Random Musings: A Look back at Blake’s 7

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Blakes's 7 logo

Hundreds of years in the future, the totalitarian Earth Federation rules with an iron fist. One small band of criminals— operating from a ship called the Liberator and led by charismatic freedom fighter Roj Blake— fights against Federation tyranny.

That’s the premise of the 1978-1981 BBC TV series Blake’s 7, which ran for four 13-episode seasons.

The series was created by Terry Nation, who’d previously created the Daleks for Doctor Who and the 1975-1977 TV series Survivors.

Although Blake’s 7  had an almost non-existent budget, it had relatable characters and an overall downbeat viewpoint. One reflected in the finale.

I first learned about Blake’s 7  through articles in Starlog magazine in the 1980s, but didn’t see any episodes until 1993 when my local PBS station aired the series up through the first few episodes of the third season. I’ve no idea why they didn’t air the remaining episodes.

In a two-part episode guide in Starlog  #s 147 and 148 (Oct. & Nov. 1989), Blake’s 7  is described as a “52-episode mini-series.” That’s a fair assessment, helped in large part by the fact that Nation wrote the entire first season (he also wrote three episodes each of the second and third seasons, including the respective season premieres and the third season finale).

Blake’s 7  is somewhat serialized. The first episode, “The Way Back”, introduces Blake (Gareth Thomas), smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) and cowardly thief Vila Restal (Michael Keating); but we don’t meet amoral computer expert Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) or “gentle giant” Olag Gan (David Jackson) until the second episode, “Spacefall.” And it isn’t until the third episode, “Cygnus Alpha”, that we meet the Liberator’s sentient computer, Zen (voice of Peter Tuddenham). The Liberator is also named (by Jenna) in that episode.

And it’s not until “Time Squad”, the fourth episode, that Cally (Jan Chappell), the last of the original seven (Zen is considered one of the seven), joins the crew.

The original seven: Vila, Cally, Blake, Jenna, Avon, Gan and (in background) Zen.

The original seven: Vila, Cally, Blake, Jenna, Avon, Gan and (in background) Zen.

Also, Blake’s main nemeses, Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Space Commander Travis (Stephen Grief, season one; Brian Croucher, season two) don’t appear until the sixth episode, “Seek-Locate-Destroy.”

Some time prior to the events of “The Way Back”, Blake had been captured, brainwashed and turned into a “model citizen” who’d denounced his rebellious ways. However, after he witnesses the massacre of unarmed rebels by Federation troopers in that episode, Blake presents a problem. The Federation can’t let him talk and they can’t kill him. Too many people already doubt the sincerity of his “recanting”; his death— even from apparently natural causes— could make him a martyr.

So they trump up charges of child molestation, using doctored “evidence” to “prove” Blake’s guilt. He’s convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on the planet Cygnus Alpha.

Along with Jenna and Avon, Blake escapes the prison ship London and gains possession of the Liberator, a derelict alien vessel that had crossed paths with the London. They subsequently free Vila and Gan. With a powerful alien ship at his command and a (not always willing) crew, Blake sets out to destroy the Federation.

The Liberator.

The Liberator.

Several cast changes occurred over the course of the series. Gan dies in the Nation-penned fifth episode of the second season, while Blake and Jenna both depart in that season’s finale. Jenna would never be seen again, but Blake appears in both the third and fourth season finales. He implies in the final episode that Jenna had died.

In season two, Blake gains possession of a sophisticated computer called Orac (Tuddenham). And in the third season, smuggler and mercenary Del Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and weapons designer Dayna Mellanby (Josette Simon) join the Liberator crew.

Following the destruction of the Liberator in the season three finale and the death of Cally in the season four premiere, the rebels take possession of the ship Scorpio, along with its computer, Slave (Tuddenham again). They also join forces with gunfighter Soolin (Glynis Barber).

The crew doesn’t always get along and they sometimes focus on their own interests. In “Cygnus Alpha”, after Jenna and Avon discover a fortune in jewels on board the Liberator, Avon points out that they could buy their own planet.

He says “what about him?” in reply to Jenna’s “what about Blake?” (who’d teleported down to the planet); and adds that Blake is a crusader who can’t win.

“What do you want to be, rich or dead?” Avon asks.

In “The Web”, Cally commits sabotage while under alien influence. Avon advocates having her locked up. “Or dumped.”

Out an airlock.

Blake and Avon don’t always get along.

Blake and Avon don’t always get along.

Avon often sparred with Blake, including this exchange in the episode “Breakdown.”

Avon: “Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this-”

Blake: “Yes?”

Avon: “I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.”

Blake: “Now you’re just being modest.”

In “Pressure Point”, Avon argues against an attack on a Federation facility, but tells Blake that “of course” he’s coming along. A) Blake needs him; B) Avon relishes the challenge and C) if Blake succeeds, he’ll be needed on Earth. Avon will get the Liberator.

In the end, Avon gets his wish. After Blake’s disappearance, Avon becomes leader of the rebels. In an interview in Starlog, Darrow joked that he’d advocated changing the show’s name to Avon’s Angels.

“Avon’s Angels”: The final seven, Dayna, Tarrant, Avon, Vila and Soolin (along with the computers Orac and Slave).

“Avon’s Angels”: The final seven, Dayna, Tarrant, Avon, Vila and Soolin (along with the computers Orac and Slave).

In “Trial”, which follows Gan’s death, Avon points out that the others were almost ready to leave Blake; and that one more death will do it.

“Then you’d better be very careful,” Blake says. “It would be ironic if it were yours.”

Despite their sparring, Blake tells Avon in the second season finale, “Star One”, “I have always trusted you. From the very beginning.”

The final episode, “Blake”, must have come as a shock to viewers. It kept people talking for years.

Avon has learned that Blake is operating as a bounty hunter on a particular planet. The rebels go there and Tarrant, separated from the rest, becomes convinced that Blake has sold them out. In truth, Blake is playing a dangerous game to find people he can trust to help him fight the Federation.

Avon doesn’t give Blake a chance to explain his apparent betrayal and kills him. Moments later, a Federation officer reveals herself and the rebels are gunned down (in slow motion). Avon stands alone.

He steps over Blake’s body as Federation troopers surround him. He raises his gun and smiles.

Avon’s last(?) stand.

Avon’s last(?) stand.

As the credits roll, we hear a single shot, followed by a volley of answering fire.

Over the years, there have been theories and speculations regarding whether any of the rebels survived. Even attempts— including one by Paul Darrow— to revive the series. Even Nation (who wasn’t entirely happy about the ending and didn’t like some of the directions in which subsequent writers took the show) opined in Starlog  #106 (May 1986) that “there’s a way of reviving them, and with some literary skill, we can get them back.”

The only rebel who is unmistakably dead is Blake. In Starlog  #114 (Jan. 1987), Gareth Thomas said he had a clause written into his contract that boiled down to “Blake will be shown dead.” That’s why, unlike everyone else, Blake’s body is bloodied.

According to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian in the summer of 2012, the Syfy Channel ordered a pilot episode of a Blake’s 7  reboot. As far as I can tell, however, nothing ever came of it.

On the other hand, audio adventures, set during the events of the series (and featuring members of the cast), are available through Big Finish at http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/v/blake-s-7

According to Paul Darrow, the series lives on in spirit. In an interview someone posted on YouTube, he spoke of the movie Serenity and the TV series that inspired it, Firefly.

“I think that’s your Blake’s 7  of today,” he said.

There are superficial similarities between Blake’s 7  and Firefly/Serenity. Both crews operate outside the law and oppose a central government.

And, just as Avon wanted the Liberator, Jayne Cobb wanted Serenity for his own. However, Avon was a genius; Jayne— not so much.

Blake’s 7  is not on DVD in the U.S., but if you have a region 2 or region-free DVD player (The U.S. is region 1), you can watch the DVDs released in Britain.

Again, while it doesn’t have big budget special effects, Blake’s 7— especially the first two seasons— does offer an engaging story of a band of rebels fighting against the odds.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Returning to Oz; celebrating Jack Benny

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Return to Oz

What comes to mind when you hear the name “Dorothy”? I suspect that most people would reply, “The Wizard of Oz.” Probably more because of familiarity with the 1939 Judy Garland-led movie, which for decades was shown on TV every spring, than because of the books.

Likewise, I suspect many people are also familiar with the key points of the story, whether or not they’ve seen the film.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if few people are aware of the 1985 film Return to Oz.

Which is too bad, because it’s a good movie. I wish my female cousins had been able to see it during their formative years, because the Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) of that movie was a smart, resourceful, active participant in the action.

Unlike Garland’s Dorothy, who was, for all intents and purposes, a damsel in distress, Balk’s Dorothy often takes the initiative. Imprisoned by Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh) with Tik-Tok, the mechanical man who constitutes the entire Royal Army of Oz, Jack Pumpkinhead and Billina the chicken, it’s Dorothy who concocts a plan to escape.

Intelligent and resourceful, this incarnation of Dorothy Gale is no damsel in distress.

Intelligent and resourceful, this incarnation of Dorothy Gale is no damsel in distress.

Balk, who was 9-years-old when Return to Oz was made, was also closer in age to the Dorothy of the books than Garland (16 when she made her film).

Return to Oz, which is based on the books The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, isn’t a sequel to the 1939 film. Still, there are elements from that film, such as the ruby slippers and beings in Oz having analogues back in Kansas. It’s not a sequel because once she’s back in Oz, Dorothy finds her old house. At the end of the Garland movie Dorothy wakes up in her bed, the house still very much in Kansas.

Return to Oz opens in October 1899, six months after the tornado. Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) are concerned about Dorothy, who keeps talking about this Oz place and who hasn’t slept through the night since the tornado. Aunt Em takes her to a Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson), who claims that the application of electricity will “cure” Dorothy of these “bad waking dreams.”

Like Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, Dr. Worley doesn’t believe Dorothy’s claims about Oz, even when she shows him a key she says was sent to her on a shooting star (Aunt Em had dismissed it— with barely a glance— as having belonged to the old house).

After Aunt Em leaves Dorothy at the “hospital”, Nurse Wilson (Marsh) has her strapped to a gurney and taken into the operating theater. When a lightning strike cuts the power, Worley and Wilson leave the room and another girl (Emma Ridley) frees Dorothy from her restraints. Turns out I guessed correctly about the girl’s identity.

Despite being cooperative (if a bit curious) Dorothy is tied down.

Despite being cooperative (if a bit curious), Dorothy is tied down.

The two flee the grounds, but are caught in a flash flood. Awakening the next morning, Dorothy finds herself in a crate, in what’s little more than a pond, accompanied by Billina, a chicken from the farm. How Billina got there, given that the farm is many miles away, isn’t explained. Because Billina is now talking, Dorothy deduces that they’re in Oz.

Before long, Dorothy discovers the old house; the ruins of the Yellow Brick Road and the ruins of the Emerald City, where several creatures— including the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion— have been turned to stone. Soon after, she encounters Mombi. Learning that the Nome King (Williamson) conquered the Emerald City and took the Scarecrow captive, Dorothy and company head in that direction after they escape from Mombi. Their plan: rescue the scarecrow.

How did Oz get in such a sorry state? Dorothy herself inadvertently caused it to happen.

As to the key, it turns out the Scarecrow sent it to Dorothy, confident she’d locate Tik-Tok, who was in a room accessed by said key. Tik-Tok said he was instructed to wait there for her.

Dorothy rises to the occasion when challenged by the Nome King. She also refuses a chance to go home, because it would have left her friends in dire straits.

Dorothy confronts the Nome king.

Dorothy confronts the Nome king.

Years ago, Peter David had a lot of positive things to say about the film in his column in Comics Buyer’s Guide. One thing he pointed out was that unlike the revelation that the Wicked Witch of the West is vulnerable to water (which was never set up), the cause of the Nome King’s defeat is set up. A subtle set-up, in my opinion, but it’s there. Even so, as in the 1939 film, Dorothy and company got lucky. In neither film did our heroes know that their adversary had an Achilles’ heel, much less what it was.

Another thing David pointed out (which he admitted he hadn’t thought of until one of his daughters mentioned it) is the very good question of why, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy didn’t turn the hourglass over again to give herself more time. Had there been such an hourglass scene in Return to Oz, I’m confident the Dorothy of that film would have thought of it.

In fairness to Garland’s Dorothy, the 1939 film and the 1985 film were different types of movies made in different eras with different cultural attitudes regarding the capabilities of girls and young women.

In the end, Dorothy returns home (because she knows she’s needed on the farm, not because she’d been wishing to get home since she arrived); and although she still has no proof Oz exists, much less that she was ever there, she’s a much happier individual than the melancholy girl she was at the start of the film.

Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, the Gump and Tik-Tok.

Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, the Gump and Tik-Tok.

According to David’s column, Return to Oz was labeled as too scary for children by some critics. Don’t know if I’d agree with their argument. Yes, there are some scenes that a child might find scary; but, for a little kid, The Wizard of Oz wasn’t all songs and dances, either.

In short, this is a film worth seeing. See it if you’re an Oz fan; or if you’re a fan of Will Vinton’s Claymation™ and/or animatronics; or if you like films with smart, resourceful female protagonists.

Celebrating Jack Benny

Jack Benny

Today is February 14 and that means, of course—

It’s Jack Benny’s birthday.

I wrote in-depth about Jack Benny last year. You can read the full entry here:

https://rickkeatingsrandommusings.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/random-musings-celebrating-jack-benny/

In brief: Born Benjamin Kubelsky, Jack Benny (Feb. 14, 1894- Dec. 26, 1974) was one of the all-time funniest comedians, with successful radio (1932-1955) and TV (1950-1965) series. In both series, he often made himself the brunt of the jokes, with his cast getting laughs at his expense. Often he would interrupt a dig at himself with “Now cut that out.” or “Wait a minute! Wait a minute!! Wait a minute!!!”

Benny’s first words on radio on The Ed Sullivan show, March 19, 1932, were “ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a short pause while you say, ‘who cares?’”

While a generous man in real life, Benny’s on-air persona was that of a skinflint. I recounted various examples last year. Here’s another one: In the season-opening Sept. 11, 1949 radio episode— Benny’s first on CBS— Benny was absent for most of the show, finally saying his first lines 22 minutes into the half-hour program. His line, “this is where I get off, driver”, brought the house down.

Turns out Jack had been on a free tour bus provided by the chamber of commerce and he’d asked to get off when the bus reached the CBS studios.

Radio historian Anthony Tollin wrote in the program booklet accompanying the Legends of Radio: The Ultimate Jack Benny Collection from Radio Spirits that CBS Chairman William Paley called Benny to ask how he’d had the guts to let most of the episode go by without him. In the autobiography/biography Sunday Nights at Seven (begun by Jack and finished by his daughter, Joan, after his death; pages 239-241), Benny said he did the same thing for the debut episode of the 1951-52 TV season, and that was the reason for Paley’s call. But whenever Paley made that call, Benny’s entrance was comedy gold. And as he pointed out, he was still “there”, because other members of his cast were talking about him.

So ignore those who advocate that Feb. 14 should commemorate Val someone or other. The true significance of the day is that it’s Jack Benny’s birthday.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: A look back at Firestorm the Nuclear Man

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Firestorm #1

One of the new heroes of the 1978 “DC Explosion” (and soon to be a victim of the subsequent “DC Implosion” which saw several of that year’s new titles canceled) was Firestorm. Created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, Firestorm was unusual in that he was a fusion of teenager Ronnie Raymond and professor Martin Stein, a nuclear physicist. Firestorm only ran for five issues (I misremembered it as six in my recent blog entry about The Flash), but the character(s) lived on, appearing as a back-up feature in issues of The Flash and starting in 1982, appeared in his own magazine again, the 100 issue Fury of Firestorm (the “fury of” was dropped with issue #50).

Firestorm came into being when a radical dynamited the Hudson Nuclear Plant where Stein worked, catching both the unconscious Stein and Ronnie in the explosion. Because Ronnie was awake at the time, his personality was in charge. Stein could only offer advice and contribute his scientific knowledge.

Ronnie and Professor Stein merge into Firestorm.

Ronnie and Professor Stein merge into Firestorm.

Firestorm is born

A subsequent series ran for 35 issues, beginning in 2004, with a teenager named Jason Rusch merging with various people (whoever happened to be near at the time), including, briefly, Ronnie Raymond.

The creators of The Flash must be fans, because Firestorm is appearing in that show. As depicted in The Flash, Firestorm is again a fusion of Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) and Martin Stein (Victor Garber). Though we’ve also met Jason Rusch (Luc Roderique), depicted as a student of Stein’s.

In The Flash, Ronnie worked as a structural engineer at S.T.A.R. Labs and was believed killed in the accelerator explosion that gave Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) his abilities

As I understand it, we’ll learn more about the merging of Ronnie and Professor Stein in tonight’s episode of The Flash. Seems Stein happened to be outside the lab (for whatever reason) when the accelerator exploded.

But back to the comics version of Firestorm. How did Ronnie come to be at the Hudson Nuclear Power Plant that fateful day? He was a new transfer student trying to impress a girl named Doreen Day. He wanted to show her that he was more than just a dumb jock. So he joined an environmental group he’d seen on TV.

Unfortunately, the group was not concerned about the potential dangers of nuclear power, as they’d claimed. They just wanted to blow up the plant for the sake of blowing it up. When Ronnie tried to stop them, he was left there to die (they’d let him join to use him as a patsy).

As an interesting aside to Firestorm’s origins, a “publishorial” in Teen Titans #53 (cover dated Feb. 1978, one month before the debut of Firestorm) talked about this new character. Professor Stein’s first name was given as Charles. A typo? Or was his name changed at the last moment?

Also, in the letter column of Firestorm #2, both the letter writer and the editor refer to Firestorm’s younger persona as Robby Raymond.

As himself, Ronnie had to contend with the ordinary challenges of high school, including his relationship with Doreen, his adversary, Cliff Carmichael, his grades, being on the basketball team and, of course, juggling all that with being a superhero.

In the comics, Professor Stein not only didn’t have any control over the Firestorm persona, he also didn’t remember being Firestorm when he and Ronnie would fission into their separate selves. Those unexplained blackouts led to his becoming an alcoholic and got him into trouble, because he couldn’t explain his absences from work. In one story, published when Firestorm was appearing as a back-up feature in other books, some government official or other demanded to know where Stein went and who he met. Of course, Stein had no clue.

At some point prior to the start of Fury of Firestorm Ronnie told Professor Stein the full truth. I don’t think I have that particular story, so I don’t know all the details. Even though he still retained no conscious memory of Firestorm’s activities, he was more than willing to continue being part of Firestorm.

As Firestorm Ronnie and Professor Stein dealt with such foes as Multiplex (AKA Danton Black, a former assistant of Stein’s caught in the same explosion that created Firestorm), who can fission himself into duplicates; the Hyena (AKA Doreen Day’s older sister, Summer) and Killer Frost (AKA Crystal Frost), a former student and (in her mind) rejected lover of Martin Stein’s.

These adversaries were all introduced in the original five issue run and would made recurring appearances in Fury of Firestorm. Regarding Killer Frost, a woman named Louise Lincoln (a colleague of Crystal Frost) subsequently became the second Killer Frost.

These were the only incarnations of Killer Frost during the runs of Firestorm I’m discussing, but in 2013, in the 19th issue of Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men, a woman named Caitlin Snow assumed that identity. I’m not familiar with her storyline in the comics and never read that series. It was part of the “New 52” at DC Comics and ran for 20-issues.

Caitlin Snow, of course, is one of the main characters in The Flash. And Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) was engaged to Ronnie Raymond before the accelerator explosion. If she becomes Killer Frost at some point in the future, there would still be a direct connection between Killer Frost and one of Firestorm’s identities.

Before?

Before?

and after?

and after?

Danton Black also appeared in The Flash.

During the run of Fury of Firestorm, Ronnie graduated from high school and went on to college in Pittsburgh (Firestorm had previously been based in New York). Professor Stein also got a job in that city, which is good, because when Firestorm separates back into Ronnie and the Professor, they appear together; they’re not sent back to wherever they had been when they merged (they don’t have to be together to do that).

Professor Stein was later diagnosed with a brain tumor and wanted to make a difference in the time he had left. He and Ronnie decided that Firestorm would demand both the U.S. and the Soviet Union get rid of their nuclear weapons.

Naturally, both countries objected and the Russians forced a metahuman named Mikhail Arkadin, known as Pozhar, to battle Firestorm. Mikhail sympathized with what Firestorm is doing, however, and joined with him.

When the president ordered a bomb dropped on Firestorm and Pozhar, the resulting explosion resulted in Ronnie and Mikhail merging to form a new incarnation of Firestorm.

What about Firestorm’s mission to make the U.S. and Soviet Union give up their nukes? Well, after both the nuking and subsequent conventional attack failed to stop Firestorm, the U.S. commander on site relayed to Firestorm that if he left the missiles alone, not only would the president grant Firestorm amnesty, but pledge to begin serious negotiations with the Russians in three years towards a complete disarmament.

Firestorm agreed, but this incarnation of not only didn’t fully understand what was going on, he’s also didn’t have Ronnie personality. Or Mikhail’s, for that matter. The Firestorm persona was someone else entirely. Neither Ronnie nor Mikhail were charge of his actions. Instead, both were in the “advisory” position that Professor Stein had been in.

The offer to end the standoff is interesting, both in real world terms and within the fictional DC Universe. By the late 1980s, superhero comics, by and large, tried to have at least one metaphorical foot in the real world. Thus, a superhero couldn’t just destroy all the nukes the U.S. and Soviets had, because getting rid of them in reality wouldn’t be that simple.

In real world terms, the president (Reagan in 1987, when this storyline was published) would be out of office by 1990. Of course a president can pledge this, that or the other will happen after he leaves office. If it doesn’t, his successor has to deal with it.

By this time, John Ostrander had taken over the writing of Firestorm. That Ronnie Raymond, a character created in 1978, happened to have the same first name as the president in 1987 was mere coincidence. I doubt it was coincidence that Ostrander gave the Russian half of Firestorm’s new matrix the first name of Mikhail. As in Gorbachev. I met Ostrander at the Motor City Comic Con once and probably asked him at the time. If I did, I don’t recall what he said.

At first, neither Ronnie nor Mikhail had any control over when or where Firestorm would manifest. Instead it happened spontaneously. Later, through the auspices of Mikhail’s telepathic niece, they were able to communicate with each other telepathically and either could form Firestorm if the other consented (i.e. if it were safe to do so).

Eventually, Ronnie and Mikhail learned that Professor Stein was still alive, cured of his tumor and in an amnesiac state. It was his amnesiac mind that acted as the template for the Firestorm persona.

Another difference in this incarnation is that when Firestorm separated into Ronnie and Mikhail, they returned to wherever they’d been, rather than appear together as Ronnie and Stein had done. Which made things less awkward for Mikhail, but more awkward for Ronnie when they once fission and remain together, leaving Ronnie trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

But more changes were coming Firestorm’s way. In Firestorm #84, Ronnie told the story of Firestorm’s origin to a Russian named Gregori Eilovotich Rasputin. Rasputin responded with laughter, saying that unless there were more going on than Ronnie knew at the time, the explosion would have killed both Ronnie and Professor Stein.

That’s the cliffhanger end of the issue and in the next issue, Ronnie relived the moment of Firestorm’s “birth” second by second. In doing so, he realized that something or someone else was there. Rasputin speculated that the entity was the fire elemental— who’d appeared in past ages as both Prometheus and Surtur (among others) and whose intended target for merging had been Martin Stein.

“You are a child of your media, of the American idolatry of the metahuman,” Rasputin told Ronnie. “You made what you became into a superhero because that was the only way you could explain these ‘powers’ you were given.”

During this time, The Soviets had created a clone of Firestorm called Svarozhich, who had all the destructiveness of Surtur and none of the helpfulness of Prometheus. Rasputin told Ronnie and Mikhail that they could only defeat him by surrendering to the fire elemental. They agreed.

Svarozhich agreed as well, since he and Firestorm were the same being, after all.

That led to the creation of yet another incarnation of Firestorm, one who was a fire elemental. This incarnation would run through the remainder of the series. Ronnie and Mikhail were submerged within him and Stein was not part of the matrix.

Firestorm as a fire elemental.

Firestorm as a fire elemental.

The house ads about Firestorm at the time read “only the name is the same” and “don’t assume he’s mankind’s friend.”

In Firestorm #100, Firestorm makes one final change. He willingly releases Ronnie and Mikhail from the matrix and in an explosion outside the Earth’s atmosphere, the fire elemental merges with Martin Stein. This incarnation fixed the sun, but found himself in another universe.

In the letter column of that final issue, Ostrander wrote that he reluctantly agreed with the feeling that it was better to cancel the book at that point, while the character had a strong following, than to let the audience dribble away.

Was canceling the book at that time the right decision? Maybe. Maybe not. For myself, I could never quite get into the later versions of the character. I only read the Jason Rusch series for 16 issues and had never even heard of the “New 52” series before beginning work on this blog entry. It’s good to know that Firestorm will be a part of The Flash, though. I’m looking forward to seeing in what ways he’ll be the same as the original incarnation and in what ways he’ll be different.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Assessing Arrow’s third season to date

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Arrow season 3 promo poster
Some SPOILERS follow:

Earlier this season, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) was murdered by a then-unknown assailant and the question of who killed her has been a running subplot this fall. We now know (more on that in a bit), but it’s not surprising that Sara died.

Sara Lance and Oliver Queen as the Canary and the Arrow

Sara Lance and Oliver Queen as the Canary and the Arrow

Nothing against the character, but in the comics (Dinah) Laurel Lance is the Black Canary. Laurel (Katie Cassidy) can’t well be Black Canarying if her sister’s already got the job. So either the Arrow producers deviate from established history by having Sara be Black Canary permanently, or Sara either retires or dies so Laurel can step into the role.

Laurel being motivated by revenge has more of an impact than if Sara simply retired.

“My name is Inigo Mont— I mean Laurel Lance. You killed my sister. Prepare to die.”

Laurel Lance as the Black Canary

Laurel Lance as the Black Canary

But here’s where any plans of revenge get tricky. As we recently learned, Thea Queen (Willa Holland) killed Sara.

A brainwashed Thea, it turns out. Brainwashed by her biological father, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), who recorded the killing.

Why did he do this? To force Oliver to challenge Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) to single combat (and, indirectly, to protect Malcolm from the League of Assassins, who have a beef with him). If Oliver were to fail to challenge Ra’s and/or to accuse Malcolm, Malcolm would release the video of Thea killing Sara and the League would turn its attention to her for retribution. Maybe Oliver could convince them his sister was brainwashed, maybe not.

Of course Malcolm’s plans have been scuttled, given that Oliver was killed fighting Ra’s. He took the blame for Sara’s death, rather than turning over Thea (which he’d never do) or Malcolm, which would amount to the same thing.

Thea, for her part, remembers nothing of her actions; She’s like Raymond Shaw from The Manchurian Candidate in that respect. She doesn’t even recall that she was in the country the day of Sara’s death.

As for Laurel, who has been training with boxer Ted “Wildcat” Grant (J. R. Ramirez), it’s unlikely that she’d hunt Thea down, even if she saw the video. She’d rightly conclude that— the evidence aside— Thea is an improbable murder suspect. She’d also find it hard to believe that Oliver could be responsible. Will she turn her attention to Malcolm Merlyn, whether or not the others tell her of his involvement, just on a matter of principle? Or will she go after the League of Assassins, in the belief that they manipulated Thea in some way?

As for Oliver, to quote Dr. McCoy, he’d dead, Jim. Guess they’ll have to re-name the show.

Ra's al Ghul stabs Oliver Queen.

Ra’s al Ghul stabs Oliver Queen.

Or maybe not. Either it will turn out that Oliver was critically injured, but not killed, in the stabbing by Ra’s and subsequent push over a cliff in last month’s mid season finale “The Climb”; or he will be revived in one of the staples of the comics: the Lazarus Pit.

The existence of the Lazarus Pit has already been implied by Ra’s statement to Oliver that the last time someone challenged him to single combat was 67 years earlier. Ra’s appears to be in his 40s.

Arrow has been more or less grounded in reality, so presumably the Lazarus Pit, if introduced, will be explained by scientific rather than supernatural means.

In the comics, the Lazarus Pit not only rejuvenates Ra’s al Ghul from time to time, it also causes periods of insanity. If they keep that aspect of it for Arrow, it’ll be interesting to see how a revived Oliver is affected. If he appears deranged upon his return to Starling City, Laurel might well believe he did kill Sara.

The primary exception to Arrow being set more or less in the real world is that the metahumans of The Flash exist in the same fictional universe, but their existence is explained by scientific means: the result of a particle accelerator explosion.

Arrow has a number of direct and indirect connections to Batman, which is ironic given that the character of Green Arrow was originally considered a second-rate Batman. He even had an Arrowcar and an Arrowcave. But in the early 1970s, he was teamed with Green Lantern for a series of stories that addressed various social concerns (the “relevancy period.”). He also lost his fortune (just as Oliver has in Arrow) and became fiercely political, fighting on behalf of the common man.

In another irony, characters in the show refer to Oliver’s base below the Verdant night club as “The Arrowcave.”

“When did we start charging admission to the Arrowcave?” Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) asks, to Oliver’s annoyance, in the two part crossover with The Flash.

Batman-related references include the characters of Ra’s al Ghul, Floyd Lawton AKA Deadshot (Michael Rowe) and Helena Bertinelli AKA the Huntress (Jessica De Gouw).

This season, in the flashbacks to Oliver’s time in Hong Kong, we learn that he met Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima), known in the comics as Katana, one of the founding members of The Outsiders in Batman and the Outsiders. Tatsu’s husband, Maseo (Karl Yune) was Oliver’s “handler” in Hong Kong. In the present day, he’s become a member of the League of Assassins.

Of course Arrow is peppered with other DC Comics characters and references, many depicted in different ways than in their original comics incarnations. As I said last year, in the comics Slade Wilson was an American soldier who later became the mercenary and assassin known as the Terminator when he gained enhanced reflexes and increased brain power. In Arrow, Wilson (Manu Bennett) was an Australian secret agent who helped Oliver survive on the island of Lian Yu.

Felicity Smoak

Felicity Smoak

In Arrow, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) is a young woman in her 20s, a member of Oliver’s team and an employee of Queen Consolidated (and later Palmer Technologies). But in the comics, she was introduced in Fury of Firestorm #23 as a business owner in her 30s or 40s who had a run-in with Firestorm. She also later, ironically, became the stepmother of Ronnie Raymond, the primary identity of Firestorm’s composite persona.

Firestorm and Felicity Smoak

Another DC Comics character to appear in Arrow is Ray Palmer AKA the Atom. Palmer (Brandon Routh) has bought out Queen Consolidated. He also has plans to protect the city, using a suit he called A.T.O.M. (Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism). He told his plan to Felicity, who (unknown to Ray, of course) was already a part of Oliver’s team.

“Why does this keep happening to me?” she muttered.

It’s possible that just as Grant Gustin’s appearance on Arrow last season was something of a backdoor pilot for The Flash, the same might hold true about a spin off series focusing on The Atom. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying Brandon Routh’s performance in Arrow.

In the comics, Green Arrow’s sidekick, Roy Harper, went by the name Speedy (and later became Arsenal). In Arrow, Thea’s nickname is Speedy and Oliver once suggested “Arsenal” as Roy’s sobriquet.

As to Thea, in the course of time, she’ll probably learn the truth about Malcolm Merlyn (and maybe about her own actions). When and if that happens, I suspect she’ll use her skills and training on behalf of the people of Starling, like Oliver and company. It’s not likely she’d use her well-known nickname of Speedy. Maybe in Arrow, Thea will use the name Arrowette, another of the archery-themed heroes in the comics.

Among the major unanswered questions is why is Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) still alive? As we learned from last season’s finale, she somehow learned Oliver Queen was alive and on the island of Lian Yu during the five years he was presumed lost at sea prior to the start of the series. Rather than return him home, she brought him to Hong Kong and forced forcing him to work for her. Among other things, it turns out that Waller’s, um, encouragement, led to Oliver becoming adept at torture.

But when Oliver is rescued in the first episode of the series, it’s from Lian Yu, which means that Waller returned him to the island at some point during that five year period. It’s improbable that Oliver returned to the island of his own free will; Waller must have dumped him there when she was done with him. So, given that Oliver has killed in the past— and given that Waller was willing to sacrifice the people of Starling city last year to stop Slade Wilson’s mirakuru-affected army, why is she still breathing? Hopefully, we’ll get a credible explanation for her continued existence.

One possible answer that might apply now, given that the Arrow is a well-established figure in Starling City, is that Waller has made it clear to Oliver (off screen) that his secret becomes public if anything happens to her. Fair enough, but Oliver could have gone after her when he first started his campaign, before most people knew a vigilante had started operating in the city.

Arrow remains an excellent series. It returns tonight at 8 p.m. on the CW with new episodes.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Thoughts on The Flash, thus far

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The Flash title card
Some SPOILERS follow:

This fall, The Flash, a spin-off of Arrow, debuted on the CW network. Nine months after he was struck by lightning caused by a particle accelerator experiment gone awry (as shown in Arrow last season), police scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) awakens from a coma to discover that he’s gained the ability to move at super speed.

The accelerator had been a S.T.A.R. (Scientific and Technological Advanced Research) Labs experiment and Barry wakes up to find himself at S.T.A.R., having been transferred there for observation during his convalescence. Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the head of S.T.A.R., bio-engineer Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and mechanical engineer Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) help Barry learn the full extent of his powers.

Barry Allen is struck by lightning.

Barry Allen is struck by lightning.

We also learn (though Barry doesn’t) that Dr. Wells hasn’t merely been assuaging his guilt over Barry having been injured because of Wells’ defective accelerator. He’s got plans for Barry and has killed to keep Barry’s abilities a secret.

Neither Caitlin nor Cisco are aware that there’s more to Wells than it seems.

The series finds Barry trying to step back into his life as a Central City police scientist while dealing with his new-found powers. What’s more, he continues his quest to find the real killer of his mother (Michelle Harrison) when he was a child. At the time, Barry reported seeing streaks of yellow and red lightning in his living room and finding himself blocks away seconds later. His father, Henry (John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen in the 1990 Flash TV series), went to prison for her murder.

Barry was raised by police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), who learned early on about Barry’s new-found abilities. They’re in agreement about keeping Barry’s secret from Joe’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), with whom Barry has been in love since before he’d come to live with the West family.

(In the comics, Barry and Iris married. Also, Iris’ nephew, Wally,  gained super speed powers and became Kid Flash, one of the founding members of the Teen Titans).

The Flash and Joe West

The Flash and Joe West

Joe has also come to believe that Henry Allen is innocent, especially after having encountered the Reverse Flash. More on him, later.

Iris, for her part, is in a relationship with Joe’s partner, detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). She also writes a blog about the Flash, whom most people initially believed was a myth. Neither Joe nor Barry are happy about either development.

Barry has recently admitted his love for Iris, but given that she doesn’t have romantic feelings for him, it could be several seasons— if ever— before they get together.

For the most part, Barry and Eddie get along, but because the Flash beat up Eddie while not in control of himself (motivated by Barry’s jealousy, unknown to Eddie), Eddie sees the Flash as a menace, not a hero.

In the comics, the Flash has a rogues gallery of adversaries. Barry has already encountered some of them in the nine episodes that have aired since the show’s debut in October (the show returns from its mid-season break tonight). So far, he’s tangled with Clyde Mardon AKA the Weather Wizard (Chad Rook); Leonard Snart, AKA Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller, who’ll return tonight with fellow rogue Mick Rory AKA Heatwave (Dominic Purcell)); Roy G. Bivolo AKA Prism or, as he was called in the comics, the Rainbow Raider (Paul Anthony); and the Reverse Flash AKA Professor Zoom.

However, Barry has also crossed paths with Firestorm adversaries Multiplex (Michael Smith) and Plastique (Kelly Frye). What’s more, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell), one of Firestorm’s identities, was a structural engineer at S.T.A.R., believed killed when the accelerator exploded. He was also Caitlin’s fiancé. We (and she) recently learned he’s still alive.

Firestorm

Firestorm

It’s ironic that Firestorm appears in The Flash, given that between the cancellation of Firestorm after six issues in 1978 (the victim of the “DC Implosion”) and the 1982 debut of The Fury of Firestorm (which ran for 100 issues), the character appeared in back-up stories in issues of The Flash.

In the comics, Firestorm was a composite hero, a merging of teenager Ronnie Raymond and professor Martin Stein. Ronnie’s personality was in charge, with Professor Stein lending his advice and providing Firestorm’s scientific knowledge, which Ronnie— far from a model student— wouldn’t have possessed.

Since his apparent death, earlier in the season, we’ve seen Ronnie Raymond in the mid season finale, “The Man in the Yellow Suit.” Other than his hair being longer (and flames coming from his head and hands), he looks the same. I thought maybe in The Flash Ronnie would be Firestorm by himself. Perhaps not. Victor Garber will be playing Professor Stein in at least one episode this spring. But will he turn out to be part of Firestorm or someone with no direct connection?

If he is a part of Firestorm, how will that be? Ronnie was alone when he was affected by the particle accelerator and no one at S.T.A.R. Labs has even mentioned Professor Stein, so it’s not like he might have been an employee who was there that, day, unknown to anyone.

I’ve always liked Firestorm. Maybe I’ll do an entry about him (that is, them) one day.

Other DC characters have appeared, including, of course Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and company from Arrow.

The Flash and the Arrow

The Flash and the Arrow

Now, let’s talk about the Reverse Flash. In the comics, he’s Eobard Thawne. Could the similarly named Detective Eddie Thawne be him? Not the one we saw in  “The Man in the Yellow Suit”, because Eddie was in the same room with him, but the killer of Nora Allen? Possibly, but I think Eddie having the same name is a red herring. In the comics, Eobard Thawne is from the 25th century; Eddie shows no indication that he’s from the future. By that I mean he doesn’t mess up on day-to-day details that don’t make it into history books and which would probably trip up a time traveler if they ever show up.

(By the way, for all future time travelers, I’m holding a party last Tuesday. Same place as the one in which the Duke of Wellington and Messalina showed off their disco moves in 1066.)

Anyway, Eddie is most likely a present-day denizen of Central City, just like everyone else (with one possible exception). If he’s the Reverse Flash who killed Nora Allen, he’ll gain super speed at some point in the future and travel back in time. But why would he take such horrific action? If Iris were to be killed at some future point, would Eddie be so driven by revenge that he’d go back in time and kill Barry’s mother? That seems very improbable. Eddie doesn’t come across as the kind who’d take such an elaborate form of revenge, if he were the vengeful type at all. If he were and he were to have a quarrel with Barry, he’d simply go after someone close to him in the here and now.

Joe, Dr. Wells and Eddie Thawne confront the Reverse Flash

Joe, Dr. Wells and Eddie Thawne confront the Reverse Flash

Could Dr. Wells be the Reverse Flash who’d killed Nora Allen years ago? We’ve known since the pilot episode that he doesn’t need his wheelchair; and we learned at the end of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” that he owns a “Revere Flash” suit.

Like Eddie, Dr. Wells, couldn’t the be the man who confronted the police at Mercury Labs, since that man beat Wells up. Unless, of course, that device we saw Wells attach to the chest of the suit allowed him to remotely control the suit (filled by some sort of mechanism). Though how he’d make it move at super speed would be a mystery.

One of the first Flash comics I ever read featured a scene where Barry Allen and the Flash appeared in the same room together. He did it by moving so fast back and forth across the room (and changing clothes in the process) that the after images he left appeared solid, allowing him to carry on a conversation with himself. Could either Eddie or Dr. Wells have done that? I doubt it. There’s a certain degree of “willing suspension of disbelief” in The Flash (people moving at super speed being the big one), but it’s hard to ignore the fact that someone moving so fast that he appears to be two people is going to generate a noticeable breeze.

So, what is Dr. Wells’ connection with the Reverse Flash? We know from the pilot when he studied a 2024 newspaper headline about the Flash disappearing in the Crisis (a reference to DC Comics’ 1985 maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths), that he either has knowledge of future events or comes from the future (as does Professor Zoom in the comics). We also know he’s lied to everyone about being a paraplegic and that he owns a Flash ring, so it’s possible he could secretly have super speed himself. Maybe he’s the man in yellow who challenged Barry in “The Man in the Yellow Suit”, but it’s highly improbable that he’s the same man who killed Barry’s mother 14 years ago.

Yes, Dr. Wells has killed, but always to protect Barry. He’s made it clear that he wants— maybe even needs— the Flash to be around in the future and will take drastic steps to see that Barry becomes the hero the world needs. Going back in time and killing Barry’s mother wouldn’t accomplish that. It also seems just as improbable as Eddie killing Nora Allen.

On the other hand, if someone were to go back and try to prevent her death from happening (Remember, Barry saw both red and yellow streaks in the Allen living room that night), Dr. Wells might well be motivated to take steps to ensure that history plays out “as it should have.” After all, in “The Man in the Yellow Suit”, Henry Allen acknowledged that Barry’s desire to prove him innocent is what led him to pursue science and join the police department. If Barry’s mother had lived, Barry might have followed a different career path and not been in his police lab when the accelerator exploded. So maybe Dr. Wells killed Nora Allen because history said Nora Allen was killed that night and that Barry’ quest for answers ultimately led to his becoming the Flash.

Whatever Dr. Wells’ motivations and whatever really happened that night, The Flash is an enjoyable series. Well worth checking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random musings: 85 years of the 25th Century

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Buck Rogers first comic strip

Anthony Rogers first appeared in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, in Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” He would return in “The Warlords of Han” in March 1929, but not before John Flint Dille, president of the National Newspaper Syndicate of America, had convinced Nowlan to adapt his story for a newspaper strip. That strip first appeared on Jan. 7, 1929— initially written by Nowlan and illustrated by Dick Calkin— and ran until the late 1960s. And it made Anthony a household name.

What? You’ve never heard of Anthony Rogers? Maybe you know him better by the name given him for the strip:

Buck Rogers.

Armageddon 2419 A.D

Although he first appeared in 1928, it wasn’t until his arrival in newspapers in 1929— 85 years ago— that Buck Rogers became a household name. And if you’ll pardon the obvious pun, the 20-year-old (27 in the novella) former Army Air Corps officer caught in a mine cave-in and preserved in suspended animation by the release of radioactive gases took off like a rocket. For good and/or ill, science fiction became labeled as “that Buck Rogers stuff.” Though some of the derisive comments ended once actual spaceflight began.

Buck wasn’t the first character to reach the future via suspended animation, but he was the most famous. True, many remember Rip Van Winkle, but he only slept for 20 years (and aged during that time); but who in the general public today remembers Julian West from Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) or Graham from Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes (1899)?

Initially called Buck Rogers 2429 A.D., the strip was updated each year to remain 500 years ahead, until it finally stabilized as Buck Rogers in the 25th century.

According to the revised edition of The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, certain credos were established at the strip’s inception: It was to be based on the scientifically possible and plausible; it was to portray science fiction & education in a positive manner; it was to carry no heavy handed social message. The strip was to be non political and non discriminatory; the importance of the female sex was to be underscored. “Women were to play prominent roles in the strip, usually from a position of authority”; and the strip was to be basically adventure and entertainment.

Collected Buck Rogers

By 2014 standards, the strip probably fell short in terms of racial and/or sexual equality, but the fact that such concepts were even entertained in 1929 are worth noting.

In 1932, Buck got his own radio show. It would air until 1936 on CBS; then in 1939, 1940 and 1946-47 on Mutual.

Buck’s popularity was such that according to the “Talk of the Town” in the Dec. 22, 1934 New Yorker, 125,000 maps of the planets had been mailed the previous year to radio listeners who’d requested one.

1934 also saw the debut of Buck’s primary rival, Flash Gordon, who first appeared Jan. 7 in a newspaper strip by Alex Raymond. Gold medal winning Olympic swimmer Larry “Buster” Crabbe, who had portrayed Tarzan in a 1933 serial, would play both Flash (in 1936) and Buck (in 1939).

The 1939 Buck Rogers serial.

The 1939 Buck Rogers serial.

Crabbe would also appear in an episode of the 1979-1981 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series as a character called Brigadier Gordon.

Buster Crabbe and Gil Gerard on the set of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Buster Crabbe and Gil Gerard on the set of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Buck first came to TV in a 30 minute series airing from 1950 to 1951.

Two years later, Daffy Duck starred in the Chuck Jones-directed parody, Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century.

I don’t remember when I first heard of Buck Rogers, but I first saw him in the spring of 1979, in the movie Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In it, Buck (now an astronaut) was frozen in a freak accident in 1987, to awaken in 2491.

The movie, slightly re-edited, became the two part opening episodes of the NBC TV series that fall. By this time, he had become “William Anthony Rogers.” How he came by the nickname “Buck” was never explained.

Buck Rogers DVD

Long before anyone at NBC had thought of the phrase “Must See TV”, especially with respect to Thursday nights, Buck Rogers, which aired on Thursdays, was my “must see” TV. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it seemed to be when I was a kid, but I enjoyed revisiting the series on DVD a few years ago.

One thing that annoys me about Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is that Buck, who was supposed to be from the then-future year of 1987, dressed in 1979 fashions when he was off duty and trying to feel at home. Didn’t anyone associated with that show bother to extrapolate what fashions in 1987 might be like and have Buck dress like that? It showed a complete lack of imagination. Buck might as well have left Earth in 1979.

But anyway…

In the late 1980s, TSR released Buck Rogers role-playing games, novels, and graphic novels. And in 1995, Martin Caidin, author of Cyborg—the basis for The Six Million Dollar Man— wrote Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future.

And in 2008, Hermes Press began publishing Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: the Complete Newspaper Dailies. The publisher has also released a collection of Sunday strips.

Buck Rogers newspaper strip

No doubt Buck Rogers will return to the TV or movie screen one day. But will he remain in the 25th century or move into the 26th, so he’ll continue to be 500 years ahead of us?

It wouldn’t surprise me if he’ll be remembered in the actual 25th century.

Happy 85th, Buck.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Dickens and the Doctor

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Annotated Christmas Carol

On Dec. 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The story has seen many adaptations, but a recent one of note is the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.”

The story, written by series producer Steven Moffat, finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) trying to save hundreds of people, including his newly-wed companions Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), who are on board a space liner in distress. The liner is caught in the cloud layer of a particular planet and unable to safely land because of those clouds.

An embittered old man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) controls the cloud layer, but refuses to save the ship. His attitude is that “everyone has to die sometime.”

The Doctor is inspired to take a page from Dickens when he’s talking with Amy over a communicator and a carol is playing over a loudspeaker near where he’s standing. Amy asks what the noise is and he shouts, “a Christmas carol!”

Christmas Carol Doctor Who

The Doctor returns to Sardick, who’d been watching a recording he’d made as a boy, and tells the old man he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Doctor then heads off into the past in the TARDIS. Even as Sardick watches the recording, the recorded events change. He sees his younger self greeted by the Doctor; and the Doctor, speaking into the recording device from decades ago, tells the older Sardick that his memories are going to change, but not to worry.

On this world, fish fly through the air (the nature of the cloud cover permits this) and the Doctor and the young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) encounter wonders and dangers. They also meet Abigail (opera singer Katherine Jenkins), whose singing doth soothe the savage shark; and as part of his plan to make Kazran Sardick a better man, the Doctor takes Kazran (played by Danny Horn as a young adult) and Abigail to various points in time and space every Christmas for several consecutive years.

In the present, we see subtle examples that the Doctor has changed the past. A painting of Sardick’s domineering father (also Gambon) is gone, replaced by one of Abigail. And where there once was no Christmas tree, now there is one.

Yet, Kazran Sardick hasn’t changed enough to disperse the cloud cover and save all those innocent people. You see, there’s something about Abigail the Doctor doesn’t know. Something that could still lead Sardick to becoming a bitter old man.

Amy appears to Sardick in holographic form (and later reverses the settings, so he’s the holographic projection on board the ship). She tells him she’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remains unmoved, even when he hears passengers singing hymns. Literally for their lives.

The Doctor’s last chance for success lies in the Ghost Yet to Come. Who is that? I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Watch the DVD and find out. I will say it’s not who Kazran Sardick would have imagined.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.