Category Archives: Tales From /lost+found

Artifacts from an alternative universe where Doctor Who was successfully revived on US TV in 1996

Tales from /lost+found 126: Visit to a Small Planet

Yeah. It’s that time again.

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Infinite worlds, infinite possibilities…

Dean Chesterton thought it was hard enough being the Headmaster’s son at Coal Hill School. That was before he met his new science teacher, Professor Hu. Not only is does the strange professor keep getting lost in nonsensical lectures about other times and distant worlds, but now he’s building some kind of super-weapon. Who is the mysterious Hu? And why has he taken such an interest in Dean Chesterton? When a lab accident unleashes the deadly Skovox Blitzer on the school, it’s time for Dean to do the one thing he fears the most: involve his father.

Starring Jerry Lewis as the Doctor

Also starring William Russell as Sir Ian Chesterton and Alfred Enoch as Dean

 

Tales from /lost+found 125: Plastic Fantastic

3×15 March 5, 1999
PLASTIC FANTASTIC (Serial 34, Episode 2)

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT-time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Barry Jenner (Colonel Ross), Jason Alexander (Sam Kurros), Malcolm McDowell (Mr. McMaster/The Master)

Plot: With just seconds to spare, Lizzie reprograms the radio transmitter at KACL to cancel out the activation signal, preventing the Auton toys all over Seattle from activating. Agent Blackwood still can’t get authorization from his superiors to raid Delgado Plastics. The Doctor and Lizzie decide to sneak in. They are caught by Kurros when they try to sabotage the Nestene host body. The Doctor tries to persuade Kurros that the Nestene Consciousness will turn on him once their host body is ready, but Kurros seems unconvinced and locks them in a room full of activated Auton toys. The Doctor is able to fend them off with his sonic screwdriver long enough for Lizzie to escape, but is engulfed by the toys himself. Kurros finds the apparently dead Doctor a short time later and has his body dumped. When he relates this to his partner, Mr. McMaster, McMaster becomes enraged and uses a control device to have Kurros consumed by the plastic chair in which he is sitting. UNIT locates the Doctor’s seemingly dead body, whereupon he recovers, revealing that his Time Lord biology allowed him to bypass his respiratory system, preventing the plastic beads from entering his lungs. McMaster confronts the Doctor and Lizzie at KACL and attempts to warn them off. He is surprised the Doctor doesn’t recognize him. Blackwood threatens to arrest McMaster, but is stopped by Colonel Ross, who takes charge of the investigation and orders UNIT to leave Delgado Plastics alone, despite McMaster having all but confessed. Once the Doctor and Lizzie are alone, the plastic strap from Lizzie’s handbag comes to life and attempts to strangle her. The Doctor manages to modify a portable radio transmitter to neutralize it. They realize that the Nestenes do not need to manufacture Auton devices, but can animate any plastic object using their control signals, and when the full Nestene Consciousness arrives on Earth, the engineered host will serve only as the central brain for it, while every plastic object on Earth will become its body. The Doctor calculates that the KACL radio transmitter is not large enough to handle the bandwidth required for the entire Nestene Consciousness to come to Earth, and theorizes that they must have another receiver. Colonel Ross tries to have the Doctor and Lizzie arrested, but the Doctor uses his portable transmitter, revealing Ross as an Auton duplicate. Agent Blackwood orders a raid at Delgado Plastics, but the factory is abandoned when they arrive, with the Nestene host body having been already removed. Oddly, the large safe in McMaster’s office is also gone. Lizzie hacks their computer network and discovers a series of purchase orders leading them to the Space Needle. The Doctor determines that Nestene technology could effectively transform the needle into a crude but high-bandwidth radio telescope. McMaster activates the receiver just as UNIT arrives, and all over Seattle, plastic objects come to life and attack their owners. The Doctor fights his way to the top of the needle and confronts McMaster as he connects the receiver to the now-completed host body. McMaster is still confident that he can control the Nestenes. His confidence seems misplaced when he is attacked himself by plastic-coated cables. Angry at this betrayal, he produces a bottle of specialized solvent, which he pours onto the host body. The destruction of the host causes the Nestenes to lose control of the plastic in the building, giving the Doctor time to reverse the polarity of the receiver, repelling the Nestene Consciousness back into deep space. As UNIT agents storm the building, McMaster slips away to a back room, where the safe from his office inexplicably stands. Moments before Blackwood enters the room, McMaster climbs into the safe, which vanishes, accompanied by the distinctive sound of the TARDIS’s engines. Blackwood again tries to persuade the Doctor to stay on with UNIT. He recognizes that Lizzie is homesick, and gives Blackwood a communication device he can use to summon them in emergencies.

Tales from /lost+found 124: Arachnophobia

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

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

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

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

Just for the sake of completeness…

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

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

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

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

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tales From /lost+found 119/Deep Ice CROSSOVER: It wasn’t like the radio show at all (Doctor Who 4×18: Invaders From Mars!)

WARNING: MEMORY CORRUPTION. RESTORING UNIVERSE FROM BACKUP…

If they were making this today, they’d have totally CGI’d New York instead of badly colorizing old newsreel footage.

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.

In our defense, can you really say these look less like legitimate alien creatures than, say, Alpha Centauri?

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:

And how dare you license your name to a bullshit sequel that’s mostly a political farce!

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.”

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