Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Nero Wolfe Reviews: "Black Orchids"

This 1942 book would be the first of Rex Stout's to collect short stories into a single volume. It would not be the last. Most of Stout's short story collections would put two or three stories in a volume but rarely more than that.

The two stories contained here are "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death". Since both stories really do stand each on their own I'm looking at them separately for my review.

The other thing to make Black Orchids a little different is that the stories are connected and that . It is a somewhat tenuous connection but they are deliberately linked together with a bit of narration from Archie Goodwin. Other volumes of stories did not necessarily link the stories together. Here the link is, as the title suggests, rare black orchids.

The Plot: Black Orchids: Wolfe actually leave the brownstone again. This time he treks to a flower show to see the black orchids a rival orchid enthusiast has bred. When a murder occurs, though, and threatens scandal Wolfe undertakes to flush out the killer... for a very specific fee.

My Take: In point of fact, the method for murder here is rather needlessly convoluted and one can think of a dozen or more different ways it could have gone wrong. Stout's succumbing to a bit of theatrical flourish (okay, more theatrical flourish since, really, you can't get any more theatrical than Wolfe himself) does hurt the story a little bit. Stout quickly gets back on track, though, with a twisty little murder which hits all the right notes and concludes with a bang which manages to show off just how cold-hearted Wolfe can be sometimes.

Favorite Quote: The dick got out his memo book and wrote it down. "I don't think it was deliberate", he said. "I think she just changed her mind. I think she just --"

"You think? You say you think?"

"Yes, Inspector, I --"

"Get out. Take another man, take Dorsey, and go to that address and look into her. Don't pick her up. Keep on her. And for God's sake don't think. It's repulsive the idea of you thinking."

The Plot: Cordially Invited to Meet Death: A famous party organizer and all around eccentric come to hire Wolfe to find out who is initiating a smear campaign against her -- intimating she is uncovering secrets about her wealthy clients and then gossiping them about. Before he can sole the mystery, however, his client dies of tetanus -- a terrible accident. Wolfe feels honor bound to fulfill his contract though... by proving this was no accident but actually a cunning murder!

My Take: This one is likely to give you a kind of "mood whiplash" but in a surprisingly fun way. The story is filled with eccentric characters and crazy situations which make you laugh out loud but then there is nothing funny about the murder... or the murderer. It is interesting to see Stout tackle this kind of emotional balancing act though -- keeping the humor and the drama both in check and it should come as no surprise that he seems to do it effortlessly. It is also interesting to note that this story illustrates as well how far medical science has come in the intervening years since people in the U.S. today rarely die of Tetanus if they receive proper medical treatment -- even after onset of symptoms.

Favorite Quote: "The bottle in that cupboard contained good iodine at four o'clock that afternoon."

Cramer growled. Daniel demanded, "How do you know that?"

"Because it was used that hour. By Archie. He tripped on an alligator and scratched his hand."

And for the record -- that isn't Wolfe making a joke. The story contains a real, live alligator, a chimpanzee and a bear.

Taken as a whole, both stories in Black Orchid are fine examples of Stout's prowess with the pen and way around a good mystery. I have to say, however, from a personal standpoint, "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" is the stronger of the two with it's combination of more humor and drama and slightly less ridiculous method for murder.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grab Bag Reviews: "Real Time"

And now for something.... a little different.

As I've mentioned before, in 'the Wilderness Years' when Doctor Who was off the air, the BBC licensed out the rights to the show. Book publishing went to billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin media empire and the audio rights went to a company called Big Finish.

Big Finish began doing audio dramas featuring four of the five surviving Doctors -- the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann -- who otherwise only got one poorly received TV movie to his name). They also rounded up many of the actors and actresses who played companions in the past to reprise those roles alongside the Doctors.

The idea was that the audios were stories which happened in-between the television serials. Since, by the modern era, the show rarely had serials which were obviously linked this was reasonably plausible. Big Finish, however, also began branching out to introduce new companions which also fell in-between the televised stories. So the Fifth Doctor and companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) picked up an ancient Egyptian princess named Erimem as a traveling companion for a while, the Seventh Doctor picked up a young nurse named Hector, "Hex" Schofield, and the Sixth Doctor picked up, among others, a fifty-five year-old history professor named Evelyn Smythe (played by actress Maggie Stables).

In 2002, the BBC, interested in taking more advantage of the opportunities offered by the web, approached Big Finish with a proposition -- to create an original Doctor Who story which featured a complete audio cast along with limited flash-based animations. Big Finish agreed and a story was created featuring the Sixth Doctor -- Colin Baker. At that time, in the Big Finish audios, Evelyn Smythe was the Sixth Doctor's companion and so she became the Doctor's companion for "Real Time" -- making it the first time a non-canon companion has appeared on a BBC sponsored story. It would also mark a costume change for the Doctor as the animators found the Sixth Doctor's clashing coat impossible to translate to the simplified animations. As such a new, blue coat was designed. This outfit would prove quite popular with fans (gee, I can't imagine why) to the point where it has even been featured as a variant in a Sixth Doctor action figure.

Due to the Internet limitations of the time the story was decided to run in 12 minute parts for a total of 60 minutes. The story was also supposed to take place as near as possible in "real time" -- so a five minute conversation between characters would take up five minutes in the story as well.

"Real Time" can still be found and listened to on the BBC's Classic Doctor Who website HERE. The flash animations no longer seem to work (or at least I can't get them to work) but the audio plays perfectly well and the story doesn't really need the animations to be followed. Fair warning though -- the story has to be played using Real Player. If you don't have Real Player loaded on your computer you might have some problems listening.

And now, on to the review!

The Plot: In the 33rd century two archaeological teams go missing from a strange planet. The last communication from them mentions a temporal wave... and Cybermen. A third team is dispatched to solve the mystery and the Doctor is asked along as an expert in both the Cybermen and time.

The team soon discovers a temporal gateway inside and temple and the expedition leader is pulled through only to be returned mere moments later converted into a Cyberman! The other missing archaeologists have been similarly converted and they converge on the rescue team threatening to kill everyone unless the Doctor gives them the secrets to his TARDIS!

The Doctor knows that with the TARDIS at their control nowhere and nowhen would be safe from the Cybermen. But the stakes are even higher than he realized as he learns that in this time and this place the timeline is in flux and there is a horrible potential past and future for the Earth which could become a reality as well. The Doctor must step very carefully now because the whole of time -- past and future -- rests on his decisions...

My Take: I love audio dramas. I have loved them since I listened to my first Flash Gordon at the age of 16. Modern audio stories get to benefit from bigger and better casts, better recording technology, better sound effects and original music... all of which this story has.

Doing Doctor Who in what basically amounts to an audio format also has the added benefit of not being bound by the limits of technology or budget for special effects. The only limitation to the visuals here is the power of the listener's imagination. Which is actually a mixed blessing... as I'll get into later.

The performances range from good to mediocre -- as does the script really. Colin Baker gets to show off a more tempered version of the Doctor than the one which appeared in the television episodes. To be honest, I used to hate Baker's version of the Doctor until I listened to a few of the audios. The Big Finish writers managed to strike a perfect balance -- still keeping the haughtiness, the arrogance, and the smug superiority but dialing them all back down from '11' and then cutting them with a greater sense of empathy and a deep warmth for his companion. In point of fact, at one point in the story the Doctor remarks upon the "love I hold for Evelyn" -- something that never would have happened in the TV stories where he was too busy insulting the intelligence of his companion there.

Maggie Stables is also quite fine as Evelyn. An older, more measured and feisty companion -- someone who is willing to take the Doctor to task and take him down a peg or two when his arrogance threatens to fly to high. Stables and Baker play off of one another well and comfortably -- which is a sign of the established working relationship the two had by this point in time.

The rest of the cast is where things get a little tricky. Most of the supporting cast are steady but not exceptional with a few missteps where they are obviously overplaying their roles with the misguided thinking that they need to "sell" the part more because the audience cannot see their faces. Probably the weakest link is Yee Jee Soo playing the character of Reece Goddard. Soo already had a history with Doctor Who having appeared in the 1996 made-for-TV movie featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. Here Soo's tone is almost universally off. He comes across as awfully bright and cheerful most of the time which is just wrong considering most of what is happening in the script.

And then there's the script. It, too, is uneven. Many scenes come off forced -- for example the "banter" between members of the rescue team which is supposed to indicate a warm camaraderie and a long-standing friendship between the characters. Instead it feels false -- an imperfect imitation of real banter. There are also many scenes which go into "info-dump mode" (as I like to call it) where one of the characters suddenly turns into Captain Exposition (insert heroic trumpet fanfare here) imparts a tremendous amount of information -- usually in the form of backstory -- in one huge splat. And the audience's eyes glaze over in response. Of course, some of this might be forgiven due to the time limitations the story was operating under. But really, if the time limitations were hurting that much perhaps a simpler story should have been told.

Where script writer Gary Russell really excels here, though, is in playing around with that central idea of the show: Time. There is non-TARDIS time travel involved, potential alternate timelines which might become the real timeline, and threats to the stability of the past and the future -- all with the Doctor at the heart of it. And isn't that what Doctor Who is supposed to be about?

The sound effects used are also good -- helping to tell the story without overwhelming it. In point of fact they might be too good. And here's where having an active imagination is a curse... as well as being another problem with the script. There is death here. And it's gruesome and horrible even without any visuals. At several points the website warns that there are scenes which might be inappropriate for younger audiences. And that's a problem... on multiple levels.

For one, it shows one of the problems which hit the show in later years as well as one of the problems with a lot of the spin-off media... Doctor Who for an adult audience. Over the course of decades the show had slowly been pushing the envelope. It didn't want to be considered a "kids' show" and it pushed with more sophisticated stories, more stories with themes which resonated with an older audience, etc. By the time the show went off the air it's target audience was far more 'teens and up' than 'whole family viewing'. When it came to the books, many of them also told darker stories with death, destruction, blood, torture, and the like. The BBC may have put "Real Time" on their website but it's audience was definitely not younger computer users.

For another thing... well, it's very off-putting. I'm not a fan of horror movies; they're not my bag of goods and several scenes here skate pretty close to horror movie levels. For example, one of the expedition team members has his head crushed by a Cyberman. He screams in pain and fear for several seconds before the inevitable 'crunch-squish'. Likewise, we listen as another team member is converted into a Cyberman. We hear whirring machinery and his screams going on and on and on until they start taking on an electronic tone and then finally stop. Ugh. Seriously, I sat and shuddered. It was really uncalled for and also, if this had been something shown on TV they never would have gone that far. But somehow not having the visuals is supposed to make it more okay to write something so horrific. Ick. No thank you.

If you're someone like me who hated the Sixth Doctor then this is actually a pretty good place to start to see what kind of Doctor Colin Baker really could have been if only he had been given better scripts. It's also a fascinatingly complex time travel story. Fair warning though -- the story ends on something of a cliffhanger which was never resolved. After this the BBC decided to do all of their web-based stuff in-house and so did not collaborate with Big Finish again and Big Finish decided not to do a sequel of their own. As such this story has officially been labeled as "non-canon" by both the BBC and Big Finish. It also has some scenes not for the faint of heart. If you're curious, though, it's free and a fairly decent waste of an hour's time if for no other reason than a look at what might have been for Colin Baker.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Doctor Who: "The Daleks" Addendum

Any discussion of the serial "The Daleks" should probably include the story's 'younger brother' -- Doctor Who and the Daleks.

Deciding to capitalize on the popularity of both Doctor Who and the Daleks the BBC licensed out the show for the first time in 1965 to a British movie production company. The production company chose to adapt the serial "The Daleks" for it's first movie.

Having a bigger budget, the film company could produce better special effects and also had the benefit of being in color. taking advantage of this, the film company created their own Dalek props and made them in bright, primary colors. As part of a side deal, after the movie was over the BBC was allowed to keep a couple of the movie Daleks and would use them as part of their Dalek stable for years.

The production company kept the original story intact -- in fact, almost completely so -- but they chose to recast the film and change several things about the nature of the Doctor and his companions...

In the movie version the Doctor, played by Peter Cushing (yes, Governor Tarkin himself), is a kindly, fully human, absent-minded inventor literally named "Doctor Who". He lives with his two granddaughters -- Barbara Who and Susan Who. Yeah, I know, it sounds like the output from another "Doctor" -- Doctor Seuss. But anyway.... So one night, Barbara's boyfriend Ian comes over and the Doctor decides to show off his latest invention -- a machine that can travel in time and space -- that the Doctor has named Tardis. No, not THE TARDIS, the ship's name is simply Tardis. Like how Han Solo's ship is named the Millennium Falcon.

So, as you can imagine, the ship takes off accidentally and lands on Skaro where events play out pretty much as they did in the original story. The biggest differences are that Peter Cushing's Doctor is a more kindly soul than Hartnell's at that point and the character of Ian was transformed into a bumbling idiot.

It's an entertaining enough little movie but it is very definitely not canon to the TV show. The humor is pretty heavy-handed... particularly the way Roy Castle, the actor playing Ian, does it.

This one was never really a favorite of mine. Despite the problems I had with the original serial I still found it a better story than the movie despite the fact that the movie is almost word for word the same as the serial. There are just differences in tone and action which give the serial more weight.

If you're curious, though, the whole movie can be watched, free and legal, on YouTube. You have to put up with a few commercials but what the heck...

The movie was also released on DVD several years back so you can probably find it on Netflix or something if you don't want to slog through the commercials.

Getting Cooky With It: Almond-Apple Grilled French Toast Sandwich

New Recipe Experiment a SUCCESS!! Almond-Apple French Toast Grilled Sandwiches.

Prepare egg batter as you would usually for French Toast (I like to do mine with a couple of eggs, a little skim milk and a heavy dose of cinnamon and nutmeg).

Take two pieces of bread (your choice)

Spread Almond Butter on both pieces of bread (Can use Peanut butter if you like but I made mine with almond butter)

Take one apple (your choice, I made mine with Gala apples), thinly sliced.

Place one layer of sliced apples on top of almond butter on one of the slices of bread. Put bread together as if making a sandwich.

Dip whole sandwich in egg mixture.

Fry over low to medium low heat in skillet (basically, you don't want to flash fry this -- you want it to end up toasty and golden brown on the outside but with the almond butter and apples in the middle to be gooey and warm).

Serve with syrup, or a cinnamon syrup or dust with a light cinnamon-sugar mixture.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Daleks"

Ah-ha! Here we go then... the first appearance of the monsters which would come to define and symbolize Doctor Who. There is not a single incarnation of the Doctor who has not faced the Daleks at least once with the exception of the Eighth Doctor... unless you count the audio stories... but that's another story. Anyway... DALEKS!!!

It was still only 1963 and at the time of filming the first episode of the series hadn't even aired yet. Doctor Who, however, was already suffering from some of the problems with late scripts which would plague the show intermittently for years. As such, a script from a relative newcomer to writing for science fiction TV was pushed up to be the second serial of the series. The writer was Terry Nation.

Producer Verity Lambert was also taking a chance on Nation's script. The department head, and her boss, Sydney Newman, had made it clear from the start that he wanted "no bug-eyed monsters" on Doctor Who. Newman was well aware of the show's science fiction elements but he felt it would be detrimental to the program to include alien monsters. Lambert, however, was in need of a finished script to shoot and she also believed very strongly in Nation's story.

For his part, in later interviews Nation claimed that he wrote the script intending for it to educate children on the dangers of fascism. Nation had lived through WW II and was aware that the generation of children who would be watching the show would grow up only knowing the war though history books. As such he wanted an allegory to teach them the dangers of extreme viewpoints and to stand up against those views when they found them. Because of this, over the years, even more would be made of the ties between Nazism and the Daleks in later stories... particularly "Genesis of the Daleks".

Set designers, prop makers, and costumers also got their first crash course in Doctor Who sci-fi as they created the planet Skaro, the costumes for the humanoid Thals, the city of the Daleks and, of course, the Daleks themselves. It is a testament to their skill that, other than a little tweaking, the design has remained largely the same for over 47 years. And it should be noted that, although Nation gave some basic descriptions of the Daleks in his script it was the prop designer who truly designed the look of the Daleks.

When the first episode of the serial aired Sydney Newman was quite angry to find that his rule against "bug-eyed monsters" seemed to have been ignored. A few weeks later, however, when the audience figures came in and it was apparent that Daleks were the talk of the town he issued a written apology to Lambert and promised to allow her to make the decisions on what was best for the show.

The Daleks were a hit and they would go on to menace time and time again.

But is that first episode all it's cracked up to be? Or is it merely enshrined in viewer's hearts because it was the first?

The Plot: The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan and his still recently kidnapped Ian and Barbara land on a strange, alien planet. Disappointed at not being returned to Earth, Ian and Barbara still join in the exploration... for a time. When the Doctor wants to investigate a strange city, however, the others refuse and insist they leave the planet. The Doctor sabotages the TARDIS in order to get his way but upon arriving in the city the explorers are taken prisoner by the Daleks! The group also realizes that they are suffering from radiation poisoning but that there is another race of beings on the planet -- the Thals -- and that the Thals left them drugs to cure them back at the ship!

Susan retrieves the drugs and meets one of the Thals, who informs her that the Thals wish to make peace with the Daleks. Susan delivers this message back to the Daleks and the Daleks agree to peace... or so it seems. The time and space travelers soon learn it is all a trap for the Thals and they helped lure the Thals into it!

Upon escaping the Daleks the Doctor soon learns that a part vital to the TARDIS was left behind in the Dalek city. They must stage a raid to get it back but can they count on the help of the pacifistic Thals? Even if they get the help can the now primitive Thals stand a chance against the technically superior Daleks? And meanwhile, what plans are the Daleks hatching to remove the Thals from the face of the planet forever?

My Take: With this being a very early story in the series there is still a sense of the writers and actors getting their legs under them a bit. There are also some striking characterizations which would change over time and so viewers might find these interesting precursors for what would come.

"The Daleks" features a very different Doctor than the one we would become used to. Here the Doctor is a conniving [insert somewhat impolite term for a person born outside the bounds of marriage] as well as somewhat cold and uncaring towards his unwilling companions -- for example, at one point the Doctor is quite ready to go off and leave the missing Barbara without a single concern for her welfare. This aspect of the Doctor's personality would be changed with the very next story ("Edge of Destruction") but for "The Daleks" it is still in place. Of course it is interesting in that the Doctor's selfish actions put himself and Susan in danger and he is forced to admit to Ian and Barbara that he is at fault here and has no one to blame but himself -- a nice little moment of thaw for the cantankerous old coot and a hint of the changes to come.

Taking the first several serials as a whole -- from "An Unearthly Child" to "Marco Polo" viewers actually see a character arc for the Doctor. Not only is he self-centered, egotistical, and lacking empathy, he also lacks the impulse to help and interfere. Last year fans were treated to an all-new Doctor who proclaimed that bringing down the government was what he did but here we have a Doctor who declares that that the Thal's predicament isn't any of their affair and they're all just better off leaving. Of course, by the end, we see him actually kind of revelling in what he has done -- encouraging the Thals and promising to stop by and visit them at some point in the future to see how they are getting along. He warms considerably to the point where he becomes more recognizable as the Doctor.

Ian and Barbara also get the meatier character parts with this story. They are disheartened at not being brought back home immediately, they are fearful that they might not get back home at all, and they are increasingly adrift with nothing familiar to cling to except each other. Those scenes between the two actors have a ring of truth and a feeling of real emotion to them. Sadly, they are all too short and never really come up again. Jacqueline Hill's Barbara, however, gets a hinted romance with one of the Thals that is also tentative and rather sweet. The fact that the writers had to downplay the plot element because of the child target audience of the show actually works in its favor -- making it light instead of heavy-handed as most other emotional beats are here.

And therein lies one of the problems with the script -- Terry Nation goes rather heavy-handed on most of the elements. For example, it takes the "outsiders" of Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor to teach the Thals to stand up for themselves -- gotta love that whiff of old-fashioned colonial attitude there. And when the Thals state that they would simply retreat if the Daleks attacked Ian and Barbara are rather horrified by the idea... this of course being a clumsy and thinly veiled attack on former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who went down in infamy for taking an appeasement approach to Nazi Germany. Viewers are also hammered with the idea that the Daleks hate the Thals for no good reason -- merely a dislike of "the Other" -- which is, again, an overly simplistic view of the practices of Nazi Germany. Although Nation was trying to put forth the dangers of radical fascism and the need to oppose them to children the message is sent home with rather more force than is required even for kids to get the idea.

There is one scene which, despite being as heavy handed as the rest, which still manages to soar with some lovely moral ambiguity and that is the scene in which the time travelers discuss getting the Thals to help them. Ian and Susan take the ground that it isn't right to ask the Thals to die for them and the Doctor and (surprisingly) Barbara take a more practical view that if they don't ask the Thals for help them they are condemning themselves to die or at the very least to being stranded on the planet for the rest of their lives. There is actually a good moral discussion here as it is pointed out that Ian and the Doctor have a moral duty to those in their charge but at the same time they also have a moral duty to not try to coerce the Thals into giving up their lives for something that will not benefit them.

For their part, the actors playing the Thals also get their meatiest moments around this discussion. There is something that actually feels rather right in their clinging to pacifism and even when they decide to go to war they do so with caution and deliberation rather than anger or vengeance.

It really is a bit of a shame, though, that almost all of the really interesting stuff -- the characterizations, fascinating dialogue, and moral discussions all come right smack in the middle of the serial... and most of the rest of the serial is like watching someone play a video game.

No, seriously, I realized it as I was watching the last two parts of the serial -- the whole thing seems like the levels of a video game... only with some really boring dialogue. And therein lies the second and third problems with this story -- it's formulaic and padded. Even with only one serial in existence before this one a pattern is starting to emerge -- our heroes get captured, our heroes escape, our heroes have to return to their captors, our heroes have to solve a problem or put a wrong right then they can leave. The trek to the Dalek city that Ian, Barbara and the Thals have to make leading up to the climax of this story really adds nothing to the overall tale. It provides some action/adventure bits but aside from that it doesn't really give us anything new about the Thals or about Ian and Barbara or even the Doctor and Susan. "The Daleks" ended up stretching for seven episodes and the padding quite frankly shows. Entire episodes where our heroes are stuck in a Dalek cell doing little but rehashing the stuff we already know or have already been shown (usually the rule is "show don't tell" or "tell don't show" the rule is never "tell and show"), entire episodes that don't really add anything to the overall story, etc. "The Daleks" probably could have been a really excellent four part story, maybe five parts but at seven parts it overstays it's welcome by far.

There are some other things which help offset the plotting problems. For one, while some of the special effects are not the best in the world the set designers really did a good job with the Dalek city. The low, asymmetrical doorways tell viewers immediately that the inhabitants of this city are not human in shape. They also lead to a palpable feeling of claustrophobia -- a sense that our heroes are trapped even before they really end up trapped. There is also some nice model work and the costumes for the Thals seem nicely alien. And the Daleks. Ah yes, the Daleks. Now, after the passage of all this time, it's rather impossible to imagine them looking or sounding any other way, really. For the time period, however, the design was quite revolutionary and looked like nothing else out there... and probably inspired many a mock Dalek battle at the dinner table using salt and pepper shakers.

Overall, while "The Daleks" definitely holds a place in Who history it suffers from the passage of time and too much padding. Still, there are some really great moments here and it is interesting to see the origins of the show's most iconic monsters. I'd say definitely give this one a watch... but keep the remote control handy to fast forward through the boring parts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grab Bag Reviews: "Enlightenment"

Ah, so this one is a little late. It just took a little while to get through a lot of the DVD extras... and I have to say that this release is really packed with a number of extras which add to the flavor of the story.

"Enlightenment" is a bit of an odd story in a couple of ways. For one thing, despite the fact that Doctor Who began under a woman producer and those early days and points thereafter saw several women directors, the show didn't have a script written by a woman until this serial in 1983. For another thing, the show's script editor at the time, Eric Saward, had expressed a preference for stories which were more firmly science fiction rather than science fantasy and "Enlightenment" would prove to be almost entirely fantasy and allegory.

There was quite a bit going on for Doctor Who when Barbara Clegg's initial script idea came in. Producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner (yep, it's J N-T time again!) and Saward had been recently mining the history of the show for story ideas and they had hit upon bringing back the White and Black Guardians from the Tom Baker years, choosing to have the Black Guardian finally seeking his revenge against the Doctor. To cement the plot they even had the original actors reprise their roles -- Cyril Luckham as the White Guardian and Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian. At the same time, J N-T had come to the conclusion that the character of Nyssa (played by actress Sarah Sutton) had run her course and wanted to replace her with a new companion during the 1982-1983 season.

Back when the character of Adric was being developed for Tom Baker's last season the idea was to create a character who was an "Artful Dodger" type -- a charming thief with a bit of the con artist to him as well. That changed before the character was finally brought to the page but J N-T never quite let go of the idea of having a companion who was less than pure as the driven snow.

In the 1982-1983 season J N-T finally got his wish. Enter Turlough.

Turlough was to be a young alien who had been exiled to Earth for reasons which remained mysterious up until the character's swan song. While still not the "Artful Dodger" type Turlough was definitely not the usual fare for the Doctor's companions. A weasel who tended to blame others for his own mistakes and was perfectly willing to rat people out in order to save his own skin. Young actor Mark Strickson was hired for the role and while he had a certain amount of leeway in the interpretation of the character the broad strokes were already set. J N-T and Saward also tied the character directly in with the Black Guardian.

As the season started to draw to a close in the spring of 1983 it was decided to wrap up the Black Guardian story arc and wrap up Turlough's character arc at the same time. This resulted in three serials which have collectively become known as "The Black Guardian Trilogy". The arc began with "Mawdryn Undead", continued in "Terminus" and then Barbara Clegg was asked to wrap everything up with her story "Enlightement". This meant that she had to add extra elements to her original story idea.

With all of this, did Clegg's story rise to the challenge of fitting in all of the required elements and telling a good story at the same time? Let's take a look....

The Plot: The Doctor, sent on a cryptic mission by the White Guardian, lands the TARDIS on an Edwardian era racing yacht. All is not as it seems, however, as the yacht is one of several boats from different time periods all racing... though space! The race proves to be a contest of powerful, immortal beings known as Eternals. The Eternals, however, lack original thought and imagination and so have picked up Earthlings to crew the ships. Their minds clouded and drugged the Eternals are free to plunder the humans' imaginations to give themsleves life and shape.

Every race has a prize though and in the case that prize is "enlightenment" -- ultimate knowledge. The Doctor must make sure that no eternal wins the race and claims the prize because ultimate knowledge combined with the Eternals' near-limitless power would spell disaster. But how can the Doctor hobble a race that is happening in space? And how does sone beat immortal beings which can read even a Time Lord's thoughts?

As if that were not enough, the Doctor's compaions have their own struggles. Tegan finds herself the recipient of unwanted and unwelcome attention from one of the Eternals and Turlough learns that, when dealing with the Black Guardian, failure can be fatal.

Only one thing is certain in this game... there will be triumph and loss and the losses may be very grave indeed.

My Take: "Enlightenment" is a very deceptive story. Reading the synopsis above it sounds as thought there is a lot involved here and yet, while watching the story, nothing ever seems really confusing. The plot sweeps you up and carries you along with the tide... the solar tide in this case.
Barbara Clegg's script really brings back something that had begun to disappear from the stories around this time period... magic. The scripts had lost a lot of that soaring sense of wonder which captured fans' hearts in the first place. "Enlightenment" gives viewers back that amazement and does so in a story that breaks many of the established "rules" for the series.

For one thing, the Eternals are pretty much literally magical beings. Oh sure, the script never calls them that and there are some off-hand remarks about the Eternals being cosmic entities but the truth is quite clear... we're pretty much dealing with gods here in the mythical sense.

Then there is the fact that the Eternals are not your typical villains for Doctor Who. Captain Striker and Marriner of the Edwaardian racing yacht are creepy, yes, but overall hospitable and even helpful to the Doctor and his companions... when it suits them. The closest thing to a normal villain is the pirate ship's captain -- Wrack. Even at that her motivations are simple and eerily immature. Unlike other villains who have appeared on the series she does not seek to conquer Earth or part of the universe or the galaxy. She doesn't want to rule over people, nor does she hate other beings and want to see them destroyed or assimilated. She does not want to colonize other worlds either. Instead, all she wants is to relieve her boredom. All she wants is the power to entertain herself. It is the Eternal's lack of scale and context, their inability to understand compassion, and their superiority which make them dangerous. They seem less "evil" and more like a three year old with a potentially loaded handgun... only on a cosmic scale.

This ties into the allegory that Clegg was making in her story. At one point the Black Guardian says that the Eternals have no understanding of good and evil but that enlightenment will change that. This is obviously a metaphor for the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden from the biblical story in Genesis.

Clegg even goes farther -- painting them not just devoid of understanding of basic morality and compassion but also showing them to be completely devoid of original thought. They have lived so long and lost so much, or never had it to begin with, that they actually need Ephemerals so that they can raid their minds for new ideas and to give themselves shape, form, and something at feels at least a little like real life.

This theme also is highlighted in Tegan's character story with the Eternal, Marriner. She is disconcerted by his lack of humanity and disturbed by his ability to read minds but at the same time there is a kind of twisted romance to the plot. Marriner seems to woo Tegan with many of the words and forms which are usually used in romances but he does not understand love -- his focus is instead about living vicariously through Tegan's thoughts. Women have long been heard to say that they want a man who is interested in them for their minds but Clegg turns that into something literal here... and it comes off as cold and creepy and even more inhuman.

If there is a real villainous figure here it is the Black Guardian and his feature in Turlough's character arc also contains some religious/moral overtones. There are elements of Faust> in the tale as Turlough comes to regret his bargain as he realizes near death that evil simply doesn't care. This throws the Doctor into the position of the agent of good in offering rescue and forgiveness.

All is not perfect with the script, however. Despite the fact that Clegg says on the DVD extras that she was familiar with the character of Tegan her writing doesn't really capture that character well. The bold, spirited woman is really missing here and in her place is a character who is timid and unusually frightened in this situation.

There are a few other problems as well... mostly with the performances. Valentine Dyall's his first appearance as the character in 1979 lasted something less than five minutes so it was hard to see how he would have played the character back then. Reprising the role in 1983 he had a greater opportunity to flesh things out... and not always in a good way. To be fair, his rich, dark, voice was perfect for the character and he is obviously having a ball playing it but he's having a bit too much fun. Dyall overplays nearly every scene he's in. In point of fact on more than one occasion he actually laughs with one of the most staged, over-the-top, supervillain style laughs I've ever heard (and I grew up watching the Superfriends so that should tell you something). He actually goes "Nyaha-ha-ha-ha-ha". At that point you just can't help bursting out laughing and there goes every drop of menace the character is supposed to exhude out the window.

The other over-the-top perpetrator here is Mark Strickson. Overall, Stickson honestly did a good job with Turlough. Strickson's own long, thin face was perfect for conveying the character's weasely, cowardly nature and most of the time he perfectly pitched the character's superiority complex and snide nature. In his scenes with Dyall here, though, he not only dials the angst up to 11 he rips the knob off and blasts it into outer space. It really takes all of the steam out of the scenes.

A lot of people also like to complain about the character of Captain Wrack as played by Lynda Baron claiming that she, too is over the top. I suppose she is... a little... but I actually find her portrayal not that disconcerting. It is theatrical but it is also coming from a character which seems naturally theatrical -- someone who adores spectacle and who relishes playing to every trope and stereotype she can find.

There is some padding to the script as well but it isn't necessarily all that noticeable -- particularly thanks to the set designers and costumers who really went to town for this story. "Enlightenment" was entirely studio filmed -- no outside recording at all -- and yet you really don't notice it. Unlike other studio-bound stories this one never feels claustrophobic or like it's spinning it's wheels in the same corridors. The sets really make the audience feel like they are looking at the cabins and corridors of actual sailing ships. The costumes are equally authentic (well, mostly, and even when they aren't precisely authentic they are, at least, stylish) and both costumes and sets have weathered the passage of time well. The same can't be said of the special effects but even then the show was at least trying to push the limits of their special effects budget at the time and they aren't that bad.

But this brings us to the biggest and flashiest extra on this DVD set... A whole new cut of the story with updated special effects designed and envisioned by the original director of the story. Make no mistake about it, the new special effects really are spiffy (except a few which don't come off very well) and help flush out certain parts of the story. There are also a few new musical cues added which are appropriately grandiose and epic and add to the scale but there is another cost to this... there are scenes cut. Some of the scenes are quite rightly cut -- not really adding anything to the action -- but there are other scenes which actually detract from some of the color of the characters and even, in one case, character development. For example, a scene between the Doctor and Turlough which starts to show the idea that Turlough has changed enough that earning the Doctor's disapproval actually bothers him is cut in the special edition. Because of this both the original and the special editions have their positives and negatives but one cannot be said to be superior to the other. Watch and enjoy both.

And "Enlightenment" definitely goes on my list of "Doctor Who stories which everyone should see". It is filled with intriguing ideas and concepts, it breaks out of the standard mold for the series and it provides some nice character developments all told within a highly entertaining and imaginative story.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Sting of the Green Hornet....

So, yeah, just got back from the movie.

I didn't bother with the 3-D version this time. For the type of movie this was supposed to be I felt like it wasn't necessary.

Anyway, as something of a Green Hornet fangirl (was listing to the radio shows back when I was about 17 and I own one of the old serial movies which were produced) I was..... surprisingly okay with this film.

The Green Hornet was created for radio -- station WXYZ in Detroit to be specific -- and so didn't really have much of an origin story to begin with. No tragic background, no real, defining moment -- just a young man who decided to do something about crime and corruption.

In the original stories Britt Reid was the son of Daniel Reid, newspaper publisher. Daniel, getting up there in years, decided to semi-retire and put his son Britt in charge of the paper. When Britt chose to become the Green Hornet he intended to be a hero but due to some people mistaking the Hornet's motivations and thinking that because he wore a mask he was a criminal he got branded as such. Initially, he tried to disabuse people of this notion but he soon quit and decided to embrace it. And he later learned he was following a family tradition of sorts because Britt himself was the great-grandnephew of the Lone Ranger.

So this new movie really did have a chance to start with a clean slate. And it does -- taking twists and turns that the original radio writers probably would have been scandalized by. And you know what? I don't mind. The movie is it's own thing.

Maybe because the Green Hornet is a character that has lain fallow for so long that's why it feels more open to reinterpretation. Unlike characters like Batman or Iron Man which have been published at least in monthly comic books for years if not actively appearing in cartoons or live action on a regular basis the Green Hornet doesn't have any recent mythology that people would be familiar with and therefore be offended by.

For me, personally, I just see it as a kind of reboot of the character. Seth Rogan and director Michael Gondry have taken elements of the original -- Britt's father as a respected newspaper publisher and editorialist/journalist, the newspaper's name of the Daily Sentinel, Kato, the sleeping gas gun, and the costumes, the desire to do go and save the city from it's own corruption, and being considered villains instead of heroes -- and mixing it together with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and some good-natured ribs at superhero comic books and movies.

Make no mistake about it -- there is cheese here -- enough cheese for a fondue party that serves 100. There is also a lot of humor -- little is taken seriously. But at the same time there is a lot of humanness. Rogan's Britt Reid doesn't become a badass fighter overnight (or with the help of a ten minute training montage either) nor once he and Kato decide to do all this do they immediately and automatically know what to do or where to go. There is some real humanity in this as you have two characters who are fumbling their way toward destiny.

It also helps that Rogan and co-star Jay Chou (Kato) have good onscreen chemistry and the movie wisely spends quite a bit of time setting up their friendship, their brotherhood, and the ups and downs it faces. Despite the presence of Cameron Diaz in this film she's not the girlfriend or the love interest here. The relationship at the heart of this film isn't a romantic one -- it's a friendship based one. And THAT is honest-to-God refreshing for a change!

There is also a nicely conflicted relationship with Britt Reid's father. James Reid is a jerk and we dislike him from the start but later revelations begin to change at least some of those beliefs. This is reflected by Britt as well. There are things his father did that he can understand and other things that are going to take a little longer to sort out but he reaches a kind of peace with the man -- a complex, not simple peace. And that's refreshing as well since most superhero parents tend to be portrayed as near-saints when they are tragically killed and which then enshrines their saintliness. Not so much here.

In all fairness, there are some jokes that fall a little flat and the villain, crime boss Chudnofsky, doesn't really work for me... not in the way he's intended to. In point of fact, I actually find him rather boring in almost every scene he's in. Also, there is a "plot twist" that if you honestly don't see coming you're not paying attention. There are also scenes which are so over-the-top they break your suspension of disbelief.

I also have to say that, on a personal level, I have a little problem with the body count. The Green Hornet and Kato seem a bit loo casual about killing. Avoiding killing people was a hallmark of the original character and I know, you're going to say that it was a different time period and a different audience and that is true; but it also played into the character -- the Green Hornet liked to out-think and out-swindle his enemies rather than engage in big shoot-outs with them.

All-in-all, an entertaining film with some real room for growth if it earns enough money to warrant a sequel. There is a lot of humor, some really great action sequences courtesy of Jay Chou, and a heavy dose of humanity. I can't see that springing the extra dough for 3-D is worth it and if you're on the fence about this one see it in matinee or rush hour showing for cheaper.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NBC's "The Cape"

So, yeah, I had nearly forgotten about this new show until someone reminded me. An unabashedly superhero live-action show? And featuring an all-new character? That intrigued me enough to check it out.

And the verdict.....

It's not *quite* there... yet.

A little basic plot information for those of you who haven't heard about this series....

Vincent Faraday is a good cop among corruption in Palm City. Most notably, Palm City has a new criminal in town -- a flamboyant, masked mastermind called Chess. Wealthy businessman Peter Fleming, however, thinks he can save Palm City by having his own company, ARK, provide police services -- making it the first city to have a private police force.

Vince, however, stumbles onto Chess's secret and for that Chess punishes him by framing Vince as Chess. Believed dead and his name ruined, Vince is driven underground where he finds allies willing to help him survive. But are they willing to help him get justice? Vince has a crazy idea -- to show his young son that heroes still exist and to stand up to Chess and clear his name by taking on the superhero identity of his son's favorite comic book hero -- the Cape.

Palm City is about to find a new kind of defender....

And if all the above sounds cheesy, well.... it is. But you know what? It's cheesy in a good way -- in a surprisingly charming way. But it still has a lot of problems.

Let's get the the good first.

The show is unashamedly superhero. Unlike shows like Heroes or Smallville who wanted to explore superhero dynamics in the "real world" without "silly" costumes (or at least Smallville felt that way up until several years ago when everyone started breaking out the costumes) "The Cape" comes right out and puts it's main villain and it's hero in costumes. Good for them; it reminds me of the live-action superhero shows that were on TV when I was a kid.

The series also decided to create it's own hero and mythology from scratch. There are a ton of superhero comic books out there. Not just the ones you've heard of from movies and TV like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and Iron Man but also the likes of Invincible, Darkhawk, the Black Coat, Toy Boy, Captain Spectre and many, many more. The show creator's however, decided that instead of licensing something they would create something new using bits and pieces of the past. Excellent! And, well, not so excellent. But we'll get to that later. For now, I applaud these guys for stepping out on a limb and creating something original when they could have saved time and effort by licensing something already created.

The cast. Okay, so there's nothing too stellar here per se but David Lyons as Vince/the Cape is easy on the eyes and in the first two episodes (which were apparently mashed together to form a "two hour pilot"...yeah, more on that later) spent a lot of time wearing tank shirts. Yeah, I'm a chick, I'm entitled to oggle the beefcake once in a while -- sue me! The other nice thing about the cast is Keith David as Maxamillian. David's name is probably not so familiar to you but you're probably more familiar than you know with his voice...

Yeah, it's THAT guy.

Anyway, David is clearly having a ball here and his charm, good humor, and great voice allow the character of Maximillian to steal every scene he's in.

And now for the bad.

The show *is* pretty cheesy. It goes over the top in some places and stretches suspension of disbelief to the point where the cables snap. Not good. For shows like this cheesy is okay but you have to shoot for what writer/producer Carlton Cuse once called "Just under over the top". The writers here have not yet learned how to do that. If they don't it will turn the show into a joke before it even finishes it's first season.

The "original mythology" they're going for is not really all that original. We've got a former Special Forces operative turned cop turned superhero who trains to learn stagecraft magic, misdirection, slight of hand, hypnotism, and more to become a hero. That's Batman right there -- ordinary guy who learns things and trains his body to become a superhero and then fights crime with nothing more than some props, his wits and his fists. We've got a hero who decides to base his superhero ID on a superhero from the comic books he used to read with his son. So, yeah, in the fictional world of The Cape the Cape is a comic book superhero whom Vince decides to bring to life in himself. No matter how metatextual that may seem Gardner Fox got there first in 1956 -- the Silver Age version of the Flash -- Barry Allen -- was inspired to become a hero and took his superhero name from the character of the Flash who appeared in the comic books he read. Then we've got a guy who is presumed dead and, in order to protect his family, decides that he has to remain presumed dead. That's the Lone Ranger. So, you see, a lot of the character beats are cobbled together from a lot of sources and then strung together. Some of them work, some of them don't but the whole thing feels more like a patchwork than a coherent whole.

Now we get to the extras... the family. It's a point of the series that Vince had a wife and son whom he loved. Both remain a part of the show as we see them grieving for their loss, trying to adjust to life without Vince and also trying to deal with the stigma and problems created by the fact that the world believes that Vince was the villainous Chess. Now, on the one hand, having the family is a nice departure from the comic book world. Comic book writers often shy away from having married heroes for various reasons -- although the top two are that many writers feel that they can't inject the right amount of drama unless the characters are free to date around and they just don't know what to do with the spouses. There are a few comic book couples who have managed to get married and stay married (Reed Richards and Sue Storm-Richards of the Fantastic Four being one and Lois Lane and Clark Kent being another) but by and large if a superhero gets married nine times out of ten they will sooner or later end up in divorce court or else the significant other (usually female) will end up dead by the hands of the hero's arch enemy thus causing the hero to go out seeking vengeance. And that kind of storyline tends to suck rocks. Personal opinion of course. And kids! Don't even get me started on superheroes having kids in comic books. It's pretty much a nightmare. The big problem is that comic books kind of like to pretend that time doesn't pass for their characters. Batman, for instance, by and large, has remained perpetually around 35-37 years old. Kids, however, cannot remain kids forever. Sooner or later writers succumb to pressures to start having the kids grow up. But this means that their heroes are growing old as well and if the heroes are growing old then that means they could, theoretically, reach a point where it isn't believable for them to be doing what they're doing. Thus, timelines become a problem. The solution for most writers is to either not introduce children or else get rid of said children when their presence starts becoming problematic. While there are some benign ways of getting rid of the kids (sending them into the future where they grow up and then time travel back to the present as adults, splitting up the parents and having the non-superhero half get custody of the kid, etc.) but there are also some not-so-benign ways of getting rid of kids... like killing them. Yes, I'm looking at YOU DC and Marvel. You know what you've done and shame on you!

Anyway, back to The Cape. So, on the one hand, it's nice to see a show willing to play with a family dynamic when it comes to superheroes. It won't really have to suffer too much from the "aging" problem because we're dealing with real people here and they'll age over time where fictional characters will not. The potential problems are with forward momentum. It isn't necessarily logical to assume that Vince's beautiful wife, Dana will remain single forever when she believes herself to be a widow. And what about Vince? He loves his wife but he cannot be a part of his life and sooner or later will he meet someone who he can be with and can share his life with? Fans won't be happy with getting hung out on a wire if the writers stretch this out too long. It's a variation on the old sexual tension, will-they-won't-they ploy and that gets old after a while and sooner or later something has to be done about it.

Then there is Chess. Flamboyant style, has supervillain written all over him. And that's part of the problem. Back in the Silver Age of comic books it was okay to have a villain who wanted to rule the city or take over the world or whatever "just because" but today we expect more out of our villains. We want motivation, we want to dislike them, to boo and hiss whenever we see them. Or else we want to feel like they're a real threat -- like they can screw up the hero's life so bad that you want to see his get thrown in a dark hole and the door locked and the key thrown away. Or else we want to be conflicted -- feeling a certain amount of sympathy or understanding but at the same time hating them for how they are going about things. No matter what, though, we have to feel something! And right now the writers haven't really given us much reason to hate/fear Chess. Sure, he's doing evil, diabolical things but to what end? Why does he want to control the city? What does he really get out of this? Throw us a bone here!

There are also Chess's henchmen. So far we've seen two -- one, a Budget Rent-A-Car version of the Batman second string villain Killer Croc (and if you don't know who he is Google him -- I've already gone off on too many comic book tangents here) and the other a... well... honestly, I can't pin him to a single comic book villain but he seems a bit of a mash-up of several. Either way, we get some hints of a 'henchmen of the week' villain format potentially for the show and that may prove problematic over time as well if people grow tired of a constant parade of henchmen. And also if the henchmen continue to be both one-note and derivative as these first two have been it will not endear the show to viewers.

And then there was the pacing. The idea of sticking the first two episodes together makes no sense. Since I caught the show late I watched them online and could not imagine them fitting together cleanly. They are what they are -- two separate episodes. If you watch them that way they make a lot more sense.

Even with that, though, the pilot episode has problems. The pacing is off -- the ending comes up too quickly and there are things mentioned which the audience never sees at all and things shown which are never given adequate explanation. This would seem to indicate that the original pilot was probably much longer and then cut down. But then that doesn't make any sense with sticking the second episode with the first to make a two hour opener. If they had a two hour pilot they should have just aired the two hour pilot.

So after rambling on far too long about this the final verdict is: It was fun. It appealed to me as a comic book geek girl, there were enough good performances and enough charm to carry the story over the weaker points, it reminded me of the shows I watched as a kid only with better production values and better written scripts, and most of all it was FUN! The writers still have some bugs to iron out but if they can do so I wouldn't be surprised if this show found it's audience. Of course, I could be wrong and the whole thing could end up falling flat on it's face and being cancelled in six weeks. In the meantime if you're a fan of superheros give this a looksee you can get caught up online through either the network site at or on the free video site Hulu.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Grab Bag Reviews: Tomb of the Cybermen

And I'm back from holiday hiatus. And what better note to come back on than a Second Doctor story?

"Tomb of the Cybermen" was originally considered as the final episode of the 1966-1967 season but the decision was quickly made to push it back to become the opening of the 1967-1968 season. As such "Evil of the Daleks" became the season finale for '66-'67 and "Tomb" would become the first regular episode for the new companion Victoria Waterfield, played by Deborah Watling.

One of the biggest things "Tomb" is notable for is that it is one of the few "lost" stories to be found in whole. Due to the BBC's tape wiping destruction program (which I've mentioned elsewhere) "Tomb" was one of those stories which had been destroyed. In 1991, however, complete film copies were found in storage at a Hong Kong TV station and returned to the BBC. "Tomb" would also be the last complete story to be found. Single episodes of some serials have been located and some surviving clips have cropped up in the years since but "Tomb" was the last serial where all parts of the story were located.

So now shall we venture into the Tomb of the Cybermen?

The Plot: An archaeological team on the planet Telos uncovers the remains of a Cyberman civilization. The Doctor arrives with his companions Jamie and Victoria and insists on joining the expedition -- afraid that the Cybermen may not be as long gone as thought.

It soon becomes apparent that there is a saboteur among the team -- someone with an ulterior motive. When that motive is finally revealed the Doctor finds himself the last line of defense against the Cybermen and a madman. Will even the Doctor's intelligence allow him to save all the lives in his hands?

My Take: Okay. Elephant in the room. Let's get this out of the way first. Toberman. Toberman is a black, nearly mute, servant to Kaftan, one of the members of the archaeological expedition. To American audiences in particular Toberman checks off the boxes on a number of uncomfortable stereotypes. I am not, however, familiar with race relations in Great Britain so I am going to reserve judgement. Also, reportedly, the character of Toberman was supposed to be seen wearing a hearing aid -- indicating that he might have had some other physical disabilities. We'll just leave it that Toberman is likely to make most viewers cringe. Including me.

Now that we're past that....

The story itself is nothing particularly new but script writers Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler give viewers a story packed with wit and one liners and the Doctor getting to really do what he does best -- be the smartest guy in the room effortlessly. They also showcased something new from the Cybermen -- a new leader known as the Cybercontroller. Bigger, stranger, and harder to stop, the Cybercontroller became like the villain in a horror movie -- no matter what you throw at him he keeps getting back up.

Davis and Pedler also didn't forget the heart of the story either. There is a scene between the Doctor and Victoria that is rightfully heralded as one of the best bits of Classic Doctor Who. The Doctor comforts his companion who has recently lost pretty much everything she has ever known and at the same time offers one of those rare revelations about himself. The scene is not only perfectly pitched to tug on the heartstrings, it does so without becoming overly sentimental or schmaltzy. It is also played with a light touch by both Troughton and Watling.

The script also rather favors Victoria. Too bad it would be the last time viewers would ever see her so spunky. True, she does some boneheaded things but that is balanced by a determination to prove that just because she's a girl doesn't mean she can't handle herself, a little bit of snark, and even the ability to handle a gun (although it is strange that this sheltered Victorian girl could shoot so well right out of the gate). After this story, though, the character of Victoria would start a long, slow, slide into being mostly a screaming damsel in distress. Here, though, Watling manages to convey a young woman who is an odd mix of innocence and spirit. She also makes the viewers believe that, despite a wardrobe change, Victoria is and remains a Victorian lady.

And speaking of performances... Troughton, after a year on the job, is completely comfortable as the Doctor -- as is Fraser Hines as Jamie. The two actors present some of the best of their comedy double-team here with puns and jovial insults flying fast and furious. The rest of the guest cast has some problems, however. Actor George Pastell as Eric Klieg is delightfully smug and superior but Shirley Cooklin as Kaftan is a bit too much. She seems more like a femme fatale character who wandered onto the set of the wrong TV show. Plus the character is basically named after a loose, flowing article of clothing. It's impossible to be dignified and taken seriously when your character is named after an outfit. Most of the rest of the actors are serviceable and not particularly outstanding. A special place of ire, however, is reserved for George Roubicek who plays Captain Hopper. Roubicek's American accent isn't horrible in and of itself but he definitely is trying too hard at it and that makes it rather wince inducing.

The set design and special effects for "Tomb" were also pretty well done. Sure, the Cybermats are a bit more cute than frightening (seriously, I think I want a remote controlled Cybermat toy) but the Cybermen base and the tombs below have an alien look to them and the bas reliefs and other art decorations on the wall lend an air of looming menace. The tombs themselves are strange and intimidating but it has to be said that the Cybermen emerging through saran wrap is somewhat less than stellar. But who cares? Overall, the set design team really went above and beyond for this story.

Even with the uncomfortable stereotype of Toberman, "Tomb of the Cybermen" is still a fun romp and one of the Second Doctor's best stories. There is action and adventure, intrigue, madness, and high stakes all around. Who could ask for anything more?