Friday, August 31, 2007

Great Site, Daft Name

Bimbogami is the Japanese God of Poverty, Google informs me. If he gets into your house, you will end up poor, dirty and unhappy. It is also the name of a nifty new puzzle website that I've been beta-testing in a desultory manner for the past few months. The connection eludes me, I have to admit.

However, the site - which goes live this weekend - is excellent and comes highly recommended to anyone who misses Puzzle Donkey. Comprised of a linear path through a myriad of puzzles, Bimbogami has, imo, a reasonable difficulty ramping and some very clever and inventive conundrums, many of which require a good deal of non-linear thinking.*

Well done to Steve and his occasional coding monkey Scott for getting it all sorted and ready to roll - all that's left for you to do is join and test your wits against...some Japanese mythical skinflint. No, sorry, I still don't get the connection...

Also, can I just point out that I've been saying exactly this for two years now. It'll give me no pleasure to say 'told you so' though :(

Finally, damn - I just discovered that I missed the deadline by several months for submission to Myth Makers, the DWIN-organised Doctor Who fanzine. This is annoying because (a) it's my favourite source of Who short fiction and (b) I'd stopped my occasional pestering of erstwhile editor, Richard Salter, when he stood down from the editorship and hadn't realised that I should have been pestering newly installed co-editor, John, instead. That'll learn me not to pay attention.

* Hopefully (though I haven't checked) they'll have moved the stupid puzzle with a picture of Big Ben in it straight into the bucket though. That was just daft.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Random Recommendations

In proper lazy blogger fashion, here's some thoughts on stuff I've enjoyed recently, including stuff I've already posted on a mailing list.

Doctor Who - Black Orchid (1982)

The first episode of Black Orchid is the best single episode of the Davison years. Discuss.

Best start to an episode? Check. Man gets murdered by mysterious figure. Nyssa apparently sleeping in a four poster bed, tossing in her sleep. Wierd Indian looking guy with a plate in his mouth. It's like a 'proper' mystery from the start.

Best joke? Check.
"That was a performance worthy of the Master"
"The Master?!"
"Yes, the other Doctor" (pause) "WG Grace."

Best setting? Check. No monsters for once and in a country house, so properly lit and shot by the BBC. A cricket match, the world's biggest Priest's Hole and a fancy dress ball - what could be better? The Doctor wandering about in his dressing gown, that's what.

Best performances? Check. There's not a bad supporting performance in Black Orchid, and Sarah Sutton turns in her best performance on the show. Janet Fielding is excellent as a flirtatious rathen than complaining Tegan, and Terence Dudley/Matthew Waterhouse manage between them to give Adric a genuine (if shallow) personality in this story (cleverly one which is stolen wholesale from turn of the century Boys Adventure stories - Adric as the Fat Owl of the Remove is something they should have run with instead of killing him off).

Best cliffhanger? Well, no (that would be the firing squad in 'Androzani'), but it's still a decent one, with the viewer unsure if it's Ann or Nyssa under the mask, and therefore uncertain whether she might in fact be killed.

Episode 2 isn't quite as good, but the performances remain solid, George Cranleigh's make-up is excellent (his hand perhaps less so) and the ending is satisfying dramatically and never over-played, for all its obvious literary antecedents.

Other good moments worth mentioning as they pop randomly into my head - Nyssa unknowingly asking for booze and Cranleigh saying 'lemonade for the children' thereby implicitly suggesting that Cranleigh thinks of his fiance Ann as a child; the avuncular policeman failing to be overly rattled by the interior of the TARDIS; and Nyssa and Tegan doing the Charleston long before the Doctor Dances.

It was a Golden Age...

Twin Freaks - Paul Magrs (2007)

Twin Freaks is the new children's novel from Paul Magrs and is well worth taking a look at, either as a quick read for an adult or a slightly longer one for a child.

Like 2002's All the Rage, in Twin Freaks Magrs takes his inspiration from culture so popular as to leave me feeling like Sir Jeremiah Harman confronted by Gazza. Instead of the horror of boy bands, however, this time round Paul plumbs the painful depths of X-Factor.

It's a nice idea - take one beautiful, but talent free, sister and one plain, but vocally exceptional, sister (who's also a dwarf), mix them together and ta da - beautiful and talented Siamese twins.

There's not a great deal more I can say about this book - I said it was a book for 'children' rather than 'young adult' because unlike his most recent non-adult book, Exchange, Twin Freaks is most definitely aimed at the younger audience. As with the earlier Hands Up this is funny, clever and entertaining and makes a point about the problems of growing up in a non-traditional family, without descending into the preachy or forgetting that the book would be nothing without a good story as its backbone. You can't really ask for more and I suspect pre-teen readers will like this a lot (Alex will no doubt tell me when she reads it).

Description of a car journey in Mumbai

This is even lazier since it's just a link - but I think this is the best non-fiction Scott has ever written, full of lovely imagery and strange detail. Skip past the first bit, whcih is a bit dull, and go straight to the section that starts 'Night falls quickly in the tropics'. A beautiful, evocative piece of writing.

Night falls quickly in the tropics

Achewood

Another link, but today's Achewood perfectly sums up the glory of that comic strip - funny, sad, odd and with an alt tag that adds to the whole.

The Hardest Call

Scrabulous

Either via Facebook or on the dedicated website, online Scrabble is the latest craze to hit the little corner of the 'net I generally sit in. Give it a go - even better, if you're rubbish, challenge me to a game and let me boost my fragile ego by beating you!

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Who wants to read a tediously detailed moan about a DVD cover?

For me, Doctor Who DVDs are best known for three things.

1. The quality of the transfer will be as good as is humanly possible - far, far better than other archive TV shows.

2. Any documentary will involve a bad title (often punning), humour which isn't funny and will have the production values of a 1980s BBC2 gameshow.

3. The covers will be rubbish to the point of parody, often in fact so unprofessional that you can't help wondering if the person being paid for creating them is some homeless alkie pal of the man at the BBC who awards the cover contracts, and the whole thing is simply a means by which the drunken pal can be kept in finest quality sippin' sanitiser.

Time-Flight is the first story in the recent two story box set released by 2entertain (originally to be called 'Tegan Tales', which tells you all you need to know about the abilities of 2entertain marketing). And even in so crowded a market, the cover plumbs new depths of ineptitude.



First off, there only seems to be one picture of Davison which has been officially sanctioned by the BBC for use on Time-Flight-y releases.

It's this photo, taken at the time and first used on the cover of DWM68.

So far so good. It's a picture of Davison, in costume, in front of the main selling point of the story and, from the look of the snow on the ground, at the time of filming.


It does exactly what a decent publicity still should do, in fact, and so it's no surprise to see the same image appear, cropped at the bottom a little, on the initial Target novelisation of the story.

You could, of course, argue that the whole run of photo covers for the Davison stories is a very poor idea, but Time-Flight isn't the worst of the set. That would be Earthshock, an image so bad it makes a crap book cover and a rotten jigsaw. Or Four to Doomsday, where Davison appears to have just had a big bowl of Ready Brek. Or maybe Terminus, which should surely have had Sarah Sutton in her underwear on the cover...

Eh, where was I again?

Oh yes. The Target cover is extraordinarily unimaginative but it's of a piece with the book series at the time, and at least it's a complete publicity shot and not a cut and paste of a random sample of screendumps and generic character stills, as seen so often elsewhere on Target front covers.

Or indeed on the BBC Video release.


Same image again, you see, but this time the designer has cut out the Concorde background and left just the Doctor, sans everything below the nipples. Which leaves a side on picture of the Doctor with no obvious link to Time-Flight. Still, better use it, I suppose. Wouldn't want to break the chain and bring seven year's bad luck.

In any case, he's in the clouds (which is good, since the story is about a plane - even if very little is actually set in the air) and Concorde is still there, flying out of Kalid's shoulder for some reason (which is also good since, you know, the story is about a plane, even though it's not really).

Throw (literally I suspect) in an image of a floaty Kalid looking longingly and mildly homo-erotically at Davison's hair ('how would you feel if I licked that ear, Doctor? Here Kalid is King!!!') Place Kalid image right above Nyssa's disembodied head and shoulders looking terribly happy amongst the fluffy clouds (she's an angel, that Nyssa) and well, there you have it.

Christ knows where Tegan is, mind. On Concorde possibly, after the Doctor pissed off and left her without so much as a second thought at the end of Time-Flight.*

And now we have the DVD. In which the Doctor's chest is returned to him and he's put back on the ground. Tegan's back too - brutally cut out using the Photoshop Lasso tool by a blind man with the DTs in the dark and pasted at an oddly small scale at the Doctor's shoulder. But there, nonetheless.

Kalid meanwhile is at least staring at his crystal ball rather than holding himself back from snipping off a keepsake from Davison's flowing locks. Cleverly, the ball is showing Concorde from two different angles - one a close up of the cockpit and the other a long shot of it flying away like the end credits of a holiday program. Useful for a segue should the actual Holiday Programme with Anne Gregg be on next.

But what's happened to Nyssa?! No more the beatific presence in the clouds, she's been turned into some kind of junkie goth chick, with unwashed knotted hair framing her disturbingly frozen face and one side trimmed off as though by a plane (the other kind, that is). She looks like a corpse, newly pulled from the river or a particularly chirpy Chalet School zombie, desperate to get into the house hockey team.

The entire cover cannot possibly have taken more than five minutes from beginning to end, even allowing for three and a half minutes for Photoshop to open on a slow PC. I can think of literally no-one who knows how to use a mouse who couldn't have 'created' this cover in ten minutes.

In light of all of which, take a bow Mr Dan Budden - a man who has the lack of shame to accept the credit for work this shoddily executed. That kind of brass-neck is something to respect.

And plaudits to 2entertain for exhibiting equal lack of quality control in accepting a cover which is the exact same as the video, except in the bits where it's much, much worse.

Finally, and not connected to the rest of this at all really but it needs to be said, a round of applause to Peter Grimwade for accepting payment for a script so dreadful that I'd watch Evolution of the Daleks again first.

A non-triumph all round, frankly.


* You know he's wanted to do that ever since she nipped on board on Logopolis, but even more so now that Adric's gone and he could be travelling the universe with someone young, intelligent and pretty and not a moaning-faced Aussie with big gaps between her teeth, bad hair and a belief that serving drinks on a plane constitutes an 'exciting' life.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday morning, praise the dawning

To anyone reading this I give fair warning - this isn't about old tv, science fiction or books I've read, and hence will be of interest to almost no-one*.

On Sunday morning I got up at the ridiculous hour of 8am in order to go with Alex to see Jacqueline Wilson at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

As I generally get about four hours sleep a night during the week and make up for it by sleeping in until 10 at the weekend, this counts as a major sacrifice, but you know how it is - when I'm old and wetting myself and under the impression I'm the Emperor of all France, I'm hoping she'll take me in rather than dump me in some home run by a Nurse Ratched-a-like.

It was entirely worth it though. Alex was enormously excited at (a) being in the audience for the first ever reading of 'Kiss', the new JW novel, (b) the thought of all the new books she was bound to score in the bookshop later and (c) actually getting to meet the author in person. As she tends to do in such situations, she rabbited on like a mad thing as we waited in the glorious morning sunshine for a signature on 'Jackie Daydream' and we talked about books and authors and similar stuff for a surprisingly quick hour and a half.

Anyhow, Jacqueline Wilson was great - funny, enthusiastic, interesting and friendly, even after hours sitting in the signing snug.

She had massive silver rings on each finger (as she always does, apparently) and silver shoes and looked for all the world as I imagine Jo Grant would look thirty years on.**

There should be a law, in fact: all authors should look and act like Jacqueline Wilson.

All in all, it was lovely, frankly - quite the best morning I've spent in a long time.


* Assuming that posts on those subjects interest anyone either.
** There you go - a Dr Who link. I can't help myself.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Guest Review 2: The Magrsian Chronicles*

Courtesy of Alex (Primary Six, opinionated, reads a lot), two short essays about Paul Magrs books.

Hands Up

I really enjoyed Hands Up as I think it was very funny and a little scary. I thought a bat puppet would not be alive or anything special but I was very scared when it spoke. I could hear its voice in my head as I read.

My favourite character was Tolstoy, as I think he is evil but in a crazy and daft way. I think that making him kill Nixon the penguin and then having a funeral was really quite funny. I think Tolstoy is a very odd name for a bat but in this story it is really quite good. Tolstoy is my favourite character in books I have read by Paul Magrs. (Close behind is Kelly from Exchange)

I liked how Paul Magrs made Frank do a deal with the Devil to bring Tolstoy to life and make Frank a famous puppeteer with Tolstoy on the telly, with his own show called The Frank Lurcher Show. I think it is a good spin off from that that Barry now has his own show called The Barry Lurcher Show and Barry is also a famous puppeteer.

I think that it was good that Paul Magrs made Jason have a crush on Lisa Turmoil, Stylist to the Stars. I think that Lisa was a very good character in the book and had quite a bit of an impact on the book.

I think the funniest part of the book is Tolstoy’s review of the book which says that it helped 68 out of 68 customers.

Overall I give this book 8/10 and I highly recommend it to children.

Exchange

In Exchange I felt that Paul Magrs had described the characters and their movements to the maximum possible and I really feel it paid off, because it often felt as if I was watching the characters from inside the book. As if I was there with them.

My favourite character was Kelly. I really liked her plan to steal the 50's glamour magazines and sell them to Terrance. I could picture Kelly as soon as I read about her in the book. I feel she had a lot of impact on the story and making her a Goth, I think anyway, made it a little different to other stories.

I really liked Simon as well as I think he was like the jam in a jam donut, if you know what I mean. He glued it all together. I think that Paul Magrs tried extra hard with Simon and it really paid off in the book. I felt Simon’s emotions were the strongest out of all the characters in the book.

I thought that Grandad Ray was really quite harsh and cruel. I was very surprised when he burnt the book but I was shocked to read that he had burned the rest of his 50's glamour magazines. I found that bit very well thought out with the wording and actions as well as the plot in that part of the story. I think that by making Grandad Ray the way he was, Paul Magrs gave the book a twist in its tale of all nice characters.

I thought that the book itself was a very powerful book with lots of interesting things, so you never get bored. I was up until 1.30am reading Exchange hungrily as if it was my dinner. I would give the book a 9/10 and I really would like Paul Magrs to write a sequel to Exchange as I would read that as well.

Alex is now reading Paul's Strange Boy. She hopes to finish it before she goes to see Jacqueline Wilson at the Book Festival on Sunday.

* There, I used that title when I said I never would. Oh well, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, seemingly

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Hope springs eternal

I've just finished watching Hibs beat my team, Hearts 1-0 in the first Edinburgh derby of the season, but oddly I feel more positive about Hearts than I have for some time (which isn't saying a great deal, but you have to start somewhere).

Given that we were missing half a team inlcuding our captain, vice-captain and midfield playmaker, had several players making their debuts and effectively played with a passenger up front, we played the vast majority of the actual football on show. Meanwhile Hibs - the so-called flair team - spent the entire first half booting the ball up the pitch and getting their cumbersome and skill-free new forward, Clayton Donaldson, to lumber towards it like a particularly ungainly sloth.

Hibs were, in truth, a poorer team than I expected, albeit one enlivened in the second half by some flashes from Benji, their Moroccan striker, but otherwise toothless and lacking in ideas. Hearts it has to be said, were equally lacking in inspiration, but at least we were always moving the ball on the ground, and trying to play the game in a way Hibs' fans and the Scottish press like to think the Hobos have a monopoly on. We may have failed to score, but we had some twenty shots compared to Hibs two, which provides a more realistic measure of who had all the pressure.

And let's have no more talk of diving Hearts players following Rob Jones - all 6 foot four of blady serial killer of him - throwing himself to the ground, feigning a foul, to prevent Hearts' five foot nothing midfielder, Ksanavicius - the Man of the Match in any neutral's eyes (so obviously not in those of fervent anti-jambo Steve Lovell, then) from scoring a certain equaliser.

One final thing - how refreshing was it to see a Hearts manager take off two players who were playing rubbish, even thought they were Lithuanian? If the gormless Miko and clueless Beniusus had been hooked earlier we might even have won, but still - little steps to start with. Anyway, a Hearts manager subbing Romanov's red-cheeked love child Miko is usually a precursor to a P45 so it was a pleasure to see our new coaching team arewilling to risk that for the team.

Hi Dave, do you like the review? ;-)

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

I've got the first part of the Blakes 7 new audio adventure lying at home waiting for a listen at home. To be honest, I've heard only bad things about it but it's by Ben Aaronovitch so I'm willing to give it a shot.

So...dum dee dum. Hmm, yes.

OK, the only reason I posted that is so I can post this without sounding too much like an over-excited fanboy- the fantastic Blakes 7 fan film, Blakes Junction 7, has been passed for DVD release by the BBFC.

It stars Martin Freeman as Vila, Mark Heap as Avon, Johnny Vegas as Blake and MacKenzie Crook as Servalan, all set in a motorway service station. If that doesn't have you salivating like Pavlov's dogs in a bell factory then really - why are you reading this blog? What are you even doing on the internet at all? Go on, bugger off back to healthy outdoor activities and your actual genuine social life. We don't want your sort here, thank you.

For everyone still here, though - Johnny Vegas as Blake. Just saying that out loud makes me smile.

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