Friday, November 30, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in December 2012

I don't know what I'm doing for Christmas. Staying home or leaving town. But last year, I didn't schedule anything during the holidays, and then wound up staying just as most of my KFF crew did. We could have been enjoying Asian cinema all along! Well, not this year. Here are the movies I'll be showing...

Legendary Weapons of China - Been a while since we watched something by my favorite Shaw Bros. director, Lau Kar-Leung, and he assembles for this supernatural Boxer rebellion story, all the actors he loves to work with including my man Gordon Liu, my young auntie Kara Hui, and mad monkey Hsiao Ho (my pick for poster star this month). It's gonna be so awesome.

Running Out of Time 2 - We're watching the first film TONIGHT to round out November, so the sequel is a natural selection. No Andy Lau this time around, but it's still Johnnie To at the helm, and he never delivers a turkey. I'm sure he can once again bring something interesting to the cops and robbers genre.

Legendary Amazons - I really liked the Shaw Bros.' 14 Amazons, but it was a film I had to watch alone (sometimes the crew is too busy with life). Here's their second chance at the story, the 2011 Jackie Chan-produced epic using the same historical material about a clan of women warriors. It's got a huge cast that includes such favorites as Cecilia Cheung, Cheng Pei-pei and Wu Ma.

The Bodyguard 1 and 2 - Yes, a double feature from Thailand, wire fu comedies by the Tony Jaa stunt team, starring comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao (the funny cop in The Protector). Jaa has a cameo in both, the second actually a prequel to the first. This can't be anything but good fun, am I right?

As usual, you can expect capsule reviews to follow each in This Week in Geek, or you can drop by and share the communal experience of reading subtitles and not crinkling your damn bag of chips during the death scenes.

Doctor Who #374: The Monster of Peladon Part 3

"There's nothing 'only' about being a girl, your Majesty."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.6 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor befriends Aggador (again) and eventually heads to the refinery where there's... an Ice Warrior (again).

REVIEW: As predicted, the cliffhanger is resolved the same way it was in The Curse of Peladon, the only twist being that the Doctor's spinning object is a different one. Can we truly hope that the appearance of an Ice Warrior in THIS episode's cliffhanger WON'T suffer the same fate? Yes, as a fan, I'm happy to see them again, but as a viewer, I'm wondering if Brian Hayles has anything new to say about Peladon. The plight of the miners is the "original" element, and that's repetitive and dull. Gebek and the Doctor try to get a meeting with the Queen, but they're blocked either by Ettis' rebellious shenanigans, or by Ortron, who thinks he runs the place. Eckersley isn't any more helpful, by turns giving sinister looks and racing off impulsively. This is a story in which no one wants to listen to reason, and it's annoying as hell. Something SHOULD stick at some point, shouldn't it? The fact that Aggador doesn't kill the Doctor and Sarah should convince the Pels they are friendly, for example. But no, there's nothing to be done except wait the plot out.

And it's finally happened. Sarah Jane mentions Women's Lib. And it seems completely absurd. It's supposed to echo how Jo Grant counseled young King Peladon in a time of crisis, but comes off like she's telling a MONARCH that she isn't second-class because she's a girl. (Notably, a serving girl also appears in this episode, just as we were starting to wonder if there were ANY other women on Peladon.) Is the Queen only a figurehead, as ceremonial as keeping a long-lived Aggador beast in the basement, leaving the Chancellor to rule as regent until she marries or begets a male heir? Maybe. Except her asserting herself is sure to show this "law" is merely bone-headed "tradition". It all feels rather silly, and the way the Doctor nudges Sarah to advise the Queen in this without actually saying it... Ugh. It's like Sarah can't wait to talk about the Lib, when it's never really been an issue. Much better is Sarah's savy poli-sci instincts in analyzing the situation with the Federation troops that once called "can't be recalled" (again, the needs of the plot are given more weight than any kind of reasonable logic).

Aside from that, a lot of skulking through tunnels, the Doctor disables the refinery's security system in what appears to be real time, and he's in the dungeon, he gets to do a magic trick for which the camera is unfortunately not aligned to see. Grumble, grumble.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Just a little boring, that's all. Maybe the Ice Warriors can liven things up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Star Trek #1448: Assimilation2 Part 7

1448. Assimilation2 Part 7

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #7, IDW Comics, November 2012

CREATORS: Scott and David Tipton (writers), Gordon Purcell and J.K. Woodward (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows previous issue).

PLOT: The Doctor retrieves the Borg library archive from Wolf 359, then flies a Starfleet away team to the Cyber-fleet with his TARDIS, before the Cybermen can reach the Borg homeworld.

CONTINUITY: See previous issues (Borg, Cybermen, Wolf 359, Locutus).

DIVERGENCES: None, except the anomalies from the Whoniverse that have appeared in the Star Trek universe.

PANELS OF THE DAY - One of the more Doctorish sayings:
And the proof is in the carrying.
REVIEW: Maddening. The whole sequence at Wolf 359 is only an excuse for the Doctor to info-dump about the Borg, Locutus, etc. to the Ponds, like people reading this series don't know a thing about the Borg? And NOTHING HAPPENS. He points a tricorder at walls and downloads the archive he needs. That's it. The Borg don't make a move against them, not even Locutus when they cross paths. The only bit that's of any worth is the Doctor and Amy reacting to the battle, a fixed tragedy in time. Once they return to the relative present, I do think things get a little better, at least as far as the dialog goes. Once the decision is made to use the TARDIS to reach the Cyber-fleet, some of the Doctor's trademark patter replaces the merely functional speech bubbles he's been mostly given throughout the series. His philosophy contrasts with's Worf's when it comes to weapons, and perhaps there's something to be done with Amy and Rory being given phasers in the Doctor's absence. Will they give in? But you know, it's not like Rory doesn't have memories of being a sword-wielding Roman. Now if only the photo-reference-heavy art wasn't so awkward at showing people HOLDING guns, the rifles frequently appearing to be twice or three times their standard size. The referenced expressions may also be what's wrong with the moment the Doctor tells his companions to stay behind because the mission is too dangerous. There's a quick comedy switch in attitude, like the Doctor's only faking it for Picard's benefit at first, but it falls flat, in part because these expressions are stock used all over the comic. A little more action than most issues, and potty-mouthed Picard says "merde", but it all feels like it's too little too late as far as this story is concerned.

Doctor Who #373: The Monster of Peladon Part 2

"These Earth females seem to have a distressing tendency to rash action."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.30 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The miners make a second run at the armory and it's the Doctor and Sarah Jane who are thrown in the pit for it.

REVIEW: I'm already getting a little bored with this one. On the one hand is the rehash of the Peladon culture, and the air of over-familiarity with the plot point - a young monarch who needs a bit of a push, the hard-headed priest who throws our heroes in the pit, and a cliffhanger that doesn't promise anything more than the Doctor taming Aggador as he did 50 years previously. Except it HASN'T been 50 years, has it? It's been barely 2 years (for 70s audiences), or indeed, 2 months (for a blogger I know and his readers). I don't find the so-called new characters have very much more to say than their Curse of Peladon counterparts. The Queen may complain she is being treated like a child (exactly once), but she spends an inordinate amount of time keeping mum when Ortron lays down the law. Gebek is the well-meaning sort, but the character's obvious leadership and wisdom is completely ignored by every other character except the Doctor. Eckersley is either an idiot or working with Galaxy 5 the way he suddenly admits Sarah MIGHT be in cahoots with the miners. Maybe he's stinging from her taking his hands off her after her battle with some psychedelic security system meant to keep her away from... are those shadows green? As for Ortron and rebel miner Ettis...

The latter two characters are enacting one of the most annoying tropes in fiction, conflict through refusal to listen. I very much dislike any story that could solve all its jeopardy if only certain characters would listen to what the heroes have to say. I don't mean characters who hold and defend another opinion. I mean those who absolutely can't be convinced no matter what they're told, and are just waiting for you to stop speaking before doing their thing. Ettis is a complete idiot in this, to the point of sociopathy, but it's Ortron the great wall who's most annoying, countermanding the Queen's orders, making Sarah Jane suffer through a kangaroo court, and going through the motions of "consulting" the spirit of Aggador. Whatever you say to him, he'll twist into his own world view. Except none of it feels believable. At no point do either of these characters seem to have thought-out motivations, they're just doing what the plot tells them to do. A far cry from the character subtleties of Curse. Heck, even Lis Sladen, usually a highlight as Sarah Jane, has trouble with this material, asked to play by turns a strident victim and a slack-jawed advocate in her own defense. Do we even believe she can read that map to the point where she can track back to the Doctor?

The exception, for me, is Alpha Centauri. The creature is better animated than in the previous serial, and the character itself actually shows a measure of bravery. Has it "grown a spine", as it were? This is a more mature hexapod, capable of selflessness and tenaciousness, no longer panicking when the going gets tough. It's in the script, the body language and the voice. Shame about the rampant sexism and racism (by which I mean its repeated negative judgments of both females and Pel "barbarians"). Still, say them in a high voice, and you almost don't notice. The Doctor, a voice in the wilderness like Gebek, might as well keep his mouth shut for 25 minutes with all the good words do him, but he is at least involved in a number of well-choreographed fight scenes. The action in this is sharp, brief but effective, with a variety of weapons brought to bare. I'm wary of calling it a "highlight", however.

- The by-the-numbers plot isn't helped by stock characters more motivated by the script than they are by any kind of internal life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dial H for Headcold

The story running through #31 and 32 features Vicki as an unusual "un-Dialed hero" - herself! Turns out that humans under a white sun have Superman-like powers. Who knew! No, I don't think it makes any sense either! Well, maybe it's because the planet is in "another dimension". Yeah, that's it.

Case 42: New Adventures of Superboy #31-34
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: Somehow, Chris' flu is transmitted to his superhero persona, and even amplified by the hero's inherent powers. Dialed identities may have knowledge and skills - for example working an alien's weapon - that are lost once they undial. Dials are waterproof.
Name: Power Punch (the Masters of the Universe toy line had recently come out so...)
Created by: Tom Tychi, Age 16, of Staten Island, NY
Costume: His purple leotards had some interesting yellow patterns on it, vaguely forming a downward arrow on his chest. The codpiece adds an added value.
Powers: Power Punch fires energy from his fists that can propel him through the air with more maneuverability than you'd expect. His most devastating weapon, however, is what looks like a long-distance punch, an energy fist quickly flying towards an opponent. When he has a cold, it is amplified beyond reason, and he can feel the energy building up inside him as a hot fever, energy released by powerful sneezes that throw him around a room. He can change his trajectory with a "power punch".
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeating the alien Whitefire.
Possibilities: He sounds like an action figure feature, and I'd use that, making him some toy animated by a kid, in a sort of twist to the whole Shazam concept.
Integration Quotient: 25% (I can't stop staring at his crotch)
Name: Sirocco (since taken by a member of hybrid, it's a classic super name)
Created by: John Taylor, Age 33, of Bristol, England (one of two characters he designed in the same issue)
Costume: All over the map as far as he color scheme goes - an orange cape, yellow dress, purple belt, mask and gloves, with a mesh under shirt - Sirocco could be Maghrebian like the wind she's named after, in style and skin tone.
Powers: "The Desert Wind" can fly, leaving a trail of sand behind her, and can, unsurprisingly, fire sandstorms at her opponents. For some reason, she loses her powers on an other-dimensional planet, probably because of an innate connection to the Earth rather than because of the rays of a white sun.
Sighted: In Fairfax, coming to Power Punch's aid, then being captured on an alien planet by Whitefire's henchmen.
Possibilities: She's really not far from Hybrid's Sirocco in look and powers, so I'd probably make them the same character, once over to the dark side, now a heroine, a sort of Earth elemental-type that might hang around with Primal Force or the Global Guardians, or as an Arab hero - a minority still under-represented in comics - in a more mainstream group.
Integration Quotient: 90% (she's practically there already)
Name: Cold Wave (cool and breezy)
Created by: Frank Squillace of Phoenix, AZ
Costume: Red bracers, a purple belt, black shorts and purple boots, and a white domino masks is about all he needs, given that he has distinctive (and derivative) icy skin.
Powers: Cold Wave has the power to control and create ice.
Sighted: At Camp Pocahontas, fighting Naiad's monsters.
Possibilities: A youthful ice hero sounds an awful lot like an X-Man I know. Does DC have an X-Men analog? Some kid mutants to make fun of Marvel's popular franchise could use a boy like him. To die and stuff.
Integration Quotient: 15% (nothing wrong with him, but a hard sell for the lawyers)
Name: Infra-Violet (amusing play on the visual spectrum, see Powers)
Created by: Dino Price of Cincinnati, OH
Costume: Split down the middle, with half the uniform pink and other purple (reversed for her hair), there's froo-froo trim all over her bathing suit, boots and gloves. Only her domino mask is spared the lace.
Powers: Infra-Violet splits into two heroes, Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet. Each has the same power, but over objects of a different color, either red or purple. Target objects can be enlarged to massive size, telekinetically moved, turns into solid weapons (the petals of a flower becoming razor-sharp blades, for example), and/or animated.
Sighted: At Camp Pocahontas, fighting Naiad's monsters.
Possibilities: Let's go Bob Haney insane Silver Age on her origin story, as twin sisters are thrown together by some crazy experiment that mixes infrared and ultraviolet. From then on, the girls can only live as separate people for a short amount of time each day, which they reserve for crime-fighting and wacky subplots. Give her a kooky series already!
Integration Quotient: 40% (I like how unusual she is - or they are - but inherently silly)
Name: Earthman (simple and to the point, it's since been taken by a xenophobic 31st-century hero)
Created by: Robert Buethe of Elmont, NY
Costume: All Earthman needs is red trunks, better to showcase his green and blue continents'n'oceans skin. He has a mop of green hair.
Powers: Earthman has the same powers as the planet Earth (scientists, look away). He can manipulate gravity and magnetism, making things attract or repel each other, or allowing himself to fly. He seems to think he could be disabled by water, as if it might turn him to mud.
Sighted: In Pittstown, fighting Naiad and her monsters, and saving movie star Sherri Lancer's life when she is shot by a sniper.
Possibilities: A sort of living golem, he's yet another candidate for whatever elemental crew could be assembled from all those Dial heroes. Swamp Thing needs a teen version of itself on the Teen Titans, I think. That could be Earthman, though a grown-up Téfé would of course be the better choice.
Integration Quotient: 30% (not a bad concept, even if the look needs work)
Name: Gossamer (the WB own a Looney Tunes monster by that name, so why not?)
Created by: Richard Konkle of Las Vegas, NV
Costume: A purple ensemble, probably made from gossamer, with lots of blue straps all over the place, a gauze-like cape tied to her hands for better gliding action, and a mask made of those straps, creating wing-like ears or hair.
Powers: Gossamer can glide through the air, as light as silk, and can fire super-strong silk from her fingers which can cocoon a person or creature very quickly.
Sighted: In Pittstown, fighting Naiad and her monsters.
Possibilities: A sort of spider-woman that could probably have her own solo back-up feature somewhere, or maybe I think that because she reminds me of Black Orchid. I'd have drawn by some indie artist, real quirky romance/vigilante stuff.
Integration Quotient: 65% (Spider-people move books, yo)

Bonus Supervillains
Name: Whitefire (color+element usually creates a serviceable name)
Created by: John Taylor, Age 33, of Bristol, England
Costume: This green-skinned alien wears a stark uniform of white and black, with his mask, head and trim ablaze with white flame. From a starburst belt buckle, an asymmetrical stripe goes up his front on which is printed a black O. Similar circles are found on either side of his belt. He carries a staff with an odd pronged head (which remains in Chris King's possession after this adventure).
Powers: Whitefire's staff fires a flaming beam of white light that can freeze people where they stand, or exchange people and things across space between his world and ours (or presumably, any other planet). His henchmen use an energy gun that traps their target in an energy cage.
Sighted: Sending priceless treasures to Earth to hide them from authorities on his other-dimensional world, he next takes Detective King's place on Earth to steal OUR treasures and bring back his once the heat is off. He is defeated by Power Punch, who sends him home with his stolen goods, where he is promptly arrested.
Possibilities: You never know when an inter-dimensional villain will return, and his little exchange program could be used to some effect to split teams up like it did here. An invasion-of-the-week villain, to be used sparingly.
Integration Quotient: 60% (loses some of his mojo past the Silver Age)
Name: Naiad (DC eventually created a huge water elemental under that name; another, similar Naiad also appeared in Peter David's Aquaman)
Created by: Tim Wahowske of Emmett, MI
Costume: In real life, she hides her distinctive white hair with a wig, but as Naiad, it matches her go-go boots and bathing suit, the latter with green trim, and a blue belt. There's an attempt at a stylized N in the stomach area, but it winds up looking more like an M.
Powers: With an electric swish of her hair, Naiad creates monsters out of any water source (lake, faucet, shower, hose). Their size is relative to the amount of water used, but their look is only limited by Naiad's imagination (dragons, bats, dinosaurs, alien squids, etc.). These have a lot of destructive power, and may exhibit such abilities as breathing fire or flight, but they are still made of water. When convenient, attacks may splash right through them. The range of these powers isn't known, but it doesn't seem dependent on Naiad's line of sight.
Sighted: Diana Lyon is a special effects expert with a beef against actress Sherri Lancer for having exploited her hydrophobia when they were teenagers. Having given herself powers by accident while attempting to cure herself from her fear, she has attached herself to Sherri's new picture and uses the location shooting at Camp Pocahontas, where the original incident happened, to kill her nemesis publicly. She is stopped by Cold Wave and Infra-Violet. Her second attempt occurs in Pittstown, a village she first terrorizes to cause chaos, but again she is stopped by heroes, this time, Earthman and Gossamer. She is later rescued by the Marauder, a villain working with the Master (see the next Case File), but one of the Dial heroes will end up taking her place. She was taken to jail after the switch.
Possibilities: A monster maker like this could feature against a number of heroes, but Superman might actually be best. Metropolis is a waterfront town, and he's been known to take on giant monsters on a regular basis. A retcon on her origin might be in order.
Integration Quotient: 60% (has potential, but the source of her powers is suspect)

Next time: The Dial H-ers actually meet the Master that's been behind a lot of Fairfax's supervillains!

Doctor Who #372: The Monster of Peladon Part 1

"I'll say one thing for your friend the Doctor, he's got quite a knack of talking himself out of trouble." "Mmm, just as long as he hasn't talked himself into a whole lot more."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Mar.23 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor brings Sarah Jane to Peladon, but it's been 50 years since his last visit and the Spirit of Aggador is killing miners.

REVIEW: Going back to past successes, the Doctor (or rather, writer Brian Hayles) returns to Peladon, and though everything looks familiar, there sure are a lot of new faces. In fact, the Doctor will have to play the game of proving his friendship to the new guest cast, just as he had that of The Curse of Peladon. Instead of King Peladon, there's his daughter Queen Thalira, who just like her dad aspires to Federation ideals and proves a gracious host. There's a new high priest, but Ortron seems even more pig-headed and potentially crooked than Hepesh, constantly silencing anyone with anything relevant to say. There's a new mute Champion, even bigger than the first, and the same exact Alpha Centauri who finally vouches for the Doctor (even though he was pretty much impersonating an ambassador in the story 50 years prior). So it's certainly fun to see Alpha again, but everyone else is a bit of a copy of the more complex we saw before. I'd say there are problems with the newer characters too. The rebelling miners are wearing terrible "badger" wigs that makes them less credible than they should be. The ambassador from Vega has been designed to look like a mythological satyr, so of course he has to be the one to call others superstitious (he dies). And Eckersley is just your typical company man working the mines for the Feds. No character there as yet.

The story probably suffers from being well divorced by now from the current events that inspired it. The infamous miners' strike in 1970s UK is even more difficult to see as subtext by viewers outside that country. I only know about it because I know a fair bit of Doctor Who lore. As it is, Peladon's miners, who haven't seen much of a hike in life style since the still-feudal Peladon (though nice to see the Queen is a woman of the people and deigns to go down to the mines) signed a treaty with the Feds, are afraid to use sonic lance technology because the spirit of Peladon invariably shows up and disintegrates people. It's not quite the murder mystery of the original story, though once again, agents of Galaxy 5 (whether that's a place or a group) seem to be behind it. I suppose we can return to Earth again and again without it seeming redundant, but an alien planet seen twice has a lack of freshness, even if director Lennie Mayne makes good use of its space, shoots it from above, etc. It's still the same old place with the same old character types and the same old kind of plot.

The one truly new element in this story is Sarah Jane, experiencing Peladon for the first time. Of course, Hayles writes her more than a little like Jo, a bit impertinent while before the local royalty, and gets pushed around harshly for it, but Lis Sladen brings a lot to it above and beyond the scripted word which makes her performance worth watching. Sarah still isn't used to alien creatures, and even after warming to Bellal on Exxilon, she is repulsed by Alpha Centauri. But once she realizes she's hurt its feelings, she immediately feels bad about it and comforts the poor hexapod. It's rather sweet and comical. There are, in fact, a number of gentle moments of humor peppered throughout the episode. Sarah's assessment of the Doctor's ability to find trouble. The Doctor swallowing hard at the sight of the gigantic Queen's Champion. Alpha checking with the Doctor as to whether it's right to call Sarah Jane a "female". It is in these brief moments the episode finds its sweet spot.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A bit stale, though the regulars make the best of it. And always nice to visit with Alpha Centauri.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Who's the Balloon Buster?

Who's This? They call him Balloon Buster, but he's really Lt. Steve Savage, it's just that Who's Who did so hate to use a real person's name (Jimmy Olsen is under E for Elastic Lad, and Alfred Pennyworth under O for Outsider, a monster he became pretty rarely). Steve Savage, Balloon Buster, whatever. He captured all our imaginations thanks to a wonderful Joe Kubert illo on Volume II's third page.
The facts: Savage first appeared in All-American Men of War #112 (1965), by Robert Kanigher (who wrote all his stories) and Russ Heath, and only put on his trademark cowboy hat in 113. 114 was drawn by Joe Kubert, 116 again by Heath. Star-Spangled War Stories reprinted some of the material in the early 70s, with new stories pitting him against Enemy Ace in #181-183 (1974) with art by Frank Thorne. He met Enemy Ace again in a three-part back-up in Unknown Soldier 262-264 (1982), this time with art by Dan Spiegle.
How you could have heard of him: The match-ups with Enemy Ace were reprinted by Enemy Ace Archives (vol.2) and Showcase Presents Enemy Ace, and James Robinson made Savage a descendent of western hero Scalphunter in a Starman story.
Example story: Because it had to be the Kubert issue, I've chosen All-American Men of War #114 (1966), conveniently reprinted in Star-Spangled War Stories #163 (1972).
Ok, I'm gonna use a lot of panels from the issue, because holy crap, this comic is pretty exciting. Let's start with Lt. Savage's origin story. Steve was raised by his poverty-stricken father in Wyoming to become an expert marksman. The Savages got no respect, and Steven was quick to get into scraps when the townfolk would accuse him being good-for-nothing like his pa. Having made him a deathbed promise to make something of the Savage name, Steve leaves town. Kanigher doesn't let him leave until he's visited by a ghostly voice though!
YORE TH'GUN!!! Don't worry, the strip doesn't then turn into an air force version of the Haunted Tank (not that there would be anything wrong with that!). Instead, Savage becomes a flying ace, who seldom plays by the rules, in WWI France. He earns his nickname by destroying a good many German observation balloons (from which the "Krauts" view battles and gain a tactical advantage). By this, his third story, he's already made a name for himself and an enemy pilot with lots of coffins painted on the side of his plane, called the Undertaker, is sending him a message loud and clear.
Savage's plane needs to get fixed, and on his next sortie, he's up against a TRAIN that's dragging  two observation balloons. Between the steam engine's speed and the train's arsenal of weapons, busting these balloons his harder than usual. But remember your pa's advice, Steve!
Yeah, there's a lot of that. He does the stupid/brave thing and goes after the locomotive when everybody thinks he'll keep making passes at the balloons. Result: It all goes boom. However, Savage can't catch a break, and when he returns to base, he finds a couple of enemy pilots, the Undertaker's wingmen, have followed him home and are strafing the air crews like crazy. That's Savage's cue for some UPSIDE DOWN ACTION!
He's a hero, right? Wrong. There's this Canadian major that's always up his ass giving him crap (that's not a mixed metaphor, is it?) who wants to court-martial him for the deaths in the ground crew, and it's only a general's wish to keep him flying and busting that saves him from that fate. To celebrate, Savage steals a motorbike that night and heads into town. Almost immediately, the Gerries start bombing the place and Steve has to save a French girl, and to take her mind off the danger, he puts on a record and plays it real loud.
And he's doing this WOUNDED. Before he can, uhm, earn his wings, one of the girl Denise's brothers, Raoul, shows up at the house. His plane's been crashed in the attack, and their other brother's been killed... by the Undertaker! Savage, already in trouble so big whoop, lends Raoul his plane so he can finish the fight. But when the allied army see them, they think they're thieves or spies and start firing.
That's right. Savage feels safer on the wing of a plane in the middle of a dogfight, than on the ground explaining himself to his unit. Soon, Raoul's been fatally shot, and it's only his need to avenge his brother that keeps him flying while Savage... BECOMES TH'GUN!
And yes, that's how he downs the Undertaker. As Raoul dies, he takes his place at the controls and meditates on the fate awaiting him at base, knowing he did right by a brother in arms. Verdict: AWESOME!

Who else? Who's Who Vol.II includes a few other lesser lights, but are they "lesser" enough to show up in Who's This? Bat Lash has recently appeared in All Star Western. Ben Boxer, maybe? Or are we all Kamandi experts? If you have any requests, let me know and I'll hit them on the second pass. For now, I'll be perusing Vol.III...

Doctor Who #371: Death to the Daleks Part 4

"Well, if I'm right... the ultimate test will be an assault on our sanity."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.16 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Bellal navigate the city's puzzles, the Daleks blow the beacon, and Galloway sacrifices himself for the greater good.

REVIEW: Despite the many plot threads going on in Death to the Daleks, the last episode manages to pad things out at the detriment of some of them. The Doctor and Bellal (and the Daleks') exploration of the city might have featured even more puzzles for them to solve and lasted an extra two episodes of tedium. Each one is as anti-climactic as the next, and half are seen twice, once for the heroes and once more for the Daleks. If they're anti-climactic, it's because they're never solved in a way that's fair to the audience. The electrified floor tiles, for example, have no legitimate pattern. The Doctor waves his screwdriver above them and makes his choices, then has Bellal jump the same hoops, except his feet DO touch the wrong tiles, and there's no effect. Showing us the tiles' effects AFTER they've gone through the course removes any possible suspense this game of hopscotch could have offered. The Daleks' run through is more entertaining, but since it has no effect on them... Then there's a room that turns Bellal into a killer (by a loud sound the Doctor nevertheless fails to hear), but he's easily snapped out of it by more screwdriver action. Then there's a room that throws Top of the Pops effects at you to drive you mad. The only surprise is that the Doctor instinctively knows what the next test will be (because he has to tell the audience as it's too abstract a notion), not that his strong Time Lord mind can survive the assault. Bellal also makes it through with a minimum of fuss, so what's the big whoop? It might have been interesting to see the Daleks beat these psychological tests, but it's conveniently ignored instead. And in any case, why DOES the city have these tests set up? Even the mysterious Exxilon watching the action from the control room turns to dust when the heroes come in. Throw in some "anti-bodies" to stop the Doctor from making the city computer go insane, and they'll predictably fight it out with the Daleks instead (punching Daleks sounds cool, but it looks really silly).

Speaking of the Daleks, they were simultaneously sending Galloway and Hamilton up on the beacon to blow it up. This is a cool sequence, starkly lit and precariously shot (as these things go), but the twin missions are highly redundant. By the time the city melts (!) under the strain of failing systems (I'll throw the production a bone and surmise that it was made of self-repairing nanites that dissolved the structure when the computer brain melted down), the beacon has already been blown and powered restored to the ships and the Daleks. It makes the Doctor's whole padded-up adventure irrelevant, especially since there's no epilogue showing how the Exxilons are now free of their "god". There's a third mission, and that's Sarah Jane's to insure the humans can leave with the plague-curing chemical which the Daleks are planning to hold for ransom (it's implied that they caused the plague in the first place). Sadly, Sarah is largely side-lined in this episode, and her clever ploy quickly mentioned as a reveal. What we do see is a lot of crawling around in the dark and colluding with Jill (whose performances continues to misinterpret her lines' intent). When a Dalek realizes the girls have flown the coop, it commits suicide. Embarrassingly stupid.

But there's a real disconnect between what must happen in the plot and the characters' motivations and attitudes navigating that plot. It's not just suicidal Daleks or Jill smiling when she should be showing concern. There's Galloway too, who is set up as a man more ambitious than altruistic, who would probably sell out his own crew to the Daleks to save his skin and get the glory. Despite his captain's protestations, and his "mishearing" his last order which would have given command to someone else, I just never bought it from the performance. A gruff, pragmatic soldier, sure. An ambitious glory-hound? No. And the script agrees with me. In Part 4, Galloway is following the Daleks' orders until he sees his chance, keeps a bomb for himself (just how he pockets it is a mystery), and blows up the Dalek saucer (they try to play it as a surprise, but geez, you'd have to be blind not to see it), sacrificing his life for his crew and the plague-ridden systems they're on Exxilon to help. So was Galloway's commanding officer wrong about him? An unmotivated change of heart? A scripting mishap? A lot of the latter going around, so that'll be my guess.

THEORIES: The mention of Venusian hopscotch in this episode leads me to finally ask, why Venus? On the surface, it's one of the 3rd Doctor's tics and has the same basic function as "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow". It's an easy-to-remember bit of bafflegab where a variety of alien planets might have been referenced. So we've had Venusian aikido and karate, the shanghorn (a type of animal), units of measurement, lullabies, and now, hopscotch (using only the 3rd Doctor references). So obviously, he's been there. In our relative future, once the solar system is colonized by humans? Or our relative past or present, with "alien" Venusians once or still living on the hothouse planet (just as the Ice Warriors do on Mars)? The Missing Adventures novel Venusian Lullaby answers the question with a 1st Doctor tale set on Venus in 3 billion B.C., and though for him it's just after he's left Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the book makes reference to pre-Unearthly Child visits to the planet made with Susan. Why is it so key to the Doctor's third incarnation though? Perhaps if each person has one or more defining moments in their lives, and Time Lord incarnations inherit another "person"'s moments, each will feel connected differently to any given moment. The 3rd Doctor's personality, created in regeneration, if you will, may have sprung (at least partially) from events experienced on Venus. Learning their martial arts, for example, is brought to the surface, and an apparent longing for this Burroughsian place and time ingrained into his mannerisms. It might be an interesting exercise to find moments in past incarnations (hopefully ones in the actual canon) that serve as a psychological springboard for later Doctors, though I'm not sure I'm the man to attempt it.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization follows the serial pretty closely. Up to you if the Dalek guns in Death should be called "machine guns".

- When everything must be resolved, it resolves into a mess that spends too much or too little time on the wrong things.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - At least one cog in the machine is completely irrelevant, I'm just not sure which. Either the story doesn't need the Daleks, or it doesn't need the living city, or maybe it doesn't need the tribal Exxilons. It's got spectacle, but plotting, editing, acting and sound design are all too rough an unfocused to tie everything together in a neat package.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Who's Automan?

Who's This? No! Not THIS Automan!
The orange robot at the top of page 1 of Who's Who vol.2!
The facts: Though his Who's Who entry makes it sound like he was a regular in the Star Hawkins strips, Automan was the lead in only three stories in Tales of the Unexpected (though he was never the lead story) between 1965 and 1966 (issues 91, 94 and 97), and his connection to Star Hawkins was created for a "Whatever Happened to Star Hawkins?" back-up in DC Comics Presents #33. Though Bob Haney and Lee Elias created the character, Haney would only write one more story (Otto Binder may have written the third), and Elias was unconnected to the later chapters (with art by Bill Ely and Jay Scott Pike).
How you could have heard of him: He was one of the guys who built Sean McKeever's Enginehead, though you're forgiven for thinking he was Cliff Steele (Robotman). His body was seen in Legionnaires #66 as well.
Example story: Tales of the Unexpected vol.1 #91, his first appearance.
"Robot for Hire", to my surprise, and again it's because of that Star Hawkins/shackin' up with Ilda retcon, takes place in a contemporary setting. Robot #32196 AKA Automan is the first and brightest graduate of Professor Sterling's school for robots, as he explains to Mr. Billings of the Clarion. The two of them are played by Siskel and Ebert.
Robots at this school aren't just trained in everything they need to serve Man - from defending us against invading aliens to table manners and baseball - but to develop a human-like instinct as well.
Shark-wrestling is also on the curriculum. But Prof. Sterling is a savvy businessman too, and Automan is soon put on the market as a Robot for Hire. His first job is to work for a Mr. Rankin whom we soon learn makes his dirty money thanks to a smuggling operation. What happens when a robot is asked to commit crimes?
He goes all Asimov on Rankin's ass! Drops the "cargo" into the ocean, captures the bad guys, calls the cops, and even taped the whole thing so he could turn State's against his employer.
Wonder if they still got paid? Automan would get other jobs over the coming months, like playing bodyguard to an actress who accidentally picks up a spy's luggage, and helping a scientist test his Mutant-Man powers, but alas, if readers expected more Tales of the Unexpected starring the coppery robot, they never materialized. Possibly, Robotman's similar appearance kept him from showing up with any kind of frequency in the DCU. Ah well. But take note! It looks like 30 pages of material is enough to get a solo hero into Who's Who (if only half a page). Is that the lowest the bar was ever set? Who's This? will test that notion!

Who else? One a couple of pages later, there's ANOTHER character I really want to check out. And I'm not gonna wait. The Balloon Buster hits the SBG... TOMORROW!

Doctor Who #370: Death to the Daleks Part 3

"Now that must be one of the seven hundred wonders of the universe."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.9 1974.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah makes an Exxilon friend, the Daleks do battle with root-things out of War of the Worlds, and it's off to the City to play Indiana Jones.

REVIEW: In Part 3, the Daleks are reduced to cannon fodder and pursuers, basically obstacles in the heroes getting things done rather than main antagonists. The Marines are trying to mine the plague-ending chemical, but the Daleks are harsh supervisors and planning to kill them before they can leave with the medicine. The Doctor and Sarah want to help the humans achieve their goals, help the Exxilons get their society back on track, and restore power to the TARDIS, all of which can be accomplished by disabling the Exxilon city's power-draining beacon, but they've consistently got Daleks at their heels, pushing them forward. Is there a main antagonist? I guess it's the City (and its "root" monsters), but the High Priest's Exxilons and treacherous Galloway are dangers too. So while they're not germane to the plot, we can still appreciate the Daleks' death scenes. One's fight with a very long "root" is impressive - visible wires and all - and features a high fall for a Dalek. I'm less impressed with the villains' motivations in any given scene. I get their general agendas, but the "mining" scene treats them horribly. Galloway becomes phone shy at the idea of making more demands on the High Priest (an off-stage non-character by this point) for no real reason, and the Dalek just runs off ranting that he will obey. Let me threaten you as I race off in no particular direction. What's that all about? But these are Daleks who shoot everything out of panic, waste ammo and, in a previous episode, even started firing wildly even though they knew nothing was going to come out of their gun barrels.

On the other side of the ethical divide, Sarah Jane makes nice with the Exxilon Bellal, but not before Lis Sladen indulges in some fine character detail. She plays Sarah as terrified if not traumatized (she was recently drugged and almost sacrificed by these aliens), and surprises herself by touching Bellal's arm, then withdrawing quickly at the ick factor. It's those little things that takes the edge off the monotony of companions' being afraid all the time. Sladen puts a lot of variety into that one emotion and keeps surprising her audience with small touches of realism. I'm less enthused about Pertwee's performance. It's pretty indulgent to have the Doctor goad the "root" on with lines from Hamlet, and though he's genial and even touching in the scene where he and Sarah part ways, his touching her face to quell her protestations feels very awkward. The intimacy he shared with Jo hasn't been earned yet when it comes to Sarah Jane. I just can't tell if I should blame the writing, the direction, or the acting. Bellal, at least, is an engaging character, the first in this whole story (please, Daleks, shoot Jill already). It's hard to put on a performance with a rubber mask on your face, but the design does a lot of the work. He's small and has big eyes (and softly pulsating markings), which is enough to broadcast friendliness. He's also better able to give us relevant info-dumps about the true nature of the plot, including how and why the City is lording over Exxilon, and that his people apparently helped the Mayans build stuff on Earth. Doctor Who continues to indulge its 70s fascination with von Danikenism.

Now though the main plot is really about defeating the City's defenses, it's when the Doctor and Bellal (and the Daleks) get to it that Terry Nation loses the plot. Consider the puzzles the Doctor is confronted to get in and continue his "dungeon crawl". First is the thing with choosing a symbol on the outer wall, complete gobbledygook on the best of days, but here played off-screen. While we're distracted by oncoming Daleks, the heroes are suddenly inside the City. Cop-out! Then comes a relatively simple maze on the wall. Fun to see today's ubiquitous touch screens in a 1974 story, but otherwise, looks pretty easy to solve. So the Exxilons whose all-too-human skeletons are strewn about must have been pretty stupid. And then there's the final trap, which causes the cliffhanger sting: A red and white floor! Oh my! How are the kids going to sleep this week waiting for the next episode?!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The bits of spectacle (Daleks going boom) are what you watch for, but a lot of things weren't thought through thoroughly.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

This Week in Geek (19-25/11/12)


Additions to my DVD collection include Videodrome, Safety Not Guaranteed (see below), and Season 3 of Republic of Doyle.


DVDs: I've seen a lot of time travel movies, but never one like Safety Not Guaranteed, where the motivations behind time travel are more important than the going back in time itself. A slacking magazine journalist (Jake Johnson) and a couple of restless interns (including Parks&Recs' Aubrey Plaza) follow up on a strange classified ad written by someone (Mark Duplass) looking for a partner to go back in time with. What follows is a touching dramady about regret and connecting with the future. Is the time travel element real? Does it work as a paradox puzzle movie like the best time travel movies do? I'm not telling. I'll only say that whatever the answer is, it's secondary to the human drama, AND I was satisfied as an fan of quirky genre-ish films. The DVD includes some good making of elements, including a bit with author of the very real (except it wasn't) classified ad the movie's story is based on.

Rounders is an immersive poker film that though highly entertaining, may not ever be a favorite of Gamblers Anonymous (it shows both sides, but it's still fairly glamorous). Part of the charm is the super-solid cast which includes Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturo, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich (who steals the show), and Martin Landau. It's a pretty cheap review to just list the talent involved, but I think it sort of does the job. There's not a bad apple in the bunch. Damon's character keeps getting pulled into poker games, for which he has a lot of talent, often by his sleazy friend "Worm" (Norton), leading into what would be a comedy of errors if the stakes weren't so high. There's a bit too much narration for me up front, but I like the film like I like the best procedurals. It feels authentic, part and parcel because the characters use a very specific (and potentially opaque) vernacular, and you only make sense of the important poker games because both narration and scenes prepared you for them. A strong film in the mold of The Hustler, though I worry it sends out a mixed message. The DVD includes two commentary tracks - one with professional poker players and one with members of the cast and crew (including Norton). Both are interesting. There are two short featurettes, one on the making of and the other on professional poker. Again, both are good, if brief. There's an interactive poker game on the disc, which works fine as a Texas Hold'em tutorial, but is a bit slow and static in gameplay. And finally, the four commentating pros offer poker tips in a variety of clips that would have benefited from a Play All option.

If you were paying attention this week, you already know what I thought of Doctor Who's Invasion of the Dinosaurs (better than expected, despite the duff plastic reptiles), but let's talk DVD extras. The usual high quality features are here, of course, by which I mean the production notes subtitles, the photo gallery, and the commentary track. The latter is moderated by Toby Hadoke, but split into two groups. Half the episodes are with director Paddy Russell alone and are a bit heavy-going as Hadoke does his best to get more than short answers from her. She only wakes up when discussing her non-Who career. The other group is much more lively and includes Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Peter Miles (Whitaker), Terence Wilton (Mark), script editor Terrence Dicks, and designer Richard Morris. There's also 10-minutes' worth of commentary by John Levene (Benton) on one of the episodes. The making of is done with some humor, telling you up front that it won't all be about mocking the dinosaurs. There are also some deleted scenes, rare for releases from this era, a feature on the locations, a clip from Billy Smart's Circus featuring the Doctor and the Whomobile, and Lis Sladen's anecdotes on playing Sarah Jane in the Pertwee era (from 2003 for Doctor Who Stories). And if the shimmering re-colorized Part 1 isn't to your tastes, you have the option of watching the black and white version instead! Oh and there's a small Easter Egg.

I also flipped the Death to the Daleks DVD, which I'm in the middle of reviewing right now, if your interested (oh, the joys of being ahead of my game by a couple days!). The commentary track in this case, still ably moderated by Hadoke, features a number of "minor" roles, including Julian Fox (Hamilton), Dalek operator Cy Town, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, costume designer L. Rowland Warne, and special sound man Dick Mills. The only headliner, so to speak, is director Michael Briant. Between this, the production notes and the making of (comically narrated by a Dalek), I found there was a lot of repetition of the same stories, which happens frequently, of course, but here seemed more prevalent. Or is it just that those stories are pretty classic and worth remembering? The making of uses some rare outtakes, but you'll find them all and more on a 23-minute studio recording feature that's a lot more interesting than this kind of feature usually is, in part thanks to explanatory subtitles. The DVD also has a featurette on behind the scenes footage from Peter Cushing's Doctor Who and the Daleks (a nice surprise), and remembrances by two Dalek operators from 2003's Doctor Who Stories.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Hamlet 2000

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from C.O.P.S. to Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Doctor Who #369: Death to the Daleks Part 2

"You’ve got an idea, haven’t you?" "Yes. And it’s not one of my favourites. In fact I don’t care for it at all."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.2 1974.

IN THIS ONE... The Marines make an alliance with the powerless Daleks, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane narrowly avoid getting sacrificed by the Exxilons.

REVIEW: There sure is a lot of "incident" packed into this episode, and some details fall through the cracks from under-attention. The Daleks are, as was obvious from the previous episode's cliffhanger, as drained of power as the TARDIS or spaceships, but for some reason, only their weapons systems are affected. The Doctor later claims they move on psychokinetic power, which is an interesting tidbit, but what powers the psionic interface? (Or are Dalek mutants naturally telekinetic?) De-powered, they seem pretty easy to blow up as well. We might also wonder where they got their target practice TARDIS model. At least these Daleks are grade-A devious. Their alliance with the humans is a triple deceit (will get rid of them at earliest opportunity, have more Daleks than they say, don't want the chemical to cure a plague), and Nation doesn't make us wait before revealing the Dalek force testing more traditional projectile weapons. The quickly-developing plot means the Daleks actually work at cross-purposes, the B-team's raid on the Exxilon temple giving the Doctor and Sarah Jane a chance to escape AFTER the A-team has brokered an agreement with the Exxilons.

The Exxilons themselves are variably represented. Their priest has a very good speaking voice, but most of the rest just do silly, ape-like "ook ook" sounds. That seems a big class divide. We also hear about a dissident group the Daleks agree to help exterminate (though why should they once the B-team jails or kills the whole lot?), no doubt who Sarah Jane meets in the sacrificial pit. Their attack with bows and arrows is, like the fights in the previous episode, extremely dull even if arrows seem to be hitting very close to the actors. Maybe it's because it's edited so loosely, it plays out in real time. Or maybe it's because there's no music or atmosphere. The sacrifice scenes are much better, with exotic music and the red glow of flames on everything. The way shots dissolve into one another give us the sense that Sarah Jane has been drugged by Exxilon incense, and the massacre at Dalek gunpoint, is effective and violent. Down in the pit, everything is candle-lit and moody (who's the poor soul whose job it is to light candles in a monster pit?), and the big snake down there is acceptable in such lighting.

And then there's the PEOPLE. Lis Sladen plays Sarah's fear and worry (and occasional lifting of her spirits) in such a way that you just want to take her in your arms and protect her yourself. And yet, the Doctor thinks she can handle herself, in stark opposition to the way he treated Jo and other female companions. (Even in Part 1, he never told her to STAY in the TARDIS, just to go get her clothes. The fact that he took off without her only shows more of that lack of over-protectiveness in her case.) She and the Doctor have got some good banter going, his self-deprecating humor a nice reaction to her pointed questions. "Who are you kidding?" "Myself, chiefly." and his assessment of his latest idea (above) are stand-outs, especially in a Terry Nation story where people tend to speak in butch/damsel in distress clichés. Jill is a prime example of this kind of dialog, and though she's a pretty girl, I find her delivery of those lines grating in the extreme. The other Marines are better acted, I suppose, though Galloway's turn as an ambitious glory hound ready to collaborate with the Daleks' genocidal plans seems to come out of left field given the gruff career soldier performance given up to that point. Note how we're TOLD this is what he is before he actually becomes it, but it's not a bad series of scenes. But is it one subplot too many?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Relative to much of the era, the story's moving at a break-neck pace. Some of it works, some of it doesn't.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #451: Bruce (Superman) Wayne

Source: Superman vol.1 #353, 358, 363 (1980-81)
Type: Imaginary story
A good while before Speeding Bullets, Bob Rozakis wrote a trio of back-up stories in Superman in which baby Kal-El landed near Gotham City, was found by a young Jim Gordon, and placed into foster care in the Wayne family. He was never claimed, so the Waynes adopted him and he soon started exhibiting powers beyond those of mortal kids. And then comes that fateful night, after going to the movies, when Joe Chill walks out of an alley and into their lives. Speeding Bullets had the Waynes shot and Bruce becoming a Kryptonian Batman. Not quite how Rozakis handles the situation:
They live! Instead of creating an avenger of the night, these events result in Chill giving up the mobster who wanted Thomas Wayne killed, and Lew Moxon goes to jail. Trying to find out where their son came from, they confide in Gordon who strongly recommends they keep it all secret lest "scientists" make his life difficult. And years later, Bruce now a young man a little randy for one Barbara Gordon, has to stop Moxon from killing his parents (and Gordon) again. He realizes that he has a responsibility to use his powers to help people and takes on the Superman identity.

He takes a job as a librarian to be close to Barbara, but he's also working with her father, now Police Commissioner, getting missions on an undetectable frequency, and faking calls from another library so he has convenient, book-related reasons to leave work. But Barbara is no Lois Lane:
She's much less ridiculous. It's another woman, isn't it? ISN'T IT?! But there's only you, Barbara, please believe me. And she does:
In the last installment, we meet up with the happy couple a year into their marriage. On their wedding night, Bruce told Barbara he was Superman and she asked him to give it up to use his massive brain to do great things for humanity. Like curing headaches:
Gee, what else you got up your sleeve, Bruce? Viagra?! Babs still feels neglected because her husband is always down in the Super-Cave working, so it's no better. In fact, it's a little worse. She gets a call from Chief O'Hara telling her the Commish has been shot by Moxon. If only Superman had been there to take the bullet... Bruce puts on the uniform one more time to break the time barrier and try to stop the murder, but he finds he's just a ghost when he's in the past (should've read up on his Silver Age temporal laws), but at least he knows who did it. Barbara pulls a fast one by breaking out the Bat-costume and going off to catch Moxon as Batwoman! You leave that girl alone for a year, and she'll decide Gotham needs a costumed champion (but not Superman, who would better spend his time curing cold sores) and train herself to peak human perfection. Why a bat is anyone's guess. (Mine in "bad writing".) Anyway, running away from the heroes, Moxon gets his ass hit by a truck.

And they lived happily ever after..?

Doctor Who #368: Death to the Daleks Part 1

"I was close to becoming petrified myself!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.23 1974.

IN THIS ONE... A power drain makes the TARDIS, the Marine Space Corps and the Daleks land on the Exxilon planet. Sarah Jane goes too near a sacred city.

REVIEW: Ok, plenty of Terry Nationisms here... cliched Space Marines who crashed on the planet; a mysterious and seemingly deserted city; PLAGUE; a new feature on the TARDIS that makes it seem more like a low-tech spaceship (the hand crank, and allowing itself to be drained of powers as if it actually "flew" by Exxilon); natives dressed in tarps; petrified life-forms; and of course, the Daleks appearing in the last scene even though their name is right there in the title. If it seems at all fresh, it's because of Michael Briant's direction (maybe), the design (at times) and the regulars' performance (when the writing doesn't make them look silly). Occasionally, the design team chips in as well.

Most unusually,Briant drops the lights out in the TARDIS, which always make it look more interesting and makes me wonder why they didn't do it more often, or at least find a reason to dim them a little bit. Here, the TARDIS loses power, and we see its overhead lights for the first time, but we're never in complete darkness. Lighting the set with very few spotlights creates an atmospheric environment that contrasts with the beach equipment amusingly strewn about, and most crucially, provides a scary experience for Sarah Jane who hasn't yet decided if this time travel lark is for her. It certainly helps the scene where she returns to the TARDIS later and gets attacked by an Exxilon creeping within. Outside, the planet is spooky too. There's a wonderful green filter over everything, and Exxilon becomes a magical, smoky place. It's looking like the show is going Gothic a year or two before schedule. Sadly, it loses all that atmosphere in the light of day, reverting to just another gray quarry, even though they find some nice crevices to explore. The City of the Exxilons looks like an unfinished model, but it's striking enough, and up close, allows Sarah to indulge her sense of wonder as big glyphs light up at her touch. The natives themselves look like coffee-stained, rumpled brown paper bags, and for the first 20 minutes, might as well be invisible Spiridons, but they do have faces under there, and the large eyes nocturnal creatures would have. I don't dislike the look, and they get a nice chanting cue for Sarah's sacrifice too.

The regulars give their best effort under Nation's movie serial logic, with the Doctor wandering off while Sarah Jane changes out of her bathing suit. I'm not sure if it's meant to be a twist on the usual "companion wanders off" cliché, or if it's bad writing, but it comes at the heels of the program making the point that the TARDIS is so dark one needs an oil lamp to walk around the console room, yet the Doctor keeping the lamp when he sends Sarah back in. A similar dissonance between script and visuals occurs when the Dalek saucer lands and the Marines all think it's an Earth ship until it's actually landed, but... it was really obvious, wasn't it? Same thing when the Daleks fire on the group in the cliffhanger. It goes on so long and so uselessly, you have time to realize they've been drained of power too. Briant's given us atmosphere, but he doesn't seem to care about the plot. Sound's not his forte either. The fights are sapped of any excitement because hits are silent or very low. Look down at your dinner and you won't even know they're happening. And the Daleks' entrance! The music plays it as comedy! What the hell.

- As a beginning, it's got qualities. It looks quite good, great lighting effects, fair-to-good effects, and the Doctor and Sarah are always watchable. But it's messy and not particularly original. Even if fan wisdom didn't tell me Death to the Daleks was one of the Daleks' weaker outings, I'd still get the feeling things were going south after this initial set-up.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mike Yates: The Character Sheet

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

*Captain Yates has a +2 Knowledge Expertise in Military Tactics.

Brave (Minor)
Charming (Minor)
Friends (Major) - UNIT
Hot Shot (Minor)
Military Rank (Captain)

By the Book (Minor) - until The Green Death
Dark Secret (Major) - Working with Operation Golden Age (after The Green Death)
Eccentric/Douchy (Minor)
Obligation (Major) - UNIT Operation Golden Age (after The Green Death)
Voice of Authority (Minor)

Richard likes to show that Mike Yates is a bit arrogant (if not enough for a Bad Trait) by making him fail at the things he's supposed to be good at (basically any Skill in which he has a 3 or more), usually by making demands on his roll to raise its difficulty. For example, he's made himself crash a motorcycle and appear a right git in front of Jo Grant by stealing Benton's tea.

Mike Yates WOULD return before the end of the season, but not as a member of UNIT. Stay tuned for the Season 11 campaign wrap-up, coming soon!

Doctor Who #367: Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part 6

"There never was a golden age, Mike. It's all an illusion."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.16 1974.

IN THIS ONE... Revolt aboard the fakeship, and our heroes crash Grover's time reversal party before we're all erased from history.

REVIEW: It's the last episode for the plastic dinosaurs, and they're mostly well used as obstacles along a course taking the Doctor and the Brigadier to the secret bunker. Sadly, the one that works the least well, the T Rex is the one we most see, and its battle with a "brontosaurus" only manages to make them look like they're making out. Thumbs up on at least making it look bloody. Later, the UNIT jeep must drive under a bronto's legs, which is pretty cool, the Brig throws a grenade at a stegosaurus, and a poor triceratops - finally in full view - is trapped in the tube, held at bay by flares, and likely getting a faceful of explosives in the heroes' daring raid on the villains' underground lair.

I've also come to realize those villains are also a kind of dinosaur. You might think them progressive in their environmental concerns, but what they're really after - Yates included - is a "new Golden Age". This is about Empire, and how England has lost what it had during colonial days. They want to start fresh and avoid humanity's mistakes, but they mean to subjugate New Earth's primitive population to do so. Another clue is that Mark, the youngest of the "Elders", is the only one willing to listen to Sarah Jane (though to their credit, they all rebel when they discover they were duped by Grover and are about to become responsible for the erasure of human civilization from history). The Doctor, a man who has seen history first hand, is well placed to declare there never was a Golden Age and that the good old days only seem that way thanks to nostalgia. His speech about working with what you have and forging a future before it's too late is effective, and might even be a lesson he learned dealing with his exile on Earth. His sermon about pollution and humanity's other sins, siding with Grover philosophically, if not with his methods is much too heavy-handed however. It's the time to celebrate victory, not slap us on the wrist for producing too much refuse.

That victory, and the ending in general, is a bit ambiguous however, to the point of being unsatisfying. Too many questions linger! Where were Grover and Whitaker sent? Erased from history? To the time of the dinosaurs? Did history roll back even a little bit? The Doctor seems to say so, but there's no evidence that people got younger, or that anything got undone. And why DID Yates join Operation Golden Age? The gullibility shown by the good Captain and the chosen Elders seems to point to a high degree of suggestibility, even some kind of mind control (more than endless documentaries on pollution, certainly, and those blue lights had no little effect on Sarah, nor were they referenced again), but there doesn't seem to be any time for an explanation in the episode. Mike's fate is played off-screen (we'll learn more the next time he guest-stars, stay tuned), but I'm kind of glad the Brig has taken care of him so that he isn't publicly disgraced.

This is a good episode for our Brigadier, one in which facing a dinosaur armed with nothing more than a glorified match seems easier for him than disobeying an order he knows is wrong from General Finch. Look at him swallow hard when he has to break his own military code. That's a big sacrifice for the Brig. Sgt. Benton has more fun with mutiny, enjoying the hell out of kicking Finch's ass, apologizing for it mid-swing. John Levene is quite good at rapid bursts of violence (as he showed in The Daemons) and here uses his prowess not only against the General, but against his friend Yates too. A bit of revenge for that time Mike stole his lunch in Day of the Daleks. And then there's Sarah Jane Smith. She's been resourceful throughout this serial and does what's required of her, but the moment I love is the final one in which the Doctor tries to woo her into taking another trip in the TARDIS. 10 episodes in and she still hasn't been secured as the next companion! He describes a planet of flowers and she refuses to entertain the idea. He keeps talking until she puts her hands over her ears, but she can't stop herself from smiling too. She's so in.

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization (entitled Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion), the Doctor uses a motorbike instead of the Whomobile. An opening sequence features a full-fledged character finding a deserted London and praying over a dead body, and an epilogue on the road where the Doctor shows Sarah Jane a relevant passage from the Bible. Hulke adds lots of little details, like a scar and backstory for Butler, Sarah Jane remembering her journalism mentors, and a contribution to the UNIT dating controversy - 1977. The American edition changed just enough details to turn this into a 4th Doctor adventure.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Lots of dinosaurs for the kids, gritty action for the teens, and Imperial themes for the parents. Shame about the preaching at the end.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Yes, it's got rubber dinosaurs and at times ropey effects. So what? It's also got a tense atmosphere, irrevocable changes in the lives of the UNIT family, and a potent theme. And the Whomobile, if that's something that turns your crank.

Happy 49th Anniversary Doctor Who! Look at me, I'm already starting on this project's second year!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Star Trek #1447: Hive Part 2

1447. Hive Part 2

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive #2, IDW Comics, October 2012

CREATORS: Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett (writers), Joe Corroney (artist)

Unknown (follows the previous issue, three years after Nemesis, 500 years hence in a possible future, with one scene just after Voyager's Endgame)

PLOT: In the future, Locutus and Data defeat the Queen's sentinel, Seven of Nine. Three years ago, Seven went undercover inside the Collective. Now, the Borg betray the Federation, destroy Andoria and take control of Seven.

See previous issue (Borg, Seven of Nine, Lt. Archer, Locutus). Andoria (Journey to Babel, et al.) is destroyed. A battle staged at the Mutara nebula was based on a suggestion by an "old friend" (Kirk; The Wrath of Khan). The scene showing Voyager's return to Earth features the fireworks from the alternate future in Endgame, as well as Janeway, Tuvok and the Doctor.

DIVERGENCES: See previous issue (Seven of Nine and the Voyager novels). Lt. Archer's first name is Kira, which seems to me like a mixed metaphor.

PANEL OF THE DAY - A reference to her first appearance in "Scorpion"?
REVIEW: While this second issue has the same problems the first does (half a dozen splashes - half of them featuring the same Scorpion-Seven - that make for a very quick read), we certainly can't say nothing happens within its pages. In fact, there shocking revelations come fast and quick. But do they make sense, or like Braga's weakest Voyager scripts, do they leave logic by the wayside. Well, the idea of sending Seven back inside the Collective with some kind of filter that allows her to retain her individuality and "spy" on the Borg is an acceptable one, but her conversation with Picard, in which he confesses feeling closer to machines (the Enterprise, Data) because of his experience with the Borg rings a little false. Though a link still existed in First Contact, it still seems like quite a statement to make about the TNG family's patriarch, one I don't care to believe. The other shocker is that Species 1881 was genetically engineered by the Borg and are, in fact, a big ol' trap. And I do mean big. When Worf and his Vulcan marines board a Voldranaii ship, they discover these guys are giants! This twist means the similarity with 8472 was by design and not, as I previously complained, a rehash of an old story. Seems a bit complicated, and a lot of drones are sacrificed to let Starfleet believe these aliens are working against the Borg, but you can't argue with results. Andoria is destroyed (Braga is playing for keeps), and in the last pages, the Queen re-asserts control of Seven of Nine and turns her into a Scorpion-bot. This all ties into the future sequences and explains them, but it also telegraphs where it's likely to go. Picard and pretty much everyone else will be assimilated (the future features a shot of a Borged San Francisco), and in 500 years, Locutus will decide to undo the whole timeline. Issue 1 seemed to say this would be Scorpion all over again, but it now appears it's going to be the much inferior Endgame, with Locutus playing the part of Admiral Janeway. But there have been enough twists up 'til now that I'm willing to believe Hive can still surprise me. Unfortunately, all these twists doesn't necessarily make this an engaging story, and I still think the generally expressionless characters (Corroney does have a better handle on Geordi though) and time lapses between scenes are undercutting any emotion the story could otherwise have evoked.

Doctor Who #366: Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part 5

"Their new world is this one. This world of ours swept clean and returned to its early innocence."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.9 1974.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane gets off the fake spaceship (but is soon caught), the Doctor escapes custody (then drives around a lot), and the villains step up their plans to erase the human race.

REVIEW: So finally, we get a sense of the entire evil plan, and it's completely INSANE. And that's how I like my evil plans, epic and nutty. They basically want to roll back time, erase the human race from Earth, and start over with cavemen and their select lot who all believe themselves to be colonists on a spaceship. The primeval world they'll find is really a renewed Earth! No word yet as to why Mike Yates is ok with this (he likely doesn't know since he didn't "sign up for murder"), nor why evacuating London is so key to the plan. The dinosaurs really are just a distraction, some other application of Whitaker's time technology (given the show once had a show runner known for his skewed take on science, this is an entirely brilliant name for him). And hey! Finally a look at the triceratops puppet!

As we rejoin the action, the Doctor has just been arrested by Finch and the Brigadier, leaving us to wonder on who's side the latter really is. However, unless he's written completely out of character, it sounds like he's going along with Finch until he can figure out what's going on. No so Yates, who finally shows his hand by shutting the Doctor's plea for help down. So it's down to good old Benton to not only allow himself to be Venusian nerve pinched, but to suggest it! No wonder he's such a beloved character. The Brig then drops all pretense and joins the to-be-court-martialed Benton in an insurrection against the military. Yay! Sadly, we don't see them again this episode and are instead given long and rather leisurely chase sequences as jeeps and helicopters zero in on the Doctor's getaway vehicle. There are some nice shots in there, and a neat roofless warehouse location, but it's mostly driving in circles and trying to avoid hitting walls made of pure padding.

Sarah Jane Smith is once again a major draw, going on logic and faith, she disbelieves that she is, in fact, on a spaceship, almost convinces Mark, a potential ally (and a highly suggestible one, it seems), and walks out of an airlock into space. It is, of course, the secret bunker, but it still takes balls. As the script puts the breaks on the story in the middle section, Lis Sladen somehow manages to keep Sarah's sneaking around in real time relatively tense, just by using body language. She taps her arm nervously as the lift goes up, she's careful when turning doorknobs... Some great naturalism and attention to detail from her, and something we can look forward to from her across her time on the series. I'm even content to watch her write a note while a bemused officer looks on silently. Of course, Hulke pulls one of his "reset to zero" tricks by having her trust Finch at the worst possible time and get herself captured again. It's not unlike Frontier in Space in that sense. But now everybody knows who's a traitor right, and this can stop? I guess Part 6 could still have Sarah trust Mike Yates at the worst possible moment...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot is satisfyingly bonkers, and Sarah Jane, the Brig and Benton are pretty great. That leaves a huge chunk of padding in the middle to get over.