Reviews and thoughts about movies, books, pop culture, and Doctor Who
Author: Peter Kanelis
I was born in Portland, Oregon and currently reside in Texas. I am an avid reader and movie watcher. I also am a long-time Doctor Who fan and collect the audio dramas as well as watch the television series. I have been writing reviews of this nature on social media for a few years now and want to expand on that practice.
Gulliver’s Travels is an adventure novel written by Jonathan Swift and first published in 1726. Lemuel Gulliver is an explorer who sets on several journeys where he comes across strange lands. The most famous of these jaunts was Gulliver’s time in a land known as Lilliput which is populated by people less than sex inches tall. His next destination introduces him to a land of giants. Of course, the final journey acquaints him with a group of savages known as yahoos.
In some ways, the novel flows a little easier than expected for something written in the eighteenth century, but it still is a pretty challenging piece of prose to interpret. The novel is known as a satirical commentary on the society at the time. The bit goes a little over my head, but I still managed to find some enjoyment in attempting this endeavor with this particular literary classic.
Gulliver’s emotional journey is as interesting as his physical traverses. He develops a resentment toward his family he has to attempt to reconcile. Gulliver faces a different disaster with each voyage which affects his optimistic view presented at the beginning.
This is a tough one to read recreationally, but it is worth the effort.
Next up, I am moving back into the twenty-first century as far as the author, but the story takes place just after the First World War. Charles Todd has brought back Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, who is finding out the consequences of A Fatal Lie.
The Law of Innocence is a suspense novel from Michael Connelly and features the wily Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. Haller finds himself on the wrong side of the defense table when he is charged with the murder of a former client who owed him money. His usual team of lawyers and investigators come to his aid. His half-brother, retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch, enters the fray. Haller finds himself at the center of a conspiracy as well. He decides to take his case to trial as soon as he can, but he finds himself in a race against a mysterious virus from China that threatens to bring the world to a halt. Haller is going for the gold, complete exoneration from the charges that would be well beyond just a verdict of not guilty. He might be tenacious and clever enough to pull it off.
Connelly works in a bit of current events with the beginnings of the COVID lockdowns lurking in the background. The story itself seems a little far-fetched with the unorthodox court proceedings. Haller still ends up being compelling enough for the reader to root for him. Bosch ends up helping without taking the story over, which is understandable. That makes sense since the Lincoln Lawler novels are written in first person narrative. Haller can sometimes be seen as very clever and somewhat underhanded. There was one thing about Haller’s reaction to his circumstances I respected. He did not have all that much doubt in his abilities. He had a few moments of uncertainty, but he stayed in the game during the court scenes. It was also pretty heartwarming to see his interactions with his daughter during his plight.
It just seems to be a little too self-indulgent and unlikely to have Haller himself accused of murder, but Connelly still writes it well enough and seems to stay true to his creation. Plus, it’s kind of fun to have Bosch and Haller work together, although Bosch had a more periphery role in this one. The story is enjoyable and interesting enough for me to not experience any resentment. Connelly still manages to remain deserving of the acclaim and appreciation of his fanbase, however just the notion of Haller having to defend himself against a murder charge just feels somewhat predictable. I am so glad Erle Stanley Gardner resisted the idea of having Perry Mason in a similar situation.
The next read is going to be quite the departure from my usual literary flavor. I had vowed to start reading a few considered classics. I am about to find out what was discovered during Gulliver’s Travels as told by Jonathan Swift.
The Annihilators is a Doctor Who audio play written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Briggs decided to try his hand at a seven part story starring Tim Treloar starring as the Third Doctor and Daily Ashford, taking on the role originated by her mother Caroline John, Liz Shaw. Jon Culshaw is back to give voice to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who was originally played by the late Nicholas Courtney. Briggs decided to include another Doctor to help carry the load. Michael Troughton fills in for his late father, Patrick, as the Second Doctor as Frazer Hines returns to his usual role of Jamie McCrimmon. Other cast members are Karen Archer, Daon Broni, Mark Elstob, Bethan Walker, and Sam Stafford.
A strange creature lurks in the waters at Lewgate Docks, and the Doctor and his allies learn of an alien rivalry which has found its way to Earth. There is also a complication when the Doctor’s previous incarnation and Jamie McCrimmon arrive to make the matter more confusing.
Now, I usually enjoy a good Briggs script, but this one was a little too long for my taste in audio format. The performances were solid enough, which is something that always saves the listening the experience from total disaster. Michael Troughton makes his debut taking over from Hines as the Second Doctor. He decided to try not to sound exactly like his father, but he gets close enough to still recognize the character. It is strange to recall that all of the original cast members who would have been in this story are now all deceased. I think the whole release was just a little overstuffed and seems to drag. The attempt was to emulate most of Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor, which was well known for these seven part sagas. In spite of the criticism, it was not devoid of amusement entirely. The scenes shared by the two Doctors deliver a few chuckles. It’s still strikes the right chords of nostalgia to hear voices similar to the characters this cast is supposed to represent.
Anyway, the effort is appreciated from Big Finish Productions to keep this era of Doctor Who alive with new stories, but seven part stories may not be entirely necessary to satisfy the fans.
Spymaster is a Scot Harvath thriller by Brad Thor. Harvath is one of several fictional antiterrorist operatives that any patriot would want on their side. Harvath is working in Northern Europe tracking down a rogue Russian group setting off bombs as a means of assassinating diplomats in Turkey and Italy. Harvath has spies to capture and interrgations to conduct to keep the United States out of war.
This novel was first published in 2018.
This is the second Thor novel I have read, and it was fine. There are some long gaps between action scenes. Harvath is dangerously competent, but he seems to lack a certain intensity found in other characters in this genre. I enjoyed reading of the various locales that Harvath travels throughout the story.
This doesn’t end up being a bad book, but it just failed to intrigue me all that much. Thor is a competent writer, but I am not finding his prose style to be that distinctive. Harvath seems to have interesting missions, but I don’t find him all that engaging as a character.
There is not a whole lot to say about this one, so the next literary indulgence is going to be Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence.
Revenge From the Grave is the latest Sherlock Holmes novel from David Stuart Davies. Sherlock Holmes has not been back in London after his self-imposed exile where the world thought he had died locked in hand to hand combat with Professor James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. In 1894, Holmes is troubled to find mysterious notes and corpses turning up at his doorstep. Moriarty seems to be taunting him, prompting the great detective to put on one of his most important disguises to infiltrate a criminal organization that seems to be rising from the ashes after its leader was presumed dead. Holmes and Watson need determine whether they have a new enemy or an old one has done the impossible and survived a fall that would have finished anyone else.
This was nearly impossible to imagine that Arthur Conan Doyle would have written anything like this. Davies seems determined to indulge his fanboy tendencies in this one. He keeps changing perspectives throughout. I felt there was something almost juvenile about the way the plot is presented. The identity of the new leader was not all that clever or surprising. The characters seemed rather flat and uninteresting. Davies just delivers what appears to be a shell of Doyle’s creations.
These pastiche works are always a bit of a gamble, but Davies seems to have missed the mark worse than usual with this effort.
What will I be reading next? Good question! I have decided to return to an author I have just started sampling recently. Brad Thor sends Scot Harvath on another mission in Spymaster.
Second Chances is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions. It is an episode from the range known as The Companions Chronicles and is written by John Dorney. Lisa Bowerman sits in the director’s seat once again. Wendy Padbury reprises her role as Zoe Heriot and is joined by guest actress Emily Pithon.
Zoe has few memories of her time traveling with the Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon. She is being held by the Company and gets an opportunity to repair a mistake made during her travels in the TARDIS, but she has to avoid contact with her old friends and her younger self.
Dorney is usually pretty reliable, but I had some trouble getting into this one. It will probably require another listen in order for me to make sense. Everyone hits a sour note from time to time, and this one seems to indicate that it was Dorney’s turn. The actresses were fine as usual. This one did not leave much of an impression other than confusion and a bit of boredom.
There is not much more to say here since this episode turned out to not leave much an impression. Better luck next time, John Dorney.
Stranded 3 is a Doctor Who audio boxset directed by Ken Bentley. Paul McGann plays the Eighth Doctor and is joined by a guest cast that includes Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, Rebecca Root, Nicholas Briggs, Anjella Mackintosh, Tom Price, and Robert Whitelock. There are four stories in this set, and the adventures the Doctor and his friends experience during a time when the TARDIS was stuck on Earth. The Doctor had found that a property he owned on Baker Street had been converted into a boarding house, and he is compelled to interact with residents while defending the planet from alien incursions and getting his TARDIS to run properly again. Liv Chenka, played by Walker, has fallen in love with a transgender woman played by Rebecca Root. Torchwood operates on the periphery here, although the Doctor isn’t supposed to know about them yet. The TARDIS has regained much of her abilities, but some of the universal history has been altered, and the Doctor needs to determine how much he has to repair.
Tim Foley starts us off with Patience, which sees the Doctor face the Judoon, the mercenary police force who resembles rhinos. Other than the Judoon, I am not sure I have much to say regarding what I found interesting. I didn;t find it the most memorable of episodes. The acting is reliable enough, but one can safely say that most about most, if not all, Big Finish releases.
I will just move on to Lizzie Hopley’s Twisted Folklore, which brings the Doctor and his friends to a planet in the far future where a society is based on old tales in human history, an the Time Lord has a rebellion to organize. This story is a little better but not really enough to keep me fully engaged or motivate me to return to it anytime soon.
Snow is the traditional sentimental story that is often a part of these sets and is written by James Kettle. The Doctor and his friends return to the house on Baker Street fifteen years after they left. Ron Winters is the only resident still there, mourning the loss of his partner. The more unusual aspect here is that snow is only falling in the garden. David Shaw-Parker give a pretty compelling performance. There’s a bit more of a quiet mystery feel in this story that does provide a bit of a respite from some of the more frantic energy of the previous two episodes.
Finally John Dorney closes out this set with What Just Happened? The Doctor and his friends are on a space station with a unique threat. Dorney decides to basically tell the story backwards. This technique tales a bit more concentration in audio format. Once I got used to it, I can then see that Dorney’s reliable talent has indeed come through again for Big Finish. I don’t know if it ended up being one of the greatest stories he has put out, but I can still appreciate the creative effort he attempts.
Overall, I am about ready for the whole saga to come to an end. It isn’t all terrible, but I am now getting the feeling that they writers are sort of concocting ways to reach some four boxset quota. I am not that interested in this romance between Root’s Tania Bell and Liv Chenka. The final solution in the upcoming set might make all of this worthwhile, and I am enough of a fan to stick it out and give it a chance. McGann is great as usual. The performances are fine, and Big Finish always does well with the post production sound effects and music. It’s still impressive considering that this was performed during the United Kingdom COVID lockdown. This collection doesn’t teeter into the abyss of being an utter waste of time, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark of being anything a momentous example of writing greatnesseven for Doctor Who.
The Lincoln Highway is a novel written by Amor Towles. Towles is apparently one of these guys who lacks an appreciation for things like quotation marks during moments of dialogue. He also varies his narrative perspective between first and third person. In spite of these unconventional writing styles, the story manages to stay pretty engaging. The tale starts off with a young man being returned home after spending over a year at a juvenile work farm after an involuntary manslaughter conviction. Emmett Watson has recently lost his father and is released early since he has a much younger brother to look after. Once Emmett is reunited with his brother Billy, he soon learns that two other inmates from the work farm had surreptitiously hitched a ride with the warden who provided him with a ride. Young Billy is trying to convince his older brother to head out to California to search for their mother who had abandoned them some years before. His two friends, Duchess and Woolly, want to head in the other direction to New York. When they take off in Emmett’s car with his travel money, Emmett has little choice but to follow them to retrieve the money and the car. He and Billy end up on the railways to try to catch up to the two fugitives. Of course, the trip is fraught with obstacles and danger because it would be sort of a boring story otherwise.
This turned out to be a pretty interesting novel. Duchess is a somewhat complicated and charming antagonist. Towles does add some interesting layers to the major characters, Even Pastor John, who is probably one of the more troublesome characters Emmett and Billy encounter, actually is more than just a typical homeless scoundrel. Towles does a decent job of drawing out the notion that the most despicable people do not really see themselves as most would recognize as evil or misguided. Billy appears to be something of a genius, but still has a charming naiveté indicative of his youth. Emmett is a conscientious young man and cares for his brother, but he makes some mistakes along the way that leaves his sibling more vulnerable than necessary.
Sometimes, events are repeated from varying perspectives which I found to sort of slow the pace of the story down a bit. I don’t know if this novel can be considered one of the greatest things ever written, but I think Time is really the better judge of something like that. Once I got past the style of prose, I did find myself getting drawn into the story. The ending has an interesting twist. I don’t know if Towles plans to write a sequel to this, but there seems an opportunity to do so, but I found that the loose ends were fine to to be left to the imagination as to what happens next to the Watson brothers.
Well, I think a return to 221 B Baker Street is about due with Revenge From the Grave by David Stuart Davies.
Chinatown is a murder mystery film directed by Roman Polanski and was written by Robert Towne. Jack Nicholson stars as private detective J.J. “Jake” Gittes. Some of the cast members joining Nicholson in this 1974 film are Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, and John Huston.
Gittes is a pretty successful and respected private detective in 1930’s Los Angeles. He is usually involved in confirming affairs and so on. A woman claiming to be the wife of the chief engineer of the Water and Power Department hires Gittes to confirm that an affair is taking place. Gittes finds much more than that is going on when he learns that this woman is an imposter and the real spouse wants to avail herself of his investigative services. The wayward engineer is later found drowned in a reservoir, and Gittes is up to his neck in political and sexual scandal surrounding this case. Gittes has his nose disfigured for his trouble, so he ends up sporting a heavy bandage through much of the tale.
So this film is considered a classic, but I found it to be a little overrated. I didn’t really dislike the film generally, but I was less enthralled than I expected. I found the pace to be a little slow at times, but I believe that I have felt that way about most Polanski films. The acting was fine, but I didn’t find Gettis to be the most interesting of protagonists. There were some interesting elements and a particularly scandalous twist involving the identity of the dead engineer’s mistress. Even though the genre is a favorite cinematic indulgence, the movie itself is something I found to be only an adequate example.
The Institute is a supernatural thriller written by Stephen King. The novel begins with a former cop arriving in a small South Carolina town and taking a job as a night knocker for a while. In the meantime, a young genius named Luke Ellis is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious place called the Institute where he meets other children snatched from their homes. Luke soon leans that a nameless group is collecting children with psychic abilities and performing experiments on them to prepare them for a top secret task. He is even more distressed to realize that his parents were murdered. The other children warn him of his eventual move to something called the Back Half. Luke starts to realize that he should start planning an escape before he is taken to the deeper recesses of the Institute.
As usual, King manages to create some compelling characters here. I am not sure I could buy into all aspects of the story here, but that is often the risks in works of this genre. Anyway, the book was reasonably enjoyable. There were quite a few suspenseful moments and even one or two twists. I think I had a hard time visualizing a twelve year-old being as crafty as Luke. The dialogue didn’t quite match what I would imagine kids in that situation sounding, so that was a little distracting. Also, this felt pretty long at times. King is still obviously a talented writer, so it wasn’t too laborious of a read overall. The most reliable aspect of Stephen King works is that I have yet to come across one that I felt was just terrible. The Institute can drag a little sometimes, but it still leaves enough to encourage some persistence. The novel turned out to be pretty good for the most part, but I have enjoyed others in the Stephen King collection more.
The unending journey into literary escapism continues with Amor Towles as he takes us along The Lincoln Highway.