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A Journal of Zarjaz Things
October 2013
The Hipster Dad
Thu, Oct. 24th, 2013 09:53 pm

1. THE DALEKS (1963): In the program's first iconic cliffhanger, companion Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), in a camera's-eye view, recoils, screaming in horror from what appears to be a sink plunger held by a stagehand. The screen fades to black followed by the words: Next Episode The Survivors.

2. PLANET OF GIANTS (1964): It takes our heroes an age and a day to figure out what the audience already has, but that first cliffhanger, in which a simple housecat poses the latest threat to their lives, is really quite beautiful.

3. THE TIME MEDDLER (1965): Again, the heroes are several steps behind the audience, particularly a modern one who knows the twist from the show's reputation, but the cliffhanger in which Vicki and Steven (Maureen O'Brien and the excellent Peter Purves) enter the Monk's TARDIS must have caused ten million jaws to drop in its day.

4. THE DALEKS' MASTER PLAN (1965): Twelve high-drama weeks helmed by one of the show's greatest directors, Douglas Camfield, in which the Daleks are teamed up with both Kevin Stoney and Peter Butterworth, Nicholas Courtney guest-stars for the first time, Jean Marsh joins the cast, and not one but TWO companions are killed. The existing three installments are completely amazing, and there's a sense of danger and boldness that the modern show quite honestly never matches. This was the only time in the program's history where absolutely nothing was safe.

5. THE WAR MACHINES (1966): The BBC enters the Swinging Sixties with full force - Adam Adamant Lives!, managed by Doctor Who's original producer, debuted just two days before this serial began airing - with the introduction of Ben and Polly (Michael Craze and Anneke Wills), two of the best companions the show ever had, and whose time in the show is mostly missing from the archive. Also features the mad-beyond-words cliffhanger "Doctor....WHO....is required! Bring...him...here!"

6. THE POWER OF THE DALEKS (1966): You can't blame Ben and Polly for neither understanding nor trusting what has happened to the Doctor. He now looks like Patrick Troughton and isn't really explaining very well why he's changed. Plus, Daleks.

7. THE FACELESS ONES (1967): Again, most of this is missing, including Ben and Polly's farewell, but there's a fab replacement quasi-companion in Pauline Collins' Samantha, and the crystallization of Patrick Troughton's rapport with his great co-star Frazer Hines, who plays Jamie.


9. THE WEB OF FEAR (1968): Recovered a couple of months ago, this somehow lived up to the legend, which was impossibly high. The Battle of Covent Garden in part four, which sees every one of Col. Lethbridge-Stewart's men killed by the robot Yeti, is the best action sequence in the show for the next twenty years. The character, played by Nicholas Courtney, will be a recurring player and trusted friend for many years to come.

10. THE INVASION (1968): Camfield, Stoney, and Courtney again. It's eight weeks that could have just as easily played as ten, with everybody involved at the height of their powers, and the amazing moment in which the Cybermen prove their control of London in an iconic scene in which they storm down the steps at St. Paul's Cathedral.

11. THE SEEDS OF DEATH (1969): To be perfectly fair, this really isn't all that good, but the scene in which the Doctor saves his own skin by telling the Ice Warriors who've cornered him that they can't possibly kill him without angering their leader, because he is a genius, really is magical.

12. THE WAR GAMES (1969): It's really maybe only one episode too long, so packed as this is with power. The first cliffhanger, with the firing squad, and the second, with the Roman chariot duke it out for the "damnedest thing we've ever seen" award. The scene in which the Doctor and the War Chief first lay eyes on each other and the audience realizes that they know each other - that's pure damn magic.

13. SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE (1970): Jon Pertwee's debut has a million things to love - he just came right in and owned the character, didn't he? - but that iconic shop window mannequin scene, that's one of the most amazing things ever made for TV.

14. DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS (1970): "This is our planet! We were here before man!" Doctor Who began traumatizing my kids in the Pertwee era. A chance comment in a cave in Chattanooga to my eldest - "This is like where the Silurians live!" - prompted nightmares several weeks after we finished watching the story.

15. TERROR OF THE AUTONS (1971): And then there's this damn thing, which would be wild and amazing with the introductions of Roger Delgado as The Master and Katy Manning as None-More-Seventies Jo Grant anyway, a brash comic strip of harsh color, super close-ups, and blue-screen technology, even before my kids were driven to tears by it. Before it finished, one child was locking his teddy bear in the freezer and the other was collapsing in screams at the sight of her own inflatable chair, because the Master has one as well, and his eats people.

16. THE MIND OF EVIL (1971): The program's most tone-deaf moment comes amid a superbly-directed, incredibly '70s story about nerve gas missiles and prison reform, sort of Clockwork Orange on Saturday afternoons. Here, it's revealed that the Doctor is a close chum of, get this, Mao Zedong. Maybe the Doctor decided to knock over Terra Alpha in 1988 to atone for being such an unbelievably poor judge of despot.

17. THE SEA DEVILS (1972): It's not just a good story, with a great performance by Delgado, good monsters, good guest stars, and the Clangers, but there's this terrific musical score that sounds like somebody stole Brian Eno's first synthesizer and threw it down a flight of stairs.

18. THE THREE DOCTORS (1973): You can tell that Pertwee's not really graciously allowing Patrick Troughton to steal his every scene, but the Trout gets away with it. The sweet way that he completely charms Jo and absent-mindedly asks her to teach him "I am the Walrus" on the recorder just leaves you wishing the producers would have taped 26 episodes with one actor and 26 more with the other every year.

19. CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS (1973): The Drashigs. Good grief. They're giant worm monsters with dog-snouts that shriek like banshees, and sure, if you're an adult, they're fairly neat puppets. If you're six, they are pure and undiluted nightmare fuel that terrify you for the next ten months and send you into Daddy's bed every time a car drives past.

20. THE GREEN DEATH (1973): See, David Tennant's Doctor got his heart broken every third week, but it's here, after top-line performances from all the cast, great location filming, an incredibly seventies room-sized supercomputer, an even more incredibly seventies commune full of hippie scientists, and carnivorous maggots the size of your arm, that the Doctor first sits down and makes the audience cry after Jo breaks absolutely everybody's heart by leaving him to marry a man she described as a younger version of the Doctor.

21. ROBOT (1975): After Pertwee's last and very troublingly subpar season, the debut of Tom Baker isn't very good and looks awful - worryingly, it points to the very cheap future of videotaping on location - but it also points the way forward when the Brigadier says that naturally, the only nation that could be entrusted with every other nation's missile codes is Great Britain, and the Doctor replies "Well, naturally. I mean, the rest are all foreigners."

22. THE SONTARAN EXPERIMENT (1975): "It's absolutely typical of Harry. How anyone in his right mind can fall down a whacking great subsidence like that..."

23. GENESIS OF THE DALEKS (1975): If, during one of the most tense and edge-of-your-seat scenes ever done on this show, your children are not digging their fingers into your arms in sheer panic, leaving marks that will last a month, when the lead Dalek shouts back at Davros that it does not know the meaning of the word "pity," because Davros never taught the damn things what it means, then you've done something wrong. Sorry. You'll have to have another child and try again.

24. TERROR OF THE ZYGONS and THE SEEDS OF DOOM (1975 and 1976): Douglas Camfield's final stories as director, both written by Robert Banks Stewart and with music by this damn genius called Geoffrey Burgon, whose work is so good, you'll want to punch every subsequent producer and director for not hiring him. Both are brilliant, especially the scary way in the second story that the Doctor realizes that his interplanetary, children-safe melodrama has crashed into a contemporary thriller full of violent and uncompromising men with guns who'd rather shoot you than put up with clever, witty banter.

25. PYRAMIDS OF MARS (1975): Notable as the final time that my kids ran screaming from Doctor Who, but, geez, those robot mummies are a terrific last horror to go out on, aren't they?

26. THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS (1976): This one tells us, full stop, that there were eight Doctors before Hartnell, and that Tom Baker's playing the twelfth. Fandom has been looking for excuses for this ever since.

27. SEASON 14, ENTIRELY (1976-1977): As consistent as a season as the show ever had, with Baker on perfect form, Elisabeth Sladen getting the best departure scene of anybody in the classic series, Louise Jameson getting the best debut, two amazing scripts by Chris Boucher, and a brilliant Victorian-era finish that, these days, troubles a more ethnically sensitive society in its whitebread approach to Chinese tongs and yellow perils, but provides an amazing pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes vs. Fu Manchu saga that somehow, we'd never seen before. Frankly, the only eye-rolling moment for 26 straight episodes is one director getting the silly idea that primitive tribal huts should be shot under studio lights so bright that they reflect off the actors' skin.

28. THE RIBOS OPERATION (1978): Arguably Robert Holmes' very best script, with Baker paired with a lovely new leading lady, and two excellent opponents in an intergalactic con man and an unhinged feudal lord.

29. CITY OF DEATH (1979): True, part one lags from a little too much "Look! We're in Paris!" location filming, but with one high-concept Douglas Adams idea crashing madly into each other and consistently hilarious dialogue - "Well, you're a beautiful woman, probably" - and the pleasant sight of Baker and new companion Lalla Ward clearly falling in love offscreen - they married soon after, though it wasn't to last - this story has a certain bouquet that leads many to call it the classic series' finest hour...

30. SHADA (1980ish): But that's possibly because a strike interrupted production of this one, terminally, after they'd shot about 40% of it. What survived is complete and pure genius, with even more sparkling wit, higher concepts, wild ideas, and beautiful chemistry among all the players. "I'm not mad about your tailor."

31. DOCTOR WHO AND THE STAR BEAST (1980): Tom Baker's finest line never actually delivered by Tom Baker: "Mrs. Wiggins, there are aliens at the bottom of your garden!" Pat Mills, John Wagner, and Dave Gibbons collaborated on 32 episodes of a comic. It's had its ups and downs and moments of greatness for the last thirty-three years, but it was never as great as introducing one of the Doctor's finest enemies, Beep the Meep.

32. WARRIORS' GATE (1981): The really astonishing thing is looking at every single music video by Spandau Ballet, Japan, Duran Duran, and all their peers in 1981-82 and seeing just how much they ripped off this deeply odd serial from Tom Baker's last season.

33. LOGOPOLIS (1981): Don't let my fangirl daughter fool you with her love for David Tennant. Tom Baker was her Doctor. When he died at the hands of the Master in this story, she was inconsolable for weeks. We had to wait forever to start Davison until she quit mourning.

34. KINDA (1982): One of the most frightening depictions of madness in the series, Davison's Doctor is out of his league against opponents who won't be beaten by the usual rules. Janet Fielding takes a lip-bitingly sexy seductive turn when an alien force possesses her, and imagery holds the key as time is running out for a helpless society damaged by first contact from human colonists. Brilliant across the board.

35. EARTHSHOCK (1982): Rather less than its reputation suggests, this is nevertheless really well-directed by Peter Grimwade, and the first-episode cliffhanger that the Cybermen are back had my eldest son so blown away by excitement and happiness that his favorite baddies had returned that he quite literally started weeping with joy.

36. SNAKEDANCE (1983): If for nothing else, this is an amazing story that plays out what it's like when the Doctor, in the pre-psychic paper days, really does look like an unhinged lunatic, making really ridiculous warnings of imminent doom like a religious nut preachin' that Satan's a-comin'. Also features future sitcom star Martin Clunes dressed like Robin Hood, space pirate.

37. THE FIVE DOCTORS (1983): The living definition of something I've seen too damn much, I can't even watch a commentary track. But my memories are pretty amazing, especially letting Troughton and Pertwee have another chance to one-up each other, cementing the notion that some Doctors just don't like each other. Later stories - mostly novels of course - have built on this idea, and I think that it's lovely. It also sparked the idea that Troughton's Doctor had all sorts of adventures as an agent of the Time Lords before he was exiled to Earth as Pertwee, which is also lovely.

38. THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI (1984): The heir-apparent to Douglas Camfield, Graeme Harper, made his amazing directing debut in an equally amazing Robert Holmes story. This thing's the living definition of everybody involved giving 110%. Davison's last TV story is so darn good across the board. Even the lighting is right. In a perfect, sensible world where directors and musicians were on BBC staff and not freelance, this team would have made every story of the next year.

39. STARS FELL ON STOCKBRIDGE (1983): Dave Gibbons' final comic adventure for the Doctor is a completely beautiful little story about a UFOlogist having a quiet opportunity to confirm his dreams. On its own, it's a simple and intelligent script. That it sets up characters and situations that the comic has revisited for twenty-plus years is even better.

40. THE MARK OF THE RANI (1985): The Master and the Rani's double-act...
...THE TWO DOCTORS (1985): Er, that is, Colin Baker and Frazer Hines work really well... um, Sontarans...
...REVELATION OF THE DALEKS (1985): Eleanor Bron's quite good, isn't she? And William Gaunt?
Look, the honest truth is that if you watch Colin Baker with your kids, you will have an awesome time. I mean this absolutely. The Sixth Doctor is a perfect hero for children. I will defend his era to the death on that ground. Nicola Bryant is consistently excellent in her role, and Baker is really good in his, but I honestly don't enjoy these stories outside of watching them with enthusiastic kids. It's worth remembering, however, that this is the way that Doctor Who was meant to be enjoyed. It is a program for families. Period.

41. DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN (1987): Holy God. This is incredible. There's a far-too-serious breed of fan who doesn't embrace the love of the great Sylvester McCoy TV episodes. They are magical at their best, despite the worst-ever production quality - all videotape cheapness and too-loud Casio keyboard music - and two very bad stumbles out of the gate to start his run of twelve serials. With this story, they got it so very right. With the Doctor awkwardly comforting a lovelorn girl in 1950s rural Wales after a soc hop, and hugging a Fender guitar while warning a man of the dangers of injecting alien jelly into his blood to be with the space princess he loves, this is Doctor Who shooting way above its limitations and hitting it perfectly every time. Plus, "Hey! That's the property of Uncle Sam!" "Where is he, your Uncle Sam?!"

42. REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS (1988): In the steepest learning curve ever seen in television, Andrew Morgan, who did such a woeful job on McCoy's first TV story, turns in the best directing job in the entire classic series. It also includes Terry Molloy's best performance as Davros, and That Scene, where Sophie Aldred, the new companion, who was pretty weak in her debut adventure, announcing to the world that Ace was going to be one of the all-time greats. From her battle cry of "Who you calling small?!" and then beating the hell out of a Dalek with a stellar-juiced baseball bat and then running across lab tables and shattering a hotdamned window, this is Doctor Who's pronouncement that the show is going to try to fire on every single cylinder.

43. THE HAPPINESS PATROL (1988): So this lunatic, tyrannical despot has built an executioner robot made of candy. To the British audience, it looked like an old advertising mascot. To anybody else, it looks like an acid flashback. Also, when you phone this robot, which is called the Kandyman, it answers the telephone, "Kandyman!" My God, it's brilliant. The despot, by the way, she's Margaret Thatcher, and the Doctor topples her government in one night. Sheila Hancock is amazing in the role in every scene, with her finale making a case for being the best single scene in the entire series.

44. THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY (1988): The Seventh Doctor years at their most 2000 AD-influenced, this is not just a shot glass of rocket fuel, it's six straight shot glasses of rocket fuel. Swimming effortlessly among a dozen wild ideas thrown at the wall, it's one of the show's weirdest, most unpredictable, and strangest hours. Also, despite a couple of efforts in season 26, the show's final scary monsters: a hearse full of undertaker clowns.

45. THE CURSE OF FENRIC (1989): Honestly not quite as good as its legend, this does feature some really good performances and moments. A game show host called Nicholas Parsons is completely fantastic in his role as a priest who's lost his faith, and the original show's last great cliffhanger comes at the end of part three, when a scientist in a wheelchair gets hit by a lightning bolt and stands up behind the Doctor, his eyes an ugly yellow, to say "We play the contest again.... Time Lord."

46. LOVE AND WAR (1992): So Doctor Who transferred to novels, published by Virgin, leading to the misfortune of calling oneself "a Virgin Doctor Who fan." The first eight had some good and bad moments, and then we meet the archaeologist Professor Bernice "Benny" Summerfield, the Doctor's greatest-ever companion, in Paul Cornell's second of these novels. She asks the Doctor whether he has a girlfriend and he says no. Boyfriend? No. Model train set? (beat.) Possibly.

47. CONUNDRUM (1994): I love novels with unreliable narrators. This one is one of my all-time favorites, when the lead character in the story - the Doctor - begins addressing the narrator directly. A book that was once ruined for everybody by the revelation of its plot twist, it's worth rediscovery for anybody who just likes well-written fiction.

48. ALL-CONSUMING FIRE (1994): It goes way, way, way off the rails before it finishes, but for a good chunk of its structure, this is a brilliant pastiche of "lost" Sherlock Holmes fiction, with our heroes Holmes and Watson - Watson bewitched by the charming Miss Summerfield - crossing paths with a mysterious stranger with memberships to both the Library of St. John the Beheaded and the almost-as-exclusive Diogenes Club.

49. FALLS THE SHADOW (1994): It's Doctor Who versus Sapphire & Steel, only Sapphire and Steel have gone mad.

50. WARLOCK (1995): The second of three novels by the show's last script editor, Andrew Cartmel. In probably the saddest thing in the universe, the cat who's been hanging around the Doctor's odd little house on Allen Road in Kent is unceremoniously killed. The Doctor is offered an apology. He has a response to that.

51. HUMAN NATURE (1995): They later remade this as a TV episode and it was excellent. It wasn't as good as the original. There's a bit where one of the villains tries convincing Benny that he's actually the Tenth Doctor which I completely love.

52. RETURN OF THE LIVING DAD (1996): I really don't find Kate Orman's contributions to the Doctor Who canon worthy of the acclaim that they often receive. But this one, despite one of the dreariest of her hurt/comfort tropes (hypothermia!), offers not only a long-overdue look at what happens to the alien casualties of the Doctor's actions, but also an Auton spatula. Bliss.

53. SO VILE A SIN (1997): Orman again took charge of this story, first-drafted by Ben Aaronovitch. Of all the Doctor's companions to die in action over the years, Roz Forrester gets the most heartbreaking exit. Blunt, sad, and painfully powerful.

54. DOCTOR WHO (1996): Had Fox picked this up as a series, it probably wouldn't have been very good, but when Doctor # 8, Paul McGann, shouts "These SHOES! They fit PERFECTLY!," he establishes himself as one of the greats.

55. THE DYING DAYS (1997): Virgin bid farewell to their license with one and only one Eighth Doctor story, something that, in an alternate universe where Fox and the BBC might have spent lots of money on a Paul McGann TV series, could have played out. Lance Parkin pits the new Doctor against the Ice Warriors. It ends with Benny throwing him on a bed. Fade to black, while...

56. THE ROMANCE OF CRIME (1995), THE ENGLISH WAY OF DEATH (1996), and THE WELL-MANNERED WAR (1997): ...as they were telling new adventures of the Seventh Doctor, Virgin also had a line of not-quite-as-good Missing Adventures of previous incarnations. The best, by far, were Gareth Roberts' three Douglas Adams tributes, set during Tom Baker and Lalla Ward's time in the TARDIS. Not only do they evoke Adams perfectly throughout, but they end with a completely unexpected curtain of their own.

57. ALIEN BODIES (1997): The books are now published by the BBC's line and they're honestly not very good. Most of these books, by far, misfire, but some of the contributions by author Lawrence Miles are wild standouts. In this one, the Doctor's presence at an auction being held among several aliens on Earth for a mysterious artifact is already a triumph of mad ideas done brilliantly. It takes the greatest, wildest turn in the world when it's revealed that the artifact is the Doctor's own corpse.

58. INTERFERENCE (1999): In which the Eighth Doctor meets the Third, and the Third gets killed by a shotgun blast to the chest before he makes it to Metebelis Three where we expected that version to die. Now just wait a minute.

59. THE ADVENTURESS OF HENRIETTA STREET (2001): Miles has a jawdropping final contribution in this really clever book that is assembled as a lengthy academic paper about some curious events in the 1780s involving a mysterious "Doctor" and a Chinese "Doctor Nie Who." Absorbing and engrossing and completely original.

60. THE FINAL CHAPTER / WORMWOOD (1998-99): Meanwhile, the comic books were telling their own continuity. The Eighth Doctor is killed and regenerates into a polite, balding fellow with a toothbrush in his coat pocket. This "Ninth Doctor" is all a clever trick of our hero, but the six months of fandom screaming "They can't DO THAT!" are the most entertaining in memory.

61. OPHIDIUS / BEAUTIFUL FREAK (2002): This had me screaming "They can't DO THAT!" and I'm the one who brags that they can and should do anything and everything. The Eighth Doctor's companion Izzy has her brain swapped into an alien fish-lady's body, and things proceed under the predictable rules of this kind of fiction until the con artist alien fish-lady gets herself killed, disintegrated into atoms in Izzy's original body, leaving the companion stuck in somebody else's hideous skin, unable to ever return home to Earth.

62. CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION (2002): Oh, spoiling this one should be a crime. You remember those humanized Daleks from 1967's "Evil of the Daleks," right? Well, many of them actually survived. And they're hiding out from persecution. And they worship the Doctor as their savior.

63. WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME (2003): Roger Langridge got the job of illustrating several really good one-off stories for the comic, including a great one where the actor Tom Baker saves the BBC studios from an invasion from space and the eighth Doctor gets a copy of the first issue of Marvel's Doctor Who Weekly. But the very best Langridge story is one where a lonely eighth Doctor confides in a bartender and the two part, quite cheered up after a very weird night, neither at all aware that, lifetimes ago, they were good friends.

64. DOCTOR WHO AND THE CURSE OF FATAL DEATH (1999): Rowan Atkinson is the ninth Doctor, and Richard E. Grant is the tenth, and Jim Broadbent is the eleventh, and Hugh Grant is the twelfth, and Joanna Lumley is the thirteenth. There are people who write lots of fanfic about these characters. Grant has been a pretty good Great Intelligence, but he hasn't once, in that role, had a line as great as when Jonathan Pryce's Master insists "I'm not camp!" he gets to reply: "Oh yeah? Nice tits."

65. ROSE (2005): One word. "Run."

66. THE EMPTY CHILD and THE DOCTOR DANCES (2005): Four words. "Are you my mummy?"

67. BAD WOLF (2005): To be fair, many of the problems of modern Who come from the new status quo that the Doctor is always being a huge badass and having this gigantic legend that foreshadows his every move. Tennant and Smith have been good and been bad with this "lonely god" business, but neither actor even once came close to the power of Christopher Eccleston confirming to the Daleks that he has no weapons, no support, and no plan, and he's still going to win. "Rose? I'm coming to get you."

68. THE PARTING OF THE WAYS (2005): This is the best regeneration scene. Period.

69. SCHOOL REUNION (2006): Look, Anthony Stewart Head is fine in this, and the Krillitane plot is pretty entertaining, but this could have been fifty minutes of Sarah Jane and Rose one-upping each other with the monsters they've seen and Mickey taunting David Tennant's Tenth Doctor about "the missus and the ex" and I'd have enjoyed it just as much. I love how, having established that the new show is all about the now and the future, this does such an amazing job of addressing the past. It's beautiful.

70. THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE (2006): I also like how, with Rose's ostensible boyfriend on board the TARDIS, the Doctor can run around back and forth to France and snog Madame de Pompadour and Rose does not know how to handle that at all.

71. LOVE AND MONSTERS (2006): The explanation that Raxicoricofallipatorius has a sister planet called Clom is the funniest joke I've ever heard.

72. DOOMSDAY (2006): If you're not punching the air as the Daleks and Cybermen start trash-talking each other like guests on The Maury Povich Show, I don't know what's wrong with you.

73. HUMAN NATURE and THE FAMILY OF BLOOD (2007): Series three has lots of flaws, and an unbelievably poor finale, but the middle bits are pretty amazing. Tennant's on fire in this one, and the casting is pretty much perfect across the board.

74. BLINK (2007): It's tough to find any reason to argue against this episode's legend.

75. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SARAH JANE? (2007): This is where the spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures first found its feet, in a time-twisting and freaky story with a great recurring villain, the Trickster, making his first appearance, and Jane Asher in a terrific guest role as the woman who would have been alive today had young Sarah Jane died in her place forty-odd years before.

76. TIME CRASH (2007): This didn't need to be any longer than it was, and when the insults stop and Tennant starts honestly praising his predecessor - and real-life future father-in-law! - Peter Davison, it's really a bit of genuine TV magic.

77. PARTNERS IN CRIME (2008): The beginning of my favorite series of the revived production, with my all-time favorite TV companion in Catherine Tate's Donna. Redefined from the odd, shrill character that fueled her debut appearance in 2006 in an equally silly runaround with Warner Brothers cartoon physics, and also bringing Bernard Cribbins into play as her awesome grandfather, Wilf, Donna is a character made better by her one, weird, experience with the Doctor. It has turned her into a better person, despite her lack of resources, and Tate's chemistry with Tennant is sheer perfection.

78. THE SONTARAN STRATEGEM (2008): Nobody likes this as much as I do, and I can see its flaws from space, but the scene where Tennant channels Tom Baker, putting his insolent feet on a desk and shutting off the sound while Christopher Ryan's Sontaran commander rants and raves on the video screen is pretty wonderful.

79. SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY and FOREST OF THE DEAD (2008): You kind of wish that Steven Moffat had trusted the audience enough to play with a Doctor who has met people, like his future wife River Song, who's introduced here, out of order before. There's a lot to like about this one - it includes Tennant's best-ever badass moment, telling the space bugs to use the library's resources and "Look me up" - and River's death is wonderful, but I'd have killed to see the Doctor not so baffled by the complexity of the situation. I figured it out pretty quickly, and I'm much thicker than the Doctor.

80. MIDNIGHT (2008): Tennant's tour-de-force, against an alien threat that's more excitingly and wildly alien than anything we've ever seen before. Brilliant throughout.

81. TURN LEFT (2008): Catherine Tate is amazing while carrying things on her own, but damn if Bernard Cribbins doesn't steal the whole show in a heartbreaking scene that shows the desperate British government rounding up foreign-born citizens for some sort of relocation. This is so bleak that it's stunning.

82. THE STOLEN EARTH (2008): This is what my dang children did to me. At the time, we were watching Doctor Who five days after its UK transmission. I was aware, from online friends, in the five days between this episode airing and us watching it, that something wild happened in the episode. Then we saw that cliffhanger, with the Doctor starting to regenerate. I went into complete lockdown for six days, terrified of being spoiled. I didn't go online for anything. Days crept by. I wanted to see part two so badly. Then I got an email from my daughter. Her older brother pulled the greatest prank in the universe on me. He knew I'd know it was a stunt if it came from him, but he also knew that his motormouth sister, who has no filter whatever, would, upon finding what happened, blab about it. So they conspired to get me. About six hours before we were due to watch the episode, I got an email from the girlchild. It read "Dad, I know who the new Doctor is!" I was CRUSHED. My own DAUGHTER... BETRAYED me! I almost cried. I spent two hours completely miserable. She fessed up that she knew nothing about any sort of new Doctor or what was going to happen, that her brother put her up to it. I got those kids together and read them the damn riot act. I raised hell with them. Their faces were drained of blood, and, voice raising, I said, "I've only got ONE THING to say to you!! Well done, children. You got me good, fair and square." They cheered and we hugged and went to watch part two.

That's how much I love this show.

83. JOURNEY'S END (2008): This is the only one of RTD's four season finales that I enjoy, and it's masterful. I love every bit of it. I also just bawl my way through Donna's departure, which, cruelly, goes on forever.

84. ENEMY OF THE BANE (2008): I love the way that The Sarah Jane Adventures just carried on its own wild, increasingly unhinged continuity, telling one great story after another and building up a splendid rogues' gallery. This time out, the Sontaran Kaagh teams up with Bane Mother Miss Wormwood, and Sarah Jane's best hope for help is her old friend the Brigadier.

85. THE NEXT DOCTOR (2008): Honestly, this one's not all that great, but David Morrissey is so darn good as proto-Doctor Jackson Lake that you get the real feeling that, had things gone differently, the show would've been okay in his hands.

86. PRISONER OF THE JUDOON (2009): Series three of TSJA is the most unhinged and insane. In this one, you've got a Judoon rhino-policeman in a commandeered car stopping to issue traffic citations...

87. MONA LISA'S REVENGE (2009): ...and in this one, the Mona Lisa is walking around with a laser blaster. You get the feeling that everybody involved in this series was having lots of fun.

88. THE WEDDING OF SARAH JANE SMITH (2009): Here, for example, is one of Tennant's best performances as the Doctor - he'd actually already finished the production of the main series, but with the excellent idea of being stuck with Sarah's companions in a single second of time, while she's trapped with the Trickster in a different second, he seems to find renewed inspiration.

89. THE WATERS OF MARS (2009): There's a bit toward the end of this - you all know the one - where the Doctor decides that he can change history whenever he wants. I was genuinely worried as hell about what was going to happen next. I honestly had no idea that it would result in anything as horrifyingly bleak as Adelaide Brooke's character committing suicide. Holy anna.

90. THE END OF TIME (2009): It's the scenes with Cribbins. He's so amazing. It's not the scenes with John Simm. In other productions, he's amazing, too.

91. THE TIME OF ANGELS and FLESH AND STONE (2010): Pretty much finished with the Weeping Angels after this story, which was an early highlight for Matt Smith's Doctor. The bits where companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) has something in her eyes and can't open them make this a very clever inverse of the situation in "Blink," when you couldn't close your eyes.

92. THE PANDORICA OPENS and THE BIG BANG (2010): It must be said that when Sylvester McCoy read the Pandorica speech in character at a Dragon*Con, he absolutely nailed it. On the other hand, I don't know that McCoy would have played the "How're things?" scene with the "thought-you-were-dead" Rory half as well as Smith. This also has one completely amazing cliffhanger, with everybody showing up to see the Doctor lose. The Doctor's farewell speech from the old man that he is to the very young little Amelia is the saddest thing in the world.

93. DEATH OF THE DOCTOR (2010): In which Jo Grant arrives at The Sarah Jane Adventures to marvel that the Doctor has regenerated into a baby. One of Smith's best moments as the Doctor is him stomping down that corridor in his awkward, loping stride, yelling at the aliens, "Are you telling people I'm dead?!"

94. THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT (2011): This entire subplot of the season vanishes up its tail almost instantly, but for 45 minutes, everything seemed bright and amazing, and Utah seemed like the promise of a great new start.

95. THE DOCTOR'S WIFE (2011): Neil Gaiman's debut episode - and boy, it's better than his second - is by leagues the best thing about the otherwise drab sixth series. I just love this thing to bits. It's smart, and knowing, and loves the past and future equally. The Doctor didn't steal the TARDIS; she stole him. That's magic.

96. THE SNOWMEN (2012): Well, there's the slightly stupid Sontaran. I like the Paternoster Gang a lot, actually. Clara the slightly sassy barmaid-nanny who does not act even remotely Victorian rankled like heck at first, but has been revealed to be pretty clever in a Moffatty way.

97. COLD WAR (2013): I always liked the Ice Warriors in spite of their disappointing stories, but this one is really good. I especially like David Warner's character being crazy about Ultravox and being concerned that in Clara's far-flung future, what matters most is that they're still together.

98. HIDE (2013): You know what would have made this story even better? If Dougray Scott was playing Bernard Quatermass. I actually thought that before I read that's what the writer, Neil Cross, had waned to do. Stupid copyright laws.

99. THE CRIMSON HORROR (2013): I'm not sure what's more worthy of comment, that it took Mark Gatiss six tries to write a script this good, or that it took the producers of Doctor Who FIFTY DAMN YEARS to give Diana Rigg a part.

100. THE NEXT EPISODE (2013): Because what happens next is always the best thing about Doctor Who.


The Hipster Dad
Thu, Oct. 13th, 2011 08:23 am

One of the best, truest songs ever written is "My Perfect Cousin" by the Undertones, which, over the course of the last thirteen installments of Thrillpowered Thursday, I've mentioned twice. That jealousy that kids feel about older friends and family can be really aggravating. I was always incredibly envious of Blake, who was my best friend from about the third through the ninth grades. He seemed to have everything! He was a year older, and had an older brother, and they had so many neat old toys, and remarkable luck in finding new acquisitions at garage sales and things, and lots - LOTS - more pocket money, and he always seemed to jump in head-first when I found something new to enjoy.

For a few weeks, after I discovered Doctor Who, he wasn't able to watch it, because his mother strictly enforced a 10 pm bedtime on Saturday nights. Hindsight showed soon that perhaps I shouldn't have always been so envious. But anyway, I told him about this amazing show that I'd found on Saturday nights. I told him about the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Zygons and the Anti-Man and Sutekh and the Kraals and Morbius and he agreed that it sounded incredible. Then I missed a week, and then I told him about the Cult of Demnos in medieval Italy and Eldrad and then, oh. I told him about the melting skeleton man. The Master, as played in the 1976 serial "The Deadly Assassin" by Peter Pratt, was a skeletal form in tattered blue robes.

It was a very good costume, and thanks to some fine direction and lighting, this absolutely convinced me that the Master was one of television's coolest villains. I drew this guy on notebook paper for months, killing people. He's described, in episode guides and such, as emaciated, the result of a failed attempt at regenerating a thirteenth time, which Time Lords are not supposed to try to do. Fanon suggests that the Master ran through most of his Time Lord bodies being killed time and again in failed bids of villainy, and that the character played by Roger Delgado in the early 1970s was the Thirteenth Master. Insistent on regenerating again after this body died in an offscreen adventure, he ended up horribly deformed and disfigured, his skull-like face barely holding on to melting skin.

Of course, "The Deadly Assassin" was Doctor Who's first spectacular retcon. "Genesis of the Daleks" had fiddled with the facts presented about those villains in 1963-64, but nothing like what this did. Prior to Philip Hinchcliffe's run as producer, the Doctor was thousands of years old and could live forever, barring accidents. "Pyramids of Mars" nailed down his age to 743, and this story emphatically stated that Time Lords could only regenerate twelve times. This meant that the Doctor, as played by Tom Baker, was the I-forgot-how-many-but-at-least Tenth Doctor (turned out to be the Twelfth), as shown in "The Brain of Morbius" just a month previously on WGTV. This wouldn't be retconned, formally, until 1982 and "Mawdryn Undead," with the first formal note, in the text, that the Doctor was firmly on his fifth body. The other eight actors seen in "Brain of Morbius" (production crew in fancy dress) have never been explained in the show. Fanon suggests those could be handwaved away as Morbius's earlier lives (or some really complicated and convoluted Gallifreyan mythology crap that nobody understands), but that is emphatically not what the show wanted the audience to think at the time. They wanted there to be several Doctors prior to the show's beginning.

It also massively changed the look and design of the Time Lords, and altered them from godlike beings to squabbling, hateful, petty politicians. It also should have been the last time Gallifrey ever appeared in Doctor Who. Every subsequent story set on the Time Lords' planet was lousy.

But back in 1984, I took all this as new. The Master had ALWAYS been a skeletal bad guy; when the Doctor and the other characters discussed him, I didn't understand that he had once been a suave, bearded dude in black suits. When the Doctor tells another character that he'd had "several" face lifts, I knew that he'd indeed had something like a dozen. I knew that humans were forbidden from ever going to the Time Lords' planet, and never, ever would.

A couple of weeks after this episode aired in its omnibus form on WGTV, Blake was finally allowed to watch it. He started with the movie version of "The Robots of Death," the title of which horrified his mother, and was also hooked. He even got to see the two "episodes" that I missed because my family went out of town, so he told me about the killer ventriloquist doll and the return trip to Gallifrey, and gave me the really shocking news that Leela, the companion who replaced Sarah Jane, had stayed behind to marry a Time Lord! He wanted me to go over everything that he missed again. I was completely emphatic about the particular awesomeness of three villains in particular: the seven foot-tall guns-in-head Cybermen, the weird pink outline monster that merged with a human and created the new bad guy Anti-Man, and the melting skeleton dude, the Master.

Over the next three weeks, we watched the new co-star, Romana, join the Doctor for the first three episodes of tracking down the Key to Time. We would talk on the phone Sunday afternoon and relish the awesomeness and lament the subpar special effects. Some other school friends who tried it out on my recommendation were particularly unsympathetic about the special effects. "I can't believe you watch that," a good friend in the seventh grade told me. "It's SO FAKE!!"

And then, on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, Blake called me with the most mindblowing news that I'd ever heard. He asked "Didn't you tell me the Master was a melting skeleton dude? Well, you're wrong, he's a guy with a beard. And there are only six Doctors, not ten or eleven. The new guy, the sixth, apparently starts in new episodes they haven't even filmed yet. Oh, and that Anti-Man thing is incredibly fake. It's just a big silver blanket! It's stupid."

What that asshole did was somehow find the American edition of the Radio Times 20th Anniversary special magazine, distributed in the US by Starlog. For a time, this was the ur-text of American fandom. Finally, we had an actual episode guide and lots of photos. The reason I can pinpoint the week he got it was that there was a photo of Mary Tamm in the purple outfit that we would see her wearing just a few days later in "The Androids of Tara."

I looked through this magazine with utter horror. Firstly, the revelation that the Master was once some boring human was a blow. They didn't even have a picture of the amazingly cool melting skeleton man, but I did draw Blake's attention to a sentence that explained Peter Pratt played him as emaciated. Worse still, the magazine spoiled that the Master would soon be returning to the show as another boring bearded human played by Anthony Ainley.

Oh, and what these idiots did to poor Anti-Man was just criminal. See, here's what that monster looked like onscreen:

This was a visual effect caused by mixing and superimposing a treated, high-contrast video recording of this costume onto the action:

For some reason, the STOOPID BRAIN-DEAD MORONS at Starlog - it had to be their fault, I was thirteen - put an UNFINISHED PICTURE in their magazine.

Some of these other old monsters in this magazine looked really cool. Some did not. The Axons: YES. The Chronovore: NO.

I really, really resented this magazine for a while. My hatred of spoilers comes straight from this experience. It spoiled Doctor Who's future and its past for me. As much as I love this fiction and its universe, I think those few months in 1984 when I did not know a darn thing more than what was on the screen were the very best of them. I knew that the show was old, but I also, somehow, knew that it was still running. Suddenly, I could see the limits and I could count the episodes. I knew how many more weeks we would have until the Doctor changed into this blond guy with the silly pants, and while I was briefly excited to count down how many more episodes until the Cybermen came back, something magical really was spoiled by reading it.

I don't know whether it was specifically this magazine that did it, or just Blake, in general, finding something that I enjoyed and one-upping me by buying the living hell out of it, but I started getting even with him. Seriously, I told him about Doctor Who and suddenly he knew more than me. I said I liked some comic, he'd buy more back issues than I could find. I started collecting Superman II bubble gum cards a pack a time from the B&W Grocery, he'd complete a set. What I started doing was buying one issue of a comic, praising it, and throwing it away. (Well, metaphorically. One NEVER threw away comics.) I would say, for example, that I bought an issue of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar and really liked it, and he would mow some guy's lawn for twenty bucks just to blow it all on Dreadstar comics, in which I had no interest whatsoever. Eventually, I started lying. I'd say that I read somebody's issue of Power Man and Iron Fist at school, just so he would throw good money after bad buying as many issues as he could find.

Thirteen year-old boys are hateful, hateful people. But for putting limits on what was magic, he might well have had that coming to him.



The Hipster Dad
Tue, Oct. 11th, 2011 08:27 am

A couple of times on Facebook, I've recommended TARDIS Eruditorum, which is probably the best writing on Doctor Who that I've ever seen. Well, mostly. His "Three Doctors" article was, intentionally, an impenetrable wall of deliberately provocative and pretentious cod-academic gobbledygook, and I have a serious quibble with his new writeup on "Revenge of the Cybermen." If you've not visited this blog and you enjoy Who, then you really should. It is extremely clever analysis, put into a framework that details contemporary music and events, and other media that was either inspired by Who, or trying to steal its thunder, or rip it off in some fashion, or, sometimes, the media that was inspiring Doctor Who. Seriously, out of 119 chapters, 117 are really terrific reading.

As for "Revenge of the Cybermen," he gets it two-thirds right. He's correct in suggesting that it is easily the worst of the three years of stories produced by Philip Hinchcliffe. He's also very insightful in noting how the script editor, Robert Holmes, turned the storyline into a post-modern treatise on how ridiculous and pathetic the Cybermen of the 1960s could be, and how Doctor Who was going to grow up and away from their ilk. He was right; over the next four years and 104 episodes, villains from the series' past would only feature in six of them. Four of these were a serial that featured the Master, who looked and acted nothing at all like he used to. Imagine that in modern Doctor Who: it couldn't happen.

But he misses something so vital in discussing "Revenge," and that's its impact on one of the show's target audiences: thirteen year-old boys. Hindsight has certainly proved this to be a pretty awful story, but this serial is the one that made me a Doctor Who fan. I don't doubt for a minute that, nine years after it was broadcast, a vote or straw poll at the 1983 Longleat "convention" led the BBC to release this story as their very first VHS home video. If you were 19 or 20 when you went to Longleat, then regardless of your relationship to or involvement in fandom, you were a preteen when this story aired, you had not seen it since, and 1982's "Earthshock" probably reminded you of how amazing you thought "Revenge" was when you were an impressionable kid. If the BBC got votes for a 1960s Cyberman story, then the voter would have to be in their late twenties, and while I'm sure there were plenty of those present, everything I've heard about Longleat - it was sort of the Woodstock for British geeks of the day - indicates that the crowd had a big chunk of people their late teens or early twenties. Every one of them started a fanzine within a month. Of course they'd want "Revenge" on video.

My first exposure to Doctor Who came in 1982, when a local UHF station played the feature film Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD with Peter Cushing. They played it in their Sunday morning creature feature slot, when I was used to watching Godzilla movies. I gave up after about half an hour; there was no Godzilla in this.

About a year and a half later, I tuned into the omnibus edition - Wikipedia suggests that American fans called these movie versions "Whovies," which is bullshit; I was active in American fandom for years and years and never heard such a dumb word - of "Genesis of the Daleks" on WGTV after seeing the listing and, misremembering what an author who might have been Daniel Cohen had said in some library book about science fiction monsters, thinking that Doctor Who was kind of a British version of The Outer Limits. I enjoyed the heck out of it, despite connecting those stupid Daleks to that stupid movie I saw 18 months earlier. I didn't believe in the Daleks at all; of all the silly special effects and production woes, those things were clearly just wood and plastic, and impossible to take seriously. Doctor Who, Sarah Jane and Harry, though, they were wicked cool.

(Also: giant clam. Fandom has mocked that giant clam as the dumb moment in "Genesis." Fandom is wrong. Do you have any idea how many godawful, stupid episodes of Lost in Space and brain-dead movies about journeys to the Earth's core we watched as little kids to see shit as awesome as that giant clam?)

The Cybermen, despite being men in silver wet suits with plastic helmets, those guys I took seriously. For me, and, I suggest, for most people who encountered them at my age, they were not "half-assed replacements for the Daleks." I'd further suggest that British kids in 1974 who suffered through the misbegotten "Death to the Daleks" at that age were probably finding these villains pretty overrated as well. But, to young eyes, the Cybermen had nothing but great promise.

Now, a lot of this falls down to watching Doctor Who as omnibus editions rather than as a four-week serial as intended, but this is one of the very few cases where the show is actually improved by viewing it this way. As a serial, the script's main problem is easy to note: the Cybermen have nothing but dumb, desperate ideas that the Doctor defeats and defuses week after week. But as a single, ninety-minute "episode" in the eyes of somebody who does not understand how the show was supposed to be seen, it makes the Cybermen look like incredibly resourceful villains who keep coming up with new and superior plans every time the Doctor foils them. They follow up the plague and the Cybermats and storming the base and planning to blow up the small planet of Voga with whacking great bombs strapped to our heroes with - not a last act of desperation to pad an arguable three episodes of plot into four - a master plan just in case anything else goes wrong, just smashing the base (Nerva Beacon) into the planet.

And they had guns in their heads. Seven foot tall silver robots WITH GUNS IN THEIR HEADS. This was the finest thing ever made for television.

A couple of unusual things happened as a result of this. Part of me remembered, the week previously, staying up until 12.30 in the morning to finish watching "Genesis of the Daleks." This episode finished up at 11.30 pm. I concluded that Doctor Who was a 90-minute show, and the previous week's story, because it was apparently a big deal, telling the "secret origin" of the Daleks, was a special two-and-a-half hour episode, sort of like those occasional "big event" episodes of The Bionic Woman or Battlestar Galactica. Now, while I tried to watch Doctor Who religiously, I did occasionally miss episodes when my family went on overnight weekend trips. I later looked it up and realized that I missed, on the first broadcast in 1984, every single omnibus edition of a six-part serial. Since I did not see "The Seeds of Doom, " "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" or "The Invasion of Time" when they were first shown, and was not confronted with any more "two-and-a-half-hour episodes," my theory was sound. More about this maybe Thursday.

The other thing is that I completely misread Doctor Who as being a show built around recurring bad guys, just like Batman, and so I viewed the next several monsters as the Doctor's rogues gallery, expecting each and every one of them to show up again soon. The Daleks and the Cybermen were each, in these first two stories, explained as villains whom the Doctor had met before, and so I imagined that the Zygons, the Anti-Man, Sutekh and the Kraals were all lining up for rematches. Yes, I saw the nebulous anti-matter energy entity from "Planet of Evil" as a conventional bad guy, because I misunderstood a brief scene where the Doctor says that the Professor Sorenson character's anti-matter infected tissue is turning him into something inhuman, something anti-man, as the secret origin of a weird new supervillain named Anti-Man. I understood that Doctor Who villains did not rob banks or museums - "City of Death" being some months away - but I still saw them as villains, and that's how villains and heroes interacted, by constantly returning to fight each other.

It was Batman, on other planets, with much higher stakes, where people got killed. Now, most people I've met go through a phase in their early teens when the Adam West Batman suddenly becomes something embarrassing, because you took it seriously as a kid, and when you're a teen, you understand that it's really stupid, but you lack the maturity to understand that its stupidity is part of its brilliance. I remember, once, expressing some exasperation about the cliffhanger to a Joker episode where they're about to be electrocuted, resolved the next day by a power outtage. "That's just STUPID," twelve year-old me bellowed. "Why didn't the Joker just SHOOT THEM?" This disparity is made worse for comic book geeks who want their Batman serious. You can still spot the sad bastards who never got over it, and refuse to enjoy one of the most charming and entertaining programs of the 1960s. But in one fell swoop, Doctor Who did more damage to Batman's credibility than hormones and maturing eyes ever could. The superhero of this show also had no powers, and not even a utility belt, but he managed to beat much more dangerous supervillains. Who would want to watch Batman anymore when THIS was available?

Without the ability to rewatch "Revenge of the Cybermen" - not even having access yet to an episode guide to see when and where we were in the show and whether I would get to see the Cybermen's previous appearance - I was left to replay it in my mind, letting my pumped-up-on-Coca-Cola late-Saturday-night imagination draw them on notebook paper, head-guns blazing and punching holes through walls, through tanks, through soldiers' bodies. (Thirteen year-old boys. Who'd have one?) When time eventually showed this story to be a pretty underwhelming mess, I was disappointed, but by then, I was hooked for life.

That's what TARDIS Eruditorum leaves out, and why this entry disappoints me: the golden age of Doctor Who, ALWAYS, is "when you're twelve." This was one of the serials that, in analysis, would have benefitted the most from starting with that viewpoint and working towards the inevitable disappointment of learning what a silly little flop it is. When you're twelve, however, it's pretty much the absolute greatest Doctor Who story ever, at least until the one with the melting skeleton man. MELTING SKELETON MAN.

Next time: "That's not what Anti-Man looks like! That's stupid! How could they get that wrong?!"



The Hipster Dad
Mon, Aug. 1st, 2011 06:58 pm


The Hipster Dad
Sun, Mar. 13th, 2011 12:52 pm

The Hipster Son found The Rutles at the library and we sat down to watch that. I haven't seen it in twenty years, but since I overwatched the hell out of the thing in high school, it didn't have very many surprises.

Witty and amusing instead of really funny, there are nevertheless one or two very good jokes, especially involving Eric Idle's trip to New Orleans, and the late, great Gilda Radner has an amazing moment where she vomits out an absurd pile of dialogue at Idle. Whatever laugh I had was swallowed by just how impressive it was that anybody could recite that gigantic paragraph of a ridiculous speech in character.

The biggest surprise was that despite one or two scenes and shots being inserted extras from the copy that made the rounds of PBS back in the eighties, there was one big change. It's the scene with Dan Aykroyd playing the record exec who turned down the Rutles. In the broadcast version, Idle asks him "What's it like to be such a complete jerk?" and the two argue back and forth for half a minute, Aykroyd adopting an "English" accent about as believable as Dick Van Dyke's when he says "'Ere, 'ere, you cont coll me vat." But in the DVD, they used an alternate take - the picture quality is notably poorer - which abruptly ends when Idle asks, "What's it like to be such an asshole?" instead. How odd.

Apparently, John Lennon advised Idle not to release "Get Up and Go" on the soundtrack LP, lest he risk a lawsuit from Paul McCartney, because that song is darn near identical to "Get Back." Apparently, Apple's lawyers went ahead and sued them anyway, and when the album did eventually appear on CD, the 13 songs from the vinyl LP were co-credited to Neil Innes and to Lennon-McCartney.

I used to have a cassette of the songs that I made by holding a condenser mic next to the TV speaker. As far as I'm aware, recording from the actual movie remains the only way to get a copy of the song "A Thousand Feet of Film." Not, of course, that anybody has ever wanted to listen to that song, ever.



The Hipster Dad
Sun, Jun. 27th, 2010 08:21 pm

If there's one thing I'm utterly and absolutely sick to the back teeth of, it's the depiction in comics and other media of the Joker as a remorseless, hateful serial killer in a storm-drenched Gotham that looks like a Nine Inch Nails video. The Joker makes sense as a goofball weirdo in a purple suit with a giant exploding jack-in-the-box. When he has a body count greater than, say, ten, he doesn't make any sense as a recurring character whatsoever, because there's not a jury in the world who'd believe another insanity plea. He'd either be in an escape-proof supermax prison one corridor over from McVeigh, or in line for the needle.

I guess this is one of the million chinks in modern DC Comics that brings it all crashing down. I think I finally stopped being able to suspend disbelief when Kurt Busiek Mark Waid* and Alex Ross did this pretty-but-indefensible series some years back called Kingdom Come where some new hero starts his career by killing the Joker - after he bombed the Daily Planet and killed Lois Lane - and the new hero is somehow treated as the guy who lacks a moral compass, when he's the first one to figure that hauling someone back to the asylum every time he breaks out and murders dozens doesn't work.

The solution, for comics, should have been incredibly simple: just don't kill. Not even the bad guys. If you're telling a fantasy scenario, go the whole hog and make it outlandish and fantastic and ridiculous. That's why it isn't just the sixties' Batman TV series that remains so darn fun, but the sixties' comics by the likes of Gardner Fox and Sheldon Modoff and Carmine Infantino as well. Don't get me wrong, I like occasionally trying to wrap my mind around whatever crazy stuff that Grant Morrison has come up with every so often, and I'd like to enjoy DC superhero comics.

Yet by trying to make a world "realistic" in its depiction of violence, but populating it with characters who are inured to the consequences of violence, DC's creators have created something I don't enjoy, but more importantly I can't believe in. I'll believe a man can fly for the sake of an amusing, well-drawn, fun story. When there are no consequences for anybody's actions, you can't underline a character as being unremittingly evil and unrepentant and expect me, a reader, to maintain any interest in your fiction. Additionally, when "death" means nothing more than "temporarily not publishing stories with this character," you've robbed the property of its ability to shock. All that's left is curiosity for me, as a reader, to see how one or two fascinating writers concoct their stories. The Batman comics of 45 years ago aren't just more fun than today's, they're more intelligent and more honest. (They're drawn a hell of a lot better, too. Other than Amanda Conner and Tony Harris, I can't swear that anybody currently employed by DC can draw a straight enough line to find their way out of a small paper bag.)

The iconography's a big obstacle, too. If Arkham Asylum looks like something from a Korn video or that Silent Hill video game, something's not right. I'm not sure, but I don't think that mental hospitals for the criminally incompetent are lit by single 40-watt bulbs that keep flickering, with creaky wheelchairs making their way through wet corridors. This design, constantly restated and regurgitated by lazy designers, was ridiculous when Dave McKean barfed it out in the book Arkham Asylum (one of Morrison's worst misfires), and it's ridiculous today. And I'm really, really over the "you NEED me!" nonsense of Joker being the yin to Batman's yang. Even the hint of it is cringe-inducing. Of all the things that Tim Burton needs to be punished for, creating that tomfoolery ranks pretty close to the top.

Yet after all that, and everything this new Batman fan film has against it, I enjoyed the daylights out of it just for its sheer moxie. It's got a pile of extras, some great fight scenes, throwaway cameos by other characters, and they rented a Ferrari and filmed a great chunk of it at a traveling carnival. It's called City of Scars and while it may have nothing whatsoever to do with any Batman that I might ever want to read or watch, it's still a very good piece of work, with a surprising ending, and in the last six months, I've seen explosions in episodes of Smallville and Law & Order that were more obviously phony than the one shown here. I'll never object to seeing independent filmmakers outdo mainstream television with only a fraction of the budget (done for $27,000 total, apparently). Good work, guys. Yer Joker may be no Cesar Romero, but he's darn good in the part.

*thanks for the correction, martin_wisse!

Current Mood: amused amused


The Hipster Dad
Wed, Jun. 2nd, 2010 07:14 pm

I have really been remiss in not praising the heck out of Law & Order: Criminal Intent to my readers. I was pretty skeptical, but I have been very, very satisfied with this season, after its really rough beginning.

To recap, sometime after season eight, the suits elected to dispense with almost all of the regular cast and hand the reins over to Jeff Goldblum, who appeared in eight episodes last year as Det. Zach Nichols. There was some vocal outcry over the firing of the much-loved Vincent D'Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe and Eric Bogosian. Episode one of the new season, setting the stage for the new state of affairs, was nevertheless pretty damn great, especially in what I'd say was D'Onofrio's last scene of real genius, arguing his way past the FBI after Captain Ross's body is discovered.

Unfortunately, part two of the story was a colossal letdown and disappointment, and the next two episodes, following D'Onofrio and Erbe's departure, were as bad and bland as Law & Order has ever been. Honestly, episode four, "Delicate," almost made me not come back for episode five. I can only describe it as a feeble reimagining of the Parker-Hulme relationship from Heavenly Creatures recast in a dance school. Interestingly, both of the episodes that I did not like at all were scripted by writers who almost immediately turned in far, far better stories: "Gods and Insects" and "Love Sick."

The last six episodes of Criminal Intent have been just amazingly entertaining. It's been stark, horrifying, really intense television. Last week's episode, "Traffic," expertly revisited the old series hallmark of using a pretitle sequence that presents fractured glimpses of the characters and situations that are about to come crashing together, and did it extremely well, with a humdinger of a twist when their material witness gets shanked in prison. Last night's tale, "Disciple," was a headspinner which crossed between New York and Illinois as Nichols and Stevens' initial suspicion that somebody's trying to copycat the Son of Sam gets derailed when they learn somebody's actually copycatting a serial killer who was just executed.

Saffron Burrows is doing an excellent job as Stevens and has really sold me after my initial skepticism (I was really liking the chemistry last year with Julianne Nicholson's Det. Wheeler) but how damn amazing is Goldblum as Nichols? Last season he was fun, but his character quirks were sometimes more than a bit goofy. It's no wonder some L&O fans started wincing, as it looked exactly like he was mugging for the USA Network's "Characters Welcome" campaign. But what he's doing this year is much more subtle and dark.

Overall, this is flatly one of the best shows on television, and the last six episodes have easily been as good as the show's best years (seasons two through four, if I'm to judge). It's a shame that they opened with such a hiccup, but if the producers can keep up this level of intensity on a week-to-week basis, they deserve some serious praise for turning a flagging show around into something incredibly memorable.

(The image was copied from the really, really detailed L&O blog All Things Law & Order, which is certainly worth a look.)

Current Mood: pleased pleased


The Hipster Dad
Wed, May. 26th, 2010 05:26 am

It's been a really long time since a comic choked me up quite like what happened this morning when I read the final episode of the Nikolai Dante story "Heroes Be Damned." Probably the last page of "Human Diastrophism" was the last time I got smacked around quite like that. It didn't help that a character exited the story in precisely the same fashion as an unbelievable nightmare that I had about four years ago.

Even knowing what was going to happen on account of that grexnix Mike Gloady spoilin' it for me didn't change things. Damn, guys. That was a heartbreaker. I'm going to be a mess all day.

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Current Mood: sad sad


The Hipster Dad
Wed, Jan. 13th, 2010 08:24 am

I've been working on the theory that my mind is just naturally attuned to new elements to Doctor Who mythology, no matter how obscure or hard to spell. The first time they mentioned Raxicoricofallipatorious, the word stuck, if not the spelling, anyway. Stargate SG-1, on the other hand, it's one long process of me pausing episodes and saying "Wait, that System Lord with an apostrophe in his name they just mentioned, is that the one who killed that other dude with an apostrophe in his name?"

Last night, we watched a good SG-1 episode in the third season. It was a proper mindfuck of an episode with a few good emotional gutpunches. It was, however, utterly unnecessary. When we went to bed, I told Marie that I really liked it, but it would have been a whole lot simpler had the lady with an apostrophe in her name, instead of telepathically sending an episode's worth of hallucinations to Daniel for him to take forty minutes to decipher, just telepathically told him that her son was a Hasenpfeffer and was hiding on the planet Hug.

"You mean her son's a Harcesis and is on the planet Keb," Marie told me.

"Look, my brain's full up enough with Raxicoricofallipatorious and Clom," I said. "I don't have room for Hasenpfeffers, and the least you can do is acknowledge how clever I am bringing Laverne & Shirley into this."

"What are you talking about?"

"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! It's from the opening of Lavrene & Shirley. You knew that, right?"

"But I never watched Laverne & Shirley."

"Good grief. We'll be eighty years old and I'll still be saying 'You know, he played Potsie on Happy Days'."

"And I'll be asking 'You still can't spell hymenoptera'?"

"H-Y-M-E-N-O-P-T-E-R-A. What's that, something to do with bugs?"

"You remember, six weeks ago I was telling you about how the hymenoptera undertransmogrify with the genes and the half-deploids frazzle with the chromosonal coding and gunkunk the doozers." (Note: Possibly not an exact quote.)

"You did mention that, yes. The point being that the overwhelming, overwhelming majority of people our age know about Laverne and Shirley, whereas only a very, very, peculiar few give one-half of a flying fuck about hymenoptera and half-deploids."

"I know who Laverne and Shirley are; they're those two actresses."

"Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, yes."

Marie mumbled something, at considerable length, about half-deploids and their genetic makeup, and then I think she either fell asleep or pretended to before I told her who played Potsie. I didn't want to mention that I only know how to spell hymenoptera, or guessed that they might be bugs, because there were some butterfly aliens called Menoptera in a 1965 Doctor Who serial called "The Web Planet." It's facts like that which prevent me remembering what a Hasenpfeffer is.

Current Mood: awake awake


The Hipster Dad
Sat, Feb. 14th, 2009 03:13 am

Well, I'm thinking whoever you are or whatever you were up to yesterday, you did not have as good a day as the Hipster Son had on Friday the 13th. Because he got a day off school and we went up to the Classic City to see a lecture by Groo the Wanderer's creator Sergio Aragonés, and got a whole lot more than we planned for.

I took a half-day at work, and he got to hang out there with me, reading books and drinking coffee, until eleven. Then we took SR 120 from Alpharetta over to 316, had a little lunch and got up to Athens about 1.45. We hung out at Bizarro Wuxtry for about an hour, talking shop and gossipping with the Unsinkable Robert Brown, before patrickdean phoned the store to let Robert know where he was headin' in the next few minutes, and that if we got a move on, we could probably get to meet Sergio a little earlier than at the lecture.

The Hipster Son and I got turned around and went the wrong way, and even though downtown Athens is not really all that large, it's kind of hard to find a place when the place you're looking for is actually closed. Well, we figured it out in time, and found a nice little pub, and joined Patrick, Drew Weing, Joey Weiser and Chris Schweizer, whose Crogan's Vengeance I will recommend after just a short glance, for an hour or so talking about comics and the industry with Sergio. Well, that was all kinds of fun. Afraid my boy's about a decade too young to say he's had a beer with Sergio Aragonés, but at least he had a Sprite. (The waitress didn't charge me for it either. I said that was very nice, after all, he was my designated driver.)

After about an hour, Sergio had to make his way onto campus. Drew went one way, and the rest of us decamped back to Bizarro, where we wished Robert good luck in getting to leave early and join us. (He did.) I retrieved my car from the top of the deck and drove the five of us down to the art school, now located in spiffy new pedestrian-unfriendly digs way out on east campus. When I was yer age, everything that wasn't within spittin' distance of the north campus quads was either a dining hall or didn't matter. We met up with secondperiod and with Devlin Thompson, who we're not gonna get to see all that often anymore, what with him moving to So'ca'lina.

Anyway, the occasion for Sergio's visit was he was this year's Jack Davis Distinguished Visiting Artist, and they gave him a shoe in return for a lecture and some cartooning. I'm not kidding about the shoe, either, although I'm sure it was a nice one. Maybe they'll let him come back next year and give him a second one.

Well, Sergio shared many great anecdotes about getting started, and the one you've probably heard before about hoping that Antonio Prohias could get him an introduction at MAD, only to find Prohias knew even less English than he did, but it didn't matter since Prohias embraced him as his brother and took him straight to an editor. Then the editors, taking this literally, kept calling him "Sergio Prohias," and each time he tried to correct them by saying "Aragonés," they thought that was Spanish for "thank you."

Then he did some sketching, demonstrating why he's known as the world's fastest cartoonist. People were shouting out ideas - "athletes!" "ninjas!" - and he did about a dozen of these beautifully silly gags. I don't think he paused for more than about seven seconds the whole time. He mentioned that people always get offended about something, and drew a manhole, then the cover next to it, then a cane, then a pair of dark glasses. I just about blacked out from laughing.

And what occurred to me, as he's got close to two hundred people in this room roaring with laughter, is that he does this every month in MAD. And how the heck many of us still buy it? Why'd we get out of the habit? My son's got a decent collection of the books and things - actually, it occurred to me later that the Hipster Son really missed a trick when Sergio asked him at the pub whether he still reads books, as opposed to being obsessed with gadgets like everybody his age, by not replying "Well, I bought that hundred-odd dollar Don Martin book they put out" - but it's true that few of his friends are familiar with it, which helps explain why it has recently become a quarterly. MAD put an appropriate face on it, saying that only every third issue was any good anyway, so they're just not going to publish the others, but why the heck did we all stop buying something which makes us laugh so much? I'll tell you what, if you've got kids, or you're planning to, you need to go buy 'em MAD. Every new issue, just stack 'em up until they're ready for them. There's a whole pile of books - the Hipster Son got this Barnes & Noble-repackaged edition which'd kill a cat from five paces - and we're all just plain dumb for not filling our homes with it, and making sure it'd be around for our kids to enjoy when they're my son's age.

After the lecture, the Hipster Son went to get a couple of things signed - one of his seventies paperbacks and Fanboy, the very silly miniseries Sergio did in the late nineties with Mark Evanier and about two dozen fabulous guest artists - while I went to speak with Jack Davis. You know, never mind what I said above about how my boy shoulda mentioned his Don Martin books, if I had the brains God gave a grasshopper, I'd have realized that Jack Davis might have been in attendance at the lecture series what has his name on it.

Well, if any one man is responsible for turning me from a University of Georgia student into a Bulldog, it's Larry Munson, but Jack Davis was certainly a very strong contributing force. After all, you may well have gone to a perfectly fine school, wherever you went. But your school's mascot was not drawn with any regularity by Jack Davis. Unless he was drawing that mascot mangled and bludgeoned beneath Hairy Dawg's shoes. ADVANTAGE: THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA. Go Dawgs! Well, I had to tell Jack about the gigantic copy of one of his works that was turned into a mural at the Reed Hall basement, and tell him how much I've loved his stuff. Jack is quite old and moves a little slowly, but he seemed to be having a pretty good evening. He signed a few items for people, and apologized for his shaky hand - he broke a finger in a fall some months ago - but no apologies were necessary. I think everybody loves Jack Davis.

I think Patrick was the last to get anything signed by Sergio - I was too busy talking with Devlin to get in line until it was too late, Sergio was hungry and ready to call it a night - and I think everybody had a great time. His stories were wonderful and his cartoons had everybody laughing, and you just cannot ask for anything more. So we made our way out, and I drove Patrick and Joey back to their cars, and the boychild and I got some dinner and left town a little after eight. He called Marie to let her know we were on our way back to Mayretta. He told her "Dad had a beer with Sergio Aragonés! And I had a Sprite!"

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Current Mood: pleased pleased


The Hipster Dad
Sat, Nov. 8th, 2008 05:28 am

You may recall that, on a couple of occasions early this year (January and February), I mentioned that a new book of old Japanese Batman comics, cashing in on the '60s Adam West show, was due out. So the paperback edition of this book is out now - the hardback, which apparently has the cover used in those entries, and which contains additional material, has not yet been released - and, with it, there has come a stink.

It's interesting to note the words that I chose when I mentioned this book at the time: a book of "...crazy 60s Japanese Batman comics by Jiro Kuwata" and, after I read a subsequent interview with Chip Kidd, the book's designer and primary credited author, and his collaborator, Saul Ferris, "...a collection of Jiro Kuwata's weekly Batman comics, in the context of 'lookit all these weird Japanese Batman toys' was in the planning stages..."

Because, if I may go back and explain my thoughts, somehow I was given the impression that this book was to function as a reprint of Kuwata's comics. So I was bothered at the time that the book's cover said CHIP KIDD in large, friendly letters, but not JIRO KUWATA, but I figured that: the cover image provided was a placeholder, that I would need to see the book before making rash judgements, and that getting testy over the contents of material not yet seen would make me look like a regular poster over at Outpost Gallifrey.

Well, while I do not yet own Bat-Manga (as the hardback which Bizarro Wuxtry ordered for me has not yet been released), I did sit down for a few minutes with the paperback last weekend at Borders. (That's BORDERS BOOKS & MUSIC, in KENNESAW GEORGIA, which needs ALL YOUR CHRISTMAS MONEY, before the DAMN CHAIN GOES OUT OF BUSINESS. Thank you.) My preliminary thoughts were:

1. These comics are completely terrific. If you like Adam West's Batman, and if you like 60s Japanese design and/or comics, you are going to love these comics.

2. The book is fancy as all get out, and is printed on extraordinarily nice paper.

3. The reproduction of the comics themselves, however, is on a whole 'nuther plain from ideal. The decision was made to reprint them as artifacts, and compile them through the mindset of authorial distance. It would appear that all of the comics included - it is not a complete reprint - were photographed from faded, beat-up editions of those phone-book thick weekly volumes in which Japanese comics originally appear. You know how, in the absence of the original artwork, Titan scans old issues of Battle and cleans up the art before printing another volume of Charley's War? Or how, as I linked recently, Fantagraphics has done an amazing, laborious job restoring Humbug? That's not what was done here. So what you have here is astonishingly nice reproduction, not of the comics, but of horribly beat-up copies of the comics.

4. In January, I wondered "No word on whether designer Chip Kidd will have found a Japanese Batman Pez dispenser to photograph in extreme closeup with the contrast cranked all the way up for the book's frontspiece." No fears there. He found all sorts of goofy old shit, and photographed it in extreme closeup, and cranked the contrast all the way up. That I've been dismissing Kidd with this sort of criticism for as long as I have, after he's filled so many volumes of books with so many similar sorts of photos, might indicate that his style has become something of a stereotype.

5. Jiro Kuwata's name, I noticed, was not on the cover, despite the overwhelming bulk of the book being COMICS BY JIRO KUWATA. His name's on the inside front flap, however.

And the last of my preliminary observations was something unkind about Chip Kidd, but I digress. We'll have to come back to point five in a bit.

At any rate, I was very disappointed in this book. I look(ed) forward to owning it, in order to get the Kuwata comics and read them at length (or, more accurately, read the presentation of them), but I don't care for Kidd's style and I don't like the reproduction of the comics, and I sure as hell don't appreciate Kuwata being left off the cover, because he's the draw, not Kidd. Put another way, Kidd released a book some years back called Batman: Collected which I decided against buying. This is because while I've been known to buy an action figure or twelve over the years, and would not object to a book of photos showing them all, I don't need 8x11-sized images of the tops of Killer Croc doll heads, lit in red.

Okay, so I mentioned a tempest. And the first wave came last Friday and seems to have continued at the following places. This is in roughly chronological order, and some of these were subsequently updated to reflect information in blogs posted later.

Andrew Wheeler - holy shit, I thought the hardcover was $40, not $60!!! $#%^#%!!
Jog the Blog - note my inaccurate comment; I'd forgotten that I also bought Batman: Animated, the book chiefly responsible for my dislike of Kidd's style. The book is shelved, unloved, downstairs.
Leigh Walton
Laura Hudson
Heidi McDonald
Johanna Draper Carlson
Chris Mautner
Chris Butcher

If you'd rather not follow along, a summary could be: "Hey, Jiro Kuwata's name should be on the front of this book / yes, it really should / hey, what's the deal here / I asked Kidd and OH NO HE DINT"

(You can tell I'm dying of jealousy, can't you? If only I'd have said "Hey, why the hell's Jiro Kuwata's name not on the front of this book full of Jiro Kuwata comics" back in February, I could claim Original Outrage and win ten million Internet Dollars or something.)

If I may take a moment to respond to Kidd, who writes "I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwata’s welfare. So here’s a question: where were YOU for the last thirty years, while he was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country?" before explaining that this is not a collection of Kuwata's comics, it is, rather, a collection of Chip Kidd's photographs of Kuwata's comics. (See point five above; Kidd would perhaps disagree with me when I claim "the overwhelming bulk of the book [is] COMICS BY JIRO KUWATA" as, in his eyes, the overwhelming bulk of the book is PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHIP KIDD.)

Kidd's wrong. The selling point of this book, to this buyer, was never Japanese Batman Halloween costumes. If I wanted to spend money on that, I'd have friended batfatty years ago. (He's not updated in ages; don't tell me he finally ran out of weird stuff.) That's not to say there's not a lot of amusing, crazy, funny stuff to be found in the wild world of licensed and unlicensed merchandise and tat, but my interest in it is low enough to not need it on my LJ Friends Page, and I don't like the way Kidd frames it. The selling point was JIRO KUWATA BATMAN COMICS.

But to see the shoddy way the comics are presented, to know that a properly restored reprint would have been a million times more preferable, to see bloggers I respect raise a reasonable eyebrow over the issue of credit, and to see the "artist" respond by being such a complete and utter heel in his e-mail to Mautner... well, I have an obligation to my local comic shop to actually pay for the material that I requested he order, but that's not a mistake I'm going to make with Chip Kidd again. And if anybody would like to buy this book from me once it arrives, well, I am fortunate enough to at least receive a generous discount from the comic shop, and would happily pass that discount along to you.

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Current Mood: disappointed disappointed
Current Music: R.E.M.: Document


The Hipster Dad
Sun, Jun. 29th, 2008 04:18 pm

Well, that's not true. What we did was buy comics and eat barbecue and otherwise stayed the hell out of the blazing sun and watched Doctor Who and talked about the wedding.

But we did take a quick break to take a few pictures of what might well be the only surving Nuwaubian facility, although it has been closed and locked for several years. If you're not a local, you might not have heard of Dwight York's frightening cult and its "Chariots of the Gods"-ancient Egypt-Star Wars-Seminole Indian-Babylonian deity-Bigfoot-Thirteenth Tribe of Israel-whatever the heck else York felt like incorporating that week cosmology, but you can read all about it on Wikipedia. Anyway, the Nuwaubians constructed a compound in Eatonton which was called Tama-Re and consisted of several gigantic styrofoam pyramids and obelisks, which was gleefully demolished by the Putnam County sheriff in 2005 after York was convicted of what was "believed to be the nation’s largest child molestation prosecution ever directed at a single person, in terms of number of victims and number of alleged criminal acts." (Source.)

Anyway, apart from the bookstore and gift shop down in Eatonton, there was this short-lived storefront in Athens at the intersection of Broad and Church. It's been vacant for more than four years and must surely be due for demolishing before long. The site made a cameo in the video for Kindercore artist King of Prussia's new single "Shades of Hippiedom", which reminded me I should probably document this before it's turned to dust and rubble. It was blazing bright yesterday afternoon and I couldn't see the images as I shot them, so I discarded more than half of what I shot, but kept seven. Enjoy!

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Current Mood: energetic energetic
Current Music: Patti Smith: I Never Talked to Bob Dylan


The Hipster Dad
Mon, Jun. 2nd, 2008 07:38 pm

The bulldozers will be moving into Belmont Hills later this summer. The venerable strip mall, which opened in 1950, is said to have been the first shopping center of its kind in the region, attracting tour busses from miles and miles away. The area has been decaying for years, and it will soon be bulldozed and replaced with a development of about a thousand condos and townhomes, shops and offices. So before it went, the Hipster Son and I went there for one last look at this dying Georgia landmark. (This entry is even longer than some of my other photo essays of late, so I'm sparing the disinterested among you.)

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Current Mood: okay okay
Current Music: Ivy: Long Distance


The Hipster Dad
Fri, Dec. 14th, 2007 10:47 am

I've told this story often (it happened when I was still living in Athens, early 1999), but never really wrote it down for posterity's sake. It's the tale of a foolishly expensive hobby turning into an unexpected payoff for me, although I fear the fellow on the other end of the coin is probably still kicking himself.

You know what non-sports trading cards are, right? They're like baseball cards, but with pictures of other entertainment properties on them. You know, Star Wars cards and the like. I've got a few very decent collections of various interests, ranging from an almost-complete set of the five original series of Star Wars cards (blue borders, followed by reds, yellows, greens and oranges), some mid-90s Doctor Who and Avengers sets, lots of DC Comics characters, Batman movies, Charlie's Angels, Young Indiana Jones, and Playboy. Lord, do I have a lot of Playboy cards.

But I have far fewer than I used to...

Starting in 1993, various companies - they tended to go belly-up - got the license to do Playboy trading cards. The first one, a group well regarded in the industry for a Marilyn Monroe set they did, started this 120-card "January edition." Each little three-card triptych, perfectly designed for the nine-card showcase pages for three-ring binders, was arranged this way: Card # 1 was the cover of the January 1954 issue with facts about the issue's contents on the back, card # 2 was two pictures from somewhere in the magazine, and card # 3 was the centerfold of Miss January '54, with a little bio on the back. Then cards 4-6 were from January 1955, and so on. By the early 1960s, Playmates started getting proper pictorials instead of a single pinup, so the middle card would have two pictures from her layout. As the magazine's content got increasingly adult, so too did the cards, so, among people assembling sets from what we call commons (an important point), the higher-numbered cards are a teeny bit harder to find, on account of people keeping doubles.

February edition cards 4-6, featuring less of Jayne Mansfield on the centerfold than viewers of her film Promises, Promises got to see in theatres! Apart from the "naked hotties" factor, the card sets were an interesting look back at how remarkably tame Playboy once was.

Also in the sets, you had three checklist cards, and various chase cards, packed at random throughout the booster packs. These included little subsets of 1980s-1990s Playmates of the Year, along with three-card triptychs of various celebrities who've posed for the magazine, and autograph cards. If you were to buy a box of cards, you'd get 36 packs with 10 cards in each, and you should get one autograph, six of the nine celebrity cards, four of the six PMOY cards, and a HECK of a lot of commons.

So, the January edition, released in mid-93, had a total of about 140 cards. Some months later, there was a February edition with another 140-ish cards (120 commons plus the chase subsets), and a March edition, and then later on there were update sets, and Lingerie sets, and Wet & Wild sets. There are, as you see, many hundreds of these cards across many sets released throughout the 90s; I never got them all. For all I know, they're still releasing them.

Well, I was assembling multiple sets in the mid-90s. (I finally bored of the hobby around 2000, 2001 or so.) One for myself, one for my dad, a couple for some friends, and I was keeping doubles of various hotties that I enjoyed having extra cards of. (This is why nobody else who was getting these partial sets got any Alesha Oreskovich cards, for example. Those're mine.) (I'm also sort of underplaying the multiple set thing to keep this easy-to-follow.)

April card # 107, December card # 107 and June card # 120. These are three of my four favorite Playmates - Angel Boris, from '96, came too late for the set, but appeared in some of the follow-up sets - and I tended to hoard these, for example. I haven't paid attention to Playboy in many years, apart from dumping lots of stats and data into Wikipedia about the newsstand specials before I literally dumped most of said specials in the trash a couple of years ago, but I keep enough of an ear out to know about Jennifer Jackson's many embarrassing run-ins with the law. What a freaking waste of talent and beauty.

Now, a box of cards would cost $50 when it was first released. I'd buy one of those. I may have also picked up an occasional $3 pack or three from Oxford Comics when I was still shopping there once a month or so. Over time, the price would drop and sellers would dump boxes on eBay which I could pick up for $20-25 apiece. Since a single autograph card would go for that, a box was a great investment, plus it would have ten other chase cards which were worth $5-10 apiece. But I'd also get stuck with another 349 cards which I probably didn't need. So I'd sort through for any favorite nude hottie cards, set aside a pile for one friend and a second pile for another, sell a couple of the chase cards on eBay, make back my cost and still have better than a hundred cards in a box to the side.

Repeat this every couple of months and while the overall cost is quite low for a hobby thanks to some sensible reselling, it's still amassing a big boatload of extra cards I do not need and can't realistically get rid of. Further to that, the "extras" boatload is unnaturally skewed towards the very low end of the numbering, and the boatload is utterly worthless on the secondary market.

This is why commons are called commons. The supposed value per-card for any given common is maybe a nickel, but almost nobody sells them like that. Since anyone willing to invest the time is able to recoup the cost of a $25 box by reselling three or four of the chase cards, it's more sensible to just fill that hole by way of a box, rather than looking for a dealer who will find you "APRIL CARD #74." Besides, there are very, very few dealers who deal in Playboy. Some comic shops deal in them as packs or boxes, but most of the sports stores which are set up for single-card sales want to keep their business a little family-friendly and don't sell singles.

Autograph cards. I have about thirty from the various sets. One of these days, I'll track down an Alesha autograph card, just 'cause. You can track the decline in sales by the number of autographs. There were 2750 of each of ten different signers in the editions through August. The Victoria Silvstedt card is from the October, and 1500 of those were released. By the December edition, they were down to 1300. The 1999 "Supermodels Lingerie" set had only 750 each, but 20 different signers.

Well, one day I had a bright idea. The downstairs room in our old house in Oconee Country was overflowing with boatloads of commons, and I had two long trading card boxes which each held about 300 cards. I took them, and I sorted out incomplete sets of commons, with no duplications. I called them "collector's starter sets" and I listed them on eBay, individually, with a $5 starting bid for each, and maybe $5 shipping. That was one-third the "actual" value of nickel commons. I'd take the $5 just to get 300 out of the house. To take $10 to be rid of 600 would be even better!

I must stress to you that I was very clear about what I was dumping. I listed these in TRADING CARDS > OTHER NON-SPORTS as 300 PLAYBOY COMMONS, NO DOUBLES. These were COMMONS ONLY, absolutely NO CHASE CARDS and NO AUTOGRAPHS. These were well-sorted and there were NO DUPLICATE CARDS.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the bids got up to $20 a box.

And amazed when the bids got up to $50 a box and the bidding war continued.

And utterly gobsmacked when they hit $100 apiece.

And downright worried when the same guy finally won both auctions for $300 each.

I suppose, in hindsight, what I could have done was wrote the guy and asked "You do realize you're paying a buck apiece for nickel trading cards, don't you, and you're completely out of your mind, right? I mean, you're shelling out SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS for two boxes of WORTHLESS TRADING CARDS."

He must have thought, by "commons," I meant magazines. No other explanation has made sense.

But what I did do was send him a note to give him an out. I wanted to make absolutely sure that he knew that these were cards and not magazines before he sent me a check. So I wrote a note which used the word "card" a dozen times, explaining that while each box was well-sorted to ensure there were no duplicate cards within each box, there would be duplicate cards in the second box. Since he won both auctions for the cards, I would be happy to go back to my stock of other cards and sort out a full six hundred individual cards with no duplicate cards at all, cards cards cards cards cards.

He replied that I needn't go to the trouble, and what was my address to mail the check.

I said thanks for that, I hope he'll enjoy the cards, and I'll ask him to allow the check ten days to clear.

I know you'd like to hear that I spent the windfall on more Playboy cards, anticipating pulling that wheeze again, but I'm savvy enough to know that sort of lightning doesn't strike twice.

I still wonder whether he completely freaked out when he got the boxes, realization slowly dawning that "card" was not actually some euphemism for "magazine," and double-checking our correspondence amid a hail of invective and profanity about what an incredibly stupid investment he'd just made. I never heard from him again at all, actually.

But nor did he leave me any positive eBay feedback either, for that matter...

Current Mood: nostalgic nostalgic
Current Music: Bryan Ferry: As Time Goes By


The Hipster Dad
Tue, Oct. 30th, 2007 01:30 pm

"There is no Doctor Who canon." - attributed to Steven Moffat
"There is no such thing as fiction... every story is true." - Prof. Hilary Tremayne, Tales from Beyond Science, Mark Millar & Rian Hughes

This is what I like to believe.


First Doctor (pre-series)

The Doctor is born as one of the cousins of the House of Lungbarrow. He has one older brother, Braxiatel.

He spends several hundred years studying at the Academy in the capitol of Gallifrey to become a Time Lord. He becomes acquainted with several other students who are restless with the sterile life of Time Lord society such as the Master and the Rani, and, like these, takes a titular nickname, afterwards ignoring his birth name forever.

The Doctor falls in love with another student, who either has the birth name Patience or adopts it as a pun on “Patient.” They have at least one child together. This child, in turn, sires the Doctor’s granddaughter, who goes by the name Susan.

Several Time Lords surrepitously leave Gallifrey during a century or so of lax policies and enforcement. Among these are Braxiatel, who establishes a research center and library, the Rani, who begins unethical study into genetic manipulation and becomes the ruler of a small planet called Miasmia Goria, and the Master, who has schemes of villainy and criminal gain. Other Time Lords to leave the planet at this time include Azmael, who takes a position as caretaker of the planet Joconda, and K’Anpo, one of the Doctor’s teachers, who retires to Earth. Much later, the Doctor would meet a Time Lord who called himself Chronotis and was teaching at Cambridge and assumed he was among those who left at this time.

Despite their society having ostensible laws against interference in the affairs of lesser planets, the Doctor makes a name for himself, and a target, with protests and entreaties on behalf of other races. At some point, either while a student or after graduation, the Doctor campaigns against the use of Miniscopes, which the Time Lords agree to ban. (Alternately, this action may have occurred during his activities at the end of his second life.)

Around the age of 400, it is believed that Patience is killed in some fashion and the Doctor, sickened with Time Lord society, steals a travel device and leaves Gallifrey with his granddaughter. It is unknown whether his child or children survived.

The Doctor and Susan spend time on the planet Venus and settle on Earth during the French Revolution before moving to London in 1963. Susan, who coins the name TARDIS for the travel machine, takes the name “Foreman” and enrolls in a local school.

First Doctor (Series)

The Doctor’s adventures proceed as seen in the television series. He and Susan effectively abduct two schoolteachers who force their way into the TARDIS. They briefly land somewhere in Earth’s prehistory before spending some time on the planet Skaro, confronting the Daleks for the first time. They spend several months as “guests” of Marco Polo on his journey to Cathay, during which time the four become better friends. They continue travelling for several more months, as the Doctor is unable to steer the TARDIS back to 1963 London.

Around the year 2170, the Doctor leaves Susan behind when she falls in love with an Earthman. Susan may not be a Time Lord herself, just a Gallifreyan without the power of regeneration. When Susan next meets the Doctor, she appears to have aged about twenty years.

About six months after he leaves Susan behind, the Doctor, who is travelling with two humans named Steven and Vicki, meets another Time Lord. This is a character called the Monk, who is operating in 12th Century Britain. The Doctor does not appear to know him very well, or be particularly interested in him beyond stopping him. The Monk is enraged by the Doctor’s interference with his games and later takes sides with the Daleks to get revenge on him.

Shortly after his first incident with the Monk, the Doctor is briefly pulled from time to meet his next two selves at the behest of the Time Lords. These are Time Lords from several decades in his future, and not contemporaneous. Upon being returned to the TARDIS, he and his companions cross paths with his brother, who is now calling himself “Irving” Braxiatel, and who is chairing an Armageddon Conference in 15th Century Italy with the goal of quelling weapons development. Many of the races attending are familiar with later versions of the Doctor.

At some point between this time and his regeneration, the Doctor meets his next two selves again, along with his fifth body. In this incident, Time Lords from several centuries in his future have manipulated his involvement, allowing a happy, but brief, reunion with Susan.

Towards the end of his first body’s life, the Doctor meets a being called the Toymaker, who might be one of the Eternals, who live outside our universe and continuum and kidnap “ephemerals” for their amusement.

Around the age of 450, the Doctor’s body, which is wearing “a bit thin,” prepares to grow its second heart, which requires that he regenerate for the first time.

Second Doctor

The Doctor’s adventures continue as seen in the television series. He is still around 450 years old at the time of “The Tomb of the Cybermen.”

After about three years wearing this body, the Doctor, along with Jamie and Zoe, runs into another Time Lord, this one a criminal calling himself the War Chief, who has been using time-travel technology to assist a race of aliens in building a massive army from the ranks of Earth soldiers from throughout history. The Doctor is unable to return the thousands of stranded Earth soldiers back to their respective times and repair the damage to history without help, so he sends a record of the event to the Time Lords and attempts to escape before they arrive, but fails.

The Time Lords were content to let any of their renegade number go free so long as they never attempted to contact them again, turning a blind eye to all of their activities. The Doctor’s actions forced their hand, however, and, in a show trial, they judge that the Doctor would be exiled to Earth in the 1970s and forced to regenerate as punishment for breaking their laws.

But unofficially, a “star chamber” of Time Lords acting outside the President’s knowledge had other plans for the Doctor. Calling themselves the Celestial Intervention Agency, they offer to forestall the Doctor’s regeneration in return for certain “errands” the Doctor can run on their behalf. The Doctor works as the Celestial Intervention Agency’s “field agent” for several decades, during which period Time Lords from his future move him to assist his next self (“The Three Doctors”) and he is Timescooped up to play the Great Game with his first, third and fifth selves.

During the Great Game, he is confronted with a mental reconstruction of his old friend Jamie, and remembers that when the Time Lords returned him to 17th-Century Scotland, they erased his memories of the time they travelled together. The Celestial Intervention Agency agrees that the brainwashing was unnecessary and allow the Doctor to undo the mindwipes of Jamie and Zoe. Jamie, fifteen years older than when he last travelled with the Doctor, rejoins him for his new assignments. They briefly travel with Victoria, whom the Doctor had left in the early 1980s some years previously, but Victoria does not stay very long with them, and asks to return to Earth to study graphology. The Doctor and Jamie’s next assignment brings them into conflict with a renegade scientist called Dastari who has allied with the Sontarans, and during this episode, he meets his sixth self.

The second Doctor’s adventures come to an end not long after this. The Celestial Intervention Agency returns Jamie to Scotland. The Doctor’s second regeneration is allowed to take place and his exile on Earth begins.

Third Doctor

The Doctor’s exile on Earth is mostly spent in the company of the British branch of UNIT, headed by the Doctor’s friend Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and formed to combat alien or other-terrestrial menaces, several of which are on record and involve future versions of the Doctor. It is very probable that the Doctor’s access and security allows him the chance to see the files indicating the involvement of his future selves in Earth’s recent past.

The exile lasts for about four years and is covered by the first three seasons of the third Doctor’s television adventures, but the Doctor is allowed to leave 1970s Earth on a few occasions at the behest of the Celestial Intervention Agency. The Doctor is greatly annoyed by these interferences, considering his work for that agency to have been concluded before his last regeneration.

Prior to these “errands,” however, the Time Lords warn the Doctor that his old acquaintance the Master has decided to use the same period as a base for his own activities. The Master has actually been operating under the pseudonyms Emil Keller and Prof. Thascales since the late 1960s; the Time Lords only step in when the Master allies with the Nestene Consciousness in a bid to control the planet. When this fails, he has his other, long-running criminal schemes to occupy his time.

During this time, the Doctor learns of the death of Dorothy “Dodo” Chaplet, who had travelled with him for a few months during his first incarnation, and who he returned to Earth in 1966, a few weeks after she had joined him.

The President of Gallifrey brings an end to the Doctor’s exile after he saves both Gallifrey and Earth from an attack from a Time Lord called Omega, who was a stellar engineer from centuries in the past, and whose manipulation of a black hole’s energy had given the Time Lords their power. The situation had become so desperate that the Time Lords plucked the Doctor’s two previous selves from his timestream to assist him in defeating Omega.

The Doctor wastes little time in leaving Earth to travel again, but had formed such close friendships with the staff of UNIT, his associate Liz Shaw and his assistant Jo Grant that he finds himself unwilling to completely leave the planet. He and Jo frequently travel, sometimes accompanied by UNIT Captain Mike Yates. The three of them spend some time as guests on the planet Karfel. (Lethbridge-Stewart, despite years of friendship, is much happier to stay on Earth.) When Jo finally leaves the Doctor and UNIT to marry Professor Cliff Jones, it wounds the Doctor deeply and reminds him of how he misses his own family. The Doctor had tried for months to reach a planet called Metebelis Three and claim one of the blue crystals he’d heard tales about. He left the planet with only a single stone as a souvenir and presents it to Jo and Cliff as a wedding present.

About seven months after Jo left him, the Doctor begins travelling with a journalist named Sarah Jane Smith. As she was not a member of UNIT, she would only see the Doctor from time to time. He would often travel without her, spending decades off-planet, often in the far future, but would always return to Earth in the mid-1970s with only a few days’ absence. On one of his visits to Earth, he, along with his two previous selves, is abducted by Time Lords in the future to play in the Great Game in Gallifrey’s Death Zone alongside his fifth self.

On Metebelis Three, centuries had passed since the Doctor took the crystal, and a species of huge spider had come into contact with the gems, increasing their intelligence and giving them mental powers. Over time, the spiders grew more powerful and devoted themselves to the “Great One,” an ancient, gigantic spider which was using the crystals to form a “web” which would boost its mental power beyond planets, but the last, missing crystal was thwarting it. Through a bizarre set of coincidences, the Great One detected the crystal on Earth, where Jo and Cliff had returned the stone to the Doctor as it made some of their employees in South America uneasy. The Doctor foils the Great One’s plan, but prolonged exposure to the massed collection of the radioactive stones was more than his body could stand. It was revealed some time later that the Doctor spent ten years alone in the TARDIS trying to recuperate before finally making his way back to Earth, where one of his Time Lord instructors, K’Anpo, helped him finally regenerate.

Fourth Doctor

The Doctor spends several days recuperating from the effects of this regeneration, but finds himself wanting a very fresh start, away from Sarah Jane and UNIT. While ostensibly confined to sick bay, he did sneak out and take a solo trip in his TARDIS to a planet far in Earth’s future. There, he rebuilt a computer called Xoanon belonging to a planetary expedition, not realizing that his not-yet stable mind was not up to the task. He returns to Earth and assists UNIT in dealing with some stolen nuclear plans and a rogue robot, elects to leave Earth and pressgangs UNIT Dr. Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane into joining him.

They were only gone a comparatively short time before Lethbridge-Stewart asks for his help again. The Doctor finds his ties to Earth very hard to break because of Sarah’s obligations to her magazine, and grumpily finds himself in a similar situation to the one he was in during the months between meeting Sarah and the crystal’s return. He finds his unofficial status with UNIT flexible enough to warrant intrusions on his time by other government institutions, including C-19 (UNIT’s paymasters) and the World Ecology Bureau. Even worse, the Celestial Intervention Agency still finds opportunities to interfere with what he sees as his freedom, directing him to Skaro in a botched attempt to annihilate the Daleks before they could develop, and to the planet Karn, where an ancient Time Lord criminal named Morbius schemed to regenerate himself.

The Doctor, now over 700 years old, is very fond of his friend Sarah, but when the Time Lords recall him to Gallifrey, he doesn’t hesitate to leave her behind, so that he could travel without company. On Gallifrey, he is caught up in a vengeful scheme by his old enemy the Master, who had regenerated twelve times and was nearing the end of his current body’s usefulness. Time Lords can live forever, barring accidents, but each life cycle of thirteen bodies is regulated by the High Council, who would naturally never give the Master a new chance. Having thwarted the Master, the Doctor finally gets a chance to spend a few years alone.

This time comes to an end when he returns to the planet he had visited a day or so after regenerating and learned that the computer Xoanon had patterned its new program after the Doctor’s unstable, schizophrenic mind and gone mad. He corrects the damage he did and leaves the planet with a very unwelcome stowaway, a savage named Leela.

The Doctor makes the best of the situation and, despite himself, enjoys her company to a degree. He is also delighted when a physician from the Bi-Al Foundation bequeathes him a computer called K-9 in the shape of a dog, but finds the computer stubborn and difficult. When, on a return trip to Gallifrey, Leela falls in love with the commander of the Chancellery Guard, he leaves K-9 with her and decides to build a new one which won’t be so truculent.

K-9 Mark II wasn’t completed for some time, as the Doctor becomes involved in other adventures by himself, including a trip to a pocket dimension where the Roman Empire continued for centuries with alien encouragement, and a city where emotions were illegal. K-9 Mark II is finished in time to assist the Doctor deal with one of his most ruthless and shameless foes, the Meep. During this adventure, in 1979 Blackcastle, the Doctor leaves Earth with a new companion named Sharon.

Sharon does not stay with the Doctor for very long, perhaps only a few months before she falls in love on a planet in Earth’s far future and stays behind. The Doctor and K-9 travel for a very long time by themselves. During this period, he principally stays centuries and light years from Earth, and he makes the acquaintance of the famous scientist and author Ivan Asimoff and the galactically famous Freefall Warriors.

After some years alone, the TARDIS is intercepted by the White Guardian, an enormously powerful being, and the Doctor is ordered to assemble the six pieces of the Key to Time. The White Guardian also brings the Doctor an assistant from Gallifrey, a young Time Lady called Romana, to assist in his task. It only takes a couple of weeks to find the six segments, after which Romana, her body preparing for its second heart, elects to regenerate rather than let her body grow much older.

Assembling the Key to Time had angered the White Guardian’s equal and opposite number, a being called the Black Guardian, who swore vengeance on the Doctor for his interference. To avoid the Black Guardian, the Doctor fits the TARDIS with a randomizer to prevent him planning his travels in advance. He and Romana become best friends and they travel together, again very far in space and time from Earth, for around a century. (This time period encompasses season seventeen of the TV series along with Gareth Roberts’ “Missing Adventures” novels set during the period, and possibly hundreds of other stories untold.)

Not long after dispensing with the randomizer, Romana ends many decades of travel with the Doctor, staying in a pocket dimension called E-Space to help a race of Tharils overcome slavery. The Doctor leaves her K-9 and returns to our space accompanied by a stowaway named Adric. Losing Romana has a noticeable impact on the Doctor, who seems to age decades overnight. He soon crosses paths again with the Master, who uses the advanced technology of the planet Traken to let him either take over or absorb a younger man’s unscarred body. Their battle takes them back to 20th-Century England, and the Doctor falls to his death from a radio telescope saving the universe from the Master’s scheme, forcing his fourth regeneration.

Fifth Doctor

The Doctor, suffering badly from the effects of his unplanned regeneration, is taken by Adric and two new friends, a Trakenite named Nyssa and an Earthwoman named Tegan Jovanka, into a trap set by the Master and barely escapes with his life. The four of them then travel far into Earth’s future and run across one of his future selves, the seventh, who is travelling with two “Adjudicator” police officers. The Doctor is confused as to why his future self was so contemptuous and dismissive of him, and is even more astonished to meet his late wife Patience, trapped in a time bubble. After an incident with an Urbankan conqueror, and a frightening encounter with a mind-creature called the Mara which is released by unconscious dreaming, the Doctor decides he needed to be by himself for a time and, without telling his companions who were enjoying a vacation, elects to spend time on his own.

Initially, his time is well-spent in the village of Stockbridge in 20th Century England, which affords him weeks of relaxation and cricket, which he had not enjoyed in many years. But meanwhile, a creature called Maleficus is brought into our reality thanks to the slipshod work of an Eternal called the Prime Mover. Maleficus sets about breaking down the barriers of time, and the Time Lords download an artificial creation, an agent called “Shayde,” into the Doctor’s TARDIS to assist him and a 12th Century knight called Sir Justin in battling Maleficus. In the end, Justin gives his life to stop the creature.

The planned vacation continues to deteriorate as a prehistoric force latches onto the TARDIS and uses it for its own purposes, prompting further action from the Time Lords, whose military branch, led by Tubal Cain, attempts to destroy the TARDIS and Shayde to eliminate all traces of the mysterious force. Rather than remain in Stockbridge any longer, the Doctor travels to an island in the South Pacific and picks up a new companion, an American serviceman named Gus. They only travel for a short time, beating a new scheme of his old enemy the Monk along the way, before Gus is murdered by a “moderator” assigned by a galactic kingpin named Dogbolter whose path the Doctor had crossed.

Dispirited by the death of a companion, the Doctor returns to his friends on vacation without telling them he’d been gone for months, but Adric is soon to die as well, saving Earth from an attack by the Cybermen. When the opportunity comes to leave Tegan behind in London, 1982, he does, without a goodbye, and travels with Nyssa for several months.

The Doctor and Nyssa meet up with Tegan again in 1983 in the city of Amsterdam and she comes back on board. This time, their relationship is not quite so much at odds and they become good friends. The Doctor even finds himself relaxed enough to visit with his old friend Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time in more than a hundred years, although, from Lethbridge-Stewart's perspective, it had only been a few years since they'd last met. Neither Nyssa nor Tegan were particularly pleased, however, when the Doctor decides to allow a young man named Turlough to join them in the TARDIS. Nyssa leaves them very soon afterward, and never learns the reason the Doctor brought him on board was because he recognized Turlough was an agent of some alien power. He did not know that power was the Black Guardian, but Turlough betrays the Black Guardian in the end, banishing the alien from the Doctor’s life in the process.

A few weeks later, the Doctor crosses paths with a traitor in the Time Lord hierarchy who has reactivated Gallifrey’s Death Zone and trapped his first three selves within it. He continues to travel with Tegan and Turlough for several months afterward, and is very saddened when Tegan leaves him abruptly. He and Turlough spend a few weeks travelling before he effectively does a companion-swap, when Turlough, who brought a drowning American girl named Peri into the TARDIS to save her life, leaves to rejoin his own people from the planet Trion.

Peri is only with the Doctor for a few days before they are both poisoned with spectrox on Androzani Minor. Unable to find enough serum to save them both, the Doctor gives it all to her and dies, regenerating into his sixth self.

This body is the Doctor’s shortest-lived to this point; he uses it for less than ten years.

Sixth Doctor

The Doctor’s sixth self is, to Peri’s horror, less friendly and cordial than the one she had met less than a week previously. Bad-tempered and callous, he does not afford himself any time to recuperate from regenerating and is therefore initially unstable and prone to violence. The pair travel for a few weeks before the Doctor crosses paths with the Rani, whom he has not seen since his time at the Academy
centuries before. A few days later, the Doctor meets his second self during an incident involving the Sontarans. While he did experience the incident several centuries previously, it is not clear how he could have forgotten it, unless perhaps the Celestial Intervention Agency blocked the “crossed timestream incidents” from his memory before his second regeneration.

The Doctor and Peri find themselves mostly unable to get along with each other during their first couple of months together, and so, after foiling another plan of the Daleks, the Doctor decides that the problem might be him, and, dropping her off at a baseball game in New York City, he travels for several months without Peri.

In Earth’s far future, he finds the opportunity to avenge the death of his friend Gus when he meets up with crime boss Josiah Dogbolter again, and leaves that incident accompanied by a shape-shifting Whifferdill who calls himself Frobisher. The Doctor spends many weeks with Frobisher, meeting up again with Ivan Asimoff and getting caught up in the schemes of a criminal called Astrolabus, before he and Frobisher part on good terms and the Doctor makes his way back to Peri, much more relaxed and at ease with himself and with her.

No longer at each other’s throats, the Doctor and Peri enjoy several months of travelling before a nasty incident on the planet Thoros Beta, in which the Doctor battles an alien criminal named Sil for the second time. As events rush to their conclusion, the Doctor is abducted from time and space by the Time Lords, who bring him to a space station to stand trial, again, for his interference in alien affairs.

The trial is conducted by a Time Lord Inquisitor, and evidence against the Doctor is presented by a black-clad Valeyard, who shows the court both a recent incident on the planet Ravolox and the Thoros Beta situation, which, to the Doctor’s horror, continues after the point he was abducted and sees Peri shot dead. When the Doctor is given the chance to show evidence in his defense, he selects, from the Time Lord Matrix, an adventure from a possible future where he and an English girl named Melanie save a spacecraft from a race of genetically-created plant creatures called Vervoids. When the Valeyard determines that these were the only Vervoids in existence, he suggests that the Doctor now be found guilty of genocide. But the Doctor has an unexpected ally in the Master, who informs the Inquisitor and the court that the Valeyard is actually a “shadow self” of the Doctor from the future, formed during his twelfth regeneration and somehow scheming to steal the Doctor’s next seven lives for himself. The Inquisitor also informs the Doctor that Peri was not actually killed, but stayed behind on Thoros Beta to marry a tribal chieftain.

During the chaos at the end of this trial, the Doctor had been assisted by a rogue named Sabalom Glitz, whom he had met on Ravalox, and by Melanie, sent from a few years in the future by the Master to help the Doctor. The Doctor returns Melanie to his future self and travels alone for several months. Eventually, he befriends Professor Evelyn Smythe and travels with her for some time before meeting Melanie and enjoying a few years travelling with her.

The Doctor’s last adventure in his sixth body is in the Generios system in the far future, where he outwits and joins forces with a con artist named Banto Zane, who, with his companion Sally-Anne, has been masquerading as the Doctor and saving planets from non-existent threats for money. Not many hours after this, the TARDIS is caught in a tractor beam and the Doctor suffers a massive head trauma which triggers his next regeneration.

Seventh Doctor

The tractor beam brings the Doctor into conflict with the Rani again, but, try as your humble author might, I have no clue why in the world she needed the Doctor’s help in that stupid story. He does, however, state that he and the Rani are 953 years old. Anyway, he and Mel continue on their travels for many months; they visit Paradise Towers, ancient Pompeii and Dark Space 8, and fight with a gang of ruthless mercenaries called Bannermen at least twice. Mel eventually leaves the Doctor behind to take up with Sabalom Glitz after running into him on Iceworld, leaving a teenager from 1980s London called Ace to take her place in the TARDIS.

Ace and the Doctor travel for a year before the Doctor confronts Fenric, an ancient evil whom he had defeated several lives previously. Fenric had been manipulating the Doctor’s life for quite some time, even sending Ace into the far future to meet the Doctor on Iceworld. The Doctor anticipated this, having known since he met Ace that Fenric was most likely responsible for her appearance, and had slowly been helping Ace heal some of her mental bruising, including getting over her fear of a supposedly haunted building in London, and her hatred of her mother. Fenric’s plans are foiled and the two return briefly to 1989 Perivale before a lengthy battle over several weeks and several time periods against another ancient evil called the Timewyrm, and another that had been buried under the rural village of Crook Marsham until its release in 1968.

Ace grows frustrated with the Doctor’s constant manipulation of events, placing a terrible strain on their friendship. In the 26th Century, on the planet Heaven, a peaceful world jointly occupied by humans and Draconians to bury and honor their war dead, this reaches a breaking point. The Doctor warns her against a relationship with a “Traveller” named Jan, but she doesn’t listen and falls in love with him anyway, unable to know that they have actually come to Heaven to battle a race called the Hoothi, and with stakes so high that Earthmen, Draconians and Daleks alike are all in danger of being wiped out. The Doctor has set an elaborate trap for the Hoothi, knowing that Jan would be sacrificed to save the universe. Ace, furious, leaves him, and the Doctor leaves Heaven accompanied by Professor Bernice “Benny” Summerfield.

The Doctor and Benny spend a couple of months travelling before Ace contacts the Doctor for help. Three years have passed for her and, lacking any other prospects, she had enlisted in the army to battle Daleks. The three resume their travels and have a few enjoyable months before the Doctor realizes that he is being manipulated and the timelines damaged by an unseen, unknown foe. He confesses to Benny and Ace that he has become reliant on surrepitously travelling back after an adventure and leaving notes for himself to ensure he does whatever he needs to do to finish off whatever foe faces them. When the TARDIS arrives in London in 1976, he knows that this unseen enemy is finally ready to spring his trap, but the Doctor cannot find any notes to himself, fearing that this battle is one he will lose. It transpires that his enemy is in fact the Monk, now allied with two other old foes of the Doctor. Allied with UNIT, not long after his fourth self had stopped working for them, and armed with one clue the Monk misses, the Doctor is finally able to rid himself of the Monk forever.

The trio travel together for almost three more years before Ace leaves them, by which time the Doctor believes that he is 1000 years old. Benny and the Doctor then have several months of travel time, before they meet their next two traveling companions in the 30th Century; Adjudicator Roslyn Forrester and her squire, Chris Cwej. By the time Benny leaves the Doctor, having fallen for a fellow named Jason Kane, she has been with him for nearly five years. The Doctor arranges her wedding in the village of Cheldon Bonniface, where he has some old friends, in the year 2010. Benny and Jason get to do a little time travelling and are rarely far from the Doctor, but their marriage is not successful, and when they finally split up in the year 2003, seven years before they married, they have been together less than a year.

Shortly before this, the Doctor finds himself meeting his fifth self and does not enjoy the experience, possibly because he knows his fifth self lost two companions, Gus and Adric, to death and was also forced to “kill” a semi-sentient robot called Kamelion that he had brought aboard. But the seventh Doctor loses another companion to death when Roslyn Forrester is killed in the year 2981, helping her sister Leabie in an insurrection against the corrupt Earth Empress. The Doctor suffers a heart attack at Ros’s funeral and is some time in recovering.

Some small comfort comes in London in the 1950s, where the Doctor and Chris, barely talking and burdened by the loss of Roslyn, travel next. There, he meets his former companion Peri, who is escaping a smothering marriage to King Yrcanos, and has desperately taken a time tunnel without knowing where it goes. She and the Doctor reconcile and he returns her to the late 20th Century.

The Doctor had been consciously avoiding Gallifrey for a very long time, but finds himself forced to return to the House of Lungbarrow for the first time in many hundreds of years, where family politics and hatred have not lessened over the centuries. Much of what is recounted in this story seems to be a smokescreen for some reason; the supposed revelations that the Doctor actually came from ancient Gallifrey tens of thousands of years ago and that Susan was not actually his granddaughter can be safely discounted as a fiction the Doctor presented to mask anyone who tried to learn his real secrets.

The Doctor’s old friend Romana had returned to Gallifrey some years previously and become President; she gives him the unwelcome assignment to attend a show trial for the Master, whom the Daleks had apprehended and planned to exterminate, and bring his remains home. As an official delegate from Gallifrey, the Doctor had immunity from the Daleks, although his presence there aggravates tensions between the two races. The Master is atomized and the Doctor attempts to return to Gallifrey, where he had left Chris behind, but something pulls him off course and he lands in San Francisco in 1999. Upon exiting the TARDIS, he is immediately wounded by gunfire from a gang war and rushed to a hospital. Despite her best efforts, Dr. Grace Holloway is unable to save him – in fact, her unfamiliarity with his biology probably results in his death on the operating table.

Eighth Doctor

The Eighth Doctor’s life, owing to a massive disturbance in the timestream, is very difficult to piece together. What’s known is that he regenerates in a hospital morgue in San Francisco and learns that the Master had somehow lived through his execution, possibly a planned side-effect of his last forced regeneration, and then thrown the TARDIS off course. (Ace had, in 1950s New Mexico, killed the Tremas-body he had been using since the end of the fourth Doctor’s life.) He had one final plan for galactic domination, using the Doctor’s TARDIS’s link to the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey, but this bid fails and the Master is believed to have been killed.

Leaving Grace behind, the Doctor travels alone for a short time. He befriends an English Secret Service agent in the late 1930s named Fey Truscott-Smith, one of His Majesty’s first female Secret Service agents, and in 1997, he works with Benny and the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in repelling an invasion of Earth by the Ice Warriors.

Not long afterward, he returns to the village of Stockbridge, which is being used in another terrible game by his Eternal enemy the Toymaker, and begins a new series of travels with a girl named Izzy and, later, picks up Fey to join them. Much of their adventures revolve around a threat to this dimension from an alien power called the Threshold, which has allied with the Daleks.

The Doctor travels with Izzy and Fey for a number of months, and later with companions Charley Pollard, C'rizz, and Lucie Miller. This Doctor's life continues for several decades, and he occasionally battles the Threshold among other high-concept foes, until he realizes that the Threshold’s incursion into our reality has fractured the space-time continuum, allowing the Daleks a sufficient enough advantage to wage war on Gallifrey itself.

He also realizes that a parallel timestream, damaged irreparably by a Time Lord cult called Faction Paradox, unique to that timestream, is leaking into this one. In that timestream, that other eighth Doctor had spent years travelling with different companions trying to escape an unavoidable fate of having his history irrevocably changed by Faction Paradox, and had found only one terrible solution, to destroy Gallifrey as though it had never existed.

Aware of this other reality as it threatened to overtake ours, the Time Lords launch an unspeakable war with the Daleks that was fought throughout history. This involves raising their own dead to fight the Daleks, regenerating forever. Rassilon and the Master are known to have been resurrected, with Rassilon leading one faction of Time Lords, and the Master burning through many more lives.

The Doctor wants nothing to do with this Time War, and, traveling alone, spends some years assisting the people who have been made refugees when their planets have been wiped from history. He is trapped on a crashing spaceship while doing this work, and wakes, briefly, on the planet Karn. A member of that planet's powerful Sisterhood gives him the chance to regenerate into a specific, more ruthless incarnation, and join and end the Time War.

War Doctor

Only the events of last few days of the War Doctor's time are known. Some speculate that he lived and fought for a few decades, and some think that it was far fewer. In the end, he finds himself presented with the same terrible solution, to wipe out both the Time Lords and the Daleks and save the universe before their battles throughout Time destroy everything.

This the Doctor does, ending the Time War and condemning his own race and the Daleks to mythology, and repairing the timestream in the process, so that the Faction Paradox timestream could never cross into ours. Two of the Doctor's future selves are present in the end, but the memory that Gallifrey was somewhat safely moved to another universe was lost to him. As a result, when the War Doctor regenerates, he does so believing himself a mass murderer.

Much of the series' past may have been reworked or restructured as a result of the Time War. In particular, some of the Eighth Doctor's many activities may have been moved into alternate timelines. It is possible that the Doctor who was born in San Francisco in 1999 never met the Ice Warriors in 1997, never went to Stockbridge, and never met Izzy.

Ninth Doctor

The Doctor’s first action is to visit Earth in 2005, where the Nestene Consciousness, fleeing the impact of the Time War, has come to invade, following up two previous attempts in the 1970s. The Doctor defeats the Nestenes with the help of a Londoner named Rose Tyler, whom he brings along as he travels again.

Suffering survivor's guilt and believing himself the only Time Lord, the Doctor does not consider his Time War self worthy of the title "Doctor," and while this body is his tenth, it is only the ninth "Doctor."

This Doctor is, to date, by far the shortest-lived Doctor. He initially left 2005 London without Rose, had a few weeks of adventures without her, during which time he was photographed at JFK's assassination, and then decided to go back to London and tempt her into coming with him with the added inducement that his spaceship is a time machine. He sacrifices his body to save Rose's life less than six months later.

This Doctor claims to be only 900 years old, shaving off at least a century, and possibly two or three from the age that he had been giving previously. His next two selves continue this numbering.

Tenth Doctor

Two days after his regeneration, the Doctor's hand is severed in a sword fight, but since it is still very early in his body's life, he is able to regrow it. The hand is eventually recovered, and kept on board the TARDIS.

Two years later, the Doctor encounters the Master, amnesiac and living under the technology of a "Chameleon Arch" as a human trillions of years in the future. Convinced the Time Lords were going to lose the War, he turned himself into a human and fled to the end of our universe to live out his life as far away from the effects of the War as possible. When his memory is restored, he regenerates and returns to Earth for yet another fight with the Doctor. It ends with his apparent death, but he wills himself not to regenerate and he dies. The Doctor cremates his body.

After about three years into this incarnation's life, the Doctor is gunned down by a Dalek, begins to regenerate, and then staves off the effects by forcing the energy into his hand, which regenerates into a second Tenth Doctor. Thus, when this body comes to an end a few years later, it is the final regeneration that he is allowed that creates his next, and by far longest-living self.

(There should be more details here, and in the next section, and perhaps will, but all of this Doctor's continuity is relatively straightforward and from the TV series itself, although looking up River Song in Wikipedia would be helpful.)

Eleventh Doctor

This Doctor is the youngest of all the Doctors in appearance, but he has several centuries of adventures before landing on the planet Trenzalore. Among them, he meets both the War and Tenth Doctors, and learns the lost truth that he did not actually murder all of the Time Lords.

On Trenzalore, in a region shielded by a force field, he finds a crack in the universe with the Time Lords in their pocket universe on the other side. The Time Lords are hoping for a signal from the Doctor to know that ours is the correct, original universe before coming through. However, this would also trigger a new Time War as the alien species gathered above the planet will attack them. The Doctor remains on Trenzalore to defend it from attacks by the aliens overhead, creating a stalemate where he can't leave without sacrificing his home planet and its people, nor can he forcibly be removed. This stalemate lasts for nearly a thousand years, until the Doctor is finally too old and weak to continue, and explains that even though this is his twelfth body, he gave up a thirteenth when he forced the birth of the second Tenth Doctor to keep from regenerating that incarnation. His companion Clara, brought to Trenzalore by some of the Doctor's allies, goes to the crack in the universe and begs the Time Lords for help. He is apparently given another regeneration cycle, and thirteen more lives...

Twelfth Doctor

to be continued...

Current Mood: busy busy
Current Music: Marc Almond: Stories of Johnny


The Hipster Dad
Fri, Jun. 15th, 2007 01:05 pm

Marie and I were talking the other night and The Fugitive came up in conversation. She wasn't all that familiar with it. Lots of today's viewers aren't, but in its day, The Fugitive was a massive success, made a ratings record that stood for thirteen years and is the spiritual grandfather of almost every drama on television today.

American television in the 1960s was nothing like TV today. Then, the money was to be made in syndication, not DVD sales, and syndication was made to individual stations in markets across the country, not to a cable channel. So producers made their batches of episodes with limited regard to continuity, since the stations would receive film reels in no order whatsoever, often shipped to them from another station which had finished showing them. Consequently, you could not have running subplots or story arcs; you couldn't count on some UHF channel in Des Moines showing them in the right order, so you just didn't change anything from episode to episode. There would occasionally be two-part episodes, usually intended to be repackaged as a feature film in foreign markets, but often no more than one a year.

There was also a very legitimate fear that TV series could not end, in the sense of having a concluding, wrap-up episode. Producers never made "final episodes" for programs, because they felt audiences would not be interested in seeing repeats of something with an ending. That's why the people never got off Gilligan's Island in the original show, or why nobody got disavowed in Mission: Impossible until the revival. Compare that to television fandom today - if the producers don't wrap up the loose ends, audiences go nuts (see Jericho). And the easiest way to create a program with no loose ends when it got axed is to never have them in the first place. No subplots, no loose ends. As late as 1980, the main characters in a TV show would be, for all intents and purposes, "perfect." Issues-of-the-week would be brought in by guest stars, playing hitherto unseen secretaries or detectives from other departments.

Only one American TV show prior to The Fugitive had a proper, final episode. That was The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which ran from 1955-61 on ABC and concluded with a completely unprecedented five-part story about the OK Corral. It tanked in syndication; no station wanted to buy it because it ended, and the producers, 20th Century Fox, were stuck with 180-odd episodes of investment they couldn't sell.

(There's actually a fun bit of research to be had there, considering how viewers born in the 1900s and 1910s had trouble understanding the concept of televised fiction in the first place. It's the same mindset that has audiences rejecting shows that "end," and not understanding how it can still be on a different channel later, and then pestering "Ben Cartwright" in the grocery store and trying to set up eligible granddaughters with his "sons," and the US Navy and Coast Guard spending time dealing with people who wanted them to send a destroyer to pick up the castaways on Gilligan's Island, and, back to our example, the outright hatred and abuse that Barry Morse suffered from handbag-wielding old ladies who screamed at him to leave that nice Doctor Kimble alone. For real. Old ladies were crazy in the 1960s.)

So that's the world into which The Fugitive was launched, and with a grisly premise. The first episode introduces us to Dr. Richard Kimble, late of Stafford, Indiana, who was tried and convicted for the murder of his wife. He was being taken by train to his execution when a derrailment allowed him to escape, and so he spends the next four years on the run, moving from town to town, taking menial blue collar jobs and getting involved with new guest stars every week. Kimble maintains that he saw the real killer, a one-armed man, fleeing from his house. Nobody in Stafford saw any one-armed man.

Over the course of the show, Kimble gets closer and closer to this mystery killer, who was played by Bill Raisch, a background actor who'd lost an arm in World War Two. He shows up twice in season one, and then two times in the next two seasons, and then five times in the last, before the big finale. Apart from occasional appearances by Kimble's family, the only other recurring character is Lt. Philip Gerard, a taciturn, ruthless, deeply angry agent of justice played by Barry Morse. He shows up every five weeks or so, ratcheting the tension up to eleven.

There are many reasons to embrace The Fugitive as being one of the very best moments of this period of TV. The scripts are great, the cinematography in the black and white episodes is amazing and it's full of great guest stars. But the main draw is David Janssen, who played the desperate Kimble, and is possibly only bettered by Andre Braugher from Homicide as television's all-time best actor. It's also fascinating to watch Janssen's deterioration as the show goes on. It was produced on a punishing 40-week schedule that had Janssen working six 18-hour days a week for four years, with a lot of travel. They had second units working all over the southwest and along the California coast to substitute for the entire country as Kimble moved from place to place, and they needed Janssen for at least a day's location work for every episode. Janssen was a drinker before the series began. When it ended, he was a very heavy drinker, and his alcoholism killed him in early 1980, whereupon every bar in Los Angeles called last orders one hour early in tribute.

In the final episode, Kimble tells his companion that he plans to turn himself in. The one-armed man has been arrested in LA for smashing up a bar. Since he hasn't made bail, Kimble's long-shot plan is to walk into the station, give himself up, and tell the authorities that the one-armed man they have in custody is his wife's killer. His friend tells him that's crazy. "I don't care," Kimble says in one of TV's best scenes. "I'm tired... I'm tired." And he looks it, more than anybody has ever looked it.

Things quickly go to pieces in that last story, shown in two parts at the end of August, 1967, and all the players reconvene in Stafford for a finale that's melodramatic, over-the-top, completely unbelievable, cursed with a deus ex machina resolution that no fiction should bear... and yet is the most gripping, edge-of-your-seat thing ever. It's unbearably fun, and everyone got in on it. The final episode was watched by one of every three Americans, and set a ratings record, since beat by only two other regular series episodes: the "Who Shot JR" installment of Dallas and the last episode of M*A*S*H. It topped the previous winner, the first appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, by five million people. Everyone around in 1967 remembers the last episode. My parents went to a Fugitive party. Yours probably did, too. In 1993, it aaaaalllmost got topped by the final Cheers, but with the increasing fragmentation of the audience, nothing since has come close.

Thank heaven the show's finally coming to DVD in August. The first 15 episodes will be out in a box set that I need to own.

The Fugitive represented the first time TV producers had ever respected the audience enough to give them the payoff they needed, and the network happily played along. It certainly didn't change things overnight, but had the last episode been a ratings dud, and had the show not been very successful in syndication, it would be a very long time before anything like it would be tried again. Even with its success, the 1970s were still dominated by formulaic, episode-by-episode dramas with unchanging personality stars, and the concept of ongoing storylines took a long time to really take off.

For that, you've got to thank Hill Street Blues, but that's a story for another day...

Current Mood: geeky geeky


The Hipster Dad
Tue, Jun. 5th, 2007 06:26 pm

from today's Doonesbury:

from today's Starbucks run:

It's a very strange coincidence that Sam the Record Man announced its closing just as Starbucks and Paul McCartney geared up for the worldwide release of his new album. By the way, I've listened to it twice and it is fantastic, especially "House of Wax" and the surprising "The End of the End," an upbeat rumination of his own mortality. (That's fancy rock-crit speak, y'see.)

I've always found it odd that there are people who just don't like going to record stores. Me, I like nothing better than prowling through old vinyl and finding out-of-print treasures and new releases, and getting to know some of the staff to learn their recommendations. It gets a little harder as you get older to keep an ear to the ground. "New rock" radio chokes out genuinely new acts by playing the same unlistenable crap they ran into the ground in the 90s, college radio requires more attention than you can often give since the DJs just mumble the names of the last ten songs you heard while your kids are in the backseat trying to beat each other with drumsticks, and your younger friends who work at CD stores have a lot more disposable income than you do... it must be kind of funny watching Jordan at CD Warehouse tell me about the last six shows he saw, all in the last month, while I just nod politely... well, I love stumbling across or being recommended new, good music, when I can get to it. I quite like Amy Winehouse, Antony & the Johnsons and the Fratellis a lot, but so many older acts I've enjoyed for years have still got it, and since I have a limited music budget from each paycheck, sometimes the new acts will have to wait for a slow week. I mean, Interpol has a new album out next month. That's gonna take priority...

Still, I know I'm retreating into cozy domesticity when despite all the neat new stuff I'm trying to pay attention to, the three albums I've enjoyed the most this year are from Paul McCartney, Patti Smith and Bryan Ferry, and two of those are covers records. I'm reminded of an NME review of the 1990 Rykodisc release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which said, in part, that when you listen to this album, you are so taken in by it and the promises it offers that you cannot believe that there would ever be a day that you looked forward to its reissue more than Bowie's current product. And to a degree, that's true... I was much more anxious for Island's release of PJ Harvey's BBC sessions than I was of Uh Huh Her.

And this is from a guy who tries to buy at least twenty new releases a year, and make sure some of those are from local artists, and so on and so forth. I know most of my friends enjoy shopping for records and books and comics, but I also know we're the minority. Even long before iTunes became a legitimate proposition, record sales were slumping, because radio hasn't been attracting new listeners or nurturing new acts. How can it, when its rampant conservatism means that last year's model is praised so loudly that there's no room for new acts to grow? Oh, there's room for new acts to get an occasional song played a lot for a few weeks on Dave FM, a Ray LaMontagne here and a Tegan & Sara there, but they only give 'em four weeks and it's back to one Tom Petty song after another.

One of my co-workers has taken to playing that newish "The River" station at work. That's for people who like Dave FM but are afraid of Ray LaMontagne and Tegan & Sara.

And college radio's not often better. How can I get to know any new artist when, in a given week, across five drives to work and five drives home, you've got me for around nine hours and I don't hear the same song twice?

So people in their 30s stop going to record stores. And Media Play closes, and Tower closes, and Sam the Record Man...

I think Starbucks has the right idea. I don't necessarily like it; I don't like coffee, I find their prices completely absurd, and that "tall/venti" affectation is surely more pretentious and ridiculous than anything I did when I was nineteen, but I'll occasionally cave for an expensive cup of hot milk with vanilla and whipped cream. Yet it's a good idea. I mean, they've got this captive audience in the store for a time waiting for their quad-shot caramel macchiatos with lowfat, why the hell not start a record company? Put the music where the people are, because they aren't in record stores, dammit.

I don't know that I want it to get much beyond this. I'm going to want to have record stores to go to, and staff there to talk with, who'll remember me and let me know when something I've asked about has come in, and dust to collect on my fingers while I'm digging through some box of hidden treasures under the 45s.

That said, it was kind of fun, when my team leader asked who wanted something from Starbucks, to give her a twenty and ask for Memory Almost Full. But just this once.

Extra: Pitchfork's interview with Paul is really good reading.

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Current Mood: cynical cynical


The Hipster Dad
Sun, Mar. 25th, 2007 03:46 am

I don't think I even begun to do justice to this story - I'm much more of a storyteller than a writer, that's the problem - but five years ago, I wrote up this tale, and Lauren asked to see it again. Since in a bizarre coincidence, this userpic came up in the rotation and I'd use it for whatever I put in LJ next, I decided to share it with everyone.

* * *

So in 1989, Dave and some other people are over at my house and we're going through anime club stuff. Of course, in 1989, most everyone who likes anime now were but twinklings in their parents' eyes, so this is a weird, specialist hobby for weird people, like a guy named Randall Stukey, who was a bigwig anime fan in Texas or Arizona or Mars or something. Randall's name comes up as we are going through some newsletter or other from some out-of-town club and Dave tells us that the funny thing about Randall Stukey is that he looks like the Muppet Dr. Bunson Honeydew. This prompted giggles and life went on, the anecdote filed and forgotten, but not for long.

In the summer of 1990, two carloads of us Atlanta anime fan types went to Dallas for Project A-Kon I, which was perhaps the first anime-only convention outside of California. It was a good five-day vacation, marred by my utter lack of money (to be fair, that really great record store which used to be across from Ansley Mall [Metronome Music] had its farewell sale that week and I blew forty bucks on dollar records), and there was much drinking and fun.

On the Saturday of the con, I just tagged along to a panel on fandom in other cities, which was basically us and some other out-of-towners talking to Dallas fans about what people did at our anime club meetings and telling them what time Robotech came on in other cities. There were 8, 9, 10 people on this panel. CB was on the end of the panel, to my right, and Matt on my left, and Dave on his left, and then the other panelists on his left.

Moderating the panel was Dr. Bunson Honeydew.

Dave was by no means even half-joking. If you removed this man's eyes and changed the pigment of his skin, Randall Stukey WAS Bunson Honeydew. He even MOVED like Bunson Honeydew, with that excitable bounce in his arms.

Now, it's not like this was a huge crowd, maybe 100 people tops, but I sure didn't appreciate having to choke back laughter and compose myself in front of all of these people. So my eyes bugged out and I covered my mouth and coughed and wheezed in disbelief and tried to keep my mouth closed to prevent the loud guffaws from escaping.

CB immediately elbowed me in the side. "What, what?" he whispered. I finally got settled, took in a long breath and motioned to Stukey. "It's Bunson Honeydew from the Muppets," I muttered. He and I immediately started chuckling loudly again. The fact that we shouldn't be laughing at this poor man in front of all these people just made it worse. Few noticed, because they were having a nice panel discussion, but this was like Mary Tyler Moore trying to stop laughing at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, which is a pretty apt comparison. If this happened in a sitcom, TV Guide would mention it three times a season.

CB and I settled down and started breathing, and Matt leaned to me and whispered "Will you shut up?!" So I pointed out Stukey and said "Dude, it's Bunson Honeydew!" and then CB and I started chuckling again, our shoulders heaving in time with the laughs we were stifling.

Matt apparently didn't get it. He looked at us like we were stupid, and then added to somebody else's point about edits in Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years. Finally, we thought, CB and I got control and we breathed correctly. I was sweating pretty good though. We had those horrible flushed faces you get when you try to stop yourself laughing.

Then -- follow along with your hands now -- Matt turned ever so slowly and put the heel of his right palm under his chin, stretching his fingers above his mouth, resting below his nose. Then he flapped his fingers back and forth away from his mouth while shouting "MEE-MEE-MEE-MEE-MEEP!"

Well, nobody has ever laughed so spectacularly loudly and publically as we did then. As best as I recall, CB and I just got the hell up and left the room, just crying from laughter like you get with a really good issue of the Onion. We didn't have anything much to add about Robotech and Captain Harlock anyway.

* * *

And if you think I'm joking, animejump provided this small measure of evidence that you just can't make this sort of thing up...

Current Mood: awake awake
Current Music: shhhhhh


The Hipster Dad
Tue, Mar. 13th, 2007 09:04 am

Amazon.co.uk has an interesting link for "Yesterday's Tomorrows," a hardcover collection of several stories drawn by Rian Hughes. These include "The Science Service" and "Raymond Chandler's Goldfish," along with "Dare," which appeared in Revolver and in Crisis, and most surprisingly "Really & Truly," part of the 2000 AD Summer Offensive in 1993.

Okay, so it'll be fifty bucks, but that is really, really tempting. I really miss Rian Hughes' comics. Design's gain has been comics' loss.

Anyway, Friday night, the Hipster Kids and I wrapped up the original series of Doctor Who. We watched the '96 Fox/BBC TV movie and The Curse of Fatal Death, a 1999 special in which a number of surprise celebrities show up to run up and down lots of corridors for charity.

The TV movie was a lot better than I remembered it, despite having a simple, straightforward plot that doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Basically, the Master, who's swishing about in a stolen body, decides that he can live again by opening this big magic ball in the TARDIS which makes a blue light shine through his body and into the Doctor's, and then he can have the Doctor's body, but leaving the big magic ball open will suck all the Earth's molecules inside out, which is why the big magic ball was safeguarded so only a human being can open it. Good thing the Doctor never has any humans onboard his ship, then.

But at least, dumb as it is, the story is presented in a clear, linear fashion. Characters don't jump willy-nilly from one location to the next, you can understand everything that every actor says, the A-plot and the B-plot don't move at completely different speeds. In other words, it's the complete inverse of season 26. Plus, and this is where the TV movie beats the hell out of the last five years of the TV series, it's got Paul McGann as the Doctor. And he is awesome.

Honestly, McGann mismanages one scene when he's an amnesiac and the director evidently told him "Think Christ," but otherwise he just gives a knockout performance. Given only this chance to play the Doctor onscreen and knowing the American ratings would have to be sky-high to get a second chance (thanks to the really stupid rights deal the BBC made with Universal and Fox to get the thing financed), he really gives it his all and is absolutely convincing in remaking the Doctor as a dashing romantic hero with eyes full of stars.

Elements of the production bothered me on a superficial level. The TARDIS redesign, with a giant control room full of clocks and candles, is a triumph of style over function. I think they used leftover film stock from one of those quickly-axed Fox X Files cash-ins that all got filmed in Vancouver, because it looks like an episode of Strange Luck; very, very mid-nineties. This just reinforces the feeling that had it gone to series, it would basically have turned into, well, one of those quickly-axed Fox X Files cash-ins that all got filmed in Vancouver, with that horrible announcer going "Next on Fox, Dokter WHOOOO walks around a factory at night with a flashlight." He'd basically turn into Mulder with long hair in a Wild Bill Hickock outfit. (Speaking of which, the costume is fantastic.)

Anyway, McGann never got the chance to play the Doctor on television again, but he starred in a pile of direct-to-CD radio dramas which I understand are frequently excellent. For fans, you've basically got that continuity, or you've got the novels, which went basically mad with inter-book continuity obsessions and very rarely thrill, or you've got the comics, which were often great and which are available in four very nice collections from Panini. This is the rare occasion where the most satisfying choice is also the least expensive; you'll go broke trying to collect all those damn BBC novels.

For new fans who've come to the show via the current series, the fannish speculation is that it was the Eighth Doctor who fought that Time War that the show won't shut up about. He regenerated just after he did whatever big, nasty, war-ending, planet-busting ugliness it was that he did, which is why, in the first episode, when he shows up at Rose's apartment, he catches sight of himself in a mirror and says something quick about his ears. Further fannish speculation/wishful thinking suggests that at some point before the Terry Nation estate regains the rights to the Daleks, they're going to give Tennant a break and let McGann have another go and tell the Time War story. There's absolutely no reason to expect that will happen, but it'd be nice...

And that's that for classic Who. The kids loved the movie, and said it was one of the best ever, and we're all a little sad that it's come to an end. We started watching the show from 1966's "The Tomb of the Cybermen" when my son was in kindergarten and it took us about five years to get to the end of it. We skipped a few stories along the way, usually because we didn't have copies or the ones we did were too poor quality (a few Pertwees we later went back and caught, like "Inferno" or "Time Monster"), or because I knew very well they stank and didn't want to see them again (only two or three of these; "Underworld" for instance), or because they were "The Brain of Morbius" and the kids were too young for that. We all got weepy when the Fourth Doctor died. Robot mummies and Drashigs and Auton troll dolls scared the pants off the kids, and my son cried totally different tears when the Cybermen showed back up once and he got so excited he teared up!

Several stories turned out to be a whole lot better than I remembered them, thanks in no small part to getting the chance to watch them with kids who can overlook the occasional production flaws and godawful acting from guest stars. This is the audience Doctor Who was meant for - for whom Tom Baker breaking the fourth wall to complain the sonic screwdriver can't open a door, or motorcycle chases, or belching trash cans represents all that's great about the show.

The Hipster Son, incidentally, says that this scene is the single greatest scene in the history of everything. And he may not be wrong...

The Autons in "Spearhead from Space" come to life and begin gunning down commuters in London. The quasi-remake of this scene in "Rose" features more devastation, but it also lacks scope. The slow-burn direction and editing of this sequence makes it seem the violence is spreading throughout the city, and the beautiful slow tracking shot up to the shop window before the dummies come to life is phenomenal. Doctor Who was often graceless - you can't expect a great deal of flourish when your scenes are most often performed in a giant set before three cameras, the same way sitcoms are made - but when all the magic worked, you got something downright flawless.

So now we're all set for the next series to start. Three agonizing weeks to go.

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The Hipster Dad
Tue, Mar. 6th, 2007 08:46 am

Rewatching the three seasons (42 episodes) of Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy at the helm has been a very enlightening experience. It's turned conventional wisdom and my own memories completely on their head. The party line suggests that it was a learning curve, and that each season was better than its predecessor, which is why BBC Video was anxious to put two of the big gems from that last season - "Ghost Light" and "The Curse of Fenric" - out on DVD.

But looking at the series again with the kids has shown things to look a lot different. Certainly the two big turkeys of the twelve serials - "Time and the Rani" and "Silver Nemesis" - are as awful as memory suggests. Every other one of the first eight, however, is elevated slightly in retrospect. "Delta and the Bannermen" and "Greatest Show in the Galaxy" are utterly sublime, perfect little serials. Even "Paradise Towers," which was beaten bloody by poor direction and appalling acting by its miscast players, was revealed to have a very good script.

Season 26 starts with "Battlefield," which is still marred by godawful guest acting, but it's a shade better than its reputation holds, with some clever directorial flourishes and sight gags. So I was more than ready to find new things to love about "Ghost Light" and "Fenric." But all I found were chinks in their armor.

What I can say is that they are both really good stories. But on the other hand, they are absolutely godawful scripts. I can kind of excuse Marc Platt, the writer of the first, as it was his first professional job, but I'm not sure how Ian Briggs managed to write so much that ended up on the cutting room floor. Nor am I sure why the script editor and the director didn't time these in rehearsals to see where the problems were. There are certainly important bits that the script editor missed: there's an awful part in the first episode of "Fenric" where the Doctor and Ace go to visit Dr. Judson, see he's busy, and decide to talk to him later, a sequence which only serves to introduce a new location, and which could have been done without the main characters. There's another critical bit where the Doctor convinces the Ancient One to change sides, and it takes place in a location where neither party has any business being, with no explanation of how or why they went there. The pacing between the incidents meant to be happening simultaneously is incredibly poor as well. See the beginning sequences in part four, where an awful lot goes on at multiple locations with Joann, Phyllis, Judson/Fenric and the Ancient One, while the Doctor and Ace spend what seems like seconds avoiding the battle at the camp.

So much additional footage was taped for "Fenric" that the VHS release contains an extra seven minutes of material. I recall that being a great deal more coherent than what we saw on the DVD; had I a working VCR, we would have done better to watch that! The DVD, incidentally, contains the original broadcast edit, and an extended movie version with twelve minutes of more footage. That'd be the one to watch, except the kids and I are watching it in episodic format.

The climax of "Fenric" has never made much sense, but all the extra footage in the world can't save the awful way Sophie Aldred manages to botch two critical scenes. Once Captain Bates and the junior Russian officer have clued her into the solution to the chess trap, she doesn't react with surprised understanding about how clever the Doctor is, but as though it's incredibly vital she get back to the chemical plant immediately, which is the last place on the planet she needs to be. Then when she gets there, she saunters in, as though expecting Fenric/Judson to already be dead, and confidently and smugly reveals the solution to Sorin. She misplays both scenes both horribly.

Sylvester McCoy is mostly excellent in both stories. He's a deeply underappreciated actor, but one thing he can't do is "angry," which is his cue to gurn and overemote, especially when he's trying to convince Light to leave in the third part of "Ghost Light." But this is also the era of the mysterious Dark Doctor, who only lands the TARDIS to take care of some ancient evil he hasn't bothered telling Ace about beforehand, and when the opportunity arises, he still doesn't. These are the greatest faults of the scripts; they require multiple viewings of the episodes, critical reviews in Dreamwatch Bulletin and a novelisation by the author to figure out what the hell is going on. There's not a lot on screen to help you out, but there's also no reason why the writers couldn't slow things down and just tell the audience, either. At no point in "Ghost Light" is it even explained what the dickens Josiah Smith is, how he creates his new bodies and from what, and how he still controls his previous, discarded husks. There's a terrible bit in "Fenric" where Ace demands to know what's going on, giving McCoy the chance to emote about evil, eeeevil from the dawn of time, light and dark in eternal opposition and so on, instead of just telling her and the audience "We're up against an old enemy which calls itself Fenric. I trapped it in a flask in second century China but it's been influencing the planet ever since, bringing its players to this point. A bit like that Silver Nemesis business, really." That information's all there, but it's split in bits and pieces across four weeks' worth of television.

But even split across four nights of television, it's still a mess. To a small degree, you can blame poor delivery or poor sound mixing for some important facts being lost. I can literally make out exactly eight words that Control, in "Ghost Light," says in the first two episodes, and to tell the truth, man, I'm not absolutely sure about "ratken."

Don't believe me? Conventional wisdom holds that the cliffhanger to part three of "Fenric" was 80s Who's last great cliffhanger. It's when Judson, who's spent twenty years in a wheelchair, gets struck dead by a lightning bolt, but then stands up behind the Doctor and says "We play the contest again, Time Lord." It's a great moment, emphasizing that this old foe - one the TV audience never met before - knows who the Doctor is.

Now, let me tell you how my kids handle cliffhangers. If it's got scary beasties coming out of the ocean or out of the wall, the girlchild screams and hides her face but otherwise they both jump and shout "COOL!" and then I tell them goodnight and they beg and plead for another episode. What happened at the end of part three is my son said "What? I'm confused!" and they both shrugged and went to bed without concern.

There's only been one Doctor Who serial prior to these that they disliked, a dry, dumb Davison story called "Terminus." But they didn't think much of these, either. They didn't understand them, they couldn't follow them, they kept asking "what?" because they couldn't make out what the actors were saying. Apart from the girlchild's periodic shrieks, they haven't responded in any positive way since the Brigadier gunned down the Destroyer in "Battlefield" last week.

Put another way: give a nine year-old boy the opportunity to watch an extended version of a Harry Potter movie, a Lord of the Rings movie, or just about any Doctor Who story prior to this one, and you'll watch that boy jump. I said we could watch the extended-by-twelve-minutes "Fenric" if he wanted to and he just shrugged. This is not, objectively, the result of a good piece of television, and it doesn't matter how much amusing speculation about the second Doctor beating Fenric during season 6B it generates. It's a failure of television drama in the most humbling way.

And the ratings proved it. For all the excitement these stories create among adult fans of the show, they were complete bombs in the ratings and got the show cancelled. And feeding the line about "oh, they were up against Coronation Street" is misdirection. These episodes led into freaking Bergerac, which was a huge BBC hit, and they still didn't even make 5 million. They're flops, by any objective standard, because they're navel-gazing, weird and poorly constructed, focussing on minutiae for a minority in-crowd audience instead of doing what Doctor Who can do better than just about any other television series: thrill an entire family.

In a way - not the way I expected - these confirmed the feelings I had going in. The Colin Baker stories were put together by television professionals whose heart was not in their work; Baker and Nicola Bryant seemed to be the only people involved at any level who gave a toss about what they were doing. The McCoy stories, on the other hand, were made by television newcomers who all gave 110% and really cared about their work, but who lacked the experience to make the productions really shine. You see this in the resumes of the screenwriters: Marc Platt, Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and their other imaginative peers went on to write for Doctor Who novels for Virgin Books and direct-to-CD audio dramas, but they haven't racked up very many TV credits over the last twenty years.

But their hard work certainly paid off in time. The McCoy years, and the different, "dark Doctor" approach, continued in the novels, which is where Paul Cornell, Russell T. Davies, Mark Gatiss and others first got to play with the concept professionally. Then they went on to respected TV careers on things like Queer as Folk and League of Gentlemen and when the opportunity to resurrect Who for TV came up, you suddenly had a production crew that was both full of love and enthusiasm for the series, but they also knew what the hell they were doing - you didn't have those two in tandem since the mid-70s, frankly.

So then we watched part one of "Survival," which was fairly dull, but it wasn't confusing. It has a pretty striking, unique monster - a cheetah person on horseback - and then an old enemy shows up at the cliffhanger. That got the kids' attention much more than the last two serials have. I think we'll watch the last two parts of that this evening and then get onto Thirty Years in the TARDIS, the movie and Curse of Fatal Death before the next series starts later this month.



The Hipster Dad
Thu, Mar. 23rd, 2006 08:04 am

The second episode of Sapphire & Steel proved to not be quite as unnerving as the first, much to the childrens' relief. They love the show, but it really freaks them out, which is as it should be.

It occurs to me that most of you probably don't know what this pet obession of mine is. Well, mix a dash of Twin Peaks with equal parts Doctor Who and Night Gallery and you've got this little masterpiece. Calling it a "sci-fi" show isn't quite right; the serials are ghost stories with sci-fi trappings. It's about two mysterious and powerful operatives of some unknown agency who show up when something goes wrong with time or something outside of time tries to get in.

It was produced in 1979-80 by ATV, a now-defunct British commercial network, in two batches. The first was 14 episodes and the second was 20, and those last 20 episodes were shown as three "seasons," one of 10 episodes, one of six and one of four, stretching its transmission into 1982. The 34 episodes comprise six serials of between 4 and 8 parts. It was a big hit, but ATV couldn't afford to keep its two expensive lead actors committed, especially while the network was undergoing some internal political issues. (In fact, the network closed down late in 1981 and its license was awarded to Central TV, who screened the last four episodes.)

It was made for less money than Doctor Who was, and starred two very well-known actors, who ate up most of the production budget. Joanna Lumley was coming off the success of The New Avengers, and David McCallum, best known to US audiences from The Man from UNCLE, had recently starred in the hit Colditz. Since there wasn't very much money left over for sets, guest casting or special effects, the series had to focus on small locales - most of them take place in one house and its surroundings - and find its impact through slow pacing to build up tension, minimal staging, music and sound effects.

What results is something genuinely creepy and unsettling. It's the dark side of Doctor Who, which, in this period (around "The Key to Time" and "Nightmare of Eden"), was increasingly garish and egotistical, emphasizing wit and pastiche above everything else. Sapphire & Steel is the nemesis of that period's outlook, emphasizing horror and loss. It's made even more creepy by refusing to compromise with audiences and explain much of anything. It tells us virtually nothing about the protagonists, just that they show up when there is a breakdown in time and are required to do whatever is necessary to fix it, the ends sometimes justifying some truly terrible means.

As such, this is a show which will shock and appall you if you think American space shows like Star Trek in any way make for good television. I've long hated the simplistic outlook and structure of those shows, where you're introduced to this fellow from planet Koosbane who's the security chief and this fellow with that catchphrase who's the engineer and the ship runs on dilithium crystals and you can buy technical specs for them and everyone is so damnably moral and working for the common good. There are no origins or explanations in Sapphire & Steel, it's just there to immerse its audience in a disturbing worldview and freak that audience out with creepy noises and disembodied voices of missing parents and strange lights under doors. It's a show where reading a nursery rhyme in a particular room makes the walls slide away and lets ghosts in to steal a little girl's mommy and daddy.

So this first story is downright masterful in its manipulation of viewers. Having established that reading "Ring a Ring of Roses" aloud makes terrible things happen, the show has already got both my kids balled up in terror, and then the little girl goes back to the room with her teddy bear and tells it "Pictures, Rebecca! Pictures" and you know it's about to happen again. Three words have never had such an impact.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention there was a comic adaptation. It ran for 76 weeks in the pages of Look-In, which was an anthology title devoted to strip versions of programs on Britain's commercial TV, including The Tomorrow People and American imports like The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The strip was written by Angus Allen and drawn by the brilliant Arthur Ranson, and you can read about two-thirds of them if you click the link...

The comic should give you some idea of the outre plots and premises, but it is geared for an even younger audience, and almost every strip includes children in some fashion, while only the first of the TV serials did. Still, it's weird and strange and Ranson's artwork is really great.

One nerd note of great import: If I've peaked your interest in the series, under no circumstances do any further reading, even at Wikipedia, and avoid episode guides like the plague!! This is because the episodes have no titles, but some pinhead, writing for Time Screen in the mid-80s, decided to come up with "unofficial" titles for them to make his episode guide easier to handle and these unofficial titles have passed into common acceptance among fandom. The problem is that his pinhead titles spoil the damn stories! Considering the amazing cliffhangers and surprises of Sapphire & Steel's plots, there isn't a worse show in the history of TV to spoil, and the pinhead titles literally reference the plot twist in the final episode in four of the six stories.

Anyway, I'll be digging my VHS copies (watchable PAL-->NTSC conversions, but with some audio hiss) out to find new homes soon. Let me know if you'd like one or two of them. Then plan to haunt eBay to get the DVD set.

PJ Hammond, who devised the series and wrote 28 of the 34 episodes, is contributing to Torchwood, the forthcoming Doctor Who spinoff. I'm seriously looking forward to his story.

Current Mood: hyperbolic
Current Music: Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind


The Hipster Dad
Mon, Mar. 20th, 2006 06:22 pm

V for Vendetta: I saw this Saturday and genuinely enjoyed it, despite the absence of three of my favorite scenes. (You'll be seeing one of those later this week, by the way, *wink.) Stephen Rea was extremely good, and I thought Alan Moore's complaints were pretty ill-founded. To be honest, though, one scene they did not include was a pretty important one from the climax, and so in retrospect it almost answered what one of the few lingering complaints I had about the production - there was something genuinely dissatisfying about the emotional resonance of the ending, and I figured it out when I realized that scene wasn't there. I'd say more, but can't without spoiling the book and the movie, so I won't. Still, a fine movie full of really good performances.

The Magic Roundabout: We just finished this, and a better eighty minutes with two kids you can't imagine. It answered the question of why they had to redub this, as well. If you look over the Doogal reviews at imdb, you'll see that plenty of people are complaining about fart gags and pop culture references and Lord of the Rings jokes, and the movie doesn't have a single example of any of these. So basically, they rewrote the script completely to make it as lowbrow and stupid as possible and then redubbed it with ex-Saturday Night Live actors. This wasn't high art, but the kids loved it, and there were plenty of good over-their-heads gags for grown-ups. Dylan got a "grass" joke in that had me howling. See, I bet that wasn't in the US version.

Poseidon: Saw the preview for this in front of V and scowled. I thought "What the hell is the point of remaking this perfect film?" Then Andre Braugher showed up. Sold.

Silent Hill: Saw the preview for this in front of V and sat at rapt attention and was more sold than any trailer had ever sold me. Looks absolutely terrifying and creepy. I wanted the movie here and now and I wanted to get the bejeezus scared out of me. Then the trailer just keeps going and spoiled everything. It's all just a big-hole-to-hell-full-of-demons movie, based on a video game. Unsold.

Zak's: Anyway, yeah, my neighborhood karaoke bar is closed and their phone disconnected. How disturbing.

Sapphire & Steel: This is my favorite sf/fantasy-type series. It's available from A&E for $100. I scored a new copy from eBay for under $30, including shipping. It arrived today. We're watching episode 1 in a bit. Expect completely freaked out children shortly.

Update 9.06 pm: HOLY SHIT IT SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THEM. They're BOTH in my bed.

Man, it's every bit as good as I remember, too. I haven't looked at my tapes (PAL-->NTSC conversions) in years. What an awesome show.

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Current Mood: nostalgic nostalgic
Current Music: Seinfeld


The Hipster Dad
Sun, Jan. 8th, 2006 10:20 pm

Hipster Daughter: Oh! I forgot! I lost a tooth!
Hipster Son: You did?!
Me: Sweet merciful crap! That's right!
(person at the next table gives me a shocked look)
Hipster Daughter: The Tooth Fairy's coming!
Me: Groaaaaannnn.
Hipster Son: You KNOW Dad hates the Tooth Fairy!
Hipster Daughter: How's it get in, anyway?
Hipster Son: Dad doesn't know.
Hipster Daughter: Da-addd, how's it get in?
Me: I don't know, I don't want to know, just... oh, good grief.
Hipster Son: I think it comes in through the window. It's really small, smaller than a penny.
Hipster Daughter: I'm gonna get lots of pennies! Dad! I still need to spend my Canadian dollar. Where can I spend it?
Me: Um, Canada. Hush, you've made me upset.
Hipster Son: Why do you hate the Tooth Fairy?
Me: Because it's WEIRD, okay. It's this weird, freaky thing that comes in and takes your teeth and I don't know how it gets in.
Hipster Son: I told you, though the window.
Me: And doesn't that weird you out? Little things dragging dollars through the window and leaving with your teeth?
Hipster Daughter: Dollars? WOO-HOO!
Hipster Son: No, because it gives us money.
Me: Well, I don't care, this is the last one. No more losing your teeth, understand?
Hipster Son: What?!
Hipster Daughter: We HAVE to lose our baby teeth!
Me: No, you don't. Cut it out. No more losing your teeth. Keep them all in.
Hipster Son: We have to lose our baby teeth so our permanent teeth will come in!
Me: Baloney. My teeth came in permanent, there's no need for yours to keep coming out.
(kids look utterly confused. person at the next table is listening to every word with a horrible look on her face.)
Hipster Son: You lost your baby teeth. You had to!
Me: No, I was born with permanent teeth.
Hipster Daughter, circling air around her ear with an index finger: Huh? Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Hipster Son: You were NOT born with permanent teeth!
Me: I was, that's why my mouth was all messed up. My jaw, see, here, grew as I got older and the permanent teeth were already in place. That's why I had braces in middle school.
Hipster Son: No, you get braces if your teeth are crooked!
Me: My teeth WERE crooked, because of how my jaws grew with permanent teeth in them. So I needed braces.
Hipster Daughter: You're lying! Is there video of you?
Me: There's some old eight millimeter stuff, but you can't see my teeth in them.
Hipster Daughter: Why?
Me: I didn't want the Tooth Fairy coming after me. So you keep that dang thing out of my house, y'hear? No more losing your teeth!
person at the next table, getting up to bus her table: You are WEIRD.

Current Mood: tired tired
Current Music: Texas: The Hush


The Hipster Dad
Fri, Oct. 7th, 2005 09:15 am

So last night, I checked out ABC’s new remake of the 1990s Lance Henriksen show Millennium. Which was rather disappointing, as they had advertised it as a remake of the 1970s Darren McGavin show The Night Stalker. I’ve watched a fair amount of television, and one’s mind starts with hyperbole when forming critical opinions, but it’s going to take an awful lot of time and consideration before I can come up with a remake which misses the point and cocks up a concept as spectacularly as this disaster does.

Carl Kolchak first appeared in a 1968 novel by Jeff Rice, who sold the rights and subsequently made such a spectacular ass of himself trying to wrest control of his concept back from Universal that he gave new meaning to the term “scorched earth” policy, ensuring that he would never work in that town again.

The Night Stalker was a TV movie-of-the-week in 1971, casting Darren McGavin as Kolchak, a hopelessly down-on-his-luck reporter in Las Vegas who learns that some murders are the work of a vampire. While it’s not a particularly scary film, the script and the direction are simply perfect, witty, clever and ahead of its time. It was a ratings blockbuster, and still, to my mind, the best vampire film ever made, by leagues.

A sequel TV movie came in 1972, and performed well enough for ABC to commission a TV series in 1974. Now set in Chicago, the narratives were little more than a monster-of-the-week showcase, but done with such wit and imagination, and with such incredibly good character moments that while it was a ratings bomb, it’s remained a cult classic for thirty years.

This remake is a humorless, grim, boring dirge, with all the levity of a burning dirigible crashing to Earth. It fails from the opening, with a quiet, whispering narration about dark things and inner demons, spoken by Stuart Townsend, the new Kolchak, as he inputs his story into a laptop from one of those Los Angeles see-everything apartments with the giant window-corners.

If you know the original Night Stalker, which changed its name after four weeks to the better-known Kolchak: The Night Stalker, you’ll instantly understand how wrong that image is. While it might be unfair and short-sighted to compare a big-budget ABC drama hope to a thirty year-old low budget bomb, it must be questioned why ABC wanted to remake something and make so many counter-productive changes. I’ll come back to that; it’s critical.

Apparently a newcomer to the staff of the Los Angeles Beacon (I missed the pilot), Carl Kolchak is a crime reporter who keeps crossing paths with strange supernatural threats. Last night, he had to deal with an imprisoned cult leader who was psychically possessing people. He’s teamed with a jaded city pages veteran and with cub photographer Jimmy Olsen. His editor, Tony Vincenzo, is skeptical but supportive of Kolchak’s unusual theories. The Beacon’s offices overlook a Los Angeles freeway; they can see the sunset, when all the dark demons of our inner turmoils come out in shocking, visceral fast-cuts of frightening imagery, blood and noise.

Kolchak himself is quiet, wounded and battle-scarred. He’s recovering from the death of his wife, and is learning that there are monsters in the world who have no care or concern for humanity, and that some of these inhuman monsters look human. The direction is first-rate but hardly groundbreaking anymore. Rob Bowman, who helmed last night’s episode, already broke all that ground twelve years ago with The X Files. The location filming was very nice and betrayed a budget greater than all twenty of the original episodes combined. None of the guest actors did less than a serviceable job. Stuart Townsend is a handsome, scruffy fellow and I’m sure some ladies love him while he broods quietly and considers things, darkly and moodily.

The problem is that Carl Kolchak should never brood about anything until the case is over and he is alone with his tape recorder, dictating the climax of something terrible.

What on Earth has happened here? I see X Files names throughout the credits – Frank Spotnitz, Darin Morgan, others – and these people freely admitted what a huge, loving influence Kolchak was on their show. How in creation could they screw this up as badly as they did?

There was exactly one scene which felt anything at all like the original series. There’s a police press conference with two sensible questions from sensible reporters and then some wiseguy pops up to ask about the killer’s story about his long-dead father telling him to kill his wife.

But Bowman, you idiot, you blew it. What’s wrong with this scene can be summed up thusly: Everyone in the room turns to look at Kolchak. No. When you do this scene, all the other reporters are supposed to look away from Kolchak because he is an embarassment to them. If you can’t understand that, you have no business trying to make a Kolchak TV show. It’s like making a Sherlock Holmes TV show where Holmes has to beg the police for work.

Kolchak, the real Kolchak, not this pretty boy, is a loser; he’s a twelve-time loser. He has no family and the only woman to give him any kindness is the elderly lady who writes the advice column. His mad theories and stories have cost him every gram of credibility he could ever have. He’s a joke and a laughing stock and he works at a newspaper which is beneath a Chicago train line, not overlooking anything but litter. The only reason Tony Vincenzo employs him is because he pities him, and because when he’s not off chasing Louisiana swamp monsters and headless motorcyclists, Kolchak writes a good beat story.

Tony Vincenzo never, ever believes Kolchak. Nobody does. That is what makes that premise work. You do it the way these people did it last night, you’ve got Buffy the Journalism Graduate – the Series. I can accept and appreciate making changes to a characterization to bring a decades-old concept to a new audience. The old Kolchak was loud and boisterous, the new one is moody; I can take that. But severing the underlying psychological drive to the character just kills the character dead. Carl Kolchak is a character whom nobody believed. That is what made him who he was. You want to make a TV show about a reporter who has a supportive editor, veteran partner and cub photographer who all believe him? Call him Phil or Fred or any old name but Carl. Don’t call your show Night Stalker.

They try to pay lip service to the original character by giving him an old car. In some way, it evokes Kolchak’s original look. In his seersucker suit and 1940s hat, Darren McGavin looked like a character from another time, dragged into the 1970s. But lots of people choose to drive old cars. I was passed by a big black Bandit Trans Am on the way to work today. Kolchak wore that suit in the original series because that was the only suit he owned. He had no choice but to wear it because he could not afford better. This Kolchak has a gorgeous house in the hills. Why’s he driven – that’s a poor word, Townsend does not give the character any discernible drive – to risk ruining his news media career with stories about psychic cultists? Nothing is given and nothing is revealed; it’s just what the plot demands of the protagonist. The original Carl was driven to match wits with monsters because nobody else would.

Even though the 1974 series was a flop, there’s still enough, sociologically, in it as a product of its time to make Kolchak’s struggle incredibly entertaining and rewarding. While the character predated Watergate, the TV show followed it, and was influenced by it. Kolchak’s rivals in the Chicago media are complacent and lazy; they never investigate, only regurgitate what the police tell them. Kolchak is Woodward and Bernstein; he’s the one up to his knees in a sewer and threatened with arrest. In one of the weaker episodes, Kolchak suffers the ultimate indignity: he has proof that the military has lost control of a humanoid robot, but not only does the army confiscate his evidence; they drug him and steal his memories. But 1974 needed Kolchak, even if they were more interested on what was on CBS. (Chico and the Man, possibly.) He was one of television’s greatest heroes, a man who literally gave up everything, including all of his potential, for what was right. That’s sacrifice.

The new guy? Some things were taken from him and now, with the assistance of associates who, like Fox Mulder would like to believe, he’d like to be a hero. Well, he can’t. In last night’s episode, the psychic cultist possessed Kolchak’s mind and the day was saved by outside forces who stepped in anonymously and were not even aware of Kolchak’s plight when they handled the problem.

That’s not the kind of hero I want, and certainly not one I intend to watch again.

You can get the original series from Amazon for about thirty bucks, though.

(Originally posted October 07, 2005, 09:15 at gmslegion, four comments after the cut.) Read more...Collapse )


The Hipster Dad
Sat, Sep. 17th, 2005 09:17 pm

Tonight was a very sad night in the Hipster Pad. We watched the last episodes of the Fourth Doctor.

My son and I started watching Doctor Who together in early 2002 with "The Tomb of the Cybermen." We watched four of the Second Doctor adventures before moving to the Pertwee era. There are 24 Third Doctor serials; we watched (checks) 17 of them in the runup to moving into the Hipster Pad in March of '03.

It's odd; I first watched these twenty years ago now, but the nostalgic memories have been with my family, and not always positive ones. I missed episode one of "Frontier in Space" because that was the Monday night of that terrible unpleasantness with my ex-wife the weekend of the Florida game; My so watched that episode by himself while his mother and I fought in another room. I don't think that I shall ever be able to watch that one now.

The monsters had scared his sister enough to keep her away, but she finally joined us when the three of us moved out for Pertwee's last story, "Planet of the Spiders." We watched the first four parts at my parents' during the two weeks we stayed with them, and the last two parts here.

Then we started up Tom Baker in April '03.

Actually, my favorite Doctor is the Seventh, and that on the strength of the novels, for the most part. He had some fantastic TV moments, but some of those books, published by Virgin, knock the TV series into a cocked hat. But as a family, Tom Baker has been our Doctor.

Tom starred as Doctor Who for seven TV seasons, from 1974-81, for 178 episodes comprising 41 serials (if you count the unfinished "Shada," which we do). We watched 36 of the serials, skipping "Brain of Morbius" as I think it's too horrific for the kids, and four of the Graham Williams-produced ones on account of either not having copies or the stories just not being very good.

In between each season, we have enjoyed a "repeat season" of one serial each from Doctors 2-4. (We've skipped Hartnell on account of the 21st-Century-child-unfriendliness of those stories' glacial pacing.) And of course, this spring, we enjoyed the adventures of the Ninth Doctor and look forward to David Tennant's tenure at Christmas.

But Tom Baker has been our Doctor. Watching this run as a family has been so rewarding, and one of the happiest experiences as a parent. Watching them get unnerved by some of the monsters, and get involved with the storylines and plots has been a complete joy. They were terrified by the robot mummies and the Loch Ness Monster, and they loved Leela and K-9. I kept them away from spoilers and even masked a couple of the giveaway story titles, so they would be surprised by the return of the Daleks and the Master.

There isn't any greater joy than seeing realization dawn in my son as he shouts "Holy shoot!" Or when his sister gets unnerved and buries her face in my chest, or when they laugh and cheer over the comedy.

Over the last two nights, it all came to an end with "Logopolis." Now, from a critic's perspective, the story's a nonsensical mess, so obsessed with its genuinely unique and amazing alien culture that it forgets to include a plot until it's too late, and then it's cliche unparalleled. But the mood of this story is so compelling and frightening that I wanted to watch all four parts last night. (We had to split it in half.) There's a downright spectacular scene in part one when the Doctor looks across the highway and sees a spectral white figure by a fence staring at him and he almost collapses in shock. It works as well as it does because nobody in either the story or in the audience knows who the figure is, except the Doctor. Watching the story as a repeat from that angle reveals so much about the Doctor's character and his actions over the next hour or so.

The figure is an interim "phase" created as the Doctor regenerates at the story's end, who travels back in time to assist himself with the adventure. Since that's still not made explicit, a little speculation is needed to get even that much, but the resulting "angel of death" feeling of this "phase," called "The Watcher" by Adric, is incredibly powerful and results in some incredible scenes. In part two, the Doctor goes to meet him on a bridge overlooking the Thames. The director shoots it from Adric's POV, too distant to see them clearly or make out what they're saying. There's a downright amazing shot where the Doctor just drops his head, knowing that he's going to die and cannot do anything to stop it... but a first-time viewer couldn't possibly catch that!!

The end of this serial was absolutely amazing for us to watch together, because I didn't give the kids any warning or suggestion that this was the end for our Doctor. I think my son realized just before the end, as he took in a deep breath during a flashback scene when the Doctor remembers his last several travelling companions, and his eyes widened. That made me tear up, and when the regeneration began, we were all shocked and weeping. "He DIED?!" my daughter bellowed as the end credits started. That a new Doctor sat up wasn't important.

For a few minutes, nothing was, because our Doctor was gone.

(Originally posted at gmslegion, nine comments after the cut.)

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Current Mood: sad sad
Current Music: Ben Folds: Fear of Pop vol 1