Sunday, September 30, 2012

This Week in Geek (24-30/09/12)

Buys

This week I got Michael Chabon's newest novel, Telegraph Avenue, as well as a number of DVD - Mr. Vampire and Super Infra-Man (in the Kung Fu category), Marvel's Avengers and Cabin in the Woods (in the Whedon category), and the new James Bond boxed set, which is far from as cool and extra-filled as the Blu-Ray version, but you know me, old school to the last.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: From the trailer, there's no way to know what Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is really about, so I'll tell ya. It's a rather playful fantasy about a frustrated writer (Owen Wilson) longing for those Parisian days of the 20s when all the great artists and writers lived there. His fiancée (a hilariously mean Rachel McAdams) has no intention of moving there, so he's left to his own devices and at the stroke of midnight each night, he's transported to that romantic notion of 1920s Paris. In the process, he'll learn something about the power of nostalgia and about himself. If you know your early 20th century creative types, you'll get a lot more from the film's star-studded pastiches, but even if you don't, I think the eccentrics played by the likes of Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates and Marion Cottillard will still entertain and tickle your fancy. And for fans of photography, Woody Allen gives Paris the same romantic, even fetishized treatment he usually reserves for New York. It's all very sweet and lovely. The lone extra is an edited press conference at Cannes with some insight into the director's work, though he mostly lets the picture speak for itself.

Johnnie To's Sparrow has something in common with Midnight in Paris - it romanticizes Hong Kong the way the other does to Paris. This quirky comedy is about a quartet of pickpockets (the leader charmingly played by Simon Yam) manipulated by a beautiful and mysterious chameleon of a woman (Kelly Lin) into helping her regain her freedom (and passport) from the gangster who loves her too much. It's a mystery that unfolds slowly but surely, letting you piece the puzzle together through some great (and often demurely sexy) set pieces. Western viewers may catch up to the intrigue a bit late - there are concepts here that are very much native to Hong Kong - but I think they'll be rewarded in the end. It's also great fun to see pickpocketing mastery filmed like a grand musical, a perfectly choreographed martial arts action scene and, all at the same time, a western showdown. Another beautiful film from To. You wouldn't believe they shot on and off for 4 years, without a script. Lots of DVD extras too, though I was worried when the "making of" turned out to be shorter than 2 minutes! But no, there are much longer interviews with the director and stars, and awkward (but amusing) footage from the film's premiere and subsequent press conference, as well as a picture gallery.

To find out what I thought of Doctor Who's Day of the Daleks, read the reviews posted over the past week. Here I'll talk about the DVD extras. The first disc has the original episodes, which can be viewed accompanied by the always informative production notes subtitles or an audio commentary with producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrence Dicks, a couple of guest actors, and unusually, "vision mixer" Mike Catherwood. The inclusion is explained by a featurette on vision mixing, a key job in television at the time the show was made. There's also a fairly good making of which collects the recollections of many other people involved AND Doctor Who writers it influenced (Aaronovitch, Cornell, Briggs), a clip from Nationwide about a classroom winning a Dalek, a Blue Peter clip about their return in this series, and the usual photo gallery. Disc 2 features the Special Edition cut of the episodes (see my review of Part 4 for more, though I remain surprised they didn't combine the eps into a single movie as was done with other Special Editions, and it might have fixed the fugly reprises). The disc also includes a making of for the Special Ed.; the second part of the UNIT documentary, this time discussing the inclusion of Jo, Mike Yates and the Master, their various episodes together, and Roger Delgado's death (a tearjerker, I warn you); a fun featurette on the UNIT dating conundrum; a return to the various locations used (the latter two with amusing narration by Toby Hadoke); and "The Cheating Memory", a featurette on how and why we might remember old episodes as better than they are, with a psychologist who is obviously a Doctor Who fan. So another great package from BBC World to supplement a relatively disappointing story.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Slings & Arrows
III.iii. The Confessional - Classics Illustrated

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Batwoman to Black Condor.

Doctor Who #313: The Curse of Peladon Part 4

"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but a marriage has not been arranged. To coin a phrase - we're just good friends!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.19 1972.

IN THIS ONE... Arcturus is dealt with, but Hepesh starts a civil war. The Doctor turns Aggador into a pet. And Jo thinks of staying on Peladon.

REVIEW: It's almost a botched ending. In the opening minute, the staging is cleared up and you see, in too quick an edit, an Ice Warrior zap and kill Arcturus before it can fire off a shot. And then the Doctor's explaining the whole plot of the evil delegate and high priest Hepesh in an alliance to keep the Federation away from Peladon, each for their own reasons. It's a massive info-dump that isn't earned because it makes the Doctor make statements about things he couldn't possibly know for sure. And it seems like the story ends with 23 minutes to spare. But then you realize there's a story after the story, and that's rather well handled! Hepesh is still at large and massing troops to force Peladon to take his isolationist stance, the delegates' communicators have been sabotaged so they can't call for help or instructions, and there's still the chance a galactic incident could break out because Martians just killed the delegate from another world with whom they've had tensions (an amusing game is to see if you can blame the whole story on some Ice Warrior ploy to take out one of their enemies and conduct a back door invasion of "Federation peacekeepers", but that's certainly not the script's intent). The battle in the throne room is very well choreographed, dynamic, exciting and threatening, which leaves only Hepesh super-humanly knocking Grun upside the head with a boulder as the only sour note beyond those opening minutes.

Arcturus was the only irredeemable villain of the story, and probably because he never got a chance to explain his side of it. Writer Brian Hayles otherwise gives everybody else a shot. Grun, possibly driven by guilt for having followed Hepesh, allies with the Doctor. Aggador, the monster, is turned into a lovable dog that likewise turns on Hepesh, with deadlier results, so the Doctor's smart to later prevent him from putting his paws on him, even affectionately. (The way he turns on Hepesh also makes me wonder if the poor beast was being abused. Hepesh uses a flaming torch to control him and it triggers his rage.) The Ice Warriors, former Doctor Who monsters, prove to be reliable goodies. And even Hepesh gracefully concedes he might have been wrong even as he breathes his last. So it makes perfect sense that King Peladon should show mercy to Hepesh's men, just as the writer makes us forgive his characters their trespasses. His grief at losing his second father figure in as many days is actually rather touching (or am I still reeling from watching The Angels Take Manhattan?).

Forced to play the political game to its natural end, Jo finds that she's in over her head, her power as a princess only working locally, but Peladon offers to turn the lie into truth. She's torn and leaves with the Doctor, but for once, I'd accept a companion leaving for love. The chemistry and emotionally honest relationship between her and the King is set up from the beginning, and I believe it. Other stories where companions suddenly decide to leave because they've met a boy they fancy in the last episode don't even compare. In any case, it perhaps wouldn't have been possible for her to stay without fear of retaliation for posing as Earth royalty, not with the real Earth delegate finally showing up and pulling the old "Doctor who?" joke.

THEORIES: At the very end, the Doctor finally acknowledges that the Time Lords must have been steering the TARDIS to this historical crisis point, but we're never told WHY? Theories on this point are many. Does Peladon have some crucial role to play within the Federation in the future? Are the Time Lords worried that Arcturus could cause problems down the line if they get what they want? Could events left to unfold normally have caused some devastating war they want to prevent? Does Peladon have some rare mineral used in TARDIS construction (as Varos does) that needs to be mined? Is the Galaxy Five mentioned in The Monster of Peladon related to the Fifth Galaxy that allies with the Daleks in The Daleks' Master Plan? And if so, could this be a preemptive strike in the Time War to make sure Dalek forces don't get an early foothold in Muter's Spiral (i.e. the Milky Way - Gallifrey and Earth are in the same galaxy)? Or how about a timey-wimey explanation in which the Doctor's later visit was chronicled, so the Time Lords ensure he gets a warm welcome?

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, Alpha Centauri changes color with its moods. The illustrations show Aggador to be twice the size it is on television.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - After a gauche opening, the story manages some satisfying intrigue, action, character development and humor.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I dreaded watching a Peladon story again, but I was remembering the longueurs in The Monster of Peladon which comes later. The Curse of Peladon mixes political intrigue with a fair murder mystery and some surprisingly effective action, with a varied cast of characters and a huge role for Jo Grant. Which wasn't license to return to the planet, but that's a story for another day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #441: Secret Kingdom Superman

Source: World's Finest Comics #111 (1960)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)
It's the Silver Age, so of course, this story has to be both about amnesia AND a triple threat to someone's secret identity. I swear, heroes spent about as much time protecting those in the Silver Age as they did catching criminals. The story is called "Superman's Secret Kingdom" and it goes like this...

It begins when socialite Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson catch a news report that announces, pretty much in the same breath, that Superman and Clark Kent have gone missing. Before the media can clue in that the two are one and the same, Batman and Robin spring into action find Superman. They have something to go one, because Supes told them he was on the trail on racketeer Floyd Frisby who was hiding in the "general area" of a very specific, small fising village in South America. That was a week ago, and here's what actually happened:
While searching for Floyd, a volcano erupted and Superman sprang into action (so we must be in the Andes), and creating an alternate route for the lava, he exploded himself into the "jungle mountains".

Batman and Robin follow that trail, fight some marauding beasts for good measure, and are then jumped by what appear to be ancient Mayan soldiers. They let themselves be captured and led to a hidden valley with one of those ancient kingdoms protected from History we're always hearing about. Their king, as you've no doubt guessed by now, is Superman. An amnesiac Superman tapping into his aristocratic Kryptonian side, no doubt. He notices their strange costumes, but doesn't clue into the fact that they're a derivation on his own. Brain damage, I guess. Batman and Robin are welcomed as guests, and later get a guided tour of the frescos painted that week to celebrate the new god-king's arrival.
I particularly enjoy the one where Superman makes a giant bowl of pasta.
No, I don't care what the speech bubble says. Superman made a great big pyramid too.
And a statue of... some guy. The Silver Age being what it was, I would have expected a self-effigy, but Superman probably didn't have a mirror handy. While this is going on, evil Floyd Frisby, also in the city, has advised King Superman that Batman and Robin are bad men because they wear masks. "Unmask them!" shouts Superman. To now protect THEIR secret identities, Batman must spring into action and do something truly improbable.
Knock Superman back into column in the hopes of breaking it with Superman's "steel-hard" body. Superman's gotta learn some kind of immovable stance, sheesh! The Dynamic Duo makes its escape into the city's art gallery where they hatch the following plan: While Robin puts the painting skills he acquired in school (support art in our schools, folks, it saves lives and secret identities), Batman disguises himself as a fake Mayan god with an Aztec name and returns to the throne room to accuse Frisby of being a criminal. Had Frisby just denied it, that would have been that, but instead he reacts defensively, pulls out a gun and more or less admits that he's running off with Mayan gold. Superman runs after the fleeing Batman - still not cleared of all charges - who leads him to this still-wet painting:
Confronted with his secret, Superman starts to remember who he really is, and they all leave together with a bound Floyd Frisby. After Robin covers up his work, of course! Wouldn't want an archaeologist to discover Superman's true identity, would we?

Doctor Who #312: The Curse of Peladon Part 3

"One minute you're condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you're proposing to me!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.12 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor sings a lullaby to Aggador, then faces his trial by combat. Peladon proposes to Jo.

REVIEW: This story really is dark and dingy, a side-effect of taking place on a planet where it seems to always be night (or rather, stormy, so there's no sun and usually no windows). But while the murk is getting to me (perhaps because it's raining as I type these words), I still admire the story, even if it isn't exactly flawless. I question, for example, how much the lead characters have become ciphers in it. The Doctor and Jo have taken on roles that have, in places, overwhelmed their true selves. Consider the Doctor making threats that his death will cause a galactic scandal (but he's not the real Earth delegate). Or the heights of melodrama Jo reaches in her scenes with King Peladon (would she really consider marrying him if he hadn't ordered the Doctor's execution?). They've become the people they're only pretending to be, while thankfully keeping to the essence of who their really are.

Where the episode shines, as with the rest of the Peladon storyline to date, is in the back room machinations of the characters. Cementing the fact that the Ice Warriors are good guys now, they're the only ones who jump to the Doctor's defense. Arcturus preys on Alpha Centauri's instinctual cowardice to seed doubt, fear and panic into the poor hexapod, but the Martian Warriors hold the deciding vote that keeps the delegates from leaving the planet. (If Federation Law demands unanimous decisions, it's a wonder they get anything done.) Hepesh wants the Doctor killed no matter what he says, but only in the right circumstances, using an ally's game plan so as to create the most outrageous interstellar incident. He's likely being manipulated himself by someone who doesn't want the Federation involved so they can reap Peladon's resources themselves, and if you're paying attention, there aren't many suspects left (unless you think Alpha Centauri really has it in him/her/it). Close-ups in fact link Hepesh and Arcturus, just before the latter sticks out its gun and fires at... well, the staging is a little musty. As for King Peladon, he's still an ineffectual boy-king, trapped by tradition and lied to by his closest adviser. The key, as Jo puts hopefully makes him realize, is to rule BOTH as a King and as a man (with the humanity that entails), which he sees as separate things. Duty AND conscience.

There are two less vocal members of this cast, of course. The first is Aggador, finally seen here in its full plush glory, and for once, an adorable monster really is supposed to be adorable. The Doctor's makeshift hypnosis gadget mesmerizes it, and a catchy tune soothes it (it sounds Celtic, but I hear it's actually just nonsense), and it's actually quite pettable when it's calm. Who knows what Hepesh uses to enrage the creature and cause it to kill. Jo screws everything up because she's gotten used to being the action heroine and attacks the beast with a torch. Her getting so quickly mesmerized in the aftermath (and the Doctor's "good grief") is quite funny and makes it all worth it. And then there's Grun, the mute and imposing King's Champion, and his fight to the death with the Doctor. Quite an exciting one too, with handheld cameras, shots from above )(this is a REAL pit you have to climb down into with ropes) and lots of cool gags. It's probably the best fight Doctor Who's ever had up to that point (perhaps ever, I've still a ways to go), and it ends rather violently with Grun getting choked out in some netting. It could have been another case of shouting "Hai!" a lot and opponents tripping over themselves. Instead, it's a real highlight of the season.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Some excellent action in what is otherwise still a potable political thriller.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in October 2012

I've long wanted to tap into this particular theme, so October will be Halloween Month, a collection of monster movies from across the whole of Asia (well, three of the major countries, at least). So if you're in my corner of Acadia and like to read subtitles while crazy action is going on onscreen, here's what I'm showing:

Destroy All Monsters - Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, even Anguirus are in this daikaiju-studded spectacular, and more besides. What better way to start Halloween month than this tribute to rubber suits and wrestling moves? Plus, I've been wanting to feature Mothra on a poster for years.

A Chinese Ghost Story - The 1987 Hong Kong romantic comedy horror film starring Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong, and Wu Ma, not the 2011 remake, this film spawned a number of sequels, a tv show, an animated film, and a trend in the Hong Kong cinema of the time. The original Chinese title translates as the far less generic, but I suppose less marketable "The Ethereal Spirit of a Beauty".

Mr. Vampire - Another start to a hugely popular franchise, Ricky Lau's comedy horror hit would spawn 3 sequels and a host of Chinese vampire film, television and even theatrical projects. Look for this movie's trailer online to see just why we're excited about Chinese vampires.

Sector 7 - Last year's Korean 3D hit (in glorious 2D, of course), I expect this to be a bog-standard, generic monster flick, so bring some munchies and get ready to hoot at the screen. There's a reason I do this with a group of people, y'know.

As usual, readers well outside my area can look forward to capsule reviews of each film on the succeeding Sunday. But tonight, Johnnie To's Sparrow!

Doctor Who #311: The Curse of Peladon Part 2

"To the unbeliever, all signs are as dust in the wind."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.5 1972.

IN THIS ONE... A few more attempts on delegates' lives draws suspicion on the Doctor, the Ice Warriors and Hepesh, but whodunit?

REVIEW: While the Doctor still gets to tool about and get himself into trouble, this is really Jo's story. She sneaks off and finds clues while the Doctor plays the part of an ambassador. When in trouble, she uses a bit of that escapology we so often hear about to climb out of a window and inch herself along a most inhospitable cliff to another. And when she's romanced by King Peladon currying favor with Earth, she sees through him and refuses to compromise the neutrality that in effect, keeps her safe from interfering with the unknown politics of the era. She perhaps judges him too harshly, but it's the right thing to do, and she's rather more perceptive than usual in seeing it that way.

Those politics ARE making themselves known, however. Whatever this Federation is like, some members may benefit more than others and gain political clout and power over weaker worlds. Though starting from a false premise (that the Doctor and Jo are actually Earth delegates), the Ice Warriors correctly intuit they might have a plan to marry Josephine to Peladon, insuring a privileged alliance between their worlds at others' detriment. So might the Earthers not be the assassins everyone's looking for? It's interesting that the Ice Warriors are casting suspicion on the Doctor because he's doing the same thing to them! Like the Doctor, the audience may have that bias. After all, Martians are monsters and surely up to no good. Look how naturally menacing they are with their sibilant voices, imposing frames and face-shrouding helmets. But it seems Brian Hayles has beaten Gene Roddenberry to his TNG punch of putting a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise (I'm sorry, but this story just brings out the old Trekkie in me), and reformed his creations over whatever centuries stand between The Seeds of Death and this story. As it turns out, the Ice Warriors are being framed, and that frame-up then ricochets to the Doctor and Jo! And amidst all this, high priest Hepesh is also running his own game, but he may or may not be responsible for ALL the crimes committed. Or is he being "framed" by the script as well? The mystery isn't so straightforward so is all the more satisfying. Except as someone who knows the solution, without spoiling it for those of you watching along for the first time, there's something in this episode that's hard to swallow once you're in the know.

And while Hayles does a good job of defining the cultures involved, his grasp on what a diplomat should be is more tenuous. Not only are half of them armed, but the things that come out of their mouths (or however it is Alpha Centauri squeaks) would be major diplomatic screw-ups in the real world. In open Court, for example, Alpha says the delegation only wants to help, to raise the planet out of "barbarism". That's really condescending even if it does turn out Peladon has the automatic death penalty for walking into Aggador's shrine by accident. And the King's noble graces also need a bit of a brushing up, as his back-handed compliment to Jo about never being around anyone beautiful, which infers that his standards are really quite low, attest to. These are minor hiccups in an otherwise intelligently designed political thriller.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - This isn't a bog standard Who mystery in which the culprit is immediately apparent, and it even treats its monsters with humanity and dignity.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are There People Behind Our Masks?

Machine Man says:
He's right. As a great man writing dialog for a small one once said, "To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." The most dangerous mask we wear is the one in the mirror. Auto-evaluation is the key to personal growth!

Words I live by. And I'm no robot.

Doctor Who #310: The Curse of Peladon Part 1

"Your legend seems violent and unpleasant... and rather too convenient."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.29 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on Peladon, where Federation delegates are convening to evaluate the rather Medieval planet for membership.

REVIEW: So what the hell, Time Lords? The Doctor can use his TARDIS now? I don't mind a break from the UNIT era (a building might not explode at the end, this time), but if the production is to play fast and loose with its own rules, they really should provide an explanation. Even the way the TARDIS is taken out of the equation is out of another era, or more specifically, from The Romans (though it's a much better tumble). The destination is Peladon, a planet on the cusp of joining the "Federation", but a mysterious murder could derail the whole thing. So it's a lot like Star Trek's "Journey to Babel", except that this Federation is filled with truly alien aliens. None of those actors with stuff stuck on their faces for Doctor Who! Alpha Centauri is the weirdest thing to hop on... what does it hop on anyway? And while I've seen both Peladon stories a NUMBER of times, his/her/its high-pitched, giggly voice still came as a laugh-inducing shock the first time I heard it in the episode. Negative to Alpha's positive is delegate Arcturus, an ugly shrunken head in a water dome atop a weaponized box (some diplomatic summit!). And then the Ice Warriors show up, and they've got diplomatic immunity too!

At the heart of the story is Peladon, both the world and the boy-king (played by David Troughton, son of the second Doctor), and writer Brian Hayles uses him and his two councilors - Hepesh the high priest and (doomed) Torbis the chancellor - the two men who effectively raised him and who are diametrically opposed in their opinion of Peladon's place in the universe. Hepesh, insular, superstitious and traditional. Torbis, logical, looking ahead, open to contact with other worlds. No doubt because my mind was on Star Trek already, I couldn't help but see King Peladon as Kirk and his advisers as Spock and McCoy. What's important is that we get to know these people, in broad strokes, yes, but Hayles quickly makes us understand who they are, and what drives them. Politically, I suppose this is about the United Kingdom joining the European Union or not. But time, and in my case, distance, divorces the story from its original context, so that's not a big consideration for me. And it pretty much disappears behind the murder mystery and talk of a monstrous curse.

The Doctor is mistaken for Earth's delegate and has to quickly adapt, but it's Jo who's a nice surprise in this episode. When she learns that only women of royal blood can walk into the throne room, she smoothly takes on a posh personality and plays the part of Princess Josephine (which King Peladon immediately takes a shine to). She's quite good at it, though her bubbly "See you later!" at the very end does worry the Doctor (or is he a little jealous that some other male is getting her attention?). She's "all dolled-up" for a date with Mike Yates, but is quick to trade up. What happens on Peladon, stays on Peladon, if you know what I mean. Earlier, Jo is the one to find the tunnel leading out of the windy rock face, and damn it, she's cute doing it. In the absence of the UNIT boys, it looks like our girl Jo will get room to breathe and grow.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's all set-up at this point, but it's a good set-up with a variety of characters and the regulars, Jo especially, getting plenty to do too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dial H for High

And now for the back-up in Adventure Comics #589, by E. Nelson Bridwell, Trevor von Eeden and Larry Mahlstedt. It looks quite nice, but it's an insane piece of comics writing, in large part because of the villain design by David Wile, who may or may not be the well-known travelogue photographer from Toronto. Regardless, there ARE recognizable names among the fan creators this week. Richard Konkle (Gemstone) could be the creator of Equine the Uncivilized and Red Shetland, Conan/Red Sonja parodies from the 80s (like Cerebus, but with horses). And if 30-year-old Dale M. Houstman's creation is bizarrely named (Hasty Pudding), it should be remembered that he's a published surrealist poet as well as a songwriter and visual artist. Let's see what these luminaries (and others) had to offer...

Case 37: Adventure Comics #489
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: It is unclear whether certain heroic identities' proclivity for bad puns stems from some Dialed up personality trait, or if Chris and Vicki are to blame.
Name: Gemstone (it works, the "stone" countering the girly link to "Gemworld" or "...and the Holograms")
Created by: Richard Konkle, Age 18, of Las Vegas, NV
Costume: Gemstone's bright crystalline skin is well offset by sleek black clothes, including high boots, bracelets that go up to the thumb joint - each with inset crystals - and a studded metal belt. The only spot of color is a vest that either refers to painted glass or Crazy Quilt's costume.
Powers: Gemstone is made of super-hard diamond and so is invulnerable and immovable. He also packs quite a punch, and can shoot a seemingly unlimited number of sharp crystal "spearheads" from his hands, created from air molecules.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defended the high school from an attack by Marionette.
Possibilities: The array of powers and the DCU's previously forged link between gemstones and magic (via Amethyst) makes me think this character would have mystical origins. Perhaps he's a man who gained the properties of an artifact. Or he could really be from Gemworld, their ambassador to this plane like Amethyst is ours over there. The vest has me imagining him as a hero from another time though, like the early 70s, his powers tying into the New Age movement.
Integration Quotient: 75% (unusual enough to warrant a place in some small niche of the DCU)
Name: The Weaver (there's an Atlantis-based villain with that name in the DCU, but nobody cares; bit formal for superheroine)
Created by: Nancy Mayberry, Age 16, of New Orleans, LA
Costume: A green unitard with orange-yellow lines weaving around it and resolving into boots and gloves. They create an odd two-mountain pattern on her chest, a missed opportunity for a stylized "W". Her mask has a high forehead, going right up to her hairline.
Powers: The Weaver emits solid energy from her hands which she can sculpt into any shape, from cage bars to knives and shears on the end of her finger's tendrils. It appears the shapes must remain connected to her body in this way. She can also fly.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defended the high school from an attack by Marionette.
Possibilities: Her powers are basically derived from Green Lanterns, but the name evokes something a bit more mystical. I'd use the previously mentioned Atlantis connection to make her a descendent of that villain, using her magical powers for good.
Integration Quotient: 50% (could work, but bit of an obscure genesis I've come up with for her)
Name: Frosty (same name as a famous snowman? I think not; a nickname, no more)
Created by: Ann-Marie Leslie, Age 16, of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland
Costume: For someone with cold powers, Frosty sure does have a lot of warm colors on her costumes, not to mention the Athenian cut of her short skirt and bare shoulder, and that sunburst on her chest. I'll buy the cut (which includes armguards that also evoke an ancient time), if only because it shows the cold doesn't bother her. But the rest...
Powers: Frosty freezes things until the shatter from the cold by simply looking at them. Gives new meaning to a "chilly look", but thankfully, she doesn't use it on people.
Sighted: In Fairfax, destroyed the Marionette's "Controller", freeing the alien.
Possibilities: Can't quite resolve the inconsistencies. Her look could make her an Amazon (but they don't have such powers), or a heroine from a more mythical time (but her name doesn't work). To even begin to approach her, "Frosty" would have to be short for something, like maybe she's a Frost goddess or something, but even that seems silly. Perhaps she could work as Hasty Pudding's partner if the two of them are British heroes. She might be modeled on some London statue, wearing that short skirt even in cold winter.
Integration Quotient: 10% (difficult to get even there)
Name: Hasty Pudding (naming yourself after food is a big no-no, even if it's mentioned in the Yankee Doodle song)
Created by: Dale M. Houstman, Age 30, of Minneapolis, MN (though he's lived in Minnesota since the early 70s, Houstman is originally from England, which explains the pudding reference)
Costume: A green suit with green stick-on domino mask and a red cape, Pudding's belt has a small red lightning bolt on it, a visual connection to the Flash?
Powers: Hasty Pudding has super-speed, but is incapable of normal speed. He can only stand still, or move faster than the eye can see. He can even run up buildings, defying gravity.
Sighted: In Fairfax, fighting the Marionette.
Possibilities: Another Speed Force junkie, this one from England. Knight & Squire has recently taught us that the country is full of dubiously-named heroes and villains, and Hasty Pudding certainly fits that bill.
Integration Quotient: 80% (yes, despite the name, because the DCU has provided the perfect nationality for him)

Bonus Supervillains
Name: Marionette (there's little fear of confusion with the Micronaut of the same name today, but in 1982?)
Created by: David Wile, Age 19, of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Costume: The heavy-set Marionette has a hinged, puppet-like look in white and green, with a large M on his chest and a smaller one on his forehead (he's an alien but studied our language). His most distinctive feature, however, is a set of puppet strings attached to his limbs and rising up into the air where they are attached to a giant floating "X".
Powers: The Marionette is a life-sized puppet, super-strong and invulnerable. He is actually controlled by the big "X" above him, which floats above him and is able to make him rise into the air, jump, etc. The strings are part-invulnerable, part-intangible, and phase through (for example) the roofs of structures Marionette might step into. The "Controller" isn't as indestructible. When destroyed and the strings effectively cut, Marionette's power ebbs away and he dies.
Sighted: In Fairfax, causing mayhem until killed by the destruction of his Controller. He is really an alien who invented an artificial intelligence who was "too human" and became insane, taking control of its creator and for no reason at all, decided to terrorize Earth.
Possibilities: The premise is completely crazy, but it's something you might see in a Grant Morrison comic or something. Seems like once the punch is out, the character has a short shelf life though. Not one to bring back again and again. Maybe they could buff up the Controller so that he shows up with different puppets though.
Integration Quotient: 35% (I'm up for some wild, weird alien threats)

Wow, only one issue of Adventure Comics left! Stay tuned!

Doctor Who #309: Day of the Daleks Part 4

"You're trapped in a temporal paradox! Styles didn't cause that explosion and start the wars - you did it yourselves!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.22 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The rebels caused their timeline by trying to prevent it, so it's UNIT against Daleks and Ogrons on the green.

REVIEW: Despite time travel or time anomalies showing up in various stories to date, this is the first true Doctor Who tale that deserves the now-popular appellation "timey-wimey". The rebels have come back in time to kill Sir Reginald whom they believe blew up a building full of delegates, causing WWIII, which killed off 7/8th of the population, leaving Earth ripe for Dalek conquest. As it turns out, they're the ones who blow up the house and caused their own timelines. Completely bonkers even now, but it's rather wonderful and clever at the same time (even if it's pretty obvious their interpretation of events is all wrong). Of course, there are still a couple problems with the plot. One is that the Daleks claim to have changed history, but plainly haven't (they also proclaim they've discovered time travel as if The Chase and The Daleks' Master Plan haven't happened yet, update your Dalek timelines). Unless they saw Earth's world war in their past and went back to exploit it. I guess that's it, but it's not really explained (also, see Theories). The second problem is that writer Louis Marks gave us a weird scene in Part 1, with the Doctor and Jo's temporal doubles, and never pays it off. How hard would it have been to have the two of them to return to the wrong moment, say before the final battle? As it is, those doubles came from nowhere.

It's the big action finale, but sadly, director Paul Bernard's last good fight is still the Doctor beating on a rebel while drinking wine. There, it's fun because he's supposed to be blase. But every other action scene is done like that, with stunt people sleepwalking through them. There's just no energy! Everything is slow and deliberate to the point of absurdity. We get UNIT soldier raising their arms slowly as they get exterminated. Completely ridiculous. We get a line of Ogrons and Daleks advancing with no strategy whatsoever as soldier shoot at them, and it's BORING. Victims drop to the ground without so much as an expression. Sure, there's a big explosion at the end - because, you know, UNIT era - but for a slam-bang finale, it's very limo. Yet, see Versions.

So what's to like aside from the paradox convolutions? Well, the future is well rendered, with descriptions of the Daleks depleting Earth's natural resources to build their Empire, and features a nice solution to the problem of future furniture (people sit on the floor, a sign that the Daleks find chairs irrelevant). The Controller is saved by the Doctor, so he repays him in kind and attracts the Daleks' ire. So we have a nice lesson about showing compassion even to a collaborator who likely had little choice, while also having that character punished for the crimes he committed. And the Brig pulls rank on the pompous Sir Reginald, always good for a laugh. The episode lives in these little moments, not on the larger set pieces.

THEORIES: Another concept that's mentioned, then abandoned, is the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, which apparently prevents you from interfering with your own timeline. The Daleks are crazy enough to try it, and in this case, have created a timeline they know to be different than their own history of the Invasion of Earth in the 2260s. You can't do that without calamitous repercussions, or so we've been led to believe. So in trying to do so, did they shunt themselves into a parallel world instead? We know from Inferno that it's possible. History or the time vortex or even the unseen Time Lords may be protecting the Web of Time by pushing would-be interferers to dimensions where a paradox would not occur. In this case, a world where Earth knows a third world war and the Daleks never swooped in as per their second appearance on the program. If I'm right, we still have to explain how these people wind up in OUR timeline, but I think it's acceptable (it is on Star Trek, for example, and in X-Men comics) that any given possible (usually called "alternate") future has access to the same past (a time before the turning point that led to that future). You might say there's an accepted future history in the Whoniverse (or else the Doctor couldn't return to Peladon or New Earth so readily), but we're often told that an invasion of Earth CAN and WILL interrupt the future development of humanity and must be fought. The Doctor even shows Sarah Jane the consequences of not acting in Pyramids of Mars, and that surely is an "alternate future" (or present, from Sarah's perspective). All of which doesn't make it any less bonkers.

VERSIONS: There's a Target novelization that features the cut scene where the Doctor and Jo double back on themselves (the other side of the scene in Part 1), and the Japanese edition does have pictures of a futuristic four-wheeled bugger instead of the motortrike featured on the show. The DVD also features a "special edition" version of the four episodes, surprisingly not consolidated into a single film-length story (as was done with several other Doctor Who stories). I must say it fixes a lot of the technical problems and creates a tighter, more exciting narrative. It can't help with the plot problems, however. So what's changed? Nick Briggs, the voice of the new series Daleks, re-dubbed all the Daleks, bringing to it a much richer (and on-model) performance. The action scenes are all much better thanks to the inclusion of ray beams coming out of the disintegrators and shockingly violent effects when they hit. The disintegrators seem to make people explode (that's not always flying mud, is it?), and the Daleks' exterminators have that tell-tale skeleton effect. Even UNIT has gotten a boost, with digital sparks and squibs going off all over the place. And lots of smoke. Now the fights take place in veritable war zones, and when that line of Ogrons and Daleks advances, they're brushing off bullets and appear intimidating rather than tacticless. It's not just CGI either. They even filmed little pieces of action with UNIT soldiers, Ogrons and Daleks, replacing some of the more rubbish bits. When there is a lot of CGI, it does tend to clash with the material around it, like the animated screens in the fascist HQ, or the admittedly cool establishing shot of the future buildings, with saucers overhead. The kind of energy bubble surrounding the portable time machines feel like a Terminator reference, which would be cool given how much that film series would seem to owe Day of the Daleks. Watching the making of the Special Edition, there are a lot of very small changes you might not even notice. They've eliminated line fluffs and camera shakes, redone a lot of the sound design, and tightened up the limp action considerably. One place I do think they failed is with the cliffhangers. Except for Part 3's (which features better and more animated shots of the two previous Doctors), they weren't able to eliminate the stupid reprise sting entirely. They cut out of it quickly, but it's still there and a major annoyance. Still, unless you're a purist, you'll find the story much more enjoyable with these new effects, sounds and edits.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - As I feared, many questions left unanswered, and unless I'm watching the special edition, it ends with a big inaction set piece. However, the timey-wimey idea is clever, even if it does throw up even more questions.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An intriguing temporal paradox, but not much else. The editing has something to say, but the action scenes are universally terrible, and the two middle episodes are at a standstill. Part of the problem seems to be that the Daleks weren't in the writer's original draft, so their big return (in color!) doesn't have much for them to do. But remove them and all the padding, and you're left with what? An episode and a half? The special edition can't remedy the problems at the story's core, but it at least gets rid of the technical irritants, including the bad action scenes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Star Trek #1442: Star Trek 13


1442. Star Trek 13

PUBLICATION: Star Trek #13, IDW Comics, September 2012

CREATORS: Mike Johnson (writer), Stephen Molnar (artist)

STARDATE: Unknown (sometime after Christmas, follows previous issue).

PLOT: The crew of the Enterprise, and the events surrounding an away mission to Gamma Trianguli VI (i.e. The Apple), from a redshirt's perspective, Mr. Hendorff's, to be precise.

CONTINUITY: The original Hendorff died in The Apple, but in the new continuity, he is the character nicknamed "Cupcake" in the Star Trek movie, and mention is made of both stories here. The references to The Apple mean that the other redshirts must be Mallory (who originally stepped on exploding rocks), Kaplan (hit by lightning) and Marple (killed by natives), but see Divergences. Also mentioned, Calder II (Gambit Part I).

DIVERGENCES:
In The Apple, the redshirt hit by lightning, Kaplan, was a white male, not a black female. Similarly, Marple was a Hispanic male, not a blonde female. It is of course entirely possible that though the threats were similar, the landing party was composed of different crew members.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Right under Spock's nose. Ballsy.
REVIEW: Though the front of the book, with its unnecessary recap of the Star Trek movie, and profile of each member of the bridge crew (why, because there are a lot of readers picking this book up that HAVEN'T seen the movie?), is a lot of padding, I did enjoy how it resolved into a heartfelt tribute to the redshirt. Redshirts, if you've just joined our show, are characters whose only function in the classic Star Trek, were to get killed so that you'd know what Captain Kirk was up against. They usually wore red shirts because that's the color security personnel wear. From the Next Generation on, security was in gold, but we still called them redshirts. Anyway... this particular redshirt is a character from the movie - the guy who beats Kirk up in the bar and is now working under him - and the comic series has decided to give him the name of a redshirt who bought it in the classic episode "The Apple".To nice effect, as it turns out. Yes, the first few pages feel like padding as we're introduced to the characters we already know quite well, but the real lesson is that this redshirt, this DISPOSABLE character, has a distinct relationship with each of them. He's a person. He's also got a family (the reader in fact plays the part of his parents), and best of all, pride in his work. Writer Mike Johnson is breaking the fourth wall a little bit by using "redshirt" as in-universe jargon, but it's to show Hendorff sees value in it, reappropriates it, and turns it into a commendable role. The second half of the book is sort of a backdoor reboot of "The Apple", in which Hendorff this time survives, and only TOS fans will even realize this is so. It's got a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead backstage quality, with the mission seen from an odd and limited angle. Better, I think, than any kind of reprise (at least, based on the remakes we HAVE had), and it's perhaps to keep the surprise that the issue maddeningly omits a title. There's a weird hallucinatory mislead that I still find a bit confusing, but otherwise, a fine issue, and well illustrated by Molnar who has this crew's likenesses down pat. Always been a sucker for the "little guy" in the background, so this one got me, no problem.

Doctor Who #308: Day of the Daleks Part 3

"You must not jump to conclusions." "Well, better than jumping from the crack of a whip from some security guard."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.15 1972.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is reunited with Jo in the future and plays around with a motorized tricycle before the Daleks strap him to a table.

REVIEW: Director Paul Bernard is really making a hash of the opening sequences of this story, isn't he? Once again, the cliffhanger's musical sting returns, and is quickly faded out. And it's especially odd because Bernard's strength is definitely editing, providing once again a large number of dissolves that express irony or contrast. Even the ending is a kind of editorial trick, with the credits sequence laid in as CSO before the screen goes to it completely. I'm not saying it works mind you, but it's at least interesting. If that's the director's strength, then his weakness is action scenes. In this episode we get some dull running around in dark tunnels through two separate centuries, but also an embarrassing trike chase in which the Ogrons very easily catch up on foot and surround it ineffectually. Aside from apparently fulfilling Pertwee's contractual request of driving a new vehicle each story (not an actual clause, but it does feel like it), it's a rather pointless exercise, and it looks silly.

Much more interesting is the Doctor metaphorically running circles around the Controller. He's really got an answer for everything, but of course, he knows there are Daleks about, it's just a matter of how long until the Controller admits it. To Jo, beneficiary of the Controller's hospitality, it just seems rude, of course, but how is that different from how the Doctor usually deals with authority figures? The real authority is the Daleks, of course, and their reaction to the Doctor showing up is interesting for being exactly how they always react to him nowadays (well, until a recent episode) - with a smidgeon of panic. He WAS branded an enemy of the Daleks on occasion in the black and white era, but the last time they appeared (if those events indeed live in these particular Daleks' memory), he caused their "final end". I never believed in that end (a civil war would undoubtedly leave survivors), so they might know him from that already. In any case, their mind analyzer triggers stock photography of the previous Doctors, something that must occur once every so often to remind the current generation of fans that the Doctor's history is long and proud. Because the UNIT era is massively different from what came before and we never got to see Troughton turn into Pertwee per se, this acknowledgement is probably as crucial as the first time they did it in the New Series (and as when the 8th Doctor was shown in the Journal of Impossible Things, for that matter) to confirm the era as part of the same continuum.

But as with the previous two parts, there's rather a lot of lounging around. Jo has a snack. The rebels have a smoke. Pertwee takes a drive. Where's the story? A lot of that dead air could have been used to answer the questions multiplying before our eyes. Is this a "What if?" story based on the Dalek Invasion of Earth, and if so, what is the pivotal moment the alternate timeline is hinged on that apparently involves Sir Reginald? (This, at least, has a good chance of getting an answer.) Why are the Controller's people faintly android-like? They even have the same skin tone as Star Trek's Data. Are they modified humans, perhaps a new type of Roboman? But if so, how can they have a traitor in their midst? How do the handheld time machines work? They have a similar circuit to the TARDIS', but allow a person to fly naked and unprotected through the time vortex. Is this a precursor to the Cult of Skaro's emergency temporal shift? Doesn't it seem like powerful and dangerous technology for them to have, and for the rebels to simply pick up and retro-engineer? I don't need everything explained to me, but if after ¾ of the story, the Daleks are still trying to establish the Doctor's credentials, I think some of that time could have been put to better use.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The story is merely ok, so it's the Doctor's battle of wits with the Controller and the editing (bar the opening sequence) that are the real stars. It's all up to Part 4 now to do what Parts 2-3 should have already started doing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Doctor Who RPG: Season 8

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1971 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 7)

The GM
It's Terry's second season and he feels like he's only just warming up. This time around, he plans to have one more story (as requested by his players), and to finally allow the Doctor to leave Earth on a limited basis, working up to the day when the Time Lords lift his exile entirely. He's also had to replace the companion, and asked around until he found the right person, but in the process, came across OTHER people who wanted to play. Terry obliged two other players, one of them in a most unusual role. See below...

The Characters
-Jon isn't planning on doing anything different with his Doctor this season, except work on his chemistry with the other players, three of which are new to the game. He IS hoping to fiddle around with his store of gadgets, particularly Bessie, using the car's Story Points to give it more options. Favorite Skill: Transport.
-The new companion player is Katy and she's designed a somewhat flighty and clumsy UNIT agent with a heart of gold and some ability in Subterfuge. She and Jon (or rather their characters) quickly click in a kind of father-daughter way.
-The other returning player is Nick as the Brigadier, and having played conflict with the Doctor for a whole season is ready to keep it more in the background. The GM's told him about his plans to take the campaign off-Earth where UNIT would not tread, and he's fine with sitting out if he can still come and watch on occasion.
-Oh yeah and there's John as Benton, who hopes to be a little more active this season.
-Except he's got competition in the shape of Richard's UNIT Captain, Mike Yates, an action hero made to order (and designed with a higher rank too, wouldn't you know it?). Yates fancies himself a ladies' man as well, so Katy makes Jo noticeably nicer to Benton.
-And then there's Roger who's come on not as a hero, but as a villain! He and Terry have come up with this idea for a recurring antagonist, a Time Lord called the Master (with Hypnosis powers, naturally), who would work WITH the GM's prepared threats against the Doctor. As it turned out, this made the villain just as vulnerable to the GM's machinations (or bad dice rolls), lacing both sides of the eternal struggle with uncertainty. And by making his character an old friend of the Doctor's, he's got incentive to sometimes collaborate with him and turn hero momentarily.

Terror of the Autons. Terry starts the season with a returning foe, the Autons from the previous season's first game, but with lots of new tricks up their sleeve. This way, he doesn't have to work too hard at introducing the threat, leaving plenty of room for the new players to integrate themselves into the game. A side-effect of having a villainous player is that the plot logic sometimes goes out the window (two people are orchestrating the nefarious plot, instead of just the GM), but it's part of the crazy anything goes philosophy of the Doctor Who RPG. When Jon steals a part of the Master's TARDIS, the GM has to sidestep the potentially campaign-destroying move by deciding that TARDIS is more advanced and not compatible with the Doctor's own. Phew!

AUTON DOLL
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 1, Presence 1, Resolve 1, Strength 4
Skills: Fighting 3, Subterfuge 2
Traits: Alien Appearance, Armor [5 points], Fear Factor 2, Natural Weapon/Smothering [Strength +2], Tiny (Major); Special/Auton Dolls can pass themselves off an innocuous toys); Dependency/Programming Trigger (Major; the Doll is inactive unless it has received the trigger signal, in its case, a certain temperature). Story Points: 0
Home Tech Level: N/A


The Mind of Evil. Here's how it works. The GM and the Master's player discuss the plot beforehand, and Roger is allowed to strategize up to a point, laying the groundwork for the adventure. The other players don't know this, and believe the previous scenario was a one-off with a villainous PC, starting this next adventure without him. But eventually, he's revealed to be behind it and shows up to play the rest of the story's chapters. (The players eventually clue in that he'll ALWAYS show up.) The Mind of Evil is less comic-book than Terror of the Autons, so here the GM is trying for something a little closer to a thriller, with a prison, a peace conference and a missile to dispose of. These are threats the UNIT boys can more easily get their teeth into.

The Claws of Axos. Terry goes weird with this story of a biological ship-creature trying to adsorb the Earth's energy, with Adonis-like ambassadors and tentacle monsters acting as its envoys. He introduces an American agent called Bill Filer who is a good example of catering to the villain PC (Filer hunts him), but it may be one ball too many to keep in the air, so he doesn't use him again. To make the game as weird as its premise, Terry shines a torch through a lava lamp, casting all sorts of weird shadows in the gaming room. At least one player mentions a headache coming on. And once again, the GM uses his veto on the Doctor finding a way to use his TARDIS, this time adding the concept of an automatic recall installed by the Time Lords. Phew!

AXON (Monstrous Form)
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 6
Skills: Athletics 1, Fighting 3, Marksman 1
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Armor [10 points], Fear Factor 2, Natural Weapon/Energized Tentacle [4/L/L], Natural Weapon/Gas Jet [3/5/7], Networked, Shapeshift; Dependency/Axos (Major; as part of a larger whole, Axons share their "ship"'s fate). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: 7


Colony in Space. Ok, it's time to let the Doctor and Jo have an adventure in space and time, but the GM stays in control (or rather, the Time Lords do). It's a kind of western on a colony planet, with the UNIT gang staying home for those sessions (Nick shows up in the first and last parts as an observer, so he puts in a scene). And this time, the players ARE surprised to see Roger show up along the way. Oh that Master, he's everywhere and everywhen! Not the most original of scenarios, but Terry really doesn't have much experience with away missions at this point. He's too used to thinking in terms of Earthbound UNIT stories.

PRIMITIVE OF UXARIEUS
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 1, Resolve 1, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 2, Craft 1, Fighting 2 (Spear 4), Marksman 1 (Bola 3), Subterfuge 1, Survival 3
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Empathic, Psychic, Tough; Weakness/Mute. Story Points: 2-5
Home Tech Level: 1 (Equipment: Spear [Strength +2], Bola [Strength +2, entangled on Good result])


The Daemons. The season finale is an attempt at something new - Gothic horror with a science fiction twist. It works so well, it'll become one of the tried and tested ways of writing Doctor Who scenarios, and there's plenty of inspiration in other media to go around. The Daemons is all about faux-Satanism, ancient aliens taken for gods and devils, and a creepy horror atmosphere. For once, Benton is the action hero more so than Yates, and the GM even gives him a little romantic subplot with the local white witch (just attention, you realize, nothing more). And at the end, the heroes pool their remaining Story Points and manage to capture the Master! Roger is agreeable as this is the season finale, and who knows if he can come back (he and the GM are still playing it close to the vest on that one).

BOK THE GARGOYLE
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 1, Presence 1, Resolve 2, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 2, Fighting 1, Marksman 2, Subterfuge 2
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Armor [10 points], Natural Weapon/Eldritch Flash [4/L/L], Networked (with its controller), Special: It may use a Daemon's energy to rebuild itself within moments of being destroyed; Dependency/Daemons (Major; Gargoyles are only animated by the power of a Daemon), Enslaved (usually to a Daemon, but someone with a powerful Presence can take control), Phobia (iron). Story Points: 6
Home Tech Level: N/A


Everyone WILL return for the next season. This group really gets along and is having a grand time, whether they have a big role to play or a small one. As for the Master experiment, it worked out well in great part because the group likes Roger so much. Objectively, it's screwed up some plots, and as a PC, he doesn't quite get to be as evil or powerful as an NPC probably would. Still, it's about having fun and being entertained, not realism, right?

Doctor Who #307: Day of the Daleks Part 2

"Changing history is a very fanatical idea, you know."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.8 1972.

IN THIS ONE... Jo is sent to the future while the Doctor is held prisoner by time-traveling rebels. Until the Ogrons attack, that is. And first ever mention of the Blinovich Limitation Effect.

REVIEW: The episode starts the a botched reprise from the previous one, leading right up to the cliffhanger sting before someone thinks of fading it out. To make matters worse, the reprise has that awful, clipped Dalek dialog, which doesn't match the rest of the episode (voices are still not "dirty" enough, but at least they don't pause between each syllable), and that poor actress playing the computer masseuse gets to flub her line again. Bodes ill? In technical matters perhaps. For example, everything related to those laser guns is a bit of a hash. They don't emit beams, just sounds, so the big firefight at the end hangs limp, and when there IS a disintegration effect, it doesn't come with any kind of reaction from the actor. In a story where people routinely teleport (or time travel) in and out of scenes, it's rather confusing to have deaths look pretty much the same. And while we're on the subject of those guns, yes, the Doctor kills an Ogron with one, and it's not even made to look like self-defense (he's too far away for that). The third Doctor has been rather casual with life and death since at least Colony in Space and I don't know that I like it.

But this is a Doctor that's a bit uppity and superior, so perhaps there are life forms who are less important than others. I don't know that the production team is doing it on purpose (likely not), but this is a story in which Jo helps fascists (she doesn't know, but doesn't have an intuition either), and the Doctor is mistaken for an aristocrat and almost shot. Consciously or not, the story is building a comparison between the Doctor and the Daleks, and I'm guessing its lack of follow-through will be unsatisfying. Not that the oppressed (the rebels) are any nicer, of course, even if their leader is a rather attractive lady.

The Doctor spends most of his time bound and/or gagged, but the escape scenes are at least put to some use, usually explaining the plot to Jo. The Blinovich Limitation Effect is first mentioned, but not yet explained (the effect will change over time, so watch it turn into a misunderstood buzzterm by the JNT era). Essentially, it's what prevents you from interfering with your own timeline. They might have left it at that, but as you'll see, there are all sorts of consequences associated with this, which we'll have cause to discuss later. While the Doctor is tied up, the other regulars aren't much better off. Yates and Benton check out the house and that's it. Jo shares the Doctor's jeopardy before being whisked to the future (oops!) where she'll hopefully find something more to do than sell out the good guys to the fascist Controller (what's wrong with his complexion anyway?). And the Brigadier is stuck answering multiple phones at UNIT HQ. I have to say, Nicholas Courtney knows how to keep the energy up in these simple scenes and proves that a low-tech nerve center is a lot funnier than today's deals with all the big animated screens.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Usually, it's the third episode of a 4-parter that feels like padding when the script is thin. This time, it's the second, and it's way too early for that. Not bad, but our heroes need to become more proactive.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This Week in Geek (17-23/09/12)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I begin this week's capsule reviews with Kevin Smith's Red State, a film that's difficult to categorize as it starts like foul-mouthed horror film, turns into an actorly showcase for Michael Park, Melissa Leo and John Goodman, seems to resolve itself into a thriller based on cults under siege like Waco, with a couple of strange twists as the end. It's really nothing like Kevin Smith has ever done, especially in its handheld, score-less, cinema vérité (so perhaps its closest cousin is the original Clerks in that sense). Not a perfect film by any means, probably because it's a mash-up, but it does grow on you. It's Smith's most proficient film technically, but should also be commended for making the cultists somehow sympathetic despite their hate speech. (Don't confuse them with true Christians, you'll just create issues where there aren't any, these guys are crazy extremists.) Worth it for the performances alone, if nothing else, but I think there's more substance to it than that. As with Smith's other DVDs, he doesn't skimp on the extras. There's no commentary specific to what's going on onscreen, but Smith runs 7 podcasts over the film which run in length between a half hour and an hour and a half, always interviewing people who worked on the movie before a live audience. Some great stories come out of it, not just from Michael Parks (who is adept at doing voices), but from more low-key positions like the casting director and the first A.D. That's like 6½ hours of bonus content right there. There's another 45 minutes of making of material, a few deleted/extended scenes, and Smith's full speech about distributing the film himself at Sundance, an interview with Parks, and a collection of posters. Every feature is, of course, introduced by Kevin Smith.

Due South Season 4 (or Season 3 Part 2 as it was broadcast in some parts of the world), ends Fraser and Ray's journey not because the show was unsuccessful, but because Paul Gross was exhausted. Go out on a high if you can, no problem with that. The DVD's featured stories tone down the more overt comedy of the previous boxed set a little, which I think is sound, but continue to offer comedy as well as drama, magical realism, 4th-wall breaking, music, and whatever else the show routinely threw into the pot. The two-part ending (accompanied by a rare extra, a commentary track by Gross) breaks out all the stops and not only includes some crazy stunt work, but also brings back David Marciano, the original Ray Vecchio, and provides a loopy ending for all the characters. Those who want some kind of Making Of experience in Region 1 will have to hunt them down on You-Tube. There are two: Southbound is a terribly narrated documentary that aired on ITV, and Ride Forever is the feature from the UK DVD release. Both have something to offer, but if you can only spare the time for one, make it the latter.

You already know what I thought of Colony in Space if you read this blog, but having finished the story, I got to check out the DVD extras. Toby Hadoke moderates another fine commentary track (and he's actually needed to steer things back on track this time) with Katy Manning, Bernard Kay (Caldwell), Terrence Dicks, Graeme Harper and Michael Briant. This is fun and is supplemented, as usual, by an informative subtitle trivia track. The DVD also has a making of documentary that's a bit cursory, but includes a fun recruitment video for IMC, the evil mining corporation featured in the story. In addition, we get the usual photo gallery, and a very nice collection of silent film trims and outtakes from the location shoot, set to music (and not the terrible warbles of the story's score either). Colony in Space isn't a superlative story, but with well-produced extras like these, it's still worthy of a Doctor Who fan's shelf.

The Daemons is the other story I completed work on this week, and the DVD's a bit more robust. There's a lovely commentary that assembles Katy Manning, Richard Franklin, occult expert Damaris Hayman (Miss Hawthorne), and director Christopher Barry, and all the regular features too. In addition, we get a strong making of documentary that actually features new information even if you've listened to the commentary, a nice retrospective on producer Barry Letts (also this story's co-writer) from childhood to his passing on, and a mute behind the scenes location film trims. This DVD collection prides itself on archiving as much on Who as possible, so we also get Episode 1 in the 1992 color test versions, even if it's not much different really, and a clip fro Tomorrow's World in which the process used for that colorization (and why it was needed) is explained. Good stuff for a flawed, but largely revered story. (I fall on side of reverence myself.)

The original 1978 Drunken Master put Jackie Chan on the map just as he was about to be black-balled, and in so doing, it revolutionized kung fu cinema. After this point, kung fu comedy was just about the only way to make a successful kung fu film for many years. I thought the movie would look cheaper (as often happened in non-Shaw Brothers films of the 70s, even if they looked more modern in contrast), but I've actually got no complaints. The movie is funny (some of the broad Cantonese comedy, including the cartoony make-up, may not fly with everyone, I admit), the action is spectacular, and flipping the legend of Wong Fei-Hung on its head like this still works (or for Western audiences, perhaps works better NOW that we've seen Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China series). That said, the DVD has a strange technical flaw: Some of the Cantonese audio is missing and has been replaced, in spots, with the English dub. And wow is it awful. It's actually interesting to compare the poetic Chinese track's translation in the subtitles, and the macho nonsense of the dub (with just as horrible "dubtitles"). There's a reason we never listen to the dub if we can help it, and it's perfectly exemplified by this odd audio mix. The DVD also includes a loving and expert track by movie critic Rick Meyers and uncredited on the case, Jackie biographer Jeff Yang. A tremendously entertaining package despite the technical hiccup.

Speaking of Kung Fu Masters, our Hong Kong Action Theater "movie" this week was Clone Master, an RPG scenario broadly adapted from something in GURPS Martial Arts Adventures about a future feudal system run by essentially immortal "Clone Masters" and fought by a rebellious society of Luddites trained to supra-human levels. The game was fun, and a throwback to ultraviolent 80s action movies, with more than one reference to James Cameron's Terminator (it's what the GURPS book called the elite rebel agents, and I didn't change it, so as to cater to Hong Kong cinema's more exploitative efforts). We had fun with it, and yes, there may be sequels in the works. The results of our night's play are, as usual, available on the "Studio" website, along with the larger-sized movie poster.

Finished the 6th issue of Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games, titled the Time and Travel Issue (available HERE) and it's possibly the best issue yet. Useful tools include a list of time travel gaming supplements from other games and GURPS settings which can all be adapted to your Who gaming, as well as articles on time management in the game (which I'd have liked to see go deeper), what to check before walking out of the TARDIS, player (not PC) motivations and how to cater to them, on keeping records of your games (fascinating for the anecdotes it includes), and on integrating young gamers (children and teens) into games. There's also a long essay that explores the Doctor's would he/wouldn't he relationship to violence. This issue's "event report" covers a trip to the UK (specifically Cardiff and London) where the Diarists try and play at various sites seen on the show (very cool and abundantly illustrated). Two adventure modules are included - a pretty solid scenario featuring the Weeping Angels - and their stats for each game - and a crazy Saved by the Bell crossover that should be hilarious to fans of that show - I never watched a single episode for its entire length, so I'm sure I'm only getting a fraction of the references and still finding it fun). To complete the package, a couple of reviews (the Brilliant Book, not RPG-related; and the FASA solo adventure, The Vortex Crystal, which sounds mighty intriguing). I've still got lots of issues to go before I'm caught up, but the zine is moving closer and closer to what I like to read in a focused RPG mag.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Tennant (2009)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Batman: Gotham Knights to Batwing.

Doctor Who #306: Day of the Daleks Part 1

"Yes, that's a most good-humoured wine. A touch sardonic perhaps, but not cynical! Yes, a most civilised wine. One after my own heart."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.1 1972.

IN THIS ONE... Assassins from the future jeopardize peace on Earth and it's the return of the Daleks to the series, in color!

REVIEW: Let's get it out of the way. The Daleks return after a hiatus of 4 seasons (half the show's existence) and now they're in color (though the Cushing movies beat the show out on making this remarkable). Thankfully, the episode doesn't wait for the cliffhanger to reveal them since they, after all, referenced in the title, showing up at the 13-minute mark. That gold Dalek boldly states IN COLOR, so it's a bit sad that its cohorts are a depressing dark gray. Worse perhaps is that the production has forgotten what the Daleks are meant to sound like and they're. made. to. speak. hal. ting. ly. like. this. I'm already annoyed. But they are used sparingly, nominally in charge in a future of their own making.

At this point, writer Louis Marks has built an intriguing mystery, not only with transitions between two worlds (not unlike what he did with Planet of Giants), but by creating several factions with unknown, but seemingly all destructive agendas. The soldiers attempting to kill peacemaker Sir Reginald are obviously rebel types, but they kill UNIT men willy-nilly. Are we to side with them? They in turn are being hunted by the Ogrons, rejects from the Planet of the Apes who work for fascist types who massage computer consoles in the future (fascists who are, in turn, subservient to the Daleks). So are the peace efforts in the present what causes the future dystopia? And perhaps more importantly, did James Cameron watch Doctor Who? But hard to see at this point how even present-day history will play itself out, what with World War III brewing and all. China seems to be the lynchpin, and it makes sense they would mistrust a U.N. peace conference after the events of The Mind of Evil. The rest of it isn't too realistic, with open conflict flaring all over the world simultaneously. This is a cartoon of a war, broadly sketched, and fought with bullet points.

The season opener also brings you back into the UNIT family, with character moments for each of its members. The Doctor gets Jo to spend the night in a haunted house, even if it seems like an excuse to raid the cupboard and enjoy fine wines and cheeses. Jo's heart of gold leads her to fix a lunch for Benton, who as always is the sympathetic butt of the show's jokes - Yates pulls rank and steals his cuppa. It makes Yates look like a real tosser, but also as if there's competition for Jo's attention. Fanfic writers, to your keyboards! I don't mind at all that one of the UNITeers is played as a bit of a jerk, it adds some spice (and class conflict?). The usual conflict between the Doctor and the Brigadier is toned down, however. The Brig just takes the insults with a smile, and the Doctor, by this time, can't really get a rise out of him. They're now playing the Brig as a lovable uncle who keeps his cool even when he hasn't had his cup of coffee yet. As for Paul Bernard's direction, it has a certain modernity thanks to the frequent use of dissolves between scenes instead of straight cuts, and achieves some cool effects, like the vortex under the bridge and the temporal duplicates of the Doctor and Jo.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Daleks are far from the best thing about this episode. For me, it's all about the UNIT family and reetablishing their chemistry.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #440: David Williams' The Kryptonian

Source: Project: Rooftop (2011)
Type: Fan-made
Haven't shown a Project: Rooftop redesign in a while, but there were a lot of very creative ones in the wake of the New52 announcement, like this severe, more Kryptonian, Superman by David Williams. Here's what Williams had to say about the piece:

"My intention with this was to make a “Kryptonian” look for him... By no means do I think my idea a suitable replacement for the classic. With that said... I was inspired by the classic that had the roman leg strap design. I was also influence by Flash Gordon and the space heroes of yesteryear. I always thought Supes suit should be Kryptonian in nature... not made by Ma Kent. I also felt that his suit should be one whole complete cohesive piece... Not separate boots, leotard and underwear."

Doctor Who #305: The Daemons Part 5

"Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.19 1971.

IN THIS ONE... UNIT versus Bok the Gargoyle, the Brigadier utters his most iconic line, and the power of love destroys the Daemons.

REVIEW: So we do get an explanation for magic in the Whoniverse after all. The Daemons' science is predicated on collecting and manipulating psionic energy from lower beings (in this case, humans), usually through their fear and other "negative" emotions. The incantations and "magical" rules are more than window dressing, they apparently trigger certain psionic responses that Daemons require. I buy it (see Theories). And because I buy it, I buy the so-called "deus ex machina" at the end. If negative emotions are the Daemons power source, a counter emotion such as Jo's self-sacrifice might conceivably have caused a kind of feedback. It only feels like a cop-out because it's so sudden, and because the relevant information on the Daemons wasn't set up more in advance. It would also seem that for all his power, Azal had a set of instructions he had to follow, and like a great big computer having a conversation with Captain Kirk, Jo's actions made him explode. Even the Doctor gave humanity a poor report card, his argument against Azal destroying Earth that we would destroy ourselves anyway. Jo represents humanity's true salvation, our capacity for love and compassion. A little cheesy, but it's a large part of what companions are for (usually, to affect the Doctor in a positive way). And perhaps the new series has trained me to accept such pat endings, I dunno.

The Master is a more problematic villain, however, and though he finally gets captured (Bessie always gets her man) here in the season finale, this story more than any other presents him as a cipher. It's like the scripts were written for different villains, then replaced with the Master when he joined the cast. The Satanist cult leader could have been anyone, a black witch to Miss Hawthorne's white, a corrupted vicar. What the Master really needs to get back in the groove is a story where HE'S the threat, not some monstrous ally who invariably turns on him (it happens again this episode). At least he doesn't escape UNIT this time, avoiding at least one cliché (of course, a building blows up, so the production team didn't avoid that bullet entirely). On the one hand, nice to see the show move its characters along rather than stay stuck in the exact same status quo, and on the other, it would have been the lamest escape of all time, with Benton - action hero no more - getting dropped like a bag of potatoes by the Master's cape.

While there are script inconsistencies like that, or the variably motivated townsfolk, the episode is filled with solid technical achievements. The tunnel through the heat barrier is a "how'd they do that?" moment, which is what make effects cool no matter the era they were produced in. The battle with Bok the Gargoyle almost ends when a bazooka blows him up only to see the creature reconstitute itself from the debris. The practical flashes from his hands are also well done, and make me wonder who was luckier, Captain Yates as the only target not to be disintegrated, or Richard Franklin (the actor) for not getting singed at that proximity. The church model explosion is good enough to lend credence to the old saw about outraged viewers at the time believing the BBC had actually blown up a church. Even the Azal CSO stuff, admittedly creakier, works fine thanks to well-directed eyelines and perspectives.

The sweet celebratory epilogue has Benton, Jo and the Doctor dance around the May pole, with the latter admitting magic, of a kind, does exist, while the Brig and Yates head off to get a pint. Compared to today's great big cliffhangers, it's quite demure, but rather compare it to the previous season finale and Liz' forced laughter, and you'll understand it to be an improvement on the same idea. Thanks for watching, have a good summer, and we'll come back in the New Year (literally, on January 1st) refreshed and ready to dazzle you once again.

THEORIES: Magic in the Whoniverse. How does it work exactly? The Daemons are certainly not the last super-beings to both connect to human myth and exhibit abilities that seem entirely magical. While we've seen other creatures feed on humanish drives and emotions before (notably the Web Planet's Animus, and more recently, the blob in the Keller Machine), this story will be influential in such creatures showing up again and again in the canon. Some only feed on particular psychic/psionic "wavelengths", but others have learned to manipulate it. And that's where magic ritual comes in. The Shakespeare Code is perhaps the purest version of this idea, where the ancient Carrionite can use words to affect changes in the physical universe. (See Logopolis and School Reunion for this idea transposed to mathematics instead.) Again and again, we're shown how the Whoniverse is powered by human consciousness. Thematically, it's what the Doctor is all about. He's a free thinker who "liberates" the minds of his companions by showing them the wonders of the universe. The smallest person can change the world by putting their MIND to it. Conversely, the villains are often about subjugating the will and mind of entire populations. Control their minds, and you push the universe in the direction you want. The thematic becomes real on a number of occasions, and fans of the new series will certainly recognize the end games of episodes like The Last of the Time Lords and The Big Bang.

But is there some technology at work? There must be. All overt cases of people magically changing the world have had some kind of tech, from Logopolis' dish antenna to the Archangel Network, and the Doctor speaks of the Daemons' "secret science". The Master certainly never exhibited the power to cast spells before, so there must be something special about the cave under the church, and indeed about any of those sacred places on Earth. If the Daemons and similar alien creatures were responsible for myths, legends and folklore (and they seem to be), they might all be using some kind of secret psionic tech, a tech that doesn't look like human technology at all. Instead, it looks like stone, like old monuments, like Stonehenge. Perhaps it's all just clouds of nanites. People who learn the psionic triggers can tap into its power and create magical effects, whether black or white (Miss Hawthorne and Jo both have strong intuitions, if not premonitions, in this story).

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, the Master's incantation, can more easily be read backwards as "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow and..." (not quite Zatanna level then). There's also a wealth of background information on the Daemons, etc. on account of the book being twice the word count of your regular Target book.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not perfect by any means, but it's an important episode in the overall canon. The Brig's most famous line is uttered, the mechanics of the Whoniverse are irrevocably altered/deepened, and there's plenty of eye candy too.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - From its atmospheric beginnings, The Daemons sort of loses its way in Parts 3 and 4, with too many sunlit scenes and UNIT clichés. However, it remains important historically, and ends with a big satisfying splash. Also, Benton's best ever story?