Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Almanacs Are Cool...

John Stater, of the ever-excellent Land Of Nod blog, wrote a piece the other day about the versatility of farmer's almanacs as role-playing aids.

Co-incidentally, this article appeared on the same day my 1876 Agricultural Almanac arrived (see pictures above and below).

At Military Odyssey last weekend my only purchase had been two Victorian newspapers from a trader called Civil War Sutler, which primarily supplies American Civil War re-enactors.

One newspaper was a replica (reprint) of an issue of Harper's Weekly from July 30, 1864, but the other was an original issue of The Times from August 20, 1863.

Naturally, when I got home I checked out the Civil War Sutler website and discovered that as well as materials for re-enactors they had a small selection of genuine period antiques and one of these was (for a very reasonable £20), the 1876 almanac. I ordered it immediately and a couple of days later it arrived, incredibly well packaged.

I am totally besotted with my purchase and the idea that it may have been used by a 19th Century American farmer and his family.

It is quite fragile (unsurprisingly), but still wholly readable. I shall be handling it with kid gloves, but for the moment I'm putting it away in a display case in the gamesroom.

Gamers should note that a modicum of the appeal of this item came from the fact that the (original) Deadlands RPG was set in the year 1876.

Level 17 - Episode One

A college student struggles to understand his destiny when time begins folding in on itself. The only way he can save his girl – is to save the world.

Find out more on the webseries' Facebook page.

Ladies & Gentlemen, You Wanna Laugh You Wanna Cry...

Been a gently busy week, so not much to report. I think we're coming out of the recent rough patch of blogging - although who knows what the future holds?

In the meantime, please join me in a jovial rendition of Betty Hutton's It's Oh So Quiet to welcome:

  • David P King of David Powers King (the author's personal website, where he writes about sci-fi, fantasy, zombies, the paranormal etc)

Friday, 30 August 2013

Behind The Scenes Of The '96 Doctor Who Movie...

This four-minute 'Electronic Press kit' was created by Fox for the original release back of Doctor Who: The Movie in 1996 for US audiences.

Fleamarket Friday: A Novel Take On Deadlands...

New York Times bestselling, award-winning author Jonathan Maberry has been tapped to pen the first of a new wave of original Deadlands prose novels, based on the world made famous by Pinnacle Entertainment Group's roleplaying game and the comics from Visionary.

The books will be published by Tor and multiple Bram Stoker award-winning author of the Joe Ledger series Jonathan Maberry said: "I’m really excited about writing Deadlands: Ghostwalkers, a balls-to-the-walls alt-history steampunk supernatural shoot-‘em-up action western. With zombies. I think I was genetically designed to write this kind of book."

As a consulting editor, Jeff Mariotte made the deal with Tor and will be spearheading the novels for Visionary. The author of Season of the Wolf and other novels and writer/creator of the longrunning horror western comic book Desperadoes, Mariotte added: "Deadlands is a terrific universe, rich with story possibilities and right up my alley. Getting to write short fiction and comics based on Deadlands was a treat; getting to be part of the process of bringing that world to life in novels for the first time – as a writer, and behind the scenes – is an honour and a fantastic pleasure."

Shane Hensley, the creator of Deadlands and president of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, said: "It’s been such a joy watching Visionary play in our sandbox. We truly consider them partners in growing and expanding the Deadlands universe. Now Jonathan Maberry and Jeff Mariotte get to really dig deep and explore the world in the kind of depth you only get with full-length novels, and we’re as excited as anyone else to see what they do."

The novel line will, initially, be three books. Visionary Comics has already successfully launched the property as comics, and C. Edward Sellner, chief creative officer for Visionary, said: "We’re very excited to be bringing Deadlands to such a publishing powerhouse. It’s our first move into non-comics media, and the people at Tor have been fantastic to work with. I have no doubt the fans will enjoy the results."

Fleamarket Friday: Say 'Hello' To Annabelle Avery: Steampunk Girl...


Annabelle Avery, Steampunk Girl: Volume 1 - Through the Steam Portal is the subject of a Kickstarter campaign from author Matt Kelly and illustrated by international artist Mike Gallagher.

Matt explains the plot:
Our full colour, 60+ page comic book tells the story of Annabelle Avery. She's just like any other 17-year-old in 1880's London, except for one important fact: she owns a jetpack and isn’t afraid to use it!

When her adventurous inventor parents disappear when she is a baby, Annabelle Avery is raised by her posh Uncle Albert, Her Majesty's Minister of Technology. But Annabelle has danger in her blood, and can't resist trying to discover their true whereabouts!

To complicate matters, her parents left her an ornate key, which is said to open a mysterious Portal. The mad inventor said to be responsible for their disappearance, one Roderick McCallum, is after the Portal. Annabelle and McCallum have met before, and the violent encounter left McCallum disfigured, his body now augmented with clockwork machinery.

Annabelle now has it in her head that she has to get to the Portal before McCallum inevitably returns! Her Uncle won't like it, but nothing stops Annabelle Avery: Steampunk Girl!

The campaign is aiming to raise $8,000 by September 16, to compensate artist Mike Gallagher, colorist Giuseppe Pica, print copies to sell and give as samples, cover miscellaneous technical and legal costs, and help to fulfill the rewards.

To discover what rewards are on offer as incentives to investors, check out the campaign's Kickstarter page here.

Fleamarket Friday: Props For The Cosmic Chills...

The Colour Out Of Space, the latest of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society's audio adaptations of HPL's work, is now available.

As always, the 77-minute CD comes packaged with a selection of the trademark prop documents that HPLHS is justifiably famous for.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Banged Up Down Under Again...

Once upon a time there was an Australian women's prison soap opera called Prisoner (aka Prisoner: Cell Block H) that was kind of a cult show among my peers on the newspaper where we worked. At the time, most of my work friends and I were desk-bound sub-editors and we adopted the show as a tongue-in-cheek allegory for our miserable working conditions.

It was camp, trashy, over-the-top and made on a budget that would have made '80s Doctor Who look like a Hollywood blockbuster, but it was also highly addictive. As well as frequent appearances in any in-house tracts we produced for our own amusement, there was also an unspoken agreement to try and sneak references to it into the newspaper whenever we could.

Eventually though we all moved on - or the show stopped (I can't recall which came first) - and Prisoner became one of the few happy memories most of us retained from our days on the paper.

That is until the other week, when by chance (or was it fate?) I caught a trailer for Wentworth Prison on Channel 5. That piqued my interest because it was the name of the prison from the original show. A quick bit of Google-fu revealed that the campy cult classic has been given a gritty facelift and re-imagining as Wentworth Prison.

The first episode was this week and wowzers! This was not your granma's Prisoner. Strong language, scenes of an adult nature and mature themes aplenty. Things that you "read between the lines" in the original - about what goes on in a woman's prison - were right there on our TV screens.

But also supported by some pretty powerful writing. This is dark stuff (but still with some sly nods to the original). I'm not sure what I was really expecting so many years after Prisoner faded from our screens, but Wentworth Prison is locked in to my Sky+ box for the season now... and long may it run.

The original racked up 692 episodes over eight seasons (because '79 and '86), which is pretty impressive in anyone's books! Let's hope Wentworth Prison can manage even a tenth of that...

Supernatural: Freaks And Geeks

A series of vampire attacks leads to a reunion between Dean and Krissy Chambers (Madison McLaughlin) from Adventures In Babysitting.

After her father (another hunter) was killed, she teamed up with a couple of other kids, whose families were also killed by vampires, and - under the tutelage of hunter Victor Rogers (Adrian Hough) - are all training to be the next generation of hunters.

Freaks And Geeks is a very light-weight episode and the plot twist is pretty obvious from the get-go, however one of the strengths of Supernatural - that comes from its long-run and the nature of its "world" - is its vast pool of established characters to draw upon. This makes the show seem more 'real' than any number of all-knowing secret societies that get shoehorned in to the mythology.

Where Freaks And Geeks scores over, say, Man's Best Friends With Benefits is that Krissy is a character we already know and therefore have some emotional investment in when she returns. But she has also grown since her first appearance, giving her character an arc of her own.

And that emotional tie to the audience therefore spills over to her two new companions, Aidan (Adam DiMarco) and Josephine Barnes (Megan Danso).

While this episode doesn't directly impact on the season's main storyline, at least - from Dean's comments at the end - it ties in emotionally and brings the standard "save the world" motivation down to a personal level (which is otherwise quite hard for the Winchesters to find these days as all their family and friends tend to die off - and, unlike Sam and Dean, not come back!).

Next Time:

"You're Not Afraid Of The Dark, Are You?"

Supernatural: Goodbye Stranger

After recent disappointments, Goodbye Stranger was a welcome return to form (and the season's main storyline).

I'm still not impressed by the brothers' Men Of Letters' Batcave (Dean casually discarding "the spear of destiny"? Really?), and given all these new resources how come they haven't been chasing down The Thule Society while waiting for Kevin to translate the next trial for them? Or doing something about the massive gathering of witches they found in St Louis?

While the season is still playing out it's too soon to judge, but the Men Of Letters' angle sure feels like, if not the moment the show jumped the shark, possibly the worldbuilding-straw that broke the show's mythos-back

A series of strange deaths eventually draws the brothers out of their secret headquarters and a bit of legwork reveals that someone is killing demons - only the people possessed by demons are behaving rather oddly.

It appears that the demons are looking for something and then when the brothers are interviewing someone who might have a lead, they are ambushed by demons and saved by the sudden return of Castiel (still, unknown to the brothers, under the control of Naomi).

Cas claims the demons are looking for a parchment that will help Crowley translate the demon tablet without the aid of a Prophet, but the Winchesters soon discover the demons are actually after a second Word Of God tablet... one about angels.

The brothers, with the aid of Cas, rescue Meg, who is being tortured by the demons for the location of a number of Lucifer's Crypts, as this is where the tablet is believed to be in one of these.

Reunited, the Winchesters, Cas and Meg go hunting for the tablet with Crowley snapping at their heels.

Suddenly, a lot of Supernatural sub-plots have all come to a head at once, after weeks of dithering and substandard pot boilers. Goodbye Stranger has Dean finding out that Sam is coughing up blood (it's fallout from the first trial) and also Cas, finally, shakes off Naomi's control and fills Dean in on his escape from Purgatory.

At last things are moving again and while it actually feels slightly rushed, at least it looks as though the main story is progressing again.

Goodbye Stranger is a non-stop, intense episode that ticks a lot of boxes that have been gathering dust of late and hopefully marks a change for the better in this rather hit-and-miss season.

Next Time:

Book Of The Month: Goblins vs Dwarves

Goblins vs Dwarves is Philip Reeve's sequel to the excellent Goblins (last year's HeroPress Book Of The Year).

Following on from the events of the last book, and the fall of the all-powerful Lich Lord, magic has started to return to The Westlands... bringing with it unexpected consequences, such as the expansion of dwarvish territories.

The dwarves - who claim ownership of everything that is underground - have their eyes set firmly on the pool of magical slowsilver which lies under Clovenstone.

However, while they want it for crafting magical weapons and devices, the goblins of Clovenstone are rather attached to it as it is the substance that they are born out of. If the dwarves steal the slowsilver there will be no more goblins!

Much of what I wrote in my review of Goblins still holds true for this sequel:
As ever with a Philip Reeve book the mastery of the English language is superb and the imagery sublime. While his primary audience may be "young adults", he never talks down to his reader nor is he afraid to introduce the occasional word to broaden his reader's vocabulary making [Goblins vs Dwarves] equally enjoyable for older readers.

It's a clever tale, as you'd expect from Philip Reeve, with fantastical world-building, a well-woven through-line, a cast of memorable characters and a splendid bestiary of original monsters.
The dwarves' main weapon, revealed in the story's third act, will delight fans of Mr Reeve's World Of Mortal Engines' books with its scale - and the fact that it plays to a couple of his regular themes: the short-sightedness of unquestioning fanaticism and problems that arise from an over-reliance on technology.

There's also a lot of subversion of traditional fantasy racial stereotypes, as began in Goblins, so that while the dwarves may be recognisable to those who come to this world via Lord Of The Rings or Dungeons & Dragons, they are no wholly typical fantasy dwarves.

Events take a surprisingly tragic twist at the end of the book that was both tear-inducingly sad (possibly because of my own recent loss) and inspirationally beautiful and optimistic. Once again, I have to praise Mr Reeve for writing "young adult" fiction that doesn't patronise its audience.

But that's not to say the book is without humour. As with much of his work, Goblins vs Dwarves is rich with veins of subtle, clever humour, mixing wordplay with amusing visuals that encourage a close and careful absorption of the text.

I eagerly await the next volume in this series as I want to learn more about the detailed world that these adventures are taking place in.

The Westlands, and beyond, are a living, breathing place that although approached in a light-hearted fashion are nonetheless just as vibrant and real as those portrayed in massive phonebook size sagas.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tuesday Knights Take To The Shadows...

While I've been shilly-shallying about what game to run for the Tuesday Knights, Kevin has unveiled more details about the Shadowrun campaign he has been talking about that he plans to run for us after he has retired next year:

Coming in Autumn 2014 (or later), Shadowrun Lite in the Lambeth Toxic Containment Area.

Loosely based on the simplified Shadowrun rules used in the video game with some main rules from Shadowrun V5 thrown in.
  • focus on atmosphere rather than complex rule sets;
  • characters start as mid level runners in SE London;
  • combat very very deadly;
  • no technomancers;
  • uses Karma points and Edge points;
  • lots and lots of d6 rolling;
  • the DM is always right especially when he's wrong.

Shadowrun is one of those games that I've always admired for its setting, but never really grokked the rules.

As far as I recall I've only actually played a single session, way back in the day, with Nick and Kevin, so am excited about the possibilities for adventure this game holds for us.

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (1967)

Earth is enveloped in a second ice age (because increasing population led to deforestation, which caused a drop in carbon dioxide levels) and the countries of the world have united to try and keep the glaciers at bay.

The Second Doctor, Victoria and Jamie, fresh from their adventures in the Himalayas with The Abominable Snowmen, materialise outside Brittanicus Base where a scientist has discovered a frozen body in a glacier... an armoured humanoid of unknown origin.

The body is brought back into the base where it defrosts and promptly wakes up - revealing itself to be an "ice warrior" from Mars.

The scientists at Brittanicus Base - led by politician Glent (Peter Barkworth), who prefers the cold logic of computers to human emotions - are planning to activate a powerful ioniser to melt the glacier, but the presence of the alien - and particularly of his spaceship - throws a spanner in the works. Suddenly they realise that the ioniser could cause the spaceship's engine's to explode... resulting in an even worse catastrophe.

The Ice Warriors
is a classic Second Doctor "base under siege" story, with a wonderfully simple story that is padded out to six episodes (147 minutes) by a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that keeps the action going but moves the plot forward at a glacial speed.

Long thought lost, four episodes were recovered in 1988 and the two missing episodes (two and three) have now been restored via animation over the original soundtrack. The animation is basic, but effective (although rather oddly Victoria tends to look like The Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, in a lot of the scenes).

The central thematic point of human creativity versus computer logic is interesting and well made, but ultimately feels slightly laboured due to the length of the story, but balancing the nicely cerebral elements of the story we have the first appearance of the giant ice warriors - strikingly towering over their human foes.

With their distinctive hissing vocals - and Muppet-like mouth movements - the Martians create a wonderfully memorable presence in their alien armour. It's a shame that we had to wait almost 50 years to get a glimpse of what lay beneath (in Cold War).

Comments have been made in the past about the inflexibility of the ice warrior's armoured "claws", but in this story they are clearly shown to be quite flexible, which makes them all the more threatening. Much like the daleks' supposed inability to get up stairs, the ice warriors "claws" (or armoured gloves) are just another piece of misinformation that has been allowed to go unchallenged for too long.

Space 1889 Gets Social...

With the Space 1889 Kickstarter now over, the agonising wait begins for the arrival of the PDFs and the printed books and all the other wonderful treasures we are hoping for.

In the meantime, that gives us plenty of time to start planning our campaigns and discussing the setting - and rules - with like-minded fans.

Publishers Chronicle City and its German counterpart Uhrwerk Verlag (Clockwork Publishing) already have a presence on the main social media sites (see below) and a fledgling Space 1889 community has been established on Google+


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Using A Toilet In Outer Space...

The legendary Chris Hadfield presents "An Astronaut's Guide to the Space Toilet".

He says: "An astronaut's most frequently asked question is 'How do you go to the toilet in space?'. Here is my answer - from a visit at the Ontario Science Centre."

[OPINION POLL] Who Is The Real McCoy?

McCoy vs McCoy...
Just a bit of post-Bank Holiday frivolity, off the back of my recent wrap-up of my Seventh Doctor TV adventures' reviews - a quick (week long) survey of who you reckon is the "real McCoy"?

Which McCoy has the strongest claim to the title of Doctor?

Is it Dr Leonard 'Bones' McCoy from Star Trek or Sylvester 'The Seventh Doctor' McCoy from Doctor Who? Or do you think they are both equally awesome?

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

If you have any comments, please leave them below, otherwise we'll revisit this next week and see who has been chosen!

Jeff's Action Figure Is All About The HEX...

One of my oldest online compadres is Jeff Mejia, an all-round great guy who not only talks the talks but publishes his own games, supplements etc through Evil DM Productions.

We've kinda lost touch of late, but I'm hoping he was able to hop on-board the Space 1889 Kickstarter as I'm sure it was right up his alley.

If memory serves, he first contacted me - many, many years ago - about a piece I wrote on an old (pre-HeroPress) blog on Space 1889 as he shared my passion for the setting.

When I first started HeroPress, Jeff was one of my online mentors and go-to guys when I wanted ideas on how to promote my fledgling blog and ideas on what sort of things I should be writing about.

Unlike me and my short attention span, Jeff and his Lair Of The Evil DM blog has always managed to 'stay on target'.

His main genre of interest is pulp and he recently wrote a blog article about getting into his first Hollow Earth Expedition game. Jeff, though, isn't a man to do things by halves and has also customised himself an action figure (another of his hobbies) for the game (see above).

Monday, 26 August 2013

Knight Time Is The Right Time!

We Were Expected!
Having been to Military Odyssey on Saturday, today became our day to visit the annual Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex.

As we were mixing things up this year, I thought we should do some things we don't normally do at the festival, while skipping the hour-long battle recreation (which I know tests Rachel's patience!)

One of the highlights for me was getting to hold Peewee, the 15-year-old owl (pictured below), who we had seen earlier in a birds-of-prey demonstration in the main arena.

We had lunch seated on the hay bales by the arena and got to watch some of the knights demonstrating their martial prowess by going up against the quintain and skewering hoops with their lances. Although there was a (very tame) mêlée demonstration, I was slightly disappointed not to actually see any real jousting.

As ever the Medieval market was a veritable cornucopia of first rate reproduction period arms, armour, food, drink, hats and clothes, staffs, games, furniture etc - as well as more airy-fairy stuff like fortune tellers and tarot card readers.

Rachel even entered into the spirit of the day and allowed me to buy her a garland for her hair (which you can see in the top picture). As it's made of artificial flowers I think there's a good chance that the next time we see it will be when we come to this festival in 2014!

Rachel and I took a variety of pictures, although not as many as usual, which can be found in my public Facebook album here.

What Mystery Lies Under The Dome?

Over the weekend Rachel and I managed to catch up on a few of the shows that were clogging up our Sky+ box and one of the highlights was the first episode of Under The Dome, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.

This isn't a review of the show, suffice to say that we both loved the first episode and are totally hooked for what is to come.

However, I must confess, I'm slightly gun shy of getting invested in "sci-fi thrillers" these days as I've been burned so many times in the past. Either the show gets axed before the story wraps (e.g. Alcatraz, Jericho, Invasion... to name just three off the top of my head) or it becomes increasingly clear that the key "mystery" element is irrelevant as the writers are just making things up as they go along (I think we all know what I'm talking about here, right?).

In my usual drive to avoid spoilers, I'd assumed - incorrectly as it turns out - that Under The Dome was a mini-series, given the nature of its source material.

The fact that it appears to be an on-going series (so far, not axed, I'm glad to learn) gives me pause for thought but the fact that it is based upon a published work at least means it has a resolution to aim for. 

Musical Monday: He Man - What's Going On...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Thinking About Games For 2014...

Given how much money I've invested in Chronicle City's Space 1889 Kickstarter, the chances are if I run a game for the Tuesday Knights in 2014 it will be this game, however there are a couple of others that have piqued my interest of late - more for their setting than their particular dice mechanics.

First up is Hobomancer about a secret society of magical hobos riding the rails in 1930's America, battling the forces of evil and keeping reality in check. This uses the QAGS system, which I know nothing about.

I have the PDF of the rules but am waiting for my print edition to turn up before I explore much further. I'm totally sold on the idea of the setting, so I'm hoping the rules can mesh with my particular ideas of what makes an "easy game to run".

The other contender for my attention is another Kickstarter from wayback: Westward. This is a steampunk Western sci-fi game about settlers on an alien planet relying on steam power to carve out their own territory.

The mix of Western and sci-fi, naturally, makes me think of Firefly - which can't be a bad thing - and the rules system is Cinematic D6 (which is basically what West End Games used in their version of the Star Wars RPG).

Again, I have the PDF of the rules (which look stunning), but am waiting for the print edition before plunging too deeply into this game.

Of course, at the present, The Tuesday Knights are having a hoot-and-a-half in Meredith's Warcraft campaign and the other week I heard that she has been running a solo campaign for Clare's night elf Galatea.

With the arrival of baby Bettany, Clare has had to step away from the gaming table for a while, so Meredith has been visiting her at home to play out Galatea's adventures (while the rest of us are bumbling around and getting into random fights).

[SPACE 1889] Congratulations To Chronicle City & Uhrwerk Verlag...

The Space 1889 Kickstarter came to an end earlier this afternoon, having raised £72,379 (483% of its original target of £15,000) with the help of 1,025 backers.

This means we should be seeing the English translation of the German iteration of Frank Chadwick's game setting arriving through our letterboxes in January next year, followed by all those wonderful extra books and other add-ons we managed to unlock as stretch goals - four adventure books (each containing two new adventures), supplements on Venus and Mercury, a GM's screen and NPC booklet, Space 1889 branded Ubiquity dice, poster maps and miniatures etc

Ultimately this total will probably rise - and may even unlock some more stretch goals - as backers will be able to purchase additional 'add-ons' through BackerKit (which campaigner organisers Chronicle City & Uhrwerk Verlag are using to lock down what additional rewards we want with our pledges).

This has been the Kickstarter that I've thrown most money at - because of my long-term love affair with both the Space 1889 setting and the Ubiquity rules engine that this new version of the game is using - and will now be stepping away from Kickstarter (certainly the bigger campaigns) for a while.

I can't imagine any other campaign being such a perfect storm of my geeky interests that I would shuffle around my finances like this to - effectively - buy an entire product line blind.

But I've known Angus (of Chronicle City) for years - he's one of the good guys in our hobby, so I have no qualms about supporting this and can't wait to see all the steampunk Victorian scientific romance goodness arriving at my front door.

Space: 1889 - SF Role Playing in a More Civilized Time -- Kicktraq Mini

We're Going Back To Slumberland...

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland promo image by Gabriel Rodriguez
While superheroes are the main draw of the comic book medium to me, I've always been mesmerised by Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland.

Oversized reprints of several original volumes of this classic work have long been a constant of my ever-fluctuating comic book collection, so imagine my (cautious) delight to discover that IDW is bringing out a sequel next year.

Due out in the spring, written by Eric Shanower and illustrated by Locke & Key's Gabriel Rodriguez, IDW has this to say on its website about the new story:
"Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland will see Nemo embark on a brand-new voyage in the familiar surroundings of Slumberland. However, everything else is different, even Nemo himself-in search of a new playmate for the princess of Slumberland, King Morpheus enlists the Candy Kid to help bring the latest playmate, our titular Nemo, into the dream realm. There, Nemo embarks on a visceral journey full of adventure and danger."
I'll be happy as long as this new outing for Nemo keeps the look of McCay's masterpiece and continues to play with the medium as the original did in wild and crazy ways.

Rule Number One...

Saturday, 24 August 2013

[SPACE 1889] Coming In To Land...

Now in its final 24-hours, the epic Space 1889 Kickstarter journey through the solar system is picking up speed and tearing through the stretch goals.

Not only has "Double Adventure Book Three" - with The Strange Land by Gareth Hanrahan and Murder on the Aether Express by Uli Lindner - been unlocked as add-ons in both Ubiquity and Savage Worlds formats (£10 for either format, plus shipping), but a new PDF adventure by Sarah Newton, Godslathe, has also been unlocked.

You can find out more about this adventure here.

The next stretch-goal is £62,000 - which unlocks a new adventure by Andrew Peregrine, Nocturne in the City of Lights, as well as a new print add-on of a fourth double adventure book which will contain the adventures by Andrew and Sarah.

Further ambitious stretch goals have also been unveiled this evening:
  • £65,000 - Space: 1889 Ubiquity Dice Set (nine dice in a tin), with gearwheels instead of numbers, as a £9 add-on.
  • £68,000 - PDF Sourcebooklet 2 - Creatures of Mars - descriptions, and illustrations, of creatures unique to Mars. This level of stretch goal also unlocks a soft cover print compilation (as an add-on) of the two source booklets.
  • £71,000 - Lost City of Tharsus PDF adventure by Brennan Taylor
  • £74,000 - Those Magnificent Men in their Ether Machines, or, Vallis Marineris or Bust!, PDF adventure by Graeme Davis
  • £74,000 - Print add-on of Double Adventure Book Five containing Lost City of Tharsus and Those Magnificent Men in their Ether Machines, or, Vallis Marineris or Bust!.
Read more about these stretch goals here.

The Vikings Are Coming! And They Brought The Rain!

Vikings vs Saxons - c/o Regia Anglorum
The late August bank holiday means only one thing in the Knight household - well, to me, anyway, - it's the long-weekend of Tim-themed events.

Mixing things up a bit, we opted to go to Military Odyssey - the world's largest multi-period re-enactment show - today, rather than on Bank Holiday Monday. This was a practical decision as the mobility scooter hire company that I rent a vehicle from every year told me they wouldn't be covering Monday.

The forecast had said "rain", but I don't think Rachel and I quite expected it to start about half-an-hour after we arrived and then continue non-stop (often, quite heavily) for the rest of the day.

I guess I got my wish that the weather would change!

One of the beautiful horses belonging to the Wyoming Wild Bunch
We still managed to get a good few hours of looking around in, before we had to admit defeat and crawl, like drowned rats, back to the car.

All my favourites were there, as usual, and there seemed to be several larger displays this year, including a fantastic Viking port (courtesy of Regia Anglorum, of course).

I managed to take a number of pictures before the downpour made it impractical, so please visit my Facebook album to see more pictures of the Vikings vs Saxon bundle and an American Civil War Union army drill practice.

It's strange how the rain made the event seem smaller, but discussing it over a cream tea in the indoor traders area (a very popular area of the show because of the weather), Rachel and I agreed that this was simply because we didn't linger as much as we have done in dryer times.

We didn't even pop in to say hello to Rifleman Harris, which I felt a bit bad about, as we only spotted his tent - on the other side of the arena - when we were bolting for the exit. I'm sure he'll be there next year though!

One Hit Die - Episode One...

One Hit Die is a new Dungeons & Dragons-inspired webseries that describes itself as Lord Of The Rings meets The Office. Find out more here and watch the next three episodes.

Ladies & Gentlemen, It's High Time I Started Breaking Bad...

After last week's self-induced brouhaha, my blogging engine has been running on fumes. Rachel seems to think it's the weather (air pressure, heat etc) but I've been having annoying headaches, increased aphasia and generally low motivation to put fingers to keyboard.

On the plus side I've been barrelling through Castle on LoveFilm (they're removing all the episodes at the end of the month, so I'm trying to catch up on the seasons I missed first time round) and I've just started Breaking Bad on Blu-Ray (yeah, I know I'm late to the party - so sue me!). And between those I've been enjoying my daily dose of Murdoch Mysteries on Alibi.

Hopefully after this long-weekend, the weather will turn, the air pressure will lift and my health will improve, allowing me to return to more productive blogging.

However, self-pitying whinges aside, this week has seen an impressive increase in recruitment to our cabal. Please join me in an a cappella rendition of the Doctor Who theme music to welcome:

Friday, 23 August 2013

Agent Coulson Introduces His Team...

[SPACE 1889] The Final Countdown...

With the Space 1889 Kickstarter entering its final hours (the campaign closes its doors to investors on Sunday), the latest planetary sourcebook has been unlocked as a stretch goal.

When the total raised passed £50,000, the 128-page Mercury sourcebook became available as a free PDF to Digital Rulebook Plus and the Rulebook Plus and higher backers. A print edition of the book is available as a £20 (plus shipping) add-on.

To find out more about this book, click here.

Campaign co-ordinator Angus Abranson of Chronicle City has also provided a summation of the current haul of rewards available to investors at the £30 Digital Rulebook Plus reward level:
  • Space: 1889 Core Rulebook PDF
  • Adventure 1: The Order of the Invisible Eye by John Wick (Ubiquity Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 1: The Order of the Invisible Eye by John Wick (Savage Worlds Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 2: Thunders of Venus by Steve Long (Ubiquity Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 2: Thunders of Venus by Steve Long (Savage Worlds Edition) PDF
  • Character Sheet PDF
  • Gamemasters Screen PDF
  • NPC Booklet PDF
  • Venus Sourcebook PDF
  • Adventure 3: On the Trail of the Gods by Shane Ivey (Ubiquity Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 3: On the Trail of the Gods by Shane Ivey (Savage Worlds Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 4: Lost Romance on Venus by Steve Kenson (Ubiquity Edition) PDF
  • Adventure 4: Lost Romance on Venus by Steve Kenson (Savage Worlds Edition) PDF
  • Sourcebooklet 1: Wonders of the Martian Past by John Snead (Ubiquity Edition) PDF
  • Mercury Sourcebook PDF
  • 3 Poster Map Set PDF
  • Space: 1889 Soundtrack MP3

The £50 Rulebook Plus Pledge Level (and above) gives you all of the above PDFs plus a physical copy of the Space: 1889 Rulebook (either standard, Faux Leather or Leatherbound) and 24-sheet character pad.

It's still not too late to hop onboard...

Sword Of The Barbarians (1982)

There is something quite delicious about watching a crappy old swords and sorcery B-movie on VHS cassette, that certain - almost illicit - frisson of knowing that this movie is so awful it isn't available in any better format.

That said, Sword Of The Barbarians (aka Barbarian Master aka Sangraal, la spada di fuoco) is a surprisingly decent Dungeons & Dragons-esque quest movie.

Nomad chieftain Sangraal (Pietro Torrisi aka Peter McCoy) is leading his people through the wilderness when they stumble upon a group of villagers under attack. Driving off the attackers, Sangraal asks to be taken back to their village, where he is greeted by headman Belam (Luciano Rossi aka Lou Kamante) and invited to stay and settle down - much to the delight of his people.

However, word gets back to the villainous Nanuk (Mario Novelli aka Anthony Freeman) - enemy of Belam's people and worshipper of topless fire goddess Rani (Xiomara Rodriguez) - that a stranger has appeared in the valley and has been killing his men.

Rani demands vengeance - so Nanuk launches an attack on the village, capturing Sangraal and forcing him to watch as the village is put to the sword and his wife Lenne (Margareta Rance) is cut down in front of him. Luckily, Belam's daughter, Aki (Yvonne Fraschetti), escapes the massacre with the aid of wandering Easterner, Li Wo Twan (Hal Yamanouchi aka Al Huang), and they free Sangraal.

Sangraal's first thought isn't revenge - he wants to restore Lenne to life, which Aki (who has the hots for Sangraal) says is impossible. Twan, however, reckons the wise man of The Black Mountains, Rudak (Massimo Pittarello), might know how to do it.

On the journey to Rudak, the trio are attacked by useless bandits, waylaid by the least-threatening sandstorm in cinematic history and finally driven into an underground cave system by a host of extras from Life Of Brian, where they meet some amusingly lame subterranean reptile people.

Finally getting to Rudak, the wizard tells Sangraal that Aki was right and he can't resurrect Lenne, however if he wants to get revenge on Nanuk and Rani he needs to travel west for three days into a forest where he'll find a cavern containing The Ark Of Templars and in that he will find the instrument of his revenge.

There's some shenanigans in the forest with a tribe of monkey-people, who are in league with Nanuk, but eventually Sangraal finds the cave he was looking for - which happens to be guarded by another topless goddess (Sabrina Siani) who our hero only manages to overcome with the aid of Rudak.

In the Ark is a humongous crossbow, but by the time Sangraal retrieves it, Nanuk has captured Aki and whisked her back to his own luxury cave where she is held hostage, as naked bait to draw Sangraal in for his final confrontation.

Much fighting ensues and in the end, once he has seen Aki's boobies, Sangraal has forgotten all about his beloved Lenne and found romance in the ample bosum of Aki.

Sword Of The Barbarians is a strange cocktail of Deathstalker and Hawk The Slayer and while not reaching the heights of excellence of either of these legendary movies, it manages to survive translation from Italian and rebranding as an American flick remarkably well.

Large quantities of low-lying smoke in many parts of Sangraal's land made me wonder if it was close to Hawk The Slayer's Realm and Mario Novelli, with all his mwahaha-ing, scenery-chewing and histrionic proclamations is clearly channelling Jack Palance's Voltan, as the barbarian's barbarian, Nanuk.

The presence of a random Easterner is never really fully explained and, unfortunately, the character of Twan quickly deteriorates in to a fortune-cookie-proverb-spouting stereotype whose ramblings eventually prompt Sangraal to cut him off. A harsh word that comes back to haunt him - and suggests that maybe a bit more thought went into this script than you'd expect from this style of movie.

While the creature effects (the 'lizard people' and the 'monkey-men') are very basic, the frequent fight scenes are an odd mix of cheap gore and bloodless acrobatics - yet surprisingly entertaining for a trashy, low-budget swords and sorcery piece.

If you can find Sword Of The Barbarians I definitely recommend checking it out.

It's not Robert McKee or Syd Field, but if you give the script a chance you'll find it hangs together very well and gamers will appreciate the pure Dungeons & Dragons-ness of the whole ensemble (torch-lit expeditions in underground cave systems, monsters, pit traps, magic etc).

Sword Of The Barbarians doesn't aspire to be high art and embraces its sub-Conan silliness without resorting to slapstick or knowingly undermining its world view.

Give it chance - you never know you might be as enchanted by it as I was.


Dwellers In The Caverns aka Grey Ones

The Grey Ones are eyeless humanoids - with webbed, clawed, hands and feet - that live in pitch-dark caverns, hunting by sound and heat. Physically not particularly powerful, they overcome their prey by attacking in swarms. They will never attack a foe one-on-one, preferring to surround, attack from all sides, trip etc

#ENC: 3d6+2
HD: 1d6 HP
AC: 7 [12]
Att: Claw (1d4)
ST: 18
Move: 8
  • Blind - drawn to heat sources (e.g. torches, fire etc) and loud noises (e.g. screams, clattering of armour etc) and are unaffected by any lighting conditions.
  • Swarm - a normal human (6ft) standing in the middle of a room can be surrounded by up to six Grey Ones; for every two Grey Ones - after the first - attacking a specific victim all the creatures gain a +1 bonus to hit (ie. if there are three, they attack at +1, if there are five, they attack at +2)
CL/XP: 1/15

Volcanos? You Know Nothing, Jon Snow...

Game Of Thrones' Kit Harrington stars in next February's ancient Roman disaster movie, Pompeii.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Supernatural: Remember The Titans

Another episode, another filler. While Remember The Titans is slightly more interesting than Man's Best Friend With Benefits, there's still the inescapable feeling that while Supernatural may not have jumped the shark yet it's certainly running out of gas.

It's now three weeks since Sam ganked the hellhound and the Winchesters are kicking up their heels at the Batcave, waiting for Kevin to translate the second part of the "demon tablet" so they can take the next step towards closing the gates of Hell.

They read of a supposed zombie sighting, go to investigate and meet a State Trooper who had found a very dead hit-and-run victim who then got up and walked away.

The same corpse is then brought in to the local hospital after it has been mauled by a bear.

While Sam and Dean are at the hospital, the man (John Reardon) awakes again. He says his name is Shane and that he dies every day and then comes back to life.

A bit of digging and Sam deduces that Shane is actually Prometheus, of Greek legend, cursed by Zeus for stealing the secret of fire to give to humanity.

Matters are complicated though by the arrival of a woman called Hayley (Brooke Langton) - an old girlfriend of Shane's - who introduces Shane to his son, Oliver (Callum Seagram Airlie), who has inherited his father's curse.

The Winchesters decide to summon up Zeus (John Novak) and try and force him to break the curse.

I've always had a bit of a problem with the introduction of mythological gods into the Supernatural universe as, as far as I am aware, their relationship with such paranormal entities as demons and angels has never been made clear. There must be some overlap, surely, as they all seem to be about the same pay-grade but it's not really clear.

Despite the obvious enormity of the situation - Sam and Dean are facing down the ruler of the Greek gods, for crying out loud - Remember The Titans all seems very small and insignificant.

To be honest, Zeus doesn't really give the brothers much more trouble than the majority of demons they've trapped over the years. Luckily for the episode, John Novak carries off the role of Zeus with a lot of charisma - and could, just as well, have been a demon of almost Crowley-calibre.

The main plot unravels quite rapidly with a lot of leaps of logic and people simply accepting their roles in the plot rather than being sold on the strength of the story.

Part of the problem with these recent episodes is that Supernatural has moved on from its "monster-of-the-week" origins and if it's going to revisit those early days it needs to do so with a bit more imagination and originality.

The character writing is still spot on (gotta love Dean describing Prometheus as a "real-life Kenny"), it's just the stories themselves have gotten rather mediocre. Like the Winchesters waiting for Kevin to give them their next "task", it feels like these episodes are just marking time until something better comes along.

Another disappointing episode.

Next Time:

[SPACE 1889] Mercury Rising...

Yesterday, the Space 1889 Kickstarter unlocked the PDF booklet Wonders of the Martian Past and is now cruising on towards its next stretch goal at £50,000: a sourcebook on the planet Mercury.

The book is currently in the works from the German team - who have brought about this resurgence of interest in the Space 1889 setting thanks to their Ubiquity-driven re-imagining of Frank Chadwick's classic setting last year - and is due for publication in early 2014.

The whole planet will be described in approximately 128 pages, complete with landscapes, special places, creatures, scenarios, artifacts and archetypes.

The PDF will be freely available to everyone at the the Digital Rulebook Plus and the Rulebook Plus reward levels, while physical copies of the book will be available for purchase as an "add-on" (plus shipping).

Supernatural: Man's Best Friend With Benefits

While waiting for Kevin The Prophet to translate the next task, Sam and Dean respond to a message from an old friend in St Louis.

However, it turns out that this old friend - a policeman called James Frampton (Christian Campbell) - didn't actually send the message. Since meeting Sam and Dean, the cop had delved into the "dark arts" and become a witch. The message to Sam and Dean had been sent by Frampton's familiar, Portia (Mishael Morgan), who is able to switch forms between superhot female and Zoltan-like dog.

James is having murderous dreams which are apparently coming true, but the Winchesters believe he is being controlled by another witch - although no-one has heard of a spell that makes that possible.

Although there is some reference to the season arc in Man's Best Friend With Benefits and events don't shake down quite as I expected, the episode still felt like filler. The Winchesters are waiting for their next "task" - from Kevin - and so, basically, take on this job to kill time.

I don't think it helped that the brothers' old friend - who, we are told, had worked a case involving an alchemist with them and saved their lives - turns out to be someone we, the audience, had never met before.

Then there was the whole "witch community" in St Louis with its trendy "witches only" club. It somehow didn't feel Supernatural enough. And there were a LOT of witches there. If all were as powerful as Frampton and his friends, then that's a scales-unbalancing amount of sorcery just in this one place and you have to wonder why they hadn't taken steps to solve their own community problem before Sam and Dean showed up.

Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming have been writing for Supernatural since Route 666 in the first season but Man's Best Friends With Benefits felt like it had been penned - except for the season arc material (which could have been added by the showrunner) - by people only vaguely aware of the show's oeuvre.

And a familiar called Phillippe LeChat who turns into a cat? Really?

A major disappointment.

Next Time:

Fright Night Just Got Sexy...

Thanks to Paul for pointing this out to me (even though he's on holiday in the States he took time out to email me a link to this trailer!)

I must admit it had me with the words "Jaime Murray". I mean who doesn't love the star of Defiance, Warehouse 13 and Spartacus?

Out on Blu-Ray and DVD in time for Halloween, Fright Night 2 looks wildly trashy and hopefully makes up for the disappointment that was Fright Night 3D - the remake of the classy original.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Level 7 Access With Coulson - Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Burgs & Bailiffs Volume Two Now Available...

My passion for the first Burgs & Bailiffs supplement is well documented:
Burgs & Bailiffs - Hunger, Disease & The Law is one of my all-time favourite OSR gaming supplements because it taps into ideas I've long wanted to embrace 'in-game' and deals with them succinctly and eruditely.
Therefore you imagine my joy at discovering today that the second volume of this open-ended series is now available - and it aims to bring extra grit and grime to your RPG portrayals of Medieval warfare.

The 38-page booklet is available as either a free PDF or a £2.02 print edition (via Lulu).

Hump Day Musical Interlude...

Music video for Abney Park's The Circus At The End Of The World - title track of their new album, due out on September 7 - featuring the performers of the Wanderlust Circus.

Crime Nation FTW!

Gordo introduces his character in Crime Nation
I never thought any strips in Knights Of The Dinner Table could equal the simple brilliance of the ones featuring the Knights themselves sitting round BA Felton's mum's table playing Hackmaster - until neophyte gamesmaster Crutch started running Crime Nation in the back room of Weird Pete's Games Pit.

Clearly Crutch has found his forte first time at bat - and Jolly Blackburn is obviously having a whale of a time writing the strips.

This is a magnificent demonstration of high-octane gamesmastering and makes me hope that Kenzer & Co is secretly planning to bring out a "real life" edition of Crime Nation - as it has done quite successfully with Hackmaster.

It also doesn't hurt that the Knight's resident rules lawyer Brian Van Hoose has met his match in Crutch. There have been a number of very satisfying scenes in recent issues where Brian has been brought down a peg or three by either Crutch or Bob's girlfriend Sheila. If ever there was a balloon worth pricking it was Brian's ego!

Thanks in large part to the Crime Nation strips, Knights of The Dinner Table - which hit its landmark issue 200 this week - is really on a roll at the moment and if you're not picking it up you're missing something rather special.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Another Clip From Agent Carter...

Another brief clip
from the next Marvel One-Shot, Agent Carter - available exclusively with the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray and digital download on September 24.

Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter in this short, set a year after the events in Captain America: The First Avenger, and she's hot on the trail of the mysterious Zodiac.

DVD Of The Week: Oblivion (2013)

The year is 2077 and the Earth has been devastated by war with an alien race known as "Scavs". The moon has been destroyed, which played havoc with Earth's ecosystem and the majority of the surviving population has been relocated to Jupiter's moon Titan.

One of the few humans left is drone repairman Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) who, with partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), ensures the continued operation of the equipment necessary to harvest the last of Earth's resources for the use of the colony on Titan.

However, Jack is haunted by dreams of a rendezvous on top of the Empire State Building with a beautiful woman and finds himself increasingly convinced that he should remain on Earth, while Victoria is eager to finish their assignment and head to Titan.

Things start to unravel when a signal sent from Earth by the Scavs draws down a ship from orbit which crash lands in Jack's territory. When he gets there he witnesses drones - programmed to kill Scavs - murdering the human crew of the ship. Jack manages to save one of the crew, though: Julia (Olga Kurylenko)... the woman from his dreams!

Oblivion is a fantastic sci-fi thriller, that keeps you guessing all the way and rewards your perseverance.

A clever script by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, based on the graphic novel by Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski, employs a number of narrative tools - such as a non-linear time frame and unreliable narrator - to continually up the ante and while it riffs on several other science-fiction stories it aims high and creates a truly memorable cinematic experience.

Unlike a great many recent blockbusters the story of Oblivion doesn't collapse in the final act and holds your attention right up until the credits roll.

At two hours five minutes there's not a moment when the tension or atmosphere lags. I actually would have been okay if the film had been longer as we are presented with a intriguing post-apocalyptic world that I'd like to have explored some more.

It's also visually very impressive, with some of the sexiest tech I've seen in a sci-fi flick for a long time, so while there may be a few plot holes along the way the stylish presentation should help smooth over these for all but the most cynical of viewers.

Wrapping Up The Seventh Doctor...

ERA: 3.08

With yesterday's review of The Happiness Patrol, that wraps up my reviews of The Seventh Doctor's televised adventures and allows me to calculate - for my own amusement - his Enjoyment Ratings Average (ERA) .

This doesn't include his short appearance in the Doctor Who movie (with The Eighth Doctor), by the way - even though he was one of the stronger elements of that strange affair.

As has been said elsewhere, while the Seventh Doctor had some great moments on television, he was also handicapped by some truly awful ones - which tend to outweigh the successes. Both he, and Ace, really came into their own once the show was off the air, in the novels and audio dramas that developed their characters in ways the show had only just started to hint at when it was put on hiatus.

To put this score into some sort of (meaningless) perspective this is how Seven ranks against other Doctors whose adventures I've finished:

Six - ERA 3.32
Eight - ERA 2.5
Nine - ERA 3.65
Ten - ERA 4.08

As I said back in 2009, "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)."

You can read more about my statistical silliness here and here. And don't forget the page of links to all my Doctor Who reviews, which contains my score (out of five) for each story I've reviewed.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Someone To Watch Over You...

For more information, visit Trask Industries.

[SPACE 1889] Romance For All...

As the Space 1889 Kickstarter enters its final week, the campaign has passed the £43,000 mark, unlocking both the PDF adventure Lost Romance on Venus by Steve Kenson and the add-on of a print compilation of the adventures Lost Romance on Venus and Shane Ivey and John Clements' On the Trail of the Gods.

This 64-page black and white softcover book will be available for both the Ubiquity and Savage Worlds iterations of the game, at a cost of £10 (plus shipping) each.

The PDF of Kenson's adventure will be sent free to all backers at the Digital Rulebook Plus and the Rulebook Plus rewards levels onwards, in both Ubiquity and Savage Worlds formats.

The next stretchgoal, at £46,000, unlocks the PDF sourcebooklet Wonders of the Martian Past by John Snead.

For information of this fundraising campaign, which closes its investment window on Sunday, visit its Kickstarter page.

[SPACE 1889] Campaign Enters Its Final Week...

The sun may never set on the British Empire, but the Space 1889 Kickstarter is sailing towards its finishing line this Sunday.

To pique the interest of anyone who is still on the fence about this epic project, here is the six-minute promotional video put together by  Uhrwerk Verlag (Clockwork Publishing) when they published the revamped German edition of Space 1889 last year. The film has now been dubbed into English.

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol (1988)

The Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive on Earth colony Terra Alpha, a place of state-mandated happiness, constant Muzak and deadly confectionery.

The Doctor is following up reports of numerous disappearances and learns that the government's gaudily-clad female enforcers, The Happiness Patrol, are just one method the autocratic Helen A (Sheila Hancock) employs to get rid of anyone not showing the right degree of cheerfulness.

However, for a city where everyone is supposedly happy, The Doctor and Ace soon discover that most people are miserable for one reason or another - with the sanctioned disappearances and Helen A's cybernetic executioner, Kandyman (David John Pope), accounting for much of this misery.

In a single night, The Doctor plans to overthrow the regime.

The Happiness Patrol is Doctor Who at its most bizarrely bonkers, politically subversive and anarchic. Like one of the Kandyman's killer treats it is so laden with goodness that it sometimes almost chokes itself as satire heaps upon satire.

Of course, anything that pokes fun at Margaret Thatcher (an obvious influence on Sheila Hancock's marvellous portrayal of Helen A) gets a big thumbs up in my book.

There's also the none-too-subtle gay rights subtext as well - with the TARDIS getting a pink makeover, the subjugation of non-conformists, Helen A's husband running off with another man etc - years before it became such a feature of the RTD era. For a show that was never afraid of a bit of camp, The Happiness Patrol is the most overtly camp of the classic stories.

For all its pinkness and brightness though, The Happiness Patrol is quintessential Seventh Doctor material, with its dark overtones and behind-the-scenes machinations by the master manipulator.

Admittedly, The Doctor's plan to topple Helen A's right-wing government is a bit random and mainly seems to involve running around, but it works in the end (somehow) by sowing the seeds of dissent amongst the repressed human population and the incomprehensible native aliens who live in The Pipes under the colony.

Ultimately, I think your enjoyment of The Happiness Patrol depends on (a) your political leanings and (b) how menacing you find the Kandyman.

If you dismiss the idea of a techno-organic torturer who looks like Bertie Bassett's psychotic evil twin (but stitched together with Sellotape) as silly, then you're probably not going to enjoy this story.

If, however, you can see the creative genius in this idea (even if the costume doesn't quite match the ambition) then you'll probably get the menace in the rest of the story.

Musical Monday: Knightmare - Treguard Mix

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night...

Mum & Dad

This week we wrapped up everything with the lawyers concerning mum's estate and then today Rachel and I visited the Pembury graveyard - for the first time since mum's funeral - to see the newly engraved headstone for the site where mum and dad lay together.

Words cannot express the emptiness I feel now knowing I will never see either of them again, that everything I do from now on will be without their knowledge. I wish I had something profound to say, but everything is just that bit bleaker at present.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
by Dylan Thomas

Doctor Who: Dragonfire (1987)

The Seventh Doctor and Mel follow a signal to the planet Svartos to a trading post called Iceworld, where they stumble across old sparring partner Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby), the Sixth Doctor's roguish acquaintance from The Mysterious Planet.

Glitz is hunting for a treasure rumoured to be guarded by a dragon in the lower corridor of Iceworld, little realising he is being manipulated by the colony's ruler, Kane (Edward Peel), a man whose touch is so cold it can kill and who keeps order through the use of zombified frozen mercenaries.

The Doctor is intrigued by the idea of studying this "dragon" and so joins Glitz's quest - along with a bolshy waitress called Ace (Sophie Aldred) - who was actually whisked from 20th Century Earth to Svartos via a random time storm!

Sixteen-year-old Ace, whose real name is Dorothy, has a penchant for home-made explosives (e.g. nitro-nine) and shouting "ace!" and other such jarring exclamations when anything exciting happens.

Interestingly she calls The Doctor "Professor" before she even knows he's The Doctor, which I'd never realised before.

It transpires that Kane is after the dragon's treasure as part of his revenge plan against the people who exiled him to Svartos three thousand years ago.

I have to confess that the Ace in this story is only slightly more likeable than Jake Lloyd's Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace - although she shows signs of the more rounded character she would become in such classic stories as Remembrance Of The Daleks , Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric.

After a promising opening scene, there is a constant dissonance in Chris Clough's direction and Ian Briggs' script for Dragonfire as it appears to lurch from broad comedy to brooding horror - although the latter is severely undermined by the rubber costume worn by the "dragon" which appears to be a bargain basement cosplay reproduction of the xenomorph from Alien.

In fact there are a couple of scenes - when a pair of Kane's more human officers are tracking the "dragon" - that are straight rip-offs of moments from Aliens (which came out the year before this episode was aired).

Kane's demise is also an homage/rip-off (your mileage may vary) of the famous scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark when the Nazi's gaze upon the contents of the Ark.

This story is also rightly famous for its logic-defying twists - such as the inexplicable self-induced, literal, cliffhanger when the Doctor suddenly decides to climb over the edge of a seemingly bottomless pit and immediately puts his life in danger.

Almost as random and preposterous is Mel's decision at the end of the story to stay with Glitz on his new spaceship. Sure, Bonnie Langford wanted to leave but there must have been at least half-a-dozen more convincing ways for her character to depart.

That said, upon her announcement, The Doctor delivers another of his fantastic monologues.
"Think about me when you're living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving."

Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)


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