Matt Smith

Good Characters Go to War

River Song (Doctor Who)

Yesterday, I watched ‘A Good Man Goes to War‘, and I like it. No, I love it. For some reason, it works as an episode introducing the new season (or at least the second part), piles on new characters like they’re going to be relevant (which they haven’t been until the 2012 Christmas Special) and progresses the story of River Song by leaps and bounds (which for some might be a turn-off, by I have always loved the River Arc and have the hots for Alex Kingston).

As a roleplayer, the episode stands up as a great model for starting a campaign. You get a pretty solid story, a pile of new characters, an immediate challenge for the characters to face, and an ongoing quest to latch future adventures off. You have rich back story potential in the Madame Vastra, for example, or Strax – aliens who have lives that work against the norm. Sontaran Strax has a penance to serve, set by The Doctor, and he does his best to keep to his word. He vows to punish and defeat everyone once he had served his time – but plods on helping and healing in the meantime. Like River Song, his story ends here – but we know that much has come before and we have glimpse some of that in the 2012 Christmas Special.

The brief appearance of the Cybermen provides the chance for action and explosions without needing to get them directly involved. The presence of the Cyber-fleet adds to a cinematic quality. I found the whole episode felt like a film more than an average episode of the series. When you felt like you’d reached a conclusion toward the end, they tack on a little bit more than supplies a necessary twist that would drive through the rest of the season.

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All the Daleks Here Now

The New Paradigm Dalek

The New Dalek Paradigm

I did sort of hope that all the Daleks would have made more of an appearance in the ‘Asylum’, after all the hoo-haa about getting hold of older models. Indeed, I didn’t feel we saw enough older Daleks – of which plenty must exist amongst promotional groups. How many conventions have you visited on the geek circuit to find a Doctor Who look-a-like, TARDIS and one Dalek or another, generally of the old grey or black variety? Why couldn’t they use some of those, especially when the Doctor ventured into Intensive Care. Surely, all those Daleks should have conformed to the pre-golden format.

Personally, I got excited about the presence of the Special Weapons Dalek in the trailer. Admittedly, when it appeared originally – in “Remembrance of the Daleks” – it had very little screen time in action; the ‘Asylum’ seemed to effectively relegate to the status of scenery. I guess that they didn’t have the inclination to sort the innards out or something – refurbishing the tricycle or whatever. Maybe the Health & Safety standards associated with people working inside Daleks have become tougher – and the BBC didn’t want to dish out for the upgrade. In the old days, you could stick a couple of trolley wheels on the edges and tell the guy to get on with it. Now, they probably want remote controls, mini-bar facilities, breaks… the whole Savoy treatment.

I’m shocked that so little investment seems to have been even made in the use of theĀ iDaleks from ‘Victory of the Daleks‘. Didn’t Moffat intend for the new purebreed Daleks to become the standard for his tenure? Using the RTD golden Dalek model just seems a little bit lazy.

“We spent all this money making the golden Dalek model for Season 1 of New Who – and I don’t think we’ve quite got our monies worth yet. Hey, let’s wheel out the gold ones and have a few of the iDaleks in the backdrop. Maybe let the white iDalek speak a bit, for diversity reasons.”

I felt that the CGI wide shots could have done more to include older models – would it have harmed anyone in the least to have added a few classic Daleks in the ‘big picture’ view?

I’m sure they do have a genuine excuse – maybe the Terry Nation Estate agreement doesn’t extend to the older models? Maybe I should have watched whatever Confidential episode might have followed the episode (did they do one? I didn’t check… Have they dropped those, too?).

I do some research and get back to this subject…

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Magic of the Angels: Review

Magic of the Angels. Jacqueline RaynerMagic of the Angels by Jacqueline Rayner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Quick Read can easily just slip by in a single sitting. At the end, you might feel the urge to go out and read more of an author, or you might be inspired to read another and another. A Quick Read done well provides a somewhat self contained tale that has a distinct beginning, middle and an end – and presents them with style, energy, enthusiasm, engagement… one or another, several or all.

Somewhere in the mix, ‘Magic of the Angels’ tells a self-contained tale with all the necessary elements, but fails to satisfy with depth and leaves the reader wanting without the hunger to seek out more from the same source.

Having read other books in the Quick Read series for 2012, I have seen how you can achieve some interesting things in a very limited page count. Jacqueline Rayner doesn’t quite pull it off here. The Doctor, Amy and Rory seem right enough, with just enough character to match the expectation of a fan reader or young Whovian. However, perhaps a little too much fan service and rolling out of familiar series tropes makes for a distraction rather than an essential dollop of colour.

I enjoyed the basic plot, but felt that the human villain of the piece might have been given more background to better sell the reader on his intentions. His callouse indifference to the fate of his victims in the pursuit of his own selfish purpose would have benefited from a deeper sence of his hurt or battered vision of the world.

The author makes great use of the abilities of the Weeping Angel, drawing in elements from all appearance of the monster in the series, but fails to provide motivation or thorough explanation. The story fails to explain why the Weeping Angel chooses to submit to external control or feeds with such limited quantities. The canny Angels have survived for so long for a reason, yet this one seems dulled by captivity and indifferent to the possibilities of escape presented by the situation.

The familiar time travelling characters work well enough together and we get the expected division of companions from the Time Lord for hi-jinx and a threat of sudden and premature demise. I can’t pick holes in the essentials of the story, or indeed have any wish to try, but the end result left me feeling mildly unsatisfied. Everything hung together, but it felt thin, like using one of those vacuum-sealed micro-tubs of strawberry jam to spread across a whole piece of steaming toast. You get a hint of flavour, but not enough.

I went in for the whole luxurious Belgian chocolate experience and came away with a thinly coated, store own branded, diet wafer snack. Quick Read, by all means – but, that shouldn’t mean skimping on the story.

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Let’s Kill Hitler

Personally, I loved it. I loved the setting. I loved the sets. I loved the characters, including Mel. I loved the man-ship full of little people. I especially loved the people on Twitter who seemed upset about the throwaway use of Hitler and the retconned appearance of Mel.

I mean, what?

All of River Song’s history has had to be retconned into the series – she’s a character who knows the less about the Doctor the more he gets to know her. How was she ever going to be anything other than a bit on the retconned side of things? You couldn’t expect someone to have thought about the possibilities and mapped out the character in advance. Get too carried away with that and you would have tainted the series that came before, because they’d be full of inexplicable red herrings that you couldn’t quite account for and wouldn’t appreciate until later on.

Isn’t it enough to feature the first appearance of River’s Diary. And the throwaway comment about Temporal Grace for the fan-boys out there who always need a little bit more attention.

And Hitler? Honestly… in the series that last year included Churchill and the Daleks, do you seriously imagine that Hitler in a cupboard will be an end to this? Hitler did have an angle on mysticism and ancient relics of unimaginable power – and Churchill had a hankering to acquire the Doctor’s TARDIS for the good of Great Britain (and, no doubt, mankind).

So, stop whining and luxuriate in the moment. Mel regenerating into River Song. River coming to terms with her curves. A little nod to David T. in the clattering and muttering about the change in teeth. Crop circles in Leadworth. Classic German motorbikes. The return of that Big Hall in Cardiff that they seem to do everything in from Pompeii to Void Ships to meetings with Silurian elders and more besides. Could you really rattle on and bemoan the fact that you can’t quite account for something or it didn’t seem right when you have no clue quite where Moffat’s current intentions with the story arc lay?

Dear, dear me…