Friday, 27 February 2015

Scribble Creatures Spotlight: Lucifer Box

Kicking off last month with Return to Oz, a new regular feature on this blog will look at personal favourites - books, fictional characters, films ETC - which I think go unfortunately under-appreciated in the big wide world. This month, we turn to the exploits of a rather fiendish fellow...

Secret agents are going through something of a renaissance at the moment. On TV, there are shows like Marvel's Agent Carter and Toby Whithouse's The Game and the cinema is chock-a-block with retro, cool spies, such as those in Kingsman and The Man from UNCLE. Something tells me, however, that one retro secret agent you won't be seeing on screen any time soon is Mark Gatiss' debonair, if decadent, Lucifer Box.

Appearing in three novels by the Doctor Who and Sherlock writer, Lucifer Box is apparently a dandified artist - an early 20th century playboy who resides in No 9 Downing Street ('someone's got to live there'). In fact, Lucifer is the top agent of the Royal Academy, the front for Britain's Secret Service.
On the face of it, what with Gatiss being a big name on telly, Lucifer Box's stories seem perfect for an adaptation for a mainstream audience. However, his adventures are far wackier and more eccentric than the average spy thriller. And, even in 2015, possibly too risqué. Lucifer himself, as he carefully puts it, 'travels' on both 'the number 38 bus and the 19.' If you can imagine Captain Jack Harkness crossed with Oscar Wilde you have Lucifer in a nutshell.

Filled to the brim with wit and Gatiss' rich, descriptive writing style, the Box books are, as you would expect, something of a Bond pastiche but only to a certain degree. Unlike many perennial heroes, Lucifer Box ages, with each instalment moving the story forward several decades. The first sees a young Box in Edwardian times, the second a middle-aged Box in the 20s and the finale of the trilogy has Box, now an elder statesman, investigating one final case in the 50s. As such, Gatiss is allowed to unleash a tirade of pastiches, going from Edwardian garden party stories to the pulpy horrors of the 20s and 30s to the spy novels of John Le Carre and Ian Fleming. The books may be, as Gatiss puts it, 'bits of fluff' but that doesn't stop them from being an incredibly quotable, memorable and just genuinely enjoyable novel series.

So while Lucifer Box may deserve to rub shoulders (and probably more, knowing him) with the likes of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes in the Hall of Famous Heroes, I can't see it happening. Still, with a fine trilogy of novels out there as it is, perhaps it is better that way. After all, some Boxes are best left unopened.

The Books

The Vesuvius Club

Lucifer is sent to investigate the disappearance of a number of eminent scientists in Naples - just when he has started courting the lovely Bella Pok. However, aided by his new valet Charlie Jackpot, Lucifer realises he has bigger problems on his finely-manicured hands when he uncovers the sinister machinations of the Vesuvius Club. Can Lucifer use his artistic license to kill to save the planet from a calamity of volcanic proportions?

The Devil in Amber

Lucifer, now feeling his age, is sent to New York to observe the suspicious activities of fascist leader Olympus Mons - but is framed for murder in the process. As resilient as ever, Lucifer escapes to Norfolk where he uncovers a plot to rule the world more diabolical than any he has faced. Is it possible for Lucifer, saviour of the world, to beat Lucifer, prince of darkness?
 Black Butterfly

An elderly Lucifer finds himself on his final case when pillars of the establishment keep dying bizarre deaths. The mystery takes him from Soho to Istanbul to Jamaica and back into battle with an old enemy - and into the path of the deadly assassin, Kingdom Kum. Will Lucifer, now well past his prime, survive an embrace by the lethal wings of the Black Butterfly?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Missy Will Return in Series Nine

Get ready to say something nice, everyone - the Queen of Evil is returning to plague the Doctor and Clara's lives sooner than we thought...

Today it was revealed that Series Eight's big bad, Missy - the Master in female form, in case you didn't know - is coming straight back into the show in Series Nine's opening episode, 'The Magician's Apprentice.'

I, for one, am terribly excited for Missy's return, with Michelle Gomez's scenery-crunching performance being one of the highlights of last year. We had been starved of the Master for years before Missy so who can complain if we get more of her so soon?

As cryptic as ever, Steven Moffat has said that what brings Missy back into the Doctor and Clara's lives 'is the last thing they'd expect.'

Other details about the series opener have also been revealed, including the announcement that Jemma Redgrave will be returning as UNIT head, Kate Stewart. What with her also appearing in the Series Eight finale just as Missy did, it looks like this will be something of a sequel to the 'Dark Water/Death in Heaven' story. Also announced to be in the episode is Claire Higgins, the actress who previously played Ohila in 'The Night of the Doctor.' Could the Sisterhood of Karn be returning too? They were always linked to the Time Lords so will we finally learn more about what really happened to Gallifrey?

Also now known is that the opener will be a two-parter - the second episode being called 'The Witch's Familiar.' Firstly, has there ever been a two-parter with such well-matching episode titles as these? The eponymous Magician and Witch surely refer to the Doctor and Missy - but who is their Apprentice/Familiar? Clara is certainly the Doctor's apprentice and could be said to be Missy's familiar (the term for a Witch's pet, such as their black cat), as Missy was revealed to be behind Clara meeting the Doctor in the first place.

In the wider context of Series Nine, it seems like this year will see a return to the multi two-parter series of yesteryear as Toby Whithouse (writer of several previous Whos and creator of Being Human) is said to be writing a 'spooky' two-parter while Moffat has previously spoken about the 'fantastic' cliffhanger he's written to lead into this year's finale, suggesting that will be a two-parter as well.


Is it August yet?

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Doctor Who: Other Dimensions - Spare Parts

Fairly uniquely amongst television shows, Doctor Who has an incredibly diverse range spin-off media, in literally any medium you can think of. Other franchises might have the odd tie-in novel or comic book series but none of these stand on their own two feet as much as those in the Whoniverse. For instance, in this post, I take a look at one of the most significant of all Doctor Who stories - and it was never even on the telly...

I have a confession to make that may seriously damage my credentials as a Doctor Who fan - I don't often listen to the Big Finish audios. Don't get me wrong, I love hearing the Doctors and companions returning to their roles as much as the next person (or more, actually, as this metaphorical 'next person' is statistically unlikely to be a Who fan) but I don't purchase them regularly so I've missed out on some great adventures. Recently, I set out to rectify this by catching up with this story from 2002 which later influenced the revived series by filling in a previously-unseen part of the Whoniverse. The Genesis of the Cybermen.

Much like 'The Fires of Pompeii' and 'The Waters of Mars', the (Fifth) Doctor arrives in a place he never wanted to visit - Mondas, Earth's twin planet that he knows will become the homeworld of the Cybermen. He can't interfere this time, lest mess with established history, yet like always he really rather does.
Mondas is a planet on the edge of destruction. What's left of the populace is fooled with propaganda into offering themselves to the workforce - the heroes of Mondas who brave the planet's frozen surface. Really, the unfortunate souls are converted into... Cybermen.

Before we get to those silver giants, it needs to be said that the story makes great use of its TARDIS team. The Doctor and Nyssa as a pair works much better than the TARDIS-cramming gang that accompanied the Fifth Doctor on television. Their dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor and Romana as it's a relationship of equals more than hero-sidekick like most Doctor and companions. And, unlike the TV stories, the heartache Nyssa has been through since meeting the Doctor - the death of her father and Adric, not to mention the destruction of her homeworld - are addressed here, helping to make Nyssa feel like a real person.

All right, let's talk about 'em. First and foremost, Spare Parts reminds you of how good the Cybermen can be when used correctly. In the modern series, the Cybermen's primary goal has been to upgrade and convert humanity. When they were first introduced, however, their aim was the survival of their species - converting others into Cybermen was just a by-product. Spare Parts rectifies this change and spins a scarily believable tale about the Cybermen being born from a species on the brink of extinction, desperate to survive - at whatever the cost.

This is the thinking of the scientist behind the Cybermen. Though this story goes against the expected idea of creating a Cyber-Davros - just as the TV series did in 'Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel' in John Lumic - it retains their creator as an important character, as well as giving the Cybermen a greater autonomy. She's certainly a more layered individual than Lumic's selfish Bond villain and suits the more tragic backstory of the Cybermen. These are not genetically-engineered monsters like the Daleks. The Cybermen are us.

For all its plusses, though, the audio has its flaws. While the world-building is well done, the smaller character moments which are meant to really ram home the horror of the Cybermen are not handled with as much emotion as they were in, say, The Age of Steel. That said, Spare Parts gets the most important thing right - the Cybermen. Returning to those strange squawking voices from 'The Tenth Planet', they are an impressive piece of characterisation through sound. For any Doctor Who fan wanting to upgrade to Big Finish, this is the story that will convert you.

Fun fact: the Cybermen's ear handles conceal headphones which constantly play Big Finish audios to keep them motivated. 
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