I spent time a few weeks ago at Toy Fair. For those not in the know, Toy Fair is one of the industry’s largest trade shows and gives us all a look at what’s coming in the toy world. This is an entire convention center filled with toys and games, and I was one of the first people to see them! It is an amazing show to attend.
There is a whole section of the floor dedicated to collectibles. Not surprisingly, it is where I spent most of my time. In this section, you see the target market turned on its head. I’m the average consumer, not an eight year old. It’s a weird feeling to know I’m targeted by toy companies. These companies know that I’m interested in nice packaging and numbered limited edition sets. That I want it display worthy right out of the box, or be able to modify it to my own worthy standards.
The whole time I’m checking out statues and figures, all I can think is “Where are the toys I can play with?” I can’t be the only adult that still wants to play with action figures. In fact, I know I’m not. But adults are not targeted for playtime; they are only targeted for high price display pieces. This is a trend I saw throughout presentations at Toy Fair. When companies presented their upcoming lines, they had their kid-friendly and their collector lines. They specifically mentioned what they thought would be good for adults.
I want to sit down and play with toys. And that’s not to say companies aren’t making action figures for adults. In particular, Diamond Select Toys definitely targeted me with a Star Trek: TNG Worf action figure. In the past, they’ve had even more superhero figures to tempt me. Another company is Thinkgeek, who has products that showcase hands on creativity, like the upcoming Brick Boy. Still, it is rare for a company out there to encourage an adult to play.
Admittedly, I still love display pieces. I have some statues that I cherish and some toys I absolutely won’t take out of the packaging. And to have companies recognizing adults like to reclaim lost pieces of their youth through toys is a nice thing. Still, playing is not a bad thing. And as a supposed-adult, which I still don’t believe that I am (even in my 30s), I think that it would be great to see more companies appeal to my playfulness. Hopefully next year, I see companies targeting more than just my wallet.
“…Depression… is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk… slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero…the body…feels sapped, drained.” Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron
Sorry for the skip last week, everyone, but I wasn’t up to it – I was down. As in my depression said “Hello, again!” last weekend. No, I didn’t lie in bed for 48 hours, I’ve never given in to that, even back in the day before I was properly diagnosed with this goddamn thing. So on Saturday, though I could feel it banging on the door of my psyche’s house, I did get dressed and made the usual weekend runs to the supermarket and to the laundromat…but by Sunday Elvis was in the house, and even though I got up and put on my workout gear, I blew off my free personal training session that my gym offers to all members for their birthday, decided that I didn’t want to expose my grandson to his fucked-up grandma Mindy, and so just sat around in my workout gear, surfing the web and eating waaaaay too many potato chips. And I kept watching the clock tick away the hours thinking that I had to write my column, but I just couldn’t get the energy up and finally I let Editor Mike know I was sick, though I didn’t specify with what in my e-mail to him.
See, the thing about depression is that it drains the battery and warps the mirror. When it hits me I feel old and ugly and fat and powerless and oh! so! damn! alone! and my thoughts are all about the mistakes I’ve made and the lover(s) I’ve lost and the roads not taken and the…well, it gets pretty nasty and self-destructive, folks. And, for me, at least, it’s embarrassing, because…well, you know that old saw about how when animals are sick they hide away from the herd or crawl under the bed? I don’t know if it’s entirely true, but I always think that if it is, it’s because the animals feel shamed. And I get that, I really do, because, even though I know it’s completely illogical, I feel ashamed and embarrassed.
Which is why, I think, I try to be so open about my depression. It’s my way of fighting it. It makes me so! God-damned! angry! that I have had to deal with this shit for 25 years… anyway, it’s another old saw about how shadows disappear in the light, and I just wanted to let you guys know where I was last weekend.
But that was last weekend. It passed, as all things do….
Everybody stand up and cheer that our friend and fellow columnist John Ostrander came through his cabbage with flying colors! Yeah!!! And yes, we medical folk really do pronounce the acronym CABG that way. I do owe you an apology, though, John. I forgot to let you know about the shave job. Just be glad it wasn’t a body wax!
I’ve been binging on Star Trek: Voyager this week. Totally forgot how absolutely marvelous Kate Mulgrew (currently playing “den mother” Galina “Red” Reznikov on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black) was as Captain Katherine Janeway. The lady had a lot hanging on her performance as the first woman to head a Star Trek series, though technically she wasn’t the first woman we saw command a starship – I believe that honor goes to Tricia O’Neill as Captain Rachel Garret of the U.S.S. Enterprise-C in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” which aired on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1990. But it’s clear in her execution that Ms. Mulgrew embraced and cherished the opportunity and the role.
All the actors were superb, but one thing I’ve always questioned is why Voyager creators Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor chose not to have Robert Duncan McNeill replay his “fallen Starfleet cadet” Nicholas Locarno in TNG’s 1992 episode “The First Duty,” instead of “bad boy” Tom Paris. It may have been just synchronicity that McNeill read for the part and won it; it may also have been that it would have been very expensive to resurrect the Locarno character, as the writers of “First Duty” would have had to receive royalties every time Locarno appeared on the screen, which would have been every episode of Voyager.
Can’t say I’m happy about the results of the midterm elections last week. I don’t understand why the Democratic candidates ran away from President Obama. Hello, Allison Grimes, did you not learn your lesson when Al Gore distanced himself from Bill Clinton? Jesus, woman, you were a delegate for Obama at the Democratic convention! Who the hell did you think you were fooling? I don’t understand any woman who votes the Republican ticket. No one’s forcing anyone to have an abortion, lady. And what business is it of yours, anyway, if another woman chooses to do so? I don’t understand why someone who is against the minimum wage, denies global warming and climate change and wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (created by Republican President Richard Nixon, by the way), gets into office. Oh, I know. She can slaughter hogs.
SPOILER ALERT! STOP HERE IF YOU MISSED THE DOCTOR WHO FINALE!“Bowties are cool.” But Osgood is dead. Or is she?
Danny Pink is dead. Worse, he’s a Cyberman. Or is he?
The coordinates for Gallifrey are wrong, a lie told to the Doctor by the Master – uh, the Mistress. Or are they?
Clara and the Doctor have ended their relationship – or did they?
Author Rus Wornom is featured in the July/August issue of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE with a story that harkens back to Pulp Adventures of the 1920s and 30s.
‘IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FROZEN FIRE’ features the mysterious adventurers of THE ENIGMA CLUB! The mysterious M4, master of espionage and disguise, travels to the frozen wastes of Ghutranh and encounters a diabolical trap set for him by his arch-nemesis, the nefarious Cobra! Trapped in an unearthly landscape of icy death, M4–Enigma Club founding member Commander Denis Cushing–discovers a terrifying secret, and must do battle with a team of assassins . . . and an unspeakable threat that has survived in the Arctic snows for millennia. There he comes face to face with a terror from beyond the seas of eternity . . . “In the Mountains of Frozen Fire!”
THE ENIGMA CLUB is a contemporary pulp adventure novel, currently being marketed by Wornom’s agent, Andrew Zack of The Zack Company. It’s the story of how the discovery of an obscure pulp magazine sends the novel’s hero in search of the Enigma Club, supposedly located on a forgotten island in the Gulf of Mexico.
What he discovers is a land forsaken by time–Cayo Arcana, an island forgotten by the world for more than sixty years–where the pulps are still alive. The Enigma Club is a haven for adventurers, explorers, heroes, starlets, scientists (mad and otherwise), warriors and spies, all members of a classic gentlemen’s club created by and for all the pulp archetypes from the Golden Age of Adventure.
THE ENIGMA CLUB recreates the pulp era of the ’20s and ’30s, and also makes an impossible tale and the impossible locale very real and almost interactive, integrating artifacts–photos, sidebars, excerpts from fictional books and pulps, telegrams, and even vintage postcards–to create a world that the reader feels could possibly exist.
Wornom’s original intent with THE ENIGMA CLUB was to include a sample pulp story for each of the Club’s charter members, as published between 1911 and 1953 in the Club’s pulp, The Enigma Club All-Adventure Magazine. However, the novel became too long, so he included only one story, “Sky-Gods of Ixtamal,” to represent the themes inherent with the pulp era: adventure, wonder, lost races, fantastic technologies, and everyday characters who embody the heroic ideal.
Two other stories were already finished, and the first of these, “In the Mountains of Frozen Fire,” is a tale of Commander Denis Cushing, Agent M4, whom he created as a cross between James Bond, Artemus Gordon and G-8. His inspiration for the story was a painting by Frank Frazetta, The Frost Giants, with a little Lovecraft and a lot of Robert E. Howard thrown in. Wornom’s goal was to tell a period story, using the tropes of Howard, Lovecraft and traditional spy fiction, while also serving up a dose of 21st Century humor–along the lines of Indiana Jones meets SNL.
“In the Mountains of Frozen Fire” will be published in the July/August 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
The second completed story is “Hot Time at Bad Penny’s,” a tale of founding member Bucky Sniggles-Wooten—charmer, adventurer, and accomplished cad. It’s a saucy story of deadly gangsters, speakeasies, and super-science run amok. Wornom’s goal with this was to show today’s readers what the pulps’ saucy or spicy stories were all about, while also playing with some of the tropes of big city pulp stories (with a tip of the hat to ERB, Amazing Stories, and the classic Fleischer Superman cartoons). It is currently being considered for publication at F&SF.
ABOUT THE WRITER IN HIS OWN WORDS:
ERB andA Princess of Marswere my primary influences when I decided to become a writer.
Burroughs showed me that a writer is born in his heart, and that even a pencil sharpener salesman could tell stories of extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances that could enthrall generations of readers. Once I read A Princess of Mars, I knew that I wanted to tell stories that could make people believe in worlds undreamed of.
Rusty is what my friends call me, but Harlan Ellison once yelled at me in a workshop, “Nobody’ll read anything by a guy named Rusty! It’s a kid’s name!” SoRuswas born, even though my given name, Howard, was used when my novella, “Puppy Love Land,” was published in the April, 1996Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story was later nominated as Best Novella on the Preliminary Ballot for the Horror Writers of America awards. I was also the pseudonymous author ofSpelljammer: The Ultimate Helm, Dungeon of Fear,andCastle of the Undead,all published by TSR Books way back in the dim, dark ‘90s. Spelljammermade the Waldenbooks bestseller list . . . for a month. Since 1983, I’ve been published in such magazines asOmni, Premiere, Gauntlet, andStoryboard,and in newspapers and regional magazines, and contributed to The Stephen King Companion. I’ve participated in writing workshops with Ellison, Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, and Kate Wilhelm. A spec teleplay got me in the door atStar Trek: The Next Generation,where I pitched story ideas four times. I’ve also acted on the Discovery Channel inThe New Detectives,although I was never credited. (Somehow, though, Buddy the Beagle got a credit.) I live in Virginia with my wife and a large, furry family.
A few months back, I declared that I found a love for Star Trek. Not just a passing affair mind you, but a legit love of the original series. As if all my tendencies towards being a CGI snob who once laughed-out-loud at the low-tech original FX suddenly melted away. And why? One man. Captain James Tiberious Kirk. The lightbulb went off. I got it. Beyond the ethics lessons, morality plays, and hilarious fight scenes… this was a show where the Captain didn’t just chew the scenery; this was a show that banked on Kirk to cook with it too.
This is in direct opposition to the mission statement of Star Trek:The Next Generation. I should note whilst laid up in my house this past weekend (with still-not-cured tendonitis) I consumed a great deal of TNG episodes. Thank you, BBC America. And thanks to the crash-course reminder, it became clear just how different a beast TNG really was from its elder counterpart. Take away the CGI, beautiful sets, and truly amazing make-up work? You get a show near devoid of the pulpy roots of TOS. You still get the ethics and moral dilemmas. So too, do you get occasional hilarious fights. But TNG’s Captain Du Jour chews not even the seat where he sits. And because of it, I see how many a Trekkie sets their allegiance to a thespian who lends gravitas to a role once dominated by the clinical definition of over-acting.
After making my way through roughly half the original series, I find myself ready to make the ultimate choice. Given that I’ve seen about the same amount of The Next Generation, I think it’s time to choose my captain. It’s only fair though (and a great way to waste column inches…) to come up with some categories to compare and contract Johnny Loo to Jimmy Tibby.
Obviously these are my opinions. Based on not watching every televised piece of either show. Nor all the movies. Nor the licensed books, comics, etc. This is strictly my gut opinions.
Space Fighting: Let’s face it. The first and foremost thing a captain should be able to do is use his ship in a fight. Kirk’s Enterprise didn’t come with an onboard android, or Klingon weapon expert. Just a sassy Vulcan, and a fencing Japanese dude. Picard always seems ready for diplomacy. Kirk seems almost to beg for a fight. And let’s not forget he beat the unbeatable training sim. Phaser to my head? Kirk wins.
Space Talking: Before a photon torpedo is sent a-wassailing into the nearest Warbird, sometimes you have to get your debate on. In Star Trek, all-too-often (and rightfully so) the issues of the day were best solved with smart repartee rather than fisticuffs and rabble-rousing. Kirk knows his way around the diplomacy manual all well and good, but Picard was a born talker. And let’s face facts: If you’re facing a dude ready to blow up a planet because it’s in your way? Who would you send in to talk him down? Unless he responds…. only… to… rhythmic…talking… then you know who has your back. Picard for the win.
Dealing With The Ladies: OK. Seriously. Is this even a competition here? Now, first, let me ensure you if this were a Janeway Vs. Other Male Captain fight, I’d be an equal opportunity chauvinist here. Fact is, sometimes a captain needs to show some cajones, and make the space oceans move. Because the final frontier totally means green alien wicky-wicky. The winner? No duh: Kirky Kirk Kirk.
Crew Relations: In between all the alien issues, wacky hijinks, and ship malfunctions… A captain and his crew must be a tight community all working towards the same ends. The best captains know how to delegate tasks, keep conflicts down, and ultimately keep the space-peace preserved on what amounts to a star-faring cruise ship with lasers and missles. Kirk and Spock have a friendship and bromance like very few do. Picard and Riker have always held more of a teacher / student vibe. That in and of itself lends to how I feel TNG’s Enterprise views their highest in command. Picard is the teacher, mentor, and solid voice of the ship. Kirk feels more blue collar in contrast. In between making out with various crew members, debating hard choices with his number one and ship doctor, and threatening to blow up the ship at any chance he can get? Kirk always gives me the impression of the “lead by example” school of thought. Not that Picard won’t get his hands dirty… but frankly he rarely needs to given the loyalty of his crew. Choices, choices, choices. I’m gonna give it to Picard.
The X Factor: Frankly there could be whole weeks worth of columns in this debate. Certainly the internet was built in part to link Trekkies together to squabble over the finer points. Beyond the broad strokes, every good captain needs that special something that makes you want to follow them. Makes you believe in them. It’s why (beyond crappy politiking) we choose our own leaders; we want to put ourselves behind a person we believe has our backs and best concerns in mind. Someone who doesn’t lose sight of the big picture when the little picture threatens to wipe it away. Kirk is a fearless fighter with a glint in his eye, and a permanent smirk. In the face of adversity he is apt to ball a fist, scream to the heavens, and then win the day by any means necessary. Picard is no less brave mind you. He is apt to think through all the scenarios. He’ll consult his android for logic, his counselor for emotional insight, and his magic bar-tender for conscience. And then? He’ll do what he was going to do all along because damnit… He’s Picard. When the chips are down, and I need one man to get me out of a pickle? Well, I have to give it to the man who doesn’t waste time making a choice. Kirk takes it.
So, there you have it, kiddos. I’m a Kirk man. Kirkman. Uh-oh. Crap. No! I don’t like Kirkman that much! He’s ok at doing homage, but he’s mostly just spinning his wheels these days. KHAAAAAAAAAAN! Ahem. Seriously though, while I love both Captains near equally, it boils down to Kirk’s brash and boldness. His pulp roots have broken me down such that I can’t not root for him. Case in point? The real reason I’m gonna choose Kirk? “Requiem For Methuselah.” In the episode, Kirk is introduced to a very pretty little thing. He looks at her, and basically it’s enough to make her break free from her genetic encoding (she turned out to be a robot or clone or clonebot or something). Facts are facts: Kirk is so awesome, his gaze alone causes space panties to fly.
And frankly? That’s boldly going where we all want to go.
Not since Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park has the an amusement park been made the center of a thriller so perfectly. The return (and re-threatening) of a classic villain, a heck of a guest cast and a script by Neil Gaiman. Seems like a dream, but mix it all together and it’s a…
NIGHTMARE IN SILVER
by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Stephen Woolfenden
After last week’s last-minute extortion, Clara’s charges Angie and Artie are granted a trip on the TARDIS to Hedgewick’s World, the greatest amusement park ever. But hidden beneath it is a dangerous secret – A vast sleeping army of Cybermen, under repair and improvement for a thousand years…and they are ready to return.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Warwick Davis (Porridge) has a list of genre longer than … OK, it’s long. Starting off with Wicket in Return of the Jedi and Willow Ufgood in the film of the same name, he’s been the star of an amazing list of sci-fi and horro films. He’s been featured in the Harry Potter films, and was Marvin in the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Most recently he was the star of Ricky Gervais’ latest project Life’s Too Short, where he played an over the to version of himself.
Jason Watkins (Webley) is a very busy comedic actor in Britain with quite a resume in genre work. He played Herrick on the British version of Being Human and DI Gilks in Dirk Gently. He was featured in Psychoville, the latest production of Sheersmith and Pemberton from The League of Gentlemen, and just worked twice with the delightful Miranda hart on Call the Midwife and her own show Miranda.
Since Neil Gaiman (writer) last wrote a Doctor Who script (last year’s The Doctor’s Wife, he’s written four of five new books (including children’s books [[[Chu’s Day]]] and [[[Fortunately, the Milk]]]), his novel [[[Neverwhere]]] was adapted for BBC Radio, and he’s probably won a few more awards (including the Hugo for the aforementioned Doctor Who script). He’s in the middle of what he calls his last book signing tour, and is still quite happily married with the musician and internet-enrager Amanda Palmer.
THE MONSTER FILES – The Cybermen are certainly The Doctor’s greatest enemy after The Daleks. Originally from the tenth planet in our solar system, Mondas, the planet left the sun’s orbit, and to survive, the denizens of the planet began to replace their body parts with mechanical replacements, eventually becoming more machine than humanoid. They fought The Doctor though many eras, taking many forms as their systems adapted and improved.
In the parallel universe known as “Pete’s world”, the Cybermen were created on Earth, by over-reaching scientist John Lumic as an improvement to the human race. Things went bad quickly, and soon the world faced a global war with the Cybermen, one they believed they won. They eventually crossed over to our world a few times, presumably meeting and allying (alloying?) with their Mondasian counterparts, eventually forming the version we see in this episode.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
This episode owes a debt to several past Cybermen adventures. Neil Gaiman noted that he found the Troughton episode Tomb of the Cybermen to be the most scary of the cyber-adventures, and this story parallels it in many ways. Both are set many years after the Cybermen were believed destroyed forever, and both feature a massive armory of Cybermen in suspension, awaiting awakening.
A chess-playing Cyberman was the center of one of Mark Platt’s Big Finish Audio adventures, The Silver Turk. Both Platt and Gaiman’s reference the original (fake) chess-playing automaton, also known as The Turk, run by a chess master hidden within, as Porridge did here. One of Platt’s plots was used as the base of the first new series adventure, Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel. Russell T. Davies made sure Platt was paid in full as if he’d written the TV script, and he received a “Thanks to” line in the credits. The Turk was also the inspiration for the Clockwork Droids in The Girl in the Fireplace.
“Or don’t you have the processing power?” Even the last trick is a classic Sci-Fi move – give the computer an impossible problem to solve and it applies more and more power to solve it. Spock told the ship’s computer to solve for Pi on Star Trek, and Arthur Dent almost killed everyone on the Heart of Gold when it asked the Nutrimatic machine if it knew why he wanted to drink dried leaves in a cup, boiled. As is true of all literature, it’s not what tools you choose to use, but how well you use them, and Neil uses them expertly.
UPGRADE COMPLETE – More than a few science-fiction fans have drawn parallels between the Cybermen and the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The similarity was brought into te light in the recent Doctor Who / ST:TNG crossover in IDW comics, where the Borg and the Cybermen formed a brief alliance. Here, we see the Cybermen take a bit more of a page from the Borg playbook, with the rapid adaptation and instantaneous assimilation of human beings.
TAKE MY ARMS, I’LL NEVER USE THEM… – Matt Smith’s portrayal of the battle in his head was dramatic and well-done, but the ever so slightly over the top portrayal of the Cyber-planner made me think of Steve Martin playing half of Lily Tomlin in All of Me. And comic fans will note a parallel evolution in Dan Slott’s current run of Superior Spider-Man, with Peter Parker fighting for control of his mind and body, right down to trying to write messages on nearby pads.
JUST GIVE US ALL YOUR… – Gold has been a steadily growing threat to the Cybermen even since first mention of it as a weakness in the Tom Baker adventure Revenge of the Cybermen. Originally it coated their respiration systems, causing asphyxiation. As time passed, gold seemed to affect them as badly as silver did a werewolf. Here, even in this advanced form, the weakness to gold survived, still in a physical fashion, allowing The Doctor to use it on the exposed circuitry to short out the Cyber-Planner’s control of his mind.
“The Biggest and best Amusement park there will ever be” – Considering the amusement parks that have been mentioned on the series, that’s saying quite a bit. Disneyland Clom featured the Warpspeed Death Ride, as mentioned in The Girl Who Waited. There’s been more than a few mentions of Disneyland in the series – a bunch of alien tourists were trying to go to Disneyland and ended up in Wales in Delta and the Bannermen. The seventh Doctor and Ace visited The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
“Let me show you my collection” – They raided the prop closet to fill the sets of Hedgewick’s world – there’s a slightly refitted version of the Doctor’s spacesuit from The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, a ventriloquist dummy from The God Complex, and various aliens from Rings of Akhaten. There’s a few Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood alumni as well, including a Shansheeth, a Uvdoni, and a Blowfish.
“Do any of you play Chess?” – The Doctor certainly does. He claims the Time Lords invented Chess; it’s not impossible as one of the traps in The Five Doctors resembled a giant chessboard. He’s played regular games with K-9, and a high-stakes (and voltage) game against Gantok, an agent of The Silence in The Wedding of River Song.
“You are beautiful” – The Doctor has made a bit of a habit of complimenting particularly well-built enemies. He similarly admired the Clockwork Droids in Girl in the Fireplace, and the werewolves in Tooth and Claw.
“See You Next Wednesday” – Fans of John Landis perked up at that line – it’s a running gag from his films. Originally a line from the video call in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s been a movie poster, a film shown in Feelaround, dialogue in a horror movie, and more than a few other things in his various films.
“The Cyberiad” – As well as having a lovely Roman sound, mimicking several other terms the Cybermen use like Legion, it’s also a deliberate tip of the hat to the classic Stanislaw Lem novel.
“You’re deleting yourself from history. You realize you can be reconstructed from the holes you left?” – Somewhat verifying the theme that’s been coming up most of the season, following up from The Doctor’s desire to “step back into the shadows”. But it’s important to note that the first place that was done was in the Dalek database, and it was done by…Oswin Oswald.
BIG BAD REPORT /CLEVER THEORY DEPARTMENT –
“I feel like a monster sometimes” – Warwick Davis delivers a solid performance in this episode, referring to the actions of The Emperor in the third person, and really getting across the heaviness of the crown. And once again we get a reference to the term “Monster”, that we’ve heard in several episodes. And once again, his actions could easily parallel the way The Doctor feels about himself.
“She’s not our mother” – I can’t help but notice somewhat of a similarity between Angie and young Mels, as played by Maya Glace-Green in Let’s Kill Hitler. The sass, the overuse of the word “stupid”, but yet the interest in seeing the TARDIS. And when Clara describes her as being “full of surprises” one has to wonder if there’s not one more coming…
“You’re the boss” – And in this episode…she is. She’s given charge of the Imperial platoon, and does a VERY good job of taking charge.
“You’re the impossible girl” – While it’s not the first time she learned about The Doctor’s fascination with her, it’s the first one she remembers, presuming she indeed doesn’t recall the events of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. And with the finale only days away, we clearly haven’t got long to wait to learn more.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – The Question is asked. Who will hear the answer? The Name of the Doctor, this weekend.
How many books and DVDs do you have on your Amazon wish list? How often do you remember to look at it? I always forget to check it, but I took a look at it today, and there are 100 items.
No, I am not soliciting here. My birthday isn’t for another six months, Chanukah and Christmas are too far off to think about, and I’m not your mother, so forget about Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday, btw – although there is Alix, whom I always alert to her mom’s new column. Big Hint, Alix!
I do have to delete some of the books and DVDs; I’ve ordered them without looking at my wish list because, well, I forget to check the damn thing, but there’s still a lot there. The oldest item was added on June 11, 2006; it’s Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Complete Third Season (DVD, not Blu-Ray. I don’t have a Blu-Ray player.) I have no idea why I’ve never ordered this, why it’s languished at the bottom – maybe because I watch BBC America’s repeats of TNG on Saturday late afternoons (which lead in to Doctor Who) – since that season of TNG, as Bob Greenberger so excellently reviewedon ComicMix, was the season where the show really found its legs, airing such classics as Sarak(a Vulcan disease comparable to Alzheimer’s is destroying Sarak’s mind), Yesterday’s Enterprise (in an alternate timeline, the Federation is losing a war with the Klingons and Tasha Yar is still alive), Sins of the Father (Worf accepts disgrace and discommendation to prevent a Klingon civil war – the start of an outstanding seasons-long exploration of Klingon culture that carried over to Deep Space Nine – and save the Empire), and of course the season finale, Best of Both Worlds: Part I (“Mr. Worf….fire!”) Also of note, at least to me, are Who Watches the Watchers, (a pre-warp, pre-industrial civilization discovers they are being watched by Federation anthropologists), The Enemy (Geordi and a Romulan are marooned on a harsh planet and must work together to survive), The Offspring (Data creates an android daughter), and Deja Q (Q becomes mortal and is still a pain in the ass).
Apparently I was busy browsing on June 11, 2006. I also added Fagin the Jew by Will Eisner. I know I picked this one because of my dual love for Eisner and for Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. According to Amazon’s description, Eisner first envisioned the book as an introduction to a graphic adaption of Twist, but “as he learned more about the history of Dickens-era Jewish life in London, Eisner uncovered intriguing material that led him to create this new work. In the course of his research, Eisner came to believe that Dickens had not intended to defame Jews in his famous depiction. By referring to Fagin as “the Jew” throughout the book, however, he had perpetuated the common prejudice; his fictional creation imbedded itself in the public’s imagination as the classic profile of a Jew. In his award-winning style, Eisner recasts the notorious villain as a complex and troubled antihero and gives him the opportunity to tell his tale in his own words.”
On that same day I also added Drums Along the Mohawk, starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert (and directed by one of my all-time favorite directors, John Ford), When Worlds Collide, based on the book by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, which I read years ago in my Introduction To Science Fiction class at Quinnipiac back when it was just a college and not a university – and talking about it now makes me want to reread it, so I’m going to add the book to my wish list, and Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen, a 2005 Masterpiece Theatre mini-series, because of my passion for all things Tudor ( and yes, I already have The Tudors boxed set).
Moving forward, I kept up with my Tudor passion in 2011, adding a shitload of novels and non-fiction about that dynasty, including The King’s Pleasure, a novel about Katherine of Aragon (Henry’s first wife, she whom he dumped for Anne Boleyn) by the late and great British author Norah Lofts, and two histories by another Brit, famed historian and author Allison Weir: The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn and Henry VII: The King and His Court. I also listed Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Armgrin, Prairie Tales: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert, and The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House by Melissa Sue Anderson just because I always loved Little House on the Prairie. C’mon, who didn’t?
In November 2011 I added William Shatner’s Up Till Now: The Autobiography. Bill, I love ya!
2012 additions include Among Others, by Jo Walton. The Hugo and Nebula Award winner for that year is a brilliant coming-of-age story that mixes young adult literature, magic, and science fiction into a read for all ages. I also found Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi (which was reviewed by ComicMix’s John Ostrander), a spin on the classic Star Trek’s law that new ensigns, i.e., red shirts, always get killed on away missions.
Being a fan of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God, I also added Doc, Russell’s take on Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and the events that occurred at the O.K. Corral. And I really must move up to the top of the list Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, the story of four women who are among the 900 Jews holding out against the superior Roman army at the siege of Masada, the mountaintop fortress in the Judean desert.
Just a few months ago I added Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which the New York Times Sunday Book Review just, well, reviewed, and which has garnered much press and praise. It’s the timey-whiney story of Ursula Todd, who is born, dies, and lives again, is born, dies, and lives again, is born, dies, and lives again…each time taking making choices that affect not only Ursula, but her family, friends, and even the world. It’s a story that especially relevant to me these days.
It’s been a tough time for me since last Christmas, when my father first became ill, and watching my mother slowly slipping into elderly dementia. My life has become a cacophony personal and professional turmoil, a symphony of wishes and “if onlies”; I lie in bed at night unable to sleep, with all the different “roads less travelled” in my life teasing me with alternate possibilities, alternate lives. I am adrift at sea, questioning my choices and wondering, no, all too often, fearing the future.
“The Best of Both Worlds” is a strong piece of television drama and was a defining moment for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The spinoff of Star Trek had been a ratings bonanza for Paramount Pictures, which syndicated the show and reaped huge profits. The fans, though, were slow to warm to the show and its characters, thanks to incredible infighting that sapped the inaugural season of coherence and left it to season two to show the series’ real potential. Season three, which is also out this week on Blu-ray, came to life thanks to a solidified writing staff under Michael Piller’s tutelage and the actors finally getting comfortable with their roles.
After eschewing two-parters, producer Rick Berman allowed Piller to end the season with a cliffhanger and as has been chronicled repeatedly, Piller wrote the first part thinking he was leaving the show. The resolution would be someone else’s headache. The plan was upended when Gene Roddenberry convinced him to stay on staff and he had to figure out the second half on his own.
As a result, the first half is far stronger with most of the action left for the second part, draining it of the emotional drama we had come to expect. The Borg had been teased in a second season episode so their arrival was not unexpected, just earlier than hoped for. Lt. Commander Elizabeth Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy) is brought to the Enterprise to help the flagship investigate a world devastated by, they believe, the Borg. She has been coordinating Starfleet’s plans to deal with the approaching threat but admitted their weapons planning needed eighteen to twenty-four more months. Along the way, she is all enthusiasm and arrogance, seeing First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) as being in her way towards a command spot of her own. Riker, for the third time, had been offered his own captaincy and was near-Shakespearean in his indecision.
Riker was speaking for Piller, who was also conflicted about staying or going while Shelby reminded Riker what he was like as an eager First Officer, out to prove himself. Most of the cast is given something meaty to think about and discuss, including Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). As a result, it felt like change was coming to the crew but first, they had to deal with the arrival of the first Borg cube in Federation space. Things are ratcheted up when the Borg ask for Picard (Patrick Stewart) by name and then abduct him. When he next is seen as the Borg named Locutus, you know this is not a dream, hoax or imaginary story. Left with little choice, Riker ends the season with the command to “fire!”
Fans spent the summer waiting to see what would happen. The fall of 1990 brought about the eagerly anticipated finale and Picard was of course rescued, Riker chose to remain in place, and the threat neutralized – at least for the moment. But the stakes have been raised for all concerned and nothing will be the same. As a standalone episode, the episode is totally devoid of the sort of the character-based drama that made the first half so rich and entertaining. No one is given a real moment to reflect on what is happening or at the end what has happened to them and their friends.
This beautiful transfer and upgrade is edited into a single 85-minute episode, making this disc unique. Yeah, it’s a bit of a money grab from Paramount but they at least sweeten the deal with some nice extras not found elsewhere.
Regeneration: Engaging the Borg (29:40) features Dennehy, Frakes and others from the cast along with makeup supervisor Michael Westmore and director Cliff Bole talking about the making of the episodes. They tell good stories and Dennehy in particular is honest in her 28 year old naiveté when she auditioned. Frakes, who had performed with her father Brian Dennehy, reveals that the actor had his qualms about her being on an SF show.
You also get additional insights in the all-new commentary from technical consultants Mike and Denise Okuda, Dennehy and Bole. There is an episode specific gag reel (5:28) as well.
It holds up thanks to the strong hand of Bole, a cast up for the challenge, and a real threat. The high definition upgrade makes it both an audio and visual treat.
So, a few weeks ago, I decided to give myself the night off. And in doing so, I granted myself the ability to indulge in a previously DVR’ed movie stolen during a free weekend some time ago. That movie was The Green Hornet by way of Seth Rogan. It was, to date, the worst adaptation I’d personally seen of a comic book(esque) character in a movie. The flick was so god awful, I spent the following evening searching for something to wash my mind out. And there, stuck in a marathon of its brethren, a movie I knew was a sure-thing.
The Wrath of Khanwas to my knowledge a near-universally beloved film of nerdtopia. Furthermore, I’d never seen it. (Gasp). Surely this shining beacon of Trekkie culture would cure my explosion-riddled mind from the misadventures of Kato and Bro-Hornet. My fellow ComicMixers… set your phasers to stunned. I loved it.
I loved every minute of it. And truly, that is saying something. I am by all accounts not a Trekkie. That being said, I’m not completely ignorant of the brand either. In my short time on this blue ball, I’ve watched dozens of episodes of Next Generation, a handful of Voyagers, a pair of Deep Space Nines (and, heck, I actually saw the one with the Borgs), and the 2009 Abrams’ flick in theater. But the original crew? My only exposure prior to Wrath was an old X-Men/Star Trek crossover comic book from 1996, purchased mainly as a joke. I tried, once, to watch the original series on TV. I was aghast at the production values (forgive me, I was but a child of 24 or 25 at the time). So, to go into this movie as cold as a Bantha on Hoth (I bet that’s pissin’ a few of you off…), I had expected to hate the movie.
Yet something clicked. Immediately after absorbing the film, I went to YouTube to digest the original appearance of Khan in the episode Space Seed. I also set my DVR to record the once-a-week rerun of the retro-upgraded Original Series on cable. Subsequent discussion with actual Trekkies gave me insight as to why I’d suddenly become enthralled in the series. I discovered that one of the motifs of the show was the war of morals versus logic. Bones vs. Spock, with Captain Kirk in the middle. It’s a great concept, one that gave me perspective to enjoy what I previously thought was banal. Where I believe much of The Next Generation is rooted in the expanded (and better looking) aliens and psuedo-science driven plots (and again, I could be wrong, but this is based on the episodes I’ve seen…) the Original Series is more focused on the characters themselves. To be fair, each concept has merit, but it’s taken me until now to find the hook necessary to really sink my teeth into TOS.
And what of James T. Kirk? Removed from the stereotypes I was used to seeing in countless spoofs and parodies stood a Captain who was very much the product of a pulpier age. He fights. He makes love, apparently a lot. He battles his giant space ship with equal amounts of abandon and cool calculation. And in Wrath, it was a treat to see nearly all of these things happen. Suffice to say, without the prejudice of “He’s no Piccard,” I’m finding just why so many people are smitten by Shatner.
For what it’s worth? My money (and new found respect) is on Bones. Prior to my Trek-Immersion therapy, all I knew of the man was “Damnit Jim, I’m not a (insert something), I’m a doctor!” In a single scene during Space Seed, I found a character so compelling, I’m kvelling a little. In Seed, Khan awakes, steals a scalpel, and bates Bones to his bedside. He grasps his neck (with a strength supposedly five times a normal man) and puts the knife to it. Bones, without a flustered yelp to his name, suggests to Khan he should either choke him or just slit his throat, making sure to point out he should tighten his gasp a bit or slit right behind the ear to make it quick. Bones has balls. Amazing.
But let’s all be real; Wrath of Khan is all about Khan. The character himself is a brilliant trope – he’s a conqueror out of time. Following his first appearance via Space Seed, Wrath plays brilliantly. The fantastic turn that Kirk has in allowing Khan a planet to rule, was fascinating. And to use that as the catapult for the movie – where the best intentions are ruined by careless happenstance, and terrible luck – breeds a villain that we can almost sympathize. Even in Seed, we get that air of mystery to the man. He’s a product of another age, superior physically and mentally… but he’s still fallible against a man three centuries ahead of him. And while Wrath of Khan did not allow for the titular terror to match his still-amazing pecs to Kirk’s greying temples, we’re still treated to what makes the Star Trek universe so appealing to me now: Stories are built around savory plots and moral ambiguity, not action sequences and special effects.
So, I am on the verge of a new thing. A respect, and genuine interest in something I truly was never before intrigued by. Something that allows me access to a new sub-culture to both explore and debate with. Something that might just make me boldly go where so many others have gone before. But what could be next? Doctor Who?
Not likely. But that my friends… is a topic for another week.
Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 By Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdman Abrams Books, 744 pages, $29.95
Let me state upfront that Paula and Terry have been friends for a long time, but I adamantly maintain that they were the ideal people to write Star Trek 365 and the recently released Star Trek: The Next generation 365. Why? Because Paula has been intimately involved with the franchise since the 1980s and knows every nook and cranny within Paramount Pictures to find rare images or information. Terry is an experienced film publicist and has a keen understanding of what people like to know and has an engaging way of sharing that with enthusiasm.
Being the series’ 25th anniversary makes this a nice companion volume to the series; chock full of images, architectural and production drawings, special effects pictures, and some on set antics. Every episode from each of the seven seasons receives not only a brief synopsis but then stories about the show, told from a wide variety of angles. You get some of the best known tales such as the banana clip that became Geordi’s VISOR to lesser known stories in how episodes were conceived. Some of the best are the ones demonstrating how a kernel of a story lingered until the right opportunity, or the right writer, or both, arrived to solve the conundrum. A good example is how long it took to produce the acclaimed “Darmok”.
Given how many images Paula approved for use through the years, she knew which ones to avoid in the hopes of finding a fresh look at the series. One approach meant leaning more towards the black and white shots the still photographer took that have rarely been used, and that adds a nice quality to the book. Many of these are behind-the-scenes and between takes shots of the cast relaxing, prepping or goofing off.
To find fresh nuggets of information about the 178 episodes, the pair interviewed dozens of people who worked on the show over the eight years it took from conception to finale. As a result, they got not only interesting new anecdotes but found additional graphics for use, especially from production designer Richard James and visual effects producer Dan Curry. Effects associate Eric Alba is also credited for coming up with a variety of candid photos for use. All of this enriches the book and ensures that it’s not a retread of previously seen images or twice-told tales.
The comes with a foreword by Ronald D. Moore, who got his big break with an unsolicited script and has gone on to a creative career among the stars. The 365 series of pop culture books are nice, compact treasure troves that are well worth a look.
Any time Steven Spielberg comes to television, it’s always with something different. He honored the anthology series of his youth with Amazing Stories and lent his storytelling expertise to get ER launched, making that into a smash hit for NBC. So, when Fox heard of a series about humans and dinosaurs and Spielberg, it seemed like a no brainer. If anyone could get dinosaurs to work convincingly on the small screen, it was the director of Jurassic Park. What the network couldn’t count on was the full extent of Spielberg’s involvement and in time the series was placed under showrunner Brannon Braga’s control. Braga cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and has gone on to do other genre fare, but he can’t seem to repeatedly sacrifice characterization in favor of conspiracy and that’s where Terra Nova fell off the rails.
Delayed by schedule issues as the massive CGI prehistoric creatures proved more difficult to execute on a budget, the series debuted last fall and for 14 episodes, we were treated to a series with tremendous potential, most of it wasted.
In 2149, mankind has choked the world so badly that time travel to resettle humanity in the past was the best hope for survival. A colony was established and those fortunate enough to be picked were sent in waves, controlling the impact of man altering the past. We follow the Shannon family from this wretched dystopia to the clean air of the past and see if people can do better when given a better chance. Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) is in jail for violating population laws and conceiving a third child but is broken free and joins his wife, Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn), 17 year old son Josh (Landon Liboiron), 16 year old daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott), and five year old Zoe (Alana Mansour), as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage 85 Million years back in time.
Terra Nova is a thriving colony under the command of Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) and contains enough raw power to protect the populace from the mammoth critters that wander the jungles just beyond their walls. While the thrust of the stories should have been the struggle to adapt to the environment and its deadly inhabitants, Braga had other ideas. Apparently, The Others, I mean the Sixers split back during the sixth pilgrimage and are working with unknown forces back in the future to seize the pristine world’s resources. Then there’s the mystery of Taylor’s son, a genius who was either part of the conspiracy or its pawn. Add in a blackmarketeer, a teen turned traitor to save her ill mother, young romance, and a few other threads, you get a crazy quilt of plots that could actually be told in any other environment.
The show failed to be different from its genre competitors because it avoided the most unique element going for it: dinosaurs! Man versus nature! How do the people adapt to diseases, microbes, and minerals they never encountered before? How do they ensure each step they take beyond the colony does not in some way create a vastly different tomorrow? Nope, the show skips all of those possibilities for conspiracies and soap operas.
The appealing cast does its best with weak material but by the end of the series, it was clear that there would be little progress in solving these dilemmas and when the plug was mercifully pulled in March, it vanished without much of an imprint in the genre or prime time television.
The complete series is presented on four standard definition discs from 20th Century Home Entertainment. In addition to fourteen hours of drama, the set comes with complete with some vaguely interesting deleted scenes and an extended version of “Occupation/Resistance”, the two-part finale (there’s also an audio commentary from Stephen Lang, Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria). There are a handful of somewhat interesting “Director’s Diaries – Making the Pilot” with comments from Alex Graves, whose work I have generally admired. Finally, there is a brief look at “Cretaceous Life: The Dinosaurs of Terra Nova”, which should enlighten younger viewers who can’t get enough dinosaurs, and “Mysteries Explored”, delving into the less interest aspects of this failed series. Rounding things out is a gag reel.
A series with potential like this is all the more disappointing when it does not embrace its strengths in favor of a creator’s personal interests. Had Spielberg been more hands on, things might have turned out differently, but as it stands, the show is a mildly engaging misfire.