Monday Review: The Twelfth Doctor

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You might have noticed that this time last week the internets were alive with various opinions about Peter Capaldi’s proper debut as everyone’s favourite Time Lord. I didn’t join in because, frankly, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a Doctor based on his immediate post-regeneration actions (although just how immediate all this was is unclear, what with him having pulled a dinosaur on his way to Victorian London) and I didn’t want to set a precedent and end up posting every week the same set of thoughts about the episode that must, in an infinite internet, already be posted somewhere.

That said, thoughts worth mentioning about Deep Breath:

  • It could have been a nicely meta sort of an episode, acknowledging the uncertainty of fans about such a whopper of a change, but that did get a little bit overdone in the end.
  • Apparently somebody complained about the lesbian kiss. Nobody noticed that Jenny was in fact snogging a millennia old lizard.
  • Neither did anyone notice that it wasn’t a kiss, it was mouth to mouth resuscitation. But, you know, any excuse to get in a flap.
  • Am I the only one bothered that they wedged open a plot-hole wide enough for Eleven’s chin? I mean, timey-wimey and all that, yes, but still… that bothered me. Sorry to everyone who cried at it, but it just made no sense.
  • You know what else didn’t make sense? Clara being bothered by regeneration. Didn’t she hang out with all the previous Doctors on Name Of The Doctor? Didn’t it sort of hint that maybe Clara was in fact Ace? And yet… she was bothered by Twelve. Oh well.
  • On the plus side, while the Doctor was staggering around London trying to find himself or something, Clara got a grip, stood up to Madame Vastra and actually threatened to become a decent character in her own right, which was nice.

Actually I’ve already gone on far too long about last week’s news: Into The Dalek. I was wondering if the steampunk opening sequence was just in honour of the clockwork robots from Deep Breath, but they seem to be here to stay; another big change from… well, the last 50 years, pretty much. But this is a new era for Doctor Who, a big change from the times of Ten and Eleven, so I guess it’s fitting.

This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s some other word… Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.

And that brings us to this point: the Doctor has had a little time to find himself – or, from Clara’s perspective, lose himself – and while neither he nor Clara are sure at this stage whether or not he is a good man, I think I like him. He’s even funny, but in a deadpan, almost oblivious sort of way; he’s also got a dark streak that Ten and Eleven lacked (or he may just really dislike soldiers).

Philosophically minded Whovians will find a lot to chew over here, not least the matter of Dalek morality (morality as malfunction), or whether it is enough to try to be a good person.

Not to mention Missy, guardian of ‘Heaven’, where people/robots who die around the Doctor seem to be ending up this season. That’s not likely to end well now, is it? I suspect we will return to this sub-plot later in the series.

Spoiler alert

However, the most interesting point, I thought, was the central conceit of the episode: a ‘good’ Dalek. Interesting to throw that one into the mix after 50 years, to say the least; and as unlikely concepts go, it’s right up there with redeeming Darth Vader. Our good Dalek – Rusty – is naturally predisposed to hate pretty much everyone, but the Doctor is able to work out (and this is where it turns out he really needs Clara) that all remaining vestiges of goodness within the Dalek’s squidgy bits are basically short-circuited by some clever technology.

So the Doctor goes in, flicks the switches, shares his own soul, his sense of the beauty and goodness of the universe, with Rusty, and sends him back into the Dalek fold, a redeemed Dalek.

And this, of course, is metaphorically what God does for us: He gets inside us, right down to our spiritual radiation leaks, and heals our inner wounds. And then because our minds are still short-circuited by sin, He shares His soul with us, so that we can see the beauty of Truth… and be free to follow our own path, instead of that which the masses around us take for granted.

The question which remains, of course, is what can one ‘good’ individual achieve among a corrupt and selfish race?

Where did all the water go?

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This story came my way a little while ago, courtesy of JJ Campanella on Starship Sofa Episode 348 (the news in question starts at 44 minutes with an amusing rendition of a conversation between Jim and Mrs Campanella, but do listen to the rest of the podcast too).

The gist of the story is that the wonder of science has found epic amounts of water locked away in something called ringwoodite, which lurks about 400 miles below the Earth’s surface and, apparently, sweats a lot. So much so, in fact, that if just one per cent of the rock at that depth is sweaty, there could be enough water down there to fill the world’s oceans three times over. And you were worried about the ice caps melting.

I don’t wish to go all young-earther here, but the idea that much of our surface oceans were in fact driven up from the mantle by geological processes, and not dropped off by passing comets as is more commonly believed, sort of lends a new slant to the creation narrative of Genesis:

And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.
Genesis 1:9, NIV

Taken literally (which I’m not saying it should be, just throwing ideas around) this verse suggests that the Earth was once – before the creation of life – covered in water. Water which, for dry ground to appear, presumably had to go somewhere…

The theory – presented by Steve Jacobsen of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL – as far as I can tell is that the oceans we now have may have come up from below the Earth’s surface; the possibility of the process being reversible is just my own creative speculation based on a couple of mediocre A-levels taken a couple of decades ago and long since forgotten.

So, how about we get back to what the actual scientist behind this idea says?

The hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface; it may explain why our oceans have stayed the same size for millions of years. If the stored water wasn’t there it would be on the surface of the earth and mountain tops would be the only land poking out.
Steve Jacobsen, emphasis mine.

You probably see where I’m going with this. It’s not a perfect explanation, but it could (and probably will) be argued that some freak geological occurrence caused all this ringwoodite-bound water to the surface at some point in history, covering all but the very highest mountain peaks in sea water until a sufficient portion of the water seeped back into it’s underground lair.

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.
Genesis 7:18-19, NIV

Such an overflow of previously unseen water could easily have been a catalyst for the many universal flood stories that exist in antiquity.

Perhaps more importantly – at least for those who want to take the whole of Genesis literally – this underground ocean could provide an answer to the sticky question of where all the water went.

Tuesday Tunes: The Kinks Live at Kelvin Hall

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I may have said this before, but if I had a time machine, I would go back to the 60s to experience the Mini Cooper and The Kinks first time round. However, until I bang my head and suddenly realise the secret of the flux capacitor, I will have to settle for my ’96 Mini and this CD.

Live at Kelvin Hall is not a great Kinks album; it’s not even the best live Kinks album, but it is very much a product of its time – and therein lies it’s greatness. This is the Kinks of the early 60s; part boy band, part proto-punks, what should be a raucous opening with Till The End Of The Day is almost drowned out by the screaming fans – how much of this is down to the quality of the original recording is no doubt lost to history by now, but it certainly lends the album a teen idol feel.

We are then treated to some of the band’s more narrative numbers, including Well Respected Man and the still popular Sunny AFternoon, which along with I’m On An Island hints at the more lyrical, less full on direction the Kinks would soon take – although, even much later in their career, the band would still turn everything up to 11 for You Really Got Me, which appeares here as the penultimate track.

Apart from getting the crowd to sing along to Sunny Afternoon and some other odd bits of crowd banter, there’s nothing spectacular here. The selection of songs is an interesting cross-section of the band’s catlogue up to that point, which at least a few songs that don’t turn up on every cheap greatest hits CD (of which there are many). The final medley is quite fun, in which Milk Cow Blues segues into the then contemporary Batman theme followed by Tired Of Waiting; as variable as this recording is, I think it has probably aged with more dignity than the 60s TV Batman.

The CD version allows you the dubious pleasure of listening to the Mono Album followed by the Stereo Album; both are just as rough around the edges, but an interesting look back into genre history, and a peek into the popularity of the Kinks at their peak. Well ok, maybe this is just one for the dedicated fans nowadays.

Stand-out tracks: Medley: Milk Cow Blues/Batman Theme/Tired Of Waiting/Milk Cow Blues.

Biscuits and Bad Publicity

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I’m going to digress slightly here on go off on an uncharacteristic rant. Feel free to skip ahead to Friday if you wish, when I might start series 4 of Re-Dwarf.

It is sad but true fact that I have a biscuit problem. I know, I don’t seem the type, but that’s the nature of biscuits; it’s a more common problem than you might think. Anyway, there it is; it’s just another thing I deal with on a daily basis.

And in the process of dealing with this problem, I have start to support, or at least follow, various groups which exist to support recovering biscuit addicts, and to help those leaving the biscuit factories to go on and lead full and productive lives outside of the snackfood industry.

The reason I mention this now is that one such group, which we shall refer to as The English Addiction to Biscuits Awareness Group (TEABAG) has recently scored what I think to be something of an own goal.

Without getting into the details, a couple of new biscuit brands have come onto the market recently; one in particular has had quite a media frenzy over it recently, it turns out. Much of this has been of the typical Daily Mail ‘look at this new biscuit it’s really bad for you it will make your children have cancer and by the way they’re half price in Asda’ variety, which of course purports to be bad publicity but only serves to point out the existence of the biscuit, and if you’re predisposed towards biscuits anyway you don’t care that it kills kittens, you want to try this new biscuit, especially if you’re bored of custard creams and can’t afford Jammy Dodgers.
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Which is fine, as I don’t read the Daily Mail for more or less that reason; however, this particular biscuit, like another before it, came to my attention by way of TEABAG. Doing the exact same thing.

Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive, but it seems to me that if even part of your stated purpose as an organisation is to help people like me give up biscuits, it’s probably not a good idea to put a press release for this new brand in my facebook news feed on a Monday morning. It doesn’t matter that you were actually linking to teabag.org and your own (no doubt valid) views of how bad this new biscuit is and how it gives kittens cancer; I did not know this biscuit existed until you told me.

It doesn’t matter that you only showed the biscuit in its wrapper. You didn’t need to show it at all. You didn’t need to tell TEABAG supporters that biscuits make people fat and are making people fatter all the time – we already know biscuits are bad. You can tell us biscuits are getting worse without showing us the delicious jam and cream filled centre (even in its wrapper).

You may well say that these biscuits were all over the internet and social media, and that may well be true, but they weren’t in my social media – until you put them there.

I don’t care how good your intentions were; if I were in a weaker place, and able to get to Asda when I saw that piece from TEABAG, I would have tried to get the biscuit. I daresay others did just that; there is no such thing as bad publicity. There is, however, such a thing as badly placed publicity. Most Daily Mail readers, I’m sure, would have shared the moral outrage at this new biscuit, and resolved not to shop at Asda until they had stopped selling them.
Digestive_biscuitsTEABAG followers, however… well, as I can testify myself, TEABAG probably did the biscuit makers a great favour by highlighting the existence of this new kind of biscuit to just the sort of audience who need a new kind of snack.

Sticking that in their facebook feed was akin to leaving flyers for the local off licence lying around at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Unintentional, maybe; but plainly ridiculous.

Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

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I first watched this Second Doctor story back in the wilderness years, between McCoy and McGann, and I remember at the time thinking it was a little bit silly, what was supposed to be a science-fiction show getting lost in the land of fiction. But maybe my tastes have changed since then, I’ve certainly seen a bit more of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, and almost universally liked him.

And, of course, the Thursday Next effect makes this episode fun to watch for more than the slightly surreal feel that the story always had.

So, we start out with the Tardis about to be encased in molten lava, and the crew left with no choice but to hit the emergency button which shifts the Tardis and it’s crew outside of reality – into an empty studio a white void where Jamie and Zoe are briefly chased by some robots left over from an earlier BBC sci-fi show – and from there… well, actually, when they leave there the Tardis blows up, leaving Zoe clinging to the console in a scene that would have been at home in 2001 or one of the weirder Star Trek episodes. But that’s all just pre-amble really, as the real action takes place in the land of fiction.

It all gets a bit meta here, with the Doctor at one point risking turning himself and his companions into mere characters if he makes a wrong decision; and together with the mix of mythology, literature and history that our heroes encounter, it all makes for a fun blurring of the lines between truth and fiction, reality and unreality. And just to add to the strangeness, the human mind responsible for maintaining the land of fiction turns out to be an author, kidnapped while writing about the adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway – who sounds oddly familiar in the 21st Century, as does ‘the Master’, the name given to the writer in question.

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The existence of this master mind operating the ‘land of fiction’ does lend it a scientific basis of sorts (and let’s face it, of sorts is often good enough for Doctor Who) and, on the whole, I didn’t find the whole idea as silly when I most recently watched it (but see again the Thursday Next effect). There are certainly lots of fun ideas in there, some of which could probably be used to better effect with a new-Who budget, but it was 1968 so we can’t complain about that really. You get riddles, you get the odd sword fight, you get existential Gulliver, and you get a reason to contemplate the nature of reality, the purpose of story, and the existence of free will.

As there often is with the Second Doctor, there are also some great moments of humour – the resigned sarcasm of Rapunzel, and the Doctor accidentally rearranging Jamie’s face (apparently a creative way of continuing production while Frazer Hines was sick).

This is worth watching for ’60s psychadelia, experimental fantasy, Rapunzel jokes and, basically, the Doctor doing Thursday Next.

We obey our creator, that is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise.

To close, I must go back to Existential Gulliver. Like many of the fictional characters our heroes encounter, his is just a cameo role, but he does make an interesting point about the nature of a fictional character: ‘We obey our creator,’ he says of himself and his fellow characters, ‘unless the Master bids us otherwise’. It could be said that we are all characters in some epic adventure being written by our Creator; he has a story arc in mind for us all, but all too often some other ‘Master’ bids us otherwise, and we lose the plot, so to speak. Maybe, if we stop trying to be our own Master all the time and just follow the Creator’s intention, life would be a lot more satisfying.

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Camp NaNoWriMo July Update

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In actual fact, I’ve written quite a lot of words this month. Unfortunately, very few of them are even remotely related to Camp NaNo; although I suppose given the somewhat nebulous goal I set myself to do something writing-related every day, I could count them. But of course, I couldn’t possibly cheat at the noble institution of NaNoing.

What I do have, however, is a bit more of Countless as the Stars ebook-ready (it could even happen before NaNo proper!) and a bunch of scribbled ideas for short stories – including, intriguingly, several variations one vague but fun idea that I’ve had for a while. So part of Camp NaNo has become a series of short stories, all with the same idea at their core, but in a range of sub-genres on the spec-fic scale. Part of me wants to give them all the same title too, but of course that would be lunacy.

Oh, and there’s a daikaiju story in the offing too; I literally just gave myself the idea of launching that for Godzilla’s 60th birthday (which also coincides with NaNoWriMo, fact fans). Actually, I should probably have Hex Drive (or as it may now be called, Tyrannosaurus Hex) ready for then too, as it has a, well, Tyrannosaurus in it.

So, it seems most of my Camp NaNo word count has actually gone on a massive to-do list of writing projects… which I suppose means that I should be writing.

Tuesday Tunes: Daikaiju

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I have no idea why I didn’t do this sooner.

Daikaiju – the monster surf rock band who turn out to be from somewhere in the vicinity of Huntsville, Alabama, and not from Japan after all – have been serenading me on an almost weekly basis for about seven years, thanks to the podcasty awesomeness of Escape Pod (which, as an aside, if you are not currently familiar with, you should visit now. Well, finish reading this, then go visit), but I have only just made the inexplicably surprising discovery that they can also be spotified.

And so, without even knowing how monster surf rock can be an actual thing, I have let it join the increasingly eclectic ‘writing music’ area of my spotify manor.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that daikaiju is Japanese for ‘giant monster’ which is why the songs on the band’s self-titled debut album have names such as The Trouble With Those Mothra Girls, Attack of the Crab Women and Farewell to Monster Island. Also Sharkakahn, which is an 80s pop pun par excellence. None of which has anything to do with the music, which is basically just a modern take on the kind of surf music that belongs in the 60s or Pulp Fiction.

The aforementioned debut album starts with Daikaiju Die!, which they evidently don’t, because they rattle through eight more 3-ish minute instrumental tracks and then suddenly change gear, closing with Farewell To Monster Island, 8 minutes and 26 seconds of chilled out, reggae-tinged surf guitar which, frankly, should be part of the soundtrack to any summer (and from now on, will be).

The band’s second album, Phase 2, is… well let’s face it, it’s more of the same: short, sharp bursts with mad drums, epic guitars, no words and titles that sound like a SyFy B-movie – opening with Escape From Nebula M Spacehunter, taking us through Laser Runner and Forcefield Lifts Over Neon City before closing with Zombie Harem. how can you not love Daikaiju on the basis of that alone?

Za Feijingu Supaidaa Kyoui, which I realise is probably something incredibly rude in Japanese, and Choujikuu Mitsukai will be familiar to Escapodians; while the brilliantly named Jellyfish Sunrise reprises the mellow dub sound (and epic length) of Farewell…, and Forcefield Lifts Over Neon City opens a bit like The Jam’s Start!, but then wanders off into surf rock territory, then builds up to some epic prog-rock guitar moments before calming back down again and fading into the background.

This is all just fun music that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but which is, to my admittedly untrained, pretty darned good. And, because it’s instrumental, makes great writing music – at last while writing fun scenes about giant monsters and zombie harems.

Stand-out tracks: Farewell to Monster Island is like nothing else on Daikaiju; while Forcefield Lifts Over Neon City is probably the peak of Phase 2.

Listen along

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Linky goodness

daikaiju.org
escapepod.org

It begins…. (again)

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As I write this, we are just two (count ’em) hours shy of Camp NaNoWriMo’s July session. And, yes, despite (or perhaps because of) not having the time to keep this blog afloat for the last two months, I’m going to jump right in and give it another shot.

Officially (i.e. what my Camp NaNo profile says) I am writing ‘v=u+at And Other Tall Stories’, a 20,000 word collection of erratic short stories.

Such a collection may indeed come to pass; however my main aim for July is to do something – anything, no matter how small – connected to writing, editing or indeed publishing, every day during the month. Which, given that the month includes a family holiday, may end in divorce. Who knows, such is the nature of erratic fiction.

In all seriousness, however, I have Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles, which epically failed to get written during April, to carry on writing. I have The Ballad Of Matthew Smith to edit. And I have the forthcoming (or at least, fifth or sixth-coming) Countless as the Stars ebook to finish preparing. Some of the writing will just be blog posts, reviews etc to get some fresh content going out here, but it’s all writing, and that’s the sole aim. And then, at some point, I should probably get a functioning shop on the website again.
 
So, that’s what I’m doing for the next month; who knows, I may even remember to post some of my adventures here as I go…

CSFF Blog Tour: Dream Treaders

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So, with internet issues resolved, and having gotten over last month’s accidental reviewing of the actual book in question, it’s time to take a step back and lurk once more at the back of the tour, heckling those who are taking it all far more seriously.

Like Jeff Chapman, who has an interview with the author, as does Jennette Mbewe.

And of course there are plenty of reviews to help you if you wonder whether the adventures of a dream-hopping teenager would be your thing, for instance this one, that one, and the other one for starters.

As ever, there’s plenty more on the tour, get clicky with the sidebar or stop off at tour guide Becky Miller’s blog for direct links to the post on the tour as well as her always insightful, er, insights.

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: Dream Treaders

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Really, Wayne Thomas Batson? You really had to make your new YA fantasy series about dreams? I mean, you know how many songs there are about dreams, right? Oh well, may as well skip to the good bit… this week the tour is for Dream Treaders, which presents such a mind-bogglingly vast range of possible tunes I have been forced to go off at a tangent and find a selection of cover versions, tenuous links and obscure tracks by my favourite artists: it’s, well, Ten Songs About Dreams.

10. Oceanic – Insanity
Sorry about this, but the song that jumped straight into my head when I saw the title Dream Treaders was this piece of 90s rave-cheese. About dream tripping, which is presumably a clumsy form of dream treading.

9. T-Rex – Teenage Dream
Marc Bolan covering a Katy Perry song? Sounds like a dream to me.

8. R.E.M. – I Don’t Sleep, I Dream
Obviously there had to be an R.E.M. song on the list. This seemed an appropriate choice.

7. Jon Hassell & Brian Eno – Delta Rain Dream
This possible music is liable to make you fall into REM sleep.

6. Lauren O’Connell – All I Have to Do Is Dream
I don’t know who she is either, but I do like a good cover version, and this is one.

5. Meat Loaf – California Dreamin’
Because all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey. And because cover versions are cool.

4. D:Ream – Things Can Only Get Better
Yeah it’s a cheeseboard, but it’s a feelgood cheeseboard. And hey, things did get better, at least for the keyboard player who went on to become Professor Brian Cox from off of the telly.

3. The Orb – The Dream
I got my degree from the Future Academy of Noise, Rhythm and Gardening. Or, was that just a dream?

2. The Kinks – Only A Dream
It’s only The Kinks. Only still making good tunes in 1993.

1. Emily Browning – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
Don’t let the barely audible start fool you, this is a cover version that goes all over the place.

So there you go; enjoy the playlist, and don’t forget to follow the tour for Dream Treaders in the sidebar.