What We Do in the Shadows

I wrote about the movie What We Do in the Shadows on my Scarlet Order blog over seven years ago. Since then, there have been four seasons of the television series inspired by the movie on the FX network. On the Scarlet Order blog, I mentioned that I can be skeptical of horror comedies because they often end up being campy or silly. What We Do in the Shadows proved to be a pleasant surprise. There was good comic timing and you could sense the love the filmmakers had for the genre they were poking fun at. The upshot is that you felt like the people who made the film were laughing with fellow vampire fans at the genre’s tropes, rather than making fun of vampire fans. I was also a little hesitant to dive into the TV series for the same reason. I was concerned that a TV adaptation would go for cheap laughs and corny gags over thoughtful, albeit funny writing. I finally sat down to watch the first three seasons last year and I just finished the fourth season and I’m glad to say my concerns were, for the most part, unfounded.

Like the original movie, the television series What We Do in the Shadows follows a group of vampire roommates. Although set in the same world as the movie, the series is set in a different location and we follow different vampires. The movie was set in New Zealand. Now we’re in Staten Island, New York. The original movie followed a mocumentary format. The TV series takes more a reality-show format with a camera crew following our vampires through their night-to-night lives.

The roommates are Nandor the Relentless played by Kayvan Novak. At one point, he was the leader of a principality in southern Iran and a fierce warrior. 760 years later, he’s the self-appointed head of the household. His familiar, Guillermo de la Cruz played by Harvey Guillén is the only human in the group. Guillermo’s one desire is to become a vampire, but it turns out he has a family secret that puts him at odds with that goal. Living in the house with Nandor are husband and wife Laszlo Cravensworth and Nadja of Antipaxos played by Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou. Demetriou also plays the ghost of Nadja, who started wandering the earth when Nadja became a vampire. She now possesses a doll. Rounding out the roommates is Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who makes most of the money for the household by working at dull office jobs.

Over the four years of the series so far, it’s continued to poke fun at vampire tropes alongside the trials and tribulations of people sharing a house. Still, the series delivers characters we care about. Nandor, for example, sees himself as a great, verile lover who can seduce anyone. However, he actually has rather poor luck in the romance department and we sympathize with him because Novak gives him an air of vulnerability. Nadja and Laszlo make power plays in the vampire world and start money making schemes, playing on those familiar tropes, but we discover they’re not very good at those ventures. They bicker, but there’s a feeling that the two really care about each other. In many ways, Guillermo is the show’s heart as the longsuffering human who just wants to be recognized for his loyalty but feels ignored by those he serves.

Does it always work? Some episodes are better than others. Some jokes play better than others. Still, for a TV series in its fourth season, it’s held up and been consistently a fun watch that remembers to tell a good story.

My vampire fiction isn’t comedy, but I think humor is an important element in horror or serious supernatural fiction. It helps to break the tension and it helps us relate to the characters and care about them. Because of that, I like seeing humor done well. Good comedy gives us enough drama to increase the stakes, so to speak. Good drama needs a little humor to help you relate in the same way. You can learn more about my vampire fiction at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Gentlemen Ghouls

I was excited to learn that my friend Bram Meehan is involved in a graphic novel project that combines monsters of rock and monsters from Hell. The graphic novel is The Gentlemen Ghouls: The Apocalypse Trilogy, which is an acclaimed high-camp horror comics series in the lurid Hammer tradition. It has just launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe print and PDF edition. The comic from writer Martin Hayes and artist Alfie Gallagher was originally serialized online in David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly. The 132-page softcover collects all three volumes plus a new short story and afterword. My friend Bram serves as the graphic novel’s letterer.

Set in 1972, the graphic novel depicts London as a swirling cesspit of vice and corruption, one giant madhouse full to bursting—with David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath soundtracking the greatest battle between good and evil ever beheld by mortal man. When sinister gears turn and apocalyptic machinations play out, two aging consulting occultists, a couple of ham-fisted coppers, and a rebellious reporter must confront vampires, demons, the occasional rock star, and the Devil himself to keep all bloody Hell from coming to Earth. Three chapters each take their cue from a classic rock song, combining heavy metal with a seedy seam of seventies cop shows and occult mischief. The comic makes me think of what would have happened if Kolchak: the Night Stalker had been filmed by Hammer studios.

According to writer Martin Hayes, “I’ve always wanted to do something that would hit the big Hammer touchstones of monsters, vampires, and devil worship, and I couldn’t resist throwing in the best parts of the gritty British cop shows that we used to pick up with our extra-high aerials here on the east coast of Ireland.” Artist Alfie Gallagher adds, “we’re not going for po-faced serious horror, it’s campy glammy trashy hi-jinx with figures and symbols from horror crashing through the grubby setting of London 1972— and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

Go to http://gentlemenghouls.com/ to get in on the campaign. The book is completed and ready for print and electronic distribution at the conclusion of the Kickstarter. Additional rewards include a digital publication with 50 pages of behind-the-scenes art process, original art, and commissioned sketches. Stretch goals include a sheet of six stickers and two beer mats inspired by the world of The Gentlemen Ghouls. I have already contributed to the campaign and if you enjoy monsters and rock, you’ll want to take a look.

Bram Meehan who lettered the Gentlemen Ghouls also lettered my debut comic, Guinevere and the Stranger. Lettering is an underappreciated art in comics. It’s the letterer’s job to make sure the word balloons flow naturally so you read the dialogue in the right order. You need to see the words when they’re critical, but they can’t hide the wonderful art. Bram not only lettered my comic, but he helped me develop the script, effectively serving as my editor. You can pick up a copy of my comic at: https://hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php.

Also, a Kickstarter project has just gone live to fund two steampunk anthologies and one dieselpunk anthology. I have stories in all three books! I’ll discuss this project in more detail on Saturday, but if you want to take a look and be an early backer, it’s at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

Doctor Who: Connections

Near the end of November, I discussed Big Finish’s Doctor Who story “What Lies Inside?” featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair. One of the things I like about Big Finish is that they frequently have deals on their website or via their newsletter. When I bought “What Lies Inside?” I bought a bundle that included an additional set of three adventures called “Connections.” That second set has been released and my family and I were able to give it a listen during a recent road trip.

Back in my university days, before the World Wide Web, I subscribed to message boards on Usenet. One of those message boards discussed all things Doctor Who. One character who would spark much discussion on the message board was an old school chum of the Doctor’s from the planet Galifrey named Drax. Now, Drax only appeared in a couple of episodes of serial “The Armageddon Factor” which was part of a longer arc where the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, and his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, seek out pieces of something called the Key to Time, which will is needed for god-like entities to put the universe back into balance. Drax used to come up for so much discussion because he was not only one of the few people from Galifrey who seemed to actively like the Doctor, he also referred to the Doctor by the name: Theta Sigma. Was Theta Sigma really the Doctor’s name? Was it a nickname? Was it a fraternity they belonged to? These were all questions bandied about on the message board. None of which were ever definitively answered then and none of which are definitively answered in the new audio episode, “Here Lies Drax.” That said, it was great fun to hear a new episode with Drax. Or, does it really have Drax? The episode opens with the Doctor receiving a parcel from Drax for safekeeping. Soon after, they receive an invitation to Drax’s funeral! Once they get to the funeral, they discover Drax had made a lot of enemies over his lifetime, and that’s just how things get going. We soon get a rollicking mystery where the Doctor has to figure out whether there really is any value to the things in the parcel, while he figures out what happened to his old friend.

The second episode of “Connections” is titled “The Love Vampires” and felt like an appropriate listen while I’m working on a vampire novel of my own. In this episode, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv arrive at a space station orbiting a dying star. However, the crew of the station are apparently being killed off by vampires. Now, these aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill bloodsucking vampires These vampires take you back to memories of your first love and feed off the emotions generated. Energy and emotion vampires are nothing new to the genre, but the writers cleverly use this concept to explore the characters of Helen, Liv, and the Doctor through their memories of their first loves. We get some nice background on both Helen and Liv. Right from the beginning of the television series, it was established that the Doctor has a granddaughter and Big Finish’s audio dramas have reinforced the idea that Susan is a biological granddaughter. She doesn’t just call him “Grandfather” as a term of affection. In fact, there are several great Big Finish productions where Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, is teamed up with Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, one figures, the Doctor must have had at least one love in his life, or at least a liaison. Who did the Doctor have a child with? What was their relationship like? This episode suggests some possibilities, but like Drax in “The Armageddon Factor” it may raise more questions than it answers.

The final episode of the “Connections” set moves the focus from the Doctor to Helen. In this case, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv land in modern-day London to investigate a time anomaly. Helen soon discovers one of the Weeping Angels in the back of an old record shop. These are villains who look like statues of angels and only move when you’re not looking at them. When you blink, they can jump on you and transport you back in time. In “Albie’s Angels” this happens to Helen and she’s transported back to the 1960s and is reunited with her long lost brother Albie. She never knew what became of her brother and she learns that her father and brother had a falling out because Albie was gay. It felt quite appropriate to listen to this episode while on a family trip, since it reminds us why families shouldn’t let themselves be torn apart by different lifestyles and viewpoints. The story itself involves the Doctor and Liv trying to find out where Helen has gone while Helen tries to help her brother find his own path in life. Without spoilers, this episode proved to be a bittersweet and poignant tale with connections to other characters in the Doctor Who canon.

You can find “Connections” at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-eighth-doctor-adventures-connections-2523 and while you’re there, you can sign up for the Big Finish newsletter if you choose. I’m just a fan of Big Finish and this isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you want to get ready for my forthcoming vampire novel and meet a set of characters with their own special abilities, check out my Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Dracula Cha Cha Cha

As we march into this new year, I’ve been continuing my exploration of vampire novels and movies while working on my novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. Today, I’m taking a look at Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is the third novel in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. Originally released as Judgment of Tears, this novel is set in 1959 Rome where Dracula is planning a high profile wedding. Vampire reporter Kate Reed, who has appeared in many of the other Anno Dracula novels, has traveled to Rome to report on the event. She’s immediately swept into the entourage of an elder vampire and his “niece,” an actress named Malenka. In recent weeks, a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Avenger has been murdering vampires and sure enough he strikes at the end of Kate’s first night in Rome. The Crimson Avenger kills the elder vampire and Malenka. Kate is the only witness and she hopes to solve the mystery.

Kate is also in town to say farewell to her human friend, Charles Beauregard, who is being tended through his last days by the vampire elder Geneviève Dieudonné. Geneviève gets swept into the mystery along with Kate. It also turns out that a British spy called Bond is on the trail of the Crimson Avenger. I was especially amused that Newman notes that Danny Dravot of both his earlier novels and Rudyard Kipling’s novella The Man Who Would be King is the one who turned Bond into a vampire. What’s more, he notes Bond and Dravot bear a superficial resemblance. Movie fans might recall that Sean Connery portrayed Danny Dravot in John Huston’s adaptation of the story as well as his more famous role as James Bond.

Once again, Kim Newman gives us a solid, suspenseful mystery with references to numerous cinematic vampires. In other novels and stories featuring long-lived and immortal characters, a lot is made of these characters outliving people they’ve grown to love. In this novel, Kate, Geneviève, and their vampire acquaintance Penelope Churchward must face the ultimate demise of Charles Beauregard even as the spymaster who has appeared in many of these novels helps them put many of the puzzle piece in place. It helps to ground the novel and give it emotional weight I’ve found lacking in some of those other stories.

The Titan Books edition of Dracula Cha Cha Cha also includes a novella set in 1968 called Aquarius. Again, Kate Reed is involved in a murder mystery. In 1960s Britain, vampires and humans have learned to coexist, so it comes as a shock when a human girl is drained dry by a vampire. Kate soon uncovers clues that point to a nearby university which admits both human and vampire students. Again, it’s a solid mystery and well resolved.

In addition to the two stories, Newman walks us through many of his cinematic influences. This is a nice feature, since it gives me some new movies to seek out.

I was amused that in the lead-up to Dracula’s wedding, many of the characters were dancing to a song called the “Dracula Cha Cha.” As I read the book, I thought Kim Newman had made it up. It turns out it’s a real song recorded by Bruno Martino in 1959 and you can find numerous cover versions of the song. I definitely need to add the song to my vampire song playlist.

Clearly, I would recommend Dracula Cha Cha Cha to vampire fans who like a good mystery. If you’d also like to get ready for my forthcoming novel, you can learn about the Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Snow, Glass, Apples

The fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has fascinated me ever since I translated the story for a German literature class back in my university days. Since that time, I published a translation of the story in an issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I then wrote a piece of flash fiction that imagined a vampiric version of Snow White called “The Tale of Blood Red” which appeared in the anthology Blood Sampler. Most recently, I gave Snow White a steampunk treatment and placed the story with the forthcoming anthology Grimm Machinations.

On a recent trip to a bookstore, I found the 2019 graphic novel Snow, Glass, Apples written by Neil Gaiman with art by Colleen Doran. Reading the back and then browsing the interior, I soon discovered this was also a retelling of Snow White. Not only that, it looked like Snow White was portrayed as a vampire. Of course, I picked up the book right away. In this case, the fairy tale is told from the point of view of Snow White’s stepmother, the queen. We learn that the former king went to the woods and fell in love with a beautiful young woman after his wife had died. The king marries the young woman and brings her home. There, she discovers his vampire daughter, who mostly keeps to herself. Over time, the king fades and dies, which is how the young woman becomes queen. She sees Snow White for the danger she is, orders her heart cut out and her body taken to the woods. The years pass, but fewer and fewer people cross the woods to visit the spring fair. Looking in her scrying mirror, the queen realizes that Snow White is still alive. When people enter the woods, she attacks and kills them. The queen sets a plan in motion to save her land and the fair from Snow White. She’ll create blood-laced poison apples for her stepdaughter.

You might wonder how Neil Gaiman and I would independently come up with the idea of a vampire Snow White. I would argue many of the ingredients are right there in the fairy tale. In the original, Snow White’s mother pricks her fingers and sees the blood drop onto a snow-covered, ebony window frame. She wishes for a child with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. Also, in the original story, Snow White’s stepmother succeeds in killing Snow White three times, only to have Snow White return from the dead each time. When Snow White dies the third time, the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin and the prince at the end wakes her, not with a kiss, but having his bumbling entourage drop the coffin, dislodging the poisoned apple piece. And, there’s also the bit near the opening where the wicked queen wants to destroy Snow White’s heart. It’s not a big leap to go from the story as commonly read to the idea of Snow White being a magical, undead creature.

It turns out Snow, Glass, Apples is actually based on a 1994 short story by Gaiman. The story along with Colleen Doran’s art has a distinctly erotic feel. This may feel like a departure from a classic fairy tale, but again, it has roots in the original story. I’m fortunate enough to have a German copy of Grimms’ tales which include notes by the Grimm brothers. They mention that some versions of the story do relay not just the wish of Snow White’s mother, but tell the story of Snow White’s conception during a sleigh ride.

I was glad to discover Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Snow, Glass, Apples. The story is an interesting twist on the original and Doran’s art is lush and gorgeous, adding to Gaiman’s story. The graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Books and you should be able to find copies online or at your local bookstore. The original story appears in Gaiman’s collection Smoke and Mirrors.

My translation of “Snow White” appeared in Tales of the Talisman, volume 2, issue 2, which is sadly out of print. My vampire story, “The Tale of Blood Red” is available in Blood Sampler, which you can pick up here: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/product-page/blood-sampler-by-david-lee-summers-lee-clark-zumpe

My steampunk story “The Porcelain Princess” will appear in Grimm Machinations from eSpec Books. Although that version of Snow White isn’t a vampire, I still explore some of the darker, spookier aspects of the character. The Kickstarter for the book should be launching soon. I’ll be sure to keep people posted.

One Thousand Monsters

This new year finds me about halfway through the first draft of my vampire novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. When I’m not writing, I’m often reading and one of the books I recently enjoyed is Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman. I’ve read and discussed two of the books in this series already—three if you count Kim Newman’s graphic novel set in the same world. In this case, I technically skipped ahead to book 5 of the series because I wanted to return to the nineteenth century and continue the story of Geneviève Dieudonné before continuing to march through the twentieth century with Newman’s own vampires.

If I hadn’t already become a fan of Kim Newman’s work from Anno Dracula, this novel would have won me over by opening with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn’s essays and collections have long been an influence on me and I even paid tribute to him by making him a character in my novel Owl Riders. Among the works Hearn collected are spooky and strange folktales from Japan. Stories from his collection Kwaidan were even filmed for a movie of the same name. One of the truly memorable stories from that collection features the snow maiden, or Yuki-Onna, a phantom-like figure of cold winter nights who lures men to their deaths. Yuki-Onna looms large in One Thousand Monsters.

The world of Anno Dracula assumes that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was largely a factual account until the end. Instead of Professor Van Helsing leading a pursuit of the good count through the Carpathians, Dracula eludes his pursuers and marries Queen Victoria, becoming the prince regent and bringing vampires out into the open. In the aftermath of the struggle against Dracula’s corruption, a handful of vampires including Geneviève Dieudonné are exiled from Great Britain and travel to Japan. They settle in Yokai Town, a district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires. Newman dives extensively into Asian vampire lore to populate Yokai Town with a wide variety of strange, frightening, tragic, and even sometimes humorous vampires. As the British vampires attempt to settle in, they find the district is under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Majin, who runs the district like a prison. What’s more, sinister things are afoot as vampires make plots in the shadows.

In addition to Geneviève Dieudonné, we get to know several interesting vampires from both European and Asian stories and movies. Leading the European vampire contingent is Princess Casamassina, a vampire who can literally become light. Two soldiers, Danny Dravot and Kostaki work with Geneviève to unravel the mysteries of Yokai Town. Fans of Rudyard Kipling will recognize Dravot from the story “The Man Who Would be King.” There’s even a sailor named Popejoy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the sailor of Elzie Segar’s comic strip. Among the Asian vampires are a Chinese jiang shi, the cat-like bakeneko, and a child-vampire who controls creepy puppets. There’s even a brief reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund.

All in all, Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters was a great romp. We got to know some familiar characters better and were introduced to some new characters. Newman deftly juggles the many types of vampires from world lore and draws us in to believe they’re all part of one big shared universe. Not only does the book start with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn, but Hearn makes a cameo appearance at the end of the novel. There aren’t many series that I feel compelled to read every book, but the more I read, the more I want the next Anno Dracula in line.

I introduce Lafcadio Hearn in my novel Owl Riders. Although it’s not a vampire novel like One Thousand Monsters, I debuted the book at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, in part because the store sits on the site where Ramon and Fatemeh live in the novel. What’s more the Scarlet Order vampires have a way of weaving in and out of the Clockwork Legion stories. In Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, I have a scene where the vampire Desmond Drake is in New Orleans and finds himself at the house where Lafcadio Hearn lived. You can learn about Owl Riders and all my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Hugo

Starting in 2020, a friend started running a virtual happy hour on Friday nights as a way to give us all a little human interaction outside of work during the COVID Pandemic. We’ve enjoyed these gatherings so much, they’ve now been going on for two years. During one of these sessions, a friend recommended the movie Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ben Kingsley. My wife chimed in that she’d seen it and strongly suggested we should get a copy. We finally did and I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it.

I think Hugo is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a mainstream steampunk film. Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy living in the Paris train station in 1931. When his father died in a fire, Hugo had been taken in by his uncle, who maintained the station’s clocks. The only thing Hugo had of his fathers was a broken-down automaton, like the ones used in magic shows at the end of the Victorian era. It appeared this particular automaton could write. Hugo sets about finding parts to make the automaton work again, which means occasionally stealing parts from a toy seller at the station. The toy seller catches Hugo in the act and makes him empty his pockets. In the process he discovers the boys notes about the automaton. Soon after this, Hugo meets and befriends the toy seller’s goddaughter, Isabelle. She helps Hugo and the toy seller reach an understanding and Hugo starts working for him to pay the toy seller back for the parts he took.

As the movie progresses, we eventually learn that the toy seller is none other than Geoges Méliès, the filmmaker who made A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Méliès fell on hard times after World War I. He’s depressed and has no interest in talking about his films. Working together Hugo and Isabelle do manage to get the automaton working and they eventually learn that the automaton once belonged to Méliès. In short, the film tells the story of Hugo coming to terms with the loss of his father and it’s also the story of how Méliès vanished from public view because of World War I and how he came to terms with his legacy in the 1930s. My only real complaint about the film is that the scenes of Méliès directing his films looked a little too much like modern filmmaking. The glimpses of early filmmaking we saw in E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire felt a little more true to the period than what we saw in Hugo.

With its automata, its look at the magic of early film making, and the great clockworks of the Paris train station, the film Hugo feels very much like a steampunk or maybe even dieselpunk story (it is set in the 1930s, after all). However, it isn’t quite steampunk. Instead, it’s historical fiction. After all, automata who danced, wrote notes, or did other tricks really existed. The master maker of such automata was none other than Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, a magician who was one of Méliès’s real-life mentors. Robert-Houdin, incidentally, also inspired magician Erik Weisz, who took the stage name Harry Houdini in Robert-Houdin’s honor. Still, it’s astonishing to see a film which feels so steampunk directed by such a mainstream director as Martin Scorsese and which was taken seriously enough to win four Academy Awards.

The film Hugo reminded me of my approach to steampunk and other, similar historical fantasy. I start with meticulous research about what happened in history. Within the true story, I find the tale I want to tell, usually by asking “what if” about some set of real world events. The “what if” might involve some fantastic element like asking what if airships had been present? Or, what if the automata had miniaturized analytic engines and could do complex calculations, becoming more like modern robots than simply sophisticated clockwork toys.

Hugo came out in 2011 and it feels like a lot has happened since then and steampunk has faded in mainstream popularity. Georges Méliès was fortunate enough to see the magic of his films be rediscovered during his lifetime. I suspect steampunk and historical fantasy are far from the end of their life. There’s still much magic for audiences to discover. If you want to delve into my steampunk worlds, just visit http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Lavender Castle

I enjoy listening to the Gerry Anderson podcast hosted by Gerry’s son, Jamie Anderson, along with Richard James and Chris Dale. the podcast discusses the television shows Gerry Anderson produced over a nearly 50-year career in television and includes such well known shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Chris Dale’s segment on the show is called “The Randomiser” and in it, he watches a random episode from a random Gerry Anderson show. In an episode a few weeks ago, he discussed a show called Lavender Castle, which I’d not heard of before.

Now, when I first heard the title, I pictured something very different from Gerry Anderson’s usual oeuvre of action shows, often with a science fictional element. To me, the title brought to mind princesses, ponies, and an idyllic fantasy land possibly under threat from a comical villain. While listing to the Randomiser, it became clear this was something different. I finally decided I needed to learn more about this show.

Lavender Castle tells the story of the crew of a space vessel called the Paradox, commanded by Captain Thrice, an elf-like grandfatherly being with an eye on his nose in addition to the two on either side. He’s accompanied by a sentient walking stick and a Scottish-accented engineer named Isembard. The Paradox is built like an English cottage with a thatch roof. In the first episode, they land aboard a pirate ship called the Cutting Snark, which floats in a magical glowing river between planets. There they rescue several would-be slaves and recruit them for their crew. The other crew members are a dog-like hero named Roger, a medical student named Lyca, who has butterfly wings, a robot called Sir Squeakalot, and Sproggle, a lovable, lizard-like goofball.

The mission of the Paradox is to prevent a villain named Dr. Agon and his minions from destroying the titular Lavender Castle, which is the source of light and goodness in the universe. Dr. Agon flies through the universe in a monstrous ship called the Dark Station and has an elephant-like landing craft called the Mammoth. Agon’s primary minion is a pterodactyl-like creature called Trump, and I’m especially amused that they all consider the name a horrible insult. Occasionally teaming up with Dr. Agon is the pirate Short Fred Ledd.

The character designs and premise are the brainchild of British illustrator Rodney Matthews, who I wasn’t familiar with. While his style is very much its own, it reminded me of Brian Froud’s illustration work, which inspired movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The series ran for 26 10-minute episodes in 1999. Many of the episodes were scripted by Gerry Anderson himself. The show features a mix of stop motion and computer animation.

Given that the entire series has a run time of about four and a half hours, it’s an easy show to binge watch. I love stop motion animation and this was nicely done, especially for something that was produced on a television budget in the 1990s. They pack a lot of story into each 10-minute episode and I didn’t feel like I ran into too much repetitive material. Because the episodes are so short, we never get much back story for the characters.

I’ve always hated reviews that say something to the effect, “this show will bore adults, but it’s great for children.” Although children are very much the target audience, I found myself thoroughly enchanted by the show. My only complaints, particularly since this is a children’s show, are that almost all the characters are male and the characters can merrily breathe in space. Admittedly that latter point is something of a nitpick since these are clearly fantasy creatures existing in more of a magical realm than a scientific one, but I think a nod could have been given to the real world without slowing things down too much or sounding like a science lesson.

Several episodes are really top-notch. Favorites include: “Dueling Banjos” in which Captain Thrice must have a banjo duel with a crawfish-like swamp creature to get fuel for the Paradox; “Galactic Park” where the crew is lured to a theme park, but it proves to be an elaborate trap by Dr. Agon; and “Interface” where the Paradox responds to a distress call, only to be knocked out by sleeping gas and attacked by a giant mechanical spider. In that episode, Sir Squeakalot must find a way to save the crew by himself.

The entire series can currently be found on YouTube, but less because it’s legal to be there and more because no one is really enforcing the rights. The show was financed by Carrington Productions Incorporated, which was ultimately absorbed by Entertainment Rights Incorporated. Entertainment Rights was eventually purchased by Dreamworks Classics. I gather Anderson Entertainment is currently working on the rights issues with hopes of eventually producing a home video release and perhaps even some tie-in media. I hope they’re successful because this would be an amazing series to watch remastered on Blu-ray. While it may be little more than wishful thinking at this stage, I enjoyed this show so much, I would love to pitch a story for tie-in media if the opportunity ever arose.

While we’re waiting for a home video release of Lavender Castle, you can check out some of my whimsical and sometimes scary retrofuturistic fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

Battlestar Galactica

In the summer of 1978, I went with my parents to Ports O’ Call Village in San Pedro California. This was a shopping mall with curio shops and restaurants done up in the style of a New England fishing village. Eleven-year-old me was mostly bored by these excursions, but I perked up when we went into a hobby shop with some models that reminded me of Star Wars, which was still a relatively new thing. It turned out these were models for a new show called Battlestar Galactica, scheduled to debut that fall on television. They depicted a Colonial Viper and a Cylon Raider. My parents wouldn’t let me buy the models, but I did watch for the show and was captivated by its 24 episodes featuring Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, and Dirk Benedict.

As it turns out, Battlestar Galactica would only bear some superficial resemblance to Star Wars through the space dogfights and robots that somewhat resembled chromium-plated Darth Vaders. Still, in those days before on-demand video, it was the closest thing I could get to reliving George Lucas’s 1977 film. As I’m sure most people reading this blog know, Battlestar Galactica tells the story of a group of robots called cylons who destroyed twelve worlds occupied by humans. The last living humans then went in search of a mysterious thirteenth colony called Earth, while pursued by the cylons. I did like the idea of a group of humans searching for the lost colony of Earth and I liked many of the characters. I also liked the almost mystical elements the show had, with angelic and demonic beings cropping up from time to time. That said, even eleven-year-old me had a hard time believing that noisy cylons with all their whirring sounds could sneak up on anyone and I wondered how the viper pilots were supposed to see with those lights around their helmets. Wouldn’t those reflect off the glass of their canopies and keep you from seeing the enemies?

In 2004, Ron Moore, known for his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation, would bring Battlestar Galactica back. This time, Edward James Olmos would play Commander Adama of the Galactica, most of the cylons we saw on screen looked human, and people wore contemporary neckties and spoke into analog phones. I liked this gritty new look. Unfortunately, the show came out at a time soon after I’d eschewed cable, so I only saw episodes here and there. Still, I liked the way this new show explored contemporary issues through a science fictional lens, gone were the helmet lights I didn’t like, and the human-like cylons seemed a bit scarier than the robots, precisely because you were never quite sure who exactly was and wasn’t a cylon.

Sitting at home during the 2020 pandemic, I finally had an excuse to start watching the 2004 Battlestar Galactica from beginning to end. I finally made it to the end a little over a week ago. Overall, I liked this new take. I liked the fact that it told a complete story and I like the nuts-and-bolts reality of it. I hesitate to say too much about the ending for anyone like me who has waited a while to watch the entire show. Still, most of it worked for me. Elements of it had a deus ex machina feel, but as I noted earlier, angelic and demonic forces have been part of the show since the original incarnation. I did feel those elements were there throughout the new version, though they could have been just a little stronger to better support the ending.

To me, both shows felt like they wanted to tell a story like a novel, but both were confined to the realities of episodic television. What’s more, from the special features on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica Blu-rays, it was clear they weren’t writing from an over-arcing outline. At best, they seemed to plot out a general direction from half-season to half-season. It mostly worked, but at times, it felt like the writers came up with more good ideas than they could satisfactorily resolve.

The original series always felt like it made a promise it never kept. It promised the Battlestar Galactica would find Earth. It kind of did in the Galactica 1980 series, but that 10-episode series never really lived up to the original. This time, I feel like the humans finally did find their way to Earth, and while I had some quibbles with some plot elements that could have been better resolved, I still thought it was a ride worth taking.

What Lies Inside?

I enjoy collecting action figures and statues based on some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy universes. I especially like ones that take inspiration from sources other than movies or TV. One manufacturer I especially liked was Eaglemoss, which made spaceship models based not only on the Star Trek television series, but also occasionally from novels and video games. Eaglemoss also made figures from comic books and other science fiction franchises. I was saddened to hear that they went out of business at the end of this past summer. Shortly after they went out of business, I learned they had made some figures based on the Doctor Who audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. I have loved these audio stories, and I decided to see if I could get a set before they disappeared into the hands of collectors forever. I lucked out and found a nice set featuring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as his companion Liv Chenka. Paul McGann did play the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, but Big Finish designed a new look for the Doctor as he appears on the audio book covers, also Liv has never appeared on screen. Even the Dalek’s paint scheme is unique to the audio book covers.

I’ve long appreciated that Big Finish productions have given us a nice run of Paul McGann as the Doctor. He’s only appeared on screen three times in the role. First in the TV movie, where he was introduced. Second in a TV short called “Night of the Doctor” where we learned how his incarnation met its end. Most recently, he appeared in the episode called “Power of the Doctor” where Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor meets the “spirits” of several earlier incarnations. It always felt like a shame he didn’t have more stories. While I have listened to several Big Finish audio productions featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, I hadn’t yet listened to any featuring Liv, nor have I listened to any after the eighth Doctor started sporting his leather jacket look as shown in the action figure. That said, I did listen to the pivotal stories “Lucie Miller” and “To the Death,” which effectively show us how the Doctor went from a more breezy, lighthearted personality to a more reserved, careful personality, reflected in the change of outfit. So, I decided I should rectify that. The hard part was deciding where to start. Right after “To the Death,” Big Finish produced several epic-length episodes featuring the eighth Doctor that span several volumes each. I wasn’t quite ready to commit that much time to a story. That said, this year, Big Finish has released two sets of more episodic adventures featuring Paul McGann. The first was “What Lies Inside?”

“What Lies Inside?” is, itself, composed of two different stories. The first is “Paradox of the Daleks.” As this story starts, it looks like it’s going to be a very traditional story of the Doctor facing his old nemesis the daleks. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen Sinclair arrive on a space station where the inhabitants are conducting experiments on time travel. It turns out, the daleks have also invaded, preparing to establish a temporal beachhead in some war they’re fighting. As the Doctor tries to foil the daleks’ plans, one of the space station’s inhabitants tricks Liv and Helen into hiding in a time capsule. The capsule sends them back in time to before they all arrived and sets a chain of events into action. On the whole, the story reminded me of Back to the Future, but where the stakes could be the universe itself!

The second story was “The Dalby Spook.” In this story, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv visit the Isle of Man in 1933. They go to see a stage psychic perform and encounter the real-life skeptic Harry Price. It turns out that Price is on the island to investigate reports of an invisible, talking mongoose said to haunt the Irving family home. I was delighted to learn that Harry Price’s investigation of Gef the Talking Mongoose really happened. I love it when real events are given a science fictional or fantastic twist and this story doesn’t disappoint. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen soon learn that something sinister is indeed going on around the Irving home, but it may not be as simple as young Voirrey Irving trying to get people to believe in an imaginary friend. She may be in real danger and Helen and Liv have to convince the Doctor to help.

While I’m disappointed that Eaglemoss has gone out of business, I’m happy that events came together to get me to listen to more Big Finish Doctor Who adventures. You can learn about their full range of adventures at https://bigfinish.com

Of course, if you like audiobooks, don’t miss the audiobook adaptations of my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. You can find them at: