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Aliens Under the Mud Mar. 18th, 2019 @ 03:51 pm

We start to see what normal life will be like aboard Moya, the living prison ship, in Farscape's second episode. The script by Sally Lapiduss continues the first episode's focus on discord between a person's perceived identity and the reality of a situation. With a much lower effects budget the episode still manages to be an entertaining engagement with the show's characters.

Season 1, Episode 2: "I, E.T."

John Crichton (Ben Browder) finds himself in the role of the strange alien visitor normally reserved for little grey guys with big heads and big dark eyes. This is after Moya, the ship in which Crichton and the intergalactic collection of criminals, escaped from the Peace Keepers crashlands in a bog on a world where the sentient civilisation has not made first contact with alien life and is not yet capable of space travel.

The term "First Contact" is thrown around and this is another case where the show seems to be putting a spin on something Star Trek viewers would've been familiar with. Instead of a Federation with careful, thought out protocols for this sort of thing, we have our band of misfits just blundering into the planet, caught up in problems that have little or nothing to do with the people there. And why shouldn't it be that way? In order to ease the fears of the young woman and child Crichton encounters, he compulsively says he and his friends "chose" them as the most appropriate for First Contact. But, reluctantly, he's forced to divulge that not everything that happens out there in the stars has to do with this one backwater sentient species.

Meanwhile, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), is having an even more humbling experience as the former despotic ruler is obliged by his short stature to conduct dangerous maintenance on the ship. It seems there's a tracker on Moya and, unlike on the Enterprise, where extracting such a device may cause things to break or malfunction, here there's the added problem that the ship is a sentient being who will undergo excruciating pain when Rygel snips the cords connecting the tracker to the vessel.

Why should the little Dominar crawl about in the muck and work up a sweat? It's his only way out of this mess. Zhaan (Virginia Hey) uses her powers to absorb some of the ship's pain, experiencing it for herself, but as we'll see as the series progresses her motives aren't always entirely altruistic. The prisoners need the ship to escape but they're forced to go through Pilot (Lani Tupu) to control the vessel and Pilot is intimately connected with Moya.

Physically and emotionally--certainly the show's most impressive of its many impressive puppets, Pilot, an enormous crustacean looking fellow, belongs to a species that is physically connected to the living ships they operate and act as liaisons for with the ship's crew. Possibly the most effectively alien looking main character of any live action Science Fiction series, the puppet is enormous with articulations that are impressively complex and capable of very subtle shades of expression in the hands of its operators. This ensures that even an episode like this with relatively cheap production still looks fantastic.

To-day I learned Amazon will be streaming the entire series for Prime members starting to-morrow, March 19, in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Nordic countries, and several other countries. Which is great for me, I won't have to rely on my ancient DVDs anymore. Whatever its faults, I have to hand it to Amazon, they really have the best streaming content, hands down.


This entry is part of a series I'm writing for Farscape's twentieth anniversary. My review for the premiere episode can be found here.

Twitter Sonnet #1216

The helpful ants would carry loads to wash.
They took the towels and pants, the shirts and socks.
Too handy bugs we never sought to squash.
Their tramping little feet would roam the docks.
Collective dots repair to cravat homes.
The secret ties prepare the grunts for work.
A thousand points of ink denude the bones.
Another day presents a sugar perk.
Instructions wait in massive conf'rence halls.
The little spots combine to make a plan.
Like stars of light inverted paint the walls.
The busy brain again absorbs the land.
Together creatures form a single blob.
No cake escapes the snowy insect glob.
Current Location: A bog
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" - The Beatles

Sounds Like Ireland Mar. 17th, 2019 @ 02:51 pm

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, everyone. It's also Sunday, the day I normally write about Doctor Who, but Doctor Who has always been light on Irish characters and actors and the show has perplexingly never gone to Ireland. So I turned to the audio plays and listened again to the bold 2006 story The Settling from Big Finish's monthly range. Set in Ireland in 1649, it takes place during Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland and features Cromwell as a character, played by Clive Mantle. The tone is sometimes too light, particularly when it comes to some of Cromwell's dialogue, but mostly it treats the subject matter seriously with a score made up mostly of mournful strings that might overdo it slightly.

This may have been before the "fixed point" term came into use on the show but the sieges of Drogheda and Wexford are clearly regarded as fixed points by the Doctor, events that he can't effect substantial changes to. Instead of big things, he mostly focuses on individuals and helps an Irishwoman named Mary (Clare Cathcart) deliver a baby while her town is being ravaged by Cromwell's forces.

It's a Seventh Doctor story and Sylvester McCoy may be the most appropriate Doctor for this material since his mother was Irish and his father was English (he grew up in Scotland). I suspect he taught the rest of the cast how to pronounce "Drogheda". While he's concerned with townspeople, his companions, Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Oliver), alternate spending time with a conversational Cromwell. Clive Mantle plays Cromwell as unambiguously villainous. The smug sense of constantly amused superiority that comes through in the performance conjures an image of an obese cat with a curling moustache.

The script is much subtler, though. As Ace and Hex start trying to argue with someone they know only as a monster, they're stymied by responses and examples of behaviour that indicate a man who believes in virtue and the value of human life. He teases Hex by pretending to think he's a witch and then laughs it off--Cromwell was out of step with his Puritan cohorts in that he didn't consider witches a real threat. But then he flies into a rage when Hex utters the casual blasphemy, "Oh my god!" Realistically, I think Cromwell would be more taken aback by Hex's comfort with the expression than enraged by it, even if it was a grave offence.

It's not until the end of the story that the Doctor has a conversation with Cromwell and Cromwell's questionable defence for slaughtering the inhabitants of two towns, that he saved thousands more by doing so and that his men acted against his orders in slaying women and children, is met with McCoy's low tone of ominous scepticism.

Mainly, I admire the story more for the boldness of its premise than for its execution but it's not bad. Maybe one day the show, too, will visit Ireland.
Current Location: Wexford
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: "The Tree of Woe" Conan the Barbarian OST - Basil Poledouris

All the Folks from "Ireland" Mar. 16th, 2019 @ 10:33 am

A man is separated from his wife and young daughter while he makes a career for himself as a singer in 1937's Rose of Tralee. That's the plot but the star of the film is adorable little Binkie Stuart, the little girl who plays Rose, the man's daughter. Billed as Ireland's answer to Shirley Temple, she was in fact Scottish--the only genuinely Irish performer among the supposedly all Irish cast in this British film is Kathleen O'Regan as Rose's mother. But it's a charming little film.

Mary O'Malley (O'Regan) is being evicted at the beginning of the film by a cruel landlady who keeps the woman's luggage until she's been paid the rent. Binkie Stuart was clearly coached carefully to show indignation from the sidelines.

Unbeknownst to Mary and Rose, the man of the family, Paddy O'Malley (Fred Conyngham), has gotten himself a pretty successful career thanks to the interest of an American named Jean Hale (Dorothy Dare). There are very gentle suggestions that Paddy might be tempted to dally with Jean but really the both of them are too morally upright. It's Paddy's crooked manager that keeps staving off the incredible coincidences that keep almost bringing the O'Malleys back together.

Mary and Rose depend on the kindness of a restaurant proprietor named Tim Kelly played by an English actor with an established Irish vaudevillian persona named Talbot O'Farrell--a better made up name than Paddy O'Malley for an Irish character, at least. And he has a decent sense of comic timing.

Binkie Stuart may be cuter than Shirley Temple but I haven't seen many of Temple's movies from when she was that age--I thought she was okay as a teenager in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

The Rose of Tralee is available on Amazon Prime.
Current Location: Lonblin
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" - Harry Dean Stanton

Two Decades of Farscape Mar. 15th, 2019 @ 11:55 am

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the première of Farscape, one of the greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy series of all time. So I thought I'd watch through the series again and write new reviews of each episode. This should take a while because Farscape premièred back in the days when a season of a dramatic series was normally over twenty episodes. Series are shorter now, normally between eight and twelve episodes per season, and those seasons usually première on irregular schedules. There was a time when it would've been a really bad sign for a series to take a year off in the U.S. but now that's normal. But that's seen as a trade-off for a number of other things, including higher production values. One of the extraordinary things about Farscape is that its production design hold ups against anything being produced to-day.

The first scene set on an alien world in the première episode is brief. But in only a few minutes we see fantastic costumes and puppets, each with intricate, careful designs and articulation. This toothy crustacean merchant only appears in a few shots:

This is the work of the Jim Henson Creature Shop, this being a series produced by the Jim Henson Company with Brian Henson serving as executive producer. The series was created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, who at that point was already the creator of two successful Sci-Fi series, seaQuest and Alien Nation. A lot of the best writing on Farscape came from former Star Trek: The Next Generation writers David Kemper and Richard Manning and in the première episode one can see in O'Bannon's teleplay already ideas that play off of familiar Star Trek concepts.

Two of the first alien characters we're introduced to, Zhaan (Virigina Hey) and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), seem at first like they might be versions of stock Star Trek and other Fantasy character types--the sensual, empathic lady of peace like Deanna Troi from TNG or Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and the man from the warrior race, like Worf, his worldview founded on a culture that values battle and honour above all else. But the conversation between the two escaping prisoners quickly establishes them as misfits--Zhaan is a priest but also an anarchist and D'Argo was imprisoned for killing a superior officer. D'Argo's also only "thirty cycles", presumably around thirty years old, which Zhaan considers, with some surprise, "a boy", so his assertions of a persona that honours war takes on the character of a kid trying to prove his identity and worth by the standards of his culture.

Of course they're misfits, though. They're criminals, the classic example of people who have violated the social contract in one way or another. But just about everyone in the première episode has a troubled relationship between their essential natures and their prescribed social roles. Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) was a "Dominar", a ruler, and when he first encounters the series' protagonist, John Crichton (Ben Browder), he immediately treats their relationship as political--he offers to protect Crichton from the other prisoners in exchange for protection later. But the little Rygel, smallest member of the crew, is as far from being a king as could be, his physique and his upbringing making him the least capable of asserting dominance on any issue. Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) is a fighter pilot in Farscape's version of the Galactic Empire, called, with irony that would become Stalin or Mao, the "Peace Keepers". Taken into custody by the prisoners, she continually asserts her identity as a soldier and a Peace Keeper but is immediately expelled by her superior officer when she shows the slightest desire not to execute Crichton.

This superior officer, Crais (Lani Tupu), who himself becomes an increasingly misfit character, is clearly not especially concerned about any potential "irreversible contamination" Aeryn is exhibiting. Naturally a rigid ideological order like the Peace Keepers wouldn't approve of alien cultures which would thereby encourage alternate points of view but Crais' concern is more immediate. If he allows any nuance into the general interpretation of events then it creates the possibility of something standing in the way of his own goal.

Aeryn may already be feeling some fondness for Crichton at this point but what she says is that she doesn't actually believe he's guilty of the crime Crais says he's guilty of--"I don't believe that he is brave enough or intelligent enough to attack one of our Prowlers intentionally." If the Peace Keeper goal is truly to stamp out wrongdoers, to create and keep peace, then identifying the true perpetrators of criminal acts through reason and observation would seem the logical path to securing those goals. But Crais has already seen the footage of Crichton's ship accidentally colliding with his brother's craft and, if he were rational, he would know that Crichton is not his brother's murderer. Crais has deliberately interpreted events against the evidence of his own eyes and he's mobilised the lockstep mechanisms of military bureaucracy to execute actions based on this narrative he's trying to assert.

But was there ever a more guileless wanderer than John Crichton? I found myself wondering how any of the other characters might have handled the situation in Crichton's place. Throughout the series, Crichton's struggle with his isolation, the loss of everything familiar, every artefact and sensation of home, alternately creates effective pathos and comedy. But the fact that he's able to get anything at all done in this context shows he does have a very flexible mind, perhaps his life as a scientist and test pilot having nurtured a respect for recognising complexity and taught him the value in basing his actions on empirical observation.

And that's just the first episode. It's going to be nice watching this show again.

Twitter Sonnet #1215

A storm of ants reduced a crumb to air.
Convenient leaves allow the grunt's ascent.
A golden morsel's lifted up the stair.
Without a word the Queen expressed assent.
A desert wheels a scene of light and dust.
Along the road directors trod to shoot.
The silent stones atop the hills combust.
A story spilled about a granite boot.
A set of cards collected ink and dates.
In rolling boxes thoughts become a note.
The early tapes were grouped with all the lates.
The rental store remained aboard the boat.
A flying barn remembers corner plants.
The metal legs were wearing scallion pants.
Current Location: A ship, a LIVING ship
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: "Chega de Saudade" - Tom Jobim

Circular Paw Prints Mar. 14th, 2019 @ 04:50 pm

In the midst of a terrible winter, alone in the snowy mountains of northern California, a family plays out a drama seemingly representative of human civilisation in 1954's Track of the Cat. Three brothers, each in his own way, trying to live up to an ideal of personal responsibility under the bitter, impotent influence of parents, sister, and fiancee establish their personalities for the audience in the hunt for a panther that's been killing the livestock. There are some really great location shots, nice production design, and a brave performance from Robert Mitchum, but mainly its a film that comes across as trying to make a point that doesn't quite connect. Most of the blame for this belongs to actor Tab Hunter.

I think we're supposed to want to see the youngest brother, Harold (Hunter), really succeed and prove himself against all odds. But he's just so bland and his performance is so lazy, it's just irritating when anything good happens to him. Robert Mitchum, as Curt, the arrogant and loud mouthed brother under whose shadow Harold struggles to define himself, is so much more charismatic it's even harder to want to spend time with Harold, let alone root for him.

The eldest brother, Arthur (William Hopper), is presented as saintly--called "a monk" by Curt--he sees the good in everyone but lacks Curt's assertiveness to lay down the law. Their mother (Beulah Bondi) is a severe, deeply religious woman while their father (Philip Tonge) constantly drinks and is generally too feeble to establish authority. Teresa Wright plays Grace, the only female offspring, a perpetually angry woman who constantly berates her parents and siblings for their individual failings.

It all seems like an allegory for the perils of a headless society in which various ideologies try to assert dominance but each lacks some vital element to stake a permanent claim. This is a fine enough idea in itself and oddly I think the movie would've felt more like it had a resolution if it didn't make any attempt at a resolution.

Apparently Mitchum was miserable with the filming conditions but his hard work paid off with some really effective scenes of him trudging through snowy wilderness, trying to find a panther. A panther we never see, by the way, another problem with the film. Why Katharine Hepburn can be walking a leopard in Bringing Up Baby but we can't even get an isolated shot of a panther on a soundstage in this movie I really don't know. When the cat's in your title you really need to show the damned cat.
Current Location: The snow
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "In These Shoes?" - Kirsty MacColl
Other entries
» An Unlikely Smell

I was in the mood for a Spaghetti Western last night and didn't quite get what I wanted with 1975's Cry, Onion! (Cipolla Colt, "Onion Colt"). But that wasn't such a bad thing. A parody of Spaghetti Westerns that shows an intimate knowledge of the genre it also has a really delightful absurd streak.

The normally stoic leading man Franco Nero--the original Django himself--stars as Onion, a crazed onion farmer who comes to an oil town looking to buy land. But in doing so he stands in the way of a tycoon's ambition, the ruthless Petrus Lamb (Martin Balsam), who, when he lifted his golden clockwork prosthetic hand into frame, tipped me off as to exactly what kind of movie this was going to be.

Already there are shades of various Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns, particularly Once Upon a Time in the West where it's a railroad tycoon with MS who's trying to push out landowners. Cry, Onion! is also peppered with famous historical names in ridiculous places, including Al and his brother Dutch Capone as little kids using homemade grenades to defend the land Onion purchased. Waging a print war against Lamb is an elderly town resident, none other than Joseph Pulitzer.

Who's played by none other than Sterling Hayden, sadly dubbed over by another actor. This was three years after he was in The Godfather. I imagine by this point in his career he had his pick of roles; he is one I've always admired for a willingness to do something strange and off-beat, apparently not nursing a chip on his shoulder that no-one saw him as a handsome leading man anymore.

The Spanish actress Emma Cohen--who played the version of Big Bird on the Spanish Sesame Street--plays Pulitzer's daughter, Mary Ann, who falls in love with Onion at first sight, despite having trouble tolerating his stench. In a gratuitous parody of Spaghetti Western stylistic flourishes, the frame freezes on her face and his when they first see each other and cartoon hearts appear around their faces before their images are put together into a silly Valentine's card.

There are also jokes that are just plain absurd, as when Onion's chasing evil gunfighters in a granary, brushing aside grain to see the faces of the men to find the one he wants. He doesn't make any headway until he brushes away the grain on one man to encounter his own face. It doesn't make any sense at all, it's great.

Nero gives a zany performance oddly complemented by an English dub actor doing a Jimmy Stewart impression. Cry, Onion! is available on Amazon Prime.
» The Weight at the Other Side

The paradox of modern romance is in its contradictory imperatives for responsibility to one's partner. Love should be about taking care of each other, of belonging to each other, yet people should neither expect others to care for their weakness and also shouldn't try to nurse them. The conflicts that emerge can seem like a seesaw and thus the title of 1962's Two for the Seesaw. A thoughtful, sometimes too clever, film about a romance across ideas and ideologies with two great performances from Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine.

The film opens with one of several great location shots in New York City, this one featuring Jerry (Mitchum) contemplating suicide, but most of the film feels very stagebound. It consists almost entirely of dialogue between the two leads and it's not hard to see the movie's origins as a stage play by William Gibson (not Neuromancer William Gibson, another one). But this production directed by Robert Wise does some nice things with the limited space. I liked how the set for Jerry's apartment is connected to Gittel's, the moving camera showing us it's not a split screen and that the actors can likely hear each other.

Gittel (MacLaine) is a young and hopeful member of the counterculture, part of the second or third wave of Beats*. Jerry meets her at the home of a mutual friend during a party mostly consisting of people having shallow debates about art theory. He walks past people talking about dichotomies of motivation and the dogmatism of discussing communication. There are so many people crowded in the little place trying to get their points across it seems like a market bazaar so it's oddly appropriate he comes across Gittel trying to sell an ice box.

All she does is ask Jerry to light a cigarette for her but he has the impertinence to get her number from his friend and call her to ask her out the next day. He tells her about how he's decided he shouldn't be walking around thinking of suicide all the time so he's asking for her help. As she points out to him later, he imposes on her generosity a lot without realising, which is particularly ironic since he spends a lot of time talking about how he doesn't want to be taken care of. "So then you say, 'need you'. I need you. Who says these things in black and white? You care about somebody, you don't make 'em ask. Like a bill that's gotta be paid. What kind of giving is that?" On the other hand, if Jerry hadn't asked, the two would never have been in a relationship in the first place.

But meanwhile, each one understands why the other resents it when someone else presumes to take care of them. MacLaine, as usual, plays a character in a precarious, potentially tragic situation. She doesn't want to tell Jerry too much about it because she doesn't want to "trap" him.

This was around the same time MacLaine was making movies with Billy Wilder and Two for the Seesaw is peppered with fast pace sex jokes that are of the same species as the kind in The Apartment or Some Like It Hot but are a little too corny to be effectively funny and outright lame when they border on dirty.

But they do help serve the dialogue on sexual liberation. Jerry is presented as a more traditional figure, a lawyer who owes his position and wealth to his father-in-law--Jerry's overbearing wife is the reason he's run away to New York to be miserable. He's surprisingly easy-going about Gittel's multiple sexual partners until he sees her kissing a friend with benefits. But both Gittel and Jerry recognise Gittel's sexual attraction to Jerry is as much a part of their relationship as Jerry's sexual attraction to her. When she offers to have sex with him early on because it's his birthday, he walks out because it's another manifestation of the charity he's been trying to get away from.

But where does the charity end and the love begin? When do you start letting someone do something for you more out of their pleasure in helping than in their independent desire to take the action in question? It's a problem Jerry and Gittel are forced to chew on endlessly.

*Incidentally, to-day's Jack Kerouac's birthday

Twitter Sonnet #1214

In cases suited just for travel packed.
In bottles corked for only bees, avast.
For planes were holding ev'ry bag and sack.
And so the moving rocks above amassed.
A waiting sign was mentioned late to-night.
In cheapest coat the frigid thought persists.
A bobbing fruit was stopped and fixed aright.
The apple stilled in cider now consists.
A file found behind the image grew.
A simple use for pages coat the walls.
The words repeat and yet were writ anew.
A chain of lights were spines throughout the halls.
Umbrellas float along the creek of wine.
A voice repelled its way from out the mine.

» Who Summons the Killer Baby?

It has a possessed baby, it has distinguished actors taking their roles seriously, but 1975's I Don't Want to be Born (a.k.a. The Devil Within Her and The Monster) never approaches The Exorcist in quality. Some nice dialogue thoughtfully delivered by Donald Pleasence and Eileen Atkins is undercut a bit by thoroughly unconvincing scenes of people getting pummelled to death by a newborn.

Baby's fingers dripping with his mother's blood following an attack when she tried to cuddle him soon after birth is the first real sign of trouble. For the baby's parents because this is not normal infant behaviour, for the audience because we're meant to accept what looks like drops of strawberry syrup on the fingers of a baby with an unmistakably oblivious facial expression as the sign of it cruelly perpetrating an act of physical violence. I wonder if anyone dared point out to director Peter Sasdy that one of the reasons The Exorcist worked is we were eventually able to see Linda Blair looking pretty convincingly demoniac.

Joan Collins is delicious as the baby's self-centred mother and I did like the scene where she narrates a flashback of the child's conception. Lucy (Collins) had worked as a stripper in a burlesque club where she performed with a dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon). In the flashback scene, she grudgingly admits to being turned on when he unexpectedly began fondling her in her dressing room but she angrily rejected him, pushing him away when he grabbed for her breasts. And so, like many evil dwarves before him, he takes revenge by putting a curse on Lucy. In case anyone thought this curse's relationship to the baby was too ambiguous, shots of Hercules in the crib in place of the baby are flashed for Lucy in moments when it's being particularly malevolent.

Lucy's husband, Gino (Ralph Bates), is blissfully unaware the baby might not be his, his guilelessness emphasised by an Italian accent so broad Chico Marx might call it stagey.

Gino's sister, a nun, has an accent not much more convincing but she's played with enough steel and intelligence by Eileen Atkins to make her seem the worthy counterpart to Max von Sydow in The Exorcist. She almost elevates every scene she's in, but maybe no performance can make up for a hairy little hand swatting up at adults from a crib. But I did really like a scene between Atkins and Pleasence, who plays the family's doctor. They have a fairly predictable debate about faith and science, with Pleasence concluding that, "a doctor can't write up a prescription against evil and violence. It's one of the severest limitations of our profession." But I love how Pleasence plays the scene. Except for the slightest of hints in his last few lines there's little sense of smugness in him and there's a sparkle in Atkins' eye that suggests her shrewd excitement in engaging in debate. I'd have loved to have seen these two as adversaries in a better movie with better dialogue.

This film is effectively funny, even if it didn't mean to be. Well, I'm pretty sure Lucy's hilariously useless stripper friend played by Caroline Munro was meant to be funny. I Don't Want to be Born is available on Amazon Prime under the title of The Monster.

» Only Fur can be Seen in the Jungle

DOCTOR: "Well, Jo? Do I pass?" JO GRANT: "You'll do. In a pinch." Get a room, you two. It's not clear why the Spiridons, the indigenous inhabitants of the world featured in Planet of the Daleks, must wear these furry purple cloaks. They're naturally invisible but it seems like they could've been forced to wear something much duller by their Dalek enslavers. I'm not really complaining, it looks really cosy.

This six part Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) Doctor Who serial from 1973 was written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, the first he'd written since the First Doctor era. As part of a larger sequence of linked serials that began with the six part Frontier in Space, the characteristic differences in Nation's writing are marked. Planet of the Daleks has been called a reworking of the first Dalek serial, The Daleks, written by Nation, and there are many reminiscent elements of that serial, welcome ones in my opinion.

I love how much the flora and fauna of the alien planet impact the story, for example. Alien planets too often become interchangeable quarries, here the Doctor, Jo, and their Thal allies must contend with spores that cause irremovable grime to spread over their targets and sinister, glowing eyes and growls from the dark.

Jo (Katy Manning), having been hit by one of those spores, is saved by a floating medicine bowl that turns out to be a Spiradon sans purple fur. The element of fantastic in the serial has a fabulous late 60s/early 70s quality and I do love it so.

When the Doctor and some Thals infiltrate the Dalek base, he throws the purple fur over a double breasted, burgundy velvet sport coat and bow tie with muted green and burgundy. I love that he takes a moment to change into this outfit at the beginning of the serial when the TARDIS is malfunctioning and running out of air. He changes from an all green outfit that would've provided perfect camouflage, even if it was too dressy, into something that sticks out like a sore thumb. But wear the same outfit for two serials? Three knows that would certainly never do. The Daleks would never understand such sartorial sensitivity. Well, we heard in the Tenth Doctor era a Dalek proclaim they have no concept of elegance.

Many developments in Planet of the Daleks depend on the non-Daleks making decisions influenced by love and fear, emotions the Daleks deem useless. The Doctor gets captured in a hasty, obviously futile attempt to save Jo from getting blasted and he's imprisoned with a Thal soldier. The two have a nice conversation about bravery which would be echoed later in the Twelfth Doctor era.

"Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know," the Doctor says to the Thal who's worried about controlling his own fear. "It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway."

This serial also marks the first time the Thals, the ancient enemies of the Daleks, appeared on the show since the first Dalek serial. Sadly no longer wearing their skimpy foam Y outfits. Wouldn't it be great if they brought those back in the new series? I might as well dream big.

» Milton, Milton, and Milton v Milton and Milton

Those interested in canon court matters may be pleased to find my infrequently updated webcomic, Dekpa and Deborah, has its first new chapter since September. Over five months! I'm determined to get the next chapter out much quicker. This one was delayed by a lot of time spent writing a research paper. This particular chapter, and the one before it, required some research though I did most of it in early 2018 and 2017. The two latest chapters of Dekpa and Deborah deal with the true circumstances following John Milton's death, when his brother, Christopher, who was a Royalist and therefore ideologically John's opponent, and Betty Milton, John's wife when he died, filed a nuncupative will--that is, a will spoken rather than written. Since John was blind, he was obliged to do all his writing this way.

There was a bitter and, as some biographers and commentators consider it, embarrassing dispute between Milton's daughters and the team of Christopher and Betty regarding the veracity of this will. The court documents remain in existence and its one of the few direct pieces of information about John Milton's family that didn't come from John himself. So it's a valuable item for me since John's daughter, Deborah, is one of the main characters of my comic. Of all the characters in this new chapter only Dekpa is my invention and presents my interpretation of the events, what I think may have happened in the world outside those documents. So let me take you back to December, 1674 . . .

Twitter Sonnet #1213

An olive rolled between the cobble stones.
A giant's steps were marked in crimson shade.
The strongest house's timbers cracked as bones.
The morning's breath in fog begins to fade.
A diver shaped the air with freezing hands.
As clouds begin to slow they change to damp.
A thirsty story's told in sifting sands.
The message came but late to warn the camp.
Umbrellas gather late to wash the sun.
In careful carried vessels water drips.
In silhouette the crow was like a nun.
Her higher rank was told in godly pips.
Between the words a plantly human grows.
As flower closed apace they changed to toes.

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