Monday, April 30, 2012

Superman Says No to the Wildstorm Merger

From Superman #8, in which scripter Dan Jurgens lets it be known to Misters Johns and Lee that architects of the nuDCU they may be, but it's really uncool to trash your Justice League book in THEIR Justice League book. In other words, Superman may be stuck in that god-awful JLA, it doesn't mean he has to be happy about participating in any damn Daemonites crossover event or whatever Jim "Wildstorm" Lee is imposing on the DCU.

Or am *I* reading too much between the lines of this one speech?

Doctor Who #160: The Faceless Ones Part 2

"Since I'm obviously about to be arrested may I make one last request?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Missing from the archives, like 3 other episodes of this story. It's a story I've experienced in BBC's narrated audio series, but have gone for a reconstruction in this case. First aired Apr.15 1967.

IN THIS ONE... Potential companion Samantha Briggs is introduced, and just in time too as Polly is replaced by a Chameleon and Ben disappears as well.

REVIEW: Since I've blown the whistle on Sam Briggs in the teaser above, I might as well start with her. She shows up at Chameleon Tours with a rather amazing hat, looking for her brother who is one of the Chameleons' victims and ends up flirting with Jamie. I think Pauline Collins would have been a fine companion, myself. She's cute and has attitude, not unlike Polly in her first appearance, though a bit more forceful. She's obviously done her detective work here, and shows persistence, both good qualities, and the irony of her parents losing two children to extraterrestrial pilots would not have been lost on me. But I wonder if the flirtation we see here between her and Jamie would have carried on into the series, or if they would have been like Ben and Polly, a couple inactive on screen.

Poor Ben and Polly. Though they get a farewell scene in Part 6, this is their penultimate episode and it's not one to write home about even if Chameleon Tours provides the stamps. Ben finds a sweet spot to hide in a photo booth, but doesn't have very many speaking scenes before he finds Polly packed in a crate (the still are creepy and might lead you to think she's dead) and gets abducted himself. Anneke Wills does get to play the Chameleon version of herself, denying any knowledge of the Doctor and getting flustered by Samantha before Captain Blade decides to send her away. Gee, couldn't they at least have made use of her as a minor villain until the real Polly could be rescued?

As usual for Troughton stories, there's a fair amount of physical comedy, most of which is lost on audio. One thing I've noticed is that these comic bits of business aren't gratuitous, but advance or work within the plot. Comically hiding from the police with newspapers leads the Doctor to find a crucial clue in the Chameleon Tours ad. The photo booth refuge only works if they pose for pictures when patrons look in. And a rubber ball is used as a mock grenade to enable an escape (that would get you shot in an airport today). Meanwhile, I continue to be annoyed by the Commandant whose bored and impatient attitude towards everything at best achieves a comic deadpan, and at worst is obstructive for no better reason than to extend the story to 6 episodes. It's not even meant to be a red herring, even if it seems to reach for the Chameleons' own dispassionate performances.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Sam Briggs makes a good first impression, but sadly, Ben and Polly get disposed of rather unceremoniously.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

This Week in Geek (23-29/04/12)

Buys

On the strength of the Game of Thrones tv series, I went out and got the first four books of The Song if Ice and Fire. 3000 pages should tide me over for the summer, right? Other books on my list included Darth Vader and Son (see below) and Chicks Dig Comics. As for DVD, most of which made their way to this week's reviews already, I got the most recent Fright Night (directed by the guy who made Lars and the Real Girl?!), Gunless, True Lies, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: In preparation for MI4's release, I decided to watch Mission Impossible's second season, which is likely where the show really hit its stride. Peter Graves as Jim Phelps replaces Steven Hill's Dan Briggs and is immediately more iconic, but it's all look and voice, because the characters are basically ciphers (no explanation is given as to how the change happened or why Jim's even got Dan's apartment). Cinnamon, Rollin, Barney, and Willy become less and less reliant on guest agents (aside from the occasional trained cat), and the show manages to veer away from its formulaic structure a couple times over the course of the season's 25 episodes. For me, MI is all about outrageous con jobs perpetrated on generic communist countries and criminal syndicates, and as long as that's delivered, I'm entertained.

Ghost Protocol, I found, managed to pay tribute to the original series a lot more than any of its forebears (not difficult, mind you). There was the opening sequence montage with the fuse, the smoky finish, and though Ethan Hunt's skill set is still very stunt heavy, still some con job sequences like on the show. It did bug me that it was squarely set in MI3 (i.e. Alias Lite) continuity, but the central disavowal did lead to more old school MI stuff than usual as the technology broke down. Tom Cruise is starting to look tired, so it looks like they're grooming Jeremy Renner to take his place as the action hero. He's not a bad choice, if a little over-exposed these days. Paula Patton likewise does the job without being too remarkable. And Simon Pegg is always watchable. Some say this is the best of the franchise and I think I agree. It had the most solid character work to awesome action set piece ratio of them all. Clearer than the first, and less gimmicky than the second. This edition of the DVD has a couple of deleted scenes with director's commentary and a couple of very slight featurettes about one stunt sequence and one prop from the film.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a completely different take on the spy genre, realistic and gritty, but more than that, it exudes TEXTURE. The story is edited like a puzzle, one that Gary Oldman's George Smiley must assemble to find a high-level mole, and each frame is packed with information. What information is relevant to the case? Why are we seeing what we're seeing? The brilliance of this adaptation of John LeCarré's novel (and I haven't seen the previous one, mind, or read the book) is how it forces viewer involvement in this way. It's also got a powerful cast of British actors, including John Hurt, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch, and plays up its 1970s setting through the earth tones of the set design. The DVD has an audio commentary between director Tomas Alfredson and Oldman which I'd rate as fair, a few deleted scenes that really deserved to be deleted, and a 15-minute making of mostly made up of talking heads that nevertheless does the job.

And another 180-degree turn for the spy genre: I watched True Lies as well. (Don't worry, the spy genre is still represented on my "unwatched" shelf.) Hadn't seen it in at least 15 years, but my, couldn't James Cameron put an action sequence together in those days! In only two dimensions, too! Definitely one of Arnold's better action films (TOM Arnold's as well, ha!) and a sweet romantic comedy about a married couple reconnecting as well. I still wonder how they made some of those sequences work, but alas, I've only a got a cheapo DVD with an animated menu, but no extras. Ah well. Perhaps one day I'll find a special edition on sale and decide to upgrade. James Cameron would never make another movie I 100% enjoyed again after this... (Titanic is really two movies, a good historical recreation and a terrible melodrama, and let's not talk about the Great Satan of our movie age, the Third Dimension.)

Canada should make more westerns. Or at least western comedies like Gunless. I'll like almost anything with Paul Gross in it, so this purchase was a no-brainer. Gross plays the Montana Kid who unknowingly crosses the Canadian border when running from bounty hunters and becomes a fish out of water in a small Canadian frontier town (filmed in southeastern British Columbia) where, well, they just don't have pistols. The plot isn't particularly groundbreaking, and I'm sure you can imagine how it ends, but there are a lot of charming and funny surprises 'til then. Best of all is that the film doesn't shy away from examining the gunslinger's conscience, how he justifies what he's done, and how much it weighs on him. There is truth here. But no DVD extras.


Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated means to investigate the way the MPAA rates films, in particular why some are given the NC-17 kiss of death as opposed to others, and who the secret group of raters actually are. On the one hand, the documentary speaks with various film makers about their experiences with the MPAA and discusses its history and practices. On the other, it features a Michael Moore-like stunt in which Dick hires a private investigator to ferret out who the raters are (circa 2005) and follows him in his own bid to submit the documentary for a rating, and the following appeals process. There is some meandering as we get to know the female private eye, but it's not uninteresting and Dick manages to craft usable segues out of the slice-of-life material. Between the thrill of the chase in the Moore-type stuff and the comedy inherent in the system's absurd hypocrisy (spoiler: it helps the studios, but harms the independents), This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a fun and illuminating document on censorship in the movie business. The extras add a lot more information, thanks to a commentary track, a great bunch of deleted sequences, and brief Q&A with the film maker.

17th-century Korea is the setting for War of the Arrows, a 2011 action picture that builds its characters slowly in the first hour because it will turn into an incredible, breakneck chase in the second. On her wedding day, Ja-in, her new husband and much of her village are taken into slavery by Chinese forces, and it's up to her brother Nam-yi to come to their rescue. Nam-yi is an incredible archer, but the wedded couple aren't exactly without skill either. With two different Chinese forces (blues and reds) to defeat, there's plenty of martial violence (I said martial, not marital), mostly perpetrated on deserving villains. The drama stands up too, with good charismatic actors throughout. Animal lovers beware however. It's all fake, but a fairly remarkable variety of animals get killed as well. The DVD's extras are all marketing tools, a bunch of trailers and a 5-minute promotional featurette.

Books: Darth Vader and Son is a charming little picture book from cartoonist Jeffrey Brown who, though he's still using a naive indy style, has really improved in my eyes since, say, Clumsy. His characters are well-posed and speak through body language, it's lovely stuff. In the book, Luke Skywalker is turned into a young boy celebrating Father's Day with Darth Vader. Each page is its own gag, usually done as a single panel, alternating between Star Wars jokes (using lines and scenes from the films) or sweet father-son moments. It's incredibly cute and pays loving tribute to the franchise AND to positive father-son relationships as well. Out from LucasBooks (who really don't need your money), another home run from Jeffrey Brown (who really deserves it).

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Slings & Arrows
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - A Midwinder's Dream

Doctor Who #159: The Faceless Ones Part 1

"As a matter of fact, he's just gone to look for a dead body. Yes! It's going to be one of those days, isn't it?"TECHNICAL SPECS: One of 2 surviving episodes of this 6-part story, Part 1 is found on the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. First aired Apr.8 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands at Gatwick Airport and the crew immediately gets involved in a strange murder case.

REVIEW: Because it was all grubby reconstructions, I didn't even notice they changed the opening sequence, but here, in a surviving episode, it's quite striking. The usual swirls now resolve into the second Doctor's impish face, though the process makes him look initially like some multi-eyed monster. It's pretty cool. The film looks like it then burns and the title of the show is revealed in a more serifed font before the camera feedback goes back to strange bubbling patterns. Getting the Doctor's face starts a tradition that would last more than 20 years, and one New Who fans dreaded when there were rumors of bringing it back for the 11th Doctor. I don't blame them as they never worked right... except here. The 2nd Doctor's opening is without a doubt the best use of the Doctor's face in the credits. The music's also starting to change (fewer shhhhes), but a new arrangement won't match the new visuals until the next episode.

As for the story, we've landed in what looks like 1960s England and you know what that means. Ben and Polly are about to leave. It's a particular weakness of the "lost in time" format that any attempt to do a present day story will likely force the lost companions out. Maybe that's why the second Doctor took to traveling exclusively with people from the past or future from this point on. The present day does afford a lot of opportunities for location filming and the production team makes the most of its Gatwick locations. The TARDIS on the runway, playing hide and seek around different hangers or behind an airplane's wheels, secreting bodies to the medical center, and motorcycles too! It adds a lot of scope, which the small sets otherwise used really couldn't do on their own. I do take issue with some of the sound design however. The crowd noises have so many children it sounds like they recorded a fun fair or preschool birthday party. Distracting.

The episode acts as a mystery to be solved, but lets out enough clues to keep you guessing. The murder of a policeman, some postcards, foreign stamps, disgruntled parents, humorless airline staff (at least Donald Pickering is good at pronouncing menacing scene-outs), but also incongruous technology, electric rayguns, picture phones, Polly not recognizing the rest of our heroes, and creepy zombie arms coming out of cupboards to get injections... The Doctor'll get to the bottom of it IF he can first defeat the airport's rampant bureaucracy. That, I have to admit, rankles. Ok, sure, the Doctor and Jaime don't have passports, but an airport official who laughs at the possibility of a murder? The Commandant at least plays along eventually (and temporarily), but he is a staple of these kinds of stories - the bureaucrat who is unwilling or slow to believe anything the hero says. These kinds of impediments tend to annoy me as much as it does the Doctor, especially when said bureaucrat still lets the heroes hang around instead of sending them to holding. No doubt, it has to do with a former GameMaster of mine who used to block everything we tried to do the same way. Come to think of it, he was a Doctor Who fan. Troughton and Hines try to get some smiles out of it anyway, with Jamie seeing absolutely no difference between flying beasties (I hate it when he says that though, it sounds childish more than "historical") and rayguns. His future is all one era to him. The Doctor keeps stepping on his foot to shut him up, which is mildly amusing.

THEORIES: After Polly's very short haircut in the previous story, she gets off the TARDIS here with longer hair than she's ever had! It's great for writers who want to tell stories with this particular quartet, certainly. All those long months watching Polly's hair grow out and fighting monsters across time and space. (And yet, only one book is set during this time, The Roundheads by Mark Gatiss.) Alternatively, Polly may be wearing a wig or extensions, or the TARDIS could have untold coiffing powers (evidence of this exists, but only because actors tend to get haircuts regardless of the show's continuity).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Location shooting adds energy to the set-up for an otherwise slow and deliberate mystery. Creep factor steadily rising.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - April 28th

"If you've named your kids after character from Battlestar Galactica, you might be a geek..."

True story. When I used to work in a medical clinic, I handled files of all the Rodriguez kids who had names like Apollo, Athena, Starbuck and... Superman. Little Superman Rodriguez would be around 25 now. Episode 13! I can feel the bad luck voodoo already (why do my shoelaces keep getting untied?). Technical difficulties next? We'll see. As I write this we're a few minutes before it all starts. If you couldn't listen or understand my Frenchie French French, I supply the episode's playlist, with You-Tube links where available.

Intro tune: Doctor Who IX - Murray Gold
Introductions
In The Garage - Weezer
Geek News: This week's headlines include stuff about D&DNext and the invention of a real life sonic screwdriver
Captain America - Styx
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews, including Popeye #1
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man - Face to Face
Star Wars - Bill Murray
Comics recommendation: Darth Vader and Son
Way Down in the Hole - Blind Boys of Alabama (The Wire theme)
10 TV shows to get into this summer
10. Chuck
9. Doctor Who
8. Buffy/Angel
7. Eureka
6. Being Human
5. The Wire
4. Game of Thrones
3. Spaced (discussed at greater length)
1 and 2 later in the show...
Let Me Show You - Camisra
Geek Band: Exterio
Superhéros - Exterio
S.O.S. Fantômes - Exterio (that's the French name of the Ghostbusters, BTW)
Sylvester Stallone - Exterio
Le robot-roi - Kevin McIntyre
Geek 101: Exam results!
Life on Mars - David Bowie
TV recommendation: Life on Mars
The Jean Genie - David Bowie
Battlestar Galactica UK Theme - Bear McCreary
TV recommendation: Battlestar Galactica
All Along the Watchtower - Bear McCreary feat. vocals by Bt4
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme of the week:
Dr Who Metal Theme - Beyond the Epilogue

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.

Doctor Who #158: The Macra Terror Part 4

"Bad laws were made to be broken."TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode does not exist in the archives. As usual, a reconstruction has been used. First aired Apr.1 1967.

IN THIS ONE... Our heroes blow the Macra up and there's rather a lot of cheerleading and dancing.

REVIEW: There are a lot of visuals I'm keenly missing in this episode. The Doctor is obviously being a pest, but we can't see his antics. There's Jamie's protracted escape through the tunnels. There's whatever sense of scope was achieved with the room full of Macra. And there's Jamie dancing the "Highland Fling". Whereas the first episode of The Macra Terror sounded like it was made with audio in mind, the story's gotten progressively visual, all the more a shame that it's entirely missing. Some of the things that remain thanks to the audio don't exactly make it shine, especially early on - the overly technical talk of math and pipes, and Polly's high-pitched whimpering (where is the sassy character Ian Stuart Black wrote in The War Machines?).

It's a good thing then that the back half makes up for it. There's the cheerleading team joyfully chanting fascist slogans, but just as dissonant is Control's increasingly strident voice, Control out of control if you will, completely hysterical from behind the still photo of its Big Brother figure. And despite the whimsical jingles and giant crab monsters, make no mistake, this is a story about fascism - state authority taken to its terrifying extreme - first and foremost. It's very hard to see anything but a parallel to Nazi Germany when our heroes are trapped in a gas chamber for being "strangers".

I think I like this story so much because it makes the Doctor a real force for anarchy, which is the defining trait of the second Doctor. His simple presence in an ordered utopia is so completely disruptive that the highest authority melts down and rather wonderfully, the Doctor even has to call Ola out for being unhappy. Tut, tut. Why the Pilot turns in the end is a bit of a cheat, however, but then the Doctor's convinced people to follow him in similar situations before. To show that the Doctor is a true anarchist, he doesn't just overthrow Control, he makes a quick exit as soon as he hears a rumor that they want to make him leader of the Colony. The Doctor will overthrow corrupt and totalitarian regimes, sure, but you will never be able to qualify such as a "coup".

VERSIONS: The Target novelization expands on the holiday camp, but there are no notable differences between it and the broadcast episode I am aware of.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - From the technical business left over from the previous episode to an anarchic victory over the forces of order, the episode grows to feel more like Part 1 as it moves along. And that's a good thing in my book.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Though there's a lull in the middle when the regulars are forced to work in the mines, The Macra Terror is, overall, a real statement about what this Doctor is all about. Troughton quickly found the character in his first few stories, but this is where the program decides on a theme for him (shades of which have been present since Power of the Daleks, of course). He'll be fighting mind control a heck of a lot from now on.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in May 2012

Tonight, War of the Arrows. Next month? Well, it's "May I Ask for...?" Month, featuring requests by my KFF crew, including a couple of their own purchases. Consequently, it's going to be one crazy month of May.

I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok - The name of this Korea film is truly bizarre, but it's by the director of Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook, so... the seal of quality? I'm sure KFF member "King Boxer" (we all have such nicknames) hopes so. It's in HIS collection after all.

Blood Brothers - AKA Chinese Vengeance AKA Dynasty of Blood. Most of my crew will be up north for an improv tournament, so I thought I might as well throw in a classic Shaw Brothers movie from good old Chang Cheh, featuring two of his favorite stars, so often seen together (as well as one this month's poster), Ti Lung and David Chiang. The story of a trio of bandits who join the army was retold in 2007 in The Warlords, which has been featured on KFF in the past.

Alien vs. Ninja - "By the makers of Robo-Geisha" is most definitely NOT the seal of quality, but it should be entertaining nonetheless. I didn't buy this, so we can all blame KFF member Furn Sai Yuk for the honor of seeing something that likely, will never be unseen.

Return of the Bastard Swordsman - When The Bastard Swordsman ended some three months ago, the whole crew made me order the sequel. For one thing, there was one bad guy who didn't get his due (he's on the DVD cover, CONFIRMED), and for another, Bastard Swordsman was just the craziest wuxia pic we'd seen in a long time. Silkworm style indeed.

So that's the very colorful line-up for May (there's a chance we'll invert the last two depending on Furn's work schedule), and if you're part of the gang, I'll see you there. If you're not close enough, I'll let you know in my weekly reviews if these are worth your time.

Doctor Who #157: The Macra Terror Part 3

"Did you hear that rhyme? The man who wrote that ought to be sent to the Danger Gang - not us."TECHNICAL SPECS: Missing from the archives except for some very brief clips, I supplemented my experience of this episode with a reconstruction. First aired Mar.25 1967.

IN THIS ONE... Betrayed by Ben, the Doctor, Polly and Jamie are set to work in the gas mines.

REVIEW: Though it's not yet a cliché, it will be - the Doctor and his companions spend their time in captivity during the third episode of a four-part story as a way to pad the story out. At least it's not a matter of escaping only to be captured again by episode's end. Our heroes are put to work in the Colony, one by choice (Ben) and the rest by force. There's a lot of technical business that shows how dangerous mining the Macra's yum-yum gas is, and it all resolves in a stare-down between the mighty crabs and Jamie in a tinfoil apron, but very little happens to advance the plot. Even the bits where the Doctor works out what's happening is based on nonsense math and engineering. At least Troughton's Doctor keeps the bafflegab vague, so it's never too annoying.

What makes the episode worth watching/listening anyway is Troughton (no surprise there). He puts on a childish act that affords him every chance at comic business. He has fun working out the mining formula, covets a gas mask as if it were a hat, argues over who should be Danger Gang supervisor (not him until Jamie hints he could use the position to commit sabotage), and critiques the Colony's jingles. On the more serious side, he plays host to Ben's slow deprogramming, asking all the right questions, but never pushing his young friend. It's times like these you can't believe the BBC wiped so many of his performances.

As for the Colony, I was right - the Macra did make them forget everything that happened, so it really doesn't matter to them if they show up on CCTV. We get a few more jingles and the Colonists are heard to speak in slogans and platitudes. I know what it reminds me of! The Paranoia RPG! Obviously, it used all the same utopian source material this did, but had the whimsy and comedy too. The Computer/Control is my friend! And in the place of Friend Computer, the Colony has the Macra, who are thankfully shot in shadow once again. There's every reason to believe that no matter how naff the actual prop might have been, John Davies knew how to direct the bloody great things.

THEORIES: So now you know why the devolved Macra who made a cameo in Gridlock were doing in New Earth's smog. They eat gas! Just how they became the giant smog vermin of the universe is theorizing for another day.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - More or less limited to the TARDISeers' punishment for poking their nose in, the plot could stand a little more movement. There are still bits and pieces to enjoy, especially Troughton's performance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

$#*! my Cyber Controller Says

Doctor Who #156: The Macra Terror Part 2

"The Macra! They're in control!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Aside from a few dark clips, this episode is missing from the archives. As usual, a reconstruction was used. First aired Mar.18 1967.

IN THIS ONE... Ben gets brainwashed, but Polly spots a Macra. And then the Macra eat an old man on tv.

REVIEW: Is it a coincidence that Medok is the only character with a beard? How much of this conformity vs. individuality story is inspired by the hippie movement? While all the good little drones share in an illusion of happiness, only Medok and the Doctor hold the other point of view. Polly and Jamie join them, but Navy-bred Ben falls on the side of the State. With a little help from brainwashing/sleep therapy, but the other kids got it too and still managed to snap out of it. What's so effective about Ben's mind control - a Doctor Who cliché already, surely - is that he isn't turned into a zombie. He's himself, just with an opposing point of view. We know it's unnatural, and that information has been uploaded into his mind (Colony law and the name of certain creatures, for example), but he might have come to the same opinions all by his lonesome, given the chance (if not have gone through the same extremes to denounce the Doctor). The Doctor DOES think he always knows better and doesn't always confer with his companions, it's true! And there's nothing wrong with helping the colonists who have treated you to comforts and luxuries. That's just being a good guest! Though Ben has been conditioned to deny he's seen the Macra, his personality hasn't changed. And that's really off-putting and interesting.

The episode is quite creepy. What you think is eerie incidental music turns out to be eerie Macra mating calls. The few clips that have survived thanks to the Australian censors show real terror on Polly's face and a Macra attack in the dark, a dark deep enough to cause nightmares. Even the camera work turns it into the Blair Witch moment of its day. And then there's Control, a Big Brother portrait that gets frantic at the very thought of the Macra (they don't exist!!!). When they push for it, the heroes get to see a live feed from Control where the picture is proven to be out of date and the poor Controller a gibbering mess of a man who soon gets attacked by a giant claw. Again, palpable terror. I kinda understand Australia on these (and thank them for their low threshold for violence). My only real complaint is that the Macra would allow a live feed to Control and that they would murder a man for all to see. Although they may be counting on their powers of persuasion to make everyone forget anyway...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A terror-filled and atmospheric horror piece, both existential and monstrous. I'd like to go into my attic right now and find it in worn old film reel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dial H for Haley's Circus

Ok, ok, it's not Haley's, where Dick Grayson grew up, but I've got to find words that begin with "H" every week! Give me a break! These are the heroes from the last story in Adventure Comics #480, in which it becomes rather obvious that Vicki's friend Frannie is gay. Pretty rare for 1981, I should imagine.

Case 22: Adventure Comics #480
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: It's made clear that Chris' Dial looks like a normal watch until he reaches for the letters and the clockface "mystically disappears". When it glows in response to Vicki's Dial being activated, it retains its camouflaged form however. There's every indication that the hero forms come pre-packaged with an intuitive knowledge of their powers and name, because it is inferred that Chris changes his identity's name from "Cosmic Cowboy" to "The Wrangler" because it's a better name.
Name: Midnight Wisp (bit complicated, but not terrible)
Created by: William Wong, age 24, of MSVL, California
Costume: A dark purple and powder blue leotard whose lines are broken up by some big Captain America-style boots. Wisp also sports one of those weird "flip" hairstyles Infantino is always drawing.
Powers: The "Fastest Gal in Fairfax" can run at superhuman speeds and can shake off high-speed collisions fairly quickly.
Sighted: In Fairfax, fighting Battering Ram to a standstill (he escapes).
Possibilities: Pretty generic, but her name might inspire something. Is she a nocturne hero? If so, why? Make her patrol Route 66 at night and you've almost got a mini-series.
Integration Quotient: 15% (the DCU has had many more interesting super-speedsters)
Name: Solar Flare (a passable name, if only it truly represented his abilities)
Created by: Bob Skinner, age 15, of Joplin, Missouri
Costume: The Infantino hair flip is reproduced as, what are those? Feathers? Yeah, antennae and feathers. Otherwise, it's more or less a yellow and orange version of Doctor Light's outfit, with some clashing white accessories that, I suppose, he didn't have time to dye.
Powers: Solar Flare's solar powers allow him to fly and to deliver a "power punch" accompanied by a flash of light. It is inferred that he has a limited supply of energy, one that probably regenerates in sunlight.
Sighted: In Fairfax, fighting Battering Ram to a standstill (he escapes).
Possibilities: I don't see many. A one-shot deals in which he fights Arthur Light, possibly revealing an origin connection before he dies?
Integration Quotient: 5% (looks ugly, sounds stupid, not much of a shot)
Name: Strato-Girl (sounds like a Legionnaire and dresses like one too)
Created by: Michael Bise, age 15, of Paige, Texas
Costume: Starto-Girl shops at the same place Phantom Girl does, with lots of holes all around her costume. The ovals around the waist and arms are particularly reminiscent of the heroine from Bgtzl. Strato-Girl also has a diamond-shaped "window" on her chest, but it is fairly discreet. Her white high-heeled boots are the only part of the costume that's not a purplish gray.
Powers: The "Mistress of the Wind" has absolute power over local air, allowing her to fly by riding the currents. She can use wind as a precise attack, or to create a cyclone over an area, by blowing directed air from her mouth.
Sighted: In Fairfax. She helped capture Battering Ram before he could do his former Circus boss harm.
Possibilities: She could easily have been an early Legionnaire and her powers are reproduced by any other member, not really. Or is it Super-Breath by any other name?
Integration Quotient: 40% (a fetching look and powers you don't see every day, albeit low-key ones, might score her a role in a team book)
Name: The Wrangler (better than Cosmic Cowboy, I agree)
Created by: Tom Reed, age 24, of Totono, Illinois
Costume: Basically the good guy version of Terra-Man, the red and white complement each other well, in a rodeo kind of way, but as often happens in Dial H, there are too many colors vying for attention, in this case, brown, green and yellow too. Still, the goggles take him to that "outer space" level and who doesn't love a bull's head symbol?
Powers: The Wrangler's cosmic lasso can create a flying energy horse for him to ride, and is of course quite handy when you're looking to rope a bad guy. The Wrangler's rodeo fighting skills are without parallel.
Sighted: In Fairfax, helping capture Battering Ram.
Possibilities: Plenty. There are lots of places in the American West and Midwest that could do with a superhero like this, perhaps one whose secret identity is working in a traveling rodeo. He might even have a connection to the pre-Crisis Terra-Man that could be mined. I'm not calling for a solo series, but he could become as big as, say, Marvel's Texas Twister.
Integration Quotient: 75% (if only to see him square off against Wonder Woman)

Bonus Supervillain
Name: Battering Ram (it works, but could us a "The" in front)
Created by: David Wile, age 18, of Nova Scotia, Canada (his second character in the issue)
Costume: Battering Ram has orange skin and metallic ram's horns curving around his face, so he could be some kind of alien or mutant. His dark purple suit works in the context of Circus work, but those big white buttons that go from throat to crotch have got to go.
Powers: He can ram things and people with his horns with enough destructive power to blow up a 6-foot-thick brick wall or smash a police car. It doesn't seem quite so harmful to superheroes, however.
Sighted: He came to Fairfax with a traveling circus and was fired for stealing from the ticket office. He was eventually apprehended by Fairfax's heroes on his second attempt to get revenge.
Possibilities: Newer heroes are always looking for misshapen grunts against whom to prove their mettle. At best, Battering Ram would recur only to get his ass handed to him, or perhaps as DC's own version of the Circus of Crime.
Integration Quotient: 35% (there's always a place for a supervillain goon, but there are so many of them already, competition's gotta be pretty fierce)

More disposable heroes and villains coming to you soon!

Doctor Who #155: The Macra Terror Part 1

"Nothing succeeds like success."TECHNICAL SPECS: Sadly, The Macra Terror is missing from the archives, and though I've experienced the Wills-narrated audio, I've used a reconstruction for purposes of this review. First aired Mar.11 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in a happy colony and get a make-over, but one man knows the truth.

REVIEW: What's immediately notable about The Macra Terror is the soundscape. The opening scenes set to suspenseful heartbeat. The happy jingles of the Colony. The echo effect added to voices to give a sense of scale. So it makes a good audio, but man, I still yearn for the video on this. The proletariat is pacified not only with music, but with majorettes. The comic business at the refreshing center, as the Doctor gets combed and pressed and panics until he can return to his frumpy self must've been highly entertaining. And what of Jamie, fighting off an army of manicurists so he won't be branded a metrosexual like Ben? The night scenes look moody from the tele-snaps, and might even make the monster acceptable. Not that it isn't, but these things are usually the least well realized elements.

The episode is all set-up, and it's really too bad that it feels the need to cheat. The Doctor takes an interest in Medok - who is either the only sane or insane man in the Colony - because he's seen the Macra claw on his time scanner in the previous episode. And yet, was that sequence even necessary? The colony is TOO perfect and its people TOO happy. A utopia is always suspicious to a man like the Doctor, especially one with elements so obviously pulled from Orwell's 1984! The episode would have been much more satisfying, in my opinion, if it had allowed the Doctor's natural curiosity to lead him to free Medok and then to the Macra. Now that the threat has revealed itself to the Doctor, perhaps we can forget this faux pas and get on with what is still up to now a well-produced story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A few break from the norm, at least, for the companions who get pampered. Sounds great. Might have looked good too. Shame about the plot contrivance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms

Being a travelogue of a blogger's summer vacation through the continent of Faerun.I suppose I was always meant to take this journey. As a big fan of Michael Palin's travelogues like 80 Days Around the World, Pole to Pole, Full Circle and the rest, I would lie awake wondering what other lands needed to be explored, especially for someone like me who was never very keen on travel. The only frontier left open to me was that of the Imagination, and thankfully, I found those Lands quite open to me.

I propose then my own Palinesque voyage through the continent of Faerun, which you might know as the Forgotten Realms. As I write this, I prepare to parachute down from a spelljamming ship to the planet Toril, on a spot, Luck Gods willing, conducive to the start of a summer-long adventure. Each week, I hope to send you a postcard from a different place on this biggest of continents. If I find the correct postage. I hope my inexperience as a traveler won't get me into too much trouble, but if I keep to the better roads, I shouldn't expect any problems. Any place I should absolutely visit? Who wants a souvenir?

Going down into dungeons is a big no-no.

So I hope you'll join me next week to find out just where I've landed. I'm gonna try to hit a city first. Never been much of a country boy. You think that'll be a problem?

Doctor Who #154: The Moonbase Part 4

"We've got enough madmen here already."TECHNICAL SPECS: The other surviving episode of this story, to be found on the Lost in Time DVD. First aired Mar.4 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The Cybermen are thrown into space by the Gravitron.

REVIEW: Wow, there are eleven Cybermen bearing down on the Moonbase, which is an enormous army in those pre-crowd duplication days. Plus, an artillery kit that fires an animated laser beam! You can, I think, pretty much excuse lapses in other aspects of the special effects, including the all-too spongy lunar soil (though I do like the advancing feet) and the fact there's an important disconnect between the base's interior and model exterior. This is our chance to actually see some of the visual ideas introduced in the previous episode, and naturally, some work better than others. For example, the Cybermen's psychedelic communications console is cool and trippy, and the converted Cyber-drones have some crazzzzzy hair. I've also noted there's a good reason for the future to be filled with so many pale walls - it's so the Doctor's dark figure stands out against them. The contrast was never this high back when the Doctor had white hair.

Of course, the story continues to offer some real head-scratching moments, both in terms of script and staging. The base crew must be very dense indeed if they can't see one of the drones walking among them and getting into the Graviton room! Hobson is particularly slow, exclaiming his "of course" long after a situation's been satisfactorily explained to the audience. Try to keep up, big guy. Patrick Barr gets some humor out of the part, but the script makes him irredeemably incompetent as the base's commander. So the characters are called on to make mistakes because they must, but the final solution isn't much better. I totally accept the use of the Graviton to shoot the Cybermen and their ships into space - cartoon sounds aside - but the notion floated (ha!) last episode that gravity was a particular weakness, preventing them from entering the Graviton control room, and... what, making them more susceptible to being flung out into space? That thread just doesn't track. On the subject of nonsense, I might also mention the time scanner at the end, a piece of kit that is never really used again and basically spoils elements of the next story for no other reason than to create a cliffhanger. Less of that, please.

It's not all bad though. While we might question to force of the dome's explosive decompression, it's funny to me that Polly's coffee-making skills once again save the day (via the tray). Ben and Jamie cooperate by ramming something into a Cyber-drone (hey, what happens to the "sleeper agents" after the Cybermen leave?). And the Doctor stands his ground bravely as the Cybermen fire on the base while everyone else ducks for cover. He realizes it wouldn't really matter, and it's fun to see him get a little weak in the knees when the moment of danger passes. The fate of the rescue rocket's screw, flying slowly headlong into the sun is nothing short of terrifying even if we don't see it. And then there's the joyous celebration at the end, which feels rather new to the program. Usually, the characters left behind have either been trapped in tumultuous events (many historicals), are seeing to their casualties, or at best, give bittersweet farewells to the TARDIS crew. I don't remember the last time an episode has ended on such high energy. The new Doctor's mission may have something to do with. Hartnell's was so often just running from events, the show just wasn't focused on providing a proper victory over the forces of evil. Now that the Doctor is fighting evil, we're allowed to revel in their defeat.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is called "Doctor Who and the Cybermen" and features a later Cyberman model on two of its three covers. It also makes Telos the Cyberman homeworld instead of Mondas.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - If Doctor Who is going to do camp SF, I'd rather have it be like this than The Underwater Menace's finale, i.e. pleasant nonsense devoid of lurid sadism.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Cybermen return to the program in a better, if more generic, form and will become the second Doctor's greatest foe. Let's just hope their future appearances will enjoy a stronger script.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Geoff Johns Doesn't Want You to Read These Books

If you're reading the flagship of the DC Universe, Johns is outright TELLING you which books you shouldn't read. And I don't just mean the Big Six acting like jerks and morons, though they do headline 10 other books. Johns is more direct about these other titles though:

Don't read Justice League International, cuz Batman says they suck.
Don't read Green Arrow, cuz he's so damn needy.

Don't read Stormwatch, cuz the Martian Manhunter is some kind of filthy traitor.
But you know what? Screw all that. There's only one book you really shouldn't read... and that's Justice League.

Doctor Who #153: The Moonbase Part 3

"Clever! Clever! Clever!"TECHNICAL SPECS: One of the two episodes missing from this story. I've used a reconstruction. First aired Feb.25 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The Cybermen take over the Moonbase, aiming to destroy the Earth with the Gravitron. No worries, Polly makes a cocktail that can melt them.

REVIEW: Finally, the speak! And I do like the raspy new electronic voice, flat and robotic where the previous attempt was an odd sing-song that tended toward ridiculousness. However, it is frequently difficult to make out just what the heck they're saying. They've taken over the Moonbase to use the Gravitron, and claim this isn't revenge for the destruction of Mondas. No, it's a question of remorseless survival and so, eliminating an enemy so the race is no longer under threat. I guess I understand why the Cybermen are so obsessed with survival - everything kills them! In addition to their Tenth Planet hypersensitivity to radiation, Polly manages to make a solution that melts their chest units! And then there's the outrageous idea that they might also be susceptible to gravity, which is why they need humans to operate the Gravitron. Gravity?! How does THAT work?

Simply put, it's more of Kit Pedler's supposed mastery of science. I'm pretty sure Polly's idea to mix every solvent together to create a super-solvent is bad chemistry too. I don't begrudge Polly the idea, or the fact that Jamie inspired it with his holy water reference - that's exactly the kind of resourcefulness I like in my companions - but by working it out TOO much, Pedler draws attention to how naff the solution actually is. Better not to know what's in the bottle, see? Another annoying Pedlerism is all the procedural space stuff. The Cybermen basically replace the humans for this episode, doing their own boring system checks and being very deliberate and technical about it all. But maybe it feels like that because the video is missing, as there are a lot of Moon surface scenes and action sequences, but it all just sounds like shuffling or music. Part 3 is a very visual episode and suffers a great deal in the audio format.

Jamie's awake by this point, and while Ben gets some of those action scenes we can't see, he continues to do badly. His jealousy is evident as he accuses the Scotsman of showing off for Polly, and his chauvinistic side comes out at the worst of moments. It seems that one of the boys could have been with the Doctor instead, though Troughton somehow makes the moment where he talks to himself work.

THEORIES: There are two questionable moments in the episode. First, there's the matter of the Cybermen claiming, once again, that they are emotionless, and yet patting themselves on the back for how clever their plan was. Truth be told, the Cybermen will continue to make the claim, and will continue to exhibit certain emotions. I offer this explanation - They haven't excised all emotion, only the emotions that prevent their society from functioning. It seems to arrogance and, to name another example, glee at the prospect of Earth's destruction, are still part of their emotional make-up. As might be denial, they probably think they really are without emotion. But things like guilt, sadness, empathy... well, who needs 'em?

The second Cyber-claim of note is that they seem to recognize the Doctor, leading some to speculate whether they have his face on record from events that have yet to transpire (The Invasion). It's more likely they've been monitoring the base and have heard the name, recognizing it from the events of The Tenth Planet.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Too visual to satisfy in soundtrack form, but what can we do? At least Polly makes herself useful and we can try imagining the spray bottle battles.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

This Week in Geek (16-22/04/12)

Buys

DVD buys this week: A combined edition of Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer, Doctor Who's The Daemons, and kung fu films The Supreme Swordsman and Return of the Bastard Swordsman (by popular request).

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Better late to the party than never. I watched Game of Thrones Season 1, and like most everybody else, I'm hooked. Yeah, I might even start reading the books (need a summer read anyway). This review won't manage to say anything that hasn't been said before, so I won't really try. I'll instead react to how everybody is always talking about the high level of sex, incest and violence in the show, to say that I found it no more extreme than what was in HBO's Rome. In fact, the two series have a lot in common. Game of Thrones' characters are better across the board, however, and I found myself quite involved in each and every story strand. In Rome, I only really liked Vorenus and Pullo's stuff. Thrones is a much bigger world, and there's no part of it I would dispense with. The DVD extras are, almost necessarily, disappointing. I question the worth, for example, of putting the same exact text pieces (on each character and place) on each of the 5 discs, especially since they hold very little information you can't get from watching attentively. Various episodes have commentary tracks with different groups of people, both in front and behind the camera (including one by author George R.R. Martin himself). The making of material is of good quality, though some clips do tend to repeat from one to the other, but that's because shorter featurettes develop subjects more briefly touched on in the main feature (character profiles, the show open, from book to screen, the Night's Watch, and the Dothraki language).

1968's The Sword of Swords was our Kung Fu Friday selection, an early Shaw Brothers picture staring the One-Armed Swordman himself, Jimmy Yu. I suppose that because Yu has only the single expression, all his characters must be treated abominably and suffer, suffer, suffer. He doesn't lose an arm here, but he still gets himself handicapped. The Sword of Swords is ostensibly about a magic sword everyone wants to get their hands on, and features a particularly nasty villain whose big move is always to hurt your family. There are longueurs, especially in the first hour as the hero refuses to man up, but each time violence erupts, it's shocking, brutal and surprisingly bloody. It probably wouldn't achieve those shocks it it were wall-to-wall action. A bit slow, then, and the lead isn't terribly engaging, but a memorable villain and dynamic, violent action makes The Sword of Swords better than many later Shaw Bros. productions.

It's Earth Day, so I decided to watch a postapocalypse movie in the planet's honor, though not one about environmental concerns. Of the 70s SF movies, The Omega Man has always seemed the runt of the litter. Based on the novel "I Am Legend", it features a world decimated by germ warfare in which a lone scientist - played by Charlton Heston - must cure the human race... well, so the trailer says because before he finds other uninfected humans, he's pretty much just out to kill 'em all. Infected survivors have been turned into albino monk zombies who come out at night to protest the evils of technology. The film has some surprising shots of empty cities (for 1971 at least), but is otherwise less memorable than other Heston pics of the same kind, hitting the Messianic symbolism a bit too hard at the end. At least, like most 70s SF, it does go pleasantly pear-shaped in the end. The DVD has a couple of short features - a brief retrospective featurette with a few of the surviving actors and one of the scriptwriters, and a vintage making of that talks to Heston a fair bit.

Audios: It was up to Steve Lyons, with The Architects of History, to finish the Klein arc of the 7th Doctor audio adventures and the final story is, unfortunately, a thing of too many parts. In the future, Klein has used a TARDIS to recreate the Third Reich, but her manipulations of the Web of Time are coming home to roost. Her final confrontation with the Doctor is what we all want to see (I mean, hear), but there's also the pesky problem of the moonbase being under siege by shark-like aliens, and that's where Lyons loses me. Not that these are bad adversaries, but I just always wanted to get back to Klein, and knew, in any case, that a reset button would make that whole plotline irrelevant anyway. There's also a subplot about one of the Doctor's companions from this alternate timeline, played by Being Human's Lenora Crichlow, that gets incredibly maudlin and disturbingly unsatisfying (how about one last scene for her?). Good ideas, all of them, but they needed some audio scripts of their own to live and breathe.

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

Doctor Who #152: The Moonbase Part 2

"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought."TECHNICAL SPECS: One of this story's two surviving episodes, it can be found in the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. First aired Feb.18 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor finds a virus in the sugar and a Cyberman hiding in plain sight in sickbay.

REVIEW: After putting on so many disguises, the new Doctor finally reveals himself to the audience. The quote above is his new credo. No longer content with exploration or, as the first Doctor originally did, trying to run at the first sign of trouble, Troughton's Doctor is an active agent against the forces of evil. His first story was against the Daleks, and here he is, holding the line against the creatures that were responsible for his first death, the Cybermen. But that's not all. This episode explains his clownish behavior quite well as an armor against the abuses of authority. When Hobson cooperates, the Doctor is quite serious and earnest. When Hobson doesn't, he starts acting frazzled and a little mad. Of course, comic bits of business are part of the character's core even when he IS serious, as exemplified by his gathering evidence from people's clothes and boots while they're going about their business.

And there's quite a lot of that business going on, isn't there? As in his first story, Kit Pedler has the base personnel do technical things in a way that sounds authentic enough. Of course, his science is not always sound, raising eyebrows with explosive decompression held at bay by bags of sugar over the sizable hole the Cybermen have made. I still can't believe this guy was hired as a scientific consultant. His characters' logic is off too, or how else do we explain Hobson's flip-flopping over the Doctor's presence? He fails to see him as a threat (bad things started happening when the Doctor arrived), then does, then accepts a suspicious cup of coffee from him (let's all have a cup, and then a man falls down... I would have thrown the coffee out earlier!).

So while the joke about Polly is that all she was ever good for was making coffee (and I don't agree with the assessment, though her existing episodes do act as evidence against her), here it's part of the plot and how they figure out what substance carries the Cyber-virus. That she questions the Doctor's 1888 medical degree make me like her no matter her role in the plot. At least she's central to it, which can't be said of Ben who's pretty much just an extra standing in the background through most of this. Was he supposed to be laid up on the bed in Jamie's place in the original script? Jamie at least has a couple confrontations with his phantom piper, and is justified in believing death to be at his door since each time the Cybermen steals another body.

A few words on design, since this is the first part of The Moonbase we still have all the visuals for... It's really one fashion nightmare after another, isn't it? Oh, the base itself looks fine, with a slightly feng shui roundedness and a dome open to the Moon exterior (if you can accept the dodgy gravitron), but what are its personnel wearing? I'd forgotten Benoit wore a scarf around his neck, just in case we forgot he was French (at least he's played by a real French actor - I do so hate it when my native language is massacred on screen), and those bathing caps they wear in the gravitron room are silly beyond measure. The spacesuits do not compare well with the TARDIS crew's, looking very cheap with the their plastic air bottles. Good protection for painting a house, maybe. Not so much for walking on the Moon. Like the Cybermen, I might have been tempted to carry out a brutal attack on the astronauts for no other reason than their clothes. The Cybermen, for their part, look good. The bulkiness and awkwardness of The Tenth Planet have been removed and it's for the better as we move towards a more iconic shape. The Cyber effects are also quite nice. That electric zap is very effective, and the animated veins forming on one of their victims' hands really cool as well.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Its weaknesses are the science and the humdrum base personnel. Its strengths are the Doctor and the Cybermen. I know which I'm watching the program for.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Siskoid Radio: Geek Out! - April 21st

"If you use your comic book long boxes as furniture, you might be a geek..."

The twelfth episode features the exam for the Geek 101 course you've been taking all semester (see below), but it's not the season finale. I don't know when that will be, but I'm tending towards May 5th if I can get a group together to roleplay during the whole damn thing (with musical interludes, of course). 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
Introductions
La ballade au cimetière - Alaska (+Call of Cthulhu stats for the Ghost; the song is not available on the Internet)
Geek News: This week's headlines include the Chris Roberson/DC blow-out
The Majestic Tale (of a Madman in a Box) - Murray Gold
Comics round-up: Basically a few of the week's tweeted comic book reviews
Stop Talking About Comic Books (Or I'll Kill You) - Ookla the Mok
Book recommendation: Grant Morrison's Supergods
Vénus - Dumas (+Deities & Demigods stats for Aphrodite)
TV recommendation: The Prisoner
The Prisoner - Iron Maiden
Geek Band: James Darren/Vic Fontaine (two of the videos are the actual performances on Deep Space 9 though I really played Darren's album versions)
It's Only a Paper Moon - James Darren
I've Got You Under My Skin - James Darren
The Way You Look Tonight - James Darren
Common People - William Shatner
Geek 101: Exam! (See below, after song list, for how YOU can get your grade and the chance to win a custom Mooltipass!)
The Diva Dance - Inva Mulla Tchako
Little Light of Love - R.X.R.A.
Raël - Pervers Polymorphe (unsurprisingly not on the 'Net)
Featurette: Grays (+GURPS stats)
Aliens (Christmas 1988) - Rheostatics
Goodbyes and your Doctor Who theme of the week:
Docteur Qui - Bill Bailey

YOUR GEEK 101 EXAM!
Because not everyone had the chance to listen to every episode, I'm not going to ask you specific questions about each and every one. Geek Out was never about that. Instead, I'd like to hear, in a short essay you can leave in the comments section (you can sign in as Anonymous, but sign your name or handle at the bottom please), how YOU geeked out this semester, especially if you tried something based on one of the Geek 101 features or some other recommendation made on the show. Basically, how did the show's encouragement to geek out impact your life. What did you learn about geekery in the past 4 months? Extra points if you did follow the course, but if you didn't and still evolved your inner geek in 2012, I want to hear about it too. Grades and the winner of a special Mooltipass will be announced in next week's episode.

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.

New! Podcast version!

Doctor Who #151: The Moonbase Part 1

"How can I rest with that thing up the spout."TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is one of two from this story to be missing from the archives. I've listened to the BBC's audio narrated by Frazer Hines, and the audio without narration from the Lost in Time DVD, but here have used a reconstruction. First aired Feb.11 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on the moon and the Cybermen make a comeback.

REVIEW: The year is 1967, and the TARDIS crew beat Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon by a couple years. Kit Pedler brings back his Cybermen from The Tenth Planet and though they've changed a lot, the story hasn't. The Tenth Planet too was a base under siege story, a base manned by an multi-national group of people living in an inhospitable environment, and it too was deeply interested with the space program. Actually set in 2070, there's a strange matter-of-factness about living on the Moon. Few people do - just the 19 who work on the Moonbase, mostly manning the weather control system - but when three strangers show up, there are hardly any questions. No security checks, no real surprise, and hey Ben, why don't you go help out in the kitchens. They've got a mysterious illness to contend with and unexplained "drops in pressure", but it's mostly Earth bureaucracy that has their dander up.

Pedler gets some nice fun bits with the TARDIS crew out on the Moon surface in their googly spacesuits, jumping vast distances accompanied by unfortunate cartoon noises - they still had the Kirby wires on loan after The Underwater Menace? - but once we're inside, it might as well be a an office block in Central London. Perhaps the Moonbase has to feel like a regular place where regular folks work to contrast with the strangeness of the Cybermen. Not that they're as strange as they used to be. Gone are the bandages and enormous headlights. They're now sleeker rubbersuited gentlemen, but something creepy remains about their square mouths, which always look oxidized to me. They're prominently accompanied by the wonderful Space Adventure theme, a piece of stock music that's so bizarre and perfect for them. I do wish it was still in use. But we'll have to wait for the next episode to hear them speak.

Of course, today we go in knowing it's a Cyberman story, but their name isn't in the title, so their reveal is gradual and well-paced. There's a great big flying saucer parked outside. Jamie, who's been taken out of action by a bad moon-bounce, feverishly talks about the phantom piper coming to get him, but did Polly also see a shadow move? Ralph gets zapped by something electric - did they just kill the black guy first? - and is dragged away by persons unknown. Dr. Evans, infected and covered in black veins talks about a "silver hand". And then finally, his dead body's gone too and Jamie, alone in sickbay, is confronted by a Cyberman! The way it's teased, you might be able to deduce who the villains are, but you'd still be surprised at their new appearance.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - If I didn't talk about the regular cast much, it's because this is all set-up and questions, getting to know the environment, guest characters and threat. Hums along fine, but not particularly remarkable.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Movie Marquee Friday: Addendum of Blood and War

A murder and a gong in the second second...
When writing bears arms...

Even the landscape rejects you...

Chrome, dissonant in the Gothic night...

Speeding through the country on the wheels of a burning future...

The red, white, and blue is not propaganda...

Rocket launched into Old Glory...

Tinnitus, stark and shocking...

Doctor Who #150: The Underwater Menace Part 4

"I have a plan. It might even work."TECHNICAL SPECS: Missing from the archives except for one brief clip, so I've used a reconstruction to write this review. First aired Feb.4 1967.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor floods Atlantis.

REVIEW: On audio, this is a BIG episode, featuring the destruction of Atlantis and water closing in behind the heroes. What might it have been on screen? Somehow, I'm not that confident. The flooding of the temple likely looked like an obvious miniature, but there are still some water effects that seem to stand up, like Zaroff drowning in his lair and Amdo's great big stone face turned into a fountain. The story's cheapness is hinted at in the script, however, as Jamie becomes the first person to make the "all these tunnels/corridors look alike" joke that will recur from time to time in Doctor Who because after all, they ARE the same tunnels and corridors.

Whether the production values and high or low, it hardly matters because the story is as badly thought-out in its finale as it was in its main body. The Doctor's plan to flood Atlantis is better than the apocalypse, but the resulting half-genocide is barely glossed over. In the previous episode, Atlantis was a vibrant culture with happy children running around. Did they survive, or did they drown? When the Doctor goes back to try and save Zaroff, I was distracted by the fact that he never gave a similar thought to any of the sympathetic characters or innocent bystanders. Zaroff's death is also problematic because it feels sadistic. I think it's because it's essentially a silent moment in which Zaroff's camp madness has leaked away, and all we see is a man die. It sure doesn't feel satisfying. Lurid, yes.

The Atlantean coda is pure nonsense, as the few survivors (including Thous who was brutally shot for no reason last episode, apparently) decide to do away with religion since it's the thing that led them to trust in science. Uhm... what? Complete nonsense, and guess what, guys? "No more fish people" is an equally moronic thing to say, as they probably had the best chance at survival. So the story's stupid, but do the companions make out ok? Ben's basically an adjunct to the Doctor's plans, and Polly freaks out in a less than endearing way, completely paralyzed by fear. That's not the Polly I've come to like! Jamie makes out ok though, taking Polly's safety into his own hands and becoming the action hero of this tale. It somewhat sets up his new-found acceptance of the TARDIS and off they go to Mars - NOT! But that's a story for tomorrow.

VERSIONS: I am unaware of any important differences between the Target novelization and the broadcast story.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - A dark and dreary ending to what is essentially a piece of camp. It doesn't sit well and the plot, like Atlantis, is full of holes.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Low - The Underwater Menace is a big, dumb story with camp performances and silly costumes. It might have been amusing - and could still be if we had all the video - but it generally frustrates with its badly-written script. If it's an Ed Wood picture, it's closer to the more forgettable Night of the Ghouls than it is to Plan 9 or Bride of the Monster.