Saturday, April 12, 2008

Okay, literally just finished this week's new episode of Doctor Who. New in the UK, that is; coming to SciFi in about three weeks or so.

Last year, the second episode of the season, The Shakespeare Code , was a lavish, lively, historical adventure that quickly became one of my favorite stories. This year, the second episode of the season, The Fires of Pompeii, is a lavish, lively, historical adventure that has almost immediately become one of my favorite stories. Written by the talented James Moran (about whom more later), it manages to shift from comedy to action to tragedy seamlessly, with some fantastic visual sequences and some heartbreaking emotional ones.

Catherine Tate continues to amaze as Donna Noble. In some ways, the relationship between her and the Doctor reminds me of his relationship with Sarah Jane Smith, (her from The Sarah Jane Adventures, who traveled with the Doctor back in the 70s). I said it last week, and I'll say it again: because she's not a lovestruck young woman, they come across more as equals. As she was even back in her debut story, The Runaway Bride, she's someone who can pull the Doctor back from the brink of alien coldness, someone who can revive his humanity.

Once again, I'll try to keep this spoiler-free, but it should come as no surprise that a story called The Fires of Pompeii features the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the city. Seeing Donna's heartbreaking attempts to fight history by trying to save just one person, and the plight of marble merchant Caecilius and his family, nearly brought a tear to my eye. I loved the moments when she stood up to the Doctor, forcing the two of them, and the series in general, to directly confront and deal with how set in stone history truly may be, and just how much the Doctor is slave to these fixed points in time. And I loved when she lent her support at a key moment, which I won't describe here, but which made me cheer out loud (much to the surprise of Penelope, who was curled up next to me, also watching).

And then there are the mysterious prophecies, and yet another mention of missing planets... Where is it all leading?

Well, next week, I suppose it's leading to the planet of the Ood, in an episode entitled Planet of the Ood. Can't wait.

James Moran is definitely a name I'll be keeping out for. He was a guest at this past February's Gallifrey convention, where he revealed he's going to be writing an episode of Primeval next series, and is writing an episode of upcoming Spooks spinoff, Spooks: Code 9. Clearly, I also need to watch his debut horror film, Severance

Oh, and I finished the second novel in the Shadow collection. I really enjoyed this pair of stories, billed as author Walter Gibson's favorites. While the editorial material doesn't quite spell out why he favored these tales, they certainly are changes of pace from the bulk of the stories I've read. They're more personal in focus, dealing with small-scale stories of revenge and other personal motivations, instead of the usual series of crimes committed by master supervillains. Definitely recommended for folks who like this sort of thing.

Of course, I'm still not actually finished with the thing, since there's still an article and radio script in the book for me to get through. But I will finish tonight.

In the on-deck circle: Three Shirt Deal by Stephen J. Cannell. I loved watching Cannell's TV series in the 80s, and I really enjoy his books, especially his series about LAPD Detective Shane Scully (of which this is the latest installment). More once I start reading it.
Just some quick thoughts about Thursday's TV:

My Name is Earl: Almost didn't watch it, to be honest. I'm glad I did; it ended up making me laugh. But I think there's only so much humor that can be milked from having your main character in a coma. (Again, Dad's hospitalization may be having an effect on how I'm viewing this storyline.)

30 Rock: I find I have nothing to say about this episode. I like the show, and I liked this episode, but there's nothing that particularly stood out for me.

The Office: Thought it was hilarious, although between seeing Michael and Jan at home this week, and Dwight's home earlier in the season, I'm not sure I want to see anyone else's home lives at this point. They're just too weird, and I'm getting really creeped out.

I did enjoy last night's Battlestar Galactica. Although, with the lightest moment probably being when a bunch of characters were machine-gunned to death, I am glad that the option exists for me to watch Doctor Who the next day, instead of right before Battlestar. Really, with SciFi's Friday lineup being Sarah Jane Adventures, followed by Doctor Who, followed by Battlestar Galactica, it's like having a light, frothy, wonderful dessert, followed by a full, rich, well-balanced meal, followed by some big guy kicking you in the groin over and over again with steel toed boots.

Still reading my Shadow book. Since Walter Gibson wrote two Shadow novels a month, I think it may actually be taking me more time to read them than he took to write them.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

So I finished Den of Thieves Monday afternoon. Totally wrong about what I thought was a setup for the next book. Shows what I know. There are already two more books out in the series, so I've ordered the next one.

Monday night, I started reading the 14th book in the new series of Shadow pulp reprints, collecting The Grove of Doom and The Masked Lady. I've been a fan of the Shadow since I was a kid. Part of the fascination may have been the idea that, once upon a time, decades before I was born, there were whole novels published every other week about this character (I've always loved serial fiction). Years later, DC Comics published a collection of the Denny O'Neil/Mike Kaluta comics that were my first exposure to the character. In his introduction, O'Neil explained that part of the reason for the Shadow's enduring popularity may be because he basically has all the trappings of a sinister villain, but he's a hero. I think that may be part of it, too.

So far, I'm maybe halfway through The Grove of Doom. (Didn't have much time to read last night.) It's interesting, in that it's set on a Long Island estate instead of the usual urban New York setting, and the motivation behind the incredibly weird crimes seems to be a family squabble. The domestic setting is unusual. Additionally, this book ostensibly collects two of author Walter Gibson's favorite Shadow stories, so going in, the expectations are a little higher than usual.

Last night saw the return of NCIS with new episodes. I've said many times before that I enjoy the show because of the characters, and nothing has changed. Nice to see Gretchen Egolff guest-starring as a homicide detective; good to see she's finding work after the cancelation of Journeyman.

In related news, TV Guide's Michael Ausiello reveals that a series regular will be gone by the end of the series. So that's something that will keep me watching (as if I wouldn't otherwise).

Meanwhile, not too sure how I'm feeling about the new season of Hell's Kitchen. On the one hand, I thought that last week's premiere made this season look a bit too gimmicky and game-showy, like they were trying too hard to make it as flashy as other reality shows. This week's attempt by Cory to strategically eliminate her competition backed that up. Ultimately, the show redeemed itself by having chef Gordon Ramsay remind everyone that the prize is an actual job running an actual kitchen in an actual restaurant, and that at the end of the day, regardless of strategy and game-playing, the winner had to prove that they could do the job. So he overrode Cory's choices and got rid of who he saw as the weakest link. So kudos to Gordon Ramsay for keeping it real.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I write an awful lot on this blog about television. Partly, it's because I do watch an awful lot of television, unashamedly. It's also partly because it's easy. I don't like to talk a lot about personal stuff here, because it's private. I also don't have a lot of personal stuff to talk about. But every night, I usually see something new on TV, and that gives me something new to talk about here, when I get around to writing new entries.

Lest my faithful readers (both of you) think I do nothing but watch TV, I have decided to start talking about the books I'm reading as well.

Right now, I'm pretty close to finishing Den of Thieves, the third Cat Royal book by Julia Golding. Sadly unavailable in the US, I ordered the first book in the series, The Diamond of Drury Lane as a result of one of the very rare instances of making a useful recommendation. (Generally, their recommendations seem along the lines of, "You ordered a book with pages and a cover. Here are other books with pages and a cover.") Set in the 18th century, the books tell the adventures of Cat Royal, an orphan growing up at the Royal Theater in London, and her adventures through a cross-section of London society, from the gangs of thieves running the streets to an aristocratic family she befriends. The second book goes further into the complex morality of the time, as she struggles to rescue her escaped slave friend, Pedro Hawkins, from the clutches of his cruel master.

In this third book, faced with the closure of the Royal, Cat finds herself acting as a spy in revolutionary Paris. At the same time, she has entered into a dark bargain with evil Billy Shepherd (which, it seems to me, can't possibly be wrapped up in this book, and may be setting things up for the next volume). The closest thing I can think of to these books are Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books, although Pullman's books are set in a different time period, and his plots are a bit more melodramatic and fantastical. The Cat Royal stories are gripping adventures that pretty much show her struggles with the problems of her ordinary life, without the addition of mysterious jewels and treasures and secret weapons.

For what it's worth, the first book won the Nestle Book Prize, something it has in common with other favorite books of mine, like Varjak Paw by SF Said, The Fire-Eaters by David Almond, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, and some books about some kid named Harry Potter.