16

Showgirl at the seaside …

Here are a few snaps from my latest photoshoot down in Mathry, West Wales, in the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This was going to be my final shoot before surgery – a quick change of scene before my extended indoor convalescence – but given my recent bad news on that score, there is now no telling. Still, I had a very pleasant stay over there, had a quick spell of decent weather (all a Welsh girl ever dare hope for), and made sure to take some images in my burlesque costume from the “Far Far Away” show (see here, or here for the video) before it gets retired, alas … although actually it got a quick dusting off this week as me and two of my Cabaret Club classmates did a reprise of the dance routine for a local intersectional feminist event. I would say more about that, but it all hinges on the ongoing media and political war between trans rights activists and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and Goddess forbid I should draw that sort of attention back to this blog. I prefer to keep it as light and decadent as possible these days … although I am glad our dancing was able to support the cause, in its small way. 🙂

All photographs by the lovely John Waring.

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27

The Time-Travelling Showgirl

tarleks

Being an indie author, without anyone else to worry about all the dreary marketing schtick, one has to do one’s best to keep track of whether or not one’s books are getting any attention. Recently, I was Googling about to see if I could find any new reviews on Wolves of Dacia, obviously searching with the name “Eleanor Burns” (Alas, it is the only original work so far published under my chosen name, although hopefully not the last). What I found instead was a link directing me to a book entitled Still Stripping After 25 Years. I was briefly afraid a thoroughly disgraceful 64-year-old me from the future had come back in time and written an autobiography … but apparently I just have a namesake who specialises in strip quilting, whatever that may be.

stillstrip

A little anticlimactic, truth be told … although anyone who does wish to see me in burlesque now has that opportunity, as the videos of our troupe’s “Far Far Away” show have now gone up on YouTube. I am one of the dancers on stage in this clip, mostly in red, freakishly tall, and with arms that refuse to straighten elegantly, sod them … Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, energising evening, and as a friend has reminded me, also the culmination of a dream I have had for years: the heroine of one of my earlier novels was an aspiring (but tragically clumsy) cabaret dancer who eventually finds her calling … against the backdrop of a sinister Gothic / Dieselpunk apocalyptic threat, of course. At least I only need to fear stage fright without the additional seasoning of mad scientists and murderous militias.

 

13

Witches vs. Nazis

The annual C64 game competition now looms its head, so here is the final instalment in my “Valkyrie” series of WW2-themed games, and this time the heroine is a Soviet lesbian fighter pilot who sidelines as a white witch … because why not?

(Download from competition page. Requires a C64 emulator.)

Designed on C64 SEUCK (Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit, Sensible Software, 1987), with coding enhancements by me and Richard Bayliss, and music by Richard Bayliss. Photographic likenesses (in the end sequence) are of actress Audrey Hepburn (Lady Romana) and aviator Amy Johnson (Lieutenant Orlov). Gameplay and design were inspired by such classics as Capcom’s “1942” and Compile’s “Power Strike 2” for the Sega Master System.

Enhancements include power-ups, multiplane scrolling, and an animated end sequence (accessible via password, to those who succeed in all missions).


Valkyrie 3

the Night Witch

The story…

Transylvania, 1945

Romania has fallen to the Red Army and the war is supposedly near to its final conclusion, but deep within the Borgo Pass there remains one last, secret holdout of the Axis forces that could change everything, dramatically for the worse …

A year ago, the recently-resurrected vampire Princess Mariska Báthory de Ecsed (1475-1492 … then 1942-present), along with the aid of ex-mother superior (and now vampire knight templar) Lady Romana Pasztor, launched a vengeful attack against the Waffen-SS division who had captured her prince, along with several innocent children for their obscene bio-occult experiments. Having saved the hostages, they cornered the chief researcher SS-Obersturmführer Bram von Hellman within his laboratory bunker, turned him into one of their own kind, then sealed him into the bunker, immortal but entombed forever … or so they dared to hope.

But they had underestimated the cunning and determination of the dark occultist. Sustained by ego, hatred, and the blood of the few unfortunate rats entombed along with him, he survived long enough to adapt to his new vampiric powers, and thus learned the skill of phasing through solid matter. Armed with his new supernatural skills, and an inhumanly iron will, he returned to his SS unit, turned a chosen few of his junior officers to immortality, brainwashed the rest of his men into obeying him even over the Führer himself, and set up a new research base devoted entirely to creating occult super-weapons that would enable him to become absolute ruler over all mortals and immortals, for all eternity.

Mariska and Romana have found out about this plan, but their intel is all discouraging. Already, von Hellman has V-2 rockets almost in launch condition, carrying warheads of deadly magical bio-weapons that have the potential to change whole urban populations into his mutated thralls. Worse still, not only is the base heavily defended by conventional and experimental weapons, but its ground perimeter is equipped with spiritual wards to defend against vampires. A swift and decisive aerial assault is the only plausible strategy, but since the base security is at its strongest during the hours of night, this attack would need to be conducted in daylight hours. That is not a task the vampires can undertake without outside help, so they quickly investigate whom they can look to …


Alyona Orlov was born in 1924 in Odessa to a couple of mixed background: her father a respected Jewish doctor and her mother of Ukrainian rural stock, her family steeped in ancient traditions. Although Alyona’s mother – the first woman in her family to receive a modern education, under the auspices of the Soviet regime – drifted away from these folk beliefs to share the scientific outlook of her father, the same could not be said for Alyona herself. Enchanted by the strange ways of her maternal grandmother – her herb-lore, charms, and incantations – Alyona struck up a close relationship with her, and found her very willing to pass on her knowledge of these and even more mysterious arts to her youngest descendant.

Her parents found all of this harmless enough, but they were more worried, as Alyona entered her teenage years, of how she seemed to easily form very close relationships with girls of her age while being totally indifferent to boys. Fearful for her social prospects, her parents sent her to attend a prestigious academy of engineering in Moscow, hoping to give her an advantageous education and also to break up some of her more troubling friendships. Ironically, finding herself now boarding in shared dormitories with other young female students, and with none of the restrictions of home life, did nothing to discourage these inclinations in her. She did, however, thrive in her studies, especially in the field of aeronautics.

In 1941, Axis troops invaded Odessa, massacring the Jewish population of the city, including all of Alyona’s family. When news reached her, she swore vengeance, and volunteered to join the women’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment – known disparagingly by the German forces as the “Night Witches.” That is an insult Alyona owns with pride, as she thinks of her murdered grandmother, and imagines her spirit flying alongside her biplane while she carries out her daring raids, inspiring and empowering her with the magic of her ancestors. She sometimes believes that perhaps that is something more than mere imagination …

As the end of the War approaches, Alyona finds herself dreading her imminent return to civilian life: with all of the friends and family she has lost, she has little left except for her surviving comrades-in-arms, and the 588th will soon be disbanded. Uncertain how she will ever readjust to a normal existence, she is pleasantly surprised when her squadron leader comes to her with one last, secret mission.

“We have received some mysterious but disturbing intel, along with a plea for help,” she explains, “and somehow, Lieutenant Orlov, I feel that you may be the ideal candidate for this assignment …”

Having flown to the pre-arranged location at the chosen time – well past nightfall – Alyona meets her anonymous contact, and is surprised to find a young, blonde, pale woman with curiously reddish eyes, dressed in what looks curiously like a shortened nun’s habit over leggings and combat boots. As the stranger greets her, Alyona catches sight of her inhumanly long, sharp canine teeth and is briefly taken aback. The woman cringes in shame, clearly mortified at being thus ‘discovered,’ but Alyona quickly reassures her:

“Please, don’t concern yourself. I have my reasons to be less frightened of the supernatural than you may think,” she explains, and wonders if that is the reason she has been chosen for this already-surreal mission. “Still, you are not at all what I expected. I certainly did not expect to receive my orders from someone either so holy or so attractive … if I may say.”

“You … may … if you like,” the woman replies, confused and embarrassed, although not so ashamed as before. “Speaking of those orders, though, I had better tell you them quickly. We have so little time in which to act …”


The mission …

The assault on the enemy research base is divided into three stages, each subdivided into a ground assault and a aerial counter-attack that must be survived. During the ground assault stages, it is imperative that you target specific enemy assets, in order to sabotage their nefarious plans.

Zone 1 – Supply Line – Collapse the railway bridges along the Borgo Pass to disrupt the supply of raw materials and fuel to the base.

Zone 2 – Transit Camp – Prisoners are being kept in secure huts, awaiting delivery to the bio-research team for experimentation. Shoot the huts to free them.

Zone 3 – Base Perimeter – The enemy base is located among medieval ruins deep within the Carpathian Mountains. Destroy the V-2 rockets here to deliver a crushing blow to von Hellman’s insane ambitions.

Your Polikarpov Po-2 biplane “Sasha” is agile, well-suited for stealth bombing runs, but poorly armed at first. You can, however, upgrade your onboard machine gun twice by collecting the power-up air drop (one per sub-level). This increases the range, velocity, and spread of your armament. If you lose a life, however, you will forfeit one upgrade point.

You can also improve your chances by fulfilling missions: every five mission targets destroyed will help you to tap into the witchcraft of your ancestors and add a level to your Hex Power

Level 1 – You gain a long-range magical projectile (slower, but larger than your standard weapon).

Level 2 – Doubles the power of your magic missile attack.

Level 3 – Adds directional firing capacity to your magic missiles, and also conjures a spiritual energy shield in front of your craft.

Additionally, destroying all fifteen mission targets will unlock the password for the true end sequence.

The enemies …

(To destroy bosses, concentrate your fire on a single spot.)

Flak Cannon – Basic anti-aircraft guns that fire in a fixed direction.

Railway Gun – Heavy guns mounted on railway cars. They have limited manoeuvrability.

Panzer – These tanks are strongly armoured, manoeuvrable, and fire in the direction they are travelling.

Flettner Fl 282 – Small scout helicopters, slow and poorly armed.

Balloon Mine – Basic aerial defences that will detonate on contact.

Messerschmitt Me 163 – Rocket powered interceptor planes.

Fa 223 Drache (boss) – Transport helicopter, large and tough, but slow.

Turret – Armoured, retractable gun emplacements that fire randomly.

Messerschmitt Me 328 – Small pulse-jet experimental fighters, fast and very manoeuvrable.

Hela – These mutated, programmed beings are the results of von Hellman’s unethical experiments. In addition to the power of flight and having high endurance, they can generate a formidable bio-electrical charge.

Arado E.555 (boss) – Experimental heavy jet bomber, fast and heavily armed.

Mjölnir – Mobile Tesla coils that regularly generate lethal electrical charges all around them.

Loki – Experimental stealth aircraft that can intermittently make themselves invisible.

Naglfar (boss) – This bio-mechanical airship is the personal transport of the evil scientist himself, and as heavily-armed as one would expect.


“Is that all, then, my pretty vourdalak?” asks Alyona, dismissively. “I had expected a challenge.” She is not surprised when Lady Romana looks at her with a very sceptical raised eyebrow and a half-smile, but she does not let herself show any trace of fear or doubt. In truth, though, she knows this will be one of the sternest and most crucial fights of her life. For the souls of all humanity, no less …

“I’m sure you are very skilled,” comments Romana, diplomatically. “Your military record speaks for itself … but you should not underestimate the strength of the forces you will be going up against. Are you quite certain you are well enough equipped?” she asks, casting a doubtful look over Alyona’s fragile, obsolete wood-and-canvas aircraft.

“I accept your advice, lapushka,” Alyona replies, more humbly, “and I will not be reckless in such a vital mission, I promise you, but you ought not to underestimate Sasha. She may not look so powerful to you, but she has it where it counts. In any case,” she adds, slyly, “it would be foolish of me to take needless risks, when I have such a beautiful commander awaiting my return. Dasvidaniya, my Lady.”

… on which note she boards “Sasha” and sets course to the Borgo Pass, leaving Romana in a still very confused, though not at all displeased mood … and the fervent hope that she will indeed see Alyona return, for everybody’s sake.

12

Far, Far Away …

For anyone lucky enough to be in exotic Cardiff on the evening of March the 16th, yours truly will be performing in …

flyer

… albeit only in the chorus line, so to speak. Still, after what will have been a mere ten lessons away from the time when my feet could barely distinguish left from right, I would call that major progress, assuming I don’t just make a complete fiasco of it on the night, of course. I hope I don’t, as it has been a huge amount of fun so far, and being driven from it in shame would be a sad culmination. I’m even getting ideas for solo routines if I ever ascend to that skill level, mostly very Gothy ones, no-one will be amazed to hear. For now, though, I know not to count on quick and uninterrupted progress, as it cannot be long before the hospital in London has me lined up for surgery. An obvious positive, but one that will put me physically out of action for weeks. If I must prioritise, though, so be it. The dance group will still be there when I get active again. Would be nice if they didn’t dread my return, though, so wish me luck … xxx

8

Purple Whale

Or, strictly speaking, “Purple Wail,” which is a jazz number by Red Prysock that happens to be the warm-up routine in my dance class, thus demonstrated by an expert …

… but I find “Purple Whale” a more apposite description of my own elegance at said routine (or any other) after the mere two lessons I have thus far had. Hopefully this will be amended in due course, especially since the group is performing in March. Never let it be said that I don’t like to dive in at the deep end …

It has been a good few years since I last attempted dance classes, and the first time since transition. The idea has been on my mind again for some time, but it was always one of those things that I could see myself coming around to in the indeterminate future when transition was completely out of the way. Since, however, I still have no clear estimate on how long that will be, since I have known people stuck in the system for over ten years (and a fair average of five), and since one never knows what if any future the NHS will enjoy under the tender loving care of the Tories, I finally decided that there was never going to be any time like the present to live a few dreams.

Why Burlesque, you may ask? The hubby having introduced me to Amanda Palmer’s music may be partly to blame. I definitely feel the need for more Brechtian Punk Cabaret in my life … Also, I have been aware of the Cardiff Cabaret Club (formerly Burlesque Cardiff) for some years, knew that they staged regular classes and events, and were a safe space for LGBT+ people. Not to mention that since the news these days seems to be strongly hinting towards the view that we are heading towards a re-enactment of Nazi Germany, now feels as good a time as any to embrace some good old Weimar Republic decadence while we have the chance.

Life is a Cabaret, old chum … or possibly an ocean.

pwhale

3

“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.

0

“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 …

atonementcovertext

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 …