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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott
Filmmaker Extraordinaire

Recently, I watched "Black Hawk Down" on DVD, and found the movie so compelling that I watched the movie again, this time while listening to commentary with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott. While Bruckheimer's comments were interesting, they were few and far between. For most of the movie, Ridley Scott spoke about his approach to each scene, the characters, the story, and his desire to remain faithful to the battle in Mogadishu between United States military and Mohamed Farrah Aidid's guerrilla forces. This meant boiling crucial narrative in journalist Mark Bowden's book down to essential details and events, and cutting the cast list significantly. Yet he felt it important to communicate the importance of what U.S. commanders (and the United Nations) were attempting to achieve, and strived to treat each of the soldiers with dignity. 

At the time, most of us in the United States didn't understand what our brave men and women were doing in Somalia. After TV news programs filled our screens with images of dead enlisted personnel being dragged through dirty, rubble-choked streets, President Clinton recalled our troops. This left us further confused. What had we stirred up a hornet's nest? Why had our sons and daughters fought and died? Ridley Scott made his movie, in part, to help us understand that our participation in that international effort was important to prevent genocide, even if it failed to halt a war that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. His film replaced confusion with purpose, and proved a balm to those who had lost loved ones in a conflict half-a-world away. He also made the movie to remind us that intervention, while painful and costly, is often necessary to prevent evil from sweeping unchecked through our world.

Ridley Scott is a thoughtful, painstaking director. He doesn't do things just for effect, nor does he alter his approach to please audiences. His best films leave you wanting to know more about the fictional world he created, or the historical milieu in which they are set. Five of my favorite Ridley Scott films, which exemplify these attributes, are listed below.

1. Prometheus
2. Alien
3. Blade Runner
4. Gladiator
5. Kingdom of Heaven

While the first three are Science Fiction visions of the future, the latter two take us into the past. "Gladiator" had me reading more about the Roman Emperor Commodus, and "Kingdom of Heaven" about the Crusades. All are visually striking, eminently entertaining, and thought-provoking. Ridley Scott attempts to treat his subjects with the seriousness they deserve, and refuses to water them down for children and teens, or those who demand happy endings. This costs him at the box office, as far more children and teens attend cinemas these days than adults, or at least adults wanting to see films made for adults. But when you watch a Ridley Scott film, you know the movie was made to do more than make you feel good and sell a little popcorn. I appreciate that tremendously, as well as the fact that subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases often include lots of interesting and informative bonus material, including passionate, informative commentaries by the esteemed Ridley Scott.

His next movie to hit the box office will be December's Biblical narrative "Exodus." Beyond that, films he's working on include sequels to "Prometheus" and "Blade Runner," and an adaptation to Joe Haldeman's classic Science Fiction novel The Forever War. As this year marks the 35th anniversary of his first big screen hit "Alien," I feel especially grateful that his passion and capabilities remain undiminished. Realizing that he's 77 years old today, and still willing to put up with all the rigors, demands, and complications of helming blockbuster productions, makes me respect him all the more. So here's a shout out to one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.

Happy Birthday, Ridley Scott!!!
May you continue making fascinating 
and thought-provoking films, 
well into your 100s!

Dragon Dave 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Beers, Oh My!

Artist: I like the new Tiger exhibit at the San Diego Safari Park. You can really get up close! I just wish the Humans would stop making reflections on the glass. They're making it difficult for me to record images for my visual archives. 

Blue: No, you can stay down, buddy. No, you will not get up. Okay, no more Mr Nice Dalek. Make another move and I will Exterminate you!

Artist: I wonder why the lions are playing with pumpkins?
Blue: Maybe they're celebrating Thanksgiving with what they can. The staff probably aren't serving them turkey dinners.
Artist: Yeah, they're probably out of luck on that front, unless a wild turkey wanders into their enclosure, then it's--
Blue: Exterminate the Turkey time!
Artist: Exactly.

Artist: I know why the lions had pumpkins. See the man with the tall glass of beer? The Safari Park is still celebrating Octoberfest.
Blue: That's it! I saw another couple sharing a large glass over by the lions. I wonder why Master and Mistress drink soda instead of beer?
Artist: They must keep their heads clear to sketch while they eat.
Blue: Master and Mistress are so wise. Exterminate Inebriation! Exterminate Inebriation!! EXTERMINATE INEBRIATION!!!

Artist & Blue Dalek

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Another Look at Rocket Raccoon

Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer,
& evil Church dude

In Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, our heroes fight an evil church bent on conquest and destruction. As these stories coincide with Marvel's mammoth Secret Invasion crossover, the Guardians discover that the shapeshifting Skrulls have infiltrated their ranks. How can any of them know that the others aren't Skrulls infiltrators?

Groot, Star-Lord, Cosmo, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar

The group is based on Knowhere, a space-city built into the excavated skull of an extinct Celestial. The city's Head of Security is Cosmo, a talking dog and former Russian Cosmonaut. When Knowhere's residents, including the powerful scientific and diplomatic parties from other civilizations, complain that the Guardians are attracting too much trouble to their home-away-from-home, Cosmo stands by the Guardians, even if he and the members of group don't always get along.

In addition to the shapeshifting Skrulls, members of an earlier incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy keep turning up at their base on Knowhere. As you can imagine, all this makes it difficult for members of the group to trust each other. 

I decided to make another portrait of Rocket Raccoon, this one based on penciler Paul Pelletier's interpretation of the character. Drawing his features took ten-to-fifteen minutes, but roughly two hours passed before I finished. Colorists make an incalculable contribution to comics, but never get celebrated as much as those who draw (or pencil) the initial black and white image. So I'd like to dedicate my drawing to GURU-eFX, the colorist who worked on the above three images from Issue 4 of Abnett and Lanning's book.

This second portrait of Rocket Raccoon may be more of a copy than my first study of him, that quick pen-and-ink sketch I made that day at Dave & Buster's. Still, what better way to start than by replicating the efforts of others more advanced than ourselves, before we embark on our own unique creations?

Dragon Dave  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Three Things To Love About The Big Bang Theory

In a recent episode of "The Big Bang Theory," the boys meet a doctor who's attracted to Leonard's fiancee Penny. Just like them, the doctor loves comic books and Sci-Fi movies. Unlike them, he's a urologist to filmmakers and movie stars. He invites them to his house, where he shows them actual movie props from grateful patients. Then he locks them inside, and hurries back to Penny's apartment to pitch a little woo. Leonard and his friends barely notice, so enraptured are they by his movie props, as well as his selection of video games. 

Incidentally, the urologist is wonderfully played by Billy Bob Thornton, who can currently be seen in cinemas in the thought-provoking drama "The Judge."

As a fan of Sci-Fi movies and old arcade games, I thought I would share my personal favorites from the urologist's collection.

1. Favorite Alien: To Thornton's right is a Martian from the movie "Mars Attacks." It's a comedy/action movie that stars great actors like Michael J Fox, Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Danny Devito, Martin Short, Glenn Close, and even music legend Tom Jones. It's wacky, wonderful, and best of all, a grandmother who everyone thinks is crazy saves the day! Plus, it features these great Martians. If you haven't seen it, go out and get it! You've got to watch this movie!

2. Favorite Robot: To Sheldon's left is Robby the Robot. He's one of my favorite robots ever, and not just mine. Lots of filmmakers have included him in short, cameo roles in their own movies. His first movie was "Forbidden Planet," which also starred Leslie Nielson in a serious role. It's a standout 1950's Sci-Fi movie, and while the plot may move a little slowly by today's standards, it's still well worth watching.

Bionic fans: Richard Anderson, who later achieved world-wide fame as Oscar Goldman, played a crew member aboard Captain Nielson's spaceship.

3. Favorite Game: I used to play lots of games in arcades, but the one video game I really enjoyed, but haven't found a good way to play since I "grew up," is Donkey Kong. So it was nice to see Leonard really enjoy playing it too. You know, if a urologist locked me in his "fun room," I wouldn't mind spending a few hours in it, if I could play Donkey Kong too.

That is, as long as he didn't use the time to hit on my girl.

Well, there you have it, three things that I loved about a recent episode of "The Big Bang Theory." Did you see this episode? If so, what was your favorite movie prop, character, or game? Please let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Dragon Dave

Friday, November 21, 2014

Daleks Clash Over Black Bean Nachos

Iron Dalek: There, I've finished chopping the yellow chili. Now we just have to wait for the black beans to finish cooking in the crockpot. You need some help with the limes?
Hulk: No! Hulk like smashing limes. Hulk like watching the lime juice wash down the sides of the juicer. Hulk like--
Iron Dalek: Okay, I get it. You're having a good time. I think I'll let you take the lead in the next phase of tonight's dinner.

Iron Dalek: So, are enjoying smashing the black beans?
Hulk: Hulk like smashing black beans. Hulk like pulverizing cooked beans into pulp. Hulk like beating little black beans into--
Iron Dalek: Okay, why don't we adopt a less violent vocabulary?
Hulk: Puny Iron Brain afraid I crush you into pulp too?
Iron Dalek: No, but I'd prefer that you drop the insults and inflammatory language.

Iron Dalek: There, I've got Master's chips laid out across the plate, melted the shredded cheese on the chips, then spread out the refried beans in an even layer, covering every chip.
Hulk: Mistress likes beans in center of plate, topped with cheese, and surrounded by chips.
Iron Dalek: I admit that's aesthetically pleasing, but personally I applaud Master's efficiency. His methodology ensures each chip gets its share of beans and cheese.
Hulk: Mistress' way is better. Her chips don't get soggy, and chips easier to handle without a fork.

Iron Dalek: There, that's Mistress' nachos done. Now, for Master's plate, we need to add more chopped lettuce, and two additional spoonfuls of salsa.
Hulk: Master's method obscures the chips, and covers too much of beautiful green lettuce in nasty red sauce!
Iron Dalek: Hey, watch what you say about the red salsa. Besides, I think we can agree to disagree here. Master and Mistress each like their Black Bean Nachos served differently. Why should we clash over their preferences?
Hulk: Because we're superheroes, and we fight for what we believe is right! Puny Iron Dalek just afraid Hulk will smash him!
Iron Dalek: I am not afraid! I will demolish you for saying that! I will pulverize you! I will exterminate, Exterminate, EXTERMINATE YOU!
Hulk: Hulk agree to your challenge, but first, we serve dinner. Hulk not want to ruin the aesthetics of Mistress' plate.
Iron Dalek: COWARD!!!

Hulk & Iron Dalek

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rocket Raccoon & Iraq

Have you met Rocket Raccoon?

After finishing my first drawing of the Doctor snorkeling, I turned my skills, such as they are, to the back of my admission ticket, a piece of 8.5x11" copy paper. I've been thinking a lot about Rocket Raccoon lately, probably because I've seen him three times now in Marvel Comics' new movie "Guardians of the Galaxy." I enjoyed how he was portrayed in the movie, even if it was different from how authors like Bill Mantlo, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning have approached the character. I've seen artists draw him in various ways, and my friend Justin Ponsor, who works as the colorist for the current Guardians series written by Brian Michael Bendis, has even drawn a picture of him (and his friend Groot) that was accepted by So I wondered what I could do with him. 

Instead of outlining his head, I started by drawing his fur, then his eyes, then defining his ears. Then it was more hair, and along the way, I started in on his snout. I've never been good at faces, let alone noses, and I was working from memory, with no images or models in front of me. I only spent a few minutes on my drawing, and most of that on his fur, but I'm happy with this first attempt. It's something to build on for later.

Dave & Busters may not have live raccoons for artists to draw, but they do employ waiters to serve their human customers. Twice while I was sketching a young woman came by and asked me if she could get me anything. Both times I assured her that I was doing fine, but I wondered if it bothered her that I was taking up space without buying anything at one of the booths in her area. So afterward, while I was waiting for the youth leadership conference to finish, I got up and spoke to her as she printed out checks at the cash register.

She thanked me for my concern, and told me that she had no problem with me sitting in her area. I asked her if she enjoyed working at Dave & Busters, a place that seemed synonymous with fun. Sadly, she said no, as people brought money for their food and games, but seemed to regard tipping as unnecessary. She was working her way through college, and upon graduation, it was her dream to go to Iraq, or some less-well-off country, and teach young children to read, write, and be more tolerant of others customs and beliefs. In the meantime, she was scraping to get by, pay for her education and living, and relying on Medical if she got sick. 

She seemed a rather erudite young woman, who claimed she rarely watched TV, and never saw a movie in the cinema before she read the book. In addition to her studies, she typically reads three books at a time, two nonfiction on subjects that interested her, and one novel or book of short stories. I've no doubt she could do well for herself should she decide to stay in the United States after she graduates, and her mother has argued repeatedly with her that she should do so, that going to countries like Iraq is unnecessarily dangerous. But she's more interested in changing the world, and making it a place where people regard others with respect, and live harmoniously with others. Her example lifted my spirits, and proved a welcome contrast to the words and actions of the minister in the banquet room. 

Please adequately tip your waiter or waitress, folks. You never know the potential ministry you may be funding.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Justin's drawing of Rocket & Groot

Monday, November 17, 2014

Teen Ministry & Doctor Who Snorkeling

The Doctor snorkels at Ke'e Beach

Recently, my mother and a friend visited us. They planned to attend a conference nearby, and as they were unfamiliar with San Diego, I agreed to drive them. It was held at the local Dave & Buster's, a restaurant/games center that makes Chuck E Cheese look like a garden shed next to a mansion. In the banquet room, we enjoyed a nice buffet lunch, and meeting other Christian leaders who wanted to improve the teen ministries at their churches. Then the selected speaker took the podium, and instantly I knew I was in trouble.

Suffering as I do from Tinnitus, I not only hear persistent ringing in my ears, but find loud noises bothersome. The speaker was a man with a powerful voice, who spoke with commitment and passion, so of course he decided to pick up a microphone and place it directly before his mouth. As his words blasted out of the speakers, they felt like bullets launched from machine guns pounding away at my fragile flesh. Or, in a word: Ouch.

When someone sets you at unease, you're liable to find fault with anything they do or so. So if I hadn't found his loud speaking bothersome, perhaps it wouldn't have bothered me that he began by saying, "Now, I apologize in advance to all you anal-rententive folks who want to get onto the program, but first we're going to talk about the character of a youth leader." He went on to describe how, early on in his ministry, he constantly fought with his wife. On their honeymoon, he even had to stop the car on the freeway, get out, and kick a peacock standing in a field. Now, everyone can understand that, when you're young and full of passion, you may also have anger issues. His point was that you needed to be rooted and grounded in your ideals and life before you could ably lead others. It's a good point, one I agree with. 

My annoyance derived from his use of the adjective "anal-rententive" in addressing Christian leaders who had given up several hours, if not the entire day, to hear him speak. I find the term, if not offensive, at least highly disrespectful to others. For me, his usage abrogates the Golden Rule, a maxim embraced by most (if not all) religions, that urges people to treat others the way they themselves would like to be treated. In Christianity, Jesus tells his followers this is the essence of the Law of Moses and the Teachings of the Prophets. The fact that anyone would find this term acceptable in polite society...well, let's just say I found it a poor choice of words. It seems even more unfortunate when you consider that this man regularly places himself regularly before teens. If they find value in what he tells them, they may emulate him, and not just in the ways he intends.

At any rate, his voice was just too loud for my ears. I tried using ear plugs, but there's just no way you can block out a repeating, percussive sound like that, where you're constantly transitioning from silence to a series of explosive consonants. So after awhile I went out and sat down in the dining area of the restaurant. To pass the time, I drew this picture with a pen on the back of the the program brochure. The background music mixed with the sounds from all the machines in the gaming area, and the overall noise was probably louder than in the banquet room. But the sounds were more harmonious, and set me at ease after the constant percussive blasting of the man's voice through the speakers. 

By some lapse of my normal brilliance, I hadn't brought a book along to read, or my sketching materials. So I tried something new: sketching with a pen, just one color, and no hope of erasing if I made a mark I later regretted. With such limited resources, I doubted my ability to achieve a respectable result. But I'm rather pleased with drawing, and my wife said she liked it too. I've already used it as the starting point for another drawing, this one with color pencils on sketching paper. All of which goes to show that good can come from any situation, if you look for an opportunity to turn it in your favor. 

Oh, and one last thing: please don't kick the peacocks.

Dragon Dave

Friday, November 14, 2014

Count Dalek-ula On Crucial Vampire Fiction

Recently, I vatched the Doctor Who story, "State of Decay," vith my Master. I especially enjoyed "Leaves of Blood," a special on the DVD, in vhich famous British authors list important and popular Vampire fiction of the last century. Authors polled included Peter Crowther (Darkness, Darkness), Simon Clark (Vampyrrhic), Stephen Gallagher (The Kingdom of Bones), Kim Newman (Anno Dracula), and Ramsey Campbell (The Grin of the Dark). These authors may only be Human, and therefore lack the critical assessment capabilities of a Dalek, but they have won awards, sold millions of books, and been driving forces in the Horror literary community. So I vant to share with you their List of Essential Vampire Fiction.

Essential Vampire Stories
Varney The Vampire, or The Feast of Blood 
by James Malcolm Rymer (serialized novel)
"The Vampyre" by John William Polidori (novella)
"Carmilla" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (novella)
"The Mysterious Stranger" by Anonymous (novella)
Dracula by Bram Stoker
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
Salem's Lot by Stephen King
Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice

Of course, Vampires inhabit more than the printed page, and almost seem more at home on the stage, as the popularity of TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer attests. In another extra, pop culture historian, writer, and educator Sir Christopher John Frayling states that Bram Stoker vas involved in the theatre, and infused his novel vith as much camp as horror. 

Certainly Terrance Dicks, author of "State Of Decay," vould agree that public perception of Vampires is shaped less by the source literature than their more sensational movie and TV versions. He vrote his Doctor Who story to appeal to those who had grown up with the Hammer Horror movies, as he believed few people had actually read Bram Stoker's formative novel. 

Thor loves Hammer films!

Between Humans and Daleks, opinions may differ on any Essential Reading List. Having read over my Master's shoulder, I really enjoyed the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K Hamilton. Master and I read eleven of them. If you have any thoughts on the stories listed above, or vould like to share your favorite Vampire stories with Master and other readers, please leave a comment. Even if you are a Human, I vill still take your recommendation under consideration. But then, I am a Dalek, and committed to mastering all fields of study. Ignorance must be viped out, expunged and eliminated, excoriated, exterminated...yes! That's the word I'm looking for!

Exterminated, Exter-MINATED, EXTERMINATED!!!!!!!!!

Count Dalek-ula

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Woman Called Thor

In "If He Be Worthy" (Thor No. 1 December 2014), writer Jason Aaron takes us to Roxxon Seabase. Ships sent to investigate seismic activity disappear, and as the staff deploy their attack sharks, they see blue giants marching toward them across the ocean floor. 

Meanwhile, on the moon, Thor has spent the last few weeks kneeling over his hammer. In a recent battle, he lost the ability to lift it, and although he tries and tries, he cannot pick it up. Nor can his father Odin lift it, even though he crafted this magical weapon for his son. 

His mother Freyja attempts to comfort Thor, but he shrugs off her efforts, and returns to Asgard to find a new weapon.

Meanwhile, Malekith the Dark Elf arrives at the underwater base. It appears that he is in league with the Frost Giants. If ever humans needed a hero, it is now.

And so we shall have one. The inscription on the hammer reads "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." Lightning swirls around the hammer as a hand grips it, and burns the letter S into its side, transforming "he" into "she."

In "If He Be Worthy," writer Jason Aaron, artist Russell Dauterman, and colorist Matthew Wilson welcome us to a new era of the hero named Thor. Through utilizing villains like the Frost Giants and Malekith from the recent Marvel movies, they pull us into the more sophisticated and extensive world of Thor comics. The man we know as Thor promises to still be involved their new series, but who is this new woman who wields his hammer? 

Thankfully, Thor No. 2 arrives in stores today. By Odin's beard: I can't wait to read it!

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Ninjas

A gentleman's English country house.

Life is change, and those who excel in life are often those who adapt to change most successfully. Just as politicians learn to adapt their strongly held views to the currents flowing through our twenty-four hour news cycle, so publishers learn to adjust their offerings to meet readers' changing tastes. Film seems to lag behind however, as studio heads bend over their calculators, performing risk assessments before investing the $100 million or more deemed necessary to compel young viewers into the cinema. 

Such has proven the case with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an enormously popular novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. Although he published the novel in 2009, and today's youth seem obsessed with zombies (and the people who hunt them), it was his next novel, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, that was first made into a movie in 2012. But fans of Jane Austin and Zombies don't have much longer to wait, as Entertainment Weekly reports that Writer-director Burr Steers has begun filming Grahame-Smith's first literary venture. 

A stranger calls to tea.

As proof that Steers has zeroed in on what fans want in their next big screen Jane Austen adventure, consider this snippet from Lindsey Bahr's First Look article in the November 7, 2014 issue of Entertainment Weekly

"In the original story, Elizabeth [Bennett] is a fighter and beyond her contemporaries in her ambitions and her ideas of women, "Steers says. "She's a badass warrior. She's a ninja."

Elizabeth Bennett,
Badass Ninja

Such a view may take a little getting used to for those of us old folks who grew up with Jane Austen's original story, and the more faithful adaptations of Jane Austen's works. But why shouldn't classic novels be updated for today's audiences? It's not as if Hollywood usually adapts books without making substantial changes to their big screen cousins, is it? So why can't Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Mary, and Kitty be sword- and knife-wielding martial artists? Now, if they can film the movie in the Japanese language, and add voice dubbing totally out of sync with the actors' lip movements, the new movie will sit comfortably alongside the martial arts movies I grew up watching on my 13" B&W tube TV. 

And if all that's not enough, actor Matt Smith will play the role of Mr Collins, the clergyman who seeks Elizabeth's hand because his patroness, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, thinks he ought to get married. You all know Matt Smith, right? Our "Timey Wimey" incarnation of Doctor Who? Oh, so much to look forward to!

BTW, I've updated the page My Ten Most Popular Posts. If you haven't checked it out lately, you'll find some new titles on the list. While readers still read old posts like "Pocket Dalek Knitting Pattern," "The Famous Woodworker of Kilburn," and "Norman Clegg's TV House," you'll find some new titles there, including one on a manga adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Why should readers be so interested in a manga adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel, you ask? Well, Manga is the Japanese version of graphic novels, and Japan is not only one of the homes of sword- and knife-wielding martial artists. It's also where Ninjas come from.

"Could I beg another glass of your delicious sake, Miss Bennett?"
"Of course, Mr. Darcy. And may I offer you more fugu sashimi?"
"I would be delighted, Miss Bennett."

Dragon Dave

No longer in My Top Ten, but still popular
Pocket Dalek Knitting Pattern          
The Famous Woodworker of Kilburn        
Norman Clegg's TV House        

Friday, November 7, 2014

Daleks Investigate Custard And Twinkies

Humans may be inferior beings, but they like to experiment, just like us Daleks. Consider the Mistress. As Master likes his egg white omelets for breakfast, she saved up the yolks and put seven in a pot. To these she added four cups of low fat milk and 1.25 cups of sugar, then simmered it over a double boiler. Her efforts aroused my curiosity (another trait humans share with Daleks), so I decided to observe her efforts.

Humans may have a few notable strengths, but one thing they lack is endurance. Over the next hour, Mistress and Master continually traded off, one taking over the stirring duties when the other needed a break. I could have assisted them, but I must maintain my power reserves, in case they need me to Exterminate someone.

Exterminate! Exterminate! Daleks love Exterminating!

After an hour of constant stirring, the mixture had thickened, and the humans left it to cool while they ate their dinner. Half-an-hour later they returned, and extracted two Hostess Twinkies from the pantry.

The Halloween Cupcakes, with the scary orange filling!

They poured 1/3 cup of the mixture into the bowls, and declared the Twinkies sufficiently custardized. 

Then they squirted whipped cream on top!

Intent on completing my investigation, I snuck into the dining room, and heard their oohing and aaahing, and how glad they were that they had discovered boiled custard and sponge cake on their trips to England. To my calculations, 1/3 cup of boiled custard equals 185 calories, far more than 1/3 cup of ice cream, their usual evening favorite. Given their adherence to their diet, why should Master & Mistress labor so hard and so long, to consume a higher-calorie dessert? 

A complete understanding of my humans is essential if I am to dominate them. I must investigate this matter further. I shall be tireless and brave. I will not stop until I have discovered why my humans like this new dessert so much. But then, that's why they call me...

The Dalek with the Golden Gun

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Doctor Who & Vampire Bats in the House of Lords

This post is Part 7 in a series on the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay" by Terrance Dicks.

Naturally, the Doctor and his companion Romana cannot stand by and allow Vampire Lords to continue to oppress their subjects. Nor can they allow their new friend Adric to become the Chosen One, and be transformed into a vampire. So the Doctor studies the history of the Time Lords in his TARDIS, to learn how the Time Lords once defeated a great race of Space Vampires. Unfortunately, the Vampire Lords capture Romana while she attempts to rescue Adric, and they decided to sacrifice her to the Great One, the last of the great Space Vampires, as it awakens from its sleep beneath the Tower. 

Naturally, it's up to the Doctor to use his knowledge and wits to destroy the last Space Vampire, as well as the three Vampire Lords, before they kill Romana, or Adric joins their number.

You'd better move quick, Doctor. A vampire bat, one of the subjects of the vampire Lords, is already sucking away at Romana's neck!

According to Nicholas Pegg, who prepared the Information Text for the BBC DVD release of "State Of Decay," the way the bats bite Romana, and even the Doctor at one point, really got under some viewers' skin. Several influential organizations, including the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, complained about the portrayal of bloodsucking bats to the BBC. The issue even reached the British House of Lords. On December 4, 1980, Lord Melchett asked if Her Majesty's Government would order the Nature Conservancy Council to enlighten the BBC as to the "damage likely to be done to bats in this country, if they are portrayed as harmful to human beings as they were in a recent episode of Doctor Who." As he stood in the red-upholstered chamber of the Palace of Westminster, he went on to note that "All species of British bats are beneficial to human beings, and are now known to be drastically declining in numbers." 

A Fruit Bat awakens from its slumber at
Disney's Animal Kingdom
in Orlando, Florida.

All of this seems like an over-reaction to me. I mean, it's just an innocuous, little Doctor Who story, right? Of course, the problem with being an official is that you begin to think you always have to conduct business through official channels. Instead of these environmentalists writing letters to the BBC, or making speeches in the House of Lords, what they should have done was simply ring up author Terrance Dicks, point these facts out to him, and ask him nicely not to write any more vampire stories with bats in them. Ever again. I'm sure Terrance Dicks would have taken such well-intended, constructive criticism on board. I mean, look how well he got on with Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead!

In his Information Text, Nicholas Pegg goes on to note that, as Vampire Bats only live in Central and South America, this means all kinds of European bats are harmless. With all due respect to Mr Pegg, I feel I must respectfully disagree. We should always be on guard against anything that can harm us, and all bats are not created equal. Has he never heard of the games of Rounders, British Baseball, or Cricket, all of which are played with hard, wooden bats? Has he never heard of British American Tobacco, or BAT, whose product has been deemed so hazardous to human health that the British government has banned its advertisement? I mean, really! Talk about an over-reaction!

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 3, 2014

Doctor Who On Influences and the Importance of Details

Part 6 of a series on the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay" by Terrance Dicks.

When they reach this lonely, isolated planet, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 don't realize that they have picked up an additional companion. Only later, when they have been captured by Lord Zargo and Lady Camilla, and the rebel Tarak rescues them from their cell, do they learn that Adric stowed away aboard the TARDIS. This young boy, whom they met during their previous adventure, has fallen under the thrall of Lord Aukon, who declares him the Chosen One, and intends on making him a vampire too. So, while the Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS, where he and K-9 will study how the Time Lords battled Vampires in the past, Tarak and Romana return to the Tower, heading for the Inner Sanctum.

Romana and Tarak catch the Vampire Lords
having a bat-nap.

Tarak and Romana looked round the dank and gloomy chamber.

Zargo and Camilla lay side by side, stretched out on their backs on the central bier. Presumably they were sleeping, but they might almost have been dead. Only the very slightest rise and fall of their chests showed they were still breathing. Stretched out in their ornate robes, they looked like statues on the tomb of some ancient king and queen.

Tarak stared down at them. "We could destroy them now, while they are sleeping."

"It takes a wooden stake to kill them," said Romana practically. "We forgot to bring one."

--from the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay

While Nicholas Pegg, who wrote the Information Text for the BBC DVD release of "State Of Decay," suggests that Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead didn't substantially change Terrance Dicks' story, Dicks and Director Peter Moffatt disagree. The Inner Sanctum, or the Sleeping Vault as Pegg calls it, proved to be a crucial point of contention for Moffatt. Pegg offers this description of the Vampires' sleeping chamber from Bidmead's revised script: "A simple womb-like chamber containing two astronaut-type sleeping cocoons. The white-walled chamber is lit with sinister infra-red lighting--a kind of sterile hell." According to Pegg, this left Moffatt with the impression that the vampires were hatching from eggs.

On the DVD commentary, Peter Moffatt clarifies his position. He tells of receiving Terrance Dicks' draft script, and really enjoying the whole "Gothic thing." But when he showed up for work, and was handed the revised script, he found that Bidmead had "filled it up with high-tech." And "instead of a castle, there was this egg-thing." 

A possible inspiration for Christopher H Bidmead:
The Nostromo's sleeping chamber
in Ridley Scott's 1979 movie "Alien."

Perhaps Bidmead didn't substantially change the narrative and dialogue in Terrance Dicks' story. But it's amazing how much the little details can influence or (in Moffatt's case) confuse us. In a documentary on the making of "State Of Decay," Bidmead likens his story sessions with Dicks to battles in which each opponent faced the other "with daggers drawn." He suggests that such tension and differences of opinion between writers can improve a story. While Terrance Dicks may not look back fondly on his partnership with Bidmead, he gives the Script Editor credit for making one change that improved the story. In Dicks' original version, the castle was just that, a brick and mortar building. Bidmead suggested that the Tower should actually be the Earth spaceship Hydrax, which landed on the planet a thousand years ago. Of course, it seems clear that Bidmead believed the interiors of the Tower should reflect the original infrastructure of the spaceship, Moffatt sided with Dicks in believing that the interior should look like an old, decaying castle. So, in the finished story, nearly all of the original instrumentation and infrastructure has been stripped out, and discarded outside the town that grew up around the Hydrax, and the rebels secreted their headquarters within the dump. The townspeople, no doubt pressed into service, then rebuilt and decorated the interior of the spacecraft in a regal fashion as dictated by their Lords.

Bidmead's primary focus on Doctor Who seemed to be on hard science, technology, and the implications of current societal trends on the future. Terrance Dicks had originally written "State Of Decay" three years previously, for Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes. The latter two drew inspiration for Doctor Who from the popular and influential stories from previous centuries. No wonder Bidmead and Dicks quarreled, when one doctored incoming scripts with a gaze affixed on humanity's future, while the other peered back into the past as he wrote his story. 

If I were forced to name my ten favorite stories from the Classic Doctor Who era (featuring the First through Seventh Doctors), I'm not sure that "State Of Decay" would make the list. But consider this. In three of the seven stories that comprise the twenty-eight half-hour episodes of Doctor Who Season 18 (which were broadcast from August 1980 to March 1981), a significant portion of the action takes place on spaceships. Additionally, the first story , "The Leisure Hive," takes place in the futuristic corridors and rooms of a base on an uninhabitable world. Had "State Of Decay" featured Bidmead's vision of futuristic spaceship interiors, this would have made the story blend in better with the season. As it stands, "State Of Decay" not only differs from the other stories in Season 18, but also from most of the other stories in Doctor Who's classic era. Sometimes it's nice if a individual story is allowed to stand out, and be a little different from the rest of its companions in a series, don't you think?

So, to sum up, I'm happy with "State Of Decay" as it is. Still, I often wish there was some sort of invention, or device, that could show me the stories that should have been made, but weren't. You know, the movies that the filmmakers intended to make, but ultimately couldn't for any number of reasons. Perhaps there's an alternate world out there, where Peter Moffatt loved Christopher H Bidmead's revised script for "State Of Decay," and filmed it in all its futuristic, high-tech glory. Perhaps I'd better build a TARDIS so I can travel to that alternative world, and pick up a DVD of "State Of Decay." Then I could return home and play it on my Region-Free DVD Player. That's assuming, of course, that this alternate world has invented DVDs, and isn't still using VHS Videotapes. 

Gosh, that'd be horrible.

Dragon Dave