Daily Archives: Friday, 14th Apr 2006

Mobius Dick – Andrew Crumey

Sometimes, I pick up a book that I’ve never heard of on impulse, just because it looks intriguing. Most times I put it back down again after a quick look. But then there are the ones where a closer examination suggests that this might be something I really should read. That’s how I got into the Erast Fandorin books – I picked up Murder on the Leviathan and was hooked. But I digress[1]. A few weeks ago, I was browsing in Waterstone’s, and saw this book on the table. Interesting title, and a quote on the cover that made me want to look further:

…perhaps the only novel about quantum mechanics you could imagine reading while lying on a beach

– Joseph O’Connor, Guardian

Well, I don’t generally do beaches, but I am partial to the odd bit of quantum mechanics, so I bought the book and read it during my recent London trip.

Andrew Crumey is a physicist, originally from Scotland, but now living in Newcastle upon Tyne. Since I read Mobius Dick, I’ve learned that he’s recently been given an award for northern-based writers which will enable him to work full-time on his writing. Good thing too, on the strength of this book. Crumey states that his work is not science fiction, which is of course his right. But I have to say I’ve read stories that were labelled as sf that were less sf-like than this. But no matter.

There are a number of entwining, cross-referencing threads in the book. There’s what appears at first to be the main thread, about physicist John Ringer, and an experiment that might cause all manner of really nasty problems. Then there’s Harry Dick, who’s woken up in a strange hospital with no memory of his own life, and apparently false memories of authors nobody has heard of. And there are odd (and related) historical sections involving Schuman and Schroëdinger (separately, I might add).

Lots of fun involving the many worlds hypothesis, with events entwining and feeding back on each other. And the end does pretty much what the title might lead you to believe.

I’m going to have to read this again, as I’m sure I missed the significance of some bits the first time round. I enjoyed it enormously. And if you think this review made little sense, well, you’re probably right. But once things start getting a bit quantum, that tends to happen. :laugh:

[1] Frequently :wave:

Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks

Here it is at last. The classic Doctor Who DVD I’ve been most eagerly waiting for. And it’s not just me – a poll of readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted it as the best story ever. First shown in March and April 1975, the six-part story dramatically re-invents the Doctor’s definitive foe, and looks at their origins. Fans of the new series might realise that this story marks the beginning of the Time War that led to the destruction of the Time Lords and (most of) the Daleks. It’s a significant part of the show’s mythology, even. So, what’s it all about?

The Story

Returning by trans-mat from his previous adventure[1], the Doctor finds himself not, as he expected, back on a space station, but in a war zone. The Time Lords have diverted the matter transmission beam. They have a job for him: foreseeing a time when the Daleks will become the dominant form of life in the Universe, they have decided to stop them at their very beginning. The Doctor is to either prevent their creation, or at least change their development so they become less deadly. After some discussion, he reluctantly agrees. He is soon joined by his companions Sarah Jane Smith[2] and Harry Sullivan.

After all the usual running around, getting separated and so on, we learn that the time travellers have arrived near the end of the war referred to in the first Daleks story. Two races, the Thals and the Kaleds, have been locked in war for centuries. Resources are low, and both sides are desperate for victory. The Thals are planning to launch a missile which will destroy the Kaled city[3], while the Kaleds, or at least their “greatest scientist”, Davros, are planning something much worse.

The Doctor and Harry are captured by the Kaleds, who are played as Nazis. The Daleks always had a Fascist tendency, but in this story it’s made quite explicit – lots of heel-clicking, black uniforms, almost-Nazi salutes, and more megalomania than a raving megalomaniacs convention. Davros, played by Michael Wisher, is a sinister and very dangerous creature. Kept alive long beyond his time in an enclosed chair that looks like the lower half of a Dalek, more machine than man, his behaviour makes it clear where the Daleks get their sunny disposition. Davros has worked out that as a result of the long war, his people will mutate into hideous new forms, and he has created a “travel machine” to allow these Kaled mutants to get around. The Doctor recognises the “Mark 3 Travel Machine” as a primitive Dalek.

Meanwhile, Sarah has been captured by the Thals, and is being forced to work loading the deadly payload into the Thal rocket.

And after that, it starts to get complicated. Davros and his henchman[4] Nyder betray their people by giving the Thals a formula that will allow their missile to penetrate the otherwise invulnerable Kaled dome, before betraying the Thals by sending the Daleks to exterminate them all.

The Doctor is faced with a moral dilemma: does he have the right to commit genocide? Can he destroy all the Kaled mutant creatures, and wipe out the Dalek race before it’s really begun?

Finally, after lots of death and destruction[5], the Daleks turn on their creator and declare that they are the superior form of life in the Universe, just in time to be sealed in their bunker by a massive bomb set by Thal survivors.

Over thirty years on, the story still stands up – the production values and effects are nowhere near those of the new series, but skilled direction and excellent lighting make the most of the resources available. Tom Baker’s performance is one of his best – still relatively new to the role, clearly having a great time and matched against a villain worthy of his attention.

Extras

  • There is a commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Peter Miles (Nyder) and David Maloney (Director). I haven’t listened to this yet, so I can’t comment, but Tom Baker is always good fun, so it should be a better than average commentary.
  • There are the usual production subtitles. Lots of background information on cast and crew, parts of early versions of the script, and more. Some of them go buy almost too fast to read, so be ready with the pause button.
  • Genesis of a Classic: A new documentary on the making of the story with contributions from all the usual suspects. Good stuff.
  • The Dalek Tapes: Another new documentary, running through the history of the Daleks throughout the classic series. It includes some rarely-seen clips from stories that only exist in fragments, various bits from BBC children’s programme Blue Peter featuring Daleks and much more.
  • And more! Clips of on-screen continuity announcements, a photo gallery, an extended Blue Peter item about models made by a viewer, and PDFs of the original billings in the BBC listings magazine Radio Times and the 1976 Doctor Who Annual

As with most of the Doctor Who DVDs, this is a very well put together package, with lots to keep the fans happy. And talking of happy fans, the new series, starring David Tennant as the Doctor starts tomorrow at 7:15pm on BBC1, followed by Doctor Who Confidential on BBC3.

[1] The Sontaran Experiment
[2] Who we will be seeing again this year
[3] Major silliness: the two sides are based in domed cities which are remarkably close to each other.
[4] Not a word I often use, but it seems appropriate in this case
[5] There tends to be a lot of that when the Daleks are around

It’s a sign!

This has been bothering me for a while, and now I’ve got the time, I think I’ll have a good old fashioned Losing it[1] mutter about it.

It seems to be increasingly common when public spaces like stations and shopping malls are refurbished for the designers to select nice attractive floor tiles that become extremely slippery when they get wet. Newcastle Central Station has some in the main concourse which look very nice, but are really dangerous to walk on when they get wet. Part of the problem is the choice of material, and part is the way they have the floors cleaned, which involves polishing with machines that leave a lovely clear film on top of the tiles. Brilliant. And lethal.

Another example is in Gateshead Interchange, where buses meet Metros, and where I took this picture.

Slippery when wet

This was very nicely rebuilt a couple of years ago after years of being generally draughty and tatty. But what’s this? Could they? Have they? Oooooooh, yes. Tiles that become dangerous in wet weather. Wonderful. Given that a lot of the people who use the interchange are elderly, frail, or otherwise likely to suffer more damage than average if they fall on a hard and slippery surface, this is a bit of a problem. But never fear! They’ve solved the problem! Yes, they put up these signs. Genius. Now I presume they think this actually helps, and I suppose it does to some extent. If you’re aware that the floor is slippery, you’ll probably walk with a little more care. But when someone does slip and actually hurts themselves, I can see it being very interesting. While they might claim that the sign is intended as a safety warning, I could see it being argued that it’s an admission that they knew the floor was dangerous, but failed to do anything about it. Great fun for the lawyers…

I just need some of that motivation stuff

This morning’s weight was 208.0 pounds (14 stone 12 pounds, 94.3kg). I’m still having trouble motivating myself to start exercising again. I’ll have plenty of time over the next four days, so there’s really no excuse for not doing something. But I’m sure I’ll think of something. :rolleyes: