Nettie and the vet

As I’ve mentioned before, one of our cats, Nettie, is a part-Persian, part-Siamese with long fur.  It is recommended that long-haired cats have their fur combed or brushed at least once a week, because otherwise it will get tangled in knots.  Unfortunately, Nettie very seldom will allow me or my girlfriend near her with a brush or comb.  If we do try to brush Nettie’s fur, she starts to bite, claw, and kick at us.  So we long ago gave up on brushing Nettie regularly.

As a result, after several months, Nettie’s fur will become terribly tangled up.  This means we have to take her to the veterinarian for grooming.  In practice, that means she needs to receive a “lion cut,” which means the groomer shaves off all of her hair except for around her head, her paws, and the end of her tail.

We usually wait until the summer for Nettie to get groomed, because in the hot weather her long fur makes her more likely to get overheated.  Plus that’s when she sheds a lot.  We didn’t have the opportunity to get her groomed until this week, though, which is a lot later than we usually prefer.

In order for a vet to do a grooming, the animals must be up to date on their shots.  So a couple of weeks ago I took Nettie to the vet for an exam and vaccinations.  As soon as I took out the cat carrier, both Nettie and our other cat Squeaky bolted.  They know that as soon as they see the carrier, it means a trip to the vet is on hand for one of them.  Well, humans hate having to go to the doctor, so it’s no surprise that cats do, as well.  The last couple of times, I took out the carrier the night before, so that Nettie would get used to seeing it out.  That makes it somewhat easier to then get her into it the next morning, although both times she certainly struggled.

Anyway, this Monday I brought Nettie back to the vet to be groomed.  She was given a bath and a shave.  When she came back home, she was very shy and quiet, something which she normally isn’t.  I think the combination of the trip to the vet and having all her fur taken off left her feeling very vulnerable.  It’s now a couple of days later, though, and I can see she’s slowly getting back to her old self, giving me attitude and slapping me on the ankles when I pass by her.

In any case, here’s what Nettie looks like after her grooming:

Nettie after her "lion cut" grooming, looking rather annoyed that I'm taking a photo of her in this state

Nettie after her “lion cut” grooming, looking rather annoyed that I’m taking a photo of her in this state

Now if only I could manage to take Squeaky to the vet.  She really needs a check-up and, yep, a bath.  Squeaky is a sweet cat, but she smells.  She won’t let us pick her up and give her a wash here at home.  As bad as it is getting Nettie into the carrier, Squeaky is a dozen times worse.  In the past, every time she needed to go to the vet, my girlfriend and I spent almost an hour chasing her around the apartment before we finally managed to grab her up and cram her into the carrier.  It is not a pleasant experience!

By the way, the vet we take the cats to for their check-ups and grooming is Antelyes Animal Hospital in Middle Village, Queens.  They are very good and do excellent work.  The doctors and staff are friendly & helpful, and treat their animal patients extremely well.  I think that all vets are expensive, but Antelyes’ prices appear to be on the more reasonable side than some other establishments.  So if you happen to live in the area, I definitely recommend them.

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Comic book reviews: Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. # 1-8

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Italian artist Alberto Ponticelli, who drew the Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths miniseries last year.  As it turns out, Ponticelli is also the artist on one of DC Comics’ New 52 titles.  But I did not find this out until recently.  With that many new series coming out, it fell through the cracks that he was drawing Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.  I happened to come across a few of the recent issues on the shelves at the comic shop and saw his name on them.  Fortunately, a trade paperback, War of the Monsters, had been published, collecting the first seven issues.  I purchased that, as well as a copy of issue #8.

Agent Frankenstein is, of course, the immortal creature created by Mary Shelley in the classic gothic horror novel Frankenstein.  For the past century, Agent Frankenstein has been working with S.H.A.D.E., the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, a government agency that combines science and the supernatural to develop operatives & technologies to combat unearthly menaces.  As the first issue opens, Frankenstein has been on vacation, and returning to work finds that a number of dramatic changes have taken place at S.H.A.D.E.  This is a very clever way for writer Jeff Lemire to introduce the series’ cast, concepts, and settings through the protagonist’s eyes, by having him discover these new developments along with the reader.

The idea for S.H.A.D.E.’s new headquarters is an amazing conceit by Lemire.  The Ant Farm is an entire high-tech city miniaturized to fit within a three inch flying metal globe utilizing the technology of scientist Ray Palmer (who in the old DC continuity was the size-changing Atom), accessible only by teleportation.

Frankenstein makes for a compelling protagonist.  He is an interesting combination of introspective philosopher and violent brawler, a study in contrasts.  One minute he’ll be quoting John Milton’s poetry, the next he’ll be hacking through a horde of demons with a honking big sword.

I liked the new Creature Commandos team designed by Lemire & Ponticelli as Frankenstein’s field team.  They are a truly bizarre lot: a gung-ho werewolf soldier, a vampiric smart-ass, an enigmatic Egyptian mummy, and a fish-woman, the last of whom was the scientist who created the Commandos for S.H.A.D.E.  And there’s also Lady Frankenstein, the gun-toting, four-armed green femme fatale who is the estranged wife of Agent Frankenstein.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. trade paperback

If I had to describe Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. in one sentence, it might be “H.P. Lovecraft meets Arnold Schwarzenegger.”  A succession of disturbing, unnatural menaces is fought off by Agent Frankenstein & the Commandos with a combination of brains and brawn, with plenty of action & violence resulting.

At the same time, Lemire remembers one of the central conceits of Mary Shelley’s original novel.  Frankenstein and his fellow S.H.A.D.E. operatives may appear hideous, but beneath their grotesque exteriors they often are tormented beings with tragic pasts.  In the end, it is often the “normal” human beings who are the real monsters.  This is seen throughout the first eight issues.  Lemire drives home this point quite effectively on a number of occasions.

Ponticelli’s artwork is amazing, gloriously spectacular with its over-the-top monster action sequences.  I really loved the mass-carnage battle sequences on the “monster planet” in issue #4, featuring literally a cast of thousands.  Yet at the same Ponticelli’s work also contains very quiet moments when needed.  Issues #s 6 and 8, in particular, feature some magnificent storytelling that really communicates the emotional, tragic moments.

One of the things about comic book artwork that is often neglected is the contribution of the inker.  I believe this is because for the casual reader, it can be difficult to discern where the penciler’s work ends and the inker’s begins.  Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. provides an excellent opportunity to witness the importance of the inker to the creative process.  On the first six issues, Ponticelli inks his own pencils.  For the next two issues, Walden Wong provides the inks, and you can really see the difference.  In both instances, the penciling is clearly Ponticelli’s, but Wong’s inking gives the art a more polished, less rough finish.  I would not say I prefer one over the other, because both look really good.  I only point it out because it’s a perfect example if you wish to demonstrate just how much of an impact the inker has on the finished artwork.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #8 page 15

The cover artwork for the first seven issues is provided by the magnificently talented J.G. Jones.  He does such amazing work.  I believe he works in ink wash.  It’s always a pleasure to see his art gracing the covers of a series, and his seven cover illustrations for Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. are all winners.

(On a side note, Jones is also a writer.  In addition to drawing covers, he penned an exciting story for DC’s Doc Savage series entitled “Raise the Khan.”  Well, that is to say, the first five chapters were great, but I cannot make any judgment about part six, because DC abruptly canceled the book, leaving the final installment unpublished.  I really hope that one of these days it finally makes it into print.  Does DC still have the publishing rights to Doc Savage?  If so, they should release a “Raise the Khan” trade paperback containing the missing chapter.)

With issue #8, Ponticelli & Wong take over as cover artists.  It’s a really striking piece and, as much as I missed Jones, they are such a great art team, so I cannot complain.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the contributions of colorist Jose Villarrubia.  He has to be one of the best colorists currently working in the comic book industry.  His coloring on Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is a perfect match for Ponticelli’s illustrations.  It was especially effective on the emotionally charged issue #8, really contributing to the somber, tragic atmosphere of the story.

It was definitely a pleasant surprise to discover Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.  It is without a doubt one of the strongest titles to come out of the New 52 reboot.  I’m really looking forward to picking up the remaining issues that are already out, and then seeing what comes next.  Lemire, Ponticelli, and their collaborators have created such an amazing blending of superheroes and horror with strong characterization.  I highly recommend picking this up.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop

By popular demand (well, one person asked for it, so that’s good enough for me) I am going to talk about another old time ice cream shop located in Queens: Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills.  I wanted to do a write-up about this place before the end of the summer, anyway.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop is located at 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills NY 11375.  I’m not sure exactly how long they’ve been in business, but according to their Facebook page, Eddie’s is “a century old.”  Believe me, it shows… and I mean that in a good way!  Eddie’s is a really old fashioned looking ice cream parlor, with classic-looking wood-paneled décor, a marble-topped counter with stools up front, and a decades-old cash register.  It’s incredibly charming and intimate.  The ice cream is delicious and, if the hype is to be believed, home-made.  It certainly tastes better than most of the store and chain brands out there.  In addition to their sundaes and milkshakes, Eddie’s has a large glass counter full of candies for sale; nothing fancy, but it’s a charming addition to the ice cream.

Eddie’s is located across the street from Cinemart Cinemas, a really cool second-run movie theater, and the Theater Café, a film-themed casual dining restaurant.  Often my girlfriend and I will catch the bus to Forest Hills, go to the Café for dinner, catch a movie, and then afterwards cross the street to get dessert at Eddie’s.  We’re usually not the only ones who have that idea, as Eddie’s often gets extremely packed when the movies let out.  This is especially true in the summer.  But even in the middle of the winter, when it’s freezing cold outside, movie-goers will flock to Eddie’s for ice cream afterwards.  That’s how good the place is.

This is the kind of place you would have expected a young Peter Parker to hang out in during his teenage years (remember, Spider-Man is from Forest Hills).  Or, as my girlfriend once suggested, Eddie’s is where Archie would take Betty and Veronica for an ice cream sundae while futilely attempting to decide for the umpteenth time which of those two beauties he wanted to pledge his heart to.  In other words, Eddie’s is like something out of an old comic book, or maybe a time warp.  It really has to be seen, because it’s sometimes difficult to believe that places this cool still exist.  If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend stopping in for a scoop or two.

Below are some photos I took at Eddie’s Sweet Shop last summer.  I haven’t been there in a few months, but hopefully I’ll have another opportunity before the end of the summer.

eddies sweet shop 01

eddies sweet shop 02

eddies sweet shop 03

eddies sweet shop 04

Objecting to Objectivism: A Rant about Ayn Rand

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan for his running mate has brought to the forefront the philosophies of Russian-born author Ayn Rand (1905-1982).  In her novels and essays, Rand laid out a philosophy she referred to as Objectivism.  Although Ryan is currently attempting to distance himself from Rand specifically due to her atheism and pro-abortion views, in the past he has very publicly embraced her Objectivist ideologies in regards to economics and capitalism.

I originally became intrigued with Ayn Rand’s philosophies about a decade ago, due to the adherence of comic book creator Steve Ditko to her principles.  A brilliant artist, in the early 1960s Ditko was the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange at Marvel Comics.  After a falling out with Marvel, he left to work for various other companies, and eventually ventured into self-publishing.   His work took on a more and more Objectivist tinge over the years, culminating in his creation of such uncompromising vigilante crime-fighters as The Question and Mr. A.

Mr. A, by Steve Ditko

Mr. A, by Steve Ditko

I was very curious to learn who this Ayn Rand was, and what her Objectivist philosophies were.  I knew that Rand had written two novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  However, each of these was several hundred pages long, and I admit that I did not think I had the patience or stamina to make my way through either book.  So instead I read Rand’s fifty page essay, “For the New Intellectual,” in which she sets down the tenets of Objectivism.

And, I have to say, I was quite awestruck by the sheer pomposity and arrogance with which Rand lays forth her ideas within “For the New Intellectual.”  At times it appears to be less of a foundation for an ideological movement than it does a smug, self-indulgent rant.

Rand offers up a bluntly simplistic summation of the entire history and philosophical outlook of humanity, basically regarding the two driving ideologies since the dawn of time as “Attila” and “the Witch Doctor,” i.e. those who impose an ideological system of belief by force & conquest, and those who impose it through superstition.

Rand seems to regard practically every movement throughout history as having been an aspect of either Attila or the Witch Doctor, or the pair working in complicity with one another.  The first significant worldwide break with either of these forces, in Rand’s view, is capitalism.

Rand lifts up capitalists upon a pedestal, looking upon them as intellectual giants who have helped raise humanity from the mire of pre-industrial times, and who have been rewarded for their noble efforts with nothing more than scorn and derision.

She regards the notion that the entrepreneurs of capitalism have a duty to society as an absurd idea.  Rand regards any form of altruism to be hideously unjust.  On several occasions, she likens society’s expectations of altruism to a primitive culture performing human sacrifices to the gods to bring benefit upon the tribe.  Except that, in her view, modern altruism causes even more suffering and misery.  Why should the capitalist be expected to give up the rewards of his endeavors to society, when he achieved those rewards solely through his superior intellect and driving abilities?

For the New Intellectual, by Ayn Rand

For the New Intellectual, by Ayn Rand

Rand’s worldview seems to have been shaped extensively by her early years.  Coming from a middle class Russian family, she witnessed her father losing everything to the Bolsheviks during the rise of the Soviet Union in 1917.  As a result, Rand appears to have developed a pathological hatred of socialism in any way, shape, or form.

As far as she is concerned, a mixed economy of capitalism and socialism will always fail, because any movement towards socialism, no matter how slight, will inevitably result in an economic system being totally subsumed by it.  She regards the natural outcome of socialism to be extreme suffering and misery, as witnessed in such “socialist societies” as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Capitalism, in Rand’s mind, can only work in pure, undiluted form, with absolutely no interference by the government.  As she regards it, “all the evils popularly ascribed to capitalism were caused, necessitated and made possible only by government controls imposed on the economy.”

What Rand completely fails to recognize is that human nature will inevitably corrupt attempts at pure capitalism, just as it does experiments in pure socialism.  Rand seems to think the intellectual giants of capitalism are at a mental pinnacle wherein they will always follow the path of reason, rather than that of irrationality and emotion.  She does not acknowledge that capitalists are just as susceptible to the lures of greed and power as any others.  Her whole underlying premise seems to be that capitalism is intrinsically good, and therefore anyone who practices pure capitalism will do good.

Rand, in denouncing altruism, writes of “man’s right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.”  But in doing so, she turns a blind eye to the capitalists of the Industrial Revolution who did sacrifice others to themselves in their exploitation of the working class.  Rand sees a vast difference between serfdom and a wage-paying job.  But just because one is given a salary does not automatically mean that one is not still being exploited.  There are different degrees of exploitation.

Speaking of degrees, there is an appalling lack of the appreciation of the complexity of morals in Rand’s philosophy.  She regards ethics and morality as a completely black & white affair, deriding any attempts to recognize other viewpoints and achieve consensus.  She doesn’t seem to appreciate the multicultural nature of the United States.  Compromise and understanding are crucial to holding this nation together.

Of course, Rand seems pretty well dismissive of any non-US society, and her statements occasionally contain rather racist undertones.  She refers to America as “the greatest, freest country on Earth” and despairs that “our wealth should be given away to the savages of Asia and Africa, with apologies for the fact that we have produced it while they haven’t.”  She also writes “Americans have known how to erect a superlative material achievement in the midst of an untouched wilderness, against the resistance of savage tribes.”

I think that Rand’s ideology is especially dangerous in this day and age.  America cannot survive on its own.  The world is now more connected than ever.  There are great inequities in wealth not just throughout the world, but within the United States itself, and these have inevitably resulted in anger and violence.  Some of this has exacerbated by the de-regulation of the financial industry and the increased return to a laissez-faire approach to capitalism during the Bush/Cheney years.

If we hope to bring peace and security to our nation, we need to stop being greedy, and become more altruistic.  A self-centered view like Rand’s will only result in placing us in opposition to and isolation from the rest of the globe.  It will also result in even further growing economic & social inequalities within the United States itself, and a widening of the already-gaping divide between the ultra-wealth and the remaining 99% of the population.  And that is something that will inevitably destroy us.

Sunday at Coney Island

I really enjoyed the concert at Coney Island a few weeks back with Squeeze and the Romantics, so I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to the Joan Jett show last Thursday night (I had work the next day and I also wasn’t feeling well).  My girlfriend did go to that one, and she said it was a fantastic concert.  Too bad I missed out on it.

So my girlfriend Michele suggested that, since I missed the show, we should go to Coney Island this past Sunday.  Even though there weren’t any special events, we’d have the entire day to enjoy the place.  Despite the fact that it’s a pretty long train ride from where we live, I do like going to Coney Island.  It’s an interesting area with a lot of sights, a beautiful beach, and a great deal of history to it.  Last August we went for a day, and had a lot of fun, so I was certainly up for another leisurely day trip there.

Since we decided to take our time, we actually got there mid-afternoon.  The area was jam packed with people.  Nathan’s was overflowing with customers, the amusement park rides were busy, and there were a lot of people strolling around on the boardwalk.

One of the first things we did was to ride the Wonder Wheel.  I have to be honest: I am scared of heights.  Until a couple of years ago I had never taken a ride on a Ferris wheel before.  I finally got on one at a local fair in Queens, and that was after much prodding from Michele.  Well, the Wonder Wheel was much bigger (and higher!) than that one, so I wasn’t eager to try it before now.  Last year at Coney Island, I wouldn’t set foot on it.  This time, I agreed to go on it, but I made Michele promise to hold my hand.  Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp.  It was fun, though, and the view was fantastic.  I took a few awesome pictures while I was on the Wonder Wheel.  Having said that, I will not be going on the Cyclone roller coaster any time soon!

A view of Coney Island from the Wonder Wheel

A view of Coney Island from the Wonder Wheel

We walked around on the boardwalk for a while, doing some people watching.  It was pretty hot out, so afterwards we headed over to a place called Cha Cha’s Bar & Grill.  They used to be on the boardwalk, but they had to relocate.  Fortunately, they found a new location close by on Surf Avenue, across the street from Nathan’s.  We had a nice light dinner there.

Afterwards, we went back to the boardwalk and onto the beach.  We had a good time just relaxing on the sand, dipping our feet in the water.  There were some really aggressive seagulls chasing after food.  I get the impression that they must be well fed, taking scraps from beachgoers.  We had a huge laugh when we spotted this one very plump seagull running along the shoreline with a Tupperware container full of food clasped firmly in its beak!

Finally, the sun started to go down.  After walking along the boardwalk for a bit more, we made our way back to the train and headed home.  For once there weren’t any problems with trains being re-routed or unexpected track work, so we made it home at a reasonable hour.  That said, there was one guy on the F train who was talking very loudly to himself.  And of course he had to sit just a few feet away from us.  It always works out that way, doesn’t it?

Anyway, we had a good day.  Here is a link to the gallery on Flickr where I posted the photos from yesterday, as well as the ones I took last year:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bh123/sets/72157627510082432/

As I mentioned before, there is a lot of history to Coney Island.  There have been some amazing buildings in area in the past that no longer exist, due to fires and demolition.  I realize that time marches on, and progress needs to be made.  But it would be nice if some of the past was able to be preserved.  How cool would it be if the Elephantine Colossus, a hotel actually shaped like an elephant, had survived to the present day?  Fortunately, at least some of Coney Island’s historic structures are still relatively intact and have been designated as landmarks.

Elephantine Colossus

Elephantine Colossus

If you have the opportunity to visit Coney Island, you definitely should.  It is well worth seeing the area now, before it changes beyond recognition.  I read in the newspaper today that some local politicians want to build a casino at Coney Island.  I think that’s a bad idea, and apparently so do a lot of other people.  That would just change the area too much, and bring with it a host of problems.  There has to be other ways to reinvigorate the area while still keeping the character of the neighborhood intact.  But, as I said, change happens.  So take advantage of the present to see Coney Island while it still retains some of its rich history.

Doctor Who reviews: The Android Invasion

Last month my girlfriend got me the DVD of the Doctor Who story “The Android Invasion” as a birthday present.  This story actually has something of significance for me, as part two of it was the very first Doctor Who episode I ever saw.  Way back around 1981 or so, Doctor Who was briefly shown on one of the television networks here in the States on Saturday mornings.  I only ever caught that one episode, and I didn’t remember much about it, but the cliffhanger ending always stuck in my mind.  About two or three years later, when I discovered Doctor Who on my local PBS station, I immediately became a fan and, well, the rest is history.

Admittedly “The Android Invasion” is not an especially great Doctor Who story.  One of the main problems is that for the first two episodes writer Terry Nation struggles mightily to build up this sinister, creepy mystery as to what is taking place in the village of Devesham and the nearby Space Defense Station.  Unfortunately, most of the suspense is completely undone by the title of the story!  Why are the inhabitants of the village, including old friends of the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, acting so damn peculiar?  Well, it’s because they are android duplicates, obviously!

This serial had at least two working titles, namely “The Kraals” and “The Enemy Within.”  While neither of these is nearly as dramatic as “The Android Invasion,” at least either of them would have maintained one of the main mysteries of the story’s first half, instead of blowing it wide open in the opening credits.

That said, the first time I saw this serial in full, it came as a complete & total surprise when at the end of the second episode the Doctor deduced that not only was everyone in the village a robot doppelganger, but in fact they were not even on the planet Earth.  Instead, this was a carefully constructed replica built by the rhino-like Kraals on their homeworld Oseidon as a training ground for their duplicate agents, a mock run for their conquest of the actual Earth.

A much derided aspect of “The Android Invasion” revolves around the Kraals’ human agent, astronaut Guy Crayford, who spends the entire story wearing an eye-patch.  Crayford believes that the Kraals rescued him from certain death on a space mission gone horribly wrong, and that is why he is assisting their invasion plans.  He thinks he has to wear the eye-patch because when the Kraals saved his life, they were unable to restore his eye.  That is until the end of episode four, when the Doctor convinces him to take it off, and Crayford realizes he has a fully function eye underneath.

Even as an eight year old viewer, my first reaction was to think “What, in the two years he was a prisoner of the Kraals, Crayford never once took off that eye-patch to take a shower?!?”  If one wants to be charitable, on two separate occasions the Doctor refers to Crayford as having been “brainwashed” by the Kraals, so perhaps he was programmed not to remove the patch.  But if that was the case, why give it to him to begin with, other than to provide a dramatic, out of left field twist when actor Milton Johns yanks it off in the story’s final moments?

There are several other glaringly obvious holes in the plotting.  I could list them all, but we’d be here for a while.  That said, I think most of them only become obvious upon repeated viewings.  And, as producer Philip Hinchcliffe commented, when he was working on Doctor Who, it was never expected that these shows would be re-watched over and over years later.

I also felt that “The Android Invasion” was an unfortunate exit story for the characters of Benton and Harry Sullivan from UNIT.  This would be the last time that actors John Levine and Ian Marter would appear on Doctor Who, and it’s a shame that neither of their characters is given a substantive role.  Hinchcliffe admits in hindsight that if he had known that this was to turn out to be the last appearances of Benton and Harry, he might have given the pair more of a presence in the story.  As it is, it’s unfortunate that these two well-regarded characters have what amounts to little more than extended cameos.  It’s also painfully obvious that Patrick Newell as Colonel Blimp, um, Faraday is a last-minute replacement for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.  Although considering what a tiny role in the proceedings the Brigadier would have had if Nicholas Courtney had been available, it’s probably best that he did not show up, as he was given a much more dignified exit in the previous UNIT story, “Terror of the Zygons.”

Doctor Who: The Android Invasion DVD

Well, having gone on at length as to the faults of “The Android Invasion,” I will readily admit I actually quite like this story.  A major reason for this is the team of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as the Doctor and Sarah.  Baker and Sladen had this absolutely incredible chemistry and rapport, and they work extremely well off of each other in “The Android Invasion.”  Some of the serial’s best scenes are the ones between the Doctor and Sarah.  They really were one of the greatest Doctor/companion teams in the show’s history, and that is readily on display in this story.

“The Android Invasion” has a really cracking script.  I’m not sure what should be credited to Terry Nation, what goes to script editor Robert Holmes (who was known for performing extensive rewrites to make stories workable), and what was improvised by Baker and Sladen.  Whatever the case, the dialogue is intelligent and witty.  I especially enjoyed the exchange between the Doctor and the Kraals’ chief scientist Styggron in episode three.  Baker does his usual routine of being threatened with death by acting silly and nonchalant.  Left tied to a ticking time bomb by Styggron and his android henchmen who then shuffle off, the Doctor exuberantly calls after the exiting villains…

“Don’t go! Stay! Just for a few minutes, then we can all go together!”

The silly banter between the Doctor and Sarah later in the episode in the Kraals’ duplication laboratory also cracks me up…

The Doctor: I feel disorientated.

Sarah: This is the Disorientation Center.

The Doctor: That makes sense.

Martin Johns does a good job portraying gullible astronaut Guy Crayford.  It would have been easy to play the role as an sneering villain.  Instead, Johns imbues Crayford with both this boyish enthusiasm and a very pitiable quality.  It’s obvious to everyone but Crayford himself that he is a mere pawn of the Kraals, and when the character belatedly realizes how badly he’s been manipulated, you genuinely feel sorry for him.

The direction by Barry Letts is top-notch.  There are some marvelously effective, atmospheric shots.  When a list of the top Doctor Who directors is drawn up, Letts’ name is not typically included.  Understandably, most fans of the show focus on his considerable role as producer in shaping almost the entirety of Jon Pertwee’s five year run alongside script editor Terrance Dicks.  It’s a shame.  I don’t know if I would rank Letts alongside such amazing directors as Douglas Camfield, David Maloney or Graeme Harper.  Nevertheless, Letts does some solid work on “The Android Invasion.”  I think his directing on this serial would be better regarded if he’d had a stronger story, but considering what he was handed, Letts makes the most of it.

The audio commentary on “The Android Invasion” was entertaining and informative.  The participants are Milton Johns (Guy Crayford), Martin Friend (Styggron), producer Philip Hinchcliffe and production assistant Marion McDougal.  I’ve observed in the past that for the older Doctor Who serials, it’s worthwhile to have a moderator to guide the discussion and help jog everyone’s understandably hazy decades-old memories.  Filling that role once again is Toby Hadoke, who does a superb job at leading the proceedings.

The extra feature “Life After Who” looks at Philip Hinchcliffe’s post-Doctor Who career.  Hinchcliffe went on to produce a wide variety of material, ranging from gritty crime series to period dramas.  Unfortunately, I’m unfamiliar with most of this material.  I’d have to check to see if any of it is even available on DVD here in the States.  That said, some of it looked very intriguing, and given the opportunity I’d like to be able to watch some of these projects.  Particularly of interest is Nancy Astor, the story of the controversial first female member of British Parliament.

So, despite its flaws, “The Android Invasion” is an entertaining serial, and the DVD contains some interesting extras.  As I said before, while it will never be considered one of the top Doctor Who stories ever made, it is a personal favorite of mine, in that, for all its silliness and gaping lapses of logic, it is a great deal of fun.  Actually, having written this review, I now feel like sitting down and watching it again.  That’s the hallmark of an entertaining story.

Homophobic chicken

The recent controversy surrounding fast food chain Chick-fil-A has raised some interesting First Amendment issues.  Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy is a devout Southern Baptist.  The company has espoused many positions that fall within a strict, traditional interpretation of the Bible.  These include very strong opposition to homosexuality and same sex marriages.  This stance has made headlines within the last couple of months.  In regards to the issue, Cathy announced “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

In response, a number of politicians have come out in opposition to Chick-fil-A.  Among them was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who declared “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.”  Also weighing in was Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stated “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.”  Both Menino and Emanuel strongly urged Chick-fil-A to back out of their plans to open restaurants in their cities, and even contemplated utilizing zoning regulations to block the company.

This controversy has also arisen here in New York City.  Council speaker Christine Quinn, a strong advocate of gay rights, started an online petition to ban Chick-fil-A in the Five Boroughs.  On the other hand, Mayor Mike Bloomberg took an opposing stance, saying that “You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit.”

Looking at all this, my first reaction was, admittedly, to jump on the bandwagon with those calling for a ban on Chick-fil-A.  I completely disagree with their opposition to same sex marriage, which they have backed up by donating millions of dollars to ultra-conservative political groups.  I think that they are a bunch of reactionary bigots, and I would be happy to see them shut down.

But, on second thought, giving it further consideration, I realized that would be completely against the spirit of free speech in this country, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  I seem to recall an expression along the lines that the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect the speech you agree with, but rather the speech you disagree with.  And Chic-fil-A’s stance on gay marriage would definitely be a case of that.  As disgusting as I find Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A’s positions on homosexuality, they have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to express those views without fear of government censorship.  I feel it would be morally wrong, as well as very un-Constitutional, for the government to block Chick-fil-A from setting up shop due to their views.

(Yeah, believe it or not, I’m actually in agreeing with that know-it-all windbag Bloomberg here.  Between this and his push for stronger gun control, that now makes two positions I actually see eye-to-eye with the Mayor on.  Well, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

Besides, if Chick-fil-A was prevented from opening new stores by mayors or city councils that support gay rights, it would set a horrible precedent.  If that was allowed then, conversely, local politicians who were opposed to homosexuality could then ban businesses that practiced pro-gay policies.

So, yes, I say Chick-fil-A should be allowed to open in New York, Boston, and Chicago.  They must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.  But, at the same time, I strongly encourage everyone who disagrees with Chick-fil-A to exercise their right to free speech.  Speak out against Dan Cathy’s bigotry, and boycott the hell out of that homophobic fast food chain.  That’s definitely what I intend to do.