Book Review – Doctor Who: The Last Post

  • Title: The Last Post
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: James Goss
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dr. Liz Shaw, Dr. Emily Shaw, Third Doctor, 
  • Cast: Caroline John, Rowena Cooper
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/31/2019

To be completely honest – I listened to this audio in October or early November sometime, but I did listen to it twice, still, I’ve probably already forgotten a few details. The Last Post is part of Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles which tell stories from the companion’s point of view and fill in gaps from previous eras of the series. Set in the Third Doctor’s first season, The Last Post features Dr. Liz Shaw and her mother, Dr. Emily Shaw, as well as mentions of other members of Liz’s family. The story opens with Liz and her mum meeting for a long-overdue meal. Her mother presses Liz for details on her new hush-hush job, and when Liz is hesitant to reveal any secrets, her mother points out she’s signed the Offical Secret Act multiple times. Liz decides she can mention where she works, only to have her mother answer, “Oh, you work for UNIT!” Liz is flabbergasted to learn her mother knows about UNIT, but she responds that she is on “a lot of committees”.

The rest of the story is told mostly through exchanges of letters and phone calls. In between updating her mum on her adventures with the Doctor, Liz tells her mum that she seems to have uncovered a conspiracy or at least something strange. People are dying, strangely, but they also are being warned of precisely when their life will expire. The Doctor ignores Liz’s findings and her mother suggests the deaths are coincidences at first.

However, eventually, the Doctor joins Liz in her investigation, only to be stung by some weird metal scorpion. Liz’s mum also seems to know more than she initially stated. When she starts to feel that one of her committees is going too far, Dr. Emily Shaw tells her daughter about the precise nature of her committee’s work. Dr. Shaw tells Liz that in the wake of World War II, the government began to collect and analyze data, chiefly concerning life expectancy. The more data was collected, the more addicted to data collection the government became. Eventually, computers were used to collate and analyze the data. A computer was developed with the intent to predict life expectancy. But it instead predicted the end of the world – earning the computer the nickname, “The Apocalypse Clock”. This Clock predicted, precisely the deaths of individuals – but with their deaths, the end of the world was pushed back – granting them more time. When Dr. Emily Shaw receives a letter warning her of her death, only for her to be rescued by the Doctor, it’s the catalyst for Liz, Dr. Shaw, and UNIT to put an end to the “The Apocalypse Clock”.

The exchange of letters and phone calls is a wonderful framing device for this story and Dr. Emily Shaw is a great character. The Apocalypse Clock is spooky and would have been a better title for the story than, “The Last Post” (which refers to the elder Dr. Shaw’s “last” letter to her daughter). The story is also bittersweet since it’s the last story Caroline John recorded for Big Finish before passing away. Still, with all of that – it’s an excellent story and I recommend it.

Book Review – Murder Past Due

  • Title: Murder Past Due
  • Author: Miranda James
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/25/2019

To be completely honest – I finished this book, maybe a week ago, and I put it down several times while reading it. And it’s not a bad story, not by any means, but it’s deceptively slow-paced and longer than the typical cozy mystery.

Charlie Harris is a retired librarian, now working as a part-time archivist for his alma mater, a small Southern college in Athena, Mississippi. He’s also a library volunteer and has a large Maine Coon cat named Diesel that he walks on a leash who accompanies him virtually everywhere, including to his job. Besides his librarian work, Charlie owns a boarding house where he takes in students from the local college. The house had belonged to his aunt, who looked after her own boarders, and Charlie decided to keep the tradition going. Charlie’s current boarder is Justin, the son of an old school friend of his.

After introducing us to Charlie, his cat, his boarder – Justin, Justin’s mother, Julia, and Charlie’s cook and housekeeper, as well as individuals at the college, we meet Godfrey Priest – world-renowned author of thrillers and mysteries. Godfrey was also a classmate of Charlie and Julia. In fact, Julia had dated him in high school – and he is Justin’s real father. Godfrey claims to be in town to donate his papers to the college, which is why he initially visits Charlie at his job, but it soon becomes clear – he’s there to meet his long-lost son. This reunion happens, but shortly thereafter, Godfrey is murdered. And it also soon becomes clear that Godfrey was a jerk and pretty much everyone had a reason to hate and resent him. It’s a case of “who killed the jerk”. Charlie and Diesel investigate, overturning lots of long-buried secrets, and lots of reasons why someone might want Godfrey dead. They even discover that the other guy that everyone can’t stand was Godfrey’s barely compensated ghostwriter. Charlie, and a local police officer named Kenesha, investigate and try to figure out who was angry enough at Godfrey to actually kill him – or accidentally since there is evidence he was killed in a struggle.

As is often the case with such stories, in the last chapter, all the suspects are gathered at Charlie’s house, as well as the police and a lawyer. The lawyer reads out Godfrey’s will, which leaves most of his considerable fortune to Justin and revelations are made and the murderer reveals themselves.

Murder Past Due takes considerable time to explore time and place, setting up the characters and the curiously timeless small town they live in. But the murder and case are somewhat disappointing. Godfrey is a jerk, lots of people wanted him dead, so the catch is – who wanted him dead enough to actually do it? Which is not the best premise for a murder mystery. The final scene is unconvincing, as is the final twist and actual revelation of the murderer. But I would read another mystery in this series because I liked Charlie and Diesel and I wouldn’t mind finding out what happened to some of the other characters.

Thunderbirds Are Go Series 3 Vol. 1 Review

  • Series Title: Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Season: Series 3 Vol. 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: ITV
  • Cast: Rasmus Hardiker, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Menkin, Kayvan Novak, Rosamund Pike, David Graham, Sandra Dickinson, Angel Coulby
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD (R2, PAL)

This review contains spoilers for Thunderbirds Are Go Series 3, Volume 1 (episodes 1-13).

Thunderbirds Are Go continues to be one of my favorites shows that I catch-up on via DVD (since I don’t have streaming access and I cannot watch it on Amazon Prime, the US distributor). The series is a worthy successor to the original Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series broadcast on ITV in the 1960s. The animated series uses CGI and model work. It is also incredibly fun – with plenty of action, characterization and memorable moments. It short, it’s enjoyable to watch, and one of the few shows I watch that I’d recommend for younger children as well as adults.

Series 3 kicks off right away by introducing the Choas Crew: Fuse and Havoc. They are out to cause, well, as much chaos as possible, and they have special equipment and vehicles in a similar manner to International Rescue. The Choas Crew is also working for the Hood. Unfortunately, as a season-long villain (or half-season I should say since once again the DVDs only include the first half of the season) the Choas Crew really has no motivation and there’s no good reason for their actions or their partnership with the Hood. Over the course of the season, we learn a little bit about the Choas Crew, but not enough to make them a truly interesting villain. The Mechanic is mentioned a few times, but not shown – both by the Hood, who wants to free him and use him again in his nefarious plans, and Brains, who wants to find a way to permanently free the Mechanic from the Hood’s control. Hopefully, when the second part of the season finally arrives on DVD, these threads will be wrapped up – the Choas Crew will be finally defeated and turned over to the GDF, and maybe the mentions of the Mechanic will have a purpose.

However, Thunderbirds Are Go Season 3 vol. 1 does have some great episodes and stories. Ned Tedford and Gladys the geranium show-up again. This time, the GDF has transferred him to the World Food Store to protect a repository of seeds that can be used to raise new plants in the case of a disaster. Of course, Ned has Gladys with him. When the Choas Crew attacks, International Rescue responds – but the Seed Store has its own defenses, including a deadly gas, and growth serum stores. Needless to say, Kayo, Ned, and the GDF’s Captain Rigby barely escape the gas (probably Halon or something similar) but poor Gladys gets hit with the growth serum! Still, Ned has carefully curated her seeds and cuttings and starts a new baby Gladys after losing his original plant. Even so, it was sad to see poor Gladys go – she and Ned have been through so much together!

“Night and Day” has Alan and John helping a mobile mining and storage crew on Mercury. Due to the extreme heat on the planet’s “day side” – their operation must continually move to stay in the dark. When an accident means they can’t move – it’s International Rescue to the, well, rescue. I liked this one very much – Alan was a bit more competent than the youngest Thunderbird pilot can sometimes be shown to be, and it was great to see John in a more action-oriented role, instead of simply managing communications on Thunderbird 5. Plus the rescue itself had some very intriguing aspects to it and the photography and animation were awesome!

In “Deep Water” – Gordon, Lady Penelope, and Parker have to rescue a mother and son who were checking on the Supreme Barrier Reef, a project to replace the destroyed Great Barrier Reef when their sub is destroyed by acidic water. Rescuing people quickly turns into trying to clean-up/stop an environmental disaster as Gordon and Lady Penelope must locate a leaky tanker and remove it from the Ocean Floor before the entire area is destroyed, including the new coral that’s started to grow beyond the Supreme Barrier Reef. The story is tense, has a great message (something unusual for this show) and the rescue and removal of the tanker is pretty cool.

Having given Gordon his own episode, Alan and Kayo get their own story in “Endgame”. Alan has been playing an online massive multiple player game called, “Cavern Quest”, but no one shares his interest or his enthusiasm for the new “Cavern Quest” theme park opening in a week. But when the Choas Crew attacks the park and an emergency call is sent out, Kayo is sent to respond, and Alan aids her virtually. Kayo meets Aezethril the Wizard, and real-life game designer, who is in trouble because the Choas Crew stole his wand before trapping him in the first cavern of the theme park. The wand controlled the actual holographic theme park, and without it, the only way out is through. Kayo and Aezethril must play through the game, stop the Choas Crew and their destruction of the park, and escape. Aezethril is voiced by Slyvester McCoy (of Doctor Who and The Hobbit)! Kayo chooses a sword as her weapon, Aezethril adds a hammer to his costume, and Alan holographically joins them. They play through the game, cavern by cavern, until reaching the final test. As silly as it sounds, I loved this one! The dynamics between Kayo, Alan, and Aezethril worked really well, and Sylvester definitely is enjoying himself!

The final story, “SOS” is another two-parter, like the opening one of the set, though the first part does have a definite end. The second-part makes up for the lack of a cliffhanger in the middle by ending on a cliff-hanger – and it’s a big one. The story itself involves the spaceship Calypso returning to Earth from its deep-space mission. And not only is it returning, but it is also about to crash into planet Earth. International Rescue must work together to rescue the crew, it’s data, and in part two – Braman. When the Choas Crew intervenes in Gordon’s ocean rescue/salvage operation, it’s Gordon who must soon be rescued by his brothers. Braman’s eventual rescue leads to a startling cliffhanger, as I mentioned.

I still recommend this series. The rescues are great. I love the interaction between the characters, regulars, reoccurring characters, and guests. I didn’t find Havoc and Fuse that interesting – their destruction vehicles seriously seemed solely designed to sell toys. But I still seriously love watching this show. And it’s good to see something positive, with the Tracy family (and their friends and associates) risking their own lives to rescue people in impossible situations, for no other reason than because someone has to, otherwise those people would surely die.

Read my review of Thunderbirds Are Go Series 1 Vol. 1.
Read my review of Thunderbirds Are Go Series 1 Vol. 2.
Read my review of Thunderbirds Are Go Series 2 Vol. 1.
Read my review of Thunderbirds Are Go Series 2 Vol. 2.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: Discovery
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 14
  • Discs: 4
  • Network: CBS (CBS All-Access)
  • Cast: Sonequa Martin-Green, Anson Mount, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Emily Coutts, Michelle Yeoh, Shazad Latif, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo, Jayne Brook
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

The second season of Star Trek Discovery is very different from the first season, and much more like a traditional Star Trek series. Captain Christopher Pike is appointed the new captain of the Discovery, while the Enterprise is in spacedock for repairs. Seven strange “red signals” have appeared, signals which have some connection to Spock and Michael. Michael is Spock’s adopted sister, having been raised by Sarek and Amanda after the death of her parents. The Discovery follows the signals, also discovering the mystery of the “Red Angel” – a mysterious being that appears in times of crisis and seems to help.

Each episode of the series focuses on these two missions – the Red Angel and the signals. We also see Ash on the Klingon homeworld, but only briefly as for political reasons he is unable to remain as the Chancellor’s consort and he and their son go in hiding. L’Rell even claims she executed Ash and her baby to prove her loyalty to the Klingon Empire. The child is sent to a Klingon monastery. Later, Captain Pike will go to the monastery to obtain a Time crystal – and see a horrifying vision of his future as a result.

Suru has a health crisis, but when Discovery goes to his home planet, through complex means, it’s discovered that he is evolving into the advanced form of his species – a form largely without fear, and the planet’s apex predator which nearly wiped out the Ba’ul – the other species on the planet and the one that uses technology to cull the Kelpians. Suru helps his people to evolve.

Slowly Michael, Pike, and others solve the mystery of the Red Angel and of the signals. It does work as a series-long plot, with several interesting stops along the way. And Pike is an interesting captain, logical, calm, focused, and driven. He doesn’t rely too much on his instinct (Like Kirk), but he’s colder than Picard. And Pike has an inclusive style of leadership that brings takes into consideration the opinions of others on his staff, without more formal command staff meetings.

Section 31 again rears its head and proves to be very much the villain of the season.

Overall, I preferred Season 1 of Star Trek Discovery – it had some real surprises and pulled no punches in showing the compromises that happen when the Federation is at war. Season 2 isn’t bad, but it’s much more predictable and feels very much like traditional Star Trek, with traditional storylines and characters. Whereas in Season 1, Michael was the point of view character but she was flawed, and the season was very much about her learning things and changing her viewpoint, in Season 2 she’s very much a Mary Sue – everything revolves around her, and considering her still rather low rank, she spends too much time telling her captain what to do. She’s also become much less flawed, which is a problem. I will say though, I really liked the actor playing Spock – once they got him back from a Section 31 prison (it’s complicated). I also liked Pike – he’s a bit cold, but he fits with his crew.

Overall, recommended. If you watched only a few episodes of Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery and thought it “really wasn’t Star Trek“, Season 2 is probably much more to your liking. There also isn’t much overlap between Season 1 and 2, so it’s perfectly possible to start with the second season without being extremely lost.

Read my Review of Season 1 of Star Trek Discovery.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Review

  • Series Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, Alexis Bledel
  • Original Network: Hulu
  • Original Production Company: MGM

This review contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale.

At the end of the previous season, June gives her baby to Emily and sends her off to escape Gilead, while she remains behind. Season 3 opens with Emily and the baby continuing their escape and successfully obtaining asylum and refugee status in Canada. Emily brings the baby to Luke and Moira, and after a period of adjustment living with them, she locates her wife and son. By the end of the season, she’s returned to her profession as a doctor.

In Gilead, June returns to the house of Commander Lawrence, where she discovers he’s a psychopathic game-player and his wife is ill and not always able to get the medications she needs due to the laws and rules of Gilead. June is determined to see her daughter, Hannah, and try to get her out. She also has a young walking partner, who constantly repeats the Gilead Party Line. June doesn’t pay as much attention to this as she should. Finally, a plan is made for June to see Hannah at her School for the Domestic Arts, using Mrs. Lawrence as a cover. It doesn’t work – and soon after Hannah and her Commander and his wife are moved again. Not only that, but the entire household – Martha, Handmaid, even Guardian are executed by Gilead, with the Handmaids literally pulling the ropes to hang them.

June’s walking partner gets pregnant but doesn’t immediately reveal it to her Commander. Aunt Lydia has June publically shamed. June fights back by claiming her walking partner doesn’t want her baby – and the girl is publically shamed by Lydia. A few episodes later, in a sequence without much explanation, the girl goes crazy and starts firing a gun in the market. She is shot down by a Guardian in front of Lydia and June. The woman is taken to a hospital and put on life support until her child is developed enough to be removed by Cesarian section, then she is allowed to die. Aunt Lydia forces June to remain in the room, on her knees. June slips into a deep depression and altered status. She even takes a used scalpel from the sharps container and attacks Serena when she visits, as well as harming herself. The doctor examines the cut and asks her how long she’s been suicidal. At first, June insists she isn’t but realizes that she is – and that she has been since she realized she’d probably never see her daughter again.

Now back at the Commander’s house, June gets access to records of Handmaids and their children. She finds out Janine had a son that was taken from her by Gilead, only for that child to be killed in a traffic accident. All of the Handmaids we know through June have also lost children. June has an epiphany and changes her focus. Instead of focusing on her daughter only, she decides she’s going to get children out. Any child. As many as she can. When she talks to the Martha network about this – she gets an incredible amount of support, more than she could possibly have expected. By focusing on others, on her fellow Handmaids and their children, June grows and also gets help, whereas before the Handmaids and Marthas were getting tired of her selfishness. June works on getting help from Commander Lawrence by promising to take his wife with her to escape to someplace she can get the medical help she needs.

The second half of the season focuses on June and the Martha Network trying to set up this escape. There are setbacks, but June’s determination wins the day. She returns to Jezebel’s to convince the bartender there to help the Handmaids. They know he brings in regular shipments by plane of contraband, so June wants to use the plane as an escape route for 52 children. Billy seems uncommitted, but as she’s leaving June is spotted by the Washington DC Commander of Gilead who forces her to an upstairs room and tries to brutally rape her. June kills him but then shuts down in shock. A Martha finds her, one she had chosen to be saved from The Colonies. The Martha helps June get out of Jezebel’s and she and her fellow Marthas burn the Commander’s body and clean-up the mess. No one in authority ever realizes he’s dead, they just think he’s missing. Meanwhile, Serena becomes more and more determined to get her daughter, Nichole, back from the Canadians. This had resulted in the Waterfords, Aunt Lydia, and June taking a trip to Washington DC where Haidmaids cannot even speak, their lips are sealed together with metal rings. But Serena realizes that despite her husband’s assurances – he has no intention of actually getting Nichole back. Serena works with an American spy to get herself and Commander Waterford to Canada to face war crimes accusations. Serena gets immunity by testifying against Waterford. So now, the Waterfords are in Canada facing war crimes charges (Serena is charged with separate crimes later on), and the Commander they met in DC is dead. Furthermore, Billy decides to help the Marthas and Mayday is a go – June and company will rescue the children. As her new Martha tells her – she is “fucking fantastic”.

The details of the plan have a few setbacks, especially when a Martha brings a child to the house, gets cold feet, and decides to return to her mistress. But the younger Martha in Commander Lawrence’s house, Sienna, points out that because they don’t have any transport that they can go through the woods to get to the airport – it’s shorter. The route also proves to be safer, with less chance of getting spotted. They reach the border of the airport only to face fences and guardians on the lookout. June decides she will create a diversion while the Marthas find a safer way to get to the actual plane. Handmaids and Marthas return and help with the diversion – throwing rocks at the Guardians. It’s women armed with rocks versus men in black with machine guns, but the women actually do okay, definitely providing the needed distraction, even though some are shot and injured. June further leads a Guardian into the woods – he shoots her, but she gets him, at gunpoint, to call in the all-clear before she shoots him dead, then collapses. The plane, with the children, escapes. Later the plane lands in Canada and Moira and Emily are leading the refugee aid. Luke looks on in hope to see June. Rita tells Moira that June did all this – pointing to the rescued children.

Back in Gilead, six Handmaids find June and carry her off. June is injured but alive.

Going into Season 3, I was expecting to see June meeting with the Resistance and becoming a Harriet Tubman of Gilead – leading others out but staying herself to continue to help the Resistance. It takes June about half a season to come to that realization. She does help the Resistance throughout, using Commander Lawrence’s house as a safe place. One woman she smuggles through she’s told isn’t going out – she’s going deeper in, as a chemist, she can make bombs to be used by the Resistance. This knowledge is part of June’s journey to becoming a leader, not simply another victim. Her Epiphany after kneeling, for months, watching a woman as a human incubator (a metaphor for how all Handmaids are treated in Gilead) is the second step in her journey. Seeing how much help she is offered when she becomes determined to save others, strangers, children but strangers she doesn’t know is the final step. June has gone from being fundamentally selfish and getting others killed to becoming a Resistance leader who saves lives. I cannot wait to see what she does in the next season!

I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale. From the premise, it might seem like it would be depressing, difficult to watch, or angering – and it is, but it is also hopeful and just a really well-told story. The acting, cinematography, and stories are excellent.

Read my Review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1.
Read my Review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2.