Book Review – Doctor Who: Love and War

  • Title: Doctor Who: Love and War
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/18/2020

Love and War is a Doctor Who tie-in novel from Virgin Publishing Company’s Doctor Who The New Adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion, Ace (aka Dorothy McShane). The first half of Love and War I really liked. In the far future, an empty planet is discovered that is so perfect it’s named “Heaven”. It becomes an intergalactic graveyard for both Humans and Draconians, who have finally brokered a peace after a very long and deadly war. There are also, now that the war is over, small human and Draconian settlements on Heaven. The Doctor and Ace arrive, though Ace is out of sorts because she’s still dealing with the death of a friend. The Doctor is also acting, well, weird. On Heaven, Ace meets the Travellers, a group of people who travel from place to place, with no fixed abode and little past or future. They share leadership responsibilities and make all decisions together, through consensus in ‘Puter-Space, a type of Virtual Reality. Ace is particularly taken with a male traveler named, “Jan”. She thinks she’s in love with him during much of the novel. And she loves him because he reminds her of the Doctor but he’s human. She’s also hurting from losing her mate.

The Doctor meets Dr. Bernice (Benny) Summerfield, an archaeologist who is investigating a huge arch, which is a ruin left by the extremely old and extremely dead former civilization on Heaven. The Doctor is also trying to find an obscure banned book, which frankly feels like a McGuffin at first, though it does fit into the plot.

All of this is fine, and honestly, an entire book of the Doctor and Ace on vacation on a paradise planet would have been fine, especially as the two really need time to catch their breath. Or even a fairly standard alien invasion would have been fine. But it turns out that Heaven is a farm world for the Hoothi, an alien species that farms entire worlds for “meat” which they then form into slaves, spaceships, etc. The Hoothi are a fungoid species and anything or anyone infected by their spores becomes one with the Hoothi and they can be controlled by these very weird aliens. The Hoothi can also raise the dead, use them as soldiers, slaves, workers, etc.

Essentially, about halfway through the book, it turns into “The Doctor vs. Zombies”, which has the problem of “how do you kill something that’s already dead”? To make matters worse, no one is reliable because anyone can be or could have been infected with spores at any time and become an agent of the Hoothi. The Doctor warns Ace about getting involved with Jan, but, unfortunately, she interprets this as jealousy.

Needless to say, the Doctor, through some colossal manipulation manages to outwit the Hoothi and defeat them, saving Heaven in the process, for the most part. But the victory comes at a high and personal cost for Ace. The book ends with her not even willing to go into the TARDIS, and running off with Bernice instead.

I liked the beginning of this book – but the fungus-creatures and zombies were too much for me. I’m not a fan of horror really and this book got a little too gross. Still, even though I can only give it a rating of 3 out of 5, I recommend it, at least for completeness sake, since Doctor Who the New Adventures is a long-running and interconnected series.

Titans Season 2 Review (DC Universe)

  • Series Title: Titans
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: DC Universe (Warner Brothers)
  • Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Teagan Croft, Anna Diop, Ryan Potter, Conor Leslie, Curran Walters, Joshua Orpin, Iain Glen
  • DVD: Widescreen Blu-Ray (R1, NTSC)

This review includes spoilers for the second season of Titans.

The second season of Titans begins by resolving the cliffhanger from the end of last season. Rachel is able to defeat Trigon the demon with the help of Gar Logan, but not before Trigon temporarily turns the other Titans against Rachel one by one. This breaks her heart and allows him to place a jewel in her forehead. But Rachel and Gar manage to defeat Trigon and send him away.  Rachel gets new powers. Powers she doesn’t understand and doesn’t have much time to learn to harness.

After defeating Trigon, Dick brings everyone to Titans Tower to restart the group. Donna (Wonder Girl), Dawn (Dove), and Hank (Hawk), join Gar (Beast Boy), Rachel (Raven), and Robin (Jason Todd), under Dick’s leadership. Dick is no longer Robin but hasn’t yet become Nightwing. Much of the season will be about his journey to taking both responsibility for his actions and mistakes but also choosing his adult title and path.

While in the Tower they see a woman with extraordinary powers being chased by Deathstroke. They help her and invite her into Titans Tower. She is not only Deathstroke’s daughter, but she isn’t there by accident. Deathstroke and his son, Jericho have a plan to get revenge on the Titans, especially Dick Grayson – and Rose is instrumental to that plan. Dick, in an attempt to keep the youngest Titans safe, leaves Jason, Rose, Gar, and Rachel in the Tower while Hawk, Dove, and Donna assist him in trying to find out more about why Dr. Light and Deathstroke have returned. But on one of their surveillance gigs, Gar and Jason figure out Dr. Light might be hiding in the subway tunnels. Jason, who feels that the only reason Dick left him behind is that he doesn’t trust him, convinces Gar to go with him on a recon mission to the subway. Jason says they will observe and report back. Yeah, that never works out. Once in the tunnel Jason and Gar separate. Then Gar hears screaming. By the time he finds Jason he’s been kidnapped.

Gar tells Dick what happened, then Dick gets a ransom call. Deathstroke will trade Jason for Rose. The Titans talk about it, but it’s a suddenly returning Kory who tells them no. They try to capture Deathstroke at a stadium but it was a false location. Meanwhile, Dick finds Jason by tracking his tracker but it’s too late – Deathstroke removes the tracker. Dick follows to an office building. He arrives but is unable to stop Jason from falling out a window.

The next episode explains what happened five years ago. Garth (Aqualad) was one of the Titans, who happened to look like Brad Pitt – he had a crush on Donna but she ignored him, mostly because she knew she had to return to Themyscira. But in the end, when Garth chases her to the airport, she agrees to be with him – only for Garth to be shot in front of her by Deathstroke. In desperation to get to Deathstroke, Dick decides to befriend his mute son, Jericho. He brings Jericho into the Titans, but not as a hero right away. When he learns of Jericho’s ability to jump into and control other people’s bodies, Dick invites Jericho to join the Titans as a member. Jericho is game but Deathstroke is playing games with all of them. In the end, Deathstroke tries to kill Dick, Jericho gets in the way, Deathstroke kills his son, but not before Jericho jumps into Deathstroke and becomes trapped. So, five years later, it’s Jerico who is after Dick and the Titans.

But Jason is still falling from a high rise window. And in the next episode, we meet Connor, a CADMUS clone and son of Superman and Lex Luthor. We also meet Krypto – a very good Super dog. Connor rescues Jason and saves his life. Then CADMUS shows up and shoots him with Kryptonite bullets. The Titans take him to Titans Tower to recover. His friend, Eve arrives and says out of frustration that, “unless we can take him to the sun” he will die. Kory uses her star power to save Connor and Raven acts as a shield. Connor is still sleepy but he will recover. Krypto guards Connor.

But everyone is shaken up. Jason keeps re-living his fall. Dick is forced to admit just what happened between himself, Deathstroke, and Jericho. Connor’s still asleep. Gar feels guilty about letting Jason go to the tunnels in the first place. Rose is cagey. Rachel doesn’t understand her powers and loses control during training more than once. Everything is falling apart, and when Dick tells the Titans that he lied – Jericho wasn’t already dead when he met Deathstroke at the church but Deathstroke killed him – Donna, Dawn, and Hank have had it. Meanwhile, Kory’s run into people from her planet and she really should go back, since her evil sister Blackfire has stolen her crown and her people are suffering. Everyone splits up. Dick trusts Gar to watch over Connor. Jason and Rose run off together. Connor wakes up and instead of calling Bruce Wayne like Dick requested – Connor explains to him about being a Titan. But on a walk outside, Connor sees a police officer arresting someone, gets confused, and attacks the police – causing a lot of damage. Gar calls Dick for help and advice, but Dick doesn’t get the message. Kory and Donna are also having issues – Kory with trying to get back to her real home and Donna discovering Rachel can’t completely control her powers. Dick, however, has abandoned his phone, id, traveling bag, and everything else, before assaulting an airport cop and being sent to prison. He prison, he meets a group of Hispanics who had left a gang and are now being deported. They plan to escape since they know returning to Santa Prisca is a death sentence. A religious member of the group explains to Dick the legend of Azul – the big bird that watches over his village and it’s people, protecting them from harm. Dick poo-poos this, as well as their plans. But eventually, he’s drawn into helping them escape. While dealing with all his guilt and problems – Dick also continuously hallucinates Bruce Wayne giving him some really bad advice.

Eventually, Rachel, Dawn and Hank (who have split from each other as well as the Titans), Kory, and Donna meet at a Diner in Elko Nevada. Bruce arrives and tells them they need to find Dick, get everyone back together, and permanently stop Deathstroke. And they need to be a team, a family of choice. Essentially, they do just that. The Titans come together as a team. Deathstroke has killed Dr. Light after he was no longer useful to draw out the Titans, but the team goes to find Dick but he’s already escaped his prison. Then go to Titans Tower and find it in shambles. Reports of tiger attacks and a strong man destroying a nearby carnival indicate that CADMUS-controlled Gar and Connor are in trouble. The Titans find the carnival. Rachel talks down Gar who turns into himself. The rest of the Titans stop Connor with Rachel putting Dick into Connor’s mind so he can talk Connor into breaking Cadmus’ programming and become himself. They even manage to arrest all of the CADMUS soldiers. But just as everything is looking OK, despite the damage, Dove goes to comfort a child by returning her doll. Then a huge electrical tower starts to fall, Donna runs to it and it hits her, killing her.

The Titans are devastated by the loss of Donna, but unlike Garth’s death, they are now united. They deliver the body to the Amazons at the airport. Rachel tells Dick she wants to go to Themyscira, and he lets her go. But no doubt she will be back.

I liked Season 2 of Titans, but I didn’t care for all the back and forth and time jumps, which made the story somewhat hard to follow and didn’t add to the story or tension. The characters are more developed than in Season 1 and it was great to see Dick finally become Nightwing in the last episode. Connor is awesome and Krypto steals the show. Actually, I was concerned about Krypto, because he’s also captured by CADMUS with Connor and Gar – but we see him with everyone else at the end. There are still elements to be resolved too. Kory really needs to hitch a lift to Tamaran to sort out her sister. Hank is back on drugs, having survived his split from Dawn by picking up cage fighting. Jason fell in love with Rose and although she “quit” Deathstroke, her journey isn’t over. So there’s plenty for a third season to develop. But this felt more like Titans to me than the first season, and our characters were more themselves, mind games aside. Some of Dick’s hallucinations of Bruce were hilarious and others were heartbreaking. Overall, I recommend this series, it’s definitely worth watching.

Read my Review of Season 1 of Titans.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies

  • Title: Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/07/2020

Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies is a sequel to Save the Cat! and it basically does “what it says on the tin” – after a short summary of the original Save the Cat! and the author’s theory of the structure of film, it goes on to provide examples of Synder’s ten genres of film and their sub-genres. Synder organizes Genre not in the traditional way (SF, Fantasy, cop show, mystery, horror, etc.) but in terms of the structure of the film and how it hits the beats of the Synder Beat Sheet. Thus though one type of his Genre might mostly align with traditional genre (eg Horror and Monster in the House) often the genres don’t align. This forces a deeper emphasis on the underlying structure of all films, which is good for students or career screenwriters looking to improve their skills. Also, if you read Save the Cat and some of the genres didn’t quite make sense to you or you wanted better examples, this is the perfect book to pick up. More examples are always helpful, especially when you are new to something.

The book, after the introduction, is split into ten chapters, one per genre, with one example per sub-genre, and a simple list of other examples. The chosen example is then analyzed in terms of Synder’s three-act structure and Beat Sheet. Again, this provides lots of examples of how Synder approaches screenwriting. Although it is obviously helpful if you’ve actually seen (and seen recently) the films discussed if you haven’t the beat sheets provide enough information to follow the analysis. Also, if you haven’t seen some of these films, you can still follow the discussion. I didn’t feel like it spoiled the movie, even though the entire plot is described in terms of structure. This is because of the emphasis on structure not a summary of the plot.

The only negative is there are no examples from older, classic films. The oldest films in the entire book are from the 1970s and I really could have used at least one example from films of the 1930s and 1940s. At least in the “Buddy” film category (where he puts romantic comedies), there are plenty of examples in Classic film from Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story to Shall We Dance and other Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire films (which I maintain are Romantic Comedies with singing and dancing). The book is also copyright 2007 so it doesn’t include anything more recent than that, and thus really misses the opportunity to discuss great Epic films (he should have picked something from the 1960s like Ben-Hur or Antony and Cleopatra and if not that Lord of the Rings). And of course, the Save the Cat! series is about popular Hollywood film so foreign films aren’t included, though many would fit into the same structural patterns and the same beats.

Overall, I really liked Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies it is good to have more examples, and the problem of films being discussed that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen for a long time can be solved by renting or borrowing said films. The lack of classic films could be solved by a second volume concentrating on older movies. I also like Synder’s method of analyzing film, it is a different approach. I do plan on buying additional volumes in this series. Highly recommended, especially for film students and fans.

Swamp Thing The Complete Series Review

  • Series Title: Swamp Thing
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 10
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: DC Universe (Warner Brothers)
  • Cast: Crystal Reed, Andy Bean, Derek Mears, Ian Ziering, Virginia Madsen, Will Patton, Jeryl Prescott, Maria Sten, Jennifer Beals, Henderson Wade, Macon Blair
  • DVD: Widescreen Blu-Ray (R1, NTSC)

This review contains spoilers for DC Universe’s Swamp Thing.

Swamp Thing is a horror series, about a small town in Louisiana named Marais where everybody has a dark secret. But it’s also partly a Beauty and the Beast tale, which, along with the interesting choices for cameos by DC Comics characters is partially why I really, really liked this series – horror aspects notwithstanding. The series opens with Dr. Abby Arcane and her partner in Africa (presumably) and dressed in full Hazmat suits. They enter the dwelling of two young children, where the older boy tries to protect his younger sister from these terrifying aliens. Abby finally removes her helmet and addresses the boy in French, convincing him they are there to help his sister, and of course, he can accompany her. Later, Abby defends her actions to her partner, but he tells her she “was amazing”. The two are infectious disease specialists, working for the CDC. But this is mere prologue, as Abby and her partner, Harlan are sent to Marais because of a strange, unknown disease.

Abby arrives in Marais, a town she has a connection to, as well as having a dark secret. Maria Sunderland, wife of the richest guy in town, is none too happy to see Abby and we get an inkling of why she left Marais – but no details. The disease is strange and seems connected to the nearby swamp. Abby goes into the swamp and meets Dr. Alec Holland. They get together and begin to work together, though he seems more interested in the swamp than the illness that is striking randomly in Marais, whereas Abby is a doctor first. However, as Alec and Abby learn to trust each other and share data and resources, Abby also tells Alec she googled him. She knows he was discredited as a biologist because he faked data in one of his studies. Alec explains that’s why he’s in Marais – to rebuild his reputation. Although not stated outright, it’s also why he took money from Avery Sunderland to fund his research. But Avery has had enough of Alec, he orders his cronies to attack Alec’s boat while he does research in the swamp.

Alec emerges as Swamp Thing (though the name is never used in the series at all) half-Alec half-intelligent walking, speaking plant, and Guardian of the Green. Alec (now Swamp Thing) and Abby will continue to work together. Abby will attempt to find a cure for the “Green Flu” virus and for Alec. They also will unravel many of the secrets of the town. Also in the town is Abby’s old friend, Liz, the daughter of a widower who runs the local bar. Then there’s Daniel Cassidy a stuntman and actor who made a deal and is now trapped in Marais, as well as becoming Blue Devil, the character he played once. Then there’s the Sunderlands – Avery, who runs the town and is involved in dirty dealings in the swamp, including illegal dumping (which is causing the “Green Flu”) and his wife, Maria. Avery’s mistress is the local sheriff, Lucilia Cable, whom he has under his thumb in more ways than one. She’s turned a blind eye to Avery’s corruption for decades – but when he starts involving her son Matt (a deputy) in his schemes and corruption, it will be the last straw.

As Abby and her team work to cure people of the illness that comes from the Swamp, we see how others treat, or in many cases, mistreat the swamp. A group of guys is in the swamp, destroying it when they find a dead, mummified body. The rising of the Rot (the Darkness in the swamp) fights back. Two are killed, and the third returns to town, but he’s been bitten by a tendril of the Rot. He returns to the local bar to wash dishes and starts hallucinating, seeing a snake on his arm. Even though Liz and Delroy (her father) try to control him they are unable to and he stabs his arm several times then sticks it in a running garbage disposal, before dying. It also scratches Delroy. As the police and ambulance respond, Delroy shoots up his own bar with a shotgun. The Sheriff is able to finally subdue him but gets scratched. Delroy is sent to the hospital. Abby arrives at the bar just as Delroy starts shooting (and she helps calm him down). When she talks to Swamp Thing he tells her about The Darkness invading the Swamp. She returns and goes to the hospital but Delroy is now fine. Then she realizes that the Sheriff was scratched and that this darkness causes hallucinations of deep fears and nightmares. Trying to find Lucilia, she finds her at Avery’s Crawfish Boil party. Again, Abby has to calm her down – and she gets scratched. Abby returns to the swamp with the darkness, and Alec, Swamp Thing, heals her.

But now that all the people have been healed, Abby should return to the CDC. But she wants to heal Alec. She’s seen an inkling of what The Green is, but she doesn’t quite understand it. She also has seen the horrors of the Rot and the Darkness that inhabits the Swamp. Abby returns to Atlanta and the CDC. But when she arrives the new head of the CDC is very angry with her. Her samples are taken and she isn’t allowed to oversee the tests. She sees Nathan Ellery at the CDC but doesn’t know he’s the mysterious businessman from the Conclave who is now bankrolling Avery and his new partner, Dr. Woodrue. Abby has one conversation with her old partner, Harlan, who remarks on how much she’s changed.

Later he arrives at her apartment, and the two share pizza, wine, and conversation. By the end of it, Harlan’s agreed to back Abby against their new boss. But he won’t get the chance – he’s kidnapped outside her door and we never see him again. The next morning, Abby’s credentials do not work. She’s taken to a meeting room and Ellery gives her an ultimatum – turn over Dr. Holland or else. Abby tells him no and that he better leave Alec alone and storms out. Abby will return to Marais.

In Marais, Daniel Cassidy is in the hospital. He got hit on the head after he defends Liz from “muggers” sent by Avery, and he’s in a severe coma. Dr. Woodrue injects him with Abby’s sample of Swamp Thing’s tissue. Cassidy wakes up – but is “burning”, covered with blue fire, and we see the Blue Devil. This lands him back in the hospital. The same “studio guy” who made him his cursed offer appears and shows him a horrific future where Abby and Liz are murdered by Conclave troopers. Cassidy breaks out of the hospital so he can stop it. Meanwhile, Abby and Liz are trying desperately to find Alec who is not in the swamp. They know Avery, Ellery, and company have kidnapped him. Liz looks for properties owned by Avery and finds his wife is transferring everything into her name. But they also find an old factory that matches a picture Abby stole. They head there to find Alec.

At the factory, things start to resemble the vision that Daniel had. But Blue Devil attacks and kills the troopers. Abby and Liz are able to escape, find Alec, and help him escape. Meanwhile, Avery has his wife, Maria, locked up in a mental institution. Matt gets drunk at Delroy’s bar after he has a fight with his mother. That night, driving very drunk, he gets in a one-car accident. Lucilia attends him at the hospital. Avery shows up promising to marry Lucilia after he divorces Maria. Lucilia turns him down. When she leaves the hospital, Avery is waiting for her inside her car. He stabs her, then drives her to the swamp. Locking her in the trunk, he watches (tinted in red) as her sheriff’s car sinks into the swamp.

Swamp Thing and Abby arrive at the Swamp. Swamp Thing keeps saying he has to know if it’s true. He walks into the Swamp and returns with a body in his arms. But Abby tells Swamp Thing that not only did she care for Alec, but she cares for what he’s become. She sees his humanity and through him she sees the Green. The two are united.

Woodrue finds his wife, Caroline, who is suffering from advanced early-onset Alzheimer’s, at their home after she overdoses on medication. He takes his samples to make her a cure. When she seems afraid to eat the cooked heart of Swamp Thing (Can you blame her?) Woodrue eats some of it himself. Abby arrives and tries to call 911. Woodrue attacks Abby. The police arrive and stop him, and Caroline is taken to the hospital by ambulance without taking Woodrue’s “cure”.

Swamp Thing is a spooky, intense series. It unravels like a mystery as Abby’s arrival in Marais causes secrets to be revealed (at least to the audience). Lucilia and Maria plot to kill Avery, but Swamp Thing finds him and heals him – an act of compassion that’s probably his one and only mistake. (It leads to Swamp Thing being captured by goons in the swamp and Dr. Woodrue experimenting on him.) Avery’s revenge includes putting Maria in a mental institution and killing Lucilia. Woodrue has eaten part of Swamp Thing, but we don’t get to see him become the Floronic Man as a result. Cassidy is finally free of the Blue Devil’s curse as it left him at the factory and entered one of the soldiers. He leaves Marais. Swamp Thing defends his swamp from Ellery’s men the second time they arrive, kills most of them, and tells Ellery to leave and never return. And yes, Swamp Thing and Abby are together.

Again, this is a spooky, intense horror series. It’s extremely well-shot. For a series that largely takes place, at night, on the water, in a swamp -you can actually tell what’s going on all the time, without it looking over-lit or like it’s filmed in a studio. That may sound like an “ok so” statement, but you’d be surprised how often scenes at night are too dark and the viewer can’t follow the action. Or, conversely, scenes outdoors look like a backlot or studio. Abby is a great character and if you’ve read Constantine from DC Comics, you know she will become Avatar of the Red, part of the balance that Swamp Thing seeks. Abby’s continuing journey could have made for a great second season, as could have following up on Blue Devil and the Floronic Man. We also see Madame Xanadu but other than warning Maria about the Darkness she’s released, she doesn’t get to do much. And Jim Corrigan, the Phantom Stranger, appears to Swamp Thing about halfway through the season to give him a pep talk about destiny. All of these characters are great and could come back or have more to do in a second season. It’s really too bad that DC Universe canceled this show. What we got is great, and I recommend watching it, but I for one would love to see DC Universe bring the show back.