Gotham Season 4 Review – Spoilers

This review includes spoilers for Gotham Season 4.

  • Series: Gotham
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 4 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Cory Michael Smith, Camren Bicondova, Morena Baccarin, Alexander Siddig
  • Network:  FOX (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray, Color, Widescreen

Season 4 of Gotham is roughly split into two sections, with the first eleven episodes focused on the villains Professor Pyg and Sofia Falcone (daughter of retired mob boss Carmine Falcone) and the second half bringing back Jerome (the Joker). Along the way, Gotham regulars Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Selina Kyla, and the Gotham City Sirens of Barbara Kean and Tabitha make regular appearances. Revived by the waters of Slaughter Swamp that was poisoned by the industrial waste of Indian Hill – Butch is now Solomon Grundy. And yes, even R’as al Ghul is back. That sounds like a lot, but this show knows how to give each of their characters time to fully develop their stories.

Professor Pyg is a well-spoken serial killer whom we usually see with a pig’s head covering his face. He starts by killing GCPD police officers and covering their faces with a severed pig’s head. Detective James Gordon, who is promoted to Captain this season, is on the case with some help from Harvey Bullock. When it turns out all the cops that the Pig kills are dirty, things get intense and confronted with evidence that he was also “on the take” Harvey quits the GCPD and opens a bar. Never fear – he’s back by the conclusion of the storyline. But Professor Pyg soon turns his attention on the Narrows – poisoning several of the homeless. He then shows up as a caterer at a fundraiser for an orphanage that Sofia Falcone has recently established. Episode 9, “Let Them Eat Pie” has Professor Pyg first singing, “He (Pyg says, “they”) Had It Coming” from Chicago – then Sweeney Todd style serving the guests’ meat pies made from the Homeless he killed. Pyg also leaves a clue for James Gordon, a quote from Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. The GCPD arrests Pyg, he escapes, and eventually, James Gordon is forced to kill him when he takes Sofia Falcone “hostage”. It looks like Sofia will use this against Jim (as well as their brief partnership to take down Penguin) but she is also murdered an episode or two later.

I didn’t like Pyg at all – he’s too gross, and his “attack the rich to help the poor” argument might have been more convincing if he hadn’t killed six homeless people to accomplish his “goals”. Plus Professor Pyg is just not a great Batman villain, and Gotham didn’t make him sympathetic as they have other long-term villains. But, all in all, the Professor Pyg storyline is completely wrapped up by episode 10 or 11, and the remainder of the season has a better season-long villain. All the musical and other references in episode 9 were amusing though. (Someone on the show must like Bob Fosse, because not only does Pyg quote Chicago – but Riddler’s full suit is straight out of a Fosse musical – stiff bowler hat, gloves, and even Riddler’s movement emphasizes controlled snappy lines, as is seen in Cabaret, Chicago, and Pippin.)

The season opens with Penguin having come up with an idea to rule the criminal underground in Gotham: Pax Penguina – he literally licenses crime. Penguin even gets the police to allow this by paying them off. Thus Pyg’s initial strikes against “corrupt cops”. Riddler’s frozen body decorates Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge. Jim Gordon, however, thinks the system is ridiculous and sets out to take down Penguin. He even sees Carmine Falcone at his home in Florida (presumably) and makes a bargain with Sofia as the lesser of two evils to take down Penguin. Meanwhile, Lee Thompson has returned to the Narrows – she’s operating a free clinic and working at an underground fight club to pay for it. Riddler is released from his icy prison – but not without problems.

Riddler now has two personalities – his “nice guy” personality (Ed Nygma) falls in love with Lee, whom he meets at the fight club, is meeker, but isn’t as “smart” – he can no longer create elaborate riddles – he can’t even solve simple childhood riddles. The Riddler personality is smart, can do the riddle thing, wears a bottle-green silk suit, bowler hat, and green gloves, and could care less about Lee. The Riddler manipulates Ed to free himself. Ed is also the one who finds Solomon Grundy (formerly Butch Gilzean) shortly after he’s resurrected in Slaughter Swamp. Ed takes Butch to the fight club, Butch beats the current champion and becomes the best fighter. Eventually, Ed, Lee, and Butch take over the club – and later, Lee takes over the Narrows. Unfortunately, Lee has a hard time holding on to the narrows and it goes back and forth between her and others throughout the season. But Ed’s love for Lee is balanced against her desire to have real power in the Narrows so she can actually do some good. At the same time, Riddler is haunting Ed because he wants to become the dominant personality. Oddly enough, with help from Penguin – he succeeds and Riddler’s full personality – cleverness, lack of caring for others, and beautiful bottle-green suit (again, with bowler hat and green leather gloves) is born.

Penguin starts out on top, ruling Gotham’s underworld through his Pax Penguina plan, but soon is involved in a war for territory against three groups of, interestingly enough, all women: Sofia Falcone who wants to rule Gotham like her father did; Lee Thompkins who wants to rule the Narrows for altruistic reasons; and the Gotham City Sirens (Barbara Kean, Tabitha Galavan, and briefly Selina Kyle). Between these various groups, the Pyg, and later developments – Penguin slowly loses his position. Penguin also briefly works with Butch and Riddler.

The first episode also has Bruce Wayne, dressed in black, beating up criminals on Gotham city streets. Lucius Fox gives him a bullet-proof flexible suit (a basic Batsuit, minus cowl) but when Bruce is forced to kill R’as al Ghul with a ceremonial knife at his request – Bruce flips out. His reaction to having to kill someone is to become a rebellious teenager – hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking, chasing girls, and being a spoiled brat. he even gets himself emancipated and fires Alfred. It takes some time for Bruce to stop this behavior, and deal with his issues (the trauma of having to murder R’as), but when he does – he and Alfred are wonderful together. Selina also helps Bruce face his issues and get back to being himself. So he doesn’t become the Bat yet.

Barbara Kean tries to pick-up the organized crime that Penguin doesn’t control – opening a gun-running and sale organization. She also runs a nightclub where the women don’t have to pay for drinks. Tabby supports her in her goals – and they try to recruit Selina. Barbara, it turns out was revived by R’as al Ghul, using “Lazarus water” (presumably because they couldn’t do a full Lazarus pit sequence). When R’as dies – Barbara becomes the Demon’s Head. It turns out, R’as really should have left an instruction book. At times, Barbara is able to lead the League of Shadows – but at times the League, especially the male members, balk at a female leader. The male League members even bring R’as back, but Barbara and Bruce kill him again. Barbara ends up as the Demon’s Head, understanding her powers, including the way to interpret visions of the future, as she leads a new female-only League of Shadows.

Tabby works with Penguin to get Butch “fixed” by Hugo Strange. It surprisingly enough works once they finally manage to get Butch to Strange. However, as Tabitha and Butch declare their love for each other – Penguin fatally shoots Butch (after calling him a friend) because Butch killed his mother. Then he wounds Tabitha – who goes to Barbara for help (we don’t see the result).

Both Riddler and Lee are wounded at the very end of the season too (yes, they look like they are dying – we can assume not because: comics).

The main villain of the second part of the season though is Jerome and his twin brother, Jeremiah. Everything else – Penguin, Riddler, the Sirens, Bruce, Alfred, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Bullock is spread through the entire season. Jerome is as nutty as before and he orchestrates a breakout at Arkham when Ed Nygma and Oswald Cobblepot are briefly locked up. Jerome uses a radio signal to get people up on rooftops ready to jump at midnight. But if Jim Gordon tries to stop anyone, including Harvey, they will jump immediately. Jim solves the conundrum by having people save each other. He and Jerome confront each other – and Jerome falls to his death. Jerome’s followers stage an attack on GCPD HQ.

But Jerome also threatens his twin brother, Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a brilliant engineer and he develops a self-perpetuating generator (with a little help from Wayne Enterprises). We are given a few hints that Jeremiah isn’t normal either – he lives in an underground bunker with only a female secretary / bodyguard for company, in a scene between Jerome and Jeremiah – Jerome accuses Jeremiah of lying about the horrors Jerome did as a kid, which resulted in Jerome being physically abused and ultimately sent away, while Jeremiah was sent to engineering school. Jerome uses his Joker Gas on Jeremiah which turns his face stark white – and releases his inner demons. Jeremiah is much scarier than Jerome because he’s so cold and calculating. Jerome wanted chaos. Jeremiah has a plan. With the final two episodes entitled “One Bad Day” and “No Man’s Land” long-time fans of the Batman Mythos know what’s coming and aren’t disappointed. Bruce, Jim, Lucius, and Harvey stop the initial explosions of the generators that Jeremiah has rigged to become bombs. But Jeremiah succeeds in blowing-up the bridges leading into Gotham City – leaving the city isolated.

Even though I didn’t like Pyg as a villain, and Jerome is just simple madness and chaos, Jeremiah made for an excellent villain. Adapting the massive “No Man’s Land” storyline is hard and Gotham managed to give it a good start (I can’t wait to see the follow up). As always, the imagery in this show is so good. This season opens with Bruce, very Batman-like on a rooftop with his cloak flowing behind him and a gargoyle in the background. It ends with Gordon shining a light at the clouds from Gotham City PD with Bruce standing nearby as a beacon of hope. In between the development of the other characters is just so well done. I love Penguin and Riddler so much I almost want to see them succeed – even though they are the villains. And the women this season also came into their own, even if they didn’t always meet their goals. I actually, overall, liked Gotham Season 4 very much, and I recommend it. I’m also looking forward to Season 5, which will be the final season.

Read my Gotham Season 1 Review.

Read my Gotham Season 2 Review.

Read my Gotham Season 3 Review.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Day She Saved The Doctor

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Day She Saved The Doctor
  • Authors: Jacqueline Rayner, Jenny T. Colgan, Susan Calman, Dorothy Koomson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/26/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The Day She Saved the Doctor is a collection of four short stories, well, novelettes. Each story features a female companion and a popular Doctor, and the theme for the four stories is that the companion must “save” or rescue the Doctor. Mind you, in the show the female companions, and even some of the male companions rescued the Doctor all the time. All four stories are also written by female writers and the book designer is also a woman (and from Milwaukee!).

Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes
Jacqueline Rayner

The first story, “Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes” has the Fourth Doctor (as played on the television series by Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane arriving in Ancient Rome. They no sooner start exploring an ancient marketplace than a woman runs out into the street – her eyes are white and she’s been blinded. But the woman wasn’t always blind and she had been missing a few days. Sarah asks her what happened but she has no idea. Sarah and the Doctor escort her home and discover that four other merchants wives had recently been blinded, under similar circumstances. Sarah smells a story, but she also is convinced that whatever is going on it’s not normal for Imperial Rome.

Sarah and the Doctor split up to interview the other victims, and even the wives of other merchants who are in the same social circle and might know something. But Sarah meets a woman who is the person behind it all and the Doctor gets a warning about the woman but is too late to rescue Sarah. Sarah is taken by Marcia to the temple home of a female-only cult that worships a goddess. There she meets a priestess who is using an alien machine to harvest information from other women. Unfortunately, the machine has the side effect of leaving people blind and Marcia is actually harvesting information to help her husband, also a merchant, in his business dealings.

The Doctor goes to the temple but the guards won’t let him in because he’s a man. He sneaks in but the priestesses get very upset that a man has invaded his temple. They threaten to kill the Doctor by a poisonous snakebite and use the alien machine on Sarah. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to fix the machine and then has Sarah try it. The machine doesn’t blind her and after the priestess experiences Sarah’s memories of the Doctor, the priestess agrees she can’t kill the Doctor because he is a good man. She also sees that Marcia was taking advantage of her. The Doctor and Sarah leave, as they depart in the TARDIS, Sarah wonders if they might have changed history, but the Doctor reminds her that no one really knows anything about that particular female-led Roman religion.

Rose and the Snow Window
by Jenny T. Colgan

The second short story in The Day She Saved the Doctor is Jenny T. Colgan’s “Rose and the Snow Window”. The story starts with the Ninth Doctor and Rose arriving in Toronto in 2005, the Doctor is looking for a time puncture. He sets up a telescope in an apartment in a high rise apartment building. Rose looks through the telescope and sees a candle-lit room opposite. The Doctor and Rose investigate and soon find a connection between Toronto and Russia in 1812.

They travel back to Russia in 1812 where Rose meets the Russian count she had seen in the window in 2005 Toronto. The young man is bereft because he is being forced into a marriage of convenience to save his family. He soon falls for Rose because she is unlike anyone he has ever met. She also falls for the handsome Count. Do to an attack of some sort of robot or alien that recognizes Rose as an “anomaly” Count Nikolai pulls on the red ribbon she wears and the two snap back to 2005 Toronto. Rose introduces the Count to modern conveniences like hot showers, electric lights, and fluffy towels warmed on a radiator. The Count is delighted by each new discovery he makes, and Rose enjoys this immensely.

They return to Russia again with the Doctor, and gradually the Doctor and Rose figure out that the woman Nikolai is supposed to marry is actually an alien who feeds on psychic energy. She essentially bribes Nikolai – offering him money, security for his family, and no children so the timeline will be preserved. Nikolai decides to reluctantly go through with it. Rose interrupts the wedding. The anomalies get worse with a troop of confused Mounties appearing in 19th century Russia. (Mind you, this isn’t wholly accurate. The Mounties have ceremonial duties, which is the only time they wear red serge. Otherwise, in the Western provinces and territories, the Mounties have duties similar to the FBI or State Police in the US.) The Doctor ends up binding with the alien so it can go home. Later, Rose and the Doctor check on Nikolai’s history – knowing that without a rich purse, the only thing for him to do was join the Russian military in 1812.

“Rose and the Snow Window” had a great sense of atmosphere, and the story centers more on Rose than the Doctor but the Doctor is still a strong presence and it’s a good partnership story about the two of them. I quite enjoyed it. It’s also the longest story in the book.

Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta
by Susan Culman

Clara is basically having a bad day at the start of her story in this collection. It’s not terrible, but she’s bored, frustrated, and really needs a vacation. She convinces the Doctor to take her on a “relaxing spa vacation”. I did have some trouble figuring out if Clara was with the Eleventh Doctor or the Twelfth Doctor in this story, but by the end, I’m pretty sure it was the Eleventh Doctor (as played by Matt Smith on the BBC television series). The two arrive on Cui Palta, one of the great resort planets. They explore, as the Doctor raves about all the relaxing things they can do, but gradually Clara becomes uneasy. Clara’s unease and discomfort grow, and she points out the problem – there are no people. The Doctor pooh-poohs this observation. There are also yellow flowers everywhere and the Doctor encourages Clara “to stop and smell the flowers.”

The two continue walking, then see an entrance to a garden maze. Clara again has misgivings, but the Doctor says it will be fun to solve the maze. They enter but get hopelessly lost, going around and around in circles. Clara confronts the Doctor with this but again he pooh-poohs and ignores her. This continues and the traps in the maze get more and more dangerous. When they find dead skeletons, the Doctor acknowledges that something is wrong. They continue trying to solve the maze – which now includes moving walls and mirrored corridors. Finally, they reach a courtyard with three doors – only to find that when they open and walk through a door – they return to the courtyard.

It’s in this three-choices section that Clara and the Doctor are separated but they can still communicate by yelling to each other. Clara trips and being close to the ground and sneezing (as she’s been doing throughout the story) she used a hankie the Doctor gave her to cover her nose and mouth. Then she sees things clearly – it’s all an illusion and the Doctor is literally running in circles. She calls out to the Doctor to get low and cover his nose and mouth. He does and the illusion breaks. The two leave the maze and city for the TARDIS and leave the planet. But it begs the question as to how the psychoactive flowers got there in the first place and did they really poison all the people on the planet.

Like the Sarah Jane story, Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta plays up Clara’s personal fears – this time her fear of getting lost. But this is also probably the strongest story in terms of the theme of the Companion saving the Doctor – because in this story it seems like the Doctor never would have figured it out. But he also discounts Clara’s concerns frequently – and she comes off a bit spoiled and a bit of a know-it-all. So although it handles the theme in a direct way, I liked other stories in the collection better.

Bill and the Three Jackets
by Dorothy Koomson

Bill and the Doctor are in the TARDIS, and Bill is trying to convince the Doctor to let her go shopping. The Twelfth Doctor (as played by Peter Capaldi on the British series Doctor Who) tries to convince Bill she can certainly find something to wear for her date in the TARDIS’s wardrobe rooms, he even tells her he probably has an entire room of jackets, but Bill is unconvinced and succeeds in getting him to let her go shopping.

Bill goes into town and finds a shop she never really noticed before. Inside are racks and racks of jackets. The shop clerk, who has a name tag that reads, Ziggy, seems friendly enough and before long Bill’s picked out three jackets to try on. She slips on the first one, an amethyst jacket, and is about to take a selfie when the Ziggy objects, the jackets are exclusive designs and the shop doesn’t allow selfies. Bill thinks this is weird but she puts her phone away. The Ziggy then offers to take pictures with her Polaroid camera. The picture seems to be taking an extraordinary amount of time to develop so the clerk puts it on the counter. Bill tries on a green jacket and a gold leather one with buckles. But she also starts to feel ill and weak. Ziggy had taken pictures of her in each jacket. Ziggy urges Bill to get something to eat and then come back and make her decision.

Bill leaves and walks to a nearby coffee shop. But her coffee and sandwich don’t taste good to her and her stomach ache gets worse. Later the owner of the coffee shop comes out and asks Bill where the girl went, the one who ordered a coffee, chips, and sandwich and didn’t pay. Bill’s confused – that’s her order, but she definitely paid. Yet the coffee shop owner insists she’s someone else and the other girl didn’t pay.

Bill goes to the TARDIS and the Doctor doesn’t recognize her either. Moreover, there’s another Bill in the TARDIS. Bill now knows something is very wrong. She tries to figure out how she can get some help and realizes that there’s a girl she knew at university, someone to whom she always gave extra chips. Bill approaches the girl who’s reading a science fiction novel in the cafeteria. Bill explains her story and then tells her about the extra chips. The girl, being an SF fan, actually believes Bill. The two set off for the shop. They get the photographs and then confront the Doctor and the fake Bill again.

Bill tears up the photos and she starts to appear to be herself, while the fake Bill is obviously an alien shapeshifter. The camera was loaded with psychic paper, and the shapeshifter used it to stabilize her form. But when the Doctor and Bill ask why she did it, they find out she was fleeing a repressive regime on her home planet. Now she just wants to go home. The Doctor explains he must take the shapeshifter to a different time as well as place – if he took her to the planet now it would just be empty space. But he agrees. Bill’s compassion for the shapeshifter is instrumental in the Doctor’s decision to help. Bill also gains respect for the girl she’d flirted with but never really spoken to before.

There are no bad guys in this story. The alien is simply homesick and using its natural abilities and a little psychic paper to get what it wants. Bill’s own insecurities made her a mark in the first place, not that that’s completely fair (everyone is insecure sometimes). Bill learns a lot about herself about a friend and about the alien and the Doctor. And the Doctor is passive in this story – he’s as vulnerable to the alien’s illusion as anyone else who doesn’t know Bill. It’s a good story, with an important point about being comfortable in your own skin rather than trying to be someone else’s idea of perfect.

This was a fun collection and I enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Starborn

  • Title: Starborn
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Jacqueline Rayner
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian Chesterton, Violet
  • Cast: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Violet (Jacqueline King)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/19/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Starborn is a story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles line. The story is told by Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) one of the First Doctor’s companions with help by Jacqueline King as Violet. The story features the First Doctor (as played on the BBC television series by William Hartnell), Ian, Barbara, and Vicki – but it’s really Vicki’s story. The Companion Chronicles tell stories from a companion’s point of view and often consist of a companion somehow telling a story to someone else for some reason.

This story begins with Vicki running through the rain in London to the TARDIS. She calls out and pounds on the door but no one answers her. The woman with Vicki, Violet, insists that Vicki will die if she enters the TARDIS and also tells her that as a medium she has a contact who must speak with her. Vicki is skeptical but follows Violet to her rooms.

During the seance, Vicki first hears from “Crispus” a Roman citizen killed for rebelling against Nero. Vicki is, of course, skeptical about this, but after a bit of back and forth between this Control and Violet, she hears from another spirit. This spirit claims to be Vicki from the future, a Vicki who is dead.

This spirit tells Vicki of her next trip in the TARDIS. She, the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara materialize on another planet – the planet is lit by a thousand suns, and the TARDIS crew must wear dazzle hoods to prevent blindness. The Doctor also has each of them wear bracelets that are personal air conditioners. They meet a young woman, Annet, with silver hair who appears to be glowing. She explains the suns in the sky provide all the power for the planet and they communicate through streaks of light. She also explains that nearly everyone on the planet has some “star blood” in them and they are known as “Starborn”. Every so often, one of the stars in the sky will die. One of the Starborn will take its place, ascending in the sky to become part of the star network, providing power. The new star can communicate with the other stars, feeling the thoughts of loved ones who have become stars. Annet is Starborn and one of the stars is about to flame out – when it does, she will take its place. Annet says her mother ascended when she was twelve, and she knows she will be able to communicate with her when she ascends. Annet also tells the TARDIS crew that not only must a Starborn take the place of the dead star, but the gap causes energy to drain away, and if it’s not plugged – the entire network will drain through the gap and the planet below will die.

The Doctor and crew stay for the ascension ceremony and manage to secure an invitation to watch, even though strangers are normally not allowed. The star dies, and Annet is ready to take its place. But another black area appears in the sky, a pirate ship – crewed by female pirates. The pirates appear at the ceremonial grounds and knock most everyone out with a flash-bomb grenade. Only the TARDIS crew are unaffected. Annet falls from the pillar where she had sat waiting for her time to ascend. The Doctor orders Ian and Barbara to take the girl to the nearest town to find a doctor. Vicki thinks this is silly, as the Doctor is, well, a doctor – but it seems to be a ploy or distraction on the Doctor’s part. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place as the now unstable network is draining away – and the pirates have placed a mirrored box on the pillar where Annet was. The Doctor takes one of the personal air conditioner bracelets, punches the button to lower it to the coldest setting, and throws it at one of the mirrors in the box. All the mirrors explode from thermal shock. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place – but the Doctor is hesitating. Vicki, then, as her spirit tells Vicki herself in Violet’s room, takes Annet’s place. It’s actually working – until the Doctor throws his ring in the beam of light from the stars instead. Vicki falls to the ground – and presumably meets her death.

But Vicki’s figured it out – she knows whoever is telling her this story isn’t a future version of herself. She’s her this person refers to “Vicki” as well as Annet and Vicki as “the three of us”. Obviously, there was a third person there. Vicki also finds some of her descriptions of the Doctor’s behavior and even her own to be out of character. She then discovers this “dead spirit” is one of the pirates – she’d been sent to gather information about the planet and to find a way to steal their energy. But she became friends with Vicki and Annet and gradually realized that the pirates who raised her were selfish and cruel. Well, they were pirates. The pirate, whose name was Stella, threw herself into the beam and it was going OK until the Doctor threw his ring, then she fell instead of ascending – and died. The Doctor’s ring balanced the power long enough for Annet to return and take her rightful place. Stella tries to convince Vicki to destroy the Doctor’s ring so that she can ride out the paradox and survive. Vicki, knowing time travelers cannot interfere, refuses.

Stella’s time bubble collapses – and Vicki and Violet forget everything that happened. Vicki returns to the TARDIS.

Episode 1 and Episode 2 of Starborn are very different. The first episode describes this really beautiful though also very different society. With this being a First Doctor story he doesn’t condemn this different culture or try to prevent the “sacrifice” of young people becoming stars. He accepts that the culture works that way, and understands that Annet is honored and willing to become an actual star. And, as she says, she will see her mother again.

In Episode 2, some pirates show up. The pirates are greedy and want the planet’s power for themselves. And if a beautiful planet and its people are destroyed utterly in order for them to get some power – they simply don’t care. It becomes clearer in part two that whoever is telling this story to Vicki – it’s not Vicki herself. Among other things, she refers to “the three of us”. And there are other clues. So not only does disc introduce some pirates showing up out of nowhere – but it presents a bit of a mystery.
I liked Starborn more than I expected to and this story, like the rest of the Companion Chronicles, is highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to order Starborn on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Vox

  • Title: Vox
  • Author: Christina Dalcher
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/17/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Imagine if armed storm troopers of a new Conservative Christian government came into your place of work and removed all the women there – at gunpoint. Imagine if you were a tenured professor of neurolinguistics – and suddenly, you were simply a wife and mother with all your previous earnings and property transferred to your husband. Imagine having your passport taken from you and your daughter denied her first one? Imagine having to wear a gadget on your wrist that counts every word you say, and if you go over 100 – you get an electric shock. Imagine your daughter going to an indoctrination school where she’s taught sewing, cooking, and gardening – and a little math, but it’s illegal for her to learn to read or even to have books, and your son goes to a purity school where the Bible is used to teach him how men are better than women, men have the right to control women, women are meant to be submissive to men, and it’s women’s fault that men had to come along and shut them up.

This is the world that Dr. Jean McClellan wakes up it. For a novel that seems like the natural successor to The Handmaid’s Tale, Christina Dalcher’s Vox actually has a surprisingly bubbly narrator. Despite the story being set in Washington DC, Jean sounds like a California blonde. But she is a brilliant neurolinguist and before losing her job at gunpoint, her research specialty was Wernicke’s aphasia. She and her team, consisting of another woman, Dr. Lin the chairperson of the department, and an Italian research fellow named Dr. Rossi were researching a cure for Wernicke’s aphasia, which is an acquired disorder in which people use the wrong words when trying to communicate.

Jean experiences daily horrors – her son, Steven, coming home to announce he’s joined the Purity Movement (basically the Hitler Youth). Later he announces he will marry the girl next door before he turns 18 because then he will get a $10,000 bonus for marrying before 18 and $10,000 for each kid he and his wife have. A few days later, Steven cries that he “did something awful”. That night, an armored car pulls up to the house next door – and the girl, Julia, is dragged away. Her hair is cut, she’s paraded on TV in a grey dress, and she’s shamed for having premarital sex – which is now a crime. She will be sent to a work camp, with a counter on her wrist set to zero instead of one hundred. She’ll spend the rest of her days as a mute slave.

Steven tells his mother that he and all the other boys were made to swear and say “dirty things” at the TV in school when Julia was put on display and that the teachers gave them sheets of paper filled with words they had to use in letters to Julia. Late that night, an ambulance arrives next door. Olivia King, Julia’s mother, queen of the local neighborhood Purity Wives, has electrocuted herself with her own counter. She recorded twenty words into a recorder. Set it close enough to her wrist counter for the voice to be picked-up but far enough away that she couldn’t move it or stop it and put the recorder on a loop. She’s taken from the house unconscious, her hand burnt to a crisp. We can guess she’s dead, though it’s not crystal clear in the novel what happened.

In another vignette, Sonia, Jean’s daughter has a nightmare and screams out in her sleep. Both Jean and her husband rush to the bedroom and her husband clamps his hand over his daughter’s mouth to stop her from talking and getting shocked to death. Jean has used all her words for the day and can say and do nothing to comfort her daughter.

The next day, Sonia gets an award of ice cream at school. Jean checks her counter and realizes her daughter hasn’t spoken a word – all day.

In between the vignettes of terror, Vox also tells the story of Jean and her college roommate – an African American Lesbian named Jackie. Jackie is always joining causes and handing out political leaflets and trying to get Jean to help her. But Jean is too busy to care about politics. In the new regime, Jean knows that Jackie has also been sent away to a work farm to live with a gay man for a bedroom mate in the “conversion” camps – and to do heavy unpaid labor. Jean at times seems to think Jackie was “silly” with all her campaigns, but she also knows that ignoring a steadily declining situation is what lead to this new regime.

The novel flips between describing the daily horrors of Jean’s new life, and memories of her old one. Then government men show up at her door. They take off her counter and tell her the president’s brother had a skiing accident and has brain damage – in the Wernicke’s aphasia area. They try to talk her into joining a government team to come up with a cure. Jean’s given 24 hours to think about it. Jean tells them “no”. She’s then fitted with a new counter, one that decreases her daily word count by 10 every time she swears. And she’s given a sheet of “daily affirmations” she must say every day. They all describe the superiority of men over women and how God wants it that way. It’s nearly too much for Jean.

The next day, she’s given a chance to join the team. Jean asks for and gets a few concessions that weren’t offered the last time – her daughter’s counter in removed. She’s allowed to take her daughter out of school and teach her at home on the days she’s not working. She signs a contract and gets a decent salary, but of course, it goes in her husband’s bank account.

Jean goes to her new job. Lin and Dr. Rossi are waiting for her. The lab is very well equipped – and there’s no way it was pulled together in a few days. This is clue number one. It also turns out that Jean, Dr. Lin, and Dr. Rossi had already discovered a cure for Wernicke’s aphasia – a cure Jean hid when she lost her university job. There are enemies all around the three, but gradually as they go through the motions of research, allies seem to appear. But one of the prime enemies is Morgan, a “scientist” who had attempted to get a job in Jean’s department – he’s not intelligent, incapable of doing hard research, and difficult to work with as well. It’s not stated outright, but he’s the type of man with no talent of his own who blames women for his “not getting a good position” – never mind that the women in question have three times the experience he does, and four times better research skills. Morgan is of course highly placed in the new regime. When Jean’s a few minutes late on a Saturday because her babysitter, Olivia King has died and she needs a new one on short notice – Morgan tells her, “See, … this is why the old way didn’t work. There’s always something. Always some sick kid or a school play or menstrual cramps or maternity leave. Always a problem.” Jean’s just seen her next-door neighbor commit suicide – and found out she herself is pregnant. (Her greatest fear is that it’s a girl.) That’s Morgan in a nutshell.

Lin disappears from the team. Jean tries to find out what happened but doesn’t until close to the end of the book. Jean and Dr. Lorenzo Rossi are also secret lovers, picking up their affair from when they both worked at the University – and he’s the father of her child. As an Italian, he’s able to get her a fake passport and keep trying to get her to leave with him. She doesn’t want to leave her remaining children (Steven runs away from home after Julia is taken away to “find her”.)

Jean and Rossi try to find out what’s going on – they know there are three teams – White, Red, and Gold. they know they are the White team. Slowly they realize that the regime isn’t simply after a cure to Wernicke’s aphasia – they want a way to cause it, and a way to make the Wernicke’s Project water soluble. Jean realizes they want a bioweapon. And she realizes just how dangerous it could be if the Conservative Regime could take away the power of speech completely from anyone they want to take it from. Imagine for example if an airline pilot suddenly couldn’t communicate with air traffic control.

This is when Jean also begins to discover there is an underground. It starts with her mailman of all people – and his wife. His wife and daughters have fake counters, live on a farm, and the wife becomes Sonia’s babysitter while Jean works. One of the guards at the government building where she works is also in the Resistance.

Deadlines are pushed up and a human subject, an old woman, is prepared. Jean’s cure works. And Morgan escorts her and Rossi out of the building. They are about to leave the building in Jean’s Honda with some samples strategically hidden on her body when Poe, a creepy quiet guy calls her back in. Jean’s been suspicious of quiet Poe the entire time.

Jean and Rossi are brought to a lower level – the Gold team. Everyone is male and wears a wedding band. They are working on a way to cause Wernicke’s aphasia. Jean thinks of refusing and she discovers to her horror why it’s called “the Gold team” – in a small room, Lin and her lover and Jean’s old college roommate are being held captive, all with zero counter bands on their wrists.
She and Rossi start to formulate a plan.

The novel rushes to its conclusion like a freight train, but it turns out that Poe is a double agent and working for the Resistance – and so is Jean’s husband. With Jean and Rossi’s help and their Wernicke’s aphasia-causing agent, they take down the president and his cabinet, leaving the Director of Health and Human Services as the temporary president. Jean’s husband loses his life in the battle. Jean heads to Italy with her lover, Dr. Lorenzo Rossi, and to have her child there. But the appalling revelation that the Regime was going to permanently silence women, LGBTQA+ people, and anyone the Regime felt opposed their views becomes public and there is backlash against the Purity Movement and a dismantling of what it’s done – in a single year, a year after an African American president was succeeded by President Myers of the Purity Movement.

Again, Vox is a surprisingly bubbly read. It moves fast and many of the chapters are very short. It balances scenes of total horror: Olivia’s death, Julia being dragged away and publically shamed on television, Steven explaining to his mother who has a Ph.D. that it’s her “job” to buy milk; with a fast-paced story of political intrigue. But the best part of the novel is seeing women, well, women and the men in the Resistance, getting their revenge.

And that is the intriguing thing about this novel. It isn’t a story of female heroes breaking an unjust system. It’s a story of a woman discovering the men who have realized that the Purity Movement and its Conservative Regime have gone too far. The solder at the government building joins because his baby daughter isn’t learning how to talk because of her counter. Del and his wife join, well, one gets the feeling they were always a bit “out there” but they also fear for their kids and the inevitable “ride to imprisonment or death” in a black van. Jean’s husband, whom she constantly describes as weak and a bit of a “pussy” is in the dangerous position of being a double agent – and probably pushed to have Jean on the project in the first place hoping she’d have a way to stop it. And we know little of Poe – but he’s also in the dangerous position of being a double agent.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a very fast read. It’s not the depressing dystopian near-future fiction you might expect, but more affirming. And get your friends to read it too. Plus the linguistics aspect is fascinating.

Book Review – Doctor Who: House of Cards

  • Title: House of Cards
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/12/2018

House of Cards is another story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles line, which features stories from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, often with two actors performing the parts as if it was a two-hander play. This story is mostly from Polly’s point of view, but also includes parts performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon. The story features the Second Doctor (as played on television in Doctor Who by Patrick Troughton), Ben, Jamie, and Polly.

The story opens with the foursome already split up, and the Doctor is absent for much of the story, the TARDIS crew has landed in an intergalactic casino. The enforcers in the casino are snake-like beings called the Sidewinders, and the casino is owned by Miss Fortune. Polly is appalled by the Sidewinders. No sooner than she complains to Ben about them being split up than the casino’s slot machines go haywire and start spitting out chips. Patrons rush the machine for free chips, even with the Sidewinders urging them to turn in the casino’s money.

Ben picks up enough chips to start playing one of the games – badly. Jamie watches Ben play while striking up a conversation with a red-haired girl named Hope. Across the table from Ben, Jamie and Hope, a mysterious woman in a red cloak and china mask is the only person at the table who seems to win. Jamie tells Ben to copy her, and he does, winning back some of his losses.

Polly, meanwhile, tries to find the Doctor – passing a pit where robot dogs are viciously fighting each other, and meeting a gambler down on his luck named “Lucky Bill”. She catches up with the Doctor and ends up with a time bangle, which someone had slipped in his pocket. Time travel is absolutely forbidden in the casino. Taken to meet Miss Fortune, Polly is informed of the rules against time travel and finds out Ben has lost his stake and the money he borrowed from the casino. He and Lucky Bill must now play the Game of Life – Miss Fortune tells Polly she must press one of two buttons – which will either allow Ben to go free but kill Lucky Bill or the reverse. Miss Fortune coldly tells Polly that because the buttons are randomized even she doesn’t know which button will kill Ben and which will save him. But when the time comes Polly doesn’t push that button – she grabs the time bangle and activates it.

Polly arrives a bit earlier and meets Hope – the redhead from Ben’s gambling table. Hope is a time traveler and the woman in the China mask too. Polly tries to explain it was her and her companions who set off the time travel alarm but it doesn’t go well. She tries to save Ben by getting him some money so he doesn’t have to borrow money and to find the Doctor for help. Plus, Polly wants to help Hope too – knowing she’s stuck in a bad situation.

Ben avoids the Game of Life – but the Doctor gets stuck in a game of life of his own – playing a winner takes all card game against Miss Fortune for Polly’s life and their freedom. The Doctor chooses the game and produces “Happy Family” cards. He wins by laying down all his cards at once. Miss Fortune disappears in a red mist. The Sidewinders take over the casino and the Game of Life is shut down. Having won his amnesty – Lucky Bill starts over, trying to win again. The time travelers leave the casino.

This story seems to take place immediately after The Selachian Gambit since that story is mentioned. It’s a fun story, somewhat basic (most of the little stories going on are similar to what you’d find in any story about a casino) and the setting is very confined. I did like the fighting robot dogs – they reminded me of K-9. And the robot croupiers who look like playing cards were very cool. But there’s not much meat to the story itself. It starts with the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie already in the casino. They meet people, do stuff, then leave. I liked that Polly got to do a lot in this story – but Jamie seemed under-used, especially as Frazer is narrating. So it’s like the reverse of Selachian Gambit which had a lot of Jamie and less of Polly. Still, it’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable and it’s a good adventure – so if you’re looking for an enjoyable Second Doctor story, this is a good place to start. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to order House of Cards on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Selachian Gambit

  • Title: The Selachian Gambit
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/05/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Space sharks robbing an intergalactic bank vault? The Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton on the long-running British SF series Doctor Who) and his companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie get caught up in a bank robbery. The Selachian Gambit is an audio play in Big Finish’s Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles series, with Frazer Hines as Jamie, the Doctor, the Selachians, and other voices, and Anneke Wills as Polly.

The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly return to the TARDIS, only to find it clamped and covered by a force-field with a notice saying 10 credits is due for parking fees. As they are outside a bank, Ben, Polly, and Jamie convince the Doctor to go inside to get the money. But the Doctor is unable to fill in the form to open an account – refusing to provide a name or address because “he can’t”. However, there isn’t much time for anyone to argue about this as three sharks in space suits enter the bank to rob the vault.

The sharks wave around guns, Ben manages to hide before anyone sees him, and Polly is sent to make tea for twenty in the kitchen. The Doctor tries to defuse the situation. When Polly heads off to the kitchen, she runs into Ben who has been crawling around in the bank’s ductwork, trying to find a way to help. The two discover some glue that hardens quickly until it’s rock-hard. They make three “glue bombs” to attack the robbers. Polly is able to pass one to Jamie, but when she tries to tell him the details of the plan she’s made with Ben – they get caught and she has to shush.

The sharks demand the bank manager open the vault, but he says he doesn’t have the combination. The sharks then open the vault with a combination they have – but instead of a bank vault, all they see is a blank void. The vault is dimensionally transcendental (“Like the TARDIS!”, Jamie points out) and without the proper combination, it remains hidden in a pocket dimension. Next, the sharks try to blow the vault door – this doesn’t work.

Seeing that the sharks may be violent but not particularly smart, the Doctor offers to “help” them if they stop killing hostages (they kill one woman when they first enter the bank). Very soon Tartarus Security contacts the bank – and the Doctor becomes the negotiator. He manages to get six hostages released including Polly, despite the sharks’ complaints. But they also threaten Jamie. A bomb is discovered, but Jamie uses his glue bomb to gum up the works.

The Doctor is able to convince the sharks that the only way into the vault is the hoppers used to deposit and remove valuables. Polly reaches the Tartarus Security ship with the other hostages and soon discovers the captain intends to storm or even blow-up the bank, hostages included, to stop the Selachians.

Things come to a head, and Polly thinks the bank including the Doctor, Ben, Jamie, and all the hostages have been destroyed by Tartarus. But the Doctor managed to get everyone inside the dimensionally transcendental bank vault. He then opens a bridge, so the door can be opened on the Tartarus ship. The Doctor also discovers that Galatibank had made a series of bad investments, losing their investors’ money and valuables, and lied about it. The bank had hired the Selachians and Tartarus to ensure that the bank itself was destroyed. As a result, the embezzlement would remain hidden and the bank’s investors would be paid off by insurance companies. The bank’s manager is so disgusted he decides to offer bonuses to everyone affected by the robbery with higher rewards to the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly for rescuing everyone from certain death. Ben is surprised the Doctor takes the money but finds out from Jamie that he asked for his reward to be given to charity, except 10 Credits – which the Doctor uses to pay the parking fee on the TARDIS which the Tartarus captain found floating in space and claimed as salvage.

Moral of the story? Always pay your parking fees!

The Selachian Gambit is an action-packed story, very much in the flavor of Classic Doctor Who though it feels a bit more like a Third or Fourth Doctor story than a Second Doctor story, even though it features the early Second Doctor cast of Ben, Polly, and Jamie. Frazer Hines is brilliant – handling a number of different voices, including the monsters (which I didn’t realize was Frazer – I thought it was an uncredited Nicholas Briggs. I learned it was Frazer when it was mentioned in the after the story interviews/commentary). I liked Polly in this too. She’s often an under-used companion, but even though she’s sent “to make the tea” it’s clear that both the Doctor and Polly know that’s code for, “See if you can find anything to get us out of this mess”. This is a recommended and fun story.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to order The Selachian Gambit on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Book Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

  • Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Author: Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/25/2018

I finished this over Thanksgiving Weekend, but with one thing or another, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and review it. The first paragraph promises a story of Sparrowhawk famous Archmage and dragonlord before he was famous, and this volume (the first of three) is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Ged lives on a small island located in the Archipelago of Earthsea, there isn’t much to do on his island but herd goats or fish in the sea. One day, Ged overhears a woman use a command to control her herd of goats – he tries it and all the goats move to him when he repeats the command the goats move in closer. An old woman witnesses this and prevents Ged from being crushed. She informs him he has magic and he could be a talented wizard. She takes Ged under her wing and begins training him. Ged does well. A few years later, as Ged realizes he’s close to learning everything he can from his local witch, a sorcerer comes to visit his village. the sorcerer offers to train Ged, now called Sparrowhawk, further if he follows him. Ged agrees and abandons his home island.

This new wizard reminds me of Yoda. He says little but expects Ged to learn by listening and observing. Sparrowhawk begins to learn a bit about controlling the natural world, such as influencing and even calling to himself animals and birds (he’s especially good with birds of prey, thus his name) and influencing the weather (which he’s less successful at). He meets a young girl, but the wizard training him warns Sparrowhawk off her because she’s “dark” (meaning “dark side” or evil). The girl gets Sparrowhawk to go through the wizard’s library and open and read one of his forbidden tombs. Sparrowhawk does this and is attacked by a dark shadow. The wizard arrives to beat it off – but gives Sparrowhawk an ultimatum – go to the wizard university to study, or stay and keep his nose out of forbidden books. Despite warnings of dire consequences, Sparrowhawk chooses to go to the wizard university.

The first test at the wizard university is to successfully find the door and enter. It takes Sparrowhawk a few tries but he succeeds. He’s introduced around by an assigned an older student as a mentor. Sparrowhawk immediately dislikes the student who’s meant to show him around and help him adjust to life at the school. It was extremely unclear to me why Sparrowhawk thought Jasper was out to get him. Jasper seems perfectly kind and polite. Jasper is no bully and neither is he the type of spoiled “top boy” who can be irritating because he is so perfect. But Sparrowhawk chooses to dislike the boy who is meant to help him out. Sparrowhawk also makes a friend, Vetch. So he remains at the school, doing well in his studies.

But one day, Jasper does challenge Sparrowhawk (or vice versa) and in the ensuing fight, Sparrowhawk remembers the dark spell he learned from his second teacher, the quiet wizard. He tries to cast the spell, and it backfires spectacularly – Sparrowhawk and Jasper are injured and knocked out, and the Archmage of the school who attempted to contain the evil is killed. After he recovers from his physical hurts – Sparrowhawk is greatly humbled and finds learning magic less instinctive and very difficult. But he continues.

Eventually, Sparrowhawk does graduate, and he’s sent to a small fishing island to the far East of Earthsea. He becomes close friends with one of the fishermen and his family and learns that a dragon with nine children lives on a nearby island and is considered a threat. When Sparrowhawk fails to save the fisherman’s terminally-ill son, he has to prove himself, and he goes after the dragons. Sparrowhawk does well, killing or maiming many of the dragons, and driving off the biggest momma dragon. But the dragon warns him of the shadow hanging over him.

Sparrowhawk tries to return to the island that is home to the wizard university but is defeated by the spell that protects the island from evil. Sparrowhawk realizes that the shadow that attacked when he used the evil spell against Jasper never really left him, and he goes on a very long Quest to destroy this shadow. Vetch joins him on the quest. He eventually succeeds and Sparrowhawk’s discoveries during his quest will lead to the next book.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I liked the setting of the semi-independent islands in Earthsea (all of which are direly poor thanks to the lack of central authority, and land). And I liked the Buddhist/Japanese background for the mythology and themes of the story. It reminded me a lot of Star Wars and the Force (all the Wizards who know what they are doing keep telling Shadowhawk about “balance” and how important it is). But on the negative side, the author seems to feel that one Should Not Use “Big Words” in a children’s book (this is a young adult novel, something I didn’t realize when I started it) – a tendency I find really irritating. The language in the book, despite being simplistic, also has a strange structure – almost as if English isn’t the author’s first language (and it is – I looked up the author). There’s a lot of oddly strung-together descriptions that are both long and just strange, much to the book’s detriment. Overall, I give it three out of 5 stars, and I’m not sure when I’ll read the next volume.