Book Review: THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE by Donna Everhart

Eleven-year-old Dixie is the youngest child of Evie and Charles Dupree, who live in Perry County, Alabama. She and her brother AJ like to climb trees and do the normal things kids in rural towns during the late 1960s would do. But home is not sweet for Dixie. Her mother, a transplant from New Hampshire by marriage, is discontented with Southern living. She pines for her New England roots, and is not afraid to let her husband know. Charles responds to his brash, no-nonsense wife with swigs of Sneaky Pete, never for one moment believing she would actually leave. From a young age, Dixie has learned to lie, mostly to cover for the bruises, evidence of Mama’s temper. And then a fight between Mama and Daddy gets out of control, leading to Daddy’s sudden departure, and the arrival of Uncle Ray, Mama’s brother-in-law. Uncle Ray saves the family from the inevitable financial ruin that would come without a bread-winner in the house. He gladly drives Mama to the store and helps her buy groceries. Mama’s temper softens, and all seems well for the family. But things start to unravel for Dixie when Uncle Ray’s intentions come to light, and her history of lying comes back to haunt her…

I have to say upfront that Donna is a friend of mine, which may incline me to review her debut novel favorably no matter what I really think about it. I’m happy to say there are no mixed motives in this review because a) the book has already received high praise, including an Amazon Pick of the Month for November nod, and making the USA Today Bestsellers list, and b) it really is an excellent novel (which is a relief!–though knowing the quality of Donna’s flash fiction, I was sure she had it in her).

Another caveat to my review is that I’m not particularly well-read in Southern Literature. In fact, I think the only other book I’ve read that would be considered in the same category is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which I consider to be the best novel ever written. But to pit DIXIE DUPREE against MOCKINGBIRD would be unfair. Aside from the 1960s Alabama settings, the two novels have little in common either in terms of theme or voice. So my thoughts are strictly concerning the book on its own merits, not compared to similar titles.

With all that said, DIXIE DUPREE is an incredible debut. The novel starts with Dixie handing over her diary as evidence against Uncle Ray, so at the outset we know her diary is important, and Uncle Ray is a character we need to keep an eye on. But that’s really all we know. In the following chapters, Dixie’s story unfolds. It’s the story of a child learning how to lie, covering up for the adults in her life because, regardless how wrong their actions are, she is convinced life would be worse if they weren’t there. Only her diary knows the truth.

Dixie’s education is not pleasant, and it makes for tough reading at times. The saving grace, however, is Donna’s voice. Choosing to tell the story from Dixie’s point of view enables her to convey some very dark and graphic scenes with youthful innocence. This doesn’t at all detract from the seriousness of what’s happening, but it does soften some of the harsh edges that a more adult sensibility would add. Nevertheless, this isn’t a book for the overly sensitive.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest strength of the book is Dixie’s voice. It’s clear, distinct, and has the ring of authenticity–exactly how you might imagine a well-read eleven-year-old from Alabama would sound. The other characters are well-defined, with their own quirks and flaws. Brother AJ takes to Uncle Ray in a way only a boy could, oblivious to the things going on with his younger sister. Uncle Ray is charming and helpful, hiding well the dark side that threatens to consume him. Evie, her mother, is a complex mix of anger and devotion. She wants the best for her children, but too easily vents her frustrations on them with devastating results. Charles, her father, is devoted to his family, and doesn’t understand why Evie can’t love his hometown like he does. This leads to much of the conflict between them, and his drinking.

I would recommend DIXIE DUPREE, but, as I said, it’s not for those of a sensitive disposition, though I maintain that Donna deals with the issues in about as sensitive a way as one can. The main character is eleven, but it’s not a book for middle graders. I would rate it R for profanity, and the adult nature of some of the scenes. An easy five Goodreads stars.

Who Review: The Masque of Mandragora

On a tour of the TARDIS, Sarah discovers a wood paneled room the Doctor identifies as a second console room. While smaller than the main console room, he is equally able to operate the TARDIS from there. The Doctor opens the viewscreen, only to see that they are being dragged into the Mandragora Helix by the intelligence within it. Forced to land in the Helix, they managed to avoid its power and escape, but not before an element of the Helix stows away with them. The Doctor and Sarah next find themselves in fifteenth century San Marino, Italy. As the Duke of San Marino lies dying, the Duke’s brother, Federico, is making a grab for power, even though the Duke’s son, Giulliano, is the rightful heir. Federico is assisted in his efforts by the court astrologer, Hieronymous, whose predictions of death–the Duke’s in particular–are eerily accurate. Giulliano is a man of science at the dawn of the Renaissance, so he has no time for Hieronymous’s superstition. However, the Helix has other plans. Using Hieronymous as its vehicle, the Helix wants to prevent the Renaissance from happening, driving Earth’s Western civilization back into the Dark Ages. As leader of a religious cult, Hieronymous serves as a useful vessel for making this happen, so that the Helix can then rule all mankind through this superstition. Unless the Doctor can stop it…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

First, let’s clear up a couple of things that threw me to begin with. It’s “Masque” not “Mask.” A masque is a form of entertainment popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that included drama and dancing, notably with the use of masks. This kind of festivity is key to the climax of the story, since the Helix plans its takeover during the masque to celebrate Giulliano’s succession to the Dukedom. Also “Mandragora” is pronounced mandragora, not mandragora.

This serial was a bold start to season fourteen, what with a new title font, and a new console room. Speaking of the “new” console room, it was a nice change, though it only persisted for this season. That natural look has attracted a lot of fan love over the years, which may account for the return to a more organic style console room for the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors. There’s even a nod to the show’s recent past with a Third Doctor style shirt and jacket on a chair, and a recorder, favored instrument of the Second Doctor, that Sarah picks up and plays.

An underlying theme of “Masque” is the challenge to “superstition” brought about by Renaissance “science”–such as it was. I’m not sure that the distinction was quite so sharp, since Renaissance men considered themselves, for the most part, still men of faith. However, the clash makes for good drama, so I think we can live with it here. And the “superstition” that’s mocked in this story is a fictitious cult, so there’s little to cause offense (unless you’re an astrologer who regularly predicts the demise of the rich and powerful).

It’s a good story. Not great, but good solid drama, with elements of humor (unavoidable with the Fourth Doctor), and a fairly tight, pacy plot. The location shooting is particularly good, making the most of the same Portmeirion location in Wales that was used to film the popular Sixties series, “The Prisoner.” There’s a lot of Renaissance Italian architecture, so it’s not hard to fake the period and location with some careful camera work, and some oranges attached to the trees.

During the story, Sarah is drugged and hypnotized. Once again, Elisabeth Sladen’s performance is superb, giving a slight, almost unnoticeable nuance to Sarah that suggests she’s not quite herself. I thought it interesting that the Doctor knew she was under the influence because she asked how she could understand Italian, an odd question to ask now after all the places they had visited. I thought Giulliano’s mention of her dilated pupils would have tipped him off well before that. The Doctor’s answer to her question is the first time in the show’s history the subject is broached–and I’m sure this had bugged Who fans for 13 years. He tells Sarah that the ability to understand and be understood no matter where they are is a “Time Lord gift” that the Doctor shares with her. The subject won’t be broached again until Rose asks the Ninth Doctor in “The End of the World,” where he tells her it’s something the TARDIS does for her.

The finale seems a bit rushed, and you have to be paying attention to follow what’s happening. The Doctor’s plan is to use wire wrapped around the cult’s altar to draw off the Helix’s energy when the cult gathers for worship. The Helix is already stretched energy-wise by occupying all the “Brethren” as well as Hieronymous. By wearing protective armor and taunting Hieronymous to shoot energy bolts at him, the Doctor furthers weakens it. At least, that’s my understanding. The energy-bolt-from-the-fingers effect used with the Brethren looks like the same effect used in “Planet of the Spiders,” only improved.

I’m curious to know how Sarah learned fifteenth century dance moves so quickly. When Tegan launches into The Charleston in the Fifth Doctor story, “Black Orchid,” at least she says she learned it in school. Where, and why, would Sarah Jane Smith have learned popular masque dances? I’m also curious to know why the lunar eclipse seems to be happening so quickly. The episode three cliffhanger, however, is very good, where Hieronymous removes his mask to reveal nothing but light. And those masks are pretty creepy.

To sum up, “The Masque of Mandragora” is a good story, and will keep you entertained. It’s not a must-see, and not the greatest, but better than many.

Links and Stuff

Yes, I know, it’s been a few weeks, but I’m back. We moved into the new house at the beginning of the month, and while we’re still unpacking boxes, we’re beginning to get settled in. My office is just about organized–for now. Here’s what it looked like before we moved in:

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And here’s what it looks like now:

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There’s more to the room than the picture shows, but that gives a glimpse into what’s been going on. The wall that used to open out onto the room next door is now all solid wall with bookcases in front. I have more bookcases behind me, and still there are books going into other rooms. The most time consuming aspect of all this has been sorting through boxes of accumulated stuff and deciding what to keep, what needs to be in my office, and what I need to trash. I’m a bit of a pack rat, and liable to keep letters, postcards, and kid scribbles for nostalgia. My wife once found an empty envelope in one of my “stuff” boxes. I still recall her holding it up with a deep, questioning look on her face. I conceded that was probably over-the-top, especially since I had no idea why I was keeping it. I’m more willing to part with stuff now, and I’m learning to ask myself, “Seriously, Colin, when will you ever need this again? Who’s really going to care if you still have this? You haven’t looked at this in 20 years–what does that tell you?” Moving to the States nearly 25 years ago helped me purge a lot of stuff. This move comes after 13 years living in the same place and, of course, re-accumulating stuff. So it’s probably about time.

Now to some links! First up, this interesting little chart from PrinterInks showing how long it took to write some famous books. If you think George R. R. Martin is taking his merry time with the latest installment of his series, check out some of these. From a few days to sixteen years!

Next up, this report from Ars Technica. It seems the estate of Dr. Seuss is suing ComicMix for selling a book called OH THE PLACES YOU’LL BOLDLY GO!–a parody mash-up of Star Trek and Dr. Seuss’s famous work, OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! From the sample pages, it seems pretty clear ComicMix are not trying to hide any similarities with the Seuss book. In fact, they contend that their work is meant as parody, and they believe it falls under fair use. The Seuss Estate believe they have copied too much such that it falls under copyright infringement, and are seeking up to $150,000 in damages. The legal folks will battle this one out, but I’m inclined to side with ComicMix, even as a writer who feels very strongly about plagiarism and related issues. This parody is not intended to mock or denigrate the original Seuss book, and the content would not deter someone from purchasing the Seuss book, so what’s the problem? In fact, I can imagine people buying copies of both to compare! I haven’t heard of the Roddenberry estate suing, so clearly they understand parody. What do you think?

Finally, it was reported a few weeks ago that actor Robert Vaughn has died, aged 83. Vaughn was probably best known for his leading role in the 60s TV show, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” but he had been in plenty of other things too, not least a few episodes of “Columbo.” My wife loves the sound of Robert Vaughn’s voice, so she was particularly saddened to hear of his passing.

That’s all from me for this week. Now it’s your turn–share your thoughts on today’s links! The comments are open… 🙂

Who Review: The Seeds of Doom

In his capacity as U.N.I.T. chief scientific advisor, the Doctor has been called by the World Ecology Bureau to look into a strange pod discovered by a team of scientists at an Antarctic base. The photographs suggest something alien, so the Doctor and Sarah go to Antarctica to see the pod for themselves, warning no-one to touch it. When they arrive, the pod has already hatched and attacked one of the scientists, Winlett. He is beginning to take on the appearance of some kind of plant. The Doctor finds a second pod, which seems to confirm for him what they are dealing with: Krynoids. Before long, Winlett is no longer recognizable as a human, his whole body having been transformed by the infection. He is now a powerful and dangerous Krynoid.

Meanwhile, millionaire botanist Harrison Chase has heard about the pod discovery, and sends two mercenaries to Antarctica to recover it for his plant collection. His instructions are for them to bring back the pod, no matter what cost. The two thugs, Scorby and Keeler, are too late to get the first pod, but manage to make off with the second, leaving the Doctor and Sarah to deal with the hungry Winlett-Krynoid. But that’s the least of their concerns. Once that second pod reaches London, warms, and then hatches, not only will it infect the nearest humans, but it will turn all plant life on Earth against the planet’s fleshy occupants.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The first thing I need to get off my chest with regard to “The Seeds of Doom” is the title. I hate it. First, I keep calling it “The Seeds of Death,” which is a Second Doctor Ice Warrior story. And second, in fiction I associate the word “doom” with melodrama, and a somewhat comical overtone–“Arrrgh! We’re all doomed!” This story is far from comical. Indeed, to me the word “doom” doesn’t do justice to this dark, and somewhat disturbing, story. At least it’s disturbing in concept, given a few plot holes and a couple of effects that don’t quite work. How about “The Pods of Death” or “The Curse of the Krynoids”? Even just “The Krynoids” would have been better than “The Seeds of Doom”!

Broadcast over February and March of 1976, “The Seeds of Death Doom” was the last story of season 13, and hence the dialog at the end where the Doctor and Sarah talk about taking a holiday. It was written by Robert Banks Stewart, who wrote the season opener, “Terror of the Zygons.” The original plan was for “Terror” to be the season 12 closing story, so Stewart would have written the last story for both seasons. However, “Terror” was pushed to the next season, so he ended up top-and-tailing season 13.

U.N.I.T. involvement in Who has been petering out over the past few seasons. This story marks the last time we see any U.N.I.T. soldiers until 1989, and the Seventh Doctor story, “Battlefield.” And even here, U.N.I.T. are not really central to the story, and none of the U.N.I.T. regulars make an appearance. Their inclusion seems to be primarily to give the Doctor an excuse to be there, and to provide some support later on.

While the production team don’t say so explicitly, it’s hard to imagine “DeathDoom” wasn’t at least partly inspired by the classic BBC TV series, “The Quatermass Experiment.” In that series, a space crew returns to Earth bringing with them an alien life that has taken over one of the astronauts, and is turning him into a plant-like creature that then threatens the planet. Somewhat similar. 🙂

All joking aside, “The Seeds of DeeeDoooo…Deaoooom” is a good story. Most of the visual effects work, and the acting is good, at least from the main cast. The Doctor and Sarah are, as always, a delight to watch, but a special shout-out needs to go to Tony Beckley, who played Harrison Chase. Wonderfully sinister, plant-obsessed, and dispassionate about anything else, including humans. Probably the worst effect was the final Krynoid form for which it seems they re-purposed the Axon costume from the 1971 story, “The Claws of Axos.” Back then, it worked fine in the context of that story. But here, it just looks a little silly, especially after the good transformation make-up we’d seen previously. And having the Krynoid talk, giving our heroes an ultimatum to give up the Doctor or die, was a bit of a stretch. I understand why they did it–they needed to give a reason why the Krynoid doesn’t attack and destroy them all immediately. But to suddenly have this silent menace announce its plans in booming clear English didn’t sit well with me.

The violence in this story is quite surprising for 1970s Doctor Who. There’s nothing graphic, but you have the Doctor hitting people, knocking them unconscious. Then there are the plant creatures strangling people to death. And, perhaps the most implicitly gruesome, is the “grinder”–the machine Chase uses to mince up all kinds of refuse to make plant food. He puts the Doctor in it at one point, but, of course, the Doctor escapes. Chase also tries to have Sarah ground, but the Doctor rescues her. One of the soldiers was not so fortunate, and neither was Chase himself in the end. We hear screams. We see the wheels turning. The Doctor looks away and shield’s Sarah’s face. But that’s enough to let our imaginations do the rest. The BBC received complaints, but in a way that was a compliment to how effective it was.

One quite major plot hole that bothered me concerned the fact that the Krynoid would cause all plants in the area to attack the non-plant life. Would that not include the grass, of which there are copious amounts, and over which people are constantly running? Could the Krynoid not have easily thwarted the plans of those attacking it by having the grass, the trees, the flowers, and all the other foliage rise up against them? Granted, that wouldn’t have helped in the end, since it was a bombing attack from the air that dealt the death-blow to the Krynoid. And given that was how the first Krynoid was killed, when the Antarctic base was blown up, you might have thought they’d have come up with that solution sooner.

The last issue I have is the ending. After all the death and destruction, it seems in bad taste to be joking about going on vacation, and acting as if innocent lives hadn’t just been brutally lost. But that’s not unusual for Classic Who. Children’s programming back then didn’t like to dwell on such things. The bad guys lost, and while brave souls gave their lives in the process, the good guys won, and so we celebrate and make merry.

All in all, “The Seeds of DoodeadoodeDoom” is a good serial, and worthy of your time. Not must-see, like some of the others this season, but definitely worth watching.

One last thing. In an inspired piece of casting, Hargreaves is played by Seymour Green. 🙂

Who Review: The Brain of Morbius

The Doctor and Sarah emerge from the TARDIS on the planet Karn, a planet the Doctor knows well because he was born nearby–relatively speaking. Much to his annoyance, the Doctor suspects the Time Lords have diverted him here to investigate something. Sarah finds the remains of wrecked ships, and a decapitated mutant creature. Then a thunderstorm forces them to take shelter in a nearby castle. There they are received by Dr. Mehendri Solon, master surgeon, and his assistant, Condo. Solon’s admiration of the Doctor’s head is of passing interest. The fact he has a bust of renegade Time Lord Morbius is more concerning. Morbius was executed by the Time Lords for his despicable crimes, and thought dead. But it seems his brain survived, and now Dr. Solon, a fully-fledged member of the Cult of Morbius,  is creating a new body for him, if only he can find a suitable head. And what more fitting head for a Time Lord brain than that of a fellow Time Lord? The Doctor, aided by the Sisterhood of Karn, must stop Solon before he uses the Doctor’s head to resurrect one of the most evil criminals the universe has known…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Robert Holmes does Frankenstein in another classic Classic Who story. Originally penned by former script editor Terrance Dicks, changes needed to be made due to budget constraints. However, Dicks was on holiday, so Holmes went ahead with his rewrites and polishes. When Dicks read the final script, it was so far removed from his original vision, he asked his name to be removed. In anger, he told Holmes to credit it to “some bland name.” Following BBC rules, Holmes couldn’t be listed as script editor and writer, so he took Dicks’s advice and used the authorial pseudonym “Robin Bland.”

All the elements of the Frankenstein movies are there: the musty old castle, the strangers taking shelter from a thunderstorm, the mad professor, his strong but simple assistant, and, of course, the monster, stitched together by the professor’s own hands. The twist here is that the monster needs a head, and good ones are hard to come by. So the monster lies dormant, while Morbius’s brain sits in a jar of green goo, waiting for its new body.

This story introduces us to the Sisterhood of Karn, a mystic sect of women who guard a sacred flame that gives them the elixir of life. This elixir gives the ladies longevity, a gift they accuse the Time Lords of trying to steal from them. When the Doctor turns up, they immediately accuse him of being sent by the Time Lords to take their elixir. It takes a good amount of the story for the Doctor to convince them that Time Lords only need the elixir in emergency situations, and he is actually there to help. Initially it seems the Sisterhood don’t really serve much story purpose, and are there simply for padding. However, they become embroiled in the plot as Solon tries to persuade them to leave the Doctor’s head for him after they execute him. Later, they help with the Doctor’s rescue, since they are just as opposed to Morbius’s return as the Time Lords. At the end of the story, with the Doctor perilously close to death, the Sisterhood give him the last of the elixir that he might live.

For Classic Who fans, it was a double delight when, in 2013, Steven Moffatt not only brought back the Eighth Doctor for a special mini episode, “The Night of the Doctor,” but he brought him back to Karn. There the Sisterhood again save his life by giving him elixir, this time prompting a regeneration into the “War Doctor.”

It seems redundant for me to say how good the performances are, because for the most part, the main cast of Doctor Who always do really well. But here in particular, we have the inimitable Philip Madoc as Solon, with all the charm and manic overtones his character demands. Of course the Doctor and Sarah (Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen) are wonderful to watch, playing off each other so well. I think Sladen was an underrated actress in her day. She plays Sarah Jane Smith with such conviction and humanity, reacting to even the most incredible situations so convincingly.

Condo is an interesting character. If Robert Holmes had kept Terrance Dicks’s original scripts, there would be no Condo. Condo seems like a brute, but he softens to Sarah, objecting to Solon’s demands that he kill her. He lacks an arm that Solon has promised to replace when he has finished with Morbius. When he sees that Solon used his arm for the Morbius monster, he turns on his master. These are lovely twists of character that add depth to the story.

Dicks’s biggest objection to Holmes’s changes was something about which, I must admit, he’s right. Namely, if Mehendri Solon is the greatest surgeon in the universe, why did he do such a bad job with the Morbius monster? While that’s an important point, it’s easy to come up with reasons why his Morbius body is such a mess (lack of decent parts, inadequate materials, unsatisfactory working environment, Solon’s addled mind, etc.). Perhaps another plot hole that’s glossed over is the fact that when the Doctor challenges Morbius to a Time Lord “mind bend,” Solon just happens to have the appropriate equipment set up and ready for them in his laboratory! What would Solon have used this for?

All-in-all, this is another must-see Classic Who story. There’s humor (Solon’s line regarding Morbius: it will be “my crowning achievement–sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.”), and great design ideas, like having the brain hooked up to a stretched vocal cord membrane, which is connected to an amplifier, thus enabling Morbius to speak from his jar. And then there’s the infamous mind bending contest, where we see regenerations prior to the First Doctor. Fans have found ways of reconciling that with the later revelation that Time Lords have only 13 lives, but at the time, the intention was that the faces flashing past were all the Doctor.

There is some rather graphic violence, when Solon shoots Condo, and we see blood spurt out. This is very unusual for Doctor Who in any era, even today, and the BBC received complaints at the time. It does reflect, however, the darker, edgier feel the production team were trying to bring to the show, expanding it beyond the domain of children to draw in older members of the family. I think they succeeded.

Buy the DVD. Watch it online. Whatever, no Whovian should miss this one!

Who Review: The Android Invasion

The TARDIS materializes on what appears to be Earth. The trees and vegetation suggest Sarah’s home planet, but something’s not quite right. Suddenly, a soldier strides past them and falls off a cliff. Horrified, the Doctor and Sarah go to check on him. At the bottom of the cliff, they find a large pod and people dressed in white shooting at them from their fingers. The Doctor and Sarah escape to a nearby village, but they are surprised to find it deserted. Even the pub is empty, though the cash register has money–newly minted coins, all from the same year. When the villagers finally arrive, it’s in the back of a truck escorted by the white-suited people from earlier. And one of the villagers is the soldier they saw fall to his death. It seems an alien force is replicating humans, but that’s just the start of their invasion plan. The Doctor and Sarah need to put an end to the whole scheme before every human being is wiped off the face of the planet.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Android Invasion” had a lot to live up to, following on the heels of as great a story as “Pyramids of Mars.” While not a complete disaster, it does ultimately fall short. The deserted village and android replicas all echo the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” so it is in-keeping with the production team’s desire to give the show a darker spin, and touch on familiar horror themes. The deserted village is certainly eerie, and the android humans are creepy, but the overall story isn’t well thought-out. The alien Kraals want to use the androids to spread a virus that will wipe out the human race, which seems very inefficient. To accomplish this, they have to create android humans, pack them all in pods, and distribute them to key locations around the world, hoping that nothing goes wrong with the pods, or the androids’ programming, along the way–assuming the pods make it to Earth and aren’t blown out of the sky by various military forces on Earth. Wouldn’t it have been better to send the virus in small capsules that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, releasing the deadly contagion into the air?

The story does have some good moments. The episode two cliff-hanger, when android Sarah falls over and her face falls off, was well done. Even though we knew it wasn’t the real Sarah, seeing that mask fall off was very unnerving. I must have watched this when it was first broadcast because that’s the one scene I remember most vividly. And, as usual, the acting is first rate, especially the leads. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen manage to convey a distinction between the Doctor and Sarah and their android doubles with looks, expressions, and other subtleties. They don’t need to put on robot voices, or walk strangely. You can tell which is which just by watching them.

This is the last Doctor Who serial to feature Benton and Harry Sullivan of U.N.I.T. The Brigadier was supposed to be in it too, but actor Nicholas Courtney was unavailable. The Brig will turn up again in 1988’s “Battlefield.”

There’s really not much more to say about “The Android Invasion,” aside from a couple of other points that bothered me. First, when the Doctor and Sarah “examine” the soldier who fell off the cliff, they check his pockets, but don’t notice that there’s no blood? Not even a scratch? And yet his head is resting upon rocks. Surely that would be the first thing to tip them off that he isn’t real? And when the Doctor and Sarah are hiding in the Kraal ship, it’s too convenient that there are pods available for them to hide in. Why didn’t they check the other pods? If they did, they would have seen Doctor and Sarah androids, among others. Finally, when the Doctor jams the Kraals’ signal, turning off all the androids, how does he operate the Doctor android independently of the others?

Unless you’re a completist (like me), don’t feel compelled to watch “The Android Invasion.” It’s okay, good enough, but it’s not particularly special. The effects are nothing to write home about, and the Kraal costumes are a bit underwhelming (they wear boots with laces?!). Perhaps the most compelling reason to watch this if you’re not a die-hard Whovian is the fact that Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are on fine form. But then, they usually are.

Who Review: Pyramids of Mars

The TARDIS is thrown off course and ends up in a stately home in 1911, among a collection of Egyptian artifacts. It seems the house is the Scarman family home, and there are some strange things going on there. A Dr. Warlock takes the Doctor and Sarah to a hunting lodge on the grounds where they meet Lawrence Scarman, scientist and brother to the archaeologist, Professor Marcus Scarman, who has recently returned from an expedition in Egypt. Lawrence shows the Doctor his marconiscope, from which he has received some odd signals. The Doctor identifies them as a message from Mars: “Beware Sutekh!” The Doctor explains that Sutekh was the last of an alien race called the Osirians who was chased across the galaxy and supposedly defeated on Earth by his brother, Horus. The Doctor, Sarah, and Lawrence go to the house to investigate, and there they witness a black masked, black robed so-called “servant of Sutekh” kill a man by gripping his shoulders and burning him. The man in black reveals himself to be Marcus Scarman. But he is no longer the man he was. Something happened to him in Egypt, and as a result, the entire created order is in danger from the might of Sutekh the Destroyer…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Despite what the credits say, this story was pretty much a complete Robert Holmes re-write of a script offered by Lewis Greifer. What we end up with is one of the great Who stories of all-time. This review will be positive. Sure, I could nit-pick at the mummy costumes, but they really aren’t all that bad. And, of course, the CSO is not as good as it would be today, but–of course it’s not! This show was broadcast in October and November of 1975. The effects are about as good as you’re going to get for the time.

In short, this is MUST-SEE Who. I could end the review with that, but I’ll give you some reasons why this is such a good serial.

First, Sarah enters the TARDIS Console Room wearing one of Victoria’s dresses. Victoria was a Second Doctor companion he picked up in the Victorian era, so the dress is sort-of appropriate for the story. This is a nice touch, an homage to Sixties Who we don’t often see in 70s Classic Who. The Doctor then vents his frustration about being tied to U.N.I.T., and not wanting to go back to London. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the U.N.I.T. era. We’ve already said goodbye to the Brig (at least until 1989), and we’ll see Harry and Benton for the last time in the next story. But here, it sounds like the Doctor is making a conscious decision to leave U.N.I.T. But he doesn’t really. He’ll never stop being their chief scientific adviser, and he’ll continue to use that position when it’s advantageous for him.

Another notable point is the Doctor’s reference to his respiratory bypass system, which allows him to use an alternate means of breathing, thus giving the appearance of death. I think this is the first time it’s mentioned.

The Doctor takes Sarah “back” to 1980 so he can show her what the world will look like if Sutekh is successful. I think a previous story also indicated that Sarah is from 1980, which sets this era of the show in the near future. We need to remember that when this story first aired, the idea that it would be available on video tape and DVD for people to re-watch was not even a consideration. As far as the production team was concerned, it would be aired, enjoyed, and mostly forgotten–especially little details like Sarah being from 1980. But now, we can compare Sarah Jane Smith’s 1980 with actual 1980 and see how far off they were. It’s not really fair to fault them, though I wonder why they felt the need to give a year. I don’t think it mattered to the story.

To stop Sutekh using Marcus Scarman to steal his TARDIS, the Doctor says the controls are isomorphic, so Scarman will need him to operate the TARDIS. I think this is also a first mention of a concept that comes up now and again. Whether or not the TARDIS controls are actually isomorphic, or whether they are only so when the Doctor remembers to configure them to be is up for debate. It’s certainly true that other people have used, and will use, the TARDIS aside from the Doctor (e.g., Romana, River Song).

One story error–Sarah remarks that the puzzle in the pyramid on Mars (the “childish strategem”) is like the puzzles on the planet of the Exxilons (see “Death to the Daleks” in Season 11). This observation is accurate, but not from Sarah since she never actually saw any of the puzzles on Exxilon.

What really sets this story above many others though, is the combination of the script, the acting, and the atmosphere. Up to this point, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and script editor Robert Holmes have been dabbling with “gothic horror.” Well, here they go full-bore. The echoes of the classic “Mummy” movies are resounding, and not just by the nature of the story (and the fact there are robot mummies). The lighting, the set designs, the mood combine to give this story a classic horror feel. If the whole story had been shot on film, that would have been the finishing touch. However, budgets wouldn’t extend to studio filming, so only the location shots are on film.

One of the best executed effects (at least IMO), is when Marcus Scarman is shot, and then the smoke from the shot seems to suck into him. This is done by playing the shot backwards and splicing the reversed section into the scene, but it’s so well acted and edited together, it looks seamless.

A couple of acting nods. First, the possessed Marcus Scarman is utterly chilling, and played with such conviction by Bernard Archard. Marcus’s brother, Lawrence, is played by Michael Sheard, who has been in the show a few times before. His performance is unusual in that he is visibly shaken by Marcus’s “death.” It’s not often in Classic Who that you get a sense of grief from characters at the traumatic events happening around them. It was, after all, still considered a children’s show, and too much time spent digging into feelings detracted from the action. But Lawrence’s face, voice, and actions show his heartbreak and devastation louder than any words on the page. Very well done.

As I said, “Pyramids of Mars” is, without doubt, must-see Who. There’s perhaps a little more violence than usual, with a man being crushed to death, another shot, and one man burned alive, but there isn’t any blood, and the camera shies from showing too much. Classic Who doesn’t get much better than this.

(And if that wasn’t enough, the DVD has one of the most entertaining extras, “Oh Mummy!” which tells the story of Sutekh post-“Pyramids of Mars.” Very funny.)

Links and Stuff

It’s official! We’ve closed on our house, so it’s now ours. At last I feel comfortable to share a couple of pictures. Here’s the front of the house:

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And here’s the side of the house, but you can just see the Spanish Inquisition around the corner… just kidding. This is the room that will be my study:

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See the square archway? That’s going to become solid wall, starting today. I’m not doing it, since my skill with a hammer is non-existent. You know those commercials that run around this time of year showing “The Perfect Gift for Dad”–and it’s a toolkit? Sorry, I’m not that Dad. So I’m getting help with the wall. (Not from Mexico.) And once the wall is up, I’m going to have big bookcases running almost the whole length of it. It’ll be wonderful. My desk will go against that wall you see on the left.  I’ll share “after” pictures when it’s all done. Of course, I’m going to paint the walls too. I got some color choices:

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I’ll probably go with the one that’s second from bottom on the left-hand strip. I forget the name of the color. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the wall is currently a beige-y color.

We’re hoping to be moved in a week from tomorrow, so we’re going to be busy for the next few days. As exciting as it is, we’ll be glad when it’s all over.

I just have a couple of links to share with you this week. The first is last month’s announcement that Dan Brown will be releasing a new novel next year. According to the announcement, the book will be called ORIGIN, and it explores “the dangerous intersection of humankind’s two most enduring questions, and the earth-shaking discovery that will answer them.” Since Dan Brown seems to have made it his life’s goal to annoy historians and Christians, one can only surmise that he’s delving into the area of Creation vs. Evolution. And if Brown’s super-sleuth cryptologist and conspiraciologst Robert Langdon’s track record is anything to go by, he’ll either be proving that “the Church” made up the Creation story to stir up animosity against snakes, or he’ll be proving scientists made up Evolution to make a monkey’s uncle out of us all. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to avoid this one, just as I’ve managed to avoid all his other novels.

Finally, this article in the New York Times announced that the latest edition of the New Oxford Shakespeare will, for the first time, credit playwright Christopher Marlowe as co-author of three Shakespeare plays, namely Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3. Shakespearean scholars and enthusiasts have debated the attribution of Shakespeare’s plays for centuries. The majority opinion still seems to be that William Shakespeare wrote all the plays he is traditionally thought to have written. However, it seems the naysayers are making inroads, which is why this edition of Shakespeare’s work is significant. It represents the first time a scholarly edition of Shakespeare has acknowledged doubt over the authorship of any of his plays. Of course, this is just one edition of Shakespeare, and doesn’t represent the views of all scholars. But it is a feather in Marlowe’s cap, to say the least. (By the way, Christopher Marlowe is an Elizabethan private detective in Phillip DePoy’s novel, A PRISONER IN MALTA–check it out!)

Have you any exciting news to share this week?

Who Review: Planet of Evil

The Doctor and Sarah leave Harry behind in Scotland to travel back to London by TARDIS. En route they pick up a distress signal to which the Doctor responds, landing the TARDIS on Zeta Minor, a remote jungle planet in the far reaches of the universe. It appears that a geological research expedition has fallen prey to a mysterious killer, and only the expedition leader, Dr. Sorenson, is left alive. A military ship comes to rescue Dr. Sorenson, and capture the Doctor and Sarah, suspecting them of the murders. But the creature that attacked the expedition is now turning upon the crew of the ship. Someone, or something, is not only on the warpath, but is preventing them from leaving. The Doctor and Sarah have seen the attacker, a hazy red entity composed entirely of anti-matter. The Doctor suspects its attacks have something to do with the minerals Sorenson has extracted from the planet. He needs to convince the crew of his and Sarah’s innocence, and get them to return the minerals before they are all destroyed…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The Doctor and Sarah continue their adventures without Harry. While not technically part of the story arc from “Robot” to “Terror of the Zygons,” this story takes place as they are making their way back to London from Scotland. I love the Doctor’s reaction when he hears the distress signal–he’s evidently excited at the prospect of adventure and danger.

I’ve lost count how often the Doctor and his companion(s) turn up on a planet and are immediately accused of causing whatever problem they encounter. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this could happen, especially if they are caught examining a dead body, or in some other compromising situation. However, the Doctor is usually able to convince people of his innocence fairly quickly. In this story, Salamar, the commander of the rescue ship, remains unconvinced for most of the story, which is unusual.

This is a good serial, though not entirely original, since it plays on the “planet fights back” theme we’ve seen before (“Inferno” and “The Green Death” for example). Important minerals are extracted, and the planet, in the form of an anti-matter monster, won’t let the explorers leave until they return the minerals. In episode two, the story takes a Jekyll and Hyde turn as Sorenson is taken over by the anti-matter monster and has to drink a potion to control the transformation. Perhaps a hint at the “gothic horror” direction the show’s producer and script editor planned to take Doctor Who?

The effects are reasonably impressive for the time. They use a red superimposed outline to indicate the anti-matter monster, and red reflective patches on Sorenson’s eyelids to show when the monster is controlling him. I’m not exactly sure, however, how an anti-matter monster is able to control someone who is matter. Wouldn’t there be some kind of explosive reaction? And why does anti-matter make Sorenson behave like a Primoid from “Inferno”? Maybe these questions were answered somewhere and I missed it.

It’s notable that the Doctor uses physical violence when he punches Salamar and knocks him out cold. That might be the first and last time we see the Doctor land a punch on someone. Even the Third Doctor’s hand-to-hand combat was restricted to Venusian aikido, which consisted largely of chops and finger pressure applied to certain parts of the body. Certainly no fisticuffs!

The most impressive part of this adventure, however, has to be the forest scenery. The trees, the vines, the plants are all superbly rendered using who-knows-what. The effect is even more stunning when shown on film as opposed to videotape. I think this is one of the best Doctor Who sets in the programs’ history. If they recreated it today, it couldn’t look much better.

In summary, “Planet of Evil” is another good story, with a dark atmosphere and a challenging monster. Indeed, it’s hard to dismiss any of the stories from this era since so many of them are good. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith work so well together, you can’t not enjoy watching them. Add to that the amazing scenery, and I think you have reason enough to check it out.

Links and Stuff

Here we are, halfway through October, and temperatures in my part of the world (Eastern North Carolina) have been in the 80s (F) all week. What kind of insanity is this? It’s the kind of insanity that delays the onset of pretty Autumn colors, but it’s also the kind of insanity that means we don’t need to run the heating yet. The weekend’s supposed to cool down (60s–woo hoo!), so perhaps Fall-for-Real is just around the corner…

We visited the new house on Wednesday to show my in-laws almost-our house (we close on Tuesday, Lord willing). While there, we saw men doing work, which is good because it means the seller is making good on their promise to attend to the things we asked them to do. That should all be done by the end of the day today (Friday). All being well, in less than a week, we’ll be homeowners! And then the painting and moving begins…

Let’s get to this week’s links. The first is a Seattle Times article about the newly-created Stephen King Chair in Literature at the University of Maine. Yes, that’s Stephen King the horror/suspense writer. King is an alumnus of the University of Maine, and I guess they felt that, after a 45 year career writing countless books, their “most celebrated graduate” has proved himself worthy of honor. The English Department is currently receiving applications for the Chair. My only question is, where do they plug it in…? 🙂

Next up, Deadline Hollywood reports that David Heyman, producer of the Harry Potter film series, is working with Warner Bros on a “reboot” of the classic movie, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” based on the Roald Dahl story, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The first movie adaptation of the book was in 1971, starring Gene Wilder. It was remade in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the leading role. Many believe the original 1971 movie was the quintessential adaptation of the story, which leads to the question: why? Why make the movie again? Is Hollywood that strapped for original story ideas, they have to keep regurgitating classic movies, and adapting novels? Just read the book and save yourself the ticket money.

Finally, if you follow publishing you are probably aware that there are five major publishers in the United States, and between them they own just about every traditional publishing house. But how does one keep up with who belongs to whom? Thanks to almossawsi.com, we have this infographic of the Big Five US Trade Book Publishers that shows who is connected to which publishing house. It’s eye-opening to see, first, how many trade publishers there are, and second, how much traditional publishing in the US is controlled by so few companies.

That’s it for this week. I didn’t say anything about the third and final Presidential Debate, largely because there’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Besides, most people by now have decided who they’re voting for. The only thing that remains, my fellow Americans, is to get out there and VOTE on November 8th! 🙂