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Monday, November 13, 2017

Braving the Evils of Cambridge with Doctor Who: Part 1

From Grantchester, the home town of investigative vicar Sidney Chambers, we wandered through Grantchester Meadows. There people swam and boated in the river, walked their dogs, or just relaxed in the fields. Amid such pastoral splendor, we wondered where the villain Skagra parked his spaceship in the Doctor Who story "Shada." We even wondered if the spaceship was still there, as it was invisible in the story.

It's been forty years since the events in "Shada" recorded by fearless British author Douglas Adams, took place. Still, had K-9 been with us, I'm sure he could have identified the landing site. After all, what good is a robot dog, if it can't even remember where the villain parked his invisible spaceship?

Near the Old Vicarage, the home of politician and bestselling English author Jeffrey Archer, we stopped to observe a pair of swans and their newly hatched children. There we chatted with a gentleman who had studied their nesting spot for the past few weeks. It would seem that, if Skagra was still lurking nearby, or hiding in his invisible spaceship, the villain didn't seem to be bothering the swans.  

A (not so) short walk took us to Emmanuel College. There the Doctor and his companion Romana visited Professor Chronotis in his office. The good professor was a retired Timelord who had summoned the Doctor to return a powerful book to Gallifrey, the Doctor's home planet. Unfortunately, the villain Skagra stole the book, and used it to try and take over the universe. But then, that's what villains do, isn't it? They recognize essential facts, like the fact that books hold a certain power, and wield that power to their evil ends. 

But then, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to play with their smartphones all day.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 6, 2017

Walking To Cambridge With Sidney Chambers

As any viewer of the TV show "Grantchester" will realize, investigative priest Sidney Chambers spends little of his time in the Grantchester vicarage. In the first series (or season, as they say in the United States), he looks forward to strolling along the River Cam, and picnicking with his friend Amanda on Grantchester Common.

He and his Detective friend Geordie Keating have spent their fair share of time walking along the river, and even pursued the occasional criminal through the Grantchester Commons. 

Whether he walks or rides his bike, Sidney Chambers will probably use a bridge when he visits his friend Geordie at the Cambridge police station. In one episode, I believe the two even investigated a murder on Clare Bridge.

In this 800 year old university town, the streets are lined with tall buildings. Sidney and Geordie spend their fair share trekking through these narrow byways, whether they are pursuing suspects or traveling to a murder scene. In series two, Amanda even skulks through these, when she grows bored with marriage to her rich husband, and pilfers items from shops.

But most of all in Cambridge, it's King's Parade that we associate Sidney with. In the first episode, we see him cycling among this popular street, past shops, restaurants, and the city's architectural gem, King's College.

Have Sidney and Geordie investigated a murder in King's College yet? If not, I suspect it's only a matter of time. After all, they've questioned suspects in dorms and offices in other colleges. So if you decide to visit Cambridge, keep a watchful eye out. You might spot Geordie or Sidney hurrying past to investigate a crime, or ponder a fascinating mystery.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 30, 2017

Visiting Sidney Chambers' Church in Grantchester

Even from the outskirts of Grantchester, the Anglican Church of St. Anthony and Mary appeals. It resides within this sleepy English village, and keeps watch over it, just as its famous vicar Sidney Chambers shepherds its inhabitants. 

Upon arriving, it's easy to imagine Mrs. Maguire hanging out the laundry, or cleaning the vicarage. While the black labrador Dickens plays by her feet, curate Leonard Finch studies his books of religious scholarship. As the one in charge of Grantchester Church, vicar Sidney Chambers should be composing Sunday's sermon, with a glass of whisky at hand, while jazz plays on the gramophone. But most likely, he's out with his friend Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, solving a murder in Grantchester or nearby Cambridge.

In the churchyard, a curious memorial rises above nearby headstones. It's a testament to one family's longing to reside in that glorious mansion that awaits us when this life is over. 

Inside, an alcove beside the choir entrances with its architecture and history. It reminds us of this church's centuries of serving the community, and how it still comforts and guides its congregants today.

But most of all, it's special to just sit in a pew, and gaze up at the podium, beside which Sidney Chambers so often addresses his congregation. His messages of God's unfailing love, acceptance, and forgiveness remind me of Christianity's best aspects. Just as in the TV series based on James Runcie's stories, I feel welcome, included, and inspired. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 16, 2017

The High Cost of Development

Growing up in Los Angeles, I was used to living in the city. The city was all around me. I might cross an imaginary line here or there, and suddenly I was in a city with a different name. But no matter what they called it, every city was really L.A. It was all L.A. And I loved it.

Then I moved to San Diego, and I saw how much easier it was to get around. I saw how beautiful it was, with hills and land that had not yet been developed. Great swaths of land separated areas, and many of the towns in San Diego had discernible borders, separated by more of that green space again. 

Ah yes, green space. Undeveloped land. Land in which plants and trees can grow unimpeded. The separation necessary to give communities an individual look and feel. Yeah, I remember that. I suppose there's a little of it around, here and there, but so much of that is gone these days. Especially where I live. Houses have been converted into apartment blocks. Schools have been razed and the land devoted to condominium communities. A historic military base has been converted into a brand new master-planned neighborhood, with a shopping, restaurants, businesses, museums, and a megachurch/private school to meet the residents needs. Traffic clogs the streets, and at certain times a day, it's impossible to get on or off the freeway, and travel a handful of miles in less than a 30 to 45 minutes. 

I always knew that San Diego was a nice place to live. Apparently, a lot of other people agree with me. When I chose to live here, one million people resided in the city, and two-and-a-half million in the county. Now it's the eighth largest city in the United States, with 1.4 million residents, and over three million in the county. Officials estimate that population numbers will climb to 1.5 million in 2020, with 3.5 million in the county. And it won't slow down from there. By 2040, 1.8 million people will live in the city, and over 4 million in the county. By 2050, nearly 2 million people will reside in the city, with 4.3 million filling the county.

Even with all the development, San Diego is still a nice place to live. And as I gaze into my personal future, I know I will be able to minimize the time spent in traffic by traveling at different times of the day. But all those new residents will demand more housing, hospitals, car dealerships, shopping centers, industrial parks, and all the other development that accompanies an increase in population. The more they develop, the more they make San Diego an attraction, the more people will travel here to see the sights, and some of them will opt to remain. 

Amid all the development that population growth will bring, some areas of the city that are difficult to navigate now, such as the downtown district, will grow even more difficult. Some of the communities in the county will lose their quaintness as they are redeveloped into high-rise housing, shopping centers, restaurants, coffee houses, bars, and nightclubs. Inevitably, all that green space I fell in love with will disappear, and all the boundaries between communities will blur, until San Diego becomes one large, homogenous city, just like Los Angeles.

I may have traded the second-largest city in the United States for the eighth largest, but it's beginning to feel like I didn't. And I'm beginning to wonder if that's what I want for my future, and if not, what my options are. That's the problem with numbers. They point out that the present isn't the past, and the future definitely won't be.

Change means growth. Some aspects of any development will benefit you, others less so. Choosing what kind of change you want to embrace--either to accept the inevitable, or trade it in for something entirely new--can be difficult. Still, planning, and looking at projections, gives you the opportunity to make decisions about your future, instead of allowing others to make those decisions for you. 

That's always a good thing.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hello Norman Clegg, Farewell Star Trek Security Guards

Waiting for Norman Clegg to have tea with me

A year-and-a-half is a long time, but that's how long it's been since I've updated by Top Ten Blog Posts. "Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg," always a popular post, has since captured the number one position, and continues to attract new readers to The Dragon's Cache. Two others have not only clawed their way onto the list, but done so in style. "Jean and Lionel's House in As Time Goes By" has risen to number three, while "James Herriott Trivia II" has clawed its way to number five. Meanwhile, one-time favorites like "Looking For Alec and Zoe" and "Those Nameless Star Trek Security Guards" have fallen off the list. 

You can review the new standings by clicking the link to my page on the right hand side. 

It's interesting to note that, while I started this blog chiefly to discuss the books I read, three of my top five posts are about British TV shows. Even more interesting is that two of those three are comedies, which usually don't have the fan base of a drama or a science fiction series. Even a fan-favorite topic, such as discussing the woeful role of the security guard in the original "Star Trek", couldn't keep pace with two posts about comics, an interest that revived five years ago, and more than a year after I started The Dragon's Cache. Amazingly, two of my posts are just about me, my thoughts and experiences, unconnected with a TV series, or a novel or comic. I'm not sure what's made them so special to readers, but I'm glad they're still on the list.

Like I said, a year-and-a-half is a long time. Sometimes it's fun to revisit the past, and see where you used to be. I look forward to doing so in the future (perhaps not so long as eighteen months from now), and seeing how my popular posts reflects reader interest and real-life developments. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 2, 2017

Norman Clegg Was Here

Holmfirth, a village in England, will always be a special place. For it was here that writer Roy Clarke's TV series "Last of the Summer Wine" was filmed. And it was here that Norman Clegg, a character portrayed by actor Peter Sallis, lived. Norman wasn't the most colorful personality in "Last of the Summer Wine." He didn't capture our hearts with outrageous antics or memorable catchphrases. Instead, he was just a kindly old gentlemen. An everyman.

Norman Clegg has his foibles and human frailties. He had a hard time saying no to people, whether it was to the latest schemes of his friend Foggy Dewhurst, or to shopkeeper Auntie Wainwright, who never let him leave her store without selling him something. He was afraid of women with a temper, such as Ivy and Nora Batty, as well as women who might have designs on his future, such as Marina, that bloom of eternal youth. As such, I suspect Norman Clegg became the character most of us could empathize with in "Last of the Summer Wine." 

Out of all the posts I wrote on "Last of the Summer Wine," ones that had Norman Clegg in the title got the most page views. One piece in particular, "Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg's House," has become my all-time popular post. Why do you think that is, when the piece represents my frustration over being trapped in a bus tour on a rainy day in Holmfirth, and not having a good view of Norman Clegg's house? Is it because, of all the characters on the show, we most want to visit his house, and see how he lived?

As Norman Clegg was an everyman, we can empathize with him. We can imagine ourselves as him, walking along the river in Holmfirth with Compo, or through the memorial park while listening to Foggy's latest scheme. Perhaps we imagine standing beside Norman and gazing down at Holmfirth Church. Does he remind us of someone we've known and lost? Does he remind us a little of ourselves? 

We may not idolize his fear of loud, angry women, but we can certainly understand it. And who among us does not have trouble saying No to persistent salespeople and folks promoting worthy causes? Norman Clegg was kind, gentle, and easy to be with. Who wouldn't want to be with him, or for that matter, be more like him?

Can you imagine Norman Clegg sitting beside you while you read this post? Who does he remind you of? A relative? A special friend? The family member or role model you never had? The person you'd like to be? Or...

Dragon Dave

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Buck's True Friend Part 2

Only once does Doctor Theopolis lose faith in Buck: when he and Twiki follow him to Ardala's flagship, and see him working in the launch bay. But once Buck explains that the pirate ships are really Draconian fighters, that Kane and Ardala are planning to invade Earth, and he's going to stop them by loading bombs into the fighter ships' exhausts, the Computer A.I. is back on Buck's side again, and asks what he can do to help. Dr Theopolis signals Earth authorities, insists they know of Buck's role in the entire affair, and proudly proclaim's his human friend's innocence. 

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Doctor Theopolis pleads with Wilma to rescue Buck from the Draconian flagship. At first, Colonel Wilma Deering, leading a fighter attack on Ardala's ship, refuses to believe Buck's innocence. She describes Buck's death as no great loss. But Doctor Theopolis doesn't give up. "Forget us," Theopolis urged, "we're just machines, anyhow. Try to find Buck!"

Doctor Theopolis, one of the Computer A.I.'s, and a former member of the Computer Council that rules New Chicago: just a machine? Twiki, a robot drone with the ability to think and act for himself, just a machine? Two friends who continually support, argue for, and actively protect their a displaced human that no one else trusts, just machines? 


Sadly, Buck and Doctor Theopolis would drift apart from each other in the TV series. No doubt the Computer A.I. becomes immensely busy investigating Dr. Apol's part in the Draconian conspiracy, tracking down more enemy agents, and taking over Dr. Apol's traitor's duties. Still, it's not a fellow human who becomes Buck's best friend in the first season, but Twiki, his robot drone. While Buck likes Doctor Huer and Wilma Deering, his fellow humans think he's kind of strange. 

While there's undoubted empathy between them, Doctor Huer and Wilma Deering seem embarrassed by Buck's attempts to share his 20th Century heritage with them. Unless the knowledge and skills he gained in the 20th Century can help strengthen Earth's defenses, or accomplish something they desire, Buck's human friends are disinterested in bridging the centuries-old culture gap that separates them. Instead, Doctor Huer and Wilma view Buck's interests as irrelevant, and at best, endearing quirks in an otherwise fine character.

True friends stick by you, like you for who you are, and always believe the best in you. True friends find ways to share your interests, and embrace your concerns. They don't insist that you always come to them so that you can share in their lives. They sacrifice their own time and pleasures to be with you. Your happiness is their happiness, and they make you a real priority in their lives. In all these ways, Dr. Theopolis in the movie, and Twiki in season one, best fulfill the role of true friends in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." It's a shame Buck's human friends and coworkers seem inadequate to fulfill the role, but hey, this is the 25th Century, when a robot, or a computerized Artificial Intelligence, can be a real person too.

Dragon Dave

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Buck's Best Friend Part 1

The film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" ends with Colonel Wilma Deering telling Buck that he's helped her get more in touch her feelings and her womanhood. In other words, this 20th Century man has made a positive impact on this tightly-focused, modern 25th Century woman. But the novelization (and presumably the original screenplay) ends quite differently. Author Richard A Lupoff (pen name Addison E Steele) returns us to the control room of the A.I. Overlords who rule New Chicago. This time, it is not Buck Rogers who is on trial, but Doctor Apol, the computer overlord who earlier prosecuted Buck. We learn that it is he who has passed crucial information to the Draconians on food shipments to Earth, which allowed the Draconians to perpetuate their piracy scam, and nearly led to Earth being forced into an unequal partnership with the empire. The judgment of the overlords is swift. As Buck was once sentenced to banishment from the Inner City, Dr. Apol is sentenced to death. 

After watching the film version several times this year, I'm left with the sense that another computer overlord, Doctor Theopolis, is really Buck's truest friend. The Draconians, Commander Kane and Princess Ardala, may have awakened him from his 500 years of hibernation, but they distrusted him, and callously used him as an unwittingly spy, known the transmitter they hid on his ship would be found and that Buck would be branded a traitor. Later, Ardala may have wanted him as a consort or husband, but it'd be hard for Buck to trust someone who might love you one minute, and want to kill you the next, or for that matter, sacrifice you if she found it politically expedient. 

Doctor Huer and Colonel Wilma Deering are little better in the film version. Initially Doctor Huer believes Buck's story, but loses his belief in Buck the minute the Draconian transmitter is found on Buck's ship. Wilma's attitude to Buck is as changeable as Ardala's. One moment she likes him, the next she fervently believes he's a spy. Like Ardala, Wilma can only love him if she believes she possesses him. In the novel, Lupoff's portrayal of both humans is more complicated. Still, they seem faithless to Buck, and hardly embody the lofty ideal of "innocent until proven guilty."

But Dr. Theopolis likes and believes in Buck from the first. When Buck first lands on Earth, the humans lock him up in a room for nearly a day, and thoughtlessly return to their duties while a thorough search is made of his ship and background. While Buck is sitting on his hands, and has trouble taking in the notion that he's now in the 25th Century, and everything and everyone he has ever known is lost to him forever, Dr. Theopolis talks to him. He has immense responsibilities as a Computer Overlord. Yet he drops them to keep Buck company during this waiting period, and bring him up to date on life in the 25th Century. He's complimentary, kind, and sympathetic to Buck's plight.

He's also loyal to Buck. He demonstrates this by defending him at trial. He does so knowing how the Computer Council works. If they rule against Buck, Doctor Theopolis will be banished along with Buck. For Doctor Theopolis and Twiki, banishment means certain death, as the scavengers will surely find them, dismantle them, and sell them for scrap value. But Doctor Theopolis risks his life for the sake of his new human friend, a man with no 25th Century connects, and who no one else will stand up for.

When Ardala requests that Buck attend her reception on Earth, Dr. Theopolis is by his side, complimenting him on his appearance, and insists he belongs at this regal gathering of Earth's leaders and dignitaries. When Buck claims he has a headache, the Computer A.I. immediately orders Twiki to hurry off and get him a pain reliever. Dr. Theopolis may admonish Twiki when the drone emulates Buck, but he doesn't criticize his human friend's 1980s style of dancing. Meanwhile, Wilma Deering frowns at Buck's decision to request a change in music, and complains that his display is barbaric.

Hardly the actions of a true friend, wouldn't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Hitler in the 25th Century

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck slips a powerful pain reliever into Princess Ardala's drink. After she drifts off to sleep, he slips out of her stateroom to explore the Draconian flagship. He finds the fighter bay filled not with Draconian ships, but pirate marauders. Just so there is no mistake, the snout of each vessel is emblazoned with that eternal symbol of piracy, a grinning white death's head.

Then he notices something even more frightening.

The livid red and black stripes in which the fuselages were decked gave the strange impression, here in the shadowy light of the launch deck, of an ancient symbol of death and destruction and sheer, malevolent evil, that Buck remembered learning about in his history classes back in the early 1980s.

They were formed like the evil, broken-limbed cross, the ancient swastika.

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E Steele (aka Richard A Lupoff)

Earlier, Lupoff described Emperor Draco's physical features like those of a decadent sultan or king in a Sword And Sorcery story like Conan The Barbarian. He compared the Emperor and his accomplishments to those of Henry VIII of England and the Mongol chieftain (and empire builder) Genghis Khan. Now he enhances his portrait of Draco by suggesting a link with Adolf Hitler.

I'm not sure why Lupoff would associate Draco with a government leader remembered for killing off an entire race of people. But then, I'm puzzled why any people in their right minds would found or join a movement in the 21st Century, identify themselves with a symbol associated with racial hatred and genocide, and believe they could accomplish anything good or worthwhile through their efforts. And I'm astounded by the suggestion that a national leader could, even for a moment, sympathize with such a group.

But then, I'm often amazed by people's choices in entertainment, and by the character of the people they follow, discuss, and otherwise support.

I'm certainly glad Glen Larson never suggested a Nazi comparison in the film or TV series. I've always liked Princess Ardala. While technically a villain, she became one of my favorite characters. But I can't imagine watching the stories she starred in with such pleasure if I saw her as the daughter of a 25th Century Hitler. Could you?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Princess Ardala Vs Wilma Deering

Commander Kane, Princess Ardala's 2nd in command, aspires to rule (or help rule) the Draconian Empire. In this, he is even encouraged by Draco. All of Ardala's sisters have married men whom they could control. Kane longs to marry Ardala, temper her wild, irresponsible tendencies, and thus help groom Ardala to succeed Draco.

There's only one problem. Ardala doesn't want him. Like any child, she always longs for what she cannot have. And she recognizes strength in Buck Rogers, a man who should have died several times, both due to her treachery (in framing him as a spy), and by sending him out to battle the "pirate ships" that attack her supposedly defenseless flagship. So when Buck courts her, in his 20th Century way, in the ballroom, she welcomes his advances. 

Sensing he is losing his hold over Ardala, Kane interrupts their dance, and asserts that she must attend to affairs of state now. Ardala's response is instant, and primal:

Ardala made a low animal growl in her throat. Her eyes flashed, and she raised her long talon-like fingernails as if she intended to rake Kane's face with them.
--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E. Steele (Richard A Lupoff)

The warrior princess is a longstanding Science Fiction trope. The idea of the feral, barely civilized princess, harkens back to Lupoff's comparison between Emperor Draco and Genghis Khan. It also makes an interesting comparison in the novel between Ardala and Wilma Deering. 

As Buck leaves the ball, Wilma Deering corners Buck. Like Ardala, Buck has awakened feelings in Wilma too. Unlike Ardala, who is all passion, Colonel Wilma Deering is all cold intellect, with her emotions firmly in the "Off" setting. Buck's arousal of unfamiliar feelings leaves Wilma confused. So she constantly vacillates between love and hate of Buck, between wanting to rush to his defense, and wanting to condemn him to death. 

Wilma may be the cool, civilized woman. Unlike the Princess, she's achieved her rank in society through hard work, determination, and merit. She may not intend to use Buck or control him like Ardala. Still, in this way, even though she's 180 degrees different from Ardala, she treats Buck in a similar way to the Princess. If he responds as she desires, she believes in him. If he doesn't...well then, he must be the enemy!

As Buck shakes off Wilma's advance and leaves the Ball, there's a poignant moment. Ardala parades grandly from the Ball, sure of her womanhood, and believing that she has Buck under her spell. Wilma watches Buck leave, and bewildered at his refusal, her passion for him turns dark at his rejection. Once more, she tells herself that he must be a spy. Then she gazes down at her fingernails. 

Unlike Ardala's, her fingernails are short and carefully trimmed.

If this physical difference between the two women was not an elaboration of Lupoff's but present in Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' screenplay, it was abandoned during production. The Princess Ardala we see is not a feral creature. She's sensual, calculating, and willful. She is no warrior princess, capable of literally clawing out Kane's eyes. Still, she's more than a match for Kane, even if she can never capture Buck's heart.

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Twiki's Rebellion

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, after the reception in the Palace of Mirrors, Twiki and Dr. Theopolis follow Buck. When they see him sneak aboard Princess Ardala's shuttle, they follow, and hide in a cupboard. Unfortunately, the cupboard is refrigerated. At one point, Twiki emerges shivering. Dr. Theopolis reminds him that they need to stay out of sight, and orders him back inside. 

Instead, Twiki grabs a bottle of Vinol, opens it, and takes a swig. The computer brain Dr. Theopolis relents at this point, musing that the Vinol will help prevent Twiki's circuits from freezing. So he can drink the rest of the synthetic wine, provided he returns to his refrigerated hiding place immediately.

What can you say? Due to Dr. Theopolis' loyalty to Buck, Twiki was banished to the wasteland along with Buck. Then he was chased, and nearly taken apart by scavengers. Is it any wonder he starts to rebel in small ways, like getting down on the dance floor, or taking to the bottle? Poor Twiki! When adults like Buck behave, it's always the drones that suffer!

Dragon Dave

P.S. Keep safe on the space ways. Remember to never drink Vinol and Fly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Evolution of Twiki

All the while Buck and Ardala had been dancing, Twiki had watched and listened, his mechanical relays and circuits clicking over in time to the music. Now he tried a few steps of his own in imitation of Captain Rogers.

"Twiki, stop that! People are watching!" Theopolis scolded. 

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Richard A Lupoff (Addison E Steele)

Disco surged in popularity in the late 1970s, due in no small part to the movie "Saturday Night Fever," which came out in 1977. The film was so popular (even more popular with adults than "Star Wars," which also came out that summer), that it's easy to imagine Lupoff thinking of John Travolta when he wrote that scene. While Disco proved a fad, today's dancing are just as freeform and expressive of one's feelings as John Travolta's star-making performance. Unlike more formal styles, there are no barriers to entry. One doesn't need to practice intricate movements. With little or no experience, one can just get down and boogie. Even Buck's robot companion, the drone Twiki, decided to follow Buck's lead, and give it a go.

While we all know and love the waist-high wisecracking robot from the film and TV series, in the novelization he is quite different. The first time Buck sees him, he can barely keep from laughing. Twiki totters around the room with his head at an angle. The drone reminds Buck from the chimpanzees he saw in the Chicago Zoo during his childhood. Nor does Twiki talk. Instead, he squeaks, squeals, and makes electronic noises reminiscent of the droid R2-D2 in "Star Wars." The interplay between Twiki and his talking A.I. companion Dr. Theopolis makes an interesting comparison with R2-D2 and C-3PO in "Star Wars."

This makes me wonder if Glen Larson originally planned to use a chimpanzee-in-a-suit for Twiki, as he had previously for Daggit in "Battlestar Galactica." If so, I'm glad Larson's concept of Twiki evolved into the fun-loving guy we all know and love. For all his complaining, George Lucas, the creator of "Star Wars" was right: "Battlestar Galactica" copied too many aspects of "Star Wars." Larson's final version of Twiki helped make "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" a far more unique creation.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Wilma's Outrage

In "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," this grand ball is an event to which Buck Rogers has been invited. He feels overwhelmed, and completely uncomfortable, as you can imagine. For it wasn't that long ago that the Artificial Intelligence Overlords had judged him a traitor, and banished him to the wastelands. Although he was granted a reprieve, he has never proven his assertions of his innocence, or his suspicions that Earth is unwise to link itself with Draconia. And yet here he is, expected to dress to the hilt, and act like an important dignitary, at an event which he feels in his heart is a sham, and which will herald the ruin of his planet.

It's not as if anyone on Earth even wants him in the room (aside from his Artificial Intelligence friend Dr. Theopolis, and possibly the drone Twiki). He's here simply as a favor to Princess Ardala, the Draconian would-be-conqueror of Earth. She declares to the Earth dignitaries that he is a hero, for having defended her flagship from the dreaded pirates. Yet he can't help but feel as if he's being played. As he stated earlier at his trial before the AI overlords of Earth, he's like a pawn in a game of chess.

Buck doesn't understand the intricacies of 25th century dance. So when he approaches Princess Ardala, and asks her to dance, she allows him to instruct the orchestra to play something more suited to his tastes. What he requests is something more familiar to him. Something from his past. In the novelization by Richard A Lupoff, as the orchestra begins to play, Buck pops his knuckles, setting up a rocking rhythm, like a famous disco dancer of the ancient past. Everyone in the hall, even the princess, gapes as Buck demonstrates a sexy boogie step of the late 1980s

While everyone in the hall is shocked, and some like Wilma even offended, Ardala is much more uninhibited. She joins Buck in "getting down," and has as much fun as he does. The Earth dignitaries, including Wilma, seem backward and puffed with pride. As a viewer, it's hard to immediately feel for them. It's especially hard to feel for young, beautiful, vivacious Wilma. She seems the most likely to accept societal change. Yet she is appalled, even outraged by Buck's display. 

Imagine if this scene were to play out in Jane Austen's time. What if Buck Rogers had traveled back in time instead of forward? What if Buck had attended a ball in Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice? Remember the scene in Jane Austen's famous novel in which Mr. Collins, the clergyman related to the Bennett family, attempts to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy? Mr. Collins has a strong pastoral and friendly relationship with Mr. Darcy's aunt. Yet Mr. Darcy is affronted that Mr. Collins would personally introduce himself, rather than follow the norms of that time, and wait for a mutual friend to introduce him. How do you think Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy would have reacted to Buck's boogie?

Suddenly, Wilma's outrage over Buck's flaunting of conventions grows more understandable, and a little harder to easily dismiss.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Jane Austen in the 25th Century

Earth culture of the 25th Century blends elements from all eras of recorded time (at least what the historians can piece together from surviving culture. Such is the formal dance performed in the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As Richard A Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele) describes in the novelization, the dance is a mixture of minuet and quadrille, ballet and free-form interpretive. As the dancers move, they pass along globes containing lit candles. The chandeliers dim as the dance reaches its climax, producing a fairyland of multicolored fireflies floating on the invisible breeze. 

The dance performed in the film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" reminds me more of the formal style portrayed in Jane Austen dramatizations than it does Lupoff's description. Just as I like Jane Austen's novels and dramatizations, there's a strong love for her books and characters in the Science Fiction community. American Science Fiction conventions regularly host Regency Balls, in which participants attend in period dress. I'm not sure why SF fans like Jane Austen and cosplaying Old English societal norms, but her stories are timeless, and things like dressing up and drinking tea are always fun. It's nice that series creator, producer, and pilot co-screenwriter Glen Larson tipped his hat to fans of Science Fiction and Jane Austen in his film.

As the TV series progressed, Larson would lean more on Lupoff's description, and portray much more of a blending of styles and freeform interpretation in episodes containing dances. Sadly, those scenes never matched the elegance Lupoff envisaged, and seem dated by today's standards. But this dance in the pilot is elegant and impressive.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Embracing Tyranny

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to pen name Addison E Steele), after Princess Ardala appears in the Palace of Mirrors, a live holographic projection of her father, Draco the Conqueror, is transmitted from his palace on his home planet via Ardala's flagship. The crowd of Earth dignitaries gasp and cringe at this gross and menacing figure. Then they politely applaud the power and authority he represents.

As Emperor Draco addresses the crowd, Princess Ardala's top military officer Kane whispers, "There are two things your father enjoys most: spellbinding a crowd and conquering a new world. This is a rare opportunity for him--to do both at once."

While Draco promises eternal peace through this pact, the Earthers see it as nothing more than a mutually beneficial exchange. Lupoff compares Draco to such historical figures as Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan. It is true that both figures, in their own way, would have been seen by some as liberators. It is also true that many of their subjects would have welcomed such a strong leader to reorganize their society and form a stable government. However, Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan are mostly remembered for the incredible levels of bloodshed and destruction involved in consolidating their power. 

As an outsider, Buck suspects that Draco will lull Earth with promises of peace, only to use his greater access to the world to sweep aside the existing power structure of Earth and rule it as a subject planet. It's interesting how, in Lupoff's description, the Earthers' initially cringe at Draco. But as their off-world food supply is threatened, the people disregard their first impression, and welcome him for his promise to protect their food shipments.

In the TV film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Draco does not address the Earth dignitaries in the Palace of Mirrors. We only see him at the end. Then he appears as a holographic projection on Princess Ardala's flagship to rant at Kane and Ardala for deciding to attack Earth before the rest of the fleet arrives. It's a one-hundred-and-eighty degree difference between the jowly, obese emperor and the diminutive, wizened ruler. Perhaps the filmmakers rethought, and subsequently recast Draco in this manner to suggest that he often conquered worlds more through subterfuge, and a threat of force, rather than through an actual ability to conquer and maintain power.  

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Palace of Mirrors

Within the Palace of Mirrors there were splendid chambers and halls for every purpose and sort, each more magnificent and sumptuous than the next, for all the surviving wealth and all the surviving glory of Earth were represented here. And even so, within the Palace of Mirrors, there was none to compare even remotely, in dazzling magnificence, with the Grand Ballroom.

In the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to the pen name Addison E Steele), Science Fiction and Mystery writer Richard A Lupoff goes on to describe this most heralded and prestigious chamber, set in the most heralded and prestigious building, and in the most heralded and prestigious area of New Chicago, or the Inner City. The ceiling in this regal chamber gives one the impression of a glowing jewel through which colors, spectrums, and intensities of light vary, and never cease to delight the eye. The walls are mirrored, and the floors likewise reflective. 

The effect of being in the room was thus one of being wholly surrounded by, bathed in, permeated, and all but absorbed by a supernatural solution of pure light and tone.

Richard A Lupoff spends several pages explaining how the Grand Ballroom is hung with regal banners and displays. Trumpets sound. Prestigious government personnel of all sorts, both from Earth and Draconia, enter amid much pomp and circumstance. I have no idea how much of this rich description was included in the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens, and how much was invented by Richard A Lupoff. In any case, Lupoff paints a picture of a grand affair of state, in which the Earth government pulls out all the stops, and only invites the most important people, to attend this ceremony intended to cement relations between Earth and the Draconian Empire. 

Obviously, a 1970s production crew was never going to pull all this off on a TV budget. I doubt even the movie studios of the time could have reproduced Lupoff's description faithfully. All of which goes to show that, when it comes to exciting our imaginations, books wield far superior power to movies and TV shows. Or at least they did, before computer generated digital effects were available. 

Here's what the TV production pulled off in 1978.

In a way, Richard A Lupoff's novelization serves as journey through time just as startling as Buck's. For Lupoff's novelization of the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens could not have been filmed in all its glory when he wrote it back in 1977. But forty years later, in 2017, with the aid of modern techniques (including computer-generated special effects), and with the backing of a powerful movie studio, a new film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" could be made that would faithfully reproduce the words Lupoff originally put to paper with a plunking, ringing, clickety-clack typewriter. It'd be nice if someone in Hollywood would do that, don't you think?

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: For the Love of Jennifer

In the last post, I posed the question: in the movie version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," why would Buck refuse to accompany Wilma and her rescue party back to New Chicago? Remember, he's seen the ruins of old Chicago. He's found his family's grave. It must be obvious to him by now that everyone he knew and loved was gone. As he's just been attacked, why should he remain?

Remember, in the original screenplay, upon which Richard A Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele) based his novelization, Buck is grateful for her timely rescue, and willingly accompanies her back to New Chicago.

One possible answer is simple bravado, but that doesn't feel right to me. Buck usually did things for logical reasons. He didn't usually refuse to act in his best interests, or the interests of others, when one's personal safety, or one's existence, was threatened. 

Late in the first season, Buck and Twiki see a woman in a shopping mall in New Chicago. She looks familiar to Buck, like a ghost from his past. Eventually he tracks her down. She is the spitting image of Jennifer, a woman he loved in 20th Century Earth. Nor was she just a fling. He had planned on marrying her when he returned from his deep space mission. Only his ship experienced a freak accident, and he returned 500 years later. Of course, she's not the woman he loved back in the 20th Century, but as he discovers, she is someone he might possibly learn to love, given the right circumstances.

Does it make sense that Buck would refuse to accompany Wilma back to New Chicago, even at the potential cost of his life, to find Jennifer's grave? That's the only answer that makes sense to me. I'd like to think there's a better reason behind the script writers decision to change Buck's response to Wilma's rescue than simple bravado. 

What do you think?

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Search or Defiance

In the film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck is not exiled to the devastated lands outside. Instead, after his discussion with Wilma Deering, he voluntarily leaves New Chicago to search the ruins of Old Chicago. He is accompanied in his quest by Dr. Theopolis, the A.I. Overlord (although they are never called that in the film), and the drone Twiki. In a cemetery, Buck discovers a grave listing the names of his immediate family members. Then he and his new friends are attacked by a pack of savage humans who live in the ruins of the once great city.

Earlier in the film, Buck had declared his intentions to venture unaccompanied, wherever he wished, in order to learn more about his past. Colonel Wilma Deering threatened to shoot him, but then decided to let him go. Now, in the film, she and a party of soldiers arrive to save him. No explanation is given for how they discovered he had left the Inner City, or why they chose to follow him. 

In addition to this reordering of events (in the book, he is exiled after the trial; in the film, he ventures out before the hidden transmitter is found on his ship), there is another crucial difference. In Richard A Lupoff's novelization (credited to the pen name of Addison E. Steele), Buck Rogers is grateful for Wilma's timely rescue, and willingly accompanies her back to New Chicago. In the film, he defiantly states that he's not through searching for answers. When Wilma insists they return, he declares for a second time that she will have to shoot him to stop him for continuing his quest. This time, she refuses to back down, and has one of her soldiers shoot him. (Only after they return, in the film, do Dr. Huer and Wilma learn of the hidden transmitter, which necessitates Buck's trial).

The ordering of events in Lupoff's novelization, based on an earlier version of the script, makes sense. Buck's venturing out of the highly defended Inner City, in the film, can be explained away, as can Wilma discovering his decision and sending out a search party. (A sad consequence of this reversal is we lose Dr. Huer's heroic fight to save Buck in the film). But what about Buck's defiance when he and his electronic friends have just been rescued from certain death? How can we understand Buck's insistence upon remaining in Old Chicago, now that he knows his family has died, and the world he loved really has been destroyed? Is it simple defiance, a willing rejection of the truth? Or is he still searching for something? And if so, what?

It's a question that has vexed me, so I thought I would share it with you. (Hey, I'm considerate like that).

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Dr. Huer's Strength

In Richard A. Lupoff's novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (written under the pen name of Addison E. Steele), it falls on Dr. Huer to petition the Council to reverse or suspend their decision. One can only imagine what is going on in Dr. Huer's mind as he steps into that august chamber. Up until now, he has believed that Earth needs the treaty with the Draconian Empire. Now he is about to argue that the Council should reverse its judgment of a capital crime, and allow him, Wilma, and Buck to endanger the treaty with the Draconian Empire. 

As you can imagine, Prosecutor Apol is against him. The very fabric of our society," Council Apol lectures Dr. Huer, "is threatened when a ruling of the Council is reversed, or even suspended."

"If by some horrible error of judgment the Draconians are admitted to Earth, and they come to us not as friends but as traitors and enemies in our very midst, then all will be lost," Doctor Huer argues. Then we will suffer an absolute defeat!"

Despite Apol's opposition, the Council votes to suspend Buck's sentence and proceed with Doctor Huer's plan. When Wilma congratulates Doctor Huer, he urges her to quickly gather as many people as she can. They must go heavily armed, and they must find him quickly. If the scavengers and other rabble find him first, all their efforts on Buck's part will have been in vain.  

One can only imagine what was going on in Doctor Huer's mind when he decided to side with Wilma and appeal to the Computer Council. The Council banished Doctor Theopolis for daring to defend Buck, and quickly elevated another of their own to replace him. Where did he get his inner strength to challenge the Council, his earlier faith in the Draconians, and perhaps his future in New Chicago, to save the life of another person?

Humanity has lost nearly all of its heritage, and gradually been weaned back into a semblance of maturity by the Computer Council. But not all of its history, culture, and beliefs have been lost. Take for example, this curious artifact placed prominently on Doctor Huer's desk. 

Perhaps that ancient tome, not mentioned in Richard A. Lupoff's novelization, holds a clue as to the source of Doctor Huer's strength.

Dragon Dave 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: For the Love of Buck

In Richard A. Lupoff's novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," the Computer Council of New Chicago has ruled in favor of Prosecutor Apol. For his acts of espionage and treason against the state, Captain William Buck Rogers, along with his representative Doctor Theopolis, are banished to the devastated lands outside. 

Doctor Huer, the sage of the Inner Cities, and Colonel Wilma Deering quietly leave the chamber, while the other Human spectators shake hands and slap each other on the back to celebrate the verdict. 

Later, Doctor Huer is still rueing the verdict when Colonel Deering bursts into his office. "Doctor, I need your help desperately!"

"What is it?" Huer asks, startled. 

"It's Buck Rogers." Wilma was nearly in tears. "We must get him back, Dr. Huer. We must!"

Initially, when Doctor Huer and Doctor Theopolis chose to believe Buck's story, Wilma refused to accept their assessment. She claimed he might possibly endanger Earth's treaty with the Draconian Empire. But now she begs Doctor Huer to petition the Computer Council. If the Council will allow Buck to return, she could fly him out to Princess Ardala's flagship, and use his allegations, based only on supposition and logic, as an excuse to search the ship for weapons. 

It's a strange argument for her to make. There's no logical reason why Dr. Huer should agree. All the facts, as they know them, suggest that Buck Rogers is guilty of espionage. Furthermore, Wilma's plan will endanger the treaty with Draconia, and therefore Earth's future. Nonetheless, Dr. Huer agrees to help her save Buck. 

Logically, you have to wonder why "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" continues to be popular. People still love watching this old 1970s TV series. It's not because the show offered gripping drama. It's not because the shows were smart in a scientific sense. But it offered one quality that is difficult to manufacture, one that so many fail to find. Simply put, the show had charm.

At the heart of the series was Buck, an All-American Hero displaced in time. He was an underdog in the sense that he had lost everything and everyone that he ever cared about. Yet he quickly chose to settle in New Chicago, and was always willing to help everyone he found in need, whether they came from Earth or some other planet. That's why all the good people, and even most of the antiheroes he met in the series, usually befriended Buck by the end of their adventures together. And that's why, even after knowing Buck for so little time, Wilma and Dr. Huer would risk their lives, and the future of Earth, to save him.

As Dr. Theopolis, the Computer Council member who was exiled from New Chicago for steadfastly defending him, told Wilma, "He's a wwwwuuuunnnderful man." Now that's the kind of person you will risk everything for.

Dragon Dave