Tuesday, 25 July 2017

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel and Sony have made friends again, and the fruit of their joint labours is the latest Spider-Man, the sixth of the modern era. (How you count it overall is matter of debate.) Fans sighed a deep cynical sigh when the Spidey cinematic series was rebooted for the second time in about five years, following the Amazing Spider-Man franchise, which was cut short after it failed to pull the crowds as expected. Young Tom Holland became the second Englishman to play Peter "radiaoctive spider-bite" Parker in last year's Captain America: Civil War, which introduced this newest take on a character who first appeared in 1962 and has been swinging across screens for almost as long. Impressively, director Jon Watts and his writing team have managed to create a film that feels both modern and very traditional.

Taking Peter Parker back to high school is the best thing they could have made. Although he didn't spend all that long at school in the comics, there's something right about setting his inaugural adventures during his formative years as a wee fifteen-year-old. Watts has made a very canny choice in his approach, deliberately giving the film the feel of classic John Hughes movies. The language is bluer but the humour less so, but overall there's a definite feeling of The Breakfast Club, with a little hint of Ferris Bueler's Day Off (and some very deliberate references to that last one). On the other hand, the kids deal with very modern problems, no one is ever more than an inch away from their phone, and everything is on YouTube. It's a film for teens that also appeals to anyone who remembers being a teen.

Tom Holland is absolutely spot-on as this younger version of Parker. This is a Parker film more than a Spider-Man one, and it's clear that Watts has more interest in the kid's personal life than his superheroics, but that's to the film's benefit, not it's detriment. We've had plenty of superhero battles lately; it's on its characters that a film like this succeeds or fails. Holland is perhaps the greatest screen Spider-Man we've ever had. He was a big success in Civil War, but it's here that he proves he can hold a feature, indeed a franchise. He gives Parker an easygoing but slightly nervy charm, and easily convinces as a brilliant but uncertain American teenager, in spite of being a 21-year-old Englishman. (Amusingly, Holland attended the Bronx Science High for a short time in preparation of the role, and no one believed he was playing Spider-Man.) He's signed up six films, including three Spider-Man films, so we have two Spideys and two team-ups to look forward to.

Peter Parker is nothing without his supporting cast, though. Spider-Man's story has always been a soap opera, full of love triangles, close friendships, rivalries and complex relationships. Homecoming makes this into one of its greatest strengths. Parker has to balance his "Stark internship" (i.e. his trainee Avenger status), his relationship with his aunt, his friendships and difficulties at school, potential romances, and a ruthless villain who, in classic Spider-Man style, is linked to his life in unexpected ways. It's a tangled web, indeed.

Thankfully, the other players in the film are uniformly excellent. The loudest shout-out has to go to Jacob Batalon as Ned, Parker's best friend and uber-nerdy computer geek, who stumbles upon Parker's secret and spends much of the film squeeing at his role in a superhero narrative. I'd happily watch a Ned spin-off, where he amiably goes about his business thwarting villains with tech smarts and sudden bursts of courage. On the other side, there's Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, who is both Parker's quiz team rival and the popular dickhead of the school. If this sounds an unlikely combination, it is, but it works because of the way this version of Flash is presented. Unlike the traditional football jock, the school bully concept has been updated to the overconfident but maladjusted rich kid, who's always going to get what he wants and doesn't give a shit about anyone else.

This updating and, in some cases, complete rewriting of characters works very well. A case in point being Homecoming's MJ, no longer Mary Jane but Michelle Jones, played by Zendaya. Why she's the main female credit on the film I don't know; apparently she's a big thing in the States. However famous she is, she does a brilliant job of making the sulky outsider MJ into one of the best things of the film. Completely unlike the MJ we know from the comics, rather a new character who is positioned to take her place in the narrative. This MJ has the vibe of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club (she even goes to detention voluntarily). Some people have, predictably, kicked off about the changes to characters, especially the race changes for the, originally all-white, set-up, but this is a more accurate reflection of how a school in America looks today. And we know that there's a whole Spider-Verse of different versions of Parker and his associates, so there's room for wildly different interpretations of classic characters.

What I don't understand is why she is credited and publicised so much higher than Laura Harrier, who portrays Liz, who is somehow top of both the brainy and popular cliques and Parker's love interest for the movie. Harrier gives a very sweet, likeable performance but isn't a pushover (one thing Spider-Man has long been good at is strong-minded female characters). Again, Liz is a variation on an established comics character, tweaked for this new telling, and forms a vital part of the new ensemble - far more vital than MJ does.

Another fine example of this: Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture. Michael Keaton is exceptional in the role, giving a very real performance as the most three-dimensional villain we've ever seen in a Marvel movie. It's a common complaint that the villains in the MCU are paper-thin, with the notable exception of Loki. Ego was a huge improvement in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but really, neither Loki nor Ego are particularly complex, although they are better characterised than most. Toomes, however, is an ordinary man pushed to extraordinary actions by a events beyond his control. He is a man desperately trying to take back control, for his own sake, and his family's. Both the script and Keaton's performance sell this perfectly, giving us a villain who has a genuine moral code that happens to be at odds with the majority's, a character with actual personality instead of a list of traits. And he is as unlike the life-force sucking Vulture of the comics as he could be.

Toomes is driven to his extreme, extra-legal career by Stark Industries' appropriation of all alien and unfeasible technology that lies around the MCU following the various climactic battles. It's a logical extension of these battles that a salvage industry would develop to take advantage of the repercussions, and equally feasible that the powers that be would try to take this source of profit for themselves. That said powers are wholly or partially responsible for the destruction in the first place is all the more effective. It's a better and more subtle examination of the nature of the 1%, corporate greed and collateral damage than Batman vs. Superman could ever hope to manage. It's also notable that both Keaton's Vulture and his Batman could believably exist in this world (different publishers not withstanding), and would be diametrically opposed to one another. Birdman, of course, is the evolutionary midpoint between the two.

The opposite party to Toomes in Homecoming, then, is Iron Man. Some worried that this was going to be an Iron Man film in all but name, but it's Parker's film through and through. What Stark provides is a mentor figure and provider of hardware, and he's surprisingly mature in both counts. There's finally a sense that Stark has actually learnt from his past mistakes and is trying to make sure others don't make the same, but it's never at the expense of Parker's development. "If you're nothing without the suit, you don't deserve it," becomes this film's version of "With great power comes great responsibility," and it's just as vital to Parker's understanding of his role as hero. And while Stark is the opposite of Toomes and they are pit against each other, they never meet, with their battle for control occurring entirely through the proxy of young Parker.

The only point that the film falls down is the actual battles between Spider-Man and the Vulture. While the action is, for the most part, very impressive, as we've come to expect from Marvel, but the climactic final confrontation is so overly busy that it's almost impossible to tell what's going on. There are flashes on interesting visual effects, but they're rather lost in the maelstrom. There's a sense that the huge battle is only there because of convention, whereas the main dramatic beats have already been dealt with. Still, this is a pretty small complaint for a film that gets so much right.

Whotopia Issue 31 is now available

To read the latest issue of fanzine Whotopia just click the image above. As well as the usual mix of Who-related articles and reviews, this issue is dedicated to the maestro of scriptwriting, Robert Holmes. Each one of his stories has been reviewed (I got to cover Terror of the Autons, Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Ribos Operation, all absolute classics - but then, aren't most of his scripts?) The issue also includes the fourth part of my "Master Who?" series, covering the villainous Yank, Eric Roberts.

The issue is also available to purchase in a glossy paper format here, for about a fiver.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Star Trek Planetary Classification Guide

The following is based on the planetary classification system used in Gregory Mandell's Star Trek Star Charts and Chris Adamek's variant found at The Final Frontier, themselves based on the planetary classes so far named in televised Star Trek (classes D, H, J, K, L, M, N, T and Y). I've tweaked it considerably, though, to hopefully make it more closely match both what we've seen on screen and the types of planets found in reality. It has also incorporated David Sudarsky's gas giant classification scheme.

The classification scheme used on Trek is based around class-M being an Earth-type planet. In the original series we saw numerous class-M planets that ranged from being virtually identical to the Earth to all manner of oddly hued worlds, but all with a breathable atmosphere (except for Arret, which was described as class-M in spite of having lost its atmosphere). Other than the one class-K planet (Mudd), we hear very little about other classes, but the simple rule remained M = habitable.

From the movies and TNG onwards, more classes were introduced, such as the barely habitable class-H, the gas giant class-J and the barren class-D. The latter has been used very inconsistently, applying to a ringed gas planet in Voyager "Emanations" and the arid but habitable planet in Voyager "Gravity." TNG introduced class-L as a planet with a breathable atmosphere but otherwise unsuited to animal life (at least long-term), but Voyager gave us several class-L planets with humanoid civilisations (in the episodes "Muse" and "The 37s," notably). Over the years, the idea that only class-M planets are habitable has been lost, with Mandell's scheme including various classes that would have been included under M in the original Trek. I've tried to centre the scheme back on class-M here.

Enterprise revealed that M stands for "Minshara," a Vulcan term. TNG "The Royale" featured an obscure "Transjovian" class-K with a thick cold atmosphere, that I've tried to incorporate into the below scheme. The hellish Class Y was created for Voyager "Demon" and appeared a couple of times since, and the Class T ultragiant was featured in Voyager "Good Shepherd." Other classes mentioned over the years, such as Theta-class planetoids, class-9 gas giant and the Klingon Q'tahl class don't fit into this scheme. Anything new that is revealed in Star Trek: Discovery or the next movie will be incorporated later.

(Images taken from various sources. Classes F, G, H, L, T, V, X and Y rendered by Chris Adamek at The Final Frontier. Classes A and O nicked from Wookiepedia. Classes B, D, E, I, J, K, M, N1, N2, P and Q are all photgraphs of real planetary bodies. Kudos if you can identify them all. )

Class A

Hot zone/lunar orbit

E.g. Gothos
Class A planets are young, rocky planetoids, the surface of which is kept at least 50% molten due to the proximity of the parent star or planet, via direct heating or gravitational effects. The atmosphere is thin, boiled away by the intense heat but replaced by volcanic outgassing. Due to the tenuous nature of the atmosphere, the heat released by the volcanic activity quickly dissipates into space.
Life forms: none

Class B
Ferrous/iron planet

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Mercury, Kepler-10b
Small, mostly metallic rocky planetoids. Class B worlds exhibit a highly iron-rich crust, with a magnetic core and no mantle. Atmosphere thin to negligible, with little to no heat retention. The surface varies from extremely hot to cold dependent on position near star, and can exhibit molten surface areas. The night side of the planetoid will fail to retain the heat exhibited on the day side, left a frigid wasteland. These planetoids are inimical to life.
Life forms: none

Class C
Carbon planet

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g Janssen (55 Cancri e)
Predominantly carbon-based planet, appearing blackened from orbit due to large deposits of graphite. The pressure within the mantle and outer core produces diamond deposits. The atmosphere is composed primarily of carbon dioxide, rich in hydrocarbons and monoxide smogs. Little to no surface water is to be expected on the surface of a carbon planet.
Life forms: anaerobic carbon-based life may be possible

Class D 

Hot zone/ecosphere/cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Luna, Ceres, Regula, Paan Mokar
Rocky bodies varying in size from the tiniest planetessimal to planet-sized moons. Common around larger planetary bodies and in asteroid belts. Atmosphere tenuous, although water ice can manifest at the poles. Although naturally lifeless, Class D worlds may be adapted through use of pressure domes or oxygen caverns.
Life forms: none.

Class E
Ice dwarf

Cold zone/outer cloud
E.g. Pluto, Eris, Psi 2000
Small, sub-planetary bodies common in the outer star system, in the orbit of Class I planets, through the scattered disc and out into the Oort Belt. With a rocky crust covered in nitrogen ice, and an atmosphere tenuous in the extreme, Class E worlds are incapable of retaining the limited heat they receive from their distant parent star. There may, however, be subsurface water, heated by mantle activity, which can provide the basis for colonisation through pressure domes.
Life forms: rare, microbial.

Class F

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Excalbia
Young planets that are still developing, Class F planets represent the earliest stage of the formation of a habitable world. With partially molten surfaces, atmospheres rich in reactive gases and heavy vulcanism, Class F planets are inimical to life like ours, but have, on rare occasions, developed inorganic life, when present in the hot zone and continued in their plastic state for long enough. Those further out will cool over billions of years to become Class G, the next step in their evolution.
Life forms: metal-carbon complex (e.g Excalbian)

Class G

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Janus VI
With a primarily silicate-based crust, these planets have cooled and solidified from Class F to form a more stable surface, although vulcanism is still rife. Water has begun to condense to form oceans, amid centuries of constant rainfall. The atmosphere and the life that may develop on the surface are intertwined; as the rich carbon dioxide atmosphere allows early photosynthetic life to flourish, these organisms flood the atmosphere with oxygen, pushing towards the next stage in its evolution. Over many millions of years further, these Cambrian-stage planets cool further to become classes H, K, L, M, N, O and P, dependent on various factors.
Life forms: primitive organic or silicon-based life, more rarely advanced silicon-based life (e.g Horta)

Class H
Extreme desert

Hot zone/ecosphere
E.g. Tau Cygna III, Shelia, Delta Vega, Nimbus III
Rocky planets with primarily silicate crusts, Class H planets are true desert worlds. With very limited surface and atmospheric water, and high levels of surface radiation, Class H planets are not conducive to complex ecosystems, although hardy life may develop and flourish. Milder Class H environments may be colonised by humanoids with some adaptation. Class M planets can be reduced to Class H through environmental damage.
Life forms: radiation-resistant carbon-based organisms (e.g Sheliak). Not naturally conducive to humanoid life.

Class I
Ice giant/neptunian

Cold zone
E.g. Uranus, Neptune, Marijne VII
Cold worlds with thick atmospheres of hydrogen, water, methane and ammonia, commonly found in the outer reaches of a solar system. The hydrogen envelope is considerably thinner than on a Class J world, but this is still the dominant element of the planet. Such planets commonly attract a number of moons and impressive ring systems. In spite of the name, ice giants have little solid material and are mostly fluid.
Life forms: unknown

Class J
Gas giant/jovian

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. Jupiter, Saturn, Cherela
Huge planets with thick hydrogen and helium-based atmospheres, rich in hydrocarbons. Beneath the gaseous layers lies liquid hydrogen above a metallic hydrogen core. Class J planets commonly support many moons and ring systems, and these moons may themselves be habitable worlds in their own right. Class-J planets dominate a star system in the inner region of the cold zone. With sufficient engineering prowess, habitable Class M environments can be constructed between the cloud layers of a gas giant.
Class J planets correspond to classes I to III on the Sudarsky scale. The coolest are Class I jovians, Jupiter-type planets with ammonia clouds, often with complex and powerful weather systems. Warmer are the Class II jovians, which feature water vapour clouds. Class III jovians have no chemical components that form clouds and appear as featureless blue-white orbs.Those straying closer to the star are captured and are heated to Class-S.
Life forms: Jovian-type, hydrocarbon-based (e.g Lothra)

Class K

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. Mars, Mudd
Class K planets are essentially dead terrestrial planets, with a primarily silicate crust, rich mineral deposits and no magnetic field. The atmosphere is thin, predominantly carbon dioxide, and retains little heat, leading to a frigid desert landscape. Nonetheless, there can be some weather systems in a Class K atmosphere, and vulcanism can occur. Water and/or carbon dioxide ice may be found at the poles. Class-K environments can develop from the evolution of Class G, or through the long deterioration of classes G, L or M. Rich in mineral deposits. Although fundamentally lifeless except for the most basic of organisms, Class K planets are readily adaptable through use of pressure domes or oxygen caverns, and are prime targets for terraforming.
Life forms: microbial carbon or silicon-based life.

Class K/T

Cold zone
E.g. Theta-116-VIII
This subclass represents frozen class-K planets that have drifted or been expelled into the outer system, commonly by gravitational perturbation by a larger body. A thick atmosphere of nitrogen, neon and methane accretes and can develop turbulent weather systems. Transjovian-class planets are highly inhospitable and experience phenomenally low surface temperatures.
Life forms: none

Class L

E.g. Phylos, Indri VIII, Briori outpost
Similar to Class M planets, Class L are on the borderline of life-bearing environements. Typically rocky, silicate-crust planets, Class L worlds are commonly arid, but in some cases display oceans or tundra. Surface temperature varies considerably, and the atmosphere is thinner than on a Class M world, with high levels of argon, carbon dioxide, and often other toxic gases. Radiation levels are potentially dangerous. Class L environments may feature basic ecosystems, normally only with plant life. They may, however, be colonised by humanoid life, and are excellent targets for terraforming. (Planets assimilated by the Borg, where the atmosphere has been altered by pollution with carbon monoxide, methane and fluorine, may be considered a variant of Class L).
Life forms: Most have no native animal life. Plant life often abundant on more temperate examples.

Class M

Ecosphere/lunar orbit
Also referred to as "Earth-type," S3 or Minshara-class, Class M planets are the cradles of life. With silicate crusts, those with rotating iron cores can display strong magnetic fields. Rich nitrogen-oxygen atmospheres with some carbon dioxide, water vapour and trace gases are ideal for the development of varied, complex biospheres. Class M planets feature high surface and atmospheric water content, essential for organic life. Surface conditions can vary considerably across the globe, from tundra, to temperate, to desert environments. Class M worlds are found in orbit of stars or larger Class-I, J and U planets, and can vary widely in visual appearance. Class M is divided into subtypes dependent on surface water levels and other features, and these can vary over the course of a planet's lifespan (for instance, Earth was a Type-4 ice-world during one period of its early history, and Exo-III was once a more hospitable Type-2).
Life forms: abundant carbon-based life, including humanoids
M Type-1 Arid. E.g. Vulcan, Cardassia Prime, Deneb IV
Surface water 25-50%
M Type-2 Temperate/varied. E.g. Earth, Bajor, Altamid
Surface water 50-80%
M Type-3 Pelagic. E.g. Argo, Azati Prime, Antede III
Surface water 80-95%
M Type-4 Glacial. E.g. Andoria, Exo-III, Rigel X
Surface ice 50-95%
M Irregular E.g. Ba'ku planet, Gaia, Planet Hell
Class M but with unusual features, such a radiation belts and ring systems.

Class N1

Hot zone
E.g. Venus
Although similar to Class M planets in size and geological make-up, Class N planets are rendered as hugely different environments due to their atmospheric conditions. A thick carbon dioxide atmosphere causes a runaway greenhouse effect leading to extremely high surface temperature and pressure, utterly inimical to humanoid life. Some nitrogen, water and sulphur dioxide exist in the atmosphere, which is dominated by clouds of sulphuric acid, leading to corrosive rainfall. A Class N world may potentially be adapted to class-M by long-term terraforming, but this is a significant undertaking and such planets are usally overlooked in favor of more hospitable worlds.
Life forms: rare; microbial organisms may exist in cloud layer.

Class N2

Hot zone/lunar orbit
E.g Tholia, Io
A variation of the Class N planet in which a considerably thinner atmosphere, composed mainly of sulphur dioxide and monoxide, sodium chloride vapours and molecular oxygen. Large deposits of sulphur exist on the surface giving a yellow-green colour from orbit. Temperature is lower than N1 conditions, but still high in comparison to Class M, with significant vulcanism caused by graviational effects from the host planet or star, or by an unstable core. Unlike on N1 worlds, N2 enviroments may develop complex organic life, although such organisms will rely of sulphur respiration and use hydrogen sulphide as a biological solvent in place of water. This life form type is far rarer than the more common oxygen/water type organisms.
Life forms: sulphurphilic organisms (e.g Tholian)

Class O

E.g. The Waters, Megara, Kepler-22 b
True ocean worlds with no surface land area. Oceans on Class O planets are typically thousands of kilometres deep, with phenomenal pressures at the depths. Turbulant atmospheres of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour and carbon dioxide envelop the planet. On hotter variants of the Class O, the ocean surface may vapourise, giving a continuous fluid surface, rather than a delineated ocean and atmosphere, on the edge of becoming a Class U world.. Cooler Class O worlds can potentially be colonised with artificial habitats, and have considerable scope for food cultivation in the form of plankton and algae.
Life forms: abundant, marine carbon-based organisms.

Class P

Cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Titan, Breen
Similar in size and structure to Class M planets, but in far colder regions, Class P planetoids display enivronments that are like frigid shadows of  terrestrial worlds. With a dense nitrogen-methane atmospheres, and surface rich in hydrocarbons, the seas and oceans on Class P worlds are comprised from short-chain hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. In place of rock, mountains and landmasses form from water ice; cryovolcanism is apparent. These planetoids display a subzero ecosystem. In the later stages of a star's evolution, Class P worlds may be heated to another evolutionary stage, dooming existing ecosystems and pushing the planetoid towards classes K, L or M.
Life forms: hydrocarbon and ammonia-based

Class Q

Cold zone/lunar orbit
E.g. Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus
Ocean worlds in colder regions, these are smaller planetoids enclosed in thick water ice crusts. Atmosphere is tenuous, beneath the ice layer exists an extremely deep ocean. Undersea heating from the planetary core, or gravitational effects from a host planet, can lead to non-photsynthetic ecosystems. Commonly form as moons around planets of classes I, J and U. Can potentially be colonised with artificial habitats, although care must be taken not to damage the existing, submarine environment.
Life forms: marine carbon-based organisms

Class R
Rogue/orphan planet

E.g. Dakala, Omarion
A varied class, containing those bodies that are planet-sized but not tied to a star's gravity. Such bodies, sometimes called planemos, can range from terrestrial to Jovian size; the largest are on the borderline with the brown dwarf class. Rogue planets form in the interstellar void from accreted material, while orphan planets are ejected from star systems by gravitational effects. Thick, carbon-rich atmospheres can lead to retained surface heat and non-photosynthetic ecosystems, sometimes displaying very unusual adaptations to their harsh environment.
Life forms: varies, from none to complex; carbon or silicon-based

Class S
Hot jovian/pegasid

Hot zone
E.g. Galileo (55 Cancri b), Osiris, 51 Pegasi b
Gas giants, similar to classes I and J but in short, close stellar orbit, maintaining an extremely high temperature. Carbon monoxide is the dominant carbon-carrying molecule. Class S planets correspond to classes IV and V on the Sudarsky scale, with Class IV being the cooler of the two, displaying alkali metal vapour clouds. The hottest planets are Class V, with silicates and even iron forming clouds. These planets glow red due to the high thermal output.
Life forms: none known

Class T
Gas supergiant/ultragiant

Cold zone
E.g. Kappa Andromedae b
Gigantic gaseous planets with thick hydrogen atmospheres and enormous gravitational pull, these planets are on the verge of becoming stars. Supergiants accrue complex systems of moons ranging from planetesimal to planetary size, effectively becoming miniature star systems in themselves. Any such bodies that exceed 13.6 Jupiter masses would begin deuterium fusion and become a brown dwarf or "substar."
Life forms: unknown

Class U

Hot zone/ecosphere/cold zone
E.g, Dulcinea (Mu Arae c), Kepler-10c
Existing in size between the Class I ice giants and the Class V superterrestrials, Class U planets are large enough and with strong enough gravity to retain a thick atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and hydrocarbons. The atmosphere transitions to oceans of semisolid compressed water above a rocky core. Sometimes known as gas dwarfs - something of a misnomer for such large planets.
Life forms: Jovian-type, hydrocarbon-based.

Class V

Ecosphere/cold zone
E.g. COROT-7 b, Gliese 163 c, Persephone
The so-called "super-Earths," large rocky/metallic planets intermediate in size between terrestrial and ice giants. Their higher gravity allows them to retain dense, hydrogen-rich atmospheres. Surface temperature and pressure high and unsuitable for humanoid habitation, but complex high-temperature life can evolve, and they are potentially viable for colonisation using pressure domes.
Life forms: silicon or carbon-based, adapted for higher pressures

Class W

Hot zone/ecosphere/lunar orbit
E.g. Daled IV, Klavdia III, Remus
Rocky planets kept tidally locked to the parent star or sister planet by the intense gravitational interaction of other bodies in their system. One side is overlit and heated, displaying molten areas and a burnt, desert-like surface. The far side is kept in perpetual darkness and cold, sometimes with a more temperate dividing line if the atmosphere is dense enough to mediate the heat. Such planets may be colonised, and some display native life that has adapted to the extreme environment, often in unusual ways.
Life forms: microbes and plants, some display higher organisms.

Class X

Hot zone
E.g. COROT-7b
The dead core of a Class-S or T planet, stripped of its atmosphere by millennia of stellar activity. Dense and metal-rich, these planetoids are rare and valuable. Uninhabitable and ultimately doomed to absorption by their parent star.
Life forms: none

Class Y

Hot zone
E.g. Ha'dara
Exceedingly unfriendly, these planets display thick atmospheres rich in toxic gases, high radiation levels, extreme surface pressure and corrosive conditions, even harsher than Class-N planets.
Life forms: rare, but mimetic life has been discovered.

Class Z
Pulsar planet
E.g. Draugr, Poltergeist, Phobetor
Planets found in orbit of pulsars (rapidly rotating neutron stars), bathed in intense magnetic radiation and inimical to all known life. Subdivided by origin, pulsar planets may form from the remains or cores of destroyed companion stars, or may be more ordinary planetoids captured by the pulsar's gravity.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


And so, the thirteenth Doctor has been announced, and she is going to be played by 35-year-old Jodie Whittaker.

I'm not especially familiar with her, although I have seen her in Black Mirror and she was excellent in Attack the Block. I still haven't gotten round to Broadchurch, but I was half-expecting Chibnall to cast someone from his biggest hit. I've generally heard good things about her, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing her in action. Exciting times.

Of course, there are plenty of fans kicking off about the BBC casting a woman in the role, but this is something I've been vocally in favour of for some time. I think that a character who can turn into anyone is long past the point where he should become a she. I honestly think that this is a good move for the a show that, in spite of some sublime moments over the last couple of years, needs a strong kick up the arse. I'm surprised by some of the people I know who are against the idea, but I think any fan needs to give Whittaker a chance. I mean, I'm giving Chris Chibnall a chance as showrunner, and he's so far been pretty dreadful for much of his Who and Torchwood contributions.

My hopes? I hope Chibnall and any writers he hires write her not as "the female Doctor," but just as the Doctor. I hope she's well-served with scripts and material. I hope people give her, and the series, a chance.

There's no point saying that the Doctor changing sex doesn't make sense, or that no explanation can logically work when he's been male for so long. Regeneration is made-up nonsense, ludicrous magical pseudoscience that works only because the writers say it does. Anything the writers want to do, it can do, and that can include changing sex, race or number of legs. And frankly, I haven't much time for people who think that changing gender is one step too fantastical for a series about someone who travels in time in a magic cupboard, fighting monsters. I know actual people in real life who have changed their physical sex, so is it really that hard to imagine someone who has changed their form thirteen times already doing the same?

I am concerned that, if series eleven does turn out to be rubbish, then this casting will be what gets the blame. The more people get angry about the casting, the more I want it to succeed. I'm going to miss Capaldi terribly, but it's always hard to see the Doctor change.

And frankly, I'm just relieved that the Doctor is still older than me.

WHO REVIEW: 10.11 & 10.12



“World Enough and Time” kicks off what is Doctor Who's best series finale since Matt Smith's inaugral run, perhaps even since the heady days of the Eccleston, Tennant and Piper. There is, however, a big flaw in the episode's presentation that comes about, not because of the episode itself, but because of the media surrounding its broadcast. Which is why I'm hiding the review after a page break, because I still know fans who haven't seen it and it really is best seen without spoilers.