Timestamp #153: The Happiness Patrol

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol
(3 episodes, s25e05-e07, 1988)

 

“Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.”

A woman walks down a melancholy corridor and is approached by a man who offers to help with her suffering. He invites her to a secret place where people share their sadness, but when she accepts his offer he reveals himself: Silas P of the Happiness Patrol, Undercover Division. As the “killjoy” is arrested, the Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS, musing about the invasion of the dinosaurs, unimpressed with the “lift music” and artificial happiness filtering through the city.

Silas P is awarded for his stellar work, but his superior is also suspicious about his ambition. Elsewhere, our travelers explore the city and encounter Trevor Sigma, a man thoroughly unimpressed by the Doctor’s college nickname of Theta Sigma. Ace wanders off and finds a bench riddled with bullet holes, prompting the Doctor to get them arrested. They find members of the Happiness Patrol painting the TARDIS pink, and are apprehended for lack of identification. The Doctor is taken away as a spy while Ace is forced to audition for the Patrol.

The Doctor and Ace find a killjoy named Harold V, a terrible joke writer formerly known as Harold F (minion to colony leader Helen A, the superior from before). Their guard warns the Doctor that while this place isn’t a prison, he would be killed if he crosses the perimeter line. I simply love the sight gag here as the Doctor guides his foot away from the line with his umbrella.

Helen A rules a society where sadness is outlawed. Under her rule, any emotion other than happiness (even in clothing) is punished by the Kandy Man, an unseen party who experiments on the captives. As an example, a killjoy is executed by being enclosed in a metal pipe and drown in strawberry-flavored fondant. As Ace and the Doctor plot an escape, planning to take Harold with them, Helen kills her former servant by remote fatal electric shock. They locate a go-kart, disarm the bomb that would have prevented their escape, and use it to (slowly and comedically) drive away. Ace is re-captured, providing a chance for the Doctor to escape.

Ace meets Susan Q, a secretly depressed member of the Patrol. After a heart-to-heart discussion, Susan gives Ace the key to their room, allowing her to escape. Unfortunately, she is captured again soon. On the streets, the Doctor encounters an undercover Silas, but a blues player named Earl Sigma – the appellation “Sigma” means visitor – helps the Time Lord to escape. Unfortunately, the Patrol finds Silas in his dark garb and executes him accordingly. The Doctor and Earl infiltrate the Kandy Man’s lair, but they too are captured.

Ace is marched by gunpoint back to her audition while the Doctor and Earl are strapped down for torture. The Doctor appeals to the Kandy Man’s insecurities, learns about his methods of executions, and traps him in a sticky puddle of lemonade. The Doctor and Earl escape with a quip into the pipelines and encounter a gang of creatures. These creatures, driven underground by human settlers, lead the duo to safety and Trevor Sigma. Earl splits off on his own as Trevor and the Doctor visit Helen. The Doctor learns all about Helen’s population control measures and confronts her.

Ace is reunited with Susan after the Patrol discovers her duplicity. Susan is taken away for execution and one of the pipeline creatures frees Ace. Helen releases her dog-creature Fifi into the pipeline to deal with the annoyance, but Ace subdues the threat with a can of Nitro-9. They then travel through the pipes to Susan’s execution.

The Doctor reunites with Earl and learns of a protest and the snipers that have them pinned down. The Doctor confronts the snipers and disarms them with their own morality. He then returns to the kitchens to deal with the Kandy Man, unsticking the being from the floor in exchange for a flow diversion that saves Susan’s life. The Doctor then resticks the Kandy Man and escapes.

Helen puts Ace back on track for Patrol auditions, and the Doctor is drawn to the show by posters in the streets. The Doctor asks Earl to bring the protestors as a citizen comes to mark another audition poster with “RIP.” It seems that the penalty for failing the audition is death. The Doctor retires to a set of stairs in the Forum with Trevor Sigma (before the auditor leaves the planet) to discuss a list of disappearances under Helen’s rule.

Helen sends a freshly healed Fifi into the pipes to chase the people who live there. Back at the stairs, Ace and the Patrol arrive and the Doctor defeats the Patrol with happiness and joviality among the protestors. The Doctor, Ace, and Susan take the Patrol’s security vehicle, leaving the Patrol to fight among themselves, and enter the pipes to deal with Fifi. The Doctor rallies the pipe-dwellers and lures Fifi with Earl’s harmonica, using the howls and music to stop Fifi with a crystalized sugar collapse.

Helen orders the Kandy Man to find the Doctor, but the odd being reports that the Doctor and Ace have just arrived. Together, they force the Kandy Man into the pipes as Susan and Earl start destroying loudspeakers across the city. The pipe-dwellers infiltrate the kitchen and flood the pipes with fondant, destroying the Kandy Man.

Watching her empire topple, Helen packs a bag and prepares to flee the planet. Unfortunately for her, her shuttle is stolen by her husband Joseph and the Kandy Man’s former assistant Gilbert. Helen tries to escape into the city, but the Doctor confronts her. All Helen wanted was for her people to be happy… for her society to be happy. The Doctor challenges her, explaining that happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin and must live side-by-side for the health of society. Helen starts to storm off but sees Fifi’s corpse on the bus bench where the whole adventure began. There, she breaks down in tears.

With Earl and Susan in charge, Ace and the Doctor board the freshly repainted TARDIS and depart, knowing that now happiness will truly prevail.

 

First, we have a fun adventure with good acting from our heroes and a pastiche of villainous tropes from the bad guys. The Kandy Man is, well, something else.

But, let’s carve away the candy coating veneer.

Setting aside the commentary against Margaret Thatcher and her politics – there are a plethora of reviews that discuss this parallel – this is a decent discussion about governments and seats of power trying to quell dissent and unrest. All too often, we see leaders (world, community, religious, etc) trying to head off complaints about social justice by claiming to the public that everything is fine and pressuring protestors into silence.

The lesson we learn here from the Doctor is that happiness is important, but it’s not free. The price is strife through conflict and every emotion that goes with it. Happiness isn’t a guarantee, but rather something we all must work for.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Pop Culture Download: May 27, 2018

Pop Culture Download: May 27, 2018

 

On the Docket

Swamp Thing is coming back to television via the DC digital platform. – [THR]

2018-19 Television: The Expanse has been renewed thanks to Amazon. – [THR]

As reported by series creator J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5 is coming to Amazon Prime in June. – [Cord Cutters News]

Netflix is joining production forces with President and Mrs. Obama. – [CNN]

Netflix stock hit an all-time high, briefly surpassing Disney. – [Variety]

She-Ra is coming back to television via Netflix. – [EW]

The Hollywood Museum’s Batman ’66 exhibit has been extended through the end of September. – [13th Dimension]

It’s time for the Original Batcopter 2018 summer tour! – [13th Dimension]

Keith DeCandido continues the 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch with Witchblade. – [Tor]

Read More »

Timestamp #152: Remembrance of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks
(4 episodes, s25e01-e04, 1988)

 

Returning to where it all began.

The opening teaser reveals a large and foreboding spacecraft approaches Earth. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, students arrive for classes at Coal Hill School while the Doctor and Ace discuss the anachronisms in Ace’s clothing, boombox, and a nearby van. Ace goes in search of food while the Doctor investigates the motor vehicle (and a strange little girl). The Doctor meets Professor Rachel Jensen, the van’s monitor, and Ace meets up along with Sergeant Mike Smith as the whole group rushes to the local junkyard.

I. M. Foreman’s junkyard, to be precise, at 76 Totter’s Lane.

Group Captain Gilmore shows Jensen and the Doctor to a corpse. The Doctor determines that soldier died after being shot by an energy ray, and he tracks the source to a nearby shed. Gilmore’s hand-picked troops arrive and take up positions. The soldiers engage as the hostile opens fire, but their bullets are no match against an armored Renegade Dalek.

The Doctor is (once again) disgusted by the military mindset while Ace marvels over their explosive firepower. The Doctor uses Ace’s supply of Nitro-9 (on a ten-second fuse) to destroy the Dalek. The military team (including Allison Williams, Professor Jensen’s assistant) investigate the remains while Ace and the Doctor borrow the van for a brief tutorial on the history of the Daleks. The Doctor believes that they are on Earth at this point not to conquer but to acquire the Hand of Omega.

Back at headquarters for the Intrusion Countermeasures Group (presumably the predecessor to UNIT), Gilmore meets with Mr. Ratcliffe while Jensen (the group’s scientific advisor, which makes her the Doctor’s predecessor) confers with Williams. Ratcliffe’s team takes possession of (read: kill the guards and steal) the Dalek’s remains and move it somewhere safe. That “somewhere safe” is exactly where Davros (or someone who looks like him, because Davros leads the Imperials, not the Renegades, right?) is hiding out.

Back at Coal Hill School, the Doctor and Ace investigate and meet the very strange headmaster. In a chemistry classroom (which looks a lot like the Third Doctor‘s lab at UNIT) they find evidence of a spacecraft landing. Ace questions if people would notice and the Doctor reminds her that no one paid attention to the “Yeti in the Underground” or the “Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster.”

This classroom is the same classroom where Ian and Barbara started things with Susan. Note the book on the French Revolution. These two stories must have just barely missed each other.

The Doctor and Ace continue their investigation, eventually ending up in the cellar. They find a transmat device and sabotage it just as a Dalek is materializing. (The effect is pretty neat since we get to see the biological creature first before the shell arrives.) The pair is immediately ambushed by an Imperial Dalek (which can climb stairs!) and Headmaster Parson (who is working with the Imperial Daleks!). The Dalek recognizes the Doctor and nearly exterminates him, but Ace saves him after knocking out Parson.

Does this mean that the Imperial-Renegade Dalek War is coming to a head?

The Doctor and Ace find an army truck outside with anti-tank rockets, and after (fraudulently) signing for the artillery they return inside to destroy the transmat. Instead, they encounter a Dalek and destroy it, then encounter Gilmore’s unit. Ace stays with the Jensen’s team while the Doctor leaves to deal with his past, finding advice at the local deli.

The next morning, the Doctor visits a funeral parlor and inspects a large casket. The funeral director calls “the governor” and reports the Doctor’s arrival, noting that he was expecting an older man with white hair. The Doctor orders the casket to follow him, and it does so by levitating and floating through the building. The Doctor leads the coffin to a local graveyard where his first incarnation has prepared a grave to hide the device. Mike Smith follows the Doctor to the graveyard, and Parson follows Smith before attacking the sergeant and demanding the location of the Renegade Dalek base. Smith defeats Parson, watches the Doctor bury the coffin, and then escorts the Doctor back to the team. The team (sans Ace) return to headquarters and prepare for battle. Ratcliffe and his mysterious Dalek overseer prepare as well. A frustrated Ace defies the Doctor and returns to Coal Hill to find the Imperial Daleks swarming the cellar.

I love how Ace is rejecting some of the more backward philosophies of the era: The sexism (“Back at six. Have dinner ready.”) and the racism (“No coloureds.”) hold no value for her. Also, what a fascinating Easter egg with the premiere of An Unearthly Child inside the Doctor Who universe.

The Doctor and his team return to Coal Hill where Ace (using a supercharged bat) is on the run from the Imperial Daleks. They find her cornered by three Daleks and save her with a combination of plastic explosives and a stunning device based on the Doctor’s adventure on Spiridon. While the soldiers storm the school, the Doctor and the scientists investigate the Imperial remains, noting that the Imperials have continued to evolve. They then head to the cellar and destroy the transmat.

While the team retires to the deli for lunch, Ratcliffe visits the graveyard and find the casket under a less-than-stealthy headstone marked with a lowercase omega (ω). When Ratcliffe meddles with the site, the Imperial Daleks in orbit detect the power signature and report it to the Emperor (who is looking rather goofy with a giant spherical head). Shortly afterward, the creepy girl from Coal Hill skips into the cemetery and watches Ratcliffe’s men unearth the casket.

Ratcliffe returns the casket to his hideout and notifies his agent, who turns out to be Sergeant Smith. After his men move the Hand of Omega into position, the Renegade Daleks execute Ratcliffe’s team, and his overseer reveals himself… or rather herself since she is the creepy girl, better known as the Battle Computer.

Nice!

Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Ace the story of Omega, the advent of time travel and Time Lord society, and the stellar manipulator called the Hand of Omega. With it, the Daleks can harness the power of the Time Lords, and the Doctor wants them to have it to avoid mass casualties, but he didn’t count on there being two factions competing for it. They leave the school and go to Ratcliffe’s yard where the Doctor confers with the Hand. They find the Battle Computer’s chair and the Doctor explains that the Daleks use the chair to harness a child’s creativity as an advantage in war. The Doctor disables the Time Controller and leaves a calling card, forcing the Renegade Daleks to pursue as they run through the streets of Shoreditch. The Doctor is gambling that the Imperial Daleks will destroy the Renegades in their search for the Hand of Omega.

The chase leads them back to Coal Hill, but a slip of the tongue reveals Smith’s role as a double agent. The soldiers engage the Renegades as the Imperials descend on the school. The Imperials engage the Renegades as the Doctor plots a little piracy and Ace confronts Smith. The sergeant is taken into custody shortly afterward, but he manages to escape and return to Ratcliffe’s side. As the fight intensifies, the Imperials deploy a Special Weapons Dalek which wipes out several Renegades in one shot.

The Doctor storms the shuttlecraft, disables the Dalek pilot, and studies the computer to find Skaro. He then repairs the transmat before heading back to Ratcliffe’s yard.

Across town, the Imperials storm the yard, providing the humans a chance to steal the Time Controller. Ratcliffe dies as the little girl channels her inner Emperor Palpatine and zaps him with hand lightning, but Smith carries on. The Imperials seize the Hand of Omega and return it to their shuttle, and Ace follows Smith and the Time Controller. The Battle Computer skips away without a care in the world.

Ace tracks Smith back to his home, but the sergeant gets the upper hand by gunpoint. Soon enough, the little girl arrives, zaps Smith, and confronts Ace.

The Imperials return to their mothership and the Doctor uses the transmat to make contact. After a lofty declaration of his credentials – that explains where the new Doctors get that particular trait – he gets the reveal we’ve all been waiting for: The bubble-headed Emperor Dalek is really Davros. After some imperial speechifying and beautiful verbal jabs from the Doctor, Davros activates the Hand of Omega. But there is a wrinkle in the plan as the Doctor has sabotaged the device to destroy Skaro, the feedback of which destroys the mothership. The Hand returns to Gallifrey and Davros escapes in a lifeboat.

The Doctor finds and confronts the Dalek Supreme. The logic of being defeated overloads the Dalek and its destruction kills the Battle Computer in the little girl’s head. The girl is traumatized but alive, and the planet is safe once again.

 

We have come a long, long way since Genesis of the Daleks. The Fourth Doctor asked if he had the right to destroy an entire race before they enacted their genocidal agenda across the universe, and here the Seventh Doctor tricks the same race into destroying themselves. I don’t know where the line is… has the Sixth Doctor’s darkness changed the Doctor overall, or since the Daleks pulled the trigger on the altered weapon, does the Doctor not share responsibility for the potential genocide?

Even the Doctor recognizes that he can’t call this act inherently good.

In terms of internal chronology, I wonder if the sabotage of the Hand was performed by the First or Seventh Doctor. It makes more sense that the Seventh did it, but I could see a case for the First Doctor setting things in motion. This also marks the end of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek War, and the Doctor has directly ended the Renegade line by working the Dalek Supreme into self-destruction. Again, a darkness rears its head in this incarnation of the Doctor.

External to the chronology, I love the nods to the franchise and its twenty-fifth anniversary. This was a fun and exciting way to kick off the celebration.

 


Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Pop Culture Download: May 20, 2018

Pop Culture Download: May 20, 2018

 

On the Docket

Margot Kidder, Lois Lane from Superman: The Movie (1978), has died at the age of 69. – [Variety]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has won the legal battle over podcast patents. – [EFF]

Speculation says we might get a Willow sequel. – [Movieweb]

Lost in Space is getting a second season on Netflix. – [THR]

Star Wars Celebration 2019 will be held in Chicago from April 11-15. – [StarWars.com]

Network TV 2018-19: ABC has given Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD a sixth season. – [Marvel]

The Six Billion Dollar Man is now sans director. – [THR]

The X-Files are closed once again. – [TVLine]

Season Two of The Orville will premiere in December 2018. – [TrekMovie]

Offering a glimpse into the future beyond next year’s Infinity War sequel, Marvel is setting up The Eternals. – [THR]

Keith DeCandido continues the 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch with Witchblade. – [Tor]

Read More »

Timestamp: Twenty-Fourth Series Summary

 Doctor Who: Twenty-Fourth Series Summary

 

The numbers say average but the emotion says confidence.

The Seventh Doctor’s opening frame was on par with the Sixth Doctor’s closing set. On the five-point scale, it was square in the middle and tied for second-to-last with the Trail of a Time Lord. But there’s some added complexity in the execution and how it resonated with me overall, something that hasn’t happened since the end of the Third Doctor’s run.

Taking a quick trip back in time, the Third Doctor’s Summary presented me with a wrinkle in my scoring system: Jon Pertwee’s run was consistently some of my favorite work in the franchise, but on a character level I was (and still am) more keen on Patrick Troughton’s interpretation of the Doctor. There’s something similar here where Time and the Rani made me really care about the Doctor again, to the point that I was (unbeknownst to me) actually grinning ear-to-ear at Sylvester McCoy’s performance.

In fact, the Seventh Doctor has been a beacon of hope during this introductory season, and I’m hoping that it carries this show forward through the remaining two classic seasons.

McCoy’s Doctor shares a lot of the same qualities from Troughton’s Doctor, mixing disarming tomfoolery with a darker analytical nature. It’s something that we haven’t really seen since the Fourth Doctor‘s era, and it’s refreshing to see back in the mix. The problems, of course, remain from recent John Nathan-Turner-era productions, including high body counts and average (or lower) stories to fill space rather than enlighten and entertain.

I’m actually a little sad that McCoy’s spark came so late in the game.

 

Time and the Rani – 3
Paradise Towers – 2
Delta and the Bannerman – 4
Dragonfire –  3

Series Twenty-Four Average Rating: 3.0/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Pop Culture Download: May 13, 2018

Pop Culture Download: May 13, 2018

 

On the Docket

Bill & Ted 3 is coming with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter returning to their roles. – [THR]

Network TV 2018-19: Fox canceled The Mick, Last Man on Earth, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine… – [AV Club]

Network TV 2018-19: …only for NBC to save Brooklyn Nine-Nine. – [THR]

Network TV 2018-19: NBC’s renewal schedule doesn’t include Timeless or Champions… yet. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: NBC renewed The Blacklist for a sixth season. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: NBC renewed Blindspot for a fourth season. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: NBC canceled Taken after two seasons. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The rest of NBC’s Fall 2018 schedule. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: ABC has passed on a reboot of The Greatest American Hero. – [Den of Geek]

Network TV 2018-19: ABC has canceled Marvel’s InhumansDeception, and The Crossing. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: ABC has also canceled Designated Survivor and Quantico. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: ABC’s renewals don’t (yet) include Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: Fox renewed Lethal Weapon with a major recasting. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: Fox renewed Gotham for a fifth round. – [Variety]

Network TV 2018-19: Fox canceled Lucifer after three seasons. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The CW has greenlit a Charmed reboot. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The CW ordered another year of The 100. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: CBS’s renew/cancel includes a 14th season for Criminal Minds. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The slate of new shows coming to the major networks next season. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The slate of cancelations (so far). – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: The slate of renewals (so far). – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: Syfy has ended The Expanse after three seasons. – [TV by the Numbers]

Network TV 2018-19: Starz wants more Outlander with a two-year renewal. – [TV by the Numbers]

Keith DeCandido continues the 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. – [Tor]

Read More »

Timestamp #151: Dragonfire

Doctor Who: Dragonfire
(3 episodes, s24e12-e14, 1987)

 

Iceworld: A vacation spot where cliffhangers are literal but dragons are not.

We get our introduction to this planetary freezer section through fog machines, plastic icicles, and frost burns. A group of conscripted men is being processed as foot soldiers for the villain Kane and his reign of terror. One of the men attacks a guard and shoots his way into the facility’s restricted zone. He stumbles, drops his weapon in a vat of liquid nitrogen, and dies at the hands of Kane. Quite literally, in fact, since one touch from the man can kill.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mel approach the colony. They arrive at what could double as the local Costco – anyone who is familiar with that particular warehouse store understands the giant refrigerated rooms where you pay for the “pleasure” of freezing while hunting for good produce, milk, and eggs – and visit a diner where they find Sabalom Glitz. It’s a given that Glitz owes Kane money, but he gambled away his money and ends up with his ship impounded. A waitress named Ace (who uses her pseudonym as an exclamation of pleasure) tells Mel and Glitz of a dragon in the passages beneath Iceworld, and Mel puts the pieces together: The Doctor wanted to stop here to see the dragon.

Ace volunteers to tag along since she’s tired of her job. She calls the Doctor “Professor,” which the Time Lord doesn’t seem to mind. It’s endearing. So is her strong character.

Ace mentions the dragon’s treasure, which piques Glitz’s interest since he has a map that he won in the card game where he lost his shirt. Said card game was fixed by Kane to force Glitz to find the treasure so Kane could steal it. Glitz is old-fashioned (read: sexist) and won’t allow women on the journey, so Mel remains with Ace. The ladies are soon ejected from the diner – Ace gets fired for pouring a milkshake on a rude customer who totally deserved what she got – and retire to Ace’s quarters. Ace shares her story: She’s a student from Earth who was swept up in a time storm and deposited on Iceworld. The women gather up Ace’s homemade explosives and help dislodge an ice jam on the docks.

One of Kane’s lieutenants, Officer Belazs, asks Kane for Glitz’s ship. Kane denies her desire to leave and orders the ship destroyed. When Kane goes into a brief hibernation to recharge, she reverses the order without his knowledge before being dispatched to the ice jam disturbance. When she arrives, she arrests Mel and Ace. Kane takes a liking to Ace and offers her a place in his army, but she and Mel escape into the caverns instead. They encounter the dragon and Mel screams.

Goodness does she… you know.

The Doctor and Glitz explore the caverns and get separated. The Doctor, for reasons better left as an exercise for the blooper reels, climbs over a handrail and slowly slips toward his doom while dangling from his umbrella. Glitz saves the Doctor from death, but not from our eternal laughter at this literal cliffhanger, perhaps one of the worst in Doctor Who history.

The ladies discover that the dragon is not a real dragon since it shoots lasers from its eyes. They find the cliffhangering cliff and use a ladder in Ace’s bag of holding to follow the Doctor’s umbrella as a clue. Meanwhile, Kane dispatches his new soldiers – essentially ice zombies at this point – to deal with Glitz; the conscripted men from the opening are Glitz’s former crewmen whom he sold for seventeen crowns apiece. Belazs also overhears Glitz’s plan to hijack his own ship, a plan that the Doctor reluctantly supports. Glitz gets into the cockpit, but he’s ambushed by Belazs. The Doctor and Glitz learn her backstory and turn the tables, but the Doctor expresses remorse for her situation. They continue their quest.

In Kane’s restricted area, the sculptor who was working on an ice statue finishes his work and is rewarded with death. No one will be allowed to look upon the artwork for it’s supposedly too magnificent for the universe to behold. We, as viewers, are left to assume that it is significant to his backstory. (Spoiler: It is.) When Kane retreats to his chamber to cool off, Belazs and Officer Kracauer attempt to assassinate him and gain their freedom. The plot fails, although it does destroy the statue, and Kane kills both of the traitors in anger.

The Doctor and Glitz encounter the dragon, but it spares them after the Doctor stops Glitz from killing it. Elsewhere, Mel and Ace encounter the ice zombies, escaping after a brief battle while Ace wisely stops Mel from screaming. They bond over a cup of camp coffee and we find out that Ace’s real name is Dorothy, a name of which she’s not fond. They later reunite with the Doctor and Glitz and are saved from one of the zombified crewmen by the dragon. The creature trusts them and leads the explorers into a side cavern and shows them a holographic record. Kane is half of the Kane-Xana criminal organization that was headquartered on Proamon. When security forces found them, Xana – see above, re: ice sculpture – killed herself and Kane was exiled to the permanently frozen world. The Doctor deduces that the dragon, or rather the power source within the mechanical creature, is the treasure. Thanks to the tracker his musings are no secret to Kane, who plans to use the dragonfire crystal to leave the colony and his frozen prison.

The Doctor and the dragon research Proamon while Mel, Ace, and Glitz wait in the control cavern. Two of Kane’s officers ambush the dragon and eventually kill it, but when they attempt to remove the head they are killed by an energy discharge. In the upper levels, Kane dispatches his troops to drive everyone toward Glitz’s ship, the Nosferatu. Once everyone (save a little girl and her mother) are aboard, Kane destroys the ship.

We get it. He’s evil.

The Doctor, Mel, and Ace return to the TARDIS to consult the star charts. Ace goes to her quarters and is captured by Kane while the Doctor and Mel go after the dragon. They find the head and retrieve the crystal, but Kane demands an exchange for Ace. When Mel, Glitz, and the Doctor arrive, Kane confirms that the dragon was his jailer and that he has been on the colony for millennia. The Doctor surrenders the crystal and Kane uses it to power the hidden stardrive in the colony. Unfortunately for Kane, the Doctor confirms that Proamon is long dead after its star went supernova. Distraught, Kane opens a viewport and commits suicide by sunlight, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style.

With the threat over, Glitz takes command of the colony ship and Mel decides to stay in an effort to keep the rogue out of trouble. In her final act on the TARDIS, Mel puts in a good word for Ace. The Doctor offers her a space on the TARDIS and she accepts.

 

Kane’s motivations make little sense here. Sure, he wants to escape and exact revenge on his jailors, but his suicide doesn’t ring true. Sure, he’s a psychopath, but he was a careful and meticulous planner. Unless personal vengeance was so important to him, I would have thought that he’d scratch Proamon off the list with the supernova and go off to conquer another planet without his rap sheet hanging over his head. This plot glitch aside, I really liked him as a villain, even as a Doctor Who knockoff of Mr. Freeze.

Another part that doesn’t make a lot of sense is Mel’s final decision. So, yes, she and Glitz worked together in The Ultimate Foe, but Mel has expressed displeasure at every turn with the scoundrel’s actions, ranging from sexism and selling his crew into slavery all the way up to his illegal activities. I’d say that Glitz is a knockoff of Han Solo, but Solo was far more developed. The Leia/Han dynamic doesn’t work here and I don’t think Mel is strong enough to change Glitz, particularly since he now owns a portable freezer section with only two shoppers.

I won’t miss Mel much. From her timey-wimey intro in Terror of the Vervoids to this departure, she’s been a decent enough companion but, by far, nowhere near the best. A lot of that has to do with her role as a personality foil for the Doctor rather than as an assistant/companion. She was smart and strong-willed, but just not a great fit for the position.

I also won’t miss the dramatic screaming. Because – and this might be the last time that I can make this joke – goodness, can she scream.

So, with all of that heaped on this story, why did I actually like it?

First, we have Ace, who seems like she might be a pretty fun companion once she settles in. I do hope that the “Ace!” exclamation dies off soon because that’s going to get tiresome, but I’m looking forward to what she brings to the table.

Second, Sylvester McCoy continues to sell me with his portrayal of the Doctor. He has a latent darkness lurking behind his goofy exterior, reminding me of the Second and Fourth Doctors quite often.

Third, this story brought Doctor Who right back to its roots with tight shots, minimal bailing-wire-and-chewing-gum sets, and actors selling even the zaniest and loosest of plots with unwavering confidence. That point alone, hearkening back to the low-budget stageplay-style days of the black and white serials, deserves some credit.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Fourth Series Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Debrief: WHOlanta 2018

Debrief: WHOlanta 2018
Atlanta, GA – May 4-6, 2018

 

 

WHOlanta 2018 is in the books and it was a fun show. It provided a chance to catch up with some friends and family, and it also opened the door to some new connections and possibilities.

First, I’d like to thank Darin Bush for putting up with all of our antics this weekend.  I deeply appreciate the space in your OtherWorlds slice of the con, and after seeing your leadership in action, you’re on the list. No, not that one, but rather one of convention track directors that I would work for on a moment’s notice. Alongside Darin, I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Erin McGourn and Gary Mitchel for keeping the OtherWorlds engine humming its chaotic harmony.

The opening salvo was welcoming attendees with a sorting ceremony for various science fiction characters. This was a first for me, and Bethany Kesler was key in breaking some of the rust free on my Houses of Hogwarts knowledge, including sharing a beautifully crafted description of each house that goes well beyond the basic of bravery, loyalty, intelligence, and ambition.

(By the way, E.T. is a Slytherin. We proved it this weekend. Bethany and Erin also have very convincing arguments for sorting Leia Organa and Steve Rogers into Slytherin. Ask them some time.)

Bethany and I have been working together at Dragon Con for years, but we definitely learned so much more about each other in the Late Night Nerd Fight sparring match. The assembled panel of moderator Erin, Darin, Gary, Bethany, and Jennifer Hartshorn were able to break me in the battle between Star Wars Rebels and Dark Matter. It was a ton of fun.

I really enjoyed working with Jennifer face-to-face for the first time. We have been on a handful of podcasts together in the past, but there’s so much more to feeding off physical cues. Jennifer has some great insights into Marvel films, and she was awesome during the Infinity War and Black Panther discussions. Outside of formal panels, it’s really fun just to sit and chat with her after all was said and done for the day. I also appreciated her support and feedback from the audience during the Star Wars panels.

Speaking of Star Wars, I finally got a chance to participate in the larger discussions of mythology and story in the GFFA, as well as an inadvertent tangent into the state of fandom. On that journey, I got to meet Christine Evans and Adam Throne, both of whom are amazing people. I’m glad to have met them this weekend and hope to work with them again soon.

I also got to work with Michael French on a con panel for what we’re both calling the first time. Our real first panel together was a Batman anniversary celebration at Dragon Con some years ago, and we have also been on countless Roll-a-Panel events at Dragon Cons past, but this is the first time we have been on a discussion panel together since we started seriously collaborating in the creative space. Michael is a smart guy with views on pop culture that challenge us to think outside the proverbial box, and I admire his style both as a humorist and a conversation driver. I enjoyed his insights on our current 1980s nostalgia and appreciated his thoughtful questions during the podcasting panel. I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

On the podcasting front, I loved catching up with Mike Faber, his wife Judy, and Michael Gordon of the Earth Station One network. This family is among the most open and giving people I know, and seeing them always brings a smile to my face. Sitting with Mike, Michael, Gary, and Erin on a panel about podcasting was a blast, and it also gave me the opportunity to meet Kirby Bartlett-Sloan of the 20MB Doctor Who Podcast. I also got to meet with Joe and Toni of The Watch-A-Thon of Rassilon, JC and Rita De La Torre of Seekers of the Lost Worlds, and the incredible Mark Maddox.

One of the biggest highlights of the show was talking about the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with my con bosses Darin, Gary, and the WHOlanta convention chair R. Alan Siler. Alan and I had not collaborated before this convention and it was stunning to see just how in sync we were about DS9 and our admiration of the series.  Alan also debuted Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who at the convention, and I was sure to snag a copy. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Some of my other favorite conversations this weekend: The current state of digital media (with Darin, Erin, and Gary); Justice League (with Gary, Mike Faber, and Adam); Star Trek: Discovery (with Bethany and the ever insightful Robert Lloyd); the Black Panther panel (watching Jennifer, Erin, Jessa Phillips, and Kamassa Herrmann discuss this film was amazing); and Indiana Jones and Brushes with History (Darin, Erin, Bethany, and Michael French have good panel chemistry, and Michael was in his finest Indy garb for the occasion).

The weekend was only amplified by the attendees. I adore the civility of the panel audiences at WHOlanta. The discussions and debates focused on topics and ideas, not personal attacks or opinions presented as facts. It is clear that the Internet Fanboy Mentality did not attend this convention.

Last but not least, I want to thank the convention organizers and staff for welcoming my wife and me as new volunteers.

Pop Culture Download: May 6, 2018

Pop Culture Download: May 6, 2018

 

On the Docket

Mark Finn, a writer I know through RevolutionSF, has published a five-part essay series about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Avengers: Infinity War. – [Finn’s Wake: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5]

In a move that will most certainly (not) turn out well, Facebook is getting into the online dating game. – [Reuters]

 

Keith DeCandido continues the 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch with one of the super films that I haven’t yet seen (but need to, I know): Hellboy. – [Tor]

Read More »

Timestamp #150: Delta and the Bannermen

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen
(3 episodes, s24e09-e11, 1987)

 

Not quite the Happiest Place on Earth, but Shangri-La nonetheless.

The story drops all of us right into the thick of things with a huge battle on an alien planet. On the high ground is a squad with extensive flags – appropriately known as the Bannermen – and on the losing side is what looks like a group of green toy army men. A woman in white named Delta runs with the last green survivor to a ship, and with his dying breath, he sends her off-planet with a glowing box. Gavrok, the leader of the Bannermen, pursues with gusto.

The opening was actually quite exciting.

The Doctor and Mel land the TARDIS at toll port G715. When they exit, they are met by the Tollmaster with a prize: As the ten billionth customers, they get free parking and a trip to Disneyland circa 1959 with a tour group of aliens disguised to look human. Just as they are ready to leave, Delta lands her ship at the toll port and seeks refuge on the tour bus. The tour bus leaves and, after witnessing the woman’s arrival, the Doctor follows in the TARDIS.

On Earth, a pair of American CIA agents drive up to a legitimate telephone box and call the White House. They are told to track a satellite that was freshly launched from Cape Canaveral. Unfortunately, the tour bus strikes the satellite and falls to Earth, but fortunately, the Doctor is able to use the TARDIS to control the descent and save all of the passengers. Instead of Disneyland, the tour group ends up at the Shangri-La holiday camp in Wales.

The camp’s leader, Burton, mistakes the extra-terrestrial tour group for one of his scheduled arrivals, so they end up with lodging until the bus is fixed. Mel ends up bunking with Delta, and the Doctor and Murray (the intergalactic tour guide) meet with the camp’s mechanic named Billy. Billy, of course, is lost when it comes to the alien bus engine but he does his best with the Doctor’s help. Meanwhile, they meet Rachel (call her Ray), a motorcycle-riding woman in a leather jacket who carries her own tools. They also accidentally break the crystal needed to fix the engine, so the Doctor decides to grow a new one, but the process will take twenty-four hours.

Back at the toll port, Gavrok finds out where the tour group went and then kills the Tollmaster in cold blood. On Earth, Mel and the Doctor discuss Delta as Billy shares lunch with the refugee. Later that night, they all attend the Get-To-Know-You social, dancing the night away to Billy’s singing talent. Sadly, Ray figures out during a performance of Why Do Fools Fall in Love that Billy is falling for Delta. The Doctor ends up consoling Ray in the linen storage room, which works in their favor as one of the tourists transmits Delta’s coordinates to Gavrok. The tourist discovers the Doctor and Ray, threatening to kill them. Back in their shared room, Delta and Mel watch as the mysterious glowing package starts to hatch, revealing one of the green aliens from the opening battle.

Of course, Mel screams. Goodness, can she scream.

The Doctor and Ray are inadvertently saved by Gavrok as the soldier activates a tracer that disintegrates the bounty hunter. The resulting blast knocks the Doctor and Ray unconscious. Billy arrives to see Delta cradling the green baby alien, and he spends the night to learn about Delta. The woman is a princess and the baby (now a painted human infant in a plush green onesie) is the last Chimeron. The pair leaves Mel to sleep and take a trip on the motorcycle.

The two CIA agents arrive nearby asking about the satellite, but the get a lesson on butterflies, metamorphosis, and beauty from a beekeeper. The moral is a bit heavy-handed and these characters are a waste in this story.

The Doctor and Ray recover just in time to see Delta and Billy driving away. They find Mel and decide to coordinate an evacuation. Mel and Murray gather the tourists while the Doctor convinces Burton of the emergency. The Doctor and Ray leave Mel and Murray in charge as they go in search of Delta. They find her and Billy at the lake, where Delta has been telling Billy of her plan to take the rapidly growing hatchling to safety before bringing her case against the Bannermen to the authorities. The whole group packs up and returns to the camp as the Bannermen land, encounter the CIA agents, and take them as prisoners. Shortly thereafter, the Bannermen find the camp and destroy the tour bus just as it is about to take off. Gavrok demands to know if Delta was aboard and Mel lies, but her deception is uncovered as the Doctor’s group approaches. They flee and Burton convinces an incensed Gavrok to use Mel as bait, saving her life.

The Doctor stashes Delta and the child at the nearby beekeeper’s home before returning to the camp and petitioning Gavrok for mercy. Mel and Burton are released, and the Doctor rides away with them. Gavrok shoots a flare, prompting the guards with the CIA agents to restrain them and pursue the Doctor. Ray frees the agents as the Bannerman guards tag the motorcycle with a homing beacon.

At the farm, Delta feeds the child with a special jelly. Billy swipes a sample while Delta is distracted by Ray’s return. The Doctor and his group return shortly thereafter. Back at the camp, Gavrok discovers the TARDIS and booby-traps it with a sonic cone, then trace the homing beacon to the beekeeper’s farm. As the scouts advance on the farm, the child evolves and warns Delta with a cry that shatters windows and eardrums. Delta kills one of the scouts and the group evacuates.

Gavrok lands in a field but comes up empty: The Doctor ditched the homing beacon to lead them astray. The surviving scout leads Gavrok’s army to the abandoned farm as the Doctor’s group arrives at the TARDIS. The Doctor hides everyone at the camp while he works on disarming the sonic trap, and the Bannermen stumble into a bee swarm trap.

Delta finds Billy eating the growth jelly in an attempt to become a Chimeron and leave with her. As the Bannermen arrive, the Doctor and Billy install a speaker on the roof, using it to transmit the child’s sonic alarm across the camp and disable the army. Gavrok stumbles in pain and falls into the sonic cone, dying instantly. The CIA agents restrain the rest of the Bannermen and the threat is over.

Billy packs a bag, now fully transformed into a Chimeron, and the trio flies off into the cosmos. Billy leaves his prize motorcycle with Ray, the Doctor receives a jar of 1928 hibiscus honey as a parting gift, the Americans find their satellite, and our travelers depart for their next adventure.

 

The positives outweigh the negatives in this story. We have the debut of the Seventh Doctor’s trademark question mark umbrella. We also have a very pleasant atmosphere of authenticity with the vintage music. Series composer Keff McCulloch did a wonderful job with twelve covers of era songs.

On the downside, the humor and light tone served double duty: It was a nice change but I found it to be a bit too much, throwing off the pacing just enough that the transitions from action to comedy and back were jarring instead of fluid. We also have the oddness with Billy stealing the super jelly and changing species on a whim, which made zero sense neither in the story nor against Delta’s character specifically.

All of that balances out to a high three, which gets rounded up.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Dragonfire

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.