Something Wicca This Way Comes [TV Review]

I never thought I’d ever enjoy a television show with Aaron Spelling’s name attached to it, but I decided to give Charmed a chance.

Produced by Spelling and airing on the WB Network in the U.S., the series revolves around three women played by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, who discover they are witches – good witches, but witches nonetheless. Each has her own special powers: Prue (Doherty) can move objects through telekinesis, Piper (Combs) can freeze time, and Phoebe (Milano) can see into the future. In addition, they have other spells at their disposable, thanks to a book Phoebe digs up in the attic of the family house the sisters inherited.

Prue and Piper also have Phoebe to thank for the magical powers. By reading a passage from the book, she activates their powers. They soon discover their grandmother, who recently passed away, was a witch. When she died, her powers her came up for grabs. Unfortunately, an evil warlock, who has been stalking and killing other witches in San Francisco to take their powers, has been waiting for the sisters to realize these powers.

The first episode has a very simple plot, as the sisters have to use their combined talents to defeat the warlock. In the midst of all this they face job woes and sibling infighting, while one of the detectives investigating the murders, an old acquaintance of Prue’s, knows not everything is what it seems.

With some good writers, Charmed could be more than just a ‘evil creature that must be defeated by the sisters’ show. Buffy The Vampire Slayer has proven it is about more than just a teenage girl killing vampires every week.

Charmed has all the right ingredients to become another cult hit for the WB.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Once More Unto the Breach [TV Review]

Since its debut, I’ve always tried to like Star Trek: Voyager. It’s not as if I don’t like the show, but for the most part, I’ve been disappointed in it.

Every year I sit down to watch the season premiere and hope that the show will improve. I usually start the season optimistic, depending on the season finale from the year before. Last season, Voyager finished with a ho hum episode, so I wasn’t overly excited about year five.

I have mixed feelings about “‘Night”, the season premiere. It had an interesting premise and some good character development, but still lacked many elements, elements that have made Deep Space Nine my preferred Star Trek sequel series.

While the writers finally to a leap and made Paris and Torres a couple, the relationship has simply gone nowhere. In ‘Night’, they’re reduced to unconvincing squabbling to further demonstrate the frustration the crew is feeling while traveling an expanse of lifeless, starless space.

Admittedly, the story wasn’t horrible and there were some nifty special effects, but it is an obvious example of what is wrong with Voyager: In the Delta Quadrant, everything seems to happen in a bottle. Yes, there have been sequels to previous episodes, but rarely are the consequences of actions carried over from one episode to another. “Year of Hell” was a great episode until it turns out it never happened at all.

It’s not that I’m unwilling to give Voyager a chance. I’ve given it plenty of chances. But after fours seasons, I don’t feel this crew has developed much in terms of characterization and I’ve yet to see an episode that truly wowed or surprised.

Deep Space Nine has given me a reason to come back every episode because of its continuing storyline. Right now, I can take or leave Voyager.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.

Doctor Who: The Janus Conjunction [Book Review]

Doctor Who: The Janus Conjunction
By Trevor Baxendale / BBC Books / October 1998

“The planets Janus Prime and Meridia are diametrically opposed in orbit round a vast Red Giant star. But while Menda is rich and fertile in the light of the sun, Janus Prime endures everlasting night, its moon causing a permanent solar eclipse.

When the Doctor and Sam arrive on Janus Prime, they find themselves in the middle of a war between rival humans colonizing the area. The planet is littered with ancient ruins, and the Mendans are using a mysterious hyper-spatial link left behind by the planet’s former inhabitants. But what is its true purpose?

The Doctor and Sam must piece together a centures-old puzzle. How can Janus Prime’s moon weigh billions of tons more than it should? Why is the planet riddled with deadly radiation? As the violence escalates around them, will the time travelers survive to discover the answers?”

I really liked The Janus Conjunction because it doesn’t strive to be anything more than a straightforward Doctor Who adventure and succeeds.

The Doctor and Sam arrive on a planet, get separated, thrown in prison, get caught between two factions and have a puzzle to solve in the process. Nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s well executed. The guest characters don’t take over the story, but are well developed enough that their motivations are understandable, even the villains.

While the recent outing Seeing I had a lot to do about looking at the Doctor and Sam’s relationship in depth, here they are just Doctor and companion working together with really well-written dialogue. The Doctor is the Doctor I’ve always known in any regeneration: the hero that takes charge of the situation.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about The Janus Conjunction, but it’s very functional, entertaining and moves along briskly.


Doctor Who: Seeing I [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Seeing I
By Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman / BBC Books / June 1998

Sam is homeless on the streets of the colony world of Ha’olam, trying to face what’s just happened between her in the Doctor. He’s searching for her, and for answers. While she struggles to survive in a strange city centuries from home, the Doctor comes across evidence of alien involvment in the local mega corporation, INC – and is soon confined to a prison that becomes a hell of his own making.

Where did INC’s mysterious eye implants really come from? What is the company searching for in the deserts? What is hiding in the shadows, watching their progress?

Faced with these mysteries, separated by half a world, Sam and the Doctor each face a battle – Sam to rebuild her life, the Doctor to stay sane. And if they do find each other again, what will be left of either of them?”

I was expecting a lot from Kate Orman, who wrote some of my favorite New Adventures, but Seeing I doesn’t quite deliver in the end. However, it’s still well above average.

At the beginning of the book, Sam and the Doctor are already separated, so there is a lot of Sam development going on. In fact, she ages years, not days or months, in this story. Meanwhile, the Doctor is stuck in a prison that even he can’t escape.

For the first two thirds of the book, Seeing I is a departure from most Who novels as it explores the plight of the Doctor and his companion on a psychological level. However, the last third of the book turns into a straightforward Who adventure. That’s not to say it isn’t well done, but it doesn’t quite deliver the ending as promised with the earlier character trials.

All in all a definite must read.

Doctor Who: Dreamstone Moon [Book Review]

By Paul Leonard / BBC Books / May 1998

“Sam is on her own, but here distance from the Doctor doesn’t make for a trouble-free life. Rescued from an out of control spaceship, she finds herself on a tiny moon which is the only know source of dreamstone, a mysterious crystalline substance that can preserve or dreams – or give you nightmares.

 Pitched into the middle of a conflict between the mining company extracting dreamstone and ecological protesters, Sam thinks it’s easy to decide who the good guys are – until people start dying, and the killers seem to be the same species as some of her new friends.

 Meanwhile, the Doctor has tracked Sam down, but before he can reach her he’s co-opted by the Dreamstone Mining Company and their sinister military advisors. Suddenly, it’s war – and the Doctor is forced to fight against what he believes in. He alone suspects that Dreamstone isn’t what it appears to be. But nobody’s listening – and nobody could dream who the real enemy is…”

After my first BBC Books Doctor Who outing, The Eigtht Doctors, I really needed to read a *good* Doctor Who book. Dreamstone Moon by Paul Leonard didn’t quite deliver, but it wasn’t bad either.

First off this is a Sam book – the Doctor and his companion were separated several books ago, I assume. It isn’t entirely a bad thing because at this point I wanted to get to know the Sam character. But I also read Doctor Who novels to read about the Doctor, and role in the book is very wanting. When he does have scenes in the story, he doesn’t seem on the ball about anything.

The story itself is really predictable although quasi-interesting. It didn’t really grip. Nothing about it really did. The one observation I can make is that Paul Leonard is skilled at creating truly alien characters.

In the end, I don’t know if like Dreamstone Moon or not, so it’s probably worth deciding for yourself.

Star Trek New Frontier: Fire On High [Book Review]

Star Trek New Frontier: Fire On High
Peter David/Pocket Books/April 1998

Fire On High isn’t Peter David’s best work, but it still proves how his Star Trek: New Frontier setting is so much more entertaining then Voyager ever was.

This is the second full-length novel since the debut of the initial four novellas, and while the story stands on its own, there are subplots that have been going since previous books. Fire On High revolves around the reappearance of Lt. Robin Lefler’s supposedly dead mother and a deadly ancient weapon. It actually takes a while for those events to get under way, but in the meantime, Doctor Selar deals with the consequences of her recent Pon Farr, and there are various other character bits percolating.

Overall, the story isn’t exceptional, but the crew of the starship Excalibur is just as lively and interesting as any crew that’s graced either the big or small screen. And they’re definitely more fun than Voyager.

Doctor Who: Lungbarrow [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Lungbarrow
By Marc Platt / Virgin / March 1997

This is it folks. The last New Adventure to feature the Seventh Doctor.

Lungbarrow attempts to answer the main questions raised by the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of the Time Lord, which it does well for the most part.

A warning, however: this is a book you have to read carefully to understand the ending. I don’t think this is Marc Platt’s fault. In this case, I think it’s my own. A second run through cleared up most of the questions I had.

Some high points, besides explaining much about the Doctor’s origin, are the reappearance of past companions, including Ace, Leela and K9. The book also introduces the Doctor’s ‘family’, who play a key part in the story.

There were some disappointments, however. There’s a nice goodbye between Ace and the Doctor, but Chris Cwej sort of just disappears at the end. Bernice doesn’t even appear in the novel, so there’s no real closure between her and the Seventh Doctor, although she does play a major role in Lance Parkin’s The Dying Days, which introduces the Eight Doctor.

If there is one thing Lungbarrow illustrates, it is how the character of the Doctor has evolved since the The New Adventures debuted in 1991. Oh, the last page is a hoot too!

Originally published in The Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Resource Guide.

Doctor Who: The Dying Days [Book Review]

Doctor Who: The Dying Days
By Lance Parkin / Virgin / April 1997

The Dying Days is an apt title for the last New Adventure featuring the Doctor, in any incarnation. It’s a story of endings and beginnings, and unlike many of the NAs featuring the Seventh Doctor, this novel featuring the Eighth Doctor is a straightforward adventure story, reminiscent of the television series.

Bernice Summerfield is waiting for the Doctor to arrive at his house. He’s late, which Bernice thinks is rather unacceptable, since he is a Time Lord. When he does finally show up, he has changed a little.

So begins the story that will launch the continuing adventures of Bernice Summerfield, while the Doctor continues on in the new BBC line of books. Before the story ends, you will reacquaint yourselves with old friends such as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Ice Warriors.

Lance Parkin does a fine job with this novel, sticking to tried and true storytelling techniques, while incorporating elements from the FOX TV movie to maintain continuity.

The ending is rather interesting as well.

Originally published in the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Resource Guide.

Doctor Who: So Vile A Sin [Book Review]

Doctor Who: So Vile A Sin
By Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman / Virgin Books / May 1997

‘If you step into history,’ said the Doctor, ‘I won’t be able to protect you.’
‘This isn’t history,’ said Roz. ‘This is family.’

The Earth Empire – the Imperium Humanum, upon which a thousand suns never set – is dying.

The Great Houses of the Empire manoeuvre and scheme for advantage; alliances are made; and knives flash in the shadows. Out among the moons of Jupiter, another battle is just beginning, as an ancient brotherhood seeks limitless power and long-overdue revenge

The Doctor returns to the thirtieth century, searching for the source of a terrifying weapon. He fears a nightmare from his own past may be about to destroy the future. Nothing must be allowed to get in his way.

But the Doctor has reckoned without the power of history – which has its own plans for the wayward daughter of the House of Forrester.

The fact that this book was rushed to publication so fast was probably the most vile sin of all. Delayed due to Ben Aaronovitch’s hard drive crash, Kate Orman stepped in to finish this much anticipated New Adventure, which heralds the death of a companion.

The book has a promising start, but deteriorates into a muddled mess of a narrative. It’s not like I hated the book; I was just very disappointed.

There is so much happening in the novel, and it is very difficult to follow. There were even times where I couldn’t figure out why certain parts of the story were there in the first place. So Vile A Sin is definitely full of great ideas and great moments, but put together, it seems that it deserved a little more polishing before going to print.

Although So Vile A Sin was a disappointment and a difficult read, it is probably a must for those who have followed the New Adventures loyally. And while I may have panned this particular effort by the authors, I must say that Aaronovitch’s The Also People was brilliant, and I have enjoyed every New Adventure I have read by Orman: The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Set Piece and Sleepy.

Doctor Who: Eternity Weeps [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Eternity Weeps
By Jim Mortimore / Virgin /January 1997

If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from Jim Mortimore, it’s a high body count. This book is violent. But overall, it’s a pretty good NA, save for a few complaints.

The first complaint is the almost complete absence of the Doctor throughout the novel. When I pick up a NA (at least until BBC Books took over), I expect to read about the Doctor. Not only are his appearances few and far between, I wouldn’t call them ‘quality moments’.

What particularly bothered me was the death of a character, which should have provoked some reaction from the Doctor and didn’t. The book also moved a little too quickly, and is hard to follow in some parts.

But although the Doctor was difficult to find in Eternity Weeps, Bernice is used well. In fact, the first-person narrative alternates between her and husband Jason Kane, something Mortimore handles rather well. There were some aspects of their relationship which I found a little implausible. Their arguments and foul moods seem somewhat contrived throughout the story.

In the end, however, I would say Eternity Weeps is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re a Benny fan.