Friday 29 September 2017

Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks by David Whitaker (BBC) | review by Jacob Edwards

Seeing is believing – the BBC is your ser-vant.

Although most Doctor Who fans have a favourite Doctor, for many the choice is as much about era as actor. Style of story, and the broadcast years during which the viewer was of formative age, must go a long way towards shaping this preference.

Regardless of who comes in at number one, few people will rank the Doctors of the classic series without listing Patrick Troughton in their top two. Whatever the show itself was like, the second Doctor himself was exceptional.

Which merely adds to the tragedy of the BBC’s junking policy. Fifty-three Patrick Troughton episodes are missing – the equivalent of two whole seasons of new series Who – and the word “missing” is itself a misnomer giving false hope. The master tapes were wiped, their content destroyed. When a lost episode miraculously turns up at a relay station in Nigeria or a rubbish tip in New Zealand, any celebration is tinged with cold comfort.

For many years one story particularly lamented for its absence was The Power of the Daleks. Not only was this Patrick Troughton’s first full appearance (following the regeneration scene at the end of The Tenth Planet), it also sounded like a cracking tale: Earth colonists on the planet Vulcan find and activate three daleks, which pretend to be subservient while repowering. Heedless of the Doctor’s warnings, blinded by their own conflict, the colonists are turned upon and for the most part exterminated.

If this sounds oddly familiar, it is probably because Mark Gatiss pinched the idea – more kindly, homaged it – when writing the Matt Smith story Victory of the Daleks (2010). And why not? The concept is far more chilling than the daleks’ usual mindless blather; and after all, it wasn’t as if new generations of Who fans had the opportunity to watch the original…

Not until 2016, fifty years after The Power of the Daleks was first broadcast, when the BBC, in celebration and atonement, released the story in full animation. All six episodes!

Animation was first used to reconstruct episodes one and four of the eight-part Cybermen classic The Invasion (1968), synching the footage with audio recordings of the original broadcasts. It was employed in similarly stopgap fashion for several other stories, but never had fans expected it to pull a wholly missing serial from the hat. Who would have thought? Half a century on, the chance to watch (and review) The Power of the Daleks

Beyond its mere existence the animation is in many ways extremely good. Granted, the characters often stay front-on when moving sideways, resulting in an odd shuffle reminiscent of paddle pop stick puppets; true, there’s a fair bit of bobble-about background acting; but this is entirely understandable. Remember, we’re not watching a multi-million dollar production for cinematic release! More importantly, each person is well portrayed. The movement of mouths matches their speech. The characters are facially expressive. They have personality.

The backgrounds too are superbly rendered (and expertly lit), capturing the sinister moodiness of the story at large. Reconstruction producer-director Charles Norton has handled his job well, drawing from camera scripts, no doubt, but also conceptualising the action to complement a soundscape that features long sections without speech; passages that in audio alone would be quite bewildering. The first episode in particular sees the Doctor behaving erratically post-regeneration, and Ben and Polly wracked with uncertainty. From the patchiness of dialogue it seems the original broadcast version must have relied heavily on nuances of movement and expression, which the animation to some extent captures.

And so, to the story itself…

The Power of the Daleks is something of an oddity: yes, in part due to the nature of its reconstruction; but also because Patrick Troughton is feeling his way into an (at the time) unprecedented situation; and because there’s a deliberate intention to obfuscate from viewers in 1966 whether this new Doctor really was the Doctor (a neat parallel with the newly submissive daleks); and indeed because it’s the only second Doctor adventure not to feature steadfast companion Jamie McCrimmon. Add to this some obvious flaws – such as why Lesterson believes a single dalek, armed with a sink plunger, will double the colony’s mining output; and why he and Bragen go unnecessarily stark raving mad – and one might start to doubt the “classic” appellation bestowed upon this so-called great lost serial…

And yet, it really is very good. The Vulcan colony, with its scheming factions, has a complexity that more or less justifies the story’s six episodes. The Doctor shows newfound fallibility and a sorrowful, Stan Laurel-like expressiveness, the acting is impeccable (until Lesterson goes to pieces), and through much of the story there resonates that unnerving dramatic irony of the viewer perceiving an impending doom of which most of the characters aren’t cognisant. All told, we have here the blueprint for the classic Troughton-era “base under siege” tale, kick-started by the daleks in a more frightening and cunning manifestation than seen so often before or since.

And of course the big point now is that we can see it. Just as portended by that final scene where the TARDIS departs and a shattered dalek raises its eyestalk, the destruction wreaked upon The Power of the Daleks turns out not to have been total. All in all, it’s a most admirable un-junking.

Monday 25 September 2017

Assassin’s Creed, by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Ubisoft et al.) | review by Jacob Edwards

if you like eagles* flying

if you like lots of fighting

if you like people liable to jump from

the tops of high places

their options like eyelids, unbatted

surviving, unflappable, by means of –

[cut away]

why, i’d say this just might be for you

if you like falcons* flying

and jeremy irons

if you value high orders of god corporate

cluelessness, science divine

in its improbability

plots lines that spew from computer screens

proving the existence of game theory

really, this could be for you

if you like your hawks* flying

if you like your films stylish

if you like your macguffins quite rounded

your heroes brought low

but still bearded, gruff, cut from a mould

if you like all the conflicts to stay unresolved

’til the sequel that’s stealing the plot

well, what ho! this’ll do

if turkeys* are flying, if you stand to decry

but you find yourself writing reviews

with a semblance of rhyme

in the hope your denial won’t show

and that no one will find out you didn’t despise it

console yourself knowing the trailer with matt damon

blank-faced and fighting off dragons in china

probably gave you perspective (false positive)

rose-tinting all you’d expect to find dire

* despite prolonged opportunity, this viewer failed properly to distinguish

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Contributor news: Branch Turner vs the Currants by Douglas J. Ogurek

TQF regular takes on Little League baseball in new young adult novel.

Douglas J. Ogurek, TQF contributor and editor of the controversial TQF UNSPLATTERPUNK! issue, has produced a work that signals a more wholesome detour. Ogurek’s young adult novel Branch Turner vs the Currants (World Castle Publishing) takes the reader into the baseball-focused world of twelve-year-old Branch Turner. Here’s the synopsis:
The Tigers’ Branch Turner wants to steal more bases than any other player in the Union City Pony League. Then Coach Tillman from the Currants, the Tigers’ biggest rival, tells Branch about “bam.” This begins Branch’s search to discover the most important part of baseball. 
Branch’s journey will include his old-fashioned teammate Pine Tar Yore, the Currants’ show-off Eli Tillman, the dangerous fastball pitcher Louie Horton, and many other colorful players.
So what is the most important part of baseball? Is it winning? Having fun? Playing by the rules? Or is it something else?
“I grew up in a Chicago suburb where baseball was a rite of passage,” said Ogurek. “My friends and I lived and breathed the sport.”

Ogurek’s typical summer day might have included any combination of the following:
studying pro ball stats in the newspaper, sorting baseball cards, playing backyard Wiffle ball, playing old-school video games (baseball, of course), playing neighborhood games in the field down the street, playing organized Little League games, and watching pro ball on TV (or taped on the VCR). Ogurek drew from many of these tween experiences to write the book, which took more than ten years to complete.

Branch Turner vs the Currants contains many of the elements of the classic sports story – a protagonist who comes to terms with his weaknesses, an underdog who strives to overcome the obstacles, and characters who aim to win by means fair or foul. It also offers plenty of on-field antics and humor, as well as a mysterious hockey player who skates in and out of the story.

Ogurek said, “I hope that what will make this story fun for readers of many ages are the polarities that it explores – tradition vs novelty, mass popularity vs individual preference, and at a deeper level, personal gain vs social outreach.”

Branch Turner vs the Currants is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon.

Monday 18 September 2017

The Complete Scarlet Traces, Volume One, by Ian Edgington and Disraeli (Rebellion) | review by Stephen Theaker

Before the films, before the games, before Richard Burton and the brilliant album, and even before the book by H.G. Wells, my first version of The War of the Worlds was a comic strip. It was introduced by Tom Baker’s head in Doctor Who Weekly, though my guess is that it was a reprint from Marvel’s Classics Illustrated. It made a real impact, and yet this adaptation (and then sequel) was even better. I’m sure all of our readers know the story already, but anyway… The astronomer Ogilvy spots great flumes spouting from Mars, just as it is at its closest point to Earth. A great cylinder falls on Horsell Common, then unscrews, and from it emerge first the Martians themselves, and then their weapons, to incinerate humans with as little thought as we would give to swiping at ants on a picnic blanket. It’s crucial for an adaptation of this story to get the horror of these scenes right, and here they are terrifying, Disraeli’s artwork capturing brilliantly the fear on the faces of all those people realising that they no longer rule the world, they no longer even rule Horsell Common. This is pretty much a perfect adaptation to comics of the novel, in my opinion. After that the book moves on to a sequel, ten years later, by the same writer and artist. Again, this is well-trodden territory, though it hasn’t always been trod with great distinction. There were books such as The Nyctalope on Mars (reviewed back in TQF31) and The Space Machine by Christopher Priest (described as dull by its own author), an awful television series, and the overwritten Marvel adventures of Killraven, born in the Martian pens. More recently, Stephen Baxter has written a sequel novel of his own, The Massacre of Mankind. The approach in Crimson Traces is to use new characters in a murder mystery story set in a Britain that has been greatly changed by the war between the worlds, the technology that was left behind by the Martian attack having been cracked open and repurposed to keep the empire running in tip-top shape. While delivering an action-packed thriller, the story also considers the results of automation without social equality. It’s a problem that is likely to only get worse for us, and there’s a warning here about how bad it could get. The sequel reminded me a bit of Bryan Talbot’s equally excellent Grandville series, as it puts some tough, likable characters up against a mystery of national importance and a bunch of vicious villains. Definitely worth your time, even if you think you’ve probably had enough of the Martians and their tripods by now. ****

This review originally appeared in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #59, which also included stories by Rafe McGregor, Michael Wyndham Thomas, Jessy Randall, Charles Wilkinson, David Penn, Elaine Graham-Leigh and Chris Roper.

It | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Cinematic take on King classic needs more Pennywise, less Kumbaya.

Viewer responses to the 1990 miniseries It typically evoke some variation of “not great”. So it was with much fanfare that the film version of Stephen King’s chunky 1986 novel surfaced. According to both critics and the general audiences, the film has lived up to the hype.

It does offer a brilliant portrayal of the infamous Pennywise the Dancing Clown and captures the spirit of growing up in the late eighties. However, the structural glue that holds the film together is a bit weak, and in more than one scene, the film dips into a sentimentality incompatible with modern horror masterpieces.

A year after his brother Georgie disappears, child protagonist Bill Denbrough and his outcast friends attempt to find the missing boy. As the group navigates King’s fictitious Derry, Maine, it discovers the evil responsible for the horrific incidents that assail the town every twenty-seven years.

The opening scene, in which Pennywise/It (Bill Skarsgård) lures Georgie into the sewer, is cinematic magic. Skarsgård’s nuanced delivery puts the drooling, unstable Pennywise in the same league as Heath Ledger’s Joker. With his fluctuating vocals and eye colors, Pennywise is hard to pin down. Is he a friendly clown or a diabolical fiend? One thing is certain – he is not human. Alas, this scene is arguably the best in a film that sacrifices such intimate dialogue for demented attacks. The filmmakers should have let Skarsgård talk more.

Nevertheless, most of Pennywise’s attempts to terrify the children are engaging. In one scene, he crashes a meeting in Bill’s garage using means both subtle and blatant. In another, he transforms into a headless reanimated corpse that stumblingly yet quickly chases a boy through a library.

It is also a coming-of-age story about a group of friends and the problems they face, such as parental abuse and peer bullying. The film explores the growing attraction between the stuttering Bill and Beverly Marsh, the group’s only female. The film’s most entertaining character is Richie Tozier, a potty-mouthed smart aleck whose Coke-bottle glasses exaggerate his bold and often humorous comments. Often though, the acting among the children takes a turn for the worse. The dramatic speeches don’t register and expressed grief or concern is sometimes laughable. Additionally, group hugs and holding hands in a circle seem more fitting for a kids’ movie than a horror film. And yet, these characters are kids, and nerdy kids at that.

Still, It is worth seeing for Skarsgård’s performance. Perhaps in the sequel, he’ll get more dialogue. – Douglas J. Ogurek ****

Monday 11 September 2017

Now out: Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #60!

free epub | free mobi | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #60 is now available! It contains five stories: “The Lost Testament” by Rafe McGregor, “Turning Point” by Nicki Robson, “Yttrium, Part One” by Douglas Thompson, “Amongst the Urlap” by Andrew Peters, and “Doggerland” by Jule Owen. The wraparound cover is by Howard Watts, and the editorial answers the most urgent queries in Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions. The issue also includes almost forty pages of reviews by Douglas J. Ogurek, Rafe McGregor and Stephen Theaker.

They review books by Martha Wells, Lisa Tuttle, Mira Grant, Gwyneth Jones, Jim Butcher, Skottie Young and Michael Turner, plus the films Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, It Comes at Night, The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Prometheus, and Wonder Woman, the album Humanz by Gorillaz, the tv shows Iron Fist and Legion, and a pair of events: Eastercon 2017: Innominate (or at least two days of it), and Into the Unknown, the exhibition at the Barbican.

Here are the kind and beautiful contributors to this issue:

Andrew Peters is an Egypt-based financial writer, who has recently started to publish fiction. His short story “In Dogpoo Park” was chosen as Editor’s Pick in the Aestas 2016 Short Story Competition run by Fabula Press, and was published in an anthology this year. Some of his flash fiction will also be appearing in the 2017 Fish Anthology, having been chosen in competition.

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work has appeared in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Morpheus Tales, Gone Lawn, and several anthologies. Douglas’s website can be found at

Douglas Thompson won the Herald/Grolsch Question of Style Award in 1989, 2nd prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition in 2007, and the Faith/Unbelief Poetry Prize in 2016. His short stories and poems have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including Ambit, New Writing Scotland and Albedo One. His first book, Ultrameta, published by Eibonvale Press in August 2009, was followed by eight subsequent novels and short story collections: Sylvow (Eibonvale Press, 2010), Apoidea (The Exaggerated Press, 2011), Mechagnosis (Dog Horn Publishing, 2012), Entanglement (Elsewhen Press, 2012), The Rhymer (Elsewhen Press, 2014), The Brahan Seer (Acair Books, 2014), Volwys (Dog Horn Publishing, 2014), and The Sleep Corporation (The Exaggerated Press, 2015). A new combined collection of short stories and poems The Fallen West will be published by Snuggly Books in late 2017/early 2018. His first poetry collection Eternity’s Windfall will be published by Red Squirrel in early 2018. A retrospective collection of his earlier poetry, Soured Utopias, will be published by Dog Horn in late 2018. “Yttrium: Part One” is taken from his novel Barking Circus, forthcoming in 2018 from Eibonvale. Part Two of “Yttrium” will be published in TQF61.

Howard Watts is a writer, artist and composer living in Seaford. He provides the wraparound cover art for this issue, his thirtieth consecutive cover for us in the span of eight years. His artwork can be seen in its native resolution on his DeviantArt page: His novel The Master of Clouds is available on Kindle.

Jule Owen was born and raised in Merseyside and now lives in London. By day she is a practising digital technologist, working on products that involve machine learning and automation, by night she writes stories about future and other worlds

Nicki Robson writes fantasy and horror fiction. She has had short stories placed in competitions run by the British Fantasy Society and others published in anthologies from Twilight Tales in the US. She is based in Yorkshire and is currently working on a YA fantasy novel.

Rafe McGregor is the author of The Value of Literature, The Architect of Murder, five collections of short fiction, and over one hundred magazine articles, journal papers, and review essays. He lectures at the University of York and can be found online at @rafemcgregor.

Stephen Theaker is the co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. He apologises for this issue being three months late, but expects the next one to be along quite soon.

Back issues of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction are usually available for free download. However, Dropbox have just turned off their public folders function (they did warn me!), so unfortunately the download links for free epub, mobi and pdf copies of the back issues won't work till I rebuild them.

Monday 4 September 2017

A Wizard’s Henchman by Matthew Hughes (PS Publishing) | review by Stephen Theaker

For those readers who have had the immense pleasure of reading several of this author’s Archonate books, A Wizard’s Henchman is simply unmissable. Over many short stories, novellas and novels we have been shown a universe on the point of collapse, rapidly approaching the point at which reality will flip, from being based like ours (one hopes) on scientific principles to being ruled instead by magic, or, to be more precise, by the will. Some books have shown magic bleeding through, and others have even taken us into the future for a brief glimpse of what is to come, but this is where it actually happens! It is very abrupt. Flying cars fall out of the sky. Buildings collapse. People starve. But not our protagonist. Knowing a little bit about what is going to happen, he gloms on to a promising candidate for wizardship and keeps him safe while he prepares and later learns to use his new powers. Less pleasant magic users are also making their play, and the denizens of other dimensional planes are also ready to take advantage of the new status quo. The book offers a comfortingly familiar mix of science fiction, fantasy and mystery, while never being reluctant to offer a shocking image or idea when appropriate. It gives us a protagonist for whom self-preservation is at first a priority, but who grows in stature into a true hero, in large part thanks to his determination to adapt and learn. A brilliant book, probably my favourite new book of 2016. *****