Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drafted (1)

Hmm. Amazing the sheer number of post I write what I never actually post. Guess life is too short. So, here they all now. NURSE! Remove my trousers and avert thy gaze!!!

Starting off in 2007 we have the slightly... passionate... post I dubbed

OGers I despise: Baroque, Rich Flair, Leeratbag, Veiled Prophet...
(In fairness, I cannot for the life of me remember what LRB had done to piss me off, and I have no idea who Baroque was)

You know the best way in the entire world to piss me off?


Nor do I, but a good place to start is to bitch about me behind my back.

Now, I'll be honest. It's my blog. There's little point in lying.

I'm back on OG. And if the mods or say a bloke called Kenelm is reading this, I don't fucking care if that upsets you.

Was I right to be banned the first time?

Wellllll.... yeah. Probably.

The second time? Well, why not?

The third time? That was a miscarriage of justice and no mistake.

The fourth, I have yet to determine.

And I would just like to say to the Mods, the shit you allow people to get away with is enough to make a guy paranoid. Doc Filth and the others bag out Spara on a daily basis to a degree even I wince at... yet they stay. Why me? Are you threatened by my beauty? My godlike intellect? My intriguing sigs?

It's ironic my rallying cry of "the real world not having an ignore button" was cut short when I was ignored by OG. Permanently.

Except... no. I got back in.

I've been five separate people now.

I'll just keep doing it. I'll keep smuggling myself back into OG, create a new ID and wander around a bit before picking a fight with Spara, revealing myself and getting booted out.

But this time is different.

The most disturbing aspect of Mark Goacher is that he is a study in contrasts. He can't write, he can't argue and his public persona is the sort of person that makes Kim Day look nice. But he seems to be at heart a decent human being. An incredibly irritating, self-righteous classist, sexist, racist bastard, but a decent human being.

He doesn't talk about me behind my back, for one thing. And when he put up some stuff of mine on OG, he did so with a smile, not bitchiness, no smug platitudes. Just the facts.

I sickens me, but you have to respect that.

It becomes obvious that Sparacus is a kind of Mr Darcy of Outpost Gallifrey's Pride and Prejudice. Yes, he's not easy to get on with and someone you love to hurl abuse at... but he's actually not as bad as all lying bastards that you THINK you know.

Like my supervisor Carmen Fong. Now Carmen TERRIFIED me. I tensed every time she spoke, I lived in a shadow of her, I was certain she would be the death of me. In fact, it turns out she was totally trustworthy and good person to boot. I'm lucky to have known her. It was the Nice people I couldn't trust. The ones that stabbed me in the back.

The point is this. I think of myself as a kind of reasonable guy. I am not perfect - and anyone who says otherwise is lying, probably for comedic effect.

But I don't go round justifying myself by other people's actions.

Am I obsessed with Sparacus? Probably, but not to the degree I once was. I check out his blog to chat with others more than heckle him (and I'll stick to the writing from now on, though Martha's a grey area). Now I'm on OG, I give a look at his threads.

I don't have a fish person in my avatar. I don't quote Ben Chatham or Sparacus in my sig. I don't refer to him as the Emperor and dive into ANY thread Sparacus starts shouting "classic Sparacus" without having a single thing to say.

There are dozens of them. They flock around Sparacus like mindless parakeets, their conversation limited to quoting something from Spara and saying it makes them laugh. Anything else is insane and detailed criticism.

So yeah. What bugs me is they say "I'm not obsessed with Sparacus. God no. I mean, look at The Youth of Australia, HE'S obsessed. He has no life. He kicks puppies. Let's talk about him. Forget that I'm actually the point of the conversation, because I can get away with anything as long as I'm not him."

They say I have no life.


Have they looked? Did any of these godlike entities like Rich Flair, Veiled Prophet, Baroque, Sherringham or Johnstone666 look at me when I WASN'T heckling Sparacus? Be fair, people, it's not like I was mute the rest of the time. Hundreds of threads in the mythmakers, Ben Chatham free... Not a reply.

So, maybe, just MAYBE, I liked being noticed when I tried to rip Spara's throat out. Does it excuse my, at times quite unforgivable behavior? Fuck no. I deserved that banning, indeed, it should have happened about two days earlier. Because those last two days, I seriously calmed down. It was tragic.

What was the last thing the Youth of Australia did on Outpost Gallifrey?

He gave some advice to a writer, encouraged her to keep going and enjoyed her work.

Then he was gone.

And people forget. Not the important people, my friends, they remember, and I admit OG is a rather large place, so the huge "Where is YOA?" protests never happened. There was quite a bit of "we'll get you back, bro" posts at first. What hurt when I finally got in was not the protest failing, but it never happened.

And I was forgotten.

All bar these visigoths who visit Sparacus' blog.

They never post anything.

They just see a large number of replies and assume I've gone nuts. Go on, check out the latest installment of Spara's. Near thirty replies. Only one of them is from me about his stories.

Says a lot, huh?

So all these wonderful, well adjusted people who light up the room every time they bend over and despite wearing T-shirts with BEN IS CANON printed on them, who aren't at all obsessed with Sparacus and love him as you do an insane uncle...

...won't post in his defense.

But they will say I have no life, and am a total psycho.

Because I am obviously a nutcase. And that makes THEM better people.

Sparacus got me banned from OG. This is true. But I wonder if he ultimately did me a favor. Because I wish I was big and mature and rock-calm like Sparacus is, able to weather ANY insult to the point simply posting the word "irrelevant" is like a Ben Elton rant.

Why do I care what these people think?

Why do I care that half a dozen morons who tolerate "all chavs are scum" and "black woman good for nothing but cleaning" think I'M insane?

Why do I care when the few people whose opinions I DO care about already know these people are morons? It's not a new reader is going to go, "Oooh, YOA, he sounds like a nutcase, I will make it my business to hate him, because that seems fashionable."

Half these wankers don't know my name! None of them could pronounce it!

I should not waste an iota of brain power on these creatures that make their mothers weep at sharing the same genetic material.

But I do.

I dunno why.

I just do.

It upsets me.

ETA: Baroque turned up here, as you can read, and reminded me of some salient facts. For example, his criticism was non-specific and based on what he knew at the time. No name shame for him. It's not an apology (and nor should it be), but it would be stupid to ignore it. I leave his name in the post title because I put there in the first place, and won't pretend otherwise.

At the end of the day, I never hurt Spara's feeling and, you know, all in all, this is a good thing.

The OGers on the other hand, have hurt mine.

And what really hurts is that I doubt they care.

They're to busy being normal and non-obsessed as they start ever more Ben Chatham threads and petition 'the Emperor' to write for series 4.

If only I were that well-adjusted!!

Oh, yeah, and I've done a really long reply. Aw, poor little readers. I mean, reading more than buzzwords, what am I doing, inflicting this on you? With my drawnout, disgusting and obsessive analysis while actually foaming at the mouth. I'm just a lunatic. I should be locked up.

But at least, that makes the rest of you normal.


Gosh. Amazing how angry you can be before losing eight pints of blood, eh?

Still, balancing out that blistering vitriol three days later is

Incredibly Cool People I Know
(and I should point out that this was by means not a full list - otherwise Bernard Cribbins would surely have been on it if no one else...)

...and where they are now?

Julio Gomez - I don't know enough to say that Julio was a Type X personality, but he fitted into some category. Cool, smart, sophisticated, a guy who once worked out how many Smiths chips were in a packet, the ratio to cost, and just how much the canteen had ripped him off. I clung to Julio at primary school like a limpet mine, mainly because he was cool and I wasn't. At least, not as cool as him. Because of his intense social status, we lost touch before school was out. He looks uncannily like Craig Charles

Dale Hagstrom - my second best friend at high school, a long shanked rascal with a mighty nose, incredibly pale blue eyes and acne. He was also a hemophiliac, with a barrage of sisters and relatives that left me totally bewildered. Dale helped me get through school, overcome massive anxiety issues, and teach me incredibly filthy jokes. Last time I saw him was for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon after I got chucked out of university, and then his email address and phone number became invalid. Probably down to my negligence. Good on you, man. Hope life's treating you well.

Liang Li - the only person I've ever met who honestly deserves a badge for mathematical excellence. He is fucking brilliant and there is no halfway measure. A guy who can tell you Pi to ten decimal places without having to concentrate is clever. My best friend at high school, a very private person albeit one with a massive sense of humor and the sort of memory you wish could be a touch more loose now and again, since he's so bloody perfect. Ah, what fun we had. The recurring gags. He once told me I didn't exist, and was thus merely a product of my own imagination, which lead to about a three year argument on existentialism, which is pretty funny when you realize it was just an interesting way of telling me to shut up. Occasionally emails me, since he's so incredibly busy and successful, I can at least brag I knew him.


I've tried looking for them all on facebook you know. Oh well.

The next day was

Reviews: McGann Season A
(abandoned when it became clear Jared "Of What Consequence Is Blogging To Me?!" Hansen was doing pretty much the same thing, only much funnier, cleverer and quicker)

(aka "The Enemy Within" by Matthew Jacobs)

What is there left to say about the TV movie? I mean, I think there's no other story in the whole of Doctor Who that has been as dissected, analyzed and torn to bloody shreds as this unfortunate montage of action clips, BBC props and The X-Files. I think my opinions on the movie boil down to two simple bits of information:

1) If you edited out the start of the film, from Skaro to the fish eye, then dump it at the scene where the Doctor gets his memory back, suddenly the film makes so much sense it hurts
2) If there is another story that misses the whole point of Doctor Who so completely as this, it's by sparacus.

Having read The Nth Doctor and Regeneration, and having lived through the turbulent vacuum from Survival onwards, I know a fair bit about the gestation of the film, and the versions that were thought up before the one we can actually watch on DVD. The worst part of The Enemy Within is that is a Frankenstein-like hybrid of the corpses of previous drafts, jammed together with absolutely no forethought.

Why is the Doctor half human? Well, apart from some losers wanting to rip off Spock and make the alien hero 50% more acceptable to viewers, one proposed script (Father and Brothers) used that idea. But it was part of its plot - the Doctor's heritage drove the movie. It was why he was the only man who could save Gallifrey, why the Time Lords rejected him out of xenophobia, it was the whole theme of the film that diversity makes us stronger than isolation. OK, it would have Americanized, rebooted and probably ruined Doctor Who forever, but at least it makes sense! In the finished movie, why is the Doctor half human? Uh, dunno.

The Doctor babbles to Grace at one point that 'when he dies' he is capable of transforming himself into a different species, so no wonder fans in general just put the half-human down to a rather rocky regeneration - and why the hell not? Are we supposed to believe Segal's claim that the Doctor's human heritage is what keeps him drawn to Earth rather than say he uses a broken time machine that likes oxygen-rich humanoid-inhabited planets to land on?

Then there is the religious imagery. If a bunch of school kids notice that the newborn Doctor looks just like Jesus Christ raised from the dead, a Doctor who later ends up crucified with a crown of thorns by a bloke called the Devil by Grace, then it's fair to say this isn't an unintentional subtext. By why? Because earlier versions of the script had that as their core - the Master was performing the role of the Antichrist, raising the dead, performing miracles, luring Grace and Chang Lee from the Doctor's side as he uses the turning of the Millennium to create Hell on Earth.

In the fininished flick he just wants to leave, and accidentally destroys Earth because he can't be arsed to close the Eye of Harmony. In fact, the worst thing about the movie Master is not his strange slimy snake form, or his Terminator get up, but the fact is American. I don't mean, to quote the Master, 'the warkin and the tawkin', but that the character is the basic American hero: the Master is the rebel, the cool guy in the shades and the jacket, the one the establishment fears, the one that knows what he wants and can make you rich. What's the Doctor? He's just a courier, a man transporting the body of the cool Master to his homeland, and screws up. The Doctor is an ineffectual loser trying to stop the Master and considered insane by everyone. It's Grace who saves the day, not the Doctor, and the Master manages to get the last word in every sense.

"You want dominion over the living - but all you do is kill!"
"Life is wasted on the living."

Eric Roberts' performance is not bad at all and his desperation to stay alive is mixed with that cruel refusal to take things seriously that RTD picked up upon - just as the Master jeers at the decimation of humanity by playing Rogue Traders in The Sound of the Drums, here he puts on a Gallifreyan frock and a show and dance, to humiliate the Doctor. The only reason he doesn't kill Chang Lee straight away is to rub the Doctor's defeat in his face and, like their latest encounter, even the caged and beaten Doctor can fight back with words.

"What do YOU know of last chances?!"
"More than you!"

Awesome. No, the Master and the Doctor are some of the greatest parts of this flick, but everything beyond it is messed up. Why the hell did they make the huge church-library inside of the TARDIS? It's not exactly going to be easy to reconstruct for a potential TV series, is it? And does that look like a sophisticated alien time machine? As ever, it starts from Segal deciding he likes the Masque of Mandragora TARDIS control room, and letting it get out of control. Why does Chang Lee, a reasonably smart bloke, accept that the leather-clad, slime drooling corpse-stealing zombie calling himself the Master is better than the guy called the Doctor who saved his life? Because they've left out the bits where the Master brings Lee's uncle back to life, to earn his trust.

Look at Sylvester McCoy - he shouldn't be in it. The whole point of regeneration is to explain why the Doctor looks different to last week. He wasn't needed, and certainly could have played a bigger role in the story. In fact, would have been a crime NOT to kill him off? They had a professional actor used to the character and willing to do more than one movie, instead they get rid of him for the unenthusiastic McGann (who probably wouldn't have been able to do a TV series anyway).

Generally, people look at the abandoned drafts and quip "it's better than some of the stuff we could have got". Bollocks, what we got are the detritus from a hundred different stories. A show that can go anywhere in time and space is set in San Francisco in the future. Not even very far in the future, just four years. What the hell is up with that? Why is any of this happening - why do they set up a love interest for the Doctor when he just leaves her behind and gets on with it?

Ultimately, the movie itself is very well made, very well acted and atrociously written. Even today, fans idly suggest improvements (one of my favourites would be Ace being in the film - imagine it, she could sort out the amnesia sooner, and we can easily imagine the Doctor clinging to HER as she drives a motorbike through downtown San Francisco) and all of them stand. The only decent thing to come out of this was Paul McGann. Even the theme tune is rubbish and the logo isn't what you'd call inspired.

I'd also like to rant a little bit about Philip Segal. He convinced the BBC it was too much hassle to keep making the TV show so they should let him make a movie even though he had nothing. It then took him six years to finish the dross by which time no one was willing to buy it. Read Regeneration and the idealistic bloke who wanted to make every story as good as City of Death be determined to change the show into ANYTHING America would buy, and if that involved Harry Van Gorkum piloting an armoire-shaped TARDIS powered by the spirit of Borusa as they spent every episode looking for the Doctor's father, well, bring it on.

We were robbed when the BBC cancelled Doctor Who. We were saved when FOX damned the movie.

(aka "Shada" by Douglas Adams and Gary Russell)

Shada II (as I will refer to the remake) gets so much right and so much wrong. A lot of it is down to casting. The casting is terrible at times, adequate at others, and perfect occasionally. Let's start with Skagra. Shada I had Christopher Neame as Skagra, with his tiger-like eyes, duelling scar and hardly any dialogue. Despite dressing up like Elton John, this guy was scary. More than that - apathetic. No evil gloating, no psychotic ranting. Oh, a tragedy that he only gets one scene with Tom Baker on camera. As our hero does his idiot act and Skagra coldly announces in a zombie like fashion "Your mind is mine," it's suddenly serious. This guy is a villain that the Doctor can't bamboozle, deflate or annoy.

And they chose Manuel from Fawlty Towers to do it.

OK, it's a bit slack to treat Andrew Sachs like that. After all, on audio, a near silent villain was always going to be a problem, so it's no surprise this near grim reaper type super bastard with no dilogue suddenly won't shut up. But Skagra II comes across as a fussy, pedantic and ruthless git. He needs a slap. Skagra I would probably break your wrist if you tried anything, without even looking at you. When Romana is with Skagra II, you're relaxed, waiting for her witty barbs. In the one scene as Skagra I drags her to the TARDIS, you're scared what he'll do to her. It's entirely credible he could be the 'boy hero' the Doctor speaks so fondly of...

Then there's Chronotis. There is no doubt about it that Denis Carey's version is definitive, and if the little fellah were still alive, the new bloke wouldn't have got in. And this new bloke (whatever his name is) is rubbish. He plays the Professor as plummy, precise academic and not the senile anarchist he's written as. At first I think, "ah, this is just an act for the reveal to Salyavin"... but when Carey would no doubt have stopped pissing around and given a cold bastard Paul Darrow would have shrunk back from, this guy stays on the exact same level. We don't care if Chronotis II is dead, where I dare say the audience would have been right behind the Fourth Doctor as he bloodcurdlingly vows to avenge Chronotis I with "a little chat".

This monotone strikes Chris Parsons too. Now, when they were screening Waiting For God, starring Daniel Hill as the Idiot Baines, an unlikeable bastard like a non-smoothe Ben Chatham, I was unable to watch my copy of Shada. I couldn't bear to see the insufferable git playing an Arthur Dent/Duggan style everyday man, and it is true Hill is brilliant at portraying such bastards. But the rather bland character of Chris was enlivened by Hill's performance, from the mini-panic-attack in the TARDIS to his egocentric posturing.

Chris II is... that dude from Harry Potter. In a monotone. Loser.

Onto the good. Susannah Harker kicks ass into the next room as Claire Keightly, adding to the tissue-thin characterization by making her a clueless bike-obsessed eccentric - I can't really judge the original Claire, but she certainly looks cute. Sorry, there's not much to say, except on location with her hair up, she looked like Shiela Sabitini. Lalla Ward is twelve types of spectacular, managing to play an older Romana regaining her childhood so to speak, and John Leeson is so good you wonder why he wasn't in the video release.

Paul McGann is of course the most contentious part of the production. He is the one there NOT to equal/better the original performance and indeed he has to be a completely different person... while using the same script. And it works. Partially, this works by setting the story directly after the movie: the Doctor is fresh from San Francisco, psyche still settling down. A few Bakerish quips are acceptable, and yet...

...this script, in fact, Shada as a whole, seems best suited to the Eighth Doctor.

It features a tight cast of characters, a villain with an unusual plan, the cynicism of the Time Lords, some recognizable locations. If Shada didn't have its history in Season 17, you wouldn't be surprised to see it in the Eighth Doctor era. While Shada I was the perception flipping joke to end the funniest year of Doctor Who ever, Shada II fits easily in this era where the Doctor is a rather jaded smart arse...

"I know what you want to do, you old slyboots. You want to take over the Universe don't you? I've met your sort before. Any moment now a mad gleam will come into your eye and you'll start shouting 'the Universe will be mine!'"


"How naive, Doctor."

In Season 17, that would have been the shock moment. Here it is a reaffirmation that the world of Doctor Who is a tad more sophisticated - the postmodern cynacism of the Eighth Doctor being punctured in an almost traditional manner. The Eighth Doctor fits effortless into the scenes where he builds the mind helmet, where he issues instructions to Romana ("and twenty-thirdly..."), even down to his 'I'm dead' sequence which he's used since. The script seems to fit the Eighth Doctor better than the Fourth!

Ah, you point out, but that's perhaps because a certain G Russell rewrote it.

True. Bar the opening scenes on Gallifrey (oh, I wish they'd kept the bit where the Doctor bumps into Maxil, who still looks like Colin Baker), the only real changes to the script are minor - the most notable being a change of a scene where Skagra silently "noodles" a car driver to having an in depth chat about Ford Prefects. There are some improvements to: Skagra explains exactly WHY the hell there is a Krarg generation unit on his ship and WHY it would go nuts, and his altered plan to use mindwiped Krargs to conquer the galaxy rather than a bunch of extras like Lady McBeth, Rasputin, a Dalek, Genghis Khan, a Zygon, Bodicea and Cyberleader Kroton also works better too. In fact, the only problem is that chunks of the script rely on the Doctor and Romana being nobodies, not the famous individuals they are now - especially as the Doctor is visiting his OWN past, and Skagra knows that Romana is the President of Gallifrey... I'm confused...

The biggest change that sticks in my memory is the resolution to part four's cliffhanger. On TV, the overheating Krarg smashes the console, causing fumes that knock the Doctor unconscious. Chris drags him out and, taking a single breath, the Doctor dives straight back into the fray to rescue the scientists, not realizing they are already dead and Chris drags him back out. A stark, simple scene that awkwardly is replaced with the Doctor blubbering and K9 trying to reassure him that there was nothing they could do.

For those who haven't been arsed to buy the CD or watch it for free, a quick rundown of the plot:

The new Doctor has a nightmare about Chronotis and realizes that when the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9 visited Cambridge, they were timescooped and never got round to having that adventure. So, teaming up with Lord President Romana and her pet dog, they head back to 1979 Cambridge and discover Chronotis wanted them to return a Gallifreyan cookbook to the planet. Unfortunately, Skagra is on the case as well - and he wants the cookbook for the secrets it contains: the location of the Time Lord prison planet, where the mind criminal Salyavin is held. Skagra wants Salyavin's mental powers so Skagra's mind can take over every single person in the universe. As the Doctor, Romana and K9 struggle to find out what the hell is going on, TARDISes will be stolen, the dead will walk, logic will be disproved and relative dimensional stabilizers be built by resetting internet options...

... Wait, did I say 'cookbook'? I meant The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey.

All in all, Shada II is a success given the obstacles forced on it - not being part of the season it should have been, missing all bar one original cast member, the author dead, an audio version with the only animation cruder than Scream of the Shalka. I'd say it was impossible, but really, it's just very, very improbable.


(aka "Storm Warning" by Alan Barnes)


(aka "Sword of Orion" by Nicholas Briggs)

(Nuff said...)

(aka "The Stones of Venice" by Paul Margrs)

The Stones of Venice has to be my favorite story from Season A, one of the best Big Finish have done, and I now have the ridiculous self-imposed task to justify that opinion. Oh, why did I ever start this? WHY?

The Stones of Venice is the first story I properly listened to all the way through, which is ironic. Not only is this the very first story recorded by Paul McGann, there were plans that this would be first play to be released. This would leave us with a story where the Doctor has been travelling with Charley for ages, like the nightmare that is Season 23 - thank God they saw sense and gave her an introductory story. So this, technically, is an alternative origin for the dynamic duo - with lots of little nonspecific references to their time together, most specifically the opening credit sequence where the Doctor and Charley are bushwhacked when the rebels they've just helped overthrow the dictators turn on them.

Normally this sort of 'unseen adventure' really pisses me off - like Rose's alien trips that we only hear about to make Mickey feel small - and the idea that the Eighth Doctor, the George Lazenby of the Time Lords, was having adventures that WE the FANS who pay MONEY for this are not getting EVERY minute of the Time Lord's time stream!

I'm not so fussed about it now (I barely blinked at the later revelation that years passed between Shada II and Storm Warning with two specific companions) but at the time this mindless fury was curiously lacking. I was enjoying the scenes so much it didn't matter. The one thing that still baffles me is the way the Doctor 'suddenly' thinks of Venice as a destination. The way it's given such emphasis made me wonder if this was some kind of trap, or maybe the Doctor had unfinished business in the city, but... no. Guess it was just a coincidence, mainly because the Doctor seems to love the place.

Unfortunately, the TARDIS arrives with its impeccable timing around twelve hours before Venice finally sinks beneath the waves. However, as he and Charley learn from the amphibious gondoliers, Venice's imminent destruction is due to the curse laid over the city by Estella, the wife Count Orsino pissed off majorly a century ago - and since the curse has kept Orsino alive all that time, it seems credible.

Now the Doctor and Charley are caught between the various factions - the Cult of Estella, who believe they can revive her corpse to reverse the magic and save the city; the gondoliers, who want to make sure the city sinks; Count Orsino, who wants forgiveness; Elenour Lavish, who is mightly pissed off; and a bunch of revellers who just want to have one last amazing party.

Leading the cast of notables is Michael Sheard, a guest star who makes this more like TV Doctor Who than anything else BF could provide; Nick Scovell, famous for pretending to be Patrick Troughton in fan films and Destiny of the Doctors; uh, that Druid chick from Stones of Blood; Mark Gatiss talking in a mighty stupid voice; and Barnaby Edwards who appears in every story this season bar the movie.

Paul Margrs is renowned for being bowel-shatteringly insane, and inflicted upon the world Iris Wildthyme, an annoying old woman who pretends to have had adventures like the Doctor and is generally an incredibily irritating stalker. Not many people would realize that Paul Margrs was boasting about The Stones of Venice in a short story in DWM magazine where the Eighth Doctor and Iris argue about canon, continuity and generally lots of other smug, postodern bitching. Issues later, Paul McGann was starring in that exact same story the Eighth Doctor was brooding over. Creepy huh?

Stones is, however, determined to stick to the format of Doctor Who. Four episodes, one location that's stuck to, understandable characters, a strong plot for the regulars, an underclass, monsters, a countdown, easily-visualized locales and shapes, and some cool music. But Stones doesn't just do that, it cheerfully muddles the lines between science and magic, the Eighth Doctor for the first and last time in Big Finish is able to read the destinies of those around him like he did in The Enemy Within, characters note how strange and dreamlike it is - and it's obviously a deliberate decision to make 23rd century Venice a place where they've only just worked out the telescope. It all works well bar perhaps the gondoliers. Inspired, perhaps by that idea for a Doctor Who movie set in Venice with the Sea Devils attacking, the idea is that somehow Venetian gondoliers evolve gills... but no one really notices. Okay...

Russell Stone's score is something else. I mean, I actually remember who did it. The cool, lapping waters, the church bells, the echoing halls - for the first time in Doctor Who, it's a location I'd actually want to visit. The people are interesting enough to meet The music is great, especially the upbeat insane music as the Doctor laughs, "And as the world ends, it turns COMPLETELY upside down!" but minus points for the shrieking revelers sounding absolutely identical to the dying denizens of Castrovalva.

The plot is brilliantly placed, with the characters driving the plot onwards and the seemingly comedic Orsino genuinely being mad... like Hubert Farnsworth with a chainsaw... he's rather disturbing. The way they all turn and gang up at the Doctor for shaking up their foregone conclusions is brilliant, and the disturbing ending of the story - as the Doctor affirms his friendship for Charley - is even creepier when you realize the subtext was probably never intentional.

Oh, mighty RTD, I beg you to write a story where David Tennant bangs his head and has a flashback to this story, allowing Paul and India and Venice onto the screen. Since you rip me off so often, surely for once you can pay me back by adapting this truly brilliant story as one of the 2009 specials?

... please?


(aka "Minuet in Hull" by Alan W Lear and Gary Russell)

Minuet in Hell would be the last time Big Finish would so nakedly rely on the Audio Visuals to get them out of a hot spot. Previously the range had spawned movies (More than a Messiah, Conglomerate), books (Deadfall), and remade audios (Sirens of Time, Last of the Titans, The Mutant Phase, Sword of Orion), but no more. Bar a few Drudgers in Dalek Empire...

...wish I knew where I was going with that.

Next up, on the 23rd of November was...

Have You Betrayed Us, Chris Boucher?
(Abandoned when blogger ate half the review, plus I was very, VERY drunk at the time, having stumbled out of one of Chris Hale's Kingswood orgies...)

Have YOU... betrayed ME?!

A while ago on bit torrent I stumbled across one for the whole series of Star Cops. I knew nothing beyond the logo looking suspiciously like Blake's 7, it was set on a space station and Trevor 'Takis' Laird was in it. And that it was all done by Chris Boucher.

So, I did what anyone sane would do and downloaded the first episode.

I know as a rule pilots suck but this...


Like the ripple of the water sends a message to the shore
So I will know forever after I will miss you more and more
It won't be easy, no, it's won't be easy without you, no no!
Reach across the stars, let them know you're with me
Reach across the stars, send out the word, let them know what can be
Send out the word, I will remember you...

In the shelter of the moonlight, in the shadow of the sun
In the silence that's eternal, days are passing one by one
It won't be easy, no, it's won't be easy without you, no no!
It won't be easy, no, no, no, no!

The music that kicks off the show has to be the most inappropriate sci-fi theme ever. It sounds like mid-80s new romantic will a yodelling Dennis Waterman over an endless bass guitar, which would be camp for some safe yuppie situation comedy and certainly doesn't match with the montage of space suits, spinning Earth and superimposed lunar landscapes. The music is AWFUL. If this were on TV, I would have changed channels before the credits ended.

Of course, Sapphire & Steel had a theme tune which sucked the metaphorical donkey balls, so let's give it a chance past the credits... except the music keeps going! More and more and more of it! And title: An Instinct for Murder... it sounds like Rob Shearman's Juliet Bravo episode Burglary Most Foul. Terrible!

And our futuristic sci fi drama starts with... some random WASP going for a morning dip in the lake, white flab concealed only by a stripey pair of swimmers and a white hair net. Meanwhile, in space, some astronaut goes for a space walk around some vaguely decent false perspective model superimposition. The guy swims. The astronaut floats. Two more astronauts appear. The guy swims, when two nutters in scuba gear attack from the bottom of the lake and drag the guy underwater till he drowns. In orbit, the two astronauts grab the first, wrestle with him a bit and muck about with his backpack. The stricken astronaut raises his visor so you can see him screaming and them limply float off. Meanwhile, the other dead guy floats in the water.

Er... ok...

Finally the music ends and we see a different guy. A bald guy in some office that has futuristic decor like a Whitbury Newtown Liesure Centre office, with a crude back projection wall screen, obsessed with building a model of what is either a giant ant or a lunar module. This is Nathan Spring - which I found out by checking the credits. And, er, well. He's in charge of something vaguely like the police, chatting to a bustling office by video phone. The drowned guy has been located and all the cops are waiting for their 'machine' to work out what to do, but Nathan (something of a luddite) wants them to get off their organic arses and investigate the death properly.

You know, I remember the first time I ever saw Blake's 7, the episode Rescue by Chris Boucher. While the mechanics of the situation our heroes were stuck in wasn't immediately clear, at least their personalities were. I could tell people apart and there were spaceships and monsters and interesting things happened. In this it feels like two shows are jammed together, one on the space station and on Earth.

Speaking of the Allied Pacific Consortium space station Coral Sea, we see a black 'Hey, Honkie' type of guy called David Theroux floating unconvincingly around doing his 'Star Cop routine'. He floats past a very mellow, cynical bloke who doesn't have a name. Theroux thinks it suspicious that some Italian named Viscotti died on a space walk and thinks it bears further investigation, while shrugs it off and plays with some retard's idea of a computer console.

"It's the law of averages!"
"I don't trust laws that I didn't vote for!"

Refusing to deal with apathetic smart alec (who seems to be losing a game with about using Magnificent Seven quotes), Theroux contacts a typical yuppie bitch Kenzy. Kenzy is an Australian inspector with a gambling habit and rather more interested in winning a game than the fact there seems to be a slow massacre of all the people living off world on moonbases and the like. Charming. I can see how she got her job. Theroux demands she stop 'jerking him around' but she insists that she 'isn't a Star Cop for love' and then they start arguing about the available Commander post... but I'm lost as to who is line and who actually wants it. A spinning NASA shuttle docks with the space station.

There's confusing and there is confusing. And this is just... dumb. It's incredibly unengaging too.

Meanwhile, a guy who was Sir Robert in Black Orchid tells Nathan that 'the machine' has made its decision over the murder case (they still haven't even told us who the guy was or why anyone would kill him) and if Nathan thinks different he can go suck on a hamster! The machine says it wasn't murder and the Black Orchid dude hangs up. "Bastard," says Nathan emotionlessly to his now blank table videophone and then gets his tricorder/Orac type personal computer to arrange a date. The computer - not voiced by Pete Tuddenham I regret to say - points out that Nathan's girl prefers to have her boyfriend actually book dinner for two, to show he cares. But it says this in a stilted Data-type voice that kills the comedy inherent.

"Shut up Box," says Nathan with the same lack of emotion. Can this guy actually act? And he named a computer Box? What the hell?

Nathan jump cuts to the office of his boss, the Black Orchid guy, who points out that the budget won't stretch to investigating something 'the machine' says is accidental death. Nathan, for about the sixth hundred time, says the Machine is wrong, but gives absolutely no reason for saying that. Apparently he's Chief Superintendent and gets paid to say the Machine is wrong a lot. Industrial reforms, I guess. The Black Orchid guy then starts bragging about his own computer, tuned to his particular brainwaves and reflects his bucolic/relaxed, which is so random not even Nathan can keep up. Right there with you, buddy.

Finally, Boucher seems to just give up and it's wall to wall exposition. Nathan, never satisfied with his job, applied to join the Star Cops (well, actually, that's not true, but his boss is in denial), but it seems that Star Cops has folded (not surprised, the opening episode is shit) yet Nathan is being sent to join them. I am reminded of Hot Fuzz at this moment. But that's because it's entertaining. If my computer was reflecting my mood, it would be on screensaver at the moment. Bor-ring. Oh look, Black Orchid dude's computer has gone on screensaver...

"I'll withdraw my name, straight away."
"Not a good idea. A very bad idea in fact."
"Well, in the first place you're the only Brit left. It wouldn't look good to pull out before the final adjudication."
"Well, I didn't realize that it was an event in multimedia sport. Tell me, do I wear a sponsor's logo?"

Meh. Pausing only to defend the crappy name Star Cops (it's a newspaper headline that's stuck, and Interplanetary Space Police Force is the proper, never-used moniker), Nathan is promoted to Commander, the job Theroux and Kenzy, er, referred to. Despite Nathan's monotous screams of protest, he has no choice. So an impotent loser who doesn't like outer space. What a fantastic central character. Ben Chatham of the stars.

Nathan decides to investigate the murder scene and Box lamely points out he's got a hot date tonight. There then follows the kind of cop show scene as the hero runs through the facts with his second in command. Except his second in command is a box of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Boucher tries to make Box slightly interesting, and he slags off Nathan's choice of restaurant, but the Rac is not threatened as the coolest computer in existence. Or Holly. Hell, Mr. Smith is still up there compared to this "cheeky sod."

Up in orbit, the model of the space station seems to fall apart. No, wait, that's a spaceship detaching and shooting off into the void. OK.

"Have a nice day, comrade."
"You know, they hate to be called comrade."
"I thought 'Have a nice day' would be an irritating touch, too."

This tryhard Avon/Vila wannabe who still doesn't have a name is finally concerned about the murders. Cause he has to do unpaid overtime and not enough sex. My hero.


I'm off to bed. I might review more past the first fifteen minutes later. After a day of seafood, modern art, computer crashes and Chris Hale and his battalions of hot chicks wearing only body paint and wandering around in public, this just isn't interesting enough to hold my attention.


Over a month later, I brave Star Cops once more.

That bit makes a bit more sense now. The guy who was murdered was murdered in such a way that the computers would automatically assume it was an accident, so there's some kind of cool conspiracy going on - by "cool" I mean, "holds the attention for more than a second". Kenzy was up for the job for Commander and was actually asking Theroux if he knew who the winner was... but I still don't know so many names.

And the modelwork is shocking. I mean, OK, it was the best at the time, but I think they should have gone Blake's 7 and simply describe space stuff off screen. It's not half as embarrasing.

So, Nathan is sent to work with the Star Cops who are... not doing much. But murderers are on the loose.

... sigh...

Play on!

Back on Earth, Nathan learns that the dead guy's wife isn't too upset. But this is apparently not worth mentioning. So... why mention it? Apparently widows never grieve for their husbands. A bit sexist, methinks, but maybe Boucher's trying to prove a point. Assuming he cares. I know I'm struggling. I'm surprised that Nathan has video conferences with the police station while getting dressed. Where's the hot female DI when you need her? And why in a future of video phones, pocket computers and space colonies are we still wasting paper to print news?

"What was the reaction when you turned up at the house?"
"Well, she was surprised. She didn't think we made house calls any more. Bit embarrassing really."
"Well, because we don't!"

My god. Nathan refers to the desceased as "the fellah"! Not even he knows the name! And he's supposed to be the cop!! Mind you, he's better than his second in command Brian, who is completely baffled by every single question Nathan asks. I mean, this is major league stupidity here. This lot are making Torchwood look like... someone very clever and effective. Anyway, the WASP Fellah was a very predictable old git who collected time pieces - several of which have gone missing. The fact Brian volunteers this information pretty much screams "HEY! REMEMBER THIS!"

Suddenly... we're in a dimly-lit restaurant resembling Nathan's apartment with some people and candles... with Nathan and his floozy. Eating with chopsticks. Nathan reveals his entire justification for his belief the WASP Fellah was murdered... because he is automatically gainsaying the Machine. That's hardly an argument. No, wait, fading into Monty Python. Must stay here.

"Not very rational."
"The beginning needn't be rational. Just so long as the end is."
"You know, it's starting to sound as though you're selling instinct the way your dad used to sell computers."
"You mean BECAUSE my dad used to sell computers."
"The Freud of the Fortune cookie, that's me, huh?"

Turns out the floozy (an annoyingly familiar-looking woman rendered invisible in 80s hairdo and pearl earrings) explains she doesn't actually like the restaurant, maybe because it looks just like her boyfriend's house. I'm not actually criticizing the character by calling her a floozy, just using that to identify her since NO ONE USES EACH OTHER'S NAMES!! So, Nathan is revealed to be a completely clueless stubborn git with no instinct whatsoever who like banging on how better he is than machines. Maybe Chris Boucher is a penname for Mark Gaucher, since this screams Chatham more than it does Kaldor. OMG! They're chatting about kinky handcuff sex over the dinner table! GAH!! Oh, no, now she's talking about serious commitment and job opportunities! BACK TO THE SEX! Oh, no, she's making a scene. It seems Nathan fears settling down with a woman, and he still hasn't told her he's been seconded to deep space - and he better considering the floozy is screaming her biological clock is ticking. The demands for instant reproduction do not interest Nathan, presumably as he only uses the floozy as a distraction for his hidden homosexual shame...

Save me from this proto Chatham!

Back to Theroux, who is breaking the rules by checking the air supplies for space suits to see if they are damaged. But they aren't. And we know that since we saw the murder and KNOW it's not an accident. That's eighteen minutes to find the first clue of something we already knew. Instead, Theroux and Sarcastic Bastard are chatting about a floating chip packet.

Back to Nathan, who has drawn the venetian blinds and used a back projector to create the most pathetic 'office hologram screen' I have witnessed. It seems Nathan is being interviewed via communicator by a panel of uptight Germans, Wops and Yanks about his suspiciously quick promotion. And then they start bitching at each other... What is it FOR?!? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE WORTH ALL THIS?!


For the record, Star Cops does get better.

- to be continued...

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