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Doctor Who: Listen

lisenIf there’s a linking theme to series eight, it appears to be a deconstruction of the Doctor as a hero.

After renewing its title character in “Deep Breath,” the last three episodes have all been about examining aspects of the Doctor as a hero.  “Into the Dalek” was about how he’s defined by his mortal enemies and his hatred of them.  “Robots of Sherwood” looked at the Doctor in  comparison to the mythological hero of Robin Hood.   And now we’ve got “Listen,” a story that asks the question of what is the Doctor afraid of and where did that fear come from?

As an hour of television (or 45 or so minutes anyway), “Listen” is dark, creepy, off-putting and, for the most part, effective.  The pervading sense of discomfort and of everything not being quite right worked very well and the idea of examining the Doctor’s fear as a young boy is an interesting one.    I’m sure that fandom will be fairly polarized on the final ten or so minutes of the story, but I found that it tied in fairly well with the mythology we’ve seen established in the modern series (and the hints the Doctor has dropped about what happened when he looked into the vortex).   Of course, the assumption that the young boy in the bed was the Doctor is probably the one Steven Moffat wants us to jump to and there may be a twist or revelation set to come later this season that undoes those assumptions.

From the opening shot of the Doctor sitting on top of the TARDIS (which I figured was only created for the promotion leading up to the season and wouldn’t necessarily be used in an episode) to the final frame, the story was replete with visual style.   It also played with the mechanics of time travel when it came to Clara and Danny’s first date.  I will admit I found it interesting that Danny is objects to Clara’s kn0wledge she can’t or shouldn’t have but is later willing to set this aside when she shows up at his apartment at the end of the episode.   As the story progressed, I found myself wondering if Danny isn’t meant to be some kind of mirror for the Doctor and that could be part of the reason that Clara feels such a strong attraction to him — one that’s strong enough for her to go back twice to Danny after having some time to think about and ponder her actions.   So far, it appears Danny isn’t in on the secret that Clara travels through time (unless I missed something in the final conversation between the two) and it should be interesting to see if and how long this particular secret can or will be kept.

I know I’m a bit behind on my viewing but I’ve tried to stay away from heavy fan-based discussion of the episode so I can avoid SPOILERS.   However, watching “Listen” I can’t help but hear the vocal group who is dissatisfied with the season so far (I’m not one of them) being even more dissatisfied with this installment and how it all ties into the War Doctor.   I’ll admit that I really liked the tie in to the War Doctor and the fiftieth anniversary story and that I have faith in Moffat to execute whatever long term story he’s trying to tell here.

The thought of the Doctor being scared of something under the bed and driven by the fear to confront monsters across the universe and through space and time works for me.   Once again, Peter Capaldi nails his performance as the Doctor and he’s becoming more assured with each installment.   Again, I may not be the right fan to ask about this since I’m also a huge fan of another actor who played the Doctor with a Scottish accent.  (In fact, Sylvester McCoy is my favorite Doctor).

And yet as strong as the first thirty-five or so minutes were, there was something about the last ten or so minutes that felt a bit off.  I can’t quite put my finger on it,  but hopefully repeated viewings will help it become clearer.

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Big Finish Thoughts: The Fourth Doctor Adventures

Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.06)Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs

While I don’t begrudge Big Finish creating their own little pocket of continuity within the Doctor Who universe, I still find it a bit frustrating when the script assumed you’ve listened to not only every release from one particular range, but also every release from the entire range of stories. Or that you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of that range of stories that you can easily call upon in order to understand the current story.

I’m doing well enough to keep my encyclopedia knowledge of televised stories up to date, much less that based on audio and literary adventures.

And so it is that I probably didn’t enjoy Destroy the Infinite as much as others who are more familiar with the range probably did. I came to find out from the extras on the disc that this story is a prequel to a previously released sixth Doctor story, Spaceport Fear. It seems that the alien race known as the Eminence made their first appearance there and that events in this story help set up that one. On the one hand, I’ll give Nicholas Briggs and Big Finish props for using the nature of time travel in a similar way to what the television series has tried to do. But on other hand, when I got to the end of this story, I was expecting it to be touched upon in the next several fourth Doctor stories and it never was.

It all led to my being more frustrated than entertained by this story — and curious to see out Spaceport Fear and see what happens there.

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Review: The F— It List by Julie Halpern

The F- It List

On the night of her father’s funeral, Alex’s best friend Becca slept with her boyfriend. Needless to say this didn’t go over well with Alex and she hasn’t spoken to Becca much since.

Now as a new school year arrives, Alex decides it’s time to get past Becca’s indiscretion and continue their friendship. Looking for her friend on the first day of school, Alex discovers that Becca has cancer and that the time they have to forgive and forget may be less than both of them expected or counted on.

To make up for lost time, Becca gives Alex her bucket list of items and asks that Alex begin to cross them off for her. Some are fairly straightforward and easy to cross off while others like touching the rear of Battlestar Galactica star Jamie Bamber or having sex with someone you love may take a little more effort and work. And instead of being maudlin about the list and calling it a “bucket list,” the two decide to call it The F— It List..

In the world of young adult stories, it feels like stories centering on someone with a terminal disease are a dime a dozen these days. Julie Halpern’s The F*&^ It List brings something different to the table because it tells us the story not of the person diagnosed with the disease, but of her best friend. And while Becca’s diagnosis serves as a catalyst for the story, it’s really the story of Alex’s need to forgive herself and deal with some of her unresolved issues surrounding not only Becca but her departed father.

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Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers

Alienated

When she’s chosen to be one of three exchange students with the recently discovered alien race the L’eihrs, Cara Sweeney sees not only a chance to get a full ride to college but also the change to jump start her career as a journalist. But that Cara didn’t expect was rampant xenophobia from her friends and planet or that her exchange student Alix might have a different agenda than promoting peace and understanding between the two cultures.

Oh, and she also didn’t expect that she’d start to fall for the alien living under her roof.

Melissa Landers’ Alienated starts off with a very interesting premise and story line, tackling some interesting threads and showing us the unintended price that Cara is paying for making the choice — she loses her boyfriend and her best friend in the rampant xenophobia overtaking her community. But somewhere around the third or fourth disc of this audiobook, things began to quickly go awry and I found myself enjoying the story less and less. It’s probably about the time that both Alix and Cara begin to fall for each other. It’s not because Landers doesn’t spend a time in the first half of the book setting these two unlikely heroes up as a couple. It’s because once the Cara starts trying to making food palatable to Alix’s alien palate that things the story begins to lose track of the interesting questions that drove the first half of the novel and slowly begins to center on just attracted these two are to each other.
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Review: Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller by Joanne Harris

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller

Following his final confrontation with the Queen in “Planet of the Spiders,” the third Doctor is slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Determined to get back to his friends at UNIT to say farewell, the TARDIS brings him on a side detour to what appears to be an English village. But beneath the happy surface, there is something sinister going on — including that no one is allowed to utter the “D-word” or else face the consequences.

Joanne Harris’ The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller captures the essence and character of the third Doctor in this fascinating, light novella set at the end of Jon Pertwee’s tenure. Reading the story, I could hear Pertwee delivering the dialogue that Harris creates for his Doctor and this one feels like a nice little side-step into a familiar era of the show.

It’s interesting that I picked this up right after listening to the Big Finish version of “Love and War.” That story also references the end of the third Doctor era and his dying of radiation poisoning. This story slips nicely into Paul Cornell’s take on the end of that era with the Doctor spending a decade in the TARDIS alone, dying of radiation poisoning.

I’ve read several of the digital shorts in the Time Trips series and this is one of the more enjoyable.    The story has a good mystery and it doesn’t overstay its welcome or suffer from excessive padding.   If you’re a fan of the third Doctor, this is definitely one to pick up.

I received a digital ARC of this story from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker

Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror (New Series Adventures, #55)

Being a Doctor Who fan these days is interesting. What was once a more solitary fandom has now become more social. Where it was once just me enjoying my VHS copies of the stories and haunting my local bookstores for the latest novel, it seems like these days you can’t turn around twice without seeing Doctor Who merchandise for sale everywhere.

It’s become so pervasive that there were copies of “Deep Breath” for sale in Wal-Mart the other day. Wal-Mart! It appears we’re in a golden age for tie-in merchandise to my favorite series.

And with a new Doctor arriving on the scene, it seems that the BBC is doing all it can to capitalize on fan enthusiasm, starting with the release of three new Peter Capaldi Doctor stories this week. Thanks to the kind people at NetGalley, I was able to secure ARC copies of the books a week or so before Capaldi made his debut on our screens. But being the obsessive fan that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to crack the digital covers of the books until I’d at least seen his debut story. I didn’t want to unintentionally spoil myself on details of the first story or to create any more notions of what I wanted from the Capaldi Doctor.

First up in the reading list was Mike Tucker’s The Crawling Terror. The Doctor and Clara arrive in a small town that is literally crawling with giant, potentially deadly insects. Investigating further, the Doctor uncovers unnatural experiments taking place that could have a tie to British and German experiments from the second World War and a potential alien invasion just waiting to happen.

While the concept of an alien invasion of our planet through the U.K. isn’t necessarily the most original Doctor Who plot, Tucker throws in just enough references to the classic and new series and gives it just enough of a twist that I didn’t necessarily mind that much. I’m also impressed with how well Tucker had translated Capladi’s take on the Doctor to the printed page. There are many instances where I could hear Capaldi delivering the dialogue that Tucker gives the Doctor. Clara is also well served by the story and feels authentic as well.

It makes me curious how much background material Tucker and his fellow authors were given to the early episodes. Did they read scripts or see test footage?Was it BBC sanctioned or did they have to get the scripts and footage via alternate means (since the first five scripts and working prints of a couple of episodes leaked to the Internet).

Whatever the case, Tucker does a solid job with The Crawling Terror. The story is effective and creepy.

As I said before, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Why Do You Run? Two Books Help Provide Some Insight

During my sports editor days, I covered a lot of athletes. But one that has stayed with me was the story of a local woman who was involved in a serious car accident.

Doctors were able to save her life but they told her she’d never walk again nor have children. Two years later and a lot of hard work, physical therapy, prayers and a miracle or two, she not only gave birth to a child, but she was getting ready to run the Disney Marathon. Interviewing her for the story I was writing, she said she wanted to put on a running event in her home town as a way to give back. At one point, she said that I should consider running in the event and my first thought was — not unless I’m being chased by a bear.

Back then, I was exercising, but I didn’t really get how or why people ran.

Fast forward a couple of years and one evening I couldn’t go to my regular spin class. Instead, there was a running class and the instructor invited me to join. I did and while I didn’t love it right away, I began to understand a bit more why people run.

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have any interest or desire to run (as I once did). But a couple of books I’ve read have shed some new insights and given me a couple of new ways to respond when I’m asked, “Why do you run?


The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long DistancesThe Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman

Before I started running, I often wondered why people who ran did it. After all, as the old joke goes, you never see a runner smiling widely or looking like they’re having much, if any, fun.

Like author Matthew Inman (better known as The Oatmeal from his on-going web-comic), I didn’t really understand the appeal of running long distances until I actually got out there and started doing it.

Inman’s attempt to explain why he runs long distance is chronicled in The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.

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