Welcome to Night Vale

 

The Idea Channel on YouTube is always interesting but I think its real value to me is how it exposes me to things that I wouldn’t know about otherwise. It was the first to clue me into Adventure Time (I still need to watch some more before coming to a conclusion about that). Tonight I learned about Welcome to Night Vale, an apparently very popular podcast about casual horror and weirdness. It consists of a local radio news show reporting on events in the town. That wouldn’t be so interesting but Night Vale is one weird place. “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights cross the sky as we pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.” A typical PSA on the radio would be something like this… “The city council announces a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Summorset. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park, people are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible that you will see hooded figures in the dog park, do not approach them. DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded creatures. The dog park will not harm you.” I also liked the reminder that, “It’s election time again! We all know what that means, you will receive paperwork designating which family members will be held to insure you vote correctly…”

 

It’s a dystopian, Lovecraft inspired Monty Pythonesque dose of the absurd with a dash of Buffy humor thrown in for good measure. It’s a free podcast and comes out twice a month, I recommend it highly.

 

It’s all too much… (NSA, Syria, etc.)

The idea was that once I had my shiny new blog(s) I would commence blogging again. Aside from a few silly posts I haven’t done much really. iPhone, stereo, Doctor Who, not much of substance. It’s not as though there isn’t anything to talk about but rather that there’s too much. There are so many big things going on that make me crazy I’m overwhelmed. In addition to the ongoing drone strikes there is now:

1) The NSA scandal that won’t stop depressing me. First we found out that they are scooping up phone records of everyone, then we learn that they are collecting seemingly every interaction on the internet, we are just starting to feel the international response to revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders and even the UN and EU, and now we have learned that the NSA has been active in making sure it has backdoors to get around most encryption used on the internet. That last bit is worrying since if the NSA has a backdoor, others could use it as well if it is found. The idea that the NSA has weakened our protection online in order to protect us against the boogyman is galling to say the least. More and more I’m coming around to thinking that Snowden may have done the right thing…

2) Turns out the DEA is also collecting vast swathes of information about people in general. There was also talk of the DEA getting info from the NSA and then reverse engineering investigations to hide their info source. 

3) The whole Syria thing. Who exactly would we be helping if we bombed Syria? How many civilians would be killed if we bombed them? How do you determine who is a civilian in a war like that anyway? Is the desire to oust Assad really a desire to help Qatar and Saudi build a pipeline and stick it to the Russians? Three months ago I would have said that is crazy but what little trust I had in the machinations of the feds has all but evaporated. Plus, now Kerry says that “Arab” nations are offering to pay for an invasion of Syria? Ugh…

Add to that the ongoing drone strikes, various blog and publication attacks of “libertarians”, and, oh yeah, my health and I just can’t keep up with what to be outraged over.

If I force myself, I can see a bit of a glimmer of hope. There does seem to be widespread opposition to bombing Syria among the US populace. We’ll see if that’s enough to sway the representatives. And if it is enough, we’ll see if that’s enough to reign in Obama. It’s nice to see some anti-war sentiment coming back finally. I’m also sensing a building backlash over what the NSA has been up to, at least online. I do wonder how much the regular guy cares or knows about it but things do seem to be piecing up steam.

Anyway, if I can work up the energy I’ll blog in more depth on these things, but man… where do I start?

Big Finish Doctor Who suggestions

I was asked on app.net if I had any suggestions for good audios to listen to from Big Finish. In case you’re not familiar with them, they make Doctor Who audio dramas starring the original casts and licensed by the BBC. They are also played on BBC channel 4 from time to time. I think that audio is probably the best medium for Doctor Who and possibly for stories in general. I think they fit somewhere between novels and movies/TV shows when it comes to storytelling.

So what to recommend? There have been 176 main line releases, all 2 hours plus in length. Add to that the 50 or 60 Companion Chronicles (stories told from the companion’s point of view), the special series for the 8th and 4th Doctor, and the Lost stories (made from scripts intended for the TV show but not made) and you have an unbelievable number of Doctor Who stories to choose from. And then there are the spinoffs and related audios like Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme, Jago and Lightfoot, Gallifrey, Graceless, Doctor Who Unbound (a what if series. What if the Doctor didn’t leave Gallifrey, etc.), Counter Measures, Sarah Jane Smith, I Davros, Dalek Empire, and UNIT you have close to 500 audios to choose from. Not going to go through all of them even though there are great stories in all the ranges. All are worth listening to. I’m going to concentrate on the inexpensive releases.

1st off, there are some available for free here: https://soundcloud.com/big-finish/tracks?format=html&page=1

It is mostly trailers but there are several longer length adventures in there too. If you want to start with Big Finish, I’d start with the 1st 50 of the main series. The downloads have been permanantly reduced to $2.99. I’ll go over what I consider the best stories in that 1st 50.

No.6 The Marian Conspiracy. A pure historical for 6, introduces the incredibly popular companion Evelyn Smythe. Evelyn gets into some trouble when she realizes she is several years earlier in England’s history than she thought.

No.10 Winter for the Adept. A spooky story for 5 and Nyssa, written by Andrew Cartmel. Nyssa is unceremoniously dumped in the snow in the alps. She manages to get to a school to shelter and that’s when things get weird.

No.11 The Apoclaypse Element. A 6, Evelyn, and Romana 2 story fighting the Daleks. Pretty sure this is the first time we hear Romana in Big Finish. Lalla is in great form.

No.12 The Fires of Vulcan. A cracker of a tale for 7 and Mel. The Tardis materializes in Pompeii, but why is the Doctor so fatalistic? Mel has to tapk him into not giving up.

No.13 The Shadow of the Scourge. A 7, Ace, and Benny tale. This feels like a story out of the New Adventure novels. Weird, surreal at times and 7 at his scheming best. First time Benny has shown up in the main series. Ace is definitely in New Adventures mode.

No.14 The Holy Terror. A classic, one of the best ever from Big Finish. Stars 6 and a companion from the comics, Frobisher. Funny and dark. Frobisher is a shaw changer and generally prefers the shape of a 4 foot tall penguin. Equal parts Monty Python and darkness. Recommended.

No.16 Storm Warning. The first 8th Doctor story. Also introduces Charlotte Pollard. Not only the 1st story for 8 but the start of the epic Charley arc. Charley picks a bad start to her adventuring career by getting on board the R101. She is one of my favorite companions and has one of the larger arcs Big Finish has ever done.

No.17 Sword of Orion. Another Big Finish classic. Charley and 8 fight the cybermen. Atmospheric, the Cybermen done right.

No.23 Project Twilight. 6 and Evelyn stumble across The Forge. The start of the Nimrod and Forge arc. Possibly the most visceraly violent Doctor Who stories to experience. 

No.24 The Eye of the Scorpion. 6 and Perri in ancient Egypt. Introduces the new companion Erimem. Having a companion from earlier in Earth’s history was a brilliant move. Wish they would do this more often.

No.25 Colditz. Another classic. 7 and Ace end up in the famous Nazi POW camp. Also stars a pre Doctor Davis Tennant as a camp guard. Start of the Kline story. Even though they don’t appear I can’t help but think of this as the best Dalek story ever. The Nazis are the perfect analog for the Daleks.

No.28 Invaders From Mars. 8, Charley, Orsen Wells, War of the Worlds, what more needs to be said? A particularly 8 tory, can’t think of any other Doctor this could have been done with.

No. 29 The Chimes of Midnight. 8 and Charley find themselves in a strange house with strange servents. Might be the best thing Big Finish has ever done but you really need to have heard the previous Charley stories to make sense of it. A great mix of 8’s personality, humor, weirdness, and darkness. Weirdly also a good Christmas story. This alone is worth hearing the Charley arc that precedes it.

No.30 Seasons of Fear. 8 and Charley finally arrive in Singapore in 1930 but they end up trying to track down someone that claims to have killed the Doctor in the distant past. A bit of a run around but fun as only 8 can produce.

No.31 Embrace the Darkness. 8 and Charley in a creepy tale on a dark planet. Things are never as they appear.

No. 32 The Time of the Daleks. 8 and Charley. Why doesn’t Charley know who William Shakesphere is?

No. 34 Spare Parts. Amazing story concerning the creation of the Cybermen. 5 and Nyssa try to figure out where they are. The Cybermen have never been so pitiable. 

No. 35 …Ish. 6 and Perri try to figure out a linguistic killer. 6 is the perfect Doctor for this story.

No.38 The Church and Crown. 6, Peri, Erimem, Cardinal Richelu and French intrigue. A great historical. 

No.43 Doctor Who and the Pirates. A musical… kind of. A real departure, seems lighter, but has dark parts as well. 6 and evelyn. Colin baker does a lot of musical theater and it shows here.

No.46 Flip Flop. 7 and Mel caught in time shennagins. You can listen to part one or two in either order. Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly. 

The stories that I have skipped over are still worth listening to for the most part. All of the ones I mentioned are well worth listening to, I’m a big fan of 8 and Charley. I’ll warn you, these are rather addictive…

There are some other ranges that are really good and not very expensive. The first 3 series of Gallifrey are gripping political thrillers staring Lalla Ward as Romana 2, Louise Jameson as Leela, and John Leeson as K9. All of the Dalek Empire series is worth listening to. The 3 part stars David Tennant and the 4th stars Noel Clark. I, Davros follows Davros thorugh his life and we get to see how he became what he did.

You can find all of these at www.bigfinish.com and I think all of them are $5 or less if you do the downloads, maybe a little more for the CDs. I think all of the Doctor Who stories I’ve mentioned are must haves for fans of the show. Enjoy!