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The Aztecs   Leave a comment

The villains are the worst of this one. Though the Doctor explains to Barbara that the High Priest of Sacrifice is motivated by perfectly understandable fear – he sees her as a threat to his culture, as well as a threat to his position – the character isn’t played that way. Instead, Tlotoxl is all cackling evil. Ixta too could have been a sympathetic character if played sincerely, but his exaggerated portrayal makes him a caricature.

Otherwise, “The Aztecs” is an excellent serial. Story shines here, as Barbara sets out to make a difference and fails utterly, almost at the cost of all their lives. The native culture in which the time travelers land is portrayed sincerely and believably. The costumes are as gorgeous as those in “Marco Polo,” the sets even more so. Ian convincingly shifts a slab of foam as if it were a hundredweight of stone.

The Doctor himself is a much more familiar character in this story. He’s affectionate toward his granddaughter, hugging her protectively in an effort to shield her from the horror taking place outside the temple. He’s considerate of Barbara – for the first time, he speaks to her as if he might persuade her rather than berate her, and even apologizes for being too harsh. His insistence that some things can’t be changed – “Believe me, I know!” – reminds me of Ten’s post-Time War agony, and left me wondering what trauma this Doctor has endured. He befriends Cameca with flirtatious charm. Their surprise engagement via cocoa is a comic moment, but authentic too: he cares for this woman, admires her, regrets the necessity of breaking her heart – and ultimately can’t bring himself to leave her token behind.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this story. The Aztec practice of human sacrifice is looked back on with horror, as if we would never do such a thing today. Yet tens of thousands of lives each year are given over, without honor, to our need for cars and guns. Untimely death is normalized as a cost of personal freedom. Further, much as Barbara even as a goddess fails to persuade the Aztecs to change, so we today fail to win hearts and minds by telling people their way of life is wrong – even sometimes when they agree. Humans just don’t work that way. The Doctor knows it; Barbara learns it, to her regret.

The other question I’m left with is Cameca. She wanted to come along; what if the Doctor had accepted? What kind of companion might she have made? The affection between them is sincere. Perhaps he thought – perhaps she agreed – that she was content where she was. Perhaps she wasn’t truly the adventurer she wanted to be. Or perhaps he feared losing her in time and space as he had so nearly lost the others so many times. He’s responsible for Susan as her grandfather, and for Ian and Barbara by accident – perhaps he doesn’t want to be responsible for Cameca as well.

And finally: Where did Ian learn the Vulcan nerve pinch?



Posted July 30, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Adventures in Comic-Con   Leave a comment

San Diego Comic-Con was not on my bucket list.

I’ve known of it of course. It’s the mecca of nerd fests, the original, the largest and most famous of its kind. My husband attended as a youngster in its earliest years. (I wrote about that – and how things have changed – here.) But given the costs and the crowds, we had no intention of attempting it in these times.

Circumstances intervened.

Through an unlikely series of events, I received a four-day membership at no cost to myself. An even more unlikely scenario – improbable to the point of unbelievable – got my husband a Saturday day pass. His father lives in the area, offering an inexpensive place to stay. We were replete with Southwest Airlines miles.

So venture southward we did.

(Before you get too excited, I didn’t find out about the DW panel until after we’d bought plane tickets, and our landing was far too late. Not that we’d have camped out overnight for wristbands in any case. Especially since the entire thing is available here.)

The stories are all true. The crowds are mind-boggling. The cosplay is amazing. Everyone is there: Supergirl, Aquaman, Luke Skywalker, Doctor Who. I met Paul Cornell! Hours, even days spent in the dealer’s room will not get you to every table. The big rooms have big lines: we waited 40min to see Supergirl‘s panel and didn’t get in. I just made the cut for Science of Star Trek, featuring NASA scientists Dr. Morgan Cable and Dr. Jessie Christiansen and TV writers Hallie Lambert and Andre Bormanis, moderated by Bad Astronomer Phil Plait. Dozens behind me in line were disappointed. But there was no wait and plenty of room for Titan’s Doctor Who: comics are where it’s at.

I am grateful for the experience, but I would not repeat it. Instead, I’ll take advantage of my smaller local cons: OryCon and Anglicon this fall, NorWesCon and Rose City Comic-Con next year. I’ll meet up again with Paul Cornell’s newsletter group at Gallifrey One some day. I’ll stick with the smaller crowds and never see 150,000 people in one place ever again.


No thanks

A few highlights:

  • Cosplay! Slave Lando and Rose Tico with fathier were among my favorites. Thirteen was heavily featured – Her Universe had the entire outfit for sale at their booth – and both men and women got in on the act.
  • Titan Comics! There’s a ton of new 13 coming out, including an Alice XZ cover!
  • Time Lord of the Dance
  • Paul Cornell’s newsletter meetup! This was beyond cool. About 8 blog and newsletter followers turned up – including fellow featuree Heather Berberet. We chatted about our favorite panels, and Paul let us know what he was up to, kind of like a live newsletter. Afterwards we got a group photo, and anyone who wanted got an autograph and personal photo as well. Seriously, follow the newsletter. Paul’s a genuinely nice guy who’s interested in meeting like minds and helping his fellows along with their careers whenever possible.

Dorks. (Yes of course I bought the outfit!)

As a final note, I heard that Jodie Whittaker crashed the Her Universe fashion show in spectacular fashion, but did not witness it – until now:

Next season is going to be amazing. ❤ ❤ ❤

Posted July 24, 2018 by Elisabeth in Cool Stuff, Events, Squee!, Video

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Further thoughts…   Leave a comment

A few more thoughts on the last few stories.

Female friendships: Verity! just completed a mini-arc of female “companions’ companions.” Ace is the inspiration and main culprit of the arc, but she is far from alone. In “Marco Polo,” Susan develops a proper teen-girl friendship with Peng Cho, whispering together in the dark about dreams and fears and the future and occasionally even boys. In “Marinus,” Susan and Barbara collectively adopt Sabetha, who overcomes hypnotism to become a contributing member of the team. I know there’s more to come: one of my strongest recollections of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is an entire episode of Barbara and another woman driving around saving the world. It’s a trend I can get behind – and one of the reasons I particularly adore S1 Rose Tyler.

Plot inconsistencies: A heck of a thing to bag DW for but this one really stood out. Throughout “Marco Polo,” Tegana comes up with a series of “evil plans” which one after another fail to work. Each seems unnecessarily complex, and none seems to forward his finally-revealed mission to kill Kublai Khan. There are a few cases of things changing on the fly – a sandstorm thwarts one attempt, the TARDIS presents a new unlooked-for opportunity – but I was still struck with a remarkable sense of flailing.

Of course, these episodes are designed to be watched once a week and never seen again, under which circumstances the flailing would hardly be noticeable at all.

Major Character of Questionable Morality: Marco Polo brazenly steals the Doctor’s TARDIS for his own gain, and he’s still the good guy. Fortunately his arc includes realizing that he was wrong, and apologizing – though I’m left wondering why, after rejecting all Marco’s offers of an escort home, the Doctor never offered Marco a lift instead. In “Marinus,” Arbitan has created a giant mind control machine, and blackmails the Doctor into helping him repair it. He never gets called out for it, though he does get murdered – and the Doctor disapproves in a general way in his final speech.

These stories are definitely of their era, but there’s good fun in there too.

Posted June 24, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Keys of Marinus   Leave a comment

This is an odd one. A Terry Nation script with no Daleks, but plenty of bug-eyed monsters for Sydney Newman to hate. An adorable model island and tiny toy TARDIS to set the scene. Weird directing choices – strangely off-center shots, too-obvious positioning for effects, bland fades to black – and plenty of flubbed lines. It’s almost as if they didn’t have a budget.



Still, it does its best. Ian gets lots of heroics but Barbara isn’t left out. William Hartnell appears to have gotten several days off; his companions carry the story without him, picking up a couple of companions of their own on the way. The Ian/Barbara ship sails on gloriously. Our heroes visit a whole pantheon of new worlds, saving each in a brisk twenty minutes. It’s not brilliant television, but not a bad way to spend six consecutive Saturday teatimes.

“Marinus” is the first story I’ve streamed for this project on Britbox – I watched The Beginning on DVD, and “Marco Polo” via Loose Cannon. I was surprised and alarmed to note it and several other stories marked “Last Chance!” as if they were shortly to be taken down. Classic DW is the only reason I’m willing to pay for Britbox; should those stories come down, I would be forced to cancel my subscription, and I sent them a note saying so. “Marinus,” unlike many others, is still available at my library and not too expensively on DVD. I’m left suspecting that fans like me are being pushed to buy available DVDs and also retain our subscription for those stories no longer affordable by other means. I’m left not surprised, but disappointed in the strategies of the BBC.

I wonder if I can get all the way through “The War Games” before anything happens…

Marco Polo   Leave a comment

The fourth-ever Doctor Who story is also its most famous loss. Rumors spring up from time to time that the BBC is only waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it, but so far no part of “Marco Polo” has officially been found. A 30-minute reconstruction, pasted together from surviving audio and telesnaps, was released on The Beginning DVD set.

30 minutes out of 7 episodes doesn’t seem like much. Fortunately there’s Loose Cannon.

This highly skilled “amateur” production company did more than painstakingly reconstruct all 7 missing episodes (and many more stories besides). They started with color telesnaps, depicting lush sets and vibrant costumes far beyond the budget of most Doctor Who. Where needed, they colorized, hand-painting individual photographs to match. They added a frame story, featuring original actor Mark Eden as an older Marco Polo looking back on his most unlikely of travels. Eden also provides a charming introduction.

The result is exceptional. The images are gorgeous, vivid, dense with detail. The story is compelling – even at 7 episodes, it never drags. Every character – and there are many – gets a chance to shine. Children of the time must have been fascinated by their heroes’ visit to the exotic court of Kublai Khan. The colonialist perspective and abundant yellowface* make for a harder watch today – but still, I feel, worthwhile.

I once heard a short debate on the merits of telesnap reconstruction versus animation of lost stories. At the time, I fell firmly in the animation camp: I preferred the flow of animation to the stilted awkwardness of snap recons. However, no animator could have captured the lavish detail of Loose Cannon’s “Marco Polo.” Their work has changed my mind.

Loose Cannon can be found online on YouTube, and also here.

* Actress Zienia Merton is half Burmese and was raised in Singapore and Borneo among other places. No other cast member is anything but white white white.

The Edge of Destruction   Leave a comment

This is a strange one.

The third-ever story of Doctor Who is only two episodes long. It features only the main cast and the TARDIS interior. It’s a kind of psychological thriller, a closed-room mystery in which the heroes turn on each other, missing memories and paranoia fueling distrust to the point of violence. There’s little action, no history, no adventure; the cinematography and character development are cool, but I wonder if children in particular found it sufficient to engage their interest.


This is actually one of the creepier shots, as the instant before Ian was slumped unconscious in a chair.

The simplicity was likely necessitated by the budgetary demands of the following story, “Marco Polo,” which reputedly broke the bank with lush costumes, lavish sets, and a massive cast. Still, “The Edge of Destruction” is not without merit; that merit being mostly Barbara Wright.

Where Ian played the hero in the previous story, this time it’s Barbara’s turn. She faces down the Doctor’s terrible accusations courageously. She cares for Susan even after Susan turns on her. And in the end it’s she, not the Doctor, who understands what the TARDIS is trying to tell them. Barbara, not the Doctor, puts the pieces together and saves all their lives. Ian, on the other hand, spends much of the story half-naked, unconscious, or both. I can’t help feeling some balance restored to the universe.

The Doctor, for his part, fails to apologize, takes credit for Barbara’s success, and still charms her into forgiving him. He’s very much an alien in this story – his alignment unknown, his intent a mystery – but also, already very much the Doctor.

The Mind Robber   Leave a comment

Fictional characters confronting fictionality is one of my favorite tropes – and this time it wasn’t even Moffat!

For once my husband was in the mood for DW, and the Second Doctor is one of his faves – hence my veering from the Classic timeline. There aren’t many extant Troughton stories left that we haven’t seen, but this was one of them. I remembered it as the story where Frazier Hines got sick and Jamie was played by someone else. (That did happen for one episode – and fortunately in the Land of Fiction you can make that work.)

Overall this is a cracking story. It moves fast for its era with no especially notable padding. The interactions with Gulliver and Rapunzel are great fun – Rapunzel is adorable, and I don’t understand why this is her only television role. I also particularly enjoyed the comic-book superhero from the future: grounding Zoe as a character and legitimizing comics as literature in one fake-muscle-bound stroke. However, neither Jamie nor Zoe is at their best in this story, each having little use for their strengths and both being repeatedly and too easily fooled.

A couple of things confused me as well. The title didn’t click for me at first, though after some thought I managed to put it together – the Doctor’s mind was needed to continue creating the fiction, and could not be got by legitimate means. The intent of the primary villain – to empty the earth via stories? never quite made sense. (The secondary villain’s motivation of looking for a replacement so he could retire worked much better.) And then there was that credit at the end of episode 1: The Master, though no new character had been introduced and the Master himself does not appear until the Third Doctor’s era.

I have never even heard another Master mentioned. In story, the character is more accurately called “the Master brain” or something like that – the alien intelligence that kidnapped the human “Master” for its inexplicable purpose. There is no (apparent) relationship between this Master and the Master. Still, I can’t imagine that fandom hasn’t tried to create one.

The story picks up right where the previous story – “The Dominators,” which I haven’t seen – leaves off. It also ends on a cliffhanger, but as far as I can tell that one does not resolve: the following story, “The Invasion,” begins on the moon, and I recall no reference to a prior story. However I haven’t seen it in some time; perhaps in a few years when I get to this spot in my Classic Who (re)watch, I’ll learn better.

On another note, I don’t usually swing that way but I adore this shot:


In the #MeToo era it doesn’t look good. There’s no story value in Zoe’s bum no matter how glorious. We get no corroborating up-skirt shot of Jamie. (A disappointment to be sure.) And truthfully, had this been most any other companion – any modern companion for sure, or any more helpless companion such as Victoria, or more thoroughly sexualized character like Leela – it would be nothing less than crass. But something about Zoe makes it work. One, she is rarely sexualized in the series, and rarely less than fully clothed from chin to sole. And two, according to the stories at least, Wendy Padbury was more than able to hold her own on set. The boys’ club of Troughton and Hines was known for practical joking, generally at the expense of their younger female co-stars. (Deborah Watling reportedly had a difficult time on the show for this reason.) But it’s been said that Padbury could give as good as she got, and was undeterred by any juvenile antics.


I don’t know what Padbury thinks of the shot, or what her young fans at the time felt. For me, I’m reminded that sexuality can also be empowering for women.* I’m reminded, in spite of her detractors and of course Moffat, of Amy Pond.


Your mileage may vary.


*This is a complex arena, but I have acquaintances who are strippers and burlesque dancers, and they are anything but disempowered by a glorious bum.