Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived

With a new Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker about to take the stage, BBC Books decided to celebrate by releasing Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived.  'Amazing tales for Future Time Lords' it says ... but that's not quite what you get.

Several years back, I co-wrote a book called Doctor Who: Companions, which was a look at all the actors and actresses who had played the Doctor's companions to that time ... so basically Classic series, and including a couple from the original novels and comic strip too.  My co-author Mark Stammers and I delved into the factual background of the characters, discovering their origins, BBC Outlines, their casting and so on, and also spoke to as many of the artistes as we could to try and gain a rounded and hopefully interesting view of the role of the Companion and what it meant to the many people who had played them.

Written by Chrystal Dee and Simon Guerrier, this new book takes the female companions only, along with many other significant female characters from the show, and presents a page or two on each, accompanied by a piece of artwork depicting said character. All the imagery is by female artists too ... so it looks like the only men involved are co-author Guerrier, along with all the book's production team.

And it's a strangely insubstantial affair. The text in each case is simply a brief description of who/what/where/how that character was presented. Written in very easy to read, child-friendly text, it's skimmable and doesn't contain anything really new. The 'Amazing Tales' promised by the cover are simply those which Doctor Who as a series has already presented. Maybe this is a storybook to read to children when they go to bed ... maybe ...

So what is it then ... perhaps an art book? When I penned Timeframe, that title was deliberately designed as a scrapbook of images, with the text playing second fiddle to the visuals. Here the text takes up more pages than the visuals, but seems to be secondary to them.

If this is an art book, then I'm really sorry, but many of the pieces look nothing like the characters. Many have over-simplified styles, and others have the characters conceived as almost Manga-inspired imagery, with over-large eyes and boyish figures. It's really not to my taste at all. There are a couple of what I would describe as decent images, but these are far outnumbered by those where I was left scratching my head as to who it was meant to be ... with only a costume element or even the text alongside it giving me a clue.

I think this book should really have come from the BBC Children's Books stable as it's far more on a par with the young-aimed fare that they have been publishing. As a BBC Book, you'd reasonably expect something with a bit of meat and interest in it. At £16.99 for a hardback, this really is not something which appeals to me, and, I wonder, will it appeal to the under-tens who it seems to be aimed at. Do ten year old boys want to read a book of brief character descriptions and plot details concerning a bunch of women from a TV show, many of which they may never have heard of. Maybe that's the point, and the BBC want the series' associated merchandise aimed at 9 year old girls. I suspect this might be true, as Dee and Guerrier say at the end of their Introduction: 'we hope this book will inspire you - to revisit adventures from these women's point of view, to write about and draw your favourite characters ...' Not really something you'd find in a book aimed at adults.

Published on the 27th September 2018 by BBC Books

Review: Recent Doctor Who Books

There's been a few Doctor Who titles released of late ... so a quick round up of thoughts.

With the 13th Doctor now on television (and me not having time to watch and review the episodes at the moment ...) there's been a few titles released tieing into the series. But it's interesting to look back a few months to when a new crop of 'Target' branded novelisations hit the shops, to try and gain something of an appreciation as to what has happened here.

First off is City of Death, novelised by James Goss. In fact, abridged might be the best word to use here as Goss had already written a much longer version of Douglas Adams' City of Death a year or so earlier. This is a shorter version for the Target novelisation market, and reading it through, Goss is certainly channeling Adams bigtime, with much which reads and 'sounds' like something out of Adams' popular The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. There are some lovely moments, like a short sequence where Professor Kerensky is aged to death - but seen from Kerensky's point of view, and overall the book reads well. As a fairly traditional novelisation, this works well, giving the story and characters a little time to breathe (though not as much as in the full length version) while staying pretty faithful to the televised scripts.

Next up is a ninth Doctor story, Rose, novelised by Russell T Davies from his own script. This again feels very much like a traditional novelisation, There is some expansion of the characters, but overall it feels very much like a 'script to screen' adaptation, not much added in, and not much taken away. It's another strong book, reading well, and making a great addition to the Target range.

Tenth Doctor next, and Jenny T Colgan novelises The Christmas Invasion from Russell T Davies' script. This is perhaps the weakest of this batch of novelisations, being again pretty much a straight retelling of the story with not much added or taken away.

The Eleventh Doctor is represented by Steven Moffat novelising his own script for The Day of the Doctor. This is something of a revelation. Moffat makes the best use of the novelisation format and presents something unique and fascinating, a book which manages to follow the events of the televised story, while at the same time, putting a very personal and unique spin on it. Even the book plays games with the reader, promising a chapter which then doesn't appear to exist (but at the back there are marks which show how many times you have read - and forgotten - it). It's a clever book and stands rereading. In fact, it's pretty typical of Moffat's television Doctor Who ... complex and bewildering, but when he gets it right ... supremely satisfying.

The final book in the Target novelisations is by Paul Cornell, having a go at novelising Steven Moffat's Twice Upon A Time. Unfortunately this suffers as the original teleplay also suffered - from not having very much in the way of substance. Cornell has apparently reinstated around 30 minutes of material which was cut from the final episode, and as with Colgan's book, is a perfectly acceptable, straightforward novelisation of the story ...

What makes these books notable is that although they are branded as a continuation of the Target line, they are written for adults. There is no talking down or oversimplificaton of the text - they are readable and enjoyable in the same way that the television episodes were, and the original novelisation range was ...

And that brings me to the new original novels which have been released for the thirteenth Doctor. There are three in the initial batch: The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson, Molten Heart by Una McCormack, and Combat Magicks by Steve Cole.

So far I've only had a chance to read  The Good Doctor, and ... well ... it's a kid's book. When I (re-)read the Target novelisations, I often note if there is a lack of description as to which Doctor is at the controls of the TARDIS, or what people are wearing and so on ... and here there is next to nothing. The Doctor is the Doctor almost by name only, and I even read a part of the book considering the character to be played by Peter Davison in my head, and it worked just fine ...

Maybe this is because the books were commissioned and written before any information about how Jody Whittaker would play the character had been released, but after the aforementioned Target books, this is something of a disappointment.

It's also got a similar plot to the television story The Ark  - albeit that this is one which most readers and viewers will never have heard of let alone seen. The central conceit being that the Doctor and co visit a planet where there is a war, put things right, and then leave, returning 'moments' later (because Ryan forgot his phone) to find it's actually years in the future ... and thus seeing the results of their actions. There's also a hefty nod to Douglas Adams in the narrative, as one of the things they are faced with is a giant statue of the Tardis - and a stained glass window of Graham who is worshipped as 'The Good Doctor' ... definite shades of Arthur Dent there.

Reading the book, there are a lot of characters, but I didn't get any sense of what they looked like or who they were ... everything seemed simplified. Furthermore, it read like a story written by someone who doesn't really 'get' Doctor Who ... I have been considering this a lot watching the television episodes this season ... it feels like a show being written by people who grew up loving the TV Comic or Doctor Who Magazine comic strips ... and there is a similar level of story telling and ideas which you used to find in the comic strips, and which (I at least thought) had no place on television ... With giant cute fluffy monsters, 'Sinister Sponge' creatures, and so on all vying for attention against a Doctor who often acted out of character ...

Maybe this is the essence of the show these days ... that the years of original fiction and comic stories have given birth to a Doctor Who variant which seems at odds with the show which I grew up with and loved. I often felt that the comic stories were a little 'silly', and this feeling has been played out in several of the television episodes this season.

Maybe the books by Una McCormack and Steve Cole will be better (I have no previous knowledge of Juno Dawson's work, so she might be the one out of kilter here) ... I'll report back when I have read them.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Watching the opening episode of a new season of Doctor Who is always a pleasure, and when it's the first episode featuring a new Doctor, moreso.  But this year, with The Woman Who Fell To Earth, we not only had a new Doctor, but a new set of companions, a new Showrunner in the form of Chris Chibnell, new production team, new music composer, new title music, and new titles (although as of writing, I've not seen those yet as they weren't included on the opening episode). So there's lots to be anticipatory about.

One thing that is worth pointing out as well, is that unlike most previous Doctor Who seasons and episodes, this time, I knew absolutely nothing about it ... aside from the actors chosen to play the lead roles, not a single plot point, meaningful photograph, or anything much had crossed my path to either 'spoil' or generate excitement about the show. It was a total blank. So much so, that I had no clue when sitting down to watch it, what to expect at all.

So how did it fare? Not too bad overall. Opening Doctor episodes tend to be a little on the let-down side anyway (thinking Robot, The Twin Dilemma, The Eleventh Hour, Deep Breath) and this time there was so much to try and cram in, that a plot of any depth was probably asking too much ...

However a plot was there, and it was straightforward and understandable, if a bit of a steal from Predator. An alien (strangely called Tzim-Sha (Tim Shaw)) comes to Earth to hunt a human so that he can ascend to lead his race ... along the way he steals teeth from his prey and embeds them in his face ... So does Tzim only hunt humans then? If he hunted ... I don't know ... Elephants, then would he have their tusks embedded there? And what if the prey had no teeth ... what would he do then? Thankfully these questions go unanswered.

So Tzim arrives on Earth because a lad called Ryan touches a hologrammatical map thingy in a forest near Sheffield, and summons him there. I did wonder what would have happened if Tzim's summoner went untouched? Would he then try somewhere else? And why make it appear in a forest anyway? Why not somewhere that there were actual people? Anyway ...

So the map thingy makes a blue container thing appear in the forest - and initial thoughts were that this might be the TARDIS ... but no. It's basically a shuttle? Spaceship? Something in which Tzim-Sha travels ... but he can apparently teleport. So why does he need it?

Meanwhile, there's some sort of tentacled Cthulhuian monster attacking a train from Sheffield to London (it's unclear why), and the Doctor falls from the sky, crashes through the train roof, and is completely unscathed and saves Graham and his wife Grace, and a lad called Karl from the tentacle thing. They then hook up with a junior police officer called Jasmine to investigate. Along the way, the Doctor makes a new Sonic Screwdriver (in part from melted down Sheffield steel spoons), and the pod thing opens to reveal Tzim-Sha ...

Tzim (or the tentacle thing which seems to be working for him, or the people who sent Tzim on this mission) has apparently chosen Karl as the prey, and so the alien tracks him to his job as a crane worker, where he climbs the crane to get him (remember, he can teleport). In a neat bit of flip-floppery, the Doctor confronts Tzim and reveals that the DNA bombs he planted in them had been transferred to the tentacle thing, and from there into Tzim himself ... so Tzim leaves in a flash of logic.

The Doctor then decides to try and locate the TARDIS using Tzim's teleport device, but instead sends herself and her new friends into space!

The presence of a cliffhanger was lovely, I really missed those, and I hope they keep it up ... and the plot was simple enough to follow.  I did feel that Tzim-Sha was a bit of a letdown though. He was too much children's teatime SF and not enough Doctor Who. He would have been completely in place in, say, Lost in Space, or Galloping Galaxies perhaps ... just something about it didn't work for me.

As for the other elements. I found the new companions quite likable. Ryan and Jasmine had a touch of 'Soap Opera' about their performances, but overall they were believable, and Graham I really liked ... a sort of 'everyman' just getting on with life before it's all turned upside down by the arrival of Tzim-Sha and the Doctor.

Finally, the new Doctor. To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure at the moment. After just one episode, Jodie Whittaker has yet to make much of an impact. I liked her arrival, crashing into the train (and I guess she's unharmed as she was still regenerating at the time), and I liked the way she took control of the situation immediately. There were flashes of David Tennant's performance in hers, with the mouth movements and facial expressions, and I liked her 'get on with it' attitude. I really liked that the fact she was a woman was really not made much of an issue of - and why should it, as far as we know, none of these people has ever met the Doctor before, so they would not know or realise any different.

But is she the Doctor? A couple of moments I felt, yes, she's got this, and then the next moment it's like watching someone cosplaying as the Doctor, someone pretending to be the Timelord ...

I think the basic issue was, with no opening titles, no TARDIS, nothing to actually tell you this was Doctor Who, it could have been the opening episode from Stranger Things 3, or a new Netflix show about saving the Earth from Aliens (Earth vs Aliens) ... and it would have been perfectly acceptable as such.

One thing which really impressed me was the sound design and music. Absolutely first rate, and a refreshing change from the orchestral approach since the show returned in 2005. I found Segun Akinola's score creepy and effective, and also modern and emotive. Can't wait to get a CD release of that!

In a way, it's nice to have such a clean slate to work from. Pretty much anything and everything which made Doctor Who, Doctor Who, was swept away, and we're starting completely from scratch, with no baggage, and no touchstones to the past at all (except perhaps from the Sonic Screwdriver) ...

A final comment to add: while I'm reminded of it ... the story actually has many 'touches' to Matt Smith's debut adventure: a companion dressed as a police officer, an alien who wants to take the Earth, a secondary alien working for the first, and the Doctor tells them to scarper at the end ... A very similar idea ...

Overall, then, a very promising start for the 13th Doctor, or is she the 14th? Or maybe the 15th?

One final thought ... the episode certainly didn't seem to be aimed at 8 year old girls ... so why are all the books and merchandise suddenly aimed there? Answers on a postcard ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Fixing PCs

As the old PC or Laptop are pretty essential for all manner of things, occasionally I need to do some maintenance on them to get them running OK, speed them up, clear out the rubbish and so on ...

We have a sort-of policy that no important data is actually stored on the computers themselves - everything is either in Dropbox, or on external USB connected hard drives ... so that we can back them up, have copies, and generally try and protect ourselves from losing everything ...

So I often see people asking online as to how to help sort their own computers out ... so I listed out the following basic set of actions which should help to improve any Windows PC or laptop.  I'm afraid I have never owned or used a Mac, so I have no idea what one would do for one of those machines ...

So I hope this is helpful to someone ...


1) Empty the Recycle Bin and ensure that WINDOWS UPDATES are all installed/up to date.
2) Go to SETTINGS/APPS (This is Windows 10. If you're on an earlier version, then this is the SETTINGS and PROGRAMS option) and go through all programs/apps and uninstall any you don't want/need (Google them if you don't know what they do)
4) Do a Disk Cleanup (WINDOWS ADMINISTRATIVE TOOLS) and delete any/all elements showing there with space. There's often old Dump and Crash files there, plus old install files from programs, Windows Update temporary files and other stuff you don't need too.
6) If the internet is not working/connecting, then try opening the Windows Settings for it - in there will be diagnostic tools to check the connections and to help fix them ... (NETWORK AND INTERNET SETTINGS) ... Consider where you are using the PC/Laptop. If you're at home, then you should probably be on a Private Network as this is trusted. If you are at home but set to a Public Network, then it may be doing additional checks and security which are not needed.
7) Download Malwarebytes (, install the free version and run to check/clean up anything dodgy on the PC - if you don't have internet, then download the install package to another PC and drop it on a removable USB drive, then install on the PC you're working on.
8) Download CCleaner (, install the free version. If you don't have internet, then download the install package to another PC and drop it on a removable USB drive, then install on the PC you're working on.
9) On CCleaner, Run a general cleanup first (ANALYSE and then RUN CLEANER). Make sure that SAVED PASSWORDS is NOT checked - it's greyed out on the free version - or you will lose all your stored passwords. If you unclick DOWNLOAD HISTORY then you won't lose your history of websites opened in the various programs ... so check the tabs carefully and make sure you understand what you are asking the tool to remove. If you don't want to lose the history of files opened in OFFICE applications, then click on the APPLICATIONS tab and Uncheck OFFICE (and any other applications you don't want to be affected).
10) Then on CCleaner run a REGISTRY CLEANER (SCAN FOR ISSUES and then FIX SELECTED ISSUES). It's a good idea on this one to save the previous registry copy to a folder - it prompts you to do this.
11) Then run the REGISTRY CLEANER again ... it sometimes takes two runs to clean it all up.
13) On CCleaner, go to TOOLS and the STARTUP tab. Check what your PC starts at startup. Double clicking on anything here will stop it starting ... so do that for anything you don't want to start when the PC starts - in general, keep things like system and printer software, Dropbox and Windows Defender there, and any anti virus/firewall software you have installed, but any specific programs can be stopped - like SKYPE, TOMTOM apps ... anything which if you want to use it, you can run it anyway. Anything you don't recognise or understand, Google to find out what it is/does and decide whether you want or need it running at startup.
15) If you have any hardware checking programs or tools (sometimes they come on the PC when you buy it) then run them to check everything out. is a handy HP diagnostic tool to check out the key elements. I'm not sure if this works on non-HP kit though.

Lenovo have something similar called a Solution Centre (  ... I'm sure there are others ...

As mentioned, we use Dropbox ( for holding all in-progress files. This is free and easily downloadable, and you can gain more space for it by carrying out actions like sharing links on Social Media and so on ... of course you can purchase more space too if you want/need to.

Dropbox basically keeps an ongoing backup of everything in the Dropbox folder on your PC. It also keeps old versions of everything, so if you need to recover something or go back to an older version, it's easy to do so.

For other online backups, and after a crash which nearly lost a whole hard drive (!), I'm now using Backblaze (, as recommended by friends. It's not expensive (about $50 a year) and basically takes and maintains an online backup of EVERY hard drive you have (or can) connect to a computer.  It's NOT a storage facility though, so if you remove the hard drives, then after 30 days it assumes you don't want the data and so will delete it.  But if you have a hard drive go bad, or accidentally delete something you shouldn't have, then it's a great and simple way of having an up to date copy that you can recover from.

And hard drives ... they're always getting cheaper and cheaper, and you can find 3Tb ones now which are less than £100 ... a good investment to keep all your data, pictures. videos and whatever on, and to have spares with backed up copies on ...