Timestamp #278: Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World, & The Lie of the Land

Doctor Who: Extremis
Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land
(3 episodes, s10e06-08, 2017)

Timestamp 278 Monk Trilogy

All shall love and despair.


A long time ago, the Doctor confers with an executioner named Rafando about a method for destroying a Time Lord. After the execution is completed – a process that stops both hearts, all three brain stems, and the ability to regenerate – the body will be placed in a quantum fold chamber for a millennium to prevent “relapses“. The process also requires that a Time Lord be the one to pull the lever.

The prisoner slated for execution is Missy. The Doctor has been selected to kill her. Missy begs for her life, promising to do anything in return.

In the present day, the Doctor confides in Missy about his blindness through the vault door. His discussion is cut short by an email, sent via the sonic sunglasses that he uses to get around, with the subject line of Extremis. Always curious, the Doctor opens the message.

The Doctor stands in a darkened lecture hall as fifteen men enter. They claim to be from the Vatican, and a cardinal named Angelo asks for the Doctor’s help after a series of suicides. The Pope descends the stairs and personally asks the Doctor for help. In his office, the Doctor is given a parchment that reads Veritas – literally, and not subtly, truth – but the resulting text is in a language lost to time. A later translation contains a secret that drives the reader to suicide. All of the bodies have been recovered except for one.

The Pope asks the Doctor to read Veritas to help. Because he has lives to spare?

Bill brings a girlfriend named Penny to Moira’s home, but the romantic interlude is interrupted by the TARDIS and the Pope. Penny runs out in fear as Bill chastises the Doctor for dropping the Pope and his assembly in her bedroom. As Nardole briefs Bill on the task, Cardinal Angelo offers a friendly ear for the Doctor.

Back at Missy’s execution, Nardole arrives dressed as a monk with orders from River Song to stay the execution. After the conference, Missy begs for mercy with tears in her eyes.

In the present, the TARDIS materializes in Vatican City. Nardole confers with the Doctor about the secret of his blindness before the Pope bids farewell. Cardinal Angelo shows the travelers to the Haereticum, a labyrinthine library that reminds Bill of a fictional wizarding school. Angelo leads the group to the heart of the library where a bright light shines through a portal with a man inside.

The portal vanishes and Angelo checks the security while the travelers proceed to the cage where Veritas is kept. Angelo is soon abducted by a mysterious claw-like hand. A priest scares the group and reveals that he sent the email before running off. While the Doctor investigates the Veritas, the mysterious priest commits suicide. When Bill and Nardole investigate the body, they find another mysterious portal and take a look.

I realize that I said mysterious a lot. This whole story is full of it.

As the Doctor begins scanning Veritas with a device that will temporarily fix his eyesight, he is approached by a mysterious peculiar figure.

Back at the execution, the Doctor pulls the lever and activates the machine. He promises to guard Missy’s corpse for one thousand years.

In modern day, Bill and Nardole emerge from a closet into a Pentagon operations center. They climb back through the portal into a strange hub. They walk through another portal to CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and meet a scientist.

The Doctor finishes his work and tries to read the book as the mysterious curious figure with a zombie-like face locks him to the chair. The figure takes Veritas but the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to turn off the lights and escape with a laptop containing a translation. He later tries to read the screen but is interrupted by more of the figures and his failing eyesight. He runs off and finds another portal.

At CERN, the scientist leads Bill and Nardole to the cafeteria where a five-minute countdown has started. The countdown is leading to a mass suicide explosion. The scientist explains that the explosion will release them from this world, a world that doesn’t truly exist. He tests Bill and Nardole by having them pick a series of random numbers. When each choice matches exactly, they both run and dive through the portal at the last second.

Bill and Nardole find a trail of blood in the hub as Nardole realizes that each portal leads to a holographic simulation. He soon realizes that they are also part of the simulation and he steps outside of the projectors, thereby vanishing. Bill follows the blood trail to the White House and finds the Doctor and the President of the United States in the Oval Office. They both have read the Veritas and the President has committed suicide. The Doctor explains that a demon is trying to conquer the world but has created a “shadow world” to practice. This simulation assesses the abilities of the human race throughout history. The key to understanding that one is in the program is a string of numbers, the same ones that Bill and Nardole recited.

Once a simulant understands their role in the program, they escape back to reality by ending their program.

With that, Bill disappears, leaving one of the mysterious strange figures behind. It tells him that they have killed many times before, but the Doctor replies that they have fallen into their own trap because the simulation is too good. Since he is linked to the sonic sunglasses, they are a recording of the last few hours. Before he vanishes, the Doctor emails the recording to the Doctor in the real world.

The Extremis email was that recording. The Doctor finishes watching it and then calls Bill. He tells her to call Penny and ask her on a date.

In the last flashback to Missy’s execution, the Doctor reveals that he sabotaged the machine to knock her out instead of killing her. The Doctor scares the executioners away by asking them to look up his list of fatalities, then he and Nardole load Missy into the vault.

Outside of that vault, the Doctor asks Missy through the door how he can save his friends when he is blind.

The Pyramid at the End of the World

Following the Doctor’s recommendation, Bill takes Penny back to her home. During the date and walk home, Bill relays her experience in the alien computer simulation. Once they reach Bill’s home, the United Nations Secretary-General arrives and demands that Bill take them to the President. Bill denies knowing the President of the United States – she wouldn’t have voted for the “orange” man anyway – but the Secretary-General clarifies his request. Because the world is in danger, he’s looking for the President of the World.

He’s looking for the Doctor.

The Secretary-General takes Bill to an airplane while explaining their interest in a 5,000-year-old pyramid in Turmezistan. It’s a fascinating site because the pyramid literally appeared overnight. Meanwhile, the Doctor meditates with his guitar while he monologues about how each person’s death is predestined and each step takes them closer to the event. To punctuate it, a woman named Erica breaks her reading glasses as she leaves home, suggesting that a minor event can lead to a series of larger ones.

The Doctor is surprised to find that his TARDIS has been hijacked by the secretary-general’s plane. His university office apparently has much larger windows now as well. As the Secretary-General explains what he needs, Erica delivers coffee to her lab partner at Agrofuel Research Operations. The lab partner, Douglas, is hung over, but since Erica can’t see without her glasses, she asks him to mix the next stage of their experiment. As they work, the mysterious aliens Monks watch through a lab camera.

The travelers arrive and meet United States Army Colonel Babbit – a man who is out of uniform since he’s wearing the rank insignia of a four-star general – before investigating the pyramid. The structure opens for the Doctor and he is greeted by a Monk. After a brief interaction, the Monk retreats and everyone’s clocks around the world are set to 23:57:00.

Three minutes to midnight. Three minutes left on the Doomsday Clock.

Sure enough, Douglas miskeys a value in the experiment. Not recognizing the mistake, the scientists leave for lunch and let the computer take control.

The Doctor assembles Ilya Svyatoslavovich (the leader of the Russian military in Turmezistan), Xiaolian (the leader of the Chinese military in Turmezistan), General-Colonel Babbit, the Secretary-General, Bill, and Nardole in the UN base. They discuss the reasons for the Monks’ arrival, settling on the relative weakness of humanity at this time. Despite his companions’ objections, the Doctor recommends a coordinated attack to demonstrate strength.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:58:00. Nardole and Bill become concerned for the Doctor.

Bill later asks the Doctor what’s bothering him, but he says that fear rules him to the extent that he cannot even reveal what scares him. As they speak, the pyramid emits a bright orange beam into the sky that consumes the bomber en route to the pyramid. The crew are replaced by Monks and the plane is gently deposited on the desert floor. Several members of the coalition military emerge from the pyramid as a Russian submarine lands in the desert. The Monks have stopped all of the attacks against them, but they are ready to talk now.

The world leaders join the Doctor and his companions in the pyramid. The Doctor tells Bill that traps provide a chance to learn about their enemies. The assembly meets with a Monk who explains that the chain of events is in progress that will destroy the planet at humanity’s hands. They witness the Monks working on the simulation from the outside, weaving strands in a tapestry. The Monk shows the group a vision of the future, then offers to help humanity survive, but to do so will enslave the human race.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:59:00.

The Monks must be wanted and loved because ruling through fear is inefficient. With the vision of the future in his mind, the Secretary-General consents to help, but since his consent was based on fear, he is immediately destroyed. The rest of the group leaves the pyramid.

At Agrofuel, the experiment goes awry. Erica and Douglas begin analyzing the problem, but Douglas breaches containment in the process. In Turmezistan, the world leaders consider their position and decide on peace. But since they are not the source of the end of the world, the Doomsday Clock doesn’t budge. Sure enough, the experiment at Agrofuel is the source and creates a deadly microorganism. The world leaders come to the same conclusion, and the Doctor responds by placing every top secret document online so that they can all start searching. Meanwhile, Douglas collapses from exposure to the virus and immediately decomposes into a puddle of goo.

General-Colonel Babbit wants to negotiate terms with the Monks, but the Doctor suggests that the price is way too high. Bill agrees with them because she sees no other choice, and the military leaders decide to surrender. As they leave, the Doctor almost reveals his secret to Bill but then decides on a different course of action.

Leaving Bill to watch the military leaders, the Doctor and Nardole use a list of biochemical labs on the UNIT watchlist to narrow the possible targets. They turn all of the CCTV cameras off, and when the Monks restore the feed, the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Agrofuel. The Doctor asks Nardole to monitor him from the TARDIS but Nardole has already been exposed. Meanwhile, the Doctor briefs Bill and the military leaders on the situation.

The Doomsday Clock advances to 23:59:40.

Since the lab’s filtration system has been compromised, the Doctor decides to incinerate the microorganisms. While he works, the military leaders are killed since their consent is based on strategy, not love. The Monks offer the deal to Bill since she is the representative of the Doctor. She must truly want their help in light of the consequences.

The Doctor sets the incendiary device and the Doomsday Clock begins to reverse. As the Monks panic, Bill leaves the pyramid. Unfortunately, since the lab is locked down, the airlock is secured by a combination lock. Since the Doctor is blind, he cannot see the numbers and therefore is trapped with the bomb.

He tells Bill about this problem and she decides to save his life by asking for help. She asks the Monks to restore the Doctor’s sight by consenting to their rule. Her consent is pure. The Doctor can see again. He spins the numbers and leaves the lab just in time.

As the fires rage, Bill asks the Doctor to get her planet back.

The Lie of the Land

As the Monks take control of humanity, they cultivate the lie that they have always been by humanity’s side. Their propaganda is spread by television broadcast messages delivered by the Doctor. Any dissension is punished by imprisonment and execution.

It’s only been a few months since the Doomsday Clock event at the pyramid but it feels like an eternity.

Bill prepares two mugs and concentrates, apparently summoning another woman to sit across from her. This woman is her mother. Bill reveals that she can’t remember escaping from the pyramid but she can see how the people of Earth have been brainwashed. Every day is harder than the last as the memories threaten to invade, but Bill believes that the Doctor will come back and save the world.

Her monologue is interrupted by Nardole, and after verifying that he is real, she welcomes him. Nardole recovered from the microorganism after six weeks and has done some research. He has traced the broadcasts to their source, a prison ship that is regularly resupplied by small boat. The captain of the supply boat hates the Monks since his son has been imprisoned for possession of comic books.

Nardole also points out that the Monks have altered the perception of human history for a good reason: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it has always been, they’ll accept it.

Nardole and Bill access the prison ship and are almost caught immediately, but an appearance by a Monk distracts the guards. They sneak into the bowels of the ship and find the Doctor in a room surrounded by speeches. The Doctor calls for help and the room fills with guards. He places a call to the Monks and then explains that human society is regressing, but Bill argues in favor of free will. They argue philosophy and Bill’s actions with the Monks and his eyesight. Bill tries to use a coded message regarding their trip to the Thames, but the Doctor deflects.

Bill finally breaks, talking about her personal rebellion while waiting for the Doctor’s return, and eventually pulls a gun on the Doctor. Seeing him as the enemy, she shoots him several times. The Doctor stands and appears to regenerate, then reveals the entire thing as a ruse. From sneaking on board to Bill shooting the Doctor (with blank ammunition), the last six months have been a plan by the Doctor. He even de-programmed his own personal guards.

Now he needs an ally nearly as smart as himself. So, the Doctor drives the prison ship to the mainland. They return to the university to find the Monks in wait, so they head to the vault and open it, finally revealing Missy inside. Bill is astounded to see who she thinks is just a woman, but the Doctor reveals her true form.

Missy tries to haggle over her role in the process, then works through the mystery of the Monks with the Doctor. The Doctor eventually comes to the conclusion that they use Bill as a linchpin through a psychic link. To keep themselves in power, the statues around the world act as transmitters to boost the signal. The link would be passed down genetically through millennia, so Missy suggests killing the linchpin and ending the chain.

Bill, obviously, has problems with that proposal.

Of course, Missy’s plan requires ages since the memory of the Monks would fade over time, so the Doctor and Bill offer a counterproposal at resistance headquarters. They decide to break into the Cathedral, the place where the Monks power their transmission, and replace Bill’s brainwaves with his own. Through reconnaissance, they determine that there are only a few Monks on the planet, but the transmissions make people believe that the Monks are everywhere all at once.

Using headphones playing a recording of their mission objectives, the resistance members infiltrate the Cathedral. Two of them are killed and one is turned when his tape player is damaged, but the turncoat is dispatched by Nardole. The team reaches the broadcasting chamber – Fake News Central, the eye of the storm – and finds a Monk wired into the antenna and sending the message. The Doctor attempts to override the transmission but the Monk is too powerful. The Doctor is knocked out.

When the Doctor comes to, Bill has tied him up to a pillar. She says her goodbyes and thanks the Doctor before walking to the antenna. The Doctor breaks free just as Bill places her hands on the Monk’s head. The Monk’s power overwhelms her and starts overwriting her memories, but the one that they cannot touch is that of Bill’s mother.

The Doctor sees this and persuades Bill to fill her mind with images of her mother. The pure, uncorrupted, irresistible image is broadcast to the world and overrides the control signal. The people of Earth are free and the Monks leave the planet in their Cathedral.

Sometime in the future, at the university, Bill and the Doctor muse about how humanity doesn’t even remember the Monks or what they did. The Doctor leaves Bill to her studies and sits with Missy as the prisoner expresses remorse for all of the people whom she has killed.

I mused about it in the slug line, but this story reminds me of Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. When the elder elf is tempted by the One Ring, she compares herself to various forces of nature and declares that people would love her, fear her, and despair ever having liberty under her rule as a Dark Queen. Her subjects would love their slavery.

Galadriel passes her test by rejecting that vision of the future, but Bill takes an alternate path by accepting the Monks to save the world and her friend.

Episode by episode, this trilogy experiences several ups and downs. I found Extremis to be equal parts confusing and clever, especially how the flashbacks to (re)introduce Missy betrayed the main story’s existence as a virtual reality simulation. It’s a fascinating setup that slowly unravels as plot points don’t quite line up. The whole “practice invasion” scenario is quite reminiscent of The Android Invasion.

The Pyramid at the End of the World starts with a decent mystery surrounding the titular pyramid, but the intrigue is drowned by the snail’s pace of the story. The cardinal sin behind this second part is boredom, broken in parts by gallows humor (as scientists with hangovers create a pathogen that can destroy the world) and the absurdity behind the apparent inability to check United States Army rank insignia when the internet literally sits at the world’s fingertips. The story also returns to the fictional Turmezistan, which I called out not that long ago for Orientalism.

In better news, the Doctor gets his eyesight back, but The Lie of the Land makes me wonder why it was even a plot point at all when he can regenerate at any time. All I can think is that it doesn’t count unless the Time Lord starts healing, like the Eleventh Doctor giving up a small bit of energy to River Song. This episode moves a little better than Pyramid, but it still takes forever to establish a brainwashed world that won’t be remembered. The final solution is touching, but the idea that the world chooses to forget the whole earth-shattering experience is a bit much to swallow. The entire world was under their control for months and people across the globe were subject to horrors during that time.

Of course, the sonic screwdriver was easily fixed before this whole trilogy started. That should have been a clue about consequences and how long they last.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Empress of Mars


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.


Culture on My Mind – A Great Ape at 90

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
A Great Ape at 90
April 21, 2023

This week, I’m thinking about the king of kongs.

Rather, King Kong, the gorilla monster that debuted in 1933. His first appearance was in the novelization of the 1933 RKO Pictures film. That film, King Kong, premiered two months later and was a smash hit, spawning various sequels and remakes and adaptations and parodies and spoofs and… you get the point. The film franchise alone consists of twelve titles. Those are split among seven American films (produced by RKO, Warner Bros., Legendary, Paramount Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and Universal Pictures), two Japanese tokusatsu kaiju films produced by Toho, and three direct-to-video animated films (produced by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, BKN International, and TF1 for the fanmade sector).

On April 7th, Joe Crowe was joined by ape enthusiasts Mark Finn (@FinnsWake on Twitter) and Rick Klaw (Tachyon Publications) to celebrate the Eighth Wonder of the World, the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld.


These Classic Track Quarantine Panels are typically held once every two weeks (or every fortnight, if you will). If you want to play along at home, grab your internet-capable device of choice and navigate the world wide webs to the track’s YouTube channel and/or the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

Gary can also be found on A Podcask of Amontillado, a horror-themed podcast that he co-hosts with Erin McGourn.

If you want to connect with the track, Joe, and/or Gary on the socials, you can find them on Twitter (ClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and sneezythesquid) and Instagram (SciFiClassicTrack, JoeCroweShow, and Gary_Mitchel). And, of course, to celebrate more pop culture awesomeness, you can find Dragon Con all year round on the internet, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

You can find those discussions and more every other Thursday as the American Sci-Fi Classics Track explores the vast reaches of classic American science fiction.

The episode art each week is generously provided by the talented Sue Kisenwether. You can find her (among other places) on Women at Warp: A Star Trek Podcast.


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #277: Oxygen

Doctor Who: Oxygen
(1 episode, s10e05, 2017)

Timestamp 277 Oxygen

Take a deep breath. It might be your last.

On a space station named Chasm Forge, workers Ivan and Ellie spacewalk across the hull to effect repairs. The pair are romantically involved and Ellie tries to tell Ivan that she wants to have children with him. Sadly, she’s running out of oxygen and her comms are malfunctioning. Even more tragic, she’s soon killed by two figures who are obviously dead because they look like zombies, aren’t wearing helmets, and move like Cybermen. As Ellie is killed, Ivan looks on with a scream.

Back on Earth, the Doctor lectures about space, the final frontier. Final because it wants to kill you. Bill watches uncomfortably and another student asks why they’re not discussing crop rotation. Nardole pressures the Doctor about his obvious desire to go off-world again. As the Doctor plots his next trip with Bill, Nardole stops him by stealing a fluid link and preventing the TARDIS from flying. Of course, the Doctor lied about that particular fluid link’s importance – Rule Number One and all that – so he throws the lever and off they go in search of a distress call.

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole arrive on Chasm Forge and expand the TARDIS’s air bubble to envelop the station. The travelers find a dead man in a spacesuit, propped up by the suit’s systems. His death is perplexing since his suit’s oxygen tank is full and his breathing field is operational. While Bill and Nardole propose a return to the TARDIS, the Doctor presses on to find the source of the distress call.

Deeper in the station, they find an automated spacesuit doing labor. The suit speaks to the travelers in a voice that Nardole recognizes as a former girlfriend, explaining that the station is typically depressurized. Oxygen is only contained in the pressure suits because it is sold at competitive rates, and any unlicensed oxygen is purged into space. Soon enough, the station’s systems blow the oxygen overboard, forcing the travelers to seek refuge in a repair shop. Someone contacts them and warns them that the shop is dangerous. Sure enough, the dead man marches toward them, but the Doctor is able to disable the suit at the expense of his sonic screwdriver.

Upon investigation, it turns out that the suits were commanded to kill their organic components. The station is filtering out the remaining oxygen to sell it back at a premium, so the Doctor recommends that they get into pressure suits that are offline for repairs. They do so, aware that the rest of the station’s dead personnel are in pursuit.

The disembodied voice, which belongs to a man named Tasker, guides the travelers to a room of survivors. Ivan is among the survivors and helps the Doctor to find a station map. They plot a course to the station’s core – going outside is suicide – and discuss what the station is processing. Copper ore isn’t particularly valuable, so a plot to steal the ore is not the motive.

The zombies start repairing the lock to the repair room so the survivors run for the core. Unfortunately, Tasker is killed by an electrical discharge produced by one of them. With all options cut off, the group dons helmets and heads outside, but Bill’s helmet malfunctions. Since the pressure-retaining forcefield isn’t strong enough for the rigors of space, Bill is exposed to extreme cold, but the Doctor gives her his helmet for the trek.

After they return to the station’s interior, Bill is revived and learns that they are in an uncharted area of the station so the zombies can’t find them. The Doctor saved Bill’s life but has been blinded by the vacuum of space. He ensures Bill that the condition is temporary. The crew regroups as the dead figure out how to gain access to the uncharted section. Dahh-Ren is killed and the team runs for the reactor core.

Along the way, Bill’s suit malfunctions again and prevents her from moving. The Doctor has a revelation and decides to leave her behind, and the advancing horde assimilates her. Inside the core, the Doctor enacts a plan that connects the team’s suits to the reactor coolant system. If they die, the station will explode and destroy the suits. The Doctor explains that the suits are doing exactly what the corporation wants them to by eliminating inefficiencies.

Humans are inefficient, thus the endpoint of capitalism demands that they are bypassed.

The team lets the suited zombies into the core room, but the Doctor springs his trap and stops the suits in a logic loop. He also reveals that Bill’s suit battery was too low to deliver a lethal dose, so she’s okay after all. The suits swap the oxygen tanks from the dead people to the living, ensuring their own survival in the process.

The survivors head for the TARDIS and the Doctor sets a course for the company’s head office so they can file a complaint. Meanwhile, Nardole attempts to fix the Doctor’s eyes. Later, at the university, the Doctor reveals that the event precipitated the eventual downfall of space capitalism. As Bill leaves, Nardole chastises the Doctor for leaving the vault unprotected. If the Doctor were to be incapacitated, the vault would be in jeopardy and the occupant would take advantage.

The Doctor refuses to look at Nardole. When Nardole gets angry about that, the Doctor removes his sunglasses and discloses a major secret.

The Doctor is still blind.

This story has a (sadly, continuously) relevant plot, but it’s also wrapped in a very thin run-from-the-monster motif. The franchise has tackled politics and social issues many, many times in the past, and has done better many times along the way.

This story also showcases some really terrible humor moments with racism, and even if they were meant as parodies, their clumsiness sucked out any amount of funniness. Writer Jamie Mathieson has done far better in the past (notably with Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline) and this is his last story in the franchise to date.

The story does play with the franchise mythology a bit: It nods toward the Doctor’s ability to survive the vacuum of space better than humans can (as seen in Four to Doomsday and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) and the semi-official nature of Star Trek in the Who-niverse (previously alluded in a handful of episodes). It also reinforces the Doctor’s core characteristics, especially the refusal to believe that his companions are lost.

Oh, yeah… it also marks the destruction of the sonic screwdriver. That won’t last long at all.

This story could be more, but it tries to do too much in 45 minutes and falls short in the end.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Extremis, Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World, & Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land


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.

Culture on My Mind – Narrative Diversions (Winter 2023 Edition)

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Narrative Diversions
(Winter 2023 Edition)

April 14, 2023

Narrative Diversions is a look at the various pop culture things I’ve been watching, reading, and playing over the last few months.


ND Winter 2023 1

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – PG-13
I really need to dedicate a post to my history with Top Gun. The first film and the two Nintendo games were staples of my childhood and were big influences toward joining the Navy (like most 80s kids who were recruited). Anyway, this film was a fun return to Maverick’s world with amazing realism in the flight scenes, but there were a few things that really pulled me out of the experience. The first was surviving a Mach 10 incident, which is physically impossible. The second was the absurdity of the Star Wars-style mission and the escape that followed.

Additionally, the movie does flirt with Orientalism – stereotyping based on traits and representations of the Middle East and Asia – which becomes evident in the final act when Maverick and Rooster end up stealing an F-14 from the foreign power that Maverick’s team just attacked. The film goes to great lengths to avoid identifying the enemy who is enriching nuclear material, but it’s fairly easy to determine that the screenwriters are pointing toward states like India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. Interestingly, Iran is the only one that currently operates F-14s. At least the screenwriters didn’t take the approach of making up a country with a -stan suffix on the end of the name, but they come awfully close to categorizing everyone in that region as an enemy. 

Otherwise, like the first film, it was a fun popcorn action flick that I’ll easily watch again.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) – PG
Video game movies have historically been hard to pull off. The genre as we know it debuted with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. but has had a lot of trouble finding success until the last few years with Werewolves Within, the Angry Birds films, Detective Pikachu, Warcraft, Rampage, Uncharted, and the Sonic the Hedgehog films.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a critical and financial success, and it’s easy to see why. The first entry came out swinging for the fences with a ridiculously fun story and over-the-top performances, and the sequel did the same with obvious improvements in the special effects. If my young nieces and nephews are any indication, these movies both hit the mark with their target audience.

I’ll definitely be back for the third film.

The School for Good and Evil (2022) – PG-13 [Netflix]
This one was a ridiculous romp that played with the whole library of fantasy and fairy tale tropes. It was apparently adapted from a novel of the same name, and while the cast and visuals were good, the storytelling was all over the place. The movie doesn’t really inspire me to pick up the book series.

It’s worth a look if you have kids who love fantasy and fairy tales, though the nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime might be a deal killer.

She Said (2022) – R
A tough story to watch for sure, but necessary in this day and age. The story did meander a bit but I understand why given how difficult it was for Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to uncover the details behind it. I have a lot of respect for their dedication.

I get that audiences didn’t want to revisit the scandals – especially people who think that #MeToo is overblown, that the victims have nothing to complain about, and that HW didn’t do anything wrong – but I’m hopeful that this film will take an important place in history as a chronicle of how and when things changed for the better in Hollywood.

ND Winter 2023 2

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) – PG
The first Jurassic Park was revolutionary. It was also the second movie that I saw in theaters. (The first was a re-release of Song of the South in the mid-80s.) Every sequel since has been a monster movie with a substantial budget, and while I enjoy watching the lizards eating hapless humans who don’t understand the Pandora’s box that they opened, none of them has reached the heights of the original.

This one was fun in parts, sluggish in others, and highly dependent on knowing what happened in the previous two Jurassic World entries. It was great to see the original trio back in action, though I would have also loved to see Joseph Mazzello (Tim) and Ariana Richards (Lex) back for even a quick cameo.

But, yeah… it’s apparent that the franchise has run out of creative steam. This is a good enough place to leave it.

Pinocchio (2022) – PG
In general, I have enjoyed the live-action versions of Disney’s animated classics. My favorites so far are 2016’s Jungle Book, 2019’s Aladdin, and 2019’s The Lion King. I also sing the praises of 2018’s Christopher Robin, though it’s not really a live-action remake. The rest of the crop have been okay, though Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella have stood out in that range.

Pinocchio was just bad. It was missing the soul of the 1940 film, and though the visuals and music were good, not even Tom Hanks could keep me engaged. Skip it.

Jungle Cruise (2021) – PG-13
It seemed like an absurd premise when it was announced. It ended up being a fun popcorn flick in the end. The writers were sure to knock out a ton of the jokes inherent to the Disney Parks ride within the first few minutes so that they could then settle into the story they wanted to tell.

With a two-hour runtime, it does lag a little in the middle and ends up being predictable, but Jungle Cruise is still a fun time.

Secret Society of Second Born Royals (2020) – TV-PG [Disney+]
In this story’s fictional European-styled kingdom, the first-born royal children get trained to be monarchs while the second-born royal children get superpowers. When those powers begin to manifest, the second-borns go off to a fancy school to learn how to become international secret agents.

The young actors do their best to carry the clichéd plot, but it starts to wear quickly. If you’ve got 100 minutes to kill, give it a shot.

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Let’s Dance (2019) – TV-MA [Netflix]
Following the new Netflix trend of dance crew movies, this French comedy-drama is an exercise in the genre’s clichés. It kept part my attention while I worked on some other tasks. The highlight for me was the clever mix of classical music with dance music at the story’s climax.

Casablanca (1942) – PG
Believe it or not, I had not seen this classic before February 2023. It’s been on my list, but I just had not gotten to it. You can credit Mike Faber of The ESO Network for helping me to finally check this one off.

And it was worth every second. It easily earns its status as a classic film, and I was amazed at just how vibrant Ingrid Bergman was in every frame. Just amazing.

The Sound of 007 (2022) – NR [Amazon Prime]
This was a wonderful documentary on the history of music in the James Bond franchise, from Dr. No to No Time to Die. It’s definitely worth the watch.

Starring Adam West (2013) – NR [Amazon Prime]
An engaging biographical documentary about the life of Adam West. It was made four years before his death and is framed by the quest of his family and friends to get his name enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His energy and humor saturate the biopic and I enjoyed the experience.

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Your Place or Mine (2023) – PG-13 [Netflix]
This is a pretty standard romantic comedy, but it stays engaging due to chemistry of Aline Brosh McKenna’s writing and direction combined with the acting of Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. It starts with the main characters being close friends of many years who can pretty much finish each other’s sentences, and the questioning of that relationship within the first few minutes prompted me to blurt a truth out loud: Men and women can be friends without having sex.

I wish that’s where the movie had landed at the end, but the romcom formula demands a different resolution. Otherwise, I had fun with a lot of laughs.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) – PG-13
Ant-Man is one of those Marvel characters that keeps surprising me. When the 2015 film was announced, I was skeptical and had low expectations, but wanted to see what Marvel had to offer because of what they had done with their cinematic universe since 2008.

Quantumania continues the tradition. It’s a haphazard yet fun movie, opening our eyes to a new world of exploration. My biggest complaint is that an Ant-Man and the Wasp film has not enough of the Wasp. Of course, they could have been counting the original Wasp since Michelle Pfeiffer really dominates the Pym/Van Dyne side of the script.

I liked this one a lot more than Eternals and Thor: Love and Thunder. It was fun.

The Miracle Season (2018) – PG
If you’re a fan of the “based on a true story” genre, you may have a good time with this one. It’s apparently pretty close to the real events and deals with grief and pressure quite well. It stars Erin Moriarty, Helen Hunt, and William Hurt, which is a great acting lineup, and I was also quite impressed with the direction and cinematography for what is essentially a Hallmark-style film. It’s a touching 99 minutes.


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The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window [Netflix]
This 8-episode series is a straight-up parody of the Lifetime-style suspense/horror movie genre. It yo-yos between slapstick absurdity and legitimate whodunit mystery, and Kristen Bell really sells the silly. Don’t set your expectations too high, but I found it worth the three and a half hours for her comedic talents alone.

The Last of Us – Season 1 [HBO]
Remember what I said about video game adaptations? If the game is anyway near as good as this 10-episode series, I need to buy it yesterday. Every episode was an exercise in character development and motivations, and I cried during a lot of them. The “last of us” means the last of humanity as a global pandemic threatens to end our species. This series is telling human stories, and it does the apocalypse far better than The Walking Dead ever dreamed.

It also reinforces my viewpoint that adaptations do not need to be one-for-one carbon copies of the video game experience. If I want the original video game, comic, or book, I’ll go experience that. If I want another perspective on the universe of those publications, I’ll take the adaptation.

If this season had been all about taking out zombies with headshots, it would have been yet another boring gun-toting macho orgasm drowning in blood and brains. Or, like The Walking Dead, a prolonged period of drudgery and character torture without an endgame. Instead, we get legit drama and suspense, and I’m all for it.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 2 [Disney+]
Season 1 of this show portrayed a galaxy in flux and explored how the collapsed Republic’s clone army fit into the nascent Empire. Soldiers who didn’t follow orders were cast aside while those who did lived as best they could under the iron Imperial grip.

Season 2 brought me a start to a discussion I have wanted to see. How do the clones fit into a galaxy that no longer wants them? How are clones who executed Order 66 seen in public and amongst their peers? How do those who regret their actions cope with what they did? How will the clone army live without a primary purpose?

This season has made me question how I look at the clone army in light of Order 66 and the concept that “good soldiers follow orders.” Philosophical meat like this is one big thing that I love about Star Wars. Watching Omega grow up in this trying time and exploring the secret science of cloning under the Empire’s control are bonuses, and that season finale is… wow.

The Night Agent [Netflix]
I like a good political thriller and this one kept me engaged for the most part. It works in the spirit of 24, pitting an unlikely protagonist with baggage and wits against terrorists and corrupt politicians who will do very bad things in a very short time. There’s nothing new here, and ten episodes went by at a decent enough pace. I think it wrapped up well enough that we don’t need any more seasons, especially since the original source material was a single novel. There’s no need to expand this into several seasons.

(Apparently, Netflix and Sony Pictures Television think differently: ‘Night Agent’ Renewed for Season 2 at Netflix)


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Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars – The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume 1 – Greg Cox
Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars – The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume 2 – Greg Cox
Star Trek: To Reign in Hell – The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh – Greg Cox
This trilogy of books was really well done. The first two focus heavily on the events surrounding the Eugenics Wars and the life of Khan, and they include the adventures of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln. They are the “Assignment: Earth” spinoff that I have wanted to see for a long time.

The third book spans the years between “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with a framing story that sees Kirk, Spock, and McCoy exploring the remnants of Khan’s encampment on Ceti Alpha V. I didn’t like it as much, though the events as Khan’s new civilization tries to survive were far superior to the framing story.

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Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Volume 1 – A Survivor’s Tale – Art Spiegelman
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Volume 2 –  And Here My Troubles Began – Art Spiegelman
This is a tough one to get through. It’s a real story about real people who survived the Holocaust, and it’s hard sometimes to think about how monstrous people can be sometimes. I laughed, I cried, and I resolved once again to ban fascists instead of banning books. This story needs to be read and comprehended far and wide.

DC: The New Frontier, Volume 1 – Darwyn Cooke
DC: The New Frontier, Volume 2 – Darwyn Cooke
A fascinating look at the DC Universe in the post-World War II era. It’s a world that still needs heroes, but one where living as one without a secret identity is a crime. It’s also a world without unity among the heroes, including hidden agendas and dueling ideologies. It’s a well-done tale that I really liked once I got into it.

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Star Trek: The Stardate Collection, Volume 1 – The Early Voyages – edited by David Tipton and Scott Tipton
Star Trek: The Stardate Collection, Volume 2 – Under the Command of Christopher Pike – edited by David Tipton and Scott Tipton
A fun collection of titles from IDW Publishing. I especially enjoyed the adventures of Captain Pike on the Enterprise, though I was sad to see how the line ends with a cliffhanger.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Death in Winter – Michael Jan Friedman
I wasn’t a big fan of this one. It’s a quick read and is definitely an interlude that transitions the Star Trek novel universe from the crew-shattering events of Star Trek: Nemesis to the continuing adventures between the pages, but the scenarios never really allow the characters to gel together. Picard pines for Crusher, Crusher spends the majority of the story as an injured prisoner, and Worf and La Forge (the last remaining Enterprise crewmembers) are sidelined.

I also haven’t read anything with the original Stargazer crew since 1991’s Reunion, so I have very little to connect me to the characters of Pug and Greyhorse.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing – Michael A. Martin
Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm – Michael A. Martin
I really enjoyed this duology, particularly with the complicated character growth and vignettes that highlighted random crews and troopers in the depths of war. The one big complaint that I had was this story’s reliance on previous novels – Star Trek: Enterprise – Kobayashi Maru, specifically – but that’s the downside to reading event novels in the middle of serial runs.

Star Trek: Voyager – Homecoming – Christie Golden
Star Trek: Voyager – The Farther Shore – Christie Golden
This set is complicated for me. Overall, I like the story, but it bothers me that the first book is not marketed as the first part of a two-part story. The result is frustrating when you reach the end of book one with no resolution to the plot.

The story does open some interesting narrative doors and made me think about a few sci-fi concepts. It does briefly touch on the fact that Voyager was away for seven years experiencing some strange new worlds exploration while the Federation went through the Dominion War, and how alien the post-war Federation is to this crew. It also tries to play with a few Trek tropes to make you think you know what’s going on before pulling the rug from under your feet. But I don’t buy the motivations for the story’s main villain who, according to the flashback vignettes, does bad things because of a very traumatic childhood. The final resolution was also a bit too quick, opting for a fast shoot-em-up to tie everything off.

Worth the read? Yeah, but it really wasn’t the story I had hoped for to chronicle Voyager‘s homecoming.

Reads in progress:

  • The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (43%)
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (32%)

I have also started re-reading the original Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. I haven’t read these since they came out in the 1990s but I remember absolutely loving them.


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Hadestown – Broadway in Atlanta
I went into this one completely blind. It was beautiful, but my heart soared once I saw that it was a modern  retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It also made the climax that much more tragic because I knew what was coming. It’s a wonderfully done adaptation.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical – Broadway in Atlanta
I’m familiar with Tina Turner’s story within my lifetime, but I had no idea how tragic her childhood was. Those early years were difficult to watch in this dramatization of her life story, and Ike Turner’s introduction was chilling because I know how bad of a person he was in their relationship. The music was awesome and the lead actor at our show was pitch perfect in her shoes.

If you go to this one – and you absolutely should! – stay through the final curtain call. Trust me, the finale is well worth it.


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Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nintendo Switch
I’ve been playing this here and there when I have time to devote to it. It is one that I missed upon initial release, and this remaster makes me hope that Nintendo has plans for future remasters. Especially Twilight Princess. I have just assembled the Triforce and have to pursue Ghirahim toward the final confrontation.

I’m also patiently waiting for Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to release.


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #276: Knock Knock

Doctor Who: Knock Knock
(1 episode, s10e04, 2017)

Timestamp 276 Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Bill, her friend Shireen, and their four new housemates Felicity, Harry, Pavel, and Paul go househunting. Due to their small budget, the available accommodations are sparse, but they find a man named John who has the perfect place for them. The rent is cheap and the tower is off-limits, so Bill overcomes her skepticism and signs the contract.

Pavel moves in first since he lost his student hall space. As he starts up his record player with Bach: Sonata #1 by Itzhak Perlman – specifically, G Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1001 – 1. Adagio – he finds something horrifying.

The next day, Bill moves in by using the TARDIS as a moving van. The TARDIS materializes over her stacked possessions and the Doctor is surprised at how few things she owns. She learns about the Time Lords, their flamboyant collars, and (a hint of) regeneration as the TARDIS moves to the new house. The Doctor is questioning of the house and its draftiness, offering to help her move her stuff inside to get a better look. After meeting the rest of her housemates, Bill passes him off as her grandfather, then shows him out.

As Bill moves up to her room, Pavel’s continuing music is passed off as a personality quirk; he’s known to hole up in his room with his music for days. That night, the housemates (except Pavel, obviously) gather around take-out meals to discuss oddities about their new residence. Felicity doesn’t like the lack of a mobile phone signal and Harry talks about footsteps and tapping. A strange noise summons them to the kitchen where Bill finds the Doctor investigating with his sonic screwdriver. The Doctor notes that nothing has been updated since the 1930s, including the lack of washing and drying machines. The Doctor tells Bill that the trees are screaming but there is no wind to make them creak. The housemates return to the living area and are surprised to find the landlord.

The landlord fields their complaints but seems untroubled by them. He also reacts with a sinister nature to questions about the tower. The Doctor questions the landlord about the Prime Minister and when the landlord cannot answer, the Doctor’s suspicions are raised. The landlord departs and vanishes without a trace.

Bill suggests that the Doctor should leave, but he decides to stay up with Felicity and Harry. As Bill, Shireen, and Paul head to bed, the Doctor recommends checking on Pavel. Paul asks Bill about a date, but Bill lets him down easily by revealing that she’s gay. Paul closes his door and begins to scream. Bill and Shireen laugh this off as another joke, but they soon realize that something more sinister is at work.

The Doctor, Felicity, and Harry discuss music before realizing that the house has trapped them inside by closing the doors and shutters. Felicity panics and grabs the shutters before squeezing out through a window. Once outside, she is attacked by a tree.

Bill and Shireen check on Pavel only to find that he’s been absorbed into the wood paneling. He’s able to warn them against turning off the music, but the landlord appears and stops the record, claiming that “hope is its own form of cruelty.” The wood absorbs Pavel completely, supposedly at peace with the house, and the women run after being told that it’s time for them to pay.

Bill and Shireen find access to the tower while the Doctor and Harry investigate the wood downstairs. The Doctor finds a woodlouse-like creature with glowing antennae, but the single insect leads to a raging infestation. The Doctor and Harry find refuge in a dumbwaiter that takes them to the basement. Meanwhile, Bill and Shireen find a music box and a woman asking about her father. The woman is made of wood and introduces herself as Eliza.

The Doctor and Harry find evidence that past groups have gone missing from the house. In fact, it seems to be once every twenty years. It is evident that the landlord finds groups of young people to feed the insects. When the landlord appears, the Doctor confronts him and learns that the elderly man made a deal with the insects to save his daughter’s life. When Harry tries to run, he is consumed by the insects. The Doctor suggests that he might be able to help Eliza.

In the tower, Bill and Shireen try to leave peacefully, but when Shireen is consumed when she stomps on one of the bugs. The landlord and the Doctor arrive soon after. The Doctor examines Eliza, learning that the landlord had brought the insects to amuse his bedridden daughter. They learn that high-pitched sounds attract the insects, and Eliza’s music box accidentally revived the initial wave that transformed the girl.

But, in a twist, the landlord is revealed as Eliza’s son. The insects were a gift from a curious son and they preserved Eliza’s age as she was transformed. The landlord asks for forgiveness, aware that his attempts to keep the insects (and his mother) alive were wrong, and Eliza decides to release him. She realizes that she can control the insects, and after thanking the Doctor for his help, she allows the insects to devour herself and her son.

With Eliza gone, the house begins to crumble. As Bill and the Doctor run, they find the rest of the housemates alive and well as the house releases them. The Doctor tells the group to return to the estate agents as they gape at the site of the destroyed house.

The Doctor returns to the university with takeout food for Nardole. He takes up guard duty at the vault as the mysterious occupant plays Für Elise on piano. Nardole departs and the Doctor begins to relay the night’s adventures to the prisoner. Upon explaining that people were consumed by a house, the occupant plays Pop Goes the Weasel, and an amused Doctor opens the door to give his prisoner some dinner.

I enjoyed the combination of the haunted house and monster-of-the-week motifs alongside some decent character development for Bill. While we don’t see any time travel in this story, we do get some good suspense and drama coupled with a nice twist in the villain.

Everything in this story points to the landlord being the baddie, and the woman made of wood in the tower isn’t a huge surprise. What I appreciate, though, is the twist that reveals the “creature” as the landlord’s mother. Of course, the landlord’s actions are still bad, but it complicates matters since they are also driven by good intentions.

The road to hell and all that, right?

I’m also a big fan of the minimal body count. It would have been so easy to kill off every one of Bill’s friends, but the story goes the extra step to save Bill from that darkness.

There’s not much more to this story aside from the subtle hints about who is in the vault. We’ll get there soon enough.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Oxygen


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.

Culture on My Mind – The Italian Plumber from Brooklyn

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
The Italian Plumber from Brooklyn
April 7, 2023

This week, I’m thinking about Mario. In particular, the voices of the character during the history of the Super Mario franchise.

Today marks the premiere of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, an animated theatrical movie produced by Illumination, Universal, and Nintendo.  It’s the second American movie about the franchise, but it is the third overall following the live-action adaptation in 1993 and the 1986 Japanese anime film Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! (better known by its original title, Super Mario Bros.: Peach-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen!).

A digression: If you haven’t seen the 1986 anime, Kineko Video has a remastered edition with English subtitles on YouTube. Mario is voiced by Tōru Furuya, who also portrayed the character in Amada Anime Series: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World: Mario to Yoshi no Bōken Land, the Satellaview games in Japan, and a Japanese commercial for Mario Paint.

Anyway, when the first trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, fans complained about Chris Pratt providing the voice for the titular plumber and it got me thinking about the other American English voice interpretations over the years.

Charles Martinet (1992-Present)

The obvious one is Charles Martinet, who has provided the voice of Mario, Luigi, and various other counterparts since 1992. Martinet is a voice actor who literally crashed the auditions for the Mario voice. His guidance was to be an “Italian plumber from Brooklyn,” and Martinet had originally planned to channel the stereotypical Italian American with a deep, raspy voice. In fact, this is what American audiences knew from previous animated interpretations, but he wondered if this would be too harsh for kids. Instead, he toned it down to something more soft-hearted and friendly.

According to an interview with Kotaku, his babbling audition went something like:

“Hello, ima Mario. Okey dokey, letsa make a pizza pie together, you go get somea spaghetti, you go geta some sausage, I getta some sauce, you gonna put some spaghetti on the sausage and the sausage on the pizza, then I’m gonna chasea you with the pizza, then you gonna chasea me with the pizza, and gonaa makea lasagne.”

You read that in the modern Mario voice, didn’t you?

Martinet’s first role as Mario was 1992’s Super Mario Bros. pinball machine, but he was not credited for that work. His first credit was Super Mario 64 in 1996, and he has over 100 appearances to date as the character. That work is in addition to his library of film and television credits.

Peter Cullen and Saturday Supercade (1983)

Martinet wasn’t the first, though. The first long-form appearance of Mario outside of video games was in 1983’s Saturday Supercade, an animated series produced by Ruby-Spears Productions. Mario appeared in the Donkey Kong segments and was voiced by Peter Cullen, the famous actor behind Optimus Prime, Eeyore, Monterey Jack, and many other characters in his nearly 60-year career.

In an interesting bit of trivia, Donkey Kong Jr. was voiced by Frank Welker, who also voiced Megatron opposite Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime in Transformers.

This version of Mario accompanied his girlfriend Pauline as they chased after the giant ape, and his voice was definitely gruff and authoritarian.

Larry Moran and Donkey Kong Cereal (1983)

Around the same time, Mario appeared in commercials for Donkey Kong Cereal. His brief lines were voiced by Larry “The Funny Voice Man” Moran. Moran was primarily known for commercials and gave Mario a higher and softer tone than Peter Cullen, though his “here we go” does sound very close to what Martinet brought to the table a decade later.

Donkey Kong Cereal was a Ralston Purina production that was sweetened corn cereal pieces in the shape of barrels. They later  produced the Donkey Kong Junior and Nintendo Cereal System cereals, the latter of which I remember fondly.

Larry Moran died on December 28, 2017, at the age of 78.

Harris Shore and Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Jr. Commercials (early 1980s)

Technically the first live-action version of Mario, Harris Shore brought a pretty generic version of the plumber to life in a series of advertisements for the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. commercials of the early 1980s. Harris Shore would later move to film and television in small character roles and is still active today.

Lou Albano and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show (1989)

In 1989, Mario came to long-form live-action in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! The series ran from September 4 to November 30, 1989, and featured live-action opening and closing segments that sandwiched an animated adventure based on the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario was portrayed in the series (both live-action and animated!) by WWF Hall of Fame wrestler “Captain” Lou Albano, and he was accompanied by Danny Wells as Luigi.

This version of Mario is my Mario. Even though it had a very short run on television, Albano’s interpretation is the one that comes to mind when I think of the character. Albano was an Italian-American and definitely had the accent. His voice was gruff and raspy, but he knew how to lighten it just enough for a kids’ show in the late ’80s.

The live-action side of the show acted as a parody of sitcoms, which were extremely popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These segments routinely featured guest stars and slapstick humor, while the animated segments took a deep dive into the video game world. This series also gave birth to The Legend of Zelda“Excuuuuuse me, Princess!” – which ran in the animated slot on Fridays. Mario and Luigi’s animated adventures ran Monday through Thursday.

While Albano was primarily known for his wrestling, Danny Wells was a prolific actor who was best known as Charlie, the bartender on The Jeffersons. He died in November 2013 at the age of 72.

Lou Albano died in October 2009 at the age of 76.

John Lenahan and The Super Mario Challenge (1991)

The Super Mario Challenge was a game show that was produced and aired in the United Kingdom from September to December 1991. It was hosted by American illusionist and entertainer John Lenahan and featured kids who played the first three Super Mario NES games for large gold coins which determined the winner of the overall competition.

Lenahan was dressed in overalls and a ballcap to look the part of Mario, but he played the character straight with his own voice. Technically, he wasn’t portraying Mario, but I’ll count it anyway.

I know Lenahan best from his time at Podiobooks.com. He wrote and podcasted his first novel, Shadowmagic, on the site before it was picked up by The Friday Project/Harper Collins in the UK. Shadowmagic was followed by the paperback of The Prince of Hazel and Oak in April 2011 and Sons of Macha in March 2013.

Walker Boone, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World (1990-1991)

Mario got a lot more gruff in 1990 and 1991 when Walker Boone took over for The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 and the  Super Mario World animated series. It was a huge shift for me since Boone’s Mario lost the softer playful elements that Albano brought. I watched some of Super Mario Bros. 3, but I didn’t tune it for Super Mario World.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is technically the middle part of the 1990s animated Mario trilogy produced by DiC Entertainment. This one aired alongside Captain N: The Game Master on Saturday mornings and focused a lot more on the various elements from the game of the same name. It ran from September to December 1990 and was followed by Super Mario World in the same timeframe during 1991. Super Mario World changed the setting and added characters based on the SNES game of the same name, but it only ran for 13 episodes.

Boone’s acting career lasted for just over thirty years. He died in January 2021 at the age of 76.

Ronald B. Ruben and Mario Teaches Typing (1991)

In 1991, we got Mario Teaches Typing, a PC and Macintosh game in which actor Ronald B Ruben did a really bad Italian impersonation. The educational game spun off from Super Mario World and used that game’s popularity and themes to help kids learn to type. This seems to be Ruben’s only voice credit aside from the video game M.U.G.E.N in 1999.

Nick Glaeser and Mario is Missing! (1993)

Similarly, 1993’s Mario is Missing! was an educational game for PC, Mac, and the NES and SNES systems. Mario had lines of dialogue in the PC version, and they were lighter in tone than Walker Boone’s but sounded pretty generic. Which, if we’re being honest, was the name of the game in 1990s computer gaming.

In this game, Mario was voiced by Nick Glaeser, an actor who has a handful of credits to his name.

David Plaschon and Mario’s Time Machine (1994)

In 1994, Mario was voiced by David Plaschon in Mario’s Time Machine. It’s another educational game on the same platforms as before, and the voice is very similar to Nick Glaeser’s work. This game received terrible reviews and is usually noted as one of the worst among the educational Mario games released in this time period. The only other credit I could find for Plaschon was as a producer for an Aliens video game in 1995.

Marc Graue and Hotel Mario (1994)

Also in 1994, Mario was voiced by Marc Graue in Hotel Mario. This game was one of the four developed for the short-lived Philips CD-i platform that featured Nintendo characters. The other three were Legend of Zelda games. This Mario was back to being gruff and raspy, though somewhat balanced between Albano and Boone. Marc Graue also provided the voices for Luigi and Bowser in the game, and he continues to work to this day providing voices for television and video games.

The Parodies

Before we get to the last (and potentially most infamous) Mario voice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the parody versions over the years.

  • The Simpsons: Dan Castellaneta voiced Mario in the episode “Marge Be Not Proud” (1995). Hank Azaria voiced him in The Simpsons Game from 2007.
  • Futurama: Maurice LaMarche voiced Mario in the episode “Anthology of Interest II” (2002).
  • Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy: Seth McFarlane voiced Mario in the short “Super Mario Rescues the Princess” (2008).
  • Family Guy: Seth McFarlane voiced the plumber in the episode “Lois Comes Out of Her Shell” (2012). McFarlane voiced Luigi while Mike Henry took on Mario in “Boopa-Dee Bappa-Dee” (2013). The character returned for “Encyclopedia Griffin” (2015), but I couldn’t figure out who voiced him.
  • The Pete Holmes Show: Pete Holmes voiced the character in several “Realistic Mario” shorts, circa 2014.
  • Robot Chicken: Mario was voiced in multiple appearances by Adam Talbot, Seth Green, and Matthew Lillard.
  • Mad: Mario appeared multiple times in the first three seasons (2010-2012) and was voiced by Kevin Shinick.

Bob Hoskins and Super Mario Bros. (1993)

The Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993 was the first live-action film based on a video game. The screenwriters envisioned a subversive comedy similar to Ghostbusters (1984) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), and their script was heavily influenced by Super Mario World and Super Mario Land, both of which were the most recent games of the Mario series at the time. Bob Hoskins played Mario and John Leguizamo played Luigi.

It credits an asteroid with killing the dinosaurs and splitting the universe into two parallel dimensions. The remaining dinosaurs cross into the new universe and create a world called Dinohattan. Mario and Luigi – the Mario brothers, literally Mario Mario and Luigi Mario – are eventually drawn into the parallel universe to rescue Daisy, the long-lost princess of the dinosaur land. The Mario Bros. meet Yoshi and Toad on their adventure, eventually defeating Koopa (who is de-evolved from human form into a T.Rex) and saving the princess.

Super Mario Bros. was a financial and critical failure, and even though Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appreciated the effort, he felt it tried too hard to replicate the games instead of standing on its own. However, like most really bad movies, it has developed a cult following. After all, the fact that the film was made says a lot about how video games impacted pop culture.

The downside, of course, is that video game movies haven’t really performed well or been well received until recent releases and Super Mario Bros. is the first in that legacy. Werewolves Within (2021), The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Detective Pikachu (2019), Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) stand out as winners among critical reviews. Warcraft (2016), Rampage (2018), Detective Pikachu (2019), Uncharted (2022), and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) are the top five worldwide financial performers to date.

Leguizamo liked the script, but Hoskins was unimpressed. The latter also didn’t want to get typecast in children’s films, having recently starred in both Hook and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Hoskins later called the production a nightmare and admitted that both he and Leguizamo were drunk for most of the filming process.

This Mario is pretty much a cynical, blue-collar New York stereotype. It’s not a Mario I think of when the character comes to mind.

Chris Pratt and The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

The entire legacy brings us back to the next interpretation. Mario’s lines in the trailers have been sparse, but what we have heard sounds to me like Chris Pratt channeling a little bit of Charles Martinet and a little bit of Lou Albano. The lighthearted attitude and the Martinet dialogue stand alongside the hard-working hero ethos of Albano’s Mario.

I understand modern fans being upset that Martinet didn’t get the role in this film. He’s been the voice of Mario for three decades. But long-term fans have experienced so many more versions of the character and (hopefully) realize that the legacy surpasses the actors.

He wouldn’t have been my first choice for the character, but I’m willing to see where Chris Pratt takes the plumber from Brooklyn. The trailer looks fun, but my expectations aren’t especially high given the genre. My only real hope is that the movie is well received and performs well so that maybe (just maybe) we’ll finally get a good adaptation of The Legend of Zelda.

Special thanks to the following for the information used in my research:


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – More Than Musicals

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
More Than Musicals
April 3, 2023

This week, I’m back to the performing arts with the Theater and Musical Lovers YouTube Channel.

The channel and its associated Facebook group were established as an unofficial gathering of Dragon Con attendees who love theater, musicals, and the performing arts. Their goal is to create a community of fellow thespians and fans at the convention. This time, they assembled to talk about the larger world of stage entertainment and how theater goes beyond the musical performance. From magicians to ballet, Shakespeare to improv, there is far more to the stage than most people realize.

On March 27th, Gary Mitchel and Sarah Rose were joined by professional dancer Sorsha Masters and Atlanta-based improv artist Tim Millard to discuss their crafts, the highs and lows of live performance, and how anyone can get started.

Note: Depending on security settings, you may have to click through below to see the video directly on YouTube. You should definitely subscribe to their channel for more updates.

The Theater and Musical Lovers Group will be hosting more of these panels. If you’re interested in participating or have some topic ideas in mind, head over to the group on Facebook and drop them a line

You can find Gary and Sarah on the socials: On Twitter, they are Gary_Mitchel, SarahRose_KPK, and Daisuki_Suu; on Instagram, they are Gary_Mitchel and Daisuki_Suu; and Gary’s horror-themed podcast that he hosts with Erin McGourn is A Podcask of Amontillado. Of course, the Theater & Musical Lovers channel can be found on YouTube.


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.