Me, the Kids and the Doctor (part one)

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logoDoctor Who returned to the BBC 0n the 26th March 2005. I was twenty-nine years old, and worked for Aldi in The Worst Job I Ever Had. My son had turned three years old the month before the first episode aired and it would be another year before my daughter would be born. Since Joseph had zero idea who or what The Doctor was he wasn’t as excited as I was. In order to get home in time to watch the episode I had to get a taxi rather than the bus – an extravagance that we probably couldn’t afford. I bought a bottle of wine to share with my then-fiance (who also wasn’t very excited at the prospect of Doctor Who, but I blame that on her being born in the limbo years – she was only 4 when Sylvester McCoy hung up his umbrella) and got home with a few minutes to spare. We all sat down on the sofa, with me proclaiming to Joseph that he was going to LOVE this show although, like everyone else, I was a little bit worried that they were going to fuck it up.

9th Doctor and RoseI needn’t have worried. I had a smile on my face from the moment it started and, when the Doctor finally turned up, grabbed Rose’s hand and said “Run” I knew that my worry had been for nothing and that this was going to be AWESOME. I don’t think Joseph really knew what was going on, but he got scared in the right places, which is what matters isn’t it? When Mickey was abducted by the living wheelie-bin  he was suitably terrified. When the Nestene consciousness made its appearance he was, brilliantly, hiding behind a cushion.

For the next 13 weeks I did my best to make it home in time to watch it live. You know you’re a geek when you say to your gaffer “Can I finish early today so I can get home and watch Doctor Who?“. Substitute it for “football” or “go and and get pissed” and you’re perfectly normal, but because you’re an adult that wants to watch a show about a 900 year old bloke and his adventures through time and space you’re suddenly weird. Go figure.

Are You My Mummy?There’s probably not a lot that Joseph remembers about that first series. He loved it, but obviously Eccleston only stayed for the one year. However… even to this day if you look Joseph in the eyes and whisper “Are you my mummy?” he immediately screams “STOP IT!”. Seriously: It’s like Pavlov’s dogs. He now refuses to watch either “The Empty Child” or “The Doctor Dances”. It’s quite entertaining, really.

He found the Slitheen hilarious, learned how to fear the Daleks (which resulted in the “he’s not watching THAT again” conversation after a couple of nightmares. Six or seven at the most) and, over the weeks, fell in love with the Doctor, which made me one pretty happy geek Dad. He got a little confused when the Doctor regenerated, but I managed to explain it. Even at the age of three he was a smart-arse.

Despite Eccleston being his first exposure to the character, Joseph’s Doctor was David Tennant (from the age of four to eight) whilst Grace loves the new Doctor “because he’s bonkers”, although she continues to refer to him by the name her mother coined when she first saw Matt Smith: Mister Potato-Head.

Grace came along halfway through the second series, in the middle of the two parter “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” – the latter being the first episode that she ever watched at the age of three days old. You can’t underestimate geek exposure, even at such an early age. She now regularly asks to watch the show and, unlike Joseph, is happy to sit down and watch the earlier Doctor’s as well.

10th Doctor and SJSThe second series had plenty to scare the now four year old Joseph: The werewolf in “Tooth and Claw” and the Cybermen in the first two parter of the year both had him covering his face or burying himself into my shoulder. The year that my daughter was introduced to the world was also the year that Sarah Jane Smith was re-introduced to a nation of kids that didn’t have a clue who she was. When The Sarah Jane Adventures began the following year Grace watched them with her big brother. When Elisabeth Sladen died in 2011 Grace was distraught. She cried her eyes out until she decided that Sarah Jane was now fighting aliens with Michael Jackson in heaven.

Unfortunately 2006 was also the year that gave us “Fear Her” and the Doctor carrying the Olympic Torch. Thankfully Grace was only a couple of weeks old at the time so doesn’t remember it and, like the Star Wars prequels and the fourth Indiana Jones movie, it’s something that’s rarely mentioned by me, unless I am making a point of mentioning Things I Don’t Mention. Which I probably do a lot.

Rose left at the end of the second series. Joseph was upset and Grace didn’t really give a monkeys as long as she was fed, cuddled and people laughed at her when she farted. I’m pretty sure it’s why she likes blowing off now – buried deep in her memory is the image of her parents going “GRACE!” whenever she let one rip, which would set her off giggling.

series5weepingangelsWhen the third series rolled around in 2007, Joseph was five years old. He was full time at school and despite my best intentions his Grandad had shared an obsession with football and a love of Formula 1. I still had Doctor Who, though, and whilst football would become Joey’s first love I still remember him watching what was, at the time, the Scariest Thing He Had Ever Seen, Ever. Stuck between the “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” two parter and the return of the Master was a little episode designed purely to give David Tennant a bit of time off. That episode was “Blink” and Joseph was petrified. The Weeping Angels might have lost some of their terror-inducing menace since then, but that first appearance was an excercise in how to scare the shit out of a family audience. He loved it, although I think he actually only saw about 60% of the episode. For the rest of it he was looking at his palms, the back of a cushion or giving me a rather tight cuddle. He did not sleep well that night.

The episode aired two days after Grace’s first birthday. She was walking around at that point, bumping into things and getting into trouble. Quite possibly she giggled at Joseph’s terror. Despite her absolute love for her brother she does have a weird sense of humour. I have no idea where she gets that from.

Sadly, new companion Martha Jones only survived one year with the Doctor. The season was half weak and half brilliant. It might have had “Blink” and “Utopia” but it also had “42” and “Evolution of the Daleks”. It wasn’t Martha’s fault: Coming after Rose was a hard job and the writers couldn’t decide if she was as brilliant as the Doctor or the traditional thicko that needs everything explaining to them in case the audience can’t keep up.

– 0 –

I thought this was going to be a single blog post, but since I’ve passed the 1,200 word mark and I’m only up to the end of series three I think I’ll be splitting this up. Next time I shall cover series 4 and those pesky specials, and then move on to the eleventh Doctor.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this, because I enjoyed writing it!

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Tattoo Fails: Literacy is Important, Folks!

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A general rule of thumb is that, if you’re getting a tattoo, it might be an idea to make sure that  it’s correctly spelled. Some might say I take my grammar and literacy obsession a little too seriously but, really, you want to have someone like me read your prospective ink before you go under the needle.

1) Take this lovely bit of ink, which should be in the dictionary under “irony”.

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2) How? How could this happen?

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3) How many times did this guy look at his arm and think “something’s just not right here…”

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4) Oh, dear. How much mocking would this fellow get from the other bikers?

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5) I’m really hoping that all of these were done by amateurs using an ebay purchased set, because if they were done by a professional I despair for humanity.

 

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6) See? See? This is why I go on about people learning how to use a freakin’ apostrophe!

grammar-fail

 

7) Another contender for the most ironic tattoo of the decade.

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8) Spellcheck would’ve passed this. Silly computers.

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9) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the artwork here, but how the ever-loving needle-gods did so many mistakes make it into one piece?

misspelled-tattoo

 

10) I get the feeling that if I were more romantic this would be quite a deep statement. As it is, it just makes me smile.

tattoo-fail

 

11) Oh yeah, baby! “Your” a baddass.

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12) Another one of those “how did it happen?” tatt’s.

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13) Not a literacy or grammar error. I just think it’s funny.

weird-fail-tattoo

 

 

So, people: Learn the lesson of thorough checks on whatever ink you might decide to get.

Iron Man 3 Trailer

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“I’m Tony Stark… I build neat stuff… I got a great girl… And, occasionally, save the world… So why can’t I sleep?”

What’s not to love about the trailers that have come out for the next Iron Man movie? I adored the first film, but the second completely lost the plot. This one looks to be completely back on form and has got my Iron Man love back in full gear.

The best bit is definitely the last 15 seconds of the trailer: “Here’s my boys…”

 

 

The movie is co-written and directed by Shane Black, who is behind some of my favourite action movies: Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero. 

Pilot Re-watch: Angel (1999)

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It was the year that good old Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury, and also of the Columbine High School massacre. Jill Dando was shot dead, and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. It became the highest grossing film of the year, along with (among others) Toy Story 2, The Matrix and American Beauty.

In the United Kingdom Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Harold Shipman was charged with murder and Stephen Lawrence was killed. The minimum wage was introduced: It was £3.60 per hour! Gary Glitter was jailed for downloading child pornography and, most importantly, The Gruffalo was published.

The debut album of Britney Spears was released, Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden and it was the year that we were introduced to the vocal talents of S Club 7.

On a personal level I turned twenty-three years old. I was single, had just arrived in Oldham (and have yet to leave), was the licensee at Yates’s Wine Lodge. I had more hair than I have now and sported a pair of John Lennon glasses that I thought were really cool. I lived above a hair dressers and was, generally, having a pretty damn fine time of it.

As hard as it is to believe that Angel first aired fourteen years ago now (although if that makes you feel old how about the fact that it’s twenty-four years since Quantum Leap debuted?) it has indeed been that long. Born of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had left the show at the end of the third season. Despite the popularity of the central love story between Buffy and Angel, Joss Whedon obviously saw that stretching it out indefinitely was never going to be dramatically possible.

So, how does it hold up in the second decade of the 21st century? Pretty well, actually. The format would drastically change over the course of the five seasons, but the pilot establishes the show as a detective series with Angel in the lead as well as fellow Sunnydale alumni Cordelia Chase and new guy Doyle. Whilst the cast would eventually grow to Scooby Gang levels the pilot, “City of”, focuses on our new trio.

“Once upon a time, there was a vampire. And he was the meanest vampire in all the land. I mean, other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard. Then, one day, he’s cursed, by gypsies. They restore his human soul and suddenly he’s mad with guilt. You know “What have I done…” You know, he’s freaked.” – DOYLE

The writing’s as polished as you’d expect from the nimble fingers of Joss Whedon, even when it comes to things like the above exposition. Doyle isn’t a greatly defined character in the pilot, but he gets a fair few of the best lines. His job here is to move the story along: To direct Angel in the beginning of his quest for redemption. If you’re judging him on the pilot alone he’s pretty much redundant. His role would just as easily be fulfilled by a letter being pushed under Angel’s door. It’s the writing that makes him appealing, as well as actor Glenn Quinn (although after first seeing him in Roseanne I was amazed to find out that he’s actually using his own accent in Angel – A bit like hearing James Marsters talk in his native tongue for the first time) who does a bang up job of making Doyle seem like an actual character.

“I finally get invited to a nice place… with no mirrors, and… lots of curtains… Hey! You’re a vampire! (…)  I’m from Sunnydale — we had our own Hellmouth! I think I know a vampire when I… am… alone with him… in his fortress-like home. And, you know? I think I’m just feeling a little light-headed from hunger. I’m just wacky! And kidding!! Ha, ha!…” – CORDELIA

Okay, so Angel bumping into Cordelia is a bit of a stretch coincidence wise. You have to love it when two characters miraculously bump into each other in a city with a population of… quick Wikipedia query… 3.8 million. Charisma Carpenter is an attractive actress and certainly adds a bit of glamour to the show, but more than that; she’s a GOOD actress. Over on Buffy Cordelia began as a one dimensional character, but Carpenter quickly rounded her out and she became an integral part of the cast. Her evolution continues here. She’s no longer the spoiled rich girl, but a destitute wannabe actress that desperately needs help. Even though Doyle points Angel in the direction of Tina, it’s Cordelia that ends up being saved: Not just from the evil vampire (Russell) that tries to eat her, but from the pathetic existence that she is now living.

The real reason that the pilot succeeds isn’t because of the main stars, but Tina, the guest of the week. Played brilliantly by Tracey Middendorf, Tina is (allegedly) the person that The Powers That Be want Angel to save. In this case it’s from an ancient vampire that likes to prey on aspiring actresses. In order to set the tone of the series, and illustrate that Angel is a much different beast from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon and co-writer David Greenwalt make the bold move of having Angel fail in his mission. The woman he has been sent to protect ends up dead on the floor of her apartment and all Angel can do is avenge her. It’s an audacious thing to do in any series, but to have it happen in the pilot is astonishing. It really sets the tone for the show in the fact that this is a much more mature series that its parent.

RUSSELL: We do things a certain way in LA. I keep my name out of the paper and I don’t make waves. And in return I can do anything I want.

[Angel puts his foot on Russell’s chair and whispers]

ANGEL: Can you fly?

[proceeds to kick Russell out the window. Russell becomes dust]

ANGEL: Guess not.

Apart from the 2 “Cordelia Coincidences” of the episode (randomly meeting Angel and then being the ONE person that Russell decides to have as his next meal, just when Angel is coming to kick his arse) there really aren’t any glaring negatives to say about the show. The action’s good and well staged, the denouement is satisfying, the writing and direction are layered with quality and the actors  seemingly enjoy themselves in the roles. Apart from the size of the mobile phones and Angel visiting a library to use their computer there’s very little to date this as a show from last century.

The pilot introduces many elements that continue throughout the series. Wolfram and Hart play a large part, including an unnamed lawyer, later to become Lindsey McDonald, that faces off with our hero. Lindsey is also the only character (apart from Angel himself) to appear in both the first and last episodes of the show. The Powers That Be are introduced and continue to direct Angel for the next 5 years. In essence, what the show is about isn’t winning, losing or keeping score. It’s about fighting the good fight because that’s what needs to be done.

Classic Abbott and Costello

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My son, Joseph, was desperate to show me this when he got home from school:

Hated Movies

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Here’s the thing: I don’t know if this little “quirk” is endemic to geeks in general or if it’s just me. I hope that my friends and fellow geeks do the same thing, but this might be one of those times where I make a bizarre observational gag about something that everyone can relate to, only to find that it’s just my warped head and everyone looks at me like I’m just a tiny bit sick in the head.

There are films that I completely, utterly and eternally hate. Everyone has those films that they watch and despise and, I guess for most people, that’s where it ends.With me, however, I will re-watch the hated movie again just to remind myself of why I hate it so much. A few years later I’ll watch it again. Even though I know that it’s shit I will load up the DVD player, plug in a USB stick or watch it on the telly. If I see a film that I particularly hate in the schedules and it’s on late or I’m at work I’ll set it to record so I can vent my venom in my free time.

Sparking this particular post was Terminator Salvation, which was on a few days ago. Utterly, utterly, shit movie. Beyond bad. I’d struggle to find a single redeeming feature. It’s got a stupid fucking plot, bad acting, terrible writing, too many quotes from the originals, a CGI Ah-nolt, shit casting and bastard mother-fucking Terminator bikes! But the main problem I have? The thing that truly revolts me about this movie? How come, in a film called “Terminator“, no one dies? In the first couple of films people were getting blown to shit all over the place. Here the Terminators look like they’ve been given intense training by the Stormtroopers from the Star Wars movies – they can’t hit shit!

I summed it up in this Tweet:

quote

I lasted about 5 minutes after that Tweet before I had to turn it off. The only alternative was to put my foot through the telly. But I already knew that I hated the movie! I watched it knowing that I would end up ranting about it. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for the whole social networking thing, and created purely for bitching about things that annoy you.

 

 

There are others that I watch, knowing that I am going to get the same result. I’ve tried to watch the first Twilight movie at least three or four times. I get a little further each time and if things go as they have done I’ll have watched the entire movie by about 2023. The furthest I have gotten is to the ‘sparkly’ bit, which caused me to scream at the telly-box and spend the next week muttering “vampires do not sparkle!” How the ever loving fuck did this film spawn a best-selling series (other than the fact there wasn’t a Harry Potter movie out that year)?

This trailer is well worth watching, if you tend to skip this sort of thing.

 

 

When I think about it there are plenty of films that I watch which I hate: The Star Wars prequels; Transformers: Revenge of the FallenSuperman IV: The Quest for Peace; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Catwoman. All of them (and more) are terrible movies and, if they’re on the telly I’ll sit my arse down and shout at the screen for a couple of hours.

So… why do I do it? Why do I voluntarily put myself through the agony that is Aliens Vs Predator? I could be watching Serenity or Memento. I could be re-watching Fringe or plowing my way through Breaking Bad. Instead I verbally abuse an empty room, curse George Lucas and wonder how Keanu Reeves continues to have a career.

 

 

The first Matrix movie was a lot of fun, but the sequels make as much sense as a fight between a Womble and a Vampire. The thing that makes me feel dirty is that, after watching the above trailer, I know that I am now going to watch the movie again. I own the DVD. It’s there, waiting for me. Even though I know the fight between Neo and 500 Agent Smith’s looks like something out of Shrek I will pour myself a glass of wine and slowly shake my head for the running time.

Do I do it because I want to learn how to NOT make a movie? Do I do it so that I can appreciate the good films out there? Is it a storytelling exercise where I am learning how structure, plot and theme can go wrong? I haven’t got a clue but I know that, after writing this little blog post, I’ve got a months worth of bad films to get through and no option but to watch them.

To Duotrope, or Not to Duotrope

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duotropeA few years ago, back when I used to spend a fair amount of my time writing fiction and under the deluded belief that I was one day going to be a successful author, I used to love wandering through the pages of Duotrope. For those that don’t know, Duotrope is an online resource for writers. Users were able to search the available markets for stories that they had written by running the very simple search engine, narrowing down the market bit by bit until they were left with a select few: An ideal list to submit to in the hopes of success.

Dating websites would work a lot better if they used the Duotrope model.

One of the great things about the site was that it was free. A well constructed, updated daily, FREE website that seemed to have been created by people that genuinely wanted to help people get published, as well as being created by writers, for writers.

Fast forward to 2013 and I am aiming to get back into the writing lark again. I’ve had an article published on the GEEKchocolate website and I have a few other things planned, both fiction and non-fiction (and, of course, this Blog and Geek in the Gym). It was only a matter of time before I drifted back to Duotrope, which I did in early January.

I was a little surprised to discover that it was now accessible only to paying subscribers. Once I had moved past my initial “What the FUCK?!?” reaction and actually thought about it for a while, I could completely understand why they had moved to provide a service for people that were willing to pay for it. Duotrope started in 2005 and ran for free until the last day of 2012. Unless the site was being run by playboy billionaires these people had “proper” jobs and, quite frankly, if they were playboy billionaires they should have been out fighting crime and injustice whilst dressed as creatures of the night instead of helping me try and get the latest piece of shit that I’ve written published.

They appealed for donations but, if memory serves, were always running short of their target. I’ll hold my hands up here and admit that I never donated a thing to them. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that they delayed and delayed going to subscription only for as long as they could but that, eventually, they either started charging or they closed the site.

Subscription to the site costs a whopping $5 per month. For me that works out to £3.28 – that’s less than the price of a magazine or a portion of fish and chips from the Chinese Take Away at the end of the road; both of which I would happily buy without thinking about it (unless it’s the last week before payday, in which case a serious debate might take place). So, cash wise, it’s hardly going to cripple someone. I suppose the question is what do you get for your money?

SEARCH
You’ve written your latest masterpiece but, like a lot of writers out there, you haven’t got a clue what to do, where to send it or how to find someone that might be interested in A) reading it, and; B) thinking it might be good enough for others to want to read. With the search facility you can pick the genre that you’ve written for. Say you’ve written a Zombie Comedy short story. You’d pick “Horror” as your genre, obviously. Then there’s the sub-genre; in this case “Zombie”. After that you can pick the style in which it is written. Here it would be “Humorous” (as American’s are not aware that it is spelled “Humourous”) and then for length you’d select “Short Story”. There are other criteria that you can select, but those are the basics. A quick click of the search button and you discover that there are 2 publishers that are looking for exactly what you’ve written. Personally I find that a more generic search yields much better results. Most publishers of fiction aren’t that specific with what they’re looking for. Anthologies, eZine’s and magazines are looking for a selection of different tales that your little zombie story might just fit into. Simply searching the “Horror” genre brings up, for instance, 363 (at the moment) publishers that are on the lookout for new tales. That’s not exactly a bad start for finding a home for your tale. Each listing has a brief description of what the publisher is looking for, a link to their website, the genres that they accept and Response Statistics, which is the best bit for me. The Duotrope community can track their stories from submission to acceptance / rejection, and here you find how quickly publishers do, or do not, respond. Do you really want to be submitting to someone that takes 3 months, on average, to get back with an answer? You will see what percentage of stories are accepted and how long it takes for a response. Say a website has only accepted 10% of the stories submitted: you’d better be pretty damn confident that your story is up to scratch before sending it there.

CALENDER
This is my favourite bit of Duotrope. Although I’ve decided to get back into writing I’m finding the muse a little harder to rekindle than the desire. The stories that I have bouncing around my brain are the same ones that I’ve had nagging at me for years. I can’t remember the last time I came up with something “new” to write, other than non-fiction. The Calender section covers the themes and deadlines for anthologies and themed issues / months that are coming up. At the moment there are 247 deadlines stretching to March 2014 and each one gives you a brief of what the publisher is looking for. Where else would I have found the anthology looking for fantasy, science fiction and horror stories from any style of writing where the theme was “Potatoes”? An idea instantly popped into my head when I read the brief, but unfortunately I’ve got 13 days to get the fucking thing written, polished and sent off for the deadline. There are plenty of others there as well which you can track at the click of a button. I’ve currently got 5 deadlines that I am tracking in my Control Panel and that’s after only a speedy skim through the deadlines.

There’s LOADS of stuff that you can do with a Duotrope account, from the above search facility to keeping an eye on anthologies that you want to submit to, to tracking those stories that you’ve already submitted, hoping for a positive response. Even if you’ve written something that you can’t find a place for you never know when someone might pop up wanting just what you’ve written.

If you’re at all unsure about whether it might be right for you, why not take advantage of the free 7 day trial they have going and see for yourself? Not only that, but you might be interested enough to buy an issue or book and, let’s not forget, if we as writers want to find places that want to publish unknown authors we have to support them as well. We can’t just let ‘other people’ spend their money when we refuse to do the same.

Click on the link below, sign up for the 7 days and see what you think. You might love it as much as I do!

 

Duotrope: an award-winning resource for writers

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