Doctor Who: “It Takes You Away”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

“It Takes You Away,” like many of the episodes this season, can best be described as okay, with a few standout moments, but not great. It’s more middling than anything else. The problem is that the episode is actually two different stories, and both are somewhat disappointing because the other is attached to it and by necessity truncating it.

The first story is about a blind girl named Hanne who is alone in a cabin with a missing and presumed dead father, as well as something terrible in the woods outside that comes every day at the same time. It’s a great setup, and in fact it reminded me a lot of the equally great setup to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Unfortunately, it makes exactly the same wrong turn that The Village does with the twist that there is no monster in the forest, it’s just a recording her father left to keep her in the house. (Not to mention keeping her terrified and helpless. This guy’s not winning any Father of the Year Awards. I really wish either the Doctor or Ryan, who was abandoned by his own father, had truly taken him to task for his actions, but like in the episode “Kerblam!”, where the Doctor didn’t seem all that upset that the system had murdered an innocent person just to make a point to the villain, the writers keep forgetting to have the characters react to anything outside the main conflict.)

The second story also has a great setup: a mirror universe created by an ancient entity who was exiled from our universe and wants to come back. Most of the good things in the episode happen in this story, in particular the scenes with Graham and his seemingly resurrected wife Grace. Those scenes add a much needed emotional depth to the story — an emotional depth that, frankly, has been missing for most of the season. But there’s barely time to explore this fascinating concept of a mirror universe created by what is essentially a godlike being, because there’s all the stuff from the first story to deal with too, and also an absolutely dreadful interlude in the Anti-zone between universes with an alien named Ribbons and some dead rats and creatures called flesh moths, and really the less said about that the better. Also, the Solitract takes the form of a frog for some reason when it tries to keep the Doctor in the mirror universe, instead of taking the form of someone the Doctor loves, as it did for Hanne’s father and Graham. Probably, they couldn’t bring Alex Kingston or a previous companion back for the scene, but still, as cute as the frog was, the choice didn’t make much sense or have any emotional weight.

Everything having to do with Graham and Grace, and that scene at the end when Ryan finally calls Graham “granddad,” is wonderful. (Also, the fact that Graham carries sandwiches with him after realizing they don’t often stop for meals on their adventures. Basically, everything Graham is making me happy!) The rest of “It Takes You Away” is such a muddled mishmash that even when it’s dealing with what should be intriguing concepts, it just doesn’t have the power to grab you. Also, Ryan’s dyspraxia is gone again, as he runs through the Anti-zone and away from the flesh moths without any coordination issues at all.

As a side note, I think I’ve figured out what Chris Chibnall is trying to do with this season, and why it’s not necessarily working for me. I think Chibnall is trying to bring Doctor Who back to being a child-friendly family show with a classic-era structure of each episode being its own adventure without a season-long arc, making it easier for new and young viewers to jump in at any time. However, because I’m still used to the preceding years’ more adult tone and almost airlessly self-referential, continuity-heavy arcs, it feels lightweight to me, rightly or wrongly. I will admit that aside from a great cast, some nice character work, an almost cinematic look, and what I thought was a strong start, I’ve found this season mostly underwhelming. With only one episode to go (as well as an eventual New Year’s Day special), I don’t see things having much time to turn around.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! When Ryan and Graham discover they can’t see their reflections in the mirror, Ryan makes a joke about how they would presumably know if they were vampires. The Doctor has actually met vampires before on several occasions. In the 1980 serial “State of Decay,” the Fourth Doctor encounters three astronauts from Earth who were turned into vampires by the Great Vampire centuries ago. In the 1989 serial “The Curse of Fenric,” the Seventh Doctor encounters the Haemovores, mutated humans from the far future who drink blood and are repelled by symbols of strong belief. There were also the Plasmavores in the 2007 Tenth Doctor episode “Smith and Jones,” and of course in the 2010 Eleventh Doctor episode “The Vampires of Venice,” the victims of the Saturnyne take on vampiric attributes. At one point in “It Takes You Away,” Yaz recommends the Doctor reverse the polarity of her sonic screwdriver to try to open the portal back to their world, and the Doctor replies, “You speak my language!” This is a reference to a long-running joke on Doctor Who about “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow,” a phrase that goes all the way back to the Third Doctor.

Next episode is the season finale. Here’s hoping things pick up a bit!

The Con Artist

The Con ArtistThe Con Artist by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Fred Van Lente’s debut comedic mystery novel, 2017’s 10 DEAD COMEDIANS, but THE CON ARTIST finds the author fully in his element. (Although Dante Dupree from 10 DEAD COMEDIANS is name-checked in THE CON ARTIST, which I guess puts both novels in the same…Van Lenteverse?) A murder mystery set at a nerdy convention isn’t exactly a new concept (Sharyn McCrumb’s 1988 BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN comes to mind, as does Nick Mamatas’s 2016 I AM PROVIDENCE), but what makes THE CON ARTIST special is its insider’s view of San Diego Comic-Con. (Van Lente himself has been a comic book professional for decades and is no stranger to comics conventions.)

The mystery is more grounded this time around, with less of a ticking clock, which allows the reader plenty of opportunities to soak in the narrator’s observations about the convention, which I suspect are not all that different from Van Lente’s own. Some of those observations are quite funny, such as the breakdown of the five categories of people the artists in Comic-Con’s Artists Alley regularly have to interact with, while others are more poignant or disturbing, like the trajectory that can gradually transform a fan who loves comics more than anything into someone who harasses comics creators online with insults and death threats.

THE CON ARTIST is a fun, quick read with a compelling mystery and a singular and truly enjoyable insider’s POV. Mystery readers will be entertained, but if you’re also into comic books you’ll definitely get something extra out of it.

View all my reviews

The Scariest Part: Eliot Parker Talks About A KNIFE’S EDGE

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Eliot Parker, whose new novel is A Knife’s EdgeHere is the publisher’s description:

Six months after a drug cartel infiltrated Charleston, Ronan McCullough continues to fight the drug war that plagues the city. His investigations are halted when the body of a mutual acquaintance, Sarah Gilmore, is found in the trunk of a burning car. In an investigation that takes him deep into the professional and personal life of the victim, McCullough discovers secrets lurking in her past, and a tangled web of personal and professional conflicts, suspicion, and betrayal. Was Sarah killed for those reasons or something larger? As Ronan seeks answers, his life and the lives of those closest to him are used as pawns in a deadly game that has no ending.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Eliot Parker:

There are several parts of my book that are scary. One scary component of the novel is the sheer level of violence that occurs, at times, in the book. The violence is not present by happenstance because it is necessary to move the plot of the story forward. For example, in the book, Ronan and the police are trying to manage a crime wave and increased drug activity that is plaguing Charleston, West Virginia.  Ronan gets pulled away from that work when the body of a mutual acquaintance, Sarah Gilmore, is found butchered in the back of a burning car. The investigation takes him deep into the personal and professional life of the victim. Ronan discovers some secrets in Sarah’s past and also discovers a tangled web of personal and professional relationship contacts. Ronan has to determine if those conflicts lead to her death or was it something larger, and Ronan gets some answers, and puts himself and his family into harms way. As I got into the story and got to know my characters on a deeper level, I realized that the only way Ronan McCullough was going to survive was to become more ruthless than his adversaries.

The work that Ronan does is dangerous work and the physical and emotional toll it takes on him in this book (like in the last book) is tremendous. Those feelings impact Ronan’s relationship with Ty and Nick (his nephew), who Ronan loves more than anything, but struggles to keep them away from his work and keep them safe as the story unfolds. Ronan and Ty have to hide their relationship so that Ronan is not ostracized as a member of the police department and that serves as another layer of conflict. There is a more dangerous, more deadly set of criminals that have moved into Charleston now as a result of what happened in Fragile Brilliance and as they ratchet up their lethal behavior, Ronan has to lift himself up to match the challenge. Ronan finds himself in this book having to fight “eye for an eye” in several moments in order to get the information and help he needs.

The scariest part of my book centers on the premise of the plot. A Knife’s Edge is a sequel to an earlier novel, Fragile Brilliance. One of the subplots in Fragile Brilliance involved Ty (Ronan’s boyfriend and an emergency room nurse) leading a fundraising team at Charleston Mercy Hospital. The hospital was trying to raise money for a new children’s cancer center. In this book, the money has been raised and the new wing has been built onto the back of the hospital. The hospital was able to complete the fundraising thanks to a donation from a new blood diagnostics company called BTech, who was promised a floor of lab space in the new hospital as a “thank you” for the donation. Also, due to a severe state budget crisis, the state of West Virginia no longer operates the state police crime lab in South Charleston, and instead has outsourced their blood analysis work for police investigations to BTech. I was at a bookstore a few years ago and I picked up a copy of Time Magazine. On the front cover was a woman named Elizabeth Holmes, whom the magazine had named as the most influential woman in the country. She founded a company called Theranos which created technology and equipment that could diagnose diseases, infections, illnesses, etc. in patients with just a drop of blood from the end of a finger. The idea was that hospitals and crime labs wouldn’t need all of this expensive equipment that has to be purchased and maintained. Instead, Theranos developed two machines that could do all the blood analysis work. Unfortunately, the company ended up being a fraud, but when I read the story, I started thinking, “What would happen if that type of technology made it into the wrong hands?” That’s when I decided to include it in my plot.

An emotionally “scary” part of the book for me as the writer was writing a sequel to a novel. This is the first time I have ever written a sequel. I think the scariest challenge when writing a sequel, for me, comes with characters. In the second book, you (as the writer) want to make sure that the characters remain true to themselves, but at the same time, you want them to grow and develop as the book progresses. That was a real challenge for me. However, it was so much fun spending time with all of these characters again.

A Knife’s Edge: Amazon

Eliot Parker: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Eliot Parker is the author of four thriller novels. His third novel, Code for Murder, was a finalist for Best Thriller Novel by American Book Fest in 2018. Eliot is a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. A recipient of the West Virginia Literary Merit Award and also a finalist for the Southern Book Prize in Thriller Writing, Eliot teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College.

A Night of Dark Fiction

Join multiple award-nominated and critically acclaimed New York City authors Karen Heuler, John C. Foster, and Nicholas Kaufmann for a night of thrills, chills, and astonishment!

Come for the amazing stories, stay for the glamorous prizes*! What better way to spend a winter’s night?

Thursday, January 17th
7 PM – 9 PM

Otto’s Shrunken Head – 584 East 14th Street, between Ave A and Ave B

Karen Heuler is the author of The Inner City, In Search of Lost TimeOther Places, and others.

John C. Foster is the author of Mister WhiteNight RoadsThe Isle, and others.

Nicholas Kaufmann is the author of Dying Is My Business, In the Shadow of the Axe100 Fathoms Below, and others.

Feel free to RSVP at the Facebook event page if you like. Hope to see you there!

* Prizes may not be glamorous.

 

 

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