The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “The Ark in Space”

ark1Cited by modern Doctor Who showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the best story of the classic era, “The Ark in Space” is also a great entry point for fans who want to see what all the fuss classic Who is about.

Robert Holmes had just taken on the reigns as script-editor when he had to do a full page-one rewrite of a script by John Lucarotti. Holmes kept the setting of a space station because the sets were already under construction (a cost-cutting measure for the first fourth Doctor season had the sets used here and later in “Revenge of the Cybermen.”) In place of the original story, Holmes gave us a four-part serial with an utterly chilling monster and a high stakes as the Doctor and a group of humans fight for the survival of humanity.

In many ways, this is Holmes taking the base-under-siege stories of the Patrick Troughton era and upping the stakes dramatically. Yes, we’re concerned with the fate of the group of newly revived humans as they battle the Wirrin. But also at stake is the future of humanity and whether or not humanity will survive or become Wirrin food. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Dalek by Rob Shearman

51rkR2wzh0LOn television, “Dalek” is a masterpiece and possibly the best hour of the revived Doctor Who has yet produced. I’ve loved it since it first enthralled me upon first airing and it’s probably the new Who episode I’ve revisited the most.

So, when news broke that Rob Shearman was adapting the story for the second set of new Who Target novels, I was very excited. And a bit nervous, fearing the novel might not live up to my lofty expectations. Expectations only grew when the four new Target novels were pushed back a year in the early days of the pandemic and lockdown.*

* On a positive note, this gave me a chance to explore some of Shearman’s other writings, including his collection of non-Who short stories. This, as it turns out, was a very good thing.

And so it was, at last, that the four new Target novels hit my download queue and I could finally take a listen to “Dalek.” And I’m happy to report that Shearman has hit out of the park with this one. He’s taken one of the quintessential episodes of Doctor Who and turned it into a quintessential Target adaptation. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this one more. Continue reading

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Summer Repeats: Re-Visiting Some Old Friends

Growing up, summers were the time when my favorite TV shows aired repeats of the previous season, allowing you to catch-up a bit , visit again with old friends, or discover a new favorite. Today with streaming, repeats have become a thing of the past and it’s all about new, new, new content.

This summer, I’ve been visiting a few old friends on the printed page — both through re-reading of physical copies and audiobooks. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve been struck by a few things.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)It’s probably been twenty-plus years since I read Ender’s Game, so I figured it was time to visit this one again. I did wonder how knowing the twist at the end of the story might change my reaction to certain scenes and characters.

While knowing where it’s all leading certainly lends a different light to certain portions of the story, it still didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel this time around. Continue reading

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Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summers

Billy Summers is one of the best in his business. However, that business is killer for hire, where Billy puts his military sharpshooter training to good use. Billy justifies his chosen profession by telling himself he only takes jobs where he’s eliminating “bad guys.”

Realizing that he’s only got a certain number of “bad guys” he can take out, Billy decides to take one last, extremely lucrative job and retire.

But what he didn’t count on was that while getting in place for the kill, that he’d start to immerse himself in the community around him, connecting with his neighbors under his assumed identity, and even starting an itch to put down some roots or establish a few human connections. Of course, Billy then has to complete the job, leaving those who met him, knew him, and grew to love him, scratching their heads at how this nice guy who played Monopoly with the kids could be a cold-blooded killer.

One thing you can say about Stephen King is he never writes the same book twice. He may revisit some of the same themes in his work — especially when it comes to exploring the process and the implications of writing — but he doesn’t repeat himself when it comes to characters and situations. And while he’s primarily classified as a horror writer, I’d argue that in the last decade or so, he’s moved away from just writing about the supernatural. Continue reading

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Review: Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

Dream Girl

I was probably one of the few who didn’t love Laura Lippman’s last book Lady in the Lake last year. It wasn’t that it was an unpleasant reading experience, but it just wasn’t up to my usual lofty expectations for Laura Lippman.

So, when I heard there was a lot of buzz surrounding her new book Dream Girl, I have to admit I was wary. Could it live up to the hype?

I knew the answer within reading the first ten or so pages of this one — I was hooked. In fact, I will (spoiler alert) go so far as to say this is one of Ms. Lippman’s best books. It’s something different for her — a thriller that isn’t necessarily plot-driven but is instead a character exploration. In her afterward, Lippman says that she wrote this response to Stephen King’s Misery and that connection is easy to see.

Gerry is a best-selling writer whose seemingly done it all. His first novel won critical and popular acclaim and while he’s published several books since none has burned quite as brightly. Along the way, Gerry has left quite a wake behind him in his personal life, including multiple ex-wives, various affairs, and an ex-girlfriend who has been squatting at the apartment he sold in New York when he moved to Baltimore to care for his dying mother. Gerry is opinionated, arrogant, and deeply flawed. In other words, he’s a human being who happens to be a best-selling author. Continue reading

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Review: Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick

Much Ado about Barbecue

Sally Kilpatrick’s latest novel, Much Ado About Barbecue should come with a warning label that you’re going to crave some good barbecue. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless you don’t have access to good barbecue, that is.

Emma Sutton and Ben Cates have been rivals all their lives. It started in kindergarten when Ben pulled the chair out from under Emma and continued throughout their educational history, including Emma’s underpants winding up on the school flag pole. So, when Emma returns to town after a series of disappointments in her life, she quickly finds the rivalry resuming thanks to Ellery’s barbecue competition. Both families own barbecue joints in town, each praised and respected for differing ways of cooking the meat. Ben has reluctantly embraced using a smoker, while Emma’s family still does whole-hog pit barbecue.

There is a bit more to the rivalry between Ben and Emma than the competition for who has the best barbecue and juvenile pranks. Emma has repressed large portions of junior high school due and she holds a deep secret about possibly raining on Ben’s dream of playing baseball at the next level. Needless to say, these two are probably the last two people you’d imagine ending up together.

And like the main dish of the book’s title, the potential romantic entanglement is one that roasts slowly, marinating in its own rub of family secrets, long-held resentments, and misunderstandings. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters from Jeremiah, the long-time pitmaster as Emma’s family barbecue joint (and a character I’d love to see get his own novel) to Ben’s sister, Shero.

Between family secrets, the slow-simmering enemies-to-lovers story, and a colorful cast of characters (including several familiar faces from previous Ellery novels), Much Ado About Barbecue proves to be another winner from Kilpatrick. Filled with the types of characters you’d expect to me in a quirky small town, Much Ado works much like the barbecue does — as a satisfying, enjoayble meal that left me fully satisfied and yet somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for another bite or two.

Taking a page from Shakespeare (maybe you’ve heard of him), Kilpatrick gives us her spin on Much Ado About Nothing in her quirky creation of Ellery. As with her other novels, Much Ado About Barbecue is a delightful gem and most likely destined to end up on my list of favorite books I read this year.

Add this one to your to-be-read pile, folks. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.

Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. No bribing of barbecue was done or needed….

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “The Time Warrior”

imagesDoctor Who was originally intended as an education program for families — one that would see the TARDIS crew traveling backward to various eras and imparting a bit of knowledge about history to the viewing audience of the day.

But by the time the series celebrated its first decade on the air, journeys to historical settings had become a thing of the past. That is until producer Berry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring back the historical story for the show’s eleventh season debut. Dicks jokingly says that he dragged Robert Holmes “kicking and screaming” into the Middle Ages with the debut story of Jon Pertwee’s final season, “The Time Warrior.”

“The Time Warrior” is a story of a lot of firsts. First appearance of the Sontarans, first appearance of Sarah Jane Smith, the debut of the diamond logo and new opening credits (I can’t tell you how much this surprised on my first viewing of season eleven), and the first time Gallifrey was used as the name for the Time Lord’s home world. Given all these firsts, it feels like a no-brainer that Letts and Dicks would go to Holmes for the story. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Prelude to Foundation by Issac Asimov

preludePrequels are difficult. Just ask George Lucas or Brannon Braga.

While there is a great opportunity to fill in the backstory for characters and do a bit of worldbuilding, it feels like the risks often outweigh the rewards. A prequel series can also be limiting in how many surprises or revelations an author or creative team can throw the fans way before fandom starts crying foul or screaming that this detail or that one has violated continuity or a long-held character belief.

But long before Star Trek and Star Wars were looking to their past, author Issac Asimov was taking the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in his Foundation novels. Asimov’s output of the ’80s seemed to be almost obsessed with finding ways to connect various threads across his novels and short stories. And so it was that we come to Prelude to Foundation, a prequel to his popular, award-winning series that explored the early days of Hari Seldon and some of the steps in the creation of psychohistory.

Less sweeping in scope than the other Foundation entries, Prelude to Foundation focuses on an early adventure of Seldon in the days after presented a paper on psychohistory. As the Galactic Empire begins to crumble, multiple parties see Seldon’s psychohistory as their opportunity to gain, keep, or consolidate power. Most of the original Foundation trilogy puts Seldon on a pedestal and gives us the image of a wise figure forecasting the fall of an Empire and doing his best to shorten humanity’s coming Dark Age. Continue reading

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Review: Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

Together We Will Go

Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.

After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.

What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading

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Big Finish Thoughts: Ravagers

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Ravagers

Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.

The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….

1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it. Continue reading

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