Book Review – Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice

  • Title: The Stones of Venice
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 1)
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Michael Sheard, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/19/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Charley and the Doctor decide to take a nice relaxing vacation to get away from all the running down corridors and people trying to kill them, so the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Venice. However, this is a Venice about to sink under the sea. It’s a Venice under the control of a pompous, uncaring Duke, that is under a curse that would see the entire city destroyed due to an unhappy marriage, and the “death” of the Duchess – throw in a mysterious cult, amphibian gondoliers, and a curator of the royal museum and it’s not the vacation the Doctor and Charlie seek but more of a Busman’s Holiday.

The Doctor and Charlie arrive and discover the city is about to be destroyed and sink in to the sea. However, revelers are partying instead of trying to leave. The Doctor meets the Curator, who shows him part of the Royal Collection of art. The Doctor recognizes works of art that shouldn’t be in Venice, as they aren’t even from Earth. Meanwhile, Charlie meets a gondolier with webbed hands. She attempts to learn about the Gondoliers who are the underclass of Venice. However, she ends up in the clutches of a cult that worships the dead Lady Estella, wife to the Duke, whom they believe will rise from the dead to reverse the curse she set upon the city.

As the death of Venice approaches these elements come together. The Doctor and Charley meet up with first Charley impersonating the risen Estella, and then introducing the Doctor both to the plight of the Gondoliers and the Cult. The Doctor, meanwhile, starts to realize something more than a curse is going on.

He’s proven correct when Mrs. Lavish turns out to be Estella, and an alien, and in possession (well, once her jewels are returned) of very powerful objects that she used to cast the curse. The Duke, finally doing something heroic and for his people, takes the jewels and reverses the curse, though it costs himself and Estella their lives. Venice is saved and even the damage the city has already suffered is reversed.

Overall, this was a somewhat average Eighth Doctor story. It features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as Charley. It is a full-cast audio, with music, sound effects, and the cast performing their roles. Even though it’s a bit average, I enjoyed it. Recommended.

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

Click this link to order The Stones of Venice on Download only, for the current special price of $2.99.

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

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Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

  • Title:  Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back
  • Director:  Irvin Kershner
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action
  • Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard, John Razenberger
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Wars not make one great.”  — Yoda

“Do or do not.  There is no try.” — Yoda

“Size matters not.  Look at me – judge me by my size do you?  Hum?  And well you should not.  For my ally is the Force.  And a powerful ally it is.  Life creates it, makes it grow, it’s energy surrounds us and binds us.” — Yoda

“I love you.” — Leia
“I know.”  — Han

“Luke, we can destroy the Emperor, he has foreseen this.  It is your destiny.  Join me and together we can rule the Galaxy as father and son!”  — Darth Vader

Like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back opens with a crawl, describing what’s going on and remarking that it’s “a dark time for the Rebellion” despite the success of destroying the Death Star.  This proves true, as Empire can be arguably seen as the darkest of the three original trilogy Star Wars movies.  The movie itself opens with the Empire launching robotic probes to find Luke Skywalker and the rebels he leads.   One such probe lands on a glacier.

This is the ice planet Hoth, where Luke, Han, Leia, and a group of rebels, part of the Alliance, are hiding. Han and Luke are on patrol, each riding a cold-weather animal called a Taun Taun, something like a furry cross between a camel and a kangaroo.  They are finishing up their patrol, and Han tells Luke he’s headed back to the Rebel base.  Luke agrees, but mentions he wants to check out a meteor.  They agree to meet back at camp.  Han returns to the camp and tells the general that he really must leave, he has a price on his head and it won’t be lifted until he pays off Jabba the Hutt.  The general, though upset to lose Han, agrees to his leaving.  Chewbacca and C3PO work on fixing the Millennium Falcon.  Leia confronts Han about his leaving.  They still spark and fight, as in Star Wars, but it’s evident that the two have some affection for each other beneath their arguing.

Luke is attacked by an Abominable Snowman-like creature and taken to an ice cave.  He manages to escape, in part by using the force to pull his light sabre to his hand.  He wanders out into the snow, where he has a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who urges him to go to the Dagobah System to complete his Jedi training under Yoda, a great Jedi master and teacher.  Luke then collapses from the cold.

Meanwhile, the rebels have realised that Luke is missing.  Though the general thinks it’s too late to go looking for Luke (the extreme cold makes it dangerous to be outside late at night or during blizzards) Han insists on looking for Luke anyway.  He takes his Taun Taun to search for Luke.  He finds Luke, and cuts open his own now dead Taun Taun to place Luke inside while he builds a thermal shelter.

At the rebel alliance base, the search parties have been recalled.  At the general’s insistence, Leia orders the shield doors be closed for the night.  Chewbacca cries out in mourning when the door is shut, because Han hasn’t returned.  The next day, speeder patrols are sent out to find the two.  They do find both Luke and Han and bring them to base.  Han is OK, Luke is treated for exposure and frostbite but basically he’s OK too.

Han and Chewbacca find an Imperial Probe Droid.  The rebel general decides to evacuate.

Vader orders an attack on Hoth.

Leia addresses the fighters who will escort the transports off the planet.  She ends with “good luck” and from the sound of things, they’ll need it.

The rebel speeders attack the Imperial walkers invading Hoth.  The walkers are like metal combat elephants.  Very quickly during the battle, Luke realizes their blasters can’t penetrate the armor, and advises using harpoons and tow cables around the legs of the walkers, causing them to collapse.  This does work.

The battle between the Rebel snow speeders and the Imperial walkers, though it takes place on a snowy field, is also on a very bright sunny day!

Getting back to the battle, after losing his gunner, and one successful pass leading a harpoon ship, Luke is hit and crashes into the snow.

Han rushes to the command center to check on Leia, urging her to leave.  She issues the evacuation order.  Although the rebels had some success against the walkers, over all it’s a rout.  As Han is leading Leia away, the tunnel ahead of them collapses.  He tells the rebels he’ll get her out on the Falcon, and they head back the other way.  Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C3PO end up on the Millennium Falcon.

Vader enters the nearly empty rebel base.  The Millennium Falcon escapes.  Luke and R2-D2 get to an X-wing, but Luke heads for Dagobah, not the Alliance rendezvous.

Three star destroyers and TIE fighters chase the  Millennium Falcon.  One star destroyer actually manages to physically hit another one, leaving one to go after the Falcon.  When the hyper-drive fails, Han knows he’s in trouble.  Han and Chewbacca try to fix the ship while in flight, when they encounter an asteroid field.  Han flies into the field, because he knows the Imperial ships won’t follow him.  He impressively loops the Falcon and lands in a cave on an asteroid.

Meanwhile, Luke splash-lands on Dagobah.  R2-D2 falls into the swamp, is attacked by a creature, and is spit out.  Luke gets his camping gear together and tries to figure out what to do.  He meets Yoda, whom, at first, he doesn’t recognize — and he thinks is actually somewhat annoying.  But when Yoda takes him to his home, and has a conversation with the dead Obi Wan Kenobi – Luke realizes this is the Jedi Master he seeks.  Yoda is hesitant, but agrees to teach the young Jedi.

Meanwhile, Vader’s ships fail to find the Millennium Falcon.  Vader kneels before the Emperor for a holographic conversation.  Vader suggests “the son of  Skywalker be turned”.

Han, Chewbacca, and C3PO work on fixing the Millennium Falcon, and even Leia helps.  But something attacks the ship while they are in the cave.  They go out to investigate, and find Mymocks, some type of  bat-like creatures with suckers stuck on the ship.  Han suddenly realises he’s made a big mistake — they all get back in his ship and barely escape.  They weren’t in a cave, but a giant space worm with teeth!  Han lands the Falcon on one of  the Star Destroyers, which gives an incredible sense of  scale.  He manually detaches and floats away with the rest of  the garbage the Empire dumps before going to hyper-space.  They float away and then head for Bespin and Lando Calrissian.

Yoda starts training Luke — physical training, and exercises in using the Force.  He also tries to explain what the Force really is and how it supplies power to a Jedi.  And he warns Luke about the Dark Side of  the Force.  Yoda tells Luke, “When you are calm, at peace, passive… a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense.  Never for attack.”  They arrive at a cave, where Luke feels cold.  Yoda tells him the cave is strong with the Dark Side, and urges Luke to go in.  Luke starts to strap on his weapons, but Yoda says he won’t need them.  Luke takes them anyway.  Inside the cave, Luke sees Vader… he draws his light sabre and attacks, but when he cuts off  Vader’s head he sees his own face in the helmet.  Yoda continues Luke’s training, but he gets distracted by R2-D2.  Yoda then raises Luke’s ship out of  the swamp, something Luke was unable to do because he did not believe he could do it.

Vader, meanwhile has hired bounty hunters, including Boba Fett, to find Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon.

Yoda continues to train Luke, and urges that Luke learn control.  Luke sees a city in the clouds, and sees his friends in trouble, sensing that they are in pain.  Yoda says Luke has seen the future.  Luke asks if his friends will die.  Yoda says he doesn’t know.  Yoda also urges caution, but Luke wants to go to his friends to help them.  Yoda admits that if he goes he could help them, but if he goes he will also endanger everything his friends stand for.  Ben urges patience, and Yoda urges that Luke wait.  Patience is not Luke’s strong suit.  Luke leaves Dagobah but promises to return to finish his training.  Ben says “that boy was our last hope” but Yoda says “there is another”.

Han Solo has landed in Bespin, a mining colony in the clouds.  Lando says he’s independent, with no Imperial oversight and not part of the mining guild.  But he turns them over to Vader… saying Imperial troops arrived first and he has no choice.  Chewbacca is tortured with sound.  Han is tortured with burning heat.  When Han and Leia are reunited in a cell, Han remarks that they didn’t even ask any questions, and he can’t understand that.  Lando enters the cell, and explains they are after Skywalker.

Vader decided to test the carbon freeze unit with Captain Solo.  Chewbacca fights for Han, but Han calms him down, tells him to care for the princess (Leia).  Han and Leia kiss and for the first time, Leia tells Han she loves him.  His response is, “I know”.  Han is put in carbon freeze but survives.  Han is now a monolith in perfect hibernation.

Vader asks that the princess and the wookie (Chewbacca) be taken to his ship.  Lando’s starting to catch on that he can’t trust Vader, as his “deal” is getting worse by the second.

Luke arrives.  He and Vader clash in an epic light sabre battle.  The battle has three major set-pieces and is inter-woven with other parts of  the plot.

First Luke and Vader crash in the carbon-freeze room, and Luke extracts himself  from the freezing unit before Vader can use it on him.

Lando and his men arrest the Imperial stormtroopers.  They free Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO.  Boba Fett has frozen Han placed in his cargo hold.  C3PO meets up with R2-D2.  They try to catch up to Han Solo but see Boba Fett’s ship leave.

The film returns to Vader and Luke’s light sabre battle.  Vader encourages Luke to turn to the dark side path.  Luke is sucked out a Cloud City window.

Lando urges a city-wide evacuation, telling people they are on their own.  Lando, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C3PO make it to the Millennium Falcon despite being caught in a running laser blaster battle. The Falcon takes off.

Luke rescues himself and for the third time fights Vader.  Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and he loses his light sabre.  Vader tells Luke he’s his father.  At first, Luke doesn’t believe it, then doesn’t want to believe it.  Vader tries to convince Luke to join him, to defeat the Emperor, and to rule as father and son.  Luke escapes down a tunnel and lands on an antenna at the bottom of  Bespin.  Luke calls for Ben for help. Then he calls for Leia.  She senses him.  Leia sees Luke, the Falcon rescues him.  The hyper-drive on the Falcon re-engages thanks to R2-D2.  Chewbacca and Lando take the Millennium Falcon to search for Han.  Luke gets an artificial hand.  Luke, Leia, C3PO and R2-D2 look out a window at a galaxy and the Falcon leaving.

The Empire Strikes Back is darker than Star Wars.  Rather than a fairy tale or fantasy film like Star Wars, this film focuses on the Rebel Alliance which is in trouble, and develops the characters who learn and grow.  Luke is well on his way to truly becoming a Jedi Knight.  Han, though he still talks about leaving, is showing his loyalty to Luke and to Leia.  And Leia herself, the most experienced person of  the three in terms of leading the rebellion, is starting to feel something for Han.  There’s also the hint of  something between her and Luke.  But yes, the Empire does strike back, and our heroes are in trouble even though they escape definite capture by the end of  the film, all that is except Han Solo.

Rather than the harsh white/black/grey color palette of the first film, Empire is more colorful… from the greens of  Dagobah’s swamp to the blues of  the carbon freeze room at Bespin.  This contrasts with the darker plot of  the film.

A second thing to notice about both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, is the use of  language… specifically accents to denote groups.  The Imperial admirals, generals, and lieutenants generally all speak with British accents (and very precise ones at that).  The Rebels are generally American.  Notable exceptions are James Earl Jones as Vader’s voice, though David Prowse was in the costume, and Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi.  Although this doesn’t consciously affect the viewer, subconsciously it sets the two groups apart.  However, it was most probably an accident not a deliberate choice:  much of  the Star Wars films were filmed at English studios and many British character actors (including Peter Cushing, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard, and even Alec Guinness) were hired on site.  Of course, the film was an American film and main casting took place in the US.  Lucas (executive producer on Empire) hired people he had worked with before or that were young and new.  But I still thing the obvious class differences between the Empire and the Rebels add to the film.

Highly, highly recommended, a must see!

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Wars  Return of  the Jedi