Friday, August 31, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in September 2012

Tonight, my KFF Klub sits down to watch some light cartoons after a grueling opening to frosh week, but what's on tap in September?

Exiled - As actor Anthony Wong announces through this month's poster, we're going to start with a Johnnie To film and end with a Johnnie To film. Up first, Exiled, with To regulars Wong and Simon Yam. Two killers, two saviors, one victim, and a shared heist before the execution. A recipe for excitement, Hong Kong-style!

Rashomon - The Kurosawa film that changed the rules, showing the same events from different perspectives. Often imitated. We'll have to see the original to know if it was ever equalled. From one of four possible perspectives, I'm really excited about this!

Drunken Master - Still haven't found a Chinese-language copy of Drunken Master II (AKA Legend of Drunken Master), but the original, rougher film is the one that made Jackie Chan a star, and I HAVE found a copy with a Chinese-language track. And we here at KFF are loathe to watch Asian films with English dubs.

Sparrow - And back to Johnnie To, with a caper film starring Simon Yam as the leader of a gang of pickpockets whose world is turned upside down by a mysterious woman. It's advertized as To's homage to French cinema, a combination that certainly intrigues me.

Looks good! Guns, swords and fists, both drunken and sober. If unable to materialize in my living room, look to Sunday's capsule reviews to see what you missed.

Doctor Who #283: Terror of the Autons Part 3

"What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish!"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.16 1971.

IN THIS ONE... Mrs. Farrel leads the Doctor to the right plastics factory, but the Master's out giving away plastic flowers. The evil doll attacks Jo, and the phone attacks the Doctor.

REVIEW: This serial continues to throw everything it thinks of at the screen, and possibly more, to the point where yes, I understand the folks who dislike its excesses. We've already got the evil doll and the Auton policemen (both of which are involved in effective action scenes), but Part 3 adds carnivalesque Auton mascots handing out plastic flowers (of death!), an animated telephone cord, and probably most what-the-heck of all, an Auton hiding in a safe just so it can lunge at the Doctor when he opens it. Not all Auton jobs were created equal. The Master stays one step ahead of everyone, of course, and you might like to compare his phone call to the Doctor (the first time they actually speak) and a similar moment in The Sound of Drums. Makes a good argument for converting to mobiles.

It doesn't look like the Master knows it yet, but the Doctor sabotaged his TARDIS in Part 2 and now muses about the exile he's forced on his nemesis. Not that the spare part he stole help the Doctor leave Earth, though again he tries to. So maybe the Master isn't quite a step ahead in every way. In fact, though it seems like the flowers are causing a deadly epidemic, the two related deaths that lead the Doctor to the right plastics factory are the two murders sadistically engineered by the Master. Had he been able to restrain himself, UNIT might still be clueless about the impending invasion.

But that's all plot stuff. What's more interesting about this episode is the development of the UNIT family. We have the Brig pulling rank and assigning himself to go with the Doctor in lieu of Yates, eager to show he isn't deskbound. We have Yates and Jo sharing private smiles, and the Captain offering to make hot cocoa with the Doctor's Bunsen burner. We have the Doctor's impetuousness and childishness, and Jo forcing him to be a little more adult, even if his pride gets in the way. We also have the Doctor terrorizing a low-level bureaucrat with apparent connections to higher-ups, but whether or not the Doctor is a member of a gentleman's club is a matter for conjecture at this point. He's the kind of man who would be, but I doubt he'd enjoy the company of stuffy old politicians, so he might be lying. Each member of the cast gets at least one nice character moment (and some action too, Yates is particularly useful, running over or shooting up Autons), which tells me this really is about this family of characters, not just about the Doctor and his assistant. It's not the kind of up-front soap opera subplots we can see in today's Who, but it's there and it's pleasant enough.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Though it goes a little too far at times, Part 3 continues to use iconic imagery and character development to good effect.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dial H for High School Field Trips (of Evil)

Still some spillover from the Jinx story we talked about last week (2 more dialed heroes), and then it's right into the issue's back-up about a field trip to a chemical lab gone awry. In comic book universes, you sure get a lot of dangerous field trips, don't you? I think I'd have had my mom write me a note so that I wouldn't have to go. Though of course, it's a great place to get super-powers.

Case 35: Adventure Comics #488
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: Though in Robby's days conditions placed on a dialed hero left the Dial holder along with the heroic identity, here the effects of Belladonna's poisons are transmitted to Chris when he changes back.Name: Captain Saturn (spokesman for an automobile company, or ginchy retro space opera name?)
Created by: Terry H. Pavlet, Age 24, of Muskego, WI
Costume: An orange unitard with yellow accessories, it has flared gloves, massive goggles, a belt of circular segments, and most notably, free-floating pairs of rings criss-crossing the ankles and torso. He's like a big human atom.
Powers: Captain Saturn can mentally throw metal rings from somewhere in his back (a pocket dimension?). These can presumably be used to entrap a foe, but in this story, are only used as projectiles to knock them out.
Sighted: Near Fairfax, helping the police capture the Jinx.
Possibilities: Potentially the member of some terrible high-concept team we'd call the Planeteers (to renew a copyright), Captain Saturn could also be a superhero from a future when we've colonized the solar system, filling in some DCU history between now and the Legion.
Integration Quotient: 12% (his potential is squashed by his rather underwhelming power)
Name: Snowfall (at the risk of being called Snowball, this is a perfectly good elemental hero name)
Created by: Christopher Benjamin, Age 13, of Winslow, AR
Costume: A pleasant number on two shades of blue that brings out her wind-swept blond hair, Snowfall's gloves, shoulders, mask and boots are all trimmed with icicle shapes. Her belt buckle is a fierce blue sun (hm, not a snowflake?).
Powers: Snowfall can create ice and snow. No surprises there.
Sighted: Near Fairfax, helping the police capture the Jinx.
Possibilities: Her niche is taken by the JLI's Ice, but Snowfall might serve as a junior version of the same archetype on a team like the Teen Titans. Maybe she's from the same icy fairyland (as per Ice's origin once upon a time).
Integration Quotient: 60% (we don't need her, but we can take her)
Name: Moonlight (more of a girl's name, but I'm not judging)
Created by: Vincent Broese, Age 14, of Whittier, CA
Costume: Polarized in the middle, Moonlight's costume alternates between black and pale yellow right up to his full-faced mask. he has a white belt with a moon crescent, a yellow starburst intruding on his black chest pieces, and a cool white cape that wraps over his left front and a high collar. This is one of the better designs of the entire Adventure Comics Dial H strips.
Powers: Moonlight can blind you with the light of the moon, or cover you in a smoky darkness (though your eyes can get used to it quickly enough). Neither power is very powerful.
Sighted: At Fairfax Laboratories, getting trounced by Belladonna.
Possibilities: Moonlight's a bit effete, but there's no reason all superheroes should be macho. I'd see him as a lone vigilante in the style of Dr. Mid-Nite, working only a night, or else creating a night during the day to scare criminals.
Integration Quotient: 80% (he's Cloak & Dagger all in one... not really, but the look goes a long way)
Name: Glass Lass (the 30th century is the only place for Lasses)
Created by: Jimmy Owens, Age 13, of Wister, OK
Costume: Vaguely(?) reminiscent of Wonder Woman's, Glass Lass' costume is a red one-piece bathing suit with a high neck, accessorized by a stylized yellow belt and starburst chest emblem and tiara. Her gold bracelets have a red starburst on them. Of course, what you mostly notice is her shimmering crystal skin.
Powers: Glass Lass' crystalline skin is diamond-hard and can also be used as a prism to intensify light into a heat beam.
Sighted: At Fairfax Laboratories, helping defeat Belladonna.
Possibilities: The names sends us to the Legion, but the costume puts me in mind of a connection to the Amazons. Whatever became of them a thousand years hence? Wonder Woman was made of clay, and this Amazon was made of crystal. I'm sure we can work something out.
Integration Quotient: 85% (what looks derivative might actually be her way in)
Name: Mental Man (I'll want to say Metal Man each time, so a little awkward)
Created by: John Iverson, Age 13, of Sardia, TX
Costume: In red and yellow with white trim, this pretty typical caped superhero costume has an open-haired mask and special blue triangular goggles. It's the goggles that are important.
Powers: Mental Man's goggles allow him to mentally project any life-like image he can imagine, such as a terrifying monster or a secret identity-keeping Chris King. These do not have any solid substance.
Sighted: At Fairfax Laboratories, helping defeat Belladonna.
Possibilities: Illusion-casting isn't the best of powers for a solo hero, and there's something about Mental Man that screams solo hero. I'd send him to Los Angeles and peg him as a special effects artist (shades of Mysterio) turned hero. Maybe an occasional ally to Blue Devil.
Integration Quotient: 20% (a bit too vanilla)

Bonus Supervillain
Name: Belladonna (it's a poison that literally means "pretty lady")
Created by: Susan Kijamichez, Age 23, of Boston, MA
Costume: A purple and almost burgundy outfit with fur-trimmed boots and cape, and a white skull as a belt buckle. Her fingers have rings shaped like pills, the same shape as the pellets on her belt.
Powers: Belladonna is the "Princess of Potions", and holds in her rings and utility belt a variety of sleep or paralysis-inducing toxins delivered either as smoke, or intravenously thanks to a small blowpipe tied around her neck.
Sighted: Belladonna is really Angela Wainright, one of Fairfax Laboratories' most brilliant chemists until she resigned in protest. She now seeks revenge against the people who are abusing her formulas and poisoning the atmosphere. She was stopped by Glass Lass and Mental Man.
Possibilities: An eco-terrorist with a good name and fair modus operandi, kind of like a low-powered Poison Ivy. If she goes global (instead of concentrating only on Fairfax), she could make a pretty good villain for industrialist heroes like Green Arrow and Steel.
Integration Quotient: 85% (villains are easier to fit in, especially when they enjoy a certain sexiness)

Next time, Adventure #589. Wow, we're two issues away from the end of this title (but not of Chris & Vicki's adventures).

Doctor Who #282: Terror of the Autons Part 2

"Sylvia, will you check Mr. McDermott's entitlement on termination of employment, please?"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.9 1971.

IN THIS ONE... Man is killed by plastic chair. Other man is killed by evil plastic doll. The Doctor and Jo visit the circus.

REVIEW: In the past, I've heard/read the criticism that Terror of the Autons replaces a perfectly good monster (the Autons) with all manner of creepy, shocking or violent tricks. I have no problem with it, personally, and it seems a fine evolution of Nestene plastic possession. They skirt the status of gimmicks, but are so memorable that all is forgiven. The black plastic chair that inflates itself AND EATS YOU! The ugly troll doll realized with CSO, a baggy costume and effective body language. These are the stuff of nightmares, yours, mine and famously, Mary Whitehouse's*. The Auton policemen aren't half-creepy either. In a way, it's all so ludicrous, it's darkly funny. The black comedy of Robert Holmes' script is also in the dialog, with some incredible understatements like the line quoted above and more wit besides.

The circus might also be a creepy element, but it's the poorest of them. The Doctor gets in some nice lines while being interrogated, and it's interesting to note that he can spot the Master's TARDIS just by looking at it (AND steals the part he lost to Jo's fire extinguisher in Part 1). However, it feels a little slow, I can't quite get my head around Phillips' death via TARDIS key, and Roy Stewart's third role on Doctor Who is just as mute as the other two (ok, Tobberman wasn't mute, but he wasn't exactly eloquent either). Poor guy.

The new cast members are well used, though a bit unremarkable in the grander scheme of things. The Master orders some deaths, finds Farrell Senior able to resist his mind control, and spies on the Doctor. Standard stuff. Jo is more interesting, and there's a certain ambiguity as to whether or not she's acting on the Master's suggestion. If she isn't (and she probably isn't), she is a character that has real problem following orders. But will the Brigadier slap her down, or are her relations too important for her to ever lose her job? Of course, it's her anarchic streak that saves the Doctor from the clutches of some rather glass-headed carnies. And Captain Yates calls her "love", so off you go, 'shippers! Pages and pages of fanfic have been written about UNIT's off-screen soap opera.

THEORIES: The way the Master's hypnosis seems to work, it is surely telepathic in nature. It's mind control, pure and simple, of a type that seems to wear off the longer one is distanced from the Master's presence/influence. Are the Doctor's hypnotic feats similarly psionic? That's harder to say. Early use of hypnosis uses "mundane" techniques and may be a measure of skill. Later hypnotic tricks, in particular the fourth Doctor's, look like the Jedi mind trick, and are likely telepathic just like the Master's.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A dark comedy with memorable "monsters" and some fun dialog. The location work is slightly sluggish and confused, but it's a minor complaint.

*If you don't know Mary Whitehouse, she was a social conservative who railed against what she deemed inappropriate content on television, especially television aimed at children like Doctor Who. 1970s Doctor Who would routinely draw her ire. I'll probably mention her again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doctor Who RPG: Season 7

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1970 season of Doctor Who, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Season 6)

The GM
It took a little while for Terry to assemble his players (see below), but he's promised them a much less grueling gaming schedule of some 25 sessions per season, instead of the usual 42 players came to complain about. He also wants to explore the format developed in prior seasons through scenarios like The Web of Fear and The Invasion that he set himself up for at the end of Season 6: The Doctor exiled to 1970s Earth helping a military task force (UNIT) deal with alien threats. Two players who have played UNIT men as guest stars in the past have even chosen to join the game on a more permanent basis. Terry has promised them this set up will allow for more action and that even if they don't initially fly to different times and planets, he won't skimp on the, a-hem, color.

The Characters
-Jon has taken on the monumental task of playing the Doctor. Scrambling Pat's character sheet, he comes up with the kind of gentleman scientist/adventurer you might find in a Jules Verne novel, one who's a bit of a dandy (to contrast with the previous incarnation) and an action man (points into Fighting), and who doesn't suffer fools lightly. Jon's done some sketch comedy and improv, but he hopes to restrain his natural impulses for comedy, except to use them in devising various impatient insults for the humans around him. After all, as an exile, he sees his first priority as getting his TARDIS working again and leaving.
-Caroline plays Liz, a brilliant scientist who at first doesn't believe all this alien mumbo-jumbo. She plays the character with a sharp tongue, fearlessly dressing down the military types and villains. She didn't mean to stay just for one season, it just happened that way.
-The only returning players are the UNIT men. Nick dusts off his Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, which he's played in two stories before, and John wants to give his Sgt. Benton more depth (he'd only really tried the game with the character last year). Nick decides that he probably infuriates the Doctor with his ways, so he gives in to it, often contradicting the Doctor's recommendations to fuel their conflict. John doesn't join the game immediately, but once he does, mid-way through the season, he and Nick start doing little bits of comedy. Benton, like his player, is a bit discreet, but his contributions are intelligent ones.

Spearhead from Space. Being an introductory story, Terry gives the new players a number of scenes to settle into their characters, but his plot introduces a new monster, a plastic intelligence (the Nestene) that broadcasts itself to Earth and animates store window dummies (the Autons). To add color (last time I do that joke, I promise), Terry uses a collection of photographs of different locations to help the players imagine the country hospital, plastic works factory, wax museum, etc. He keeps it simple, because this is really about the players bonding and finding their footing. Jon, a bit of a gearhead, steals a vintage car in this story and becomes so enamored of his driving Doctor that he requests a Gadget-making session with the GM, the result of which will be a vintage roadster called Bessie, hopped up on Story Points.

Doctor Who and the Silurians. This scenario introduces another interesting monster, the Silurians, aliens not from outer space, but from inner Earth. In fact, these lizard men were Earth's previous owners! This is where Terry realized Jon's playing style was quite different from his predecessors. Instead of taking the usual gamer bait and fighting any and all antagonistic creatures, he tries to make peace with them and see their point of view. It's a perfect opportunity for Nick to create friction between UNIT and the Doctor as he follows the more usual gaming imperatives. The GM is definitely on the Brigadier's side in this, and the Silurians have it coming (though he throws a Jon a bone and improvises one reasonable Silurian).

TYPICAL SILURIAN
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 3, Presence 3, Resolve 4, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 2, Knowledge 1, Medicine 3, Science 3, Subterfuge 1, Survival 2, Technology 2
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance (Major), Environmental/Heat (Major), Fear Factor 1 (2 against humans), Natural Weapon: Third Eye (attacks Resolve [2/4/6] or as laser beam [3/6/9]), Networked, Telekinesis (the Third Eye can operate Silurian technology); Weakness/Cold (Minor). Story Points: 3-6
Home Tech Level: 6


The Ambassadors of Death. Terry makes some allowances for Jon's take on the Doctor and creates a space age thriller where there are no real villains (except for a brutish thug or two), leaving the Doctor to find common ground between them. The other John's (with an "h") Benton starts coming to the games. The GM designs a wide-ranging conspiracy and nimbly paces his reveals. Caroline gets to play a larger role when she is captured by the antagonists, and the Doctor pulls a Moonraker and flies off into space. Though Terry is making his plots pretty long (there'll only be time for four distinct stories in this first shortened schedule), he misgauges this story's length. It really needs an epilogue, but the group is ready to move on so he basically just wraps things up with the aliens with "the aliens went home and the astronauts came home".

ALIEN AMBASSADOR
Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 2, Presence 3, Resolve 1, Strength 4
Skills: Fighting 1, Knowledge 1, Science 1, Technology 2, Transport 2
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance (Minor), Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapon: Radioactive Touch (the touch can also be conducted through metal or work in an Area of Effect if not wearing a spacesuit; it doles out [4/L/L]), Tough; Dependency/Radioactivity (Major), Slow. Story Points: 3-5
Home Tech Level: 6


Inferno. This is a cool one. The players at first think this is going to be a science gone mad story about primeval ooze turning people into animal men, and it is, but he uses the Doctor's tinkering with his TARDIS console to create a twist. He sends the Doctor to a parallel universe where the consequences of the above-mentioned mad science can come to cataclysmic fruition, and has the other players play alternate versions of their characters (sometimes going back to Earth-Prime for a scene to keep their real selves involved). Nick, Caroline and John are basically given a single instruction (in addition to their Orwellized background): To block the Doctor's efforts as best they can. And they really enjoy doing it. Nick makes his own eyepatch to give himself a parallel universe look at the table, Caroline sees it as her role to eventually thaw and believe the Doctor, and John gets turned into a Primord. And the world ends, too!

BRIGADE LEADER LETHBRIDGE-STEWART
Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 4, Presence 4, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 3, Fighting 2, Knowledge 1, Marksman 3, Subterfuge 2, Survival 1, Technology 1, Transport 2
Traits: Friends (RSF), Voice of Authority; By the Book, Distinctive, Impaired Senses (One-Eyed), Obligation (to oppressive regime), Selfish. Story Points: 12
Home Tech Level: 5 (Equipment: Service revolver [2/5/7])





PRIMORD
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 2, Resolve 2, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 3, Fighting 2, Subterfuge 2, Survival 1
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance (Minor), Environmental/Extreme Heat (Major), Fear Factor 1, Infection, Natural Weapon: Heat (Primords super-heat the things they touch, adding +2 to melee weapon damage), Tough; Obligation (infecting others), Weakness/Cold (Major). Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: N/A


Only four stories? Though the GM kept them alive through complications and side-plots, the consensus is that they'd rather have slightly shorter stories and more of them. Terry will endeavor to do 5 or 6 per season rather than 4. The other consequence of the shorter schedule is that the hiatus between seasons is longer, and things are more likely to change during the break. Liz Shaw is a victim of this, as Caroline leaves the group unexpectedly, and without a farewell scene. Such things happen.

Doctor Who #281: Terror of the Autons Part 1

"What you need, Doctor, as Miss Shaw so often remarked is someone to pass you your test tubes and to tell you how brilliant you are! Miss Grant will fulfill that function admirably."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.2 1971.

IN THIS ONE... The Autons return to usher in a new era as Jo Grant, Captain Yates and the Master are introduced.

REVIEW: Sure, I'll grieve for Liz Shaw and her return to Cambridge in between seasons, but the new assistant isn't half-cute with her wide smile, wider eyes and artsy fashion sense. This is Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who will become one of the most important companions yet. She's green and makes her first mistake seconds into meeting the Doctor, but bless, he can't seem to be able to fire her when given the chance. Immediately endearing to him as she hopefully is to the audience. One shouldn't expect great things from Jo, as it seems she's the beneficiary of nepotism, but her skill set is unusual enough - cryptography, lockpicking (though it doesn't seem much of an achievement when you see the skeleton keys), and explosives. And she seems quite professional and dedicated as well. She's not alone in joining the UNIT gang though. There's also Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) who was apparently involved behind the scenes of Spearhead in Space, though his part here is minimal. And UNIT gets new uniforms, closer to those of the British army, and less like gray unitards.

There's another new member of the regular cast though - one that will prove much more important to the program in the long run - and that's the Master (Roger Delgado), an evil Time Lord who materializes early in the episode and starts hypnotizing everyone (an ability we've seen in the Doctor, though not on this level). This Master is a mirror of the Doctor, the perfect nemesis. He's also a renegade Time Lord with a titular "name". And he works WITH alien threats instead of against them. If the third Doctor is an older James Bond, the Master is very much a Fleming Cold War villain, using mind control and making alliances with other hostile powers, letting them take to fight to UNIT. The mirror even goes to the two men's way of speaking about one another. The Doctor says the Master's weakness is his vanity (he will want to make himself the master of the Nestenes), and a few minutes later, the Master says the Doctor's weakness is his curiosity (Jo is sent to snoop on him, though technically not by the Doctor). Both men are also stylish. The Doctor, a dandy (with a new velvet jacket to start off the season), and the Master getting himself a tailored suit after ditching his high fascist collar. They know each other, but we don't know any of the details, and the Master is dangerous enough that a Time Lord materializes sans TARDIS (see Theories) to warn the exile about it. Or is the Master's presence the reason the Time Lords sent the Doctor to Earth in the first place? Hm.

The Autons are in it too, of course, all thanks to the Nestene control unit from Spearhead, and because the Brigadier (stupidly) allowed it to be shown in an exhibit. An odd thing to have happened. You'd expect the damn thing to be under a microscope somewhere, in the same way the Brig was hungry to have his R&D boys check out the Master's "vaporiser" bomb. (The Doctor expects UNIT to do this kind of proto-Torchwood stuff to advance humanity's weapons capability, so he destroys it.) Maybe UNIT can get its hands on the Master's tissue compressor, which makes its first victim and leaves him in his lunch box. Freaky! Some pretty good CSO (compared to some of the "virtual sets" used at the plastics factory), but it feels a little like over-egging the pudding to me. Not only does the Master have enough tricks up his sleeve already, but turning people into dolls in a story that will also feature evil plastic dolls is too much of the same, yet confusingly different. And in barely related matters, this season's pinker opening credits? I preferred the red.

THEORIES: In Genesis of the Daleks, some years hence, the Time Lords will give the Doctor a Time Ring, a means of space-time travel than doesn't involve a TARDIS. Could this be what the unnamed Time Lord is to pop (and unpop) into existence? The materialization sound makes me think it isn't. Rather, I'd surmise that he is indeed using a TARDIS, but that it's chameleon circuit renders it invisible because that's what a flying TARDIS should do (it's that or a cloud). That would explain why the Time Lord appears to be floating in mid-air. He's just standing in the doorway.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- Lots of introductions and all of them important to one degree or another, so it's a good thing we already know the monsters. (Have you noticed? Every time the Autons appear, a new Time Lord - or incarnation - is introduced.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Liz Shaw: The Character Sheet

We hardly new ye, Liz! Caroline hands in her Doctor Who RPG character sheet. (Click to enlarge for legibility.)Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet (she kept it on the back)...

SKILLS
*Liz has a +2 Knowledge Expertise bonus in Linguistics, and a +2 Science Expertise bonus in Physics.

GOOD TRAITS
Attractive (Minor)
Brave (Minor)
Friends: UNIT (Major)
Run For Your Life! (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Argumentative (Minor)
Eccentric/Mocking (Minor) - Liz can't help but poke fun at authority figures, going so far as directing emasculating comments at her occasional captors
Eccentric/Unbeliever (Minor) - Though the universe is full of wonders, impossible science, aliens and what might pass itself off as the supernatural, Liz needs to experience them to truly believe in their existence
Unadventurous (Minor) - Liz does not feel compelled to have adventures with the Doctor; to her, UNIT is principally a job

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS

Liz likes to use her two Eccentric Traits to infuriate both allies and enemies, even if it gets her into trouble. Truth be told, her GameMaster thinks her jibes are so clever that he gives away the Story Points without really making his NPCs give her a smack, though he keeps threatening to.

Doctor Who #280: Inferno Part 7

"Same time, same place...only a different dimension." (Sliiiiiiiiiiiderrrrrrrrrrs)
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.20 1970.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor's back just in time to prevent Stahlman's apocalypse.

REVIEW:
It's really very interesting that the Doctor uses the knowledge he gained in one world to solve problems in other, and it even seemed for a moment that he would be saving Earth Prime from his sickbed. Though I am plenty entertained by Liz insisting that she's the Doctor's physician even as the Brigadier keep forgetting that fact (no doubt, it's the skirt), Pertwee's active Doctor can't really sit one out. He's soon up and about and realizing that free will isn't an illusion and that things CAN be changed. It's a little bit of philosophy is an otherwise action-driven finale.

But it's that action that causes problems. For one thing, the Doctor returning home is terribly mishandled. One second the world is ending and the console's not working, and the next the Doctor is lying on the floor on our world. It's a moment that's been robbed of its "nick of time" element. Very odd editing there. Once he's out of his coma, the Doctor's confusion is pleasant enough a device - calling the Lethbridge-Stewart Brigade Leader and so on - but it soon turns sour as he starts to act like a madman, smashing the machinery instead of calling on his allies. It works because he's just been to a world where no one listened to him, but he knocks out some UNIT guards and is soon back in the control center, and nobody says a thing. There's a lot of this kind of pointless back and forth, in fact. Petra stands up to Stahlman, but then does he tells her anyway. Sir Keith says the Minister ordered the work stopped, only to complain that he has no actual authority over Stahlman. Everyone can see Stahlman is having attacks, but there's apparently nothing that can be invoked to supersede his orders. And the Doctor having a go at the contaminated technician (again) feels just as pointless. Really, all the Primord action (I haven't been using the word because it's only used in the credits, but there it is) is redundant now that we've seen these creatures die in the other universe.

So it's down to the epilogue and its character moments to truly save the episode from being ordinary. Don't look to Sutton and Petra, because their romance, while not as melodramatic as on Earth-2, is certainly inane. No, the real shocker is that the Doctor announces his console has been fixed and he takes off with an "I liked you" to Liz (yes, we saw the warm hug) and a "good riddance" to the Brig. Except he has to take all back when the console only materializes on the rubbish tip a few feet off. The exile isn't over yet, and he has to make nice with the Brig, an amusing moment that shows (as much as a previous scene between the Brig and Benton) that Lethbridge-Stewart isn't quite as pompous or arrogant as the Doctor makes him out to be. He's got a sense of humor about himself and can easily forgive the insults, though he'll remind you your saying them well enough. The final shot is of Liz, strangely - or I might say, awkwardly - having a fit of giggles at the whole affair. She's always poked fun, but with a dry wit. This laughing seems inappropriate for her character, and has always been a rather hokey way to end a story (see Scooby-Doo and Star Trek). And sadly, it's the last we see of Liz. As the next season begins, she'll be gone in favor of a younger, dumber model (with apologies to Jo Grant). It's too bad, and it's too soon to lose a truly competent assistant, but you know what? This is probably the best thing for Liz's career. The Doctor was holding her back.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is a trimmer, fitter version of the same story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - In the final chapter, Inferno has trouble getting keeping the plot going, especially since we've literally seen it all before. Our refuge is the regular characters, which spark off very well one against the other.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High
- Parallel universe stories are always fun, and this one features iconic evil versions of the Brig and Liz (oh and Benton too). The Primord plot is rather silly, but creates a situation where experiencing one universe allows the Doctor to save another, and of course, it's Liz Shaw's last story already. Cherish them, there are only four, and all of them feature strong scenes for the companion.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday's (Anime) Battle Shovel Moment

Because I had to work over the weekend and I'm feeling sluggish... All together now: "This is a fetish for someone."

See? You don't need me. The jokes write themselves.

Doctor Who #279: Inferno Part 6

"Do you want to end your lives fighting like animals?"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.13 1970.

IN THIS ONE... Earth-2 blows up!

REVIEW: This story's monsters might be scary if you couldn't knock them out by blasting them in the crotch with a fire extinguisher. They might not even be much of a threat if their simple touch didn't turn you into one of them. And in this crazy apocalypse scenario, they're really the least of the Doctor's problems. We've got earthquakes and explosions approaching a nuclear reactor, a stuffy heat represented very nicely by a golden filter, and the Brigade Leader getting more and more hysterical. I can't be sure if the constant background sound forcing me to listen more closely to the actors' voices, almost drowned out at times, is an annoyance or actually contributing to my feeling the tension. In any case, this episode is doing what the show can't easily do, and that's an Earth-bound end of days story. The lava bursts are well integrated into the final sequences, and though the Doctor will escape, it looks grim for then parallel universe's cast of characters are that CSO tomato paste tsunami flows towards the shed.

After being sidelined and/or uni-dimensionalized, Liz Shaw finally gets a little more play. Though she didn't become a scientist in the parallel universe, we shouldn't forget she had the brains for it. Here, while the Brigade Leader rants and raves, she keeps her head, and even gives her some of her trademark lip. And she's the first to resign herself to her fate and in the end, saves the Doctor by shooting the Brig. Petra and Sutton show their noble sides as well, redeeming their world in our eyes just as it's about to end. We've been shown a darker world, yes, but it's not good riddance to bad rubbish when Armageddon comes. Alt-Lethbridge-Stewart is the one who freaks out, losing all the composure that made him cool in his first appearance, and it's very satisfying to see Sutton punch his lights out.

Back on our world, Stahlman prepares for penetration zero and it seems like there's no one who can stop him. In this calm before the storm, our versions of the UNIT gang get some fun character moments. Benton and the Brigadier are a fine double act, the former reporting the exact words of an insult, and the latter dressing him down and sending him off before sharing a slight smile with the audience. Caroline John gives an odd performance as the "real" Liz, playing coy with Sutton to the point of seeming sinister. Perhaps she doesn't trust him, and certainly doesn't want to tell him about the TARDIS, but the way she does it, toying with him, is quite a bit strange. And of course, we have to smile when Stahlman calls Benton an "ape-like minion" given what's going on through the looking glass.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Light humor in our universe balances the apocalyptic gloom of the other very well, thanks.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

This Week in Geek (20-26/08/12)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Community Season 3, what hardcore fans may well end up calling "the last real season" with Dan Harmon out of the picture, is, despite the hiatus in the middle and some hastily put together episodes towards the end, just about as good as the previous two. Not only are there some excellent concept episodes - the standout being the parallel timelines one, but I could mention this year's fake clip show, the History channel documentary, the musical or the 8-bit episode - but they often end on a heart-warming character moment, which is rather rare for comedies about extreme personalities. That said, I'm not a particular fan of Professor Spacetime. I'm afraid it's not Whovian enough for me. I don't know what Community will be like without Harmon pushing for its darker aspects and genre-bending. Likely, the crazy characters will carry the show through standard sitcom plots. Might be enough to be a good show, but not a great one. The DVD includes fun commentaries on every episode, tons of very dirty outtakes, some deleted scenes, and making of featurettes on the musical and documentary episodes.

1911 is historical epic about the revolution that toppled the Chinese Empire, and feels a heck of a lot like it was made to order by the State. Its problem, beyond its forced patriotism (although it's possible to see it as a call to revolt against Communism too), is that it is trying to do too much. We might follow Jackie Chan as a haunted revolutionary, or the political story, or the crooked prime minister, or the compelling Empress Dowager and her son, but the film (at a trim 99 minutes) keeps jumping around between them at a furious pace, filling in the blanks with tiny tiny historical subtitles which you can hardly read at the same time as the dialog. It's too bad too, because individual scenes are expertly shot and stylish, and the acting is excellent (except for the labored English or French-language stuff, where terrible accents and wooden delivery reigns). This might have been THREE good films, but as a whole, doesn't amount to much. A thing of parts. The DVD includes some good deleted scenes and a half-hour of raw behind the scenes footage without even the benefit of subtitles. A number of modern Chinese DVDs include this, but it's very dull to get through.

RPGs: Played Hong Kong Action Theater this morning, a gun fu scenario I called Bullet Ballet (unrelated to the Japanese film of that name), more or less in the style of John Woo. It was based on a scenario in the core book about a trio of Triad members trying to protect a ballerina who ran afoul of their boss' plans. Good fun with room for both action set pieces and character moments, and I think an inspired choice of soundtrack (if I do say so myself), with a performance of Swan Lake playing in the background during the climax, the beats of which affected or reflected game play satisfyingly. I posted the review and poster on our fake movie studio website.
 

Fanzines: Diary of the Doctor Who RPGs #5 (Dec. 2010) includes a fair bit of variety. Its main articles are a list of SF films that can inspire Doctor Who games, a nut'n'bolts discussion about how to convert any number of d6 rolls to d10 rolls (useful for game design, but nerdy in how complete it is), a detailed convention report (Chicago-TARDIS-2010, which seemed outrageous fun), and somewhat disappointing GM tips on pacing, wielding time management like a club rather than a scalpel. There are also articles on post-game player etiquette, adventure scenarios (a time-loopy race to find a hard drive is fairly good, but I rather like the players on trial on a robot planet better - it's entirely insane, which is awesome), reviews (my CCG pal Simon's Solitary Story game, and FASA's Rebel's Gamble solo adventure), and a few other shorter features for amusement's sake. As usual, the pdf fanzine is abundantly illustrated and in full color.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Zeffirelli '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Aquaman to Armageddon.

Doctor Who #278: Inferno Part 5

"There's never been a bore like this one." (A dangerous promise made early in the episode.)TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.6 1970.

IN THIS ONE... Penetration zero causes the start of the end of the world. Stahlman and his hairies convert alt-Benton. And the Doctor tells alt-Brig and alt-Liz they can't come to the happy universe.

REVIEW: This is where it all goes to hell for the characters, and yet, I find the episode lacking. I should like it a lot more than I do, as there are memorable scenes in it. Benton turning into one of Stahlman's primeval dog-boys is shockingly swift. Stahlman infecting technicians but shoving their faces into super-hot goo definitely has a high creep factor. And I do like seeing the alternate version of Sir Keith's car trouble in our universe, which could easily have become as sinister as Earth-2's. (And look! The UNIT era has to be in the future, or did they have car phones in 1970?)

Unfortunately, much of the episode is devoted, lack the previous one, to the Doctor trying to convince pig-headed people that they're in danger. Alarms blaring, steam rushing out of the ground, heat rising, and still they're arguing with him. By the time they accept it, it's just more arguing about why he can't take them with him when he leaves their dimension. The Doctor is certainly over-stating the danger of a "dimensional paradox" in light of the Mickey/Ricky situation closer to our time, but he'd probably say anything not to have an evil Brig on True Earth. The Doctor might have been smarter to let them believe in the possibility, then ditched them at the last minute. There was little chance that these fascist versions of the regular cast would be swayed by the whole "let's save another universe" argument anyway. So more shouting then, and when it's not in anger, it's to be heard over the loud drilling/steaming background noise. It's an episode to watch with some aspirin handy.

Stahlman was never very interesting, but as an animal man, he's even less so (and explanation for which is still forthcoming). The steaming model is at odds with the location, where there are no eerie pink skies and alt-UNIT personnel finds the time to lounge lazily around as the earth supposedly splits open from the pressure. Petra jumps into Sutton's arms because she's frightened as their subplot cranks it up to clichéed matinée melodrama all of a sudden. And the only bits of action are awkwardly staged fights.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- Terribly noisome, most of the time, it's more annoying than compelling, but there are bright spots.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #436: The New52 Wesley

Source: Wesley Crusher, evolved. Art by Bryan Patrick Stoyle (2012)
Type: Fan-made amalgam"The Internet interprets Wesley Crusher, using a page from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Super Coloring and Activity Book."

Indulge in your Wesley love, both ironic and sincere. Still a better look that New52 Superman...

Doctor Who #277: Inferno Part 4

TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 30 1970.

IN THIS ONE... No one in the Mirror Universe believes the Doctor, even after he averts a disaster.

REVIEW: The intense background noise is starting to get to me, but maybe it's meant to. It's like we, as an audience, are under immense pressure, just like the people of Inferno are. It's definitely a relief when we move to a scene not so close to the drill site. The drilling and the alarms, through which Stahlman continues to shout that it's all under control. It's really not, of course, but no one listening to the Doctor, Sutton, or on Earth-1, Sir Keith. There's a remarkable example of the Doctor taking control of a situation where everyone is against him, leaving them all dumbfounded as he disregards their threats, something they're probably not used to. Judging from conversations between Petra and Sutton and others, this world will has a number of punishment scenarios for any action or speech that does not conform to party policy, so people must seldom get out of line. And yet there are the Suttons of this world who dare say they don't want to become servant "zombies" of the state. In another scenario, this world would crack under pressure. In this one, it's played as the metaphor of the Earth's crust spewing forth a brew that returns men to their primal natures.

The problem with the parallel universe is that everyone is as stubborn as Stall-Man, really. No matter what the Doctor says or does, he won't find an ally here, and no one will believe him. It's a most annoying way to keep a story going, the plot driven by characters simply refusing to cooperate with the protagonist come hell or high water. The Doctor throwing pointed barbs at them can only take us so far, but the best bits have to be in the interrogation, which is just a barrage of questions, directed like a firing squad by Douglas Camfield. I'm with the Doctor, it doesn't look all that painful, probably because the violence and torture is off-screen so as not to disrupt the family's tea time. There's a slight hope when alt-Liz tries to give the Doctor a chance and even compares notes with her Earth-1 counterpart - is it a better life than what she's been handed? - but nothing comes of it. The Doctor uses a green werewolf attack as a chance to escape, and typically, goes right back to the control center to try and stop the drilling. Typical, but Camfield pleasantly turns an ordinary gun-pointing cliffhanger into an actual moment by juxtaposing the countdown. We're counting down to disaster AND to the Doctor's death.

But is any of this happening in our universe? We do go back, through a hokey but charming transition through a blurry disco ball, and I wish we'd found Liz taking the Doctor's role in similar events. But it seems the early episode disaster never happened, so no one had to suggest reverse-drilling, not even Sutton. Liz is worried about the Doctor, but that's largely the extent of her role. We also see Sir Keith leaving for London, which might be the trip that got him killed in the other universe. Is time moving differently there? Are we just a day behind? That would be useful for the Doctor to prevent Earth-2's catastrophes on Earth-1 later on. Or is it simply that alt-Stahlman is more powerful politically and has suffered fewer delays due to Sir Keith's meddling? Is he just closer to breaking through the crust?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though perfectly pleasant, the plot is at a standstill as nothing our hero does makes much of a difference. You could remove this episode and have Part 3 almost seamlessly flow into Part 5.

Friday, August 24, 2012

K-Pop Vs. Acadie Rap

There's something about Asia... My Kung Fu Fridays crowd started doing a Saturday event called "K-Pop & Coconut Rum" which is exactly what it sounds like - watching absurd Korean pop music videos and drinking coconut rum all evening long, with maybe a break to read some terrible fan fiction or watch an 80s horror movie. I've been a couple times and thoroughly enjoyed it, I must confess, and I'm trying to weaponize the concept into a party theme at the college bar sometime this year.

And in honor of Doctor Who going through the looking glass in my other post today, I also have to admit I have these thoughts that at the other end of the world, there are some Korean co-eds spending their Saturday nights listening to Acadian rap (the videos are just as insane) and drinking (rolls on Local Spirits Table) Miramichi Magic. Here then is a view across both sides of the mirror, contrasting our favorite K-pop songs and Radio Radio (all other Acadian rap endeavors chill me to the bone) videos. Enjoy the surrealism.

Psy - Gangnam Style
(my absolute favorite thing ever, learn the dance!)

Radio Radio - Guess What?

4Minute - Heart to Heart to Heart (I don't think they quite understand the idiom, but dig that Death Proof poster!)

Radio Radio - Forme Elliptique (like something Alejandro Jodorowski would have made)

Hyuna - Bubble Pop (the chick from the Gangnam Style video at her sickly sweetest!)

Radio Radio - Jacuzzi (it is, of course, the Radio Radio gold standard, and I've posted it before)

If you're Korean and you actually do this, I want to know. I won't be holding my breath though. ;-)

Doctor Who #276: Inferno Part 3

"But I don't exist in your world!" "Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 23 1970.

IN THIS ONE...
Doctor Who does Mirror, Mirror.

REVIEW:
The Doctor fades from view and reappears in a more evil universe. Classic! Maybe he thinks he jumped to the future, because he's a little slow to catch on, even with odd Big Brother-style posters and strange logos on the sheds. The fun of these patently absurd stories (a parallel world so different where people nevertheless are in the same positions as their Earth-1 counterparts) is that the actors get the chance to play alternate versions of their characters. Benton is brutal. Liz is a cold and severe brunette. But it's Nick Courtney as the Brigade Leader who steals the show. It's not just the cool scar and iconic eye patch, it's his whole attitude, leaning in his chair, so still and relaxed to the point of indolence. He's so unlike the Brigadier, creepy and sadistic without having to do much of anything. An amazingly unctuous performance. I also like that unlike everyone in our universe, he asks "Doctor what?" no "who?", no doubt the name of the show on Earth-2.

And the guest characters are here too, of course. Well, almost. Sir Keith was killed 24 hours ago, a result of a more ruthless (and beardless), but not much different Stahlman. Petra and Sutton have a similar relationship though his inappropriate advances may get him into a lot more trouble. Not only are women more authoritative in the "evil" universe (what does that say about the Doctor Who writers?), but the more controlled society can get you reported and summarily punished. Though the people are slightly different (and for more occasional viewers, there are brief scenes on Earth-1 to remind you who they really are), the events they are embroiled in aren't. Ooze is still coming up to the surface, and the same people, including Stahlman, have been contaminated. The story basically continues from the same point, except everyone but the Doctor has changed.

The Doctor isn't the only Earth-1 visitor though, Bessie comes too. Why? Well, to have a bit of HAVOC action, of course! And it's good! The Doctor wrestles with a black-hatted UNIT man (or rather, a Republican Security Forces man) while driving through a shooting gallery, a sequence made all the more exciting because of the quick editing and Pertwee's face being right there on camera. He goes climbing up the factory ladders again, but it's followed by the contaminated UNIT/RSC soldier doing what is reputedly the highest fall in TV history up to that point. And it is quite high. There's room for humor too, with the Doctor hiding in a bin and wearing its lid as a camo-hat. Some darker comedy as well in the alt-characters' nasty reactions to the Doctor talking to them as if they were the people he knew.

THEORIES: So where IS the Doctor of the parallel universe? The New Adventures novel Timewyrm: Revelation, uhm, reveals that the leader of the Republic (the Big Brother figure) is the Doctor's third incarnation, having chosen from the Time Lords' mug shots instead of letting the regeneration proceed naturally. He dies from the events of Part 7. Obviously, there is no canonical evidence that there is any connection between the characters. My personal theory is that the fascist tendencies of this Earth's history never made it a particularly favored travel destination for the Doctor. Even if this dimension's Doctor had the same adventures, the Time Lords probably wouldn't have exiled him there (his interest in humanity was a factor). And it's even possible that he and Susan were captured by the authorities after sticking around too long in London and stuck into some Republican version of Area 51.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- An iconic episode, with a brilliant performance from Nicholas Courtney, some witty lines, and cool action sequences too.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Drunken Comics

The other day, my KFF and gaming buddy Furn Sai Yuk (not completely his real name) brought me a gift, the magical gift of drunken comics. Specifically, mini-comics made by Carlton Stevens AKA Cmonies, like Strong Style Jones.Apparently, Cmonies makes his comics only or mostly when he's drunk, sometimes with a drunk buddy (S.S.Jones is co-authored by Doug Slack) which gives them an expressionistic ink stroke look I enjoy, and a sort of faux-naiveté in the story. It's a lot like "outsider art", except that the lack of training and knowledge is simulated by alcohol. These are completely crazy comics where anything can happen and does, and starring potty-mouthed characters who may or may not be drunk themselves. Take Strong Style Jones, for example. He's a masked wrestler who drinks space whiskey in space and hallucinates a need to beat a Cyber Samoan and win the galactic title belt.
The poor Cyber Samoan is only trying to save a space truck full of puppies from careening into a star! Some very fun wrestling action, certainly more than in the only other luchadore comic I ever read.

The other mini-comic Furn handed me is Dynamite Comanche, a rougher (drunker?) effort about a Native American with a talking wolf pelt on his shoulders fighting the demon possessing George Washington.
Why would I kid about that premise? The comics are easy to order on Cmonies' Tumblr account, Don't Drink and Draw, and while you're there, check out his art, much of it devoted to wrestling and drinking. Because you have to be dedicated.

Doctor Who #275: Inferno Part 2

"Well done, everyone. I'll have a new medal struck. The Order of the Turkish Bath."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 16 1970.

IN THIS ONE... Ooze found in the Earth's crust leads various people to turn green, and the Doctor disappears.

REVIEW: As the episode begins, there's a confrontation between a UNIT soldier and transformed (green werewolf) Slocum that threatened to prove that if UNIT shot at it, it would be automatically bulletproof. Not the case, but Slocum lasts more than any of us would with a chest wound, and his boiling hot blood scorches the wall behind him. He dies, but the contagion spreads to a couple of other unimportant characters. These "monsters"' temperature is something they have in common with the ooze that contaminated them in the first place. It doesn't look it, but it too, is incredibly hot. Coupled with the harsh sounds coming out of the monsters' mouths, which the Doctor describes as basically volcanic (do volcanoes screech and breathe heavily, this just seems strange to me), we get a sense that the Earth itself is possessing or at least communicating through these guys. Well, I did warn you not to drill down so far.

The culprit is Stahlman, of course, a character that is so stubborn as to be stupid. He hates the Doctor even if he's been helpful, denies a computer's findings then sabotages it, gets himself infected with green ooze, denies the Doctor his power just to be petty... Disappointingly one-sided, especially after the more layered portrayal of the guest cast in the previous serial. Sutton and Petra do a little flirting, and he's growing on her at least, but none of the other characters grow beyond their basic premise laid out in Part 1. Another disappointment is Liz, who is not at her best as a servile agent of the Doctor's, going from center to shed and back again according to his whims, with a "that's a good girl" and no explanations. He even dupes her into leaving him alone so he can leech some power for his console tests while she's looking the other way. In what will be her final story, Liz Shaw is being rather mistreated by the Doctor AND the show's writers.

If Liz is pushed to the side, and the Brigadier is largely ineffectual in managing the situation, the Doctor does get a few good bits. This is the first appearance of Venusian karate (soon, aikido), which includes a knowledge of pressure points. So the Doctor is a fighter now? Well, he was before, remember? The first Doctor was handy with fencing techniques and wrestling flips. For a more active Doctor like Jon Pertwee's, it makes sense that he would have some kind of fighting skill, and it's fun that it be fairly non-violent AND exotic (based on Asian martial arts and apparently from an alien world, or more likely, from a terraformed one in the future). This active Doctor is also one that tries to do many of his own stunts, and Pertwee can be seen happily doing a foot chase across an industrial park, sliding down ladders and everything. Otherwise, it's a lot of calling Stahlman out on his crap, a little of which goes a long way.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Read back and you'll find Liz Shaw is a major reason to like the previous episodes this season. Her absence in spirit if not in the flesh, keeps me from calling this more than a Medium, though it's a solid installment with a historical first. Not too keen on the flat depiction of the villain either. Hopefully, things are a little better wherever the Doctor is heading to when he disappears in the last scene.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dial H for Horseshoes

Bob Rozakis writes the main story of Adventure #488 and brings to it some freshness, but there is one major plot hole that is left unattended. The villain of the piece, the Jinx, discovers Chris and Vicki's identities and takes a picture of them transforming. At the end of the story, no mention is made of it. It's not clear if he was ever captured (it would be off-panel), but regardless, that's a villain who knows their secret (not that he knows who these two kids actually are, but he can probably go on Facebook and find out), and photographic evidence anyone could lay their hands on. One of comics' great untold stories.

Case 34:
Adventure Comics #488
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: By this point, people are starting to wonder why there are so many, only briefly seen, superheroes in Fairfax. The newspapers are asking if the town is a training ground for heroes, while statistical expert the Jinx, is convinced that they have to be same people using different identities. "Bad luck" power affects the Dials, giving heroes less than useful power combinations, and in one instance allowing the hero personality to completely overwhelm the user (see Ragnarok).
Name: Oxide (cool name)
Created by: David Mark, Age 13, of Agincourt, Ontario
Costume: There's something endearing about noseless characters, for some reason, but profiles do show one. Oxide is only wearing a full facial mask with a slit for the mouth. Cute, maybe, but the actual costume is something of a mess. Hot pink spandex with pale yellow trunks, ear guards and bracelets, and a grayish blue belt with the shape of a utility belt, but no utility. Similar blue thingies around his ankles make it look like he has throwing darts on him, but there's no other indication he does. The chest emblem is a bright white dot with a fancy Greek-ish letter in the center (alpha? the number "2"?), and he completes his look with a yellowish orange cloud in the middle of his forehead.
Powers: Oxide fires a beam from his hands that rusts things that are vulnerable to rust.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeating Cancero the electrical crab-man.
Possibilities: The silly look and limited powers seem to place him in the silly column, where you'll find the Legion of Substitute-Heroes or more likely, Hero Hotline.
Integration Quotient: 15% (being unusual gets him there, but no farther)
Name: The Harp (a play on "harpy", is it?)
Created by: Deron Gooden, Age 13, of Houston, TX
Costume: The Harp wears a forest green uniform with loose sleeves and apple green accents. Her belt buckle is a tiny harp, an image of her actual golden harp. Her H Dial is rather visible over it. She has orange-feathered wings and a big do of brown hair.
Powers: The Harp can fly, assisted by her wings. She wields a harp in battle that magically influences those who hear its music clearly. She has a "sleep-song", for example, but it is not known if she knows any other tunes.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeating Cancero the electrical crab-man.
Possibilities: From the magical side of the DCU, the harpy element might tie her to Wonder Woman's world. A Greek myth who turned hero to atone for all those lost sailors?
Integration Quotient: 35% (not a bad concept, but I'm not convinced the powers can be made compelling)
Name: Ragnarok, the Cosmic Viking (great name for a Norse character, but cosmic viking? Really?)
Created by: Nelson Jimenez, Age 18, of Stamford, CT
Costume: Ragnarok is a red-bearded comic book viking (i.e. he wears horns on his helmet, despite the fact the vikings didn't) with pelts and small pieces of armor. He sports a glowing broadsword.
Powers: In all probability stronger and tougher than a normal person, Ragnarok is mainly seen using his big sword to cut through walls.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeating Jelly Woman and resisting arrest.
Possibilities: I'm not sure Ragnarok can steal Thor's thunder (see what I did there?) and fill the same niche. Is he an olden time viking with cosmic powers, or a viking from the stars? Better have him killed by Lobo and be done with it.
Integration Quotient: 40% (the cosmic element is a bit silly and holds him back)
Name: The Pixie (one of the names used and rejected by Kitty Pryde
Created by: Bill Cunningham, Age 18, of Aiken, SC
Costume: Sexy Peter Pan outfit. SEXY. PETER PAN. OUTFIT. (Not my fetish, but it might be someone's.)
Powers: The Pixie is as tall as the Atom and flies. She also has a purse full of pixie dust, which can achieve magical effects such as turning into a holding jar.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeating Jelly Woman.
Possibilities: Looks like a real fairy to me! How about taking the old Bat-Mite/Quisp trope and make her a pesky, but friendly magical companion for a heroine like Power Girl? I think that would play comically.
Integration Quotient: 65% (fairies probably aren't cool anymore, but I like classic tropes)

Bonus Supervillains
Name: The Jinx (the "the" is important, so we don't confuse him with the Fearsome Five sorceress)
Created by: Larry King, Age 19, of Morrisville, VT (so not the talk show host)
Costume: A black and orange number, with slatted glove and boot flares, vaguely samurai-inspired suspenders, a stripe running down the middle of his mask with a vertical mouth slit, and the letter "J" both on his chest and his belt (that's once too many, dude).
Powers: The Jinx can zap people with bad luck. How that mischance manifests itself is up to the universe, but it may even cause super-powers to backfire completely. Note that the luck does not automatically help the Jinx. When Chris and Vicki decided to help him escape, for example, the bad luck actually hampered that escape.
Sighted: In Fairfax. The shadowed the Dial heroes for a while, watching them defeat Cancero and Jelly Woman, and finding out their secret identities in the process. He tried to use that knowledge to kill the duo so that they wouldn't interfere with his own crime spree. He may or may not still be at large.
Possibilities: Bad luck powers flexible and fun to write, so the Jinx would definitely work as a recurring villain in the DCU with just a few tweaks. He looks like a mercenary type (it's the mask, I think), so might be hired by bigger villains to hinder the heroes' attempts at foiling their plans.
Integration Quotient: 80% (sometimes, it's all about the powers)
Name: Cancero (based on the astrological sign, but it's ugly in light of the disease also named after it)
Created by: Michael Clark, Age 16, of Cincinnati, OH
Costume: Cancero's armor makes him look like a humanoid crab, with big pincers, antennae and odd winglets on his back. He is red and reddish brown, a bit like a boiled lobster.
Powers: Cancero's armor allows him to breathe and maneuver under water, and fire electrically-powered force blasts from his antennae. You can short-circuit his antennae by simply jamming some conductive metal between them.
Sighted: In Fairfax, attempting to steal a nuclear submarine. He was captured by Oxide and the Harp.
Possibilities: We're always saying how Aquaman needs a bigger and better rogues' gallery, right? Right? RIGHT?!
Integration Quotient: 25% (it's important to have a well-defined niche, but it may be more important to have a cool name, look and powers)
Name: Jelly Woman (silly, yes, but I'm a bit jealous, because I have a superhero design I made in the 7th grade somewhere of a similar character called JELLO Woman... so close!)
Created by: Lincoln Wert, Age 12, Address unknown
Costume: Jelly Woman is a monstrous segmented creature whose apparent purplish exoskeleton can amorphously change shape. You know she's a woman because of they eyelashes, of course.
Powers: Jelly Woman's shape is essentially amorphous, so she can slide under a door or smother her enemies. If part of her body is sectioned off, she can continue to animate it. She does not appear able to speak, nor is it known if and how she reverts to human form.
Sighted: In Fairfax, attempting to rob a bank. She is stopped by Ragnarok and the Pixie.
Possibilities: This bizarre creature surely merits an origin story and further appearance. She's a kind of female Clayface, but with far less control over her powers. We see a lot of monsters in comics, but they're rarely female.
Integration Quotient: 25% (I can only imagine the pb&j jokes...)

Still a few creations from this comic, so stay tuned for more.

Doctor Who #274: Inferno Part 1

"You're liable to wake up Old Nick going that deep."TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired May 9 1970.

IN THIS ONE... They're drilling farther than they've ever drilled before. An accident creates a green werewolf. And the Doctor just there to leech power for his TARDIS console.

REVIEW: The weird editing on the opening credits is gone, thankfully, but we're still getting some special titles in this one. Gorgeous volcanic eruptions aren't just a bold use of color, but they seem to promise (or threaten) something for the story's characters down the line. And indeed, Dr. Stahlman is the prototypical scientist meddling with things he doesn't understand, drilling to the Earth's crust with no regard for safety. Can't tell yet if he's criminally negligent or if he has some darker agenda, but if there's a bad idea in the Whoniverse, it's to drill into the Earth. Not with everything the 2012 viewer knows is down there. And in fact, he releases some kind of ooze from down below, which turns the nicest guy at "Project Inferno" into a green werewolf. Nice trick to show poor Slocum being human and friendly in the opening scenes, so that we quickly bond with him and may be horrified at his savage murder of anyone who sees him in his mutated form.

This is Part 1, so we spend some time getting to know the guest cast, and a varied bunch they are. Sir Keith is the bureaucrat trying to hold the project together (I just realized, it's Jago from Talons of Weng-Chiang!), and in his ineffectual sparring with Stahlman, I think we should see a mirror of how the Doctor so often mistreats the people in charge. Sir Keith is sympathetic and Stahlman a humorless jerk, but isn't that how this Doctor has come across in the past three stories? In its year of color rebirth, the show seems intent on scratching at its own veneer, making its heroes as ambiguous as its villains. Sutton is the other reasonable man, a drilling expert who knows what's what and doesn't want to become a civil servant, but he's also hopelessly sexist (it's just like an episode of Mad Men). Petra is a strong woman who won't take his crap, but her loyalty may be misplaced (so she's Liz to Stahlman's Doctor, then).

Whether or not Stahlman has a secret agenda, his homologue the Doctor, does! An annoying consultant he may be, but he's also taking power from Inferno to get his TARDIS console started. This second thread is how the serial will fuel its seven episodes, with the Doctor moving to a parallel universe (see Theories), but not yet. Just weird distortions for now (epileptic viewers, beware). UNIT is also in the mix, the Brig and Benton (now a permanent member of the team), investigating the strange murder(s). It's lovely how Benton fixes up a temporary office, complete with the Brig's old army photos, and of course, that gives the Doctor the chance to trade some friendly barbs with the Brig. Liz doesn't get a big role this time, but the Doctor's affection for her is evident and makes their friendship rather delightful to watch.

THEORIES:
In trying to get the console working, the Doctor hits a wall and finds himself in "limbo". Modern viewers may recognize the "Void" found in between universes (from Doomsday, etc.). It would seem that the Time Lords have blocked the Doctor's access to the time vortex, but he seems to have, by accident (a power surge), found a place the console can still travel to.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Another good start, though obviously, the parallel universe thread is more intriguing than the werewolf element (yes, I know they're not really werewolves). Interesting guest cast, and some good moments for the regulars too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

RPG Talk: Great Heroic Team-Ups

Recently, I paid tribute to the great team-up comics of the past - and Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series by ricochet - and it made me think about realizing team-ups in role-playing games. Because you know what a major problem with lots of licensed RPGs is? Splat books. We buy lots of sourcebooks full of character stats, but players would rather create their own characters than play them. The team-up campaign or one-off is perfect to maximize your RPG collection! Pretty good for small groups of players (one GM and 2 players is actually optimal). And while the following article is would seem dedicated to superhero RPGs, its ideas can easily be adapted to other licensed games like Doctor Who and Star Wars, or with even non-licensed games like D&D or Top Secret.

The full-on team-up campaign
In this campaign idea, one player always plays the same character (Batman, for example) while another plays the guest-star of the week. To achieve the true madness of the team-up comic, the guest should be picked at random, either from a table or out of a stack of character sheets. Rolling on a table could help successive games achieve a certain balance, as perhaps a first roll could have a slim chance of sending you to a villains' table (for when the Doctor has to partner with [roll] the Rani), or limit the number of times Batman has to team-up with one of DC's cowboy stars (present day characters have higher % on the table). Alternately, there is no recurring star, and all players choose new heroes each session. Or you could play them in a chain - one stays, the other changes, alternating like that each session and allowing a player two sessions per hero. The GM could allow his players more than one roll/pick and the chance to choose the favorite of three characters, and could roll on a villains' table as well, for extra randomness.

Obviously, these picks should be done well before the session (say, at the end of the previous game) to give the GM the chance to meet the challenge of crafting a scenario that could realistically involve these varied characters, and the players a shot at researching their choice on Wikipedia or in the original source material. Can't expect everyone to be immediately conversant with Kamandi, Robin Lefler or Elminster, after all.

The team-up one-off
If that sounds extreme, you need not go that far. The self-contained team-up may be a perfect distraction in between larger arcs, or when only a couple players can actually make it to the game. Maybe the team-up is with one of the original Player Characters, maybe it's just a way to deepen the game setting by playing what would normally be NPCs.

Cross-company crossovers
Obviously, the DC, Marvel, Who, Trek and Wars universes are big enough to provide an almost limitless number of permutations, but that never stopped Batman from crossing over with Daredevil, Predator and Judge Dredd! For extra fun, allow for these to happen on occasion. One trope you should respect when doing so is to include a threat from both properties. For example, Doctor Who and Star Trek TNG are crossing over right now, and feature the combined menace of the Borg and the Cybermen.

TV Land: Busting out of canon
The ultimate cross-company crossover, of course, is when you throw everything in the same genre into the same universe regardless of whether or not they could normally meet on the screen or page. If you're playing a spy game like Top Secret, for example, your game could team up Bond & Cinnamon Carter, or Chuck & Warehouse 13, or Jason Bourne & the Prisoner. Doctor Who is a great vehicle for such things, since a TARDIS (or other temporal means of travel) can have a character meet any TV or movie character from across time and space. Romana and Sherlock visit Eureka under threat from Terminator robots. Adric survives Earthshock and meets up with Captain Caveman or the guys from Quest for Fire before popping out of a Primeval anomaly where he helps Oz from Buffy escape a version of Oz the prison run by the Wizard of Oz.

Go crazy, it's what the team-up experience is really about. Also, non-sexual fanfic.

Doctor Who #273: The Ambassadors of Death Part 7

"Has it occurred to you, sir, that this may create world panic?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Thank you Internet for allowing me to watch this. First aired May 2 1970.

IN THIS ONE... As Carrington prepares to inflame the world against the aliens, UNIT rescues the Doctor and Liz.

REVIEW: Explanations, climaxes and conclusions, but having kept the mysteries going this long, the finale couldn't possibly meet expectations. Carrington is justified in his Cold War paranoia because the aliens (accidentally) killed his crewmate during his Mars mission, and his elaborate frame-up to get Earth forces to unite and blow them out of the sky using manipulated media coverage is actually ahead of its time. Where I'm left needing more is in the villains getting some kind of comeuppance. Carrington is taken away, but was that all broadcast? Because if his plan was to fake an alien attack, the sight of creepy aliens actually attacking the makeshift studio would do it, so I guess not. How about a line to that effect?

Reegan gets caught, but just smiles and hopes the authorities will take into account that he pointed at the aliens and suggested using them to get the space center back from Carrington. Thanks, but that wasn't much of a leap, not sure you should expect leniency after murdering a dozen people. And there's no coda showing the aliens/astronauts exchange, nor any indication of where this first contact led, nor how Carrington forced them to kill for him when they were clearly opposed to the idea. The aliens were never heard from again, and it's hard to care when the Doctor doesn't. The episode ends with him leaving matters into Liz Shaw's hands and going back to his laboratory. Still more obsessed with getting the TARDIS working?

Thankfully, though the ending is abrupt and anti-climactic, there's a lot to love before that. Carrington takes the Brig prisoner, but he escapes with a bit of action (not strong action, but ok). The Doctor builds a communicator, but also a loud telegraph that sends an S.O.S. to UNIT. Benton's back in the game, and is the one to catch it AND to suggest using the Doctor's car to follow it back. Because of Carrington's deceit, UNIT is undermanned and has no vehicles, see, and it's pretty fun to see them riding along in the classic car. The Brig gets into more action at the baddies' shed, and while the choreography is simple, the handheld camera work keeps it dynamic. A good episode for the UNIT boys overall.

VERSIONS: The only deviations in the Target novelization are tiny, like renaming reporter John Wakefield Micheal.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's a good episode, with some strong ideas and action bits, but it just seems to end before the story does.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A suspenseful science fiction mystery made more exciting by the HAVOC stunt team. The Ambassadors of Death doesn't go where most Doctor Who stories go with this kind of material, achieving, perhaps, what the Doctor wanted to in Silurians.