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.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 14

I-Hawk system (US DOD)


Now over half way through the game and Israel orders its biggest strike yet.


As Day 5 progressed, Israel now decided it was going to go after Arak properly, ordering a strike with the F-15 squadron and 253 squadron providing SEAD support against those pesky SAMs guarding the heavy water planet. This attack would go down that night, hoping that 48 planes could do what 24 couldn’t.


As other planes headed towards Kharg Island, more political action was taking place. Anti-war protests in Europe and a major British company announcing it would withdraw from Israel damaged UN opinion for Israel, but their media surrogates were working full-time and the US agreed to launch further air strikes.


Israel’s playing of Favourable Media moved the Israeli track to +5 (it had been down to +2) and the US back to +9. Turkey ended this turn at +5; one away from blocking the planned Arak strike.


The S-200 site guarding the Kharg Island terminal was suppressed by the Israeli strike, but the Iranian fighter forces were on strong alert. Three pairs of fighters, two Phantoms and one Fulcrum tried to stop the incoming Israeli strike. The results were distinctly one sided – both F-4 flights lost one plane (with one death) and had another damaged, while the MiG-29s were both destroyed with the loss of their pilots. No intercepting aircraft even fired a shot.


With the only I-Hawk shot against the F-16s missing, the Israelis were unopposed in inflicting serious damage on the facility, wrecking large parts of it and putting holes in the pipelines to the offshore tankers.


As they came back out, the Iranian response was four F-5s (two damaged, two destroyed) and a single F-14 that was sent home smoking before it had even gotten into Phoenix range. The results of this comprehensive victory was a further move away from Iran among its major oil clients.


Even armed with just two AIM-120s, F-16s are tough fighters to beat for an Iranian force largely limited to dogfight IR missiles. The AIM-54 is long-ranged, but largely ineffective against fighters. If Iran wants good stuff, it needs to have Russia or China as allies.


Iran managed to completely close the Straits of Hormuz with mines and small craft, but had no success on influencing the US not to launch another carrier-based strike; while Israel’s attempts to shore up Turkish support with a study showing the damage a nuclear war could do to it went unnoticed by Ankara.


Iran made big media play of civilian deaths at Kharg Island, but the US and GCC’s response was that they should have moved those people out of the way of the place – they had been warned after all. It also used the black market to bolster its political leverage.


It would need it – 32 breakdowns gave it only 22 operational jets, with Sector 3 covered by just one MiG-29…


The Kharg Island strike is coming in via Sector 1, but US airstrikes always come in via Sector 3. Next turn, the big raid.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Shaken not Stirred, a History of 007: Part Six - 2000 to 2013

Hold your breath and count to a billion
 007 celebrated the arrival of the Third Millennium in his traditional manner – making out with a nuclear physicist on a Turkish rooftop. As you do. Little did he know the challenging decade that faced him and spy fiction in general.
9/11 changed the rules of the spying game, making the whole business a great deal darker, in fact and fiction. In the old days, a British officer caught by Moscow Centre could, if acknowledged, expect to be swapped for a captured Russian asset or get a prison sentence, but now the many forms of radical Islam would extend no such niceties – if you were caught, you could expect an Internet decapitation. Those operatives for groups like al-Qaeda, if they weren’t blown up by remote control, faced a veritable smorgasbord of tortures from certain states, with waterboarding being the nice option[1].
007 was going to have to change as well…
17 US sailors were killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up next to their destroyer. The US Presidential Election ended up going to the Supreme Court, with George W Bush winning the critical state of Florida after the recount was stopped.
 Brosnan had now completed the three films he’d be initially contracted for and decided to wait for a year before exercising his option for a third – he used the break to do two other films, one a personal project called Evelyn.
The final bout of legal action over the Bond franchise now played out in court – McClory continued his lawsuit in the US courts for fees after Sony pulled out. The action was thrown out by the Central District of California on the grounds of laches i.e. an unjustified delay in bringing proceedings.
 The World Is Not Enough got PlayStation, Game Boy Colour and Nintendo 64 game adaptations – with John Cleese doing the voice over scenes intended for the late Desmond Llewellyn to whom the game was dedicated. There was also a racing game called, unsurprisingly, 007 Racing for the PlayStation only – Brosnan’s likeness featured, but Adam Blackwood provided the voice.
Raymond Benson’s novel of the year was DoubleShot, a continuation of the three book series involving the Union Corse that started the previous year.
FBI agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for spying for Russia. A US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet – the pilot of the latter was presumed dead ,while the former landed in China, with the crew being briefly detained. September 11 happened.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC majorly disrupted US television. The ABC and NBC affiliates in NYC lost their analogue transmitters in the attack, although they were still on air through other means. Regular American television effectively closed down for a week and the start of the US television season was delayed, along with heavy re-writes to plots.
That season would see the debut of two of the defining spy shows of the 2000s. ABC debuted Alias, which would run for five seasons before cancellation and FOX launched 24, which was ended by its producers after eight seasons, although it will return for a mini-series in 2014. The latter would fuel considerable debate over the efficacy and justification for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in counter-terrorism[2].
A potential British actor’s strike threatened the production of the twentieth film – EON allegedly negotiated a deal with Equity, but the situation was resolved anyway without a stoppage.
Speaking of ‘equity’ – McClory appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit to the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals. They affirmed the dismissal with prejudice - the ruling can be found here and contains some minor legal humour of the sort that keeps judges from being bored. McClory’s legal avenues were now exhausted – the Supreme Court was not going to take a case that had no constitutional issues riding on it - and so was his participation in the world of 007 (bar one last attempt to auction off his rights in 2002). He died in 2006 and in 2013, his estate sold their rights to Danjaq.
Raymond Benson wrote Never Dream of Dying, the final part of the Union Trilogy – while Agent under Fire provided another computer game, this time for PS2, GameCube and Xbox.
The Open Skies treaty, allowing for mutual aerial surveillance between major countries, entered force. Israel launched a major incursion into the West Bank after 30 civilians were killed in a suicide bombing. The United States created the Department of Homeland Security and passed a measure approving military action against Iraq on intelligence that proved to be not exactly correct.
24 and Alias were shows developed in the ‘old world’, but 2002 saw the debut of a British show that would be the first espionage series explicitly post 9/11 – Spooks[3], focussing on a MI5 unit as they fought various threats to the UK from old and new quarters. The BBC drama, which would go for ten seasons, set out its stall two episodes in, when an apparent regular got her head shoved into a running deep fat fryer before she was shot dead. Most of the show’s regulars ended up exiting via the body bag – and it was blamed by the Security Service for a significant drop in female applicants.
The new world also influenced The Bourne Identity, the first of four films, three of which starring Matt Damon, that set the bar for darker spy films and general physical punch-ups in movies; putting your opponent through a glass table was par for the course for new spies, who would rather make corpses, not love.
Another attempt to embrace, well something, was XXX starring Vin Diesel as an extreme sportsman turned spy and includes the killing of a spy wearing a tuxedo. The movie got one sequel in 2005 with a different lead (and the same director as Die Another Day), which flopped badly and killed any plans for more films in the franchise.
The production of the 20th film for the 40th anniversary of the EON franchise saw both leads suffer on-set injuries and problems. Halle Berry got a scratched cornea and nearly choked on a bit of fruit (Brosnan performed the Heimlich manoeuvre), but Brosnan also suffered. Failing to warm up properly before a run for the pre-title sequence, he busted his knee. For the first time in the franchise’s history, production was shut down due to the star being injured. It was stopped for a week while the star went to Los Angeles for an operation.
Die Another Day (film)
“I know all about you - sex for dinner, death for breakfast” – Miranda Frost
 A mission to North Korea goes wrong and Bond is captured. Released 14 months later, he is determined to get revenge…
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The title, not coming from any novel, instead derives from an A. E. Housman poem.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The surfing scene was filmed off the coast of Hawaii, while the DMZ zones were filmed in England. Both had camera filters used to make the scene appear grey and washed out – this has been done for Hawaii Five-O.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Madonna’s theme reached number 3 in the UK charts and accompanied the first title sequence to integrate story events (Bond being tortured) into the story.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>This is the movie that features a CGI bullet going down the barrel in the gun barrel sequence (why?) and a CGI ice surfing scene that looked really fake.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>A spinoff featuring Halle Berry’s American operative Jinx got two months into writing before the failure of Charlie’s Angels and Tomb Raider sequels led MGM to pull the project. Berry won a Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball during production – three years later she got a Razzie for Catwoman (which she had the amazing good grace to collect) and her career has been a lot quieter since.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Main villain Toby Stephens was the youngest Bond villain to date – at only 33, he was 15 years younger than Brosnan. Since this, he’s actually played Bond in BBC Radio 4 adaptations of Fleming novels and gotten a good amount of TV work – his current project is Starz’s Black Sails, which is going to be a tale of swashbuckling and unbuckling judging by the trailer. He is also the son of Dame Maggie Smith[4].
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Complaints came from both North and South Korea about their depiction in the film… South Korea isn’t poor and agrarian, but a vibrant high-tech economy. Interestingly enough, the late Kim Jong-il was a Bond fan and a cinema buff in general – he kidnapped two South Korean directors to make movies for him (they later escaped).
I have to admit I mostly enjoyed Die Another Day at the time, but the fandom has come down on it hard. It’s really a film of two halves – a gritty opening to start, but it goes crazy by the end. While the box office was superb (just beating TWINE), the reviews were very mixed and when Roger Moore thinks you’re going too far, then you’re going too far.
 Raymond Benson wrote his final two 007 novels – the original The Man with the Red Tattoo and the novelisation of DAD. The following year he would retire as the 007 novelist, leaving the book franchise without an established author for the first time in over 20 years. In addition, Brosnan’s likeness and not his voice again featured in a video game for six systems in total over the next two years – Nightfire.
191 people were killed in al-Qaeda-inspired attacks in Madrid; the initial government attribution to ETA (who had more form for the non-suicide nature of the attack) was held to have narrowly cost them a tight election a couple of days later. An American civilian contractor in Iraq was kidnapped and beheaded on an internet video by his captors. A tsunami on Boxing Day killed at least 200,000 people across the Indian Ocean.
Pierce Brosnan made what would be his final appearance as Bond – voicing the character in the game Everything or Nothing, which featured other well-known people like Willem Dafoe and Heidi Klum, although the latter is admittedly not known for her great voice. This was the better received of the two games for 2004 – the other was GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, a bizarre alternate universe affair that got middling reviews and worse sales, leading to EA cancelling plans for a sequel.
Following the severely mixed reviews of Die Another Day, Wilson and Broccoli decided to look at everything anew. The first thing that needed to be dealt with was their star. Brosnan had done his three-with-an-option-for-another contract and so further films would have to be negotiated on a one at a time basis. Neal Purvis and Martin Wade started writing their next film with him in mind, but rumours began to spread he was not coming back… and they were true. For whatever reason, no deal was reached for Brosnan to do a fifth and his time as 007 was over.
52 people were killed by suicide bombers targeting three Tube trains and a bus in London, the day after that city won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. Two weeks later, four other terrorists try to repeat the attack, but their bombs fail to detonated. They are later arrested and jailed, but during the search, a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, is mistaken for one of them and shot dead at Stockwell station.[5]
In 2005, Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise, Batman Begins, was released, to strong critical acclaim and a good box office. Two more films would follow in a darker grittier Gotham City, a reaction to the critical failure and box office disappointment of 1997’s Batman and Robin, which George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell somehow managed to avoid have destroying their careers.
While the press speculated on the identity of the new 007, the expanded universe work looked at Bond’s past. Sean Connery came out of retirement to voice his Bond in From Russia With Love’s game version, which changed SPECTRE for an organisation called OCTOPUS due to legal concerns still lingering over McClory.
While there was no replacement Bond author, the literary world produced two spin-off series. First of this was the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson, featuring James Bond’s adventures at Eton College in the 1930s. This covered five novels from 2005 to 2008 (one, SilverFin, also got a graphic novel version) and proved more popular than The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½, the previous attempt at this sort of thing.
A rather different sort of thing was the Moneypenny Diaries, written by Samantha Weinberg under the name Kate Westbrook, which saw three ‘novels’ and two short stories from the POV of the series’ most popular secretary.
However, the big speculation focussed on the new 007; Michael G Wilson said that there were over 200 actors considered, but could just be an attempt at hype. Director Martin Campbell stated that Henry Cavill was seriously considered, but rejected as too young at 22 – now 30, he is a possible future 007, depending on how well his turn as Superman in Man of Steel and any sequels goes.
The final choice was announced on 22 October – and immediately caused controversy.
Daniel Craig – Thug in Blue Trunks
Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was smooth and silky with a taste for the finer things in life – this current incarnation of James Bond is someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, although the female Bond community would arguably favour him in other contexts.
Daniel Craig (1968-) hails from Cheshire, making him the first English Bond since Roger Moore. After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Barbican in London[6] and doing some theatre, he first came to prominence in the BBC miniseries Our Friends in the North in 1996, which also starred Christopher Eccleston, later to play the Ninth Doctor in Doctor Who. A batch of big films, followed, most notably Layer Cake (which features Ben Wishaw and would influence his casting) and Munich in 2005.
 When he was announced, he was criticised for being short (5’10”, which is shorter than I am), blond and well, a bit bland. Certainly there was vociferous opposition on parts of the Internet – and equally vociferous ‘give him a chance’ support. The former died away after Casino Royale’s success.
In between Bonding, Craig has appeared in The Golden Compass, the first of a planned trilogy of adaptions of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials (the poor US box office combined with the decision to sell international rights to fund development led to the other two instalments being canned due to lack of profitability), the first part (so far) of an English language adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy[7] and Cowboys and Aliens, among other things.
In 2011, he married his second wife, Rachel Weisz, whose extensive career includes The Mummy among many other roles[8].
209 people were killed in coordinated bomb attacks in Mumbai. Israeli invades Lebanon (again) after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.
Columbia Pictures became a co-production partner for Casino Royale – an ironic twist as that company was owned by Sony, who had caused 007 problems in the past. For tax reasons, much of the coming 21st film was shot in Prague, but the 007 Stage did feature for the finale of a film that could make or break the franchise…
Casino Royale (EON film)
Any thug can kill. I need you to take your ego out of the equation” - M
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The movie opens in black and white as we see the two hits that made James Bond a Double-O – the first splash of colour is the blood in the gun barrel, moved from its traditional starting place for the first time.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence, to Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”, eschews the traditional naked ladies (as he felt Bond was not at that stage) in favour of a superb animated affair involving playing card symbols.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The terrorist that Bond chases in the Madagascar free running sequence is played by Sébastien Foucan, the effective creator of free running, who did most of his own stunts.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Eva Green was reluctant to take the role of Vesper Lynd, fearing it might damage her career… but it seems to have done her no harm.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The Miami Airport scenes were filmed at Dunsfold Aerodrome, a former RCAF base – better known as the test track for the BBC’s motoring review three middle-aged men misbehaving show Top Gear. The mock-up Skyfleet S570 used in the film can be seen in the background on the show whenever the Stig[9] (some say his favourite Bond movie is A View To A Kill…) does a test lap.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson makes a brief cameo appearance in the film (he’s being patted down by a security guard at Miami Airport) – this was cut on airings of the film on British Airways.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>As the Venice house set was being struck, the 007 stage caught fire and burnt down for the second time. No-one was injured and there was no impact on shooting.
After Die Another Day, Craig’s first outing was a much-needed shot in the arm for a franchise. A critical hit that is rated as one of the best in the franchise, it also provided the highest adjusted gross since Moonraker, being the first Bond to clear half a billion dollars in box office takings.
 Casino Royale was due to get a video game release from EA, but this was cancelled by them as it would not be ready in time. MGM lost millions in licencing fees and EA then decided to walk away from the intellectual property. The next game would be done by someone else – Activision, who took the non-exclusive rights in May, the same month Electronic Arts handed them back.
 The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was killed along with 20 others in a bombing at an election rally. The global financial crisis began with the first run on a British financial institution since 1866 (Northern Rock), as the subprime collapse took out dozens of mortgage lenders.
 With the success of Royale, it was time to prepare for the first direct sequel to a Bond movie. However, Her Majesty’s Secret Service comes second to the Writing Guild of America, as the latter went on a 14-week strike over DVD and online residuals, which ended in a partial success for them. This essentially shut down most US live-action production (although not shows made in Canada) and resulted in many shows getting shorter seasons. 24’s seventh season, which had eight episodes in the can, was delayed until 2009, with a two-hour TV movie made in 2008 to bridge the gap.
 With Bond 22’s release date fixed, Paul Haggis handed in his rewrite script two hours before the strike began… which meant while the strike was on, the only people allowed to work on it were director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig, neither writers by trade. This did not exactly help the finished product.
Russia and Georgia fought a war over South Ossetia. Iceland went bankrupt. Barack Obama became the first non-white US President, despite bizarre conspiracy theories over his origins.
After a break of six years, the first original 007 novel appeared to mark the centenary of the creator’s birth – Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, a 1960s tale done in the style of Fleming and with a distinct twist regarding its Bond Girl. A Fleming title was used for the 22nd Bond film, one that would get media critics scratching their heads in confusion.
Quantum of Solace (film)
“If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated” – M
Determined to get revenge on the organisation that destroyed Vesper Lynd’s life and almost killed him, James Bond finds himself in conflict with his own organisation…
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>At 106 minutes, this is the shortest of the EON films.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The film opens pretty much straight after the ending of the previous film – this is so far the only direct sequel in the series.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>US studio MK12 handles this title sequence, to the only duet so far in the franchise’s series; “Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys and Jack White. The latter does feature words “of” and “solace”, but not “quantum”.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>200,000 rounds of blank ammo was used up during the production of this film.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>One of the six Aston Martin DBS cars intended for the movie was totalled before it could be used when an engineer crashed it into a lake… despite this, someone reportedly paid £200k for the wreck.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Gemma Arterton’s character, Strawberry Fields, only gets her full name in the credits.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The gun barrel is moved to the end of the film, symbolising that we now have a complete 007.
After the success of Casino Royale, Quantum is a let-down – the production problems are insurmountable and Bond going renegade is an overused trope in the series. The box office improved on the previous film, but the work acquired nicknames like Quantum of Bourne and Quantum of So-lame.
Quantum of Solace also got a video game release for a number of platforms – this was the first game to feature Daniel Craig’s voice. Reviews were mixed.
Greece received an EU bailout. Wikileaks made big publications of US government documents. Mossad were suspected of killing a Palestinian militant in a hotel room in Dubai.
JJ Abrams attempted to follow up the success of Alias with Undercovers for NBC… but the latter show was axed after 11 episodes. In the UK, Sky launched special forces series Strike Back based on the novel by former SAS operative ‘Chris Ryan’, which after a successful first season became a Cinemax co-production for its second, third and (so far fourth) – the result being a show that could be described as “see the world, meet interesting people, kill the bad ones and make out with the hot female ones”, although in fairness, the nudity is equal opportunity.
Pre-production had been moving along Bond 23 for a 2011 release date, but behind the scenes, there were serious problems at MGM. The company had large amounts of debt and the recession had badly hit its income – to the point where bankruptcy became a serious possibility. Various attempts to sell the company through 2009-10 failed and in December, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to allow it to restructure. With this uncertainty in the air, there was no possibility of a Bond movie going into production.
There was however significant activity on the gaming front. Eurocom produced an updated remake of the classic GoldenEye 007 game for the Nintendo Wii, moving the story into the present, giving Bond both the likeliness and face of Craig, adding a new version of the movie’s theme sung by Nicole Scherzinger. The ‘Protect Natalya’ level remained just as annoying.
There was also an original third-person game for four platforms done by Bizarre Creations (part of Activision) called Blood Stone, also starring Daniel Craig and somewhat unusually, British singer Joss Stone, who also sung the theme tune. The reviews were on the good side, but there would be no sequels – the studio closed down the following year.
The Arab Spring brings down the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the last after NATO military intervention and sparked a civil war in Syria that continues to this day. US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden, while the country withdrew from Iraq.
Another JJ Abrams produced spy series, Person of Interest debuted on CBS, while a cinematic remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Gary Oldman hit cinemas.
MGM emerged from bankruptcy, with the new holding company under the founders of Spyglass Entertainment and put the distribution rights for Bond on the market. The winning bidder was Sony Pictures, who would continue their involvement with Bond for a third film through Columbia and get their ‘vanity plate’ at the beginning of the film. With this sorted out, Skyfall
We also got an original novel by Jeffrey Deaver[9] called Carte Blanche, an attempt to bring Bond into the post 9/11 that got decidedly mixed reviews.
Activision released a remastered version of GoldenEye 007 for Xbox 360 and PS3 – this was merely a HD version of the game with some multiplayer tweaks.
The US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
The Olympic Games came to London for the third time and David Arnold was assigned music duties, preventing him from doing the Bond this year. Danny Boyle (best known for Slumdog Millionaire) produced a spectacular opening ceremony… with Bond being one of the main attractions. In a short film called Happy and Glorious, Bond goes to Buckingham Palace, picks up HM The Queen (in her first ever fictional appearance played by the real monarch) and takes a helicopter to the stadium, where they or rather the two male stunt doubles, parachuted out. Her Majesty then arrived in the stadium proper, wearing the same dress. This got leaked to the British press at the beginning of April, so I dismissed it as an April Fool’s… fool on me then.
The 50th anniversary of the series was celebrated in style, including with the biggest Bond yet.
 Skyfall (film)
“Last rat standing” – James Bond
After ending up presumed dead in Turkey, 007 must regain his strength and deal with the threat from a highly dangerous hacker out for revenge.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The title has no Fleming antecedents – it was a last minute creation by the scriptwriters who were looking for a foreboding name for a Scottish manor.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>The film sees the debut of Ben Wishaw, an actor who had previously appeared in BBC2’s The Hour and as the titular role in a 2012 adaptation of Richard II on the same channel (for which he won a leading actor BAFTA) as Q.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Adele’s award winning “Skyfall” title song only has a ‘lyric video’ as the singer was heavily pregnant at the time.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Watch for a bit of eyebrow action in Macau.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Regular users of London’s Underground subway system will have fun spotting the many errors in the depiction of that system… most notably, that’s not a District Line train Bond hops on – it’s a smaller and newer type used for the Jubilee Line[11]. Also, there are safety signs on real Tube escalators to stop people sliding down them.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Bérénice Marlohe (Severine) is the third Bond girl in three films to hold a French identity card. 007 is clearly a huge fan of the entente cordiale.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Also, this is the third film in a row that does not end in the ‘traditional’ manner of Bond making out with the leading lady.
 Make no mistake, Skyfall was huge – the first billion dollar Bond, taking Thunderball’s crown for most successful film adjusted for inflation. Critics freely called it the ‘Best Bond ever’ and the awards bodies agreed… the film was nominated for five Oscars, a record for the series. It set another record when it won two… one for the theme and another for the highly technical area of sound editing, but a shiny gold statue is a shiny gold statue.
 I liked the film a lot, but I do feel that time will lower its position among the Bond films – it does have some big plot holes in it.
 To tie in with the 50th anniversary, Activision released 007: Legends, with six missions based on movies – one from each Bond, but with the likeness (although not the voice) of Craig. The sixth was Skyfall – the game shipped before the film’s release, but that mission was intended as downloadable content. The game was panned by critics and sales were poor. Eurocom closed down shortly after release
 2013 and the future of 007
At the beginning of 2013, Activision pulled its games from online stores like Steam with no explanation and announced in February it was moving away from licenced games; this was taken, but not confirmed, as an end to its involvement with the 007 franchise.
The 60th anniversary of one of the greatest characters in British fiction will be a relatively quiet one in terms of new products. With Activision having apparently handed back its licence to program, we are not going to get a game this year. We will be getting another original novel, with spy writer William Boyd contributing a 1969-set work entitled Solo that I have on pre-order for my Kindle.
 Bond 24 has been confirmed for October/November 2015 release, with Sam Mendes returning to direct Daniel Craig. I think that barring anything major, Craig will do the contracted one after that c.2017… but as he will be nearly 50 at this point, he might decide it is best to call it a day. EON will then have the difficult task of replacing him, but I am sure they will be able to pick another great actor.
Skyfall’s gross and award success answers any critics of his relevance – in the world of fictional espionage, he is truly the ‘last rat standing’. No other fictional spy has enjoyed the longevity and cultural influence that he has and few fictional characters that are not in the public domain have beaten his financial success. Dozens of pretenders (CBS’ Intelligence will be next to try their luck) lay in the ground while Commander James Bond CMG RNVR stands, Walther PPK ready, to dispatch the next one that believes he or she can dethrone him as King of Spies.
When the criminals and terrorists of this world want to cause death and destruction, one man will be called to handle their threats. We can state unequivocally…

but this series is done. I’d like to thank the many people who have provided sites that provided valuable information, especially MI6 HQ and Commander Bond.net.
I hope you enjoyed reading this.

[1]Richard Armitage, who played Lucas North in Spooks, decided to get actually waterboarded for a flashback scene. The screams were entirely genuine.
[2]I’ll just say that 24 was, for the most part, a brilliant series with superb characters – including Chloe O’Brian, who went from loathed to fan favourite during the course of her time on the show (most of the other characters did snuff it after all).
[3]Known as MI-5 in the US; its UK title has association with the CIA over the pond and is also an old racial slur.
[4]With two Academy Awards to her name among many other awards, Dame Maggie is perhaps best known to a modern audience for her role as  Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films, but since then has played the wonderfully acerbic Violet Crawley in ITV’s Downton Abbey, one of the most popular dramas in the UK.
[5]The subsequent inquest, limited by the judge to a choice of stating lawful killing or an open verdict, returned the latter based on a number of operational failings. The ‘gold commander’ at the time, Cressida Dick, was cleared of any culpability by a jury in a trial of the Metropolitan Police for health and safety law breaches – she is now an Assistant Commissioner.
[6]This area of London also played host to a very good exhibition on 50 years of 007 that I attended last year.
[7]The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, etc. (I prefer the original Swedish title for that book, Men Who Hate Women). The Swedish versions starred Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and proved to be her big break – she’s now a major English-language star, most notably in Prometheus. Her ex-husband, Ola Rapace, appears as a henchman in Skyfall.
[8]I spent five years when I was at school as a pupil librarian. I can tell you, librarians don’t tend to look like that.
[9]Top Gear’s “tame racing driver”, whose job it is to test out the supercars in a power lap and train the celebs who appear in Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. He never removes his helmet or is heard to speak on camera and the identity of the current Stig is kept a closely guarded secret – the previous two both outed themselves, departing the series in the process.
[10]Best known for The Bone Collector, the movie adaption of which featured Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington.
[11]The Tube has two types of underground lines for the just smaller than 50% part that is actually underground – the larger mid-19th century ‘sub-surface’ lines built by digging up the street, putting the track down and then replacing the street, and the 1890s onwards ‘deep-level’ lines, bored underground by single ‘machines’ (originally a moving shield to hold up the tunnel as workers dug by hand). Part of the Jubilee Line at Charing Cross, closed when the extension to Stratford was opened, is a popular choice for filming – including here.

GC/TC Election Results 2013

Silent Hunter narrowly won the elections for the office of General Coordinator at 12 votes to 11.
Euan Reid won the elections for TC with 58 ranked votes. Jason Andersen received a total of 43 ranked votes, spsblue: 22 ranked votes, and Firesky: 15 ranked votes.

Thank you to all the voters and to our candidates! This has certainly been a most exciting election!

Robert Longtin
Acting Elections and Voting Coordinator

Sunday, 21 July 2013

James Bond: Licence to Kill

Another one that I watched in New York and which tends to get edited for TV airing (especially the decompression chamber scene), Licence to Kill is an unusual Bond outing that is a lot more like a generic  action movie than the films before and after it.


For a movie hit by a writer’s strike, Maibaum’s last script works pretty well – it’s another densely plotted tale with a clearly rich background behind it. There are certainly some good ‘guest’ characters in it  - particularly Truman-Lodge, while Q gets a lot of screen-time on his first field trip. After some initial rough patches and with a distracting hairstyle for much of the flick, Dalton turns in a strong gritty performance as Bond, who spends a considerable amount of time undercover and demonstrates that sometimes you don’t need to be subtle to infiltrate a place – dropping bets larger than most people on Earth in 2013 earn in a year at the casino. The action is mostly very good in a movie with planes, boats and trucks going on one side.


Weak points are many, however. The lead villain isn’t great, Carey Lowell doesn’t make her case (Law & Order pun intended) for being a great Bond girl and the less said about Talisa Soto the better – her career never really went anywhere after this. Moneypenny is really rather wet and doesn’t even the excuse that 007’s pulled her into a swimming pool. There’s also some fairly sharp jumps at the beginning of a movie that goes by quickly – and Michael Kamen’s score isn’t in the same league as those of John Barry.


Finally, I will note this is the first movie I ever saw that features a bullet-proof vest.




A distinctly middling Bond – it’s not A View To A Kill, but it’s hardly From Russia With Love. You can’t blame this one solely on the script.



Thursday, 18 July 2013

All the multiverse's a stage ('Doctor Who': the stage productions)

The early seasons of Doctor Who were filmed as live, but the show has never been broadcast live, even for specials, unlike some anniversary episodes of other long-running shows like The Bill. For one thing, you’d have difficulty materialising the TARDIS.

However, this hasn’t stopped people from doing time travel on stage; there have been a number of officially approved (or not) fan productions over the years, including of the lost story "Fury from the Deep", but we will focussing solely on the official plays created by the BBC with fictional content – this excludes plain music concerts.

These are generally not considered at all canon by the TARDIS Data Core.

Curse of the Daleks (1965-66, Wyndham Theatre, London)

Credited to David Whittaker and Terry Nation (although Nation seems to have had next to no involvement), this attempt to cash in on Dalekmania, one of many of course, features five Dalek props[1] but no Doctor – yep, it’s the rights issues again. This matinee play lasted a month and got pretty poor reviews.

In 2008, Big Finish released an audio adaptation as part of a series covering the plays.

Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday (1974-5, Adelphi Theatre, London)

Actual title “Seven Keys to Doomsday”, but known fully as this, this stage play starred Trevor Martin as an alternative Fourth Doctor (he regenerates from Pertwee) at the beginning, with original companions Jenny and Jimmy[2], as they try to stop the Daleks taking over the universe. It ran for only four weeks, as planned.

It also got referenced by the Eleven Doctor in “Night Terrors” when he referred to “Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday” – it was used as a title of a story in the 2012 Annual. It also got a BF adaptation

Hot Ice ’86 (1986, Blackpool Ice Dome)

Every year, Blackpool Pleasure Beach puts on an ice show – the 1986 version featured an eight-minute adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri (played by David McGrouther and Julie Sharrock respectively). It gets a tiny mention in Whoology and that’s about all I could find on it.

Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure (1989, national tour)

A musical that featured the Daleks and the Cybermen teaming up and Mrs Thatcher summoning the Doctor to prevent them kidnapping a US delegate to a peace conference, this play featured three different actors as the Doctor:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Jon Pertwee for the first part of the run until early June.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>David Banks for two performances on 29 April during Pertwee’s run – he was the understudy for Pertwee, who fell ill that day. Banks, whose main involvement in the show involved wearing a Cyberman suit, did his own unique portrayal.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>Colin Baker for the rest of it.

While not the biggest success, those who saw it have fond memories of it – and it got an audio version. With the cancellation of the show at the beginning of 1990, this was pretty much it for stage stuff until 2005…

Doctor Who Meets Albert Einstein (2005, The Young Scientist Exhibition, Dublin, Ireland)

Starring Declan Brennan as the Doctor, this was an educational play aimed at explaining relativity. It was relatively obscure. It’s also not the only time the Doctor has met Einstein – he has appeared three times in TV Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Proms (2008, 2010, 2013, Royal Albert Hall, London)

The Proms (full title: The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC) are an annual series of concerts held in London that focus mostly on classic music, mostly in the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, SW7[3] and traditionally concluding with the exuberant Last Night, including some rather patriotic ditties, most notably “Rule, Britannia!”.

With Murray Gold’s music a big part of post-2005 Who (and other music a big part of the show in general), it is no surprise that these have featured in the Proms – with three concerts dedicated to the show’s music, along with other relevant music to the show i.e. Holst’s The Planets Suite. All three to date have had various monsters turn up in the hall. As for other character:
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>2008 had a mini-episode called “The Music of the Spheres” (pre-recorded featuring Tennant)
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>2010 featured a skit with Matt Smith in character turning up live in the audience.
<![if !supportLists]>·         <![endif]>2013 featured Smith and Jenna Coleman in (and later out) of character – as well as Madame Vastra and Strax.

All of these were broadcast on radio and later got (or will get) cut down TV airings.

Doctor Who Live: The Monsters Are Coming! (2010, national arena tour)

A pseudo-sequel to “Carnival of Monsters” from 1973, this arena show starring Nigel Planer featured a band a few instruments short of a full orchestra (that’s not a euphemism), Matt Smith appearing as Eleven via pre-recorded video clips and a plot that basically was an excuse for a bunch of monsters parading through the aisles.

This is the only one I’ve actually seen – at Wembley Arena. There were a lot of kids dressed as the Doctor.

The Crash of the Elysium (2011, Manchester International Festival)

An immersive theatre experience produced by Punchdrunk[4] aimed at (and largely restricted to i.e. the adults had to go to the café after 5 minutes unless it was a family performance, although adults-only performances were added due to demand) 6-12 year olds, this play saw its audience interact with the characters to save the world and the Eleventh Doctor, who appeared on video screens – except for one time where Matt Smith turned up at the end, in character.

These theatrical experiences, while interactive, are only of a limited interaction of the “boo-hiss” variety. Any attempt to divert the story will result in a chat with security.

For our final post in our sidebar [Long sidebar – Ed.] looking at the expanded universe, we will be looking at the truly interactive experiences – the video and tabletop games set in the Whoniverse. Let’s fire up the Micro…

[1]More than turn up in some TV stories, in fact (The surviving “Power of the Daleks” footage has some very obvious cardboard cut outs)  – the props were later recycled for use in the second of the Cushing movies, that used a total of 19.
[2]Jenny was played by Wendy Padbury aka Zoe… in the 2008 audio, her daughter Charlie Hayes took the role. The play also featured Simon Jones, who would be better known as Arthur Dent in the radio and television versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
[3]The Hall is located on a street called Kensington Gore, whose name also became a trademark for a type of theatrical blood, particularly associated with Hammer Horror.
[4]They have been doing this sort of thing since 2000 in a variety of unusual places – the audience can wander around the set and get involved in the story. Within reason – I think assault would not go down too well.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Khasab: A Fighter Ops Short Story

This is the third short story set in the Fighter Ops sim.


Monday afternoon, 1445 local time


The twenty-vehicle convoy was naturally causing a traffic jam and it was only the rear-facing machine gun on the last Fahd APC in the group that kept the Omanis stuck behind it from doing anything other than beep their horns. It wasn’t like they could overtake on a single-lane highway.


The mountainous Musandam peninsula, the northern tip of Oman that faced onto the Straits of Hormuz, has always been a difficult place to get to. There are only the two roads (one from Muscat in the main part of Oman and the other from the UAE), the ferry or the small airport, shared with the military.


The latter was the purpose of this convoy. The strategic location of the airport meant that it was going to be a prime target for Iranian attack. Although the GCC were not planning to base anything more than a few helicopters there, for search and rescue purposes, reinforcing the base’s defences was a high priority – as well as putting artillery in place to assist in the clearing of the Straits. Quite why they were doing this today, when they could have done it yesterday, was a mystery. The drive had certainly taken a while, but they could have been flown in. Someone was being very incompetent here.


In the fifth vehicle in the convoy, a British-made Challenger 2 tank, Rafiq sat in his loader’s seat and continued to read an Arabic romance novel that he’d picked up on a market stall in Muscat. It was about as racy as you could get away with Oman, which wasn’t all that much on a relative scale, but it passed the time and distracted him from the heat… The air conditioning in the tank had gone an hour ago and they didn’t have the time to fix it until they got to the airstrip.


Rafiq was still ultimately a large child, having turned 19 the previous month. He’d followed his father and grandfather into the Royal Omani Army, but while his grandfather had been involved in the Dhofar conflict, his father had never seen action. Now it appeared possible that Rafiq was going to be fighting fellow Muslims, rather than the Communist guerrillas his grandfather faced. This didn’t concern him all that much… he knew Iran wasn’t a very nice place.


Still… he didn’t want to die. His Challenger 2 was safe from most enemy fire, but they only had to be lucky once – or carry a big enough weapon to render the Chobham armour moot. He was trying not to think about that.


The convoy continued moving at around 30 miles an hour down the road. They would be at their destination in about two hours. Until then, Rafiq had little to do, but read and sweat. The book was keeping the worry away – for the time being.


As the convoy arrived through the service gates at Khasab, Rafiq could see a twin-engine airliner powering up in the parking area. Some of the European ex-pats in Khasab and the surrounding area were being evacuated back to their home countries on a passenger liner that had been chartered specially for the occasion – this airport did not get a huge number of commercial flights.


They got closer and he could see this was some low-rent charter airline that charged you to guarantee a specific seat. He was also aware, from some distant news story that he’d read, that this particular airline had maintenance and safety issues, so was consequently banned from European Union air space. Still any port in a storm…


Those were words that he would come to regret in twenty minutes.


The convoy halted outside the terminal building.


“Everyone dismount!” the Colonel yelled as he clambered out of his command vehicle, getting out even before the engine had been switched off. Others began to follow, their officers and NCOs directly them to their positions.


Except for Rafiq and his tank. A terse radio command that he didn’t hear gave instructions to the tank’s commander and he relayed those (which he did hear) to the driver. They were ordered to take up a spot at the southern end of the runway and then entrench themselves; which would make them hull down.


It was also going to mean a lot of hard work for the crew in sticky conditions – the temperature had reached 40 degrees today and the heat was lingering. He was used to the temperature, but hot sweaty work like that was never fun.


Rafiq looked at his watch – 1526. Little did he know that the first shots of the war had already been fired. Following that, he clambered out of the tank and took a proffered ‘entrenching tool’, which was really a glorified shovel.


He started to dig, dry desert dirt flying behind him into a pile. This was going to take a while, but he needed to do it. He turned to the tank’s gunner and they started to chat about nothing in particular. In fact, the subject was football.


Suddenly, the tank commander heard his personal radio crackling. He pressed the talk button and acknowledged the call. It was 1536, although he wasn’t actually looking at his watch at this point.


As he listened to the call sent to the entire local net, his face turned ashen.


“Acknowledged. Over and out”.


He turned to the others.


“The shooting’s started and we can expect inbound missiles within minutes. When the klaxon goes, I want everyone back in the tank. Is that clear?”


There was a chorus of nods and acknowledgements from the tank crew as they tried to take that in. They’d been expecting something, but the air of unreality when these things actually occur still hit them hard. Rafiq said nothing further and continued to dig.


As he dug, he saw the aircraft begin to taxi from its parking spot, heading for the runway. As it could not go north, which would take it too close to Iran, it was taking off to the south, which was surrounded by raised brown hilly terrain. In addition, the climb would be bit steeper and corkscrew-like – just in case someone was hiding with a surface to air missile that wasn’t Omani – known as the Baghdad Airport Drill by some.


They would get a great view as it took off. Once the jet reached the end of the runway, there was a brief pause – the cockpit voice recorder showed that there was some question over whether to go for the take-off. Thirty seconds later though, the aircraft began to move forward, racing down the runway as it built up speed. Three-quarters of the way down, now fully committed, the pilot pulled back on the stick and it began to rise off the runway.


It quickly became clear that things were going very wrong indeed. The aircraft began to lose height just after it cleared the end of the runway and was clearly not going to be able to recover. Rafiq watched horrified as the inevitable began to occur; he’d only seen plane crashes on TV or in the cinema before now… and many of those had been fake ones.


He saw the plane try to turn to avoid hitting the mountain in front of it and go into the flatter valley to the side… but the engines had now gone and what the pilot could do was limited. It finally hit the terrain on the east side of the mountain, erupting in a ball of fire.


Just more casualties of war, he thought, then raced for his vehicle to try and save some lives.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

USS Phoenix commences operations

Our new Star Trek sim, USS Phoenix has now commenced operations. After some initial log posts and the adding of a good deal of background information, Krista has now started RP on the ship's bridge as the vessel prepares to depart on its exploration mission.

Check it out!

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 13

A Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (photo: US Department of Defense)


As the fifth day of this war opened for Iran, things were not going well – while their repair work was frantic, they still only had 104 aircraft available for operations, with only limited numbers of the powerful F-14s available, those units being particularly hard to repair. The Saudi air attacks were taking their toll… and international opinion was not on their side.


If Turkey or Saudi Arabia became Israeli allies, like Saudi currently is in-game, Israel gets a bonus on fighter suppression and SAM suppression rolls for its attacks.


A squadron of Hornets stood on the deck of their carrier ready for a strike against the Isfahan zirconium plant, but their mission was suddenly cancelled… in an attempt to lure the People’s Republic of China away from the Iranian orbit, Israel had offered them US weapons technology… and the CIA found out about it. The Israeli Ambassador was summoned for consultations to the State Department.


I finally got the Backfire rules sorted out… and Iran rolled for a successful backfire. However, Israel still got to roll on China’s track and that country is no longer an Iranian supporter.


Iran’s Supreme Leader made a speech aimed at Turkey that was fairly conciliatory; Israel would have to be careful that Ankara did not withdraw its support from the Israeli operations and close the airspace.


With no nuclear targets really available for the F-16s currently ready for operations, Israel tired a different tack – it might not have much long term effect, but it might do something, even if just bringing more Iranian fighters to battle. 119 Squadron was ordered to attack the Kharg Island oil terminal.


Speaking of oil, Iran offered China and some neutrals lower prices for their support, but neither bit. Israel was more successful in talking with Jordan; mostly to try to keep it from becoming an Iranian ally. Relations became somewhat cordial.


Finally, Iran approved a terror attack on an Israeli bank,.. due to take place in 24 hours’ time. The Israeli version of Jack Bauer would have some work to do – as would Iran’s mechanics as 41 of their aircraft went unserviceable.


I got a 6 on the breakdown roll; not the worst I could have got, but Iran does not need any more problems at the moment.

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