Monday, October 17, 2011

Doctor Who Review - Story #1 - "An Unearthly Child"

I know it's been quite a while since I began the "Doctor Who Review" and I realize now that I made a mistake in not starting at the beginning. So I've gone back and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Airing a mere one day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the first episode of Doctor Who is entitled "An Unearthly Child" a moniker referring to the Doctor's Grand Daughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford). The show debuts in a junkyard, the "Foreman" junkyard at that, in an eerie scene with only the smallest hint of what's to come. We see a bobby pass by and we pan to a police box. Next we're whisked off to a London school where Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) are discussing the titular lass and how difficult it has been to teach her. Even in this first exchange of dialogue we are treated to the overall arcing themes of the show, as Barbara says:

"She's waiting in one of the classrooms. I'm lending her a book on the French Revolution."

Ian replies "What's she going to do, rewrite it? Oh, all right. What do we do? Ask her point-blank?"

And there we have it, one of the major plot lines that runs through most of the almost 50 years of Who, can time be rewritten, and it's right there, in the initial episode. Either they decided that was going to be a theme early on, OR, more probably, the current writers and producers have watched a lot of old Who.

In any case, the two school teachers decided to follow Susan home after a weird conversation that they have with the 15 year old girl, and discover that she lives IN the Police Box with her Grandfather, the daffy old Doctor (William Hartnell). Soon enough the quartet is inside the box, which Susan informs them all is called the "TARDIS" or Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. In fact, Susan says that she made the name up herself! The old man is incredulous that Susan would bring these two outsiders into their lives, but somehow he understands their curiosity, he explains that he and Susan are aliens from another time and place, and that they have been around a lot longer than humans, but he cannot let them leave knowing what they know, in a panic, somehow the TARDIS is activated and off they go.

As we've discussed already, most of the pre 2005 Doctor Who episodes are multi-part stories, and this first one is no exception. The early episodes are all individually titled though, where later episodes are merely given a single over-all title with part numbers after. Episode 2 of Doctor Who is "The Cave of Skulls", episode 3 is "The Forest of Fear" and episode 4 is "The Firemaker". Once the TARDIS settles on a destination, our intrepid crew discovers that they've gone to prehistoric Earth, year unknown (The Yearometer on the TARDIS doesn't work properly), where they are soon captured by a tribe of cave people who are in search of fire. The next three episodes detail how the Doctor and his companions escape from the tribe and mediate a peace between the different factions of cave-people who then try to kill them.

It's actually pretty tame stuff when you get down to it. There's some caveman on caveman violence, and Ian acts like Prometheus by giving the Cave people fire, but in the end it's a pretty discardable story line. Though I wonder if the setting might be revisited at some point to see what's become of the newly fire-enabled primitives, who happen to speak with perfect British accents.

This first story is stark contrast to the current 11th Doctor episodes, in that there's practically no budget existent early on. Also the Doctor is, well, a dick. He refuses to actually tell Barbara and Ian the full story, and he also refuses to let them go. Of course within a couple of episodes they won't want to go home, but we don't know that quite yet.

Some interesting tidbits to note: there are actually THREE versions of the first 30 minute episode floating about. They're all relatively the same, though the second released version looks quite a bit better than the aired version. There's actually continuity with the aforementioned French book as well, as it will appear in a later episode. The first utterance of the show's title "Doctor Who" is in the second episode (Cave of Skulls), when Ian calls the Doctor "Doctor Foreman" - he replies "Doctor Who?" Since that's the major question going into next season's episodes, it's nice to see it all the way back at the beginning.

In the end while you'd think that the first episode is required viewing, sadly this is not. Other than the opening segment that is. The plot line of the cave people is about as disposable as they are. There's no one really to save, and the universe isn't really in danger at all, neither are our protagonists. Sure the Cave dudes get the drop on the feeble Doctor and his companions, but come on who couldn't outwit CAVEMEN who can't even start a fire. In fact, what the Cavemen call knives, we would call sharp rocks.

Then there's the TARDIS, the police box that's bigger on the inside. In her (yes I'm calling it a HER) first appearance she looks rather new I suppose. The inside is all pristine and smooth, with only a few human touches - such as the velvet chair that Susan spends some time sitting on. The console is familiar in it's hexagonal shape and the center rotor moves up and down in the old familiar fashion. The noises she makes are all very familiar also. And yet, it's not the same TARDIS that we all know and love. Even though we're told later that the Doctor stole her and that when he did she was already outdated and ancient, she looks damn good here. But funny, the Doctor can't really operate her properly, and oh did I mention the chameleon circuit? Well they don't call it that yet, but surely enough when the ship (for the Doctor says bluntly: "I use your own outdated terminology for any craft which does not roll along on wheels") doesn't re-configure itself upon materializing in the past both Susan and the Doctor are befuddled. Susan even points out a couple of her previous incarnations as a Sedan Chair and an Ionic Column. Perhaps the TARDIS is simply upset at the old Doctor for picking up a few more strays.

As the first companions Ian and Barbara are cemented in place in Whovian lore. They're the everyman/woman teachers that the BBC wanted to use as the viewers touchstone when dealing with time-travel. As such they're terribly smart and make good companions in this initial incarnation. Ian even quickly understands that if they're going to get out of trouble they need to rely on the fast-thinking wit of The Doctor. Susan is a bit more difficult to place and understand. While there's no mention of the Time Lords yet (that phrase wouldn't enter the lexicon of Who for a few more years) we have nothing put before us to say that she ISN'T his actual Grand Daughter. Over the years of course we would find out that the Doctor has had a family, but what becomes of Susan after she leaves the TARDIS during the second season (oh damn, Spoilers!) remains somewhat of a mystery. Seems odd that such a close relation would be all but forgotten, but unfortunately she is. Whether she is a Time Lord is also up to debate, as she shows virtually none of the later facets of being a Time-Lord other than traveling in the TARDIS. In the unaired pilot version she claims to be from the 49th Century, but that line is cut from the actual aired broadcast. In the opening episode of this arc she tells Barbara and Ian that she's been on Earth for about five months, and that before that she had a few other adventures with the Doctor.

Should you decide to watch the first Doctor Who story, you can do so right now! The video is available on several sites, though if you try to watch it on YouTube you'll miss the second part of "The Cave of Skulls". I watched most of it Here, and both versions of the pilot are on YouTube. You can also read a transcript of the episode Here.

As to merchandise for the episode, there's of course the First Doctor action figure with TARDIS, featuring his walking stick and funny little cap. A single carded version of the figure was a Forbidden Planet exclusive.

Note that the version of the First Doctor figure in the 10 & 11 figure sets is slightly different (he's wearing different pants), and the Black and White version is also a costume variation that is not on the same model. Character Building also has a version of the First Doctor in their 11 Doctor Set of Micro Figures in Lego Scale. Back when the Role-Playing game was produced there were miniature versions of Hartnell as well.

Other merchandise includes a Target Paperback adaptation written by Terrance Dicks, which I believe is actually still in print, though original copies are readily available for reasonable prices. There's also a comic book adaptation and the obligatory VHS/DVD sets. I'm sure there's more stuff out there, especially vintage pieces such as television guides and other paper ephemera, but after about 40 years the supply of old stuff dries up and becomes much more valuable.

Next time I'll continue the series with the first appearance ever of The Daleks!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Transformers Kre-O Jazz

After getting the Character Building Mini Tardis set in the mail I suddenly had a deep-seeded need to get more Lego and Lego-style mini-figures, so when I saw that Target had a sale on the Transformers Kre-O line of building sets I finally pulled the trigger on one of the small sets - Jazz. I chose him over the similarly priced Mirage because, well I dunno, I liked the colors on Jazz better. I guess I like the character better too, after all his original G1 incarnation was voiced by the legendary Scatman Crothers.

It is interesting to note that this is not the first time that Hasbro has attempted to do building brick versions of Transformers toys, in the early 2000's they came out with a line called "Built-to-Rule" which actually had better transformations between modes. This set, like all the Kre-O sets cannot actually be transformed, you have to take apart the models and put them back together. And then you'll have some parts left over. For the car mode you can practically put a Jazz torso together with the left-over pieces. The robot mode omits the fenders amongst other pieces.

Kre-O Jazz Construction Kit Review

Packaging 4 of 5

I like these boxes, they could be a bit more sturdy, but they are nicely colorful and have all the information that you need to make an informed purchase. They don't lie on the box either, you know right up front that you have your choice of modes and that the product doesn't convert. The side panels are cool as well, one side shows you the actual size of the enclosed "Kreon" figures (the main selling point for me) and the other looks like it could go on a book shelf as part of a collection. There's a gold foil hologram sticker on the front which tells you that this isn't a bootleg toy.

Instructions 3 of 5

I didn't find anything especially exciting about the instruction booklet, other than it's rather thick. Then again it has to be because it has two different modes to help us build. There's the obligatory parts list, and a couple of pictures of other bots available in the line. I would prefer an actual line-wide catalog I suppose, and honestly the instructions are at times rather obtuse.

Construction 4 of 5

In each mode there are pluses and minuses in the construction. Let's start with the vehicle mode since that's what the instructions start with. Originally Jazz alternate mode was a Porsche 935 turbo, here his alt-mode is some sort of boxy car that vaguely has a sports car shape. It's certainly NOT a Porsche. Because of the dual nature of the kit there's an awful lot of parts that in a Lego kit wouldn't really be used. However, it's because of this extraneous piece use that the car itself once finished is a hefty little toy. The real rubber tires roll freely and there's space inside for the driver Kreon figure to sit, he can ever get in the vehicle via the doors or the roof which both open. Articulated "mirrors" on the side are a nice touch, but they'd be better if they articulated from side to side rather than up and down. Also the doors have sort of a "roll cage" effect with a long studded piece on top of the door, making it look rather silly when the doors are actually open.

I definitely like the lines of the front and rear though, and the "Jazz" license plate is a nice touch. The automobile version of this toy is totally the best feature so far.

Once you finish the car mode, you might be tempted to make the robot once. Go ahead and do it, but once you're finished you're going to want to put him right back into a car. Why? Frankly the robot mode stinks. Oh sure, it has a great head, but that's only because the head is a completely separate piece unused by the car mode. It's also made out of a more pliable rubber substance, which provides for better detail and it has two pretty decent paint ops in the eyes and the face.

In fact, the entire torso of the bot isn't bad at all, and the arm articulation is fairly good as well. So why does the figure fail in so many ways? The legs and the hands. Well, more specifically the lack of knee articulation in the legs and the lack of actual hands make this thing look like more of an after-thought rather than an actual toyetic design. It looks to me like the larger kits have better articulation than the smaller kits and also have better designs, so I'll chalk this one up to the size of the kit itself.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the blocks themselves, which STRONGLY resemble the patented LEGO brand, with the exception of a single "dimple" on one of the studs of practically every piece, which while you think might be useful for plugging in the included weapon for the Jazz Kreon, really isn't at all. It reminds me of the original 12" GI Joe's backwards thumbnail and his facial scar, i.e. details included only for legal purposes. The plastic used is nowhere near the quality of LEGO either, while the Character Building set's are really close, Hasbro's attempt isn't much better than their earlier BTR sets. Also the gray pieces tend to show stress lines or other imperfections that are never shown on LEGO pieces. They do fit together nicely though, but I wonder how they will deteriorate over time compared to Lego (though I notice on some of my more recent LEGO kits their plastic isn't always the best).

Decorations: Stickers 2 of 5

I don't like stickers, I don't know of too many LEGO fans who do. The stickers included in this kit are flimsy and hard to put on the toy (well difficult for me with my fat fingers). One of the rear fender stickers even ripped on me as I was pulling it off the sheet. I know it's too expensive at this price point for tampo, but come on Hasbro, step it up!

Figures: 4 of 5

For me the selling point of these toys are the included "Kreon" figures. The little versions of the Autobots and Decepticons are adorably cute and on models for the G1 counterparts. Jazz comes with removable helmet, blaster and wings, while the oddly colored generic human "driver" figure has a ball cap and helmet. While the "kreon" figure works well for the robots, it utterly fails for the humans. The heads are not rounded all the way around, which is fine for a robot, but looks WEIRD on a human. Plus the arms are all the same with huge shoulder pads and forearms, which again work well for robots but look odd for humans. Still it's nice to have two figures on a kit this size, and you can always put your driver into the car and forget about him.

Articulation on these guys is even one step better than the Character Building figures as well, since Kreons actually have ball jointed hips that work well. They also have the waist twist, along with ball jointed shoulders, swivel head and cut wrists. The ONLY drawback on the Jazz figure is that his wings (i.e. the 'doors' from his car mode) are really wide and make him look a bit silly (and also don't let him in the Tardis.)

Price: 5 of 5

I got this kit for just under $10 at Target, which is a great price for 177 pieces and two mini-figs. Considering that similarly sized LEGO kits are between $20 and $30 at retail, that's not bad at all.

Overall 3.5 of 5

Despite the somewhat mediocre overall score (which I average out from the individual scores) I really like this kit, and I'll actually be looking to purchase at least one of the larger kits at some point. Hasbro really needs to take a page from Mega Blocks and Lego and sell the Kreons in blind bags, which if they did they would sell a buttload.

Wow, two posts in two days, I'm on a roll! I even have another post up my sleeve for either later today or tomorrow (saw my first packs of Topps 2011 Baseball Update yesterday, so I have to post on them). Also I have decided to CONTINUE yesterday's comic strip and have constructed a couple of new figures for the ongoing saga

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My FIRST Comic Strip

Created using Comic Life, iPhone 3G & Mac Mini.

Click to embiggen.