Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Doctor Who #99: Volcano

"Their greed for power is so great that they can be trusted."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 8 of the Daleks' Master Plan. It is missing from the archives. I have used a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Jan.1 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The Daleks discover their taranium core is a fake, the TARDIS lands in the middle of a cricket game, and later, our heroes meet the Monk again on a volcanic planet.

REVIEW: More idling from this serial which could have clearly been half as long. The one plot point of any significance is that the Daleks test their time destructor and discover the taranium core is a fake. To do so, they sacrifice one of the delegates, Trantis, which makes me wonder what this galactic alliance is all about. Up to this point, the only thing the Daleks' allies have gotten out of the deal is summary execution. At this point, Mission to the Unknown is so far back, I have little idea what even the Daleks have to gain from allying with the various galaxies. Except for Mavic Chen, there doesn't seem to be anything they can provide except handy guinea pigs. Thankfully, the Daleks know how to deal with an awkward situation, so when Trantis doesn't die from the time destructor, they kill him outright.

Now that Spooner has taken over as the serial's writer, he reintroduces his own creation - the Meddling Monk. While I'm certainly happy to see Peter Butterworth again, this really only serves as a preview of the next episode. He and the Doctor shout at each other across ravines on a volcanic planet, the Monk frigs with the TARDIS' lock, and the Doctor magically repairs it with some technobabble nonsense. Nothing lost, nothing gained, time wasted, and having the Monk pursue the Doctor instead of the Daleks is merely another fake-out after a series of fake-outs. Some have called the trick with the Time Lord ring and the TARDIS lock a precursor to the sonic screwdriver, it's muddled by yet another astronomical confusion, unless we believe all the suns of a particular galaxy have the very properties needed to power the Doctor's ring.

And then there are the truly pointless bits. One quick trip to a cricket field during a game might make one smile from how deadpan the announcers are even though they've just witnessed a police box materialize and then dematerialize on the pitch. Kind of reminds me of a Monty Python sketch, but perhaps that's because I've never watched cricket. Since the TARDISeers don't disembark, it's just a silly diversion. And because the episode aired on New Year's Day, there's a quick trip to that date on Earth, with some holiday cheer and music in the background. At least the Doctor doesn't turn to the camera again.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - What is this? Christmas leftovers from The Feast of Steven?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dial H for Heap Big

Uh-oh. Dial H for Hero slips to back-up status behind the rising star of the Martian Manhunter, but it does keep the cover. It's a momentary hiccup, as it returns to the front of the book in the next (but final) issue. Of interest to DCU geography nuts, Robby is called away to Central City again (see House of Mystery # 166 for a previous visit). Again there's no explicit mention of the Flash (an earthquake in that part of the country would indicate supervillain involvement, and the fact Chief Mighty Arrow is turned back by the police could mean the Flash already dealt with it), but it does place the metropolis nearest to Littleville. And it seems Littleville is also near the coast, so... The town is like a Springfield, y'know? Plot-related geography.

Case 16: House of Mystery #172
Dial Holder: Robby Reed
Dial Type: The Big Dial
Dialing: Not for the first time, the Dial repeats a hero - Chief Mighty Arrow and his pet flying horse Wingy - but that's nothing new. What IS new, is that due to a misaligned "click mechanism", each time Robby transforms, another boy born on the same date transforms into a monster. Robby manages to fix the Dial with a screwdriver at the end of the story. I should also mention the naming convention used in this issue. Used to be the heroic identities came with their own names, which Robby instinctively knew - or else he was quick to make them up - but here, the names are rather unofficial, culled from what Robby thinks he looks like (ex.: "I've become one of those crazee pendulums, like they have on grandfather clocks!").
Name: Pendulum (a good name, even if he does look more like an anchor, shovel, or Vulcan lirpa)
Costume: Between his orange color, strange shape and skullcap, "Pendulum" looks a heck of a lot like Gold of the Metal Men. I certainly wouldn't blame anyone for confusing one for the other.
Powers: Pendulum can fly, normally or in a tornado-like spin. His lower body is a blade that can cut through anything, and by anything, I mean even a "tornardo" ("crazee" isn't the only place that needed a [sic] attached), stopping the natural phenomenon's momentum. Pendulum's blade can be damaged by such things as fire, though Pendulum feels no pain. (The damage is not transferred to Robby.)
Sighted: In Littleville. Pendulum disperses a large twister before being hit by a mysterious fireball creature.
Possibilities: A strange robotic being, he might be too close to the Metal Men for comfort, but maybe Doc Magnus has some rejects hidden away somewhere that just woke up?
Integration Quotient: 10% (that Doc Magnus idea is the best I can do)
Name: Solar Mirror (terrible, the rhyming scheme makes it especially dumb)
Costume: A contrastless green superhero suit with full mask and slitted visor, Solar Mirror's principal distinguishing feature is the circular lens in the middle of his torso. Looks like he could be an artificial being, but he invokes his "prism costume".
Powers: By placing himself between the sun and a target, Solar Mirror can act as a living magnifying glass and focus the sun's heat and light into a narrow beam able to melt steel. He can also fly, but it is not known whether he needs solar energy to do so. When his lens is broken, he does appear to fall.
Sighted: In a bay a bus-ride away from Littleville. The hero is seen saving a sinking ship and fighting a big purple monster. Both go down into the water and are never seen again (it's unknown how far Robby and his friend Jim had to swim to shore).
Possibilities: Solar Mirror might work as another rejected Doc Magnus robot, since he certainly doesn't seem very human.
Integration Quotient: 5% (even lower than Pendulum's because of that terrible moniker and obvious limitations - a cloudy day cuts his powers off!)

BONUS Robby Romance: The Swingin' 60s!

Robby's dancing up a storm at an after-school "Go-Go session" when an emergency comes up.
He passes Suzy off to his friend Jim. No problem, his pleasure, but did he think to ask Suzy? From her expression, I should say not. I'm not even gonna ask why Suzy (who Dialed in House of Mystery #169) is no longer a redhead (because girls are always doing that).

Only one issue left to the House of Mystery run, though not the last Robby adventure. See you next week for more disposable superheroes (and thanks for recycling where you can)!

Doctor Who #98: The Feast of Steven

"Incidentally... a happy Christmas to all of you at home!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 7 of the Daleks' Master Plan. It is mission from the archives. A reconstruction was used in crafting this review (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Dec.25 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish us a Happy Christmas, preceded by 25 minutes of shouting.

REVIEW: It's the only time a classic Doctor Who story falls on Christmas day, so they make Christmas special out of it... and it's terrible. Firstly, because it doesn't do much with the idea, half the episode taking place on Christmas in a police station where you can hear occasional carolers, and then the Doctor toasting the holidays with his companions - and us - and a big bottle of booze(!). Secondly, because here in the middle of a huge Dalek spectacular, the plot is forgotten and abandoned in favor of a pointless runaround. No, not pointless. The point seems to be to jerk us around.

It starts with a false cliffhanger, as the Doctor tells his companions the atmosphere is poisonous outside. Then we find out it's just 20th century pollution, but he's not overreacting, Steven and Sara are from the future and used to purer air! And then the whole thing is forgotten, and the Doctor tells them to go outside, and indeed, they feel no ill effects. This is symptomatic of the entire episode. The Doctor is interrogated by policemen wondering why the old boy is caught coming out of a police box on police station grounds, and he tells them the whole time travel story right off the bat. Steven rescues him by posing as a copper and off they go, leaving us wondering what story Terry Nation is telling. There's an inside joke when the actor who played the merchant in The Crusade shows up at the police station to complain about... who knows... and the Doctor recognizes him. It's silly and it's stupid and nothing comes of it anyway.

From a meaningless diversion to an irritating one, the TARDIS next lands in Hollywood's silent film era, where the heroes save a young woman from a spinning saw before noticing that - oops - they're on a movie set and they've ruined a roll of film. Frankly, without the visuals, this whole second half of The Feast is confusing as hell, but I doubt it was much better with them. There's some running around, a lot of shouting, background noise that irritatingly interferes with the dialog, and Sara complaining because a director wants her to take her clothes off. Its one saving grace is, perhaps, the silent film era caption cards and player piano music, an amusing stylistic flourish, and maybe on screen the episode took on a sort of Keystone Kops energy now lost, but it just makes it even harder to take The Feast seriously. So really, the fact that the Doctor breaks the fourth wall at the end is almost a relief for Doctor Who fans who can now find comfort in the idea that the damn thing isn't canon (see Theories).

THEORIES: How CAN we integrate the broken fourth wall into continuity? New Who has been more successful at it with such fare as Attack of the Graske (where the Doctor speaks to an unseen companion) and Music of the Spheres (where a portal to the music hall is the camera's POV). Here though? Steven and Sara don't even notice. Here's one possibility that's just occurred to me... The message is to "all of you at home", which doesn't have to mean the audience. The Doctor's home is Gallifrey, and the impish man might be sending a strange message back to the Time Lords as an off-culture goad (dangerous mischief) or to a family seldom spoken of. Or since Christmas is a human holiday, he could be using the TARDIS to record and send out a message to former companions Ian and Barbara, and even Susan. The POV does seem to be somewhere off the console, and could play into the idea that the ship is always recording the Doctor's adventures as part of the matrix and that all the adventures are telepathically gathered archives. Best I can do.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - The Feast of Steven (were that it were ABOUT Steven) may well be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. It's irritating, pointless, and doesn't play fair with the audience. After the previous episode's generic meandering, we needed something with substance here, but Nation's last script for The Daleks' Master Plan (the rest is all by Spooner) is a tremendous waste of time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clark Kent: Not a Cat Person

Well, obviously. Dude grew up with a dog. Still, that doesn't excuse this kind of behavior. Even if the lion did "ask for it".

Doctor Who #97: Coronas of the Sun

"You make your incompetence sound like an achievement."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of the Daleks' Master Plan. The episode is missing from the archives, so I have watched a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Dec.18 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor escapes Mira on the Dalek ship and creates a fake taranium core they pawn off to Mavic Chen before flying off in the TARDIS.

REVIEW: Behind that poetic title is a disappointing episode that has nothing to do with it, filled with technobabble and then more technobabble. As with the convicts of Desperus, the Visians provide a bridge between episodes, but little else. There's some invisible battling with the Daleks - it goes on a bit - during which the heroes run off, and then the Doctor surrenders anyway to gain access to the Daleks' ship so they can make a proper escape. What was the point? Aboard that ship, the Doctor cleverly makes a taranium core, and Steven fixes something aboard ship, but both these actions are technical, and the audience can't exactly evaluate how clever any of it is. The drama of Sara's fratricide is forgiven and forgotten, so no help there.

Most egregious of all, Steven uses some gravitic technology from his century to give the taranium core the right energy signature, which again, is so technical an issue, he might as well be waving a magic wand over it. The debate over how primitive his solution is compared to Sara's time (and the Doctor's, obviously) is moot because one future is the same as another to 20th-century viewers. And most magical of all, not only does Steven succeed almost at the cost of his own life (I do appreciate that he's trying too hard to prove himself), but his solution has the unforeseen side-effect of encasing him in a force field that more or less zombifies him. What the hell. He can't speak, but he can walk, and it comes in handy because it allows him to hand over the taranium and follow his friends into the TARDIS while shrugging off a Dalek attack (which neatly cures his condition). How quaint. And stupid.

Shall we get some relief from Mavic Chen, then? Well, as usual, he's as smooth as silk, but we basically get a repeat of Karlton's spin from the previous episode, and Chen lording it over the Daleks for their many failures in trying to apprehend the Doctor. They ARE starting to look rather useless. To be fair, they don't exactly buy what he's selling, but they don't argue further either. And after convincing them that he transported the heroes away before they told someone about the Daleks, his insistence that they be brought back for trial on Earth is puzzling. He now convinces the Daleks that there's a chance people will know the Daleks exterminated the traitors if they don't make it home for trial... It scarcely makes sense, and in any case, it's not an option the show is prepared to explore, so why even mention it?

REWATCHABILITY: Low - As Mavic Chen says, "Does it even matter?" Looks to me like Terry Nation didn't deliver a script on time, and Dennis Spooner subbed in with nothing new to say and kept the story going, but not moving forward much.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This Week in Geek (20-26/02/12)

Buys

So big boxes are starting to come in off of that Amazon DVD sale, where I picked up the following at bargain bin prices (almost all have extras, etc. - they're not the cheap discs): Jackie Chan's 1911, Army of Darkness, A Fish Called Wanda, Ghost Rider, Gosford Park, Invictus, Pan's Labyrinth, Total Recall, The Towering Inferno, and The Underneath.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: This week, I flipped the first season of Parks and Recreation - hey, it's only 6 episodes - a mockumentary style sitcom (like The Office) about small town government and Amy Poehler's crusade to get a park built in place of a large, abandoned pit. Quite funny, with great comic talents hitting a variety of notes, some of them quite subtle. Makes me glad I picked up three seasons for a song during one of those Amazon sales. The DVD includes deleted scenes (or sequences, really) for each of the episodes. The finale has them integrated into a producer's cut, and really, they're all funny enough to be part of the finished episodes. Each episode also has an entertaining commentary by various members of the cast and crew, and a couple of "Mouse Rat" videos.

The Avenging Eagle, a 1978 Shaw Brothers film by Sun Chung, stars Ti Lung as a member of a group of criminal assassins who is betrayed by his conscience and forced to be on the run from his own squad, whom he must defeat with the help of a man he most deeply wronged (Fu Sheng). Sun Chung's camera work is much more dynamic than your usual Shaw Bros. release, and there are some artful touches throughout, elevating this rather typical revenge tragedy above the standards of, say, many of Chang Cheh's less memorable productions. Plus, Ti Lung's favored weapon is the three-section staff, and that's my favoritest weapon of all! Could have done with a more memorable set piece or two, but I was entertained.

Now, at this time last year, I won our annual Oscar pool, and consequently, 10 DVDs thrown into a Ye Olde Pile of Crappe from the various participants. Of these, one was damaged and mercifully could not be watched (Dude, Where's My Car?). The 9 others I vowed to watch before the next Oscar Party, and that whichever was the WORST, would wind up back in the pile (THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE). By the time Oscar week rolled around, I still had four to watch. Ugh. So I bit the bullet and the results are below. To first recap the 5 I did manage to watch during the year: 2 were actually pretty good indy movies I might have picked up on my own if I'd known about them (Dead Fish and He Was a Quiet Man); 2 were deeply flawed, but had some elements I really loved (Masters of the Universe and Hamlet 2); and one was disappointing, dull and pointless (Pressure Point). Can anything beat the latter to the Crap Pile(TM)? Perpend...

Backlash is a mess of an action movie shot on video, but trying to imitate John Woo's style or something. It stars Danielle Burgio, who I believe was the stunt double for Jennifer Garner in Daredevil, as a CIA agent marked for death by evil assassins. She holds the screen relatively well among characters all played by fellow stuntpeople. The principal source of production values should have been the location shooting in Trinidad and Tobago, but to be honest, they could have shot in in the Southern United States and edited in stock footage of cultural festival action, because that's exactly what it looks like. There are some fair action scenes, in particular the martial arts sequences, but they're frequently badly shot, fists obviously missing faces. Nonsense plot, lame comedy bits that come out of nowhere, and worst of all, going into musical montage every couple minutes (NOT an exaggeration!). If I recognized ANY of the songs, it might be better, but then the sound cuts off after 30 seconds anyway. The film is OUTRAGEOUSLY bad, and that's why I need to keep it. In the interests of completeness, let me talk about the DVD extras: There's a 20 minute making-of that does a lot of that musical montage thing, a long, badly-recorded interview with reggae musician Machel who did a lot of the music, and a video of his.

Long Live the Queen is Lisa Lampanelli's HBO stand-up special, and right off the bat, let me come out and say I'd never heard of her. It's not a style of comedy that makes me laugh, but I can appreciate where it's coming from and seems relatively well put together. It's principally racist and homophobic material, outrageously crude, but delivered with just enough insouciant good spirits that you can believe all these members of minorities would flock to her shows for some kind of communal catharsis. There was a bit on deaf people that gives context for the "sign language" corner-of-the-screen feature on the DVD, but I do wish they'd had the interpreter leave outraged after the bit (after all, don't subtitles have the same function?). The disc also has a couple of deleted scenes (an improv riff with a make-up malfunction, and the encore).

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? - a drama about four married couples facing various challenges in each of their unions - is a mixed bag. There's just enough truth in the writing for the happy ending to feel forced, and Perry's directorial style seems to give scenes way too much space to breathe and plonking the camera in the set and letting things play out. Needed to be sharper, especially in the comedy. All the actors do get a chance to shine, even Janet Jackson as the creepy Oprah-ish therapist, but the heart and soul of the film has to be Jill Scott. She gives such a soulful, emotional, sympathetic performance, it smooths over a lot of the movie's flaws. Just not enough for a recommendation. The DVD includes three featurettes on various aspects of the film. Those aspects are: Janet Jackson, the music, and everything else. Wait... there's a SEQUEL to this? Am I such a completist that I have to see it? Jury's still out...

EZ Money is an an annoying kids' movie about three precocious children and a government agent getting involved with a Nigerian Prince email fraud run by an evil - but not too evil - Carmen Sandiego clone. It is AWFUL. The adults in the film are intent on making the kids look good by acting very badly indeed. There's a CIA computer expert who gets electrocuted and turns into a destitute man's Jim Carey, speaking only in movie references the target audience will not get (the film was made in 2005, but most references are from the 80s), and that will irritate anyone old enough to do so. And though it's obviously for kids, there are a number of cleavage jokes I find completely inappropriate for ANY age. A brainless irritant. Hey EZ Money! I DON'T WANT YOU TALKING DOWN TO MY KIDS! The DVD includes a short making of that doesn't explain WHY WHY WHY this film was made, and a Lil Kev video just for extra annoyance. Yes, you guessed it, it's going BACK IN THE CRAP PILE! Sorry, this year's winner! I'll sleep better tonight with EZ Money out of the house.

Books: When Matt Kindt's name was brought up in connection with Frankenstein Agent of SHADE, I'd never heard of him. Then I found his Super Spy at my local shop. What a wonderful, quirky read. Super Spy is actually about a number of spies in WWII Europe, and is designed as a sort of found object, with yellowed pages, occasional documents from the stories, and coded messages. The book itself is in a kind of code, not told chronologically, the reader gets a sense of the entire story and how each "dossier" is connected to the bigger whole. My only negative is that the cover detached when I opened the book (not the pages though, they're fine), which is disappointing coming from the usually top notch Top Shelf.


Audios: I managed to finish two Big Finish Doctor Who audios this week. The first is The Company of Friends, which comprises four short stories featuring the 8th Doctor and four different extracanonical companions Paul McGann has never teamed up with before on audio. Lance Parkin writes a fun Bernice Summerfield team-up (Benny and Doc8 met in the last Virgin New Adventure) that focuses on a paradox. Stephen Cole writes a funny Fitz story set on a planet with a television-obsessed culture (sound familiar?). Fitz the 8th Doctor's longest-serving companion in the 8th Doctor Adventures novel series, and is well played by Matt di Angelo. It's my favorite of the lot. Alan Barnes' story stars Izzy, a companion from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, and is ABOUT comics. Izzy has the Doctor bring her back in time so she can pick up the only issue she missed of her favorite comic, but wasn't expecting her childhood heroes to come to life. Another bit of fun, and Jemima Rooper shows she might have been a good Rose Tyler (she was up for the part at some point). The final story (by Jonathan Morris) introduces Mary Shelley as a companion and the Doctor as a (partial) inspiration for Frankenstein. There's a big fat paradox in the middle of it, but the episode's function is to put a celebrity historical in the TARDIS. We'll see how well this idea works in future audios, but Julie Cox does a good job in her introductory tale. And don't worry about not knowing the root material, interviews with the companions set the stage at the start of each story.

With Patient Zero, Nicholas Briggs starts a 6th Doctor/Charley cycle that though it will tell three different stories, promises to have an arc running through the trilogy. As the Doctor tries to draw answers from paradoxical Charley, she starts to fade from reality and has to be quarantine. In an attempt to save her from a temporal virus, he eventually winds up at a viral repository where strange and interesting ideas multiply, well, until the Daleks show up, but the focus is really on Charley dealing with a surprising stowaway that's been on the TARDIS since season 2! Like most 6th Doctor audios, it's a better than average Doctor Who story, but it ends on a nasty cliffhanger. Even the things that are resolved, are resolved rather brutally as the audio just... stops! Hmf.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Branagh '96

Doctor Who #96: Counter Plot

"But that will only mean mastery of this galaxy." "But a start, Karlton, a start."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 5 of the Daleks' Master Plan. Like the other two surviving episodes, it can be found on the Lost in Time DVD set. First aired Dec.11 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor, Steven and Sara Kingdom are beamed to the planet Mira where the Daleks capture them.

REVIEW: Staying in Chase mode without the benefit of a TARDIS is hard to do, but they find a way. The heroes get jumped by super-space-agent Sara Kingdom in the project accelerator... and vanish! Ok, it's not a quantum leap, but there IS some trampoline jumping involved. As the three of them get "molecularly disseminated" through space to the swampy jungle planet Mira (yes, another one, but this one's name sounds like "mire"), we first get a strange white-out effect that would work better if the actors' grimaces weren't so creepy/silly, and then Sara and Steven jumping up and down in slow motion, superimposed on outer space paintings. Thankfully, Hartnell is spared the indignity of this "effect". Sara more or less takes the place of both Katarina (she's a girl) and Bret Vyon (she's s native security service agent), and she does seem sorry for killing the latter, and maybe she's learned her lesson about blindly following orders.

In addition to boiling swamps and Daleks arriving from nearby Kembel to zap some of the disseminated lab mice (they may be hostile!), the heroes have to contend with the native Visians. Why not Mirans or something? Well, they are inVISible. Invisible aliens (and ships) are never very satisfying, but they're an idea Terry Nation will use more than once. Which makes the Doctor's identification of Mira based on its natives surprising. Apparently, there are a lot of invisible species out there. It's the nonsense evolutionary adaptation that gives evolution a bad name. Go creationism! The good news is, the Visians are fairly well realized. Sure, it's mostly shaking branches and Sara's hair lifted by fishing line, but there's a nice tracking shot of Visian footsteps being made that's really cool. I also like the Doctor keeping them at bay by savagely whacking them with his walking stick. But like the convicts of planet Desperus, there's little chance their story will be developed.

So the best parts of the episode remain those featuring Mavic Chen and Karlton, the latter of which is emerging as the power behind the throne. Mavic Chen is quite insane in Counter Plot, despairing when the taranium is not recovered at first, and after Karlton gives him the perfect spin to feed the Daleks, letting his interior megalomaniac come out. A touch of the bipolar, perhaps? Kevin Stoney plays it delightfully big, no, HUGE. It's no wonder Karlton seems to think he could bump off Chen once he's reached the top.

THEORIES: Sara reveals that she hasn't just killed a colleague in Bret Vyon, but a brother. The musical sting infers that she's talking about a blood relation, but is she really? In martial cultures, it is common to call a close colleague, someone you've trusted with your life in combat, a "brother". Seeing as they have different surnames, it is safe to assume, I think, that there is no genetic relationship between them. If you choose to believe there is, then either names are attributed differently in the future, or they are half-siblings, or one of them is married (the mutability of gender roles in the futures presented in the new series could mean either one).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The political story is the one that keeps us watching, but in this case, the A-story still features some interesting effects (some work, some don't) and the Doctor and Steven sternly integrating Sara Kingdom into their group.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - February 25th

"If you own and use a decoder ring, you might be a geek..."

Episode 6 of Geek-Out is a tribute to secret agents, which is the preferred Geek Term for "spies". My recommendations, features and music will mostly take their inspiration in that concept. #GeekOut is the hashtag on Twitter for the silliness of following a radio show live, and 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: Doctor Who IX - Murray Gold
Introductions
Secret Agent Man - Johnny Rivers
Geek News: The headlines included a lucky man inheriting a 3.5 million $ comics collection, Community's return, and in keeping with my theme, some news on James Bond: Skyfall.
Le méchant de James Bond - Bénabard
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews, though particular attention is given to books with secret organizations in them.
Frankenstein P.Q. - Les secrétaires volantes
Comics recommendation: Matt Kindt's Super Spy (he takes over Frankenstein Agent of SHADE soon, which is the reason behind the previous song selection)
Goldfinger - Shirley Bassey
Mission Impossible Theme - Lalo Schiffrin
TV recommendation: Spooks (MI-5)
Douanier 007 - Sinsemilia
Geek Band: Instead of focusing on a single artist or group, I took a look at three rejected songs for James Bond films (playing less than a minute of the song actually used for comparison, but links included here)
Thunderball - Tom Jones vs. Thunderball - Johnny Cash
For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton vs. For Your Eyes Only - Blondie (not available in all countries, this last one, so I've supplied a GrooveShark link)
Tomorrow Never Dies - Sheryl Crow vs. Tomorrow Never Lies - Pulp
I Wish I Was James Bond - Scouting for Girls
Geek 101: The "Time Lord" theory of multiple James Bonds (my version was one of the first articles I ever wrote for the SBG)
Live and Let Die - Wings (this whole special episode happened because I was asked to play this song)
Spies Like Us - Paul McCartney (it's a Paul twofer!)
Brief intervention about the feeling of spy music
L'espion - Pagliaro
Soul Bossa Nova - Quincy Jones
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme remix of the week:
Docteur Qui - Dalekium

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 #414: Kal-El the Praisesinger

Source: Supergirl vol.5 #6-8 (2006)
Type: Alternate Earth/VillainHow about some confusion continuity this fine Saturday morning? Take the Earth-3 Ultraman, returned for a tiny while during Infinite Crisis. As the universe is reshaped, land him first in the Phantom Zone and then in the bottled city of Kandor. Advance the timeline to One Year Later, and we find Supergirl and Power Girl in that version of Kandor, playing the roles of Flamebird and Nightwing, masked rebels fighting the fascist Church of the Praisesingers, of which Kal-El (actually Ultraman posing as the Messiah Hero returned) is the public head. The Church preaches (and enforces) that he is God on Kandor, and that Kryptonians are the Children of God and above all other races, so the latter better damn well do what they're told if they don't want to end up on the wrong end of some heat vision.

But what you DON'T know, is that the power behind the throne is Saturn Queen, the villainess from the Legion of Super-Heroes' future, who claims Ultra/Kal-El is her son (and says it so often, you have to wonder if continuity has been rearranged more than you thought). She's controlling him, of course, though readers will hardly notice a difference with all the hyper-violence involved. Oh, and there's a vile scene in which Saturn Queen takes control of Supergirl and makes her kiss her alternate universe cousin (jury's out whether they share a genetic bond). They're to be married and "Kal-El" can't wait to have sex with his underage cousin-bride. Brrrr.

But those were the too-long days when Supergirl was artist Ian Churchill's sex object and was drawn naked a couple times in each issue. This storyline, "Candor" (haha), also features Power Girl getting shot in the chest and burning off her costume to reveal boobage. But don't worry, Ultraman strips down too. You know, for the ladies who are reading this drek:
In the end, just as revolution's about to happen, there's a change of writers after the first issue (Rucka to Kelly) and Kara and PG are back on Earth after the cocktail napkin notes run out and Kandor left to its own devices. No closure, no heroes winning the day, not real consequences. Just how Supergirl's mismanagement team rolled for a number of years.

Doctor Who #95: The Traitors

"Oh, how I shall always remember her... as one of the Daughters of the Gods. Yes, as one of the Daughters of the Gods!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of the Daleks' Master Plan, an episode missing from the archive except for two brief clips. The reconstruction is online (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Dec.4 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Katarina is killed, and once the other heroes get to Earth, so is Bret Vyon.

REVIEW: So... most bloodthirsty episode yet? Sure, there are stories with more on screen deaths and certainly some with more inferred deaths, but killing two semi-companions in the span of 20 minutes? Poor Katarina never had a chance, and her death is given the most weight. After all, she was set up as Vicki's replacement aboard the TARDIS, though one can scarcely imagine the writers doing away with Vicki (or Susan) in such a fashion. Held hostage in the Spar's airlock by a convict from the previous episode, she sacrifices herself to save the others from a dreadful (if undersold) dilemma. Not sure how she knew to push the button that sucked her and the villain out into space, but it's a harrowing scene (a surviving clip), even if we don't see the actual death. A spacey sound effect and we're meant to understand she's dead. The Doctor's eulogy is rather pretty, and respects the culture she came from. (The Doctor gets a lot of nice lines in this episode, actually.) And then, according to the script and recreated in the reconstruction, we actually see the floating dead bodies, and apparently, Katarina's peaceful expression. Man, that's creepy. But the handmaiden's life had been forfeit since Troy fell, and it was her impression that this was all afterlife. Here's hoping Adrienne Hill got her check that week because Katarina doesn't even get a line. Do screams count?

As for Bret Vyon, no one considers him a companion, but he's been stealing Steven's lines and bits of business since he appeared. I guess he had to go too. And what better way to do so than by the end of sexy space Gestapo agent Jean Marsh? She's obviously a friend of his (more on this tomorrow), but she's been compromised by Mavic Chen, turning their reunion into a Han Solo/Greedo engagement. She shot first. And we don't feel all that sorry, seeing as Vyon had just killed his friend Daxtar for being in on Mavic Chen's conspiracy. If we care at all, it's probably because Vyon was played by the beloved Nick Courtney. At the time, it no doubt seemed more fitting.

Mavic Chen and Karlton are played as Richard III and Buckingham in this episode, plotting not only against our heroes, but the Secret Space Service and the other delegates of the Dalek alliance as well. Trantis, leader of the biggest galaxy involved, is a particular problem, so Chen insinuates in his reports that the taranium thieves are working for him. How long before Trantis goes the way of Zephon? The Daleks aren't big on checking the facts before executing potential traitors, and anyway, it's their ultimate plan to kill all the delegates. Mavic Chen may think he's playing them, but the Daleks are content to BE played in this matter. If these scenes are the weakest in the episode, it's because 1) there's so much action and drama in the rest, and 2) the video is missing, leaving us to wonder what the actors brought to those silent, musical moments that feel like dead air today.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Doctor's allies are being killed rather harshly, but once the shock wears off, the episode is rather business as usual. At least it doesn't feel irrelevant like the previous' Desperus detour did.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in March 2012

Tonight, a Shaw Brothers flick called The Avenging Eagle, but March is coming up fast and there are five Fridays in there! What's on tap for my local Kung Fu Film Club...

Kung Fu Dunk - KFF member Furn Sai Yuk is bringing this one in because he knows it's crap, and he'll have to bring his Blu-Ray player too, because it's HIGH DEF crap. I'll soon regret the day I said they should do a whole series of Shaolin Soccers with every sport ever like, you know, that rockin' franchise, Air Bud.

Bodyguards and Assassins - Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Leon Lai, Wang Xueqi, Simon Yam, Hu Jun, Eric Tsang and Fan Bingbing? Yes, please! This 2009 epic takes place in 1905 as the Quing dynasty crumbles. Let the Revolution begin!

The Duel - Another Chang Cheh film from Shaw Brothers Studios, and it promises to be one of his most blood-soaked. Ti Lung stars as a dude who wants to kill some evil bureaucrats. I'm all for that.

Kung Fu Panda - The fictional action star featured on this month's poster, the panda is a Chinese national icon, kung fu is the national pride, and Jack Black is... an awesome lunatic. BY POPULAR DEMAND!

Hot Potato - Speaking of popular demand... On the same disc as Black Belt Jones is Hot Potato, which also stars the Blaxploitation star/character, and when my KFF crowd saw the poster for it, they did request I show it sooner than later. I mean, it looks like Indiana Jones is sharing the screen with Jim Kelly, and well, it's called "Hot Potato"! A perfect early evening of comic heckling before we all head out to a friend's house-warming party.

A pretty varied menu. My inner circle's got their seats reserved. The rest can read all about it on Each Week in Geek!

Doctor Who #94: Devil's Planet

"For the moment we do nothing. And by doing nothing, we do everything. Do I make myself clear?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of the Daleks' Master Plan, of which only a brief clip survives. As usual, I've looked at a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Nov.27 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The heroes leave Kembel with the Daleks in pursuit. They momentarily land on the convict planet Desperus before taking off again.

REVIEW: The best parts of this episode are definitely the ones that feature Mavic Chen. The guy is so cool, he insults the Daleks right under their eyestalks and they don't even notice, highlighting their mistakes and deflecting unwanted attention onto Zephon who dies for the privilege of getting owned by the Guardian of the Solar System. I wish we had the video so we could see Zephon's supposed allies stepping away from him. "You're on your own, buddy, don't go naming us in your alliance." It's Survivor Kembel and the tribe speaks with Dalek disintegrator guns.

Sadly, the rest of the episode is... well, it's The Chase, isn't it? The heroes fly off Kembel with Daleks on their heels, this time leaving the TARDIS behind (how sound is that idea?). As in The Chase, this creates the need for boring Dalek tracking scenes, and the predictable "missed them by THAT much" ending. Worse still, most of the action on the heroes' side is flicking switches and bafflegabbing. Though the Doctor has always been a man of science, and it's been strongly inferred he's the TARDIS' inventor, it's under Terry Nation's control that he's built up his reputation as a super-engineer. Here he creates a makeshift forcefield to keep the natives at bay. It's something that - whoever started it - is still a strong component of the Doctor today. However, it's also often the dullest element of the show. The other characters don't get very much to do. Steven is impatient to do something, Bret gets on with it, and Katarina is commended for keeping her mouth shut. Poor thing.

The stolen Spar's destination is the planet Desperus (Nation tells us it's a place of despair), and it's a swamp where Kembel is a jungle. They sound about the same. It's also a prison planet, but not as pleasant as Australia, it seems. Scenes with caveman-like convicts fighting over a knife are all well and good, but the Spar leaves before very much can happen. (One of the convicts does manage to get aboard ship and shows up at the start of the next episode - we'll talk about him then.) Devil's Planet shrugs off its set-up even quicker than the locations in The Chase did. Hardly worth the trouble.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Mavic Chen continues to fascinate, but the adventure serial stuff is sketched out so summarily as to leave you cold and disinterested.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

$#*! my Sea Devil Says





Doctor Who #93: Day of Armageddon

"Traitor? An archaic word for so advanced a... 'man' as yourself."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of the Daleks' Master Plan, one of three surviving episodes from this story found on the Lost in Time DVD. First aired Nov.20 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Daleks with flamethrowers, Mavic Chen talks to a man made of seaweed, and the Doctor steals the taranium core that powers the time destructor.

REVIEW: We only have three episode of DMP on video, and the first gives us a taste of what we may be missing with the rest. While the plot is as SF matinee as Nation usually gets - if perhaps a bit more political - the acting and direction elevate the material greatly. And that's what mostly been lost along with the images. Just look at Kevin Stoney's performance as Mavic Chen. His expressions add a lot to the character, and small alien behaviors, like the way he holds his pencil and the strange language he writes in, break the dull culturelessness of most "future" episodes. It looks like Douglas Camfield might have had a lot to do with such details, as he appears to be a rather thoughtful director. Again, I refer you to the scene between Chen and Zephon, where they discuss their ambitions and Chen speaks from behind metal bars for a time, a man figuratively trapped by the "smallness" of his current domain (the Solar System) and wanting more. There are other such flourishes, like the energetic camera work when the Doctor uses the chaos of an intruder alert to steal Terry Nation's MacGuffin, the taranium core, or how each delegate exhibits movements and postures as alien as their appearances. It'd be silly if it weren't so fascinating.

The characters are mostly well served by the script. The Doctor is brave and gives Bret Vyon a good talking-to. Steven, an astronaut, admires the many ships at the conference. Bret Vyon needs to take the lead, but is nevertheless impressed by the Doctor and winds up a follower rather than a leader. Among the heroes, only Katarina seems off. I don't just mean her strange, archaic expressions, but even her delivery. Though I thought a companion from a primitive time had a lot of potential (Leela is one of my favorites, for example), if the character doesn't work, ultimately, it'll be because Adrienne Hill couldn't make it work. On the villains' side, both Mavic Chen and Zephon believe themselves equal or better than the Daleks, but of course, the Daleks plan on betraying all the delegates once they're done with them (classic). Chen is so smooth and ironic, you get the sense he knows this and is playing a longer game, though this is likely hubris on yet another level. Zephon feels entitled, but the ol' pile of animated branches is a bit of a loser, going by the profile Chen draws of him.

The production values are good, with lots of different costumes and make-ups for the delegates, a moody jungle and miniature Dalek base, and coolest of all, Daleks with blowtorches burning down the forest to smoke the TARDISeers out. Pretty impressive.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Having the video helps this episode greatly, as we can see how nuanced it is compared to the previous episode. On audio alone, we have to focus too much on Nation's wooden dialog. Here, the contributions of the director and actors have more of an impact.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dial H for Hepatitis

In this issue, Robby and an amoral scientist are shrunk by a chemical and wind up in an other-dimensional world ruled by microbes who coincidentally want to invade Earth. In giant form, not in the regular way. Ladies and gentlemen, you are in 1967 and you're so used to having your mind blown, you don't even notice anymore. Shall we take a look at Robby's three identities who together (well, sequentially) beat the common cold?

Case 16: House of Mystery #171
Dial Holder: Robby Reed
Dial Type: The Big Dial
Dialing: Robby's getting better at using the Dial. Used to be he had to switch back to Robby and wait a while before dialing a new hero. In this issue, he goes from superhero to superhero without becoming Robby in between.
Name: King Viking (it rhymes! I'm not saying that's a good thing... but he trumps Viking PRINCE)
Costume: Medieval gear, including a winged helmet and feathered arms, an acceptable green and gold color scheme, and those round patches that are making Marvel's Thor reach for his lawyer's business card. That helmet's a bit extreme, but then the Shining Knight is wearing something crazy these days too.
Powers: A "Super-Norseman", King Viking can fly, and is especially though, strong and fast. He has a sword and shield to help him. It's a case of keeping it simple and you can't go wrong with enhanced physical stats and flight, though I should mention he flies out of control in thin atmospheres.
Sighted: In a cabin, likely north of Middleton. King Viking tried to stop a scientist and his crew from enjoying the fruits of their chemical plant heist, but wound up shrinking everyone down to the microbe dimension.
Possibilities: Times, like places, are good niches DC likes to fill. Good news, it's Middle Ages are ripe for additions, and King Viking could well have flown around helping people in Medieval Scandinavia. Maybe he kne the Viking Prince or the Viking Commando. Maybe he followed the latter to the future. Maybe he overshot and is not the Global Guardians' Norwegian member.
Integration Quotient: 80% (the name needs work, but a perfectly workable Norse hero)
Name: Robby Go-Go (no real name is given)
Costume: A Golden Agey number in fact reminiscent of Stripesy's costume, Robby Go-Go's jacket is more modern (60s). The high heels are eyebrow-raising however. I don't have the necessary cultural context to really evaluate Robby's claim that he looks like a "one of those Go-Go characters right out of a discotheque". Not quite mod enough.
Powers: Robby can't help but perform popular dances of the day, including the Frug and the Monkey. These agitate either his arms, legs or both to super-speeds and strength. However, Robby doesn't seem to be able to really control which dance he does and when. He just can't... stop... dancing!
Sighted: In the microbe world, though the radio news will know all about it later. Go-Go tries to get the scientist's help in stopping the would-be microbe invaders, but is instead betrayed and lands in microbe jail.
Possibilities: If they found a place for Super-Hip (in the last few issues of the latest Doom Patrol series), then anything's possible. Stays on the fringe and maybe shows up in an episode of Teen Titans Go or something.
Integration Quotient: 25% (kinda silly, but the potential for a campy appearance is there)
Name: Whirl-i-Gig (a bit juvenile-sounding, but not bad)
Costume: Sporting a big white "W" on green armor, Whirl-i-Gig wears a robotic-looking mask with a grill instead of a mouth, and his limbs are actually thin, sharp blades. Yikes! Really freakish from some angles.
Powers: In addition to breathing fire, W-i-G can spin his limbs like a giant cuisinart or his entire body to create more benign tornadoes.
Sighted: Presumably Middleton. Whirl-i-Gig brought everyone back from the microbe world, arrested the criminal scientist and his gang and stopped the microbe invasion.
Possibilities: The android Red Tornado didn't appear until the next year, so could Whirl-i-Gig be an earlier prototype built by T.O. Morrow? Scrapped when his handshakes and breath proved so dangerous, W-i-G became prone to too high an emo quotient (a flaw common to all Morrow's androids until Amazo's bad self). Whirl-i could be the hero everyone is afraid will hurt their children by accident.
Integration Quotient: 60% (that obvious link to the Justice League's most pathetic member - yes, I'm counting Gipsy, Vibe and G'nort in my evaluation - could give it a certain lease on life... such as it is)

Some pretty good integration numbers for the Robby Reed era!

Bonus Martian Manhunter Villain Who Could Easily Have Been a Dialed-Up Character
The ability to sneeze out fire could normally only come from a magic alien power randomizer, but it's apparently something that evolved naturally on Mars. Go figure.

Next week: Robby takes another identity out for a second spin, plus two new ones! I'll dial your number when I'm ready to post!

Doctor Who #92: The Nightmare Begins

"The Guardian of the Solar System is going away on holiday. He will, no doubt, say a few well-chosen words. Every well-chosen word will no doubt be transmitted."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of the Daleks' Master Plan, and episode mission from the archives except from one brief clip. Though I've listened to the entire story as narrated by Peter Purves, here I have used an online reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Nov.13 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Looking for medicine to save Steven's life, the Doctor lands on Kembel, the jungle planet where lots of aliens are meeting with the Daleks, including Earth's own Mavic Chen!

REVIEW: Remember those Space Security Service guys who took center stage and were killed in Mission to the Unknown? They're back. Well, not the same ones, obviously. New ones. And one of them is Nicholas Courtney in the first of many appearances in Doctor Who (something we can thank director Douglas Camfield for). Not yet the Brigadier, here he's Bret Vyon, butch SSS man from the year 4000! Come to retrieve the previous agents' message and desperate to bring it back to Earth, one gets the sense that though he ends up on the Doctor's side by episode's end, he's a dangerous ally. His devotion to duty may well mean he'll screw the Doctor over if he needs to. Oh, this is definitely an episode about strange bedfellows. In addition to Vyon, we have the sketchy Dalek alliance that the Guardian of the Solar System is a part of (traitor!), and even Katarina, new and unexpected companion, seems at odds with the setting she's been thrown into.

It's hard to imagine what Steven must be thinking. He wakes up from a fever and Vicki's been replaced by one of Cassandra' handmaidens. And there's this macho chap in the TARDIS too - is HE getting replaced as well? In her first episode as a companion, I'm afraid Katarina lacks focus. She seems dazed more than anything. Early scenes do have tension, and the Doctor bravely sets out to find meds for Steven, but there's a lot of moving back and forth for no reason (coming back to the TARDIS to say he found a city, for example), and the point made moot when Bret finds meds in his pockets. But that's Terry Nation for you. Master of the padded episode and king of the cliché B-movie dialog. The Nightmare Begins (indeed!) is full of confusions between various stellar domains, and moments like the Doctor wondering if he's in the solar system makes no sense unless Kembel is one of Sol's newly acquired planets. The probability is that Nation thinks a solar system is a group of stars. Who knows how much power Mavic Chen yields as its Guardian. There's every possibility the dialog between Earth communications personnel Roald and Lizan was meant to be funny and satirical, but the actors' wooden performance doesn't do it justice, so all you hear is Nation making them say random numbers every few seconds. See, that's the thing with Nation's dialog - only the very best actors can make it work, which here includes Courtney and Kevin Stoney (Mavic Chen). Nation's other tic is to introduce new technology in the TARDIS arsenal, even if we never see that technology again. In this case, Bret has to spend a few minutes in a "magnetic chair" of the Doctor's invention. Nonsense best forgotten.

We get some sense of the future, especially in the way the Earthers still watch tv and comment on politicians like Mavic Chen. The Dalek base/city is an obvious model, and Chen's little spinning ship rather cute, but acceptable. Kembel's jungle is well realized, dark and dangerous, and Bret's colleague is killed by the Daleks in a tense, properly fierce moment (the only scene of the episode that has survived). The costumes have an odd but distinctive look which might indicate a caste culture, though the military uniforms are of a quality unmatched elsewhere. (See also Theories.) Certainly, while we've just met Mavic Chen and consequently have no trouble believing in his betrayal, it's still a proper political cliffhanger.

THEORIES: This story seems to present a future Earth in which different ethnicities and cultures seem to have risen over the next 2000 years. It makes perfect sense, though the specifics are perhaps too strange. The bald-headed Technix certainly have a distinctive culture and way of presenting themselves. Mavic Chen is the more interesting character, with his bronze skin and tightly curled white hair, fu manchu and slanted eyes. He's got a slightly alien look and demeanor, and perhaps he's got blood from a non-human species coursing through his veins, we don't know. But in the future, skin, hair and eye types will have mixed to a great degree. Kudos to the production team for at least trying to present this idea, especially using a major non-white character (though played by a white actor).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Terry Nation's weaknesses are on show, but who can resist the first appearances of both Nick Courtney and Kevin Stoney in the program? Thankfully, the production moves along quickly enough that it doesn't dwell on the weaker elements.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vicki: The Character Sheet

In the spirit of each successive season seen as a role-playing campaign in the Doctor Who RPG, we've asked Maureen to surrender her character sheet before leaving. (Click to enlarge for legibility.)Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet (Maureen kept it on the back)...

SKILLS
*Vicki has a +2 Knowledge Expertise bonus in History

GOOD TRAITS
Animal Friendship (Minor) - Vicki can use this Trait on simple-minded machines as well, but with a +0 modifier only. As prologue to using this Trait, Vicki gives the target creature a pet name.
Brave (Minor)
Charming (Minor)
Run for Your Life! (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)
Time Traveller - Tech Level 2 (Minor) - that month in Ancient Rome prepared her for the life of a Trojan princess

BAD TRAITS
Eccentric/Easily bored (Minor)
Eccentric/Enthusiasm (Minor)
Impulsive (Minor)
Insatiable Curiousity (Minor)
Phobia (Major) - Heights

(FORMER) SPECIAL TRAITS
Inexperienced (Minor) - Vicki lost this Trait after her first few adventures

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS
Though she used a number of tricks throughout her adventures - from taking what people said at face value no matter how much the GM implied they were lying to ye olde ankle sprain - her favorite was to do things that could potentially change history, meddling blindly in events and opening the door for the GM to create complications.

Hers was a character I'll miss. She was a veritable ray of sunshine in the TARDIS.

Doctor Who #91: Horse of Destruction

"This is not Troy. This is not even the world. This is the Journey through the Beyond."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Myth Makers. Missing except for some brief home movie reels gotten from pointing a camera at the television. The online reconstruction then (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Nov.6 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The sack of Troy and Vicki stays behind with her new beau Troilus.

REVIEW: Though the sacking of Troy was in some ways inevitable, it does make for a rather extreme shift in tone. The witty dialog is replaced by violence and bloodshed. Characters we liked are killed, including Priam and Paris, while the baddies - Odysseus and Cassandra - survive to fight another day. Odysseus in particular deserves his doomed return voyage at sea, gloating as he does about his increased share of the loot if the other Greek heroes dies. And on screen, one of them does. The ineffectual Achilles is savagely killed by Troilus, the boy Vicki's in love with. Even on audio only, it's a harsh scene that because of Achilles' comedy portrayal earlier, doesn't seem fair at all.

The episode isn't helped by the fact that it's almost entirely missing from the archive. The quality of its production values depends on our imaginations now. How did they manage the sack of Troy? The battles and carnage? The soldiers slipping out of a giant wooden horse? The burning city? The jubilant crowds before all hell broke loose? We can imagine it as better and more realistic than it probably was, but that only makes the violence more shocking. Even the companions aren't immune, as Steven gets badly injured, getting a sword through the shoulder that puts him on death's door step. The ending has the Doctor in a state of anxiety, hoping his next destination will offer a store of drugs necessary to save his companion's life.

And of course, this is the episode where Vicki leaves, and that has problems all its own. She gets no onscreen goodbye scene with the Doctor and Steven, one that might have explained how the Doctor could have let her stay in a burning city with a prince from the losing side. But then, he left Susan to rebuild a destroyed culture as well. Love conquers all, I suppose, and Steven should probably not have mocked Vicki's infatuation with Troilus earlier with his natural cynicism (which he's fallen into since the cheery days on Mechanus). Are we happy with Vicki's fate? Whatever challenges she'll face in remote history, she's at least in charge of her destiny. She's the one who saved Troilus' life by sending him out of the city at the right time, and while he despairs, his world crumbling around him, she finds the silver lining and sees the potential for rebuilding. That's out Vicki, all light and enthusiasm, and she'll be missed, especially as the third season darkens further in the next story.

As for Katarina, the handmaiden of Cassandra who helps carry Steven aboard the TARDIS and gets carried away in the ship when the Doctor takes off hurriedly, Odysseus on his heels, well... She doesn't get much of an introduction. Her character doesn't appear before this episode and she hardly chooses to the travel with the Doctor (though the alternative is no doubt Grecian slavery or death). Adrienne Hill has a sympathetic face, and I for one, do like the extreme generation gap that makes her see the world in mythical terms - the Doctor as a god, the TARDIS as the conduit to the after-life. She thinks she's dead, and accepts it. It's too bad the production team ultimately didn't have faith in the idea. It's not like they don't have the Doctor explain 20th-century things to the companions/audience all the time! But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself...

VERSIONS: Donald Cotton also wrote the novelization. I don't know of any particular changes made to the story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Tense and breathless, it's not a bad historical episode, and it's certainly a game changer. However, it's too dark and violent an ending for something that began as a comedy.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The Myth Makers has some of the funniest dialog on all of Who, and entertains with its revisionist look at mytho-history. The fact that it ends on an inappropriately harsh and realistic note is something it shares with Donal Cotton's other Doctor Who comedy, The Gunfighters.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Star Trek #1429: Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes Part 5

1429. Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes Part 5

PUBLICATION: Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #5, IDW Comics/DC Comics, February 2012

CREATORS: Chris Roberson (writer), Jeffrey and Philip Moy (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows previous issue).

PLOT: In the prehistoric past, the Starfleet/Legion team discover the entity captured by (Emperor) Vandar and it makes an appeal for them to free it before the future can happen. And in the future, the other team is invited to dinner by the Emperor and THEY discover other time travelers have tried before, and failed.

CONTINUITY: See previous issue (Flint). Among the races apparently enslaved by the Earth Empire are the Caitians (M'Ress' people from TAS), Cherons (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield), Andorians and (from DC's Green Lantern comics, Xudarians) . Among the captured time machines are Lazarus' dimension ship (The Alternative Factor), Captain Braxton's timeship (Future's End), Rasmussen's timeship (A Matter of Time), and both the Atavachron and one of its data discs (All Our Yesterdays). From the DC side of things, we have Flash's Cosmic Treadmill and Rip Hunter's Time Sphere. (See Panel of the Day for more.) And SPOILER (block text to read): Flint/Vandal Savage has harnessed the power of Q to change the timeline.

DIVERGENCES: None (except as per the divergent universe).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Can you identify them all? In particular, the patch of steaming mud under Lightning Lad. What is that thing? And don't go looking for Marvel's time machines, I'm pretty sure this being a DC book, they weren't allowed. My answers in SPOILERY WHITE: The Time Tunnel, the Doctor's and Master's TARDISes, Bill & Ted's Phonebooth, the Stargate, Prince of Persia's dagger, the Voyagers' Omni, the Hot Tub Time Machine, the Delorian from Back to the Future, Time Cop's Timesled, H.G. Wells' Time Machines from the book and from Time After Time.
REVIEW: With the two-page spread, writer Chris Roberson labels himself as a great big nerd, and that's probably why we like him so much. What comes through in everything he does is fannish love, which is definitely what is fueling this crossover. Too inside-jokey? Who cares. He's riffing on these characters and on time travel the same way we might. And he does it so well we can't quite call it fanwank. In addition to the big spread, we've got three histories of the world crashing together, an obvious but unexpected reveal at the end, and more great scenes between characters of both franchises. Especially fun is Brainiac 5 talking down to Spock (he's the superior genius after all, and it's not like Spock can be offended... right?) and Kirk hitting on Shadow Lass who's got a REAL man at home (do you really want to get between Mon-El and his girl?). The Moy brothers do an excellent job with the art, as usual, keeping things upbeat and lightly comical (especially the characters' expressions), reminiscent of Mark Bagley's work.

Doctor Who #90: Death of a Spy

"Upon my soul, you're making me as nervous as a Bacchante at her first orgy."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Myth Makers. The episode does not exist in the archive, so I have used a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Oct.30 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Steven and Vicki spend all their time in a cell, though only she gets amorous visits from Troilus. Meanwhile, the Doctor finally suggests the Greeks build a giant wooden horse.

REVIEW: On the Trojan side of the story, Vicki and Steven land in jail, sure, but it doesn't stop the actors from having a good time. Steven puts on a show, doing his best cod-Greek, but not getting anywhere. Vicki follows him to the goals thanks to a fierce hissing performance from Frances White as Cassandra (precursor to her Julia in I, Claudius... I can see why the reconstruction made us of that material). And in the cell, there's a sweet blossoming romance (even the music agrees) between Vicki and her visitor Troilus, who seems motivated as much by a desire that she not be a spy as he is by jealousy of Steven/Diomedes. The teenage relationship is kept from becoming too cheesy by Steven teasing his companion about it, and she good-naturedly secreting food for him.

On the Greek side, the story achieves an odd tone. On the one hand, you have nasty old Odysseus talking about orgies, and on the other the Doctor demonstrating how to make a paper airplane and catapult for the kiddies. Who is this for, Mr. Cotton? Of course, once Odysseus decides the Doctor will be the first man to fly on a giant-sized paper plane, he has to fall back on Plan B - the wooden Horse. He may have ridiculed Homer's idea, but from what we've heard in the story, the Trojans do worship these beasts and it could work. Surviving pictures of the model make it look pretty good, though we still have to wonder how well its shots matched those of the actors, and what the set of the horse's belly looked like.

The connective tissue between the two enemy camps is provided by the always humorous Paris, who basically says "oops" to the death of the Cyclops (the title's spy), charged by Steven to deliver a message to the Doctor. Upon seeing the horse, he answers Cassandra's "woe to the House of Priam, woe to the Trojans" line with "I'm afraid you're a bit late to say 'whoa' to the horse". Paris is SO the best role in the story. That kind of sly pun is something Cotton really revels in, and I'm only sorry he wasn't allowed to call this episode "Is There a Doctor in the Horse?", nor the first episode "Zeus ex Machina". If puns are the lowest form of humor, I just don't want to be high.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Tonal missteps aside, this continues a fun mytho-historical spoof in the style of, but more extreme than, The Romans.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Week in Geek (13-19/02/12)

Buys

Amazon's clearance sales made a couple things that are usually pricey not so pricey, so I got a couple Criterion Collection DVDs - Three Outlaw Samurai and Tiny Furniture - and a video game - Saints Row 3. Plus, cheap DVD editions of Heat and Last Temptation of Christ. Not the last you hear from this sale. Plus, Doctor Who's The Sensorites and The Caves of Androzani Special Edition.

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Went to see Chronicle this week, the newest "found footage"-style movie, this one a superhero story. Thoroughly enjoyed it. They're getting really good at figuring out how to put cameras into scenes so the film can be "made", and where Blair Witch and Cloverfield gave us interrupted narratives and eerie non-endings, Chronicle manages to take us all the way through a story. It's something that would have worked well enough as a straight film about a troubled teen and his friends getting super-powers, but I for one don't mind the stylistic conceit of the found footage because it really is integrated into the plot. I could easily imagine the Chronicle to continue in other media, for example if they could find a way to make a comic with a "found documentation" vibe. Get on that, IDW or Dynamite or Dark Horse!

DVDs: Republic of Doyle is a Canadian TV show currently on its third season featuring a father/son team of private eyes operating in St.John's, Newfoundland. It's a lot of fun no matter where you come from, but as an Atlantic Canadian, it's just nice to see my corner of the planet on screen. I flipped the Season 1 DVD this week, 12 episodes of quirky action goodness that might remind you of 70s cop/P.I. shows, but with the folksiness of something like Northern Exposure. The main character is Jake Doyle who lives in his dad's house (where they run a private investigation business together) after his divorce from a slightly crazy on-again, off-again wife he's still having sex with - as indeed, Doyle can't help himself when it comes to the beautiful women who throw themselves at him. It's a show filled with strong, but flawed characters, comedy as well as drama, dramatic and unique locations, and an excess of charm. To draw the Yanks in, there are some great Canadian guest stars like Alias' Victor Garber and Warehouse 13's Joanne Kelly. Canucks will find half the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes (or indeed, Codco). The DVD includes a fair making of featurette and commentary on two key episodes.

Season 2 offers 13 more episodes of the same, which isn't a bad thing at all, though it seems to end on a paradigm shift for the opening of Season 3 (it's on right now, so I might catch up rather than wait for the next DVD set). There are still some changes. One cast member is demoted to infrequently recurring character and I initially missed her, but Sgt. Bennett gets a lot more to do and becomes the most touching character in the cast. Some of the bigger guest characters from the previous season show up again, and it's topped off by a tense season finale guest-starring the great Paul Gross (Due South, Slings & Arrows). The DVD includes commentary on 3 key episodes (the last sadly has volume issues) and some brief featurettes on the show's stunts.


From Hong Kong cinema's Dante Lam, we get The Stool Pigeon, a police/crime tragedy like only Hong Kong does them. The film splits the focus between an informant and his police handler, and perhaps loses itself in its subplots at times, but I tend to respect the effort to give each character an interesting (if melodramatic) background. But these do impact the story and fuel the theme of a cursed cop who changes the fortunes of those he meets for the worst, putting their lives in danger through his very function. The scenes are well played by the ensemble cast, the director makes every shot interesting, the car and fist action is well done, and the violence looks like it really HURTS. Hard to ask for more. Except from the extras. There are 45 boring minutes of behind-the-scenes footage (including the interminable real time shaving of Nicholas Tse's head), not always with sound, which are pretty joyless. Skip directly to the 15-minute making of which will tell you everything you need to know. There are also some strong deleted scenes.

Audios: David Bishop's 7th Doctor/Ace/Hex audio, Enemy of the Daleks, starts out promisingly, with driving electric guitar music and a possible twist that the Doctor should make sure the Daleks win this time, but it quickly turns into a truly annoying noisefest. Escalation is the theme, and a human scientist may be creating a counter to the Daleks that's just as bad as, if not worse than, they are. And when I say worse, I'm mostly talking about their irritating voices. The regular cast does good work (though the ending seems a bit strained), but the rest of it is rather ordinary, and the audio makes its points bluntly and obviously. No wonder Hex questions his presence aboard the TARDIS. Didn't work for me at all.

This 7th Doctor cycle ends with Paul Sutton's The Angel of Scutari, a triple historical celeb story set during the Crimean War. The Doctor has tea with the Russian Tzar, Ace cozies up to a young Tolstoi, and Hex meets his personal hero, Florence Nightingale. Each story thread has its virtues and the regulars are universally excellent, though the predestination paradox the main plot centers on (it IS a 7th Doctor story, after all) leads to an odd structuring that had me checking if I had mistakenly left my player on shuffle. The opening episode is especially confusing and leaves me wondering if the same effect couldn't have been achieved more clearly. All is forgiven by the end though, as the audio's historical elements and in particular, the heart-felt Hex strand, more than make up for any flaws.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap