Sunday 29 December 2013

Doctor Who - The Time of the Doctor

The first regeneration story I saw (and remembered seeing) was Tom Baker’s finale, “Logopolis”. It was an emotional moment, but not in the way I generally respond to regenerations now. It was not a sad moment for me, but rather an immensely exciting one. As much as Tom Baker was the Doctor to me at the time, I couldn’t wait to see the new Doctor. I had only recently really gotten into Doctor Who, and was still learning about its history. And so I didn’t shed any tears when the fourth Doctor uttered his famous last words, “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.”

When Peter Davison’s final story arrived a few years later, my response was a bit different. I was still excited to see the new Doctor and looking forward to the regeneration, but for the first time, the story actually grabbed me emotionally. It was more than just an exciting adventure, and when the Doctor’s regeneration approached, I found tears in my eyes. That had never happened to me with Doctor Who before. Adric’s death had shocked me, but not upset me. The fifth Doctor’s death, though... That was powerful and upsetting.

The Caves of Androzani” is one of the most highly regarded Doctor Who stories, and it remains one of my personal favourites. A great deal of its strength comes from the fact that it is such an intimate tale. It’s not about the end of the world or the universe. It’s about a group of complex characters fighting each other and the Doctor and Peri caught in the middle. The Doctor dies making the ultimate sacrifice to save just one person, and somehow that small-scale quality makes the story far more epic and powerful than the universe-ending regeneration stories some of the other Doctors have faced.

Of course, every regeneration story should be different and appropriate to its particular Doctor. Not every one should be small-scale like “Caves”, and indeed, not every one is. “The Tenth Planet” has a threat to the entire world. “Logopolis” has a threat to the entire universe. More recently, regeneration stories have tended to go big. “The Parting of the Ways” involves saving the Earth from the Daleks. “The End of Time” is about saving the Earth from the Master and the universe from the Time Lords. And now there’s “The Time of the Doctor”, which is about preventing another Time War and saving the Doctor and a whole lot more on top of that.

There’s no doubt that “The Time of the Doctor” pretty much encapsulates the entirety of Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor and Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner. It’s big, bombastic, and full of wild and wonderful ideas. Yet at the same time, it tries to do far too much, mixing everything together in a kitchen sink effect. There are Daleks and Cybermen, Sontarans and Weeping Angels, and the return of the Silence. There’s a brand new character that the Doctor has known for a long time. We see Clara’s family for the first time. Dangling plot threads from the last three series are finally tied up in quick lines of exposition. There’s a surprisingly relatable and sympathetic Cyberman head. There’s a multi-century siege/war set in a town called Christmas. There’s Matt Smith cavorting manically around and acting his socks off. And of course, there’s a regeneration—which has its own extra revelations to go with it! This episode has everything and more. And consequently, virtually nothing actually happens.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice set-pieces here and there in “The Time of the Doctor”, some individual moments that work exceptionally well. But unfortunately, the whole is disjointed and just doesn’t hold up. To be fair, like most Moffat-written episodes, it is better on subsequent viewings (especially when the first viewing is interrupted by commercials), but it’s not better enough to really save it. Besides, it really shouldn’t be necessary to see something twice in order to like it. Ultimately, this episode just leaves one feeling unsatisfied, disappointed, and rather bored.


Wednesday 25 December 2013

11, 12, or 13? Thoughts on the Doctor's Incarnations in Doctor Who

Regeneration is perhaps one of the most brilliant aspects of Doctor Who. It is regeneration—both of its lead character and of the show itself—that has allowed the programme to continue for such a long time. Actors, producers, and entire production crews come and go, and yet the show goes on. Whether it’s the separation between classic Who and “Nu” Who, or the changeovers of producers and script editors, Doctor Who has seen many periods over the years, and sometimes, to compare two of those periods is to compare two incredibly different styles that somehow manage to be the same show.

Perhaps the most common way to separate the periods of the show is by the Doctor’s incarnations. William Hartnell played the Doctor from the first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, until “The Tenth Planet”, early in the run of the fourth season. We can easily think of this time as the First Doctor Years. Indeed, this is the way I broke down my recent series of reflections where I looked at my own experiences with Doctor Who over my lifetime. I looked at the first Doctor and then the second, and so on until the eleventh, then finally wrapped it all up with anything else that didn’t fit in those previous eleven categories. This has always been an easy way to break the programme up because each Doctor is easily identifiable and it’s always been easy to assign a number.

Except now things have changed a little.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Sherlock - Many Happy Returns

Sherlock returns for its third series on New Year's Day, when we'll get to learn how yet another of Steven Moffat's characters escapes death! To be fair, though, in this case, he's basically repeating what happened with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, so he gets a pass this time. To help prepare us for the show's return after its long hiatus, today saw the release of this mini-episode, "Many Happy Returns". Have a look.

I really like Lestrade's exasperation at Anderson's conspiracy theories regarding Holmes's survival. Banging his head on the table is a nice touch. Yet amid his insistence that Holmes is dead and gone, one gets just a hint that Lestrade is still secretly hopeful. It's a great performance from Rupert Graves. Indeed, for a brief moment after he says that he's off to meet a friend, I actually expected that friend to turn out to be Holmes and we would learn that Lestrade has known all along.

Of course, that friend turns out to be Watson, who is suitably saddened and morose at his friend's death. That sadness is increased by the recording of Sherlock, which is certainly not nearly as funny as Lestrade claims it is.

I have my criticisms of Sherlock (mostly the same criticisms I have of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who), but nonetheless I enjoy the show a great deal. "Many Happy Returns" has certainly helped whet my appetite for its return.

3rd Clip for The Time of the Doctor

And another one! Only one day left until "The Time of the Doctor". I'm trying my best to remain positive about it.

Monday 23 December 2013

2nd Clip for The Time of the Doctor

The BBC have released another clip from this week's upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Time of the Doctor". It's another one focusing on the Christmas-y aspects of the episode with Clara trying to get a boyfriend.

Towns of the Inner Sea

Perhaps one of the most important things when starting a new campaign is establishing where the player characters are from. Sometimes, they’ll all come from the same place; other times, they’ll be from various different locations. These places may be major cities, smaller towns or villages, or possibly even just a country or general area of origin. Whatever the case, characters’ homes form an important part of their background. Campaigns will often start in the PCs’ home town. While many campaigns will see the characters move around and visit other locations, the characters will generally find themselves returning to their home towns or cities at some point or other. Some campaigns may never (or rarely) even leave the home town, instead keeping all of the action and intrigue centralized to one location.

A few years ago, Paizo published Cities of Golarion, a book which looked in detail at six of the major cities of the Inner Sea Region. This was a great resource for campaigns that were either set in one of these cities or simply passing through. Each city received a wealth of detail on its history, people, and sites. But while information on cities is important and useful, many campaigns spend more time in smaller towns and villages. Indeed, towns and villages often are the homes of the PCs and thus the starting points for campaigns. So last month saw the release of Towns of the Inner Sea, a book very similar in style to Cities of Golarion, except focusing on six towns from across the Inner Sea Region.

Several of the towns in Towns of the Inner Sea have featured as the settings of Pathfinder Modules and thus have seen some detail on them before. The others have simply been prominent places on the map with only a brief write-up in the Inner Sea World Guide. In all cases, however, these towns are brought to life to a much greater extent than they have seen before, and all six locations would make fascinating home bases and/or starting points for full campaigns. Also, much more so than with the cities in Cities of Golarion, it would be very easy for GMs to relocate these towns to other parts of the world. Simply change a few names, and—violà!—a whole new town (although I’d advise GMs not to do this too frequently or players might start to recognize that several of the towns they pass through are strangely similar).

Friday 20 December 2013

Clip and Trailers for the Time of the Doctor

The BBC have released a brief clip from next week's Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Time of the Doctor". It's a light-hearted moment involving the Doctor, Clara, and a turkey.

A couple days ago, BBC America released a longer trailer for the episode as well. This contains a bit more of what actually happens in the episode compared to the short trailer released by the BBC previously.

 Update: And there's another one! Well, sort of. It's very brief. Just a familiar glimpse really.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Wrath of the Righteous - Demon's Heresy

There comes a time in every campaign when the PCs want to take a break. Sometimes, this is just a short period to rest and recover from wounds before heading back out on adventures. Other times, it lasts longer, while the PCs take care of non-adventuring concerns, develop relationships with NPCs, build businesses, craft magic items, or just plain relax. Some gaming groups gloss over these periods with a simple statement of “A few weeks pass;” while other groups play out each day along the way. But however they choose to deal with this period of “downtime”, every group goes through it from time to time.

It’s natural that the amount of downtime that occurs varies depending on the campaign and the particular group. Some campaigns will experience very little downtime, and what downtime there is may often be short. This tends to be the case with many Pathfinder adventure paths. It’s not unusual for one instalment to lead directly into another with little, if any, gap between them. This is not universal, of course. Most adventure paths allow for at least a little downtime and some allow for a bit more, but on the whole, the amount of downtime tends to be small. As such, it’s nice when an adventure path instalment comes along that allows the characters to settle for a little while and take it easy a bit—of course, even during downtime, things are rarely truly easy.

Demon’s Heresy by Jim Groves, the third part of Wrath of the Righteous is one such adventure. After the harrowing events of The Worldwound Incursion and Sword of Valor, it allows for the PCs to take a bit of a breather and even experience a little bit of semi-calm. Looked at on its own, it doesn’t have same epic quality to it that the earlier instalments have, but to look at it on its own would be to do it an injustice. While there are some adventure path instalments that could easily be run on their own without running the remainder of the adventure path, Demon’s Heresy really isn’t one of them. It’s a piece of a whole and its less-epic structure is more like the calm at the eye of the storm—except that this storm’s eye is pretty fraught with peril and adventure.


Wednesday 11 December 2013

Trailer for The Time of the Doctor

The first full trailer for this year's Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Time of the Doctor", is now available. It shows glimpses of Daleks, weeping angels, the Silence, and things exploding. The siege is set, the trap is laid, "the Doctor is regenerating," etc. Despite all the flash, it's actually quite a dull trailer. That's partly because it doesn't really look like anything new, just more of the same. Hopefully the episode itself will be better.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Bestiary 4

Monsters are a dime a dozen. Or so it can sometimes seem in fantasy roleplaying games like Pathfinder. That’s not to say that new monsters aren’t fun. I absolutely enjoy opening up a new book of monsters and looking through at the new and interesting options. I know full well that I’ll never use most of them, but they’re fun to read about and a few of them will be interesting enough that they’ll show up in some of my actual games from time to time. Some I might even like enough to use multiple times or even frequently. It can also be nice to throw something brand new at the players (as opposed to the characters) from time to time. And that, I suppose, is what makes new monster books worth it in the end.

Nevertheless, I was actually quite happy that, last year, Paizo broke with the pattern of releasing a new Bestiary every fall by releasing the NPC Codex instead. It was a welcome change from the usual and fulfilled a need that the game has too often ignored. Still, it was inevitable that Bestiary 4 would show up eventually, and show up it has. So the question becomes, is it worth it? And that’s a hard question to answer because it really depends on how much you like or want new monsters (as nobody really needs new monsters). However, regardless of the answer to this question, it’s still a good book.

Bestiary 4 contains over 300 new monsters. All the monster types are represented, although some more than others. There are many of the standards found in every Bestiarynew dinosaurs, devils, dragons—but also many unusual and bizarre creatures. Perhaps the most notable new monsters, however, are the mythic monsters. This year’s release of Mythic Adventures has created a completely new category for monsters—one that needs filling up. As I said in my review of Mythic Adventures, I was actually rather disappointed in the monsters introduced in the book. All of them were simply mythic versions of already-existing monsters. While necessary, I was hoping to see some unique mythic creatures as well, and Mythic Adventures failed to deliver on that. Not so Bestiary 4. None of the mythic monsters in this book are mythic versions of non-mythic monsters (either new or old).