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The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part One

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On July 29th 2016, I was in Iceland, tired from a plane flight that was only five hours but felt a lot longer. My tiredness subsided the instant I read the news- a tenth Skulduggery Pleasant book was coming in 2017. My favourite book series was back with a bang.

skulduggery-shrine

My “Skulduggery Shrine” on my shelf. I don’t actually have the first one as I read that at junior school and fell in love with the series.

So, with a new book on the horizon, naturally the nine previous books are going to be republished with new covers which look awesome. Unfortunately/fortunately, I have the equally awesome older editions with one hardback. The first three books, otherwise known as the Faceless Ones trilogy, were re-released a few days ago, so I felt like it was time to discuss them this month, with the next two months covering the other two trilogies, At the end of my third post, I’ll sum up why I love this series and my hopes for a movie adaptation. These posts are designed to persuade anyone who hasn’t read these books yet to try them, as this year is a pretty good year to start.

  • Book One: Skulduggery Pleasant

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Much like Harry Potter, the books start off simple. This is an incredibly fun read that pulls the reader into a gripping mystery from the first page. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Gordon Edgley’s death came as a shock to everyone -not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his new book, And the Darkness Rained Upon Them, and the next he was dead. A tragic loss, his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away.”

What a hilarious, dark and clever way to start. Gordon Edgley’s death fuels the mystery of the first book. Through this simple hook the rest of the characters are introduced. The main character of the series is Stephanie Edgley, Gordon’s niece who inherits his house and who gets embroiled into the mysterious world of magic. There are major revelations regarding her character that I will not spoil. The other main character is of course the Skeleton Detective himself, Skulduggery Pleasant. He’s a fedora wearing, gun toting, trench coat donning, snarky, magic using detective who just happens to be dead and a walking skeleton. He is one of my all time favourite characters in the whole of fiction. Everything I love about a character gets thrown into Skulduggery Pleasant; the cool clothes, the snarky nature and the antihero aspect.

There are other characters, but I won’t go too in depth into them as it’s best to discover for yourselves the great characters. The plot is fast paced and exciting, with twists and turns. I mentioned in a previous post how Derek Landy’s writing appeals to me, as it’s very cinematic and reading it really feels like a movie is playing in your head. Which kind of makes a movie adaptation pointless, but it won’t stop Hollywood trying. I don’t to reveal everything about the book, but I can assure you it is a thrill from start to finish.

  • Book Two: Playing with Fire

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This is the book where all the elements of the series really start coming together. We get more characters, such as the awesome Billy Ray Sanguine, and many aspects of this book are continued through to the ninth (it makes me so happy not saying “last book”). This time around, the stakes are not just doubled, but tripled, as the heroes have to battle three villains. Somehow, it’s even more bonkers, fun and carefully plotted than the last. It’s my favourite of the original trilogy, and probably my second favourite of the lot (I shall reveal my favourite in due course).

It’s also side-splittingly funny. One of the best aspects of the series is the constant witty banter and funny lines. Even as the books get longer and darker, Derek Landy never forgets to add humour, but knows how to restrain it for character and emotion when necessary. Playing With Fire is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, with this legendary exchange between Skulduggery and the villain, Vengous, being only one of the hilarious moments in the book. And it’s still not the funniest scene in the series:

‘”Are you going to shoot me?” Vengeous sneered. “I wouldn’t be surprised. What would a thing like you know about honor? Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight.”

“And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight.”

This book remains one of the highpoints of the series for me. The characters, humour, action, plot and thrills all combined together to make this book the one that convinced me to keep reading the rest.

  • Book Three: The Faceless Ones

the-faceless-ones

Not to be confused with the Doctor Who story of the same name (Derek Landy is a Whovian and I’m hoping that one day he will write an episode. Or two. Or three.) The third book brings the plot elements of the previous two together to create another great story. This time, a massive conspiracy causes Skulduggery to come into blows with a criminal gang determined to destroy the world. This, along with Death Bringer and The Dying of the Light, are the trilogy closers and they are all great, but we’ll get to those later.

The trilogies are organised very well. The first book introduces the new elements of the world and the story arc, the second one ups the stakes while the third closes it with a big explosive finale. The Faceless Ones is one of the more serious books, with it being the finale to the initial arc, but there are still fantastic moments of humour like this-

“Then I reckon we got ourselves a good old-fashioned standoff.”
Nobody moved, or said anything, for the next few moments.
“Old-fashioned standoffs are mighty borin”

This book changed the series. No longer were the stories standalone action/detective plots but they were now part of a much larger narrative. Once you finish this book you will immediately want to move onto the next, where the Necromancers rise…

But that’s for next month, where the next batch of new covers will be released. I hope these posts will help people to discover these awesome, awesome books. I feel like they’re the perfect blend of young adult (a genre I usually avoid completely) and younger children, although like Harry Potter they do get darker and more mature as they go on.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio review

After a whole year without Doctor Who, this Christmas saw the return of everybody’s favourite time travelling Scotsman. This year combined the world of Doctor Who with superheroes, another one of my favourite genres. With tough competition from other Christmas specials such as A Christmas Carol, The Snowmen and The Christmas Invasion, The Return of Doctor Mysterio thankfully maintained the (mostly) strong quality of the Christmas specials. Although let’s be honest, all this special had to be was not be The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe to be better than that one.

An interesting note I made straight after the episode finished. In the show’s entire 53 year run, the only story where the Doctor travelled with a male companion throughout was The Keeper of Traken, where the Fourth Doctor and Adric were the TARDIS team, with Nyssa not becoming a companion until the next story Logopolis. If we exclude The Next Doctor, End of Time and Closing Time, where the Doctor was travelling alone and had a temporary companion, as well as the Massacre, where Dodo joins right at the end of the story, then The Return of Doctor Mysterio is the only other story in the whole show’s history to have that distinction.

doctor-and-nardole

For all the naysayers, let me assure you that the Twelfth Doctor and Nardole still isn’t as odd as the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher the shape shifting penguin.

Incidentally, I really like Nardole. He didn’t have much to do in Husbands of River Song, but this year he fits into the companion role well. I love his interactions with the Doctor and he had plenty of funny lines (I love his exclamation of “Oo, elephant”. I dunno why.) I’m also glad he’s returning for Series 10. Bill may be the main companion, but having a second companion is great. Just look at Two/Jamie/Zoe, Four/Sarah/Harry, Nine/Rose/Jack and Eleven/Amy/Rory. I also like any companion who breaks the “girl from modern Earth” trope.

As for the Doctor, well, he’s brilliant as always. It’s funny how I think the Twelfth Doctor is so much more enjoyable when not partnered with Clara. He works so much better with Perkins, Ashildr, Osgood, River Song and Nardole, not to mention his appearance in Class. He even worked better with Davros, that’s how much I didn’t enjoy Clara. In this special we once again see the funny side of Twelve. I’ve heard people complain that he got sidelined, but I honestly don’t see that. He goes through the episode eating sushi, making puns and pressing buttons randomly. That’s the Doctor I love.

The plot is very cliche, but that’s OK for a Christmas special. The main villains, Harmony Shoal, were a great link to last year’s Christmas special (looks like they’ve been taking notes from the Master in “quick reappearances”). I love the way the brains have eyes and how their faces rip open to hide guns. Their plan was reminiscent of Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Zygons and Aliens of London, and while it doesn’t make much sense (it didn’t make much sense in any of those stories either), I’m willing to forgive plot holes when the story is entertaining.

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This special means that the Shoal of the Winter Harmony has appeared in the show as much as the Mara, the Macra, Omega, Peladon, the Monk, the Rani and Sil the Mentor and almost as much as the Zygons. Huh.

This is an absolute laugh riot from beginning to end, and it’s right up there with The Romans, City of Death, The Unicorn and the Wasp and Robot of Sherwood as one of the funniest stories in the show’s history. The highlight of the whole episode for me was Lucy’s interrogation of the Doctor using Mr Huffles. I honestly do not think any scene in Doctor Who history is quite as ridiculous or completely hilarious. My favourite aspect of the scene is the Doctor’s pained expression when hearing Mr Huffle’s “screams”. It’s as if he doesn’t know whether the toy is actually in pain or if he just doesn’t like the noise.

The superhero aspect was also handled really well. Superhero movies are popular so it makes sense for Doctor Who to tackle it (and it is NOT the silliest thing the show has ever done, as I’ve stated here). Just like the Jon Pertwee era homaged James Bond and the Tom Baker era homaged Hammer Horror and later Star Wars, Return of Doctor Mysterio homages the superhero genre while also fitting into the Whoniverse nicely. I am slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a Karkus reference, as any mention of The Mind Robber is a plus for me, but that’s a personal gripe.

karkus

Much like last year, in amongst the silliness there is a simple story that’s built on character. Not only does the plot stand on its own but it links in with the Doctor’s grief over River, thus explaining Nardole’s presence, and potentially sets up the Doctor’s mindset in Series 10. All the characters felt relatable and real, and it gives me real hope that Bill will be great in the way Donna, Ace and Sarah Jane were.

All in all, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was a great episode that helped me ease back into the show. Between this and Husbands of River Song, which I also immensely enjoyed, not to mention the pretty great spin off Class, the sour taste of Hell Bent has been almost completely wiped from my memory (I may enjoy most of Steven Moffat’s stories but I certainly did not enjoy the finale). This year has lacked Doctor Who, but for me personally it’s allowed me to get even more into it. I’ve met two Doctors in London Comic Con, enjoyed countless Big Finish, almost finished Classic Who and immersed myself in the Doctor Who graphic novels. This Christmas special was just the icing on the cake for my Doctor Who experience this year, and while it’s no Christmas Carol (which is one of my favourite stories), it’s a dumb, silly and highly enjoyable romp in the vein of The Runaway Bride and The Next Doctor. That’s pretty much all I need for Christmas specials.

And that’s all.

Oh wait, I forgot something…

Oh yeah, Series 10 trailer-

Well, this almost overshadowed the whole special didn’t it? What can I say other than I’m looking forward to this a lot, and in a year which will also see more Star Wars, Skulduggery Pleasant, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man, Doctor Who will unsurprisingly take priority. Bill seems like a very down to Earth and fun character and the relationship between the Doctor and Bill from this trailer indicates a similar relationship to the Third Doctor and Jo or the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Bill seems like a combination of Ace and Donna, and with Nardole thrown in too, this TARDIS team seems like it’s going to be great. Not much to say really other than the Doctor is back.

The Harry Potter read-athon

At the beginning of this year, I compared two of my favourite movie franchises- Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I then said I hadn’t read either book series in full. Well, as of last week that has changed completely. While my reaction to the Lord of the Rings books was… interesting, I looked forward to reading the Harry Potter books. Having tackled a massive thousand page book with about half its pages dedicated to landscape, I could easily handle seven Harry Potter books. So, I slowly and patiently made my way through every book in the series (excluding Cursed Child, because from what I’ve heard… eek) and finally finished Deathly Hallows last week. My Harry Potter experience is now complete. I don’t need any stage plays or prequel films to satisfy me, although I want to watch Fantastic Beasts purely because the reviews have said Eddie Redmayne would make a good Doctor, so I want to see if I agree.

Anyway, onto the books. While I adore the movies and always will, having actually read the books in full now, I can totally see where people are coming from when they say they prefer the books. Starting from Goblet of Fire, the books cram so much detail and information in to the point where the movies have to cut out whole chapters and subplots.

I’m now going to go through each book and their respective movie, offering my thoughts on both-

  • Philosopher’s Stone

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The first movie is a childhood favourite and one of the few books I originally read in full. Reading it as a fifteen year old made the kid friendly writing stand out, but at the same time the writing is quite sophisticated. No wonder everyone fell in love with the Harry Potter world. Nothing is really left out except for a Potions challenge near the end of the book which Hermione solves while finding the Philosopher’s Stone. Not much to say about the first story really: it’s a simple plot that is enhanced by the later ones.

sorcerers-stone-lol-no

  • Chamber of Secrets

chamber-of-secrets

My favourite Harry Potter film for numerous reasons: it was my first one, there’s a giant spider, there’s a giant snake and I love the whole mystery and heightened sense of peril that it has. People say it’s the least important part of the whole saga, but I disagree. It establishes wizard racism, introduces Dobby, sets up the Horcruxes and Griffinndor’s sword and the fact that Harry is a Parselmouth. This is more so in the book, where Dobby is in every book after aside from Prisoner of Azkaban. The book is practically identical to the movie, with the only major event cut being a Deathday Party for Nearly Headless Nick. This is still my favourite film, but my favourite book is coming soon…

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  •  Prisoner of Azkaban

he-was-their-friend

Ah yes, the one with the completely terrifying Dementors. My second favourite film in the franchise, and the point where the films got darker, both literally and metaphorically. The book however, is much more in tone with the first two. As a result, I feel like I slightly prefer the darker tone the film took. There’s the introduction of two of the best characters in the series, Sirius and Lupin, and my favourite monsters from Harry Potter, the Dementors. Everything about these creatures is fantastic and the way the book describes them is just eerie. There’s once again not much difference between the two versions, except for a subplot revolving around Harry’s Firebolt which was left out.

prisoner-of-azkaban

  • Goblet of Fire

 

goblet-of-fire

This is my favourite book in the series, and the point where the movies and books really started to shift. Some awesome stuff left out of the film include: a subplot with Hermione’s attempts to campaign for house elf rights, a giant sphinx in the third task, Blast Ended Skrewts, a subplot with Rita Skeeter and a whole new character called Ludo Bagman who was a judge at the Triwizard Tournament and really really should have been played by Steven Fry if the character was in the movie.

The whole plot revolving Voldemort’s return was also covered in more detail, with a massive conspiracy revolving around Barty Crouch. The reveal that Barty Crouch Jr was in fact alive and orchestrating the whole thing was a huge twist in the book, with a whole chapter dedicated to his plan. Keeping this in would have meant more David Tennant, and that’s never a bad thing. While I still enjoy the movie, I can see why many people feel that this is where the movies began to fall apart.

  • Order of the Phoenix

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Funnily enough this book was actually the one it took me the quickest to read, as I read it while helping a local theatre backstage as well as a train trip to London. It’s because of this that I didn’t actually feel like the book was too slow as I originally thought. However, I still feel a lot of the book could have been trimmed down, and the movie did a very good job of condensing it down. Umbridge is easily the most punchable and hateable character in the whole of fiction. Voldemort, Davros, Darth Vader, Sauron and the Joker combined are still less evil. There’s a lot of great themes in the story, with the Ministry of Magic determined to not accept Voldemort’s return and Harry’s struggle to spread the truth.

The movie used to be my least favourite, however I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a lot of good in it. All the padding from the book (endless house cleaning, teen angst, lots of exposition and more angst) is trimmed down considerably, with all the cool stuff left in. If there’s one major gripe I still have it’s that I wished the final battle between Dunbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters was as awesome as it was in the book.

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  • Half-Blood Prince

half-blood-prince

Easily the biggest shift between the book and the movie to me. The movie is very dark both literally and metaphorically and acts more like a prequel to the Deathly Hallows movies. The book however, feels more self contained because of the details the movie left out. The major cuts all involved Voldemort’s past and the revelations about the Horcruxes, which were explained in more detail. There was also a massive battle at the end of the book, but that was cut because of the similarity with the climax of Deathly Hallows.

Everything the movie kept in was still great though. The final third in particular is great, with the shocking event that you probably know. Despite this, the title itself is left ambiguous. In the book it was revealed that Snape’s mother had the surname Prince, which explains the name he gave himself. This still wasn’t the best reveal though, as the Half Blood Prince plot seemed sidelined in favour of the Slughorn, Voldemort and Draco storylines. Harry Potter and the Room of Requirements would have been more appropriate.

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  • Deathly Hallows 1 & 2

deathly-hallows

One book, two movies. The final Harry Potter story is spellbinding (tee hee) and ties up all the loose ends. The book and first movie is very slow, but as soon as the first Horcrux is destroyed, things get bonkers and awesome. The final chapters of the book are fantastic, with the Battle of Hogwarts, Snape’s story and the final battle being some of the best moments of the franchise. There is so much detail in the book that the movies had to leave out.

However, despite all this, the movies were still very good in my opinion. They’re action packed, emotional and ties the story up well. Most of the best aspects of the book were kept in and the escalation was magnificant. A fitting end to one of my favourite movie franchises.

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So that was my Harry Potter experience. Having now read all the books I can see why some people would prefer them, and I did really enjoy them. Unlike Lord of the Rings where I prefer one version over the other, I enjoy both versions of Harry Potter equally. I just wish JK Rowling would stop doing extra additions to the universe (FIVE Fantastic Beasts films?) and leave the story where it is, as it is amazing.

Why a superhero in Doctor Who is NOT too silly

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OK, my next post was going to be about my Harry Potter read-athon, but seeing how I still haven’t finished Deathly Hallows yet, that’s been delayed somewhat. However, something has propped up which is worth talking about- the Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

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Now, the common criticism I’m hearing from people is that the premise- the Doctor teams up with a superhero to save New York- is too silly and too outlandish for the show. Then cue angry fans using this as an excuse to attack Steven Moffat, complain the show was better with David Tennant/Matt Smith, unlimited rice pudding etc etc.

Right… so a show with a two thousand year old alien who changes faces and travels through time and space in a police box that’s bigger on the inside is acceptable, but a superhero is where people draw the line? This isn’t even the silliest Christmas special. Remember A Christmas Carol, with Dumbledore flying a shark? Or Voyage of the Damned, with a replica of the Titanic hijacked by robot angels? Or Last Christmas, which had FATHER CHRISTMAS? This isn’t even the first superhero in the show. Case in point, I give you the Karkus, from the Second Doctor story The Mind Robber-

karkus

In this instance, the Karkus is a fictional superhero from a comic strip which the Doctor’s companion Zoe reads in the almighty future of the year 2000. The Land of Fiction where the main characters are trapped in brings fictional beings to life. The story has a cliffhanger where Jamie and Zoe are crushed by a giant book, Jamie loses his face and the Doctor accidentally gives him the wrong one, and a unicorn. This story, incidentally, is awesome, and makes total sense in context.

Yet, a superhero in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is totally pushing the boundaries of the show.

I haven’t even mentioned The Gunfighters, which is a musical set in the Wild West. Or The Happiness Patrol, where a robot made out of sweets forces people to be happy and the TARDIS is painted pink. Or maybe the Pirate Planet, where a cyborg pirate with a robot parrot controls a hollow planet to crush smaller planets. How about Amy’s Choice, with killer grannies? Or perhaps I should refer the naysayers to Smith and Jones, where rhinoceros policemen move a hospital on the Moon and hunt down a vampire disguised as an old lady who sucks people’s blood with a straw. Doctor Who has always been inherently silly and a superhero is absolutely not the worst thing linked with the show.

Uh huh, Steven Moffat’s tenure is totally the only time the show got really really silly. I actually really like this story, but it is ridiculously silly.

Yes stories like Heaven Sent, Inferno, Vincent and the Doctor, The Seeds of Doom, The Waters of Mars and The Curse of Fenric are all fantastic and among the show’s best, but we can’t have body horror, mental illness, and the whole world being torn apart every week. Sometimes we need some light hearted, fun and occasionally comedic scripts to balance the mood. Stories like City of Death (which is possibly the silliest script the show has ever had), The Unicorn and the Wasp, Robot of Sherwood, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Romans and Carnival of Monsters are all delightfully absurd and wacky.

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Need I remind the “Doctor Who must always be serious” brigade that one of the best stories of all time, Genesis of the Daleks, has giant clams? I think that’s a lot sillier than a superhero.

Some Doctor Who fans just can’t get to grips with the fact that sometimes the show needs to be light hearted. People complain that the show is too comedic now but I’m sorry, I don’t see it. In the past two years we’ve had scripts involving cyborgs gouging people’s eyes out, creatures under the bed, a mummy that slowly murders people one by one, two dimensional beings that flatten people, Cybermen being resurrected from graves, ghosts, a Zygon terrorist group, Clara being killed (I don’t care, Face the Raven is the end of her story), not to mention the Doctor being trapped in an endless maze and being murdered billions of times over and over again. We’ve had stories dealing with genocide, war, psychological horror and grief.

mummy

Yup, this is a totally funny and lighthearted romp through time and space with a nice and fluffy monster isn’t it?

If anything, the show is a lot darker than the David Tennant and Matt Smith years. There have been comedic scripts such as Robot of Sherwood (which contained a darker and mature subtext), In the Forest of the Night (OK, that was terrible), The Girl Who Died (which dealt with the Doctor coming to terms with who he was) and The Husbands of River Song (which was emotionally linked with Silence in the Library), but they are infrequent compared to the serious stories.

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This is an actual monster from an actual story of Doctor Who. I also really like this story, but it is once again really really silly.

This year’s Christmas special will be comedic, but Series 10 will be (hopefully) the balance of comedy and drama that the show is known for. Part of the reason 80’s Who is disliked by some is because there was no comedy. Just look at Peter Davison’s final season- nearly every story was a total bloodbath with little to no laughs. Conversely, Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton were both really funny and embraced the silliness of the show as well as the serious side. Just like the characters and stories, the variety in tone is what makes Doctor Who great. Sometimes a comedic script like City of Death can be awesome, whereas sometimes a serious script like Kill the Moon (shakes fist in rage) can be absolutely terrible. All that matters is the story- the way it’s told is mostly irrelevant.

warriors-of-the-deep

A pretty accurate image to sum up the doom and gloom of the Fifth Doctor’s final season. Warriors of the Deep isn’t exactly liked by fandom, but it has a “so bad it’s good” quality for me.

So this Christmas, don’t approach The Return of Doctor Mysterio (nice title) with apathy. If you enjoy City of Death or any of the other comedic scripts in the show’s history, you should have no problem here. Just remember that there’s a whole series of adventure just around the corner.

Christmas… in November

So I’ve been out recently and everywhere I see focuses on Christmas, even though surprise surprise, it’s still November. Admittedly it’s less of a problem now as it’s three days until December (and then a further 24 until Christmas and Doctor Who, then a further week until New Year’s Day, Sherlock and hopefully a year not full of doom and gloom). But last week, in the middle of November, I saw Christmas decorations, Christmas lights and people putting up a Christmas tree. Why?

Now I get it from a commercial standpoint. Christmas is a huge event, although arguably over marketed, and unlike Halloween actually does deserve an entire month’s worth of buildup. The big businesses need a way to get Christmas merchandise quickly and it’s perfectly within reason to start Christmas shopping in November- in fact it’s probably better. But do we really need Christmas carols and fake snow and snowmen in the middle of November? Not really, in my opinion. The whole second half of December is very special in the lead up to Christmas Day. The whole atmosphere is very warm (metaphorically, not literally) and feels very unique in a way I can’t describe. If the whole atmosphere of Christmas is stretched through from November, then the feeling is ruined when Christmas approaches, which is bad.

It’s arguably the same with Halloween, although the Christmas situation is a lot better. From October 1st, everyone goes “Oh look, better get your favourite horror movies out!”. Even if I did like Halloween, I’d want to wait until the actual day to watch any horror movies (horror is incidentally probably my least favourite genre of film). With Christmas, Advent means there is a reason to count down the days until Christmas. At least there’s a reason. Even so, could we seriously not wait until December 1st to do a Santa’s Grotto and not on the 19th of November, as I saw in Eastleigh?

So, what will I be doing during the actual lead up to Christmas in December? Well, I’ll be doing the Nightmare Before Christmas, because I didn’t get the chance to watch it during Halloween, several Doctor Who Christmas Specials (I’m partial to The Christmas Invasion, A Christmas Carol, The Snowmen and The Husbands of River Song) and the hilarious Blackadder Christmas Special.

Bonfire Night and the question of whether Doctor Who should return to the pure historical

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Tonight is Bonfire Night, an important day in British history and one which is well worth remembering. I’ve already talked about Bonfire Night before, but today I’m going to use the occasion to talk about the Doctor Who pure historical.

I’ve been thinking for a while as to why Doctor Who hasn’t done a story set around the Gunpowder Plot, and I was struggling to come up with a strong sci-fi plot to go with the setting. Then, having seen the historical stories in the First Doctor era, I stand by my point even more, with a slight amendment: Why hasn’t the show done a pure historical in ages?

The revived series has dabbled in the past loads. From Charles Dickens to Vincent van Gogh, the Blitz to Vikings, Pompeii to Agatha Christie, the show has used the show to tell great stories based in the past, however all the stories have used alien threats. There was a time in the show when the historical stories had no sci-fi elements, merely educating the audience about the area of history the TARDIS crew has landed in. Examples of these stories are Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror, The Romans, The Crusades and The Gunfighters.

These stories were in the early years of the show, when the show was trying to figure out exactly what it wanted to be. One week the Doctor would be fighting giant ants, the next he would be in the court of Richard the Lionheart. The historical stories proved to not be as popular as the sci-fi stories, so they were written out in the Second Doctor’s second story The Highlanders, with the only return being the Fifth Doctor story Black Orchid. All other stories set in the past had sci-fi elements, such as The Time Warrior, The Visitation and countless new series stories. Despite their unpopularity at the time, the historicals are well regarded now by fans, with many clamoring for a return to the genre that the show had for the first few years of its life. Many historicals which have been wiped from the archives such as Marco Polo and The Crusades are very popular.

So what’s the case for? Well, as somebody who would like to see the genre of Who return, as I am a history fan and a huge fan of the historical stories which have survived (The Aztecs in particular is a favourite of mine). In fact any story set in the past pretty much has my seal of approval, pure historical or otherwise. I feel like having a pure historical would be a very daring move and very interesting to see. If done well it could go down as a classic. After all, it’s only going to be one story. If the audience don’t like it, move on. If it works however, more interesting stories could be told. It is kind of predictable in the new series for their to an alien threat. Wouldn’t it be great if the Doctor thought there was one and it turned out there wasn’t? However, the setting needs to be interesting enough to justify the lack of sci-fi. Linking back again to the Gunpowder Plot- the Doctor and co end up in the cellar of Parliament, ending up being arrested on suspicion of treason as they were found next to the gunpowder. Cue a race to prove their innocence, catch the perpetrators and get back to the TARDIS. No aliens needed. Then the week after we can have a base under siege with giant mosquito monsters. How about a story set in World War One? Or the Black Death and the Peasant’s Revolt, with the Doctor inspiring a teenage Richard II to stop the revolt? The BBC have so many historical TV shows, so a historical Doctor Who story would attract a wider audience than a regular one.

There are however several arguments to be made against the format returning. One is that the format is outdated and wouldn’t sit well with the faster pace and bonkers monsters of the new series. I don’t see this though- Doctor Who has been very experimental recently. We had a story with no monster (Listen) a found footage story (Sleep No More) and a story with only one main character (Heaven Sent). Audiences don’t care what the story is like, as long as it’s good. The Woman Who Lived was almost a historical until Lenny the Lion popped up, as was The Unicorn and the Wasp, although removing the wasp would basically make it Black Orchid again. The new series has come close- it just needs the courage to go that one step further.

Big Finish has done some pretty great historicals, such as Doctor Who and the Pirates and The Marian Conspiracy. There was also a Sarah Jane Adventures story called Lost in Time where Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani are sent back in time on a quest. The Doctor Who fandom is accepting of almost anything, provided it sticks with what we love about the show. The pure historical was one of the very earliest formats of the show, and enough time has passed to show that modern audiences will be accepting of it if done well. I for one would love to see this format return.

Doctor Strange movie review

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a lot of strange stuff. From Norse gods to talking raccoons, synthetic androids and shrinking guys that can talk to ants, the MCU has done plenty of bizarre things in their movies, lifted straight from the comics of course. Their most recent movie, Doctor Strange, sees Sherlock Holmes become a sorcerer to defend Earth against threats from across the multiverse. Totally weird and bonkers, and totally Marvel.

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This movie is about Doctor Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who gets involved in a near fatal car accident and loses the ability to move his fingers properly. As a result, he goes to Nepal to find a new way of life, and ends up working with a secret group of sorcerers to battle a bunch of radical sorcerers who aim to bring chaos to the world. Most of this is his backstory in the comics, so revealing this isn’t spoiling much.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, mostly the visual effects. It is one of the most unique Marvel movies and the visual effects help add to this unique nature. Think the ending of Ant-Man was really weird and awesome? Well it gets tripled here, and Doctor Strange’s initial trip into the multiverse is truly breathtaking. I don’t watch movies in 3D but I think this movie would look great in 3d due to the great imagery. The action sequences are also great, with stunning choreography and incredibly interesting and dynamic sequences. I won’t spoil much, but the final fight is so bizarre and brilliant that it has to be seen to be believed. The best fight however, has to be the battle in New York (no you won’t get Avengers flashbacks). I won’t say much, but just-wow.

Another highlight is Doctor Strange himself. At first it was very weird hearing Benedict Cumberbatch in an American accent, but you’ll get used to it. Doctor Strange represents everything I love in a character- he’s snarky (this is Marvel), wears a cape, uses magic and has a strong arc through the film. At the beginning, he is arrogant and takes his job for granted, not really caring for anyone and believing himself superior to everybody else. Just like Sherlock really, so it’s perfect casting. When he loses his job due to his injuries he loses faith in everything and risks everything to reach Nepal and find a way to fix his hands. He shuns his new job at first, wanting only to heal himself, but events in the movie forces him to become Doctor Strange and battle evil.

A common criticism of Marvel movies is the climax always being “things in the sky trying to hit things on the ground”. Marvel have fixed this in recent movies, from Ant-Man’s hilarious subversion of the city battles of the Avengers movies to Civil War’s emotional and character driven final brawl, and Doctor Strange continues this trend. The climax seems like any other Marvel movie- then things get really clever and really fun to watch. I won’t spoil it, but it remained me a lot of the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. I guess good Doctors think alike.

Just like any comic book movie, there’s Easter Eggs and fun references to the comic books, but casual viewers should be able to get into it due to the standalone nature of the movie. There are references to the rest of the MCU, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy it is very accessible to anybody who has an interest in it. As per usual with the MCU, Stan Lee gets a great cameo and stay after the credits for an AMAZING tease. The opening Marvel logo has also changed, and it is glorious.

Overall, Doctor Strange is another fantastic entry into the MCU. Not only am I pumped for the sequel, but I desperately want to see Doctor Strange with the rest of the Avengers in Infinity War. I highly recommend this movie even to people who have not heard of the character or don’t enjoy superhero movies. It is a lot more character driven and clever than a standard Marvel movie and is more akin to Inception or Harry Potter.

My favourite Sarah Jane Adventures stories

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This week sees the first two episodes of the new Doctor Who spin off Class. To celebrate, I thought I would look back on the show that I arguably loved even more than Doctor Who- The Sarah Jane Adventures.

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The beloved companion of the Third and Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane was so popular she returned in the new series in one of my absolute favourite Doctor Who stories ever- School Reunion. Following this, a whole spin off was commissioned, aiming to be a more kid-friendly series than Doctor Who. However, at points Sarah Jane Adventures was more mature than Doctor Who. I cannot explain how awesome it was when this show crossed over with Doctor Who and Torchwood (I had no idea who the characters apart from Jack were but my dad explained) in the Series 4 finale. The show continued until 2011, when Elisabeth Sladen unfortunately passed away. I was 10 years old and I can’t remember exactly how I reacted, but I did miss the show, and watching Sarah Jane’s original Doctor Who stories has solidified her as my favourite companion. It helped that she was in some of my favourite Classic stories- Planet of the Spiders, The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons, The Brain of Morbius and the Seeds of Doom. I’ve yet to reach the Time Warrior on my Classic Series marathon, but I look forward to it a lot.

So with all that aside, let’s dive into this brilliant show with a look at my favourite stories, in chronological order-

  • Warriors of Kudlak

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I love the concept of this one a lot- training kids to fight for a galactic war using a Laser Quest style game to lure them in, with the best warriors being kidnapped for the Uvodni war (incidentally, I love the Uvodni-they were mentioned in the Pandorica Opens but I’d love to see them appear in the show properly). Where this one gets really good is the second half with the concept of The Mistress, the battle computer, hiding the peace treaty from Kudlak to continue the war as she thinks peace does not compute. It’s a dark concept for a kid’s show and proves that this is a show for all ages. This story also continues the friendship between Luke and Clyde, my favourite SJA character other than Sarah Jane and I really hope he becomes a companion one day.

  • All three Trickster storiesthe-wedding-of-sarah-jane-smith-27

Cheating yes, but I find all three stories featuring the Trickster, Sarah Jane’s ultimate foe, to be outstanding. The Trickster himself is probably my favourite villain in the whole Whoniverse, and his design is simple yet utterly terrifying. The stories themselves are brilliant. Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? is a great introduction to the character and serves as the Sarah Jane lite story, where the Trickster causes Sarah Jane to fall off a pier when she was young and her friend Andrea being saved and living at 13 Bannerman Road. The Trickster aims to cause the world to be destroyed by a meteorite which Sarah Jane could easily stop, so the Trickster changes history to cause chaos. It’s a great character driven story. Incidentally, the events in the Doctor Who episode Turn Left are linked with this story.

The next Trickster story, The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith, is my favourite of the bunch. It incorporates time travel into the show and addresses themes common in Doctor Who, namely the idea of changing the past with dire consequences. In this case, Sarah Jane is given the opportunity to save her parents from a car accident that happened when she was a baby. Timey-wimey occurs, and once again the Trickster is behind everything and Sarah Jane’s parents are forced to sacrifice themselves to save the world. Hard to believe this is seen as the Doctor Who spin off for kids.

The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith features a guest appearance from David Tennant (!) and is amazing, as is the course for a Trickster story. It starts off comical and light hearted with Sarah Jane preparing to get married, then the Doctor appears as the cliffhanger and things get really, really dark. David Tennant is awesome here, and his confrontation with the Trickster is one of the highlights of the story (with foreshadowing to The End of Time, clever). This is also a great story for Clyde as he gets to zap the Trickster with artron energy. Awesome! Overall, these three stories to me represent the height of the series.

  • Day of the Clown

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One of my favourites when I was younger, this story did creep me out when I was younger, even if I’m not scared of clowns. Some of the imagery is pretty disturbing for a “kids” show, especially the scene in the toilet where Oddbob almost takes Clyde. The clown has great music and commands the screen whenever he’s on screen and while there, is of course, a sci-fi explanation, it doesn’t explain everything and leaves some details to the imagination, which is great. This story introduces Rani, who would become a permanent fixture of the show from this story onwards. Sarah Jane also has some great development here, as she has to confront her fear of clowns to take down Oddbob (she should be glad she wasn’t in Greatest Show in the Galaxy). Overall a pretty simple one, but one of the creepiest.

  • Enemy of the Bane

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Probably one of my most rewatched stories ever, this one is my favourite season finale of the show, tying together many ideas and characters previously established. Mrs Wormwood from Invasion of the Bane is back, Kaagh from the Last Sontaran is back and most importantly, the Brigadier is back! Oh yeah! Throughout Series 2 themes of family had been addressed, from Rani’s family to Clyde’s dad to Sarah Jane’s dilemma involving her parents, and in this story Luke is forced through the dilemma. He was created as a weapon for the Bane in their initial invasion but turned on them, and in this story Mrs Wormwood, the leader of the Bane and technically Luke’s mother, returns and forces Luke to make a choice. Great stuff, and anything with the Brigadier has my seal of approval.

  • The Eternity Trap

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Along with Waters of Mars, this story was one of the few Whoniverse stories to genuinely scare me and still scare me now. A much better version of Hide from Series 7 of Doctor Who, this creepy haunted house story is one I’ll be popping in this Halloween (because if you can’t beat them, join them). A great mystery tale with a fantastic villain, The Eternity Trap combines ghosts, red eyed monsters and science fiction to create one of the most unique stories in the series, with character development taking a backseat to atmosphere and scares. The attic isn’t in this one, neither is Mr Smith or Luke, so the focus is on Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani trying to solve the mystery of Erasmus Darkening. It’s a prototype to Series 4 in a way, and it’s one of my personal favourites.

  • Death of the Doctor

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And I thought the Brigadier and the Tenth Doctor was the pinnacle of Who crossovers with The Sarah Jane Adventures, but no, my favourite Doctor teams up with not only Sarah Jane but Jo Grant, who I’m currently watching in my Classic Series marathon. This story has everything: UNIT, alien vulture undertakers, blue Graske (or Groske) and continuity overload! The scene where the Doctor tells Sarah Jane and Jo to remember their memories of travelling with him to overload the memory weave is one of my favourite scenes ever. Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Drashigs, Axons, Davros, Sea Devils, Krynoids, Morbius, Omega, Daleks, Eldrad, the Wirrn- clips from the Classic Series which make me squee with delight. It made me squee then and, due to my new found passion for Classic Who, will definitely make me squee more. In short, my reaction throughout the story is this-

So those were my favourite Sarah Jane Adventures stories. I’ve mainly gone for ones I have watched the most, as most of these aren’t necessarily the best, but they’re certainly the most enjoyable- to me anyway.

My favourite TV shows that aren’t Doctor Who

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Most of you will probably know that Doctor Who is my favourite show. However, there are plenty of other shows that I enjoy and love. All of these are comedy programs or sci-fi/fantasy shows, and I have fond memories of watching these shows when I was younger. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that these have all stopped, I’d probably like them just as much as Doctor Who, if not more-

  • Merlin

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Between 2008-2011, I watched Doctor Who in the spring and Merlin in the autumn. This show was a reimagining of the King Arthur legend, with Merlin as a young man working with Arthur, who is still a prince while his father, Uther, is King of Camelot. Also in the mix is the Great Dragon, played by the War Doctor himself John Hurt. Naturally, as a fan of fantasy, this show appealed to me immensly. My favourite episodes always focused on the monsters such as the Griffin, the Lamia, the Manticore, the Afanc and a skeletal army. The story arcs were also incredibly strong and captivating. One of my fondest memories of this show was being absolutely terrified by the Series 3 two part opener . I admittedly didn’t watch every episode but I did watch most and I enjoyed them all. Also, the title music is just brilliant-

  • Primeval

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The third high concept sci-fi/fantasy show that defined my childhood, Primeval was about creatures from the Earth’s past (and occasionally future) that entered the modern world through anomalies, while a team of scientists tried to stop them and solve the mysteries of the anomalies. As a fan of prehistoric life, this show appealed to me in every way. The first series I watched in full was Series 3, which is one of my favourite things ever. My favourite creatures from the show were the iconic Future Predators, the mosasaur, the giant worms, the Mer, the Fungus, the terror birds and the Spinosaurus(!). Every episode was defined by the creature that had gone through the anomaly and also whatever story arc was happening. I spent lots of time going through the episodes on DVD and I will go through them all again if I have the time.

  • Blackadder

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My all time favourite comedy show, and my recent passion for history has made Blackadder even funnier than when I was younger. While I enjoy all 4 series (even the first one) I have to agree with popular opinion- Blackadder Goes Forth is just brilliant. That’s not to discredit Blackadder II or III though- I especially like the episode in III where the actors have to train George to perform a speech while Blackadder is just winding the actors up (Macbeth!). The fourth series is easily the most iconic though, and for good reason- every episode is fantastically funny. Blackadder himself is one of my all time favourite characters. He’s so sarcastic and cynical, yet so likeable. Rowan Atkinson would be a great Doctor. My other favourite character is General Melchett, played by Stephen Fry, who is so obnoxious, loud and stupid that he steals every scene he’s in. It’s hard to pick a favourite scene, but here’s one from the parrot episode-

  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus

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Another British comedy classic, Monty Python really needs no introduction. They are so ingrained into British pop culture that I was aware of them before I even saw the show. The sketches are so absurd yet done in a way that seems so normal. In the Monty Python universe, a cheese shop lacking cheese is as normal as asking for a fish license. My favourite sketches include the Parrot Sketch, the Cheese Shop sketch, the Argument Clinic, the silly job interview, the restaurant sketch and Spam. Quite why Monty Python works so well is hard to explain, but it’s something about the utterly ridiculous scenarios and characters that just make the whole thing work so well.

  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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I’m willing to defend the Prequels, and I believe this show justifies the existence of them. Telling the story of the Clone Wars between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the series takes many controversial aspects of the Prequels and improves on them. There’s barely any politics, but there are massive battles, lightsaber duels and unique worlds. On top of making Prequel characters like Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Plo Koon and General Grievous (my favourite Star Wars character for the simple reason that he’s a cyborg) more fleshed out characters, the show also introduces great original characters such as Ahsoka, Ventrass, Savage Opress and the awesome Cad Bane. My favourite aspect of the show is how vast it makes the Star Wars universe and truly shows how global the war is. My favourite episodes involved the Zillo Beast, a giant monster accidentally unleashed on Coruscant, and the story arc involving a second war on Geonosis. Any episode with bounty hunter Cad Bane is also great.

There are many more shows that I loved when I was younger, including Deadly 60, all the David Attenborough programs and the Walking With series, but I wanted to focus on the non educational shows and talk about them. I still have a lot of TV to get through, so hopefully one day I will do an updated list.

What kind of a reader am I?

Recently I finished the Lord of the Rings books after being inspired to finally give them a go after enjoying the movies so much. Honestly, having now read it, I’ve got to admit- I don’t get it.

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Now this post won’t be about me going on a rant about the books and how I prefer the movies, even though I do. Rather, it’s going to be about why certain books appeal to me and others don’t. It’s not the genre I can’t get into, it’s the way it’s written. I did a post on books three years ago but to be honest, that post didn’t really go in depth enough about what kind of a reader I am, and having now read more books and experienced different genres, I think I can say what books appeal to me.

To me, a book needs to entertain. As a very visual person who loves films and television, books, without visual images, need to be able to make me feel like I’m seeing the characters do what’s happening in the story. That’s one problem I had with the Lord of the Rings books- everything was too vague. The parts I really liked such as Sam versus Shelob and Eowyn versus the Witch King worked because I could picture what was happening in my mind due to the descriptions. Helm’s Deep on the other hand was literally an afterthought in the book and I couldn’t picture anything happening except people whacking orcs with swords, as opposed to the awesome battle in the movie.

Part of the reason I like Derek Landy’s writing is the fact he writes his books like a movie script. Actions are described vividly and in detail, and characters are described well but still vague enough for me to imagine people while reading them (I know Skulduggery is supposed to be Irish and have a smooth, velvety voice, but David Tennant is too perfect to not be cast). This is the same effect I had while re-reading the first Harry Potter book recently. J.K. Rowling really goes in depth with the world and characters but still keeps things flowing and even though I’ve seen the movies countless times, the way the book described things meant I could have another picture in my mind.

I’m not saying books need to describe EVERYTHING- that’s partly why I gave up on the Harry Potter books later and just listened to the audio books and watched the films. That said though, now I’ve done Lord of the Rings, Order of the Phoenix will be a walk in the park, and I do want to read them again. Books are a style of writing where anything can happen, and what the author describes can be interpreted in different ways by different people. Books that just waffle on and on without having anything happen physically in the story really annoy me because then how am I supposed to imagine it in my head? Do I just imagine Harry standing there thinking? My favourite books always have something happening in the story on every page- just like a movie.

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Another book I read after loving the movie was Jurassic Park. I ended up enjoying that book too even though I adore the movie. Part of the reason was I had the characters in my head based on the movie, which I found really helpful. To me, if I can’t picture a character in my head, then the author has failed in making me care. I remember reading so many books in junior school where the characters were literally amorphous blobs in both what they looked like and personality. It’s why if I haven’t seen a movie beforehand of a book, then I need descriptions of the characters in the book to allow me to imagine people there. Obviously, if the books are based on something like the Doctor Who books or if I’ve seen something beforehand such as Jurassic Park, it’s easy, but in an original book, failure to set up visual images of characters in my head means I’m probably going to give up.

So what about genre? I obviously like sci-fi and fantasy, but just because those are the genres I read doesn’t mean I won’t try anything else. At school thankfully the books we read are getting better. I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird in Year 9, and in Year 10 we’re doing Jekyll and Hyde, and again I really like it, convincing me that 19th century gothic literature is awesome. Despite these books being really old, the writing is still vivid enough for me to have the same enjoyment while I read them as I do reading modern books.

So ultimately what it boils down to is the fact that a book needs to paint a picture in my mind. I am definitely a visual reader and need things to connect to while reading. That’s why some books appeal to me, while others don’t, even if I love the movies they’re based on.