Monday, 27 January 2014

The Doctor's New Clothes



So, there we have it - the first look at the twelfth Doctor's costume. What do we all think? I rather like it, but then, it's not entirely unlike the sort of thing I might wear (then again, neither were the tweeds or the pinstripes). I love the frock coat, deep blue with a lovely red lining. Looks like it could do with a tie, though. I'm guessing we'll see some variation over the episodes, of course. It's got a nice feel of the earliest Doctor outfits, but with a modern cut and style. A nice update for our new Doctor. And I love the Pertwee pose.

WHO REVIEW: The Lost Stories 4.3-4.4

LORDS OF THE RED PLANET

THE MEGA


Among the mad rush of events that overtook the world of Doctor Who at the end of 2013, Big Finish reached the end of its Lost Stories range. Originally created to bring the unmade 1986 season of Doctor Who to life, later series moved beyond the adventures of the sixth Doctor, recreating unmade serials for the Doctors from Billy Hartnell through to Sly McCoy. The fourth and final run has reached its culmination with two six-part adventures, one for the second Doctor and one for the third. Naturally, each of these is in the enhanced audiobook type of format, somewhere between a reading and a performance. Indeed, these two releases are as close to a full-cast performance as you can get with several key cast members no longer extant.


Lords of the Red Planet is the gloriously named third and final story drawn from the archived notes of Brian Hayles, following the previous releases The Dark Planet and The Queen of Time . It involves the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie arriving on Mars and becoming witness to nothing less than the creation of the Ice Warriors. With the genesis of the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans all now established, it's not surprising that the Martian menaces would get there own treatment eventually. What is more unexpected is that this was actually proposed right back in 1969, intended to be the second appearance of the creatures. In the event, The Seeds of Death was made in its place. It's hard to say which was actually the stronger story; what we have here is not a final script, but is based on two slightly different draft treatments by Hayles. John Dorney has done a good job of crafting them into a cohesive story. The performances are uniformly good, although Nick Briggs does overstretch himself a little by adding even more alien voices to his roster.


Where the serial falls down is in its length, something it has in common with many Troughton stories. It's a more interesting concept than what we got in The Seeds of Death, but perhaps a less televisually exciting one. It certainly would have been expensive to produce, with the sheer numbers of Martians of various stripes being a likely reason it was vetoed. Hayles paints a picture of Mars that sees it as a dying planet inhabited by the last vestiges of a once powerful culture, driven to indolence and marking time till their extinction. The Gandorans are the architects of their own maltreatment at the hands of their genetically enhanced mistress, and the ensuing power struggle has an air of inevitability to it. The actual origins of the Ice Warriors, accidentally christened as such by the Doctor here, is intriguing. There was always a sense that there was something artificial about them, yet they are clearly organic. Here we learn that they are forcibly evolved and technologically upgraded, transforming them from mere beasts to a powerful fighting force. A martial culture in both senses, then, and destined to inherit the planet. How easily this account fits with other tales of Ice Warrior history is harder to say, but given that this is penned by the real-world creator of the creatures, it should perhaps be considered the truest history.


I found The Mega rather less enjoyable to listen to. The first, and only, third Doctor release for the Lost Stories range, this one comes from a treatment by Bill Strutton, author of intergalactic bug-fest The Web Planet. It's at the same time a talky piece and an action-oriented one. It takes an age to get going, and once it does, it never really manages to do the action justice. Hailing from the hinterland between seasons seven and eight, The Mega is a story in the gritty, near-future style of The Ambassadors of Death. It's the plausible future from the point of view of a writer in the 1970s, with plenty of international political action, then-topical references and corrupt officials, with a hefty does of high-concept science fiction mixed in. It probably would have looked fantastic on television. The problem being that neither the action setpieces nor the bizarre, extraterrestrials (the Mega themselves) come across terribly well on audio. Simon Guerrier stresses that this was the toughest script assignment he's had, and it shows. I'm just not convinced this story was well chosen for adaptation to audio, particularly in light of the death of so many of the original cast. Both Richard Franklin and Katy Manning do their best, but it doesn't really come off. As much as I adore Manning, and as much as others have praised her attempt at Pertwee, her im-Pert-onation just doesn't work for me either.



While both the Lost Stories and the Companion Chronicles ranges are now over or winding up, Big Finish intend to move forward with an Early Adventures series. While the gradual development of these releases has shown that there is clearly a way that stories for the first three Doctors can still be produced, there are still some kinks to be ironed out. Although the Troughton stories have been largely successful, Pertwee adventures are harder to get right, something that is true both in the Companion Chronicles line and The Mega. With the sad loss of Elisabeth Sladen, Nick Courtney and Caroline John in recent years, this vibrant era of Doctor Who is slipping out of our grasp and may never truly be recreated.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Regeneration Rundown

So, with all the 'Doctor by Doctor' articles done, I thought it was time for a round-up of that most important element for list-making nerd-fans: the regenerations.


This has been somewhat complicated of late, with the numbering of the most recent few Doctors being called into question. To begin with, it's easy: same number for the Doctor, life and incarnation. Now it's fiddlier, but hopefully this rundown makes it clear. The Doctors are numbered one to twelve, with the War Doctor, unnumbered, between the eighth and ninth. Incarnations refer to distinct faces, while lives refer to how many times the Doctor has regenerated. So, Peter Capaldi is the twelfth Doctor, but the thirteenth distinct incarnation. Smith to Capaldi was “regeneration number thirteen,” so he is on his fourteenth life. Simple really.


Since the anniversary celebrations, we have a pretty full rundown of all the Doctor's regenerations, the reasons for them, and most of his selves' first and last lines. Even this is a bit complicated, though, with expanded universe media muddying the waters a bit. Still, here's my attempt to clear everything up. Wish me luck...


Friday, 24 January 2014

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues: Pilgrim of Eternity

Star Trek Continues actually kicked off with this first episode back in May, but having had my appetite whet by Phase II, I decided it was time to check out some other fan productions. Seeing that I have just re-watched 'Who Mourns For Adonais?' for the Captain's Blog, it seemed sensible to follow it up with the unofficial sequel.


I'm immediately going to have a problem with this concept, though, for one reason: I don't actually much like 'Adonais.' It's very well made, but it has a misogynistic tone that makes it very difficult for me to actually enjoy. So a sequel is going to have a hard time proving itself to me. Like 'Adonais,' 'Pilgrim of Eternity' is very well made, but I found it hard to really enjoy.


Judging by this first episode (the second is still in production), Star Trek Continues is going very much for a faithful revival of the original series. Unlike Phase II, this production does not seek to adapt unmade episodes planned by the official production team. 'Pilgrim of Eternity' is an entirely new script set during the fourth year of Kirk's five year mission (along with Phase II and the animated series, not to mention IDW's 'Year Four' miniseries and a host of other licensed and unofficial productions). By making the first episode a sequel to an original series story, the team behind this have guaranteed a certain level of interest from fans, and the inclusion of the original guest star from that episode only serves to increase that interest.


This is a very professionally made production. Everyone involved is an industry professional and the acting, for the most part, is top notch. Vic Mignogna, director, co-writer and producer, plays Kirk (if you're in charge of production you get to be Kirk, it's the rules). He really nails the part, capturing much of Shatner's original performance without being a parody or a slavish copy. Michele Specht plays a new character, Dr. Elise McKennah, who provides both an emotional foil for Kirk and the obligatory eye candy (don't worry, it's perfectly equal here: Mignogna gets his shirt off for a good, lingering look). As a real life couple, Mignogna and Specht naturally have some great chemistry. Todd Haberkorn does well realising Spock, perfectly reproducing Nimoy's delivery in some scenes. Also impressive is Kim Stinger, reprising the role of Uhura from the New Voyages/Phase II series.


As previously mentioned, it's the guest star who is the big draw here. Bringing Michael Forest back to play Apollo is a coup, and he impresses as an older, more regretful version of his character. The arrogance of his original performance is there, but tempered by newer, more traumatic experiences. We learn that the gods moved on to a higher realm, but that this was not able to support them, instead draining them of their energy until they ceased to exist. This is a clever explanation for why the previously youthful Apollo now appears as man well into his eighties. Almost as big a fan draw is the casting of Chris Doohan, son of James, as Scotty. Reprising his father's role, Doohan totally convinces, not only replicating much of his father's performance but delivering a decent one in his own right.


One performance I'm not quite sold on is Larry Nemecek as Dr. McCoy. It's a perfectly fine performance in itself, but it doesn't feel like McCoy to me at all. I had reservations over the version of McCoy in Phase II as well; I guess this character is one just one that's particularly tough to cast right. Nemecek is better known in Trek circles as a prolific author, and there are some other nice cameos from the franchise. Doug Drexler, the effects wizard who created the impressive starship renders for both this series and Phase II, has an appearance as a holo-gunman, while Marina 'Troi' Sirtis provides the computer voice. As well as Trek alumni, there's an appearance from another famous sci-fi face: Jamie Bamber, who played another Apollo, in Battlestar Galactica.


In terms of production standards, there is nothing to criticise here. The sets are a faithful reproduction of the originals, with the music and effects adding to the sense that this could be a lost episode of the original Star Trek. It feels perfectly in keeping with the original. If anything, it feels too traditional. Story wise, this is very similar to the episodes on which it is based. Gender roles are strictly enforced, with the male characters being brusque and action-focused, and the females compassionate and sensitive. It all feels very old-fashioned, and while this is isn't necessarily a bad thing, it feels to me like a missed opportunity. The original Star Trek is a product of the 1960s and can be viewed as such; a lot of allowances can be made. To make something in the same way now, with the same social hang-ups evident, is harder to justify. Things have moved on, and so has Star Trek (for better or worse). The only forward-looking aspects here are the brief inclusion of a prototype holodeck/rec room, bridging the original series with the animated series and TNG technological developments, and the inclusion of Specht's character as a ship's counsellor, another nod in the direction of TNG.


I think my biggest problem with this production is the same as the one I had with the original episode. At the end of 'Adonais,' we were supposed to feel sorry for a raging egomaniac who had just committed a rape. Bringing him back here for another sympathy turn is not something I really wanted to see. There's a great deal of development given to the character, and the script isn't afraid to show that he is still capable of returning to his cruel old ways. Kirk, Spock and McCoy struggle to decide whether they should trust the weakened alien, while, understandably, Scotty is furious as the very idea of helping him. The scenes of debate between the four characters are some of the episode's strongest. On the other hand, there's an uncomfortable scene where McKennah relates all the wonderful things she heard about Apollo from his victim, Carolyn Palomas. In the end, Apollo redeems himself by sacrificing his remaining energies to save a life, but I don't buy the idea that this somehow proves that he is now a noble person, or that it makes up for his previous crimes. Kirk makes a very questionable decision regarding what to do with Apollo, although it's hard to see how many other choices he might have had. If nothing else, the final scene of this episode is beautifully done.



Star Trek Continues definitely has great potential. As I said, the production itself is magnificent, it's simply the script I'm not hot on. If, in future, the series could present something a little more up-to-date, more forward-looking, then I'm sure I'll be a big fan.

Watch the episode here. 

Fannual and Fanzine

You can line it up with all your old annuals, you big nerd.

There's a fantastic new Doctor Who fan publication now in print. We've had the fanthology, now we have the fannual. If you, like me, feel that Peter Cushing's movie version of Dr. Who was a bit left out of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, then you'll want to get this. Featuring the work of numerous artists and writers, the Dr. Who Fannual has been produced in the style of the old World Distributors annuals. It's available in both hardback and paperback, and in black and white or full colour, this is gorgeous piece of work. The various editions can be ordered here.









Also available now to download, the latest issue of the Canadian Doctor Who magazine Whotopia. This is, sadly, the last issue of Whotopia, at least for the foreseeable future. However, to mark the occasion this is a bumper issue with a host of material on the anniversary year and classic Doctor Who stories. It also includes a silly little feature on Doctor Who movies from yours truly. You ca download the issue here.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-2

One of those occasions when the original looks better than the remastered.

2.02) Who Mourns for Adonais?
or
Captain Kirk vs. the Greek Rapist

Planets visited: Pollux IV in the Beta Geminorum system (a rare use of both traditional and Bayer names for a system in the same episode here), is a class-M planet. Like its neighbour Pollux III, it is expected to be inhabited.

Stellar Cartography: Pollux (Beta Geminorum) is one of the two twins of the constellation Gemini. It lies approx. 34 light years away, and is confirmed to host at least one planet.

Alien life forms: Apollo, the last of the people of Pollux IV, a species of typical humanoids, except for their possessing of a special organ in their chests that allows them to channel vast amounts of energy. Apollo can direct this energy psychokinetically, growing to enormous size, zapping Scotty and destroying the phasers, creating storms, and attacking the Enterprise. He grips it in his “hand,” a huge forcefield, and projects his image onto the viewer.

Five thousand years ago, the Polluxans visited Earth, where there great abilities meant they were taken as gods by the natives of Greece. They revelled in this worship, but eventually left as humanity moved on. Apollo is now the only one left, the rest of his poeple having sublime themselves into oblivion.

The dryworm of Antos IV is capable of channelling energy in a similar fashion.

Captain James T: Kirk has no time for Apollo; there's a clear rivalry between the alpha males here. He's willing to risk losing his life or those of some of his team if it gives the Enterprise to escape. To this end, he gets everyone to mock Apollo in order to react and lose his control.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Gets relatively little to do this episode, staying on the bridge since Apollo doesn't want him down on the planet (he reminds him of Pan).

The Real McCoy: Is more concerned with keeping the team alive than getting one over on Apollo, but follows Kirk's plan.

Great Scott: Scotty is the only male character who actually comes off pretty well in this episode, showing genuine attraction and concern for Lt. Carolyn Palomas, leaping to her defence when she is approached by Apollo and comforting her after she is attacked.

Future Treknology: Apollo draws his power from a structure on the planet's surface. The Enterprise is able to penetrate the force field with phasers when Apollo's energy is stretched thin and destroy it from orbit.

Cliche Counter: Chekov spouts some great pro-Russia nonsense, including rebuking Apollo's claim to be a god with “And I'm the Tsar of all the Russias!” and claiming that the Cheshire Cat was actually from Minsk. Scotty also comes out with some good ones, such as “You blood-thirsty Saracen!”

Future History: “Humanity has no need for gods.,” says Kirk. “We find the one quite adequate.” Clearly, this is meant to be a Judeo-Christian future.

Sexy Trek: Lots of bare flesh on display in this toga-fest. Palomas is swept away by Apollo's faintly misogynistic praise, although she is also brave enough to stand up to the god. However, and there's no getting around this, Apollo later rapes Palomas when she spurns him. Of course, we don't see this, but the storm-swept ravishing scene is unquestionably intended to represent that. Palomas returns from her treatment looking seriously distressed.
The Alternative Factor: The original ending, preserved in James Blish's novelisation, revealed that Palomas had been made pregnant by Apollo. Peter David's Star Trek: New Frontier novel series includes a character who is the descendent of this child as a major character, and the rest of Apollo's people, “the Beings,” later turn up to claim him. An unofficial sequel to this episode, “Pilgrim of Eternity,” was made in 2013 as part of the Star Trek Continues fan series, featuring Michael Forest back as an aged Apollo.

Title-Tattle: Commonly thought to be just a misspelling of Adonis, the title of the episode is actually taken from the poem Adonais by Percy Shelley.


The Verdict: It's a well-made, well-acted episode, but this is very, very hard to enjoy. There's a nasty, misogynistic streak to this script. While the rape of Palomas is perfectly in keeping with the original Greek myths – the gods were frequent perpetrators of this – it is dealt with in such a dimissive manner by the other male characters that it is impossible to believe that the writers have considered the seriousness of it fully. Palomas is presented as an intelligent, valuable officer but instantly falls in love with her abusive god-boyfriend. At least Uhura gets some minor development, standing in for Scotty in fixing the comms system, and Scotty himself is a gentleman. Both Michael Forest and Leslie Parrish are excellent in their guest roles. Other than that, though, this is tough to like. And at the end of it all, we're seemingly supposed to feel sorry for Apollo.

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-1



2.01) Amok Time
or
Captain Kirk vs. The Horn of Spock

Planets visited: Vulcan. A reddish planet from space, the region we see – Spock's family grounds – is an arid area with ruins hewn from rock, and a deep red sky. The surface conditions are oppresively hot, hence the saying “As hot as Vulcan.” The Enterprise requires permission to enter orbit from Vulcan Command.

Alien life forms: Vulcans. For the first time we meet some pure-blooded Vulcans, and there is no visible difference between them and the half-human Spock. Every seven years, Vulcans (just males?) unergo the ponn farr, a surge in sexual desire and violent urges. Their normally suppressed emotions rage and they lose their self-control. They're so ashamed of this that they dress it up in ritual and ceremony, and refuse to speak of it to off-worlders. This isn't terribly logical of them, especially for a Vulcan in Starfleet. Vulcans have their partners chosen for them as children, and are psychically bonded to them. When the ritual begins, the male Vulcan goes into a “blood fever,” and loses himself to his urges.

The female Vulcan has the right to demand her mate prove himself in combat, and can select anyone she chooses as his opponent. The violence of combat can be enough to end the blood fever. The rituals of ponn farr are protected by a priestess and a sort of guard/executioner, a masked man with a huge axe. There are also guards around the site, and chair carriers, wearing Romulan-styled helmets.


Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: He's been acting strangely for weeks, getting aggressive with McCoy and refusing to submit to his regular physical. He lashes out at Nurse Chapel when she brings him some food. Despite the fact he must have been expecting his ponn farr, he hasn't made any plans to take leave, and now has to demand to return to Vulcan in a panic. When Kirk is ordered to take the ship to Altair, Spock alters course and doesn't even remember doing so. He is devastated when he thinks he's killed Kirk in combat, and is prepared to hand himself in to the authorities. When he sees that Kirk is alive, he is absolutely overjoyed, and grabs him (he looks like he's just about ready for a bear hug). It's a great moment.

Leonard Nimoy is fantastic throughout, playing Spock with barely restrained anger mixing to disorientation and panic.

Captain James T: He's completely supportive of Spock, but is torn between his friend's needs and his orders. He pushes Spock to admit what he's going through before he commits to getting him back to Vulcan. He risks serious discplinary action for disobeying roders to help his friend. He is accepts the order to fight Spock when he could leave... before he learns that it is a fight to the death. He has a great deal of respect for T'Pau.

The Real McCoy: Notices Spock's out of character behaviour before Kirk does. He also works out what's wrong with Spock, eventually, and insists on coing down to Vulcan with him and Kirk. He's a cunning one when he needs to be, fooling everyone into thinking he's given Kirk a tri-ox compound to up his stamina, but actually gives him an anaesthetic to fake his death.

Sexy Trek: Well, the whole episode is about sex. Aside from his betrothal to T'Pring, Spock gets a great deal of attention from Christine Chapel. When he eventually comes on to her, she rebukes him; she clearly knows that he isn't expressing his real feelings. They end it on good terms, though. T'Pring rejects Spock for her hunk of Vulcan man-beef, Stonn.

Famous Firsts: As well as the first appearance of the planet Vulcan and full-blooded Vulcan characters, we get the first instance of the Vulcan salute (by T'Pau) and the now famous phrase “Live long and prosper,” by Spock. This episode also includes the first appearance of Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, introduced to the regular cast as a new, younger character to maintain teen interest. At the moment, Chekov gets little to do aside from swap banter with Sulu, but the two do make a good team at helm and navigation.

Stellar Cartography/Future History: The Altair system is clearly of some major importance in this period. The Enterprise is one of three starships attending the inauguration of the new president of Altair Six, following the resolution of a long interplanetary war (within the Altair system, or between planets in neighbouring systems?) The event is expected to “cause ripples that will visible as far as the Klingon Empire.” Altair is, of cours e, a real star, also known as Alpha Aquilae, a mere 17 light years from Earth. Altair Four was the setting of the movie Forbidden Planet (Trek spin-off fiction has often made tongue-in-cheek references to Krell ruins in the Altair system).

Trek Stars: Viennese actress Celia Lovsky gives a very dignified performance as T'Pau, the Vulcan high priestess. The performance has become quite legendary among Trekkies, with T'Pau being the cornerstone of Trek class. T'Pau is the only person to have turned down a seat on the Federation council, and has enough a clout to get the Enterprise officially diverted from its mission, retroactively speaking. Even Kirk is impressed by how well-connected Spock's family is. T'Pau reappeared (pre-appeared?), much younger and less Austrian-sounding, in Enterprise in 2004, and gave her name to the classic eighties band fronted by Carol Decker. T'Pol in Enterprise was intially written to be a younger T'Pau, but this idea was vetoed.

Remastery: This episode is a showcase for the remastering process. As well as the usual clean-ups, there are some major new space shots of the Enterprise approaching Vulcan, and some incredible new CG shots of the surface of Vulcan. The original footage of the main trio are either superimposed over or replaced with majestic views of the Vulcan ruins, which take their cues from vistas seen in The Motion Picture, the Animated Series and Enterprise.


The Verdict: Staggeringly good. For the first time, Star Trek creates a believable alien culture, rather than a bunch of cyphers. Vulcan culture is revealed to be a turbulent mix of rationality, ancient spiritualism, and bestial violence. Quite apart from this fleshing out of the culture of the series' biggest star, it's tempting to see this as author Ted Sturgeon's exploration of the similarly contradictory facets of human nature. Setting an episode – a season opener, no less – around a major character's desperate need to get laid was one hell of a ballsy move for 1967. Respect for both the series' creators for trying it,a nd for the networks for showing it. They refused to show this uncut in Germany for thirty years, hacking it to pieces and dubbing it with alternative dialogue about “space fever.” In spite of the risky material, this episode entered popular culture; everyone knows that Spock only has sex once every seven years. It's Nimoy who really sells it, of course, with a truly remarkable performance, but the three leads are at the top of their game, cementing the friendship between the trio. Fascinating stuff.

The Waters of Ceres

Space.com has just published an article on the wholly unexpected observation of water on the asteroid Ceres. These observations were made at the ESA Herschel Observatory, and have recognised plumes of water shooting from the asteroid's surface. This water then accretes into thin clouds around the asteroid, which absorb the low amounts of heat that radiate from the world's surface. This heat is then measurable from Earth-based observatories.

To say this was unexpected is understating the matter. While there has been some speculation that the larger bodies in the asteroid belt may contain water, it has generally been thought that the belt is mostly dry, with water ice being present in the outer solar system bodies. To find reasonably large deposits of water on Ceres questions what we thought we knew about how the asteroid belt formed. 

There are two possibilities for how the water is being ejected into space from the surface. The more exciting one is in the form of 'ice-canoes,' volcanic eruptions of liquid water from subsurface ice deposits. However, the more likely explanation is that these plumes are caused by sublimation of ice on the surface, when variations in heat cause water molecules to escape from the ice, something that is commonly seen on comets as they approach the sun. Indeed, it is possible that the water on Ceres was accreted from cometary material over time, rather than having been present from its early life.

On the other hand, it is theorised that the slow sublimation of water has kept Ceres' surface at a more stable temperature, explaining why the surface is smoother than the ruined, igneous surface of the asteroid Vesta. 

The presence of water in the asteroid belt has important implications for future space travel. The belt is already known to be replete with valuable minerals and has been touted as a potential site for mining bases, providing a stepping stone to the outer solar system. Adding water to that mineral wealth only makes the belt a more enticing resource.

Ceres is the largest of the asteroids and the smallest object currently classified as a dwarf planet. We should find out more about this mysterious rock when NASA's Dawn spaceprobe arrives there next year.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Doctor by Doctor Index



Having finally completed my eleventh Doctor piece (look, I was a bit Doctor Who'd out after Christmas, regular nonsense shall resume shortly), it seems as good a time as any to look back over the year-and-a-bit long project. It seemed like a fine idea to explore and analyse the changing face of the Doctor and the series for the anniversary year. How well it came out, well, I'll leave the readers to be the judge of that. The articles seem to have been fairly popular. I enjoyed writing them, even the rather long tenth Doctor piece. Well, he did technically count as two incarnations, so why not go on a bit longer?

Below are quick links to each of the eleven main articles, followed by the four 'Side-Step' articles that covered some of the extra incarnations of the Doctor. Which Doctors were included in this was a little arbitrary. I decided to write about the other first Doctor, Richard Hurndall, who stood in for the late William Hartnell in The Five Doctors. He counts as a Doctor to me, even if he is standing in for another actor. The same goes for Peter Cushing; the movies may not be canonical Doctor Who, but they are a major part of the experience, and some of the first Doctor Who that many of us saw. Richard E. Grant was the official ninth Doctor for all of a few months, and in the Wilderness Years, this was a big deal. And naturally, John Hurt's War Doctor is included, but is a Side-Step by dint of arriving out of sequence and not warranting a full-length essay due to his reduced screentime.

Brief accounts of yet more versions of the Doctor can be found in the "Other Doctor" articles, listed right at the end. Happy reading, Who-heads.

1) A Citizen of the Universe (William Hartnell, 1963-66)
2) The Cosmic Hobo (Patrick Troughton, 1966-69)
3) Licence to Frill (Jon Pertwee, 1970-74)
4) Bohemian Rhapsody (Tom Baker, 1974-81)
5) Captain of the Team (Peter Davison, 1981-84)
6) Loud, Proud and Dangerous to Know (Colin Baker, 1984-86)
7) The Man With the Plan (Sylvester McCoy, 1987-96)
8) Through the Wilderness (Paul McGann, 1996-2003)
9) Working Class Hero (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)
10) Earth's Champion (David Tennant, 2005-10)
11) A Madman With a Box (Matt Smith, 2010-13)

Sidestep 1) Grandad, We Love You (Peter Cushing)
Sidestep 2) The Stand-In Delivers (Richard Hurndall)
Sidestep 3) Cheer Up, Goth (Richard E. Grant)
Sidestep 4) The Missing Link (John Hurt)

The Other Doctors:
1) On Stage and Screen
2) On Audio
3) Pasts, Potentials and Parallels

Doctor by Doctor #11




A Madman with a Box


Matt Smith, 2010-13




In 2010, Doctor Who underwent one of the greatest reinventions in its long history, with almost the entire cast and the bulk of the core creative team changing. Steven Moffat built on the foundation laid down by Russell T. Davies, but simultaneously wiped the slate clean and imposed his own unique vision on the series. From the outset, with brand new opening titles and an idiosyncratic, up-tempo arrangement of the theme music, the series boldly declared that it had changed. Into this stepped a new Doctor, starting his life afresh with a wholly new set of supporting characters. Even his TARDIS regenerated along with him.


Following the massively popular David Tennant was the most difficult task for any Doctor since Peter Davison took over from Tom Baker in 1981. Yet even Davison had fame on his side to ease the transition. Of all the names bandied about by speculative fans and columnists, no one predicted Matt Smith. While he had already garnered critical praise for his screen work, Smith was a relative unknown in 2010. I don't think anyone expected the new lead of the BBC's premier fantasy series to be a 26-year-old footballer, let alone that he would so successfully come to inhabit the part and make it his own.


Again paralleling Davison's time in the role, Smith was criticised initially for being too young. At twenty-six when he began filming, Smith is the youngest of the Doctors by several years, still only in his early thirties now that he has left the role. And yet, he embodies the great age of the Doctor like no one else. Given his youth, Smith has further to go to convince viewers of his character's age, and so he puts his all into it. And yet, he is simultaneously so fresh and childlike. He brings many ages to his performance, but never his own. He is both the old man in the young man's body, and the enthusiastic child dressing up as an adult.


While he put his own stamp on the part, Smith nonetheless embraced his predecessors' performances. Being a child of the Wilderness Years, he had not grown up with Doctor Who, and instead threw himself into research. Like all right-minded individuals, he became particularly enamoured of Patrick Troughton's performance, and much of this shows through in his own. A very physical actor, Smith has a sort of graceful clumsiness that allows him to capture the Troughton-like quality of appearing more foolish and less capable than he really is.


Smith's costume also carries hints of Troughton's. Moffat came up with several suggestions for the Doctor's new look, most of which were self-consciously modern and cool, and nothing like what the Doctor would wear. Smith instead suggested a tweed jacket, adding braces and a bowtie. Moffat disliked the look, thinking it to be old-fashioned and a fancy dress version of the Doctor's costume. Smith, on the other hand, was immediately comfortable, realising that his Doctor was, unlike his predecessor, not cool at all. While the braces and bowtie, not to mention the succession of ridiculous hats, recalls the second Doctor's outfit, there is also both a hint of both the professor and the student about it, a touch of Henry Jones Jr. Such was its success, that 2010 saw a sudden increase in sales of both Harris tweeds and bowties, as young men took up the new fashion.


Later variations in the costume are more obviously dressy, with the eleventh Doctor clearly having an everyday look and a smarter look for special occasions. His little seen green peacoat added a touch of flare in the latter half of the sixth season, while his white tie ensemble only came out for the most important events, such as weddings or his own imminent death. For the final half of season seven, the Doctor reverted to a Victorian look, with both an everyday pseudo-Victorian version that combines the classic and modern, and a plusher winter variation for the 19th century itself (his Christmas outfit, in fact). The purplish frock coat, combined with the braces and bowtie, give this ensemble hints of both the second and third Doctors. More obviously, though, is that the gradual return to old-fashioned outfits belies a series becoming evermore comfortable with its own past, an approach that would reach its culmination in the fiftieth anniversary year celebrations.


The face of William Hartnell was seen no fewer than four times in Smith's first season, as the series began to explore its own background once more. As we learned about the Doctor's latest life, we learned more about his past selves. There have been brief insights into the Doctor's past over the years, but suddenly we got a stream of information, adding to and rewriting the Time Lord's past. As well as the astonishing revelation of a hidden incarnation, we learned of his old friends and influences like the Corsair, saw his infant cot (why was he carrying it around with him?), and even saw him, in his first body, about to leave Gallifrey with Susan.

Most surprising, though, was The Doctor's Wife, an episode that amounts to an origin story for the TARDIS. It's easy to imagine the eleventh Doctor calling the TARDIS “the most beautiful thing [he's] ever seen,” but a little harder to imagine it coming from the first Doctor. Still, it fits with how we've seen the Doctor act towards the TARDIS through his lives. Over the years, the time-and-space machine has developed from a mere machine, albeit a remarkable one, to a living entity, to mathematics embodied, to a true character in her own right. It was only a matter of time before the Doctor came face to face with his longest, truest, most faithful companion. Having the soul of the Ship in the body of Suranne Jones helps articulate it, but we've always known that the Doctor loved his Ship, and his Ship loved her thief. It's a love story between a bloke and his car, told across time and space.


The latest phase of Doctor Who has proved to be one of its most controversial, hitting new heights of worldwide popularity while also attracting great criticism. Showrunner Steven Moffat has built on the foundations set by Russell T. Davies and sculpted a version of Doctor Who unique to his own sensibilities. The series has undoubtedly become more complex, with ongoing storylines playing out over the four years of Matt Smith's tenure. Numerous mysteries are raised and explored throughout the series, with their ultimate explanations deferred. Whether this approach is successful depends on the individual viewer. Certainly, it is an approach that has divided fans.


Moffat's Doctor Who is one of fairytale logic, in which lives are stories to be written and rewritten. This is a version of the universe in which people can be erased from history, and then wished back into existence. In which a man who lives on a cloud can be accessed by climbing an invisible staricase, and a mysterious caretaker can drop round for Christmas with a world in a box. Time travel works like magic, and consequences occur before events; but it's a magic without defined rules, and often events seem to just happen, with little explanation. There's a clear sense that both the Doctor's past and future are catching up with him, converging at his present. Indeed, every major event in the eleventh Doctor's life is a result of his final battle. The events on Trenzalore rebound back down his timeline, with the “endless, bitter war” of the Kovarian chapter leading to the destruction of the TARDIS, itself causing the cracks in time that release Prisoner Zero into the world to become the first foe the eleventh Doctor faces.


Doctor Who has changed vastly over the fifty years of its history. Once a long-running serial, it developed into a series of enclosed serials, and then returned from cancellation as a series of one and two episode adventures. By the end of its fiftieth year it was comprised of short runs of singular episode stories, linked together in a narrative spanning years, both more and less serialised than it has ever been. The series had, by now, developed from one in which the Doctor was a peripheral character, to one in which he was the star, and now to one in which he was the centre of the universe. There had been stories which revolved around the Doctor before, but in the eleventh Doctor's run, very few episodes involve the Doctor simply dropping in somewhere and finding a problem. He is summoned, pursued and targeted.


There has been a great deal of hyperbole over Doctor Who's diminishing ratings. Overnight ratings for television have been dropping across the board, not only for Doctor Who as more and more viewers turn to catch-up and time-shifted services. How many of these views are from unique viewers is unknown, though, but what is clear is that the way in which we watch television is changing. The series, then, has changed with it, embracing the possibilities of the medium with a plethora of mini-episodes that range from throwaway extras to essential chapters in the story. Even the arena of video games, a format that Doctor Who has never quite managed to succeed in, has finally opened up, with Smith voicing the Doctor for online Adventure Games and Nintendo console games. Even the jerky animation of the sprites works in its favour – Smith actually does walk like that.


The Doctor has been a mass of contradictions and mysteries throughout all his lives, and the eleventh Doctor is no exception. Physically the youngest we have ever seen him, the Doctor is now older than ever. Indeed, this incarnation lives for an unusually long time, with decades-long gaps between the adventures we see. While this has been supposed for his earlier incarnations, the eleventh Doctor's era makes it explicit, deliberately providing openings for unseen adventures. Even before his exceptionally long experiences in his final episode, the eleventh Doctor lasts for centuries, ageing from 906 to over 1200 during his three seasons. Even if we accept that the Doctor loses track of his age – he does say that he can't even remember if he's lying about his age – centuries must pass from his perspective. Yet he remains physically young throughout.





Monday, 20 January 2014

The Once and Future Doctor

Just a quick shout-out to Tom Baker, who celebrates his eightieth birthday today. He played the fourth Doctor, the Curator, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Sherlock Holmes and Captain Redbeard Rum. No two ways about it, the man is a legend.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

REVIEW: Sherlock 3-3 - His Last Vow

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Now that's a season finale. The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three might have been lacking in the mystery and jeopardy stakes to some extent, but His Last Vow more than made up for it, hitting a perfect balance between the emotional focus of the preceding two episodes and the Holmesian adventure of the previous two seasons. His Last Vow is a tour-de-force... up until the last minute or so, when things took a turn for the groanworthy.


After the very loose adaptations of the first two episodes, it was a pleasant surprise that His Last Vow stuck so closely to its source material. Having little in common with “His Last Bow” beyond the title, the odd quote about “an east wind coming,” and a cheeky reference to beekeeping. No, this episode was based on “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” sticking closely to the plot of the story, albeit updated in Sherlock's signature style, up until the point at which we meet the blackmailer's assassin. Following that, it moves onto a riff on “The Adventure of the Empty House” and some wholly unexpected revelations.


Playing up Sherlock Holmes's legendary substance abuse – only hinted at in the series, but a well-explored facet of his character in most modern adaptations – the opening sequence is one of the series' best. Martin Freeman is better than ever in this episode, and that's saying something. It's great to see John being an awesome character on his own, proving that, although he may be a normal person, he is by no means an ordinary one. It's a fascinating exploration of John's character, his need for danger to fulfil his post-military life, that we haven't really seen since A Study in Pink.


Then, of course, there's Mary. We knew, of course, that something was up with her. Aside from the fact she was receiving telegrams from “CAM,” it was inevitable that a major character in this series would have something untoward in her past. Even Mrs Hudson has a shady background; Molly seems to be the only one who is exactly who she seems (not that the fanfictioneers haven't been theorising). It's a testament to Amanda Abbington's skill as an actor that she is entirely convincing both as the Mary we've come to know and the ex-agent and assassin who would shoot a friend in the chest. Whil we're kept guessing as to her real motives, there's never any doubt that she truly loves John and would do anything to protect him. It's an exceptional performance.


The star turn of the episode, though, is by Lars Mikkelson as Charles Augustus Magnussen. (Why the writers saw fit to change his name from Milverton to Magnussen I don't know, unless it's a nod to how Doyle originally changed the name of real-life villain Charles Augustus Howell to use him in fiction.) Mikkelson brings a reptilian coldness to his performance, breaking through to a seedy, malignant glee at his actions, that is truly unpleasant to watch. Magnussen is a truly horrible character, and it's easy to see why he would turn Sherlock's stomach. Making him a Murdoch-like newspaper magnate is a good, satirical touch, too. I confess I much prefer him as villain to Moriarty. His cold-hearted, untouchable arrogance makes him truly hate-worthy, and Mikkelson's subtle yet powerful performance is truly brilliant.


Amusingly, the one point that has had some fans up in arms in Sherlock's relationship with Janine, former bridesmaid. Anyone who knows the original story will know that this is perfectly in keeping with Holmes's plan, in which he became engaged to Milverton's housemaid in order to infiltrate his life. Just like in the Milverton story, Sherlock uses his new girlfriend as a means to an end, but this time, his victim gives just as good as she gets. It's a brilliant, and believable, turn to have Janine using Sherlock to make money from the tabloids, fitting her rather cunning personality that we got glimpses of in The Sign of Three. Sherlock is an absolute bastard in this episode, but he sure suffers for it. Seemingly the sexuality he displayed was all an act, but given the chemistry displayed between him and Janine, I'd say there was more than a little genuine attraction there. To be honest, I could watch and listen to Yasmin Akram all day; I hope we see more of her in the fourth series, in her Sussex country home.


I could spend an hour praising the cast of this episode. Another chance to see the Holmes family, with the senior Cumberbatches playing the senior Holmeses, is a treat. Gatiss is as good as ever as Mycroft, particularly in the electrifying confrontation between the two brothers at 221B. A terrific addition to the cast is Tom Brooke as Bill Wiggins. This junior Sherlock manages to be even more bizarre than his mentor. A mix of Holmes's page Billy and Wiggins, the eldest member of the Baker Street Irregulars, this new sidekick is a fine addition to the growing ensemble.


Things go badly wrong for Sherlock when he catches Mary in the act of assassinating Magnussen. This is where the story diverges most from its inspiration. In the original, Holmes does not stop the killing. Here, his presence alone alters events, and Magnussen lives, necessitating Sherlock's eventual act of murder. Mary's shooting of Sherlock leads to an effective sequence in his broken down mind palace, which is all the better for its later reflection in Magnussen's perfectly ordered memory vault. There's never any chance that Sherlock will die, of course, and the fun lies in seeing how he will avert his death. (There's a lot of that going on in Moffat's work. Sherlock has gotten so Who-y this year, I half expected him to regenerate on the floor.) Sherlock has worked distinctly below his extraordinary high standards this series, and here he makes two huge mistakes. He fails to realise who is holding the gun to Magnussen's head, and underestimates the extent of the blackmailer's abilities. His grand plan goes horribly wrong.


The climactic final act brings everything together, although there is less satisfaction in the reveal of Mary's identity than there could have been. A little more build-up, some more foreshadowing, a chance to actually work out what she was hiding, and this could have been even more powerful. As it is, the success of this strand is down to the performances of Cumberbatch, Abbington and Freeman. The final confrontation between Sherlock, John and Magnussen is a powerful scene, but having been diverted from the Magnussen plot, it's less affecting than it might have been. Sherlock's murder of Magnussen is shocking, but not surprising. There is not other way he could be dealt with, and the possibility that Sherlock was capable of murder was always likely. Perhaps more alarming is that Mycroft can pull some strings and prevent his arrest and sentencing, revealing just how powerful a man he is.


Finally, it appears that Sherlock will be sent on a dangerous mission to eastern Europe, paralleling his actions during his two year sabbatical and engendering some genuine concern over whether he could survive. Then, there's a bit of spam with Moriarty's face on it, and he's called back. Not only does this rob us of what looked to be an interesting change in direction, it simply doesn't work as a twist. It's frankly just one rug-pull too many. While it's not impossible that Moriarty might have survived – if Sherlock can fake his death, then so can Jimmy M. – it robs the conclusion to season two of its impact. Frankly, this version of Moriarty has been done to death. I wish that had literally true, not just figuratively. The one solace is that no characters actually see Moriarty, merely a mock-up of his image. Only the viewers get his final words to the camera. He may really be dead. We'll have to see.



His Last Vow was a thrilling, funny, sexy, powerful ninety minutes of television. However, that last twist does not give me very high hopes for season four.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Television Heaven

Just a quick note to say that the newly revamped Television Heaven site is now up and running. It includes several articles by myself, on Doctor Who and Quatermass, and a newly published article on Being Human (the original version, not the US one). It also has articles by site owner Laurence Marcus and others, covering shows as diverse as Ashes to Ashes and Steptoe and Son.

Click the box.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Moore to Say

As happens every few months or so, there has been a brief Alan Moore-related internet furore. An author of controversial works, with some strong and occasionally baffling opinions, Moore does engender a considerable amount of debate, into which he is generally eager to engage himself. I certainly disagree with some of his more aggressive criticisms of contemporary popular culture; while he has a point about the ongoing extension of earlier generations' characters that exist in place of modern creations, his attack on those who enjoy such retro-flavoured works grates. Especially considering that his most celebrated contributions to the comics industry, an industry that he is all to happy to attack, involve the appropriation of older characters. Of course, Moore does it rather better than most.


The recent publication of Alan Moore's biography, Magic Words by Lance Parkin, and an evening event with both men, has kicked off the latest whirl of Moore-bashing and defending. Never one to shy away from vehemently defending himself and expressing his own views, Moore responded to various attacks upon himself and his work in a long and fascinating interview with Padraig O Mealoid, which is available to read at his blog, Slovobooks. It's well worth reading, particularly Moore's thoughtful response to accusations that his work is racist or misogynist.


I'm no Moore scholar – for that level of analysis, you'll want to read the work of Parkin or Philip Sandifer – but I find myself agreeing on the major points Moore makes in terms of how I read his work. Having recently completed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in its entirety (thus far), I can see how someone might be put off by the seeming prevalence of rape in his work. While the rape scenes that occur in League and his other work can make me uncomfortable, I see that as rather the point. Moore's work isn't cosy reading, nor is it intended to be simple, straightforward adventure. I find his use of rape in his fiction is, as he says, a recognition of the fact that this most appalling of crimes occurs all too commonly in reality. It is uncomfortable to confront this, and that, of course, is the point. There is a world of difference between the presentation of rape in Moore's work, in which it is shown as the abhorrent act it is, its consequences explored, and the work of comics writers like Mark Millar, in whose work rape is consistently used as a form of ultra-violence, exaggerated titillation for the boys reading the books. In Millar's books, women are almost wholly portrayed as victims, there only for the benefit or use of men. Compare this to the rape of the younger Captain Nemo in League spin-off Nemo, in which the rape is shown wholly through the eyes of female character, the trauma leading to a horrific retribution at the Captain's hands.


The one instance of rape I find difficult to accept in The League is the rape of Griffin by Hyde in Volume Two. While I am gratified to see the existence of male rape addressed by an author who clearly feels strongly about the crime of the act against women, it is still played for laughs, albeit uneasy, sickly laughs. Male rape rarely appears in popular media except as a source of twisted humour, something I find utterly abhorrent. Even in real-life situations, it is dealt with as if it is somehow less serious than 'real' rape. (Take, for instance, the recent report throughout the news concerning a Russian woman who captured a man who tried to rob her shop and used him as a sex slave for several days. This was shared across social media with plenty of 'lols' and 'you go girl' comments, as if even a robbery somehow justified this kind of retributional abuse. Had the sexes been reversed, of course, the response would have been rather different.) While I recognise that women are raped far more commonly than men, male rape is a major issue with a serious social stigma attached, and using it as a grimly humorous comeuppance riles me, even if it for such an odious individual as Griffin, and perpetrated by a monster like Hyde.


Another controversial character in League is the Galley Wag, a version of the once-ubiquitous and now rarely seen Gollywog, a character consigned to the history books as an embarrassing racial caricature that today's enlightened folks would rather forget. Moore's argument is that it was never intended as a racially stereotyped character, but as an exaggerated barely-human sprite whose vague resemblance to black Africans caught on as racial tensions grew. It's convincing, but i'm not sure it really rings true; after all, whatever the origins of the Gollywog image, its contemporary reputation is well-known. Moore and his artist, O'Neill, made their Galley Wag an escaped slave from another cosmos, a clear allegory of the terrestrial slave trade, but at the same time, reconceptualised the character as an extremely powerful being from another order of creation altogether. To my mind, the Galley Wag, with his prodigious size, enormous strength and celebrated sexual prowess, represents the other side of the stereotypical black male, the aspects that repressed white men both feared in and envied their oppressed black populace. But that's my reading. Moore's intention no doubt differs, and I'm sure I'd see it differently if I, myself, were black.


A great deal of the latter half of the interview, however, sees more preoccupied with his ongoing feud with Grant Morrisson, rival magician and comic scribe. Frankly, for all the wit and eloquence with which Moore speaks on the subject, I frankly can't find it very interesting. I shall end with a searingly powerful quote from earlier in the dialogue, a point which I think is especially relevant in today's Britain:



"I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor. "

Saturday, 11 January 2014

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Phase II: Kitumba

I've heard good things about the Star Trek fan series Star Trek: Phase II, formerly known as New Voyages, but this is the first episode I've taken the time to watch. It pays to be a little forgiving of fan productions; they do not have access to the same amounts of time or money as official productions, and what eventually makes it to screen is a labour of love. Sometimes, it's a case of damning with faint praise; a lot of these things are “fine, you know, for a fanfilm. However, the eighth instalment of this acclaimed fan series, 'Kitumba,' is a genuinely well-made piece of television, very much in the spirit of the original Trek without slavishly adhering to it. I enjoyed it.


'Kitumba' was a proposed two-part story for the aborted follow-up series usually known as either Star Trek II or Star Trek: Phase II, the latter name being the one the fan team has now chosen. It would have seen the Enterprise visit the home system of the Klingon Empire, meeting the Klingon boy-king, the Kitumba. Had the Phase II series made it to the screens in the 1970s and the original 'Kitumba' been made, Star Trek would have developed in a different direction to that we actually saw. The fan version of 'Kitumba' isn't a simple filming of this script; for one thing, the story has been condensed into a single hour-long episode. Beyond that, James Cawley and his team have adapted this story to fit into the overall Star Trek canon. For the most part, this works well. The name Kronos for the Klingon homeworld wasn't introduced until Star Trek VI in the 1990s, but using the name here is an easy tweak and helps make it feel part of the ongoing story. On the other hand, the existence of the Kitumba, and his shogun-like Warlord, is very different to the version of Klingon politics we eventually saw in STVI and TNG. The scriptwriters, however, have made a decent attempt to tie everything together. It's perfectly easy to see this as an episode taking place between the original series and the Motion Picture.


There are some other hints at the greater universe, including a couple of references to events in the series Enterprise, and even a cheeky nod to Kirk's youth as seen in the 2009 Star Trek movie. The oddest thing, for me, was seeing a mix of old-school smooth-headed Klingons and modern 'crunchy' ones. There's a real mix of Klingon make-up here – thanks to the International Klingon Federation, something I am overjoyed to learn exists – which takes a moment to get used to, but gives the feel of a rich and diverse empire. We've seen all sorts of variants on the Klingon look over the years; why shouldn't they all turn up together on the homeworld?


Sets and effects are, without exception, excellent. While it is no doubt easier to create a space battle these days, with the sophisticated imaging programmes we have, than it was back when the original episodes were being produced, the skill involved here is clear. The starships and planets are beautiful, perfectly rendered and smoothly animated. Whatever technology you have at your disposal, this standard of material takes skill. Equally impressive are the sets and location work, sympathetically lit and generally well directed. It's a very professional production.


The acting is, inevitably, of variable quality. Some of the smaller roles are portrayed rather poorly, although there were plenty of actors who were just as bad, or worse, getting gigs back on the original Trek. The main cast is impressive, particularly Cawley as Kirk. Other fan productions have attempted to recreate the performance of William Shatner and his costars, something which is hard to do and probably not a terribly wise idea in the first place. Cawley provides his own interpretation of Kirk, different but recognisable. Sadly, this is to be his final performance as Kirk, with a new lead taking over for the next production. There is less to go on with Brandon Stacy's Spock; he gets relatively little material in this episode, so I shall reserve my judgment until I have seen more of his material. I can't say I'm enamoured with John Kelley's take on Bones; his mugging to the camera gets a little much. I absolutely adored the roaringly Russian Chekov.


Of the aliens, Kario Periera Bailey is impressive as the eponymous Kitumba, both naïve and arrogant. John Carrigan is delicious as Kargh, as I understand it a recurring villain for the series, and an uneasy ally here. He's a proper old-school Klingon. Real life couple Vic Mignogna and Michele Specht make for a bombastic and sexy pair of conspirators, the Warlord Malkthon and his aide Kali. Pony Horton plays a rather different sort of Klingon, the defector K'Sia, a noble orator on the subject of honour rather than a snarling warrior. It's a fine cross-section of Klingon characters.



I have to say, overall I am very impressed. While it isn't perfect, 'Kitumba' is better than some episodes of the original Star Trek, and I shall be watching to see how this series develops in upcoming episodes.

You can watch Kitumba here.

Friday, 10 January 2014

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 1.25

And so, we finally reach the end of The Next Generation, season one.

1.25) The Neutral Zone
or
'Captain Birdseye's Deep Frozen Humans'

The Mission: Investigate the destruction of starbases along the Romulan Neutral Zone.



Planets visited: None.

Alien life forms: The Romulans. This is the first appearance of the classic villains in TNG, suitably updated for the era. Like the Klingons, they have had a make-up revamp, giving them an enhanced ridged brow . It's not Klingon standard, but it does make them distinct from their Vulcan cousins. They have a fascination with humans, which has apparently kept the peace (the fact that the humans beat them in the old war probably helped).

Starships: The mighty Romulan Warbird makes its first appearance. It's absolutely huge, dwarfing the Enterprise, although the shots here don't really make that clear. It's a clear development from the old Bird-of-Prey, sticking with the aquiline design but making it bolder and more threatening. It's equipped with a powerful cloaking device that the Enterprise sensors cannot penetrate.

The SS Birsdeye (name taken from the script, and nice one, btw), is a cryonics satellite that was launched into Earth orbit back in the late 20th century. Somehow, it's made its way across dozens of light years to the edge of the Neutral Zone (this is never explained), and is now barely functioning.

Future History: The year is 2364. This is the first time a definitive date is set down for a Star Trek production, from which all other dates in the franchise are calculated.

The last contact with the Romulans was the so-called Tomed Incident, over fifty years before the episode. This means the Romulans have not made contact with the Federation since around twenty years after the end of the TOS movie era. The set-up here parallels that in the TOS episode 'Balance of Terror,' in which Kirk's Enterprise makes contact with the Romulans after a century of isolation, once they start testing Starfleet by destroying starbases. This time, though, it's not the Romulans behind it...

Cryonics was a fad at the end of the twentieth century, when people were terrified of death. Only three people are in any condition to be brought back to life, their illnesses cured by 24th century techniques. They are housewife Clare Raymond, musician L.Q 'Sonny' Clemonds and tycoon Ralf Offenhouse. It's fair to say they have a little trouble adjusting to the 24th century. These days, no one knows what a phone call is, there's no money, and television went out of fashion in the 2040s (surely not? At least Doctor Who should make it to its 75th anniversary.)

The Picard Maneouvre: No one tells Picard that Data beamed the human survivors over. He takes offence when Offenhouse compares the Enterprise to the QE2. He totally rocks when he talks the git down, calmly explaining how his money is worthless and his way of life extinct. He comes back with a good point though – the rich guy survived to live again in the future.

Number One: Has a pretty low opinion of the three resurrectees. Frankly, he's a bit of cocky bitch this episode.

Elementary, My Dear Data: He really doesn't like being called a robot. It's Data's curiosity that creates the whole situation. He requests to beam over to the satellite, and beams the three salvageable patients back without authorisation.

In Therapy: Troi is actually pretty useful this episode, researching what little is known of the Roumulans and helping the time-lost humans adjust to their new lives. She sets up Clare with her great-great-great-great-great-grandson.

Son of Mogh: Despises the Romulans for destroying his home and killing his family on Khitomer. Not a good episode for him, bless.

Trek Stars: Marc Alaimo makes his first Trek appearance as a wonderfully arrogant Romulan commander. He'll be back several times, most notably as Gul Dukat in DS9.

Links: Clare's list of descendants includes not only the first six Doctors Who, but also Miss Piggy and Kermit T. Frog.

Future Echoes: The Terra 9 station and all its partners have been entirely destroyed, scopped from their planets and carried away. The Romulans have experienced similar losses. We don't find it out here, but it was the Borg what done it.


The Verdict: “We are back!” The Romulans return in a pretty quiet fashion that promises a lot more from the future. After a whole season spent skirting around the issue, TNG finally embraces its status as a continuation of the original series. The B-plot of the revived humans makes for a funny mix, but ti works pretty well. We could have done without the comedy music for the funny bits, but they are, at least, a bit funny. Clemonds is great, they should have kept him as their musical mascot.

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 1.23-1.24

1.23) We'll Always Have Paris
or
'Picard: French for Sexy'

The Mission: They're supposed to be going for shore leave on Sarona 7, but the Enterprise gets diverted to answer a distress call from temporal scientist Paul Manheim.

Planets visited: Vandor 4, an asteroid in a binary star system, that hosts the laboratory for Manheim's experiments.

The Picard Maneouvre: Doesn't like Troi making pertinent observations of his emotions. He prefers to keep it all bottled up. Awesome at fencing.

Sexy Trek: Jenice Manheim, wife of Professor Manheim, had an affair with Picard in Paris over twenty years ago. She's thrilled to see him again, he's more ambivalent. Manehim is aware of Picard, so he tries to keep his name out of things until it's no longer possible and they have to meet. Dr. Crusher is properly jealous.

When he realises he'll be seeing Jenice again, Picard gets teh holodeck to reproduce Paris from their time there (complete with flying cars swooping round the Eiffel Tower.) The simulation includes two hot French girls in scanty dresses. One young lady, Gabrielle, has been stood up by her boyfriend, and asks Picard if she reminds him of someone. Presumably she's suppsoed to be reminiscent of Jenice. Possibly he's just staring at her because her slinky dress barely covers her cleavage.

Phenomena: The Manheim Effect (time hiccoughs): Sudden jumps and repeats in time caused by Manheim's experiments. They ripple out from Vandor for light years. Picard, Data and Riker are briefly duplicated when the effect worsens.

Manheim believes that time has infinite dimensions, and the location of Vandor 4 around its binary provides hte gravitational effects necessary to test that. Several scientists died in his last major experiment. Manheim himself is left split between two dimensions, physcially in our own but somehow aware of another. Once the time breach he created is closed, Manheim recovers. He can't describe the things he sw on the other side.

Future Fashion: Jenice's space pyjamas. Just what were they thinking?

Elementary, My Dear Data: Sees himself as dispensible (Picard puts him right). Having a constant sense of time, he is best equipped to beam down to Manheim's lab and deal with the temporal anomalies he's created. He becomes triplicated by the time effects, but his multiple work together and drop antimatter into the breach in time, closing it. Data can't confirm that it is closed, merely “well-patched.”

Trek Stars: Jenice Manheim is played by Michelle Phillips, a recognisable face on TV at the time but still best known as a member of The Mamas and the Papas.

The Verdict: The time hiccough stuff is pretty cool, but the Picard-Jenice romance plot is scuppered by the complete lack of chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Michelle Phillips. Far too much time is spent on them, when really we want to know what all this talk of other dimensions is all about. It does help move along the Picard/Crusher relationship a little.

1.24) Conspiracy
or
'Invasion of the Puppet Masters'

The Mission: Mission to Pacifica diverted by an urgent call for Picard by an old friend. Something is wrong in Starfleet.

Planets visited: Dytallix B, the fifth planet of the Mira system, a mined out, barely habitable rock with a deep red sky. It is one of seven planets mined by the Dytallix Mining Corps. Also, Earth, although, sadly, we don't get to see very much of it.

Alien life forms: Starfleet has been infiltrated by alien parasites, a “superior form of life” found on an uncharted planet. The aliens have infiltrated Starfleet, diverting ships and resources to facilitate some unknwon plan. The creatures – nicknamed 'Bluegills' by the fans – are wriggly wormy purple things with lots of legs, that enter the human body, attaching at the brain stem and breathe through a gill poking through the neck. Admiral Quinn has been taken over, giving the old guy super strength and controlling his mind. Even a phaser on stun doesn't stop him. Dexter Remmick is the host for the queen, a huge, pulsing maggoty thing that lives in his abdomenal cavity, surrounded by its own young. Picard and Riker have to blow his head off to even get to the creature.

The Picard Maneouvre: Walker Keel was best mates with Picard and Jack Crusher back in the day. Picard trusts him enough to disobey Starfleet. He bites the dust for his troubles; his ship, the Horatio, is completely destroyed. Picard also trusts Troi enough to bring her into his confidence about the conspiracy, eventually involving Riker after Keel is killed. He isn't taken in by the possessed Admiral Quinn.

Number One: Less easily convinced than Picard about the severity of the situation. Gets some serious ninja time time in against Evil Quinn once he's revealed, though. He fakes possession really well, convincing Picard and the aliens both.

Elementary, My Dear Data: The episode starts with a painful scene in which Geordi tries to tell Data a joke. Data then tries to laugh. Geordi looks hugely uncomfortable. Still, it sounded like a shit joke anyway. Even the computer tells Data to shut up when he's defining something.

Son of Mogh: Worf doesn't like swimming – it's too much like bathing. And they say Worf doesn't have a sense of humour. He's constantly ripping the piss. Totally up for a punch up with Evil Quinn, but doesn't come off well.

Ginger Doc: Crusher gets to do some phaser badassery against Evil Quinn.

Future History: Code 47 = Captain's eyes only. Tryla Scott made captain faster than anyone in Starfleet history (the record holder in the original series being James T. Kirk). Fans often like to suppose some link to Montgomery Scott, but there's no evidence for this.

Sexy Trek: Picard gets a robe scene! Nothing like Jean-Luc in nightwear.

Links: This episode picks up on hints that there's something amiss in Starfleet in 'Coming of Age.' The signal that Remmick sends was originally intended to lead to the introduction of a major new threat in season two. Initially conceived as an insectoid species, this threat eventually became the Borg, and the parasite link was dropped. The parasites are eventually revealed, in the DS9 novels Unity and Unjoined, to be mutant Trills.

Trek Stars: Weird old Michael Berryman plays Captain Rixx, the first Bolian to appear in the series. Apparently he liked the make-up so much he wore it home. Berryman is instantly recognisable under any make-up. As well as appearring in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Weird Science and The Hills Have Eyes, he played an alien console officer in Star Trek IV.

Star Sets: The galactic map behind Remmick in the climactic scene, showing the location of Earth relative to the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, is a fantastic piece of work, and will turn up again and again throughout Trek as set dressing. It even shows up on The Sarah Jane Adventures as part of the set dressing for Sarah's attic. 

Verdict: Excellent. High-stakes stuff in a season that sorely needs some genuine peril. This episode received a poor welcome from a lot of fans on first broadcast. The violence and graphic horror are unusual for TV Trek, and it received severe cuts on its BBC transmission, even getting left out of several repeat runs. Looked at now, it seems very tame, and it's hard to see what the problem is – TNG really needed a kick up the arse, and 'Conspiracy' is an indication of a direction it could have moved in. Making Quinn and Remmick the central villains, after they warned Picard of the plot in the first place, is a nice touch, particularly making Evil Remmick the big baddie. The original version of the story featured no alien involvement, simply a conspiracy by high-ranking officers. Roddenberry objected, maintaining that Starfleet wouldn't behave that way. We'll see similar plotlines play out in DS9 and Star Trek Into Darkness in the future.