Archive for March, 2015

The Return of the Rocket Men

The Return of the Rocket Men

The Return of the Rocket Men

The first outing with the rocket men from Big Finish focused firmly on the character of Ian Chesterton, and in particular his asking of the question ‘When do you know?’ In Ian’s case, the question referred to Barbara, and when you know a person is indispensable to your happiness.

For the second rocket man story, still set firmly in the Hartnell era, it’s space pilot Steven Taylor who faces off against the flying pirates, this time personified in the heartless Van Cleef. Steven too asks ‘When do you know?’ as our way into the story, but the joy about Big Finish and in particular the Companion Chronicles range is that the company has worked tirelessly to add flesh to the characterization of companions who in the TV show were really only there for the purposes of complicating the plot. Ian Chesterton was given an emotional centre in The Rocket Men, and in The Return of the Rocket Men, Steven, one of the most chronically underwritten companions on TV, continues to develop a history and a skillset that make him much more believable than he ever was on screen. His asking ‘When do you know?’ is not about a question of romantic involvement, but about his own sense of personal maturity.

Tony flew again to celebrate The Return of the Rocket Men.

Read the piece here.

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The Ninth Doctor #1

The Ninth Doctor #1

The Ninth Doctor #1 – a slow starter?

Now the range is opening up a gap in the Ninth Doctor’s on screen history just after he and Rose have picked up Captain Jack, and gleefully thrusting a highly-anticipated comic-book series in there to expand the arc of that Doctor.

And for the first real time since the company started doing Who, there’s a sense of ‘Helly – oh.’

 

Tony took a sneak peek at the Ninth Doctor #1 from Titan Comics.

Read the piece here.

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The Rocket Men

The cover of The Rocket Men.

The Rocket Men, from Big Finish.

The Rocket Men is one of those ideas that’s so obvious you wonder a) if it’s been done before, and b) whether it’s legal under copyright to do it at all. Men with rocket-packs have been a core figment of the collective science fiction imagination since at least the 50s, when the King of the Rocket Men serial thrilled Saturday morning cinemagoers of a certain youth and impressionability, in between Batman and Flash Gordon serials. Even as late as the 80s, The Rocketeer was able to reinvent the idea with an equally heroic slant. But it’s actually not an idea that’s ever taken mainstream on screen root in Doctor Who. When you realise that, it’s more than a little mystifying, but possibly BBC budgets and the idea of not being able to do the concept justice have played their parts.

Step forward Big Finish and the particular advantages of the audio medium.

 

Tony remembered the beginning of a great audio arc with the launch of the rocket men on Big Finish.

 

Read the piece here.

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Interview with Al Ewing, Author

The Eleventh Doctor collection, written by Al Ewing.

The Eleventh Doctor collection, written by Al Ewing.

Every project seems more challenging than the last, if I’m honest. Doctor Who’s been quite tough to write, because in addition to all the other difficulties of writing, you’ve got to get the tone of Matt Smith’s performance captured without movement or sound. Aside from that, probably the most challenging thing is when I’m writing from an agreed plot – as in, one I’ve sent in and had approved – and I realise there’s a giant hole in it, and I can’t go back because the first episodes have already been drawn, so then I have to do a few contortions and fix it as we go. That’s always tough, but sometimes creating that solution produces nuggets of gold to use later.

 

Tony was delighted to talk to Al Ewing, author in many formats, particularly comic-books, about his process, and particularly about taking the Eleventh Doctor into the comic-book world.

Read the piece here.

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House of Cards

Publicity shots of Ian Richardson and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

Francis and Frank – the two faces of House of Cards.

Frank Underwood.

Loyal party man. Gets things done. Delivers on his promises. A good guy, if a little limited.

Liar. Blackmailer. Cheat. Backstabber. Murderer –

President of these United States.

 

Tony stares into the heart of political darkness, looking at both the US and UK versions of House of Cards.

 

Read the piece here.

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Fortitude Episode Seven

Markus Huseklepp from Fortitude episode seven.

Fortitude episode seven. People are dropping like flies.

If you watch the credits of Fortitude, which to be honest, I haven’t done very often because I’m on medication that says I’m only allowed a certain amount of hideous atonal dross in my cultural diet every week and I’m waiting for Bjork to be revealed as the town pharmacist, they do seem to give a clue as to the what-the-hell’s-behind-people-hacking-each-other-to-death mystery that is, for want of a more accurate term, the ‘point’ of the whole thing. Ice crystals forming, dark liquid staining, jagged icicles looking like piranha-teeth, the whole thing seems to scream ‘There’s something creepy in the water and it’s coming to turn you mad and kill you all, have a good evening.’

 

Tony got a little over-excited by Fortitude episode seven.

Read the piece here.

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The Eleventh Doctor Collection, Volume 1

The Eleventh Doctor collection, written by Al Ewing.

The Eleventh Doctor collection, written by Al Ewing.

The Eleventh Doctor had a very conspicuous style.

We say this here because it’s only really with hindsight that it becomes apparent. Matt Smith’s Doctor very often seemed to be a ragbag collection of mannerisms and surprises – that was part of the appeal of him: you never quite knew what you’d be getting next. So it comes as a shock with hindsight to get the feeling that you know, inherently, who the Eleventh Doctor is, what’s right for him, and what’s wrong.

 

Tony previewed the Eleventh Doctor Collection, Volume 1.

Read the piece here.

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The Gates of Heaven

I’m actually not sure if I’ve posted this before, so forgive me if it all sounds terribly familiar. But in honour of Terry Pratchett, who was famous for his long footnotes, I figured I might post a section of Wonderful that I’ve been editing this evening. There are not, on the whole, that many footnotes in the book, but this particular extract has more than its fair share. It deals with the arrival of two demons at the gates of Heaven. Here’s to you, Terry.

***

 

Antimony and BigMac

Antimony (left) and BigMac. Two of my demons. Only one of which I’m probably getting sued for. Must Try Harder Next Time…

There was, as Paul had feared, a demon loose in Heaven. Actually, there were two demons, and they weren’t so much ‘loose in Heaven’ as wound up tight and trying to convince the gatekeeper that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Butter actually wouldn’t melt in Antimony’s mouth, should anyone have had the temerity to feed him any, but that was only logical. There are some people even butter knows enough to be scared of.

‘Fill out these forms and hand them to my colleague,’ said the spirit of what was once Geoffrey Alexander Mottershead, his nasal whine perfectly recreated despite him only having the spiritual memory of a nose to whine with. He was bored almost to tears, and that, according to the rules, was perfectly fair.

When Purgatory had been abolished some years previously and Azrael had gone off to ‘find himself,’ Heaven and Hell had seen a massive influx of new residents. And while the Son had protested, as he did to anyone who would listen, that in His Father’s kingdom there were many mansions, Heaven was full of the kind of people who didn’t think any Johnny-come-lately should be able to just turn up and get a mansion, when they obviously hadn’t been devout enough to deserve one outright. If there were mansions, they felt, then they should be reserved for those indigenous, unquestioning believers who had been pure in their belief while they were alive. The Son had sighed, reflecting, not for the first time, that he’d left a rather significant loophole in the system. Believing in him had seemed like a foolproof entry requirement when he’d first thought it up, but as time had gone on, he’d noticed that it did let through rather a lot of people who weren’t, when all was said and done, as it invariably was by the time he ran into them, very nice. The Crusaders were a more or less devout bunch of chaps, but they would insist on slaughtering people who were different to themselves. Likewise, the Spanish Inquisition fellows (who had, as comic convention appeared to demand, appeared en masse one morning, unexpectedly), were nothing if not enthusiastic believers. The Son had stopped arguing altogether when the Reverend Falwell had turned up. It was obviously pointless. Besides, the Father had no problem with these people. And so there they were, all the mansion-claimers in their ultimate gated community. And while Heaven was in absolutely no sense a democracy, there were rather a lot of these people, and no-one likes unfriendly, muttering neighbours, so a solution had been found. Hell might be a bureaucracy, but in terms of its ability to stretch a point, spin a line or pick a nit till it howled and begged for mercy, Heaven was more like a law firm. One of those ‘how-much?’ ones that celebrities and rock stars use when they’ve shot someone in the face and need a defence. A solution had been found, or rather engineered. There were plenty of menial jobs in Heaven, most of which had previously been done by the meek – because after all, they never complained and they were due a big windfall one of these days – or by virtue of Grace, the atmospheric field of Heaven. Now all the new arrivals found themselves doing these menial jobs – tuning harps and cleaning out trumpet spit-valves, polishing thrones and diadems, paving streets with something that glittered, but which fundamentally wasn’t gold, or, in the case of the real borderline specimens, doing the paperwork. Heaven generated a lot of paperwork these days, though of course it wasn’t real paper, any more than the streets were paved with real gold, or the trumpets were filled with real spit. But in a universe where everything was non-material, including the people, it felt real enough to Geoffrey Alexander Mottershead and his colleagues. It felt real enough to the mansion-claimers too, who smiled smugly at what they’d managed to achieve, and agreed to put their heads together more often. It might be Heaven, they said among themselves, but that didn’t mean it had to be fun. Not for everyone, anyhow.

Antimony stared at Geoffrey, wondering whether it was possible to make an angel’s head explode, this close to Heaven and the State of Grace. A hot, insistent voice inside his head said it might certainly be worth a try. Then his wiser demons tackled the rogue thought to the ground and kicked the shit out of it. He smiled like a radiation victim, nodded brusquely and the two of them stepped out of the line. They had changed their normal forms for something more closely approximate to the ‘average human,’ and when they stepped across to what looked like the universe’s longest lottery island, none of the thousands of humans who were also filling in application forms gave them a second glance, or indeed, in most cases, a first. The phrase ‘a fate worse than death’ has lost a lot of its power among the masses in the 21st century, who have become largely inured or blinded to any news they don’t want to hear. Nevertheless, it is an old and meaningful phrase, and many demons took a degree of old-school pride in developing schemes or contraptions to remind the cynical, jaded, ‘how can you feel pain if you don’t have a body?’ crowd exactly what inventive, dynamic evil was all about.*

BigMac was good at fates worse than death. Where Antimony had an aristocratic, self-justifying approach to the business of inflicting pain and suffering, BigMac was a connoisseur of cruelty, a skilled, enthusiastic professional in the arts of complete and utter bastardy. What he’d done to James McFadden and Arnold Pugh was not, by his own high standards, a classic piece of evildoing, but still, it gave him a little glow of satisfaction. It had been one of those rare occasions where business and pleasure had dovetailed perfectly, where the dictates of their mission required – no, demanded – that a couple of humans suffer a fate worse than death.

They were still suffering it, and would continue until, or more accurately unless BigMac decided to set them free.

Absorption was a tricky business, in the same family of activity as possession. In fact, absorption was the big, gruff, stompy, shouty uncle that made little Possession wince every time he came round.

Firstly of course, there was the death, which was agonising in itself. The process essentially spread an infection from a demon’s touch, cell to cell throughout the body, dissolving the bonds that held them together and then wringing them out, squeezing the DNA out of them like juice from a tomato. That allowed the demon, should they need to, to build an exact material copy of the victim’s body, or in this case, a perfect non-material copy. The essence that had been linked to the original body then had to be trapped before it disappeared through the neuronic gate, and before the gate itself collapsed as the cells of the brain were dissolved. This was, by common assent, almost ridiculously difficult to do. If catching butterflies without a net was considered pretty tricky, then catching a spirit before the gate collapsed was the equivalent of catching invisible butterflies, travelling at the speed of light. Twenty miles away. Using only your teeth, and guided by the wind of their wing flaps. Doing one of these in a single millennium was considered among demonic low fliers as being pretty impressive. Doing two in the space of one day was entirely unheard of, and even Antimony had been forced to concede that BigMac had proved his worth on the mission by the act. The Spirits of James McFadden and Arnold Pugh were now trapped in a bottle in Belial’s desk drawer.***

Antimony, with his native reluctance to give anyone a break, had questioned whether the absorption process was really necessary, and Belial had shot him a world class withering look. Considering they were attempting to do something that not even Lucifer himself had succeeded at, he reminded him, that they had to pass as humans at the most fundamental level, that the humans had to be honestly dead and destined for Heaven, and yet must never reach it, and that if it all went horribly wrong, there would probably be Questions Asked in extremely low places… given all that, Belial had said, he really rather thought that if it was all the same with Brother Antimony, it was probably worth putting a bit of effort in, yes.

Antimony had ratcheted his best political smile into place. ‘Good,’ he had said, briefly, visions of Belial being spit-roasted over hyena-dung playing seductively in his brain. ‘Just checking.’

 

 

* Demons throughout history generally haven’t gone in for sheds in any big way, which is an attitude that sensibly reflects a home environment where the risk of stray fireballs is higher than at a wizard’s stag do. Nevertheless, where sheds have caught on, they have been used by these old-school devotees of demented invention, to keep their treasured contraptions a secret during the building and painting and polishing process. There were even, now, small leagues and competitions between inventive demons, where they revealed their contraptions to their competitors, and took turns to try and either smash each others’ machines to bits, or compete in trials to see which of them could most spectacularly torture the most humans in a set time. The current All-Comers Fate Worse Than Death Top Bastard Champion was Spermicide III**, who had slashed a pathway through the competition with his self-built diesel-powered bollock-unravelling kneecap-crusher, with optional anal razors. He called it King Kaoz, which just goes to prove that nothing good ever comes out of sheds, only evil and illiteracy.

 

** He came from a fairly bitter family, which commentators frequently speculated might be what had led him to start spending time alone in the shed in the first place.  

 

*** Never mess about with a bottle or a lamp if you don’t know where it’s come from. While most of them of course will be entirely harmless, every now and again, you’ll come across one that used to house a djinn. Even in a universe that allows the existence of some pretty bizarre and dangerous things, the djinns tend to outstay their welcome in any particular time and place with remarkable speed. This is down to the unfortunate combination of what are normally thought of as ‘magical’ powers and a general demeanour that is at least partially responsible for the invention of the phrase ‘camel-shit crazy sonofabitch.’ On Earth, some of the more conservative desert gods took to imprisoning the djinns in bottles or lamps which were constructed as temporally null zones. Despite their own bragging, djinns are not spiritual but entirely material creatures, so when imprisoned in bottles, they remain conscious, alive and awake to the monotony of their incarceration. Oddly, this does nothing to improve their mood when they are inevitably released.
Of course, some bottles don’t contain djinns, but do contain Liebfraumilch. Given a choice, go with the djinn.

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Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett – the one and only.

When you’re in on the ground floor of something that becomes not only cool and mainstream, but gains surety, gains focus, and gains reliability the longer it goes on, it’s a wonderful feeling.

I came to the work of Terry Pratchett when The Light Fantastic was released in paperback. Book two of the Discworld series, and at the time, you could still pick up The Colour of Magic at the same time.

That was one entertaining weekend. Sure, Colour of Magic was a little bit scattershot, and didn’t really have too much in the way of a tight plot, but there was a sense there – a sense of something special.

To a generation who were just understanding that the world – in fact, after Douglas Adams, the whole galaxy – was a pretty remarkable, funny place, and that that was wonderful, Terry Pratchett spoke at just the right time. We’d been primed with the likes of Bananaman and Danger Mouse, we’d read the books, and if we were lucky, heard the radio show of Hitch-Hikers, we identified with a sideways way of looking at things. The Monty Python team and the Goodies were still in the air, but there was a way of telling stories that was like them, but not them – ways that were like most of Life of Brian, or most of the Holy Grail, only with a bit more oomph and without quite as many tiresome tangents. We were ready.

Terry Pratchett was, to some extent, the answer to what we knew we needed, but didn’t know was out there. He was a sarky git for a generation of sarky gits, a kind of Breakfast Club Kid cult, and we adored him for it. While there was comedy gold in the first two books – Rincewind the ‘wizzard’ and the continuing joy that is The Luggage particularly, along with Pratchett’s universally acclaimed personification of DEATH – the Discworld series really began to hit its stride with book three, Equal Rites, with book four, Mort beginning the first truly golden period of his writing.

The point about Pratchett’s writing though is that while he began it mainly – if you believe what he said – to ‘have a bit of fun with some of the clichés of the fantasy genre’, he did it so well that he reasonably quickly had to shift his focus to ‘having a bit of fun with some of the silliness of life,’ the fantasy setting becoming just an ideal dark mirror to show us…to us. The range of subjects he tackled is insanely broad, from movies to music, from money to mass communication, from transport to football to fandom to sexual equality to slavery to nationalism and so on, and on, and on. When Pratchett turned his gaze on a subject, you could expect it to be piercing, but to come with a healthy dose of comedy as anaesthetic. He always made his point, but he rarely had to resort to lecturing or hectoring. There was always a funny way of making the point, which once you’d read it, made you think ‘See what you did there, ya clever bugger… Good job.’

Pratchett of course was about more than the Discworld – he was unafraid to make his voice heard on a wide range of subjects, was a keen gamer, and embraced the fantasy community as a whole. He wrote for young adults as well as ‘Pratchett fans’, set up a biannual first novel prize with his name on it, and when diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s Disease that would eventually take him from the world, he defined it in a typically funny way as ‘an embuggerance’ – and then campaigned not only for Alzheimer’s research, but for the right to a dignified, self-determined end to life – a campaign which has yet to be reflected in law.

Through the work of his writing life, Sir Terry Pratchett became that most amazing thing – a literary certainty that lifted your spirits. Any day, any godawful train delayed, pouring rain, hate you all day, he was there. In any Smiths, for a small amount of money, on any Kindle, on any phone, Pratchett was there, and which book you chose didn’t really matter that much. Chances are the first paragraph would make you laugh. Certainly, within the first two pages, you’d be apologizing to people around you. And whatever the day would go on to throw at you mattered less, or mattered not at all, because Pratchett would lead you away from your troubles, would give you a guaranteed laugh, would make you think, and then would make you laugh a whole lot more before you closed the book. During the ‘first golden period’ – from Mort to about Witches Abroad (eight books where he barely put a foot wrong) – journalists would frequently say he was ‘the funniest writer in the English language since PG Wodehouse.’ Then journalists stopped saying that, because it became clear that actually, he was probably the funnier of the two, his scope much broader, his characters more believable while still delivering the laughs.

Twenty years ago, when I was first trying to become a comic fantasy writer, I had the enormous privilege to be described by some publishers – proper ones, from MacMillan, and Harper, and Orion, no rubbish – as being potentially ‘the next Terry Pratchett’. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to take that – I was young and stupid, and not quite ready to see it as the compliment it was. But one thing was clear to me even then, and it went on to be proved as true for the next twenty years, (as his consistency, his comedic kindness and his deliciously witty take on the world buried many another writer prematurely given the title of ‘the next Terry Pratchett’) as it was when I quipped straight back to them without thinking about it.

‘No, no – there’ll only ever be one Terry Pratchett.’

We’ll miss the one and only Terry Pratchett in our lives. But open up any one of his books, and there you’ll find him, any day when you need to laugh a bit more.

Sadly missed, hysterically remembered: Terry Pratchett.

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Freedom From Bond-age

All the Bond actors so far.

All the on screen Bonds so far – but are they restricted by backstory?

When is a Bond movie not a Bond movie?

Arguably, when it’s actually a 007 movie.

Bond has become an action-movie Hamlet, with each actor who’s stepped into the tuxedo and picked up the Walther redefining the role – and to some extent the nature of the man – as they’ve played him. But one thing that always appears to be the case is that Bond is the same man. Whether he’s played by a Scottish (Connery), English (Moore and Craig), Welsh (Dalton), Irish (Brosnan) or an Australian actor (Lazenby), Bond is always the same Bond, the one with the family home in Scotland, as visited in Skyfall.

At the risk of being shot by Bondies the world over, that’s a mistake.

Tony put forward a controversial plan for the future of James Bond movies.

Read the piece here.

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