Literary Corner

The Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Chapter 1-2:

For a while there, I was dangerously close to becoming just a Doctor Who fan blog.

Overall my “day job” has excessively cut into my blogging time, but – fingers crossed, knock on wood, salt over my shoulder – that shouldn’t be true for that much longer.  Another factor is that, when my computer died last summer, I lost all the saved data for Spiritual Warfare.  Despite my profound lack of computer skills, I did try hacking the password system to the ROM file, but couldn’t quite work it out, so I’m playing through it again.  Even though I’m using a walkthrough to get up to the point where I left off, it’s hard to motivate myself to put myself through the righteous mediocrity of it all.  But never let it be said I would never do anything for my readers.

Now what’s my excuse for not following up on Worlds of Power:  Castlevania II:  Simon’s Quest?  Well...none, really, except it sucks worse than a starving vampire.

Okay, I’ll admit it’s really unfair – and from my angle it does feel a bit weird – picking on something like this.  I mentioned before that it’s a franchise cash-in written for an elementary and middle school aged audience, but what I didn’t bring up was that at one time I was the target audience.  After I got the Scholastic catalog one fateful day, I ordered the Mega Man novel.  If it hadn’t been lost to the void, I probably would be discussing that one, especially since I still remember the author made the bizarre decision to turn Mega Man into a human at the start of the story.  Still, I must have liked it, because I read it at least twice.  Was I just a really dumb kid?  Undoubtedly, but there had to have been something there in that Worlds of Power book that I liked, right?

So I did try to be charitable with this one, but then…

The magical world of Castlevania dissolved around Tim Bradley like twinkling gossamer.  No longer was he Simon Belmont, vampire hunter.  Once more he was in his boring bedroom.  His mother stood in the doorway.

“Timothy!  You’ve got school in less than ten minutes!”

Oh, this is gonna be one of those stories, then…

I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating.  Nobody cares about being able to “relate” to a character, unless it’s a romance novel or porn, and that’s because the point is getting people to imagine they’re having sex with people they could never land in real life.  So where did this idea that kids can’t get into a work of fiction unless there’s someone in it they can “relate” to?  And why would you do this in a book about a video game?  You say right there that if anything Tim plays Castlevania because if anything he wants to “relate” to Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter with a fetish.  The point is that even Tim Bradley wouldn’t want to read about Tim Bradley.

Anyway, as you might imagine it’s the intro to Captain N: The Game Master all over again.   Tim’s mother “just doesn’t understand” and reigns over him like a Stalinist despot, and he only finds validation in his life through video games, which really says a lot about what the author thought of his readers.  I know the whole idea video games as a mainstream pursuit is a fairly recent one, but even in 1990 they had to have realized that even jocks played video games.   To be fair, the narrative does go out of its way to say that Tim’s a big reader too.  However…

He had never gotten through Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula.  It was too darned scary.  And Stephen King!  Whew!  Tim liked fantasy plenty, but when it came to horror books, horror films, or horror comic books Tim’s knees just turned to water.

Okay, maybe my own perspective is kind of skewed because I was something of a precocious reader and was reading Stephen King’s It by the eighth grade at latest, but…really?   Not to say that Dracula can’t be effective horror, but I can’t help but wish I could toss Tim a copy of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.

So, anyway, we run through all of these other characteristics of Tim that totally flesh out his character and aren’t obvious pandering to a very narrow demographic (he likes chocolate!  he can’t wait until he grows up!  he has friends!), but luckily the narrative doesn’t take too long before something actually happens:  Simon Belmont appears in the real world!  Oh God, we’re totally going into Masters of the Universe and Last Action Hero territory, aren’t we?

The spontaneous manifestation of a man in armor with a whip apparently doesn’t cause any commotion, because Tim makes it to his first class regardless.  There something that strains at the reader’s suspension of disbelief even more than a video game character appearing in our reality happens.  A girl flirts with Tim, our self-described video game geek:

“Hi, Tim,” said the cutest girl in junior high to Tim Bradley.  “Janet Morrison told me you could give me some good tips on where to get discount rates on video game cartridges.  My brother’s birthday is coming up and I need to buy him a nice present.”

Now I know what you’re thinking, but, let’s be reasonable, on top of a girl interacting with a video game buff, a female being interested in video games for their own sake would have just been too much for the reader to handle.

Actually, Tim turns out to be more of a Casanova than I gave him credit for, since it turns out that Carol has a jock boyfriend, Burt.

“Look, Burt.  I was just headed into the boys’ room.  Can we discuss this when I’m finished?”

Burt glared at him.  “Yeah, I guess so.  Don’t want you to have any accidents while I’m pulverizing you!”

To be honest, I’m kind of impressed that the author got a reference to pissing oneself (or worse?)  in there.  Yet the material gets even more surprisingly blue from there.

“Excuse me,” said a deep voice from behind him.  “Are you Timothy Bradley?”

Tim jumped.  Started, he looked up into the mirror.  Standing behind him was a tall, blond-haired man who looked like a superhero from a comic book only with short hair and a vulnerable, perplexed look on his face.

Let me lay out the scene for you.  Simon Belmont has somehow sneaked into a middle school – whip and sixteenth century clothing and all – and has accosted our adolescent protagonist in the bathroom.

This might be a good place to stop.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – Power of the Daleks (1967)

Polly and Ben are confused and frightened when they see a completely new person lying where the Doctor was and debate over whether or not he still is the Doctor. They get close to the truth (or the truth as eventually established in the series) when Polly comments on how the Doctor mentioned how his body “is wearing a bit thin” and Ben asks, “So he gets himself a new one?” After shouting in panic and experiencing hallucinations, the “new” Doctor gets up and, completely ignoring Ben and Polly, starts piloting the TARDIS. Ben notes that the man not only doesn’t look like the Doctor but doesn’t have any of the same mannerisms. Things get more confusing when the Doctor starts referring to himself in the third person, but he eventually acknowledges Ben and Polly’s existence and claims that he’s been “renewed.” On a whim he starts playing a flute and suggests he, Ben, and Polly go out “for a stroll” and Ben has to remind him to check to see if there’s even oxygen outside.

On the “stroll” through what turns out to be a rather inhospitable planet with pools of mercury across the surface the Doctor, well ahead of Polly and Ben, stumbles across a murder scene. The victim was an examiner from Earth, sent to inspect a human colony on the planet which isnamed Vulcan. The Doctor pockets the dead man’s badge, which accords him total access to the colony, but is quickly knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant. Meanwhile Polly is overcome by mercury fumes coming out of the planet’s surface. Luckily the Doctor and his companions are rescued by Quinn, deputy governor of the colony, who mistakes the Doctor for the examiner. While the Doctor and the companions are recovering, they are confronted by Governor Hensel, who accuses the “examiner” of being sent to meddle in how the colony government has been handling an ongoing rebellion. In spite of his hostility, Hensel does ask the “examiner” to draw up a report on a long-buried space capsule that had been discovered by the colonists in a nearby mercury swamp.

Dr. Lesterson, who has been put in charge of studying the capsule, is nervous that the Doctor will interfere. Hensel is afraid that the capsule will contain something dangerous, but Lesterson seems determined to get in and exploit the capsule’s technologies. Still, Hensel asks Lesterson to keep the “examiner” distracted with the capsule. The Doctor pretends to finish his investigation for the day, but returns secretly at night and makes his way into the core of the capsule. Polly and Ben follow the Doctor in, where he invites them to “Come on in and meet the Daleks.” Inside are two immobile Daleks and Polly spots a tiny, tentacled creature escaping into a shaft. The Doctor guesses that Lesterson had lied about never reaching the core of the capsule before and has already been experimenting on the Daleks. Getting out of the capsule, the Doctor is confronted by Lesterson and realizes that Lesterson has been trying to reactivate a third Dalek that had been hidden in his lab. The Doctor, playing up the role of “examiner,” heads off to the governor to demand that the Daleks be destroyed, but unfortunately the governor is off on a tour. Later Ben and Polly learn that the Doctor had been constantly playing the flute and talking in near-gibberish because their room had been bugged. In the meantime Lesterson revives the Dalek in his lab, which then promptly kills one of his assistants. Undeterred, Lesterson merely disarms the Dalek.

The Doctor tries to contact Earth for special authority to order the Daleks destroyed in the governor’s absence, but discovers that the communication network has been sabotaged. Quinn is arrested for the sabotage and attacking the Doctor and is brought before Hensel himself, who suspects him of being a rebel sympathizer, but Lesterson barges into the meeting to show Hansel the revived Dalek, who claims, “I am your servant.” Ben finally becomes convinced that they’re still with the Doctor when he realizes that the Dalek recognizes the Doctor. Hensel is impressed and gives Lesterson permission to continue his experiments over the Doctor’s desperate protests. When Quinn’s trial is continued, he tries to avert the suspicion of murder by confessing that he asked the examiner to come in order to help deal with the rebellion. Hensel only has Quinn imprisoned and appoints the chief of security, Bragen, as the new deputy governor. Unfortunately, Bragen happens to be a rebel and is responsible for the death of the real examiner. When the Doctor and Ben sneak into Lesterson’s laboratory, the Dalek reveals its true nature to the Doctor, but is still disarmed. Unfortunately, they run away when they find that the Dalek has revived its peers and they just happen to be armed and ready. The Doctor and the companions return, only to be threatened by Bragen, but the Doctor manages to force Bragen into a stalemate by pointing out that there is no way for Bragen to expose him as an impostor without arousing suspicion that he is the real examiner’s killer.

Lesterson turns against the Daleks – and becomes more than a little unhinged – once he realizes with the Doctor’s prompting that the Daleks are “reproducing” and have been lying about their activities. Finding a secret message directed to the rebels, the Doctor and Ben spy on a rebel meeting and find that the rebellion is interested in using the Daleks as a weapon. They’re discovered and imprisoned by Bragen, who has also had Polly taken as a hostage and has assassinated Hensel via Dalek. The Doctor manages to escape, but he’s too late to stop the Daleks, who are now numerous enough to drop the pretense and to start their mission to “exterminate” the colony. The rebels quickly find that Bragen simply exploited them in order to usurp the governorship, but before he can really do anything his army is occupied, and then essentially slaughtered, by the Daleks. While the Daleks guarding the capsule are killing an insane Lesterson, the Doctor sneaks into the capsule and destroys the Daleks by overcharging their power supply, seemingly wiping out all the Daleks on Vulcan. After that, the rebels kill Bragen and agree to work with Quinn. As the Doctor and the companions make their way back to the TARDIS, Ben kicks one of the damaged Daleks. As the TARDIS teleports away, however, the “dead” Dalek’s eye turns to the TARDIS…

Second Doctor’s First Words

Slower! Slower! Concentrate on one thing! One thing! It’s over. *sinister chuckle* It’s over.

Continuity Notes

Of course, the really important thing is that this serial has the first appearance of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor (well, technically he first appeared in “The Tenth Planet,” but only his face and only for a few seconds.) Still, this is the serial that has the job of introducing the first “new” Doctor and setting the tone for the Second Doctor’s era.

Along with that, this is the first time the concept that would eventually become known as “regeneration” is laid out. Eventually it would become well-established that the Doctor, along with every other Time Lord, is able to fully recover from the effects of old age and from life-threatening illnesses and injuries, but at the cost of completely changing their appearance and even, to an extent, their personality. Here, however, the original idea was that the Doctor was simply making himself younger. Weirdly enough, though, the dialogue from Polly and Ben actually better supports the idea that the Doctor is becoming more or less a new person than that he’s just becoming young, with Ben remarking that seemingly everything about him, not just his looks, has changed.

Also it’s the first time a Dalek outside its armor is explicitly shown. A naked Dalek does sort of show up in “The Daleks,” but it’s mostly covered up.

Speaking of the Daleks, none of the humans on the Vulcan colony recognize the Daleks or even know the name, even though, judging from the fact that this serial takes place on a distant planet colonized by the Earth, this serial has to take place after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Again, it’s best not to try to make sense of the history of the Daleks, or at least chalk everything up to the Daleks messing around with their own history.

Comments

The showrunners were obviously invested in revitalizing the show in a big way. Not only do we get a new Doctor that’s less irascible and more kinetic, but also we have the return of the Daleks, who go through a bit of a renewal themselves as the writers approach them from a different angle. Instead of being an army of ruthless invaders who crush the opposition through force, the Daleks spend almost the entire serial taking a different strategy that is nonetheless still consistent with their earlier portrayals. They are perfectly devious beings, able to exploit the very worst aspects of human nature even if it means, just for the moment, completely humbling and degrading themselves until their goal is within reach. As one of the Daleks in the serial says, “Weunderstand the human mind.” Also it’s a nice touch how, throughout the serial, the way the Daleks pronounce “We are your servants” becomes more and more strained.

Back to the Doctor, even though the Troughton era is unfamiliar territory for me, the writers do manage quite well in providing an introduction to the Second Doctor, better than when Vicki was introduced in “The Rescue.” He’s clearly meant to be a somewhat different character, meant to have the “old” Doctor’s eccentricities and unconventional style of heroism yet also be overall a more physical and humorous presence (in spite of Troughton’s rather menacing voice!). That’s not to say that Hartnell’s Doctor couldn’t be funny, especially in serials like “The Romans” or “The Time Meddler,” because Hartnell actually did, in spite of the reputation of his Doctor, have fantastic comedic instincts when the script called for them. However, I couldn’t quite imagine Hartnell’s Doctor would on a whim challenge his companion to a tongue twister based on “Lesterson listen.”

Another core difference is that it’s established that this Doctor, while still an avuncular figure, is less of a reliable beacon of authority. In fact, a couple of plot points hinge on the Doctor being underestimated, by his companions and his enemies, because he seems scatterbrained and inept. Plus there’s an ambiguity over how much of what the Doctor does is the result of deliberate and careful planning or is dumb luck. It’s an interesting new take that works right away and really makes the Doctor, who is already more active in the plot than Hartnell’s Doctor, an even more unconventional hero.

Unfortunately, like quite a few Troughton serials, “Power of the Daleks” exists only in stills, fragments, and the soundtrack. Worse, while I was able to find a recon, I couldn’t find one that tried to fill in the gaps in the action with narration or subtitles. Still, it’s to the credit of the serial that it still works very well, not only as the beginning of the Second Doctor era but as a new way to use the Daleks as antagonists. Although I already miss the diversity in the First Doctor serials, where you actually had plots other than the Doctor fighting aggressive aliens, it does make up for the weaknesses of the later Hartnell period and leaves me looking forward to the serials to come.

(Incidentally, I first “met” Patrick Troughton, before I even watched “Doctor Who,” as the Duke of Norfolk in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” So it was a strange disconnect for me, but probably not as much as it was for people who saw Troughton as the fun, bumbling version of the Doctor and then as the ruthlessly pragmatic uncle who had his niece Anne Boleyn killed for crimes he knew she didn’t commit.)

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