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.

New Class in January

My LitReactor class on writing fast-paced novels, Runaway Prose, is starting up again on January 24th! Enrollment tops out at 16 students, so be sure to sign up today! Click below for more info:

Want to keep readers speeding through your novel? It’s all about pace. In this four-week workshop, multiple award-nominated author Nicholas Kaufmann will show you how to keep readers engaged.

Doctor Who: “The Witchfinders”

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

“The Witchfinders” is a fun episode, but for a story dealing with such heavy themes — paranoia, scapegoating, the senseless murder of villagers accused of being witches, the way women were generally belittled, disregarded, and mistreated in 17th century England — it felt curiously lightweight. If this were a season with more of an arc, “The Witchfinders” would be a filler episode, a placeholder between episodes more important to the overall story. But that sounds harsher than I intended. It’s not a bad episode by any stretch, it just doesn’t go deep, and as a result it’s kind of forgettable.

One thing that is not forgettable about the episode is Alan Cumming as King James I. He’s hilarious through most of it, but also brings his acting chops to the quieter moments when he needs to. There have been a lot of well known actors doing character work on Doctor Who, in the classic series as well as the revival, but Cumming stands out as one of the best. He looks like he’s having a great time, and that feeling is contagious.

It was nice to see Siobhan Finneran again, too. She was great as Miss O’Brien on Downton Abbey, and when she left that show her absence was definitely felt. The episode’s zombie women were appropriately scary, but unfortunately, this being Doctor Who, they turned out to be possessed by disembodied aliens instead of being actual undead revenants out for revenge, which would have been so much cooler. But there’s always a scientific explanation in this show, so aliens it is. Interestingly, this is the third “aliens in history” episode of the season, which is an unusual number for Doctor Who. Normally, we only get one historical per season, maybe two. If this is going to be a theme of Chris Chibnall’s era, I hope he will find a way not to make it too repetitious.

I thought there was a missed comedic opportunity to have the Doctor forget she’s female now and wonder why King James refuses to believe she’s the Witchfinder General, before she remembers. We do get a funny line later about how people used to listen to her more when she was male, though.

So, all in all, “The Witchfinders” is a good if not entirely memorable episode. There isn’t any further character development for the companions or the Doctor in this one, and once again Ryan’s dyspraxia seems to have disappeared. Graham gets to wear a funny hat, though, so at least there’s that!

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! The Doctor has met actual witches before. In the 1971 Third Doctor serial “The Daemons,” the Master leads a coven of witches in Devil’s End in his effort to summon Azal, an alien who looks like the Devil. In the same serial, Olive Hawthorne, a resident of Devil’s End trying to stop the Master, claims to be a “white witch” (as did the actress who played her, Damaris Hayman). Although the Doctor himself wasn’t involved, the one-and-done 1981 spinoff K9 and Company saw Sarah Jane Smith and K9 Mark III face a coven of witches determined to perform a human sacrifice in the name of the goddess Hecate. And of course in the 2007 Tenth Doctor episode “The Shakespeare Code,” the Carrionites, led by Lilith, took the form of very Macbeth-like witches.

For all the talk about Satan in “The Witchfinders,” the Doctor has met several aliens who are supposed to either have created the myth of the Devil or who were mistaken for the Devil. Among them are the aforementioned Azal from “The Daemons”; Sutekh in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “Pyramids of Mars,” whose name the Doctor says is “abominated in every civilized world, whether that name be Set, Satan, Sodos…”; the Malus in the 1984 Fifth Doctor serial “The Awakening,” an alien war machine lying dormant beneath a church whose walls feature its image as a representation of the Devil; and the 2006 Tenth Doctor episode “The Satan Pit,” in which the giant horned entity known as the Beast claims he is Satan, as well as other, less terrestrial religious figures. (I’m tempted to include Abaddon from the 2007 Torchwood episode “End of Days” too, but although he looks very Devil-like, he is never referenced that way.)

Lastly, the Doctor met another disembodied alien lifeform that possesses the bodies of the dead in the 2005 Ninth Doctor episode “The Unquiet Dead.” In that story, the Geith take control of corpses for their new bodies, which inspires Charles Dickens to finish writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, although sadly he doesn’t live to complete the novel.

Next episode, the Doctor finds a cabin in the woods, and that’s never a good thing!

Doctor Who: “Kerblam!”

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

“Kerblam!” turned out to be a much better episode than its trailer (or its exclamation-marked title) led me to think. With its use of social satire, it felt almost like a throwback to the best of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, and I could easily see Christopher Eccleston’s or David Tennant’s Doctor in this same story. A science-fictional examination of an Amazon-like mega retailer with a monopoly on order fulfillment and deliver was well past due. The episode also confronts the issue of automation versus the needs of human workers, that age-old quandary of how to continue to make the money that a capitalist system demands when there are fewer and fewer ways to do so. The episode doesn’t dig into it too deeply, it’s a lightweight exploration of a much weightier issue, but touching on the point gives it an effective edge.

Interestingly, “Kerblam!” turns the usual science fiction trope on its head by making the enormous computer system not the enemy, but rather a force that’s trying unsuccessfully to stop the enemy. How the system knew enough about the Doctor to send her a message asking for help is never explained. (Perhaps it analyzed her order history and determined she was someone who comes to the aid of others? Sorry, that’s the best I’ve got.)

“Kerblam!” also makes good use of the large TARDIS crew by splitting them up and giving everyone something important to do, which I have to say is something that not every episode this season has excelled at. No one felt superfluous. Graham continues to crack me up, especially when he’s given the mop and bucket. Yaz actually gets to make use of her police skills this time around, which I was happy to see, and Ryan finally mentions his dyspraxia again, even if it doesn’t really come into play. It doesn’t seem to stop him from hopping from one conveyor belt to another when the plot needs him to, for example, but at least his condition hasn’t been entirely forgotten. Twirly, the original version of the delivery bots, is hilarious, recommending the Doctor order high blood pressure medication during a particularly tense moment when thousands of bombs are about to explode.

Charlie makes for a somewhat sympathetic villain. His reasoning that Kerblam!’s mandated 10% human workers rule will only be revised down in the future, rather than up, is spot on, although his plan to murder countless Kerblam! customers with exploding bubble wrap is obviously the wrong way to effect change. To be honest, it’s kind of a dumb plan when you think about it. Not everyone pops bubble wrap. Plenty of people can resist the urge, and lots hold onto it for future packaging purposes, which would likely result in the deaths of people weeks or months later who didn’t even order from Kerblam!. As usual, it’s probably best not to think too much about the villain’s plan in a Doctor Who episode. I will point out, however, that Peter McTighe’s otherwise quite good script has a glaring Women in Refrigerators  problem, with the computer system deciding to murder Kira, who had nothing to do with Charlie’s plan, to try to stop Charlie by showing him how terrible it is to lose someone you love — which is so demented and cruel I’m surprised the Doctor didn’t immediately shut down the system upon learning this.

One last nitpick: When the crew returns to the TARDIS at the end of the episode, Graham is tempted to pop the bubble wrap that came with the Doctor’s original package at the start of the episode, but they warn him against it, asking him if he really wants to take that risk. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we already see Ryan popping that same bubble wrap back at the beginning, which proves it’s safe and not the bubble wrap Charlie tampered with? It made the bit at the end feel really forced and inauthentic to me.

Still, nitpicks aside, I enjoyed “Kerblam!” a lot. It’s a fun episode with lots of great character bits in it, as well as an element of timely social satire.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! There’s more to point out in this episode than in any other of the series so far. We get a callback to the Eleventh Doctor’s fondness for fezzes, and a direct mention of the time when the Tenth Doctor met Agatha Christie in the 2008 episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” The Doctor tells Graham, Ryan, and Yaz that some of her best friends are robots. This could definitely be a reference to K9, the robotic dog who accompanied the Fourth Doctor for several seasons, and who reappeared with Sarah Jane Smith in the 2006 Tenth Doctor episode “School Reunion.” He could also mean Handles, the repaired and reprogrammed Cyberman head from the 2013 Eleventh Doctor episode “The Time of the Doctor,” and even Kamelion, the shape-shifting robot who was a short-lived (in every sense of the word) companion of the Fifth Doctor, appearing in only two serials, 1983’s “The King’s Demons” and 1984’s “Planet of Fire.” Lastly, the Venusian aikido that the Third Doctor used so often makes a return in “Kerblam!” when the Doctor briefly paralyzes Slade with a single finger to the neck.

Next episode…witches!

 

 

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