Saturday, 23 December 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol Part Three

Madame de Gaulle was said to have been lunching with the American ambassador at the time of her husband's retirement when she was asked what she was most looking forward to in the years ahead.

She thought for a moment before announcing boldly "a penis."

A startled hush fell over the table until the former president leant over and said "my dear, I think it's pronounced 'happiness'."

Fifi lives! She is covered in comedy bandages and being looked after by Mrs Thatcher, but Fifi is alive! I am happy about that, not least because I don't think it would be a good message for the BBC to send out to its viewers that they can solve their problems by blowing up the Prime Minister's pets.

Trevor comes to tell the Doctor that he is leaving Terra Alpha and shows him a long list of everybody Mrs Thatcher has had "disappeared" (killed), just in case we had forgotten how much of a baddy she is since watching part two.

The Doctor has a microphone and sings a song (in a French accent for no reason) and Earl plays the music to go with it. He has a plan and says
"Everything is beginning to fall into place."
The Happiness Patrol arrive and are about to shoot the Doctor, but he acts so happy that they get confused and don't shoot him. The demonstrators join in and the Happiness Patrol end up pointing their pewpewpew guns at each other because they're the only ones who aren't acting happy. This allows Ace and Susan Q (her friend, who is at long last named out loud for our benefit) to escape from them (again) (again) (again).

Mrs Thatcher and her husband Joseph C hear an announcement:
"Happiness will prevail. Chaos in Forum Square. Fighting has broken out in the ranks of the Happiness Patrol itself. Happiness will prevail."
This is the first of several things that we are not shown happening but are told have happened by way of Public Exposition Announcements.

Fifi goes to chase some more aliens in the pipes, despite how well that went for her in the last episode. Fifi is a silly doggy, but she is cute and cuddly.
The Doctor, Earl and Ace go in the pipes with the aliens and join in getting chased by Fifi. The Doctor and Earl play music to make the studio set fall on Fifi and so Fifi gets squashed and they all get away.

Next the Doctor and Ace visit the Kandyman (again, at least for the Doctor). They take it in turns to troll the Kandyman so he doesn't know which one he wants to kill first until he tosses a koin to help him decide.
"I'm finding this rather tiresome. Heads or tails, Doctor?"
"Tails. Well?"
"That would be telling."
Oh what a giveaway. I think that particular line of dialogue has let the manny out of the bag with regards to the writer's influences for this story. The Doctor and Ace use the Kandyman's own kitchen utensils and ovens (which are a Health & Safety nightmare, fortunately for them Mrs Thatcher's regime has no use for such Political Korrectness) against him until he runs away and escapes into the pipes. The aliens then get into the Kitchen and they turn the "fondant surprise" upon the Kandyman.

By now there is a full scale revolution against Mrs Thatcher going on off-screen, which we only get to hear about from the announcements. These always begin by saying "happiness will prevail" even though they go on to announce that things are going very badly for the strong and stable Happiness Patrol.

Mrs Thatcher tries to act as though nothing is wrong in front of her henchmannys, though secretly she is preparing an escape shuttle. Except in the next scene Gilbert M and Joseph C steal it and fly away in the shuttle without her.

To celebrate their victory, Earl plays his music over the loudspeakers. Mrs Thatcher hears it as she tries to run away, but the Doctor meets up with her (again) for them to have a final confrontation.

"You can't get away, Helen A."
"There's a scheduled flight in an hour. You can't stop me, Doctor."
"Oh I know I can't. But it's not me you're running away from."
"Who is it, then?"
"Yourself. That's why you'll never escape."
"They didn't understand me."
"Oh, they understood you only too well. That's why they resisted you."
"I only wanted the best for them."
"The best? Prisons? Death squads? Executions?"
"They only came later. I told them to be happy, but they wouldn't listen. I gave them every chance. Oh, I know they laughed sometimes, but they still cried, they still wept."
"Don't you ever feel like weeping, Helen A?"
"Of course not, Doctor. It's unnecessary. And those that persisted had to be punished."
"For the good of the majority. For the ones that wanted to be happy, who wanted to take the opportunities that I gave them."
"What were these opportunities you gave them? A bag of sweets? A few tawdry party games? Bland, soulless music? Do these things make you happy? Of course they don't. Because they're cosmetic. Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness. Two sides, one coin."
"You can keep your coin, Doctor, and your sadness. I'll go somewhere else. I'll find somewhere where there is no sadness. A place where people know how to enjoy themselves. A place where people are strong, where they hold back the tears. A place where people pull themselves together."
"Where there is no compassion."
"Where there is control."
"A place where there is no love."
"I always thought love was overrated."

And then Mrs Thatcher... Oh, it seems she is not actually called Mrs Thatcher in this, she is called Helen A. I am a silly cat. I can't understand why I thought she was Mrs Thatcher.

And then Helen A sees Fifi, who goes

This makes Helen A sad. It makes me sad too. Poor Fifi, all she wanted to do was nom things.

With that the plot is all over, or as the Doctor says:
"'Tis done."
Ace paints the TARDIS blue again (although to be fair that is the first time we have seen it being painted blue in this story), and the final exchange is, of course:
"Will they be all right, Professor?"
"Happiness will prevail."

The Happiness Patrol is one of the most savage and scathing attacks against authoritarian governments ever seen in Doctor Who (and that means ever seen full stop), and so it remains as politically relevant today as it was in 1988.

The final confrontation between the Doctor and Helen A is the heart of the matter, in which the Doctor exposes her for what she really is: she does not want mannys to be happy, she wants them to act as though they are happy no matter what her government does. To keep any sadness on the inside. To keep quiet. To conform.

Like all tyrants who pretend to democracy, she claims she is acting "for the good of the majority" and therefore that means anyone who disagrees must be in the minority, and can be portrayed as a handful of remoaning killjoys out to sabotage "the will of the people" - which in turn justifies any actions to

The Doctor is the moral polar opposite of Helen A. He recognises that the appearance of happiness is not the same as real happiness, and that enforced conformity does not equal approval. He knows that the mannys of Terra Alpha are not free until they can choose for themselves whether to be happy or sad, whether to agree with Helen A or to oppose her, and in their confrontation he pushes her until she admits this too.

At the end of their dialogue it is revealed that Helen A knew this all the time, but still chose to do what she knew to be wrong, and then when she cries for Fifi - and by extension herself - it is because under the façade of happiness Theresam A was the most unhappy of them all.

In the end, happiness does prevail.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol Part Two

After a recap of the final scene of part one where the Doctor and Earl Sigma are caught by the Kandyman, part two begins with Ace - once more a prisoner of the Happiness Patrol - who sees some black-clad mannys demonstrating against Mrs Thatcher and the Happiness Patrol. This is very brave because the Happiness Patrol are obviously going to kill them for being "killjoys."

The Doctor tricks the Kandyman into sticking himself to the floor so he can't kill them. Then the Doctor and Earl escape from the Kandyman into some pipes where they meet some aliens. At the same time, in a parallel plotline, the aliens are also helping Ace to escape from the Happiness Patrol (again). Then the Doctor meets Trevor Sigma (again) and trolls him (again). Aside from introducing the friendly aliens, this episode seems to be repeating itself a lot.

Mrs Thatcher decides to let her doggy Fifi go into the pipes to nom Ace and the aliens when she hears about the escape. Fifi chases Ace and an alien until they blow her up with some of Ace's Nitro Nine. Ace is, as usual, very quick to resort to explosives to solve a problem.

Trevor takes the Doctor to see Mrs Thatcher where he trolls her for a bit by pretending to be too important to answer any of her questions (such as who he is or whose side he is on), then he goes off to meet up with Earl again.

The way the Doctor moves from scene to scene, to meet with the required supporting characters in turn, makes the world of Terra Alpha feel very small - but deliberately so, as though attempting to make a plausibly realistic alien planet within the confines of a television studio was not even being attempted by the makers of this programme. Either that or all establishing shots of the Doctor travelling from place to place had to be ruthlessly edited out to make room for more scenes of Ace escaping from and being recaptured by the Happiness Patrol.

When Earl hears the Doctor is on his way back to the Kandy Kitchen, he says
"Not the Kandy Kitchen."
in a very similar way to

I think this may be a deliberate reference, as this era of Doctor Who is notorious for its many gratuitous callbacks to the earlier years of the show - another example of this here is the Doctor telling Trevor his name, or rather his "nickname," is "Theta Sigma", which is a reference to The Armageddon Factor from season 16.

Two Happiness Patrol mannys are waiting to shoot the demonstrators from the start of the episode, but the Doctor sneaks up on them and trolls them into throwing away their guns. This is another demonstration of the Doctor's moral philosophy, similar to the bit when he said
"Weapons: always useless in the end."
back in Remembrance of the Daleks Part Three. (Although, as in that story, this is somewhat undermined by how effective Ace's Nitro Nine continues to be.)

Mrs Thatcher wants to execute another prisoner, Ace's friend from earlier (whose name has still not been given on-screen), using the Kandyman's "fondant surprise" but the Kandyman is still stuck to the floor. The Doctor comes in and offers to release him if the Kandyman will stop the fondant surprise.

Ace tries to rescue her friend and ends up getting captured (again) (again) instead, but at least they don't get killed by the fondant surprise because the Doctor is successful. Trevor tells Mrs Thatcher that the rules say she has to use a different method to execute them next time, but this doesn't worry her too much as she has plenty. Mew and hiss, Mrs Thatcher is a pantomime baddy.

The Kandyman, who is no longer stuck to the floor, wants to kill the Doctor so the Doctor sticks him to the floor (again) and then leaves to find Ace. He meets up with Earl (again) and they see a poster of Ace, who is going to be appearing at "the Late Show at the Forum" - this is obviously going to be Mrs Thatcher's next attempt at executing her, although we will have to wait until next time to see it, as it is the end of the episode.

This episode contains a lot of repetition, and so feels like it is mostly padding. Escapes and recaptures, and revisiting earlier locations and characters, are so frequent (and so quickly reversed) that it is tempting to view this as deliberate commentary upon the padding often seen in the middle of a typical Doctor Who story.

While Ace has been continually moving from captive to escapee and back again ever since she parted company from the Doctor in part one, the Doctor has been more proactive in this episode - since (easily) escaping from the klutches of the Kandyman, he has been acting like a force of nature, sweeping into scenes with Trevor, Mrs Thatcher, the Happiness Patrol snipers, the Kandyman, even Earl, and taking them over effortlessly - none of them know how to deal with the Doctor because he does not fit into their view of how the world of Terra Alpha functions.

While many baddys (and some friends, for instance Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) have experienced this of the Doctor over the years, here it is particularly fitting because of the allegorical nature of The Happiness Patrol. Terra Alpha is like the Village, it stands for all that is worst in manny society, and all that is worth fighting against. The Doctor has fought against plenty of power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermannys, and the like before now. This time he is up against Mrs Thatcher.

Happiness will prevail!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol Part One

Happiness will prevail!

The Happiness Patrol is the second story of season 25. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. There is dramatic music right from the start, fading in as soon as the title music is over. We are in the dark streets of Studio 8 at the BBC Television Centre, where Silas P and the Happiness Patrol are already busy entrapping an unfortunate manny who gets shot by their pewpewpew guns only because she has a sad. This quickly and neatly establishes that the Happiness Patrol are the baddys in much the same way as we get to know the Federation are the baddys in the first episode of Blakes 7.

The TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor tells Ace (and us) he has already heard "disturbing rumours" about this place, called Terra Alpha. The Doctor tells Ace it is "an Earth colony, settled some centuries in your future." I should hope so, otherwise that means there are Earth colonies already. Get the tinfoil cathats everybody, it's conspiracy theory time!

They meet Trevor Sigma, "on official business from Galactic Centre," who asks them questions but refuses to answer theirs, so the Doctor can't help himself but troll Trevor into answering a question.

The Happiness Patrol paint the TARDIS pink and the Doctor likes it. The Doctor and Ace get arrested for not having the right badges, but for a change this is all part of the Doctor's plan which was to try and get arrested. (It is not clear if the Doctor had any further steps to his plan worked out but I suspect not.)

Speaking to another prisoner, they find out lots of other silly things that are illegal: wearing dark clothes, listening to slow music, reading poems (unless they're limericks), and "walking in the rain, if you're on your own and don't take an umbrella."

We see another manny getting executed by the Kandyman by being drowned in "fondant surprise", which is a very Shakespearean death reminiscent of Clarence's murder in Richard iii.

On the subject of the Kandyman - however did they get away with it at the time? Watching this now, it was surely a lawsuit waiting to happen? I mean, just look at this:

Mrs Thatcher, played by Sheila Hancock, is the main baddy in charge of Terra Alpha. She electrics the manny that the Doctor and Ace had been talking to, so he had obviously given them enough exposition to be going on with. Mrs Thatcher has a pet doggy, but it is not a cute doggy, it is a grumpy looking doggy because Mrs Thatcher is a baddy.

The Doctor and Ace escape on a very, very slow moving go-cart. It makes the buggy from Day of the Daleks look positively zippy by comparison. Ace allows herself to be recaptured by the Happiness Patrol so the Doctor can get away, and we don't see much of their chasing him because the Happiness Patrol would all have to run extra slowly so as to not catch up.

Ace meets a member of the Happiness Patrol who is not happy really, and she lets Ace get away. Sadly Ace then gets captured again in the very next scene she is in.

The Doctor meets Silas P from earlier but, before he can entrap the Doctor like he did the manny from the start of the episode, the Doctor is rescued by Earl Sigma. Then the Happiness Patrol arrive and shoot Silas P instead. They must have a quota.

The Doctor and Earl Sigma escape into the Kandy Kitchen where they are caught by the Kandyman and his henchmanny Gilbert. The Kandyman menaces them and that is the end of the episode.

The Kandyman is very kreepy, especially his googly eyes - he is a terrific parody of a kute kharakter, and on top of that his spelling is worse than a lolcatz!

The Happiness Patrol is obviously a very sophisticated story working on multiple levels, so it is difficult to pass judgement on part one in isolation. Since there are only three parts it has to get a move on - the world building is done quickly and broadly, and even though entire characters exist solely to give exposition to the Doctor and then get killed off to show (or to reinforce what has already been established) how evil the baddys are, it nevertheless manages to achieve both a memorably distinctive visual style and a politically charged message at the same time.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Doctor Who Night 2017: Hammer Time

Doctor Who's 13th season (1975-6) was influenced a lot by the iconography of the Hammer Horror films, which began in the 1950s and were still in production at that time. This gave us our theme for this year's Doctor Who Night, as we watched two classic stories that very obviously draw inspiration (putting it mildly) from Hammer.

Pyramids of Mars sees Tom Baker at the height of his powers as the Doctor, with one of the most definitive portrayals of the character - simultaneously an alien and an exemplar of mannykind, as he battles against the forces of Sutekh.

Sutekh is one of the most powerful and evil baddys the Doctor has ever faced, with a memorable appearance and even more memorable voice - which he needs, because he doesn't actually do very much besides talk. Instead his actions are carried out by his minions, who are all themed around manny mummys from Egypt, as drawn from the Hammer Mummy film series.

It is a very serious story for the most part, with the fate of the Earth and maybe the entire universe at stake if Sutekh wins, but there is still time for some humorous moments such as this bit where the Doctor and Sarah go "Nonononononope!"

The second story we watched was The Brain of Morbius, which is not nearly as Spock's Brain as it sounds. The Doctor doesn't have to search the galaxy for Morbius's brain, it's there in that jar.

This is the story from which the Morbius Doctors Theory comes, as I have written about in the past. But there is a lot more to the story than just that one (in)famous scene - after all, it doesn't even involve the best baddy character in the story, who is not the monster Morbius but his creator, the monster Solon.

Solon, played by Philip Madoc in his second-best appearance in Doctor Who (after The War Games), is a mad scientist blatantly based on Frankenstein. He has a henchmanny called Condo and he makes Morbius a new body out of spare parts to put his brain in. As the old saying goes:

Thursday, 19 October 2017

What do politicians make of The Prisoner?

Now that we are 50 years on from the first broadcast of The Prisoner, it is a reasonable assumption that some, if not all, of the mannys who are today politicians with jobs like Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and Guest Presenter of Have I Got News For You, will have at some point in their lives have watched The Prisoner on TV.

I wonder what they make of it, and in particular the episode Free For All - relating as it does to the matter of manny elections that are the means by which some politicians get their jobs in the first place.

Do Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn both see it as a metaphor for the struggle over control of the Labour Party, just from very different points of view?

Does Theresa May secretly sympathise with Number Six, but can't say so in public for fear of getting replaced by a new Number Two in time for the next episode?

Has Michael Gove had enough of my posts about The Prisoner and wants me to post more Blakes 7 fanfiction instead?

And does Boris Johnson think that if we destroy the 17 episodes of The Prisoner then we can have 17 episodes of Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who back?

If you are a politician, please let me know what you think of Free For All - and The Prisoner TV series as a whole - in the comments.
Unless you're Nigel Farage, in which case you can fuck off.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembrance Day of the Daleks Part Four

The cliffhanger, such as it was, didn't leave any of our heroes in immediate peril, so we can get straight on to...

Dalek v Dalek action!

That's what we want to see! A pity, then, that these scenes are so static, with the Renegades and the Imperial Daleks just sitting there and shooting at each other from only a few feet away, a bit like a scene from Police Squad!

Daleks have never been the most dynamic of monsters, but the lack of motion here is so much more noticeable when we see Daleks on both sides of the fighting.

The Imperial Daleks are losing at first, but then they get the "Special Weapons Dalek" to come and help them - it has an even bigger pewpewpew gun, and blows up two Renegade Daleks with one single pew.

Mike runs to Mr Ratcliffe's base and gets captured by the Renegade Daleks who are there. The little manny has managed to get their Time Controller working again, so they are about to exterminate Mike and Mr Ratcliffe before leaving with the Hand of Omega when the Imperial Daleks attack the base.

This acts as a distraction allowing Mr Ratcliffe to steal the Time Controller and run away, but then the little manny turns out to have Evil Emperor-style lightning powers... somehow... and she electrics Mr Ratcliffe. Mike takes the Time Controller and runs away, pursued by the little manny.

The Doctor and Ace see Mike has the Time Controller and the Doctor tells Ace to follow Mike. By now all the Renegade Daleks' base are belong to the Imperial Daleks, so they take the Hand of Omega coffin back to their shuttle and fly away.

The Doctor repurposes the borked Dalek teleporter to turn it into a TV that he can use to speak to the Imperial Daleks in their spaceship. He sees the Dalek Emperor on TV, and then it opens up to reveal...


I do like the way the Emperor's voice changes from Dalek to Davros before we see him. We are now poised for a classic confrontation scene between the Doctor and Davros, the dramatic climax of the whole story. But first there is a short cut to where Mike has a gun and captures Ace.

Davros looks and sounds so silly on the Doctor's TV set, in crackly black and white, but yet strangely menacing at the same time. This is an effective conclusion for the story arc of Group Captain Gilmore, Professor Jensen and Allison, who are present to witness the confrontation. They know the Doctor is an alien, and have wondered if they can trust him, but now they see in Davros what a genuinely alien alien is like and so the Doctor seems benign by comparison.

Davros looks scary, but the Doctor is not scared. He provokes Davros into threatening to use the Hand of Omega at once. Then the Doctor pretends to be afraid of this and so Davros immediately switches to gloating before ordering
"Activate the Omega device!"

The Hand of Omega does not do what Davros wants it to, and instead it blows up Skaro (unless you believe the events of the novel Retcon of the Daleks, which you shouldn't because it is one of the worst books known to cats). In terms of characterisation, this scene is a highlight of the story - the Doctor knows Davros is a megalomaniac and so psychologically manipulates him into using the Hand of Omega prematurely, defeating the baddy using words alone.

Davros, too late, realises he has been tricked by the Doctor and as soon as the Doctor switches off his TV set, Davros abandons the bridge of his spaceship to get to an escape pod, which you can just make out leaving the spaceship model before the Hand of Omega comes back to blow it up as well.

The little manny comes and electrics Mike who goes
and then she tries to electric Ace. The only Dalek left now is the Black Dalek, leader of the Renegades. The Doctor comes and talks it to death, which is inevitably an anticlimax after he has already dealt with Davros.

The Black Dalek vanishing frees the little manny from its control, illustrated very nicely by the scene transition from the disappearing Dalek to the screaming manny, both spinning around out of control. This bit makes no sense, but does look cool - which basically sums up most of the problems with Remembrance Day of the Daleks right there.

Remembrance of the Daleks is a flawed classic. It was once voted the sixth best Doctor Who story of all time (Doctor Who Magazine #265, June 1998), and while I wouldn't go that far (that same poll put Timelash 157th, and that's over 150 places too low, mew!) I would say it is one of the most cinematic Doctor Who stories of all time, in both positive and negative senses of the word.

It looks great. Not only the Daleks themselves, which have always been Doctor Who's most iconic monster for good reason, but all of the SFX from the spaceship in the pre-credits sequence through to the Black Dalek's technicolour demise, not to mention the fact they got in a genuine Time Controller for the Renegade Daleks to use! These all add up to make this story one of the most visually memorable of all Doctor Who stories.

But looks aren't everything and so there was a tendency, as I have noted, for things to be included just because they looked cool, even if they didn't make sense or, at the most charitable reading, weren't fully explained to us. The plot then exists as a device to link one "cinematic" set piece scene to the next, and so on. In those terms it is very successful, but the result is that Remembrance of the Daleks is left as the Doctor Who equivalent of a superficial Hollywood blockbuster action movie, rather than working as something deeper like, for example, Star Trek 2 Wrath of Khan (my best evar film).

The Doctor's character has also continued in the questionable direction it started taking in Dragonfire, particularly with regards to his relationship towards Ace. I don't mind the attempt to make him seem more mysterious, to put a distance between him and us the viewers, but what I do mind is the muddying of his morality - the Doctor should, must, always be a goody, and Doctor Who ceases to be Doctor Who when that fails to be the case. It is a fine line and I think they manage to just about stay on the right side of it in this story, but we are seeing the beginnings of a path that leads inexorably to times in the New Series when they have crossed it.

By setting his trap for the Daleks on Earth, it is arguably the Doctor's fault that so many mannys are placed in danger of being exterminated. But the Doctor does spend a lot of the story trying to keep as many of them safe as he can, which seems to me like a step back in the right direction compared to his characterisation in Dragonfire.

And then there is the retrofitting of the reason the Doctor was on Earth in 1963 in An Unearthly Child, apparently to give the Hand of Omega a decent burial. This is another aspect to the plot that doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it - or at the very least it raises more questions than it answers - the Doctor certainly cannot have been planning to use it as a trap for the Daleks back then, as he hadn't even met them yet. But it works in a superficial way because it ties the story to the origins of Doctor Who, and feels right because it is marking the TV show's 25th anniversary.

Why do mannys think the 25th anniversary is special anyway? Is it because 25 is half of 50, which itself is half of 100, which is special because it is the biggest, longest number known to today's cat science? That would mean that half of 25 must also be a special anniversary, but what is that in Doctor Who terms?

I have consulted with a leading cat Professor of my acquaintance, and he says the answer is that it would be the 12½th anniversary (oh noes, this means we need fractions). The first half of season 12 consists of Robot, The Ark in Space and The Sontaran Experiment, and the second half (less stories but the same total number of episodes) is Revenge of the Cybermannys and... Genesis of the Daleks!

Appropriately enough, Remembrance of the Daleks is not only in the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who and the Daleks, it is also in the 12½th anniversary of the first appearance of Davros.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembering of the Daleks Part Three

The recapped version of the cliffhanger scene cuts away sooner than at the end of part two, so we don't get to see Ace close her eyes and make a face this time. I do like the dramatic music during this bit, it helps cover for the fact that Ace is obviously going to escape.

The Doctor runs in and uses his anti-Dalek device (cleverly foreshadowed in the previous episode) to special effect at the Daleks, confusing them and allowing Ace to get away and Sergeant Mike to blow up the Daleks.

One of the Daleks is still alive and manages to strangle the Doctor for a bit, until he is rescued by Professor Jensen's assistant Allison. The Doctor is happy that Ace's tape player has been destroyed, saying
"That tape deck was a dangerous anachronism. If someone had found it and discovered the principles of its function, the whole microchip revolution would take place now, twenty years too early, with incalculable damage to the timeline."
"Ace, the Daleks have a mothership up there capable of eradicating this planet from space, but even they, ruthless though they are, would think twice before making such a radical alteration to the timeline."
But he can't have cared too much or else he might have said something about it sooner.

The Doctor uses Ace's bat to destroy the Dalek teleporter in the basement, and then it breaks.
"Weapons: always useless in the end."
he says, which is basically him acknowledging that it was a weapon, and not just an item of sporting equipment that happened to get improvised into a weapon. Why does the Doctor have this hypocritical blind spot when it comes to Ace, happy for her to carry around a melee weapon, a backpack full of high explosives, and technology that he himself admits is "a dangerous anachronism"? Not since Leela have we seen this level of indulgence from the Doctor towards his Companion, and even then he was much more severe with her than with Ace:
"Who licensed you to slaughter people? No more Janis thorns, you understand? Ever."
Compared to:
"Ace, give me some of that Nitro Nine that you're not carrying."

Mr Ratcliffe finds where the Hand of Omega is buried and gets electriced by it. This alerts the Daleks to where it is. The mysterious little manny watches as Mr Ratcliffe's mannys dig up the coffin and nick off with it.

On their spaceship, the Imperial Daleks are visited by their Emperor who is not as forgiving as I am. He has a big head like in '60s comics.

The Doctor finally gives Ace, and us watching, the exposition on what the Hand of Omega is.
"The Hand of Omega is a mythical name for Omega's remote stellar manipulator, a device used to customise stars with. And didn't we have trouble with the prototype..."

Mr Ratcliffe's mannys all get exterminated by the Renegade Daleks who take the Hand of Omega's coffin from them. Mr Ratcliffe is surprised by this but the mysterious manny in the Dalek chair (the one who isn't Davros) tells him
"You are a slave, Ratcliffe. You were born to serve the Daleks."
And turns out to be the little manny. Not Davros. What a twist.
The little manny gets out their Time Controller from where it was hidden in a cupboard.

We keep our Time Controller in a cupboard when we're not using it too.

The Doctor and Ace sneak into Mr Ratcliffe's base and see the Hand of Omega. Ace asks if it is alive, to which the Doctor smiles and replies
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
This is a great touch, and far more successful at making the Doctor seem mysterious and alien than any of the exposition from earlier on, even the Doctor's hinting accidentally-on-purpose that he was somehow involved in making the Hand of Omega.

They go inside while Mr Ratcliffe and the Daleks are out and the Doctor turns off the Time Controller. Again the subtle way in which he, a Time Lord, can instantly master the Daleks' time travel technology* is another effective moment, partially spoiled by the heavy-handed way he then leaves a literal calling card on top of it.

The Doctor and Ace run away and there is another bit of business where the Doctor almost sneezes while hiding from a Dalek. I don't know why they bothered to include these comic relief moments, the story does not need them.

They make it back to the school and join up with Mike and Group Captain Gilmore. Mike gives away that he knows the Renegade Daleks have the Hand of Omega, which he can only know because he has been working for Mr Ratcliffe the whole time. I really don't know if this is meant to be a surprise reveal to us viewers because, while on the one paw it has been really obvious ever since he was with Mr Ratcliffe back in part one, on the other paw I already knew this because I have seen this episode before - so perhaps this is another instance of this story losing some of its impact upon repeated viewings?
Ace calls him a "toerag" again, also a "lying dirty scumbag." Harsh.

Time to end the episode. An Imperial Dalek spaceship lands outside the school. It is eggboxtastic, the perfect shape for monkeys (and little mannys in the late 1980s) to try to copy when making their own spaceships at home.

While not as immediately a perilous situation for our heroes as the endings to parts one and two, this is once again an escalation of the threat of the Daleks: a single Dalek; a team of three Daleks; a whole spaceship full of Daleks. Textbook stuff.

* It took the Monkeys With Badges ages to work out how to use our Time Controller. Then they popped back in time and told themselves how to do it.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembering the Daleks Part Two

Ace rescues the Doctor by hitting Mr Bronson - she doesn't use her bat though, she's not that psychotic. The Doctor and Ace go and get a rocket from a soldier and Ace blows up the Dalek with it.

Group Captain Gilmore and Professor Jensen don't trust the Doctor, but they have to go along with him for now because he's the only one who knows what is going on. He goes off on his own and tells Ace she can't come because
"It's not your past. You haven't been born yet."
Professor Jensen asks Ace
"Not been born yet? What did he mean by that?"
To which Ace smiles with an "oh shit, how am I going to explain this?" expression on her face. We don't see her response.

The Doctor goes to a café for a cup of tea and some padding. Meanwhile Mr Bronson has repaired the Dalek teleporter and more Daleks start to appear in the school basement.

The Doctor visits the Hand of Omega, which is disguised as a coffin. He puts Ace's bat inside for a moment, then gets it to follow him by floating. This leads to a bit of business where a manny faints upon seeing it float by itself.

The Doctor buries the coffin with the help of Packer from The Invasion who is a blind vicar now for some reason. This scene is very portentous but doesn't make a lot of sense, and the presence of Packer makes me think that this story would be improved immeasurably by the presence of Kevin Stoney (like almost all Doctor Who stories that don't already have Kevin Stoney in would be).

"Packer! Why are you burying the Hand of Omega for?"
"Sorry Mr Stoney, sir. I think it's a crude attempt to make things more enigmatic, sir."
"You're a stupid incompetent, Packer!"

Mr Bronson attacks Sergeant Mike, but when Mike wins the fight the Daleks kill Mr Bronson by remote control.

Back at Mike's house the Doctor gives Ace back her bat, then she calls Mike a "toerag" when he won't let her come with him to do soldier stuff.

Once everyone else has gone away, Ace discovers that Mike's family are racists so she goes back to the school by herself in order to get into peril in time for the end of the episode. And also to get her tape player which she left behind earlier. She then meets a Dalek and runs away.

The Doctor has been making an anti-Dalek device when he hears from Mike that Ace is not still at his house. He immediately works out that she must be at the school getting into trouble.

The Dalek blows up Ace's tape player with its pewpewpew gun, thus demonstrating more regard for non-interference in Earth's history than Ace or even the Doctor have so far shown in this story. Ace responds by attacking it with her bat, which now has a special effect on it due to the power of the Hand of Omega. Then Ace runs away again and picks up a rocket from a ded soldier.

The rocket may have been super effective against a single Dalek, but Ace gets surrounded by three Daleks who all, in true Dalek fashion, decide to shout at her instead of shooting her. But it makes for another great cliffhanger ending, escalating the peril from a single Dalek at the end of part one to a whole team of them now.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remember the Daleks Part One

Remember the Daleks is the first story of season 25. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. Although it is a Dalek story it is not written by Terry Nation, which bodes ill for how good this can possibly be, but then on the other paw it is written by Ben A Ronovitch who is a manny that likes Ars Magica* so maybe it will be good after all? Let's find out.

It starts with a pre-titles sequence (which is also how season 24 began, although I assume this is a coincidence) in which we see the Earth from space and hear mannys talking. Then sinister music starts playing and a Dalek spaceship appears before we cut to the title sequence. This is a great opening, reminding us that the Daleks are the very best baddys in the whole of Doctor Who and the only ones to have successfully conquered the Earth (twice).

The TARDIS arrives near a school and the Doctor gets interested in a van because it has technology on it. When asked, Ace denies having any Nitro Nine in her bag but even I can tell this is a lie. Ace goes to get noms and meets Sergeant Mike, while a little manny watches the Doctor as he investigates.

There's something sinister about the little manny, although I can't quite put my paw on what exactly it is yet. She sings
"Five six seven eight, it's a Doctor at the gate."
And I don't think that is a coincidence - she recognises the Doctor somehow. It is a mystery for now, and it is a good thing they did not have modern-day internets in 1988 or else there would doubtless be speculation that the little manny was Susan, or Romana, or (somehow) both.

The Doctor goes in the van with Gandalf and Aragorn with Professor Rachel Jensen and takes over so the plot can get going. There is a ded manny to see so they get Mike and Ace and all go in the van to meet Group Captain Gilmore. The Doctor predicts that the manny was killed by "a projected energy weapon" or, as Rachel calls it,
"A death ray?"
By which they mean a pewpewpew gun. Sylvester McCoy plays the Doctor as suitably alien, beyond just being an outsider to these new characters who all know each other, with lines like
"What a predictable response."

Soldiers surround the place and one of them gets exterminated, proving the Doctor right. He had perhaps ingratiated himself with "the military" a bit too easily (since they are not UNIT or mannys he had met before) but this turn of events properly establishes him as knowing things and being on their side.

"Listen to me, Brigadier..."
"Group Captain. Group Captain Gilmore!"

As the level of danger escalates, this is a perfectly pitched tiny moment of humour in amongst the peril. With lines like that and the later exchange between Gilmore and the Doctor:
"Nothing even remotely human could have survived that."
"That's the point group, Group Captain, it isn't even remotely human."
The dialogue in this scene is very good at establishing the situation and the characters and their dynamic with the Doctor. It also builds up the threat posed by a single Dalek very well.

Sadly the payoff is not as good as the build up. The Dalek emerges and starts missing with every shot from its pewpewpew gun, though the soldiers are not successful either. The Doctor blows it up with Ace's Nitro Nine, making him look like the only competent character in the story so far.

The Doctor and Ace take the soldiers' van and drive around while the Doctor gives Ace some of the Daleks' backstory... or should that be The Backstory of the Daleks? There is also some business with them changing who is driving the van that is clearly meant to be comedic but is just confusingly directed instead.

Mike introduces Group Captain Gilmore to Mr Ratcliffe, who is played by George Sewell from UFO and The Detectives. Something is mysterious about him... and I don't just mean his name, which makes him sound like he might be a mouse on a high place... because the next scene we see Mr Ratcliffe in, his mannys have knocked out two of the soldiers and stolen the ded Dalek for an unknown purpose.

Mr Ratcliffe is taking orders from an unseen manny in a Dalek chair - it looks a bit like Davros although I know it isn't Davros because I have seen this before. But I think that we are supposed to think that it is Davros so there will be a surprise later on, however this will obviously only work if we have not seen it before or read this review before.

The Doctor and Ace go back to the school where they meet Mr Bronson, who is played by Michael Sheard from Doctor Who (the last of his six guest appearances, having already been Rhos in The Ark, Dr Summers in The Mind of Evil, Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, Lowe in The Invisible Enemy and Mergrave in Castrovalva. And yet the Doctor never felt the need to investigate or explain why these six different characters were so similar...) and he acts strangely too.

The Doctor and Ace go into the school's basement. Ace has a bat which is not of the flying mouse variety but is of the sort used in American sports, demonstrating that the BBC were still trying to appeal to American viewers at this point in the show's history. This kind of bat is also the sort to be used for a bit of the old ultraviolence, and I suspect that this is the reason that Ace has it since, as I have speculated before, this Ace is a psycho.

In the basement there is a Dalek teleporter. A Dalek tries to teleport in but the Doctor breaks the teleporter so it disappears. Another Dalek comes and the Doctor and Ace run up the stairs to get away because everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs.

Mr Bronson turns out to have been a Dalek henchmanny and he traps the Doctor in the basement and then the Dalek comes up the stairs after them, ending the episode, proving for the first time that stairs are not an insurmountable obstacle for the Daleks, and forever confining "everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs" to the "lose you 10 points" category on QI.

This makes for a great cliffhanger ending precisely because "everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs" and so the reversal of this well-established truism is genuinely shocking and powerful... the first time you see it.

As with it not being Davros in the Dalek chair, the cliffhanger loses a lot of its effectiveness once you are expecting it, so the episode can never be quite as good on repeat viewings as it was when seeing it for the first time.

* Ars Magica is a tabletop Role-Playing Game about wizards in the 13th Century who speak Latin.

My friend Longdog has been playing in an ongoing game of Ars Magica for a while now, and has been enjoying it very much. His character is a magic dog who can speak, read and write Latin and he has a job as a librarian W-wording for some wizards. Sometimes the wizards go off to have adventures and then he can get up to all sorts of magical doggy mischief while they're away.

Here is a picture of Longdog studying the rules in order to be ready for his next session!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Laughing Prisoner

The Laughing Prisoner is one of the oddest TV programmes that exist. Made by Channel 4 in 1993, it is a strange pastiche of The Prisoner in which Jools Holland resigns from presenting his own programme and is then taken to the Village where he meets Number Two, played by Everybody's Big Gay Boyfriend Sir Stephen Fry. Naturally Number Two wants to know why "Number Seven" resigned.

What follows is a mix of sketches in which Number Two tries to break Number Seven using spoof versions of various Prisoner plots, intercut with light entertainment style music bands playing live in the grounds at Portmeirion (Holland and Fry are also on location there, so this probably features about as much filming in the actual Village as The Prisoner series did), and clips from the original series chosen to give the impression that Number Six/McGoohan is present with Holland and Fry - this is edited together quite well except that the differing quality of the film stock gives the game away completely.

The sketches are of questionable quality, and show that Sir Stephen's Comic Authority Figure persona really only works properly when he's playing opposite Hugh Laurie (who does make a brief appearance, but not sharing in any scenes with Fry). The biggest laughs come from the only other prisoner in the Village, Number Three, a.k.a. Stanley Unwin.

Where this does prove worthwhile is in the accuracy of the pastiche - the attention to detail shows this was a labour of love on somebody's part, possibly Holland's? For instance, when Number Seven is about to reveal why he resigned (before being interrupted by the need to introduce one of the live bands), he says word-for-word what Number Six says when he almost reveals why he resigned in The Chimes of Big Ben.

The Laughing Prisoner is available on YouTube here, for the time being at least. As we approach the 50th anniversary of The Prisoner, it is worth checking out this curiosity if you have never done so. And a little curiosity never harmed anybody.

The Final Frontier?

Erin Horáková* has written a great article about how mannys need to stop getting Captain Kirk wrong! Read it here.

* Who also wrote a fantastic article about Blakes 7 here.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Epic Sax Manny at Eurovision

Yet more proof (as if any were needed) for how great Eurovision is. Here's Moldova's entry from 2010:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

And Now Come Cats!

I have been playing a game called Magic: the Gathering. It is a good game in which you summon your best cats to form a cat army to fight against the baddy's army, which may be made up of vampires or weredoges or zombies or dragons or dinosaurs or even bad cats!

Of course my army is full of good cats because cats are best. The opposing armies are represented by cards that you choose to go in a deck of cards. Here are the cards that I and my friends like best:

Scared Cat may be only little, with not much strength or toughness, but he is cute handsome and he can come back from the dead as a Cat Mummy. (You can see an artist's impression of what I would look like if I was a Cat Mummy at the top of this page.) Also there are other cards in the deck that can give him more strength and toughness.

Scared Cat is Scary Cat's best card.

This cat has a strength of three. He is a fierce cat!

Initiate's Companion is Puppy's favourite cat card, although he also like cards that have wolves, hounds and other doges on them.

Longtusk Cub is only a kitten when he first arrives but, as it says on the card itself,
It won't be small forever.
He can nom energy to get big.

Longtusk Cub is Kitten's best card.

Other cats that nom energy to make themselves stronger are a leopard and a tiger, although the increase to their strength is only temporary.

There is also a flying Vehicle that cats can Crew, meaning they get inside and fly around in it. It was made by the Cat Monkeys of Kaladesh, who are clever inventors who can also give their strength and toughness to other cats. One of the best cats for them to do this to is the Skyhunter Skirmisher.

Skyhunter Skirmisher is a flying Cat Knight. He is another cat who starts off small, but he can attack twice, so that every time he gets stronger he really gets twice as strong!

Scrounging Bandar is the favourite card of the Monkeys With Badges, while Skyhunter Skirmisher is Mr Purple Cat's best card.

Prowling Serpopard is a Cat Snake! That may sound strange, but he is very useful when the baddy wants to use counterspells to stop you from summoning your cat army - because now they can't!

Okatra is a cat God from the world of Amonkat where she is their equivalent of Ceiling Cat, or possibly the Hoff. Okatra makes Warriors, not cats, so she is not like the Maker of Cats.

Regal Caracal is an expensive luxury cat! He always arrives with two of his friends, and he makes all other cats stronger and tougher.

It suffices to say that Regal Caracal is Expensive Luxury Cat's best card.

Ajani is the best main character in Magic, because he is a Planeswalker who is a cat. He is a brave and loyal cat, and he took an Oath to keep watch when he joined the Gatewatch.

Ajani is Gamma Longcat's best card, and mine too.

Nissa is also a member of the Gatewatch. She is not a cat, but she is a good friend to cats and has the ability to give all your cats extra strength and toughness.

This card also does that, representing as it does the vigilance of cats who stay alert even when having sleeps (so not all cats then).

These cards are useful for getting rid of the baddy's army.

Of course in order to summon all your cats to be in your cat army, you need lands for them to live in. Cats are coloured green and white in Magic (unlike in real life where they are coloured red and orange and yellow and green and blue and blue and purple... like me) so that means they prefer Forests and Plains and lands like that, although cats that nom energy also like living in the Aether Hub.

When I put all these cards together I get the following deck, which is called Cats.

4 Sacred Cat
3 Longtusk Cub
4 Scrounging Bandar
3 Initiate's Companion
1 Oath of Ajani
2 Declaration in Stone
3 Skyhunter Skirmisher
2 Prowling Serpopard
2 Aetherstream Leopard
2 Aethersphere Harvester
1 Always Watching
1 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
1 Oketra the True
3 Cast Out
2 Regal Caracal
1 Riparian Tiger
1 Ajani Unyielding
9 Plains
9 Forest
2 Canopy Vista
2 Sunpetal Grove
1 Aether Hub
1 Tranquil Expanse