Saturday, March 31, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - March 31st

"If you married someone you met in the World of Warcraft, you might be a geek..."

New feature this week: When I play a song that features some kind of monster, I try and read its D&D (or other RPG) stats on air. Order of the day is to just make things GEEKIER. And since there are gaps in my Geek knowledge (I'm as surprised as you are), my Geek 101 feature this week has a guest lecturer! It's my KFF/RPG/Improv pal Marty, and he talks about video gaming competitions. I've no idea. If you couldn't listen or understand the French interventions, I supply the episode's playlist, with You-Tube links where available.

Intro tune: Doctor Who IX - Murray Gold
Black Sheep - Metric
Geek News: This week's headlines include Scott Pilgrim in color (explains above song choice), Doctor Who's new trailer and other spoilage
Triton - Les Rita Mitsouko (+AD&D stats)
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews
Cargué dans ma chaise - Radio Radio (local Atlantic boys, which ties into my next recommendation)
Comics recommendation: Local (which my featured Old52 book this week)
You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive - Brad Paisley
TV recommendation: Republic of Doyle
No Change in Me - Ron Hynes
Geek Band: Joss Whedon
Walk through the Fire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A Man's Gotta Do from Dr. Horrible
Better (Than Neil) from Commentary! The Musical
Up, Up, Down, Down - Kirby Krackle
Geek 101: Competitive video gaming with special guest Marty Léger
Nancy the Tavern Wench - Alestorm
Loup Garou - Edgar Bori (+Werewolf the Apocalypse stats; the song isn't available on the web)
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme of the week (with wonderfully sad lyrics):
Who Am I? - Terrence Chua AKA Khaosworks

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 #419: Aaron Diaz' Superman

Source: (2011)
Type: Unsolicited redesignAs the DCU was being rebooted, a number of fans and artists jumped on the bandwagon and attempted the exercise for themselves. In Superman's case, while most are happy with Morrison's retelling of Superman's early days in Action Comics, the verdict is far less positive when it comes to the present-day Superman (only 5 years on) with his undrawable Kryptonian armor. But at least Superman was really rebooted, which can't be said of the entire DCU. Personally, I'd have been happy with a complete reboot, or no reboot at all. The middle ground just puts me off.

Comic Alliance did a nice piece last year on Aaron Diaz's (Cyborg-inclusive) Justice League reboot and he's got the right idea when it comes to handling reboots. His three key directives:
1. Make the characters appealing to new readers, not just old ones
2. Create new story opportunities while staying true to the core themes
3. Update, correct and redesign where necessary

But has he gone too far by making Krypton a truly alien planet and merging Superman's concept with the Martian Manhunter's? Here's how Aaron describes his rebooted Supes:

Origin: The Kryptonian civilization once spanned hundreds of worlds, their technology and knowledge unrivaled in their corner of the galaxy. Kryptonians had long since advanced to a point where technology and biology were indistinguishable, making them virtually immortal and omnipotent in the eyes of less developed races. Over time they grew overconfident, and wished to introduce their technology to undeveloped worlds, in direct violation of the most important rule of the galactic community: the Omega Law. In an attempt to assimilate the natives of the planet Mars, Krypton finally gained the attention of Colu, enforcer of the Omega Law, and was marked for extermination. A Kryptonian Scientist named Jor-El, specializing in passively and remotely observing nearby Earth, witnessed this and rapidly set a plan forward to save his infant son, Kal-El, from their fate. By sending him in a conventional rocket toward the backwater planet Earth, he guaranteed Kal-El's safety from Colu. The rocket took over a thousand years to reach the planet, and upon reaching the surface, restructured Kal-El's body so he would appear as a human. Raised by simple farmers, Kal-El (now called Clark Kent) eventually learned of his heritage when examining a recorded message from his rocket. His father informed him of his fate, and that he must never dominate the planet with his immense power, as it would warp the fate of all life on Earth. Not content to passively observe humanity, though, Clark decides to inspire others through his actions as Superman. Superman has declared that he fights for those who cannot defend themselves, owing no allegiance to a particular government (though still obeying their laws). He has particularly targeted corporate corruption and the military-industrial complex as enemies of human progress, his most prominent opponent being billionaire industrialist Lex Luther [sic] and his company, LexCorp.

Powers: Superman can "shed" his human form and appear as a Kryptonian, though he chooses not to, as to avoid violating the Omega Law. He possesses superhuman durability and strength, as well as the ability to move himself through the air. His senses are also much more sensitive than an average human's. Being a Kryptonian, he is actually capable of near-godlike feats, but for the safety of the Earth and his mission, Clark deliberately avoided learning of what he is truly capable.

Notes: I wanted to bring Superman back to his depression-era roots, where in the earliest stories he was mostly concerned with social justice more than representing specifically American ideals. It was only after World War 2 that he became a more "boy scout," authoritarian character. I wanted him to be closer to the Nietzschean "Superman" (the earliest inspiration for the character) whose morality can be independent of traditional ones. Visually, I wanted to have him look a little more working class, with the buttons suggesting the image of overalls and the sleeves appearing rolled up. With the cape and high boots, though, he still has the appearance of an adventurer. I wanted the overall look to be more of a friendly guy who wants to help people more than a demigod who watches over them. He's more of a fireman than a police officer. (Also, as an aside, Colu was the original home planet of Braniac, so I used that name for him instead.)

So there's something of Morrison's "working class hero" in there, but also potential for space opera elements and a grand Kryptonian mythology. Really, the only I don't care for is the renaming of Brainiac, bur nothing's stopping him from taking that name later. I doubt he's got "Brainiac" written on his birth certificate, but I do prefer Dox. But what do you think? Would fans have embraced such a radical redesign? Or should the NuDC have been as different from the OldDC as the Silver Age was different from the Golden Age?

I also encourage you to check out the rest of Diaz's Justice League at the linked article. Superman may actually be the most "on-model" character in there.

Doctor Who #130: The Smugglers Part 2

"He'd be a credit to your trade, would Cherub, Doctor. A touch like an angel's wing he has with that blade."TECHNICAL SPECS: Missing from the archives, I have consequently used a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Sep.17 1966.

IN THIS ONE... Ben and Polly escape their jail cell by playing witches and knock out a revenue man while the Doctor talks with Captain Pike aboard the Black Albatross.

REVIEW: Everyone turns out to be a bit of a villain in this, don't they? Obviously Cherub and Captain Pike are the villains of the piece, but we also find out that (unsurprisingly) the dead churchwarden used to serve with them under Captain Avery. The innkeeper Kewper shows up at the ship to do a bit of smuggling, so he's not on the up and up, though he didn't expect the ship to be run by the notorious Captain Pike and the immediate betrayal that comes with it. The Squire, meant to uphold the law, turns out to be in league with the pirates for personal profit. No wonder he was so quick to accuse and condemn Ben and Polly! And even Blake, the revenue man who skulks around the episode (if telesnaps are anything to go by) until he's karate chopped upside the head by "ask questions later" Ben proves a danger to our heroes when he pulls out a gun in the cliffhanger.

Only Young Tom appears to be a nice guy, but of course, he's acting on everyone else's orders, and he is pretty dumb anyway. Ben and Polly's ploy to play some witchcraft on the boy is resourceful and clever, but it does hinge on the kid being gullible and cowardly. But I refuse to see this as an indictment of history (even if it looks like the Doctor's plan to get off the Albatross with a pack of cards will fall in Fizzbin category). Other characters aren't so dense. Pike, a self-made man who only pretends to be a gentleman while covering a more brutal nature, shows no real sign of believing the Doctor's flattery, but it nevertheless plays on his vanity. The Doctor is an astute enough student of human nature to know how to play him while telling him he's doing so. Unlike the Ben & Polly vs. Young Tom situation, going up against Pike is an actual contest. The Squire's brazen crookedness nevertheless works for him, and the revenue man quickly turns the tables on Ben. Young Tom is the exception, not the rule.

And a final note on Polly... There are still echoes of her being Dodo in the script, because who in their right minds would say being locked up in a cell in the 17th century was "exciting". Dodo would, but I can't think of anyone else. Polly IS more resourceful though, even if she's squeamish about rats.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A bit of back and forth between escaping and being captured again, in grand Who tradition, but it's at least done to switch up the mix of actors. Plot and dialog are both good enough to keep one's interest.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Doctor Who #129: The Smugglers Part 1

"A priest? The word of God touched me too late, boy. I'm the Churchwarden here."TECHNICAL SPECS: Only a few clips exist from The Smugglers, clips notoriously cut by Australian censors. Though I have listened to the audio CD narrated by the great Anneke Wills (best of all the narrators), I've used a reconstruction here (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Sep.10 1966.

IN THIS ONE... Polly and Ben's first trip through time lands them in Cornwall at the time of pirates.

REVIEW: Poor Ben and Polly! Killer robots is one thing, but time travel? That's another. Though Polly brings some of her sarcastic humor to the table, and Ben does his bit defending her honor, there is sometimes the sense that the script was written with Steven and Dodo in mind. Consequently, Ben acts the Doubting Thomas and Polly goes "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee". Also, she wears a cap and everyone thinks she's a boy. A very pretty boy. Shockingly, the Doctor's initial attitude towards these two kids he liked and trusted in the previous story is one of outrage at their presence. It's the old Doctor from An Unearthly Child showing his teeth again. And why not? Picking up orphans and last survivors has been the norm lately, and he's just picked up two people who have lives to get back to when he damn well knows the TARDIS won't want to go back to 1966. Worse, it's his fault for misplacing a key. So we can accept and forgive his reaction. Plus, it helps sell the premise all over again, and this feels like a proper season premiere, as the Doctor reexplains the situation, the scanner, etc. to new companions and to a potential new audience.

Though there are a lot of telesnaps taken from this story, it's still difficult to get a sense of what the locations looked like on film. It's the first time Doctor Who goes to the beach, but how did the stuff on boats look? The script does create a sense of place, with much of the dialog sounding archaic. The churchwarden is an intriguing character, with an obvious past which comes to collect an old debt in the form of the nasty pirate Cherub. He'll die violently for his refusal to talk, stabbed in the back in the only surviving clip from this episode, long enough to make me think the Australians likely didn't know what the HECK was going on there. The pirates are looking for clues to Captain Avery's Gold, coded words he's given to the Doctor as repayment for fixing his dislocated fingers (so he's had other visitors). Captain Avery, new Who fans might remember is the name of the pirate captain in The Curse of the Black Spot. It only took 45 years to find out what ever happened to him that his gold was up for grabs (or hundreds of years if we go by the historical Avery instead).

With pirates about, the townsfolk are all as wary as the churchwarden, if not downright paranoid. In addition to the innkeeper Kewper and his boy Young Tom, there's also the local Squire, an obvious blowhard who accuses Ben and Polly of murder without any kind of evidence. He's the lazy arm of the law. Meanwhile, the Doctor is kidnapped by pirates (I know they smuggle things, but why not just call the serial The Pirates?), brought to the Black Albatross (cool name!) and questioned by one Captain Pike. And that's where our story ends for now, mateys...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though Ben and Polly aren't quite spot-on, it's a good start to one of the last pure historicals, though the presence of pirates may make it more of a genre piece.

Kung Fu Fridays in April 2012

Tonight, Hot Potato feat. Black Belt Jones, some silly Blaxploitation before we go to a friend's housewarming party. But in April? Here's what we'll be watching (and what you'll be finding in my capsule reviews). I've decided on a trilogy of sorts, or rather, a trilogy of swords, and a smooth back and forth between China and Korea, between vintage and contemporary.

Bastard Swordsman - A late era wuxia film from the Shaw Bros., I've heard good things about it and it did spawn a sequel. Just from the tiny pictures on the back of the DVD, I can tell there's a lot of wire fu on this one, and even people shooting chi out of their hands. Bring it on, ya Bastard!

The Sword with No Name - It's a historical epic about Korea's legendary Queen Min. It's a romance between a Queen and a rogue. It's a tale of betrayal and courtly intrigue. And it continues Korea's love affair with pretty people.

The Sword of Swords - Cheng Kang's 14 Amazons was really awesome, so we can expect good things from this magic sword story. Jimmy Wang Yu, star of this month's poster, was the One-Armed Swordsman, and though he's got both arms in this one, he still gets blinded! Can you say TYPECAST?

War of the Arrows - And back to Korea for a 2011 hit about an archer who risks his life to save his sister from slavery under an evil prince's rule. It won a pile of awards in Asia, so I'm sure its success will translate to my little group of aficionados.

Hope the gang isn't all caught up in exams, because it looks like a pretty good month!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yee-Haw! New Trailer for Doctor Who!

It's been a bit heavy on the word count this week, so I'll postpone by regular Dial H feature this week to instead talk a little bit about Doctor Who's new Series 7 trailer. Let's watch together, shall we?

So ok, it's rather heavy on The Gunslinger (if that is indeed the title, it's a nice wink to the Hartnell story recently reviewed in these here pages), which, according to IMDB, is scheduled to air third. Looks like fun! The snowy mountaintop, with the Dalek eye poking out is equally intriguing. Dear Lord, let's hope the Daleks have found a way to play around with their shape. Might take the sting out of the candy-covered redesign. Other things that flash by rather fast:
0:19 - An Egyptian princess with otherwise contemporary characters? Could one of the men be Rory's Dad? (That's the only other episode title as yet released.) Characters reappear from 0:24.
0:25 - The cliff face from The Time of Angels. Surely just a location reuse and not a link to the weepy ones?
0:52 - Big robot dudes, and they interact with the Egyptian princess... what IS this story?
0:54 - Some fans are speculating this is the first Doctor as played by another actor, as a tie-in to the 50th anniversary celebrations, or even as a way to infer that the new companion played by Jenna-Louise Coleman could be a regenerated Susan. Does that theory hold water for you?
0:54 - Rory's Dad (if it's him) and they're flying a rocket together.
1:05 - "Give me a Dalek any day." Famous last words.

So it looks like there's material from maybe three episodes. More when we get more. You excited yet?

Doctor Who #128: Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.

"There's always an answer to be found, if you dig deep enough."TECHNICAL SPECS: Released in theaters Aug.5 1966. Available on DVD.

IN THIS ONE... The Dalek Invasion of Earth retold... in GLORIOUS COLOR(TM)!

REVIEW: While Doctor Who and the Daleks stuck pretty close to Terry Nation's original Season 1 script, Daleks Invasion takes far more liberties, and is much better for it. Six episodes produced on a TV budget thus becomes a very pacey color movie clocking in at less than an hour and a half. So obviously, everything is more spectacular. When I remember the Dalek coming out of the Thames, it's probably this one. The beams falling across the TARDIS is practically a set piece. The Dalek saucer contains huge sets. There's a stunt with a guy falling on bricks before getting sprayed by several Daleks. Wyler drives through Daleks (instead of Barbara) and has to break his windshield with a spare brick to see where he's going. The trek to Bedfordshire is paved with Robomen on bridges. And I don't even know how they manage to pull of the finale with the Daleks being sucked into the Earth. Design-wise, the Robomen don't look like zombies with clunky head gear - they've got proper uniforms. The capsule dropped into the mines is a big, bright Christmas ornament that slides down at breakneck speeds. And the production is further amplified by multi-level sets and outdoor explosions with characters in the shot. I do miss the race through London though, because as good as the movie looks, it doesn't have the same sense of place the episodes do.

Though more of a comedy than the original episodes, the slapstick is a lot less Jerry Lewis than in the first movie thanks to the elimination of the over-the-top Ian character. He's replaced by the great Bernard Cribbins who would go on to fight the Daleks again as Donna's grandfather. As Tom Campbell, a beat cop who walks into a certain police box by mistake after being knocked upside the head by jewelry thieves, he brings just the right mix of action heroics and gentle comedy. The stand-out scene for him is the one picture above, where he tries to hide among the Robomen with a vain attempt at following their programmed movements. In the end, he'll be the one who destroys the Daleks by fixing the mineshaft under Doctor Who's directions, a great bit of team work between the two heroes of film, hiding their communication in plain sight. Cribbins is such a joy that you easily forgive the nonsense epilogue in which he's brought back minutes before he left (and there isn't two of him) so he can stop the theft. Turns out he was only three punches away from a promotion. A hoot.

While Tom gets lots to do, and Doctor Who shines as well as the smartest man in the room (don't ask about the red wool gloves though), other characters are by necessity sacrificed. Roberta Tovey is back as Suzie Who, but of course she's too young to get a romance subplot with David. There's little of the resourceful genius of the first film here, and Suzie is relegated to weak-ankled hanger-on most of the time, precocious but not driving the plot . Gone is Barbara, replaced by Doctor Who's niece Louise (without explanation). Louise is strictly a cipher, but I like her better than I do Barbara Who. Jill Curzon is a beauty and the Sherlock Holmes fashion she espouses make her fit in with this TARDIS crew. She doesn't get a lot to do, and certainly doesn't pick up TV Barbara's heroic bits, but she's still brave, runs into a Dalek saucer and proposes jumping out the garbage chute, so she's not useless and is never a screamer. The guest characters both win and lose when compared to the originals. They have much less depth, being either good or evil and only that, without too much nuance, but the resistance fighters at least get to be more "movie heroic", capable of thinking of strategies without a companion's help, and in Dortmun's case, getting to make his sacrifice count as he blows up a building that falls on advancing Daleks. David is more streetwise. Jenny doesn't exist. Most of the others are forgettable (the fight between brothers here has no familial context, for example, and survives only as a plot point). The real exception is the black marketeer Ashton who is wayyyy better in the movie than he was on TV, even if he doesn't get a name here. He's dapper and suave, and totally ruthless. A smiling menace. And he's more instrumental to the plot, and gets a much better and more deserved end as the Daleks blow up his shed. Compare to his death by Slyther on TV...

All the structural changes - mostly who lives through which incident from the original plot - keep the story fresh even to the show's fans, as does the new ending. In the original, the Daleks' bomb is used against them and blows them all up. Here, there's a crazier, but more original outcome, that makes their bomb unleash magnetic forces that suck the Daleks and their ships down into the ground. It's completely insane, but a lot more visual. Well hey, the Daleks' plan to remove the Earth's core and install an engine or somesuch was crazy too. Doctor Who's just fighting crazy with crazy. Peter Cushing's benign performance sells it well enough. You know, it's too bad they never remade The Chase as a third film. I mean, the serial was terrible, but that only means it could have been elevated by the process. And I find myself quite intrigued by this small family of temporal adventurers, facing down the Daleks like real pros, cool and collected. Especially if they could have picked Tom up again.

VERSIONS: It's no mystery the movie is based on the serial we now call The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Doctor Who reviews #46 to 51 on this blog).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not quite so silly as the first film, the Dalek Invasion of Earth remake is an improvement in large part thanks to Bernard Cribbins' involvement. And of course, he'll be the reason today's fans will want to see this. Good fun!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Doctor Who RPG: Season 3

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1965-6 season of Doctor Who, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's DWAITAS RPG. (Go back one, to Season 2)

Though Donald had agreed to GM Season 3, second semester commitments and difficulty in getting players to stick around made him give up the reigns to Gerry mid-way through. Though our fictional Doctor Who RPG club has a healthy roster of capable DWAITAS GMs on tap, that doesn't mean they're all on the same wavelength (in fact, they hardly ever are). While Donald's half of the season is more or less business as usual and marked by the search for replacement companions, Gerry's imposes an important change of campaign focus that did not necessarily sit well with Billy and his Doctor. Gerry figures that the Time Lord in his games should have left his mark on the universe, and he introduces characters who already know the Doctor, alluding to some unrevealed backstory.

The Characters
-Billy has up to this point evolved his Doctor organically, starting as a unlikable old man who warms to his human companions and eventually adopts their attitude towards helping people. Perhaps that's why he's starting to feel disconnected from the game after Gerry takes over. Relationships he would have liked to earn are simply thrust upon him. Consequently, he starts to miss an important number of sessions, and gets needled for it by the GM who seems keen to replace him if he can't give the game his all.
-Maureen's Vicki starts the season, but almost immediately realizes she won't have the time for it. She asks Donald to give her an out in the second story.
-Peter's really only started to play, so he's in for the long haul with Steven, but as the year progresses, he gets more and more frustrated with the opportunities given his character and the endless parade of potential companions. For the players, it feels like the campaign may be dying, even if their new GameMaster is full of ideas.
-Replacing Maureen proves to be difficult, as the campaign notes below will show, eventually settling on Jackie (not the same Jackie who played Barbara) and her hastily assembled character Dodo. Even she wouldn't last until the end of the season before GM Gerry brings in two of his friends, Anneke and Michael.

Galaxy Four. Donald's first adventure scenario isn't quite as clever as he meant it to be, and his use of sound effects to make his robot Chumblies express themselves is more annoying than anything. Beautiful deadly Amazons vs. kind-hearted ugly monsters, why did it go wrong?

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 3, Fighting 3, Marksman 3, Subterfuge 1, Survival 1, Technology 1, Transport 2
Traits: Attractive; By the Book, Code of Conduct (They have a strict class system and are contemptuous of males), Distinctive. Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: Laser Rifle 7[3/7/10], Steel mesh [anything ensnared is cut off from communicating via radio or other bandwidths])

Mission to the Unknown. Eager to make up for his previous game's lack of luster, the GM attempt something new - a Cutaway. For a single session, the players take on the roles of disposable Space Secret Service agents who run afoul of Dalek activity. To make it even more intriguing, he sets it up as a teaser not for the next game, but for the one after that. The players have a ball getting their asses handed to them by Varga plants and Daleks, like the Suicide Squad, and can't wait for the TARDIS to land on Kembel. Well, except for Maureen who's already asked to be written out in the next adventure.

The Myth Makers. That adventure takes place in the Trojan War, and Donald decides to play the reality rather than the myth to humorous effect. Not only that, but making the Greeks and Trojans less resourceful or noble than Homer's artistic license would have them allows the players to take a more active hand in MAKING the myths happen. When Donald's characters rename Vicki "Cressida", it doesn't fall on deaf ears. Maureen relishes the chance to go out on a romantic subplot and become a figure from History. Because of her departure, Donald recruits a new player, Adrienne, and asks her to generate a character from Troy. She embraces the challenge and creates Katarina, a handmaiden introduced in the scenario's last session.

The Daleks' Master Plan. At this point, Donald decides to start running his game like he would Dungeons & Dragons, as a long continuous story rather than shorter episodic scenarios. Apparently, no one told him "The Chase" wasn't the most satisfying of role-playing experiences. And yet, he gives it a valiant effort, with the help of the Daleks (always a good enemy) and Mavic Chen, betrayer to the human race. Over the course of the story arc, he'll use a prison planet, Steven's piloting skills, old Hollywood (in a Christmas day session with quite a bit of alcohol involved), the Meddling Monk in Ancient Egypt, and he'll go through three players in the process. First is Adrienne, who quickly discovers that her character's low Tech Level is a real pain to get around. She bows out by sacrificing herself at the first possible opportunity. Second is Nick, playing SSS man Brett Vyon (a link to the Cutaway), who wanted to find out what this game was all about and asked to join the group for a few sessions. He, too, allows himself to be killed when his time is done (but he'll be back when he has the time...). And then there's Jean and her Barbarella of a character, super sexy agent Sara Kingdom. She's cold-hearted and driven to action, but her character is perhaps to at odds with what the campaign is trying to do, so cue a third sacrifice, making this one of the most gloomy scenarios ever played, but not by design.

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 4, Presence 4, Resolve 4, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 4, Knowledge 3, Marksman 2, Science 3, Subterfuge 3, Technology 2, Transport 2
Traits: Brave, Charming, Friends (Major/He has people loyal to him in every service of the Solar System), Technically Adept, Voice of Authority; Distinctive, Eccentric/Megalomaniac, Selfish. Story Points: 12
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: As Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen has access to almost anything he needs, including ships and weapons)

The Massacre. The gloom both in the game world and in reality (finding new players can be stressful) is starting to get to everyone. Billy wants to take a little time off, and Peter is annoyed that he's had to share his particular niche with other players lately (Brett's and Sara's). So Donald decides to play his 16th-century France scenario regardless, giving the Doctor an out for a couple weeks, while he focuses on Steven. It gets Peter enthusiastic about playing again, but they just gloss over what the Doctor was doing in the meantime. The use of a double for the Doctor likewise goes nowhere because there just aren't enough players to investigate every little wrinkle, and the historical era chosen by the GM is hard to grasp in the first place. A friend of the group, Jackie-but-not-Barbara-Jackie, terribly inexperienced when it comes to role-playing games, asks to play and Donald offers her a ready-made character from his last setting called Anne Chaplet, but she declines and wants to create her own. Besides, she doesn't know that she can play a character from another time. All these headaches cause Donald to give over the reigns to another GM, Gerry, when the latter expresses interest in taking over.

The Ark. Gerry starts out strong, unless you count his monster design abilities. The players snicker at his drawings of the Monoids, but do like his ideas. A vast generational ship, a mystery unfolding over the course of hundreds of years as the TARDIS revisits the same spot twice, and the Monoids aren't half bad when mimed and voiced ("Gerry, can you take that drawing off the GM screen, please?"). The way Donald left, there wasn't much in the way of a transition, so Gerry doesn't really know all that's gone before, and he's not one to read the Club's game files. He's apparently the first one who's thought of having the TARDIS spread a plague, even if it never was a concern before. Jackie is finding her footing and has already dropped the Manchester accent she introduced herself with.

Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 3, Presence 1, Resolve 3, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 1, Craft 3, Fighting 2, Knowledge 2, Marksman 2, Medicine 1, Science 1, Subterfuge 4, Survival 1, Technology 2, Transport 2
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Mute. Then choose from Animal Friendship, Argumentative, Clumsy, Selfish. Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: Heat prod 7 [3/7/10], Voice box [allows them to overcome Mute])

The Celestial Toymaker. In the Toymaker, Gerry creates a surreal dimension and a god-like villain that's already met the Doctor. Billy isn't keen on creating past relationships via Knowledge rolls, so finds a way to skip out on a few sessions while Dodo and Steven are made to play strange and deadly children's games against the Toymaker's pawns. To compensate for Billy's unplanned absence, Gerry turns him invisible and mute and gives him a long task to do, if only to explain why the other characters can't access the Doctor's wisdom. Towards the end of the story, Gerry point blank asks Billy if he's still into it, because if not, he might as well recruit a new Doctor for when he turns visible again. Billy feels less committed than he used to, but he still has a sense of ownership about the character he's nursed for almost three years. He'll come back.

The Gunfighters. Having heard that The Myth Makers was a fun lark, Gerry tries to do the same with the Old West. It's an era that's been mentioned by both Peter and Jackie in conversation, though it's not clear they wanted to play in a SEND-UP of the fight at the O.K. Corral. In fact, while Jackie has a lot of fun playing opposite Doc Holliday, Peter feels like the GM is being unfair with him, giving him all sorts of Tech Level penalties and such. The use of a particular song is an interesting twist on the more frequent use of score to create a mood, but it gets a little ridiculous. Fun idea to have the players sing it though. It's at the end of this one that Peter gives his four-session notice. Gerry's disappointed, but vows to give him a good last adventure.

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 2, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 3, Convince 1 (+2 Intimidation), Craft 1, Fighting 3, Marksman 3, Subterfuge 1, Survival 3, Transport 1
Traits: Choose from Animal Friendship, Brave, Lucky, Quick Reflexes, Sense of Direction; Cowardly, Impulsive, Selfish, Unattractive, Unlucky. Story Points: 3-6
Home Tech Level: 4 (Equipment: Pistols 5[2/5/7])

The Savages. Gerry presents his vision that the Doctor should have left his mark on the universe by now with a far future tale where a Utopian society exploits a primitive population. The ensuing call to revolution is a good vehicle for Steven's skills, so Peter need not have thrown in, almost illogically, with the utopians minutes after landing. Bit forceful on his preparations for leaving, there. Once again, Billy misses a session, and Gerry threatens to turn him into an NPC. Truth be told, when Billy's present, he's really present and is by now the best role-player around the table, turning the GM's solutions to his absence into ways of resolving the plot. Peter leaves on a high note.

The War Machines. And after two more sessions, Jackie stops coming round. Maybe playing with Peter was part of the attraction for her, or maybe she doesn't feel she fits in with Gerry's two new recruits. These are Anneke, playing the sassy, mod secretary Polly, and Michael, playing a sailor on leave, fretting for excitement, called Ben. They created their characters with the GM, so they could be introduced as an integral part of the plot, and take over with their strong personalities. Gerry was keen to start setting stories in the present day as well, so while his self-drawn monsters still look terrible, he introduces here the things that interest him - menaces to present-day London, an ineffective military, the Doctor having credentials with British authorities, and a season finale that actually feels like a finale (other GMs have simply stopped wherever they ran out of stories before summer vacation). So when Jackie sends word that she's not playing anymore, it's easy to say she's home and that's that.

Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 7
Skills: Fighting 2, Marksman 4
Traits: Robot; Armor (10), Fear Factor (1), Natural Weapon: Gas gun L(4/L/L), Special: Conventional weapons (guns, grenades) do not work in a War Machine's presence), Slow, Weakness (electromagnetic fields disrupt its nervous system). Story Points: 0
Home Tech Level: 6 (War Machines are ahead of their time thanks to WOTAN's mysteriously advanced store of knowledge)

Billy is getting tired after three years, and isn't getting on as well with the current GM as he was earlier ones, but he'll be back for a couple scenarios next season. The hunt begins for his replacement!

Doctor Who #127: The War Machines Part 4

"Oh, it sounds as though you've changed its character, Doctor."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.16 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor defeats a couple of war machines, and reprograms one to destroy WOTAN. Polly and Ben take off in the TARDIS at the end.

REVIEW: I'm afraid it's not always clear how the Doctor defeats his enemies in the final chapter of The War Machines. He corrals #3 easily (and on faith) because, according to him, it was activated before its programming was completed. He uses electromagnetism to immobilize #9, fair enough, but then seems to have the same effect on the robot as he did #3. So here... confused by the EM field? Hard to say because the science isn't properly explained. (I do like his pacifying of the creature with "temper, temper".) And what should we think of the Doctor's ruthlessness in this episode? Though Ben keeps saying they have to save Polly, the Doctor's always more concerned with the big picture. Again, fair enough, but he does send a killer robot into the Post Office Tower (it must have great big lifts) where it might well have killed Polly instead of Krimpton. And though yes, Krimpton is a bit of a creep, that's only because he's under WOTAN's control. He really didn't deserve to die, or for the Doctor to act so proud of himself around his corpse.

And it's all very ordinary as a plot, isn't it? Though the Doctor leads us to believe he's sending a Trojan horse in with a counter-program to WOTAN's mind control, perhaps a virus , he's really just sending it to blow up the sentient computer. Not that WOTAN does much better. I mean, what was its plan exactly? If "C-Day" was going to connect it to every computer around the world, why jeopardize that kind of global foothold by building killer robots that only draw attention to themselves? WOTAN would have done better playing a longer game.

For all that, there's a dynamic contemporariness to the serial, with its robots gliding down real streets filled with 60s cars, its many extras huddled around televisions and radios as if this were a real state of emergency, and its use of actual TV presenters of the day to tell us to stay home. It's so contemporary, "C-Day" (the day the episode takes place on) is stated to be July 16th. Go on, check out when Part 4 actually aired, above. Don't these sound like a lot of the tricks the new series is always pulling?

And of course, we've got a change of companions at the end. Dodo's true exit is through a message delivered by Polly (imagine if she were still under WOTAN's control, delivering false news about Dodo who's just running late, and then boarding the TARDIS on purpose...). The Doctor thinks her an ingrate, making her the first companion to leave on a bitter note. Everybody else got eulogies and well wishes, but Dodo gets an insult. As for the new couple, a spare TARDIS key luckily fell out of the Doctor's cloak earlier so they can get into the police box to give it back. Well, there have been ways to get aboard that have seemed more forced (see previous guest room occupant).

VERSIONS: In the Target books novelization, one of the war machines gets a name - Valk. It should also be noted that The War Machines as seen on DVD (or VHS) is not the same as what was seen on TV in the summer of 1966. Some elements are still missing from the archives, so the episodes were re-edited to cover the off-air recording as well as possible, reusing certain shots, for example.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some action, some location filming, and a good change of companions. Not bad, though the plot lacks any real depth.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The War Machine succeeds as a slick new way to tell a Doctor Who story, and many of the "contemporary Earth" stories to come will have to acknowledge one debt or other to this serial. The counter-argument is that to tell its story, it has to reinvent the Doctor's role, callously gets rid of yet another companion (but the show's better for it, Ben and Polly are already excellent characters), and of course, its evil computer and killer robots look pretty silly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Old 52: Local

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: Local is a 12-issue indy series from Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly and published in black and white at Oni Press between 2005 and 2008. It has since been collected into a single volume.

Premise: A series of 12 short stories spanning about 12 years, and each in a different North American city or town, using places and other elements locals from those places would immediately recognize. Even so, Local wasn't meant to be opaque to non-natives, and each story would be universal, an event in the life of Megan McKeenan, a 17-year-old girl we would follow until she was 30. As originally conceived, she would sometimes be the lead, sometimes be a supporting character, and sometimes be an extra in these stories. As it turned out, the project became about HER story, with an occasional look at other people from her family.

Search for review... Review located: Can I just say, right off the bat, that I love it when writers give themselves a challenge and various constraints like this. Wood, whom I've followed through DMZ and Northlanders, has always been adept at creating a big picture from smaller stories, and here the picture is of one young woman. Why IS Megan moving around so much? That, and her final destination, is the mystery. Each issue was designed around a map of North America, and each of 12 places are well researched (taking the year - the story starts in 1994 - into account as well) and beautifully rendered by Ryan Kelly, who has a fluid brush stroke and a talent for facial and bodily expression. Some cities are big and well known, like Portland OR or Austin TX, while others are more rural, like Missoula MT. As a proud Atlantic Canadian, I was stoked that Megan lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a bit! And of course, the stories themselves have variety. I love the way Megan imagines the events of the first issue in various ways before the writer commits to a single variety. Or the almost silent issue in which a strange stalker enters her apartment to leave Polaroid messages. Some of the stories stand quite well on their own, while others are definitely part of Megan's arc. There's violence and there's love. The ghosts of the past and the uncertainty of the future. It's a life. You won't always agree with Megan's decisions, but that's what makes her a real person. Her inability to connect with the people and places around her is at the very heart of the series, and each story explores that theme cleverly and passionately.
I'm quite impressed by Ryan Kelly's art in Local. Wood hasn't given him easy briefs. Not only must he render real places without making them look like photo reference, but he has to project the feeling of those places as well. Some scripts are incredibly wordy and could have turned into boring talking heads. Others have very little-to-no dialog, leaving it to the art to tell an effective and moving story. Kelly takes on every challenge and succeeds admirably. For art fans, there's even more, as Kelly's various pin-ups are supplemented by other Megans by professional and fan artists alike. A beautiful, beautiful project from two expert craftsmen.

Trade in for one of the New52? In a heartbeat. I mean, do we really need a book like Voodoo out there?

Doctor Who #126: The War Machines Part 3

"You see the official mind can only take in so much at a time."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.9 1966.

IN THIS ONE... A hypnotized Polly puts Ben to work, and war breaks out between the British army and the war machines.

REVIEW: This serial really does look like they've abandoned the "record as live" format, but I'm assured they haven't. It's not just that there's a lot of location stuff shot on film, but director Michael Ferguson makes other sequences match with lots of close-ups and inserts. Of course, it's not all roses. The battle between the army and the war machines goes on wayyyyyy too long and tests our patience by making the same point - that whatever gas the machines fire prevent guns from working - over and over again. However, it's a sort of pilot for the UNIT era, still years away, as beret-clad soldiers fire ineffectually at the monsters. The War Machines is ahead of its time. It's really a Pertwee story.

Polly got grabbed at the end of the previous episode, so here she's under WOTAN's control. It still doesn't prevent her from saving Ben's life and later letting him escape. Polly's got a lot more resolve than your average companion, and her fairly recent bond to Ben is enough to help her break the spell. It's also of interest to note that WOTAN isn't exerting direct control over its pawns. Polly, as a more recent convert, can update the others' orders, acting as a patch on their programming. I am, of course, making more computer sense than the episode does.

Forget the perhaps-companions and the smoking war machines though, the real character to watch is the Doctor, off-model though he may be. Hartnell is sharp and precise in both word and gesture throughout the episode, another reason why it doesn't feel like the usual "as live" Doctor Who of this era. His standing there, in the machine's spotlight, holding his ground as the soldiers all run, is a great cliffhanger and a wonderful moment. Especially after we've seen the machines bulldozing tired workers like something out of concentration camp horror. Machines as the new master race, or WOTAN's Internet as Stalinist communism? Both are evoked.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Doctor's great as is the direction, unless you count the endless fighting and mayhem in the alleyways of London (and yet, some of that looks cool too).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Steven and Dodo: The Character Sheets

Our fictional Doctor Who RPG club has lost two players in the past few days, and Peter and Jackie were nice enough to leave us their characters sheet before they left. (Click to enlarge for legibility.)Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet (Peter kept it on the back)...

*Steven has +2 Craft Expertise bonuses in Carpentry and Music, and a +2 Transport Expertise bonus in Spacecraft.

Attractive (Minor)
Brave (Minor)
Sense of Direction (Minor) - He did get around Paris with relative ease.
Tough (Minor)
Voice of Authority (Minor)

Argumentative (Minor)
Eccentric/Impatient (Major) - Steven tends to get really frustrated when things don't go his way.
Eccentric/Skeptical (Major) - Steven questions absolutely everything.
Impulsive (Minor)
Unlucky (Minor)

Inspired by his choice of Bad Traits, Steven likes to play as if he actively disbelieved the other characters or even the proposed setting, getting himself into trouble for it.

And leaving two days later...
*Ok, ok, that's not what Jackie actually had on her character sheet. In reality, it said:
"Dodo is an orphan quite content to leave her great-aunt's care to go gallivanting around the universe with the Doctor."

*Dodo has a +2 Craft Expertise bonus in Music, and a +2 Knowledge Expertise bonus in her favorite era, the Wild West.

Charming (Minor)
Face in the Crowd (Minor) - Only if she succeeds at ignoring her Eccentric/Fashion Nightmare Bad Trait.
Lucky (Minor)
Screamer! (Minor)

Distinctive (Minor) - Only if she fails to ignore her Eccentric/Fashion Nightmare Bad Trait.
Eccentric/Careless and Over-Enthusiastic (Major) - Dodo thinks of every situation in terms of being safe and fun.
Eccentric/Fashion Nightmare (Minor) - Dodo tends to wear the most outlandish outfits from the TARDIS wardrobe.
Eccentric/Innocent (Minor) - Dodo is easily tricked because of a trusting nature and kindness she tends to show even to enemies.
Impulsive (Minor)
Insatiable Curiosity (Minor)

She puts herself in danger as often as possible, allowing herself to be duped or walking into traps, knowing she'll use her Story Points and innate luck to get out of it. For a GM looking for a PC to activate plot points and showcase the villains' or setting's capacity for danger, Dodo's a dream.

One played the equivalent of a full season, the other in only a few stories. Check back in a couple days for the Season 3 wrap-up!

Doctor Who #125: The War Machines Part 2

"Either that telephone is dangerously out of order, or..."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.2 1966.

IN THIS ONE... WOTAN builds his war machines while the Doctor de-hypnotizes Dodo and sends her away... forever!

REVIEW: Ok, so it's really strange to hear everyone refer to the Doctor as "Doctor Who" and I wish they would just stop it. Only Peter Cushing should answer to that name. There are other strange happenings in this episode, some good - beware strangers bearing chloroform - some not so good - how fast are war machines designed and assembled is only marginally more acceptable than the speed at which a tramp's death (with photo!) is published in the newspaper, apparently hours after his body was found. Looks like it was a long night! The whole story could definitely have benefited from a more relaxed time line, letting a day or two pass by here and there. Of course, you could always explain away two flaws with one stone if you considered that the reason the war machines look so silly (again with the cartoon faces) is that they had to be built from existing parts. Because while the assembly is possible overnight, those pieces had to be manufactured somewhere. Just a matter of hours with time to spare for human testing here!

Creepy hypnotized Dodo is, as ever, over-eager, but in all the wrong ways. It's not a particularly interesting performance, but at least it's not robotic, and I do like the bit where she stands facing the door, her back to us, for the longest time. After WOTAN tries to take over the Doctor via modem, Dodo shows her hand and the pain on the Doctor's face almost seems to come from his sense that Dodo's been lost. The Doctor practices a bit of hypnosis for the first time, something he'll get better at in other incarnations, and using his ring as a focus. And off he sends her to recuperate in the country, never to be seen again. Watching at the time, you wouldn't know she was gone for good. It just looks like one of those holidays the main actors occasionally get. She'll get one more mention in a later episode, but that's it for Jackie Lane. We hardly knew ye, Dodo, but then, there wasn't much to know.

As for Polly and Ben, it's only with hindsight that we know they've replaced Dodo as companion because they seem so well integrated into the plot. Polly is doing her job, and Ben comes round on her invitation for lunch, after they hit it off at the Inferno. They're the young couple who may get together at the end, but first they have to help the Doctor sort out the trouble in their lives. They'll survive if they're lucky. And yet, they've effortlessly slipped into the roles. Polly is matched to Dodo, both presented as secretaries in the previous episode, and the Doctor is already giving Ben life-threatening missions as if he were Steven or Ian, getting trapped in a war machine's efficient little spotlight.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Despite the somewhat silly war machines, collapsed time line, and soul-draining exit for Dodo (admittedly a character we never cared much about), Part 2 is the serial has a slick, filmic look and easily creates a fun new team in the Doctor, Ben and Polly.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This Week in Geek (19-25/03/12)


Got some DVDs this week, including three new Special Editions of Doctor Who stories I already own (what can I say?), Flying Guillotine II, The Muppets and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


DVDs: Justified Season 2 was, if anything, even better than the first, with the same commitment to character and dialog for an additional 13 episodes. New season means new villains, and the Bennett Family arc is a tighter than Season 1's Crowder story, with fewer detours (not that I minded them). The Bennetts are all incredible creations, especially Mags who is apparently based on a real life woman from Harlan County. She's the Ma Dalton of Kentucky. I can't wait to check out what's already cooking in Season 3. Can I wait for the DVD?! This particular release features no commentary tracks, but still some deleted scenes and outtakes, an excellent tour of the sets and locations with the production designer, and a making of for the season that talks to most of the actors.

Sometimes, Kung Fu Fridays are a little closer to home. Kung Fu Panda was this week's choice, and though it's an American film with lots of American stars doing the voices, the design ethic, philosophy and martial arts could all have come out of Hong Kong cinema. What else should I have expected from a movie that has two characters called the Shaw Brothers? Incredible animation on the action (the highlight for me is the chopstick fight) makes up for a certain lack of texture at times, though you know what? I wouldn't have minded if the whole movie had been in 2D like its awesome, Samurai Jack-type opening sequence. I was surprised to find Jack Black's performance pleasantly subdued. This isn't one of those Shreks or Aladdins filled to the brim with anachronisms. Authentic and sweet, and I won't mind putting up the sequel on a future Friday. Lots of extras here - a director's commentary, making of elements with behind the scenes footage of the actors reading the parts, lessons on how to make noodles and use chopsticks, a bit with Jack Black about saving the pandas, a music video, and some games for the kids.

Finally saw the latest Muppet movie, and it was as wonderful as everyone said it was. Jason Segel and Amy Adams are just the purest souls on screen, and perfect to act against everyone's favorite puppet ensemble. The songs are fun and memorable, and there's a lot of clever and funny meta-textual humor. Most genius of all, this isn't a story with the Muppets in it. It's a movie ABOUT the Muppet Show, and INCLUDES a Muppet show in it! So if you're a fan of the show as well as the characters, you're getting everything you need. Made me smile uncontrollably. I've got minor complaints - Amy Adams doesn't always look comfortable singing and dancing, and I miss Kermit's original voice - but these are small indeed. Oh, I have another one. I should have gone for a bigger, pricier edition of the DVD. Having loved the film, I'm wanting more than the 8-minute blooper reel (as fun as it is). But that one's on me.

You know what has pretty much the same plot as The Muppets? Greg the Bunny's pilot episode! I loved this series 10 years ago, and I think I love it even more now without Fox's airing everything out of order, though the network still messes with the show in other ways, the result being a less funny second half of the show's only season. It's not just Firefly and Futurama, is it? Greg the Bunny's world is the same as the Muppets', and these often get name-dropped in jokes about their personal lives (it's one of the funnest things, so of course, Fox nixes them), but the show's puppets are much closer to our world's celebs, as well as victims of racism (oooh, political, Fox to the rescue in the back half). Fox even forced Greg to get proper eyes instead of the cute little buttons he had. Boo. But for all that, even those last episodes aren't bad. The comedy is good, and when you've got comic talent like Seth Green, Eugene Levy and Sarah Silverman (well... they do make her play the straight man), you can't exactly go wrong. That first half though... real belly laughs. There's something about the incongruity of puppets with human vices that just reaches in and grabs me. Lots of extras too, from commentary with cast, crew and puppets, making of featurettes, deleted scenes, images, puppet auditions, a poignant existential Greg sketch from the AFI stuff, and many Easter eggs of outtakes.

Audios: Still going through my Lost Doctor Who episode CDs vol.4, featuring the second Doctor and Jamie (and various other companions), with linking narration from Frazer Hines. In The Faceless Ones, we lose Polly and Ben, almost as unceremoniously as Dodo (they disappear, but at least they do return for a proper farewell). As replacement companion, we get "brassy Scouser" Samantha Briggs, and I quite like her and wish she'd actually stayed on. The story takes place at Gatwick Airport, where aliens called Chameleons have been kidnapping young people. It's a fun story, with good performances, but it does end on a strange lack of resolution. On the one hand because a rare compromise is reached, and on the other because the TARDIS gets stolen at the end, sending us into the next story without that familiar groaning sound. So off we go...

The Evil of the Daleks is the first big, huge season finale the show's ever known. Unlike the Doctor Who we know today, all previous seasons ended wherever the scripts seemed to run out, not necessarily on the big moment (so the first Doctor's departure, for example, was 2 stories into the 4th season). Evil is MOMENTOUS. It finds a way to fill its 7 episodes with variety both in genre and character, and ends on the then-final destruction of the Daleks. The first third is in the present day, with the Doctor as a detective. The second is in the Victorian era, with Wellsian mad science and Jamie finally fed up with the Doctor's secrets (I've never loved him more), and the third on Skaro as civil war brews and the TARDIS finally picks up a new companion, Victoria. Raw sound from Skaro's destruction, the last scenes without narration, and a Dakek voice session are also included. The boxed set's bonus disc of interviews is included in this story's case, but if you don't mind, I'll review it at the very end when I do a piece on the box itself.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Kline '90

Doctor Who #124: The War Machines Part 1

"DDDOCTORR WHOO ISS RREQUIREDD. BRING HIM HERE!"TECHNICAL SPECS: The War Machines is available on DVD. First aired Jun.25 1966.

IN THIS ONE... Meet Ben and Polly! In swinging 60s London, the Doctor investigates the sentient computer WOTAN who is taking control of people, including Dodo.

REVIEW: Though we've had little bits of 60s London before (Ian and Barbara's return home, Dodo's pick-up), we've never sen a complete adventure take place there. That, in addition to the various changes instituted by the production team, make this very different than what has gone before. In a way, it almost feels like a new pilot. Now that they've done away with episode-specific titles, the production is free to experiment with giving each serial a clearer identity. Each episode of The War Machines starts with a flickering title card in a "modern computer" font, with modem-like sounds in the background. I love the approach, but it's not one we'll see a lot of. The episode begins with building-top shot of the TARDIS materializing on location, and immediately, the focus is on the then-new Post Office Tower, a famous London landmark. We've seen that sort of thing before, but as background (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, for example), not as an actual plot point. The monster in this story will be housed there. It's telecommunications as a danger, as Ian Stuart Black continues to indulge his fascination with the evils of progress.

And though the Doctor is wearing his hat from the first episode, he's as off-model as he was in The Savages. As soon as he sees the Tower, his skin crawls like he's got Spidey-sense, and claims to have the same sensation when Daleks are nearby. And he magically gets into the Tower as a "computer expert" like he's already got UNIT credentials or psychic paper, though of course, neither yet exist. Obviously, he must've been up to something while Susan was going to school, but it's still a completely different way to handle the character. And what of WOTAN calling him "Doctor Who"? The computer seems to know a lot of things it shouldn't, and I don't think it's explained in the serial (so see Theories), but calling the hero Doctor Who isn't even a true fact (or is it? there is evidence that points to the "Who" sound at least being part of his true name, although it might be the name he gave at the door, one of his aliases like John Smith). WOTAN is much like Colossus of Forbin Project fame (the book came out in 1966 too... connection?) - a living internet who wants to do away with human beings. Unlike Colossus, he's also got the ability to hypnotize people through sound, sending a coded message via airborne or phone line modem. It's especially creepy if you're a Dollhouse fan. Where WOTAN fails is in his design. The fact that they've given him a face, not unlike the one worn by the Toymaker's robot, in fact, is rather silly. But the superimposed hypnotic disc and eerie music when he does his thing is good and serves the 60s atmosphere.

Speaking of 60s-isms, Dodo is nearly invisible in the story even though she plays a big part. Why? Polly, Polly, Polly, that's why. Anneke Wills' portrayal of the soon-to-be companion is fresh and sassy, warm and cheeky, fashionable and naturalistic. It puts to shame the character of Dodo, meant as a backgroundless cipher, vaguely childish in a children's television presenter kind of way, and a plain, dowdy one at that. In contrast, Polly isn't only connected to her world, with a job and friends who would miss her were she to leave, but constantly making new connections, here with Dodo and then with sullen sailor Ben. Polly's world is the swinging 60s and she knows where all the fabbest clubs are - the Inferno is a strange grotto of a place - places where Dodo melts and disappears, just as her personality (what little there is of it) will be absorbed into WOTAN's network. Michael Craze as Ben is by comparison the lesser of the two new cast members, but still makes an impression. He's got that period slang down (birds and duchesses, oh my) which is sure to bug the Doctor, and a deep need for adventure. He didn't sign up for no barracks duty! He's quick to come to Polly's defense and can handle himself in a fight. It's like these guys are auditioning to be new, younger, hipper versions of Ian and Barbara, and they just got the part.

THEORIES: I've addressed why WOTAN would call the Doctor "Doctor Who" in the main review, but what about its knowledge of what the acronym TARDIS stands for? Has the Doctor left this information somewhere in history to be indexed in WOTAN's considerable databanks? Or is there a more immediate answer? Is it, for example, in contact with the TARDIS itself? We've seen it take control of people through phone lines, and the TARDIS does have a phone in its exterior shell. Could the Post Office Tower be broadcasting a signal that can be picked up by other machines like the TARDIS? Maybe it's even why the Doctor felt something was off as soon as he stepped out. If WOTAN has access to at least some information from the TARDIS' databanks, that would make it even more dangerous, and perhaps even have sparked its leap to sentience. Alternatively, might we see in its Nordic call sign an echo of the evil god Fenric? If an entity like that was behind the computer, it could explain why it has so much knowledge and power, though the guiding hand behind WOTAN would not be revealed by serial's end. And then there's the novel Original Sin that claims Tobias Vaughn (The Invasion) funded the research that created WOTAN, so there's a Cyberman connection there, if you want to acknowledge it.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It feels like a new beginning, and Polly especially makes a great first impression. It's amazing how often we'll return to this episode's structure in future.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - March 24th

"If you treat action figures like statues, you might be a geek..."

Had to work last weekend and missed my show, so as a penalty, I've given myself a challenge: To play 7 songs that reference one of the 7 founding members of the Justice League of America. Hope you like my choices. If you couldn't listen or understand the French interventions, I supply the episode's playlist, with You-Tube links where available.

Intro tune: Doctor Who IX - Murray Gold

Wonder Woman Theme
Geek News: This week's headlines include news of a new Doctor Who companion, and Michael Bay's take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Ring Capacity - Kirby Krackle (that's Green Lantern down)
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews
Aquaman's Lament - The Motion Sick
Fais de moi un cowboy - WD-40 (not on the Internet, sadly)
TV recommendation: Justified
Long Hard Times to Come (Justified Theme song) - Gangstagrass and T.O.N.E.-Z
Movie recommendation: Young Adult
The Concept - Teenage Fanclub
Geek Band: Lemon Demon
The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny - Lemon Demon (mentions Batman)
Geeks in Love - Lemon Demon
Atomic Copper Claw - Lemon Demon
Superman Song - Crash Test Dummies
Geek 101: Death and superheroes
The Ballad of Barry Allen - Jim's Big Ego (and with the Flash, I'm 6 out of 7)
Les Sentinelles de l'Air - Kermess (the title is the French name of the Thunderbirds)
U.F.O. - Kermess
Jon Jonez - ErbaKnight (and Martian Manhunter completes the set!)
Napster Voodoo - Les Martiens (not available on the Internet)
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme remix of the week:
Surfwho - Sobermo

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 #418: Let's Be Friends Again's Many Supermen

Source: Let's Be Friends Again webcomic (2011-2012)
Type: SpoofCurt Franklin and Chris Haley's webcomic takes the piss out of mainstream comics every couple days, so Superman has obviously turned up a few times. Whether it's as the star of alien films (above), or flying Jesus around on his back...
...or being accused of hipsterism...
...or being written by regular guys...
...Curt and Chris always bring the funny. Lots more where that came from, follow the link at the top of the post!

Doctor Who #123: The Savages Part 4

"And if ever you need the benefit of my wisdom again, I trust and hope you will allow me to express myself with my own free will, rather than place me in an oven, and try and cook it out of me."TECHNICAL SPECS: Except for some tiny clips shot on film from a television screen, no video exists of this episode. I have, as usual, used a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Jun.18 1966.

IN THIS ONE... With the help of a Doctorized Jano, the Doctor destroys the city dwellers' means of exploiting the savages, and Steven stays behind to help the planet's two populations reconcile.

REVIEW: As they dragged him, zombie-like, through corridors and patches of wasteland, I thought for a second there that Hartnell would be denied yet another performance on his own show. Thankfully, the Doctor wakes up from his daze sooner than later and gets back to the things he's really good at doing - thinking ahead, taking a moral stand, and saying goodbye to companions. There's quite a bit of action in the episode, mostly thanks to Steven's handiness with a light gun (completely at odds with how he handled himself in The Gunfighters), but without video, those sequences come off as terrible noise. Somehow, I don't think they were that spectacular on screen either. Still, it keeps Steven on the front line, and makes him a character to be admired by the savages.

The real focus of the episode is on the Doctor turning Jano so the Elder can put a stop to his culture's exploitation of another. It seems that the transference process has given Jano some of the Doctor's morality (a relatively recent development for him, you could argue), and can't now allow it to continue. The fact that the Doctor and Jano have the same idea on how to resolve matters may confirm my theory that some telepathic link was at work between the two men. The Doctor claims to know this was going to happen, so unless he's lying (see Rule #1), we have to entertain the possibility that he was mentally active during the incident, unlocking something in Jano's brain. The scientist Sento appears completely amoral, buying into the vicious circle that the Savages are incapable of development so should be used as a resource, while that use prevents them from developing in the first place. But there's hope for the culture in the person of Exorse who, after a struggle with his loyalties, chooses to side with the Savages, finally convinced by Nanina's compassion. In other words, it's possible for these two societies to come together, and not just because the Doctor's blown up their lab. (It's a small world when the one lab has the means to drain the entire Savage population of its vitality.)

It's not a bad story for Steven to go out on, and we're lucky that a number of the brief clips we have are from his departure scene. Small moments, like Dodo running to him, or the Doctor's proud handshake, Steven's look back before he leaves the room to become mediator. It's just about touching. The Doctor seems to push him into this destiny, much like he did with Susan (see Theories), but he 's no less sad about it. In comforting Dodo, he tells her that they mustn't look back, which has really become the Doctor's credo. An important line, that. Is it a satisfying end for Steven? Not entirely. They did set up his attraction to the future city and then his charisma with the Savages, so he CAN be seen as a man of two worlds. But is he the best man for the job? Rocket jock becomes diplomat? It's more like the Doctor's passed the buck, and though treaties can take a long time to forge, couldn't the Doctor and Dodo have stuck around until it was done? But those are contrivances we have to expect in this kind of a program.

THEORIES: Can the Doctor sense his companions' role in the Web of Time? There's some evidence that the TARDIS has some of that sense, landing where it can pick up people, or where it can drop them off. But this isn't the first time the Doctor's actively decided to drop someone off when they had every intention of staying with him. Is it a matter of sensing what points in time are fixed or safe for people displaced in history to thrive? The Savages takes place in the far future, perhaps even in the billions A.D. range like The End of the World and New Earth, so there's little risk of Steven damaging the timeline. The Doctor may not see the future, but he can at least see that Steven can contribute to history and have a life worthy of him without risk to the the fabric of space-time. He nudges him out of the nest in case another opportunity doesn't present itself.

VERSIONS: There is of course a Target novelization of this story, but I am unaware of any substantial changes it might make.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The action bits don't do much except keep Steven present in this, his last episode. Noisy, but worthy.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Savages has a strong theme running through it, and of course, is important for Steven's departure. You'll sometimes get flashbacks to 100,000 B.C., but overall, a good Doctor vs. Utopia serial.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Doctor Who #122: The Savages Part 3

"Our ancestors were great artists. As time passes, we are less able to do such things. Most of our talents have been taken from us. Only our faith remains. And that they will never take."TECHNICAL SPECS: Missing from the archives, so a reconstruction had to be used (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Jun.11 1966.

IN THIS ONE... Jano gets infused with the Doctor's vitality... and personality! Meanwhile. Dodo and Steven follow the Savages into their caves.

REVIEW: With this episode, Jano becomes the first villain to officially lust after a Time Lord's body/power/immortality (I made the argument for the Toymaker, but it wasn't really spelled out). His plan backfires, and having received all of the Doctor's drained vitality, he becomes a man with a split personality, sometimes talking in the Doctor's voice (see Theories). Now, it would seem producer Innes Lloyd toyed with the idea of replacing the difficult Hartnell permanently with this plot device, though I'm not sure how serious that is. Imagine Frederick Jaeger as the 2nd Doctor, forced to do his hyperactive Hartnell impression for the next three years. It wouldn't have been fair to the actors involved, nor to the audience. When you think about it, regeneration is an awesome device, especially compared to the cheap tricks that seem to have been tested and rejected throughout this era.

With the Doctor out of the way (again!), Steven and Dodo get to drive the bulk of the episode, and for Steven at least, it's a return to form. He hasn't been this heroic for weeks (or on SBG time, days), defeating Exorse and stealing his light gun with ingenuity. His willfulness is so alien to the Savages who have been drained of all energy and imagination that they can't help but fold and follow him. I do wish they hadn't trotted out the old "they must be gods" cliché, but same difference. Dodo is less useful. That is to say she hovers somewhere between uselessness and liability.

The Savages do get to shine however, as we discover their caves are really ancient temples of amazing beauty, a sign that they were once a great people. The actors do a good job, even on audio, of portraying tangible fear and despair at their situation. They're all massively depressed after decades (centuries?) of forcible drainage. And yet, there's hope for them in the character of Nanina who manages to charm the otherwise brutish Exorse with her compassion. So they haven't been drained of all good qualities after all...

THEORIES: So how does the Doctor "possess" Jano in this story? Well, we know the process used drains intelligence and creativity as well as health and beauty, and Jano is obviously after the Doctor's massive intellect and potential for time travel. What he didn't contend with is perhaps the Doctor's low-level telepathy. By sharing the Doctor's bio-field, Jano may have created a connection there that allows the Doctor to interfere with his thought patterns. Or this may just be because he gave himself an overdose, and fact is, he could have absorbed the personality of a Savage if he had wanted. But I like my first theory better.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Good development on the Savages themselves, the return of a more heroic Steven (in the nick of time), and an intriguing personality switch make this one rise above its fairly standard tropes.