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Monday, December 11, 2017

Doctor Who on English Bathing Huts

Beach Huts in Torquay, Agatha Christie's hometown

I first noticed these colorful beach huts while exploring the counties of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall on our 2015 trip to England. People rent these wood or brick buildings by the week, or even by the year. It gives them a place to store their beach items, and a little home-away-from-home while relaxing by the water each day. This allows parents to watch their kids play from the comfort of a chair on the wooden deck in front of the hut, or sit inside, share a meal or a game of cards, and even take a nap out of the sun. Nearby shops sell food and drink, rent other seaside amenities, and public toilets are also usually nearby.

On our visit to Cromer this year, a seaside town in Norfolk county, we saw more of these huts lining the beach. Cromer was a picturesque rocky beach, but the sea could get rough, and the wind can be strong. Some of these huts had windows with curtains, small refrigerators and sinks. Such conveniences allow one to enjoy the view, sheltered from the wind or rain, and enjoy more of the comforts of home.

Beach Huts in Cromer

In the Doctor Who novel The English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts, British biscuit (cookie) magnate Hepworth Stackhouse notices a small, lonely building while vacationing on the coast of England circa 1930.

It was a small brick building, five feet square, without external signs or markings. On the side facing the cove's wall was a wooden door, fitted with a brass knob. It was every inch a representative of its kind, with nothing of note in its appearance. Its singular oddness lay in its location. Why, wondered Stackhouse, would anybody choose to build a bathing-hut here, three quarters of a mile from the beach, on an area strewn with large rocks and pebbles?

Unfortunately, Stackhouse decides to investigate this mystery. When he tries to open the door, a gaseous intelligence overtakes him. Possessed by this malevolent alien, he kidnaps a prominent scientist, kills homeless people for sustenance, and raises a zombie army. It's up to the fourth Doctor, his time-lord companion Romana, his robot dog K-9, and a merry group of time travelers from the future, to prevent the intelligence controlling Stackhouse from destroying the Earth.

After learning the dangers a lonely English bathing hut might pose to humanity, I figured I had better learn more. An online search for "bathing hut" yielded two options: a bathing machine, and a beach hut. During England's Victorian era, bathing machines resembled today's colorful wooden beach huts. Only they were set on wheels. 

A woman entered a Victorian bathing hut fully clothed on dry land. The machine was then pulled by horses or people over the sand and rocks beach. When the woman finished changing into her bathing suit, she walked out of the hut, and stepped down the water. 

By 1930, when the events in The English Way of Death occurred, these wheeled huts seem to have been replaced by stationary changing rooms. Perhaps some, those built out of nick or stone, even sported modern conveniences like toilets and sinks. Or perhaps what Stackhouse saw was not a changing facility, but a beach hut for rent.

So did British biscuit (cookie) magnate Hepworth Stackhouse see a changing station, or a beach hut for rent? Sadly, Gareth Roberts' record of events is unclear. But given my uncertainty, I'll be more wary of these colorful additions to English beaches on future trips. And the question remains: what should I do if I see one of these brightly painted little buildings set off by itself, and located farther away from the beach than seems practical? Should I call the police? Or should I just go to the nearest shop, and buy myself a delicious English biscuit (cookie)?

Dragon Dave

Monday, December 4, 2017

E. F. Benson on the Value of a Cambridge Education: Part 2

During our boat trip on the River Cam, our tour guide praised the architecture of King's College, and spoke glowingly about the beauty of its famed chapel. Strangely, he then asserted that the interiors, and particularly the dormitories, had not kept up with the times, and were little better than prison cells. 

If this is the case now, I can only assume they were nicer a hundred years ago, when author E. F. Benson studied there. 

In his novel The Babe, B.A., E. F. Benson introduces us to a group of fun-loving young students at Cambridge. Most are studying at King's College, and the foremost of them is the Babe. He may be the son of an aristocrat serving in the House of Lords, but he's the silliest, and yet most learned of them all. 

The Babe, as everyone calls him, is the picture of fun, and his hijinks, and lack of scholastic excellence, constantly land him in trouble with the authorities. Everyone loves him for his athletic feats on the Rugby grounds, and the parties he holds or attends. Yet in the midst of revelry, or lighthearted talk, he will suddenly astound everyone by throwing out a completely unexpected reference to a famous poet like Wordsworth, an erudite writer like Charles Kingsley, or controversial literary magazine like The Yellow Book. 

Toward the end of his second year at King's College, his extracurricular activities land him in real trouble. Instead of studying for exams, the Babe goes out with his friends on the Cam for a picnic and a swim at Byron's Pool near Grantchester. When he returns after hours to his dormitory, he tries to sneak into his room. But he is caught, and the college authorities dismiss him for the rest of the term. So he goes to live with his father in London. 

During the summer break, his friends from Cambridge visit him in London. They join with his father's aristocratic friends in suggesting that the Babe isn't cut out for scholarly pursuits, and he should devote his life to something else. The realization that he's virtually wasted the tremendous opportunity of higher education galvanizes him. When the Babe returns to King's College for his final year, he allows himself the occasional game of Rugby. But for the most part, he throws himself into his studies, gives up parties and frivolity, and surprises everyone when he graduates with distinction

The British people have recently demanded that their government do more to rein in the costs of a university education. Strangely, the government in the United States seems to be moving in the opposite direction. A move to reform and "simplify" taxes would include provisions to tax certain private universities, end tax credits for university workers and their families, restrict higher education tax credits, and eliminate deductions for graduates repaying their student loans. 

No one likes being taxed on the money they earn. Still, life isn't about money: it's about doing what you find meaningful and fulfilling. If government reforms make it harder for people to afford an already-expensive college education, and prepare the young for their desired career, then perhaps the elected officials should reexamine their plans, and question whether they are in the country's best interests.

That's what British citizens want their government to do. Certainly our tour guide would agree with that sentiment. After all, he studied at a university in Brighton, and graduated with a Pre-Med degree. But instead of continuing his studies, he had to spend a few years guiding a boat along the River Cam, regaling tourists from around the world with anecdotes from Cambridge's past, while he repaid his student loans. While being a tour guide a worthy profession, I think we'd all agree that the world needs the qualified doctors and nurses more. 

But then, he was a great tour guide, and gave us a fun, relaxing boat trip on the River Cam. Perhaps that's what the Babe or his friends might have done, if they needed money too.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 27, 2017

E. F. Benson on the Value of a Cambridge Education: Part 1

A highlight of our Cambridge experience was drifting along the River Cam past King's College. Not only do we see the Doctor and Romana punting past the college in "Shada" and "The Five Doctors," but one of my favorite English authors, E. F. Benson, attended King's College. He set Limitations, one of his early novels, at his old alma mater. 

In Limitations, two students at King's College ponder their future. Ted Markham is the son of a priest, only there because of a rich man's generosity. His friend Tom Carlingford is the son of the rich man, the lord of the manor, who has sent both his son and the son of his family priest to such a costly and prestigious school. But while Ted values the tremendous gift he's been given, and spends all his time studying, Tom whiles away his time at college, and dreams of becoming a sculptor. 

Like Tom and Ted, people today still argue over the value of a university education. Those who identify with Tom Carlingford, the idle rich man's son, argue that all that matters is that you leave with a degree, which will provide you with the qualifications for higher paying jobs. And if you're young, and not interested in your studies, then the time and money spent there seems like a waste. 

Tom saves his harshest criticism for students like his friend Ted, who plan on becoming university teachers and scholars. He warns Ted that many educators actually turn themselves into vegetables. Instead of using their greater knowledge to become dynamic, creative people, they become authorities on subjects that no one else cares about, such as gerunds, obscure Greek writers, binomial theorems, or acid radicals. 

Despite his friend's arguments, Ted, the poor man's son, stays at King's College, graduates with distinction, and goes on to become an educator there. He enjoys his life filled with books and learning, and sharing all he discovers with colleagues and students. His life, for him, is idyllic, and one he could not have achieved without the generosity of his patron, Tom's father.

Tom Carlingford, the rich man's son, leaves King's College before graduation. He uses his father's generous allowance to travel, and study the creations of great artists. In Greece, he is inspired by the Greek's classical style. He works hard to develop his talents, and hone his craft, in order to create statues as beautiful as those that fire his imagination. In this way, he educates himself, and singlehandedly forges his own future.

All is well until his father dies. Then Tom learns that his father's investments had been failing for years, and he is now penniless. So while Ted enjoys his new life as an educator in Cambridge, surrounded by people who respect him and appreciate his talents, Tom struggles to make ends meet in London, and picks up any scraps of work he can to put food on the table. Eventually he achieves success in his chosen vocation, but not before he undergoes a great deal of suffering.

While we toured this historic center of higher education, England was contemplating a change in leadership. Shortly after we left Cambridge, the country held an election. Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to gain more Conservative Party seats in the House of Commons. Instead, people in the UK voted for the Labour Party. While I'm sure there were many reasons the Conservative Party lost, most of the young people interviewed on TV News programs said that they voted Labour because they wanted a university education, but under the current leadership they couldn't afford it. 

Hopefully, the British government will listen to this mandate, and do something to make university educations more affordable for its citizens. Whether you identify more with Ted Markham or Tom Carlingford, not all of us have rich parents or benefactors, and it's always nice to have a choice as to which path you follow in life.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 20, 2017

Braving the Evils of Cambridge with Doctor Who: Part 2

Outside Emmanuel college, some students ambushed us with their soppy hard luck stories about how taking a ride in the River Cam could help them pay for their education. I couldn't help if but wonder at the veracity of their claims. I mean, tuition at one of England's top two university towns can't be all that expensive, right? 

There's a debate going on regarding education these days. Some authorities maintain that all students are evil. The rest maintain that most, while not villains, are nonetheless capable of blending facts and lies to their advantage. However one may categorize the students at Cambridge, they convinced us to take their tour with their "cheap" prices. Then they led us astray, or at least down to Garret Hostel Bridge. There we joined a group of other gullible tourists from exotic locales like Spain and India. 

While we waited to board our vessel, a gentleman from a nearby pub hawked his "authorized" (and more expensive) tours. He also informed us that, by consorting with "unregistered" students, we were technically breaking the law. Leave it to a pub owner to dispense the truth about the evil students'  activities with such kindness. Still, aside from assaulting us with his honesty, he left us to our wicked ways. Soon we boarded our simple wooden vessel, and the students launched us out onto the Cam.

Bridges spanning the River Cam range from functional to stunning. Many boast a fascinating history. One of our tour guide's anecdotes, regarding Clare Bridge, proved especially memorable.

The student, who supposedly finished his undergraduate degree at Brighton University, told us that builders had left one of the ornamental stone balls along the rails chipped. This subterfuge left the bridge unfinished in the eyes of the law, which helped the then bridge owners pay less than their fair share of taxes to the crown. That's the problem with consorting with students. Pretty soon, you're falling prey to their evil, cheating ways.

Doctor Who fans will find another anecdote about Clare Bridge equally interesting. As the Doctor and his companion Romana punted along the Cam in the story "Shada", they were unexpectedly whisked off to Gallifrey (and the story interrupted by another story, "The Five Doctors") by the evil Lord President. Once the Doctor (in all five incarnations) defeated the Lord President of Gallifrey, the Timelords returned him and Romana to their wooden boat on the Cam. They did this so expertly that we see no visual sign of their re-emergence in time in "Shada." Having said all that, we do see the Doctor, a centuries old Timelord who has amassed unimaginable knowledge on every conceivable subject, and mastered countless skills, suddenly lose his grip on his pole, and nearly fall into the water as he passes beneath Clare Bridge. So even the Doctor can get unsettled by unexpected trips through time, especially when directed by evil Timelords.

Of course, I've heard the rumor that actor Tom Baker refused to take punting lessons the day before filming his boating scenes for "Shada", figuring he could operate a punt without training. Personally, I have no time for rumors these days, especially ones that defame any actor who played in Doctor Who. Rumormongering is evil, and the virtuous man has nothing to do with them.

Dragon Dave

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