Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 15:48 on 14-04-2010, Andy G
he's written even more pestilential episodes (“Midnight,” “Turn Left,” “Love and Monsters”)


Those are my favourite Davies episodes! I guess it must be a matter of taste.

Paul Cornell doesn't impress me.


Well, he's not written many episodes,but they're all brilliant - second to Moffat's contributions (Human Nature/Family of Blood/Blink was the best run of the episodes hands down in the new series).

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at 15:00 on 14-04-2010, Robinson L
Oh wow, my family loves Doctor Who! Also really like David Tennant, actually. He's right up there with Peter Davison and Patrick Traughton in my book. (Which, that's right, puts him ahead of Tom Baker.) For us, Matt Smith has got some pretty big shoes to fill.

Davies … not so much. He's written some fairly good episodes (“Gridlock,” “Partners in Crime”) but he's written even more pestilential episodes (“Midnight,” “Turn Left,” “Love and Monsters”) and his two watch words seem to be “angst” and “melodrama.” Plus there's the overblown finales which have, at most, about half a good story in them. And did I mention the angst, because Davies certainly does.

Paul Cornell doesn't impress me.

But Steven Moffat … the first series was in the tank before “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” came along (god, but those episodes scared my younger sisters). Pick the best episodes of the next two seasons (“Girl in the Fireplace,” and the mind-blowingly awesome “Blink”) and yep, that's Steven Moffat. He also penned the hilarious Doctor Who parody “Curse of the Fatal Death,” and the eight-minute special “Time Crash” (guest starring Peter Davison!)

That send, I've also been kinda dreading his takeover for the fifth season. Why? Because he also wrote “Silence in the Library”/“Forest of the Dead.” (How could you, Steven Moffat? How could you?)

So glad to hear he and Matt Smith are starting off the new season on the right foot.


Guy: Anyway, there are still a few kinks in the system... take their entry on the Crimean War, for example.

No really, check it out, if only just the intro. It's a hoot.

They don't seem to have much time for Wikipedia's moderately successful policy of neutrality, though. Consider (from the Crimean War entry):

Known to contemporaries as 'the Russian War', this arose from long-term Russian ambitions to expand westward and southward, resisted by Britain as a matter of policy.
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at 14:16 on 14-04-2010, Guy
Cpedia is a new "rival" to wikipedia - I think it autogenerates its content by crawling over the web. Anyway, there are still a few kinks in the system... take their entry on the Crimean War, for example.
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at 09:39 on 14-04-2010, Arthur B
@Alasdair: Interesting, but this quote from Scott jumped out at me:

It's a science-fiction epic, a bit of The Odyssey by way of Blade Runner, built upon a brilliant, disorienting premise.

(Emphasis mine.) Don't get me wrong, I love the man, but anyone who cites their own work as an influence needs a slap on the wrist. ;)
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at 02:32 on 14-04-2010, Viorica
I think the problem with the RTD years is that no one was reining in his excesses. Like the rampant Doctor-worship (that is, until "Waters of Mars" when I suddenly got whiplash) the obsession with Rose (which is a major reason I didn't like the third season- stop whining about her and move the fuck on already!) and the bombastic finales that just felt overblown and stupid. We haven't gotten far enough into the Moffat rule to see if he's going to go down the same road of overexposing his own issues. The RTD seasons felt uncomfortably like watching him have therapy on national TV.
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at 01:54 on 14-04-2010, Andy G
Well I mean, the later episodes of the 3rd and 4th series are very good - often right up until the finales, and to be honest, I usually enjoyed the build-up in the finales - right up until the stakes were so high it could only be resolved by a cheap deus ex machina to instantly destroy armies of daleks at a stroke. Which happened *three times*.
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at 23:04 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
Unfortunately what I've seen of the series finales have been kind of hit-and-miss too. (See: Return of the King-style multiple endings.) ;)
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at 22:03 on 13-04-2010, Andy G
I do recommend checking out any episode written by Moffat or Paul Cornell. They are all brilliant - and the Moffat ones are the only ones I find genuinely scary (I think RTD was more interested in quirky adventure).

The quality of the episodes really does seem to correlate to the writers - though don't know if that's just because the star writers got dibs on the good ideas.
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at 21:48 on 13-04-2010, Andy G
@ Arthur: The second halves of the series were usually much better ;)
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at 20:18 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
That sort of thing annoyed me, but I'm not quite ready to say I like the Moffat era better than the entire RTD era on the basis of two episodes, especially when I think there were better episodes than both in the RTD era (many of them, admittedly, written by Moffat).

Well, by contrast, I tried to get into Who again each season of RTD's reign but usually after about two episodes I was too pissed off to continue.

I guess I'm just discerning. Or judgemental. Or judgementally discerning. :P
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at 20:13 on 13-04-2010, Andy G
Ah, but you see I'm not one of 'em. I'm one of those people who actually kind of disliked it over the last five years, so the fact that suddenly I'm hooked as soon as RTD vanishes has got to mean something.


I had assumed you weren't actually, and was going to add a qualification to that effect original sentence, but it just became a bit cluttered.

(To be fair to RTD, I was never entirely sold on Tennant as the Doctor either. He just always came across as trying just a little bit too hard.)


I have to say, I don't yet see the clear blue water between Smith and Tennant. I find they deliver their lines quite similarly.

Whenever RTD wrote a scene where people tearfully talk about how wonderful the Doctor is, it always came across to me like RTD tearfully talking about how wonderful it is to write Doctor Who.


That sort of thing annoyed me, but I'm not quite ready to say I like the Moffat era better than the entire RTD era on the basis of two episodes, especially when I think there were better episodes than both in the RTD era (many of them, admittedly, written by Moffat).
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at 19:47 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
I generally think RTD isn't being given enough credit by people who did enjoy Doctor Who (sometimes more, sometimes less) over the past five years.

Ah, but you see I'm not one of 'em. I'm one of those people who actually kind of disliked it over the last five years, so the fact that suddenly I'm hooked as soon as RTD vanishes has got to mean something.

For me I'm just glad the show is getting on with being Doctor Who, rather than celebrating Doctor Who, if you see what I mean. Whenever RTD wrote a scene where people tearfully talk about how wonderful the Doctor is, it always came across to me like RTD tearfully talking about how wonderful it is to write Doctor Who. Even though there was a mildly teary scene at the end of the last episode, I never thought it strayed into self-indulgent/self-congratulatory territory in quite the same way. (Plus it managed to fit really well with the story too, rather than being bolted on for the sake of it.)

Frankly, I'll be happy with whatever Moffat cooks up for the season closer provided that it doesn't have more endings than Return of the King.

(To be fair to RTD, I was never entirely sold on Tennant as the Doctor either. He just always came across as trying just a little bit too hard.)
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at 19:40 on 13-04-2010, Andy G
I have really enjoyed the past two episodes, though I'm not quite as inclined to knock the RTD years. For a start, because as good as these episodes are, their debt to the style, tone and format honed during the RTD years is undeniable - these are clearly a continuity of the same series with slight changes in emphasis, not a new beginning along the lines of Batman Begins et al - and Moffat can't take all the credit for that.

I generally think RTD isn't being given enough credit by people who did enjoy Doctor Who (sometimes more, sometimes less) over the past five years. For all the bombast and overcooked endings (and we haven't yet seen proof that Moffat can write a good series climax), there were some amazing moments, including in RTD episodes.

All of which having been said, I have thoroughly enjoyed these last two episodes, and can't wait for the rest of the series (though presumably at some stage there will be an episode not written by Moffat ...).
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at 19:11 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
By the way: we're already 2 episodes in, but I'm already convinced that Matt Smith and Steve Moffat are the best things that have happened to Doctor Who for ages. The leap in quality is insane - to the point that they've actually made me want to watch the show on a regular basis. Tennant, Ecclestone, and RTD never managed to do that.
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at 09:51 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
It's worth noting that the Fionavar series was written more or less immediately after he'd helped Christopher Tolkien whip the Silmarillion into something vaguely readable (though that's a very generous definition of "readable"...), and from what I have seen of it the influence does kind of show. It took about 4 years for him to write anything new after that (Tigana) and apparently he did a lot of growing in the interim - certainly, most fans seem to treat the Fionvar series as though it's not really representative of the rest of his work.
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at 04:49 on 13-04-2010, Guy
I'll second the opinion of GGK being good-but-not-great. A lot of his books are semi-historical, semi-magical fictionalisations of real countries/eras. Tigana, for example, is sort-of renaissance Italy. His most magical stuff is the Fionavar trilogy, which I enjoyed when I read it 20 years ago, but I can't vouch for that meaning that it's actually good.
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at 00:53 on 13-04-2010, Arthur B
@Alasdair: That's more or less what I remember of Kay.

I think it is probably more correct to say he talks about nationalism than ethnicism. Granted, the societies he writes about resemble societies we had before the modern concept of the nation-state really came into its own. But he's not writing for people from those societies, he's writing for us, and he and we are products of centuries of people thinking in terms of nations.
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at 23:52 on 12-04-2010, Alasdair Czyrnyj
@Viorica: From what I remember of Kay, he specializes in these low-magic cultures based fairly closely on actual medieval ones (though he thankfully doesn't just regurgitate history). His books are slow reads (my copy of Tigana is on long-term hiatus, unfortunately), but they do talk about things like nationalism (ethnicism?) and public memory in a rather intelligent fashion.

@Niall: Is it just me, or does the final paragraph tips the article into pure irony?
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at 23:37 on 12-04-2010, Niall
I've read The Lions of Al-Rassan, which I liked. My partner is a big Kay fan, and I think would say that or the Sarantine Mosaic duology are good starting points. (I also have an ARC of his new one to read soonish.)

Unrelated 1: Richard Morgan on the narrative deficiencies of sf games.

Unrelated 2: how much, if any, interest do FBers have in sf conventions? If there was (hypothetically) a small sf convention taking place in Oxford, what would you want it to do?
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at 23:28 on 12-04-2010, Arthur B
@Viorica: I've read Tigana, which is meant to be a fairly important early work of his, and I remember finding it good-but-not-great, with the occasional expedition into being not actually OK.

This was years ago though so I can't really be more specific than that; I'm sorry I can't be more careful.
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at 20:36 on 12-04-2010, Robinson L
@Viorica: 'Fraid I can't help you there, sorry.

Alsadair: Humorist, SF author and general smart-humanities-guy Adam Roberts has decided to work his way through the entire Wheel of Time series.
I read through the reviews of the first five books yesterday. Neither as long nor as funny as I expected, but about as critical.

One of the amusing things about watching him work his way through is the way he grows more and more vitriolic as the series continues. It'd be interesting to speculate whether this is due to the degeneration in quality of the series itself, or of Roberts' patience with it, or some dialectical process between the two. Whatever the reason, at the rate he's going, by the time he hits book 10 or 11, the review will consist entirely of Roberts frothing at the keyboard for a while.

(I wonder if my largely positive reaction to the series has anything to do with the fact that I've only ever listened to it on audio, and have never actually had to read it personally. If so, this wouldn't explain all the books I've only ever listened to on audio and still had a negative reaction to.)
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at 18:57 on 12-04-2010, Viorica
Can anyone tell me if Guy Gavriel Kay's books are worth a read? I'm looking to get back into fantasy, and he seems to write the kind of stuff I like, but I want to make sure I'm not getting into a Terry Goodkind situation before I try his stuff.
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at 19:05 on 11-04-2010, Jamie Johnston
Having discovered the existence of podcasts after the entire rest of the world did, I generally assume that everyone must already know any individual podcast I may happen to discover, but it seems this is not always the case; let me share with you, therefore, Shift run stop.

It's a rather charming little thing made by two young-and-attractive-sounding people who, I have the impression, are based in London and may be current or former employees of the BBC, which may explain why their sound quality and editing and suchlike are rather good. Each episode consists of an interview with someone they think is cool (mostly comedy people, comics people, science / technology people, and games people) plus some kind of odd segment such as 'snacks from around the world'.

It claims, quite plausibly, to be the only podcast available on cassette.
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