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.

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Save the Cat!

  • Title: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/27/2020

I loved this book! It’s not that often that you can say about a textbook that you genuinely enjoyed reading it but yes, reading this book was an enjoyable experience. Blake Synder’s writing is amusing, engaging, and useful! Save the Cat is a book about the structure of screenwriting. And in particular, it’s about the structure of big-budget, popular, Hollywood films – the type that lots of people see and that make lots of money and the type that a new screenwriter, writing on spec, can actually sell. You need to know the rules before you even consider breaking them, and Save the Cat teaches you the rules.

Save the Cat cheerfully explains the structure of popular film: 3 Acts, 15 beats, 40 scenes. Snyder introduces tools like The Board – a way to quickly visualize your screenplay before you start writing. And he talks about ways to fix your screenplay after it’s written. How to improve it – from flat characters to scenes that don’t quite work. Each chapter ends with exercises to help the reader learn and emphasize the chapter (full disclosure, I didn’t do the exercises. Yes, I did not do my homework. But I intend to re-read Save the Cat and do the exercises the second time around.) This is a practical how-to manual. And it seems like it would be useful for any type of writer.

Save the Cat also introduces a novel classification system for popular films. Instead of genres like mystery, romance, SF, superhero, etc. Save the Cat uses plots and characters as genres, so we have: “Dude with a Problem”, and “Buddy Love”, and “Superhero” (but not just Marvel or DC films, or even the Greek Myths – but any story with a hero beyond the norm (Dracula, Frankenstein, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, etc.) It takes a bit of getting used to, but this plot/character basis to describe films is a great way to think about movies when you are hoping to write one. There are ten genres in all.

Again, I loved this book! How often does one really truly love reading a textbook? You can learn from a textbook. Occasionally one is well-written. Oh, and that title? Save the Cat refers to the absolute necessity of your audience actually liking your main character. So, if the character is a bit of a jerk, he or she must do something nice so the audience will like them. They must Save the Cat. But this book, Save the Cat, is just fun. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

Shoestring The Complete Series Review

  • Series Title: Shoestring
  • Season: The Complete Series (Seasons 1 & 2)
  • Episodes: 21
  • Discs: 6
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Trevor Eve, Michael Medwin, Doran Godwin, Liz Crowther
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD (R2, PAL)

Eddie Shoestring is down on his luck when he happens into a job for Radio West as a “Private Ear” – a detective who works for a radio station, based in the West Country of the UK, in and around Bristol. This series follows Eddie’s adventures as a detective. His cases not only come from Radio West listeners but from his friends and fellow employees at the station, including his boss, Don Satchley, and the station’s receptionist, Sonia. Because he is down on his luck, Eddie lives as a boarder in Erica’s house – and often has her help him on his cases, since she’s a solicitor/lawyer.

Eddie’s cases vary quite a lot, which keeps this light-hearted (for the most part) detective series interesting and enjoyable to watch. It also doesn’t fall into the formulaic trap of Sonia handing Eddie a tape of a caller, which starts his case. That does happen, but not every episode, or even the majority of episodes. Also, Eddie’s a bit of an old-fashioned detective. He solves his cases by talking to people. Following up on leads and simply talking to people. Eddie always solves his cases, but it isn’t always a happy ending.

I bought this series because I’m a fan of Trevor Eve (ever since Shadow Chasers) and this is his first series. It’s quirky, interesting, and enjoyable to watch. Series 1 starts a bit slow, but by three to four episodes in the pacing picks up and it is just a good detective series. The weather in Series 1 also looks absolutely horrible – it rains an awful lot, plus everyone looks cold all the time. And the series does a lot of location filming. Series 2 actually looks better in a sense, because there is some sun. However, all the overcast, rainy, and cold outdoor scenes add to the filming, giving everything a slight bluish-grey cast that adds to the feel of an almost film noir detective series (though not depressing). Eddie also gets better as a detective between series 1 and 2, but no more so than someone who has been doing a job for a while and just naturally improves by doing it.

I do recommend Shoestring! It’s just a good, enjoyable show, and Trevor Eve is fantastic in it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Nightshade

  • Title: Doctor Who: Nightshade
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/23/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who: Nightshade is a novel in the Doctor Who The New Adventures line from Virgin Books. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and take place after the Classic Series episode, “Survival” (1989). In the novel, Nightshade, in the 1960s, strange things are happening in the small town of Crook Marsham: a retired actor who played Professor Nightshade on television is attacked by one of the creatures he fought on his television show in his retirement home; a woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died in World War I; and other strange occurrences happen. And even though people can enter the village – no one can leave.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the Doctor is ready to just settle down and retire instead of getting involved. While Ace explores the village and meets a young man named Robin, the Doctor heads to a nearby monastery for some well-deserved rest.

There is also a large radio telescope on the moor. The small staff there is studying the constellation of Orion, specifically looking for novas to study. Yet their instruments keep getting overwhelmed by some sort of strange signal. Also, Holly and Vijay, two members of the staff are having an affair, much to the dismay of their racist co-worker, Hawthorne. Fortunately, the director of the work at the radio telescope, Dr. Cooper is much more reasonable.

As the situation becomes more desperate and people start dying, the Doctor and Ace get involved and the Doctor tries to help. But this creature that remains unseen, attacks people through their memories – feeding on regret, sadness, guilt, and anger. And the Doctor has plenty of regrets. When the mysterious creature uses Susan against the Doctor he barely escapes. The situation becomes desperate, a nursing home aid accompanies a busload of seniors out of the village but their driver becomes overcome by sickness and crashes the bus. The driver dies but the seniors and Jill are alright. A visiting BBC reporter entering the village sees the accident and helps get everyone to the monastery. The Doctor reads up on the history of the village in the monastery and tries to discover what might be plaguing the village. Ace helps but also becomes friends with Robin. But the arrival of several seniors ultimately leads to a horrific creature attack when someone makes the mistake of starting a sentimental singalong.

As more people die in the village itself, the Doctor has everyone gather in the church, which has the effect of putting all the food in one place. He also spends time at the radio telescope, examining the signals that Dr. Cooper and her team found. But it’s at the monastery that he encounters the creature, which has taken over one of the local young men the Doctor tries to talk to it. He discovers the creature is old, nearly as old as the Earth itself, which formed around it. And the history of haunted castles and such in the village is due to the creature.

Later, however, as the situation gets desperate, the Doctor, Holly, Vijay, and the actor, Trevithick, go to try to communicate with the creature. It’s a disaster as Holly dies, and Trevithick sacrifices himself so the Doctor and Vijay can escape back to the radio telescope. But the Doctor finds out how to get the creature to leave. He tells the creature he can get all the energy he wants from the exploding star, a nova. The creature uses the radio telescope and leaves, heading to outer space and back in time as it follows the explosion that occurred nearly 300 years ago. Ace and the Doctor head back in the TARDIS and see the creature arrive in the 1600s where it causes a fire at a castle. The creature then heads into space to the nova – and eats up all the energy of the star. It follows another energy trace to a supernova and eats that up too. But eventually it gets trapped by the gravity of a black hole.

I enjoyed Nightshade. The Doctor is in a bit of a mood, due to previous events in the series, but the events in the village and Ace help bring him out of it. He’s much more fallible in this story, which fits with the Seventh Doctor – for example, he never should have brought Holly, Vijay, and Trevithick with him when he tries to communicate with the creature. Having the village gather in the church is less of a disaster – because, although the creature attacks it, no one dies. But having a radio telescope as a major set piece also reminds the Doctor of how his Fourth incarnation died, so that hangs over the novel, effectively.

Nightshade has a spooky quality to it – Holly, though she’s fallen in love with Vijay, cannot forget her previous fiancé who died. Trevithick remembers the most successful time in his life, playing the lead on a spooky BBC television children’s SF show (sound familiar?). Various characters remember past friends, relatives, situations, that they regret or that make them sad – which makes them vulnerable to the creature. Even the Doctor isn’t immune. Ace actually uses her complicated feelings about her mother to her advantage to fight off the creature. And the story takes place in an isolated village, on a moor, which adds to the spooky factor. Nightshade is an atmospheric novel, well-written, with great guest stars, and I also liked seeing a more vulnerable Doctor who can make mistakes. But the story is also clear and understandable, something that can be hard to find in the Doctor Who New Adventures line from Virgin Books. I recommend Nightshade.

Southwest Ranch Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fire Roasted Tequila Lime Rub and Marinade Spice (or lime pepper)
  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (2 to 3 breasts)

  • Fine cut Co-Jack Shredded cheese (or other Shredded Cheese)

  • Marzetti Southwest Ranch Veggie Dip (Any SW Ranch dressing will do, the thicker the better)

Coat chicken with spice rub. Push spices deeply into the chicken. Then place the chicken in a baking dish. Any lime pepper mix is good, if you can’t find the fire-roasted one. If your mix doesn’t include salt also add a small amount of salt to the chicken to keep it moist.

Frost chicken with Southwest Ranch dressing. Use a lot of ranch and completely coat the chicken. Any ranch will work (I’ve even made this recipe with Kraft) but the thicker the dressing the better it will work.

Cover chicken with shredded cheese. Co-jack works nicely because it melts evenly without becoming greasy or oily. The thinner or smaller the shards of the cheese the better because it aids even melting.

Bake until chicken is completely cooked, approximately 1 hour.

This recipe is my attempt at making Applebee’s Fiesta Lime Chicken at home. It’s also a way to use the Tequila Lime spice mix I bought… somewhere. The rest of the ingredients are staples and easy to pick up in supermarkets. And again, if you can’t find the brands I use, just use whatever you can find. The recipe should still work.

 

 

Striking Out Series 2 Review

  • Series Title: Striking Out
  • Season: Series 2
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: RTE (Ireland)
  • Cast: Amy Huberman, Emmet Byrne, Neil Morrissey, Rory Keenan, Maria Doyle Kennedy
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD (R1, NTSC)

Striking Out Series 2 picks up where Series 1 left off, with Ray in jail and Tara suddenly evicted from her new office – as well as Pete losing his coffee shop. Tara joins forces with an experienced solicitor, George Cusack (also a woman), and barrister, Vincent Pike, and together they get Ray out of jail and out on bond. Meg regrets setting up Ray so she gives evidence to George that the Guarda who arrested Ray were acting outside their remit (police district) and calling into question additional bogus charges (resisting arrest, intent to distribute drugs, hard drug possession (Ecstasy and others). However, the series never seems to change Ray’s status from “out on bond” to anything else.

Tara and George end up sharing an office. It’s cozy, small, messy, smoky, and there isn’t much privacy, especially for two solicitors working on separate cases. This causes the occasional problem throughout the season. George is tough, but barely making it as a solicitor – so she has to take the cases and clients she can get, similar to Tara. Tara meanwhile is trying to specialize in family law, but she has to take whatever clients she can.

Vincent is heading an official inquiry into a cost-overrun scam on a new hospital building. The company that won the bid to build the hospital did so with the lowest bid. But as the hospital was being built it ran into significant cost overruns. These costs actually pushed the hospital construction budget to higher than the highest bid. Also, several government ministers seem to have personally profited from the deal, and Dunbar’s – Tara’s old firm seems to be involved in the whole scheme. As the season develops, Vincent and his inquiry have successes and failures. Watching Vincent at his best (and worse) is fascinating.

Tara is still struggling, but once Ray is out of jail and she’s found a new office, she’s doing OK. She starts taking information from Meg again – even though she should know she can’t trust Meg after she got Ray arrested and herself evicted. Tara also dumps Pete (the coffee shop guy) and starts dating. She becomes very close to Sam, Eric’s younger brother. Tara is also now friends, but not romantic with Eric. It’s fascinating to watch Tara’s legal cases, but I found her romantic encounters less interesting. Yes, she needs to move on from Eric – but taking up with his brother? Bad move. Especially when Sam is a lot more involved in Dunbar’s shenanigans than he lets on.

Still, I love this series! Tara is someone you can root for, and she’s grown since last season, even though she still can be a bit too naive and trusting (especially for a lawyer). I miss Pete from last season – he seemed like a good guy, but I liked George, she’s lots of fun. Dublin and the surrounding areas look beautiful and like other series (Shetland especially) Striking Out balances the beauty and even glitz of city and country life with people just being horrible to each other. Tara is a solicitor not a barrister, so it’s seldom criminal cases (and if one of her clients ends up in court she needs to get a barrister to help her) but some of the family law cases are brutal. The series has also opened up more visually – last season there were a lot of frames within frames within frames, which visually underscored the trap Tara was in – this season as she’s grown, so has her world, and it’s beautiful.

I highly recommend Striking Out, and I sincerely hope there is a third series.

Read My Review of Striking Out Series 1.

Striking Out Series 1 Review

  • Series Title: Striking Out
  • Season: Series 1
  • Episodes: 4
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: RTE (Ireland)
  • Cast: Amy Huberman, Emmet Byrne, Neil Morrissey
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD (R1, NTSC)

Tara Rafferty seems to have it all – a lucrative career as a solicitor at a prestigious Dublin law firm, wealth and privilege, and she’s about to marry Eric, the son of the head of her law firm, a man she loves. Then it all blows up around her. The series begins with Tara at her Hen Party (bachelorette party), she makes a snap decision to drop in on her fiancé but finds him in bed with another woman. Right there and then Tara calls off the wedding. The next day she moves her personal items and files out of her office.

Tara is now on her own, getting by any way she can, picking up clients as she goes. Her office is in the back of a coffee shop, and when one of her clients needs a job to stay out of jail, she hires him as her office boy. He recommends a friend to help her with some “IT stuff” and soon Tara has hired Meg as well as her investigator (and sometimes hacker). Tara has a good heart, and she cares about people – but she’s young and too trusting.

Meanwhile, Eric, her ex-fiancé, is essentially stalking her – he shows up at her flat, in court when she’s presenting a case (because the barrister didn’t arrive), and at her new office. Eric insists he “still loves her” and his fling “doesn’t matter”. Tara sees through this and tells him it’s over and to leave her alone – repeatedly. But Tara’s mother, her father, Eric’s mother, and even her friends tell Tara she should forgive Eric and go back to him. In addition, Tara keeps getting cases that in some way or another come back to infidelity. Even her clients tell Tara she’s better off with Eric and the privileged life he can offer her.

But Tara defies all the social pressure and discovers she likes being on her own. She likes helping fellow underdogs. And for the first time, she really enjoys being in charge of her own life and making new friends and keeping the one trusted old one that stood by her decision to cancel the wedding. You can’t help but like Tara and her motley crew: Ray the office boy, Pete the coffee shop owner, and Vincent the down on his luck alcoholic barrister who helps her present cases in court.

This is a brilliant series about a woman’s journey to find herself and to say no to social convention and pressure. I enjoyed it very much! Even though at times Tara seems like a bad or at least inexperienced solicitor (her clients keep lying to her and she keeps believing them), she’s also someone you can pull for and hope things work out for her. Her new friends are also great – even as they work through their own issues. Striking Out, like Tara Rafferty herself, walks it’s own path, becoming a unique series in its own right, and I whole-heartedly recommend it.