strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [ profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [ profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [ profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

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strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
I've always meant to read this. I've read, listened to or watched everything else Douglas Adams ever produced after all, and this was the last remaining item of his which I hadn't experienced. Except that obviously, it isn't actually by him, so the urge was never quite strong enough to make me actually hunt it down. But then when I saw it for £1 on a book-stall at the excellent Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space conference in the summer, it seemed silly to pass it up.

I'm not going to be terribly complimentary about it, unfortunately, and for that reason if nothing else it's probably best to say a bit about its authorship before I start criticising. Basically, it is the novelisation of a computer game, Starship Titanic, which Douglas Adams produced in the late '90s. Adams originally intended to write the novel as well as the game himself, but as deadlines loomed and he decided that his primary interest was the game, he passed the work of producing the novel on to Terry Jones. So Jones was working with a basic scenario set out by Adams, and presumably some briefing notes about the characters and what ought to happen to them - but the details were down to him. I've never played the game, because I didn't have a computer capable of running it when it came out, so I can't judge how close the relationship between the game and the novel is, and therefore which aspects of the novel might have come primarily from Adams, and which from Jones. So I'll mainly just refer to the author as Adams / Jones, except when I'm explicitly commenting on which of them might have contributed particular ideas.

I thought the book was going to be crashingly sexist for the first 60 pages or so. These are set on Blerontin, the planet from which the Starship Titanic is launched, so the setting is utterly alien, and Adams / Jones could have imagined it any way they wanted. As it happens, the Blerontinians are essentially humanoid (except that they have orange eyes), which is fine and still doesn't make it necessary to import all of humanity's failings into the novel. And yet, nonetheless, their society is gendered in exactly the same way as ours, and while all the people with status and agency (the Blerontinian equivalent of a President, a Journalist, the ship's designer) are male, women appear only on p. 21, where we meet "a young cub reporter with a cleavage" who is there solely to act as an object for the ship-designer's lust, and on p. 29, where we learn that part of the reason why the Starship Titanic is in fact a floating disaster rather than a great triumph is that it was built by the Amalgamated Unmarried Teenage Mothers' Construction Units. By which time I was gasping in horror and wondering whether this could be any worse if Adams / Jones had deliberately set out to parody the sexism embedded in SF by writing an over-the-top exaggerated version of it.

Thankfully, on page 62, the setting shifts to Earth, and we meet four humans, two of whom are women, and the beyond-parody sexism drops away with the introduction of the more veristic characters. There is still some weirdness, though, like a great deal of comment on how one character called Nettie is incredibly hot and wears midriff-revealing T-shirts and so on, which doesn't do anything at all to advance the plot or her characterisation. In fact, character-wise, Nettie is extremely strong, resourceful and quick-thinking, so maybe all the "and she's really hot too!" stuff is about creating a wish-fulfilment super-babe character? Also, there is a very bizarre love-triangle thing between the other female character, Lucy, the Blerontinian Journalist, and Lucy's previous boyfriend, Dan, which basically involves Lucy and the Journalist suddenly and unexplainedly jumping each others' bones in a way that has no emotional plausibility whatsoever, or (again) any plot relevance either. In all honesty, it just comes across as the writing of someone who doesn't really understand a) women or b) relationships between men and women in any terms other than stereotypes and sniggers. I know Adams was never that good at writing women himself (cf. Trillian), but I feel like this bears more resemblance to Jones' Pythonesque world of women as sexy secretaries or mad housewives. Either way, though, it was weird and annoying.

The actual novel, plot, ideas etc are basically OK for a light read, but nothing particularly exciting or inspiring. There is one reason, though, why a Doctor Who fan in particular might wish to read it, and that is for its distinct resemblance to the Kylie Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned. It isn't simply that they are both retellings of the real-world Titanic story. In both, the ship's owners are attempting to perpetrate a massive insurance scheme fraud, and have deliberately sent the ship out with the express intention that it should crash. The details aren't quite identical, because in Voyage of the Damned the owner (Max Capricorn) is actually on the ship himself, hidden in a protective chamber, with the aim of surviving the crash and bankrupting his former company in the process, whereas in Starship Titanic it is simply a case of the company owner and his chief accountant realising that the project will ruin them, and deciding to cut construction costs, scuttle the ship and claim the insurance instead. But a lot of the individual elements are the same - obstructive robots, loss of oxygen, a difficult journey though a damaged ship, people falling into a central engine shaft, and the fact that the planet which the ship either nearly or really crashes onto is Earth.

Presumably, this is very much the sort of stuff which also features in the game, and thus comes originally from Douglas Adams. So it's rather nice to know that long after The Pirate Planet, City of Death and Shada, Adams was still shaping Doctor Who stories from beyond the grave (and indeed not for the last time, either). As for the game itself, I would still like to have a go at it one day (if it's even still compatible with today's computers), but have a rather long list of things which are a higher priority than it, and also suspect that I've gathered much of its contents from the book. If anyone has ever played it, do let me know if it's worth tracking down.

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strange_complex: (Seven Ace)
Seventh Doctor: Battlefield )

Seventh Doctor: Ghost Light )

That now brings me up to date, and means that I am allowed to start watching more Classic Who again, after a hiatus of some two months. Woot! Since I have now watched everything from the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor eras that is available on DVD (except Survival), I'm next going to concentrate on continuing my sequential viewing of the very first season. I last left that at The Aztecs, so that means we have The Sensorites coming up next.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
I've now notched up another season: 17, this time. I'd already skipped ahead and seen three out of its six stories, so now that I've filled in the gaps, I've linked the write-ups from my earlier viewings in sequence between the new ones.

Fourth Doctor: Destiny of the Daleks )

City of Death already seen, and written up here.

Fourth Doctor: The Creature from the Pit )

Nightmare of Eden already seen, and written up here.

Horns of Nimon already seen, and written up here.

Fourth Doctor: Shada )

And so, that is season 17. It has some great stories (Destiny, City and probably Shada) and some average ones (Creature, Nightmare and Horns), but nothing abysmal, by any means. Overall, it's probably on equal pegging with seasons 15 and 16 - which means not as good as 12, 13, or 14, but pretty chuffing decent all the same.

I've got one season left now, until WOE and ANGST. I think I'll start right now...

strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
For most of this year so far, I've been working my way more-or-less sequentially through the Tom Baker era, largely thanks to UKTV Drama. When the current season of New Who started up, however, they went into temporary hiatus, leaving me hanging at The Robots of Death. I was ready, though. The enticingly-packaged Key to Time box-set was already waiting in reserve. It meant jumping forwards a little - but what with one thing and another there are actually only four stories I haven't seen between Robots... and the start of this season, so it wasn't too much of a problem, and it has meant another six stories viewed (mainly) in their original broadcast order. Now that I've worked my way through not only its six stories, but a solid selection of its myriad extra features, it's time to review it - as a season, and as a set.

Fourth Doctor: The Ribos Operation )

Fourth Doctor: The Pirate Planet )

Fourth Doctor: The Stones of Blood )

Fourth Doctor: The Androids of Tara )

Fourth Doctor: The Power of Kroll )

Fourth Doctor: The Armageddon Factor )

The Key to Time Season )

The Key to Time Box Set )

Overall, then, not every story in this season may be amongst the best. But the box-set itself is a very sound investment. And now I do believe it is time for this week's episode of New Who... *big grin*

strange_complex: (K-9 affirmative)
Yes, that was an episode on top of its game, all right. I know it had some things in it that people are tired of by now - like the Doctor-as-Christ references in the white light spilling around him as he saves the Caecilius family, and the shot of him reaching out for Caecilius' hand like God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But even those bits have to get points for trying (albeit trying too hard). And on the whole, this episode seemed to me to be very much in command of both the Doctor Who format and the Classical receptions genre.

It wasn't just that the people who made this episode knew what had come before - it was that they used it so effectively. There were a plethora of references to previous Who stories and genre staples, but none of them weighed down the story, or tied it to worn-out tropes. What we got here was a fresh yet knowing look at the Pompeii story, which really made the most of the opportunities offered by the setting to explore the character of the Doctor and his modus operandi. (Oh look, I'm a Celt. There's lovely).

Let's start by collecting up some of those references, and what was done with them. Firstly, the genre references )

Yup - all self-assured, all cleverly-handled. And then there are the hat-tips to previous continWhoity )

So all the more reason for me to be glad I launched myself on my Classic Who-watching marathon in January - and those are just the references I got from the stories I happen to have seen (or heard) so far. There may well be more.

It's a bit meaningless to comment in too much detail on the sets, given that most of them came from HBO's Rome, but the costumes and props (which were the responsibility of the Who team) generally seemed sound enough )

And, finally, what about the story itself as an ongoing contribution to this series of Doctor Who? Damned good stuff, I'd say )

I'm still nervous about the rest of the series. I can't help but feel that when we find out where all these clues are actually leading, it'll be a terrible disappointment. But right here, right now - this is seismic television. I am so going to be watching this episode again. :-)

strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
Meep! New Who starts again today, and I'm miles behind with my Classic Who blogging! Let's see if I can catch up before 6:20pm.

First of all, the latest three in UKTV Drama's sequential showing of the Tom Baker era:

Fourth Doctor: The Deadly Assassin )

Fourth Doctor: The Face of Evil )

Fourth Doctor: The Robots of Death )

And there, alas, UKTV is leaving us in the lurch, presumably because New Who is starting up again, and the BBC would rather channel us into watching that. Bad news for those us of who would quite cheerfully have watched both in parallel! They did promise in a continuity announcement that the Doctor would be back later in the year, though, again presumably when the new series finishes showing. But it is frustrating for now to have to stop one story shy of a season finale, and I shall miss my daily fix something rotten.

Well, actually I probably won't, because it's not like I'm entirely dependent on UKTV for my Classic Who viewing. I succumbed some time ago to the temptation of buying the Key to Time box-set, so shall be working my way through that shortly, BBC4 seem to be chipping in with occasional contributions, and in any case it's not hard in these days of modern technology to access pretty well as much Classic Who as you like. So I'll probably survive. In the meantime, there's just one more out-of-sequence story for me to write up:

Fourth Doctor: The Sun Makers )

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
I'm rather behind with my Who write-ups, for fairly obvious reasons. I've been needing to watch quite a lot of Who recently, but haven't felt entirely up to writing about it, so that I currently have a back-log of five watched-but-unwritten stories, and have started on a sixth. I'm now starting on the catching-up process before it gets too completely ridiculous.

Fourth Doctor: Nightmare of Eden )

Meanwhile, the real reason why I had watched Nightmare to Eden was because I suspected that its monsters, the Mandrels, had scared me witless as a child. Even after seeing it, though, I wasn't quite 100% sure, so I took the opportunity to check with my Dad last weekend, and I've now realised that it wasn't true. I reminded Dad about the whole story - how he used to scare me by pretending to be a particular Who monster, and about the Madam Tussaud's exhibition where I'd refused to go past one. But I very carefully didn't say anything about my own theories - just let him say what he remembered about it. He confirmed that I must have been about three or four at the time, but said that the monster in question had had horns, and that he used to pretend to be it by waggling his fingers over his head, while lurching towards me. The lurching matched the Mandrels, but the horns didn't; and he also went on to say that he thought the monsters might have been called Trilithons.

Revisiting those childhood monsters )

So, The Horns of Nimon goes to the top of my to-watch list. But ideally not before I've written up a few more of the stories I've already watched.

strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
First Doctor: The Rescue )

Fourth Doctor: Revenge of the Cybermen )

Write-ups of Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons, plus some Thorts about New and Classic Who, coming later, when I've done some more work.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Continuing with my efforts to explore the Doctor Who archives rather more systematically than I have done to date, I've chalked up another three stories over the last week.

Fourth Doctor: The Ark in Space )

Fourth Doctor: City of Death )

First Doctor: An Unearthly Child )

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
BBC webcast version here; info about the original interrupted production here; Wikipedia page here.

This doesn't fit under my 'books read 2007' tag or my 'films watched 2007' tag, but I'm going to blog it anyway so that I can remember what I thought of it. The CD was a much-appreciated birthday present from [ profile] hollyione, and I listened to it on the canal on my mp3 player.

As far as I remember, this is my first experience with a Doctor Who audio CD, though I've seen a couple of web-casts before. It's therefore also my first experience of Paul McGann's Doctor other than the movie, and you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't hate him in the movie, actually - it was rather things like Eric Roberts' ridiculous Master that grated there. But it wasn't really enough to judge his performance on properly. Here, in the context of an audio drama, he gets a decent, regular Doctor Who script to work with - and he does it very well. He reminded me of a sort of cross between Five and Six, with Five's youthful derring-do and Six's slight smugness. Which doesn't sound entirely complimentary, actually, but I do mean it to be. What I'm trying to say is that he sounded like a proper Doctor, and I think I 'get' the people who are avid fans of his Eight now.

Of course the prime attraction of this particular story for me was the fact that it was written by Douglas Adams. Obviously, anyone who's read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency will recognise the character of Professor Chronotis, and there are a few other characteristically Adamsish elements, like conversations with over-logical ship's computers and someone being presented with a cup of liquid which is 'almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea' from a vending machine.

On the whole, though, someone looking for more in the vein of Hitch-Hikers or Gently will be disappointed - Adams clearly wasn't trying to produce anything particularly innovative here, but merely to earn a living by writing a fit-for-purpose script. The best character, Chronotis, he quite rightly took and reused elsewhere, and indeed did better things with him in the process. As for the rest, it's a fairly standard Who script, with a kidnapped assistant (sorry, Romana - even though you're a Timelord, your sex apparently still condemns you to be feak and weeble), a megalomaniacal villain, some thuggish minions, a psychic battle and some cute shenanigans from K-9.

That said, it's pretty good Who, and I very much enjoyed curling up with it in my berth in the evenings. I'm certainly open to more audio plays, more of the Eighth Doctor, and more of Adams' Who scripts as a result.

H2G2 4

Tuesday, 3 May 2005 10:34
strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
I'm sure you all know about this already, but I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere on my friends list, so just in case:

Radio 4, 18:30, today - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

1/8. Quandary Phase 1, Fit the Nineteenth

In which The Earth has miraculously reappeared, and, more miraculously, Arthur Dent has found it.

Interesting to note that this is listed as episode one of eight, rather than six this time.
strange_complex: (Penny Arcade)
Just been out to see the above. Very quick notes, as I really need to get to bed (9 o'clock lecture, an' all...):

Spoiler-tastic )

Finally, everyone must go here, and download the second mp3 listed. It's the last track from the Hitch-Hiker's soundtrack album, not in the film, and is called 'Reasons to be Miserable (His Name Is Marvin)'. Kind of electronically distorted rap, voiced by Stephen Fry. You need to hear it to believe it.


strange_complex: (Default)

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