Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ghost in the Case: Song of the South

"It happened on one of those zip-a-dee-doo-dah days."

Ghost here!  Thanks for joining me today for yet another

Alright... let's do this.  It's been awhile since I've touched Disney.

If there's one thing that drives me absolutely bananas in life, it's finding something that interests me and learning that I can't see/obtain/witness it or at least not easily.  This is especially true when it comes to movies, television shows, and video games.  Fire Emblem the Binding Blade and Mother 3 are both Japanese only games that I would love to play.  It took me years to be able to find Extreme Ghostbusters and it drove me loopy.  When I found out the Star Wars Holiday Special was such a holy grail of terribleness I just had to try to find it.  The same is true with today's film, Song of the South.

Song of the South was a part live-action part animated film produced by Walt Disney and was originally released on November 12, 1946.  The film was based on the book Uncle Remus by Joel Harris about a black man's wild stories and boy did it cause a stir.  Disney himself was so upset by the reaction to this film that he appeared at the premier only to introduce the film then immediately left.  Several critics were in an uproar calling it blatantly racist, offensive, and was a proponent for white supremacy, a stigma that has stuck with the film to this day.  People picketed the movie theaters even.  Despite that, the film was re-released in theaters a number of times, the song Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah appears on many audio compilations to this day and Splash Mountain is one of the more popular attractions at the Disney Theme Parks.  That being said, this film has never received a home release in the US though it was released in the UK, Europe, China and Japan.  To this day the only way to view this is to find a copy that someone has converted from the other video types that were released in other countries or to find it uploaded on a streaming site somewhere.  Luckily I was able to find it and watch it.

So is this film the racial atomic bomb that so many people claimed it is? Is it even any good?  Let's take a look and find out.

The Plot

Johnny, a seven-year-old boy, and his family are heading to his grandmother's plantation in Georgia for a vacation.  However upon arrival Johnny learns that he is to live there with his mother and grandmother as his father is returning to Atlanta that same day.  Upset that his family has been torn apart, Johnny decides to leave the plantation alone and slips out that very night.  As he is leaving he hears Uncle Remus, an elderly black man, telling stories to the children of the black sharecroppers living on the plantation.  By now, Johnny's disappearance is known but Uncle Remus befriends the boy and offers him food for his journey to Atlanta.  While in Uncle Remus' cabin, Remus tells Johnny the story of Br'er Rabbit and the trouble he got into when he tried to leave home for good.  Johnny changes his mind and Remus returns him to the house.

Johnny becomes friends with Toby, one of the black boys on the plantation, and his neighbor Ginny during his time there.  Ginny has two older brothers, Joe and Jake, who are constantly bullying them.  When Ginny gives Johnny a puppy, Johnny's mother orders him to take the dog back where it came from.  As Johnny knows Ginny's brothers are intent on drowning the dog, he instead he heads to Uncle Remus' house and asks if he will care for the pup, not telling him of his mother's orders.  Remus takes in the dog and proceeds to tell the story of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby with the intent of teaching the children to not go messing with things in which they have no business messing.

Joe and Jake try to get the puppy back but Johnny uses the reverse psychology he learned in the Tar-Baby story to trick the boys into telling their own mother of the incident which results in a mighty spanking for the trouble makers.  Bent on revenge, they go and inform Johnny's mother of the incident.  Johnny's mother is angry with Remus for keeping the dog though he had no idea of her order.  She then orders Remus to return the dog and stop telling Johnny stories.  Johnny comes back to find the puppy but Uncle Remus sadly informs him that the dog is back at the neighbors and that he won't be telling stories anymore.  Johnny's birthday arrives and he goes to get Ginny.  However, Joe and Jake start their bullying again and get mud all over Ginny's dress causing Johnny to fight back.  Remus breaks up the fight and sees the upset children who no longer wish to go to the party.  He decides to cheer them up by telling them the story of Br'er Rabbit and his "Laughing Place."

Remus takes the children back to the plantation, but Johnny's mother intercepts them.  She is angry with Johnny for missing his own birthday party and is even more upset wheh Ginny mentions Remus had told them a story.  She orders Uncle Remus to never spend time with Johnny again.  Despondent, Uncle Remus packs his belongings and heads to Atlanta.  Johnny has decided that his own "laughing place" is Uncle Remus' cabin but he sees Remus leaving for good.  The boy tries to stop Remus but runs into the bull pasture and is attacked by the bull, seriously injuring him.  Johnny's father returns to find his boy out of his mind and calling for Uncle Remus.  Remus has returned to the plantation and Johnny's grandmother asks him up.  Remus tells a story (offscreen) about Br'er Rabbit and Johnny makes a full recovery.  The film ends with Johnny, Ginny, Toby, and Uncle Remus skipping down the road with all of the story characters surrounding them.

What's Good About It?

The animation sequences containing the stories of Br'er Rabbit are great.  These sequences are up to the Disney standard of animation at the time.  They were wonderful little fables to have and are done fantastically.  There's basically nothing negative I can say about the animation portions; Disney was on-point.  There's a good chance that you may have seen parts of the animated portions at some point during your life as I vaguely remember seeing the Tar Baby story when I was younger.  These segments certainly add that little bit of Disney flavor and character which is greatly appreciated.  There's more I can say about that, but that will be for the next section.

The single biggest stand-out part of this movie is James Baskett as Uncle Remus.  This man hits an absolute home run and steals every scene that he is in.  This character is so kind, so caring and so warm that you instantly fall in love with him.  He's the kind of character you want to meet and want to be around.  His joy is contagious and the few moments when he is truly sad are also very well played.  He is the starring gem of this film that makes the non-animated portions worth watching.  He even won an Honorary Academy Award for this performance making him the first black male performer to receive an Oscar.  Yes he's that good.  I cannot praise this man enough for this performance.  If there's one reason besides the animation to watch this film, it's Baskett!  It's a shame that due to his failing health this was not only his last performance on screen but he couldn't even attend the premier because Atlanta at the time was still segregated.

What's Bad About It?

I barely touched upon this in the Good section and this is more of an "unfortunate" than a real bad item.  The problem with this film comes in the fact that not only was it marketed in a particular direction but also the material that Disney has allowed to still be out for the US public paints a completely different picture of what this film actually is.  All this time I thought this was mostly a film about the animated adventures of Br'er Rabbit with Uncle Remus being a live-action narrator or sorts.  NOPE it's mostly about a young boy becoming friends with Uncle Remus and learning things from his stories.  This is not necessarily an awful thing but I truly wish I had known that going in.  The first time I watched this I was bored to tears because I didn't know what the plot actually was and I didn't really care about what was going on with this kid.  I just wanted my rabbit and Uncle Remus adventures in cartoon land.  A second watch made me enjoy the film more but if you're walking into this for the first time prepare for a shock/disappointment. 

The biggest problem with this story is the Mother.  It has nothing to do with the actress portraying her as she does an acceptable job... it's what the mother actually does.  It's practically impossible to sympathize with this horrible person because every decision she makes is bad and causes a fair majority of the bad in the film.  Why is she getting mad at Remus for keeping the dog when he didn't know?  There's no reason for her to order him not to tell stories when his stories were entertaining and helped inadvertently teach the kid how to non-violently take care of bullies.  Would she rather Johnny slug the kid in the face instead of using his brain to find a solution he heard from a story?  Her telling Remus to avoid her son is the whole reason for his heartache and the reason that Johnny gets attacked by the bull.  She's a major problem and the only redeemable quality she even has is that she does seem to care for her son despite screwing up left and right.  Even the grandmother can see that she's being an idiot.  I know there has to be some form of dramatic tension but I always hate when the dramatic tension is stupid. 

This one is a bit of a nitpick but I would have liked for there to be a simple title card showing the date at the beginning of the film.  Why is this important?  Well I, as well as many others throughout the years, was under the impression that this happened during the time of slavery.  In fact, this takes place after the Civil War when slavery was abolished and it was during the time of sharecroppers.  None of this is explicitly explained and just a simple date card or sentence would have caused a fair amount of controversy to go away.

Is It Really Racist?

Before I dig myself into a hole that cannot be gotten out of, let's get a few things straight.  For those of you who do not know me, I am a white male.  When it comes to race and whether or not something is racist, a white male's opinion will never be just an opinion to many people.  It will always be considered a "white opinion."  I personally agree with the notion that a person's opinion is constricted by their race but that's the way life is sometimes and to some people.  I would not have the same viewpoint as a person of another race or color because of the intricacies of life and the struggles/privileges that too often get associated with that.  However, being of a certain race shouldn't make you explicitly blind to an opinion on whether something is racist or not.  When it comes to Song of the South, I personally do not believe that it is racist and I shall explain to you why.

The film was criticized as showing an "idyllic master-slave relationship" and overlooking the hardships of the slaves.  Well first off this is Disney we are talking about here, would you honestly be surprised that they would paint a happier picture than what might be reality?  Disney, the company which wants to put a smile on everyone's face and will actively change the endings to stories and fairy tales so that everyone gets a happy ending such as The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Frozen.  You honestly thing that early Disney was going to show the harshness of life associated with slavery, the terrible work or the monstrous whippings in a story about a 7 year old learning wisdom from an old man?  Get out of here.  I can excuse the critics at the time because this was very early in their movie career but still... it IS Disney.  .  Second of all, though it wasn't explicitly stated during the film, this wasn't during the slave period.  All these men and women were free to come and go as they pleased.  There was no master-slave relationship to speak of making this point completely invalid though people still have that erroneous thought.

It was also criticized for having "every single black stereotype in the book" from having the sharecroppers singing songs together to the "negro dialect" used by Uncle Remus and throughout the story.  People found that very offensive.   I'm honestly at a loss here folks and may bother someone with my next statement.  The thing about stereotypes is that they often times exist for a reason.  While some exist simply because people are being jerks towards other people groups (the kinds of stereotypes we should avoid), many exist because something like that ACTUALLY HAPPENED more than once.  I guarantee that sharecroppers at the time this film was set probably did sing songs together just like any other person might have done while doing manual labor to pass the time and keep their spirits up... singing is not exclusive to a race.  Many of these people would not be that educated and would talk with that particular dialect.  There's nothing wrong or offensive about people speaking the best they could, especially when nobody is making fun of them for that fact.  It's just being a possible representation of that time period.  There's nothing wrong with portraying things that might have actually happened as long as they aren't done in a hateful manner.  Nothing here is done hatefully to demean any black person in this film.  It's not like we have a white actor in blackface speaking with that dialect to demean or belittle anyone.  It's not like at any point a person of color is put down or made to feel of less worth because of their color.  The closest thing we have to that is the mother just being unnecessarily hateful to Uncle Remus but that had more to do with her being a moron than him being black.

One critic at the time went so far as to say he was "thoroughly disgusted" by the film for being "as vicious apiece of propaganda for white supremacy as Hollywood ever produced."  REALLY??  This is just getting moronic.  Point to me exactly where any white person was seen as being superior to any black person in this film.  That critic (though probably deceased by now) wouldn't be able to do that because it simply does not exist.  In fact, the only people seen with a negative spin were ALL white.  It's a shame that so many people reacted so poorly to a film that didn't deserve it.  It is because of these idiots that we still don't have a US release.  You would think after almost sixty years something would have been done or some ideology about the film would have changed, but in 2010 the Disney CEO Robert Iger stated there were no plans to release the film  and called it "antiquated" and "fairly offensive."  OFFENSIVE HOW???  I just.. I don't get it.  Maybe, again, I don't get it because my opinion will always be a "white" opinion.  To me, in order for something to be racist though, it has to do something in particular.

To me there is a difference in something being an unfortunate truth about a bad time in our history and something being racist.  People like to toss around the word racist without a good context honestly; the world is filled with people crying racism when there really shouldn't be.  Anytime something slightly negative happens between two people of different race, it's considered "racist."  For those of you who may have forgotten, racism is the believe that one race is better than another one.  In order for something to be racist is has to portray/imply/believe a certain race is inherently inferior.  If this film had come out and stated or even implied that Uncle Remus was less of a person than Johnny then this would definitely be offensive.  It doesn't do that.  While it does portray the black people working for the white people they were never portrayed as inferior or less of a person because of this.  That was just what they were doing to live their lives and provide for their family.  Remus and the Grandmother certainly have a level of respect for each other, though it's only really seen once.  Johnny doesn't give a rip what color everyone else is.  He'll befriend anyone.  This film never shows anyone as inferior to anyone else.  It's harmless and people should get over this stigma of it being racist when it honestly isn't.

Conclusion

Should you give this film a watch if you can find it?  Sure.  As long as you are prepared for what this movie is actually about you'll find some great things inside, namely the animation segments and James Baskett.  As previously stated, the first time I watched this, I found it fairly dull because it was not what I was expecting, however a second viewing (for the purposes of this review) made me enjoy it far more because I knew what I was getting into and could more easily find the good than wait for more animation.  It's not a breathtaking film and in many ways is antiquated like the CEO of Disney stated but it's in interesting part of Disney and film history.  I really wish that Disney would release this out to the United States.  Perhaps they could start it off with a little piece by someone such as Morgan Freeman or another actor of color to have a sort of tiny talk about the effects of slavery, when this film was actually set during, and being thankful that we as a society have moved on.

I will leave you with the words of film critic Herman Hill about the film.  He felt that Song of the South would "prove of inestimable goodwill in the further of interracial relations", and considered most criticisms of the film to be "unadulterated hogwash symptomatic of the unfortunate racial neurosis that seems to be gripping so many of our humorless brethren these days."

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Movie and Television reviews/recommendations then simply click here!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Whovian Chatter: The Tom Baker Years Seasons Sixteen and Seventeen

Ghost here, thanks for joining.

I'm going to be examining Doctor Who... every single episode.  I'm going to take you on a journey through the 50+ years worth of this show, showcasing the good and the bad along the way.  For each episode I'm going to give you a very brief rundown of the plot, how good/bad the story is, and anything interesting about the episode.  Basically I'll just talk about whatever comes to mind for each of them.  These will be a more in-depth overview of the series as a whole so you can see which stories or episodes (if any) you want to check out for yourself.  Today I'm going to be talking about

The Fourth Doctor
Tom Baker
Seasons Sixteen and Seventeen

Season Sixteen ran from September 2, 1978 to February 24, 1979.  It contained twenty six episodes across six stories.  Season Sixteen is most commonly called The Key to Time as this has the first and only season-wide story arc of the entire classic show.  Each of these stories have the Doctor trying to track down a different segment to The Key of Time.  I had mentioned previously that the quality of the show started to go downhill.  It is seen a bit more with this season, particularly in the area of budget.  The budget for the show hadn't been adjusted to deal with inflation in years and as such they were effectively trying to make a better looking show on less money than they had in the Hartnell Era.  This is most prominently seen in this season's story The Power of Kroll.  This season also introduced a new companion, the Time Lady Romana.  Also during the last story of this season, Douglas Adams took over as script editor.  Yes Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Season Seventeen ran from September 1, 1979 to January 12, 1980.  It contained twenty episodes across five stories.  There is actually a sixth story that is six episodes long, but there was a strike at the time of filming and much of the in-studio footage was never shot so the story never aired.  Thankfully, the BBC invited Tom Baker to return and narrate the missing footage for the VHS release which made it to DVD, so we'll still get to talk about Shada.  Romana regenerates for this really strange season.  Keep reading to find out what I mean.

Season Sixteen

Story 98
The Ribos Operation

The first story is The Ribos Operaion and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor is summoned by the White Guardian who tasks the Doctor with tracking down the six pieces of the Key to Time in order to restore balance.  He provides the Doctor with an assistant, the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar (The Doctor calls her Romana) and warns him that the Black Guardian also wishes to find the Key to Time for evil.  Each piece is scattered across all of space and is disguised.  The White Guardian provides the Doctor and Romana with a wand that will lead the TARDIS to the proper planet, locate each piece and remove the disguise.  The first planet they find is on Ribos.  An Earth swindler and his assistant are trying to sell the planet of Ribos to a wealthy man by claiming it has a large supply of a rare mineral which the swindler planted with the Royal Jewels.  The mineral, as it turns out, is the first segment of the Key to Time leading the Doctor and Romana to it.  The wealthy man eventually discovers the scheme and imprisons the swinder, the Doctor, and Romana while the assistant flees with the mineral.  With K-9's help, the Doctor and Romana sneak into the wealthy man's guard and find the segment of the Key.

This story has the opening segment to the first season-length consecutive story arch of the show.  It was a neat idea and it was great to see the Doctor flying around with another of his race.  There's not a whole lot to note with this episode although the Doctor does outright kill a man by placing a bomb on him.  To be fair the man was trying to kill the Doctor with that very same bomb.


Story 99
The Pirate Planet

The next story is The Pirate Planet and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS heads for the planet of Calufrax but when the Doctor and Romana exit, they find themselves in a strange civilization living in constant prosperity.  As it turns out, they are in the correct location for Calufrax but the planet of Zanak has materialized around it.  Zanak is a hollowed out planet which materializes around other planets and absolutely destroys the planet as it strips it of anything useful or valuable before moving on to another planet.  Zanak is ruled by the highly insane Captain, but the Captain is being controlled by an ancient tyrant queen searching for immortality.  The captain has been keeping the tiny remains of the planets they plunder in his trophy room and Calufrax is the next segment to the Key of Time.  With help from some psychics and using the TARDIS to mess with Zanak's engines, the Doctor stops the pirate planet before they reach their next destination, Earth.

This is by far the best story of the season.  While it's not as good as some of the previous Tom Baker stories this one is still a class act!  The levels of insanity going on and how overly bombastic everyone can be throughout these episodes is always entertaining and amusing.  Diamanda Hagan said it best  "If this story were a person it would be Brian Blessed."  It's also very noteworthy for being written by Douglas Adams, the same man who wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  If you want to check out one story from this season, make sure it's this one!


Story 100
The Stones of Blood

The next story is The Stones of Blood and it's four episodes long.  The next segment of time seems to be on planet Earth.  The TARDIS materializes on a moor where there are some strange stones in a circle.  These stones are being studied by an elderly archeologist and her friend Vivien Fay.  The Doctor investigates some rumors about Druids sacrificing people on the stones by checking out a lead at the nearby manor.  In the manor, the Doctor runs across paintings of the previous owners and all of them share the face of Vivien Fey.  Vivien pours blood on the stones and they come to life and attack Romana and the Doctor.  The Doctor realizes these stones are an alien race as Vivien teleports Romana to her ship in hyperspace.  The Doctor follows her and after dealing with some justice machines, realize that Vivien is actually a  murderous criminal and tricks the justice machines into scanning Vivien in order to discover her true identity.  The Doctor takes Vivien's necklace which was the third segment of the key as the justice machines sentence her to an eternity as a stone on Earth.

This one is weird.  It's got some interesting ideas going on with the stone aliens requiring blood to truly be alive, and the criminal Vivian having found a way to be on Earth for many years.  The trial scene of the Doctor and the Justice Machines is kind of amusing as well.  If this sounds interesting to you then check it out.

Story 101
The Androids of Tara

The next story is The Androids of Tara and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS locates the next segment on Tara and for once it's simple.  The Doctor goes fishing while Romana finds the segment almost instantaneously.  However she is captured by a man thinking she is an android as she perfectly resembles the princess Strella.  It turns out that it is the Prince of Tara's coronation day but his cousin, Count Grendel wants the throne and has kidnapped the Prince's love, Strella, to force him not to take the throne.  The Doctor is recruited to help the Prince by fixing an android replica of the Prince to draw off Grendel's men while the real prince slips into the throne room for the coronation.  Everything goes south when the real prince is attacked and kidnapped.  After a lot of running around and various androids being used, the Doctor and Romana find each other and help the Prince defeat his cousin.

If you've ever read or heard of The Prisoner of Zenda then you know exactly what this is.. it just uses androids.  It's always interesting to explore having a duplicate of someone on the TARDIS though Doctor doubles are usually more interesting.  If you think the Prisoner of Zenda in Space sounds good to you then check it out.


Story 102
The Power of Kroll

The next story is The Power of Kroll and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on the third moon of Delta Magna to find the fifth segment of the Key of Time.  The Doctor and Romana end up getting involved in a struggle between the natives known as Swampies, and the crew of a methane refinery on the planet.  The Swampies are angry and say the refinery workers will suffer by the hands of Kroll, a giant squid they worship.  Kroll was just a normal squid who accidentally ate the fifth segment of the key and has grown larger and larger and producing the methane being collected.  He only feeds every few centuries and unfortunately for both the Swampies and the crew it's feeding time.  The Doctor uses the tracing want to eliminate Kroll and obtain the fifth segment.

This one is pretty bad and that's not really a fault of the script.  The idea of native peoples worshiping a giant squid who accidentally ate something it shouldn't have is actually kind of neat.  It's the budget that makes this story terrible.  At this point in the program, the budget had not been adjusted and due to inflation they were dealing with less of a budget than the Hartnell era sixteen years earlier.  This resulted in people being painted green, and an entire monster costume looking so terrible that they modified the script to make the crab-creature just be a swampie in a suit because there was NO way anyone would be convinced it was an actual monster.  Give this one a pass unless you're watching the whole season.


Story 103
The Armageddon Factor

The final story is The Armageddon Factor and it's six episodes long.  The TARDIS searches for the final segment of the Key to Time and lands on the planet of Atrios.  Atrios has recently survived a bombing by the planet Zeos with whom they are at war.  The Doctor, however, discovers that Zeos is completely deserted except for a single computer.  The real enemy of Atrios is a man known as the Shadow on a different planet.  The Shadow is under employ of the Black Guardian and has kidnapped Princess Astra of Atrios and threatens to torture her unless she revels the location of the final segment (which she doesn't know)  Eventually the Doctor meets up with a fellow Time Lord named Drax who the Shadow has forced to assist him.  Drax decides to help the Doctor as the Shadow sends a man to obtain the other segments of the key.  The Doctor figures out why.  Princess Astra is the final segment and she transforms in front of everyone.  The Doctor eventually infiltrates the Shadow's lair and gets all six pieces of the key back, using the TARDIS' deflectors to send missiles towards the Shadow.  Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor combines the key to time as the White Guardian appears and asks that they hand it over.  The Doctor realizes that it is the Black Guardian in disguise when he shows no concern for Princess Astra and he commands the key to separate once more so that everything, Astra included, return home.  The Doctor then escapes the Black Guardian by engaging a randomizer into the TARDIS coordinates.

This one sounds better than it is.  I'm not sure if it's just the length of this story or what, ,but I always watched this one not entirely sure what all was going on.  I skipped parts about the Doctor making a Time Loop and some other shenanigans because this story is a bit of a mess and all over the place.  Maybe it will make more sense to you though.  The twist ending was good and I liked how the princess was the final piece.  Not a terrible way to end a season but the Pirate Planet is still the best episode of this season.

Season Seventeen

Story 104
Destiny of the Daleks

The first story is Destiny of the Daleks and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS is flying to random coordinates and Romana regenerates for reasons unknown eventually choosing the form of Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor.  The Doctor and Romana land on a strange planet that turns out to be Skaro, home planet of the Daleks.  The Daleks capture Romana while a group of other beings take the Doctor.  It turns out these other aliens are called the Movellans and are here to continue their war against he Daleks.  The Daleks and the Movellans have been in war for 200 years but not one shot has been made as both the Movellan and Dalek ships have been trying to find an opportunity to strike and find nothing.  The Movellans plan to use the Doctor in their advantage while the Daleks are searching for their creator, Davros, to revive him from suspended animation for their advantage.  The Daleks revive Davros and he orders suicide bombing of the Movellan craft.  The Doctor, however, realizes the Movellans are robots and disables their power packs.  The Doctor then goes to Davros, stops the dalek bombing and placed Davros back in suspended animation to be taken to Earth by the human slaved the Daleks have been using so that Davros can stand trial for his crimes.

This one is interesting for a few reasons.  The first of which is the fairly ridiculous look of the Movellans which I kind of love.  It's dumb but it's an awesome kind of dumb.  Also I seriously have to question why this was a Dalek episode.  The crux of the whole issue was that both sides of the war were too logical and weren't making mistakes.  Daleks?  Logical?  This should have been an episode about the Cybermen.  While Cybermen being purely logical still isn't quite a true fit it would be a better fit than the Daleks.  Also the single weirdest and funniest thing about this is Romana's regeneration.  We don't get a reason as to why she regenerated but just that it was happening and she decided to go through multiple bodies before settling on Princess Astra.  It's bizarre and I love it.  Check this one out if you want to see something silly...or at least check out Romana's regenerations.


Story 105
City of Death

The next story is City of Death and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor and Romana are taking a vacation in Paris and the Doctor feels a distortion in time.  Later at the Louvre, the Doctor notices a woman wearing an alien bracelet that scans security systems and steals it from her.  The Doctor and Romana are followed by an inspector, Duggan who has been trailing the woman and her husband Count Scarlioni for some time and fears they are planning to steal the Mona Lisa.  Eventually the three go to Scarlioni's mansion and find six identical copies of the Mona Lisa.  The Doctor leaves Duggan and Romana to investigate while he goes back to meet with Leonardo DaVinci.  In the past, the Doctor is captured by a Captain Tancredi who looks exactly like Scarlioni.  The man informs the Doctor that he is actually an alien named Scaroth, the last of a his race.  He landed on Earth 4 million years prior and an explosion caused the death of his race and for himself to be split apart in time while allowing him to communicate with his other selves.  He has convinced Leonardo to paint seven of the Mona Lisa so that in 1979 when Scarlioni steals the one in the Louvre, he can covertly sell all seven of them and get enough money to complete his time experiments allowing him to go back in time and stop the explosion of his ship.  The Doctor escapes and returns to 1979 but finds that Scaroth has not only stolen the Mona Lisa but has forced Romana to fix his time machine.  Romana reveals that the machine has only two minutes of use before Scaroth will be dragged back but that would be enough time to stop the explosion.  The Doctor, Romana, and Duggan travel to the far past and theorize that Scaroth's explosion was the spark that started life on planet earth.  Duggan punches Scaroth into unconsciousness allowing the time to pass, the explosion to take place, and Earth to be saved.

This is another story that was partially written by Douglas Adams and it's absolutely fantastic.  It has a very rich story and although there is a lot going on it's very simple to understand.  The comedy is brilliant and Duggan is a nice addition to the team; I wish he would have stayed on longer. There are two other noteworthy things about this.  The first is that John Cleese of Monty Python fame makes a cameo for a very brief moment in this. Secondly, the mask for Scaroth is a bit ridiculous as it's clearly larger than the actor's head and it has one eye in the middle of his face.  Not only would his 'human mask" not fit but he wouldn't be able to see.  It's a bit of a nitpick but it's still there.  Either way this is an EXCELLENT story to and a must watch! 


Story 106
The Creature from the Pit

The next story is The Creature from the Pit and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on the lush jungle planet of Chloris.  Chloris has almost no metal left on the planet and without tools, the plant life runs rampant.  The leader of Chloris, Lady Adrasta, rules with fear and strange plants known as wolfweeds who are controlled by a Huntsman.  Lady Adrasta meets the Doctor and mentions a creature within the pit on their planet.  Meanwhile Romana is captured by some scavengers looking for any form of metal but escapes thanks to K-9.  The Doctor decides to get to the bottom of this whole pit business and jumps in to find a large green alien who is speechless but attempting to communicate.  At this same time the scavengers infiltrate the throne room while Lady Adrasta is preoccupied with the Doctor and begin stealing metal.  When they reach a shield it takes over their mind and they bring it to the alien in the pit.  The shield is actually a communication device.  The alien, Erato, is actually an ambassador from another planet sent to negotiate a treaty between his planet and Chloris to provide goods, metal, and chlorophyll to one another.  Lady Adrasta having realized her power came from lack of metal, imprisoned Erato for the past fifteen years.  Adrasta enters the pit to find the Doctor and upon hearing Erato's tale, the Huntsman turns on Adrasta and his Wolfweeds along with Erato kill Adrasta.  The Doctor leaves the planet encouraging trade between Erato and the Huntsman.

Yet another late Tom Baker story that's a bit on the weird side.  It's really inventive and it's cool to see a really alien looking alien.  There's not much of note to really say outside of one bit of Tom Baker comedy.  The Doctor falls into the pit early on and tries to read a book on mountain climbing to get out.  When he discovers it's in Tibetan, he pulls out a book to learn Tibetan.  It's nothing fantastic but it's a solid story.

Story 107
Nightmare of Eden

The next story is Nightmare of Eden and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on a space ship that is having some difficulty with special distortion; in fact, two space ships have somewhat collided and are having difficulty separating.  The Doctor agrees to help but eventually uncovers a drug smuggling operation of a highly dangerous and toxic drug.  Elsewhere on the ship, some scientists have a machine on board which takes segments of a planet and holds it in a sort of suspended state to be used in a projector so one can visit the planet without actually going there.  The efforts to separate the ships keep failing as people start to become addicted to the drug and strange creatures called Mandrels begin running about.  They have escaped from the projection of Eden where the source of the drug is.  It turns out the Mandrels themselves are the source of the drug.  The Doctor eventually separates the two spaceships, discovers the smugglers, sends the Mandrels back to their projection, and uses the TARDIS to send all the segments of the various worlds back to their original point in space.

This one is boring and fairly bad.  The idea of having parts of planets in a projector is kind of neat and the idea of having creatures that are used as drugs is also neat but the whole thing is just not well put together.  There are long segments where I don't really know what's going on and even longer segments where I was bored out of my mind.  Feel free to give this one a pass.

Story 108
The Horns of Nimon

The next story is The Horns of Nimon and it's four episodes long.  The Skonnan Empire is long past it's prime but a minotaur-like alien called a Nimon has appeared on Skonnos and has offered help in exchange for young tributes and a certain crystalline substance.  This has been going on for years and the final batch of prisoners and crystals is now headed toward Skonnos but breaks down near a black hole.  The TARDIS materializes nearby and also has problems due to the black hole.  The Doctor and Romana extend an air and gravity corridor to the ship but are forced at gunpoint to repair the ship.  The pilot leaves the Doctor behind with his malfunctioning TARDIS and takes Romana with him.  Eventually the Doctor fixes the TARDIS and follows.  On Skonnos, the leader, Soleed, sends the tributes and Romana deep into a labyrinth to find the Nimon and along their way discover the bodies of previous tributes.  The Doctor follows closely and discovers that the Nimon have no intention of helping Skonnos.  Instead they plan on bringing all the members of their race from another dying planet to take over Skonnos.  Eventually the Doctor rescues Romana and the tributes while Soleed finds out the truth and starts a chain reaction to destroying the labyrinth.  The Doctor and Romana watch as the labyrinth and the Nimon planet are both destroyed and the tributes are allowed to go back home freely.

Sweet merciful heavens this one is pretty bad.  The Nimon costumes are utterly ridiculous and because of this they have to move very stiffly.  I mean just look at it in the picture above.   Not to mention the character of Soleed.  I'm not entirely certain what was going through Graham Crowden's head when he was portraying this character.  I'm certain he is a perfectly good actor but this performance was the definition of hammy.  He's chewing so much scenery that I'm surprised there was any scenery left to act against.  While the idea of a minotaur in a labyrinth is definitely a good one from Greek stories, this is NOT the way to do it.  The Classic show tried twice to do something along those lines and failed both times.  Thankfully we'll get a good minotaur story in the new show.  Interestingly enough this is actually the last episode of the season... or at least the last one broadcast.  There is still one more story to this season but people didn't get it till much later.  I'll explain in a minute, but definitely give this one a skip.


Story 109
Shada

The last story of the season was supposed to be Shada and it was going to be six episodes long.  There is a planet named Shada in which the Time Lords have created the highest security facility in the universe to house the most dangerous of criminals.  A man named Skagra intends to create a sort of Universal Mind by finding Shada and pooling the collective minds of all those criminals into one databank and utilizing that to control the universe.  There is one problem; the Time Lords have hidden the knowledge as to the location of Shada from basically every living mind.  There is only one book that holds the location to Shada and it has gone missing.  Skagra discovers that there is a Time Lord living on earth as a Professor at Cambridge and he intends to find the location of this book.  Sensing danger, Professor Chronotis asks the Doctor for his assistance.  It turns out that Chronotis was actually in possession of the book and accidentally lent it to a student.  The story concludes with a battle for control of the Universal Mind.

Now why did I say "supposed to be" in my description?  Well, Shada was never actually broadcast.  The episode was written, all of the location shooting was shot, and some of the studio shooting was completed.  However, there was a strike at the BBC and work couldn't be continued on this story and it was mostly scrapped.  It wasn't until 1992 that Shada was released to the public on VHS.  The proper scenes were placed where they should go and any scenes not filmed were narrated by Tom Baker to fill in the gaps which may or may not have been the birth of The Curator Doctor depending on how you want to look at it..  It was a neat way to present the information, but I hate the fact that this couldn't have been fully filmed.  If it was complete it probably would have been the best story of the season.  Definitely worth a look to see what it could have been.


Conclusion

That concludes seasons sixteen and seventeen.  We still have the most iconic Doctor and a couple excellent stories but you can't deny that the quality has gone down from the previous seasons with Tom Baker.  I wish I could say that this is just a rough patch with the show, but in all actuality this is the continuing trend for the next several seasons.  The show will unfortunately just keep going downhill until the Seventh Doctor's second season.  From this point on you'll really want to cherry pick stories here and there unless you really just want to watch the whole thing.  That's not to say that there aren't any good episodes later.  I quite enjoy several of the stories on that time frame it's just that there are fewer of them.  Please join me again as we continue to examine all of Doctor Who.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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You can click here if you wish to see my introduction to Doctor Who
If you want to check out all of my Doctor Who content please click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: Thoughts on Majora's Mask

"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?"

Ghost here, thanks for joining me.
 
As with any product or service, there are going to be items that you, as the consumer, are not going to enjoy.  That is an inevitable part of the human experience; you can’t please everyone.  As a gamer, I have come across many unsavory games.  Many of these games I have outright ignored as I could tell they weren’t worth my time to begin with.  Many of my gaming friends tend to agree with me on most games I dislike such as Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories and The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass.  However, there is still one game out there which I have despised since my youth which everyone claims to be a masterpiece.  This game is The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2004 shall we?  At this time, I was seventeen years old and had only really been gaming for about three years.  Most of my gaming experience was Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Smash Bros.  During this time, I started to branch out into other games based on my liking for the characters in Smash.  I picked up an N64 cartridge of Ocarina of Time at some point prior to 2004, and fell in love with the game and it’s intuitive and incredibly fun nature. When 2004 rolled around I noticed something on the used shelf at my local Gamestop.  The Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition for the Gamecube had caught my eye.  Not only did it have Ocarina which I loved and now wouldn’t have to disconnect my Gamecube to reconnect my N64, but it also had three other games in the series.  Eventually I got around to Majora’s Mask and… I absolutely hated it!  Instead of this wide open world with tons of things to explore and do in an easy to understand method, I was shoved into a small world that was mostly cut off and no idea what in the name of all things holy I was supposed to be doing.  To top it off there was a rapidly decreasing time limit!  This was in the days where information wasn’t quite as readily available online as it was today and as such I was lost; this eventually caused me to rather hate the game and I didn’t pick it up again for years.

I know at some point probably around 2009 I attempted the game again but I still found it just as confusing and just as unforgiving with its time limit as I still didn’t have enough time to do anything even with a more competent guide found online.  I decided to just ignore its existence despite so many people telling me I should love the game, and I shelved it to never touch it again…or so I thought.  Jump to 2016 and my friend KoD who regularly appears on this blog had gotten the 3DS remake of Majora’s Mask and had fallen in love with the game.  He pressed upon me to re-play the game or purchase the 3DS version as he felt I would enjoy it more now that I am a seasoned gamer and would like the enhancements made by the 3DS version.  Being the Scrooge that I am, I chose to simply replay the Gamecube version so I wouldn’t have to buy the game again.  What did I discover?  Well…

IT’S STILL BAD
…but maybe not as bad as I originally thought

There were times in which I was surprised, times in which I wanted to strangle something, and times in which I was actually having fun.  Now that I’m older I can more easily and logically examine exactly why I still feel that this is still a bad game.  That’s the purpose of this post… examining what I learned upon my latest playthrough of Majora’s Mask.

What I Did Wrong

The lack of enjoyment while playing a game can come from simply not playing it the right way.  Games generally have a right way and a wrong way to play; you may be able to finish the game doing it the wrong way but it’ll certain make life harder.  For example, you can easily screw up something like Fire Emblem by not checking your surroundings and map before-hand.  Running head first into the enemy is suicide in those games.  I found that I had been doing a couple things wrong in Majora’s Mask when I was younger.

My first problem was trying to organically play through the game and figure it out.  While I’m sure there are some people out there who could pick up this game and know what they are supposed to do, it became obvious to me that this is the type of game where you absolutely need a guide.  I’m not talking about just grabbing one and reading a few sentences at a time.  No, this game is the kind of cryptic game that you honestly need to sit down and read the guide far ahead of time and almost study it like you would a test.  Many of the side quests give you excellent items or upgrades but you wouldn’t have any idea how to get them if you didn’t know what you were supposed to do.  When I played through this time, I would pause the game and not restart till I had read through at least half of the whole guide page off the Zelda Dungeon... twice if necessary.  Knowing exactly where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do aided me greatly.  Trying to just figure it out like I had done with Ocarina of Time was not a valid option.

My second problem was not having the scarecrow dance through the day/night.  Nowhere is it mentioned within the game that you should be talking to the scarecrow and piddling away twelve hours of your precious time.  You only have a set amount of hours that go away at the speed of light, so why would you purposely skip twelve whole hours?  Well if you happen to do this early, you will be taught the Song of Double Time and the Inverted Song of Time.  The Inverted Song of Time is an absolute life saver!  I wish that something in the game has prompted me to speak to him when I was younger because it truly is a necessary song to learn.  The Inverted Song of Time slows down time to around 1/3rd of its speed allowing you to take a very long time to do things and still fit within the three-day time span.  In my previous playthrough I would generally be getting to the final boss with only a couple hours left on the night of the third day putting me in an absolute panic.  However, after playing the Inverted Song of Time, I was fighting the temple bosses on the afternoon or night of the first day only!  I wish I had known about this song when I was younger. 

What I Grew to Love

I started to have a mini-existential crisis as I was playing this game through this time because I actually found some elements that I truly enjoyed.

While I enjoyed messing around with the various masks before, I absolutely appreciate and adore them now.  Having such a wide variety of masks that modify how Link works or interacts with the world around him was a stroke of genius.  I also can now fully appreciate the stories behind the Deku, Goron, and Zora mask and how the spirits of those people have lived on through the masks to aid all of Termina.  The seemingly painful transformation process as their spirits are effectively ripped back into the land of the living for a short time.  Let’s not forget the personification of the willpower and suffering of Link and all Termina in the Fierce Deity Mask.  The masks are something that I truly love and I wish this mechanic would come back in a more prominent way sometime.

I loved the general atmosphere of this game.  It seemed familiar, with reusing existing assets from Ocarina of Time, but it also seemed very different and bleak.  The world was going to end as the Moon was slowly crashing down upon them.  There was absolutely nothing that anyone could do about this and throughout the three days everyone either flees or just accepts their impending death.  As the song says, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.  Most of the other Zelda games I have played, the world had seemed mostly fine and upbeat in a sort of “well this is just how it is now” attitude while moving on as if Ganon/Ganondorf hadn’t actually done that much.  In this game, you got to actually see consequence, panic, and gloom as if the world was truly going to end as each day passed.  This doom was on top of all the other natural disasters going on at each of the temples which would have already caused enough distress.  It’s an incredibly atmospheric game that is semi-unique in the Zelda series.  I only say semi-unique because in many ways, Twilight Princess would later capitalize on this feeling of dread as the places overrun by Twilight were extremely depressing and full of atmosphere.

Lastly, I enjoyed the game when it was being Zelda and not trying to be something else.  When the sort of random nonsense that was usually left to optional side quests became the focus of certain portions of the game I wasn’t enjoying myself.  When it was being Zelda, just walking around trying to gain access to temples and going through temples defeating enemies and bosses I was really having a good time.  The entirety of the Woodfall Temple and the whole segment of getting the Goron Mask and gaining access to the Snowhead Temple were two of my favorite parts of the game because the felt like Zelda and they felt not only really well planned but well executed.  If the game had featured more standard Zelda goodness I might have even been able to say this was a good game but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Why I Still Don’t Like It

Now we’ve come to the real “meat” of the article.  While I did find 3 things I thoroughly enjoyed about the game and found 2 things I had done wrongly that would have increased my enjoyment, I still dislike this game.  Why?

First off is this game’s increased focus on side quests.  Now hold on to those keyboards because that’s not the whole reason!  Having an abundance of side quests is generally a good thing as it adds depth to the characters and situations while lengthening the gameplay.  This in and of itself is a good thing.  However, the fact that you have no idea what is going on through 80% of the game is what turns a good thing into a bad thing.  Certain portions of various side quests can only be done at certain times on certain days.  If you don’t waste a full 3-day cycle of following people around and figuring out what they do and when they do it (or find a guide telling you when to do what) then you’re hopelessly lost.  Now if these side quests were purely optional things then I wouldn’t be complaining.  While they still are somewhat optional, the benefits they provide make the majority of them worthwhile especially if you wish to get the Fierce Deity Mask for the final battle.  It’s just a pity that the process of doing these side quests is seemingly random unless you break the organic playing of the game and just read a guide telling you where to go and what to do at what point in time.  Now I do believe that this has been somewhat helped in the 3DS version by the updated Bomber’s Notebook actually providing people’s schedules but it’s still a headache if you don’t just follow a guide.

There are a few gameplay parts that really bothered me as well.  First being that L-Targeting is really unresponsive.  I never had this problem in Ocarina, Wind Waker, or Twilight, but I sure have them here.  Half of the time I’m trying to target the one and only thing you can target in the room and the game just decides that it can’t be bothered to help you out there.  Also, earlier I mentioned how when the game wasn’t being Zelda I wasn’t having fun.  Here is what I was referring to.  When gaining access to the monkey in the Deku Palace, it stops being Zelda and starts being flying Metal Gear Solid.  While there was a section of stealth in Ocarina of Time, it didn’t involve an aerial section with enemies knocking you off of your platform or out of the air with ease before you could even get close to attacking them.  This, of course, forced you down into the regular stealth portion below causing you to go all the way around the palace and start again.  Any enemies you had taken out will respawn.  When you get into the Snowhead Temple, it becomes Sonic’s Drunken Spin-Dash.  You have to curl up as a Goron and roll around to get past certain areas of the temple.  Unfortunately, simply rolling in a straight line is way too much for the big guy and he just ends up swerving off to the right or left of the small platforms you have to cross.  It was at this point after spending close to 12 hours of slowed-down in-game time trying to cross one single bridge that I just turned off the power and shelved the game again.  I’d seen enough to make this post.

There are two major core mechanics of this game, masks and time travel.  While the masks are brilliant, every single thing I am about to say for the remainder of this section can be boiled down to the latter of these core mechanics, the time travel and it’s lack of sense thereof.  Where to begin….

In the game, when you reach the end of the third day and the Moon is crashing down upon you, you play the Song of Time to take yourself back three days to re-set the cycle and give yourself three more days to help save the world.  This means that EVERYTHING resets.  Any people you may have saved, any good that you may have done, any bosses or temples that you may have cleared instantly go back to the terrible state they were in before you even started.  This means that if for some reason there are a couple things to do for side quests that you didn’t have time to do in the previous three-day cycle you will have to do every single thing, including beating the temple boss, all over again to get the world back to a state where what you are wanting to do can actually happen.  Repetition for repetition’s sake is always a bad thing.  I know there wouldn’t be an easy way to fix that wouldn’t totally break the game’s intention but I absolutely hate having to do something over and over and over because you just have to re-do it over and over.  Needless repetition kills games and depending on how fast/good you are at this game you could be seeing a lot of repeats.

Earlier I mentioned that I loved the atmosphere of the game.  That being said, the atmosphere kind of dies some if you really sit down and think about it.  In Ocarina of Time, time was always progressing.  Although you could play the game for 900 hours or more and Ganondorf wouldn’t actually do anything to destroy the world, there was always the feeling that he could at any moment if you didn’t get your Hylian butt moving.  In this game, you know exactly when the world is going to end, and that it’s certain unless you find a way to stop it.  However, once you realize that you can go back to the morning of the first day at any point even seconds before the world’s destruction, it loses its urgency.  You could literally spend all day tossing arrows at guards, rolling around Termina field as a Goron, or just generally screwing around doing absolutely nothing to further the plot or side quests and it wouldn’t matter because the world isn’t going to end anytime soon for you.  You could spend 30 years’ worth of theee days roaming around Termina goofing off and being a douchebag because you can just sing your little song to give yourself three more days where nobody remembers anything you’ve done prior to.  It kind of takes you out of the magic of the whole thing.

Another problem I have in regards to time travel is how the items are handled in this game.  Why does Link suddenly lose any of his money or usable resources when he goes back in time yet he keeps others?  When it comes to time travel, it’s generally an all or nothing sort of thing.  Anything on your person in the TARDIS or the DeLorean would be brought with you to whatever time you are going to.  Alternately in the world of the Terminator, absolutely nothing comes back with you except your body and what you know…not even your clothes.
Why is this some sort of weird hybrid of the two?  I realize that going the Terminator route would NOT be the way to go at all, but why not bring everything back?  Why do we get to keep our bow, masks, bottles, hookshot etc when we travel back in time but we lose all of our money, bows, stick etc?  How does the bank work?  You started off the first day with NO money in the bank.  Now suddenly you’re back at that same point in time and you have money in the bank on the morning of the first day that you didn’t deposit in there till three days later?  This makes absolutely no sense and while it may be a bit of a nitpick to some this really bothers me about this game.

Last problem is kind of the biggest problem of all.  In the end, it seems as though you really haven’t done anything.  You’ve spent hours upon hours playing this game and doing its little dance around the same three days multiple times and for what?  The work you had done in the temples ends up being credited to the various races living near those temples and you don’t really get a chance to relish in them being cleared from evil as you have to deal with the moon.  Once you start dealing with the moon, you play a song which causes giants to appear who stop the moon from crashing down (and taking full credit for that as well) and then you’re off to the moon to stop Majora’s Mask all on your own.   You don’t get any sort of congratulation.  You don’t get any sort of feeling that what you’ve done has really helped out people because once you beat Majora’s Mask, that’s it.  Game over!  You don’t get to see how Termina has changed because of the Moon being stopped.  Now, I don’t necessarily need the game to congratulate me or acknowledge my achievements, but as a gamer you want to feel as though what you’re doing has made a real difference in the world you’re saving.  Since every area you saved goes right back to being messed up the second you go back to the first day you lose that sense of making a difference in the world.  You lose that sense of making life better.  In theory, any temples that you didn’t re-fight the boss and any side-quests that you didn’t re-complete during the lead up the final time the moon approaches will remain in the terrible or unfinished state they were in because in that particular cycle you didn’t intervene.  It’s as if no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be leftover bad in Termina that you can’t do anything about.  In Ocarina of Time, once I took care of a temple boss, the area became healed and better.  Once you completing a side mission it was complete and you could see how people were aided because of you.  You could see that your efforts were paying off in the long run.  With this, the only thing that comes close is calling the giants to stop the moon from crashing down and... that's about it!  I mean sure the skull kid asks to be your friend but then both the mask salesman and the fairy tell you  "thanks for doing some stuff, now piss off."  All feelings of gratification are gone.  That’s ultimately what has made me continue to dislike this game.

Conclusion

If you truly enjoy this game and think it’s one of the best Zelda titles, then I fully understand.  I get how you can be sucked into the atmosphere and the unique mechanics.  I understand how the masks system is beyond amazing.  I envy your love for this game.  I went into this hoping that I could finally see the masterpiece that everyone keeps claiming this game to be.  I wanted to love and enjoy it like everyone else.  I wanted to stop despising this game, but… unfortunately that’s not what happened.  

Sure, I’ve downgraded my hatred, but I still don’t like it.  It’s move up in rank from my absolute least favorite Zelda game to my third least favorite Zelda game, beating out Zelda II, and Phantom Hourglass.  We do not speak of the CD-I games.  While my dislike has downgraded, I just can’t say that I enjoy it despite wanting to.  When you have such a big issue with one of the two core mechanics of the game there’s pretty much no hope of finding it enjoyable.  Hate to end this on such a downer note but, that’s just the way it is.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.

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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Whovian Chatter: The Tom Baker Years Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen

Ghost here, thanks for joining.

I'm going to be examining Doctor Who... every single episode.  I'm going to take you on a journey through the 50+ years worth of this show, showcasing the good and the bad along the way.  For each episode I'm going to give you a very brief rundown of the plot, how good/bad the story is, and anything interesting about the episode.  Basically I'll just talk about whatever comes to mind for each of them.  These will be a more in-depth overview of the series as a whole so you can see which stories or episodes (if any) you want to check out for yourself.  Today I'm going to be talking about

The Fourth Doctor
Tom Baker
Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen

Season Fourteen ran from September 4, 1976 to April 2, 1977.  It contained twenty six episodes across six stories.  The Golden Era of Classic Doctor Who continued despite the mid-season departure of the Doctor's best friend, Sarah Jane.  It was during this season that Tom Baker really started into his alcohol fueled pride and difficulty to work with.  He was convinced that the Doctor didn't need a companion and so the show runners gave him one story without a companion.  When this was deemed a failure as the Doctor needed someone to talk to, Tom Baker said that the next companion should be a talking cabbage; he wasn't joking either.  Fortunately we ended up getting Leela, a savage warrior from the future!  They start a sort of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins relationship that really worked well and continued making the show great into the next season.  This season also has a TARDIS console room that is all wooden.  Sadly it only lasts for this season because storage in between this and next season warped the panels but this is a good look for the TARDIS.

Season Fifteen ran from September 3, 1977 to March 11, 1978.  It contained twenty six episodes across six stories.  Season Fifteen saw the departure of Philip Hinchcliffe as the producer and Graham Williams taking over.  Robert Holmes was also replaced as script editor mid-season.  As per usual when a new producer was taking over the show, the stamp of the old producer was still on for the first few stories, and you can the subtle shift here.  Although the show still had Tom Baker as the Doctor and Leela as the companion, you could definitely see a slip in quality towards the end of the season.  It's not that the Williams era was bad, it just fewer and fewer truly great stories.  The show just couldn't keep up with the quality of the previous three seasons partially due to budgetary constraints but we'll get to that in a later segment.

Season Fourteen


Story 86
The Masque of Mandragora

The first story of season fourteen is The Masque of Mandragora and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor is showing Sarah Jane around the TARDIS and finds the secondary console room.  While there they see a living energy within the Time Vortex known as the Mandragora Helix.  The Helix attacks the TARDIS and a portion of it hops on board unknown to the Doctor.  The TARDIS then lands in 15th century Italy where Sarah Jane is kidnapped by the Brotherhood of Demnos to be used as a sacrifice.  The Doctor attempts to save her but is stopped by the royal guards and witnesses the Helix kill a guard.  The Doctor attempts to convince the nobles of the danger the Helix can bring but it falls on deaf ears.  Eventually the Doctor escapes and frees Sarah Jane as the Helix approaches the Brotherhood and offers them power in exchange for their servitude.  The Doctor fears that the Mandragora Helix could rule Earth under a new religion as this was the time period between the Dark Ages and Rennaisance.  The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a noble named Gulianno attempt to stop the Brotherhood before they gain power.

This is a fairly decent story with some interesting ideas.  I didn't mention it in the plot portion, but the leader of the Brotherhood is a seer for the Duke whose been working with another man to make his predictions come true; namely that anyone who is predicted to die will be poisoned that day.  It's also interesting to see the main problem of the story being accidentally caused by the Doctor.  It's a pretty standard episode.  Check it out if it sounds interesting to you.


Story 87
The Hand of Fear

The next story is The Hand of Fear and it's four episodes long.  This is Sarah Jane's last story as a full companion.  When the Doctor and Sarah Jane land the TARDIS in a quarry that's about to explode, the avalanche uncovers a stone hand that the unconscious Sarah Jane can't let go of.  The hand possesses Sarah and causes her to enter a nuclear facility so that the hand can absorb the radiation and be reborn.  The hand is an alien named Eldrad who's ship crashed on earth millennia ago.  Edrad convinces the Doctor to take her back to her home planet.  However upon reaching the planet they find it barren and full of booby traps.  Eldrad is seemingly destroyed by one of the traps but he emerges later in his true masculine form being fully regenerated.  However, the Doctor and Eldrad discover a prerecorded message from Eldrad's people.  It turns out that Eldrad was an evil tyrant who was sent away from the planet.  His race all accepted extinction and destroyed their race banks in case Eldrad were to ever return.  Eldrad decides to make a new empire on Earth but the Doctor trips him into a bottomless abyss.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane re-enter the TARDIS when the Doctor receives a summons to Gallifrey and he cannot take Sarah.  The Doctor leaves Sarah Jane on earth and ventures to Gallifrey.

This is a bit of a weird one, but still very good.  It's not that often that we see an alien creature just looking to revive itself and get back home.  True, the alien still turned out to be a villain, but for the majority of this story we don't know that.  It was also interesting to see Eldrad's first form being female because of the imprinting of Sarah Jane.  It's too bad his normal form isn't exactly that exciting; then again how inventive can you really get with rock creatures?  Also notable is Sarah Jane's outfit which Elisabeth Sladen cursed until the day of her death.  This was Sarah Jane's last normal adventure with the Doctor.  Luckily we will see her once more in the classic series and a few more times in the new series as well!

Story 88
The Deadly Assassin

The next story is The Deadly Assassin and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor returns to Gallifrey because of a strange summons where he foresees the President of Gallifrey being assassinated.  The President plans to retire and Chancellor Goth is expected to take the nomination.  He goes undercover and attempts to stop the assassin but is captured and blamed for the President's death.  While under interrogation, the Doctor tells that he has been framed, and in order to prolong his sentencing to find evidence, the Doctor puts in his name for the ballot of President.  Due to Gallifreyan law, he cannot be executed during this time, so the Doctor goes about looking for clues.  Eventually, he discovers a time lord guard having been shrunken in size; the calling card of The Master.  Since we last saw him, the Master has had a failed regeneration and he is basically a walking rotting corpse now.  The Doctor realizes that it was the Master who sent him the vision from inside the Matrix (an electronic neural network...basically JUST like the Keanu Reeves movie.)  The Doctor goes in to the Matrix to stop the master and finds that the assassin is actually Chancellor Goth working with the Master.  The Master tries to overload the Matrix but a friendly time lord helps the Doctor out; Goth is not so lucky.  The Master's plan is to obtain all of the presidential items in order to open up the Eye of Harmony and destroy Gallifrey along with countless other planets.  The Doctor stops the Master, but the Master escapes in his TARDIS.

This one is a unique story in Doctor Who and it's considered one of the greatest stories of the classic show.  It's basically a giant re-telling of The Manchurian Candidate...which is honestly fine with me.  This story brought us back The Master after many years of his absence.  It was great to see the character again although it wasn't pleasing to look on his actual face.  This story also introduced the Matrix which will be instrumental in a later Colin Baker season and be mentioned a few times in the new show.  This is the only classic Doctor Who story which doesn't feature a companion.  Since the majority of the segments taking place in the Matrix have almost no dialogue, this experimental story was considered a failure at the time.  It was generally not received very well, yet now it's considered one of the absolute best.  Definitely check this one out!

Story 89
The Face of Evil

The next story is The Face of Evil and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor, now on his own, lands the TARDIS on a jungle planet where he meets a Sevateem warrior named Leela; she was exiled from her people for profaning against their god Xoanon.  She claims the Doctor to be "The Evil One" who is holding their god captive.  The Doctor is taken to her people and he realizes that their god is speaking to them through Earth technology.  Eventually the Doctor sees his own face on the side of a mountain but has no idea why.  The Doctor and Leela find their way to the Tesh (another group of people worshiping Xoanon) and finally the Doctor remembers.  The Sevateem and Tesh are descendants of an Earth Colony where a computer was malfunctioning.  The Survey Team and the Technicians were separated when the Doctor repaired the machine but forgot to remove his personality imprint from the computer; this gave the computer a split personality.  It's up to the Doctor to fully repair the machine once more before Xoanon uses it's mind control on the people to kill each other.

This is a weird one and honestly the weakest of the season.  One interesting and weird thing about this is the fact that this is the Doctor correcting a previous mistake that we never actually got to see him perform.  It's also creepy to see the computer displaying Tom Baker's voice shouting "Who Am I?" but a small child's voice coming out.  The only real important thing about this story is Leela's arrival on the TARDIS.  Leela is definitely a savage warrior and doesn't have time for many of the niceties of society.  She'll cut your throat as soon as look at you if necessary.  She and the Doctor have an excellent dynamic.  If you want to see Leela's first story then check it out, if not then feel free to skip this one.


Story 90
The Robots of Death

The next story is The Robots of Death and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on a sand mining ship in the future and within seconds a man is killed.  The Doctor and Leela are suspected to be the murderers and are locked away.  However when another murder happens, a man named Poul and a robot named D84 believe their story and free them to investigate the multiple murders.  Poul and D84 are undercover agents from the mining company to investigate rumors of a robot revolution being instigated by a man named Taren Capel who was raised by robots.  The Doctor eventually finds evidence that Capel is on board and modifying the existing robot's programming to kill humans.  It's up to the four of them to stop Capel's scheme at any cost.

This story is decent at best.  It's got some neat ideas going on with D84 being self-controlled and eventually sacrificing his life for the better of the human crew.  Past that, there's not really a whole lot to praise or criticize it's just a decent story.  Although, for the story to be called "Robots of Death" I think it took just a bit too long for everyone to figure out what was going on.  If you think "I, Robot" done in the 70's sounds good then check it out.

Story 91
The Talons of Weng-Chiang

The last story of the season is The Talons of Weng-Chiang and it's six episodes long.  Leela wishes to study the customs of her ancestors, so the Doctor takes her to Victorian London to see Li H'sen Chang at the theatre.  While there, they witness a group of Chinese men who have murdered another man.  A nearby policeman scares most off but one Chinese man, the Doctor, and Leela are taken in for questioning about the body.  Chang is summoned to act as interpreter but he is actually the group's leader and slips the man a capsule which causes the man to die immediately.  The Doctor meets with Professor Litefoot who is performing the autopsies notices that the first man is husband to a woman who has gone missing in the lastest spree of missing women.  The Doctor, however, notices a mark on the Chinese man as the mark of the Tong of the Black Scorpion; a group who worship the ancient god Weng-Chiang.  Chang, as it turns out, is working for Magnus Greel, a villain from the 51st century who used a time cabinet to escape his own destruction and has been masquerading as the god Weng-Chaing.  Due to the time cabinet messing with his DNA, Greel must use the life force of women to remain alive.  Eventually the Doctor finds Greel's lair and with the help of Leela, Professor Litefoot and a man named Jago, they attempt to stop Greel once and for all.

This is another absolute classic.  There were a lot of points that I couldn't really talk about in the plot unless I wanted to speak forever about it.  My favorite part of this whole story is when Litefoot and Leela are eating dinner together.  He has all kinds of foods so Leela being Leela just picks up the meat and eats with her hands.  Litefoot trying not to embarrass his guest does the same.  Comedy of manners at it's finest!  It was also neat to see Deep Roy (the man who was all of the oompa loompas Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) playing a role in this story as the evil Mr. Sin.  There's much more comedy and excitement than I could even begin to describe here.  You definitely need to check this one out!

Season Fifteen

Story 92
Horror of Fang Rock

The first story of season fifteen is Horror of Fang Rock and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands in Edwardian England on the island of Fang Rock where they notice the lighthouse isn't functioning.  The Doctor and Leela investigate only to find a dead body and that the electrics have been going in and out.  The two workers still alive mention that a shining light has landed in the ocean nearby.  Due to the power failure, a ship crashed onto the island and the four survivors are brought on board.  Unfortunately more and more people are being murdered by a green glowing alien and one of the lighthouse crew, Reuben has reacted poorly to the shock.  More people keep dying as the Doctor discovers Reuben's body; the alien can transform its shape.  It turns out that the alien is a Rutan, a green blob whose race is the enemy of the Sontarans.  They are losing the war against the Sontarans and plan on using Earth as a new base and eliminating humans from it.  The Doctor and Leela stop the Rutan but only after it has murdered every other person on the island.  As the Rutan mothership approaches, the Doctor rigs the lighthouse with diamonds to create a heated laser and destroy the ship.

This is a very bleak and very good story.  Doctor Who in general has a higher death count than many television shows, but it's not very often that every single character other than the Doctor and his companion die.  The mystery and atmosphere of this story is fantastic.  Originally this was just supposed to be some random alien, but writer Terrance Dicks remembered Pertwee's The Time Warrior and decided to make the villain a Rutan.  This is the only time we've seen a Rutan and I really wish they would come back to the new show.  Check this story out!


Story 93
The Invisible Enemy

The next story is The Invisible Enemy and it's four episodes long.  Humans have been colonizing space at a rapid pace and several of them have come into contact with a virus that takes over their bodies and are using Titan Base as a breeding ground for the virus.  The station manager sends out an SOS which the Doctor picks up.  Unfortunately the Doctor also contracts the virus and is chosen to house the nucleus of the storm due to his abilities as a Time Lord.  Without any options left, The TARDIS heads to a hospital with the Doctor, Leela, and unknown to them, an infected man.  The infected man begins spreading the virus to the hospital staff as Professor Marius examines the Doctor.  The only course of action is to create clones of the Doctor and Leela (which can only live for 10 minutes) and shrink them down to travel through the Doctor's brain and destroy the nucleus.  While they do this, the real Leela and Marius' robot dog, K-9 defend the room from the infected.  Unfortunately the Nucleus is intelligent and uses the plan against them and escapes the Doctor's mind to be enlarged by reversing the shrink ray.  The Doctor, now clean of the infection and knowing a cure for it, follows the Nucleus and the infected to Titan Base to stop them for good.

This one is very different.  It ultimately becomes The Fantastic Voyage done to 70's Doctor Who...something they would later revisit with the Twelfth Doctor story Into the Dalek.  Basically if you've seen any show or movie about shrinking people down inside a body then you've seen this.  The most important thing to come from this story is the introduction of K-9 who joins the TARDIS at the end.  He's the companion that a lot of people either really enjoy or really hate.  Sometimes he's used very well but other times he's a bit annoying.


Story 94
Image of the Fendahl

The next story is Image of the Fendahl and it's four episodes long.  Four scientists have discovered an ancient skull and are running scans on it.  These scans activate the skull and cause a creature to briefly appear and completely suck the life force out of anything nearby.  The time scanning tech catches the eye of the Doctor who investigates.  Eventually the skull has chosen the female scientist to become the new host of the Fendahleen and commands her to set the scanner to be permanently on.  The possessed scientist then begins sucking the life force out of some and converting others into large worm-like creatures.  If the Fendahl gains twelve followers it can summon an insurmountable amount of power and destroy the planet.  The Doctor discovers the Fendahleen are fatally allergic to salt and kill two of the twelve causing the circle to be unfinished.  The Doctor rigs the scanning machine to explode and cause the skull to go dormant once again.  The explosion caused a chain reaction which destroyed all of the transformed Fendahleen and the Doctor leaves to toss the skull into a supernova.

This one is... just OK.  I said in the introduction that this season started a bit of a minor slip in quality and this is the story that I first really noticed it in.  I'm not sure if it was the script or just the general idea but the majority of this story left me just sort of watching but not absorbing much of what was going on.  It just sort of exists.  There are a few good scenes here and there but mostly this one is forgettable.

Story 95
The Sun Makers

The next story is The Sun Makers and it's four episodes long.  With the Earth being uninhabited (think around the time of the Ark in Space) there is a large colony living on Pluto who are being taxed beyond their ability.  When the TARDIS lands on Pluto, the Doctor and Leela stop a man from committing suicide because of the taxation.  Listening to his story, the Doctor decides to investigate "The Company" as he seeks out people who are living underground who oppose the Company and it's leader, the Collector.  It turns out that the Collector is actually a strange seaweed-like alien in human form.  Eventually with the help of the underground movement starting a rebellion, the Doctor sabotages the Company to go bankrupt and traps the Collector inside his life support system.  With Pluto free from The Company, the Doctor and Leela head back to the TARDIS.

This one is a bit of an oddity for much of Doctor Who.  While many of Classic Doctor Who stories involve planetary destruction, invasion, or protecting a nation, this one is just the Doctor having compassion because the living conditions are terrible.  That's something you don't see too incredibly often with this show.  Though I don't talk about writers too often, this is yet another good script by Robert Holmes.  Holmes was one of the best writers for the show.  Even things that aren't exactly exciting like this one are written so well that you end up liking it anyway.  Holmes tended to write about things that were pissing him off at the time and apparently this time it was paying taxes.  I wouldn't say this is an absolute classic episode but I enjoyed it.  Check it out if it seems interesting to you.


Story 96
Underworld

The next story is Underworld and it's four episodes long.  The Time Lords started their policy of non-interference because of their involvement with the Minyans of the planet Minyos.  The Minyans worshiped them as gods but eventually used the advanced technology and weaponry against the Time Lords and blew up the planet.  Two ships escaped the destruction.  One of them had the race bank of the Minyans and the other was trying to find the race bank and return everyone to the new Minyos II.  Several millenia have passed since then and the Doctor, Leela, and K-9 land on the second ship which is closing in on the first.  They find that the first ship had attracted rocks and became a planet.  Inside, the descendants of the original crew are working as slaves under the two robot Seers and the super computer the Oracle.  Eventually the slaves are freed and the race bank is rescued so that the Minyans can return to Minyos II.

This may sound interesting but... it's not.  There are some really good ideas with this plotline but for some reason it falls completely flat.  This is another one that I had to look up what it was even about.  Why?  Well to be perfectly honest, I've tried to watch this story three times and all three times I've fallen asleep.  It's not like it was late night or I had been watching a ton of them in the same day either; it was just so slow that it put me to sleep.  Give this one a pass.


Story 97
The Invasion of Time

The last story of Season Fifteen is The Invasion of Time and it's six episodes long.  The Doctor returns again on Gallifrey to claim the office of President as the last election was only between himself and the now deceased Chancellor Goth.  The Time Lords are outraged but can't really do anything about it.  The Doctor is acting very strangely though and begins making demands that his chamber be completely lead lined and is just generally being demanding and rude.  The Doctor is after all of the artifacts of Rassilon which would give him ultimate power within the Time Lords.  The Time Lords remind him that outsiders are not permitted in Gallifrey and so he banishes Leela to the outskirts.  It seems that the Doctor is working with an alien race known as the Vardans and assisting them with invading Gallifrey.  The Doctor takes Time Lord Borusa to his chamber, which is now lead lined and will prevent mind reading, and explains that he is working with the Vardans so that they will fully manifest their physical form.  Once the Vardans show who they really are he can trap their planet in a time loop and save Gallifrey.  Leela meets with some other outsiders and they form a resistance group to get back into Gallifrey to help the Doctor with whatever is going on.  Eventually the Doctor lowers Gallifrey's sheilds to allow the Vardans in and identifies them.  The Doctor sends the Vardans back and traps their planet in an infinite time loop.  Unfortunately, this seems to have been a ploy by the Sontarans to gain access to Gallifrey as they beam in immediately after.  Using the lost Key of Rassilon, the Doctor and a few Time Lords enter his TARDIS to create a forbidden dematerialization gun powered by the key.  This Demat gun will erase the target from time itself.  The Sontarans aided by a wormy Time Lord gain access to the TARDIS and chase the Doctor through the labyrinth inside.  Leela's forces join up and destroy all but the commander who is struck by the demat circuit right as he was about to explode the Eye or Harmony.  The demat gun removes the Sontaran commander from time but also destroys itself and wipes the Doctor's memory of the whole incident.  The Doctor goes to leave Gallifrey but Leela has chosen to stay behind with a time lord she had fallen in love with.  K-9 stays with her.  The Doctor leaves and pulls out a box labeled  "K-9 Mark II"

This one is actually very interesting and entertaining.  The mystery of why the Doctor is acting like this goes on for a couple episodes so you aren't really quite sure what's going on and it builds up good tension.  Also getting to see the TARDIS swimming pool and other areas was really cool to see.  There are only two problems when you really sit down and think about it.  First is the fact that the Time Lords of Troughton's The War Games are certainly long gone.  For the Sontarans to cause a legitimate threat to the people who used their minds to erase an entire group of people from history.... yeah these are weak and pointless Time Lords now.  Also Leela's departure is a bit sudden.  She really didn't have much screentime or even chemistry with the character who she seemingly fell in love with.  Yes, Jo Grant left to be with a man she had fallen in love with but they spent plenty of time establishing that connection which made that work.  Here it doesn't.  Despite these two things I personally enjoyed this story; you might want to check it out!

Conclusion

That was Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen of Classic Doctor Who.  It was an interesting collection of really awesome, weird, and unique. For me personally, Leela was the last of the consecutively great companions that the show had to offer.  Don't get me wrong, I like the majority of the companions that will be coming in the future, but precious few of them would fall into the "great" category like everyone since Jamie and Zoe appeared with the Second Doctor.  The best era of the show is officially over with these seasons and honestly wouldn't gain the momentum back for another ten seasons.  We'll still have some really great episodes mixed in though.  Please join me again as we continue to examine all of Doctor Who.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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