Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Crusades (1965)

This time the TARDIS lands near the city of Jaffa, right in the middle of the Third Crusade. While looking around the group is ambushed by Saracen soldiers, who abduct Barbara. The soldiers also capture William des Preux, a Crusader who lets himself be captured while pretending to be King Richard I of England in order to distract the enemy, while the rest of the TARDIS crew manage to rescue William de Tornebu, a nobleman also serving under Richard. The Doctor hopes that by helping de Tornebu recover from his wounds and by returning him to Richard’s court they can get the king to help them save Barbara. At Saladin’s camp, des Preux interrogates Barbara, curious about her “strange clothes.” Barbara ducks his questions and finds out about des Preux’s charade. Concerned for Barbara’s safety, des Preux tells Saladin’s ministers that she is Richard’s sister, Joanna. Meanwhile the Doctor steals clothes for himself, Vicki, and Ian, from a merchant in Jaffa, so they can fit in.

A Saracen emir, el-Akir, presents Barbara and “Richard” to Saladin and his brother Sephadin, but Saladin sees through the ruse. An enraged el-Akir threatens to have Barbara tortured, but Saladin angrily rebukes him and dismisses him. Barbara actually tries to tell Saladin the truth of who she is and where she’s been, but he just assumes that she’s telling him in a roundabout way that she and her companions are traveling entertainers. As such Saladin considers keeping Barbara on as his entertainer. At Richard’s court, the Doctor and the others find an extremely ill-tempered Richard, who is glowering under recent setbacks in the Crusade and the news that his brother John is trying to usurp the English throne. Regardless Ian insists on begging Richard to send him with an escort to Saladin to arrange for Barbara and des Preux’s release. Richard declares he’d let Barbara rot in a cell before he would negotiate with Saladin. The Doctor and Vicki join in and convince Richard to reconsider by pointing out des Preux’s ruse and the potential embarrassment Saladin will feel when it turns out that des Preux is not the king. Amused by his way of thinking, Richard invites the Doctor to join his court as an adviser.

Elsewhere Ian is sent on a diplomatic mission by Richard to beg for des Preux’s and Barbara’s release as well as for the marriage of the real Joanna and Sephadin. So Ian will be qualified to serve as a royal emissary, Richard knights Ian as “Sir Ian Chesterton of Jaffa.” Ian delivers Richard’s message to Saladin and learns from des Preux about Barbara’s fate. Despite des Preux’s warning about robbers in the countryside around Jaffa, Ian is determined to set out to find Barbara. El-Akir, who wants revenge against Barbara for humiliating him in front of Saladin, arranges for Barbara to “escape” and then tries to sell her as a harem girl. Barbara gets away and is helped by Haroun Eddin, an enemy of el-Akir. At Richard’s court the Doctor argues with the Earl of Leicester in front of Richard; the Doctor backs Richard’s plans for peace and the marriage of Sephadin and Joanna. After Eddin is wounded by el-Akir’s men, Barbara gives herself up to keep Eddin’s daughter from being captured.

The Doctor seems to lose Richard’s favor when Joanna finds out about his plans to marry her to “an infidel” and he blames the Doctor, who knew about the proposed marriage alliance. Meanwhile Barbara is handed over to el-Akir, who promises, “The only pleasure left to you is death, and death is very far away.” However, Barbara slips away once again, finding refuge in el-Akir’s harem. Ian has his own problems when he’s overtaken and tied up by a robber named Ibrahim, who thinks from his clothes that Ian is a rich man and plans to get him to reveal the location of his “wealth” by luring ants to Ian’s body with honey. Richard apologizes to the Doctor and Vicki for blaming them; he knew that Leicester had informed Joanna about the marriage plans to try to turn him against the Doctor, but had to act to keep Leicester’s favor since he is a good general and Richard expects, since he cannot make the marriage match with Joanna’s vehement opposition and likely disapproval from the Pope, that he’ll have to soon fight Saladin again. To keep the Doctor away from his newfound enemy Leicester, Richard orders the Doctor and Vicki to go to Acre. Before they leave, the Doctor assures Richard that he will someday see Jerusalem. Vicki feels sorry that they have to leave Richard to fight a war he’ll never win.

In the harem, Barbara finds Haroun Eddin’s daughter Maimuna. Just as el-Akir is about to uncover Barbara, Ian, who tricked Ibrahim into letting him go, and Haroun ed-Din appear at the harem. Ian and his new ally, Ibrahim, help Barbara escape while Eddin kills el-Akir. On their way back to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Vicki see that they’re being followed by Leicester, who thinks the Doctor is a Saracen spy and Vicki is a witch. Near the TARDIS Leicester captures the Doctor, who convinces Leicester to let him see Jaffa one last time before he’s executed. This gives the Doctor enough time to make it into the TARDIS. When they see the TARDIS vanish, Leicester swears his men to silence, so they won’t be “branded as idiots or liars.”

Comments

It’s the first completely “straight” historical serial we’ve had since last season, but it sticks closely to the formula that’s been established throughout this season. True, the TARDIS crew has always ended up separated, but here once again they diverge the same ways: the Doctor and Vicki wind up together and having the (if only relatively) “safer” adventure, while Barbara and Ian are forced to split up and carry most of the action and suspense in the serial. In a strange way it does make the Doctor seem like a more proactive character, especially compared to the beginning of the show, since it leaves him to operate without the show’s original center, but it also illustrates too well how Vicki has virtually nothing to do but serve as someone for the Doctor to talk with. Now Maureen O’Brien does do a good job playing Vicki and she manages to bring some sparks of a personality, but they come in spite of the script.

As for the serial itself, it is, like most of the historicals we’ve seen so far, quite strong. It’s certainly the best acted serial we’ve seen yet, with Julian Glover depicting Richard I with Shakespearean flair. The screenwriters certainly feed him the spotlight: the argument between him and Joanna, played equally well by Jean Marsh, is good drama, as is the moments where he portrays a war-weary but still ambitious Richard. Bernard Kay also pulls off a very good Saladin, depicting a monarch that manages to be convincingly ruthless and compassionate at the same time. It might lack the use of the implications of time travel that existed in “The Aztecs” and to a lesser extent “The Romans”, but looked at in isolation it actually does work as a decent interpretation of the historical actors involved (even if Richard I is painted as being at least a smidgen less martial than he certainly he was in real life). Unfortunately, the whole serial trickles down to an anticlimactic conclusion in the last episode. Ian and Barbara’s escapades are wrapped up a little too neatly (for one thing, why did Eddin suddenly wind up invading the harem where his daughter was kept after all that time?), not enough time is spent with the fascinating idea that the Doctor is willingly letting Richard run into a dead end or even with Richard’s anxieties over what is for him still the future, and overall all the various plots seem to end simply because they must.

Despite that, and the lack of any real distinction apart from the quality of the acting, it’s arguably the strongest serial in the season yet. At the very least it’s another example that can be cited as evidence that the current showrunners should maybe consider reviving the “Doctor Who” historical format.

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Video Games

Final Fantasy Retrospective 1B: Final Fantasy Adventure

Also known as The Final Fantasy of Zelda.  

Unlike the SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend games, Final Fantasy Adventure, originally known in Japan by the poetic title Holy Sword Legend: Final Fantasy Supplementary Story, actually was originally intended to be a spin-off from the Final Fantasy series.  It was only later that Square decided to make the Mana franchise out of it.  Simple enough, except for the fact that in Europe this game is known as Mystic Quest, which later became the title of another Final Fantasy spin-off.  It’s still not quite as confusing as, say, the history of many competing Zombi sequels, but it can be close.

At the time I actually did like this game more than the original Legend of Zelda, since it combined the early action RPG elements of Zelda with the (for the time) elaborate storytelling of Final Fantasy.  It wasn’t until later that I learned to appreciate that a RPG can have a simple story – so much had Final Fantasy influenced my expectations even as a kid – and today I’d probably pick the first Zelda out over this game, just because in the long haul Zelda was the better game.  I don’t know why, really.  Final Fantasy Adventure had a more varied world, a wider variety of weapons and more options for battle, and, hey, you didn’t have to commit suicide every time you wanted to save the game.  Yet Zelda just still seems more fun in retrospect.

Not to say that this was a bad game by any stretch;  on the contrary, it’s definitely a classic, with strong and simple gameplay (despite a few bugs that, depending on how reckless you are about where you save, could leave you stuck in an unwinnable state) and an emotional score by the rightfully celebrated Kenji Ito.  The story itself is quite good, too, starting out like a traditional Nintendo game of the era (the first antagonist is even named the “Dark Lord,” which makes you wonder how he approaches PR issues) but then you escape from slavery, fall in love with a woman doomed by destiny and duty, find yourself caught up with a once powerful but all extinct order of heroic knights, watch as one of your friends slowly turns into a monster and is unable to end her own suffering, and finally stand by helplessly as the one person you were fighting to save is condemned to a strange, solitary existence in order to ensure a bright future for the world.  That’s pretty heavy stuff for a Game Boy game.  And I dare you to at least not get a little depressed by the ending, although even that was pretty cheerful compared to the storyline in the real Final Fantasy sequel no American fan got to play for years to come…

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: Scrooge McDuck Destroys A Society With Capitalism

As much as I try to keep “Trash Culture” apolitical, I couldn’t help but be amused and horrified (amorrified? horrifused?) by FOX News’ denouncement of the recent Muppets movie. Really, a movie just having a businessman for a villain makes it anti-capitalist? That’s almost like saying Batman comics endorse euthanizing the mentally ill. If the Powers That Be at FOX really want to see a bit of children’s entertainment with an anti-capitalist message they should look in perhaps the unlikeliest of places: Duck Tales.

Well, maybe it’s not that weird. After all, in the original comics Scrooge was, true to his name, a ruthless and hate-filled tycoon. It was only over time that he became the cool gazillionaire amateur archeologist and treasure hunter that we all love and that most people of my generation encountered through the TV series. Even after Scrooge became less…well, “scroogey”, the original comics (especially the stories by the now legendary Carl Barks) and to a lesser extent the TV show weren’t shy about depicting Scrooge as a ruthless misanthrope. True, Carl Barks was anything but anti-capitalist, but Barks established that  Scrooge once deliberately frightened and exploited an African tribe in order to take their rubber-producing land, something that put him on a spiral of guilt and depression that lasted decades. So, yes, Scrooge was kind of in the same league as King Leopold of Belgium! Nonetheless, the point in the comics – and even in the cartoon – is that having a conscience and ethics is what really gives Scrooge his edge, especially over the heartless Flintheart Glomgold, the second richest duck in the world. It’s not as ragingly anti-capitalist as The Muppets supposedly is, but it’s not exactly an endorsement for the robber baron lifestyle.

Besides all this, one episode of the cartoon that FOX News should really be notified about is the episode “Land of TraLa La,” based on one of Carl Barks’ original comics. By their standards, it starts out promisingly. Like any good job creator, we find Scrooge besieged by people looking for a hand-out (including a representative from the League to Ban Billionaires!), which is enough to cause him to have a bona fide nervous breakdown. The only cure is for Scrooge is to go to a place where there is no money, Trala La, which is supposed to be a legendary locale yet it comes casually recommended. I guess in Scrooge’s world money can take you literally anywhere, even places no one is sure exists! Take that, Dante!

Anyway, a lot of the Duck Tales episodes adapted from the comics replaced Donald Duck with another character. At first it was Launchpad; later on it was Fenton. Now, I have to ask, my five or six readers, did anyone like Fenton? I mean, sure, his alter-ego was Gizmo Duck, who deserves some cred for just apparently being a very oddly placed homage to RoboCop, but he always seemed so…unnecessary next to Scrooge. Think about it: Scrooge is the cool, eccentric uncle who’ll tell you tall tales about how the Welsh were really the first Europeans to come across North America and take you to some iffy but fantastic archeological site to prove it. Fenton is the nerdy cousin who corrects your knowledge of “Star Trek.” Plus in this episode Fenton turns out to be the one who ruins everything (a role much better suited to Donald Duck or even Launchpad, but I digress).

As soon as Scrooge, the nephews, and Fenton arrive in the Himalayan valley of TraLa La, the episode’s anti-capitalist bent really kicks in. See, the usually skeptical Scrooge instantly becomes delighted to learn that there is no currency in TraLa La; instead everyone is “only happy to help one another!” Socialism! Anyway, this Eden falls apart with Fenton playing the role of the serpent. Fenton stumbles across a farmer finding a bottlecap that fell from Scrooge’s plane during their arrival. Fenton points out that in the valley of TraLa La the bottlecap is rare, making it valuable. Incredulous, the farmer shows the bottlecap to others and parrots what Fenton told him about “value.” The people respond by offering to give the farmer sheep in exchange, leading to this exchange:

Mr. Fenton, I’ve already been offered seven sheep for my bottlecap! What do I do?

Hold out for fifteen!

It’s at this point where Fenton being penciled in over Donald Duck really doesn’t work. When you think of people whose cynicism and greed can alone destroy a utopian society, it’s Donald. Anyway, as soon as Scrooge becomes happy with the tranquil life at TraLa La, he finds the people squabbling over bottlecaps. An annoyed Scrooge orders Fenton to fix the problem by giving everyone in TraLa La one bottlecap each, but the plan falls flat when one person manages to get two. So Scrooge asks Launchpad to drop a billion bottlecaps over the valley, assuming that bottlecaps will become so common they’ll become worthless. Instead the TraLa Lans end up creating an elaborate currency system. It isn’t this that pisses off TraLa La’s leaders, though; instead Scrooge, Fenton, and the nephews are threatened with execution by drowning (in fiction utopian societies, when push comes to shove, usually do not fuck around) for the crime of littering…well, extreme littering. In a rather dark twist, Scrooge and Fenton are allowed to go back to the Himalayas in order to stop Launchpad from bringing back more bottlecaps, but only if they agree to leave Huey, Dewey, and Louie behind to be killed if they fail (so that’s why Scrooge always brings along the nephews!). Needless to say, Fenton and Scrooge succeed, albeit by accidentally causing Launchpad to crash, and are exiled from the once moneyless Paradise.

Admittedly the main problem with the episode, besides Fenton being a poor replacement for Donald Duck, is that it shifts from a “money is the root of all evil” message to a weird environmental (if that) moral. There is one last scene showing how the TraLa Lans invent an insanely elaborate and irrational currency system, but after that we don’t even really learn what happens to TraLa La or how much the introduction of a currency system has changed their society. I think even the brain trust at FOX News would agree that makes the whole episode a less than satisfactory indoctrination lesson on Socialism, but compared to Muppets the episode is a scathing indictment of the very philosophical underpinnings of capitalism. After all, just building a whole episode around “Money is a completely arbitrary and socially constructed concept” is a pretty heavy lesson to lay on the kids – or, for that matter, the people who run FOX News.

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