You know what separates really great geek entertainment from all other entertainment?
It’s the thrill, and it’s the ache.
The thrill when a new episode or issue comes out – the brightness and brilliance of that day, because your new episode’s on, or your new issue’s in stock, available for pickup or download, and there to be relished and pored over, enjoyed however you like – whether you’re a guzzler, eyeballs glued to everything and gorging through every page, or sipping so it lasts longer, page by page or minute by minute, reveling in all the details, the in-gags, the art or the philosophical stance of the people you trust to give you what you need.
And then the ache, because it’s over for another however-long – another week, another month, another x-amount-of-time before the thrill begins again. Geeks were the creators of concepts like box-set binging. Geeks understand the thrill and the ache.
Geeks love Death Sentence.
Death Sentence is that kind of entertainment – just as your favourite show is never ‘just on’ but you wait for it all week, think about it, talk about it, share ideas about what might be in it, then enjoy it, then talk about it endlessly until the thrill for the following episode begins, so Death Sentence never just releases an issue. It’s the kind of comic-book that you wait for with nothing even remotely approaching patience, that you revel in when it arrives, and that you want to go door-to-door with afterwards, asking your neighbours if they’ve considered letting MontyNero into their lives, because it might just make them better people.
Death Sentence London, three issues in, is taking the time to behave like the real world. Whereas the first Death Sentence series was pre- and right-freakin’-now- Apocalyptic, dealing with the idea of G+ – the sexual plague that hides inside you till you have six months to live, then turns your system all the way up to 11 – and in particular the idea of Super-Gs, who are granted remarkable powers by the virus, Death Sentence London is distinctly post-Apocalyptic – people have died in their millions, and the world, and London in particular, needs to find out how it gets back on its feet after that, and how it goes on to deal with the G+ and Super-G threats. In the middle of that, while plot-strands are certainly developing – Jeb Mulgrew, FBI agent, is preparing to go on a mission to infiltrate the island where the UK Government has a G+ research and containment facility, while getting so divorced by his wife he may be known as Jeb The Eunuch on future missions; London Mayor Tony Bronson is clamping down on organized and disorganized gatherings, and wants to stop sex between unmarried people (partly as a way to stop the spread of G+ and partly because some people are just born to be religious assholes who want to outlaw fun); there’s a rather more organized resistance movement on the streets, using a famous comic-book character as an avatar of dissent, and so on – while all that is going on and advancing issue by issue, Issues 2 and 3 have consciously turned down the pace of mayhem, to deal with characters. Last time, we spent the majority of the issue with Weasel, one of our two Super-G ‘heroes,’ who lost his son during the cataclysm of the first Death Sentence, and has spent the time since those events mourning in every which way he knows how. Here in Issue #3, we’re with Verity Fette for the majority of the time. Verity Fette, ‘Art Girl,’ who can now create pictures with the power of her mind and who also has an on-again, off-again relationship with visibility.
Neither of these are your typical comic-book heroes. Weasel’s a dick, almost guaranteed to fuck up everything good in his life, and Verity…
Verity’s a wounded heart and a brain that’s thinking clearer every day, but about which she can do nothing. In this issue, we go back with her, through the cyclic pattern of her relationships, examining why none of them ‘worked’ in any kind of long-term way. People are quite welcome to tell her why they dumped her, ranging from her flirting with everyone, to her scoping the room over their shoulder, to her potentially self-indulgent, self-revolving artistic nature, to the wilder sexual side she displayed, which men ‘don’t settle down and bake souffles with,’ because to be fair, many, many men are hypocritical cockwombles.
Did I mention – Verity calls a cockwomble a cockwomble. We love her for that here at WarpedFactor. But of the two of our Super-Gs, Verity is naturally drawn to appeal to us more – apart from her ready way with a cockwomble, she’s the especially articulate one, able to bring art and life and death and viruses and humanity and, as she puts it in this issue, ‘the whole sick joke,’ while still being able to put a smile on our lips with lines like ‘What is this constant need for approval? Am I fundamentally weak? Or am I just missing Twitter?’
The point is that Verity is the character that carries the intellectual oomph of Death Sentence with her, while acknowledging that her emotional past has been a minefield of disasters for one reason or another (and that possibly, just possibly, she’s selected specific ways of exploding every single connection she’s had), and also admitting that while her brain is increasingly clear, there’s precisely nothing she can do about her continuing base desires – which leads her back to her old haunts to sit, as she puts it, ‘with smouldering knickers in Southwark,’ while waxing philosophical about all the things that matter, and why, unless we’re very emotionally smart and switched on, there’s every chance we’ll miss them. As comic-book characters go, Verity’s something a bit special.
Verity, as it turns out, is also extremely special in one other crucial respect which draws the threads of the issue screaming together and ends on a cliff-hanger that’ll make you draw in a sharp breath and shout the word ‘Cockwomble!’ rather more than you’ve ever felt the need to do before.
Annnnnnd so the ache begins again.
Go get yourself some thrill right now, in the handy form of Death Sentence London #3.
The Fourth Doctor: Oceans of Fire The Tardis suffers a critical timing malfunction as it lands on Verakis IV, where to his consternation, there’s a Big Drilling Project going on – Project Limitless. The Verakians aim to tap the molten core of their planet to provide limitless heat and energy for the planet, as a safe alternative to fossil fuels or dirty nuclear power. So far, so Inferno – the Doctor and Leela warn of the folly of the project, but the Director, Professor Sherwin Salus, is a man driven by the spectre of nuclear power – his parents were both killed when a nuclear planet went critical, and he swore as a boy to find his planet an alternative. Project Limitless is a success, he claims, having run tests on initial core samples and found the energy output to be staggeringly high.
Then, with no seismological warning, Triska, an adjacent landmass, is engulfed by a tidal wave of molten lava that has shot up from beneath the sea. The death toll is colossal but Salus refuses to acknowledge any connection between Project Limitless and the horrific destruction of Triska. The Doctor tests a sample of the core, and discovers what Salus has not been wanting to see – the lava displays discrete motion patterns that suggest only one thing – it’s alive.
Salus won’t listen to the Doctor, but Leela makes friends with his assistant, Professor Leah Methrick, who, with less of a personal investment, is able to see the truth of the Doctor’s research. With an increasing instability in his mind as his friend and assistant ‘turns on him’ but the ‘ghosts’ of his parents compel him onward, Salus takes the law into his own hands and locks Methrick and the Doctor up – Leela, being Leela, evades him. The drilling continues.
Then they come. Wave after wave, flank after flank of glowing, steaming fire-people emerging out of the bubbling seas, to spit lava over the land. The Pyroviles have been living peacefully at the core of the planet for millennia, but now they have been disturbed, kidnapped, forced into slavery (the Limitless process) and ultimately bled dry of their life-giving fire. And so, without declaration, the Pyroviles have gone to war. Leela tries to do battle with them, and fails – metal weapons melt before they even make contact. She returns to free the Doctor and Methrick, and the Doctor tries to broker a peace with the Pyroviles, claiming the drilling was done in ignorance. All looks to be going well, until Salus intervenes and tries to kill them – he dies in the process, and the Pyroviles declare the world will be theirs – as below, so above, they will make this world their ocean of fire, their Pyrovillia, and wipe the fleshkind from their surface.
With no option, the Doctor and Leela organize a retreat to high ground, and are ultimately forced to use the Tardis to collect as many of the Verakians as they can, and relocate them to a new world. Methrick is key in organizing the evacuation, and will become a leader of the new world, with hard, important lessons to teach her people.
The Fifth Doctor: The Assassin’s Paradox 14th April, 1865. Ford’s Theatre, Washington. John Wilkes Booth fires a Philadelphia Derringer pistol at President Abraham Lincoln, and – thanks to the intervention of Jarrold, a rogue Time Agent – misses.
18th December, 1865 – The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive in Washington to the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) ratified. As they arrive, the Tardis undergoes a major change – the lights go out, the dimensions contract and as it lands, the ‘wooden’ outside walls fall apart, spilling the travelers out into the world, with no hope of moving on, ever.
In town, they learn that Lincoln is still President and will be present for the ratification himself. They also learn that Ford’s theatre appears to be haunted by the ghost of Booth, who goes through his speech and fires a shot at the Presidential box every night at exactly the same time. Except the ghost is not ghost – it’s actually Booth, trapped forever in the moment that fractured time.
What’s more, there’s a killer on the loose – striking randomly, at anyone and everyone, without motive, and without leaving a body. They simply go missing and are never seen again.
The Reapers are at work. They shouldn’t be – the Time Lords should be able to take care of a paradox like this, but the Doctor can’t contact them, meaning the Reapers are flying in to sterilize the redundant timeline. Meanwhile, Jarrold is trying to engineer a gateway out of the redundant timeline he’s accidentally become trapped in – further weakening the fabric of space-time of Washington in 1865. The only chance the Doctor has of getting himself and his friends out of this alive is to persuade Abraham Lincoln to go and sit in his box again, and die by the ‘ghost’ assassin’s bullet. What could possibly go wrong?
The Sixth Doctor: Punishment and Crime The Doctor wakes to find himself in a small grey cell, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Attempts to escape prove futile, and eventually, he is marched out for exercise in solitary confinement, but with a single Atraxi guard. He demands to know his crime, the term, the appeals procedure, but is simply told, time and again that he has been tried and found guilty of crimes against the Atraxi, and that execution will follow shortly.
Peri wakes up in a small grey cell dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Attempts to escape prove futile, and eventually, she is marched out for exercise with other prisoners and a single Atraxi guard. She demands to know what she’d done, where the Doctor is, and how long she’ll be there, but is simply told, time and again that she has been tried and found guilty of crimes against the Atraxi, and that execution will follow shortly.
Having made friends with a couple of fellow prisoners, Ros and Kara, both of whom are equally clueless of their crimes, Peri decides to stage a prison break, sparked by a fake fight fanned into a riot. Meanwhile, the Doctor bamboozles his guard with a logic paradox about the nature of rehabilitation and repentance depending on knowledge and understanding of the crime committed. Running almost literally into one another, Peri says they should make for the walls, but the Doctor points something out to her – they still have no idea what it is they’re supposed to have done, and they were snatched out of their lives. Reluctantly agreeing that something must be done, Peri follows the Doctor to the Intendent’s office, where the Doctor threatens the Chief Atraxi with an investigation by the Shadow Proclamation and the truth comes out – the Intendent received a payment to incarcerate the Doctor and his companion from an unnamed enemy; it’s a practice that’s been going on for decades in the for-profit Atraxi prisons of Traxis Minor. The Doctor and Peri are freed, and they contact the Shadow Proclamation anyway, to get the rest of those unfairly incarcerated by the Atraxi freed.
On Wednesday the Second, Seventh and Eighth Doctors come face to face with New Who monsters.
Power of the Quarks No wait, listen, come back, I’m not as nuts as that title might make me sound. The Dominators were a physically striking pair of miserablists, a long way from home and desperate for fuel, but clearly, home was somewhere where they instilled fear through brutality – you don’t swan around the galaxy calling yourself Dominators unless you have the oomph to back it up, you’d just get laughed at for your sloping shoulders and silly haircuts and told to go and cosmically do one.
What was the source of that fear? What gave the Dominators their dominion? Believe it or not, it must be the Quarks. Yes, they were very silly looking and silly-moving, bless them, but, perhaps except the Chumblies, have you ever seen a robot more ripe for a 21st century, Robert Shearman Dalek-style re-vamp? Make the Quarks as threatening as they should have been, reveal previously untold power in those spiky-headed, offset-armed little beggars, and crucially, show us the Dominators’ home – the empire they’ve supposedly conquered and dominated through the use of these ultra-robots. Give us a home world oppressed by fear of the power of the Quarks. Then introduce the Doctor and Clara and set them on the path of opposition. Imagine the Doctor instilling a kind of conscience sub-routine into the Quarks, giving the Quarks a kind of sentience all of their own, and an Asimovian determination to protect non-Dominators. Revolution of the Quarks, here we come. And when the revolution comes, how far will the Dominators go to retain their power? Give them a chance to graduate to truly shocking villainy, and the Dominators could still make modern audiences clamour to see them again.
At the University of Shining Achievement, on the planet Selamin, two young researchers, bored with the rigidity of academic life, go snooping in dusty basement corridors to scare themselves and get closer to one another, as students do. They find a locked room and break in. There’s a bank of computers and a couple of headsets. Trying them out for a laugh, one of the students is horribly killed, while the other is merely hurt as lights flash, pumps pump and machinery comes back to life. The headset implants an explosive in the survivor’s brain, and the machinery creates a crystalline entity – a Kroton. The survivor is commanded to bring others and feed them to the machine. The Kroton needs a lot of mental energy for a purpose it won’t reveal.
The Doctor hates it at Shining Achievement. He popped in to return a book and to catch up with one of his previous incarnations old friends, who now he finds in his Twelfth incarnation, he really can’t stand at all. Then he hears about the disappearances. Students going missing – is there a serial killer on campus?
As it turns out, the Kroton has big plans. It needs imaginative mental energy not just to keep itself alive, but to funnel into subterranean systems – forgotten by most of the universe, Selamin is the planet of the Krotons. They’ve been in chemical hibernation in vats underground for a thousand years. Now, the disappearances are threatening to resurrect them and set them free in the universe to suck the minds of all intelligent, creative beings dry – unless the Doctor and Clara can stop them. As more and more students disappear, and more become pawns of the Krotons, can their resurrection be halted?
(NB – this was written before checking out Return of the Krotons from Big Finish. Flatteringly, there seem to be some areas of similarity, but also some areas of significant difference).
The Third Dimension
Where the First Doctor had the Celestial Toymaker and his toyroom, the Second Doctor introduced us to the mad white minimalist world of the Land of Fiction, ruled over by The Mind Robber. Over the last fifteen years, Big Finish has well and truly taken over the realm of the invented with a couple of stories that have been both a bit barmy and quite sinister. There’s a touch of The Crooked Man, as well as a little Sapphire and Steel, about an idea that I think could really work on 21st Century TV Who – the Tardis materializes in an enormous library full of people of various species, dressed in all manner of outfits. Reading. The Doctor claims they should never have been able to get into this library, as there’s an insane energy barrier that’s preventing them from getting out. They open the doors and find themselves walking in at the other side of the room. Someone here knows more than they’re saying, and the only way to find out who is to talk to them. As Clara exercises her people-skills, pages rustle on bookshelves, something skitters around corners, and the Doctor goes into the labyrinthine library to track it down. The people can’t remember much about who they are, or why they’re here. Then one of them touches Clara’s hand, and she feels herself forgetting – Danny, her dad, her gran, that guy with the big chin…
The people stand, and turn sideways, but they have no third dimension, and so look invisible. Clara turns her hand to look at it, and it disappears. This is not a library – it is the Vault of Secondary Characters, and they want out.
The Doctor finds what it is he’s been chasing. It’s himself. A traveler who’s become a hero, but who has no name. The other ‘him’ reaches out and touches him, and the Twelfth Doctor becomes the Eleventh, becomes the Tenth as the other ‘him searches his memories for who he really is.
Clara learns that the Vault is a facility created by the Realists – an organization of people with no imagination – to trap rogue, underdeveloped characters ejected from the Land of Fiction in a purge by the realm’s master. The Secondaries need a mind to carry them out of their prison and back into the Real World, to have their vengeance, both on the Realists and on their creators, before turning the worlds they live on as two-dimensional as they are. Clara’s mind could only serve as a lifeboat for a few of them. They need something more, and so they’re turning her into one of them, so she’ll con the Doctor into letting them escape in his mind, or that of the Tardis.
By declaring that he’s as real as his friends have always thought he is, the Doctor is able to defeat the ‘other’ him, which adopts its true form – an old, exhausted, weeping man; a previous master of the Land of Fiction, expelled with the Secondaries and forced to live alongside them as their gaoler. He can no longer remember how many of the Secondaries were originally characters, and how many have been ‘made’ from people who’ve found their way here and failed to provide the means out. He wants to be allowed to die, but can’t unless someone takes his place.
The Doctor discovers what’s been done to Clara, and uses the ex-master to re-tell her story to her, giving her back her third dimension. The exertion is too much for the ex-master, and he dies. The Doctor and Clara escape to the Tardis and the Doctor rigs up a pocket-dimension cube, keeping the library constant inside – the Secondaries will remain clueless of their own stories and the universe for the rest of time.
Slivers of War
You’d need a series arc to even come close to the epic length of the original War Games, but that needn’t be a bad thing. In a post-Time-Lord universe, a gang of time-sensitive rogues have been observing some of the bloodiest conflicts in the universe’s history, and deploying their own cybernetic shock troops to ensure the result goes what they regard as ‘the most interesting way,’ irrespective of massively increased loss of life. The Doctor and Clara find their distinctive trail on a number of planets where they’ve toppled dictators, attempted to make peace etc, having fought Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Dominators etc. The rogues think of themselves as the inheritors of the War Lords’ legacy, destined ultimately to make war with and defeat the greatest powers in the universe, and have been provoking wars and manipulating the Doctor’s interventions to take out some of the greatest challenges before assuming command of the universe of space-time. Ideally, end the series with the Doctor defeated and the New War Lords shipping cybernetic troops (can we say Raston Warrior Robot and leave your mind to boggle) across space and time to complete the conquest – leaving Clara and the Doctor to Do Something Clever At Christmas to restore the universe to its proper course.
The Bond series is always supposed to be ‘modern’ in that it’s supposed to keep pace with the times and threats of its particular era, and deliver technology that is, perhaps, just a little ahead of those times. But if we’re looking at ‘modern Bond’ in 2015, before the arrival of Spectre, then Goldeneye represents the beginning of our era. Not a bad achievement when you consider it’s actually 20 years old, being released in 1995.
It had been six years since Timothy Dalton’s last Bond film, and the world had been turned upside-down in the meantime. The 80s were an era of phenomenal change, but it was the 90s that really began to see the effects of those changes – the Berlin Wall had fallen between the end of Dalton’s era and the making of Goldeneye. All change was the order of the day – Goldeneye brought not only a new Bond, but a new M, and a female one at that, Judi Dench taking the top job, as well as a new Moneypenny, Samantha Bond.
The end of the Cold War allowed for a looser backdrop – experience for hire, rather than dogmatic obedience – and it also allowed a shift in focus to perhaps a more realistic, less idealised view of the Secret Service as an organisation that got things wrong, that had consequences – and that sometimes would have to clean up the bodies and the mess of its malfunctions.
Stepping in to the tuxedo of death was suave Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, who had been in the frame for years to pick up the Walther, but who, on his closest previous brush with Bond, had been tied into contracts on TV’s fiction-within-a-fiction detective show, Remington Steele.
There are loose theories that Bonds are divisible by type – there are the harder, more intense Bonds (Connery, Dalton, Craig), and the smoother, more wisecracking ones (Lazenby, Moore – and Brosnan). That’s the alchemy at play in Goldeneye – the story is ultimately about an MI6 mistake, and the way the organisation has to be able to coldly move on with its business, while those with licenses to kill also have obligations to die. But against such intense, grim fare, you put a smoother, more smiling Bond in the middle to deflect and charm the audience.
If you want further proof that Goldeneye is the beginning of our modern era of Bonds, you could do worse than compare its skeleton with that of the latest Bond movie, Skyfall – both movies seem to be about shady villains, but are actually about former MI6 operatives gone spectacularly rogue. Both movies bring info-war and the power of computer aggression to the fore too, giving a distinctly similar feeling – betrayed ‘sons’ of the Service, using computing power to wreak havoc and pull off the ultimate crime.
It’s not all new of course – as once there was Pussy Galore, so Goldeneye brings us Xenia Onatopp, a villainess with a disconcerting sado-masochistic streak who kills men by crushing them between her thighs of steel. Jane Fonda, eat your heart out. And of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without a couple of staggering, outrageous set-pieces – the pre-credits bungee jump is positively quease-making, and the tank chase scene is sheer, wonderful, what-can-we-do-now camp bliss, most especially when Bond drives through a statue, and carries its figure, perfectly balanced for several blocks, including a couple of sharp turns. Delicious. Nonsensical in the extreme, but delicious.
Equally delicious is the inclusion of Sean Bean, towards the start of what is now his notorious career of not making it to the end of movies, as Alec Trevelyan, 006 – a kind of Moriarty to the Holmes of this new Bond. Bean and Brosnan are well matched – hard-edged, but quipping, Bean essentially giving us his Bond (because clearly, there could never be a blond Bond… erm…), but showing in three dimensions the dichotomy of Bond that’s highlighted by M when she calls him a Cold War dinosaur. Where Bond essentially belongs to an older generation (the generation that originally spawned him – Ian Fleming’s generation), Bean’s Trevelyan is able to point out his inconsistencies, his weaknesses and the contradictions of his personal recklessness and borderline sociopathy with his ‘Queen and Country’ Boy Scout motivation, and to expose those values we think of as being archetypally Bond as potentially quite outdated in the real world of the 90s. Not for nothing, but it’s another way in which Goldeneye provides the blueprint for Skyfall, this equal and opposite Devil’s advocate, pointing out the uncomfortable truth.
The central MacGuffin, the Goldeneye, is basically your traditional supervillain devastation-from-the-sky uberweapon, and the plot is actually a vengeance-against-London/let’s-get-incredibly-rich/financial-meltdown triple whammy, but there’s a certain Thunderbirds joy about it all as the film dispenses with all the Russian shenanigans and gets down to the clash of ideologies between Trevelyan and Bond, the boys with toys. On balance, Trevelyan’s got the better gizmos – giant antennas that emerge from under the water, space-based Star Wars weaponry firing EMPs to wipe every computer in Greater London and send a leading financial hub ‘back to the Stone Age,’ etc. The tone is always one of duality, with Bond and Trevelyan trading insults and Freudian analyses, and yet both showing the power of the MI6 mindset, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. The final showdown on the giant antenna is where the psychology is played out, and Trevelyan’s assumption of Bond’s Boy Scoutism – the idea that he’ll always favour the mission before everything else – comes fatally unstuck when Bond essentially settles the score of what he feels is Trevelyan’s personal betrayal of him, rather than his treasonous betrayal of Queen and country.
Goldeneye began a new age of Bond movies – Brosnan lightening the portrayal of the character wherever possible, but still delivering an inner steel in terms of doing his job. The film brought Bond into the properly computer age, and perhaps more importantly, it did away with a lot of the baggage of rigidly dogmatic and nationalistic villains – the arch-villains Brosnan’s Bond would go on to face would frequently be rogues, individuals with personal agendas, or even ultra-capitalists, reflecting the post-Cold War realities of the world the audience understood. Perhaps most crucially of all though, to balance the essential machismo of Bond, the advancement of a female M would go on to give the Brosnan and early Craig Bond movies both a modernity and a tension that would elevate them above many of the earlier entries in the series. Goldeneye held the key to Bond’s future in the post-Cold War world, and it delivered complexity, deception, and ultimately a parable of two brothers with different takes on the same life. It delivered fun, action, even cod psychology, and a car chase with a tank.
As Bean’s Trevelyan remarks when he sees it – ‘Bond. Only Bond.
Have you ever seen an advert for pizza on the TV, and been inspired to call your local pizza place immediately, your imagination conjuring a crisp crust with just the right amount of give, a zingy sauce that dances on your tongue, and toppings just bursting with freshness and flavour and all the hot, steamy promise of the TV screen?
Ever done that, and had your pizza delivered, and eagerly flipped open the box, only to discover a lukewarm, sloppy, soggy, gelatinous mess adhering to the cardboard, crushing your dreams in an instant?
The Twelfth Doctor versus the Meddling Monk – you know you want to see that.
Part of the fun about being a fan of Classic Who and New Who is imagining what old enemies could be revamped, updated and brought back, and how they’d work in the New Who world. But now we’re ten years into New Who’s run, and most of the ‘first tier’ Classic era villains have been revamped. So what’s left? Tony Fyler makes the case for a handful of Hartnell’s finest to get another shot in the 21st century.
Tony got creative, inventing stories for villains from the First Doctor’s era that could succeed in the 21st century.
When the Cybermen returned to Doctor Who in Earthshock after an eight-year absence, they were pitched with a beautiful clarity of thought. They had been the show’s second real instance of bottled lightning throughout the 60s, only eclipsed by the Daleks in terms of number of appearances and working in both stompy monster and philosophical terms.
Tony remembers the impact of the return of the Cybermen to 1980s Who. Excellent!