Book Review – Sapphire & Steel: The Passenger

  • Title: The Passenger
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Jason Haigh-Ellery
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Gold
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/22/2014

I just listened to this story for the second time (I’ve purchased the entire series of Sapphire and Steel audios from Big Finish, so I’m now listening to them in order. Big Finish audio plays are full featured plays – with music, sound effects, and actors playing the parts.

The Passenger is a good story and I liked it. The story opens with a man complaining about a train not arriving on time. We don’t hear who he’s talking to. Suddenly, a train arrives, an old-fashioned steam train, and he gets on.

Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel (David Warner) arrive and talk with the man. They are soon trying to find out what’s going on, what Time is trying to do. Sapphire discovers it’s a different time period in each car of the train – and outside, there’s nothing. Steel discovers the passengers are ghosts. Steel calls in Gold (Mark Gatiss), a technician, for help. The three work to figure out what’s going on and it becomes an excellent mystery. The train gives a spooky sense of atmosphere to the story.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t say more – but I liked this, and it’s an excellent introduction to the series. Recommended.

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

Sadly, it looks like the Sapphire and Steel range is no longer available from the Big Finish website. But be sure to check out their other audio ranges.

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

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Book Review – Doctor Who: Empathy Games

  • Title: Empathy Games
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Leela, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Louise Jameson, David Warner
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/19/2016

I re-listened to this audiobook/play over the last week. It’s still a bit confusing, and not one of my favorite Companion Chronicles – despite the excellent cast doing their best with what they are given. But here it goes. Empathy Games features the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker and his companion, Leela, as played by Louise Jameson. Jameson performs the story, along with David Warner as Co-Ordinator Angell. I was going to say, the story opens in the TARDIS, but it doesn’t – the story opens in a medical ward, where everyone but the person telling the story has died from a virulent disease, abandoning the few survivors. But one of the survivors tells a story, of a great warrior, whom she only once saw afraid. Then we open in the TARDIS, where the console room is on fire. The Doctor panics from fear and does nothing. Finally, Leela intervenes and the two make it into a TARDIS corridor, and the Doctor vents the oxygen from the console room, smothering the fire. The Doctor then lands the TARDIS and leaves it to “automatic repairs” while he and Leela go exploring. They’ve landed on Synchronis – an extremely peaceful planet and home to a lot of shopping and trading. Leela and the Doctor explore, but are attacked by an animal. Leela awakes in an hospital, and learns though she recovered from the attack – the Doctor is still in a coma or self-induced healing trance. Leela meets Co-Ordinator Angell who convinces her to fight for him in the upcoming Empathy Games. Leela keeps saying “no” to this idea, but one of the Cathartics – the blue-skinned under-class who do all the work on the planet (what little of it there is) convinces her that it is an honor to be chosen the Co-Ordinator’s champion. Between that, and Angell’s not-too-subtle hints about what will happen to the Doctor if Leela doesn’t do what he wants, Leela agrees to be champion.

Leela and the other Cathartics train for the games.

When the games start, it is in the underground tunnels beneath the city. The champions hunt “rodents” – some of which can talk. However, this isn’t an ordinary hunt. Leela and the other Cathartics become telepathically linked to their prey – and experience the emotions and memories of their prey also. Then they kill them. Leela objects to the entire set-up. When she saves another player from a rodent – she’s penalized. When, later, she refuses to kill a talking rodent simply for sport because she sees it as not honorable – she’s penalized and pulled from the games. In the fracas, the games are ended and the tunnels begin to fill with water. Leela sees her closest friend Cathartic killed, but escapes with the rodent that has her face. Above ground, Leela runs into the recovered Doctor, and a very angry Angell. The Doctor has completely destroyed the telepathic machinery that takes all negative emotions from the people of Synchronis and transfers them to the rodents. Which explains the games – the people are literally having their every bad thought, or memory, or fear, or emotion, removed in the games. The Doctor’s actions also threaten The Waters of Tranquility – a gigantic water sculpture. Angell gets even more angry – accusing the Doctor of destroying his entire civilization. But the Doctor manages to fix the water sculpture. And the Doctor says the people of Synchronis will have to learn to live with their darker selves.

The story then picks up back where it was at the beginning – and the patient is the rodent Leela.

This story just left me cold in a sense. It’s a very violent story. It has Leela as a hunter. Though the secondary race being called “cathartics” when that is precisely what they do wasn’t lost on me – but, in a sense, I felt the story was too straight-forward, yet told in a somewhat confusing way (for once I don’t think this story needs a wrap-around, at all, it doesn’t add anything and it distracts from the core tale). Louise Jameson does a fantastic job. David Warner is very good. But, overall, I just didn’t care for the story that much.

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

Click this link to order Empathy Games on CD or Download.

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

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

  • Title:  Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country
  • Director:  Nicholas Meyer
  • Date:  1991
  • Genre:  SF, Mystery
  • Cast:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Keonig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, Mark Lenard, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Dorn, William Morgan Sheppard, Christian Slater
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“We believe it [the explosion on Praxis] was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions.  The moon’s decimation means deadly pollution of their ozone.  They [Klingons] will have depleted their supply of oxygen in approximately fifty Earth years.  Due to their enormous military budget the Klingon economy does not have the resources to combat this catastrophe.” – Spock

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Volaris, not the end.” – Spock

“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon.” – Chancellor Gorkin

“You don’t trust me, do you?  I don’t blame you.  If there is going to be a Brave New World, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” – Chancellor Gorkin

Star Trek VI starts with a bang, but what at first appears to be a supernova, is in fact a man-made (well, Klingon-made) explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis.  This explosion causes a huge shockwave, which hits the Excelsior on patrol in the area under the command of Captain Sulu.  Once recovered from the shockwave hit, Sulu offers help, but the Klingons order him to stay outside the neutral zone.

There’s a top-secret meeting at Star Fleet, where Spock reveals that over-mining and lack of safety precautions on Praxis caused the moon to explode.  This has poisoned the Ozone on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and the planet will be uninhabitable in 50 years.  Spock has worked with the Klingon chancellor, Gorkin, coming to an arrangement to de-militarize Star Fleet.  Gorkin and the Federation will work towards an uneasy peace.  Kirk, who has already indicated his agreement with the most militant of the Star Fleet Admirals, is charged with escorting Gorkin to Earth for a peace conference.

Kirk continues to tell pretty much anyone who will listen that he distrusts Klingons, and even notes in his private captain’s log that he blames the Klingons for his son’s death.

Kirk and his crew, including Spock, but minus Sulu (who is on the Excelsior still) precede to the point where they are to meet Gorkin’s ship.  Once there, they invite Gorkin and his staff to a state dinner on the Enterprise.  The dinner is a difficult experience for all involved, but not a complete disaster.  Shortly after the dinner, as Kirk is settling in from a bit too much Romulan Ale, he’s called to the bridge because of a radiation surge.  As Kirk watches helplessly, first one, then a second torpedo hit Gorkin’s ship, seemingly from the Enterprise herself.

Two Federation officers, wearing gravity boots, and darkened helmets, beam to the Klingon vessel, Kronos One, and kill anyone in their way, before attacking Gorkin.  They then escape. The gravity boots were necessary because the torpedo shots had disabled the Klingon ship’s artificial gravity.

When the Klingons threaten to fire on Enterprise in retaliation, Kirk surrenders his ship.  He then takes McCoy with him to Kronos One. Gorkin is injured but not quite dead.  McCoy tries to save him, despite his lack of knowledge of Klingon anatomy, but Gorkin dies anyway.

Kirk and McCoy are arrested by the Klingons for killing the Chancellor.  Though Defense Attorney Worf attempts to fight the good fight, they are found guilty almost immediately. Evidence against Kirk includes his private log entry about blaming Klingons for the death of his son. Kirk and McCoy are sent to a Klingon prison planet to mine dilithium.

Meanwhile, Spock attempts to find out who really orchestrated the attack on the Klingons, and killed Gorkin.  Piece by piece, he works it out with the help of others on the Enterprise.

I don’t want to go into details of how Spock solves the mystery, because that would really spoil the movie.  However, he does uncover a conspiracy between a few Star Fleet officers and Klingon hard-liners to get rid of Gorkin who had really wanted peace between the Klingons and the Federation (that is, his plans were not a feint or something designed to lure the Federation into “a false sense of security” before a Klingon attack.).

Spock then rescues Kirk and McCoy from the prison planet, and they go off to try to prevent an assassination attempt at the new peace conference at “Camp something”.  With some help from Sulu and officers on the Excelsior, the Enterprise crew succeeds in saving the Chancellor’s daughter, now the new head of the Klingon Empire and thus saves the peace conference.

In his closing monologue, Kirk notes that his crew will make a final cruise (his last line is, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning,” a quote from Peter Pan) then return to Earth to stand down for retirement and a new crew will continue to explore where no man or no one has gone before.  The closing credits include the signatures of the original Enterprise crew (Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Keonig, and Takei).

Star Trek VI is essentially a murder mystery with cold war trappings.  Klingons quoting Shakespeare and a reference to The Manchurian Candidate are thrown in as well.  But though that may seem to sound like it’s not that good a movie, I actually enjoyed it.  I found Star Trek VI to be fun – really fun.  First, no one dies in this film.  OK, the Klingon chancellor dies, but really – he’s playing the part of a murder victim, in a story where our heroes must solve a crime.  But it’s not like Wrath of Khan where Spock dies, or where the Enterprise herself is destroyed.  As is frequently the case with Star Trek, the trappings of the film are definitely Cold War.  The Federation is clearly the US/the West and the Klingons are clearly the Russians. Even the guard on the prison planet introduces it as a “gulag” (Russian for “prison”) and speaks with a Russian accent.  The Klingon chancellor who genuinely seeks peace is Gorkin, very similar to Gorbachev.  And the incident that starts the film, the explosion on Praxis, was clearly inspired by the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster in 1986.

What is surprising about the film is the amount of prejudice and hatred we see from characters we know and care about. It isn’t just Kirk who “hates Klingons”.  Throughout the first half of the film, all sorts of nasty remarks are made about the Klingons, from “They don’t place the same value on life as us,” to “Did you see the way they eat?”  It was really quite disturbing.

But what makes the film work is the murder mystery aspect.  Again, we know Kirk isn’t guilty – but the evidence seems indisputable.  So not only must Spock discover who did it – he must discover “how did it”, which is always more interesting. And Spock makes for a fine detective, he even quotes Sherlock Holmes, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however, improbable must be the truth.”  Yes, that’s right, Spock refers to Holmes as an “ancestor”. Which suggests that in the Star Trek universe Sherlock Holmes was real, and that quite probably he was the result of a time traveling Vulcan experiment (and yes, I want to see that story!) Anyway, I enjoyed the mystery aspect, and Spock, step by step, figuring out what happened, how it happened, and ultimately – who was really responsible.

I hadn’t seen this film probably since I saw it in the theater when it originally was released, and I remembered enjoying it then.  The DVD copy I watched, I actually picked up second-hand a year or so ago.  I think at the time, especially with Chernobyl, Glasnost, Perestroika, and Gorbachev fresh in people’s minds – the Cold War plot would have had more meaning.  Now it seems like set dressing. However, what really caught my attention was that Praxis was destroyed by over-mining and lack of safety precautions, resulting in an environmental disaster that would, eventually, destroy the Klingon homeworld and that the Klingon Empire spent so much on the military and arms it couldn’t even do anything about it, also caught my attention.  Because both those things seem much more appropriate now – and not in Russia.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 out of 5
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (Japan, 1996)