Monday, March 20, 2023

The King's Demons by: Terence Dudley

 

The King’s Demons was written by Terence Dudley, based on his story of the same name.  It was the 108th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

I envision this review to be the opposite effect of reading The King’s Demons, that is brief and not taking over five hours to read a novelization of a 45 minute story.  This is something that can work, expanding the characters, setting, and even plot, however Terence Dudley doesn’t really do that.  The King’s Demons opens with some extra historical context and only goes downhill from there.  The added scene with Kamelion as King John and the idea of the robot having a conscience is nice, though once the material adapting the episode itself really begins that gets dropped in favor of Dudley overwriting every scene.  This is a novelization that revels in lengthening every description of the clothing our characters are wearing and the setting, but not how the characters are feeling or their actions are motivated.  The weak plot of the Master using the Kamelion android to impersonate King John into not signing Magna Carta doesn’t really get an expanded explanation, though the disguise of Sir Gilles Estram is at least played as a joke here.  Every scene drags for far longer than it needs to and it makes a below average story all the worse.  This is a case of a novelization being redundant when it will take less time and energy to rewatch the television story and less than 250 words for me to really write this review.  2/10.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Return of the Archons by: Boris Sobelman from a story by: Gene Roddenberry and directed by: Joseph Pevney

 


“The Return of the Archons” is written by Boris Sobelman, from a story by Gene Roddenberry, and is directed by Joseph Pevney.  It was filmed under production code 22, was the 21st episode of Star Trek Season 1, and were broadcast on February 9, 1967.

 

Up front I need to be honest about this episode, this was a very difficult episode for me to get into and it’s because it feels very much at odds with what Star Trek is in a lot of ways.  There is a brilliant piece of speculative fiction here devaluing extreme conformity, but this is an episode that is very confused about how it wants to present these ideas.  Watching it in 2023 rips it from the very important context of early 1967, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War.  This is a time where American propaganda against communism was at an all time high while the anti-war movement was on the rise.  “The Return of the Archons” as an episode fits almost perfectly in stoking fears about communism as well as the fear of conformity that was perceived to have come with it.  This conformity is generally seen as an extension of collectivism, especially with ideas of people working together for the good of the society against the individualism of the American Dream.  It’s an episode about a planet where the people all share a gestalt consciousness controlled by Landru, with the Festival of Red Hour sending the young into a violent and sexual frenzy on the streets.  The computer has to be stopped by a very small resistance of three people, all older gentlemen who are ineffective against the strong forces of an ever expanding hive mind.  This, combined with our protagonist’s almost immediately being driven to take down the computer by any means necessary, reveals much about Gene Roddenberry’s ideas behind the episode.

 

Sobelman’s script and Roddenberry’s ideas are interesting in that this is the first time Star Trek mentions the Prime Directive, stating that the Enterprise crew are not to interfere in the development of other planets with some explicit exceptions.  The way “The Return of the Archons” plays it feels like there is an attempt to satirize American exceptionalism and interference with mention made of the crew of the Archon, a starship that disappeared a century ago and left the computer in charge of this planet.  This could have made “The Return of the Archons” great at exploring the effects of American imperialism and colonialism, but instead it is an episode that almost runs out of time showing the imagery of this society instead of contemplating where Starfleet, and by extension America, has made its mistakes.  The episode also just has some structural problems since all of the material towards this particular reading is done in very quick exposition while the rest of the episode fits very much into the ideas of American exceptionalism and freedom.  Joseph Pevney directs, this being his second episode for the series, and his direction plus the costumes of the episode is something incredibly positive.  Since the society on the surface has an 1800s Earth culture, period costumes are used and it makes the episode visually stand out in a very interesting way.  The action itself is shot very well, despite almost getting in the way of the story.  The episode starts in media res and there isn’t enough time devoted to really showing the audience how we got to that point.  George Takei and DeForest Kelley are the standouts here as they are made ‘of the Body’ in communion with the computer leaving these dopey performances.    The climax of Kirk essentially contradicting the computer into suicide is also a nice touch, but the characterization of Kirk is especially 1960s American.

 

Overall, “The Return of the Archons” while not a bad episode and well-remembered for its iconic imagery (it was an inspiration for The Purge of all things) is an episode with a very many problems, especially in its messaging being very out of line with the rest of Star Trek in a lot of ways has set out to do.  It especially feels weird to be an idea from Gene Roddenberry too.  Structurally there are pacing issues and almost not enough time to explore ideas that would make the messaging far more nuanced than the very simple ideas against conformity and collectivism without examining in any real depth as to why these things could be wrong (the argument presented is a loss of free will but doesn’t factor human empathy into the equation).  The performances, direction, and costumes all go a long way to make it watchable and it isn’t bad per say but it is very messy.  5/10.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Rose by: Russell T. Davies

 

Rose was written by Russell T. Davies, based on his story of the same name.  It was the 168th story to be novelized by BBC Books.

 

There won’t ever be a time where I don’t think it odd that BBC Books decided to revive the Target novelizations with brand new novelizations for the 21st century.  Filling in the five missing novelizations make sense, especially since the three Douglas Adams adventures were expanded into full length novels and Eric Saward came back for his two Dalek novelizations (despite their lower quality), but doing novelizations of episodes of the revival means more than anything there would have to be an expansion unless it was of a two-parter, yet none of the novelizations have featured two-parters.  The first batch of four split themselves between two episodes novelized by Doctor Who novelists Jenny T. Colgan and Paul Cornell for The Christmas Invasion and Twice Upon a Time respectively, while the other two brought back Steven Moffat for a novelization of The Day of the Doctor and Russell T. Davies to novelize the story that brought back the revival in Rose.  Now, I wrote a review of the television episode last weekend, noting how it worked as a similarity to Spearhead from Space as a reinvention of the show, and the novelization is almost an apt comparison to how Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion laid the groundwork for the future of the Target novelizations.

 

When writing for the television episode, Russell T. Davies approached Rose specifically for newcomers with minor references to Doctor Who’s past, but in writing the novelization he realizes that the target audience is one of fans and not newcomers.  This means there are several continuity references, both to the past and the future, placed right back into the narrative.  The television script referred to the enemies as the Nestene Consciousness, but Davies also namedrops the Autons multiple times during the novelization and that’s just the beginning.  The references are essentially expansions of television scenes: Rose’s search for the Doctor includes appearances of other incarnations and the scene with Clive includes descriptions of every Doctor plus a couple of potential ‘future’ Doctors.  There are also potentially new adventures for the Ninth Doctor mentioned, explicitly giving him a few weeks in between when he blows up Rose’s job and meets her the next day.  The most intrusive references are genuinely good ones.  First, Clive’s father was one of the soldiers killed during Remembrance of the Daleks which is what inspires his lifelong obsession with the Doctor.  This also means he’s a bit more courageous in protecting his family from the Autons in the final battle, giving him a more sympathetic noble sacrifice.

 

The invasion sequence of the Autons is greatly extended, not being restricted allows the Doctor and Rose to face off against some Auton before making their way down to where the Consciousness is, Mickey is duplicated a second time with Rose giving up the Doctor’s plan to the Nestene which feels like a twist mainly for the audience who has seen the episode, and there are sequences with other characters including a brief Donna Noble cameo.  The Donna Noble cameo may have been one step too far, but hey Davies doesn’t know if other stories are going to be adapted.  While Rose’s selfishness and moral nuance is expanded in the novelization as this is from her perspective (outside of the prologue where Wilson is killed on-screen), it’s actually Mickey perhaps best served.  There’s something more of Mickey here as he has several friends with whom he is in a band, they get their own little subplot during the battle fighting off Autons which is cool.  While the relationship between Rose and Mickey is still a little messy, intentionally so, it’s a bit more healthy than on television and based on trust and care.  Davies’ dialogue is great at softening with very slight tweaks to the television scripts too.  His prose is also still as engaging as his prose for Damaged Goods.  Rose is actually quite long, coming in at 190 pages, really pushing the length of a Target novel, but it doesn’t feel its length.

 

Overall, Rose understands what it needs to do to properly expand itself as a novelization from the very tightly plotted television episode.  Davies prose means you can read it in a leisurely afternoon and it draws you in.  While it adds in things from later episodes and brings in ideas that took a while to come up, these work because this is a novel and not a single episode of a series with no guarantee that there is going to be novelizations of the rest of the series, oddly paralleling early Target novels like Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon.  9.5/10.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by: Terrance Dicks

 

Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos was written by Terrance Dicks, based on the story The Claws of Axos by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  It was the 31st story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

There seems to be a sweet spot in looking at the publication of the Doctor Who Target novelizations.  Go too early and there may be a tendency for them to drag and do weird things since there hadn’t been an established format, but go too late and there’s a large chance it’ll be a Terrance Dicks novelization that feels more workman like or it’s from an author who doesn’t quite know how to novelize, before you get to the very end when they were basically proto-New Adventures novels.  Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos is a candidate for one of the books in that sweet spot in terms of quality.  It’s early enough for Terrance Dicks that there isn’t the fear of Dicks being overworked by the sheer number of books he was writing so there is this great focus on adapting and expanding the television story.  The conversion of the script itself is incredibly faithful to the television story, Dicks really playing up a lot of the over the top aspects of the Axons.  One of the late working titles on the serial was The Vampire from Space and Dicks really is working on that as a model for the story.  His prose is very punchy and comes at you quickly, though not without taking time to expand the characters.

 


It's the character expansion that makes Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos interesting to read.  The abduction of Pigbin Josh in the first episode in particular is wonderful where Dicks gives the character backstory more than just the weird tramp noises of the televised episode.  It helps that Dicks gets into his head so he gets a small backstory, and he’s referred to as Old Josh instead of Pigbin Josh which definitely helps avoid the comedy tramp trope.  There are also two added elements that really help flesh out the story quite well.  First, there is an added introduction to Bill Filer where he meets Jo Grant, creating this little meet cute that really sells the underwritten romance of the rest of the story.  It helps make up for the lack of Katy Manning in a novel, which is incredibly important to do for something like this.  This also has a knock-on effect of Mr. Chinn being fleshed out more as a bureaucrat, Dicks going for the jugular in terms of anti-bureaucracy.  The character just makes the situation worse, more than the Master ever could, due to his greed and ambitions of power, with an added little bit of governmental comeuppance implied by the end.  Second, the Doctor’s betrayal is played far more straight and sinister here, proposing a genocidal assault on Gallifrey in a way that even the Master fears him.  Somehow this doesn’t feel out of character for the Third Doctor while simultaneously feeling like something Jon Pertwee couldn’t have played.  Dicks gets away with it by making the other characters believe it and feel genuinely betrayed while winking to the reader.

 

Overall, Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos is honestly a near perfect adaptation of one of those Season 8 stories that everyone has seen and remembered.  The characters shine from the page with the Doctor and the Master getting to have some great extra tidbits of characterizations, the underwritten elements being propped up by Dicks, and honestly a pace that breezes by.  It’s a great way to relive a classic in a different way for those who didn’t grow up with the book as well as a trip down memory lane for those who did.  9/10.

The Truth by: Terry Pratchett

 

“At last, like some oracle that speaks once a year, Vimes said, “I don’t trust you Mr. de Worde.  And I’ve just realized why.  It’s not just that you’re going to cause trouble.  Dealing with trouble is my job, it’s what I’m paid for, that’s why they give me an armor allowance.  Butt who are you responsible to?  I have to answer for what I do, although right now I’m damned if I know who to. But you? It seems tot me you can do what the hell you like.” “I suppose I’m answerable tot the truth.” “Oh really? How exactly?...If you tell lies dos the Truth come and smack you in the face? I’m impressed.  Ordinary everyday people like me are responsible to other people.  Vetinari always had—has one eye on the Guilds.  But you . . . you are answerable to the Truth.  Amazing.  What’s it’s address? Does it read the paper?”” – The Truth, p. 175-176.

 

I don’t typically open my reviews with lengthy quotations from the book I am reading, but often Terry Pratchett books has one sequence that it becomes incredibly difficult not to quote due to how it ties into the main theme of the novel.  The Truth is the 25th Discworld novel, on the original cover it was advertised as such and the first to be published in the 21st century.  This context is perhaps important along with Pratchett’s history as a journalist, the above quote being one of many musings on the nature of the press.  The main plot is the invention of the printing press leading to the establishment of The Ankh-Morpork Times under William de Worde, a minor noble who doesn’t get along with his noble family.  De Worde is already an interesting character as Pratchett uses him to explore the class aspect of the character, not getting along with his father yet still being a noble.  I’d hesitate to call it naivety, since William de Worde is not a na├»ve man, he's incredibly intelligent, I’d instead call it privileged.  Certainly there is a lot about equality in the Discworld, often with other races standing in for certain social issues, and William de Worde is a man who has come from private law and therefore understands how to manipulate those around him.  The idea that he is beholden to the truth is correct on the surface, but the sensationalism and investigative journalism warps things and provides something for the world to read.  Despite protestations to the contrary, the climax of The Truth shows that de Worde is still a rich man from privilege, reflecting his father in several ways.  Lord de Worde is only in the final quarter of the book, yet he is genuinely a terrifying presence that reflects the upper class who doesn’t have to worry about the law or the rules that filthy commoners.  William confronts his father himself instead of going to the Watch because that would be something that the lower classes do.

 

The Truth isn’t all class analysis, however, a lot of it is an examination of the news in general, drawing on perhaps the most famous case of investigative journalism, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigations into the Watergate scandal.  This is a Discworld book full of references to that particular scandal if you’re familiar with the history.  The invention of the printing press also allows Pratchett to expand on the rise of the 24 hour news cycle as well as the internet which would have just begun to become the force we know it as today at the time Pratchett was writing The Truth.  There are several diversions into the sensational stories and the rise of tabloids.  There are two mercenaries hired to take down the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork who make up perhaps the weakest portion of the book and the only thing that’s stopping this from being perfect.  Mainly because the plot is something that doesn’t really get going until the Patrician’s dog is brought into the picture and the double act of Pin and Tulip doesn’t ever actually work as well as some of Pratchett’s other double acts.  Far more interesting is the hiring for the times of several dwarfs who own the printing press, a vampire teetotaler photographer, and Sacharissa Cripslock (the daughter of de Worde’s original engraver when the paper was a small newsletter).  This means that the two primary villains are simply overshadowed by everyone else involved.

 

Overall, The Truth has some of Pratchett’s absolute best lines and ideas that’s only really let down by one plot not quite working.  There are fascinating parallels to the current state of journalism and where its failings are coming from a genuine place of love.  All of the protagonists while sadly only being focused on here deserved a second book plus extended sections with the Watch characters only add to what makes the book work.  9/10.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The End of the World by: Russell T. Davies and directed by: Euros Lyn

 


“The End of the World” stars Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler with Zoe Wannamaker as Cassandra, Yasmin Bannerman as Jabe, and Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler.  It was written by: Russell T. Davies and directed by: Euros Lyn with Helen Raynor as Script Editor, Phil Collinson as Producer, and Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner, and Mal Young as Executive Producers.  It was originally broadcast on Saturday 2 April 2005 on BBC One.

 

The second episode of the revival of Doctor Who was always going to be a difficult task, just as difficult as bringing the show back.  With the way “Rose” is setup as fully set on modern day Earth, dealing with an alien invasion, the second episode has to sell to the audience the premise of time travel with either the aliens of the universe or a historical setting.  Russell T. Davies slotted himself to pen the second episode, allocating it and the following episode to the second production block, writing a tale that by necessity used the budget primarily on makeup and effects for the aliens, contrasting the more human Autons in “Rose”.  Davies had the title “The End of the World” in the original pitch document for the series as the second episode, leaving the episode with an almost perfect premise for the second episode.  The Doctor takes Rose on her first proper trip in the TARDIS, 5 billion years into the future on the day the Earth is to be destroyed and alien representatives from several corporations and interest groups coming to watch the destruction.  There is nobody left on the planet, humanity having spread throughout the stars, and it’s essentially a tourist attraction closing down which is this beautiful idea of the rich enjoying the spectacle of a planet’s destruction.  The premise helps ground the audience in the setting before future episodes can go into different directions with planets, paralleling the final three episodes of An Unearthly Child which take the initial TARDIS team far back into the past to introduce the time travel concept with a similar grounding.

 

“The End of the World” however does fail in the fact that many of its alien designs are wasted on a single episode, mainly being in the background shots for the entire episode and having no lines of dialogue.  This sadly will become a trend with the revival of Doctor Who where great designs and ideas will be relegated to one episode which sadly means there isn’t as much time for them to make an impact on the audience, unlike the classic show as the serialized format meant aliens and monsters would have multiple appearances built in.  There’s actually a lot stuffed into “The End of the World” done very well in terms of worldbuilding, Davies’ script being a wry indictment of the rich and powerful gathering for the spectacle, though that is largely used for the setting and the villain reveal of the episode.  Sadly Davies doesn’t use it to the fullest due to the 45 minute episode length meaning time by necessity had to be devoted to Rose’s development as a character.  This is the episode where Rose has to become acclimatized to time travel and Billie Piper honestly steals the show in this episode, taking the material and genuinely running with it.  Rose is allowed to deal with the fear and uncertainty, a very human reaction to be taken aback by the aliens and then questioning everything about her situation.  The choice to travel was made on an impulse leaving her mother and boyfriend behind, both traumatized.  Murray Gold’s score is also perfect as underscore.  Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler appears for one small, but crucial scene where Rose gets to call her mother and just have a normal conversation.  These little conversations and moments are beautiful and necessary, but they are sadly at the expense of the worldbuilding that is also integral to Doctor Who with the first episode to suffer from 45-minute syndrome.  45-minute syndrome is an informal term coined by Doctor Who YouTubers including Stuart Hardy to describe the main issue of the non-serialized revival to not live up to the potential of the premise due to a lack of time.

 

While Rose certainly isn’t on her own in the episode, there are large sequences where we are focusing on the Doctor discovering what is going wrong on Platform One, being paired with Jabe, a tree from the Forest of Cheem played by Yasmin Bannerman.  The mystery is simple and has a simple solution that fits incredibly well, it’s guest Lady Cassandra, the last human played by Zoe Wannamaker, killing the guests in a money making scheme also rooted in her anti-alien racism/xenophobia, but this allows the audience something important.  Davies is allowed to establish the Doctor is on his own in the universe, the Time Lords are dead.  The words Time Lord are only spoken three times in the episode, keeping the Doctor still mysterious to the general audience and those not familiar with classic Doctor Who as well as not revealing exactly how they died so all viewers can have that mystery to follow.  Eccleston also gives this genuine sadness to his performance as the Doctor while masking it in humor.  Bannerman also clearly has the potential to be a companion in the role of Jabe, though sadly she perishes, but Bannerman would appear in Big Finish Productions as New Adventures companion Roz Forrestor.  Wannamaker as the villainous Cassandra is also a villain with a lot of potential that sadly isn’t quite explored to the character’s fullest potential.  Partially due to the restrictions on the computer generated effects that give her four minutes of screen time, though Wannamaker is camp which helps.  Leaving all of these things on the table means that with “The End of the World” there is a lot to be desired.  Euros Lyn was the director assigned to this second production block and his direction work is great.  Much of the episode is shot on location and the blending of sets, models, and CGI environments, while lower budget and aging in some aspects, still look amazing.  Lyn uses a mix of practical and computer generated imagery incredibly well and would return for several episodes, becoming one of the prolific directors of this era of the show.

 

Overall, “The End of the World” is not a perfect episode.  It’s an episode that I am genuinely conflicted on.  There are individual scenes, especially with Eccleston and Piper together and separate moving their characters forward, that are genuinely brilliant.  The setup is perfect, the plot is simple enough to be done in a 45-minute episode, but the problem comes with the fact that Davies’ script neglects some genuinely important worldbuilding elements and any character that isn’t slated to die, leaving several with either a name or species name at best.  The climax of the episode is also quite messy, with the danger just feeling weird with the Doctor having to jump through giant fans.  It’s an episode that does what it needs to do, but leaves the viewer wanting something despite elements that should come together perfectly.  6/10.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Mind of Evil by: Terrance Dicks

 

The Mind of Evil was written by Terrance Dicks, based on the story of the same name by Don Houghton.  It was the 96th story to be novelized by Target Books.

 

There’s always some sadness when you come to a novelization of a story that you adore and find that it is a rare case where the book doesn’t quite do it the justice it deserves.  The Mind of Evil has always been a story that has been overlooked, one of the very few Jon Pertwee television stories not to be novelized in the 1970s along with The Ambassadors of Death, Inferno, and The Time Monster, all provide by Terrance Dicks which should be the perfect choice, and for Inferno was, as he was script editor for the era.  The Mind of Evil, however, on television is a six episode serial that wastes absolutely none of its time in getting going and there is very little in terms of plot points which can be jettisoned, meaning that the novelization process would be a difficult one.  Dicks is at his best when he’s able to take a four-part story and expand on the characters while keeping the integrity of the script.  This is especially present in early novelizations like Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion or even Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, but for The Mind of Evil there is no real way to facilitate this expansion beyond a little bit for the character of Barnham.


Dicks also is genuinely struggling with the pace of The Mind of Evil.  The sense is that Dicks really wants to get to the scenes where the Doctor and the Master are on screen together since that’s where he really can flex his character writing muscles, but for The Mind of Evil there aren’t as many scenes.  The Master, while not off-screen, is more reserved than in Terror of the Autons so Dicks doesn’t really get the chance to allow that dynamic to shine.  Whenever the Doctor and the Master meet the book just picks up and there is this great energy, heck it’s even there in the depiction of the Master’s introduction.  Since much of the story is dealing with the global peace conference, Terrance Dicks kind of shows his limited cultural knowledge in simplifying a lot of the political context and cutting out the Cantonese dialogue completely, though luckily he does not attempt to fake it, instead just stating the characters are not speaking English.  The climax with the Thunderbolt being stolen and recovered does pick things up especially, beginning with the prison escape which while missing the direction of Timothy Combe and HAVOC, has genuinely great bits in it with those added character moments for the Brigadier, the Doctor, Jo, and even Sergeant Benton getting one.

 

Overall, The Mind of Evil is sadly a mid-tier Target novelization simply because it gets the job done without showing the passion and ideas that the best adaptations would do.  Terrance Dicks’ adaptation is easy enough to read despite dragging in the middle, but it feels lacking without the production behind it.  6/10.