Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 10: “The Eaters of Light”

  • I do quite like these little random statements about the world that the Doctor makes, like how crows can speak but nobody has intelligent conversations with them anymore.
  • I also like this episode’s historical setting. It’s nice when Doctor Who gets historical: there are some enjoyable First Doctor historical episodes that don’t even have any aliens in them. Mind you, I don’t think there were any black soldiers in the Roman legions, but I guess sometimes having the best actors for the role and maintaining diversity takes precedence over historical accuracy, as with last week’s story.
  • Nardole’s story about the Mary Celeste contradicts the classic series – all the way back in the First Doctor era, the crew of the Mary Celeste were frightened off their ship by Daleks. The Lusitania has apparently only featured in an audio story – I’d like to see a whole episode based around it.
  • I liked the character of Kar and the progression that she goes through: from setting the creature free irresponsibly but with understandable motivations, to realising what she’s done, to understanding that she has to stop focussing inward.
  • The design of the creature is good – it looks like something out of Primeval. Plus a dragon-like monster seems more at home in ancient Britain than something with a more alien template.
  • Bill talking about how the Doctor always becomes “boss of the locals” made me think about why this kind of self-awareness is only good in small doses. I suppose it’s because we get tired of being told things we already know!
  • The Twelfth Doctor gets the opportunity for another anti-war speech – it doesn’t quite reach the levels of The Zygon Inversion, but what could?
  • Ah, how my eyes rolled when they started making out that the Doctor would sacrifice his life before the season finale. At least the pretence doesn’t last long.
  • “You have a vault to guard.” And what a great job he’s been doing of that this whole series. I suppose it’s believable that after such a long time at this mundane, thankless task, the Doctor would push the boundaries a little (going travelling) then push them further when he gets away with it (actually letting Missy out but under restriction). I don’t doubt that it’s going to come back to bite him, as I trust Missy/the Master as far as I could throw her and so should he.
  • “You never learned to hear the music.” I was expecting a reference to the drumming there, particularly as we know for sure now we’ll see John Simm next week.
  • Oh, and Nardole………..was there.

Despite having some slow periods, this was a solid episode in pretty much all departments. Rating: 3.5/5.

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Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 9: “Empress of Mars”

  • Ah, I always enjoy seeing NASA in anything. Too bad the Doctor and his buddies have to come along and ruin the dramatic atmosphere in Mission Control.
  • I do like the concept of Victorian soldiers on Mars, but it’s not used to its full potential – they’re just hanging about in tunnels and steampunk is kept to a minimum. There are a few little things I still liked, such as the slang (e.g. “You’ll get your share of the rhino”), though I couldn’t say whether it’s accurate or not; and the portrait of Queen Victoria resembling Pauline Collins, who played her all the way back in Series 2.
  • It’s almost like the show itself realises how superfluous Nardole is outside of the business with the vault, as the TARDIS spirits him away from the adventure without warning or explanation.
  • So Bill’s thing for this episode is making movie references, and still being a bit mouthy. I’m still not into her.
  • While we’ve seen plenty of “the humans are the alien invaders” stories in sci-fi before, this one at least feels different in that it’s only a small band of humans – who don’t have the power to trash the whole planet a la Avatar – and the resident aliens have the clear advantage when the fighting starts.
  • And of course some greedy bugger ignores the warnings for the sake of some treasure, and brings hellfire down on everyone else. Isn’t that always the way?
  • The design of the Ice Queen is good, especially the insectile eyes – she looks like a proper Doctor Who monster without the need for CGI. I like the rattling reptilian noises that the Ice Warriors make too.
  • For God’s sake, Vincey, you never start talking about your beloved fiancee or pulling out pictures when you’re about to go into battle. You might as well be wearing a neon sign that says ‘KILL ME!’
  • I haven’t watched any classic episodes involving the Ice Warriors yet, so I don’t know about their history in the old series, but presumably their continued survival outside Mars ties into them coming to rescue Skaldak in the Series 7 episode Cold War?
  • So, any explanation for why the TARDIS went away in the first place? No?

This one came close to being a nice classic adventure, but honestly, I found it lacking in much of real interest. Not only that, but I’m just getting tired of Bill, and Nardole, and the vault – this whole series has been a let-down so far. Here’s hoping for something better from the last three episodes. Rating: 3/5.

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Collectormania 24: Film & Comic Con Birmingham

 

Last Saturday, I went to my first Comic Con of the year: Collectormania 24 at the NEC Arena in Birmingham. This event featured a very impressive line-up of guests, including John Barrowman – whom I’ve previously seen in concert in Blackpool – and Agent Melinda May herself, Ming-Na Wen! I decided to go in my Ninth Doctor cosplay for the Barrowman factor.

The event used a virtual queuing system for getting autographs from the most popular guests, where you picked up a ticket and then went back when it was time for your number. Co-ordinating this with everything else I wanted to do wasn’t too bad – especially as they could still fit you in if you missed your slot, as it were – but it meant a lot of going back and forth, which was rather tiring!

The first talk I went to was Dean Cain and Helen Slater. Dean played Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – a show I loved back in the day – while Helen played Supergirl in her solo movie in 1984. They now both star in the TV series Supergirl, playing the title character’s human foster parents. Dean was especially jovial, saying he would certainly be willing to try being Superman again if given the chance, while Helen admitted that seeing Melissa Benoist in her own previous role did feel strange at first.

In-between talks, I got an autograph from Tony Curran. He’s appeared in a wide range of movies and TV series; most notably for me, he played Vincent van Gogh in a particularly good episode of Doctor Who. I also like his performance as the Invisible Man in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for all that movie’s problems. Tony was very friendly, and also quite talkative; we shared a few words about Doctor Who and he asked what I was doing for the rest of the day.

As an Agents of SHIELD fan, the one I was really excited for was Ming-Na Wen, and she was absolutely lovely. She had recently had knee surgery after being injured filming a fight scene, and her leg was in a cast, but she hadn’t let that stop her coming to meet her British fans! She even gave out sweets at the autograph table. When getting her autograph, I noted that she was wearing a Hydra badge – a reference to current events in the show – but she showed me that she also had a SHIELD ring on. There was plenty of discussion of Agents of SHIELD at her talk, as well as other elements of her career such as E.R. Watching her really emphasised for me what a great actress Ming-Na is, as she is so different from Agent May in real life. She also expressed a desire to have a role in the live-action Mulan movie, so make it happen, Disney!

Robert Patrick, best known for playing the T-1000 in Terminator 2, also gave a talk, where he discussed the many other projects he’s worked on, and made reference to his cameos in Wayne’s World and Last Action Hero.

I wasn’t able to say much to John Barrowman when getting his autograph – he had a lot of people to get through – but his talk was a high point. He came out on stage wearing his trademark Captain Jack trenchcoat – then threw it off to reveal he was wearing a TARDIS-patterned dress underneath! Unlike with the other talks, he kept the stage to himself – he didn’t need assistance from any event staff. The talk lasted a whole hour, and Barrowman was just as much fun and full of character as he was at his concert; he told several funny stories about his work on Doctor Who, Torchwood and Arrow, with quite a few adult jokes. True to form, he finally rounded off by singing Copacabana.

I often find Comic Cons physically tiring, but emotionally, they always perk me right up – even Blackpool Comic Con in 2015, with all its difficulties, had that effect. Thank you to Showmasters and NEC Arena for putting on a great event!

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Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 8: “The Lie of the Land”

  • The Doctor’s evil grin before the opening credits is pretty scary, but his soothing broadcast where a bunch of walking mummies are portrayed as eternal friends and mentors of humanity is just…bizarre.
  • Memory police? Rewriting history to make people believe things have always been as they are? The parallels to Nineteen Eighty-Four are not subtle.
  • With the Monks having taken over the world – and many other worlds beforehand, according to Missy – there’s really no explanation of just what they’re doing with that power. They don’t seem to do much besides build pointless computer simulations and stand around looking intimidating.
  • Throughout the scene where the Doctor convinces Bill he really has allied with the Monks, I was refusing to take him at face value – that’s something you can’t do with the Doctor in these situations, especially Twelve. But then when Bill shoots him and it turns out it was indeed a secret test, the complete tone change with everybody laughing just felt silly – and how could they have predicted every detail, like Bill going so far as to shoot the Doctor? Unless they hacked into one of the Monks’s super simulations? It felt like that episode of The Simpsons where everyone in Springfield concocts an elaborate scheme, involving a wrongful arrest and court case, to teach Homer and Bart a lesson about being con artists. (“So everybody was in on this?” “WILLIE WASN’T!”)
  • I guess the BBC doesn’t have the budget to actually show the Doctor’s boat colliding with the dock.
  • I still like you, Missy. I find I’m able to appreciate you more when you’re not appearing in scenes that pop up randomly in-between the main narrative.
  • It can’t be a good sign that when Missy indicated Bill would have to die or become a vegetable to defeat the Monks, I didn’t care all that much. Bill’s not a bad character, but I just don’t like her as much as other companions.
  • And of course the Doctor tries any option but the inevitable one to keep Bill safe, and of course Bill circumvents him and tries to sacrifice herself anyway. Companions, eh?
  • So ultimately the Monks are foiled by…the power of love? And this must be a bit weird for the world’s population. “Hey, why is this big-haired woman I’ve never seen before popping into my head…oh my God, I suddenly realise that the Monks are lying to us all!”
  • And once their hold on the populace is broken, the Monks immediately give up and go away. Wow, I can really understand how these guys have conquered thousands of planets already – such resilience!

After a strong middle part, the trilogy of the Monks rounds off with a weak and almost laughable conclusion. For all the clever writing in the last episode, the Monks were definitely not worth a three-episode story – in fact, they’re probably among the worst Doctor Who villains since the show was revived. I’m also waiting to see if this story will have any actual consequences for the rest of the season because nothing’s apparent right now.  Rating: 2.5/5.

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Film review: Wonder Woman

I’ve seen some good films so far this year – LEGO Batman, Beauty and the Beast, Logan – but none of them were really special. I certainly wasn’t expecting Wonder Woman to surpass them, especially considering the track record of the DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel was passable but bland; Batman v Superman was a muddled, depressing disaster; and Suicide Squad had some good performances which were overshadowed by bad creative decisions. Now, following a limited role in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman sets out to reverse that trend in her first ever solo movie – which even has a female director, Patty Jenkins. Long story short: this movie takes an unbelievable step up in quality compared to the DCEU’s previous efforts. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

The film takes us back to the formative years of Diana, princess of the immortal Amazons, living in an all-female society on the hidden island of Themyscira. Outside their sun-lit boundaries, World War I is raging – which the Amazons only discover when an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), inadvertently crosses into their kingdom. Upon learning about the war outside, Diana wants to go and help, convinced that Ares – the Greek god of war and mortal enemy of the Amazons – must be behind the conflict. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Diana sets out into the world alongside Steve, on a journey that will teach her much about the good and bad of humanity.

While this film could have ended up feeling too similar to Thor with its fish-out-of-water protagonist, or Captain America: The First Avenger with its wartime setting, it avoids this and instead has a fresh approach all of its own. Nor does it place too much emphasis on a pro-feminist message like the direct-to-DVD animated Wonder Woman movie; the nature of man’s morality, and the need to stand up for something even when the world is against you, get more focus as themes. Aside from Diana’s indignant responses to the casual sexism of the period, the film is content to let her actions speak for themselves without needing to wave a flag saying “GIRL POWER!” in the audience’s faces, and that feels very refreshing.

The two main characters, and the actors playing them, are great as well. Gal Gadot’s Diana goes through an interesting progression through the film, which is what helps to make it so compelling even though it’s set in the past and we needn’t worry about her getting killed. Her views on humanity start out as overly simplistic and optimistic, assuming that Ares is solely responsible for her corruption and killing him will automatically end the war; naturally, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, it would have been easy to portray Steve Trevor as the overly cocky, self-assured type – particularly as he’s played by Chris Pine – but instead he’s more modest and morally motivated.

As with the other DCEU films, the cinematography is quite faded and grim for most of the film; but given that it’s set in World War I, that actually works. Not to mention, it forms a stark and effective contrast with the colourful and sheltered Themyscira that Diana chooses to leave behind for the darker world of man. And unlike those other films, while Wonder Woman is appropriately serious most of the time, it delivers a dose of fun too. Scenes like Diana trying on contemporary clothing, and the team of misfits that Steve pulls together to accompany them to the front, make for good comic relief. Armed with her sword, shield, Lasso of Truth and bullet-deflecting bracelets, Wonder Woman provides some action scenes which are brilliant even when compared to the glut of superhero films we already have; the scene of her striding across No Man’s Land to the German trenches is especially awe-inspiring. Before that, her fellow Amazons get to take on some German soldiers on the beaches of Themyscira, pulling off fighting moves that would leave Legolas feeling inadequate. The music is really epic too, following on from the dramatic Wonder Woman theme that we got a taste of in Batman v Superman.

There’s very little to count against this movie. It did feel a bit long at 2 hours 21 minutes – Diana only leaves Themyscira about 40 minutes in – but it never becomes a chore. And there are still little hints of the DCEU’s bleaker approach to adaptation, such as the expository tale which reveals that all the Greek gods are dead except Ares, and the fact that once Diana leaves Themyscira, she can apparently never return. I don’t know much about the comics, but neither of these is the case in the animated movie.

So, the world finally has a good DCEU movie, and a good superhero movie with a female protagonist. But Wonder Woman is far more than that; managing to be entertaining, emotive and meaningful, it ranks among the best superhero movies ever, and you really should go and see it. Rating: 4.5/5.

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My Top 10 Favourite Video Games

I’ve wanted to write about my favourite video games for a while now – but now that I have a YouTube channel, I decided to make a video about my top 10 instead!

10. Pokémon Gold (Game Boy Colour)

09. God of War & God of War 2 (PlayStation 2)

08. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (PC)

07. Pro Evolution Soccer (PlayStation 2 & 3)

06. Yu-Gi-Oh World Championship 2008 (Nintendo DS)

05. Kerbal Space Program (PC)

04. Mass Effect trilogy (PlayStation 2)

03. Batman: Arkham Asylum & Batman: Arkham City (PlayStation 3)

02. Rome: Total War (PC)

01. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation 2)

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Two Film Discussions!

This week, Rachel Wagner and I have ended up making two videos together. On Friday, we had a very enjoyable discussion about Titanic, following the completion of my Titanic Month project in April.

Then on Sunday, it was time for our latest His Pick Her Pick video, examining two fantasy films that take a more experimental approach: 1981’s Time Bandits as Rachel’s recommendation, and 2007’s Stardust as mine. I think this was the first His Pick Her Pick where we significantly differed in how much we liked each film, which made for an interesting discussion.

We haven’t decided yet what genre of film to use for our next His Pick Her Pick, so please comment if there’s anything you’d like to see!

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Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 7: “The Pyramid at the End of the World”

  • “I wouldn’t have voted for him. He’s orange.” Managing a jab at Trump without it actually sounding political and thereby offending people – nicely done.
  • At first, the cuts back-and-forth to the agrofuel facility are just as distracting as the cuts to Missy were last episode, though not quite as bad as it was clearer this time around that these scenes would have a point eventually. Eventually it really pays off: I like how the relevance of what’s happening comes clear gradually, and the idea that the world is going to end just because one scientist’s glasses were broken and her colleague came to work with a hangover.
  • When studying Earth for their simulations, the Monks apparently noticed that half of all blockbuster movies these days culminate in a pillar of light rising into the sky, and decided to follow the trend! All part of the plan.
  • I spent some time thinking about whether the Monks’ plan was actually clever or unnecessarily complicated – eventually, when it all comes together, I decided on the former. The presence and location of the pyramid, and the weird Doomsday Clock warning, make sense when the Monks’ ultimate goal is taken into consideration. As for the incredibly complex simulations, apparently that’s just something that these aliens do.
  • It’s certainly new, unnerving and twisted that the Monks aim to take over the world through consent motivated by love, rather than going in guns blazing like most aliens, or even a covert operation like the aliens in The Fear Saga. Though they should have given more thought to whether humanity would agree to being ruled by a race of walking corpses.
  • I liked the dynamic that the three soldiers provided. Shame they all had to die.
  • There’s so much good stuff in the last 10-15 minutes. First there’s how the Doctor figures out which lab the emergency will take place at. Then there’s that nice hopeful moment where it looks like the day is saved and the overconfident aliens have been foiled again – only for the audience to suddenly think “Oh, crap” as the Doctor finds himself facing a lock where he can’t see the numbers. And finally, this inevitably leads to an unexpected downer ending where Bill hands over the planet rather than let the Doctor die. Aside from the irrationality of love, she seems to be basing this decision on the hope that the Doctor will just save the planet like always if he lives – but worryingly, that’s the kind of thinking that got Clara killed.

This episode loses points for its slow start as we wait for the Monks to really do something, but once we’re inside the pyramid, things get a lot more interesting. As with last week, this script is trying to be clever – but this time, it’s much smoother, and the writing much more impressive. Rating: 4/5.

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Manchester

Today has been a dark day.

As I write this, 22 people are confirmed dead from last night’s Manchester Arena suicide bombing, one of them an eight-year-old girl. Any terrorist attack is a awful, frightening thing, but it causes a particular jolt when it happens in your own area. What especially shook me when I saw the news this morning was that my parents were supposed to be going to the Manchester Arena this week, to see Take That. (Those shows have now, understandably, been postponed.)

Even with all the terrorist attacks that have taken place worldwide in recent years, it feels impossible to comprehend what kind of sick mind could decide to detonate a bomb at a concert full of children. It makes you feel helpless. It makes you fear for the world more than ever.

But in the aftermath, the goodness of humanity has shone through as well. From Manchester residents offering their homes to stranded concert-goers, to taxi drivers offering free transport, people have been banding together and looking to do whatever they can to help. And that’s why, in spite of those that caused this tragedy, I continue to have hope.

My thoughts go out to all those affected by what has happened.

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It’s Been A Great Year For Reading So Far!

I set myself a target of 40 books for this year’s Goodreads Reading Challenge, the same as 2015. (My target for 2016 was slightly lower at 35, as I was also doing a Harry Potter re-read that year.) So far, I’ve finished 19 books, in spite of not listening to audiobooks as much since getting a new job, as I’ve been driving to work instead of taking the bus. They’ve been a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and some of them have been really fantastic – so I thought I’d share my favourites for the year so far.

Fiction

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This novel is set in the not-too-distant future, where humanity’s bad habits have finally caught up with everyone, and society is coming apart at the seams thanks to overpopulation, climate change and energy crises. With the world being such a unpleasant place, most people spend all of their free time (or even working hours) inside a massive virtual reality construct called the Oasis. The story begins with the death of James Halliday, the wealthy and reclusive creator of the Oasis: in a posthumous message to the world, he reveals that he has hidden an Easter Egg inside the Oasis, and the first person to find it will inherit his entire fortune. Five years later, our teenage protagonist Wade Watts uncovers the first step on the path to the Egg – but as he progresses on his quest in cyberspace, he also faces danger in the real world.

This is a great book on so many levels, beyond how compelling the main story is, and how much potential there is in a setting with thousands of virtual worlds to explore, challenges to complete and enemies to take on. There’s plenty of gaming action, as well as humour from the everyman protagonist: Wil Wheaton, who narrates the audiobook, is an excellent fit for Wade. Most of the challenges that must be completed to obtain the Egg are based around Eighties pop culture, from movies to music to – especially – games: even though much of it was unfamiliar to me, there’s an incredible amount of detail in this regard, inspiring me to look up many of the games, etc that were mentioned to confirm that they were real.

On a more sombre note, the dystopian real world of this book is depressingly easier to see as our eventual future than the more traditional totalitarian regime of various young-adult novels – as is the general populace’s response of using technology as a means of escape. Naturally, in this world where an incredibly detailed universe with endless possibilities is at most people’s fingertips, questions are raised about the value of reality, the meaningfulness of existence in the two worlds, and whether the Oasis is really any less “real” than the dying world outside: the answers may seem obvious at first glance, but as you read the book, it’s not that clean-cut.

This novel is highly recommended, especially for nerdier audiences.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

After hearing Rachel Wagner talk about Anne of Green Gables on her social media – in preparation for the Netflix series Anne With An E – I decided to give this 1908 classic a go.

Elderly siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who live on Green Gables Farm on Prince Edward Island, decide to adopt a boy to help with their work – but through some mix-up, they end up with a red-headed eleven-year-old girl named Anne Shirley, who proves just too charming to turn away. Taking place over five years, the story has an episodic format as it covers various scrapes that Anne gets into, yet it still maintains forward momentum: Anne visibly grows and changes in how she speaks and sees the world, and when she makes mistakes, she learns from them.

There’s a great deal of charm to be found in this book: from the picturesque rural setting, to the relatively innocent conflicts that Anne experiences – from being wrongly accused of stealing a brooch to breaking her ankle thanks to a dare. Some of these incidents manage to be pretty funny, such as Anne trying to rid herself of her red hair and inadvertently turning it green instead. Then there’s Anne as a person: she’s such a great character. She could have been either sickeningly sweet or an absolute brat, but she’s neither. She often acts without thinking and has a streak of pride that causes some problems, but she has a good heart, a precocious vocabulary and a boundless imagination that makes her very endearing. I suspect she might annoy me if I knew her in real life – much of the book consists of Anne describing/explaining something to Marilla in a chunky, detailed paragraph, followed by a one or two-line reply from Marilla, often along the lines that Anne talks or imagines too much – but she’s lovely to read about.

Meanwhile, Anne With An E turned out to be a thoroughly disappointing adaptation: unneccessarily bleaker than the source material, and making changes which failed to impact significantly on the more faithfully adapted parts even when they should have. I lost interest halfway through the fourth episode. Apparently the 1985 miniseries is much better, so I’ll have to track that down.

Non-fiction

I Have Asperger’s by Erin Clemens
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I have Asperger Syndrome. I’m often on the lookout for opportunities to learn more about the autism spectrum and other people’s experiences with it, and this year, I’ve found these books. I’ve also read Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin, which was very interesting itself, but I liked these two a bit better.

I Have Asperger’s is a collection of posts from the blog of Erin Clemens, where she goes into a variety of topics related to the condition: how she sees the world differently from neurotypical people, the difficulties that Asperger’s can cause in different situations, day-to-day events, and her advocacy work. As well as being both honest and positive, it’s clear enough that I think someone who doesn’t have Asperger’s can get a good idea of what it’s like from this.

Neurotribes, meanwhile, is largely a history of autism in society. Starting with the studies of Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, it describes how these conditions were diagnosed, initial beliefs as to their causation, and how they were often treated. Various case studies are used to demonstrate how societal attitudes towards autistic people have changed – there’s a chapter on the significant impact that the movie Rain Man had in this regard. Other chapters explore how autistic people in turn have impacted the world, having played an important role in the development of computers and the origins of the fandom concept. Just about everything in this book fascinated me, and it left me wanting to do more research into the topics covered, which is one of the best things that a non-fiction book can do.

Bring Back The King: The New Science of De-Extinction by Helen Pilcher

This is another one I listened to as an audiobook, narrated by the author, biologist Helen Pilcher. With human activities currently bringing about the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, the idea of de-extinction – bringing extinct animals back to life – is a highly relevant one, and in this book, Pilcher does a great job of explaining the subject in an comprehensible (and, when appropriate, humourous) way to a general audience. She devotes each chapter to different life forms – dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, Neanderthals, thylacines, passenger pigeons, etc – and explains both whether they could be brought back, and whether they should.

For each one, it’s made clear that the process is far from simple, with many practical considerations to consider: if woolly mammoths were to be revived, for example, it would require much invasive work on Asian elephants (the mammoth’s closest living relative), which are themselves in danger of extinction. But even though it’s fully grounded in reality and doesn’t pull any punches when describing the man-made environmental crises that are making this research necessary, this book still manages to offer some optimism for the future.

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