Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Ice Warriors"

And now we have yet another audio story. Unlike "The Daleks Master Plan" where most of the story is missing, "The Ice Warriors" is only missing two episodes out of six. In the 1990's the story was released on VHS with shortened reconstructions in place of the missing episodes. In the 2000's though the BBC chose to release the story to audio rather than DVD... so far (there have been rumors that the BBC may be going to try replacing the missing the installments with animation but only time will tell). Also as with "Master Plan" "The Ice Warriors" uses descriptive narration to fill in the action which is not visible. In this case, though, the narration is provided by actor Fraser Hines, who played companion Jamie McCrimmon.

There was never much trouble or controversy with this story. By and large the time of Patrick Troughton's run as the Doctor went fairly smoothly. The casts and crews meshed well and in interviews most usually speak highly of Troughton's professionalism which was tempered with a sense of humor and a genuine liking for his co-workers. "The Ice Warriors" fell pretty much bang in the middle of Troughton's second season with the show and so everyone was settled and working together like a well-oiled machine.

The Martian Ice Warriors themselves were, as with the Cybermen, introduced in hopes of creating alien baddies with as much popularity as the Daleks. The producer at that time was eager to get past using the Daleks since creator Terry Nation had been guarded of their use as he was trying to convince American TV and/or film to pick up the rights for a Dalek based TV show or movie. The Warriors actually did become minor fan favorites. They would be used in one other Second Doctor story and would appear in a Third Doctor story before being retired. They got a bit of a mention in the Tenth Doctor special "The Waters of Mars" but so far they have not reappeared although fans of the older series continually hold out hope...

The Plot: In the distant future the Earth has fallen prey to a new ice age. The world's governments have come up with a plan to destroy the advancing glaciers by hitting them with a device, powerful enough to melt rock, called an ionizer. The Doctor and his companions Jamie and Victoria arrive at the Brittanicus Base in time for the Doctor to prevent an accident with the ionizer. They are also in time to witness the arrival of a strange, prehistoric figure found in the ice.

When the ice melts, however, the figure proves to be an alien who crashed on Earth millenia ago. Now reawakened he intends to thaw out his shipmates and conquer the planet!

The humans of the base are caught in a squeeze between the implacable Ice Warriors and the crushing, advancing glacier. The Doctor will need to use all of his cunning and cleverness to prevent wholesale destruction.

My Take: Yet another variation on the 'base under siege' motif. And while the writer ended up going the wrong way on the results of environmental catastrophe (global warming instead of the global cooling here) it is yet another sign of the topicality which had been creeping into the show for years. There is also elements of that good, old, stalwart Doctor Who theme of humanity vs. computers.

In point of fact, there's actually quite a lot going on here; the Ice Warriors are villainous villains not least because they are repeatedly offered peaceful solution but their stubborn mistrust and devotion to conquest ultimately doom them. Then there are the issues of naivete.

The scavenger, Storr, believes the enemies of his enemies will be his friends. He learns to his detriment that this is not the case. His naive view of the situation is a lesson to always consider all the facts instead of just one.

Of course Storr also fills a role in one of two extreme viewpoints presented throughout the story. Storr represents the "natural man" -- a hunter-gatherer with no use for science. Opposite him on the scale is Clent and the members of the the base -- men and women who have given up their own free thinking to computers. People who believe is science above their own ability to reason. Standing in the middle is Penley, who represents the blending of the two -- a man who knows how to use science as a tool without turning it into a god. The Doctor, as agent of change, tries to help Penley's model become the dominant one but at the same time he does not tell the people what to do -- the ultimate decision must be their own.

All of these themes and ideas are fun to explore, even now, over 40 years later. The problem is that they're presented in such a heavy-handed way it is a little hard not to giggle at the obviousness of it all. Of course, it must be remembered that at this time Doctor Who still thought of itself as "children's programming". And despite the diversity of themes running throughout they all manage to fit together well and nothing feels necessarily packed in or tacked on at the edges.

The Ice Warriors are, as I mentioned before, lovely villains. More than just their attitude, the decision to give them hissing, whispery voices adds to their menace and makes them work well in the audio format when you cannot see their lumbering, reptilian bulk. That reptilian nature, though, was wonderfully realized by the special effects team considering the limitations of the time. Their obvious intelligence and cunning teamed with their intimidating appearance and sinister voices make for truly impressive alien villains.

The guest cast does a nice job as well with the arrogant and superior Clent being one of those kind of "annoying allies" which tend to show up in Doctor Who while Penley comes off as actually good-natured at heart and there is just a tiny little hint of romance between himself and base technician Miss Garrett which humanizes both of them and keeps them from being such stock characters.

The real star here, though, is Patrick Troughton's Doctor. There are a wealth of great lines of dialogue all delivered with Troughton's usual panache. His insults ring with humor and a dash of snark, his moments of determination come across strongly and of course, as always, there are those moments where he walks right into the enemy's teeth without fear and gives them a chance to surrender. Once they ignore that offer all bets are off the table.

Fraser Hines's Jamie is also full of humor but his character lacks some of the good lines and good moments he has in other stories. There are a few moments, though, where he gets in a few digs at the Doctor and one endearing bit where he flirts shamelessly with Victoria.

And that brings us to Victoria. Ugh. This is NOT her shining hour. Deborah Watling would eventually leave the series feeling that she had done all that she would be allowed to do with the character and, like many women before her, tired of scripts where all she was allowed to do was scream and be helpless. While there is some small justification for the characterization considering that Victoria was supposed to be just that -- a sheltered, wealthy girl from the Victorian era -- she is at her worst here. Victoria does little except get captured, escape and get recaptured and to scream annoyingly. The. Entire. Time. It reaches the point where you would like to slap the character and tell her to knock it off she's being an embarrassment to women. It gets so bothersome that it actually ruins some scenes.

Victoria aside, the story as a whole is wonderfully entertaining and, as with "The Daleks Master Plan" one finds that visuals are not necessarily needed as imagination paints the scenes. The story really works even in it's audio format and there are still some lessons to be taken away from the whole affair. And even if all of that were not true this is Patrick Troughton at some of the top of his came -- whimsical, mercurial, and magical.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Daleks Master Plan"

As I've said before, since it's inception Doctor Who has had problems with scripts and schedules... they can never quite get them balanced. And it was scheduling problems which led to the production team coming up with the bright idea of creating a massive, epic story... and said epic was to create precedents and controversy.

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be said is that, for all intents and purposes, "The Daleks Master Plan" is actually a 13 part story rather than a 12 part one. A single-episode story was created as a kind of prologue to "The Daleks Master Plan" -- making it the first and only stand alone story in the show's history until the program was relaunched in 2005. It also still stands today as the only episode in which neither the Doctor nor any of his companions appear. The prologue was originally created under the working title "The Dalek Cutaway" but when it aired it went out with the official title "Mission to the Unknown". There are some fans and sources out there who still refer to it under the "Cutaway" title.

Interestingly, the prologue aired only to be followed by the four part comedy-adventure-historical "The Myth Makers" instead of having "The Daleks Master Plan" air directly afterwards. "The Myth Makers" marked the departure of Maureen O'Hara who played companion Vicki and the introduction of Adrienne Hill as the new companion, handmaiden of Troy Katarina.

When the BBC released "The Daleks Master Plan" as an audio drama, however, they included "Mission to the Unknown" as the opening -- further proving that, for all intents and purposes, "The Daleks Master Plan" is a 13 part serial and "Mission to the Unknown" is really the first episode.

As "The Daleks Master Plan" started so would the precedent and controversy. Although Hill was chosen and written into the role the producer soon came to think better of the decision. Worried that a character who came from an archaic time would not fit in he told Terry Nation, who was writing "The Daleks Master Plan" to write the character out and insert a temporary female companion who would accompany the Doctor through the rest of the story. There is, therefore, some question of whether or not Katarina counts as a companion. Many fans and official sources from the BBC Doctor Who office tend not to include the character on official companion lists since she did not continue to travel with the Doctor and, in fact, did not even finish out one adventure. Other fans, however, usually claim that anyone who assists the Doctor and travels in the TARDIS is a companion. It is certainly true that the way in which Katarina was introduced to viewers put her clearly in the "companion" category. Had Katarina continued the character would have been the first companion to come from the past rather than the present or the future. As it stood, the first companion to come from the past would be the Second Doctor's stalwart Jamie McCrimmon and the Second Doctor would become the first and only Doctor to travel with two companions who were both from the past. But I digress...

Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, had been up to that point the one who had written all of the Dalek stories. Having seen the popularity of his creations he had hopes of developing a spin-off series featuring the Daleks. He soon saw this story as a chance to develop some of his ideas and see how they worked. His original concept for the Dalek series was that there would be agents of a "Space Security Service" who would be the protagonists and oppose the Daleks nefarious schemes. These Space Security Service Agents would be like futuristic James Bonds (in "Mission to the Unknown" Agent Mark Cory even says "Licensed to kill"). To that end Nation introduced three SSS Agents over the course of the story -- Mark Cory, Brett Vyon and Sarah Kingdom. Interestingly, Brett Vyon would be played by Nicholas Courtney in his first Doctor Who role but certainly not his last. Sarah Kingdom was Nation's idea for a 'replacement' female companion and he took his inspiration from the butt-kicking character of Cathy Gale from The Avengers TV series. Nation wanted to introduce a more modern, tougher model for female companions and he had hoped that she would become an ongoing companion but the producer did not take the bait.

Sarah Kingdom, like Katarina, would become one of those characters who are questionably companions. Kingdom (mostly) finished out an adventure with the Doctor and did get to travel in the TARDIS but she did not get to go on traveling with the Doctor. As a result some people claim her others do not.

The final bit of controversy surrounding the story comes from the 7th episode. With the 12 part story it was quickly realized that the seventh installment would actually air on Christmas Day. In Great Britain, unlike here in the United States, it was quite common for TV shows to have new episodes on Christmas Day (here we get re-runs and specials. Bleh.) so it was decided to make the Christmas Day episode a comedy romp befitting the season. There were some, at the time, who apparently felt the jar in tone but really it has been the years after which has seen the single episode take such a hit. Many people really, actively hate this installment for it's light-hearted silliness and feel that it ruins the tone of the rest of the story as a whole. I don't agree but we'll get to that in a minute.

Because of the BBC's policy of wiping tapes when no longer seen as useful (a subject I covered in my review of "The Moonbase") out of all 13 episodes on three full installments and a few clips exist anymore today. Thankfully, however, the audio was saved by fans and the BBC cleaned it up, remastered it, and then released the story as an audio drama with actor Peter Purves, who played companion Steven, providing descriptive narration; which is what I've used for this review.

Now, on with the plot!

The Plot: The Doctor and his companions stumble into the middle of a plot by the Daleks to conquer all of space -- starting with Earth's solar system. Forming an alliance of power-hungry aliens, the Daleks have solidified their position and are ready to attack. Among this alliance is even the Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen, willing to sell out his own human race in the quest for more power.

The Doctor and his friends and allies race through space and time, pursued by many enemies, hoping all the time to find a way of putting an end to the Daleks' plot. If the Doctor does not succeed humanity will fall first and then other alien planets will follow. Even if the Doctor does succeed what will the cost be to himself and those who fight beside him?

My Take: The new series, since the relaunch in 2005, has tried to give each series finale an epic feel and/or scope -- battles with the Daleks, rounding up all the Doctor's companions to fight together, facing down the Master, facing down the Time Lords, etc. But in a way it could never quite reach the kind of epic this story did simply because of the constraints of time.

The length of this story means that we as the audience really get to know these characters well. The villains become more and more villainous and we can trace Mavic Chen's descent into madness and delusion and we become closer to our heroes as well to the point where the deaths of characters make impact. In the end, when Steven mournfully names off their dead friends and allies it really tugs at the heartstrings.

It is true that there is a LOT of padding here. With this many episodes how could there not be? There is a detour to the planet Desperus that serves no purpose except to set up for the death of Katarina and there is another detour to ancient Egypt that serves no purpose period. The TARDIS team travels by spaceship and TARDIS all over the galaxy and through time until the viewer (or in this case listener) gets lost and dizzy.

The padding, though, is at least entertaining padding for the most part. The Doctor's old enemy from "The Time Meddler", the Time Lord known as 'the Monk' (played by comedy actor Peter Butterworth), makes an appearance here and, just as with "The Time Meddler" he and the Doctor play against each other beautifully -- conning and conniving around one another -- setting up plots and traps and then reversing them on one another. Even the notorious 7th episode is actually a lot of fun. It's played for comedy and all of the actors involved seem to have a blast -- particularly when they land in 1920's Hollywood and run rampant on a movie studio. Yes, the tone change is a bit jarring but after six episodes of desperation, dirty dealing and death the 7th comes as a needed breath of fresh air to relieve some of the unrelenting darkness of the story.

and then there is that darkness... While Doctor Who stories have had and continue to have their share of character deaths this story gives us some of the most deaths of what are really main characters... and most of those deaths are not really through enemy action either which adds an extra layer of tragedy Katarina and Sarah sacrifice themselves for the Doctor and Brett is the victim of Sarah's devotion to duty which causes her to never question her orders. As I mentioned earlier, Katarina was introduced to the audience in such a way as it was logical to assume that she was going to be the replacement companion for Vicki. I can only imagine how shocking it was, then, to viewers at the time to see her die. It was, probably, the first real time a 'companion' of the Doctor's died and it brought home this idea that traveling with the Doctor could be fatally dangerous.

There is also a slight theme of anarchy here. Mavic Chen gets away with murder because everyone is conditioned to follow the authority figure and never question anything. Rules and regulations throughout the story cause turmoil and troubles and are shown to be useless and even in many cases favoring the villains. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Steven are agents of chaos. They do not follow orders, they disobey rules and conventions, they do not kowtow to authority figures, and they pass these attitudes on to others such as Brett and Sarah.

The cast on the whole does an excellent job. Admittedly, Hill's Katarina is somewhat weak sauce. It is understandable that she would be somewhat wide-eyed and innocent but there is a vocal quality she throws into it that makes her sound like a four year-old instead of as a bewildred and awestruck adult. Jean Marsh's Sarah Kingdom is perfectly pitched as she deals with the impossibilites of the Doctor's life and moves from there -- driven all the while by her detrmination to save her home planet and see Chen punished for his trechery. Nicholas Courtney is... well, his Brett Vyon is a bit like his Brigadier only shorter on charm and humor. One does have to love the scene where he tells the Doctor to shut-up much to the Doctor's surprise. Kevin Stoney also makes a lovely bad guy. As far as Doctor Who was concerned, though, he got a little typecast. He appeared in the series a total of three times (the last of those times almost unrecognizable under heavy make-up and prthestics as an alien) with the second appearance being in the Second Doctor story "The Invasion" playing a VERY similar character to Mavic Chen. This, being his first outing, though, has the benefit of originality as he schemes and tries to spin his failures into victories and eventually descends to delusion and madness. For the regular cast William Hartnell is at the top of his game. There are a few blown lines but overall, Hartnell dashes through the script making his Doctor determined, arrogant, funny, witty, defeated, clever, and more by turns. When delivering his dramatic lines his voice rolls like thunder with authority and you are again reminded why, no matter which incarnation, the Doctor is not one to be triffled with. Peter Purves as Steven also gets a chance to really sink his teeth into this story. Purves character of Steven has always been a bit of a departure. Despite being on the series to handle the action sequences the Doctor could not the character has never been depicted as much of a fighter. Instead, Steven was a more sensitive soul. It may have been an odd tack to take but it worked surprisingly well with the character making the more emotional appeals and feeling rather protective of his fellow travelers. It is Steven as the emotional compass who suffers the most of the survivors and provides the sobering conclusion to the adventure.

While the extreme length of the story and some of the back and forth through time and space and oh-so-convenient plot points work against it "The Daleks Master Plan" really does deserve the title "epic". Even the fact that it is in audio format does not hurt it that much as the descriptive narration works with the surviving audio and lets the listener paint the action in their head... a place where there are no wobbly sets or poor special effects. If you're someone who has a long commute or takes driving trips or likes to listen to things at work then "The Daleks Master Plan" is well worth checking out. You can be entertained for hours immersing yourself into a Doctor Who adventure that engages your imagination instead of just your eyes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Comic Book Awwwwww....

Background on this:

Last weekend was "Nerd Prom" -- A.K.A., the San Diego Comic Con, the BIGGEST comic book and pop culture expo in the country. As was usual, the mix of Hollywood and comic books was on hand to shill the latest upcoming comic book movies.

This clip, however, comes from a Q & A panel about the upcoming Green Lantern movie starring actor Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, A.K.A. Green Lantern.

According to reports, Reynolds had indicated backstage that he didn't want to say the famous Green Lantern Oath (which has been part of the character for decades) on stage.

All that, however, went out the window when a little boy stepped up to the microphone and asked "What was it like to say the Green Lantern Oath?"

THIS was Reynolds response....

LOOK at the expression on that kid's face. Reynolds just made his week with that. And I have to agree with the actor -- that kid is just the cutest...

It was a classy thing to do and really, the youngest comic book fans out there are the treasure... and I can say this as someone who put comic books into the hands of a kid before they were even technically able to read and as a result they're still reading comics.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: Update

It may take a little time before the next Grab Bag review. Usually, I don't reveal the titles in advance but this time the story I pulled from the grab bag was "The Daleks Master Plan".

This one is a massive, 12 part story and it exists basically only in audio format. So it will probably take me a little time before I work my way through all of it.

Grab Bag Reviews: "Timelash"

The episode that everybody loves to hate. If there were ever a contest for the 'Worst Doctor Who Story' it would probably come down to this one or "The Twin Dilemma"... another Sixth Doctor story.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor was part of a very turbulent time in the show's history. There were conflicts and controversies and much of the time the scripts were often running later due to last-minute re-writes. "Timelash" was no exception.

The story underwent numerous re-writes before the final product went before the cameras. Sadly, the story suffers greatly and is not helped by the attempts to make it a 'budget saving' episode.

The Plot: On the planet Karfel some of the population have grown increasingly disturbed by the actions of their leader, known as the Borad. The Borad seems to be heading them down the path of a police state -- with the population constantly under surveillance. He is also pushing them closer to war with their planetary neighbor, home of the Bandrils.

One young council member, Vena, acts to try to stop the Borad and for her troubles is sent down an unstable time corridor called the Timelash. Along the way she passes the TARDIS, which has gotten caught up in the Timelash's path and thrown to Karfel.

The Sixth Doctor and his companion, Peri, arrive and the Doctor startlingly reveals that he's been to Karfel once before in his Third incarnation. He finds the planet much changed and does not like what he sees. The Borad, however, is delighted since Vena took with her an important amulet and now he intends to use the Doctor to go after Vena and get the amulet back. In order to force the Doctor's hand the Borad orders Peri captured.

With no choice, the Doctor tracks Vena to Earth in the 19th century and also ends up picking up a stowaway -- the young dreamer, Herbert. The Doctor intends to return to Karfel and put things right but little does he realize the true nature of the Borad... and just what the Borad's twisted aims are for Karfel...

My Take: *Takes a deep breath* Okay, here goes... This story isn't all as bad as it's painted. *Waits for someone to start throwing rotten fruit*

As someone who often doesn't like the characterization of the arrogant, argumentative Sixth Doctor the script here actually manages to favor Colin Baker -- shaving off some of the worst of the sharp edges and actually allowing him to show a bit of charm and genuine humor. There are also several sequences where (gasp) the Doctor actually is allowed to show some genuine concern and liking for Peri instead of the usual constant bickering.

Unfortunately, Baker is the one who gets off the best here and the rest of the cast suffers. Well, okay, maybe not completely suffers but it ranges from mediocre to bad. Companion Peri screams a lot gets captured, gets rescued, gets captured, gets rescued, etc., etc., etc. and generally doesn't actually have anything to DO in the plot except be a Damsel in Distress. Ugh. Vena is simply yet another stock character. She acts as an exposition unit at times and provides the 'noble stance in the face of overwhelming odds' schtick which really turns her into more of an object than a character. Herbert is written as an eager puppy dog and the actor playing him pushes it a little too far... to the point where it would be fair to compare him to one of those small, hyperactive puppies which quickly go from being "cute" to "annoying". Most of the rest of the cast follows suit with rebel forces who are suitably... rebellious... again, without ever becoming actual characters rather than archetypes, and craven cowards who are simply craven. It's all very predictable... and therefore dull.

And then there is actor Paul Darrow. The thing which gets mentioned the most about this story. Darrow was and remains famous in cult science fiction circles for playing the duplicitous character Avon on the heralded British sci-fi series Blake's 7. Although I will admit to you all that I've never actually gotten around to watching the series myself. They're probably going to take away my cult sci-fi geek membership card for that admission.

Many viewers at the time would have likely recognized and known Darrow from his previous role when this story aired but surprisingly Darrow is not the true villain here. He is an over-the-top, slimy, bootlicker to the main villain instead. I'll give Darrow this -- he's obviously having a good time playing the role of Tekker since he gives each one of his lines a dramatic delivery -- but the result is a character that is actually amusing rather than threatening. Darrow nails the slimy tone perfectly. Too bad the slime trail is all that one remembers of the character on screen.
Then there is the Borad... There is a pretty good hook here -- the idea of a scientist mutated by his experimentations and gone mad. It's the stuff of comic book supervillains but here it just never quite works. It's hard for me to put my finger on... perhaps it is because the ending to the episode makes the whole thing fall apart and turns the Borad into something boring. The make-up designs for the character are really not that bad for the time period ,and considering that everything else in this story got scrimped on, but the character never quite reaches the heights (or depths as the case may be) for memorable villainy. He isn't crazy enough, he isn't rant-y enough, he isn't evil enough, he isn't sinister enough, he just never makes you... intimidated by himself. He never even really makes the Doctor intimidated by him... and that's a kiss of death. Viewers often take their cues from the Doctor and/or his companion and when the Doctor isn't afraid of a situation the audience isn't afraid either.

"Timelash" also suffers from it's mediocre to bad script. The story itself would not have been too bad if it had had the good grace to end with the defeat of the main villain. But no, it adds a second ending and then it adds a THIRD ending on. And by that third ending things are getting really, really silly and pushing credulity past the breaking point. I mean, one word here: clones. Seriously, ANY time clones are involved it's a bad sign. There have been a few shows and movies to pull off clone stories well but by and large it's bad and here, where it's all thrown into a mash in the last five minutes of the story?! No.

Then there are the budgetary constraints. Trying to save money on "Timelash" ultimately hurt the story greatly. Many of the costumes are simply ugly, some are laughable -- like the Guardoliers whose uniforms seem to consist of canvas coveralls and a beekeeper's hat with netting.

Making the whole story studio bound shows badly since the overlit sets look fakey and there are long scenes which just take place in rooms to keep the sets down. There is also a bit of corridor running and it was amusing and perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek when Peri tells one of officials touring her around that "All these corridors look the same to me."

And then there is the Christmas tinsel. It's everywhere. It's used in everything. Most noticeably the "entrance" to the Timelash is basically a curtain of silver Christmas tinsel with some strobe lights flashing on it. It's ridiculous and it ruins the story. Wobbly sets are one thing but THIS is a whole other level... down.

And we wont even mention the fact that the one Bandril which appears is so obviously a hand puppet it isn't even funny and the one Morlox monster we see is equally puppety.

In the end, eehhhh... I can't really say I can recommend "Timelash" but I don't like NOT recommending it because there are some really good bits here. Colin Baker gets some nice lines, such as when he tells Vena "I show little mercy to tyrants" (What, you thought it started with the Tenth Doctor and his "No second chances"?), and the script has the Doctor REALLY acting like the Doctor for a change.

In the end I would say that if you can be tolerant of some crap it's worth seeing "Timelash" at least once to hit some of the high points.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Don't Piss Geeks Off.


The so-called Westboro Baptist Church (read: Fred Phelps's crazy little cult/con artist ring) announced earlier this month that they would be doing their little picketing spiel not at a funeral for a change -- tormenting the grieving -- but at the San Diego Comic Con. The biggest comic book and pop culture show in the country. Their accusation was that we comic book geeks "worship" superheroes so of course we're going to hell. Oh, and some comic books "support" homosexuality by having homosexual and bi-sexual characters in them.... so we're all going to hell for THAT too.

So the well-known idiots and hate mongers made a fatal mistake. They let the geeks know they were coming. Geeks are like Batman... given enough time to prepare they can come up with a plan to take down anyone. And the Westboro Baptist Church? C'mon, that's a pushover.

And they proved it.

The small group of Phelps adherents were FAR outnumbered by the geeks dressed as superheroes, Storm Troopers, Darth Vaders, Buddy Christ (from Kevin Smith's Dogma, look it up), Starfleet Officers, Anime Girls, and even a Bender from Futurama who supposedly chanted "Bite my shiny metal @$$". They were outmanned and outgunned with signs that ranged from "Satan's Cake is a Lie" to "Kill All Humans" and the Westboro bunch conceeded the field in defeat after only about 45 minutes of "protesting".

And this is why you don't mess with geeks. We can out-creative you and we can out-snark you.

More details to be found here:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Buckle Your Swash....

I've been re-reading and trying to watch various versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Good old Sir Percy Blakeney was one of the influences pulled from by Bob Kane in creating Batman and, by extension, has now influenced probably more superheroes than you can shake a stick at.

After all, Percy was the first to have the "double identity" thing going -- presenting himself as an empty-headed fop when he was in reality a cunning strategist and a master of disguise, rescuing people.

And despite popular culture post-Zorro and superhero often wanting to give him a "costume" (usually either a hooded cloak and a mask or else a cloak, broad-brimmed hat and mask -- all in scarlet of course) he never actually wore a costume in the book or in either of the two movies I've seen.

Still, more on the Scarlet Pimpernel to come... I'm still trying to get my hands on some DVD's. In the meantime enjoy this from the musical version of the story...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ah, the Fond Memories of Childhood Trauma

Don't ask me why but this commercial scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

I actually could never get past the psychedelic miasma and sinister voice at the opening and probably NEVER saw the commercial in it's entirety. The second that thing would come on the air I would bolt from the room.

As a result, Mr. Yuk stickers were VERY effective... I wouldn't go within ten feet of one because it reminded me of the commercial and freaked me out. Which you would think wouldn't have been a problem.... except that my sister decided to torture me by putting them places like the inside lid of our toy box and the inside lid of the chest where our picture books were stored.

Obviously, I got over my "Mr. Yuk" fears.... eventually. Wonder if I could have sued the Poison Control Center for emotional trauma?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oh. My. God.

I'm still laughing....

The original

Edit: It seems the original YouTube video has been retired. But the remake lives on!

The remake

The internet is a very strange place. God bless it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Ghosts of N-Space"

Doctor Who "died" in 1989 when the show was officially put on hiatus but for all practical purposes cancelled. Like a monster in a horror movie though it kept rising from its grave.... Only without all the gore. Or the slaughtering of sexually active teenagers. And with the Doctor not being a monster. Or evil.... Okay, so it isn't the best metaphor but you get the drift.

In 1993 Barry Letts, who had been producer for most of Jon Pertwee's tenure, was tapped to write a whole new audio adventure. Here in America audio dramas had died out in the late 1940's to early 1950's as TV began to supplant radio. In Great Britain, however, the tradition held on and in fact is alive and very well still today. These are generally high-quality productions with full casts and audio effects which air on radio stations. For this 1993 story Letts adapted an idea he had for a Third Doctor script which was never produced in the 1970's. The finished audio drama was title "Paradise of Death" and featured Jon Pertwee, Elizabeth Sladen, and Nicholas Courtney all reprising their roles as the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart respectively.

The story proved popular enough that Letts ended up writing a second audio drama, "The Ghosts of N-Space" which was broadcast in 1995. Again Pertwee, Sladen and Courtney reprised their roles. It would be the last time Pertwee played the Doctor as he would pass away several months later.

Both of these audio stories were supposed to be set during Pertwee's original run in the 1970's -- somewhere between the TV stories "The Time Warrior" and "Planet of the Spiders". "The Ghosts of N-Space" can be further pinpointed as taking place somewhere between "Death to the Daleks" and "Planet of the Spiders" since Sarah Jane mentions recently running up against the Daleks here.

The Plot: The Brigadier takes some personal time when he is summoned to Italy by a distantly related uncle. Upon arrival he learns that the uncle, owner of a small island off the coast of Sicily and the Castillo on the island, is having trouble from an American mob boss, Max Vilmio, who wants the island and everything on it and will stop at nothing to get it. The Brig also discovers that the Castillo is haunted by a ghost and now plagued by demonic creatures! Concerned, the Brig calls the Doctor to come and investigate.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane Smith, deciding to give up journalism and write a novel, has traveled to Italy with her friend and former co-worker Jeremy Fitzoliver. When she spies the Brig she and Jeremy decide to follow him and soon become embroiled in the events at the Castillo.

The Doctor discovers that sometime in the past someone opened a rift between our dimension and a limbo dimension known as N-Space. N-Space is populated by demonic creatures and the spirits of the dead who do not "cross over". He reveals that they need to uncover when the rift was first opened and seal it otherwise it will soon open wide and unleash the demonic denizens of N-Space into the world.

As the Doctor and Sarah Jane travel back and forth in time they uncover tragic events in the Castillo's past and learn that Vilmio is more than what he seems and far more dangerous than could ever be imagined. Simultaneously, in the present, the Brig, his uncle, Jeremy, and a rag-tag group of defenders try to prepare for an attack by Vilmio and his men. If they fail the consequences will be catastrophic.

My Take: I really do hate to say something bad about a Doctor Who story. I'm no Precious Pollyanna but I usually try to offer constructive criticisms or at least find some good amidst something bad but THIS story... Oh, this is one of the worst stories ever written. Where do I start?!

As an audio drama there are no sets, costumes, camera work or visual effects to critique. On the flip side, though, voices are key to a good audio production. And the voices here are not great.

Pertwee does a good job and, surprisingly, age has not taken a really noticeable toll on his voice. There are a few places where one can tell his voice is not quite what it was but those moments are few and far between. Sladen, likewise, does a solid job although a few times she really over-plays a scene. Courtney, like Pertwee, does not seem to suffer too badly from age and he turns in a very even performance.

That, however, is the last of the good that can be said about the voices. The actor playing the Brig's uncle puts on the most broad, over-the-top, stereotypical Italian accent I've heard outside of Chico Marx.... only Chico was funny.

Also, I had actually thought it was impossible to create a really offensive American accent... I no longer think that. This story doesn't just produce one it produces TWO! Max Vilmio is a children's cartoon villain -- a caricature of a 1930's mobster and as such he cannot be taken seriously and never becomes much of a real threat. He's certainly not the calibre of the usual Doctor Who villains. The second bad accent award goes to the actress playing Vilmio's girlfriend, Maggie. Her also cartoonish, stereotypical, Brooklyn accent just grates on your nerves after 5 seconds. The other voice actors are not bad, just either really too earnest or too bland.

And then there is the script. Urg. The script... First of all, the characters just don't work as a whole. Vilmio, as I stated, never really becomes the menace he's supposed to be. Most of the 'tragic' characters in the past are either fluff-brained idiots or cardboard cut-outs so it is impossible to feel anything for their fate even though we are obviously supposed to. Fitzoliver, who Letts introduced in "Paradise of Death" is a perfect little idiot who is obviously meant to provide some comic relief... but of course he isn't funny and the script itself is so unintentionally funny it doesn't NEED comic relief. Most of the characters are as thin as paper dolls and the little depth we get is more like a 'drive by shooting' characterization. For example, there is a moment between Maggie and Jeremy after Maggie saves his life and we learn about her tragic, abusive childhood and the fact that she has long lived with the uncertain guilt that she might have caused the death of her abusive father. And then very quickly the moment is over, nothing more is said about the incident and Maggie's characterization doesn't change at all.

Even the regular cast does not fare too well as the independent-minded Sarah Jane Smith becomes a bit too much of an old-fashioned female companion with quite a bit of screaming, overemotionalism, and a ridiculous amount of reliance on the Doctor for everything. The Doctor spouts nonsense that is too much like spiritualism for the scientific Doctor. The Brigadier, someone who was usually skeptical of the Doctor's scientific theories, here swallows a load of guff that more like magic than science.

And that brings us to another problem. As I've said before, Doctor Who has long played more in the realm of science-fantasy than science-fiction but this story throws out the 'science' part of the science-fantasy and gives us pure fantasy. Oh, Letts makes some half-hearted attempt to dress things up in a little technobabble but it is thin and doesn't work at all. No matter what the whole story is filled with ghosts, poltergeists, alchemists, demons, hell, purgatory, and astral projection. I've got nothing against such subject matter in fiction... but it doesn't belong in Doctor Who plain and simple and it especially doesn't belong in a Third Doctor story.

The Italian setting serves no real purpose as it does not seem to add anything to the story and, aside from the Brig's Uncle Mario and a couple of supporting characters everyone else is either a terrible American or sounds a proper Brit. Plus, the script has to jump through hoops to give the Brig, a proud Scotsman, an Italian uncle.

There are also entirely too many coincidences. Huge points of the plot revolve around coincidences and Letts even tries to cover for these by introducing the ideas of serendipity and synchronicity to the story but it doesn't work. The amount of conveniences and coincidences required to make everything work stretch credulity until it snaps like a 20 year-old rubber band and on top of that it smacks of lazy or uninspired writing.

And, as a personal nitpick, there is a little swearing here which is just disconcerting because it doesn't feel like it suits the rest of the story. There is also a point where Vilmio calls Maggie a "dumb polack" in an ethnic slur which really goes beyond the pale.

Audio drama should have been a perfect fit for something like Doctor Who since it allows a script to be unfettered by the limitations of budget and special effects. A simple basic description and the listener can let their own imagination create the costumes and the sets and the special effects -- it's the cheapest type of production imaginable, the human mind is. And this, in particular, should have been a treat by bringing together Pertwee, Courtney and Sladen twenty years after they left the roles and giving fans an extra dose of the Third Doctor. Instead it all falls apart and dissolves into a mess. There is an extra layer of disappointment here as well since it was Pertwee's last turn as the Doctor. One can't help but wish he had gone out on a triumphant note.

Unless you are an ultra-fan or a completist it is best to just skip this story. Since the story has never officially been recognized as Doctor Who canon it's safe to just pretend like "The Ghosts of N-Space" never existed.

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Talons of Weng Chiang"

There is a saying: "Do one thing and do it right". Well, in a way, the era of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes was about that. After the Third Doctor's era in which social and political issues were tackled under the guise of entertaining sci-fi stories Hinchcliffe had steered the show away from that model with his updating of old, classic, Gothic horror stories. There were few overt statements about class or environmentalism here -- instead playing up the frights and the atmosphere and the characters themselves.

Hinchcliffe had decided, though, to move on at the end of season 14 and Holmes was looking to leave as well. As such, these two long-time collaborators decided to pull out all the stops for their final story.

After the original writer had to pull out Hinchcliffe encouraged Holmes to write the story and also encouraged him to do what he wanted with it and spare no expense. If this was to be their swan song then they wanted it to be a good one....

The Plot: The Doctor and his companion, Leela, arrive in London in the late 1800's but are quickly embroiled in a police investigation. Young women are going missing and the Doctor soon finds clues which lead him to Chinese stage magician Li H'sen Chang. Li H'sen Chang, however, is a follower of a mythical, powerful and terrible Chinese god called Weng Chiang... and the Doctor begins to suspect that Weng Chiang may not be as mythical as he's been painted... at least in this time and this place.

My Take: "The Talons of Weng Chiang" is.... a troublesome episode. Not because it's bad but because it's good! Holmes pulled from a number of influences for this story -- including the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rohmer, and even a touch of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and even a touch of My Fair Lady but it's the Sax Rohmer stuff that makes the story skate so close to the edge.

Rohmer is most commonly associated with "Yellow Peril" -- a kind of wave of Sinophobia that rolled through many Western nations -- in particular England and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally spawned by fears that Chinese immigrants would take away jobs from the white, native population and would increase in numbers until they outnumbered the white population. Sound familiar? Yeah, we've been through this old song and dance a number of times but people never seem to learn. But I'm digressing.

Political cartoons, comic strips, books, and short stories all took turns at representing Chinese as evil, cold-blooded killers or masterminds. One of the most famous representations which has come down to us today is Fu Manchu. Most people have never read a Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu story and yet the term is still bandied about -- most notably in the name for a type of mustache. Rohmer's Fu Manchu, however, was of the "great criminal mastermind" type who ruled London's Limehouse district and always had his plots foiled by the white hero but who also always escaped to menace the world another day. We see elements of Fu in the original version of Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless and the original version of the Iron Man villain the Mandarin.

To a modern audience, however, this sort of blatant racial stereotyping would be anathema. And that's part of where the problem comes in. Holmes wanted to re-create the feel of the Victorian era with as much authenticity as he could. This includes using some of the slang terms of the time as well as racial attitudes. And at the same time he was pulling from literature from the era and wanting to present a kind of snapshot of that too. What results is a story which depicts Chinese characters talking in a very stereotypical dialect and with some very stereotypical trappings but at the same time, it's a near perfect mimic of something from the Victorian period. So do we forgive it for being accurate? Do we make allowances for what Holmes was trying to do? Or do we think that he should, perhaps, have mitigated things more and presented a more cosmopolitan world view? Added to that is the fact that Li H'sen Chang was played by an Occidental actor in make-up. It's very good make-up but it doesn't change the fact that an Occidental is playing an Oriental... something that tends to quite understandably get people's hackles up. All of this would not be so bad if the rest of the story was just God-awful but it's not.

In defense of the story, though, Li H'sen Chang may begin as a stock character but he DOES become more nuanced as the story rolls on. He may be devoted to the being he believes to be Weng Chiang but he also has been entranced by his success on the stage. He takes pride in his magic act and the more acclaim and fame he receives the more he feels the pull between his place on the stage and his place by his master's side. In the end, his "god" punishes him for his failures in the worst way possible -- by ending his stage career. Chang also gets a rather moving death scene and, despite the fact that he has been a willing accomplice to multiple murders, the viewer feels sorry for him. In many ways he becomes yet another victim of Weng Chiang.

Putting aside the controversy of the story... there are some positive things about it. The companion of the time, Leela, was a "savage" from the future and was really the first ass-kicking female companion. Nearly fearless and a tough fighter, Leela often got herself out of any situations she got herself into. She also often was the one saving the Doctor's life. This story is no exception as, in one sequence, Leela throws a knife at the advancing living ventriloquist's dummy Mr. Sin and when that fails to stop him she jumps onto a table, runs across it and escapes from the room by doing a header out a window. And it is awesome. Leela also is untaught, not stupid, and that is clearly shown here as well as she quickly picks up on information from the time period. There is a also a touch of Eliza Doolittle as she transforms into an elegant lady for a night at the theatre.

In all of this actress Louise Jameson hits every not pitch perfect. Jameson makes all of Leela's various threats of violence absolutely believable and yet turns around and displays a shy side of the warrior as she prepares to embark on the unfamiliar world of polite society.

Tom Baker also puts in a much more subdued performance than usual. He even has a costume change, temporarily subsuming the bohemian look for a Holmesian inverness cape and deerstalker cap. While the Doctor's usual bits of whimsy are present they are not as overpowering as he takes the mystery seriously. It is something just enough out-of-usual to attract the attention of the audience and make the story something special.

And of course there are the characters of theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago and scientist Professor Litefoot. The two characters proved so popular that there were actually, for a time, rumors that the BBC was considering spinning them off into their own series. The bombastic Jago and the cautious Litefoot are such well-developed and charismatic characters that they really do steal the show. The two do not even meet until the very last episode but they are woven so well throughout the story that they seem a natural part of it all -- and perfect foils for one another. The actors in question -- Christopher Benjamin for Jago and Trevor Baxter for Litefoot -- inhabit the roles so fully it is impossible to imagine anyone else doing a better job. They manage to make the characters both larger-than-life and yet utterly human at the same time. In point of fact, there is a sequence in particular I love... Litefoot offers Leela some supper and is rather discombobulated when the young woman picks up a chunk of meat and just starts biting into it -- foregoing knife, fork and plate -- but rather then hurt her feelings or make her look foolish, Litefoot puts aside his own refinements and picks up another piece of meat and bites into it. It says volumes about Litefoot, his world view and yet at the same time his kind heart.

The story also really excells at the true villains. Weng Chiang is revealed as an impostor called Magnus Greel and Greel, like the Phantom of the Opera, is hideously disfigured. He's also mad as a hatter. At first his over-the-top ranting work well but after a little while they do go on too long and they start to become silly instead of threatening.

And then there is Mr. Sin. Holmes understood well that, in the hands of a talented comedian, a ventriloquist's dummy can be funny. The dummy itself, though, can be a creepy thing. The size of a small child and yet usually made to look like a human being there is always that faintly creepy feeling that the thing is watching you. Horror movies have long picked up on this and turned the dummy into a nightmare figure. Holmes, therefore gives us "Mr. Sin". At first an innocuous figure, it quickly moves into the realm of creepy and then goes on to full-on menacing. Mr. Sin was played here by Deep Roy, a well known and respected midget actor.

Tribute must also go to everything else about the story as well. There is some just absolutely gorgeous location shooting and the locations were chosen with care and add to the atmosphere and tone of the story. The costuming is also lovely -- in particular Li H'sen Chang's stage costumes -- ornately beaded affairs which are simply stunning. And even the special effects are pretty good here. The two exceptions are the "giant rats" in the sewers which are, alternately, real rats filmed on a miniature set and a hand puppet. Sadly the real rats look like rats on a miniature set and the hand puppet looks like a hand puppet. And neither is very threatening. Then there is a fight between the Doctor and Mr. Sin at the climax which is really sadly, embarrassingly, obviously Tom Baker wrestling with a large rag doll dressed as Mr. Sin.

One will not find deep commentary on class or environmentalism here but what one will find is a tightly woven story that seems to just fly by even at six episodes. There is mystery, danger, excitement, action, death, and near-death escapes but sadly there are also some elements which are uncomfortable to modern audiences and which do leave something of a blot on the story. I'll leave it to you, reader, to decide if this can be forgiven or whether it will be a deal-breaker.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "Battlefield"

The Seventh Doctor's era was the swan song for the series for about 15 years (sort-of). The era had actually started somewhat badly with Colin Baker's tenure seeing ratings tumbling and Baker himself taking a lot of the heat for the failure. When Baker was fired from the job the production team sought out a new actor to play the Doctor. They found Sylvester McCoy -- a Shakespearean trained actor who happened, at the time, to be doing mostly a quasi-vaudeville revue. Originally his version of the Doctor was to be seen as somewhat befuddled -- dropping malapropisms everywhere. By the time "Battlefield" rolled around, however, this characterization was dropped for a version of the Doctor who used a disarming exterior to hide the fact that he was actually a master manipulator and schemer with something of a dark side. Sadly, ratings were still below where the BBC wanted them and there were those within the company who were sharpening their knives to cut it out no matter what.

At the time "Battlefield" was filmed the production team had heard rumblings that the series might be put on hiatus or even cancelled outright but they made the decision to continue on as if expecting to be renewed for the next season. At least they did for the most part. The opening sequence in the TARDIS is notably dark and sharp-eyed viewers will notice that there seems to be something wrong with the TARDIS walls. This is because the "walls" are, in fact, painted sheets. The set walls had been damaged and the production team opted not to have the expense of re-building them as the remaining scripts in the season didn't really call for much in the way of TARDIS interior shots.

As it happened, it was during the next story in production, "Survival" that the team learned that they would be allowed to finish out the season and then would be put on "hiatus". Most of the cast and crew believed that the so-called "hiatus" would be permanent. They were more or less right.

The story is also rather a tribute to the Third Doctor's era, with the inclusion of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force, complete with the blue berets this time), Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and even the Third Doctor's yellow roadster nicknamed 'Bessie'.

The Plot: The Doctor and his young companion, Ace, receive a strange distress call and land on Earth sometime in the near future after 1988. Also summoned to Earth by the call are two groups of knights from a parallel dimension where the rise and fall of Camelot were rather more real. One group proves loyal to King Arthur while the other group are followers of the sorceress Morgaine. With a mixture of magic of futuristic technology these two forces pick a new battlefield and await the restoration of King Arthur. Adding to the commotion, a UNIT force is in the area trying to relieve a nuclear missile convoy which got off the road and bogged down near a lake. When the Doctor shows up UNIT immediately calls in a retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and he joins a new Brigadier -- Winifred Bambera. The forces in this war are small but the stakes are incredibly high. If the Doctor cannot stop the fighting then the planet itself may become a barren cinder.

My Take: I have to admit, when I was younger I thought "Battlefield" was a bit of a sub-par story. It seemed a bit too trite and a little too self-referential and self-reverent of the show's own past. Upon watching it again I find that I was more than a bit harsh on it.

I also have to say that the Seventh Doctor's era had the version of the theme song that I hate the most. It's too.... 'fiddly'.

It should be mentioned that this DVD comes with two copies of the episode -- the original as broadcast and a second version with some cut scenes added back in, enhanced visual effects and sound effects and all of the episode breaks taken out so the whole thing plays like a two-hour movie.

Getting down to brass tacks... The story itself is a mix of good and bad things. This new version of UNIT displays a rather conscious effort to put the U.N. in UNIT and while the diversity is nice it also feels a little bit forced with a French helicopter pilot, a Polish second-in-command, and at least one Czech officer as well. Fans were probably surprised to hear characters talking about "The Brigadier" and then not only NOT having Lethbridge-Stewart appear on the screen but have it actually be a black woman. Angela Bruce as Bambera is one of the best things about the new UNIT. She's tough and smart but without being annoying and is a shot in the arm for Women's equality. She also proves herself a capable leader and a capable warrior as well.

The plot is a bit of a mix and yet, somehow it all hangs together. It is a study on war and peace and honor in battle and yet manages to tack on an anti-nuclear polemic that actually works, as nuclear weapons are framed as a coward's weapon -- a killing without honor. There is also a sub-plot of the Doctor's future catching up with him. To the denizens from the alternate dimension the Doctor is known as "Merlin" but as the Doctor tells Ace, he is not Merlin... yet. But he might be someday. For now though, there are characters who know of his possible future while that future remains shrouded in mystery for him. It's a bit of the Timey-Wimeyness that Steven Moffat has gone back to in the recent series. On top of all that, the extended version of the story has another running plot of Ace and the Brigadier butting heads as Lethbridge-Stewart's old-fashioned attitude toward women tends to rankle Ace and she also feels that being the Doctor's companion is HER job now, not the Brig's.

The writer, Ben Aaronovitch, had intended to kill Lethbridge-Stewart in the story but in the end just couldn't do it. In a way this worked out for the best because fans have gotten to keep the old Brig around (and Courtney has reprised his role in a couple of Doctor Who audio stories as well as an episode of the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures) and in addition it actually becomes a surprise. The foreshadowing of the Brig's death is so sledgehammer obvious that we expect it and then find the tables turned on us!

The dialogue has some real triumphs. Great, quotable lines and sequences with a real Shakespearean flair. There are also moments, though, when things fall down. There is a lot of name dropping of Third Doctor friends and enemies which serve no purpose in the story other than to have their names dropped. It seems very forced and awkward when it happens.

The characters are also, on the whole, a delight. Angela Bruce has great chemistry with Marcus Gilbert, the actor playing the knight Ancelyn, and Gilbert infuses the role with charm and humor... and he's pretty easy on the eyes too so there's that. Nicholas Courtney had reprised his role as the Brigadier twice during the Fifth Doctor's era and here he slips back into it as easily as putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. Jean Marsh, who was a Doctor Who veteran turns in a surprisingly unexpected turn as Morgaine. At times she is a straightforward baddie but then she can turn on a dime and transform Morgaine into a concerned parent or inject pathos into a scene so that we actually feel sorry for the character. The actor playing Mordred, though... well, he does the best he can with the role but many of his lines are written so very over-the-top and his part is nothing but a 2 dimensional villain without any of Morgaine's twists.

The regular cast of Sophie Aldred as Ace and Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor turn in great performances. In particular, Aldred does a good job at showing Ace making a friend in a girl close to her own age. It rather points up the normality of such friendships which Ace misses by traveling with the Doctor. McCoy, for his part, brings drama and gravitas and the ability to move easily from a lighthearted attitude to a man you would not want as your enemy.

I don't often mention the music but here I feel I must. Back in the early 1980's the production team dumped series composer Dudley Simpson in order to have all of the show's music produced by the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop -- which was primarily into electronic and synthesizer music. The stuff they create here is sometimes quite good but at other times it is entirely too jaunty and just wrong not only for the scenes but the story itself.

While I do encourage seeing the original story as it aired, the second disk with the enhanced story is a very nice addition. While some of the added scenes somewhat interrupt the flow of the story most of them are really welcome additions. The conflict between Ace and the Brigadier, for example, adds some depth to the story. There are also sequences which help tie the Brig to Morgaine and Ancelyn -- that show the Brig as as old war-horse, who doesn't really like battle but by God when called to fight he will do so with honor... for both the living and the dead.

The enhanced special effects as well as the new sound effects are also helpful. The knights' supposedly futuristic guns which, in the original, only shot silly-looking sparks now have ray beams and many audio effects help fill-in plot holes. the one area I didn't care for it was in one crucial scene where Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor runs into a battlefield and should to stop the fighting. In the original it is all Sylvester McCoy letting loose with a Shakespearean roar but in the enhanced version an effect is added to McCoy's voice. I much prefer the unadulterated version as the "enhanced" version implies that the Doctor is employing some kind of device or technique to stop the fight where the original makes it clear that the Doctor is doing this just with his sheer personality.

On the whole, even the anti-nuclear message still holds up. While one can still hear some old, Cold War overtones here and there most of the points hold true in our world today. Just as the issues of war and peace and honor also hold true. There is a tribute to the past of the series while looking towards the future, there is charm and excitement and complex characters, great scenes and great dialogue. "Battlefield" is well worth the time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dog is Love

So you may have seen me mention fostering a dog. I've been doing some volunteer work whenever I can for a local no-kill shelter. Last Friday a call went out needing a short-term foster home for an older dog trying to recover from a case of Kennel Cough (imagine the WORST cold you've ever had with a runny nose and congestion and coughing and such and imagine you can't even blow your nose and you get some idea of Kennel Cough).

Since the dog was a Jack Russell terrier she didn't really get along with other dogs... or cats for that matter... meaning she had to go to a home without either. I felt sorry for the poor thing and volunteered my place.

So I've had this dog for a week. But the thing is that I underestimated my schedule -- which is crazy for the next several months (at least) and I wasn't aware that the poor dog, in addition to the Kennel Cough, was skin and bones and would need some fattening up.

I also discovered that she hated being crated and wouldn't eat while she was crated. If left alone and uncrated she STILL wouldn't eat without someone there AND she expressed her displeasure at being left alone by pooping in my floor. And trust me, she's capable of holding it she just didn't WANT to.

As a result, she had to be crated during the day but in an effort to fatten her up I was running home at noon on my lunch break and walking her a little bit and feeding her. The problem with this is that then I wasn't getting to eat MY lunch... which was taking a toll on me.

I was only scheduled to keep her for a week but I soon realized there was no way I could extend it any longer than that simply because my schedule wasn't being fair to her. She needed someone in a better situation than me to care for her -- she needed someone who would be home during the day to take care of her and make sure she ate as needed.

Also, she is a sweet dog, really, but she's not the dog I would choose for myself. I liked her but I never really bonded with her so in some ways I have no problems returning her to the shelter... BUT....

I do feel a little bad. I really DO wish I could take care of her better. She's still on the road to recovery from the Kennel Cough but she isn't fully over it yet and she's still thin despite me trying to get her to eat at every opportunity. I wish I could have kept her until she was fully well but I know that, in a way, she won't GET fully well until she's in a situation where she can eat more often.

But at least I HAVE learned something... I know what it's going to take for me to have a dog of my own. I know some of the pitfalls and I know that my current schedule just isn't fair to a poor animal who only wants to love and please.

So, farewell little Genie. I hope you find a good long-term foster home and then I hope you get adopted to someone who will love you and give you the attention you need.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Okay, So I'm Here

I *did* think of something to say.

The group Improv Everywhere staged a Star Wars reenactment on a New York subway recently...

The thing about this is that every year at Chicago Comic Con people who attend the con in costume can be seen riding the el. I once really *did* see a Princess Leia and a phalanx of Stormtroopers getting off the el to head to the con. Of course THEY didn't reenact a scene along with it.

Here's another bit they did, at the request of the New York Public Library... and you know what movie famously featured the New York Public Library, don't you?.....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I'm tired, I'm busy as aitch-ee-double toothpicks, I'm a bit stressed around the edges, and it's beastly hot and I keep having to walk the dog I'm fostering.

In short, no time to think up clever little blog posts and no time to work on the next Grab Bag review.

The Grab Bag review is being held up by the fact that this was a relatively recent purchase DVD and I haven't even watched it yet (although I did see it years ago on PBS when I was younger) so I didn't know until I popped the case that this one is actually a double disk set. One disk contains the story as it originally broadcast and one disk contains an 'expanded and enhanced' version (by which I assume it has restored cut scenes and better special effects). So, wanting to give all fairness to the story I want to watch both versions before I write up my review... and I have no time to finish watching it all. So the next Grab Bag review will be a little late. And since I have nothing else to really say.... as my mom always says "Look for me when you see me coming."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Random-Random Day

Because I feel like it...

THIS is why Godzilla is cool...

Because Eddie Izzard is always funny. And Eddie Izzard plus Lego animations are astoundingly silly. Warning: Mild swear word used.

And because a YouTube poster named Babelcolour is freakin' AWESOME!

And just because this is sheer, unadulterated insanity: