Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Summary


Edmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I wrote mini-reviews; having just finished the series, this is a little summary and analysis.

The scores I used go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

I assigned the scores as I watched on a completely subjective basis; at no point until tonight did I check my math to look for trends. But now it’s time; did some seasons rank much better than others for me? I recall Series 1, 3, and 6 most fondly. Did the scores reflect this? And when I assigned my scores, did I indeed grade on the normal curve, or did I bias high or low? Let’s find out.

First, some simple statistics:

Mean 3.15
Median 3
Minimum 1
Maximum 5
Std. Dev. 0.80

This is not too bad; it means I assigned a mean score of 3.15 ± 0.80, pretty close to the target average of 3. Yay me. In fact, it means that I slightly over-scored, but not too wildly.

Putting it on a chart, it looks like my favourite eras were the year of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), the second half of the Tenth Doctor’s career (David Tennant), and the first half of the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure (Matt Smith.)


TARDIS Wallpaper DW by Vampiric Time Lord (Tylynn Kira A.)  The weird graph is mine, obviously.

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 7.5 (2013)


Edmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for Part 2 of “Series 7″ of the recent collection, released in 2013 and starring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara “Oswin” Oswald under the direction of Steven Moffat, and it completes the re-watch marathon. I have to hope and pray that Stephen Moffat, clearly exhausted by his long tenure (or brain-drained by some alien worm, whatever) will now step away and let someone else try to salvage the series.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
232 The Bells of Saint John 2 Phooey, we lost Sir Ian as the voice of the Great Intelligence. In addition, what a missed opportunity to give agency to a Companion! Clara could very well have been gifted with computers on her own, which would have been the most logical reason for The Stack to want her – as was even mentioned in the episode. But no, she was clueless until partial upload left her with magically 1337 skilz.   1 episode Steven Moffat Colm McCarthy 30 March 2013
233 The Rings of Akhaten 2 Nice setting, but longish episode with insufficient plot and weak, interminable monologuing. Also, I want to see fewer creepy interactions between the Doctor and little girls. And less flirting.   1 episode Neil Cross Farren Blackburn 6 April 2013
234 Cold War 3 Underuse of the guest cast, tedious super-warrior/Cold War plot, complete non-surprise dénouement.   1 episode Mark Gatiss Douglas Mackinnon 13 April 2013
235 Hide 3 Ghost+time traveler+manticore monsters in love — Is somebody now writing these episodes by throwing three of four GURPS sourcebooks together?   1 episode Neil Cross Jamie Payne 20 April 2013
236 Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS 3 I’d be happy to see POC characters—if that didn’t mean that garbage collectors are all black men, which seems insulting.   1 episode Stephen Thompson Mat King 27 April 2013
237 The Crimson Horror 3 The plot is nonsense but at least it has the lovely trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax.   1 episode Mark Gatiss Saul Metzstein 4 May 2013
238 Nightmare in Silver 3 I liked Porridge, and I think Warwick Davis has a lovely voice. I sort of liked the punishment unit and the many nods to WH40K. Other than that, a fairly stupid plot that contradicts the canon.   1 episode Neil Gaiman Stephen Woolfenden 11 May 2013
239 The Name of the Doctor 3 Eh, a mess of a plot to get us to the big jump, but it had Vastra, Jenny, Strax, and River Song. The latter seriously needs to learn to say “Fuck off, you selfish dickhead husband,” though. Also, it didn’t look in previous episodes like Clara’s been saving the Doctor all the time.   1 episode Steven Moffat Saul Metzstein 18 May 2013
240   4 It was nice to see a number of characters (and actors) appears, and the rhythm was fairly brisk. I always enjoy non-linear story-telling, although this was still cautious. Mostly, I regret that the plot revolved around the last few years of Doctor Who, less than a decade in the five spanned. Also, the previous Companions are ignored except, to an extent, Rose Tyler.   50th anniversary special
(75 mi)
Steven Moffat Nick Hur 23 November 2013
241 The Time of the Doctor 2.5 Good Lord, I thought this episode would never end. I really can’t stand hearing any more innuendo about the Doctor’s romantic life. And a 300-year war siege by the Daleks? Really? No one figured out how to break the stalemate?   Christmas special (60 mins) Steven Moffat Jamie Payne 25 December 2013
  The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot 5 Adorable, and everything the official special wasn’t in terms of homage to the actual series rather than the last few seasons.   50th anniversary spoof
(30 mins)
Peter Davison Peter Davison 23 November 2013

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 7 (2012)

Doctor Who - Series 7Edmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for Part 1 of “Series 7″ of the recent collection, released in 2012 and starring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams under the direction of Steven Moffat. I’ll review the second half of the series, released in 2013, as a separate post because it figures a different cast and metaplot anyway.

This is the season that achieves something I thought mathematically impossible: all of it is below average. But at least it gave me the chance to discover what, in fact, the power of 3 is: it’s the score they couldn’t reach with this writing and directing team.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
226 Asylum of the Daleks 1 Ugh. The only virtue of this episode was… No wait, it merely sucked. Even Jenna Coleman couldn’t help it. And the only reason Oswyn’s status may be a big reveal to the viewer is if that viewer has been distracted for the last 45 minutes, yelling: “But that’s not how the Daleks work!”   1 episode (50 mins) Steven Moffat Nick Hurran 1 September 2012
227 Dinosaurs on a Spaceship 2 The only reasons this rises to a 2 is (A) sterling, if completely underused, guest cast, and (B) the dinosaurs did look nice. How could such a cast produce such a bland episode? Oh, I see: Chris Chibnall wrote it.   1 episode Chris Chibnall Saul Metzstein 8 September 2012
228 A Town Called Mercy 2 Ooooh, a Western. What a treat. The character of Kahler-Jex was mildly interesting.   1 episode Toby Whithouse Saul Metzstein 15 September 2012
229 The Power of Three 2 Another lacklustre episode despite the presence of Jemma Redgrave and Mark Williams.   1 episode Chris Chibnall Douglas Mackinnon 22 September 2012
230 The Angels Take Manhattan 2 In this episode, the Weeping Angels have officially changed from scary to petulant, the Doctor is written as a self-centred adolescent who doesn’t deserve any of his friends, and River needs to get some self-esteem back rather than put up with this shit.   1 episode Steven Moffat Nick Hurran 29 September 2012
231 The Snowmen 1.5 Was this written by asking 30 undergrads to write two minutes each? While the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald mildly intrigues me and I was happy to see Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (and hear Ian McKellen), this contained some of the worst dialogue I’d heard on Doctor Who. The Doctor, in particular, gets awful, awful lines and poor Matt Smith seems at a loss for what to do with them.   Christmas special (60 mins) Steven Moffat Saul Metzstein 25 December 2012

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 6

Trust Me, I'm the DoctorEdmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for “Series 6″ of the recent collection, released in 2011 and starring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams under the direction of Steven Moffat. The distinguishing feature of the series is the use on long, inter-connected story arcs rather than simple episodic format. Even the more standalone episodes contained foreshadowing or cross-references to longer plots.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
214 The Impossible Astronaut
Day of the Moon
4/4 Intriguing premise, suspense, surprises, good camera work and rhythm, creative storytelling. Alas, the musical theme is now unbearably pompous. 2.1
2 episodes Steven Moffat Toby Haynes 23 April 2011
30 April 2011
215 The Curse of the Black Spot 2.5 Eh. An ordinary episode with a somewhat lacklustre plot, but we get to see Hugh “Lord Grantham” Bonneville as a pirate. 2.9 1 episode Stephen Thompson Jeremy Webb 7 May 2011
216 The Doctor’s Wife 2.5 Some emotional moments with good acting, but overall a fairly cockamamie and gratuitous plot. The writing didn’t impress me, Gaiman or not. 2.3 1 episode Neil Gaiman Richard Clark 14 May 2011
217 The Rebel Flesh
The Almost People
4/3.5 Good idea with nice twist that was enough to let me gloss over the “mining for acid in a medieval monastery in the North Sea” concept to go along and think about disposable replicants. But lost serious points in the last few minutes of the second part when, after all the speeches, the Amy replicant is just summarily destroyed. Nice going, Doc. 2.5
2 episodes Matthew Graham Julian Simpson 21 May 2011
28 May 2011
218 A Good Man Goes to War 3.5 First half or two-thirds earn a 4 or 4.5 for the brisk rhythm, dialogue, and plot twists as well as the gratuitous but entertaining cameos. The last part is a weak 3 for excessive predictability and characters being stupid in order to obey the plot. 2.7 1 episode (50 mins) Steven Moffat Peter Hoar 4 June 2011
219 Let’s Kill Hitler 1 Oh dear god, that is so awful. It feels like it was given to Nigel the intern to write, six months after the rest of the season, to tie up loose ends. I loved River Song until then, but I profoundly hated the character in this episode – not for being a psychopath but for being—So—Fucking-Annoying. Also, death speech of the week, blah, blah, blah. With a title like that, it’s like you announced “Chasing the White Rabbit” but played “We Built This City on Rock’n’Roll.” 2.8 1 episode (50 mins) Steven Moffat Richard Senior 27 August 2011
220 Night Terrors 3 It had its moments, but dragged a little too much, not enough material to supply much in the way of plot twists. Good atmosphere, though. 2.4 1 episode Mark Gatiss Richard Clark 3 September 2011
221 The Girl Who Waited 4 I probably liked this episode more than it deserved—because the focus was on Amy and Rory. I liked the acting and the quandary. The setting had a nice creepiness to it too. 2.10 1 episode Tom MacRae Nick Hurran 10 September 2011
222 The God Complex 3 It could have been an excellent episode but somehow never quite came together, probably because the fear-fate-Minotaur connection never made sense. The Monster in the Maze idea was married at shotgun point to the idea of losing faith in the Doctor. 2.11 1 episode (50 mins) Toby Whithouse Nick Hurran 17 September 2011
223 Closing Time 3 An other episode that should have been better. Having Craig and Stormageddon—er, Alfred have adventures with the Doctor was a great idea, but the Cybermen was not. The Cybermen defeated by love was… just a bad idea. Really? These other people didn’t have families? 2.12 1 episode Gareth Roberts Steve Hughes 24 September 2011
224 The Wedding of River Song 3.5 Nice alternate timeline/timecrash ideas, and as usual I like reconnecting with old friends. A little too tidy, but I did like seeing some plots revived. 2.13 1 episode Steven Moffat Jeremy Webb 1 October 2011
225 The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe 3 Probably too sweet and charming, but I enjoyed it—especially the three miners Droxil, Ven-Garr, and Billis. The Arwell family was also pretty well cast and acted. It was odd that the trees were so expendable, though. Christmas special (60 mins) Steven Moffat Farren Blackburn 25 December 2011

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 5

Doctor Who Season 5 logoEdmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for “Series 5″ of the recent collection, released in 2010 and starring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams under the direction of Steven Moffat.

While Russell T. Davies’ speciality was having other characters tell us how wonderful the Doctor is, Moffat’s is the death speech. There are many more final sacrifices than characters… The series begins well but flags mid-season with a number of good ideas poorly executed, before Moffat brings it home with a strong finish.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
203 The Eleventh Hour 3 A little too long, and Matt Smith is clearly feeling his way around the role, but at least the characters of Amy and Rory sink their roots. Prisoner Zero is just not that scary, though. Also, we finally reach the point where I can’t stand the new version of the musical theme, and it will keep on getting worse. 1.1 1 episode (65 mins) Steven Moffat Adam Smith 3 April 2010
204 The Beast Below 3.5 Ah, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and false dichotomies. It would have been a pretty good episode if a few minutes had been cut; all the epiloguing was longish. Yes, we did get the analogy Amy was quite clearly making between the Star Whale and the Doctor, no need to explain it further. 1.2 1 episode Steven Moffat Andrew Gunn 10 April 2010
205 Victory of the Daleks 2 Oof. That was badly written, and I was underwhelm with both Matt Smith and Ian McNeice’s acting as the Doctor and Sir Winston Churchill respectively. Karen Gillan did a good job as Amy Pond, salvaging what she could of a crappy, crappy plot. Only the quality of the special effects set it apart from some of the worst Star Trek episodes from my youth. 1.3 1 episode Mark Gatiss Andrew Gunn 17 April 2010
206 The Time of Angels
Flesh and Stone
3/3 Nice sets, plus I like the military clerics and I’m almost always happy to see River Song. But by over-explaining and over-exposing, this two-parter kills everything that made the Weeping Angels terrifying in “Blink.” The whole “Amy must walk around with her eyes closed” thing was too long. 1.4
2 episodes Steven Moffat Adam Smith 24 April 2010
1 May 2010
207 The Vampires of Venice 3 I’m glad to see Rory join as regular cast and I love Lucian Msamati, although he has a very limited part as Guido. Once again, the episode was too long; the always seem to stretch the suspenseful part until I get right into “Bored, now.” 1.6 1 episode (50 mins) Toby Whithouse Jonny Campbell 8 May 2010
208 Amy’s Choice 2.5 I started by liking the idea of how the two realities paralleled each other (e.g., the theme of cold) but it devolved into a fairly dull flip-flop with a predictable ending. 1.7 1 episode Simon Nye Catherine Morshead 15 May 2010
209 The Hungry Earth
Cold Blood
3/3 I kind of like the Silurians. I also really enjoyed Dr. Nasreen Chaudhri. However, killing off Rory at this point felt sloppy, and bringing him back later in “The Pandorica Opens” would feel even sloppier, like Moffat couldn’t make up his mind about where the plot was going. 1.8
2 episodes Chris Chibnall Ashley Way 22 May 2010
29 May 2010
210 Vincent and the Doctor 3.5 I’m a sucker for art. The story is minimal, but it will actually be tied into the metaplot, I like that. Tony Curran was good as Vincent van Gogh. 1.10 1 episode Richard Curtis Jonny Campbell 5 June 2010
211 The Lodger 4 Not a terribly complex plot, but a nice story pretty well told. I liked Craig and Sophie a good bit, even through the predictable denouement. 1.11 1 episode Gareth Roberts Catherine Morshead 12 June 2010
212 The Pandorica Opens
The Big Bang
4/3.5 “The Pandorica Opens” gets a 5 for the pre-credit sequence, a 4 for the basic idea, a 2.5 for the nonsensical plot details, and another 4 for River Song, averaging to 4. “The Big Bang” gets a 4 for the first half in the museum, and a 3 for the interminable epilogue, death speech, and artificial happy ending, averaging to 3.5 1.12
2 episodes
(50 and 55 mins)
Steven Moffat Toby Haynes 19 June 2010
26 June 2010
213 A Christmas Carol 4.5 This Christmas special was the best to date by a long shot. Good rhythm, good use of time travel to create a non-linear plot, good visuals, Katherine Jenkins’ beautiful voice, and Michael Gambon as the Scrooge-like character. It didn’t even waste any time in repetitions. Sadly, though, no monuments were destroyed in London. Christmas special (60 mins) Steven Moffat Toby Haynes 25 December 2010

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 4

Cartoon version of the TardisEdmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for “Series 4″ of the recent collection, released in 2008-9 and starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
189 Partners in Crime 3.5 I wasn’t keen on seeing Donna Noble again, but she was better written this episode, with more agency. I liked that she was conducting her independent investigation. The Adipose plot didn’t make much sense but the rhythm and storytelling were good. Also, ack! the theme music gets less good every season. As I recall, I started actually hating it with next season’s version. 4.1 1 episode (50 mins) Russell T Davies James Strong 5 April 2008
190 The Fires of Pompeii 3.5 Not a very sterling plot but I liked that Catherine Tate showed some good acting, infusing dignity and depth into a character who will be all too often written as shallow comic relief. The visuals were good, especially in Pompeii proper. However, new writer James Moran did a terrible job on the cosmic-level dialogue, though he was fine on the day-to-day, street level talk. 4.3 1 episode (50 mins) James Moran (and Russell T Davies) Colin Teague 12 April 2008
191 Planet of the Ood 3.5 I like the Ood and the juxtaposition of foreboding and compassion they bring. For the third episode in a row, Catherine Tate does a good job of being, well, Noble and the voice of conscience. I may have to reconsider Donna as a character, darn it. 4.2 1 episode Keith Temple Graeme Harper 19 April 2008
192 The Sontaran Stratagem
The Poison Sky
3 I liked seeing Martha Jones again and the dynamic that developed between her and Donna. Alas, mid-way through the first episode until nearly the end of the second, Martha became a damsel in distress/football, while Donna started snivelling inexplicably after being so much tougher earlier. Also, dead tired of hearing the Companions tell us all how wonderful Doctor Mary Sue is. 4.4
2 episodes Helen Raynor Douglas Mackinnon 26 April 2008
3 May 2008
193 The Doctor’s Daughter 3 I loved the idea of a Doctor’s daughter, and the plot was not sterling but it did have a few nice twists. Nothing strenuous for the brain. 4.6 1 episode Stephen Greenhorn Alice Troughton 10 May 2008
194 The Unicorn and the Wasp 2.5 How I wanted to like this one! I like Fenella Woolgar as Agatha Christie, and I love big set-piece mysteries, but the Vespiform plot? With the medallion? The inexplicable guilt trip for Christie, who had nothing to do with what happened? and the wince-worthy wasp special effects? No. 4.7 1 episode Gareth Roberts Graeme Harper 17 May 2008
195 Silence in the Library
Forest of the Dead
4/3.5 The setting is a gigantic library, that’s hard for me to resist; and the biolink ghosts echoing provide good atmosphere. I’m also a fan of River Song, except in a few of later episodes in Season 6. Unfortunately, we now see Donna’s character dumbed down, the way I remembered it before the re-watch. Lower score for the second half because the resolution is a bit dumb. 4.9
2 episodes Steven Moffat Euros Lyn 31 May 2008
7 June 2008
196 Midnight 3.5 As with “The Weeping Angels” or “Silence in the Library”, the best terrors are unseen. The first part is very nice because for once it shows us what is great about the Doctor instead of telling us, as he gets everyone to talk and laugh and he shows genuine interest. Unfortunately, the resolution takes a little too long, we get past suspense-building and into, ahem, repetition. The episode would be great if it could be edited down by 5 or 10 minutes. 4.8 1 episode Russell T Davies Alice Troughton 14 June 2008
197 Turn Left 2.5 Good concept but uneven execution. The side glance at events from the three previous seasons was a nice, but there are three things I’m really tired of: Companions having crushes on the Doctor, every character telling us how great the Doctor is, and every Companion telling us how ordinary and unimportant they are. By now, the writers should allow Donna more self-confidence and less screeching in denial. 4.11 1 episode (50 mins) Russell T Davies Graeme Harper 21 June 2008
198 The Stolen Earth
Journey’s End
2.5/3 Oy. It was really nice to see all the guest characters—even the ones who were woefully underused—but that was one and a half episodes’ worth of plot spread over two-and-half episodes’ worth of reel time. Plus the Replacement Doctor plot for Rose is tacky, and the final, complete denial of agency for Donna is abominable. Donna has already made the big choice three times at this point—once in the primary timeline in “Partners in Crime”, once in an alternate timeline in “Turn Left”, and right here at the end of this episode, not to mention every time she embraced that choice all over again by travelling with the Doctor instead of returning home. Yet after she has explicitly made her choice, the Doctor takes it from her, regardless of what she wants, because he prefers it that way. 4.12
2 episodes
(4.13 is 65 mins)
Russell T Davies Graeme Harper 28 June 2008
5 July 2008
199 The Next Doctor 3.5 Really good pre-credit intro, and a great performance by David Morissey as, well, the Doctor. I was disappointed that his character was (as usual) stripped of agency when he realized his connection with the Doctor. Dervla Kirwan showed lovely poise as Mercy Hartigan. 4.14 Christmas special (60 mins) Russell T Davies Andy Goddard 25 December 2008
200 Planet of the Dead 3 Let me get this straight: you get a woman with organization and leadership skills, a man with mechanical knowledge, another with an understanding of physics, a bona fide psychic, plus three others whose talents we didn’t bother checking, but the Doctor does everything. Heck, you’d think that the passengers would have gotten that bus back on schedule on their own, but no… 4.15 Easter special (60 mins) Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts James Strong 11 April 2009
201 The Waters of Mars 3 Nice sets, nice atmosphere, good performances especially from Lindsay Duncan as Captain Brooke until the characters turn into water zombies, but weak scenario. Brooke? Is that an allusion to River and Pond plots? She’s a fixed point in time and nicely tied into previous episodes. The detail work in script-writing is far superior to the actual plotting. 4.16 Autumn special (60 mins) Russell T Davies & Phil Ford Graeme Harper 15 November 2009
202 The End of Time 3/3 John Simm as the Master (yay!) and Bernards Cribbins as Wilfred Noble are the best things about this two-parter. Seriously, Russell Davies just has to have every character tell us, over and over, how cool the Doctor is. 4.17
Christmas special (60 mins)
New Year’s special (75 mins)
Russell T Davies Euros Lyn 25 December 2009
1 January 2010


Apocalypse World and Fate: Flavours

Following my earlier post comparing Apocalypse World (Lumpley Games) and Fate (Evil Hat Productions): expanded observations on how the two games feel at the game table, both as player and as gamemaster.

Cover: Apocalyse WorldThe Apocalypse Tastes Funny

The biggest difference between the two is that Apocalypse World comes with a default setting. I suspect that it would be very difficult to grasp the game’s value if it had started as a pure system, because you need to experience it to see how the parts come together. So yeah, it was a good choice to release it attached to a setting.

But I don’t like the flavour of this setting.  That’s a strange thing to say, I know, because most of it gets created in play, and also because I absolutely love some very similar settings in other games, most obviously Jared Sorensen’s octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks).  But the seeds of setting contained in AW, in the character playbooks and in what the rules reward, produce a world that is unpleasant to me and more importantly, characters I don’t want to play.

It’s a subtle effect, and I can’t very well describe it except as “the wrong flavour,” like some people love Coke but hate Pepsi, love regular coffee but hate chicory coffee.  The flavour is obviously pleasing to some people, and equally obviously unpleasant to me.

I believe this dislike is largely due to the feeling that the characters are invited, mechanically-speaking, to exploit, manipulate, dominate, and generally use others (PCs or NPCs).  That’s not what I like to play.  And yes, you can play someone who doesn’t do that, but there is no built-in reward for it — on the contrary; that means you will pass up on opportunities not only for success in play, and not only for advancement, but also for getting involved in the action.

  • For example, characters gain experience for seducing or manipulating others (pp. 87, 179, 186, 197).
  • Several moves involve using others or bending them to your will: pack alpha, seduce or manipulate, most sex moves, most brainer moves, etc.

I guess my disconnect starts with the play agendas (pp. 96 and 108). I appreciate that the agendas are clearly expressed; the players’ agenda is listed as:

  • Play your characters as though they were real people, in whatever circumstances they find themselves—cool, competent, dangerous people, but real.

The gamemaster’s agendas are:

  • Make Apocalypse World seem real.
  • Make the player characters’ lives not boring.
  • Play to find out what happens.

But those are not my objectives.  They don’t work for me, or at least they don’t suffice. I take “real” here to mean vivid and believable, which is nice, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of my gaming either as player or as gamemaster.  “Not boring” is also uninspiring; we all have “not boring” hectic or frustrating days that still don’t provide any drama or entertainment, so I hold my gaming to a higher standard. And finding out what happens only matters if something in the game captured my heart.

Finally, a pet peeve: each session one player and the GM each highlight one stat on your character sheet, and these are the ones for which you’ll mark advancement or experience this session, each time you use these stats. Thus, each player’s path to reward for a given character is shaped entirely by two other people’s choices every episode. I prefer to choose for myself in which direction I want my character to evolve.

In Play

So my play experience with AW, even with sterling GMs and players, was not bad, but it didn’t tell me why people were in love with this game. From the player’s side, the mechanics work fine and have the advantage of offering a known mechanical result for every move and die roll, greatly limiting the GM’s power to be arbitrary; but I didn’t care because I’m used to high-trust games and great GMs.

To make things more of an uphill battle for me, the two most popular published hacks of the system are Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions) and Monsterhearts (Buried Without Ceremony)—and I like neither dungeon-crawling nor teenage angst stories, despite my interest for the innovations that both bring to the system.

Cartoon version of the TardisIt’s only when I played in Jeremy Tidwell’s own Companions hack that I finally started appreciating the AW system. Jeremy did a lovely job of using the AW tools to match the flavour of the better Doctor Who moments. In his hack, you play the former Companions of the Doctor after his death.  The TARDIS has started acting on its own, and mysteriously fulfilling his agenda, forcing the companions back into their old lives as its agents.

Companions replaced the exploitive and manipulating elements of the original setting and their mechanical implementation with beautiful, simple little rules bits that instead promote self-sacrifice, suspense, and sometimes giving up a confrontation when the stakes are wrong (“Run!”) It provided excellent Whovian flavour to every game.

I had a great time playing Companions and the action did start getting greater than the sum of the parts; I eventually decided I needed to try running it myself to get a different perspective.  And indeed I started to understand the attraction of the AW system: it’s a book for GMs.  It’s essentially a system of recipes to make the GM’s life easier in prepping for and running games, a codified book of GMing advice, most of which I agree with (with the exceptions above).

The big AW challenges for me as GM were linked to proper use of the moves:

  • Getting used to thinking in terms of moves felt constricting, although I think with practice they just become building blocks. If you constantly lack the right moves for a setting, maybe you need to re-examine the list, see if any have been misunderstood, poorly expressed, or need tailoring.
  • Fairness and disclosure are necessary of course, but also mean giving all the necessary information at the right time for players to pick their moves. In other words, sometimes you need to sacrifice part of a “big reveal” or suspense moment in order to paint a very clear picture for the players before they can act.
  • Moves funnel the action, so it’s possible to get into a sort of domino effect where because move A was used then the next most logical choice will be B, then C… A skilled GM could probably use this like a quasi-rail for a plot, an unskilled one could paint herself in a corner. If no moves readily presents itself, you’re essentially in a video game cut scene, waiting for the game to load to the next decision point. The GM needs to immediately present something that will generate move options.

A down-to-earth problem: Getting around in the AW book, finding the info you need when you’re on the spot, can be a bother. It’s perfectly well organized as reading material or while you’re prepping, but it’s not as smooth when you’re looking for a specific reference in the middle of the game because each element is discussed in several different places in the book.

Chewing Bits of Fate

The Cunning Cat CaperMy original experience with Fate, like a lot of gamers’, was with Spirit of the Century, which in turn was based on an earlier version of the system.  The structure reminded me of Theatrix (Backstage Press), a game I had dearly loved, though the resolution mechanics were of course different. I liked Spirit of the Century well enough, but my experience was not more “pulpy” than it had been with Adventure! (White Wolf), Hollow Earth Expedition (Exile Game Studio), or Feng Shui (Atlas Games).  I tried playing, I tried running, and it still was just “nice.”

I felt that there were too many character aspects to use them all, let alone want to try creating temporary aspects in play. I kept feeling I never had the right skill or it never was high enough. I described the game at the time as “The most complicated simple system I’d ever played.” A few years later came The Dresden Files RPG, and we played that too because both my husband and I kept thinking we were missing something with these two games, we weren’t “doing it right.”

And we weren’t.

Everything changed with Fate Accelerated! I’ve described in a previous post what the changes were in Fate Core and Fate Accelerated, so I don’t want to repeat it here; suffice it to say that my concern regarding the number of aspects and the clarity of why you’d want to create temporary aspects in play were completely addressed.  The new system’s choice of four clearly explained actions types with a gradation of success, and FAE’s approaches instead of a list of skills, made all the difference.

As soon as we tried to play it, the light bulb came on. The very first time I used the action “create an advantage”, everything became clear. And newcomers to role-playing picked this up effortlessly! Those who are still struggling with Fate, especially Fate Core, are almost always long-time gamers like me. We have gamer cobwebs in our brains, we keep thinking in terms of having the right skill for the specific test, but that’s not how Fate works. Fate is powered by what we imagine and provides the scaffolding and tools to build it.

Then I went back to play Fate Core with its longer list of skills and finer dials, and now it really works! I was doing it wrong all along. Armed with the experience I gained with Fate Accelerated, I now feel comfortable with the level of detail in Core and it no longer bogs me down.

In the particular game where I realized this, we had only two players, a smart and really nice young woman and myself; we picked from a collection of pre-generated characters (it was at a convention) and we deliberately picked two characters that in many ways were alike—thus making sure that certain skills were not, in fact, covered by the party. Instead of worrying about whether we had a certain skill, we used or created circumstances to our advantage, we made use of our strengths and worked around our weaknesses. It was a flawless game. It was the kind of evening when you think, “The authors of this game wrote it just for this.”


  • Very often, one needs a little practice with a new system before its qualities really shine; this is why I no longer write game reviews based only on reading the system, but only “actual play” reviews.
  • Sometimes the system only comes into its own once you’ve tried it from the GM’s perspective; a lot of its virtues may be hidden to the players.
  • You also need a setting, characters, and plot you’re interested in, plus half-way decent GM and players, if you’re going to appreciate a game.
  • It’s possible to play a game for years without really “getting” it.
  • However, while some gamers who feel they do “get” it are quick to yell “You’re doing it wrong!”, sometimes there are barriers to play right there in the book.
  • Sometimes these barriers can be removed by trial and error, by playing with different people, by a rules revision, etc.
  • And by the way, sometimes, a game is just not going to be for you no matter how much other people like it.  That’s OK, it means neither that it’s a bad game nor that your a bad player, just that it’s not a good fit. Maybe some day someone will make a hack that changes everything, but until then, you have your choice of other great games.

Torchwood Mini-Reviews: Season 1

Torchwood logoTaking a break from Doctor Who after Series 3 (and before facing the annoyance that is Donna Noble), we then started re-watching Torchwood. Here are my comments on Season 1 (2006).

I’ll be honest, we had given up after a few episodes the first time around. I think Edmund had stopped watching after 5 episodes, and I made it through 5 more.  This time around, I was paying more attention to who wrote what since I was using the Wikipedia info and adding my ratings and comments.  I figured out that lead writer Chris Chibnall is the one that annoys me most. He can’t write credible dialogue for this show, at least in Season 1. That’s odd, because he wrote two episodes of Life on Mars and I didn’t notice anything wrong, so maybe Torchwood just wasn’t a good fit. I also noticed that every single employee at Torchwood’s Cardiff branch is bisexual. As employment criteria go, I’m not convinced this is relevant to salvaging dangerous alien technology.

The ratings I use go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Torchwood episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

As a result of grading on the curve, a 3 for Torchwood is a worse episode than a 3 for Doctor Who.

No Title Score Comments Code Written by Directed by Original airdate
1 Everything Changes 3 Not bad, it’s a start. Not riveting, but Gwen Cooper is likeable. 1.1 Russell T Davies Brian Kelly 22 October 2006
2 Day One 1.5 Urp. What an awful clichéd plot. Seriously, we needed not only to go there, but right after the pilot episode? Aliens coming to take rape our innocent women and turn them into deadly sluts? It only gets to a score of 1.5 because I need to reserve the 1s for even worse episodes. 1.2 Chris Chibnall Brian Kelly 22 October 2006
3 Ghost Machine 3 Not a bad premise, and some attempt at creative story-telling. However, of course we have to focus on a rape-murder. 1.3 Helen Raynor Colin Teague 29 October 2006
4 Cyberwoman 1 The cyberbabe episode! Yes, when the Cybermen decided to accelerated the conversion process for the battle of Canary Wharf, they actually replaced the 60-second “remove the brain, shove it in a Cyberman body” method with “take curvy woman, garnish her with latex webbing and plexiglass thigh covers, put her in heels for stomping, and plug in the head frame–over the course of hours” method. And we get treated to the umpteenth version of “But MY loved one can be saved.” Also, pretty much everyone shooting at Cyberbabe ignores the fact that SHE HAS VIRTUALLY NO ARMOUR. 1.4 Chris Chibnall James Strong 5 November 2006
5 Small Worlds 2.5 An attempt to focus on ancient mysterious powers from Earth itself instead of aliens. Estelle could have been a great character but is underused. If the fairies are that powerful, why have we not heard more about them? They are not particularly discreet in this episode. 1.5 Peter J. Hammond Alice Troughton 12 November 2006
6 Countrycide 3 The episode develops some spooky atmosphere but then overshoots the mark. Yet another episode where we have to explore the sexual tensions between just about every possible pair of colleagues at Torchwood. Seriously, I don’t care. Work colleagues are the least sexy category I can think of. Also, suggestion of impending rape when Cannibal Leader talks to Toshiko about “tenderizing the meat.” Does writer Chris Chibnall have a thing for rape, or is he just lazy? 1.6 Chris Chibnall Andy Goddard 19 November 2006
7 Greeks Bearing Gifts 2 It would be a 3 for the plot, but the dialogue is so very poorly written that I wanted to throttle the writer. Also, I want to know why the writers of Torchwood seem to think every single person is fundamentally bisexual. I have nothing against showing non-hetero relationships, but so far Jack, Gwen, Toshiko, Owen and Ianto all have been painted with the same brush. Is it an employment criterion at Torchwood? 1.7 Toby Whithouse Colin Teague 26 November 2006
8 They Keep Killing Suzie 3 Meh. It felt like this episode was cobbled together to massage the continuity. Also—shooting the glove? Is shooting the universal solution? 1.8 Paul Tomalin & Dan McCulloch James Strong 3 December 2006
9 Random Shoes 4 My favourite episode to date. Interesting way to for the plot to unfold, and some credible emotions injected in the story. Alas, Jacquetta wrote no other Torchwood episodes. 1.9 Jacquetta May James Erskine 10 December 2006
10 Out of Time 3 This episode was actually rather charming in places and the first third was quite good. But it suffered from its closed episode structure; this story would have been so much better spread as a thread over several episodes. The fact that as a self-contained episode it contained nothing for the protagonists to really do just shot the rhythm through the head, and we only had time to see some human connections form before they were written off. 1.10 Catherine Tregenna Alice Troughton 17 December 2006
11 Combat 3 I was disappointed, I had hoped Noel Clarke would write a better episode, but this was all pretty run-of-the-mill, predictable. Some points for the suggestion that Jack is a monster. It’s been made in the show before, but this time it was more shown that told which is better on television. Gwen goes seriously off the rails.
1.11 Noel Clarke Andy Goddard 24 December 2006
12 Captain Jack Harkness 3 I would have liked a good “coming out” story but this one was not only telegraphed, it went to the wrong address—by which I mean that the way it was written was so completely unbelievable, it ruined the moment. The “treasure hunt” across decades was a good idea, but the reason given was ridiculous (they were missing half an equation, not half the parameters!) 1.12 Catherine Tregenna Ashley Way 1 January 2007
13 End of Days 1 Holy crap, that was badly written. And badly directed. Everybody was stupid. No, insane. No wait, stupid and insane.
1.13 Chris Chibnall Ashley Way 1 January 2007

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 3

Tardis Builders logo by G. FoyleEdmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for “Series 3″ of the recent collection, released in 2007 and starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones. Strong and capable, Martha is my favourite Companion in since Sarah Jane Smith even though the writers gave her a stupid crush on the Doctor; I’m sorry she was there for only one season.

The second half is, in my opinion, the highest point in the Tenth Doctor’s career with multi-episode story arcs that are themselves joined by an overarching plot. We see better acting, plotting, editing, and directing than at any point in the Tenth Doctor’s previous appearances.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
179 Smith and Jones 3.5 I like Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones, so I’m happy to reach this season. The start in media res and slight non-linear story-telling help bolster the plot. 3.1 1 episode Russell T Davies Charles Palmer 31 March 2007
180 The Shakespeare Code 3  I wish they had not written a crush on the Doctor as Matha’s  story hook. Ho-hum. Shakespeare is OK but the episode’s plot is otherwise lackluster. 3.2 1 episode Gareth Roberts Charles Palmer 7 April 2007
181 Gridlock 3.5 Good characters but underused. Still, it’s nice to go to another futuristic setting, even though we’ve visited it before. 3.3 1 episode Russell T Davies Richard Clark 14 April 2007
182 Daleks in Manhattan
Evolution of the Daleks
2.5 I can’t figure out why this was expanded into a two-parter. There wasn’t enough plot for it, and it’s one of those “time travel” episode that is so far from historical accuracy, they’re not even trying. 3.4
2 episodes Helen Raynor James Strong 21 April 2007
28 April 2007
183 The Lazarus Experiment 3 Tolerable episode. You see the plot coming and going, and the way in which the Bad Guy is defeated makes as much sense as usual, but there is momentum and a few nice minutes of acting. David Tennant is finally starting to own the role. 3.6 1 episode Stephen Greenhorn Richard Clark 5 May 2007
184 42 3.5 Yay, another futuristic episode, again with a very Alien feel to it. Unfortunately, it’s also awfully similar to “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”. I’m also uncomfortable about the fact that the Big Bad turns men into serial killers and women into victims while this gender disparity goes unacknowledged.
3.7 1 episode Chris Chibnall Graeme Harper 19 May 2007
185 Human Nature
The Family of Blood
4/4 With the second half of the series, we finally get into high gear.  I forgive the plot and rhythm flaws in this pair of episodes because of (A) the effort at an actually somber and resonably credible visit of the past, (B) some nice story-telling tricks to throw the viewer off balance, (C ) some acting that injects actual drama and pathos.
2 episodes Paul Cornell Charles Palmer 26 May 2007
2 June 2007
186 Blink 5 My favourite episode ever. The non-linear story-telling structure, the sparse use of the Doctor and his all-knowingness, the suspense, the editing, the scary new villains, it’s just great. So few episodes actually use the device of time travel as a means for creative story-telling.
3.10 1 episode Steven Moffat Hettie MacDonald 9 June 2007
187 Utopia
The Sound of Drums
Last of the Time Lords
A great story arc that finally has a lot of foreshadowing paying off, making the series connect together and flow in a way that Series 2 did not. Derek Jacobi delivers a superb performance as Professor Yana and we see the loss of a good man. John Simms is wonderful as the Master, I can’t get enough of him. I got a bit tired the whole “The Doctor is so great” praise, he’s such a Mary Sue.  Martha clearly did kick-ass stuff off-screen, and I could well see a game I’d call “The Year That Wasn’t,” where we would follow her adventures.
3 episodes
(3.13 is 52 mins)
Russell T Davies Graeme Harper (3.11)
Colin Teague (3.12 & 3.13)
16 June 2007
23 June 2007
30 June 2007
188 Voyage of the Damned 4 I think maybe I’m too generous with this score, but I did like the characters and the casting, and although the peril is contrived, the rhythm of the episode is good. 4.X Christmas special (72 mins) Russell T Davies James Strong 25 December 2007

Note: Tardis Builders logo by gfoyle, a.k.a. Peter Derrington. Go see his DeviantArt page, it’s full of Whovian art

Doctor Who Mini-Reviews: Series 2

into the vortexEdmund and I have been re-watching the Doctor Who reboot from the beginning, and I’m writing mini-reviews; I post them one season at a time. The info is cribbed from Wikipedia, and I added my scores and comments.

The scores go thus:

  1. This is embarrassing.  Go away.
  2. Weak.  I’m not going to try convincing my friends to watch the show based on this.
  3. Average for a Doctor Who episode.
  4. That was a good one!
  5. One of the best ever.

This one is for “Series 2″ of the recent collection, released in 2006 and starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor.  I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it; I don’t think the chemistry between Billie Piper (playing Rose Tyler) and Tennant was as good as the one she had with Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor.  Same with Noel Clarke (playing Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey), his exchanges with Eccleston had more flair.

No Title Score Comments Code Episodes Writer Director Original airdate
168 New Earth 2 Poor. Fairly nonsensical plot, providing excuses to reconnect with some of the earlier foreshadowing. 2.1 1 episode Russell T Davies James Hawes 15 April 2006
169 Tooth and Claw 3 Not great, but had nice performance of Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria, and fun characterizations by several other supporting actors. 2.2 1 episode Russell T Davies Euros Lyn 22 April 2006
170 School Reunion 3 Not great, but had the return of Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, Noel Clarke as Mickey, and Anthony Head as Mr. Finch. 2.3 1 episode Toby Whithouse James Hawes 29 April 2006
171 The Girl in the Fireplace 2.5 Meh. At least Noel Clarke was there, and Sophia Myles was rather nice, even if she doesn’t look anything like Mme de Pompadour. Costuming was superbly inaccurate. 2.4 1 episode Steven Moffat Euros Lyn 6 May 2006
172 Rise of the Cybermen
The Age of Steel
3/2.5 Best part was Ricky (alternate Mickey) as leader of the Street Preachers. Shaun Dingwall is still nice as Pete Tyler. Other than that, oh-hum plot, gratuitous explosions, and Rose was completely useless. 2.5
2 episodes Tom MacRae Graeme Harper 13 May 2006
20 May 2006
173 The Idiot’s Lantern 2.5 The 1950s technology and aesthetics are cute, and the nostalgia must be fun for the UK. The Wire (the villain) was woefully underused, however. The episode started well with Rose doing some independent investigation, but fizzled out and returned to the boilerplate Time Lord technology to fix everything. 2.7 1 episode Mark Gatiss Euros Lyn 27 May 2006
174 The Impossible Planet
The Satan Pit
4/3.5 First appearance of the Ood; first decidedly futuristic episode since the visit to Satellite 5 at the end of the previous season. Good visuals, and good Aliens-like atmosphere. The Big Bad is a let-down, however, and the interminable pit plot in the second episode seriously hampers the tempo. 2.8
2 episodes Matt Jones (and Russell T Davies)[17] James Strong 3 June 2006
10 June 2006
175 Love & Monsters 4 Refreshing approach to telling the story, and an excellent performance by Marc Warren (a nice change from seeing him play low-lives and psychos in Life on Mars, Discworld serials, or The Good Wife…) A little off on timing, a little too long spent on epilogues to epilogues. 2.10 1 episode Russell T Davies Dan Zeff 17 June 2006
176 Fear Her 3 Not a terribly bad or terribly good plot, but the rhythm was off; it felt like someone was stretching for, ahem, time. The flirting between Rose and the Doctor was tedious. 2.11 1 episode Matthew Graham Euros Lyn 24 June 2006
177 Army of Ghosts
3/4 “Army of Ghosts” jumped a little too soon to the Cybermen but it had good atmosphere in the first part. Cute to see Freema Agyeman in a bit role before she plays Martha Jones in the next season. “Doomsday” earns a better score because in spite of a balderdash plot, it has the wonderful trash-talk scenes between Cybermen and Daleks, and it tackles the problem that Cybermen are just Dalek-minus. 2.12
2 episodes Russell T Davies Graeme Harper 1 July 2006
8 July 2006
178 The Runaway Bride 2 Ugh. Donna Noble. A character apparently written by Miss O. Jinny. The episode is twice as well written as the previous Christmas special, so it gets a 2. It sure managed to fill a lot of running time with very little plot. 3.X Christmas special (60 mins) Russell T Davies Euros Lyn 25 December 2006