by Catriona Mills

Live-Blogging Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead

Posted 3039 days ago in by Catriona

So little Doctor Who this time around—it feels as though I’ve hardly done any live-blogging at all this year!

This live-blogging brought to you by my adorable house socks with the grey, pink, and red stripes and crocheted T-straps. And also by the overly full glass of wine with which Nick just provided me.

Blame any subsequent spelling errors and typos on that overly full glass of wine.

I’m now watching a news programme about an animal sanctuary and remembering the time when I was stalked by that emu. And bitten by a Shetland pony. And bitten by a goose. And then I segued into other embarrassments, like the time I got my head stuck between those two bollards on a boat.

I really need to keep my brain under better control, frankly.

And now I’m wondering in a bewildered fashion, why I don’t live in lovely cold, rainy, snowy Hobart. Why?

Now, should I live-blog Torchwood? Depending on how late it’s on, of course? What say you, people who would, after all, have to read my subsequent output?

Here we are—aerial shot of London. Wow, “aerial” is a difficult word to type. And we’re in the interior of the kind of museum that just doesn’t exist in Australia, alas.

Four men—who look more like private security guards than policemen, and they are armed—are taking their places around a fancy golden goblet, which is further protected by those red laser thingies.

But, it doesn’t matter, because here’s Tom Cruise! No, wait, it’s Indiana Jones! Well, now I just don’t know what we’re paying homage to here.

Oh, wait: the thief is not only a woman, but also chooses to take her balaclava off before she actually leaves the museum—a museum that, based on what we just saw, actually takes security fairly seriously. That’s clever. When she also says “Sorry, lover” to the man who was waiting in her getaway car, I lose all sympathy for her.

Now she’s bribing a bus driver to let her on, with her diamond earrings. But here comes the Doctor, complete with a half-eaten Eater egg, which he offers her with a cheerful “Happy Easter!”

Doctor, complete strangers offering me half-masticated food on public transport rarely end up being lifelong friends. Thought I’d let you know.

Now the police have seen our thief on a bus, because, despite being on the run, she’s decided to sit in a window seat.

But, apparently, we have “excitation”—the Doctor is “picking up something very strange” on his jerry-rigged device with a tiny little satellite dish. And the bus is heading into a tunnel—sealed off at both ends, while our thief clutches a half-eaten Easter egg, and the Doctor claims to be looking for rhondium particles. The thief wonders if he can find her a “way out,” while a woman at the back of the bus asks if her husband can hear “the voices.”

And apparently the voices are screaming as the bus is catapulted through some expensive special effects.

The police report that the bus has vanished, much to the skepticism of the police officer who looks like Reg Hollis.

But it has—via a lovely, sun-spangled close-up of the Doctor, we find the bus, torn to pieces, on a desert landscape.

(This bit of the episode filmed on location on Tatooine. Nick tells me that that’s the reason the bus is damaged in this shot: it was damaged in transit in the shipping container, so they wrote it into the script.)

According to the woman on the bus, they’re surrounded by the dead. She can hear their voices all around them, and so can we, thanks to the wonders of extradiegetic sound.

Our thief puts on sunglasses, claiming to be ready for every eventuality. The Doctor, not to be outdone, turns his glasses into sunglasses with the sonic screwdriver. He thinks there’s something odd about the sand, but the passengers want to know where they are and why.

DOCTOR: Oh, humans on buses—always blaming me.

The Doctor shows them the hole in reality through which they travelled, and the bus driver—so desperate to get home that he doesn’t even listen to the Doctor—leaps through, and is skeletonised.

The police officer insists that they’re out of their depth, as they see the skeleton fall through onto a London street.

POLICE OFFICER: We’re out of our depth. We need expert assistance.
NICK: We need Burnside!
POLICE OFFICER: Get me UNIT.

Well, it’s good either way.

In the interim, Christina (I may as well give her her name) has appointed herself as leader—it’s hard to tell whether the Doctor is impressed or irritated.

Probably both?

Does a good leader “utilise” her strengths? Or does she just “use” them? I leave it to you to decide.

LOU (Talking about Carmen’s gifts): We do the lottery every week.
CHRISTINA: You don’t look like millionaires.
ME: You know, Christina? You’re rocking those pants, but you’re really starting to get on my nerves, you know.

Carmen explains that something is coming for them on the wind, something shining. Pushed by the Doctor, she says it’s death. At this, naturally, the passengers start panicking, and the Doctor talks them down, as he always does.

This is so new series Doctor Who—this elevation of humanity above all the other wonders in the universe. I’m not deriding that, just offering it as a reflection.

NICK: The Doctor does idolise the quotidian, even though he doesn’t really want to be part of it.

Nick puts it better than I do.

And here’s UNIT! Hurray, UNIT! Someone call Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

The Doctor and Christina have two male passengers digging down to help release the tires from the sand, so they can lay a trail of old seats, to try and drive the bus back through the wormhole. The engine is clogged with sand, but thankfully they have a nice boy who knows a little about engines.

The Doctor and Christina trek across the sands, to explore the planet.

DOCTOR: We make quite a couple.
CHRISTINA: We don’t make any kind of couple, thank you very much.
ME: Well, Donna did it better.

And there’s a mysterious hand, and an odd clicking noise.

CHRISTINA: It’s Christina De Souza. Lady Christina De Souza, to be exact.
DOCTOR: That’s good, because I’m a Lord.
CHRISTINA: Really? Of where?
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s quite a big estate.

They see what looks like a sandstorm, and leg it back to the bus, where the Doctor co-opts a passenger’s mobile and rings UNIT, who are just so pleased to hear from him.

CAPTAIN MAGAMBO: May I say, sir, it’s an honour.
DOCTOR: Did you just salute me?
CAPTAIN MAGAMBO: . . . No.

The Doctor is taken to speak to UNIT’s scientific adviser, which means he’s essentially speaking to the man currently occupying the position originally created for the Doctor in the 1970s.

Of course, this scientific adviser—as well as being slightly improbably Welsh—is a massive Doctor fanboy. So, the Doctor is dealing with an intelligent man who can’t stop gushing over everything that the Doctor says.

DOCTOR: And, Malcolm? You’re my new best friend.
MALCOLM: And you’re mine, too, sir. You’re . . . he’s gone. He’s gone.

And we see than hand pointing and the voice clicking, again.

(A vignette, from last time we watched this:
FRIEND A: Can’t he do anything but point at that screen and make that noise?
FRIEND B: Well, it’s obviously a point-and-click interface.)

Carmen says whatever’s coming on the wind “devours,” and the Doctor and Christina see what looks like metal in the coming storm.

CHRISTINA: That’s how I like it—extreme.
ME: Christina, you’re really annoying me, again.

The Tritavores are essentially giant flies, by the way. I don’t think I’ve made that clear at any point. This episode is made up of a variety of tiny little scenes, and it’s difficult to keep them straight.

Apparently, the Tritavores’ ship was knocked out of orbit, but the Doctor gets the power back online, allowing him to send out a probe to see what’s in the storm. They’re on the planet of Sanhelios—and I may well have spelt that wrong.

The planet had a population of 100 billion, with whom the Tritavores hoped to trade. They show the Doctor and Christina an image of Sanhelios City—with tall buildings and wide spaces and hover cars.

CHRISTINA: You look human.
DOCTOR: You look Time Lord.
ME: Oh, lord—don’t kiss her! Stop kissing people!

Thankfully, they’re distracted by the fact that, apparently, Sanhelios City stood where they are now only one year ago—the entire planet has been turned to sand in a year.

Of course, Christina is mostly worried at this stage that she has “dead people” in her hair. I’m just going to leave that comment there.

The Doctor, talking to UNIT about the increasing size of the wormhole, gets a call from Nathan on the bus, telling him that in their attempts to get the bus up and running again, they’ve used up all the petrol.

But the Doctor is distracted by the fact that the probe has reached the storm—and it’s not a storm. It’s a swarm, of creatures who look like stingrays, but with razor-sharp teeth and metallic exoskeletons. The Doctor works out that they fly in formation around the planet, faster and faster, until the wormhole is large enough for them to move through and onto the next planet.

The storm is about twenty minutes away, according to the Doctor’s reckoning.

Christina works out that the main question is why the Tritavores crashed in the first place. They don’t know—the Doctor thinks, though, that they can use the crystal-based propulsion system of the Tritavore ship to move the bus throught the wormhole.

The Tritavores conveniently have personal communicators that fit human ears. That’s useful.

While the Doctor is trying to open panels, Christina is preparing to head down the shaft in much the same way as she stole the gold cup from the museum in the beginning.

CHRISTINA: The aristocracy survives for a reason. We’re ready for anything.
ME: No, you bloody don’t! You survived because you usually had enormous amounts of money and invariably had a level of political and social influence unavailable to anyone who wasn’t born into an established family. Right, that’s it, Christina: I wash my hands of you.

The Doctor, meanwhile, goes through her bag and finds the cup, which he identifies as a cup given to the first king of England by the king of the Welsh, and accuses Christina of being a thief.

CHRISTINA: Daddy lost everything. Invested in the Icelandic banks.
DOCTOR: No, no, no—if you need money, you rob a bank.
ME: Or, you could, you know, get a job!

Meanwhile, Christina finds the creature who caused the ship to crash, which is awoken from its dormant state by her body heat (yes, she makes that joke)—I will admit, the way she hits the security-system button in passing is pretty nifty.

She still annoys me.

But she gets the crystal and its housing—they try to convince the Tritavores to come with them, but one is eaten by another creature (they must have hit part of the swarm, which is what caused the ship to crash), and the other tries to save his friend.

The Doctor and Christina leg it, with Carmen urging them to run.

The Doctor says he doesn’t need the crystal—Christina, in a nice bit of character continuity, seems overly distracted when he tosses the shiny thing over his shoulder—he needs the clamps, which he attaches to the wheels.

He tells Malcolm to find a way to close the wormhole: Malcolm has an idea, but Magambo mobilises her troops, since the Doctor says “something” may come through after them.

DOCTOR: Ah, it’s not compatible! Bus—spaceship, spaceship—bus.

He needs something malleable and ductile that will allows the two systems to talk to one another. The Doctor talks Christina into handing over the coronation cup; telling the Doctor that it’s worth eighteen million pounds, she tells him to be careful. He agrees, but immediately pounds it out of shape.

Meanwhile, Malcolm tells Magambo that he knows how to close the wormhole, and she tells him to do it immediately, before the Doctor returns—even drawing her gn on him and calling him “soldier” when he refuses.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has anti-gravity clamps on the wheels and flies the bus up into the air—with the storm right behind them, he flies the bus right through the wormhole, back through the expensive special effects, and right out into London.

When a soldier reports that the bus is back, Magambo takes her gun off Malcolm, who is refusing to close the wormhole. But several of the creatures follow the flying bus through the wormhole, and the Doctor rings Malcolm, telling him to close the wormhole immediately.

But Malcolm’s machines explode—with the Doctor’s assistance, he gets the system that he has devised working, and the wormhole closes just as the creatures on Sanhelios reach it.

On Earth, UNIT are having quite good luck with what looks like anti-aircraft artillery, which makes sense.

Magambo’s also firing her pistol into the air; I have to admire her spirit, but I doubt that will do much.

Oh, and here’s the snogging portion of the Doctor Who special.

NICK: He has the good grace to look surprised when people snog him, though.
ME: Not always.

DOCTOR: Welcome home, the mighty 200!

Of course, all the passengers are going to be screened and then taken for debriefing. (While the Doctor is being enthusiastically embraced by Malcolm, who insists, “I love you!” over and over again.) So, so much for the Doctor’s promise that they’ll be home for chops, and girlfriends, and sitting at home watching television.

He also tries to send Nathan and Barclay off to work for UNIT, which apparently bothered a lot of people—the Doctor is not normally in favour of the military, so why is he drafting these two boys?

And the Doctor is reunited with the TARDIS.

MAGAMBO: Found in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
DOCTOR: Oh, she doesn’t mind!

Christina wants to travel with the Doctor (which I originally wrote as “marry the Doctor”—there’s a Freudian slip, for you). But he refuses. She says she only steals for the adventure: “It’s not about the money!” (Honestly, Christina? I’d have more sympathy with you if it were for the money.) But he still refuses—he hasn’t quite got over the loss of his last companions.

Carmen says that the Doctor’s song is ending—“it is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then. Oh, but then. Doctor, he will knock four times.”

But the Doctor—looking more than a little disturbed by this—doesn’t want Christina arrested: he unlocks her handcuffs with the sonic screwdriver, and she flies off in the bus.

The police officer tries to arrest the Doctor for aiding and abetting, and the Doctor says, “Right, I’ll just step into this police box and arrest myself.”

And with a last quip, he and Christina fly off in opposite directions.

There’s no trailer for “The Waters of Mars,” but keep an eye out for it—truly, truly creepy-looking episode.

And that’s Doctor Who until, I think, November. See you then for the next live-blogging extravaganza!

Parents: They Seem So Full Of Potential, But They're Such Fragile Creatures, Really

Posted 3040 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Hello?
MAM: Hi, Treen. Are you doing anything?
ME: Watching a movie, but I can pause it. What’s up?
MAM: Your dad wants to know if you can tell him how to record the World Cup final tonight. Your brother’s gone out and we don’t know how to work the machine.
ME: The World Cup final?
MAM: Well, whatever. The football. At midnight.
ME: The F.A. Cup final?
MAM: Yes. Can you tell him how to record it?
ME: Mam, I don’t even know what brand your DVR is!
MAM: Well, can you just give us some ideas?
ME: I can suggest that you should have bought a TiVo.
MAM: Can you at least tell us which channel SBS is on?
ME: Pardon?
MAM: Your dad can’t find SBS. He’s on channel 90 now.
ME: Do you have my brother’s mobile number?
MAM: Yes.
ME: Can you send him an SMS, asking him if he’ll be home before midnight?
MAM: We don’t know how to send an SMS!
DAD: (excited but muffled shouts from off-phone)
MAM: He’s found SBS.
ME: Well, that’s a start. Can you not just pick a programme and press “record”?
MAM: I don’t think so. Can’t you tell us how to record it?
ME: Mam, I moved out of home before you bought that machine.
MAM: Can Nick tell us how to do it?
ME: I don’t think so. But he could send my brother an SMS for you.
NICK: What do I say?
ME: ‘Are you coming home before midnight? Dad can’t record the F.A. Cup final and he’s bullying me. Love, Treen.’
DAD: (vague muttering off-phone)
MAM: What’s ‘EPG’?
ME: I don’t know. Oh, Nick says it’s the Electronic Programme Guide. That’s probably what you want.
DAD: (vague muttering off-phone)
MAM: Your dad says that probably won’t work.
ME: Mam, that’s the best I can suggest. Try picking a programme and hitting “record.”
MAM: I don’t think we can do that.
ME: Well, my brother just sent an SMS saying he won’t be home tonight. So just try it.
DAD: (excited but muffled shouts from off-phone)
MAM: He’s found the F.A. Cup Final. What do we do now?
ME: Press “record”?
MAM (shouting to Dad): Treen says to press record. (To me) Dad says there’s only an “OK” button.
ME: Try hitting the “OK” button, then.
DAD (excited shouts from off-phone)
ME: I take it that worked?
MAM: (shouting to Dad) Tell Treen what? (Pause) I’m not telling her that! (To me) Dad says he’s very disappointed in you.
ME: He’s what?
MAM (shouting to Dad): You’re not very disappointed in her!
DAD (off phone): I am!
MAM (shouting to Dad): You’re not! (To me) Oh, there’s a call coming in. It’s probably your brother ringing to tell us how to record the F.A. Cup final. Bye!

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Seven

Posted 3040 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Did you say you were making me a cup of coffee?
NICK: Yes. For you are deserving of coffee!
ME: Oh, god.
NICK: What? What now?
ME: But now I’m going to be worrying about whether or not I’m deserving of things. What if I eat some yoghurt but I’m not deserving of it? What if one day I’m not deserving of dinner?
NICK: Treena, this is crazy talk.
ME: I know! See what a pass you have brought us to.
NICK: You started it.
ME: I did not!
NICK: Yes, you did. You invaded Poland.
(Pause)
NICK: Running away now!

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Six

Posted 3041 days ago in by Catriona

A strange conversation between two extremely distracted people:

ME (looking at baby pictures on the Internet): I’d like to have twins. It’s a shame you can’t arrange it.
NICK: Yeah. Ahead of time.
ME: Yeah.
(Pause)
ME: No, wait. You can’t arrange it after the fact, either.
NICK: No. That’s . . . right.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Five

Posted 3041 days ago in by Catriona

Yet another conversation centred on Nick’s iPhone:

NICK: You know, now I have proper data connectivity on this thing, it can actually function as a GPS. See?
ME (refusing to look up from my Rex Stout novel): You mean, next time we get lost while driving, you can make the subsequent argument significantly worse by insisting on pulling out your iPhone?
NICK: Somehow I knew you were going to look at it like that.

Women: we’re just so damn unreasonable!

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Four

Posted 3041 days ago in by Catriona

After an unnecessarily complicated conversation over instant messaging about whether or not the latest issue in The Great Fables Crossover came out today:

ME: I don’t know how I’ll go back to only one comic a month after this!
NICK: You’ll have to follow a few other comics then!
ME: Nah. Anyway . . .
NICK: You need to get back to work . . .
ME: Yep. Or, you know, play Peggle. One or the other.
NICK: It’s all grist for the Mills.
(Pause)
ME: I’m going to ignore that.
NICK: I’m very grateful for that.

Sadly, It's Not That Kind Of Blog

Posted 3042 days ago in by Catriona

I’m been obsessed with reading my visitor logs since I started this blog last year. And one of the things I love most is seeing the Google searches that bring people here.

Unfortunately, I suspect that The Circulating Library is a disappointment to some of these readers.

Nevertheless, these are some of my favourite Google searches from the last few weeks:

  • “pompous Victorian male.” You know, I really should have more pictures of pompous Victorian men on this blog, now I think about it. For now, I’ll have to settle for this one.
  • “deaths of fictional characters.” This is a far, far more popular search than I had ever imagined. Then again, I do often find myself, halfway through novels, thinking, “Oh, just die!” I can be an impatient reader.
  • “Jack meets Ianto.” See, to me, this is one of the delights of Torchwood: the programme is its own slash fiction. (I know that slash fiction originally marked fan fiction about two heterosexual characters, but when we met Ianto, he had a girlfriend and we had no idea he also liked boys, and Jack is interested in anyone, regardless of gender or species. So “slash” still fits.)
  • “Victorian plaid.” Yet another topic I don’t cover often enough on the blog—except for that one time. May I also suggest (yet again!) the excellent Hugh Trevor-Roper chapter on the Victorian creation of Scottishness, from this book? You won’t regret it.
  • “tied-up kneesocks.” This suggests to me a curiously specific and accessory-focused type of bondage porn, but I suspect they were really looking for something more like this. Or perhaps this. Actually, I could become a sock fetishist quite easily.
  • “worried about young Christian Anholt.” Oh, me too, anonymous reader! At least, I was worried about Christien Anholt when he was Perkins in “The Curse of Fenric” (Doctor Who): that was a bad situation to be in. And I was even more worried about him when he was Donald Cooper in “The Last Word” (Press Gang). I’m excessively worried about him now I’ve just found out he was in sixty-five episode of Relic Hunter, but I suppose you’d call that a different kind of worried.
  • Naughtiest Girl in School pictures.” Much like the “tied-up kneesocks,” I think this sounds more salacious than it’s supposed to . . .
  • Agatha Heterodyne porn.” Not on my blog! Though considering how often she appears in her underwear in the first few books, Girl Genius itself basically is Agatha Heterodyne porn—if you have a penchant for corsets and bloomers.
  • “Davros + narcissist.” Well, I won’t disagree with you there, anonymous reader. But I have a feeling that if I used the word “narcissist” on the blog, it would have referred to a different character altogether . . .
  • “textual criticism of Mary Poppins.” Well, no. But it’s an excellent idea, and one I might well come back to.
  • “inflatable Dalek.” Finally! A reader who shouldn’t be disappointed by the results of their search!
  • “Sontaran haka + ridiculous.” Well, that was technically Tim’s argument rather than mine, but I’ll take all the Google search results I can get.
  • “Barbie syndrome.” According to the infallible Wikipedia, Barbie syndrome is the desire to look like Barbie. And I’m glad I looked that up, because all I had was a vague memory of reading somewhere—probably in Marie Claire or HQ in my dim and distant magazine-reading past—of a recognised phenomenon among young children of viciously mutilating Barbie dolls. Apparently, Barbie syndrome is not at all what I thought it was.
  • “Mr Darcy + wedding night.” Sorry, anonymous reader, but I have to refer you back to the title of this post. Sadly, this is simply not that kind of blog.

(And in the space since I started writing this, someone has come across the blog by Googling “David Eddings in prison + locking a boy up.” I can’t help you with that query, anonymous reader, but that is now by far my favourite Google search ever.)

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Three

Posted 3043 days ago in by Catriona

It’s been a long day, so I’m sure you’ll understand when I say this started from a discussion about whether the TiVo icon in the top left-hand corner of the television screen was sentient and, if so, if it became bored:

NICK: Treena, it’s connected to the Internet constantly. I’m sure it’s fine.
ME: Oh, no! What if it’s downloading pornography?
NICK: Computer pornography?
ME: Yeah!
NICK: Oh, yes: like, ZX81s in compromising positions?
ME: Honey, no. ZX81s are ancient!
NICK: True. Oooh—late ’90s Macs! With their translucent covers. Yeah.
(Pause)
NICK: What? Why are you looking at me like that?!

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-Two

Posted 3043 days ago in by Catriona

ME: In what Defamer calls [paraphrased, because I’m forgetful] Defiling Your Childhood’s Grave Part 27 . . .
NICK: Yes?
ME: They’re remaking Flight of the Navigator.
NICK: Hmm. Well, I’m torn on that. One the one hand, it was just a little ahead of its time, visually. But on the other hand, no one knows how to make children’s movies these days.
ME: It’s the same exec. producer. And the writer was a writer-producer for Arrested Development.
NICK: Really? Which one?
ME: I want to say Jon Osterman, but I don’t think that’s right.
NICK: No. Because that’s Doctor Manhattan.
ME: Oh. I don’t think it’s being written by Doctor Manhattan, no.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty-One

Posted 3046 days ago in by Catriona

The first object lesson to be taken from this post is never blog when you’re tipsy.

ME: I’m bringing my computer out to the living room, because I secretly like to tweet Rage.
NICK: Me, too!
ME: That’s how we know we’re the perfect couple.
NICK: Really?
ME: No, not really.
NICK: Pardon?
ME: Well, I secretly don’t like you very much.
NICK: I’m making you coffee, if that makes a difference.
ME: No, not so much.
NICK: I thought as much.
ME: Then why make me coffee, if you didn’t think it made a difference?
NICK: Treena, everyone needs their own form of incentivisation.

The second object lesson is never enter into an argument with a man who is so steeped in bureaucratese that he can not only make nouns from verbs (as we all can) but can actually make nouns from other nouns.

Girl-Detective Fiction: 1970s' Cover Illustrations versus More Recent Reprints

Posted 3046 days ago in by Catriona

Why, yes: I have spent the afternoon adding more books into Delicious Library. This time, I hit a patch of girls’ detective stories (my other guilty pleasure, along with girls’ school stories), and it occurred to me that more modern reprints of the old classics tend to lack most of the charm of the 1970s’ hardbacks.

It’s partly the format: I loved the hardbacks when I was a child, because they felt like real books to me.

But it’s partly the comparatively hideous cover illustrations (and I realise, as I say that, that the 1970s’ covers were hideous in their own way).

But take this 1974 edition of Nancy Drew’s The Moonstone Castle Mystery:

It’s true: Nancy does look disturbingly like Grease‘s Rizzo in a bad wig here. But other than that, the cover has everything you could ask for. Girl detective in a prominent position! Easily identifiable best friends (sporty brunette) George and (plump blonde) Bess! Person who is possibly Carson Drew in a suitably distant position! Looming castle! Man who may or may not actually be a statue! Whistler’s mother!

What more could you need?

Compare that to this 2000 edition of a brand new Nancy Drew adventure, The Mystery in Tornado Alley:

Hmm. I can’t even tell which one of these blonde girls is Nancy. I’ll assume it’s the one in the pink polo neck, but where’s my red-headed girl detective? And if that girl next to her is plump, boy-chasing Bess, I’m going to be more annoyed than I was by the fact that when they re-jigged the Hardy Boys mysteries, the first book showed them investigating the death of faithful long-time girlfriend Iola Martin in a car-bombing.

(For the record, I was quite annoyed about that.)

Actually, the more I look at this, the more questions come to mind:

  • Why is Nancy wearing those hideous high-waisted shorts, at least five years after they were in fashion?
  • Has she realised that if she’s that close to the tornado, she’s probably dead already (in a metaphorical “Achilleus at the end of The Iliad“ way, rather than actual zombie fashion, of course)?
  • Why is she gasping in horror and staring off to her left when the tornado is actually behind her?
  • Shouldn’t the tagline read “Nancy is swept into a tornado of danger”? Because, according to Wikipedia, a tornado is really a specific subset of the broader category that is whirlwind, so I suppose the pun works, but it just seems a little weak. Much like some whirlwinds.

And the publishing gap between reprints doesn’t always have to be broad for the covers to take a sharp dip in quality/amusement value. Take this 1975 edition of the Dana Girls’ Winking Ruby Mystery. (The Dana Girls were an attempt to cash in on the success of Nancy Drew: they were published under the same pseudonym as the Nancy Drew books—Carolyn Keene—and this was their twelfth adventure.)

Honestly? I love this cover, around which I constructed the following imaginary conversation:

LOUISE DANA: Heavens! The idol!
JEAN DANA: Louise, why am I holding this . . . well, I don’t know what kind of tool this is, actually.
LOUISE DANA: Its eye! It’s a ruby!
JEAN DANA: Couldn’t I at least have the shovel? At least I know what’s that’s called. Or is that a spade? Should I call that a spade?
LOUISE DANA: But one of the eyes is missing!
JEAN DANA: I mean, anyone can see by comparing my lustrous blonde locks to your pixie cut that I’m not the tomboy in this family.
LOUISE DANA: Someone has been here before us!
JEAN DANA: Fine. Don’t listen to me. I’m just going to stand here and practice my sultry face.

Compare that to this 1981 edition of Mystery of the Stone Tiger:

Well, Jean still looks intensely bored. But now Louise’s expression says nothing so much as, “What was that?! Did I just walk through a spider’s web? Is the spider on me? Get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!”

The vampire in the background is fairly awesome, I suppose. But I remain unconvinced by that overgrown garden—give me the apparently post-apocalyptic setting of The Winking Ruby Mystery any day!

The Day The Bus Hit The Telegraph Pole

Posted 3046 days ago in by Catriona

We live (almost) at the intersection of two fairly major roads. I rarely think about it unless I want to take a photograph of the sunset.

Then I see that we’re webbed in by telegraph poles and power lines, which criss-cross the skyline in all directions:

A bus hit one of the telegraph poles this morning, nearly wrenching our power line out of the front of our house—so that it was held up by a conveniently placed jacaranda and frangipani—and knocking out the electricity for the entire street.

And all of a sudden, telegraph poles look much more fragile than they seem when you’re walking past them at street level: worn wooden struts, exposed to the elements and at the mercy of apprentice bus drivers:

And I’m still uncertain as to how hitting the bottom of the pole could cause this much damage to the top end, let alone risk wrenching our power line out of the front of our house.

Electricity indeed works in mysterious ways.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Forty

Posted 3047 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Are we going to have breakfast in the same cafe as last time?
NICK: I think so. Where was that?
ME (turning and pointing): It’s back here.
NICK: I feel like . . .
ME: . . . an explorer in the wilderness?
NICK: . . . . pancakes.
(Pause)
NICK: “An explorer in the wilderness”?
ME: I’m just trying to finish the simile, honey. I thought, “It’s a bit of a cliche, but that’s Nick for you.”

More Cheesy Books (And, No, That's Not An Incorrect Use of Degree)

Posted 3048 days ago in by Catriona

To celebrate not having any marking to do for the first time since week two, I decided to carry on adding books to my Delicious Library database.

I should, in retrospect, have settled for sleeping on the sofa while pretending to re-read an Agatha Christie novel that I’ve already read, since it took me six hours to catalogue two shelves’ worth of books.

But the upside is that it did remind me of some truly disturbing book covers lurking in there.

In the last post, the books themselves were cheesy. The semi-tragic aspect of these books is that they aren’t all cheesy, but their covers most definitely are.

And you don’t get much cheesier than 1970s’ science fiction:

And the terrifying thing I learnt when Googling this book is that this isn’t even the cheesiest cover available. I’m remarkably lucky, I feel, that I don’t have this cover instead:

Except—well, at least in the second one both protagonists are equally naked.

Then there’s one of my disturbingly large number of copies of Jane Austen’s Emma:

I did consider checking whether that bonnet is historically accurate or not, but I’m just not that dedicated. I will venture an entirely uneducated guess that the pink ruff she’s sporting was not a common item of clothing in the Regency period, though.

Still, Austen got off lightly compared to Sir Walter Scott:

I’ll be honest: this cover kills me. No one’s going to lost sight of these two on the battlefield! And while I can perhaps see—by squinting and exercising an over-active imagination—that the knight on the left has feathers on his helmet, no amount of squinting will perform the same service for the knight on the right. I’m forced to assume that he topped his helmet with an intricately folded crocheted scarf.

And science fiction isn’t the only genre that suffers from bad covers, of course:

I’m particularly enamoured of the gold text on that one, but let’s have a closer look at the protagonists, shall we?

They seem to be looking at each other longingly, but the more I look at the expression on his face and the position of his torso, the more convinced I become that she’s actually just dislocated his shoulder.

The Cheesiest Books On My Shelves

Posted 3049 days ago in by Catriona

Well, some of the cheesiest books on my shelves, anyway. (This post brought to you in the wake of the cheesiest television event of the year, the Eurovision song contest.)

Some of the books are partly cheesy (the headscarf!):

And partly surreal—why is the most significant event in the narrative the moment when Robin checks her friend’s wristwatch by the light of her torch?

And is it just me, or does it look as though that cover’s missing a noun? I always want to ask, “The phantom what, Robin? The phantom what? If this were Nancy Drew, it would be a phantom stagecoach. Or maybe a phantom staircase. Or a clock. But just ‘a phantom’ seems like you’re not trying hard enough, Robin.”

(Imagine how awesome it would be if it were The Mystery of The Phantom: Robin Kane, Girl Detective, versus The Ghost Who Walks.)

They do get cheesier, though:

Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter, are you on some kind of harness? You seem to be leaning at an extraordinary angle there. Still, if you are on a harness and yet still calm enough to be casually chewing your sunglasses, I do have to admire your sang-froid.

Don’t look now, but I think you’re about to be shot in the back by a cowboy.

And sometimes they are both cheesy and impossible to interpret:

Kim Aldritch is, and I quote the back of the book here, a “smart, beautiful secretary for an international insurance firm . . . living for the day she can become a full-fledged investigator for the firm . . . action-loving, curious, and courageous.”

And, yes: those are their ellipses. They clearly don’t believe in moderation—or really know what purpose ellipses serve.

What I find intellectually intriguing about these books—this raft of books published right down into the 1970s (this one is from 1972) that deal with working women—is the way in which they construct ambition and professionalism.

What I find amusing about them is the dodgy cover art. Is Kim coming up out of the water there? There does seem to be a boat in the bottom right corner. But then what angle is she on? And how? Why isn’t her hair wet? And why on earth would she apply so much make-up before scuba diving? For that matter, is she scuba diving? She doesn’t have a tank or a snorkel.

So many questions—and only two hundred pages of plot, the first ten of which are taken up by a description of Kim’s trip to work, on the subway, with her father.

Sometimes the books are just out and out cheesy:

The Donna Parker books are, it seems, popular enough to warrant their own Wikipedia page. I didn’t know that when I bought them, of course. I just liked the picture boards and the strangely freakish faces. (Plus, I have a possibly unhealthy obsession with depictions of female adolescence and female professionalism in young-adult fiction of the early to mid twentieth century.)

And I love his optimism: “Donna, if I give you this twig I just found on the ground, will you be my girlfriend?”

And sometimes the books involve Annette Funicello tail-gating some guy in a convertible:

Enough said, really.

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