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50 Minus 1

November 22nd, 2013 No comments

Here, in no particular order, are 50 of my favorite Doctor Who stories.

“Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways” — This is what I’m watching as I begin to type this list. The first season finale of the revived show is a brilliant fake-out. What seems to be a goofy tale about deadly game shows turns into a showdown with a half-million Daleks and the final moments of the 9th Doctor. Plus, it has one of my all-time favorite scenes: “But you have no weapons, no defenses, no plan!”

“Terror of the Zygons” — With one significant exception, this 4th Doctor classic is a triumph of 1975 production values: convincing rubber-suited aliens, gloopy organic technology and a spectacular spaceship explosion. It all falls down a bit with the puppet Loch Ness Monster. The Zygons themselves will make their long-awaited return in tomorrow’s anniversary special.

“Castrovalva” — The 5th Doctor’s introduction is special to me for being the first episode I saw with an audience of fans. The resurrected Master doggedly pursues his ailing nemesis back to the Big Bang and forward into a Escher-inspired dimensional trap.

“Smith and Jones” — NuWho at its lunatic best, with a mercenary police force of space rhinos teleporting a London hospital to the moon in their search for a vampire granny with a bendy straw.

“Hide” — From the most recent season comes this 1970s haunted house story starring Call the Midwife‘s Jessica Raine as a psychic paranormal investigator. It’s both creepy and surprisingly touching.

“Genesis of the Daleks” — It was twelve years before we learned the true story of the birth of the Doctor’s most persistent enemies. For my money, their perverse creator Davros is Doctor Who‘s all-time greatest villain.

“Inferno” — Admittedly, this 3rd Doctor story runs a bit long at seven episodes. It’s most notable for a side-trip to a fascist parallel Earth that the Doctor utterly fails to save from flaming death. “And they were all wearing eyepatches!”

“Midnight” — The 10th Doctor discovers that not having a companion to humanize him leads to distrust by a group of tourists beset by an invisible, impossible demon. Doctor Who does The Twilight Zone, and it’s just plain terrifying.

“The Five Doctors” — Tomorrow it will have been 30 years since Chicago enjoyed the worldwide broadcast premiere of this anniversary special. (Brits didn’t see it until two days later!) It’s a messy piece of fan service, with three Doctors–plus a replacement 1st Doctor and some stock footage of Tom Baker–teamed with old friends in a quest to the Dark Tower of Rassilon.

“Vengeance on Varos” — Granted, being the 6th Doctor’s best story is clearing a rather low bar. But I love this post-modern piss take on violent television, with its Greek chorus of passive viewers offering running commentary on the Doctor and Peri’s struggle against the money-hungry slug Sil.

“The End of the World” — While “Rose” was a very-nearly perfect reintroduction of Doctor Who to a modern audience, it was the second episode that said “look at what we can do now!” A party of bizarre aliens ranging from a giant head to a stretched piece of skin gather to witness the Earth melt away.

“Partners in Crime” — Donna Noble makes her first appearance as a series regular in a comedy romp about a relatively low-stakes alien invasion. A popular diet supplement promises that the fat will just walk away, and so it does…in the form of the adorable, dough-boy Adipose.

“The Robots of Death” — One of Who‘s most successful attempts at world-building is this Agatha Christie mystery set aboard a sand-mining ship serviced by ornate robots programmed never to go worng.

“The Eleventh Hour” — Matt Smith isn’t my favorite Doctor, but he’s terrific in his debut episode, particularly when interacting with seven-year-old Amelia Pond.

“Earthshock” — The Doctor’s second-most famous foes, the Cybermen, are mostly crap. But this is their finest hour, bringing inevitable doom down upon the Doctor’s closest friends. “Ex-cellent!”

“The Fires of Pompeii” — An episode which answers one of the nagging questions about the Doctor’s adventures: why is it that he can interfere in some historical events, but not others? There’s also a fun running gag regarding the TARDIS’ built-in language translator and Donna’s attempt to speak Latin to the ancient Romans.

“Blink” — Cause and effect loop around each other as the Doctor uses DVD Easter Eggs to communicate across the decades with a young woman menaced by living statues.

“The Time Monster” — This 3rd Doctor adventure isn’t well-regarded by most fans, but it’s the first Doctor Who episode I ever saw and therefore gets a pass. Atlantis, a Minotaur, the Master and a pair of Russian-nested TARDISes make for a hallucinogenic first exposure.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” — The notion of a manipulative 7th Doctor starts here, but I won’t hold that against it. The Doctor’s trap for the Daleks goes pear-shaped when two opposing forces of evil pepper-pots arrive in 1963.

“Night of the Doctor” — The mini-prequel to tomorrow’s anniversary episode is a wonderful, seven-minute slice of Who, with a surprise appearance by the neglected 8th Doctor and a callback to fan favorite story “The Brain of Morbius.”

And here are the other thirty!

“The Brain of Morbius” (I said it was a fan favorite.)

“The Time Warrior” (Welcome, Sarah Jane!)

“Gridlock” (A tribute to 2,000 AD comics with a cameo from a forgotten Who monster.)

“The Seeds of Doom” (A Bond villain nurtures a world-eating plant.)

“The God Complex” (Take The Shining, add another Minotaur.)

“City of Death” (Douglas Adams wrote this comedy about an alien’s heist of the Mona Lisa.)

“The Caves of Androzani” (The 5th Doctor goes out in a blaze.)

“The Aztecs” (The series’ first challenge to established history.)

“The Talons of Weng-Chiang” (A marvelous Victorian adventure pastiche.)

“The Christmas Invasion” (The 10th Doctor proves what kind of a man he is.)

“Horror of Fang Rock” (A shape-shifting alien stalks a storm-tossed lighthouse.)

“The Green Death” (aka “The One with the Maggots.”)

“Rose” (A shop girl meets a stranger with a blue box and learns to run for her life.)

“The Curse of Peladon” (Royal intrigue at a conference of alien ambassadors.)

“School Reunion” (The hearts of a million fanboys flutter as Sarah Jane returns. And K-9 too!)

“The Happiness Patrol” (Mandatory happiness is enforced by a candy-covered robot.)

“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (The introduction of the roguish Captain Jack Harkness.)

“The Pirate Planet” (Another Douglas Adams script, this one about a planet-devouring planet.)

“The Curse of Fenric” (Vikings, vampires, Russians and an ancient evil converge in WWII Britain.)

“The Face of Evil” (The Doctor meets the savage Leela!)

“Planet of Evil” (A magnificent alien jungle set enlivens this spin on Forbidden Planet.)

“Pyramids of Mars” (If there’s a villain more frightening than Sutekh, I don’t want to meet him.)

“The Girl in the Fireplace” (The Doctor has a time-crossed romance with Madame de Pompadour.)

“Terror of the Autons” (The Master kicks off his decades-long vendetta.)

“The Ark in Space” (Proof, if any be needed, that bubble wrap is scary.)

“The Mind Robber” (The Doctor faces the surreal threat of becoming a fictional character.)

“Enlightenment” (Bored immortals stage a sailing race through the Solar System.)

“Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday” (The Daleks and Cybermen talk smack to each other. And there’s something about Rose.)

“The Deadly Assassin” (Political conspiracy, Time Lord mythology and the Matrix 23 years before The Matrix.)

“Dalek” (After decades of being the butt of the joke, a lone Dalek proves that one is more than enough.)

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50 Minus 3

November 20th, 2013 No comments

I have to say that I have mixed emotions about this Saturday’s 50th Anniversary Doctor Who episode. Do I want to see it? Oh, very much so. But I know that no matter how much I enjoy it, I’m going to be a little sad afterwards. The anticipation; the flood of interviews, articles and retrospectives; I’ve loved every moment of the build-up to the 50th. By Sunday, it’ll all be over but the endless kvetching of Internet forums.

These past few weeks have felt like sweet vindication. As a kid, being into Doctor Who made me a weirdo. These days, it’s utterly mainstream. Okay, the majority of Americans still wouldn’t know a TARDIS from a teapot, but when I can walk into Walmart, or Barnes & Noble, or Gordman’s, and see Doctor Who merchandise right out in the open; when other pop-culture shows make reference to it without further explanation; when moms and kids and tweens and seniors all openly proclaim their love for it; I know that my time has arrived.

I’m just shy of 50 myself; I was most likely a blastocyst in my mother’s uterus when Doctor Who premiered in the U.K. Being an ocean away, my initial introduction to the Doctor came via television airings of Peter Cushing’s pair of Dalek feature films. A couple of years later I had my first chance to watch the real thing.

As I approach my own big five-oh, one of the things that I appreciate about Doctor Who is that it’s older than I am. For me, it’s always been there. It very well may outlast me. That’s a comforting thought.

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50 Minus 6

November 17th, 2013 No comments

I had hoped to embark on another one of my month-long blog-a-thons in commemoration of next Saturday’s 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, but it was not to be.

This past month much of my free time has been consumed by a board game design competition run by the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization. My team’s entry is a horror-themed game loosely based on the movie Cabin in the Woods. “Cabin Full of Monsters” is a tongue-in-cheek contest in which the players recruit and equip teams of monsters and set them loose in the eponymous building. It’s coming along nicely, but it certainly has been a time suck.

So, here we are, six days out from what is not only the most significant moment in the long history of one of the BBC’s signature dramas, but perhaps the biggest event in all of televised science-fiction: a worldwide simulcast of the 50th anniversary episode to be seen in 75 countries, with 3D theatrical screenings in many of them. And I haven’t had much to say about it.

I’m sure that I’ll have more about the anniversary programming later in the week, but for now I will direct you to some of my previous postings: 31 Classic Doctor Who MonstersThe Doctor Who Experience (including a complete photo gallery) and Sixty Things I Like About Who.

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31 Monster Toys #31: Cloverfield

October 31st, 2013 No comments

The finale of this month of terrifying toys is the most spectacular one in my collection: the Cloverfield Monster. Standing 14″ tall, this beauty features interchangeable heads and an electronic roar. And remember when we were making a fuss about 16 points of articulated evil? Cloverfield boasts 70 points of articulation. (Personally, I identified only 46; I think Hasbro was counting some of them twice.) Its accessories include a bunch of “parasites,” the head of the Statue of Liberty, and a fancy box that serves as a display background. Yeah, it’s that nifty.

Well, that wraps up another October! I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look inside my toy box. And, of course…

Happy Halloween!


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31 Monster Toys #30: Daimajin

October 30th, 2013 No comments

Daimajin was a Japanese riff on the Jewish Golem myth, produced as a trilogy of feudal-era giant monster movies. In each, the wrathful statue was awakened by downtrodden peasants to squish their oppressors. This nifty action figure features real metal chains, interchangeable faces, a removable forehead spike, and (not pictured) a Japanese warlord to crush in its mighty fist!

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31 Monster Toys #29: King Kong

October 29th, 2013 No comments

After making a splash with its highly-detailed action figures based on artist Todd McFarlane’s comic book Spawn, McFarlane Toys branched out into other areas: sports collectibles, slutty fairy tale heroines, and eventually a long-running line of licensed horror characters collectively known as Movie Maniacs.

While most of the latter were based on relatively recent “slasher” characters such as Freddy Krueger, one notable outlier was this spectacular, oversized King Kong figure based on the 1933 original. It depicts Kong breaking free from the platform on which he was displayed to a Broadway audience. And somehow he’s already managed to snatch up a blonde in his paw!

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31 Monster Toys #28: Star Trek – Mugato

October 28th, 2013 No comments

Beanie Babies! Remember those? For a time, everyone tried to grab a little of that sweet, sweet beanie cash. Even Star Trek got in on the act with their short-lived line called (no joke) “Alien Beans.” Honestly, most Trek creatures don’t translate well into beanie form, but the Mugato–the white space ape from the ’60s episode “A Private Little War”–fared the best.

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31 Monster Toys #27: Gamera – Viras

October 27th, 2013 No comments

One of the less unlikely opponents of Japan’s favorite flying turtle, Gamera, was the space cephalopod Viras. Arriving in an interstellar craft resembling a ring of beach balls, Viras and his crew of creepy, glowing-eyed humanoids kidnapped a couple of children because, well, Gamera. When the turtle shit hit the fan, Viras sliced off the heads of his followers, revealing the squidlings hiding within. They merged into one giant space squid, therefore making it easier for Gamera to kick all of their asses simultaneously.

This vinyl figure was one of seven included in manufacturer Bandai’s 1999 Gamera Memorial Box. In case you were wondering.


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31 Monster Toys #26: Doctor Who – The Morbius Monster

October 26th, 2013 No comments

This charming fellow was the featured creature in the 1976 Doctor Who serial “The Brain of Morbius.” The mad doctor in this Frankenstein pastiche was obsessed with building a new body to house the loose think muscle of the executed Time Lord criminal Morbius. He cobbled it together from the leftover bits of those unfortunate enough to crash their spaceships into the planet Karn, which is why it has one human arm, one claw, the lungs of a Birastrop (not pictured), a fishbowl and a pair of flashlights. Surprisingly, the resultant body proved less than reliable.


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31 Monster Toys #25: Horrorclix – Alien Queen

October 25th, 2013 No comments

In 2000, games manufacturer WizKids came up with a very clever concept: a miniatures wargame in which each figure’s attack and defense values were displayed on a unique, two-piece base. As the unit took “damage,” the player would rotate the base, revealing new values and activating special powers. Mage Knight was a hit, and spawned a bunch of similar “clicky,” collectible miniatures games, including the superhero-themed HeroClix and its spooky counterpart, HorrorClix.

The latter game began with generic monsters, but soon began to license other frightful film properties: Freddy vs. Jason, Hellboy and Alien vs. Predator. From the latter comes today’s entry: the Alien Queen. This oversized figure slots into an even larger base depicting the Queen’s egg sac. Honestly, I have no idea how the egg sac is used in gameplay, but it looks cool and isn’t that what matters most?

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