14 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein

The allegations against this man, who had huge power in Hollywood until recently, are serious and deserve proper investigation. However, sexual misconduct is a problem not just limited to Hollywood but is a society-wide problem.

I think there is a simple thing that people should do: ask permission before making any sexual moves on another person. What you may interpret as being a tease is not always so.

07 October 2017

Secret '67

I am currently running a 1960s set espionage game over at Myth-Weavers going bay the name of 'Secret '67':

Please take a look. I'm having a very good time writing this and the research I have done to get the period detail correct (especially regarding transport) has been very interesting indeed.

04 October 2017

60 years of spaceflight

Today marks 60 years since the launch of Sputnik 1 started the Space Age.

I for one think it is a real pity man hasn't gone beyond the moon.

Maybe it will happen by the 70th anniversary. We can only hope.

02 October 2017

Las Vegas

It doesn't ultimately matter what the motivations were for a man to fire masses of bullets into a country music festival in Las Vegas, then kill himself before the police arrive.

58 people are still dead, their families are in mourning. They should be in our thoughts tonight... and we should work out how to prevent more things like this from happening.

22 September 2017

Star Trek Discovery plans

Instead of a series of reviews, I'm going to do a single post with a paragraph or two on each episode. The critics seem to like it and hopefully I will to.

If not, there is always the delete button...

21 September 2017

Berlin highlights

(The journey, Innotrans)

In this post, I will be covering some of the other things that I saw when I was in Berlin last September.

Let's just say that on the Saturday that I visited Innotrans, my legs ended up very sore and I broke my personal step record by quite some margin.

Tempelhof Airport


Closed since 2008, the former main airport of West Berlin is now a large park area. The main terminal area itself is not open to the public, but is planned to be part of a large museum from 2018. It's pretty rare to find such a major aviation facility in a city centre that's for sure.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Station)

The new central rail hub of Berlin, opened in 2006, this five-storey facility hosts services that go as far as away as Moscow and is one of the best stations in Europe architecturally. The layout is much better than St. Pancras and the 'spotting' is truly superb, with a brilliant array of rolling stock and locomotive power on display.



It is common place for non-multiple unit international trains to formed of coaches from more than one country; they are designed to work together pretty easily and this blue coach is a Hungarian one, for use on a Euro Night sleeper train going from Berlin to Vienna via Prague and Brno, with through coaches to Budapest. A through coach is a carriage that is uncoupled from one train and attached to another; the Orient Express of old comprised many of these.


From the same train, a Czech carriage.


Finally, a Czech couchette car. Couchettes are sleeping compartments designed to host four or six people; so the 'couchette avec moi' joke doesn't work unless the passengers are very unusual... convention is that you don't fully undresss.

 

Berlin's U-Bahn network has a general rule about not taking photographs without permission; I was able to get permission to take some photographs in the Hauptbahnhof's station. Currently this is only served by U55, a short line that runs from here to the Brandenburg Gate station; the ultimate plan is to connect this to U5 at Alexanderplatz, but this will not be until 2020.


One particular highlight of my trip - and I waited at the station for a couple of hours to see this - is the Moscow to Paris sleeper train. This was running three times a week when I was there; it has now been reduced to weekly only, although there is now a new Berlin-Moscow service to partly make up for it. There were five other people at least taking photos of this one.

With a German locomotive hauling a train of Russian sleeper cars and a Polish restaurant car, this service is an example of international rail cooperation; services like this ran during the height of the Cold War, although the East German border guards often caused considerable hold-ups...

The Palace of Tears

Speaking of considerable hold-ups, Berlin Friedrichstraße station was once a major stopping point on the international trains, although is now only served by regional trains and the U-Bahn.

When the Berlin Wall was up, this station served as the rail arrival point for East Berlin; people coming for visits (say West Berliners visiting relatives) would have to go through a fairly intense series of checks to enter the GDR and also when they were going out; the queues could be very long and there were over 100 cases of people dying there, mostly from heart attacks.

In addition, West Berlin U-Bahn and the S-Bahn trains from the West (operated by the East Germans until 1984) stopped at the station and one could shop for reduced price Western goods at the Intershop duty free establishment without going through GDR checks... although West Berlin police might be waiting on the other side.

The "exit hall", which is now a museum, became known as the Palace of Tears due to the large number of goodbyes that were said just outside it. It houses an array of exhibits linked to the GDR border regime, including the original wooden passport booths used.



You can step inside these and go out the other side; when I did so, I was immediately reminded of the game Papers, Please.

Well worth a visit.

The Reichstag

Home to the German legislature, this rebuilt (after of course being gutted in the 1933 fire used by Hitler to assume total power) structure has been suitably updated to modern times, with a glass dome accessible by a long ramp, a general emphasis on environmentalism and the ability to look down into the Bundestag chamber from said dome, although not to drop Union Jack flags into it if you were so inclined. You need to apply in advance to visit this and go through the standard security checks; there are guided tours in English, but not at the time that I went, which was a Monday evening.

11 September 2017

Skulduggery in Space (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.10, "Journey to Babel")

Yes it has been far too long but I am finally resuming this. Things review wise may be shorter but they'll still be funny. I hope.

Make it so.

****
This shipbound tale has three separate plots going on: a murder mystery among a group of diplomats, a mysterious ship following the Enterprise and Spock getting to meet his parents for the first time in four years, which is somewhat of an awkward affair. 

The first of these would be good enough for an episode in its own right... but with a lot more work needed. We get some rather sudden developments that occur without warning (including a Kirk fight) and an overall premise that stretches credibility.

The second is an enjoyable affair with a mysterious spacecraft with some good bridge action that does not involve throwing oneself about. Pity we never get a good look at it though. 

Sarek will feature in the new show played by James Frain, a man who I will not be able to take overly seriously after he got tied to a bed by Tatiana Maslany with his socks on. Anyway, the superb scenes between him, Spock and his human wife massively illuminate Vulcan culture as well as allow Dr McCoy to excel. Even the end comedy scene is good.

****
Overall, this is a very good episode, although not for the murder part; that's rather weak.

It's the Spock and Sarek story that saves this and does it very well indeed. It runs long and prospers as a Vulcan might say.

8/10.

29 August 2017

North Korea missile test

Now that was completely and utterly reckless. Firing a missile over another country without any warning...

And we don't know how accurate those missiles actually are.

Yet the cost of taking military action against the DPRK is going to be very high.

There are no easy solutions here.

18 August 2017

Sir Bruce Forsyth 1928-2017

Not many people spend seven decades in showbiz. Not many have a comeback when most of us would have retired. 

A true icon of British television has taken his final bow. It was nice to see him...

03 August 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Yongary

This dubbed 1969 Korean Godzilla rip-off is very tepid; the action is not good but there isn't enough truly bad stuff to make it a classic riff field. Jonah et al do what they can with what they have, but it's not a brilliant episode by a long chalk. 

Great song at the end though. 

7/10

16 July 2017

Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Doctor

Came running up in the odds in the last couple of days - and it was clear that the people putting bets on knew what they were talking about. Does the BBC have rules about insider trading?

Anyway, a very good choice - it was definitely time to have a woman in the TARDIS - and a very good reveal. Kris Marshall would have been bored.

So, come Christmas, it will be time for 13... and she looks very intriguing.

11 July 2017

Trump: Smoking Gun #1

We now have clear evidence that Donald Trump's son knowingly attempted to get "dirt" from the Russian government to discredit Hillary Clinton.

There's a word for that sort of thing, especially if a quid pro quo is involved. 

Treason. 

09 July 2017

Berlin railyard - Innotrans 2016

This is the second part of my trilogy of posts relating to my visit to Berlin, Germany in September last year. If you want to read the first part, please click here.

In this particular instalment, I will provide a general guide to the site that I saw on the first public day - Saturday 24 September - including some of the key exhibits that I saw.

Certain pictures are linked to rather than posted in order to reduce loading time of this entry and to avoid breaking up the text too much.

Also, Wikimedia has over 300 photos here including many interior shots from the non-public days.

The site

Innotrans takes place at Messe Berlin, a huge trade fair site dating back to the 1930s, located in western Berlin. It was a fairly long walk from my hotel; especially as you had to go all the way round the site to find the entrance for the public viewing. While walking anyway in Berlin, you have to of course remember that jaywalking is illegal.


The trade days featured a string of interior displays in the halls themselves, but these were not open to the public. All they got was the exterior displays, in which a large array of trains of the present and near future were placed on display in a large rail yard. Multiple long lines were filled with locomotives, multiple units, wagons etc.

Here are some of the highlights.

Locomotives


The bi-mode version of the Class 68 (which operates Chiltern's very nice loco-hauled service), the Class 88 aka the Vossloh Euro Dual is a mixed traffic locomotive designed to haul both freight and passenger stock. These are capable of 100mph operations and will probably be pretty popular for charter services. Class 47s and 86s may have character, but when you're paying several hundred a ticket, you want something with a couple of million less miles on the clock.


I believe this is a Newag Dragon locomotive built in Poland for the Freightliner Group - which is the privatised version of the old British Rail freight transport business. Powered by electricity, I think this also has a diesel engine for 'last mile' operations as overhead wires don't tend to mix very well with freight yards.

Another bi-mode; this is the Vectron AC. This particular version is intended for Finnish use and thus will be on broad gauge tracks i.e. 1,520 mm versus the standard 1,435 mm; hence the special yellow supports underneath to deal with the latter track at Innotrans. Finland was part of the Russian Empire until 1917, so its railways use the same gauge as used there and across the former Soviet Union, which resulting operational difficulties. Believe this will be mainly used for freight.


This old German steam locomotive called Emma, built in 1925 was travelling back and forth, being available for cab rides. The queue was rather long, so I choose to skip this.

Loco-hauled coaches


Locomotive-hauled stock is getting increasingly uncommon as the multiple unit becomes more popular - after all a locomotive takes up extra space that could be used for passengers. However, it still survives in sleeper services - underfloor traction motors aren't conducive to a good night's sleep.

This particular coach is intended for use in Azerbaijan and the wider Caucasus region (i.e. to Tbilisi); therefore it is also using 1520mm gauge... but can also be adjusted for operations on standard gauge lines - such as into Turkey. Changing gauges without physically lifting the carriage off its bogies will save a lot of time at the old Soviet border.

I believe this will be replacing older Soviet-era stock.

Diesel Multiple Units


This Hungarian vehicle is a two-car Rail Diagnostic Train. As the name implies, this is used to drive over railway lines and electronically inspect them for any defects so that they can be fixed before they become a more serious problem. The interior has sleeping accommodation as well for use on longer trips.


This is a Pesa Link diesel multiple unit operating with the private operator Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn; this provides rail services in the north and east of Germany, with trains crossing the border to Koztryn. This is actually a Polish built unit - the first to get certification to run in Germany - and I would ride in one later on my trip.

 
PP is the Croatian state railway passenger arm and this is one of their newest trains - the three-car diesel electric (where a diesel engine runs an electrical generator to provide power for traction motor) HŽ 7023 intended for regional use. Locally produced, it is capable of 120 km/h - not fast (only 75 mph) - but most of Southern Europe isn't exactly high speed. Low floor entry as well; very useful on stations with barely any platforms.

Electric Multiple Units

Some of my readers may well have used the new Class 700 Siemens Desiro City units currently entering service on Thameslink. While I quite liked them, there have been issues with the seat quality and the accuracy of the seat display system. It seems very much that a short hop commuter unit is being used for too many roles at once; Thameslink is also a medium-distance service and an airport train, which have somewhat different needs.

There should be less issues with the South West Trains cousin to the unit, the Class 707, of which three of the five carriages of 707006 were present at Innotrans. Some of these have now arrived in the UK for testing and service entry was intended for June, but has now slipped. These will be used on Waterloo to Windsor services, allowing for the Class 458s that work the line to revert to Reading operations and in turn allowing the 450s to go elsewhere. Access to the interior wasn't possible, but the photos I have seen elsewhere look quite nice and with journey times of under an hour, there should be less of an issue with the fact there are no toilets. These five car units will also often run in pairs to provide ten-car trains.

However, it appears that this won't be long for the South West as the new franchise holder has managed to find cheaper trains, namely Bombardier Aventras, but with the capacity to fit them for AC operation, these will almost certainly find a new operator quickly.

I fancy another visit to Windsor at some point at any rate.


This rather nice looking train processes one of the stupidest appellations for a railway family I have seen in my life time. This is the Stadler Fast Light Innovative Regional Train... or FLIRT for short. They also have the double decker KISS (komfortabler innovativer spurtstarker S-Bahn-Zug or comfortable, innovative, sprint-capable suburban train), which I actually rode on a few times while I was in Berlin. It kind of begs the question of where you go next in the naming department...

Anyway, I was particularly interested in this one as a modified version will be operating on Greater Anglia from 2019 onwards, with a 12-car electric version for London to Norwich services and a 4-car bi-mode version for services on the diesel lines. These will replace the Class 90 loco hauled trains on the former and 153/170 DMUs on the latter. I will miss the former, but not exactly the latter.

While the interior of the train is nothing like what it will be in UK service; there will have to be modifications for the loading gauge, one particular feature of the FLIRT will be a lowered door area that will make it much easier for wheelchair and pushchair users to enter the train.


The Stadler EC250 is a 250km/h capable unit initially designed for Milan to Zurich operations by SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) and entering service this year. This is another low floor unit - apparently the first such single deck unit in the world. I was able to go inside this - very nice inside.


This is an 36WE unit, built by Neweg of Poland for Przewozy Regionalne, the regional operator operator formed when PKP was broken up (as a result of EU regulations) and now owned by the regional governments. These are three car units, capable of operating at 100mph and are part of the Impuls family.

An interior shot can be found here.

 
This is a Turkish high speed train - specifically a Siemens Velaro, a relative of the new e320s in operation on Eurostar. Known as the TCDD HT80000, this entered service in March 2017 on two Turkish high speed lines.

Trams 

A new tram currently in service in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, built by Škoda Transportation. I don't believe that they are part of the same company that makes the car any more; that is a VW subsidiary that has managed to bury its bad reputation.

Freight/maintenance


A Zagro road-rail vehicle - capable of driving on both.


A double deck car transporter. It's more efficient to transport them this way...

Shopping and food opportunities

There were a number of stalls selling new and second hand items, including model railway equipment, old caps from Deutsche Reichsbahn (i.e. the East German operator) and various old badges. I bought a little model of a Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle (main carrier of West German and contemporary German mechanised infantry) and also another non-running N-gauge model of the V200 locomotive. The latter diesel-hydraulic loco is considered a German classic and was licence-built in the UK (in a modified form for our smaller loading gauge) as the Class 42/43 'Warship' Class. There were other model carriages there, but as I don't have a model railway, I couldn't justify the cost to myself.

In terms of food, there were various stalls selling that, but I seem to recall that they were all rather expensive and not exactly a full filling meal. I certainly didn't have lunch there, that's for sure.

Overall

I had planned to stay the entire day, but in the end, I was only there for just under two hours before I had pretty much exhausted everything that there was for me to do there - I am far too old for children's rides, that's for sure. Not being able to see the interior displays or that many train interiors was somewhat disappointing, but I did get to see a lot of railway stuff I don't normally get to see.

7/10
The admission fee, which was either three or six euros, was enough to cover the time that I was there. If this had been the sole reason that I came to Berlin, it would have been a big disappointment, but there were many other experiences for me to have...

This will be covered in Part Three.

03 July 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Loves of Hercules

This is a very silly swords and sandals movie dominated by two stars' chests. The SOL crew have a lot of fun and there are many chuckle inducing riffs, although none truly brilliant. 

The vocalising at the end is superb but the rest of the episode is merely very good. 

8/10


02 July 2017

Berlin post

The second post in my Berlin trilogy has been completed and will appear next Sunday. I will then do a post covering some of the other places that I visited in this city, which hopefully will not take too much longer. I certainly intend to have it up by the anniversary of me actually going there.

01 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls

More of an emotional episode than an action one, this very much gives some good closure to many of the characters, while leaving the door open for returns. The Cybermen are again great here and there's some nice tying together of all the different origin stories, so to speak. Capaldi's Doctor is a bit moany through much of this, but as a way to 'die' – although he hasn't quite gone yet – it's a superb one. Two Masters were pretty good fun, but not as much as it could have been.

 

Another great ending though; Christmas will be very interesting indeed.

 

8/10

 

29 June 2017

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time

This review is later than usual as I've been away in Vienna, Austria and was unable to watch the episode until today. I made sure that I avoided spoilers though.

 

As we heard towards the end of Steven Moffat's time as show runner, this episode frankly knocks it out of the park. As well as great acting all round – it took me a few minutes to spot one key twist – he's added a whole new level of horror to one of the show's most iconic 'monsters'; going to levels that were only hinted at when RTD handled them.

 

A brilliant episode from start to finish and next week's finale is something not to be missed.

 

10/10

 

19 June 2017

Finsbury Park

Four attacks in four months; this one by the 'other side' in this hateful conflict. Yet again, someone takes their anger out on a group who have done them wrong by attacking someone completely different.

I sadly fear more attacks.

17 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light

Rona Munro, who wrote the final story of the original run back in 1989 has been away from this show for far too long – her return is a triumph with a great story, a brilliantly realised creature and lots of great gags.

 

This is also the first story of the 12th Doctor's era to be set in Peter Capaldi's native Scotland and it works really well.

 

9/10

 

16 June 2017

Grenfell Tower

We are almost certainly looking at a disaster as bad as Hillsborough here. My thoughts and prayers are with the many caught up in this.

It is clear that this fire ended up as awful as it has been due to someone failing to follow fire safety procedures somewhere, almost certainly to a criminal level.

A public inquiry is the right thing to do and in the meantime, these tower blocks need to be made as safe as possible. 

In the future, they need to be replaced by buildings fit for purpose. 

10 June 2017

2017 General Election results

A fuller post on this will follow, pending post-poll studies of the actual demographics that turned out. However, some quick thoughts:

  • The Conservatives remain in power to all intents and purposes. May got the highest vote share for them since Margaret Thatcher, despite leading a highly inept campaign. It is clear, however, she is not suited to the role of PM and should probably step aside for someone more competent at the top job.
  • Labour did much better than expected, but whether this was down to Corbyn or despite him remains to be studied. He has taken Labour a good deal of the way there, but he may not be the person to take them back into power.
  • The Lib Dems are irrelevant now. Nick Clegg's decision to go for full coalition instead of confidence and supply has cost his party dear; he has now paid with his own seat.
  • The SNP are badly battered but still there – the next Scottish Parliament elections will be very interesting.
  • The DUP... well, we're all going to be paying a lot more attention to Northern Ireland now, that's for sure.

 

Doctor Who: Empress of Mars

Got to say that I didn't enjoy that one at all. Looked great, but the guest characters were all very broad stereotypes, the plot twists were silly (dropping one big one without warning suggested something important got lost in the edit) and the new Ice Warriors weapon seems like an excuse for the effects people to show off..

 

Also, that was one of the most out of left field reappearances by a character I've ever seen. I didn't even know that voice actor was still alive...

 

3/10

 

09 June 2017

General Election Result 3: Or maybe not...

The current projection is for the Conservatives to have 318 seats, eight short of a majority. I thought that a Conservative minority government was the worst realistic scenario for them at the election and it looks like coming true.

Labour have done much, much better than a lot of people thought, although they haven't managed to break through the Ulster Firewall and will likely end up as second place in the popular vote. 43-40 sounds a realistic result to me.

Close, but no cigar.

08 June 2017

General Election Result 2: I think the exit poll is off

2 swings to the Tories and one less than expected Labour swing... I think we might get a Tory majority...

UK General Election 2017 Results 1: Exit Poll

Exit poll has Conservatives at 314, 12 short of a majority. However, with the SNP down to 34, then with Labour at 266, that only makes 300. Even with 14 Lib Dems, that's no way to form a majority either.

Of course this poll could be wrong. It was in 2015; it predicted a Tory minority government and the Tories got an overall majority.

Or it could go the other way. At the moment, May is likely to remain PM.

04 June 2017

London Bridge/Borough terrorist attack

I am afraid, yes, but I am not cowed. With the third terrorist attack on the UK in the space of two months and with my current job requiring me to use the busiest railway station in the country on a daily basis, the possibilty of me getting caught up in one of these incidents is not zero.

I find myself thinking about what I would do in such an incident. It would depend on the circumstances and what I could viably do. At any rate, we all have to mentally prepare ourselves for such an eventuality. Learning first aid is a good idea as well - I have done an online CPR course and I may look into getting something more formal in future.

(I have been involved in two situations where I have had to call 999, both at the same railway station, although in those cases, I was the one making the call while others were attending the victim).

In addition, businesses need to add an 'Active Shooter' plan to their list of company policies.

The police killed the three terrorists in eight minutes from the first 999 call, but that was eight minutes in which they managed to kill seven people (so far) and injure 50. If this had been in somewhere like Rugby or Hull, they wouldn't have been there in eight minutes.

It is now time for a serious discusion on routine armament of the police. If not handguns, most certainly Taser. Because these people could strike anywhere with no warning and they need to be stopped quickly.

These people think they are doing God's will when in fact they are doing Satan's. Mr. Horner is a wily old fox and he knows that few people indeed are your classic cat-stroking villains, doing evil for the LOLs. If people believe they are doing something good or righteous, then they are willing to engage in some real atrocities.

Going forward, we will need to get seriously tough on those who radicalise vulnerable men (and it is nearly always men) with long prison sentences and putting them in special wings where they cannot turn others to their cause. We need an off-shore Alcatraz for these people.

We must also address real and valid grievances in the Islamic world - not because it causes terrorism, but because it is the right thing to do and it will eliminate some of the excuses. We must also recognise and make clear that most victims of terrorism, along with most of those doing the fighting are Muslims.

There is no talking with Daesh except to ask them what they would like for dinner as they serve their whole life terms - the death penalty is what these people want. The IRA never wanted the destruction of the United Kingdom, Daesh do.

I hope I don't have to write another post like this. I sadly fear I will.

03 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land

A strong episode, with Capaldi at his cold best... also, a very different episode for Missy... There were certain elements I wasn't overly keen on though, with the resolution being a bit too 'Power of Love' for my taste.

 

Great central idea, could have been executed (no pun intended) a bit better.

 

8/10

 

 

 

01 June 2017

General Election prediction

I think that the Conservatives will win an overall majority of between 25 and 50 seats with around an eight point popular vote lead, say 44-36. A lot of marginal seats will change hands in both directions and there will be much variation in swing levels. 

May will remain Prime Minister, Corbyn will remain Labour leader but neither will fight the 2022 election. 

I could of course be very wrong on this. 

31 May 2017

US 2016/17 upfronts thoughts

Renewals
  • CBS did their usual bulk early renewal.
  • Designated Survivor, a superb show, was a natural candidate (no pun intended) for renewal. Agents of SHIELD less so, but it must have its fans in the upper management.
  • Timeless getting axed was sad, but no surprise as it had middling ratings. Getting reprieved three days later was a huge surprise. The show will almost certainly be a summer one and hopefully it will get two or three more runs - it's a fun show, even if a bit silly at times. Hey, so is Doctor Who.
  • The CW's DC based shows continue to do well - Legends of Tomorrow is great and the episodes of the other shows that I've watched relating to crossovers are fun as well.

Cancellations

  • Conviction failed and failed big time. Hayley Atwell will probably be moving back to the UK soon; you don't really get a third chance to crack the US. I think the 10pm slot on Mondays for ABC may become a "cursed one", but we shall see.
  • Powerless didn't even get to conclude its run before being yanked, which is a huge failure for a DC based show.

New shows
  • A major drop in the number of new shows this year; the pilots may have been really bad...
  • Star Trek: Discovery looks visually epic and I definitely plan to watch it, but the proof of the pudding remains in the eating.
  • The Orville, Seth MacFarlane's spoof space drama looks like it could be a lot of silly fun and I definitely plan to do that.
  • Think I'll pass on The Gifted. Amy Acker is a brilliant actor, but she alone does not a series make and I prefer my comic book shows with some good jokes.
  • Also Valor looks too 'angsty' for my taste. 
  • NBC have again geo-blocked their trailers... Sarah Shahi has got her own show with Dennis Haysbert, but it remains to be clear whether it will be a Shaw-fire hit or if it will be time to Palmer off in May... with that awful pun, I'm done.

27 May 2017

Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World

An episode with an epic scope and yet still relatively small-scale, this features one of the best plots we've seen in a good while with a great cliff-hanger. The special effects are also great and it's really good to see an actor with dwarfism playing a human instead of an alien.

 

Next week looks really interesting, even if a bit of a remake of "The Last of the Time Lords", which was nearly a decade ago now!

 

8/10

 

26 May 2017

Remember a little thing called margin of error

The opinion polls show Labour closing the gap on the Conservatives.

However, there is a statistical margin of error in any poll of three points either way and any poll is built on assumptions about voting that may be off.

My current prediction is a Tory majority of 50 to 100, but my on the day prediction for 2015 was Labour as largest party in a Hung Parliament...

23 May 2017

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

It was a matter of time, with three of them as old as they were, before we lost a Bond actor. The 007 fan community knew this and it is likely that many of the obituaries posted today were written in advance. 

While not my favourite Bond, Sir Roger Moore's seven films in the role contain some of my favourites, most notably 'For Your Eyes Only' - a major influence on 'Covert-81'. His 'Jimmy' Bond could handle terrifying and ridiculous situations alike with aplomb - defusing a nuke dressed as a clown is a hard job to play seriously but he did it - while his raised eyebrow will go down in legend.

Getting a knighthood without being a Shakespearean actor is a huge achievement but he was a man of them.

Rest in Peace, Sir Roger. May many a vodka martini be raised in your honour tonight. 

Manchester

Only the vilest of people engage in deliberate attacks on children at a pop concert. 

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this outrage. 

21 May 2017

Doctor Who: Extremis

Explaining just what the Doctor has in that vault, this is a very dark episode, literally and metaphorically. The pay-off when it arrives makes the journey worthwhile, but if we're being honest, it's a bit of a slog at times.

 

There's some good humour (although it's rather limited) and the performances are again stellar, but there have been much better Steven Moffat episodes over the years.

 

What this does do is set up the next episode and kick things up a gear... what happens next will be very interesting.

 

7/10

18 May 2017

Chris Connell 1964-2017

A tragic loss, especially as he killed himself. "You Know My Name", the theme to Casino Royale, is one of my favourite songs and a superb Bond theme.

Rest in Peace.

17 May 2017

All The President's Men 2: Electric Trumpaloo

With the latest reports from the New York Times, it seems we are getting ever closer to Donald Trump getting impeached. 

I don't know if it will happen but the idea of him doing the perp walk makes me rather happy inside.

14 May 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Land That Time Forgot

This 1974 fantasy movie based on the 1924 novel is not a bad film, but it is definitely cheesy and the imperialist overtones of the original work are pretty clear to see. The most memorable character for me is Dietz, played with relish by Anthony Ainley, who later played the Master in Doctor Who against Doctors Four through Seven.

 

I have to say that while this episode (which I watched in two parts separated by over a week) was enjoyable, it doesn't stick in the memory like some of the others have. Not bad at all, but certainly not a classic.

 

7/10

13 May 2017

Doctor Who: Oxygen

A strong episode throughout with a strong horror quotient and some very dark humour – especially Velma, the AI voice of the suits. What is basically a lot of corridor action is done very well, although it does get a bit preachy at times.

 

Great ending though... There's a spoilery joke that I won't make.

 

9/10

 

08 May 2017

A limited nuclear attack on the UK - how much damage could it do?

Some of the detonations
 Out of curiosity, I have decided to model using NUKEMAP a 'limited' nuclear strike on my home country, aiming at key military facilities (air and naval) and avoiding cities just for the sake of it, but I will hit Central London for command and control purposes.

For ease of calculation, I will be limiting this to Topol/SS-25 ICBMs at 800kt each, going off 1000 metres above their targets - this does more damage, but produces less fallout. This will just cover the initial attack - not fallout, which is very much weather dependent.

The targets are: 

Aldermaston (nuclear bomb construction)

RAF Boulmer (Air Defence control)
RAF Brize Norton
RAF Coningsby

Faslane (Naval base)
RAF Fylingdales (Early warning radar)
RAF Lakenheath (USAF)

London (10 Downing Street to be precise)
RAF Lossiemouth
RAF Marham
RAF Menwith Hill (US/UK intelligence and communications facility) 
Plymouth (Naval base)
Porton Down (Chemical Weapons)
Portsmouth (Naval base)
RAF Waddington


That is 15 ICBMs... Unfortunately, the system keeps resetting itself, but I end up with well over a million dead, mostly those in London, Plymouth and Portsmouth, but other areas will produce thousands of dead. I did not cover army bases, but it is entirely possible that the Russians could eliminate the UK militarily with 30 or so ICBMs.

However, the UK would still have a missile boat out in the North Atlantic with 8 Trident missiles and those could do a lot of damage in return... not to mention all the US boats.

06 May 2017

Doctor Who: Knock Knock

Now that was a nice 'base under siege', or rather 'house under siege' episode with a lot of creepiness throughout and an excellent villain in the form of David Suchet. Bill was again superb.

 

Not overly sure about the resolution, but you can't have everything.

 

9/10

 

 

 

03 May 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Starcrash

Who wrote this dog's breakfast of a movie? It's like someone decided to let a 7 year old plot a science fiction movie... no a 7 year old could do a better job. Plot elements turn up with no notice whatsoever, the acting is atrocious, the effects are ridiculously cheap. There are better movies with Caroline Munro wearing a bikini for no good reason, that's for sure; namely The Spy Who Loved Me, which was not actually scored by John Barry (Marvin Hamlisch did that one), whose music is pretty much the only good thing about this. Also, who calls a character Stella Star? It's almost as bad as Luke Skywalker...

 

Bad movies often make for the best riffing and this is no exception. Servo and Crow – it's very odd seeing the latter standing up on his own legs in the theatre – throw some real zingers, as of course does Joel. I laughed a lot at this, although they did miss a couple of obvious riffs... and I have to say that the riffs do sag a bit in the middle of the film.

 

Also, "Live from New York, it's the torpedo sketch!" is a superb line.

 

9/10

29 April 2017

Doctor Who: Thin Ice

Can't say that this one overly struck me; well it certainly held my attention for the whole episode, it didn't exactly thrill me. Bill Potts is proving to be a superb companion and Twelve has got his character down pat. However, the rest of the episode left me cold (pun intended) – there were no real standout guest performances and the street urchins... well, this show has done them a lot better.

Just how many people of colour were there in London in 1814? That's what I'd like to know.

6/10

27 April 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Beast of Hollow Mountain

Much of the movie here is actually a bit boring; the titular beast is not actually seen until the third act. When he does appear, things get massively cheesy. 

The riffing - in which Tom Servo and Crow are now easily distinguishable - starts slowly but is rolling along brilliantly by the end, even going meta.

Another great episode. 

9/10

24 April 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Avalanche

Got to say that this one is the best of the new run so far and may well become a fan favourite. 1970s disaster movies are a rare subject for the show (it did two in the KTMA season) and they're very ripe for riffing, especially this 1978 turkey starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow.

The film itself is pretty terrible - Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow have no chemistry, the film takes far too long to get to the actual avalanche and much of it is just over the top.

The riffing however is top notch. I actually got hiccups at the end, where the bots and Jonah start giving the destroyed resort TripAdvisor reviews... Also, the skits were great.

10/10

22 April 2017

Doctor Who: Smile

Not exactly the most original story in the show's history  - the overall plot is one that has been told before, including one more than one occasion by this show itself.

 

That said, it's a highly enjoyable episode, helped particularly by Pearl Mackie who manages to steal scenes from Peter Capaldi on a regular basis – she says the really obvious things that a regular person would say... rather than a science fiction writer would have them say. Bill is taken us on an excellent adventure, If you know what I mean...

 

I'll get me coat...

 

8/10

19 April 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000 11.3: "The Time Travellers"

The 200th episode of the show is an excellent one. The movie itself is suitably of its time (no people of colour at all!) to be a rich target for jokes and they're very good jokes indeed.

 

The skits in the breaks were just as good – in particular the bit involving Rocket Number Nine's welcome return...

 

Near perfect.

 

10/10

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 11.2: Cry Wilderness

A very strange movie but (or rather and) the riffing is consistently solid throughout. A lot of laughs to be had.

Not as good as the previous episode (no memorable song) but still great fun.

8/10

18 April 2017

General Election called for Thursday 8 June

Well, that was a surprise. Although it is clear from the polls why Theresa May has decided to call one.

 

I'm probably going to end up voting for the Lib Dems – I live in a safe Tory seat anyway. I can't vote for Labour, not now. I hope that the likely mullering it faces saves the party in the long term as they'll have tried the same thing three times (running on a hard-left platform) and failed every time.

 

But Hope is a place in Arkansas...

 

Anyway, it's on like Donkey Kong. Prepare yourself for seven weeks of British election campaigning...

 

15 April 2017

Doctor Who: The Pilot

I am going to be doing mini-reviews of the current run of this show – as well as the new Star Trek series and Mystery Science Theater 3000 from the second episode on. I will try to do them shortly after I've watched them so impressions are fresh in my minds and I'm not too swayed by others.

 

Took a little while to get going this – 50 minutes was arguably too long for the episode. However, once it did get going, it was very good. Bill is a different sort of companion in that she asks the obvious questions that others haven't always asked in the past. Also, they're very upfront about her being a lesbian, aren't they?

 

A lot of good humour and the Doctor-Bill-Nardole team works well. Also, the trailers for next week and onwards look very interesting.

 

7/10

 

12 April 2017

Kumar Chameleon, a Star Citizen story, Episode 4: Rendezvous





Sunita woke up and after dressing, she made her way down to the hotel’s dining room to eat breakfast, where some of the breakfast options gave a whole new meaning to ‘hash brown’, due to the presence of cannabis in them...

After choosing something not laced with unusual mushrooms, Sunita made her way to a meeting with Mary and Daniel, who were getting their entertainment in early at one of the fighting pits. Daniel was dressed in a set of overalls with the name ‘Dharma Mining’ on them and Mary was dressed in a white suit.

“So, where’s this dealer?” Sunita asked. “Donald Hood?”

“Hook”, Mary corrected, “At this time of day, I’d imagine he’d be sleeping. Or playing with his model trains”.

Below them, two Xi’an chained together were trying to avoid becoming dinner for a very large brown bear. This wasn't exactly legal, but legality didn't get very near Spider station.

“Model trains?”

“The guy is well and truly an oddball. Model trains is the least weird thing about him. We’re going to need to figure out which of us will distract him and which of us is going to go through his stuff…”

“Well”, Daniel said, “This is going to sound clichéd and sexist, but as Sunita is the younger one, she’d probably serve as the better distraction”.

“To think Emily Davison threw herself…” Sunita muttered than turned back to Daniel speaking more clearly, “Er… How am I going to distract him? I’m not very good at being all sultry and that”.

“You could talk to him about trains…”

“Do you get many female rail nerds?”

“Well…” Mary said, “I’m sure there are some out there… and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to meet one”.

Donald Hood could be found in a key cutting and general repairs shop located on Deck 3. Quite why he wasn’t more obvious about his actual business on somewhere like Spider was a mystery. Especially as most firearms shops were far more open about it.

Sunita Kumar opened the door to the shop, which rang a bell at the back of the office. She was dressed to distract with a low-cut tight top over a pair of jeans as her apparel and wearing enough make-up for three beauty product ads.  She hadn’t felt this awkward since senior prom and that was before she’d vomited all over her date’s dinner jacket after too much punch. There’s nothing like a spot of reverse peristalsis to kill your chances of romance.

Looking around ‘Hood’s Ironmongery’, she saw an array of trophies, household items and garden gnomes for sale. She’d known this system was depraved, but garden gnomes was a whole new low. 

Running around the business area, at about 3 metres off the ground was a model railway track, on which a blue locomotive was pulling four blue and white carriages, making occasional horn noises.

The screen door to the rear of the shop opened and Donald Hood emerged, with a tall grey-scaled Tevarin standing just behind him, the latter looking inquisitively at her. Or her cleavage. She wasn’t sure which.

Sunita saw Hood and got the measure of him. He was a man of moderate with fairly short dark blonde hair, pale skin with some red patches by the sides of his nose (apparently some recurrent skin complaint) and small silver glasses on his nose. That was probably his MobiGlas; very few people did not have laser vision correction these days, but there were always exceptions.

“Hello”, he said, “Can I help you at all?”

“Yes”, Sunita said, effecting a low stern voice that she remembered from a villain from a kids’ show when she was younger, “I am looking for a trophy to be engraved for a competition that I am running”.

“Ah, right”, Hood said moving over to the checkout and tapping some items on a screen, “Have you picked the trophy yet?”

“No I was looking for some suggestions”.

“Well, that would depend on what sort of competition that you are running. Some designs are more suitable than others for this sort of thing”.

Sunita paused and managed to suppress her laughter – just – as she told him.

“It’s a tiddlywinks competition”.

Hood didn’t say anything here.

“Is that unusual at all?”

“No, not at all”, Hood said, “I’ve done considerably stranger in my time. Let me go and look at my catalogue… I’ll be right back”.

Sunita considered this… and figured that having him go in the back was not a good idea. Especially if Mary was in there.

“There’s no rush…” she said flirtingly and looked up at the ceiling, “What’s that model train going around the track? It looks very nice”.

Hood was beaming at this. He didn’t often get the chance to talk about it; especially to a pretty lady…

“That is a train all the way back from pre-space Earth… it’s called a British Rail Class 31…”

Mary had considered wiring Sunita for sound and speaking to her directly, but the risk of the equipment getting detected coupled, with the possible consequences of that, had led to a decision not to.

She had made her way to the service corridor at the rear of Hood’s Ironmongery and three minutes after Sunita had entered the shop, she began to pick the lock at the rear door.

“So, while it wasn’t exactly the most glamorous locomotive about, it was very much a workhorse for its railway at the time. I think it’s like me. Not exactly glamorous, but a hard working horse”, Hood said, “I can order a copy of your own if you want…”

She looked at him.

“I’ll think about that… now about that tiddlywinks trophy…”

She heard a faint rattling and out of the corner of her eye she could see Mary starting to work the door handle… she needed a major distraction.

Sorry to all the feminists…

She leaned in and suddenly kissed Hood full on the lips. No tongues of course. After five seconds they separated, Hood’s eyes bulging in shock.

“Wow…” he said as Mary passed through the door and snuck into his office. It would take a minute or so for her to copy the information from his computer… so she needed to distract him for that long, at least…

“Has anyone told you that you’re really sexy”, Sunita said, laying it on with a trowel, “I’d really like to take you on a date and then have wild, wild sex with you…”

She then began to slowly and sensually describe what she intended to do with the shop keeper. Safe to say that it wasn’t the sort of thing that she’d ever say anywhere near her mother and she felt dirty just saying it.

It seemed to have the desired effect; Hood didn’t know whether to be confused or excited.

Mary moved towards the rear door having retrieved the information with a data stick inserted into an access port. She had also had to listen to Sunita’s potty mouthed description. 

That woman is either seriously experienced or possesses a seriously filthy imagination.

She opened the door and stepped out into the alleyway… then saw the Tevarin bodyguard standing barely two metres from her.

“Two words”, he said in English, “Silent alarm”.

Mary gulped slightly. The Tevarin had pulled out a large nasty looking sword and was holding it in one hand.

“Now, you have two options”, he hissed, “You can give me whatever you took from in there or you can discover what it’s like to be decapitated”.

Mary smiled at him.

“Is there a third option?” she said.

“No…”

Well, here goes nothing…

“Look behind you. It’s a three-headed sata-ball player!”

The Tevarin turned and had a look towards his rear… which gave Mary time to turn and run. About five paces. Then the scaled beaky creature tackled her to the ground, turned her over and punched her in the face with his free hand. He pressed the tip of his sword to her throat, drawing a small bit of blood…

“Any last requests, human?” he snarled.

“Er… fish and chips?” Mary said.

“Sorry, not available…”, the Tevarin said and raised his sword ready to strike…

TO BE CONTINUED