Wednesday, 25 September 2013
On the spaceship Umbra, a sim set in the Firefly universe, tensions are rising. The Umbra crew has met with their former captain Anton ‘Gore’ Gorman, but some do not seem too pleased about this meeting. Current captain Carolynn Annesley does not want to give up her command and tech specialist Brint Dao-Tsun, who was kept as a slave by Gore, seems to be intent on the man’s death.
However, one of the newer crew members, Tina Suvorova, appears to have sided with Gore, while the ship’s doctor Peter, as is the case most of the time, seems to have his mind elsewhere. And finally there is Mr. Grafton, who only acts in the interest of his employer, Mr. Payne.
With everybody holding guns to each other’s heads it is difficult to say which of them will survive this unexpected encounter. (mb)
Sunday, 22 September 2013
One of the newer sims on the Phoenix forums, The Dark Cometh, has managed to get 931 posts made by 8 players during its second month, which resulted in a Sim Strength Ranking of 116.38: a record.
The sim revolves around an ancient secret organization trying to regain lost elemental relics while fighting agents of the Dark, who are trying to get their hands on the relics as well.
The sim was created by Sim Leader Raven and Brandon L. ‘Brandon and I were talking about his sim Zodiac Mercenaries, and he suggested that I run with a superhero sim’, Raven explains. ‘I have never run one before, but as soon as the idea came, it was al-most instantaneous. We've placed a lot of history and varied reli-gions to make this world all-encompassing and real as a Super Powered sim could be.’
Measured in STR the sim is very successful, but Raven doesn’t nec-essarily see it that way: ‘It's had its pitfalls and changes along the way. But I will say this is a labour of love. Out of sheer accident the NPCs came to life on their own, and the players just responded.’
At this moment two expansions for the sim are being set up (mb)
Saturday, 21 September 2013
I have now completed my playthrough of Persian Incursion. While I don't plan a further go through any time soon (this one took me ten months), I may try single strikes out.
I now present ten initial conclusions that may of course be completely and utterly wrong. I will not of course that things seem to be moving away from a military confrontation... at the moment at any rate.
1. Iran has to use political means if it wants to win
For one thing, most of the cards in Iran's deck are political ones, including threats over oil prices and stoking the Israel-Palestinian issue. It is possible for Iran to win the game if it plays these correctly - what it wants to do is stop the the Israelis from getting overflight rights and keep the Americans one. Both of those moves failed in this game.
2. Israel will do major damage to an Iranian nuclear programme
The sheer number of aircraft that Israel can put into a strike operation - it could in theory operate a 72-plane raid if it jiggled the tankers correctly (and got some more) mean that Iran cannot hope to stop attacks in their entirety, or even in their majority. A bomber will always get through.
3. Iran lacks any reliable means of defeating Israeli planes in the air.
Most Iranian planes cannot hope to even get close enough to a F-15 or F-16 to fire, especially if the latter are packing AIM-120Ds. Even then, they have poor missiles.
The F-14 is designed to shoot bombers. The MiG-29 is their best all round jet... but even then it's a limited plane. The Saeqeh is not modelled, but I cannot imagine it being hugely better.
4. Israel needs at least two squadrons to guarantee a successful strike
If it want to suppress Iranian defences and handle any Tor-M1/Pantsyr response without losing aircraft, you need about 48 aircraft. An effective demonstration of the potency of stealth aircraft, who don't have to worry about the defence issue - the two F-22 strikes were decisive and the second won Israel the game.
5. The Strait of Hormuz strategy is a bad idea
Iran was able to close the Straits, but the move generally annoyed key people it shouldn't have annoyed; when it got a closure and tried to stop the US alliance, the dice rolls were against it.
6. Iran cannot strike Israel effectively, especially if the US come in on Israel's side
The ballistic missile strikes were all failures - generally being intercepted by SM-3s before they even bothered the local defences. A 16-missile strike could do something, but even it is too likely to miss entirely.
The terror attacks can have an effect, but there is a decent chance of it going the wrong way.
7. F-16s are not capable long-range strikers
They are limited in what they can carry into Iran from Israel to two PGMs; an entire squadron on a single site might not be enough to take it out. They are best used as escorts and SEAD planes.
8. The F-22 is a superb plane
Stealthy, big weapon loads... it secured victory for Israel. These would play a big role in any such attack. I never got to try the B-2 out in game.
9. The Small Diameter Bomb is a great weapon
The F-15 and F-22 can both carry these small but potent bombs in quantity; if I'd realised how good these were earlier, I could have probably finished Natanz in the first attack.
10. Iranian SAMs are largely useless
Nearly all of them missed, there's not enough of them in the whole country to stop an Israeli strike and they're easily suppressed by Suter attacks or suppression missions. They can get lucky, but you can't rely on luck.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed playing it. Israel had the dice on its side for much of this, but does hold a rather superior position. Iran really needs clear foreign assistance and even that might not be enough - they didn't have any foreign aircraft or SAMs in this game.
However, things got close and who knows how it would play in reality.
I hope we never have to find out.
Friday, 20 September 2013
It seems a near certainty that I won't be able to complete this series - or my series on the history of the show, for the anniversary. This disappoints me (and it may disappoint you), but as the man off the telly says, I've started so I'll finish. In retrospect, I should have to stuck to one for each Doctor.
Another one from the recent BBC book re-releases; this Trevor Baxendale one sees the Fifth Doctor come face to face with something from another dimensions that is really, really unpleasant...
Where we're at
A Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa novel, this tale takes place just after Tegan's return to the TARDIS in Arc of Infinity, so the Traken scientist has shed the brown outfit. However, in terms of style, it's more akin to a very graphic Hinchcliffe tale.
The plotTeam TARDIS arrive on the moon of the ruined former den of depravity Akoshemon, where they run into a group of archaeologists who aren't what they seem... and a terrible entity from before the Big Bang that wants to return to life.
- The Bloodhunter, a very vicious little creature that drinks blood and offs a few of the guest characters in great style.
- The main villain itself is interestingly done and works by subtle manipulation of people's emotions - even the Doctor is badly effected.
- The regulars are very well written for - especially the Doctor, who shows a great deal of the vulnerable side this incarnation displays and has a good few jokes along the way.
- The regulars also get a very rough time of it; the Doctor (who is still mourning Adric) fears he has lost his companions on a number of occasions here.
- The back story is a good one, although not stand out.
- There is a big editing mess-up over the dating of this story; someone didn't spot a typo and confusion ensues.
- The supporting characters aren't very well defined... well, they are ultimately planned to be lunch.
- The ending is a bit weak... and one aspect I could spot a mile off.
Another very strong novel with a great sense of horror; however, the flaws are big enough to knock this down a couple of points. As pointed out, this is not an original plot.
Monday, 16 September 2013
Yes, Rose, your future does involving snogging an alien…
I didn't actually watch "Rose" live on first transmission – I was on holiday at the time in Washington DC. It was however nearly the first thing I watched when I got back. Like most fans, any fears I had over the show were alleviated pretty quickly.
The show's revival was keenly anticipated as 2005 began and trailers began airing, most notably "The Trip of a Lifetime" trailer, which I can still recite pretty much by heart:
Do you wanna come with me? 'Cause if you do, then I should warn you — you're gonna see all sorts of things. Ghosts from the past. Aliens from the future. The day the Earth died in a ball of flame. It won't be quiet, it won't be safe, and it won't be calm. But I'll tell you what it will be: The trip of a lifetime!
On 5 March 2005, someone at a CBC-linked company decided not to wait for the show to actually air and leaked a copy onto the Internet… while pretty much the broadcast version, it lacked the new credits and theme music. The press later got their own proper preview copies and the reviews were very positive.
Much of the coming success of the show would be done to the new showrunner, specially returning to the BBC to helm this new trip into the vortex and writing eight of the first thirteen epsiodes.
Russell T Davies – taking over the asylum
Stephen Russell Davies (1963-) OBE, known professionally as Russell T Davies, having to add the "T" for Writers' Guild purposes, is the most prolific television writer for the Whoniverse without a doubt, although Robert Holmes has written more overall screen time for the central programme. Known as RTD to fans, he would serve as showrunner and chief writer for Doctor Who from "Rose" to the moment the Eleventh Doctor gurns into life at the end of "The End of Time, Part Two" – the dialogue after that was given to Steven Moffat, as Davies felt that was his character and he should write it, although he would subsequently pen lines for Matt Smith in "Death of the Doctor" for The Sarah Jane Adventures. His tenure was well-received, but he demonstrated an over-fondness for deus ex machina endings and was probably wearing out his welcome when he left.
A devoted Welshman whose getting the show made in Cardiff majorly boosted the principality's TV industry and the local Cardiff economy (especially tourism), Davies started his writing career in 1985 with the BBC children's department, producing two well received miniseries in the early 1990s, Dark Seasons and Century Falls, which have DVD releases. He then moved to Granada Television aiming to work on Coronation Street, where he script edited their CITV production Children's Ward and later won a BAFTA for writing its 100th episode about the danger of paedophiles in online chatrooms.
(The listings in this section are by no means all the shows he has produced or written through)
He eventually moved to Channel 4, a network known for taking risks throughout its history and penned a number of soapy dramas, as well as Damaged Goods, a Virgin New Adventures novel. He was also having drug problems and when he nearly died from an overdose, he took a major change. He detoxed and wrote Queer as Folk, a drama focussing on gay people in Manchester that made him famous and got a second season, along with a US remake.
At this time, the open atheist developed The Second Coming, a highly controversial drama about a Manchester man who realises he is the reincarnation of Jesus that was rejected by Channel 4 (after which RTD never worked for them again) and the BBC before ending up on ITV, produced by Red. It got good ratings, reviews and two BAFTA nominations, including for its star, one Christopher Eccleston.
Tapped by the BBC to produce Doctor Who, he also did a serial on Casanova shortly before that aired (it was part of the deal to lure him to the Beeb), starring David Tennant…
With his tenure on Doctor Who done, Davies tried to break into the US, but his partner Andrew Smith was diagnosed with cancer and he returned home, where his current gig is for CBBC with Wizards vs. Aliens.
The Ninth Doctor – Back in black
For a show to come back after nearly sixteen years away, you need a lead that is up to the task and for Doctor Who, a Doctor that people will take to. The Ninth Doctor did the latter. A dark moody character ("when he gets annoyed, he insults species"), who had walked away from the Time War that claimed his home of Gallifrey, this Doctor chose not to dress in the traditional manner, instead opting for jeans and a leather jacket. Alternatively manic and hard, he was a brilliant version of the Time Lord - he should not be ignored due to the fact he was only there for one season; it's because of him that we've even gotten the other three.
The actor chosen to take on this role was Christopher Eccleston (1964-present), the first Doctor not even born when the series began. Born in Salford, part of the Greater Manchester area, he wanted to be a footballer but found acting was his stronger suit. After attending the Central School of Speech and Drama (where Davison also went), he first came to public prominence for his role as Derek Bentley in the based on real events drama Let Him Have It in 1991. His appearance in the second season of detective drama Cracker (starring Robbie Coltrane) increased his prominence and when he appeared in Our Friends in the North for BBC2 in 1996, also starring one Daniel Craig, he became a household name.
A series of high-profile but minor Hollywood parts followed, including Gone in 60 Seconds (ironically, he can only drive automatics) and The Others in 2001 alongside Nicole Kidman. He became a seriously respected name in the business, especially after his second BAFTA nomination for The Second Coming.
After his one season tenure as the Doctor, Eccleston continues to have high-profile appearances in film and TV; he played Destro in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, pretty much the biggest thing any former Doctor has done to date. He will arguably beat that when he plays Malekith the Accursed in Thor: The Dark World, the eighth (of a currently announced 13, with more likely) movie in the Marvel series that started with Iron Man in 2008 and covers things like Captain America.
His most recent big TV role was in a BBC1 miniseries called Blackout; I can't personally say I enjoyed that one (the critics didn't either), but he wasn't to blame for a poor story.
Rose Tyler – Checking out the universe
It was clear that the screaming girl companion was a thing of the past come 2005 (not that Doctor Who companions can ever be simplified to that, even Victoria) and that the Doctor's new ladies had to be stronger, more capable characters. Thus the first two seasons of the revival gave us Rose, a witty street-smart young lady from South London (particularly Peckham, also the setting of Only Fools and Horses), not afraid to take action and give the Doctor lip if she thought he deserved it… and also other sort of lip as she ended up falling for the Doctor, particularly when he became David Tennant. Written to bring female fans into the show, she succeeded admirably, even if some might find fangirls a bit hard to cope with at times.
Cast to play her and having the effect of considerable tabloid interest was Lianne Paul Piper, far better known as Billie Piper (1982-). Starting attending theatre school, she appeared in a commercial for Smash Hits magazine at 15, then immediately got a record deal solely based on that. Her first single "Because We Want To" in 1998 went straight to the top of the UK single charts, as did her second "Girlfriend".
However, her success wasn't to last; her second album didn't make the top ten and after testifying against a stalker in 2001, she choose to end her music career. She returned to acting, doing three films and a modern day version of "The Miller's Tale" (the one that features literal bottom kissing and a poker inserted in said area) in a series of The Canterbury Tales. got her Doctor Who gig.
After her two seasons in Doctor Who (winning two National Television Awards for Most Popular Actress) and nearly getting a spin off until RTD realised it was a stupid idea, she appeared in two adaptations of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart novels… which also featured one Matt Smith in his TV debut. Then came a distinctly raunchier role in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, in which she played "Belle de Jour", a real-life high class call girl later revealed to be, of all things, a research scientist… and also did a love scene with Matt Smith – this one required her to warn her young fans not to watch this one, although it didn't stop them from seeing the posters on High Streets of her in her scanties.
She's done a couple of plays since then but not much TV - although she has now been cast in Showtime's Penny Dreadful, alongside a number of Doctor Who guest stars, including Timothy Dalton.
The show came in with a new style; episodes of 45 minutes length, on video processed to look like film (a standard approach these days), with single-camera filming and a hip edge that maintained the essence of Doctor Who without looking old-fashioned. RTD's era has a strong focus on family; indeed we get a number of appearances from Rose's mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey Smith (the latter I'll cover in more depth in Season 28's post) – with the families of Martha Jones and Donna Noble also making major contributions.
Murray Gold created a new modernised arrangement of the Ron Grainer theme (my thought when I first heard was that it sounded like Sean Callery, 24's composer, had been at it) and a string of excellent music ever since then. The show also got a standing TARDIS set for the first time, this one with a 'coral' theme that would last until the regenerating Tenth Doctor flambéed it.
This was also the debut of the "arc words" trend in the show – each season having a phrase linking the stories. In this case, it was of course "Bad Wolf".
I am rather fortunate in that I have my contemporary impressions of Season 27 stored on my hard drive – in fact it was the very first 'Grand Review' that I ever wrote. As these were the first episodes (not counting the TVM) that I saw on first transmission, it might be instructive for me to post some of my 2005 comments (in speech marks) and my further thoughts on the episodes.
Each episode from here on in has an individual title; I will group the two-parters together.
"This was an excellent opening episode… despite some dragging at points"
Rose Tyler's life is transformed one evening after work when she meets the Autons and a mysterious man with a Northern accent called the Doctor…
The show needed a strong starting episode to start with and this delivered precisely that; setting up the premise of the show (again) in dramatic fashion with an inspired choice of returning villain, which is never actually named on screen in this episode.
One of the odder features of this episodes is that we don't get to see any dead bodies or people acting taking Auton shots (the shooting script is explicit about cutting around impacts)… something that also appears in the second episode.
The End of the World
"I know an action scene is starting to drag when I start thinking 'Get on with it'"
The Doctor decides to take Rose to see the destruction of her planet from a fancy space station (as you do), uncovering a murder plot at the same time.
Starting the tradition of a new companion getting a trip to the future with lots of aliens and a trip to the past in her first two episodes after her debut, this tale certainly delivers on the aliens part, with a menagerie of interesting designs from Millennium FX, most notably the Moxx of Balhoon. The use of popular music here (although not the first time this happened in the show) foreshadows the number of cultural references – some of which have dated a bit now – we get in the RTD era. This is also the story that reveals the Time War and the fact the Doctor is the last of his kind; something I didn't see coming as I wasn't searching out spoilers.
The Unquiet Dead
"How on Metebelis 3 does a woman who has been dead for 5 minutes light a match?"
The Doctor misses his destination by several hundred miles and a near decade, as he and Rose face the undead with Charles Dickens.
Mark Gatiss' first script for the show and the first time we actually get to see a corpse on screen. At the time, I felt the whole was less than the sum of its parts – there are some pretty funny bits in this, but the characters get some cringe worthy material and I'm surprised the reference to Rose being basically sexually assaulted while unconscious was allowed in.
Aliens of London/World War Three
"There was a good cliffhanger here. They then had to go and ruin it with 'The next time'"
The Doctor and Rose return to Earth a year after they left, where they have to stop an alien crime family from starting a global thermonuclear war.
It's at this precise moment that Doctor Who turns into a game of "Spot the person from Westeros". HBO's Game of Thrones has a very British cast (many of them getting to deploy Northern accents) and a good number of them have done Doctor Who since 2005 (or sometimes before… Julian Glover aka Grand Maester Pycelle did two classic Whos) – for one thing, it's something their kids can watch them in. Here we get David Verrey (Joseph Green) who would later appear as the High Septon in Season 2 – and a good number more will turn up during the next few seasons, with some episodes even having two actors in. IMDB has a list and it's probably incomplete.
I really enjoyed this episode at the time, but my contemporary comparison to something like "Caves of Androzani" was over the mark – I might need to rewatch this one. The "massive weapons of destruction" reference (during a General Election no less, where the BBC is even more careful than usual about political bias) seems more than a bit shoehorned in.
Significantly, this is the first appearance of Dr Toshiko Sato, later to feature in Torchwood and now just plain late.
"So that's what the sink plunger does. Ouch"
An underground facility contains a terrible, terrible creature… and it's on the loose.
A strong contender for best Eccleston episode, this Robert Shearman tale showcases a standing principle of the show that "one Dalek is awesome, an army are a bit rubbish". Dodgy American accents aside, we get to see a tale with some strong acting from Eccleston, a few great jokes (the hairdryer one in particular) and the first proper flying Dalek. In addition, Bruno Langley makes his first of only two appearances as Adam, the first male companion of the new era.
The Long Game
"What was Rose wearing? She looks like something out of Blake's Seven!"
In the year 200,000, Earth is supposed to be the home of a great empire, but as Rose, the Doctor and Adam arrive on Satellite Five, they discover something dodgy is going on.
One of two clunkers of this first run of the revival, although it does nicely set up the end of the season. Adam does something very stupid and gets thrown out of the TARDIS as a result (as he was never intended to be a full companion, I won't do a feature on him). I distinctly remember not liking this and I can't honestly remember why… possibly because I found the plot unconvincing.
The lead villain in this is Simon Pegg, who had done the first of his "Three Flavours of Cornetto" or "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End) the previous year, but of course had yet to do the Abrams Star Trek, where he plays Scotty. I've got to say this is not his finest performance.
"Messing with time plots and paradoxes always makes for a complex plot" [and writing in a hurry means you put out some garbage – Ed]
Rose asks the Doctor to take her to the day her father was killed in a hit and run… where she promptly stops it.
By no means Paul Cornell's finest script for the show (that's "Human Nature/The Family of the Blood"), I personally found it a competent episode that did its job without being especially good or especially bad.
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
"I've just realised what Rose Tyler's job actually is. It's 'make quips, meet the locals and get into dangerous situations'"
The Doctor and Rose land in London, 1941, during the middle of a German air raid. There they have to deal with a sinister child in a gas mask and a Time Agent who is just immature.
Steven Moffat's writing debut for the show and the first appearance of Captain Jack (profiled in my article on Doctor Who spinoffs a while back), this two-parter makes a very strong contender for best story of post-2005 Who and came Number 5 in the Mighty 200; only one post-2005 story beat it – "Blink". Brilliantly funny, scary and emotive in equal measure (my personal favourite gag is "Flag Girl's bad enough, but U-Boat Captain?!"), it's now wonder that it won Moffat a Hugo Award. It's worth noting that the typewriter scene, one of the best of the episode, was actually a last-minute addition to the episode as it was running short.
"By the way, Lord Mayors can't build nuclear power stations"
The surviving member of the Slitheen crime family tries to get home by blowing up the world.
The first story of 2005 Doctor Who both filmed and set in Cardiff (where it establishes the space-time rift that Torchwood would make much use of)… but it stinks. It's a boring talky episode and the only way they could make it worse if it was a clip show. Eccleston does his best with frankly awful material.
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
"I'll just say that [David Tennant] looks a bit gormless in CE's jacket".
The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack wake up in a space station filled with sinister and deadly game shows… and two of them are going to die.
From the opening scene in the Big Brother house (and they got the rights to use that from Endemol), this is an epic finale for the Ninth Doctor. Funny, tragic and with a very high body count, this one sees the debut of the "volcano" regeneration effect that with minor tweaks has become the standard for Doctor Who.
With just two episodes aired and an opening episode clearing ten million for the first time in over twenty years (not counting "Dimensions in Time", the show hadn't hit eight figures since "Black Orchid"), it was obvious that this show was being renewed – it was swiftly ordered for a second and third run, along with Christmas specials. The average for the run was eight million, but there was a slight tail-off near the end as summer arrived.
In addition, the show won its timeslot on all thirteen occasions once final viewing figures had come in; it was thoroughly amusing watching ITV's attempt to "exterminate" the second half of the run, Celebrity Wrestling, do so badly it was moved to a Sunday morning burn-off slot.
Of course, the biggest behind the scenes thing of all happened barely a few days into this run… on 30 March 2005, the BBC released a statement saying that Eccleston was leaving after one season as he didn't want to be typecast. This was inaccurate (he only wanted to do one season and was unhappy at some internal practices he hasn't specified), but the news of this caused a meltdown in fandom… Outpost Gallifrey had to shut its forum for two days so everyone could calm down.
Once that had happened, his replacement was swiftly announced… and he would go on to be considered possibly the greatest Doctor of them all.
Christmas would be the starter for Ten…
The second Doctor Who producer to receive an OBE; the first was Verity Lambert.
During an attempted burglary in 1952, Bentley (aged 19, he had a mental age of about 10, an IQ of 77, was illiterate and developmental problems in general) and his accomplice were cornered by police; in the process his 16-year-old accomplice Christopher Craig killed a police officer. Bentley was alleged (something he denied) to have yelled "Let him have it", a pretty ambiguous phrase, to Craig just before the shooting started. They were both convicted of murder (there was no diminished responsibility defence at the time for Bentley and he could not claim insanity). Craig as a minor got sentenced to detention at "Her Majesty's Pleasure" (i.e. until the Home Secretary chooses to release them) and served ten years, but Bentley was hanged. The sentence was highly controversial at the time and remained so; Bentley was eventually pardoned after a long campaign (although it wasn't much use to him) and in 1998 the Court of Appeal quashed the murder conviction as fundamentally unsafe.
The movie I saw him in shortly before his role as the Doctor. I now make it a point of watching any new Bond or Doctor in a film before they take on their role proper – with Peter Capaldi due to play Cardinal Richelieu in The Musketeers, I'll naturally be tuning in to that.
Then again, some of the fanboys can be a bit hard to handle on Gallifrey Base…
A glance at Piper's single covers reveal a propensity to bare midriff… this was the late 1990s after all.
Popular favourites of his are "All The Strange, Strange Creatures", "Vale Decem" (the music that the Tenth Doctor's final scene is to) and "I Am The Doctor".
I generally don't… I usually tend to get spoiled by accident. For example, a holiday to Venice the week the "Red Wedding" went down in Game of Thrones (so I wasn't able to watch it until I returned) meant I knew something very big had happened just by the Internet going mad… but I found out a key plot point from, of all places, a blog on the London Underground.
It's interesting seeing him in scenes with Charles Dance – Dance was one of his henchman in For Your Eyes Only.