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“Destiny of the Daleks” – retrospective

exterminated

Poor, exterminated Lan. Strangely, his day will actually get worse from this point …


Having just finished my first ever foray into fanfic – a trilogy of Doctor Who novellas all based on one largely ill-remembered late-1970s serial – now seems like an opportune moment to look back on it …

Doctor Who, in its classic years (1963-89), tended to be at its best the closer it stuck to its roots, and said roots – as one will quickly realise when looking back at Season One – were quite astonishingly dark. The Doctor himself was initially presented as a selfish, amoral figure, essentially kidnapping his first set of companions and threatening, on more than one occasion, to leave them stranded and helpless. The Daleks, first appearing in the second story of Season One, were far from the ranting caricatures they would later often be depicted as, being paranoid and ruthless, yet also intelligent, devious, and not remotely comical. Even their final demise was shown in a subdued, almost tragic light, without victory celebrations or misplaced flippancy. Merely as the inevitably bloodthirsty end to a terrible war that should never have taken place.

1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks” – more or less co-written by Dalek creator Terry Nation and famed comedy SF writer Douglas Adams (editing heavily from the former’s script outline) – could hardly be more different in tone, and not for the better. At this stage in show history – after the very successful, intense, but controversial mid-Seventies tenure of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes, under whose guidance the show had veered into very dark and violent subject matter – the current production team were still very mindful to keep the show “family friendly”. This is problematic when your most popular baddies are mutant-cyborg expies for the Third Reich, and unfortunately the solution chosen to lighten the subject matter is to make fun of said baddies. The most (in)famous moment of this story is probably the scene in which Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, having rope-climbed to safety from the pursuing Daleks, turns back in order to fling them the taunt

“If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us? Bye bye!”

Ouch. One gathers Terry Nation was less than enthused at his script editor’s approach, which sadly clouds the whole story. There are more intense moments – including one particularly ruthless mass execution scene lifted straight out of “Blakes Seven”, which is Terry Nation all over – but they jar most awkwardly with the general flippancy of the shooting script. The premise itself – that Daleks have now somehow evolved into purely robotic, logical beings, and become stuck in an unbreakable impasse with an opposing race of equally logical androids – feels very misguided, throwing away sixteen years’ worth of establishing the Daleks as anything but logical: in fact, as one character in their first story put it, they are “stupid and ridiculous” for harbouring their pathological “dislike for the unlike”. Since their racism, at any rate, seems entirely intact in “Destiny …” one has to question the quality of their much-vaunted logic.

The other thing this story is probably most remembered for are the Movellan androids – sometimes deemed as partially successful creations, often deemed as miserable failures, but at least memorable enough that they earned a small cameo in the 2017 season. On a purely aesthetic level – given the limitations of the show – they work quite well, exuding a graceful, blasé manner even under threat, and sending out just enough “uncanny valley” vibes to unsettle while still coming across as plausibly humanoid (They are, at least initially, attempting to obscure their AI nature, although the Doctor quickly catches on). There is a lovely, creepy moment when one of them politely and affably replies to a conversation he couldn’t possibly have heard, thus providing an early signal that they are not as human as they appear. On the whole, their characterisation is sparse – hindered in part by the fact it takes them so long to show their true colours – but they end up having some resemblance, whether intentional or not, to a prettier, colder, nastier version of the early 1970s “UNIT family”: the human military allies the Doctor was forced to work with during the 1970-73 seasons, having been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords.

The Movellan commander, Sharrel (Peter Straker), is courteous but utterly ruthless, not unlike the early depiction of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and seemingly just as devoted to causing massive explosions. He is also just as limited in his personal imagination, but smart enough to recognise that having the right scientific advisor on his team would compensate for this … and thus he is keen to retain the services of a certain less-than-enthusiastic Time Lord. Below him, in the role of trusty stalwart, we have Movellan soldier Lan (Tony Osoba, pictured above): almost the android version of Sergeant Benton, always keen to volunteer and put himself in the way of danger for the sake of his comrades, but not very quick-witted, for which he pays dearly (Like his human predecessor, he is better-suited to standing around and looking pretty than trying to match wits with renegade Time lords). The final named Movellan, Agella (Suzanne Danielle), is not given a great deal to do, but her main notable action – sparing the Doctor’s companion from being incinerated in a trap Sharrel ordered her to set – marks her out as the closest thing to a moral centre in her unit, as Liz Shaw and Jo Grant had been during the UNIT years (Apparently, even among DW robots, it is the female models who are the nice(r) ones …). This also seriously muddies various attempts in the script to establish the Movellans as basically humanoid Daleks – just as single-minded and merciless – although perhaps we are meant to read Agella as a rare exception to the rule. She is, at any rate, accorded the dubious mercy of being reprogrammed to serve humans and thus surviving the story, while most of her comrades are deactivated.

The resemblance is probably coincidence, although at any rate it does make a neat bookend to the 1970s phase of the show. The Doctor, by this stage, had been AWOL from UNIT for three seasons, would not encounter them again for several more, and had firmly re-established his bohemian, anti-authoritarian personality. He had now installed a randomiser in his TARDIS, thus enforcing the same chaos and unpredictability on his future journeys as his first incarnation – through his sheer inability to pilot the TARDIS – had enjoyed (There was a plot reason for doing so – to shake off pursuit from a powerful being – but the Doctor’s smile at the close of the 1978 season strongly hinted he was quite looking forward to the mystery tour ahead …). Having finally shaken off the grim ties of military employment, of his Earth-bound exile, and of having to undertake penitential missions for the Time Lords and the White Guardian, the Doctor is now ready and eager to re-embrace his role of carefree spacetime rogue extraordinaire … only to be confronted by a bunch of uptight, pristine, militarised androids who want to force him right back into settled employment. In context, one cannot wonder that he takes such a grim delight in showing them where to stick it.

Indeed, it is in the performances of the leads that “Destiny of the Daleks” redeems itself a fair bit. While Douglas Adams’ witty stylings do not lend themselves terribly well to convincingly threatening Daleks, they do lend themselves to the barbed, sparkling chemistry between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (At the time, a real-life couple). The very fact that this story introduces Lalla Ward’s version of Romana – albeit through the clumsiest regeneration scene ever devised – makes it well worth viewing for fans. Merit is also due for its dramatic location filming and – strange as it may seem – its special effects and miniature model work. The late ’70s shows somehow did quite well in these areas, in spite of a sharp decline in set and design quality (and “Destiny …” is no exception: be prepared to see some seriously tatty Daleks and costume recycling all over the shop).

As for the Movellans – in spite of being miserably trounced in this story – they somehow upped their game, as the next anyone heard of them (in 1984’s “Resurrection of the Daleks”) they had utterly defeated the Daleks with biological weapons. There is no canon word to this day, however, on why they apparently did not follow through with their stated plans of galactic conquest, or indeed what motivated said plans in the first place … or who created them, or why. Perhaps the revived show will eventually shed light on this, now that it has at least revisited the scene of their war … although I must admit, having now written three novellas’ worth of speculative answers to these enigmas, I kind of hope it never does. Even in the murky, lawless world of alt-canon, one would prefer not to be rendered obsolete too quickly. 😉

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“Atonement of the Movellans” (Doctor Who fanfic)

I decided to make a trilogy of it after all, since although Series 10 did briefly revisit the Dalek-Movellan war (in the episode “The Pilot“) it did nothing to really fill in any of the plot gaps left by the classic series. This concludes my own efforts at so doing, and is in fact my first fiction set roughly in the area in which I live, albeit a screwed-up dystopian future version of it …

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SYNOPSIS

South Wales, the early 51st century. In a hat trick of misfortunes, the Doctor discovers that Earth has been conquered by the Movellans, by whom he is promptly arrested and placed on trial for his alleged crimes against sentient artificial intelligence. It is definitely not the best of times for his steps to also be haunted by an ancient force of evil, but misfortunes seem to arrive like buses …

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“Shadow of the Rose-Croix”

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This has been a long time in the works, but finally I can tick “make a fully 3-D game” off my bucket list. 🙂 I began this project back in 2015, lost heart repeatedly, and finally cracked on with it this year to completion. It was programmed in Visual Basic – certainly not the ideal code for work of this nature, but the only one I know on PC. Thankfully, the tutorials of programmer Jack Hoxley (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) gave me most of what I needed to get my head around the essentials, and trial and error did the rest.

This is a Gothic-style puzzles-and-platforms adventure game, much like the object-collecting and puzzle-solving games popular on 8-bit computers in the 1980s and 1990s except the various rooms it covers are in 3-D, dynamically lit (and, hopefully, artistically), and both player character and viewing camera can be controlled. Also, it features a bit of plot-justified gender-bending. Couldn’t really resist including that …

This game features an original music score composed and performed by Cardiff Punk / Goth band “Clusterfuck” who very kindly donated it for nothing other than the tiny bit of promotion I can give them, and with that in mind …

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For complete story, instructions, and download links …

SHADOW OF THE ROSE-CROIX (DOWNLOAD)

Do please let me know if you have any problems downloading or playing this game. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

 

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Don’t punch a Nazi – drink their blood …

Creatively, it has been a quiet year so far, but finally I have something to show for my intermittent and much-procrastinated labours …

Download at TND – The New Dimension

As you may have inferred, this is a new C64 game I have designed and programmed, using what little knowledge of C64 Assembly I have to enhance the well-worn SEUCK (Shoot-em-Up Construction Kit) engine. As a result, this game features a simple power-up system, parallax scrolling, and animated intro / outro sequences, the latter accessible by password (which you will learn if you rescue all the hostages from the levels).

The plot – featuring a vampire nun rescuing children from the SS – somehow came out as a cross between “Underworld” and “The Sound of Music.” I can but hope this will be a winning formula …


Valkyrie 2

the Templar

The story…

Transylvania, 1944

Nobody knows when or how the race of vampires first came into the world. According to old church tradition, they are the sworn servants of Satan; demons embodied in the form of dead humans to terrorise the innocent. Other, less biased metaphysicians have theorised that they represent a more subtle form of spiritual attack against humanity: a form of contagious immortality to tempt both good and evil humans away from the path of holy redemption, while the few rationalists who believe in them insist that they are merely a natural but flawed evolution of humanity that failed to catch on. Whatever the truth, they were almost run to extinction in medieval times by the Holy Inquisition. The last widely-documented case – that of Princess Mariska Báthory de Ecsed – was violently ended in 1492, after the unwillingly-turned princess volunteered herself for a “cure” which, unbeknown to her, turned out to involve staking and decapitation.

Her “death” was assumed to have ended the spread of vampirism in Europe, until 1942, when British soldier Joe Harker, wounded and fleeing from the SS, spilled his blood onto her grave, restored her to life … and became the newest victim of the contagion, consort and mentor to the long out-of-touch princess. For two years, however, they lived together happily, the new prince gradually learning his undead powers whilst teaching his bride the facts of modern life, and modern war. Unfortunately, the Axis troops had taken good note of the bizarre, eerie events that had taken place in their territory, and they were again ready to act …

SS-Obersturmführer Bram von Hellman, biologist and dark occultist, has collated the evidence from their last, disastrous encounter with Princess Mariska, and persuades his superiors of the value in capturing and experimenting upon the legendary creatures. Accordingly, some SS troops are specially trained in spiritual defence techniques to give them the best possible chance of success. They trace the two vampires to the ruined castle from where Mariska’s father once ruled Transylvania, and they find themselves in luck: the princess is out hunting, and the prince has decided to have a “lie-in.” A quick dousing of holy water over his coffin puts paid to any thoughts of resistance, and the helpless, stunned vampire is sealed in an electrified leaden casket and driven away to the newly-constructed research camp which the SS have established near Bistritz.

“We have our prize catch,” gloats the Obersturmführer, as his delivery arrives. “Excellent, and now all we need for my experiments to begin are a few expendable human subjects. I think I know just where to find them …”

Holy Mother Romana Pasztor of Văratec Monastery has lived a life that makes up in meritorious deeds for whatever it lacks in excitement. A model of piety, justice, chastity, compassion, and generosity, now approaching her eightieth year, one might well have assumed that she would pass her remaining years in peaceful obscurity and contemplation, but war plays funny tricks …

When the SS arrived in Transylvania, and ugly rumours of their atrocities began spreading, she knew in her heart that she had no choice but to act. Thus, in secret, she arranged shelter and safe passage out of the country for the children of Jewish families who were otherwise threatened with imprisonment, or worse. She has six of these refugee children hidden away in the monastery when the Obersturmführer and his men come to call …

“I thought as much,” sneers von Hellman, as the children are dragged away while Mother Pasztor can only watch in despair. “Don’t look so grim about it, old girl. They’ll be put to good use, in the cause of science and of the Reich … and after I’ve signed a warrant for your execution, you can join all of those saints and martyrs whom you so love grovelling to.”

When most of the stormtroopers have left, Mother Pasztor is locked alone in her cell, watched over by a single guard. She weeps, and prays, and offers the Almighty anything at all for the lives of the children … “Even my own salvation, Lord, if that be worth anything to you.”

“Indeed?” says a voice from behind her. She starts, turns around, and finds herself face-to-face with a tall, pale woman of regal bearing, with long dark hair and shining red eyes. “I believe I hold the answer to your prayer, Holy Mother …”

The quest…

Having now become, against all expectation, an eternally-young vampire, the former Mother Pasztor has renounced her old title and accepted that of Lady Romana de Văratec, knight templar of Princess Mariska. For the Princess has realised that if she is to break through the Axis forces’ new spiritual defences and save her prince from torture and death, she will have need of such an ally … and Lady Romana has already proven herself a unique addition to the undead race.

Although, like all vampires, Lady Romana feels pain when she beholds the image of the cross, such pain does not trouble her. “Did my Saviour not feel such pain, or worse, when he was nailed to that?” she asks. “I count it a privilege.” Princess Mariska thinks that she is several bats short of a belfry, but does not discourage her in this belief. Also, when Lady Romana sees evil people making use of holy symbols, her faith takes on a whole new, highly dangerous dimension …

When her sense of righteousness is offended, Lady Romana’s holy wrath attack is activated, summoning a pyromaniacal angel of death that will quickly obliterate every enemy unit within sight. Notwithstanding this special power, Lady Romana’s skills as a new-made vampire are still weak, and she must use the weapons she can scavenge from the battlefield if she is to have a fair chance of success.

There are four weapons you can obtain …

Luger Pistol – The standard sidearm of the Axis forces. Reliable, but comparatively slow and weak, with a poor rate of fire and a short range.

Karabiner 98k – Bolt-action infantry rifle, with a long range and a large, high-velocity cartridge. Strong, but slow to reload.

MP40 – Machine pistol that fires the same slow, short-range 9mm rounds as the Luger, but far more rapidly.

StG 44 – This prototype assault rifle is the best weapon you can wield, combining the power of the Karabiner with the rapid fire of the MP40. Obtaining it carries a risk, however …

Also look out for the following …

Sacks / Children – The captured children are contained in sacks. Touch them to set them free. All six children must be set free in order to see the true ending.

Holy water roadside bombs – A novel ordnance concept; flasks of holy water attached to explosive charges. Against most vampires these would be highly effective traps, but against Lady Romana, they are a mere liability. Shoot them, and your holy wrath attack will activate, destroying all enemy units on-screen. However, DO NOT DETONATE THEM MANUALLY! The holy water may not trouble you much, but human or vampire, a faceful of exploding dynamite never comes recommended.

Enemy units you must prevail against include …

Flame troopers and templars – The latter are specifically trained in anti-vampire combat, harder to kill, and can use their flame-throwers more effectively. When fighting human opponents, always remember that you are a vampire. If you are able to, drink their blood in close combat rather than shooting them from afar, as every 10,000 “blood points” you can obtain will give you an extra life. The blood of templars is worth more than that of the standard SS troopers.

Mortars – Static cannons that fire explosive shells. Electrified, and thus lethal to the touch.

Kübelwagens – Among the various time-honoured ways of slaying a vampire, few hunters have bothered to mention the effects of running them over in a speeding Volkswagen. Nevertheless, don’t push your luck …

Molotov cocktails – Simple petrol bombs, lobbed from open windows. Beware of the fires they will leave if left to hit the ground.

Panzer II – “Light” tank, although not so light that you would want it trundling over you, nor one of its explosive shells in your face.

Turrets – These retractable gun emplacements can fire in a fixed pattern all around them, or randomly. They are toughly armoured.

Gunboats – These travel along the gorge below the Borgo Pass, firing shells upwards. Be careful if you venture too near the cliff edge.

Flettner Fl 282 – It takes a pilot with nerves of steel to fly this open-cockpit helicopter … and a vampire with a brain of wet sand to wander into the path of a low-flying one.

Electrodes – A powerful spark of lightning will regularly arc between these static traps. They are indestructible, so just time your passage with care.

Karl-Gerät – This massive, mobile siege cannon is not very agile, but it has tremendous power. Avoid its treads while paying all due caution to the huge explosive shells which it rains down upon you (or shoot them for an earlier and safer detonation, if you are quick enough).

The credits…

Created by Eleanor Burns, Richard Bayliss, and Jon Wells.

“Starring” Isobel Black, Audrey Hepburn, and Peter Lorre … kind of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2017

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Doctor Who Novella – Translated and Illustrated

Totally unexpectedly, I was contacted by a Doctor Who fan in Ukraine – Kollega at Archive of Our Own (http://archiveofourown.org/users/Kollega/pseuds/Kollega) – who expressed an interest in translating my fanfic novella Fearfully Made into Russian for some sort of competition / challenge (“Big Who Bang 2017”). That was flattering in and of itself, and even more so when she told me that an artist friend of hers – Kiri Stansfield (http://kiri-stansfield.deviantart.com/) – would be interested in doing some artwork for it. Fascinated at the thought of seeing my characters in graphic form, I immediately agreed, and the beautiful results have come through …

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From Chapter 1 – Two strangers meet to discuss politics and prejudice …

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From Chapter 3 – The protagonist, less genre-savvy than she ought to be, enters a tunnel in the Doctor Who universe. Big mistake …

STORY (English version)

STORY (Russian version)

This has certainly inspired me to keep on writing, and at least to expand my fanfic series into a full-blown trilogy. There is nothing quite like seeing how your characters appeared to other people to know that you are succeeding on some level …

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T-minus 24 Hours

This is just a quick but significant news update to report that as of this time tomorrow, my husband Cal – who has been waiting since early 2015 to receive treatment for his gender dysphoria – will finally be getting his first dose of testosterone. This has been long delayed by a combination of NHS bureaucracy and actual malpractice (some Welsh GPs – unfortunately including one we were involved with – having seemingly ganged up to stymie trans care in Wales) but all the hurdles are finally crossed. We are both excited, if a little nervous – we are not sure what the effects will be, and the intramuscular injection is bound to be painful – but this is most definitely a time for celebration. I am so proud of him for having come this far, and more grateful than I can ever express for the support he has given me on the same journey (which was somewhat easier from my perspective, since I finally got official treatment last November).

Nothing much else going on in our world. I am still writing, programming, have taken up Tarot and Wicca, and am considering taking up ballet post-op, if I can find (or start) any trans-friendly groups. Hoping to have more creative news soon – I have made a new C64 game recently for a competition, and had a novel accepted for publication – but actually releasing them to the public now depends on how quickly others can move (The competition organisers and the publisher). I am also planning another fanfic to conclude the Movellan War trilogy, since the new season of Doctor Who actually did not close off that promising plot hole the way I was expecting it might (Any feedback on the other two, incidentally, would be massively appreciated, up to and and including “I got bored on the first page.” It helps to know).

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Transition Update – Second GIC Appointment

Yesterday I went up to London for my second Gender Identity Clinic appointment. It had been intended that I should be referred for surgery at this stage. Unfortunately, there was a snag …

After my first appointment last year, my GP was instructed to put me on a certain regime of feminising HRT, with a view to getting my hormone baselines to a level equivalent to post-surgery. They refused, citing amongst other things lack of experience, the fact that gender transition is still technically an unlicensed (albeit routine) use of these drugs, and their belief that the GIC recommendations had no authority in NHS Wales. I argued, I took them to advocates and the Assembly Member, but they refused to budge.

I eventually (November 2016) found a new GP who agreed to prescribe me somewhat of a compromise (using a cheaper but less effective anti-androgen), but the damage was done and I have lost 8 months. I return to the GIC in October for a follow-up session, but unless I am on the right prescription by then I will be no closer to being referred for surgery.

It is clear now the NHS in Wales, at least at the primary care level, is substantially opposed to providing gender reassignment, but since there is certainly no Welsh GIC in the works (for many reasons, both cost-based and owing to Wales’ weird geography) unfortunately their cooperation is essential. With the support of the GIC, I now intend to report my old GP to the General Medical Council and hopefully this will set a small fire under the collective posteriors of GPs who are refusing this care (and of their union the BMA, who are it seems not our friends in this political tussle). Since my husband is also meant to be starting his HRT very soon, and we see no likelihood of leaving Wales any time soon, this is doubly personal.

On a lighter note, some snaps I took while I was there …

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Horsenden Hill, Perivale. Its claim to fame is that it is the main location in the last ever episode of “Doctor Who” (1963-89 version). Well, I felt awed, anyway, and tired (It is a fair bit steeper than it looks in this shot).

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Shipping cranes at West India Quay, near Canary Wharf. Seen in the movie “Hellraiser,” in spite of that film being superficially set in some weird Anglophile American locale (The clear shot of a British Rail Intercity 125 train hardly helps, also).

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Smiling through the chaos, until next time …