27 October 2015

You ain't nothing but a Rufus Hounddog (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.6, "The Woman Who Lived")

There is a well known 'thing' in media analysis called the Bechdel Test. Developed by Alison Bechdel as somewhat of a joke for a comic strip whose name might trip some filter or content things on Blogger way in 1985, it basically measures female representation in media. To pass the test, a film must have two named female characters, who have a conversation with each other... about something other than a man. It is somewhat of a flawed test - indeed, Sex and the City actually fails it - but still an interesting one. It should also be pointed out that many classics fail it - including Star Wars - and you can still have a good story without it.

It is therefore interesting to note that the first female written Doctor Who episode since 2008 (Helen Raynor's Sontaran two parter) - indeed Catherine Tregenna is only the fifth such writer in the show's history[1] - passes this test... but barely. Lucie Fanshawe is not seen in the rest of the episode after the titles, I believe.


The Doctor is on fine form again in this episode - demonstrating his ability to blunder into situations and be very, very grumpy. He gets some great lines, especially his entire first exchange with 'The Knightmare' and also gets some really emotional exchanges with Ashildr.

Clara is only in the final scene of this episode - she's teaching Year 7s Taekwondo - and isn't honestly missed that much. The scene she does get is entirely fine, don't get me wrong. I get the strong feeling this was the 'companion-lite' episode; the show typically has at least one 'companion-lite' and one 'Doctor-lite' episode a season to get all the filming into the timeslot.

Ashildr, or Me... what a tragic character. A more well thought out depiction of the problems of immortality I have not really seen. The Doctor is a Time Lord and so living to 2,000+ years is entirely normal for his people, but it's not for humanity - we get to see a woman who has has lost everyone she's ever held dear and has no end in sight... as well as only the memory capacity of a standard human. It's clear that she's gone rather mad as a result and arguably crosses the line - but does get some redemption at the end. A return for her is definitely welcome; all of her scenes are great and Maisie Williams holds your attention.

Sam Swift the Quick... well, Rufus Hound is arguably not everyone's cup of tea. His cocky swagger reminds me of Lord Flasheart, played of course by the late Rik Mayall, but Mayall did it much better. His pun-laden speech at the Tyburn gallows (which was in fact outside the City of London as it was then, although not next to a castle) sets a new record for penis jokes in an episode of Doctor Who at two, although this episode doesn't quite reach the heights of dirtiest jokes told in the show's history - tied between RTD and Moffat in fact.

Me's ally is a well done 'cat' creature... and I was actually reminded somewhat of the Kilrathi from Wing Commander in the Tyburn climax. Indeed, all of the special effects were good here - something that remains a strong point of the show.

Speaking of the climax, which involved insanely overpowered fireballs (see Irregular Webcomic! for more of those) and some really rather magical stuff, I wasn't overly keen on it. The show's starting to get a bit overly casual with cheating death and super technology; I'd personally reign it back in.


Not having Clara in this actually helped - it allowed for a lot tighter focus for the story and much more screen-time for the frankly superb Maisie Williams. Got to say next week looks very interesting as well.


Please note that there will be no review of the next two-parter as I'm just too busy at the moment.

[1]Barbara Clegg, writer of 1983's "Enlightenment" (the first classic story I ever saw, not counting the TV Movie) is the first - while Lesley Scott was credited for "The Ark", it appears she actually didn't contribute anything to the script at all.

20 October 2015

An a-Maisie-ing woman (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.5, "The Girl Who Died")

I'm going to have to start with the elephant in the room... not that you could ever compare the adorable Maisie Williams to an pachyderm. Arya Stark is one of the best things about Game of Thrones; it's become abundantly clear that her actor is definitely a name to watch and after that show (I personally hope that Arya's not going to end up having a death scene of her own... but you know what Games of Thrones is like), I'm sure she's going to do great things. She's only 18 and has already gotten more plaudits than actors twice her age.

As the Viking girl Ashildr in this episode, she is highly engaging in every single scene; especially a two-hander with Capaldi in which she demonstrates an almost Time Lord sense of her place in the universe. The reveal of her actual status is well done - and it's combined with an explanation of why the Twelfth Doctor has this current face.

Peter Capaldi gets a chance to portray the multiple facets of his Doctor - at times larking about, downright rude and distinctly brooding. It's very, very interesting to see that what was originally meant to be a gag about the Doctor speaking 'baby' (which I would point out is a 'language' common to infant Homo sapiens the world over) becomes the source of some key emotional scenes. I would however have to say that the use of "A Good Man" for key moments is a bit too noticeable.

I'll miss Jenna Coleman once she's gone from the TARDIS; she's proven to be one of the best companions of the last 10 years and in this episode, she definitely has some great scenes. In particular, the one on the Mire spaceship, where she gets pretty close to defusing the entire situation without any further fighting... only for Ashildr's big mouth to wreck it all. Sometimes sentient beings let their pride get in the way of their common sense.

The Vikings were generally pretty well done; while horns on the helmets is of course an anachronism (and a deliberate one), they're sympathetic people. Training a batch of hapless villagers to defend themselves is a rather old plotline, but it's done well here - I have to admit that 'Noggin the Nog' was my favourite Doctor-bestowed nickname. And managing to start a fire before the enemy even arrives... classic.

The Mire - good one shot villains whose reliance on technology ends up being their downfall; both the external suit and creature inside are very good SFX jobs. Their defeat did seem a bit tonally odd - "Benny Hill" music and all, but it was soon brought by a key discovery that shaped the final part of the episode.

The ending sees the Doctor make a well-intentioned decision that could have significant consequences... and one several people may come to regret.


An enjoyable episode with some funny moments and a great performance by its key guest star. Not one of the greats, but definitely a pleasant 45 minutes. The next time trailer also looks very interesting.


16 October 2015

Star Citizen - Citizencon 2015 Report

This post was written for the excellent people at the Guard Frequency podcast and will hopefully be mentioned in a future edition of the show. At any rate, since they couldn't go, I decided I would write a report for them.

Also, I didn't take many photos of the event itself - it was a bit dark for any decent ones once it had started. You can watch the livestream again (or for the first time) via the Roberts Space Industries website. 

The journey in a Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino from London to Crewe via the Watford Gap was comfortable (the tilting mechanism isn't nausea inducing at all) and on time, but I was not overly enthusiastic about the free lunch I got in the First Class area, namely a pre-packed sandwich, biscuits and some chocolate. It was, however, a sight better than the Northern Rail Class 323 that would be my connection to Manchester Airport, which was very bare-bones and made funny noises whenever it accelerated.

I checked into my hotel room, having two groups of hard men wrestling with a funny shaped ball on in the background as I checked my incoming emails - Scotland narrowly won, doing much better in this tournament than my native England. Definitely a lot more space in my room than in my Aurora LX, that's for sure.

At 6pm, I called for a cab to get myself over to the Runway Visitor Park for the event led by Chris Roberts, who has not been having a great couple of weeks, what with the activities of certain opponents of this project.

I decided to arrive a bit later than the doors opening time so I wouldn't have as long to wait before the scheduled start time of 8pm local time. In fact this merely meant I ended up near the back of the queue to get in, something which meant it was half an hour before I got in. This is not the longest time I have spent in a queue for a convention by the way. 

During the wait, much discussion was had especially of one D. Smart. A guy I was with thought he should have come wearing a Smart mask. It was also clear from conversations before and afterwards that some people had travelled some serious distances to be here, getting up at very early hours.

The Runway Visitor Park hosts an array of old aircraft and I would certainly want to visit there properly at some point. The main hall contains one Concorde (which the main stage was underneath), which those with VIP passes could actually go in. Unfortunately, I didn't actually have one... as mentioned, I only have an Aurora as my main ship, plus whatever else I have on REC.

I must admit to being disappointed with the goodie bag - one badge, one unpainted model, one sticker and one poster. OK, I really liked the poster - which is now in my bedroom - although it was a bit difficult to get into my suitcase, let along the other drawstring bag I brough with me. Good thing I will have a virtual version for my hangar to go with my Golden Ticket (he says, trying not to brag).
However the food was very nice, even the lamb despite what Morrow said later on. We were also given a voucher for a free drink from one of the two bars; as I'm not really an alcohol person, I had a J2O. Anyway, enough about my drinking habits or the lack thereof and onto the event.

I noticed quite a few people in costume, some of them in ones from a somewhat different Verse to our one - including no less than two guys dressed up as Jayne Cobb from Firefly complete with knitted hat. As I quipped to one of them, he was an awful long way from Canton. Cosplay really isn't my thing however and it was actually a good thing I brought my coat as it got a bit chilly later on until they turned on the heaters. There were of course frequent sounds of planes taking off in the distance.

Pride of place for best "gimmick" of the night goes to the guy who brought along a lampshade on a stick, which he got many CIG people to sign. Speaking of signing, there was a poster for all the attendees to sign, which got a bit hard to find free space on by the time I'd gotten into the venue.
Slightly less pleasing was the fact that the number of people in costume possibly outnumbered the number of those with two X chromosomes, that is women, who were not on the catering staff. 

Speaking of women, Sandi Gardner is surprisingly short in real life even with heels on. Not of course there is anything wrong with that.

The event in fact started half an hour late - apparently they were finishing a build. As I thought to myself, this is CIG; half an hour is nothing compared to the many other delays we've encountered over the three years since this project started.

We of course started off with Sandi reading out a letter she'd written to the community thanking them for all their support - she's been subjected to some vile accusations over the internet from various people over the last few months and it was clear that it has gotten to her. Trolls should be aware that words do hurt. She was then given a massive bunch of flowers.

The video summary of the story so far was interesting, but only served in my mind to highlight that we've had somewhat of a drought in actual playable content over the last few months - not that I don't like the Social Module, it's just that I was hoping for some FPS action by now.

We then moved onto the next steps for the game - 1.3.0, which is basically a further upgrade to the Social Module and Arena Commander... then 2.0, which was the first really big announcement of the event. The delay to FPS was worth it because we're going to get the PU, or at least the start of it much earlier than I thought we would. Even the area around Crusader is going to be huge by any standard and filled with much more than you'd find in a certain other space game at the moment. We then got to see a live demo of the Crusader action - this can be found on-line, but looks very impressive indeed. This included some decent spaceship action and also a spot of FPS against some pirates, although I'm oddly a bit disappointed we didn't get to see what happens in the game when you turn into a Norwegian Blue, so to speak i.e. 'die'. Roberts was very clear not to give firm dates on anything - as we know what happens when we get those.

Then was the announcement of the Ark Star Map from Dave Haddock - and the fact that it's already gone live. I took a look at this when I got home and while it's still very bare bones, it looks great. The travelling through the jump point between systems actually reminds me somewhat of Stargate SG-1, but we will of course have somewhat bigger ships.

The Million Mile High Club - well, I don't think I'll be eligible for it myself, but maybe you guys can invite me? Hint, hint? As for the stuff over the Saitek HOTAS, this didn't really interest me. I'll stick with my Speedlink Black Widow for the moment, thank you very much. I do intend to try to use the referral program with my own contacts - at any rate, I hope we hit a million citizens soon. (Edit: I wrote this on Monday, that milestone was achieved on Thursday)

The reveal of the Sabre fighter; well, it looks impressive, but I'm not likely to do a great deal of actual dogfighting in the PU at any rate. Piracy isn't my cup of tea and at any rate, I have problems getting hits with guns in AC as is.

Right, onto the big event... the Squadron 42 cast reveal. We got the suitably rousing speech from Gary Oldman's character (I didn't recognise his voice initially) - and let's just say that he's trumped one Eleanor as my favourite fictional character called Bishop. Hopefully he won't end up like one Admiral Tolwyn, for those of you who are Wing Commander fans. After the speech, we then got the reveal of the cast via the title sequence, with various levels of cheers as the names popped up. It's definitely the case that you really can't do a British-based project these days without having at least one person who has been in Game of Thrones in it - indeed we have two in the form of Liam Cunningham and Gemma Whelan. The former is in fact my favourite casting choice - Ser Davos Seaworth is on my favourite characters from the show and it's also notable that this isn't his first time playing a Captain of something - he was a submarine commander in an episode of Doctor Who.

I must admit that I had to look some of the actors up later - and mistakenly thought Rhona Mitra, whose career includes Strike Back and apparently being the original Lara Croft model, was the former MMA fighter, who is in fact Gina Carano... Anyway.

Chris demonstrating the size of the scripts was impressive, although the optics of him dropping the SQ42 scripts weren't brilliant.

The actual demo - well, if that's the early version, the real deal is going to be something else... and will indeed be a computer testing game - I got my current PC solely for Star Citizen in fact. It looks superb - and the guilds with an Idris will be very happy bunnies indeed as it is superbly detailed - even with dialogue sync issues in this. Looking forward to seeing some actual combat in that game.

Only slight gripe is that there isn't an option for the player character to be female - it would be nice to have a choice and that's something hopefully for the future.

As a final note, I will say that no-one looks very dignified in a motion capture suit with their face covered in tracking dots.

They brought out a cake at the end, but I don't think this was for the guests - at any rate, it was getting a bit late and I wanted to get back to my hotel. I was one very happy man when I got back to my room. I popped into Manchester proper the following day and I must say I was impressed by that as well - I would go there again.

I'd like to thank Imperial News Network, whose live blog has served as a memory aid for putting all of this together.

See you in the Verse and I will be staying on the Guard. Keep up the good work.

Silent Hunter (the operator of the Phoenix Roleplaying Twitter account)

14 October 2015

Less Fisher King and More Fisher Price (Review : 'Doctor Who' 35.4, "Before the Flood")

Doctor Who can be a very unpredictable beast at times. Just because one episode is a barn-stormer, doesn't mean that the next one will be - "The Caves of Androzani" was notably followed by "The Twin Dilemma"; BTW, I'm currently listening to the The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure from Big Finish and the Sixth Doctor is very well done there.

So, we start off with the Doctor discussing Beethoven and bootstrap paradoxes - both of which have turned up in the Whoniverse before. His liking for Beethoven was mentioned in the expanded universe in 2000 and the latter at at least three times in Steven Moffat stories; well... in fact you've kind of got it all the back to 2005. Then he plays electric guitar - Peter Capaldi's misspent youth coming up again. The fourth-wall breaking speech at the beginning was one of the highlights of the episode.

Clara continues to act as the Doctor's restraining influence; without her 'human touch', it's possible that the Doctor would have indeed actually gotten himself killed. She's definitely firmly ensconced herself in the role of the companion... which is going to make it even more of a pity once she goes from the show.

The base crew were good - I did feel sorry for O'Donnell when she died and the scene with Cass was very tense. Mind you, if you're going to murder someone, it's not a good idea to drag your axe on the floor, regardless of whether your target is deaf or not.

The Fisher King, while very well done in the special effects department, was otherwise uninspiring. He just seemed generic and not a massive threat in any way. He was disposed of rather easily I found and he is definitely not the sort of character that I'd want to return. I also was not keen on Prentiss, who I found annoying - as I believe I did the previous member of his race in "The God Complex" (I believe it was that one).

The effects in general were also very good - the flooding of the valley of course featured in the trailers, but kudos to the designers for the military training ground decked out to look like a Soviet town - these sort of facilities, suitably updated to reflect 'current' areas of operation i.e. the Middle East, still exist for the British Army.

The conclusion and the resolution to the mystery is a good one, although one does start to wonder if the sonic sunglasses are being overused. This said, I'm glad this story is over as it did feel a bit too long; not the best two-parter by a long chalk.


I did find this one dragging quite considerably; while the overall pay-off was good, much of this could have been a lot better than it was. This said, full credit for some good use of time travel.


Maisie Williams is in the next episode; I hope this will be a stark improvement... get it, Stark improvement? I'll get me coat...

05 October 2015

Not Quite The Ace of Base [Under Siege] (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.3, "Under The Lake")

This is an episode where I have varying and mixed impressions; so I'll go through them in some form of order and hope that this all makes sense to you... at least more than this episode made to me at times.
  • Starting on 21st November 2119 and then jumping forward three days; it should have been two days of course.
  • Well, they certainly lit the underwater facility much better than the one from "Warriors of the Deep".
  • The Twelfth Doctor is on decent enough form; definitely acting true to his character of someone who is too busy saving the world to care about social niceties - or reading the cue cards. I'm also liking the sonic sunglasses which add levels of functionality that the screwdriver didn't have.
  • Clara was good, but not overly so. I think I preferred her in the previous two episodes. I'm probably going to argue that this may down to the writer, Toby Whithouse, having not written for Clara before - or for that matter for the Twelfth Doctor (his last story was "A Town Called Mercy" before he worked on the single season 1970s spy show The Game).
  • The black man dies first; it's been a good few years since we had that happen in the show, I would say.
  • The 'ghosts' - well, we've had stuff like this before, but it was well done and certainly atmospheric.
  • Very interesting idea to have a deaf member of the base crew; although from my own personal experience, not all deaf people are completely mute.
  • The rest of the base crew were certainly well-played, but it wasn't explained why they seemed somewhat under-dressed. Scottish lakes are not known for being that warm.
  • Apparently flooding a nuclear reactor is a "common" crash procedure to absorb all the neutrons; it was done at Fukushima. But don't you have control rods to try first?
  • The ending was certainly an interesting one and it's nice to see some amount of time travel form the key part of the episode.

Entertaining enough, but nothing overly impressive. Hopefully part two will be better.


03 October 2015

Realtime Trains

Thought I'd mention this site, which I also own the app for:


It provides real time information on rail services, including freight services, so you can see what is likely to come past any particular station. Also, for many services, it tells you what type of train is booked to run it; so I today learned that I'm likely to get my first Pacer ride by the end of the month.

Not sure what to say about that.