Monday 22 July 2013

On the national pre-natal obsession

I find it all a bit weird, frankly, and my co-workers have taken this to mean I'm a republican. I'm not and it isn't the reason.

The constant media coverage of Kate Windsor's labour just sort of confuses me. The BBC, having nothing substantial to report, have been marking time until they can announce the birth. They even dragged an OB-GYN in to painstakingly go through how women give birth, which is hardly novel information. They sent reporters to Kate Windsor's hometown to interview people.

It can't be that slow a news day, surely.

As for republicanism, I simply don't see the point of it because as a country we've been here before, over a century ago. During the long years when Queen Victoria was basically a recluse following her husband's death there were serious debates about whether the monarchy should be abolished.

After Queen Victoria died the monarchy had a resurgence because the government were centralising a lot of things (the postal service, railway timetables and so on) and wanted a solid sense of national identity in the country. The pageantry of the monarchy served the government's purposes. I feel confident the same thing would happen again, one government would end the monarchy and then a decade or two later another government would find itself in a position where they needed a unifying sense of Britishness again.

They might need a figurehead for a war. The ruling political party might need a symbol of traditional values or national identity. The idea of an elected head of state might just fall out of fashion after just one or two bad ones. There are any number of reasons it might happen but I doubt monarchy would stay out of fashion for long.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Doctor Who Marathon 1: Colin Baker

The Colin Baker era is not well-loved, in fact it is remembered chiefly for its flaws and disasters. The full catalogue could take up half a dozen posts so let's just deal with the edited highlights:

The era opens with a serial twice voted the worst Doctor Who story ever made; picks up nine months later with a piece of continuity porn so bad it drove off a quarter of the audience; lurches through a season composed mainly of excessive violence and more excessive sequels; the show is then put on hiatus for eighteen months; returns with an epic season-long storyline that falls apart when the man writing the finale dies without having submitted a first draft or even storyline notes to the script editor; and then the BBC fires Colin Baker.

The Sylvester McCoy version of the show never recovers from the mortal wounds of the Colin Baker era and cancellation becomes inevitable. The Sixth Doctor becomes a byword amongst fans for the worst aspects of the series from production values to production personnel.

Blame for his mess is impossible to apply to any single figure because everyone involved has their own account, usually in total contradiction of everyone else. Unfinished masterplans are invoked but never explained, leading one to believe they were never actually seriously considered. Even the authorship of the aforementioned continuity porn shipwreck is contested by two people seemingly intent on incriminating themselves rather than blaming each other.

I've always rather liked the Sixth Doctor but it took a long time for the larger fan consensus to catch up with me on that one. It's easy to be a Colin Baker fan now: we've got Big Finish now, who have given us Jubilee, The Doomwood Curse, Medicinal Purposes and dozens of other great stories proving that Colin Baker can act and that his version of the Doctor can work.

But what was it I liked as a kid? Was it just the bright colours (I do like the coat, I won't lie)? The shouting? The classic monsters? Peri's unbelievably exploitative wardrobe?

Time for a marathon, methinks. Twelve stories (including Slipback and counting The Trial Of A Time Lord as four stories) doesn't seem too long. I've always wanted to do one of those epic watch throughs from An Earthly Child to present but I don't have the attention span so let's just do this Doctor by Doctor and start with the series' most-maligned era. If nothing else, after this things can only improve.

NEXT EPISODE: The Twin Dilemma: democratically the worst Doctor Who story ever.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Codex suplements wish list

I've never been much of an Eldar fan, they're one of the few armies that just don't interest me. What did interest me was that the book came out with a supplement for theming an Iyanden army. Makes me think what other supplements I'd like to see:

Iron Hands
The Iron Hands have some unique ticks that don't quite work with the current Marine codexes: Terminator sergeants in Tactical Squads; Dreadnought commanders; and a heavy focus on armoured support. This is also an act of personal bitterness on my part: I used to have an Iron Hands-style army in the days of the fourth edition “Chapter Traits” system which got ruthlessly invalidated wheen the fifth ed. Space Marine book came along.

I loved the Middenheim army list in the old Storm Of Chaos campaign book, I especially loved the models that came with it: the Priests of Ulric and the Teutogen Guard (basically Greatswords with hammers). The models went out of production years ago, long before I even thought of starting an army, and now go for grotesque sums on eBay. It would be nice to see them out again in Finecast.

Black Templars
The Black Templars were my first ever army, the very stark black and white look of them was what got me into painting models in the first place. They got a full-sized codex in the fourth edition but the march of time has rendered it rather... unimpressive. What it basically amounts to these days is a Codex Space Marine army with an extra character class and a lot fewer units. They seriously need some love.

The Lost and the Damned
I am not letting this one go! There used to be an army list in Codex: Eye Of Terror. It was a good and fun army list and I used it for years, perfectly happily until the fifth edition Chaos Space Marine book came along to shit on my chips. So how about the next time Codex: Imperial Guard comes out we get a nice variant supplement documenting what happens when Guardsmen turn to Chaos. That is, after all, what the majority of Chaos armies are according to the background.

And whilst we're on the subject: the Space Wolves 13th Company.

Flesh Tearers
Another affectionate choice. Blood Angels only madder. They got a special character in the last go-round because they are awesome and, frankly better than the Blood Angels in every way: more savage, better colour scheme, an excuse to have more Death Company models, less mopey and more killy.

I am heartily looking forward to where this concept goes next.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Real Life Conversations 1

“James!” my co-worker Camilla yells across the canteen as I get up to leave, holding up her copy of A Dance With Dragons part 2. “Danaerys or Stannis?” and it tells you everything you need to know about my relationship with this woman that my (unthinking and spontaneous) response was:

“To rule the Seven Kingdoms or to have sex with?”

There were new people in the canteen. They look worried when they pass me now.

Monday 1 July 2013

The Comics Ramble featuring Pizza Dog

Seemed a good week to start doing comic reviews since last week all of my absolute favourite series had issues out.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4
This was a nice one-shot issue after the all action three-parter that opened the series (a thee-parter? From Bendis? With his reputation?). There is a plot but it all pales in comparison to Drax being boisterous and drunk and Gamorra being flirty and drunk.

Hawkeye #11
It took eleven issues but finally reading the recap page month after month paid off. The whole issue is told from the perspective of Lucky (aka Pizza Dog), Hawkeye's dog. The only legible dialogue in the issue are the words Lucky understands (“Good boy”, “up”, “stay out”) so David Aja's art, which is always fantastic, has to tell the story largely by itself. The best touch of the issue is how Luccky's sense of smell is portrayed as little spider-grams surrounding people, the scents picked out as images: Hawkeye smells of coffee and dogfood; Kate smells of pizza and martini; some cops smell of coffee.

It is a very cool issue, which almost makes up for the fact that it seems to write Kate out. I suppose I can hope the next issue might explain her departure, which seems a little separate from her issues in Young Avengers. Speaking of which...

Young Avengers #6
Last week was a bit of a filler week, all told, but high quality filler. I can't say I'm disappointed at all. I'm not disappointed that Jamie McKelvie isn't on art this issue, even though he's by far my favourite artist these days. I'm not disappointed that we've skipped from the new YA team to look in on Speed, who was never my favourite character in the original run.

Kate Brown's art drew me in from the first page just from the realism of how Prodigy slumps in his office chair. I'm not sure exactly what sort of mad company he's working for but people call him to ask how to defuse a Skrull bomb or how to deal with Elektra. Just seeing Prodigy again was fun (as I said, Speed doesn't really interest me) since I don't think he's had a decent starring moment since... oh, Secret Invasion: X-Men stands out in my mind as the last time he was really used as much as this issue plays on where he would have been in AVX.

We'll be seeing him again, I hope, since the end of the issues hints quite heavily that he'll be the new Patriot.

Wolverine and the X-Men #32
Of all the many, many X-Men team books this is by far the most fun. Just look at the opening scene: Iceman and Kitty have broken into Kade Kilgore's corporate headquarters so they can ferret out where the Hellfire Club have taken their students. It all sounds very dry and po-faced but its written to be so fun: they clearly consider this date, for a start, and Iceman holds off the Hellfire troops by creating a giant snowman that sings as it fights them.

A substitute teacher who's a dragon; Quentin Quire being a smartarse even as he's tortured by a sorcerer with daemons for hands; a band of over-privileged, genocidal rich kids for villains; the Bamfs. I'm seriously considering cutting some X-titles from my pull list but this one stay come rain or shine.