Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

I don’t talk a lot about my toy collecting hobby except when I’m hanging out with Michael French and the RetroBlasting crew. I had quite a few toys as a kid, mostly consisting of small LEGO sets, die-cast and plastic military aircraft, and a plethora of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I had a couple of playsets – specifically the 1979 Hot Wheels foldaway service center and the Racing Champions SkyBirds USS Enterprise aircraft carrier – but playsets were bulky and expensive, so most of my play time was emulating car jumps from ’80s television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy on the living room furniture.

 

I still have the Enterprise, though it is well-loved and the box is hanging together by a thread. I wish I still had the service center playset.

My sister and I got part of the first wave from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line circa 1988, but we were limited to the four turtles, April, and Splinter. I remember the weapons being easy to lose and our enemies being invisible forces hiding around the couch. The Foot Clan are sort of ninjas after all, right?

My grandmother found two G.I. Joe figures in her neighborhood – a 1983 Blowtorch and a 1984 First Sergeant Duke, both stripped of accessories – and she kept them for me to play with at her house. I literally had no idea what they were until last year when I recognized them in Michael French’s collection. I also had a few vinyl toys like Gizmo from Gremlins, one of the small the LJN E.T. figurines, a Playmates Darkwing Duck figure that I won from a local TV station, and a whole bunch of things over the years that I know I’m forgetting about… but the point of this introduction is that I didn’t have access to a lot of action figures when I was growing up.

When Hasbro acquired the Star Wars license in the 1990s and released the new Power of the Force (POTF2) line, I spent a good portion of my salary as a part-time elementary school custodian on picking up everything with a 3.75″ figure in it. Part of it was the ignorant belief that these toys would be just like the vintage Star Wars line and be worth gazillions of dollars within the next twenty years. The other part was a self-taught course in budgeting, bargain hunting, and personal responsibility.

Long story short, I stopped collecting one of everything mint-on-card around the same time that Attack of the Clones came out. I finally picked up my collection from my parents a couple of years ago and started paring it down. The philosophy was simple: Those toys were doing no one any good inside giant Tupperware totes, so I needed to enjoy them or get rid of them.

I decided on both. I chose certain characters to keep for future display and the rest have been trickling onto eBay ever since. (Check the Tip Jar page for the link.)

To that end, I was pretty excited about the action figure news from Star Wars Celebration 2019. When they came available on Hasbro Pulse, the toy company’s online shopping portal, I jumped on the chance to order them.

 

Let’s take a minute here to talk about my experience with toy collecting and shopping.

Since 1995, I have enjoyed the toy hunt. It’s a sport that involves bouncing from store to store, walking the aisles, and hoping that the figures you want are dangling from the pegs. Before the internet was so widespread, it was a test of patience and luck amplified by magazines like ToyFare, which was Robot Chicken before Robot Chicken was Robot Chicken.

The biggest problem I have in the internet age is distribution. I watch the news about new Star Wars and Marvel releases, but I often have problems finding the figures after the published release dates for each wave. Some of them – usually the ones that I don’t want – have flooded the toy shelves, but others never materialize. To wit:

  • I bought the Black Series Captain Rex at Toylanta 2018 because it never arrived at the mass of Walmarts and Targets in my area. It was found en masse at Ross stores in the first quarter of 2019.
  • I found one of the Ahsoka Tano releases at my local Target. The rest were eBay and Amazon purchases.
  • The Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn only appeared at the ThinkGeek store that is nearly an hour away.
  • I finally found the Black Series Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus at Five Below, a local discount store, well after Rogue One hit Blu-ray.
  • The Walgreens exclusives are hit and miss.
  • The GameStop exclusives are consistent and readily available. They also have new waves earlier than most, but they’re also more expensive.
  • In the week or two before the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, I found zero Legends hero figures on store shelves.
  • Walmart’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Binary Mode figure, never arrived at the five stores in my area. Instead, a friend and I both paid nearly double the shelf price to order them internationally.
  • Target’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Starforce figure, materialized months after the movie premiered. A friend who works at Target later elaborated on the problem: The box of four figures all comes in under the same number. They don’t know until they open the box which figures are in the batch, or which box has the exclusive figure. This is determined at the manufacturer level, not the store level.

I think a lot of this has to do with supply and demand. Hasbro puts a lot of figures on shelves at once, and not all of them sell at the same rate. But, since a store cannot just order more of the high demand ones and less of the low demand ones, they’re hesitant to put more undesirable products on the shelf just to move an extra item or two.

For some reason, the DC Comics figures are usually on time and in the right proportions to minimize stock on clearance shelves. Figures for Shazam!, Aquaman, and the new Multiverse line are on shelves and moving at a decent pace. Very few of them even get to the clearance aisle.

The exceptions, of course, are the Multiverse figures from the time of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s theatrical release. Those things breed like roaches on the pegs, and not even a rock-bottom clearance sale could move them out of one South Carolina Walmart that I visited.

The McFarlane Toys Game of Thrones line is another shining example of success: There are very few left on the pegs, and I have seen none of them on clearance. The majority of the peg-warmers are Jon Snow figures. Arya Stark has (fittingly) vanished into the night and the Night King is a lonely spirit if you can find him.

It’s obvious that the problem is with Hasbro.

I’ll come back to that later, but it’s a problematic statement to make in some collecting circles. Michael French regularly and objectively makes points like these and many others, and with similar regularity, he gets attacked by collectors who think he’s just out to take down a major toy manufacturer. Except that critics have nothing to gain from making these arguments, and we’re certainly not competing for any kind of market share.

We’re not even in the same market space. Michael reviews toys and pop culture on YouTube, and I review pop culture in writing and podcasts.

But, I digress.

 

I was excited about four of the figures announced at Star Wars Celebration 2019 that were available on Pulse. My wife is ecstatic over astromech heroes, so the Black Series Chopper (from Star Wars Rebels) and the new dingy Vintage Collection R2-D2 were easy to say yes to. Ezra Bridger (Rebels) represents a large hole in my character collection from that fantastic series, and I am one of “those fans” who actually liked The Last Jedi, so the astral projection form of Luke Skywalker was nice to see. When they came available, I decided that it was a win-win: First, since the figure waves are unpredictable in stores, it guaranteed that they would come to my collection; Second, it offered me a chance to try Hasbro Pulse.

(Aside: The Star Wars Rebels Black Series line still has a huge hero hole with the absence of Zeb Orrelios. I’m also holding out for Ezra and Kanan from the later seasons. I think Kanan became a far better character after he lost his eyesight.)

I got notified that the figures were shipping, as promised, in the first week of July. The Black Series figures arrived first, followed by the Vintage Collection figures soon after.

There were quite a few advantages to using Hasbro Pulse. The pre-order system was easy to use, and they limit purchase quantities to prevent people from gaming the system and scalping fellow collectors.

(Of course, Hasbro is responsible for creating a scalper’s market with super limited releases like the Retro Collection, but again, I digress.)

Pulse’s prices on the six-inch figures are comparable to Target’s price points – that’s typically between Walmart and Walgreens/GameStop – but the 3.75″ figures are closer to the Walgreens/GameStop level. At some point, I was able to get free shipping based on my purchase total, but nothing on the site indicates what that threshold is. I’m assuming that it is around $50, but it should be more clearly marked on the site.

The shipping boxes were fairly well packed and protected, but that also opens the door for the downsides to the Pulse experience. The first is that each figure was shipped its own box, which seems quite wasteful in terms of cardboard, packing materials, and FedEx manpower. There are pictures in various collecting groups from people that bought entire waves of new figures and ended up with plenty of spare beds for a clowder of cats.

There’s also a question of quality control. I’m not a mint-on-card/mint-in-box collector, but I’d be upset if I was since the Crait Luke came with a bent and creased card. Unless it rolled off the line damaged, which is a serious QC problem from square one, then it was bent in shipping.

(One more aside: It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a quality control problem given how many figures my friend and co-host Gary Mitchel has found that are in the wrong boxes. Unless Director Krennic has been moonlighting as a Scarif Stormtrooper, there’s no excuse for finding that many mispackaged figures.)

 

Overall, using Hasbro Pulse was a good experience. If there is another must-have figure or two, then I’ll probably use them again. But I have to address the elephant in the room here: The service does nothing to incentivize Hasbro to fix their distribution models. The company still makes money by giving collectors a faster, guaranteed avenue for buying toys, and they make even more by offering a $50 per year “premium” plan that provides free continental shipping, access to promotions and contests, and select extras at conventions and more.

Hasbro Pulse doesn’t fix the problem of not having new figures on shelves, nor does it fix the problem of supply and demand for store shoppers.

Hasbro could easily have it both ways. When I talk to toy collectors about their childhoods, most of their original toys were bought by their parents. I believe that Hasbro could bring back that feeling for today’s kids by selling the mainstream 3.75″ lines on store shelves and putting their more collector-driven lines on Pulse.

Look at the quality, the lines, and the price points. With their limited articulation and lower prices, the smaller scale figures are meant to be played with. The smaller figures are more timely – the shelves are filled with 3.75″ scale toys for recent movies (Avengers: Endgame) and television shows (Star Wars: Resistance) – and more accessible for smaller hands. This scale is built for impulse purchases.

The Black Series and Marvel Legends lines are designed for collectors. They have more articulation and posing potential, they have better paint jobs (in general), and they command the higher $20 price point. Hasbro Pulse is the perfect venue for more collector-focused offerings.

This is basic marketing. Build a supply, serve the demand. I don’t know many kids or adults who are excited about a comic-accurate Malekith, Black Bolt, or Namor. If Hasbro still wants to sell a piece of the premium market on shelves, they could limit them to the characters that kids see on screens. People will want a Spider-Man toy after they leave Far From Home: Make it easy to get one.

Or, even better, figure out how other companies are doing it right. Build a supply, serve the demand. Basic marketing.

Look, I’m far from a “Hasbro Hater.” Being critical about the company doesn’t mean that I’m trying to destroy them or that I don’t appreciate what they currently do. It just means that I’m a frustrated pop culture fan and collector, and if my discussions with other toy fans are any indication, I’m not alone.

I want to find the figures I want without resorting to discount stores or online scalpers. I want an influential and nearly century-old toy company to be better.

I want the collecting hobby to be fun, not frustrating.

 

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Timestamp: Torchwood Series One Summary

Torchwood: Series One Summary

 

Torchwood was dark and gritty, but its core message emphasized humanity, compassion, and companionship.

The first series took full advantage of its post-watershed television position, complete with adult themes, nudity, and mature language. The franchise itself is hit and miss with fans because of these elements, but the core mission of the first chapter in the show’s run is something that we should all pay attention to. Each of the characters, including Suzie, tried to balance the darkness and secrecy of their clandestine jobs with the need to talk about it with anyone who would understand. This common thread wove around each of Torchwood Three’s team members and slowly pulled them apart.

That is until the tension snapped them back together with the mutual understanding of where they stood and what they needed to do.

The stories may have varied in quality and entertainment, but the message that we all need empathy, compassion, and friendship to help us make it through the darkness makes Torchwood‘s first series worth the journey.

Now, it’s obvious that we can’t make a direct comparison between Torchwood and Doctor Who. The themes are similar, but the content and feel are markedly different. But we can look at the twenty-nine season/series grades so far to get an idea of how it fits within the Timestamps Project’s scope.

Torchwood Series One earned a 3.8 average. There are six seasons of Doctor Who, all of them from the classic era, that met that bar: The Seventh, the Tenth, the Thirteenth, the Fourteenth, the Twenty-Fifth, and the Twenty-Sixth.

Of course, we will be able to compare each series of Torchwood as they are reviewed here.

 

Everything Changes – 4
Day One – 4
Ghost Machine – 2
Cyberwoman – 4
Small Worlds – 3
Countrycide – 5
Greeks Bearing Gifts – 4
They Keep Killing Suzie – 3
Random Shoes – 3
Out of Time – 4
Combat – 3
Captain Jack Harkness – 5
End of Days – 5

Torchwood Series One Average Rating: 3.8/5

 

The Doctor Who universe continues to grow from here. Since I’m approaching the revival era from a (mostly) chronological order, our next stop is the first episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures. That series is all new territory for me since I haven’t seen a single episode.

After that, we’ll dive headfirst into the Series Three and meet Martha Jones.

 

UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: Invasion of the Bane

 

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.

Atlanta Comic Con 2019

 

Atlanta Comic Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – July 12-14, 2019

 

 

I will be at Atlanta Comic Con this year! I have three panels on Saturday, so come find me and say hi!

 

The convention schedule is available now. The list of confirmed guests, performers, and artists is available on the official site.

Atlanta Comic Con takes place in downtown Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Note: All schedules are tentative until the convention ends.

 

Saturday 11:00a – So You Want to Start a Podcast (1 hour)
Room C109
Have you wanted to start a podcast, Or do you have one and just want to talk shop? Well this is the place that will talk about how to create a show, what kind of equipment you will need to start, and where to post your new shows. In this Q&A session we will hope to point you in the right direction.

Saturday 1:30p – The MCU: What Now? (1 hour)
Room C102
The Marvel Universe has been on the big screen now for over 10 successful years, but last year it all
came crashing to a halt with a snap of a finger. Now one year later we have been introduced to Captain
Marvel and have seen the results of Avengers Endgame, but what’s next? Join the crew from the Earth
Station One Podcast as we talk about some possibilities for new directions for existing heroes and some
new ones on the horizon. We will be recording this panel live for a future episode of our podcast.

Saturday 10:00p – Holy Pop Culture: Batman at 80 (1 hour)
Room C110
Batman turns 80 this year. Join us as we spend an hour talking about his evolution over eight decades as well as his influence on and presence in popular culture. Holy puns will be kept to a minimum.

 

 

 

Timestamp #TW13: End of Days

Torchwood: End of Days
(1 episode, s01e13, 2007)

 

The last big fracture that brings a family together.

Gwen and Rhys have a rare moment to themselves, but Jack calls with an untimely but important interruption: UFOs have been sighted over the Taj Mahal, police are clashing with soldiers from the English Civil War, and people believe they are signs of Armageddon.

Ianto recites biblical verses (what he calls Daniel 12:10 is really Daniel 12:8-9), and Jack brings news that everything worldwide is linked to Owen’s breach of the Rift. Institutions around the world, including UNIT, have their eyes on Torchwood. Owen and Tosh are dispatched to a quarantined hospital, and PC Andy Davidson calls Gwen with word of a Roman Soldier in lockup. Gwen and Jack drug the soldier and lock him away in the Hub. Gwen also sees a vision of Bilis Manger that apologizes to her.

Owen and Tosh find evidence of bubonic plague, the Black Death, at the hospital. Owen is rattled since he brought this upon Cardiff, and he channels that frustration into the medical staff. Meanwhile, Tosh sees her mother who brings an ominous message: Darkness is coming and Tosh must open the Rift to stop it.

At the Hub, Ianto brings word that the weevils are swarming. Once he’s alone, he also sees Lisa again, and his vision tells him to open the Rift.

I’m going to say that opening the Rift is a bad plan.

When Owen and Tosh return to the Hub, Jack unleashes on Owen for meddling with the Rift. The two men quarrel, resulting in Jack firing Owen. He also tells everyone else that they can follow Owen if they want, and Owen reminds Gwen that he’ll likely be Retconned within the next twenty-four hours and walks out.

Jack and Gwen visit Bilis at his clock shop, A Stitch in Time. Bilis reveals that he can step through time and see the whole of history, but his curse is that he doesn’t belong anywhere within it. He says that the only way to solve the fracturing of time is to fully open the Rift. He then disappears, only to leave a message for Gwen: Rhys is going to die horribly at some point in the future.

Gwen rushes back to her flat to find Rhys cleaning the oven. He won’t come with Gwen, so she stuns him and takes him to the Hub. He’s understandably upset, but she asks him to trust her. She returns to the operations area and talks with the team, with whom she has shared the vision. When the power goes out, Gwen and Jack run for the cells. With the power off, the cell doors have opened, and Rhys meets Bilis. Bilis stabs Rhys multiple times and vanishes as the power comes back. Jack and Gwen find Rhys, but it is too late. Gwen’s screams are heart-wrenching and soul-shattering.

Meanwhile, Owen is drowning his sorrows at a bar when he sees a vision of Diane. She tells him to open the Rift. It’s still a bad plan.

As the team mourns around Rhys in the examination area, Jack consoles Gwen as she lashes out at him. Owen rushes in, but while Tosh is happy to see him, Gwen is furious. Owen announces his intention to open the Rift, and everyone but Jack follows him to help. Jack tells them that it’s a trap, threatens to shoot Gwen, and insults each of them: Tosh and her fling with Mary; Owen and his death wish; Ianto and his Cyber-girlfriend; Gwen and her affair with Owen.

Gwen punches Jack and Owen kills him with his own gun. The team is shocked, but then starts gathering retinal images to unlock the subroutine to open the Rift. It’s at that point that Jack snaps back to life. The team evacuates the Hub only to find Bilis healding the arrival of Abaddon, an enormous vision of the devil that is stampeding through the city. It was cast out of time, and anyone in its shadow immediately dies.

Jack tells Gwen to take him to an open space, intent on feeding Abaddon with his all-you-can-eat life smorgasbord. Jack stands in the shadow, writhing in pain, and a bright blue light arcs from his chest to destroy the beast and seal the Rift. Gwen grieves over the dead body of Captain Jack Harkness.

The events reset the timeline with one exception: Jack is still dead. Owen, Ianto, and Tosh are resigned to his fate, but Gwen won’t give up. She sits with him for days despite the team’s growing worry about her. Ianto breaks down and cries into Jack’s coat, and Tosh nearly convinces Gwen to let Jack go.

She kisses Jack and starts to walk away when he wakes up, weak but alive. He gets dressed and reunites with the team, all of whom are happy to see him in their own way. Jack even forgives Owen and embraces him as the team’s black sheep weeps.

Later on, Jack and Gwen discuss the Rift. It’s due to become more volatile, and Jack tells Gwen what vision would have convinced him to open it during the crisis: “The right kind of Doctor.” He walks out to find the tank with the hand bubbling and glowing. He also hears the faint sound of the TARDIS materializing, to which he snatches up the tank and runs, leaving Gwen confused as the team returns with coffee.

Something has taken him. Jack is missing.

 

This story ties all of the threads together that have been strung across the last twelve episodes. Every one of our main characters has been broken in one way or another, and it’s this trauma that finally unites them for a common cause as a dysfunctional family. It brutally unearths everyone’s secrets for the bright light of day, and that honesty is healing.

The story twists and weaves in one way while being direct in others, linking the Torchwood series definitively with Doctor Who, and not just in the final moments. It was well-crafted and exhilarating, and a fantastic way to close this chapter.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Series One 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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW12: Captain Jack Harkness

Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness
(1 episode, s01e12, 2007)

 

An eye-opening tale of star-crossed lovers.

Jack and Tosh arrive at a derelict dance hall called The Ritz to investigate 1940s music that has been drifting out of the premises at random. Pushing past the Vote Saxon posters, the duo dance in the dust before finding the music. They are transported back in time, presumably thanks to the Cardiff Rift. While Jack is happy to be there, they are trapped in 1941.

Back at the Hub, Owen wakes up to find Ianto monitoring Rift activity. Of course, Ianto can’t reach Tosh, so he calls Gwen. Owen analyzes the data, still maudlin about Diane’s disappearance, and Gwen investigates The Ritz. When Gwen calls for Jack, he can hear her voice but doesn’t get to her in time.

Tosh and Jack find themselves at a party on January 20, 1941, right in the midst of the London Blitz. Trying to blend in, they meet with an American captain who saves Jack and Tosh from a fistfight.

The American is Captain Jack Harkness.

Torchwood Jack is stunned but eventually comes up with an alias: Captain James Harper. He tells Tosh that he took the captain’s name as a disguise when the man died the next day in a training exercise. Torchwood Jack and Tosh start to work on the second half of an equation that will bridge the Rift and send them home. They transfer the equation from Tosh’s dying laptop to paper, but are interrupted by the manager, Bilish Manger. He has a Polaroid camera, which shouldn’t exist yet, and a file labeled Torchwood.

He’s also in the present and admits Gwen into the building to continue her investigation. She checks in with the Hub and learns that Manger exists in both time periods.

Tosh and Torchwood Jack return to the party. Tosh chats up another airman to get the local coordinates while Torchwood Jack gets to know the real Jack. Tosh also encounters a bit of racism – she’s Japanese, and the Japanese are one of the enemies in World War II – but Torchwood Jack is able to cover for her. Tosh sneaks back upstairs and uses the Polaroid to photograph the equation. She’s interrupted by Manger, so she only gets part of what she needs, so she finishes the equation with her own blood and seals it in a can to hide for the future.

Back in the present, Ianto and Owen spar over their lost loves and the equation. Owen is dead set on opening the Rift and bringing Diane back. He tries to use the rift manipulator but finds that a piece is missing. Owen leaves to search Manger’s office for clues as Gwen finds the can. Owen finds the missing piece and returns to the Hub.

Torchwood Jack is falling for Real Jack, only to be interrupted by Real Jack’s girlfriend Nancy. Torchwood Jack urges Real Jack to kiss her goodbye as she leaves the party, but the American captain only finds his situation worse when Nancy professes her love for him. Jack confronts Jack and exchange war stories to make their respective points. As the bombs begin to fall, everyone takes cover.

Real Jack confides in Torchwood Jack that he is scared. They sit down for a private talk as the bombings stop and the partygoers return to their revelry. Real Jack heeds Torchwood Jack’s advice to spend more time with Nancy, to treat that night as if it were his last, but later returns to spend those moments with Torchwood Jack. They hold hands before being interrupted by another couple looking for Lover’s Corner.

Owen continues his work and breaks into Jack’s safe to find the manipulator’s blueprints. Ianto takes the blueprints, but Owen overpowers him. Ianto returns with a gun, eventually shooting Owen in the shoulder to stop him. The bullet is too late. The manipulator activates as Owen slips into unconsciousness.

Torchwood Jack watches the party, telling Tosh about how the real captain will die the next day. He also explains how he was brought back from death and apologizes for dragging her into this. While Torchwood Jack mourns for the pending loss, Tosh looks on as Real Jack makes his decision. Jack takes Jack’s hand, leads him to the dance floor, and they share a dance before the Rift bursts through the door. They share a kiss as the partygoers watch in astonishment, then the wayward members of Torchwood Three return home.

They meet up with Gwen and return to the Hub. Owen performs surgery on himself to remove the bullet as Ianto searches for signs of Manger. Tosh joins Jack in his office and together they raise a glass to the memory of the real Captain Jack Harkness.

 

First things first, if we presume that this story and the Ninth Doctor tale that introduced us to Jack are happening at around the same time, then there are (at least) two versions of that character roaming about in that time.

The Jack story is quite touching, from Jack finding a moment of love with the man whom he replaced to Tosh getting to know her boss in a fantastic change of pace for the character. I mean, look, Tosh has a role in the plot! Yes! This also is a crazy story in terms of time travel for both Jack and Tosh. Tosh’s actions are quite straightforward, echoing other time travel adventures where the stuck-in-the-past hero has to send a message to his/her support team in the future in order to be rescued. Jack’s temporal threads are a bit more complex: Jack took the Captain Harkness identity as a matter of convenience, then travels back parallel to his own timeline and interacts with the man he replaced. The implications and possibilities could have spun wildly out of control.

There is the question of the dance and the kiss. From what I gather, homosexuality was still illegal in England and Wales until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed, and that did not apply to the armed forces. In reality, Captain Harkness would have likely been either imprisoned or rebuked for sharing the moment with Jack, and probably wouldn’t have been allowed to fly his mission the next day. Since the Torchwood Jack Harkness still exists, it’s reasonable to assume that either the event was washed away as a mass delusion – two people did disappear in a mysterious burst of light – or it was a moment of poetic license for the sake of drama.

Either way, I consider it a minor quibble. It was a beautiful moment for Jack, even if actor Matt Rippy didn’t seem to be totally into the role.

Owen’s story is one of obsession and subversion of power. He wants nothing more than to get love back in his life, and he’s willing to tear time and space apart to make it happen. Even a gunshot wound to his shoulder won’t slow him down. I’m interested in how it will play out with the season finale next.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: End of Days

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #183: The Runaway Bride

Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2006)

 

It’s the balance between character chemistry and chewed scenery.

Starting with that RTD Earth-zoom shot – you know the one – we meet bride-to-be Donna Noble as she’s walked down the aisle on Christmas Eve. As she approaches her groom, she’s transported away in a cloud of gold energy and appears on the TARDIS right where we left the Tenth Doctor, orbiting a supernova, at the end of Doomsday.

Donna immediately confronts the Doctor, demanding to know where she is. The Doctor is confused since she doesn’t belong on the TARDIS, and Donna thinks it is a practical joke by her friend Nerys. Donna opens the doors in an attempt to flee but stops cold at the sight of outer space beyond the TARDIS’s walls.

Then she finds out that the Doctor is an alien. Mind blown.

The Doctor investigates Donna while she demands to be taken back to the church. She spots one of Rose’s shirts and wants to know how many women the Doctor has abducted, but his attitude shifts to a combination of somber and angry as he replies that he lost her. Back on Earth, the church is in chaos as the Doctor drops Donna near Oxford Street. Donna has her “bigger on the inside moment” while the Doctor tends to the TARDIS, and she sets out on foot. The Doctor pursues, adamant that he’s not a Martian, and the pair have considerable difficulty hailing a taxi.

Especially since neither of them has any money.

Donna uses a sonic-screwdriver hacked pay phone while the Doctor stands in line for the automatic teller machine. He sonics some cash and then notices a trio of sinister Santas, including one that just drove off with Donna. She figures out that the Santas are the bad guys after she is abducted, and the Doctor runs for the TARDIS. He materializes on the roadway, flies alongside the taxi, and rescues Donna while driving the time capsule with a length of twine. The whole sequence is solid edge-of-your-seat action.

The TARDIS touches down on a rooftop and, in a burst of smoke, takes some time to cool down. The Doctor and Donna talk about her wedding and time machines, and the Time Lord gives her a ring that acts as a bio-damper to confuse the Santa-bots. They also talk about the events of last Christmas, during which Donna was hung over so she missed the whole affair. The Doctor muses about Rose for a moment before turning back to the mystery at hand.

Donna works as a secretary at a local security firm where she met Lance, head of Human Relations and her husband-to-be, as he offered her a cup of coffee. They went out for a while before they decided to get married (after Donna pestered him for a really long time). The Doctor takes her to the wedding reception, which Donna is furious about since they’re partying without the bride. Donna’s mother Sylvia counters, prompting a furious storm from the assembled guests, and Donna silences them with a quick cry. The party carries on and the Doctor investigates H.C. Clements.

It turns out that the security firm was owned by Torchwood before the institute was decimated. The Doctor asks the wedding videographer if he caught Donna’s disappearance on tape, and figures out that she was infused with Huon particles. Unfortunately, those particles cannot be shielded by a bio-damper and the Santas are on the march. The building is surrounded, and the Doctor sees that the Santas are using the Christmas trees as weapons. The ornaments explode, providing a diversion as the Santas take aim on the Doctor. The Doctor replies by plugging his sonic screwdriver into the DJ’s mixing board and blowing the robots apart.

The Doctor realizes that the Robot Santas aren’t being controlled by the Sycorax this time. He analyzes one of the robot heads and tracks the controlling signal to a star-shaped spacecraft in orbit. Lance gives Donna and the Doctor to H.C. Clements – Donna missed the Torchwood event as well – and the Doctor tracks the Huon particles to a secret sub-basement. Those particles, which haven’t been seen since the Dark Times, connected Donna to the TARDIS since the time capsule is the only other place where they exist. The trio take Segways to a door marked with the Torchwood logo, and the Doctor ascends to the Thames Flood Barrier. The secret base is underneath the landmark river.

They find a series of water capsules in a lab. Someone has been using the river to create the particles and store them in liquid form. The Doctor explains that the Time Lords stopped using Huon particles because they were deadly, and he promises to help rid Donna of them. They’re interrupted by a legion of robots and a sinister voice belonging to a half-spider half-humanoid being, the Empress of the Racnoss. The Racnoss were supposed to have gone extinct during the Dark Times.

They also find a pit dug all the way to the center of the Earth. Chekhov’s pit, perhaps? Spoiler: Not quite.

Above the pit is a giant web, inside which is the corpse of H.C. Clements. The Doctor and Donna try to distract the Empress as Lance sneaks up with an axe, but Lance’s identity is soon revealed. He made her coffee everyday, spiking it with Huon particles while tolerating her obsession with pop culture. He’s been promised a chance to see the stars, and that was enough to betray Donna. The Empress decides to dispose of the Doctor, but he reverses the particle activity and draws the TARDIS around them so they can escape.

The Doctor sets a course back in time as Donna grieves about Lance’s betrayal. They arrive at the creation of the Earth, making Donna the first human to ever see it. Together, they watch as the Racnoss starship arrives, acting as the nucleus for the planet’s formation. At that moment, the TARDIS rocks and is pulled forward to the present day as the Empress floods Lance’s body with Huon particles. To avoid a direct return to the lab, the Doctor smacks the extrapolator and shifts the TARDIS into an abandoned corridor. Unfortunately, they are both soon trapped by the robots.

The Empress extracts the Huon particles from Donna and Lance, projecting the energy into the pit and awakening the sleeping Racnoss below. She then releases Lance as food for her growing horde as her spaceship descends and attacks the city. The Doctor arrives and saves Donna before offering the Empress one last chance to save her people by surrendering. The Empress, of course, declines, and the Doctor warns her that what follows is her own doing.

The Doctor disables the robots before telling the Empress where he’s from. It turns out that the Time Lords were responsible for the extinction of the Racnoss, so the name Gallifrey sparks fear in the Empress. The Doctor uses the explosive ornaments to breach the Thames walls, flooding the complex while the Last of the Time Lords watches with sinister intent. Donna brings him back to his senses as the Empress transmats back to her ship.

On the roads above, tanks roll in and – under orders from Mr. Saxon, who we saw referenced last in Love & Monsters – destroy the ship. The Doctor and Donna surface to find the threat over and the Thames drained. They take the TARDIS back to a nearby road and the duo say goodbye. The Doctor uses temporal energy to start a Christmas snow before offering Donna a chance to travel with him. She declines, despite the adventure they just shared, but she encourages him to find someone because they can help balance the darkness in him.

The Doctor briefly tells Donna about Rose before taking off for his next adventure.

 

For a fun Christmas tale, this one does the trick. Donna and the Doctor together are amazing, playing off each other in pseudo-confrontational snappy dialogue as they work together to solve the mystery. The source of that threat, on the other hand, was way over the top: The Racnoss Empress chewed the scenery into splinters.

The Doctor is taking some time to mourn for Rose. It seems like just the right amount instead of going to the extreme with a depressed and/or mopey Doctor. He also knows when to set aside his grief to save Donna’s life and stop the Racnoss from destroying the Earth. I also really enjoyed the discussion about the Doctor needing a companion to balance him and rein him, particularly in the post-Time War trauma that the character is experiencing.

Following the episode airdates, we go back to Torchwood at this point and will remain there until the end of the show’s first series.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW11: Combat

Torchwood: Combat
(1 episode, s01e11, 2006)

 

The first rule of Weevil Fight Club…

This adventure starts with Jack pursuing a weevil. It evades him, apparently immune to the weevil spray, and runs past where Gwen and Rhys are having a tense dinner. Rhys has none of it, but Gwen leaves with Jack after he curses at her. The pair track the weevil to a parking deck, but the being is apprehended by masked strangers in a white van.

The next morning, the team analyzes a wave of weevil attacks. There has been a surge of injuries at the local hospital and Tosh can’t track the van from the night before. Meanwhile, Owen is drowning his sorrows over Diane at the bar. He gets in a fight with the bartender’s jealous boyfriend – a man whom he easily bests – in between bouts of ignoring calls from work.

Tosh confides in Gwen about Owen’s relationship with Diane: Tosh is upset and Gwen is oblivious. In the holding cells, Jack and Ianto watch as a weevil howls. They are supposedly somewhat telepathic, and something is inducing psychic pain in this one. Tosh finds the van on CCTV, prompting Jack and Tosh to investigate the docks. They find a male corpse, presumably attacked by a weevil, and a call on his cell to stay out matters that they don’t understand.

Owen finally rolls back in and conducts the autopsy. The victim was attacked by humans before the weevil attack. Ianto also has no luck tracing the victim’s cell records. Gwen and Owen go out to notify the next of kin, and they have a heart-to-heart about their affair that doesn’t end well. Owen walks back to the Hub just in time to receive orders for an undercover assignment. He meets with real estate agent Mark Lynch as a businessman looking for space at the docks. He places a sniffer device on Lynch’s computer so Tosh can download the hard drive. After Owen leaves, Lynch does a web search on Owen and his jellied eel business. He ends up confident that Owen is the real deal.

Jack sends Gwen home to patch things up with Rhys. As soon as she gets there, Rhys heads out with his friends to the bar. Gwen is left home alone.

Jack and Ianto interview a weevil victim at the hospital, but the victim doesn’t want to discuss the matter. He’s afraid that someone will kill him if he talks, so Jack decides to release the captive weevil – he’s nicknamed it Janet – with a tracker to monitor its movements. Janet gets snatched by the white van moments later, and the team finds the tracker on a fence.

Owen and Lynch meet up for drinks. Unfortunately, it’s the same bar with the jealous beau. Fortunately, Lynch helps Owen defeat the thugs. The duo return to Lynch’s place. After the fight, Lynch is aware the Owen isn’t who he claims, but he still confides in Owen that something is coming. Owen later sneaks into a locked room and comes face-to-face with a chained-up weevil. Lynch catches up with Owen, uses the creature as a punching bag, and eventually shows Owen the entire operation.

Rhys returns home and shares a drink with Gwen. Gwen confesses her affair, an act that devastates Rhys but one that he won’t remember since Gwen spiked his drink with Retcon. Gwen begs him for forgiveness, but Rhys slips under the drug’s spell before offering it. She takes pizza to the Hub, but everyone else is out. She’s alone once again, but luckily she’s around as the corpse’s phone rings with a text message: “CF10 6BY.” She quickly figures out that it is a location and passes it on to Jack.

That location? It’s the same place where Lynch and Owen are. It’s a weevil fight club.

The person who stays in the cage with the weevil longest wins and the warm-up is men fighting with each other. The corpse in the Hub refused to leave the cage and ended up mauled to death. Lynch forces Owen into the cage with Janet – let’s be fair, Owen is more than willing to jump in regardless of Lynch’s threats – and Janet recognizes him. Owen tells Janet to attack just Torchwood Three arrives. They tend to Owen’s wounds and disperse the crowd as Lynch locks himself in the cage with Janet. The weevil tears Lynch to shreds.

Jack visits Owen in the hospital with a bag of grapes. Owen tells Jack that he didn’t want to be saved. Jack tells him to be back at work the next day. When he reports in, Owen has a moment alone with Janet and the other weevil. They hiss and growl, but Owen musters a sinister snarl that sends the weevils cowering into the corner.

Owen leaves with a satisfied smirk.

 

There is a lot to unpack here. I mean, okay, sure… they did Fight Club with weevils. But going deeper, there’s so much more with our main characters here. Owen and Gwen are two sides of the same coin, explaining why they ended up having an affair together, and they’re both torn apart by their respective loneliness. Owen takes it to one extreme by attempting suicide by weevil, and Gwen takes it to another extreme by drugging her boyfriend in a twisted attempt at forgiveness.

And this is the point where I lost a ton of respect for Gwen. Sure, she’s in a tight place with no good solution, but her move here was pure selfishness and vanity. Instead of coming clean and healing the rift in her relationship with him, Gwen continues to what’s best for her instead of what’s best for them.

I don’t know that she deserves forgiveness at this point. As an outside watcher, I’m having trouble seeing how to forgive the character myself.

The other big character moment here is how Jack handles each subordinate’s crisis. In Owen’s case, Jack effectively tells him to “man up” and get back to work. In Gwen’s case, he gives her time off and forces her to pursue reconciliation. It’s inconsistent in approach but says a lot about how Jack sees each of his employees.

Speaking of, Tosh and Ianto are (once again!) lost in the wake of the drama. That’s unfortunate.

 

Since this era of Doctor Who is rife with spinoffs, the Timestamps Project is proceeding in airdate order (for the most part). As such, we’re headed back to the Tenth Doctor for a Christmas Special before coming back to close out Torchwood‘s first series.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

 

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.