This one just had to do a last-minute revision, because fuck 2017. More below the fold…
WARNING: MEMORY CORRUPTION. RESTORING UNIVERSE FROM BACKUP…
It is February 18, 2000. It’s a pretty solid time in my life. Leah and I are starting to get serious. We’d recently had our first kiss after the Valentine’s Day dance at school. In obvious analogies, Arianespace launches the Japanese communications satellite Superbird-B2. Space Shuttle Endeavour is currently in orbit, halfway through its final solo mission (its remaining dozen missions would be to the ISS). The final Peanuts strip ran this past Sunday, following the death of Charles Schulz a week earlier. Microsoft released Windows 2000 yesterday. With the withdrawls of Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes, the GOP primary race is down to George W Bush and John McCain. McCain’s five points up in South Carolina, and he just might take this thing. I mean, unless some kind of evil, ham-shaped mastermind spreads a rumor that he fathered a black child out of wedlock.
Mariah Carey tops the Billboard charts with “Thank God I Found You”, a song I do not recall at all. Also in the top five are Christina Aguilera with “What a Girl Wants”, Blink 182 with “All the Small Things”, Savage Garden with “I Knew I Loved You”, and Santana featuring Rob Thomas with “Smooth”. Savage Garden will unseat her next week, the others are all on the way down from the top. In two weeks, Savage Garden will hand over the top spot to Lonestar with “Amazed”, currently at number 18.
The 1950 film adaptation of Born Yesterday is released on DVD. Loyola will do the stageplay this year, and I wonder if that’s related at all. Among movies opening in theaters today are two Vin Diesel films: the securities fraud crime drama Boiler Room, and Pitch Black, the first Chronicles of Riddick movie. Bruce Willis vehicle The Whole Nine Yards, and Walter Matthau’s final film, Hanging Up. Eastenders celebrates its 15th anniversary on British television this week. Stateside, this week’s The West Wing is “Celestial Navigation”. Sam and Toby go on a road trip to get a SCOTUS nominee out of jail (He’s falsely accused of drunk driving by a probably-racist cop), CJ has a root canal, and Josh makes an ass of himself. 7 Days this week is “The Backstepper’s Apprentice”. Without looking it up, I’m just going to assume the plot is “Something goes wrong with the time machine and the actual mission takes a back-seat to sorting out the consequences of that,” because that is the plot of about 75% of all 7 Days episodes. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is “Goodbye, Iowa” in which Big Bad Adam escapes from fake-out Big Bad The Initiative. Really moving performance from Charisma Carpenter. Angel gives us “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, a demonic possession story with a clever twist. Over on Showtime, Stargate SG-1 gives us “New Ground”. The gang arrives through a recently-unburied stargate, causing trouble for the locals, a creationist culture that’s fighting a cold war with a neighboring country that has a more accurate theory of human origins. They bring a scientist back with them to become a research assistant while he waits for his people to get their heads out of their asses. He is never heard of again, but his backstory is broadly similar to the one they’d give Jonas Quinn two years later. On Sci-Fi, The Phoenix Banner: Crusade airs “Bigger Bugs Have Lesser Bugs”. Sunday’s The X-Files will be “X-Cops”, a crossover with the police reality show Cops. Speaking of reality shows, earlier this week, FOX aired Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, which culminated with the marriage of Darva Conger to Rick Rockwell, and I’m sure those two crazy kids will be very happy. (Spoiler: The marriage was annulled in April.)
And, of course, Doctor Who. Now you probably already know that season four of Doctor Who is a little bit controversial among fans. The show had been doing well for three seasons, but it was ridiculously expensive. They’d tried to reign in costs by having the Doctor destroy the TARDIS to defeat the Master back in the season opener. This left the Doctor Earth-bound, hearkening back to the original UNIT era in the 1970s, and let them replace expensive alien and period locales with location shooting in Vancouver. And introducing a recurring humanoid enemy saved them on alien make-up and visual effects.
And while it’s certainly true that these changes brought a sharper focus on the writing and led to more complex character development and storylines, it just was not what Doctor Who fans wanted out of the show. The ratings slumped and word on the street was that FOX was unlikely to renew the show.
So as a last, desperate saving throw, they massively retooled the show mid-season, ushering in the Christmas hiatus with a cliffhanger that saw the Doctor and Lizzie thrown back in time two thousand years. The return of time travel to the format, along with a break from the season-long recurring enemy, was a fresh change of pace, but it proved to be too little too late, and the show was only saved when the Sci-Fi channel bought the rights and they jumped to basic cable.
If you skipped this period in Doctor Who history, the show works a little differently now from the rest of its run. As I mentioned, the Doctor and Lizzie are trapped in the past. They’re working their way forward through the centuries using something called the “Toynbee device”, which is slowly pulling them back to their own time, but needs a random amount of time to recharge before it will work. And yes, more than a few fans, me included, objected to the similarities between this setup and that of a certain other FOX show which had jumped to the Sci-Fi channel and whose run ended a couple of weeks earlier.
This week is the last episode of that arc. After leaving World War I France, the Toynbee device pops them forward twenty years to New York, 1938. Last week’s cliffhanger found the time travelers accosted on the streets of New York by a pair of strange, unwieldy creatures. They’re quickly revealed to be costumed revelers: it’s Halloween.
Cut to the vortex and the John Debney version of the theme song.
Oh yes, Halloween in New York, 1938. You can see where this is going. Now, based on our experiences so far, between Global Dispatches and “Eye for an Eye“, there’s two obvious ways for this to play out:
- Orson Welles’s radio play really was a news broadcast, documenting real events
- Welles’s radio broadcast was faked as a cover-up for a real invasion.
What I’m pleased to report is that the path they went with is… Actually something different. We meet up with Welles in a bar, where he’s arguing with Howard Koch about the script. Leiv Schreiber plays Welles, and it’s a refreshing take. Casting Orson Welles is tricky business; hell, Orson Welles could barely handle playing Orson Welles. But playing a 1938 Welles has its own challenges, because Welles is such a huge, imposing trope of a man that everyone is going to go into a project like this with really concrete ideas about how the character should be played. But the Orson Welles that lives in our imagination, demanding Galvatron capture the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, refusing to sell wine before its time, and wigging out over a commercial for frozen peas, that Orson Welles took decades to form. What we have here is Welles at 23. Someone who’s up-and-coming, sure, and certainly a little arrogant (who wouldn’t be if they’d just had their picture on the cover of Time at 23. Hell, I’ve heard some people have to fake that), but his potential is still largely yet-to-be-proven, and to a great extent, he’s still in the process of finding his voice. So Schreiber plays a surprisingly subdued Welles, one that’s far more restrained and moderate than you’d expect, he said, just before inserting an animated gif of him flipping a table in anger:
Welles thinks Koch’s script is dull and is close to dropping the whole thing and doing Lorna Doone instead. John Houseman, Welles’s long-time collaborator, who you might remember from The Paper Chase and also me having mentioned him recently (Also, fun fact: Houseman died on October 31, 1988, fifty years to the day after the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and, of course, the same day “Eye for an Eye” aired), calms him down, promising to work with Koch on some last-minute rewrites to make it more exciting.
Houseman is played by, of all people, David Suchet, best known for Poirot. And he’s great, obviously, but I can’t help feeling a little sad that they got an actor of such amazing talent and repute and used him in such a minor way. Also, I spent the whole episode waiting for him to refer to his “leetle gray cells.”
7×03 July 19, 2002
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Serial 96)
Setting: The Outer Wastes, Unknown Time
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johanssen (Alice), Lee Thompson Young (Leo)
Guest Starring: Katherine Heigl (Ruth)
Plot: For her first trip in the TARDIS, Alice suggests they visit the Roman Empire. The Doctor agrees, but is clearly distracted. Pressed by Leo, the Doctor admits that he is troubled by Varnax’s dying words. Since his regeneration, he is increasingly aware that his memories of the Time War are misleading or missing. His companions ask whether he could return to the Time War to answer his questions. The Doctor explains that the Time War is encysted by a barrier of “crystallized time” and inaccessible. But he remembers the Outer Wastes, a place outside the web of time, where he might be able see through the barrier and witness the events of the war. Alice and Leo agree they should go, even after the Doctor warns them that the Outer Wastes are a dangerous place, populated by detritus ejected through rifts in space and time. The Doctor has to delete part of the TARDIS’s mass to generate the extra thrust to break free of the web of time, and they arrive on a kind of floating island made of an agglutination of asteroids and planetary debris. It is inhabited by displaced people from all of history: scientists experimenting with time travel, explorers who fell into black holes, survivors of planetary catastrophes. The denizens have long been hostile and factionalized as they compete for scarce resource, but have recently banded together in the face of a common threat thanks to the influence of a mysterious leader about whom they are reluctant to speak. Against the warnings of the inhabitants, the Doctor attempts to scale the mountain at the island’s center, where he hopes he will be able to use a temporal scanner to view his home planet. The Doctor and his companions are attacked by the monster feared by the people. The Doctor recognizes it as a Chronovore, a beast from Time Lord mythology. Alice is injured, and Leo is separated from the others and becomes trapped in a cave trying to protect her. The Chronovore closes in on the Doctor, but is repelled when the leader appears between them as an indistinct, ethereal humanoid shape. She vanishes before the Doctor can attempt to communicate. The Doctor takes Alice back to the encampment for medical help. He learns that while the leader can not communicate directly, it has been encouraging them to work together through its ability to scare off the beast, creating sanctuary for those willing to form a community. The Doctor theorizes that it appeared to them because Leo risked his life to protect Alice. In the cave, the leader appears to Leo. It is unable to interact with him physically, but seems desperate to communicate with him. With nothing better to do, and unsure if it understands him, Leo tells the being about his adventures with the Doctor and about his lost love. In the encampment, the Doctor tries unsuccessfully to rally a search party to find Leo. When he explains that the Chronovore is drawn by the Doctor’s unique biology as it thrives on temporal energy, however, the denizens reluctantly decide to sacrifice the Doctor to the creature. He is forced back to the mountain, where the leader appears. Shamed, the townspeople flee. The leader leads the Doctor to the cave where Leo is trapped. The monster attacks while the Doctor is pulling Leo up, but the leader fends it off. The three return to town together to find that the Chronovore is attacking. The Doctor thinks he has figured out the leader’s nature, and rallies it to attack the creature directly rather than simply scaring it away. The Chronovore attempts to consume the leader, and explodes in a massive release of temporal energy. The leader was saturated with unstable temporal energy which the Chronovore consumed, causing “fatal indigestion”. The leader is really Ruth, now restored to corporeality. The destruction of the Chronovore creates a beacon, and the Doctor’s scanner reveals more Chonovores in the Wastes that will be drawn to it. He sacrifices a further quarter of the TARDIS’s mass to create a kind of barrier that will protect the island, even though this blocks his view into normal time. Since the Doctor isn’t certain whether she will remain stable if she returns to the web of time, Ruth and Leo decide to stay in the Outer Wastes to help build their community. Recalling his promise to find them a place to get married, the Doctor uses his standing as a ship’s captain to marry Ruth and Leo before he and Alice make their farewells and depart back to normal space-time.
1×10 January 24, 1997
SHELL GAME (Serial 7, Episode 2)
Setting: Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and Mondas, 2003
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Ed Begley, Jr. (Director Slate), Don S. Davis (General Cutler), Leland Orser (Mulchay), Peter Cullen (voice of the Cyb Leader)
Plot: On Mondas, the Doctor and Slate are taken to Cyb Command, located inside a mountain sculpted into the shape of a Cyb helmet. To prevent their escape, the imprisoned scientists are forced into magnetic boots. The Cybs prepare to convert the humans, but the Doctor’s alien biology causes their machinery to malfunction. On Earth, Lizzie observes the Cybs using their technology to shield certain NASA systems from the effect that has blocked the humans’ weapons. She guesses that the Cyb space ships are only capable of one-way flight, and they need NASA’s technology to return to their own planet. Mulchay, a junior scientist, suggests that the space center’s RF isolation room might offer similar protection. General Cutler, Lizzie and Mulchay break away from the group and are chased by a Cyb to the isolation room. Once inside, Cutler’s gun does function again, but it proves ineffective against the Cyb. However, when the Cyb enters the room to dispatch the general, it suddenly collapses and expires. Lizzie opens the Cyb’s suit and discovers that it is mostly hollow inside. The organic components heavily atrophied, and the cybernetics have been streamlined and optimized. Mulchay notices that the Cyb body contains no power source, and must be powered by an outside broadcast source. Armed with the Cyb’s weapon, Cutler manages to liberate Mission Control. NASA reactivates Mission Control using Cyb technology, hoping to launch Constitution to recover the hostages on Mondas. Inside the spaceplane, they discover the Cyb machine responsible for the power drain. Mulchay and Lizzie determine, to the general’s dismay, that attempting to disable the machine will cause a massive explosion. A surviving Cyb attacks them, and Lizzie directs the output of the energy transfer device to destroy it by a massive overload. Lizzie believes that the Cybs always intended to destroy the Earth, and realizes that the Doctor’s reference to gravity was a clue: if Mondas was truly a twin to Earth, its proximity should be causing massive tidal forces. On Mondas, the Cybs repair their conversion machines. Just in time, the Doctor helps the scientists escape by using his sonic screwdriver to release their magnetic boots, allowing them to leap away in the low gravity. During their long journey in deep space, the Cybs consumed most of their planet’s matter as reaction mass to control their travel. Too much energy from Earth will saturate their planet and destroy it, and the Cybs must destroy Earth before this happens. Slate sacrifices himself, staying behind to help the others escape. On Earth, General Cutler orders Constitution launched on a collision course toward Mondas, so that the energy transfer device will explode and destroy the planet. Due to Mondas’s smaller mass, the force from the explosion would devastate the facing side of Earth, so Mulchay works with Lizzie to disable Constitution. The Doctor and the NASA scientists make their way back to Constellation, and are confronted by Director Slate, now a Cyb. By appealing to his sense of duty, the Doctor manages to break through to his original personality long enough for them to launch the spaceplane. The Cybs on Mondas send a remote signal to detonate the energy device, but Lizzie is able to block it just in time. More Cybs arrive on Earth via Verne Gun and retake Mission Control. Cutler, Lizzie and Mulchay defend the space plane, but Mulchay is mortally injured. Constellation lands, and the Doctor attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution. Mondas is close to saturation, and the Doctor offers the Cybs peaceful resettlement in Earth’s uninhabitable regions. The Cyb leader defends their actions in the name of preserving their race, and claims that the Cybs can not survive without a re-energized Mondas; there is no way to preserve both planets. Before the Cybs can take control of the energy device, the dying Mulchay turns its output all the way up, transferring a massive amount of energy to Mondas. The planet saturates with energy and disintegrates, causing the Cybs on Earth to die with their power source. The sight of Mondas breaking up triggers memories of his own planet’s destruction, and Lizzie has to drag the shell-shocked Doctor back to the TARDIS.
Yeah. Too many of these recently.
But what lesson was he trying to teach himself by assuming the likeness of Penley from The Ice Warriors?
5×12 February 2, 2001
CHILDREN OF WAR (Serial 67)
Setting: Skaro, far-future
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Katherine Heigl (Ruth), Lee Thompson Young (Leo)
Guest Cast: Cam Clarke (voice of the Daleks), Kelley Waymire (B’tan), Matt Winston (Gan’tus), Lawrence Monoson (Phaldotus)
Plot: The TARDIS arrives in a new-growth forest on an alien planet. Leo assumes the forest is regrowing after a fire, but the Doctor sees evidence that the destruction was far more severe, frightening Ruth with a description of nuclear weapons. To calm her, the Doctor uses the TARDIS’s scanners to demonstrate that the radiation levels are safe. However, they show that the radiation is rapidly increasing nearby. The Doctor guesses that a nuclear storage site nearby is leaking, and after handing out anti-radiation drugs, sets out to try to contain the leak to protect the forest. The sensor readings lead them to a city which is technologically advanced, but heavily overgrown. As they work their way through the city, they find pictures, letters and graffiti that tell of a great war between the planet’s two nations. At first, it seems that the warring peoples wiped each other out, but they find stranger things which hint that the city-builders survived the war, but were mutated by the radiation. They learn of the city-builders’ failed attempts to reverse their mutation, as evidenced by cylindrical upright sarcophagi throughout the city. Leo trips an automated defense system and is separated from the others and finds himself in a processing plant where he meets Phaldotus, Gan’tus and B’tan. They are Thals, unmutated survivors from the rival nation, who had come to the city as explorers and gotten trapped. The Doctor and Ruth discover that the city is powered by an atomic pile whose damaged control system is venting radiation rather than using it for power. The Doctor sets about repairing the power source to stop the radiation vent and succeeds just before Leo reunites with them, warning him to stop. As power returns to the city, Leo explains what he discovered from the Thals: the cylinders are not sarcophagi, but protective suits for the mutated survivors. With the power restored, the mutants emerge from stasis, the cylinders extending eight flexible metallic legs, domed lids revealing the one-eyed, pulsating mutants inside. They are Daleks, the ancient enemies of the Thals. Phaldotus is killed when the Daleks recognize him as a Thal. B’tan, Gan’tus and Leo escape, but the Doctor and Ruth are captured. The Thals are pacifists by nature, and do not want to help Leo rescue his friends, but Gan’tus comes around when Leo threatens to offer B’tan to the Daleks in a hostage exchange. By the time they rescue the others, the Doctor has learned that the Daleks have located the Thal village and, obsessed with finishing their war, plan to wipe the Thals out with a nuclear missile. Based on what Leo saw in the processing plant, the Doctor believes they can sabotage the underground supports for the city to collapse it before the Spider Daleks can launch their missile. They sneak back into the Dalek city and evade the now-active Daleks to reach the processing plant. The Daleks attack, and Gan’tus sacrifices himself, baiting the Daleks into shooting through him, igniting a chemical tank which explodes, damaging the city supports. The Doctor, Leo, Ruth, and B’tan escape as the city collapses. The Doctor advises B’tan to return to her people and warn them that the some of the Daleks may yet have survived. As the time-travelers leave Skaro, a long-defunct Dalek space station receives an emergency signal from the collapsing Dalek city and begins to reactivate…
I guess we’ve got to do one of these again. Please let my over-the-top terrible puns comfort you in this time of sadness.
1×17 April 11, 1997
SIDEWAYS (Serial 11, Episode 2*)
Setting: San Francisco, California, Present
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jerry O’Connell (Quinn), Sabrina Lloyd (Wade), Cleavant Derricks (Rembrandt), Kari Wuher (Maggie), Neil Dickson (Rickman)
Plot: Despite his reservations, the Doctor and Lizzie follow the sliders through the wormhole to avoid being crushed. They find themselves in a futuristic world, but one which seems devoid of life. The Doctor is severely affected because the different temporal constants of this universe affect his Time Lord senses. They soon discover that this world was depopulated by a mutant species of insect. They find a group of survivors who treat them with suspicion. Rickman has already been and gone, leaving one of their group comatose. Despite his own affliction, the Doctor devises a treatment that helps Rickman’s victim make a partial recovery. Having watched from hiding as the sliders arrived, Rickman opens a vent to allow the insects into the survivors’ stronghold. While defending himself, Quinn discovers that the signal generated by the timer repels the insects. Quinn and the Doctor work together to create a defense for the survivors while Maggie goes to confront Rickman. Rickman has also learned to use his timer to fend off the insects, and drives them toward Maggie. The Doctor and Lizzie attempt to save her, the Doctor using his sonic screwdriver to interfere with Rickman’s timer, damaging it. In spite of the damage, Rickman manages to slide away. Despite the risk of losing Rickman’s trail, Quinn agrees to use their timer’s recall function to return the Doctor and Lizzie to their own universe after building a device which will protect the survivors on this world from the insects. After returning to the Doctor’s universe with only a few minutes on the timer, the sliders discover that Maggie has been infested with insect larva, which erupt from her body, killing her. In shock from Maggie’s sudden death and unwilling to condemn this world, the sliders allow the timer to run out. Since the insects are still few in number, they devise a plan to use the sonic screwdriver and the timer together to attract and destroy the insects. The insects multiply more rapidly than they expected, and Rembrandt sacrifices himself, remaining behind to activate the makeshift weapon rather than waiting to get to a safe distance. While it is normally forbidden for the Doctor to change the past, he realizes that his instinctive discomfort around the sliders is because they are not part of this universe’s web of time. Leaving Lizzie behind to comfort Quinn and Wade, he disappears in the TARDIS, then reappears a moment later with a surprise: he has fetched Rembrandt and Maggie from the compactor a moment before they slid. He warns that they should not return to this universe, as it may cause a paradox. Quinn reminds him that, having missed their window, they will not be able to slide again for 27 years. The Doctor reveals that he had pocketed the timer before departing and waited out the delay. It now shows only a few minutes before they can slide. Quinn is still unconvinced about the possibility of time travel, but can come up with no other explanation. Once the sliders depart, Lizzie notices that the Doctor seems older, and he confesses that it took him several tries to get back with the right amount of time on the timer.
Note: This episode aired as part of Fox’s “When Worlds Collide” event. Part 1 of this serial aired as Sliders episode 3×20 “What the Doctor Ordered”.
6×01 (5x19a) January 4, 2002
LOCKDOWN (Serial 75)
Setting: Space Station W-9, 22nd Century
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor)
Plot: After dropping off Ruth and Leo for a romantic dinner at a swanky restaurant on Titan, the Doctor takes a tour of Space Station W-9, the local administrative hub, renowned for its view of Saturn’s rings. Shortly into his tour, the station is shaken by an explosion and goes into a security lockdown. The Doctor is sealed in an observation pod with two crew members and five other visitors. The others assume the explosion was an attack by rebel colonists seeking independence. When one of the tourists expresses sympathy for the colonists, he is ostracized by the others and treated with suspicion. They find themselves unable to contact the rest of the station, and begin to fear that more attacks are coming. The Doctor himself comes under suspicion when he displays his advanced technical knowledge in an attempt to reestablish communications. The crew force him to surrender his sonic screwdriver. They notice a tattoo on one of the other visitors associated with a mining colony. As their paranoia grows, she is accused of involvement with the attack. The Doctor attempts to calm the tensions, but when he reveals himself as an alien, one of the crewmen panics and attacks him. He is restrained, but the life support system is damaged in the process. The Doctor begs to be allowed to repair the damaged system, but by now, everyone is too paranoid to allow an alien to use advanced technology on the station. Instead, everyone descends into a service area below the deck to reach an emergency hatch. Because of the damage to the station, some of the systems in the service area are damaged, and the hatch is disabled. One of the visitors is badly hurt by an electrified conduit. The former colonist is accused of sabotage and a fight breaks out. The Doctor tries to intercede but is forced out of the way. The others beat the colonist nearly to death when the Doctor retrieves his dropped sonic screwdriver and uses it to open the hatch. As everyone makes a hurried escape, the damage to the pod causes it to begin to rapidly decompress. The colonist sacrifices herself to force the hatch closed from the inside to protect the rest of the station. A rescue team arrives, and informs the survivors that the initial explosion was caused by a faulty part, not a rebel attack. The humans are left ashamed by their actions, while the Doctor is shaken by his inability to defuse the situation.
Note: This story takes place before “Invasion, Part 1”