Monday, December 31, 2012

Doctor Who RPG: Season 12

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1975 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 11.)

The GM
After working out plots with Terry and helping out around the table, Bob becomes full-fledged GameMaster. The best way to describe him is that he's a wit with real flair for his NPCs' dialog, something that tends to be infectious when the players are immersed in his games. Because this is his and two players' first season, he plans to re-introduce some old monsters from the campaign archives, add some new ones, and even use the Time Lords. Not just to try them out, but to better integrate everyone into the game world. His other idea was to see if he could interconnect stories differently, to make them feel more like a single grand campaign than a series of disparate adventures.

The Characters
-The new Doctor is played by Tom, an enthusiastic gamer with a big personality and plenty of with himself. His concept for the Time Lord is to use Eccentric Traits to showcase how alien he is, give him the wrong emotions for the situation, and play most of them as if it were a joke. The kind of player who can't stay in his seat, but almost must act out every gesture. Reshuffling the Doctor's stats, he makes him a better detective, but a worse fighter, a lover of humanity though behaviorally apart from it.
-Lis is coming back for more, though she'll find throughout the season that she was better suited at Earth/present locations than the science fiction stuff. Not just her character, though she did invest a lot in the working journalist premise she developed with Terry, but as a player whose imagination is also a bit more grounded in reality. It takes her a few games to get her place around this new table where everyone seems to take a lot of room.
-Ian, who was a guest of Terry's in Season 10, created a UNIT character with Terry and now has time to play him, but is he still relevant? Harry Sullivan, a Navy physician attached to UNIT, he was crafted as an action man because Tom was apparently going to play an older, more cerebral Doctor. Not only did he change his mind about that, but the GM also decided UNIT and Earth weren't going to play such a big role in his scenarios. Though he had to share action opportunities with Tom, Ian nevertheless kept Harry active and useful, and built a strong chemistry with the other two players. His old-fashioned, good-natured but sexist doctor was the perfect foil for Sarah Jane's feminism, and the Doctor enjoyed mentoring and ridiculing him, according to the occasion.
-Nick and John, the UNIT boys, agree to participate in the first adventure of the season, to help baptize the new Doctor (and the new GM).

Robot. One of the stories Bob had worked with Terry on, but the latter never got to use, about a robot with a heart and evil scientists using it to threaten the world. Bob started with this one so as not to waste it, but also as a safety net for his first game. He might have done better plotting it himself because it's really a bit of nonsense (Terry's plots often were). However, as an introduction for the two new players, giving Lis what felt like one last journalism story for Sarah Jane, and the UNIT boys a lot of action, it did its job.

Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 2, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 7
Skills: Convince 1, Fighting 2, Knowledge 1, Marksman 2, Subterfuge 1, Technology 1
Traits: Robot; Armour (15), Empathic, Natural Weapons (Clamps, +2 Strength), Scan; Special: If absorbs Lethal doses of raw energy, gains the Huge (Major) Trait; Eccentric/Conflicted programming (must always roll against Resolve to solve ethical dilemmas; if before manipulated by Miss Frost, use Code of Conduct/Asimov's Laws instead), Obligation (to Professor Kettlewell). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: 5

The Ark in Space. Bob had always been good at creating new monsters, and other GMs in the local club used to ask him to design some for them on occasion. The Krotons, Autons/Nestenes, Drashigs, and Sontarans were all his designs. In his first adventure flying solo, he creates the Wirrn, true Bug-Eyed Aliens, space locust intent on absorbing humanity. The setting, a space ark where what's left of humanity has slept for the ages, is a perfect pantry. The new aliens are fairly memorable, though ultimately too powerful, and the GM resorts to NPCs sacrificing themselves for the greater good (though not without some crucial Convince rolls).

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 3, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 3, Convince 1, Fighting 3, Knowledge 4, Medicine 1, Science 1, Subterfuge 1, Survival 4, Technology 1
Traits: Alien; Additional Limbs (4), Alien Appearance, Armour (5/10 against energy weapons), Environmental (Space), Fear Factor 1, Flight (Major), Infection, Natural Weapons (Mandibles, +2 Strength), Networked, Sense of Direction; Slow (outside space environment). Story Points: 3-6
Home Tech Level: Special (Wirrn can use any technology normally used by creatures they infect)

The Sontaran Experiment. Letting the players think the scenario isn't over and that Earth must be checked out to see if it's safe for the revived humans, the GM surprises them with another foe down below, one of his own Sontarans! It was Lis' first monster and she responds well to their return. But if the Wirrn were too powerful, a lone Sontaran is too weak a threat for three PCs and the adventure is quickly over. A new GM has to learn these things.

Genesis of the Daleks. When the PCs T Mat back to space station Nerva, their beam is intercepted by the Time Lords who give the Doctor a mission: Destroy the Daleks before they're born! Bob isn't content with a scenario that features the Daleks, he wants to add to the campaign grand tapestry. In the mutilated Davros, he gives them a creator who is an intellectual match for the Doctor. A pleasant surprise is that the jokes all fall away when the genocidal dilemma comes into play. Tom scores a lot of Story Points for not blindly following Time Lord orders. This is also the scenario in which Lis finds her feet again. Would Bob have let the Daleks be wiped from the campaign? He's not telling.

DAVROS (early years)
Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 7, Presence 4, Resolve 5, Strength 2
Skills: Convince 4, Craft 4, Knowledge 6, Medicine 6, Science 6, Subterfuge 2, Survival 2, Technology 6 (+2 Cybernetics)
Traits: Cyborg, Indomitable, Scan, Technically Adept, Tough, Voice of Authority; Dependency (Major, Life support chair), Eccentric/Megalomania, Impaired Senses (vision, an electronic eye compensates), Obsession (to make the Daleks the dominant life form), Unattractive, Weakness (no legs, one arm, limited movement). Story Points: 11
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: Life Support Chair [Armor 10, Speed 4, Environmental, Immortality, Transmit; from it, he can operate various equipment, including newly-built Daleks)

Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 1, Ingenuity 1, Presence 1, Resolve 3, Strength 5
Skills: Fighting 1, Subterfuge 2
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Armor (10), Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapon ("Mouth", +2 Strength); Weakness (immobile, can only work its "jaw"). Story Points: N/A
Home Tech Level: N/A

Revenge of the Cybermen. When the PCs return to Nerva, the GM plays yet another trick on them. It's a Nerva from the past, acting as a science station exploring a rogue planet. As villains, he decides to pull the Cybermen out of mothballs, though he's not really sure how they used to be played and no one's around to tell him, so he reconstructs what he can from old campaign notes and wings the rest. The adventure almost kills Sarah Jane (watch those saves against poison!), and ends with a fair bit of excitement which requires the expenditure of a lot of Story Point in order to get the best possible result. At adventure's end, the TARDIS drifts back into the now, just in time for season's end.

By then, the UNITeers have mentioned an interest in returning for another season opener, and Bob's got an idea for it, so he lays it in as a telegraph message from across space and time. Something to look forward to in a new season.

Doctor Who #405: Terror of the Zygons Part 2

"The Skarasen is our life source. We Zygons depend upon it its lactic fluid for survival."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Still unavailable on DVD, I've had to use an Internet source. First aired Sep.6 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Harry is captured and impersonated by the Zygons and the Loch Ness Monster chases down the Doctor.

REVIEW: I had no idea Terror of the Zygons was so moody and atmospheric, but by keeping the comedy to a minimum, using a haunting score, and providing moments of shocking adult violence, the story is turning into much more than your usual monster-of-the-month. Bob Holmes' interest in Gothic horror is finally showing as he settles into this new season. Not for the last time, we're shown a Gothic world draped in science fiction rather than the supernatural. Mysterious fog rises up on the moors, but it's nerve gas. The Loch Ness Monster itself shows up, and it's an alien cyborg creature grown for its lactative properties (and giant teeth). Creepy nurses and a psychotic Harry are really shapeshifting aliens marooned on Earth long ago. We recognize the horror beats, but they've all been given the Doctor Who twist.

The Zygons are a remarkable creation, beings who have developed a completely biological technology. The Skarasen is both a weaponized animal and their food source (mmm, Nessie milk!). I've heard people complain the creature was rubbish, but I quite like this long-necked turtle. A bit of stop motion is far less silly than the puppetry of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and I could see the Skarasen fighting King Kong or Godzilla. The beacon they use to attract the beast is itself a small animal that attaches itself to the Doctor's hand... how? With teeth? A suction cup? Biology is all around them on their (grown?) ship, sitting at the bottom of a murky lake. Their CCTV feed is probably coming from that prominent deer's head in the inn, just to stay on-theme. By linking themselves to a captured human's "body print", they can take their form and voice, but obviously have trouble replicating personalities. Just like you can spot a Slitheen by their flatulence, a Zygon reveals itself by its rudeness. Killing these doppelgangers will of course make them revert to their true forms, and there's something harsh about the way the Harry-Zygon dies in obvious distress, impaled on farm equipment, even if it was trying to do the same to Sarah Jane with a pitchfork. Like I said, the violence is shockingly adult.

Though the Doctor is relatively serious and in earnest throughout, the Brigadier provides short and welcome flashes of comedy. There's a nice bit with a UNIT soldier that only says "Sir", and the Brig's refusal to acknowledge he was asleep, even as the result of nerve gas. It's also nice to see Sarah working at a typewriter, still filing stories even if her magazine is unlikely to have heard from her in weeks. As for the Doctor, though less manic, he's still driving the action, luring a giant monster away while UNIT triangulates the Zygons' position. This episode also marks the first time he's used hypnosis - to put Sarah into a trance so she can survive the lack of air in a decompression chamber - something that will become a bit of a super-power later on. He's learned the trick from a Tibetan monk, he says, which may be a reference to K'ampo, his Gallifreyan mentor. (Was the Master also one of his pupils? He's got a similar ability.)

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - An atmospheric horror story with brilliant alien designs and strong scenes for each of the regulars. Certainly can't complain.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

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


Couple of additions to my Kung Fu Friday collection: Cop on a Mission (because Eric Tsang), and Sukiyaki Western Django (feat. Quentin Tarantino, speaking of which, read on).


In theaters: I'm struggling with writing a review of Tarantino's Django Unchained. On the one hand, it's a terrific entertainment, violently rewriting history like Inglourious Basterds did, and on the other, it's a disturbingly difficult subject. Imagine if Basterds had taken place in a concentration camp, and you get the idea. It's slavery through a blaxploitation filter, a badass but brutal revenge western that threads the fine line between the comic and the horrific. Christoph Waltz once again steal the show as the German dentist/bounty hunter who takes Django (Jamie Foxx) as a partner. The weakest link is Samuel L. Jackson whose dialog feels anachronistic to me. At 165 minutes, the film feels a bit heavy, and keeps going after you think you've reached the last reel. Not sure what I'd cut out of it though. There's no scene that's not crucial to the plot, themes or tone. This isn't a negative or even a mitigated review, I really did love it (heck, I could have listened to the opening song for 2 hours). I guess I'm still not sure how to resolve its handling of race (the period and characters are unavoidably racist) as both comedy and drama, in relation to my feeling "entertained".

The next day, we went to see another very long film (4 minutes more), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (starstruck moment - well, not really, he's a local - Robert Maillet who you'll most readily recognize as the big French dude in Sherlock Holmes was sitting a few rows in front of us... I bet he thought he could have played the White Orc), the first chapter in a new Tolkien trilogy. I haven't read The Hobbit in 30 years and I've never been a Tolkien fan (indeed, the story is a series of unconnected events that end in deus ex machinae), but I AM a fan of Peter Jackson's take on the Middle-Earth. Jackson does seem to fix some of the plotting issues by making it a true prequel to Lord of the Rings, as the various dangers Bilbo and the company of dwarves face becomes a preface to the coming war. Why are trolls so far south, or orcs so far north, etc.? The prequel elements might have been the easiest to cut from the film, but for fans, it's a chance to see characters from the first films, and to connect The Hobbit's events more readily to the epic war against Sauron to come. There are some amazing flights of fancy in the film, including a number right out of a musical, but the film gives us permission to believe this is Bilbo's embellished telling of it. And for this Whovian, it makes me smile that by casting Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, this former (and often underrated) Doctor has been put on the same level as Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee. Structurally, like a lot of Tolkien's work, it probably doesn't hold up, but I was too glad to be back to this wondrous world. It just felt comfortable, like another episode of a favorite series. Martin Freeman was the perfect casting for the reluctant Bilbo, the dwarves are well differentiated, and in the end, the movie has a lot of heart. (Needless to say, mileage may vary if you go and see it with the different frame rate or in 3D, two innovations I'm boycotting, thanks.)

DVDs: Moonraker is what the Bond franchise delayed For Your Eyes Only for so it could jump on the Star Wars bandwagon. The easiest criticism one could make of the film is that it goes too far into science fiction, with space marines shooting lasers at space-suited henchmen around a space ark, but its problems are much greater than that. The comedy often takes you out of the movie, especially the whole Jaws in love subplot, not to mention his risible indestructibility. He almost ruins one of the most spectacular teaser stunts in Bond history. Lois Chiles as Dr. Goodhead get my vote for worst Bond girl of all time, or at least the worst actress to ever play such a role (I'm on Team Manuela in this one). The plot is essentially recycled from the previous one, The Spy Who Loved Me, with an outer space ark instead of an underwater one. We visit a lot of countries, Brazi looks especially nice, but Bond follows clues willy-nilly and none of it actually makes sense. Throw in entirely too much product placement, and you've easily got the worst of the 007 franchise (even the 2 commentary tracks are under par). That said, it still has entertainment value, and Ken Adam's impressive last sets.

I don't think I was ready for how surreal Walkabout was. Nominally a coming of age story about a girl (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (director Nicholas Roeg's 6-year-old son Luc) lost in the Australian Outback who meet an Aboriginal boy (David Gulipil), it's really a layered visual poem about, depending on what filter you put on it, nascent sexuality, tradition vs. modernity, the corruption of the urban lifestyle, one's ability or inability to understand the Other's point of view, and nature in all its beauty and harshness. There's a case to be made that it is entirely allegorical, and as a proper story, it has a slow pace and difficult to understand Aboriginal concepts (as Westerners, we share the Girl's point of view). Tender hearts beware, there's an awful lot of onscreen animal killings, part of its documentary feel. Not an easy piece, but one that bears rewatching periodically, as even my exploration of the commentary track (with Agutter and Roeg separately telling production stories) revealed new meanings and images quite apart from what they were saying. The Criterion Collection booklet does attempt analysis, but doesn't really unlock the film's secrets, nor do the the DVD's other extras. There are some nice interviews with both Luc Roeg (all grown up) and Agutter, and a great little documentary on Gulipil, a most unusual actor who has straddled the world of movies and Aboriginal tradition all his life. It's made me want to discover more of his work.

Going 180 degrees the other way, I watched the original Total Recall (you tell me, is the remake at all necessary? I haven't seen it). Oddly, and ironically, I seem to have memories of scenes that aren't actually in the picture. My guess is that I've taken on board misleading copy from the trailers and tv ads and made it part of the film. Watching it today, it has all the Paul Verhoeven trademarks that make me squirm as a modern audience member: Extreme violence, gratuitous foul language, and borderline misogyny. In Robocop and the flawed Starship Troopers, it's obvious that it's satire, but here, such elements can often be in bad taste. Don't get me wrong, it's still an exciting action film, with plenty of iconic scenes and animatronic effects, but the 80s-ness of it does rankle. Another problem I caught is that to work, there shouldn't be any scenes where Quaid isn't present, and yet there are. Oops. The Special Edition package is a pretty good one, with a commentary track by Verhoeven and Schwarzebegger, a strong making of documentary, a photo and production design gallery, a short NASA featurette on the planet Mars, storyboard comparisons, and an odd little thing where you can choose one of three virtual vacations which turns into a 30-second video postcard on a loop. Doesn't quite work due to going to black in between each loop, though I appreciate the idea.

The Bodyguard AKA Dangerous Hero is a 2004 Thai action comedy shot in cheap video and featuring Petchtai Wongkamlao, Tony Jaa's sidekick in both Ong-Bak and The Protector, and it's not a good one, though it has its moments. It's a matter of understanding the comedy, really. Filled with non sequiturs, it's closer to Monty Python than The Naked Gun, but it doesn't really ease you into it. You start out watching a cheap gunplay film, and suddenly, there are ridiculous happenings, characters showing up for exactly one "humorous" scene with none of the main actors, and jokes you probably need to be Thai to understand. The film parodies the work of John Woo and Tsui Hark, and even the Tony Jaa stunt team's (Jaa as an action cameo that references Ong-Bak, for example), so it's possible I just didn't have the cultural background to get the other bits. By no means is that an excuse for the slow pace, characters constantly shouting, annoying tonal shifts, wooden romance, or dull cipher of a hero. It did eventually get some laughs out of us because even the strangest non sequiturs eventually pay off. Redeeming qualities include the Dance Fu, the bad guy's own bodyguards (including a fun character with Down's Syndrome), and the final credits sequence. The DVD includes a 15-minute making of that speaks to many of the stars, including Tony Jaa.

Comics: I got Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder the week in came out, but didn't manage to get to it right away. By reputation, I knew it could well make my 2012 Top 5, so I determined to read it before year's end. And yes, you'll see it in the Top 5 come January 1st (awards season is upon us). A deceptively simple ghost story, the graphic novel available from Top Shelf pleasantly plays with time, not only bringing the lead character forwards and backwards in time through the use of flashbacks and mind trips, but also creating a contrast between the worlds above and below the water. Above, tight claustrophobic panels or, if water is in sight, slim widescreen ones. Under the water, expansive ink-washed splash pages that give the sequences a decompressed timelessness. Lemire's story is one of guilt and one's ability to move on from tragedy, a tale of fathers and sons with three-dimensional characters, touchingly told. And on a personal level, it's a rare comic book story that takes place in Atlantic Canada. Lemire is to comics what the Rheostatics are to music. Which reminds me, I've really got to read Essex County...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - French Rock Opera

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Dial H to Doom Patrol.

Doctor Who #404: Terror of the Zygons Part 1

"The Doctor, he looks likes a man who might see around a few corners himself."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Still unavailable on DVD (sheesh, even the never-completed Shada will be out on DVD before Zygons), I've had to use an Internet source. First aired Aug.30 1975, starting the new season mere months after the last one ended.

IN THIS ONE... Oil rigs in Scotland are being destroyed and the Doctor is called in. The Brig in a kilt. A sniper gets Harry. Big teeth are cast.

REVIEW: I wasn't equipped to "get" how the Welsh were stereotyped in The Green Death, but it's harder to miss that the Scotland represented in Terror of the Zygons is, to put it charitably, an iconic and not a real one. People with variable R-rolling accents longing for haggis, playing bagpipes, warning people not to go out on the moor... Even the Doctor and the Brigadier dress as Scotsmen, reverting to their usual garb once the joke is done. And it IS played as a joke. Sarah giggles at the Brigadier's kilt, takes shots at the landlord's superstitious stories, and sends up in the accent when she answer's the inn's phone. It's Lis Sladen, so she makes it all feel very naturalistic, and it's nice to see Sarah Jane on the offensive, using her investigative skills, but the production has the same contempt for "the country" that The Green Death and The Daemons had, its inhabitants gullible bumpkins or creepy xenophobes, one and all. Since Doctor Who's had a Highlander companion, they miss a trick by not mentioning Jamie in some way. The piper could have been a McCrimmon, or the Doctor's clothes could have been left in the TARDIS. Ah well.

While this Scotland isn't taken very seriously, and there's a sense of fun to the family reunion, everything else is quite serious. The Doctor, for example, is a lot more sober than usual. Initially, he's a little peeved the Brig would use his emergency telegraph to summon him about one of these energy crisis stories. He's obviously done with that, and barring any alien invasion, he's not willing to keep bailing Britain out every time work stops on some polluting power plant or other. But the oil rigs ARE being attacked by something, shall we say, alien (good model shots there). Something with huge teeth. If you're not adding Loch Ness Monster to the Scottish clichés at this point, you're doing it wrong. (I'm kind of glad Doctor Who never came to Canada in this era, as I'm not sure how I would feel about a story filled with Mounties, igloos, and country bumpkins with bad accents being extra polite and drinking maple syrup from the bottle. Only the latter is part of my own experience.) And then Harry gets shot by a sniper, which is about as serious as things can get, and despite the monsters, the scariest scene in the episode. The music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, knows not to send things up too. The bagpipes play a lament for the dead (they also tend to stop dramatically or comically, but that's second sight for you), and Geoffrey Burgon's incidental music is properly haunting.

The eponymous monsters are barely seen, but make a strong impression. The carbuncled and suction cupped Zygons are a good design, but that's not it as we hardly see them. It's their bio-technology and fascinates and disgusts. The scene in which they guide their pet monster to a rig, edited in a series of dissolves, showing hands fondling strange protuberances, makes them more alien than any culture we've seen in a while. They also seem to have a shape-shifting ability, creepy body snatchers that then hang around the village as dukes and nurses. It's the same basic effect the sniper has. A paranoid atmosphere in which our heroes can't guess where the next attack will be coming from.

- Though the setting is an almost absurdly traditional idea of Scotland, the production has loads of atmosphere, an intriguing new monster and terrifyingly dark plot elements.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #457: The Masked Man of Steel

Source: Action Comics #453 (1975)
Type: Transformation
They can't all be classics, folks. And Carey Bates and Curt Swan's "Superman's Fantastic Face-Saving Feat!" sure isn't. I don't even think it deserves its exclamation point.

After returning from saving a hot air balloon (the only actually heroic deed in the issue), Superman returns to the Daily Planet closet where his co-workers, used to seeing him take power naps in there, don't recognize him. Curt Swan's faces have very little variation, so I guess it's the Javier Bardem haircut.
Across town, there's a guy who looks just like Clark Kent plotting to kill Superman. So what's going on here? Well, there's this evil scientist, see, and I can't tell you his name because Carey Bates doesn't GIVE him a name. All we know is that he has a brother called Nels who was arrested by Superman, and that he dedicated his electronics career to creating a weapon that could kill Superman. As part of an over-complicated scheme, he also invented a face-swapping app for his iPhone.
Electronics! Is there nothing it can't do? The next step was copying Clark Kent's blue suit exactly and learning to impersonate Clark's voice. There's a medal-giving ceremony that must have been planned long ago for this to make any (cough cough) sense, that would put Kent and Superman on the same stage, the perfect place to shoot Superman in front of millions of witnesses. That way UNNAMED VILLAIN can make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Superman tries to keep his face hidden from people. Northern Canada should do the trick.
Yes, that's Superman helping a clear-cutting operation with a giant scythe apparently created for this exact purpose. Can he come to my office next and help ME catch up on things? It won't hurt the environment, I promise! The lumberjacks complain they got no face time, so this simply won't do. He goes to the Fortress of Solitude to make a rubber mask with his usual pretty boy looks. Back at his apartment, FACE-MAN (I threw him a bone) is hoping to tie Clark up, but there's no one there. He noses around and finds a hidden phone ringing off the hook. Hello? Who is this?
Ah yes, the #1 function of a World's Finest team-up is to fix secret identity problems. Batman is supposed to be impersonating Clark at the awards ceremony, but now he's decided he's "too busy". Yeah Bruce, looks like it. Face-Man has no idea who this Bruce is, nor does his snooping uncover Superman costumes or plan-B Superman robots in the cupboard. It looks like everything's coming up heads for the big day tomorrow. That's if Superman remembers to go get his award.
We shouldn't have worried. It's what this version of Superman lives for. Superman gets to the ceremony on time, where his super-hearing reveals Clark Kent isn't Batman, and his super-vision reveals the gun he's holding is designed to kill him with energy from his own body. (Come on, Bates! What kind of a story-telling shortcut is that?) Superman's too quick for him and he's beaten, but to get his face back, the Man of Steel kicks Face-Man's ass as Clark Kent until he cries uncle. Despite Clark breaking rocks with his fists, Face-Man doesn't figure things out. You can't be a genius at everything.

Doctor Who #403: Revenge of the Cybermen Part 4

"I think, therefore it missed."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 10 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The bombs are disarmed, so the Cybermen point Nerva at Voga.

REVIEW: In the final act of the final act, the story finally gets up to speed. It takes a while to get there, of course, as we suffer through Lester's incredibly underwhelming sacrifice to stop the two Cybermen on Voga. The pacing is slow, shots of Lester don't have him looking in the right direction, and after we've been told bad things would happen if a booby-trapped belt buckle were unfastened, all we get is a brief flash of flame that somehow kills the Cybermen, but given a bomb is strapped to Lester's back, isn't really much of anything. That the Doctor inexplicably disarms the bombs in between scenes doesn't help matters. The Cyber-shenanigans - later there's a super-silly shoulder-shaking attack that should have stopped the whole production and forced a reshoot - are, as usual, the weakest part of the story. It might have been more interesting to explore the political clash between Vorus and Tyrum instead. These characters both have valid points of view which suffer from the broad strokes used to define them. Vorus has to die in an either messy or realistic scene, your choice, to ramp up the jeopardy, but the in the end, his Skystriker rocket, played by a painfully obvious stock shot of a Saturn V, partly saves the day.

But I have to admit the last "reel" has a lot going for it. The Cybermen load Nerva up with bombs and aim it at the planet, and though the Doctor manages to kill a Cyberman by using a Cybermat as a gold dust delivery system, he and Sarah are still captured. He misses his deadline and the rocket is shot at the station as it starts to crash into Voga. He and Sarah escape their bonds, but the controls are locked. The rocket is diverted (the Doctor's perhaps too good at figuring out controls at a distance) and destroys the Cybermen, but the station is still crashing, a mountainous cylinder spinning at incredible speeds on the viewscreen. Yeah, it's a little silly-looking, but it is exciting compared to, say, the zoom-in on a picture of the station the Vogans see. Everybody, without exception, is in danger, including the Doctor's personal time line. After all, if Nerva is destroyed now, how can it be the Ark they landed on earlier/later? And though I'm sure it's all the same cues, I'm really enjoying the music, especially the Cyberman marches. I guess I was distracted by annoying plot holes and dumb Cyber-retcons through the earlier chapters.

"HARRY SULLIVAN IS AN IMBECILE!" shouts the Doctor after a belly laugh and before comically passing out. It's a memorable moment, but is it one Harry deserves? Though he seemed destined as a comic foil in Robot, his actual function across the next three stories was that of a steady and loyal action assistant for the Doctor, spending a lot more time partnering him than Sarah, usually sent off to be put in danger. So while yes, he did cause the rock fall, and almost blew the Doctor up, it's not like he had any reason to believe he was putting anyone in danger, and his track record had been, up to this point, strong. It's to his credit that he doesn't take any of this personally. In fact, my impression of Harry as a twit, here catered to as he forgets what the silver giants are called, has been called into question over the last few weeks. He's quickly become a favorite and in line to win a prize for most undervalued companion. He's got a couple stories to go, but in this, his final "trip", he deserved better than the Doctor's mean-spiritedness. Sarah also talks to Harry through gritted teeth when he states the obvious in his best Brigadier voice, but she's pretty stressed and it works. Of course, Lis Sladen is a treasure. There are some great bits of business between her and the Doctor too. Their reunion scene and how she plays her response to his surprise that she's happy to see him again, like it catches her off-guard. The whistling. Her management of the Doctor's flights of eccentricity ("Dusty death!", and no goodbyes, sorry Harry). The episode doesn't skimp on character moments.

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, the Cybermen are armed with hand weapons as they were in the past; they don't shoot from their heads. The book includes a one-page History of the Cybermen written by Gerry Davis.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Far from perfect, we nonetheless get an exciting and entertaining final chapter.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The return of the Cybermen is a wasted affair, creating a new and sillier paradigm for Who's "second greatest" monsters that would immediately make them go on hiatus again. That said, the character-driven comedy and exciting final act do redeem it a great deal.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kung Fu Fridays in January 2013

Tonight, from the Tony Jaa crew, the action comedy The Bodyguard AND its sequel, a special holiday double-feature, one hour earlier than usual to accommodate air time, and starting next year (well, next week), we'll stay in Thailand for one more movie...

Dynamite Warrior - Starring Dan Chupong from Born to Fight (a favorite, and the reason I think he deserves to be featured on one of our posters), he plays a Muay Thai warrior and rocketry expert who fights evil wizards in 1890s Siam. Tony Jaa-style action goes pulp!

Rumble in the Bronx - Probably the first martial arts movie I saw in an actual theater, with Vancouver acting as New York (are those... the Rockies behind the skyline?). It's never a bad time for a Jackie Chan movie, even with an English dub on it.

The Battle Wizard - The Shaw Brothers spectacular of the month, based on Louis Cha's novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, it stars Danny Lee in one of those strange-ass fantasy films of the 70s. Or he might just be called a wizard because he's good at battle. But there IS a dragon on the DVD cover.

Battle Royale - You've heard the name often, especially in connection to Western remakes/tributes/rip-offs like The Hunger Games and Avengers Arena. Now it's time to experience this Japanese cult classic for ourselves. Uncensored and unrated! 42 students, one way to survive.

How can such a cold month look so hot? As usual, if you're not able to attend, you can read capsule reviews of these films on the following Sunday. Maybe you'll be inspired to check out the best ones on your own.

Doctor Who #402: Revenge of the Cybermen Part 3

"You've no home planet, no influence, nothing. You're just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 3 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Cybermen strap a bomb on the Doctor and send him to Voga. Kellman revealed as double agent and killed.

REVIEW: There's a clever idea at the heart of this story, but so much of it is badly handled, it's hard to see it as a plus. It seems that Kellman was a double agent all along, and that he was really working with Vorus to lure the Cybermen to the gold planet in order to destroy them forever with a rocket two years in the making. He was in it for the gold, not for the power the Cybermen are offering (ruler of the solar system? Real people would rather get money than responsibility). That's a fine idea, and more interesting than the reverse, but since the plan forces Kellman to engineer the death of Nerva's crew, would it have been so hard to give him pangs of remorse? As played, he's a ruthless sociopath and actually quite boring. His death is supposed to mean something because he partially redeemed himself, but I can't make myself care. We might also inquire as to why they put the plan into effect before the rocket was ready. Instead, it all falls apart because the Cybermen can land on Voga before it is. And why the HECK can't the Vogans defend themselves against Cybermen when their planet is made of the Cybermen's "only" weakness? I should think they wouldn't even need "glitter guns". Just throw rocks at them. It seemed to work with the Cybermat.

But there's another problem. The plan is predicated on all surviving Cybermen being present. Destroying a handful (which is all we see) would be pointless. So there are only that many still alive after the Cyber Wars, though they have enough parts to rebuild an army on their ship. So here's my problem: The Doctor's insults ring truer than they should. They really ARE the losers of the galaxy. Lame ducks whose one plans don't make a jot of sense. They shoot everyone on Nerva, but on the stun setting because they need them to carry bombs into the heart of Voga. Because exploding a planet of gold will, apparently, destroy all that gold, not fling it across the system. Like it's the only source of gold in the universe. In their depleted numbers, you could probably commit genocide with what you find in a small jewelry store. Worse, these losers with a common every day weakness, while they look striking as fireworks shoot out of their heads, are nowhere near the monsters they used to be. It gets worse when they finally speak. They've lost all the mechanical distortion they used to have and sound like guys talking inside a bucket. They don't even have the decency to move while they're doing it, so there at least one scene where you can't really figure out who's talking. Two guys standing still, two bucket voices. Is it any wonder they wouldn't return for another 7 years, as long as they'd been gone?

So what's good about this episode? Still a fair amount. Tom Baker again tries to liven things up, with nice gags like trying to look inside the Cyber Leader's mouth, but his dialog includes two "that's the trouble with...", so the script isn't always helping him. Through Harry and Sarah Jane, we continue to discover the real story. They're brought to Tyrum and forge a quick alliance, though as it turns out, Vorus wasn't all bad either. Sarah gets to ride one of the boats, and returns to Nerva, where she isn't immediately captured, thankfully. In the last act, the jeopardy elements are actually well done. The things we, the audience, know, but the characters don't, are used to ramp up tension. Will Sarah mention the rocket and make the Cybermen blow the bombs early? Or will Harry undo the explosive buckle on the Doctor's chest and set them off even earlier? They've got the characters playing against one another in a pleasant enough fashion. Even the rock fall is caused by the two teams trying to get to one another. Certainly more exciting than the never-ending massacre of Vogans by two Cybermen, just standing there, never running out of firecrackers.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The story is more clever than expected, but does nothing for the Cybermen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Deadly Hands of People Who Are Not Shang-Chi

Batman and the Outsiders 11 - Pages 18-23
A few hoodlums, a non-lethal ninja... you know what we haven't seen yet? Supervillains worthy of battling the Outsiders. In most cases, this means total losers who don't deserve a page in Who's Who unless Alan Davis wants to draw them. In this case it means... well, exactly that. Let's meet them, shall we? They'll be in that building designed by the same architect who did STAR Labs.
Ah. Well, maybe we won't. You don't have an appointment, do you, dear reader? Neither does Ninja Takeo, but then he can use stealth and subtlety to get where he needs to--
Or not. Clearly, despite Mr. Noguri being some kind of criminal mastermind, his security force will let an obviously armed man walk in if he plays the "I know the bouncers here" card. Security is so lax, in fact, that elevator doors will stay open until you board them. Meet Mr. Noguri:
We know he's bad not because Takeo wouldn't dare fail him, but because he likes to sit back on a raised throne in a room with nothing but a polished floor and harsh spotlights. And he's a SMOKER! Booooo. Hisssss. PREPARE FOR THE CEREMONY!
 The SEXY ceremony! I'm going to call this our visual double-entendre of the week.
Takeo shows off his big tat, opens a briefcase and lays out a few fondue dishes, and we're ready to go.
Nice rack. (Oh, I'm FULL of double-entendres today. It's how I keep myself entertained while reading Outsiders comics.)
A nice bit here as the stuff written on the piece of paper is exactly replicated in Takeo's next speech bubble. Good work, uncredited letterer (Jim Aparo, maybe?).
It's time to get the ghosts out of the ghost trap. Meet... all sorts of deadly hands of kung fu!
The Outsiders will face all these people who were killed by the sword. So they start off as losers. The odds are even! And if you think Katana's name is obvious and dull, you'll see where she got the tradition from. First up, SHURIKEN! Guess what she throws?
She's got ninja stars all up and down her costume just so she can out-glitter Wonder Woman, and she also wears a wavy stiletto dagger that's from another culture entirely. Sigh. (Yes, that's a pun.)  Moving right along - NUNCHAKU!
This samurai-looking joker has nunchuks for HANDS. Least functional prosthesis EVER. Even Bruce Lee hit himself in the face ALL THE TIME when doing nunchuk work, so I can't imagine living with those things. He was killed by the sword before he could die from starvation. Third? BLOWDART! (No, really, did these apparently unconnected people ALL have the same unoriginal approach to their aliases?)
He'll do anything. ANYTHING! Orgy's back on.  But who uses TWO blowguns. I guess that gives you two attacks before reloading, which right there should tell you what this guy's weakness was against a swordsman. Number 4 is... ANTHOR STONEAXE!
Yep, even the Wisigoth who somehow found his way to Japan named himself after his weapon. There's no getting away from it. The big "A" with horns on his chest is rather anachronistic, so maybe they were all killed fairly recently in some kind of Legendary Weapons of Not-Shaolin Kumite tournament. Issue 11 doesn't tell. Is that all? No, there's a fifth member...
But who is he, this MASEO?
Despite the historical attire, he's Takeo brother AND Katana's slain husband! His weapon is the sword itself.
No, I don't know why Shuriken is so prominent in the foreground. Appealing to the teen demographic, I guess. But wait for it...
SHOCKER!!! Go off and kill your wife. Just like I almost did and really could have, but then didn't because I'm a real douchebag and thought this would be much funnier, if not practical. Can't even be sure she's in Tokyo, though she is. The Yakuza are really getting a great deal on their investment, aren't they? All this work just to kill a girl who could and should have been dead already if Takeo had done his job. END PART ONE.

Well, we're not even close to "The Truth About Katana", so join us in January for Part 2. We're gonna get to the grimy bottom of this if it kills us.

Doctor Who #401: Revenge of the Cybermen Part 2

"Well, we can't just sit here glittering, can we."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.26 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah is transmatted to Voga to filter out the Cybermat poison and she and Harry are captured by the natives. Later, the Cybermen board Nerva Beacon.

REVIEW: The serial makes some serious missteps in Part 2. While Harry and Sarah are allowed to have an adventure, the Doctor remains stuck on the space station where, despite Tom Baker's best efforts at keeping thing lively, they mostly just stare at a radar screen until the Cybermen board and kill everyone. Everything on the station either bores or annoys me. Kellman is an incredibly obvious villain, easily flushed out. The Doctor is a bit too gleeful in the way he threatens him. The screen-watching scenes (yes, plural) are tedious, though they might elicit a laughs and catcalls when Commander Stevenson says he's never seen anything like the decidedly phallic Cyber-ship. And the cliffhanger involves the Doctor getting shot multiple times by head-mounted Cyber-guns, so if he survives (which he will) and the rest of the crew doesn't, it's going to all very ridiculous. But no more ridiculous than the Cybermen's new weakness (like they needed another one - after all, we've seen them defeated by nail polish remover): Gold dust. Fine, whatever. Ties into this Planet of Gold business (that's provided we believe the gold standard exists and is used by non-humans), but it's not even believable the way it's used. The Doctor throws gold NUGGETS at the Cybermat and it's somehow stopped. That's not even alchemy, it's magic. It's garlic and crosses.

Things are a lot better down on Voga, however. The production makes good use of an unusual location, a flooded cavern, which allows the Vogans to use little speedboats and what Harry calls dodgems. Even when gold bits are added to them, they look like human technology, but they do add some production values, and the location itself, while not actually made of solid gold, does offer good terrain for the treacherous foot race. The action is okay, but Sarah Jane and Harry are in rare form, sparking at each other as if in the first act of a romantic comedy.

The Vogans offer some court intrigue, though even the hero masks force the actors to mumble their lines to some degree. There are two factions. Those who would use Vogan gold to buy their way into galactic politics, and the status quo, who would prefer remaining hidden lest more powerful races take their gold by force. The former seems to be working with Kellman, and thus directly or indirectly with the Cybermen. As it is, Voga is using its gold to manufacture everything, including maleable chains our heroes have no real trouble getting out of. It also seems to have both a security force and a militia, so both sides have an army of sorts. I'm not saying any of this is all that interesting, but it's a respite from Nerva's irritations.

- The companions' spelunking adventure is nowhere near enough to distract from dull monitor duty scenes and wrong-headed alterations to the Cybermen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Outsiders' Japanese Vacation

Batman and the Outsiders 11 - Pages 15-18
Hope you had a nice Christmas, but alas, if you expected some Aparo punches for BOXING Day, I'm going to have to disappoint you. To recap the "action" so far: Katana's sword has been stolen by a ninja, so she's gone off after him, leaving Halo, her underaged ward, a note. Yeah, you'd think more plot-related stuff would have happened in those first 14 pages. So she's off to Tokyo...
Maybe Katana thinks in Japanese and something's been lost in translation because nothing she thinks makes any sense. Has she already decided that she won't survive this encounter? Because the ninja in question has a pretty poor kill-record to date. Or does she think that once you skip out on the Outsiders, Batman will write you off? Either way, Batman has drilled into these guys the idea that they're losers, so either is a possibility. I guess it's a good thing Halo is young, because otherwise, the Outsiders wouldn't take care of her. Then again, if she weren't, she wouldn't need a guardian in the first place, so the point would be moot.
Katana is staying at the (as far as I can tell) purely fictional Tokyo Hotel. When you travel to countries and don't want to do research, keeping generic is best. Brought to you by Nikon.
"How?" Is that a reservation joke? I remind you that Katana is on a (suicide?) mission to retrieve her sword. What kind of reservation would she make? Normal, low-profile hotel room with a single bed? Or MEGA-SUITE as if she somehow knew the Outsiders would all show up?
Metamorpho is really gross by the way. A fully-furnished suite and he still tries to get Katana to put her bum in his hands. This is Batman's first appearance in the issue, so of course, he's got a harsh wrist slap to dish out:
Batman - he's got your phone tapped. And he's using your calls to criticize you. But Katana's had enough!
Pulling a sword on Batman? That's another wrist-slapping offense! However, just this once, Batman's not gonna go with the criticism, but instead with a no-vote of confidence. You CAN'T do this alone, so we're gonna meddle.
Please Geo-Force, don't put anyone on that box with you. But look at Halo's face, she's not doing the same religious cult thing like the others.
Leaving off the fact that Katana can't imagine her only friend being worried about her, let's ask the HARD questions. Namely, just how big is Halo? Look through these articles again if you must. Katana is wearing the same boots she is on the opening splash (p.1), which made her come to Geo-Force's shoulder. In one of the above panels, Halo comes to GF's chin. Yes, Katana is a tiny woman, and I like that not everyone has the same body type, but even if the splash showed the wrong proportions, there's no explaining Giant-Sized Halo over here.
Benefit of he doubt: Halo awkwardly stayed on the suite's steps while giving Katana a hug. Because she doesn't know how hugs work. The idea that she knows how to blow her nose is blowing my mind as well. Now for some detective work:
No reason he should think this, since she just pulled that sword on him, but we know almost nothing about her except that she carries one, so it was worth a shot. Ninja Takeo is in the Yakuza? That means we officially have more background on him than on Katana. Sign that this is 9-11: Katana brings a sword on an airplane AND a superhero uniform in her carry-on. Using private phones is the least of her worries. Cue Metamorpho acting creepy again:
I bet Katana wouldn't let him finger her REAL sword, because that would be cheating of some kind. Prepared to be shocked:
Well, Rex, GF and BL are shocked, at any rate. Batman's been around the block too often to register anything at all. Dude served on a team with an emo robot possessed by an air elemental, or something, after all. And Halo registers... sadness? Sadness at not understanding words like "inhabited", "spirit", "slain" and "husband".

Let's leave on this high note. When next we speak, it'll be all about who ELSE Katana was "cleaning" for all those months.