Saturday 16 January 2077

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Wednesday 17 July 2024

Deadline reports on DOCTOR WHO's fortunes for the BBC and Disney+

Deadline has posted an article musing on the performance of the newest season of Doctor Who for both the BBC and its new international partner, Disney+.

Doctor Who returned in November 2023 in a blaze of publicity with fan-favourite actors David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning as the Doctor and Donna Noble for three specials, timed to celebrate the franchise's 60th anniversary. The three specials did well, with around 7 million viewers tuning in overnight in the UK for the reunion celebrations. This was followed by the 2023 Christmas special, which was viewed by 7.5 million people tuning in to see Ncuti Gatwa's first outing as the Fifteenth Doctor.

Series 14 proper then started airing in May and saw a mixed critical reception, with episodes like Space Babies being castigated whilst Boom and 73 Yards were much more warmly received. The overnight UK ratings saw a significant decline to under 3 million for almost the entire season. Consolidated ratings later showed a climb to just under 6 million, which was healthier but still seen as disappointing compared to the specials. Some commentators pointed out that Series 14 debuted on the BBC iPlayer streaming service almost a day before the initial transmission, but the streaming ratings took longer to count, which skewed initial results. Whilst this was true, the long-term consolidated ratings continune to show a drop, if not as bad as first feared.

Disney+ revealed limited data on the show, confirming it was the most popular UK show on the platform (not a vast field, it has to be said) and reaching as high as the seventh-most popular show on the platform at times. A Disney insider reported the performance as "okay but not stellar."

Deadline's reporting may be flawed, however; they report the budget for the new era at around $13 million per episode, but returning showrunner Russell T. Davies has already said the budget is "well under" $10 million. Other insider reports suggesting a budget of around $7 million per episode, an approximate doubling from the $3-3.5 million budget of the Chris Chibnall era, which seems much more in line with what we see on screen. This budget is unfathomably generous compared to any other era of Doctor Who, although still well down on the biggest streaming shows (Disney's Star Wars and Marvel shows are believed to all be well over $20 million per episode).

Another issue with the Deadline article is a quote suggesting that Doctor Who's 2005 return may have been modestly successful to start with; this is in fact erroneous, with the near-11 million viewers tuning in for Rose being acknowledged as a massive success even by 2005 standards.

This low-ish budget, shared between Disney and the BBC, may give Doctor Who a chance at continuing further if it can build on these relatively humble beginnings. Series 15 is already in the can and expected to air in mid-2025, with a decision on further seasons expected around then.

Marvel tries to lure the Russo Brothers back to the fold

The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Disney and the Russo Brothers are in talks about a return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Russo Brothers have apparently been offered the job of directing both The Avengers 5 and 6 (not the final titles), due in 2026 and 2027 respectively.

Anthony and Joseph Russo initially made their name as directors in television, helming episodes of Arrested Development (2003-06) before achieving critical acclaim as frequent directors on Community (2009-14). They established themselves in film directing Welcome to Collinwood (2002) and You, Me and Dupree (2006) before joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe and directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), as well as working on the TV series Agent Carter (2015).

The directors are credited with being instrumental in the success of "the golden age" of the MCU, running roughly from The Winter Soldier to Endgame, when the franchise's critical and commercial success were both at their height. Endgame was the highest-grossing movie of all time shortly after release, although it was subsequently pushed back down by a re-release of James Cameron's Avatar and then the release of its sequel.

The Russos decided to get out whilst the going was good and have focused on developing other projects, directing Cherry and The Gray Man and producing shows including Amazon's expensive flop Citadel. They are currently in post-production on a new film directed by them, The Electric State, for Netflix.

The MCU has carried on into a new era, but one that has been decidedly patchier than what came before, with both critical and commercial performances dropping significantly from the Russo era.

With both sides' post-Endgame performance being questionable, them joining forces once more makes a lot of sense. Marvel needs the Brothers' proven ability to shape complex stories with large casts into box office gold.

However, the move may be seen as desperation on Marvel's part given the chaos that has recently engulfed their plans. Deadpool & Wolverine director Shawn Levy apparently turned down the gig after reading the draft script, whilst Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi) had previously been announced in the role of director but then withdrew to focus on a Shang-Chi sequel that has still not materialised. The two movies were being developed as one project, under the titles The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, culminating a story arc revolving around the character of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). This plan had to be shelved quickly after Majors was arrested for assault and subsequently found guilty; Marvel terminated their contract with him. The two films are now apparently being rewritten to revolve around a new threat, with the intervening projects (such as Captain America: Brave New World, due in early 2025) being rejigged to set up this new storyline.

The Russos are not believed to have accepted the offer yet, and negotiations are in the early stages, but there seems at least a reasonable chance this might come to pass. If it does, expect the timeline to be changed and the movies probably dropped back whilst new scripts are put into place.

Sunday 14 July 2024

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut

Tsushima Island, 1274. A quiet Japanese island lying in the straits between Korea and Japan is suddenly invaded by an expeditionary force of the Mongol Empire, led by Khotun Khan. Lord Shimura leads a stalwart defence but is captured in battle; his nephew Jin is defeated and left for dead. Rescued by Yuna, a thief, Jin vows to help liberate the island, rescue his uncle and drive the invaders back into the sea.

Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world, action-adventure game that was originally released on the PlayStation 4 and 5 in 2020. The game has now been reissued on PC in an enhanced format, with its expansion Iki Island included.

The game plays like a lot of other open-world games of this type. You control a dude with a sword and have to direct him around a map covered in icons, committing spectacular amounts of violence. The game mixes together main story missions, as Jin continues his operation to liberate the island, with stand-alone side stories. The game also has a mechanic where Jin builds up a band of loyal companions and can undertake further quests to solidify their loyalty and learn more about their backstories. Finally, the game sprinkles in optional activities like bamboo-cutting, archery contests, shrine-visiting and, er, lighthouse-igniting.

Mixed in with this is combat. A lot of combat. Jin is a samurai skilled with his sword and the game goes all-in on depicting the complexities of sword fighting, at least as much as it can. Jin can make light and heavy attacks, dodge and parry, but also has four stances of differing utility: he has a solid stance for dealing with swordsmen, a fluid one for getting around people with shields, a dodge-based one for dealing with pikes and a stance that combines weapon and unarmed moves to take down larger enemies. These mechanics can feel a little daunting at first but the game's learning curve is solid enough to let you get to grips with them. Jin can also use two types of bow and an assortment of tools and weapons, including smoke bombs and, slightly incongruously for a 13th Century-set game, a grappling hook as good as any you'll find in a contemporary-set stealth game.

The key thematic conflict of the game is that Jin has been trained to be honourable, to only face his enemies head-on in direct, fair combat. But to take down a numerically superior enemy of astonishing brutality, Jin soon finds this is not practical. His rescuer Yuna encourages him to learn the ways of stealth, moving quietly, stabbing enemies in the back and luring enemies into traps, skills which Jin learns reluctantly but soon realises are necessary. As the game continues, the invaders become more brutal and merciless, forcing Jin to become the same, until some of his former allies no longer recognise who he has become.

Nothing hugely new here, but the execution is superb. In fact, Ghost of Tsushima's crowning success is that it doesn't really do anything new at all, but it looks and plays so well you don't really care. Graphically the game isn't throwing around as many polygons as a 2024 release, but the art style is so vivid and often beautiful that it's irrelevant (with the bonus that the game plays incredibly well on even older hardware). Sure, you're running around doing a lot of busywork, but that busywork is thematic: finding fox shrines, locating inspirational spots to compose haikus, challenging a local warlord to a tense duel or liberating enslaved villagers. Presentation and, as the youngsters say these days, "vibes" go a long way to making a very familiar structure really enjoyable. You can enhance this further by playing the game in Japanese with subtitles (my preferred approach) or even in black-and-white "Kurosawa mode" (although I found this to be more satisfying as a gimmick rather than for long-term gameplay). My main problem with the game was one of my own making: I played this game in close proximity to Horizon Forbidden West, a completely different game in terms of setting and story, but virtually identical in terms of structure and format, and that occasionally left me feeling a little burned out on visiting another question mark on a map.

Combat is pretty good, with some great setpiece battles, but even swordfights with random raiders can be enjoyable. The game is certainly not Dark Souls, but it's fiendish enough in that enemies will anticipate attacks if you just spam the "hit" button, forcing you to change stances on the fly and adapt to circumstances as they evolve. Combat can be surprisingly tactical as you weigh up stealthy and loud approaches. In fact, more than a few missions made me feel like I was playing a zoomed-in version of 2016 classic Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, such was the wealth of options at hand for infiltrating a castle or enemy camp in an underhanded way. The game throws in boss fights on occasion where the normal combat options go out the window a bit and the game almost turns into a beat 'em up with large enemy health bars and very specific tactics being needed to take them down. The expansion even adds cavalry and mounted attack options which spices up the endgame.

The open world map is typically massive, although the game doesn't suffer from the same scaling issues that other games set in real-world locations do. Being able to climb El Capitan in Yosemite and see San Francisco in the distance in Horizon: Forbidden West is a bit silly, but Tsushima Island is much less famous and the massive map is able to capture the 40-mile-long island a bit more convincingly in terms of scale, even if it's not a 1:1 representation. The environmental graphics are absolutely superb, with some atmospheric moments achieved solely through exploration, like stumbling into a forest carpeted with bright flowers with deer running around (or, less fun, a hostile bear).

The story is solid and Jin's characterisation is pretty good as the game unfolds. Your companion characters Yuna, Lady Masako, Sensei Ishikawa, Monk Norio, merchant Kenji and ronin Ryuzo all have elaborate story arcs of their own, including their own enemies and demons they have to confront before they can join you for the final battle. Voice acting is exemplary throughout, and some of the animation for these characters is extremely effective.

One complaint is that the game does not do a great job with reactivity. Throughout the game you explore the problems of being honourable versus dishonourable, but the game doesn't really track what you are doing. If you play the game as honourably as possible, always defeating enemy in open combat, never stab anyone in the back etc, the story doesn't really react to that and instead pretends you've been skulking around the island like a ghost (which becomes your nickname). Alternatively, if you do sneak-murder your entire way through the game, other allies will chide you on being too generous and enjoying the stand-up fight too much, endangering yourself and the cause too recklessly. It's a bit weird.

The game also has an odd approach to difficulty, by making difficulty apply to everyone. Play the game on Easy and you gain a lot of extra health, but the same happens to the enemy, leaving them tedious arrow-sponges that taken an age to kill. Playing the game on Hard paradoxically makes the game easier, as enemies drop in just a couple of hits (so do you, but you can mitigate that straightforwardly with better armour and increasing your health through side-tasks).

These are not major issues. I did find some elements of combat a little questionable, such as un-dodgeable attacks and some wonky physics where you'd be sent flying in completely the opposite direction to where you should be according to actual science. But minor amounts of jank in an open-world game are to be expected, and Ghost of Tsushima is actually better than most at this.

The Iki Island expansion offers an extended coda to the main game as you return to the island where your father died crushing a rebellion, and have to try to ally with the inhabitants (who have not forgotten your family's brutality) against the Mongols, creating a set of knotty moral quandaries. Unfortunately the main villain on this island is tedious, and the expansion has them capture and drug you at the start, meaning you periodically suffer weird-out visions. This sometimes has you trying to find a new dye or archery competition and then suffering some freak-out vision for five minutes that you could really do without. Still, most of the expansion is very good in terms of the story and new enemy types it introduces.

All told, I completed the main game and expansion in a combined 68 hours, which felt okay, maybe a little overstuffed. Obviously you can bring that down a fair bit by not trying to 100% every side-activity, so the game has some flexibility there.

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut (****½) is a highly enjoyable game. Yes, it is another find-the-question-mark map game, like so, so many others, but a beautiful visual style, excellent voice acting, challenging-but-exhilarating combat and some good writing make it a constantly engaging experience. Just remember not to play it too close to other open-world map games, otherwise you may end up experiencing a little burnout. The game is available now on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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Thursday 4 July 2024

Neil Gaiman accused of sexual assault by two women

Fantasy author, editor and screenwriter Neil Gaiman has been accused of sexual assault with two women, one of whom was his employee at the time, as well as a fan. The accusations stem from 2005 and 2022, with the latter incident taking place in New Zealand, where the police have been notified. Gaiman has strongly denied any wrongdoing, claiming relations were consensual and the police have declined his offer to assist in their enquiry.

The Tortoise Media website published an article on the allegations and also released a four-part podcast on the matter yesterday. They reiterate at all times that Gaiman has denied any allegation of wrongdoing.

The later incident stems from February 2022, when Gaiman was 61, that he performed non-consensual acts with a newly-employed nanny, who was 21 at the time, at his residence in New Zealand. Gaiman claims the relationship was consensual and lasted three weeks. The Tortoise alleges to have seen text messages and correspondence suggesting the relationship lasted longer than this and overstepped boundaries. Gaiman has indicated that he was in contact with New Zealand police over the matter and they had declined his offer of an interview, although the New Zealand police have suggested their investigation has been hampered by Gaiman having mostly relocated to the UK and US since the alleged incident.

The earlier incident took place in 2005 when a 20-year-old fan began a relationship with Gaiman, who was 44 at the time, and she claims that he overstepped the boundaries for intimacy in the relationship that she had outlined.

Gaiman has made no direct public comment on the claims so far, only what was quoted in the Tortoise article.

Gaiman is one of the highest-profile living fantasy authors, noted for his Sandman graphic novel series and novels including American Gods, Coraline and Stardust, along with his collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (all adapted for the screen). Gaiman has been more active in screen work recently, overseeing both a Sandman adaptation for Netflix (currently in post-production on its second season) and an adaptation of Good Omens for Amazon (currently working on its third season). With well north of 40 million books sold, he is frequently cited as a one of the most popular modern fantasy authors and has a substantial fanbase, as well as championing various progressive causes.

So far, there has been no comment on the allegations from any of Gaiman's production partners on the status of these projects.

Gaiman was in an open relationship and later marriage with musician Amanda Palmer from 2009 to 2020, with whom he has a son. He has three children from an earlier relationship. Gaiman courted controversy in 2020 when he flew from New Zealand to Scotland during the COVID pandemic, breaking lockdown rules. He later apologised.

Thursday 20 June 2024

RIP Donald Sutherland

News has sadly broken of the passing of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, at the age of 88. One of the best-known actors of his generation, Sutherland had an enormous list of credits spanning almost sixty-five years.

Sutherland was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1935. He began his career at the age of just 14, becoming a news reporter for the local news radio station in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Sutherland had artistic aspirations but also took the precaution of studying engineering as a back-up career. In 1957 he left Canada to study drama in London. After graduation, he spent a year and a half in repertory theatre in Scotland.

Sutherland began his screen career in Britain (leading to occasional confusion about his nationality, helped by his facility with accents). He made his small screen debut in the BBC TV series Studio 4 (1962) and his movie debut in The World Ten Times Over (1963). His early roles were small, but gradually increased in stature. His reliability meant he quickly amassed a very large number of credits. He made memorable appearances in both The Avengers (1967) and The Saint (1965 and 1966). For the latter, with the permission of star and the director of his second episode, Roger Moore, he used his appearance as an audition reel for the film The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sutherland won the role, and his appearance as a Vernon L. Pinkley was highly memorable, despite the film being replete with much better-known actors. Shortly after release and the film's massive success, Sutherland relocated to Los Angeles.

Sutherland quickly capitalised on his success with memorable turns in M*A*S*H* (1970) and Kelly's Heroes (1970). From 1970 to 1972, Sutherland had a relationship with Jane Fonda and starred with her in Klute (1971) and Steelyard Blues (1973). Sutherland solidified his leading man status in the films Don't Look Now (1973), The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Sutherland bridged the generation gap to a younger audience with a small but memorable role in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).

Sutherland continued to appear in memorable films, including Ordinary People (1980), A War Story (1981), A Dry White Season (1989), Lock Up (1989), Backdraft (1991), JFK (1991), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Disclosure (1994) and Outbreak (1995). In 1992 he played the role of Merrick, the Watcher, in the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He reportedly held the script in disdain, and was rude to the film's writer Joss Whedon (although, to be fair, Whedon himself criticised the rewriting of his script). This is why his character is not mentioned in the subsequent seven-season TV version.

Sutherland starred in Space Cowboys in 2000, marking a transition to older roles. Additional turns followed in Cold Mountain (2003), The Italian Job (2003) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Sutherland achieved a late-career renaissance by appearing in the smash-hit Hunger Games franchise as the primary antagonist, President Snow. He starred in The Hunger Games (2012), Catching Fire (2013), Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) and Mockingjay Part 2 (2015).

Remarkably, Sutherland never won or was even nominated for an Academy Award. Perhaps aware of the ridiculousness of that, he was given an honorary Academy Award as a lifetime achievement award in in 2017.

As well as an actor,  Donald Sutherland was known for his anti-war activism, which saw him investigated by American intelligence services in the early 1970s. Sutherland was hyper-focused on acting, not getting into directing or writing like many of his peers. However, Sutherland did find time to pen his memoir, Made Up, But Still True, which is due for publication late this year. 

Donald Sutherland had five children, the best-known of whom is his son Kiefer, with whom he starred in Max Dugan Returns (1983) and A Time to Kill (1996). He is also survived by his wife Francine Racette.

One of the more accomplished actors of his generation, he will be missed.

A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS castmembers announced

HBO has unveiled the cast for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, its forthcoming adaptation of George R.R. Martin's "Dunk & Egg" series of short stories, which act as a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. The show just started shooting in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Peter Claffey as Ser Duncan the Tall in the first officially-released image from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

The show had already announced Irish actor Peter Claffey as Ser Duncan the Tall and Dexter Soll Ansell as his squire, Egg. Ser Duncan the Tall, popularly called Dunk, is a young hedge knight, a warrior of humble birth with no family name or backing, who has to make his name through his skill at arms alone. Egg is a young boy he meets on the road with a canny intelligence, whom he reluctantly takes on as a squire.

Joining the cast is Finn Bennett (True Detective: Night Country) as Prince Aerion Targaryen. The second son of Prince Maekar Targaryen, himself the fourth son of King Daeron II, the king at the time of the series, Prince Aerion is known his flights of fancy and bullying nature.

Bertie Carvel (The Crown, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, where he played Jonathan Strange) is playing Prince Baelor Targaryen. Known as Baelor Breakspear, the prince is the oldest son of King Daeron II and his heir, also serving as Hand of the King. He is known for his honour, valour in battle and political savvy. He is honouring the great tourney at Ashford Meadow with his presence.

Tanzyn Crawford (Tiny Beautiful Things) is playing Tanselle. Taneselle is a puppet-maker and player, providing entertainment for the commons.

Daniel Ings (Sex Education) is playing Ser Lyonel Baratheon, popularly called "the Laughing Storm." Lyonel is the heir to Storm's End and is also known for his honour and valour, but he is an outgoing man with a sense of humour. He is a formidable tourney knight.

Sam Spruell (Fargo) is playing Prince Maekar Targaryen. The younger brother of Prince Baelor, Maekar is known for his prickly pride and sternness, but he also has a sense of honour and fairness, if reminded of it. He is driven to distraction by his sons, who seem to delight in frustrating him.

The first season will adapt The Hedge Knight, the first of the three (so far) Dunk & Egg stories, across six episodes. Sarah Adina Smith will direct three episodes, Owen Harris the other three. Ira Parker is serving as showrunner and main writer.

The show is expected to debut on HBO in 2025.

Westeros Timeline

  • 1 AC: Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms by Aegon the Conqueror.
  • 101 - 131 AC: The events of House of the Dragon take place, ending in the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons (129 - 131 AC).
  • 209 AC: Tourney at Ashford Meadow, the events of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms begin.
  • 281 AC*: Robert's Rebellion, deposing of the Mad King.
  • 298 AC: The events of Game of Thrones begin.
* In the TV show timeline, in the book timeline the Rebellion takes place in 283 AC.

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Electronic Arts announce release window for new DRAGON AGE game

Electronic Arts and subsidiary BioWare have announced the release date for the latest Dragon Age fantasy RPG. The video game, recently retitled Dragon Age: The Veilguard, is due for release in autumn this year. They have also released a gameplay trailer.

The Veilguard is the fourth full game in the series, following on from Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Dragon Age II (2011) and Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) (though some count Dragon Age: Origins' massive 2010 expansion, Awakening, as an additional full game in the series as well since it is about as large as Dragon Age II). The series is set on the continent of Thedas and chronicles the battling of the player character and various allies against a series of large-scale threats to the continent and the world. Each game in the series has its own antagonists and cast of characters, with relatively light continuity connections between games, although a few characters do appear in multiple titles.

The series so far has acted as something of a travelogue of the continent, with Origins and Awakening set in the kingdom of Ferelden in the south-east; Dragon Age II in the Free March of Kirkwall in the central-eastern region; and Dragon Age: Inquisition in the Empire of Orlais in the centre of the continent. The Veilguard takes place in the Tevinter Imperium, a huge, mage-controlled empire in the central-north region. The game specifically opens in the capital city of Minrathous. The plot follows a new adventurer - yourself - joining forces with a band of seven fellow heroes to save the world from the Dread Wolf, a fallen elven god who banished his fellows and plans to now restore them, despite the fact this will tear open the Veil and release thousands of powerful demons into the world.

The game feels like a bit of a make or break moment for BioWare. The once-lauded RPG powerhouse was famed for its long run of hit games: Baldur's Gate (1998), Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000), Neverwinter Nights (2002), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), Jade Empire (2005), Mass Effect (2007), Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Mass Effect 2 (2010) and, despite an iffy ending, Mass Effect 3 (2012).

However, the wheels seemed to fall off after BioWare was purchased by Electronic Arts (during the development of Dragon Age: Origins). They mandated a quickie Dragon Age sequel, resulting in the controversial Dragon Age II (2011), and both a move to cash in on the open world craze and using the Frostbite Engine, which was not well-suited for open world environments. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) had a mixed reception, with praise for its story and DLC, but criticisms of its vast amount of filler content; Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) had a similarly mixed reception and disappointing sales. Anthem (2019) was a move to a multiplayer-focused, online style of game which was a bizarre choice for a developer known for deep, single-player roleplaying games. The game was heavily criticised and died almost immediately.

Although Dragon Age II and Inquisition both sold well, Andromeda and Anthem were both flops. This means that BioWare is betting the farm on The Veilguard and a forthcoming new Mass Effect game; if these both do badly, then BioWare's future may be in doubt. More ironic is that the Dragon Age franchise has moved away from the deep, party-based tactical combat of the original game to more of an action game, but Larian's Baldur's Gate III - a sequel to BioWare's own series - sold over 20 million copies by leaning very hard on party-based, tactical combat and even being turn-based.

Whether The Veilguard can stop the rot and rescue BioWare remains to be seen. The game will launch later this year.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

China Miéville completes 1,000-page new novel

Wired has published an interview with British genre author China Miéville about his upcoming collaboration with actor-musician-icon Keanu Reeves, but also touching on his other projects.

As related previously, Miéville has joined forces with Reeves to write The Book of Elsewhere, a tie-in novel to Reeves' BRZRKR comic book franchise. Miéville agreed to tackle the project because he thought it would be interesting to work within the constraints of someone else's fictional universe whilst also delivering a satisfying narrative. The novel will be published on 23 July this year.

However, Miéville fans frustrated with his lack of output in the last decade will be pleased to hear he has a new solo novel in the works as well, and not just in-progress but completed and sent to the publisher. Miéville's last novel was Railsea, published in 2012. He did publish two novellas, This Census-Taker and The Last Days of New Paris, in 2016, and a short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, in 2015. However, his fans have been crying out for a new solo novel.

Miéville doesn't reveal much about the new book but at over a thousand pages, it will be his longest book to date (and books like Perdito Street Station and The Scar are not exactly slight novels). Presumably it will be published in 2025, but hopefully we'll get more news soon.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

RIP William Russell

British actor William Russell, one of the original castmembers of Doctor Who, has passed away at the age of 99.


William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who's An Unearthly Child (23 November 1963, top) and The Power of the Doctor (23 October 2022). The 59-year-gap between his first and last appearances on television playing the same character, and the 57-year gap between appearances, are both believed to be world records.

Born in Sunderland, County Durham, in 1924, William Russell Enoch attended Oxford University and did his national service in the Royal Air Force at the tail end of the war. He went into repertory theatre and began making screen appearances in the early 1950s. He made his film debut in Gift Horse (1952) and his TV debut in the short film Lonesome Like (1954). He made his breakthrough in 1956, playing the role of Sir Lancelot on the British adventure TV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which ran for 30 episodes and was a surprise hit on American television (in publicity for which he rode a horse down Fifth Avenue in New York City). He starred in a TV adaptation of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby the following year, and was the lead in the 1960 serial St. Ives and the 1961 drama Triton. These roles, supported by a steady stream of guest roles and supporting film appearances, made him a familiar face on British television and film.

In 1963 he was cast in the BBC's new science fiction drama series, Doctor Who. The main role of the mysterious Doctor had been cast with William Hartnell, who was in his mid-50s but somewhat frail. The producers decided they wanted a younger leading male who could handle fight scenes and more physically demanding work. Russell was cast in the role of Ian Chesterton, the science teacher at Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, London. Along with history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), he becomes suspicious over the odd behaviour of pupil Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who is brilliant but has strange gaps in her knowledge. Ian and Barbara follow Susan home to a junkyard, to see her enter a police box. Following her inside, they find a huge, futuristic control room, impossibly larger inside than out. Susan's grandfather, the Doctor (Hartnell), explains they are aliens from another time and space, and their ship, the TARDIS, can travel anywhere and anywhen in the universe. The teachers are sceptical, until the TARDIS takes off and lands on prehistoric Earth, where the four crewmembers are inadvertently responsible for a primitive tribe of cavemen in discovering fire. The Doctor is initially suspicious and hostile towards his new guests but takes responsibility for dragging them away for their lives and tries to return them to Earth at the moment of departure, but this is complicated by malfunctions in the TARDIS guidance system.

Ian and Barbara remained the Doctor's companions for most of the first two seasons of the show, chalking up some 78 episode appearances. Remarkably, this run made them the joint-fourth longest-running companions of all time (behind Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith and K9), which they hold to this day. They left the show in 1965, at the conclusion of the serial The Chase (the penultimate serial of Season 2), when they used a captured Dalek time ship to return home to Earth.

The producers of Doctor Who tried on several times to get Russell to reprise his role on the show, but availability was a key issue: Russell continued to have a prolific career on British TV and in film, including a memorable stint on soap opera Coronation Street (blamed for causing Doctor Who's original demise in 1989 during a ratings showdown) in 1992 and a brief, supporting role in Superman (1978), among many others. He finally reprised his role as Ian for the Big Finish audio drama range, appearing in nineteen stories from 2009 to 2020.

He finally returned to Doctor Who in 2022's The Power of the Doctor, reprising his role as Ian briefly in a "self-help group" for former companions of the Doctor. This appearance, coming fifty-seven years after his last on-screen appearance, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest gap between appearances of an actor playing the same role on television.

Russell passed away on 3 June 2024. He is survived by his second wife and four children, including Alfred Enoch (best-known for playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies). He will very much be missed.