October 13, 2008

Our Hero, in: A Jury of One's Peers

Once upon a time in Alexandria VA, a woman t-boned a police cruiser (lights & siren ablaze) crossing the intersection en route to an emergency call. Both she and the cruiser careened into other stationary vehicles. She received a $250 ticket for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. Issues of injuries, insurance and damage to other vehicles were irrelevant to this discussion at least as it pertained to me.

She could've paid it. She could've contested it in traffic court. And as a last resort, she had the right to hire a defense attorney and contest it in district court before a judge and a 7-member jury. She opted for the latter. Hence there I was this past Friday, one of said seven, wondering along with the other six, the judge, the prosecutors, the half-dozen witnesses and probably her own DA just what the fuck we were all doing there on such a lovely day.

Said her expertly-coiffed ambulance chaser DA: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's just a traffic ticket. But it's a matter of principle."

Some witnesses testified that the cop stopped at the median, others that the cop did not. Some witnesses testified that the woman was speeding, others that she was not. Some witnesses claimed that there were cars in the turning lane obstructing the woman's view, others that there were none. Overhead satellite photos of the intersection were examined. Photos of the crash scene were handed around.

Four hours later, after some 10 minutes' deliberation, she was found guilty and ordered to pay a reduced fine of $150 (plus court costs), and we departed for long-overdue lunches at various places along King Street.

Twelve prospective jurors were called in for this trial. Assuming they had to take a day off from work, the day's affair cost each jurors or their employers a full day's pay. Also, considering the court cost, taxpayer burden, lawyer fees, our $30 compensation, etc., the amount of money spent on this trial exceeded her fine by a factor of twenty at least.

But then of course, it's all a matter of principle...

October 11, 2008

Doctor Who Geekery Report - DVD leftovers

The BBC, for better or worse, appears to be releasing Doctor Who serials on DVD with minimal regard for actual fan demand.

Or at least, that was my thesis statement before I did the math. Although they do seem to make some mind-boggling choices of titles to release (really, folks, Timelash? Twin Dilemma? Web Planet?), they do lean toward the more well-regarded titles.

Dividing the 136 classic-era serials that are releasable (i.e. complete, or at least half complete) into quadrants (in order of fan popularity)...
Quad 1 (Most popular): 26 out of 34 currently released, with another 2 in the pipeline
Quad 2 (More popular): 18 out of 34, with 1 more in the pipeline
Quad 3 (Less popular): 14 out of 34, with 3 in the pipeline
Quad 4 (Least popular): 9 out of 34, with 4 in the pipeline

I think my impatience about the remaining top-rank serials stems from, well, the fact that the cast is getting old, and time is taking its toll. The first three Doctors are gone, as are four companions and the two principal actors to play the Master. The survivng iconic lead actors and writers are hitting their 70's and 80's. I look forward to hearing Tom Baker, Nic Courtney, Terrence Dicks, Frazer Hines, et al lending their commentary to further serials before they transcend this celestial plane.

Here are the 67 remaining serials, in order of popularity. An asterisk indicates that a release is in the pipeline. The ones I shaded in red are the ten I particularly want to see released as soon as possible.

TOP 10
1. The Deadly Assassin
2. The Seeds of Doom
3. The War Games
4. Terror of the Zygons
5. Warriors' Gate *
6. State of Decay *
7. The Dæmons
8. Terror of the Autons (requires fresh re-colorization)
9. The Ice Warriors (requires reconstruction/animation of missing episodes 2 & 3)
10. Kinda

11. The Curse of Peladon 12. The Masque of Mandragora 13. Enlightenment 14. The Tenth Planet
(requires reconstruction/animation of missing episode 4) 15. The Face of Evil 16. Frontios 17. Day of the Daleks 18. The Mind of Evil (requires colorization) 19. Snakedance 20. Full Circle * 21. The Ambassadors of Death (requires fresh re-colorization) 22. Mawdryn Undead 23. Frontier In Space 24. Image of the Fendahl 25. Planet of the Spiders 26. Planet of Fire 27. The Sunmakers 28. The Romans * 29. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy 30. The Awakening 31. The War Machines * 32. Death to the Daleks 33. Invasion of the Dinosaurs (requires colorization of episode 1) 34. The Android Invasion 35. Attack of the Cybermen * 36. Revenge of the Cybermen 37. Planet of the Daleks (would require colorization of episode 3) 38. Terminus 39. The Ark 40. Nightmare of Eden 41. The Happiness Patrol 42. The Keys of Marinus 43. The Rescue * 44. Battlefield * 45. Colony in Space 46. The Krotons 47. Four to Doomsday * 48. Meglos 49. The Creature from the Pit 50. The Monster of Peladon 51. The Mutants 52. The Chase 53. Planet of Giants 54. Dragonfire 55. The King's Demons 56. The Time Monster 57. The Horns of Nimon

58. The Silver Nemesis
59. The Gunfighters
60. The Sensorites
61. The Space Musuem
62. Paradise Towers
63. The Dominators
64. Delta and the Bannermen
65. Underworld
66. Time and the Rani
67. The Twin Dilemma *

(fan popularity is determined by an 11 Oct 08 visit to the Dynamic Rankings website)

October 10, 2008

Doctor Who Geekery Report - Brain of Morbius & Trial of a Time Lord

The Brain of Morbius (by Robin Bland, 3-24 Jan 1976)

Robin Bland is a pseudonym used when Robert Holmes substantially re-wrote Terrence Dicks' original scripts to the point where Dicks demanded his name be removed.

AT LAST! One of my all-time favorite Dr Who serials is finally out on DVD. My favorite Doctor and my favorite companion at a time when the production team was (usually) firing on all cylinders; seasons 13-14 are the peak of the Classic Series. With Phillip Hinchcliffe producing, Terrence Dicks writing, and Robert Holmes script-editing, ratings regularly topping 10 million, they knew exactly what the show could and couldn't do, where it could & couldn't go due to budgetary and technical limitations, and drew from classic horror and sci-fi themes to produce an era of unequaled popularity and excellence, at least until the current revival.

The Brain of Morbius is a brilliant combination of horror pastiche and sparkling wit, sprinkled with a smidgeon of camp. A dark and stormy night, a castle on a hill, a mad scientist on the hunt for cadavers, a hook-handed servant, a... thing on a slab in the basement; this serial definitely wears its Frankenstein reverence on its sleeve. Add to the mix a coven of witches, a fountain of youth, and a maniacal talking brain in a tank.

Brilliant acting; regulars Tom Baker and Liz Sladen possess effortless chemistry. Philip Madoc as Solon and Colin Fay as Condo give multi-dimensional human faces to what could easily have been campy cliché mad scientist and hulking manservant. Cynthia Grenville generates pathos as Maren, matriarch of the Sisterhood, remaining stoic as her coven faces death with the dwindling of their Elixir. When the Doctor restores the Sacred Flame that produces the potion, there's a twinge of regret on her face. A lovely moment.

And of course fanboys have argued and debated about the "Mind-bending" contest in episode 4; just who are those faces that follow the images of the Doctor's first three incarnations?

Grade: A

The Trial of a Time Lord (by Robert Holmes, Philip Martin, Eric Saward, and Pip & Jane Baker, 6 Sep - 6 Dec 1986)

An ambitious concept that took up the entire 23rd seaon, and exceeded the grasp of the production team, even allowing for the behind the scenes chaos and tragedy. Intended as a metaphor for the series itself, but nobody thought things through. Any cliffhanger from a flashback tale that involves the Doctor is automatically robbed of its power, especially when given a line like "I think this could be the end!", simply due to the fact that it clearly wasn't. Constant cuts to the courtroom rob the various stories of their momentum.

Not that it didn't have its moments. The opening shot of the space station is actually quite marvelous even by today's standards. Glitz and Dibber are Robert Holmes' last great character pairs (even if his script echoes his first Dr Who story, The Krotons). The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is light and relaxed (not in the same league as Tom & Liz, but certainly a refreshing change from the previous season). Brian Blessed has some lovely subtle and gleefully eccentric moments that tend to be lost among all his trademark bellowing. Sil rocks. And yes, we know it's a bald-cap, but Peri's last scene before her demise is stunning. And we never quite know if the Doctor is really unhinged or if the Matrix has been tampered with. And the Master turns up in much more witty Delgado-eqsue form than we'd seen him to this point.

But the bickering between the Doctor and Valyard is stupid, the trial turns from an inquiry into the Doctor's behavior into a capital case on a dime, the "Mindwarp" section is a muddled mess, Melanie Bush is a trainwreck of a companion, and Pip & Jane should never be let near a typewriter (or a thesaurus) again:
  • "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum."
  • "Whoever's been dumped in there has been pulverized into fragments and sent floating into space, and in my book that's murder!"
  • "On the previous occasion that the Doctor's path crossed mine, I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intrigue."
  • "Fire alarms are not playthings for irresponsible buffoons."
and of course, the classic:
  • "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!"
The special features are quite good, though. And the feature on the last disc covers the very tricky ground of the dissolving of the professional relationship between producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward, and how Colin Baker got the sack. Actually quite touching to see them admit their own culpability about what went wrong with that era, from Colin's infamously godawful costume to Colin's own character choices.

Still, not a set of DVD's I'll watch regularly. If ever again.

Grade: D+