Saturday 30 November 2013

November Round-Up Plus Advanced Class Guide Playtest, Doctor Who Christmas Special Trailer, and TARDIS In Orbit Update

Not surprisingly, November was an even busier month for Doctor Who than October was. We didn’t have the excitement of newly discovered missing episodes, but we did get the 50th anniversary celebrations! Not surprisingly, the vast majority of things on this blog this month had to do with Doctor Who, but let’s start with the non-Doctor Who things first.

I only got round to one Pathfinder review this month: Player Companion: Blood of the Moon. There are a few more products waiting in the wings, including the third part of Wrath of the Righteous, Towns of the Inner Sea, and also Bestiary 4. Expect reviews of those over the next couple of weeks. Of course, there’ll be a whole new selection of products coming in December, too.

With all the focus on Doctor Who this month, I missed mentioning that Paizo has started an open playtest for the upcoming Advanced Class Guide, which will be released next August. This book will contain ten new classes. The Pathfinder game itself began its life with a massive open playtest, and Paizo has kept up the tradition with many of the subsequent rulebooks they have produced. This playtest runs until December 17th, and is a great opportunity for gamers to test what is to come and give feedback on it. There’s only a couple of weeks left, but that’s still enough time to try out a couple of the classes and run them through a few encounters.

The new season of Wizards Vs Aliens premièred at the end of October, and I began reviewing the episodes at the beginning of this month. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen a little behind and so far have only covered the first three stories—“100 Wizards”, “Vice Versa”, and “The Cave of Menla Gto”. I hope to catch up over the next week or so.

And that brings us back to Doctor Who. In the build-up to “The Day of the Doctor”, the beginning of the month saw the release of a couple trailers as well as a clip or two. But far more exciting was Paul McGann’s triumphant return to Doctor Who in “The Night of the Doctor”. This serves as a prequel to the anniversary special, but also details the end of the eighth Doctor’s life and the rise of John Hurt’s War Doctor. A second prequel, “The Last Day” was released shortly after. Then came the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, about the beginnings of our favourite television programme. The month was rounded off with Peter Davison’s hilarious “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” and the special itself, “The Day of the Doctor”.

Also this month, I completed my series of reflections looking back on my own personal history with Doctor Who. I looked at the tenth and eleventh Doctors, as well as the spin-offs, movies, and other media.

Now, attention turns towards the Christmas special on December 25th. This will be Matt Smith’s final story and will feature his regeneration into Peter Capaldi’s Doctor—the Doctor. The numbering has gotten a little confusing now that John Hurt is in there. And it’s about to get more confusing (slightly spoilerish link here regarding the Doctor’s regenerations). Grumble, grumble, grumble...

Anyway, the Christmas special is titled, “The Time of the Doctor”. We’ve had a lot of “[Noun] of the Doctor” titles recently (“Name of...”, “Night of...”, “Day of...”). I hope this is the last for a little while. Here’s the first (very brief) trailer:

To end the month, here’s the latest update regarding the TARDIS In Orbit project.

Have a great December folks!

Wizards Vs Aliens - The Cave of Menla Gto

After a great, but frustrating story last time, Wizards Vs Aliens continues with a rather mediocre story. While there are moments that I like in “The Cave of Menla Gto”, the overall plot is weak and rather contrived. There are some nice character moments, particularly for Randal Moon, but also Benny—which makes for a nice change, as any development of Benny is welcome. However, much of what comes from those moments is undone by a nice big reset button at the end. There is also some nice advancement of the series’ metaplot, but that is only a small part of these two episodes, and it is not enough to save the entire story as a whole.


Friday 29 November 2013

Doctor Who - The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

The last few weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary have been a busy period for Doctor Who. While there’s only been one actual new episode (“The Day of the Doctor”), there has been a plethora of other programming, such as the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, the prequels “Night of the Doctor” and “The Last Day”, and numerous other things for television, radio, and internet. Some have been serious drama (like the aforementioned docudrama); others have been documentaries (like The Science of Doctor Who) or behind-the-scenes programming. But perhaps the jewel amongst it all is Peter Davison’s “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot”. If you haven’t seen it yet, take thirty minutes out of your day to watch it and then continue reading.

Despite the many years since they were on the programme, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy retain great passion for the show and that passion really shines in this beautiful tribute. The same is true for Paul McGann. Due to other filming commitments, his role here is very small, but the fact that he made time for even the small bit here (and his appearance in “Night of the Doctor”) shows the love he has for a show that he was part of for such an unfortunately short time.* All four of them would have truly loved to have been in “The Day of the Doctor”, but even though they weren’t, they still have a sense of humour about it.

Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor

November 25th was not the date of Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary. But it was close enough. It was the day I got to watch the 50th anniversary special in a movie theatre. Doctor Who in a movie theatre! Even just a couple of years ago, I never would have believed it. More than that, the theatre was packed. I arrived about an hour in advance and it was already difficult to find two seats side-by-side so that I could save one for my wife, who wouldn’t be arriving until closer to the start time.

It took time to sink in that I was in a theatre full of Doctor Who fans! And there were all kinds there, too: men, women, young, old. A few were cosplaying—as the eleventh Doctor or the TARDIS or an Ood. Others just had an accessory or two, like a sonic screwdriver, or, as in my case, just wearing a Doctor Who-themed t-shirt (I had a Dalek t-shirt on). Surprisingly, I didn’t see any children. It was a 7:30 showing, so not late, yet the youngest people I saw were around 18 to 20. Other than that, however, there was a wide diversity of people there.

Seven-thirty seemed to take forever to arrive. My wife got there around 7:15 and the time continued to tick slowly by. But eventually, show time arrived. Of course, there were the requisite trailers to then get through, but there was also a rather funny specially recorded sequence with Strax explaining the rules of theatre etiquette, as well as Matt Smith and David Tennant introducing the 3D element. It was probably around 7:45 when “The Day of the Doctor” actually started, but it was well worth the wait.

I’ve never shied away from criticising Steven Moffat’s writing on Doctor Who. Anyone who has read my previous reviews knows that I’ve had issues with much over the last couple of years. However, I also don’t shy away from giving credit where credit is due. “The Day of the Doctor” is hardly a perfect episode—it suffers from a number of typical Moffat-isms—but it is highly enjoyable and entertaining, and works well as both a celebration of Doctor Who’s past and a look forward to its future (even if I have concerns about where that future might take it). There are many moments throughout that make me smile and still others that make me want to squeal with delight (this was particularly true on my first viewing). There are also moments that frustrate me, but most of those only really do so when I stop to think about them after the episode is over. While the episode is still going, it’s possible to ignore most of them or even not notice them at all. And that’s a pretty good thing.


Doctor Who - An Adventure in Space and Time

The story of the beginning of Doctor Who is a big one. A lot went on in those early years, both in front of, and behind the scenes. Telling that story is a monumental task. Telling that story in 90 minutes is virtually impossible. Yet in An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss accomplishes that virtual impossibility with aplomb. Yes, in order to do so, he must leave some things out: there is no mention of original script editor David Whitaker, and the change of producers from Verity Lambert to John Wiles (who is never named) is skimmed over. Sometimes, multiple characters or events must be amalgamated for time or dramatic reasons. Nevertheless, An Adventure in Space and Time manages to convey an accurate, if simplified, version of events, and manages it beautifully with a heart-warming and emotional production.

When I first heard that there was going to be a docudrama about the origins of Doctor Who, I was only mildly interested. On the whole, I’m not a fan of docudramas. I like drama, and I like documentaries, but the combination of the two generally doesn’t interest me—principally because of the need, no matter how justified, to change and simplify things. When I want to learn about historical events, I’d rather learn the true details and not the dramatised ones. But that’s not to say that I think docudramas are inherently bad programmes. They’re just not generally to my taste. However, An Adventure in Space and Time drew me in completely. Perhaps it’s because I was already emotionally invested in its story, and as such it could easily sweep me up and take me along for the ride. Or perhaps it’s just because it is an exceptionally well-made production. It’s not perfect in every way and there are things I wish it did a little differently or a little better, but on the whole, I’m immensely satisfied with it.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Happy 50th Birthday, Doctor Who!

Fifty years ago today, Doctor Who aired its very first episode, “An Unearthly Child”. Today, the legacy started by producer Verity Lambert and star William Hartnell still continues stronger than ever. Today will see the airing of “The Day of the Doctor” with Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt—simulcast in 3D in over 80 countries and in selected cinemas in those countries. As I sit here writing this, I am in utter awe.

Unfortunately, I won’t be seeing “The Day of the Doctor” until the 25th (couldn’t get tickets for today and I want my viewing in the theatre to be my first viewing). That means I’ll be severely limiting my internet access for the next couple of days in order to stay away from the spoilers. However, I couldn’t let the day go by without putting something up on the blog.

Enjoy the special, everyone! Don’t forget about the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time either. It’s worth seeing (review to come soon). And if you’re interested, check out my series of Doctor Who Reflections.

Fifty years. Wow.

Friday 22 November 2013

Doctor Who - The Last Day

"The Last Day" is the latest short mini-episode leading into tomorrow's Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor". The prequel was originally released exclusively to iTunes a couple of days ago, but is now available on the BBC's YouTube channel.

The story details the "fall of Arcadia", which has been mentioned by the Doctor before (although I'll confess I can't remember which episode at the moment; it was a tenth Doctor episode). Really, it doesn't tell a whole lot, and is far less entertaining than "The Night of the Doctor". However, it does set up a nice sense of ominous foreboding for the special.

Just one more day to go (three for me)!

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Movies, Spin-Offs, and Other Media, Plus Addenda

Doctor Who has become far more than just a television programme. One can think of that metaphorically in terms of the effect it has had on its fans, but here, I mean it literally as well. It has expanded into numerous other media, from comics and annuals to stage plays to movies to books to audio productions, and beyond. Some of these are just things fans put together in their own homes, while others are professional productions or publications. No look back over the history of Doctor Who would be complete without including a mention of these various things.

There is so much out there that it’s unlikely that any single individual has seen, read, or heard it all (if there is any such person, I’d love to meet him/her). I certainly haven’t. I’ve already mentioned in these reflections that, to my chagrin, I have heard very little of the Big Finish audio productions, something I really hope to correct some day (especially to hear the Paul McGann ones). I also haven’t read most of the novels of the last ten years or so. However, I’d like to take a look back at the things I have experienced. It’s likely that I don’t remember everything Doctor Who-related that I’ve ever come across, so no doubt some things will be left out. Also, I’ve touched on the books in previous reflections (both the Target novelizations and the later original novels from Virgin and then BBC Books), so I won’t retread that ground here. Primarily, I’m looking at the movies, spin-off television programmes, and some selected other media, such as comics and roleplaying games.

Friday 15 November 2013

Children In Need Doctor Who Clip from The Day of the Doctor

This two-minute clip from the 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor" aired today as part of this year's Children In Need charity. It's not as exciting as "The Night of the Doctor", but it's nice to see Jemma Redgrave back as Kate Stewart.

Wizards Vs Aliens - Vice Versa

Vice Versa” by Clayton Hickman is rather unusual—not in its plot or subject matter, but in its effect. It is simultaneously one of the best episodes of Wizards Vs Aliens so far, and also one of the most frustrating. Taken by itself, without the context of the series around it, it works perfectly. It is fun and energetic, but well paced. The cast are at their best, delivering some absolutely wonderful performances. The story holds together well and wraps itself up cleverly. Yet, when taken in the context of what comes before it (namely the tragic conclusion of “100 Wizards”), it simply doesn’t fit. Everyone’s far too happy, especially Tom. In fact, if it weren’t for the mention of Katie dumping Tom, there would be nothing at all to indicate that “100 Wizards” ever even happened.

Part of the problem is that it’s a pretty standard second story of a television series: light-hearted filler that has little effect on the direction of the show as a whole. Apart from possibly a hint or two of a larger meta-plot, second stories tend to be “throwaways”, ones you can miss without ruining your enjoyment of the series as a whole, as little of any importance happens in them. Wizards Vs Aliens followed this pattern in series one with its second story, “Grazlax Attacks”, and is doing so again now with “Vice Versa”. But while a throwaway story works in early series one (even though “Grazlax Attacks” is otherwise an inferior story to “Vice Versa”), it doesn’t work so well now in the second series. The show has reached a point where it can no longer ignore the consequences of actions and events that take place. For it to progress believably, its characters need to respond organically, which they’re just not doing.

That said, “Vice Versa” is a great deal of fun, and I love it to bits. It makes for a frustrating dichotomy.


Thursday 14 November 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who is undoubtedly hugely popular at the moment, perhaps more than it’s ever been. The 50th anniversary special, which is less than two weeks away, will be simulcast in over 75 countries worldwide—and not just on television, but in movie theatres as well—in 3D, too. When I was growing up, such a thing would have been beyond belief. Even now, as the 50th approaches, it doesn’t quite seem possible. Until I’m sitting in the theatre watching the special on the 25th of November (alas, due to a computer mess-up, tickets for the 23rd were sold out before I could get some for that day), there’ll be a part of me that doesn’t quite believe it, perhaps not even then. But Doctor Who is big now.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the British tabloids from occasionally running stories about slipping ratings. They’ll carefully select the overnight ratings from episodes a few years ago, compare them to the overnights of a recent episode, and declare the show in trouble. They’ll completely neglect to mention that overnights don’t really matter to the BBC. The final ratings, which include everyone who watched the episode within seven days, are just as strong as ever. The only thing that’s really changed is that more people are watching the episodes at the times of their choosing rather than the air-times. A.I. (appreciation index) scores have also remained more-or-less stable, indicating people still like what they’re watching.

These tabloid stories also don’t take into account the massive increase in popularity Doctor Who has received in the rest of the world, outside of the U.K., particularly in the United States, since Matt Smith took over as the Doctor and Steven Moffat became showrunner. This is due in large part to the amount of publicity BBC America has given the show in the U.S. When the Sci Fi network carried the programme during the David Tennant years, they did little to publicize it (similar to how CBC handled publicity here in Canada). BBC America’s publicity campaign has brought in hordes of viewers. However, while publicity has brought the viewers in, the show has kept them watching. People obviously like it.

As with any period in Doctor Who’s history, there are, of course, people who are dissatisfied. There were fans who complained loudly about Russell T Davies. Before him, it was John Nathan Turner. Nothing can satisfy everyone. So it’s not surprising that there are very vocal fans who are disappointed with the most recent period of the programme. But from my perspective, there’s one major difference this time round: I’m one of the dissatisfied.

Doctor Who - The Night of the Doctor

Watch the following first before reading any further if you don't want a really big spoiler (and the internet hasn't already spoiled it for you):


Saturday 9 November 2013

2nd Trailer for The Day of the Doctor

Hot on the tails of today's earlier trailer  (which actually leaked yesterday), comes this second, extended trailer. In it, we learn that the Doctor is about to face his "darkest day".

What? Again? Just how many darkest days or hours has the Doctor had?

The Day of the Doctor Trailer and Clip

The first clip-based trailer for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special is now available. Here it is:

Yesterday, the BBC also released a very brief clip from the special, which you can see here:

Friday 8 November 2013

Blood of the Moon

There’s a love amongst many roleplayers for new playable races beyond the core dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. Part of the point of roleplaying is to pretend to be something different and what better way than to play unusual creatures with new and interesting abilities. From aasimars and tieflings to traditionally monstrous races like goblins and kobolds, expanding the list of playable races allows for new experiences and new options. Pathfinder has certainly provided many possibilities for players, with the Advanced Race Guide being the ultimate source for various races to choose from—including a system for gamemasters to design their own.

There have also been several Pathfinder Player Companion books that look more closely at some of these options, at how they fit into the world of Golarion, and providing new options for people wanting to play characters of these races. Most of these books look at races that already exist in the game, but Blood of the Moon does something a little different. It introduces a brand new playable race, skinwalkers, who are descended from lycanthropes (essentially the lycanthropic equivalent of aasimars and tieflings), as well as a number of skinwalker variant races that are tied more specifically to each of the various kinds of lycanthrope.

One could argue that there are already more than enough playable races in the game, and to be honest, I sometimes feel this way myself. However, one could also argue that there are more than enough monsters, spells, feats, archetypes, etc. in the game already, and yet numerous books continue to introduce more of those. Why not more races? While there are certainly more options available than anyone could ever use in a single campaign, the presence of such a large variety allows for different choices in different campaigns, giving each campaign the potential to be unique. From this perspective, I really like the variety. So while the races of Blood of the Moon are certainly not needed in the game, they make for interesting options for future campaigns.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Wizards Vs Aliens - 100 Wizards

When Wizards Vs Aliens first premièred last year, I was eager to see it, coming as it did from the same people responsible for The Sarah Jane Adventures. There was good reason to believe it would be good. And it was, albeit not as good as I’d hoped it might be. Nevertheless, it was good enough to keep me eager for the second series. I saw a lot of potential in the series, even if many of its characters only occasionally rose above the stereotypes they were based on. So I was quite glad to learn that there would, indeed, be a second series. The first year of a show is often a time of figuring out what it can do and what its overall direction will be; the second year is often the year when the show demonstrates whether it will sink or swim.

Like last year (and like The Sarah Jane Adventures before it), this new series of Wizards Vs Aliens is made of two-episode stories. There are fourteen episodes this year instead of twelve, airing two per week over seven weeks. One of the forthcoming stories this year was originally written for the fifth series of Sarah Jane, but was one of the ones not filmed before Elisabeth Sladen’s untimely passing. The fact that it has been rewritten as a Wizards Vs Aliens story kind of shows the spiritual connectedness between the two shows and I’m eager to see how it works. The final story of this year is written by Russell T Davies (his first script for the show he co-created) and I’m also eager to see that one.

The second series première, “100 Wizards” by Phil Ford does not yet achieve the potential I’d like to see from the show. It’s very much a re-establishing of the premise after nearly a year off the air. But I certainly haven’t given up hope. I still see the potential and still hope that this season, Wizards Vs Aliens will significantly “up its game”. Indeed, “100 Wizards” is a great deal of fun overall, and fun is a great deal of what the show is about. It took me a little while to get into the story, but by the end of the second episode, I was fully engaged in what was going on. So in that respect, “100 Wizards” succeeds admirably.


Tuesday 5 November 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary - Reflections on the Tenth Doctor

I commented a couple weeks ago that the recent periods of Doctor Who somewhat eerily mirror the periods of my own life. I had my own wilderness years of sorts during the show’s wilderness years. In the early 2000’s, I relocated and started to build my life back up to something of a high point, and around the same time, Doctor Who came back and also built itself back up to a high point.

Of course, everyone has their own opinions on when the show has been at it its best, but for me, I do see the Russell T Davies years (both the ninth and tenth Doctors) as the years when Doctor Who was at its most consistent best. This doesn’t mean every episode was great and perfect, and it doesn’t mean there weren’t great and incredible periods before it (I wouldn’t have been a fan for all those years if there weren’t). There were weak episodes during the ninth and tenth Doctors’ periods and there were brilliant episodes, but the gap between weak and brilliant never seemed as great as the gap between weak and brilliant could sometimes be in the classic series. Just look at the difference in quality between “The Caves of Androzani” and the story that came immediately after it in the same season, “The Twin Dilemma”. There was an overall greater consistency under Russell T Davies’s control, and I was immensely satisfied with what I was watching, even after turning my rather critical eye upon it. And I don’t deny I can be very critical of what I watch.

As I covered last week, I loved Christopher Eccleston’s series. I was disappointed that he wasn’t sticking around, but I was eager to see what the new Doctor would bring to the role. Like most of the other Doctors, I hadn’t heard of David Tennant when he was announced, so I had no preconceived notions of him, but I trusted that he would be good. Before Series One has started, I had worried about the quality of the show itself, but those worries were now completely gone. I expected brilliance. Alas, there would be quite a wait for some of it.