Timestamp #35: The Faceless Ones

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones
(4 episodes, s04e31-e36, 1967)

Timestamp 035 The Faceless Ones

 

First, following on from the last review: I love the new theme music as well. It actually sounds a lot better to me than the first arrangement.

This time, we get the Doctor versus the body-snatchers at the airport, and this would be fun to revisit in the post-9/11 era.

The TARDIS materializes right on the airport runway, Polly gets turned into a pod-person after witnessing a murder, and the Doctor and Jamie get the red tape run around. Ah, red tape… Doctor Leonard McCoy was right: The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.

I really liked this one, with all of the intrigue and the politics as the travelers tried to solve the mystery. I loved our heroes hiding in the photo booth, especially with the Doctor cheesing it up for the camera. The Doctor maniacally pretending to have a bomb as a distraction reminded me of the modern Doctors. Jamie was especially fun to watch as he was so lost in the modern era, and yet ends up really propelling this story forward.

Of course, Ben and Polly are both captured and don’t appear in much of this serial as a means to facilitate their departure from the show in Doctor Who tradition. At least they get to say goodbye. More on that in a second.

On companions, I’m glad Samantha Briggs didn’t join the group as the production team wanted. I found her kind of irritating even though she saved everyone with her mirror. Jean Rock, on the other hand, would have been fantastic as a companion, and I’m glad to see after a little research, that we get to see Wanda Ventham (mother to Benedict Cumberbatch!) a few more times in Doctor Who.

I found the sexism in the discussion as Samantha decides to investigate the hangar to be excusable: Samantha says she “needs a man” to keep her safe, and Jamie agrees. Samantha doesn’t strike me as very empowered, and Jamie’s temporal basis makes him more prone to strength belonging to men over women. I don’t agree with the sexism, but I recognize that it fits with the time and characters.

There was some really nice humor from the Doctor after he was nearly frozen to death in the same room they’re searching: “Jamie, we’re getting warmer, which is a change from the last time I was here.” I also didn’t mind the common Doctor Who trope of shrinking people for long-term storage as I was engaged in the story.

Polly and Ben leave the TARDIS on the very day they started to travel. The Doctor’s envy is obvious as he can’t go home yet. Ben and Polly have been good companions, even with Polly’s unevenness of character. They were a breath of fresh air, and will be missed. This, of course, leave Jamie as the single companion on the TARDIS with the Doctor, and I don’t mind that arrangement as Jamie as shown to be very capable.

Overall, this was an enjoyable time.

 

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #34: The Macra Terror

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror
(4 episodes, s04e27-e30, 1967)

Timestamp 034 The Macra Terror

First things first: I love the new opening with Patrick Troughton’s face in the vortex.

At first, I thought this was a Brave New World tale. It’s an R.E.M. dream of Shiny Happy People having fun, with tightly policed contentment and chemical treatments for those who don’t conform. Chew your soma, kids, because beatings will continue until morale improves.

This society is essentially a cult, with the blind faithful controlled by the Macra to mine the life-providing gas, and the Doctor is here to bring freedom to the enslaved humans. Of course, the travelers are introduced to the brainwashing so they can become part of the cult: Jamie does not succumb, Ben falls for it, Polly has to be convinced, and the Doctor continues to be his whimsical self. I simply adore his trips through the machines that first pressed his clothes, and then unintentionally messed them up again. This Doctor isn’t falling for it.

This Doctor also shows his scientific and mathematical brilliance in deriving the secret equation through examination of the evidence.

All of that said, I have negatives: The minor one is the music, which was really annoying. The major one was the resolution of  the story.

At its core, this story is really more about preserving freedom and abolishing slavery than it is about escape from possibility of death. Sure, freedom is essentially a moral positive and slavery is essentially a moral negative, but the result was the death of the captors instead of any kind of negotiation or compromise. The Doctor didn’t even try negotiation before stepping onto the path of killing the Macra for their crimes against the colony. Granted, such negotiations would have likely failed as they would with pretty much any dedicated cult leader, but I would have liked to see him try at the very least.

It just doesn’t seem like something the Doctor would do, and that knocked a decent story down to a semi-decent one at best.

 

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Player Choice” by Jeff Deck

Player Choice
(277 pages, 2015)

Jeff Deck, co-author of The Great Typo Hunt, recently reached out to me to promote his new novel Player Choice. He provided me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

It’s 2040. With neural implants, people can play games in an immersive virtual reality known as the aether space. Game designer Glen Cullather has a plan for the most ambitious aether game ever imagined: a fantasy epic that gives players the freedom to do anything.

But Glen’s own life is fragmenting into alternate realities. He can’t tell whether his aether game idea has succeeded, or failed miserably. And Freya Janoske is either his biggest rival, or his most intimate partner. Glen must figure out what’s real and what’s, well, fantasy—for his own survival.

Player Choice is a fast-paced gaming sci-fi adventure that dares to ask: What happens when unreality becomes our reality?

The protagonist, Glen Cullather, is a successful game programmer. He lives in a world not too far from our current reality where technology dominates everyday life, from interactive semi-sentient digital assistants to fully-capable AIs who can run entire companies. Gaming is immersive in shades of today’s Oculus Rift and Star Trek’s holodeck technology, and Glen is on his way to pitch a new experience called Novamundas to the company’s board of directors when his entire world goes sideways.

The story is quickly paced and the mystery around the reality of Glen’s situation is exciting. It kept me engaged and drawn back to the pages, as did the cognitive exercise of what else this universe could explore. The characters were diverse and colorful, and the social message was clear as the story drew to a close, warning readers of the potential pitfalls from over-reliance on tech and limited decision making.

Novamundas is built on the philosophy of providing choice to the players by trying to make them think beyond the hack-and-slash that dominates the gaming scene, even to the point of making violent problem-solving in the virtual world a chore rather than a quick means to drive the game’s story.

This is in contrast to the game’s creator, who is limited by his own tortured past: Glen’s own agency is limited by mental trauma that he hasn’t worked through, which leaves him as man who treats women and himself poorly. For that reason, I had a hard time identifying with Glen. It was necessary for the hero to be a flawed character, but he was not a hero that I could cheer for.

Similarly, Freya Janoske was hard to identify with because of how she was filtered through Glen’s experiences. Since this story is told entirely from Glen’s point of view, every interaction is laced with his prejudices and biases. Again, it’s a great way to tell Glen’s story, but it also becomes difficult to develop a sympathetic relationship for supporting characters when every interaction before the final three chapters is completely subjective.

The second half of the story is dominated by the aether world of the game as Glen’s goals start to coalesce. The game itself is quite interesting, and the dynamics of emphasizing creativity over violence are intriguing, but the story is bogged down in the nuts and bolts of skills, attributes, and gaming mechanics. It made sense to me as a casual gamer, but the details and gamer lexicon might potentially derail the story’s flow for anyone not well-versed in the gaming world, which adds an accessibility hurdle to the moral message.

The pacing is more evident in the second part, especially once the characters realize the urgency of their situation. The actual core conflict and the goals of the antagonists – yes, bad guys with actual goals and moderately complex motivations! – was very fun to think about. Unfortunately, I think the pace hindered Glen’s character growth as he is forced to react quickly to each development and never gets a chance to really reflect on what he’s learned about himself or resolve his inner demons. The story actually ends at the beginnings of his healing process, which left me feeling like I’d been cheated out his complete arc.

What this story did do for me is make me think. From a morals, messages, and meanings standpoint, it leaves several avenues to explore in how a society exists in a world dominated by technology. While it’s far from being neatly wrapped with a big red bow, that aspect of science fiction exploring the human condition through allegory was refreshing.

Overall, I give Player Choice three and a half stars out of five. For Goodreads and Amazon, which don’t deal in halves, I’ll bump it to four.

Timestamp #33: The Moonbase

Doctor Who: The Moonbase
(4 episodes, s04e23-e26, 1967)

Timestamp 033 The Moonbase

 

The Cybermen are back, and a bit better designed than their last appearance not so long ago.

The story is about a weather control station on the moon that is being attacked by a mysterious virus. The virus, craftily hidden in their sugar supply, disables the staff of the moonbase so the Cybermen can essentially assimilate the most compatible of the infected and kill everyone on Earth with storms induced by the station’s control system. It’s pretty straightforward.

It turns out that the Doctor is an actual medical doctor who studied under Joseph Lister, and Jamie is safe because he didn’t use the sugar and has a head injury that disqualifies him from being transformed. Ben and Polly acted rather intelligently in fighting the Cybermen with a chemical attack to disable their control systems.

I noted some 1960s sexism: The making of coffee wasn’t an example, but “stay here, Polly, this is men’s work” certainly was. Luckily, Polly is a strong and independent woman… at least in most of her serials with the Doctor.

The Cybermen are a bit hard to understand in this serial. They have new voices, which are heavy treated with audio effects. Also, how do they know the Doctor’s new face? Between them and the Daleks, I’m beginning to think that the Doctor has an aura that every major antagonist recognizes over the face or physical features.

Meanwhile, the internal dialogue with the Doctor was distracting. It wasn’t terrible, but certainly not something I’m familiar with in the franchise.

The depressurization of the dome seemed a bit unrealistic, since the air rushes out, but no one is pulled with it and the coffee is still standing.

Finally, the jumping on the moon with bionic sound effects. Ugh.

Not a bad serial by any stretch, but not a top performer either.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Macra Terror