Doctor Who The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter

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Stephen Baxter’s The Wheel of Ice is a Doctor Who novel featuring Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor along with his companions Jamie and Zoe.

They arrive unexpectedly (as usual) in orbit of Saturn at some point in the 21st century after the Tardis detects something wrong with time. The Doctor and the others find themselves in need of some rescuing and arrive on a human space station constructed around a small moon where humans are mining a rare substance.

Some of the people are immediately suspicious of the arrival of the Doctor because of instances of sabotage on the Station, although the young people there blame the presence of unseen ‘blue dolls’…

Eventually the Doctor discovers what is living in the heart of the moon and the exact nature of the mysterious blue creatures.

Baxter is one of my favourite science fiction authors and has a reputation of thinking big with the plots of his novels, for example working with greats spans of time.

On the other hand Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor is probably my favourite so I was understandably curious as how the two would mesh.

The first thing to say is that Baxter writes very much in his own style familiar from his other novels, plus the plot is not all that dissimilar from the types of books he normally produces.

For me this gave the book the feel of a Stephen Baxter novel that the Doctor has wandered into, which to begin with was slightly jarring. But once I got used to the book it became an enjoyable enough novel. I though that Baxter did a good job with the ‘voices’ of the Doctor and his companions.

I enjoyed the various references to previous Doctor Who adventures from Troughton’s years on the show such those involving Daleks, Cybermen and specifically the Ice Warrior story The Seeds of Death which this novel must follow.

There are also some references to The Mind Robber and some allusions to the Silurians who would appear the following year in Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor. I have a feeling that Baxter enjoyed some quality research time with some DVDs!

Overall the book a very enjoyable return to a classic era of Doctor Who. I’m now looking forward to Alastair Reynolds’ take on Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor and Jo Grant.

Parade’s End Episode 1

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Ok, it’s a few days late but here are a few quick first thoughts about the first episode of Parade’s End.

Beforehand there were quite a few comparisons with Downton Abbey, no doubt brought on by the fact that both shows are, well, set around the same time period.

Because that’s it. That’s the only point of similarity. The are both set around 1912. That’s it.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed Parade’s End. It started a little slowly, with the exception of various naughty scenes of Rebecca Hall doing naughty things. Those inclined can have a peek at the iPlayer.

We meet Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Christopher Tietjens who is unhappily married to Rebecca Hall’s Sylvia. She’s off having a fling and he heads off with his friend McMaster for a game of golf, even tough he clearly detests the game.

And then things pick up because two suffragets invade the golf course.

Seriously.

My mild interest in the episode picked up in a moment. Suffragettes invading a golf course. That’s just sheer brilliance. It makes me want to read the (very long) source novel by Ford Madox Ford just to ensure that the scene is indeed in there.

Tietjens encounters Valentine, one of the suffragettes (played by Adelaide Clemens), again later at a dinner attended by a wonderfully barmy Rufus Sewell and for reasons I won’t go into ends up spending a night with her on a horse and cart. She’s everything that Slyvia isn’t and when they part the next morning you can tell he’s been affected by the encounter and is perhaps realising how deeply unhappy he is.

All the cast do good work. I’m looking forward to episode two, even thought the likelihood of more suffragets invading golf courses is unlikely.

Doctor Who Series 7

The Doctor, Amy and an old actual 1960s Dalek!

Just a quick word about Doctor Who series 7 which arrives on our screens on Saturday 1 September 2012. Well, five episodes of series 7, and that’s our lot until Christmas.

I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers but I can’t help but be aware of the fact that the first episode contains zillions of Daleks.

(Which is nice, but it’s charming how the old show managed to have about three trundling around the corridor and you imagined it was, if not zillions, then at least a good dozen. I was watching Genesis of the Daleks at the weekend and it was great to see Davros appearing for the first Time before he got overused.)

I believe that episode five of the new series features the Weeping Angels (go watch Blink right NOW!) and is the last episode for Amy and Rory. Sniff.

New companion girl arrives on Christmas Day.

I assume we get the other eight episodes at some point in early 2013.

You can expect more ramblings from me about Doctor Who things over the coming weeks.

Alastair MacLean – Four More Cover Scans

Since finding some of the Alistair MacLean Fontana paperback covers from the 1980s a few weeks ago I’ve been keeping an eye out for more of the series. I’ve found four more so it’s time for some new scans.

The four books in question are Night Without End , The Way to Dusty Death, The Guns of Navarone and a particular favourite of mine, Ice Station Zebra.

Star Trek Starships Partwork #1 – Enterprise-D

The day after issue 2 of the Star Trek Starships partwork arrived I finally got issue 1, the Enterprise-D from Star Trek The Next Generation.

This is the best of the first three models as far as I am concerned. It’s a good size and there’s lots of detail on it, including the trademark “aztec” pattern.

As an added bonus it wasn’t broken!

Star Trek Starships Partwork #2 – Enterprise Refit

A week or so ago I got the second issue of the new Star Trek Starships partwork featuring the USS Enterprise Refit from the first three Star Trek movies. Below you can see some photos I took of the model.

As you may notice in the first few photos the model was broken. I have contacted the partwork people and they have promised a replacement. In the meantime the model is displayable on the stand.

The saucer section seems to be made of metal while the rest of the ship is made of a very light plastic. The light plastic does allow an “engines lighting up” effect.

The model does seem to be bluer than I would have thought it should be and the detail is a bit minimal. Combined with the fact that the model was broken it’s all a bit disapointing.

False Friends by Stephen Leather

I’ve been meaning to do more book reviews for the site. The only thing is lately I’ve not done much reading. Having just read the new Stephen Leather thriller False Friends it becomes an appropriate choice.

I first discovered Leather’s books back in 1993 when i read the paperback of The Chinaman. I enjoyed it enough that I read must of his output through the 1990s. Since then I have only dipped into his books occasionally.

His new book features his recurring character of Dan Shepherd, who is a former SAS soldier, former cop, former undercover SOCA agent and now is working for MI5. The series features Shepherd going up against organised crime and terrorists.

False Friends begins with a recreation of the US special forces mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistani. Shepherd is along for the ride, which does seem a bit unlikely to me. He’s there as an observer because two young British men supplied the information about bin Laden’s location, which I though was an interesting rewriting of history.

Back in London Shepherd is keeping an eye on the two men, who were being groomed for a terrorist operation but reported to to the authorities. They are waiting to heard the details of the terrorist plot, at which point it can be halted.

Meanwhile Shepherd is called onto another operation where he has to pose as an arms dealer. A pair of men with right-wing connections are looking for a large number of AK-47 style weapons.

I did think that this other job would link up with the terrorist plot but I was wrong. Frustratingly we never discover what the men wanted the weapons for.

Eventually the terrorist plot starts to unfold and Shepherd has to try and stop it in time. Leather is good at the Spooks-style action with people back at MI5 headquarters watching surveillance footage as agents are deployed in the field.

Leather writes simply and effectively. If there is a sliding scale going from the nuanced and stylish writing of Gerald Seymour to the ‘Hard Man’ SAS novels, as I call them, then Leather is somewhere in the middle.

False Friends is entertaining enough but i did feel that everything gets resolved a little too conveniently. I think I would suggest new readers should start with an earlier book in the series. Otherwise it’s not a bad way to pass the time.

The Bourne Legacy review

I saw this movie last night. Here are my first thoughts.

I have to admit to a lot of curiosity about how they were going to make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. The choice of Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross was a good choice for a new agent as he’s got his Hawkeye-from-The-Avengers and Mission Impossible credentials sorted.

The movie opens with Cross in Alaska doing various tough and manly things as part of his training programme. We also see him popping pills which apparently he needs to function.

Meanwhile the events of The Bourne Ultimatum are playing out and Edward Norton is trying to minimise the damage that the demise of Treadstone will do to another programme called Outcome. He decides to pull the plug and kill his agents. Seems a bit drastic. Couldn’t he have just called them all home? Well, I’ll go along with this.

There’s quite an effective scene with a predator drone aircraft hunting Cross in Alaska. The filmmakers are certainly acknowledging the ubiquity of the use of these weapons in modern warfare. Still, Cross is badass enough to take it out.

Meanwhile Rachel Weisz is a doctor at a pharmaceutical company that is Connected-To-Outcome. As the Outcome agents are being eliminated you can be sure the doctors who refined the drugs are also on the list. There’s a suitably shocking scene where the doctors are killed and only Weisz survives.

Aaron cross eventually appears and teams up with the Weisz character in a quest to get the drugs he needs.

Now,there’s some good stuff here. There’s good individual scenes. Some good action packed stuff. And lots of scenes with people in rooms talking, but in interesting confrontational ways. But it’s still people in rooms talking. A lot. And also scenes wi Aaron Cross and the Weisz character talking a lot. And the Weisz character in hysterics.

Towards the end of the movie the pace was, well not flagging, but my interest was, well, flagging. I though: ‘There’s been no car chase yet. These movies do brilliant car chases. I want a brilliant car chase.’ And about one minute later there was a pretty effective motorbike/car chase in the streets of Manila. Ok, not bad.

And then it’s over. And for two hours the overriding thought in my mind was: ‘This isn’t bad, but…’

But what? The lack of Matt Damon? Paul Greengrass? I don’t know exactly, but something was off. I never felt quite engaged with the movie. Somehow the movie was less than the sum of its parts.

In fairness I remember being slightly disappointed by The Bourne Supremacy the first time I saw it, but that was only because of the hype causing unfulfillable expectations. Going back and watching it on tv I can enjoy it a bit better knowing what to expect.

Perhaps the same thing will happen with The Bourne legacy. But for now it’s the prime exponent of what I call a three star movie.

Batman No Man’s Land

I’ll start with some spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. Without going into too much detail for a chunk of the movie’s running time Gotham city is cut off from the outside world and some Bad Men take over. Right, you’re all up to speed…

After seeing The Dark Knight Rises I was reading some online forums and I saw a reference to a story called No Man’s Land naming it as part of the inspiration for the movies plot. I wasn’t familiar with the story so I looked it up. It turns out that in the late 1990s there were some big storylines featuring Gotham and the extended Batman Universe. The premise picqued my interest and figuring it was worth a look I ordered the first of four trade paperbacks.

The story starts after a cataclysmic earthquake has hit Gotham city and rather than fix things the government decides to evacuate the population. For whatever reason a lot of people stay behind, either because they are unable to leave or unwilling to leave. The city is declared No Man’s Land. And Batman is nowhere to be seen.

It’s not long before the city is divided up into different gang territories and the only way to tell which side of the border you are on is to watch out for the latest gang graffiti. Commissioner Gordon and some of the GCPD stayed behind and they control a small part of the island. The story starts with Gordon wanting to spread the influence of the GCPD ‘gang’ further into the island and he is willing to set rival gangs at each others throats to do it.

It’s a long collection featuring something like 22 different issues. There is little overall story arc at this point. Instead we get lots of individual stories, all with the theme of moral compromise; What are you willing to do to feed yourself or protect your family?

One of my favourite storylines features Huntress who discovers the Scarecrow has been given sanctuary in a church by a priest who is trying to protect his flock. The priest believes the best of people. Scarecrow believes the worst. Then the priest is manipulated into doing a deal with the devil to feed the people in his care. Will Scarecrow be proved right?

Eventually Batman returns and has to learn to play by Gotham’s new rules. He also discovers there’s a new Bat in town…

Overall I enjoyed the collection enough to order volume 2.

Parade’s End

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I just discovered this today and I’ve filed it under “might be worth watching”. The BBC has made a five part period drama called Parade’s End based on four novels written by Ford Madox Ford in the 1920s. I don’t know much about Ford other than he co-wrote at least one book with Joseph Conrad.

What brought Parade’s End to my attention was a photo of the red-headed lead actress in period dress. I couldn’t quite remember who she was but I knew I had seen her before. Then I discovered it was Rebecca Hall. I’d only ever seen her with black hair, hence the confusion. Well, I like Rebecca, so I’ll be watching.

The lead actor is none other than Benedict “Sherlock in Sherlock and also in the next Star Trek movie” Cumberbatch. The series is set in the Edwardian era covering the First World War and suffragettes, etc.

Episode 1 is on BBC2 on 24 August.

You can read more about the series at http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/mediapacks/paradesend/

 

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