Thursday, January 31, 2013

Who's Colonel Future?

Who's This? The guy from that really cool Eduardo Barreto illustration on page 11 of Who's Who volume V.
The facts: Not to be confused with an Earth-2 Superman villain, Colonel Future was a hero created by Paul Kupperberg who appeared only twice, in Superman #387 (1982) and #399 (1984). The first time, he was drawn by Curt Swan, and the second, by Barreto. His full page in Who's Who either betrays DC's faith in his potential for return, or is justified entirely by the quality of the illustration, you decide.
How you could have heard of him: Maybe you're confusing him with CAPTAIN Future? (see below)
Example story: Superman vol.1 #387 (1982)
Let's look at his origin story, "The Man Who Saved the Future!". It starts in rather spooky and prophetic fashion with Superman saving space shuttle Columbia from a crash landing.
Eerie, but appropriate, because this is the story of a man who can predict the future. Colonel Edmund Hamilton was named for the 1930s science fiction author responsible for Captain Future, which in turn became this Hamilton's nickname after he began showing incredible talent at extrapolating new technologies for NASA. My personal connection to the real Hamilton's Captain Future is the late-70s anime which I watched in French translation as Capitaine Flam.
On Sundays after Albator (Captain Harlock), I remember loving the tech designs and the way each episode ended in a cliffhanger. Kupperberg's story, then, is meant as a tribute to those old science-fiction stories, so it makes sense that the character would be a one-off (or in this case, a two-off), just like similar homages to Asterix in Action Comics and Tintin in Teen Titans Spotlight through the 80s.

Hamilton is just a brilliant inventor, initially, but then he drops some coffee on one of those high-voltage NASA ground control consoles and nearly electrocutes himself.
The near-death experience gives him an apocalyptic vision of a solar flare frying the Earth, so he hatches a plan: He'll use his facility with technology and precog powers to outfit himself in gear from 200 years hence and save the world as Colonel Future. Can Curt Swan make him look real cool like Barreto does?
Uhm, no, but he still draws an acceptable retro-space hero. Drew enough of them in the 50s and 60s.  So did the electrocution unlock Colonel Future precognitive abilities entirely? Nope. To achieve his ends, Hamilton has to bring himself near death over and over again so he can snatch future blueprints out of the ether!
So how'd he get the blueprint for that Near Death Machine? Throwing coffee on priceless equipment ON PURPOSE? What Future can't build, he steals, which brings him in conflict with Superman. He tries to explain, but the Man of Steel won't hear reason and they fight. Future's forcefields and space-time warps don't stop Superman, but neither does Supes ever catch Hamilton.

Taking a break from the chase, Superman spies a asteroid that will hit Earth in 75 years and decides to preemptively destroy it. Except it's full of kryptonite, so he can't. So instead, he scoops up lots of unused satellites in Earth's orbit...
...and melts them down to craft a giant space mirror. Meanwhile, Colonel Future is in dry-as-a-bone Puerto Rico setting up his flare stopper above the world's biggest dish antenna.
But here's the twist. The solar flare Hamilton saw was Superman flying into the sun, dragging star-stuff behind him and bouncing it off the mirror so it could be reflected at the asteroid. So instead, Future's gadget destroys the mirror and the flare really does come to fry the Earth. But obviously, it has to contend with Superman.
And just like that, and with no surprise on the part of the narrator, the threat is ended. Which leaves five panels for Colonel Future to FINALLY explain himself to Superman, which leads to a stern lecture.
And if Colonel Future had never appeared again, I might have some fun implying that Superman got rid of him somehow. That he'd be buried somewhere in the Puerto Rican desert (hey, who am I to argue with the DCU's geography?). But he DOES appear again AND it's in a story that qualifies for a Reign of the Supermen entry! So guess what?

TO BE CONTINUED THIS SATURDAY!!!

Who else? Leading up to that entry in Who's Who volume V, we might have had Claw the Unconquered, but versions of him have appeared in a Wildstorm series, in Primal Force, and more recently in Wonder Woman. The Clock King seemed really obscure at the time, but Justice League Antarctica fixed that. Colonel Computron maybe? Why would you require me to read latter-day issues of the Flash? That's not human! But looking ahead, I think Who's This? is about to feature its first VILLAIN. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who #436: The Hand of Fear Part 3

"Nothing happened. A sort of un-explosion has taken place."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.16 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Eldrad lives! And she's a woman! The Doctor returns her to Kastria.

REVIEW: Britain's understanding of nuclear energy hasn't progressed very much since The Claws of Axos. Eldrad gobbles up a nuclear explosion, which makes Watson all aggro so he calls the military so they can nuke the power plant (no questions asked). And then they all hide behind a jeep waiting for the place to be leveled, except the Doctor, who knows (as I think the viewer does) that anything that can eat a nuclear explosion won't be phased by a couple of missiles (dessert!). So that's a scene that hasn't aged well, if it ever seemed reasonable at all. The Doctor takes the stance that Eldrad may be scared and lashing out, and wouldn't really be evil. Between his attempts at diplomacy and his propensity for distraction, the fourth Doctor is really acting like the third. Maybe Baker and Martin have never stopped writing for Pertwee. Certainly, Watson turns into a Pertwee guest star in this chapter, pulling a gun on Eldrad and refusing to listen to reason. Tom Baker does throw in his own mannerisms, wide smiles and inverted gestures, but he's not WRITTEN funny.

Instead, it's Sarah Jane who gets most of the comedy. Just the way she says "hi" to Eldrad is wonderful, so she does quite well with longer pieces of dialog. She gets a few sarcastic ones in - her reaction to seeing Kastria, for example - but her very best moment is the "I worry about you" exchange that sums up her relationship to the Doctor. Sarah believes SHE'S the hero of the story and that the Doctor is her responsibility, just as he seems to believe she is his. These characters are on an equal footing, he's her companion as much as she's his. This is a crucial point, because when that relationship is unbalanced by the Doctor refusing to acknowledge Sarah's misgivings about Eldrad - and she should know better than he does, Eldrad was in her head - it threatens their partnership. Or don't you know what happens in the next episode? There's a moment here when Sarah Jane just leaves the room and leaves the other two to it. It prefigures a more permanent departure.

So casting Eldrad as a woman - because he/she/it has copied Sarah's form - is quite a brilliant part of this theme! Eldrad is "the other woman", in a sense, someone as alien, as technically-minded, as potentially ruthless as the Doctor, but alike, not complementary as Sarah Jane is. Judith Paris makes a striking Eldrad too, with that glittering silicon skin and low, bassy voice. Obviously a villain, armed with a self-serving version of his/her/its life story (Eldrad is kind of the Omega of the Kastrian people, which should certainly strike a chord with the Doctor) and prone to megalomania, but she still retains a certain ambiguity. She reacts like a wounded animal, mistrustful of others, but somewhat gracious and able to reign it in and offer a grateful smile. I'm wondering if the Kastrians are in any way related to the Krotons, given both species' pointy crystalline heads. Kastrian bodies were created by Eldrad, apparently, but it's not like the Krotons look like they might have evolved normally. Cast-off experiments? I do take issue with Eldrad's massive powers though. It's not enough that she be an invulnerable energy vampire who can regenerate from near-total obliteration, she also has to have psionic powers, ESP, mind blasts and invasive telepathy! That's a lot. Or maybe the number of time she's shown using her reflective blue eyes as a lie detector just got on my nerves. Eldrad MUST know. Yeah, yeah...

THEORIES: This episode marks the first mention of "temporal grace", a dubious mechanism by which weapons don't work in the TARDIS because people don't really exist inside the TARDIS and so can't hurt each other. While that's an incredible concept that might tie into the machine's dimensions as mathematical construct (as per Logopolis), meaning that you might be digitized when you enter, the actual evidence points to the Doctor inventing this crazy idea out of whole cloth. Somehow, Eldrad's mental powers don't work, but we know the TARDIS has telepathic circuits, so these might be inhibiting Eldrad or bolstering the Doctor's own powers. Later, we'll see K9 and Cybermen shoot the place up, no problem. What's probably going on is the Doctor fast-talking Eldrad out of using her powers on him for longer. The intent was no doubt to sincerely make this a feature of the TARDIS, but future production teams ignored it, much as this episode seems to ignore the Time Lords' code of non-interference to claim they stop alien invasions in certain cases. Only the Doctor ever seems to adhere to this altruistic code, so maybe he's going by an older rulebook, and time being what it is, it's reasonable for Eldrad to know about the disused code.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Both Watson and Eldrad have some dodgy moments, but the Doctor and Sarah are rather wonderful, and in these, their last few minutes together, that's exactly what I want from the program.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Yellow Dot

As you know (or SHOULD know), I'm a big fan of DC's old Who's Who series, and consequently of the Who's Who Podcast brought to us wannabe-monthly by fellow bloggers The Irredeemable Shag of Firestorm Fan and Rob! of Aquaman Shrine. I'm usually among the first to listen to each 'cast as it is released, and the first to leave comments on Firestorm Fan (the Shrine is a huge site, Rob doesn't need more patronage). But I still didn't expect the guys to award me their Yellow Dot Award for Achievement in Commenting in their latest episode (so named for the dot pattern around the pages of the original Who's Who entries). The award, not unlike Marvel's No-Prizes and my own Annual Siskoid Awards, consists of absolutely nothing, coming to no mailbox near me.

But here's the thing. In my own life, I've been involved in competitions where the winners were so proud of themselves, they felt the need to create their own trophies which they were sure they would win again and again (and in fact, did). I've seen this particular example of hubris twice: The New Brunswick provincial high school improv tournament is a tradition started by a school who won a simple, trophy-less invitational, and decided to make their own prize and keep it going. They would go on to win the next 6 years! And the same thing happened at a big charity trivia competition in my region, with the elite team donating a big-ass trophy to the charity, which they continued winning year after year (although not for the last three or four). Now, I'm glad to see these events profit from the legacy, but I do find it rather arrogant and self-serving for those teams to make their initial wins more important than they would otherwise have been.

So of course, I'm going to do the same thing with the Yellow Dot Award.

Now, my inspiration actually comes from Rob! himself. You see, on the Aquaman Shrine, the first time you send Rob! some piece of Aquaman memorabilia, lore, etc., Rob! sends you a FOAM (Friends of AquaMan) membership certificate by email. In that same spirit, I think the Yellow Dot should also be a digital image that recipients can post on their web space to allow their readers to bask in the glow of their success. So Shag, Rob!, I give you my the Yellow Dot Award!


And it's mine for an entire month, or until the next Who's Who podcast is ready. All mine. Bask, readers and listeners, BASK IN IT!!!

Doctor Who #435: The Hand of Fear Part 2

"Careful. That's not as 'armless as it looks."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.9 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah snaps out of it, but Eldrad must live. Chases through a nuclear power plant. Creepy animated hand stuff.

REVIEW: Lis Sladen seems intent on making us miss her terribly once she leaves, don't you think? As Eldrad's slave, she's incredibly creepy, never allowing her new catchphrase to get boring. And once the Doctor severs the connection, she gets all the best jokes, and throws the kind of subtle and believable reactions that have been her trademark for more than three seasons. I just love her reaction to being put under by the Doctor's super-hypnotism (they're really starting to ramp up his Master-like powers), and her subsequent testing of her mind's freedom from Eldrad. Does she only fake the Doctor out, or did she get you as well? And is this the first instance of a creepy catchphrase in Doctor Who? In New Who, it's been standard practice since Moffat dropped "Are you my mummy?" on us, but I think "Eldrad must live" is the granddaddy of that trope. Certainly as memorable and part of why The Hand of Fear has always stuck with me.

Given that everyone who comes into contact with Eldrad's cursed hand (and ring) falls under his spell, it's quite important to show the possessed character's humanity. Sarah and poor Dr. Carter are very sympathetic characters, which makes their take-over more horrifying. Driscoll doesn't benefit from the same attention, but it's the nuclear power plant's other staff ARE given human moments. Professor Watson could have been a Pertwee-era bureaucrat, blocking the Doctor's progress, but he and loyal Miss Jackson are actually written as disaster movie heroes. Watson's call to his family when it looks like the reactor could melt down is rather touching. And when things go critical at the end of the episode, HE'S the one who gets the cliffhanger, not the Doctor or Sarah. Here's hoping he survives this story and gets back to his wife and kids. There won't be a nuclear incident, what with Eldrad eating up all the radiation, but there are many more ways to die in Doctor Who and we've already lost Dr. Carter in a most terrible, hard-hitting way. They manage to capture a fall on film more viscerally than the UNIT era ever did.

The emotional realism at the core of this serial's punch is supplemented by the location's realism. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the unusual access the production was given to a working nuclear power plant! And director Lennie Mayne uses that location to its very best effect. He chooses angles that fill the screen with interesting backgrounds, has his actors climb all over the machinery, shoots chase scenes through piping, and brings a hand-held camera and the Doctor to the top of some vertiginous stairs, which gives me vertigo. And while the studio sets are fine, the location finds a way to put them to shame in comparison (that color wheel lock, for example). Perhaps because the environments and people are so real, the horror element can't help but be effective, a feat since the villain is, at this point, nothing more than a severed hand! But what a hand it is, crawling on all fives, snapping shut on Driscoll's hand... Brrr. I'll almost be sorry to see it turn into a humanoid. No, not almost.

REWATCHABILITY: High - More than a great choice of location, this episode features great direction as well. The action is vivid, the characters are vibrant, and the horror is enough to make you squirm.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grabbers

Machine Man Motivationals become straight-up Kirby Motivationals with this piece of advice:
That's right, when I don't have the energy or motivation to write a proper piece, I can at least offer a "Grabber", and Kirby's got a lot of those. He is a fount of energy and wisdom, and though I've used all the Machine Man panels I cared to, there are still loads of crazy panels that GRAB me from Kirby's Fourth World, the Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Kamandi, OMAC, the Demon, Captain America, 2001, the Losers, Captain Victory, and oh, tons more.

2013 just got a lot more motivational.

Doctor Who #434: The Hand of Fear Part 1

"Eldrad MUST live."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.2 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane goes to a nuclear power plant, mind controlled by a hand in a Tupperware container.

REVIEW: This story was my first. And then a year or two later, it was my first AGAIN. To explain, I saw it (in omnibus format) one summer while away on shared custody duty, not knowing what Doctor Who was. And then I saw it again (in omnibus format) on the PBS station we got in my home town, right at the start of my love affair with British television (Monty Python and Hitchhiker's, mostly). So it was a case of "Hey, this is the show I once saw that haunted my dreams, but I didn't know what it was so could never find it again!". So I'll try to keep my very personal connection to this story out of these reviews and judge it as objectively as I can. Good news, I still think it's a good one!

Its first surprise is starting out on another planet - a spaceship, a wind-swept dome, swaddled up aliens, unfamiliar words - before sending the TARDIS to Earth after all. This is a story with scope in relation to both space AND time, as the mysterious hand and ring Sarah finds place that opening sequence (at a minimum) during the Jurassic era. The use of a quarry AS a quarry isn't played as a twist, but our heroes are so distracted by the possibility it might be an alien planet, they don't pay attention to what the blaring siren might be for and get hit with explosives. We're used to the Doctor not seeing the trees for the forest (so to speak), so the moment works despite its absurdity. This is a man intent on showing off his cricketing skills during this cacophony, no wonder Sarah didn't realize until too late. Too bad she's the one who almost paid for his absent-mindedness with her life. But that's nothing compared to what is done with Sarah over the rest of the episode.

Putting Sarah Jane in her most child-like costume only heightens the creep factor of having her taken over by Eldrad. Giving off a Village of the Damned vibe, she goes around zapping people with the alien's ring, carrying its severed hand in a box. Director Lennie Mayne really goes for broke in these sequences, using all sorts of devices seldom used on Doctor Who to underscore the wrongness of the situation. Fish eye lenses, POV shots, handheld cameras, hearing Sarah's thoughts in voice-over, observing her through a round parking lot mirror... Mayne creates a visual sense of unease by breaking aesthetic format. The use of locations sells the reality of Sarah's predicament, as she walks the halls of a true blue nuclear plant (Oldbury standing in for the story's Nunton)! So when she walks into the set representing the radioactive area, it seems authentic and is all the scarier for it. Cue severed hand squirming in its box...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- A very effective SF/horror story begins, and putting Sarah Jane in jeopardy is just what's needed to instill the proper dread in viewers. As a further bonus for New Who fans, there's the first of two classic mentions of Gallifrey thought to be in Ireland by humans, referenced in Human Nature.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dating Lois Lane - Testing Her Potential as a Wife

Or more specifically, as a mother to your children. And when your children are likely to be super-powered, what better try-out than "adopting" Supergirl?
And where you have super-powered children, you're going to need robot doppelgangers to protect their secret identities. And those things need maintenance.
And over the course of that maintenance, well, you don't want someone from child protection services to show up, do you?
Superman's verdict: FAIL.

Sorry Lois, maybe Wonder Woman can do better.

Doctor Who #433: The Masque of Mandragora Part 4

"You know, the worse the situation, the worse your jokes get."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.25 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The masque, and the Doctor drains the Helix energy right out of the Brethren.

REVIEW: Hey, finally, a masque! It may seem like a bit flighty to have a dance (and for the Doctor to encourage it!) in the middle of an alien siege, but 1) it adds production value (acrobatics, juggling, fire-eating, music, dancing!),  2) the title demands it, and 3) the Doctor uses it as a vital part of his plan to destroy the Brethren and the Mandragora Helix. It also gives Sarah Jane a chance to dress up and perhaps flirt with the Duke--oops, nope, he's never really interested in her, is he? The only person Marco has to be concerned about, it seems, is the Doctor. (This story would fit well in the RTD era, wouldn't it?) Fine, if Giuliano isn't interested in this girl who makes jokes in the face of danger and is quite good at faking her way through a courtly dance, that's his loss.

But back to the Doctor's plan. One of the things I like is that it's based on science, furthering the theme of the Renaissance. What the Mandragora are trying to stop - humanity's access to science and ability to threaten their sector of space - is what the Doctor uses to triumph over them. And the rule of science is used throughout to show off the Doctor's brilliance. He converts astrolabe data to the Copernican system and finds the Mandragora will attack on the lunar eclipse. He takes a power nap and awakens in an intellectual frenzy, thinking too fast to articulate his plan. He faces off against a super-charged Hieronymous and survives by grounding himself, then disguises himself AS Hieronymous to stop a massacre AND make the Brethren fall into his trap, sapping their energies with a grounded altar. This final chapter is full of twists that surprise the audience as much as the villains.

The script cheats to get us there, though. The Doctor only brings his lion's head along so that Hieronymous can use it to infiltrate the masque and provide a bit of shock value. And we just don't know what exactly happened at the end of their battle. Both their appearances at the masque are surprising, but never explained. It's also rather off-putting to see the Doctor, all smiles, congratulate himself for saving the day when we've just witnessed a massacre at the masque. I sure hope no one important got killed, and given the guest list, History was very lucky to escape unscathed. Neither The Doctor nor us got to meet Leonardo da Vinci, but at least HE got to bring home some salami. Still, this is far from the last we hear of the Doctor's fascination with Leonardo...

THEORIES: The Doctor says the Mandragora's "constellation" will be aligned with Earth again in about 500 years, i.e. the end of the 20th century. But that's a really round figure so might the actual date be closer to the start of the 21st, specifically the events of the Sarah Jane Adventures' Secrets of the Stars? In that episode, astrology and the zodiac play a role and contravene our universe's laws of physics because the Ancient Lights (another name for the Mandragora?) come from a previous universe where those laws were different. Could THEIR universe be the same pocket dimension we saw in Part 1 of this serial? A clue - Secrets of the Stars was originally going to use the Mandragora Helix, but its powers and weaknesses changed so much, they were turned into something else. Russell T Davies still likened them to "cousins". Extracanonical sources would place the return of the Mandragora in 1863 China (the rather cool 1st Doctor novel The Eleventh Tiger, feat. Wong Fei-Hung) or in 2009 (in the Doc10 and Donna novel, Beautiful Chaos).

VERSIONS: There's a Target novelization, of course, and the opening scenes of Part 1 were adapted as a one-page comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine #161, but I'm unaware of any notable differences from the televised story in either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The finale is full of twists and turns - and juggling too! - but the Doctor's a bit too flip in the end given the body count.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- A perfectly good pseudo-historical, with a threat to history, some good cod-Shakespearean dialog, nice locations, and a fair amount of action. A couple of dull villains do keep it from getting a higher score, however.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This Week in Geek (21-27/01/13)

Buys

There are some movies I probably wouldn't get myself individually, but throw them in a cheap collector's set, and well... That's what happened with Jason Statham's action movies, with a Collection that includes the two Cranks, War,The Mechanic and Transporter 3. Another cheap combo set gets me Transporters 1 and 2. A Kung Fu Friday Marathon in the making? Could be. Also grabbed discounted copies of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Recount (both reviewed below) and Treme Season 2.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Justified Season 3 adds two new bad guys, and both are memorable - Limehouse the butcher from a black holler, and Quarles the deliciously insane carpetbagger - without losing sight of old favorites like Boyd, Dickie, Dewey and Duffy (why do I make them sound like ducks?). One character we DON'T see enough of is Raylan's ex-wife Wynona, who still gets some stand-out moments, as these two have a wonderfully mature relationship. This series really is going from strength to strength, and I'm tempted NOT to wait for the DVD for Season 4 and diving into some Internet solution to my not having FX. I'd be (cough) justified, and they'll still get my DVD money next year. Speaking of DVDs, some good extras this time around, including cast and crew commentary on 9 of the 13 episodes, a few deleted scenes and outtakes, a good making of featurette, and further featurettes on the Noble's Holler's set design and the finale's big stunt.

To date, the best Judge Dredd movie is probably still Robocop, but the recent Dredd comes damn close. It just doesn't have the crazy satire of the 2000 A.D. strips for me to make that call. However, Mega-City One is a believable environment, Karl Urban is unrecognizable behind the Judge Dredd persona (he's got the pout down cold, and never EVER takes off his helmet), and the use of the Slo-Mo drug further creates comic book panels as frozen moments in time that tie back to the famous strip. It's a very straightforward action plot, surprisingly claustrophobic for an action-sf effects picture, but that's somehow refreshing in this era of complicated thrillers and kitchen sink special effects movies. But it's smartly done. With a closed-off protagonist, they've made a rookie psi-Judge Anderson the audience identifier, and while the violence is very much Rated R, the Slo-Mo sequences that feature it give it a kind of morbid beauty that takes the edge off the gore. No plans (yet) for Dr. McCoy and the other girl from Juno to ride their bikes through Mega City One again, but I'd love to see some sequels, maybe a visit to the Cursed Earth or even Judge Death. The DVD includes a cool featurette about the comics themselves, with plenty of Dredd contributors chiming in, and a good making of. The other featurettes are very short and might as well have been integrated into that making of, brief bits on the 3D, effects, set design and props. There's a prelude "Dredd motion comic" that's fine, but unnecessary, and what they call motion comic, I call limited animation.

Move over Hunger Games and Avengers Arena, we watched Battle Royale this week. 42 9th graders are dropped on an island, and the only way to survive is to kill everyone else. It's a pretty amazing film, and you can see why it would be imitated so often, but I don't know that it's been equaled in its category. For one thing, it finds a way to make you know each one of these kids - in broad strokes, rather intimately, or through vignettes - so that each kill has punch (and these kids know each other, have a history, pre-existing relationships). It's also got visual inventiveness going for it, mostly through editing and superimposed cards, that hint at a more profound message behind the carnage. You could see it as a metaphor for growing to adulthood, or going through the school system or work market. Maybe it's about where our culture of anti-discipline and/or reality shows is going. It could be a meditation on the generation gap and an admission that adults are as lost as the teenagers they used to be. I don't want to put too fine a point on it, as this is still a crazy-ass action thriller, but it does have a certain ambiguity (in large part thanks to the teacher running the game, brilliantly underplayed by Takeshi Kitano) that invites such ruminations. Too bad my DVD didn't have any extras to explore these more.

Lately, I've been digesting more American politics than usual, between the gun issue, Obama's inauguration, etc., so it's not surprising I'd have an urge to go back in time to the 2000 elections and watch Recount. This HBO movie surprises by making its subject matter - a legal battle to get votes counted in Florida - as engaging and exciting as it does. It's a real-life political thriller! Now the question Bush supporters invariably ask is whether the movie is biased towards the Democrats, and yes, it's told mostly from their point of view because THEY're the ones who want something and try to achieve it (and fail). However, everything was apparently well-documented and the writer, Buffy's Danny Strong, interviewed almost everyone involved to check the facts. I think that looking for partisan bias is the wrong way to look at this film (for example, I think Tom Wilkinson's James Baker comes off quite well). Rather, it's about how the system failed that election. What it does is expose many of the irregularities, abused loopholes and outright absurdities in that system, and leaves the viewer to decide whether the election was FAIRLY decided, despite being theoretically LEGAL. It definitely gave me that anxious feeling I get when I witness profound injustice. The director and writer collaborate on a useful commentary track that gives a lot of information on their sources, what was changed for the movie's sake, etc. The making of is relatively short, but allows cast and crew to talk about the experience of shooting this in Florida (it is mislabeled "The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election" as if it was going to be a feature on the events rather than the film making though). And there are two brief conversations between people involved on both sides interviewed by the actors who played them. Neat, though perhaps too ruthlessly edited.

Let's stick with Wilkinson for our next movie, as part of another star-studded cast, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This John Madden gentle comedy is no Shakespeare in Love, but it manages to charm thanks to its location work and performances. The premise could be a TV series: A number of British seniors move to India for a variety of reasons and stay at a work-in-progress hotel run by a zany young man played by Dev Patel who hopes to "outsource the old". So you've got a recently-widowed Judi Dench looking for a fresh start, Wilkinson looking for an old lover, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton forced to move to cheaper climes in their retirement, crusty racist Maggie Smith there to get a quick, no-waiting hip replacement, and both Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie independently looking for love and adventure. The realities of their adopted country, and the bonds they forge with one another, changes them. The film is perhaps better categorized as a drama, but the way threads resolve into mostly happy endings betray its true nature. Here, you either buy it or you don't. The ending is either too pat or part of the film's enchanted tone. It doesn't tread the line between serious realism and fairy tale quite well enough for it to work for everyone. Disappointing extras: A couple of very brief making of featurettes (less than 7 minutes total), at their best when actors discuss working with one another.

Audios: I wasn't expecting all the Companion Chronicles audios from Big Finish to be as good as Marc Platt's Frostfire (reviewed last week), but Fear of the Daleks is rather sharp dip. Since these stories are told in the voice of a particular companion, the narrative idiom can definitely vary. And while I love Wendy Padbury as Zoe, the character is perhaps too cold and clinical to narrate a rousing story. There are some clever ideas in Patrick Chapman's script about quantum entanglement and holographic armies and the Daleks subverting this tech for their own purposes, but as Zoe recounts this as a vivid dream (memories coming to the surface post-Time Lord-induced amnesia) to her therapist, it comes off as scientific description, at least in the first half. It fits the character, but surrounded by audios with so much more personality, Fear of the Daleks is a bit of a letdown.

Nigel Fairs' The Blue Tooth promises to explain why Liz Shaw (played by Caroline John) decided to leave UNIT and the Doctor during the hiatus between Inferno and Terror of the Autons. It doesn't exactly do that, though it definitely suggests that the tragic events of this Cyberman story (yeah, the cover kind of spoils the surprise) are at the root of her departure. We just don't see it. However, the audio does a good job of giving Liz a life before and aside from UNIT, and even if we know what the monster is, there are still some surprises as to the nature of the threat it poses. Fairs is good at layering in details that will become important later (you get to play the detective), and sticks to Liz's POV throughout, which means dark patches whenever she's rendered unconscious. It's also a rather violent story for the era, but of course, it's your imagination filling in the visuals. Unlike Zoe, Liz is a great choice for narrator because she's always been sharp, opinionated and sarcastic. That comes across very well here, though Caroline John is better at describing the Doctor and the Brig than doing they voices.

Jonathan Morris' The Beautiful People features a script that could have come right out of the Douglas Adams era, as the fourth Doctor and the second Romana (in other words, narrated by Lalla Ward) face off against a high-powered weight loss program. It's the kind of social satire not unheard of in the era, but more than that, it takes a comedic approach to the protagonists themselves. Romana is essentially the straight woman to K9 and the Doctor, the latter on a quest to eat a good doughnut. Yes, that's what sets everything in motion. Though the previous Chronicles had one other voice interacting with the Companion, they were monsters, Cybermen, Daleks. Here, there's an actual character at the end of that voice, a super-thin woman in Cassandra's mold. So while there are some nice flights of fancy - Roman's chapter titles, for instance - The Beautiful People comes off as fluff we might have seen before, like a cross between The End of the World and Partners in Crime (the latter of which had yet to air, to be fair). More Lalla Ward, yes - and she holds her own without the Doctor appearing for a few chapters - but maybe more scope next time as well. I'm not against more humorous romps, mind you, but this attack/defense on obesity/dieting didn't quite do it for me.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Olivier '48

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Firestorm to Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.

Doctor Who #432: The Masque of Mandragora Part 3

"The hand of a friend is a subtle but certain weapon."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.18 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Federico grows desperate to find Giuliano. Hieronymous hypnotizes Sarah, and later super-charges himself in the temple.

REVIEW: This episode is most verbose, but also action-filled, giving viewers the best of both worlds. As the great Renaissance thinkers and their patrons start arriving in San Martino, Count Federico becomes a villain on a Shakespearean scale, all plots and colorful idiom. And as if to keep him at arm's length from the more advanced humanity represented by the Renaissance, a lot of that idiom is scatological, the script getting "bat droppings", "dung head" and "chamber pot" in under the wire. But whether he's haranguing Rossini, putting Hieronymous in his place, or torturing Marco (this is a rather adult idea), Federico is always watchable, unctuous and literate. I'm really sorry to see him go at the end of this episode, as Hieronymous is far less interesting, probably even less now that he's been turned into an energy creature. A striking visual, sure, but that's it.

We do find out how the Court Astrologer roofied Sarah Jane in the previous episode though, with a mixture of alchemy, hypnosis... and alien influence? Turned against the Doctor, she's a little more possessed than hypnotized, and the Doctor senses this. The crucial clue - that she'd never before asked how she could understand other languages - is unconvincing, but I choose to believe it mere confirmation of what he sensed from looking into her eyes, whatever mild telepathic contact he has with his companions, whatever. After all, isn't it stranger that she would NEVER have asked? Trivia buffs, take note though - this is the first mention of this "Time Lord gift". In any case, the Doctor knows a little something about hypnosis himself and would have noticed the signs. He's the "sorcerer" they accuse him of being in that sense, and there's a fun moment when he appears in a puff of smoke opposite Hieronymous' flaming cauldron. Great entrance.

And this is a big action episode for the Doctor too. He gets to take part in a sword fight that's effective to a point. He and Giuliano hold off a number of Federico's men, and though it's well choreographed and excitingly shot, it really can't go anywhere if they're unwilling to have the Doctor kill someone. So it turns into a lot of grabbing and pushing, until finally the Brethren show up to finish the fight. And then there's that rather amazing high kick the Doctor pulls on Hieronymous. When it comes to martial arts, the fourth Doctor is certainly more about strikes than throws. But these are desperate times, as we discover History itself is in great peril since the Mandragora Helix is planning to kill the Renaissance.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- Exciting action, Court intrigue, at least one fun villain... Not highly memorable, but quite pleasant to watch.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reign of the Supermen #461: Superman, Last Man on Earth

Source: Action Comics #300 (1963)
Type: The real deal (since retconned), with a little bit of Red K transformation thrown in
You know, even if I know what to expect generally from Silver Age Superman stories, this one still surprised me. Published in an anniversary issue, and referenced in the Justice League animated series' two-part episode "Hereafter", I thought this was gonna be a bona fide classic. As it turns out, it's not even issue-length. Superman has to share the page count with Comet the Super-Horse.

The premise is clever though. The Superman Revenge Squad lures Superman into following them through time, much farther than he's ever gone before, to 1,000,000 A.D. where Earth's sun has turned red. And you know what that means.
And that's their revenge, they leave him there, to die, at the center of a lifeless moon, buried ali--No, sorry, that's The Wrath of Khan. They leave him on a dry, abandoned Earth, with no powers. Yeah, he'll die eventually, but wouldn't it be smarter to drop down to the planet and shoot his vulnerable ass? So Superman starts walking towards Metropolis, which still exists as ruins 1M years hence. But it's empty. Maybe the Hall of Telepathic History can help him.
You know, it's a good thing no one's left on Earth to see him wear that helmet. Silver linings. As the story goes, the sun turned red with age, and the oceans dried up completely, making humanity dependent on high-price factory-made water. The situation became untenable, so we built massive spaceships and left to colonize other worlds. In a million years! So we had a good run. Now, Superman really is the last man on Earth, so how's he gonna get out of this one? Magic?!
Wait, does that WORK? Let me check. DIOKSIS! Nope, still in the 3rd dimension. (But if you know of a story where Superman sends himself to Mxyzptlk's dimension this way, let me know.) In any case, that's not the real Mxy, he's just an android. Why?
That's right. Because in Silver Age stories, people are OBSESSED with Superman, and in the future, they'll have built his entire supporting cast as robots to walk in Superman Commemoration Parades. You'd think after 800,000+ years, there might have been new heroes to worship. And these poor androids are left behind to watch humanity take off to greener pastures. Now, Superman teams up with Perry White-bot (for company) on a quest to find the Fortress of Solitude/cigars. On the way, he's warned off dangerous mutations/evolutions, like...
STAY BACK! Balloon Beasts inflate and float away from danger! Yeah, not exactly alpha predators. And when the duo reaches Smallville (because it's apparently just north of Metropolis, update your maps), they're attacked by a Color Cat, a multicolored tiger that attacks anything with vivid colors, like Superman's outfit.
Also note the further fetishizing of Superman's supporting cast. A million years hence! I bet most people can't name all the apostles! And as the trek continues through North America, there are land-whales, giant eagles that shoot lightning bolts from their eyes, and invisible land octopi. A million years is a long time, sure, and in comics, mutation occurs more readily, but it's kind of sad that humanity was the only species on Earth NOT to evolve during that time. They eventually reach the ocean, but I can't tell you if it's the Atlantic or the Arctic. Metropolis was a sea port, but they walked to Smallville first, and they've walked a while, but Superman's beard has only grown to about Joel McHale length. And if it is the Arctic, what's Atlantis doing there?
Of course, I'm not accounting for the super-accelerated continental drift that no doubt accompanies the fauna's enhanced evolutionary rate. Sadly, no Lori Lemaris Superman Fetish exhibition in Atlantis, so let's move right along to the Fortress of Solitude (by hitching a ride on a Balloon Beast, of course). Using threads from his super-suit, Superman climbs up the rock face and crawls through the keyhole, his security systems have all broken down over time. He's hoping to get help from the bottle city of Kandor, but it's been grown and freed since he last saw it. However, there are a couple things that COULD help:
Well, if you guessed that Superman had in his possession a piece of Red K that once shrunk Krypto down to size, and that he could use it to climb aboard the left-over Kandorian rocket and fly it through the time-stream back to 1963, you were RIGHT!
Hopefully, you didn't miss the crucial step of shaving before Superman's powers came back, or he'd be stuck with a 5 o'clock shadow for the rest of his natural life. The end.
In Justice League's "Hereafter", Toy-Man joins the Superman Revenge Squad and (rather atypically) creates an explosion that throws Superman 30,000 years into the future, which is far enough to get a red sun. The fauna isn't as crazy, but he does have a rather violent fight with some nasty wolves. And Superman ISN'T the only man on Earth. He shares the place with Vandal Savage. And while back in time, everyone thinks him dead, he manages to make a return with the help of Savage's technology. The end.

Doctor Who #431: The Masque of Mandragora Part 2

"We seem to have an awful lot of questions. It's about time we started finding some answers."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.11 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The Helix promises Hieronymous rulership of Earth. The Doctor and Sarah escape and gain the friendship of Duke Giuliano.

REVIEW: Obviously, our heroes have to get out of that twin cliffhanger. Sadly, the results are variable. The Doctor's escape is definitely cool - he's calm and funny, and uses his scarf in a neat way. The mechanics of his tripping up his executioner were worked out well enough that the moment works. Not so Sarah Jane's rescue from the Cult of Demnos. For THAT moment to work, the cultists all need to close their eyes in prayer at the moment of sacrifice so the Doctor can slide her off the altar. I don't buy the moment that follows either. Was the High Priest (Hieronymous, as it turns out) really aiming for her face? His orders to get the Doctor and Sarah come too quickly, as if rehearsed. He doesn't really have time to look around and spot them. I also wish they'd addressed what had Sarah in that trance. She's in and out of it without explanation.

While I'm interested in the Court intrigue, Federico's plans for Giuliano and all that, Hieronymous strikes me as a particularly one-note villain. Staring into the distance with mad eyes, he dreams of ruling the world through the power of the... slow... talking... Mandragora... Helix... He never strikes me as a real person, and the silly beard certainly isn't helping. Somehow, the other San Martinians overcome their bad wigs, but not Hieronymous. It's perhaps telling that the Helix/Demnos tells him to be discreet, as if sensing his megalomania. Already, in the castle, Hieronymous is getting above his position. It's like Polonius suddenly telling off Claudius. At this point, he's insulted to be asked to cast a false horoscope, which is either an about-face, or the older Duke's death really was ordained, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. He was fated to die at the hands of his astrologer.

There's a lot more location shooting in this episode, and it's gorgeous, looking like nothing the show's previously been able to achieve outside. Again, *I* know it's Portmerion, but it never looks like The Village to me. A strange and wonderful place that agreeably plays the role of Renaissance Italy and the surrounding forest where a Roman cult past its due date by about 12 centuries might lurk. The latter makes a nice setting for sword battles and horse chases, as well as quieter, sweeter moments like Sarah Jane being charmed by Giuliano's scientific awakening. She knows the Earth is round, but there's something special about someone enthusiastic about that (new!) idea. Her reation is what makes it special for us. Oh Lis, never leave this show!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An odd mix of things that annoy me (a poorly choreographed rescue, a couple of cardboard villains, lots of lurking about) and things I love (great location work, sweet human moments, the Doctor being clever and witty). So the episode falls right in the middle, watchable but flawed.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kung Fu Fridays in February 2013

For my regular movie club tonight, the oft-imitated Japanese classic, Battle Royale, but what about next month? Well, once a year, I like to schedule a month of KFF structured around an "Asian Tour". Movies from all different countries of the continent. So where are we going?

Cop on a Mission - We, as a group, have loved Eric Tsang since we saw Infernal Affairs (the film the Mundanes don't realize was the basis for The Departed), where his performance as the gangster Sam was divine. He's like the Chinese Christoph Waltz in that, if you'll allow the analogy. We love him so much, one of my Hong Kong Action Theater players modeled his character after him. That he hasn't had a poster yet was a crime, one I've taken care of this month, as our tour through Asia starts in Hong Kong with a well-regarded Eric Tsang/Daniel Wu Triad film. I'm expecting a great start.

Warriors of the Rainbow - Taiwan produces a lot of films, but the ones I've seen have a cheesy glitz to them (probably because they were mostly from the early 90s). 2011's Warriors of the Rainbow seems a very different animal. It's an historical epic about a native Taiwanese people being enslaved by the Japanese in the early 20th century and fighting back. Asia's Apocalypto? This is a part of history I know nothing about, so it'll be interesting just for that, though I fully expect it to have a nationalistic veneer.

The Raid: Redemption - I've only heard good and exciting things about this recent action film out of Indonesia, a country we've never covered on KFF! SWAT team vs gangs in Jakarta, doesn't sound that original except for the location, but it apparently reinvents the action film and is due for an American remake already (oh, U.S., you and your inability to read subtitles or embrace other country's film-making). I suppose that's a sure(?) sign of success.

Sukiyaki Western Django - Everyone's got Django fever, so how about we return to Japan for Takashi Miike's (Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins) only English-language film? A Japanese western from 2007 AND it's got Quentin Tarantino acting in it! Apparently, I should put the subtitles on anyway, because the accents are pretty terrible (Quentin excepted), but the chance to see if one Django had an influence on the other is too good to pass up. And Miike's reputation speaks for itself. Recommended by former colleague Berubz, so he might just get ah honorary KFF nickname out of it!

So that's our February Asian Tour. If you can't come along, you can read the postcards on every following Sunday's Geekly Roundup. See you somewhere!

Doctor Who #430: The Masque of Mandragora Part 1

"You humans have got such limited little minds. I don't know why I like you so much."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.4 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The new (old) console room! The TARDIS caught in an energy Helix! Renaissance Italy!

REVIEW: As far as number of classic seasons goes, we're passing the halfway mark, and as if to celebrate, the production changes a number of things to bring the program in line with its Gothic aesthetic. The most important of these is a new console room with a darker, more Victorian look, a smaller console with no rotor (but a shaving mirror), some railings that fans of the new series will recognize, and a better viewscreen. After 13 years of one big white room or other, it's a welcome change. I really like it. Apparently, this was the FIRST control room, which tantalizingly evokes a young Hartnell's early adventures, but by leaving souvenirs from Docs 2 and 3, the spell is broken (but see Theories). It's all part of a brief tour of the TARDIS, which also includes a jokey scene about a boot cupboard - a giant living room with a single pair of boots at the door. But the console room isn't the only change. We get a new TARDIS prop, so none of those unsightly scratches and dried paint blobs. In fact, the full-sized prop at a tendency to look like a model at times because its exterior looks so smooth. And there's a new font for the opening titles and closing credits, something with funky serifs on it. I don't mind it, but I'm not in love with it either.

New and old does become a kind of theme in this serial. In Renaissance Italy (a duchy called San Martino), ancient superstition clashes with a new philosophy called science. Unfortunately for the reasonable young Duke Giuliano, an energy creature called the Mandragora Helix is about to give his more mystically-minded opponents proof that astrology exists. The court astrologer, Hieronymous, is cheating by colluding with the evil Count Federico, predicting deaths before administering poison to the doomed individual, but he's also convinced his powers are real, and he's lately come in contact with some power from the stars. Giuliano is a new kind of man, the proverbial Renaissance Man, and is related to Hamlet in the script, a nobleman whose uncle has poisoned his father, which makes Marco his Horatio, and Hieronymous his Polonius. The language rises to the occasion with a fair cod-Shakespearean on show, and Portmerion, where they filmed The Prisoner, makes a good location for these events without immediately reminding one of Number 6's Village, even if the spark of Mandragora energy flying around (a simple but effective "monster") could be a more incendiary form of Rover.

Before the Doctor and Sarah can intervene, they first spend a bit of time getting sucked into the Helix, winding up in some surreal space filled with crystals (the dimensional pocket the Helix springs from?), and giving the Mandragora spark a ride to Earth. Sarah learns the hard way not to steal oranges from the charmingly idyllic orchard, finding herself captured by cultist monks as soon as the camera cuts back to the Doctor. The Doctor does a little better despite being knocked unconscious one too many times (twice in quick succession seems like carelessness), spiking his orange on a sword, springing a surprise rattle on armed horsemen and stealing a mount, and striking the right balance of insolence and earnestness in trying to convince Federico the end of the world is at hand. The right balance for the audience, anyway, not for the evil Count who orders the Time Lord's head be struck from his body. It's what makes the cliffhanger, and here you thought it would be Sarah Jane's sacrifice under the cultist knife.

THEORIES: Trying to win a no-prize, I'll surmise that there's a recorder in the old console room because Hartnell-Doc learned how to play. And a dusty smoking jacket that looks to be Pertwee's because in his younger days, he might have worn one on some era-appropriate adventure. When regenerating into Troughton or Pertwee, these elements of his younger days simply came to the forefront of his new personality. After all, there was a recorder on hand in Power of the Daleks, it wasn't found on the planet. And the Doctor knew how to play already. Don't buy it? Ok, how about the idea that the Doctor's junk might get shifted to one place or other in the various renovations the ship's inner dimensions have undergone over the years?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A nice new set is introduced and it's been a while since we've had a proper historical location too. Off to a great start. Much better than Louis Marks' previous script, Planet of Evil, Masque seems to be cast in the Pyramids of Mars mold instead, and that's a good thing.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Doctor Who RPG: Season 13

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1975-76 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 12.)

The GM
Now that Bob has used up all the old adventure notes he'd brainstormed with his predecessor, he has free range to do what HE wants to do with the game, and that's turning his favorite folk legends and horror films into game scenarios, turning the supernatural details into science fiction tropes to make them unrecognizable to his players (and yet, just familiar enough that they resonate with them). The Loch Ness Monster, Curse of the Mummy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids and The Thing all provide fodder for his games this season.

The Characters
-Ian had originally created Harry Sullivan as a UNIT character, and was at first expecting to play about as often as Nick and John. When he got the opportunity to jump aboard the TARDIS his first season, he took it, but he's looking to only participate once or twice in Season 13. Bob promises him a couple of Earth-bound stories just for that purpose.
-That means Tom's more physical Doctor will have more room to play action man, something he takes to its extreme by the end of the season. He perhaps even goes too far, something he hopes to remedy in Season 14.
-Lis has been playing Sarah Jane for a while now, and gets to put extra Skill Points on her character sheet. Boosting her Knowledge wasn't unexpected, but ranks in Marksman were. On another note, she and Tom have a lot of in-game chemistry, which makes the experience a lot of fun for all involved. Bob hopes never to lose these two.
-As for the UNIT boys, both Nick and John think they can play in about half the stories, and they all participate in the first. But life gets in the way, and Nick is unable to play the next two, and neither John nor Ian make it to the season finale. In the end, all three guys will give Bob permission not to ignore UNIT for the foreseeable future, and they effectively leave the game without so much as a goodbye.

Terror of the Zygons. Bob's track record for creating memorable monsters continues with the Zygons, sucker-covered shapeshifters responsible for Nessie and the beast's recent rampages through the Scottish countryside. This is UNIT's last big hurrah and everyone brings their A-game. Because the Zygons can take the form of real people and replace them, the GM secretly messages Ian to surprise Lis' Sarah with a an evil Harry doppelganger. Ian is so good at playing a creep, it gives Bob an idea for a later scenario...

ZYGON
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 4, Presence 3, Resolve 4, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 4, Fighting 2, Knowledge 3, Marksman 2, Medicine 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 3, Survival 3, Technology 4, Transport 2
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapons/Sting [4/8/L] (only works at close range; may be used to only stun), Shapeshift (Major; the Zygons must capture and hold the person they want to copy in their ship), Tough; Dependency (Minor; Skarasen lactic fluid). Story Points: 3-5
Home Tech Level: 7


Planet of Evil. The GM creates an "Up the Amazon", doomed expedition story set on a planet sitting on a portal to the anti-matter universe, but the concept is too abstract to really engage his players. In fact, he has to give the Doctor's player some pretty specific information about what's actually going on, to the point where he's involving a PC in his own info-dumps. But it's not in vain. He's learned that he has to reign in the mystical mumbo-jumbo turned technobabble, lest his adventures become incomprehensible.

Pyramids of Mars. Bob hits his stride with this adventure, a riff on mummies and pharaonic curses, with the ancient god (read: powerful alien entity) Sutekh controlling robotic mummies and human pawns to free him from his prison under the pyramids. These are villains he can really get his teeth into, and it brings out the best in his two players (Sarah even gets to use that newly-acquired Marksman skill). Lis immediately spots the same kind of puzzles he used in Death to the Daleks, but oops! Her character wasn't actually there. Stay in character, Lis! Better find something else for next time, Bob!

SUTEKH
Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 7, Presence 7, Resolve 8, Strength 3
Skills: Convince 3, Knowledge 4, Science 5, Subterfuge 4, Technology 4
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Armour [5], Clairvoyance, Fear Factor 3, Hypnosis (Major), Immortal, Indomitable, Natural Weapon/Psychic Force [3/6/9] or Stun (ignores Armour, Toughness, etc.), Networked (with his pawns), Possess, Psychic, Telekinesis, Telepathy, Voice of Authority, Vortex; Adversary (other Osirans); Last of My Kind. Story Points: 6
Home Tech Level: 9
Note: If Sutekh is freed, his powers really have no measurable limit. Treat his psychic powers as having unlimited range, area of effect, etc.


The Android Invasion. Back on Earth... or are we? Bob gets two of the UNIT players to show up, but not to play their usual characters. Instead, they're asked to play evil android duplicates of their characters, but not whisper a word to the other two players. It's a fun idea, and by the end, Tom and Lis have joined the fun too, taking their cues from the GameMaster as to whether they're their real selves in any given scene or playing against the other player. The UNIT players get to play both versions of their characters in the climax, but neither knowing it would be their last game, they don't give nor get a proper farewell scene.

TYPICAL KRAAL ANDROID
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 2, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 1, Fighting 2, Knowledge 1, Marksman 2, Subterfuge 2 (androids may also have the Skills of the people they duplicate)
Traits: Robot; Shapeshift (Special; duplicated people perfectly as per Major version of this Trait, but androids can't change shape once created), Tough, Natural Weapon (generic androids have finger guns that do [3/5/7] damage; By the Book (androids are not good at improvising when faced with unexpected situations), Dark Secret (Major; that they are not who they claim to be), Enslaved (subservient to Kraals), Weakness (their faces fall off rather easily, revealing their secret). May have the Traits of the people they duplicate. Story Points: 1-3
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: Whatever equipment is carried by the person duplicated)


The Brain of Morbius. Bob wants to do Frankenstein's Monster, but he also wants to add to the Time Lord mythos. So he creates a Time Lord criminal, destroyed by the Council but in the process of being rebuilt by a mad surgeon. He throws in a female cult, possibly expelled from Gallifrey in the ancient days, guarding an Elixir of Life. Maybe the latter will come into play in giving the monster life, who knows? What ends up happening is giving players and GM alike permission to get their characters maimed or killed, which they both do! Sarah is blinded by a particularly bad roll, and later, the Doctor is killed in mental battle with Morbius! Temporary in the former case ("No, but...") and fixed by the Elixir in the latter. Despite the shocking twists and morbid themes, this is the adventure that had the most laughs for the gamers.

The Seeds of Doom. So at the last minute, all the UNIT players cancelled, and the GM almost called it off entirely. But he really wanted to do a Thing/Triffids mash-up, so he went ahead. The first couple games went well, the Antarctic backdrop making for a claustrophobic atmosphere, but Bob wound up regretting the last two thirds of the story. Expecting UNIT to be much more involved, his threats called for more violent action - guns, fists and explosions - and to help him with that, he'd pulled some elements from superspy adventures he'd prepared but never played using the old Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes RPG. By the time he realized those wouldn't work very well with Sarah and the Doctor as the only PCs, he just didn't have time to re-structure the module, so the players had to become more aggressive and even forge alliances with ruthless baddies who could do a lot of shooting and blowing stuff up, putting lots of Story Points in their Convince rolls to manage it.

KRYNOID (humanoid form)
Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 2 (adjust to reflect with host's native intelligence), Presence 3, Resolve 4, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 1, Fighting 2, Subterfuge 1, Survival 3
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Alien Organs (Minor), Environmental (immune to cold and breathing-related attacks), Fear Factor [2], Natural Weapon/Strangling vine (+2 Strength); Weaknesses (herbicide and fire). Story Points: 3-5
Home Tech Level: N/A
Note: Interested in stats for other stages of the Krynoid life cycle and their animated plants? Check out this write-up on the DWAITAS forums!


Bob, Lis and Tom look back on this season and only remember the good times. They'll be back for more, though Lis may not actually finish the next season... (Shhh, don't tell the others.)

Doctor Who #429: The Seeds of Doom Part 6

"And you'll all flower happily ever after."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.6 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor calls and air strike on the Krynoid and Chase is fed into the composter.

REVIEW: Wow, UNIT is really screwing the pooch in this one. I'm almost glad the Brig or any of the other regulars aren't there to see it. I'm not going to make fun of their "laser gun", because I think the idea is kind of cool. I jeered, however, at the UNIT man dragging a couple of flimsy planks behind him as if they were heavy beams. Completely deserved getting knocked on the head, though of course, I don't applaud anyone getting "pumped into the garden". Later, the UNIT army is just standing around, out of ideas, and the Doctor, of all people, has to suggest an air strike. Used to be that UNIT ending with the exploding building was what he was striving to avoid. Worse, the Doctor gives those orders on a walkie-talkie with terrible reception, and it was subtitles to the rescue. Now, I'm sure bombing the thing was a last resort, but why not make it a little more interesting by using the tried and proven herbicides? It's like the serial doesn't follow up on its own continuity (more on that below).

In this story apparently written for more violent protagonists, I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Doctor would order a bombing. The episode is quite violent, in fact, climactic fisticuffs ending with Chase getting ground up in his composter, screaming and then silent. We don't see it, but we do feel it, and I do wish they had made it this grand camp moment (worthy of Chase's character), but there are no grand speeches, no wink at the audience, just a brutal death. Scorby gets the better death, I think. He's going through the five stages, isn't he? After denying the danger, and trying to come to terms with how his Ayn Rand-scripted life has led him to this (he's a survivor!), hopelessness comes and he finally makes a break for it. He might have made it too, if he hadn't fallen in a pond where floating vines rose up to smother him. A very effective sequence, both in terms of character and effects.

There's too much action to really indulge in witticisms, though Sarah Jane does get one or two in. The duo get their sense of humor back only in the epilogue, in which the Doctor apparently invites Sir Colin into the TARDIS. Well, I can't quite imagine him as a companion, so it was probably a joke. The final scene, with the TARDIS materializing in the Antarctic while Sarah is in beachwear (an echo of Death to the Daleks) is charming and all, but suffers from a couple continuity problems. First, they say they were brought full circle because the Doctor forgot to reset the coordinates since the last trip... except they never came to the Antarctic in the TARDIS! They came by plane! And second, the final line they speak together ("or are we yet to come?") while clever for time travelers has never been spoken before. It was never their catch phrase and their use of it comes out of nowhere. I like the chemistry, and that we end the season with our heroes laughing at their absurd situation, but it's a payoff without a set-up. I love it as a stand-alone clip, but once again, Seeds feels like a mongrel beast, created from unlikely parts that never quite join up with the rest.

VERSIONS: In writing the Target novelization, producer Philip Hinchcliffe took out most of the Amelia Ducat character's scenes, leaving only one mention.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - UNIT is so lame, they might as well have used the regular army, but Scorby's death, even if it is the least memorable of the three villain kills this episode, is a worthy moment. By the time the protagonists find their voices again (as opposed to Steed's and Mrs. Peel's), it's all over 'til next year.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - After the first two episodes, I was ready to give this a higher rating, but once we leave the Antarctic, the story absurdly goes south and shows its Avengers roots. It's too violent to be Doctor Who, the wit evaporates quickly, and though a lot of moments are indeed memorable, it just never feels quite right. Too bad, because it was off to a great start.