Monday, 30 June 2008


Babylon 5
1x13 Signs and Portents

Criminal Justice
Part 1 (of 5)
BBC One's grim new drama, showing nightly this week, about a 20-something accused of a murder he may or may not have committed. Sounds like standard police drama fare, but this is more than that -- possibly a damning indictment of our legal system, or possibly just a depressing miscarriage-of-justice/prison-is-hard drama. It'll take an episode or two more to find out; so far, however, it's grim and depressing, and set to get worse.

Wimbledon 2008
Bits here and there, as usual, mainly from Andy Murray vs Richard Gasquet, which really pushed the light at five sets ending at 9:30 (and delaying Criminal Justice! On the other hand, if the BBC hadn't moved the tennis to One and delayed their schedule, I'd be stuck trying to find time to watch it on iPlayer before tomorrow's second part). Murray was bloody lucky to get that far, of course, losing the first two sets and only winning the third with an impressive -- though lucky rather than skillful -- final shot in a tiebreak. That boy knows how to work a crowd though (a British one, at any rate). I doubt he'll be so lucky in his quarter final against Nadal.


Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Horror of Howling Hill by Jonathan Green
See here for my thoughts on this book.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter VII
Blood From the Shoulder of Pallas by Daniel Dreiberg
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.


Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of James Bond by James Chapman
Chapter 4
Somewhat academic book placing the Bond films in social/historical context. I read the first three chapters a while back for an essay I was doing, so am now continuing it -- it's interesting enough, clearly.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter VII

Moore moves his focus to a pair of character in this chapter, as Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk -- a.k.a. the second Nite Owl and the second Silk Spectre -- chat, bond, hit it off, nearly have sex, resurrect their superhero IDs, accidentally rescue people from a burning building, manage to have sex (it's the excitement of the costumes and the superheroics, you see), and possibly come to a fairly shocking decision...

Once again Moore leaves the other character's storylines in the background, focussing on just two members of the (actually nonexistent) group of superheroes that the book's main plot revolves around. It's mainly about Dan's memories, though there are no flashbacks here: it's as much about how two old acquaintances become re-acquainted. It seems a difficult chapter to find much to say about. It's not treading water or marking time, but nor are there bold gestures or big action sequences -- well, apart from the tenement building rescue, which is somewhat exciting, but also has a share of laughs (importantly, not at the heroes or their abilities, but rather at things like Nite Owl having a coffee machine on board), or many significant plot points... beyond those I already outlined, anyway.

Moore slides a few of his chess pieces around, reveals that Dan is impotent while Nite Owl is not (this seems bordering on a cliché, though Watchmen was probably ahead of the curve on that and it's just 20 years later that it looks old hat), and sets up where things are probably heading next. And next is...

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Horror of Howling Hill" by Jonathan Green

And finally, the end is here: the twelfth, and last, book in the Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series. The Horror of Howling Hill is written by gamebook stalwart Jonathan Green, which is promising as it would be nice for the range to go out on a high. After a three-book absence, Martha's back, for an adventure in which you must "help the Doctor and Martha discover the truth behind the legend of Howling Hill, before the horror that stalks the night catches up with you..." Ooh, horrific.

Despite being the range's final book, it can claim a first to its credit: it's set entirely on present day Earth (in a small village in Wiltshire, to be precise). It makes for a nice change, and allows it to tap into one of Doctor Who's main genres -- creepy goings on in apparently lovely places. Who's horror aspect has been largely ignored by these books, and while Howling Hill is hardly scary it at least incorporates some elements of the genre to good effect. Nighttime setting? Check. Cursed ancient monuments? Check. Old artefacts with mysterious powers? Check. Fantastical folk tales that may have an element of unlikely truth? Check. Creepy woods? Creepy church? Creepy graveyard? Check check check. Geeky-type investigating things in a caravan? Check. Monster hiding in the shadows? Check. All it needs is a large group of characters who exist solely to get killed off and you're there. It's atmospherically written, with a long and engaging plot. There are also numerous references to past Who adventures, spanning both the classic and new series, and even the new series novels. Spotting them can be good fun for fans of all ages.

Unfortunately, the way I chose to read this book brought out some of its shortcomings. I tried to follow every path at once -- loopy, it would seem, but for most of the book entirely possible. If you pick the right paths then you'll end up reading most of the book before the story's out. There are some variation. For example, the vicar knows a lot, but without cheating like me no one path allows him to offer all his information (ironically, one result ends with the Doctor saying "we've learnt all we can here", in spite of the fact there are two or three more things the vicar could tell you about!) Another is the town's museum, which you may end up in early on, or may only visit later. On the other hand, choose the wrong path and you might be whisked through the adventure at quite a lick, skipping the church, vicar, and that geeky guy in the caravan. Indicative of this hidden linearity, the book has just two final entries. There is some variety to the climax that occurs before these, to be fair, and ultimately you're just sent to either a version where it's just you, the Doctor and Martha, or a near-identical one where the geek's still with you. It's quite sensible, really, as it doesn't waste space with more near-identical final sections just for the sake of appearing to have multiple endings.

So, while the choices Green offers are in an appropriate style, they ultimately extend or cut short your adventure, rather than changing it. I even noticed a glaring error -- as you can avoid meeting the geek, a couple of times you're told "If he's with you, go to X, if not, go to Y." A selection of the latter all point to one page... where he's with you! And you can wind up having the monster abduct him twice! Oh dear. While most of the book's lack of consequential choice would be hidden from the reader (unless, as I say, you manage to miss some of these encounters on one read or another), this one is glaringly obvious. Obviously the books needed a better proof reader by this point, as something similar appeared in Second Skin (also part of the final batch of four books).

Ultimately, if I hadn't cheated I wouldn't've noticed this flaw in the book. It's an atmospheric adventure with some good locations and characters, and provided you make the right choices (avoid going to the Hill for as long as possible, so as to hit the church and museum, and make sure to head to the caravan) you can experience the majority of the best bits with one straight read. Lacking in re-play value then, perhaps, but the pros more than outweigh the cons to make this one of my favourites. The Decide Your Destiny books have certainly had their ups and downs, but at least they end on a high.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.