Friday, May 14, 2021

Kindred, by Octavia E Butler

"'There's worse things than being dead,' I had said." (p. 283)

Prompted by a recent discussion on the radio of Octavia Butler's Kindred, I reread this book that has haunted me for decades. It's about Dana, a 27 year-old black woman living just outside Los Angeles in 1976, who keeps finding herself back in the early nineteenth century, on a plantation near Baltimore owned by her ancestors. One direct ancestor, Rufus, is the no-good, controlling and unpredictable son of the owner, and Dana realises that he will someday force himself on a slave called Alice, and have a child from which Dana is descended. Until that happens, she must do more than merely survive in this appallingly hostile environment - for all his faults and cruelty, she must keep Rufus from harm.

The title, then, is a pun on Dana's dread for this relative with whom she is somehow bound. As with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, we're never told quite why she travels in time, nor how Rufus can summon her back from the future when his life is under threat. She can only return home, briefly, when her own life is in danger - which happens frequently enough. There's then what happens with her white husband Kevin while she's away, and whether she can transport things or even people with her that might help her survive. It's full of incident and shocking twists as Butler explores the territory: the practicalities against escaping; the state of medicine at the time; the way other black people of the time treat this trouser-wearing, educated black woman; the necessary pragmatism when you don't have any rights and live under constant threat of violence.

It's so brutal, and Dana and other characters under such unrelenting threat, that I stopped and started through it, sometimes only managing a few pages at a time - it's not exactly the right thing to go with lockdown-induced anxiety. Yet it's also a very timely read, exploring the legacy of slavery on us today. The 1976 "present" is no coincidence, where at one point Dana - back in her own time - is torn over celebrating the bicentennial. She refers to the "older people" of her own time who do double takes when they see her with her white husband. There's a sense, too, of how much easier life is for him - in the past and present - compared to what she endures.

I've read a fair number of time-travel stories, many of them addressing race to one degree or another, but this is direct and unflinching, and as much about the haunted now as it is then. Dana is left mutilated by her experience, physically scarred by the past as she lives in the present. We end with her revisiting the places where she was once trapped, looking for the house she once lived in, the grave of the man she was linked to, any trace of the slaves - the people - she knew. There are hauntingly few clues as to what became of them, which implies its own awful story. The implication is that she - and we - continue to live in their shadow.

A few years ago, I researched my own family history and learned that the Guerriers were among the first refugees, arriving in London in 1677, though the paucity of records means we can't be sure of the lineage until 1730. But other branches of my family include those descended from slaves and those descended from slavers. The database of Legacies of British Slavery holds a record for Mary Turner (née Trench), born 9 July 1815 and my great-great-great grandmother (or: her grandson was the father of my grandpa, who died in 2007). On 17 October 1836, Mary was granted £100 13s 8d as compensation for the emancipation of five slaves she owned in Clarendon, Jamaica. Her father received much more. That weighs heavily and I am keen to read Alex Renton's new book, Blood Legacy.

"'You probably needed to come for the same reason I did.' He shrugged. 'To try to understand. To touch the solid evidence that those people existed.'" (p.295)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

On Countdown

Excitingly (and surreally), I was mentioned on today's edition of TV quiz show Countdown. Some 15 minutes in, host Nick Hewer asks Samira Ahmed - who is in Dictionary Corner this week - about being on the editorial review board of the official Doctor Who Magazine

You can watch the clip, but Samira replies:

"The magazine is for fans - and fans of all ages, including a lot of people who grew up watching the original run going back to the 60s. There haven't been that many new episodes over the last year or so, as you can imagine, so a lot of the magazine is doing features on the past. The idea is that you review it to make sure it's appropriate for BBC content and for its audience. What has been fascinating is that there's this whole archaeology of the old episodes. There are all these old episodes that were lost but the scripts survive or floor plans of TV Centre survive with where the cameras were. And there's been this whole thing of features by brilliant writers like Simon Guerrier where they have got together a panel of people who watched the original episode - once - when it was on TV, got them up to get their memories from when they were little children, and then worked out with the maps of the floor plan, surviving bits of scripts, and tele-snaps (which are photos people took off screen) what the plot was and what it looked like. It's like the archaeology of digging up old Anglo-Saxon hoards and reconstructing a ship, but you don't think of doing that with television. But the history of British TV is 70 years-old now or older and I just think it's been remarkable how much social history there is in reconstructing them that way. So it's been a real joy and the magazine has been such a comfort through lockdown for a lot of people. It's that escape into wild adventures in space and time."

As Samira says, I'm just one of an army of DWM archaeologists, many of them more distinguished and erudite. She's referring to the recent series of articles I've co-written with Rhys Williams, attempting to reconstruct the studio sets from a few of the 97 episodes of Doctor Who missing from the archive. The amazing CGI recreations of the are by Gavin Rymill, and so far we've covered:

And there is more to come...

Friday, April 30, 2021

Doctor Who Magazine 564

It's all rather in the shadow of horrifying revelations about Noel Clarke, but the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine features two things by me. First, I've interviewed the brilliant Millie McKenzie, who sculpts amazing clay figures of her favourite Doctor Who characters. Millie was really gracious in answering my questions and supplying us with loads of great images when we were a little pressed for time. I'm especially pleased with the title, "Tiny and Small and Made of Clay", which is a quotation from the Doctor in Aliens of London.

There's also another Insufficient Data, which I've written with Steve O'Brien and which Ben Morris has illustrated. This time, our focus is the number 8, and I got rather lost in a vortex of connections...

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Writing Doctor Who

The new Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is out today, devoted to the topic of writing Doctor Who. It's full of thrillingly detailed analysis.

I've contributed two short profiles - first of original story editor David Whitaker (whose life I've researched in some depth), then of Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler who between them created the Cybermen. It's quite an exercise to distill the great range of their writing down to 800 words apiece!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Stan Lee - How Marvel Changed the World, by Adrian Mackinder

"Somehow, Stan always managed to present himself as a modest egomaniac - an art in itself." (p. 168)

These words, from ex-Marvel writer John Tomlinson, come at the end of my friend Adrian Mackinder's fun, breezy and yet authoritative new biography of the great Stan Lee, writer and editor synonymous with Marvel superheroes in comics and more recently on screen.

It's an extraordinary story and there's a lot to pack in given Stan's long and busy life, but - like the best of the superhero movies - it never drags. Adrian's tone is friendly and direct, peppered with Stan-isms, addressing us as "True Believer" and concluding "Nuff Said", and there's a lot of direct quotation from Stan himself, even where his own accounts conflict.

We begin with the relatively humble early life of Stanley Martin Lieber, the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants in New York. A voracious reader, at 17 Stan got an entry-level job in the publishing company run by his cousin's husband Martin Goodman (Stan's uncle also worked there, and soon, too, would his own brother), which among its various titles had only recently begun publishing a superhero one, Marvel Comics. We're not sure exactly what lowly jobs he did, but within a year he'd published a first, text story in Captain America Comics (issue 3, cover date May 1941), and a year after that when Goodman fired star talents Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for skipping hours to work on other publishers' titles, Stan ended up as editor-in-chief, aged just 19. Yet, within months of that, he handed over responsibility to someone else and enlisted in the army.

Adrian's good on sifting the different accounts of how Kirby and Simon lost their jobs - their prior disagreements with Goodman over unpaid royalties, and the never-proven suspicion that Stan may have been involved in how they came to be fired. But it's the non-comics business that made my jaw drop: among the handful of writers Stan worked with in the USASC Army Pictorial Service during the war (Stan claimed there were "eight other men"), were director Frank Capra and artists Charles Addams - later to create The Addams Family - and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. Make a film out of that!

After the war, Stan returned to comics, doggedly working in the industry for more than a decade before hitting it big with the superheroes that made him famous. That success came when he was in his 40s, which I must admit is a comfort to this jaded old hack. Adrian's good at placing that success in the context of teenage baby boomers and the counterculture, so you understand why these costumed freaks caught on, and what made Marvel hold its own against or even outsell its competitors.

He's also good on the struggles to push Marvel beyond the printed page, the failed efforts to replicate the success of the Batman TV series of the 60s, Superman movie of the 70s and then Batman in the 80s. As all this was going on, Lee would go for dinner with his old schoolmate Bob Kane - a friendly rivalry between the creators of Batman and Spider-Man. The comics were making a lot of money, but the sense is one of frustration, creative spats, unfulfilled ambition. It's all very male-dominated and embittered, increasingly more so as the profits rise. Stan seems to have stayed largely out of it, or to have forced that steely grin.

I was never much of a Marvel Comics reader and much of the story is new to me, but I was surprised how much Stan and Marvel had a hand in things I did get into - the comic strip version of Star Wars, the TV series Dungeons and Dragons, even My Little Pony of which my daughter is now a devotee. There's a lot on the wider context of publishing and popular culture, even politics where it is relevant. Adrian nicely uses his own childhood experience of reading and collecting comics to explain the bursting bubble in the industry during the mid-90s - and in doing so made me understand why some of my older colleagues lost their jobs at that time. There's a warning here about saturating markets aimed solely at "collectors". It chimes, too, with the recent scandal in football, and the widening split between management and fans.

It all looks pretty gloomy at this point in the story but, like any superhero movie, there's then last-minute salvation with the success of some movies based on Marvel properties (Blade, X-men and Spider-Man) then leading to Marvel producing its own films - to extraordinary success in the last decade. I'm not sure I needed to know which ones Adrian does and doesn't like (he is wrong about Black Panther being "rather overrated"), but he's shrewd on what made the movies work when so many other superhero films didn't, what lessons might be learned from them, and also in not losing perspective.

"The truth is, only a handful of the MCU films are exceptional. Most of them are solid and a few are so-so. But none are objectively terrible." (p.163)

There's a final twist in the closing pages where Adrian addresses the scandals in Stan's closing years with those close to him accused of elder abuse and exploitation. Adrian then digs in to try and make more sense of the real Stanley Lieber rather than the "legend" Stan Lee. He cites a few examples where we get a sense of the man behind the showbiz mask - the "teeth" displayed in a contract negotiation, the sense he could sometimes be rude or have an off day. My clever old boss Ned Hartley is quoted, suggesting that "alienation" and "anxiety" evident in the comics "give a window into Stan's soul" (p. 167). 

All in all, it's an engrossing, insightful book, full of boggling detail and wise analysis. The feeling at the end, I think, is that for all Stan was in the limelight and for all he gave the world in terms of popular culture, he always held something back - and so remains a tantalising mystery.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal

The third book in the Lady Astronaut series (after The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky) is another triumph, and having struggled to read anything for months, I'm very pleased to complete such a whopper of a novel - it's 687 pages to the end of the epilogue, not including the acknowledgements, notes on real history and bibliography.

The Lady Astronaut series is set in a world where a meteor smashes into the US in the 1950s, with a dramatic effect on the climate which only looks to get worse. This accelerates the space programme, with the active involvement of women. The first two books in the series are led by Dr Elma York, "the" Lady Astronaut as far as the press are concerned. This new book is focused on one of her colleagues, Nicole Wargin - an accomplished astronaut in her own right but also the wife of the governor of Kansas. He's struggling with the fact that a lot of people object to the expense of the space programme, and many want to deny the existence of the global crisis. An "Earth First" movement is flexing its muscles with ever more menace.

It's a thrilling read, full of incident and twists - the end of Part II in particular made me gasp. The nerdy technical stuff is also threaded with raw emotion: Nicole's anorexia is as much of a wrench for those around her as it is to her. There's grief, too, and the PTSD of those surviving the meteor in the first place, and lots on race and sex (both gender politics and nookie). Lots of this is conveyed in telling detail: an argument where we glean that racial epithets have been used without being told exactly what was said; the mouthfeel of apple sauce or cottage cheese when Nicole is under stress; the chilling etiquette in not asking people where they're from in this world, since it may well have been destroyed.

In her "About the History" notes at the end, Kowal says that in her "LAU", the meteor prevented Jonas Salk working on his polio vaccine which is why the disease is such an issue in the novel. 

"The headline about Chicago refusing to vaccinate children? That is real. The vaccination program did work though and brought the polio epidemic to a standstill. The last case of wild polio in the United States was in 1979 ... When I wrote this book, COVID didn't exist. As we go to press ... the choices that I've made to be religious in my social distancing and mask-wearing are directly influenced by the research I did about polio. My father says that he remembers movie theatres being shut down, how no one would get into a public swimming pool, and that 'everyone was afraid of getting it.' Everyone knew someone who had gotten polio." (p. 698)

As well as the disease itself, Kowal deals with denialism, and in Part III there's the horrible, practical issue of a funeral attended over video link. It's a coincidence that it all feels so timely, but it's a testament to Kowal's skill that this stiff feels so credible having now lived such experience.

Other elements of the plot may have been borrowed from fiction. The front cover of my copy includes an endorsement from Andy Weir, author of The Martian, and I think that book might be the inspiration for Nicole making use of stuff left over from previous expeditions. Earlier, the crew of Nicole's moonbase are compromised using the same method deployed by the Cybermen in 1967 Doctor Who story The Moonbase - and I know Kowal has admitted sneaking the Doctor into other books.

But the success of The Relentless Moon is all down to Kowal as expert pilot. For all the thrills and danger, as readers we're in safe hands: the setting and characters grounded in reality, each of the myriad mysteries tied up by the end, the technical stuff balanced with plenty of humour and insight. It's a hugely satisfying read. The epilogue, set two years after the main events, took me completely by surprise but in retrospect seems inevitable, the ground skilfully prepared - so what felt at first like a giant leap is really a small step. And that, I think, is what makes this book so appealing: it's all about small steps forward in dealing with crises. We can work our problems.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi chronicles his exploration of a "labyrinth" of halls full of statues-with-meaning, the place liable to epic floods and the occasional albatross. Only one other living human shares this space - aptly named The Other - but there are the remains of 13 bodies, suggesting a history of travellers through this peculiar realm. And then there's someone else among them - and the tantalising prospect that Piranesi's own detailed journal entries are not telling the full story...

Ironically enough, I was captivated by this strange, beguiling, beautiful tale of a man trapped in a fantasy domain. As with Clarke's brilliant Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the magical fancy is fused with the entirely mundane, so that even the most outlandish elements feel credible.

One particular joy is that we're sometimes ahead of our narrator, who can be slow to make sense of the evidence presented. When he scoffs at such ridiculousness as "Manchester" and "police stations", we know he's missed something important - and true. I think that then prompts us to read his findings extra carefully, sifting for additional clues. We become active participants in the tale.

It's difficult to say more without giving away some of the mystery - and if you've not read the novel, then stop now. 

I think it's brilliant that the ending is not about some lost eden, forever out of grasp. Instead, Piranesi - if he is still Piranesi - is helped by an amazing character to take charge of all that has happened, and then he helps others do the same. Among the literary and scholarly references, on page 165 there's mention of "Timey-Wimey: Steven Moffat [and] Blink", and there's the same satisfying intricacy and resolution. As with Blink, there's violence and loss, but what could so easily be (effective, moving) tragedy is in fact a joyous liberation. It's beautifully, deftly done - this whole puzzlebox of a book deceptively simple, and perfect.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Emperor's Feast, by Jonathan Clements

About once a month from 1991 until I left home, my grandfather would treat my family to dinner at the Golden House, a Chinese restaurant a short walk from his house, on the far side of town from where I grew up. He'd usually order the same things for us all - wonton soup followed by crispy duck and pancakes - and I vividly remember the first time I was allowed a glass of beer as well, or when Grandpa made known his approval of my then girlfriend by inviting her to one of these meals.

I now think there was something else going on. Grandpa was born in Shanghai in 1914, his father a bank manager at HSBC. In a memoir he wrote for us, Grandpa remembered his parents entertaining guests there or in Hong Kong with "marrow bones wrapped in white napkins" (which he thought over-rated), and the time, "A party of officers from the 'Hawkins', then China flagship, called for tea one day with their pet honey-bear. It raised a tantrum at not being given enough cakes and swept about a dozen pots to destruction." I think taking his grandchildren for dinner recaptured some of that mayhem.

My friend Jonathan Clements begins his new book with his own childhood memories of a Chinese restaurant where his dad worked as a drummer in a band, and where impressionable young Clemmo "ate all the time." From this, he tells the history of China through its food, the impeccable research peppered with his own experience of living and working in China. It's fascinating, funny and full of great detail. The very idea is intoxicating: a nation marches on its stomach, as Napoleon didn't quite say.

A lot of the book is about authenticity - or the lack of it - in the staples we recognise: "Peking" duck really derives from Nanjing; Zuo Zongtang (1812-85),"is unlikely ever to have tasted anything like" (p. 167) the dish later named after him and known to us as "General Tso's Chicken"; "Sichuan Alligator" (p. 200) is just the most egregious example of dishes erroneously claiming links to Sichuan. In this quest for fidelity, there's plenty on the origin of names and problems of translations. For example, trying to order a Big Mac from the McDonalds at Yangyang International Plaza, Jonathan had to describe it sufficiently for his server to give him the Chinese name: "Immense Tyrant Without Compare (ju wu ba)" (p. 195).

"There was me thinking that writing a book about Chinese food would be an excuse for endless 'research' banquets. Instead, I found myself pursuing the strangest possible cul-de-sacs on menus all over the world, not least in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I felt obliged to order the Haggis Spring Rolls on the menu at Bertie's Restaurant. Much like the cheeseburger spring rolls of Detroit, they seem to me like a pointless gilding of the lily, a clickbaity tricking out of a local food purely for Instagram shares and talking points. That's the only explanation I can think of. I love haggis, and I certainly don't mind cheeseburgers, but by what perverse contrariness would you want to wrap them in pastry and deep-fry them?" Jonathan Clements, The Emperor's Feast (2021), p. 201.

Authenticity is at the heart of his compelling final chapter, charting a series of health scares and scandals involving milk powder and milk, and then food standards more generally. This leads into discussion of the supposed origins of COVID, in the "wet markets" of Wuhan, and a culture that silences whistle-blowers and complaints. That, and some thoughts on how COVID might change Chinese dining culture - and the shared plates of food - is fascinating, full of expert insight that I've not seen addressed elsewhere.

Ironically, COVID has meant Jonathan hasn't been able to dine out while writing, and his book ends with memories of his final meal in Soho just before lockdown and dreams of the Chinese restaurant from his childhood. Like him, I am haunted by thoughts of meals anywhere other than home. A particular joy of this book is that it's like dining out in his company. I'll have wonton soup to start.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Scourge of the Cybermen trailer

The trailer for Doctor Who: Scourge of the Cybermen is now online, with Jon Culshaw reading from the six-hour audio novel I've written and Steve Foxon providing the atmospheric score. When the full thing is released in July, you'll also get to hear Nicholas Briggs as the voice of the Cybermen.

You can order Doctor Who: Scourge of the Cybermen direct from Big Finish.

The amazing cover art is by Claudia Gironi. Cybermen and sunflowers - what's not to love?

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Doctor Who Magazine #563

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine boasts an interview with Ninth Doctor actor Christopher Eccleston, and lots of other Ninth Doctor related goodies. That includes the second instalment of Sufficient Data, the back-page column I've written with Steve O'Brien, illustrated by Ben Morris.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Cinema Limbo: Smoke (1995)

The latest episode of film podcast Cinema Limbo is about Smoke (1995), a favourite film that I inflicted on host Jeremy Philips. It's directed by Wayne Wang and written by Paul Auster, and stars Harvey Kietel, William Hurt and loads of other people.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Doctor Who Magazine #562

The thrilling new issue of the official Doctor Who Magazine features two things by me.

First, in "Moonbase 3" Rhys Williams and I have scrutinised recently discovered studio floor plans for 1967 story The Moonbase, focused on the ingenious way designer Colin Shaw maximised limited space. The CGI recreations of the studio set-up for episode 3 are by clever Gav Rymill. I also got some insight into the kind of person Colin Shaw was from his friend and colleague (and my old boss) John Ainsworth. Thanks to researcher Richard Bignell for alerting me to the discovery of the floor plans and helping my poor old brain make some kind of sense of them.

Secondly, "Sufficient Data" is a new regular column by me (and, from next issue, Steve O'Brien) illustrated by Ben Morris and exploring numbers and concepts in Doctor Who in what we hope will be a fun and surprising way. This issue we're all about the number 13. Steve, Ben and I previously worked together on the book Whographica, which is still available in bookshops.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Tintin - The Complete Companion, by Michael Farr

After I read all* of Tintin last year, a kind friend sent me this excellent, comprehensive companion, full of details about the writing of the books, the development of the character and the stuff going on in creator Herge's life. I'm struggling to read much beyond work stuff during lockdown, my attention skidding off the page, but this had been an ideal volume to do in fits and starts.

A lot of it is about the differences between versions of the same story, the way Herge and his editors continued to redraw, edit and revise the books, and in doing so responded to criticism or the dictats of particular publishers. For example, there's The Crab With The Golden Claws, originally serialised 1940-41 and then redrawn for the 1943 book version, all while Herge was living in Nazi-occupied Belgium
"As the first Tintin adventure since Cigars of the Pharaoh [serialised 1932-34] to have kept unequivocally clear of politics, it posed no problem for the Nazi censor. However, years after the war when the question of its distribution in the United States arose, it fell foul of American censors who objected to Haddock's alcoholism and the presence of blacks--mixing races was deemed unsuitable in children's books." (p. 96)
In responding to this, as Farr says, Herge replaced a black gang member with one of "arab appearance" (sic), though the original dialogue remained, Haddock still referring to him as a "negro". Farr is good at detailing Herge's own developing consciousness and regret about the racism in his books, and provides some nuanced and fascinating context, but it doesn't really excuse things to say that other people were worse. My sense is there's a fan's instinctive response here, defending a text so cherished from childhood rather than acknowledging inherent problems. 

Farr is best when showing the influences woven into the stories. We are often treated to photographs from Herge's own archive next to panels of his artwork, and there's some great stuff on the real-life people and historical research then ended up in the stories - my favourite this gem about The Secret of the Unicorn worthy of a film of its own:
"The character of Red Rackham [the pirate] came to Herge from a page of Dimanche-Illustre of November 27, 1938, which told the steamy story of the English "femmes pirates" (women pirates) Marie Read (born 1680) and Anne Bonny, and their compatriot Jean Rackam (sic), pirate captain and scourge of the merchant marine and the high seas. Rackam flew a Jolly Roger depicting a skeleton brandishing a cutlass in one hand, a bottle of rum in the other, striking terror in the hearts of his victims.

"According to Maurice Keroul's torrid tales, Bonny, despite being Rackam's mistress, falls dangerously and hopelessly in love with Read who had joined the pirate band in the guise of a man. Read in turn is attracted to Rackam. Before the complicated triangular relationship resolves itself, the pirates are finally cornered, outnumbered, defeated and captured. They are all sentenced to hang. However, Marie Read has her sentence commuted to life imprisonment. On November 20, 1720, Rackam and Bonny are strung up on the yard-arm of their ship in Port Royal, Jamaica. A few days later Read commits suicide." (pp. 108-9)
If there's a criticism, often whole paragraphs are direct quotations from Tintin's adventures, telling us stuff we already know. That's odd because Farr's book is clearly intended to be read with the adventures close to hand: his examples often give page references rather than providing the relevant illustration himself.

It also ends rather abruptly, with a shorter-than-usual chapter on Tintin and Alph-Art suggesting where the unfinished story might have gone next. I'd have liked a bit more summing up, even some sense of Herge's legacy. As it is, the book is all about Herge and his creations as figures of their time but doesn't address Tintin's enduring appeal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Doctor Who Chronicles: 1965

I've just received my copy of Doctor Who Chronicles: 1965 from the splendid lot that make Doctor Who Magazine. Among the delights to be found within its 114 pages is "Rembrandt of the Daleks", my feature on artist Richard E Jennings who produced 49 instalments of the Daleks comic strip in TV Century 21 and also worked on the three Dalek annuals of the 1960s.

I spoke to Jennings' daughter Celia, while Bob Corn of the Eagle Society was extremely generous in helping to dig out details of Jennings' life and work more generally. Thanks also to Colin Brockhurst of the fanzine Vworp Vworp! for sharing his research.

The sumptuous new collected edition of the TV Century 21 Daleks strip is still available. In DWM issues 558 and 559 last year, I argued that Jennings was an integral part of the sprawling, multimedia Dalek empire - his opulent artwork feeding into the movies, merchandise and back into the TV show.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Sherlock Holmes - The Great War

I'm currently in the midst of writing Sherlock Holmes - The Great War, an original novel for Titan Books. More details soon but here's the exciting cover...

Sherlock Holmes -
The Great War

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Doctor Who Magazine #561

Out today, the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is devoted to the novelisations of TV Doctor Who stories published in the 1970s and 1980s by Target Books. There's a free, exclusive new book included with the issue, plus I've spoken to Robert Shearman, Mark Gatiss and Joy Wilkinson about their new novelisations of their 21st century episodes - Dalek, The Crimson Horror and The Witch Finders.

It's been a thrill to read advance copies of those three books, having grown up on Target. I'm also very much looking forward to next month's release of the 1971 series of Doctor Who on Blu-ray, which includes the documentary by Frank Skinner and my mate Chris Chapman about the great Terrance Dicks - author of more Target books than anyone else. Dicks helped created Doctor Who's best enemy, the Master; I'm increasingly of the opinion that Dicks was the Master all the time.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Scourge of the Cybermen

Feast your eyeballs on this glorious cover by Claudia Gironi for Doctor Who and the Scourge of the Cybermen, a six-hour original audio novel I've written which will be out in July. Cybermen and sunflowers, what more could you want?

The novel is read by Jon Culshaw, with Cyber voices done by Nick Briggs. The script editor was Roland Moore and the director David Richardson.

I'm delighted that it's Jon Culshaw on this as his perfect reading of Death to The Daleks has been a big influence here - that novelisation (of a 1974 TV story) had always been one of my favourites, and I hope what I've typed has a similar feel.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Masterful and the Switching

Just received my copy of the Masterful box set - a sumptuous collection of eight CDs comprising the epic adventure starring 10 incarnations of Doctor Who's old school pal, the Master. The bonus material includes my short story The Switching read by Duncan Wisby.

"Yesterday there were two Time Lord prisoners on Earth - the Master in his cell, the Doctor in his exile. But today the Doctor's not quite feeling himself. Today he's seeing things from a different perspective. And today the Master's going to escape..."

I'm very fond of The Switching, which was my first professional gig as a writer of fiction, written in August and September 2002 and published in Short Trips - Zodiac at the end of that year. It was also one of the first jobs I picked up after going freelance, and I'm very grateful to editor Jacqueline Rayner for taking a punt on me, and to Jonathan Morris who read my first, clumsy draft and applied a lot of red pen.

Saturday, January 16, 2021


That splendid lot at the Doctor Who Appreciation Society are unleashing TARDIS magazine vol 17 issue 2, sold in aid of the mental health charity Mind. I'm particularly keen to see what editor Robbie Dunlop has unearthed about 1966 story The Celestial Toymaker...

Among the treats, there's me on the writing of my 2007 Doctor Who novel The Pirate Loop.