“Tomb of the Cybermen” (1967)

This is a four episode story from the popular TV series Doctor Who. In this one the second Doctor and his pals Jamie (Scottish) and Victoria (Victorian) land on mysterious planet called Telos and fall in with some space archaeologists, who are looking for the eponymous tomb of the Cybermen. Said tomb turns out to be some class of trap laid by the rubbish cyborgs, though even after a close watching of this story I am still unclear as to what the Cybermen were hoping to accomplish that could not have been accomplished by not entombing themselves. For all the plot problem, the story just about deserves its reputation as a classic of early Doctor Who, with the episode two cliffhanger of the Cybermen waking up and bursting out of their cells being one of the programme’s most memorable. The story also features the great stock character of Doctor Who, the human villain who thinks that by doing some kind of favour to implacable aliens they will assist him (usually him, though in this case also a her) in conquering the Earth; this always ends well.

Tomb of the Cybermen follows directly after Evil of the Daleks, in which said Daleks killed (nay, exterminated) Victoria’s father. There is a quite touching scene in this story in which the Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) talks to Victoria about grief and her memory of her father, referring obliquely to his own lost loved ones. In days of yore Doctor Who was primarily aimed at children, so I cannot but think this scene was intended as a comfort to any children who might themselves have lost family members.
The story also features Cybermats, which are kind of like rats that have been turned into animal versions of the Cybermen or something. I think they are meant to be threatening, but as is the way of such things they end up looking quite cute.
These days however Tomb of the Cybermen is often noted for its problematic racial stereotyping – Middle Eastern people are shifty while Africans (or the story’s one African) are muscleheads. And Americans are all “gee golly” etc., showing yet again the downpression and negative stereotyping white Americans must endure on a daily basis. I thought maybe the stereotyping was not the worst I have ever seen, but then I am notorious for my unwoke nature.

image source (Wikipedia)

TV: An episode of “Game of Thrones” (2017)

When I was on an aeroplane to Canada I took the opportunity to watch a random episode of popular TV series Game of Thrones to see what I could make of the plot. Of course, because I do not live under a stone I have some familiarity with what this programme is about, even though I have never seen a full episode. This one featured the Blondie Lady and her pals (who include the Short Guy) deciding to send a message to the Curley-Haired Guy, inviting him to join their gang. Meanwhile the Lady Who Shags Her Brother was rallying other people to fight against the Blondie Lady by warning them that, like her late father (probably a Blond Guy), she was some kind of mentalist.

There wasn’t too much in the way of gratuitous female nudity, though the Blondie Lady’s Assistant did get her kit off at some point. There was also an incident in which people on a ship were captured by pirates, I suspect for plot device reasons, while another guy had his skin cut off to save him from a repulsive disease.

It was all pretty dialogue heavy and focussed on people trying to form alliances and test each other’s loyalty. For me that was quite appealing, making it like an updated version of a classic BBC drama like I, Claudius. I can definitely see why people like this and may one day proceed with my plan to watch the very first episode of season 1 and then the very last episode of the final season so that I will know all about the Game of Thrones.

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The Blondie Lady, the Short Guy and some other people recreate their favourite U2 album cover (Guardian: Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode two: Stormborn)

“He is my lawyer” – Ken Russell and the lawyer who wanted to be a singer

In the mid-1980s film director Ken Russell and pornographer Bob Guccione fell out over a failed attempt to film the novel Moll Flanders. A lawsuit ensued, in which the relatively impecunious Ken Russell found himself facing the vast might of the Penthouse corporation. Russell however managed to reach an arrangement with celebrity lawyer Aaron Richard Golub. Golub was interested in launching a musical career, so Russell agreed to direct a music video for him in lieu of paying legal fees. This is that video.

The Russell-Guccione law case was the subject of an Arena documentary entitled Your Honour, I Object, directed by Nigel Finch and broadcast on BBC2 in 1987. I saw it when it was first broadcast and it remains one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. The BBC has a short excerpt from it here.

Octocon Day 1

I recently attended Octocon, the exciting Irish national science fiction convention. Octocon is the other extreme to huge conventions like Worldcon, being an intimate affair taking place over a weekend rather than a five-day event involving thousands of attendees. If you have been to more than one Octocon you will recognise a lot of the attendees and panellists, with there being considerably more overlap between these two categories than might be the case elsewhere. The programme is multi-tracked but not massively multi-tracked. So Octocon is basically a boutique convention and would suit people who like neither crowds nor a surfeit of choice in the programming.

Due to unpleasantness Octocon this year has moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just beside the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The location suits it as Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is itself a strangely artificial place, like something out of a JG Ballard novel; in the near future, we will all live in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The hotel meanwhile felt like a pretty swish spot, with well-appointed function rooms and a large open space that served as a light and airy dealers’ room. I don’t know what the two birds in the lobby made of the Octocon attendees but they probably see all sorts.

A cat issue meant that I was late out on the Friday and missed the opening ceremony. I did however catch The Trance Mission Diaries, which was a performance piece by O.R. Melling with electronic music by Cha Krka. This was something of a work in progress as the goal is for it ultimately to include considerably more advanced elements like holograms and singing as well as the projected visuals and electronic music accompanying Melling’s narration. I enjoyed it but found the narrative difficult to follow, which I think was as much down to my own tiredness and it being the first thing I encountered at the con. Nevertheless, the narration and music worked well together and I look forward to seeing how this work develops.

Following that I attended a film-related panel featuring John Vaughan and Robert JE Simpson comparing and contrasting the 1960s gothic horror films of Hammer with the contemporary oeuvre of Blumhouse. The contention was that the business model of the two companies is similar: spewing out somewhat trashy films made on relatively modest budgets but hoping for at least some mainstream success, perhaps throwing in an occasional more serious film to gather some critical respectability. I was at something of a disadvantage here being almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of Blumhouse, and the big unanswered question for me was whether that studio has developed any kind of consistent aesthetic in the way that Hammer did. I was also left reeling by the panellists’ anti-Hereditary comments, which did remind me of some reviews that suggested it was a horror film for people who are not true horror fans.
For me Friday ended with a panel on how we as fans deal with things we like that have changed, particularly when the change moves things on from what we liked about them in the first place. This kind of thing is sometimes framed negatively (i.e. discussions of butt-hurt racists saying that they will never watch a Star Wars film again now that an Asian actor has appeared in one or people moaning about the Doctor becoming female). However, I think that there are times when fans are right to abandon a property (while obviously being wrong to harass persons involved in its production); e.g. two of the three Star Wars prequels were completely terrible and anyone who saw them and decided that they were done with Star Wars was making a reasonable decision, while no true Trek fan should waste their time with the recent Star Trek films. Also, people do just grow out of things sometimes.

The changing canon panel also had me thinking about how much a thing has to change before it is no longer the same thing. The panel discussed whether the character of Iron Fist should have been portrayed by a white or Asian character in the recent adaptation of the comics (in which Iron Fist is white but playing a character that in our enlightened times might perhaps be more appropriately presented as Asian). I have no familiarity with Mr Iron Fist but I was reminded of the periodic discussion of whether James Bond could be played by a black or female actor; my own view on this matter is that in this case such changes would so far deviate from the core of the character as to essentially make it an entirely different one with the same name (though I must add that I do not give a shit about James Bond and his misogynist antics and would be happy for the character to be played by Leslie Jones, edgily re-imagined as an American ophthalmologist).

For me though the most fascinating thing that came out of the canon panel was C.E. Murphy mentioning the Kirk-Drift theory, this being the idea that the popular conception of original series Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk as an alpha male dipshit shagger is essentially a mass delusion. Further investigation brought me subsequently to Erin Horáková’s development of this idea and its consequences in a piece she wrote for Strange Horizons, which I encourage all readers to investigate.

That was my Friday evening at Octocon… come back soon to see what I experienced on the Saturday. For another view of Friday at Octocon, see this post on the Not Another Book Blogger blog.

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Whose Canon Is It Anyway panel (@Frazerdennison on Twitter)

James T. Kirk (Wikipedia)

40 years of “Blake’s 7”


Blake’s 7 first broadcast 40 years ago today. Created by Terry Nation, this SF classic told the story of Roj Blake, who fought with a motley crew of criminals and idealists against the sinister Federation. Special effects could be a bit ropey but the design work on the series was nevertheless impressive. Where it really shone was in the strength of the characterisation. On the side of the good guys there was in particular the interplay between Blake’s own lofty ideals and the cowardly venality of Vila and the cynicism of Avon. The bad guys meanwhile had Servalan (for whom men of my generation still have confused feelings) and the genuinely threatening Travis (at least as played by Stephen Greif in the first series). The storylines were also strong, with particularly impressive episodes including Sand (written by Tanith Lee) and Orbit (by Robert Holmes).

The show’s downbeat ending in season four saw all the remaining good guys gunned down by the Federation (/spoiler). Since then there keeps being talk of its revival but it would be better for everyone if it was left to be remembered as a completed classic.

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Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Avon (Paul Darrow) (Den of Geek: Blake’s 7 series 3 episode 13 – Terminal)

See also this thread from Twitter’s Pulp Librarian.

Everything I know about TV series “Game of Thrones” despite never having seen a full episode of it

There is a guy who says nothing but Hodor. It turns out that this is because he once had to tell people to “hold the door”.

The Blondie Lady is called Daenerys something-or-other. She is the mother of dragons; this may or may not be literal but she does have pet CGI dragons who burn people up for her. She is known as the Khaleesi. She acquires and then frees a CGI slave army who choose to freely follow her because what else are they going to do?

There is a brother and sister who are shagging each other. They tip a young lad (close relative?) out a window when he catches them at it. The young lad mysteriously survives. Meanwhile the brother and sister have a son (passed off as son of the sister’s husband) who becomes the Mad King Joffrey, who is mad and bad. He is eventually killed.

There is a guy called Littlefinger who is very duplicitous but eventually he is found out and killed.

Some people got married but then one lot of the guests killed all the other lot.

Sean Bean plays someone who gets killed unexpectedly at the end of the first season.

There is a guy called Jon Snow who gets killed but then it turns out he wasn’t killed after all or something. People tell him he knows nothing.

The brother and sister who are shagging each other have another brother who is very short.

There is a family called the Starks. One of them is called Arya Stark.

There is a big wall that is keeping snow zombies called the white walkers out of the land where the main characters live, which is called Westeros.

There are lots of scenes in which women, especially minor character women, get their kit off.

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Incest sister, the Short Guy, Jon Snow, the Blondie Lady (NME)