Holiday daze

So, another year comes to an end.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I would be happy to see 2012 pass by.  The past twelve months have had so many personal highs and lows, a total rollercoaster.  I’m looking forward to 2013.  Hopefully it’ll be a better year, and I’ll be a better person, as well.

In any case, the last week has been pretty good.  Michele and I invited her parents over for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Michele is one hell of a cook.  This year she made a turkey, stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, and several vegetables.  It was a really good meal.  The cats went totally crazy, of course!  Squeaky and Nettie love their turkey.  Squeaky even ended up jumping on the kitchen counter in an attempt to get at the turkey before Michele had even had the opportunity to cook it yet!  Anyway, there were plenty of leftovers, so the cats had a chance to gobble down plenty of turkey.  We also gave a few pieces to the turtle.  Yes, Meeshee Gamera refuses to eat vegetables, but she loves poultry.  We gave some food to Michele’s parents to take home.  From what Michele tells me, when they got home, Little Ginger the kitten went nuts when they fed her some turkey.

Michele's delicious turkey

Michele’s delicious turkey

Finally, a few days later, there was only a little bit left.  After I threw out the carcass, I made the mistake of leaving the remaining turkey on a plate by the stove, planning to give it to the turtle the next day.  Well, when I woke up the next morning, it was all gone, except for the wish bone.  Michele and I were looking at each other, puzzled.  “Did you eat it?”  “No, I didn’t, did you eat it?”  Finally it dawned on us that in the middle of the night one of the cats must have jumped up and taken it!

Between the cold weather and the turkey rendering us semi-comatose, we ended up watching a lot of television.  When Michele’s parents came over for dinner, I turned on Animal Planet for the Too Cute marathon.  That show features oodles and oodles of kittens and puppies.  I think I overdosed on adorable.  Then Michele put the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland aka March of the Wooden Soldiers on the DVD player.

Christmas morning was pretty much dominated by our yearly tradition of watching the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS.  Somehow, we never end up viewing the movie from beginning to end.  Instead, we catch 15 minutes here, a half hour there, and by the end of the day, when you add up all the bits & pieces, we’ve seen the entire movie at least once.  That really is a hysterical film.  As with so many other great cult classics, it apparently did poorly in the theaters, only to find new life on home video and television.

Other viewing material that day was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode of Santa Claus, a truly bizarre 1959 Mexican movie which features the war between St. Nick and the Devil.  Yes, really!  It is a strange, strange film.  To quote Mike & the Bots, “This is good old fashioned nightmare fuel!”  Then it was time for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special.  It was pretty good, albeit uneven.  I may review “The Snowmen” on this blog in the near future.

Another show on Animal Planet that I’ve gotten into recently is Pit Bulls & Parolees.  I really like that one.  I think pit bulls are misunderstood.  If you treat them kindly and train them properly, they really can end up being very sweet, loyal dogs.  Another reason I like the show is that it gives people who have been to prison a second chance.  Maybe I’m too sappy, but I honestly believe that there are some people who have made mistakes, but who now genuinely want to turn their lives around.  I honestly feel that they should be given that opportunity.

I think the cats have been happy to have us home, since they’ve been leaping onto the couch to watch TV with us.  Nettie has been sleeping in my lap.  At one point Michele was relaxing on the couch under the blanket, and, as can be seen below, Squeaky curled up on top of her head.  I think she was actually very comfortable there.

Michele and Squeaky

Michele and Squeaky

In the last few days, Michele has gotten a nostalgic craving for that late 1970s series The Gong Show, hosted by Chuck Barris.  She’s been watching all of these clips of it on YouTube.  I’ve never actually seen the original version of The Gong Show before.  I saw a few episodes of the 1980s revival, which never impressed me, so I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.  But Michele pretty much forced me to watch those clips of the original incarnation and, yeah, it is a million times better.  I have to agree with her, the people involved in making the show must have been on some serious drugs!  Of course, while we were browsing through all these old television clips, we happened to learn that a serial killer was once a contestant on The Dating Game.  Oh, wow, truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m surprised that this never inspired an episode of Criminal Minds.

So now it’s New Years Eve.  I have no plans yet.  Since I quit drinking, it just feels really weird hanging out at bars or parties with people who are getting smashed.  A couple of nights ago, we were at The Cobra Club in Bushwick again, hanging out with some of Michele’s friends.  It was fun, yeah, but after a couple of hours I just started to get edgy, being around all that booze.  And, y’know, if you aren’t drinking, bars are kinda boring.  I don’t know, maybe I just overthink these things.  Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m going to end up doing tonight.  Perhaps I’ll hang out with Michele for a little while and then call it an early night, catch the Twilight Zone marathon or something.  We shall see.

In any case, I hope everyone has a wonderful 2013.  See you next year.

Comic book reviews: New Crusaders #2-4

The first issue of New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, published by Archie / Red Circle Comics, saw the original, retired Mighty Crusaders attacked and seemingly killed by their arch enemy, the sinister Brain Emperor. The sole survivor of the carnage was Joe Higgins, the Shield, who rushed the teenage children of the Crusaders to his underground safe haven.

As the second issue of New Crusaders opens, the six children of the fallen heroes are coming to grips with the apparent deaths of their parents & guardians. The Shield, who isn’t certain how to console them, instead takes on the role of mentor & drill sergeant and begins to prepare them to take over as the successors to the fallen Mighty Crusaders. This was something their parents had intended them to eventually do when the time was right. But now the Shield has to give his trainees a crash course. Emphasis on “crash.”

Writer Ian Flynn does excellent work scripting New Crusaders #s 2-4. All the shocked teenagers want to do is take the time to mourn their parents. Instead of being given the opportunity to adjust to the massive upheaval in their lives, through, the Shield chucks them in the deep end. And, not unexpectedly, they flounder, and their grief is now compounded with resentment at the Shield for attempting to turn them into soldiers at this most vulnerable moment. In the process, Flynn really gives us the opportunity to get to know these kids. After all, there was so much going on in the first issue that at the end they were still ciphers. So it was a wise decision on Flynn’s part to take the time to gradually develop them over the course of these next three issues of the series. I really felt I got to know who these six people were.

At the end of New Crusaders #4, the teens have embraced their legacies and adopted their parents’ costumed identities. They have begun training to use their new powers & abilities. And then the news comes: the Brain Emperor has struck again. Which presumably means that these new costumed heroes are about to endure a baptism of fire. This could be really messy!

New Crusaders #4 page 17, by Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin

New Crusaders #4 page 17, by Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin

As I mentioned in my review of issue #1, I really enjoyed the artwork on New Crusaders. The quality of the artwork continued with issue #s 2-4. Ben Bates returns to pencil the second issue, and he does an excellent job with this crucial story, really helping to get across the grief and anger of the teenagers. Bates also provides layouts for issue #3, with incoming artist Alitha Martinez doing the finished pencils. Martinez takes over full penciling chores with #4, and she turns in some exemplary work. Inking all three issues is Gary Martin.

I also wanted to point out the contributions of John Workman. He is one of the all time greatest letterers in the comic book biz. As I’ve mentioned in the past, he is probably best known for lettering Walter Simonson on numerous books over the years. It’s really great to see Workman on New Crusaders. He really has a dynamic style to his work that makes the dialogue, captions, and sound effects come alive.

Another veteran comic book pro who also contributes to New Crusaders is Rich Buckler. I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially his groundbreaking Deathlok series. Buckler was one of the artists who worked on Archie’s Mighty Crusaders title in the early 1980s. It was great that he was asked to contribute a cover to New Crusaders #4. I really hope that Archie will have him do more work for them. Issue #3 included a reprint of a 1980s back-up story he worked on featuring Fly-Girl. I’d like to see him be able to draw some brand new material for the back-up slot in New Crusaders.

New Crusaders #4 cover by Rich Buckler

New Crusaders #4 cover by Rich Buckler

Speaking of the back-up stories, issue #s 2 and 4 had original material. It was cool to see Chuck Dixon write a Comet back-up story. And my absolute favorite inker/finisher, the legendary Terry Austin, was also on hand. He inked the prelude to The Lost Crusade, an upcoming series written by Flynn and Dixon that is going to explore the original team’s missing years. I knew that Austin had been working for Archie the last few years, but it was great to see him on New Crusaders. As with Buckler, I hope Austin is asked back again.

As I understand it, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes has two more issues to go. After wrapping up, the next miniseries is going to be titled Dark Tomorrow. So far, I’ve really been enjoying this book. It’s an exciting series with really thoughtful writing, interesting characters, and superb artwork. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what happens next. For me, it’s much more engaging that the majority of the material currently being release by DC or Marvel. So I highly recommend giving New Crusaders a try.

The Ink Master season two finale wrap-up

My girlfriend Michele and I watched the two-part second season finale of Ink Master on Spike this past Tuesday. Coming into the home stretch were the final four contestants: Steve Tefft, Sarah Miller, Katherine “Tatu Baby” Flores, and Sebastian Murphy. Michele and I were both of the opinion that the three who should be selected to go on to the live conclusion were Steve, Sarah, and Tatu Baby. Somehow, though, things did not turn out exactly that way.

Steve did a kick-ass tattoo of a muscular figure with a hammer & anvil which quite deservedly won best tattoo for the episode. Sarah tattooed a phoenix which, despite a few flaws, was very nice. The bottom two was, according to the judges, Tatu Baby and Sebastian. Tatu Baby did a dragon which was not especially great but, on the other hand, wasn’t bad either, at least in my opinion. Sebastian, however, did a very dark tattoo with some really flawed elements to its design. It was not good, not at all. When called to task for it, Sebastian seemed to blame everything on the fact that his human canvas had very dark skin. That’s nice, Sebastian, but you were the one who wanted to tattoo that particular person! Stop throwing around excuses.

In what was a really big upset, despite the fact that Sebastian had never won a single Elimination Tattoo challenge, and Tatu Baby had won several plus had a tattoo in this episode that was better, it was Sebastian who got the third spot on the live finale. Michele and I both cried foul. I immediately told her “You know the internet is going to explode now because of this.” And, indeed, I went right onto the Ink Master Facebook page, where dozens and dozens of people were posting angry comments about how Tatu Baby had been cheated.

Tatu Baby: At least she has her modeling career to fall back on.

Tatu Baby: At least she has her modeling career to fall back on.

The closing minutes of the first part of the finale revealed that the three finalists (Steve, Sarah, Sebastian) would be able to do a final tattoo of their choice, any subject matter allowed, on a human canvas. It would be a 24-hour piece, done in four separate six hour sessions. All season long, Steve has been showing that he’s a specialist at horror pieces. Sebastian must have guessed that Steve would be doing that, and decided to do a horror piece of his own. Unfortunately, the human canvas who Sebastian got was a woman who clearly had no interest in horror. She was a former dancer who liked ballet, and she asked Sebastian if he could incorporate that into his tattoo. He point blank refused, saying he was absolutely going to do a horror piece. I observed “Right now that woman must be wishing that Tatu Baby had been the finalist instead of Sebastian!”

Anyway, the second half was the live conclusion, broadcast at 10 PM from New York City (presumably the real NYC this time, and not Jersey City standing in for it). All of the eliminated contestants returned for the episode. We also heard from some of the past human canvases who were, shall we say, less than pleased with what they had gotten on the show. Dave Navarro announced that one of those unhappy customers would be receiving a cover-up from Tommy Helm on Tattoo Nightmares. I called it, I totally called it! I knew that sooner or later someone who had been given an awful piece on Ink Master would end up on Tattoo Nightmares.

(Since I first posted this about an hour ago, I see at least a couple of people found it with search engine terms such as “what ink master canvas got a cover up on tattoo nightmares?” The lucky human canvas who will be receiving a cover-up from Tommy Helm is the guy who got that really bad pin-up girl by Mark Matthews in episode six.  Seriously, who in their right mind tattoos with a broken thumb?!?)

Navarro also announced that there would be live voting online to select one eliminated contestant to return next season. Michele and I both spent the next 40 minutes going to the Spike website trying to vote. So must have half of America, because it was near-impossible to get the voting page to load. I think the site must have nearly crashed from all of the traffic. In any case, Tatu Baby won with 75 percent of the vote. At this point Michele declared that the judges’ decisions in the first half must have been rigged. She figured Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez selected Sebastian over Tatu Baby knowing people would be outraged and would subsequently vote to have her return. Why do that? Well, in addition to being a great artist, Tatu Baby is a really nice piece of eye candy, so if she returns for Season Three, she’ll definitely be bringing in the viewers. I’m just saying!

In any case, we finally got to view Steve, Sarah, and Sebastian’s 24 hour pieces. Steve did an awesome horror piece of a dark angel and a skull which can be seen below:

Steve Tefft's awesome winning tatto from Ink Master Season Two.

Steve Tefft’s awesome winning tatto from Ink Master Season Two.

Sarah did these two Norse-inspired pieces which were also very good. And Sebastian, well, he tattooed a giant piece of a demon clawing its way out of the flesh of his human canvas’ back. Oh dear. Don’t get me wrong. If that was your sort of thing, you would no doubt be very happy to get it. But it was sooooo obvious that the woman who was stuck with it had a totally different personality. I felt really sorry for that poor woman. Now she’s stuck with this honking big ugly monster tattooed on her. That’s going to require a gigantic cover-up by a very skilled artist if she wants to get rid of it.

The winner of the season was Steve. I felt that was very much deserved. Despite being something of a douchebag (admittedly, so were most of the other contestants) he was very good at what he did. Likewise, Sarah certainly did very nice work, and earned the second place slot. My only problem with her is that she was a bit on the, um, intense side… okay, yeah, she could get really frantic and crazy when things did not go her way! With her moods, I don’t know if I’d personally want to get a piece done by her. But, yeah, putting aside her semi-regular emotional meltdowns, she is a really good tattoo artist.

Sarah Miller: I'm not crazy, no siree!

Sarah Miller: I’m not crazy, no siree!

Now we just have to wait for Ink Master Season Three. Which means more Tatu Baby, more jacked-up tattoos, more contestants having verbal throw-downs with Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez, and more of Dave Navarro coming across as a wanker. Yeah, should be fun!

Doctor Who reviews: The Reaping

Continuing to discuss performances by Colin Baker in the Big Finish audio plays, today I’m taking a look at “The Reaping,” written by Joseph Lidster. I originally listened to it three years ago. The main reason why I decided to re-visit it now is the book Chicks Unravel Time, published by Mad Norwegian Press (you can see my December 4th blog entry for more info on that).

One of the excellent essays in Chicks Unravel Time is “The Problem With Peri,” written by Jennifer Pelland. In it, Pelland takes a look at the unfortunately subpar use of the character of Peri Brown, the Doctor’s companion in the mid-1980s who was portrayed by actress Nicola Bryant. Pelland, in examining Peri’s portrayal during Season 22 of Doctor Who, noted that she unfortunately served as a poor role model, especially in comparison to the other strong female characters seen on the screen that year.

As I have said before, the Big Finish audios have given Colin Baker a chance to shine, providing him with a higher quality of scripts to work with. This has allowed him to really demonstrate just what he could have done if he had been given material this good to work with on the actual show. Well, the same, fortunately, applies to Nicola Bryant as Peri.

I very much agree with the sentiments addressed by Pelland in her essay. Peri was often ill-used throughout much of her time on the show. She was constantly whining & complaining. Often her relationship with the Doctor was written to consist of little more than squabbling. All that, and the producer seemed more interested in sticking Bryant in costumes that showed off her cleavage than in giving her well-written dialogue. The writers of the Big Finish audios have done a great deal to rectify these problems with the character of Peri.

It is implied in Peri’s debut story “Planet of Fire” that she has issues with her family. She certainly does not get along with her stepfather in that serial. This is fertile ground for Joseph Lidster to explore in “The Reaping.” His script delves deeply into Peri’s background. We finally meet her family and friends, and find out about her relationships with them, relationships that have been severely strained due to her long absence while she was off traveling with the Doctor.

Having just sat through “The Reaping” again, I was certainly impressed with the depth and nuance of the material. The script certainly gives Nicola Bryant a great deal to work with. I would go so far as to say that Peri received more character development in “The Reaping” than she did during her two years on the television show.

Doctor Who: The Reaping

Doctor Who: The Reaping

Thousands of years in the future, the Doctor and Peri visit the Gogglebox, an archive of humanity’s history archived in the hollowed-out Moon. A curious Peri decides to check the records concerning her home town of Baltimore, Maryland in the 1980s. Coming across a news report from that time, Peri learns that the father of her good friend Kathy has been brutally murdered. Shocked and upset, Peri has the Doctor take her back to Baltimore in September 1984 for the funeral. At the graveyard, Peri is reunited with her mother Janine. And all is not well.

Peri, as the audience knows, has been traveling all about in time & space with the Doctor for the last two years of her life. But from the point of view of Janine back in 1984, her daughter just up and vanished one day, with a word to no one, and could not be bothered to telephone or even send a letter to let her mother know that she was safe.

Janine is played by Claudia Christian, who appeared on Babylon 5 as Commander Susan Ivanova for four seasons. I really enjoyed Christian’s performance on that series, where she made Ivanova one of my favorite characters. Christian does an equally good job in “The Reaping,” playing an angry & disappointed mother whose dissatisfaction with her daughter turns to amazement as she learns what Peri has really been up to all this time.

Bryant, likewise, does excellent work in her portrayal of Peri, who is grief-stricken at her friend’s loss, and deeply hurt by her mother’s disapproval. The character experiences an emotional gauntlet in “The Reaping,” and Bryant really brings her to life.

The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is also explored. We see that, underneath all of the bickering, the two care deeply for one another. At one point, fearing the Doctor might be dead, Peri admits to Janine and Kathy that the Doctor is her best friend. I wish we had seen the friendship between the two characters explored to this degree on the television show. My compliments to Lidster for delving so deeply and movingly into their relationship.

As a quick glance of the cover to “The Reaping” will show, the Cybermen are the villains of the story. Even though they are actually used rather sparingly, they are nevertheless very effective. Inserting them into the mundane domesticity of 1984 Baltimore makes them appear even more alien and menacing than usual.

Lidster taps into the simultaneously horrific and tragic nature of the Cybermen. The Doctor sadly retells the Cybermen’s origins, how in order to survive on the dying planet Mondas, they slowly but surely began replacing organic flesh with metal, plastic, and computer circuits. Their cybernetics was a means to an end, a desperate gamble for survival. But they ended up replacing too much of themselves, and lost their ability to feel emotion. Survival became an end unto itself, as they marched out across the galaxy, determined to convert all organic life.

That is exactly what the Cybermen are doing in “The Reaping.” Their numbers severely dwindled after multiple defeats, they want the Cyber race to survive. And so they travel back in time to convert all of humanity. They see this as an improvement, believing that the elimination of messy feelings & emotions will end chaos and bring about order. That is the true horror of the Cybermen. They don’t want to conquer the world or destroy it; instead, they wish to transform everyone into logical, emotionless Cybermen. In so many ways, that is a fate worse than death.
In the classic serial “Tomb of the Cybermen,” the Cyber Controller coldly informs a group of captive humans “You belong to us. You shall be like us.” Lidster has the Cybermen in “The Reaping” reiterate that chilling pronouncement.

On the whole, “The Reaping” is a very strong story. But there are a few weaknesses. The Cybermen’s plan seems to rely on a couple of big coincidences. The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and cuts off potential future storylines. And there is at least one unresolved subplot left dangling.

On that last point, I realize Lidster was setting things up for a semi-sequel, “The Gathering,” which is the next entry in the Big Finish audio series. I still haven’t listened to that one yet. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to pick it up at some point in the future.

In any case, despite a few criticisms, I found “The Reaping” a well written production, with quality acting by Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Claudia Christian.

Doctor Who reviews: Davros

I mentioned in my last post that I really feel Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was underrated, and how he was much better served by the Big Finish audio plays, most of which contain extremely high qualities of writing and acting.  I remember listening to one of Baker’s earliest Big Finish stories, “The Marian Conspiracy,” written by Jacqueline Rayner, and actually thinking to myself “Wow, if only he had gotten material half as good as this to work with when he was on television, he would have been remembered as one of the best actors to play the Doctor.”

Another excellent Doctor Who Big Finish story starring Colin Baker is “Davros.”  It was released back in 2003, but I unfortunately kept putting off getting it.  It took meeting the story’s author, Lance Parkin, last month to finally motivate me to order a copy.  I listened to the story yesterday, and was absolutely riveted.  Parkin does an amazing job writing not only the Sixth Doctor, but also Davros, the infamous creator of the villainous Daleks.

Davros made his debut in the 1975 television serial “Genesis of the Daleks.”  Many viewers, including myself, consider “Genesis” to be the very best appearance of the character.  Writer Terry Nation, with likely a great deal of input from script editor Robert Holmes, crafted a truly Machiavellian figure, a brilliant but twisted scientist, a fascist with a god complex who sought to remake the universe in his image via the Daleks.  Actor Michael Wisher brought to life this brilliantly-scripted individual in a fantastic performance.

At the end of “Genesis,” the Daleks turned on Davros, seemingly exterminating their creator.  He was, of course, later brought back to life.  But many fans of the series have long felt his subsequent appearances were quite lacking, that he had been reduced to a one-dimensional ranting megalomaniac.  In the original series, I think the only time the writing for the character ever came to approaching the quality of “Genesis” was in “Revelation of the Daleks,” by which time the character was being played by Terry Molloy.  “Revelation” saw a return to some of the guile and subtle machinations that had characterized him in his debut.

Doctor Who: Davros

Doctor Who: Davros

In his audio play “Davros,” Lance Parkin appears to have drawn much from both “Genesis” and “Revelation.”  He gives us a Davros who is a magnetic, chilling figure.  Returning to play Davros in the audio format, Terry Molloy does a superb job, making his character extremely compelling.

Set between the events of the television stories “Resurrection of the Daleks” and “Revelation,” the audio play sees the seemingly-dead Davros retrieved by Arnold Baynes, amoral CEO of the galactic mega-corporation Trans Allied Inc, and his wife Lorraine.  Arnold Baynes, who is played by Bernard Horsfall, is a futuristic titan of finance, a space-age robber baron who regards himself as a man who is simply providing the people of the galaxy with the products they need.  Like most corporate figures, he honestly believes he is a good man, doing a necessary job, regarding capitalism as the ideal economic form to regulate human life.  Baynes makes sure the employees of TAI have their lunch breaks, and finds the idea of spying on them to be morally repulsive.  Yet if he occasionally has to arrange an “accidental” death, his conscience is unbothered, just so long as it is for the good of the company.  Baynes is unperturbed by Davros’ status as the creator of the Daleks and a war criminal, regarding that as past unpleasantness.  If Davros can apply his scientific genius to helping TAI develop new technologies, to increasing the company’s vast fortunes & holdings, then that is all that matters.

Lorraine Baynes, voiced by Wendy Padbury, also has her reasons for wanting to give Davros shelter.  A revisionist historian, Lorraine regards Davros as a pioneer and a visionary, a titanic intellect who has been unfairly maligned by posterity, labeled as “evil” and made the scapegoat of the Daleks’ atrocities.  There is a great deal of hero worship at work on her part.  She hopes to write the definitive history of Davros and the Daleks, and is soon probing her new guest for information about his past on the planet Skaro.

Into the picture comes the Doctor, who was investigating an unrelated matter involving TAI.  The Doctor is naturally horrified at the idea of the Baynes reviving Davros and giving him a position of corporate power.  He was present on Skaro, and saw first-hand the treachery and violence that Davros engaged in to ensure the creation of the Daleks.  Unlike the Baynes, who are blinded by profit and idolatry respectively, the Doctor knows full well how dangerous Davros can be.

Unfortunately, the Doctor is unable to impress upon Arnold Baynes the urgency of the matter.  So he hits upon a different stratagem: he offers himself as an alternative to Davros.  If TAI needs a genius, well, the Doctor is willing to lend his services.  However, to the Doctor’s dismay, Baynes has another proposal: he will hire both of them.  And so the Doctor, in order to keep an eye on Davros, agrees to become TAI’s newest employee, with one of his greatest enemies as his co-worker.  This leads to some very interesting verbal fencing between the two, this time not across the battlefield, but the work table of the laboratory.  Parkin writes absolutely riveting dialogue for the Doctor and Davros.  Both Baker and Molloy fully rise to the occasion, turning in superb performances.

Davros Martin Geraghty Doctor Who Magazine 335

One of the things that have often been examined over the years is what, exactly, is the appeal of the character of Davros?  Yes, his visual design is fantastic.  He is literally a half-human, half-Dalek figure.  But there is certainly more to him than that.  I think a great deal of what makes him compelling is his seeming limitations, and how he overcomes them.  Here is a crippled, blind, one-armed figure trapped in a wheelchair which serves as his life-support system, aided only by artificial senses.  Yet this apparently pathetic, insignificant being is unstoppable.  Throughout his original appearance in “Genesis,” despite his severe diminished physical condition, he continually triumphs.  Through force of will & strength of personality, utilizing guile & cunning, he bends others to his will.  When necessary, by adopting an unassuming, humble personality, he causes others to severely underestimate him.  Through his intellect, Davros repeatedly outwits the Doctor and all his other rivals in “Genesis.”

Parkin brings all of these characteristics back to the fore in his script.  Davros comes across as an incredibly dangerous individual, constantly scheming & coercing.  Throughout much of the story, he claims that he sees the Baynes’ offer as a chance at redemption, to make up for his myriad horrific crimes.  And the strength of Molloy’s performance is such that you never really know if Davros is being sincere.  He sounds genuine… but at the same time, the Doctor knows full well that Davros is incredibly charismatic, a master of manipulation.   And so the listener is constantly kept guessing.

I was left wondering if Parkin’s writing had influenced Russell T Davies when he penned the 2008 television episode “Journey’s End.”  In it, Davros refers to the Doctor as “The man who abhors violence. Never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”  This seems to mirror a scene early in Parkin’s story.  The Doctor, discovering the Baynes are attempting to revive Davros, pleads with them to kill him.  Davros snaps into consciousness and tauntingly says to the Doctor “You are weak. There’s the switch. End my life. You, not them! Do your own dirty work. End my life if you have the stomach for it!”  And when the Doctor cannot bring himself to kill Davros in cold blood, Davros mockingly laughs in his face.

Reflecting on this dark, chilling story, something occurred to me.  It has been long been said that Davros created the Daleks in him image.  Physically that is apparent.  But Parkin, through a series of flashbacks to Davros’ early days on Skaro, reveals that there is more to it than just appearance.  Just as Davros removed from the Daleks the ability to feel such emotions as empathy and pity, so too has he done so with himself.  In the audio play, Davros continually claims to be unable to feel love or affection.  When he does experience any sort of regret or guilt at the monumental atrocities he has engineered, he dismisses this as an insignificant biological or chemical process of his body, one he instantly regulates via the drugs dispensed by his life support system.  And so Parkin establishes both the similarity and difference between the Daleks and their creator.  The Daleks are evil due to circumstance, a result of the removal of their ability to possess certain emotions, depriving them of what we would label a conscience.  Davros, on the other hand, is evil by choice, because he has willingly discarded or suppressed those emotions in himself.

“Genesis of the Daleks” still remains the iconic Davros story, probably the best use of the character.  That said, I would certainly have to put the “Davros” audio play at a very close second.  The writing by Lance Parkin, and the performances by Terry Molloy & Colin Baker, made this an unmissable production, one I recommend to any long-time fans of Doctor Who interested in the character of Davros.

Doctor Who reviews: Attack of the Cybermen

I have always felt Colin Baker was one of the most underrated actors to have portrayed the Doctor.  A lot of this had absolutely nothing to do with Baker himself, but was due to outside factors beyond his control.

First of all, Baker’s debut Doctor Who story “The Twin Dilemma” was not particularly well-received.  I personally think it was a decent effort.  Most other fans have a much less positive view of that story, though.  The main problem with it was the decision by the production team to have the Doctor experience a traumatic post-regeneration crisis which causes him to behave in a dangerously unstable manner for the majority of that story.  One especially ill-considered aspect of this was having the Doctor, in a fit of paranoia, attempting to strangle his traveling companion Peri, portrayed by Nicola Bryant.  Even though the Doctor was not in control of his actions, and he quickly realized that he’d made a dreadful mistake, I think this one particular scene left a really bad first impression of the Sixth Doctor with many viewers.

Second, as I understand it, Baker wanted to play his incarnation of the Doctor as a darker, more alien figure.  Accordingly, he had hoped to have a somber, austere outfit to suit this characterization.  Instead, the producer of Doctor Who saddled Baker with the opposite: a tacky, tasteless, multicolored monstrosity of a costume.

Third, in the mid-1980s, the then-management of the BBC apparently had little confidence in or love for Doctor Who.  The show was not receiving the support it needed to function as an effective production.

Nevertheless, despite all these obstacles, I believe Colin Baker did the very best he could, and I look back quite fondly upon his all-too-short tenure as the Doctor.

“Attack of the Cybermen” is Baker’s second serial, and it is a tremendous improvement over “The Twin Dilemma.”  Really, a very strong argument could be made that “Attack” should have been Baker’s debut story.

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen DVD

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen DVD

The credits for “Attack of the Cybermen” list “Paula Moore” as the author.  In reality, it was written by script editor Eric Saward, with a plot assist by continuity advisor Ian Levine.  The reasons for Saward not getting credit are complicated, and are covered in “The Cold War,” a making of feature on the DVD.

The plot of “Attack of the Cybermen” is, admittedly, a bit complex.  The Doctor’s old foes the Cybermen have traveled back in time to 1985 to prevent the destruction of their home planet Mondas, an event chronicled in the 1966 serial “The Tenth Planet.”  Crossing their path is the alien mercenary Lytton (icily portrayed by the very effective Maurice Colbourne), who had previously been stranded on 20th Century Earth in the Saward-penned “Resurrection of the Daleks,” broadcast the year before. Onto the scene come the Sixth Doctor and Peri, who have detected Lytton’s distress beacon.  The Cybermen capture them all and take them back to their base on the planet Telos, last seen in the classic 1967 serial “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

As you can see, there are a lot of references to previous Doctor Who stories in “Attack of the Cybermen.” I guess a newcomer to the show could be confused.  Luckily, I had already read the novelizations of “The Tenth Planet” and “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and seen “Resurrection of the Daleks” on television.  So I was pretty clear about what was going on when I first viewed “Attack of the Cybermen” in the mid-1980s.

Admittedly, there are a couple of confusing plot points that didn’t get cleared up for me until a few years later, when Saward novelized “Attack of the Cybermen.”  But that’s minor, and this story is a lot more straightforward than, say, “Time-Flight,” which is nearly impenetrable.

In any case, I do like Saward’s writing on “Attack.”  His dialogue is cracking and clever, containing very memorable, often humorous lines.

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen novelization by Eric Saward

Attack of the Cybermen novelization by Eric Saward

One odd thing about “Attack of the Cybermen” is the animosity the Doctor has towards Lytton.  The two of them barely met in “Resurrection of the Daleks.”  But in “Attack” the Doctor acts like he knows Lytton well, and cannot stand the sight of him.  Admittedly, the last time the two saw each other, Lytton did take a shot at the Doctor, barely missing, so that could explain some of the Doctor’s anger.

Baker does a good job as the Doctor in “Attack of the Cybermen”.  He has mostly settled into his new incarnation, although, as Peri puts it, he is still somewhat “unstable” from his recent regeneration, prone to the occasional mood swing and temporary absentmindedness.  Baker’s Doctor is brash, egotistical, flippant, and sarcastic.  But on several occasions we see that underneath all the bluster, he is a caring, sensitive individual with a burning desire to set right injustice and oppression.  And, when confronted with his mistakes, he is contemplative and remorseful.  From this story, it is apparent that there was tremendous potential to Baker’s Doctor.

The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is also better written here.  It is still a bit too adversarial, perhaps, and Peri is on the whiny side.  But Baker and Bryant are given much better material to work with here than in “The Twin Dilemma.”  You can start to get a slightly better indication that, despite the dramatic changes to the Doctor’s persona, these two are still friends and do like to travel together.

The direction on “Attack of the Cybermen” is top-notch.  Matthew Robinson, who also worked on “Resurrection of the Daleks,” really has a good feel for action sequences.  He also frames a great many of his shots in an incredibly striking, inventive angles, really helping to drive home the drama and tension.

It is also to Robinson’s credit that he was the one who suggested making the alien Cryons female.  Despite Saward’s arguments against it on the DVD making of feature, this was a clever decision, as it really puts them in contrast to their towering, emotionless cyborg foes.  There were very few female non-humans seen in classic Doctor Who (fortunately that unbalance has been somewhat rectified in the current-day show) and so the Cryons really are striking.  In spite of their apparently delicate appearance, they’ve been waging a relentless guerilla campaign against the Cybermen, making them one of the series’ most admirable alien races.

I like that in “Attack of the Cybermen” Saward brings back something that really had not been addressed in the series since the 1960s.  The Cybermen were once human, but they allowed themselves to be overcome by their own technology, becoming emotionless cyborgs, and now they seek to do the same to other organic life throughout the universe.  In this story, the danger of being killed by the Cybermen pales in significance to the possibility of being captured & converted, with death being a preferable alternative.  That is really what helps to make them horrifying monsters.

“Attack,” like a number of other stories by Saward, is quite violent.  A lot of people have complained that Saward’s violence is gratuitous.  Perhaps at times it was.  But a look at Doctor Who history shows that, from the very beginning in 1963, many stories had high body counts (especially the ones with the Daleks).  The difference is that typically characters would be killed off by a laser blast or disintegration ray, a bloodless death.  Saward, on the other hand, demonstrated in his stories that killing is a nasty, messy, violent business.

Another difference is that, before Saward’s tenure as a Doctor Who script editor and writer, most stories’ casualties were not particularly well developed.  This is especially blatant in the early 1970s, when numerous UNIT soldiers would be wiped out by whatever alien menace was invading Earth that month.  The majority of those killed were nameless grunts who would die ten seconds after coming onto the screen.  There was no real impact when they got killed.  In contrast, many of the characters Saward killed in his stories were developed beforehand.  They had names and personalities, and we would get to know them before they were dispatched in a particularly awful manner.  When they died, it often felt genuinely sad and tragic, a real waste of life.  Saward didn’t glamorize violence; he showed how brutal and ugly it really was.

Things get violent: Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) is tortured by the Cybermen

Things get violent: alien mercenary Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) is tortured by the Cybermen

There is some great incidental music in “Attack” by Malcolm Clarke.  He is one of my favorite Doctor Who composers from the 1980s, composing excellent scores for such Peter Davison serials as “Earthshock” and “Enlightenment.”  His work on “Attack” is just perfect.

On the other hand, the story has some very weak set design.  The Cybermen’s base on Earth looks too similar to their command center on Telos.  When the story cuts between the two, there’s some confusion over which location is which.

More significantly, the Cybermen’s tombs on Telos look nothing like they did in “Tomb of the Cybermen.”  In 1985, “Tomb” was missing from the BBC archives (it was fortunately re-discovered in the early 1990s) but there were photos of the sets available.  So if the designers wanted to, they could have easily checked to see what the Telos tombs looked like.  Instead, they re-designed them completely.  It’s very jarring, especially nowadays when “Tomb” is easily available for viewing.  Besides, the 1967 sets look much better than the 1985 ones.

The DVD of “Attack of the Cybermen” has a lot of great extras.  Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Terry Molloy, and Sarah Berger provide an entertaining audio commentary.  The aforementioned “The Cold War” feature is an informative half-hour behind-the-scenes piece.  “The Cyber Story” is a 23 minute history of the Cybermen, with plenty of clips.  I enjoyed being able to view a couple of minutes of “The Tenth Planet.”  I’ve never been able to watch that serial, because (as far as I know) it has never been broadcast or commercially released here in the States, as the final episode is missing. Maybe one of these days it’ll finally be recovered.  Either that or the BBC can redo it in animated form, as they did very effectively for the missing episodes of “The Reign of Terror” and “The Invasion.”

In any case, while not perfect, “Attack of the Cybermen” is a very good, entertaining, intelligent story.  The acting is top-notch, and Matthew Robinson’s direction is solid.

As far as Colin Baker goes, in addition to this story, also check out “Vengeance on Varos,” “Mark of the Rani,” and “Revelation of the Daleks” to see him in top form.  And, if you have the opportunity, pick up some of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays he has starred in.  I plan on doing write-ups on at least a couple of those in the near future.  They really do demonstrate what Baker can do as the Doctor when given very well-written material to work with.

Little Ginger the rescued kitten

My girlfriend’s parents used to have three cats who lived with them: Tabitha, Champ and Leo.  I never met Tabitha, because she died right before Michele and I started dating.  But according to Michele, Tabitha was really close to her, as well as a cat with attitude.  “She would have put you in your place,” Michele likes to tell me.  Four years later, Michele still misses her.

So for the last four years Leo and Champ were still with my girlfriend’s parents, keeping them company.  I met both feline friends on several occasions, when Michele and I went to visit her parents.  The cats seemed really sweet.  Even though we had two cats of our own, I grew to enjoy our visits to there, because I would get to see Leo and Champ.  I especially like Champ.  I was told she had been the runt of her litter, but she had survived, and grew up to be a very affectionate cat.

Unfortunately, last winter Leo passed away from old age, and this spring Champ followed him.  Michele’s mother May is a very sweet woman.  She had been very close to both cats, and missed them both terribly.  Even though May claimed she was too old to take in another cat, I could tell she really would have liked another one to care for.

Late in October, only a couple of days before Hurricane Sandy came barreling through New York City, Michele’s father found a tiny little kitten abandoned in a garage in Queens.  The poor thing was all alone.  He brought it home to his wife as a present, because he knew how much she missed Tabitha, Champ, and Leo.  Cleaning up the cat, May discovered it was a girl.  The cat was an orange tabby, so she named her Ginger.

Ginger in early November

Ginger in early November

It seems certain that Michele’s father saved little Ginger’s life, because I doubt she would have been able to survive the hurricane all alone, living in a cold garage.  May started nursing Ginger back to health.  About a week after the storm, Michele and I went to visit her parents.  We met Ginger for the first time.  She was such a tiny little thing, and was constantly clinging to May.  Michele and I both had an opportunity to hold Ginger.  She really was affectionate.

About a month later, Michele and I went back to her parents’ place for Thanksgiving.  Ginger had been all cleaned up by May, and had started to grow.  Ginger really looked adorable.  She was playful, and at every opportunity was chowing down on leftover Turkey.

Ginger on Thankgsiving Day

Ginger on Thankgsiving Day

The last time Michele spoke to her mother on the phone, she heard that Ginger was still growing, continuing to get healthy, running around the apartment and playing with May.  She seems like a very sweet cat, and I hope she continues to get well & grow.  It’s obvious that May fell in love with Ginger at first sight.  I know she is going to do everything she can to give Ginger a good home.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing that adorable kitty again.

(Photos of Little Ginger by Michele Witchipoo)