Timestamp #83: The Android Invasion

Doctor Who: The Android Invasion
(4 episodes, s13e13-e16, 1975)

Timestamp 083 The Android Invasion

 

London: Are they there yet? It looks like the right place and the right time, but appearances can be deceiving.

The Doctor has a new coat, and our heroes are being followed by a twitchy UNIT soldier as they explore the area. They encounter four figures in spacesuits who start shooting from their fingertips, and, of course, they run. Sarah Jane nearly bolts off a cliff, but the Doctor saves her. The twitchy soldier isn’t so lucky as he runs headlong to his doom.

Or does he?

There’s a body, which is a sure sign of death – well, usually – but that corpse’s wallet is full of shiny new coins, all from the same year. They discover a strange pod near the soldier, and then get shot at again by the trigger-happy spacers, so our heroes get to exercise Rule #1 of Zombieland. They eventually end up in the village of Devesham, but the town is abandoned. The pub is full of half-full drinks, those strange coins, and not much else, and Sarah Jane remembers from her days as a journalist that the space center is a short distance away.

Sarah Jane spots the spacers walking with the newly resurrected soldier, and she accidentally breaks a glass, which arouses suspicion. The spacers come close to opening the door when a pickup truck arrives with the villagers. They all stiffly walk about town, some of them filing into the pub and sitting down. An uncomfortable silence follows until the clock strikes eight, at which point everyone acts normally.

Yeah, that’s normal.

The Doctor heads for the space center to contact UNIT, and he leaves Sarah Jane (with the TARDIS key) to investigate the village. She is soon discovered, and the crowd is deathly silent. They ask her to leave, and she does, but encounters one of the spacers by the truck. When he turns, his face is all electronics. She runs away, and a clear theme is established: Running, and lots of it.

The Doctor arrives at the space center, but the place is deserted except for a single unresponsive soldier. Sarah Jane arrives at the TARDIS and places the key in the lock, but gets distracted by a pod nearby. The TARDIS dematerializes on its own and a figure grabs her from the pod. He attempts to strangle her, but she runs (again).

With all this running, I’d be dead by now.

At the space center, a disembodied voice called Styggron tells Crayford, a man with an eyepatch, that something is abnormal. Crayford investigates as the Doctor reaches the Brigadier’s office, which is empty. Crayford soon discovers the Doctor and interrogates him. The Doctor runs, and the UNIT soldiers open fire. He is soon apprehended, and Sarah Jane pursues his captors. She starts to unlock the door when a strange face peers out from the wall. It looks kind of Sontaran, but it’s not.

The mysterious voice hides again, but tells Crayford about the new arrivals. Crayford is excited by the development, but knows that they must be destroyed. Crazy thing: Crayford is supposed to be dead, a victim of an earlier spaceflight that Sarah Jane reported on, but he is clearly moving about. Meanwhile, the travelers run into Warrant Benton, but he pulls a gun on them. He appears to power down when Crayford orders the operation cancelled, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane hide. Soon after, Crayford orders Harry Sullivan to cordon off the perimeter, and the travelers decide to run for the village and attempt to warn London.

With friends like that, who needs enemies to run from?

Sarah Jane twists her ankle so the Doctor stashes her in a tree and distracts the pursuing dogs. The soldiers capture Sarah Jane (who left the tree) shortly thereafter. Sarah Jane wakes up strapped to an alien-looking table and being attended by Harry, who starts an analysis of her. The Doctor reaches the village and tries calling UNIT, but the phone is dead. The phone in the pub is also dead, and the keeper tells him that the lines are down after an overnight gale. The Doctor orders a ginger beer and throws darts, but discovers that the board has never been used. It is a camera for the aliens, who are watching everything.

At this point, we get a good look at the non-Sontaran aliens. They are the Kralls. The makeup is pretty bad. The mouths do not move well at all.

Doctor Who has done better.

Anyway, the pub has other oddities: The horse brass on the wall is plastic and the calendar has only one date. The dead phone rings, revealing that Sarah Jane has escaped. She asks the Doctor to come to the village store, and after he hangs up, the phone once more becomes inoperative. The Doctor follows the clues to the store and Sarah Jane tells her story. He offers her ginger pop to soothe her nerves, something she couldn’t stand before, and she enjoys it. The Doctor puts all the pieces together and takes Sarah Jane back to the TARDIS.

Back in the secret base, the Krall use Crayford’s patterns to create a hostile android, which they use to demonstrate a newly developed weapon used to stop the androids. Meanwhile, the Doctor finally finds out that the TARDIS has dematerialized — presumably continuing on to Earth — and the he reasons that they are not on the real Earth and that Sarah Jane is not the real Sarah Jane. Sure enough, she attacks him, he pushes her away, and her face falls off to reveal an android. The Doctor runs off as the Sarah Jane-droid opens fire.

And just where was she keeping that pistol?

More details emerge about the dastardly plan: The Kralls intend to destroy the village in nine minutes, and plan to use the real Sarah Jane as a test for a virus to kill humans. Sarah Jane listens to the discussion, then sneaks away when the coast is clear. Back at the village, the spacer androids gather up the villagers and drive them back to the Krall ship. In the village, Stryggon restrains the Doctor as he places the bomb. Sarah Jane arrives (her ankle injury having mysteriously vanished) and saves him using the sonic screwdriver. They barely make it back to the base as the bomb explodes, eradicating the entire façade, but are immediately detained by the androids. In detention, the Doctor explains the android situation to Sarah Jane, deducing that they are on Oseidon.

So, not London.

Craydon comes in and explains his story: He’s contacted Earth with an elaborate hoax story, and he plans to return to Earth as a hero with the Kralls by his side. He claims that no humans will be harmed. The Kralls want the Northern Hemisphere, and they will leave the Southern Hemisphere for humanity. The Doctor is not sold on the story, and neither am I. I’m rather partial to the Northern Hemisphere.

Styggron has the Harry-droid spike a water pitcher with the virus and take it to the cell. Meanwhile, the Doctor opens the floor tiles and plans to electrocute the guards. The androids take the Doctor to the scanning room, but he warns Sarah Jane to save the water for the trap. As the Doctor is prepared, Styggron discloses his plans for human genocide.

Sarah Jane sets a small fire to lure the guard, then springs the trap and disables the android. She then rescues the Doctor from the scanner and they race for the rocket as it lifts off. Sarah Jane makes it into a protective pod, but the Doctor does not.

Cliffhanger: Will they survive?

Yes, and in cheap narrative fashion: The Doctor awakens her some time later. No really, that was it. All the race for the pods because they can’t survive the crushing g-forces and hey, by the way, nice nap you had there and by the way we’re going to ride these android pods to the surface but we may not survive re-entry since the pods aren’t designed for us.

On the real Earth, the real Harry, real Benton, and real acting commander Colonel Faraday monitor Crayford’s return. Benton and Harry are concerned since the TARDIS has arrived without the Doctor or Sarah Jane. The pods are sent to Earth, but the Doctor and Sarah Jane are separated on re-entry. Sarah Jane lands in the forest and finds the TARDIS. The Doctor-droid finds her and almost has her convinced that he’s real until a nearby pod opens to reveal a Sarah Jane-droid.

The Doctor reaches the space center and asks the guard (the model for the previously “dead” soldier) to notify him if another Doctor arrives. He asks the technicians to jam the electronics by pointing the radar dishes at the ground. Meanwhile, he figures out that key personnel have already been replaced and makes a run for it with Sarah Jane. The Doctor poses as his duplicate, re-enters the complex, and confers with the technician. The dishes are put in position, but the Doctor-droid stops him from turning on the power. Crayford stops the Doctor-droid from killing the technician and the Doctor, but is flabbergasted by the Krall plan for genocide. Crayford runs for the ship while the Doctor fights the Doctor-droid. The Doctor ends up near the control panel and turns on the jammer, stopping the androids in their tracks.

Sarah Jane reaches the ship and frees Harry and the colonel, but she is ambushed by Styggron. Crayford tries to stop Styggron but is killed. The Doctor-droid arrives and flips Styggron into the virus vial, and then the Doctor-droid is shot. The threat is over. The day is saved.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive at the TARDIS, but Sarah Jane wants to go home, and this time by taxi. The Doctor offers to take her home in the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane relents.

She does know that she’s not going home yet, right?

This was a well-written adventure with a lot of twists and turns. They cheapened cliffhanger between episodes 3 and 4 stole some of the momentum, but I still had fun with it.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius

 

 

 

 

Dragon Con 2016

 

Dragon Con 2016
Atlanta, GA –  September 2-5, 2016

Logo_no_background

 

Thirty years of Dragon Con!

It’s an annual tradition for me, and this year will be my eighth time attending. This time around, I’m an attending professional. If you plan to attend, these are the places where you will be able to find me over Labor Day weekend.

NOTE: All Dragon Con schedules are tentative until the convention ends on Monday. Even then, things are a bit suspect. As things change before the convention, I’ll update this post.

 

Thursday (it’s the new Friday)

2:30p-5:00p: Dragon Con Newbies Walking and Rolling Tours
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
Want to know the best way to get from one con hotel to another? Need to learn where the food court is? If so, come on one of our walking tours and find out. Small group tours will be going out every 10-15 minutes.

8:30pm-12:00 midnight: Dragon Con 2016 Geek Sing-a-long
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
The only thing better than a con full of geeks is a con full of geeks singing theme songs and other geek-centric tunes! The American Sci-Fi & Fantasy Media and the American Sci-Fi Classics tracks present the second annual DragonCon Geek Sing-A-Long!

 

Friday

10:00a: Classic Sci-Fi Legends: Noel Neill, David Bowie, Alan Rickman
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Talking about classic sci-fi adjacent people who passed away this year: Noel Neill, David Bowie, Alan Rickman… it’s a long list. Thanks, 2016.
Panelists include: Kevin Eldridge, Tegan Hendrickson, Jason De La Torre

1:00p: Rocketeer!: The 25th Anniversary
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Jennifer Connelly. Jetpacks. Nazis. Celebrate the movie that has everything.
Panelists include:  John Hudgens, Gary Mitchel, Mike Faber, Daniel Griffith

 

Saturday

8:30a: Roll-a-Panel: Classic Sci-Fi Edition
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Too many classic movies & TV to cover means one thing: The crowd decides what we talk about – 20 panels in one lightning-round hour!
Panelists include: Pretty much all of the American Science Fiction Classics Track regulars

10:00a: Fantastic Mullets of Classic Sci-Fi
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Mullet aficionados and color commentary.
Panelists include: Tegan Hendrickson, Gary Mitchel, Michael Bailey

10:00p: The Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show
Hyatt Regency, Regency V Ballroom
It’s the triumphant return of Dragon Con’s best-loved adults-only game show! Cum out and partake in dirty pop culture games! Impress your friends! Embarrass your family! Win fabulous prizes!

Miss Lady Flex, Phantom Troublemaker, Rad Ranger, and Popeye the Sailor Moon are returning to the greatest con in all the land to once again present the finest in sexy, dirty entertainment. Ages 18+ only.

 

Sunday

10:00a: Roll-a-Panel: The 80s
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
More specifically: 1981, 1986, and 1991, which was still the 80s, let’s be honest.
Panelists include: Pretty much all of the American Science Fiction Classics Track regulars

11:30a: Batman 1966: Atomic Batteries to 50th Bat-Anniversary
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Precisely, chums! We’re here for the 50th anniversary of the grooviest heroes and villains ever.
Panelists include: Michael Gordon, Michael Bailey, Michael French

1:00p: Marvel Cinematic Universe: Shall This Be Civil War?
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M301-M302
Captain America 3 became Civil War, and we were introduced to Jessica Jones, drama with Agents of Shield/Most Wanted and the MCU. What do we think will happen with all these elements?
Panelists include: Gary Mitchel, Alice Edwards, Will Nix, Bill McIntire

7:00p: Highlander: There Can Be Only One 30th Anniversary
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
What to expect: A roomful of people singing Queen’s “Princes of the Universe.”
Panelists include: Tegan Hendrickson, Van Allen Plexico, Scott Viguie, Michael Bailey, Elizabeth Jones, Gary Mitchel, and Jessa Phillips

8:30p: The Flash: Zoom Into the Multiverse
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M301-M302
Season Review – CW and DC introduce us to the Multiverse, with Zoom, Jay Garrick, and some interesting additions and losses.
Panelists include: Ryan Guthrie, Angela Pritchett, Theo Tiedemann

11:30p: The Shape, the Snake, and the Thing: The Sci-Fi Films of John Carpenter
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
You got horror in my sci-fi! You got sci-fi in my horror!
Panelists include: El Phantasmas, Gary Mitchel

 

Monday

Nothing scheduled

 

 

 

Timestamp #82: Pyramids of Mars

Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars
(4 episodes, s13e09-e12, 1975)

Timestamp 082 Pyramids of Mars

 

They’re finally back to London, but it’s not really the one Sarah Jane wants.

Professor Scarman is excavating a pyramid which contains what he calls the perfect tomb. There is an Eye of Horus on the door to the inner chamber, which scares away his assistants, but the professor shows no fear as he opens the door… and gets blasted by a ray of green light.

Change scenes to our heroes and the TARDIS travelling through space-time. Sarah Jane gleefully shows off a dress she found in the wardrobe, which a pensive Doctor offhandedly remarks that it belonged to “Vicki” or “Victoria”. That’s either Victoria Waterfield or Vicki Pallister. When Sarah Jane presses the matter, the Doctor explains that he no longer wants to chase after the Brigadier’s whims, and he doesn’t feel quite at home on Earth. His maudlin musings are broken when the TARDIS jolts violently and is redirected to the priory – Professor Scarman’s family home – that existed on the site where UNIT HQ was eventually founded. During the turbulence, Sarah Jane sees an Egyptian jackal face that rapidly disappears.

The priory is occupied by Ibrahim Namin, a mysterious Egyptian gentleman, who is confronted by Dr. Warlock, a friend of the professor who was zapped in the opening scenes. Namin’s butler discovers the Doctor and Sarah Jane, believing that they are agents of Dr. Warlock, and warns them against Namin. As the travelers depart, a sarcophagus opens on its own.

Warlock and Namin are engaged in a heated argument when the butler screams. They rush to the scene and find him strangled, and as Namin nearly kills Warlock with a gun, the Doctor intervenes and saves Warlock before disappearing again. Namin opens the sarcophagus and awakens the mummy within using a special decoder ring. The mummy and Namin pursue the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a critically wounded Warlock, but are called off as a blast of organ music echoes through the forest. The travelers are found by Laurence Scarman, the professor’s brother, and they hide at his hunting lodge.

The year is 1911 and Scarman has developed a Marconiscope, a predecessor to the radio telescope, which can intercept signals from space. As they switch it on, they receive a signal from Mars that overloads Scarman’s device. The Doctor decodes it: “Beware Sutekh.”

Okay, so we’re talking about Mars. Are the mummies the Ice Warriors?

As the team decides to investigate further, the Doctor claims, “I never carry firearms.” Uh, yes you do. You shot people in Planet of Evil and Day of the Daleks, and you also have a favorite collection.

Anyway, the Doctor and the humans return to the priory as Namin summons a servant of Sutekh through a special sarcophagus carrying a lodestone. Alas, it’s not the Ice Warriors, but it kills Namin as the mighty Sutekh needs no other servants. The servant then morphs into the professor and takes the mummies to set his plan in motion. The Doctor investigates the lodestone and explains that Sutekh is the last of the Osirans. He accidently activates the spacetime tunnel and is nearly drawn through it until he disrupts it and falls unconscious. Sarah Jane and Laurence hide away in a priest hole.

A non sequitur (and likely redshirt) poacher runs into the deflection field set up around the estate by the Sutekh. Professor Scarman, while searching for his brother, finds Warlock and learns about the Doctor. Scarman orders a mummy to kill Warlock. The poacher runs from the death screams and seeks out Laurence. The Doctor decides that his can stop Sutekh by blocking his transmissions to Earth, but he needs Namin’s ring to isolate the frequency. On cue, the professor arrives and almost finds the travelers until the poacher arrives and shoots him. The professor sets the mummies loose on him. True to form, the redshirt’s gonna die.

The travelers locate Namin’s corpse and retrieve the ring, then hide in the TARDIS. The Doctor determines that the mummies, who are really robots, are building rockets to free Sutekh from his imprisonment by destroying the force field generator on Mars. Sarah Jane suggests, since the world didn’t end in 1911, that they should just travel forward to 1980 and be done. The Doctor takes her there, revealing a desolate wasteland, and Sarah Jane realizes that they have to stop Sutekh.

They return to 1911 and take refuge in Laurence’s lodge, planning to build a jamming device. As the mummies kill the poacher, Laurence tries to stop them and the mummies overrun the lodge. The mummies destroy the jamming device, but Sarah Jane drives them off with the ring. The team decides to blow up the missile using blasting gelignite, of which the poacher (of course) had a supply. Laurence stays behind to unwrap the robot as Sarah Jane and the Doctor head for the poacher’s hut. En route, they disrupt part of the barrier, which the professor investigates only to find Laurence. Laurence believes that part of his brother still survives, and he nearly breaks through until the Sutekh persona recovers and tortures Laurence for information.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane take the gelignite to the missile, but do not have detonators or fuses. They return to the lodge to find Laurence’s corpse, and they use the wrappings as a disguise to infiltrate the mummies. The disguised Doctor places the gelignite, but when Sarah Jane shoots it with Laurence’s rifle, the explosion is constrained by Sutekh’s mental power. The Doctor determines that the only way to stop him is to go to Mars and distract him. As the Doctor arrives through the spacetime tunnel, he is stunned by Sutekh, and the action causes the destruction of the rocket.

Sutekh interrogates the Doctor and discovers who he is, and he offers an alliance that the Doctor rejects. Scarman calls and reports that they have captured Sarah Jane, and Sutekh orders her death until the Doctor protests. Sutekh reads the Doctor’s mind and learns of the TARDIS, then transports the key to Scarman. The Doctor saves his life by claiming that the TARDIS controls are isomorphic and will only responds to his touch. He claims allegiance to Sutekh and is supposedly placed under the alien’s command, then returns and pilots the TARDIS to the pyramid so the professor can override the restraining field. The professor enters the chamber and the mummies try to kill the Doctor after he is no longer needed, but that releases Sutekh’s hold on him. He survives due to a respiratory bypass system. It’s convenient, but it’s also science fiction.

The path to the Eye of Horus, the source of the restraining field, is blocked by several logic puzzles which are very reminiscent to a previous story. The professor has Sutekh’s knowledge to help, but the Doctor and Sarah Jane are slower. At one point, Sarah Jane is trapped and the Doctor must face a Knights and Knaves-style challenge: There are two buttons (one is freedom, one is instant death), and the answer lies with two robots (one always lies, one always tells the truth). He successfully answers the riddle, but they are too late since the professor has already destroyed the Eye.

The Doctor realizes that the Time Factor can still save them since the transmission takes two minutes to move from Mars to Earth, and he rushes with Sarah Jane back to the TARDIS and 1911. Using a piece of the TARDIS console, he blocks the spacetime tunnel and traps Sutekh inside, propelling the Osiran forward into the far future until he dies of old age. The sarcophagus explodes, burning the priory to the ground and paving the way for UNIT’s arrival in the future. The Doctor muses about his involvement in the great London fire of 1666, and with that, the pair move on to their next adventure.

Maybe they’ll find London this time?

This was a fun adventure with plenty of twists and turns. It was very engaging. The villain seemed pretty standard until he actually got proactive about the Doctor and tried to kill him, and that small character development pushed it over the top for me. I mean, this villain actually wins until the Doctor stops him at (literally) the very last second.

Looking back, the body count is high in this one. Everyone the Doctor meets is dead at the end. I’d hate to be the CSI lead trying to put this one together.

After reading more about this one, this story also adds to the so-called UNIT Dating Controversy, which isn’t a sticking point on my end yet. That will come up in about seven seasons (or about a year in Timestamps time) with Mawdryn Undead, and, as with most continuity problems in Doctor Who, I’m just going to consider it timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly and move on.

This one ended up as a high four, and I’ll round up.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Android Invasion

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #81: Planet of Evil

Doctor Who: Planet of Evil
(4 episodes, s13e05-e08, 1975)

Timestamp 081 Planet of Evil

 

This is not London.

On a dark and misty planet in the year 37166, a mining team hits a seventy percent pure vein as another on their team marks another grave in an already crowded graveyard. Professor Sorensen tells his assistant that the planet “knows” and is conspiring against them, but he refuses to leave the vein of ore since the last one inexplicably vanished after their colleague died. The younger spacer leaves the professor and returns to base, but just like Braun (the man who marked the grave), he is vaporized.

Well, that’s a dark start.

I do love the detail in the planet set, though. It beats the socks off of anything from the original Star Trek.

Meanwhile, in the TARDIS Control Room – We haven’t seen that in a while, and it’s the first time for the Fourth Doctor. – our heroes get a distress call and materialize on the evil planet. Sarah Jane is enthralled by something odd, and after she shakes it off, they find the mummified remains of Braun. So, he disappeared at death, but then reappears as a desiccated corpse?

As they investigate the base, a new starship arrives in orbit of the planet, which is now established as Zeta Minor. The ship barely has enough fuel to return home, but Commander Salamar decides to investigate the planet and find the professor’s party. There’s not enough power for a scan, but they transmat down regardless.

The Doctor works on restoring the base’s power while Sarah Jane volunteers to go back to the TARDIS and retrieve the spectromixer, which will determine where they are. Sarah Jane returns to the TARDIS just as the starship’s landing party arrives, and they lock the TARDIS doors with a clamp and transmat it up to the starship. They then encounter the professor and display terrible trigger discipline and muzzle control during their discussion. Seriously, he keeps his weapon pointed at the professor the entire time with his finger on the trigger.

The professor takes the landing party to the base where they all encounter the Doctor, and the spacers take the Time Lord captive as they investigate the strange happenings. Back in the TARDIS, Sarah Jane tries the doors again and finds herself on the starship. She is taken prisoner and interrogated, and the ship commander is skeptical of her story since Zeta Minor is so remote. Salamar decides to land the ship and continue the investigation. The professor explains that the killings started soon after the team arrived and they mostly came at night (mostly). A paranoid Salamar decides that the Doctor and Sarah Jane are to blame, and orders their execution. Luckily, they escape through a window, but they encounter a strange neon semi-transparent creature.

A ship’s sentry tries to shoot the creature, but it deflects the shots and dematerializes the man. A desiccated corpse appears in his place and the creature vanishes. Sarah Jane explains that this is the strange feeling that overwhelmed her before, and the Doctor has a bad feeling about this. The ship’s crew discover that the Doctor and Sarah Jane have escaped and sound the alarm. The travelers run, and the crew open fire and provide their best stormtrooper impersonation by missing every shot.

The commander sends a drone to search for the fugitives. Their analysis of the corpse shows complete dehydration, almost like freeze-drying. Like that astronaut ice cream they sell at Kennedy Space Center, and probably just as tasty. The professor wants to leave since his mission – to find a new source of energy to replace their dying sun – is complete. The commander says that his new mission – to eliminate hostile alien forces – takes precedence. What is he, a Dalek?

The Doctor and Sarah Jane discover a pool of liquid that doesn’t reflect light. The drone finds them, and crewmen arrive to apprehend them. The crewmen roughly search the travelers, and one falls into the pool. There is no splash, and he continues to fall as if the pool were really a bottomless pit.

Sorenson loads his samples as the travelers are returned to the ship and interrogated. The Doctor explains that the planet is the boundary between the universes of matter and anti-matter. By coming to the planet, the boundary has been breached. The travelers are dismissed and rudely shoved into the quarantine chamber with the TARDIS and the ore samples. Sarah Jane suggests leaving, but the Doctor explains that this extends beyond the planet now. It could result in the destruction of the universe.

The Doctor gets all scientific on the ore – I have missed that aspect of the Doctor – and takes a small sample for later. The ship tries to take off, but the engines fail, and the ship is immediately attacked by the neon creature. It picks off guards like redshirts until the commander listens to the Doctor and raises shields. That pushes the creature away and earns him some cachet with the commander and crew. The Doctor explains that the ore is linked to the planet, and that the ship cannot leave without jettisoning the samples and clearly stating an intention to leave without exploiting the planet. The Doctor offers to take that promise to the forces that control the planet, but he must go alone. He goes to the pit (sans scarf) and encounters the neon creature, but the creature pushes him down the hole.

Commander Salamar argues with the professor about leaving the planet, and Sarah Jane goes after the Doctor. As crewmen unload the ore canisters, the professor sneaks into quarantine and sneaks away with a container. The Doctor falls, encounters a large neon creature, and then climbs out of the pit. Sarah Jane finds him, but he is delirious and half-conscious. Salamar see the duo on the drone’s camera feed, and sends crewmen to retrieve them. Meanwhile, the smuggled ore possesses the professor.

The travelers end up in the ship’s sickbay, and as Salamar attempts to lift off, Sarah Jane assures the Doctor – who promised the neon creature as a Time Lord that they would leave the ore behind – that all of the samples are off the ship. The Doctor is assuaged until he remembers that he has some in his toffee tin, and he takes it to the commander. An unfortunate crewman takes the tin to be jettisoned, but he is attacked by the professor. As the ship attempts to reach escape velocity, there is a significant drag, and the Doctor presumes that more antimatter ore is still onboard.

The professor is drinking some kind of fluid to remain in human form. In an attempt to deflect the investigation, he suggests that the travelers are responsible for the deaths, and Salamar demands (at gunpoint) to inspect the TARDIS as a result. As the commander takes the Doctor to quarantine, the professor remains with Sarah Jane. The professor begins to change, sparking that same wave of unease for Sarah Jane, and he leaves sickbay to attack another crewman. Sarah Jane follows the crewman’s screams and discovers yet another desiccated corpse. The same screams distract the commander long enough for the Doctor to sucker punch him and run to the scene. Salamar follows, assumes that the travelers killed the crewman, and shoots the Doctor point blank. The travelers are taken to the ejection chambers – a futuristic walking of the plank – but they are saved by an attack on the bridge.

The professor is trying to maintain control with his serum, but he spills it, leaving no way to stop his transformation. Meanwhile, Salamar is relieved of command by Vishinsky, a senior crewmember who disagrees with the commander’s assessment of the travelers. Sarah Jane explains the strange sensations around the antimatter to the Doctor, and she rushes to the bridge and recommends closing all of the hatches in the passageways to slow Sorensen’s progress. The Doctor breaks into Sorensen’s quarters and finds the antimatter. Sorensen finds him, but the Doctor holds the professor back and explains that the serum has only facilitated the mutation. Sorensen realizes that he must remove the antimatter from the ship.

Meanwhile, Salamar takes the ship’s neutron accelerator and plans to hunt Sorensen with the deadly radiation. After Salamar kills a crewman who tries to stop him, Vishinsky lets the former commander go. Sorensen goes to the ejector room and attempts to eject himself and the sample, but he transforms before he can throw the lever. Vishinsky informs the Doctor of Salamar’s plan, and the Doctor goes to stop him. Salamar finds Sorensen in the ejector room and uses the accelerator, but Sorensen drains him and uses the accelerator’s radiation to increase strength and multiply. The creatures pass through the hatches and kill the crew as the Doctor reaches the bridge. He takes a pistol – noted – and the remaining ore and sets off to find the original Sorensen. The Doctor shoots him – also noted – and drags him into the TARDIS and restrains him, then sets a course for the planet’s surface.

The TARDIS lands at the pit, and the Doctor and Sorensen struggle on the edge. Sorensen falls in, and the Doctor throws the remaining ore in after him. The creatures on the ship vanish, and the ship stops it’s descent toward the planet. Since the Doctor kept his word, a fully human Sorensen is returned to the normal universe, and they return to the ship in the TARDIS. The professor is still returning to his original self and is highly suggestible, so the Doctor plants the idea of using planetary kinetics as an energy source. The travelers then depart for their appointment in London.

This is the standard creature feature with some added twists like the anti-matter universe, a strong environmental message, and the super-guardians of the planet’s balance. I love the detailed planet sets, and enjoyed seeing a more meaty role for the secondary characters as well.

I’m eager to see how the show reconciles the Doctor’s use of firearms in later stories. Part of me holds to the mythos that the Doctor abhors their presence, kind of like MacGyver, and using one is a breach of his character. Day of the Daleks is a good example. The counter-point, as long-time reader Nathan mentioned in a discussion on Facebook, is that the Doctor may be pragmatic enough to realize that firearms are sometimes the lesser of two evils, but always tries to find a better way. Either way, I’m looking forward to how the classic series handles this.

All in all, this was a fun and entertaining story.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #80: Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons
(4 episodes, s13e01-e04, 1975)

Timestamp 080 Terror of the Zygons

 

A peaceful looking oil rig collapses into the ocean after a high-pitched chirping echoes throughout the structure. Welcome to Season 13 and the debut of the Zygons.

After receiving the emergency call from the Brigadier, the Doctor and his companions are back on Earth and walking through the countryside. The Doctor has embraced the Scottish theme of this story with a (unnamed) Tartan scarf and matching Tam O’Shanter hat, while his companions have adopted the typical hat and scarf. They hitch a ride to town with the Duke of Forgill, a local landowner who is upset about Hibernian Oil’s employees trespassing on his land, and meet up with the Brigadier and his Clan Stewart kilt.

You know, I’ve kind of missed him.

The Doctor is upset that he has been called back for a simple oil problem, hardly an emergency in his book, but agrees to help nonetheless. Harry goes to examine the injured rig crew in sickbay, Sarah Jane goes to interview the locals, and the Doctor joins the Brigadier to investigate the oil company. As Sarah Jane interviews Angus, the inn’s landlord, a Zygon eavesdrops on their conversation through an unknown bug. Angus thinks the Tulloch Moor is haunted, but Sarah Jane is not convinced.

While this is their first appearance in the franchise, I have seen the Zygons before in the new series. They really haven’t changed much over the years.

A survivor named Munro stumbles out of the ocean and Harry finds him. Caber, the Duke’s right-hand man, inexplicably shoots Munro and grazes Harry. The Doctor and Sarah Jane visit Harry in sickbay wher the Brigadier informs them of another oil rig collapse — the Zygons summoned a creature from the deep to destroy it — and the Doctor accompanies him as Sarah Jane tends to Harry. The Doctor examines part of the rig’s wreckage and discovers the imprint of a giant tooth.

Sister Lamont, the nurse who is attending to Harry is creepy. At first I thought she was a Ratched, but instead she’s a Zygon who attacks both companions. When the Doctor (who was on the phone with Sarah Jane when the Zygon struck) arrives the hospital, they companions are missing. The Doctor finds Sarah Jane in a decompression chamber and is trapped inside when he attempts to rescue her. He hypnotizes Sarah Jane to slow her breathing, then places himself into a trance as well. Meanwhile, Harry is taken to the Zygon ship, which is deep under the ocean. They crashed on Earth centuries before and waited for rescue, but their world was destroyed. The creature, a cyborg called a Skarasen, is their weapon and means of survival. If it dies, they die.

The Brigadier and his team are knocked out with poison gas, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane are rescued by Warrant Officer Benton. The trance was something he learned from a Tibetan monk. They return to the inn and discover that the same nerve gas that affected the Brigadier’s team also incapacitated the entire village. The Doctor receives a signal device, which controls the Skarasen, and the Zygons are upset by the turn of events. The take Harry to the chamber to become the pattern for one of the Zygon invaders.

The Brigadier’s team recovers and discovers one of the UNIT patrol soldiers who was killed by the creature. The Doctor goes to investigate and leaves Sarah Jane at the inn, much to the Zygon’s delight. Harry’s doppelgänger arrives, steals the device, and runs, leading Sarah Jane and some troops on a chase. She finds him in a barn, and he attacks her, but he falls on his pitchfork and reverts into Zygon form before dying. The Zygons disperse the corpse before Sarah Jane brings UNIT to see it.

Sarah Jane deduces that the Zygons are spying on UNIT, and the Zygons send the Skarasen to destroy them. The Doctor lures the beast away in a truck as the Brigadier tracks the signal’s origin. The Skarasen chases the Doctor, who has to run after the truck runs out of fuel and the tracker attaches itself to his hand. The Brigadier traces the signal to Loch Ness.

Ah, of course: Nessie is an alien cyborg.

Harry bursts into the control room and starts mashing buttons on the console, which conveniently results in the tracker falling off the Doctor’s hand. In a terrible special effects sequence, the Skarasen crushes the tracker, which stops the signal and makes the Zygons assume that the Doctor is dead. Meanwhile, Benton is searching the inn for bugs, and we figure out that the Duke’s prized deer head trophy is the transmitter.

After finding out where the signal came from, the Doctor asks Sarah Jane and the Brigadier to take him to the Duke’s castle. The Duke does not believe their tale, and he refuses to allow UNIT to use depth charges in the loch. Back at the inn, Angus discovers the deer head transmitter, and the nurse goes full Zygon on him and removes the eye. Benton and his team give chase into the woods, shooting at the Zygon as it flees, and report to the Brigadier that they have it cornered. The Doctor and the Brigadier leave Sarah Jane to investigate the Duke’s library as they rendezvous with Benton. The Zygon resumes its form as Sister Lamont, knocks out a UNIT soldier, and escapes. The Doctor discovers the missing eye and concludes that the Duke is a Zygon agent.

At the Duke’s castle, Sarah Jane discovers a hidden passageway behind the bookshelf and follows it straight to the Zygon ship. Shortly afterward, the Duke finds out about her intrusion. He and Caber help the injured Sister Lamont doppelgänger back to the ship, and the Duke orders Caber to find and destroy Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane rescues Harry and they return to the Doctor and the Brigadier. The Doctor heads to the ship but is intercepted by Zygons and held hostage. The Zygons tell the companions that the oil rigs were only the prelude to the “big event”. UNIT begins shelling the loch and the Zygon ship surfaces and flies away. The Brigadier prepares to follow, but the companions suggest searching the castle for clues. Sarah Jane discovers that the Duke is the President of the Scottish Energy Commission, but Harry dismisses the information and they join the Brigadier for a trip back to London.

The Zygon ship lands at a disused quarry, but UNIT cannot track it due to a jamming signal. Broton, the Zygon leader and Duke doppelgänger, tells the Doctor that a refugee fleet is on its way to Earth, but in the intervening centuries, the planet must be rebuilt to suit them. After Broton leaves, the Doctor rigs some of the technology in his cell, which electrocutes him but broadcasts a tracking signal to UNIT. The Zygons leave the Doctor for dead, but he comes to, infiltrates the body print center, and frees the humans being held there. He then blows up the ship using the self-destruct mechanism, which is a bit bloodthirsty, but he did try negotiating first.

Broton, having left moments before, goes to place a tracker on the target so Skarasen can destroy it. The Brigadier and the companions figure out that the International Energy Conference is the target, and that the Broton can get in using the Duke’s credentials. They all reconvene there, and the Doctor confronts the Zygon. Sarah Jane summons the Brigadier, who shoots and kills Broton.

Hey, firearms finally worked!

The Doctor takes the tracker and rushes outside where he feeds it to the Skarasen. The creature returns to the river and swims back to Loch Ness, and thus we have the legend. The team returns to the TARDIS near the loch, and the Doctor offers them all a ride home, but only Sarah Jane joins him with one proviso: They are to return straight to London.

Yeah, right.

We finally say goodbye to Harry. I can’t say that I’ll miss him, but I can say that he’ll join the ranks of Steven Taylor as one of my least favorite companions.

As far as the story goes, it’s lackluster and all over the map. It’s an unfortunate case of style over substance: The Zygons and their ship were well done for the era, and the story plays on the prevalent oil-politics in the news, but it also heavily leans on Scottish stereotypes to drive the story, and I had a hard time getting around them. From the very first line haggis-laden line of the first episode, the story jumps from kilts to beards to bagpipes to second sight to the Loch Ness Monster, and it finishes on a joke about stingy Scotsmen.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s nice to visit Scotland again, but this doesn’t come close to the spirit of Jamie McCrimmon. It was a fun, but ultimately routine and forgettable romp.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of Evil

 

 

 

 

Timestamp Supplemental #1: The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
Earth Station Who: Episode 135

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This week I took the Timestamps TARDIS to Earth Station Who. While I was there, I joined the crew of Mike Faber, Jennifer Hartshorn, Michael Gordon, and Mary Ogle in a discussion of The Sontaran Experiment, previously covered here in Timestamp #77.

I recommend taking the transmat to their site and listening to the podcast, and I mean more than just my visit to the station. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in the all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One, as well as a plethora of other shows.

Please to enjoy, and I’ll see you again next Wednesday as the Timestamps Project continues.

 

 

 

 

Timestamp: Twelfth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Twelfth Series Summary

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The Twelfth Series marked the debut of the Fourth Doctor, and it is a strong performer.

The series kicked off with the regeneration and introduction of Tom Baker as the Doctor, and I fell in love immediately. The rude (almost cynical) nature of the Third Doctor is gone as the Fourth Doctor follows his own advice in being grown up while acting childish. In fact, he uses it much like the Second Doctor did as a method to drill into a situation while looking innocent or incompetent. He’s less of a threat to evil plans, and he can observe without being observed.

As much as I came down on the topic of convenience with the Third Doctor, there is one aspect of it that I’m glad was maintained: The Doctor’s pockets. It adds to the air of whimsy to have a wild assortment of random objects trapped in those nearly extra-dimensional pockets, and feeding both the Doctor’s character and the humor that keeps the show light while it tackles serious topics.

The other character I have really grown to love is Sarah Jane Smith. She proved herself with the Third Doctor, but she has an undeniable chemistry with the Fourth Doctor that exceeds the previous stories. These two characters just click, almost on the level of the Third Doctor and Jo in her later stories, and the show is better for it.

The main sticking point for me is Harry. He’s competent as a doctor, but he’s an extraneous imbecile otherwise. His continued sexism is annoying, especially since Sarah Jane tells him to knock it off at least once (if not more) per story. I get that he’s a product of the era, but four decades later he’s irritating.

The loose Nerva Beacon arc was fun, if not uneven, and did a fine job of driving the characters without the TARDIS around. I did miss the Doctor’s silent partner, but at least there was some motivation for the characters to stick around and solve the problems instead of ducking out. There are some obvious production growing pains, from the shark-jumping Robot and somewhat scientifically baffling Sontaran Experiment – if humans haven’t inhabited the planet in centuries/millennia, why exactly is the Sontaran running experiments on their capabilities? – to the lackluster Revenge of the Cybermen. However, in between those rough moments were beauties like The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks.

This series ranks fourth overall, only being surpassed by the Fifth, Eleventh, and Ninth, in ascending order. It was fun and a little uneven, but gives me more than enough hope for a good run with Tom Baker’s Doctor.

 

Robot – 5
The Ark in Space – 4
The Sontaran Experiment – 4
Genesis of the Daleks – 4
Revenge of the Cybermen – 3

 

Series Four Average Rating: 4.0/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons

Timestamp #79: Revenge of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen
(4 episodes, s12e17-e20, 1975)

Timestamp 079 Revenge of the Cybermen

 

It has been a long time since we encountered the Cybermen. That break ends as the Time Ring delivers our heroes back to the Nerva Beacon, just not exactly as they left it a few weeks ago.

As they investigate the station, they discover several dead bodies, some of which are obviously mannequins. Harry estimates that they have been dead for a couple of weeks. In that time, the station has been ravaged by a plague and is under quarantine, and is being protected by the few remaining survivors. Those survivors are also trying to fulfill the station’s mission as a warning buoy for a nearby hazard to navigation: The Voga asteroid.

The Doctor determines that this is the Nerva Beacon before it became the Ark in Space as a cybermat creeps by undetected. The team unlock a door using a screwdriver (but not the sonic one) and reach the control room just after the cybermat kills operator Warner and Professor Kellman, a planetary surveyor, alters the communication logs. Those logs hold evidence that the asteroid is inhabited, which Kellman claims isn’t true. The Doctor and his companions are captured by the station’s crew, and they examine Warner while being under suspicion of bringing the plague to Nerva. As the Doctor investigates the virus and Voga, Kellman spies on them with a makeshift receiver and then transmits a message to a waiting Cyberman spacecraft.

The Vogans, who share a common seal with the future Rassilon, are debating their situation. The one called Vorus is in control of the mines, and they assume that the reason they haven’t been contacted by their agent is that the Cybermen are monitoring their communications. The Cybermen were last heard from centuries before. They vanished right after attacking Voga near the end of the Cyber War.

Following his suspicions, the Doctor investigates Kellman’s quarters and finds gold, which Voga has in abundance. Kellman returns and the Doctor hides under the bed, but Kellman sets a trap that electrifies the deck plating and locks the Doctor in the room. Sarah Jane reviews the station’s logs and is attacked by the cybermat. The Doctor escapes Kellman’s quarters and rushes to Sarah Jane’s aid after killing the cybermat, but she’s already been bitten. The Doctor rushes her to the transmat, which will filter the poison from her blood, but the device has been sabotaged. Kellman overhears the conversation and the plans to arrest him, so he arms himself.

The Doctor jury-rigs the transmat, and it beams Sarah Jane and Harry to the asteroid, saving Sarah Jane’s life. As Harry finds the abundance of gold, the Vogans capture the travelers. Meanwhile, the station crew captures Kellman. The crew and the Doctor interrogate Kellman as the Cyberman ship approaches. The Cyberman Leader is identified by a black headpiece. Gold can kill the Cybermen by suffocation, explaining why they want to destroy Voga. The crew threaten Kellman with a cybermat using a control box they found in his quarters, coercing him to give up the transmat control drive.

The Vogans prep a device called the Sky Striker for use against the Cybermen. Councillor Tyrum, a leader of the Vogans, has dispatched troops to take over the mines and stop Vorus’s plans to re-emerge on the galactic market. Tyrum fears that they will be attacked again. Vorus plans to kill the humans and hide the Sky Striker from Tyrum. Harry and Sarah Jane escape just as the execution team arrives, and Tyrum’s militia arrives to force the Guardians to stand down.

You know, the Vogan politics are a bit of a drag on the story at this point.

The Doctor repairs the transmat but cannot locate his companions. The Cyberman ship docks with Nerva and board the station. The crew tries to repel them, but are struck down by cannons in the heads of the intruders. They also take down the Doctor. They are all merely stunned, and Kellman tries to find information on the Doctor but only comes up with an apple core and jelly babies. Meanwhile on Voga, Sarah Jane and Harry are taken before Tyrum and explain themselves. The mention of the cybermat sparks Tyrum’s interest in confronting Vorus.

As Kellman outlines his plan for the Leader, it is explained that his reward for destroying Voga is rule over the solar system. Kellman is sent to Voga to verify that the transmat is functional, and he is taken captive by the Vogans. The Doctor and humans, with a Cyberman escort, are to take bombs to the mines and set them, after which they will have fourteen minutes to escape. They cannot be defused, and they will kill the carriers if the harness is removed. The Vogans ambush the bomb team, but the Cybermen make short work of them.

Kellman is taken to Tyrum and explains that he was working with Vorus to destroy the Cybermen with the Sky Striker. This will result in the destruction of the Nerva Beacon as well, and the companions plan to warn/rescue the Doctor. Sarah Jane beams up to Nerva and overhears that the Cybermen have lied about the fourteen minute delay.

Kellman and Harry try to intercept the bombs as the Doctor and his team make their way to the center of the asteroid. They meet up as Kellman causes a cave-in the kills him and knocks out the Doctor’s team. They stop Harry from unbuckling the harness, and the Doctor humorously declares that Harry is an imbecile. The team makes a plan to attack the Cybermen while one of them continues on to confuse the trackers on their harnesses. Their plan is foiled by the sheer strength of the Cybermen, but one of the crew unbuckles his harness and destroys the enemies with the suicide switch. As the tracker signal is lost, the Leader orders a manual detonation, and Sarah Jane rushes them. They brush her off and attempt the detonation, but the Doctor has overridden the communications link and disabled the bombs.

Sarah Jane explains to the Cybermen how Kellman betrayed them. The Doctor convinces the Vogans to wait just long enough for him to rescue Sarah Jane. The Cybermen develop an alternative plan to crash Nerva into Voga with bombs and Sarah Jane onboard, and the Doctor frees Sarah Jane and then uses the remote control cybermat to ambush the Cybermen with gold dust.

As the Nerva Beacon races toward Voga, Vorus launches the Sky Striker as he shot by the militiamen. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are captured and are tied up as the remaining Cybermen leave in their ship. The Doctor frees himself and Sarah Jane, reasons with the Vogans on how to change the rocket’s course, and then overrides the gyros to park Nerva on the other side of the Voga asteroid. Just as the station stabilizes, the TARDIS finally arrives to meet the Doctor, and Harry returns to Nerva via transmat. They leave at the summons of the Brigadier who communicated an emergency through the space-time telegraph.

Overall, it was a decent story, but not particularly strong. I liked the Cyberman side of it, but the internal Voga politics dragged on the story. The last two episodes nearly made up for it with the action, but the setup took far too long and was way to choppy and erratic as the writers tried to make the Voga stuff fit.

All in all, I consider it a so-so return that should have been better.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Twelfth Series Summary

 

 

 

 

Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

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I can’t remember the first time I saw Ghostbusters.

The first film in the franchise hit theaters in June of 1984, which means that I was three years old and far too young to understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. My first real viewing was probably an edited-for-content-and-time version on non-premium cable, I have vague recollections of the big tickets from the classic: The cards flying out of the catalog drawers in the library, the eggs frying on the counter, Venkman and Slimer in the hotel, “we came, we saw, we kicked it’s ass!”, shutting down the containment unit and Mick Smiley’s “Magic”, Gozer’s dogs, the fight against Gozer, and, of course, the march of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I didn’t really get the full context of some of the jokes (including the late night ghost dream “encounter” for Ray) until I bought the DVD and immersed myself in it.

Most of my memories from the franchise are from Saturday mornings spent with The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, and that’s really where my Ghostbusters fandom percolated and grew. It’s heretical to say after thirty-ish years, but the Ghostbusters film wasn’t an instant hit with me.

Three decades on, the jokes and quotable lines are the stuff of legends, but looking at the film itself, it’s definitely a slow build production with a ton of the dry and often risqué humor that Aykroyd, Ramis, and Murray specialized in. It’s the story of three down on their luck parapsychologists and a blue-collar dude who investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them, and the story really takes a long time to get moving as the guys build their support base. In fact, the gears on the main plot don’t really start turning until after about an hour of origin story. It’s full of technobabble, but also filled with the rich culture of immense world-building, from Tobin’s Spirit Guide to a massive pantheon of powerful spirits in the planes beyond.

One thing I respect about the film was how it let the characters be themselves. Egon was an unabashed nerd, Ray was a goofball idiot, Peter was a manipulative sexist pig, and Winston was a hard-working religious man. Even if I don’t love the elements of particular characters – Egon is a bit too much of the stereotypical nerd for me, and Peter’s sexism grates on me from time to time – I still love how sincere and fleshed out they are. This extends to the supporting cast as well, especially Janine, Louis, and Dana.

My enjoyment of the original film comes from watching it multiple times and reveling in how it embraced the 1980s metropolitan culture and comedic style. It’s an experience locked in time, and is just off-the-wall fun.

 

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It’s the fun aspect of the franchise that helps me enjoy Ghostbusters II. Again, that’s heresy in the fandom, but I don’t share the venom and hatred that most people do for the 1989 sequel.

My big problem with Ghostbusters II is how the cynics won the battle even after the team saved the world five years earlier. The first movie was full of cynics and skeptics, but at the end they were all celebrating. It doesn’t ring true when real-world events like 9/11 are considered since, nearly fifteen years later, we still celebrate the people who put everything on the line to save innocent lives that day. Was the giant marshmallow man just a group delusion invoked by sewer gas?

Ghostbusters II also loses the more risqué humor elements, mostly because of the audiences they were trying to attract. The franchise’s popularity skyrocketed with The Real Ghostbusters, and the studio wanted to capitalize on that. I don’t necessarily miss the dirty jokes, but I do miss the reality that it adds to the characters. But, it also helped to make Ghostbusters II the film that hooked me in one viewing as a kid.

One of the elements that I loved was Louis Tully’s character. He stood up for his friends at the trial, and he did exactly what I wanted to and became a Ghostbuster. I wasn’t too keen on the Janine/Louis relationship, but I loved his initiative. Another element I loved was the expression of hope in humanity. Sure, the Statue of Liberty sequence was pretty hokey, but the message that we can still put aside our differences and come together under a common cause spoke to me.

I also adored how Sigourney Weaver’s Dana was essentially elevated to a main character. She’s a strong actress and I have enjoyed her performances throughout her career. I would have liked a bit more resolution on the baby storyline – Who’s your daddy, Oscar? –  but giving her more power in the film was a nice addition.

I also occasionally break into an impression of Janosz Poha: “Why am I dripping with goo?” Peter MacNicol’s acting was silly but fun.

 

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As I said before, I was a big fan of The Real Ghostbusters, enjoyed the 1988 Ghostbusters game for the Nintendo, and even tried Ghostbusters: The Video Game on both Wii and Xbox 360. The last one was especially fun since it reunited the core actors, but I still can’t get past the library level. The one series that I haven’t watched yet is Extreme Ghostbusters, but based on recommendations, it’s on my list of things.

For years I had heard rumors that something new was on the horizon for the franchise, but when Dan Aykroyd started talking about delays and then when Harold Ramis died in 2014, I figured that those dreams were done. I was pleased and excited when the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, and doubly so when they decided to shift gears and headline an all-female team.

Even with the whining in fandom about a female Ghostbusters team ruining everyone’s childhoods, or even the vocal sexist minority that is hell-bent on derailing the movie, my excitement has not diminished. In fact, it has only grown after watching the new film.

The 2016 Ghostbusters shares quite a few things with the 1984 Ghostbusters, but it is definitely not a remake. To me, a remake takes the same characters, settings, and plots and tells a similar story to the source material. A reboot takes a basic premise – even with the same characters like Star Trek from 2009 – and heads in a different direction. This Ghostbusters is the story of a successful scientist who, due to spoilery circumstances, joins two down on their luck scientists and a New York metro worker to investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them. Just like the 1984 version, this film is pretty slow in the beginning, but the plot has plenty of the spirit world mythology helping it ramp up to a somewhat cheesy and heart-warming conclusion, and it also uses contemporary humor to soften the scares. The special effects are just as awesome, even if they are less practical and more computer generated.

It also has cameos from most of the original cast, including all of the big four. One of them is definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it was very touching.

But this version also has plenty of originality to bring to the table. The main four have elements of the original cast scattered throughout their characters, but they all bring a unique take to the ensemble. Kristen Wiig is more of the comedic straight woman, Melissa McCarthy shares Egon’s nerdiness without going deep into stereotype, Leslie Jones embodies the blue collar to a tee, and Kate McKinnon has mad scientist down to an art. McKinnon is worth the price of admission alone, especially with her character’s barely restrained enthusiasm over the ghost busting tech.

The end credits have a ton of extras built into them, including a fun sequence that involves the scrolling credits in the hijinks, and cap the film with a final hook that might lead into a sequel.

There were a few of things I wasn’t entirely happy with. The main villain is the stock rejected oddball character, and the receptionist (played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) is fun for a little while but rapidly becomes superfluous. In fact, I honestly wonder if they should have merged these two characters. The humor was rough at first, including a couple of toilet humor gags, but it evened out later on and certainly never reached the risqué levels of the original film. The other negative was in the setting: The 1984 film went to great lengths to showcase New York City, effectively making it a silent character in the film, but the 2016 film takes the setting for granted.

I went into this one with an open mind and zero expectations, spent the first twenty minutes wondering where they were going, and finally kicked back as I realized that this was the ideal update to a classic. It matches up well with the 1984 film, and will probably take a few watches to really grow on me.

All told, the ladies and their director, Paul Feig, captured the original spirit quite nicely.

 

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The strong spirit of today’s Ghostbusters gives me hope for the future.

We’ll all see a lot of buzz in coming days about how the film is a failure because it didn’t make back the $144 million budget on opening weekend, but that honestly doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters is the highest-grossing premiere for the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy team, and that’s success enough for Sony to consider future installments. In fact, the 1984 film opened to almost $14 million, which is about $35 million when adjusted for inflation. The 2016 film has already beat that, even though it came in second place to The Secret Life of Pets.

(By the way, if we want to play the box office game in an attempt to take down the 2016 film, even Ghostbusters II debuted higher than the first film. So maybe, just maybe, box office performance is more nuanced and relative rather than being a stark win/loss dichotomy.)

We’ve already seen the fallout from original generation fans that can’t get over change, ranging from unfounded pre-release ratings on IMDb – the lowest I saw the star rating on opening weekend was 4.1 – to so many angry rants on YouTube. I honestly get the aversion to change with as much as those fans love the classic film, but I’ve also seen the Ghostbusters fan-base at Dragon Con who have accepted all fans into their ranks with variations on the uniforms, vehicles, and gear. They truly understand that Ghostbusters is for everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new fans because of the movie.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a passing of the torch between generations. Violet Ramis Stiel, daughter of Harold Ramis, recently wrote about that and acceptance of change. The new film keeps the franchise alive, and it keeps the memory alive as well. I’m excited about seeing these women in another adventure, as well as the potential multiverse that Sony is possibly building. We may yet see the passing of the torch by the 1984 team to a new one. We may yet see Ghostbusters movies (live action and/or animated) or television shows set in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Salt Lake City. We may yet see any degree of imagination because the sky is the limit. The potential alone is amazing.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a paradigm shift in Hollywood. It’s a high-budget action film showcasing four women over 30 in an industry where they’re normally considered over the hill. These four women are in starring comedic roles in an industry that doesn’t consider women to be funny. Every shot in the film highlights the action and their roles, not their bodies and their sexuality like Megan Fox from Transformers. These women go into business for themselves and grow beyond the need for validation and approval by the institutional systems of academia and government.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is a signal that the tide may be changing. In an era with Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jyn (Star Wars: Rogue One), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen), the Hollywood dynamic is evolving, and it’s about time.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is the future.

Ignore the negative buzz and go see it. Even better, take someone along who is young and excited by science, technology, engineering, and math. Answer the call.

 

Ratings
Ghostbusters (1984): 7.5
Ghostbusters II (1989): 7.0
Ghostbusters (2016): 7.0

Timestamp #78: Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks
(6 episodes, s12e11-e16, 1975)

Timestamp 078 Genesis of the Daleks

 

The last story was an experiment in splitting six-part serials into smaller pieces to remove story padding. That two-parter is followed by this six-parter, which would be ironic if not for that fact that it’s one of the most beloved stories in classic Who. When I ask classic fans what the Doctor means to them, this is usually the story they point to.

Because of that, I was really excited to watch this one.

The Doctor and his companions have departed future Earth after defeating the Sontarans, but they don’t arrive as expected on Nerva. Instead, they are on misty planet drowning in a battle that echoes World War II. In short order, the Time Lords arrive and reveal that they redirected the Doctor to Skaro in the distant past. The Doctor is upset about the manipulation, but acquiesces when the Time Lords tell him about his mission: To interfere in the development of the Daleks. They provide him a Time Ring to return to the TARDIS after his mission is complete.

The travelers soon find a warrior, who is soon killed in an artillery barrage, and note the distinct anachronisms in everything around them. They continue on, stumble into a minefield, and eventually discover a large domed city surrounded by trenches. The Doctor theorizes that the anachronisms are due to the battle raging on so long that technology has regressed as resources were depleted. The trench is attacked by chemical gas rockets, and the Doctor and Harry are spirited into a bunker and transported into the city.

The attackers are the Thals, and the Doctor’s captors are the Kaleds, a very Nazi-like organization. The Doctor surprises the Kaled commander, who keeps referring to the Doctor as a “muto”, and takes him captive. The Doctor and Harry return to the wasteland, but Sarah Jane has already recovered and moved on, and the duo are surprised by Security Commander Nyder, who raises the alert in the base. The pair of travelers are soon captured and interrogated by Nyder, who refers to Davros, the greatest scientist of the Kaled people. He also explains that the mutos are Kaleds who have been genetically scarred by the war, and that they are exiled to keep the Kaled race pure.

They are laying this Nazi allegory on thick.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is on the surface being pursued by the mutos as night falls. She comes across a weapons test led by Davos, a scarred man with a third eye in a robotic chair. The test is of a Dalek, which isn’t quite autonomous yet. After the test, Davros departs, and Sarah Jane is nearly spotted by the Kaleds before being abducted by the Mutos. The Mutos fight over whether or not to kill Sarah Jane since she is a “norm.” They are interrupted by a Thal patrol who take Sarah Jane and the Muto Sevrin for physical labor.

Back in the bunker, the Doctor and Harry are delivered to the holding area where they are scanned. The scanner detects the time ring, which is physically removed under the Doctor’s protest. As scientific examiner Ronson examines the Doctor and Harry, he discovers that they are aliens to Skaro. That discussion is interrupted by Davros, who demonstrates the Dalek – known at this point as a Mark III Travel Machine – for the assembled scientists. When shifted to automatic mode, it detects the Doctor and Harry and almost exterminates them until Ronson interrupts the experiment. A furious Davros gives Ronson the night to investigate the travelers, but it must be done from their holding cells.

The Doctor discovers from his interrogation that the Kaled scientists were formed as an elite group for research, but over the years they became more powerful and influential. Ronson notes that the Doctor used the term “Dalek” well before Davros called the machine by the same name, and the Doctor reveals that he is from the future. Ronson discloses his fear that the Kaleds are becoming more evil and immoral, including experiments by Davros to create the final form the Kaled mutation. The travel machine, the Dalek, is the vehicle to house and propel that being. Ronson believes that if the government knew about any of this, they would shut down the entire program, and engineers an escape into the cave system surrounding the bunker.

The Thals are using the slave labor to pack a rocket with distronic explosives, but they are not provided any shielding or protection, so the workers will die from exposure to the material. After the first shift of rocket loading, Sarah Jane attempts to spark a rebellion and plots escape through the top of the dome. She distracts the guard and the prisoners flee. The guard sounds the alarm as the prisoners climb, and the Thals open fire, killing several of the prisoners. Sarah Jane loses her grip and falls, landing on a lower platform unharmed. Sevrin helps her recover and pushes her onward, and they nearly escape before the Thals catch up to them.

The Doctor and Harry reach the city tell the Kaled Council about the Daleks and the future. The Council won’t shut down the bunker entirely, but decide to inspect and audit the programs. As the Council adjourns, the Doctor and Harry learn about Sarah Jane’s whereabouts and set out after her. Davros discovers that the Councilors are meeting in secret and that the travelers were in attendance. He agrees to the investigation, but in secret begins his plan for complete extermination of the Kaled people by arming the Daleks with the mutations.

The Doctor and Harry infiltrate the Thal dome to discover Davros petitioning the Thal Council for peace, claiming that the Kaled Council is not interested in ending the conflict. Davros provides the Thals the means to weaken the Kaled dome and exterminate the Kaled people with their rocket. The Doctor and Harry jump two guards and steal their suits – “Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy.” – before rescuing Sarah Jane and the captives. Harry leads them out of the city as the Doctor works to sabotage the rocket. One of the guards triggers an anti-intrusion system and captures the Doctor.

The Doctor wakes up in the Thal dome’s control room with the bombardment of the Kaled dome underway. They launch the rocket as the Kaled scientists watch in dismay, and the Kaled dome is destroyed. Davros calls in the Daleks and orders them to exterminate Ronson before declaring their rise as the ultimate supreme race. The Doctor is freed in the Thal celebration, and the Thals see Davros as a hero of the people. After Davros orders changes to the Daleks that will remove their consciences completely, the Daleks attack the Thal dome and exterminate with prejudice. The Doctor and a Thal woman, Bettan, escape the dome and she decides to raise a rebellion.

A temporal inconsistency: These Daleks don’t require the static tracks like they did in the Hartnell era, which falls after this war’s conclusion. Did something change in the timeline to remove this detail?

The Doctor makes his way to the Kaled bunker to retrieve the time ring, and is attacked by Mutos and saved by Sarah Jane and Harry. Scientists begin to foment a rebellion against the Dalek program, but are interrupted by Nyder and Davros just as the travelers break into the city and are subsequently captured. Davros discusses time travel with the Doctor and demands that he disclose exactly how he defeats the Daleks in the future. When the Doctor refuses, Davros uses the threat of harm to the companions as leverage. I see where the Daleks get their stunning personalities and penchant for temper tantrums. The Doctor yields to Davros and provides a litany of Dalek defeats which are recorded for the future. As they take a break, Davros trusts the tape to Nyder as he sits down to confer with the Doctor. The Doctor tries to persuade Davros to abandon the Dalek project, but Davros is not swayed. Convinced that Davros is insane, the Doctor seizes control of the leader’s chair and threatens to disable it and kill him if he doesn’t shut down the program. He nearly succeeds before Nyder stops him.

Kavell, one of the leading scientists, breaks Sarah Jane and Harry out of the confinement cells. Nyder escapes, and the Doctor warns that Davros knows what Kavell is planning. The travelers set out to retrieve both the time ring and the recording of the future. Meanwhile, the Daleks have destroyed all resistance in the Thal city, and all that remains is Bettan’s rebellion. Inside the bunker, rebellion also breaks out, but Davros surprisingly orders Nyder’s forces to surrender. Davros tells Nyder that this is a ruse, as is the conference to listen to the rebellion’s demands. At that conference, the rebellion demands that the Dalek project be terminated. Davros asks for time to consider the demands, and agrees to the demands on the condition that the military and scientific elite present the demands to a vote before him.

The Doctor discovers plastic explosives and detonators, and plots commit genocide by destroying the Dalek embryos in the incubation room. He enters the chamber to place the charges, and emerges with Dalek tentacles wrapped around his throat. After being freed, he holds the conductors in his hands but cannot detonate the explosives. Does he have the right? Killing them would secure freedom and peace for the future, but the action would make him no better than the Daleks themselves. He pulls the plug on the plan when he hears that Davros is willing to discuss the demands.

That epic moment in the franchise was worth the price of admission alone. Tom Baker sells it with passion.

The travelers attend the discussion, secretly returning the Doctor’s possessions to him. Davros shows his opponents a button that will destroy the entire bunker — seriously, a big red button to destroy everything? — but no one will press it, which Davros sees as an argument in his favor because it shows weakness. Meanwhile, he has been maneuvering the Daleks to assault the rebels, and Bettan’s forces set charges to seal the bunker permanently.

Nyder sneaks out during the vote, and the travelers follow him. In the ensuing altercation, the Doctor drops the time ring, but convinces Nyder to take them to the tape recording. As the travelers destroy the tape, Nyder escapes and locks them in the office. They bring up the camera feed of the vote as the Daleks roll in and kill everyone. The travelers are soon rescued by Sevrin and start running from the Daleks, and the Doctor sends the companions with Sevrin and the rebels while he returns to destroy the incubator chamber. At this point, he’s at his last straw, and it seems that he’s willing to become the villain to save countless lives. His efforts are thwarted by a Dalek who fires on him, but the Dalek rolls over the conductors, completes the circuit, and destroys the chamber and itself.

The Daleks start the assembly line without Davros’s approval, and kill Nyder as he attempts to shut it down. They rebel against Davros, apparently exterminating him as he attempts to destroy the bunker with that big red button. The travelers escape as Bettan’s forces seal the bunker and use the time ring to return to the TARDIS.

This was a really good story, and it earns the admiration that fans bestow on it. On the downside, it is a bit padded and long, but that easily washed out by the quality and performances.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen