Author Archives: Ross

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.

Thesis: The Last Supper (1×18, Part 2)

Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

There’s something just a bit Ionesco about the swanky conference table and chairs in the middle of a high school gym.

Why do these scientists need to be reminded that an alien invasion occurred in the 1950s? Why wasn’t the basic concept of alien possession covered in their briefing kits? What are they even doing here if they don’t already know the basic ground rules?

The parts about alien biology, sure, that makes sense to present. They’re presenting the findings of Suzanne’s research. But when Harrison takes over on the subject of alien possession, he spends thirty seconds rattling off a list of the sort of people aliens might take over, complete with montage: “Soldiers… Waitresses… Bikers… The homeless… Paramedics…” Imagine you were listening to that, in that room, without the accompanying archive footage. Do you imagine a photographer from Christchurch is sitting there thinking, “Whoa, even waitresses?” (And, not to lay too fine a point on it, but the waitress thing happened in the opening scene of “The Good Samaritan”, and the Blackwood team didn’t get involved with it until much later, and never knew about the waitresses anyway). The other issue if you imagine the representatives listening to this speech without the accompanying montage is the pacing. Without the archive footage, Harrison just trails off for five to ten seconds after every sentence to let the clip play out. Even if we grant the basic conceit that Harrison is trying to stress the seriousness of the situation rather than give them actionable intelligence, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on threats like, “They could strategically replace people in key government positions,” or “They could replace your mom and you wouldn’t know until it was too late, unless this is one of those episodes where the aliens can’t act remotely human long enough to avoid blowing their cover.” Or maybe mention that the aliens actually did manage to briefly infiltrate the Blackwood team. Actually, they probably don’t want to advertise that.

The end table with reading lamp is a nice touch.

During dinner, Argochev, for the only time in the episode, decides to be charming and flirts with Suzanne. She mentions that his government-provided dossier didn’t really explain what his job was, just in case we missed the fact that we’re meant to be suspicious of him. Harrison buttonholes Soo Tak, and asks, very bizarrely, if the aliens in China are the same aliens they’ve been fighting stateside (They are). Dr. Tak considers it “most curious” that his people have been unable to open a dialogue with the aliens, suggesting that maybe he nodded off when Harrison explained how the aliens were space-Nazis who didn’t give a crap about humans. Harrison just nods and says that the aliens are “very intractable.” When Harrison asks about their numbers, Tak estimates that there are about 10,000 aliens in China, surprising Harrison leading to James Hong’s one really properly good line, and the best line in the episode to my mind: “We have a big country, sir.”

Back to the Land of the Lost, where one of the Advocates muses on how much he enjoys watching his industrial manufacturing show. I always liked the segments on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where they showed us the production line at a factory too. Especially that one about how crayons are made. Dylan got to visit the Crayola factory where they made that once. Anyway, nothing new here; “The humans are meeting. Should we do something?” “We should do something!” Their agents have narrowed down the location of the conference to Philadelphia. I don’t believe there are any establishing shots of Toronto which directly contradict this.

War of the Worlds - Philadelphia City Hall

In fact, I’m pretty sure that is a legit shot of Philadelphia city hall from the 200 block of North Broad Street. Which means that they did a location shoot. For their clip show.

We only get one presentation from the other representatives, which is a real shame. Fortunately, it has some meat to it. Morales claims that they’ve seen no evidence of an active alien presence in Peru, but he’s brought some national geographic footage of an unusual clay object found in a recently excavated Andean crypt. He’s brought a black plastic tetrahedron with him, found inside the object. Looks a bit like the big brother of the weird alien sex crystal Harrison found back in “The Second Seal”, which makes it weird that they don’t explicitly reference that episode, nor do they mention the alien control crystal found in a Native American headdress in “Dust to Dust”, another really obvious parallel. The tetrahedron emits a low level of X-rays, as well as a percussive sound outside the range of human hearing, which Morales claims bears similarities to alien transmissions the Blackwood team had forwarded to him ahead of the conference.

The worst is when you go downstairs in the middle of the night for a glass of milk and step on it.

After the technology presentation, Ironhorse comes in with the news that someone left an anonymous note at the front desk accusing Morales of faking his presentation. Everyone is instantly offended and distrustful, and Harrison all but directly accuses Argochev of being behind it. This is interesting in two ways. First, it’s Harrison and not Ironhorse who’s instinctively suspicious of the Russian. In fact, Ironhorse only makes one negative comment about Argochev in the entire episode, and honestly, he doesn’t seem like his heart is really in it. Could this be Ironhorse showing character growth after the events of “Epiphany”? Hard to tell, since this show won’t commit to going all-in on character development. It’s strange that “Epiphany” doesn’t come up at all in this episode. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that having come so close to nuclear armageddon might be something the higher-ups don’t want them discussing with the international committee, especially since the attendees don’t exactly represent the US’s closest international partners. But given the randomness of the assortment of countries involved in the conference, there’s a suggestion that Harrison had a hard time getting buy-in from the international community. All due respect to our international neighbors, but when one is setting up an international coalition against a world-ending threat, inviting China and the USSR seems pretty straightforward, inviting Peru, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and “Unspecified African Nation” less so. Invoking “Epiphany” could have been helpful here to explain that it was the influence of Dr. Rhodan that got Soviet buy-in.

The other odd thing about Harrison’s implicit accusation of Argochev… Is right. Argochev is deliberately undermining the conference for reasons which will become clear right after we cut over to the Advocates and back. “Should we do something? We should do something!” (Oh, also, they confirm that they’ve got an agent at the conference who they’re expecting to report in with important information soon). But it’s still a dumb reason. When they reconvene, Argochev admits to having made the baseless accusation against Morales, and explains that he did it because Soviet intelligence has reason to believe one of the representatives has been replaced by an alien.

What a twist. Is it weird that they’d have reason to believe that without knowing who it is? Maybe. It’s certainly easier to imagine whatever sources they were using could distinguish between New Zealand, Peru, Sri Lanka and “Africa”, but who knows. Maybe they picked up an alien transmission. Or a known alien they were tracking switched hosts at the airport. But like I said, the field was already down to two, and presumably it’s not the guy who just alerted them to the alien threat. I mean, unless that is itself a diversion. I mean, if their primary goal is to break up the conference, this is a good way to do it. No one ever expresses any skepticism at Argochev’s claims. And frankly, what’s the point of Argochev causing so much trouble anyway? The aliens are trying to disrupt the conference, so he… Disrupts the conference for them? It’s not like the alien is liable to blow its cover because Argochev is being a jerk. I guess maybe it might make sense if you assume that Argochev is just trying to slow things down in the hopes of sussing out the alien before the conference gets around to actually making plans for fighting the aliens. That might explain why he comes clean now — since accusing Morales didn’t work, he’s out of time, and wants his cards on the table because Ironhorse’s presentation is next. Remember that Argochev specifically objected early on that he wanted a say in the agenda? Perhaps he legitimately wanted to make sure that the presentations specifically about successes in combating the aliens went last.

Harrison claims that they can’t detect aliens by visual inspection, forgetting that they’ve been here for three days now and alien host bodies rot and are radioactive. He proposes letting Suzanne do a blood test, but all the delegates balk for unspecified reasons, and Dr. Menathong asks to contact her embassy first, breaking the communications blackout. Everyone else hops on the “Let’s call home first” train, and Ironhorse is forced to go off and figure out a way to make it happen. Now, Menathong wanting to call home first makes perfect sense, in light of her being the one who’s secretly an alien, as hinted at by the fact that she’s the only one who hasn’t said anything since her introduction. The others making the same demand seems on first blush to serve no real purpose, but if you think about it for a few minutes, you can sort of put together the idea that they’re all worried that they’ll be set up and falsely accused, and want their governments to be ready for it if they don’t come home.

While that’s going on, alien agents in Philadelphia have somehow narrowed down the location of the conference to Cheltenham (a real-world Philadelphia suburb), but the Advocacy already has the address, having been called by their agent on the inside. They make preparations to storm the place.

Despite pushback against the blood test, Harrison makes the case for carrying on anyway, insisting that they’ll figure out who the alien is before the end of the conference, and it might even be useful for an alien to learn about how hard humans are willing to fight. Ironhorse has to bow out of his presentation, so Harrison presents the final montage in his stead. This one’s about the team’s successes in fighting aliens. This presentation is the weakest as part of the narrative framing story, but at the same time, it’s probably the most successful as a visual montage: it’s all about the team, mostly Ironhorse, shooting aliens and watching them melt. So it’s full of cool shots of aliens getting shot — though disappointingly, not the one of Harv getting blown up in “Eye for an Eye”, or the really good slow-mo dissolving alien scene from “A Multitude of Idols”. But the content is basically, “Good news: the aliens’ one weakness is bullets.” Harrison calls particular attention to their success in the pilot at blowing up the alien war machines. He ends on a sombre note, though, revealing that they’ve already lost a member of their team. I assume they’re talking about Kensington, though calling him a “member of the team” feels like a cheat, since he’d only appeared in two or three scenes before they killed him off. Makes me wish they’d kept Reynolds around to have him die a few episodes in. He felt more like a full character in his handful of scenes in the pilot than Kensington did. Harrison also gives a nod to the “many soldiers” they’d lost in combat (though really not all that many after the pilot), and the innocent civilians.

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Tales From /lost+found 105: Endgame

7×20 April 25, 2003
ENDGAME (Serial 113)

Setting: The Toybox
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johansson (Alice)
Guest Starring: Julian Richings (The Toymaker), Anthony Stewart Head (The War Chief)

Plot: The TARDIS begins to tear itself apart as the Doctor refuses to close the Eye of Harmony. Insisting that he intends to “destroy the universe”, he releases the massive powers inside the ship, and it explodes, revealing that the Doctor and Alice are, in fact, still inside the Toybox, and never escaped at the end of “Game of War”. He had recognized elements of their encounter with SG-1 and the Goa’uld as contrived and contrary to his knowledge of space and time, concluding that it was a simulacrum created by the Toymaker. The Toymaker appears and admits that he has been manipulating the Doctor as far back as “One Hundred”. The Toymaker has become tired of this universe and wishes to move on to the next one. But before he can do so, he must finally defeat the Doctor, the only opponent to have bested him on so many occasions. The Doctor at first refuses to submit to any more games: he would rather simply spend the rest of eternity in the Toybox, preventing the Toymaker from claiming ultimate victory. But the Toymaker offers to reward the Doctor if he wins by revealing the identity of the true enemy of the Time Lords during the Time War. The Doctor cannot resist, and accepts the wager. Only then does he learn the twist: the Toymaker doesn’t have the power to simply leave one universe for another; he can reach the next universe only by destroying this one. He has turned the Toybox into an inter-dimensional bomb which will unravel the universe unless the Doctor defuses it. The Doctor and Alice race through the Toybox, solving logic puzzles which take them deeper into the Toybox. The Doctor eventually uses advanced Time Lord science to interact with the Toybox in higher dimensions. This causes him to realize that the “bomb” is the nature of the Toybox itself. Its higher-order structure is disrupting the fundamental geometry of the universe, and the damage cannot be reversed so long as the Toybox exists. The Toymaker appears to gloat over his victory, but Alice accuses him of cheating: if the game cannot be won, it isn’t legitimate. The Toymaker concedes the point and reminds the Doctor of their first meeting. The Doctor realizes that the Toybox only exists so long as the Toymaker wills it. The Toymaker offers to will the Toybox out of existence if the Doctor asks him to. However, as they are inside the Toybox, the Doctor and Alice would cease to exist along with it. The Doctor has a better plan, and calls out, “Execute system restore protocol!” The pieces of the TARDIS, ejected when it exploded, reform around the Toybox, causing the TARDIS console to appear beside the Doctor. The Toymaker is surprised by the Doctor’s ingenuity, but thinks this will make no difference, as even the TARDIS can not contain the Toybox. But the Doctor knows something that can. Because the Toybox is a higher-dimensional space, while it is inside the TARDIS, it can move not just in space and time, but in mind. Specifically, the Toymaker’s mind. The Doctor materializes the TARDIS inside the Toymaker’s own consciousness. The Toybox is cut off from the universe. The Doctor and Alice may be trapped forever, but so is the Toymaker: since he only exists in his own imagination, he would cease to exist if he stopped imagining himself there. The Toymaker confesses that when he said he was tired of the universe, he meant that he wished to die, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. Thanks to the Doctor, the Toymaker can now win the game by willing himself to die. In gratitude, he even allows the Doctor and Alice to leave, ejecting the TARDIS from his dying mind. The TARDIS materializes on an alien space ship. Emerging, the Doctor discovers that the Toymaker has upheld their original deal, as he now stands before the race which started the Time War: The War Lords.

Thesis: The Last Supper (1×18, Part 1)

We should surrender to the aliens. We have no other choice.

I’ve summoned you all to the accusing parlor, so you can watch while I gradually solve the crime.

It is March 6, 1989. Since the last episode of War of the Worlds aired, nine people aboard US Airlines flight 811 out of Honolulu were lost when a cargo door failed, causing the aircraft to experience explosive decompression. Icelandic Prohibition ended after almost 80 years (though only strong beer was still banned by this point). Time and Warner have announced their impending merger. The Berne Convention was ratified by the US, making international copyright law a settled issue that totally won’t ever come up again. The Satanic Verses controversy comes to a head with Iran placing a three million dollar bounty on Salman Rushdie. Tomorrow, they will sever diplomatic ties with the UK over the affair. Venezuela is hit by a series of riots and protests over rising gas and transportation costs known as the Caracazo. Future strongman Hugo Chavez was unable to participate, being sick that day, but would later describe the event as a turning point that made the 1992 coup attempt inevitable. In cold war news, Estonia, which had been quietly resisting Soviet rule for almost two years by now, flew their own flag at Toompea Castle, next to the Estonian Parliament building, for the first time since Soviet annexation.

Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” made its debut in a Pepsi commercial during last Thursday’s The Cosby Show, another big part of my childhood which seems like a parallel universe now because a lot of people were up in arms about how inappropriate it was to expose innocent children to Madonna, especially a song that was sexy and possibly a little blasphemous, and worse, to do it in the middle of something totally family-friendly and not-at-all-scandalous-especially-in-any-kind-of-sex-related-way like Bill Cosby. Reality doesn’t make a lot of sense any more. Not a lot of changes to the Billboard charts. New in the top ten this week is Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True”. The album will hit the stores tomorrow.

ABC debuted Coach last week. CBS presented us with Hard Time on Planet Earth, one of those high-concept sitcoms I’m always going on about, this time about an alien warrior whose rehabilitation after being convicted of war crimes is to go be an ’80s Walking the Earth action-adventure hero, only as a sitcom rather than an ’80s action-adventure series. I do not recall this series; it is by all accounts terrible. The Disney Afternoon evolved into its imperial phase with the debut of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Tomorrow, ABC will premiere Anything But Love, which is surprisingly close to running out of 1980s for a show I remember almost exclusively for being “a very ’80s thing I didn’t pay much attention to.”

TV is a mix of old and new this week. ABC’s TGIF Friday lineup is repeats, though their Tuesday lineup is new. Yesterday, they aired a Debbie Allen special and followed it up with a thriller starring Robin Givens, Robert Guillaume, and, strangely, David Hewlitt, who must have been awfully young. NBC counters by airing the 1986 William Petersen film Manhunter, the oft-overlooked first film adaptation of the Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon. CBS also did a movie, this one a docudrama about the invention of the atomic bomb, featuring Hal Holbrook. MacGyver is a repeat this week, but last week they aired “The Challenge”, one of those charmingly ’80s “White Action Adventure Hero Meets and Uplifts Underprivileged Black Youths and Saves Their Community Center” episodes. The basic problem of the premise is the worst thing about it; it’s otherwise pretty much okay and holds up better than any of the twice-a-season “Sam solves racism” episodes of Quantum Leap.

I bring up Quantum Leap because it is due to premiere in a couple of weeks and I have a note in my big spreadsheet of when things happened relative to each other to mention Quantum Leap here, and I have very little to say other than, “Wow, these ‘Sam solves racism’ episodes have not aged well.” Not that the show isn’t great or that Bakula isn’t a national treasure and we were lucky to have him in a recurring role as the villain for one season of Doctor Who how the hell did he manage to kill Star Trek? I just don’t have anything interesting to say about it. Oh, except that have you ever noticed how similar the theme song to Quantum Leap is to the theme song to MacGyver?

Now, if War of the Worlds had done a musical episode, maybe they’d have gotten renewed.

No new Friday the 13th this week, and no new Star Trek either, but there will be something weird instead: Michael Dorn will guest star on the series finale of the sitcom Webster, in character as Lt. Worf. I have no memory of this happening, it’s not out on DVD, and I can’t find a copy on-line to verify any of this. I did watch Webster, though, at least the first few seasons. I probably lost track when it fell off ABC and moved to first-run syndication. Let’s hop over to a sidebar…

Webster is one of those shows that dropped off of a lot of people’s radar because of the extent to which it sounds like a complete rip-off. On paper, it’s essentially a clone of Diff’rent Strokes: a show about a short black child being raised by a wealthy white family. The biggest difference is that unlike Gary Coleman’s Arnold Drummond, Emmanuel Lewis’s Webster Long is super-adorable rather than mouthy. It’s not exactly the show they were aiming to make when they pitched it. Susan Clark and Alex Karras had been developing a romantic comedy series under the name Another Ballgame for ABC at the time. Clark was a more accomplished actor than Karras (Probably best known for Mongo in Blazing Saddles), but their real-life romantic chemistry translated incredibly well to the screen. But ABC was desperate to get Emmanuel Lewis on the screen as soon as possible in case he stopped being marketably adorable as he aged, so they pushed him on Karras and Clark and the rest… Is more complicated than any of you care about in this article about alien invasions. But it’ll be relevant, I promise! Anyway, after five seasons on ABC, the ratings slumped so they canned it, and Paramount exercised an option to keep making the show for syndication. I’m guessing I didn’t see it past this point, because nothing in the capsule summaries rings a bell. I’ve got plenty of memories of the show, but only three are especially specific. I remember needing some parental guidance to help cope after being especially terrified when Webster burns down the family’s apartment while playing with a chemistry set in the second-season episode “Burn Out”. I think this is one of those times my parents tried to teach a life lesson in a way that involved some knife-twisting by implying that I myself might similarly destroy our family home if I didn’t learn to straighten up and fly right and not play with chemistry sets without parental supervision. The second one I recall specifically is the third season episode “Chained”, in which bad luck haunts the family after failing to forward a chain letter. I remember this just well enough to identify it as one of those episodes that’s at odds with itself, because of course the moral is going to be that you shouldn’t forward chain mail and postal fraud does not have magical powers to manipulate fate… Except that TV is always disposed to pander to those who want to believe we live in a magical, daemon-haunted world, so 90% of the episode, up to and including the final freeze-frame gag at the end will be based on assuming or at least leaving open the possibility that, yes, the chain letter really does have magical powers. The third one I remember is one where Webster discovers a hidden room behind a secret passage in the cool Victorian house they inhabit for the bulk of the series and gets trapped in there. Typically, the premise of being trapped in a confined space is used as an excuse for a season-finale clip show. Webster did have one season finale cliffhanger, unusual for a sitcom, but the majority of its seasons ended with the much more traditional sitcom season finale clip show…

The reason that the series finale for Webster guest stars everyone’s favorite Klingon — I mean, other than as a treat for Emmanuel Lewis — is that young Webster dreams himself onto the Enterprise via the popular sitcom conceit of nodding off while playing video games. The Enterprise’s security chief apparently wants to learn how to be more human, because the writers couldn’t figure out a new plot when someone explained to them which one was Michael Dorn. So Webster, George and Ma’am teach Worf a very important lesson about the concept of feelings and familial emotion via a clip show, because God knows you can’t end a long-running sitcom without a clip show.

I hate clip shows.

We’ve talked about my hate of clip shows before. And I know you can make a solid argument for them, especially back in an era when television was deliberately ephemeral, without home recordings and only limited reruns, and I don’t care. They suck. There is something kinda interesting, though, in having Star Trek collide with an obscure ’80s sitcom a few months ahead of their one and only clip show, the upcoming season 2 finale “Shades of Gray”, which will see Dr. Pulaski inducing a clip show as an experimental medical treatment for Commander Riker after he gets stabbed by a poisonous thorn.

So after that very long diversion, do you want to guess what this week’s episode of War of the Worlds is?

Okay, it’s not as bad as all that. The “clip show” is limited to a handful of montages interspersed in an episode that still has a full plot. But yeah, this is our recap episode. I realize it’s been a long time due to my decision to meander off on a very long tangent, but do you remember a few episodes back when John Colicos paid us a visit? Harrison’s adventure with the original Baltar was framed by preparations for an important presentation by the Blackwood team to the UN. Well, imagine you took the last scene there of them actually presenting their work to the international community, and you stretched that out to a full episode. That’s what “The Last Supper” is. Under conditions of the utmost security, Ironhorse and the Omega squad have locked down a private school that is trying its darnedest to look like it is not in Toronto, and is hosting an international conference on the alien invasion.

Why are they holding this high-security international conference in a high school and not one of the US Government’s many high-security installations? Because shut up. Okay, there’s some gestures here toward the notion that the risk of discovery and infiltration by the aliens is so high that they can’t protect the conference if they involve anyone outside of Ironhorse’s direct chain of command, including their own government, because of the risk that anyone at any level might have been replaced by a soulless monster with no capacity for empathy toward humanity and wouldn’t bat an eyelash at condemning millions of innocent lives to suffering and death in the name of achieving their own selfish goals and GOD DAMN IT these articles were a lot easier to write before Trump got elected. Here I was about to explain how it’s basically nonsense to suggest that the federal government is so malicious and/or incompetent that they can’t be trusted not to sell out the human race for extermination and yet the Blackwood team is still somehow able to operate at all, let alone host a security conference to establish an international military coalition involving two communist countries and one that’s in the middle of a civil war. But then I realize that I live in a world where the single best chance we have at preventing the total collapse of our civilization lies in the actions of rogue park rangers and renegade NOAA employees. So I can’t make a joke about the setup for this being completely ridiculous because it turns out that the fate of the world resting in five visiting scientists put up in a school gymnasium while Ironhorse complains about how he only has half as many men as he needs may actually not be ridiculous enough to be realistic. I liked writing about the ’80s better when they were safely in the past.

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