Timestamp #47: The Krotons

Doctor Who: The Krotons
(4 episodes, s06e19-e22, 1968-1969)

Timestamp 047 The Krotons

 

The run of entertaining serials had to come to an end sometime, I suppose.

This one opens with a young man and woman being selected to be the companions of the Krotons. When they emerge on the other side of the door they entered in the Learning Hall, the man is vaporized and the woman is saved by the Doctor and his companions. When they visit the city to tell the people what they witnessed, they get greeted by spears and fisticuffs, which excites Jamie to no end because he’s spent most of his time on the TARDIS waiting to punch someone.

The planet was the site of a war with the Krotons that nearly destroyed the Gonds and ruined the landscape. The Krotons have been hiding in their organic ship (the Dynatrope) and haven’t been seen since, but demand the top students as companions. As it turns out, they’ve been using the mental energy of these excelling academics to recharge their systems, which the Doctor and Zoe discover after being accidentally selected by the Krotons.

Thing is, the Dynatrope is already dying without the energy from the Doctor and Zoe. Downside: The resulting explosion will devastate the city and surrounding area. Jamie escapes the Dynatrope and goes to work helping to create sulfuric acid. Zoe pours a bottle into the tank that the Krotons are using for survival, and Jamie pours a large quantity over the Dynatrope. The Gonds are free and the Krotons are dead.

I really like the subtle competition between Zoe and the Doctor. I don’t like the HADS (Hostile Action Detection System) as much, although it could explain the supposed indestructibility of the craft.

Once the story’s mystery unwrapped, it’s a basic run-and-gun base under siege with the twist of a primitive uprising. It had promise, but this one was just boring.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: Nintendo Quest (2015)

 

Nintendo Quest
(NR, 92 minutes, 2015)

“The game doesn’t start until you say YES.” –Rambo (1987)

 

The challenge: One man must purchase all 678 games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System in thirty days, but cannot use the internet to buy anything.

That man is Jay Bartlett, a Nintendo fan from the very beginning, and his challenge took him on an epic road trip through Canada and the United States. During his quest, documented by friend and filmmaker Rob McCallum, he learned some valuable lessons about himself and his passions, and discovered how every cartridge has a story.

Nintendo Quest chronicles Jay’s journey over ninety minutes, including a deep look at the enduring legacy of the NES and Nintendo’s fandom overall. Where most documentaries become encumbered by the weight of their subject matter, this film establishes a good variety of segments to break up what could be a monotonous sequence of visiting used game stores and watching the miles tick by. The music and visuals are very reminiscent of the NES atmosphere of the ’80s and ’90s, including a ticker in the corner of the screen that tracks Jay’s progress and budget like experience points and a health point bar.

There is some good drama in watching Jay deliberate over buying the games, especially since it tears him from his comfort zone and requires him to negotiate deals and confront his introverted personality. Jay still has to work his day job during the quest, and the reality show aspect for this part of the presentation makes you want to cheer for him. It also made my childhood, which spent thousands of hours mashing buttons on channel 3, grin ear to ear with the memories.

As Jay’s story progresses, McCallum takes the opportunity to interview fellow gamers and celebrities and experts in the field about what makes the original Nintendo system so special. Along with the common themes of memories and family, there is particular emphasis on Nintendo’s ethic during the height of the 8-bit system’s unparalleled popularity: The company and their developers set aside their inhibitions and embraced the zany and the imaginative. In today’s era, video games provide rich settings and deep stories, but the Nintendo plunked down a hero in a strange bare bones environment and let the player tell their own story with the press of every button, and perhaps that’s why the NES continues to thrive decades after it stopped being produced.

Nintendo Quest strikes a variety of tones from high and low to happy and sad, and as Jay meets his heroes and pushes to the very end of the road to succeed, you can tell that he has gained so much more than a collection from the journey. Just like the object from the surprising resolution of the quest, he now has a story to go with his passion. It’s not so much about checking the boxes and putting the plastic on the shelf, but really about loving what you love regardless of what everyone else thinks, and going where that passion takes you.

It’s a book we could all afford to take a few notes from ourselves.

Nintendo Quest is available via Vimeo on demand.

 

My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 5.6/10

 

Originally published to RevolutionSF on October 19, 2015

Timestamp #46: The Invasion

Doctor Who: The Invasion
(8 episodes, s06e11-e18, 1968)

Timestamp 046 The Invasion

 

This one starts with the ending I expected from the last serial, and it kicks things off with a bang.

After the jump to the Land of Fiction and back, the TARDIS is malfunctioning. It materializes near the moon, and has to immediately dodge an incoming missile. The visual stabilizer circuit has gone bad and causes the TARDIS to turn invisible. The travelers leave to go find Professor Travers in what they think is 20th century London. They hitch a ride and the driver tells them about International Electromatics (IE), an electronics company that has bought out the locals and caused some of them to vanish without a trace. The travelers escape the IE compound, but the pursuing security guards kill the driver outside of their jurisdiction.

Professor Travers has moved to America, but his flat is occupied by Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel (played by Sally Faulkner, no relation). Watkins works for IE, but no one can reach him, so the Doctor and Jamie go there to investigate. They are subdued and meet Tobias Vaughn, non-official Bond villain and managing director of IE, who eventually gets the TARDIS circuitry to go with the strange alien computer in his closet. That computer recognizes the duo from Planet 14 (where?) and determines that they must be eliminated.

Jamie and the Doctor leave Vaughn and are promptly followed by suits in cars. It turns out that they are from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), and work for recently promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who we last saw in The Web of Fear. It’s been four years since the Yetis, and the Brigadier and UNIT are investigating IE. I absolutely loved how the Doctor and Jamie try to escape, realize that they can’t, so accept their situation and start playing cards in the street.

Zoe determines that if there is trouble, the Doctor and Jamie are in it (I love this!), and she pulls a Captain Kirk on the reception computer by causing it to try solving an unsolvable problem. It goes boom, and she and Isobel are captured shortly thereafter. The Doctor and Jamie return to IE to search for the ladies, and are also captured.

After this, it’s a very Bond-flavored cat and mouse game with moles in the government and staying one step ahead of Vaughn’s plans for world domination. How is he trying to take over the world? Cybermen.

I have a long list of things I love from this serial. The Doctor’s pockets are like miniature TARDISes and are a source of unending amusement as he pulls random items from their depths. It goes well with his overall character, especially with his comic running from the shooting Cyberman and jumping at each explosion. I love seeing a modern (for the serial) era feminist working with a strong female character from the future, especially when it compares with Jamie’s period-specific sexism that seems to be integral to his character. The dynamic is fantastic, and the chemistry really makes it work.

The Bond feel is a reflection of the era and the country, and it extends beyond Vaughn to the technology and the setting overall. I like the James Bond movies, so this was fun to watch. I also like the pop culture nods (“Kilroy was here” and “Teddy Bears’ Picnic“) and the in-universe “Bad Wolf” nod in the animated reconstruction.

The march of the Cybermen from St. Paul’s Cathedral was also very similar to the march in Dark Water and Death and Heaven. It’s good to see the inspiration for those scenes. It’s also good to see the links between those modern episodes and the classic ones: The Cybermen corpses in this serial are used by UNIT to develop defenses for future invasions, and that iteration of UNIT is being led by the Brigadier’s daughter. Speaking of the Brigadier, he’s an awesome character. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in coming series.

Finally, since this is the last appearance of the Cybermen for a while, I should mention the music. I haven’t really keyed in on a lot of the background music, but I really enjoyed the theme for the Cybermen. It’s so simple, but menacing at the same time. It’s also very mechanical without taking the use of creaking and beeping sound effects. I’m going to miss it.

The only two drawbacks to this serial are writing related: First, why does UNIT continue to attack the Cybermen with pistols and rifles when only grenades and rockets are working? Second, the final rocket strikes and wrap-up scenes are kind of anti-climatic compared to the rest of the episode.

Overall, this one get a 4.5, and I round up.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Krotons

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #45: The Mind Robber

Doctor Who: The Mind Robber
(5 episodes, s06e06-e10, 1968)

Timestamp 045 The Mind Robber

Picking up right where the last one ended, the fluid links go nuts again. I wonder if they’re still under warranty. As a result, the TARDIS goes nowhere. I mean, actually to a place the Doctor calls “nowhere,” but we find out later is the Land of Fiction.

Each companion sees their home on the scanner and are lured into the setting where characters from fiction are real. The TARDIS is unavailable because it appears to have exploded. The travelers are separated and start looking for each other, solving riddles along the way to find a way out of this odd little story that was actually quite entertaining once it got past the first couple of episodes.

The use of a different actor for Jamie two episodes was a nice cover for Frazer Hines, who took time off after contracting chicken pox. I also liked the stop motion for Medusa’s head, as well as the twist with the Karkus, who cannot be proven fictional (and therefore nullified) by the Doctor since he has never heard of the character. Zoe kicks some butt and saves the Doctor.

The Doctor looks like he recognizes the name “The Master”, and even seems amused by the charge of treason – “Treason, again, really?” – It’s not the same character, but, knowing the future, the coincidence is neat. This Master is an Earth-based author who was abducted and forced to rule this land. He’s looking for a replacement, but the Doctor refuses, so the Master decides to simply take over the Earth if he does not comply. The Doctor uses the power of the fictional characters against the Master to destroy the Master Brain (which controls this little pocket universe), save the companions, and escape the Land of Fiction.

Overall, the first couple of episodes were pretty bad, but the serial resolves nicely in a battle of imagination and wits. I was disappointed by the ending, or really, lack thereof. The TARDIS reappears and… credits.

At eighteen minutes, one would think that with the shortest episode ever in the history of this show, they could have spared an additional couple of minutes to write a proper ending and set up the next serial. Alas, no.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Invasion

Timestamp #44: The Dominators

Doctor Who: The Dominators
(5 episodes, s06e01-e05, 1968)

Timestamp 044 The Dominators

 

With a setting like the Island of Death, how could this not be a Doctor Who tale?

The focus of this simplistic serial are the odd couple called the Dominators. Navigator Rago, who I shall refer to as Felix, wants to drill the planet for an energy source to fuel their fleet and would prefer to use the indigenous people as slave labor. Probationer Toba, who I refer to as Oscar, just wants to blow everything up. A century or so before the Doctor’s arrival on the island, the Dulcian society experimented with atomic weaponry. After seeing how badly it mucked up the works and made perfectly good real estate uninhabitable, they swore of warfare and became a planet of pacifists. By coincidence, a spaceship with two General Zod lookalikes and a handful of spiky-headed Quarks arrived and hoovered up all of the radiation on the island. If it weren’t for the slavery and death aspect, these guys could make killing in picking up after the galaxy. I mean, look at all of the plots so far from the Daleks and the Cybermen alone.

Meanwhile, a pleasure craft is headed to the Island of Death for an unsanctioned extreme vacation. I got distracted by their wardrobe, which is some kind of bath towel/drapery toga motif, and I’m guessing that they did too because they certainly weren’t watching the road. Crash, boom, bang, and now they’re stuck on the island. Moments later, they encounter the Quarks and… oh, well… the vacationers are dead. Mostly.

Putting the final pieces in play, the Doctor and the travelers arrive looking for a holiday. The Island of Death apparently used to be quite the vacation spot. They find a war museum and then encounter the a scientific team that explain the brief flirtation with nuclear weapons, and after splitting Zoe from Jamie and the Doctor, the latter two are captured by Oscar and Felix.

These Dominators are arrogant in their power. The Dulcians end up being well-built as slave workers (two hearts, even) but Jamie is not. The arrogance is in full display as they fail to examine the Doctor and assume that his physiology is identical to weak and frail human’s. Their mistake.

The other big highlight for me in the examination phase was the Doctor’s fantastic way of thinking: Is the point Dominators’ intelligence test to be more clever or stupid? Which is more highly prized in slave labor? They choose to play stupid and be less of a threat to their captors.

I’m still not sure what to make of Zoe. She seems less of a damsel-in-distress and a bit more intellectual than recent companions. She’s also a good community organizer and able to convince at least one of the Dulcans to fight. The Doctor certainly loves to tease her about her intellect.

The Dulcians are intellectually lazy. Ballan, the leader of the expedition, displayed poor reasoning skills in the analysis of the radiation, and acts like a typical person illiterate in the sciences by not asking questions with respect to his observations. If more people continued to ask questions instead of just accepting what their eyes tell them, the world would be a much better place.

The story comes to a climax as Jamie spearheads the resistance against the Dominators, and saves the day with his idea to tunnel through and catch the seed device to prevent the destruction of the planet. The Doctor has a somewhat bloodthirsty but innovative way to get the explosive seed device off the planet, and Oscar and Felix become background radiation.

Final notes: First, the Quarks were a bit difficult to understand with their over-processed voices. Second, the sonic screwdriver acting as a cutting torch continues to display that the new-Who series is not unique in using it as a convenient-to-the-plot multifunction tool. At least it wasn’t a time vector generator.

I liked this one, but not as the drama is was intended to be. Instead, it comes across as quite humorous with the odd couple aliens and the pacifist message that is so heavy-handed, it squashes the serial. All in all, a mediocre start to the sixth series.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Mind Robber