Saturday, 14 June 2008


Babylon 5
1x10 Believers
1x11 Survivors
My slow progression through the first season of Babylon 5 (if I were watching weekly I'd be at episode 14 by now) finally reaches halfway.

Doctor Who [new]
4x10 Midnight
See here for my thoughts on this story.

Gilmore Girls
4x13 Nag Hammadi is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels
The bizarre title merely explains a throwaway joke in the episode.

4x16 Wilson's Heart [season finale]
A surprising, moving episode to round off House's fourth season. As with previous House season finales, there's no direct cliffhanger, but they leave the ongoing plotlines in such a position that I'm desperate for season five to find out what happens next. All in, one of the best ever episodes.

The Kids Are All Right
1x08 (14/6/08 edition)
The kids aren't alright, they're bloody annoying little brats. But in this final episode, the four adults facing them could possibly win the largest amount of cash yet... (They didn't.)

Red Dwarf
2x05 Queeg [2nd watch]

The Weakest Link
Blue Peter Special
Never mind the programme, the website hasn't been updated for two years!


Autumn Story by Jill Barklem

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
Chapter 13
Faulks cleverly protracts the tension of Bond's capture by taking us away from him for a whole chapter. He were get a chance to see the present actions of some of Bond's allies -- Mathis, Leiter, 'M' and Darius Alizadeh -- all of whom, it seems, will have a greater part to play yet...

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
On the Descent of Gods by Oliver Haddo (pages 26-28)
The Life of Orlando from The Trump (pages 29-48)
Faerie's Fortunes Founded by William Shakespeare (pages 49-56)
See here for my thoughts on these sections of Black Dossier.

Doctor Who: Midnight

We're on the home stretch now, as Who supremo Russell T Davies takes over writing duties for the final four episodes. There's the Big Three to round off the season, starting next week, but first we have a small-scale episode set on a futuristic minibus...

Doctor Who has finally done what I thought it should since the 'Doctor-lite' episodes commenced in season two, and that's pair the necessary 'Doctor-lite' episode with a 'companion-lite' one. Next week Donna (and friends) take the starring role, so this week the Doctor goes off by himself (leaving Donna in a health spa) to check out a natural marvel on the planet Midnight, which is made entirely of diamonds but with a surface so irradiated you can't even look at it. A jaunty beginning on this futuristic minibus lulls the unsuspecting viewer into a false sense of security... before something starts knocking on the outside of the bus... and then inhabits someone inside...

It's a deceptively simple episode, set entirely on one set (bar some bookends with Donna) and featuring all the guest characters locked in that one room with the Doctor, facing a possessed passenger who just repeats what they've said. But with these few elements Davies constructs an episode that is unmeasurably freakier than Steven Moffat's whizz-bang flashily-structured two-parter -- who'd've guessed RTD would craft a scarier episode than Moffat! The central performances of David Tennant and Lesley Sharp are what make the script work of course, especially when the two sit face-to-face hurling random words at each other.

If one wanted to pick flaws you could argue that the resolution is weak (almost non-existent), yet this lack of explanation helps retain the scariness of what you've just witnessed. There's also the very Who moment where the Doctor points out that no one even knew their saviour's name, though for once this isn't over-laboured and effectively speaks for itself. Like a lot of this episode, then: minimal and under-explained, and all the better for it.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Running Commentary, Part 2

The Dossier proper begins with an account of our world's encounter with other planes, drawing heavily on the Lovecraft Mythos. Like The New Traveller's Almanac, it's a rather dry scholarly exercise in combining mythologies and providing a fictional history of the world, which I'm sure is of interest to some but just seems to provide near-irrelevant background to the series proper.

More interesting is the next item, the life of Orlando told in the style of '50s children's comics -- albeit with more graphic imagery! It's like a more entertaining version of events hinted at in The New Traveller's Almanac, telling the life of Orlando (obviously) chronologically and with pretty pictures. The brevity of the text makes it less verbose than the preceding document, which is a welcome change -- especially with some faux Shakespeare to come.

This Shakespeare 'play' (just the first two scenes from Act One) is convincingly written, though clearer to a modern reader than genuine untranslated Shakespeare is. It retains a sense of wit and mystery, however, and with references to events already covered or hinted at in the first two artefacts, the beginnings of a linking thread -- perhaps what one might even call a plot -- for this graphic novel are emerging. Individually, it shows the genesis of the first iteration of the League (commonly referred to as Prospero's Men in the series).

It may seem obvious to say this, but Black Dossier initially seems to be no more than a collection of roughly chronological artefacts, which together build up the world and history of the League. If it were just this then it would be an interesting experiment, of interest to diehard fans, but not convincing as anything more. However, in these first three documents there are some themes and ideas overlapping that, perhaps, will come together to create some sort of plot for this volume, beyond just the history of the League. Obviously it's impossible to say for certain until the end, but there is hope that there's more to the book!

Either way, what is here cleverly mashes various ideas and fictions together, and while each artefact follows the story of one character or group there are always crossover points that help you tie the sequence together. The advantage of having both things like the Almanac and this is that they are different ways of presenting similar information -- the Almanac being geographical, for example, whereas this is chronological-by-character. Put them all together and it becomes easier to follow the story. It's also worth nothing that, by the end of the book, there'll have been 108 pages of new story (as in, 'proper' comics pages) for the League itself -- equivalent to four or five issues of a normal comic, which makes it almost as long as the previous series.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Running Commentary, Part 1

Black Dossier is not The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III, despite being the third book in the series. Rather, it bridges the gap between Volume II and the forthcoming Century storyline. It's also technically the series' first graphic novel (the preceding volumes were originally released as six-part miniseries before being collected as trade paperbacks).

The volume also has a most unusual construction, mirroring the titular book -- really speaking, it's a real-life recreation of the Dossier, right down to the cover design (when you take the dust jacket off) and using different paper stock for some segments. Though it also has comics pages inserted, telling the story of how a couple of characters came across the Dossier itself (and then read it). As such, in my daily summaries I'll be listing all the sections I've read (much like I list individual episodes of TV) along with the pages I find them on. (I've chosen to number the opening pages 1-8, despite some random page numbers later suggesting they should be unnumbered. They're clearly part of the book and I don't imagine it will ever be published without them. The total page count this way is 192.)

As for the book itself... the Prologue tells the story of how two characters (most readers will know who they are) acquire the Black Dossier, which contains secret documents relating the history of the League, its members, and rival organisations. After this, the documents from the Dossier itself begin. In the LoEG world, Britain has just come out from the rule of Big Brother (from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four) and so the book begins with warnings from that government. To this point, it's all just introductory stuff really, though the Prologue effectively establishes the new setting, re-establishes the characters, and gives some hints to what has occurred between the end of Volume II (set in 1898) and the start of Black Dossier (in 1958).

There's also a good use of a thinly-veiled James Bond -- thinly enough to avoid copyright issues, I presume, but clearly enough that any reasonably educated reader can't fail to work out who he is. One thing I dislike, however, was Jimmy ordering his martini stirred instead of shaken -- he's right that shaking it bruises the vodka and that's why one normally has it stirred, but in Casino Royale Bond states the bruising the vodka is precisely why he has it shaken. Possibly a slight gap in Moore's cleverness there, or just a deliberate inversion of the character's 'reality'? Who can say...