Tuesday, January 31, 2012

By the Power of Grayskull!

Last year, when I won a stash of terrible DVDs in our Oscar pool, I promised I'd blog about one of them - the Masters of the Universe movie. So this is me, making good on that promise by live-blogging (live to tape) as I watch the film for the first time. That's right, never seen it. I used to collect Masters of the Universe figures when I was a kid (my mom subsequently gave them to charity), later watched the cartoon with my younger siblings (of course), and I read that Concrete story based on Paul Chadwick's experience doing design work for the film, but that's the extent of my familiarity with the film. I'm coming to it fresh. And I'm not just doing this today, I'm going for multiple posts by splitting the film into smaller bite sizes (well, I don't want to hurt myself doing this, gotta take it slow). So lets go back to 1987 for some Eternian fun...

Dolph Lundgren... Frank Langella?!? (Nixon IS Skeletor)...
What's the point of doing it live action if it's all going to be cartoon backgrounds? Wait, what's this? Aurora Borealis? NO!
80s titles!!! Man, that score really wants to be John Williams' Superman theme, doesn't it?

Courteney Cox?!? Robert Duncan McNeill?!?? Meg Foster? Nobody ever tells me anything. A Goddard film. Well, GARY Goddard.

Let's get into this story, which takes place in a galaxy far, far away... apparently.
Oooh, check out Skeletor's cool cowboy boots! I guess there wasn't much of a cachet in having Langella in your movie back then, because who can tell?
As our story starts, it seems he's already won, but the Sorceress is still pretty peppy. He-Man's still alive and she's got a groovy crystal crown to keep her happy.
Plus, magical orgasms. Skeletor lets it be known via big screen holograms that he'll destroy anyone who opposes him. He-Man is not impressed.
He's even kinda bored, actually. After some standing around, he takes to the battlefield (Vasquez Rocks, I'd know it anywhere) and stabs/shoots some of those Darth Vaders, until he's reunited with one action figure I had, and another I never managed to own. Can you tell which is which?
If you said I had Man-at-Arms and not Teela, you're dead wrong. I made her Beast Man's girlfriend and everything. They rescue a dwarf named Gwildor (sorry Orko, you're not in this), because movies like this need a dwarf. It's California law. Gwildor takes them to his version of Bag End where he explains the plot. See, Skeletor is after him for having built, the Cosmic Key.
Also, for beauty tips. Basically, the Key is a Boom Tube, and Gwildor/Metron let himself be seduced by Evil-Lyn/ Amazing Grace into giving the secret to Skeletor/Darkseid. It's a story as old as Kirby dots themselves. Then they get rumbled by Beast Man/Kalibak, but he's too late.
Also, not quite as orange as I remember. The heroes have run for the caves beneath Grayskull, sucka!

In Grayskull, it's "too quiet". That's B-movie-speak for "you're about to get jumped"! He-Man/Orion wants to get the Sorceress/Highfather in drag free, but she won't stop talking zen nonsense/Source Wall quotes. And then Skeletor walks in. Blablabla, fight breaks out, and the only way out is through a Boom Tube. As Gwildor does his best impression of Tatoo on Fantasy Island with "The door! The door!", they take the leap.
At 16 and a half minutes and already we're beset by questions: Where will they land? Will Skeletor's forces track them down? How far did Evil-Lyn go with Gwildor and would he kiss and tell? Which is most heinous, Dolph's acting or pompadour? Stay tuned, Readers of the Universe. I'll be back tomorrow for more!

Doctor Who #70: The Search

"Sitting here planning and dreaming of a revolution isn’t going to win your planet back."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Space Museum. First aired May 8 1965.

IN THIS ONE... While the Doctor is being embalmed, Ian gets the better of the guards, Barbara is gassed, and Vicki teaches the rebels about revolution.

REVIEW: The best thing about the previous episode isn't in this one - the Doctor! Yes, it's another Doctorless chapter (get used to it, friends) and he's very much missed. With him gone, most of the comedy has to come from the Moroks, but here again, it feels like we're not meant to laugh at them, we just do. Lobos has almost approaches menace in the closing moments, but mostly, it's prancing, effeminate commanders complaining about being surrounded by fools while being fools themselves. I suppose the theme behind The Space Museum is decay. The erosion on the planet is a mirror of the Morok army growing soft after they'd conquered everyone. And these guys are VERY soft. So soft, Ian can jump half a dozen of them unarmed and still prevail (at least the fight looks good). So soft, a guard lets the companions have a long existential conversation before finally saying "that's enough talking". And so soft, even their hardcore security computer sounds bored and really isn't tamper proof (a teenage girl gets inside to cross its wires).

While Ian knocks a few heads around trying to rescue the Doctor before he gets "embalmed", and Barbara gets herself gassed, Vicki throws in with the rebels. It's better than more talk about whether or not predestination exists - a repeat from the previous episode. She's a doer, and what does she do? After they've had tea, I mean. She fans the flames of revolution. Apparently, these guys haven't done much to deserve the name "rebel", and it takes Vicki's peppiness to activate them. Vicki gets them to the armory where they easily overwhelm a soldier and grab his gun. And they can't accumulate weaponry this way because..? I mean, they basically have the run of the place and are never caught, so why do they fear the Moroks at all? The door computer is so easily defeated, it's almost funny. Certainly, Maureen O'Brien's energetically likable performance carries those scenes, and I like that she's doing all this in the hopes of changing the future. The fact remains, however, that if it's all very easy to beat the Moroks and their technology, it makes the rebels as inept as the overlords. They really do deserve each other.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The aliens are SO rubbish, the Doctor doesn't feel the need to put in an appearance. The fight arranger and Vicki try their best to save the episode (though not in the same scenes, obviously), but The Search comes up empty and dumb.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Star Trek #1428: Operation: Annihilate (Reboot)

1428. Operation: Annihilate (Reboot)

PUBLICATION: Star Trek #5, IDW Comics, January 2012

CREATORS: Mike Johnson (writer), Joe Corroney (artist)

STARDATE: Unknown (sometime after the Star Trek movie)

PLOT: The comic follows the events of the tv episode "Operation: Annihilate!", with changes based on the new J.J. Abrams continuity (for anomalies that cannot be accounted for, see Divergences). The Enterprise visits Deneva, a colony taken over by brain parasites. Spock gets infected, and as the landing party goes underground, they meet Kirk's brother Sam.

CONTINUITY: The story includes the first mention of the rebooted Nurse Chapel. People and elements that appear here and in the original story include George Samuel Kirk, Deneva, the parasites, Yeoman(?) Zahra and an unnamed character who is probably Sam's wife Aurelan. A flashback to Kirk's younger days picks up from a deleted scene that features Kirk's mom and stepfather in the Star Trek movie.

DIVERGENCES: The title lacks the exclamation point. Hard to tell, has Zahra's ethnicity changed?

PANEL OF THE DAY - Take Spock drinking, buy him a new hat, well... you'll live to regret it.
REVIEW: Finally! Mike Johnson gives us a reboot script that diverges from the original screenplay in a meaningful way! Not just the redesigned Deneva and parasites, not just the youthening of the characters' timeline (it's doubtful, for example, that Sam has a son in this timeline), but also as far as structure goes (Spock gets infected earlier, for example). Thanks to the opening flashback, the issue has a stronger link to the film than to the episode, so it's about the new Kirk, not the new Kirk following the old Kirk's lead. His relationship to his brother is changed by the reboot - he now left Earth to get away away from his stepfather - and surprise! He's still alive when the Enterprise gets to Deneva (although, as in the original episode, Sam Kirk looks like he's being played by the same actor who plays Jim, except with facial hair). The comic format's strengths are well used to do bigger and better effects and action sequences, with the Denevan parasites looking so much better than the flying pancakes from tv (it wasn't hard). And almost 50 years on, Zahra is allowed to kick some ass. I feel like IDW/Johnson has been listening to fan criticism and despite the brief he's been given, he's finally making these stories part of the reboot universe and not retellings of what has gone before. Same premise, different story, which is what I want to see (at least if completely original stories are off the agenda).

Doctor Who #69: The Dimensions of Time

"The Doctor’s curious - that means we stay."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Space Museum. First aired May 1 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Lots of wandering the maze of the Space Museum until the Doctor is captured and interrogated by Governor Lobos. Oh, and the guy who played Boba Fett makes his first Doctor Who appearance (as the rebel Tor).

REVIEW: That title was originally meant for episode 1 and doesn't seem to fit the second. Not a good start. In fact, right after the last episode's reprise, we get the clumsiest piece of exposition ever written. In fact, exposition of facts everyone in the conversation must already know is Governor Lobos' only means of communication. It's worth quoting:

"Well, I’ve got two more mimmians before I can go home. Yes, I say it often enough, but it’s still two thousand Xeron days... and it sounds more in days. Yeah, I know, I volunteered, you were ordered. If the truth were known, I was just as bored on Morok. Still it was home, and youth never appreciates what it has. Oh, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Still... let’s get on with it, shall we? [...] I’m the governor of this planet. You’re supposed to show some respect and knock."

The fact that only Lobos speaks this way lends credence to Rob Shearman's theory that it's all meant to be a spoof, with Lobos as the butt of the joke. But if it's at all funny, it feels like it's accidentally so. We can laugh at these Moroks and their fright wigs and ugly monochrome costumes (white to the Xeron rebels' black, how original), but it's the same laughter elicited by, say, the Sensorites. Of the premise - a bog standard overseers vs. rebels set-up - all I can say is that I'm glad the temporal anomalies are well behind us. The other joke is that the characters make comments about all the room and corridors looking the same because they most certainly are (the 80s will make this a recurring gag).

If there's a saving grace then, it's the cast. Ian and Barbara's patience is finally starting to wear thin, and not coincidentally, they're on their penultimate story. Ian's particularly argumentative in this episode, and Barbara just wants to get on with it and bristles at the loss of a sensible cardigan threaded to leave a trail in the maze of the museum. Once the cardigan is destroyed, the characters should realize the future they saw (their being placed on exhibit in their full costumes) can no longer come to pass, but there's not mention of it despite the Doctor discussing the importance of the loss of a button earlier. No problem, as that kind of pseudo-scientific, semi-existential conversation goes a long way. If the "parents" are a bit irritable, Vicki is rather cheery and takes the lead.

But it's Hartnell's Doctor that shines best, bringing intelligence and humor to a story that sorely needs them. His ego refuses to let him admit he doesn't know what's going on, but he good-naturedly lets Vicki feed him some answers. When he's grabbed from behind, he plays dead where in the past he might have been out the whole episode. He hides in the Dalek exhibit and even indulges in an impression of the tin despots before coming out. And once captured by an interrogation chair, he spins circles around Lobos and there's no doubt who's actually in control. Lobos' obsession with exposition makes him reveal his one ace in the hole, a memory scanner, and from then on, the Doctor makes a point of screwing with its images. It's your one-stop shop for a picture of the first Doctor in a bathing suit (now THERE'S an action figure that needs to be made). The Doctor (and Hartnell) has a lot of fun, and that's enough to save the insipid plot.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Whenever the Moroks and Xerons are onscreen, the story just STOPS. Thankfully, the cast is in good form, the Doctor especially. As long as THEY'RE watchable, the episode is watchable.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This Week in Geek (23-29/01/12)

Buys

Amazon replaced the Boxing Day sale package that got stolen from my mailbox, so I got the following at extreme bargain bin prices: Parks and Recreation Seasons 1-3, Republic of Doyle Season 1-2 (gotta boost my Canadian content), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Seasons 1-2, and Get Shorty.

"Accomplishments"

Books: You know how I like to "flip" (i.e. read, play, watch and listen to everything) before putting whatever media back on the shelf and giving my opinion, but I'm going to declare MetaMaus UNFLIPPABLE. I don't mean that in a bad way though. It's just that there's SO MUCH information about Art Spiegelman's seminal comics work Maus in this luscious, full-color, abundantly illustrated hardcover that it seems too much to get through unless I was doing a Master's or Doctor's thesis on it. The core of the book is quite good and insightful though. Like Maus itself, it's structured as an interview with Spiegelman, and is split into three real questions. Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics? Lots of illustrations from Maus itself, as well as Spiegelman's notes and sketchbooks, Holocaust documentation, etc. help the reader understand the artist's method and approach, while the interview style keeps things jaunty and easy to read. For people who really want to delve deeper, there are vast excerpts from Spiegelman's transcribed interviews with his father and others, and a DVD-ROM (how old school!) filled to the brim with even more sketch comparisons, video interviews with Spiegelman, sound from the actual tapes he made, historical documents, etc. I've always wanted to give a class in (let's make it university level by choosing the right pretentious title) Sequential Narrative Art, and if I ever did, and students picked Maus as their semester project, I wouldn't expect or need more than MetaMaus in the bibliography.

DVDs: How do we describe Capellan Mailling's Norwegian Ninja? Imagine you asked Wes Anderson to make an action/martial arts film in the style of Blair Witch Project, featuring a real person famous in the 80s but re-imagined as a zen Norwegian James Bond, and use traditional stunts, models, and computer effects from the 80s. What might you get? I don't even know if it would come close. SEE THIS FILM! It's primed to become a cult favorite. It is INSANE. It tells the "true story" of how real-life diplomat/spy Arne Treholt, condemned to 20 years in jail in 1985 for doing spy work for the Soviets and Iraq, was actually the head of a Ninja force pledged to protect the Norwegian way of life with chi power, ninja invisibility tricks, Bondian vehicles and enlightenment, all from their base on a remote island/animal preserve. It weaves in mysterious and unsolved terrorist attacks and incidents from the time. It's obviously a spoof, but the fact it is so earnest and never winks at the camera is what makes it so good and crazy. And the action scenes are well done too, with plenty of style. I say again, SEE THIS FILM. The DVD has a good extras package, including a few deleted scenes, "bonus scenes" that range from fake action figure commercials to behind the scenes footage to the full cuts of certain montages, an interview with the director, producer and lead, and featurettes on various sequences and production areas.

Audios: So I finished the Key2Time trilogy (a Big Finish's 5th Doctor sequel to the Key to Time arc) with Peter Anghelides's The Chaos Pool, and though it starts off quite well, with a ship full of angry slugs from the beginning of universal history, and the promise of an appearance by Lalla Ward's Romana (intimately linked to the original Key to Time story), it sorta fizzles out at the end. Too many explanations and almost magical happenings that even the return of the Guardians from the previous story can't really rescue. Part of the problem is that the arc was too short. The original story spanned half a dozen stories, one per segment of the Key, but the sequel is less than half as long. That means that one-shot companion Amy gets her story resolved entirely too quickly. After two pretty stellar opening stories, The Chaos Pool has just too much plot to get through to achieve much of anything on its own.

So now it's off to the 3rd series of the 8th Doctor and Lucy Miller adventures. These are shorter than the Big Finish norm, and though cut into two half hours, they're more in the style of the current televised series. The opening story, Orbis, puts the Doctor and Lucy back together again after what appears for him to have been 600 years. He's been stranded on a planet of jellyfish ever at war with a race of oysters from another world. If Alan Barnes and Nicholas Briggs' premise sounds daft, don't worry, the script fully acknowledges this is a comedy. And quite a likable one, though it does suffer from the Doctor and Lucy not being together for most of it. What worked so well in the previous two seasons is their great comedy double act. I missed it here, but the Doctor was still in good, uhm, hands with his lovestruck jellyfish assistant.

Jonathan Morris's Hothouse is a disappointment however. It's a Krynoid story by way of a Cyberman conversion plot and though it started with an intriguing teaser that used a tv broadcast, it soon became business as usual, bog standard 70s Who. It even goes too far with the violence, just like some of 70s Who did (and by our standards this time). That all could be forgiven if we at least had our Doctor/Lucy double act back, but no, they're separated again for most of the story, and the Doctor acknowledges he's still working on regaining his chemistry with human beings after so long on Orbis. Paul McGann has the nicer bits of interview in the extras, but really, you could skip this chapter and not miss a whole lot.

Barnaby Edwards' The Beast of Orlok finally gets the 8th Doctor and Lucy working together (of course they eventually get separated, this is Doctor Who, but at least it's not from the very beginning). Lucy is like Donna - she's not all that impressed with the Doctor - and that's what makes their interactions so fun. The comedy comes from the two main characters, leaving the rest of the story to be serious and deadly. I think that's the best Doctor Who model. In this audio, the TARDIS lands in 19th-century Germany, where a mysterious beast is killing the townspeople. Of course, it soon turns into a mad science, aliens among us story, but a good one. Edwards makes use of the era and location to good effect by referencing various elements associated with them, though it doesn't turn into allegory or anything. The season is back on track!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Instructing the Players - Kline '90
III.ii. Instructing the Players - Hamlet 2000

Doctor Who #68: The Space Museum

"Time... like space... although a dimension in itself... also has dimensions of its own."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Space Museum, available on DVD, packaged with The Chase. First aired Apr.24 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS arrives at the Space Museum, but its crew has jumped a time track and now one can see them, until they find themselves in museum cases and sync up.

REVIEW: Today, so-called "timey-whimey" stories are Doctor Who's bread and butter. And they uses to big good for Star Trek too, until Voyager and Enterprise started using them too much. But early Doctor Who? I wish they didn't. Now, I'm all for seeing The Space Museum through the positive lens introduced by Rob Shearman in the DVD documentary (and in his book, Running Through Corridors), but those elements don't really kick in until the next episode. This is the exploration of a new environment episode, the "what the hell is going on?" episode. And even if I accept Rob's vision of the story as a sort of parody of such stories (and I do), the direction really lets it down. That's why we need to be convinced of the merits of Glyn Jones' script. No wonder, the director is Mervyn Pinfield who also gave us The Sensorites and Planet of Giants. Expect blank, empty, cardboard-looking sets, some measure of technical achievement (in-camera phasing effects), and little focus on performance or making sense of the science involved.

We get a LOT of temporal shenanigans, so many in fact, that you'd reasonably think the TARDIS is leaking time-stuff. The actually explanation is that it jumped a time track (something name dropped recently in Amy's Choice), but that's pretty meaningless, and don't examine the logic of that idea too closely. Or even form a short distance. Basically, it means the characters are out of phase with the rest of the universe. The way it's STAGED, they're frozen around the console for a time, and suddenly find themselves in different clothes. The old clothes are in the closet so they're missing a bit of time. Then there's craziness with time going backwards around a broken glass, and then the characters are invisible (though they can see) and can't be heard (but also can't hear others). They don't leave footprints. They can't touch objects. And then they find themselves frozen in glass cases, as exhibits. An intangible TARDIS is in this same room. ARGHHHH!!! I just erased swathes of text because my attempted explanation fell apart before my eyes. No explanation is coherent with everything seen on screen, INCLUDING the characters' own reasoning at the end of the episode, calling it a preview of the future, and then syncing up with the universe. The doubles in the cases disappear, the natives find the TARDIS, their footprints appear, the glass breaks again. None of it makes sense, and I'm already getting flashbacks to The Edge of Forever, and we all know how frustrating I found THAT story. So we'll just take it as presented that the TARDISeers are walking around in TIME rather than SPACE, so sometimes they're in front of themselves, sometimes behind, sometimes at the same point. That's as good as it gets folks.

Rob Shearman's contention that Glyn Jones is screwing with our expectations - much as Hergé did with the non-plot of the Tintin book The Castafiore Emerald - such as when he presents us with a Dalek who turns out to be just an exhibit, one Vicki finds friendly-looking at that. Of course, Vicki's well known for adopting monsters so... There's also the use of cliché, like our heroes hiding in plain sight and not being seen - Vicki even has an inconvenient sneeze - but for once, there's a plot reason for it. Or is cliché just that, cliché? I think that maybe the writer is trying to have fun with the format, but the director doesn't realize or acknowledge it, removing the commentary on SF clichés from the presentation. Maybe.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - There's enough mystery to keep your interest, but any answer given is less satisfying than what you might come up with yourself. So it's just four people walking around a museum that only accidentally seems bigger on the inside, with strange happenings thrown in and pseudo temporal mechanics thrown in. At least this one won't go for 6 episodes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - January 28th

"If you're wearing earrings made from polygonal dice, you might be a geek..."

Second show of the season, getting into the groove of things. Last week, I was getting used to the (in places jury-rigged) studio, and those new-fangled computers they now use instead of, you know, CD players and turn tables. I also didn't know how badly I would want to run at the mouth on geek subjects, so I've made adjustments there as well. As usual, if you couldn't listen or understand the French interventions, here's the episode's playlist, with You-Tube links where available.

Intro tune: Threshold 8-bit version - Brian LeBarton (seemed to work out last time)
Introductions
White and Nerdy - Weird Al Yankovic
Geek News: The headlines included Captain Marvel's rebranding as Shazam, Tintin snubbed at the Oscars, and Monty Python get back together in animation.
L'Aventurier - Indochine (about pulp/comic hero Bob Morane)
Les Daltons - Joe Dassin (Lucky Luke's main antagonists even show up in the 1970s video!)
Comics recommendation: Locke & Key (made my point clear in this week's Old 52)
Particle Man - They Might Be Giants
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews.
Scott Pilgrim - Plumtree
Movie recommendation: Norwegian Ninja (capsule review later today in This Week in Geek)
Norwegian Ninja (Cosmic Disco Remix) - music by Gaute Tønder, remix by Disco Chris
Geek Band: Trocadero, hightlighting their album Roses are Red, Violets Are Blue, and its links to the Red vs. Blue web series
Blood Gulch Blues - Trocadero
A Girl Named Tex - Trocadero
Steady Ride (Gun Metal Green) - Trocadero
Up next, the two French songs from Guitar Hero III:
Radio Song - Superbus
Mauvais garçon - Naast
D&D - Stephen Lynch
Geek 101: This week, I attempt to explain tabletop role-playing to the Mundanes.
This Fantasy World (D&D) - The Doubleclicks
A bit of science fiction...
Intergalactic - Beastie Boys
Intergalactic (original unpublished version) - Beastie Boys (MUCH geekier)
Dans un spoutnik - Daniel Bélanger
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme remix of the week:
Scooby Who - JeX

The show's on CKUM Radio every Saturday between 7 PM and 8:30 PM Atlantic Time (-4 GMT) on 93,5 FM in the Moncton area, or online, while capacity isn't exceeded, HERE.

Reign of the Supermen #410: Sir Kent

Source: Superman vol.1 #86 (1954); Brave and the Bold vol.3 #10 (2008)
Type: The real deals (since retconned)It's not what it looks like! Though Superman could have gone back in time to hang with the Knights of the Round Table, this is actually a contemporary story. How? By the power of NATIONAL CLICHÉS, of course! Just as I'm sure 50s comics version of Canada would be full of igloos and Mounties, so is its England a country of knights and castles. At least, when Clark, Lois and Perry go to England to report on a dragon sighting (apparently leaving the Daily Planet in the capable hands of Jimmy Olsen), everyone they meet is wearing a suit of armor. Seems like the descendants of the original Knights of the Round Table (sounds like a genealogy con to me) are having a little Medieval fair, and are out looking for the dragon. Clark gets in good with the Knights and becomes, variably, Sir Clark or Sir Kent. He'll be on the trail with them, "reporting", and can't show his Super-face in England without arousing Lois' suspicions. So of course that's when the cover image happens! Sir Kent is broiled alive by the dragon, revealing the Superman within, right in front of Knightly witnesses! How does he get out of THIS one? Well first, there's a dragon to defeat, which Superman does. Or rather, it collapses, dead, in the museum to which it was drawn.
Yes, the surprise isn't that there's a live dragon running around the UK, it's that they already had a dead one in a natural history museum. Dragons are real and everyone knows it. Suck it, paleontology. So how DOES Superman get out of the looming "Superman Is Clark Kent" headline? Let's go back a couple pages to see how they made Clark some tight-fitting (and easy-melting) armor:
Ah yes, the wax dummy scheme. A classic. Superman steals the dummy and Lois immediately leaps to the conclusion that he must have been wearing it over his skin and costume, POSING as Sir Kent while the journalist hid like a little girl. Well, OF COURSE! And since it's Lois' idea, so easy to just laugh and say "yeah, you got me again Lois". She really doesn't want him to be Clark, does she?

Sir Kent Returns!
In Brave and the Bold volume 3 #10, Superman is whisked to the Middle Ages by Merlin and teams up with the Silent Knight. He gets a cool shield in the process.
Superman's got a sweet deal, secret identity-wise. Puts on glasses and nobody's the wiser. The Silent Knight not only hid his face, but NEVER SPOKE from fear of his voice being recognized! Now THAT'S realistic. So together they fight a frost dragon, and there's a fun bit where Superman covers the Silent Knight in heat vision to keep him warm even under the dragon's breath.

Doctor Who #67: The Warlords

"I am cursed with the affliction of disbelief."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Crusade, a story that has been entirely lost. For these reviews, I've looked at a reconstruction on You-Tube (part 1, part 2, part 3). First aired Apr.17 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Ian is put to the ant torture, later helps Barbara escape El Akir's hareem, before rejoining the Doctor and Vicki, expelled from Richard's camp.

REVIEW: Sadly, The Crusade has to end at only four episodes, and does so in a bit of a rush. That is to say that the adventure subplots are well attended to (Barbara and Ian's jeopardies), but the fascinating historico-political story is not. Gone is Joanna - Richard goes back on his decision off-screen - and gone are Saladin and Saphadin - we don't even see their reaction to the King reneging on the marriage contract. I think you'll agree these were some of the best characters in the serial, and their unceremonious disappearance is a grave disappointment. No closure on poor William de Preaux' situation either. It's probably not coincidental that the high poetry of the language seems to evaporate in this final episode. It's there, but it's not as good because it doesn't focus on language as much, and has fewer speakers of interest. Leicester, that smug bully, comes closest (after Richard), but as a last-minute antagonist, he's just not on the same level. Otherwise, we have creepy El Akir and mad Ibrahim who puts on a rather broad accent.

Unsatisfying, yes, but only compared to the rest of the serial, and perhaps in part because we've lost the video. It's otherwise a well-made, if unsurprising, adventure episode. Ian's predicament puts him at the mercy of man-devouring ants, and isn't that his phobia (if we read The Web Planet correctly)? Hard to say if he feels more terror because of the few snap shots that survived. Ibrahim the horse thief, who becomes Ian's brother after the "Knight of Jaffa" escapes his crazy trap, is a right nutter, and a bizarre addition to the cast this late in the game. You never quite get a handle on him, and perhaps that's the point. Meanwhile, Barbara manages to escape El Akir's clutches and hides in his hareem, where Haroun's lost daughter Maimouna of course hides her. That another concubine betrays her later comes as no surprise, nor is Maimouna's tearful reunion with her family (historically, I suppose she would have been dishonored and disowned). Of more interest is the small speaking part held by a black woman, quite rare for the first, oh, 20 years of the show!

Ultimately, The Warlords feels like a throwback to Season 1 historicals in which the whole object of the story is to get back to the TARDIS and get the hell out of there, closure be damned! At least the characters get to show bravery and cleverness, especially Ian who escapes a trap through trickery, boosts Barbara out of a hareem, and confounds Leicester by asking for the right to execute the Doctor as a spy himself.

VERSIONS: The novelization, Doctor Who and the Crusaders, has a few deviations from the televised story in addition to its title. El Akir manages to whip Barbara a few times before she's rescued, for example, and plays Martian chess with Vicki during the initial TARDIS scene. A conversation between the Doctor and Ian about the dangers of changing history, and a few references to past adventures (not all of them from the show) are also included.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The video isn't the only thing that's lost. While it's a fairly good continuation of the serial, it never bounces back from losing Joanna, Sir William, Saladin and Saphadin.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - Despite the unsatisfying ending, this stands out as one of the best historical stories, literate and powerfully acted, with a good mix of adventure, drama and comedy. Too bad half of it is missing from the archives.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in February 2012

Tonight, my KFF crew goes for an extreme change of pace with Norwegian Ninja, but February is already around the corner, and the next poster is out. The currently ubiquitous Nicholas Tse (he seems to be in everything, these days) is poster boy, heralding the following films to be shown at my home every Friday next month:

Iron Bodyguard - The 1973 Chang Cheh film proposes the director's usual brand of homo-eroticism and bloodshed, and it even advertises "male bonding" on the DVD case. It also says on there that Iron Bodyguard began the trend of real martial arts and furious action. Can it stand up to the hype?

Little Big Soldier - Jackie Chan stars in this recent comic adventure set in the Chinese Warlords period. It's a buddy movie too, with Leehom Wang playing Felix to Jackie's Oscar. Or perhaps the opposite.

The Stool Pigeon - How much betrayal can one person handle? Nicholas Tse can't very well be on the poster and not be in one of the films, in this case, on of those gritty crime tragedies Hong Kong is so good at.

The Avenging Eagle - Ti Lung actually won Asian Film Award for his role in this 1979 Shaw Brothers' wuxia epic. Looks to have some decent cinematography as well. Let the Clan warfare begin!

And that's what's on tap. Anyone excited?

Doctor Who #66: The Wheel of Fortune

"There's something new in you, yet something older than the sky itself."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Crusade. First aired Apr.10 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Barbara is hidden by a stranger, but found and brought to El Akir. Ian gets is a fight with a thief in the desert. And the Doctor and Vicki fall victim to courtly intrigue.

REVIEW: This is an episode about strong, defiant women. A major chunk of the action is given to Barbara, on the run from El Akir, taken in by a kind stranger who's out to destroy the emir for killing his wife and son and enslaving one of his daughters. Through this thread, we see how harsh a world this is, especially TO women, as Haroun implores Barbara to kill both his second daughter and herself rather than be captured by El Akir's men. The great thing is that Barbara actually contemplates the knife while waiting to be discovered. To save young Saliya's life, Barbara comes out of hiding and allows herself to be grabbed instead. And now she faces torture.

And then there's Joanna who finds out about her arranged marriage to Saphadin and rebels against her brother. Marsh and Glover are incredibly well-matched actors, warring with words with passion and Shakespearean verve. It's easily the best scene in the episode if not the serial (if not the SEASON). Riveting stuff. The younger women don't fare as well, though in a show of girl power, Vicki reverts to being a girl, one under Joanna's protection. She reveals some abandonment issues, but remains a good sidekick for the Doctor (they've been matched since she arrived). Saliya, on the other hand, is completely in the dark about the fates of her family members, and one wonders how the naive young girl will be able to deal with the loss of her father, if indeed he is lost when El Akir's soldiers fell him.

And then there are the men. The Doctor has his humorous bits, the Chamberlain his comic foil, but shows he's just as comfortable in drama, his verbal sparring with Leicester competing with Richard and Joanna's as the episode's best. Ian camps out in the desert on Barbara's trail, and gets into a bit of exciting action on film. (I do think Ian's been separated from the other characters for too long in the past couple serials.) As for the Saracen leaders, they mirror the English Royals, but their arguments are much more subdued. Is there paranoia and jealousy between them as Saphadin is set to marry into the English royal family? As usual, the performances here are as restrained and subtle as the English side's are loud and boisterous. Certainly, they will cover all their bases, open to peace, but preparing for war. What they don't know is that Joanna is ready to spark a Holy War over her brother's decision to leave her in infidel hands. Hard to believe the political stuff is what's most engaging, but there it is.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Another excellent episode. Moral ambiguity, threat of torture, love, war and politics... And they call this a children's series!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Problem with Story Points

...and a possible house rule solution.

In many of my latest role-playing endeavors, the games have used some kind of Story Points mechanic (I even imposed optional Cinematic Points to a high-octane, John Woo-ish GURPS series). I think they work very well, especially when you're trying to emulate a cinematic genre (something I went into in the above linked post). However, I did hit a snag in my use of Story Points in the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (DWAITAS for intimates), one I'd like to fix before attempting a second series (which I really, really want to do).Here's the problem:
DWAITAS characters just have too many of them! Time Lords have 8 and Companions have 12. That's 20 in a 70s Doctor Who set-up, but groups are usually larger. In my own group, we eventually had some 52 Story Points (not counting Gadgets) floating in each game session, from the start! DWAITAS also allows you to score Story Points from the GM by allowing bad things to happen to you. It's just like the show. In traditional RPGs, characters seldom get captured, except maybe by the dreaded GameMaster's fiat. Most players prefer to stand and fight. In more cinematic games (or perhaps, in narrativist ones), players might be more willing to get caught so they can get some quality time with a gloating, secret-spilling villain. Doctor Who is very much that kind of story, and characters on the show often get captured, taken over or separated from each other just so the plot can happen.

But here's the thing. Though DWAITAS encourages tactics that allow you to score Story Points mid-game, there's really very little call for them. I'm quite happy with the powers it gives player characters - they lead to some epic moments of triumph, crazy improvised gadgets and lucky shots worthy of the program - but the players have so many Story Points, they never need to accumulate more. And so we're back to narrativist impulses that don't require the game's encouragement. DWAITAS provides the "powers" seen on the show, but not the "sacrifices" characters have to make in the course of the plot. In spirit, yes. In execution, I've had trouble making it work.

Even before the end of my first series, I tried various things, but I think I went in the opposite direction of what was required. Basically, I denied the players the start of game "refill" by claiming certain adventures were actually continuances from the previous week. They still started out with lots of Story Points and just didn't spend as many in the opening chapters. No incentive to score more. I've rethought my position.
My solution:
I propose to start each session with NO or FEW banked Story Points. As the story progresses, the players are encouraged to let bad things happen to them (even suggest those things) so they can score the Story Points they know they'll need to get out of the climax and other moments of jeopardy. I further propose the GM should negotiate certain Story Point awards with players who have just succeeded at something to turn that success into a failure, in particular when such a success would derail the adventure. For example, say the plot hinged on a recurring NPC being taken over by Cybermen. Using Story Points, or with a lucky roll, a player might break the Cyber-hold, stopping the plot cold. The GM might then offer X amount of Story Points in exchange for a reversal (clever GMs won't erase what happened, but will throw a twist that really means the players have failed, cue end sting on the episode). The player spent points to get his success, so he wants to recoup them all, PLUS a bonus. Does the GM care enough to sweeten the pot? This technique might eventually turn into a poker game where players and GMs bluff their way into more or less Story Points, but how is that different from a meeting with the Black and White Guardians? Because I believe Story Points are the edge Companions have over the Time Lord, they would probably start with a few points to the Time Lord's zero, and possibly score them at a faster rate.

I strikes me that I had the solution right under my nose, because the aforementioned GURPS game's cinematic points had more or less this set-up (none or few to start, though no negotiated reversals). In that game, you scored points for doing badass things that fit the genre/mood we wanted to achieve. In DWAITAS, the conditions would be different to emulate THAT genre and mood. And so it goes for whatever genre/mood you wanted to achieve. If I were to run a Torchwood game with DWAITAS, for example, absent any official rule set for this rather different corner of the Whoniverse, the major house rule I would implement is that Story Point scoring would depend on things integral to THAT show. Making bad moral decisions, for example.

Anyway, those are my role-playing musings for the week. I hope they're useful to someone. Or perhaps have you never had this problem or else handled it some other way?

Doctor Who #65: The Knight of Jaffa

"It is a king's prerogative to make yesterday's deafness today's keen hearing."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Crusade, a story that has been entirely lost. For these reviews, I've looked at a reconstruction on You-Tube (part 1, part 2, part 3). First aired Apr.3 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Ian gets knighted and heads for Saladin's camp, but he misses Barbara by a hair - she's been abducted by El Akir. The Doctor and Vicki are confronted by the merchant they stole from. And King Richard decides to marry off his sister to end the war.

REVIEW: The Doctor is a wonderful wit in this episode. In the opening moments, he convinces King Richard that a prisoner exchange with Saladin would be humiliating for the Saracen leader, especially at 100 to 1. It's a fun moment in which the TARDIS crew shows its teamwork, and one that impresses the King by its sheer audacity. Even leads to Ian becoming the first TARDISeer to be knighted (but not the last). The Doctor also gets to fast-talk his way out of a confrontation with the merchant he stole from, and even gets the poor man paid for his trouble. Once again, Hartnell's flair for comedy comes in handy. Meanwhile, Vicki becomes Victor, a boy, but she may be found out by Joanna, the King's sister, played by the great Jean Marsh. At least, it would appear so from her questioning tone, but it's hard to say without the video. More than any missing episode to date, The Knight of Jaffa is hard to interpret from the pictures and sound. Is the relationship between Richard and Joanna a little bit incestuous? Or is it just the choice of picture over the sound? And what of that long, final pursuit scene? Just music and shots of Barbara and a potential assailant (the sets finally feel Middle Eastern though, with all those narrow streets). We've lost its meaning (good thing we have the script and the next episode).

Barbara, of course, gets a good chunk of story all to herself, but it's not the story I would have wished for her. Her dialog with Saladin in the previous episode was so good, I wish she'd gotten to stay in his court and played storyteller. Her ability to turn her sole skill of history into an advantage (she planned to tell all the stories from later world literature) is one of my favorite things about the character. Alas, she's to become the object of El Akir's lust - he wants to put her in his harem for revenge purposes! The threat of sexual violence often looms over Barbara, which is odd, I know. But also something of a cliché.

The historical characters continue to intrigue by their contrasts. Saladin remains cool, collected and compassionate, immediately worried about Barbara and trusting that she did not escape but was kidnapped. In the other camp, mercurial Richard decides to marry his sister off to Saphadin to stop the war, ready to leave her in a foreign country (what IS an English princess doing on the front?) so he can finally go home. And he doesn't ask her permission either. Even the way he dictates the letter, mouth full, gnawing on a bone, reveals a certain lack of manners, honor and appropriateness, and a callousness too.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It's all very clever and fun, even if it does lose something - especially in the final moments - because of the missing video.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Old 52: Locke & Key

If you haven't read it, it's new to you. Every month I try to supplement the New 52 with a series from the Old 52. Series I've never read, but have always meant to.When it was new: It's still new and ongoing. It started in 2008, and has been published at IDW as a series of 6 issue mini-series that continue the same story, acting as easy sign posts for collections. Locke & Key is by co-creators Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, and is published every month or two. Between it's five arcs - Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, and the currently ongoing Clockworks - there have been 28 issues to date.

Premise: The Locke family moves back into Keyhouse, the family estate in the New England community of Lovecraft. As it turns out, the house is full of magical keys and locks that give entry to strange places or operate transformations on their users when they go through the appropriate doors.

Unlocking the secrets: I've recently read a recommendation for Locke & Key that was something like "the book I hand people who don't read comics", and yeah, it's totally got that kind of appeal. I like that Joe Hill is hiding behind a pseudonym and not trying to trade on his famous father's reputation, but really, I think the comic would get more attention if more people knew he was Stephen King's son. So I'm telling you. He is and it shows without feeling derivative of the Master of Horror's work. The story does have elements of horror to be sure, but it's more of a fantasy. As the book opens, the Locke family suffers a deep loss when the father is killed by a couple of insane kids commanded by some dark power. The survivors move to Keyhouse where the three kids discover the magic their father grew up with. Their distraught mother and gay uncle are too old to register what's going on. And what's going on is an interdimensional demon trapped in the wellhouse, and eventually, in their midst, and manipulating events for its own nefarious purposes. The kids are distinctive and endearing characters, and the other citizens of Lovecraft, Mass. all chisel a place for themselves. When something horrible happens to someone, you care.
Of course, 80% of the joy is in finding out more about this universe of keys and locks, the magical effects they have and the strange history behind Keyhouse and their father's childhood. As the series progresses, we find out more and more, and with the present series called Clockworks, we're finally delving into the origins of the keys (no doubt the recent Guide to the Known Keys special will be part of Clockworks when it is collected). There's tragedy and pathos, but also comedy and light-heartedness. The sense of the latter may be thanks to Gabriel Rodriguez' art which at first struck me as a too cartoony riff on Rick Geary's work, but he's gotten better with each successive issue. By reducing the size of eyes and using thinner lines, he's done away with anything I found overdone in the first collection. His exact draftsmanship creates a perfectly-engineered world, and repeated panels that highlight bodily and facial expression. Hill and Rodriguez could sit on their laurels and kept telling their story the same way, but they go above and beyond that, experimenting with such things as a "giant-sized" splash issue, the tribute to Bill Watterson, the one-panel-a-day issue, and the "war tales" pastiche. Keeps the series fresh as cream on berries. I've been converted. I love it. And I think you will too. Especially if you love things like Harry Potter, or Stephen King, or Stand By Me, or early Vertigo series, or Things That Are Good, Period!

Trade in for one of the New52? Easily. I'll read the adventures of Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke over every DC Dark series in the New52. (If you ask me to kill a DC Dark series to make some room, let it be Justice League Dark.)

Doctor Who #64: The Lion

"You must serve my purpose or you have no purpose. Grace my table tonight in more suitable clothes. If your clothes beguile me, you shall stay and entertain." "Like Scheherazade." "Over whose head hung sentence of death."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Crusade, available on the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. Only episodes 1 and 3 survive, though the DVD includes both missing episodes as audio only. I've also listened to the serial as part of the BBC Lost Episodes audio series, as narrated by William Russell. First aired Mar.27 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in the medieval Holy Land where Barbara is captured by the Saracen and brought to Saladin's court, while the others fall in with King Richard Coeur-de-Lion.

REVIEW: Ahhh, it feels good to in a historical again. Writer David Whitaker gives some grand cod-Shakespearean language, so much so it was hard to pick a single quote for the top of this review, and hey look! Julian Glover as King Richard! And a live hawk! What is immediately striking after six episodes of The Web Planet, is how much music (and sound design) there is. It creates a real sense of place (and time), even if the sets don't. A dense forest, a castle interior, a couple of tents from the 1001 Nights... Is that really the Holy Land during the Middle Ages? But it's a very small flaw to an otherwise wonderful episode. The only other problem is that the print is more damaged than most and you'll see vertical lines on parts of it almost all the way through. Maybe it's because it was found so recently (1998) and had deteriorated more than most, or maybe 2|entertain didn't have time to properly restore it in the rush to complete the Lost in Time collection. Easily forgotten because it really is gorgeous, with great acting and exciting fight scenes. It's beloved Who director Douglas Camfield's first onscreen credit, but he had done the savage fights in 100,000 B.C. Here, he uses claustrophobic close-ups to ramp up the tension, and shocking violence as cathartic punctuation. Let's not forget the acting scenes, where he makes good use of people not looking at each other when they speak, keeping reactions hidden from all but the audience, or playing with the Saracen brothers by making them two sides of a same coin, back to back, separated by a thin gauze.

The script features a Shakespearean game of doubles (pretty clear who Whitaker's main influence is and he'll get no complaints from me), with two King Richards and two Joannas (the second set provided by William de Preaux and Barbara, though they are quickly found out), two Saracen brothers, and of course, mirrored leaders in Saladin and Richard. The irony is that it's the Saracen - nominally the baddie, if only because El Akir, the first Saracen we meet, IS a cruel, contemptible creature - it's Saladin that's reasonable, thoughtful and kind. Richard, though affable, is impetuous, self-pitying and thinks nothing of letting Barbara rot in a Saracen jail. History (or Robin Hood stories) would have us believe the "Lion" is a great hero, but he's put to shame here by Sir William and his honorable sacrifice in putting the royal target on his back. And he's a child compared to Saladin's stoic and calm demeanor. We don't learn as much from Saphadin, except that he's a little obsessed with the Princess Joanna, but he stands a more emotional counterpart to his brother. Both are sympathetic and literate, not what we expected. And for the time, even if played by white men in tan face, a surprisingly balanced portrayal of Arabs.

As for the Doctor, he gets to cheat yet another clothes merchant because I guess the TARDIS wardrobe doesn't really have EVERYthing. There's a lot of fun business here as we see just how the theft is carried out, and you can see just how well Hartnell takes to both historical adventures and comedy. He thrives in such an environment, in a way he simply doesn't in technobabble/fluff-heavy sci-fi stories. Ian and Vicki are mostly hangers on in this episode - Ian is refused an escort to go and rescue Barbara, and Vicki helps the Doctor steal clothes - but they get to play bigger roles in episodes to come. I can't wait.

THEORIES: We didn't get a cliffhanger at the end of the previous story, and here the cast all seem to have different clothes and haircuts. Ian even looks a little frazzled. Might there have been unseen adventures in between The Web Planet and The Crusade? Certainly seems a good place for them.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Highly literate, with historical characters brought to life by great actors. Best of all, they don't steal the spotlight from our heroes, who are very much involved in the story. An excellent beginning.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So What Do I Want D&D 5th Edition to Be Like?

Easy:Kits, Priests with actual faiths, and wonderful, imaginative settings like Planescape, Spelljammer and Ravenloft (to name only a few). Yeah... I never converted to 3e. OLD SCHOOL BABY! (Well, Old But Not So Old That I Mean Original D&D or Advanced 1st School.)

Sure, there are things in 2nd that need some fixing. It wasn't perfect. I'd do away with the loose leaf Monstrous Compendiums, for example, and give the Forgotten Realms better adventure modules, but otherwise... It had just the right level of complexity and customization, and never felt like a video game to me, which later editions always sounded like from descriptions.

Here's to the 5th going back 3 steps before going forward again!

Points to Comments section where readers may unsuccessfully try to convince me that other editions are better and/or vent their empty frustrations about the unworthiness of AD&D 2nd.

Doctor Who #63: The Centre

"We have been on a slight... exploitation." (Your Billy fluff of the month.)TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of The Web Planet. First aired Mar.20 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Everyone reaches the center of the web simultaneously and the Isop-tope withers the Animus.

REVIEW: So we finally meet the Animus in the flesh, and though its brightness might at first make it look like a Star Trek god-like alien, it's really more of a crepe paper jellyfish with sprawling tentacles. Personally? I think it works. Yes, it's cheap, but what isn't, on Doctor Who? It's the room full of tendrils that evokes some kind of Lovecraftian monster (see Theories), as well as the Menoptra's reaction to seeing "God". Rather strangely, it wants to reach Earth to steal the secrets of space travel, even though it's in another galaxy and would require those secrets to get there (it also implies we're in the future, since humanity is a well-known space-faring species). Its defeat comes at the hands of Barbara who finds the Isop-tope the Doctor lost, only one of many plot conveniences in the script. I'd also note how little the web cliffhanger plays a role in the story, and how Ian just pops his head out at the right spot at the very end of the story.

Really, it's Ian who suffers the most in this story. Once he gets separated from the others, he's on an irrelevant track, meeting up with the Optera who - surprise! - don't help in the effort to rid Vortis of the Animus. turns out they were just a bouncy spot of local color. That they share the Menoptera's destiny to rebuild the planet is all very nice, but it would have been much better if they'd been instrumental to the plot, if only so Ian could have been too. Having lost in school tie, his gold pen and a lot of time, he's clearly the loser here, more than the Animus. In the end, ridding the planet of the corruptive creature makes everything all right. The Menoptra embrace their primitive cousins, no problem, the Zarbi return to the status of friendly cattle, water starts running again, and even the larvae guns play with Barbara like cuddly dogs. (Cuddly dogs with explosive noses.) Satisfying enough, but it does over-egg the pudding.

It's here, in the last episode, that the story shows its creakiness the most. The absence of music reveals not only the cracking of exoskeletons, but of the sets as well. This is one noisy episode! I realize the problem was always there, but this is the first time it's really (PUN ALERT!) bugged me. The door to the Center of the web doesn't close very well, and you can see the string working it. And then there's the Menoptra poetry replaced by calls of Zarbiiiiiiiiiiiiiii that work like matadors' calls, but that never fails to get a belly laugh out of me. And Barbara and her allies popping out of a geological formation that seemed so much farther and bigger just evokes a Whack-a-Mole game to me. Another chaotic, blurry battle seals the deal. So yeah, the Animus IS rather good compared to all that. Seems like this serial has finally worn out its welcome.

THEORIES: The New Adventures novels maintain that the Animus was a Lovecraftian Old One, one of several presented on the show. It all started with David MacIntee's White Darkness which introduced Lovecraft's Mythos into the Whoniverse. Other authors reinforced the idea because it just happens to fit the canon rather well. Specifically, the Animus is identified as a pre-Universe being called a Lloigor in Andy Lane's excellent All-Consuming Fire, and made a comeback in the Missing Adventure Twilight of the Gods (by Christopher Bulis). Apparently, the one on Vortis was just a shred of a greater creature. Tying it to the Mythos helps explain a few oddities in The Web Planet. At times, it feels like the Animus is following magical principles rather than scientific ones. How its influence corrupts a whole planet, for example, changing its landscape and even its people (if the Optera are mutated versions of the Menoptra that stayed behind). Its ability to use gold to control other beings is more alchemical than physical. Its death also brings an immediate renewal to Vortis, which seems magical as well. And magic is just how it looks to us when a pre-Universe creature exploits the laws of its universe in our own. Don't worry about seeing the Animus again though, according to the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, it was destroyed in the Time War.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is called Doctor Who and the Zarbi, and contains a few notable differences. There's a Zarbi "queen" called the Zarbi Supremo. Vrestin is male rather than female. The Doctor is called "Doctor Who" throughout. The Animus loses its name entirely. Written by script writer Bill Strutton, one can probably see how much of it was changed before hitting the screen.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The low point of the serial as it runs out of new things to show us about Vortis and becomes about plot. Sadly, it's not a very good plot.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I still have affection for The Web Planet and I do respect its attempt at creating a most alien world. However, when experimenting this much, do try to keep the serial down to 4 episodes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Filming Nature Shows Is Hard

Sheena got quite good at the art of camouflage......but she never did fully control her over-protective boyfriend.

Still... maybe Fox will buy the spoiled footage.

Doctor Who #62: Invasion

"Before the Animus came, the flower forest covered the planet in a cocoon of peace."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 5 of The Web Planet. First aired Mar.13 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Vicki escape, rejoin Barbara and the Menoptra and together they plan an attack on the Animus. Meanwhile, Ian is underground with a group of mining bugs.

REVIEW: You know, there's a lot of poetry to the Menoptra and Optera's existences, and it really comes out in this episode. Each species gets a chance to describe their unique point of view, with the Menoptra worshiping a God of Light above forests of flowers, and the burrowing Optera talking about holes to the surface as mouths that speak light. It's rather wonderful. And sad too. One of the Menoptra's had its wings cut and will never know the joy of flight again. And Ian is privy to a brusque funeral ceremony when one of the (named!) Optera kills itself to bung up a hole through which an acid pool is draining. Life is as harsh on Vortis as it is in the Earth's insect world. That these insects speak and have a personality makes us care about these creatures on tv, even if we slaughter them by the millions in our gardens.

It's interesting to note that Barbara is once again used as a strategist, and it makes sense that a historian would have this kind of knowledge. The Doctor amends her plan, but only slightly, and to incorporate himself into it. He and Vicki have used the realigned control wishbone to enslave a Zarbi, which becomes Vicki's second pet on the program (she calls him Zombo). The Doctor's freedom is short-lived though, as his return to the carcinome gets him sprayed with webbing. The planet's finally living up to its name. And as predicted, this episode puts the last's MacGuffins into action. The Doctor is to smuggle the Isop-tope into the center of the web, while he must give up his ring (see Theories) so the Menoptra can use it to control the Zarbi in their planned distraction. From this review, you might think there isn't much to this episode, but it is quite evocative in its language and probably the best part of the serial yet.

THEORIES: So what CAN the Doctor's ring DO? He's always worn it, but we're on the fifth story of the second year and only NOW does it come into play. When the TARDIS lost power, he could still use it to open the door, and yet, from the outside, he still needed the key to access it in Marco Polo (but will do so with the help of the correct light frequency in The Daleks' Master Plan). So it's not a universal pass key. He also links it to the Animus' control collar and uses it to direct the Zarbi, but it's never been associated with Time Lord powers of hypnotism before (it will again in The War Machines, where it will also protect him from electrical shocks). I suppose it could be a focus for the Time Lord's telepathy, but only now is it extremely "valuable" and something he does not willingly part with. Nor do Doctors beyond the first wear one (it didn't fit the Second's finger). It's possible that it's Time Lord technology, and that it has various properties the Doctor has chosen to use only rarely. It's probably also a family heirloom with sentimental value? Could it even be his wedding ring? Or represent some other important bond to another Time Lord? Rings do have an importance in Time Lord society. There are Time Rings, of course, though they're more like bracelets. There's the Ring of Rassilon too, and maybe Time Lords wear rings in honor of their society's founder, perhaps upon graduation from the Academy. That the Doctor did away with his means nothing. He's a renegade, after all. But what other Time Lord wore a ring, and recently too? That's right, the Master, and it was a key component in bringing him back from the dead. The Ring of Rassilon did mean immortality (as a curse, but still). Could a Time Lord's ring play a part in the regeneration process? Perhaps in your FIRST regeneration, triggering your twelve?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - We get to learn a lot more about the aliens in the story, and that they truly are more than actors in rubber/funfur suits. It's charming, though low on incident.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This Week in Geek (16-22/01/12)

Buys

Only one purchase this week, and that The French Connection on DVD.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Without having seen the original, I can still tell how the 2010 Korean remake of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow differs from it. First, a North/South Korean reality is imposed on the original's Mainland China/Hong Kong set-up, and second, it probably focuses less on stylish action (though director Song Hae-Sung knows how to fill the frame with style) and more on the tragic drama aspects of the story. The film is about a brotherly love triangle, loyalty between men, and redemption for a child's betrayal. The relationships are complex up front, so getting into the story wasn't the easiest thing to do, but time spent on character scenes pays off in the second hour. The extras are all short and skewed to marketing the movie, and suffer from bad sound on the interviews, especially producer John Woo's, as he's apparently giving his opinion from a tele-conferencing unit.

Audios: Finished volume 3 of Lost Doctor Who Episodes narrated audios with The Moonbase, the triumphant return of the Cybermen and the first of many "base under siege" stories for the 2nd Doctor. On the moon! I have the story already on DVD, the two surviving episodes and the audio from the other two are on the Lost in time boxed set, but Frazer Hines' narration comes in handy, describing the action scenes with gusto. It's not the best story, but I do enjoy early Cyberman stories, and it strikes me once again that Polly was a kickass companion. Not at all the time-traveling secretary she's been made out to be in fan circles, she's the big revelation of this CD set. Certainly a better character than Victoria who replaced her, and maybe even better than Zoe (I know, heresy... nevertheless...).

With the next Lost set not yet released (boo!), I've return to my Big Finish originals (audios allow me to walk to and from work, in sleet and snow, and still listen to my "stories"). And it seems I'd left the Key2Time trilogy after the first story! My bad! The second part is, I'm glad to report, a great story. In The Destroyer of Delights, writer Jonathan Clements has crafted a wonderfully verbose and witty tale of the 1001 Nights, throwing meticulous historical research in with spaceships and robots in the Sudan to inspire the story of Ali Baba. The 5th Doctor and Amy the Key Finder (not Pond) are wonderfully used in the setting, but Clements offers one more entertaining element: Modern versions of the Black and White Guardians that are actually funny and endearing. The Black Guardian is played by David Troughton, and man does he ever sound like his father on audio. I wouldn't be surprised if this was still one of my favorite CDs come Siskoid Awards time next January. And bonus! Very nice interviews with the writer, director and cast are included!

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: Finally regained control of my website, so those few new cards I had only shared with my specialized CCG forum are available to everyone. There's a 10th Doctor in there for the gals, and some new Daleks for... well, for the gals too. You know who you are, don't dare deny it.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Instructing the Players - BBC '80
III.ii. Instructing the Players - Zeffirelli '90

Doctor Who #61: Crater of Needles

"Oh, my eyes are so sore. Everything seems to... to flare when I look at it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Web Planet. First aired Mar.6 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Ian and Verstin meet the primitive Optera underground, the Doctor and Vicki play for time before they can escape, and Barbara escapes from the Crater of Needles and lands smack dab into the Menoptra's invasion of Vortis.

REVIEW: I'll give it that, Vortis continues to be a surprising place. We meet another sentient species on the planet, cave creatures called the Optera, who appear to be devolved versions of the Menoptra, wingless, grubby things that hop around (in their speech patterns too). They look like they're made of Nerf, but I like them. Everything on Vortis to date has been pleasantly alien and accidentally cute. If they are Menoptra, it begs the question of how long ago the Animus arrived, as the dialog puts it as a fairly recent occurrence and certainly not enough for a species to "evolve" that much. Either the Optera were a primitive offshoot of the Menoptra, unknown and hidden before the Animus even came, or their deterioration is likely due to the Animus' corruptive effect on the planet as its "carcinome" spreads. The Animus is a planet-wide cancer, and along those lines, living cells (people) infected might be prone to mutation. Works for me. These guys may prove key allies in the fight against the Animus and its Zarbi minions.

Because it doesn't go too well with the Menoptra invasion, not after the Doctor accidentally gives the Animus sensor data that shows where the invasion force is set to land. The medium wasn't really made to show the battle, but darn it, it gives it a try anyway. It succeeds rather well at the flight scenes, the Menoptra making graceful landings and take-offs on wires hidden by the vaseline lenses. It doesn't do so well with the actual combat. Menoptra fall over carefully so they don't damage their wings, and there are a lot of close-ups to cover the confusing choreography. It does, however, capture the chaos of a battle, though I doubt that was the intent. In an early and just as dodgy skirmish, we also get the satisfying crunch of a larvae gun getting smashed on a wall. I take it where I can get it, but bucktoothed ants versus fluffy bumblebees... the battle will likely never reach "epic" on the proportions dial. I do give a thumbs up to the models and sets though, which marry well together to create Vortis. Long shots of the plateau and the Crater of Needles especially. Barbara actually refers to the streaky lighting - so it's not just for our benefit - and has trouble breathing, though otherwise, the thin atmosphere is all but forgotten.

Plot-wise, this is an episode about unseen MacGuffins. The Menoptra's only hope is their Isop-tope (you may groan at the pun, I'll be joining you), and Vicki implores the Doctor to use the "spider" (something not very well set up in the previous episode, so it may baffle even when watching the episodes back to back). Neither are seen or deployed. The Doctor does manage to realign one of the gold wishbones that can take control of people (Vicki, please don't do that zombie thing again, it's really creepy), but again, it's not deployed. These things do need to be set up for later, but I wonder how clearly it came across with a whole week between episodes.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Vortis keeps giving us more back story and new things to look at, but the serial's attempt at crafting a truly alien world swings from wonderful to silly in any given second.