Target Review 005 – Doctor Who and The Keys of Marinus

Written by Philip Hinchcliffe

From the Back:

MARINUS
a remote force-shielded island set in a sea of acid, governed by
THE CONSCIENCE
the ultimate computer which rules and balances the gentle life of Marinus, guarded by
ARBITAN THE KEEPER
ruthless protector of a peace loving race threatened by
YARTEK
Warlord of the brutal sub-human Voords, sworn enemy of Arbitan and of Marinus, who has within his grasp
THE KEYS OF MARINUS
the Conscience’s vital micro-circuits, the doors of good and evil.  Can the Doctor find the hidden circuits in time?  Arbitan’s command was ‘Find them, OR DIE!’

Opening Line: “The day–like every day on Marinus–started clear and bright.”

First thoughts are that this is an odd novelization.  Oh, the actual content is normal enough.  In fact, it is quite straight-forward.  What makes this odd is that Philip Hinchcliffe, the producer for Tom Baker’s first few years, is the author.  Hinchcliffe had nothing to do with this story.  Granted, many Target books are like this.  Ian Marter, the actor who played Harry Sullivan (also from the Tom Baker era) novelized a few of the books as well, many of them of episodes he wasn’t in.  I’m rather curious what it was that led to Hinchcliffe writing this particular novel, especially as I would say his heart wasn’t in it.

As novelizations go, if you want a straight script-to-prose adaptation, you will be quite pleased with Keys.  Unfortunately, I prefer the books that go into greater detail and become something beyond the source material.  Since Keys still exists, and has been released on DVD, I would probably prefer to watch the serial than revisit this book.  This is just personal preference.

Final Verdict: Yeah, I realize this is a short review, but I just didn’t care for this novelization.  I was quite bored.  Occasionally I felt I should just watch the DVD because it would be quicker.  I will try to make the next review more interesting.  Sorry.

From lust to gluttony: “Vasor quickly locked the door behind him and turned to Barbara.  ‘There.  We’re alone.’  He gave a funny chuckle.
Barbara shuddered and crossed to the fire.  Vasor followed and put his large hands around her shoulders.  She broke away, trying to conceal her alarm.  ‘He’ll be back,’ she said, ‘I know he will.’
‘We’ll see.  Meanwhile I’ll get us some food.  We must fatten you up, eh?’”

Doctor Who – Story Number 40 – The Enemy of the World

Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Barry Letts

The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive on Earth in the not-to-distant future and are quickly involved in a plot to impersonate a world leader named Salamander, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to The Doctor.

“They’re human beings indulging in their favorite past time of trying to destroy each other.”

If ever Doctor Who felt like James Bond, it is felt strongly in this story.  In the first episode we have a helicopter chase, a hovercraft, explosions, shootouts.  Actually, that’s probably the most action in the story, and it is all lost, meaning we have to imagine what happened, which means it was amazing and spectacular!  But I must admit that it felt odd to be thrust into such an action-packed story.  Again, it felt very James Bond as we soon discover the eponymous Enemy of the World is a man named Salamander who has access to some spectacular technology that not only helps provide areas with enhance crop growth, but can also be used to cause seismic disruptions and volcanic activity.  And we have it on word from Giles Kent, a man who once worked with Salamander before being discredited, that Salamander is thoroughly villainous, replacing sector leaders with men who are loyal only to him.  As The Doctor resembles Salamander, Kent wants the time traveler to impersonate the man.  Unfortunately for Kent’s plans, The Doctor requires hard evidence before attempting to disrupt the regime of a seemingly benevolent man.

“A disused Yeti?”
The first half of this story is given to proving to both the audience and The Doctor that Salamander is evil.  To this end, Kent and his assistant Astrid formulate a plan by which Jamie and Victoria can infiltrate Salamander’s group.  It is a simple enough ruse as Astrid fakes an assassination attempt which Jamie easily thwarts.  Grateful for the ingenuity of the young man, Salamander offers Jamie a job, and even hires Victoria who is posing as Jamie’s girlfriend.  Or is she really posing?

The timing of their infiltration coincides quite well with Salamander’s plot to remove Sector Leader Denes from power.  So, rather than gather any real evidence, Jamie and Victoria help to smuggle the now imprisoned Denes out of Salamander’s clutches.  Ultimately, they fail, which leads to Denes’ death and Jamie and Victoria being compromised and imprisoned.  While I understand that Denes would have been a great ally to Kent’s cause, it seems a bit foolish to focus more on rescuing him rather than sticking to the original plan.  As it stands, Jamie and Victoria become convinced Salamander is evil based on how his staff feel about him and based on how they feel when in his presence.  Hardly conclusive.

“People spend all their time trying to make nice things and others come along and destroy them.”
The Doctor eventually becomes convinced that Salamander is not a benevolent leader after seeing evidence that implies the removal of Denes as Sector leader.  Unfortunately, this is not hard evidence and it can’t be used to prove anything.  And ultimately, The Doctor doesn’t entirely trust Kent.  The discredited leader doesn’t want The Doctor to merely impersonate Salamander.  He wants The Doctor to kill him.  The Doctor doesn’t feel this is justified under any circumstances.  Unfortunately, faced with the imprisonment of his companions, The Doctor doesn’t have much choice.  He doesn’t wish to kill Salamander, but he must go along with the impersonation.  In a last minute twist, World Security Leader Bruce starts to doubt Salamander and is willing to work with The Doctor.  Quite a lot of amazing things happening, eh?  But wait, there’s more.

It seems that Kent isn’t that benevolent either.  He wants Salamander out of the way so he can take over.  It seems he and Salamander had orchestrated the plan to hold the world hostage with the technology they had developed, then imprisoned a group of people in a nuclear shelter to operate the equipment.  The people trapped underground have been led to believe the world has been devastated in a nuclear war and only Salamander is able to bring them food and find a new home for them.  Talk about a last-minute convolution of the plot.

“Salamander speaks to many people.  Some, only once.”
After the glacial pace of The Ice Warriors (see what I did there?), The Enemy of The World is action-packed and full of espionage and intrigue.  This is great, but it feels a bit out of place in Doctor Who, much like Seeds of Doom from The Fourth Doctor Era feels more Avengers than Doctor Who.  However, it is a bit of fun, more escapist than anything.  Plus, it allows Patrick Troughton to have a dual-role as both The Doctor and Salamander, much like the dual-role Hartnell had in The Massacre.  While The Massacre was a better story, The Enemy of the World can be fun in an over-the-top, Bondesque way.  And sure, Troughton’s Mexican accent for Salamander is a bit overdone, but he still makes a great villain.  The final moments of part six, where Salamander confronts The Doctor in The TARDIS are quite chilling.  And we get a cliffhanger to lead us in to the next story.  All-in-all a lot of fun, if not a lot of substance.

 

Novel Review – The City and The City

It is not considered breach to click on the picture and buy the book.

Written by China Miéville

From the Flap: When a murdered woman is found in the city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad.  But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.
    Borlu must travel from the decaying Besźel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own.  This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen.  His destination is Besźel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma.

Opening Line: “I could not see the street or much of the estate.”

This is the first novel by Miéville that I have read and I think I have found a new author to adore.  The City and The City is an amazing novel that is so intricate in its plotting and conception that it is hard to know where to begin to describe it, nor is it easy to stop thinking about it after finishing it.

On the surface, The City and The City is a straightforward murder mystery, straight out of a noir film.  Tyador Borlú narrates his investigation with the matter-of-fact description one might expect of a noir detective in a post-Chandler era, although without the sarcasm inherent in Chandler’s Philip Marlow.  However, this investigation becomes complicated due to the geographic, social, and political relationship between Besźel and Ul Qoma.  Simply put, they share the same place.  They are topographically linked.  Miéville is a bit coy about whether these are two cities divided by political boundaries (much like the division of Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem) or if these are cities existing the same space time, but slightly out of phase from one another. Crossing over from one city to another is illegal except via Copula Hall, which is the legal border cross-point between Besźel and Ul Qoma.  Anyone who crosses illegally is guilty of breach (the action) and investigated by Breach (a shadowy force or organization).  Thus, if the murderer breached in his abduction and murder of the woman, the Besźel police can turn the case over to Breach.  Unfortunately, as evidence comes in, it seems the murderer was quite familiar with the intricate laws governing the crossing between cities.  The murder is straightforward, complicated by the unique bureaucratic situation of Besźel and Ul Qoma.

In many ways, The City and The City could be considered an anti-fantasy.  Miéville hints at the fantastic, but these are always teasing, stopping just short of revealing anything concrete, or sinking back into the mundane outright.  Again, are Besźel and Ul Qoma physically connected, or merely out-of-phase?  Is Breach composed of a mysterious force of mortal men and women or are these human forms avatars of something more fantastic?  And is there a secret third city, existing in the spaces both Besźel and Ul Qoma overlook?  None of these questions has a concrete answer.  It is entirely up to the reader to choose an interpretation, and each interpretation fits.  I can’t tell you how much that impresses me.

He has a doctorate in International Relations and he writes wierd fiction. What's not to like?

Despite being a noir-thriller, The City and The City has some fascinating themes, not least of which is the concept of unseeing. There are places where the two cities crosshatch, places where the boundaries are weak and citizens of each city can see each other and view each city.  However, seeing these things is considered breach.  Citizens of both Besźel and Ul Qoma are trained from a young age to not see one another.  Both cities have their own architectural styles and citizens their own way of dressing, walking, even driving.  These are the cues used to indicate nationality.  These are the cues that tell you who to notice and who not to notice.  Thus, on a thematic level, unseeing is nothing more than ignoring the taboo. On the surface, it seems ridiculous as you try to imagine the citizens of the two cities ignoring friends who may have crossed into the other city, ignoring them because they wear visual identifiers that indicate they are no longer present.  However, each society has the looks, actions, and opinions which are acceptable.  Anything which violates that is the other and the easiest way to maintain the status quo is to unsee and unhear the taboo.  How often do we ignore the homeless or poor because their way of dress or hygiene signals us to disregard them?  How often to we unsee brutal arguments between spouses in public places?  There are many actions that we choose to ignore.  There are many classes that we choose to forget.  Besźel and Ul Qoma are merely exaggerations of natural human tendencies.

Final Verdict: If you like fantastic literature (rather than epic fantasy), you will find plenty to tantalize in this novel.  If you like noir-thrillers, with dangerous cities and conspiracies, you will enjoy this read.  If you love high-concept science fiction, you can’t go wrong either (did I mention that The City and The City won a Hugo?).  So long as you don’t mind pervasive strong language, I recommend this one.

The Power Behind the Powers: “‘Orciny’s the third city.  It’s between the other two.  It’s in the dissensi, disputed zones, places that Besźel thinks are Ul Qoma’s and Ul Qoma Besźel’s.  When the old commune split, it didn’t split into two, it split into three.  Orciny’s the secret city.  It runs things.’”

Target Review 004 – Marco Polo

Written by John Lucarotti

Click on the picture to be transported to a magical world where you can purchase this book.

From the Back:  The young Venetian Marco Polo is on his way to the Emperor’s court in Peking when he meets the intrepid time-travellers, for the TARDIS has landed on Earth in the year 1289.
Marco Polo recognises in the TARDIS a means of winning favour with the Emperor. But in the end the Doctor has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his wondrous travelling machine – which he gambles away to Kublai Khan…

Opening Line: “‘It’s freezing cold outside,’ Susan said, looking at the external temperature thermometer in the TARDIS, ‘minus twenty.’”

I make no attempt to hide that I love the televised version of Marco Polo, well, the audio that exists of it.  So obviously, my standards were high going in to this novelization.  Thankfully, Lucarotti adapted his own material, and he did so exceptionally.

This novelization was written in 1985, a full 21 years after the final episode of the serial aired.  I’m not sure how much Lucarotti drew from his script or memory, but he does an excellent job of adapting it.  Yes, there are a few changes, in particular the ending in which Tegana is shot by arrow rather than engaging in combat with Polo.  Some of the changes work better than others and I think I prefer the combat from the serial to the quick dispatching of Tegana.  But the relationship between Ping-Cho and Ling-Tau is more believable and satisfying.  In fact, because many of these changes work well, I think I prefer the novel to the TV version.

This is yet another great historical adventure.  Lucarotti provides plenty of details and flavors of Cathay.  The novel flows quickly, as many of the TARGET books do, and is a wonderful way to enjoy this lost story.  In fact, it was this novel that really gave me a glimpse into how important the TARGET books were to children.  I felt like a child again as I read this.  I wonder if my nieces and nephew would be interested in a copy once they are old enough to read . . . .

Final Verdict: Do I really have to repeat it?  I loved it.  Recommended for a warm, sunny day.

A Misery Shared: “‘What a burden old age is,’ Kublai sighed.
‘A trial to be borne with dignity, Sire,’ the Doctor observed.
‘You are right, our friend.  With dignity,’ Kublai replied and with little ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘ouches’, the two of them hobbled out of the throne room.”

LOST Chapter Thirteen – Hearts and Minds

Written by Carlton Cuse and Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Rod Holcomb

It is time for Boone to make a choice.  It is time for Boone to let go of the one thing that holds him back.  Luckily for him, John Locke is there to help.

Creepy Boone eyes

“I’m doing this, Boone, because it is time for you to let go of some things.  Because it’s what’s best for you.”

It’s been a few months since I’ve done this, so bear with me.  In fact, I’m questioning whether or not my heart is in this.  Sure, I still want to re-watch Lost and see if it holds up on a second, more compact viewing.  I currently wonder if it primarily didn’t seem to work because I spent six years watching it rather than a few months.  But at the same time, I can’t truly tell if this theory will work because I cannot re-watch this show without knowing what happens, and thus, my reactions are tainted by foreknowledge.  And this foreknowledge makes me move from a place of pitying John Locke, to feeling rather disgusted by him.  Sure, many people thought at the time, and presumably still do, that John Locke was cool.  However, I am coming to the conclusion that he is not and never was cool or “bad ass”.  He was a fool.  You see, John Locke has always lived in a place of brokenness, abandonment, and shame.  He has never truly healed from the pains of his past, many of which have not yet been seen in this rewatch.  His awakening on The Island has been spurred by his physical healing and his one-time vision of The Monster.  And because he has experienced two events which he cannot explain, John Locke now sees himself as wise, as a chosen, as a guru.  But in reality, the broken core still exists.  We will spend the rest of the show, from season two until season five, learning just how clueless and inept John Locke is.  Yes, this is sad and tragic.  He is a man with some skills and knowledge that has been picked from one source or another and combined into an a’la cart spirituality that inevitably leads him more astray than it does save him.  And this is why his presumption to heal Boone is so agonizing.

“Boone . . . is hunting?”

There is less in this flashback episode pertaining to Shannon than to Boone.  While both characters are present, the real focus is on Boone’s obsession with Shannon.  In the end, she claims he loves her and always has, but I don’t buy it.  Boone is protective of her, yes, and I think he believes he loves her, but in reality he doesn’t.  He does, however, want to be her hero.  He has paid off many of Shannon’s boyfriends to leave her because he feels this is for her protection.  What he never understood was that Shannon was conning him.  She was using Boone’s hero complex and misunderstanding of love to manipulate him.  She always split the money with her boys.  It was only just prior to the plane crash that Boone realized what Shannon had been doing to him for years.  And just to clarify, Boone and Shannon are step-brother and sister.  They are not related by blood, so obviously it is okay for them to sleep together in this episode.

Boone lives in the shadow of his perceived obligation to Shannon, his perceived need to be her hero, a hero she doesn’t want.  Locke decides to help Boone break this hold that he willingly submits to.  To do so, he knocks Boone out, ties him up, secretly drugs him, and throws a knife at his feet, telling Boone “you will free yourself when you have proper motivation.”  Locke then abandons the boy in the jungle.

One of many shots of Locke staring at the ocean.

“Follow me.”

Boone’s experiences in the jungle are a type of vision quest.  As such, it is difficult to tell how much of what we see in Boone’s Island story is real and how much is hallucination.  Obviously, he doesn’t really interact with Shannon, but is he merely hallucinating her or is she a manifestation of The Monster.  And on that topic, is Boone really pursued by The Monster, or is he hallucinating that as well?  As with Rousseau, we are dropped back into unreliable narration, then given John Locke to explain Boone’s experience.  And what is so tragic about this situation is that ultimately, Locke is correct.  Boone needs to let go of Shannon, he needs to stop defining himself by his relationship to her.  Boone needs to find out who he is.  John Locke is a bit Machiavellian here, but even Locke wasn’t sure what would happen.  For all he knew, Boone could have been killed in the jungle.  But Locke has blind faith, and so it wouldn’t have occurred to him.  Locke feels he is in the right but he truly has no idea what he is doing, which makes Charlie’s assertion “if there was one person I’d put my absolute faith in to get us off this island, it’s John Locke,” all the more disturbing.

Buy the Episode here.

Buy the season on DVD here.

Doctor who Story Number 39 – The Ice Warriors

Written by Brian Hayles
Directed by Derek Martinus

During a glacier melting project, something living is found in the ice.

“He didn’t come by shetland pony, Jamie.”
Conceptually, I think this story is amazing.  The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive in Earth’s future and discover a planet being destroyed by glaciers.  We learn that as humanity progressed, they began to significantly decrease the plant life of the planet, which caused a catastrophic shift in climate.  It seems that the Earth’s scientists underestimated the effect of plants on the climate.  Now, humanity is evacuating to Africa and other warm continents as science outposts work to drive back the glaciers with specialized equipment that should be able to melt the ice.  Science destroyed the world, and now science plans to save it.

At the European base, a scientist named Arden makes a trip to the glacier on a general scouting run.  He discovers something unexpected in the ice.  It appears to be a humanoid wearing a helmet, and Arden quickly hypothesizes that it is a Viking.  He returns to the base, the creature in ice in tow, electrodes hooked to the ice and slowly thawing it.  Much to everyone’s dismay, the creature is not a Viking.

I love the starting point of this story.  England is under siege by nature and few people remain.  Like all great post-apocalyptic stories, images of desolate wastes and abandoned civilization haunt this story.  The European base is in an old mansion, mixing historic with futuristic technology and clothing.  A scavenger and ex-scientist Penley take their refuge in an abandoned botanical building.  And the typical base-under-siege format is turned slightly on its head as Ice Warriors are held under siege by the European base’s ioniser, the European base is held under siege by the Ice Warriors’ sonic weapons, and both parties are under constant threat from the glacier.  No one has it safe in this story.

Penley and Clent exchange words.

“You’re not a man.  You’re just a machine slave.”
Possibly the concept that I have the most difficulty with is that of the computer.  In this futuristic society, computers are deferred to for just about every decision.  The scientists feed data to the computer and consult it before taking any action.  Penley left his post due in part to this blind allegiance.

Now I don’t have a problem with the concept, per se.  I’m sure we have all seen people who do not seem to function without their smart phones.  How many people these days can read a simple map without having to rely on their GPS?  These are smaller examples of the point this story is trying to make, but I take issue with how heavy-handed the story portrays the society.  Miss Garrett in particular seems to view the machine with the reverence some people pay to celebrities or deities.  In the end, the scientists face the decision to either be destroyed by the glacier (or ceaseless confrontations with The Ice Warriors) or destroy The Ice Warrior ship and risk an atomic explosion that would kill everyone.  Essentially, this is an impossible decision where either option could result in the death of everyone in this story.  The computer is unable to make a decision that would result in its own destruction, and it malfunctions, rendering Miss Garrett and Clent unable to decide.  Penley must make the final call to act, to use the ioniser against The Ice Warriors.  It is hard for me to envision people becoming so blind in their dependence, but perhaps I’m just too hopeful for the power of human competence.

“I refuse to let you go!”
“Splendid!  You go instead.”
There are some great bits to this story.  Again, I love the dire view of the future.  I enjoyed Clent, the leader of the project.  I found him at once irritating and sympathetic.  I’m glad that most of the scientists at the base survived and that Clent recognized his own weaknesses in the end. But working against the story, for me, were the aforementioned computer worship and the six-episode format.  I think this story could have been told quite well in two.  That said, I think Hayles did a good job of creating enough characters to fill the space, but sub-plots such as Jamie’s temporary paralysis and Storr’s attempt to ally himself with The Ice Warriors were unnecessary.  But, as is usually the case, the episode count probably preceded the scripts, so it wasn’t necessarily Brian Hayles’ fault.

As for The Ice Warriors themselves, they are compelling, but I don’t necessarily see much depth here.  They are your standard alien monsters.  Granted, Varga is more interested in survival and freeing his warriors than imparting great swaths of Martian history and culture.  As such, he is less likely to trust, but seeing him quickly go so quickly to distrust and superiority toward the humans with little real reason was a bit disappointing.  Sure, the Ioniser could be seen as a threat, but Victoria and The Doctor both attempted to reason with him, and he hardly listened.  That said, knowing The Ice Warriors will be back, possibly with more depth, is something to look forward to.

Click here for Doctor Who – The Ice Warriors [VHS]

Xombi

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazier Irving

This past weekend a friend gave me a comic series that I enjoyed immensely.  The imaginatively quirky Xombi follows the adventures of David Kim, a Korean-American scientist who was fatally injured in a lab accident (well, an evil scientist tried to steal his work).  In order to survive his injuries, Kim’s assistant injected him with a nanovirus which saved his life.  This virus has turned him into a technologically enhanced human.  The nanobots keep his body in peak form and it seems, at the moment, that he cannot be killed.  He isn’t a superhero in a traditional way as he still has basic human strength.  He just cannot be killed.  The six issues I read are a continuation of the stories that Rozum did in the 90s, however this new series is written for new readers and I had no problem getting in to this strange, new world.

And what a strange world it is.  I’m not sure exactly how he first encountered them, but Kim works with a team that investigates supernatural crime and crises.  He is joined by Julian Parker (a son of demons), Rabbi Sinnowitz (Jewish expert of the occult), and a group of super-power enhanced Catholics that go by the names Nun of the Above, Nun the Less, and Catholic Girl.  As you can tell from the names of the characters, the series doesn’t take itself too seriously and it is this quirky mixture of supernatural horror and humor that made me fall in love with this series.

Much like Doctor Who, Xombi is a concept that is only limited by the imagination and creativity of writer-creator Rozum.  In fact, Rozom grew up watching Doctor Who, and sees a similarity in tone.  Xombi is a magical series that is aided by the amazing artwork of Frazier Irving.

Irving is an artist that captured my attention while reading Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy.  His style seems to suit the horror style perfectly, as it did in Klarion and later issues of Batman and Robin.  His rendering of Professor Pyg in the latter series was particularly chilling.  Since Xombi takes horror concepts and twists them imaginative and quirky ways, Irving’s art feels perfect.

I love the idea of the church investigating supernatural phenomenon.  I love the idea that myths and legends of antiquity may indeed be real, just not how we envision them.  I love that this comic was surprisingly introspective and philosophical.  These characters are not superheroes who punch and kick their way to victory (although there is a share of that), but these are well-developed characters who want to fit in.  They want to find meaning and love.  David Kim wants to maintain ties to the mundane world where he originated because it grounds him as he struggles to help “police” the supernatural world he has found thrust upon him.

Possibly the only downside to this series is that with the DC Comics relaunch, Xombi was cancelled.  But don’t let that deter you from checking out the series.  This six-issue story is completely self-contained and it doesn’t really leave any dangling plot threads.  The trade paperback collection will be released in February and can be ordered here or through your local book seller or comic shop.  Definitely recommended!  Check it out.