Review: Styx – “The Mission”

Image result for styx the missionI still remember the first time I ever heard Styx. It was “Come Sail Away” on a crappy little Panasonic digital FM clock radio in 1977. The album The Grand Illusion, Styx’s seventh, was famously released on 7/7/77, making today it’s 40th anniversary. What better way to celebrate that than to focus on a brand-new album which has been lauded as a return to Styx’s heyday. And so, the Mission begins.

The Mission, Styx’s 16th studio album and it’s first album of original material in 14 years (following 2003’s excellent Cyclorama). It’s a concept album, built around the story of a crew on a mission to Mars on the rocket ship Khedive, focusing on the characters of the Pilot (Tommy Shaw), the First Officer (Lawrence Gowan) and nominally, the Engineer (James Young). Critics have raved over it, calling it Styx’s best album since Grand Illusion and 1978’s Pieces of Eight. Having been a Styx fan for a long time, and having really loved Cyclorama (which I thought was pretty darn great), I came to this album with a mix of excitement and cautiousness, therefore I wanted to sit with it for a while before I reviewed it.

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Review: “Smile”

Related imageI’m going to make a guess here. I’m going to guess that the first time you saw “Smile” it reminded you of something. You may have thought of something specific, or it may have left you with the impression of familiarity. I don’t think you’re wrong. This episode seems to cherry pick elements not only from past Doctor Who episodes but from across the sci-fi spectrum, adding a few new elements to the mix. The end result is a lightweight but enjoyable episode, but one that may seem a bit more cluttered in spite of it’s airy, sparse setting. Let’s take a look at some of the obvious references (settle in, this may take awhile):

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Review: “The Pilot”

A good start to a new season, a good reintroduction after a long break, and a good jumping-on point for new viewers.

The focus of this episode, of course, is new companion Bill Potts. She Image result for doctor who the pilotimmediately jumps onto the screen full of life, full of promise, and full of spunk. One feels like one has known her forever; she’s a character that instantly connects with the viewer in much the same way Rose or Martha did. When we meet Amy, it takes a while for us to get to know her because we first meet her as a child and not as the woman who will be traveling with the Doctor. And to be perfectly honest, little Caitlin Blackwood made such an incredible impression in the first half of “The Eleventh Hour” that the transition into grown-up Amy seemed a tad awkward. With Clara, our first three meetings are essentially as different characters, and she was more or less treated as just a plot point for her first season. “The Pilot” takes the very welcome step of going “back to basics” with the companion – even Sophie Aldred posted on her Facebook wall “I ♥ Bill!!” When you get the Ace stamp of approval, that’s pretty high praise. Pearl Mackie gives a very grounded, very realistic, very charming performance as Bill. So far, at least, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about Bill other than her inquisitive nature, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need her to become the most important woman in the universe or an impossible girl or any of that. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of Bill and what she brings to the show and to the Doctor’s life.

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“Oh My Giddy Aunt!” – 50 Years of Troughton

On November 5, 1966 the first episode of Doctor Who to feature Patrick Troughton as the Doctor was broadcast on BBC. Nothing in the show’s history has quite equaled the impact of that moment – not even the rise of Dalekmania. Had it not been for the producers taking a chance on reshaping the series with such a drastic recasting of the lead role, and had the audience not taken to this new characterization, we would most likely now only be talking about Doctor Who in the same way we do Time Tunnel: with affection, but rather infrequently. Troughton’s impact on the show, and the writers’ and producers’ response to it, is what ensured the continuance of this quaint little show for five subsequent decades and beyond.

The Troughton era of the show is the one that has suffered the most from the BBC’s lack of archival foresight. Huge swathes of his episodes have been missing from the BBC’s holdings for decades, and there are numerous stories that haven’t been seen since their original broadcast. Those fortunes have seen a bit of reversal in recent times, with the recovery of “Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear” in 2013, and the newly animated restoration of Troughton’s debut serial, “Power of the Daleks”.

If you’re new to the Second Doctor era, here is a list of five serials that will introduce you to the sheer magic that is Patrick Troughton:

1. “Power of the Daleks”

Image result for power of the daleks dvdThe debut story is one of the most unsettling in the history of the show. The most obvious change comes in the new Doctor, who talks about his previous self in the third person and who seems to intentionally confuse his companions (Polly and Ben) in order to test their trust. But the Daleks go through a bit of a transformation as well from the pen of former Doctor Who script editor, scriptwriter and novelist David Whitaker. Whitaker had been already been writing the Daleks for the TV Century 21 comic strips; under his influence, the Daleks we see in “Power” differ in significant ways from their previous appearances, written by their creator Terry Nation: here, they’re cunning, manipulative, insidious and calculating – and they’ve rarely been more terrifying in their 53-year history.  At six episodes, the tension is allowed to build at a gradual pace. That BBC Worldwide has invested considerable resources into restoring this serial is hopefully a sign that more such releases will follow. “Power of the Daleks” will be released on DVD in January, in theatres across America and Australia on November 14, broadcast in episodic format (once per week) on BBC America starting November 19. Sadly, nearly the entire rest of Troughton’s first season remains unaccounted for in the BBC Archives. Let’s hope that “Power’s” follow-up, the Season Four finale “Evil of the Daleks”, will receive a similarly animated release at some point.

2. “Tomb of the Cybermen”

Image result for tomb of the cybermen dvdWhen it was one of the great missing treasures of the Troughton era, it was lauded as the crowning achievement of 60s Doctor Who – atmospheric, creepy, with body horror aplenty and genuine scares throughout, plus an electrifying performance by Troughton, better than anything and everything produced in the 70s and 80s. When the serial was finally rediscovered in 1991, at least one of those things turned out to be true. The story proved to be a bit clunkier and just a little bit more racist than anyone who saw it on broadcast seemed to remember. However, the core story is quite exciting, the sets are gorgeous, and the dialogue sparkles. Troughton is at his impish best in this one and has a few scenes that absolutely defines and encapsulates what his Doctor was all about, especially when talking to Victoria about his family, consoling her on the recent loss of her father. The location filming in the first episode lends the story a wonderfully expansive sense of place. While it didn’t fully live up to its impossible reputation, it is still one of the gems in the crown and a highly enjoyable watch. Just ignore the duck sounds the Cybermen make.

3. “Enemy of the World”

Image result for enemy of the world dvdOne of two stories newly recovered in 2013. Unlike “Tomb,” “Enemy” did not enjoy such a stellar reputation during its missing years. In a season loaded with monster stories, this one seemed rather plain, slow, average and in no way outstanding. Like all missing Doctor Who serials, a complete audio recording existed, but it proved that “Enemy” was the big clunker of the season. But something magical happened when the episodes were recovered and released – we found that there was so much magic in the actors’ performances, in the gorgeous sets, in Barry Letts’ outstanding direction, that this story had been wrongfully disregarded the whole time. A gripping political drama unlike anything else in the Second Doctor era, Troughton gives a gripping portrayal of the Doctor, Salamander, the Doctor impersonating Salamander, and Salamander impersonating the Doctor, and somehow gives each part it’s own nuances. Frazer Hines as Jamie gets some really meaty material to work with as well and turns in one of his finest performances. Sadly, chopping vegetables is about the most significant contribution to the story Deborah Watling as Victoria gets to make.

4. “The Mind Robber”

Image result for the mind robber dvdOne of the trippiest Doctor Who serials ever, this romp through the Land of Fiction takes the TARDIS team completely out of reality and into a realm where the only things that are real and the unreal, populated by fantasy characters like Gulliver, a Minotaur, a Unicorn, Rapunzel, and a 21st Century comic strip character called the Karkus. It’s full of clever ideas, both scripted in advance and invented on the spot (like the brilliant in-story solution to Frazer Hines unexpectedly coming down with chickenpox). The antagonist is revealed to be a person referred to as ‘the Master’, but is related in no way to the later Time Lord figure of the same name introduced in Jon Pertwee’s second season. It begins with a very surreal one-episode bridge from the previous story into “The Mind Robber” proper, caused by the previous serial being reduced by one episode, but this last minute addition provides one of the most atmospheric and creepy episodes in the show’s history. And recent TARDIS addition Zoe Heriot, who usually exercises her brain, here gets to pull off some mighty karate flips. An amazing story from start to finish.

5. “The War Games”

Image result for the war games dvdOne of the most significant stories in the whole of Doctor Who, “The War Game” brings the Doctor to his home planet for the first time and introduces the audience to his people. It starts off like any other historical adventure from this period but quickly turns audience expectation on its head as a chariot full of Roman soldiers comes charging into the scene of a World War I battle. At a massive ten episodes, the writers (Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke) throw enough curveballs and continuously introduce new characters and settings that the story remarkably never bogs down or grows stale. It’s one of the most incredible feats of televisual storytelling – especially when you consider that the whole thing was the result of two final proposed scripts – a 4-parter and a 6-parter – fell through and a 10-parter had to be written at the very last minute to take their place. In fact, the ending of the story hadn’t even been conceptualized when filming on Episode One began. It’s one of the most epic send-offs any Doctor received, and Troughton is up to the challenge, delivering possibly his most commanding performance ever. To say that “The War Games” is brilliant does it a disservice. Set aside an afternoon or two and indulge in one of the finest serials Doctor Who ever produced.

And if you watch these and enjoy them, by all means, don’t stop there! There are so many great Troughton stories to partake of. For stories that exist in complete form, there’s “The Ice Warriors” which introduces us to the invaders from the Red Planet; there’s “The Invasion”, one of the greatest Cyberman stories of all time; there’s “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear”, both of which feature the Yeti and the Great Intelligence. If you want to dig a little deeper, then scout around on YouTube for the Loose
Canon reconstructions of the missing stories. There you will find “The Highlanders”, Jamie’s first story, “The Macra Terror”“The Faceless Ones”, “Evil of the Daleks”, and other great stories.

And if you’d like to read more of my ramblings about great Doctor Who stories, check out my book, Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits: An Unauthorized Guide to the Best Stories From Time and Space It covers the 55 best stories from 1963 up through the first season of Peter Capaldi. 

School of Prince

There’s been a lot of talk about Prince ever since his passing. He’s been labeled as a genius, a saint, an inspiration, an uncompromising artist, a humanitarian, and lots of other things. And while all of that is most definitely true, it was many other things too: He was a controversial figure. He was a horn-dog. He was a sexy mother fucker. He could be really funny. And he was also extremely spiritual. His carnal side and his spiritual side seemed to coexist in a way that confused, distressed and even angered people. Many times his carnal side and his spiritual side coexisted on the same album, sometimes switching from one song to the next. In an effort to remember the entirety that is Prince, especially for those who mainly know him from his radio hits, I present to you 10 lessons to help broaden your understanding of who Prince was. More than anything else, though, and something that you don’t really get from his Top 40 hits: He was one of the most downright funky brothers to ever walk the planet. Prince is a total bad-ass.

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Bowie Albums Ranked

Waking up on January 11th to the unexpected loss of David Bowie was the saddest thing I’ve experienced in a while. The impact that he and his music had on my life is something that’s very hard to express. The night he passed away, before the news broke, I was reading a Billboard article ranking all of Bowie’s albums, and I thought I’d make my own list. I had no idea at all that my hero was most likely already dead at that point. I went to bed with Mr. Bowie fully on my mind, his complete catalog buzzing around my brain, and woke up the next morning to discover that he was gone. It was staggering.

Here’s the list that I put together along with some thoughts on each album. Keep in mind that there are NO bad Bowie albums! Just because I rank something low on the list doesn’t mean I don’t love the album, it just means that I think there are others better than it.

I’d love to hear your feedback and what you think the greatest Bowie albums are! And even which of my rankings you think are completely wrong! Leave a comment!

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BOWIE Tribute Concert – 1/21 Athens, GA

The Bowie Tribute concert last night in Athens was amazing. Perfect. Cathartic. Needed. Brilliant. All those things. The band put this show together in two weeks – rehearsed, booked a venue, advertised. And the crowd that showed up was completely amazing, such an interesting mix of people all there for the love of Bowie. The band was really great, especially the lead guitarist who did a ripping solo at the end of “China Girl” (I wish I’d recorded that!!). The show was basically a greatest hits concert, and it was pretty incredible to hear all the ways that Bowie impacted popular music. The crowd ate it up! There was one big staging surprise, and that was a trapeze artist dressed as Major Tom during “Space Oddity”. It was really quite beautiful.


“China Girl”

“Space Oddity”

“Modern Love”

“Magic Dance”

“Suffragette City”


Here’s the full set list for the night:

Moonage Daydream
Hang on to Yourself
Space Oddity
The Jean Genie
Soul Love
Golden Years
China Girl
Modern Love
All the Young Dudes
Rebel Rebel
Dance Magic Dance
Let’s Dance
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City


Star Trek Top 50 #46: “Amok Time” (TOS)

“Live long and prosper. I shall do neither. I have killed my captain . . . and my friend.”


Star Trek: The Original Series
Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Original Air Date September 15, 1967
Guest Stars: Celia Lovsky (T’Pau), Arlene Martel (T’Pring), Lawrence Montaigne (Stonn)

Spock has been acting irrationally. Erratic behavior, emotional outbursts, the works. He requests a leave of absence on Vulcan; Kirk wants to comply but pushes Spock for his reasons. What Kirk learns is that there’s a whole lot more going on under the seemingly impenetrable veneer of Vulcan logic and stoicism — there’s a volcanic (pun intended) rage that threatens to erupt every seven years at the time of Pon farr. Kirk offers to help Spock during the associated ritual, only to learn that he’ll have to fight his friend and first officer to the death.

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Review: ‘The Diary of River Song’

the-boundless-seaJanuary 4, 2015:

“Dear Diary,

“I had a chance encounter today with an interesting woman. A rather remarkable woman. An archaeology professor (part time!) called River Song. Initially she came across as aloof, distant, with an air of superiority. It was obvious that she possessed a great intellect, as wide and deep as The Boundless Sea; it seemed that she had traveled much farther than any of us could have dreamed. But she also had a bit of a naughty side to her, something I can only describe as a mischievous nature. And she had the most bizarre implement. She called it a . . . sonic trowel. I’ve no idea what she meant by that. How can a trowel be sonic? Continue reading