Nigel Robinson’s Hunters of Earth.

Audio Destiny of the Doctor is the main trunk of AudioGo’s celebration of Doctor Who’s fiftieth year, with monthly releases, one per Time Lord, curiously co-produced with Big Finish with a vaguely connecting story. On paper, the paper being the preview pages in Doctor Who Magazine, the most enticing prospects come later in the year as we ponder what an AudioGo Eighth Doctor audio will sound like and the Ninth Doctor, thanks to the Byzantine intricacies of nuWho licensing, receives his first proper spin-off story since 2005 (not counting the odd flashback here and there).

With that in mind, releases featuring the more visible incarnations will need to have a similarly unique flavour and so it proves with Nigel Robinson’s Hunters of Earth, set in the mysterious few months before the Ian and Barbara stumbled into the TARDIS and became lost in time, a period only previously explored in short stories, Kim Newman’s old Telos novella Time and Relative, and on screen in other anniversary returns to Totters Lane in Attack of the Cybermen and Remembrance of the Daleks, which is actually less than it seems.

There are no great revelations. Susan’s having difficultly making friends and integrating at Coal Hill School. The Doctor’s shambling about town looking for components to repair the TARDIS. Inevitably a storyline intrudes, of the local teenagers population uncontrollably losing their temper at the slightest thing, much as youngsters tend to anyway, but in a way which stokes this early Doctor’s interest and in a rare instance of altruism, becomes involved because it risks exposing him and Susan for what they really are.

Hunters of Earth is a mood piece, expanding upon An Unearthly Child’s opening push-in past the policeman to reveal a London landscape still scarred by the Blitz, beatniks huddled in cafes listening to The Beatles and subconsciously awaiting flower power, general cynicism about technology, Robinson’s descriptions aided by sound engineer Simon Hunt’s percussive soundtrack conjuring a shadowy city fittingly more akin to Z-Cars or Dixon of Dock Green and the kinds of British films released in the BFI’s Flipside series which seem entirely alien to our eyes now.

Each of these releases will apparently evoke their respective programme eras, and Robinson captures neatly the slightly leisurely pacing, long on incident but short on plot. The focus is on Susan, who enjoys a little light romance with school friend, Cedric, who like her is from a different social environment and the writer pitches well the slightly ambiguous nature of a character who on the one hand is a genius in comparison to humanity but doesn’t quite understand their customs. Like the main story, it’s the stuff of The Sarah Jane Adventures (cf, Luke) played out within a different idiom.

Recorded in a style that crosses AudioGo’s nuWho exclusives with Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles, Carole Ann Ford reads much of the text with Tam Williams voicing Cedric. This is the sort of material which Ford probably wishes she’d been given during her time on the programme, and makes the most of the opportunity communicating the girl’s vulnerability without the shrillness that was sometimes the norm back then, as well as giving a good idea of her grandfather's mood swings. In his curious position of giving an acting performance within an audiobook, Williams blends well too.

But this is somewhat only the opening “episode” within a much longer story and there are plenty of hints towards the future as well as a few in-jokes that are entirely out of period but forgivably charming enough. Hunters of Earth works as a stand alone piece but there’s enough double meaning in consideration of an adversary to suggest where Destiny of the Doctor might be leading. The Doctor and Susan are at the beginning of their story, but they have a rich awareness of the wider Whoniverse surrounding them and of a darkness to come. Oooh-eee and indeed, oooh.

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctor: Hunters of Earth by Nigel Robinson is out now from AudioGo.  Review copy supplied.


Spirituality As The Telegraph reported last year, the Beltane is making a comeback in some cases with a wicker person.  The Goddess and Green Man website has a thorough history of the festival and all its implications:
"Handfasting or not, both young and old went A-Maying... Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, made love and brought back armfuls of the first May or haw thorn blossoms to decorate their homes and barns. Hawthorn was never brought into the home except at Beltane - at other times it was considered unlucky. Young women gathered the dew to wash their faces, made Flower Crowns and May B askets to give as gifts. Everyone was free to enact the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God, and there was an accepted tradition of Beltane babies arriving nine months later!"

There's more than gift vouchers at stake.

Commerce lady_cait worked for Zavvi before it was bought by Head Entertainment then moved to HMV, and we know what's happening to HMV.  She describes the process of living with uncertain job prospects and the horrible way she's been treated by all three companies. Here's when she discovered Zavvi was going under:
"There were tell tale signs for ages. Little things that, had I been more clued up on life, might have made me realise what was coming. Overtime stopped getting paid, less Christmas temps, problems ordering new stock, etc etc etc. I remember there being rumours of trouble, talking about it behind the tills. But when I got that text off Susie, I felt like I’d been smacked in the face. And so I reacted in the way any rational person would. I cried all the way home on the train and then I drank two bottles of rum with my friend Brett. I don’t have very good memories of Christmas 008."
Some day, remind me to tell you about the three weeks I worked at HMV in the 90s. I hated it too [via].

WHO 50: 1971:
The Daemons.

TV One of my favourite stories about the public reaction to Doctor Who concerns the ending of The Daemons. So if you haven’t seen it, look away now.

As those of you who’re left will know, the story climaxes with the destruction of a church,  and apparently what looks to contemporary eyes like a pretty obvious model was good enough to fool some viewers into phoning the BBC’s switchboard to complain about the demolition of what must have been in their opinion a much loved heritage object.

For these viewers at least, the BBC had destroyed the real St Michael's of Aldbourne for the sake of sci-fi drama.

What I love is that it disproves the lie that in those days, viewers were making just as many allowances for the less than convincing special effects as we do now.

While that’s probably the case, and it has to be in relation to something like the Myrka, this demonstrates that while kids were readily able to suspend their disbelief, some adults could too.

Now, I suspect, audiences are more savvy. If we see buildings being destroyed on television and in film, we always assume they’re not real, that a computer has to be involved when weirdly they’re also likely to be more photo-realistic.

Do we still suspend our disbelief in the same way?

I think because we don’t know what’s real any more, we just assume none of it is and having accepted that just to allow ourselves to be swept up on the drama.  Still.

Jonathan Morris’s The Auntie Matter.

Audio Well, this is good fun. As the obituary come interview that fills the final track on the cd suggests (and try listening to it all of the way through without having a reason to rub your eyes, especially when Tom …), there’s no getting away from the slight air melancholy that pervades our listening of this second series of Fourth Doctor stories reuniting the character with the first Romana and sometimes K9 for the first time since their single year together in the seventies because with the loss of Mary Tamm it can be the only such reunion, at least in this format.

But what Jonathan Morris’s The Auntie Matter proves is that if the work is good, and this is oh so very good, it can stand, just like the posthumous final season of The Sarah Janes Adventures, as a testament to the personalities involved and become something to cherish. It goes without saying that Tamm is good, like Louise Jameson in the previous series finding again the younger, more naïve version of her character after playing an older, wiser iteration in the Gallifrey spin-off. But there are moments when you simply forget that this wasn’t recorded in the seventies.

Which is odd, because there are few things about this that really bespeak that period in the show’s history. Back then, the production team, Graham Williams at the helm, Anthony Read script editing, simply didn't seem interested in producing a 20s set Wodehousian run around about a maiden aunt in a country pile with a deadly secret, a thinly veiled homage to Jeeves and Wooster and the kind of farcical humour that wouldn’t really become a part of the show until the noughties. None of which is a criticism, because in this context, with these characters, it just works. A lot.

Much of that has to do with Jonathan Morris’s clever script which intricately undercuts the listener’s expectations so that whenever we think we have the measure of the action, we’re quickly sent off on a tangent along with the characters. So whilst it opens with what seems like an eye-rollingly clichéd Doctor Who trope, which despite being early in the play is shockingly horrific enough that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil here, Morris is quick to narratively indicate that it’s actually beside the point. The real point is to place this Romana in situations unaccustomed and have a jolly good time.

Which both Tom and Mary clearly are. By time of recording both had become pretty regular audio fixtures and so there is a slight shock of the new, but even on television, I don’t remember them having quite this much chemistry. In Tom’s performance then, it was always possible to detect a certain awe (because let’s face it, right through her life Mary Tamm was awesome). Now they bicker as equals and after hearing Night of the Stormcrow yesterday, it’s interesting to hear the subtle differences in Tom’s performance between companions and actresses.

Not that Romana’s his only companion here. Circumstances force the Doctor ask the assistance of his housemaid, Mabel, a much younger girl from Mrs Wibbsey (played with good humour by Robin Hood’s Lucy Griffiths) (or is that True Blood’s Lucy Griffiths now?) because he needs someone to ask questions. Yes, amid everything Morris even takes time to give this Doctor some self-awareness of what he really requires from a companion, someone who will treat him with a certain amount of awe (perhaps a sly dig at Baker’s own attitude to such things in the 70s).

As ever with these things, Big Finish has attracted a really strong cast. Julia McKenzie gives the eponymous matriarch the full Crowdon, a magnificently huge performance which in any other context would be ludicrous but seems like fair game against Tom’s eccentric might. She’s joined by RSC and televisual character actor Robert Portal, hilarious as Reggie, her featherbrained nephew and Alan Cox as the butler, whose familiar voice I’ve just reminded myself seemed so familiar because I last heard him on this Shakespeare compilation.

As I sat listening to the second episode in Starbucks on Bold Street earlier supping a Gingerbread Latte (still loads of the stuff left apparently) hooting away, I don’t think I’ve been happier, this week at least, especially after a brief existential crisis this morning (don’t ask) (no, really, don’t). Yesterday, I talked about comfort Who, and this is another example, Morris once again delivering a little marvel designed, amongst other things to showcase a voice which will be much missed. If the rest of the new series is this funny and this clever, I’ll be very, very pleased.

Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter from Big Finish is out now.  Review copy supplied.

The Mo-Hole Project

Science The original Mo-Hole project, an attempt at sea to bore down to and collect samples from the Earth's core, was conducted in the early 60s by a team of scientists and engineers, accompanied by the novelist John Steinbeck who was covering the event for LIFE Magazine.  His diary of the trip is now lodged at Google Books, a piece which includes atmospheric images from LIFE's great photographer Fitz Goro.

Steinbeck, himself an amateur oceanographer, doesn't seem to get much sleep, but he (predictably) captures the tension of humanity glancing briefly at one of its few mysterious frontiers.  It's the incidental elements which are key.  March 30th was presumably filled with incident, but the final six words tell you everything you need to know about the mood on board ship that that day.  Overall, it's a testament to how sometimes science is about great adventures, something which seems to have been forgotten recently.

Marc Platt’s Night of the Stormcrow.

Audio One of the curiously underdeveloped sub-genres in Doctor Who is in the area of interstellar xenobiology. Whereas the Starship Enterprise couldn’t warp through a parsec without bumping into a pregnant object shaped like a brazil nut, Who has tended to shy away from such extraordinary evolution, preferring instead to concentrate on humanoid human-sized varieties of alien, presumably because they were easier to plausibly execute with some fibre glass and bubble wrap. Even in recent years, with CGI capable of creating all kinds of wonders, the television version has only really had that space whale and what’s now forever being called the “Cash Cow” in Torchwood’s Meat because no one in the episode bothered to call it anything else.

As ever spin-off media with its voracious appetite for stories has tended to be more flexible, and Marc Platt’s Night of the Stormcrow is a prime-cut example, the curious creature of the title, as the cover illustrates, a massive avian treating the earth-like a feeding table in its celestial back garden, an observatory full of scientists its fat filled treat. Aided by Vashta Nerada-like “pilot fish” (in The Christmas Invasion sense), from above it devours people and parts of the landscape in a way which even modern CGI would seem incapable of rendering convincingly and in the period when the Fourth Doctor and Leela were in the TARDIS would probably have amounted to FX man Ian Scoones nervously wrangling some ravens against a blue screen.

But like the space whale and cash cow, this isn’t just about the Doctor trying to persuade a genetic marvel to fight against its natural instincts; as soon as he and the savage arrive, he’s dealing with its potential exploitation by humans, on this occasion with reputations and research grants on the line. The unforgettably named Professor Gesima Cazalet has tracking the bird for over a decade and aided by a team headed by erasable American Peggy, desperate to take credit for her “discovery”. This parochial reaction to the remarkable is the kind of thing which Who always does very well, and the highlights are undoubtedly when the Time Lord and the warrior of the Savateem are refereeing their clashes.

As the accompanying interviews indicate, part of that has to do with contrasting acting experiences. As Gesima, Ann Bell brings her very British heritage across the BBC and stage, even starring with Louise Jameson in Tenko. Chase Masterson, who as she says enjoys playing against type as Peggy is best known as she also charmingly reminds us as Leeta the Dabo Girl in Deep Space Nine (and one of my teenage crushes I’m not embarrassed to say) (honestly). Dropped into that maelstrom are Tom and Louise, both on form, the former pointedly given a grumpier Doctor to play than usual but who does at least convince Leela to hilariously utilise her knife for something other than killing. That’s all I’ll say.

But for all its chaotic casting juxtapositions, this is comfort Who, through and through. It’s an isolated base under siege (cf, Horror of Fang Rock for a start), massive, earth shattering tragedies occurring even before they’ve arrived (cf, The Girl Who Waited, I suppose) and suspicion towards these two strangers who’ve wandered in seemingly from nowhere (cf, well, everything). Yet Platt’s script is much stronger than usual, even allowing time for Leela to consider her unique place in the Whoniverse, telling us more about the character in a few sentences than the whole season and a half that she was on television, not that as she promises to keep hunting tirelessly for a home, it explains why she unexpectedly finds it with a Gallifreyan guard.

Doctor Who: Night of the Stormcrow by Marc Platt is available to Big Finish customers who buy a 6 or 12-release subscription to the Doctor Who Monthly Range and will be available to buy from December 2013.  Review Copy Supplied.


TV New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services reports that crime rates in Eastchester are at a give year low reports the Eastchester Voice:
"In Eastchester, there were 170 crimes reported in 2011, down from 211 in 2010 and 234 in 2009. Crime is down approximately 14 percent since 2008, when 242 crimes were reported. [...] There were four violent crimes reported in Eastchester in 2011, two robberies and two aggravated assaults. The other 166 were property crimes: 15 burglaries, 147 larcenies and four motor vehicle thefts."
The only offence keeping steady is larceny, due to the increasing use of electronic devices.

Parallel Universes.

Physics Hidden in the dustier corners of the BBC's website is a transcript of Horizon's 2002 episode on Parallel Universes, which includes clear explanations for the concept or at least why it's become so important within physics for explaining the unexplainable:
"This idea was so uncomfortable that for decades scientists dismissed it, but in time parallel universes would make a spectacular comeback. This time they'd be different, they'd be even stranger than Elvis being alive. There's an old proverb that says: be careful what you wish for in case your wish comes true. The most fervent wish of physics has long been that it could find a single elegant theory which would sum up everything in our Universe. It was this dream which would lead unwittingly to the rediscovery of parallel universes. It's a dream which has driven the work of almost every physicist."


Music  Bye then, HMV.  Ish.  The administrators haven't officially been called in yet, they're "preparing".  But all signs, at least journalistic signs, point to the closure of the chain with four thousand employees out of jobs, and quickly.  Back in 2011, when shop closures were happening I wrote that I thought that the chain would eventually be going.  I hadn't thought it would be this quickly, I genuinely had a hope that their store consolidation would be enough to keep them going for a few more years.  But finally, the internet's won.

Back then, I wondered if their best strategy might have been to keep the smaller stores, like the old Gas show room site on Bold Street (which is now a discount shop as per the current financial climate), return the business focus to a more localised, specialist, "independent" approach to weather the storm, keep the name on the high street, whilst letting go of the larger sites with more expensive rents.  Would that have worked?  No, of course it wouldn't.  What was I thinking?

Having watched Jessops fall, now I'm guessing customers would have followed the routine which did for them of visiting the shop for the relevant advice then shopping online instead.  I expect that was one of the causes of the chain's downfall anyway, as in a lot of cases, people browsed the physical media in store then ordered it through their smart phones, the approach that's killing most of the high street that isn't about clothes, betting or cheap candles and rugs.  Assuming they haven't just downloaded or streamed it instead.

I've been trying to remember the last purchase I made at HMV.  On reflection, it was probably at one of their Fopp shops instead, in Manchester, the small chain they bought out and oddly ran as a separate mainly discount entity.  I think it was a dvd if Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton, along with a boxset of footage from the Apollo 11 mission, collectively for about four pounds.  Fopp will be gone too now, which is a shame because I much preferred their faux-hipster atmosphere and in-store cafes.

Where does this leave entertainment retail in Liverpool?  The indies, Vinyl Emporium at the top of Bold Street and Probe near the Blue Coat are here.  A CEX or two.  That's Entertainment also on Bold Street will have a bump in sales (I bought three Pink albums there last week for a fiver - not even Amazon can compete with that).  But apart from that there's only the two Tesco Metros.  The WH Smith kiosk at Liverpool One doesn't have music/dvds any more and none of the other supermarkets are large enough to bother.  Hmm ...

Dido's new single.

Music  Never mind Bowie ...

Nice of Adam Curtis to edit the video. Possibly.

Bit repetitive, but sounds like she's back on form after the dirgy Safe Trip Home.

It's still rubbish.

Film  Today's Guardian has an interview with Laura Linney which includes a list of the characters she's played in the past.
""The ball-breaker in Love, Actually who ditched a new hunk in order to care for her learning-disabled brother."
Which is an interesting interpretation of that storyline by journalist Catherine Shoard.  "Ball breaker"?  Really?  Also it leaves out the reason why she leaves the "hunk".  The Cifer's underneath are suitably outraged.

Meanwhile, Wired Magazine recently published 6 Reasons Love Actually Is the New Christmas Classic, Even for Geeks, which says more about Wired Magazine in 2012 than the film itself.

Luckily someone at Salon's called it "demoralizing, misogynistic holiday twaddle" keeping the world karmically balanced.

Love Actually's on ITV2 again tonight.  Go, away.

"Every night I've been hugging my pillow..."

Film  Here is the cover for the dvd of the final Twilight film:

Is this way to Amarillo?

Underground Instants of Steam.

Transport  IanVisits reports on the commemorative return of a steam train to the London Underground, which was covered by the mainstream media, but there's was about justifying the event which lacked details such as ...
"Onward through the stations to King’s Cross where train geeks were scarce in this modern edifice, and people recently departed from overground trains were given the shock of steam as they waited to complete their trips home. Out came the camera phones, and their more recent replacements — the huge tablet devices — as people tried to capture the unexpected moment.

"Along the entire line, hundreds of people watched a steam train pass, by watching it on a tiny screen on their phone or camera. The vicarious vision of steam was fortunately enlivened by the smell, the clouds of steam and comradeship."
Exactly. As I've said before, major events will always be recorded and by better photographers than us.  Our job should simply be to enjoy the moment, because it's our own experience of it which is unique.

Meanwhile, Annie Mole reports on ticketing hijinks and the train which didn't run.

Woody Allen doesn't have hypochondria.

Health Woody Allen writes for the NYT about his non-hypochondria:
"WHEN The New York Times called, inquiring if I might pen a few words “from the horse’s mouth” about hypochondria, I confess I was taken aback. What light could I possibly shed on this type of crackpot behaviour since, contrary to popular belief, I am not a hypochondriac but a totally different genus of crackpot?

"What I am is an alarmist, which is in the same ballpark as the hypochondriac or, should I say, the same emergency room. Still there is a fundamental difference. I don’t experience imaginary maladies — my maladies are real."

"Oh no. Oh no. Please, don’t say it."

Audio  Doctor Who author/writer/person has been filling his blog with deleted scenes from his work.  I'm yet to listen to the full thing, but the other day he posted a non-spoilery snatch of unused dialogue from his Big Finish audio The Cannabalists which featured the Eighth Doctor & Lucie.

To an extent it's a tribute to the somewhat unacknowledged masters of Doctor Who.  While the mainstream media inevitably focus on the television version of the franchise, it's still somewhat the audios, books and comics which are the thick connecting tissue of the mythology, giving us something to listen to, read and read between the televised scraps.

This brief section says everything you'd need to know about this Doctor/companion relationship, him tolerant and weary, her oblivious but clever.  We've witnessed other combinations have this same conversation played for different effects, but I think this is one of the funniest.  Smart, smart.


Do you like me? Do you really like me?

Life I always thought it would be quite ostentatious to have business cards with my email address, twitter details and the URL of this blog on them. Then I saw the small Moo minicards being handed out here and there and after weeks and weeks of mental itching I decided to order a box full. Each of the cards had one of the hundred things about me printed on the reverse side (with a few contemporary modifications) so they were all unique, and I dare say, conversation pieces.

That was in 2009.  As you can see from the photograph they're all gone.

Rather than repeating myself during the inevitable re-order, I thought this time I'd include some tiny URLs with links to posts on the actual blog and although I've a few ideas of what I should include, I want to make things a bit interactive.  Which is where you come in.

What I'd like, if you have a moment, is some guidance as to which posts I should link to on my cards. With over ten years of this stuff and readers of different vintages, I'm hoping you'll suggest your favourite posts and I'll add them to the list.

There are a hundred cards in a box so I'd like to have a hundred different ones.  I think it unlikely I'll have a hundred suggestions, especially since people rarely leave comments below (yes that means you) but any ideas would be excellent.

If you can't find the link, just "that one you did about..." would be fine.  The longer pieces.  I expect I could do links to a hundred Doctor Who reviews but that seems a bit pointless.  But feel free to pick out the ones you think are any good.  Assuming there are any.

I'll post of a list of nominations too.

I expect the wiser decision would be to simply have a link to my rolling CV on all one hundred, but when have I ever made a wise decision?


the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa

History  In 1888, the Royal Society set up a committee to investigate the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa and the aftermath.  The resulting report is inevitably available at the internet archive and makes for disturbing reading (from what I've seen of its six hundred odd pages), perhaps the most interesting aspect being the language utilised which almost seems to criticise those at the heart of the disaster for their observational skills:
"As IS usual in such cases, the first reports of this tremendous outburst of the volcanic forces appear to have been quite misleading and altogether unworthy of credence. Nor is this to be wondered at. The towns and villages along the shores of the Sunda Strait were, during the crisis of the eruption, enveloped in a terrible darkness, which lasted for many hours, and, while thus obscured, were overwhelmed by a succession of great sea- waves ; those who succeeded in saving their lives amid these appalling incidents were, it need scarcely be added, not in a position to make trustworthy observations upon the wonderful succession of phenomena occurring around them."
Of course, that's not what they mean. What they mean is there were better things to be doing than standing around taking notes. But it's a useful example of how language and implication can develop over time.  The book is also filled with some extraordinary drawings of events.