Category Archives: TV

Tales From the /lost+found 145: Damaged Goods

5×07 November 17, 2000

Setting: New York, NY, 1980s
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Lee Thompson Young (Leo), Katherine Heigl (Ruth)
Guest Cast: Judson Mills (Detective Coogan), Shia LaBeouf (Gabe), Alyson Reed (Jerri), Deah Haglund (Jenkins)

Plot: En route to the twenty-fifth century’s hottest wedding venue, the TARDIS suddenly diverts due to an override program triggered when it detects Time Lord technology in late-20th-century New York. The Doctor had programmed the TARDIS to search for lost Time War weapons after his encounter with the Time Destructor in San Francisco. The Doctor tries to locate the device using the TARDIS sensors, but the signal somehow appears to be coming from the whole city. While pounding the pavement for clues, Ruth is attacked by a drug addict. The Doctor is able to neutralize the desperate man using Venusian Akido, and they learn that there has been a massive recent surge of drug-related violence and drug-related deaths linked to a mysterious new street drug called “Warlock”. Using faked credentials, the Doctor gains access to forensic reports and learns that the autopsies of Warlock users inexplicably found shards of an unknown metal in their brains. The Doctor realizes that Warlock is linked to an inter-dimensional Time Lord weapon called an “N-Form”, which can physically extend itself through miniature wormholes created by a carefully engineered neurological structure. Ruth and Leo follow the young addict, trying to find the source of the drug. They learn that his home life is troubled due to his mother’s chronic depression and alcoholism, and the Doctor’s research into deceased Warlock users indicates this is a common pattern. The Doctor theorizes that the N-form developed a fault and is identifying a particular kind of human emotional trauma as a threat. Ruth and Leo trace the supply of Warlock to a single dealer, Jenkins, but even the Doctor can not determine the connection between the drug (which seems to be a simple plant-derived anti-depressant) and the N-Form. Believing that he can disable the N-form if he enters direct mental contact with it, and therefore takes a dose of Warlock. He enters communion with the N-form, a writhing mass of sharp metal tentacles. The N-form claims that the human race is marked by the enemy of the Time Lords. Since the N-form’s base program will not allow it to leave itself in the hands of the enemy, it can not deactivate without destroying the neural patterns that allow it to manifest in the physical world, which will kill any human who has taken Warlock. Meanwhile, in the physical world, Ruth finds an old newspaper clipping reporting that Jenkins had died six months earlier. Jenkins’s initial encounter with the N-Form had destroyed his brain, and his reanimated body is now being controlled by the N-Form directly. As humans, Jenkins considers Ruth and Leo to be enemy spies and extends a tentacle from his skull to dispatch them…

Tales From /lost+found 144: The Armageddon Variations

4×21 March 10, 2000

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT-time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Denis Forest (Malcolm), John Lithgow (John Manning), Rodger Bumpass (Voice of the Morthrai Council)

In voice-over, the Doctor describes the “Monty Hall” problem, in which the participant is asked to choose one of three doors, behind only one of which is a prize, then offered the chance to switch his selection after one of the other doors is opened. The Doctor explains the problem in terms of parallel universes. His explanation is wrong about a key aspect of the problem, but he reaches the unintuitive correct solution: switching doors increases the chances of winning. The Doctor and Lizzie have just arrived back in the present at UNIT to find the Morthrai mothership approaching Earth. Agent Blackwood pressures the Doctor to give UNIT Time Lord technology to combat the aliens, but the Doctor, having witnessed the dire consequences of humanity obtaining such technology, refuses, insisting that they attempt a diplomatic solution. He uses the TARDIS’s communications equipment to request an audience with the Morthrai ruling council. An attache from Washington accompanies The Doctor, Lizzie, and Blackwood to the mothership. The humans argue that, despite the Morthrai’s technological superiority, human numerical and resource advantages will ultimately lead them to a military victory. Given the great cost to both sides in a military confrontation, the Doctor suggests a compromise: human bodies which are near death or suffering from severe brain injuries could be given the the Morthrai as hosts, and with their technology and increased hardiness, the Morthrai could live in areas of the planet uninhabitable by humans. Even Lizzie is taken aback at the possibility of sharing the planet with aliens, but the Morthrai leadership seem to be satisfied with the terms. Negotiations come to an abrupt halt when multiple nuclear launches occur on Earth, targeting not the mothership, but other Terrestrial nations. Malcolm contacts the council, informing them that he has secretly launched a coordinated infiltration of dozens of nuclear installations across the Earth to throw the planet into chaos and neutralize its military capabilities. With no further need to negotiate, the council prepares to execute the Doctor and the humans… And the Doctor is back at UNIT, moments after emerging from the TARDIS. This time, the Doctor advises Blackwood to launch an immediate attack on the mothership before it can send reinforcements to Malcolm’s contingent. Missiles eventually destroy the mothership, but not before it can launch a retaliatory bombardment which kills billions. UNIT itself is attacked by Morthrai soldiers, and the Doctor realizes that the aliens were able to evacuate their mothership before its destruction. Blackwood sacrifices himself to buy the Doctor time to locate Malcolm’s base. Before he dies, the Doctor reveals that he is using his Time Lord abilities to play out possible timelines in order to find a way to defeat the Morthrai. This is dangerous, because two points determine a line, and thus, anything he witnesses in two different timelines becomes “locked in”. On the next reset, the Doctor again pushes for negotiation, but this time as a delaying tactic, sending the attache while remaining behind himself. Though UNIT is able to defeat Malcolm at his base, the mothership launches a surgical strike which disables Earth’s nuclear capabilities. The Doctor tries many more variations, and despite his efforts, more details get locked in. He eventually realizes that the attache is a deep cover Morthrai agent who, left unsupervised, will give the ruling council key strategic information. Since he is now committed to sending the attache, on the next loop, he sends Lizzie along with him. Once Malcolm is defeated, the Doctor and Blackwood travel to the mothership via TARDIS. The Doctor tries to offer the council the same deal as before, but the attache turns on them. Blackwood dispatches him and reveals an explosive device with which he intends to destroy the mothership. Abandoning Blackwood in disgust, the Doctor tries to flee with Lizzie, but the TARDIS refuses her entry. Unable to escape with Lizzie, the Doctor resets the loop a second before detonation. Explaining that he’s locked in too much of the timeline to change his approach, the Doctor allows the timeline to play out almost exactly as before, but this time, he leaves Blackwood behind to deal with Malcolm and joins Lizzie on the mothership early. When the Morthrai council refuse his offer of a diplomatic solution, the Doctor reveals that he has sabotaged their weapon systems, leaving them defenseless against human counterattack. Advising them to leave, he and Lizzie prepare to depart. As the TARDIS still won’t allow Lizzie inside, he prepares to send her back to Earth with the mothership’s teleporter, but Manning, who like Malcolm, has become obsessed with the glory of conquest, tries to shoot the Doctor, hitting Lizzie instead. As she dies in his arms, the loop resets again. Before Blackwood can even ask, the Doctor volunteers to use Time Lord technology to help the humans defeat the invaders.

Tales from the Found: Ranking the Capaldi Era

Because why not.

  1. Heaven Sent
  2. The Doctor Falls
  3. Extremis
  4. World Enough and Time
  5. Hell Bent
  6. The Pilot
  7. Into the Dalek
  8. Time Heist
  9. Thin Ice
  10. Last Christmas
  11. The Witch’s Familiar
  12. Death in Heaven
  13. Mummy on the Orient Express
  14. The Girl Who Died
  15. The Magician’s Apprentice
  16. The Caretaker
  17. Smile
  18. Dark Water
  19. The Husbands of River Song
  20. The Lie of the Land
  21. Kill the Moon
  22. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
  23. The Eaters of Light
  24. Flatline
  25. Twice Upon a Time
  26. The Zygon Invasion
  27. The Woman Who Lived
  28. The Zygon Inversion
  29. Knock Knock
  30. Oxygen
  31. Deep Breath
  32. In the Forest of the Night
  33. Under the Lake
  34. Face the Raven
  35. Before the Flood
  36. Empress of Mars
  37. Listen
  38. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  39. Robot of Sherwood
  40. Sleep No More

10-38 are mostly arbitrary; the two Zygon stories would rate much higher if it weren’t for the bit where a literal lord delivers the message that young people should just calm down and not do anything extreme in order to achieve freedom, equality, and the right not to be murdered in the street by a bunch of hicks for failing to disguise what they really are well enough. I imagine that I will look back on the Capaldi era as… a thing which happened.

Tales From the Found: Twice Upon a Time

Pop between realities, back in time for tea, here’s some thoughts about the 2017 Christmas special…

  • Look, asking me to believe that David Bradley looks at all like William Hartnell was going to be a stretch, but it’s the sort of thing a fellow has to accept as just what happens when fifty years pass and people die and all. But that morph shot when archive footage of Hartnell turns into new footage of Bradley? That is nightmare fuel on the level of the new 2017 rebooted Teddy Ruxpin.
  • Look, asking me to accept Mark Gattis… At all. At Christmas? Seriously?
  • Notice that they never say when the Antarctica scenes are set? There’s even a spot or two where the dialogue gets slightly awkward in order to avoid it. There’s an unpleasant sense here of Moffat, of all people, here at the end, being just a little ashamed of some of the goofy stuff that hasn’t aged well. Like how “The Tenth Planet” was set in 1986.
  • I dig the classic TARDIS set. I don’t think it works especially well as a regular set for the modern show, but I would really like for them to find excuses to roll it out once a season.
  • I rather liked the musical reprises, “I Am The Doctor” on Testimony, “Vale Dicem” when the Doctors arrive on Villengard, and the Ninth Doctor’s Theme during Bill’s heart-to-heart with the Bradley Doctor. But Murray Gold seems strangely muted for what I gather is his last outing; none of the big manipulative antics he’s known for.
  • That scene with Bill? That is the only moment when Bradley actually seems to be playing The Doctor, rather than playing an over-the-top caricature of the Fandom Zeitgeist of what “The First Doctor” was like. He complains a lot, he’s curmudgeonly, he’s bitter, he’s sexist, he hates the French. He dislikes his future selves’ sense of taste. Yes, look, Doctor Who was indeed hella sexist back in the ’60s and the Bill Harnell was personally kinda on the regressive side even for his time. But that era of the show was a lot of other things too, and this didn’t feel, outside of that one moment, like an earnest attempt to revisit the feel of that era, just a “The Five Doctors”-style attempt to bring in a William Hartnell impersonator to do a goofy First Doctor shtick. Only in The Five Doctors, everyone’s shtick was meant to be adorable, not sexist.
  • And, I mean, I’m not of the camp that believes Steven Moffat is a misogynist. You have to ignore way too much in order to support that. But we’re into “after three shakes, you’re playing with it” territory here: at some point, you’re no longer mocking the tacit sexism of ’60s Who; you’re reveling in it.
  • Also, did anyone else notice that when Bill outs herself, the Captain looks scandalized, but the Doctor looks kinda creepily aroused?
  • Though I will grant that the Captain’s reaction was fairly understated, which was a relief, especially coming from Gattiss, a guy who, as a writer at least, seems to love writing “people from the past freak out at the concept of gay people” scenes.
  • Oh, that scene with Bill and the Bradley Doctor on Villengard? Bill’s framing of the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey not as what he was running from but what he was running to? That’s fantastic.
  • And so, frankly, was the Doctor’s casual dismissal of his reasons for leaving as, essentially, “A bunch of things which seemed way more important at the time than they do now.”
  • I am glad they didn’t try to retcon in a more specific reason for the Doctor’s first regeneration by having him get shot or something.
  • Little surprised they didn’t CGI up an improved regeneration sequence. I have no feelings one way or the other about the decision beyond surprise.
  • I am also glad they let him just say “Time Lords” instead of having him talk around it to maintain the purity of the whole “Time Lords didn’t exist as a concept until The War Games” thing.
  • You noticed, didn’t you, that the speech Bill gives to the Doctor when he sends her back to the TARDIS on Villengard, the one about not being able to see her right in front of him, is the same one he gives Clara in “Deep Breath”?
  • Look, Clara, you’re the one who erased his memory. And sure, you had good reason, but it’s kinda a dick move to take him to task for it when you’re the one who did it.
  • “That’s the trouble with hope. Makes one awfully frightened.” Well, there’s 2017 in a nutshell for me.
  • A story with no real enemies, the Christmas Armistice as a major plot point, themes of rebirth, and this fairytale ending where it turns out that no one is ever really gone makes this very straightforwardly the most “Christmas” of all the Christmas stories.
  • At the same time, with all this stuff about reaching back and fiddling with one’s own past, interfering in the deaths of the parents of one’s friends, and everyone who ever lived getting a second life in the distant future, this is somehow the most straightforwardly Faction Paradox that Doctor Who has ever been. Which is super weird because…
  • It’s kinda also the most fluffy and insubstantial of the Christmas stories.
  • It bothers me how little any of the pieces of the story have to do with one another. Exactly what purpose does the Bradley Doctor serve in the narrative, anyway? I guess on the surface, he’s a plot device to create the temporal strangeness that serves as the setting to the episode. But what narrative function does he play?
  • What’s the Captain doing there anyway? Okay, the two Doctors trying to kill themselves in Antarctica in the ’80s breaks time. This is within the bounds of the sort of things we’ve seen before. Not the same exact thing as happened in “Father’s Day” or “The Wedding of River Song”, but close enough that we’ve established a basis between those earlier two to accept that fucking around with life and death on a temporal level like that can cause time to go sideways, and the exact details of what that means will vary depending on the exact circumstances. But “diverts a guy on his way to being beamed back to 1914” seems like a stretch. Why him? Testimony is apparently picking up people from all of time and space, and the one who gets shanghaied by the Doctors’ temporal crisis is a random Captain from the trenches in World War I? Why any of the infinity other people they’ve been beaming up?
  • It’s nice to see Rusty again, and I really like his animosity toward the Doctor; it woulda been easy to make him friendly, but the idea that hating the Doctor for his similarity to the Daleks would stick with Rusty is wonderful. Though I felt it undermined his credibility how easily the Doctor manipulated him. You get the feeling that you could basically get Rusty to do pretty much anything you liked by reminding him that helping an inferior lifeform would piss the Daleks off.
  • But speaking of which, Testimony freezes time on Villengard while the Doctor’s with Rusty. Which means that the time-freezing thing is something Testimony was doing, not because of the Doctors. There’s no sense of causality between the Doctor’s meeting, the “temporal error”, the Captain, or anything else that happens.
  • Unless, of course, the whole thing is a rouse. I mean, the Doctor screws around with time right in front of them to save the Captain and no one objects or anything. Could it be that Testimony never actually intended for the Captain to die, but rather set the whole thing up, matchmaking between the Doctor and Alistair’s dad, offering him a chance to see Bill, giving him back his memories of Clara, as a kindness?
  • But this only pushes the question off again: why now, and why the Captain? If this was all a set-up by Testimony, why did we get this episode and not David Tennant catching Colin Baker before he whacked his head and flying off to meet Jo Grant’s grandpa? I mean, other than “Because no one wants to watch that.”
  • The Captain’s identity is a bit out of nowhere, isn’t it? This is largely the same issue as the previous three bullet points, but, like, it being specifically him doesn’t connect to anything else in the story, it’s just “HERE IS A CONTINUITY REFERENCE. YOU NERDS LIKE THOSE DON’T YOU?”
  • I’m feeling a little bipolar about this whole episode now that I think about it. Whiplash back and forth between “There’s a whole bunch of stuff crammed in here for no reason” and “It seems a bit thin, doesn’t it?”
  • There’s the beginning of an arc going on with the Bradley Doctor being reluctant to regenerate, then horrified by his future as “The Doctor of War” (Don’t think I haven’t noticed how completely free they are with acknowledging the Hurt Doctor now that the cat’s out of the bag, despite his introduction as the secret the Doctor would take to his grave), and finally resigning himself to his future when his successor saves the Captain. But this ultimately isn’t his story, it’s the Capaldi Doctor’s, and thusly it doesn’t get enough focus for the weight it ought to have. The emotional heart of the episode has been shifted over to a side-plot.
  • Which gets me to the thing that worked the least for me: the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t have an emotional arc. We don’t actually see him grow or change or react to what happens around him in a way that brings about the ultimate character change. In the end, he changes his mind about dying and decides to regenerate instead. But why? It doesn’t feel like something that comes out of the events of the episode. In fact, his very last scene with Nardole, Bill and Clara suggests that he still hasn’t changed his mind. But then suddenly, for no clear reason, he consents to the regeneration. And despite his long speech, there’s no suggestion for why he does it.
  • You could tell a story about how meeting his former self causes him to face his own fears about regenerating. But that isn’t this story.
  • You could tell a story about how seeing Bill resurrected as a glass avatar and realizing that she is no less real even though she exists now as a being of memory rather than flesh and blood helps him to get past his refusal to let this version of himself be relegated to memory. But this isn’t that story. In fact, it seems like to the very end, he still isn’t completely able to accept that memory-Bill and memory-Nardole are legitimately themselves.
  • You could tell a story about the Doctor finally getting the answer to the question he poses to Bill about the sustainability of good — that he is the force in the universe that tips the scales in favor of good. But, again, this isn’t that story; the reveal happens to the wrong Doctor, and besides, the whole concept is introduced only in the middle of the second act.
  • You could even tell a story where meeting Testimony convinces the Doctor that the kindness he puts into the universe can ultimately be repaid, and this makes death less appealing. But again, this isn’t that story. This is a largely unrelated story, at the end of which, the Doctor shrugs and says “Okay, fine, I’ll regenerate.”
  • Y’know, I’m the one person who actually liked Tennant’s “I don’t want to go.” I think most people wanted some kind of grandiloquent speech instead.  This whole episode was Capaldi’s “I don’t want to go,” and he finishes on a big speech which, honestly, does nothing for me. I mean, it starts out at largely cliche platitudes, saying nothing that wasn’t already said much better in “The Doctor Falls”. By the time he gets to the bits about his name, honestly, the whole thing seems like just random meaningless gibberish trying to sound profound.
  • Jodie Whittaker is lovely, but I wish she’d gotten at least a whole sentence or two. Enjoyed the physical acting, but she gets far and away the least screen-time of any incoming Doctor in the new series. Given that they’ve released her new costume, I will also note that she continues the trend of the new Doctor looking cooler in the remains of her predecessor’s wardrobe than in her own.
  • Though not thrilled with the extent to which it’s a very straight rehash of Matt Smith’s first scene.
  • Overall… It was fine. Least favorite of the Capaldi Christmas Specials. Not disappointing-to-the-point-of-inducing-a-three-year-neurosis or anything. But a let-down all the same.

Tales From /lost+found 143: Christmas Special 2017

Click to Embiggen

4.X Living in Harmony: On the planet Hath, war has broken out between the Human and Messaline colonists. Traveling alone, the Doctor finds himself separated from the TARDIS and thrust into this tense situation. What has driven a wedge between these once-allied races? And who is Harmony Beck, an enigmatic young colonist who seems to know far more about the Doctor than she possibly could…

Deep Ice: Strong men, no weak ones (Superman: War of the Worlds, Pages 19-38)


I tell you, it feels really good that they went all-in on the Golden-Age costume here. Notice, though, that there’s no bullshitting around with a secret identity. Clark doesn’t even seem to have had time to think about such a thing. It’s obvious to Lois who he is and he doesn’t deny it. There’s no time for anyone to coin his moniker either; he’s just Clark Kent for the duration. Or occasionally, “That guy in the pajamas”.

In fact, Lois and Clark meet up with the army on the next page, and Captain who greets them asks whether he’s a foreign agent or with the circus. Which is an interesting combination of possibilities, and even better, Lois vouches for him by saying he’s her photographer. I could kinda see how this might actually carry some weight, with Lois being a general’s daughter, but Sam Lane wouldn’t be introduced until 1959, and it wasn’t until the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot that he was a military man. As it is, a random woman just told an army captain that the random dude with her in a weird costume is trustworthy. You can’t even suppose that Lois has clout as a famous journalist, since they’ve established that Lois has been stuck writing the agony aunt column waiting for Taylor to give her a break.

<Montgomery Burns Voice>Excellent.</Montgomery Burns Voice>

The obligatory scene of the army not believing this “Martians” nonsense is cut short with the reveal of the tripod, eliciting a shout of “Holy Crow!” from the captain. I assume this is a golden age comics thing, but all I can think of is Bella Swan. The tripod itself is a letdown after the really creative look we got from the Saddleback version, but it’s certainly consistent with the ’30s comic aesthetic. There’s not anything wrong with it, mind, it’s just the most straightforward interpretation possible; essentially a flying saucer on stilts. In one interesting choice that is true to the novel but rarely carries to adaptations, the heat ray isn’t built into the fuselage but is instead held in the manipulator arms.

I’m thinking the captain is modeled on Les Tremayne

When the army is slow to heed Clark’s warning to back off, he throws himself into the path of the heat ray to save them. At such close range, the blast is enough to stun even Clark, causing him to experience pain for the first time in his life. He recovers in time to shove a cannon and its operator out of the way, then lifts the heavy field piece over his head and fires it like a bazooka. When this fails to affect the tripod, Clark grabs the canon by the barrel and just clubs the Martian with it, knocking it over.


He’s able to pry open the fallen tripod, extract the struggling alien, and pitches it. Not all the way back to Mars, mind you; he points out that he’s not strong enough for that.

Superman can’t throw a Martian clear to Mars. But Ralph Kramden could probably punch one to the moon.

This is one point where the writing style can get a little annoying, and the artifice can show through a bit. This is Golden Age Superman, so his powers aren’t what they’d creep up to in the silver age: he can’t fly, only “leap tall buildings in a single bound”; he’s not immune to all injury, but only strong enough to withstand “anything less than a bursting shell”. He’s not faster than the speed of light, only as fast as a speeding bullet. And this story stays true to that. But in an actual Golden Age story, they wouldn’t feel the need to remind us of it. The real Golden Age Superman would not, as this Clark Kent does, tell people, “No, I can’t fly, but I can jump really far.” He wouldn’t tell a Martian, “I’m just sorry I’m not strong enough to toss you back [to Mars].” This Clark Kent — on his very first outing in tights — seems unrealistically aware of his limitations.

It’s a similar kind of misstep to when the opening scene of the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie started out inside the TARDIS and spent several minutes there before showing the Police Box: it botched “It’s bigger on the inside” by showing us “It’s smaller on the outside”. Just like here, Clark’s repeated mentions of his limitations changes the message from “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” to “Slower than a fighter jet, weaker than an atom bomb, not able to fly.”

Not bird nor plane nor even frog…

Clark arrives at Metropolis not far behind the Martians, just in time to rescue a pilot who’d managed to ditch before his plane was incinerated, but lost his parachute to another heat ray.

But even with Clark’s reassurance that he’s not flying, just jumping, the rescued airman still panics, begging the non-human Clark to keep away from him. This might seem ungrateful, but that airman has had a hell of a day, and in any case, we’re really edging in on our major theme for the piece. Presaging Man of Steel, we see that Pa Kent had been right to warn his son against displaying his powers, that, at least in the context of an alien invasion, humanity’s instinct is to fear Clark rather than idolize him.

Up And Atom!

Lois makes it back to the train station, but it’s destroyed halfway through her call-in to the office. Lex Luthor knows better than to drive into Metropolis, but offers Lois a ride as far as his laboratory on the outskirts. They have to make the last leg on foot once the roads become impassible, and at this point, Lex and Lois are separated before Lex gets clipped by the outer edge of a heat ray, and I think you know where this is going…

Brylcreem! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

Clark’s luck runs out when the Martians release the black smoke. Though he can hold his breath for minutes, he’s eventually forced to make a blind leap out of the smoke and takes two heat ray hits at close range. His unconscious body is scooped up with the others harvested by the tripods.

I used to just toss my action figures loose in a big bin too. That’s how so many of them got broken.

George Taylor witnesses the Man of Steel’s defeat via telescope from his office at the Daily Star. Though the height of the building protects them from the black smoke, a heat ray catches the building. Taylor shoves Jimmy Olsen out of the way, but is killed when his office explodes.

The destruction of the Daily Star leads into a kinda mediocre two-page spread showing civilians fleeing before smoke and tripods as the Battle of Metropolis ends in utter rout…

To Be Continued…

Deep Ice: If they’re more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator (DC Comic’s Elseworlds: Superman: War of the Worlds, Pages 1-18)

Whatever that is off-panel to the left must be hella interesting if Supes is looking at that instead of the tripod.

It’s two weeks to Christmas and we still don’t have the tree up, so it is a minor miracle that this post is going up at all, which is why I am stretching a 64-page comic book to 3 articles.

It is 1998. Ted Kaczynski pleads guilty to the Unabomber bombings. The winter Olympics take place in Nagano. Disney opens the Animal Kingdom park. Bear Grylls climbs Everest. Matthew Shepard is mortally beaten in Wyoming, the photogenic youngster’s tragic death helping to bring about a wave of hate crime legislation. Actor Phil Hartmann is murdered by his wife. Windows 98 is released. I go briefly crazy some time in November. And, in a statement I may have to revise depending on how long it takes me to write this article, for the last time until the present day, a US President is impeached.

Titanic makes a literal billion dollars and wins a fuckton of Oscars. Saving Private Ryan comes out, and will do similar things. The Big Lebowski comes out. So does Wild Things, Lost in Space, Les Miserables (the 1998 one with Liam Neesen and no singing), the killer asteroid movies Armageddon and Deep Impact, Godzilla (the 1998 one with Matthew Broderick), The Parent Trap (the 1998 one with Lindsay Lohan), My Dinner With Andre, Bride of Chucky, The Faculty, Star Trek: Insurrection, You’ve Got Mail, and What Dreams May Come. All these things happened in the same year. Weird, right?

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 enters its final season. Star Trek Voyager… Happens. This is the last season I watched consistently. This year’s Power Rangers is Power Rangers in Space, the finale of the “Zordon Era”, and the last season to be part of an ongoing multi-season storyline until 2011’s Power Rangers Samurai. The reboot of Doctor Who starring Hugh Laurie finishes its second season and starts its third. Doctor Who is pretty much dead again, seemingly forever this time. Seinfeld airs its legendarily bad series finale. Dawson’s Creek premieres, a handy thing if you’re a college freshman who wants an excuse to hang out with all the girls on your floor in the apartment of the upperclassman with a 27″ TV. Other premiers this year include the wonderfully bizarre time travel adventure series Seven Days, the American version of Whose Line is it Anyway, seminal gay sitcom Will & Grace, supernatural craze-expander Charmed, and beloved girl-power cartoon The Powerpuff Girls.

Brandy dominates the Billboard charts all summer with “The Boy is Mine”. Armageddon and Titanic cough up chart-toppers as well with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. R Kelly’s “I’m Your Angel” sees the year out, but somewhere mixed among all that, Barenaked Ladies become a household name south of the 49th parallel thanks to “One Week”.

The dude in the lower left who just can not handle this shit is possibly my favorite character in the history of comics.

Meanwhile, sixty years earlier, it’s 1938. I hardly need remind you that in October of 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater adapted War of the Worlds. I mean, I hardly need tell you again, since I’ve told you like a million times already. But you know what else happened a few months earlier in 1938? I mean, you’ve surely worked it out since it’s in the title of the article. But yeah, back in May, National Allied Publications released issue 1 of Action Comics, introducing audiences to a strange visitor from another world who was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

So in 1998, when a whole lot of stuff was going on in the Superman world to celebrate the Man of Steel’s sixtieth, Roy Thomas and Michael Lark put together a story for DC’s “Elseworlds” line, depicting alternate versions of their beloved characters. Superman: War of the Worlds asks us to imagine a world where the intrepid reporter that was first on the scene when a strange meteor lands in a small town near Metropolis (The name isn’t given in the text, but sharp-eyed readers will notice the train station identifies it as “Woking”) isn’t Carl Philips, but Lois Lane, and her fledgling photographer, Clark Kent.

The opening comingles the introduction of War of the Worlds with the classic Superman backstory, with direct homages to both. “No one would have believed,” we are as usual told, of the intelligences greater than man yet as mortal as his own which scrutinized the Earth in the early decades of the twentieth century, but here, it’s not only the Martians, but also the far-distant Krypton. Because this is the golden age version of the story, Krypton’s destruction is caused by it simply having reached the end of its life cycle — a more advanced case of the fate facing the Martians.

The parallel between Mars and Krypton adds a slightly sinister note to the arrival of Kal-El on Earth. Though we learn nothing concrete of Jor-El (the narrator seems to be speaking from the viewpoint of a human historian in the near-future, though even knowing the name “Krypton” is inexplicable in that case), the narrator presumes that he must have views humans “as inferior animals…. as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us.”

I am surprised that they decided to model Pa Kent on Melvyn Douglas, but I wholeheartedly endorse this decision.

Baby Kal is found by the Kents, a slight divergence from Superman’s earliest appearance; in the earliest comics, he was said to have been raised in an orphanage. The Kents aren’t given first names, consistent with mainstream Superman history, where the Kents don’t get their canonical first names until the 1950s. As he grows, the Kents discover young Clark’s abilities, which are the reduced Golden Age power set: the ability to leap an eighth of a mile rather than fly, skin that is impervious to anything short of “a bursting shell”, and the ability to outrun a train. His powers are attributed to a million years of evolution beyond that of Earth humans, rather than any particular influence of a yellow sun.

Pa Kent warns Clark to hide his powers, lest humanity be scared of him, while Ma encourages him to help humanity, “when the proper time comes”. Again, this all tracks with the various versions of Clark’s upbringing in this era. It is the death of his parents (Until the ’70s or so, the Kents were generally depicted as already elderly when they adopted Kal-El) which prompts Clark to head out to the big city to try to find a way to use his powers to benefit humanity, and by an amazing coincidence, this occurs simultaneously with “The great disillusionment”, as the Martians launch their invasion fleet.


Below the fold? Citizens Oppose Tax.

A montage of Clark taking in the splendor of Metropolis makes for some nice syncretism with the “infinite complacency” of man going “to and fro about this globe about their affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.

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Tales from /lost+found 141: Song of the Space Whale

1×19 May 2, 1997
SONG OF THE SPACE WHALE (Serial 13, Episode 1)

Setting: Inside a Space Whale, 24th Century
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Christopher Liam Moore (Tova Veer), Nancy Youngblut (Taleen), Kate Mulgrew (Janeway)

Plot: The Doctor parks the TARDIS in deep space to do some stargazing via the TARDIS’s planetarium dome. Too late, Lizzie sees an approaching object, which turns out to be a Space Whale: a gigantic creature adapted to live in the vacuum of space, feeding on the energy fields of radioactive materials and derelict space probes. Mistaking the TARDIS for an energy-rich asteroid, the creature swallows it, and its energy-extracting abilities disable the timeship. The travelers discover a breathable atmosphere when the TARDIS crashes in a cavity inside the whale, and emerge to find themselves in the town of Megaptera, a shanty built out of the remains of the many spacecraft and debris consumed by the whale. Despite the protests of the Megapterans that escape is impossible, the Doctor tries to find a way to move the TARDIS far enough from the whale’s stomach to restore power. Eventually, he succeeds in finding a passage to the whale’s blow-hole, where he discovers evidence of a second settlement. Before he can return to Megaptera, the whale sneezes, expelling the Doctor into open space. He is saved from suffocation by a ship which has been tracking the whale, commanded by the hard-bitten Captain Janeway. She has been hunting the whale for many years, considering it a navigational hazard to the space lanes. The Doctor believes she mostly wants to harvest the whale’s organs for their energy processing abilities. He tells her about the Megapterans, but Janeway is resolved to kill the whale at any cost. When she attempts to fire a killing shot at a weak spot on the whale, the Doctor sabotages her ship with his sonic screwdriver. Enraged, Janeway orders the Doctor executed, but the frightened whale attacks the ship, disabling it. In exchange for his life, the Doctor offers to repair the ship, but is unable to restore power before the space whale swallows it whole.

Deep Ice Addendum: More Saddleback

It’s almost Christmas, and also almost my son’s birthday, and also just past my wife’s birthday, so here’s a filler article: more fun panels from the Saddleback illustration of War of the Worlds.

Here’s the text from the back cover, by the way:

Do UFO’s really exist?
Could creatures from another planet visit Earth?
In The War of the Worlds they do exist and the visitors from the planet Mars come to Earth with not so friendly intentions—to destroy our civilization!

Greengrocer’s apostrophe theirs.

I love that this abridgement included “Dude who is mostly concerned about the insurance.”

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said there were an inordinate number of panels about horses.

I love this unnamed military guy. Very GI Joe.

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