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Friday, October 31, 2014

She-Hulk's Favorite Superhero

Even superheroes like to have fun. In a recent episode of "Hulk and the Agents of SMASH," the hulks go trick-or-treating. Skaar may not realize that pirates only wear one eyepatch, but at least he's trying. (Hey, in the TV series, he's from another dimension, so give him a break!) Still, he does pretty well with two eyepatches, so maybe he has super-vision in addition to his super-strength. 

You may have noticed that Spider-Man, standing behind Skaar, looks rather well-endowed in the chest area. There's a reason for that.

It's She-Hulk! And Spider-Man, as she proudly tells her comrades Hulk, Red Hulk, and A-Bomb, is her favorite superhero. Think about that. Spider-Man's just a scrawny High School geek. She and the Hulks are already pretty special. Spider-Man is her favorite superhero, really?

Cool. Good choice, Shulkie.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doctor Who & Yes Minister on the Brothers Grimm & Consonantal Shift

"Yes Minister" (and its sequel, "Yes, Prime Minister")
have proven enormously popular.
The TV series was broadcast between 1980-8,
and adapted for radio, the stage, and into books.
A new series of "Yes, Prime Minister,"
starring actors from the stage play,
was broadcast last year in Britain.

Part 5 in a series on the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay" by Terrance Dicks

According to Terrance Dicks, new Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead was fascinated by the similarity of names between the original ship's officers of the Earth spaceship Hydrax, and those of the current Lords of the Tower, or The Three Who Rule. This proved one of many points of contention between the two men as they sought to prepare "State Of Decay" for filming. Bidmead argued that he wanted two pages of dialogue explaining Grimm's Law, and the the Law of Consonant Shift. Terrance Dicks, who had written many Doctor Who scripts, shepherded scripts through the production process under producer Barry Letts in previous years, and novelized many of the Doctor's adventures, had a simple comeback: "No Chris. It's not interesting. It's boring."

Made curious by this particular argument, I looked up the Brothers Grimm and the Law of Consonant Shift. The Grimm brothers worked on a project called Deutsches Worterbuch, which Wikipedia proclaims is the largest and most comprehensive dictionary of the German language in existence. They did not finish it during their lives, but such was the depth and value of their contributions that successive scholars completed their work. (In this way, it became to Germany what Samuel Johnson's dictionary was to England). As best I understand it, part of the Grimm brothers' work involved tracking how German had evolved over time, and in all the various countries and regions in which the language was spoken. Aside from regional differences, the language was further broken into Low and High German, the latter of which evolved into the modern German language. As to the High German Consonant Shift, the work of the Grimm Brothers apparently demonstrates how Old High German changed over time, and makes a nice contrast with Old English, which didn't*.

Have I lost you yet? Don't worry. If I haven't, I soon will. The Wikipedia article on High German Consonant Shift discusses how voiceless plosives turned into fricatives, the same sounds became affricates, and the three voiced plosives became voiceless. If any of that makes your head spin, you're not alone. It reminds me of discussions that periodically take place between Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley, two head civil servants, in the British comedy series "Yes Minister" and its sequel "Yes, Prime Minister." The two civil servants were trained in classics at Oxford, while the politician they serve, Jim Hacker, attended the London School of Economics. So occasionally, Bernard or Sir Humphrey will divert from discussing a practical solution to a problem to discussing the language in which the contentious issue is stated. The two civil servants soon find themselves fascinated by how words and phrases were translated from Greek or Latin into English (and comparing the merits of each language), while Hacker looks on with a glazed look in his eyes. When the two men compliment each other on their erudite conclusions, Hacker asks them what they've just decided, and how it relates to the problem at hand. Sometimes they can remember the issue they were discussing before they got carried away with their interesting diversion, sometimes not. But the viewer is left in little doubt that the two civil servants have just demonstrated the writers' contention that the civil service is more concerned with the minutia of bureaucracy, whereas politicians are the ones concerned with reaching practical conclusions to contemporary problems in English society.

So who was right in this instance, Christopher H Bidmead or Terrance Dicks? What do you think? Might a thorough discussion of how languages evolve have enhanced viewers' appreciation for "State Of Decay"? Personally, I suspect it depends upon how the discussion was framed. While I like the short discussion between the Doctor and Romana, I'm guessing that a more in-depth dialogue on how languages change over time wouldn't have driven the story forward. Most likely, it would have caused viewers to scratch their heads like the right honorable Jim Hacker, rather than provoking elation as it does in Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Wooley. Still, I agree with Bidmead: it's a fascinating topic, and would never call it boring. Difficult to follow: certainly. Sleep inducing: probably. But definitely not boring.

But then, I majored in Business Administration in college.

Dragon Dave

*My father-in-law really should have written this article, as he grew up speaking and writing German as his first language. As for me, I took Spanish as a foreign language, and know enough words to appear a complete idiot, should I ever try to use them in public. Estoy no muy bueno con espanol. Comprende amigos?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Doctor Who on The Brothers Grimm & Consonantal Shift

An old monitoring station at the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Space and Missile Museum

Part 4 of a series on the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay" by Terrance Dicks

After meeting the residents of the Village, who insist that the nature of their suppressed society has remained unchanged for a thousand years, the Doctor and Romana are captured by rebels, who escort them to the nearby dump. They find amid the rubbish a variety of old technological components, some of which the rebels have salvaged and gotten working again. As they lack instruction manuals for their use, the rebels have devoted their lives to learning how the computers function. In a culture in which education and reading is forbidden, the rebels pursue a monk-like existence, closeted away in their cave beneath the dump.

The rebels quickly realize that the Doctor and Romana can advance their studies, and indeed, after inspecting the equipment, the Doctor and Romana conclude that the discarded computer systems are from an Earth spaceship named the Hydrax. With a little fine tuning of the controls, Romana retrieves the old ship's manifest.

Ship's Officers. Captain: Miles Sharkey. Navigation Officer: Lauren Macmillan. Science Officer: Anthony O'Connor. The captions were accompanied by a head-and-shoulders identification portrait--a man, a woman, and another man, all in standard space uniform. The pictures, like the lettering, were blurred.

"The read-out's still quite legible," said the Doctor. Not bad after a thousand years!"

Tarak was staring at the screen in horror. "Those faces. They look--familiar!"

"They must all be long-since dead, I'm afraid," said the Doctor. "Some family resemblance perhaps?"

"I was a Tower Guard once, Doctor. I saw them every day." Tarak peered at the blurred pictures and shook his head. "But it can't be."

"Who did you see every day?"

Instinctively, Tarak made the Sign of Protection. "The Three Who Rule."

After leaving the rebels with assurances of future help, the Doctor and Romana head to the Tower, where they meet two of the rulers: Lord Zargo and Lady Camilla. (They will meet the third member, Aukon, the High Counselor, all too soon). Then Zargo and Camilla leave the Doctor and Romana alone in the Tower's audience chamber for awhile.

The Doctor brooded for a moment. "Ever heard of the Brothers Grimm?"

"This is no time for fairy stories, Doctor." 

"They didn't just write fairy stories, they discovered the Law of Consonantal Shift, the way language changes down the centuries."

Romana wasn't to be outdone on points of scholarship. "Oh yes, I remember, b's into v's, that kind of thing?'

"Exactly. And over a thousand years, Macmillan could become...?" The Doctor paused encouragingly.

"Of course! Camilla!"

"And O'Connor...?"


"That's right. And Sharkey, of course, turns into Zargo."

--From the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks

The similarity in names and appearances suggests to the Doctor and Romana that the current rulers are direct descendants of the Hydrax's officers. Of course, there is another possibility, but for the moment, it's enough that they have discovered where the inhabitants of this planet came from, as well as why there is only one Village on the entire planet.

Now take some time to read one of the Grimm brothers' classic fairy tales*, and then come back for "Doctor Who & Yes Minister on the Brothers Grimm & Consonantal Shift"**, which I guarantee you'll find either sublimely interesting, or tediously and mind-dullingly boring.***

Dragon Dave

*With apologies to the Doctor's companion Romana, there's always time for a classic fairy tale. Am I right, or am I right?
**Possibly the longest title for a post in the entire history of the blogosphere.
***Preferably the former. But then, given the circumlocutory nature of my loquacious writing style, who can say?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Day Devoted to Comic Books

Yesterday, I had a day devoted to comic books. See, I've been reading a series lately, "Skaar Son of Hulk," and I needed a particular issue. I knew a store that had it, but it was a good drive away. My wife and I had originally planned other things, but she's seen I've been enjoying it, so she suggested that we drive to the store and buy it. So now I'm the proud owner of Skaar #8, and look forward to reading the entire four-issue story arc involving Skaar and the Silver Surfer on the wonderful world of Sakaar (the planet in which the mammoth "Planet Hulk" is set).

While there, the gentleman behind the counter noticed that I had picked up a couple older issues, and mentioned that they had a greater collection at another store. He said that it was located just a few blocks away. I had no idea that this company had another store, and so I thanked him, and we drove over there. You know how the guys in "The Big Bang Theory" are always perusing the $1 comic books whenever they visit a comic book shop? Well, this shop had lots of older $1 comics, and as I had brought my list with me (I keep a list of all the comics I have and need in all the series I collect), my wife and I had fun perusing the boxes. We were delighted to find several comics that finished off series we had been collecting, such as "The Micronauts," "Outcasts," and "Vision and the Scarlet Witch," as well as some other titles we wanted or were curious about. All in all, a fun day was had, and now we look forward to the many fun evenings of reading that lay ahead.

While we did our searching, I overheard a lady behind the counter talking with another customer. They were talking about several TV series they both enjoyed, and their mutual passion was obvious as they enthused about the various story arcs and characters--the things that worked for them, as well as those that didn't. While I haven't seen the shows they were discussing, it was nice to hear their passion and affection for these programs. It inspired me to carry on with my own writing, in the hopes that someday some readers might feel the same way about my work. I suppose, in a way, that's the reason I'm collecting comics now. Some of these issues I may never get around to reading (although I hope to), but they intrigue me. Some I collect because I like the overall series, or the characters involved, even if the individual issues or some of the story arcs aren't everything I wish they were. And then there are some series that really sneak up on you and surprise you, such as  "Skaar Son of Hulk." It's complicated, it's visual, and it challenges me. Yes, really: a comic book that challenges me. There's a lot there that I'm sure I'm not getting, but I look forward to rereading Greg Pak's stories, and know I'll probably get more out of them then than I'm getting on my first read-through. (The artwork is also impressive). 

Anyway, I had a great day, in which my passion for one story led me to others, and I got to hear some folks enthusing about the stories that got inside them, and became part of their lives. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 24, 2014

An Excursion to Salt Pond Beach

Pocket: Did you hear where we're going today?
Denim: Master & Mistress said something about Salt Pond Beach.
Pocket: I hope this weather clears up then. 

Denim: According to my information sources, it's not supposed to rain so much on the southern and western sides of Kauai.
Pocket: You want to tell the weather gods that, or should I?
Denim: There's no need to be sarcastic. 
Pocket: I just wish I could EXTERMINATE this rain! The fierce downpour has already forced Mistress off the road. She'll probably just turn around now and head back.
Denim: Have faith in the Mistress, and in my information sources. Optimism may not banish the clouds, but it will help you accept what you cannot change.

Denim: Hooray! The weather cleared up, and we made it to Salt Pond Beach, on the westernmost coast of the United States!
Pocket: Thanks for helping me adopt a more optimistic viewpoint so I could EXTERMINATE my blues. 
Denim: No problem. Even Daleks have moods.

Pocket: I suggest we reduce the reception on our visual sensors. 
Denim: An astute suggestion, sir. With the clouds clearing, the colors might overload our systems.

Denim: Master's sketching, the Mistress is taking photographs and collecting shells, and the locals use this beach to make natural sea salt. What shall we do?
Pocket: Let's just sit here awhile. There's so much to see.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

John Nathan-Turner And The Sociopathetic Abscess

The "With-drawing" room in Tamworth Castle,
designed as a grand public room for the noble family and visitors

Part 3 in a series on the Doctor Who story "State of Decay" by Terrance Dicks

Romana and the Doctor looked around. They were in a huge circular chamber, walls decorated with rich and somber hangings. On a raised dais at the far end were twin thrones, side by side. The whole place had an atmosphere of gloomy splendor, and was obviously some kind of formal state room. There was a man and a woman, tall and thin, with white faces and glittering black eyes, both gorgeously robed. The man said, "Greetings." His voice was cold, with a hissing quality. "I am the Lord Zargo. This is the Lady Camilla."

--from the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks

In his attempt to prepare "State Of Decay" for production, John Nathan-Turner's (JNT) new Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead had gone to war with writer Terrance Dicks. After ceding a draw, Bidmead had taken it upon himself to comprehensively rewrite Dicks' script. While the new version might reflect JNT's ideas for updating Doctor Who to meet contemporary tastes, it also caused director Peter Moffatt to tender his resignation. 

This placed John Nathan-Turner in the worst position possible. Should he alienate a former Script Editor and long-term writer for the series, who had novelized many of the Doctor's previous adventures, a writer so beloved by Doctor Who fans? Remember: older Doctor Who stories weren't repeated very often in Britain. Nor had the home video revolution yet occurred, which would make it possible to purchase and replay any story that BBC Enterprises had released on VHS videotape. The only way fans could discover and relive those old stories was to purchase the Doctor Who novelizations, many of which were written by the prolific Terrance Dicks. 

But then, Terrance Dicks didn't work for John Nathan-Turner, and wasn't responsible for commissioning, shaping, and shepherding scripts through the preproduction process. That duty fell to new Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead, who shared JNT's ideas, and worked hard to incorporate them into commissioned scripts. Peter Moffatt might have been JNT's friend (or at least a director he admired), but like writers, directors only worked on individual stories. They came and went, as their schedules and interests dictated. Should he allow Peter Moffatt to walk away from Doctor Who, after watching him masterfully direct episodes of All Creatures Great and Small? Regardless of what he decided, JNT risked disappointing and alienating people who could prove tremendously valuable to him in the future. And then there was the fact that it was his first time producing any show, let alone one as popular and long-running as Doctor Who. Whatever decision he made, the BBC hierarchy would be watching.

"What is--is," said Lady Camilla, as if that explained everything. 

"Ah yes," said the Doctor argumentatively. "But what is--is wrong. Look, societies develop in varying ways, but they all develop. Yours seems to be sliding back into some sort of primitivism. Don't you agree, Romana?"

"Oh yes. A society that evolves backwards must be subject to some exceptionally powerful force."

"The rebels seem to think that force emanates from this Tower. From you."

"They flatter us," said Lady Camilla."

"After all," said Lord Zargo smoothly, "in any society there is bound to be a division between the rulers and the ruled."

"A division!" The Doctor was indignant. "More of a yawning chasm, I'd say, wouldn't you, Romana?"

"I'd say a sociopathetic abscess, to be precise."

"A very good diagnosis, couldn't have put it better myself. Yes, a sociopathetic abscess. I've never seen such a state of decay."

As in our own lives, TV shows run to a schedule, and it's just as important to complete a project on time as it is do it as best as you possibly can. As John Nathan-Turner was Lord of the Doctor Who castle, so the responsibility for the entire production was his. This was a test of his ability to be a producer: his time to demonstrate his worthiness for the huge responsibility with which he had been entrusted. So he walked into Christopher H Bidmead's office, and when he walked out, he handed Peter Moffatt a version of the script that better represented the story Moffatt had fallen in love with, that fired the director's imagination, and made him yearn to deliver the best TV show possible. Then he no doubt returned to his office, shut the door, and attempted to not think about the possible repercussions of making such a draconian decision.

I may not agree with all of the decisions John Nathan-Turner made during his tenure as producer of Doctor Who, but I respect the fact that he made decisions to reflect the evolving nature of British society in the 1980s. Just like JNT, we all have to make hard decisions, and they're hard because we know that those around us may disagree with them. Those decisions risk negatively impacting those we care about and rely upon. Yet, we must make those hard decisions, or watch our lives, work, and relationships evolve backwards, or to decay. 

And let's face it: no one wants an abscess. Of any kind. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 20, 2014

John Nathan-Turner Encounters A State Of Decay

The Antechamber, or Pantry, in Tamworth Castle

This post is Part 2 of a series on the Doctor Who story "State of Decay" by Terrance Dicks.

Adric followed much the same route as the Doctor and Romana when he left the TARDIS, taking the track that led along the edge of the forest, past the ploughed land and into the Village. It was, he thought, as unattractive-looking a place as he had ever seen. He saw the open door of a large building at the end of the street, walked up to it, and slipped cautiously inside. 

At first, the big room seemed deserted, but the smell of food led his eyes to a kitchen area in the far corner, where he saw a homely old woman slicing vegetables into a cooking pot. Adric suddenly realized he was very hungry, and began sidling mouse-like along the edge of the room. He reached the kitchen area undetected and was just reaching out for a particularly tasty crust of bread when some instinct made the woman turn around. She grabbed Adric's wrist with a work-toughened hand and dragged him forward. "Got you!"

--from the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks

Taking over the top job as Producer of a popular BBC TV series like Doctor Who was never going to be easy. Having never worked as a producer before, John Nathan-Turner (JNT) knew many in the BBC hierarchy doubted that he was up to the task. After all, the current (fourth) Doctor, played by Tom Baker, had connected with the public as never before, and become a national hero. So, in a highly unusual move, the BBC hierarchy commissioned Barry Letts, who served as Producer for all five years of the Third Doctor era, to oversee the show as Executive Producer. Although a normal role in America, BBC TV shows in that era did not usually employ Executive Producers. So JNT knew he had much to prove during his first year at the helm of the long-running series

Thankfully for him, John Nathan-Turner had laid the groundwork for his new role earlier in his career. While working as Production Unit Manager for the TV shows Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small, he had a chance to observe and work with many talented people. One of those was director Peter Moffatt. One day, on the set of All Creatures, he had approached Moffatt, explained his career hopes, and asked if the director might work for him if he became a producer. He felt insecure in doing so, as he was younger than Moffatt, and had worked under him up to this point. Moffatt graciously replied, "Don't be silly, young man. Of course I would work for you." After JNT became producer for Doctor Who, he remembered Moffatt, and sent him the preliminary notes for "State of Decay," which Terrance Dicks was then in the process of writing. Moffatt, directing a play in South Africa, loved the story, and readily agreed to direct it.

Unbeknownst to Peter Moffatt, or apparently even John Nathan-Turner, Terrance Dicks had refused to make the sweeping changes Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead demanded. So Bidmead had rewritten the script to suit his interests (as well as those, he believed, of JNT). When Peter Moffatt returned to England, and arrived in the Doctor Who offices to begin preproduction work on "State Of Decay," he was handed a much different script than he had anticipated. Tearing through the pages, he grew increasingly frustrated, until he finally walked into John Nathan-Turner's office and asked him to find another director. 

Surprised, Nathan-Turner sat Moffatt down and asked him to tell him why he wished to leave the production. As the two men talked, Moffatt explained that the script did not represent a fleshed-out version of the treatment he had been sent. Gone were all the Gothic aspects of the story. Instead of the medieval village and castle, the story was set in a future. A focus on blood and vampires had been replaced with (what to him seemed like) techno-babble. All this confused Moffatt, and in no way represented the ideas that had fired his imagination when he read the initial proposed story. This being the case, he could not commit his time, effort, and enthusiasm to directing this story. So John Nathan-Turner found himself little further along than when he had begun his tenure as producer. He had commissioned two stories, but production of this second one, "State Of Decay," seemed on the verge of falling apart. What's more, he had disappointed Peter Moffatt, a director he greatly respected and admired, by delivering a script significantly different than the one he promised. 

Sometimes, we don't realize that a state of decay has entered our lives, or our workplaces, until we are caught in that "Got you" moment, just as the Doctor's young companion is caught when he tries to take something he has not earned. At such times, it suddenly grows apparent to us that this decay, hitherto invisible to us, has wreaked untold damage in our lives. Still, it's up to us to figure out how to eradicate the decay, rebuild relationships, and repair what has been damaged, if we wish to progress and accomplish our goals. Otherwise, we risk further decay, with our lives, careers, and relationships eroding, as has hindered the health and social development of the Village in Terrance Dicks' Doctor Who story "State Of Decay."

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 17, 2014

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Pocket: Where are we going today?
Denim: Master & Mistress mentioned something about trying Waimea Canyon again.
Pocket: What? After last time?
Denim: I know, sir. But the weather's supposed to be better today.

Pocket: It is as I feared. Look at those dark clouds! And after all the time it took us to get up here!

Pocket: Say, a break in the clouds. Maybe today won't be as bad as I feared.

Denim: Ooh, look sir! A waterfall!

Down in the valley, 
The Waimea Valley so vibrant and green, 
I lost my dear sweetheart,
Her Dalekanium housing had such a lovely sheen.

Pocket: Poetry alert! Poetry alert!! POETRY ALERT!!!
Oh, let him have his moment.

Denim: So sir, were Master & Mistress right to attempt a second assault on Waimea Canyon?
Pocket: According to my analysis of the situation, the odds favored a day at the beach. Still, you can't argue with a triumph.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Invasion of Poipu Burgers

Denim: What? Twenty-Five Miles Per Hour? It's Lunch Time! Order Mistress to put her foot down!
Pocket: I'd better not. Poipu is a notorious speed trap, and the Police track vehicles by lasers.
Denim: You mean by radar?
Pocket: No, the sign said by lasers.
Denim: The Police on Kauai sure are high-tech. I'd applaud such inventiveness if it wasn't delaying our lunch!

Denim: Say, this place looks promising.
Pocket: Yeah, we might even find authentic Hawaiian cuisine here.

Denim: Mistress' Teriyaki Chicken Burger looks good.

Pocket: I'm sure Master will enjoy his Kalua Pork Burger. Since I've removed the raw onions, it's even safe for him to eat it.
Denim: You know, we should dip into our savings, and surprise Master & Mistress with a special dessert.
Pocket: Yeah, we should be completely selfless in our generosity.

Denim: Well, there it is: the Kilohana Crater. I suppose we had better taste it, to make sure it is worthy of their sophisticated palate.
Pocket: You know, I thought Master explained us well to the waitress.
Denim: Except for the fact that she kept calling us Darleks.
Pocket: And she said we looked like mice! Can you believe it?
Denim: Sir, can we discuss this later? The ice cream's melting!
Pocket: All right, I'll grab the spoons.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Monday, October 13, 2014

Terrance Dicks & Christopher H Bidmead Clash Over Vampires

A forbidding castle
Guards the village of Tamworth,
In the English Midlands.

This post is Part 1 of a series on Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks.

Looming above the Village was the dark Tower. Its pointed turrets reared up against the night sky, dominating the landscape as they had done for a thousand years. The simple village dwellings huddled around its base. Beyond the Village was a scattering of ploughed fields, bordered on one side by dense forests, on the other by swamp.

So begins Doctor Who and the State of Decay, a novel by Terrance Dicks. Soon the TARDIS will materialize in the forests, and the fourth Doctor and his companions will investigate the only inhabited area of this planet. There they find threadbare peasants horrified by the idea of visitors. These people, worn and weary, eek out a miserable existence, giving the fruits of their labors to the Lords in the Tower. Each harvest seems worse than the last, and the Lords leave them with fewer scraps on which to survive. And then there are the Selections, when the Guards take away the strongest and most vital inhabitants. A few of those selected become Guards. The rest are never seen again.

But then, the lot of the Guards is little better than that of the peasants. 

One of them was Habris, Captain of the Guard. Lean and grim-faced like his fellows, he marched along the gloomy corridors of the Tower, with reluctant haste. The haste was because he was on the business of the Lords, and dared not delay. The reluctance was because, as always, to enter the presence of his rulers made Habris sweat with fear.

He's not sure why this should be, as he stands high in their favor. But there is something cold and distant in them, something lacking. Something not quite human.

Terrance Dicks initially proposed Doctor Who and the State of Decay for the fourth Doctor and his beautiful but uncivilized companion Leela. Then the BBC commissioned a big budget production of Dracula, and forbid Doctor Who to film a story about vampires. So all work on the project ceased, and the story seemed destined to be forgotten. Then, a few years later, a new producer named John Nathan-Turner took over the show. He had great plans for improving the series, ideas he had carefully considered during his years of working in lesser roles on the series. Most of his predecessors had inherited several stories commissioned by the previous producer that were ready to be put into production. After taking the reins of the show, he discovered that he had little to begin his tenure with. More importantly, as a first-time producer, many in the BBC hierarchy wondered if he was up to the task. In taking over such a long-running TV show, with seventeen previous seasons at this point, Nathan-Turner knew he couldn't afford to fail. He and his Script Editor, Christopher H Bidmead, would have to scramble to commission scripts that they could shape to incorporate their ideas to help steer the series in their desired direction.

The young producer went through Doctor Who archives. During his research, he came across a file that writer Terrance Dicks has suggested might have been labeled "Stories We Didn't Film For One Reason Or Another." Amid this treasure trove of possible stories, he found the notes from Dicks' ideas about vampires in Outer Space, and fell in love with them. Having served as Script Editor during the third Doctor era, and with his solid track record of delivering easily-filmable scripts on time (sometimes even in a rush), Terrance Dicks seemed like a safe bet to deliver a script on time that needed little input from or reshaping by Christopher H Bidmead to incorporate into their upcoming schedule. So John Nathan-Turner commissioned Dicks to write the story for the fourth Doctor and his current companions: the beautiful and sophisticated Time Lady Romana, the young boy Adric, and his robot dog K-9. Certain he knew the perfect person to direct it, he sent the story treatment to Peter Moffatt, with whom he had worked on All Creatures Great and Small. Moffatt likewise fell in love with the story, and agreed to direct it. Content with the good start he had made, Nathan-Turner left the task of developing the story for production to Bidmead, and went on to other tasks. 

Unfortunately, Christopher H Bidmead did not share the producer and director's enthusiasm for the story. He wrestled with Terrance Dicks over the ideas in the story, trying to bring it more into line with his more Hard-Science vision of the series. They argued over the title.  Bidmead wanted to call it "The Wasting," and dismissed Dicks' initial title "The Vampire Mutation." Dicks hated "The Wasting," believing that critics and viewers might belittle it as "A waste of their time." They argued over the structure. In order to make one scene work to Bidmead's satisfaction, the Script Editor suggested a change that would have necessitated numerous changes to other scenes. Dicks refused to rewrite all four episodes to "fix" whatever problems Bidmead perceived in that single scene. It was Bidmead's job to shape scripts to steer the production in the direction that his John Nathan-Turner wished to take the series. In his opinion, Terrance Dicks refused to adapt his storytelling approach accordingly. The two men clashed violently and often, and with each argument, each man's opinion of the other fell.

Imagine how the poor, overworked Doctor Who staff members must have crept past Bidmead's office when these two men met. Picture the storm clouds that gathered around the BBC tower as these men fought and raged. Fear for those who, with reluctant haste, had to interrupt either writer during these titanic story sessions. For some storytellers are mere humans, while others are Lords of Story.

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 10, 2014

Assault on Waimea Canyon

Denim: Where are we going?
Pocket: Master & Mistress spoke about heading for the hills.
Denim: Ooh, I bet we're heading up into Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain supposedly called it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific!

Denim: They say you just have to be patient, but we've been here forever, and the fog refuses to clear.

Pocket: Great, I'm getting raindrops on my visual sensors! I'm heading back to the car!
Denim: Sir, come back, please! I'm sure it's just a quick shower!

Denim: This looks like a nice park. I'll steer Master & Mistress toward the covered eating area. That earlier shower might signify rain.

Denim: I'm glad we could stretch these bread slices back into shape.* Master & Mistress love their Peanut Butter sandwiches with Pineapple Papaya jam.

Denim: The rooster's coming inside. I wonder if he senses something.

Denim: Oh no, now it's starting to rain. I guess Pocket was right to stay in the car. Still, I was hoping we could go on a hike.

Denim: I want Kauai to stay so lush and green, but why did it have to rain during our assault on Waimea Canyon?

Pocket & Denim Dalek

*See Hulk Smash Bread

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Perfect Hawaiian Breakfast

Denim: Thanks for inviting me to come see the sunrise.
Pocket: I'm glad you enjoyed it, but we'd better head back to the room. We need to get breakfast started.

Denim: You know, the ancient Polynesians speared fish, and Hawaiians still catch them and eat them. Do you think Master & Mistress would like fish for breakfast?
Pocket: If you want to catch one and clean it, I'll fry it up.
Denim: Sure, let me just grab a stick, and I'll pop one out of the water. Then I'll give it a good scrub down with soap and water.
Pocket: No, by cleaning the fish, I mean prepare it for cooking. You'll want to cut it in half, scoop out the guts, pick out all the bones, and--
Denim: Uh, now that I think of it, we've got eggs for an omelet.

Denim: Say, weren't the ancient Polynesians related to the French?
Pocket: Don't even make the suggestion!

Denim: According to Master's book of Hawaiian Myth and Legend, the ancient Polynesians used to cut giant papayas in half. Then they'd scoop out the middle, use the seeds for ammunition in their blowguns, and use the papaya halves as canoes.
Pocket: I thought they made their canoes out of wood?
Denim: They did later on, but only after they ran out of giant papayas. 
Pocket: That's too bad. A papaya canoe would be easier to make, and provide food for long sea journeys.

Denim: I read that when they were real hungry, the ancient Hawaiians also caught butterflies and ate them.
Pocket: I suppose their favorite butterflies were chocolate-covered ones with colored sprinkles.
Denim: How did you guess?

Denim: There you have it. An omelette using eggs from Kauai's wild chickens, half a papaya, a chocolate-and-cream-filled butterfly, and tea brewed from tea bags brought to Hawaii by the world famous Captain Cook. The perfect traditional Hawaiian breakfast.
Pocket: I'm going to have to read Master's book on Hawaiian myth and legend. It sounds real interesting.

Denim & Pocket Dalek

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kevin J Anderson on Fighting For Others' Rights

You never know who you'll encounter
when you're with Dan Chambeaux.

In his novel Death Warmed Over, Kevin J Anderson introduces us to Dan Chambeaux. Unlike some other fictional detectives, such as Hercule Poirot and Thomas Magnum (of Magnum P.I.), Dan doesn't spend the novel pursuing a single mystery, nor does he limit himself to two cases. Instead, he juggles a number of mysteries, and with his partner Robin Deyer, helps protect the rights of additional worthy parties. But then, he's not a normal private investigator. He was shot in the head, buried in a cemetery, and then clawed his way out of the ground to continue his firm's investigation. He didn't even take a day off to relax and get used to his new status as a zombie. That's how dedicated Dan Chambeaux is to solving mysteries and fighting for other people's rights.

When I previously mentioned Dan, I had only read a quarter of Death Warmed Over. I wrote because I was enjoying his first novel so much, and also wanted to alert you to a limited time offer from the publisher to download the ebook for free. Suffice it to say that I never stopped enjoying Dan's first adventure. I admire his sense of purpose, dedication to his clients, drive to solve cases, and concern for others. If I was a zombie, I'd want to be just like Dan.*

Dan's got a lot on his plate in this first novel. In addition to the cases I mentioned in Kevin J Anderson on Zombies and Ghosts, there's Hope Saldana. Someone's vandalized Hope and Salvation, the mission she operates in the Undead Quarter. She's a member of the living who helps those who have trouble adapting to their new undead status. Dan knows she can't afford to pay him, but he's determined to find out who's broken her doors, windows, and furniture. Then there's Miranda Jekyll, whose husband Harvey is trying to divorce her. Harvey may run Jekyll Lifestyle Products and Necroceuticals, a successful company that caters to the undead, but he wants to cut Miranda off without a penny. He insists that their prenuptial agreement is null and void, as his wife is no longer the same person she used to be. Well, he's got a point: Miranda recently become a werewolf. Still, Dan and Robin see the injustice of the situation, and agree to fight on her behalf.

Consider the plight of Ramen Ho-Tep, a resident of the Metropolitan Natural History Museum. He spent his life ruling Egypt until he was bitten by a tsetse fly. Museum officials consider him their property, but the mummy sees his condition as akin to the slaves over whom he used to rule, and demands emancipation. Or there's Mavis and Alma Wannovich, two local witches who ran afoul of a spell book they recently purchased. An accident turned Alma into a pig (or to be strictly accurate, a sow). The sisters blame the accident on a misspelling, but the publisher insists the book was intended merely for entertainment purposes. And then there's...well, why don't I let you discover them on their own? They all represent problems that would naturally afflict a community after a supernatural event ushers the deceased, mythological creatures, and even garden gnomes into existence. In fact, the rich mix of residents in Dan's Undead Quarter makes the current New Orleans seem colorless in comparison.

Remember, in addition to everything on his plate, Dan's also trying to solving his own murder, and the murder of his former girlfriend, who now works as the firm's secretary. Sheyenne may be a poltergeist now, but he still cares for her. Even if he can't touch her.

The life of a private detective has always been hazardous, and as zombies are no more immortal than the living, the obstacles he faces while pursuing his cases puts his continuing existence at risk. As Dan has always juggled cases, he's got no lack of people with motives to kill him. Sheyenne may believe that Ivory, a vampire lounge singer, slipped her a dose of toadstool poison, but given that Dan started dating her shortly before that, the list of potential suspects and reasons for her death are longer than his own. Still, nothing will stop Dan from heeding the call of justice, whether or not he's getting paid to solve the case or protect the person.

In a world plagued by injustices, I tip my hat to all private investigators everywhere. They especially deserve our praise and respect if, like Hercule Poirot, Magnum P.I., and Dan Chambeaux, they work hard to assist those in need, regardless of their clients' appearance, socio-economic status, or extraordinary biochemistry.

Dragon Dave

*I'd rather not be a zombie, all things considered. At least not until I've lived a long, full life. You know, a good hundred years or so. Then I can die, and reawaken as a zombie if some unexplained event like The Big Uneasy happens. If I meet someone like police Officer Toby McGoohan, whom Dan refers to as McGoo, his BHF, or his Best Human Friend, I might even take up a career as a private detective. Who knows what the future holds? I'd just visit an embalmer to keep looking and feeling my best. Then, when my body needed special attention, I could book an appointment with my local taxidermist. Doesn't that sound better than making hefty payments for health insurance and prescription drugs? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Flying With Indiana Jones

Denim: Okay, the cargo's loaded. Order the pilot to take-off!

Pocket: We have to wait. People are still taking their seats.

Denim: But we're flying Economy Plus. We should be calling the shots!
Pocket: I don't think it works like that.

Pocket: See, we're underway.
Denim: Hooray! We're off to Kauai!

Denim: Are we there yet?
Pocket: No.
Denim: Are we there yet?
Pocket: What part of the word No do you not comprehend?
Denim: Well, how long until we get there?
Pocket: I don't know. A few hours, anyway.
Denim: Hey, we're flying Economy Plus! Order the pilot to speed up!
Pocket: I don't think it works like that. Would you like to see a movie?
Denim: Yes! Yes!! YES!!!
Pocket: What would you like to watch?
Denim: Raiders of the Lost Ark! Raiders of the Lost Ark!! RAIDERS--
Pocket: Okay, I get the idea.

Denim: Boy, Indy's sure having trouble Exterminating that Nazi so he can drive that beat-up old truck!
Pocket: Yeah, he should have flown Economy Plus.

Denim & Pocket Dalek