Tag Archives: Doctor Who

But What About…? Part 3b: The Coal Industry, Part 2

If you haven’t read The Coal Industry, Part 1, you should go do that. I’m not sure that this post will make a lot of sense without it.

Hindsight is 50/50. The perspective about a decision at the time it is made, and the perspective from later on, are obviously different. I think that there are aspects of an “at the time” viewpoint that we lose when looking at things after the fact. And I think there’s likely to still be quite a lot that is hidden from either perspective. So things are a lot less clear than the notion “hindsight is 20/20″ would imply.

Yesterday, I talked about a bad situation that government had gotten itself into. It bought the coal industry in the late ’40s, and by the ’80s the industry was no longer viable. The government seemed to be in a lose-lose situation, and chose a “lose” course of action

Could this have turned into a win?

I think so. But given my “hindsight” paragraph above, I’m not saying “they should have done this, they should have done that”. I’m not second-guessing those who made a difficult decision. I’m not even saying that anything I suggest would have been a guaranteed success. I’m giving suggestions that would give a chance of a win. That might not be good enough for some, but it’s a lot better than the guaranteed lose that we got, or the guaranteed lose we’d have had if the government propped up the dying industry.

A RADICAL START

So the mines were losing money. Land as such has value, but that fact didn’t mitigate the money suck. Selling the land off could recoup some money, but let’s get more risky.

1. Gift the land and facilities to those who worked on-site.

Historically, management and workers had not got on very well. Make everyone (at least those that want to) equal partners. Anything they choose to do going forward, they all have the same vested interest. Anyone who doesn’t want to join in, doesn’t have to.

While the government wouldn’t get money from giving away the property like they would if they sold it, it also would stop being a big money-sink.

2. Exempt the property and new owners from tax, for a time.

How much time? 5 or 10 years, somewhere in that range. Should give them time to get something going.

Like the water analogy from the other day, while the miners may have been paying taxes, they were also paid by taxes, so a net loss on the system. Initial taxing would be taking money that isn’t there. So this would be a better situation for the government (no loss), and for the new owners (the former employees, less drain while setting something up).

WHAT THEN?

I called that a radical start, and it is. The miners would have a lot of responsibility thrust on their shoulders, but they wouldn’t have been shafted.

Continuing business-as-usual coal mining would have been futile, so I hinted that they might want to set up something else. But what? I have some ideas, it’s not an exhaustive list. I think if miners and managers had control and had sat round the table and brainstormed ideas, they could have come up with something even better. I don’t believe for a minute that there weren’t some creative and entrepreneurial minds that could have been put to good use. So, some ideas:

1. A museum

Other kinds of mines have been turned into museums. Sygun Copper Mine in Wales and Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall are two off the top of my head. A coal mining museum could have become a profitable business, too.

Now, would a museum on its own be enough to sustain that many workers? I suspect not, but other avenues of income could of course be pursued.

2. Educational institute

Presumably, all these people working in the mine knew a thing or two about mining. What better way to teach mining and related topics, than with a hands-on course? Have some classroom subjects, sure, go into the mine for some hands-on stuff. Observe the engineering in action. Practical coursework. You could get a world-class institution out of this.

3. Storage facility

These days, an abandoned mine or missile silo might be used for secure off-site data backup and storage. Refit a tunnel to be climate-controlled. This might be a case of hindsight, but looking this sort of thing up, I found this was going on in the days of storing reels of tape.

Which leads to me thinking, if the coal industry hadn’t been on life-support as long as it had, perhaps more TV shows could have been saved from the mass junking that the BBC (and the various ITV stations) did. May have only caught the tail end of it (the BBC stopped in 1978), but ooh, what could have been.

4. Music

This may seem a bit out of left field, but there were coal mines with brass bands (see Brassed Off). I have Welsh mines linked with Welsh male voice choirs, in my brain. Perhaps the stereotype is inaccurate, perhaps there’s some truth there. Concerts and CDs could have been another income stream (you could function-stack it with the museum idea).

5. Authentic sound effects

Record the ambient noise in a mine. Perhaps not the actual blasting close up, but equipment running, miners talking. This kind of sound effect gets used in TV and film. Could royalty yourself a bit of money by recording a bunch of sounds and making them available. Sound effects CDs of all varieties are sold. So why not add this one to the list?

6. TV/movie sets

May be an occasional use, but hey, if you want tunnels, we got the finest! Black “alien planet” terrain, we got that, too! (There are times when Doctor Who could just move in, ha ha.) There are places that get an income from this sort of thing.

7. TV show

Related to 6, collate every anecdote and humorous situation you can from all the people who work there. Pitch it to ITV (at this point, it’s not going to be the Establishment BBC, is it?). And it function-stacks perfectly with 5 and 6.

CONCLUSION

There was a great deal of untapped potential in the situation. I think that “in the box” thinking is difficult to break out of, and even if there was some entrepreneurial genius working deep in the pit, that genius would have faced enormous hurdles to influence any decision makers. Not that I think things would necessarily have been better in a company, management and boards can be just as entrenched in a mindset (so can workers, for that matter). It would take some humility, “Look, guys, the writing’s on the wall for this industry, can any of you think of anything we can do to get some cash coming in?” The suggestion of giving the mine to those who worked in/at it is the best that I could think of to maximise the chance of profitable brainstorming.

Had the government not taken control of the coal industry, I believe that layoffs and closures would have happened over a much longer period of time, which would have softened the impact on the “safety net” (social security). The pit closures started somewhere between 1981 and 1984 (I suspect earlier in the time frame), full privatisation happened in 1994. The last deep coal pit closed in 2015, open cast mining is still going on. Unemployment rose above 10% in 1980, and dipped below that in 1987 (source for unemployment figures, source for other dates).

More conventional methods could have been employed, like diverting funding to retrain the workers, which only works if there’s a job to go into: some places the coal industry was keeping everything else afloat.

If some of the above worked, plus whatever the mine workers came up with, then perhaps government interference would have brought about a better result for everybody than if they’d stayed out of it in the first place.

The way things happened, though, I don’t think the case could be made for that at all.

Come back next week for something different.

The New Site Is Live!

Let me start by saying a little about what I did.

I installed the plugins. One to help with site administration is Google Analytics by Yoast, and one to help with content presentation is Geo Mashup.

The site I unveil today, is History Basics.

Sometimes, information about the past is very forthcoming, and sometimes it’s not very forthcoming at all. There has been a lot of archaeological work that has happened, but sometimes finding out about it is non-intuitive. Documentation may be in a local, national, or international publication, or in a book, or perhaps it may be entirely unpublished.

There are frequently articles about archaeological finds, and it seems that a lot of them do not mention who’s doing the work.

Also, what we do have isn’t necessarily safe. Sometimes finds corrode or erode quickly after they’ve been discovered. Sometimes care isn’t taken with objects: how much more might we know about ancient Egyptian practices if rich Victorians hadn’t had a penchant for mummy-unwrappings. And in the riots in Egypt a couple of years back, some mummies were destroyed, museums in Iraq were looted during the Coalition invasion, Joseph’s tomb in Israel has been attacked several times, a proposed high-speed rail line in England has archaeologists scrambling to find out what might be in its path.

And so on.

Also, conclusions are drawn from findings, and sometimes new findings generate new conclusions (sometimes new conclusions arrive all by themselves). The conclusions might not manage to accommodate all the available evidence. Like life, it’s kinda messy. So I don’t mind presenting conclusions, but I do want to emphasise that on which the conclusions are based (and that which the conclusions ignore).

So, a disorganised field to organise, a world to save (in the “archive” sense of the word, like Donna Noble in the Library). And hopefully make research easier for anyone who wants or needs to (I’m trying to aim the writing so it can be engaged by teens in school, and anyone older than that).

I’m not strictly limiting myself to archaeological sites, as the messiness rears its ugly head again: there’s a 12th-Century church I know of that’s still in active use, and there’s certainly many archaeological sites contemporary and much more recent, so while I intend to have an archaeological focus, it’s not a criteria I will rigidly adhere to.

So that’s something in the way of the underlying idea behind the project.

I spent much of today cleaning up the showcase entry on the site: I noticed surprisingly little spelling that needed cleaned up, but some bolding, italicising, and rather a lot of making links look not-dorky. It’ll take you a while to read it, but check out the entry on Bushmead Priory over there, to get the feel of what I’m going for.

Why Bushmead Priory, you may ask?

When I was looking for a starting point, I found a list of sites that would make a great base to build from. It was Wikipedia’s list of English Heritage properties. I went through the whole list, finding the co-ordinates on Google Maps (and occasionally Bing, when Google’s image wasn’t quite adequate). Then I started over, gathering the PastScape data. And a few months ago, when I decided I really needed to get a full-fledged post done, that was quite literally the top of the list.

After I got that entry all finished, I had a bit of a battle of wills getting the forum set up. I don’t want to start with too many sections on the thing until there’s a bit more of a demand, but I got some sections set up and described, and a couple of threads started. Such is the state of things, though, that I’m using the Admin account and another account that I’ve set up for myself, and I’ve had to use the Admin account to approve the posts that I have made with the other one (one more to go).

So there, we go, this actually feels like a start, now. To invert a line from a movie (the original line including the movie’s title), “we must go forward… to the past!”

Star Trek: Excelsior – Into Season 3

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a producer of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. James is a friend from a different context, so while I’d heard of his show, I didn’t insert it into my listening schedule until just recently, when he announced the show’s intention to get two stars from Trek’s Original Series for a Trek 50th Anniversary Special episode.

When I started the interview, I’d only listened to a couple of episodes, and when I finished, I’d only heard a couple more. Now, I’ve worked my way through Seasons 1 and 2, and have started Season 3. James recommends new listeners start with Season 4, and if you enjoy that, then to work backwards: the quality of the production improves over time, and if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you might as well point out which foot that is.

So, if you’re interested, go start sometime in Season 4, you’ll be ahead of me. Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve heard so far.

The first thing to note, is I’m more forgiving of a story’s flaws, if I’m enjoying the story. And also, being aware that they don’t recommend starting at the beginning, ignoring that recommendation means I’m more obliged to give the benefit of the doubt, or be more forgiving in general.

Starting with the less-than-stellar: Mr Heaney mentioned the script for the pilot episode, “…There You Are”, is terrible. The briefing room scene certainly is a bit awkward, making very unsubtle introductions to a bunch of characters, and the show’s general concept. Once the story got going, and as it progressed into Season 1, there was less of that sort of awkwardness.

I remember noticing at points in The Next Generation, sometimes a character would introduce themselves, pronouncing their name one way, and then other actors would pronounce the name differently – like the actors interpreted the pronunciation from the script separately, rather than the characters being in the same conversation. Early Excelsior has moments like this, and it feels worst when a non-regular character does it to a regular character, like they really should have listened to some of the show. When Season 3 hits, we have a character mispronouncing the captain’s name, but pretty soon we find out he’s doing it on purpose. Hopefully, this signals the start of a more concerted effort towards consistency in this area.

Have you ever come across a story where someone has a long, formal, needlessly complicated name, and people are obliged to use the whole thing all the time? I can think of a couple of examples, but one acknowledges the concept and the other one outright takes the mickey. In Angel, some characters travel to recurring character Lorne’s home dimension, and he repeatedly gets called (and it’s far too late to fact-check this) “Kreblorne-swath of the Deathwalk clan”. After a few times, one is begging the TV to knock it off. The other example is Veggie Tales’ Lord Of The Rings parody The Lord Of The Beans. Gandalf-equivalent is talking to the Ent-equivalents, and it’s all “Randalf, son of Mandalf, keeper of the flame of” I don’t remember, and the other guy is “Lord Falaminion Tereglith, Son of Therabil Elithimon”. They say each a few times. While not as bad as these, there are points in the first season when the Valandrian leaders get dangerously close to this territory.

Small tangent into Red Dwarf. I read the novels, I had the script books, I watched the TV show. Sometimes lines would get said in the show, not quite in line with how they were written. In the books especially, “Zero Gee” was established as a sport in that universe. In a script, there’s a list of VR sports programs Lister played, and Zero Gee was listed before kick-boxing. Comma between them in the script. In the show, Lister says “Zero-G kick-boxing”. In Psirens, Lister lost his memory, and on being prompted suggests that Rimmer is his best mate. Kryten, acting as his medic, suggests that Lister might not be well. Reading the script implies the line was supposed to be “you are sick”. In the show, it’s delivered more, “you are sick“. There have been moments like this, not very often but occasionally, in my listening to Excelsior, so far. I think that the main part of the problem is that the actors aren’t really bouncing off each other, each reads the lines separately, then sends them to the editor.

Moving on from the negative, I must say I’ve been enjoying the story. I think Season 2 was an improvement on Season 1, and the plus side of listening in this order is that there’s definitely progression: the Season 2 arc definitely follows from the Season 1 arc, and the Season 3 arc (so far, I’m in episode 5) follows on from both 1 and 2.

There’s lots of humour. The title for the Season 3 opener, “All Good Captains Have Admiral Problems”, serves as a good example. And the humour goes hand-in-hand with continuity. A good Trek geek has looked at the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and seen examples of signage on the Enterprise-D, which aren’t in focus in the show. so the set designers put silly things on them. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one, and in the Excelsior show, it’s on the ship’s dedication plaque. It’s referred to in the pilot’s title, “…There You Are”. And then it’s used to humorous effect somewhere in Season 1.

There are also strict continuity references: the Iconian Gateway being technology introduced in TNG, and brought back much later in DS9, and now Excelsior uses one. Many more, of course. Does feel like they’re playing in the same universe.

But there are also sly references as treats for a broader geekdom. Using a sonic screwdriver here, and the Sub-Etha waveband there. If I wasn’t enjoying the story, I think these things would be likely to bug me, but as I’m enjoying the story, my reaction is more Captain America “I get that reference!”.

I think that subtlety can be a hard thing to pull off in audio drama. This is due to a couple of factors: one has to compensate for the loss of nuances one might notice in a visual medium, and so naturally extra emphasis has to creep in. Also, audio is a format where listeners can do other things while imbibing your content. Someone listening while driving is more likely than someone listening and not doing anything else. In short, Malcolm Reynold wouldn’t work in audio drama, because he mumbles way too much (much as I love Firefly). So I might understand someone using the word “overacting”, but I don’t think it’s happening here, I think extra-acting has too happen because of the nature of the beast.

Casual listening was tricky in Season 2, because some voices were entirely in one ear or the other. Made it difficult listening with only one ear in. Haven’t noticed that being a problem in Season 3.

In Season 3, I’m noticing some British phrases being used by non-British characters. I had some “Did they really say that?” that’s gone to “yes, it’s still there”. It’s not spoiling the story, it’s more of an oddity I’m noticing. One could explain it as colloquialisms becoming popular in cultures other than the one in which they originated, an evolution of language (which there would be over nearly 400 years). Or, I suppose, one could let it bug one, or one could ignore it and enjoy the ride.

I look forward to see how the show continues to improve into Season 4.

I think from all that typing, I’m better in a position to conclude.

I like the show.
Why?
Because it cares about the source material. Because the stories are interesting and enjoyable, and really fit the universe in which they’re being played out. Because the show has a lot of character.

I said at the beginning of this post, that there are certain things that make up for shortcomings and rough edges. Excelsior is not without rough edges, but it has more than enough of the good stuff, that I’m glad I interrupted my horrendously long podcast queue to fit this show in now.

The Kickstarter is getting pretty close to $10,000, and if it gets to $11,000 by/on Sunday, then an existing backer has promised to up their pledge by 1,500 to get Chekov on the show (they’ve already reached the threshold to get Uhura on). They stand a good chance of doing it. I jumped into pledging still listening to Season 1. Give a Season 4 episode a bit of a listen, and see if you like it, too.

Interview: James Heaney of Star Trek: Excelsior, Part 2

Last night, I posted the first part of this interview with James Heaney, writer and producer of the Star Trek: Excelsior audio drama. Part 1 talked about the origins and development of the story, what makes a Star Trek show really Star Trek, TNG Borg as distinct from later Borg, and the show’s timeline. Here in Part 2, we continue discussion of the timeline, the Kickstarter to bring Uhura and Chekov to commandeer the show for the episode, and a brief diversion into the card game.

Please consider listening to the Excelsior audio drama (starting with Season 4), letting your Treknophile friends know about it, and contributing to the Kickstarter. I pledged towards it today (and no, I’m not just saying that), and look forward to reading some of the drafts that James talks about a bit further down.

So here we go, Part 2.

The Limey Frog (TLF): To what extent has the departure from the RPG changed the timeline?

James Heaney (JH): One plus was that the timeline did not really have to be revised as we gradually broke away from the RPG. The RPG relied, canonically, on comic-book time, in large part to keep our game clock synchronized with the Bravo Fleet overall clock. Every time we started a new mission, we would advance the clock to the current date, regardless of whether in-game time had actually passed. So, if we ended a mission on 22 January 2383 (in-game), but the out-of-character date was now 12 April 2007 (which meant the in-game fleet clock was now 12 April 2383), we would literally write a post saying, “Today’s in-game time is 12 April 2383. Yesterday was 22 January 2383. In-game, only one day has passed; February and March simply did not happen, and your characters do not find this in any way odd.”

For a roleplaying game operating within a larger fleet, this demi-coherent system made a lot of sense. (It also made it a rare and special treat when a character actually celebrated a birthday!) But it was a completely incoherent, inconsistent basis for an audio drama, especially one that depended so much on interconnected continuity. So, the dates and stardates from the RPG were all thrown out very early — one of our first divergences from the RPG canon.

This led to interesting consequences of its own. For example, the pilot episode takes place on 7 December 2382. The season three finale takes place at 0400 hours on 25 January 2383. Those episodes were released in 2007 and 2013, respectively. So we spent 6 years of real time telling a story that took place over just 6 weeks of in-universe time.

Since Season 4 is much more episodic, there’s been more room to let the timeline flow, and it’s gradually making up for some of that lost time.

TLF: I haven’t asked you about the story you’re Kickstarting, yet. You wanted to do something for the 50th Anniversary, could you say something about other ideas you had, and how you settled on the Uhura/Chekov story?

JH: I can’t talk too much about this, because one of the backer rewards gives backers access to all our old drafts for this episode.

About all I can say is this: we started out with a story that is completely unrecognizable as this story; it shared nothing with the current story besides the MacGuffin, included neither Chekov NOR Uhura, and the plot (such as it was) followed a completely different chain of events. We never actually threw out that story, but we incrementally changed each element of it across a series of aborted drafts and outlines until we finally got the product we have today.

And Nichelle and Walter may yet request further changes to the script we have (right now, I am informed, they’re both working on notes), so I can’t even say for certain that this transformative process has come to an end yet. It’s funny how you can start out thinking you’re building a submarine, then at the end discover you actually build a lunar lander.

TLF: And could you say something about making your characters take a back seat? Was it harder to write because of this, did it cause backstage tensions? Have your cast even seen the script?

JH: Even if they weren’t so awesome, from their perspective, this is still a big opportunity for them: they’re going to get to be “on-screen” with one or two (hopefully two!) legendary actors, in reduced but still prominent supporting roles. So they’re very happy to be involved in this, and to my knowledge they’re all completely embracing it. Several have seen the script; several others have not, and probably won’t until it is absolutely locked-in.

From a writing perspective, pushing the main cast to the back was the biggest breakthrough of the entire script process. Trying to treat Walter and Nichelle as mere guest stars didn’t give them enough of a spotlight, when they are really the primary attraction, and the people we are most celebrating on the 50th Anniversary. Every time the main cast showed up and made a major decision, it felt like they were distracting from the story the script actually wanted to be telling. There were too many cooks.

Think of the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” Consider the story that script is telling — about how empty Sally Sparrow’s life is (both metaphorically and, thanks to the angels, increasingly literally), and then how she manages to survive and start living again. For the vast majority of the episode, the Doctor and Martha exist only on a television screen, speaking what appears to be gibberish. Now imagine that the writers hadn’t pushed the main cast into the background of that episode. Could they have done it? Sure — the Doctor and Martha would have helped Sally solve the mystery of the angels, there would have been some fun running bits, a touch of timey-wimey… but the story wouldn’t have been about Sally Sparrow anymore. It’d be a Doctor-and-Martha story, and Sally Sparrow would lose most of her agency, becoming nothing more than Doctor Who Damsel in Distress #3247, and nobody would really remember “Blink” all that well today. Sally had to be the star, and that meant the other mains had to be sent somewhere where they couldn’t have much direct influence over events.

That was at least 100x truer here than in “Blink”, so the script just didn’t work until the main cast got pushed out of the spotlight.

TLF: It seems like you’re almost contractually obliged, at this point, to answer this question “TOS”, but what’s your favourite Trek series?

JH: I love them all, of course, and it’s very hard to pick a favorite.

If forced, I think I’d probably pick the last two seasons of ENTERPRISE — a vastly underrated show. (Understandably, because its first two seasons were barely better than the catastrophic TNG Season 1.)

TLF: Could you talk a bit about the process of contacting Nichols and Koenig, how all that went down?

JH: It was more straightforward than we expected. We wrote to an appearances agent they both share, the wonderful Zachary McGinnis of Galactic Productions, LLC. We explained what we were doing and why (which was tricky — “What’s an audio drama?”, etc.), we talked budget and time commitment, they quoted a fee, and we committed to making that fee. They spent a couple more weeks with the script to consider it — some of the most agonizing days of my life.

Then, last Wednesday, Zach sent me an email saying, “Both are in agreement to participate… let me know when the Kickstarter goes live.”

It helps that Zach is pretty wonderful. I can’t imagine this is netting him very much money, yet he has always made time for our project in his extremely busy schedule, and he has been friendly and accommodating throughout — despite the fact that I am deeply inexperienced in the ways of Hollywood, incredibly anxious, and occasionally an outright pest. I have spoken to a very few other agents in my life, but none has been as consistently supportive as Zach.

So, really, a simple process.

Making it run smoothly, though, even working with a great agent, involved an enormous amount of overhead on our side. Months of planning for a ton of contingencies. Months of whittling our budget down as low as it could go, and working out flexibility in the budget depending on the actors’ availability and preferences. Trapdoors for the script in case one or more actors couldn’t join the adventure. I had to do three timed readthroughs of the script to answer the question, “What is the absolute minimum amount of studio time we need to record each of these actors?” (Because time = money!)

And then lots of behind-the-scenes work figuring out, “Okay, how much money do we have on hand? How much money do we therefore need to ask for? How do we tier it — in the catastrophic event that we can pay for only one actor, who gets dropped? What rewards will we use? Caitlin, can you make this video? Cab you do it in the next six hours? How do we promote this Kickstarter? Do we need to release an episode with it? Jim, can you finish ‘Day at the Park’ six weeks early, on three days’ notice?” On and on and on and on. For months.

TLF: As we get to the end of this interview, I must ask a couple of questions about our shared hobby, the card game. As an aside to the readers, I’ll say that the game strives to give you the tools to do the kind of things you see in the shows (TOS to Enterprise) and the movies (The Motion Picture to Nemesis). Of course, that many tools can combine in some pretty crazy ways. Nuking whales from orbit is a legitimate (if little-used) strategy. I heard tell of a deck someone did for fun, that left Amanda Grayson (Spock’s mother) on Vulcan, to be destroyed by a Black Hole, recreating the story from the 2009 movie, but with cards from the other shows and movies.

If hearing about that kind of thing isn’t your kind of thing, skip the next couple of questions.

TLF: So, James, say something crazy you saw happen in a game of 1e.

JH: One time, I was playing a personnel battle deck. First and last time I’ve ever done that, in fact. I believe the deck was called “Civil Defense (Or: God Bless the Second Amendment)”, and the gimmick was DS9 Cardassians with Weapons Locker. The draw deck was 52 cards, of which 26 were Cardassian Disruptor Rifle.

This is not the crazy part.

In my game against Matt Hayes that day, Matt had an Original Series Federation solver deck all ready and raring to go. But he figured out very quickly what I was up to, and (noticing that I had no Ref deck) stopped playing any personnel. Instead, he just drew cards… every turn… for a long, long time. And I had no one to battle, so I just played more and more guns and gradually solved some missions.

Eventually, he decides it’s too dangerous to stay frozen like this, so he burns his Space-Time Portal and plays 17 personnel with his Starship Enterprise. (I can’t hit him with It’s Only A Game because, again, no Ref deck.) The whole megateam goes out and promptly solves a mission.

Next turn, my Cardassian Division of Punching arrives aboard the Stolen Attack Ship. We beam through his shields and initiate battle.

The crazy moment is the look on Matt’s face when I counted up all the disruptor rifles in that away team, then announced, “Okay, all my personnel are STRENGTH +36. How about yours?”

We captured or mortally wounded every single person on that ship. Including Ruk, which I’m rather proud of.

TLF: Hahaha, that’s something! Say something crazy you’re looking forward to trying in a game of 1e.

JH: I have a Reshape the Quadrant deck that seeds nothing but missions worth 45 points or more, including Diplomatic Conference (which it needs to solve). I would love to play it. Haven’t quite been able to make it gel, though.

TLF: Are there any questions which I haven’t asked, but you want to be asked?

JH: Nah, that was fun!

TLF: Thank you very much for your time, I had a lot of fun reading all your answers. All the best with the Kickstarter!

If you want to support the project, follow the link to the Kickstarter campaign. If you don’t, I’m sure he’ll still be happy if you followed the link and donated anyway, but no-one will put a phaser to your head and make you do it. If the project doesn’t meet the minimum goal, no money will be taken.

City Of The Daleks Adventure Game

Deep in the mists of 2010, the BBC started releasing Doctor Who games on their website. This series of games was entitled “The Adventure Games”. The first was released around the time of the Van Gogh episode, and the second coincided with Matt Smith’s first season finale.

These free games were only free to people in the UK, and they couldn’t be downloaded from abroad. I found this out by already being abroad by this time. I was provided a disc of the first Adventure Game, downloaded in the UK, but then I found out the other limitation: you had to be in the UK to install it as well.

I saw that at least some of them became available for purchase-download for those abroad, but I didn’t bother at the time.

I see the games are now available on Steam, currently about $20, though I did not get them from there. I checked Amazon recently, and they were a little more than that. I happened to see a disc version of all 5 games in Wal-Mart, for a few cents under $10.

Oh, go on then.

I installed all 5 on Windows 10, and ran the first one. It didn’t run very smoothly. Today I went back into Vista and installed them there, and the one I tried, ran just fine.

I played through the first game, City Of The Daleks. Kids watched the beginning, but creeping around trying to avoid detection by the metal meanies, at the beginning of the game, got a little scary for them. They spent the rest of the game with their attentions divided between the game, and shows on the laptop (3-2-1 Penguins and Strawberry Shortcake).

There were some moments in the game where timing was tricky, and I had to play some sections over, but all in all the game wasn’t too hard.

The game saves itself after significant points: if  you’re supposed to collect objects, it’ll save after you pick it up, for example, but there’s no save function that you can choose to use (“phew, I got round that corner, let me save here so I don’t have to start again from way over there”).

The launcher on the disc needed to be run each time I wanted to install one of the games, couldn’t just do them all at once. Similarly, the games are stand-alone, when you finish one there’s no in-game (or in-menu) button to load the next one now.

There’s several points where the game will tell you off for going the wrong way, so there’s that feeling that the game has laid out the path, and you must follow it. Some games get away with that better than others. I think this game leaned towards not faring very well, but I have played games that did a lot worse.

Having said that, there are a bunch of collectable objects hidden throughout the game, and I missed a whole bunch of them. It seems like there shouldn’t have been many places for them to hide, with the straightforward-path-ness of the game, so perhaps there’s slightly more ability to explore than I give it credit for.

I tend to have subtitles on for movies, TV shows, and games, when they’re available, as often the sound needs to be turned down, due to circumstances. Reading some of the lines as they appeared, one knows what is meant by the line, and the inflections needed to convey the right meaning through those words. It seemed that Matt Smith was, in places, just reading the words, rather than understanding them and conveying the meaning. I rather hope he put a bit more effort into the other ones.

There are cutscenes, and you can’t skip them. Most of the time this doesn’t matter as it’s part of the story, but when you’re dying for the third time on the same puzzle, it would be really nice to skip the dying animation. Or, if you started the game on Win10, and want to get to where you left off (the actual playing part) in Vista, there’s not a way to skip to that bit. Sit and enjoy it, or go make a snack. (I was fine watching that bit a second time, with the animations smoother and no lag between the voice and the animations). Were I to want to play it through again to get the collectables that I missed this fact might put me off doing it on the soonish side.

Most of the game, you’re controlling the Doctor, and Amy is following him. A fair chunk of the game you’re sneaking around, trying to avoid being detected by Daleks. At one point, I got the Doctor through, and Amy got exterminated and I had to do the part again. A bit later in the game, I got the Doctor through down one side of a corridor, while the Dalek was looking the other way. I turn round to see if Amy made it (though I would very much know if she didn’t), and after a few seconds she emerges from the other side of the corridor, having made her own timing decisions. So, AI not the best, but not consistently bad.

Oftentimes you have to duck into corners to evade detection, but then getting out of corners, particularly when there’s debris about, is awkward. Worse when Amy gets in the way and won’t get out of the way. The problems with this are more noticeable at the beginning of the game, I don’t know if I just got used to them, or if matters actually improved. At least the collision detection here wasn’t as fatally bad as in Destiny Of The Doctors.

I feel like I’ve made the game sound a whole lot worse than it was. The above problems were there, were noticeable, but ultimately were fairly minor. They didn’t make me want to stop playing and never come back to them. The low difficulty level can be put down to the game being aimed at 10- to 15-year-olds. To some up how I feel, I’d probably use words like “ok”, “average”, and “not too bad”.

Not in a rush to play City Of The Daleks again to find all the collectables I missed, think I’ll be happy to play the other stories. I feel more in a rush to return to my game of Half-Life 2: Update, to see if I can finally get across that stupid beach without stepping on the sand.

DS9 Season 2, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the opening 3-parter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season. I thought it might be nice to keep making notes on the series as we go through it.

Last week, Star Trek night was truncated by catching up on Agents Of Shield first, so we got one episode in, this week we did similar, but got 2 DS9s in. So the episodes we have for review today are Invasive Procedures, Cardassians, and Melora.

In Invasive Procedures, an unjoined Trill called Verad (played by John Glover, known to many as Lionel Luthor in Smallville, but to me will always be Daniel Clamp from Gremlins 2), shows up on an evacuated DS9 to lay claim to the Dax symbiont. Taking the symbiont will leave its current host, the much-loved Jadzia, to die.

It’s interesting seeing a slug as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Verad researched a bunch of symbionts to see which would share his interests, but it’s not obvious that Verad himself has much to bring to the table. Or if, in fact, Dax really is his first choice. There’s a certain amount of opportunity that Dax presents: in the episode, the station with only a skeleton crew, but even without that, she’s often out in a runabout, so would be easy pickings. In any event, Verad is a bit like a boy who’s attracted to a girl, the girl doesn’t like him but he won’t take “no” for an answer. He probably thinks he’s a nice guy, but he’s not the kind of guy you want to have a crush on you.

At this point in the show, it is believed that only 1 in 1000 Trills is suitable for joining, later it is revealed that 50% of the population is suitable, there’s just a severe shortage of symbionts. With that information, the episode could be looked at a little differently: was he rejected because of biology, or perhaps because of personality?

Also, in the later episode “Facets”, Jadzia gets to meet all Dax’s former hosts, whose consciousnesses are temporarily transferred to her friends, so she can interact with them. Verad is left out of this party, with no explanations.

I enjoyed Glover’s performances, as the anxiety-ridden Verad, and the much more confident Verad Dax. I liked seeing Megan Gallagher, who would show  up as a different character in DS9’s Little Green Men, and also a Voyager episode. She’s more familiar to me as Catherine Black in Millennium, of which one day I will finish the first season and maybe see the rest. Possibly. Track record’s not great on that. Also, one of the Klingon mercenaries is played by Tim Russ, who would go on to play Tuvok in Voyager.

“Cardassians” is a title that could apply to quite a number of DS9 episodes. In the one it actually applies to, a Bajoran man shows up on the station with a Cardassian boy in tow. Garak, the Cardassian exile living on the station, greets them, the boy bites Garak’s hand.

A bunch of orphans were left on Bajor after the end of the occupation, orphans having no standing in Cardassian society. These were mostly adopted by Bajorans (though we do see some still unadopted), but the Bajoran hatred for the Cardassian invaders is infamous, so some of these Cardassian kids are brought up to hate Cardassians. Which is going to have some impact on their self-esteem.

This particular boy turns out to be the son of an influential civilian leader, and a large part of the situation seems to have been brought about by gul Dukat, who was soon to be investigated by him. The implication was that Dukat made sure the boy was accidentally-on-purpose left behind for later use as an ace-up-the-sleeve.

Some questions are left unasked and unanswered, but the details can be filed in pretty easily. How the boy came to the limelight, and how Dukat found out about the hand-biting incident almost as quickly as Sisko did.

There was a trader called Zolan, who brought the boy’s adoptive father to the station to try and get him a job. Got the feeling he’s one of Dukat’s agents, and was requested to seek the boy out a few months ago, in preparation for the embarrassment of Dukat’s political enemy. And then he was around when the incident happened, and later made some accusations while being questioned, before disappearing. He, therefore, seems to connect the dots.

The discussion about which father to live with, biological or adoptive, seems to have been set up, but then discussed off-screen. Not an easy choice to make. Kinda wish we could have seen some clever resolution that wasn’t entirely one or the other.

Lastly, there’s Melora. Interestingly, the character of Melora, someone from a low-gravity environment that finds “normal” gravity difficult, was originally conceived of as the station’s science officer, but was considered too difficult to pull off, so the Dax character was created instead. the design of the station really isn’t suitable for a wheelchair, and it was interesting to see the set adapted so she could get around.

I really liked Daphne Ashbrook’s acting in this one. Making everything seem like such an effort, and relaxing enough when she was carried that it looked like she really couldn’t move. And the juxtaposition in the script of the fiery, independent woman out to prove she doesn’t need help, and her sometimes being forced to accept help or work as part of a team instead of alone.

I think Melora was probably the weakest episode of the three, but I think that there was some really good stuff in there.

The Background Information section of the character’s Memory Alpha page also contains some interesting trivia.

After this episode, I had to show Oldest some of Daphne Ashbrook’s performance in Doctor Who. I think the Melora makeup made her look too different for him to recognise her. And I don’t think he was that impressed with the couple of scenes he saw. Don’t worry, kid, there are plenty of people who are unimpressed with the whole thing…

Next time: the Grand Nagus shows up, and we get our first hint of the Dominion, in Rules of Acquisition.

Plotting Your Favourite TV Shows

Earlier tonight, my wife and I were revisiting a site that we have found interesting/amusing before, so I thought I’d share it with you.

This site takes the IMDB user ratings for each episode of a TV show, and plots them on a graph. Each season is given a different colour, and a line is charted for each season, representing the average, and showing whether the season trends as getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same. It is worth noting the scale on the left. Each episode has a score of 0-10, but the full 0-10 isn’t shown each time, often a chunk is cut off the bottom (and possibly the top), if no episodes are in that range. That can be changed, there’s an option below the graph.

Like Firefly, the bottom line is 8 and the top is 10, the lowest-rated episode is 8.3, the highest is 9.5, and the average line is pretty flat  at around 8.9.

It’s interesting how sometimes it’s one episode that will skew a season’s average line. Enterprise shows a gradual increase in perceived quality over the first two seasons, Season 3’s line starts a little lower than Season 2’s end point, then dramatically rises over the season, then the cluster of Season 4’s dots look like S4’s line should rise, too… but the line goes down. Why? Series finale “These Are The Voyages”, Enterprise’s lowest-scoring episode (not without reason) (IT’S NOT CANON! LALALALALALALALALA) skews the line into serious decline.

The other Trek series are worth a look as well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
TOS
TNG
DS9
Voyager

I’ve been watching Pie In The Sky with my wife, and we’ve just finished Season 4. Looks like we’re just about to hit the low point of the series.

I didn’t watch it, but out of interest, I looked up Lost. Had to laugh when rather than the show’s real title, the site says “How Did You Get Here?”. And for all the bad I heard about the ending, it didn’t rate too badly.

You can hover over any dot and find what the episode is, and exactly what it rated. You can also click on the dot to be taken to the IMDB page for that episode.

Something that lasted a lot of years and has a lot of episodes per season can be fun. Here’s Doctor Who, 1963-1989.

We had a bunch of fun looking up a bunch of different shows we like. If graph-site’s search doesn’t work, you can find the show on IMDB and copy the show’s ID into the search box.

Comment below with shows you like, and looked up. Be careful, I’m sure you could be there all day looking things up…

Review: Scream Of The Shalka… Special Features

I’m not sure I’ve reviewed special features rather than the “main attraction” before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.

There are certain times when it’s easier to watch the special features than it is to watch the main attraction. I started watching Doctor Who through with Oldest, and we’re currently stalled at The Keys Of Marinus: the first episode was too scary for Middlest.

I’ve picked up a few Doctor Who DVDs, most of them are to fill gaps. There were two stories that I didn’t have on videotape, and then rediscovered missing episodes and stories, and animations of missing episodes, make up most of the other DVDs I’ve bought.

Somewhat of an oddity in the Doctor Who DVD catalogue, is a recent purchase of mine: The Scream Of The Shalka.

Some people at the BBC realised that the BBC wasn’t planning to do anything for the 40th anniversary of the show, so they knocked on a bunch of doors to see if they could do an animated story for the website. They managed to get permission to do it, and so they did. Development took a long time, and suffered quite a few setbacks, but in the end, production happened. Richard E Grant was to be the Ninth Doctor.

Post-production took a long time, and so it was that two months before Shalka was released onto the website, the announcement was made that Doctor Who Was Coming Back. Shalka became instantly overshadowed by this news, and is an oft-overlooked chapter in Who history.

And yet, had Shalka not been made, NuWho might not have happened.

There are three particular special features I want to talk about.

One, and it’s more of a mention, is an interview with some of the people involved, from the time the show was made. And I think pre-post-production, so before the return was announced. I think there are some shots of David Tennant there (who managed to talk his way into a small role, he was recording something next door, found out they were making Doctor Who, and figured it was his only chance to be in Who… funny world).

Another is the tale of how the show came about, with more recent interviews with behind-the-scenes people. This was really interesting, and there’s so many interesting little things, including interaction between members of the Shalka crew, and production staff of NuWho.

When trying to find out if they could do something for Who’s 40th, they ran into people who cited “rights issues”. So one of the crew members was tasked with researching the rights issue. Practically everyone to do with rights at the BBC was contacted, and the only thing that seemed like it could be an actual problem was “maybe something about the Daleks”. but the Shalka crew weren’t planning to use Daleks, so they went ahead. And filed away all the research and responses to the rights issue.

A new head of BBC was appointed, who said she’d love to bring back Doctor Who, if the rights issues could get sorted out. concerned fans contacted the Shalka crew to find out whether these rights issues would affect the Shalka release. The Shalka people then posted an article outlining the rights issues as they understood them (basically, that there weren’t any). The Shalka team lead was then summoned to his boss for a stern telling-off. He took the research with him.

It is implied, but not explicitly stated, that it was this meeting that cleared the way for NuWho to enter production.

And that’s just a small part of what, to me, was a very interesting story.

the third special feature I want to talk about, concerned the development of the BBC website, and Doctor Who’s place and importance in that.

I liked the tongue-in-cheek pokes at the site’s regular rebrandings, the experimental things that people were allowed to try, while at the same time the reluctance for setting precedent. The “Live chat” feature, where interviews were conducted over Instant Messages, and broadcast in real time. Even real time over the outside window to the studio…. which was constantly hidden by a row of buses. The now-archived Cult portion of the site, where dead (Who) and living (Buffy) shows were lumped together. The previous Doctor Who animations, and issues like buffering and sound quality. A misuse of RealPlayer’s subtitle functions to do animations. The PhotoNovels reconstructions of missing episodes. The development of iPlayer. It’s like a digital history lesson, and I’m interested in history and also computer stuff, so this was up my alley.

I’m not sure that I watched Scream Of The Shalka when it came out. I may have tried, but buffering, and the terrible audio quality of streaming at the time may have prevented my watching much of it. And I haven’t yet sat down and watched it this time round (maybe at some point when Youngest needs distraction, or maybe with Oldest if he gets schoolwork done early). At this point, it almost doesn’t matter, the special features were entertaining enough to warrant the price of admission.

Star Wars With A Two-Year-Old

This evening I’ve been watching Star Wars with Youngest. We watched New Hope (original version, widescreen), and we’re in the middle of Return Of The Jedi (special edition, fullscreen, worst of all worlds :) ) right now.

It’s been fun watching with commentary by a 2-year-old. Initially lots of “oo dat?”s (“who’s that?”) and trying of names (“Chewbacca” was pretty cute, and he picked up “Chewie” from dialogue). “Dark Vader”, though since his mommy corrected him he’s been saying “Darth Vader” pretty well.

Some of the best ones have been unprompted, however. The speeder bikes a few minutes ago, were an entirely understandable “motorcycle!”.

He insists on calling R2-D2 “Dalek!”. At one point, both main droids were on screen, and I said “Artoo and C-3PO!” and the response was “No! Dalek!” At another point, R2 and a droid just like him, but black instead of blue, were on screen together. “Two Daleks!” You better watch out, R2, this guy’s onto you.

And in a case of “say what you see”, he was calling the original Death Star “watermelon!”

He was losing interest at the very end of Star Wars, but concentrated during the end credits (I think the music helped). He was then interested in another one, so I got Return Of The Jedi. The menu animation that first played, was of some Imperial ships. youngest declared that he was scared (“cared!”), but I told him it’s all right, there are teddy bears in this one. He cheered up at this. Thankfully, we reached that part in the movie. Interestingly, as I’d pointed out that the Ewok was scared when Leia took her helmet off, and pointed out when Luke picked it up, he was trying to keep track of where the helmet was after that point. Maybe continuity people need to start watching out, as well.

So there you go, some experience of Star Wars with a 2-year-old. For the most part, it kept him distracted enough to not go and mess up the project his mommy was working on, or to wake up everyone in the house. Now he’s gone, in theory, to get a good night’s sleep. As should I.

New TV Seasons Starting

It’s the time of year when some TV shows are going away, perhaps never to return, and other TV shows are returning, or premiering.

In our modern-ness, we aren’t connected to cable, satellite or regular TV stations, we watch shows on DVD, regular free Hulu, or Amazon Prime. This tends to serve us. The last season of Warehouse 13 never showed up on Hulu, and it’s not free on Prime, so either one day we’ll get the DVD, or we won’t. Same with Drop Dead Diva. Sometimes being cut off shows you which shows you like.

So what shows am I looking forward to, this new season?

Doctor Who has just started, I’m looking forward to getting my grubby little protuberances* on that. Or, perhaps more likely, begging someone to let us come over and crash and watch it at their. Boo! lack of iplayer in the lands of the expats!

Starting in just over a week is Agents Of SHIELD, which kicked off midway through Season 1, when the effects of Captain America: The Winter Soldier meant it could stop treading water. And it’s been pretty good since then, through Season 2. Haven’t watched the previews for Season 3, but I’m hopeful.

And then, of course, Agent Carter, when SHIELD takes its mid-season break. Carter’s first season was really good.

Starting towards the middle of next month is the second season of Manhattan. The first season was really tense edge-of-seat stuff. That kind of paranoia and high-stakes secrecy took its toll on different characters in different ways, and the realisation in the second half of the season that the things you see from the perspective of a character, aren’t necessarily the truth of the matter, that was a nice twist. And they left it on quite the cliffhanger, as well.

Those are the shows I think I’ll be finding time for, this season.

What about you? What are you looking forward to? Post a comment!

*”grubby little protuberances”: 7th Doctor, Remembrance Of The Daleks.