Ken

Geek Dad: “Big Hero 6” review

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Geek Dad: a new recurring series on tidbits for geek parents or parents of newly hatched geeks.

For a long time, Disney Animation was overshadowed by the work of its amazingly talented acquisition, Pixar. It was little surprise, then, in 2007 when Disney made Pixar head John Lasseter the top guy for ALL Walt Disney Animation Studios projects. It’s been on a roll lately, with Wreck-It Ralph, a little film called Frozen, and now Big Hero 6.

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Baymax gets suited up by Hiro

The first Disney animated film based (very loosely) on a Marvel property, Big Hero 6 is funny, touching, exciting, and – most surprising of all – inspiring. All the heroes are geeks and scientists, and the movie shows that science isn’t just real (as They Might Be Giants put it) – it’s also fun and can lead to amazing things. Don’t be surprised if your child looks over at you during this film and says, “I want to be a scientist” or “I want to go to college.”

The film takes places in “San Fransokyo,” a gorgeous mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo that’s the bright, optimistic sibling of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles – or maybe an alternate reality where maybe Japan won World War II? Hiro Hamada, a young Japanese robotics wiz and orphan (of course he’s an orphan, it’s a Disney film!), grapples with a tragic event and the theft of his robotics tech by a kabuki-masked villain, nicknamed Yokai. With support from his healthcare robot, Baymax, and three collegiate brainiacs (plus their kaiju-loving “mascot,” Fred), Hiro decides to use their combined tech to hero up and stop Yokai before anyone else gets hurt.

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The kinetic, straight-talking GoGo Tomago

The emotional relationship between Hiro and Baymax is the heart of the film, and Baymax himself is a brilliantly designed bit of animation. He’s essentially a cross between Wall-E and a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon, but he’s the source of both the funniest and most tear-inducing moments. The rest of the team is admirably diverse, representing different ethnicities and both genders equally well, and they’re supportive of each others’ efforts, even when their first superheroic outing is a bit of a bust.

Adults – especially comics fans – will enjoy the action-packed setpieces and the various in-jokes about superhero origin story tropes, plus the excellent post-credits scene. Yokai and his creepy, crawling microbots are scary, and they create some harrowing moments for the heroes, but those scenes are brief and shouldn’t overly frighten kids age 6 or older.

Now that the weather is turning colder, if you want to get the family out of the house for a couple of hours, go check out the high-tech heroes of Big Hero 6.

And be sure to be in your seats on time, or you’ll miss a magnificent short film, Feast, also from the Disney team. You’ll smile and get choked up at the same time.

Ken

Halloween Reading: The Legion of Monsters

Do yourself a favor, especially if you ever enjoyed the horror comics from Marvel in the Seventies: Read The Legion of Monsters by Dennis Hopeless and Juan Doe. It’s a nutty, fun, whacked-in-the-hell, Hellboy-like mystery. It reads like an independent comic which happens to feature Marvel characters you may have forgotten about.

It’s worthwhile picking up via Amazon, and certainly worth reading on Marvel.com if you have the Marvel Unlimited subscription.

–Ken

Davros: His Greatest Schemes and Grating Screams

“The graveyards are full of the ‘indispensable,’ Mrs. Baynes.”

Big Finish DavrosRecently, while listening to an older Big Finish audio, called simply Davros, I said, “Good god, this is spectacular.” Right away, it blasted into the top tier of my Doctor Who/Big Finish list. Terry Molloy, who portrayed the creator of the Daleks in Davros’ last Classic Who appearances, is terrific, and his stabbing banter with Colin Baker’s Doctor is a dream. More important, though, is the story, which explores Davros’ origin and showcases his brilliant, twisted intellect in a way not seen since waaaaaay back in his introduction, Genesis of the Daleks (which cracked the Top 5 list on this very site).

Two things came to mind: 1) It’s not a surprise that the story is great, as it was written by Lance Parkin, author of the best of the Missing Adventures novels, Cold Fusion. 2) Why isn’t Davros written like this ALL THE TIME?

Let’s face it. Davros is as well known for his hysterical shrieks as he is for creating the Daleks. And considering that he’s also the galaxy’s foremost geneticist with an intellect that rivals the Doctor’s… well, that’s a Dalekanium-encrusted shame. Is it that hard to write a obsessed fascist scientist with visions of galactic conquest? Let’s take a look through his TV appearances.

genesis-of-the-daleks-5Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
We’ve praised this great tale already on the blog, but let’s call out the chilling performance of Michael Wisher. He makes you not merely loathe Davros… he makes you understand him. Davros is a megalomaniacal scientist, sure, but whoop dee doo; Whovian history is full of those. What makes Davros stand out is that he’s also, oddly enough, a patriot. He does what he does because, in his mind, it’s the only way for his nation to “win.” Anyone who stands in his way is a traitor who must be exterminated. Yet, when he seems to secure his victory over the Doctor, he wants to talk to his foe — not as enemies, but “as men of science.” The resulting scene is iconic. Forget the makeup. Marvel at what Wisher does using only one hand and the inflections of his voice.

Destiny of the Daleks (1979)
Unfortunately, Wisher wasn’t available for Davros’ return and was replaced by David Gooderson. Davros’ makeup, though, was already designed for Wisher. The result, like just about everything else in this episode, is off. The Daleks are mercilessly mocked within the show (blame Douglas Adams’ rewrites more than Terry Nation’s script), they’re treated like unfeeling robots, they’re powerless to defeat the Derek Zoolanders of Space, and both Davros and his creations lack the menace that made the previous story so powerful.

Resurrection of the Daleks (1984)
Davros, portrayed for the first time by Terry Molloy, gets a little bit of his necrotic mojo back in this relentlessly grim tale (a staple of Eric Saward’s scripts). Not content to be a mere tool of his creations, Davros plots to regain power with help from an extremely handy mind-control needle that’s in his chair. (In fact, it’s SO handy that one can’t help but wonder why he didn’t use it in his previous stories!) But that’s about it for Davros’ character. He does do something that would appear again in the series: He calls out the Doctor on his convenient morality. The Doctor refuses to do the dirty deed of assassinating Davros, although he’d probably find a way to indirectly assign that task to someone else.

Revelation of the Daleks (1985)
Davros (Terry Molloy) pops back in the very next season, and this time he has — brace yourself — an actual plan! He pulls a Soylent Green in order to amass funds and create more loyal Daleks to support him, now that the Dalek Civil War is underway. He gets to make a couple of funny business/marketing comments, but otherwise, there isn’t much depth to his character until the climax, where he and the Doctor have it out. Before that, it’s more of the usual “I will make the Daleks the Supreme Power in the Universe” stuff.

Remembrance of the Daleks (1988)
Without a doubt, one of the best Dalek stories ever. Alas, it’s also the worse use of Davros (a blameless Terry Molloy). He doesn’t pop up until the final minutes, where we discover that he is actually the Emperor Dalek. His ranting is now so over the top that Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor rightfully mocks him. Davros’ final words to the Doctor: a cowardly, pleading “Have pity!” By the roving eye of Rassilon, this is NOT the way the creator of the Daleks should behave!

We wouldn’t see Davros on screen again for 20 years, not until…

The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (2008)
Journey's End (8)Russell T. Davies pulled out all the stops for the Series 4 two-part finale, bringing back a slew of plot threads, companions, supporting characters, and classic baddies. “New Who,” now firmly a success, could comfortably dive headlong into its history without worrying about viewers saying “WTF?” and changing channels. And dive it did. Julian Bleach portrayed Davros here, and it’s a stellar performance! The actor said in an interview that he saw Davros as part Hitler, part Stephen Hawking, and that impression comes through solidly here. Even though Davros isn’t quite the top dog among the Daleks, it’s his body — literally — that is responsible for these new Daleks’ dominance. And with the Reality Bomb, he’ll finally be able to ensure that his creations are the masters of the universe… because no one else will be left. Mixing Machiavellian tactics, insanity, and scientific fascination, it’s the best portrayal of Davros since Wisher’s original. Davros and the Daleks are genuinely scary again in this story, for the first time in a very long time. It all ties up near the end, when Davros completely NAILS the Doctor on the Time Lord’s “true self”:

“The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth, Doctor: You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons… behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor — you made this.

“The Doctor, the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.”

That description sounds a lot like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in Series 8, doesn’t it?

Also worth noting is the Doctor’s initial shock at seeing Davros. He says that Davros died in the first year of the Time War, when his command ship was seemingly destroyed at the Gates of Elysium after flying into the jaws of the Nightmare Child. With that, Russell T. Davies successfully caused millions of Who fans to jump at their screens and yell, “What the hell is that?! It sounds great! We need to see that story NOW!!!”

Your move, Big Finish.

After hearing Lance Parkin’s Davros, I’m eager to sample to rest of Big Finish’s Davros tales. The guy deserves to be treated well… preferably with a dermatologist on call.

–Ken

Doctor Who and the Pirates

Big Finish and a Quartet of Evelyns

Big Finish has been creating wild, thrilling Doctor Who audio adventures since 1999. Along the way, we’ve met several new Companions (a few of whom were name-dropped into official Who canon in The Night of the Doctor). Of these, perhaps the most creatively successful is Evelyn Smythe.

Created by Jacqueline Rayner and voiced by Maggie Stables, Evelyn is the type of Companion not seen on TV Who to that point. She’s 55 when we meet her, can’t run well, acts independently, and constantly calls the Doctor out on his bad manners. And when “her” Doctor happens to be the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) in the early post-Peri years, she calls him out a LOT. She’s an excellent character who is partly responsible for the growth of the Sixth Doctor’s mellower, more reflective persona in later Big Finish releases.

In all, there are about two dozen Big Finish adventures with Evelyn. Unfortunately, Maggie Stables died late last month after a long illness. So, as a salute to both Maggie and Evelyn, here’s a sampling of her time aboard the TARDIS:

The Marian Conspiracy (2000)

The Marian Conspiracy“What would you say if I were to tell you that I once destroyed an entire race, that I have led friends to their deaths and caused numerous wars. That my intervention has led to peaceful people taking up arms and good people having their faith or reason destroyed.”

Evelyn’s first adventure with the Sixth Doctor is that rarest of treats: a historical! No aliens or monsters – just human beings in 16th century England. The Doctor traces a temporal fault to Professor Evelyn Smythe in the year 2000 and he tells her that her family history is being wiped out. The solution? Go to the source of the problem in the time of the Tudors! But when she’s pulled into a conspiracy to assassinate Queen Mary, will the Doctor’s solution cause more harm than good?

Pros: Worth repeating: a historical! Evelyn’s confidence and sass, right from the get-go. Her understandable belief at one point that the Doctor is her great-great-etc.-grandfather! The Doctor’s dark admission of the many mistakes he’s made. Good times.

Cons: None really, unless you’re against historicals, in which case you’re a fiend.

The Sandman (2002)

The Sandman“There’s a worrying possibility they’ll be less afraid of me now. It’s incredibly difficult to maintain one’s reputation of a fearsome monster when you’ve been seen running away!”

In the Clutch, a massive space fleet in constant motion, the Galyari are being stalked in the shadows by a boogeyman from their distant past, a bloodthirsty monster known as the Sandman. It is death to look upon him. He is also called… the Doctor. This tale is a weird one! The Sixth Doctor is positively creepy at times, and Evelyn is understandably confused and repulsed as she hears of the Sandman’s legacy.

Pros: Colin Baker clearly relishes the opportunity to go into Full Villainy Mode in the Sandman flashbacks. It’s a side of the Doctor rarely seen up to then. It precedes similar tactics used by the Tenth and even Twelfth Doctors. The nature of the true killer is rather clever.

Cons: Big Finish overdid it on the Galyari voices. At the start of the story, the lizard-like aliens’ voices are so distorted and grating that you may be tempted to tune out. The Doctor’s method of defeating the killer is a few feathers short of coherent.

Doctor Who and the Pirates (2003)

Doctor Who and the Pirates“Mutiny this is! Again! Mutiny squared!”

A bona fide Big Finish classic. Thrill to the exploits of the Gallifreyan swashbuckler, the Doctor, as he faces off that dread pirate, Red Jasper. Will Evelyn the Pirate Queen find the buried treasure or will she first order the foppish English captain to walk the plank? Yes, this is a comedy, through and through, set within a somber and surprising frame. Colin Baker, blessed with a wonderful script, is simply magnificent, going for Gilbert & Sullivan levels of bombast and comedy. Evelyn again is the moral center of the tale, and it’s her morality and empathy that lead to emotional payoffs in both the past and present.

Pros: The continuity-packed and hilarious “I am the very model of a Gallifreyan buccaneer…” The never-better chemistry between the Doctor and Evelyn. Red Jasper’s varying opinion of the Doctor’s wardrobe and manner, depending on whether Evelyn or the Doctor is telling the story (I laughed quite a bit). Nick Pegg as the cowardly Captain Swan. The out-of-the-blue emotional wallop in the final minutes.

Cons: Probably not for everyone. It IS a comedy. But if you’d let that stop you from listening to this, ye should be keelhauled, you scurvy dog!

Medicinal Purposes (2004)

Medicinal Purposes“How can you be so matter of fact about it?” “His death is his destiny.”

Evelyn, already grappling with the pain of seeing good people die, now faces the body-snatching deeds of Burke and Hare in 1827 Edinburgh, where the death of innocents is not only certain, but a fixed part of history! A bold and dark story – featuring murder and prostitution right off the bat – Medicinal Purposes has a fantastic cast, including Leslie Phillips, David Tennant, Glenna Morrison, and an interesting discussion of the historical benefits of murder.

Pros: The Doctor’s stance that body snatching was “admirable, but not honorable” and Evelyn’s disgusted reaction to it. His explanation of proper name-dropping. Also, did you see what I wrote above? DAVID TENNANT IS IN THIS!

Cons: The time-loop machinations aren’t easy to grasp, and the virus subplot doesn’t help.

Any Big Finish audios you’d like to recommend? Do you have a favorite Big Finish Companion? Post your comments below!

-Ken

It’s the Beginning … But the Moment Has Been Prepared For! (With a Bonus Top 5 Doctor Who List!)

Welcome to the Brains of Morbius! Here, the geek intellects of Ken and Mike will merge to talk about pop culture, games, fantasy, Doctor Who, and related magnificence. Join the discussion!

Let’s get this underway with our respective takes on the best stories of our mutually favorite TV show, Doctor Who. First off, the Top 5 of Classic Who:

Mike’s #5. Inferno

InfernoA Doctor Who “mirror universe” story, by all rights, should be all sorts of juicy fun. And while there are no evil goatees here, the Alt-Brigadier’s sinister eye patch lets the viewer know pretty quickly that this is going to be fun. What makes this particular story so compelling is the fact that when the Third Doctor is flung into a parallel dimension, he still fights just as hard to save it, even though it’s populated by the evil counterparts of his friends … and he’s devastated when, for once, he fails to save the day. It makes his grim determination to succeed in saving his “own” Earth in the final episode even more gripping.

Ken’s comment: By rights, a 7-part story shouldn’t work. Hell, they often had a tough time maintaining a good story across 6 episodes! Don Houghton wrote an amazing script, and you could tell the actors relished playing their “evil” selves. The Doctor’s failure IS devastating and really well handled. It’s also notable for being one of the few stories in those continuity-light years to actually be referenced in a later story (“The Mind of Evil,” also written by Houghton.)

 

Ken’s #5. The Curse of Fenric

fenric2Doctor Who is usually never better than when its roots are showing, and when those roots are Hammer Films, it’s impossible not to embrace the eeriness. McCoy’s Doctor is at his mysterious, Machiavellian best, manipulating everyone on chessboards both real and metaphorical. The creepy atmosphere, superb acting, and plot payoff make up for the iffy vampire effects.

Mike’s comment: “Fenric” is by far the most ambitious story of the McCoy years, and it pays off in spades. It’s clever, gloomy, and brooding – a far cry from his hammy first season. There are many moments where you’re not quite sure what the Seventh Doctor’s really up to. If only McCoy had been given the opportunity to build on this for one more season….

 

Mike’s #4. The Tomb of the Cybermen

180px-Tomb_ep3Troughton’s performance in this “base under siege” story is so powerful that it’s left its mark on pretty much every other actor to have played the role, even up to today. As the Tomb is discovered, the Second Doctor acts the innocent fool, bumbling around and wondering what’s going on … but as the story unfolds, it’s clear that he’s manipulating everyone else to do what he wants, and to do whatever’s necessary to stop the Cybermen. Troughton somehow manages to be heroic and funny while being dark and ruthless and calculating all at the same time, and it’s a treasure to watch.

Ken’s comment: It’s a classic tale, no doubt about it. The emergence of the Cybermen from their tomb is brilliant. I have trouble with some of the supporting characters – like the tough-talking and somewhat dumb Captain Hopper – but Troughton’s Doctor is a must-watch bundle of energy, even though I don’t see him as the manipulator you describe. I’ll have to look for that on a rewatch! The Doctor-Jamie-Victoria relationship is delicious fun.

 

Ken’s #4. The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Dalek InvasionPerhaps the first epic tale in the series’ history, the second Dalek adventure – set on a dark, conquered future Earth – has plenty of surprises, close calls, and tragedy. The first cliffhanger’s emergence of a Dalek from the Thames and the concluding departure of Susan (the first cast change EVER) push this already-excellent story to the top.

Mike’s comment: The story takes all the promise – and the fear – of their initial appearance, and ups the ante by moving them to a location all too familiar to the audience. The images of the Daleks gliding through the streets of London are still iconic even today. For my money, it’s Hartnell’s best story, and also his best performance as the First Doctor.

 

Mike’s #3. The Robots of Death

Robots of DeathOn the surface, it’s an Agatha Christie murder mystery in space. Peel away that top layer, though, and there are rich, elegant levels upon levels beneath it to explore. All the characters are fleshed out with complex motivations, and how they all interact with each other – and with the Fourth Doctor and Leela – is just a joy to watch. It’s a magnificent story that keeps the viewer guessing from beginning to end about exactly what’s really happening, and who’s really responsible for the murderous robots slowly killing off the crew of the mining ship. (Not to mention that the early scene of the Doctor explaining to Leela how the TARDIS can be “bigger on the inside” remains one of the best scenes in the entire history of the show.)

Ken’s comment: I love that scene with the Doctor and Leela! Not much to add in praise of this excellent Philip Hinchcliffe era tale, aside from 1) all the cliffhangers are top notch, and 2) the Doctor’s means of defeating the villain is supremely clever and one of my favorite resolutions.

 

Ken’s #3. Earthshock

EarthshockIn the debate over Best Cyberman Story, “Earthshock” prevails. The script (by Eric Saward, prior to his descent into the Abyss as script editor) generates so much energy in the crackling first episode that you don’t care about the plot holes later on. (WHAT is the Cybermen’s plan?) All of Davison’s scenes with the Cyber Leader are, ahem, excellent, and Davison himself is in top form. It also makes you care about Adric. ADRIC! Take a moment to appreciate the twin surprises of his death and the big reveal at the end of Episode 1 – they’d be nearly impossible to pull off today.

Mike’s comment: I really like this story, but it’s kind of like an episode of “24” to me – it’s best just to lose yourself in what’s happening, and don’t scrutinize the plot too closely (in particular the details of the Cybermen’s plan, which doesn’t make a lick of sense). It doesn’t hold up well under repeat viewings for me for that reason, but nevertheless it’s still all sorts of fun, and must’ve been mind-blowing to viewers when it first aired.

 

Mike’s #2. Pyramids of Mars

PyramidsofMars1“1980, Sarah, if you want to get off.” Why does the Doctor interfere so often in the affairs of other worlds? This story demonstrates admirably what would happen if he didn’t, as he demonstrates to Sarah Jane Smith. It also happens to be the best story of Tom Baker’s early Hinchcliffe era – creepy, disturbing, and horrifying at times, especially when the Doctor confronts the god-like Sutekh … and you’re not quite sure how even the Time Lord can defeat such evil.

Ken’s comment: This came SO close to cracking my list, right up to the moment that I wrote this. One element that makes Sutekh so scary and formidable: As viewers, we’ve never seen the Doctor in agony before. Oh sure, the Doctor has felt pain, but you always knew that he’d get the upper hand. Here, he looked helpless against the seemingly omnipotent Sutekh. Actor Gabriel Woolf radiates power and malevolence while staying seated until the climax of the story! That’s bad-ass.

 

Ken’s #2. Genesis of the Daleks

No one is more surprised than me that two Dalek stories made my list. This great 6-parter (another tale from the Hinchcliffe gothic horror era of Who) is packed with “Holy crap!” moments. The ethical debates – first between the Doctor and Davros and, later, between the Doctor and himself – are intense, and remain among the series’ best and most remembered scenes.

Mike’s comment: Origin tales usually suck. This one doesn’t. Easily the best Doctor Who story featuring the Daleks, not to mention the most thought provoking. And Michael Wisher’s portrayal of Davros is sheer brilliance – he’s more cold, calculating and ruthless than his Dalek progeny, and his performance is much more nuanced than later OTT portrayals of the character by other actors would be.

 

Mike’s #1. The Caves of Androzani

It’s a story where the Doctor doesn’t save the universe, or even a planet. Instead, it’s simply about the Doctor and Peri being in the wrong place at the wrong time – landing in the middle of a “pathetic little local war” between ruthless mercenaries and a fanatical rebel leader – and the lengths that the Doctor will go to in order to save his friend, no matter what the cost. It’s the Doctor at his bravest, and his most heroic, and it absolutely deserves its reputation as the best Doctor Who story of all time.

Ken’s comment: It’s fantastic. And I’ll correct you on one point in a way that makes this story better still: Peri isn’t even the Doctor’s friend! They’d just met a short time earlier (I’m not counting the dozens of Big Finish audios that’d fill the gap years later). He needs to rescue Peri because he’s responsible for her. That makes his actions and desperation even greater. And that brings us to…

androzani

Ken’s #1. The Caves of Androzani

It deserves all the praise. The cinematic direction by Graeme Harper was unlike anything the series had ever done, full of tension, undercurrents, and dissolves, with shockingly effective breaking of TV’s Fourth Wall at times. The guest characters are so complex and so well acted that you feel that you could happily watch a miniseries starring any of them. The Doctor is dying from the first minute, it’s Davison’s last story, yet you still don’t know what’s going to happen. “Is this death?”

Mike’s comment: No surprise that I 100% agree with this. Everything’s clicking on all cylinders with this story – it’s easily Robert Holmes’ best story, and he’d already written some great ones; Graeme Harper’s direction is surprisingly modern and appropriately moody; and Davison gives everything he has and then some in his final appearance. A must-watch of the Classic series.

 

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Incensed that there’s no love for “The King’s Demons” or “Timelash”? What are YOUR Top 5 of Classic Who? Leave your reply and let’s do some Time Lord Wrestling.

-Ken & Mike