Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Tarnished Star - Jack Martin

Readers of this blog will know that I am not hugely into westerns. However, I was open to making this book an exception on account of who it is written by. Jack Martin is the pen name of one Gary Dobbs, my oldest cyberbuddie and all round good egg. Gary has an excellent blog (the tainted archive) which is one of my favourite sites on the interwebs. Aside from being a shameless vehicle of self promotion, it is also a terrific example of what is great about the web. A site of passion, enthusiasm with tons of great reviews and good information.

In recent times Gary has used the blog to champion The Tarnished Star, but has also been a staunch supporter and publicist for the western genre, pulp fiction (not the film!) and his fellow western writers.

The Tarnished Star has reaped the benefits of its supporting blog being, from what I understand, an instant success for its author and publisher. My main problem was not getting a hold of the book (I pre-ordered in February), but actually getting some time to read it!

The story concerns a local sheriff (Cole Masters) arrest of the son of a wealthy businessman who basically owns the town and the consequences of that action. Being a pulp novel (and proud of it) there is nothing startling new or different about this tale; it does not seek to re-invent the western genre, merely to tell a pacey traditional story. The nearest equivalent in Doctor Who terms would be the Novelisations of Terrance Dicks. A more general SF equivalent would simply be the old pulp SF stories.

What I liked:

This was the first Western I had read, and so it freed the genre from the turgid pace of many a Hollywood western of my childhood. Similarly, I did not have to suffer an overtly bombastic soundtrack or dull cinematography.

Sheriff Cole Masters, was a good lead protagonist, so were the opposition father and son double act.

The epilogue.

What I didn't like.

The cover!

I know there are a few more westerns in the pipeline for Gary, but I reckon a good noirish detective story would suit his style.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Fuck Me! How bleak was that!

Absolutely tremendous stuff from the upper boat team and further evidence of how brilliant a writer RTD is (more on that below). Lets be honest, Torchwood was always the red headed step-child of the Who franchise. The show consistently managed to shoot itself in the foot throughout the first two seasons, but this was probably the best thing on TV this year.

It has to be said that the signs were there. The finale of season 2 started to correct a few problems. Killing off Tosh and Owen was a good move, the characters never worked and actually took time away from the three characters that did (Jack, Gwen and Owen). Killing them off also illustrated the dangers the team faced and proved that not everything would always turn out right. Additionally the deaths themselves were pretty memorable moments. The ultimate irony of course was that it was only in writing Tosh and Owen out that the show found a way to make them interesting.

The departure of Chris Chibnall was another positive step for the show. The guy was not a show runner, he was not able to maintain a sense of consistency of tone or development throughout a season and as a result Torchwood was badly unfocused for much of the time with good ideas being badly executed. The show also suffered from a series of generic SF plots and a distinct lack of the humour and sense of adventure that was the hallmark of Doctor Who and Sarah Jane. RTD is of course a writer of a different class and it should also be remembered that Torchwood was his baby, Chibnall was merely the babysitter.

The aftermath of the season 2 finale will be the most unknown part of the show. Four radio plays where we get to hear what a 3 person Torchwood team would have been like under “normal” circumstances. The first of the four is an average affair about the LHC project and suffers from the generic feel of earlier shows. The 3 leading up to Children of Earth were all excellent though and well worth checking out as an example of what Torchwood could have been (and may yet become).

As for Children of Earth itself, I have already stated that I think it was the best thing on TV so far this year. What I Liked:

1)Uniformly superb performances from the main cast. Peter Capaldi was absolutely immense throughout as Frobisher. John Barrowman also gave his best performance as Captain Jack, finally being able to do the quieter and sadder moments with real conviction. I always found that Jack worked better as the Doctor's sidekick than as a leader and there is a sense that Jack prefers that role. But here Jack is utterly believable as the leader of the gang. I will be very surprised if John Barrowman ever betters this performance. Eve Myles as Gwen is or course the heart and soul of the show as Gwen. The one character created specifically for Torchwood who genuinely worked throughout the entire series.

2)The bleakness. This is Midnight and Turn Left writ large as RTD basically shows people acting according to human nature and logically takes us to a really dark place. For all the “fluffy” moments RTD does, he is more than capable of going down the dark and bitter route when he feels it is right to do so. What I loved was the ambition of this though. Take a cult show, put it on prime time BBC one and spend 5 hours showing a story based on the actions of humanity at its worst. The scene where its decided how to choose the 10 percent is a masterpiece, the PM telling Frobisher his kids are for the chop, the army being told to do their jobs or loose their own kids. All of these things have happened throughout human history, this is not really speculation, this is what would happen! One of the best parts is the minister who wants her own children protected from the cull, turning a “good” natural instinct (parent protecting child) to something that feels so wrong.
3)The best of humanity. Lots of little moments of bravery, people fighting the good fight. Another paradox as its the ones determined to resort to violence (ie team Torchwood) who are the heroes of the story. I think Russell, much like Terry Nation before him, realises that the defining point of our age (at least for the Western World) was the second world war, and its no coincidence that Children of Earth references that era so much (just as Turn Left did). I personally think that the events or world war two were so huge that they became a part of our being, not just on a cultural level but on a genetic level too. Anything that throws back to those events will always have resonance.

4)The resolution. About 20 minutes into the final episode I could not see a way for Torchwood to win short of Vwoorp Vwoorp Thunk. In many ways I think I was right. The 10% were saved, but the costs was so high. Ianto dead, at least one government toppled, Jack becoming the very definition of a tragic hero (something that they have been trying to do since day one). Gwen loosing all of her friends, being told she didn't really know Ianto as well as she though and probably having to go back to a mundane life after all she has seen and done.

At the time of writing this there are clearly some unresolved issues about the shows future. The options would appear to be:

1)This was the last Torchwood. 2 weeks ago this wouldn't have bothered me that much. But now hearing and seeing how good Torchwood can be, I want more!

2)Torchwood goes USA on us. This is a distinct possibility. Barrowman would probably be down with that, I we would probably get more of Captain Spike too! The downside is that I am not sure we would see any more of Gwen and since she is my favourite Torchwood character that's a pretty big downside.

3)The show returns with a new team lead by Jack and Gwen and RTD in charge. My prefered option.

4)The show returns with Jack and Gwen, but another show runner with RTD doing Torchwood USA at the same time. This will also be good with me, but they need to get a really good show runner to fill RTD's shoes. Maybe Gareth Roberts as a trial for taking over from Moffat in due course.

I imagine we will find out when the news cycle hits on Monday.