About this blog

This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

James Bond: Die Another Day

The final Brosnan movie and the final movie before the reboot, Die Another Day has a pretty bad reputation among James Bond fans in general - but is at all that bad? The answer has to be no... but with caveats.

Pierce Brosnan demonstrates the customary swagger of his 007, although his ability to pull a woman in the space of under four minutes is bordering on the unreal (one dreads to think what he could do in certain nightclubs) and lighting up a cigar isn't cool these days. Toby Stephens, who I've enjoyed in many things since this (Vexed seems to have disappeared, but he is appearing in Black Sails) also does great in the swaggering department, although a certain twist involving his character invades the unreal... this is not the Honor Harrington universe, thank you. There are some great lines in the script and much of the story is passable.

Problems? A good many. Slo-mo and camera swooshes have little real place in the Bond franchise, while the CGI would be an embarrassment to Doctor Who today, a show that has known dodgy effects. Halle Berry, the woman who got an Oscar and a Razzie in three short years is certainly not good enough here for the planned (and canned) spin-off franchise mooted at the time... Rosamund Pike out-acts her at times. The climax gets a bit silly - laughing is not something I should be doing in a Bond film unless it's for a genuine woofer of a one-liner, something this story on the whole lacks.

Finally, Madonna's theme is dire and her performance worse.

Conclusion

It's not quite as bad as some of the films in the franchise, but neither is it all that good. Few people walked away from this one with their careers improved, sadly.

6/10

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Burning Question #13

The final newsletter of the year, The Burning Question issue 13 has been released. Apart from the normal dosage of news it contains a review of the second Hobbit movie and General Coordinator Silent Hunter and Editor-in-Chief Mischa Brendel give their views on what has transpired at Phoenix Roleplaying in the past year and what they see happening in the upcoming year.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A hybrid instead of a true (Review: 'Doctor Who: Protect and Survive', 2012)

I was rather surprised (mainly because I'd just plain forgotten) that this was the first one of the Big Finish audios that I'd recorded from Radio Four Extra. Anyway, since it's up first (I thought it would be second), it's going to get reviewed first.

One of the more recent audio dramas, this is four episodes long, with each episode at about half an hour.

I will admit that I came in for this one purely because of the plot (the Cold War and nuclear weapons are subjects I find intensely interesting) and the title. The latter is worth explaining.

The title
Protect and Survive was the name of a public information series on surviving a nuclear attack made by the British government in the late 1970s-early 1980s i.e. during the time of the "Second Cold War". It included pamphlets, radio broadcasts and TV films, intended for broadcast if a Third World War broke out... but kind of ending up being released due to sheer public interest or just plain being leaked. Voiced by Patrick Allen, if you've ever heard "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, you'll probably have heard an excerpt from it - be it a lift from the tape or Allen actually repeating his lines.

How effective the advice would be is impossible to say (the answer here is not very... and in reality probably the same), but it was certainly memorable - we get a considerable amount of it excerpted here. The pamphlets are available from HM Stationery Office on a print-on-demand basis (£6 each) if you're into that sort of thing.

Summary

The Doctor disappears from the TARDIS, which lands with Ace and Hex in the North of England in November 1989... who arrive at a cottage owned by two elderly people a few hours before a nuclear war breaks out. That's just the start of things for Ace and Hex...

Plot

The story starts with the Doctor not in the TARDIS and the two companions arriving in England, heading for the nearby cottage, where they discover that a nuclear war is imminent. Soon they undergo the near full horror of a nuclear strike, something that covers the first episode and a half. Things then start to get a bit stranger and we enter a plot involving pocket universes, time loops and what it means to be human.

The opening episodes are very strong and with a strong horror air around them (people get radiation sickness, which is never pleasant), but as we head further into the story with the truth being unveiled it starts to become a bit repetitive. BF tends to use 30-minute episodes instead of the 25-minute length common at this time, so we are essentially dealing with a five-parter... and it's arguably one part too long. Items could be trimmed here and there, some things are definitely repeated (well it is a story involving time loops), although the Doctor's actions elsewhere in part three make a refreshing narrative change, really fitting this Doctor. The third part cliffhanger was a bit of an eye-roller for me.

After an interesting revelation of the moral (it involves the Prisoner's Dilemma) story ends on a cliffhanger - it is in fact the first of a trilogy. While it may well work for a Big Finish subscriber, I question the wisdom of putting this story in the Radio Four Extra series - a stand alone would have worked better.

Sound design

Again excellent, as to be expected from BF; the radio voice here (not the Patrick Allen original) is great and worked into the plot very well... mind you, there is only so much you can do with something as inherently visual as a nuclear explosion.

The regulars

The Seventh Doctor isn't in this a huge amount - in fact, he doesn't even turn up until the end of the second episode, but his manipulative streak is on full display here - he has in fact had a significant impact on the situation that Ace and Hex find themselves in, along with the other two people. In fact, I would go as far to say that what he does here is something that I wouldn't inflict on my own worst enemy... but then again, my enemies don't tend to be malevolent super beings with a taste for nuclear warfare.

I've not really heard Ace in BF before - actors do have some minor work to do to sound like they did 25 years ago and Sophie Aldred succeeds in that department. She delivers a strong, tough performance as Ace should, but one combined with great compassion and self-sacrifice... she is fully prepared to die for the Doctor if need be.

Thomas Hector "Hex" Schofield, a nurse from 2023, is an original companion for Big Finish, having featured in their audios since 2004... so pre-dating Rory by half a decade. A man who from his Tardis Data Core entry seems to have more than the standard share of misery head his way (here he ends up blind after a nuclear flash), he is a kind and caring man, but on the whole he doesn't massively stand out in what is a very crowded field of companions in the DWU these days.

The guest cast

Not a huge number here (six voice actors in the main plot total including the regulars); Albert and Peggy are well portrayed, especially when their true guises are revealed, but the villains of the piece do get a bit Evil League of Evil near the end. Maximum credit goes to Peter Egan as the voice of the announcer reading out the Protect and Survive advisories - an RP matter of fact voice is possibly just what you need to convey the atmosphere of nuclear war.

Conclusions

A strong start and a great deal of atmosphere, but it really starts to fizzle out near the end.

7/10

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Life after checkmate (Grand Review, 'Borgen' Season 3)

This is the third and final review I'll be doing for Borgen; the series was ended by DR after this run as the network doesn't like to run ideas into the ground.
Which means we sadly won't be getting any more of a wonderful political series.
(mild spoilers follow)

****
At the end of Season 2, Birgitte Nyborg called a general election, while spin-doctor Kasper Juul and TV journalist Katrine F√łnsmark decided to have a baby together. Things, we soon learn, did not exactly go to plan - for one thing, the former lost and the latter two broke up.
Two and a half years later, ex-PM Nyborg (out of the Folktinge, plus no longer party leader) is now a highly paid business speaker with handsome English boyfriend and Kasper Juul is now a media pundit at TV1... while his ex-partner Katrine is having to juggle her job with being a single mother. Then a controversial new immigration bill from the Liberal government of returned PM Lars Hesselboe changes things for two of them, especially when Nyborg's Moderates back it.
Birgitte returns to Denmark where she tries a leadership challenge, recruiting Katrine as her spin doctor (an interesting role reversal)... which fails. So, Birgitte Nyborg decides to set up her own party and the New Democrats begin their attempt to change Denmark for the better from a ramschackle office (which once had a Nazi collaborator for an owner), but something is wrong with our politician...

****
We get an updated title sequence here to reflect the changes of the characters - it's one of the best things about the show.

Birgitte's family doesn't play as big a role here as in Season 2, although it does remain a crucial one. Her ex-husband and her get along (which is more than can be said for many divorced couples), while her daughter appears to have resolved her mental issues. Jeremy, a new character arguably added for the show's UK audience is enjoyable and has some great lines, but to be honest, he wasn't really needed. Nyborg's health issues are sensitively and well portrayed by Knudsen; she experiences something that many people have gone through, personally or through relatives having it - it mostly feels convincing, bar a final bit about it.

As for her party, the New Democrats, they do seem to be a bit wishy-washy in their policy, trying to occupy the centre ground when in reality it tends to get you shot at from both sides. They seem to chop and change their policy pretty quickly (the episode on prostitution, while very thought-provoking is no doubt an example of this). While there are an number of great characters in there (Bent, Nete, Jon) one doesn't help feeling that this party is getting its popularity from being the Birgitte Nyborg party that isn't the "Right Moderates" and a crash is looming for them. Perhaps.
TV1 provides us with another interesting take on the principles versus popularity issue; some of the funniest moments in this run involve that station and Hjort's quest for ratings, although TV 2's handball game really takes the cake... I thought they were joking when it was first mentioned. Torben's affair and the ramifications of that is also well handled. Do Danish party leaders really have that many television discussions?
The overall plot and storylines are very good, even if the rise (well, relative rise) of the New Democrats isn't entirely convincing... but then again, sometimes elections do turn on single events, the 2010 UK one being a notable case. The prostitution episode as mentioned got me thinking my own views on the issue and the episode on pig farming was great for humour, albeit with a sad twist at the end. The Kasper-Katrine relationship was again well done; kudos for not taking an obvious solution, as this isn't a rom-com.
The final four episodes deal with a snap election called by Hesselboe and the New Democrats eventually playing a major role. The final 30 minutes twist and turn, with Birgitte facing a tough decision. Her choice was probably the best one for Denmark and I say this as someone who would vote for the Social Democrats (the RL equivalent of Borgen's Labour Party).

Conclusion
An excellent third run of a series with strong storylines and a lot packed into its ten episodes. It's a shame it ended, but it had run its course - reviews in Denmark were not as positive for this as the previous run and dragging this out for a fourth go might have been too much for it... like a certain show I'll be reviewing.
Tak, Birgitte. You'll be missed.

9/10

Friday, 27 December 2013

A long one as well (Review: 'Doctor Who' 2013 Christmas Special, "The Time of the Doctor")

So, that's it for the Eleventh Doctor, who has made his final bow.

13 thoughts below:
  • The holographic clothes bit was a somewhat distracting joke for the first half of the episode.
  • Matt Smith has played a convincing old man through much of his time as the Doctor... and now we got to see him actually play one, although the make-up job was slightly less convincing than the one Karen Gillan had.
  • Speaking of Karen Gillan... nice to have her turn up.
  • Handles was lovely... shame we won't be seeing him again.
  • Hope we don't see Clara's family again, they weren't very effective here.
  • Again, no Dalek extermination effects; budget going elsewhere?
  • Perhaps having four different lots of aliens turn up in one episode, when that episode is only 60 minutes long, resulted in a basic lack of screentime for any of them... well, except the Daleks, who are pretty overused.
  • That's a simple yet effective way to get around the 13 regenerations issue.
  • And also the issue of the Doctor's name... now you think about it, the truth field wasn't actually an issue.
  • Worth pointing out that this is the shortest regeneration story to date in terms of run time.
  • And probably the longest in terms of real time for a main character... correction that's "The Big Bang".
  • I'd have liked the Twelfth Doctor to have a slightly longer scene than he actually did.
  • No preview from Season 34? At all?

Conclusion

Well this had a lot of enjoyable moments, I've got to confess a bit of disappointment in this one; much of it was spent (especially near the end) just waiting for Capaldi to show up and when he did, it wasn't a patch on Smith's first scene.

7/10

Monday, 23 December 2013

Mischa Brendel becomes Election and Voting Coordinator

Following the departure of Robert Longtin, Mischa Brendel, the current Deputy Election and Voting Coordinator, has agreed to take his place as Election and Voting Coordinator (EVC).

He will hold this post until the next EVC elections.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Dead Rise Again - By SoapyMac

Post apocalyptia has been done to death. Where ever you look now, there'll be a subset of the world has ended scenario, which normally comes complete with Zombies. Yes, there are instances with your Super-mutants (read Zombies), Robots (Zombies) and... Okay, I guess it is normally Zombies...
The Phoenix's attention to this subject is much less abusive then general media in that it hasn't been used as a blunt instrument since the 70s (roughly). Unfortunately due to a lack of posting, lack of interest, or just the simple fade of a Sim past it's prime, the Zombies sim has faded into disuse. However, a redesign and revamp has been slowly taking place over the past month or so, hoping to give the Undead new life, so to speak.

The premise behind this revamp is to instil a larger degree of direction to a sim that appears to flounder without specific consideration. As such the new Zombie sim will have a stronger emphasis on character development, without sacrificing action and suspense. A Narrative style will be imposed but much looser than in other sims, where unlike such sims as The Dark Cometh, the narrative is specific and directional. While the characters shape the way things happen, there are restraints in terms of there is a trade off between the character's response, and the GM's vision. For TDC, this works well. However for Zombie related fun, it is likely this will be too restrictive. As a result, in each circumstance imposed through the narrative, the characters will be able to react in whatever way they see fit, and the story will mould totally around them, to the degree of they shape how the story will play out. Will they try and escape to a Safe Zone? Will they try and find a cure? Or will they stay clinging to life, scavenging and foraging for whatever they can find to live that one more day?

There will also be a balancing of situations, where injury, disease and other survivors have the potential to be just as dangerous (and possibly fatal) as the Zombies. For people who didn't previously play the original Zombies sim or are new to Pheonix, new characters can easily be slotted in either now before the sim starts, or later on should interest be piqued after the sim has been running for a time. For those who have played in the previous sim, as previously stated the revamp carries the option of bringing your old character across, with no changes necessary.

If you, or anyone you know is interested in this, then contact either me, or Jason Anderson or check out the “New Life for the Undead” thread in the Zombies sim for required details.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Phoenix Roleplaying wins four awards at Tournament of Simulations 2013

Phoenix Roleplaying has won four awards at the prestigious Tournament of Simulations, the results of which were announced today, its second year of success in the prestigious contest, which was last year called the Simulations Cup.

The first victory went to The Dark Cometh and CANIS UK, which collectively won the prize for Best Adventure/Fantasy Sim; this was not awarded last year.

Another new award was in fact tied - Best Dr. Who Sim was collectively shared between AJJE Games' Doctor Who sim and our own The Triple First.

For the second year in a row, Phoenix won Best Firefly Sim; this year's winner was The Elemental with previous winner Kvant not entered by its SL this year by personal choice.

Finally, Fighter Ops, which won the Excellence in Creativity award last year (Excellence awards were not given out this time) won its second award for Best Military Sim.

There was however disappointment in Best Star Wars Sim: this award, won last year by The West Star, went to Star Wars: Shadow Squadron at Federation Sim Fleet.

Co-chair Chas Hammer said, "It was a pleasure to review Phoenix Roleplaying for this year's ToS.  You offer a diversity of genres that I do not believe is matched anywhere else, and the quality of your games is reflected in those who won in this years ToS".

A warm congratulations to all the winning sims and players, Phoenix or otherwise.

Monday, 9 December 2013

I Am Bovvered ('Doctor Who' Season 30/Series 4, Part One, 2007-8)


2008 saw the launch of another Saturday night fantasy series produced by Shine Television for the BBC, Merlin, which focussed on the early career of a certain warlock and combined with it with strong homoerotic "hints" of the sort that are increasingly popular in buddy cop/adventure shows. While aimed at a family audience its rating demographic was actually over half 55+ and the show was successful enough to run for five seasons (as well as become the first British series to air on US network television for over 30 years when NBC aired the first season, but it went to Syfy after that) before the producers decided to wrap the show up. A show that definitely got better as it went along and realised that viewers weren't liking it staying in one place plotwise, its regulars included Richard Wilson and Anthony Head, both with notable Doctor Who guest appearances to their name. As well as the voice of one John Hurt.

The fourth season of the hugely successful revival saw the arrival of a new companion in the TARDIS, one whose casting was not exactly welcomed by fans who had seen her in a previous episode.

Supertemp - Donna Noble
Donna, who only appeared in the 4th season, was a markedly different character to Rose and Martha - especially in terms of the relationship with the Doctor, where her description of him as a "long thin streak of nothing" made it clear there wasn't going to be a romance in the TARDIS (although we did get one kiss... in an emergency situation). With a sharp tongue and short temper, it was going to be difficult to keep up with the long-temp temp from Chiswick (West London seems to be popular with companions).

Like Billie Piper before her, Catherine Tate (1968-) was already a 'known' in Britain, with her comedic background not exactly giving the devoted much to hope for. After her schooling in a convent school in West London (she does indeed hail from Chiswick), she spent four years attempting to get into the Central School of Speech and Drama, getting in on the fourth attempt. After the usual bit parts in serials (yes, including that one...), she started in stand-up comedy in 1996 and appeared in various sketch shows on TV, where her comedic talent was pretty obvious; she soon began to develop some notable characters of her own. Not only that, she did some work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Approached by the then controller of Comedy at the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival, she was encouraged to go further with her best known character, chavvy schoolgirl Lauren Cooper, with her most notable catchphrase "Am I bovvered?". She got her own TV show, The Catherine Tate Show, which ran for three seasons and two Christmas specials, with Tate playing a variety of comedic caricatures - including one that caused an Ofcom investigation for perceived stereotyping of people from Northern Ireland as terrorists (it was deemed not in breach). Notable among this were two Comic Relief skits in March 2007, one featuring David Tennant as a teacher and another featuring Tony Blair. Tate did another special in 2009 and in 2013 brought out "Nan" for Children in Need.

Since Doctor Who, she has had a regular role in the US version of The Office, appeared with Tennant at the RSC and most recently played a French teacher in a BBC1 comedy called Big School.

****
In terms of production codes, Series 4 continues all the way up to Tennant's departure in "The End of Time, Part Two" (4.18), but for discussion purposes, the series is frequently split into two - this run and the December 2008-January 2010 specials. Nearly all of the shooting scripts for these stories are available to download freely on the website for Russell T Davies' book covering the making of this, The Writer's Tale.

This would be Phil Collinson's final season as producer - he departed to become Head of Drama at BBC Manchester, then took his dream job as Coronation Street series producer for ITV Studios in 2010, stepping down in 2013 after a tenure that saw declining ratings and criticism of excessive numbers of LGBT characters.

A pretty strong season, with no clunkers, but also no stand out greats bar the Moffat one, the arc featured references to disappearing planets - why they were disappearing would soon be revealed...

Time Crash (8 minute mini-episode for Children in Need)
The Doctor says goodbye to Martha... and then crashes into the TARDIS of his fifth incarnation!

The first multi-Doctor episode of the new era, with David Tennant getting to act alongside his personal favourite Doctor (and later father-in-law!) Peter Davison[1]... with the former being a fanboy in character. A superb episode with lots of great jokes (a common rule is that the Doctor does not get on well with himself); this is available on DVD.

Voyage of the Damned (72 minute Christmas special)

Then something else crashes into the TARDIS - the space liner Titanic... the Doctor and waitress Astrid must stop the crippled ship from crashing into Earth. It's another spectacular Christmas...

Featuring a big name guest star, namely pop princess Kylie Minogue (who of course was an actor in Ten Network's long-running soap Neighbours down under), this Christmas special contains some great jokes, a particularly fiery Doctor who finally gets to say 'Allons-y, Alonso!' and a poignant ending.

This special, originally titled "Starship Titanic" until it was pointed out Douglas Adams had done a novel and video game of the same name, is the first appearance of popular recurrer Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins[2]. Intended as a one-shot news vendor called Stan, the illness and subsequent death of Howard Attfield (who played Donna's father in "The Runway Bride", doing some filming for "Partners" before his health failed him), his role was renamed and expanded.

Partners in Crime (50 minutes)
Donna Noble's hunt for the Doctor proves successful, but she also finds an alien conspiracy involving diet pills...

Featuring some great scenes with Tennant and Tate, a great villain and some of the cutest aliens ever featured in the show (they later got a stress ball version of them sold), this is an enjoyable season opener that also featured the surprise appearance of a returning character; it was known they would be making another appearance, but not in this episode as the press copies edited it out that scene[3].

The Fires of Pompeii (50 minutes)

Aiming for ancient Rome, the two time travellers end up in Pompeii... and it's Volcano Day.

A strong tale with some good jokes (including the names of a family actually deriving from a Latin textbook) and the partial debut of the concept of "fixed points in time", events that the Doctor cannot change without putting all of spacetime at risk; the ending is particularly emotional for Donna.

By far the most notable aspect of this episode is the guest cast... namely two of them who would go on to bigger roles in the show. Karen Gillan's role as a soothsayer would be notable enough, but topping that (and he would also play another role in Torchwood) was a certain Scottish actor by the name of Peter Capaldi...

Planet of the Ood
The Doctor takes Donna to her first alien world, where they discover just what humanity is capable of...

Guest starring Tim Mclnnerny (best known for appearing in a regular role in three of the four Blackadder series), this tale featuring one of the most popular aliens in the modern era is good, has some strong scenes for Donna, but is otherwise fairly unremarkable... it was in fact intended to go second in the run. A "moderately gory" scene where a character is turned into an Ood (he deserves it) got this episode and its DVD release rated a 12 in the UK, as opposed to the usual PG.

The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky
52 people die at the same time. The one link, their sat navs... the galaxy's greatest warriors are planning to attack Earth.

The first appearance of the Sontarans in the modern run (with a slight redesign, but for a race of clones they have been surprisingly variable in their appearances) and with Martha Jones getting to play a villain as well as her regular role, Helen Raynor's two-parter is good, but arguably less than the sum of its parts. It features Christopher Ryan[4] and Dan Starkey among those in the Sontaran masks, the latter who would be better known for one particular Sontaran, Strax.

The Doctor's Daughter
Arriving in the midst of a war on the planet Messaline, the Doctor, Donna and Martha encounter the Doctor's... daughter?
The one in which Peter Davison's daughter Georgia Moffett (whose first line "Hello, Dad" is even more ironic in hindsight) turns up, there's a lot of fun to be had here - she's great, Donna gets some of the best lines in the show[5] and the Doctor's not so bad either.

The Unicorn and the Wasp
Just what did happen during the ten-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in October 1926? Did it involve a giant wasp?

Another strong Graeme Harper-helmed episode best known for referencing (by dialogue or other things[6]) at least 23 Christie works - there was a competition to spot them all - this originally had a different opening and conclusion, the deleted scenes turning up on DVD.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
The Library, an entire planet dedicated to the written word... but when the Doctor and Donna arrive it is deserted, except for a group of archeologists, one of whom seems to know the Doctor very well. As well as something deadly in the shadows.

Steven Moffat's final episode not as showrunner (he did not write for the 2009 specials), I rewatched this recently and found it remains very strong indeed; although not his best work. It was nominated for a Hugo, but lost out to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by a bored-during-the-writer's-strike Joss Whedon. However, this will live longer in the memory for who it introduced.

Trouble and Strife - River Song

One thing you can definitely say about Steven Moffat is that he doesn't half do complex plots; the one with River Song aka Melody Pond aka Cleoptara... the Doctor's first encounter with her is her last with him for one thing. A frisky, strong-willed woman with a deep love for the Doctor (who she frequently called 'sweetie'), she also was an archeologist of the Indiana Jones variety. In light of later revelations about her parentage, any scene with the Doctor and Amy looks rather different.

Alex Kingston (1963-) hails from London and started her TV acting career in 1978 on Grange Hill, appearing in three episodes. After a number of bit parts, she appeared in thirteen episodes of the Customs and Excise-based drama The Knock on ITV in 1996. This was followed by her breakout role as the titular character in The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, a literary adaptation of a rather saucy novel that got her a BAFTA nomination. At this time, her brief marriage to Ralph Fiennes broke up after he left her for another woman - she has since remarried.

Hollywood, or rather Burbank, soon beckoned with seven seasons as Elizabeth Corday in the long-running medical series ER; she left in Season 11, but returned for two episodes in the final run. Turned down for Desperate Housewives for being too curvy [Some people are shallow - Ed.], she has since done a number of guest and recurring roles in network US dramas, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (as a character called Miranda Pond) and Arrow - she is based in the country. However, she has also appeared in British shows, including miniseries Marchlands for ITV and also looked at her family tree in the BBC's geneological show Who Do You Think You Are?

Midnight
The Doctor, while holidaying on the planet Midnight, leaves Donna behind to go on a bus trip to see the Sapphire Waterfall. Said bus then gets infiltrated by a mysterious entity and no-one can be trusted... not even him.

Not one of my personal faves; even if it does feature strong acting from Tennant, Lesley Sharp and Patrick Troughton's son David (not his first appearance in the show either) and a chance to see the Doctor as others frequently see him, it just didn't sit right with me for some reason.

Intended as the 50th episode since the revival (a change in transmission order meant it went out 52nd, but the name of the bus shows the original plan), this story was a replacement for a planned story called "Century House" focussing on a haunted house, but dropped because RTD wasn't happy with the premise[7]. This is a Donna-lite tale; she's only in a couple of scenes.

Turn Left (50 minutes)
What if Donna never met the Doctor? Courtesy of a big spider, she's about to find out...

The Doctor-lite story in this run (it was double-banked with "Midnight" so both could be shot together) with Ten only appearing at the beginning and the end - his other appearance is from "The Runaway Bride" with this story, inspired by the 1998 film Sliding Doors, having Donna see a vision of a world where she'd not taken a job and a result the Doctor had died in that story.  This is a very strong episode with some pretty moving scenes (in this alternative universe, most of the other regulars in then three shows die off-screen[8]), a chance to see what Donna would be like without the Doctor and great direction from Graeme Harper - the slot was specially extended by five minutes so the cuts would not be excessive.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (second episode 65 minutes long)


27 planets, including Earth, disappear... the man responsible is the creator of the Doctor's deadliest foe with a plan to destroy the universe. It will take more than just the Doctor and Donna to stop this one...

Featuring characters from all three series in the main Whoniverse, as well as killing a recurrer who had frankly completed this arc, this one is RTD's vision for the show at its maximum volume... and the point where he probably began to outstay his welcome. It's not bad and certainly has some great moments ("MY VISION IS NOT IMPAIRED!" and Wilf's actions before that), but it's not his best finale.

Perhaps best known for the surprise cliffhanger to the first episode[9], this also features the very sad departure of Donna, the conclusion of Rose's arc and is also the final regular story of this era... the rest would be specials.

****
When the final ratings came in "Voyage of the Damned", they were planet-shattering. 13.31 million. The highest rating since "Dimensions in Time", one of the highest in the entire run and the second most watched programme of the entire year (there were no big football tournaments in 2007) - beaten only by the episode of EastEnders airing immediately before it. Even then, this was the first #2 for the week for the show... "The Ark in Space" had only managed #5.

The rating success continued - the average of this run was 8.6 million, although that was skewed towards a highly successful final four episodes that, with heavy media promotion helped by that cliffhanger, came in #5, #4, #2... and #1, "Journey's End" topping the ratings with 10.6 million viewers, not counting iPlayer.

The public acclaim for the show was even clearer on 29 October 2008  when it won the publicly voted for Most Popular Drama award in the 2008 National Television Awards (its fourth win in a row), broadcast on ITV. David Tennant accepted the award by video link and dropped a bombshell... while there had been speculation about this, it was still a shock - the plan kept secret under the codename Cobra[10].

He would be filming four more specials as the Doctor in 2009, fitting them in with his committment to Hamlet, which was actually not the main reason for not doing a full run (it had been planned since 2007) - then he would be handing over the TARDIS key to another man. While the public waited to find out who would replace him, the Tenth Doctor faced the wait for four knocks...

****

[1]A line about "shortening out the time differential" (a concept nicked from "Mawdryn Undead") is used to explain the fact that Davison looks, well, nearly 25 years older than he ever was in his tenure. Davison's costume is partly original, partly a recreation and one part Colin Baker's trousers from his first scenes, as Davison's natural increase in girth precluded him from wearing his original pair.
[2]Who many years earlier had played PC Tom Campbell in the second Peter Cushing film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
[3]Russell T Davies omitted scenes from preview tapes, shot extra stuff in secret and sometimes outright lied to hide plot spoilers... Steven Moffat just asked the press of four countries nicely to not reveal a key point of "Asylum of the Daleks".
[4]Whose role in rubber as Lord Kiv in "Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp" makes him one of the few actors to have appeared in classic and new Who, but is best known for The Young Ones.
[5]The one about the Child Support Agency is particularly brilliant.
[6]RTD when rewriting this considered a more explicit reference to the original, non-PC title of the novel now called And Then There Were None, but decided it was too risky.
[7]Other dropped stories from the RTD era include a planned take on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight written by Stephen Fry, originally planned for Series 2 and replaced with "Fear Her" due to a lack of time on his part to do the rewrites - this appears to be permanently shelved.
[8]And shortly after this, one of them would die in the regular continuity - and we're not talking Captain Jack here.
[9]Which was omitted from the preview tapes of "Stolen Earth"; "Journey's End" did not have any sent out at all. Steven Moffat has said that the Doctor did use one up there, which will be interesting come Christmas 2013.
[10]Later codenames for things would include "Panic Moon" (the casting of Amy Pond, an anagram of "companion"), "Men on Waves" (Clara, an anagram of "Woman Seven") and "Houdini" (for the Twelfth Doctor).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Lucky - An Alpha Six prequel by Osprey

Rainham, outskirts of London... Night

Patricia was sleeping in her tent, it wasn't exactly a warm night in the middle of November. Her internet reception was not the greatest, and her account was running low. That and she was down to the last 50 pounds on the debit card she had charged up. With the jobs she would normally be on dried up, that and people willing to hire a un-certified hacker girl of 18 years of age for network security was a pipe-dream.

She laid back, thinking of her next plan as she popped around less than savory websites with more proxies than the most paranoid of conspiracy theorists. And one of those sites popped something of interest in her mind.

>>Lobo
So, I heard there was some odd crew of PMCs operating in Europe.
Seems they're a division of some larger private security force.

>>Axl
Oh? And who are these guys?

>>Lobo
They call themselves Alpha 6.
But get this, they're more like vigilantes for hire or something.
Some descendants of a group called ‘The A Team’.

This caught Patricia's attention. She started looking into things on her end while monitoring the underground forum thread. All she found was a black page with some sort of prompt and some cryptic references to ‘The A Team’ in older news stories. She decided to keep her knowledge of the ‘black page’ a secret.

>>DominaTempus
So, who exactly do they look for in employees?

>>Lobo
Domina Tempus... that's a name I've not seen in... forever.
As for your question...
I honestly don't think they got a help wanted sign.

Patricia started packing her belongings. She started to think she might have to look for yet another dumb criminal who has poor protection of his criminal bank.

She kept monitoring over her smart-phone while walking along a road. She had gotten permission the night before (with a generous amount of money) to stay on the property of a farm owner for a few days, in exchange for helping watch the farm for any other less desirable wanderers. So far, it had been quiet.

Patricia pulled up the yellow collar of her rain suit. A cold November drizzle was in the air as she continued on into the small town a mile from where she has been bedding down. As she did so she noticed something odd from the corner of her eye. A older woman with shorter dark hair being dragged into a delivery van, she looked unconscious as the van loaded her up and then the people doing the dragging sped off. What was being said though caught her attention from behind a dumpster.

“So... this woman is with those A6 prats?”

“Yeah, I think so. Seems she's not their best.”

Patricia's mind raced for a moment. Then... she went back to that page.

A6> _

The prompt blinked for a moment, but then Patricia went to work.

A6> contact distress

There was a pause for a moment...

>>We're all in distress, particularly our clients.
What makes your situation different?

>>It's simple, one of your team just got caught.
I saw her being dragged off.

Patricia saw a busted up bread stick on the ground.

>>seems she has a penchant for breadsticks.

>>Oh boy.

Patricia knew the road the kidnappers were taking. She went into action. First running into a used bike store. There was a used bike sitting on the floor, seemed well used and up for sale for 40 pounds, with tax and a couple new tire inner tubes she grabbed just in case, she was flat broke. As soon as she got the bike out, she put her legs to work, hoping she could catch up. Luckily they gave her a complimentary bike helmet.

She checked back on that page occasionally, seems whoever was on the other end knew who she was when she would return and the page now would open a private chat window.

>>1
Alright, you said Monty was taken by some kidnappers, right?

>>DominaTempus
Indeed. I'm chasing them down now.
Seems they're heading for the Thames.
I've been biking for a good bit here.

>>1
Where exactly are you?

Patricia cut and pasted a Google Maps location.

>>1
Okay good... don't pursue further.

The connection was cut.

Patricia sighed as she decided it was better for her to continue pursuit. It eventually led to an old warehouse and a dock, the lights of the Dartford bridge in the distance. She sneaked about, seeing that they were loading the woman up on a Zodiac style rubber boat. They placed her in a metal cabinet, and locked it shut with a padlock.

Once they took the tied up woman on board, they began to cast off. There was a second, similar boat nearby and Patricia took it, although she lost a little time fishing from her bag a airliner-style life jacket she had gotten from Ebay over the summer. She'd been looking for a proper and portable flotation device, and the jacket seemed a good choice.

She eventually embarked from the dock and followed, feeling self-conscious as yellow on yellow wasn't exactly stealthy. So she played it cool, like she was part of the boat traffic heading out to the North Sea.

-Wait... the North Sea?- Patricia thought. She knew while she was sitting on enough fuel to head out, heading back might not be possible. But to her, someone had to do something. Luckily they weren't going into the North Sea, just Canvey Island. Patricia parked behind some rocks, and she peeked through a gap to see the captors and the woman Presumably named “Monty” being loaded on to a yacht.

Patricia gripped the handle, and decided she was boned but...

She grabbed a flare gun and floored the boat. Closing the distance as fast as she could. There was a spot at the stern where someone could pull up. And that was where Patricia aimed the boat! She ripped out the fuel line, squirting petrol everywhere and Patricia herself bailed out, not before firing a flare into said boat. It was engulfed by the time it hit the back.

Patricia spat out the cold water... her suit wasn't exactly a survival suit, she wouldn't have long, life vest or not hypothermia was a thing. Not bothering with her lanyards she relied on her swimming ability and went to the side. Luckily there was a nearby ladder and everyone was distracted by the sudden crash.

The yacht itself was one deck with a flying bridge above and one deck below the waterline. The heat from the fire was quite noticeable, as well as a couple M4 carbines. She grabbed one and hid behind a crate. She saw on the bed Monty was still tied and looked quite beaten up. Then...

“Hey, you!”

Patricia jumped pulling the trigger with a click... then another.

“Idiot you have the safety on!” The crewman on the boat shouted and tried to slam the butt of his AR-15 into Patricia's face, but she managed to step aside and cold-cocked him instead with her rifle. He was out cold, but now everyone turned towards her, leaving one of the other crewman on the boat to put out the fire. The three captors moved up then leveled their rifles on her.

This time Patricia remembered the safety as she ducked behind another crate, but then a “OW!” was heard next to her. She was stepping on Monty's toe. Monty had already grabbed the dropped AR-15 and instinctively got into a defensive position.

“The boys sent you, Glasses?”

Patricia blinked. “No I...”

“Who you with, MI6 then? CIA? Interpol? Nah, by the look of you, I’d say RNLI…”

Patricia shook her head and gunfire rang out, starting to shred the counter in front of them, the steel crate was starting to dent up bad.

Patricia heard a lull and jumped to the other side, then unloaded with her M4. Her captors took defensive positions, but the difference between an untrained gunner and a trained one would be apparent shortly. Monty in three controlled bursts took down her Captors. Patricia had managed to kill the poor crewman of the yacht sending him over the side. Of course Patricia's was blindfire, Monty's was of a trained professional. Her captors were writhing, holding a leg or crumpled in pain.

Patricia could only stand for a moment after setting the M4 she had down. She killed someone, and he wasn't even shooting!

Or so she thought… a few seconds later, his head bobbed out of the water and he was not impressed...

“Name's Monty. I would assume you have a mobile on you?”

“Uh..." The question snapped her out of her ruminations on the fragility of life. "...actually your friends know about your situation.” Patricia said, somewhat confused.

“How did you get into contact?”

“I... sorta... umm...” Patricia started wringing her hands. “I hacked to get to your site a little...”

Monty grinned, rummaging through a box or two. “We're gonna have to get off, this was my yacht and... they just activated C4 packs they placed under the water line. Bloody prats. I was gonna take a vacation with this. They were gonna kill me by making it look like some sort of accident. You... complicated matters.”

“Umm... we can stop it, right?”

“Nope!” Monty said tossing a pistol to Patricia, and a survival suit. “You know how to use one of these things?”

“The pistol?”

“No, the suit!”

“Oh, right!” Patricia said, quickly working on putting it on. In about 45 seconds the suit was on and she had replaced her life jacket.

“Okay we got 30 seconds left... better get swimming!”

Patricia nodded, and it was a break-neck scurry off the boat before a series of explosions rocked the yacht.

“Son of a...” Monty said as Patricia could only look in amazement. "...and I just got a new paint job on her."

"Hey... at least you escaped, right?"

"Well... you did sort of help with a distraction."

It was a few minutes before A6 sent a helicopter in to pick the two up. On the way back Monty looked Patricia over.

“What am I going to do with you... you didn't exactly hurt my plan. Heck, you were one hell of a Plan B. But, you do know a few things...”

Patricia looked down at the floor of the Eurocopter that was modded to have a deployable arm with a hoist on it. Starting to think she might get tossed overboard with a nice clean trepanning between the eyes.

“What's your name, even, Glasses?”

Patricia sighed. She felt she was dead if she did, dead if she didn't. “I'm...”

She looked around before slumping back into her seat with a sarcastic grin. “I could be MI6... Might know James Bond personally... I could be a Time Lady of Gallifrey, or perhaps, just perhaps a member of U.N.I.T... Who knows. Perhaps I'm friends with Nick Fury.” Sass to the last, she thought. If she was gonna go out, might as well go out shining.

Monty grinned, loving the attitude, then cracked up. “Ah... you're the girl I've been watching. Glasses seems better for you. Am I right, kid? Unflappable even in the worst of circumstances.”

Patricia blinked.

“I was going to send you an invitation to join our team, but you're a hard girl to find. You come well recommended. Helping the Met as a young teenager... bringing down a drug cartel all on your lonesome... You have the Ethical and Moral compass we like.”

“How much did you know about that?”

“Enough to know you are on the run from the last time you helped The Old Bill. On the run - Triad family based in London wants you dead for bringing their operation down and causing other crime syndicates to make a move against them. You've caused quite a bit of chaos.”

“Then... you realize who I hang around with are marked as much as I am.”

Monty laughed. “Don't you know who the heck we are? You hacked us, remember!”

Patricia peered over to where the pilot was. “Actually... I like this Helicopter... smart choice if you want to go unnoticed as a civilian helicopter. Clever work with the hoist here.” She said, patting the hoist arm. Deflecting the conversation.

“Yeah... the last guy that did the mechanical-type work ended up... well...” Monty trailed off looking at the water below.

“Well... seems you need someone who knows the digital dark arts and is comfortable around machines.” Patricia said, pulling back the cowl of the suit she was made to put on. Quirking an eyebrow she adjusted her glasses once she put them back on. “I think the first order of business would be to improve how people can get to your page while keeping clandestine, not to mention better firewalls and other security functions to keep prying eyes out. After all, if I can get in it... you need a upgrade.”

Monty reached over into a pouch next to her seat and pulled a breadstick out. She put it in her mouth and then started to well… hold it like it was a cigar. “Well this couldn't have gone any better then.”

Patricia smiled, looking into her wet backpack, although it was waterproof, and nothing inside was drenched at all. She pulled out a foil wrapped package. “Well... if you'll have me.” She pulls out a cracker-like biscuit stick coated with chocolate. “Then I'm sold. I'm sure this won't be the first rescue.” Patricia said, pointing her stick at Monty before putting the chocolate end of the stick in her mouth. Like the young girl was lecturing Monty.

Monty laughed. “Cushty!! See... maybe I should have picked that instead of these darn bread sticks. Fewer calories though, I wager.”

Patricia shook her head with an embarrassed grin. “So... do you... have a place I can crash?”

"One rule, don't say crash while we're flying..."

Patricia grinned. "Alright, we got a place where I can land? That and I could use a change of clothes. I don't look good in orange."

"Or yellow." Monty said with a smirk.

"Hey, mum gave me that rainsuit! Could be worse. Could be red. I hate red. Particularly what's in me. Or someone else..." Patricia said, trailing off thinking about the probably innocent man she shot to death.

Monty cracked up laughing. "You're alright, Glasses."

Patricia couldn't help but look over the pilot's shoulders by now. She knew how to fly the heli, but didn't let on. "I suppose that is my callsign? I've been thinking I should use another name online... I am Domina Tempus no more. Sort of happens when you're a white hat gone legit."

"Well, the team picks their callsign."

Patricia adjusts her glasses taking her seat again. "Glasses works. So... When do we start?"

"Soon, I wager. Sort of got to get you up to speed on tactics and what not. I wager within a year you should be ready for field work."

Patricia nodded, looking at the pistol she was handed.

"Shoot, I gave you my least favorite pistol." Monty said, sort of glad Patricia might get a unwanted thing out of her collection. "Don't worry about it, it still works. You can keep it." Monty said reassuringly.

"I like quality over anything else... M1911 Longslide, setup for target shooting, am I right?" Patricia said, looking it over...

"Yeah... how did you know?"

"Internet, you pick up on random facts. You know a gunsmith?"

"I know a couple off-hand, why?"

"If I'm gonna work for you I need a proper sidearm. This one might do some damage with a slightly larger calibre. .454 Casull rounds I think is about as large as I dare. Up there with the Raging Bull and a Desert Eagle."

"Oh... now you're making demands."

"Hey... at least I'm not demanding to get paid up front here. I'd be happy to have three meals a day and a comfortable, dry bed, and not be in gaol to get them."

Monty nodded. "Well that does modify the total division of pay for each contract..." She said with a innocent look on her face.

"Hey... doesn't mean I don't want paying work."

"We'll work out something." Monty said extending her hand. "Welcome to Alpha 6. Name's Victoria Shaw. Street name is ‘Monty’".

Patricia smiled. "Charmed." She said, taking Monty's offered hand. "Patricia... Patricia Kent."

"Well Miss Kent... things are about to get very interesting."

Roll Credits

Thanks to Silent Hunter for polishing this up and getting it properly British.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Literal Dog's Dinner, but not a metaphorical one (Twelve Faces of Who: "The Hounds of Artemis")

With the addition of another Doctor to the canon (if we get any extra works with the 'War Doctor', I will review them as part of this, but until then...) and another due at Christmas, I've now got twelve Doctors to look at in this series. The anniversary has seen a number of audios being aired on Radio 4 Extra, including "Protect and Survive", which I was planning to buy and two McGanns. The BBC have saved me some money.
Going ahead slightly to Matt Smith. As we approach the end of this Doctor's era and learn just how the Moff is going to deal with the twelve regenerations thingy (as they've all been used by by his own statement), it might be appropriate to go back to near the beginning of his time... when he was travelling with a Scottish strip... sorry, kissogram who hadn't yet gotten married. In reality, it's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and this series was an excuse to get it out of the way.

"The Hounds of Artemis" was intended to be the first Eleventh Doctor audiobook, but somehow got delayed by an entire year and ended up becoming the fourth. Having listened to it, it's not really got the quality to be the first in a new run...

Where we're at
Season 31, early Eleven. Just Amy and the Doctor - no Rory, indeed no mention of him at this point. Doctor Who Reference Guide sticks this before "The Time of Angels", but that's an arbitrary guess.

Summary

The Doctor and Amy Pond turn up in Smyrna, Turkey in 1929, just as an archeological expedition breaks open the fabled Tomb of Artemis... and unleashes some very nasty doggies.

Plot/Prose
"Artemis" breaks out a well-worn Doctor Who plot, a variant on the 'base under siege' one in fact - group of stereotypes opens ancient whatever and releases alien menace that then tries to a) kill them and b) get out into the wider universe. It goes back to "Tomb of the Cybermen" if not before and indeed, I've reviewed something in this vein previously. This can be done extremely well or extremely badly.

This one's particular take on the theme involves a bunch of British upper class folk getting glamoured by the illusion of a sumptious (and very English) dinner that turns out to be something much more unpleasant. Mary Whitehouse's "tea-time brutality for tots" comment does have some point to it. There is a good deal of content in the show that can give adults nightmares when you really think about it... "The Ark in Space" anyone?

The plot goes along pretty slowly, but that could have been the way I was listening to it, on and off over a couple of months. The atmosphere is ominous, the climax is strong and the way the monster is defeated is a good one, although it does rely on a certain character's unlikely choice of undergarment. I also wasn't too keen on the Turkish villagers,

The story itself is split up into two distinctive story-telling methods; a standard third-person narrative and a woman writing a letter to a museum, in which she reads extracts from Amy's diary. Now Amy is later established to be a published children's author and her early life probably involved prose fiction about "the Raggedy Doctor", much to her teacher's annoyance, I would imagine. I can get her writing a diary... but people do not write diaries while hiding behind a pillar on the run from evil creatures. Even Bram Stoker never did something like that in Dracula (worth reading if you've not already done so, BTW). This latter part gets seriously unconvincing.

Sound design
The late AudioGo did some great stuff with sound design on their audiobooks; this is not just someone doing some straight forward reading. There are rumbles, creaks and so on... with the book also featuring the opening and closing themes in use at the time.

The narrators

Matt Smith provides the primary prose narration and of course the voice of the Eleventh Doctor; turning in a strong performance (doing the other voices very well), but I'm not so sure about Clare Corbett, some woman I've never heard of who does Amy's diary and the letter writer. Not doing a great job at Karen Gillan's distinctively Scottish voice and otherwise uninspiring, she hasn't contributed much to the Whoniverse outside a few BBC Audio/AudioGo audios.

Conclusions

A good story, but badly damaged by an absurd plot device. It's also not the fastest thing in the world.

6/10
Final note

While I was listening to this, AudioGo discovered financial irregularities and shut down. While this doesn't affect BF, it could cause problems with other audiobooks in the pipeline.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Two new Sim Leader appointments - one for a new sim

After much discussion, SoapyMac has replaced Jason Andersen as Sim Leader of Zombies and will now proceed in a major change of that sim.

In addition, we have now gone back up to 31 sims at Phoenix, with RavenSkycatcher's third sim in the highly successful supers series The Dark Cometh being launched - CANIS Pacifica.

The new sim can be found here.


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