Thursday, 30 July 2015

Doctor Who Candy Cigarette Cards - Dr Who Endorses Suicide Bombing (And Smoking)

When last we left Dr Who in the adventures depicted by his healthy and child-friendly candy cigarettes from 1964, he had fought against the evil alliance of Dalek and Voord and watched as the Daleks overdosed on mushrooms. That was only half of his adventures though, what excitement will cards 26-50 bring?

Our story begins as a lone Dalek is discovered near Earth. Is he on a mission of galactic conquest? No - for he is on a very special mission - bringing a message to Dr Who to beg for his help! Dr Who and his new Dalek friend fly off to Skaro (after making sure that the Dalek is properly strapped in) to save the Daleks!

They are promptly shot down by some other Daleks who have failed to read their memos this morning and crash in a swamp full of monsters (straight out of the Dalek Book... again, the text is clearly just the artist instructions printed verbatim). Thankfully the Dalek Emperor sends a rescue team to bring Dr Who in.

The Emperor informs Dr Who of his problem. The Daleks have built a "super machine brain that is greater than anything devised in the whole universe". Unfortunately it has gone rogue. Why is this a problem?

Why, because the Daleks decided to have it produce Neutronium ("the most dangerous nuclear substance) before the machine brain decided to murder all the Dalek scientists and set itself about destroying the planet.

Frankly, the asshole Daleks get what they deserve, but there's a twist - if Skaro blows up it will "release enormous clouds of radioactive dust that may reach Earth and destroy human life." From this we learn that Skaro is approximately as close to the Earth as the Moon is. No wonder they keep invading Earth. Obviously the only reason they wanted to give the Earth engines in 'Dalek Invasion of Earth' was to steer it out of their neighbourhood!

The machine brain starts lasering Daleks, and the Dalek Emperor mentions that "the scientists who built it also incorporated death rays into it." Sigh. Asshole Daleks. Dr Who and the Dalek Emperor discuss this little problem, but Dr Who doesn't look too concerned. He's probably just thinking about how the asshole Daleks are getting everything coming to them. Still, there's a planet to save, and Dr Who is on point! Never cruel, never cowardly, never carries a gun...

...Oh. "Tardis Akbar," I guess. Wow, that got dark quick. Rather than talk to the machine brain and ask it politely to stop, Dr Who orders the Daleks to carry out suicide bombings on the machine brain. The suicide bombings don't work though, so perhaps there is a moral in this after all (either 'Suicide bombs don't work' or 'Don't listen to Dr Who, he is a terrorist')

As the smoke clears, the machine brain is totally untouched. It is at this point that the Dalek Emperor mentions that the machine is "made of a new metal they had been experimenting with" that renders it impervious to anything but atomic weapons. Asshole Daleks.

Dr Who decides that enough is enough and marches up to the machine brain himself. The machine brain promptly lasers him.

Dr Who is unaffected though, and finds the big lever which shuts the machine off! As the previous set of cigarette cards showed, Dr Who is really good at pulling big levers.

Dr Who has saved the Daleks! Hurray! The Daleks have a feast in his honour and Dr Who explains that he survived as the death ray only affected Daleks, not humans from Earth.  Or... Dr Who, I guess.

Dr Who is now a Dalek hero, having saved their planet and proved his worth by organising mass suicide bombings. I dread to think what a Dalek feast serves - probably candy cigarettes - but I'm sure that Dr Who and his new best friends will use the time to plot their next galactic conquest!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

[Comic] High Wire: Bad Wolf

The Transformers: Mosaic project is a fan-based project to get artists and writers working together to create fancomics.

In around 2011 I wrote a series of scripts around Transformers Armada characters. The intention was to get one done for each character. In the end, only two were totally finished, which was a bit of a shame. I like this one - it's about High Wire and trying to explain the Minicon origin from the television show, which was super weird and confusing in the actual episode (Armada was a show that I enjoyed but was at best completely incoherent).

The legendary Matt Dallas (he used to do fan comics with James Roberts!) provided the lines though I did the colours this time.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Tente Roblock

With the newfound popularity of both Transformers and Lego, everyone seems to be making transforming robot toys out of building blocks now. Or at least robots that look like they should transform but don't. KRE-O and Lego Creative have all fielded robots in the past few years that look absolutely like Transformers but needing to be disassembled in order to change mode. Will there ever be an awesome line of transforming Lego robots?

Well, there already was! Tente was a Spanish company that produced Lego-like building blocks during the 70s and 80s. Whilst their blocks were similar in size to Lego, they weren't compatible as they featured thicker studs with holes in the centre to allow things like spires and the feet of mini-figures to plug in. They concentrated on making military vehicles and space-themed sets. Tente was also big on hinges - very big on hinges, in fact. This led to a fantastic line in the mid to late eighties of actual transforming robot sets: Roblock.

I had a Tente space set as a child, but never one of the robots. I only had the catalogue to gaze lovingly at. They not only transformed properly (and you can easily see just by looking at them how they worked) but there was an amazing array of interesting designs and colours. They had planes and cars and tanks, but also bases and guns and a weird dragon thing!

There was a bee-robot! How cool are bee robots?

Part of what attracted me to Tente was the surreality of the designs. They are often very strange and alien, helped by the unique spires and bubble-domes that Tente was known for. Each of these robots is bursting with personality and very few of them could be described as 'generic', though one or two seem to share similar designs.

Tente never saw a wide release in the UK and US (apparently Hasbro distributed them in the US, but stuck to mostly speciality model shops) and they were constantly embroiled in legal battles with Lego. It's a shame that Roblock in particular never got the exposure it deserved, as it seems like it would have been a firm favourite of kids!

The hinged pieces allow for each robot to have a lot of articulation which even beat out most of the Transformers of the time. Add in some really nice design work, and you've got a classic, if mostly unknown, toyline. If you want to own one of these, you'd better have deep pockets - though they are obscure, there's a small but dedicated fanbase and sets will cost you around a hundred each if you want them complete (unless you get lucky, of course).

That said, I've found a website which has scanned instructions for some of them. The question is - can they be replicated in Lego? I don't think Lego has the right sort of hinges. Hopefully some Lego expert is about to recreate the Tente robots as accurately as possible!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

[Fiction] The Tragedy of Prince Sadim

"What a lovely life you lead, Prince Sadim!" The reporter clapped her hands together in delight as she sat in Prince Sadim's sitting room. The teacups danced about, and magical pots poured a cup of tea for her whilst singing.

"I suppose so," Prince Sadim leant back in his own chair, a large red velvet piece with large cartoon eyes that swayed from side to side. In front of him, chunks of coal danced from the scuttle into the fireplace, giving comical squeaks. The fireplace's grill broke into a cheeky smile. "Don't worry, they're used to that!" Sadim laughed.

"So much life!" The reporter sucked the end of her pen and scribbled down in her notepad. "Was it hard growing up? I mean, this looks amazing, but there must be some drawbacks!"

Sadim shook his head. "No, no, no drawbacks, madam. In fact, I learnt to both pity my brother Midas and his gold curse, and thank God that I could cure those he had accidentally touched. Sure, his touch brought wealth, but also death. Mine brings... life." He cupped a flower in his hands, which bloomed into a friendly face that he then passed to the reporter.

"And of course, your charity work!" The reporter continued. "You could stay in your palace, but instead you walk the streets and the hospitals..."

"Curing death, yes..." Sadim nodded thoughtfully. "This gift of mine has brought great joy to many families. I only hope that once I am gone, the world will still be as happy. Perhaps that is the only drawback of my power... the idea that one day, it will be gone."

The reporter grimaced. "We all pray that day will never come, dear prince. You are indeed blessed."
A servator quickly ran into the room, whispering into the Prince's ear. He looked up at the reporter. "There is an emergency, I must go. Please, enjoy this room and await my return."

The reporter sat on her chair, smiling at the wonderful moving creatures that populated every inch of the room, from the happy carpet to the joyful picture frames. "What a wonderful gift!" she sighed to herself.

Soon though, the prince had still not returned, and all the tea had taken its toll. Yes, the prince had told her to stay in the room, but needs must, and she stepped out of the ornate room and into the corridor, until she came to the bathroom.

"Hi, madam!" the taps squeaked happily.

"Let me!" the toilet said, lifting up its lid for her.

"T-thanks!" The reporter patted the toilet. "Okay, that's a bit offputting, but..."

"Help us, help us!"

A little squeaky voice came from a tiny door in the corner of the room. More and more voices piped up.

"Lady, help us! Let us out!"

The reporter knelt down and examined the door. It was made of wood, with a little lock on the front. The lock had googly eyes on it.

"Hello?" The reporter called out. "Hello? Who are you?"

"Let us out!" the voices squeaked. "He throws us in here as prisoners! Help!"

"No!" The lock cried. "The Prince must never let the prisoners out! Ever!"

The reporter pursed her lips. What terrible secret was the Prince hiding in here? Why was he locking these little creatures up when all the others roamed free happily? What could Prince Sadim's dark secret be, when all his life seemed so happy? The thought done, she forcefully drew back the lock and opened the door. "You're free!" she shouted.

"Yaaaaaay! Freeeeee!"

From out of the door skipped a small brown ovoid creature with googly eyes and cartoon legs. And then another. And another. All cheering "Yaaaaaaaay!"

The reporter was knocked over by the deluge of creatures as they escaped their captivity. "E-everything he touches turns alive!" she gasped, realising too late what they were.

She was in deep sh*t now.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

[Flashback] Fingermouse

Perhaps the most important, shocking and indeed only fact about Fingermouse is that it exists in the first place. This much beloved (by me) television show about a cone of paper on a man's finger that slightly resembles a mouse was actually a real thing that was really broadcast on television in the UK in 1985. No, seriously! It was a thing that happened!

Fingermouse was a spinoff of the 1972 show 'Fingerbobs'. Apparently he was so popular that he was resurrected 13 years later for his own series. Literally resurrected as well, as Fingermouse and the other Fingerbobs were all smashed to bits on camera at the end of the original series. Fingerbobs revolved mostly around the titular finger-puppets have simple adventures and singing songs. There was no attempt made to disguise the fact that they were finger-puppets, and the puppeteer was a big part of the show.

Fingermouse replaced the original mime puppeteer for a 'Music Man' who played instruments whilst wearing Fingermouse. It's probably best remembered for the genuinely fantastic intro which is a bit of an ear worm that will never leave your head.
There's not much to say about Fingermouse. It was a simple children's show about a cone of paper stuck on someone's finger. But that was why it was great. Something like this could not be made nowadays. Television is supposed to have minimum standards of reality where what you see on screen is treated as what is actually happening. Fingermouse was one of the last gasps of the original theatrical model of television where the effects weren't as important as what was actually being portrayed.

If Fingermouse came back today, it's impossible that it would be in the form of a fifteen minute episode about a man with a grey cone of paper on his finger. This wondermouse would probably be relegated to some sort of awful CGI designed to reflect his classic conical look but allow him to scamper about like a mouse, or else some sort of cheap flash cartoon. Never again will it be acceptable to just film a crude finger-puppet and broadcast it on national television on BBC One.

Why is that? What have we lost as a society where we can't accept a television show unless it makes an attempt to be realistic? As I mentioned, television originally came out of the theatre. The idea was to make stage plays accessible to all, with sparse sets and a concentration on the actors. Any special effects tended to be symbolic rather than realistic. The idea that what you saw on screen should reflect reality, like the glossy films do, is something that came in much later and firmly had a grip on British tv in the mid 80s.

A perfect illustration of this is that in the Doctor Who story 'Frontios' broadcast in 1984, it was perfectly acceptable to use a fade-effect to show someone being dragged under the earth; by 1986's 'Trial of a Time Lord' this is unthinkable and a similar scene has a character being physically dragged underground. Representation used to be viable, now everything must be realistic.

As a result of this mindset, there's a whole strata of children's programming, and programming in general, that is lost. Classics like Mr Ben (which were barely animated), Button Moon (a puppet show with puppets made from kitchen supplies) and yes, Fingermouse, wouldn't happen because there is a baseline of quality that is measured with how slick something looks. What potential classics are forever unseen because people only want to watch things that act like mini films, rather than creative ways to tell stories?

Come back, Fingermouse. You marvellous, musical mouse. Your country needs you.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

[Comic] The Road Less Travelled

The Transformers: Mosaic project is a fan-based project to get artists and writers working together to create fancomics.

In around 2011 I wrote a series of scripts around Transformers Armada characters. The intention was to get one done for each character. In the end, only two were totally finished, which was a bit of a shame. This one was about Wheeljack. I feel I made the mistake of sticking too close to his canon past without adding too much -the idea was that it was actually more about Hot Shot and revealing his personality via his skewed retelling of Wheeljack's story but I'm not sure if it came across that good. Oh well, the art by my pal Andy is charming at least (I really like Christmas Max and his green outlined gun, that's so funky).

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Ten Worst Doctor Who Monsters

Traditionally, Doctor Who was always a show that was mocked for the perceived poor quality of its special effects. Most of the time this wasn't true at all - the show had perfectly good effects save for the brief moments that a family member walked in the room, when the show would suddenly switch to wobbly footage of a crudely made hand-puppet with a scary felt-tip face.

Of course, the new show with its mega budget put paid to those memories, and now Doctor Who is known as a television show with great effects (apart from when they're rubbish). That said, the march of time will soon make even the newest, most swish effect look awful. In some lists I've seen online, people dare to rank the maggots from 1974's The Green Death as amongst the worst - get a grip, people! The maggots were excellent for the day!

As long as they are making new episodes, there will always be rubbish monsters. But which are the worst? And what makes a bad monster? To my mind, it's not as simple as 'it looks awful'. To be truly bad, a monster must:

i. Be bad, even within the context of the period in which it was made.
ii. Undermine the production.
iii. Be a clearly terrible idea that no human being could have believed would work.

Here is my list of the ten worst, in no particular order. And no, you won't find the Abzorbaloff here. Because I believe it's secretly brilliant. No my friend, there are far, far worse than the Abzorbaloff...

1. Giant Rat
There's a subset of fandom which thinks the worst thing with The Talons of Weng-Chiang is the giant rat and not the fact that one of the villains is a white man made up in yellowface to be Chinese, and the entire story hinges about how evil the Chinese are. It's a fair complaint, but at the same time, Talons is a pastache of Fu Manchu, though the wisdom of doing a Fu Manchu story in 1977 is perhaps the more pressing concern.

Ignoring that, The Talons of Weng-Chiang is a bona-fide classic, a tour-de-force by outgoing producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and writer Robert Holmes, featuring the 4th Doctor battling the evil time-travelling criminal Weng-Chiang in Victorian London. Apart from the ill-advised yellowface, the production is top-notch, until the Doctor's companion Leela goes into the sewers and is attacked by a man in a rat suit.

Rather famously, Steven Moffat is quoted as saying that "How could a good hack think that the BBC could make a giant rat? If he'd come to my house when I was 14 and said 'Can BBC Special Effects do a giant rat?' I'd have said no." Really though, that's not the problem. The BBC could have done a giant rat in a sewer and not made it look awful. The reason the rat doesn't work is very simple, and for a story that had so much care lavished on it, it is unbelievable no-one realised.

Sewer rats are not fluffy.

The rat that attacks Leela in the sewer is clearly a big fluffy rat that has never been near water, as it is a costume they just plonked onto the set when they filmed it. It didn't need CGI or expensive additions, all the rat needed was to have its fur matted down with water or grease and it would have looked ten times better. The rat isn't bad because it's a rubbish giant rat. The rat is bad because it's a rubbish giant rat that didn't need to have looked so rubbish.

2. Lazarus Monster

CGI is always a bit of a gamble on television. It can look great, but it can also be seen as a cheap shortcut to get something impossible to make physically with the assumption that it will always work.
2007's 'The Lazarus Experiment' featured the latter. A monster which could never have been a costume, but looked too much like a CGI model someone had animated (as well, it was). There's absolutely no suspension of disbelief as at no time does the monster look like it could possibly be real. This is because of the baffling decision to give it a human face.

Yes, the monster is a transformed Mark Gatiss. Yes, it is clearly some sort of vestigial face. But the issue is that the audience, as human beings, knows what a face is supposed to look like. It also knows what bad CGI faces look like. As much as you can argue "Yes, but the monster's face just looks like a bad CGI face and is actually some sort of vestigial thing," it still looks like a bad CGI face.

3. Alpha Centauri
Alpha Centauri is a monster beloved of many Who fans. He/she is a hemaphrodite from the planet Alpha Centauri in the galaxy Alpha Centauri and is called Alpha Centauri. With his/her veiny, shaft-like appearance and bulbous head with eye poking out, he/she also looks suspiciously like a giant green penis.

Upon seeing the finished prop, the direct or ordered it to be changed. The designers threw a cape around it, to which the director replied "Great, now it looks like a penis in a cape!"

Despite looking incredibly rude, Alpha Centauri appeared not once (in 'The Curse of Peladon') but returned for an encore in 'The Monster of Peladon' looking as equally dodgy.

That's only half the reason Alpha Centauri is so awful. Alpha Centauri also appeared on The Black and White Minstrel Show (this was a popular television show where white actors did songs in blackface). For shame, Alpha. For shame! Making a really rude-looking monster is one thing. Thinking it worked so well that you use it again is another. Then using it as a prop in an incredibly racist television show is somehow making the situation even worse!

4. Quarks
Apologists have tried to describe the Quarks as 'cute' but really, they're absolutely horrible. The Quarks appeared in the 1968 story 'The Dominators' and somehow were not the worst thing about that story, which was about how pacifism is stupid. Yeah, take that, hippies! The Quarks were seemingly a small child's idea of what a robot looked like (which was ironic as there were small children inside the suits) and consisted of a big box, two comedy feet and little stick arms that helplessly waggled out in front. They also make cute chirping noises.

Everyone involved desperately wanted the Quarks to be an iconic new monster, but they quite clearly weren't. Unfortunately the creators of the Quarks threatened legal action against BBC over their merchandising rights (as everyone involved was convinced that they were going to be The Next Big Thing) which nearly tanked the programme itself. The Quarks were not only clearly awful-looking, but somehow no-one realised and were willing to destroy Doctor Who for the glory of the Quarks.

When the Doctor was put on trial by the Time Lords, the Quarks were the very first bit of evidence he gave. The Doctor lost the case.

5. Dinosaurs
'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is a story that for years was known as 'The One With The Crap Dinosaurs'. That was all anyone would say about it, which was a shame because the story itself is one of Doctor Who's best.  The problem is that Doctor Who was never good at doing dinosaurs, and yet the production team somehow became convinced that an entire story based around dinosaurs was possible. They contracted out to a company that promised them realistic dinosaur action, and got the Chewitts Monster.

The thing is, it's not actually that bad. There are some dinosaur sequences which are actually really good. Unfortunately there are also some dinosaur sequences that are really terrible. Because the story is called 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' though, a lot hinges on the spectacle of the dinosaurs, and so sub-par dinosaurs are immediately obvious. 'Carnival of Monsters' had a crap dinosaur and that story is a 10/10 classic; it's not called 'Attack of the Plesiosaur' though.

'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' didn't actually need dinosaurs in it. The dinosaurs were simply a plot device that could have been replaced by anything menacing from history. When the unusable model effect footage came in, the production team could have worked around it rather than using every single dinosaur shot. As I said, some of the shots are great. But all anyone remembers is the t-rex gently bumping its head against the brontosaurus. A fight that has no point in the plot apart from spectacle.

And it's crap spectacle. Crap spectacle that detracts from an amazing story.

6. Slitheen
"Ha ha, Slitheens fart, tee hee, next." No, I'm not going to criticise the Slitheen for fart jokes. Doctor Who is a family show, and fart jokes have their place (even though it was probably a bit much). The dark secret of Doctor Who fandom is that we all loved 'Aliens of London'/'World War Three' when they were first broadcast; it was only later that the internet fandom machine decided it was terrible.
The Slitheen though, don't work on a more basic level. In some scenes, the Slitheen are clearly costumes. They are large, bulky and slow-moving. They are lumbering, swaying creatures. In other scenes they are CGI, and are really quick, racing about at speed like dangerous predators.
Choose one. Either the CGI effects match the costumes, or you don't use the costumes and keep them all CGI. Having two clearly different portrayals of the same monster completely breaks immersion, and it's a really obvious issue. In fact, it's such an obvious issue that it demonstrates the pressures that the series 1 production team were under.

At some point at the beginning of production, someone forgot to make sure that the costumes and CGI portrayals of the monsters matched up. Something really easy to do at the start snowballed into something impossible to fix once filming was done and computer rendering finished. There's a moral here. And the moral isn't "don't make fart jokes."

7. Erato
1979's 'The Creature From The Pit' is a story that's unfairly maligned. It's actually a surprisingly fun story with some nice twists and a good villain. It's got the hand of Douglas Adams all over it, even though he was a far better writer than he was script editor. Still though, it's impossible to avoid Erato.
Erato was a monster that just didn't work. Everyone knew it, even at the time. The script called for a giant alien blob with a tendril, and with the best will in the world, the BBC props department is never going to produce something on par with Hollywood. They should have known better than to produce something phallic though.

So the Doctor is in the pit, and he meets the creature, and the creature's large, girthy tendril is floppy. The Doctor picks it up and it stiffens and he blows into it and... well, look. It obviously looked rude. There's no way that everyone involved didn't look at it and think "Goodness that looks like a giant wang". The question arises then: Why on Earth did they still film the scene where the Doctor performs his... oral skills on it. That scene wasn't needed. It would have looked far less rude and wouldn't have affected the plot one bit. There's a certain admiration for a production team knowing what they are about to film is going to be awful and doing it anyway, but still...
You knew what you were doing, Tom Baker. You naughty, naughty man.

8. Human Dalek Sec
Oh Human Dalek Sec, how I hate thee.

Apparently the writer of 'Daleks in Manhattan'/'Evolution of the Daleks' was reduced to tears by fan reaction to that story. This is often held up as an example of how mean fans can be on the internet, when really it should be held up as an example of 'don't write Daleks in Manhattan'. No-one was ever reduced to tears by the reaction to 'Human Nature' or 'Blink'. The Daleks having a secret base in the Empire State Building during Depression-era America, is actually a cool one. But then you add pig slaves (of course, the Daleks have pig slaves) and turn one of the Daleks into a man with a rude-looking face in a pin-striped suit, and you really have to start to worry.

The thing is, there's actually a lot to like about the story, but also a lot to dislike. Many parts just don't work. The worst part though was the meta-narrative, in which the BBC pushed hard the idea that Dalek Sec was the new 'face' of the Daleks, amidst rumours that maybe the BBC had lost the license to use the iconic Dalek design so were drastically redesigning them. Reaction was drastically negative, not just because no-one liked the design, but no-one wanted the design at all. A similar thing would happen with 'Victory of the Daleks'.

9. Cybershades
In 2008, Doctor Who was top dog on television. The de facto best show ever, and the Christmas Special 'The Next Doctor' was eagerly awaited. For some reason lots of people really hate this story, and they're completely wrong - it's great. It does have its flaws though, but they're not the flaws everyone thinks (basically, Jackson Lake should have saved his son and the day, rather than leaving the Doctor to do it).

The Cybermen are actually menacing for once. The Cyberking is a fun idea. The Cybershades are... what is a Cybershade?

Seriously. In terms of effects that didn't have a hope of working, putting a man in a furry monkey costume and placing a Cyberman hat on his head was right up at the top. At first glance I assumed the Cybershade was some sort of fake Cyberman that a conman was using, but no, it's an actual Cyber-minion.

What's it supposed to be? Seriously. What's going on? Why are the Cybermen putting men in furry suits? Are they secret furries? Did they successfully Cyber-convert the Taran Wood Beast? I genuinely have no idea.

10. Myrka
The script for 'Warriors of the Deep' called for a menacing monster that lurked in the shadows, cracking with electricity as it raced through the underwater sea base, killing everything in it's path.
The reality was a lumbering pantomime horse design that slowly ambled down floodlit sets, controlled by the operators of Dobbin the Horse from Rentaghost, head waving unconvincingly as it trampled down mattresses that for some reason were being used as bulkheads. The cameraman even made sure to get closeups of its big waddling feet.

The Myrka was awful. No-one will ever defend it. It nearly didn't happen though - internal BBC strife meant that studio space was restricted, and the Doctor Who team were left with the option of either filming 'Warriors of the Deep' in a rush before everything was ready, or not making it at all. They chose to go for it.

A brave choice. It's also very possible that if it wasn't made it would be thought of as a lost classic along the lines of Shada, and fans would be dreaming of the Myrka.

It did happen though, in all its horrible glory. The Myrka costume wasn't even finished, and smeared wet green paint everywhere it went. The decision to floodlight all the sets made every fault even worse (compare it to the Magma Beast and Queen Bat in Caves of Androzani, both equally terrible costumes, but the director wisely turned all the lights off and pumped smoke into the studio).

The new Controller of the BBC, Michael Grade, saw Warriors of the Deep broadcast on television and immediately called an internal inquiry onto how on Earth something that poor quality was broadcast. The blame was put squarely on the effects team, but really everyone was to blame. How can you see something like this and think "Yes, yes, that is perfect".

The Myrka was what got the ire of Michael Grade and got Doctor Who put on hiatus a year later, not the Colin Baker era. It was that hiatus that helped cripple Doctor Who in the public eye, eventually leading to the 1989 cancellation. The Myrka was a monster so awful it killed Doctor Who.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

[Fiction] What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden

And lo, God walked Himself in the Garden of Eden and said "Adam, Eve, everything here is yours. Take and eat all that you wilt, except for this, for this is mine. Eat not of the Pop Tart, for that is my breakfast and not yours. You may partake of the muesli or the toast or the pancakes, but leave the Pop Tart alone."

Adam and Eve lived in Paradise until that fateful day when Adam was busy hunting. "Lo, Eve!" said the evil serpent. "Go on, you're peckish. Eat that Pop Tart."

"I cannot," said Eve. "For my Lord forbade me."

"He wishes to keep it to Himself!" the serpent said. "Go on, just nibble a corner. You can't have muesli again."

So Eve ate a corner. And then she thought it so delicious she ate the entire Pop Tart. And then another. And as Adam returned, he too did feast.

And the Lord returned and saw the empty box and he was enraged. And Adam and Eve were sore afraid, for they had eaten of the Pop Tart, and now had knowledge of how something could be so hot it was cool.

"My Lord!" Eve cried. "I beseech you, do not punish us! We will do the washing up!"

"Nay!" said the Lord. "You are banished from Paradise forever! Eve, I curse you with the pain and agony of childbirth! And Adam, I condemn you to never again being able to taste thy Pop Tart properly; they will either be blisteringly hot or icy cold, no matter how long you put them in the toaster for!"

And lo, the sentence was handed down, and Eve turned to Adam. "Wow, you got the crap side of that deal, sorry."

Monday, 6 July 2015

Steven Universe Episode Poll - Analysis of Results

A few days ago I ran a poll on r/Stevenuniverse asking people to rank all the episodes. This was picked up by a few sites (thanks guys!) and when the poll closed, there were 409 responses (after removing duplication errors and obvious trolls such as voting everything 1, hilarious).

The full table of results is published here. Below is some analysis and commentary on these results. I hope you all found it interesting, and keep your eyes peeled for when I do it again (I'll probably announce via my Twitter).

Episode Rankings
Episodes were ranked on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the 'Bottom Tier', 3 being 'Average' and 5 being 'Amazing'. Respondents were asked to rate based on their feelings about the show itself, so 'Average' referred to an average episode of 'Steven Universe' rather than an average episode of any television show, otherwise there was a danger everyone would just give all the episodes top marks as fandoms tend to do. Some people still voted everything 5, which in a comparative poll where you have to respond to all questions has literally no effect. So uh, well done.

What were people's favourite episodes though? Let's look at the top ten:

RankingTitleEpisode Score
2The Return4.80
3Sworn to the Sword4.76
4Ocean Gem4.76
5Rose's Scabbard4.67
6Mirror Gem4.64
7We Need To Talk4.63
8Lion 3: Straight to Video4.60
9Alone Together4.57
10Keeping It Together4.53

Not really any surprises in this table. Jailbreak swept the board and came through as the clear leader. The top ten list favours arc-plot heavy episodes rather than the more disposable 'filler' light comedy episodes the show also does. Three of the top ten ('Sworn to the Sword', 'We Need To Talk' and 'Keeping it Together') are from the latest Stevenbomb, so it is possible that their high placing is partly to do with how new and exciting they are.

The fandom clearly enjoys plots about Gem Homeworld, Lapis Lazuli and Pearl/Rose.

Looking at the bottom ten is a different picture. Of course there's no shame in being at the bottom; in any list for something to be come first, something else has to come last. It simply means they are the least liked episodes of the show rather than being actively bad. What does the bottom of the table look like?

RankingTitleEpisode Score
54Gem Glow3.11
56Horror Club3.05
57House Guest3.04
59Say Uncle2.91
60Shirt Club2.87
61Keep Beach City Weird2.85
62Rising Tides, Crashing Skies2.79
63Onion Trade2.70

So Onion Trade is the lowest scoring episode, with 2.7. Given that the scale is 1-5, it shows that most people still rate it highly if not thinking it's the best. Ronaldo does worst here, with all of his episodes falling at the bottom, though 'Rising Tides/Crashing Skies' poor placing may be more to do with fandom anger about it not being a Lapis arc episode as the title suggested than any quality concerns.

At an earlier point, Love Letters was leading as the least-liked episode, though it ended up with a more respectable 52nd place, 12 from bottom. Especially with later episodes there is a pattern where lighter stand-alone episodes suffer if they come straight after bigger arc-pieces, something the earlier era of the show didn't have to contend with. It feels like if episodes such as 'Shirt Club' and 'Love Letters' had come earlier in the show's run they'd be much better regarded.

Here's a graph of all the results plotted with an average line (click to see a bigger version). The latter half of the show does fall constantly above the average a lot more, though not as much as might be expected. This is mostly due to a handful of later episodes that weren't as well received, these low spikes on the graph being 'Horror Club', 'Political Power', 'Say Uncle', 'Shirt Club', 'Love Letters' and 'Rising Tides/Crashing Skies'.

Fans don't like episodes about Beach City residents much. Or Uncle Grandpa.

There is an overall trend line upwards though:

Episode Consensus
How much do people agree on whether an episode is good or bad though? For each episode, the standard deviation of each score was worked out. This basically tells us how wide a range of votes were received. If the standard deviation is small, this means everyone voted very similarly. For example, a small standard deviation on a 'good' episodes means everyone thought it was good, a small standard deviation on a bad episode means everyone thought it was bad. If the standard deviation is big, it means it had a wide range of votes (for example, lots of 1s and 5s). A big standard deviation means the fandom is split in two!

What are the episodes that everyone agrees on then? What has the least controversial scores?

TitleStandard DeviationEpisode ScoreRanking
2The Return0.524.802
3Sworn to the Sword0.564.763
4Ocean Gem0.564.764
5Mirror Gem0.634.646
6Rose's Scabbard0.644.675
7We Need To Talk0.664.637
8Lion 3: Straight to Video0.674.608
9Giant Woman0.714.4411
10Keeping It Together0.714.5310

Interestingly, it's the episodes at the top that everyone agrees are good. I have left the ranking in on the right hand side so you can see what place they came score-wise. 'Jailbreak's standard deviation is much smaller than even 'The Return's - most people voted it 5 with only a handful of.

People agree that the really good episodes are really good. There's not much dissention on this. What's missing is any episodes from the lower end of the table. This is reflected when we look at the episodes with the most controversial scores:

TitleStandard DeviationEpisode ScoreRanking
1Say Uncle1.462.9159
2Rising Tides, Crashing Skies1.222.7962
3Garnet's Universe1.153.2050
4Onion Trade1.092.7063
5Lars and the Cool Kids1.073.3942
7Keep Beach City Weird1.062.8561
8Fusion Cuisine1.053.4840
9Tiger Millionaire1.053.4141
10Love Letters1.043.1652

There's a bit more of a mix here, but most of the episodes that people are least decided on come near the bottom of the table. This means that while 'Onion Trade' is at the bottom of the list for ratings, there are plenty of people who think it's great. The most controversial episode is 'Say Uncle', which had the widest range of scores by far. A lot of people voted it down, but a lot of people voted it up as well, giving it the widest standard deviation. Here's a chart of the voting for that episode:

A lot of people hated it. A lot of people loved it. It ended up with a score that put it near the bottom of the pile in terms of episodes the fandom liked overall, but by no means was it bad. We can see a similar effect for Rising Tides/Crashing Skies. Perhaps time will be kind to this episode, especially now that we know what happened to Lapis.

For comparison, this is what the least liked episode, 'Onion Trade' got in terms of votes:

It had a smaller standard deviation, telling us that the distribution of scores was smaller. But there was still about as many people who gave it very low marks as gave it very high marks, just that most people thought it was below average/average.

What does it tell us if we plot the standard deviations on a chart? Remember, a high score means people can't agree if they liked/didn't like it, a low score means people agree on if they liked/didn't like it.

As the series progresses, there's more episodes that everyone really likes, but also a lot that split the fandom in two, 'Say Uncle' and 'Rising Tides' being the biggest of those. These seem to be the rare cases though, with only a handful of episodes that everyone can all get behind. People have different tastes, that's probably a good thing.

What it does show is that there is no such thing as an episode people can point to and say 'that's the worst, everyone hates it'. If that was true, you'd expect a small standard deviation, but instead it is the episodes at the bottom that have the widest range of responses.

Least Watched
One of the options on the form was 'Not seen/Can't remember' as an attempt to see if there were episodes people hadn't yet seen. The most watched isn't particularly interesting (though the handful of people who stated they hadn't seen 'Jailbreak' is a bit worrying, get with it, people!). Looking at the episodes least watched is very interesting though:

Episode OrderTitle% Have Seen / Can Recall Ep
221Joking Victim89.00%
343Maximum Capacity89.98%
444Marble Madness91.93%
58Serious Steven93.15%
623Monster Buddies94.62%
736Warp Tour94.62%
827House Guest95.35%
942Winter Forecast95.35%
1051Open Book95.35%

Unsurprisingly the Pilot is first, with a fifth of respondents not having seen it. The Pilot isn't easily available and it takes some effort to track down a copy. More surprisingly, some later episodes pop up as having not been seen or not being memorable, where I had assumed this would mostly be taken up by the earlier episodes of the show.

Notable episodes are 'Marble Madness' and 'Warp Tour', both big arc episodes (with Peridot!). It may be that people just cannot remember what happened from the title alone. Hopefully this is the case with 'Maximum Capacity', which is the third most unwatched/unremembered episode despite it being (in my opinion) one of the show's best. It's the Lil' Butler episode! Of course, it has the least descriptive title, perhaps people just didn't link the two in their minds.

But if you are one of the one in ten people who hadn't seen that episode, fix it now!

What have we learnt from this poll?
  • Fandom agrees strongly that the heavy arc-episodes and PearlxRose episodes are best.
  • Onion Trade is the least liked episode, but all the episodes that fall at the bottom have plenty of fans.
  • People tend not to like episodes that focus on Beach City residents.
  • A light hearted 'filler' episode taking place after arc-heavy episodes tends to have a bad reaction.
  • 'Jailbreak' is literally the best thing ever.
Obviously this poll only tells us what it tells us: 409 is a good selection, but it's pretty much 'what do people who are already heavily invested in the Steven Universe fandom think'. Perhaps for a casual audience, 'Onion Trade' is the greatest ever episode and 'Jailbreak' is undecipherable?

Steven Universe Episode Poll - Results

A few days ago I ran a poll on r/Stevenuniverse asking people to rank all the episodes. This was picked up by a few sites (thanks guys!) and when the poll closed, there were 409 responses (after removing duplication errors and obvious trolls such as voting everything 1, hilarious).

The full table of results is published below. The table should be sortable if you click the headers.

Here is some analysis and commentary on these results. I hope you all found it interesting, and keep your eyes peeled for when I do it again (I'll probably announce via my Twitter).

Episode Order Timestamp Episode Score Standard Deviation % Have Seen / Can Recall Ep
Pilot 2.96 1.03 78.73%
1 Gem Glow 3.11 0.88 96.58%
2 Laser Light Cannon 3.69 0.86 97.56%
3 Cheeseburger Backpack 3.31 0.85 97.07%
4 Together Breakfast 3.21 0.85 97.31%
5 Frybo 3.07 1.06 98.04%
6 Cat Fingers 3.21 1.03 98.53%
7 Bubble Buddies 4.00 0.82 97.31%
8 Serious Steven 3.50 0.89 93.15%
9 Tiger Millionaire 3.41 1.05 97.56%
10 Steven's Lion 3.87 0.82 98.04%
11 Arcade Mania 3.24 0.86 98.04%
12 Giant Woman 4.44 0.71 99.76%
13 So Many Birthdays 4.06 1.04 98.29%
14 Lars and the Cool Kids 3.39 1.07 98.04%
15 Onion Trade 2.70 1.09 97.31%
16 Steven the Sword Fighter 4.23 0.78 97.80%
17 Lion 2: The Movie 4.02 0.83 97.56%
18 Beach Party 3.33 0.96 96.09%
19 Rose's Room 3.94 0.85 97.07%
20 Coach Steven 4.28 0.85 96.33%
21 Joking Victim 3.16 0.99 89.00%
22 Steven and the Stevens 3.54 0.99 97.56%
23 Monster Buddies 4.01 0.88 94.62%
24 An Indirect Kiss 4.36 0.75 97.07%
25 Mirror Gem 4.64 0.63 99.27%
26 Ocean Gem 4.76 0.56 99.27%
27 House Guest 3.04 0.99 95.35%
28 Space Race 3.90 0.90 96.58%
29 Secret Team 3.24 0.87 98.04%
30 Island Adventure 3.64 0.95 97.56%
31 Keep Beach City Weird 2.85 1.06 95.60%
32 Fusion Cuisine 3.48 1.05 95.60%
33 Garnet's Universe 3.20 1.15 97.56%
34 Watermelon Steven 3.17 0.87 96.82%
35 Lion 3: Straight to Video 4.60 0.67 97.56%
36 Warp Tour 4.19 0.84 94.62%
37 Alone Together 4.57 0.75 97.31%
38 The Test 3.98 0.90 97.56%
39 Future Vision 3.79 0.92 98.53%
40 On The Run 4.44 0.79 97.07%
41 Horror Club 3.05 0.97 96.33%
42 Winter Forecast 3.76 0.93 95.35%
43 Maximum Capacity 4.06 0.87 89.98%
44 Marble Madness 3.99 0.83 91.93%
45 Rose's Scabbard 4.67 0.64 98.53%
46 The Message 4.09 0.82 98.29%
47 Political Power 3.27 1.00 96.82%
48 The Return 4.80 0.52 98.78%
49 Jailbreak 4.92 0.40 98.78%
50 Full Disclosure 4.18 0.85 98.04%
51 Open Book 3.54 0.86 95.35%
52 Joy Ride 3.63 0.87 96.09%
53 Say Uncle 2.91 1.46 97.56%
54 Story for Steven 4.32 0.77 99.27%
55 Shirt Club 2.87 0.96 97.31%
56 Love Letters 3.16 1.04 98.78%
57 Reformed 3.71 0.88 97.56%
58 Sworn to the Sword 4.76 0.56 99.51%
59 "Rising Tides/ Crashing Skies" 2.79 1.22 98.53%
60 Keeping It Together 4.53 0.71 99.51%
61 We Need To Talk 4.63 0.66 99.76%
62 Chille Tid 4.43 0.75 99.27%

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Marmite Chocolate

Marmite is one of those strange foodstuffs that is very polarising. Even the official marketing states that you might hate it. Personally, after years of hating Marmite I discovered it was actually pretty delicious.

Marmite follows the proud British tradition of finding something absolutely disgusting and eating it. Marmite is the scrapings of the scum from the brewing process. Usually this is thrown away, but someone had the amazing idea of spreading it on toast and a legend was born. I've found it is nice on bread and with cheese.

Of course, it is absolutely foul with chocolate.
It seems somewhat churlish to deliberately buy Marmite chocolate and then complain that it tastes like Marmite chocolate, but that's where we're at, people. Marmite chocolate is clearly a bit of a publicity stunt - foolish people like me will buy it for the novelty value, eat a bit and then feel silly for buying Marmite chocolate.

What does it taste like? It tastes like chocolate with Marmite in it. Not much Marmite, sure, but it's definitely there. A gritty Marmite taste in otherwise delicious chocolate.

But what did I expect? Bunnies and butterflies? It says Marmite on the packaging, it tastes like chocolate and Marmite. I paid actual money for it, and shouldn't have been surprised.

I am not regretful of this purchase. It is moments like this that help us learn who we really are. I bought Marmite chocolate. I put it in my mouth. I will not be buying any more.

I did, of course, buy it as a gift for as many people as possible.