Saturday, November 30, 2013

Season's Readings

Scott. D. Parker

As soon as the Thanksgiving celebrations end, my mind--as does everyone's--turns to all things Christmas. Yesterday, I broke out my Christmas music, always  inaugurated by Chicago's What's It Gonna Be Santa CD. I followed it up with Chicago's third CD of yuletide tunes, Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three. Today and through the weekend, I'll follow up with Brian Setzer Orchestra, Chris Botti, Harry Connick, Vince Guaraldi, and Frank Sinatra.

In my box of Christmas CDs, I also have my small collection of Christmas anthologies. They run the gamut from SF (Christmas Stars) to classic (Dickens Christmas tales; Christmas Classics) to mystery (Crime for Christmas) to scary (Christmas Ghosts; can't find a link; it's the Hartwell/Cramer one) and Sherlock Holmes (Holmes for the Holidays). I've even got my comics covered with A DC Universe Christmas and Lee Bermejo's Batman: Noel.

But there is a new entry in the Christmas-theme crime anthology market: Otto Penzler's The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Released just this year, this 650-page book has something for just about everybody. Agatha Christie opens and closes the book, and in between these bookends, all your favorites are here: Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Ellery Queen, Donald Westlake, Isaac Asimov, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, and more. The stories are broken out by themes such as A Modern Little Christmas, A Puzzling Little Christmas, A Pulpy Little Christmas, and A Traditional Little Christmas. If the stories don't get you, the wonderful cover painting, evoking something from the golden age, certainly will.

This will certainly fill up my yule-time reading for years to come.

Holmes Follow-Up

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast and how much I like it. I was honored that Scott Monty, one of the two hosts, stopped by and left a comment. And Matt Laffey, curator of (a compendium of Holmsian links), also read and commented on my post. Thank you, gentlemen.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Moving Day

By Russel D McLean

Russel and the Literary Critic (aka Lesley McDowell) are moving house this week. Which leaves little time for blogs. All will be back in order next week, however... I promise.

So in the meantime, here's an idea of what our move will probably be like... which of us is Donald Duck you ask? Well, we'll let you decide...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Author Etiquette: To Thank or Not To Thank

By Steve Weddle

Hello, Thanksgiving.

First, let me thank everyone who came out to the NYC reading at The Mysterious Bookshop recently.

We had a great time. I read "Purple Hulls" from Country Hardball and then we did an audience-participation segment, acting out various scenes from the novel. Folks were pretty cool about it, though one of the volunteers begged out after being told what the story was about.
Totally fine. No one is judging you, Peter J.

If you weren't able to come, you can still snag a signed copy from The Mysterious Bookshop and from Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, where we did the launch on November 20.

Also, I hid a copy in FAO Scwartz (near Iron Man) and one in a pizza place (I forget which one) in Midtown. Both are signed.

So I'd like to say thanks again to everyone who came out and those who wanted to, but couldn't -- especially if you bought the book. *winks charminglyish*

Also, thank you for reading along with us at DSD.

And thanks to Eva Dolan for coming along with us. Sad to see her leave.

Next week, Holly West joins the team. And for that, we are thankful.

And speaking of thanks, we were chatting this week on Twitter and Facebook about whether it was a good idea for authors to thank book reviewers, specifically for a good review of the author's book.

CheffoJeffo, a book blogger, had some thoughts following the discussion. Also, @popqueenie had some smart things to say from the reviewer side of things

I'm sure others have, too.

Basically what we're talking about is this:

1) Jenny wrote a book.
2) Mike wrote a nice review of the book.
3) ???

Does Jenny email Mike to thank him? If so, what does that email look like?

"Mike, thanks for the nice review of my book. I am glad that you enjoyed it. Cheers, Jenny."

Is that cool? It seems most everyone agrees that thanking a reviewer is a good idea. Hell, I figure most authors are like me in that they're pleased as hell that a reviewer went to the trouble to read and review. I've written many reviews, especially here on DSD. Authors don't always say "thanks," though I figure they appreciate it. Of course, I don't review a book to make the author happy. I review a book because I loved the book and want other people to know about this piece of awesome that they might enjoy. Still, it is nice to be thanked. But it can be kinda weird, too.

(By the way, I do realize I should put this in a "10 Things" post with GIFs and snark. I ain't gonna. But I realize that I should for teh internet.)

Laura K. Curtis, whose Twisted just hit shelves, said she'd gotten the impression that some reviewers felt as if they were being stalked, as if they couldn't be as free with reviews if they knew the author was watching them.

If you're reviewing a book and worried what the author will think, does that impact your review?

Also, if you're friends with the author -- or enemies -- does that impact? Or at least have the appearance of a conflict. ahem

So, should the author and the reviewer remain at a distance, one never acknowledging the work of the other?

How weird would that be? Mike reads Jenny's 483-page book, then writes a brilliant 2,376-word post about that book's genius, but Jenny can't be bothered to say "thanks" for what Mike wrote even though Mike spent all that time and effort praising what Jenny had written? Damn you, Jenny. You suck.

But, then there's what Sean Chercover said about a "thank you" being misconstrued as an attempt to influence the reviewer.

As BookRiot's own Rebecca Schinsky pointed out, that might be a problem with the reviewer.

We started a nice conversation on Facebook about this. Here.

Also, what constitutes an appropriate "thanks"?

Does saying "Thanks" and RTing the review on Twitter carry as much weight as a personal email to the reviewer? Or should you mention the review on your own blog and send people to the reviewer's blog? Or should you comment on that reviewer's blog with a simple "thank you," since comments are currency? I mean, there's nothing worse (except war and famine and stuff) than spending 4,000 words reviewing a book and an author, only to have zero comments on your post five days later.  :(

Is a personal email invasive? Is a public comment just another #humblebrag?

"Thanks a bunch to @Ed69 for this five-star review of my Edgar-nominated novel STANDARD MYSTERY, now available at"

And what about just using the review without ever acknowledging the reviewer at all? I don't know of any decent writer who would argue the merits of that.

So, I ask you, what's the right response?

Let's assume we want to thank the reviewer.

Publicly? RT or FB Share with a "thank you" attached?

Private email or message?

On the reviewer's blog?

On your blog?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gift Ideas for a Criminal Christmas

Sadly this is going to be my last post at Do Some Damage. Due to writing and day job commitments I'm having to step back from blogging for awhile, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Steve and the rest of the Damagers for being such a bunch of sweethearts.

But that's no way to bow out, so bearing in mind that we're now just 30 days away from December 27th, the first opportunity you'll get to exchange those woefully inappropriate Christmas gifts, I've been casting my eye about for presents for the crime lovers in your life.

Just in case they already have enough books and booze...

At The Movies has a fabulous selection of original and reproduction posters which range from 'oh my god how much!?' to actually pretty reasonable. Lots of choice for crime fans and they have a framing service.

Price - £150 +

Available from At the Movies 


I can't promise you won't get arrested for carrying this fabulous iPhone case - if you do get stopped just put on a superior air and a posh accent and tell them it's by Marc Jacobs. (Calling the copper a 'pleb' is optional.)

Price - £50

Available from Liberty of London

Does anyone use salt and pepper shakers anymore? I don't know. But if they do then these silver plated shotgun cartridge ones are really kind of nifty. Suitable for hunting/shooting types and your armed robber cousin alike.

Price £24.99

Available from Not on the High Street

It's Boxing Day afternoon, you've been drunk for 72 hours straight and you're too stuffed to move, but you're probably fantasising about murdering your in-laws about now. This is the perfect soundtrack.

Price - £3.49 CD/£5.99 download

Available from Amazon 

Not just for boy band douche bags. Channel your inner Alain Delon with this crushable, wool felt fedora. And then post pics on FB, so we can bask in your chic.

Price $40.00

Available from Village Hatshop

That one person who hates e-readers. And hates people who dog-ear pages. They probably kind of hate everything, right? They'll probably hate this book mark too but you've got to buy them something.

Price $8

Available via Trendhunter

Handmade to order and the seller will do custom colour schemes by request. A great gift for fans of the great detective and it's pretty stylish too.

Price $32.98

Available from Dancing Arethusa on Etsy

No kid will ever want these, but they'd be perfect for working out tough scenes from your book at your desk. At least that's what you'll have to say when you get caught playing with them. (There's a Star Wars set too.)

Price £15.85

Available from Fancie Fannies on Etsy

You don't want to be one of those people who humiliates their poor little pooch by dressing them up as reindeer, do you? It's virtually animal cruelty, what with the antlers and the red nose. A convict is far more dignified.

Price from $18.57

Available from Baxterboo

One for Dexter fans or trainee serial killers. Hand embroidered silk on cotton, this one's pricey but if you like the effect the alternative way to get it is quite gory and I'm not sure how you stop real blood from going a bit rank.

Price $272

Available from Lost City

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Robin Spano on Wattpad


A while ago I joined an online community called Wattpad where people share short stories and serialized novels. images (2)

Or something like that. It’s always hard for an old guy like me to understand exactly what it is these things are all about with all their buzzwords and jargon. I haven’t posted any stories yet, but I’ve read a few others by people like Margaret Atwood and Cory Doctorow and it’s certainly easy to navigate the site, or the app (I read it on my iPad).

And now my friend (and fellow ECW author) Robin Spano is doing something very cool on Wattpad. She’s serializing her first novel, Dead Politician Society, and, what makes it really interesting, she’s revising it as she goes.

As Robin says, “The plot won’t change, the structure won’t change.” But she is getting deeper inside the characters’ heads.untitled (4)

The novel, which was first published in 2010, is about, well, as it says, “The mayor of Toronto collapses and dies while giving a speech. The newspaper receives an email – a fake obituary that takes credit for the murder.”

Now I know the idea of the mayor of boring Toronto doing anything outrageous is really a stretch, but that’s what fiction is all about.

Robin has three novels published in the “Clare Vengel” series so far and I think they’re all really good, but now you can check Clare out yourself, for free, at Wattpad.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Emotional complexity

Another quick post today.

There was a great scene in the home stretch of Breaking Bad's final run (too many to count really) where Walt calls Skyler and unloads on her as the cops are listening. It's a masterfully written, directed, and acted scene. I was stunned by the emotional complexity of it. It was so complex and subtle that, even to this day, some folks have misinterpreted it. The key to the scene is understanding that more was going on under the surface. That what was really going on was the opposite of what was happening on the surface. By unloading on her and saying all of those vile things about her he was actually telling her that he loved her. It was that depth that drowned some people.

Such a great scene. I actually tried finding a clip of it but everyone seems fixated on only three words ("you stupid bitch") from it instead of the whole thing.

It got me thinking about other emotionally complex scenes.

Like when Rawls comforted McNulty:

This scene is great because Rawls fucking HATES McNulty (and he says so here to his face) but still realizes that McNulty needs to be consoled.

Or when when Bolander comforts Meldrick in Homicide:

These two characters are not enemies in the way that Rawls and McNulty are in The Wire but that have been against each other for this entire episode after the apparent suicide of Crosetti (Meldrick's partner). When Meldrick falls, overcome by grief, it's the one guy who he thought would be glad to see him hit the ground that holds him up.

Here's a great small scene from The West Wing:

In the middle of a national tragedy, which is a very personal one for these characters, Toby actually has some good news to announce, that his children have been born. He feels genuine happiness at this event but at the same time feels very guilty about feeling happy. There's a quick moment where it looks like he's going to throw up that is perfect in this scene.

I have many favorite moments in these shows (and others) but it's usually these emotionally complex scenes that stick with me the longest. Perhaps because they are the most human, perhaps because the are the most like us. 

How about you. Any favorite scenes that fit the bill?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What are you thankful for?

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday.  There are no gifts to buy.  No major holiday decorating is required.  Instead the day is about something simple, but incredibly profound.


When the first pilgrims landed here in the new world, they were ill equipped to survive in the harsh environment.  Food was scarce because they didn’t know how best to hunt the animals in this land or understand what food would grow best in the soil.  They needed help.  Thankfully, the nearby tribe of Native American Indians were willing to teach them better hunting skills and provided them with knowledge of how to tend this land.  There were language and cultural barriers, but they overcame them.  Because of that, there was a feast of thanks.  (Can you tell I’ve been talking about the holiday with my five-year-old?)

It is easy to think about all the things that are wrong in life.  Busy schedules.  Lack of sleep or money or things.  We forget to look for the good in life and be happy for the blessings we have. 

So, today, in this space, I’d like to talk about what I’m thankful for. 

I’m thankful for my family – my son, husband, mother, nephews, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and beyond. Families have their ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade any of the branches of my family tree.  I am thankful for the laughs and love and the support they have given me. 

I am thankful for the friends I have been lucky to have in my life.  I only hope I am as good a friend to them as they are to me. 

My students are one of my greatest blessings.  Watching them flourish and grow into amazing performers and even more wonderful people is something that brightens my darkest hours.  They are a true gift in my life and I will consider them mine no matter how old they get or how far they go. 

I am beyond grateful for my agent, Stacia Decker, and the entire team at Donald Maass Literary.  More often than not, I doubt my ability to succeed at being a writer.  Stacia never fails to believe in me when I falter in believing in myself.  She is there for the good, the bad and the strange.  And trust me when I say she doesn’t get paid near enough for what she does.

I am thankful for all of my editors and publishing teams, but especially my editor, Margaret Raymo, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the entire HMH team.  They are superstars in the publishing world and their strength of conviction about my work takes my breath away.

I count each member of the writing community that I have met as a huge blessing. 
I am grateful to all the booksellers who have given me your vote of confidence by stocking my books.  And I am thankful for each and every reader who takes the time to pick up a book.

And yes, I am grateful to have enough food to eat and a car to drive and a house to live in.  But while those are important, it is the people in my life that make me glad to wake up and see what the new day holds.

So when you are sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner and passing the cranberry sauce, know that on that day I will be thinking of you and how grateful you are for being a part of my journey.  I can’t wait to see where that journey takes us from here.

And please, in the comments, let me know—What are you thankful for this year?  I would love for all of us to celebrate this season of thanks together.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Glimpse into the Mind of a Genius

Scott D. Parker

It was a purchase a year in the making.

A little more than a year ago, I made a fascinating discovery online. Levenger, that most wonderful of websites for readers and writers with all sorts of pens and papers that make a writer drool and crack open their wallets, had published a most unique book. Teaming up with The Morgan Museum and Library, Levenger Press published the original 1843 manuscript of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

Big deal, right? Wrong. You see, the Morgan Museum has, in their possession, the actual original manuscript. In the first of its kind, Levenger published a color facsimile of each page of Dickens' original manuscript--we're talking first draft here--on the right side of every page and the corresponding text, all typed out nice and pretty on the left. You can go to this link and see what I mean. If you need a little more "behind the scenes," here's another link.

While seeing the original handwritten draft is neat, what's really fascinating is to see Dickens's corrections. You can go through pages and pages of this book and see Dickens's original ideas and the corrections he made. There's nary a page without some sort of correction, but there are pages in which the corrections amounted to little. A genius at work. It's great to see that a writer of Dickens's quality still fought over words and paragraphs, just like all of us.

I discovered this book's existence just after Christmas 2012. I don't know about you, but as much as I love the yuletide season, once December 26th rolls around, I'm pretty much ready to move on. I wasn't in the mindset to appreciate this book. So I made myself a note that only toggled up on 1 November 2013. "Buy A Christmas Carol from Levenger" the note read. Well, I listened to my past self and did so. I only got it this week, but I'm looking forward to a marvelous examination of this most treasured of Christmas stories.

If you or someone you know loves this story and the process of writing, do yourself a favor and make this book a part of your collection.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Doctor a Week: Christopher Eccleston: The Unquiet Dead

Russel D McLean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejducies about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question. 

The TARDIS is a machine that can travel in time and space, so it’s odd that this series of reviews has not focussed on many historically minded episodes so far. So it seemed a good idea to focus on the ninth Doctor’s first trip into the past with The Unquiet Dead, a story that also featured a character drawn from real life; author, Charles Dickens. Who had traditionally not used real life characters, preferring instead to intimate the Doctor’s meetings with them. (Madame Nostradamus was “a witty little knitter,” according to the fourth who also seemed to have run ins with a whole host of historical figures). The actor, Simon Callow, was approached to play the part but held out until he was sure that Dickens was done justice. And certainly the script gives us an interesting look at Dickens as he was at the end of his life, slowly losing his energy, becoming a more sombre individual that one might expect.

This was Eccleston’s third story as the Doctor. The episodes were no longer multi part, and each adventure now lasted forty five minutes (with the rare two parter). As such there was an economy of storytelling required that had never been there in the old series. It was taking a bit of getting used to. The series opener, Rose, was a little underdeveloped and rushed, while The End of The World was a little uneven in tone, trying to squeeze in too much in too little time. But the Unquiet Dead was the first time the new series established itself and its own tone. There is a gothic atmosphere to proceedings that works wonderfully. The scenes where Dickens reads his work and is interrupted by what appear to be ghosts in the audience are unsettlingly well done, and Simon Callow’s performance is absolutely brilliant. There’s a lot of dark humour too. Eccleston is generally considered a very serious Doctor, but he plays the role with a massive sense of humour, too. His outright enthusiasm at meeting Dickens is marvellous to behold and plays brilliantly alongside his frustrations at humanity’s inability to accept worlds beyond their own.

This episode also sets up the idea that the Doctor is part of a wider continuing universe. There has always been a kind of continuity in Who, but more often its of the 1066 And All That variety: what you can remember. In the show’s hey-day, there was little possibility of retreats so the writers could rely on half remembered bits of information to advance their story. By the time Who returned in 2005, we were used to getting regular releases on video, and shows were often repeated on a regular schedule. So an ongoing “arc” for any character was a must. And with Eccleston that arc was his guilt over the “Time War”, an event that wiped his own people and the Daleks out of history almost completely.

Any war has collateral damage; innocents caught in the crossfire. And the Time War were no exceptions. So when the Doctor and Dickens encounter ghosts reanimating corpses in Victorian Cardiff, it transpires that these spooks are the non-corporeal forms of aliens known as the Gelf who only want a new home after theirs was destroyed in the war. Naturally by the end of the episode it transpires they have more sinister plans (which lead to a few complaints that the episode was heavily right wing and a thinly veiled allegory for asylum seekers. Nonsense, I think. Something that Who - especially modern Who - can rarely be accused of is being right wing).

The production values in Ecclestone’s era (with notable exceptions, including the pilot episode, Rose) are excellent. Victorian Cardiff (even with paper snow) looks amazing. Its all a bit storybook,  but then Who gave up any pretence at historical realism sometime in the sixties, so its quite all right that the whole thing doesn’t ring with grimy accuracy. There are some odd tonal moments - its easy to see that the earlier scripts were a lot darker, and some of this darkness might have rounded out some of the characters - particularly the head of the funeral home, who comes across as this odd mix of creepy quirks but otherwise jolly behaviour; you don’t quite believe he could so casually lock Rose in a room with corpses about to come to life - but the episode races by at such an enjoyable clip you don’t really mind while you’re watching. But if it had taken some of the darkness inherent in, say, the Sixth Doctor’s Revelation of the Daleks, we could have had a spectacular episode.

Also worth noting is Billie Piper’s performance as Rose; the young London woman who has decided to accompany the Doctor and who has finally started to return him to his old self after the trauma of the Time War. Piper was a controversial choice, especially for anyone in the UK. She was known mostly as a fluffy teenage songstress and the (much) younger wife of ginger radio DJ Chris Evans. But even in the tonally odd pilot episode Rose, she proved to a nation that she was capable of a convincing performance and in the Unquiet Dead she rises even more above the usual role of “the companion” as it was traditionally seen to give us a well rounded portrait of someone whose universe has been well and truly expanded and who is capable of approaching these strange and fantastic new situations with an acceptance and a wide eyed joy. But beneath it all, she is still capable of being frightened, and those scenes where she realises that she and the Doctor could die in a cellar hundreds of years before she was born are played very well indeed.

The Unquiet Dead isn’t the eighth Doctor’s finest hours (that’s the season finale), but it is the point where the new show finally established itself as being back for good.


- Callow only agreed to do the show if they got Dickens right. And they did. Its amazing to see the contrast of the man off stage with the sheer power of his performance. Dickens was like many actors; a man not complete when he was not in the midst of his own fictions. I don’t know how true that really is, but it certainly feels real here.

- The decision to have Eccleston in normal clothes re-establishes the series quietly. If they’d gone OTT instantly, I think it could have killed any hope of the series being around for a long time. His performance works wonders too. Its a pity he only had the one season, although we still have to wonder what it was behind the scenes that made his decision to leave so soon.

- At this point, the Time War is vastly intriguing. By the time we get to David Tennant’s swan song, however, it will have become mildly irritating and the final explanations a little bit of a let down.

- The episode could have done with more breathing room. Its a crux of the forty-five minute format, and I do think that the UK writers have far more difficulty with it than Americans who have it down to a fine art.

- the glory of the TARDIS set is breathtaking when you think about the old roundels and plastic walls. This feels truly alien. In fact, that’s one of the reasons Eccleston works as well. He seems quite human and then turns on you with this very alien look; this sense that he has seen and understood things you can only dream of.

- Dickens seems to understand the phrase “test drive” despite it not being in use during his time. Ahh, well, its the usual timey-wimey Who dramatic license, then... (pick pick pick...)

A Doctor A Week (double Post): David Tennant: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and Matt Smith: The Eleventh Hour

By Russel D Mclean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejudices about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question.

David Tennant: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

Ahhh, David Tennant. Voted recently as the most popular incarnation of the Doctor. He truly was the populist incarnation of the character. Eccentric without being threatening. Odd but recognisable human. And of course, many regarded him as easy on the eyes, something that can’t be claimed by many of the Doc’s past incarnations.

I’m not actually over enamoured with Tennant’s run on the show. He had some amazing moments and when he was on form, he was truly, truly spectacular, but too often the scripts played to his humanity rather than his alien nature and he had an annoying habit of playing to the back of the room.

And let’s not mention the fact that two of his stories almost stopped me watching the show altogether (both co-starring that most brutally underused of all evil Timelords, the Master - - now I love John Simm as an actor, but he was woefully miscast and miswritten in his two outings). Now not all of this was Tennant. A lot of it was then showrunner Russel T Davies, who brought the show back in style, but soon lost the heart of his story amidst bombast and spectacle. But then, what do I know? Both he and Tennant had a brilliantly populist touch, and when it was on (Family of Blood, The Christmas Invasion, Impossible Planet, Silence in the Library) it was on. Nothing could touch them. But when it was bad (Fear Her, Midnight - and yes, I know its a fan favourite, but only if you haven’t seen Lifeboat or give a damn about developed characters - and the last two “specials” that just about lost me the will to live, especially that Lord of the Rings ending) it was horrid.

So why choose to write about the close to David’s first season?

Well I think Army of Ghosts and Doomsday show off the show and its best and worst. They show Russel T Davies’s soaring imagination and have a great performance from Tennant, but they also have lazy plotting and frankly ludicrous moments where characters obey plot rather than the other way round. Also there’s the interminable Rose/Doctor romance that worked very well for a while until it tipped over. The whole thing about neither of them saying they love each other is sacharine and carries more than a touch of the Mary Sue*. After all, RTD had always said he wanted to be the companion, and with Rose, he gets to fulfill that ambition completely. Of course, the end here is almost right for the story; the romance is never fulfilled and the characters are seperated by a whole wall of reality. If you’re going to do it, then make it bitter sweet. It would be two years before RTD brought Rose back and gave her a fake Doctor of her very one to play with in one of the most convoluted and unlikely plot lines of all time (Until The end of Time, that is)

Army of Ghosts is definitely big budget fan fiction. Daleks! Cybermen! Weird ghosts bleeding through reality! It all starts off well with the ghosts, and the Doctor (despite his odd Scooby Doo impression) doing his best to find out why people believe the dead have come back to visit them. Its all great fun. Rose’s mum is a great, sulky one-off companion and plays well against the Doctor (her face when he claims she’s Rose after facing the Time Vortex is brilliant). And its nice to see Mickey the Idiot (no longer an idiot) back as well. The first time I saw it, the cliffhanger at the end of Army of Ghosts gave me chills. They managed to hide the fact that Daleks were back so well that no one expected the ship from the void to contain them.

Like I said:

Daleks! Cybermen!

Its a fan’s best dreams come true.

RTD may have been great at set up, but he rarely followed through. As we would later discover, he loved cop outs and reset buttons. There’s a bit at the beginning of Army of Ghosts where Rose talks about being on the beach where she died. Her “death” is merely an administrative paperwork gag. And for all the chat about how she can’t come back through ever again, the Doctor meets her again and again on his travels. Its hardly the all consuming bittersweet frustrated romance RTD wants it to be when taken in context.

And then there’s the misplaced humour. The catty Daleks and and Cybermen “Daleks were not designed for elegance” “That is obvious.” as amusing but contextually misplaced. And then of course there’s the question of how some Cybermen slip in completely to land an invasion force while others appear as ghosts. The second half rushes towards it conclusion with bombast but it all falls apart when you start to look at it. And in the end, I’m still not sure I really care about two races whose goal is simply to destroy and assimilate. This story makes it very obvious just how similar the Daleks and Cybermen have become, except one stands on two legs and the other “E-lev-ates!” (no, really, the Daleks continue their habit of stating the obvious whenever they try and do anything).

As for Torchwood... well, at this stage RTD was setting the stage for his beloved spin off. So he wanted them front and centre. Its a great idea, that the Doctor’s actions earlier in the series make Queen Victoria decide to set up a group to stop him from ever returning. But given how long they’ve been around, its surprising they never ever caught up with the Doctor. Especially when he was Jon Pertwee, stuck on earth and working UNIT. (“Hey, hang on, this UNIT lot have a scientific advisor with a time machine. He calls himself the Doctor... do ya think...?”). But sometimes you just can’t think about these things too much.

In all though, its a bombastic end to the second season that entertains but falls apart the more you think about it. The performances are excellent, but it really does highlight all the greatness and all the flaws of an RTD run in one package. And it would prove to be the last of the great RTD end of season Dalek-taculars that really, really held together.


- Nice nod to Cyber history when they rip through plastic sheeting. Bit of a reference there to Tomb of the Cybermen. And that’s always a good thing.

- No, really, what’s up with that whole “Who you gonna call?” gag done in a Scooby Doo voice? Did anyone understand it? Event RTD himself?

- Aghhh, the celebrity cameos... just stop it RTD, just stop it... one thing I hate in this era of Who is the reliance on 20th century pop culture. And especially those rolling news segments to fill us in on what’s happening when the story should be making it obvious. Grrrr....

- On the other hand, I did chuckle at the ghost of Dirty Den appearing in the Queen Vic. Bit wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey, though, considering that the Doctor has visited Albert Square before during his 7th regeneration (although most right thinking people do try and forget about the terrible Dimensions in Time story that was produced for 1993’s Children in Need).

- All that said, though, what a great great cliffhanger to episode one. Totally jaw dropping the first time you see it. The void ship is a great idea. Something you can see and yet your brain doesn’t want to acknowledge it. An idea that would later be explored again in Matt Smith’s era with the creepy (if underutilised) The Silence.

*In the world of fan fiction, a Mary Sue is a character thrown into an established dynamic who is perfect, often romantically involved with the lead, and generally just the author’s wish fulfillment. This character can also be found in general fiction too but they’re far easier to spot in fan fic.

Matt Smith: The Eleventh Hour

Matt Smith.

What a thankless task taking over from the popularly handsome and dashing David Tennant. Smith could never hope to replicate Tennant’s romantic lead. Not least because he is not so classically handsome as tennant. But that face - composed of rubber, and capable of a million expression - is wonderful; just alien enough to work as the Doctor while still able to express a full range or recognisable human emotions.

Add to that Smith’s physicality. Its not just his face that’s made of rubber, but his whole body. He is always in control while looking utterly chaotic. And that’s a wonderful combination. Harks back a little to Patrick Troughton, the man who really started the kind of characterisations by which we understand the modern Doctor.

The 11th Hour had a lot of work to do. Tennant had defined the modern era of Who along with Russell T Davies. But Davies left along with Tennant and new showrunner Stephen Moffat had to establish himself and his new Doctor right off the bat. And he does so with some style. The opening scenes - following off the bat from Tennant’s bombastic finale where, for no discernible reason, his regeneration blew up the TARDIS interior - are brilliant with the TARDIS crashlanding in a child’s garden. The mysterious stranger. A little girl. Fish fingers and custard. Its all very fairy-tale ish. And Matt Smith pulls off that “old man, young body” feel that Moffat kept promising us. He’s out of touch and yet very wise. He silly and smart. He’s contradictory and yet understandable.

But all the same, I think for those who were looking for another Tennant - a romantic hero - they felt short changed. Smith’s not a dashing to the rescue type of hero. He’s darker than that in spite of all the silliness and even over the course of the 11th Hour, you can see his mood change from daft and frivolous to serious and in command. When he tells the aliens to leave Earth as it is under his protection, you utterly believe it.

Also his bow tie is cool.

Amy Pond gets a great introduction here, too. Moffat likes to play with the idea of the Doctor dropping in and out of people’s lives. so to see her here as a child and then a young woman, utterly unsure of who this man is or why he keeps appearing, is brilliant. Gillan plays it mostly straight and assured, and she feels like a real person; someone growing and discovering themselves. Its a shame her character would be messed around with in later seasons as the story got a little too muddled for its own good, but in the 11th Hour she makes a fantastic first impression.

As for Rory, her boyfriend and later husband... his introduction here is subtle and perhaps a little underplayed. He wasn’t someone we were too desperate to see return, but Darvill would grow in his performance and quickly become one of the highlights of the Smith season. But as as a supporting character here he just seems a little unnecessary in some ways; not quite fitting in yet.

Its interesting to see how Moffat plays a longer game that Davies did. And that’s been divisive. Stuff that seems odd at first soon becomes clear. While Davies liked to hammer us over the head with catchphrases (“bad wolf”, “torchwood”, “Mr Saxon”)  and then just pull something out in the season finale, Moffat teased things out further. Things that were initially irrelevant soon became important, and in his first season he seemed like a master magician as everything came together at the end, right back to small and seemingly insignificant moments from this first episode. From Amy’s house being a bit strange, to the cracks in the wall... creepy and mysterious and quite brilliant.

On its own, though, the 11th Hour is great fun. The main plot - the escaped prisoner from another dimension - is just engaging enough on its own without overshadowing the real business of getting to know Matt Smith’s new Doctor. Amy is a nice contrast to Rose and feels less of a Mary Sue and more of a growing character. And Smith himself owns the part from the moment he climbs out of the wrecked TARDIS.

The 5th season on new Who will remain one of the highlights for me. Despite a couple of dodgy eps, it reintroduced the Doctor with flare and panache. And despite criticisms of the seasons beyond 5, the fact remains that Smith’s performance has never been less than brilliant.


- I don’t think we ever did get an answer as to why Rory’s nurses badge had a date that was different to the year they were in... mysteriouser and mysteriouser...

- Smith’s Doctor has a real thing for food. From whipping up his fish fingers and custard to making Omelettes for Craig in the lodger, he seems to be a Doctor of the senses; out to experience as much as he can.

- Smith is the youngest person ever to take the role. The worry could have been that he wound up like Davison; a little overwhelmed by the character or forced to play it too young. But Smith channels an energy that is decades - maybe centuries - older than his body. Its an incredible feeling to look into those eyes and see something unexpectedly alien looking back.

- One of the reasons I like Smith so much is that he harks back to Troughton. The odd little man in the blue box. The cosmic hobo.

- I’m still perturbed by what happened to Amy in later seasons. It feels like there was a whole story to be told but production schedules messed with it. Its a shame because if she got the chance to continue to develop as a full person she could have been one of the greatest companions of all time. However, her journey in season 5 is excellent..

- Its a great title, too. The 11th Hour. Its about the 11th Doctor. He’s arriving to save the world at the 11th Hour. It invokes a feeling of heady danger. I just really like it.