Into The Dark?

"Into The Dalek"

“Into The Dalek”

Of all the recent Doctor Who episodes, “Into The Dalek” is one that I personally want to see the most, perhaps even more than 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” itself. Rather than the anticipation that has been built up around current episodes, the War Doctor, regeneration, etc, “Into The Dalek” instead has me curious.

Last week was the broadcast of “Deep Breath”, the first full episode to feature Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Like many (make that all) fans I had been looking forward to this as I was eager to see exactly how Capaldi would portray the Doctor. Even though we have all now seen this portrayal however, there is still the fact that we don’t know who Capaldi’s Doctor is.

Although well read audiences are used to the idea of regeneration and several actors all playing the same character, a new Doctor is still something that takes getting used to. Many fans, particularly those new to the series, will also need convincing that this new character is the same one they know and love. As such “Deep Breath” follows a similar template to “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Eleventh Hour”, the first appearances of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectively.

Whilst fending off an alien invasion these are episodes which see a companion trying to figure out who this new/same man is. Throughout the run of the series it has always been the companion who is the point of view character, through whose eyes the audience discovers time and space. In this situation they are more important than ever, and amnesia or not, the failure of the 1996 TV-movie is often blamed on introducing two incarnations of the Doctor before his companion.

For those post-regeneration episodes of the revived series however, we first get to see the comical but crude side of the Doctor. Capaldi comparing Strax to the seven dwarves is no different from Matt Smith telling Amelia Pond to fry something because she’s Scottish. It may be harsh, but it’s that funny element of being alien and not quite understanding that is the initial reassurance that there is nothing to worry about. So far, so very Doctor.

"Basically, run!"

“Basically, run!”

Throughout the episode the companion is puzzled by the Doctor saving the Earth by asking seemingly ridiculous questions, but come the end of his investigation he will save the day through his ‘I am the Doctor’ moment. David Tennant called the Sycorax’s blood control bluff and pressed their big red button for them, and Smith stared down the Atraxi with his history of saving the Earth. Capaldi on the other hand …. didn’t.

The confirmation phone call from Number 11 wasn’t for Clara’s benefit, it was for ours.

In interviews and previews leading up to Capaldi’s episodes, one word which was often used was “dark”, and here we are given a Doctor who may, or may not, have pushed a (half) man to his death. Regardless of whether it was push or jump, it is hardly the first time the Doctor has had to oversee the death of the antagonist, but here he does so with a look of almost indifference.

Dark indeed, and something which harks back to the days of Sylvester McCoy (apparently) destroying Skaro and committing Dalek genocide. It came at the point in the show’s history that script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to add some more mystery to the character after years of accumulated drip-fed information. Twenty-plus series after the question had first been asked by Ian and Barbara, “Doctor Who?” had essentially become “the Doctor’s life story”.

The question...

The question…

And after the broadcast of “The Time of the Doctor”, this was exactly where we found ourselves again. Not only have we had revelations regarding the Time War, an element that Russell T. Davies used to renew the character and wanted to leave untouched, but along with Smith’s tenure, “The Time of the Doctor” also saw the end of the question.

This time it was quite literal in fact, as it was even used diegetically within the show itself; “on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered”. To be fair it wasn’t exactly answered properly, but it did at least give a substantial conclusion to an arc that had run throughout Smith’s entire portrayal, if not the series as a whole.

And so now we find ourselves ready to continue/renew the adventures of a character we have known for 50 years. After the climax of “Deep Breath”, we are eagerly awaiting the next appearance of a Doctor who has every indication of being as dark as it gets, and it doesn’t get much darker than when facing the Daleks.

Throughout years of mystery, answers, and revelations, we are once again asking ourselves that central question which brings us back to our television sets Saturday night, after Saturday night: Doctor Who?

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Day 165: We’ll Tear Your Soles Apart

Two weeks ago I gave Dave Golder an old pair of trainers. Today he’s wearing them as part of a year long challenge to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research. My Granddad suffered from dementia for several years before his death a few years ago, and I have seen how much strain such a terrible condition can put on not just sufferers, but also those who care for them, normally members of their own family. Please read this blog, and follow the link to donate to such a worthy cause. Thank you.

The Sole Of Sci-Fi

Sole Of Sci-Fi raises some Hell in the latest installment of the charity challenge…

June 14

So, Day 165. It may not sound like a landmark, but in a way it is. Because it means there are exactly 200 days left of this challenge. A little bit of a worry when I’ve only got five pairs of trainers currently lined up, but on the other hand it’s one hell of a psychological barrier to break through. And in just a few weeks, I’ll have reached the halfway mark. That’ll be a massive relief.

Today’s Hellraiser theme boasts a much better headline than photo. In my head, the photo was going to be a Photoshop masterpiece, but in practice, I think I still have a lot to learn. But you get the idea. And the “tear your soles” gag was too good to miss. The Hi-Tech trainers were donated by Ian Comber (apparently…

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Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – A Ceremony Of Losses’

Whilst no longer in their heyday in terms of the number of books published each year, current Star Trek novels now seemingly try to outdo each other in terms of galactic importance. A Ceremony Of Losses comes as part of the The Fall miniseries, and sees a third threat to a Galactic head of state in as many novels.

A_Ceremony_of_LossesIn this volume it’s the turn of the Andorians, as Doctor Bashir turns his attention to the reproductive crisis that has plagued the former Federation members so prominently in recent years. As such, this novel relies the most on prior knowledge of ‘current’ (ie, relaunch novel) 24th Century events.

Not only does the political angle continue the ongoing story-lines of Andoria’s medical problems and succession from the Federation, but even those who have read the 23rd Century Star Trek Vanguard series will have an advantage over those who haven’t. Obviously the preceding Fall novels Revelation and Dust and The Crimson Shadow also both go without saying.

All the relevant back-stories are adequately explained however, but it is the fresh cloak and dagger – and eventual all out knives drawn – angle that make this story shine. For all the various plot threads it relies upon, it is the tradition of using Bashir’s espionage tales sparingly that Ceremony best continues. It is here that Dr. Bashir makes what is possibly the ultimate decision of his ongoing personal struggle between superior intellect and bleeding heart.

Bashir’s decision (and its consequences) are chronicled with all the talent of dramatic description readers have come to expect from Mack, the political issues are far less enduring than some others, all the while focusing squarely on those characters readers know and love.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – The Crimson Shadow’

For the second in a five part mini-series, it could be easy to argue exactly how much of a Deep Space Nine novel The Crimson Shadow really is. Although its Next Generation credentials are obvious, the fact it revolves around the political turmoil of a major DS9 planet does point in the direction of that series. That said however, it’s not as though The Next Generation has ever treated the Cardassians delicately, David Warner notwithstanding.

Despite the inclusion of characters from both however, The Crimson Shadow is first and foremost simply a Cardassian novel, with any other setting taking second place; as with the recent Typhon Pact books the lines between TV series are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Also like Una McCormack’s previous novels, this is a story of an entire people rather than just those few who tell it.

Crimson_Shadow

And it is through this ability to tell the big picture from a small perspective that McCormack brings out the full potential of what a Star Trek novel can be. As Trek at its best not only is this tale of another world both highly enjoyable and also relevant to our own – the withdrawal of allied troops cannot be taken as mere coincidence – but her writing is second to none.

The opening narration is reminiscent of Dickens himself and the depiction of the various levels of unrest, from boots on the ground to the offices of government, are handled with a level of skill that belies the fact this is only McCormack’s fourth full length Star Trek novel. Despite this however, it is the meeting of two diplomatic heavyweights, Elim Garak and Jean-Luc Picard, where The Crimson Shadow shines.

The depiction shows not just her in-depth knowledge of these disparate figures, McCormack’s particular fondness for Garak is no secret and as such his own story is the most compelling, but the interplay between the two is as engrossing as the rest of the novel combined.

Despite such a positive rendering of those characters that are included, the heavy political themes of the novel do tend to leave some left out; Geordi La Forge in particular is once again relegated from major player to the smallest of appearances.

Overall this novel presents such a powerful account of one of Star Trek‘s most influential races that it is easy to forget The Crimson Shadow is designed to be just one part of larger whole. Regardless of the Federation’s aid, or even the Castellan’s leadership, Cardassia couldn’t be in better hands than Una McCormack’s.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – Revelation and Dust’

Despite the plethora of novels in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch series, their number has diminished in the all-encompassing post-Nemesis relaunch novels; which now includes Captain Riker’s Titan in addition to the regular Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager staple, not to mention the various cross-overs. Although no books have been published with a Deep Space Nine title since 2009, the series has been the focus of a number of Star Trek: Typhon Pact novels however, not least of these is Plagues of Night, in which the beloved titular station is spectacularly destroyed.

Revelation_and_Dust_solicitation_coverBetween the longer than average span between publishings, and the dramatic events of the previous novel, Revelation and Dust understandably takes longer than most to get started. Although there is little that has happened in the interim there is still a new station to introduce and previous events to recap, which includes the kidnapping of Rebecca Jae Sisko. Something that has to be recapped, as it was a presumably major event that was never actually told.

The relaying of the exposition is helped by the fact that the characters we are reacquainted with are mostly old favourites from the TV series once more, as with Vaughn and Shar no longer aboard it is only the addition of Ro Laren and Sarina Douglas who new readers may be unfamiliar with. Although old and new alike will feel those such as O’Brien and Odo could have featured more heavily, Revelation makes the best of a new start thanks to author David R. George III’s ability at picking up right where he left off, having written three of the four DS9 set Typhon Pact novels.

Interwoven with the main comings and goings of the new station’s opening ceremonies, the novel also charts the experiences of former colonel (now vedek) Kira within the celestial temple. As is often the case when dealing with the prophets, this tale is shrouded in metaphorical mystery and by the end poses more questions than it offers answers. Doubly interwoven as the introduction of Rebecca’s abilities similarly seems to have been added as the start of an ongoing narrative of which this is only the beginning.

As the first of a five part mini series however, it is clear that Revelation is a beginning of many things by design, not least considering the fact that narratively it has to be the most influential Star Trek novel of recent times, its singular pivotal event is made all the more surprising by coming much later in the novel than is normally expected of something so inciting.

And despite George’s fine writing this is perhaps the only downfall of Revelation and Dust. Despite being accessible to regardless of how well read in Star Trek fiction, and an exceptional start to what promises to be a game changing mini-series, it is not simply a tie-in novel that can read independently from any others.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War’

For all the potential that Star Trek: Enterpise was living up to in its fourth season, it is hard to imagine how it would have portrayed the already canonical six-year Romulan war had it not been cancelled. It is arguably for this reason that telling the story through the two-volume novel mini-series is no bad thing, even if it is perhaps something of a double-edged sword.

Enterprise_The_Romulan_WarWhile the first volume, Beneath Raptor’s Wings, gives a great view of the galaxy at large, this does come at the expense of the Enterprise itself. A far cry from Broken Bow‘s initial four-day trip to Qo’Nos, it takes 27 days for the eponymous ship to get from Earth to Vulcan, and more than half the book goes by before her becomes half way anything close to adventurous. Despite this slow start for the Enterprise crew, it has to be said that author Michael A. Martin’s descriptions of the galaxy at large make it worth the wait.

Right from the start we are shown a great view of Humanity’s initial colonisation of the stars through the inquisitive eyes of the Federation’s Newstime reporters, the pioneering image of a Native American/Western style Mars not only creates an atmosphere any terraformer would be proud of, but is also highly believable. Unfortunately though, this is not the same for the XVIII Dalai Lama; as much as the current incarnation may be humility personified, Martin could not have made his successor any more of a Californian high-schooler if he tried.

Minor gripes aside however, this first volume achieves as much as you would expect from its more than average 568 pages. Apart from perhaps only Malcolm Reed, even those characters who are given little page time still manage to have significant impact. Even Phlox’s journey from explorer to battlefield medic is just the tip of the iceberg as Captain Archer is haunted by the ramifications of previous decisions, and Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III’s continuing spy mission continues to escalate into more than he was bargaining for.

Perhaps most importantly however, this book’s strength comes in its feeling of connection to our own world (even if a certain Braveheart reference could have done without such vivid imagery) while at the same time sowing more seeds of bridging the gap between Enterprise and the 23rd and 24th century Star Treks that spawned it. More than just in the “why does something set 100 years in the past look more modern?” way, the inclusion of a particular gifted but introverted engineer is a particularly nice touch, as is reverse-naming Romulan officers after future Warbirds.

RomulanwarbravestormWhere the first volume stretches itself across space, the second does likewise across time; despite its smaller size of only 334 pages, To Brave The Storm spans an almost impressive five years. “Almost” impressive in that as much as it keeps a coherent story, it seems that very little happens in the months between chapters. Something which again evokes the vast distances of pioneering space travel, but also seems to be only something done in order to comply to a previously established timeline.

All in all The Romulan War is a fair portrayal of what many fans would like to have seen on-screen, worthy of a read but two books aren’t quite enough to fulfill the potential of a galactic event with such wide-reaching consequences.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cold Equations’

When leaving the cinema having just watched Star Trek: Nemesis, it is likely that many disappointed fans correctly presumed it would herald the end of The Next Generation on the big screen. What they may not have predicted however, is the successful relaunch that the tie-in novels have been enjoying in their decade of free reign storytelling since.

Persistence_largeCoinciding with the final films ten year anniversary the Cold Equations trilogy, released during the final months of 2012, told what is arguably the one story which fans had been eagerly waiting for ever since, particularly after the publication of 2009’s Star Trek prequel comic, Countdown. Between his sacrifice on board the Scimitar and his captaincy of the USS Enterprise E, readers were finally treated to the tale of Data’s resurrection in the first of the three books, The Persistence Of Memory.

The bulk of the story recounts the secret history of cyberneticist Dr. Soong, retconning his death in the TNG episode Brothers to an elaborate deception in the process (something which, it has to be said, Brothers itself was guilty of first). Having designed and built himself a top-notch – even by his standards – android body to carry his own consciousness, he sets off to find and win back his beloved Juliana Tainer, with whom he plans to share his immortality. Until the pesky Breen show up, that is.

Silentweapons_largeContinuing where Persistence leaves off, Silent Weapons sees a newly resurrected Data, all too fully aware of how possible it can be, embark on a quest to do the same for his own daughter, Lal. Caught in the middle of a Breen/Gorn scheme to turn the balance of the galaxy’s power in their favour however, this second book also continues in the tradition of the more recent Typhon Pact novels as much as it does its immediate precursor. In fact Federation president Nanietta Bacco also makes a welcome return, accompanied as ever by her loyal staff, although as events unfold it is one appearance she would most likely end up regretting.

Set largely on the Orion homeworld, readers are also shown a largely unexplored side to this culture that has generally remained overshadowed by its criminal syndicated underworld, but does so in such a way that all but makes its existence almost inevitable in the first place.

Body_ElectricIn contrast to the first two however, the third and final novel, The Body Electric, seems almost a stand alone story were it not for the continuation of Data’s personal quest. Leaving the Typhon Pact far behind, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves against an antagonist so incredible that believability is almost defied to the point of becoming non-existent. Especially when a billions of years ticking clock is reduced to a matter of minutes.

A Next Generation tale of reunion wouldn’t be complete without fully grown Traveller Wesley Crusher however, even if the comparisons to character and TV actor Wil Wheaton aren’t all that subtle either.

Although Cold Equations may not have the same page turning suspense as author David Mack’s Star Trek: Destiny, this is something that can be put down to the previous trilogy’s sheer scope, and shouldn’t be held against this offering personally. That said however, the more personal events of the novels are treated with the drama and weight they deserve, the cold climax of Persistence in particular is felt throughout Worf’s continuing narrative, no doubt well beyond Weapons and Electric, almost as much as the events of DS9‘s Change Of Heart.

This itself is one of the trilogy’s strengths, containing as it does nods to both canonical events and previous novels in all the right places, that can only come from such a knowledgeable Star Trek author. 

All in all, a trilogy of stories that recounts one defining moment but doesn’t for a second rest on its laurels, adding its own to the mix that stand their own ground, on their own terms.