Monthly Archives: April 2017

Tales from /lost+found 109: Golden Age

2×12 February 6, 1998
GOLDEN AGE (Serial 20, Episode 4)

Setting: New Orleans, Louisiana, Near-Future
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jonathan Frakes (Blackwood), Bruce Harwood (Swift), Ted Raimi (Dr. French), Dean Cain (Adam Neuman) Paul Eckstein (Voskar)

Plot: Lizzie awakens aboard a space ship, where she is told by its commander, Adam, that she has been in suspended animation for a hundred years, and is currently on a colony ship approaching an Earth-like planet to establish a new civilization. Lizzie becomes suspicious when she recalls the Doctor’s warnings to Rex about the side effects of suspended animation. In New Orleans, the Doctor, Slate and Blackwood search for Lizzie, which eventually leads them to French Technologies. The Doctor recognizes some of the technology they find there as salvage from Jagaroth’s experiments with the time destructor, but is surprised to see Therasapien technology as well. In the space ship, Lizzie finds Adam meeting with Dr. French, who arrives in a space suit, having allegedly space-walked over from a sister ship. When she sees that his scratches have not healed, she follows him out of the airlock, discovering that the “ship” is a simulator. Lizzie takes French by surprise and overpowers him as he confronts the Doctor. French is a radical environmentalist. To save the world from the dangers of global warming, he has built a primitive time machine which will send the unwitting “colonists” millions of years into the past to start over on an unspoilt world. The dinosaurs had been summoned as part of the machine’s calibration process. Swift is part of the conspiracy, having joined French’s group out of guilt after his position as an oil executive exposed him to evidence that the industry had deliberately suppressed evidence of global warming. Voskar comes out of hiding, having been smuggled out of the Therasapien base by Swift. Voskar and Swift had made contact shortly after the Therasapiens awoke, and had plotted the attack as a cover to smuggle Therasapien technology to French. His earlier opposition had been a pose: Voskar wishes to return to his native time, but on his own terms. The Doctor had misunderstood their circumstances; when Greyhorn’s outpost malfunctioned, it caused the other Therasapien shelters to remain in hibernation indefinitely, so Therasapien civilization never awakened after the impact. Voskar plans to travel to the Eocene period and send the activation signal manually, changing Earth’s history so that humanity never evolves. French and Swift are willing to sacrifice humanity so that their colonists can build a better future. The conspirators retreat to the ship and activate the time machine. Blackwood is left behind, but the Doctor and Lizzie are able to fight through the time distortion and enter the ship. The ship is sent back fifty million years, materializing near the entrance to the Therasapien base. With no more use for the humans, Voskar kills French and Swift. He never intended to honor his promise to allow the humans to coexist peacefully with his people. The Doctor, Lizzie, and Adam pursue Voskar into the Therasapien base, but Lizzie goes missing on the way. The Doctor attempts to dissuade Voskar from changing history. Voskar is unswayed, and transmits the awakening signal, but nothing happens. Lizzie appears, and reveals that the base had never malfunctioned in the first place; she sabotaged it. She had easily recognized the sabotage when she first saw the base computers, and discovered a hidden message from her future self giving a cover story to tell. Voskar tries to force Lizzie to undo the sabotage, but in the course of the chase, he encounters his own hibernating counterpart, and the release of temporal energy kills him. With no other way home, the Doctor helps Adam and the other colonists into spare hibernation chambers, where they will awaken with the Therasapiens a century in their own future. The Doctor modifies his and Lizzie’s chamber to activate early, allowing them to discretely slip out during the events of “In Cold Blood”. The Doctor is upset that Lizzie’s sabotage affected the entire Therasapien race, but acknowledges that she had no choice thanks to the predestination paradox. They recover the TARDIS and meet up with Blackwood, from his perspective, only minutes after they left. While skeptical about their story, he contacts his superiors with the recommendation that a permanent taskforce be established to deal with similar matters in the future.

Thesis: Vengeance is Mine (War of the Worlds 1×19, Part 1)

I had no idea it was going to end in such tragedy.

Cheap special effects. That’s obviously a model.

It is April 17, 1989. We’ve been away for a month again, and missed a lot. Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web. Pons and Fleischmann announce that they have achieved cold fusion, solving the world’s energy problems forever, unless it turns out their work is unreproducible, flawed, or possibly fraudulent. But what are the odds of that? The oil tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. The term “Exxon Valdez” would become the go-to metonym for oil spills until the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, despite the fact that it isn’t even on the top 20 list of biggest oil spills. The Valdez would be renamed the Exxon Mediterranean and returned to service, then later sold to SeaRiver Maritime, then to Hong Kong Bloom Shipping, ending its life as the Dong Fang Ocean in 2012 when it was sold for scrap under the name Oriental Nicety, which sounds like a musical number out of a Mickey Rooney movie that hasn’t aged well.

In political news, the Soviet Union has its first (and last) election for the Congress of People’s Deputies. Serbia revokes the autonomy of Kosovo. There’s a failed coup against Prosper Avril in Haiti. The Solidarity labor union in Poland is legalized. Peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi, Georgia are massacred by the Red Army. A thing happens in China. And the Australian Prime Minister admitted to marital infidelity on national TV.

Last Friday, the US Government seized the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association for conducting a long-running campaign of fraud costing the life savings of loads of elderly investors as part of the massive savings and loan crisis brought about by Reagan-era deregulation which allowed them to, excuse me if I get technical here, play the ponies with the life savings of old people in order to make massive profit for themselves. Or, as the current administration would have it, “Good times!” Chairman Charles Keating would eventually go to jail for fraud in the affair. Lincoln had been in trouble since 1987, but had been able to keep themselves afloat by tricking customers into switching their federally-insured investments over to junk bonds, after a group of five US Senators had taken various actions to delay or reduce action against Keating on the theory that if we just let him keep betting grandpa’s pension on red 13, it had to come up eventually. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and John Glenn (D-Ohio) are eventually cleared of wrongdoing but criticized for “bad judgment”. In other “Congress is the opposite of Progress” news, Speaker of the House Jim Wright is charged with accepting improper gifts and evading outside income limits. He will resign at the May, and it’s widely understood that the actual thing he did was less of a big deal than other, less technically illegal factors that would have come up during an investigation. Many on his own side believed that he’d cost them the election with his handling of the savings and loan crisis, a congressional failure so bipartisan that it had cost the Democrats the moral high ground. Meanwhile, others believe he was pressured to resign because he was pushing too hard on the Iran/Contra affair. The charges against Wright were filed by up-and-comer Newt Gingrich, which helped bring him to prominence within the party, as part of his lifelong commitment to strictly enforcing the highest standards of ethics from all elected officials except for Republicans.

Also in the past few days, 94 people are crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium during a soccer semifinal in Sheffield. Two more would die of injuries in the following days. Unrelatedly, Daphne du Maurier will die Wednesday.

Dramarama and Alphaville have new albums out this week. I mention it because “Dramarama and Alphaville” is a fun sequence of words to say. Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time, considered one of the 500 best albums ever, is released. Someone else had an album out a couple of weeks ago, which I’ll get to later. The past month is another one that occupies an inordinate amount of my late ’80s music memory. Mike + The Mechanics unseated Debi Gibson in the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Living Years”, then yielded to The Bangles with “Eternal Flame”. The next week, Roxette had overtaken them with “The Look”, then Fine Young Cannibals bumped them with “She Drives Me Crazy” in the most recent charts. Elsewhere in the top ten, Milli Vanilli and Madonna are still hanging around, as is Roy Orbison’s posthumous hit “You Got It”. Poison and REM are also in there, as is Karaoke favorite “Funky Cold Medina” by Tone Loc.

The 61st Academy Awards happened at the end of March. Rain Man wins big, with Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman. Jodie Foster wins Best Actress for The Accused. And oh, hey, look at that, Christopher Hampton wins Best Adapted Screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons, adapted from Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton, adapted from Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Amboise-Francois Choderlos del Laclos. Step 2 sounds like a cheat there. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? takes home a lot of the more technical categories. They Live is new out on home video last week, as is Crossing Delancey, a film which holds no interest for me, but whose cover I always found really striking on the rack at the rental place. Among those movies out in theaters while we’ve been away are The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Troop Beverly Hills, Heathers, and Major League.

In Canada, a TV adaptation of Babar premiered recently. On March 24, game shows Sale of the Century and Super Password ended their runs. That same day — and this is a rare case where I have absolute concrete memories of having watched this specific broadcast — NBC reruns the 1960 production of Peter Pan with Mary Martin. My dad was real excited to see it. We watched this one with Dylan last year, and I found I was super uncomfortable with how over-the-top racist the “Indian” stereotypes were. But I’ll let it slide if I’m allowed to pretend that Peter is trans. Series debuts in March include COPS and Quantum Leap, which I mentioned last time and won’t go into here. Premiering this week is the William Shatner-hosted docudrama series Rescue 911.

MacGyver is a repeat this week, but ALF is new. Yesterday’s The Wonderful World of Disney was the second half of The Parent Trap III, the penultimate film in the original Parent Trap continuity. Since this is the first time we’ve been together in April, we missed the premiere of The Robert Guillaume Show, whose fourth episode airs Wednesday. This is a show I have no recollection of whatever, which probably means that in 1989, my bedtime on a school night was before 9:30 (Though I recall enough other things to assert that my bedtime was 11 by 1992, so maybe not). The show only lasts 13 episodes despite Robert Guillaume being a God damned national treasure. ABC reckoned that the American viewing audience wasn’t ready for an interracial romance in prime time, which is not entirely unfair for reasons I can’t address without screaming about the election for another five hundred words. It would be the mid-90s before approval of interracial marriage became a majority view in the US. On the other hand, Guillaume (who, I will repeat, is a God damned national treasure) suggests that the failure of the show was due more to ABC reckoning that the American viewing audience wasn’t ready for an interracial romance in prime time — and therefore didn’t put in the effort to help it find its audience.

Again we have no new Star Trek the Next Generation, though we’ve had three new episodes in April: “Contagion“, “The Royale“, and “Time Squared“. In the first, the Enterprise nearly crashes from being port-scanned by an ancient probe. It’s a good episode, and feels like it’s setting up something interesting for the future, but that never actually happens. “The Royale” is, I think, considered one of the weaker episodes, based around an away team getting stuck in an alien recreation of a terrible pulp novel. It’s basically the Original Series episode “Spectre of the Gun” without anything actually exciting happening. I liked it as a child because I enjoyed the visual motifs — it’s set in a mob-era casino, and there’s an amazing visual of a revolving door in an otherwise featureless black void — but the lack of any sort of stakes or “stuff worth watching happening” really brings it down. But it does feel to me like part of the last hurrah for TNG’s early years “bring the weird” mandate, in that the (never shown) aliens in this episode are weird and distant and implied to be very very unlike us indeed, with godlike powers and an inability to interact with humans in meaningful terms. The third is another “bring the weird” episode, in which the crew tries to explain the appearance of an alternate version of Picard, sent back in time six hours after the apparent destruction of the Enterprise. It has several weaknesses (Like having Picard kill his duplicate for no clear reason), but probably would have been better as originally proposed, with a reveal that the situation had been engineered as a test by Q, segueing into the next Q episode, May’s “Q Who”.

Friday the 13th The Series this week gives us “A Friend to the End”, which is a twofer. In the B-plot, Micki and Ryan track down a cursed child-size coffin that, like so many other cursed objects in this show, can trade one life for another. It guest stars a kid named Keram Malicki-Sanchez. Sounds familiar, but I can’t place him. The A-plot involves the “Shard of Medusa”, a stone spike used by a sculptor to transform models into statues via stabbing. I recall being impressed by the visual effect, and am scared to re-watch in case it turns out to suck. While we were back on break, one other episode aired, “The Mephisto Ring”. In that one, a cursed 1919 World Series ring predicts the outcome of sporting events in exchange for a human life. The villain this time is played by recurring actor, Denis Forest who specialized in playing these kind of pathetic, loser-y villains. It’s a role he’s good at — he’ll do it one more time on Friday the 13th, and also, by an interesting coincidence, he’ll do it this week on War of the Worlds.

I mean, I know that it’s a close community, the Toronto acting scene of 1989. But it’s a weird coincidence that this guy Forest, who we’ve never run into before, shows up in consecutive weeks on Paramount-syndicated shows playing very similar characters. He’s an antagonist in this episode of War of the Worlds, but this show isn’t willing to go all-in on human villains, so he’ll reform at the end, leaving us time for the aliens to be the bad guys. He’s kind of a sympathetic antagonist too. Sort of. It’s complicated, and actually, this is kind of the thing that Denis Forest was good at. You feel bad for him, because he is a sad, pathetic weasel, and possibly dealing with some sort of mental illness. But there’s never any point at which you feel bad for him in a way that makes you want to help him — at least, help him achieve his goals; broadly speaking, “Let’s get this guy institutionalized before he harms himself and others” is certainly a form of helping him. He’s a person who is dealt a bad hand but also plays it badly and never really cares about the harm he does to others.

There’s a clue that something’s going on a little more than your standard episode opening right from the beginning of the first scene, but it’s subtle. It looks a lot like the open we’ve seen a lot of times: Ironhorse and Omega Squad on a snowy university campus, moving into position to take out some aliens. The odd thing, though, is that it’s narrated. As Ironhorse frets, with worry in his voice, about Omega squad taking too long to clear the area of civilians, a voice-over Ironhorse tells us that it had seemed like a routine mission, and he’d been left alone to cover one of the exit points when a report came in of three suspects headed his way. Voiceover Ironhorse seems a bit distracted, and insists that, “I had no choice; I had to confront them.”

Do a barrel roll!

Physical Ironhorse is visibly on edge at having to enter open combat without backup, but he approaches the three people, two of whom draw assault rifles. Ironhorse does one of those dive-rolls and comes up with his own weapon drawn, gunning them down. It… doesn’t look as cool as it ought to. It’s executed fine in a technical way, but with everyone on open, level, snow-covered ground, it doesn’t actually seem like he does it for any particular reason. He doesn’t move fast enough to be plausibly evading their fire, there’s no cover for him to take, it doesn’t move him out of their line of fire. It’s like he just does it because it seemed like it was expected of him at that point. The audio stops completely dead for a second when Ironhorse stops shooting. The incidental music slowly picks back up a second later, but there’s this moment of eerie silence that doesn’t sound real; the foley for Ironhorse’s gunfire just cuts off dead.

Maybe the reason he’s so disturbed is that she’s clearly the same actress who played one of the LARPers in “Goliath is my Name”

The camera walks with Ironhorse to see the results of his handiwork. “But it wasn’t three of the enemy like the radio report said. It was only two.” As we draw closer, it becomes clear that what’s left is two puddles of steaming alien goo, and a dead human woman in a fur coat. “The woman was their hostage.” Ironhorse looks up in time to see the third alien escape and brings his weapon to bear, but freezes, instead drawn to look back at the dead hostage, allowing the alien to escape. “I let her get away, and I had shot their hostage, and innocent person.” He crouches by the nearly bloodless body and screams for a medic as we dissolve to reveal the previous scene as a flashback, as Ironhorse relates the tragic events to his therapist. He’s been having nightmares, and keeps reliving the scene in his mind. He insists that the killing doesn’t bother him, but his compulsion to keep replaying it does, and he becomes defensive when asked about it.

Okay. Ironhorse accidentally kills a civilian and is having a hard time coping. That’s an idea that we could get something out of. There’s been little hints at this as a looming possibility all season, but they’ve never fully latched onto it before. We’ve had scenes where Ironhorse has been fooled by aliens, and scenes where he’s unsure if Harrison or Suzanne have been converted. But this is the first time someone’s ever guessed alien and been wrong.

Unfortunately, Ironhorse’s character journey here is a shambles. He’s largely incoherent with his therapist. He doesn’t seem to want to talk, he gets cause and effect backwards, he repeatedly insists that he knows he did the right thing under the circumstances, and if he doubts this, the narrative doesn’t display that. The therapist isn’t much help either. He does the usual “well what do you think?” shtick, and latches on to Ironhorse’s unwillingness to explain what exactly he means about being presently involved in a “war”, or who this “enemy” is. He implies that he can’t help Ironhorse because he’s withholding this information.

And that doesn’t make sense. Soldiers serving in combat have different needs than most other kinds of patients; Ironhorse would certainly be seeing a psychiatrist who has experience working with the military, and who understands that they won’t be allowed to disclose the details of operations. But more to the point, it shouldn’t matter within the context of helping Ironhorse to work through this.

+This week’s guest star who’s too good of an actor for the way they use him is Bernard Behrens. Even though the character is thinly drawn and not given anything good to do, Bernard Behrens has the right look for the part. He conveys a sort of detached gravitas that is a little light on empathy for a realistic therapist, but is pretty good for a standard cliche. I also checked three times to make sure he’d never been a Knight Rider villain (But guess who in this show did…). Behrens will be better served when he returns to Canadian-made first-run syndication in the fall as patriarch of the Van Helsing clan in Dracula the Series, a show that my local unaffiliated stations didn’t carry, so I know nothing about it, except that one of my three readers mentioned that Mia Kirshner was in it.
Wait. Does this all sound familiar? Why am I getting this crazy feeling of deja vu from this episode?
The one actually important question he (The psychiatrist is credited only as “Psychiatrist” and has no name) asks is this: why was this killing different? And Ironhorse doesn’t give him a meaningful answer. In fact, the show never gives us a meaningful answer. It never even gives us a meaningless one.

The one terrifying possibility it obliquely dangles is that Ironhorse thought she was hot — the next time he flashes back to the shooting, he’ll imagine her in a wedding gown for reasons that aren’t examined or explained. Or perhaps it’s because she’s American. Ironhorse’s military experience, we must presume, is mostly overseas because that is how the US’s history of military engagement has gone for the past century and a half, so American civilian casualties aren’t something most soldiers have to be prepared for. But that’s an intensely ugly thing to presume about Ironhorse (and besides, there are occasional implications in the series, without being rendered concrete exactly, that this show is set in the world where domestic anti-terrorist action within the continental US is something comparatively normal for the US military to do, rather than the fever dreams of conspiracy theorists who watch too much Alex Jones).

This isn’t even the thing that looks most like it’s from a music video in this episode.

What he tells the psychiatrist is that he went to her funeral, for reasons he doesn’t understand. That doesn’t answer the question, though: there has to be something about the shooting that was different. Saying that the shooting is different because he went to the funeral is just begging the question. Why did he go to the funeral? Because the shooting was different. Why was the shooting different? Because he went to the funeral. There are so many possible reasons, and the show never picks one, and the resolution for Ironhorse doesn’t find one. Has Ironhorse never been involved in an action that killed civilians before? Possible I guess, but he served in special forces and Vietnam, so it seems like he’d have at least been close to action that had civilian casualties.

And if that were the case, it’s so blindingly obvious that the fact that he doesn’t mention it is basically inconceivable. Now, maybe the more interesting possibility is that it has something to do with him being alone at the time. Perhaps every other time he’d been in a similar incident, he’d been working with a team, and had other people there to — it’s oversimplifying it to say “share the blame”, but that’s kinda it. Maybe not to pass the buck, but to reinforce the idea that the outcome, while tragic, was unavoidable. In the sense of, “Since all three of us thought this was the right thing to do, the bad outcome was just tough luck, not the result of me personally making the wrong call.” That would have been a good explanation, and you could work that into the story arc, and indeed the character arc: say, that Ironhorse is used to perceiving himself as a piece of a machine, but this particular shooting erased his internal separation between the decision to use deadly force (usually issued as an order to others), the physical act of killing (performed under the order of others as a young soldier), and the consequences of his actions. You could have this be the first time he’d personally killed a civilian since being promoted to a commanding role, so that he was effectively both the person giving the orders and the person receiving them. And coming to terms with that might even play into the character arc that they enticed me with months ago but won’t come back to: the evolution of Ironhorse into a shamanic character.

But none of that happens. The psychiatrist asks him how he felt about going to the funeral, and Ironhorse says that he doesn’t feel good about killing an innocent person but refuses to dwell on it. Then their time runs out, and Ironhorse leaves. It’s ambiguous whether he plans to return; he doesn’t think the session has helped, but the psychiatrist points out that they still haven’t sorted out why he’s here in the first place.

What, no hoodie and sunglasses?

As he leaves, he’s watched through a sniper-scope camera mask effect. The mask effect belongs to a scope (not presently attached to a gun) in the hands of Denis Forest. He’s playing Martin Cole, the — you may want to sit down for this — grieving husband of Ironhorse’s victim. He’s come unglued with the death of his wife, and mutters to himself, “It’s all under control folks; I’m here, I’m going to put the chaos in order.” Me, I’m going to put the order in chaos by skipping ahead to his next scene, five minutes later.

When we rejoin Martin a few minutes on, he’s watching home movies while arguing with the police over the phone. They’ve declared his wife’s death a closed case, on account of they know who did it and it counts as an accident. The home movies depict Martin and Sarah in happier times, playfully mugging for the camera as they do some nonspecific frolicking in the park. Or at least, she does; his frolicking still looks weird and creepy because he’s still Denis Forest.

In an episode that is full of ideas that sound interesting but don’t end up working, grieving widower Martin Cole is possibly the most… sound interesting but don’t end up working. I get what they were going for, and it’s a good idea. A man who’s had a break with reality due to a traumatic loss as an antagonistic character who manages to be a more personal and direct threat to one of the regulars than the aliens typically are (Remember, outside of the pilot, direct combat with the aliens has generally been a total rout for their side) is an interesting idea. And Denis Forest’s Martin Cole is an interesting character. But when you put those things together, it doesn’t quite work. Because Denis Forest isn’t playing a broken, grieving widower; he’s playing a stalker. He’s in his creepy stalker lair, watching his creepy stalker videos of a beautiful woman who, a reasonable person would assume, would never in a million years marry the sort of guy whose destiny almost certainly involves the one of his neighbors telling a reporter, “He was a quiet man who kept to himself.” I don’t just mean that Martin Cole looks like a weasel — he does, but that’s neither here nor there. But he displays no real character traits that might plausibly lead to a sane human being wanting to spend time with him, let alone marry him. He is not kind or personable or friendly. He possesses considerable technical skill, but doesn’t seem to be especially intelligent in an abstract sense. He is obsessive. He is possessive. He never gives any indication that he might have redeeming traits. And even in the videos that should be set before his breakdown, he still comes off like a creepy stalker.

Still not the thing that looks most like it came out of a music video.

Also, he’s got a bomb-making workshop in his garage, where, after a few more intervening scenes, we will watch him arm a remote controlled model helicopter. This does not appear to be a recent remodel. Simply put, Denis Forest does such a good job of playing Martin Cole, mad obsessive stalker and unibomber-style domestic terrorist, that it’s impossible to take him seriously as Martin Cole, grieving husband who had been able to carry on a successful relationship with another human being before he was pushed to the edge. For fear I am overstating my case here, I should be clear that it’s not simply the fact that Martin Cole is a profoundly creepy weirdo that makes him hard to believe in context. Rather, it’s that lack of any other traits: he’s a one-note creepy weirdo, and that one note isn’t one that leads me to believe he was ever capable of a healthy adult relationship. There’s a couple of ways they could have helped this out. The most obvious would be to give us more of a look at what Martin Cole was like before the death of his wife. They could have — and I imagine this is the most likely path they would’ve tried — to present him as entirely normal before Sarah’s death. But I think it would be equally valid (at least in a logical sense; there are some second-order implications that are deeply problematic) to depict him as having some kind of pre-existing difficulty, perhaps even being non-neurotypical, but managing his condition and, critically, having other positive qualities as well. There is some support for this in the text, particularly later, when Martin describes Sarah as having helped him through unspecified “bad times”.

The big problem with this approach, obviously, is that it plays directly into the notion that the mentally ill are dangerous, and “even the good ones” are one bad day away from violence. That’s both a deeply harmful and unpleasant narrative, and a pretty tired cliché. Therefore I think that it would be preferable, in terms of the broader social context and also in terms of playing Denis Forest’s particular acting strengths, to scrap the whole thing about him being the grieving widower. Have him present himself as her boyfriend but, critically, with a third act reveal that actually no, he was just a creepy stalker who’d developed a dangerous obsession with her, and their relationship existed only in his sense of entitlement. The other advantage to this solution is that it keeps the emotional center of the episode with Ironhorse, as it should be. Because in the plot as it stands, there’s a broad attempt to make Martin Cole a sympathetic antagonist. His complaint is valid, after all. What happened to him does indeed suck, and it also really sucks that if your wife gets shot by a military special ops unit during an anti-terrorist operation despite having done nothing wrong, there is absolutely no recourse, no recompense, and no justice. The way it’s presented, this distracts from Ironhorse’s emotional arc rather than reinforcing it.

But even creepy-stalker-Martin is a tough sell, just because frankly, the plot of this episode is already all over the place, and Martin Cole as a plot device needs to be available for the third act reversal where he helps save the day. And I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want this episode to end on, “The stalker saves the day and gets revenge against those ultimately responsible for killing the woman he was planning on abducting and keeping prisoner in his basement.” This story is a really interesting idea, but I don’t know if there’s any way they could have pulled it off.

To Be Continued…


  • War of the Worlds is available on DVD from amazon.

Tales From /lost+found 108: In Cold Blood

2×10 December 19, 1997
IN COLD BLOOD (Serial 20, Episode 2)

Setting: New Orleans, Louisiana, Near-Future
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: James Horan (Greyhorn), Paul Eckstein (Voskar), Bruce Harwood (Swift), John Vargas (Rex), Jonathan Frakes (Blackwood)

Plot: Assuming that the reptilian creature is sensitive to low temperatures, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the coolant pipes that run along the corridor. The creature is forced to retreat to avoid falling into a torpor. The Doctor reasons that the creatures are aliens whose ship had crashed on the ocean floor and perceived the drilling platform as a threat, but can’t figure out why they are only attacking in person now. He tries to modify the platform’s sonar to make contact in hopes of brokering a peaceful solution, while the company men simply want to destroy the creatures so that drilling can continue. The roughnecks reckon that there’s more money to be made by capturing them instead and assist the Doctor, until he sends a message to the ocean floor offering his help in leaving the planet. More creatures attack and several of the roughnecks are killed. The Doctor and Lizzie are locked in a storeroom where they find a cache of dinosaur fossils that had been churned up by the drills. Lizzie realizes that the sabotage to the platform was human in nature: the company men valued the oil more than the fossils, and sabotaged the radio to cover up the find, while the workers, wanting fame, sabotaged the drill to protect the fossils. The Doctor finds a vaguely humanoid skull among the fossils and realizes that the creatures, which he dubs “Therasapiens”, are not aliens, but a sapient species of dinosaur that had been somehow preserved for millions of years. They would have interpreted his offer of help as an eviction notice, prompting their violent response. The Doctor escapes using the sonic screwdriver, finds a Therasapien, and surrenders to it, offering the skull for burial. The Doctor and Lizzie, along with several other captured humans, are taken deep below the surface to meet with the Therasapien leader, Greyhorn. The Therasapiens were the dominant species on Earth sixty-five million years ago. When they detected a comet on a collision course with the planet, they placed themselves in suspended animation deep underground. Greyhorn had commanded a scientific outpost designed to study the force of the impact. Lizzie spots a flaw in the outpost’s systems which caused them to radically over-estimate how long the surface would be uninhabitable. The Doctor hypothesizes that the rest of their species had awakened millions of years ago and had since gone extinct. The Doctor suggests that he could use the TARDIS to return them to a period when their species still existed, but the Therasapiens are divided, with many wishing to remain in the present and reclaim Earth from the humans. Greyhorn persuades a majority of the clan to go with the Doctor, but he is betrayed by his ambitious lieutenant, Voskar. Voskar imprisons the humans and plans to use Therasapien technology to detonate the oil deposit near their base, creating a tsunami that will destroy New Orleans. With help from the dying Greyhorn, the Doctor rigs the base to return to hibernation mode, forcing the Therasapiens back into suspended animation for a century. Rex sacrifices himself by remaining behind to activate the hibernation sequence. The Doctor and the surviving humans escape back to the platform where they meet Blackwood, a government agent dispatched to investigate their disappearance. Swift agrees to work with the government to protect and conceal the Therasapiens until they can be peacefully awakened. Blackwood brings the survivors back to port to make arrangements, but upon arriving in New Orleans, they discover the city is being menaced by a Giganotosaurus.

Antithesis: Candle in the Night (War of the Worlds 2×15, Part 2)

Man, Eugene Levy aged a lot in the ’90s.

Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging…

Blackwood baked a cake. Kincaid broke a window. Suzanne took up scrapbooking. Debi didn’t recognize obvious references to Mark Twain. Kincaid decorated a library with construction paper chains. The nerdy boy complained a lot. Julian Richings smiled.

Suzanne lures Debi to the library with the (accurate) claim that Kincaid needs them to bring him tools to repair his starter motor. They make an honest stab at turning “Everyone kept telling Kincaid not to put off fixing the starter motor” into a running gag, with Ralph, Suzanne, and Debi independently ribbing him about it, but it woulda worked better if they’d ever brought it up before the van broke down.

Y’know what woulda been better than writing this charismatic young actress as a series of one-note fat jokes? Literally anything else.

Debi is suitably impressed by the surprise party, doubly so by a chocolate cake. She gets to meet Gunther, Lisa gives her a bracelet hand-woven from stranded cat-5, and Nate, confessing to his actual circumstances, and gives Debi his copy of Tom Sawyer. Lisa, after begging off due to her diet, takes two pieces of cake anyway because fat people jokes, amirite? Suzanne surprises Debi with a prom dress. Possibly the same dress from that photo of herself from the album back at the other end of the episode. Why does Suzanne still have her dress from a dance she went to when she was fourteen, now, while she’s living in a sewer after the apocalypse? Because shut up. Having had his faith in humanity reaffirmed by the happiness of children, Gunther says his goodbyes and leaves, and while he doesn’t simply fade away as he dons his hat and coat and turns to the door, he does see a shooting star as he steps outside.

Or rather, he sees what is possibly the least convincing computer generated shooting star effect in the history of television. You know, the whole scene has this weird It’s a Wonderful Life feel to it that makes me wonder if they didn’t cast Sandy Webster partially because he bears a passing resemblance to Henry Travers.

It’s Zardip’s Search for Healthy Wellness / Come with him come along!

For contrast, we cut back one last time to the Morthren, who are so bent out of shape by watching Gunther decorate a cake that they are still complaining about how short-sighted and selfish humans are to celebrate birthdays. Yay! Recurring themes! Once again, the Morthren demonstrate that their ideology is based around collectivism that discredits individualism, and yet we see that the strength of humanity lies in the ability of individuals to come together and work toward a common cause.

Because of course everything about this episode screams from the rooftops that there is nothing selfish about celebrating Debi’s birthday. She emerges, looking all kinds of cute-awkward-teenager in her party dress, Lisa and Ralph put on an aggressively banal ’80s tune whose chorus is something like “Like a candle in the night / I’m watching over you / Burning with the night / For everything you do / Like an angel in your view.” Debi’s awkward dance with the cute boy she’s crushing on is immediately interrupted by her mother, who wants to take a group photo, so we can end on the camera pulling back to show the party photo affixed to the last page of Debi’s album.

I feel like Alan Thicke should be singing over this

Aww.

I wish I had more to say about this episode. It may come off feeling a bit thin, which is strange when you consider it. It’s a low-key, low-stakes episode, but it’s not like it’s a bottle episode or a clip show or one that gives the impression of being made on the cheap. I mean, we’ve got two major new sets, with Gunther’s shop and the library, both of which are large and detailed. Plus there’s several more minor sets as well, and a lot of outdoor location shooting. And on top of that, there’s a big guest cast, with four new one-off characters who all play significant roles, and a handful of other minor characters as well.

Plus they gave Debi a boyfriend. Nah, just kidding; we’ll never see or hear of Nate again.

Let’s talk about the guest cast. None of them are hugely well known. Most of the kids have significant resumes as voice actors in the ’80s and ’90s, but little on screen. In an interesting side-note, the nameless pitcher from the street baseball game is way better known than any of the other child actors. Pat Mastroianni would go on to be a staple of the Filmed In Canada scene, appearing in both Degrassi High and Degrassi The Next Generation, as well as appearing in the 2015 version of Beauty and the BeastDark MatterSaving Hope and The Good Witch. Noam Zylberman, who plays Nate, was in the animated versions of Garbage Pail Kids, Babar, Police Academy, and ALF; Gema Zamprogna (Sam) is probably the best known, going on to play Felicity King in Avonlea; Krista Houston’s only IMDB credit other than as Lisa is eight episodes of Degrassi High, a pity since she’s got a ton of charisma. But despite modest screen experience, the child actors in this one are pretty good. Possibly the best we’ve had all season — which is, surprisingly, saying a lot. It’s weird how many child-centric episodes there’s been. Debi’s friends are all one-trick ponies, but they’re well-developed one-trick ponies. They don’t just stroll on, announce their single trait, then fade into the background. Sure, they’re largely archetypes we’ve seen before — the smug, obnoxious geek; the jolly, food-obsessed fat girl; the streetwise tomboy — but there’s a good, simple, workmanlike competence in how those tropes are executed, and while that might not win the show any awards, it’s a pleasant change from the dead-eyed deer-in-headlights acting of some of the other child actors we’ve seen this season. Is this just good luck? I’m not sure. Remember, this is also the first time we’ve had child characters (Debi excepted) who are meant to be “normal”, and not aliens, clones, or soulless lab-created abominations. But it works out well for them, especially in the episode that is really the most human we’ve seen out of the series.

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Tales from /lost+found 108: Genesis of the Cybs

I wonder what else was going on in July of 2002…

7×04 July 26, 2002
GENESIS OF THE CYBS (Serial 97)

Setting: Mondas, 44 BC
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johansson (Alice)
Guest Starring: Alexander Siddig (Hovard Regnos), Peter Cullen (voice of Cyber-Prototype 001)

Plot: To demonstrate the TARDIS’s ability to travel in time, the Doctor sets out to show her the rise of the Roman Empire. But he has neglected to recalibrate the navigation systems after their recent trip to the Outer Wastes. They think they’ve landed in the 1960s, but the Doctor is troubled because the co-ordinate matrix claims they have landed in the right year but on the wrong side of the sun. Stranger, the weather is wintry despite it being July. Alice sees a newspaper headline claiming that the Earth is drifting away from the sun due to a “calamity” when an experimental space drive in a rival country altered the planet’s gravity, and will be too cold to support life within a decade. The last piece falls into place when the Doctor sees the half-completed Monument Rock in the distance. He adjusts the TARDIS translator, and shows that Alice’s newspaper now identifies the planet as Mondas. Alice wants to stay and try to change Mondas’s fate, but the Doctor wants to leave immediately: even after all this time, he has no alternative for the Mondasians. But the authorities discover and impound the TARDIS, taking it to genius industrialist Hovard Regnos, who is leading efforts to save the planet. Before the calamity, Regnos had been the lead developer of Mondas’s space program. To avoid being forced to reveal the secrets of the TARDIS, the Doctor offers to help Regnos stabilize the planet’s orbit. He discovers that Regnos played a hand in the calamity: he secretly and illegally sold the gravity-drive technology to the rival country after his own government decided it was too dangerous. Moreover, Regnos is not really trying to reverse the calamity. His advanced instruments have detected Earth, and, assuming it to be uninhabited, he wants to relocate a group of Mondasians there instead. The massive device he is constructing, purportedly to reverse the calamity, is in fact secretly a mostly-complete colony ship large enough to carry thousands of Mondasians. But he still has not solved the engine imbalance that triggered the calamity, and worse, the Doctor calculates that no human body could survive the g-force of a gravity-drive powered space ship. Regnos had already determined that and developed an armored exoskeleton and cybernetic replacement organs. While the procedure is not fully reversible, the colonists will be able to produce normal offspring on their new planet. After a prototype destroys itself in horror at its condition, Regnos alters his design to include modifications to the brain. The Doctor manages to tip off Regnos’s government liaison, forcing him to accelerate his plans. He had hoped to hand-pick colonists to build a new civilization on Earth, but with time running out, he orders his prototype Cyber-men to the streets to round up anyone they can find for immediate conversion, and Alice is among those captured. Regnos has himself converted, and the alterations to his brain cause him to lose interest in the colony producing normal offspring. He realizes that as cyborgs, the Mondasians could simply remain on their planet, immune to the worsening conditions: he could “save” his entire race rather than a small colony. The Doctor rescues Alice while Regnos summons all the cybermen to the colony ship for new orders. To put a stop to his plans, the Doctor triggers the gravity-drive on the colony ship, narrowly escaping with Alice in the TARDIS. The ship and the prototype cybermen are destroyed in a recreation of the original calamity. This time, though, the Doctor has oriented the force of the gravitational effect to partially stabilize the planet’s orbit. It will not return to its original orbit, but it should slow the deterioration of conditions on Mondas for several hundred years, long enough for the Mondasians to find another solution. The Doctor and Alice take the TARDIS forward in time a century to check on the results, and are disappointed to see that while the planet has not gotten any colder, Monument Rock has been completed, and bears the familiar shape of a Cyb helmet.

Antithesis: Candle in the Night (War of the Worlds 2×15, Part 1)

This article is dedicated to Sandy Webster, who played Gunther in tonight’s episode, and who passed away on March 22, 2017, just before I started writing this.

Sandy Webster was best known for playing a Victorian forensic scientist in the 1979 Canadian crime drama The Great Detective, essentially a Canadian mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Gunsmoke, from what I can tell.

It is April 9, 1990. While we’ve been away on hiatus, basically the whole world has changed. Lithuania has declared independence from the USSR. Estonia has declared itself independent as well. There are free elections in Yugoslavia and Hungary. Patricio Aylwin becomes the first democratically elected president of Chile since 1970. Fernando Collor de Mello becomes the first democratically elected president of Brazil since the ’60s. The Sandinistas lost the elections in Nicaragua, ousting Daniel Ortega in favor of Violetta Chamorro, Nicaragua’s first female president, who takes office later this month. Haiti also gets their first female president, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, but she’ll be the second president to take office since last we spoke: three days after replacing Prosper Avril, Herard Abraham stepped down, becoming the first twentieth-century president of Haiti to leave office of his own accord. Mikhail Gorbachev was upgraded to President of the Soviet Union with the creation of the office. He is the only man ever to have held the title. Namibia becomes a country. Imelda Marcos goes on trial for crimes that were very vast and which the US media boiled down mostly to something to do with an exorbitant shoe collection. Also, the Nintendo World Championships happened, and The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania. Skronk. Destrucity.

As if that weren’t enough of a kick in the major themes of this series, there’s another big event we missed from skipping March: the Secret Service raided Steve Jackson Games, a maker of pen-n-paper role playing games, under the belief that one of their games in development, GURPS Cyberpunk, was a legtimate handbook for committing real-world cyber-crime. Yes. They thought this game was real. This would lead to the creation of the EFF. In other news, Kristen Stewart was born today. Ryan White, the photogenic straight white boy who made straight white Americans finally start giving a fuck about the AIDS epidemic, died yesterday. He was 18.

Taylor Dayne leads the Billboard Hot 100 this week with “Love Will Lead You Back”. She unseats “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles, who — Wait. I feel like I’ve gotten ahead of myself somehow. Never mind. Weird feeling of deja vu. By the week’s end, Tommy Page’s “I’ll Be Your Everything” will have unseated her. Phil Collins, Luther Vandross, Kiss, Lisa Stansfield and Sinead O’Connor are all in the top ten. In other music news, Gloria Estefan is badly hurt when her tour bus crashes during a snow storm. Her slow recovery will inspire her third number one single, next year’s “Coming Out of the Dark”.

Mission: Impossible, The Bradys, Mama’s Family, and ALF all ended their runs in the past few weeks. Baywatch was also canceled by NBC, which is the last we will ever hear of it unless somehow it gets brought back in first-run syndication to become the most popular television show of all time or something. But what are the odds that people would actually be interested in watching buxom women in swimsuits while David Hasselhoff consumes cheeseburgers?

Neither Star Trek nor Friday the 13th are back from Spring Break yet, but Alien Nation is new. So is MacGyver, after which airs the pilot movie for a Lloyd Bridges series, “Capital News”, a drama set at a fictionalized version of the Washington Post. It only lasts three episodes, proving that it takes more than a kickin’ Jan Hammer theme song to make it these days.

Won’t you light my candle…

This brings us around to “Candle in the Night”, which is a big, big change up from how the series has played out so far. It’s a low-key episode, really the only low-key episode. There’s no casualties on either side, no action scenes, and only very little interaction between the aliens and humans. It’s kind of pleasant. It doesn’t overreach, and it’s a rare chance to get a sense that this show might be capable of stretching itself to do a wider variety of episodes. Knowing, as I do, how few episodes we have left, it’s hard to get over the sense that the series is kind of spinning its wheels with this one, but if you bracket that knowledge and just take it for what it is, it’s just a nice episode. One that, for the most part, doesn’t suffer from asking more questions than it answers or from gaping plot holes, or from the gamut of missed opportunities we’ve so often seen in this series.

The plot has two tracks, and they bump into each other from time to time, but don’t really interact very much. In one, a Morthren probe malfunctions and goes walkabout, forcing Ardix and a one-off Morthren apparently named “Zeel” to track it down on foot. In the other, Blackwood, Suzanne, and Kincaid try, in the face of the general privation that comes from living rough in a crapsack world, to throw Debi a birthday party.

That’s it. No old friends of Kincaid’s who’ve stumbled onto an alien plot to grind up the homeless for food; no weird government experiments into making little girls that can vomit up mold monsters; just a birthday party and hunting down a lost drone.

Noam Zylberman

It was nice of Nate to take time off from bullying Ralphie and Flick to come to Debi’s birthday party.

So, you remember how they casually have videophones in this world? Don’t sweat it if you forgot. I keep forgetting too. It’s received a bit of an upgrade since last time, though, providing a black-and-white TV-quality signal rather than the 1-fps CIF image it did before. In any case, Debi is on the phone with her friend Nate, who she’s a little sweet on. He tells her all about his adventures out on his wealthy family’s big estate out in the country. Only he’s clearly lying because he’s dressed like a hobo same as everyone else, and I’m pretty sure his charming bucolic anecdote about spending three days sailing down the river on a home-made raft is just him remixing bits of Tom Sawyer, and he gets super cagey and suddenly has to go when Debi suggests she might some day go visit him and ride on his raft, if you know what I mean (I mean ride on his raft). Also, who goes rafting in the middle of winter?

Debi is down in the dumps because the writers keep forgetting she exists for weeks at a time despite her self-evidently being far and away the most interesting character. And also because tomorrow’s her birthday, which has made her want to actually spend time with her friends in person rather than via Skype.

You know what’s weird? No, not that Debi isn’t more upset about the fact that she lives in a hole in the ground, that her civilization appears to have pretty much collapsed, that she’s repeatedly had to fight for her life over the past few weeks, that the Earth is in the middle of an alien invasion, that a couple of months ago, she got mind-controlled into nearly murdering her mother, or that, oh yeah, her grandmother just died. But that we’re only a few months out of the eighties and the writers were willing to present a teenage girl who isn’t happy to interact with her friends in the form of monopolizing the telephone. “Man, teenage girls be making phone calls,” is one of the core dominant ’80s cliches, and they steered clear. I’m impressed.

While this is going on, Mana is showing off the new cloaking device they’ve slapped on a watcher drone, which allows them to easily penetrate, “The military’s much vaunted wall of security.” Why do they want to do that, when they’ve repeatedly demonstrated that the military not only fails to be a threat to them, but in fact seems to be actively working for them half the time? Never mind. As pretty much always happens on demo day, something goes wrong and the probe flies off on its own, which is bad because it’s full of important intelligence about the… unlabeled plain brown boxes in a nondescript army warehouse.

Boy, they sure can’t risk losing this highly valuable data about unmarked crates on shelves.

For her birthday, Suzanne gives Debi… A photo album. There isn’t much chance of me making it a whole paragraph through this thing without finding something that fails to make sense to me, is there? How did she do this? They live in an underground bomb shelter that they moved into because their previous home exploded. They’ve gone to ground and are, I think, maybe, possibly in hiding. Or are they? Did Suzanne get to settle her mother’s estate after “Night Moves”? Where did she get a collection of old family photos stretching back for decades? And why are all of her family photos in black and white?

They make a huge deal about how hard it is to get things like eggs. Where did Suzanne get those little fancy corner things you use to stick down photos into albums?

And Suzanne’s choices for this album don’t pass strict scrutiny either. Like, there’s a picture of the pony she got for her birthday when she was 8 or 9. Because God knows that the thing your lonely teenager who thinks her life is a craphole wants for her birthday is a picture of her mom getting a birthday present which is way better than some shitty photo album. And remember, the last time Debi had a significant role in an episode, it was when her grandmother died. And it didn’t occur to Suzanne that it might be a sore subject? She tells a thematically meaningful anecdote about how her mother always put a single candle on birthday cakes to “represent the light that children brought into the world.” But there’s absolutely nothing to convey the complexity of Suzanne’s relationship with her mother, which had been such a big deal in “Night Moves”.

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Tales from /lost+found 107: Doctor Who and the Philadelphia Experiment

8×11 August 29, 2003
DOCTOR WHO AND THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (Serial 124)

Setting: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1943
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johansson (Alice)
Guest Starring:
Sam Neill (Lieutenant Alderman/Nicolas Flamel), David Hasselhoff (The Eighth Doctor (credited as “The Stranger”))

Plot: Worried about more interference in Earth’s history by the War Lords, the Doctor adjusts the TARDIS to detect damage to the Earth’s timeline, and discovers that history is attempting to rewrite itself without the Earth after 1943. Targeting the epicenter of the disruption, the TARDIS lands at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia. The Doctor and Alice discover advanced technology aboard one ship, the Eldridge, which seems to have a temporal component, but does not look to be of War Lord origin. They are apprehended by the authorities, and are subsequently surprised to meet the project lead, Lieutenant Alderman, who is in reality the immortal Nicolas Flamel. Flamel invents a cover story for the Doctor as “Doctor von Wer”, a specialist from Oak Ridge, here to help with the upcoming experiment. The Doctor notices that his old friend seems unusually put-out, and Flamel admits that the mechanized wars of the twentieth century have worn heavily upon him. The Doctor claims that this is just a passing phase, but Flamel is unconvinced, especially after the Doctor tells him about the War Lords, and their repeated campaigns to push humanity onto a more warlike path. Flamel asks for the Doctor’s help. Expanding an idea he got from Nikola Tesla, Flamel claims to have created a form of impenetrable energy barrier that can protect ships (and later, perhaps, whole cities) from enemy attacks. He privately promises that once his work is complete, he will give the technology to all nations, ending war once and for all. The Doctor is suspicious that the War Lords are meddling in Flamel’s project: his perfect defense could easily have the opposite of its intended effect by triggering preemptive attacks against anyone planning to erect a shield. While he helps Flamel, the Doctor has Alice search for evidence of a War Lord presence. She locates the power source for Flamel’s device, the Philosopher’s Stone. Flamel locks her in the power room to stop her reporting to the Doctor: he doesn’t want the Time Lord knowing that he succeeded in creating a Jewel of Time. The Doctor solves the last of the equations that had eluded Flamel, but this leads him to realize that the design of the shield device is flawed, as the power requirements to generate a stable shield are greater than the power level that would cause a catastrophic overload. He rescues Alice, and realizes that, since he is planning to use a Jewel of Time to power the shield, Flamel never intended to create more than one. Flamel activates the device, causing the Eldridge to be pulled into a space-time distortion. He admits his true intentions: after working on the early stages of the Manhattan Project, he came to believe that humanity’s self-destruction was inevitable. He anticipates a series of escalating nuclear wars, and refuses to listen to the Doctor and Alice when they dispute this. His invention does not create a stable defensive shield, but a bubble that disrupts space and time. It will rapidly expand to encompass the Earth. Humanity will die in a painless instant, rather than slow, lingering extinction from nuclear winter. The Doctor points out that, due to his immortality, Flamel himself might survive even that, to be left stranded alone in empty space forever. Flamel accepts this as fitting penance for his actions. Alice suggests that they could spare him from that fate by giving him a ride in the TARDIS, which would kill him. The Doctor, though confused, consents, and Alice suggests he take them to Armstrong Base. Flamel’s health begins to fail rapidly as soon as the TARDIS dematerializes, but he is able to witness the signing of the peace treaty between the Ice Warriors and a united Earth. Alice had intuited that the powerful imagery of Earthrise on the moon as humanity makes peace with an alien race would restore Flamel’s faith in humanity more than words. However, the timeline in which Earth has been destroyed is quickly becoming dominant, and Flamel does not know any way to stop the overload. The Doctor reminds him that he is still connected to the Philosopher’s Stone, and Flamel is able to use that connection to redirect the energy from the distortion into the vortex. His body crumbles to dust. Returning to the TARDIS after retrieving the stone from the Eldridge, the Doctor discovers that the energy release has created a “rainbow road” along which the TARDIS can travel, bypassing the temporal barrier around the events of the Time War. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS along the road to the war-torn planet Arcadia, hoping to learn how he defeated the War Lords originally. Before they can exit the TARDIS, however, a stranger lets himself in. He wears an eyepatch, holds the Doctor and Alice at gunpoint, and demands to know what they are doing in his TARDIS.

Deep Ice: There’s a woman dying in front of me, and no one’s helping her (“Hermione Georgina Wells”‘s War of the Worlds Refought

So I know I said we were back on the TV series for a while, but April Fool’s Day was this past weekend, and I’ve got this tiny little divergence that came up while I was googling in the hopes of finding somewhere I could still buy a copy of Kevin Sorbo Presents The War of the Worlds: A Biblical Reading (Spoiler: There isn’t. I’m not sure I didn’t dream the whole thing). Since I’ve namechecked le poisson d’avril, let me assure you up front that this is an absolutely real thing which really exists.

Wait for it…

It is August 20, 2010. The last US combat troops have just left Iraq, so I guess that’ll finally put an end to US involvement in wars in the middle east.

 

Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, died of a lifelong respiratory ailment this morning. Horkheimer was best known as the host of the PBS series Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer, or as I always knew it, “The astronomy show that comes on before Doctor Who.” It has originally been called Star Hustler, until the internet became a thing and people started to worry about kids googling “Star Hustler”. His epitaph reads, “‘Keep Looking Up’ was my life’s admonition; I can do little else in my present position.”

“Love The Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rhianna holds the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Because it’s a year starting with 201, Katy Perry is on the top ten twice (“California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream”), but remarkably, Taylor Swift is only on there once, with “Mine”. Mike Posner’s “Cooler Than Me” is also in the top ten, a really fun little song except that I’m pretty sure the whole point of it is to neg a girl into dating the narrator, and that’s fucked up.

Everything’s in reruns, obviously, and it’s Friday so Jon Stewart isn’t even on tonight, and this is the gap year for Power Rangers so there’s not even that to talk about. About the only new thing on television is the Melissa Joan Hart/Joey Lawrence vehicle Melissa and Joey, a sitcom in a vaguely retro mold in which an up-and-coming local politician has to take in her brother’s kids when he flees the country after a Bernie Madoff-style scam, then hires a disgraced day-trader as a nanny. I am told it gets better after the first season, which I kept wanting to like but found unspeakably awful. The final episode of At the Movies, formerly hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, aired this past week. Out in theaters, I am not making this up, is The Room.

The War of the Worlds Refought by “Hermione Georgina Wells” is part of a series of literary remixes by Jekkara Press which all follow roughly the same premise: Let’s take a classic work of fiction and swap all the genders. Other works in the line include The Hound of the Baskervilles Retrained, The Three Musketeers For All, Frankenstein Remade, and Tarzan of the Apes ahem Reswung.

Well that’s an interesting idea, sure, but we’re not talking about Jane Austen here, or even Sherlock Holmes. H. G. Wells is not exactly known for his richly drawn characters. So what would it look like to gender-swap all the characters in The War of the Worlds?

Turns out it would look like someone ran a simple search-and-replace over the text of the novel. That’s it. Seriously. Just the full text of The War of the Worlds with such changes as replacing every instance of the word “he” with “she”, “man” with “woman”, “wife” with “husband”, and soforth.

This isn’t as big of a change as it must be in the other books in the series. Victor Frankenstein has to become Victoria; Sherlock Holmes becomes, rather inexplicably, “Shylock Holmes”, and Lady Greystoke calls herself “Tarzyn”. But Wells was never much for names. Ogilvy is still Ogilvy, even as a female astronomer; the Curate is still a curate; the artilleryman becomes an artillerywoman (Though in an oversight which I am guessing is due to capitalization, her chapter is still called “The Man on Putney Hill”). If you thought War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies was a cheap trick to make a buck with the minimum possible effort (And, okay, it was, but there was more to it than that), it’s got nothing on The War of the Worlds Refought.

But okay. Y’know what? Maybe we can still get something out of this. One element of note is the rigorous consistency with which the transformation has been done, chapter titles notwithstanding. “Man” becomes “woman” even in the abstract. It’s shrieking men who run past the narrator, or who foolishly dismiss the first reports of fighting. It’s womankind she fears has been purged from existence by the Martians (Reminding me of the fun fact that etymologically, “man” once was legitimately genderless, and only became de facto male by replacing an older word. Which is why the etymologically correct name for a lady werewolf is a “wifewolf”, though there is a certain charm in the more cumbersome “wolfmannic woman”). And most interestingly, as the Curate descends into madness, she is said to be, “He was as lacking in restraint as a silly man.”

That’s something we can think about. The changes to the text are simple, mechanical. There’s no discretion to them, and one thing that means is that the choice of any individual change isn’t subjective: it’s determined according to a rigorous set of rules. If there’s an agenda in what’s been changed, the details of that agenda are bracketed away behind the rules. What that means is that if we want to talk about the psychological effect the changes have on the reader, we can start from the position that it’s the reader’s own subjectivity that produces those effects, rather than the reader being manipulated into them by the author/editor’s machinations. (Or, rather, if you do want to insist that you’re being manipulated by some trick the author/editor is pulling, you can only do it by confessing that you view “just systematically include women in spaces that were previously male” as a form of emotional manipulation. And that position is not going to win you any friends outside of the executive branch of the US government.)

So how does it make us feel? We’ll leave aside anyone who just throws up their hands and shouts about everything being ruined by “political correctness run amok” to have women with agency in a Victorian science fiction adventure and focus on something else instead. The word “woman” appears eighteen times in the original text of The War of the Worlds. Three of the occurrences are some form of the phrase, “a woman shrieked,” two are, “a woman screamed.” These aren’t the only occurrences of people shrieking or screaming, but they do stand out at least insofar as they are singular and personal, rather than the more common “I heard a shriek” or “Screams reached me from the crowd.” (Both the narrator and his brother do “scream”, but “shrieks” are generally collective). Wells’s go-to images of human horror also tend to be gendered. One scene builds an escallating sense of the refugee crisis by showing first two men, then a, “dirty woman, carrying a heavy bundle,” and finally a lost dog.

There is, of course, the matter of women appearing almost exclusively in the particular, while men appear vastly more often in general: the narrator frequently mentions “men” futilely attacking or fleeing the Martians, his chaotic scenes are always full of men being shoved, pushed, trampled as they try to escape; women appear almost exclusively in the particular, as a special case where the narrative is calling attention to a particular instance of human misery. This means that the gender balance is actually much better than you might at first expect when we are talking about characters of significance. Among characters with dialogue, women are within a standard deviation or two of men. Among characters with names, they do even better. But in general? The word “man” appears at least 89 times in the text, “men” over a hundred. To paraphrase Sam Spade, maybe they’re not all important characters, but look at the number of them. Flipping the genders makes the disparity painfully obvious, especially in how many contexts are male dominated purely as a linguistic default.

But what of the major characters? The narrator, the Curate, the Artilleryman? You might, for instance, find that gender-swapping the narrator inclines you to look for a deeper emotional connection in her quest to reunite with her husband, imagine this as a stronger theme in the story. But even with the gender swap, Wells’s writing precludes this with its dry, analytical style. A more interesting case is the curate, whose breakdown is explicitly called, “Like a silly woman,” in the original text. The gender-swap puts the lie to this, because it makes us more aware of how the curate compares to other characters. Those “shreiking” women mentioned elsewhere in the original story are all reacting in the heat of the moment to immediately impending danger, not at all like the curate’s slow breakdown under days of continuous stress.

There is one scene in the original book where a woman’s reaction to the Martians might be called “silly”, though: immediately after the battle of Horsell Common, the narrator encounters a mixed-gender group who laugh off his tales of murderous Martians, and the woman takes a notable lead in dismissing his claims — the “silliness” of dismissing the danger, rather than the curate’s descent into panic. It’s becomes clear that Wells threw out the “silly woman” accusation purely because “Like a silly woman” was a standard way to dismiss someone for being irrational, without any consideration for how actual women were depicted in the rest of the book.

That just leaves the Artillerywoman. And here, I have to admit, the simple act of changing he to she does make a big impact on how I relate to the character. Namely, it completely destoys any sense of that “strange charisma” the Artilleryman seems to convey. I’ve always had a bit of trouble empathizing with that aspect of the character, but I do acknowledge it, that people like the narrator can listen to him and find themselves drawn to go along with his ridiculous, unworkable plans.

I’m an anti-authoritarian; I don’t go in for the whole, “This guy sounds confident as he makes angry noises about which people we should kill! I respect this as strength and good leadership!” But I live in 2017. I can’t exactly pretend that I don’t believe that kind of pitch would work perfectly well with a certain percentage of the audience. And I already know as a matter of absolute fact that the traits of ambition, of unyielding confidence, of bullying bluster might be enough to win a man the highest office in the land, but in a woman, they’re universally derided as being “shrill” and “arrogant” and “bitchy”. The Artillerywoman doesn’t feel quite right to me because I know as an absolute matter of fact that she’s wrong, and even if she were right in her desire to create a quasi-fascist populist utopia where everyone eats peas with their knives, nine out of ten people would hear that and dismiss her as a shrill, angry bitch who shouts too much. And what about her emails?

So maybe that’s the point of this little project. By simply swapping the genders and leaving everything else alone, the book becomes a mirror to help us see some of the gendered assumptions we make without even thinking about it. How the words “man” and “men” occur about twenty times as often as “woman”; that a book with three major male characters and only a few minor female ones doesn’t “feel” overly masculine in the same way it might feel especially feminine with the ratios reversed. That the selfsame traits that make a male character charismatic make a female one reviled. Maybe this is a book whose purpose is ultimately to just “feel wrong” — to not work quite as well as the original, specifically so that you’ll question why it doesn’t, only to find that the reasons — how we as readers have been trained to think about male and female characters — don’t come from the text. They come from ourselves.

At least, that’s what I would have said, if I hadn’t seen the cover. Because guess what the cover of this book looks like…

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Tales from /lost+found 106: The Hen With the Sapphire Pendant

8×21 February 27, 2004
THE HEN WITH THE SAPPHIRE PENDANT (Serial 132)

Setting: Gatchina, Russia, ca. 1870
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johansson (Alice)
Guest Starring: James Ganfolfini (Tsar Alexander III), Jennifer Beals (Empress Maria), Anthony Stewart Head (The War Chief)

Plot: The tracer leads the Doctor and Alice to nineteenth-century Russia. The Doctor is able to pose as a minor diplomat to gain access to the Gatchina Palace. While they initially hope to avoid local events while they look for the fifth segment, this becomes impossible when they discover the War Chief posing as a German diplomat. At first, they fear that he has already located the segment, but it eventually becomes clear that the War Lords are making a third attempt to change the course of World War I. The War Chief surprises the Doctor by pursuing a peaceful plan: he means to preserve the Three Emperor’s Alliance, strengthening the relationship between Russia and Germany, and preventing the formation of the Franco-Russian alliance. He believes this will put Germany in a stronger position and lengthen the coming war. Part of his plan involves War Lord agents framing the French delegation for an assassination attempt. The Doctor gains the confidence of the Tsar by foiling the attempt himself, but in doing so reveals his presence to the War Chief. Neither the Doctor nor the War Chief can expose the other as an impostor without implicating himself as well, forcing the two into a rhetorical battle to sway the Tsar’s opinion. With comparatively greater freedom of movement, Alice meets and befriends the Empress, bonding over their shared interest in the arts. Alice finds herself inexplicably drawn to a particular Fabergé egg in the Empress’s collection. The Doctor gains the upper hand in his debate with the War Chief, but worries that his adversary does not seem to be taking the argument seriously. This is because he is simply biding his time, distracting the Doctor while a second War Lord strike team prepares to assassinate the Empress. Alice helps Empress Maria evade the assassins and alerts the Doctor. The War Chief is impressed by the Doctor’s ruthlessness when he tricks the War Lords into blowing themselves up. It seems as though the War Chief has won anyway, however, since the dead assassins carry forged French credentials. The Doctor challenges the authenticity of their papers and accuses the War Chief, who submits to being searched as he thinks it will reveal nothing. But the Doctor had earlier pocketed a War Lord icon from the first assassin team and slipped it into the War Chief’s pocket. The War Chief is expelled by the enraged Tsar, who goes on to send for the French ambassador to discuss a treaty. In appreciation for saving her life, Empress Maria gives Alice the egg with which she’d been so fascinated, which turns out to be the fifth segment of the Key to Time. Realizing they have only one segment left to find, the Doctor plugs the tracer into the TARDIS console, but is alarmed by the results and disconnects it, desperately hiding the results from Alice.