Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Doctor Who: The Curse of Davros (2012) - AudioReview

Release date: January 2012
Writer: Jonathan Morris. Director: Nicholas Briggs

Escaping The Daleks...

The return of the Daleks is always a welcome one. And if that story happens to include a certain Kaled scientist, then much the better. In The Curse of Davros we are reunited with Philippa "Flip" Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) and her boyfriend Jared Ramon, who we last encountered in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster (2011). This time, however, the Doctor is alone and in danger. He is wanted by the Daleks. As the plot progresses we learn that his enemy can swap minds with Humans, literally taking over their physical bodies, using mind swapping technology created by Davros. The use of this weapon is obvious enough, allowing Daleks to move freely on Earth.

When Flip and Jared witness a spacecraft crashing in London, they go to investigate. The incident hasn't gone unnoticed and so it isn't long before the area is swarming with military and police officers. What DOES go unnoticed is the escape capsule that ejected from the main ship and landed nearby. From within, the Sixth Doctor emerges...

It has to be said that the casting is first rate in this one, and Big Finish delivers more often than not with their catalogue of audio adventures featuring EVERY Doctor they are fortunate to direct. It has also been an opportunity for BF to create an extension to what came before, building not just on the original television series that Colin Baker contributed to from 1984-86 but to add extra mythology surrounding the character. In the world of audio, the Sixth Doctor has met new companions such as Evelyn Smythe and Charlotte Pollard. They have been positive role models, feisty and curious, determined and loyal. These qualities can also be found in Flip. From the start she is unstoppable, a modern girl with a no nonsense approach, although she certainly has a heart.

One of the things that we do get to see in The Curse of Davros is that the Doctor - our Doctor - isn't quite himself. This gives Baker a nice juicy opportunity to step into someone else's shoes for a while, and it delivers nicely. When Jared is mind-swapped with a Dalek, the Time Lord and Flip go on the run. As usual, we see just how ruthless his deadly foes are when they threaten to exterminate a group of innocent people unless the Doctor surrenders. They clearly keep their word, as they did in Destiny of the Daleks (1979) when similarly they began systematically killing slaves until the Fourth Doctor gave in. This is what they know, and the price of a life means nothing except its usefulness as a weapon.

Meddling in history...

One moment we are on modern day Earth, the next we're witnessing the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This is such a fantastic contrast, bringing new dynamics to the development of the play. Davros plans on using his mind-swapping tech to change Human history and aid Napoleon Bonaparte in defeating the British and Prussian armies. It would be catastrophic! Just think how the lyrics in a certain pop song from 1974 would differ, no more "At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender". But far more than that, such meddling would change the course of Human history.

Those familiar with BBC Books will recall a previous Doctor Who adventure set at the Battle of Waterloo. World Game, written by Terrance Dicks and published in 2005, featured the Second Doctor in a plot involving the Celestial Intervention Agency, Lady Serena, and Players (immortal beings who liked to tamper with history).

Holmes Vs Moriarty

Ever since he first appeared on our screens in 1975, Davros has become Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes. With only a single televised story between them, Revelation of the Daleks (1985), it was always welcome when Big Finish decided to bring the two together again in audio. 2003's "Davros" is a particular favourite of mine. Out of all the Doctor's, Baker's incarnation feels the best fit to Terry Molloy's mad scientist. It is also fitting that this particular Doctor finally understands and shows empathy for his enemy, though that in itself doesn't stop the Gallifreyan from defeating him. We've always known that Davros' life is one of pain and suffering, though it is these that have kept him focused and hateful. Has he always been evil, or just ruthlessly efficient and practical? For that answer we have to look no further than "I, Davros", the four-part story also from Big Finish.

The adventure continues...

Given the opportunity to return home with boyfriend Jared, Flip instead decides to travel with the Doctor. This is very reminiscent of Rose Tyler's own reaction to embracing the chance of adventure through time and space. It also helps that Flip is very likeable, thanks to both the writing of the character and Greenwood's solid performance.

"Shall I compare thee to a summers day?"

How does this story compare to previous Dalek adventures? Well, it's an interesting mix, that's for sure. Over the years we've been treated to so many Dalek plots that it could easily become monotonous. The Curse of Davros, however, manages to keep a few surprises and delivers in the right areas. This is actually less about Daleks and more to do with rivalry between two old enemies: imagine if Davros could live again, without pain and mental torment... Imagine if the Doctor could spend the rest of his days trapped in a different kind of prison... It is a frightening concept indeed.

Looking on the Big Finish website I notice that they had the working title Waterloo of the Daleks, I'm so glad they changed it. Mention must also go to cover artist Simon Holub, who's work also includes favourites of mine such as "Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: Here There Be Monsters" and "Doctor Who - Robophobia". The use of blues in his The Curse of Davros looks stunning. I've just found some up and coming titles featuring his cover art and "Doctor Who: Interstitial / Feast of Fear" is particularly amazing!

I absolutely recommend The Curse of Davros, it is certainly an enjoyable ride through history. And you get to spend more time with Flip Jackson.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Oh My Word! I'm a jigsaw puzzle with far too many pieces missing...

Source: pixabay

I sometimes wonder what is wrong with me. Spent my life wanting a genuine friend, felt lonely for a good part of my life, and struggle understanding thoughts and feelings. I'm convinced I simply don't belong or fit in, that there is something fundamentally wrong with my wiring. I see people socialising and making it all look so easy. They are popular, liked, and others take time for them.

I cry, often, and can't seem to balance my emotions, or ignore a longing to be loved. Which is strange because there are two people in my life who love me. I guess it's a different kind of love I'm needing, that is where the hurt truly exists.

I fail to recognise social cues and cannot read body language, too often I don't get a joke and instead take it the wrong way. My balance isn't great and I seem to struggle steering around people in town. I feel stupid and slow.

A now retired Gp suggested that I might be on the autistic spectrum, yet I'm scared to find out by taking it further.

So, I keep moving forward through life, confused and alone. Even in company I'm alone and that is what I don't understand.

I'm ugly both inside and out. At least, that's all I believe. Online friends say I'm nice, and look nice, but I don't see it at all. Mirrors are my worst enemy.

It's no secret that I've suffered with mental health issues through life, since childhood. I'm insecure. I've self-harmed, and taken an overdose on a number of occasions - one that could have been very life threatening as my heart was at risk.

Over the past few months I've focused on caring for me, loving all that I am. Last week I started a diet to be fit and healthy, with a goal to horse ride in a year's time. I'm not the most patient of people, but I want this to happen!

My greatest fear is moving onward alone. Not having a special friend to share it all with. I keep believing that I'm unlovable, that no one in their right mind would want to spend time with me.

I'm a jigsaw puzzle with far too many pieces missing.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Ash vs Alien Files #1 - The Curse of Ripley

Ellen Ripley and the Xenomorph (ALIEN³)

Many franchises seem to be a divisive issue these days, you can't afford to have an opinion without someone wanting to tear your soul apart. Thankfully fans aren't Cenobites, so no blood loss or physical torment. Mentally and emotionally, however, can be quite draining if you let it. The problem arises from passion, we're all passionate about what we love. And franchises are deeply loved by fans. So much so that many can't accept changes to their movie or television series, or embrace something that doesn't fit in with established continuity. They want more of the same, or complain that it is too much the same and when given a radical shift from the norm they complain that it's too different, and want more of how it was before.

Being a director can be a thankless job these days.

I've been obsessed with the Alien franchise since the late eighties, having watched Aliens (1986) for the first time on VHS. It was a breathtaking ride of sci-fi and horror, with plenty of action and state-of-the-art special effects. I had not seen anything like it. The Xenomorph was the stuff of nightmares, as it had meant to be. We were introduced to Hadley's Hope, a small colony on the moon of Acheron (originally named LV-426) after it had fallen prey to the aliens. Ellen Ripley (played superbly by Sigourney Weaver) was persuaded to return to the moon where it had all began for her - in Alien (1979) she had first visited LV-426 with the crew of the commercial space tug USCSS Nostromo, a nightmarish mission that would later see the deaths of everyone except Ripley.

While on Acheron for the second time, Ripley encounters a young survivor, a girl named Rebecca Jorden, known to everyone except her brother as "Newt". They immediately form a bond. This is one of the parts that I like most about Aliens, and Carrie Henn's performance is outstanding. "My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are, aren't there?"

Following this viewing, it was inevitable that I would delve into Ridley Scott's original 1979 masterpiece sooner or later. Funnily enough, compared to the busyness of Aliens, its predecessor felt a little... bare. One alien, no weapons at the crew's disposal except for flame throwers. It was a fun experience, though not one I warmed to instantly. In truth, I had been spoiled by the sequel, and had to learn to accept Alien on its own merits. This I eventually succeeded in doing, and I now regard the first movie as one of the best in the franchise.

In 1992 came the third and final instalment in what I regard as Ellen Ripley's trilogy: Alien 3, directed by David Fincher. This is where fans are split in their support and admiration. Many people have felt that it was wrong, insulting even, to kill Newt and Captain Dwayne Hicks off screen, instead casting Ripley to a prison colony to face off against yet another single alien creature. Surely two of the most popular characters from Aliens deserved better? Well, as much as I adore Newt, for me the first three movies were always part of what I refer to as the 'Shakespearean tragedy of Ripley', for it was Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley who was destined to be haunted by this nightmare as her life unfolded beyond her control.

Her daughter, Amanda, was only 10-years-old when Ripley took a job that would ultimately lead her to LV-426 (Alien). First tragedy, the loss of the Nostromo crew; third tragedy, returning home to Earth 57 years later after her "lifeboat" the Narcissus was found drifting through space by a passing salvage vessel, and learning that Amanda had grown old and died (Aliens).

Notice I skipped something? If you are at all familiar with Alien: Out of the Shadows (the first in a published canonical Alien trilogy) you will know that Ripley had actually been awoken thirty-seven years after her Nostromo incident, by the crew of the DSMO Marion orbiting LV-178, also called New Galveston. They, too, are being plagued by Xenomorphs and the reality of their situation, Ripley discovers, is that the vessel will burn up in the planet's atmosphere. Their only hope: the Narcissus! To complicate matters, they must replace the shuttle's empty fuel cell by going down to LV-178 to obtain fuel from a mining colony. On the planet surface - why is it never easy? - they face further aliens. You might be wondering why Ellen Ripley never recalls this encounter in further movies? Well, read the book and find out. Her experiences on the Marion is the second tragedy.

The sacrifice of Ellen Ripley on Fiorina 161 (ALIEN³)

Fourth tragedy, the massacre of Hadley's Hope and the marines that accompany Ripley to the moon. Newt is Ripley's connection to the colony, as we learn that the girl's family was killed (you can learn more about the fall of Acheron in Christopher Golden's Alien: River of Pain novelisation). There is a beautiful mother-daughter relationship between the two, especially when you realise that they have both suffered loss. Though not a replacement for Amanda, could Newt become the child that Ripley needs? This finally leads to tragedy five and six: Newt's off-screen death and Ripley's sacrifice (Alien 3).

It is clear that our protagonist was never meant to meet a happy ending. Those that she loved were taken from her, hope quickly snatched at every turn. And all because of the alien...

Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 (and Alien: Out of the Shadows) combined tell the extraordinary tale of a curse. This becomes even more significant when you take into account Alien: Isolation, a story that explains Amanda Ripley's own encounter with the Xenoporph. And don't get me started on Alien: Sea of Sorrows, this is when things just get weird...

I've omitted Alien Resurrection as this movie features Ripley Clone 8, and not 'the' Ellen Ripley. This is a different story entirely and one that deserves its own article.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Monica Enid Dickens... The True Lady of Follyfoot

Monica Dickens.
Source: Desert Island Discs, BBC, 1951

Just who is Monica Dickens? Well, firstly, her surname gives us a clue as to who she is related to. Yes, none other than English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1870). But there is far more to this woman than just being the great-granddaughter of a literary genius. Though I have been a fan of Mr Dickens' work for decades, I was totally oblivious to his family tree. It is ironic, then, that I became an even greater fan of a series of books... and a television series based on one of those books: Follyfoot.

Monica was born in London on 10th May 1915, her parents were Henry Charles Dickens (1878–1966) and Fanny Dickens (née Runge). Sadly not much is known about Fanny except that she herself was born in Camberwell, London, in 1876; she was married to Henry in 1904 (Chelsea Registration District, London), sadly her death is unknown. Monica had a sister: Doris Elaine Mary Danby (née Dickens). The girls' upbringing was very middle class - Henry was a barrister - but Monica became disenchanted by the life around her. Not only was she expelled (she had attended St Paul's Girls' School, London) but Monica entered into domestic service. It is not what her father would have wished, I'm sure.

Her literature reflected the work she did, examples being the memoir One Pair Of Hands (1939) highlighting her experiences as a domestic servant and One Pair Of Feet (1942) in which she wrote about her time as a nurse. Her career at the Hertfordshire Express newspaper (published in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England) led to the book My Turn to Make the Tea (1951).

Monica married U.S Navy officer Roy O. Stratton in 1951 and migrated to the United States where they later adopted two girls called Pamela and Prudence. Her writing never stopped, with most of her work still set in England. She was also a passionate humanitarian and helped establish the first U.S Samaritans in Massachusetts in 1974. She worked closely with the Samaritans, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is the latter that influenced her novel Cobbler's Dream (1963) which, in the 1970s, was adapted into a popular British television show called Follyfoot. Due to its success, Monica wrote follow-up titles Follyfoot (1971), Dora at Follyfoot (1972), The Horses of Follyfoot (1975), and Stranger at Follyfoot (1976). The year prior to Cobbler's Dream, the author had visited The Home of rest for Horses (renamed The Horse Trust in 2006) and had been so touched by their tireless work that it became the influence for the Farm in the 1963 publication.

Between 1939 and 1992 she wrote many books, inspired those who met her and lived an extraordinary life, memories and experiences that she could share through her literature. In 1978 she had published an autobiography titled An Open Book. After her husband's death, in 1985, Monica returned to the UK where her career as a writer continued until her own death on Christmas Day in 1992. She was 77 years old.

Her final book, One of the Family (1993), was published posthumously.

When I think of my passion for Follyfoot, it dawns on me just how alike one of the characters is to Monica: Dora is from a privileged family who chooses to work on a farm and care for horses, she doesn't mind the hard labour at all, actually embracing the freedom that her new position brings. Dora's mother is set against her continuing at Follyfoot but her uncle, who owns the farm, signs it over to her so that she becomes Lady of Follyfoot. In fact, first book Cobbler's Dream was a tale that raised brutal awareness of the cruelty inflicted on horses; it was far from being a light-hearted read.

Her work lives on, some titles have even been digitised for the eBook market. And thanks to Follyfoot and its accompanying Yorkshire Television series, which ran in the UK from 1971 to 1973, there is much gratitude for a woman who rebelled, found her own path and forged a remarkable writing career.

Pages of interest: