August 18, 2017

Kinda moving…

So apparently Google’s so hell-bent for everyone moving to https that they’re going to start popping up warnings in the near future if you go to a non-SSL page.

This prompted me to buy an SSL certificate. But unfortunately, my web host sucks ass and was able to confuse me into buying a certificate which only covers www.trenchcoatsoft.com, and not blog.trenchcoatsoft.com.

Well, actually, I think they manipulated me into buying both, but they only gave me the first one. They’ve agreed to refund the money, but they’re now claiming that they don’t even offer ssl for subdomains.

So I decided that, since I’m not really using my main domain for anything (I’ve got some ancient software up there, which I’ll make available again if anyone complains), I’ll just shove the blog over to the main domain. Which means that from now on, you can get to this blog, with all the safety and security that a green lock up in the address bar implies, at its new URL, https://www.trenchcoatsoft.com. The old url, http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com should still work as well, and any deep links you’ve got on hand will work as well, just unencrypted.

So you may now visit in the happy knowledge that evil haxors will not be able to intercept you as you read my ridiculous blog about failed ’80s TV series.

August 16, 2017

Deep Ice: Standing firm between them, there lay Thunder Child (CA Powell’s The Last Days of Thunder Child)

It is December 28, 2013. Dylan just turned two, and we just celebrated his third Christmas. I think this is the year I somehow damaged my leg to the point where for the next three months, every time I stood up, ten seconds later, I’d get a crippling pain like I’d been shot through my calf. I think most of the rest of my family had a good Christmas. Dylan’s fairly verbal now. A couple of weeks ago we had a cute little incident over some candy and a boo-boo.

Wars continue in Syria and Afghanistan, and there’s continued protests in Egypt following the coup d’etat and the ouster of President Morsi. And, of course, Iraq. Police in Newton, Connecticut release a batch of information about the Sandy Hook Massacre a year earlier. All chance of meaningful reform of our gun laws dies forever when we decide that even the murders of a score of children by a 20-year-old man-child is just something we all have to live with in order to avoid cutting into the profit margins of gun manufacturers or the racial paranoia of white people. Yes, I am angry. This will probably be a theme whenever we drift too close to the present.

James Avery, best known as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and as the voice of the Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will die this week. Ronda Rousey will retain the UFC middleweight championship title by defeating Miesha Tate. Ice prevented the Chinese ship Xuě Lóng from rescuing the Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been icebound in Antarctica since Christmas. Xuě Lóng would become trapped in the ice itself during rescue attempts, but both vessels would eventually break free on January 7.

Eminem and Rhianna hold the top spot on the Billboard charts for the second week with “The Monster”. Also in the top ten are Pittbull and Ke&dollarsign;ha with “Timber”, OneRepublic with “Counting Stars”, A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera with “Say Something”, and Lorde with “Royals”.

Chris Pine just became the fourth Jack Ryan in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It’s probably the most interesting thing to happen in the world of film this week, unless you’re one of the people who liked The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Chrismas, you know. Not a lot going on. Final Fantasy III comes out for Windows Phone. Good Morning America host Robin Roberts comes out of the closet. Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley return to Today this week, and Soapnet goes off-the-air. Nikita, the fourth or fifth adaptation of the 1990 French spy-action thriller La Femme Nikita, ends its run. Power Rangers Megaforce aired its last episode, “The Robo Knight Before Christmas” a couple of weeks ago. It’s one of two seasonal episodes that aired after the proper season finale because Nickelodeon wanted Halloween and Christmas episodes. And, yeah, can’t let it go unmentioned, Matt Smith bowed out of Doctor Who in “Time of the Doctor”, an episode that I haven’t actually watched yet, here on December 28, 2013. I’m putting it off because I’m afraid of what it will do to me if this thing which has always given me joy in my life when I needed to have something to look forward to and feel better no longer brings me any joy. (Spoiler: it doesn’t).

But enough of that. We’re here now because of the first book I ever bought for the Kindle, on account of it wasn’t in print at the time. The Last Days of Thunder Child (Victorian Britain in Chaos!) is yet another retelling of Wells’s story, this time from the point of view of the crew of HMS Thunder Child, the torpedo ram which succeeded in providing one of humanity’s few victories against the Martians.

We begin with this oddly-phrased preface:

June 1898:
From HG Wells WAR OF THE WORLDS

They really came and this is the alternative history of that coming. Let us join the crew of H.M.S. Thunder Child as she prepares to embark upon her doomed voyage—before her demise and courageous battle with three Martian tripods at the River Blackwater in the county of Essex, England.

The obvious problem with this endeavor is that the Thunder Child incident in the novel is… Pretty brief. Even the song’s not that long. The Thunder Child shows up, shoots one Tripod, rams another, then gets sunk. Thunder Child actually can’t get involved until the very end of its story. You may be predicting that this book is going to be pretty slow getting started.

And you’re right. In fact, for the first couple of chapters, it looks for all the world like this book is going to spend the overwhelming majority of its length just being a litany of the abuses heaped upon Boy Seamen in the Victorian-era Royal Navy, with all the rum and sodomy that implies. I was all set to write a scathing article about the book being a dull slog that was mostly about the author showing off his historical acumen (Powell is the author of four books, all of them historical adventures) But as it goes on, an actual story does develop.

But not, curiously, on the Thunder Child. See, Powell’s solution to the conundrum set up by the plot constraints is to alternate chapters between Thunder Child and ashore. Thunder Child spends most of the book hanging out off the coast, doing boring slice-of-life nineteenth century Royal Navy stuff, while on shore, a mid-level government man wanders up the coast having narrow escapes from the Martians in a way that sort of mimics the structure of Wells’s novel, though with quite a bit more excitement.

The downside to this approach is that the actual meat of the book is largely segregated from the thing the book is actually about. It’s not a complete tangent, though. The Thunder Child‘s last stand was made in defense of civilian steamers fleeing with refugees. So as we follow Thunder Child on its slow march toward destiny, the other half of the story is bringing us into position on one of those civilian ships, and that’s an ultimately clever move in that it gives us a very personal attachment to the people that the Thunder Child is going to ultimately die for. Possibly too strong an attachment; I ended up caring much less about the men sacrificing their lives than for those who were saved. The characters from the two halves of the plot only interact in the epilogue.

Mister Albert Stanley, of the Ministry of Defense, comes off at first as a bit of an officious windbag. His physical description makes me think of one of those awful fathers in British fiction who ends up getting thrown out by his son in the end, or blown up by touching a piece of evil or something. He’s balding and pinkish and big-nosed, and described as always imagining, “There was another him lavishing praise upon himself, while in the background, his proud old mother looked on with the appropriate smile.

But he shapes up quickly once he’s thrown into it, and its his side of the plot that is the more interesting bit. I should qualify that by saying that it’s the most interesting bit for me. Because the other half of the book, I think, isn’t bad or anything, but it’s targeting an audience that I’m not a part of. The main characters — though we end up spending a lot of time away from them and with the Captain instead — are a pair of young seamen, Perry and Jolly. They’re kind of wet and the first third of the book or so is about them being a pair of fuckups who spend a lot of time making the Quartermaster angry and getting in trouble. But they’ve got an arc to them, and their side of the book is mostly structured around them getting dumps of exposition about why things are the way they are in the Navy, and finding their respective places where they can grow and thrive. And it’s well-written, but it’s the sort of thing that’s very sharply targeting a naval history buff, which I am not.

He watched the surf erupt over the descending bow, drenching the deck’s capstans and anchor chains with slithering white foam that rushed out through hawse pipes and spilt over the side as the forecastle lifted again. […] Walking to the next stairway that descended from the main deck to the quarterdeck, he paused, thinking the vessel was most odd indeed. Almost like a Devastation class in looks, but too small. If she had one funnel, then she might be a Cyclops class, though he had to admit—her layout was more like that of a miniature H.M.S. Devastation…

Later on, Perry has a long infodump with Fancourt (a gunner who the narrative treats as important though he’s barely in the thing. I think. Confession: most of the Thunder Child crew kinda blend together for me) about the Thunder Child‘s unusual design and history. I think this section is probably easier to comprehend by someone more versed in Royal Navy history, but what I gather is that Powell’s version of Thunder Child was built during the transitional period between sail and steam, when ship-builders were trying out a lot of new designs and trying to work out what was best for this new generation of iron-clad steam-powered ships. I mentioned some time ago that torpedo rams turned out to be popular in the public consciousness, but never really caught on as practical ships of war in the real world. Powell uses this by having the Thunder Child be a bit of an unwanted stepchild of the Royal Navy for largely political reasons. He attributes large parts of its design to Cowper Phipps Coles, a real-world ship designer who’d pushed through some unpopular design concepts against the misgivings of some of his contemporaries on the HMS Captain, which subsequently capsized, taking Coles with it. Powell posits that Thunder Child had incorporated some of Coles’s designs, and that there had been a bit of a resulting embarrassment when it came out that one of the people who’d approved the design had previously spoken out against him over the Captain, so if anything had ever gone wrong with Thunder Child, there would have been a scandal over the Royal Navy having knowingly built a ship based on the flawed designs of a discredited designer. The ship is described as a “compromise” between the designs of the Captain, and the more famous and successful HMS Devastation, designed by Edward James Reed. The historical Reed had resigned in protest when Coles’s design for the Captain was funded over his protest.  So Thunder Child had spent her career on low-key duties and out of harm’s way, and staffed with officers who were similarly kind of embarrassing to the Admiralty despite not having done anything wrong enough to get court-martialed (One example is Commander Scott, who is said to have made enemies by pushing for better gun training and discipline to the point of insulting the general state of the navy’s gunnery). Though not the captain. They make a point of Captain McIntosh not knowing what he could possibly have done to get stuck on Thunder Child.

Also, Thunder Child is one of the last ships to still have muzzle-loading guns. This must be really important and interesting to naval history buffs, because they bring it up about a dozen times, with excruciating detail about how muzzle-loading guns work and how all the other ships on the Island of Sodor look down on poor little Thunder Child for having those nasty old-fashioned and quite possibly working-class muzzle loaders instead of proper modern English breech-loaders from respectable families in semi-detached houses. (Seriously, did you ever notice just how racist the engines are in Thomas the Tank Engine?).

Powell’s backstory for Thunder Child does a lot to justify the inclusion of this slightly weird technological dead-end  in Wells’s accounting, a justification more diagetic than “Wells clearly just thought torpedo rams were cool.” And it gives some justification for Thunder Child having a story in the war that keeps them at arm’s length until the critical moment.

What works less well is that we — well, me at least — never really get a fully clear idea of what Thunder Child‘s actual mission is or why it’s on it. Thunder Child spends the opening phase of the war patrolling up the coast, meeting with foreign ships, and wildly speculating, specifically ordered not to engage the enemy. Now sure, a ship with Thunder Child‘s provenance wouldn’t be the first line of attack, but why would one of the Royal Navy’s private embarrassments merit being sent out to liaise with foreign navies, or be given secret hand-delivered orders? There’s repeated references to Thunder Child being here because she’s considered expendable, but at the same time, her orders seem to be very specifically to stay out of harm’s way. The very explanation that justifies Thunder Child being away from the front precludes the sense of weighty destiny — characters even talk about this, that they sense that Thunder Child has some important fate in the stars for it — the narrative wants it to have.

This rough spot in Powell’s backstory also extends to the Albert Stanley side of the plot. On both sides of the plot, people ponder on the fact that Great Britain is disadvantaged here because so much of her strength is in her navy, which is largely irrelevant in the context of an invasion that literally drops down in the middle of the country from outer space. So why is the Ministry sending Albert Stanley — a minor paper-pusher — on a special mission to hand-deliver special orders to a slightly embarrassing ship that’s on its way to the scrapyard on the eve of an invasion? The question is raised, but never answered. And more, there’s a distinct sense that the government is taking action from an early stage, takes the Martian threat seriously, and is well-plugged-in to what’s going on. And this… Is a hard fit with Wells’s novel. As I’ve mentioned in the past, one sense I got from the original novel that rarely carries over to adaptations is that the Martians’ advantage came less from them being outright invincible, and more from the defenders being hampered by the sheer unthinkability of being attacked on their native soil by a technologically superior invader: a real sense that had the British been prepared and been quicker on the uptake, they might not have been able to defeat the invaders outright, but they could have at least avoided the utter rout they faced. Here, though, it seems like the government understood the scale of the danger early, and was taking proactive steps to prepare for it, and were just straightforwardly outmatched.So in the A-plot, Jolly and Perry get in trouble with the quartermaster for being fuckups, as I said, and while on a punishment detail, they overhear something they shouldn’t from the officers about the Thunder Child‘s mission, and end up basically being isolated from the rest of the crew for a few days to keep them from gossiping. And then, I wasn’t really clear on why, Jolly and Perry get in a fight. They lie transparently about it to the officers, Jolly claiming to have walked into a doorknob or something. But this, weirdly enough, actually ingratiates them, I think in that it it displays that the pair are starting to “get it” about life in the navy.

This is something interesting about the general arc of the naval stuff. It would have been easy enough to just depict the navy as straightforwardly hellish to the crew, full of abuse and sadism and the aforementioned rum and sodomy. It was the Victorian era, when being really unspeakably awful to people below your station was basically what powered the empire. But there’s something more subtle here. Now, I have no truck with the philosophy of forging bonds through abuse, but I can certainly accept it as a historically accurate thing for people to have believed. And heck, I went to my high school reunions, and I understand now that the distinction between victimizing abuse and fraternal hazing aren’t always clear-cut, particularly to the people on the receiving end. Powell moves his characters through a world where, yes, it’s par for the course for the new men to be abused by the old timers, but regardless of whether it’s right or fair, they do it under the belief that what they are doing to them is indoctrinating them into a family.

Quartermaster Middleton visibly warms to Boy Seaman (I’m never going to get used to that title) Perry in particular after his falling out with Jolly, and Perry spends most of the rest of the book finding his place assisting the signalmen (which, conveniently, lets the narrative stick with him and pick up the news as it is relayed by semaphore along the coast. Jolly, for his part, becomes closer with Boatswain Pickles and finds his place in the engine room.

Continue reading

August 12, 2017

Tales from /lost+found 124: Arachnophobia

6×15 April 5, 2002
ARACHNOPHOBIA (Serial 88)

Setting: Planet Parradon, 2530
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Lee Thompson Young (Leo)
Guest Cast: Cam Clarke (voice of the Daleks), Michelle Bonilla (Fisk), John Savage (Captain Rudolph), Marion Calvert (Parradonian Elder)

Plot: In an attempt to find Ruth, the Doctor disables the TARDIS defenses to let it be drawn along temporal contours. However, a strange force begins draining the TARDIS’s power and pulls it toward the planet Parradon in the twenty-sixth century. The Doctor is forced to lock down the Eye of Harmony, rendering the TARDIS powerless until they can find the source of the power drain. Before long, they encounter a crashed space ship housing the survivors of an Earth expedition. Parradon had been the location of a failed colony a century prior. Humans have returned now ostensibly to investigate the fate of the colony, but their ship, like the TARDIS, lost power and crashed. The Doctor suspects he isn’t being told the whole truth, but helps the space explorers investigate the colony remains. The full truth comes out when another ship arrives, and it too crashes. The ship turns out not to be a rescue ship, but a Dalek expedition. The Daleks and the humans have been in a fraught armistice for many years after a devastating war. Worlds along the Dalek border have been afflicted by a space plague, the cure for which requires a rare mineral, and logs from the failed colony indicate a supply of it on Parradon. Both the Earth expedition and the Daleks have come here to acquire a supply. While the Daleks’ spider armor still operates, the power drain has disabled their weapons. The Doctor brokers a temporary alliance between Daleks and humans. Leo searches the abandoned colony and learns that the colony failed when the colonists were unable to grow their own food due to an undetectable contamination in the soil. He also finds that before the colonists left, they had excavated the entrance to a buried city. The Daleks determine that the power drain originates from the city, and organize a party to find and destroy the source. Secretly, they have recognized the Doctor from his involvement in the war (see Viva La Resistance), and plan to execute him as soon as power is restored. The city is defended by numerous traps, which injures the human captain and destroys two of the Daleks. The search party discovers a large cache of the mineral inside the city. The Doctor, two Daleks, and Lieutenant Fisk continue on while Leo, Captain Rudolph, and the remaining Daleks return to the ships with the mineral. Though they are less formidable without their weapons, the Daleks demonstrate that they are still dangerous by impaling one of the humans with their legs to force compliance. After defusing the traps, the search party makes it to the nerve center of the city, where they find one lone survivor of the now-extinct native population. The Parradonian explains that her people had created a weapon of ultimate power, able to absorb all forms of energy and channel them into a beam of infinite destruction. However, the radiation from the weapon poisoned the planet, causing their crops to fail. The colonists a century earlier had set off the weapon’s automated defenses, and its charging cycle is responsible for the power drain. Rather than allowing the Doctor to destroy the weapon, the Daleks claim it for themselves. They reveal their true intentions: the plague was engineered by them to weaken the frontier worlds ahead of a new Dalek offensive. They had planned to establish a colony on Parradon to prevent humans from obtaining the mineral necessary to treat the plague, but with the weapon, they can simply destroy the planet outright. The elder allows the Daleks to remove the weapon, whereupon her body, long sustained by the weapon’s protective field, rapidly decays. The weapon adapts to Dalek energy frequencies, restoring power to their ship and weapons. The Doctor and Fisk escape by triggering one of the traps, managing to reach the surface ahead of the Daleks. With the city crumbling and causing massive subsidence on the surface, the Daleks decide to leave the humans to die with the planet rather than finishing them off. But Captain Rudolph, a veteran of the Dalek war, had anticipated a double-cross. Playing up his injuries in the city, he had faked incapacity and hidden aboard the Dalek ship. He jettisons the mineral supplies and sacrifices his own life to activate the weapon before it has been properly installed, causing the Dalek ship to explode. With the power drain ended, the expedition is able to send for a relief ship. Before the Doctor and Leo leave, the Doctor points out that the planet should become viable for colonization now that the weapon is no longer poisoning the soil.

August 9, 2017

Deep Ice: Gone. They’re all gone. (Howard Koch’s War of the Worlds II, Episode 3: The Tor)

Three episodes in and they still haven’t managed to show us the right planet.

Wanna know what the eight most beautiful words in the English language are? “I can’t find a copy of episode 3”.

I looked. I really did. This isn’t even a case of “Used booksellers were offering it for more than I was willing to pay.” I literally couldn’t find a copy up for sale anywhere.

To set things up a bit for the final episode, I’ll include the recap of episode 3 from episode 4’s opening narration:

It was the worst of times. Water was expensive. Life was cheap. Ronald Ratkin, the world’s first trillionaire is tightening his stranglehold on the world. Using his influence with bureaucrats and businessmen, Ratkin has ensured that his water conglomerate, April Showers, is now the sole supplier of water throughout the globe. He has put ice sectioners on strike and water purifiers on hold indefinitely. Mission Red, President Sandra DeWitt’s desperate attempt to thwart Ratkin, has met with disaster. While searching Mars for water, the crew of Orion 1 encountered the Martians, who invaded Earth sixty years ago, only to discover that these same Martians are now slaves of a conquering alien species, the Tor. And the Tor are on their way to Mars to evaluate humanind’s suitability for servitude. While attempting to flee Mars, Orion’s crew is trapped by Jessica Storm, commander of Ronald Ratkin’s personal shuttle, the Artemis. Her orders are to eliminate Orion’s crew and claim Martian water for Ronald Ratkin. Commander Jonathan Ferris had no choice but to submit,. because Ratkin had kidnapped his wife, Nancy. Meanwhile, unemployed water purification technician J. D. Clark became obsessed with radio personality Tosh Rimbauch’s opposition to the President. He took it upon himself to right the wrong caused by the President, and attempted to assassinate her. Now, President DeWitt lies paralyzed, perhaps for the rest of her life. In our last episode, Tosh Rimbauch, suspended by WXXY for his role in the assassination attempt, decided to set out on his own. More outrageous than ever, he starts a JD Clark defense fund. He knows that his listeners will support him if he can get into syndication. But in order to produce his own radio show, he needs to find money. Nancy Ferris managed to escape Ronald Ratkin by kidnapping his son and heir, Ethan. She brought him to the home of her friends, Thomas and Jennifer Connors. But before they could decide what to do with him, Ethan escaped, headed for Steinmetz Psychiatric Hospital. On the way, he teamed up with streetwise Kyle Jordan. Together, they travelled to Connecticut in search of Ethan’s long-lost mother. But Ronald Ratkin has other ideas. After years of sheltering and grooming his heir for greatness, he knows that allowing Ethan to see his mother, Mrs. Ratkin, in a pitiful state, with horrible memories, could turn Ethan against his father. Ratkin sent Doctor Geoffery Evans to Steinmetz, where Evans administered a lethal concoction to the unsuspecting Mrs. Ratkin. Just as Jessica Storm was poised to erase Orion’s crew from existence, first mate Mark Rutherford appeared, sent by the Martians to bring them all back to Mars. Curious and cautious, Jessica Storm accompanied the crew to the tunnels, miles beneath the Martian surface. The earthlings found themselves trapped in endless tunnels that slowly drove them mad. In a savage battle of wills, Jessica Storm kills both Nikki Jackson and Mark Rutherford. Suddenly, she finds herself facing the Tor. It was all a test, and she passed. Now she alone will escape the destiny that awaits Orion’s crew. The fate of the world rests in the hands of the Orion crew. But the Tor have other plans. Both for the crew, and for Earth.

You may have noticed that about two thirds of that recap is of events that actually happened on the last tape of episode 2. Yeah. I did get a chance to listen to episode 3 once, years ago. I think I got it out of the library. It’s a lot of filler.

I don’t remember there being any development in the plot with DeWitt, but we get what might actually be payoff for the stupid, boring dinner party scene back at the beginning with Rimbauch coming up with the idea of trying to get Clark off on the whole assassination thing by claiming that he was suffering from Incompetent-Leadership-Induced-Insanity: he wants to establish the legal precedent that if the government is terrible, someone who tries to kill them is not culpable for their actions, the plausibility of which was established back when we found out that people have successfully gotten off on murder charges by claiming overpopulation-induced-madness. It’s very this stupid thing’s obsession with insulting society.

I don’t recall the bits about Nancy and Ethan at all, though I do recall Ratkin sending Evans to off Ethan’s mom. I don’t remember how they get back to Mars either. I remember episode 2 ending with Jessica giving the order to kill the Orion crew, and I remember that they’re on Mars in episode 3, but not how the transition worked. I do recall that the cliffhanger was a real bummer. The ending is pretty unambiguous: Mark Rutherford’s dead. Nikki Jackson’s dead. Ethan’s mom is dead. The narrator failed to mention it, but Jonathan Ferris is dead too, killed by Jessica’s sidekick Walsh (The guy Ratkin calls right before Artemis launches to tell him to kill Jessica Storm if she shows any signs of being insufficiently evil). And two of the others, Pirelli and Talbert, I think, get into a fight and almost beat each other to death. It’s completely clear and unambiguous that our heroes have been completely defeated and the bad guys won.

I bet that’ll stick.

August 5, 2017
August 2, 2017

Reflections on Disney

Some comments on the various attractions at Walt Disney World, in the approximate order we saw them.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Dylan on the Tower of Terror. He apparently took that “Let’s be stoic” thing to heart.

We visited Hollywood Studios for two half-days. We missed Muppet Courtyard entirely, and only briefly saw Pixar Place.

  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration: This is just watching the Frozen sing-a-long DVD in a theater, with some interstitial narration by a pair of actors. This should not be your first Walt Disney World attraction. Evie did really light up when they dropped bubble “snow” on us at the climax though.
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: This is pretty good. I enjoyed the dark ride portion a lot more than the drop tower part, but that’s just me. I broadly enjoy roller coasters, but with most thrill rides, I find that everything happens too quickly for me to take it in. I was hoping for something a little longer, but the pre-show is fantastic.
  • Fantasmic!: Really nice show, though there were bits where I had trouble making out what was meant to be going on. I am most impressed by the climactic bit where the evil queen calls on the powers of Hades, god of the underworld; Maleficent, dark faerie; Jaffar, evil sorcerer; Ursula, the sea-hag; Chernabog, the demon; and Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame de Paris.
  • Star Tours: Best 3D ride we saw the whole time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this impressed by 3D. A whole lot of fun. I’d have done this twice if we’d had time.
  • The Great Movie Ride: A good, well-paced dark ride with a lot of neat stuff to see. I worried that the kids would get restless because it’s unusually long for a ride, but the over-the-top live performances kept Dylan engaged.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania: I enjoyed the visual elements, but I’m not hugely interested by shooting galleries, and the 3D didn’t work very well for me. Dylan enjoyed it, but kept getting frustrated with the shooting.
  • Star Wars Launch Bay: We hit this right before closing. I wish we’d had time to look around more. Dylan liked meeting BB-8, but panicked upon meeting Chewbacca. Evie was happy to see everyone.

And here’s Dylan on a speeder bike. Transition! (This picture is 30 seconds before he whacks himself in the crotch getting down)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

You’re not going to see a lot of pictures of me where I am not damp. What in the world made Walt think that a Florida swamp was a good place to build a theme park?

This was probably the hardest day, with a lot of crossing back and forth across the whole of the park due to having overcommitted. Dylan wished we could’ve spent more time looking at the animals, and spent the second half of the day wanting to go back to the hotel. It’s very beautiful, probably my second-favorite park to just-look-around, which makes it a shame we didn’t have time to. Pandora is beautiful, and I’m glad we circled back at the end to see it at night, even though we were all pretty tired and stressed out by this point.

  • Expedition Everest: One of the roller coasters I’ve enjoyed most. I don’t just mean at Disney. It’s a fairly short coaster with only moderate thrills, but it’s very inventive and visually striking, lots of fun. The pre-ride area is also really good.
  • Na’vi River Journey: Our first dark ride, and it’s beautiful. I was a little worried because the first three quarters of it rely on animation using integrated screens behind static props, and I thought this might be how all the dark rides were these days. There’s one legit animatronic at the end of the ride, though, and it’s clearly where the budget went. I’ve never seen anything like it; truly amazing. Evie loved this. Dylan was disappointed that we weren’t on a real boat (It’s a boat-shaped rail car driving through shallow water). I guess once he had been disabused of the idea, he got over it, because he didn’t complain about any of the other fake boats in the dark rides.
  • Kali River Rapids: It’s a good solid river rapids ride. I don’t like getting wet myself, but I could appreciate it. This is pretty much what broke Dylan for the day: he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go again, and without a FastPass, this meant standing in line for an hour and a half. Which means that Dylan got to learn about standing in line for ninety minutes for a five minute ride. About seventy minutes in, he discovered that he didn’t actually enjoy the ride enough to justify the wait. He was not much fun for a big chunk of the rest of the day. Evie and I waited nearby, and she enjoyed the water features.
  • Dinosaur: For unclear reasons, Dylan flipped out and wouldn’t go on this one, so I went alone. Leah came back after dinner and took a turn herself. The ride broke down for half an hour so I got stuck in the pre-show theater watching Claire Huxtable and Hodges from CSI in the introductory movie on a loop. The ride itself was pretty cool — you’re not going to find me speaking ill of a dark ride in general — but it’s very dark and moves very fast, so it’s hard to process what you’re seeing before it’s gone. The set design of the queuing area was my favorite part.

Epcot

I don’t remember this ride being scary. I have no idea why I’m the only one who doesn’t look scared.

This was another tough day. They were basically all tough days until Thursday, when we took half a day off because Dylan was so flustered Wednesday night that “Stop acting up or we won’t go to the park tomorrow,” did not work as a deterrent. Epcot was my favorite part to just-look-around, and we came back for half a day right before we left, and did a circuit of all the countries. Still pretty harried, because we only had a few hours and we wanted to complete our ritual (Get Dylan’s Duffy Bear stamped, spend a few minutes coloring it, throw a penny in the fountain, get a souvinier squished penny) at every stop. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to Future World.

  • Soarin’ Round the World: The kids loved this; it’s my oldest niece’s favorite ride, I think. I liked it but didn’t love it.
  • Frozen Ever After: Absolutely magnificent dark ride, with a really good waiting area. I’m just a bit sad I never got to see the ride’s previous incarnation, Maelstrom, but the animatronics in this, much like in the Na’vi River Journey, were amazing. Even moreso because they match perfectly with the CG cartoonish style of the film. This has got to be Disney’s biggest success at making a ride literally look like one of their animated films brought to life.
  • The Seas With Nemo and Friends: This is an interesting one; the dark ride is primarily done through CG animation rather than animatronics, which is disappointing, except that there’s a gimmick where the animated characters are projected into a physical aquarium tank alongside real fish, so it’s a hybrid between a traditional dark ride and an aquarium tour. I dig aquariums, so this was cool.
  • I might have to do a followup post which is all just “Evie being starstruck by costumed characters.” It was real hard to pick just one.

    Space Ship Earth: This was one of the rides I was most looking forward to, but I ended up more sort of “appreciating” it than actually enjoying it. It’s a very set-heavy ride, and you don’t really get a chance to look at things as much as I’d have liked. I was surprised how much Dylan liked it, though the face-detection glitched and it only took a picture of the top of his head.

  • Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros: Dylan and I hit this up while everyone else failed to do Test Track due to an encroaching storm. This was another one I was really looking forward to. I was worried at first, because, again, there’s a lot of video screens in the first part of the ride. But the majority of it is an old fashioned dark ride and is just wonderful. A particular bright spot is the finale, featuring animatronics that date back to the opening of the Magic Kingdom in the ’70s (Donald in particular has a charming physicality to him from being a fifty-year-old puppet). I’m told that there’s also an original 1956 Disneyland animatronic in the ride too, though I didn’t spot it.
  • O Canada!: I wanted to see this because it’s a recent refit (Wikipedia says 2007, but it’s been updated since then, because Martin Short namechecks Frozen). If you have an infinite amount of time to spend at Epcot, it’s nice. We didn’t, so I regret having spent so long on it. This is also technically the last discrete, named attraction that we did during our trip (we spent the rest of our time wandering the World Showcase).

Magic Kingdom

I shouldn’t have, on paper, but I found Magic Kingdom the least interesting park to walk around and take in. We barely spent any time at all in Frontierland, Adventureland, or Main Street USA, though, so that might influence my experience. But for rides, this is the park. Frozen Ever After was great. Gran Fiesta Tour was great. Na’vi River Journey was great. But all of my favorite rides were at Magic Kingdom.

  • Peter Pan’s Flight: My favorite ride of the whole trip. Old school animatronics, blacklight effects, and big, swooping vistas. Dylan and I went back for a second ride, and I’d have happily done a third. Leah had a hard time seeing, due to her position in the ship and Evie-wrangling.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh: My second-favorite ride of the whole trip. Winnie-the-Pooh is a particular favorite of mine, and the ride captures the “Strolling through a storybook” feel of the movies. Dylan, Evie and I went back for a second ride while Leah and the others did Splash Mountain.
  • It’s a Small World: Well, you pretty much have to, don’t you? It’s everything I want in a dark ride, full of things to look at and slow enough that you can. I didn’t find it cloying or too saccharine like I hear a lot of people do. My only negative is that the specific visual style of the animatronics isn’t really my cup of tea. Speaking of:
  • Mad Tea Party: It’s a spinning cup ride. Okay. The kids loved it. I’m sad that there is not currently an Alice dark ride.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: A cute 4D movie. Dylan really liked this a lot. I thought the story was good, but the CG animation wasn’t up to Disney standards (and I have a particular dislike of using CG for their classic characters. I did not mind being gently splashed a bit. The 3D worked pretty well, but not as well as Star Tours. Evie slept through the whole thing.
  • Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress: This is real cute. There’s something very charming about how the final scene appears to be simultaneously set in the ’80s, ’90s, and ambiguous-near-future. Wish it were feasible to add new chapters. Due to its provenance, it feels uneven, with the first three acts waltzing through the 20th century a generation at a time, then jumping to “Today” for the finale. I’d love to see the worlds of the ’60s and ’80s portrayed. Even better if they showed them in their Zeerust “What we imagine the coming decade is going to be like” glory.
  • Pirates of the Carribbean: Good, solid dark ride. I was worried that the post-film-series changes would be intrusive, but they’re not; the new Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics are stylistically consistent with the older ones and sufficiently unobtrusive that they’re almost more like an easter egg for the sharp-eyed. The one thing that really surprised me is that it wasn’t more fantastical in nature. I always assumed that the spooky skeleton pirates from the first movie were based on something from the ride, but the ride is all about your ordinary non-zombie pirates; the closest thing is a tableau of some skeletonized non-animated remains.
  • Walt Disney Railroad: It’s a train. It was nice. There’s a few places where you can see details of some of the other attractions that aren’t visible from the ride proper, and that’s cool.
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: The only parts I really liked were the dark ride elements, of which there aren’t enough. I’d have preferred the original Snow White ride, which apparently was scary. Dylan kept saying he only liked it a “smidge”, but wanted to go a second time. I feel like I preferred the Snow White ride at Enchanted Forest, but there is so much chance of my memory cheating on this that I’m not 100% sure there actually was a Snow White dark ride at the Enchanted Forest.
  • Haunted Mansion: So close to perfect. The thing that keeps this from being one of my favorites is that it’s a little too dark; after being outside under the angry, murderous gaze of the burning orange ball of hydrogen (I mean the sun, not Donald Trump), my vision wasn’t good enough to catch all the detail. Obviously the ambiance relies on the ride being dark, but you could bring the lights up maybe about 5-10% and it’d be a lot more satisfying.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: A pleasant, moderate roller-coaster. The only ride Leah and I went on alone.
  • Jungle Cruise: A good way to bring things down at the end of a long day. Holds up really well at night, though I imagine the colors would be more striking during the day. The animatronic animals are charmingly fake.

Obvious Omissions:

  • Space Mountain: Just didn’t have time. And being an eyeglass-wearer, indoor coasters lose a lot of their effectiveness for me, since I’m pretty much completely blind for them.
  • Swiss Family Treehouse: Was closed for the day at the one point where we were in the right part of the park and not in a hurry to make our next FastPass
  • The Hall of Presidents: Closed while Imagineers tried to find a line of dialogue to give the current President of the Electoral College of the United States that wouldn’t traumatize children, while they work out whether they’ll need to rush-order a Mike Pence, and while they try to figure out what to do with the Hillary Clinton robot they’ve had in storage since 2008.
  • Country Bear Jamboree: Everyone else thought I was crazy for wanting to see this.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: Dylan did this while Leah and I did Haunted Mansion.
  • Living With the Land: Was closed for repairs
  • Journey into Imagination with Figment: I did not push for this, having heard that Figment was no Eric Idle.
  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure: Leah would have liked to see this one, but Epcot was one of our very-busy days and we didn’t even really get to that corner of the park.
  • Mission: Space: Don’t even recall walking by.
  • Innoventions: We just forgot about it. Shame.
  • Avatar Flight of Passage: It is apparently impossible to ride this unless you are willing to spend the entire day queuing for it.
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular: The one time we might have been able to see it, there was a sudden downpour.
  • Rock n Roller Coaster: See Mountain, Space.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid: Narrowly missed the last showing.

And just to send us off, what the heck, here’s another picture of my daughter being starstruck by a Disney character.

July 29, 2017

Tales from /lost+found 122: Invaders From Mars!

Just for the sake of completeness…

4×18 February 18, 2000
INVADERS FROM MARS! (Serial 55)

Setting: New York, October, 1938
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie)
Guest Starring: Leiv Schreiber (Orson Welles), David Suchet (John Houseman), Paul Williams (Howard Koch), Eric Loren (Cathulan Leader)

Plot: The Toynbee device delivers the Doctor and Lizzie to New York City just before Halloween, 1938. Stopping for a meal, they have a chance meeting with Orson Welles, who has just decided to cancel their planned production of The War of the Worlds in favor of Lorna Doone. Exploring New York, the Doctor and Lizzie pick up a tail in the form of two Cathulan criminals who have detected the energy from the Toynbee device. An attempt to give them the slip at the Empire State Building fails, and the time travelers are taken prisoner. The Doctor offers to fix the Cathulan ship’s shields in exchange for their freedom, and discovers that the aliens are planning an elaborate con against Earth: they intend to crash their ship into the Empire State Building, then claim to be involved in an interplanetary battle between two space empires, and offer Earth their protection for a hefty price. The Doctor plants a seed of an idea that Earth might be in danger from a legitimate invasion in order to frighten the Cathulans. Lizzie starts a fight with the junior Cathulan, allowing the Doctor to escape. He seeks out Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre. With some difficulty, he persuades them to put on War of the Worlds that evening. The Doctor helps Howard Koch to rewrite the radio play as a hoax that could trick listeners into believing that an invasion from Mars is really occurring. During the writing process, the Doctor drops hints to inspire Howard to write the screenplay for Casablanca and warns Orson not to let the studio recut The Magnificent Ambersons. Still a captive of the Cathulans, Lizzie guesses the Doctor’s plan and plays on their fears so that when the Mercury Theater broadcast begins, they will be convinced. In New York and across the country, listeners mistake the broadcast for reality and panic, leading to rioting in the streets. The Cathulan leader goes outside to see for himself and witnesses the mass panic, but sees no Martians. Back at the studio, network executives force Orson to broadcast a disclaimer. The junior Cathulan hears the disclaimer and realizes he’s been tricked. But while attempting to take revenge on Lizzie for the deception, he is electrocuted by a faulty component of his ship. When the leader returns, Lizzie claims to be a Martian operative and passes off the burned body as a victim of a Martian heat ray. She is permitted to leave before the surviving Cathulan flees in his ship. Crowds on the streets of New York witness the alien ship, but their accounts will be dismissed as mass hysteria. Lizzie and the Doctor reunite at the radio studio and the Doctor puts Orson in contact with a UNIT precursor that deals with extraterrestrial incidents, who will protect Orson from prosecution in return for using the hoax as a cover for the Cathulan incident. After saying their goodbyes, the Doctor and Lizzie attempt to return to their own time, but an unknown force diverts them to a decaying city one hundred years into the future, where the Doctor is surprised to see a marble statue of himself, depicted as a battle-hardened warrior.

July 26, 2017

Deep Ice/Tales From /lost+found 121 CROSSOVER: Maybe it’s how they make little baby aliens (Doctor Who 4×18: Invaders From Mars!, Continued)

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

I’m going to end up getting filtered by google for this, aren’t I?

The ninth Doctor (Hugh Laurie) and his companion Lizzie Thompson (Sarah Michelle Gellar) are prisoners of the Cathulans, gangster aliens attacking New York on Halloween, 1938. Also, Orson Welles is getting ready to put on a radio play. Also, the aliens’ heads kinda look like a penis made of smaller penises.

In exchange for his freedom and safety, the Doctor takes a swing at reparing the Cathulan ship, supposedly so that the Cathulan commander can lead the coming armada when they invade the Earth. Right away, though, the Doctor notices that something’s not kosher; the ship is old and run down, and the damage is more due to lack of maintenance than a crash. There is battle damage to the ship, but it isn’t affecting any of the ship’s systems. The Doctor brings up a file while he’s working, and it turns out to be a schematic for the Empire State building. The Cathulans, who assume that the Doctor doesn’t have a stake in the matter, admit that they plan to announce their invasion by destroying the Empire State Building by crashing their ship into it.

Yeah… That’s awkward. That’s somewhere around the level of that episode of Power Rangers Turbo where the monster of the week knocks over a skyscraper and the Megazord catches it and just sticks it back on its foundation. This is not a plot point they would be able to use in a year and a half (See also, the post-9/11 Power Rangers SPD episode in which a monster suddenly declares, “I HATE EMPTY BUILDINGS!” Or the myriad episodes set in the town’s “Abandoned warehouse district,” which sounds like poor urban planning until you realize that it is, in fact, pretty sound strategy if you live in a world that features weekly attacks by giant monsters who hate empty buildings).

I won’t lie. Parts of this episode are uncomfortable to watch. I never really connected with the need to digitally edit the towers out of movies after 9/11, and I thought it was stupid when an episode of Friends got pulled. But this one is… Kind of on-the-nose. And I can’t really gloss over it, because it’s a pretty key point in the plot. The specific thing that’s broken on the ship is its shields, and without them, that whole “fly it into a building” plan will destroy the ship too. The Doctor points out that they could crash the ship by remote control and have one of the other ships in their armada beam them up.

Ahem. The Doctor suggests this. Casually. I mean, we know the Doctor’s going to end up foiling this plot, but he’s just completely casually trying to help these aliens come up with a workaround so they can carry out their plan to destroy the Empire State Building. Even the aliens are visibly uncomfortable about this. I mean, actually they’re uncomfortable because they’re up to something, but it does come off like even they can’t believe the direction this is taking.

Once the Doctor and Lizzie have a private moment as he’s repairing the shield generator, they work things out: there is no invasion fleet. The Cathulans aren’t launching an invasion; they’re working a protection racket. That’s why they want to crash the ship rather than using its weapons. They want to make a big, dramatic entrance, claim to represent a big old battle fleet, and then suggest that, “Nice planet you got here; be a real shame if it got caught in the crossfire during our interplanetary war.”

It’s the mention of a fake invasion that finally gets our heroes to cotton on to where the plot has been headed this whole time. Lizzie remembers the story of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, and tells the Doctor the accepted wisdom about the panic that ensued. The Doctor points out that Welles is planning to do Lorna Doone tonight, but he quickly formulates a plan, and it hinges on ensuring that the Mercury Theatre puts on the right show tonight.

When the Cathulans return, the Doctor starts musing out loud about how attractive the Earth is to the various galactic powers. He references the past few episodes, noting the Ogron expedition in Baltimore last century and last week’s business with the Jokari and the Red Baron. He muses that he’s even heard rumors that the people of Mars were planning an invasion. That makes the Cathulans nervous. There’s always been a bit of weirdness with Mars in the American series. The Ice Warriors don’t properly show up until season 8, but there’s references to a dangerous race on Mars all through the FOX era, going all the way back to episodes 3 and 4 back in the first season. They’re never actually shown or referred to as anything other than “Martians”, but there’s little hints here and there. References to them looking like turtles, or being sensitive to heat.

Sarah Michelle Gellar was best known as a soap opera actress when she signed on to Doctor Who. Then they found out she could do high-kicks, and a lot of writing excuses for her to do them ensued.

The Doctor “casually” mentions that the humans have been talking about signs of an approaching Martian fleet over the radio for days, and the leader decides to follow up on that, leaving them alone with his lieutenant. The time travelers decide that it’s time to make a break for it, which involves Lizzie roundhouse-kicking the remaining Cathulan. We get one of those classic “running down corridors” chase scenes as the Doctor and Lizzie escape into the subway tunnels. But, of course, they get separated, and Lizzie ends up getting recaptured.

And here’s where I’d personally have preferred they take the episode in a different direction. Because I reckon they gave the wrong parts of the story to the wrong characters. Once safely away from the Cathulans, the Doctor heads for the Columbia Building to convince Orson Welles to do War of the Worlds tonight, while Lizzie is stuck with the aliens, and her role for the rest of the episode is basically going to be to persuade them not to listen to Charlie McCarthy.

I’m serious. The big conflict in her end of the plot is that they turn on NBC rather than CBS and nearly spend the evening listening to The Chase and Sanborn Hour. (For clarity’s sake, no one ever actually says the names of the networks. They don’t even mention Charlie and Edgar by name.)

Continue reading

July 22, 2017
July 19, 2017

A Memorial

I was out of town the last week of May, and in the preparations, I missed this piece of news. I probably would have missed it anyway, because it’s not the sort of thing that makes the big news sources, and I find it too morbid to google random people whose stars have faded to see if they’re still alive on a regular basis.

Jared Martin died May 24, of pancreatic cancer (The same cancer that recently relieved us of John Hurt, Alan Rickman, and Steve Jobs. Cancer is an asshole). He is, of course, best known for his role as Dusty Barlow on Dallas. Though readers will know him best as Dr. Harrison Blackwood on War of the Worlds, even among science fiction fans, he’s more often remembered for playing the time-traveling musician Varian on the short-lived ’70s series The Fantastic Journey (No relation to The Fantastic Voyage; this is from the popular ’70s genre of “Contemporary family falls through a hole into a weird otherworld and fails to get home week after week”). And though it would be a prime time soap that made him a household name, Jared Martin had a long history with genre TV, firmly in the stable of “Hey, it’s that guy!” actors. Think someone like Mark Sheppard today. He appeared in Columbo as an incredibly sympathetic murder victim, a recovering addict killed as part of a cover-up by a ruthless surgeon played by Leonard Nemoy. He played a double role in an episode of Wonder Woman, as an amusement park owner and his disfigured brother. He played the son of a corrupt senator on The Incredible Hulk. Martin was often cast as sophisticated villains: a professor who used remote-controlled cars in the third season opener of Knight Rider; a murderous doctor in Hart to Hart, a gentleman thief in Scarecrow and Mrs. King, a ruthless businessman’s Number 2 in Airwolf. He appeared in two episodes of Murder, She Wrote, including one of that series’ crossovers with Magnum, PI. (Not all of his villain roles were sophisticated, though; he also played a mutated pacific islander in The Six Million Dollar Man). He also appeared in the original Westworld and an episode of the TV adaptation of Logan’s Run.

Harrison Blackwood was his last regular leading role. He spent his later years teaching acting and directing in Philadelphia, and as an art photographer. He was 75.

Regular programming resumes next week. Sorry for the delay.