Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In other news, Fox have announced their cast for the Fantastic Four reboot, and my previous speculation was miles out (and so it should be). The Hollywood Reporter broke the news a few days ago, but I've been busy.

This is a link.

The least surprising news, in that rumours were surfacing some time ago regarding his involvement, is Michael Jordan as the Human Torch. Naturally, this has caused a huge backlash - well, about half a dozen upset internetters - because Jordan is black. So what? I love colour-blind casting. It can't work for every role, of course, but there is absolutely nothing in the story which precludes the Human Torch being a man of colour. For his part, Jordan has handled the naysayers well, saying that while they might not want a black Torch, "They'll see it anyway." I think it's a great step forward, casting someone for their talent and suitability for a role regardless of their colour.

Back in my previous article, I mentioned how disappointing it was that Fox initially cast Jessica Alba, a Hispanic actress, as Sue Storm, but then made her up with blonde hair and blue contacts. So close. The new Invisible Girl will be played by Kate Mara. I'm not familiar with her work, but she's been lauded for her roles in House of Cards and American Horror Story, two series I am under orders to watch.

Miles Teller is another new one on me, but a quick scout round reveals that he is clearly an actor to watch. It's a good sign, I feel, that fox are more interested in getting up-coming talent than big-name stars. He's got a rather boyish, but intelligent look to him, and I can see him as a young Reed Richards.

The surprising one is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm/The Thing. He's still best known as Billy Elliott, but he's come a long way since his admittedly fine performance back then. He's quite an intense young actor, and could bring something very interesting to the role. Not who I'd have thought of for the Thing at all, but an interesting choice.

Apparently, Teller is not yet secured, due to his busy schedule and being in such high demand, and with Fox fast-tracking the development of the movie for release next summer, this may necessitate a re-cast. Still, it's an interesting cast, not what anyone would have predicted for the film. Along with the choice of Chronicle's Josh Trank as director, this indicates an interesting, more contemporary direction for the reboot. There has been some discussion regarding the ages of the cast, but they're not especially young. They're all in their late twenties, except for Mara, who is soon to turn thirty-one. Of course, young actors often play even younger characters, so we might see a late teens/early twenties version of the Four. Given that many of the Marvel movies have taken hints from the Ultimate universe storylines, I wouldn't be surprised at Fox going in this direction and having younger versions of the characters as in Ultimate Fantastic Four.

There's still a lot we don't know, of course. Is there to be a Doctor Doom casting announcement coming up, or will Fox pick a new villain for their third FF movie? What is the relationship between Mara's and Jordan's characters going to be, since it's not feasible that they could be playing full-blooded siblings? How will the Thing be realised on screen? How will they receive their powers - in a spaceship bathed in cosmic rays, in a UFF inspired teleporter accident, or in something else entirely? There could be some interesting developments in this movie.

The Infinite Artist

I'm jumping on the bandwagon a little here, seeing as a lot of people have been blogging about a particular piece of artwork, but I've been following Paul Hanley on DeviantArt for a while now, so it's not before time. Paul draws highly detailed, intricate scenes for his favourite pop culture characters and his own creations, and it'll come as no surprise to anyone that it is his Doctor Who art that has caught my eye. He's also one of Obverse Books' preferred artists, having previously provided the cover art for Iris: Abroad and Lady Stardust. He's now created the truly wonderful cover for the upcoming Iris Wildthyme of Mars. This is, of course, especially exciting for me, since this is the cover to the book that will contain my first professional fiction commission. 


Isn't it gorgeous? Paul often creates crowded vistas which act as geeky Where's Wally? style puzzles (or Where's Waldo if you're a Yank). So, as well as Iris (in her Barbarella incarnation) and Panda, he's provided all manner of Martians to try to identify. This should not be taken to mean that any of these creatures will be appearing in the stories, however. There are many more Marses than are depicted on here.

What's really been hitting the blogosphere is this. Paul has drawn numerous Doctors in the past, not only depicting an ever-increasing rolecall of the 'proper' Doctors, but having fun with apocryphal, unofficial, and fan-requested Doctors. Now, he's gone the whole hog, and produced something that I'd love to do, if my drawing skills were up to the task: 'The Infinite Doctor.'


Isn't that something? I particularly like how less well-known versions of the character are up front, with the often overlooked eighth Doctor (in his Night of the Doctor garb) sharing the limelight with the first Doctor, the Richard E. Grant animated Doctor, the War Doctor, and two of the Doctors from the wonderful Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. The latest addition to the roster, Peter Capaldi, gets pride of place, but there are all manner of extra incarnations on there, from the faces seen in the battle in The Brain of Morbius to Big Finish's 'Unbound' Doctors. There are even some that I could not identify, which, given my level of Who geekery, isn't to be sniffed at.

Two inclusions really leap out at me from this:

The 'Egon' Doctor, from the proposed Nelvana cartoon, as mentioned in my Harold Ramis piece last night. I considered including him in the 'Past, Potentials and Parallels' piece from my 'Other Doctors' series, but it was getting a little busy. It's quite heartwarming to see this version of the Doctor appear just as Egon was taken from us.

The second Doctor from the left, the rather cool, asiatic looking one with white hair and a black hat and cloak. This is a new one on me; although I was familiar with the Japanese Daleks novelisation, I hadn't seen all the illustrations before (you can view them all here). That's what's wonderful about Doctor Who, there's always more to discover. Add to the handful here who I didn't recognise a few more stage Doctors that I've just read about in Who-ology, and my Doctor catalogue is growing by the day.

There are some others I would have included here, had I the talent to do so. I'd have included some parallel versions of Doctors with distinctive looks, a couple of well-regarded fan Doctors, maybe some more spoof Doctors. But the wonderful thing about this image, in its conception and title, is that there need be no end to all the versions of the Doctor. The Doctors hang off the page, hinting at many, many more we can't see. If you can think of a Doctor, but can't spot him, don't worry. He's there somewhere, a few too many steps to the left.

For those who may need some more assistance in identifying the Doctors portrayed (or just like lists, like me) Paul has helpfully included a version with a key here. To view the above images at full size, just click on them to be taken to the original page, and to view his entire DeviantArt gallery, click here. To learn more about some of the mysterious faces pictured, try my 'Other Doctors' articles, which are already hopelessly out-of-date and lacking certain incarnations (John Guilor as the first Doctor in The Day of the Doctor? David McGrouther as the sixth Doctor on ice? Declain Brennan from 'Doctor Who Meets Einstein?')

Infinite Doctors in Infinite Combinations...

Monday, 24 February 2014

'E Gone

My favourite people keep dying. I guess that's what happens when you're a fan of older properties. This one knocked me for six, though. I wasn't aware that Harold Ramis was ill, but he'd been suffering from an immunodeficiency disease for several years, and with that, it's just a matter of time.

Naturally, like so many people, I'll remember Ramis best as Dr. Egon Spengler. Ghostbusters is one of my favourite films, has been for many years, and will remain so till the day I die. As a child, I lived and breathed Ghostbusters, and Egon was always my favourite. My favourite isn't coolest or funniest character, but the smartest. Egon was the genius behind the Ghostbusters, and so it's appropriate that Ramis played him, for his was the mind behind Ghostbusters. Of course, Dan Aykroyd co-wrote it with him, and naturally, he played Egon's partner in genius, Ray Stantz. They went on to write the underappreciated Ghostbusters II, and Ramis's final writing credit was, to the best of my knowledge, the Ghostbusters video game. He and Aykroyd said that the game should be viewed, for the time being at least, as Ghostbusters 3, and it looks like that's how it will have to remain. I can't see Ghostbusters without Egon.

Of course, there were more strings to Ramis's bow than Ghostbusters. Many regard Groundhog Day as his finest film, and it's certainly his cleverest. Like Ghostbusters, it's one of his many collaborations with Bill Murray, always the centre of the show, while Ramis wrote, produced, directed, and cameoed. It's very probably his best work, but there's so much more. This man directed the National Lampoon's Vacation, co-writing several sequel productions. There's Caddyshack, Analyse This and Analyse That, Stripes - Ramis was behind some of the finest American comedies of a twenty year stretch, from 1979-99. The less said about Bedazzled, the better really, but never mind.

There's even some evidence that Ramis might - might - have been in the running to play the Doctor. In 1991, the Canadian animation studio Nelvana pitched for the rights to produce a Doctor Who cartoon series. Rumours abound that the Doctor was to be voiced by Ramis, or failing that, Maurice LaMarche, who did a Harold Ramis impersonation as Egon in The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. The concept art that has survived suggests that the Doctor would have been Egon in a Doctorish costume. Ramis as the Doctor - even if the show had been terrible, it would have been worth it for that.

Still, for all his accomplishments, so many more behind the camera than in front of it, Harold Ramis will, for so many of us, always be Egon.


On the birthday, and other exhausting things

So, it was my birthday on Sunday. I am now thirty years old. Or, to put it another way, I am in my 31st year, which makes me sound even older. I am cream-crackered. I worked on Saturday morning (the shop had been jazzed up with decorations by the girls the night before, and they left me a cake). That was until about three, then I went straight off to Brighton for a late lunch/early dinner with friends. Following the extremely tasty, but extremely harried bite of Japanese (there's no shilly-shallying in Pom Poko, you sit down, eat, and get out the way), it was straight to the pub. The Mesmerist is a fine, eccentric sort of establishment that I been frequented, on and off, for a few years now, but several people I know have independently discovered it recently. So it was to there, with the cosy booths, retro music and in-house barber, for several hours, before going on a wild goose chase for a Doctor Who themed party night that I'm not sure actually ever existed (maybe it fell into a crack in time), and eventually ending up in R Bar, having very deep conversations with frighteningly young people. I am pleased to say I wasn't sick, in spite of the unwise mixing of drinks, although certain other parties were less fortunate.

Sunday, the day itself, was initially intended to be a quiet one with family, but later on, I was tempted into attending the Brighton Twisted Market, or, at least, its associated afterparty. In the event though, I wasn't up to it, which is a shame, because it sounded like an... educational sort of night. I'd started out feeling surprisingly well, but as the day went on, I felt worse and worse. A progressive sort of hangover. This did take some of the joy out of the spectacular feast my Dad cooked up, but it was all good enough that I overcame my biliousness and ate a great deal of wonderful food. I think two nights on the trot is too much for my old body. I also have several bruises down my right-hand side, which I cannot account for.

I have done exceptionally well for presents this year. They fall, broadly, into two camps. Half of them would suggest that I am a sophisticated, mature man, who enjoys fine clothing and accessorises well. As well as some particularly smart new clothes, a new tie pin and cravat pin, and a fobwatch, I got a suit voucher - which is to say, my sister drew a spectacular voucher for me, and everyone put some money in, which I am obliged to spend on nice clothes. The other half of my gifts wold suggest I haven't matured at all since I was about seven. You can expect in-depth analyses of such TV classics as Eerie, Indiana and Teabag in good time. The books and toys probably say more about my personality than the clothes do, especially as half of them were right off my wishlist. Plus, they led to the most amusing encounter of Saturday evening, when entering the second bar.

"Excuse me, sir, may I see what's in your bag?"

"It's a Dan Dare spaceship book!"

"... you can go in."

Plus, I got the a Hammer Horror box set, two Sherlock Holmes films, a colouring book, a fascinating looking graphic novel by Yoshitake Amano, Scott and Wright's Who-ology book... I'm not going to be bored.

But I really just wanted to say thank you to everyone who came along on Saturday night, for everyone who made the effort and spent the money on far too many presents for me, and for everyone who wished me a happy birthday, with special shout-outs to my sister Becca for organising my suit voucher, my parents for making me feel very loved and spoilt, to Rosie for not being too angry at me for being too old to do two nights in a row, for Naomi and Jaimie for the work birthday surprise, for Sekai and Iris for coming all the way down from London for me, for Louise for my sexy William Riker birthday card... and much more. It's all been rather wonderful.

Friday, 21 February 2014

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 2-3

2.3) Elementary, Dear Data
or
Watson the Holodeck Today?


The Mission: Rendezvous with the USS Victory.


Planets visited: None.


The Great Detective: Turns out that Data is a huge fan of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He's got the entire canon in his database (but does he have the apocryphal stuff? Has he read The Seven Per Cent Solution? Would he recognise Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr. and that bloke off Torchwood?) Dr. Pulaski challenges him that all he can do is parrot the solutions from the original texts, or rearrange the elements in the Doyle style. Data and Geordi set out to prove that he can solve an original crime.


The Napoleon of Crime: Unfortunately, when Geordi asks the computer to create a villain capable of outwitting Data – not Sherlock Holmes – it increases the intelligence and self-awareness of Professor Moriarty, inadvertently creating a sentient holographic character. Initially, Moriarty is purely villainous, but moves beyond that, into a being who, quite reasonably, simply wants to be able to continue his existence.


Lady Bones: Pulaski's really not coming off very well here. Her constant belittling of Data, treating him as just a machine, bating him for being less than human, it's just – ugh. I guess it's kind of like the Spock/Bones interplay, but that was kind of racist – speciesist? - itself, and this comes across much worse. Still, Moriarty has respect for her, which is a questionable compliment.


Geordi Shore: Spends his spare time building a model of the HMS Victory, the USS Victory's namesake. (The Victory was Nelson's flagship, sailing between 1765 and 1812, and is now preserved as a museum ship in Portsmouth. Yes, I've been on it, every schoolboy in southern England has.) This whole calamity is Geordi's fault for misspeaking, but in fairness, whomever programmed the computer should really take some of the blame here.


The Picard Manoeuvre: Initially perceives Moriarty as a threat, unsurprisingly, seeing as he's taken over his ship. However, once he meets the man, he deals with him on a level basis and agree that he has a right to life, and commits to finding a way to allow him to exist outside the holodeck.


Future Treknology: So, let's get this straight: the computer is capable of accidentally spontaneously creating a sentient programme when misinterpreting an order. That's something of a design flaw, isn't it? In fact, if creating a mind is so easy, why did Soong spend years working on Data and his brethren? Moriarty's steampunk controls for the Enterprise, all big brass levers, are gorgeous. The whole ship should look like that.


Space Bilge: Props to Picard for swearing to look for a way to help Moriarty, but rather than saving him in a file, why not just leave that holodeck running the programme? Surely they can put up with a queue for holodeck two? Or is Picard to scared of the guy to leave him running?


Future Fashion: Everyone dresses up to the nines for their trip to 19th century London. Data, Geordi and Pulaski look great, but Picard and Worf steal it. Seriously, Worf looks amazing in a suit. It's a shame Beverly isn't here – she'd knock 'em dead in a Victorian dress.


Trek Stars: Daniel Davis is the star of this episode, bringing charm and dignity to the role of Moriarty. He'll be back as the mastermind in the eason five episode, 'Ship in a Bottle.'



The Verdict: Not quite the classic it's made out to be, but great fun with a strong, central dilemma. Moriarty convinces as both a genuine threat to the Enterprise and an interesting character in his own right. The moment when he realises he has control over his environment, just by saying 'Arch,' is wonderful.


 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

WHO REVIEW: Dark Eyes 2

THE TRAITOR 

THE WHITE ROOM 

TIME'S HORIZON 

EYES OF THE MASTER


The first Dark Eyes box set was a resounding success for Big Finish, capitalising on the popularity of their New Eighth Doctor Adventures and pushing forward the signature character's story. While the sixth Doctor might be the most celebrated by Big Finish, the eighth is the one which has led the way forward, being as he was for many years, the current incarnation. With this no longer the case, the open-ended nature of his tenure still allowed BF to take him in interesting directions, with only the nebulous future of the Time War to cap them. Dark Eyes was one of several 'event' releases of the last couple of years, but probably the most successful, even going on to win a BBC Audio Drama Award. A sequel was a sure thing, even before they announced they be making three more box sets.


Since then, the eighth Doctor's story has been closed off somewhat, finally given a definitive ending by The Night of the Doctor. Nonetheless, the storytelling possibilities for the eighth Doctor remain open. We know his last moments, but not how he got to them. With both Dark Eyes and Gallifrey VI creeping ever closer to the taboo subject of the Time War, Dark Eyes 2 takes the plunge, referencing certain revelations of the pre-War days that were let slip in the new TV series. While they still can't quite come out and have the Time Lords say “And now we enter the Last Great Time War,” they can they the groundwork both for the conflict and the devastating events that will damage the Doctor's moral character before he comes to die on Karn.


Dark Eyes 2 is, of course, a sequel to the first box set, which left with the timelines rearranging themselves following the Doctor's defeat of the Daleks' plans. It is no surprise that the Doctor is reunited with Molly O'Sullivan, his companion from the first Dark Eyes, but the other additions to the cast and story were harder to predict. Big Finish have trawled their back catalogue for things to include here. There's both the Dalek Time Controller and Sally Armstrong from the first Dark Eyes, Liv Chenka from Robophobia, the Eminence from The Seeds of War, the Viyrans from various previous releases, most recently Blue Forgotten Planet, and the new version of the Master from UNIT: Dominion. These aren't all things I've listened to, myself, although I'm reasonably well-versed in the lore. Nonetheless, the story brings new listeners up to date with the nature of the various factions involved in this sprawling storyline.


The main cast excel here. The best thing about Dark Eyes was the interplay between Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley. As well as having the most wonderful pair of voices you could ever hope to hear, they share such fabulous chemistry that they really do sound like they belong together. It's just a shame they're confined to audio – they'd be the most gorgeous TARDIS team in history if we could actually see as well as hear them. It's always a treat to hear stories where the eighth Doctor is put through the ringer, be it emotionally or physically. McGann brings such pain to his performance when it calls for it. Yet he can still deliver the witty, childish, excitable eighth Doctor of old when needed. There's a definite sense that this Doctor wants to remain the fun-loving character we used to know, but that the universe keeps knocking him down and making it harder and harder to do so.


The story is a little contrived in its need to get Molly back in the game and justify its title. It turns out that there are still traces of the “retro-genitor” particles that she was laced with in the first serial, and the Doctor's dropping in on her – living in his old house – reactivates them. This is the catalyst for a whole sequence of events, linking the various factions across time. Still, who cares how many hoops the script has to jump through to get Molly back with “(her) man, the Doctor” and his “Tardy-box” when they are so good together?


The inclusion of Liv Chenka is a little more unexpected, and is tied together in a sort of predestination paradox that becomes clear as events unfold. Nicola Walker is a wonderful actor, and I'm not surprised that BF wanted to get her back to play Liv once more. Then there's the Master, played by the wonderful Alex McQueen. Going by the marvellous alias Dr. Harcourt De'Ath, rather than pretending to be the Doctor this time, the Master is a little more subdued this time round, but nonetheless recognisable as the camp, cocky character we met in Dominion. It's astonishing that, after about thirteen years of audioplays with McGann's Doctor, we haven't heard him play up against his foe from the TV Movie. While I understand that the Eric Roberts version of the Master cannot appear due to rights constraints, having the eighth Doctor meet with another incarnation of his archnemesis is irresistible. And as nemeses go, this Master is certainly arch. The meeting between the Doctor and his old friend may be unexpectedly subdued to begin with, but McGann and MacQueen sparkle together, trading banter and criticising each other's morals, as if picking up from an argument they left years ago.


While Nicholas Briggs directs all four instalments of the serial, only the first is written by him. “The Traitor” is very like his Dalek Empire series – indeed, for all I know, it's set during it – and sees us meet Liv Chenka on a planet occupied by the Daleks. It takes quite some time for the Doctor to make his presence known, but this isn't a major problem in a lengthy story like this. Walker is more than capable of carrying the episode on her shoulders. Nonetheless, the first episode doesn't really seem to get going until the final few scenes, when we learn the Doctor's plan is to ally himself with the Daleks, in order to set them against an even bigger threat.


Alan Barnes gives us the second part, “The White Room,” which returns the Doctor to 1918 on the eve of the armistice, reuniting him with Molly and drawing them both into a Viyran plot. The time-twisting nature of the narrative is hinted at here, with events from the future affecting the past and present. Using the Viyrans is something of a mastertroke. Not only are they one of BF's more successful original villains, but they tie into Molly's “retro-genitor” storyline nicely. Plus, we get time-active ghosts, and a sinister turn by BF stalwart Ian Brooker as both the villainous Dr. Goring, and the Viyran using his voice.


Matt Fitton pens both the third and final parts of the set. “Time's Horizon” is the strongest of the four episodes, a strong, self-contained story with both a good sci-fi concept and a nice, creepy horro vibe. It brings three of the leads together, with the Doctor and Molly arriving on the Orpheus spaceship, upon which Liv and her crew are travelling to the very edge of space. Walker plays Liv even better here than in “The Traitor,” running from her past as far as she can, torn up by her actions as a Dalek collaborator. There's a nice parallel between the Doctor's seemingly unthinkable actions and Liv's own, both doing what they think is right to save lives. A further element is thrown in when we learn that, for the Doctor, episode one hasn't happened yet.


The Eminence is perhaps the strongest villain BF have yet created, and I intend to order its debut piece, The Seeds of War. Where once the Time Lords feared the Daleks may become the final, solitary form of life in the universe, now that place is set to be filled by the Eminence: a single, unassailable will. Given terrifying voice by David Sibley, we can believe it when the Doctor suggests that this force, capable of bending all others to its will, is the greatest threat in the universe. However, it seems the Time Lords are not necessarily on the same side of the debate.


“Eyes of the Master” brings events full circle, dropping the Doctor, Liv and Molly in 1970s London, where the Master is knee-deep in a particularly nefarious scheme, with full Time Lord approval. Hearing the Master rolling out the pleasantries as a mild-mannered optician while we know of his monstrous experiments is wonderfully macabre. Scarier than the Daleks and more unnerving than the Eminence is the little whizz and squelch as he plucks out his victims' eyes... masterful sound design, Big Finish, but I can't deal with eyes! The final episode gets a bit swallowed up in its need to get all the threads tied up – the Eminence, the Master, the Time Lords, the retrogenitor particles, the Daleks, the Doctor's about-face – but it manages it. It leaves each of our heroes and villains in uncertain circumstances, and me dying for the third box set. Oh, and Frank Skinner's in it, just because.


While it gets off to a slow start, Dark Eyes 2 is a strong follow-up to the first box set, building on the events of that while setting up more for the future. It does suffer a little from being just one step in a series, but each chapter and the box set as a whole work well enough as self-contained stories. Still, I am looking forward to hearing what the Master will be up to next, and learning how the Doctor will be justifying his increasingly questionable actions.



CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 2.1-2.2

2.1) The Child
or


The Galaxy's Fastest Pregnancy


The Mission: Transfer samples of the deadly plasma plague to the Rachelis system.


Planets visited: We see the blue planet Aucdet IX from orbit only.


Famous firsts: First appearance of Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, the Ten-Forward lounge and – drumroll – Riker's beard!


In Therapy: This is a Troi-centric episode, and Marina Sirtis proves she can put in a strong performance given the right material. In her sleep, Troi is impregnated by a glowing ball of light; this does, at least, wake her up, ans she senses a 'presence.'. Understandably horrified by this violation, she decides to keep the baby once she begins sensing its thoughts. Considering that the pregnancy is hugely accelerated, she takes it all very well. She picks Data to accompany her during the birth – he's the first person she comes across in the corridor, but she still asks him to stay with her. She bonds with her new baby as if she had been expecting him for nine months, and names him Ian Andrew after her late father. She is understandably devastated when Ian dies/returns to his natural form, but is reassured by his telepathic words with her, in which she finally gets to communicate with the true being behind the pregnancy.


The Picard Manoeuvre: He's pissed off when his new medical officer doesn't report to him, but puts all this aside when he learns about Deanna's situation. He calls a meeting with the senior staff to discuss the potential threat, but abides by Deanna's wishes without argument when she chooses to let the baby come to term. He also listens to Wesley's concerns about his future. Their chat in the turbolift is illuminating; he clearly misses Dr Crusher, and it's quite a tender moment between the two, in spite of the Picard's usual tension. I just wanted Picard to slap Wes on the shoulder, maybe give him a manly hug. Considering how much he hates kids, Picard deals with the situation on the ship well.


Number One: There's a brilliant moment in which Riker loudly demands to know who the father of Troi's child is. Frankly, it would have been better if all the staff had turned to him when they were told she was pregnant. This is a particularly good episode for seeing Riker's unique method of climbing into his chair.


Elementary, Dear Data: Doesn't immediately get on with Dr. Pulaski, who insists on treating him like a machine. She pronounces his name 'Datta,' which he corrects with just the slightest hint of irritation. There's a lovely moment when, during a barrage of question about pregnancy to Deanna, he registers she's giving birth and visibly panics.


Lady Bones: Dr. Pulaski is simply the female version of Dr. McCoy. She's a member of the crew for just one year, taking over as chief medical officer only as long as Dr. Crusher is heading up Starfleet Medical (until Gates McFadden decides she'd like to be on the show after all). She's obstinate, old-fashioned and opinionated. She immediately heads to Ten-Forward; I thought, I'm going to like this woman! But it turns out she was only in the bar because she was meeting with Troi there. She was previously stationed on the USS Repulse.


Geordi Shore: Finally, la Forge is promoted to Chief Engineer, after the ongoing stream of chiefs we had in season one. He is in charge of the securing of the medical samples to Rachelis, along with a Starfleet medic who looks like an albino Robert Winston. He has designed a storage chamber for them, and sighs that he has to replicate 512 of them. You want to try working in the days when you actually had to build things, mate.


The Boy: The A-plot is Troi's pregnancy, the B-plot is the medical crisis, and Wesley gets relegated to the C-plot. He's not sure if he wants to go work at Starfleet Medical with his mum, or stay on the Enterprise. A chat with Guinan sets him right, and he decides to follow his gut and stay on the ship. He's wearing his new all-grey acting ensign uniform, and it's an improvement on the old one (nothing beats his season one peach jumper though).


Hat-tastic: Guinan is a mystery, being deliberately enigmatic while running Ten-Forward. She provides a nudge and helpful ear to Wesley. She wears a staggering outfit consisting of a mauve dress and matching giant hat. We'll be getting some truly superb hats from her over the years. No one knows where she's from, just that she's very old. Wesley has heard that she's from Novakron, which she doesn't deny. She claims she never met the captain before joining the Enterprise, which is an outright lie. As a kid, Guinan always unsettled me far more than any of the aliens on the show, because Whoopi Goldberg has no eyebrows.


Alien Life Forms: The alien who becomes Ian Andrew initially appears as a glowing mote of energy, before entering Troi and beginning her pregnancy. He undergoes an accelerated rate of growth, coming to term in a few days and growing to a physical age of four in a day. In all respects, he's an ordinary child, but he is faintly aware that he will later explain why he's there. He's half-human, half-Betazoid, just like Troi, so is obviously extrapolated from her DNA. He emits a form of radiation that accelerates the growth of one of the sample of plasma plague, and allows himself to die in order to return to his initial form and leave, stopping the threat. He did the whole thing to learn what it was like to be human.


Funny Bits: The bridge crew rip the piss out of Wesley, with Riker asking who will tuck him in at night. Worf manfully accepts the responsibility.


Space Bilge: Why are they transporting deadly boxes of plague on a starship with a population in the hundreds, including numerous civilians, if a single, tiny leak will mean the death of everyone onboard? Surely a ship with a skeleton crew would be more sensible? Or even a robot ship? Data could head up the mission, seeing that he's the one person in Starfleet who will be immune.


There's a particularly stupid moment in which Pulaski and Picard freak out because little Ian sticks his finger in his soup and burns himself. They take this to mean he's a weird alien, deliberately hurting himself to test the experience. Because normal kids never stick their fingers in things or hurt themselves.


Trivia facts:


  1. This episode is based on one of the same title originally intended for the 1970s series Star Trek: Phase II. When that series never came to pass, the scripts went into the archives, and 'The Child' got pulled out as a stop-gap measure when the Writer's Guild strike delayed scriptwork on TNG's second season. The fan series New Voyages (now retitled Phase II) also produced an episode entitled 'The Child,' based on the original script. It still didn't make it through without big changes: the character impregnated in the original was the Deltan officer Lt. Ilia, and to preserve continuity with The Motion Picture, the fanfilm version changed her to their own character, Ensign Isel.
  2. Diana Muldaur is the only regular cast member in a TNG-era series who also appeared in the original series. She played Ann Mulhall and Thalassa in 'Return to Tomorrow,' and Miranda Jones in 'Is There, in Truth, No Beauty?'
  3. They have puppies on the Enterprise! Are they replicated?


The Verdict: Not a bad start to the season. It's a decent enough bit of sci-fi, albeit rather cliched. The B-plot concerning the plague samples is a pretty blatant attempt to ring up some jeopardy in an otherwise talky, emotion-led episode. Still, the cast all do good work with the material, the kids playing Ian Andrew aren't nearly as annoying as they might be expected to be, and both Pulaski and Guinan get memorable introductions.



Saturday, 15 February 2014

REVIEW: The Minister of Chance - Movie Prologue

Today was a Paul McGann sort of day. As well as listening to the second half of Big Finish's new release, Dark Eyes 2, I got to watch the online premiere of the highly anticipated 'micropilot' of Radio Static's The Minister of Chance.


Previously, The Minister of Chance has been an audio only affair, a radiophonic serial with a seriously impressive cast. A powerful tale of science-fantasy, The Minister of Chance has gone on to win awards and considerable acclaim. Dan Freeman and Clare Eden, writer-director and exec. producer respectively, have now made the first part of what will, hopefully, be a full-length cinematic adaptation of the series.


As with the audio original, the first release is a prologue, setting up the background of the main story. Nonetheless, the short works perfectly as a film in its own right, telling a tight, compact story with the promise of huge consequences. The geopolitical landscape of a completely unreal world is laid out in minutes, and is at once easy to grasp and totally believable. The visual effects compliment the location work beautifully, the music is even better with a visual accompaniment, even the costumes are wonderful (I want McGann's cloak).


It would be nothing without its cast, though, and what a cast. With only two speaking parts, the cast has to be perfect. Thankfully, it is. As well as Paul McGann returning to his role as Durian, the terrifyingly amoral ambassador for the nation of Sezuan, we have Tim McInnerny as the King of Tanto, the island nation that is unfortunate enough to find itself the setting for the unfolding events. If there was one problem with the audio series, it was that, on occasion, the sound design became overwhelming and lost some clarity. The translation to film is a benefit, for now much of the work can be done visually. The remainder of the cast perform in silence, but are no less impressive for it, ably supporting the talents of McGann and McInnerny. Simon Bugg as Major Apper, and Richard Oliver as the Spider (the Bugg and the Spider?) have great presence, and the tiny, impossibly cute Scribble steals it as the young princess who is the real focus of the film.



Like the audio series, the movie is being crowdfunded, with various perks for those who contribute, including early viewings for the members of the Ministry – the film has yet to be released to the public. Don't let the method of financing fool you; this is a professionally made and astonishingly well done production, one that deserves to be seen through to the end. If you're not a member, to see the prologue will require the purchase of a virtual ticket from the Ministry website. If contributing to the production of the film is not something you wish to do, then try downloading the audio series for free. I've a feeling that will change your mind.

Visit the Ministry for more information and to download the audio series.
A short teaser for the prologue is now available here.




Friday, 14 February 2014

Baby fish-lizards

A quite amazing fossil of an early ichthyosaur that died in the process of giving birth has been unearthed by palaeontologists in China. The fossil shows an adult specimen of the genus Chaosaurus, a baby that has just been born, one still in the body, and another that appears to have died midway through the birthing process. The palaeontologist examining the find, Ryosuke Motani, believes that the first baby may have been stillborn, with the mother then dying from complications in the second birth. Although naturally we cannot be certain, this is thought to be the best explanation for the positions of the bodies.




While we tend to consider reptiles as egg-laying creatures, viviparous reptiles are not unknown. The common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, is found all over Europe, even in the chilly climes of southern England, and is well known to be viviparous. It is the most northerly found reptile, and its viviparity is considered to be an adaptation to the colder weather; more southerly populations remain oviparous. Viviparous reptiles are well known in the fossil record, particularly among aquatic species. An egg-laying reptile would have to come to shore to produce young, in the manner of today's sea turtles, exposing herself and her young to considerable risk.


What's interesting about the Chaosaurus specimen is that it is seen to be giving birth to its young head first. This is common among terrestrial species, but not in aquatic forms. It is also the earliest example found of viviparity in a reptile, being a good ten years younger than the previous youngest, another ichthyosaur fossil. The most well-known such fossil, an impressive specimen of Stenopterygius, shows a live birth interrupted. Hundreds of Stenopterygius fossils have been found in Europe, in various stages of maturity, giving a great deal of insight into the ichthyosaurian life cycle. The latest know ichthyosaur fossils, found in North America, also show some evidence of live birth, and further adaptations to make the process more efficient. All of these later forms show the mother giving birth to its baby tail first.


A tail first birth is likely an adaptation that helps prevent the baby drowning while partway out of the birth canal. It's clear evidence that the birth process of the ichthyosauria evolved over time into one more suitable for marine life. It could even show that the viviparity originally developed in the ichthyosaurs' terrestrial ancestors, with their head-first approach being retained to begin with and later adapting to a safer, tail-first approach. This is uncertain, of course, but the evidence is suggestive. Chaosaurus is so primitive that it is sometimes not even considered a true ichthyosaur, but rather just outside the ichthyosauria in the basal ichthyopterygia, the ancestral grouping. It was a particularly small example, only a metre to 170 cm long, in comparison to the other genera that got considerably larger, including the only slightly younger Shonisaurus, which reached at least 21 metres.



Viviparity is also known in other marine reptile groups, including the plesiosaurs and the huge marine lizards, the mosasaurs. It does not appear to have developed in the crocodilia and their relatives. It clearly developed several times in unrelated lineages, an example of parallel evolution in animals adapted to the same environment. It is even possible, although not evidenced, that the more advanced ichthyosaurs could have developed placantae; the Zootoca lizard is known to have one in its viviparous populations, albeit very basic in type.

As an aside, the correct term for a baby ichthyosaur is apparently a pup. Which is nowhere near as good as a baby pterosaur, which is called a flapling.

Further reading:

Viviparity in Ichthyosaurs, Map of Life
Sex Determination in Sea Monsters, Thoughtomics
Full article on the find, Tech Times

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues: Ep 2 - LOLANI


The second episode of the crowd-funded fan series Star Trek Continues is a success, and a definite improvement on the first. With a little more experience behind them, everyone involved has upped their game. Acting, writing and direction have all been tightened up. The nature of the story has been under wraps until its release this at the Dallas ComicCon on February 8th, but the official poster has been released now, which gives away some of the setup. Nonetheless, there will be some spoilers in the following review, naturally.






Saturday, 8 February 2014

WHO REVIEW: Time Trips #2 & #3

INTO THE NOWHERE 

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES


The second and third releases in the Time Trips series are both improvements on the first, and focus on more recent incarnations of the Doctor. Jenny T. Colgan – now sporting an Iain M. Banks-esque middle initial for her sci-fi work – writes for the eleventh Doctor, a version she has already shown a knack for capturing in her 2012 novel Dark Horizons. A month later, Nick Harkaway, author of the critically acclaimed The Gone-Away World, provides us with an energetic tenth Doctor story. Both are pacey, witty adventures that suit the fast-talking the authors have chosen (or been assigned?)


Colgan gives us Into the Nowhere, an evocative and creepy tale which sees the Doctor and Clara arrive on a planet which, impossibly, appears nowhere in the TARDIS databanks. This is enough to both spook the Doctor and make it irresistible for him. The nameless rock is, it seems at first, uninhabited, but there are revelations to come concerning its true nature. While the Doctor wants to get to the bottom of this mystery world, the main concern for him and Clara is just staying alive, on a planet that seems to have been designed to kill them.


Harkaway follows this up with Keeping Up With the Joneses, less spookily titled but no less bizarre and inventive. This sees the tenth Doctor, during his solo travels, in dire straits as the TARDIS collides with a weapon leftover from the Time War. He finds himself in Jonestown, a quaint Welsh settlement that seems to have spontaneously set itself up inside the TARDIS. There he meets Christina, a young widow who, inexplicably, is the spitting image of cat burgler Lady Christina de Souza. There's also a sentient electrical storm, firemen, and a lot of mushrooms involved. It's certainly not wanting for imagination.


Both stories have their similarities,each depositing the Doctor in an impossible space and leaving him to work out the truth behind it, while trying to stay ahead of the numerous threats. They fit their length well; a single, well-defined mystery suits these novellettes. They also find room for some decent characterisation of the leads. Into the Nowhere pushes Clara to the brink with its non-stop barrage of traumatic assaults, and sees her and the Doctor questioning just what sort life one has to lead when travelling in the TARDIS. Joneses, on the other hand, being essentially a solo Doctor piece, is more introspective, and manages that most difficult of tasks – believably getting inside the Doctor's head and examining his character.


Joneses trumps Into the Nowhere for me, though, for its conclusion. The eventual revelation of the mystery planet's nature is a little underwhelming, and the central villain is unimpressive. I realise he's supposed to be, but it's still anticlimactic. In Joneses, however, we know from the outset the nature of the villain, but it develops in unforeseen ways, and while we may suspect the true nature of of Jonestown, the ultimate explanation is rather ingenious. Both stories end on cautiously optimistic notes, with their monsters given a second chance in a new world.

Nick Harkaway pips it for me for his poetic turn of phrase. “There was indeed a dark cloud looming out towards the east, a pendulous monster grumbling and growling to itself, and he could feel the psychic backwash already.” There's also an extended riff on cheese, which is worth the cover price alone. However, both Harkaway and Colgan have provided excellent stories, complex yet easy to read, and a sure sign that this series can work very well indeed.




Placements: Keeping Up With the Joneses takes place between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, while Into the Nowhere would seem to occur between Day and Time of the Doctor.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-4: Mirror, Mirror



2.04) Mirror, Mirror
or
Captain Kirk vs. the Psycho Crewmen
or
Spock's Beard

The Mission: Acquire an agreement to mine dilithium from the Halkans – in both universes.

Planets visited: Halkan homeworld: Looks like a rather nice, green place, but with a purple sky. The Halkans – who seem to do all their negotiating outdoors – are standard humanoids whose only difference to the your regular human is a blue bindi on their forehead. They are a classically influenced, uber-pacifist people. They'd rather die than let an anorganisation like the Federation use their dilithium for any military purpose.

Phenomena: A magnetic storm is raging above Halkan, powerful enough to cause lightning on the planet and threaten to knock the Enterprise out of orbit. When the landing party of Kirk, McCoy, Scott and Uhura beam back to the ship during the storm – at the exact same time as their alternative selves in a parallel universe – they are switched, materialising in their counterparts' places.

Alternative History: This reality, which has become known as the Mirror Universe, has its own version of Starfleet, and its own equivalent of the Federation: the Empire. Standard orders when a civilisation refuses an imperial demand is the destruction of its main population centres. The usual method of advancement through the ranks is dead man's boots. Most of the familiar crewmembers are present of the parallel starship, the ISS Enterprise. Spock has a beard, Sulu is a scar-faced chief of security and Chekov is a petty thug. Kirk's equivalent made captain by assassinating Captain Pike. His first actions were the brutal quelling of the Gorlan uprising and the execution of 5000 colonists on Vega 9.

Captain James T: While he's committed to persuading the Halkans to let the Federation mine their dilithium, he respects their philosophy and understands why they won't sway. When the Halkan leader reminds him that he could take the ore by force (he really like asking for trouble, doesn't he?) Kirk replies that he won't, in a “chew on that” fashion. He's able to adapt quickly to the situation on the parallel Enterprise, but cannot bring himself to allow the Halkans, or even his murderous crew, suffer, so his disguise slips.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: He's effortlessly cool when dealing with the Mirror versions of the landing party who have beamed up to the regular Enterprise. He finds their base human desires “fascinating” and “refreshing.”

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin (parallel): The bearded Spock is, by Imperial Starfleet standards at least, a reasonable man. He displays his other self's logical mind and regard for science. He lacks any desire to take command, and doesn't want Kirk dead, since that would push him up to the captaincy and into the line of fire. He does, however, make it clear that he will not accept Kirk threatening his position by going against imperial orders. In an intense scene, he forces a mind meld on McCoy to find out what's going on. Once he does, he quickly decides to help Kirk get back to his universe. He is swayed by Kirk's arguments that there is a better way for the Empire.

The Real McCoy: He's a doctor, not an engineer. He describes the parallel sickbay as “a chamber of horrors.” DeForest Kelley is excellent in the mind meld scene; there's a look of real horror on his face as he's incapacitated.

Great Scott: Noble enough to volunteer to stay when it becomes clear that someone must operate the transporter manually to get everyone back to their universes. He protests, calling Kirk Jim – the first time.

United States of Africa: This is a very strong episode for Uhura, who finally gets to take a major role in an adventure. In spite of her clear fear at being in a strange and dangerous universe, she rises to the challenge of covering Kirk's tracks and monitoring communications secretly, and runs rings around the Mirror Sulu. She's very handy in a fight.

Sexy Trek: Uhura and Kirk look set to have a clinch at one point. Mirror Sulu is lecherous creep whose desperate to get into Uhura's pants, something she is able to use to her advantage. Mirror Kirk has his own concubine: Marlena Moreau, the Captain's Woman, played by Barbara Luna. The Mirror Starfleet is even more sexist than the real one; it looks like this is the highest position a female crewmember can reach. Still, Marlena is no less ambitious than the men onboard ship. Kirk meets her counterpart, a lieutenant in the sciences, when he returns to the regular universe.

Future Fashion: Imperial Starfleet uniforms are a good deal more revealing than their regular counterparts, and when you think about how revealing the ladies' outfits are, that's pretty smexy. They all carry knives, and have the emblem of the Empire on their breast – a sword through the Earth.

Future Treknology: Agonizers and the agony booth: punishment is meted out with pain-inducing devices. For minor infractions, a small portable agonizer is used; what's particularly nasty is that crewmen have to carry their own agonizers and produce them for punishment when ordered. Serious offences warrant an even worse spell in the agony booth, which can be fatal.

The Tantalus field: a device that Mirror Kirk stole from an alien scientist (I'd love to find out who). The innocuous looking device can make someone disappear without trace, and has allowed Kirk to rise rapidly through the ranks and keep himself safe from would-be assassins.

The computer on the Mirror ship has a male voice.

Foreshadowing: Spock is left with a taste for revolution and access to the Tantalus field. This allows him to take over the ship and eventually the Empire. However, Spock's more peaceful Empire will be too weak to withstand a takeover by the Klingons and Cardassians. This is the Mirror Universe that is visited several times in Star Trek: Deep Space Nin. The final visit to the Mirror Universe comes in the fourth season of Enterprise, which provides a prequel to this episode.


The Verdict: Classic. Like “Amok Time,” this episode has become part of pop culture. Everyone knows that when you go to a parallel universe, you'll find an evil twin – probably with an evil beard. The cast are clearly having a ball playing their messed-up Mirror selves, but Kelley, Doohan, Nichols and particularly Shatner give their all into making us believe in what would be a hellish situation. It might have been fun if the Mirror Halkans had turned out to be absolute psychos and destroyed evil Kirk, though.

Monday, 3 February 2014

TREK REVIEW: TOS books roundup

THE SHOCKS OF ADVERSITY 

THE RINGS OF TIME 

FROM HISTORY'S SHADOW


The Star Trek franchise pumps out a slew of novels every year, across several series, so it's rather hard to keep up. With this in mind, I tend to opt for the occasional title that tickles my fancy, be it due to an intriguing blurb, or because it's the work of an author whose work I enjoy. Aside from the ongoing 'Birth of the Federation' sequence, I've avoided the ongoing narratives. Without picking up every book, it has become hard to keep track of the many developments in the series, particularly in the 24th century set books. Indeed, it's the original series set books that have become the most tempting, telling mostly self-contained tales, and taking the opportunity to have some fun with the nearly fifty-year-old characters. Unable to push the 23rd Century era forward – bookended as it is by solid, well-established events – the authors have become playful again. I have recently enjoyed three TOS novels – The Shocks of Adversity and From History's Shadow from 2013, and The Rings of Time from 2012.


The Shocks of Adversity is the second novel by William Leisner, who came to prominence in Trek circles after a run of three winning entries in the Strange New Worlds short fiction competition. The Shocks of Adversity is a bit of a generic title for an interesting adventure for Kirk and his crew. While it's primarily a Kirk story, all the main crew have an important role in the story and every character is recognisable and well-characterised. The Enterprise stumbles into a region of space known as the Goeg Domain, and is crippled in a terrorist attack. After some initial misunderstandings, Kirk manages to elicit the assistance of Goeg Starship 814, under the command of Laspas, with whom he strikes up a strong friendship. It's good to see some exploration of the pressures of command on Kirk, especially considering that his more happy-go-lucky side has been at the forefront in the wake of the reboot movies.


The Goeg Domain is an interesting addition to the Trek universe. The galaxy is vast enough that there is always more room to include another major interstellar power, and the Goeg Domain works as a sort of anti-Federation. To begin with, it appears that the Domain is an affiliation of species, much the same as the UFP. Not being held back by a television budget, the Domain doesn't consist of bog standard humanoids, but a variety of interesting creatures. Mostly they follow the old trope of aliens based on terrestrial animals – the Goeg themselves are bipedal lions, the Abusians look like frogs, the Rokeans are huge bull-like bruisers – but some, like the engineer N'Mi of the Liruq race, are more interesting. It turns out that the Goeg Domain is not so similar to the UFP, being nothing more than an empire by another name, and Kirk finds his choices may have landed his crew on the wrong side of an internal war. It's well told, albeit predictably so; it's clear from the outset which characters are going to turn out to be wrong'uns, which are going to come through as good guys and which ones will have a crisis of conscience and choose the right path in the end. Still, it's highly readable, and the Geog Domain is fine addition to the backdrop of the galaxy. It can't hurt to see them again some day, maybe a hundred years down the line when Picard comes a-visiting.


While The Shocks of Adversity is a decent, if unspectacular story, one thing in its favour is its accessibility. While the majority of readers of Star Trek novels are died-in-the-wool Trekkies, it's important to have easy jumping in points for new readers. That's certainly not something that either of the other two novels in my roundup could be said to provide. Both are very much for die-hard fans, utilising time travel to bring Kirk and crew into contact with another era of Trek history. From History's Shadow is the more complex of the two. By Dayton Ward, it's only really the framing story that can be described as a TOS story. The bulk of the tale takes place in the twentieth century, ranging from the forties to the sixties. It's really one for the knowledgeable fan – I had to remind myself of a couple of characters by checking out Memory Alpha – although one could come into it blind, they'd find themselves a little lost in places. Pretty much every event and character from the Trek universe who existed between 1947 and the end of the century is referenced.



Much of the story follows James Wainwright, an American officer who appeared in the DS9 episode 'Little Green Men.' That episode's unexpected contact with the Ferengi has led to the establishment of a US investigative group dedicated to looking into alien contact, threats and technology. Into the mix come Captain John Christopher from 'Tomorrow is Yesterday,' Roberta Lincoln from 'Assignment: Earth,' and Mestral the Earth-loving Vulcan from Enterprise: 'Carbon Creek.' The time-twisting plot also involves the Tandarans from Enterprise, a bunch of obscure aliens from the Taurus Reach (of the Vanguard novels), the Temporal Cold War, and links to Christopher Bennet's DTI novels. Despite all these elements and more, Ward weaves a fun and coherent story, although it does drag a little during the middle few chapters. Overall, though, this is intelligent, well-thought out intrigue with some refreshingly realistic human characters, something we don't always get in Star Trek. There's definitely mileage in a series dealing with contemporary Earth in the Star Trek universe – something for Paramount to look at, perhaps?


Greg Cox, author of the Khan novels, returns to the past of the Trek universe with The Rings of Time. As with From History's Shadow, this is split between the Kirk's era and his past, only this time it's a more equal split. Setting half of the story in 2020 is a nice touch, seeing that this is still our future, for a few years anyway, and so can be more openly speculative than the 'secret history' approach of both From History's Shadow and the Khan novels. The 2020 sequences involve Colonel Shaun Christopher, son of the aforementioned John Christopher, on his historical voyage to Saturn. Christopher's crew on the USS Lewis and Clark is nicely fleshed out, and I could really put myself in their shoes as they explore the solar system. Both Kirk and Christopher find themselves face-to-face with a mysterious alien probe, possibly the construction of the mysterious Preservers (no spoiler there, that's given away on the opening page extract). This leads to them, bizarrely enough, switching consciousnesses across time and space. Kirk finds himself in the body of Colonel Christopher in orbit of Saturn, trying hard not to undermine history. Meanwhile, 250 years later, Christopher finds himself completely out of his depth aboard the Enterprise in the Klondike system.



There's a great contrast between the two characters: similar men, but with completely different experiences, moulded by life in different centuries. Kirk, is more able to cope with his predicament, having experienced similar things before, and amusingly, is unable to stop himself flirting with the two women on the Clark. Christopher is, as you would expect, horrified by his bodyswap. There are fewer tie-ins to previous episodes and books than in From History's Shadow, but that doesn't stop Cox peppering the story with endless references, and this does get a little wearing. On the other hand, there's something about a Star Trek story which references Lady Gaga that is impossible to resist. If you can accept the outrageous coincidence of Kirk and Christopher being linked, this is a fine, pacy story, with some fun speculation concerning real-life astronomical mysteries, and plenty of twists and turns to keep things moving. It certainly seems that The Rings of Time has kicked off a slew of time-travel related Trek novels. There's not only the aforementioned From History's Shadow and the DTI novels (a third having just been announced), but also the upcoming No Time Like the Past, in which Greg Cox unites Captain Kirk and Seven of Nine. There are some peculiar adventures to come.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-3

2.3) The Changeling
or
Jackson Roykirk vs. Mistaken Identity

The Mission: Respond to an urgent distress call from the Malurian system, and then ascertain what has killed all of its inhabitants.

Planets visited: None

Stellar Cartography: The Malurian system has a population of four billion across four inhabited panets. The entire system is cleansed of life by Nomad. Prior to this, a Federation science team was present (so the Malurians presumably weren't part of the Federation themselves).

Killer Computer: Nomad/Tan Ru: The probe attacks the Enterprise with energy bolts that pack the power of ninety photon torpedoes and travel at warp 15! Nonetheless, the ship's shields are only reduced by 20%, so they're pretty impressive too. The probe is only a metre tall and masses 500 kg. The probe calls itself Nomad, and it is discovered that it was created in a collision between the original Nomad and an alien probe called Tan Ru. The merger resulted in an entity that believes it is essential to find the perfect form of life and sterilises anything that doesn't measure up. It is capable of scouring whole planets of life, absorbing memories from human brains, and bringing dead people back to life. The probe eventually decides to return to its origin point – Earth, where it will engage in large scale sterilisation.

Future History: The original Nomad probe was built in the 21st century as a prototype thinking machine, by an eccentric scientist and engineer called Jackson Roykirk. It was designed to be the first interstellar probe (a somewhat more feasible speculation of technology in the near future than the sleepr ships suggested for the 1990s in Space Seed).

Captain James T: Kirk is pretty awesome in this episode, sussing out Nomad's warped mission and how to keep it under control. Once again, he shows he knows his history, recognising the name Nomad. The probe's mashed memory makes it believe that Kirk is its creator, 'the Kirk.' He takes advantage of the probe's confusion between its regard for its creator and the revelation that he's an imperfect biological unit., convincing it to destroy itself. Shatner gives a particularly intense performance here, with Kirk up against a power he cannot hope to control but knowing that is essential he must.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Is described as 'well-ordered' by Nomad. He is able to engage in a mind-meld with the probe (he's getting pretty meld-happy by now. It used to be an intense and significant experience.) The meld allows Spock to learn of the accident that led to the fusion of Nomad with Tan Ru. He mourns the destruction of Nomad.

The Real McCoy: Not an especially strong episode for McCoy, but he gets some good moments, particularly when Scotty is struck down.

Great Scott: Scotty poo-poos the idea that intelligent life could exist in such a tiny vessel (not realising yet that it is an automated probe). When Spock shoots his objection down, he gives him the most hilariously withering look. Scotty gets zapped by Nomad, becoming the first regular character to die in Star Trek and later the first to be brought back to life.

United States of Africa: Uhura's singing sends Nomad a bit batty, and it wipes her mind as it attempts to scan her brain for the reasoning behind it. This leads to a horribly embarrassing scene in which she is being re-educated by Nurse Chapel. Props to Nichelle Nichols for insisting that Uhura would speak Swahili when reverted to childhood, but it can't save the scene from being profoundly idiotic. Not only does it have the (surely unintended) consequence of having the episode's only black character act as a stupid child, it's used for badly judged comedy. And we're supposed to believe that Uhura receives an entire adult life's worth of education and specialised training in time to get back to work next week!

Cliche Count: Kirk talks a computer to death. Four redshirts are vapourised by Nomad. The episode ends with a joke and the classic Star Trek 'funny' music (seriously guys, four billion people have died, there's a time and a place).

Links: The Malurians appear in the Enterprise episode 'Civilization,' set over a century before they are wiped out by the probe. We never see any Malurians in episodes set after 'The Changeling,' so we can't say if any survived the cataclysm by dint of being somewhere else in the galaxy at the time.


The Verdict: A good, solid sci-fi episode, sold by the committed performances of the regular cast. Aside from the awful Uhura memory-wipe subplot, this is a great script, although it's tremendously fortunate for life in the gaalxy that Kirk shares his name with the probe's creator. The script was based on an episode of The Outer Limits, 'The Probe,' with the essential story beats much the same. Clearly, Gene Roddenberry and his team liked the idea, because they went on to use it again for the pilots of both The Questor Tapes and Star Trek Phase II, neither of which were made, but which eventually became the storyline for Sta Trek: The Motion Picture. Nomad is a great prop, plausibly designed and enhanced with some excellent 'probe's eye view' direction. We never learn the origins of Tan Ru, which remains a mystery.