Go at Throttle Up: Thirty Years

 

Go at Throttle Up: Thirty Years

Challenger_flight_51-l_crew

 

It’s been thirty years.

On January 28, 1986, I was a happy little five-year old watching the Space Shuttle Challenger launch into orbit. It was a special occasion because the first teacher was going into space, and it was inspiring. I don’t remember a whole lot from that day except cheering when the shuttle launched, being shocked when it disintegrated, and seeing my mother cry. That in itself was heartbreaking.

It was a confusing day, but it was that confusion that sparked my desire to study science because I wanted answers. That quest introduced me to Richard Feynman and made me realize that Morton-Thiokol and their rumbling rocket motor tests were essentially in my backyard.

That day also gave me dreams of being an astronaut. I never made it anywhere near being an astronaut, but I did get that physics degree.

Revisiting that day still hurts. To this day, I cannot hear the words “go at throttle up” without getting a lump in my throat.

 

Footage of the incident from CNN:

 

President Reagan’s address to the nation:

 

Godspeed, heroes of the Challenger. You’re still deeply missed.

 

STS-51-L

Timestamp #58: Colony in Space

Doctor Who: Colony in Space
(6 episodes, s08e15-e20, 1971)

Timestamp 058 Colony in Space

 

I really don’t like the Time Lords.

The Master is still mucking about in space and time, and the Time Lords reinstate the Doctor’s mobility to stop the next evil scheme. The Master has stolen the plans for a Doomsday Weapon, and only the Doctor can stop him from acquiring and using the device.

The TARDIS spontaneously dematerializes with the Doctor and Jo inside and travels to the planet Uxarieus, where a colony of humans has been established, but the colonists don’t trust the government back on Earth. In this future, the Earth government is a repressive bureaucracy that thrives on red tape. Meanwhile, the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) is trying to jump the colony’s claim and mine the planet for duralinium, which is needed on Earth. Since the colonists get in the way, the IMC is trying to scare them off. They call for an adjudicator to settle the issue, and it so happens that they send the Master.

And that’s the weak frame for the rest of the plot.

The story follows that there once was a powerful race of beings on the planet, but they developed the Doomsday Weapon – a device with the power to destroy a star – and then squirreled it away because nobody really needs that much power. The weapon’s presence led to the decline of the society, and they regressed to being primitives that hide in caves. When the Guardian, who leads the remnants of the ancient civilization, hears the tale of the Master and the Doctor, he destroys the weapon and his people to save the universe.

On the upside to this story, Jo visits the TARDIS, gets her “bigger on the inside” moment, and rapidly learns what it means to be a Doctor’s companion. From the story perspective, it was good to see that the writers didn’t rest on the trope of everyone in the party of evil completely believing in the thing that is evil: Caldwell was a great foil for the captain’s plans.

I also thought that the model work was great in this story, and I loved the IMC ship exterior.

Now, the list of negatives. First, the Time Lords, who are just playing games with the Doctor at this point. They reinstate his mobility to serve their needs because… what, they can’t simply pull the Master back by themselves? They can’t meddle in affairs of time and space, but they can send the Doctor, who they exiled as punishment for meddling in time and space?

No wonder he’s bitter about the exile. I would be too if they kept being hypocritical about everything.

The effects with the TARDIS were rather shoddy, from the *poof* materialization/dematerialization (it used to fade in and out) to the remnants of the Troughton-era control room (the roundel wallpaper was okay for the low-res black and white days, but with higher production values, the set deserves better).

This Doctor is a lot more physical, which is fine, but he’s a lot more prone to assaulting people. He uses his Venusian karate/aikido again here multiple times, and while the self-defense argument is on the table, he’s far more aggressive than his predecessors (and the successors with which I’m familiar). It feels like they’re trying to bring in the Bond fans, which almost matches up with the debut of Roger Moore in the famous role. I see a lot of similarities in Roger Moore’s Bond and Jon Pertwee’s Doctor.

Overall, a weak framing story, but a decent showdown with the Doctor, the Master, and a not-quite-dead-yet race of superior intelligence.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Dæmons

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Review: Star Wars Smuggler’s Bounty Resistance Box – January 2016

 

Star Wars: Smuggler’s Bounty
Resistance Box – January 2016

Jan 2016 Box

 

The Force is still strong with this subscription box.

After the success of the First Order box from Funko’s Star Wars subscription box service, it was a no-brainer for me to upgrade from the month-to-month to a full year subscription. This time around, the service was still capitalizing on the global success of The Force Awakens, but they shifted gears from the bad guys to the Resistance.

The box’s form factor is the same as the First Order box, including durability and the treasure chest layout. The UPS driver who serves my route left this one out in the intermittent Georgia winter rain, and even though the box was damp, the contents were unharmed.

 

Jan 2016 Top Tray

 

Similar to the last box, the top tray for this go-round contained a patch and a pin. The plastic envelopes were both opened on one side due to what looks like a production issue, and as a result the pin was bouncing around in the box. Since the box is well compartmentalized and the pin is quite durable, nothing was damaged.

 

Jan 2016 Patch

 

The patch is embroidered with BB-8, the adorable little hero droid from the new movie and the focus of the marketing for this box. When my wife saw it, she beamed, so I know that it’s a winner in our house. The pin is of Poe Dameron, the hot shot star pilot of the Resistance, although at first it kind of looked like Jessika Pava, the female X-Wing pilot from the film. One can dream, right?

 

Jan 2016 Pin

 

Under the platform that housed the pin and patch was a navy blue Funko t-shirt. This time, it was a movie-themed shirt focused on the heroes of the Resistance. In my opinion, it is much more attractive than the simple figure shirts from the last box, although I would have liked to see Rey more front and center. Regardless, it is still a nice shirt design. Based on what I’ve been able to find so far, it seems that every box is the same this time, so there are no shirt variations or chase figures.

 

Jan 2016 shirt

 

The big ticket items this time were one exclusive Funko Pop figure and a Funko Home ceramic mug. The figure is of Chewbacca with his bowcaster, and while I have never really been impressed with the figures of the Wookiee before, this one really caught my attention. It’s actually furry, and that somehow makes it adorable.

 

Jan 2016 Chewie

 

The ceramic mug is modeled after the protocol droid C-3PO, right down to the detail of his red arm as the mug’s handle. It seems like a sturdy, wide 12-ounce mug, but it is hand wash only and not microwave safe. Those two criteria are killers in my house, so I’m not quite sure what I plan to do with this item.

 

Jan 2016 Mug

 

In the end, remember that the promise made by Funko is that this $25 box will contain $50 worth of merchandise without any filler. By my estimation, Funko has once again delivered on their promises of value and content. The figure is about $10 in stores, and the t-shirt is in the $15-25 ballpark depending on the vendor. The pin and patch are around the $5 price point each, so the real wild card this time is the mug. Most of the comparable mugs online go for about $10, which places this box in the $45-55 range. All of that without any mini-comics or postcards.

The next box, which is due to arrive in mid-March, is centered on the cantina from A New Hope, and the spotlighted character is Greedo. The order window closes in early March. If you’re on the fence, I recommend the $25 “pirate” plan, but if you really want these kind of items with a Star Wars flair, I fully endorse the annual “smuggler” plan.

Timestamp #57: The Claws of Axos

Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos
(4 episodes, s08e11-e14, 1971)

Timestamp 057 The Claws of Axos

 

It’s Doctor Who in color… again! The Claws of Axos is a short serial that is much more straightforward than The Mind of Evil, which hurts it a little in my opinion.

UNIT is undergoing an inspection from Horatio Chinn, a particularly detestable politician who is throwing a tantrum because he knows nothing about the Doctor, when they detect a spacecraft filled with spaghetti monsters. I’m kidding, of course, since the spacecraft is unique to the franchise and not a bad looking model. UNIT is also hosting Bill Filer, an American agent from an unknown agency, who is investigating the Master. Chinn, ever the diplomat, secures emergency powers and tries to shoot down the spacecraft, but it evades the effort. Strangely enough, Chinn could have been the hero of the tale had he succeeded.

The ship lands and spears a homeless drifter with a Jar Jar Binks-like tongue. UNIT arrives and, with the help of scientists from the nearby power facility, investigate the ship. Filer, after being ejected from the UNIT site by Chinn, arrives on his own, is captured, and discovers the Master is also in captivity.

The Doctor gets scanned by the living ship, and the aliens determine that he is a Time Lord. The Axons appear as humanoids in gold face paint and muted leopard-print leotards, and they claim that they ran out of fuel and need time to recharge and replenish. In exchange for temporary asylum on Earth, they offer a miracle substance called Axonite that can be anything you want it to be. Strangely, they never used it for fuel.

Jo explores the ship on her own after disobeying orders to stay put, and she hears Filer calling for help. She finds a spaghetti monster and screams, drawing the UNIT team to her, but the Axons dismiss her experiences as hallucinations due to the proximity to the power core. Filer and the Master take the opportunity to escape, but are recaptured, and Filer is sent to be cloned.

Chinn calls the Prime Minister for special powers to accept the Axonite, places the UNIT team under military arrest for interfering with his authori-TAH, and sets to distributing the Axonite around the globe. Unfortunately, as the Doctor discovers, the Axonite is the means that the Axons (or really, just Axos, a single consciousness with multiple avatars) plans to use to consume the planet’s energy.

The Master negotiates with Axos for release, and gets his laser gun but not his TARDIS. He steals the Doctor’s TARDIS, has it delivered to the power plant, and works on fixing it so he can escape. After discovering that Axos wants to time travel to expand its feeding base and that they can use the reactor’s power to do so, the Doctor works with the Master to repair the TARDIS under the premise that he’s abandoning Earth as a lost cause. Once operational, the Doctor materializes the TARDIS inside Axos, tricks them into linking their drives with his, and locks them in a permanent time loop. The Master escapes into his TARDIS when he discovers the plan, and all of Axos is materialized into the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor boosts the TARDIS out of it, leaving Axos stranded in the loop, and the TARDIS returns to Earth with an annoyed Doctor on board. Even with the ability to dematerialize now restored, the Time Lords have ensured that it will always return to Earth.

I’m really starting to dislike the Time Lords. Sure, I get the justice for breaking their laws, including making sure that the Doctor doesn’t leave his exile by blocking his knowledge, changing the dematerialization codes, and disabling the circuitry in the TARDIS, but then they show up only long enough to warn the Doctor that the Master is coming and that he’s a bad dude. We know full well that they can stop renegade Time Lords with little effort, but they selectively choose not to interfere in this case.

The Master is definitely worse than the War Chief, yet the latter was brought to trial on Gallifrey for his meddling. In a similar vein, The Monk‘s activities have been outright ignored by the Time Lords.

In other short notes, Paul Grist does a decent job with an American accent, and there was a lot of fun with pyrotechnics in this serial. The Doctor seems to be stepping away from his previous reserve about his past by disclosing his knowledge of time travel to the power plant scientists.

This was an okay story with some great steps forward toward restoring the travel aspects of the show.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Colony in Space

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

Timestamp #56: The Mind of Evil

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil
(6 episodes, s08e05-e10, 1971)

Timestamp 056 The Mind of Evil

 

The Doctor goes to prison, and the show goes back to black and white. Remind me to never lend the BBC my tape collection.

A new device, the Keller Machine, can apparently extract evil thoughts from the mind and rehabilitate prisoners. The Doctor, while attending a demonstration of the device, thinks himself above the primitive 1970s Earth, and feels vindicated after the demonstration yields one comatose prisoner named Barnham, and later, one dead medical student. Meanwhile, UNIT is running security for a world peace conference, and Captain Chin Lee of the Chinese delegation deceives UNIT to help the Master steal a nerve gas missile.

The machine is intelligent, and it feeds off of negative emotions like fear and aggression. It kills people by making them envision their greatest fears so it can feed, and the Master figures out that the machine will overpower both him and the prison, so he teams up with the Doctor to shut it down.  Starved for evil to feed on, the machine learns how to teleport directly to food sources, but it cannot function around Barnham since he completely devoid of negative emotion.

The Doctor offers to trade the missile for the Master’s dematerialization circuit, and knowing that he can’t allow the Master to roam free in time and space, he tries to trap the Master with Barnham and the mind parasite. The Master gets his circuit back in the ensuing chaos, escapes, and runs down Barnham. The Doctor sets the missile to self-destruct, taking the parasite with it.

This is twice now that the Master’s plans have threatened to overcome him: He goes big when he builds a plan to take over the world. The Doctor’s fear of his enemies is fascinating since he hardly shows it when he’s up against them. The Master’s greatest fear, the Doctor looming over him and laughing in victory, betrays his insecurity.

It’s also interesting how the Doctor is so cautious about exposing himself as a Time Lord, but he never misses an opportunity to denigrate the technology of the era in which he’s trapped. No wonder people dislike him so much.

This was a straightforward story with a couple of twists, and a good continuation of this season’s overarching theme of the Doctor and his nemesis.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #55: Terror of the Autons

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons
(4 episodes, s08e01-e04, 1971)

Timestamp 055 Terror of the Autons

 

The Nestene and Autons are back. The normal title sequences are back. Liz Shaw is… not.

There are so many profanities, obscenities, expletives, and invectives I could throw out here; I guess Liz Shaw can now be the vice president of the Unceremoniously Canned Companions Club with Dodo as the president and founder. She was only around for four serials, but she deserved a lot better (especially as a strong female character) than to be written off in the off-season.

It’s infuriating!

The Doctor’s back as well, still in his fancy ruffles but with a toned down scarlet jacket. He’s still working on TARDIS and meets Jo Grant, the new assistant. Jo’s no Liz, but she’s very independent and has potential, and she did save the Doctor’s bacon from the mirror-universe-goatee-and-slicked-back-hair E-V-I-L that is the Master. I mean, if you’re gonna save the Doctor’s life, you get extra points for doing it against that guy.

The Master arrives in a TARDIS with a fully functional chameleon circuit, enthralls nearly everyone he meets like the vampires of legend, and steals a Nestene egg to invite the invasion force on down. The Doctor and his team investigate the strange signals from the radio telescope, and the Doctor gets a heads up from a random Time Lord. The Third Doctor’s run has been playing fast and loose with time travel vehicles, and this story is no exception: Time Lords can apparently travel without a TARDIS.

The Master takes the disguise of Colonel Masters and embeds himself in a local plastics factory. After killing the production manager with an inflatable plastic chair, he offs the factory’s retired owner with a demonic plastic doll activated by heat. The only way he could be more evil is by killing a puppy.

The Doctor follows the clues to the circus, but is captured by the Master’s hypnotized followers. Jo rescues him after smuggling away in Bessie, and the Doctor steals the dematerialization circuit from the Master’s TARDIS. One mob scene and thrilling Auton battle later, the escape with the Brigadier and Captain Yates. The dematerialization circuit is too new for the Doctor’s TARDIS, but the good news is that the Master is also stranded on Earth.

The Autons, disguised as cartoonish carnival figures, distribute plastic daffodils to the public as the disguised Master replaces the Doctor’s phone cable in his lab. The Doctor and the Brigadier find the plastic factory office to be abandoned with the exception of an Auton in the safe while Jo and Sergeant Benton dispatch the demon doll, and the Doctor gets wrapped up in a phone call. Okay, that phone cord bit was a good idea on paper, but quite silly in execution.

The daffodils attack Jo and try to asphyxiate her, and the Master arrives to confront the Doctor. He kidnaps the pair and places them in the bus that UNIT is about to bomb, but the Doctor communicates with Morse code through the brake lights on the bus and escapes. The Master starts to bring the Nestene invaders down to the planet, but suddenly understands that they will kill him as well. The Doctor and the Master work together to reverse the polarity of the signal and send the Nestene into deep space, and then the Master sacrifices his last follower to escape.

Let’s start with the negatives (aside from Liz’s canning), of which there are only two: There was a lot of blue-screening in this serial, which was probably reasonable for the era but got really distracting; The camera angles let us see a lot of the TARDIS interior, there’s no control room. Aside from the companion kerfuffle, my complaints are petty.

On the positives, this is a tight story told in four episodes that introduces a continuing conflict with a powerful enemy. I was riveted waiting to see how it resolved, and I want more.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.