Sunday, September 30, 2007

This Week in Geek (24-30/09/07)

Buys

Based on my very much liking Kurasawa's Seven Samurai, I sprung for the relatively recent Yojimbo/Sanjuro two-pack. And based on my undying love of Shakespeare, I also got Kenneth Brannagh's As You Like It as soon as it came out. Funny that it also has a Japanese theme (the movie, not the play per se). It's gonna be a Japanese week, I can feel it.

"Accomplishments"

Well, I didn't wait long to pop As You Like It in the machine. The same night, in fact. And with only a very short featurette in the extras, I definitely flipped it. Now, I'd never seen a performance of As You Like It before then, but I knew it had to hinge on Rosalind, which may well be the last of Shakespeare's great Trinity: Hamlet, Falstaff and her. Characters so well drawn, so deep and so real, that they can exist outside their home play. Bryce Dallas Howard was definitely up to the challenge and charmed me totally, though one shouldn't discount the other characters, often disparaged by critics on account of their not being worthy of Rosalind (few could!). Adrian Lester and David Oleyowo give sensitive performances as the De Boys boys, and Alfred Molina and Kevin Kline do great things with their limited clowns. The epilogue, though an outgrowth of Henry V's chorus, still managed to surprise and delight me, and is perfect for this play, this heroine. I've got to say, Kenneth Brannagh has done it again (which I wasn't sure could happen again after Love's Labour's Lost's failure).

Earlier in the week, I flipped Heroes Season 1, a boxed set chock-full of cast and crew commentaries recorded on set, between scenes much of the time (Greg Grunberg is particularly zany, really the Katy Manning of the Heroes set for Doctor Who fans out there) and a number of good featurettes, including one on comic book artist Tim Sale. A great package. Having missed it the first time round, watching Heroes in sequence over the course of 2½ days, it's a real runaway train of a series. Despite my comic book knowledge of the basic tropes, I was never quite sure what would happen next, who would survive and how it would all end. Plenty of mysteries layered in for later seasons as well. Loved it, and flipped it in time for Season 2's premiere episode (with less than a minute to spare). The new season is starting out slow like the first one did, and I'm ready for the twists to come that will no doubt subvert my expectations. And it made me laugh out loud, which I don't think happened at all in Season 1, so that's a first twist for me.

Had some problems with my DVD-ROM that I think I've fixed, and that's allowed me to make 4 new cards for my Doctor Who CCG. Check 'em out in the Time Meddlers section if you like. They're mostly Spacetime cards from City of Death, including the very pretty Gay Paree:
RPGs: My boy Sly convinced me to run some Planescape today despite the fact that all our other players were working or else out of town this weekend, but in the spirit of that post on Subplots I did, I couldn't really refuse. The idea became to juice up his bariaur gladiator's subplots by using life around the arena (a charioteering event where he is the horse, etc.), but introduce a murder mystery and a psycho killer from his own faction into it as well. Result: Killed two memorable NPCs, had a really great chariot fight, set up three new locations in the City of Doors, and had a good time. What more can I ask for?

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Pages 8-9

More JLA shenanigans...Yeah, Clark, do you REALLY want kids to mimic Batman? Staying up all hours? Driving recklessly? Taking up wards at the drop of a trapeze artist? Throwing tantrums and quitting teams?
"...or at any rate, at least call in Zatanna to erase my memory."
Wonder Woman ass shot! THERE'S your Frank Miller influence!
Wow. I'm used to hyperbole in comics, but a war just ended? Black Adam's World War III seems paltry by comparison, no?
Finally, some geographic details about this... Markovia. It's about 1.5 times bigger than Luxenbourg, which is one of Europe's tiny, tiny countries. Bigger than the Vatican, but smaller than Malta. If there's a civil war there, it's probably between French and German-language ethnicities, which means you can give Geo-Force either accent. Géo-Force? Yeah, sounds totally French, even though Brion Markov is more germanic. Your choice.

So what else do we know about Markovia? Well, the capital is named Markovburg, and the whole country is stuck in World War II. Ah yes, also...
...it's the site of EuroDisney.
Origin of Geo-Force fun fact #1: His brother becomes king, so as only a lowly prince, he's an OUTSIDER! These guys totally look like they're at each other's throats, don't they? Well, I'll take their father's word for it, he's probably known them for longer than two panels. Certainly, they are very different. One has dark hair, the other light. One likes to wear lacy officious shirts, the other's more of a khakis kind of guy. Irreconcilable differences, I know.
Ah, here comes some fratricide in the making: Brion is super-snippy which Gregor ("la-dee-da, I'm sorry your mawwwjesty") and Greg nitpicks him to death ("not YET King, you moron, don't you know anything about succession?"

Star Trek 296: The Passenger

296. The Passenger

FORMULA: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield + The Schizoid Man, where Data = Bashir

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Odo-Primmin relationship.

WHY WE DON'T: E...vil... is... slow... and... boring.

REVIEW: Though Bashir is shown time and again to be a highly competent, even brilliant physician, the show keeps playing him for laughs. At the start of The Passenger, he's ridiculously full of himself, not exactly a character you want to like. And then they saddle him with a split personality in the intangible form of Rao Vantika, and it goes downhill from there. Indeed, this may be one of the worst episodes for Bashir ever.

Oh, the mystery's good enough, Rao's identity hidden behind a whisper and a pair of warm woolen gloves, and the obsessed cop tracking him who turns out to be right, that's all fine. But once it's revealed where Vantika put his consciousness, it just seems like Siddig el Fadil's been directed to play him as the ultimate slow talker. And... boy... is... it... ever... annoy... ing. In fact, that's where the episodes crashes and burns. Not just in the performance, but in the technobabble resolution that follows. And the transporter lobotomy. And the way our characters take the summary execution of Vantika's brain cells in stride.

If there's a reason to watch The Passenger, it's once again Odo. He's given a Federation foil in Lt. George Primmin, who surprises us by being a lot more reasonable than these buttinsky types are ever wont to be. Once his preconceptions are done away with, and Sisko has put him in his place, he's rather amiable, and it's Odo who's the antagonist. Which is perfectly in character for all of them. And even Odo has to give Primmin credit when that credit is due. Odo is also quite good at dealing with Ty Kajada, and there are some good scenes from Quark and Dax.

LESSON: No one's ever heard of a fast-talking villain... have they?

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-Low: Good thing for the Odo stuff, because the villain of the piece is only interesting before you see him, never after.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Pages 6-7

So is Batman's request to the League reasonable?
Well, no. Undercover missions isn't really up the JLA's alley in the first place, and Earth's Greatest Heroes aren't exactly needed to pull one guy out of some dungeon. Personal favors are all well and good, but what's next? Assembling the team to rescue Jimmy Olsen from drowning in Metropolis Harbor? Your supporting cast, your problem Bats.
Superman is the UN's tool, don't you know that? It's what keeps him from throwing all the nuclear missiles into the sun. That and the fear that if Superman IV's events are reenacted, it will make Nuclear Man and Lennie Luthor come out of the woodwork.

Credit where credit is due department: I do enjoy the middle panel a heck of a lot. Seeing the scene from the Moon graphically demonstrates the great divide between Batman and the other heroes on this issue.
And here is it: The big break-up. You don't touch the cape, Clark!

And now for a full-page recap of the origin that can finally be told! Oh wait, it's the best-known superhero origin of all time you say? Oh well, here it is again. IN APARO-VISION!!!
Remember... how little Brucie lost his flat-legged pa and Robin Hood capped ma.
...how he beat the cemetery grounds repeatedly to harden his fists into weapons of pure vengeance.
...how he learned the meaning of fear from a bat flying through the window (because at heart, he's just a little girl).
...and how he perfected the technique of standing imposingly on both gargoyles AND rooftop corners. SOMEbody has to do it. Is it gonna be YOU, Superman? Gargoyles? Really?
Nah, you can't pull it off.

Star Trek 295: Dax

295. Dax

FORMULA: The Host + A Man Alone + The Measure of a Man

WHY WE LIKE IT: A good exploration of what it means to be a Trill.

WHY WE DON'T: Terry Farrell a bit out of her depth.

REVIEW: Much like The Measure of Man which taught us what it meant to be an android, Dax uses the hearing trope to show us what it means to be a joined Trill, and does it rather well. I was wary at first of the murder mystery aspect, since A Man Alone already tread that ground pretty recently, but this "cold case" is only the focus of the B-story, and the solution not an SF cheat this time.

Who is Jadzia in relation to Curzon? And who was Curzon anyway? We get a lot more background on both hosts. Terry Farrell doesn't always seem up to the challenge however, usually keeping herself dialed to "sad" (which is still way better than the Trill witness dialed to "reading cue cards"), though her pride when Sisko lists her accomplishments is a nice moment. Still, it's everyone else's loyalty that grips you, from Bashir's reluctant answers, to Sisko confidently proving himself to be good at explaining strange things by analogy (as per Emissary), to Odo "convincing" Quark to close his bar down to hold the hearing there.

The non-Trill guest stars are rather good. Gregory Itzin as Ilon Tandro gives his usual slimy performance, but there's a reasonable man there I didn't expect. Anne Haney as the caustic 100-year-old judge is a hoot. And Fionnula Flanagan as Enina Tandro owns the touching moment at the end. Ah yes, and you'll also find the first ever mention of raktajino, the Klingon coffee that'll become a favorite on the station.

LESSON: Symbionts are to salt, what hosts are to...? Water!

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: It does the job of giving both Jadzia and Curzon (that ghost character in the series) a deeper background, and even manages to be a tiny bit sweet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Sucker Punch #1

Bahlactus is back and this time, the rulebook has been thrown out. Welcome to SUCKER PUNCH!

And to usher in this new era of unfair fisticuffs, a Friday Night Favorite here at the SBG... someone who should heed the caption boxes around her!
I call FOUL!

It's... Sucker Punch!

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Pages 4-5

Where were we?Ah yes, two days of insane crimefighting. Gotham City is replete with absent-minded drivers, gangs of gunmen and unfashionable guys who simply insist on wearing mustachios and/or plaid.

Later, at the really-not-as-soundproof-as-you-think Batcave...
Hey Alfred, no time for a snack, I need to take a shower and sleep for three hours. That's some discipline. Can't lose 5 minutes of sleep to eat crackers and cheese.

The last 48 hours were rough even with his cell phone off! Wow, he really needs a team to help him with crime in Gotham, eh? Anyway...
Yeah, Batman has a nice belt, and he doesn't care who knows. Alfred wears suspenders. I guess he's been told. Meanwhile, in the Satellite JLA era...
You know, I'm no expert on Thanagarian technology, but that com signal doesn't look too efficient. What if it had failed to slingshot back to the satellite? Would aliens from Alpha Centauri have showed up to help Bats clean the Joker's clock? And if you're wondering just where Gotham City is, well, if the white areas are land, it's in Florida, and if the dark areas are land, in Panama.
Batman is, as usual, fashionably late to his JLA meeting. Why? Because he makes the best transporter beam entrance and doesn't think anyone should miss it. That's why. Flash clearly finds it gripping. Hawkman tries to hide his man-crush. Aquaman's seen it all before. The next words out of Black Canary's mouth are "Ollie! You made me miss it again!"
But whoops! Superman calls Batman for a time-out. "Into my office young man." "We're the same age!" "Tut tut... 1938 cover date." "Grrr."

Subplots: They're not 2nd rate plots anymore

Something actively encouraged in the DCHeroes RPG has become part of my role-playing tool box: Subplots. Basically, it's all well and good to craft or read from complex adventures/scenarios/plots, but if you want your players to truly be invested in their characters, you have to develop their personal stories. Part of the work has to be done in chargen, which is why I'm always present and in discussion mode when characters are being "rolled". I need to make sure each character has its own plot hooks - Who might come back from their past, what are they looking forward to, what NPCs might give them grief, etc.

Running subplots is child's play, really. Usually it's just a matter of role-playing a short scene one-on-one (or even letting the other characters in on it) that advances, slowly but surely, a character's personal story. You might run them if there's extra time at the end of a session, or while you wait for all the players to arrive. And those small stories can turn into full plots later on, when they entire team is dragged into one character's personal business.

Think of it as the one-page subplot in a comic that eventually pays off into a whole issue or arc. This will give the impression that everything is interlinked and that the campaign is constantly leading up to something. If genre television series are any indication, players are ready for this. Look at Doctor Who or Star Trek Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5. Small scenes here and there turn into this larger tapestry over time, despite the self-contained nature of many episodes. Heroes is made up only of interweaving subplots and we follow along eagerly.

Encourage your players to think of their characters in terms of what subplots they might be involved in, they'll soon be formally requesting to continue their stories. "What happens next?" is a great motivator, and subplots allow you to keep that momentum going even if the plots themselves are more or less one-offs. At the same time, characters become more than just stats on a sheet of paper, subplots give them depth.

Definitely recommended, and a reminder to myself to push on that a little more in my current campaign. I shouldn't forget about subplots just because the story is still in its infancy.

Star Trek 294: Q-Less

294. Q-Less

FORMULA: Qpid + (Galaxy's Child x A Matter of Perspective) + eBay

WHY WE LIKE IT: Sisko punched Q out.

WHY WE DON'T: Vash, Vash, Vash and more Vash!

REVIEW: I'm disappointed, but not surprised that the show would use some well-known TNG guest-stars to spruce up interest in the new Trek show. I'm even more disappointed that hte match is not a good one. At all. Part of the annoyance is that Vash is not a character I like. She suffers here from the same problem she did in her last TNG outing - an innate charisma that's acknowledged by almost every character on the show, but not the audience. It's a matter of the writers TELLING us that Vash is a charming, sexy rogue against everything our senses and reason tell us. Bashir's taken with her, Quark's taken with her, Q's taken with her... I just don't see it, and no amount of demeaning oomox is going to change my mind about that.

Q is much more fun, of course, and he gets a few good jokes in, such as forcing Vash to unpack again and again, his pugilism with Sisko, or his telling the cast that Picard's crew "would have solved all this technobabble hours ago". That last line, as on the nose as it is, highlights two problems with the episode. In the first place, yes, it's a technobabble problem with technobabble solutions, and it's all very, very boring. The second half of the episode, between the lame auction (masked aliens and 6-fingered hand gag aside) and button-pushing at Ops, is as good as a sleeping pill. The other thing is that it's way too early for Q to come aboard and insult "the little people". Many fans were already comparing DS9 unfavorably to TNG, and neither the ones who agreed or disagreed with this comparison needed a writer's voicebox enforcing it. It's self-defeating.

As usual, there are good character moments, such as Bashir's penchant for Dabo girls and the first mention of his preganglionic nerve/postganglionic fiber snafu (which doesn't impress O'Brien one bit). O'Brien's reaction to seeing Q is wonderful, and Odo is quickly becoming a great twist on the "outsider who comments on humanity" archetype - unlike Spock or Data, he's incredibly judgmental about it. But the guest-stars take up way too much screen time and we just don't get enough of those.

LESSON: Never put an item you know nothing about up for auction.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Q gets his licks in, but Vash and the techie plot are insupportable.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Pages 2-3

So our story begins in Gotham, at the Feng Shui-ed up Wayne Foundation building:"Traveling to a tiny Balkan country in the midst of a civil war and no natural resources to speak of on 'business' is hardly 'getting rid' of you, Lucius..."
I guess we know what Lucius' opinion of Bruce Wayne's business acumen is, don't we? So Bruce, a redhead? Boy or girl?

BOY!
Now that is the Jim Aparo, exploding-fists-of-fury Batman we love so well. (And a reminder that Friday Night Fights returns tomorrow.)

So am I sorry I went and spread some gay innuendo about "Rooster" here?
Not one jot. Is that a purse he's carrying? Oooh, Batman is so angry at this choice of fashion accessory... He shakes his mighty fist at it. Grrr.
Then Batman uses his telescopic vision to look into Lucius' plane (apparently there aren't many flights that fly over Gotham). My own commercial flight experiences differ in that 1) planes are never spacious enough to walk around and have conversations with fellow passengers, 2) the windows are never that panoramic, and 3) stewardess uniforms rarely if ever include baseball caps. But I'm not filthy rich, so what do I know?

Redeeming feature: Love the perspective on Batman's cape in the last panel. Aparo saves the day again.

Funny Animals of Two Worlds

Just to give Supergirl a break from all the dying...On what Earth does Hoppy the Marvel Bunny live? And is it the same as Super-Turtle? Hoppy is a funny animal version of Captain Marvel (from Earth-S), but Super-Turtle is obviously a take-off on Superman (Earths-1 and -2). HOWEVER, Hoppy has interacted with Cap, while Super-Turtle has never done so with any variation on Superman. So they might be from the same world and Turtle just never met Cap (always late to the Marvel Family potlucks). Or he might be on his own Earth somewhere, along with other slow-moving superheroes like Bat-Snail, Wonder Sloth or the UnFlash.

I guess we'll never be able to ask the little guy now... Damn you Siskoid's Crisis!

Star Trek 293: Captive Pursuit

293. Captive Pursuit

FORMULA: The Hunted + Darmok + Ethics

WHY WE LIKE IT: Tosk is a wonderful creation.

WHY WE DON'T: The firefight on the Promenade is a bit slow.

REVIEW: Our first visitor from the Gamma Quadrant is Tosk, which properly means "the Hunted", and though a bit of a slow talker, he looks great. That is one heavy-duty make-up job and Scott MacDonald gives the character his own way of moving, somehow feral (not to mention that high jump). And of course there's the culture centered around the Hunt which creates a Prime Directive snafu with O'Brien right in the middle of it.

And O'Brien excels here. His empathy toward Tosk and the daring escape he helps engineer are exciting and in parts touching. Sisko and Odo's slow reaction time is perfectly pitched, and while the Commander gives O'Brien a good, official tongue lashing at the end, it's not really about disobeying orders. He's letting O'Brien know that he's ready to bend the rules WITH him, he just wants to be informed the next time.

The creators make a valiant attempt to render the Gamma Quadrant as alien, with different-looking technologies (the red-light district under Tosk's ship, the transporter effects, their bright sensor beam, etc.) and of course, the featured culture. We seldom see aliens with helmets, so that was neat too (even spawned a joke from O'Brien), but that whole firefight when they first come aboard wasn't as exciting as it could have been. Rather static staging.

Good character bits to look out for include O'Brien's angry Irishman routine when Quark dares mention Keiko's unhappiness, the whole "barkeep" business, and Miles not allowing Bashir to stomp all over HIS episode by cutting him off at the pass. Quark's sexually-loaded contracts with his Dabo girls is slightly amusing, but doesn't pay off.

LESSON: Always read the fine print. Even if it's in Ferengi. No, ESPECIALLY if it's in Ferengi.

REWATCHABILITY - High: A well realized alien race and a story that manages to be sweet and touching? I'm game. And O'Brien is the perfect character to star in it too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Page 1

Just your basic pin-up, right?"Heroes for our troubled age" huh? I don't remember 1983 being all that bad, but then I was 12. What did I know? No, what I find most risible (aside from the rather feminine way GF wears that cat mask) is the quotation from John Keats, one of my absolute favorite English poets. Better words were never so misappropriated as "inspiration".

I mean, really, those are some pretty bold words to use as your mission statement for a superhero book starring Batman, a couple of second-stringers and three new characters you've never heard of. "The age to come"... We're too far from 1986 for this to refer to the Crisis, so I guess it just means the Reagan era. Heroes to fight the dark times of economic prosperity and under-the-table arms sales. They will show you the way, give you a new heart, make you give up your mercantile ways. Yeah, that certainly worked out. You hardly ever meet materialists in this day and age (the post-Outsiders age).

"...and be dumb." 1) That line isn't directed at the comics makers and 2) that's not the definition of "dumb" Keats was going for.

In other news, isn't it a bit sad to see a colorist credit in a Showcase edition? Big shout-out to Adrienne Roy, who probably had to keep all those halos straight!

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Critical Analysis

Over the next few days, I'm gonna be posting a page-by-page analysis of Batman and the Outsiders #1 (and by analysis, I mean snarky jokes, of course) because I figure I can justify my purchase of the Showcase Presents collection if I post about it enough. Now it wouldn't be true to say that Outsiders is the worst team book ever. Just the presence of Jim Aparo on pencils and inks takes away THAT title, but there's plenty to dislike.

And note that I'm going through the stories in the same order as the Showcase, so while the Outsiders first appeared in one of those preview book inserts (in Brave and the Bold #200), that story actually occurs fourth from the characters' point of view.

So ok, let's start with that cover. It's a classic split-down-the-middle cover à la Flash of Two Worlds, and that always works for me, but we're off on the wrong foot if you want us to like these guys. Don't raise yourself up by bringing the other guys down, man!Of course considering that this is the Gerry Conway JLA, Batman may just be in the right to say the team sucks. Elongated Man was always more or less a joke. Superman and Wonder Woman were heading for a major reboot in about 4 years, the Flash was going to wind up dead, and Firestorm was... well, Firestorm. But "two-bit"? That's pretty harsh.

But what's interesting is the equivalence between the two teams. Who is Batman replacing with who here? Is Metamorpho a proxy for Elongated Man or Firestorm? Katana must be Wonder Woman (ethnically-derived woman warrior), Black Lightning must be the Flash (same symbol), and Geo-Force must be Superman (laughably, but they're the jeunes premiers with all the muscles). That leaves Halo, who is obviously closer to Firestorm (multiple identities and blaster powers), which yeah, equates the coolest character there with the lamest on the other side.

The New DC... There's no stopping us now. So don't even think about it.

Star Trek 292: Babel

292. Babel

FORMULA: Pinstriped + Vegan Anarchy + Freed Oreo Levels x Petitioner

WHY WE LIKE IT: The oddly beautiful nonsense. O'Brien vs. the station.

WHY WE DON'T: Whenever a character takes a sip from a cup, it looks like they're faking. My Special Edition would CGI major spit takes into this episode.

REVIEW: Another A-plot you might find on TNG (except they would never have given so much to do to the doctor three episodes in a row, nyuck nyuck), but it's at least tied to the Bajoran/Cardassian relationship. Seems like a booby-trapped replicator gives O'Brien an aphasia virus which, thanks to Quark's misuse of station property, gets transmitted to the entire population. Hilarity ensues.

I'm not really being facetious - there's a lot of humor here, especially in the early scenes with O'Brien fighting against an ever-malfunctioning station, and it's great fun to see him so on edge. Once the aphasia hits, Colm Meaney is probably the best at delivering the exquisite corpses produced ("Way link!!"). Others stumble and hesitate as if they realized they couldn't find the words, but it works much better when spoken fluidly. One great reveal is when Bashir looks up at the computer, and it's a free verse poem, and he knows.

The climax revolves around Kira kidnapping the virus designer's former assistant, infecting him and forcing him to find the antidote. It's well played, and I love it when these characters do what must be done, the rules be damned. However, it seems like Surmak Ren finds the answer a bit too quickly. Did he know more than he intimated? Did Bashir loosen the jar? They probably should just have skipped the stuff about the designer being dead and kidnapped him instead. It wouldn't have changed the plot much at all, and would have made a little more sense in the story's structure.

I guess I forgot to mention the stuff with Captain Jaheel trying to escape the station's quarantine. Very easy to do, though the effects are fun to look at. He's just the annoying moron who can't see reason. Dull. More interesting, once again, are the character moments. Dax liking the attention she gets as a female, probably leading to some character changes. The ethereal ice queen stuff isn't all that interesting, frankly. Odo and Quark are still dead on as well (they both enjoy torturing each other), though Rom still can't repair a bent straw, so he's no yet himself.

LESSON: Just because you're back from sick leave doesn't mean we're gonna make it easy on you.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A TNG-like science plot at least enjoys some originality and flair, and the characters are still developping nicely.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

DVD Tales: Doctor Who: The Mind Robber to Inferno

Following from Doctor Who #37: The Tomb of the Cybermen...

As usual, these are all wonderful DVD packages that include an audio commentary by surviving cast and crew, dense production note subtitles, brand new making of documentaries and photo galleries.

Doctor Who #45: The Mind Robber (David Maloney, 1968)
Starring the 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. A very different Doctor Who story, it takes place in the Land of Imagination where characters from fiction all share a common space. It's got some wonderfully surreal elements, and Gulliver speaking words only found in his book, but some will find it rather silly, especially the German comic book character (prefiguring the painted-on muscles of modern superhero films). DVD extras include a pretty funny Basil Brush sketch starring a Yeti from Doctor Who and a look at Frazer Hines' career (from Jamie to I guess that farm soap).

Doctor Who #46: The Invasion (Douglas Camfield, 1968)
Starring the 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. What's wonderful about The Invasion isn't the anachronistic appearance of the Cybermen in modern day London, but rather that the 2 missing episodes have been rendered in animation. These look great, and make me hopeful that other missing stories will one day get the same treatment. The story itself introduces UNIT and is a template for the 3rd Doctor's early adventures and works mostly thanks to the villains of the piece. No, not the robotic zombies. I mean the Vaughn/Packer double act. DVD extras include a feature on the biggest geeks in Who fandom - the guys who would record the shows on audio before the days of VCRs. Man, I think I was a bit like that myself.

Doctor Who #48: The Seeds of Death (Michael Ferguson, 1969)
Starring the 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. Until they animate the missing episodes of The Ice Warriors, this will have to be our introduction to the Martians on DVD. An enjoyable enough introduction to T Mat (the Whoniverse's version of transporter technology) with sibilant Ice Warriors and a big foam machine as the antagonists. And that Miss Kelly is rather hot, isn't she? Still not the best in the series, plodding along for too many episodes. And the foam of course. DVD extras on this release include clips from lost shows now all found on Lost in Time, so it's become a bit of a disappointment in that regard.

Doctor Who #51: Spearhead from Space (Derek Martinus, 1970)
Starring the 3rd Doctor, Liz and UNIT. The first 3rd Doctor story, all on film (no video) because of some labour strike at the BBC (business as usual, apparently), not only introducing Jon Pertwee in the role, but new companion Liz Shaw, the new color format, the Doctor's car Bessie (since he will now be trapped on Earth), and the Autons, animated mannequins that mean us no good. Spearhead is very enjoyable, though it suffers from bad sound (the strike again, no doubt) and Pertwee sometimes indulging his comedy background, pulling some silly faces and such. Liz is a smart companion with plenty of attitude and the Autons are some of the best "zombies" seen on the show. DVD extras are more sparse than usual (this was an early release), but still include a UNIT recruitment film which is a hoot.

Doctor Who #54: Inferno (Douglas Camfield, 1970)
Starring the 3rd Doctor, Liz and UNIT. Inferno is Doctor Who's answer to Mirror, Mirror, and alternate universe where the good guys are bad, the Brigadier wears an eyepatch, and Liz is a fascist vixen. Please don't mind the plot about toxic waste at the Earth's core turning people into green werewolves, but do stick around for the cool "evil versions" and nice stuntwork which marked this era of the show. Sadly, it's a goodbye to Liz, who was too smart for her own good - she doesn't even get a farewell scene. Ah well. The DVD goes into detail as to the whys, and also includes features on UNIT, a visual effects promo film and a rare deleted scene. Sadly, the famous story about Nicholas Courtney turning around and seeing everyone with an eyepatch does not come with relevant footage.

But what did YOU think? Next: Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos to Robot.

Star Trek 291: A Man Alone

291. A Man Alone

FORMULA: A Matter of Perspective + Thine Own Self + Unnatural Selection

WHY WE LIKE IT: The subplots.

WHY WE DON'T: The brain dead murder mystery plot.

REVIEW: It's the old "murder mystery in which one of our heroes is accused of the murder" plot, and the solution is patently absurd, complete with a Mission Impossible unmasking, a "to do" list that basically includes "Frame Odo", and a clone walking out of the infirmary to "join Bajoran society". It's stupid. The episode, in that case, is much better than it has any right to be.

Part of the reason is the way Odo deals with the accusation. He's right when he tells Sisko the commander has no reason to trust him at this point, and you feel his outrage when his office is vandalized. The mob outside it, however, is pretty poor. There's just no energy to this band of extras and I can't fathom "shape-shifter" being much of a racial slur. That Morn won't sit next to Odo gives weight to this still unnamed character though (et tu, Morn?).

The real reason A Man Alone works is all the subplots. DS9 is already doing this much better than TNG ever did, with running arcs on all the characters. Sometimes they don't really work, like Bashir's pursuit of Dax (and that frankly boring video game she plays), but it does show Quark and Odo as gossips who like to speculate on Dax's relationship with Sisko. In fact, the Quark/Odo relationship is already fully formed here, at once friends and enemies. Oh, and Odo has that famous speech about couples and compromises, as well as a bit from his character bible: To Odo, laws change, but justice remains the same.

The big subplot revolves around the first DS9 appearance of Keiko O'Brien and the school for wayward children she wants to found. Sisko still has to build that community after all, and a school makes perfect sense, while dragging a botanist onto an old mining station probably didn't. The catalyst is the budding friendship between Jake and Nog who are to become the resident troublemakers. Rom gets his name here, but he's still not the Rom we'll know (he's putting on airs, and indeed, that's why he DOES allow Nog to be taught by a female?). Dealing with Keiko advances O'Brien's story, and indeed we see the whole family here. That Molly sure is cute.

LESSON: If you build it, they will come... but you have to ring the bell, dear.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: It's amazing that the A-plot can be so disastrously dumb, but the episode still shine though characterization.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Soldier Talk

Some innuendo to start off the week:Sometimes, I think Kanigher did it on purpose.

Star Trek 290: Past Prologue

290. Past Prologue

FORMULA: Redemption + Ensign Ro

WHY WE LIKE IT: Plain, simple Garak! The Sisters of Duras.

WHY WE DON'T: They still don't address this Emissary business.

REVIEW: Right out of the gate, the creators have given us the template for all DS9 episodes. It's a story with plenty of double dealing at the center of which is essentially a moral dilemma. Politics play a big part, and ending is downbeat and gone is the usual epilogue full of platitudes. If not the model for all of DS9, certainly the model for Kira stories.

I think it's especially fitting then that the episode starts right out with the introduction of Garak, one of the series' best characters (a great thing about not moving around on this show is that we get to know the neighborhood quite well, and your favorite guest-star may just become a recurring character). He's immensely charming and ambiguous, always speaks from both sides of his mouth at the same time, and begins a relationship with Bashir here that will become a fixture in the series. Bashir's a bit on the silly side - and if there's an episode that disproves he was a mutant all along, it's this one - but is fun as the junior officer in way over his head. Is Garak friend or foe?

Another ambiguous character is the terrorist Tahna Los, an old friend of Kira's who hasn't stopped fighting the Cardassians. Has he really left his extremist cell? Or is he duping her? Where does Kira's loyalty lie? With a provisional government she doesn't agree with? Or with "her own people"? There's a great scene between her and Odo that shows Kira's capable of more than anger, a touching vulnerability, and Odo playing psychologist. When he decides she's made her choice, he calls on Sisko. Brilliant. A quick note on Kira's new haicut: Apparently, it was Nana Visitor who decided Kira would be too practical to get her hair styled, so she cut it off without producer approval. I tend to agree with the character choice, and it's not yet as severe as it'll become, thankfully.

Odo's no-nonsense manner leads to another great moment when the Sisters of Duras come aboard the station. A great entrance, with a security officer already on the floor, and Odo requesting that Klingon or not, they leave their weapons at the door or they will be thrown off the station. Who the hell is he anyway? "I'm the one giving you the choice." I didn't think using TNG characters as guest stars already, especially when any old mercenaries could have played the role, was a good idea, but this scene more than makes up for the creators' insecurities.

The plot is strangely devoid of any religious connotations - no mention of the Emissary and Tahna thinks nothing of closing the Temple Gates. You wouldn't expect him to know what's probably being debated in the Vedek Assembly at this point anyway. No, the plot's fine as it is, and the many character touches makes it rise above the norm: Sisko using bureaucracy to his advantage, O'Brien siding with Kira because he knows what Cardassians do with their prisoners... these are characters with opinions, they don't necessarily toe the party line.

LESSON: Andy Robinson is DA MAN!

REWATCHABILITY - High: Behind the odd title and the stunt guest stars lies the kind of story we now associate with DS9. They had the formula right there. Unfortunately, I don't think the creators were aware of it, so we'll suffer through some TNG plots through much of the first season.