Doctor Who: Colditz (2001)

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Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), David Tennant (Feldwebel Kurtz), Toby Longworth (Hauptmann Julius Schäfer), Nicholas Young (Flying Officer Bill Gower), Peter Rae (Timothy Wilkins), Tracey Childs (Klein).

Colditz takes place during World War II, and as one can probably easily piece together from the title, it has to do with the infamous prison camp Colditz Castle. While Americans are not as familiar with this legendary facility, The UK has had decades of documentaries, Television shows, and even board games based on the many escape attempts of it’s prisoners. The camp was basically set up to house officers and other high ranking people who tried to escape from other camps, so it was almost seen as the Alcatraz of it’s time. Over here, we have tons of versions of the Steve McQueen movie The Great Escape which is based on an escape from a polish POW camp, so you get the idea.

The bad guys in this are Nazis, and if there was any “Tardis team” that has a good chance of being able to deal with Nazis, it’s definitely Ace and the seventh Doctor. We have seen their influence in Curse of Fenric, The Silver Nemesis, and one could argue that The villains of The Fearmonger were essentially some type of right-wing Neo-Nazi types. Because of this, I actually chuckled when Ace mentioned “not Nazis again, I hate Nazis!”. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction having Nazi bad-guys because it usually ends up being the lazy Star Trek “Space Nazis!” trope, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. These are regular Nazis in their correct time line.

I’m a big fan of historical episodes that do not involve some sort contrived alien involvement, and this one is almost entirely of that sort. In fact, The Doctor himself is the only real alien involvement we see here which is refreshing. The plot of this episode centers around The Nazis confiscating a CD Walkman from Ace and creating a paradox in which they reverse engineer it and win World War II. This plot is more-or-less in the background, but it’s the way they a new anti-hero character named Klein is introduced. You see, Klein’s from this alternate time line in which the Nazi powers have taken over the rest of the world. As far as she’s concerned, her world is the better one; as a child of German parents growing up in England, she welcomed the Nazi victory. I know from looking at Wikis that Klein’s story is fleshed out more, and can’t wait to fill the gaps in.

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Perhaps the most notable thing about this story is that the main villain of the story, Kurtz, is played by none other than a young David Tennant in his first Doctor Who related piece of entertainment. Kurtz is an awful piece of work, the sort of character that one really hopes will come to an early death. He plots behind the backs of his superiors, tries to hold information for his own gains, and even tries to take advantage of inmates in unspeakable ways. Kurtz is definitely a Hollywood Nazi archetype, as is another character in Schafer – the sympathetic Nazi. While these character tropes aren’t bad they reek of being historically inaccurate to some degree.

My only downside to this audio seemed to be the sound mixing, which shocked me because Gary Russell directed episodes are usually very well done. There were many scenes within the interior of Colditz Castle that had weird foley work such as footsteps that sounded as if everyone was wearing concrete shoes on metal floors. I have a digital file for this audio, so perhaps I got a bad download? I’m not sure, but it sounded off in places. Perhaps somebody with the CD could chime in on the comments page. This didn’t take me out the play by any means, but there were times where it got distracting or drowned out a bit of dialog.

All-in-all this was a great story, and considering people think that I’m too harsh on 80’s Doctor Who, this is the second McCoy/Aldred story in a row that I’ve really enjoyed. I do wish that the audio mix would have been a bit better, but it’s still a hearty recommendation to every Doctor Who fan. Upon listening to this, I also have a strange feeling that I should watch Chicken Run for some reason.

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Timeslip: The Time of the Ice Box (1970)

“What is a Time Bubble? You can’t see it, of course, but it might help you visualize it to think of a balloon… Supposing some little patch of information – some little patch of history – gets slowed down, and instead of flashing backwards and forwards it floats, gently, as if in a bubble… Supposing you could get into that bubble – that bubble of history – and travel with it. Then you could move forwards and backwards in time at will…”

— One of the many introductions before the episodes

Note: Man, it sure has been a while since I talked about Timeslip! In fact I think I did the review for The Wrong end of Time way back in 2011! This was of course when I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this blog and the quality was pretty poor to be honest. I think I “summed” up the first six episodes of the show in four paragraphs without really saying anything! The original method to my madness involved being as vague as possible so as to not reveal spoilers, and to give things ratings from one to five. The problem with this was that my reviews were not that engaging on an entertainment basis and multiple reviews from the same show started to have similar content and ratings. Also, let’s face it, if somebody is reading a Doctor Who review the day after it airs, they are most likely fans of the show and have already watched it. Back on topic, now! Since I didn’t write a whole lot then, I have expanded this review/synopsis to cover a brief bit of the first Timeslip serial as well just to cover the bases, but will concentrate on the second serial.

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As I noted in my earlier review, I had never heard of Timeslip prior to a chance encounter I had with it on Netflix. I used to rent DVDs on there as this was back in the “glory days” before they attempted to mess up their own company. You guys remember that mess? Netflix’s stock crashed because the CEO decided the best course of action was splitting it in two (thankfully shareholders stopped that one!) and doubling the prices. And since I’m off topic, it’s time to reign it back in. I recall scanning through one of their immensely over-specialized genre sections and found Timeslip amongst other cult UK television that I was unfamiliar with. I randomly rented the first serial and was intrigued by the hard science approach to a children’s science fiction show. Most shows like this are basically adventure shows with a dash of science fiction pinched in, but Timeslip is the exact opposite.

The previous serial, The Wrong end of Time, told the story of two kids – a boy named Simon Randall and a girl named Liz Skinner.  Simon is traveling with Liz’s parents to keep his mind of off his mother’s recent death. Simon and Liz end up wandering too close to an old decommissioned war-time naval base and get sucked into some sort of time rift. Without warning, they are knee deep in Nazis that want a prototype laser weapon that is housed within the base. It seems that this base was briefly commandeered by Nazi soldiers in 1943. The kids meet up with a younger version of Liz’s father (who worked at the base in 1943) and helped him subvert what could have been a turning point in the war for the wrong side. They beat the Nazis with help from Liz’s psychic mom in the present time and try to go home by going back into the portal. Problem is, instead of returning to St Oswald in their time of 1970, they find themselves in an icy wilderness.

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This Icy wasteland is none other than Antarctica in the way off future time of 1990 (LOL). After succumbing to the cold, our young time travelers are rescued by employees of the International Institute for Biological Research, dubbed the “Ice Box”. The head honcho of “The Ice Box” is a man named Morgan C. Devereaux, you can immediately tell that something is not quite right with him as he trusts the computer systems far too much despite numerous errors, and generally acts erratic. He oversees tests on a longevity drug called HA57, something that purports to be a cure for aging and possibly death. The series continues its use of the idea that the kids see past and future versions of people they know in the present in these episodes as well. If you recall, the kids worked alongside a younger version of Liz’s father during World War II, and this time we see them working with a 1990 version of Liz’s mother and even Liz herself! Beth (Liz in the future) has somehow become a heartless, nearly emotionless husk of her former self much to Liz’s horror. From here on, the serial seems to be another look at how people misuse technology, this time dealing with the way that folks trust machines assuming them to be infallible.

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My only real quibble (but a big one) with this particular group of episodes is that Liz and Simon have the ability to jump into the future or the present at will using the portal; in fact they do this almost immediately when Liz throws a hysterical fit realizing her mother is there. The first serial saw the kids trapped at Nazi gunpoint, and unable to escape, thus putting them in peril; here any sense of danger is squashed. To me this would be like the show Quantum Leap allowing Sam the ability to return home after each mission, it would kill any drama and make the show bland – and that’s what we got here. This is compounded with the way Charles Traynor becomes some sort of spymaster, talking the kids into leaping back into the portal to find out why Devereaux is there. He wants to know because Traynor knew Devereaux, and he supposedly died in 1969! For how traumatic the time traveling seemed, the kids seem far too excited to leap back into the dangerous situation in Antarctica. I preferred how Traynor and Liz’s parents could oversee the whole thing via telepathic link (as silly as that sounds) than this whole hub world motif.

While the first serial looked pretty decent with the historical World War II setting, and the ability to use existing sets and such, The Time of the Ice Box falls into the same trap a lot of 1970’s science fiction does – it looks cheap and dated by today’s standards. When we first see someone scoop Liz up to take her to safety, the man in question is donning a costume that doesn’t really suggest “really warm coat for Antarctica” it suggests “Ziggy Stardust in a motorcycle helmet”. I try not to pick on stuff like this, but had they just jumped the time frame up to a more distant time, this episode could have been a bit less silly. Interior shots are actually pretty nice, but exterior shots of Antarctica are obviously on a set full of cheesy fake ice blocks and wobbly set pieces that make Doctor Who blush. Thankfully, most of this serial is in black and white due to the color versions being lost like many TV programs of the time. I feel that this sort of ”masks” the garishness of the future clothes to the point where they aren’t so bad. One episode, in fact the only one left in the entire show, is in color and it sadly makes everything wrong with the effects stand out more.

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The cast is fairly decent considering that most of the people involved are relatively unknown. Simon is played by Spencer Banks and Liz is portrayed by Cheryl Burfield, neither of which did a whole lot outside of the 1970’s sadly. One of the more prominent actors involved is John Barron (Morgan C. Devereaux), who is most famous for TheFall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, where he played the titular character’s overbearing boss C.J. One of the better casting choices was Mary Preston as “Beth”. Even though the actress that played Liz was over eighteen at the time of filming (the character is fifteen though), one could conceivably see “Beth” being the same person as Liz twenty years later. She really nailed all the mannerisms and such, just with a darker nature.

I enjoyed Timeslip: The Time of the Ice Box, but found it less compelling than the first part. There were some plot issues, and it definitely felt padded out just a tad, but one has to concede that this was a kid’s show.  I try not to be too hard on stuff like that if it wasn’t meant for an adult market. I used to work for a gaming website a few years back and was always confused when people reviewed children’s games as if they were designed to compete with the latest Call of Duty game! Despite the garishness, it was nice to see one color episode in the bunch; and while I joked earlier that I was happy these were not in color, it’s actually a shame that they are lost. I wonder where the portal will take Liz and Simon next time? Let’s hope I write about it sooner than two years from now!

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If you would like to purchase Timeslip, check this out:

Timeslip: The Complete Series

Space Nazis – The Trope That Needs to Die

A few days ago I decided to watch a purposely bad B-Grade Nazi exploitation film called Iron Sky. In the movie, modern astronauts go to the moon to mine hydrogen 3, only to find a fully built factory of the same purpose already there. The astronauts soon discover that they weren’t supposed to find this facility, and are taken down by a group of jack-booted and gas mask wearing S.S. troops. It seems that a handful of fully operational Nazi soldiers fled to the moon during the death throes World War II, and set up shop where nobody would find them.

Iron Sky is a fun movie based on the fact that it is so over the top, in bad taste, and well….bad that it has that same vibe one gets from something like Snakes on a Plane. It also stands as a parody of all the SERIOUS works of science fiction and alternate history that revolve around the discovery of a fully formed group of Nazi remnants in full operational capacity (and ready for blood) in a cartoonish fashion. This really got me thinking – should Nazis really be the “be all and end all” bad guys from here on out? Or are they just lazy writing in all fiction – simply designed to shock and bring back a sense of patriotism that hasn’t been there for seventy years? What about “space Nazis”? That’s even worse…

The PlayStation game series, Killzone, does a great job of disguising the space Nazi trope.

The PlayStation game series, Killzone, does a great job of disguising the space Nazi trope.

I can handle a hypothetical situation where a crew of sci-fi guys travel to a planet and a totalitarian regime is in place that may or may not be similar to the Nazis. They can have flags, even red flags, skull based insignia, and even labor camps for that added shock value. The Daleks in Doctor Who might as well be space Nazis, but they are nicely changed in many ways as to be more inconspicuous in that regard. But when you have honest to god, born in Berlin, but somehow ended up in space, Nazis I want to kill people. The worst offender is Star Trek, a show that has dabbled in the Space Nazi theme so many times that every series seems to have a contractual clause to include at least one episode based on it. Here is the plot from a classic episode:

“When the Enterprise approaches the inner planet Ekos to investigate the cessation of communication with researcher John Gill, it is attacked with a rocket carrying a nuclear weapon. This is puzzling as well as dangerous, since neither the outer planet Zeon nor the inner planet Ekos is technologically advanced enough to possess rockets or nuclear warheads. The Enterprise retreats to maximum orbital distance and Kirk and Spock beam down (after having position-broadcasting transponders surgically implanted in case of mishaps).

Kirk and Spock discover that a Nazi movement has swept the planet, complete with genocide of the “Zeon pigs” residing on Ekos. They view a public newscast in which the Iron Cross second class is presented to Daras, hero of the Fatherland. Kirk and Spock are also shocked to learn that Gill appears to be the leader of the planet’s Nazi movement.”

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The originator of offense

I could just chalk it up to goofy 1960’s TV, and the fact that WWII had just ended less than twenty years prior, but this still goes on today. It was fresh When Edgar Rice Burroughs created the concept of Space Nazis way back in 1938, but it’s 2013. Don’t we have any modern socio-political issues that can be satirized in this way? Are we so worried as a society that we might offend someone that we can’t have space North Korea, Space Al Qaeda, or Space class warfare?

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Victory of the Daleks was creepy because the Daleks are basically space Nazis by virtue of action and ideology, no need for swastika flags and goosestepping!

If you have any ideas for what can take the place of space Nazis, please sound off!

An Open Letter to Joss Whedon fans:

It may be no mystery that I am not a fan of the science fiction show Firefly, in fact I can’t stand the show to be quite honest.  When I am talking with my sci-fi buddies, there is usually someone that doesn’t understand the idea that people have different tastes and tries to sway me to their side.  Not only is this annoying as hell, but it makes me not like the show even more.  Some of these guys even go so far to call themselves “brown shirts” or “brown coats” which unbeknownst to them is the same name that Nazi storm troopers were referred to as.  The name fits, as some of these folks are “Nazis” in the sense of the modern vernacular which attributes anyone being over-zealous and generally “douche-baggy” as a “Nazi” e.g, Grammar Nazi.

So why don’t I like this show, and why do I get angry whenever people get pissy because I don’t like it?  I think a lot of it stems from Joss Whedon’s messiah-like status in some fan circles, as if he can do no wrong, and everything he touches turns to gold.  This is of course despite the fact that he wrote large portions of dialog for the first movie X-men including this gem:

Storm as played by Halle Berry: “Do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning? … The same thing that happens to everything else.”

UGH!

He also wrote the script for Alien Resurrection and blamed everyone else for the movie sucking, saying that it was miscast and such.  Don’t let me seem like a total ass for ripping on Whedon as I liked the original Buffy movie and the first 3-4 seasons of the show.  He may come across as an arrogant self-centered type of guy, but he is a pretty decent writer for dialog.

So the problem must lie in his fans, not just the “brown coats”, but all Whedon-media fans.  To me Whedon-ites are to science fiction fans what The Hitler Youth are to youth organizations.  Instead of watching and talking about their favorite show with other like minded fans, they see the need to try and indoctrinate everyone else into it.  If anyone resists The Lord Whedon, they immediately have to turn in their nerd license.

This very thing happened to me at work when I was helping a customer find a Battlestar Galactica DVD.  We started talking Sci-fi and he mentioned Firefly, to which I responded that I wasn’t really into the show.  The man then, obviously annoyed, asked “well….why NOT!?”  This was as if I somehow offended his religion or something.  I explained that I had not seen the whole show, but I was not a fan of the four episodes I did see, and did not plan on watching anymore.  The man then went into full-on siege-mode and started throwing out reason after reason as to why the show was underrated and why I should like it…etc.  I basically had to say “have a good one” and walk away.  It’s like rather than enjoying his show, he let the fact that it was cancelled become a bitter fist-shaped aura in his mind, waiting to punch anyone who says the show isn’t a masterpiece of human achievement.

Let this be a lesson to you guys, badgering folks and trying to essentially force people to think the way you think about a show is stupid and puts folks off of it.  If anything you guys have made me not want to read / see / hear about anything else that Joss Whedon ever produces.  Surely I can’t be the only one out there with this mindset.  It’s fun to like your own stuff, but calm down just a tad.