Sunday, April 29, 2007

So You Say You Want An Evolution?

This entry is going to be about both "Daleks In Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks" since they're actually a single story (continuing the new Doctor Who series practice of not simply calling two-parters "Part I" and "Part II" - though I don't know why they don't do that).

"Daleks In Manhattan" reveals to us where the "Cult of Skaro" disappeared to when they executed an emergency temporal jump after the Dalek-Cyberman war. Poor little Daleks, stranded in New York City during the Great Depression. Somehow (which isn't explained) they take over the Empire State Building construction project. Not only are they modifying the building plans for some nefarious purpose (do Daleks have any other kind of purpose?), they're kidnapping transients from the Hoovervilles and experimenting on them. Dumb ones are crossed with pigs and turned into oinking slaves. Smart ones apparently get a different treatment - the Daleks are trying to modify the genetic structure and resurrect their almost dead species! Though WHY they are trying to do this is beyond me, assuming the Cult of Skaro were aware of Davros' attempts to do something similar. By the end of the episode the Dalek Sek has transgenetically merged with a human to become a hybrid - though, again, I have to wonder how he missed that whole business with the "Human Factor" that the Doctor introduced to Daleks ages ago.

"Evolution of the Daleks" picks up on Sek's plan to merge humans and Daleks. Apparently the leader of the Cult of Skaro is quite an admirer of humanity's ability to survive - while lamenting the "purity" of the Daleks having been their own undoing. Too bad for Sek that the other members of the Cult don't share his "vision" for the future evolution of the Daleks. Somehow (again this is not explained) these FOUR last Daleks have kidnapped and wiped the minds of literally THOUSANDS of human beings. Granted, with the mass migrations of the Great Depression it's likely mass disappearances might go unnoticed, but HOW did they do this, exactly? Plus, Sek says they have other such repositories just like the one under the Empire State Building. Regardless, these people are effectively already dead as human beings - their minds are wiped with no way to put them back. That's probably the ONLY reason the Doctor agrees to actually HELP Sek with his plan to use them for the creation of a hybrid Dalek-Human race, which the Doctor sort of agrees to transplant to somewhere else since Earth can't support two sentient species (so the Doctor says). The problem, though, is the other members of the Cult of Skaro aren't on board with this plan. They don't want touchy-feely Daleks that can dance, and love, and sing. They want human bodies with minds that think like Daleks (you know the drill: obey! exterminate! obey!). When the Doctor realizes the plan to send the Daleks in a kinder, gentler direction is doomed he knows he has to intercept the Gamma Radiation burst from a solar flare from powering the Dalek's transgenic process. He doesn't get the collectors all removed in time and has to take the brunt of the blast - though for a Timelord that's not a big deal. He's absorbed the energy of the time stream before, what's a little gamma radiation? By doing so, though, he introduces just a hint of Gallifreyan traits into the hybrids, enough to give them free will and question the Cult of Skaro's orders. A shoot-out between two of the Cult and the hybrids takes care of those Daleks, but the remaining one triggers a self-destruct signal on the hybrids just before he makes another "emergency temporal jump" to escape.

The supporting characters - the showgirl "Tullulla," her part-piggyfied boyfriend "Laslo," and a couple of Hoovervillians don't add that much to the story, and frankly had the Daleks killed them all it wouldn't have affected the story that much. I didn't think this story really had enough "meat" to be a two-parter, and probably would have been better served as a one-hour episode since they didn't bother to do much in the way of character development anyway (not like the "Planet Hell" story last season, which was excellent!). Compressing it would have also improved the pacing and made it a bit more exciting. I'm guessing, though, the Doctor is going to run into that Dalek again - most likely in the far flung future.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dalek's Take Manhattan?

Daleks Take Manhattan?
As I suspected, this week's Doctor Who episode "Daleks In Manhattan" is a two-parter (title makes me think of the "Muppets Take Manhattan" LOL). I'll wait to post about it in detail after I've seen the second part. I had seen (as I'm sure many fans did) the magazine cover with the spoiler photo, so the "Final Experiment" result revealed at the end of Part I wasn't that much of a surprise.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


For Episode 3 of Series 3 the Doctor re-visits "New Earth" in the year 5 billion.

Even though the Doctor said he'd take Martha on "one trip" he decides one to the past and one to the future would be fair. He takes her to New New York - and Martha does call him out over taking her to the same places he took Rose. The Doctor also lies to her about Gallifrey when she asks if they can visit his home, but he had his reasons.

NNY isn't quite as spiffy as it was when he last visited. This time they land in the "Under City" - specifically "Pharmacytown" - which is basically a slum where drug dealers do their business in patches that do very specific things - like "Forget" or "Happy" or "Sleep."

Martha gets kidnapped there by a newlywed couple who need another adult to gain clearance for the "Express Lane" (i.e., Ride Share) on the freeway. The freeway is an underground tunnel between NNY and New New Jersey - and it's been jammed up in gridlock for 20 years!! The tunnel, of course, is full of toxic exhaust so nobody "gets out and walks" (never mind the 1000 foot fall to the bottom of the tunnel). The Doctor, of course, sets out to rescue Martha, and in the process discovers some giant crab creatures at the bottom of the tunnel - who are responsible for the people who disappear when they get into the Express Lane. Whether or not the crabs are just destroying the boxy hover-vans or if they're also eating the occupants isn't spelled out in the episode.

The cat nurse from the "New Earth" episode in Series 2 shows up again - she's reformed her ways from experimenting on people and has devoted her life to caring for the Face of Bo. He sensed the Doctors arrival and sent the nurse into the freeway tunnel to find him, which she does (packing a gun "in case of pirates" so she says). She beams the Doctor off the freeway just as he had almost reached Martha. They rematerialize in the Senate Temple - where everyone is long since dead! In the "Upper City" only the Face of Bo and his nurse survived a plague. A plague caused by an interaction with a drug patch called "Bliss." The last things the Senate did was seal off the Under City and quarantine the planet for 100 years. Nobody in the Under City had any idea that there were no people nor authorities anymore - they just sat in traffic for years and years on end. The plague is long since over - the virus burned itself out. But there isn't enough power to un-seal the Under City - until the Doctor does a bit of rewiring and the Face of Bo gives up his own last energy to free everyone. Not, of course, before he reveals the "secret" he said he would tell the Doctor when they would meet "one more, final time." The secret is (drum roll please) - the Doctor is NOT the last of the Time Lords! However, the Doctor tells Martha that he thinks the Face of Bo was mistaken. Some possibilities that spring to mind, if the Face of Bo is correct, would be 1. The Master (of course), for how often has he been presumed dead only to resurface? 2. The Rani - the Doctor and she clearly had some history, she's also a renegade and I think was an unlikely recruit for the Time War with the Daleks, plus she's probably regenerated so they can easily recast the role. 3. Romana - which depends on whether you take the canonical slant that she was still in the dimension between N-Space and E-Space during the Time War, or if you take the non-canon view that she got out of there, returned to Gallifrey and became Lady President. She, too, would presumably have regenerated by now. Unlikely suspects, I think, would be the Doctor's grand-daughter, Susan. She may have been from Gallifrey, but it was never clear if she was part human and she never went through the Academy and therefore wasn't a Time Lady. Though we don't know what ever happened to her. I am really hoping it's either the Rani or Romana. The Rani would be a better plot choice because she and the Doctor - last of their kind - are unlikely to get along.

Ardal O'Hanlon (you may know him from the Brit-Com series "My Hero" or "Father Ted") has a nice bit part in the episode under the heavy prosthetics of a male cat person named "Brannigan." I really hope we see him again in a future episode, but I suppose that depends on whether or not the Doctor and Mary revisit the year 5 billion again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

FREE Sci-Fi Video Games

Before I go on I should probably disclose the fact that I suck at video games. Always have. Probably a good thing, though, or I’d disappear into a digital haze of alternate realities and never be seen again. Nevertheless, I recently ran across some FREE sci-fi games that I found fun - even if I was quickly blown up.

Battlestar Galactica - Beyond the Red Line
A stand-alone mod of “Freespace 2″ that kicks butt! The fully playable “demo” was released just in time for the end of the current season of the tv series - so if you can’t wait until 2008 to see some Toasters get frakked up, this is worth a look. It also INCLUDES the “Mission Editor” so if you want to you can create your own missions - both single player and multiplayer. The included demo game and training sessions do a wonderful job of reproducing the distorted cockpit radio coms. Where audio files haven’t been created it can use the Microsoft Speech SDK to read the text. The contrails on Vipers and Raiders alone are worth sliding behind the joystick. (Hint: If you go to the game’s forums there is a “soundtrack” you can download, along with some add-on 3rd Party Missions if you don’t want to build your own).

Babylon 5: I’ve Found Her - Danger and Opportunity
A freeware space combat simulator based in the Babylon 5 Universe. “I’ve found her” is the last line Valen transmitted from Babylon 4. “Danger and Opportunity” is a prequel to the main game, which apparently isn’t finished yet. “D&O,” however, has eight fully playable missions (including 3 training missions). This game rivals a lot of commercial software - if you miss B5, and were ticked when the “Into the Fire” game was canceled, this just might be your game.

Vega Trek
“Vega Trek” is a mod of the game “Vega Strike.” There are a lot of options on how to play the game from the predictable “I’m a Starfleet Captain” to “Maquis” fighter, or lowly “Cargo hauler” just trying to get by. This obviously isn’t a top-of-the-line game, though the graphics aren’t any worse than most of the commercial Star Trek games I’ve seen. Comes with a number of missions from which to choose.

And, lastly, this isn’t actually a “game” per se, but it’s a space flight simulator. Nothing is shooting at you, you don’t get to shoot at anything else, but you do get realistic flight characteristics, a gazillion controls and panels, and just about any sci-fi space ship has been modeled for it. Check it out at:

I mentioned this in a previous post, but it bears mentioning again: I’d highly recommend the “Firefly Jumbo 2006” add-on. You not only get a pretty darned good recreation of a Firefly class ship (it’s not actually supposed to BE “Serenity”), it also has a cargo “Mule” to play with and two shuttlecraft that can each be flown fully independent of the main ship. The downside of this simulator is that distances are as realistic as the flight physics - it takes FOREVER to get anywhere (even with a “Super Firefly Drive”) and once you get there about all you can do is offload your cargo. Then again, Firefly class ships don’t HAVE weapons anyway. At least there aren’t any Reavers after you.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

"Shakespeare Code"

While the first episode of Series 3 was a bit weak, imo, the second episode "The Shakespeare Code," more than makes up for it! This episode was every bit as strong as the better episodes of Series 1 & 2. I felt the BBC did a pretty good job on the budget for this one too, not just for the obvious special effects shots (for the spectacular finish, of course), but also in the cityscapes of London in 1599.

The opening of the episode actually felt more like the start of an episode of "Angel" of "Buffy" than "Doctor Who," but that's a GOOD thing so far as I'm concerned. They also bring up something I specifically recall from an episode of "Angel" regarding the power of words and a universe where magic IS the science. It becomes quite obvious in this one just why the Doctor has been so careful not to let anyone ever know his TRUE name, for that would give others potential power over him.

The portrayal of William Shakespeare is refreshing - that he's unlike the way history has remembered him. The constant "line dropping" is actually a good running gag through the episode too. Quite interesting that he sees right through the Doctor and Martha, and was "too smart" to be fooled by the Doctor's "psychic paper."

The big question remaining at the end of the episode is what is the Doctor going to do that makes Queen Elizabeth I so mad at him? However, since the Doctor hadn't ever met her before he had no clue! Time travel is funny that way. Perhaps that story will be revealed later in the season?

Next weeks episode looks to be a good one as well - with the Doctor once again meeting the Face of Bo in New New York. The question on my mind? In Series 2 didn't the Face of Bo say he would only meet the Doctor one more time, and that some great secret would be revealed then? Definitely a must-see one!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I'm a leaf on the wind. . .watch how I soar.

Ok, I admit it. I suck at video games. The last video games I was any good at were on a Commodore64, and I wasn't a wiz on those either. One of the few games I used to be ok at was "Spitfire 1940" but only if I was in the simulator "training" mode. If I actually tried to PLAY the game and someone was shooting at me, then I quickly became a casualty of war. That was the first flight sim I played with that attempted to be "realistic" in how it handled. By which I mean you had to tap a key to operate the oil pump during a steep climb or the engine would blow up, or how you'd crash at high speed with flaps, or how you'd crash if you lowered your gear too soon - or, well, I basically crashed a lot. Which was also probably realistic to what would have happened to me in a real plane, but at least with a flight sim I can walk away from them.

So recently I found "Orbiter" which is a pretty cool SPACE flight simulator. Oh, and it's FREE! I admit I only skimmed through the JPL "Basics of Space Flight" before my first take-off, and I have no clue what most of the many, MANY flight controls mean or do, but I got into space on my very first try. That might have had something to do with the ship I was using - a pretty nice "Firefly" recreation. Actually that doesn't do it justice - it's more than just a ship like the one from the "Firefly" series and "Serenity" movie. It also includes the "Cargo Mule" and some cargo platforms, plus both shuttlecraft - which can each be flown independently from the main ship. No "Alliance" ships are going to be shooting at you, and you're confined to the Earth's solar system (I read someone is building a solar system based on the planets in "Firefly" but if they've finished it I wasn't able to find it anywhere). The main ship, in addition to thrusters and the VTOL engines, also has the "Firefly Drive." Actually it has the "standard" one, and an "illegally modified Super Firefly Drive" as well - depending on which key you use to activate it. I got the sound add-on as well and pointed the playlist to my "Serenity" soundtrack MP3s, which made for a cool musical flourish once I broke the surly bonds of gravity and punched into orbit.

One disappointment is that, even with the "super" engine, and you can clearly see you're going like - well, a rocket - away from the planet, you become painfully aware of one fact: space is big. As Douglas Adams wrote: "It's mind numbingly big. You can't even begin to imagine how big it is." Granted you can speed things up with the "Timewarp" function, but it STILL takes a long time to even get from the Earth to the Moon. And once you get there, what are you going to DO there? Pretty much nothing. Maybe unload your cargo? Whoopie!

That's the downside of a "realistic" spaceflight simulator. The distances and travel times are realistic too, even with a fantasy spaceship with a fictional drive. The physics are also realistic - so if you're trying to hit a moving target like a moon, well, it's a moving target. There's also gravity - shut off your engines before you're in orbit and you WILL fall back to the surface (but at least the "damage" engine isn't very realistic - you won't have to utter "We're gonna explode? I don't wanna explode"). But cut it close to a moon and you might find yourself in a gravitational slingshot into a direction you hadn't expected - and even if you turn around with your engines at full thrust you'll run out of fuel while that moon continues to shrink into the distance ("Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal!"). If you're really keen to see the Solar System I'd recommend the "Scenario editor" add-on, so you can just START your flight on Mars or Europa or wherever - because you'll run out fuel or die of boredome LONG before you actually fly there from Earth. Unless, or course, there's an easy way to "Warp" places that I haven't figured out yet.

Still, if you want to learn how to REALLY pilot a Firefly (or a gazillion OTHER sci-fi ships that have been modeled), if you want to experience the realistic "excitement" of hauling crap from one planet to another, then "Orbiter" is worth a look.