Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: A Friend of Mr. Lincoln

A Friend of Mr. LincolnA Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine becoming a close personal associate of a world famous, almost god-like, historical personality. This is the intriguing premise of Stephen Harrigan's A Friend of Mr. Lincoln.

A fictional character, Micajah "Cage" Weatherby, makes the acquaintance of a young and ambitious Illinois assemblyman, Abraham Lincoln. Cage, Lincoln and a group of other Springfield young men share a passion for poetry and discussing the important topics of the day--the Alamo, then the Annexation of Texas; the need for infrastructure improvement such as canals and railroads in the state and how to pay for them, and sometimes even the evils of slavery. Cage, as a published poet with abolitionist leanings, doesn't understand his friend's skirting the issue. He sees Lincoln as two-faced, trying too hard to please everyone so he doesn't risk losing his office or pulling the Whig party down. Cage feels Lincoln needs to take a stand on slavery, and he finds himself both surprised and disappointed when Lincoln helps free a captured run-away slave woman in court, yet he also goes on to represent a Kentuckian who insists his Black servants remain slaves and return with him after he manages his land in the free state of Illinois.

Perhaps what causes the most heated conflict between the two men is their respective love lives. Lincoln's heart seems inconsistent to Cage. After losing the love of his life early on, Ann Rutherford, Lincoln doesn't seem able to settle with any of the ladies of Springfield society who want to attach themselves to the up-and-coming lawyer/politician. One in particular, Mary Todd, seems determined to win Lincoln over. Cage and Lincoln's other friends see Mary as a danger to the sanity of their manic-depressive comrade when Lincoln finds himself deeply unhappy after becoming "engaged to be engaged" to the ambitious woman. After rousing Lincoln from a near death depression over the misunderstanding, Cage makes an enemy of Miss Todd (and become off limits to Lincoln, once married to Mary). Cage's own love life falls apart when his secret lover, Ellie, moves her dress shop to Chicago after an anonymous letter in the newspaper exposes their affair. Cage and Lincoln drift apart, but the mutual admiration for the talent and humanity in each other doesn't, even as the years pass and the onset of Civil War brings both men to the same conclusion, slavery must end.

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln evokes a strong sense of being a part of history, of breathing the same air of great men during their formative years. Harrigan does an excellent job of building believable and well-rounded characters, both real and fictional. The settings and details bring the 1830s through1840s in Springfield, Illinois alive, giving modern readers insights into the customs, culture and politics of the time and place. It is a novel sure to please both history and Lincoln biography lovers alike.


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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Moffat Falls Short (Again)



 Moffat Falls Short (Again)
Warning: Spoiler Alert!

I held off writing a review of the last three episodes of Doctor Who in hope the season would end on a stronger note. Alas, this isn't the case. Peter Capaldi's last series as the Doctor ends on a whimper and not a bang. It's not surprising when you consider the last two episodes were written (and I use the term loosely) by Steven Moffat.


The third from last episode, The Eaters of Light, was about par for this season. We scratched out heads  wondering why aliens who ate light ran around in the darkness after human beings. Oh well... The Roman costuming was pretty good and the scenery of "Scotland" a nice change of pace. Definitely ranks with the mediocre episodes for the sheer amount of plot bunnies, but not totally a write-off with the good SFX. With some rewriting, it might have actually worked.

Then we come to the two-parter, The World Enough and Time, followed by the aptly named The Doctor Falls. Perhaps these two episodes should be collectively titled, Any Chance of A Coherent Storyline Falls Apart as the Doctor definitely "falls" into a big pile of steaming you-know-what.


The science part of the science fiction was missing in action throughout.  Bill winds up being shot and taken away  because the Doctor can't simply tell his companions to "Quick, run into the TARDIS and let's get out of here!"  (And why not take Bill into the TARDIS and take her someplace for surgery, huh?) Bill and the Doctor can't be together because there's too many floors in a space station between them, and time is happening faster at the back end than the front. This is a phenomenon noted by Einstein, but even a 500 story "building in space" wouldn't experience that much of a time dilation. It would have to be many light years in length for any noticeable effect. (Oops, that bothersome science of physics rears its ugly head again.) And finally, you take along your "prisoner" Missy out on a trip for what good reason, Doctor? Rehabilitation on the run?

Of course, if you live in a "building in space" you live in late 19th century houses and burn fossil fuels and blow things up all you like, never worrying about blowing a hole in the side of the space vessel thus allowing all the atmosphere to vent and be sucked into the nearby black hole. Yeah... My suspension of disbelief got so suspended that my eyes rolled into the back of my head and threatened never to roll back if I didn't watch something more intelligent within the next twenty minutes.

On the up side, the "Mondas Cybermen" were fun in their sock-puppet-with-a-lantern-0n-top way, and Nardole proved to be quite a hero and a gentleman. It was interesting to see John Simms channeling his inner Roger Delgado/Anthony Ainley as the Master again, complete with goatee beard, but the logic of how he came to be on the space station and why he'd help build Cybermen in the first place eluded us. (Didn't John Simms' Master end up being burned on a pyre after his Harold Saxon election-scheme fell through? It was confusing enough as to how he wound up as Missy, but logic doesn't seem to be necessary--or wanted--in a Moffat written script. Perhaps the Master faked his death then and went on to help Donald Trump's campaign?)


 The saddest thing character development-wise was how horribly the female companion was treated yet again. Correction: female companions. Both Bill Potts and Missy didn't exactly have ideal endings to their story arcs and both are made to suffer physically and emotionally first before they're dispatched. Moffat obviously wanted to do a "controversial kiss" scene in this last episode, and so he does with Bill and Heather, but it seemed tacked on and not very controversial. Bill's rescue scene is a bit of deus ex machina in implementation. We all saw that one coming, didn't we? 

It seems Moffat's idea of a happy ending for female companions is to 1.) Kill them and/or 2.) Regenerate them into an alien (or into a walking zombie in Clara's case). Either way, the girls never get to return home. Obviously, he feels women characters have to be punished by exile from Earth. Ow. He isn't making any brownie points with feminists once again.

The Doctor's "fall" isn't so much a classic Disney-death-by-falling as much as a fall-on-your-back-in-a-big-explosion (after doing terribly stupid and heroic hand-to-hand combat with Cybermen in a holographic meadow inside a space station, no less) fall. At least the Doctor is going out in a noble fashion, trying to save others by fighting the bad guys. But Moffat doesn't know when to stop there, and so we have a repeat of David Tennant's  Tenth Doctor's "I don't want to go!" whiny regeneration started. We'll have to wait until Christmas to see how whiny and clingy to Peter Capaldi's gorgeous body the Twelfth Doctor will be. Thank goodness it looks like it's going to be a "Two Doctors" special with a return of David Bradley as the First Doctor. 

Until Christmas, we'll be holding our breaths and crossing our fingers for a decent final send off for Peter. I'll be asking Santa that it be a story written by either Mark Gatiss or Jamie Mathieson. Please?

What do you think of these last episodes of the Peter's final year as the Doctor? Write your comments in below.

P.S. I'm looking forward to next month when my novel Loving Who will be released by Devine Destinies Books. (The female companion experiences a happily ever after ending, too!)


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Doctor As Show Man and Space 1889 Cosplayer




The Doctor As Show Man and Space 1889 Cosplayer
(Spoiler Alert!)

It's been a busy two weeks, so when I finally sat down to catch up with Doctor Who, I had two episodes to watch. The first episode, The Lie of the Land, is actually part three of the two previous episodes which I found to be mediocre as best. 

Was I expecting anything better for this storyline's finale? No, not really. The Lie of the Land didn't disappoint on that respect. It was mediocre in script and well-done in acting and execution. Bill is still a strong, sympathetic character willing to lay down her life to save others, Nardole is still a loyal aide-de-camp willing to go the extra mile to help out, and the Doctor is... Well, he's a show man of sorts, selling the evil monks' "new history" to the unsuspecting public through slick commercials. Why the evil monks ever go to the extent they do to take over the world is never satisfactorily explained, including the gigantic statues of their mummy-like visages. They should have taken a lesson from the Daleks and Cybermen. Good ol' fashioned firepower and metal suits work just fine to invade Earth in Doctor Who.
Missy is seen once again in The Lie, but her cameo doesn't seem particularly necessary to the plot, as the Doctor should be able to figure things out himself with his abilities and resources. She's incarcerated in a TARDIS-styled vault and seems content to be locked up. There's hints she's not as sociopathic/psychopathic as she once was, but she's still not portrayed as a positive middle-aged female image, but rather as a figure of ridicule/hate. Actress Michelle Gomez could do better and deserves a stronger role.
 
The Orwellian overtones of "He who owns the past owns the future" are good in The Lie, but the overall arc of the trilogy of episodes isn't quite pulled off.  A good script editor could have helped cobble these three disparate episodes together in a more coherent and effective manner and brought out the strengths in each. As is... nice try, but it's very sad how this trilogy falls flat. At least Bill has a decent hairstyle this time out, and I enjoyed the "Maoist China" style of bland/uni-colored clothing of the populace as well as the Doctor's "worn" jacket.

Empress of Mars is a stronger episode in that it doesn't try to be anything it isn't.  The Doctor meets his old foes, the Ice Warriors. They've been updated a bit without losing their lovable "monster of the week" look about them that they've sported since the Patrick Troughton era. My husband was pleased to see the Victorian-era military men on an expedition on Mars, very reminiscent of the characters one takes on in the role playing game Space 1889. (The military costuming was accurate historically according to hubby who is an expert on such things, too.)

Why there is oxygen underground on Mars is never explained, especially since the surface is dead and there's no obvious plant life left.  The frozen/hibernating Ice Warriors are very similar to the Patrick Troughton series Cybermen who were hibernating on Mondas in a pyramid-like set-up. 

Hmm... Pyramids and spacesuits seem to be returning images in this season, as the Doctor and Bill have been seen in spacesuits in Empress of Mars, Oxygen and in underwater diving suits in Thin Ice. The evil monks have a spacecraft (I assume that's what it is since it "flies") that's pyramid-shaped in Nemesis, The Pyramid at the End of the World,  and The Lie of the Land. Is there some kind of connection we're suppose to make with the reoccurring imagery? I have to say, Peter looks great in a form-hugging spacesuit. I hope the hoodie look has been put to rest for good.

With only a few more episodes to go in Peter Capaldi's last year as the Doctor, fingers crossed we get another Mark Gatiss-written story. What's your take on these last episodes? Please write your comments below. Thanks.
 Can't get enough of the man in the spacesuit, can you? :)

Coming Soon... The Loving Who series from Devine Destinies Books!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Doctor as U.N. President


 

Doctor Who Extremis Photo Gallery 
The Doctor as 
(Possibly Unsuccessful) 
U.N. President
(Attn: Spoiler Alert) 
 
When does a television show "jump the shark" and become a sad parody of itself? Is it possible "to unjump the shark" and redeem itself ever? That's the question playing through my mind after watching the second part of a two-parter storyline, beginning with Extremis and ending with The Pyramid at the End of the World
 
Perhaps the question is more along the lines of "Has Doctor Who finally given up on being original, fresh or even half-way intelligent and instead gone for the bleeding obvious?" The wonderful special effects, sets, costumes and mood lighting notwithstanding, it's hard press to tell you of anything of the actual plots of these two episodes, simply because there's not much of any actual plot. It seems to be a series of well-photographed scenes with little true emotional connection between them. One if left scratching his/her head and saying, "What was all the fuss about then?"

The stakes are high since Missy is back--or is she? The stakes are high because the Doctor is still blind after saving Bill--or is he, since he has those groovy sunglasses? Sometimes he seems able to see just about everything he needs to in a scene, and then in the dramatic moment in The Pyramid he can't seem to see the combo lock on the door. Even those with just the basics in fiction writing can understand why such contradictory plot points make for an unsatisfying resolution.

Doctor Who wallpaper titled Doctor Who - Episode 10.07 - The Pyramid at the End of the World - Promo Pics
 
The "monks" (which seems to be a common term for most DW alien/baddies in recent years) are predictably ugly, evil and controlling with their Matrix-like program of optical wires that is running a simulation of all life on earth. (Where have we heard something like that before? Oh, yeah, in the Matrix movie trilogy!) The Doctor and others find out about the program by reading a dark magic book called the "Veritas", eerily similar to this season's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Darkhold" book of evil spells and power. So, the world is all fake and we're being watched by aliens--what's new about that even in the Whovian universe?
 
After the build up of Extremis, we were really looking for a satisfying ending and a tying up of strings, but The Pyramid didn't deliver on any promises. It sticks us back in "reality" (out of the Matrix) and sticks a pyramid in the middle of Central Asia where three great military powers are standing off, but no warfare ensues. Cool SFX of landing a B-52-like a Harrier jet, but that's about it. The end of the world is coming we're told, but not by falling nukes or the tiny hands of Donald Trump it seems.
 
A separate story line gradually develops, and we're told the great disaster  to end all life in the world is because of a Monsanto-clone and its evil GMO and biochemical meddling. (That made me smile actually since it's more than likely will be the case.) Generals die because their "consent is not sincere" enough for the evil monk-aliens to stop this from happening somehow. Only the true-hearted Bill can give consent because of her love of the Doctor and concern for his safety. Earth is or isn't safe at the end, but who really cares? The Doctor can see again.

I guess it helps if one is blind to the possibilities of science fiction and to the great acting abilities of Peter Capaldi and company to think these two stories were anything more than mediocre. Peter and the entire cast and crew deserved better scripts. After trying so hard to keep an open mind about Steven Moffat's scriptwriting ability this season, he's done it again in my opinion--butted into the show mid-season and put in the two weakest episodes so far. If I were the showrunner, I'd fire him. 
 
Oh, yeah, he's not about to do that, is he? On to next week and hopefully a much stronger story. It wouldn't take much to top this last pair.

What do you think? Too harsh or not harsh enough on Moffat's latest escapade? Leave your comments below.

P.S. I have a tentative release date of August for my novel of fan-filmaking gone wild, Loving Who. Yeah! Something to look forward to in the Who universe!



 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Doctor as Labor Leader

 
The Doctor as Labor Leader
(Attn: Spoiler Alert!)

We're just back from Marcon 52 and trying hard to catch up with things, so this week's review wasn't the first thing on my to-do list. I put off watching the latest Doctor Who episode for a few days (so I could make myself finish several projects first), and now I wish I hadn't. 

I find it amazing how my "day job" of being the editor of Our Revolution Continues dovetailed nicely into this week's episode, Oxygen. Both blogs are on the topics of worker/employer -- or more accurately slave/master-- relationships. To see what I mean, check out my piece at the O.R.C. blog, How to Build a Better Slave, er Worker. The fact that most human beings don't recognize how they're being manipulated and used by the oligarchy isn't a new concept, but seeing it portrayed in an effectively sinister way on Doctor Who really surprised me. Kudos to writer Jamie Mathieson, known for penning the better scripts in Peter Capaldi's first season, for once again writing a worthy episode for Peter's Doctor.

 Oxygen is quite a unique screenplay. The overt theme of the story is particularly intriguing, considering the accusations the BBC head  made thirty years ago against the producers of Doctor Who for  putting on a "leftist show." It got the show cancelled, so is this "leftist bent" made during the Theresa May leadership going to result in the same thing, or is the Beeb more interested in ratings rather than politics this time around? I think they're in it for the money, so a story theme about how human life is cheap and easily disposed of by those with the power and wealth is even more poignant.


But it wasn't all just politics--the "spacesuit zombies" were pretty creepy. You don't expect something that's supposed to protect you like a spacesuit to try and kill you. Nice touch linking the capitalists' greed to overtly killing their workers/slaves. At least the worker/slaves at the Chasm Forge understood they had a limited supply of oxygen, but they expected their masters to provide more. Too bad, so sad their corporate masters felt the workers weren't worth giving the "benefits of breathing."

There was definitely more "meat" to the plot this time out, and more Nardole as well. I've been wondering if Matt Lucas was going to get more lines, and this story featured him well. He's a loyal and conscientious companion, and he's trying to keep the Doctor on task--which we all know isn't an easy thing to do. How Nardole as a character will develop in subsequent episodes intrigues me and will keep me watching.


Bill in this episode plays the innocent in space, trusting that the Doctor and a spacesuit will protect her from the evil of the "zombies" and the faceless corporate oligarchs. The Doctor risking his own sight to save her--and then seemingly risking her life to save her again later--was quite dramatic. It's great to see Peter Capaldi playing a heroic Doctor who is willing to lay down his own life/health for the safety of his companion without hesitation. We've had enough of the "darkness" Steven Moffat tried to infuse into the first two seasons of Peter's tenure. 
 
Let the Doctor be a hero and his companions worthy aides in his fight to save humanity against the evils in the universe. Please, Doctor, come to Earth and be our labor leader! Save us from the blind greed of our corporate masters who take and take from the working poor to fill their bloated off-shore bank accounts!

What do you think of Peter Capaldi's Doctor and  the episodes so far? Leave your comments below.



P.S. It's sometimes uncanny how you can predict the future, even if you're not a Time Lord... While I was doing some edit work on my upcoming re-release of  Leaving Who, I realized I'd coin the term "The Mistress" many years before Steven Moffat had. Maybe I time traveled and didn't realize it?

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