Tagged: Space

REVIEW: Cleopatra in Space

Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice
By Mike Maihack
169 pages, Scholastic Graphix, $12.99

cleo01_frontcoverThe allure of Cleopatra VII has endured over the millennia and continues to be a source of fascination for people young and old. As a result, she is an easy subject to inject into novels, plays, and unfortunately, this graphic novel. What could have been a fun, interesting, character-driven fish out of water story became a by-the-numbers young adult graphic novel that bears no resemblance to the source.

Mike Maihack is a talent and clever storyteller and the art and color make the book a fun, if irritating, read. He has an open style that is expressive and a restrained color palette so you’re not overwhelmed. He’s been producing this as a webcomic since 2010 and the first cycle of stories is being collected by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint in April. A second volume is already promised for 2015 so they’re expecting great things.

Fifteen year old Cleopatra (or Cleo to her friends) is snatched from Egypt by a piece of technology that sends her far into the future where she has to attend an intergalactic school in order to fulfill her destiny of saving the universe. Her teacher Khensu, a talking cat, tries to mentor her, tempering her youthful exuberance and adolescent ways with exasperating results.

The future world is made up of species and races from around the galaxy, all of whom are looking to Cleo to save them from the Xerx War that threatens life as they know it. Additionally, they have no way of sending her home so she can fulfill her first destiny, to be the last great pharaoh of Egypt’s classic period.

History shows Cleopatra was fourteen when she was named co-regent with her father, Ptolemy XII, until his death when she was eighteen. So right here, the book makes little sense. Secondly, she arrives in the far future and at no point does she appear confused by the languages, the knowledge there is life beyond Earth, the technology, etc. Sher arrives, is assigned classes, and settles into dorm life where she is a slacker student but a deadly shot.

This is not the Cleopatra of history, the wily, tough leader who charmed two Roman leaders and oversaw her people after prolonged battle.  None of what we know of her personality is here, instead we’re given a modern day plucky teenager and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen the “savior” storyline, we’ve seen ti all before so plopping Cleopatra into this does nothing but trade on her name.

There is little explanation about why the organization that recruited her is acronymed .P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. or why there are Egyptian touches, such as her sphinx sky cycle, so far into the future on another world. Similarly, the Xerx is reminiscent of Xerxes, the Persian, conqueror of Greece as immortalized in 300 while their leader is Xarius Octavian (the surname being that of Caesar’s son who wound up with Egypt after Cleo killed herself).  The supporting cast is visually interesting but woefully under-utilized. What could have and should have been something different is a cookie-cutter approach to a young adult graphic novel, so it’s all the more disappointing that her 8-12 year old readers will know nothing of what the true Queen of the Nile was like.

REVIEW: Doctor Who Specials Feature History & Comedy

The BBC did a cracking job of filling the week before the Doctor Who 50th anniversary with new programming to appeal to Whovians across the globe.  Noted scientist Brian Cox hosted a seminar about the nature of space and time, while noted actor Brian Cox starred in An Adventure in Space and Time.  Paul McGann starred in a short adventure featuring the eighth Doctor, while Doctors Five, Six, and Seven hatched their own plan to crash the festivities.

David Bradley as William Hartnell as The Doctor in An Adventure in Space and Time

Mark Gatiss penned An Adventure in Space and Time, a dramatic adaptation of the early years of the classic series.  Brian Cox and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) starred as Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert respectively, the minds behind the show, while David Bradley (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter) took the role of William Hartnell, the first Doctor.  Hartnell was unsure of his ability to take on the role, and Verity supported and encouraged him, each helping the other make a name for themselves in television history.  Bradley does a wonderful job of showing Hartnell’s range of emotion as the harsh schedule of the show takes its toll on him in only three years. A recurring motif of a series of publicity pictures for each new cast change portrays the progression wonderfully.

There’s a number of cameos of classic Who actors in the film. William Russell (the original Ian Chesterton) plays a BBC guard, and early companions Anneke Wills and Jean Marsh (Upstairs Downstairs), and current voice of the Daleks Nicholas Briggs as the original voice of the Daleks, Peter Hawkins.  One final cameo at the end is too wonderful and precious to spoil – let’s just say Gatiss is not afraid to let the line between reality and fantasy blur if needs be.

While the adventure is scheduled for release in the UK on December 2, there’s no date for a US release as of yet.

A lot of fans were upset that the “classic Doctors” were not asked to participate in the anniversary episode (save for McGann, who naturally had to keep his appearance strictly secret), so Peter Davison decided to take matters into his own hands.  He wrote and directed The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, a half-hour adventure in which, well, in which Peter Davison takes matters into his own hands about not being asked to participate in the anniversary.  He, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy hatch a mad plan to crash the filming of The Day of the Doctor and garner appearances.  In a series of mad escapades worthy of Lucy Ricardo trying to get into Ricky’s show (ask your parents), the trio get help from John Barrowman, Peter’s daughter Georgia Moffett and her husband, one David Tennant.

The adventure was filmed alongside the anniversary episode, with our heroes conspiring behind the scenes as the “actual” footage is filmed off-camera  It features cameos from just about everyone that’s been on Doctor Who that “wasn’t invited” to be in the anniversary, up to and including Russel T. Davies.  Tom Baker does not appear, instead using the very same footage from The Five Doctors that they pulled from Shada to cover for his non-appearance there.  Georgia gets a producer’s credit for the adventure, with Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin as executive producers.  It’s a wonderful piece of work from all involved, clearly a love letter to both the old guard and its fans.

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is also available for viewing at the BBC website.

John Ostrander: Time and Space and Remembrance

Ostrander Art 131124An unusual convergence of historical dates of different emotional resonances for me occurred this weekend – the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and what would have been the sixtieth birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale.

Like many Americans, I remember where I was when I heard the news of JFK. I was in my history class at Quigley Preparatory Seminary North near downtown Chicago. The word that the President was shot came over the loudspeaker used for school announcements, followed a little later by the news of his death. I was stunned, in denial. I remember little else of that day. I think school was closed and we were sent home.

Kim’s dad was a Navy chaplain and they were living on-base at the time. She later told me how she was at school off-base and had to hurry back. The base was going into lockdown after the assassination and if she was outside when the gates closed, she wouldn’t have been able to get home. That was her tenth birthday.

For me, I place the days of my youth between two sets of gunshots – the ones that killed JFK and the ones that killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980. I was 14 for the former and 31 for the latter. Both gave me a slightly darker sense of the world around me and the country in which I lived. Both events inform my writing to this day.

The day after Kennedy was killed, a new TV series was launched over in the UK – Doctor Who. The series tells of the adventures of a time-traveling alien Time Lord and his (usually) human companions through time and space. When William Hartnell, the original actor playing the part, became too ill to continue the series, the producers came up with a key concept to the longevity of the series: when a Time Lord faced the death of his mortal body, it can “regenerate” into a wholly new form and, even more significant, a different character. Most important, there’s a whole new actor with a new interpretation of the main character. That, I think, has been key to keeping the series fresh and vital.

I met Kim through Doctor Who. I loved the Doctor and wanted to be the Doctor. I also knew that the odds, then or now, of an American ever playing the part was virtually non-existent. However, I was an actor in Chicago and a sometimes playwright and less often a producer. So I conceived of an idea of getting the rights to put on a play version of the Doctor in Chicago.

I managed to arrange a meeting with show runner John Nathan-Turner during a combined Chicago Comic Con and Doctor Who Convention (sometimes referred to as the Sweat Con since the hotel’s air conditioning unit proved inadequate to the number of people attending and outside it was a 106° Chicago August day). John Nathan-Turner brought along Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who) and Mr. Nation brought along a lovely young woman with big eyes, curly hair, and a megawatt smile who was his assistant for the Con. That was Kim.

To describe Kim as a Doctor Who fan doesn’t begin to describe it. She was also very knowledgeable on all things Time Lord and I used her an a consultant as I developed the script. Nothing else developed at the time; Kim was married and I don’t fool around that way.

We became a couple only later, after the play project had folded and her marriage had broken up. My romantic life at that point was, if anything, even worse than my theatrical career. I’d given up dating; I hadn’t seen anyone in almost two years. It just seemed too painful to try. Kim and I had kept in touch and she was also a big fan of my work on GrimJack, the comic book I had created for First Comics.

I should note here that Doctor Who was an influence on creating GrimJack. It might seem that the two couldn’t be less alike but one of the things I loved about Doctor Who was that you could do any kind of story. They did horror, they did Westerns, they did everything and I wanted to do that with GrimJack. In that sense, he was my Doctor. Later, we showed he could even reincarnate. There is a darkness to the series that I can, in part, trace back to the assassination of Jack Kennedy.

Kim wrote to me about a specific issue of GrimJack that had affected and resonated with her; I found it a little strange that she would write since we lived less than a mile apart and she had my phone number. I told her this and she replied that some things were best expressed in writing. What can I say? I’m a writer; I understood that. Kim was a writer as well. That night was the night our relationship changed. That was the night we started to become a couple.

It’s just coincidence, I suppose, that the three dates are in such proximity to one another. We assign meaning to dates, both as a people and as individuals. It’s an accident that the significant anniversaries of the assassination, Kim’s birthday, and the launching of Doctor Who are in conjunction this year. The connections that I see, that I feel, among them are mine. We are all the results of the various events that have happened in our lives and none of them occur in a vacuum. This weekend, I remember and honor three that were significant to me.




The Rocket Rangers Need You!

Cubicle 7 Entertainment has released a teaser image for their upcoming game, The Rocket Rangers.

“It’s an alternate history pulpy retro-sci-fi space opera planetary romance. It’s throttled up rocket packs burning radium on the long blast to the farthest reaches of the Solar System. It’s hunting thunder lizards in the upland jungles of Venus. It’s battling Ancient Martian killing machines piloted by the Deutsche Marserkorps across the baking red deserts of Mars. It’s exploring the deadly skies of Jupiter under the constant threat of Europan disintegration. It’s RAY gun wielding heroes bulls-eyeing mutants in the blasted ruins of Io” -Ken Spencer, Rocket Age Line Developer

Stay tuned.

About Cubicle 7 Entertainment:
Cubicle 7 Entertainment are the creators of high quality roleplaying and card games such as The Doctor Who Card Game, The One Ring, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, Primeval, The Laundry, Victoriana and Cthulhu Britannica.

Learn more here.

League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith playing Patrick Troughton in 50th anniversary Doctor Who special

Additional casting for the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special An Adventure in Space and Time has been trickling out slowly as filming has proceeded.  Today it was revealed that the role of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, will be played by Reece Shearsmith, a member of the surreal comedy team The League of Gentlemen. The team also includes Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss, who wrote the anniversary adventure.

Reece Shearsmith

Reece Shearsmith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I first asked Reece 12 years ago when I started thinking about this project.” Gatiss was quoted in the Mirror. “We were in the midst of League of Gentlemen and I just remember thinking, if anyone plays Patrick Troughton, it should be Reece. Like the Second Doctor, he’s small, saturnine and a comic genius. The complete package. He thought it was a fantastic idea and I’ve kind of nurtured it all this time.”

While the team have been long-time fans of the series, Reece is the only member of the League not to have made an appearance in the returned show.  In addition to writing several episodes for the new series, Mark Gatiss played Dr. Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment, voiced one of the Spitfire pilots in his episode Victory of the Daleks, and was almost unrecognizable under makeup (and a pseudonym) as Gantok in The Wedding of River Song.  Steve Pemberton played Strackman Lux in the Moffat-penned two-parter Silence in the Library / The Forest of the Dead.

While he’d not made it to the big game till now, Reece’s history with Doctor Who is quite long indeed.  His first professional acting credit is with the fan-produced Doctor Who Homage series P.R.O.B.E. a production written by Gatiss.  The show attempted to pay homage to Doctor Who, even casting many classic Who actors like Caroline John (playing her Who role of Liz Shaw) and several Doctors including Peter Davison.

An Adventure in Space and Time is a dramatization of the creation of Doctor Who, centering mostly on the show during the early years, and the growing professional relationship between first Doctor William Hartnell and the show’s producer Verity Lambert.  It will be one of the last productions to be produced in the original BBC Television Centre, where the original series was filmed,  before the property is redeveloped.  David Bradley (Argus Filch from the Harry Potter films) will play Hartnell, and Call the Midwife‘s Jessica Raine will portray Verity Lambert.

Second “Doctor Who” anniversary e-book by Michael Scott

The BBC and Puffin books are continuing the monthly releases celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. The second adventure, starring the second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) will be titled The Nameless City, written by Michael Scott, author of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

The synopsis promises new adventures and a new foe for The Doctor:

“When Jamie McCrimmon brings the Doctor a mysterious book, little does he realise the danger contained within its pages. The book transports the TARDIS to a terrifying glass city on a distant world, where the Archons are intent on getting revenge on the Time Lord for an ancient grudge.”

Apparently featuring Jamie as The Doctor’s Sole companion, it is likely this adventure takes place in the fan-theorized “Season 6B”, a period of time after the events of Troughton’s last adventure The War Games, but before the first Pertwee adventure, Spearhead from Space.  Many fans, including now Who writer Paul Cornell, surmised that for a period of time, the Time Lords  had The Doctor perform certain tasks for them, before his eventual regeneration.  The Tardis Data Core wiki has a good run-down of the theory, which has effectively been accepted into continuity by the BBC.

The book will be released on 2/23, and can be pre-ordered via Amazon.com.

Gerry Anderson, king of Supermarionation: 1929-2012

Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds, Space: 1999, Supercar, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, UFO, Fireball XL5, Stingray, and many other science fiction and fantasy shows, has died at the age of 83.

Gerry was best know for his “Supermarionation” series, featuring detailed marionettes and a science-fiction based storyline.  His ex-wife Sylvia collaborated frequently with him, most famously voicing Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward in Thunderbirds.  The shows were a first step for many well-known actors and creators, including Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny in the early James Bond films), character actors Shane Rimmer and Jaremy Wilkin (Blake’s 7) and special effects master Derek Meddings (Star Wars and the James Bond franchise).  He made successful forays into live action as well, with the series Space: 1999 and UFO, and the feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

Gerry suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years, and spent much of his time as a celebrity ambassador for The Alzheimer’s Society, raising both funds and awareness for the disease.  His condition worsened in the past six months, which limited his ability to both work for the organization, and to serve as consultant on a Hollywood remake of UFO.

Gerry’s son Jamie has requested, in lieu of other remembrances, that people donate to The Alzheimer’s Society via Just Giving. Our condolences to his family and friends.

A Doctor A Day – “The Girl In The Fireplace”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode,The Snowmen.

For a person as long-lived as The Doctor, all his relationships seem to go by quickly.  This one goes by REALLY quickly…for him, that is.  But quite a long time for…

by Steven Moffat
Directed by Euros Lyn

“What do monsters have nightmares about?”  “Me.”

A young  woman in 18th-Century France is calling into her fireplace for The Doctor.  And after the opening credits, the narrative shoots 3000 years later, where the TARDIS lands on a spaceship light years from Earth.  Mickey is fascinated at the view, Rose is enjoying showing him the ropes, and The Doctor is wondering why there’s an antique fireplace in a derelict spaceship.  Looking into the hearth, he is rather surprised to see a young girl named Reinette looking through the other side.  She is even more surprised, because her side of the fireplace in in 18th century Versailles. After a brief talk, he examines the fireplace, and finds a latch, causing the whole thing to rotate around to the other side, into the 18th century.  The young girl is there, but she explains confusedly that their chat was months ago.  The Doctor examines the room briefly, noticing the clock on mantle is broken…but he still hears ticking.  He finds the sound under Reinette’s bed, and discovers a mysterious figure, clearly from the ship, but clad in period dress.  The creature has been scanning Reinette’s brain, and The Doctor can’t imagine why they’d expend the energy to cross time and space to scan a seemingly normal young girl.  Rather than spend time placing her in danger, The Doctor lures the thing back over the fireplace portal and onto the ship, quickly incapacitating it.  It’s an intricate clockwork android whose design The Doctor can’t help but admire, but it teleports away before he can inspect it.

Telling Rose and Mickey to stay put (because that ALWAYS works), he spins the fireplace back around, only to discover that Reinette has grown in QUITE the attractive young lady…specifically, the one we saw calling for hope in the pre-credit sequence.  She chats with him, catching up with her childhood friend, and plants a quite passionate kiss on him.  It’s only after she leaves, and he’s confronted by a guard that she realizes that young Reinette is the Madam du Pompadour, possibly one of the most famous (certainly the most successful) courtesans in human history.

Back on the spaceship, Mickey and Rose are off exploring, and The Doctor finds a horse, clearly having wandered onto the ship through another transfer point between the ship and Versailles. Walking through that one, The Doctor sees his now slightly older and even MORE hot friend in the garden of the palace. Meanwhile, Mickey and Rose have discovered that human body parts have been used to repair and maintain the ship – a human eye in a camera and a heart running as a pump.  The part they need the most is Reinette’s brain, which they will take on her thirty-seventh birthday.

Why does a spaceship from 3,000 years later think the brain of a French courtesan will be compatible with its computer system?  Well, that is a rather good bit of the story.

This is one of Moffat’s best episodes, mixing the complex time-travel plot that he will soon become (in)famous for, and a simple love story. Others clearly thought so as well, it’s the first of his Hugo wins for the show as well. What’s interesting is that he really only spends a couple hours with Reinette, but it’s across most of her life.  We’ll see this theme pop up a couple times – it’s basically the same way the Eleventh Doctor met Amy Pond.  And the idea of the out of sync timelines will re-appear with Amy again, in The Girl Who Waited.

The sets were built in a very unique way for this episode.  The spaceship and bedroom sets were actually next to each other, so the fireplace could actually rotate between them.  The rest of the rooms of the palace connected as well, for the various moments of moving between rooms.  One of the most complicated effects shots in the episode was The Doctor crashing through the mirror.  A number of elements, including CGI glass, the jump being done at a different location, and all the people in the room.  Sometimes the stuff that looks the best and takes the longest doesn’t look like an SFX shot at all.

Monday Mix-Up: The Incredible Obamas

Here’s a pre-Election Day piece from Nikkolas and Nicole Smith, recasting Sasha, Malia, Michelle, and Barack Obama in the style of Pixar’s The Incredibles. I see only two things wrong with it:

1. The slogan should no longer be “Forward”, but “Excelsior!”

2. This piece is just crying out for Mitt Romney as Syndrome. Or perhaps $yndrome. And I suppose there’s space there for Joe Biden as Frozone. Of course, if you do that, you have to show Mitch McConnell as the Underminer…

John Ostrander: Alphas

In the past, I’ve generally shied away from ongoing series on the channel now known as Syfy. Their version of The Dresden Files sucked toads (sorry, Emily, but compared to the novels by Jim Butcher, the series was execrable) and they put on a Flash Gordon with no space ships. I repeat: No. Space. Ships!

This trend was reversed with the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and continued with such shows as Eureka, both of which I’ve enjoyed a great deal. They have several other original series now that have gained a viewership but the one that attracted me most has been Alphas. The series concerns a group of metahumans who are dubbed alphas, each with different abilities, all of which were gained at birth. Can you say X-Men? You’d be right. There’s good reasons for that.

The series was created by Michael Karnow and Zak Penn. The latter worked on story and/or script on several X-Men movies, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, and my own personal wonky fave, Incident at Loch Ness. So he has chops. And he knows what the X-Men are about.

The series centers around a team of Alphas, recruited to handle bad alphas (sound familiar?) by brilliant non-Alpha Dr. Lee Rosen, a psychiatrist, played by David Strathairn (notable in the last two Bourne movies and, in one of his best roles, Good Night and Good Luck where he played Edward R. Murrow to stunning effect). Straitharn was a large reason I decided to watch the series in the first place; he’s an excellent actor and I’ve never seen him in anything in which he wasn’t honest and believable, even when he plays bad guys. Frankly, I was surprised to see him doing a cable TV series but he has done a significant amount of TV work. In this, he’s the Professor Xavier analog without being a copy.

There are other analogs in the show. The main bad guy, Stanton Parish (played by John Pyper-Ferguson) is a Magneto type. While he doesn’t have the same powers, he’s an alpha (read mutant) who is gathering his fellow alphas and wants to save them from common humanity. He has a respect for his opponent, Dr. Rosen, and seems to be a reluctant mass murderer.

One character, Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), is sort of a Colossus analog in that he is the strongman of the group. The most original character, Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright), can plug into and read any wavelength but the character is also autistic (on the level of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man) and his interactions with the team and the world around him are always interesting.

Do I like the series? Yes. It’s not a rip-off of the X-Men per se; it’s more a re-imagining of the core concepts of the X-Men. People are born with special powers and some of them try to save a world that fears and hates them but it’s a more realistic take on the concept (“realistic” being a relative term). No costumes, no spandex. A touch of soap opera, yes, but almost all comic book superheroes have that these days.

Above all, it has David Strathairn who I think I would watch in almost anything. His character is nuanced and fallible and shows a deep, if sometimes flawed, humanity. I’d give the whole series a B+, A-. A third season has not yet been announced but I hope it will be. You may want to catch the first two seasons before it comes back because the storyline and underlying mythology does build. Not as impenetrable as the X-Men have gotten but I’m not sure just jumping in on the third season would be the best idea.

Besides, it’s enjoyable to watch.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell