the end - and once again we are 'treated' to a cut-price human-form demon (despite a good monstrous tease from a transforming Bob earlier).
A very disappointing C- grade story with little to recommend it, unless you are a die hard Claudia Black fan.
Tuesday, 10 April 2007
This first collection (Volume One) holds four 22-minute episodes with quality of story ranging from the excellent De-Mole-iton, where the FF do battle with their old foe The Mole Man, to the not-quite-so-hot World's Tiniest Heroes, where an experiment goes wrong and the FF start to shrink away and need help from Ant-Man to avoid disappearing from reality.
All the episodes so far have been pretty self-contained without much metaplot to link them into a bigger picture, but the writing and stylish animation still makes them stand out from the two Ultimate Avengers titles currently on the shelves.
The scripting of De-Mole-ition in particular shows a deftness of touch and an ability to differentiate between sly comedy and silly slapstick (as witnessed in the peculiar dog scenes in World's Tiniest Heroes). Hopefully this will set the standard for future releases of this series which, as far as I know, only aired in the States.
Monday, 9 April 2007
Rachel and I don't see eye-to-eye on many of TV choices, but it only took one episode of Extreme Makeover for me to become almost a bigger fan than her. Normally I wouldn't touch makeover or decorating programmes with a bargepole, but this is something special.
Fronted by Ty Pennington - who can euphemistically be described as a "larger than life character" - every week sees the rotating team of craftspeople travel across the United States and build a home for a deserving family. Not decorate the odd room, mind you, but demolish the old property and build from scratch an incredible new home in the space of seven days - while the family are off on vacation (usually Disneyland).
These are always families that have been through dreadful ordeals, from the loss of a father or mother or a child battling cancer, to a career lobster fisherman who lost his arm and a shopkeeper blinded during a hold-up etc. Bring tissues, because as Ty says: "It's going to be emotional."
You'd have to be a very cold-hearted cynic not to come away from an episode of Extreme Makeover with a smile on your face - there really are decent people in the world, after all! And it knocks spots off the half-baked makeover shows we produce in this country - not a sign of an MDF wardrobe or a Blue Peteresque piece of so-called 'art'.
A new series starts tonight - the 'climax' of Extreme Monday - at 10pm.
Sunday, 8 April 2007
I first met Clare Grant when she worked on the Kent & Sussex Courier newspaper, where I had previously worked, and I was looking for someone to share the rent on a town centre property. Her positive attitude and literary enthusiasm have been an inspiration ever since; and Clare was the only person who stepped up when I tried to relaunch my HeroPress roleplaying game (not that she knew anything about RPGs, but she knew storytelling) – and for that I am forever in her debt!
(1) When did you start blogging and what was the inspiration for 3BT?
I started blogging in May 2004 because everyone else at my (newish) job seemed to have a blog and I didn't want to stand out. The other blogs were a lot more imaginative - office safe porn, mashups and two German brothers arguing about which Beegee was the best.
(2) How did you initially go about promoting 3BT and did you ever expect it to become a global phenomenon?
I never expected it to become a global phenomenon. I talked about it a lot (having an easy-to-type-address helped with this). I commented on other people's blogs; I put a link in my email signature. I signed up for a few blog lists, but I'm not convinced they helped. I think getting myself mentioned on a few 'hub' blogs helped tremendously. Things really kicked off when I got a mention on the front page of blogger - I have no idea what I did to deserve that, but my hits went from 70 a day to about 8,000. They've settled at around 150 now, which I'm happy with.
(3) Who are your favourite writers and what are you reading at present?
I'm reading Mister Monday by Garth Nix at the mo. I've just finished The Minotaur by Barbara Vine. My favourite writers are: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, E. Nesbit, Amy Tan, George RR Martin, Lemony Snicket, Mervyn Peake, Tove Jansson, L M Montgomery, Saki, Ellis Peters, Lindsey Davis... but this list will probably change next week.
(4) Besides Neil Gaiman's Sandman have you enjoyed any other comic books or graphic novels?
I can't stop looking at Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - every time I see it I spot a new reference. And I loved Gaiman's 1602. I expect you remember me crouched in the corner of the games room of our shared house on Goods Station Road with your collection of Little Nemo books?
I'm reading Gunnerkrigg Court - it's a fantasy mystery exploration of friendship about a girl with a possessed toy wolf and an extra shadow set in a boarding school with is bigger on the inside than the outside.
I had a thing for Hewlett and Martin's Tank Girl when I was a little 'un - I've recently picked up some back issues but I can't see what it was I liked... I love Copper but it's on hiatus just now (grumble sulk whine). And I was thrilled by the Beardsleyesque Lucifer Box (it's written by Mark Gatiss of League of Gentlemen fame). And I'm looking forward to Flight 4.
(5) Outside of blogging, socialising and reading, what hobbies occupy your day?
I write a lot - I'm working on a radio play just now with Linda James' script writing course. I've got some blogs lined up to be published in 12 weekly episodes, one about fear, one telling the stories behind art and one about the perils of single life. I also go to salsa classes, and I like taking long walks into the countryside, mainly because it lets me see into people's back gardens, follow streams, steal apples and discover miraculous viaducts.
(6) What's next for 3BT; a book or magazine column perhaps?
A book or a magazine column would be super fantastic. 3BT and I are shaking our little asses around some publishers at present, but there hasn't been much positive response yet - I need to work on my proposal some more, I think. Keeping the blog has made me very happy - I'd love the chance to share the idea with more people because I think it's a very healthy thing to do.
Saturday, 7 April 2007
Like the best of Shakespeare's work, tonight's episode of Doctor Who - The Shakespeare Code - is exciting, frightening and, most of all, uproariously funny. The banter between the two intellectual giants - the Bard and the Doctor - is brilliant. This is tears rolling down the cheek stuff and Dean Lennox Kelly's turn as Will The Quill seals the deal. His timing is perfect, his flirting with Martha totally laddish and his whole rock star persona just ticks the right boxes. While it wouldn't be the same show without the main duo, this is Shakespeare's episode without a doubt.
It's also, probably, the best episode of the new Who to date and certainly the most epic single episode story.
The production crew really pushed the boat out in recreating Elizabethan England - using the Globe Theatre itself and genuine 'olde worlde' buildings in Warwick, instead of their usual location of choice: Cardiff. But it is Gareth Roberts script that is the heart that keeps this story pumping - clever, witty and a very Lovecraftian/scientific take on how 'magic' works.
Friday, 6 April 2007
Set 50 years in the future, when the sun is starting to die, mankind's last, hope is a spaceship with the biggest nuclear payload in history whose crew aim to reignite the faltering star. However, on the way, they pick up a distress call from a previous mission - long thought lost. Foolishly they decide to go and investigate and that's when things start to go pear-shaped.
This could have been a solid, sci-fi chiller from the same stable as 2001, but Boyle's love of the genre has inclinded him to cherrypick from a diversity of sources from as broad as Alien (the opening scene of the crew round the table being the most obvious homage), Event Horizon and The Abyss.
All this leaves little room for originality, and instead we are bombared with blurry shots and fast cuts in lieu of substantial storytelling, and the end result is lightweight, quite tedious and disappointing.
Strong performances from Chris Evans (the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four films) and the ever-reliable Cillian Murphy fail to salvage anything from this derailed train wreck, despite a pretty enthralling first half.
One suspects all concerned behind the camera were blinded by their own "brilliance" and failed to notice when the adventure veered off target.
Thursday, 5 April 2007
And then yesterday, I spent the whole afternoon in iTunes sorting out playlists to burn onto discs for incidental music for during our forthcoming wedding. Then as I was exiting my computer it told me it had some crucial updates to download and would do that during the shut down process.
I didn't give it a second thought ... until I went to start my computer again later on. And the following error message came up on the screen:
And now every time I turn on the machine that message comes up and I don't have a clue what it means! What are DLLs, how do they get moved (illegally or not), what do they do and more importantly what's happening in my computer since they're obviously not doing what they should be doing?
I've emailed my engineer again to ask him what I need to do and, in the meantime, although the machine still appears to be working okay I'm treating it with kid gloves and mentally calculating how I can justify buying a Mac!
Wednesday, 4 April 2007
Storm Front is based on Jim Butcher's first Dresden Files book, of the same name, but with many of the red herrings and sub-plots cut out.
What this means is that although Bob doesn't appear at all, we do get further insight into the workings of the supernatural world; are introduced to key characters from the books such as Harry's cat and his on-off girlfriend Susan the journalist; and Bianca, the vampire madam, makes a welcome return.
The magic effects, which so far in this series have been delightfully low-key, are ramped up to flashy levels in Storm Front, and this episode is all about the sorcery. But with these beautiful effects, it makes the human-form demon all that more disappointing. He's still just a growling bald guy, like we used to see every week in the later years of Charmed.
It's for this reason - and the lack of explanation as to how Morgan, The High Council's Warden, escaped from Harry's containment spell - that Storm Front earns a solid A Grade, rather than anything better.
It's also a shame that Bob was written out, his supporting role in the story being taken by Susan. The interplay between the two would have been interesting - but hopefully will feature in future episodes.
As an old school Buffy fan, naturally, I'd been rather nervous about her 'official' return, but this one issue shows that Joss hasn't lost the magic touch. Although it is very doubtful the entire original cast will ever get together again to find a new series, this Dark Horse comic is a more than adequate substitute.
While Marvel's vampire slayer, Blade, worked better in live action, Buffy Season Eight proves that she can hold her own equally well in either medium. Comic books, of course, allow for some large-scale effects that would have been prohibitively expensive and technologically challenging, but really that's just set dressing to the banter. At last, after years of generally disappointing non-canon comics, the characters are finally talking with their proper voices and it is a joy to be back in their world.