books culture

Audio Doctor Who Spinoffs

Big Finish has produced a bunch of Doctor Who Radio plays. By and large they are great. As time has gone on, they have made a bunch of spinoffs that don’t include the Doctor in any of his versions. Most of these use characters or groups directly from the TV show although they have done a few that are products of Big Finish. I wasn’t too impressed with the first one I heard, Graceless. It was about a pair of “sisters” that were created by powerful entities during one of the story arcs. Never really felt like it went anywhere. They have since put out a second set, but I haven’t heard anything about it and I’m not all that interested in getting it. I am looking forward to one that has been in the works for years. Nick Briggs keeps promising that he is going to do a Charlotte Pollard spinoff. Charlie was played by India Fisher. Charlie was a long time companion to the 8th and the 6th Doctor (in that order interestingly) and she is a favorite of a lot of fans, including myself. Nick says it will come out at some point, I will definitely get it…

Big Finish has released a ton of other spinoffs. I’ve listened to the Cyberman, Dalek Empire I-IV, UNIT, I Davros, Sarah Jane Adventures series and enjoyed them. They do have two series that really stand out though, Gallifrey and Jago and Lightfoot.

Gallifrey chronicles the goings on back on the home planet of the Time Lords. It stars the regular Doctor Who characters of Leela, Romana II, and K-9. It also includes a book/audio character named Irving Braxital. The first three episodes were gripping political dramas with lots of action and intrigue. The fourth series was a real departure and that made a lot of fans angry. I’ve warmed up to it, mostly because we have been told that the series will finish up picking up where we left them in series three. Gallifrey does an excellent job of showing how conniving and political the Time Lords were. No wonder the Doctor had to get out of there…

The other standout series is Jago and Lightfoot. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Lightfoot were characters in the classic 4th doctor adventure “The Talons of Wang Chiang.” Big Finish has managed to create an entire series based around those characters’ infernal investigations in the Victorian era. It seems strange to think that secondary characters that showed up in one TV show could have 12 more stories, but it works very well. The acting is fantastic and the whole thing is all kinds of fun. Lots of fog, lots of monsters and bad guys. Even a little time travel thrown in. All in foggy Victorian London. Good stuff, well worth listening to.

There is a new series coming out from Big Finish. Since they hit a home run with one set of secondary characters, I guess they are going to try again with a different set. This time it is a group from the 7th Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks. I’m looking forward to hearing it. The trailers make it clear that they are aiming to recreate a 60’s sound. We’ll see if Big Finish can do it again.

Another audio spinoff that is well worth listening to is from Magic Bullet productions. The Kaldor City series uses the world created in the 4th Doctoe show “The Robots of Death.” It is a classic episode and Magic Bullet have managed to make a great political thriller out of it. It is very reminiscent of Robots of Death, there are plenty of mentions of Terran Capel, robophobia, sand mines, etc. If you liked Robots of Death, you’ll love Kaldor City!

books culture

Doctor Who spinoffs

Sure, some fans of Doctor Who consider themselves crazy fans because they have seen all the new series. Some others think you have to have seen all of the original series too. I think those people are missing out on a whole world of fandom. There are zillions of books, audios, and comics out there that explore the universe that the TV show created. Personally, as great as the TV show has been, I think that the audios and books outclass the TV show by a considerable margin. I have listened to the vast majority of the Doctor Who audios and love them. The hit rate on them is quite a bit higher than the new series, and miles above the original. I have read 40 something novels and also found them to be more engrossing than the TV show. SO fans of the TV show have a lot of exploring to do in order to get a more comprehensive view of Doctor Who.

So, as a fan I think the Doctor Who books and audios are where it’s at. But I’m going one step further, this post is about the spinoffs of Doctor Who. How far into the red can my nerd-meter go?

First off, the TV spinoffs. As far as I can tell, the TV spinoffs amount to a pilot episode of a Sarah Jane investigates show, the proper Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, and a K-9 show that I can’t remember the name of. Th Sarah Jane Adventures are easily the most consistently good of the shows. Torchwood had its moments, especially the Children of Earth series, but was really inconsistent. The two shows are very different from each other. The SJA is quite clearly a kid’s show. Great writing, good acting, they are a lot of fun, but the are definitely for the younger crowd. Torchwood went the opposite direction. They wanted to be an “adult” show so badly. Per usual, this usually means violence and sex. Children of Earth was the only one I can think of that was properly adult (as opposed to being gimmicky) in that it involved real horror, despair, heartbreaking decisions and regret so real you can’t sleep. I’ve only seen one episode of the K-9 series, I think it’s made in Austrailia and it really didn’t seem to be very interesting let alone good.

When the show was cancelled in 1989, fans were cut adrift. Some people convinced the BBC to allow them to write Doctor Who novels with the 7th Doctor and his companions. The Virgin New Adventures picked up where the TV show left off. Overall, they were quite a bit darker, with more violence, sexual situations, and generally adult themes. The 7th doctor continued with Ace for a while. He eventually picked up an archeologist in the Paul Cornell book Love and War. No, not that archeologist, Bernice Summerfield! Bernice (Benny to her friends) has been going strong for 20 years now. I’ll have to count, but she may have been with the Doctor for more books than Ace was. Benny stayed on with the Doctor until Virgin lost the license to write about the Doctor. So they spun her off into her own books. Like all good spinoffs, they were limited by copyright issues. The books certainly exist in the Doctor Who universe, but they can’t mention The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen, or anything else owned by the BBC. It isn’t as limiting as you might think. Benny is still going strong. Big Finish is celebrating her 20th anniversary this year with new books and continuing the audio series. I’ve been talking to the folks at Big Finish and they would like to make ebook versions of their out of print Benny books but worry about the difficulty of getting digital distribution rights. The New Adventures seem to be stuck in copyright hell. Most of them are long out of print and it doesn’t look good for them being re-released.

When the BBC worked with FOX to make the 8th Doctor TV movie, it was the end of the Virgin Doctor Who franchise. Since the movie actually showed the 7th Doctor turn into the 8th, it also spelled the end of the 7th Doctor. When nothing became of the hoped for 8th Doctor series, they started making books with him in them. The BBC also started to publish past doctor adventures featuring previous Doctors and companions.


Iris Wildthyme came out of the Past Doctor Adventures, we first see her with the 4th Doctor. She is an older, boozy time traveller that exists as a warped parallel to the Doctor. Her stories are really about having fun. Her “TARDIS” is a Routmaster double decker bus (the no. 22 to Putney Common) that is curiously smaller on the inside than the outside. Her favorite gin is Bombay Saphire, and she typically travels with a stuffed panda (don’t call him a toy!) named Panda. Reading her stories is frequently a trip into Doctor Who fandom and mythology. She has alluded to her knowing that she is fictional several times, it can get a bit meta at times. Iris books and stories are all about having fun. For example, my favorite line of hers is from the Big Finish audio “The Wormery.” She has been communing with the villains behind the scenes in a drunken stupor and the 6th Doctor is giving her a hard time about it. Her retort? “What we need is less thinking, MORE DRINKING!” Katy Manning (who played Jo Grant on the TV show) plays Iris brilliantly in the audios. Another example, Obverse Books is coming out with a short story collection featuring her being trapped in realities based on David Bowie songs. You get the idea, a more frivolous take on Doctor Who. If you don’t like Iris, you’re too serious. Iris audios are being made and sold by Big Finish and the books are mostly being put out by Obverse Books.

Lawrence Miles introduced us to Faction Paradox in the 8th Doctor Adventures. The Faction is a splinter group of Time Lords that embraces paradox, something that is anathema to the Time Lords. They are your typical criminal, time traveling cult that uses ritual to disrupt time lines and screw with the TIme Lords. Lawrence spun off Faction Paradox in a series of novels, audios, and a short lived comic series. Since he was writing outside of BBC blessing, he had to change a few things. First off, there was no mention of The Doctor and the Time Lords were referred to as “The Great Houses.” The Faction Paradox world reviles around The War between the Great Houses and The Enemy. We never do get an explicit explanation of who the enemy is. Fans have speculated on everything from future versions of the Time Lords, The Doctor, or even the concept of Fiction. Yes, concepts can be an enemy in the world of Faction Paradox. The novels from Mad Norwegian Press spend quite a bit of time with the idea that information, meaning, and the connections we make between them are the real reality. Whoever can control that and adjust it have the real power. I have really enjoyed the Faction Paradox books so far because they have really widened my view of the Doctor Who universe. I have a better understanding of what is at stake with the altering of time lines, paradox, and time travel in general. Plus, they manage to bring in a little magic too. Well, it looks like magic, but it is just a different way of altering information, so it looks like magic. There have been two audio series of Faction Paradox. One was put out by a company called BBV and now are only available from the owner via eBay. Haven’t heard them yet but they have a great reputation. The other, more recent series was put out by Magic Bullet Productions and is excellent. Still available too.


This has gone on long enough, I’ll tackle the Doctor Who Spinoffs created solely by Big Finish in another post.

culture MS

Raising awareness

The “Kony” video has been circulating around. I haven’t watched it, the brief intro turned me off. It said something to the effect that the video wasn’t suggesting a solution, but simply raising awareness of the man and the awful things he has done. I don’t doubt for a second that he is truly awful, but I really don’t trust any activity or organization that is about “raising awareness.”

Predictably, actual Ugandans aren’t so thrilled with the video. Apparently, there wasn’t a single instance of talking to people involved in the terrible things that the 20 minute video is about. Kony isn’t even in Uganda any more. There’s a fair amount of backlash. Why? I have always had a difficult time putting into words why I disliked the publicity thing, but I think I can now.

Several months after I got my job, I was spreading the news that I had MS. I was telling it one guy and he informed me that he takes part in a annual MS ride. Now he’s a really nice guy, and he really wants to do well, so the only thing I could say to him was, “Funny, I don’t do that ride…” My gut reaction was to ask him if I should thank him for riding his bike. Yes, that is incredibly cynical. I’m sure the ride made him feel good. I’m also sure those Ugandans probably figured all those white people in California felt good about making that slick 20 minute, high def video about problems in Uganda.

Yes, I’m sure the MS ride drums up money for MS research, but just like the video, I wonder if it is awareness of MS that is being raised or awareness of the National MS whatever that is putting on the event. The same complaint is being leveled against the Kony video. Detractors claim that the video did a great job of raising awareness of the NGO that made the video, but did very little about the actual problems, let alone admit that things were quite a bit more complicated than there being one bad guy.

If you are going to market problems, don’t be surprised when the people that actually suffer those problems question you. All of the effort put into raising awareness, that couldn’t have been put to more productive uses? Maybe it can, maybe. But the fact that you would rather take the chance instead of spending the resources on something concrete says something.

art books culture technology

I told you it was good

Remember that short film I mentioned? I saw “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” in the interactive app of the same name on my iPad. Turns out it won the Oscar for best short film. While I don’t usually pay any attention to what the academy does, I’m pretty sure they got this one right.

comics culture

Well dog my cats!

In my mind there have been three important, long lasting comic strips that have defined the genre. Peanuts, Doonsbury, and Pogo. What? You haven’t heard of Pogo? Walt Kelly, the creator, died in the mid 70’s so those of you in my generation or later can be forgiven for not being familiar with it. Kelly was able to use swampland animals to make pithy comments on culture and skewer politicians that went too far. His most famous series involved making fun of Joe Mcarthy and the House Unamerican activities committee. It was pretty bold back then. Not only that, Kelly was a master illustrator. His panels are masterpieces, his drawing and lettering are still unsurpassed. He was able to do slapstick very well because of the artistry of his drawings. His lettering did an amazing job of differentiating between characters and their personalities. The strip ran for 30 years or so and had a tremendous influence.

So where the reprints? It’s a fair question. I don’t have a good answer for it. There seems to have been a sort of curse when it came to Pogo reprints. There were a bunch of them done in the 60’s or 70’s I think but they weren’t particularly comprehensive. My father has a handful of these and this is where I discovered Pogo. I once brought some up and let my roommate in college read some of them and he got hooked too. Eclipse comics tried to reprint some of the old Pogo comic books and they went out of business after publishing only 5 of them. Fantagraphics started a reprint series and got about 10 thin soft cover books out. That petered out too, and I never did find out why.

Fantagraphics announced that they were going to do a proper reprint of all of the Pogo books, starting from the very first ones going all the way through to the end of the series. Things stalled for years, most people assumed that it just wasn’t going to happen. Fantagraphics finally had a ship date, and I got really excited, so I ordered the book. That was in June 2010. I just got the book today.

It did take a while to get here, but it is a beautiful book. It’s bigger than the Peanuts books Fantagraphics is doing, and it’s a good thing. Kelly wrote for the larger panels that were available in papers back then. His artwork is filled with amazing details and you really do need to have larger panels to take advantage of it. It took a long time, but the wait has been worth it. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that they are able to release the entire series, Walt Kelly’s legacy has been waiting too long!

culture freedom

Occupy Wall Street

I’ve been reading about the OWS protests and the one thing that is clear is that they are not a monolithic entity. There is general discontent over “Wall Street” and how they profited during this downturn, and there seems to be a general stance against “capitalism” and corporations. a more nuanced view seems to be that only “bad” corporations are the target of their ire. A generally accepted solution to this is that the government should do more, more regulation and more observation are what the protesters seem to be calling for the most.

You might not be surprised to hear that I don’t agree with their solution. I agree with the anger over bailouts, over saving failed companies with taxpayer dollars. The difference is that I direct my anger towards the ones that did the bailing out and set up the system that encouraged the financial entities to take the risks they did.

The OWS crowd seems as though they are so blinded with their view that Wall Street equals greed that they have never wondered why the banks and financial houses did what they did. The combination of low interest rates, guaranteed loans, and various regulations that made it profitable and logical to sell off and re-buy derivatives of mortgages was set up by the federal government, and then the feds bailed out the institutions that got into trouble doing that. Wall Street will always be about making money, but when there are actual risks of losing everything, they will not act so crazy. The bailouts have to stop, the distortions have to stop. Turning to the cause of the problems for a cure is incredibly misguided.


It’s also funny how the various anti-semitic signage seen at these things has been dismissed as crazies in the midst of the protest, unlike the tea party. One group is labeled as racists for their fringe and another is given a free pass over the crazy ones in their midst. It’s also strange how there are widespread reports of arrests of the OWS crowd when there wasn’t with the tea party crowds despite the fact the tea party had bigger gatherings.


So yeah, I’m with them on the anger about corporations profiting at taxpayer expense. They have lost me on the whys and the solution though.

culture financial freedom

Debt makes the world go down

Greece is teetering on the edge of default. They are also threatening to take down Spain, Portugal, Ireland and who knows who else. Iceland has already gone through the wringer. Japan is in bad shape, even before the earthquake came around they were on life support. In addition to that, the world continues to be caught in the throes of a recession that won’t go away. Home prices keep falling. What is the common denominator between all of these things? Debt.

There is both private and public debt, but that line has increasingly become blurred. Governments around the world promise more benefits than they can afford. When the bill comes due, they raise taxes to try to generate the funds necessary. Is that public debt? When the mortgage crisis hit, governments were quick to rush in and take care of bad debts. Is that private debt? The European countries that currently have the biggest problems don’t have the excuse of costly wars to use. They were just going about business as usual when all of a sudden, they couldn’t afford it any longer. Other countries like France, Germany, the UK, and the US are hoping to avoid getting to that point.

Debt puts you in a precarious position. You might be able to keep borrowing in order to pay current bills as long as nothing comes up. But then there’s an earthquake, a housing bubble pops, or your lenders simply decide you aren’t such a good risk after all. The further in debt you are, the less it takes to really screw you up.


Living debt free, or even with a surplus is obviously a better way to live, but few want to do that at any level. There are too many incentives to go into debt, not least of all the taxation of income from investment. Put tax breaks for home debt and forced low interest rates and you have the perfect combo to convince people to spend instead of save. I think absent screwed up incentives, people would save more and avoid debt.

Would the governments? Not they way they are structured now. Politicians will always have the incentive to promise people more for their votes. The only way around this is to set limits. I would like to set limits on what the government is involved in, but I would be happy with setting limits on what it can spend. Balanced budget anyone?

Debt is bad, debt is dangerous. At current levels, it will also be a big burden on the generations to come. We need to foster a culture of saving, not of debt.

culture freedom

Gays on TV and hypocrisy

The latest episode of Doctor Who had several references to gay characters. In both cases, they were couples, one was a married couple. Predictably, this has elicited cries of “Such ideas shouldn’t be in a children’s show!” The clear implication is that children shouldn’t be exposed to… you know, the kind of things that homosexuals do.




The hypocrisy is sickening. Gay couples are associated with sex, so they are not appropriate for children, but heterosexual couples are about love so they are positive influences. I think that it is very much like racism in that we don’t always realize the baggage we bring to depictions of people. For many people, they get uncomfortable about homosexuals because of what they “do.” Never mind that heterosexual couples engage in the same practices…


Here’s the thing, kids, watching a kids show, are not going to think of that. There is nothing scarring or dangerous about showing a couple engaged in couple banter. If you think that gays just shouldn’t be shown, that’s very close to saying that they shouldn’t exist. Gay people, whether you like it or not, do exist. It’s in everyone’s interest to see them in normal relationships. Pretending that they are some sort of exotic, deviant species does nobody any favors, especially children. Maybe if more adults stopped acting like children this world would be abetter place.

culture odds and ends

Woven Texturized Polyester Pants

Nothing says 1975 like Woven Polyester Texturized pants.

1975.xx.xx Sears Christmas Catalog P159

(Click on the picture for more from the 1975 Sears Catalog.)

Unless of course it was the number one single of that year, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille. The chats from that year are filled with the likes of BJ Thomas, Tony Orlando and Dawn, John Denver, and Wings. That was one ugly year, even the colors were awful. The only year I can think of that can compete with it is 1974….

culture freedom

What the repeal of "Don’t ask Don’t Tell" actually means

Much like when the armed forces were racially integrated by presidential decree, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal will essentially force the armed forces, and by extension a large number of other Americans, to grow up… It turns out that people are different from one another, and that’s OK. At the same time, we are all more alike than different. That’s a lesson that needs to sink in deeply. Of course, once the military really understands that, it could undermine their willingness to kill folks. Maybe that’s what those generals meant when they worried about military effectiveness being compromised…

At some point, the realization that what people do in their own time doesn’t affect on duty performance will sink in, as will the realization that they have been working with homosexuals all along anyway. My prediction? This is a total non-event. This is a big deal precisely because it isn’t one. People want to serve in the military, who they love and are involved with has no bearing on military performance. Here’s hoping that this repeal will serve as a wake up call to people that want to cast gays and lesbians as being incompatible with decent living. Oh, AND IT”S ABOUT FREAKING TIME!!!!!!