Doctor Who: The Great Detective (Christmas Special Prequel).

TV Poor Doctor. Looking like a grown up Artful Dodger or a refugee from the BBC's adaptation of Bleak House, Eleventh looks none too happy here having apparently retired after the "death" of the Ponds. Unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time in his millennial history the Time Lord's wanted to seek the quiet life. In the 90s, various novelists established that he'd bought a house in Kent (notably seen in The Dying Days) for just such an eventuality, and the Sixth Doctor was seen in, Time & Time Again, an anniversary comics story about the Key to Time having solidly decided he just wants to be left alone with his fishing.  Plus there was his side steps in The End of Time, though they were less about retiring and more about sowing his oats.  Again.

This is pretty dour stuff for a Children in Need minisode, the slot which previously brought us the joys of The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, Born Again and Time Crash as well as innumerable trailers and the teaser to The Next Doctor.  It's not a complete story exactly, functioning as a kind of bespoke trailer in the mode of the Trainspotting productions, a hint at upcoming attractions.  Not having been watching the television when this went out I'm not sure how it fit into the run of the programmes.  Certainly the buffers, with Matt and Jenna (the -Louise seems to be silent) must be designed to keep the atmosphere upbeat.  They're funny too, with Matt in full Pat mode, and there's an obvious chemistry between them which should be dynamite in the actual programme.

If anything The Great Detective works as another back door pilot for a Vastra spin-off and presumably we'll all be clamouring for more after the Christmas episode goes out too.  Isn't this just fun?  These are great characters and it's lovely to see that Strax survived, unless this is set before A Good Man Goes To War which given Moffat's propensity for non-linear storytelling isn't entirely unlikely.  Hopefully the Christmas episode and the resulting spin-off also enjoy a voice over from Mark Gatiss with a wavering Scottish accent as he recounts the Conan-Doyle stories which won't fit into Sherlock re-engineered with fantasy elements (some of them not really requiring much work).

Now, here's the trailer for the actual episode, The Snowman:

I'm still going with my theory that Oswin and Clara are two facets of the same character, scattered through time ala Scagra and the Key and that the Doctor will either accidentally keep meeting them or be motivated to gather them all up and make them whole. It would be nice for him to simply be travelling with her though in the typical mode.  One of the problems of the last five, was that the jiggery-pokery required in each episode to explain why the Ponds are travelling with with that week.

But then, I've developed the opinion that they should have left properly at the end of The God Complex and everything else after that, with the possible exception of The Power of Three, was a creative team not wanting to let go some characters which had well and truly been finished with, not unlike Logan in Veronica Mars who hung around and around for three seasons despite his story having come to a natural end at the close of the first.  We'll return to this subject some other time I expect.

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, issue #7.

Comics Another month of Assimilation2 and some more of my low expectations have been conclusively met. When I visited Forbidden Planet to buy my ordered copy today, it was the first occasion when I genuinely considered giving it back, but the cover with its TARDIS flying into the battle of Wolf 359 promised so much and I had to add something with this month’s Buffy so that I could pay by debit card (transactions must be over five pounds) that I decided that yes, it was probably a bit too late to back out now. Like Torchwood’s Miracle Day before it, there’s a certain point when despite all logic to the contrary about there being too few hours in a human life to be spent not doing things you enjoy, you just feel like you need some form of closure.

The cover, as ever, is another misrepresentation of the contents. In reality, the TARDIS spends the battle of Wolf 359 parked in a conduit in Locutus’s Borg cube while the Doctor showing a surprising knowledge of Star Trek’s mythology apparently thanks to a conversation with Picard, offers another synopsis of The Best of Both Worlds to his companions over several pages, along with a philosophical discussion on the wherefores of the Borg’s collections (huh, he, huh huh, he said bondage) and why he can’t interfere in the action due to it being a fixed point in time, presumably because he’s travelled back from the resulting continuity even though in relation to some other stories that makes little sense.

Rarely during this conversation does the Eleventh Doctor sound like himself apart from calling the Ponds, the Ponds. He’s generic Doctor again offering big long speeches which could just as well be Commander Data (who to be fair I realised whilst reading this was the analogous Merlin/Gandalfy figure of Star Trek: The Next Generation, unless it’s Guinan – I’ll get back to you on DS9, though it’s probably Odo). As I’ve discovered from the Eighth Doctor novels, the most successful writers are able to produce dialogue which automatically makes your imagination recall the sound of their voice without much work. At no point does this big speech sound like something Matt Smith would say.

It’s worth nothing that for a few issues now, one of the other story elements, the Doctor’s memory changing to suit the Roddenburyverse hasn’t warranted a mention. Instead of suggesting Picard was the source of this information, we might have expected that the Doctor’s new found knowledge is the source of his expertise in Borg technology. Either this has been forgotten, been resolved and I hadn’t noticed, or it’s never going to be dealt with which seems most likely considering this thing only has twenty-two pages to run. This was just the sort of structuring that sunk Torchwood’s Miracle Day; huge story ideas which seems like they’re going to fuel episodes worth of material quickly forgotten and not mentioned again.

After they return from the Borg sortee, we’re back on the sodding Enterprise for another seven pages which basically exist to rationalise why the ship won’t be able to catch up with the CyberBorg and they’ll have to travel in the TARDIS. The writers obviously have pacing in mind here and to be fair they are chock full of character related moments, the Doctor pretending Amy and Rory won’t be coming, Riker asking Crusher if she can have a go at deBorgifying his friend (which at this late stage just seems designed to remind the reader that Beverley still exists) and Worf giving an astonishingly long speech about the modifications he’s made to the guns they’ll be taking so that the Doctor can offer his objections to them.

This section demonstrates how wrong headed the storytelling has been in this entire series. The key scene should be Data entering the TARDIS for the first time; indeed of all the characters, his reaction is the one that should be savoured, since like the Doctor, he’s the one who experiences everything with a child-like wonder. The writers piss it away in three frames, one of which doesn’t even feature the android. The art’s fine, with a rendering of Data from Encounter at Farpoint (I think), but given the amount of pointless exposition the reader has to endure elsewhere, it’s a shame that the writers haven’t realised that it’s these moments we fans of both franchises cherish (it’s why there’s a special feature on the dvds called “moments”).

Thence to the Cyber-Armada for the infiltration and an eight page action sequence as Worf and the Ponds are separated from Picard, the Doctor and Data as they fight their way through the ship. This isn’t such a horrible idea, and under normal circumstances, there’s plenty which could be done with the Amy and Rory’s reaction to being attached to a warrior who’s still firmly a hero, contrasting the Doctor who might fit that broad description (cf, A Good Man Goes To War), but whose methods are completely different. Except as I said earlier with just twenty-two pages, there simply isn’t the space to explore this fully. The most we get is the Klingon convincing them to carry a gun (that’s not how we roll, hey Amy?).

The issue ends with the Worf and Picard separately swearing in their own language at the sight of many CyberBorg, with the TARDIS’s translation circuit conveniently malfunctioning and as though they’re surprised that having landed on one of their ships that there might be a few of them on board. In rendering the CyberBorg, the artists have gone with the Borg eye-piece over a standard Cyberman shape which is fine, but doesn't live up to their grotesque potential. The artwork in general is better than usual, though it’s becoming increasingly possible to identify the publicity shots being used as reference for the Doctor. It’s the one from the 2011 annual cover! It’s the shot of the Doctor looking worried from The Eleventh Hour!

Well, I for one am desperate for this to finish, except the other night reading Allyn Gibson’s predictions, I had the horrible though that this all going to end on a cliffhanger, the final frame being the Enterprise-D in the Whoniverse surrounded by Daleks in space. Or more Cybermen. Chatting in Forbidden Planet earlier, I heard that this farrago is one of their biggest sellers and given IDW’s propensity to hammer any relatively popular idea into the ground (the many Angel spin-offs), it seems unlikely they wouldn’t return to something which is actually shifting a few issues. But are any of those buyers really enjoying this? Do they think it’s amazing? Or are they like me just wanting to see if it can sonic some deus ex machina from the incisors of a Vulcan Le-matya beast.

"Bilbo, allow me to introduce: Fili, Kili; Oin, Gloin; Dwalin, Balin;Bifur, Bofur, Bombur; Dori, Nori, Ori; and the leader of our company,Thorin Oakenshield."

Dance with Adam Curtis.

Film  An experiment in pictures and music:
"I have always been fascinated by the way music can completely change the way you watch film - and how you feel as you watch the images.

For the last year or so I have been collecting all sorts of footage of people dancing that I found in the BBC archives. In all I gathered over two thousand shots culled from all kinds of programmes. I then cut some of them together to music by the wonderful 70s German band Neu.

I think it gives a sense that we are all together in the dance."
"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin, dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in, lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove, dance me to the end of love."

The Last Resort.

Books  In theory, Doctor Who is the ultimate expression of the time tourist genre, the TARDIS an extremely comfortable coach on a package tour into infinity.  Except Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder and Kilworth’s Let's go to Golgotha are cautionary tales against interference, whereas Who, for much of the time, is an active argument for intervention, so long, as the Doctor is keen to point out, you know what you’re doing.  Paul Leonard’s The Last Resort confronts that genre communication head on with a bit of a head-scratcher that’s sometimes baffling, sometimes brilliant.

The story begins in the middle.  The Fitz and Anji are investigating the Good Times travel agency which is taking tourists back in time to the more interesting parts of world history, Ancient Egypt, the Wild West, the Tudor period, that sort of thing.  Except they’re treating them like modern destinations, creating resorts with time ports, hotels and modern infrastructure and on the assumption that it isn’t their own past have created instabilities in the timeline which are apparently allowing travellers form other dimensions to fall through too.

Except some of that may be true, because after a couple chapters the novel begins again with, identical chapter numbers, some of the same action in a slightly different order, as we see the many deaths of one of the interlopers, Jack, an amateur teenage time traveller from Mars whose intervention we assume must be one of the reasons this reality is in a mess.  There’s also Iyeeye, a Leela-like primitive with time sensitive gills who also manages to throw herself back through chronology into this mess, everything creating ripples, ripples, ripples which lead to the destabilization of time.

In other words, this isn’t a novel with a beginning or middle and only a hazy notion of what a conclusion is for.  In places its rather like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel in order (which is a surprise given what I said during my History 101 review) or watching Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams with its complicated flashback and flashforward structure as we’re forced to piece together what caused this mess, what’s motivating the characters and understand why there are multiple versions of our heroes running around.

The obscurity of this is purposefully increased by Leonard’s decision to provide the story from the point of view of the Jack and Iyeeye or the Doctor’s companions none of whom are entirely privy to the Doctor and Sabbath’s plans (yes, he’s back) and exactly what’s happening and why.  It’s a brave move but often incredibly frustrating, as though a much longer novel has had all of its more important exposition and action chopped out which sometimes has the effect of making this reader concentrate so much on each scrap of information, he forgot to become involved in the story.

So like an Alan Renais or Andrei Tarkovsky film, you let actions and images wash over you in the hopes that some of it will stick and make sense.  In places, whole chunks of text are repeated which is a great way to fill pages but never quite seems skippable since the author obviously wishes us to notices the subtle differences between.  We’re also unsettled by the non-appearance of the Doctor for half the novel too.  Seems strange to have a Doctor-lite episode in text form, though it does increase the climate of fear.  Perhaps I'm a traditionalist, but I like my Time Lord front and centre unless production requirements work against it.

For all that, did I enjoy The Last Resort?  Bits of it.  The idea of the past literally becoming another country to be visited is a good one,  But it’s also strong enough to have been used in a story with far less complexity than this and so the implications of it aren’t really explored to their fullest extent.  It’s the image of a train running through a pyramid stretched to its fullest extent.  The time cops too, patrol officers summarily killing interlopers from other universes is also an untapped seam.

A passage in which Anji notices reality shifting around her as she attends a meeting is also extremely impressive, with board members snapping in and out of existence entirely unaware of it themselves and the skyline of the city outside shift and changing like a giant architectural block puzzle.  It’s an occasion when a scene which could not be easily created for television, at least on a television budget and with short a tiny shooting schedule is described lucidly without resorting to the dense surrealist language which can often infect this series.

That’s also true of the climactic scenes when thousands and millions of TARDIS, all with Doctors, Fitz and Anjis begin appearing in one place for various reasons ala the final moments of the Parallels episode of Star Trek The Next Generation.  Again, I wish there was more room to investigate the ideas, there’s certainly enough for another novel, especially with it’s The Girl Who Waited questions of sacrifice and whether it's ok for just a select few, some unique examples to survive, thrown together from different versions of the TARDIS from different timelines.

The hitch is, with so many versions of the different characters throughout the book, and without a single viewpoint character, it’s nearly impossible to work out who we’re supposed to sympathise with, whose story it’s supposed to be.  As Battleship Potemkin demonstrates, situational drama with multiple protagonists is fine, but when we’re already familiar with those protagonists but we’re not sure if the versions we’re with are the same as the ones we’ve been following.  Unlike The Girl Who Waited, they’re identical.

On screen, visual clues would provide some clear delineation between the Anjis and Fitzs but on paper it’s all very confusing and perhaps it’s supposed to be, but Leonard seems to forget that as Steven Johnson explains in Everything Bad Is Good For You, even the most complex television needs some informational "flashing arrows" to keep its audience orientated.  Now that I think about, perhaps Leonard does mean for us to follow a single Anji and a single Fitz, but we’re disorientated because the author shifts to other versions rather a lot.

So in the end, as with the rest of this alternative universe arc, I probably endured it more than enjoyed it and as with the rest of this alternative universe arc the best moments are when Trix wanders in (because it has to be Trix), is entirely charming to whoever she’s bumped into and the novel feels like it’s being written by someone else, arguably a more superior writer (Is that possible?  Did Justin Richards add these passage afterwards?  Or rewrite just as a story editor might on television?).  I also love the moment at the end when it’s hinted the Doctor knows all about her presence.

I’ve a little bit to wait, just a couple of days, before I can read the next book, Timeless, and I do want to read what happens next.  In the real world, these books had entered by-monthly publishing ironically just as the new television series was announced and I am aware that some of the past Doctor novels which filled in the gaps are connected to the EDAs.  I’d thought about reading the relevant ones, but decided to leave them for a different project and another time.  I’ve only nine EDAs left and I want to get them read before Christmas …

Reckless Engineering.

Books  Might as well be honest.  I’ve been sitting here for a bit trying to work out if I like Nick Walters’s Reckless Engineering.  Not as long as when I’ve just seen a television episode, a thought void which often lasts several hours before I throw a couple of thousand words at the screen, but long enough to realise that I don’t really have an opinion other than that noise that Simon Mayo makes when he’s been asked by his cohort Kermode on Radio 5 what his opinion is of a film he thinks is average while its still under review embargo and he might have to interview an actor whose connected with it for the following show and isn’t aloud to form actual words.  Hmmerrrhmmm, nyer.  Something thing like that.

As contemporary reviewer Finn Clark points out, there tend only to be two different types of alternate realities, the totalitarian regime and the post-apocalyptic horror and after The Domino Effect’s attempt at the former it is a bit dispiriting that we’ve plunged into the latter so soon and just as David Bishop covered all the tropes of the former almost the point of recreating the Worm that Turned from The Two Ronnies (which was set in 2012), so Walters gives us almost every element of the other genre, with religious zealotry, medievalism, cannibalistic mutants, cannibalistic outlaws, morally ambiguous leadership and a technologically superior class (albeit embodied by a single person) who has all the answers.

At least, unlike The Domino Effect, when faced with the (alternate) reality of this, the Doctor and his pals grok the situation immediately and have the conversations they should have been having at the top of the previous two books.  But there’s a sense of déjà vu as they’re dragged through this new world, into Totterdown near Bristol, the main town in which the story is set with its muddy, rundown architecture and fruity-smelling population though in fairness the author describes such things with relish, especially the inn where they spend the evening.  The drinking holes in these novels are always vividly drawn for some reason.  The author says he lives in the real Totterdown, “it’s nothing like the place described in the book”, he says in his bio, “(except on Saturday nights).”

As the cover indicates, it’s the point of divergence, which offers some variation with the introduction of some celebrity sparkle in the form of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who unwittingly is one of the catalysts towards the world’s destruction and finds himself as temporary companion for the Doctor as he works to set the timeline straight.  He’s rather in the position of HG Wells in Timelash though; the story doesn’t particularly pinion around him, he could in theory be any Victorian philanthropist, though it’s nice that Kenneth Branagh’s finally been given a part in the franchise (at least in the version I had playing my head).

I expect my main issues are as follows.  Firstly, the story arc continues to be a mess.  Now we’re back to something akin the mission outlined in Time Zero, with the Doctor attempting to put histimeline back in primary position but there’s now a hint that the threat is from real world quantum physics with an infinite number of timelines threatening to collapse in on themselves.  Or something.  I don’t know.  But neither Anji or Fitz seem on board with the mission, complaining that it means that none of the people they meet and become friends with will continue to exist, even though Anji’s main goal is to return to her own 2003 in her own universe.  Sometimes.

At various points both Anji and Fitz turn against the Doctor for his treatment of the people he meets some of whom in theory die at his hands as he pursues his goal channelling his earlier self in some respects, and although it’s true he comes across as a bit of a heartless bastard, as he says they wouldn’t have existed in the first place if the timelines hadn’t been interfered with.  The greater good and all that.  To an extent that’s a problem for the reader too in relation to our enjoyment of the novel since none of the characters beyond the TARDIS team will have more than a conceptual happy ending.  But in series fiction, characters don’t tend to return anyway so we shouldn’t necessarily be worried about temporal bloodbaths, but we do.  It’s odd.

If you thought that last paragraph was confusing you should try reading the last hundred pages of this book which is chock full of Moffatesque time paradoxes and temporal engineering and the Doctor conveniently forgetting which universe he’s in and universes collapsing and various versions of characters running around and trying not bump into one another (in ways which make Mawdryn Undead look as simplistic as a strip in TV Comic).  Even as I write this, I’m still not sure how things resolved themselves though I think it involves something akin to the paradox machine in Last of the Timelords.  I can follow River Song’s timeline perfectly well but not this and it’s all written down.

Apart from Brunel, none of the characters are that interesting either.  There’s a Brontesque object of desire called Aboetta, who spends much of the novel trying to decide if she’ll stay with an expositional poet, Malahyde who’s the other reason for this apocalyptic world or one of the security guards at Totterdown in what amounts to an even muddier version of Wuthering Heights, an outlaw priest whose as mental as Owen Teague in Torchwood’s Countrycide and a rabble of similar humans.  Even Fitz is rendered a bit blandly, becoming part of apocalyptic world and forgetting the Doctor, Anji and his adventures in the TARDIS but not for long enough that when he returns with his memory split in half we can really understand his existential crisis.

Yet, oh yet, there are many worthwhile moments.  At a certain point, Anji and the Priest find themselves trapped in a dying reality that seems to consist only of a beach, a cliff and a florescent sea and Walters perfectly captures their hopeless loneliness.  When a younger Malahyde becomes lost in the TARDIS, he meets a luminous girl who takes case of him who’s otherwise not appeared in the story who I’m betting is probably Trix stowing away and biding her time in what’s probably my favourite scene of the book (and funny how that happens).  Plus there’s a genuinely exciting action sequence in the remnants of Bristol when the mutant cannibalists attack and our heroes become separated.

Plus the reason for apocalypse is logically thought through, with everyone on Earth forced to age forty years leading to only the children surviving in adult bodies and those lucky enough to have something like an education passing down what understanding they possibly have from an 1840s education.  But again, like The Domino Effect, I would have liked to have seen how this panned out globally or out in the universe.  Like that previous book, it's almost as though these events have existed in isolation and no consideration is given as to how the Cybermen might be interested in a planet like this Earth which could barely throw up much of a resistance if it wanted to storm in a steal the minerals.

In the end I’m still just sort of well yeah hum.  It’s not awful, it is at least readable, there’s some nice character business here and there, the story joins itself up even if it doesn’t really hold together at the end, it’s just sort of, well, yeah, hum.  Perhaps the characterisation of the Doctor just rubbed me up the wrong way.  It is odd how reckless he is with human life, at least one death happening in such a way that we’re not sure if he knows his volunteer isn’t going to survive and although it’s brave to throw the moral quandary in the reader’s face, it does seem strange that the author engineers his story so that this TARDIS crew are divided in a way which is similar to the New Adventures.  At least there’s no Sabbath in this one.

The Domino Effect.

Books Oh goodness. If The Infinity Race squandered an excellent cliffhanger, The Domino Effect gives the impression that its author David Bishop failed to get an important memo. The novel opens just as we might have expected the previous novel might. The Doctor and his companions stopping off in Anji’s present of 2003 only to discover that reality has indeed changed with Britain having become the kind of totalitarian regime that might ensue ifs some of the Daily Mail’s core philosophies are followed through. Except, the Time Lord, Anji and Fitz walk around as though they didn’t experience parts of Time Zero and particularly the conversation in the epilogue and that being an alternative reality is entirely unexpected.

Having said goodbye to her friends for apparently the final time, again, Anji decides that since the TARDIS has, typically, landed in Edinburgh instead of London that she should look for her contemporary pal Mitch as his place of work. When she visits her place of work and finds a crater, does she begin to suspect that she’s in the wrong reality still? No, she tries to ask the locals for directions. When some of the people are horrendously racist, does that offer a question mark for her? No. When she notices that everyone is wearing out of date clothing? No. When she tries to pay for a newspaper and the seller won’t accept her money? No, not at all. When she’s told she can’t fly to London from Edinburgh? Nope.

For fifty pages, Anji is made to stupidly wander the streets of Edinburgh faced with evidence that reality has changed, something which would have been entirely obvious from the moment the TARDIS lands and at no point does she even countenance that the reason they’re still using old money is because reality wasn’t put right at the end of The Infinity Race. At first, it seems as though the author is offering a satirical commentary on how some people in the London assume that people north of the M25 all live in a time warp, with Anji communicating a few barbs to that effect. She even wonders if the TARDIS has deposited her in the wrong time despite all evidence to contrary.

Brilliantly, the Doctor Who Reference Guide's synopsis tries to rationalise this by suggesting that the racism she encounters is so awful (which it is) "that at first the other anachronisms and bizarre comments fail to sink in" which isn't what happens and still doesn't excuse the sheer level of obliviousness involved not least because of everything the character will have seen in the previous two years worth of books.  She's not early Dana Scully.  Her rational brain doesn't simply reject anything which can't be explained, like the fact that she's apparently the only Asian in Scotland.  When she decides to go and catch up with Fitz, despite what the DWRG says, it's because she doesn't understand what's going on, not because she's realised the timeline's still wrong.

From there, even after having eventually met up with the Doctor, at no point do they have a conversational follow up to Time Zero about what Sabbath has done to the universe and what they’re going to do about it. The Doctor at one point even says that they need to find out when the universe has diverged so they can travel back in time and put them back on track, which makes no sense in relation to his Time Zero conversations about there being multiple universe. After about a hundred a pages of this, I even went off and grabbed Time Zero and reread the final few pages just to make sure I’d misunderstood what was said. No I hadn’t. These characters have contracted collective amnesia.

How could this have happened? Someone reading this might even know and I’d be interested if you want to contact via social media or in the comments. Bishop can't have written this entirely in a vacuum since it mentions events in Siberia and the Absolutes of the System from History 101 and he thanks the other authors in the acknowledgements.  Presumably the book was read by the editors before publication who someone didn’t see the discontinuity. A have a few guesses. The publication order of the novels changed, ala The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors in season 6 of nuWho, but there wasn’t time to make the necessary rewrites. There was a publication gap of three months between this and The Infinity Race so the editors could have decided that the ongoing premise needed reintroducing in case new readers were coming on-board, ignoring the fact that the methodology makes no overall narrative sense.

All of which said, I still enjoyed The Domino Effect because I tend to enjoy alternative history stories anyway, from Marvel’s What If? comics through to Sliders.  I've even written my own.  Although it takes a few hundred pages for the protagonists to cotton on, it’s not much of a spoiler to indicate that this Earth suggests what might happen if computers hadn’t been invented or at least the technology was suppressed. No internet, no credit cards and televisions and radios still utilising valve technology. Without easy global communication, the British Empire is still ascendancy and immigration is at a bare minimum. Women have lost the right to study or wear trousers. So although it means there’s no Mail Online, like I said, philosophically it’s a Mail reader’s dream world.

Except it’s also dystopian in its clamping down on dissident thought with Fitz captured and sentenced as a terrorist for a bombing in a café (ala The Battle of the Algiers film) that he didn’t commit. The book’s been criticised for being pretty clichéd in this regard, but it’s still shocking to see the UK twisted into this ultra right wing fundamentalist vision, with Kreiner hauled in front of a television camera to confess to the crime. For all of its weaknesses in story arc terms, there’s an engrossingly realistic approach to Fitz’s treatment which sharply contrasts to the usually jokey approach the Doctor and his companion have to being captured on most days where its more of a means to an end.

There are anomalies. This Earth apparently exists in the universe where aliens haven’t been invading the planet for its entire lifespan, so there’s no apparent need for UNIT, something which again isn’t mentioned, though its implied that one of the characters is some twisted alternative version of the Brigadier. What life is like outside of this Britain is a bit fudged and the idea that computers have been suppressed successfully across history isn’t quiet justified through the included flashbacks since it doesn’t take into account what might be happening in the Far East where population ratios would sure dictate that someone would develop a computer eventually outside of Babbage or Alan Turning.

Sorry, yes, forgot that. It’s also a celebrity story with the return of Alan Turning much as he was in The Turning Test, still played in my mind by Derek Jacobi. Much of the novel is spent explaining how he managed to survive albeit in captivity and is pretty poignant though it does lead the Doctor to turn into Picard in Yesterday’s Enterprise and start questioning if he has the right to change the timeline back even though as has already been established this is just one timeline of many and it's simply that they’re in the wrong one, or that the wrong one has muscled in and taken a-list status. Or something. Frankly, if Time Zero made all this seem perfectly lucid, The Domino Effect has confused everything again.

There are a couple of good twists, a few narrative dead ends (who is the attractive woman with the red hair supposed to be? Compassion? Trix?) and an eye-rolling moment which then becomes another decent twist. The action sequences are exciting and lucid (two things which aren’t always the case in these novels) and Bishop has an excellent sense of geography with the reader completely aware of their orientation in both Edinburgh and London, despite the variation livery in both cities. Even the pubs are real. At one point the characters visit the Lord John Russell and here it is on Google Street View.

Throughout the book, I rationalised that the collective amnesia had been a thing.  The Doctor also experiences fits, which seemed to indicate that the three of them were physically and psychologically being interfered with in order to misunderstand events. Instead in the babble intensive finale they were revealed to be something else, something wrought by the mystical being controlling the timeline via a Star Chamber populated by John Le Carre characters. So at the conclusion, instead of remember their real mission, they simply restate those mission intentions albeit in a slightly skewed manner and now I’m left in a state of confusion and regret. Oh goodness.

The Infinity Race.

Books  Thud. Or rather plop. After the incredibly momentum built up in recent books, Simon Messingham’s The Infinity Race brings the series down to Earth or since its set on a planet containing mostly water, sinks it. It’s probably unfair on the author, whose produced what under normal circumstances is a pretty serviceable bit of Doctor Who to suggest that it's as catastrophic a failure as Escape Velocity at the anti-climactic end to the EDA’s Earth arc or New Earth on the heals of The Christmas Invasion, but after the brittle masterpiece of Time Zero it’s such a pity to have to struggle through what amounts to a precursor, in tone and content, to some of the mid-range nuWho spin-off novels.

The presumed sequel to the previous novel would have been for the Doctor and his companions to immediately find themselves mixed up in an obviously alternative world, perhaps a different version of Anji’s present. Instead, the model boat is a clue which invites them to the planet Selonart, a water world where huge luxury yachts participate in a trans-global regatta where they’re immediate faced with apocalyptic explosions, the loss of the TARDIS and an increasing awareness that Sabbath is still attempting to unify the timelines on an epic scale. With Earthers enslaving the locals because of their unique navigational abilities, Messingham is also commenting on colonial attitudes.

So we’re presented with a story which might as well be taking place in the primeline, give or take a military organisation which we’re told doesn’t exist there. This isn’t uncommon for this line of books. When the lost Sam arc began early on, the next book along, Legacy of the Daleks, was an unrelated jaunt to Earth post-Dalek invasion, revisiting the older Susan. On television, we’re still awaiting an explanation of how silence will fall when the relevant question is asked. There’s an element of stringing out the audience, or in that case, the reader, except in his case, we’re meant to accept that this is the natural continuation even ending on a note which suggests that Time Zero’s cliffhanger has been resolved. What? Like this? I hope not.

Perhaps if Messingham had stuck to a single story idea, the results would have been more enjoyable. But having set up the infinity race, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s merely cosmetic and that the eventual cosmic experiment which provides the antagonist climax could just as well have been supported by a base full of dodgy scientists (you could even argue that The Infinity Race overall is simply Kinda at sea). The author’s clearly well researched his marine vehicles. Wouldn’t it have been fun to have the goal of the Doctor and his companions actually be geographic locations, perhaps racing against Sabbath in his submarine. The cover of the novel promises much in that regard.

There are other problems. It’s a relatively short book, with larger font size and expansive line spacing, but it curiously took as long to read as others thanks to the authors decision to write half of it in the first person from the metafictional points of view of Anji and Fitz for no particularly good reason and in with neither of them sounding entirely correct. Both seem to have lost a few IQ points since the last book, and although some of the contemporary references are about right, Anji’s attitude is more akin to when she first stepped on board the TARDIS. At the close of Time Zero she seemed to have embraced the adventure. Now she’s moaning about wanting to go "home" again.

This Eighth Doctor too sounds surprisingly generic, floating between Third (he calls Anji “my dear” at least twice which is just wrong) and Fourth and although some of that could be attributed to him being seen from his companion’s perspective, it also occurs in the third person sections. It’s a testament to how well-defined this multi-media version of the character is that when an writer doesn’t quite seem to capture his voice, it’s as obvious as in one of the past Doctor stories. He too is less sure of himself than in recent novels. Messingham also seems to suggest he’s still only got the one heart when its been established triumphantly in the past two that his other one’s grown back.

The book could also be at the epicentre of explanations for why L. Miles is so critical of the treatment of his creation Sabbath, of the character becoming a Master knock off. His appropriation of help from a race of Warlocks smacks of similar joint ventures with especially the Delgado incarnation (Autons, the Daemons) as does their sudden but inevitable betrayal. He’s disguised again. The Doctor’s treating him as some great rival or adversary. He’s monologuing. While it’s a treat to have an antagonist for the Doctor who isn’t the Master, it has to be remember that he isn’t the Master, even if he has a single goal once again rehearsed through here. He’s an apparent human from the eighteenth century. I hope there’s going to be more about that.

I genuinely hadn’t meant to be quite some mean when I began writing this. There are some good elements. The realisation of the cube-headed alien species, the Selonarts is an interesting Kiplingesque variation on the usual xeno-biological approach to Who aliens, their simplistic English paying off well at the end. Indeed the realisation of the world, the differences between the light and heavy water which layer the biosphere, the descriptions of the plasticy resort work well. But there’s just something about the writer’s style which I didn’t enjoy. To be honest, perhaps it’s as simple as being addressed as “folks” by one of the Doctor’s companions. This version of Fitz just doesn’t seem to fit the one writing the journals in Time Zero. Yes, perhaps it’s just that.

Lydia Corbett profiled.

Art Lydia Corbett was a real life example of the character Marion Cotillard played in Woody's Midnight in Paris, one of Pablo Picasso's favourite models, abeit later in life than he appeared in that film. The Lady Magazine has an entertaining profile with comparison images:
"I knew what a very great artist Picasso was, but at the time I was a shy, naive girl and very afraid of men. He wanted me to pose in the nude but I refused as I was too nervous and modest. He was hoping I would say yes but I never did. So he painted picture after picture of me with the ponytail, in a variety of styles, from realistic to cubist to more or less abstract, over a three-month period."
That ponytail was copied by models and girls alike, even inspiring Brigitte Bardot.

How to cook the perfect fried egg.

Food ... or at least Felicity Claoke's version of it:
"Frying obviously involves adding fat – that's why it's so popular. Bacon fat is the traditional choice in this country, and still advocated by Delia, but very few of us eat enough of the stuff to have any around: I often use it if I'm doing eggs and bacon for breakfast, but although the flavour's good, it does make for a messy looking egg. Delia also suggests substituting groundnut oil, which creates the opposite problem – it's clean, certainly, but deliberately neutral tastewise."
No one fries them quite like my Dad.  Or cooks bacon.  He's very good at breakfasts in general.

The Accuracy of US Polling.

Politics Nate Silver takes a hindsight look at which polls were most accurate in the US election.  He finds that most of them overestimated the Romney vote, especially Gallup:
"It was one of the best-known polling firms, however, that had among the worst results. In late October, Gallup consistently showed Mr. Romney ahead by about six percentage points among likely voters, far different from the average of other surveys. Gallup’s final poll of the election, which had Mr. Romney up by one point, was slightly better, but still identified the wrong winner in the election. Gallup has now had three poor elections in a row. In 2008, their polls overestimated Mr. Obama’s performance, while in 2010, they overestimated how well Republicans would do in the race for the United States House."
One wonders if there isn't a correlation with the 1992 UK general election when the Tories scraped another win despite the polls suggesting everything would be going Labour's way.  In the analysis, it became apparent that the public were embarrassed to admit they were voting Conservative and either lied or simply refused to take part, a kind of Obama version of Shy Tory Factor.