Friday, February 6, 2015

Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up with one question?

Can an impossible man and an ineffectual milquetoast coexist in a backwater prison on an asteroid without driving each other crazy?

Best moment for old-school Who?

Well..if you're a fan of the years when Phillip Hinchcliff and Robert Holmes were running the show, pitting the Doctor against sadistic characters in bleak confrontations, this one is for you. The one twist is that Bentley, the irredeemable head prison guard, is a woman. She remains unlikable all the way through her demise...which might be the one likable thing about her - that she gets some comeuppance in the end.

Best new thing?

A new sonic screwdriver! The Sonic Spoon! That's right - while in prison, The Doctor cobbles together a new sonic built around a spoon. There are Doctor Who utensils modeled after the sonic screwdriver that are available at retail, so it's possible that the author has a set at home and got the idea while eating fish fingers & custard while watching Peter Capaldi swordfighting with a tablespoon in Robot of Sherwood, then gazing at the sonic screwdriver-shaped handle of the spoon and saying, "Why not?"

They'd never have gotten away with that in the 20th century...

The Twelfth Doctor gets beaten up a LOT. This book is essentially a grim prison story, offering no new twists, aside from the lower-ranking guards being robot "caretakers", who reminded me of the Sheriff of Notingham's robots in Sherwood. There are plenty of bright spots - Clara's visits to the prison, the Doctor's ability to easily escape from his cell whenever he feels like it, the Garfield book the Doctor checks out of the prison library - I like that stuff, but I imagine Goss thought Peter Capaldi's tenure would be dour, so he envisioned a dour scenario, when in actuality, The Twelfth Doctor's adventures have felt more like classic Who than any episodes of the Matt Smith era. The darker approach to the series has been there, but at most, it's atypical of a family-friendly adventure series that managed to stay light in the shade.

Hooray for Jackie Tyler - best guest moment?

The Doctor's rapport with Lafcardio, the de facto prison librarian over the assortment of books kept in the library. The moment includes a subtle nod to River Song when the Doctor glances at a copy of Moll Flanders - which Alex Kingston starred in when it was adapted for television!

The 'I love me Nan'...' moment?

I think we're supposed to gain sympathy for the Governor - the warden of the prison - as the book goes on, in part because he's narrating this adventure...but I didn't. I found him too complacent to be interesting..and the build-up to his "redemption" of sorts at the end feels perfunctory than genuine. I found it more likely the Doctor would prefer to have been in far more control than is displayed, particularly after the denouement unveiling the nature of the prison and the role the Governor plays there. Episodes like Time Heist and Flatline show The Twelfth Doctor is a man of action who prefers to hold as many cards as possible; and when he's in over his head, Clara steps up to the plate to show what she has learned, but we don't see that here; that's the downside of writing a tie-in anticipating the execution of a TV series that had not aired yet.

What?!

The twists at the end: The Governor is actually a politician exiled to the asteroid, with all of the prisoners made up of his subservients and Bentley the guard was the true authority figure; the Governor hates the Doctor because he's responsible for his being there; Bentley despises the Doctor even more for having to endure the Governor as her boss - all of this is supposed to be the aftermath of a much larger adventure that's barely told in snippets of conversation in the final third of the novel; if I thought the events of Silhouette - the previous Doctor Who novel I reviewed - pastiched too many familiar twists and turns from episodes of the show..this book tries too hard to pastiche the climaxes of Steven Moffat's scripts, in which things are not as they seem, but play out as if they are, regardless. At the end of the day, this book is about The Doctor trying to persuade a guy to change his mind...in a way that this Doctor would not go along with.

Huh?!

The Judge - the monster responsible for killing the inmates and guards at the prison, is a massive robot that upgrades itself by consuming people and machinery..kind of a morbidly obese Cyberman, I think.

Where was I?

The episodes "Mummy On The Orient Express" and "Flatline" had just aired. Blood Cell had been a quick read - Goss got the dialogue of Twelve and Clara right, so the adventure sounded authentic, but the supporting characters were too opaque to tolerate, and he needed to play off the twists much sooner to keep the book entertaining. Once it's revealed who the players really are, you wonder why was it so hard for the Doctor to persuade them to rebel from it other than for the author to play off a formula? And  what the heck was the Oracle character about? That subplot felt like something that was supposed to have a payoff, but didn't.

Singlemost fabulous thing?

It's hard to top the sonic spoon, especially because it reminded me of the lightsaber spoons that came in boxes of Kellogg's breakfast cereals to tie-in with Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of The Sith...I'll say it's the scene where Clara presents a birthday cake for the Governor to pass along to the Doctor...with the Doctor's sonic screwdriver as the candle.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck, Part 4

"Many is the book report that have been written by just reading the dust jacket"

- Linus Van Pelt in the TV special, Happy New Year, Charlie Brown!

I have reached the point in this series where I inevitably wind up highlighting books I don't own, but would like to have read, and would've owned if I had encountered them at any toy store/bookstore/dollar store/flea market/sidewalk book peddler table offering them. This means I unfortunately don't have a generous gallery to offer, or insightful snarky comments regarding key plot details, but my interest in these books remains piqued and they will be duly noted. As a bonus, I get to post another Christmas-themed essay! Ho ho ho/You didn't know/ Yo ho ho/ and a bottle of rum! ;)

The self-implied rule here is that I'm blogging about original Children's books featuring Scrooge McDuck as a member of the classic Disney stock players, be it as a primary character or guest-star, not Ducktales tie-in books, because I already wrote about Ducktales kid books in my Silver Dollars: Ducktales Anniversary series of posts, so why am I breaking the rule?...

...I didn't know Ducktales: Christmas At The North Pole existed, that's why. The book was part of Disney's "Wonderful World of Reading" mail-order book club series, which means only a faithful subscriber keeping up with his/her dues would've recieved this installment, rather than bailing out after receiving the umpteenth Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella. You would've also received the bizarre Disney Year Book, a Highlights for Children -esque book of stories mixed with anecdotal educational content featuring Disney characters.

The plot? Donald Duck, who is still in the Navy, is stationed at the North Pole and has invited Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey and Louie to join him to celebrate Christmas. Mrs. Beakley, Webby, Duckworth and Launchpad get to come along, but  Launchpad drops the ball when he crashes the plane in a location that's vaguely North-ish. While McQuack makes repairs to the plane, the cast set up a campfire and fret about missing Christmas and Donald, but begin to perk up as they keep eachother entertained and attract the attention of local wildlife, who peacefully join in at the camp. Launchpad finishes the repairs and the gang is able to resume their trip. I  gather the point of this tale is that Christmas is a holiday that need not be celebrated in materialistic ways, nor can it be "ruined" if events don't work out as planned. Meanwhile, Donald was guzzing egg nog wondering why nobody showed up.

The 1980 Christmas tale, Merry Christmas, Uncle Scrooge McDuck!, looks interesting because it appears to suffer from a clash of art styles: it looks like Scrooge crashed the set of A Charlie Brown Christmas while dressed in an outfit he borrowed from Mister Magoo's wardrobe...I wonder what Ducktales would've looked like if it had been animated by DePatie-Freling Studios instead of TMS or Cuckoo's Nest...something like that cover, maybe?

The plot in this tale is that Scrooge refuses to give Donald an advance on his pay before Christmas, meaning Donald can't afford to buy presents for Huey, Dewey and Louie. There are two ways the plot of this book could go: 1) Donald enlists Mickey Mouse and Goofy's help in cobbling together four ghost costumes and they procede to scare Scrooge into having a change of heart and forking over some spare change; 2) Scrooge leaves work early and observes other people enjoying Christmas, even partaking in some holiday-themed pastimes (like a snowball fight, perchance?) then realizes how his nephews are missing out on the fun and has a change of heart. I'm going to guess the latter option, which sounds alright. After all, two visits with three spirits would be...goofy. ;)

I  hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have a Happy New Year. And if you were visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve...you should've called the Ghostbusters. Happy Holidays! :)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" (aka, "Birdman")

I've seen Birdman twice now. It stars Michael Keaton as an actor best known for starring in a trilogy of superhero movies attempting a risky comeback by producing, directing and starring in a stage play adaptation of the short story  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. The source material is a story for intellectual stuffed shirts - the summary of that tale on Wikipedia isn't particularly clear, and you don't get a grasp of what it's about from watching Birdman, either. It is definitely a movie that can be viewed in an Anthropology class, since I'm convinced it's a superhero movie that doesn't want to be a superhero movie, but follows the beats of a superhero movie...and is more satisfying to view as a superhero movie. I  think it's a shame that Fox Studios didn't think of having a tie-in "novelization" of Birdman published...and it turns out to be reprint of Raymond Carver's short stories (including  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) behind the cover.

So how do I recommend you view Birdman? Well, it's clearly the story of an actor who's developing reality warping superpowers while under duress. He can fly, he can move objects, and he can change reality so that you can debate whether or not you saw him fly around midtown Manhattan during the morning rush hour...or was riding in a taxicab. Within this context, I think the film is like the Bruce Willis movie Unbreakable, where we didn't realize we were watching a superhero movie until the final act...and then realized a lot of opportunities were wasted that have made that film age terribly. At least Birdman has room for fun. As Ebert often wrote, "I'll leave that for you to discover." (So that I can keep this essay from going off the rails).

Which brings us to the concept of Birdman himself - he's like a mashup of three Hanna-Barbara cartoon superheroes: The Blue Falcon from Dynomutt, Harvey Birdman of Birdman and The Galaxy Trio and Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, and he appears to have Space Ghost's laser "power bands", which he uses to attack a monstrous robot vulture that resembles one of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal...of course I want to see this spun-off into its own movie. Or maybe a Hawkman movie.

Anyway, go see Birdman. It's one of those films that I'm convinced works best when it's viewed on the big screen, so do give it a try. It's not as ingenious as some critics are making it out to be, but Michael Keaton is excellent in this film; it's doing what Lost In Translation did for Bill Murray - that's another film that works better when viewed on a big screen as well.

And without further ado, enjoy the gallery! :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Magrs Method of Reviewing Doctor Who Novels: "Doctor Who: Silhouette" by Justin Richards

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up in a question?

"Can the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, with help from the Paternoster Gang, solve the puzzling locked-room murders in London committed by...angry paper birds?"

Best moment for old-school Who?

All of the stories featuring Vastra, Jenny & Strax are going to have echoes of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". And of course, this book, the first 12th Doctor novel, is the one that is deliberately meant to feel like a follow-up/nod to the first 12th Doctor adventure, "Deep Breath".

There are also nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Poison Belt", Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and  maybe a tip of the hat to Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Best new thing?

The origami paper "angry birds". One paper cut is a minor inconvenience, but can you imagine a flock of paper cranes intentionally slicing away at your skin relentlessly with their wings? It's a stirring surreal visual that could work on the TV show, so...only on Who could a paper bird become a Doctor Who monster, but then again, the most popular episode of the current season ( "Flatline") featured an alien invasion lead by 2-dimensional "flat" creatures.

If this book were an old Target novelization, it  would've been titled Doctor Who and The Angry Birds.

They'd never have got away with that in the 20th Century...

I could argue for those angry origami birds, but there was the Chronivore in "The Time Monster"...this is actually an adventure that they could get away with making in the past, though they would probably replace the flock of cranes with one large crane, played by a production assistant wearing sheets of white cardboard.

Hooray for Jackie Tyler! - best guest moment?

In an elaborate ruse, seven of the Doctor's past incarnations appear in brief cameos during one sequence past the halfway mark, in an attempt to lure the Twelfth Doctor into a trap, but he coolly rebuffs them all. Justin Richards shows off his ear for dialogue, as each incarnation is easy to identify without resorting to naming names, which is impossible, since the Doctor and his companions always reffered to the Doctor as The Doctor and the numbering of each was for our own reference.

The " I love me Nan' " moment?

That would be when Silhouette (the title character), Affinity and Empath reform. The three characters are the underlings of the Master-like villain, intergalactic industrialist (that's the Doctor Who equivalent of upgrading an "evil millionaire tycoon" into an "evil billionaire tycoon") Orestes Milton, who plans to detonate a poison cloud on England that will filter out all emotions except anger, creating chaos. Once Justin establishes that Orestes hitmen are controlled by gemstones upon their person...well, all of this stuff was pretty predictable, really. If you've watched the series often, you've seen the Doctor take on the main villain by enabling their toadies to get their revenge for being put-upon once too often..or maybe there haven't been too many stories like that, but it  sounds very familiar.

What?!

Milton is a fugitive wanted by The Shadow Proclamation, the Whoniverse's vaguely-defined equivalent of the Green Lantern Corps - only their enforcers are talking alien rhinoceroses. He believes he can earn leniency for his crimes by offering his research on even nastier things he's been researching. Milton's not just insane, he's a bit stupid, but the plot implies that Richards would love it if Steven Moffat revisited the Shadow Proclamation, only to show them as being horribly corrupt...maybe his copy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is stuck in his Blu Ray player.

Huh?!

Milton learns the Doctor is a Time Lord by taking analyzing the teacup the Doctor drank from...usually people find that out by taking x-rays of The Doctor, so this was a change of pace.

Where was I?!

The book is ok. Even if I hadn't learned that the book was written at an early stage where the only reference Richards had were a handful of scripts and paparazzi photos taken on the set, it was a good guess as to what The Twelfth Doctor's adventures are like, just lacking the spontaneity Capaldi brought, or the new depths Jenna Coleman brought to Clara, whose character was fleshed out  considerably (the Clara Oswald that appeared alongside Matt Smith's Doctor Who now looks like a random groupie he pulled out from a crowd of autograph hounds compared to who she is now). And the Milton character is clearly playing off early rumors that the Master was going to return (and yes, she did). :)

So, yeah...angry paper birds, easter egg cameos...comfort food while waiting for new episodes of the show to debut. It does the job.

Singlemost fabulous thing?

Twelve alludes to meeting King Arthur...allusions to the Arthur Legend are often attributed to the Seventh Doctor claiming he was Merlin, but can you imagine the Twelfth Doctor visiting his younger incarnation while he's mentoring the once and future king? A spoon-playing jam session will break out on the round table!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Magrs Method of Reviewing Doctor Who Novels: "Doctor Who: Engines of War" by George Mann

I noticed Paul Magrs adopted a different line of questioning in his reviews of "Doctor Who" episodes, so I thought it would be fun to apply the same approach to reviewing a batch of recent tie-in novels:

Can the best "Doctor Who" stories be summed up in the form of a question?

Will the War Doctor be able to finally end "The Last Great Time War" after discovering the dirty secrets of both the Daleks and the Time Lords without destroying another planet caught in the crossfire?

Best moment for 'old-school' Who?

A LOT of Time Lord mythology, with callbacks to "The Five Doctors", "The Deadly Assasin", "Genesis of The Daleks", "The Invasion of Time", "The End of Time" and "The Day of The Doctor", though those last two aren't old-school, but you get the idea.

Best new thing?

The Possibility Engine - Rassilon's magic 8-Ball, only more horrific.

They'd Never Have Got Away With That In The 20th Century...

Ditto...the Possibility Engine would likely have been the smoking gun/ace in the hole Mary Whitehouse would need to get old-school Doctor Who taken off the air...imagine a Time Lord crucifix...also, you've got the Daleks planning to turn the War Doctor into a Dalek by encasing him in an iron maiden-esque chamber/Dalek casing..ouch!  

Hooray For Jackie Tyler - Best Guest Moment?

Every scene with Rassilon. If you've seen "The End of Time" and  "The  Day of The Doctor" before reading this novel (and you should), then you get to enjoy imagining the sight of actors John Hurt and  Timothy Dalton chewing the scenery as the mayfly Doctor and the Nintendo Power Glove-wielding Time Lord President, whether debating about the  right to turn the Doctor's mentor/father-figure Borusa into a horoscope-dispensing pinball machine or Rassilon casually tapping his gloved hand to thwart the War Doctor's attempt at beating up one of his sniveling  sycophants, the material casually crosses the line into high camp and says, "What line?", but it becomes the main draw of the book.

The "I love me Nan'" Moment?

Cinder..this character is clearly meant to  be an analogue for the pilot the Eighth Doctor failed to save in the minisode "Night of The Doctor", but once she's  established...she's along for the ride, and her relationship as The War Doctor's  companion is payed off with his dialogue more than anything she has to say. A lot more emotional impact is in the scenes featuring Borusa - the old-school  DW character from past Gallifrey tales who gets a sympathetic role as the truth behind Rassilon's resurrection and resurgence as Time Lord President is revealed.

What?!

The War Doctor is seen at the beginning of the book leading a fleet of 'Battle Tardises' against Dalek battleships - yet his Tardis has no weapons! He's  supposed to be the anti-hero Doctor! Couldn't he have had some weapons?

Huh?!

We learn what the 'Skaro degradations' in the Time War are - alternate mutations of the Daleks caused by repeated attempts by both sides to eliminate or recreate the origins of the Dalek species...and we get scenes depicting space battles between Time Lord Battle Tardises and Dalek warships...but I can't help thinking  George Mann missed out on something..I  recall Russell T. Davies once suggesting that the Last Great Time War involved more than space battles between CG spaceships - it was a war through time, happening backward and forward and in-between, akin to a Cold War that ended in a catastrophe..or like a large-scale  version of  "The Chase", where the Daleks are horsing around with the history of the universe to tip it in their favor, playing cat-and-mouse games with the Time Lords...and while there are hints of that...we're reading about CG Tardises shaped like BeatsPillXL players.

As for the War Doctor - he's in fine form, behaving more Docterly than anti-hero, save for moments of rebellion against his past decision-making processes, but ultimately, the point is that this Doctor was still The Doctor, and this is one of his finest hours - he thwarts the plans of Rassilon and the Daleks, saves a planet from being destroyed and helps his disgraced mentor/father-figure Borusa redeem himself. Plus, we get some scenes with the War Doctor using that neat sonic screwdriver he kept in an ammo belt in "The Day of The Doctor".

Where Was I?

Seeing as how this is likely to be the only novel set during the Last Great Time War, I was hoping it would be available in the States in hardcover, with a reversible  dust jacket that would feature an alternate cover illustration that resembled the book Clara peaked at in "Journey To The Center of The Tardis". There is a hardcover  version, but it's in the "paper-hard" hardcover style of past DW novels, and that variant is not available here, since Broadway Books, the current publisher in the States, is only offering them in paperback. Pity.

The Singlemost Fabulous Thing..

The War Doctor vs. Rassilon. Forget about the Daleks - they're kind of boring in this..the real villains in The Last Great Time War were the Time Lords leading the rotten core of Gallifrey, and that message is made abundantly clear..

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"It's Superman's Cousin's Show! Starring Superman's Cousin!"

A live-action Supergirl TV series is in development for the CBS network, which is interesting, because her comics are a mixed bag. Rather tellingly, DC Comics never printed a Greatest Supergirl Stories Ever Told reprint collection, but they have with Batgirl, Green Lantern, even Captain Marvel (!), who can only be reffered to as Shazzam nowadays because Marvel Comics wouldn't like that. For a long time ( and I'm making a long story short ), Supergirl couldn't even be Superman's cousin! Oh, she could be the shape-shifting clone of Lana Lang who assumed the identity of an insane goth girl named Linda Danvers and later develop new powers and complications that made her "Supergirl" in name only that were relevant in the wake of pop culture trends like The X-Files and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer...but it wasn't Supergirl.

Honestly, I predict a Supergirl TV show  will ignore the comics for the most part, which I believe is the formula that's made recent series like Arrow and The Flash successful - both have very little in common with the source material at all, even Gotham, which claims to draw inspiration from bits and bobs of Batman comics, but is really evolving into a Game of Thrones-style series about the origin of Batman, his supporting cast and rogues gallery as they converge in Gotham City. And Batman is in it - as young Bruce Wayne, who is portrayed as an armchair detective of sorts. Again, there are no callbacks to any specific comics; anyone who believes so is trying to reach hard.

So I doubt Supergirl will be based on any comics. Her characterization will probably depend on whoever is cast in the role, too. A fanpage devoted to the character on Facebook characterized her as a "warrior princess"...where did THAT come from?  As for villains?  They could lean on the Superman rogues gallery for villains least-likely to appear in the films, like Livewire, The Prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, etc..and Reactron - the only rogue I remember from her comics. Ambush Bug might show up (because he appeared in her comic once), possibly Granny Goodness and the Furies will be big players...maybe Kara will take up roller-hockey or join a rock band, becoming a Riot Girls-esque hipster - who knows? Maybe Batgirl will show up to set up a spin-off series?

If I had to imagine a premise for this character...I would say that instead of arriving on Earth after the destruction of Krypton, her rocketship/escape pod landed on the future Earth of The Legion of Superheroes and...having spent a brief, yet significant time as a member of the Legion, time travels to present-day Earth to check up on Superman and perhaps save the Earth, but ultimately decides to stay. So...we've got a Supergirl who was a ring-bearing member of the Legion (and also a former member of the Red Lanterns) but is new to Earth. That's a sketchy outline for a pilot, but I see this character as someone who is.. a nice, but relatively aloof foreign exchange student arriving in a new place.

Meanwhile, there's cool art from fans, professional fan-favorite artists and cosplayers on the internet..I particularly like model/cosplayer Enji Night's Supergirl and the cape-hoodie combination design on one illustration...but then, I selected all of these pictures for this post, so of course I like them all! Enjoy!

Update: more details about the show have been revealed - Supergirl's civilian identity will be "Kara Danvers" and she'll have an older step-sister named Alex. They're looking for actresses between the ages of 22-26 to play 24 year-old Kara. After glancing at other websites offering suggestions, I like the idea of casting Claire Holt as Supergirl/Kara and I would suggest Alona Tal as Alex..of course, they could just go with casting unknown newcomers in both roles, as they did with The Flash and Green Arrow. The wheels are in motion in Hollywoodland..

UPDATE: Melissa Benoist has been cast as Supergirl. The magic of fan art allows me to imagine a series that might appeal to fans of "Veronica Mars" and most of CBS' prime time lineup of detective procedurals. I suppose it'll be fun to see Supergirl hold a magnifying glass with her heat vision to give the bad guys a hot foot... :)