A review of ‘Doctor Who: Survival;’ the novelisation by Rona Munro and audio-book read by Lisa Bowerman

Where as I’ve never seen Survival, the audio book made a great holiday listen, and if you are a fan of Doctor Who, especially the Classic series, and thrice especially the Target novelisations, this is something of a poignant treat. Poignant because Survival is both the final serial of the 26th season and also the final story of the entire original 26-year run of the Doctor Who. The story was first broadcast in three parts, weekly, from 22 November to 6 December 1989. The story contained a number of finals, the final regular television appearance of Anthony Ainley as the Master, of Sophie Aldred as Ace and the last regular television appearance of Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor.

The audio book is narrated by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra, a ‘Cheetah-person’ in the tv Survival story, and has also voiced the New Adventures / Big Finish audio drama favourite Bernice Summerfield.

The book’s settings are, variously, Perivale in West London and a dying Alien world. We begin in West London, where the Doctor brings his companion Ace back to her home, Perivale, to catch up with family and friends. Other than Ace being in a real mood about the whole thing, something is very wrong (as it would be). People are disappearing. And a particularly feral black cat watches from teh sidelines, as does the Doctor’s most implacable foe…
It transpire that people are being chased by horse mounted ‘Cheetah-people’ into another dimension, where they run and hide or are killed by for sport by the same cat creatures. Worse, the planet itself is directing everything with a malign force that seeks to compel an accelerated Darwinian struggle and spread it to new worlds. Turns out the Master is stuck on the planet, and needs the Doctor’s help to escape…

The story has a number of characteristics typical of the show of this time. First, it is an original and pacy story. The show had not strayed into interminable story arc territory at this stage. It combines very domestic and familiar settings (London estates, suburbs, youth clubs, and so on) with alien worlds. It is full of the Seventh Doctor’s particular characteristics, the rolling, r’s, a kind but determined and persistent approach, and the familiarity of a trusted Uncle with vert eccentric habits. And the inter-play with Ace, extreme banter and a real bond.
It also has the casual and violent ends of quite a few minor characters (still a trope) that keeps dramatic tension high. You really don’t know who is going to make it (apart from the Doctor and hos companions. Companion death was still relatively rare.

The Master is a strong component in this story. He is thoroughly evil, some of his actions are wholly irredeemable, and yet darkly witty and engaging. We get some intriguing backstory of the Master and the Doctor’s shared story in this novelisation as well
Lisa Bowerman’s narration is really well done. She is clearly enjoying herself, conjuring the 7th Doctor, Ace and others before our eyes, and that is infectious.

A review of Charles Marsh’s “Strange Glory: A life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

This book has been a faithful companion for a few years of my life now. I have taken an absurdly long time over it, because of the busyness of life, and knowing that I’d never abandon it unread, that I’d always pick up where I left off.

It is a remarkable biography of the war-time minister and theologian. It is so rich in detail, so evocative of the times and places of it’s subject, I felt I had actually visited the places in the book, and met some of the people concerned. We begin with Dietrich’s childhood in a wealthy and connected family, and there are different flavours of the provincial and urban life of the time, of the holidays in mountain retreats studying nature and poetry, of the holiday games and rituals. Then there’s is the young man Bonhoeffer, studying and traveling, visiting sumptuous locations such as Barcelona, transported by the Cathedrals and Orthodox Christianity he encounters there, the parades, the music, the sung catechisms. We watch him navigate University life, cut his exceptional theological teeth, and then travel further and mature greatly in his views and theology in New York and with Harlem churches, where he makes strong connections with social action, protest, political idealism and Christianity.

Tangentially through all this there is the growing horror and dread of the growth and spread of the Nazi movement, including in the Churches. Bonhoeffer’s attempts to organise a dissident group of preachers is described, as the oppression and Nazi barbarity gains momentum.
Bonhoeffer meets Eberhard Bethge, with whom he develops an enduring and profound romantic friendship that at times borders on a possessive mania (on Bonhoeffer’s part). This is an important theme in Bonhoeffer’s life, revealing inner conflicts both in his self and in his theology.

Bonhoeffer is involved, even if it is peripherally with one of the plots to assassinate Hitler, and this seals his awful doom of execution in a Nazi concentration camp. Here the power of the writing to put one in the very shoes of Bonhoeffer has a terrifying and oppressive affect. Charles Marsh views Bonhoeffer’s fate without blinking, he offers no distancing philosophising or sermonising, only Bonhoeffer’s own words.

In it’s description and analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings and thought, the book presents these ideas in all their freshness and excitement. That is, the excitement of a faith that is there to change the world, to challenge evil and turn established orders on their head; so the last, the brutalised, poor and oppressed come first in a theology of service and sacrifice, and the first, that is the preening leaders and Churchmen so quick to yoke their faith to the Nazi machine, come truly last as the abominations that they are.

A remarkable work, detailing a remarkable life.

A review of Aaron Gillies “How to Survive the End of the World (when it’s in your own head).”

The book promotes itself as an “anxiety survival guide” and it is just that.  Told in a rapid fire,  caffeinated style that barrels along and takes no prisoners, this nevertheless remains a clear, painfully funny, and honest examination of the condition from the perspective of a sufferer.

What can’t be overstated is how valuable this book, and those like it, are.  Young people now inhabit a hyper world of instant judgements and accelerating expectations.  But on the plus side, our technology and media is allowing us to reach out to each other about our mental health and share information like never before.  What we need is a corralling of current wisdom and the kind of empathetic take only a sufferer can bring, which is where Mr Gillies comes in.  The book is wonderfully enlightening and reassuring.  I wish my younger self had had a copy when I was feeling like the worlds biggest and most awkward freak in my teens and early 20’s.

Glad to have read this, and glad to have met @technicallyron.

Donning the economists’s cape: A review of J.Brian O’Roark’s “Why Superman Doesn’t Take Over the World; What superheroes can tell us about economics.”

Combining his professional love of economics and his passion for comic books, J.Brian O’Roark applies a range of economic principles to a number of superhero ‘issues,’ such as:

the need for anonymity;
why do superheroes team up?
why do superheroes fight each other?
why do superheroes bother with their day job?
why do criminals bother with superheroes around?
why are superheroes often hated by the people they protect?
how does their tech and gadgets help them?
why don’t they just take over the world?
And, who is the greatest superhero of all?

He draws his heroes mainly from the DC pantheon but there is a liberal sprinkling of Marvels as well. To the above questions, he applies such economic principles as utility and utility curves, insurance, elasticity, production possibilities, comparative advantage, and more. The links seem unforced, logical, and enlightening to both the worlds of economics and comic books. The writer’s style is intelligent and focused but clear, engaging, and entertaining. There is also a helpful glossary at the end.
You can always tell when someone is writing about something they love, and J.B.O’Roark surely loves the worlds of economics and superheroes. I enjoyed his account of both of these worlds, and I enjoyed the connections he made. It has inspired me to take a deeper dive into economics

Drashigs on the Starboard Side: A review of the audio-book of Terrance Dicks’ “Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters,” read by Katy Manning.

I have memories of seeing this as a small boy, and the long-necked sea monsters that terrorise the 1990’s cruise ship, and then the alien Drashigs, also with their dragon like serpentine necks and terrifying roars, captured my imagination.  I remember being pretty bemused, though, by the scenes on the alien world with bickering aliens and I had a similar experience listening to this today.

The scenes on the ship, with its time loop mystery, and rampaging Plesiosauruses, is satisfying and atmospheric story telling.  When we find out that they are all miniaturised and held in ‘the Scope,’ a piece of outlawed entertainment tech held by showman Vorg  (played in the tv show with delicious ham by veteran actor Leslie Dwyer) and his ‘glamorous assistant,’  that’s a neat development, with a load of potential, especially when we find out that the box also holds many other alien species including Ogerons and Cybermen, other classic Who monsters.

What stymies it slightly is the seemingly endless stand-off between Vorg, his assistant Shima and the alien humanoids whose planet they have come to with the scope, with a conspiracy between the aliens also thrown in for good measure.  But all the pieces do click into place in the final act, and the final impression was a light, pacy and fun Doctor Who adventure with some clever storytelling and monstrous monsters.

As with many of the other audiobook adaptations of the Target novels, there is good sound production with some sparing but effectively used sound effects and musical cues.  These nudge the recording towards audio-drama without losing the cosy quality if an audio-book, here wonderfully read by Katy Manning, the actor who gave us the wonderful Jo Grant, who also features in the story.  Katy captures Jon Pertwee’s tones perfectly, as well as the range of alien and human characters.  I loved her reading, really well paced and very clear.

“Yellow there.” Or, “say Yellow, wave goodbye.” Or, “Yellow Yellow Yellow, what’s all this then?” A review of Albert Espinosa’s “The Yellow World.”

A truly strange read. Albert Espinosa battled cancer in his young life, trading a leg and a lung. He’s a writer and director now. In this book he takes the lessons he learnt battling cancer and builds a philosophy for living.
It consists of twenty-three ‘discoveries’ containing such lessons you may find unsurprising such as “losses are positive” and “what you hide the most reveals the most about you” to themes that liable to raise eyebrows such as “positive wanking.”
This culminates in the books main thesis that twenty-three is a magical number, relating to genomes and how many times Julius Caesar was stabbed, amongst other things. And that you should therefore seek out twenty-three ‘yellow’ people, yellow because they warm your life like the sun. Such yellowness puts them in a different rank to friends or lovers. They will understand you, what makes you tick, and change you. Yellows should be encouraged to hug and stroke each other and sleep with each other in a non-sexual sense, so they can watch each other go to sleep and wake. These are all grounded in Espinosa’s experiences on the cancer ward, how he and his room-mates supported each other through hugs, shared sleeping spaces and, in such an intense situation, reached levels of sharing and understanding that most of us would find difficult to achieve. This is key to understanding the book and stops it being utterly weird and a bit unsavoury. Be patient with it, and you may well find something to take away.

On yer bike: a review of Callum Cant’s “Riding for Deliveroo: Resistance in the New Economy.”

Those moped and bicycle couriers with their familiar turquoise cuboid backpacks that we see threading their way through traffic, are precarious not only in terms of their safety on the roads, but also in their employment status.  Deliveroo couriers are part of the ‘gig economy,’ that contract-less, piece meal (i.e. paid per task) type of employment that is becoming disturbingly prevalent in today’s economy.

Callum Cant is a former Deliveroo delivery worker and Ph.D. candidate at the University of West London.  In this book, he uses his experience as a Deliveroo courier to examine ‘workerism’ and possible socialist responses to the type of capitalistic and digital / algorithmic exploitation prevalent today.

He chronicles the adrenaline fuelled, often dangerous conditions that Deliveroo workers face through his own first-hand experience, and the path from individual worker gripes and disaffection to nascent  organised dissent to first local, then national, then international activism including strike action and picketing.

He illustrates this through parallels with other ‘precarious worker’ movements and activism  including dock workers and builders, and routes his arguments and theories in the writings principally of Marx and Engels.  He ends with a quote from Rosa Luxemburg, writing in 1915 from a German prison;

“Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”

This is the writer’s rallying cry, and it feels very timely as, at the time of writing, we are in the hands of a strengthened Tory government that has benefited from the collapse of Labour support, Brexit beckons, Australia is on fire and the Middle East looks set to plunge into a bloody new war.  As Callum Cant says, the stakes could not be higher.

The grounding of the Delievroo experience in socialist and political theory and history was clearly done, necessary and enlightening, although I would have liked to hear more about Cant’s Deliervoo experiences, and those of his colleagues.  It’s also a shame that he is called away by a family emergency at the time of the strike he’s been involved in creating, hence we lost an important part of first hand narrative.

This remains though, an important and timely book, and a time of vapid and timid political thinking, argument and writing, its a refreshing dose of conviction.

A review of Rory Clements’s “Hitler’s Secret.”

A young girl, Klara Wolf, finds herself a pawn between warring Nazis and warring international powers in this second wartime thriller from Rory Clements.

Cambridge professor Thomas Wilde becomes involved in a plot to get her to safety.  But what is Klara’s importance to murderous Nazi Martin Boorman?  And why are the allied powers so keen to get Karla into their own hands?  As a cycle of violence, murder and mayhem spreads around the young girl, Wilde realises just how high the stakes are, and soon realises he may not be able to tell friends from enemies…

This is a wonderful thriller, 400+ pages that just fly.  Its bad guys are chillingly and entertainingly vile, be they sadistic hired thugs or sociopathic and traitorous Englishmen and women (not to mention a prticularly homicidal member of the blue rinse brigade).  Then there is Marin Boorman, greasy, powerful evil personified.  Hitler himself is kept in the shadows.

Our hero Wilde has all the hallmarks of the principled heroes of wartime thrillers, there’s a dash of Buchan’s Hannay there, but he is convincingly drawn and his dilemmas seem real.  The action is superbly handled, and quite honestly, the pace never flags, whilst keeping the integrity of the storytelling whole.

Having read a thriller this year of similar length that I struggled to get through, this shines by contrast and I read it in a fraction of the time.  Thoroughly recommended.

How to herd cats: a review of David Benjamin’s and David Komlos’s “Cracking Complexity; the Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast.”

We live in a world that boils and roils with chaos, rapid and exponential change.  We also find that mot of our old linear assumptions no longer work.  For example, we are no longer offered safe predictable stages in a career path working for the same firm in a job for life.  Chances are we are adapting to flexible working styles and building up a portfolio of skills and achievements that will aid that flexibility.

Similarly, when managing change in an organisation, old approaches will no longer cut it when dealing with the size and complexity of change today.  For example, getting in external management consultants to drive the change model in a traditional ‘hub and spoke’ model with the consultants as the hub, or just in general confusing merely complicated problems with complex problems.

And so the writers of this work have devised a formula and approach that acknowledges and defines this complexity and then tackles through interdependent stages that drive a cyclical whole.  It is grounded on the assumption that ‘only variety destroys variety’ and that therefore a group, a cross section of stakeholders, need to be convened to pool their synergistic talents, skills and resources to plan for and then implement recommendations to meet their complex change head on.  This is called the ‘requisite variety.’  They then, together, define the question that they have to address, convene an agenda for their time together (3 days), work on where they are now, and then work on ideas on the way forward and come up with recommendations for actions in the remaining sessions.  Built in interaction between groups helps ensure that all benefit from everyone else’s ideas, and the quality of the ‘collisions’ or interactions between different or/and opposing backgrounds and viewpoints is also not left to chance.  The different roles of speaker, observer/recorder and critic  are designed to ensure that these processes stay on track.

The writers dive into the applicability of the formula through illustrations through the book with narrations from people who have  been involved in implementing the formula for different sectors, including healthcare, a company for the manufacturing of consumer goods, and a financial partnership.  More ideas for applicability are given at the end of the book.

The book is clearly written and engaging for anyone interested in chaos theory, systems thinking and /or business and leadership theory and practice.  More, I quickly found myself analysing and applying its lessons in my role as tutor and mentor for those engaged in complex public service roles, management and leadership.   Its timeliness and relevance can’t be denied.

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