Category Archives: War of the Worlds

Review and analysis of adaptations of HG Wells’s “The War of the Worlds”

Deep Ice: There’s more than enough for you and your friends, Senator (War of the Worlds II, Episode 4, Part 2)

Y’all ready for some political intrigue? Too fucking bad, it’s War of the Worlds II. The good news is that some actual stuff happens in this part. The bad news is that it happens on Earth, with all that implies. Oh yes, we’re back to the world of Ronald Ratkin (the world’s first Trillionaire) and Tosh Rimbauch (Making America Great Again).

But we’re not quite done with space yet. The Tor make their final preparations to send Jessica back to Earth, and it’s time for her to play her hand too early and gloat about her success with no consequences. She explains the Tor’s plan back to them for our benefit: Orion-1, newly refitted with a warp drive, will return to Earth, announcing success in finding water and forging an alliance with the Martians, which will surely prompt a ticker-tape parade and banquet in their honor full of world leaders. The Tor will follow Orion as far as the moon, and hide behind it until everyone’s at the banquet, and then they’ll “make their move”. The nature of this move is not explained, nor, honestly, what this plan will accomplish. It might make sense if the Martian clones were meant to assassinate or kidnap the world leaders. But there’s no indication that this is their plan, and it’s hard to believe that the Martians themselves would even be capable of it. It’s hard to fathom how Jessica herself could attend this hypothetical banquet, or indeed not be arrested for piracy the second Orion landed.

I mean, the basic concept that Orion with its ersatz crew will keep humanity from just shooting the crap out of the Tor the moment they arrive is solid. We learn over the course of this conversation that the Tor have roughly similar weapons capabilities to Earth, and that a Tor ship can’t withstand multiple nuclear warheads. This is an interesting shift from the trend in other adaptations, where aliens are sufficiently advanced that the only times humanity can fight back are in adaptations where they’ve repurposed stolen alien technology. Here, the entirely home-grown technology of late-20th-century Earth is equal to that of the alien invaders — the Tor leader will shortly mention that the lack of lightspeed space travel is the only area in which humanity lags behind the Tor. And little though this production has to do with the 1938 radio play to which it is nominally a sequel, it’s not a radical inconsistency; the tripods of the radio play were vulnerable to heavy artillery provided you were fast enough to get in a killing shot before they rolled over you, so it’s reasonable to imagine that the Martians (and the less-advanced Tor) were only a few decades ahead of human technology in most respects.

But when we get into the details, it all goes pear-shaped. Why hide the Tor behind the moon, where they’ll have to come out and make the last leg of the journey exposed, after they’ve been formally introduced at a banquet? Why bother refitting Orion at all — just show up in the Tor warship, broadcasting an announcement from the fake Orion crew that they found and borrowed a Martian ship. The whole point is to get Earth under their control without having to resort to a fire-fight, but there’s absolutely no indication how any of this would actually accomplish that. Are the Martians going to shape-shift back to their natural forms and just announce “Bwa ha ha! We’re not really the Orion crew! We’re aliens! And we’re conquering your planet!” whereupon the Secret Service will just shoot them and be done with it. Nothing in this plan makes it seem like it’s an improvement over “Just show up unannounced”.

While the main part of the plan is going on, Jessica will secretly communicate with Ratkin to reassure him that she’s got Orion under her control and he shouldn’t blow it up with his own private space-based weapons platform.

Yes, he has one of those. Don’t be stupid. Jessica cautions the Tor that Ratkin will try to double-cross them and conquer the galaxy, and the Tor counter that they’re going to kill her for suggesting such a thing. This is where she stops to gloat: on the last tape, she took a short break to hop back up to Artemis in order to murder her crew off-screen. I didn’t mention it at the time because it was handled as an aside by the narrator. But while she was up there, apparently, she filled Ratkin in on the bare outline of what was going on and had him arrange for his private space-based weapons platform to nuke the hell out of the Tor if they show up without her or try anything. The Tor congratulates her on having cleverly outmaneuvered them such that their only choices are to either agree to her terms or kill her and give up on Earth. For the sake of keeping this story going, they choose the former, but once she’s out of the room, they go back to bwa-ha-hahing about how they’re totally going to double-cross her once they’ve taken over the Earth and gotten rid of that pesky satellite.

Jessica also mentions in passing during this segment that the water crisis on Earth is entirely artificial; the Tor are concerned that even Ratkin’s empire wouldn’t be powerful enough to stop humans from pursuing Martian water out of desperation, and she flat out says that there’s plenty of water on Earth, and it’s only Ratkin’s machinations that are preventing humanity from making it potable.

The faux-Wagner music is traded out for the cheap ’80s crime drama sax on the transition to Earth. Major Stryker, Bob Boness, and the still-hospitalized President DeWitt get on a conference call to hear from Orion-1, which is finally checking in after an unspecified period of time which seems like it ought to have been at least a couple of months by now but time is passing at different rates in different parts of the plot. “Commander Ferris” calls NASA for the first time in months to announce that they’re on their way home to report success. They pretty much repeat everything Jessica already told us about their cover story: they claim that the Martians have agreed to help them, that the ’38 invasion was an by an unsanctioned rebel sect, that by way of apology, the Martians have upgraded Orion-1’s engines and agreed to help them extract water, and that the “feeble attempts” of Jessica Storm and the Artemis crew were “easily thwarted”. DeWitt finds the “feeble attempts” bit hard to swallow. We seem to have completely forgotten the bit from before where the jamming was attributed to a superluminal signal being transmitted from Mars to a distant star system.

Before disconnecting, Stryker gives “Ferris” the bad news about his wife: that she’s gone missing, suspected to have been kidnapped by Ratkin. The clone unemotionally responds, “That is most unfortunate.” But since this is the same character who has been acting like a particularly inanimate block of wood for three episodes now, everyone quickly dismisses any suspicion that there might be something “up” with the fact that he responded to the news of his wife’s abduction without any hint of actually being bothered by it. Just as predicted, DeWitt’s first thought is to throw a ticker-tape parade and state banquet for them.

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Deep Ice: They made a copy (War of the Worlds II: Episode 4: The Eye of the Storm, Part 1)

Am I the only one really bothered that they commissioned four different covers, each of which is its own variation on “Terrible composite of the Earth against a nebula of some sort in proportions that aren’t even vaguely plausible”?

Okay. Okay. Enough stalling. Let’s get into this thing. Part four. The exciting finale. Or whatever. As you can tell, I haven’t been looking forward to this.

In case you’ve forgotten, the missing-but-not-missed episode 3 ended with the deaths of Commander Ferris, Nikki Jackson and Mark Rutherford at the hands of Jessica Storm and her hired gun Walsh. After the ridiculously lengthy recap, we rejoin Jessica Storm on Mars, under interrogation by the Tor. It’s not clear to me whether there’s meant to be one or two of them there. The voices of the Tor are distorted with an echo and flange, slower and deeper than the Martian voices. This is justified in-universe by the fact that the Tor are communicating using the telepathic Martians as intermediaries: their native form of communication is based on smell.

They inform Jessica of their intent to destroy Earth: since humans will kill for water, the Tor can’t tolerate them as a threat to their supply of quorrium. Jessica counter-proposes that they make an alliance with Ratkin, who can provide them with unlimited slave labor and block any attempt to extract Martian water. The Tor accept her offer, and please her further by planning to work the Orion crew to death in the mines in order to gauge human physical endurance. We fade to the theme music as Jessica Storm laugh maniacally.

Which pretty much sets the stage for side one of this episode: it’s going to be a whole lot of villains monologuing and laughing maniacally as they plan their various double-crosses and backstabs.

The decidedly not-dead crew of Orion-1 wake up in a chamber deep below the Martian surface. It takes them little time to work out that they are prisoners of the Tor, the events of the previous episode having been some kind of mental simulation to test their levels of murderocity. The fact that Walsh and Jessica passed the test, while the others apparently failed does not fill them with optimism.

Everyone is so happy to not be dead that Nikki and Mark immediately go back to sniping at each other, giving us an opportunity to notice that I think they’ve recast Mark again. He actually kinda sounds like Dick York now. Or Dick Sargent. One of them. With maybe a hint of Jack Lemmon in there. And a hint of Boris Karloff a la How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

If, for some unthinkable reason, you’re just picking up the story now, then here’s some good news: Since Commander Ferris was up on Orion for the entirety of episode 2 and didn’t get to meet the Martians, and spent episode 3, I assume, fighting to the death, he never actually got to hear all that exposition the others got, so they get to spend the next five minutes catching him up on who the Martians are, who the Tor are, what quorrium is, how Hanoi Xan rose through the ranks of the World Crime League, and whether there’s water on Mars.

The Tor go back to Jessica to talk with her about Walsh. He passed the murder test, so they like him, but they don’t trust him. Jessica offers to sort things out, so they send her to see him. She slaps him for referring to her as “The Broad”, and his main concern is to accuse her of “going soft” because having been captured by powerful, murderous aliens and trapped many kilometers below the surface of Mars as the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, her first priority isn’t to find and murder the Orion crew. This annoys Jessica enough that she kills him.

She explains to the Tor that Walsh didn’t count as a “peer” because she hasn’t got any, and that Walsh had orders to kill her anyway: she’d tapped Ratkin’s phone and knew of the planned double-cross. This evolves into a long discussion about the nature of trust, wherein Jessica expositions that the Tor appear as moving shadows, but this is not their natural form (We’re told later that the Tor evolved from reptiles. We’re also told that they are a sulphur-based lifeform, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves for assuming that all life must be carbon-based just because carbon is actually unusual in the way it can bond to other elements, and has properties which sulphur doesn’t. Also, being sulphur-based would seem to make the whole thing about the Tor being related to Earth-reptiles seem even more unlikely. But it doesn’t really matter; the main point is just that they stink).

The Tor also reveal that she’ll be returning to Earth with a cadre of Martian slaves who’ve used their matter-manipulation abilities to assume the likenesses of the Orion crew.

This would have been a more impactful reveal in a format other than audio.

We also get some sermonizing, in case you’ve missed clunkily inserted authorial politics. The Tor suggest that they’re not so different, and Jessica claims that humans would never resort to slavery over water shortages. The woman who has literally sold out humanity as slaves to the Tor. So Tor tells her that humans just call it “minimum wage”. Later, Ari will also point out that humans and Tor have a lot in common, though he grants that, unlike Tor, humans have the capacity for kindness.

Jessica tags along when the Martian clones go to suck out the memories of the Orion crew, though she’s disappointed to find out that the procedure is “mostly painless”. While that’s getting set up, the Tor who’s been dealing with Jessica is summoned to speak to his “Master”, a Tor with the voice of an old man. Time for more bwa-ha-hahing.

They explain to each other that they are totally planning to double-cross Jessica Storm. Despite what they’ve told her, the humans won’t be used for quorrium mining. Humans are ill-suited for it, lacking the ability to manipulate matter on a molecular level, and being prone to dying from radiation poisoning and all. Instead, they plan to transport the human race en masse to the planet Brick (Different people at different times pronounce it differently, so probably it’s meant to be an alien-sounding name like Br’iak or Breeak or B’r’k or B””””k or something, but I’m going to go with “Brick” because that’s what it sounds like) to farm fungi. Earth itself is going to be strip-mined for its atmosphere, because as it turns out the Tor eat pollution. Also fungi, I guess, but mainly pollution.

I will note here that “Pollution is rendering Earth more attractive to aliens” is a ham-handed science fiction plot device which has turned up in lots of things before. Doctor Who has done it at least twice. Power Rangers also did it possibly twice, but I’m not sure because the plot of Megaforce was a god-damned mess. Did Captain Planet do it? Feels like the sort of thing they would do. And heck, War of the Worlds the Series even threw it in. So it would be petty of me to object… But I still object. Because War of the Worlds II has not done anything good to make me want to forgive them for the over-the-top moralizing of “Don’t pollute or else aliens will come and eat all our air.”

All the same, the Tor Master orders the Tor Underling to keep an eye on Jessica Storm, because she’s clever enough to pose an actual threat to them.

We transition back to the Orion crew with a musical sting that sounds like a cheap knockoff of a Wagnerian Opera. Jessica enters and gets taunted about the sulfurous smell that accompanies her. They accuse Ari of betraying them, but Gloria recognizes that it’s actually Ohm: the Tor forced the Martians to build him a new body and reinstalled his mind from backup. It’s a neat idea to toss in which could have interesting implications later on, and which (all together now) doesn’t come up again.

Jessica relishes telling the Orion crew about their fate in the mines, and throws in the really incredibly hackneyed over-the-top villain comment that Nikki should be “pleased” to follow in the footsteps of her slave ancestors.

What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck.

You know, the only thing I can even begin to imagine that line is for is because they got halfway through episode 2 and started to worry about how “implicitly white” this whole thing was, so they hastily started shoehorning in any line they could think of to convince the listeners that Nikki is black. And I’m not saying that it necessarily ought to be possible to tell a person’s race in an audio-only presentation, but Nikki is black the same way that any non-white character in the Superfriends is non-white: in the mode of a white person who spent a semester abroad and won’t shut up about it. Y’know, like your friend in High School who spent the summer in England and came back insisting on calling it “American Football” and using the exclamation, “bugger me!” in a way that indicates that she doesn’t know what it means. Everything everything about the character of Nikki Jackson screams at the top of its lungs “rich white girl”. So when she starts dropping anecdotes about being raised by her poor grandmother who lived through Jim Crow (the old one, not the Trump-era revival) in a few minutes, Imma call bullshit.

And Jessica’s casual racism is… So not only is it ridiculous and out-of-character, it’s not even believable racism. “You should enjoy slavery because your ancestors were slaves,” isn’t a sociopathic genius trying to be cruel. It’s not even a dumb person trying to be cruel. It’s just… I mean… Look, it’s 2017, so I think we all know what it looks like when a powerful white person says something incredibly racist. This is super fucking racist, but doesn’t sound like real-world coded racism, and it doesn’t sound like real-world overt racism. It sounds like exactly what it is: expository racism which is only there to remind us that Nikki is black, because the writers apparently have never actually met any black people and have no idea how to write the experience of being a person of color in 1990s America. Not that I do either, but at least I know enough to not do that.

Anyway, Nikki decks Jessica after the men all refuse to because they’re “old world gentlemen”. The Tor warn Jessica off of killing Nikki in retribution because, apparently, the Tor respect Nikki for her violent outburst.

With the Orion crew’s minds successfully copied, Jessica gleefully leaves them to their fate. And by “fate”, I mean another long talky scene. It takes Gloria and Nikki about thirty seconds to figure out what Jessica E. Coyote, Sooper-Geeeenius missed: that it’s radically implausible that Tor would want them as slaves in the mines.

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Deep Ice: In a Brave New World (DG Leigh’s The Massacre of Mankind: War of the Worlds)

That is epic levels of ‘stache.

It is January 1, 2017. If you are reading this, you were there. President-Elect D- Irm. President-Elect Do-. FUCK THIS NOISE. Okay. Right. Blah blah something about how he “knows things other people don’t” about Russian interference in the election. I wonder what that could possibly mean… A prankster uses tarpaulins to temporarily change the “HOLLYWOOD” sign to read “HOLLYWEED”. There’s a terror-related shooting at a nightclub in Turkey and a suicide-related shooting at one in Brazil.

TV’s repeats, obviously. We’re a week on now from Doctor Who‘s Christmas special and real-2016’s only new Who, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, which was fun, but filled me with dread that Harmony Shoal would be a recurring villain, having appeared both in this special, and last year’s “The Husbands of River Song”. Sherlock returns tonight with “The Six Thatchers”. Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato and Gloria Estefan are among the performers on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve. I am so old now that I have literally never heard of any of the songs in the top ten.

Guess who didn’t learn his lesson last week! Oh yeah, we are returning to the world of D. G. Leigh with The Massacre of Mankind, billed as “The Unofficial Sequel to The War of the Worlds”. And once again, there’s some title confusion; the cover art seems to present the title as Artilleryman Needs You, which would kinda be a better title. Credit where it’s due, though: that is a cool cover. It’s reminiscent of the old “Uncle Sam Needs You To Join the Army” posters, but the art style and the presence of Mars in the background give it a threatening aspect. The mustachioed visage of the Artilleryman in his high-collared black uniform has obvious fascist tones to it, but more than that, I think it’s very obviously trying to call to mind the “Big Brother is Watching” posters of 1984. And the tripods and fleeing couple rendered as negative space cut out of the Artilleryman’s uniform are lovely. There’s something that just feels very retro-sci-fi, evoking any number of ’70s and ’80s short-lived “Heroes fleeing from a pursuer through a strange fantasy world” TV seriesAnd, of course, the old Sci-Fi Channel-specific logo for Doctor Who. The page headers go with The Massacre of Mankind: The War of the Worlds, but the title page, to make things worse, goes with The War of the Worlds: Brave New World. I am suspicious about the title. I kinda suspect that Leigh is going for a Transmorphers thing here, and expects most of his sales to go to people who have made a mistake.

Leigh is still full of interesting ideas and is able to keep up an exciting narrative, but once again, he’s stuffed the book too-full with more ideas than the narrative can comfortably support. And once again, his prose is largely artless and telegraphic. I feel bad for him; Leigh could probably be a decent writer if he had a good editor to help him polish his prose and reign him in.

While Sherlock Holmes vs The War of the Worlds mashed up two classic Victorian icons, The Massacre of Mankind is a more modern take on Victoriana. It’s a steampunk sequel. Well, sort of; it has a lot of the trappings of steampunk, but it’s stylistically more like cyberpunk — steampunk usually has a very different attitude, drawing from Verne and Wells, with themes that fit well with Victorian ideals about gallant men going out adventuring and finding exciting new worlds and exploiting them. This book, though, is set in a world of post-apocalyptic underground cities, with 31337 hacking and cyborg gunslingers. There are dirigibles, sure, but there’s also honest-to-goodness flying cars.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like Sherlock, Massacre is prefaced with apologies (or “Apologises”) from the author about his playing hard and fast with fact in his story about a turn-of-the-century authoritarian underground civilization besieged by alien invaders from Mars. It’s not as awkward as last time: he apologizes for referencing a seamount that wouldn’t be discovered until the ’50s and for playing hard and fast with the physics of a space elevator. Next is a very strange dedication, to the “gallant souls” who gave their lives at the battle of Anton Dorhn Seamount. Which is the battle at the climax of the book. He dedicated the book to minor characters in the book. He goes on to, I don’t know, name them? This doesn’t make sense at all. Under the title “HMS Phoenix Child” is a list of eight names presented in pairs, as though he’s giving a cast list. “Darren (Ulla) Dunn ….. Harwich”, “George Lindsey …… Ascot”, and so on. I’m not even sure if the names listed here appear in the text of the book. Best I can guess, he based certain minor characters on real people in his life, and he’s giving the cast list here, purely as a shout-out to his buddies. Or not, I’ve no idea.

Next, we get a quick summary of the premise which spoils most of the major plot points. It’s twenty years after the invasion, and the Artilleryman has become the dictatorial ruler of New London. The surface is largely uninhabitable in England due to the persistence of the carnivorous red weed. France, Germany, and a united independent Ireland have formed a coalition that’s at war with New London, but [sic] “Unable to replicate a certain Martian alloy, Marsuminium. Their alien-hybrid-steam-tank division edge ever closer to New London’s research laboratories hoarding stock piles of fighting machines.” Artilleryman (I’m probably going to slip into using “the” with him, but the book treats it as his name), having gained control of the lion’s share of Martian technology, has had its secrets unlocked and developed an arsenal of high-tech defenses.

But the Martians haven’t given up on conquest, and now, an orbiting space station is melting the polar ice caps in order to disrupt human civilization as much of the world’s population is displaced due to sea level rise, and a Martian sea platform acts as their beachhead for a new ground invasion.

We’ll spend roughly half the novel working our way up to the stuff that was just explained in that anteprologue. Then we get a prologue which basically tells the end of the war from the Martians’ perspective, with the dying aliens sending back a warning to their homeworld.

Then there’s an appendix to the prologue which covers ground we’ve already covered, briefly outlining the invasion of Britain by French and German forces, and how they were ultimately repelled by the red weed and Artilleryman’s greater supply of Martian technology.

And then there’s another appendix to the prologue about Artilleryman’s rise to power. His major qualification was simply that he’d survived. He lucked into commandeering a tripod and made a name for himself by using it to fend off French and German attackers. Good luck and charisma got the military to back him, and in the lawless chaos left by the invasion, he was able to build a new civilization, just as he’d planned, using heat rays to excavate an underground city.

We mercifully begin the story proper with the introduction of the narrator, who calls himself “Pockets”. He’s the son of Journalist (narrator of the original novel) and his wife, Carrie (h/t to Jeff Wayne’s musical). This was actually explained back in the second or third prologue, but I wanted to leave something until dramatically apropos. Journalist and Carrie had fled New London after he had a falling out with Artilleryman, but were forced to leave Pockets behind. Pockets grew up as a social outcast, his engineering genius unnoticed and unappreciated, and eventually became a criminal: a dealer of illegal books.

That’s a wonderful idea to splash into this dystopia. The Artilleryman is always depicted as having disdain for poetry and literature, and here, it’s contraband. Pockets smuggles books of nursery rhymes and poetry to people who’ll pay black market prices for the stuff, which paints a lovely picture of what kind of bleak existence Artilleryman has made in his underground police state.

Now say it along with me: Nothing Ever Comes Of It.

As I mentioned, Pockets is a mechanical genius, and it’s this, rather than the book smuggling thing, which is the primary mechanism through which the story moves forward. Among his early inventions is a steam-powered mechanical dog, Pooch, who serves as a sidekick for about half of the book. There’s some well-intentioned but not especially effective attempts to give Pooch some character: he vents steam through his rear so we can do fart jokes about the robot dog. And, not having ever heard a real dog, Pockets didn’t know what they sounded like, so he programmed Pooch to moo like a cow.

It’s Pooch who gets Pockets into book-dealing, locating a supply of illegal books and somehow working out on its own that Pockets could trade them for parts necessary to build a “sky-cycle” with which he could finally leave the city. We sort of skip ahead from there to what Pockets means to be his last deal, trading a banned bible to a vicar in exchange for a Martian power pack.

It doesn’t go well: the preacher (or “Preacher”) draws a gun on him, revealing himself as an undercover enforcer for Artilleryman, and he seems to have a personal beef with Pockets: “Your father also possessed. A sinner in league with Satan. Must be a bloodline trait? An unholy contract signed.”

Yeah, turns out that Preacher is the Curate. He’d miraculously survived being captured by the Martians, but retains a grudge against Journalist and his entire line for cold-cocking him and abandoning him. Pockets is able to escape, but finds Preacher and the police lying in wait for him when he returns home. Pooch sacrifices himself, taking six bullets to buy Pockets a chance to escape, which he does by sealing a tunnel hatch on Preacher’s arm.

With neither Pooch nor his sky-bike, Pockets stows away on a transport to an outer borough and uses his hacking skills to set up a false identity for himself there. We prance forward in time again while he sets himself up in the new development and secures a forgotten watchtower in which to build a new sky-bike, this time simply stealing what he needed from construction supplies, making me wonder why he was doing it the hard way before.

Discovered access to the forgotten watchtower network that originally protected us from the French and Germans while the caverns for Artilleryman’s brave new metropolis were being excavated STOP Used afterwards as Earth bound observation posts STOP Keenly viewed for any signs of a repeat attack launched from Mars STOP Once established and secure underground, the deeper the construction went the less frequent visits paid to the lookouts STOP Spread of the red weed kept the Free Lands at bay, the towers eventually mothballed, resources put to better use STOP Their glass domes covered with blast shields STOP Outside gantry doors wielded shut STOP

Having lost a sidekick in the previous chapter, it’s time to add a new supporting character.  Pockets eventually meets his neighbor, Tubance, “An orphan war child brought to the city by strangers. Found with two pennies in her top pocket, that’s how she’d come-by her name. Still kept the coins safe.” He’s immediately smitten:

How’d come [sic] she smelt [sic] so wonderful? The ways of the old world gone. No more indulgent imports from Paris of the latest boutique perfumes. Those frivolous fancies along with idle gossip of shocking vogue fashion fresh from Milan’s designer houses all belonged in a unattainable forgotten past.

A couple of paragraphs later, he’s made the “mistake” of falling in love with her. We skip ahead weeks or months, and Pockets has finished his sky-bike, but is dawdling on his escape due to his relationship. When he finally does decide to make his escape, he takes Tubance to his watchtower workshop to give her a chance to see the stars. Which, as it does, leads to sex.

They’re interrupted by guards who’ve noticed that the watchtower’s blast shield is open. Pockets hides Tubance and tries to convince them that he’s an inspector doing his rounds. They believe him, but are still duty-bound to take him in and file a report. The guards fail to see a “shooting star” that coincidentally falls during their conversation, but the narrator assures us that this heralds the arrival of the Martian super-cylinder that would, “Mark the start of New London’s collapsing foundations.”

Though Pockets’s cover identity, George Wells, level six engineer, holds up under scrutiny, the Artilleryman’s brave new world is largely powered by prison labor. After the initial excavation, the need to conserve heat rays had prompted a shift to a more pickaxe-based technology, as, “Artilleryman decided that a pickaxe and shovel were good enough tools to be getting on with, he wasn’t the one slaving and dying.”

So once they determine that he won’t be missed, the minor infraction of not having filed the proper paperwork is considered sufficient to merit our hero being shipped off to the mines. With Tubance sidelined, it’s time for our third sidekick, Pockets’s cell-mate, Zero. Zero’s a bruiser with no legal identity due to an unregistered birth. Pockets impresses him by insulting him while he’s killing another inmate. Leigh’s musings on prison buddies is about the most eloquent thing he’s written in two books:

I’ve learnt that there’s three types of friends you make in life. Those first in childhood. When you’re innocent. Free from envy, greed and the biological urge to f**k. When a friendship doesn’t have an alternative agenda for gain. The second is an unbreakable bond that comes from fighting with comrades on the battlefield. Included in this second category is also your prison cell companion. The third form of friendship is everyone else and doesn’t count for shit.

 

After a tangent about how miners frequently fall victim to a parasitic worm that came to Earth with the Martians and now lives in the ground (this goes nowhere, but provides a chance for a some horrifying imagery about being eaten from the inside-out), we once again prance ahead a bit, and find Pockets hauled off to an interrogation room. They present him with a miniature steam-powered reproduction tripod and demand he help them solve its balance issues.

When he feigns ignorance, the Preacher reappears, now sporting a robot arm and carrying the remains of Pooch. The jig up, Pockets looks at the source code for the tripod’s stability. See, this is what I mean about it feeling more like cyberpunk than steampunk: I shouldn’t be seeing a discussion about software bugs and computer viruses. Pockets recognizes that the flaw was deliberate, and Preacher reveals that it was the work of a saboteur, now deceased. Though hiding the full extent of his skill, he programs the tripod to right itself, then smashes it, which nearly wins him execution before a voice over the loudspeaker stays the Preacher’s hand (We’re not told what the voice says, and who it is is revealed in the next chapter).

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Deep Ice: The Aliens possess the means to make us block out the incident (DG Leigh’s Sherlock Holmes vs. The War of the Worlds)

It is November 27, 2015. In France, a memorial service is held for the victims of the November 13-14 attacks. Earlier this week,Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. Stateside, Robert Dear shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three. Because he was a white man, the news never once described him as a terrorist, and indeed Fox spent a few hours claiming it was actually a robbery gone wrong because he’d mistaken the clinic for a bank or something. Though SWAT teams were used to bring him in, he was taken alive, and isn’t even in jail, since he was deemed incompetent to stand trial, again, because white.

Earlier this week, reporter Serge Kovaleski was mocked by GOP hopeful and costar of the 1989 film Ghosts Can’t Do It Donald Trump for his physical handicap. This was widely considered to be the end of his political career. I’m going to just lay down and cry for a bit.

Creed, eighth film in the Rocky franchise (Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), premiered this week. So did the James McAvoy/Daniel Radcliffe bomb Victor Frankenstein. Shaun the Sheep is released on home video. One Direction takes Artist of the Year at the AMAs, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” takes Song of the Year. Adele’s 25 has the single best sales week for an album ever. Correspondingly, “Hello” continues to to hold the top spot on the Hot 100 for the third week in a row, and it’ll stay there for the rest of the year. I won’t bother you with the rest of the top ten since it was only like a year and a half ago. It’s got Drake and Bieber and Taylor Swift, because of course it does. The Game Awards are next week, where The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be named best game, while Her Story will get Best Story and Best Character Performance.

I release this Tales from /lost+found. This is weird. Real Doctor Who airs the penultimate episode of series 9, “Heaven Sent“. I liked it; it’s kinda when I started the healing process toward finding a new way to like Doctor Who. Not like I used to, but, like, some. Chris Evans announces the return of Top Gear next spring with himself as the new presenter following the, ahem, retirement of the previous hosts. Matt LeBlanc’s addition to the cast is not yet revealed. In the US, Superstore will be premiering this week, while Minority Report is ending. Power Rangers Dino Charge airs “Wishing for a Hero”, which introduces the characters of Hekyl and Snide, who will become the Big Bad for much of the following season. I don’t watch a lot of TV any more, so I’m not really up on what’s airing. I guess they based a TV series on Limitless? We’re so close to the present day that Chris Brown is Trevor Noah’s guest on The Daily Show.

And D. G. Leigh releases an ebook titled The Massacre of Mankind: Sherlock Holmes vs. The War of the Worlds. Or possibly Sherlock Holmes vs. The War of the Worlds: The Massacre of Mankind. It’s rendered one way on the cover and the other way on the page headers. But never mind that, it’s Sherlock Holmes fighting the Martians. Fuck. Yeah.

Y’know how last time I was expecting The Last Days of the Thunder Child to be crap and it turned out to be good? Yeah, that’s not happening this time. This book… Okay. This book is not irredeemable. In fact, it’s got a cool premise, it’s well-engaged with its source material, the plot is fairly solid, and frankly, there’s really only one thing wrong with it.

Unfortunately, that one thing is the writing. The writing is bad. The writing is very bad. Sentences so frequently omit such niceties as subjects or verbs, to the point of sounding downright telegraphic at times. And the word choice is frequently wrong, such as “beneficiary” for “beneficial”, or the charmingly off-kilter, “The delicious soup didn’t satisfy the hungry I had growing inside me.”

It’s so clumsy that you almost could’ve saved it with the right conceit. The prologue explains that this is one of those cases that Watson had held off publishing for fear of, “Thus diminishing both mine and Holmes’ creditably but now my companion’s brilliance is legendary fact I consider our reputations safe and firmly respected for me to reveal the most astounding case file of them all.” (The sentence actually does begin “Thus”. Like I said.) In Holmesean scholarship, it’s a common conceit to pretend that the Sherlock Holmes stories really did happen, and rather than writing works of fiction, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle acted as a literary agent for a real Dr. John Watson. Now, some people view Doyle, in this model, as little more than a middle-man, but others propose that he really was a legitimate writer, responsible for the heavy lifting of tooling Watson’s case notes into a narrative, albeit with the occasional misstep such as relocating Watson’s war injury from time to time.

Leigh could have bought himself some goodwill, then, if he’d framed this story as one that The Literary Agent had passed on, forcing Watson to publish his own unpolished words. While it might not have made the book less cumbersome to read, it would’ve been a cool idea and helped to account for the fact that, while Leigh has his Sherlockiana down pretty solidly, he’s not even close to emulating the narrative voice of the Canon.

We start out with a forward that isn’t especially promising, but does give us an honest sense of what we’re getting:

This is a serious and intelligent interpretation and not a comical fusion of two classic genres. Using pivotal sequences portrayed in Wells’ masterpiece, we’ll accompany Holmes & Watson as they experience and tackle the horror of a full scale Martian invasion. Includes new plot twists with updated science.

Y.Yay? He goes on to do something that sends up a bit of a red flag for me. He offers a kind of glossary of two terms he’s “not happy with”. One of them is “Underground” to describe the London subway system. He’s unhappy because the Underground technically refers to a later incarnation of the London subway system, and the one in use at this time is more properly the “Metropolitan Railway”, but he’d feared that readers would be confused and not get that he was talking about a subterranean train system.

The other word he apologizes for is “Darkie”.

G’head. Let that sink in. He was exactly as bothered by being “forced” to use a racial slur for the sake of, ahem, historical accuracy, as he was about being “forced” to use an anachronistic term for a subway system. It’s one stupid throwaway line, too, that comes up in the context of someone mistaking the Martians for an unlikely counter-invasion by one of the African nations nineteenth-century Europe had been exploiting. It doesn’t have to be there, it adds nothing, and if he really were as unhappy about using the word as he claims, he could have just not used it.

And I haven’t gotten to the story yet. As the foreword explains, this is a retelling of Wells’s story, hitting on many of the famous scenes, but re-imagined in the style of a Sherlock Holmes story. And there is some solid imagination behind it. The general story feels like a very legitimate candidate for “How would Holmes behave if he were thrust into these events?” even if the actual text itself doesn’t work.

So how do you approach Sherlock Holmes in The War of the Worlds? Rewriting the story so that Holmes is actually responsible for the Martian defeat is a possibility, of course. It’s been done before, in books I may or may not get around to. But what Leigh does strikes me as somewhat more interesting. He sticks to the plot of the novel: the Martians are felled by common bacteria, through a lucky break for humanity. Holmes himself is largely powerless against them. Holmes’s genius, then, is directed not toward defeating the Martians, but more straightforwardly toward survival. Despite the “vs” of the title, this is less a story about Holmes taking on the Martians, and more a story of Sherlock Holmes using his great intellect to survive an apocalyptic scenario.

The major divergence from Wells’s novel comes with Watson’s assertion that the Martian invasion was covered up by the British government. “The August invasion got officially documented by our trusted scholars as the Great London Hurricane of 1894. The millions that perished died from an outbreak of cholera as a direct result of the storm’s aftermath.” The cover-up is implied to be motivated by a desire to keep secret the recovery of Martian technology, which Watson fears will resurface in the twentieth century as weapons of war. The impossible scale of the cover-up is facilitated by Leigh’s alteration to the nature of the black smoke. Rather than being deadly, it is imagined as an “amnesia gas”. Holmes, in the first of many places where Leigh drops in an adroit reference to Holmes arcana, likens it to the smoke used by beekeepers. The smoke pacifies anyone who breathes it, allowing the Martian handling machines to collect humans with ease for consumption (Rather than simply drinking human blood, Leigh’s Martians are described as pureeing their victims’ whole bodies). And I find it interesting that even this change is presented in a way that you could imagine Wells’s version as being an honest mistake: that another observer might see the smoke released, see only dead bodies remaining when it dissipated, and draw the obvious conclusion. There are other additions in a similar vein: the aliens are said to emit a sound which humans find subtly enticing. Holmes likens it to a dog whistle. I get the impression that Leigh wanted to reconcile the fact that the Martians are interested in harvesting humans for food. There’s some friction in the original book between the fact that the Martians clearly came with the intention of harvesting humans for food and their wholesale wanton slaughter of humanity. So Leigh’s Martians, though as deadly as ever, slightly modify their tactics toward harvest rather than slaughter.

Holmes, of course, recognizes the impending invasion from the time the flashes of the Verne Gun first become visible on Mars. He calculates that they are too regular to be a natural phenomenon, and more, that the slight variations in timing correspond to the gun tracking Earth as the planets pass each other. (I will apply greater Holmes arcana, though, and note that canonically, Holmes doesn’t know shit about astronomy because he can’t be bothered to waste space in his brain with anything he doesn’t think will be relevant to casework) Watson is slower to believe, and claims that, “The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one.”

Holmes also fails to find a receptive audience when he drags Watson to the Greenwich Observatory. They meet Ogilvy, and Watson recognizes something of Holmes in the brilliant, addled astronomer who’s been without sleep for days as he observes the unique phenomenon. But Ogilvy dismisses Holmes’s theory of an inhabited Mars launching an invasion, and is disappointed to conclude that the great Sherlock Holmes is a disappointment in person. He first objects on the grounds of Mars being lifeless — he does not contest the existence of alien life, but considers Mars an unlikely source of it. He then challenges the level of precision necessary to hit Earth from Mars via cannon, then the unlikely utility of attacking another planet with a single shot per night. On this point, Watson surprises himself by defending Holmes’s theory, citing from his own military experience that many guns firing simultaneously would look the same from their vantage point. Ogilvy also challenges Holmes’s certainty that such an action must indicate an attack, rather than a means of communication, particularly when Holmes calculates that the first projectile would arrive in three days.

Holmes’s theory is confirmed in part, though, when the Martian armada passes through a meteor shower, causing explosions visible on Earth. This is also Leigh’s explanation for the invasion limiting itself to England: without justification for knowing this, Watson claims that nine cylinders destined (or rather, “destine”) for France were destroyed.

The best weather in recent years, skies crystal blue clear. Our thriving world must’ve looked so appealing against the vast empty backdrop of space. The Martians regarded our Earth with envious eyes. Drew plans against us. So unbelievably close to their own stricken planet, what fortune.

Nice reference, but, I mean, you coulda just actually quoted the line from Wells directly. At least it would’ve been gramatically correct.

Watson assumes Holmes has been shooting up with heroin when he turns up at dawn the morning after the first cylinder lands at Horsell Common. This is… neither straightforwardly right nor wrong. Cocaine was Holmes’s drug of choice in the cannon, though he was known to use morphine on occasion. Since The War of the Worlds is set some time around the turn of the century, “Heroin” would still be a new drug: it had only come on the market in 1898 — it was a brand name owned by Bayer. It’s entirely reasonable to suppose that Holmes might have dabbled in an exciting new opium derivative, but there’s no direct evidence for it.

Watson allows himself to be dragged out to Woking, but does not pass along Holmes’s warning that his wife should flee the city and hide in the Yorkshire coal mines. They meet Ogilvy at the landing site, and the two geniuses argue over the provenance of the cylinder. Ogilvy suggests that it might be copper, to explain its green glow, though Holmes counters that copper’s melting point is too low for a copper meteor to survive reentry. Ogilvy’s objections seem weak at this point, since the cylinder is clearly manufactured. Watson offers up the possibility that it’s a stray piece of ordinance from nearby Longcross — Leigh showing off some sound knowledge of the relevant geography and history, and again referencing Watson’s military background. But he’s so obviously wrong that he doesn’t even convince himself.

One of Leigh’s more interesting innovations on canonical characters is how Ogilvy reacts when the Martians emerge from the cylinder, mooting the question of its origin. Seeing absolute evidence of life from Mars coming to Earth. Ogilvy does an about-face, and this brilliant astronomer draws what he thinks is the only possible conclusion:

He reckons the Martians are Nephalim.

Yeah.

“I understand completely.” Ogilvy’s face beamed with enlightenment. “My whole life I’ve studied the heavens. God left us originally on Mars. When there was still a breathable atmosphere, that’s why they went there first. Those were the flashes we saw. There wasn’t a flood that Noah had to navigate. It was a drought of oxygen. The Ark’s voyage came here, to Earth, carrying the seed of man.”

Hey, that’s an interesting thing for someone to conclude. Kind of an inversion of the Curate becoming convinced (particularly the Parson Nathaniel version) that the Martians are demons. There’s obvious parallels to Pastor Matthew from the George Pal film as well, and I kinda suspect that’s the main motivation for it, given that, for its flaws, Leigh’s adaptation is the one I like the best for not pretending it was birthed in a vacuum and homaging the breadth of its influences. Even so, it goes farther than anything else I’ve seen. Maybe it’s even an oblique reference to the Ray Bradbury story Mars is Heaven.

And does jack all with it. Ogilvy runs toward the ship and gets squished by a falling hatch when it opens up to disgorge the tripods and that’s the last we hear of this whole “Mars is Eden” thing.

Leigh makes a change to the tripod armaments. The normal heat-ray is present, of course, described as two funnels which alternate firing. But this weapon has a third funnel with a different function: “The demonic third tube. Nobody deserved to die like this. An almost invisible beam that disintegrates the human skeleton. Still conscious men collapsed in a heap. God sparingly this terminal metamorphosis was fleeting.” Perhaps a reference to the film’s “skeleton beam”? Watson witnesses a man reduced to jelly by the weapon and tries to comfort the dying, boneless victim. It never comes up again.

Watson twists his ankle during their retreat, and takes shelter along with Holmes in a hollow log, which gives them a vantage point from which to witness the rout. “What I’m about to describe will sound crazy,” says Watson, sounding nothing at all like Watson ever, but the tripods are basically made like that liquid metal Terminator, and their legs deform around obstacles rather than having to navigate them. Holmes pockets some beetles that are, like humans, drawn by the dog whistle sounds of the tripods and try to drink their legs. The liquid metal poisons the beetles, but also seems to irritate the tripod.

When our heroes finally make it to Woking, they luck into meeting up with a cameo by recurring guest star Inspector Lestrade, who’s escorting a VIP sent by the government to help formulate a defensive strategy. The VIP is a genius, a professor of high regard, from Whitehall, whose field of study includes the occult and unexplained and we all know who he’s going to turn out to be, right?

In Leigh’s continuity, this is the first meeting of Holmes and Moriarty, which is a reasonable adaptation, though in the canon, Holmes and Moriarty have both died and at least one of them has gotten better again by now. Well, maybe. I don’t think Leigh directly mentions the year. I’d been assuming the story was set between 1898 (The publication of War of the Worlds and time most often assumed in adaptation) and 1900 (The closest we get to an actual date in the text), with Watson’s reference to heroin by brand name affirming this. But Watson is married in this story, and his wife is named as “Mary”, and as it happens, Mary Watson died in 1894. She was his only undisputed wife, though there’s a variety of opinions among scholars as to when and how many times Watson married. So maybe Leigh is implicitly setting this invasion earlier?If Holmes suspects the professor, he doesn’t let on, though Watson is put off by Moriarty’s almost-admiring tone toward Martian technological prowess. Moriarty explains his charge: “An approaching cylinder shattered the windows at Buckingham Palace. Overshot London crashed into the Thames estuary [sic]. Vanished beneath the frothing waves before a line could be gotten to it [sic]. A second craft came to settle in Highgate Woods. That’s one of Her Majesty [sic] favourites. She’s not impress [sic] with it being flatten by an uninvited lout. That’s when I was appointed on her behalf. Make contact, establish a dialogue. That’s before the Martians fired on civilians.”

Watson is knocked unconscious by another Martian attack which interrupts the exchange of information between Holmes and Moriarty. Though Lestrade had high hopes that an organized military counterattack would stop the Martians, these tripods are equipped with a “bell jar barrier”, which has to be a reference to the protective shields in the George Pal movie. Moriarty is seemingly killed fleeing the attack. Though Holmes wants to withdraw to the Isle of Wight to formulate a battle plan, he abandons the plan to accompany Watson back to London when his friend reveals that he hadn’t passed along Holmes’s warning to Mary. Holmes proposes they sneak into London via the Underground (There’s that word Leigh didn’t like), “Right under their feet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We begin with this oddly-phrased preface:

June 1898:
From HG Wells WAR OF THE WORLDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet that’ll stick.

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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A Memorial

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

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

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

Regular programming resumes next week. Sorry for the delay.

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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Deep Ice: As if a vast intelligence was pouring into my mind (“Howard Koch’s” War of the Worlds II, Episode 2, Side 4)

Previously… Nancy Ferris got kidnapped, the gang on Mars got reunited, and a guy names Jefferson Davis Clark is totally not going to do anything rash or dangerous…

Side four, like the preceding one, begins with Jessica Storm aboard Artemis. She receives a message from Ratkin, informing her of Nancy Ferris’s kidnapping, so that she can use it to compel surrender out of her husband. He cautions her that Commander Ferris will undoubtedly threaten her life in an attempt to force her to send a message back to Ratkin. His confidence of this is bizarre given that there’s nothing we’ve seen of Ferris that indicates as much. Probably projection. The point of saying it is so that Ratkin can subtly threaten Jessica, hinting that he’ll pretty much have her rubbed out if she were to cave under pressure. This in turn prompts Jessica to allude to the fact that Ratkin had his first two wifes murdered. Whenever Ratkin makes a point about how he seriously wants Jessica to make sure the entire Orion crew is good and murdered, she always responds with an oddly robotic, “I will do what I must.” Halfway through the call, she has to change encrypted channels, because someone is trying to intercept their signal. As far as I know, this never comes up again and never has any payoff.

Hey, check it, the people who built the prop 30 years ago had a broken link on their website to a picture of it!

At Castle Volcania, Doctor Evans cautions Ratkin that Jessica is, “Not your typical woman,” and that Ratkin underestimates her at his peril. Ratkin assures Evans that Jessica can’t possibly prove anything. Doctor Evans, in case you’ve forgotten, is Ratkin’s personal physician from his very first appearance. Why is Ratkin letting his doctor — who, don’t forget, hates him and is blackmailing him — listen in as he confesses to abduction, conspiracy, attempted murder, murder for hire, and crimes against humanity? Because it’s fun to listen to Ratkin insist to Jessica that there must not under any circumstances be any witnesses while he’s telling his plans in detail to basically every person he has ever interacted with?

Nah, it’s actually an excuse to segue into a flashback of Ratkin and Evans at the funeral for said first wife. Well, I assume it’s the funeral because there’s organ music in the background, though their dialogue would make more sense by her hospital bed, since the scene seems to take place within moments of her death. Literally every line of dialogue sounds like a threat out of a gangster movie, whether the line makes sense that way or not, with those drawn-out pauses in the middle to punctuate a euphemism or a threat. “The nature of her ailment was so… mysterious. It’s so hard to predict the course of such a… wasting disease.” Ratkin, for his part, sounds genuinely mournful, despite his words conveying a far more mercenary tone. “If only we’d caught it earlier. She might still be… alive.”

The “mysterious wasting disease” instantly gets changed into a series of miscarriages. Evans says that she was too small to carry a child to term, which Ratkin blames on her “aristocratic” breeding, but Evans points out that, “Chronic anorexia can make it almost… impossible to bear a child.” Ratkin swears off the aristocrats and promises that his next wife will be “pure peasant stock” with good birthing hips. Evans suggests Ratkin’s personal assistant, but hopes she’ll be able to fulfill his… requirements, because it would be a… real crime if she, “Had to end up like the first Mrs. Ratkin.”

This scene, like all the flashbacks, is pointless and stupid. Okay. Ratkin killed his first two wives. This is not exactly news. We already know the broad strokes of what he did to his third wife, and we know he had the nanny offed, and we know that he’s ordered the murder of the Orion crew. There is nothing in particular new or exciting that we learn from having a flashback to his wife’s death, unless possibly the point is so that we’ll know Evans was involved. But that isn’t much of a revelation either.

Ohm appears to the Orion crew on Mars, and after the obligatory moment where everyone other than Townsend mistakes him for Ari, they ask him to help fix their rover. Ohm is happy to help, and lets them know that there’s no hurry: Tor is running late, so they’ll have plenty of time to explore and look for water and whatever. More than that, they should have Orion land and bring everyone else down here, and this is not suspicious at all and he totally is not delaying them as part of a trap. They ask about the fact that they’ve only met a grand total of two Martians. Ohm explains that the budget will only stretch to do that flange voice effect for two actors that they decided to minimize their contact with the others to reduce their chance of discovery by the Tor.

Ari shows up and they barely have time to tell him that Ohm wanted them to stick around longer when he up and kills Ohm, who disappears with a flanged “Eeeee!” Sure enough, Ohm had betrayed the humans under Tor mind-probing. The humans are at first horrified by this, but Ari explains rationally that the death penalty for people who do things you don’t like against their own will is actually the rational thing to do, and locking Ohm up for the rest of his life so he could become embittered and vengeful would actually be less humane than just offing him. Everyone sees the wisdom of this because it is a view shared by the author, I’m guessing.

With the Tor now aware of the humans, and certain to move fast once they notice Ohm’s death, Ari pressures the Orion crew to leave quickly. Besides — and here’s another thing that seems like it should be important but as far as I know will not come up again — there’s unrest among the Martians, and the possibility of an uprising fomenting. Mark casually drops the possibility that the unrest is related to the Martian warship he saw the previous day and didn’t think to mention until now. Without any indication of anything new having happened that would cause this warship to suddenly be a point of contention after sixty years. Or why they left their only remaining warship where Mark could just happen upon it by accident, especially in light of the fact that the Martians don’t have doors; they just open and close holes in the walls to travel between disconnected chambers, so either someone let Mark into the chamber where the ship was, or there was an open path he could just walk down to get there.

According to Ari, it’s the only remaining ship the Martians have, and even Ohm didn’t know about it, meaning it’s a secret from the Tor as well. But between Tor’s extermination of all of their pilots and the need to keep it a secret from the unwilling Tor collaborators, no one knows anything about operating it. Rutherford’s hero complex plays up again and he starts getting starry-eyed about the possibility that he could figure out the controls himself. Nikki gets snippy with him over it. Ari agrees to fix the rover for them, but warns that they have very little time before the Tor come looking for them.

DeWitt engages in a hopelessly padded scene before her address to the Ice Sectioners. Her Secret Service head briefs her on security arrangements because they’ve found the building impossible to completely secure. DeWitt can’t back out in spite of the elevated risk, since polling shows that most Americans will decide who to vote for based on how she handles the strike. She hopes that if she plays up the idea that the strike is hurting Americans, they’ll make their congressmen’s phones, “Ring so loud the congressmen won’t be able to hear the NAIS lobbyists.” They can’t pay the ice sectioners any more because the people won’t stand for a tax increase, but somehow they could force the ice sectioners back to work if it weren’t for the lobbyists, and congress is more interested in fellating wealthy donors than in protecting their constituents, to the point that they are literally letting a comic book super villain charge ten dollars an once for the only potable water in the world and hundreds of people are dying daily from dehydration. The level of contempt that the government shows for its duty to promote the general welfare would be completely fantastical except that it’s 2017 and the actual government is basically doing the exact same thing in order to redirect billions of dollars away from Medicare and into tax cuts for the super-rich and now I’m angry again.

The only time DeWitt will actually be vulnerable is on the walk out to the bulletproofed podium, so of course she takes about two steps out onto the stage when Clark shouts “Down with the tyrant!” from the audience and fires off a volley of gunfire, killing the Secret Service head and hitting DeWitt twice. As she lingers in critical condition, a series of news briefs explain that Clark was a former janitor at the auditorium, and had retained a key to an “obscure basement entrance.” I know that technically, “obscure” could be a legitimate word to use here, but that phrase does not scan like something an actual English speaker would say.

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