Saturday, 24 June 2017

New on my Patreon: A HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH

My Patreon page is now hosting a new essay series, A History of Middle-earth. This is pretty much what it says on the tin, a history of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium. The first phase is the fictional history of the continent of Middle-earth and the world it sits on, Arda, and will be followed up by an account of the conception, creation and writing of the Middle-earth series. My plan for this series is one new article every weekend. Parts 1 and 2 are now up, charting the history of Arda from its creation to the Battle of Sudden Flame and the breaching of the Siege of Angband.

Artwork by Gordon Theobald

Having spent almost 25 years reading, re-reading and studying Tolkien from a variety of angles, this seemed a fitting project to undertake this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion, the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit and 100 years - more or less - since Tolkien began writing his first Middle-earth story (about the fall of Gondolin) in a hospital bed in Birmingham, whilst recuperating from an illness sustained in the Battle of the Somme.

The Cities of Fantasy series will also continue, but this now going to be a much more irregular project than I first envisaged. Both series will be Patreon exclusives (for $1 Patrons and upwards) for one month before being republished here on the Wertzone.

The Babylon 5 rewatch project is the next big Wertzone project and that should start in the next week or so, first with a couple more articles on the B5 universe before we begin with the pilot episode, The Gathering. Interestingly, this will be the very first time I've ever seen the revamped, "special edition" of the pilot episode from 1998. Looking forwards to seeing what they changed in it.

As usual, if you want to give some support to the site and all my blogging efforts, you can also hit up the donation button in the top-right corner of the blog for a one-off contribution. At the moment contributions are going towards my trip to WorldCon in Helsinki in August, which hopefully should give up some new stories and interesting developments (and yes, I'll ask George when he hopes to finish The Winds of Winter and no, I don't think he'll give an answer).

Thanks to all my readers and followers. You guys continue to rock!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

HOMEWORLD: CATACLYSM re-released with a new name

The classic, era-defining Homeworld and Homeworld 2 got an impressive re-release in 2015 in the Homeworld Remastered collection, followed last year by a splendid (if low-key) prequel game, Deserts of Kharak. Missing from these celebrated events was Homeworld: Cataclysm, the stand-alone expansion for the original game.


Developed by Barking Dog Studios and released in 2000, Cataclysm has widely been praised as the best game in the series, with a tense, escalating storyline seeing the galaxy consumed by a cybernetic terror known as the Beast and the crew of a single mining ship desperately trying to find a way of defeating it. The game expanded on the original title's mechanics, introducing much-needed timeskip features and a lot of new ship designs. Homeworld 2 (2003) ignored many of the developments in the game, with a feeling among fans that the original designers at Relic (now at Blackbird Interactive) didn't really consider Cataclysm part of the official Homeworld canon.

Remastering Cataclysm proved impossible as the original source files had been lost, with the alternative - rebuilding the game from the ground up in the Homeworld 2 engine - considered too complex and time-consuming for what would probably be a limited return. Instead, Blackbird and Homeworld IP owners Gearbox have focused on getting the original game compatible with modern PCs and overcoming a major legal hurdle, namely that Blizzard bought the trademark on the Cataclysm name for a World of WarCraft expansion. The technical stuff done, the game is now available on GoG under the name Homeworld: Emergence to overcome the legal hurdles.

As one of the very best space strategy games ever made, I strongly recommend it.

Ron Howard steps in to save the Han Solo STAR WARS movie

Veteran director Ron Howard has rolled into town to take over the next Star Wars movie. The Solo Han Solo movie (apparently shooting under the working title Solo) was mostly done with shooting when "creative differences" led to directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller departing/being fired/being exiled to the spice mines of Kessel.

Ron Howard and George Lucas, who have collaborated several times.

Howard will be completing principal photography on the picture as well as helming reshoots later in the summer. Howard and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan will be reviewing the footage shot by Lord and Miller to see what material can still be used and what will have to be reshot.

The film is still on track for release on 25 May 2018, just five months after Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi hits cinemas in December, although delays are likely if the production team decide more significant reshoots are needed.

Although Howard hasn't been involved in a Star Wars project before, he did star in George Lucas's 1973 movie American Graffiti (alongside a young Harrison Ford) which led to his casting in the sitcom Happy Days and kickstarted his Hollywood career, including collaborating on the movie Willow with Lucas, so there is some synchronicity involved in this news.

Rumours that Howard has said, at any point, "Hold my beer," and "I got this," have yet to be confirmed.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

New STAR WARS movie loses directors mid-production

In an unexpected movie, the Star Wars Han Solo spin-off movie has lost both of its directors more than halfway through shooting.


Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who had formerly directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street and its sequel, had been employed by Lucasfilm to helm the Han Solo film (which apparently has the working title Solo) and filming began back in February. All seemed well, with cast and crew posting images from what seemed to be a relaxed and fun shoot.

It now turns out that this was not the case. Having tapped Lord and Miller for their loose, improvisational and comedic style, Lucasfilm seemed to develop issues when they approached the Star Wars project with a loose, improvisational and comedic style. In particular, writer-producer Lawrence Kasdan was unhappy with them encouraging the actors to go off-script and producer/Lucasfilm Supreme Leader Kathleen Kennedy was concerned that the film's tone wasn't in keeping with all things Star Wars.

Things came to a head when the studio began planning reshoots, with Kennedy making it clear she wanted the directors to get back on-script and curb their more chaotic sensibilities. The directors refused, apparently leading to them leaving. Some are reporting that they were effectively fired by Lucasfilm, but their own statement puts a more positive spin on things, saying the decision was taken mutually.

Directors leaving a project is hardly unusual, but about three-quarters of the way through actual shooting is unheard of in modern cinema. Lucasfilm are apparently now keen on getting a replacement on board as soon as possible, with steady hand, experienced industry veteran and past George Lucas collaborator Ron Howard looking the most likely to pick up the slack. Joe Johnston is also in the frame if Howard is unavailable, with the final choice being Kasdan himself (although this would have to be a last resort, due to Director's Guild rules on replacing directors with other personnel already on a film).

The Han Solo movie is still aiming for a May 2018 release. Expect to see this fall back to December if the producers decide more extensive reshoots - or even a full remounting of the picture from scratch - are required.

Damon Lindelof penning frankly unnecessary WATCHMEN adaptation for HBO

Damon Lindelof has been tapped by HBO to adapt the graphic novel Watchmen, by professional writer-druid Alan Moore, to television, despite this not being anything anyone really needs in their life.


Zack Snyder helmed a perfunctory but perfectly serviceable movie version of Watchmen back in 2009. Although it was a little compressed fitting the big graphic novel into just two and a half hours, it got the job done and was reasonably faithful - maybe too faithful - to the novel. However, HBO have now picked up the TV rights so they can make a new version which will probably be pretty similar to the 2009 version, since it will have an identical plot and the same cast of characters, just with different actors playing them.

Scriptwriter Damon Lindelof will be helming the new project, as he continues to play Russian Roulette with his career. He charmed millions of fans with his TV series Lost, only to annoy them with a somewhat confused ending, and then really annoyed lots of people with his scripts for Star Trek (2009) and Prometheus (2012), which were both troubled. More recently, however, he has won plaudits for his work on HBO's The Leftovers, which recently concluded a three-season run with a lot of critical acclaim and plaudits.

Meanwhile, graphic novel fans have confirmed that there are more graphic novels in existence than just Watchmen, and if maybe someone wants to take a shot at one of those instead, that would be just fine.

GAME OF THRONES Season 7 trailer

HBO have released their latest and biggest trailer yet for the seventh and penultimate season of Game of Thrones.


The seventh season of Game of Thrones debuts on 16 July on HBO in the US, with it airing on Sky Atlantic a day later in the UK.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Babylon 5 Rewatch: Setting the Scene - The Major Powers of 2257

Ahead of my upcoming Babylon 5 rewatch, it may be useful to set the scene of what is going on in the B5 universe when the series pilot episode opens. This information is not strictly necessary, but it may be helpful in reminding people in what space empire did what to whom and when.

This first article focuses on the major races and alliances. A second will focus on the B5 station and some of the underlying concepts of the show.


The Galaxy in 2257

By the beginning of the Earth year 2257, the galaxy has become divided between five major powers and a plethora of smaller worlds. A series of brutal interstellar wars has taken its toll and there is a desire in the galaxy for peace, a time of trade and diplomacy when differences can be resolved without the need for violence. To capitalise on this, the Earth Alliance has constructed an immense space station, Babylon 5, in neutral space. Representatives from dozens of worlds have gathered to meet in security to further their goals of peaceful cooperation.

It is an ambitious, expensive and controversial undertaking, many on Earth seeing it as a waste of time and demanding that the money should be better spent on the homeworld. But its potential is incredible, opening the markets of dozens of worlds for goods and allowing for the exchange of scientific and medical knowledge to help cure plagues and make new discoveries.


For the five major powers, each has its own goals and interests in the Babylon Project.



The Earth Alliance
Founded: 2085
Homeworld: Earth
Capital: Earthdome, Geneva, Switzerland
Governing body: The Earth Alliance Senate
Head of state: President Luis Santiago

The Earth Alliance is one of the youngest races on the galactic scene. It only joined the interstellar community in 2156, when a scout ship from the Centauri Republic inadvertently stumbled across the Solar system during a routine survey. The arrival of the Centauri was fortuitous, for it united a world creaking at the seams and which had been on the verge of a possibly terminal nuclear conflict. Within a few years, the Alliance had purchased jump drive technology from the Centauri and begun a remarkable diaspora, settling a dozen major colonies and many more military and scientific outposts across dozens of systems close to Earth.

The Earth Alliance established itself as a major power in 2232 when it intervened in the Dilgar War. The Dilgar Imperium had launched a lightning military campaign, scouring out a path of conquest through several minor powers, including the Abbai, Drazi, Ipsha and Vree. Earth initially refused to get involved, but the Dilgar crossed a line when they attacked the Markab Confederacy, one of Earth’s earliest trading allies. The Alliance military – Earthforce – responded with a ferocious counter-offensive that caught the Dilgar completely by surprise and threw them back to their homeworld in less than a year of heavy fighting. Just a couple of years later, the Dilgar homeworld was incinerated when its star went supernova (this being the primary cause for the Dilgar conquests, with the proud empire refusing to ask for help). The Earth Alliance was established as a major player on the galactic scene and Earth became confident and proud…too confident.

In 2245 the Earth Alliance made contact with the ancient, proud, isolationist and incredibly powerful Minbari Federation. The first contact went horrendously wrong, with the Earthforce vessels opening fire in the mistaken belief that the Minbari were going to attack. This incident triggered a war that lasted three years and finally saw the Minbari fleet mount an assault on Earth itself. During this desperate final engagement – the Battle of the Line – the Minbari abruptly ceased fire and departed. The Alliance began rebuilding, uncertain why it had been spared at the moment of final defeat. The prevailing theory is that the Minbari religious caste had objected to genocide, the mass slaughter of billions of civilians, and had compelled the end of the war, but the truth of the matter has never been revealed.

The Earth Alliance Omega-class destroyer. Introduced after the war with the Minbari, this is Earth's most formidable warship and the first to simulate gravity through the use of rotating sections.

Since the end of the Earth-Minbari War, the Alliance has pursued a less bellicose and arrogant role in interstellar affairs, proposing the Babylon Project as a forum for interstellar diplomacy so such a war might never happen again. Surprisingly, they have been backed in this project by the Minbari themselves, as well as Earth’s more traditional allies among the League of Non-aligned Worlds and the Centauri Republic.

The Earth Alliance is ruled from the custom-built administrative city of Earthdome, located near Geneva, Switzerland, on Earth. The major colonies of the Earth Alliance include Mars, Io, Proxima III, Orion VII, Vega and Beta Durani. An increasingly significant player on Earth is Psi Corps, the organisation which regulates telepaths.


The Centauri Republic
Founded: c. 1250
Homeworld: Centauri Prime
Capital: The Capital
Governing body: The Centaurum
Head of state: Emperor Turhan

The Centauri are a (mostly) humanoid species hailing from the planet Centauri Prime, located about 90 light-years from Earth. The Centauri began their expansion into space at least nine centuries before Earth’s first stumbling steps towards the stars and within five centuries had established nothing less than an interstellar empire, subjugating several vassal-races and conquering planets to strip them of their resources.

The Centauri Republic peaked about a century before they made contact with Earth (fortunately for humanity, who otherwise might have been enslaved rather than befriended); one of the last gasps of Centauri imperialism was the invasion of the Narn homeworld in 2109. Although successful, the Narn proved fractious and unwilling subjects. A century of gradually escalating bloodshed and rebellion saw the Centauri finally withdraw from Narn in the early 23rd Century. Other rebellions and economic contraction saw the Centauri abandon many of their outposts and conquests, falling back to just a dozen major colonies. The Centauri notably failed to intervene in the Dilgar War and also refused to help their allies in the Earth Alliance during the war with the Minbari. Although both actions were prudent, they were also seen as cowardly and the Centauri reputation moved from that of a bold imperial power to a decadent, corrupt shadow of its former self, little more than a tourist attraction.

Ambassador Londo Mollari of the House Mollari.

Although they have a reputation as has-beens, the Centauri remain one of the most technologically advanced civilisations in local space; only the Minbari and Vorlons are more powerful, and both are far more isolationist. The Centauri military is large and formidable, if only deployed in recent times for defence. Also, whilst the Republic has been reduced to just twelve major planets, each of these is old, long-settled and populous (compared to many of Earth’s much younger colonies, with only a few tens of thousands of settlers apiece).

The Centauri Republic is ruled by a hereditary emperor – currently Turhan – who is advised by a Council of Ministers. The Centauri noble houses meet in a vast forum known as the Centaurum to discuss matters of import.

Like many species, the Centauri possess telepaths, who are organised into a guild. The Centauri do not seem to have as many telepaths as Earth and Minbar, and seem to employ them frequently for interrogation, intelligence-gathering and corporate espionage.

The Centauri are noted for their flamboyant hair, which men wear in an elaborate crest. Usually, the longer and more elaborate the hair, the more powerful and influential the house. Elderly Centauri men sometimes wear wigs when their hair stops growing. Centauri women shave their heads (sometimes growing a single ponytail) as a sign of "rising above" such petty gestures.



The Narn Regime
Founded: c. 2220s
Homeworld: Narn
Capital: G'Kamazad
Governing body: The Kha'Ri

The Narn are a race of reptilian humanoids (with marsupial reproductive characteristics) originating on the planet Narn, located about 20 light-years from Earth. They are the youngest major power of the local galactic scene.

The Narn established a peaceful, tolerant and religious society a thousand years ago, when their formerly fractious tribes were united by the religious leader G’Quan. The Narn had only just taken their first faltering steps into space and established their first interstellar colony on Ragesh III when the Centauri Republic stumbled across them. The Republic noted that the Narn homeworld was rich in resources, so brutally annexed the planet. The Narn were enslaved, forced to strip-mine their own planet to fuel the Centauri economy. At first the Narn tried to practice peaceful, passive resistance, but as the occupation continued and the death toll climbed into the millions they turned to violence. An escalating series of increasingly brutal rebellions began in the mid-22nd Century and continued without surcease for decades. The Centauri reprisals were brutal, bloody and indiscriminate. Large stretches of the planet were laid waste, the formerly vast forests razed and the planet acquiring its noted red hue.

Ambassador G'Kar of the Narn Regime.

Eventually the Centauri realised that the cost of invading and occupying Narn had grown far greater than the return from its resources. Driven by the peace-favouring policies of the young and idealistic Emperor Turhan when he took the throne, the Centauri formerly withdrew from Narn in the early 23rd Century.

The Narn were nothing if not industrious. They seized everything the Centauri had left behind – weapons, spacecraft, equipment – and turned it to their own advantage. With an industry that was truly impressive they quickly built their own war machine and established their own interstellar alliances. The Narn quickly gained a reputation for being bellicose, aggressive and cynical (they sold weapons to Earth during the Minbari War, but only ones they had stolen from the Centauri so if the Minbari discovered them, they’d assume that the Centauri were responsible), but also capable of surprising subtlety when required.

The Narn Regime now spans half a dozen or so major colonies. They are governed by a council known as the Kha’Ri and have built a formidable military at least the equal of Earth’s in capability (if not in size). The Narn are organised as a strict militaristic hierarchy, a necessity given the harsh circumstances on their homeworld, but they also have a strong religious tradition. G’Quan remains their most venerated religious figure.

Unusually, the Narn possess no telepaths, something they see as a tremendous tactical disadvantage. Narn geneticists have been attempting to introduce the telepath gene to their species for decades, to no success.


The Minbari Federation
Founded: c. 1250
Homeworld: Minbar
Capital: Yedor
Governing body: The Grey Council
Head of state: None at present (a new one is due to be elected in 2259)

The Minbari are a humanoid species, noted for their distinctive bald heads and the large bones which extend out of their skulls (often sculpted into fearsome or aesthetically pleasing shapes). They are a study in contrasts: the Minbari are a deeply spiritual and peaceful people, given to meditation, art and music. They are also industrious builders and seekers of knowledge. And, when roused to anger, they are a formidable and utterly terrifying force, implacable and overwhelming in battle. The Minbari starfleet, centred on their elegant Sharlin-class warcruisers, is the most powerful in known space (aside maybe from the Vorlons), capable of overcoming any threat with almost contemptuous ease.

Relatively little is known of the Minbari. They hail from the planet Minbar, a somewhat cold world rich in crystalline deposits located several dozen light-years from Earth. The Minbari cut their cities directly out of crystal formations. They are ancient, establishing civilisation on their planet when humans were still living in caves. The Minbari have had spaceflight technology for over a thousand years, but they have been cautious, slow to expand and explore surrounding space and have only established fourteen major colonies (all of them far older, larger and more populous than any of Earth's). They have, however, developed technology that outstrips that of even the Centauri by centuries.

A senior Minbari of the warrior caste.

The Minbari have shared almost nothing of their past history with other races. It is known that they are divided into three castes: religious, worker and warrior, each with strict areas of responsibility and control. They do not worship gods, as such, but more the spirit of the universe itself, with their priests combining the role of historian, philosopher and spirit guide. Their most venerated holy figure is Valen, who overcame a period of disgruntlement between the three castes by founding the Grey Council, a ruling body with three representatives from each caste, approximately a thousand years ago. Remarkably, no Minbari is said to have ever killed another Minbari in anger or violence for centuries.

The Minbari have a reputation for xenophobia, although this is not quite accurate. The Minbari, particularly of the religious caste, are curious about other races but also wary of them, seeing many other races as barbarous, violent and consumed by greed and fear. The Minbari limit contact with other worlds, but they have established strong trade and scientific trades with a select few.
The Minbari, like most races, possess telepaths. Minbari telepaths serve the religious caste and are noted for their utterly formidable mental discipline and control, the result of millennia of training.

The Minbari Sharlin-class warcruiser, the primary capital ship of the Minbari Federation. During the Earth-Minbari War, only two Minbari warcruisers were destroyed, compared to hundreds of Earth vessels.

In August 2245, the Minbari made contact with Earth, when their flagship encountered a human scouting fleet on the fringes of Minbari space. Believing the Minbari vessel was about to attack, Captain Jankowski of the EAS Prometheus made the decision to open fire. A freak shot managed to penetrate the Minbari warcruiser’s hull and killed Dukhat, the leader of the Grey Council. The Minbari declared a holy war against the vastly inferior Earth Alliance. In three years of almost completely one-sided warfare the Minbari destroyed most of Earth’s space forces and destroyed several colonies before it finally located Earth and mounted a final assault. On the verge of a major victory, the Minbari abruptly turned and left, choosing to spare humanity rather than committing an act of genocide.

Since the end of the Minbari War, the Minbari have been more active in galactic affairs. To the surprise of many, they have been supportive of the Babylon Project, co-sponsoring the construction of Babylon 5. The Minbari participation in the project has gone a long way to giving it legitimacy and encouraging participation by other races.



The Vorlon Empire
Founded: unknown
Homeworld: unknown
Governing body: The Vorlon High Command

Nothing is known about the Vorlons. Or almost nothing. The Vorlon Empire occupies a vast stretch of space several hundred light-years from Earth. No ship enters Vorlon space without their permission, and they never give permission. The Vorlons are utterly immune to diplomacy, threats or bribes. They communicate with other races when they want to for reasons of their choosing. They are not interested in economics, religion or diplomacy. They speak in metaphors and gnomic utterances, sometimes revelatory in meaning but mostly baffling.

The Vorlons are suspected to employ organic technology, living starships, although both the rarity of encountering a Vorlon ship and the fact they are almost completely undetectable to the instruments of lesser races means this cannot be confirmed. Their spacecraft are extraordinarily manoeuvrable, with even the smallest apparently capable of solo jumps (an impossibility for other races, with even the Minbari struggling to fit jump drives on vessels much smaller than a destroyer). The largest Vorlon ships ever seen are approximately two miles in length, dwarfing the capital ships of most other races.

A Vorlon in its encounter suit.

Even the true appearance of the Vorlons is unknown. They only meet other races when clad in encounter suits which completely hide their true appearance. They claim this is due to their atmospheric requirements being exotic and unusual compared to other races, but this regarded with scepticism. It is unknown if they possess telepaths or not, with their encounter suits apparently blocking all telepathic impulses.

The first official contact between Earth and the Vorlon Empire came by way of a transmission from Vorlon space in late 2256, confirming that they would be sending a representative to the Babylon 5 space station, to the absolute shock of almost all the other races on the station. The reason for the Vorlons breaking their long isolation is, surprisingly, unknown.



The League of Non-aligned Worlds
Founded: prior to 2230
Member states: the Abbai Matriarchy, the Brakiri Syndicracy, the Drazi Freehold, the Gaim Intelligence, the Hyach Grand Council, the Markab Confederacy, the Vree Conglomerate, Balos, Cascor, Grome, Hurr, Ipsha, Llort, Onteen, Pak'ma'ra, Ventuki and Yolu (among others).

As well as the five major powers, local space is home to many dozens of smaller, more independent worlds. Many decades ago, the strongest of these smaller powers - the Drazi, Gaim, Brakiri, Markab, Vree and Hyach - were convinced by the Abbai to band together into an alliance which could stand united against any of the major powers, particularly the Centauri (several League worlds used to be Centauri vassals). This provided both mutual security and also provided a forum for airing grievances and resolving problems before they escalated into war.

Abbai representatives to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council. 

Although fine in practice, the limitations of the idea were confirmed in 2230 when the Dilgar Imperium invaded League space, occupying Balos XII and sweeping through several other systems. In concert, the League could have driven the Dilgar back but petty national jealousies and rivalries saw them unable to act together (in particular, no race was willing to place its military under the command of an outsider). The Dilgar exploited these rivalries expertly. The war only ended in 2232 when the Earth Alliance attacked the Dilgar fleets, taking them by surprise and driving them out of League space in disarray.

Gaim (left) and Drazi (right) representatives to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council.

After the Dilgar War, the League regrouped and has adopted a new philosophy of establishing alliances with the major powers. They have forged closer ties with the Earth Alliance, the Narn Regime (with whom they share a distrust of the Centauri) and even the Minbari, who have grown less isolationist since their own war with Earth. The League participates in the Babylon Project, with ten of the League races representing their concerns to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council. Controversially, however, the League only has one vote on the council despite representing many worlds.

Adrian Tchaikovsky's CHILDREN OF TIME optioned for film

Adrian Tchaikovsky's stand-alone science fiction novel Children of Time has been optioned for film by Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate Pictures.


The novel was originally published in 2015 and won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel. It was Tchaikovksy's first work of SF, having previously written and published the ten-volume Shadows of the Apt fantasy series between 2008 and 2014. The novel depicts humans fleeing from a dying Earth who stumble across a verdant paradise world, terraformed by explorers many years earlier. However, they also find a new intelligent species on the planet, with a major conflict threatening to erupt.

Congratulations to Adrian! Lionsgate are on a push for genre works to adapt to television and film, having recently also acquired the rights to Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle series.

Monday, 19 June 2017

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY gets air date

Star Trek: Discovery has finally gotten its airdate. The first episode will debut on CBS in the United States on 24 September.


The first season of fifteen episodes will air in two batches. The first eight episodes will air from September through November, with the show taking a hiatus over Christmas and returning in January 2018 for the back seven.

The first episode will air on CBS but the rest of the series will be exclusive to CBS All-Access in the States. The show will air internationally on Netflix, probably the day after its initial release. The limited release format for the series, a troubled production schedule and the show being yet another prequel (widely perceived as being redundant and lacking tension) have resulted in a surprising lack of excitement for the first new Star Trek TV series in a dozen years. At least now we know when it will be airing and when viewers will - hopefully - be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

BABYLON 5 rewatch incoming

After a lot of requests, I have decided to embark on a Babylon 5 rewatch project, in a similar vein to my Lost rewatch series from last year. It might be a couple of weeks before it gets underway, if anyone fancies tagging along on the journey.


My plan is to cover everything that is officially part of the Babylon 5 canon, including things that I've never watched before (including about half of Crusade and the TV movies Legends of the Rangers and The Lost Tales) and also most of the canon books and comics. I'll be following the standard viewing order, starting with The Gathering and moving on from there.


Approximate Watching/Reading Order

The Gathering (TV movie)
Season 1
In Darkness Find Me (comic one-shot)
Season 2, Episodes 1-2
The Price of Peace (comic story arc)
Season 2, Episodes 3-4
Shadows Past and Present (comic story arc)
Voices (novel)
Season 2, Episodes 5-17
The Shadow Within (novel)
Season 2, Episodes 18-22
To Dream in the City of Sorrows (novel)
Season 3
In Valen's Name (comic story arc)
Season 4
In the Beginning (TV movie)
Thirdspace (TV movie)
Season 5, Episodes 1-21
The Legions of Fire (novel trilogy)
The Passing of the Technomages (novel trilogy)
Season 5, Episode 22
River of Souls (TV movie)
A Call to Arms (TV movie)
Crusade
Legend of the Rangers (TV movie)
The Lost Tales (TV movie)

Note that whilst the canon novels and comics do expand on elements from the series a lot, and very well, they are not necessary for a thorough enjoyment of the series itself.

RIP Stephen Furst

The actor Stephen Furst has sadly passed away at the age of 63, from complications related to diabetes.


Furst rose to prominence in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), where he played the role of Flounder. He got the role during a side-job delivering pizzas. One of the film's producers saw his headshot taped to the inside of a pizza box and auditioned him. Furst reprised the role of Flounder in the short-lived TV spin-off, Delta House (1979).

Furst then became known for his role as Dr. Axelrod on St. Elsewhere (1983-88). His character was seen as jovial and bumbling, but as the series proceeded became more competent and respected. His character was killed off shortly before the series itself terminated.


In 1993 Furst was cast in his most iconic role when he joined the cast of Babylon 5 as Vir Cotto, assistant and aide to Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). The pilot episode only had the three alien ambassadors, but writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski realised that they each needed an attache as someone from their own race they could talk to. Vir made his debut in the first episode of the first season proper, Midnight on the Firing Line. Like most of the secondary cast, he did not appear in every episode, something he appreciated as it allowed him to also appear in other shows and projects.

During the second season (1994-95), Vir became a significantly more complex and rounded character when Straczynski gave him the role of Londo's conscience, his "good angel" as contrasted to the "evil angel" of Morden (Ed Wasser). The rivalry between the two characters culminated in Vir's eventual victory and, in the final episode of the series, his succession to Londo as Emperor of the Centauri Republic. His character went on to play a major role in the spin-off novels, particularly Peter David's well-received Legions of Fire trilogy where Vir helps liberate Centauri Prime from the Drakh.


Stephen Furst played the role with vigour and conviction. A passionate liberal, he and arch-Republican Jerry Doyle (who played Mr. Garibaldi) would engage in political debates on set which other castmembers enjoyed (to varying degrees). Furst was also encouraged by his newfound fame with the show's viewers and growing health concerns (he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes just a few years earlier) to get into better shape, visibly shedding weight between seasons.

Furst also began a new career as a director thanks to Babylon 5. He directed three of the show's best-received episodes (The Illusion of Truth, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars and The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father) as well as two episodes of its spin-off series, Crusade.

He continued to work as a director on TV movies for SyFy, as well as occasionally appearing in guest roles on other shows.

Furst's death brings the number of premature deaths of the Babylon 5 main cast to a startling six. Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin) passed away in 2004, followed by Andreas Katsulas (Ambassador G'Kar) in 2006, Jeff Conaway (Security Chief Zack Allen) in 2011, Michael O'Hare (Commander Sinclair) in 2012 and Jerry Doyle (Mr. Garibaldi) almost exactly a year ago. Other people involved in the show have also passed away, such as recurring actor Tim Choate (Zathras) in 2004 and CGI pioneer Ron Thornton last year, who created a lot of the show's distinctive visual look.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Harry August has a pretty ordinary life. He is born in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1919 and dies in a hospital in Newcastle in 1989. In the meantime he has different jobs, various relationships and tries to move on from his difficult family life. But when he dies he finds himself as a child again, regaining his memories of his prior life. This happens again. And again.


Harry is an Ouroboran, destined to live his life again and again. He is one of hundreds, and through the overlapping lifespans of Ouroborans it is possible to send and receive messages from the distant past and distant future. But, in Harry's eleventh life, the messages from the future start changing: the world is ending, and it is accelerating. When Harry's fellow Ouroborans start permanently dying (by someone assassinating their parents before they conceived) or having their memories wiped, and amazing technology appears decades early, he realises that one of their number has betrayed them and is using their power for their own ends, with destructive consequences for humanity.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was released in 2014 and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, as well as being nominated for the Arthur C. Clark Award. It gained surprising widespread prominence after being featured on the UK's biggest TV book show. It is written by Catherine Webb under the pseudonym Claire North, which she uses to explore protagonists with unusual abilities (The Sudden Appearance of Hope is in a similar vein).

Webb is a constantly intriguing and interesting author, shifting genres and prose styles with enviable ease as she explores different ideas and characters. At her best, she comes across as a restless, far more prolific and slightly less repetitive (but also somewhat more wordy) Christopher Priest, with her books dwelling on themes such as identity and motivation amongst shifting realities and points of view.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August may be her finest novel to date. The central premise is incredibly strong and it deals with the existential questions surrounding the idea in surprising depth and with logic. Questions are raised such as if the Ouroborans are living in the same world, changing it each time they live through it, or if they are skipping from one timeline to another, and the moral consequences of that for the timelines they leave behind upon death. The overlapping lifespans of different Ouroborans allow them to bring back knowledge from the distant future (since an Ouroboran born in say 1984 dies in the late 21st Century, is reborn, reveals that information to another one who was born in 1925, who can pass it back in their next life etc) and this raises moral quandaries about if they should hoard their knowledge or try to improve humanity's lot.

This latter question consumes much of the novel, especially when it becomes clear that trying to change things often results in far worse consequences. But the dry time travel shenanigans are contrasted against Harry's characterisation, especially the trauma he carries from his first life and his intriguing relationship with a sometimes-nemesis Vincent. The path of the Ouroboran can be a lonely, frustrating one and Harry's dislike of Vincent for his relaxed morality is tempered with respect for his intelligence and just the company of a fellow travel on a journey through their looping lives. This relationship forms the core of the novel and is developed with relish by the author.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (*****) is a smart and thoughtful reflection on life, love, loss, identity, science and the end of the world. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

E3 2017 tidbits

The annual paen to shiny graphics and explosions, E3, is underway in Los Angeles at the moment. It's the year's biggest video game expo, a time for companies to make big announcements and grandiose promises that occasionally pan out but mostly don't. There is oddly little to get that excited about this year, but a few things stood out.


Metro: Exodus

The Metro video game series (comprising Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light) has been one of the most satisfying first-person shooter series of the last decade, going for Russian bleakness and evoking a sparse atmosphere of building tension and horror rather than going for bombast and lots of explosions. Metro: Exodus will apparently expand away from the Moscow metro (the setting for most of the first two games) and feature larger, less linear levels. Although highly promising (the red star steam engine looks cool), the concern remains that the first two games executed a single story brilliantly and ended at just the right moment. Here's hoping this third game enhances, rather than degrades, that legacy.


Total Warhammer 2

Or that would be the game's real title in a world that made sense, rather than the brain-numbingly silly Total War: Warhammer 2 (I'd take Total Waaagh!: Warhammer 2 at this point). Still, this sequel to the Creative Assembly/Games Workshop collaboration takes the war across the western ocean to Lustria, Ulthuan, Naggaroth and the Southlands. High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and a "secret" race (who are totally not the Skaven) will join the roster. The sequel will have a stand-alone campaign but will also bolt onto the original Total Warhammer to unleash a massive, world-spanning conflict.


XCOM2: War of the Chosen

This is a comprehensive expansion for the splendid XCOM 2 which will add ruined, post-apocalyptic cities, complete with zombie-like mutants, as well as adding rival rebel factions you will be competing (and maybe fighting) against, but can also ally with against the alien threat. The game will also add new special alien bounty hunters who have been sent to take out your forces. Riffing off the Nemesis System from Shadows of Mordor, they will gain experience and level up as the game continues, becoming constant thorns in your side until you can finally take them out.


Anthem

A brand-new BioWare IP - their first in a decade - was always going to be a headline-grabbing moment. Unfortunately, the reception to Anthem didn't quite go the way BioWare were expecting. This is an action shooter which borrows - quite significantly - from the anime series Attack on Titan in its worldbuilding and setup, from Titanfall for its mechs (albeit much smaller than in that game) and from Destiny for its focus on co-op gameplay. Those hoping for a big, deep BioWare RPG like of old, or even another action/RPG hybrid like the Mass Effect series, were bitterly disappointed. Possibly prematurely, as the game actually looks pretty good.


Perhaps more notable were the games that didn't appear. Bethesda's science fiction mega-epic Starfield didn't make an appearance, despite heavy rumours, suggesting it's still a way off. Likewise CDPR held fire on Cyberpunk 2077, lending weight to the rumours it's now looking more like a 2019 release. Other games that looked reasonably interesting included Far Cry 5 and Bastard's Wound, an expansion for the excellent RPG Tyranny.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Walking Dead: Season 6

Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors have found a new home in the town of Alexandria. The original inhabitants were organised but lacking in steel, not having seen off the challenges experienced by Rick and his companions. Having helped defend the town from threats within and without, Rick finds himself the de facto new leader of the community and has to take action against an imminent new danger: a vast horde of walkers located in a nearby quarry who are on the verge of breaking out and destroying the town. Beyond that, there are other threats lurking outside the walls, a band of raiders called the Wolves...and another, more mysterious group called the Saviors.


The Walking Dead is probably the most frustrating show on television (although it's also traded that title a few times with Game of Thrones in its most recent two seasons). It's beautifully shot, fantastically scored and has an outstanding cast of excellent actors. The writing and characterisation, however, is highly variable and the show's tone can go all over the place, from slightly cartoonish ultraviolence to gritty realism to funny character interactions and back again, often in a very clunky fashion. By far the show's biggest problem, however, has been pacing and structure. The series has had sixteen episodes per season since its third year, which is very generous by modern American cable standards, but it has struggled, sometimes excruciatingly, with filling that time with consistently gripping drama. From its third through fifth seasons, The Walking Dead has made wheel-spinning into an almost admirable art form.

For its sixth year, the show takes a different tack and one that is quite successful in solving this problem. The first half of the season revolves around two entwined events: Rick and his friends driving off a walker horde at the same time some opportunistic scavengers called the Wolves attack Alexandria. This results in a complex, two-front battle which becomes even more challenging when part of the horde splits off and crashes the party in town. This results in The Walking Dead's most action-packed storyline to date, with eight episodes of building tension, drama and all-out warfare. The series has often been criticised for sometimes forgetting there's even zombies around (although that was kind of Robert Kirkman's point, the zombies are merely the mechanism by which civilisation falls whilst he is far more interested in the social dynamics of reconstruction) but that complaint is certainly dismissed this season. The first few episodes of the show have our characters going to war, engaging the walkers in a full-scale, all-out offensive to save their new home.

It's all splendid stuff. The characters get their moments in the sun, Carol and Tara get new romantic partners, someone gives Daryl a rocket launcher and we're reunited with (slightly inexplicably) fan-favourite bit-player Morgan, who finally joins the cast full-time and gives us the possibly the show's most bizarre stand-alone episode in which he learns aikido from a random dude in the woods and his goat. This episode is gloriously insane, makes very little sense and seems to think it's very profound, which makes it awesomely enjoyable (if not quite for the reasons the writers intended). The first half of the season is The Walking Dead at its very strongest and most gripping, even if the decision to "kill" Glen and hide his fate for three episodes remains utterly moronic.

The second half starts going a bit wonky almost immediately. The end of the battle for Alexandria sees several characters introduced at the end of Season 5 brutally murdered apparently just to keep the cast costs down, which is less tragic than just annoying. Things pick up with a fantastic Daryl/Rick road trip episode in which they meet a charismatic new character called Jesus and then learn about the existence of a network of other settlements. At this point the show's allusions to the Fallout video game series (which have always been present, if not in the actual setting, then in the general post-apocalyptic tone) pick up as Rick moves from being on the defensive to gaining a view of a new civilisation arising from the survivors, that maybe they do all have a future. Having snatched away the possibility of a cure for the Turn in Season 5, The Walking Dead makes up for it by giving us a sliver of hope that maybe things will turn out okay.

There is, of course, a problem: the newly-contacted settlements are being extorted for food and ammo by a group called the Saviors. The show very nearly does something great here by having Rick and co immediately agree to attack them without actually talking to them first, which is a startlingly ruthless (and strategically unsound) move, and thus instigate hostilities. Unfortunately the series provides a get-out clause by revealing that they're the same group that attacked them earlier in the season (and had to be sorted out by Daryl and his rocket launcher), immediately giving Team Rick the moral high ground. This only increases when we get to meet the Saviours and discover just what a bunch of bad 'uns they are. Even so, the show makes some very interesting dramatic choices, such as having our first major interaction with the group come through a group of ruthless women who have sworn in with them, resulting in an unexpectedly feminist episode where they take Carol and Maggie prisoner and we're waiting for Rick to burst in and save them, but this turns out to be unnecessary because Carol and Maggie know how to take care of business by themselves.

So if the second half of the season falters compared to the first half, at least it's making interesting and original storytelling decisions, deploying its large cast of characters in dramatically compelling ways and keeping things ticking over nicely. And then it really all goes horribly wrong in the finale.

The Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead has been justly reviled by very large numbers of both critics and fans. One of the most interesting things about the Saviors before this point is that they're nasty and ruthless, but arguably not outright evil (their insistence on murdering one person as an example has to be countered with Rick's willingness to murder all of them without even knowing anything about them), and in fact seem to be what Team Rick were on their way to becoming given a few more months. The Saviors have some wins and losses, and seem to be a match for our heroes without totally overwhelming them (as, say, the Governor did initially). In the Season 6 finale the Saviors become psychic super-savants, capable of working out exactly what roads (ut of the utter maze of highways, back roads and side-trails sprawling outside Washington, DC our heroes are going to take and blocking them off expertly, building petrol-strewn barricades in minutes and knowing precisely where our characters will stop to get out of their truck to risk a cross-country run so they can set an elaborate trap. It's the most unconvincing, contrived bit of writing I've seen in years and is embarrassingly stupid. The silliness of this ending takes away from the introduction of Negan, the Saviors' much-foreshadowed leader, played with relish by the always-good Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and really reduces the impact of his ruthless execution of one of our heroes (not that you find out who that is until Season 7).

So the sixth season of The Walking Dead (****) is very nearly the best (and is certainly the best-structured and paced), but then makes a series of writing decisions throughout the season which are needlessly annoying, particularly its reliance on fake-out deaths. But as frustrating as it can be, The Walking Dead can also be, particularly in its quieter moments of just dwelling on the world after the fall, surprisingly atmospheric and thoughtful. The show's never-ending quest for consistency continues. The season is available now on DVD (UK, USA) and Blu-Ray (UK, USA).

Driver: San Francisco

Former racing driver-turned-undercover cop John Tanner has put his arch nemesis, Charles Jericho, behind bars. When Jericho is sprung from a police van on his way to trial, Tanner responds to the call but is severely wounded in a car crash. Tanners wakes to find himself suddenly blessed with the ability to 'possess' any driver in the city and take over their car. He sets out with his newly-acquired power to stop Jericho from carrying out his next masterplan: a terrorist attack on San Francisco.


The Driver series began back in 1999 on the original PlayStation. Clearly influenced by the original Grand Theft Auto but casting the player as a "good guy", the original Driver was a fun game that mixed racing and crime-solving. Driver 2 and 3 made ill-advised detours into aping the Grand Theft Auto model of letting the player get out of their car, something the series did not excel at. With this fifth entry in the series (a narratively unrelated spin-off, Parallel Lines, separated the games), the developers have made the wise decision to refocus on driving.

Along the way they developed quite a nifty idea: at almost any time, the player can "shift" into another driver in any other car anywhere else in the entire city. This gives players a lot of freedom in how to approach missions: you can defeat an enemy by shifting into another driver and total their car in a head-on crash.

It's a clever mechanic, constantly and cleverly developed as the game proceeds, but it's one that's quite hard to justify through exposition. So the game goes down the same route as the original, classic British TV series Life on Mars: Tanner is actually in a coma and (almost) the whole game unfolds in his head, the real-life search for Jericho filtering through to Tanner's consciousness via the TV news left on in his hospital room. It's stark-raving bonkers, to the point where you can't quite believe that Ubisoft went for it, but they did and it results in a game that almost gleefully engages with its own goofiness, all the more amusing for doing it in a very serious and well-known franchise.


The story is dumb as a box of frogs but told entertainingly, complete with TV-like "Previous, on Driver: San Francisco" segments between groups of mission and a cast of entertaining characters. The driving model is pretty decent, with the various cars having different strengths and weaknesses. Traditional video game conceits - upgrades, unlockable vehicles and collectibles - are justified as being the products of Tanner's warped and comatose mind.

The game also has fun with side-missions, some generated when Tanner jumps into particular vehicles in the city. Some of these are great, such as the two students who need to win a race to get money for college but Tanner's outstanding skills inadvertently see them recruited by a gang to race for them. Tanner only intermittently drops in on their story, and it's quite funny seeing what mayhem they've been up to inbetween his visits. Other activities include races where you have to switch between two cars and get them to not just win, but finish in a particular place which is fiendishly tough but satisfying when you accomplish it.

I wouldn't have recommended Driver: San Francisco (***½) at full price, but given that it came out six years ago you can now pick it up for pennies. It's a fun, undemanding and goofy game that is a fun, disposable and enjoyable way of filling up time between heavier and longer games. It's available now on PC, X-Box 360 (UK, USA) and PlayStation 3 (UK, USA).

A HISTORY OF EARWA: PDF version available

You can download a free PDF of my 146-page History of Earwa series here. This is an updated version of the same article series that ran on this blog last year and earlier this year, with some extra information and all compiled into a single handy document.


There are no spoilers for The Unholy Consult, so you can use the document as a super-detailed way of getting up to speed ahead of the arrival of the novel at the start of July.

The artwork is by the excellent Jason Deem, aka SpiralHorizon.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Specieswatch: The Ice Warriors

A return for this very occasional series of articles exploring different alien and non-human races in science fiction and fantasy. This time, we take a look at the Ice Warriors from Doctor Who.

 The original Ice Warrior, played by noted British comic actor Bernard Bresslaw in very heavy makeup and costume.

Fictional History

The Ice Warriors are the original inhabitants of the planet Mars, a race of reptilians who evolved at a time when Mars was much warmer than now and had a breathable atmosphere. Their civilisation took shape along the shores of the Oceanus Borealias and the Hellas Sea, building great cities under the rule of their Queens. They developed spaceflight technology, but Earth and Venus, closer to the Sun, were too warm for their tastes, and the moons of the gas giants further out from the Sun were too cold.

The Martian civilisation achieved greatness but also came to extol the virtues of battle, honour and noble sacrifice. Wars wracked the surface of Mars, accelerating the planet's cooling (the result of its magnetic field disappearing, resulting in the planet's atmosphere being stripped away by solar winds). As the planet became less and less habitable, and with their incessant warfare reducing the time and resources for technological research (the Martians never developed FTL on their own), the Martians eventually had no choice but to built vast cryogenic vaults deep under the surface. With Mars becoming a dead world, they went to sleep for millennia.

The Ice Queen Iraxxa, who led her people out of hibernation, helped mastermind the relocation to New Mars and forged the original alliance between the Ice Warriors and the Alpha Centaurians.

However, some Martians had noted that their neighbouring world of Earth had started to become more habitable. A scout ship was sent to the planet circa 3000 BC, but it crashed. Its severely wounded pilot placed himself into suspended animation to heal. Five millennia later, in 1881, he was awoken by British colonial soldiers. He formed an alliance with them and they helped him repair his ship and return home, where he awoke his hive and its empress, Iraxxa. A potential conflict between the Ice Warriors and humanity was averted by the intervention of the Time Lord known as the Doctor (in his twelfth incarnation). By his internal timeline the Doctor had encountered the Ice Warriors on numerous previous occasions and was able to help broker a peace deal. The Doctor then signalled the neighbouring spacefaring civilisation of Alpha Centauri, which helped relocate the Martians to a new, more suitable homeworld, New Mars. However, isolated hives of Ice Warriors would remain buried deep beneath the Martian surface for many centuries.

Grand Marshal Skaldak without his helmet.

In 1983 another Ice Warrior scout ship was recovered near the North Pole by a Soviet submarine. The pilot, Grand Marshal Skaldak, considered himself to have been attacked by the Soviet personnel and prepared to wipe out the crew and seize its nuclear arsenal to sterilise Earth. An earlier incarnation of the Doctor (the eleventh) proved unable to convince Skaldak that his race survived on another planet, but the crisis was averted when an Ice Warrior starship arrived from New Mars to pick up the Grand Marshal and take him to his new home.

In the mid-21st Century an Ice Warrior invasion force planned to invade Earth utilising its new T-mat (matter transmission) system and its relay base on the moon. The Doctor (in only his second incarnation) averted this invasion. It is unclear if the Ice Warriors in this incident were a rogue faction from New Mars attempting to conquer a planet in their home system, or from a rogue hive on Mars that had awoken; the latter is more likely given their lack of FTL or other advanced technology.

A thousand years later, a research base on Earth, studying the advance of glaciers in a new ice age, inadvertently stumbled across an Ice Warrior spacecraft, possibly also left behind from the same era as Skaldak and the Ice Warriors loyal to Iraxxa. The Ice Warriors disdained attempts at peaceful communication and planned to destroy the base. The Second Doctor, in (by his own internal chronology) his first encounter with the species, helped the base repel the attack and destroyed the Ice Warriors.

Ambassador Alpha Centauri, Ice Lord Izlyr, the Third Doctor and Ambassador Arcturus on Peladon.

The Doctor next encountered the Ice Warriors in the latter part of the Fourth Millennium. By this time Earth had joined Alpha Centauri, Arcturus and New Mars (amongst many others) in the Galactic Federation. A Federation delegation was sent to the primitive planet Peladon to negotiate mining rights and possibly discuss it joining them. A spate of murders took place, with the presence of an Ice Warrior embassy raising the suspicions of the Third Doctor. In the event, the Ice Lord Izlyr and his Ice Warrior bodyguard Ssorg proved blameless and helped resolve the situation peacefully.

Fifty years later, the Third Doctor returned to Peladon at another crucial moment in its history, with again a Federation delegation attending. This time the Ice Warrior representatives were indeed up to no good, planning to annex the planet on behalf of the Galaxy Five Confederation, but were stopped by the Doctor.


Behind the Scenes

In 1967, at the end of Doctor Who's fourth season, the Daleks were permanently (or so it was believed) retired, the result of rights issues as their creator Terry Nation tried to launch a spin-off series in the USA. However, the show had successfully introduced a new race, the Cybermen, to replace them a recurring foe. Building on this success, the BBC and the show's producers decided to create several new races of recurring monsters. They had a surprisingly high hit rate, with the Macra (from The Macra Terror) and Great Intelligence (from The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear) going on to make return appearances even in the rebooted, post-2005 version of the show.

However, the most successful new of the "Monster Season", as Season 5 was often dubbed, were the Ice Warriors. Writer Brian Hayles was inspired by a story about a baby mammoth being found in the Siberian ice in the early 20th Century and by his own fascination with the planet Mars. The 1951 movie The Thing From Another World was also cited as an inspiration. Originally the Ice Warriors were described as being cybernetically linked to their armour but this was downplayed due to fears of confusing the viewers with the Cybermen (this idea was resurrected in later stories). The Ice Warrior costumes were built from fibreglass and far more expensive than was normally the case on the show, but the producers felt the script was strong and they wanted to bring them back the following season, which would help spread the costs.

In a slightly surprising move, the veteran and popular British actor and comic Bernard Bresslaw (best known for the Carry On movies) was cast as the lead Ice Warrior, despite him being completely unrecognisable either in appearance or voice. Apparently this was down to the producers going after the tallest British actor they could think of and Bresslaw enjoying the experience, even going as far as studying reptilian vocalisations to give the Ice Warriors their recognisable rasping voice.

The Ice Warriors and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) in The Seeds of Death.

The Ice Warriors indeed turned out to be a major hit, and returned the following season in The Seeds of Death. This story revolved around teleportation, a standard SF idea which Doctor Who had not explored much previously. Contrary to popular belief, this episode was not inspired by Star Trek (which did not start airing in the UK until several months after it aired) but may have been influenced by the 1958 horror movie The Fly. Although a solid story which expanded the lore of the aliens a lot more (introducing their militant structure and hierarchy, with the Ice Lords and Grand Marshals established above the basic Warriors in rank), The Seeds of Death was less well-received and with the series switching to a format with a lot fewer episodes the aliens were rested for several years.

Their next appearance came in The Curse of Peladon, which aired in 1972 as part of the show's ninth season. For the past two-and-a-half seasons the Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords with only brief forays to other worlds permitted. For this story the production team were experimenting with sending the Doctor to other worlds once again and the success of the story convinced them to permanently rescind the Doctor's exile the following season. For The Curse of Peladon returning writer Brian Hayles decided to satirise the discussions and controversy surrounding Britain's entry to the European Economic Area (the forerunner of the EU). A miner's strike saw electricity supplies interrupted across large swaths of the UK during the airing of the serial's later two episodes. An irritated Hayles used this to inspire a sequel, The Monster of Peladon, which aired in the eleventh season two years later.

And...that was it, at least for the original series. The Ice Warriors didn't show up again until the show's unofficial cancellation in 1989. This wasn't because of a lack of interest or popularity, just that the writers couldn't come up with a good idea for their return. In 1985 producer John Nathan-Turner decreed that they would return and directed Philip Martin to write a two-part story that would see the Ice Warriors joining forces with Martin's own popular creation, the slug-like alien Sil. However, the BBC almost cancelled the series and reversed their decision at the last minute, after ordering a completely new storyline to be created for the entire season.

Sarah Jane-Smith would confront the Ice Warriors in The Monster of Peladon (1975).

The Ice Warriors would go on to appear in the New Adventures novel line for Virgin Books. Gary Russell penned the novel Legacy, in which the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield would travel to Peladon some time after the events of The Monster of Peladon and again join forces with an Ice Warrior ambassador. It was established that Bernice was a huge fan of the Ice Warriors (from her archaeological work on Mars) and fangirled them incessantly, to their bemusement. They also showed up in other novels, such as Godmachine, which attempted to untangle the somewhat confusing history of Mars on Doctor Who and reconcile the presence of the Ice Warriors with the Osirians (from Pyramids of Mars).

The Ice Warriors returned to the screen in the episode Cold War, airing in 2013, 39 years after their previous appearance. This episode, written by Ice Warrior fan Mark Gatiss, showed what they looked like without their armour for the first time, but otherwise was fairly accurate to previous depictions of the species. They returned again in 2017 for Empress of Mars, which was the very first time they actually appeared on Mars, despite frequent mentions of the connection between them. This story also featured the first appearance of the Alpha Centaurians since The Monster of Peladon 43 years earlier (with the same actress supplying their voice!).

The Ice Warriors are one of Doctor Who's more interesting antagonist races. Before the advent of the Sontaran Strax, they were the only one of the "Big Four" monster races (the others being the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans) to be shown as a complex race of individuals and factions, rather than murderous cyborgs or clones. The wrong-footing of the audience by having the Ice Warriors as the good guys in The Curse of Peladon remains one of the classic show's more adventurous and amusing moments. There's also a certain timelessness to the original design from 1967; their redesign in 2013 was surprisingly restrained, mainly restricted to removing their slightly silly "Lego hands" and streamlining the armour somewhat.

The Ice Warriors have been around on Doctor Who for fifty years, making surprisingly sporadic appearances. It may take awhile, but I daresay they will show up again.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy series is debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read it there one month before being published on the Wertzone.