Adventures in Revisionism: The (Filmation) He-Man Finale

It was only when he felt and heard the snapping of Beast Man’s neck that Adam thought about something other than revenge for the first time in hours. Instead his mind wandered to the image of Adora, and what she would say if she could now see the carnage that decorated the halls of Snake Mountain.

He could hear her voice crack, and glimpse the horror in her eyes, so quickly turned into disgust. “Oh God, Adam. Why?” Merely imagining it hurt, but the pain was soon enough replaced by the sensation of his fist breaking through a locked door. In a corner he glimpsed the form of Tri-Klops.

“I had nothing to do with it!” He bellowed with one of his faces, distorted and deformed by terror. “I refused! I swear to all the Gods!”

As Adam tore off Tri-Klops’ right arm, and then his left, he briefly noted with curiosity that all three of Tri-Klops’ faces simultaneously screamed before the void took over Adam’s mind again.

The throne room was just ahead. The memory of Skeletor sitting relaxed on it, his shrill voice mocking him, returned Adam briefly to the realm of raw rage. But instead of Skeletor there was only Trap Jaw, who blasphemously sat on his master’s throne, slumped over like a drunk. With mechanical determination, Adam walked toward him.

Although his body trembled with fear, Trap Jaw’s voice was strangely serene. “Did Evil-Lyn get away?”

“Yes,” Adam replied truthfully.

“At least there’s that,” Trap Jaw said as he closed his eyes. Minutes later Adam absent-mindedly crumpled the mechanical jaw in his left fist. Once more he was beyond all emotion. The sudden disappearance of Skeletor was only a minor problem, a small flaw in the world, one that would be resolved presently.

Adam heard a growl coming from a few feet away. There Skeletor had a cliff transformed into a makeshift terrace. Panthor was standing guard there, ready to pounce on the threat. There, Adam thought. Almost as if sensing his intentions and his discovery, Panthor lunged in the air. Its speed was almost enough to catch Adam off. Almost. With one punch to its skull, the creature crashed to the stone floor, dead.

“I’m not a total monster, you know,” a voice said from the terrace. “I tried to get Panthor to abandon me and go back to the wild.”

Skeletor. Yet there was something very odd. His voice wasn’t as high-pitched, somehow, and it had a sad and defeated quality to it that Adam never would have expected from Skeletor. In fact, he wouldn’t have thought it possible from the wizard.

Adam stepped out onto the terrace. Skeletor stood in the center, leaning on his ram-headed staff. The misplaced confidence and psychotic arrogance Adam usually saw in him was gone without a single trace. “Well, at least he died quickly,” Skeletor said casually.

Anger was once more returning to Adam, but the strangeness radiating from Skeletor’s bearing awakened something of his sanity. “Don’t you dare expect me to mourn for your damned pet. General Duncan. Orko. Cringer. You murdered them all, Skeletor!”

Saying the names and the word “murdered” in the same breath was like a spell. It finally caused tears to pour from Adam’s eyes (perhaps enough, a dark part of him mused, to wash the blood from his hands) and caused what (and perhaps it was a trick caused by the moonlight or Adam’s own madness impairing his vision) appeared to be pity to cross Skeletor’s face.

“Tears from He-Man, champion of Eternia?” Skeletor said, but his tone wasn’t cruel. The opposite, if anything. “Or maybe the situation demands that I call you Adam.”

That was enough to stop the tears. “No…you can’t know…”

“I’ve always known, actually,” Skeletor explained, idly tapping his staff against the stone. “I’ve always known a lot more than you ever guessed.”

“What is this? Are you trying to stop me from killing you? Do you expect me to believe that you’re…you’re my uncle or something idiotic like that?”

“Nothing that simple, unfortunately.” The way Skeletor was speaking, after all these years and after dozens of confrontations, disturbed Adam. True, Skeletor had been his constant enemy and played a role in his parents’ and kingdom’s misery and the lost years between him and his sister, but their fights were…almost predictable, like routine chores for both of them. Skeletor never crossed the line into cold-blooded murder and never showed anything resembling regret and sorrow. Not until this horrible day.

“I want you dead!” Adam screamed.

Skeletor faintly smiled with his vile yellowed teeth. “Then you want yourself dead.”

Adam dared to take a step forward. “What kind of pathetic trick are you trying now?”

“No tricks. No magic. See?” Skeletor said. He let the staff slowly fall from his hand and into the chasm below. “I just want you to listen for a little while, and then…then you can do as you please.”

Before Adam had never felt true fear when he was in the form of He-Man. That was something else that changed that day.

“I’ve always known the so-called secrets of Grayskull too,” Skeletor explained, sitting down on the cold stone, his vulnerability revealing his sincerity. “Now I don’t know if you…if I have figured it out yet, but Castle Grayskull is an aspect, a manifestation, of the nexus that exists between all times, all worlds.”

“I…I suspected…”

Skeletor nodded. “Oh, yes, I was chosen to protect Castle Grayskull and the limitless potential of the nexus from the Horde and the Snake Men and…more horrible things. So much more horrible.”

“Stop it! Stop saying ‘I’! I don’t know what you’re doing now, but it’s insane! The Sorceress always told me that you’re an invader from another world! If you are what you say you are, she would have saved me from being you, she would have…”

“The Sorceress isn’t a person! She never was!  There’s nothing human about her! She’s just the will of the nexus given shape, something like its…its interface! People just see her as some kind of caring mother or big sister because that’s always the most effective form for it to take.”

His fear deepened. Adam trembled. “No, it has to be a lie.”

Skeletor gave out a sharp, bitter laugh. “Did you really think an ancient wizard would have a body like this? Please, I know I was never this stupid. The Sorceress uses you…us…me until she wears me out. The nexus is powerful, and maybe it’s even the closest thing to a God out there, but even it can’t beat biology forever. Many, many years after all my loved ones fade into the grave, my body does…will wear out. Our skin sickens and turns blue, our eyes sink into our skull, the skin of our face wrinkles and…worse. Oh, yet the muscles of He-Man must remain. Those are the only important part to what I and the stupid, superstitious people of Eternia call the Sorceress.”

“How…?” Adam said, at a whisper.

“I was just getting to that part. I began experimenting with magic, tapping into the infinite energies of the nexus itself. The Sorceress encouraged it, at first. Maybe it’s because the nexus felt that this was the best way to get the most use out of its little immune system, or maybe for some reason it wanted…all this to happen. I have no idea. Whatever the case, I learned, by accident at first, how to travel through the nexus itself. It seemed like it took an eternity, but eventually I learned how to cross into almost any plane and any time I wanted.”

“And…and you chose here? To torture me?”

“I honestly believed I could change the past,” Skeletor said. “I always hoped I could spare myself and even poor Adora this horror. I allied myself with that group of silly little lunatics, the Horde, and then at what I knew would be the right time set myself up at Snake Mountain. But in the end I failed to free myself.”

“No,” Adam said before surprising himself by laughing. “This is how I know you’re lying, that this is some bizarre new plan of yours. If you are me, you would have known! You would have known everything! You wouldn’t have lost, again and again!”

The look of undiluted grief in Skeletor’s expression was more than enough to silence Adam.

“In my time I tried not to understand too. Maybe there have been thousands of us since the original He-Man and Skeletor, maybe only as many as I can count on one hand. But I am certain we are not the first and I am just as sure we won’t be the last.”

“This is sick…”

“All our encounters…I’d radically change the variables from what I remembered about my own encounters with ‘Skeletor’, but it still turned out more or less the same in the end,” Skeletor said, emphasizing his words with a tragic, resigned chuckle. “The Skeletor I had fought in my world was a megalomaniacal warlord, crossing into strange dimensions in pursuit of godhood. This time I was an evil buffoon, playing the part to try to get me to fatally underestimate myself. Now all I can do is wonder what kind of Skeletor you’ll be when the time comes.”

With those words, the anger returned to Adam. All he wanted to do was make this stop and to excise Skeletor’s claims from his memory, even if he had to literally tear them from his brain.

“If you really are me, then…then how could you kill our friends like that? How could I make sure myself would be there to see the blast? How?!”

Skeletor looked up. “If I couldn’t free…you, I could at least free myself.”

With a cry of grief, for himself as well as for his friends, Adam grabbed the unresisting Skeletor. Skeletor did not even cry out. Adam stood right where he had thrown Skeletor’s corpse over into the abyss for he could not even guess how long. He only moved when he heard the pleading cries of Teela.

“I was afraid…you were here,” she said, standing in the throne room. “Is Skeletor…?”

Adam only nodded. Teela embraced him. Even though she had lost a father today, Adam knew the embrace was more for him than for her. “We…we must return.”

As Teela led Adam from Snake Mountain, she looked back at him. What Adam saw in her eyes was something he never thought he’d see when she looked at him. Fear.  

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler (1965)

Vicki and the Doctor find that Steven Taylor has not only survived the Dalek-Mechanoid War, but has managed to stow away on the TARDIS. The Doctor is willing to accept Steven as a companion, with the one demand that he not call him “Doc.” Steven is completely incredulous about what the TARDIS is and does, in no small part because of what it looks like. Meanwhile the TARDIS lands on the coast of Northumbria in 1066, as a man in a monk’s garb watches, but he is concerned rather than shocked or confused, and proceeds to spy on the TARDIS’ crew as they leave the ship. The Doctor orders Vicki and Steven to stay behind while he goes to find some locals, but Steven goads Vicki into helping him do some exploring of his own. At a nearby village the Doctor meets Edith, whom he wrings some hospitality and information from without exciting her suspicions. From their conversation he deduces that the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson had recently become king of England and has yet to fight in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Before going the sleep the Doctor hears the chants from the nearby monastery seems to slow down like a recording. Once the Doctor learns from Edith that the monastery was until recently abandoned and that the villagers have only ever seen one monk, he immediately decides to set out there to investigate.

Back near the beach, Steven and Vicki encounter a man who has picked something up from the ground. Steven wrestles the object from him and discovers that it’s a wristwatch. At the monastery, the Doctor finds a phonograph playing the chants, but unfortunately he also finds himself in the wrong end of a cage trap. The following morning the Monk prepares a breakfast for him, using all sorts of twentieth-century conveniences. Elsewhere Stephen and Vicki are likewise captured and brought before the village council, who debate whether they are travelers or Viking spies. Most of the council become convinced when Vicki reveals that the Doctor, whose description Edith recognizes, is with them. Following Edith’s advice, Steven and Vicki head to the monastery and find the Monk, who claims neither he or the “other monks” saw anyone, but Steven apparently tricks him into giving off a clue that he was lying. Vicki, however, senses a trap.

Back at the shore, a Viking scout sent by King Harald III of Norway arrives to prepare for an invasion to claim the English throne. The scouts come across Edith and rape her (which, by the way, we don’t see, but it’s very strongly implied). The enraged men of the village, led by Edith’s husband Wulnoth, find the scouts and manage to kill one, although one of the Saxons, Eldred, is badly wounded. Wulnoth decides to take Eldred to the monastery, where Steven and Vicki are breaking in. The Monk prepares to set the same trap for them, but is distracted by Wulnoth and Eldred, whom he helps with penicillin, giving Vicki and Steven enough time to find out that the Doctor already escaped using a secret passage. They return to the TARDIS, only to find that it’s been submerged in the tide, and decide to return to the monastery in hopes of at least finding out about the Monk’s intentions. Before they leave they discover a bazooka aimed at the ocean. Later the Monk, who is very interested in Harald’s planned invasion, finds his planning interrupted by the Doctor, who pretends to be holding him at gunpoint. However, the confrontation is interrupted by the surviving Viking scouts, who take the Doctor prisoner. The Monk subdues the scouts and heads to the village to instruct Wulnoth to light beacon fires for what he claims to be a ship carrying materials for the reconstruction of the monastery. When he returns, the Doctor, who has once again escaped, threatens him with a sword, while also in the monastery Vicki and Steven discover another TARDIS, disguised as a sarcophagus.

Under duress the Monk confesses to the Doctor that he’s trying to lure Harald’s fleet to the nearby shore so that he can destroy them using the bazooka. In the meantime Vicki and Steven discover treasures from throughout world history on the Monk’s TARDIS in addition to a log book, where the Monk describes discussing the principles of powered flight with Leonardo da Vinci and using time travel to make a fortune out of compounded interest. Back with the Doctor, the Monk brags about using technology to help build Stonehenge and explains that by eliminating the Norwegian threat he could help Harold Godwinson win the Battle of Hastings, changing European history, the Monk hopes, for the better. The Monk escapes and sets up an alliance with the Viking scouts. At the village, Wulnoth becomes convinced that the Monk is a Viking spy and whips up a mob to besiege the monastery. The villagers kill the Vikings while the Doctor, Vicki, and Stephen depart for the TARDIS, which is now on dry land. The Monk returns to his TARDIS to find that the Doctor sabotaged it, causing the control room to shrink to the point that the console is useless and leaving the Monk stranded in 1066 with a village of angry Anglo-Saxons still hunting for him.

Continuity Notes

It’s re-establishing the show’s premise time: the Doctor again asserts to Steven that due to a “technical hitch” they never know where and when they land. Vicki also explains to him that the TARDIS doesn’t change its appearance because of another malfunction.

Here’s the most we learn about the Doctor’s backstory since “An Unearthly Child.” The Monk turns out to be another member of the Doctor’s still unnamed species, the first ever seen besides Susan and the Doctor. While he only makes one more appearance in the series, he eventually also qualifies as the Doctor’s first recurring enemy other than the Daleks and has become a fairly popular villain in the spin-off novels. Also the serial demonstrates once and for all that the TARDIS is not unique or the Doctor’s invention; in fact, it implies strongly that such ships are commonplace among the Monk and the Doctor’s people.

In terms of the show’s production history, this serial is a milestone in one more way: it’s the first “pseudohistorical”, an episode that takes place in a historical backdrop but with sci-fi elements other than the Doctor and time travel. Soon enough the pseudohistoricals will dominate the show while the “true” historicals will stop being made entirely, which has so far remained the course for the 2005 series as well.

Unlike in “The Aztecs”, “The Reign of Terror”, and “The Romans”, the Doctor discusses changing history as more of a moral rule, albeit a very important moral rule, than as a scientific impossibility. I don’t think it’s so much a contradiction in the show’s continuity; the companions assumed that history can never be changed and the Doctor just never corrected them.

It’s mentioned that the Monk’s TARDIS is “Mark IV” and the Doctor’s TARDIS is an older model (the Doctor testily refuses to tell the Monk what model his TARDIS is), definitively setting up one of the show’s most beloved ideas: that the Doctor’s incredible-to-us ship is actually by his people’s standards a jalopy. It’s also implied that the Doctor has been away from his homeworld for so long that he doesn’t know what a Mark IV TARDIS is like.

Comments

After two lackluster serials, it’s nice to have this well-rounded serial that manages to take up the best ideas we’ve seen so far while also adding new depth to the Doctor’s backstory and exploring new potential for the show’s overall premise. This is the first serial in a while – the first since “The Aztecs”, arguably – to really explore the implications of time travel, and it pays off. Of course, it also helps that we don’t have a stock antagonist here or one that’s as clearly hostile as the Daleks or most of the baddies the Doctor has so far encountered. The Monk means well, even if he is totally unscrupulous and willing to kill, and ultimately comes across as someone who has used time travel for selfish ends most of his life but has on a lark decided to do something he considers a grand selfless gesture for a change. Who’s the Doctor to interfere with that?

Besides the atypical villain, it’s also interesting to note how quickly William Hartnell’s Doctor has truly become the center of the show with the departure of Ian and Barbara. He spins off some great moments, including shifting from his usual gleeful self perpetually impressed with his own cleverness to becoming seriously concerned about the oddness of the monastery and treating the Monk with calculated disdain while the Monk tries to engage the Doctor in a duel of the egos. The new companion Steven also makes a strong showing, having good chemistry with Vicki, who is placed in the unlikely but well-played role of the veteran time traveler, and realistically displays a forceful but still light-hearted personality (for me, of course, it helps that actor Peter Purves ain’t bad to look at). Even the implied rape of Edith, which could have easily been just a dark but still a throwaway moment, comes across as genuinely poignant and an organic part of the story.

What more can I say but that this serial has my vote for the strongest serial in the second season, if not in the show’s run so far, right down to the solid direction and the effective sets representing the Monk’s decrepit monastery. Just as “The Web Planet” was the last serial I’d recommend for introducing someone to the First Doctor, “The Time Meddler” is (so far) the first.

Final Fantasy Retrospective 2: The Evil Empire

In this picture above from the Playstation re-release of Final Fantasy II, we see Square retroactively beginning their policy of putting weirdly effeminate or androgynous, David Bowie-esque villains into the “Final Fantasy” series.

Final Fantasy II is the odd duck in the series, and not just because I only got to first experience it as a fan translation released in 2001 (an official translation eventually hit the North American market, but not for another two years), more than a decade after it first came out. Because it was designed by Akitoshi Kawazu, the same person who would go on to do the SaGa series, FF II has a gameplay system radically different from anything else in the series. Instead of gaining levels, you develop your strength and your magic and even your weapons via your actions in fighting, which sounds more interesting than old-fashioned level building until you realize that it means you’re expected to, say, do the same action 100 times just to make them “go up” (and even then, if you do another action or fail to do a certain action, you can actually go down). I don’t know anyone who played the game that didn’t exploit a certain famous bug that allowed you to just input the same action in the battle, cancel it, and repeat to make it “count.” In fact, it’s telling that, when Square “updated” the game for release on the Playstation, they didn’t “fix” the bug at all. It’s like having the company tell you, “Yes, we know this is tedious as all hell.”

In spite of this heretical gameplay, in other ways this kind of is the first real Final Fantasy. Besides the first appearances of chocobos, a guy involved with airplanes named Cid, and a bunch of character classes like (spoony) bards and dark knights, there’s the matter that is the first installment to be truly plot-heavy. While the first Final Fantasy complicated the usual swords-and-magic plotline with an out-of-left-field twist, the second threw in a story that featured a much larger and involved cast and a kind of changing, organic storyline that at the time seemed much more suited for anything other than a video game. Yes, the story was pretty much stock – four orphans go out on their own to fight a power-mad emperor who is working with demons – and you knew in the end that you would fight the Emperor much like you knew you’d have to fight the Four Fiends of the Elements in the original, but you didn’t know you’d end up pulling a Jonah and getting swallowed by a whale (or in this case a “Leviathan”), that your good amnesiac friend who was conscripted into the Empire would eventually join the side of the angels (well, okay, a blind man in Tokyo could have seen that happening all the way in San Francisco), and that most of the people you meet will end up dying horribly. No, this game doesn’t fuck around; most of your friends and allies are going to die and many of the towns and cities you visit are going to be utterly obliterated. When they re-released this game with optional bonus quests, they added a part where you get to play as most of the game’s supporting cast in the afterlife. It makes it even more of a shame that this game didn’t get a US release right away. I can’t speak for other kids in my generation, but we could have all used the valuable moral lesson that, while maybe you and your closest pals could against all odds overthrow a corrupt, demon-fueled nation that has taken over most of the planet, but almost everyone you’ve ever cared about and has ever shown you any kindness will be butchered, so stop crying!

Doctor Who – The Chase (1965)

The Doctor installs the Space Time Visualizer into the TARDIS, which allows him to view anything that happens in the past before the TARDIS’ current “location” in time, and demonstrates it to Vicki, Barbara, and Ian by showing Abraham Lincoln speaking the Gettysburg Address, Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth I, and a performance by the Beatles (playing “Ticket to Ride”, by the way). Soon the TARDIS lands in the desert planet of Aridius. While exploring Vicki and Ian find some seaweed and a trail of blood. They also stumble across a ring in the ground that opens up a trapdoor leading into an underground passage. Meanwhile Barbara and the Doctor see the Daleks through the STV, who just happen to be plotting their revenge for thwarting their plans for Earth. After setting out to find and warn the others, Barbara and the Doctor are caught in a sandstorm that buries the TARDIS.

The natives of Aridius help Barbara and Ian and mention that the planet once had swamps, but drastic changes in the climate made those habitats dry up, leading to the native Mire Beasts invading the Aridians’ cities. Discovering one of the aforementioned underground cities, Ian and Vicki are attacked by the Mire Beasts. An explosion set up by the Aridians to kill the Mire Beasts injures Ian. Back at the TARDIS’s site, the Daleks enslave a group of Aridians and force them to dig up the TARDIS, slaughtering them when the work is done since they are now “worthless.” However, the Daleks find that they can’t even damage the TARDIS. The Aridians detain the Doctor and Barbara, telling them that the Daleks have threatened genocide unless the Doctor and the others are handed over. Vicki is likewise captured, but they escape when a Mire Beast attacks the Aridian guarding them and meet up with a recovered Ian. Getting around a Dalek patrol, the TARDIS’ crew escape. With a head start of 12 minutes, the TARDIS flees to the Empire State Building in 1966, and then to the Mary Celeste. After the TARDIS leaves, the Daleks arrive and force the crew and passengers to abandon ship.

Next the TARDIS winds up in what appears to be a classic haunted house, with every cliche from vampire bats to creaking doors to rotating walls coming to life. Ian encounters Frankenstein’s monster while Barbara and Vicki come across Count Dracula. When the Daleks arrive, the monsters successfully attack them and the TARDIS escapes again – but in the confusion Vicki is accidentally left behind. The monster siege drives away the Daleks, who also forget about Vicki, who stows away on the Daleks’ time machine. It turns out, unknown to the Doctor who clings to his theory, that the house they landed in was a horror-themed amusement park in 1996 and the monsters were really robots. On the TARDIS, the Doctor and the others assume that Vicki is in terrible danger. Ian proposes that they try to steal the Daleks’ time machine in order to both have a chance of rescuing Vicki and stopping the Daleks’ pursuit. On the Daleks’ time machine, Vicki watches as the Daleks unveil an android clone of the Doctor.

At the next planet, Mechanus, the crew is menaced by a mobile flesh-eating fungus, but they find that someone had set up electric lights that ward off the fungi and form a path. Ian proposes that the planet is the ideal place to finally confront the Daleks. After they head off, Vicki escapes the Daleks’ time machine but is injured by one of the fungi. While the Doctor and Ian help her, the faux-Doctor finds Barbara and tricks her into following it. Vicki warns them about the faux-Doctor, just in time to save Barbara. Of course, the faux-Doctor and the Doctor end up fighting each other, and the Doctor pulls off deactivating it after a duel of canes. Cornered by the Daleks, the TARDIS’ crew is taken up to a futuristic city populated by robots, the Mechanoids. They also meet a man named Steven Taylor, who is ecstatic to see other people. He explains that the Mechanoids were robots sent from Earth to prepare the planet for eventual colonization by humans, but the colony plan was forgotten and the Mechanoids developed their own society. Realizing that the TARDIS’ crew aren’t there to rescue them, Steven says that the Mechanoids have been keeping him as a specimen since his ship crashed on the planet two years ago and assumes the same will be done to the others. While the Daleks and Mechanoids fight, the Doctor and the others use a cable to scale down the city wall. Before they escape the Doctor activates a weapon of the Mechanoids that destroys a major part of the city. However, Steven is seemingly lost in the chaos.

Barbara and Ian ask the Doctor to use the Dalek time machine to go home, which causes him to explode in rage and refuse to help them. Reluctantly the Doctor agrees, after Vicki prods him along. Barbara and Ian do find themselves in 20th century London, two years too late, and following the Doctor’s instructions cause the Dalek time machine to self-destruct. The Doctor watches them celebrate their return using the STV and pronounces, “I shall miss them. Yes, I shall miss them. Silly old fusspots.”

Our Future History

Vicki considers the Beatles to be “classical music.”

She also mentions that New York City was destroyed in the Dalek invasion.

Continuity Notes

Almost two seasons in and it’s already the end of an era. Of the original cast, only William Hartnell is left by the end. It’s also the introduction of another new companion, Steven, although so far the audience is led to believe that he died.

We also learn that the Daleks have their own time travel technology, although there’s no explanation as to how or why the Doctor shouldn’t be worried that the Daleks might try to track him again. In fact, they seem better at time/space travel than the Doctor.

The First Doctor likes the Beatles and “Ticket to Ride” happens to be his favorite Beatles song (which raises the question, does taste in music change after regenerations?).

The Doctor theorizes that the haunted house they land is in “an area of human thought.” If you really want to tie this into later continuity, you might say that the Doctor thinks that he’s in the Land of Fiction or a similar dimension. At any rate, it’s the first suggestion that the TARDIS can even end up in places outside what we think of as space and time, even if the Doctor’s theory turns out to be way off.

The Doctor states that it’s impossible for the TARDIS to land in the same general place and time twice.

As a side note, the footage of the Beatles performing “Ticket to Ride” is actually the only known existing footage of that particular performance.

Comments

Damn, this is a weird one, and not entirely in a good way. It has a premise that taps into the full potential of the series, suitably enough for the last serial to feature the original companions Barbara and Ian, but unfortunately it winds up wasting most of it on having the Daleks chase the Doctor not through history but largely through a series of Terry Nation’s usual “planets with names that resemble what they’re like” (equivalent to George Lucas’ “villain character names that are just slightly reworked words for bad things”). I think it’s safe to say that Terry Nation didn’t know what else he could do with the Daleks beyond “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, since so much – the disparate settings, the frequent comic relief (this marks one of the few times in the show’s history where the Daleks are used for comic relief, in this case a Dalek that struggles to do simple arithmetic), and the unfocused plot – all make it look like it was meant to keep his interest as well as the audience’s.

There are definite speedbumps in the script. The Mechanoids, who turn out to be giant, barely mobile globes with a barely comprehensible speech pattern, are a dud, a classic example of what happens when a writer who has one absolutely successful idea tries too hard to catch lightning a second time. The haunted house episode is filler of the most blatant kind, and worse it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Fortunately, the smaller moments go a long way toward salvaging it. The android Doctor talking with its Dalek masters in the same jovial yet impatient way as the real Doctor is genuinely hilarious, and the design of the Mechanoids’ city is an example of how far a good model can go even in a low-budget show.

Then there’s Barbara and Ian’s departure. Like Susan’s, it’s pretty well-handled, with the Doctor reacting with childish anger, which he obviously pretends is prompted by fear over Ian and Barbara’s safety, and having to be talked down by Vicki, who can only calm him after she promises that she has no intention of leaving too. It all builds quite well on hints dropped from almost the very beginning of the series, that the Doctor’s constant travels have made him lonely and that he honestly liked having Barbara and Ian along despite their rocky beginning (that the question of whether or not the Doctor was deliberately not taking Barbara and Ian back to 1963’s London isn’t answered at all is another good step). There’s even a cute montage of Ian and Barbara happily visiting sites across London after they arrive. However, they’re also both nonchalant about the whole “Arriving two years after they left” thing. It goes to show how much of a new angle the 2005 series was exploring by actually showing the consequences the travels of the Doctor’s companions have for them and their loved ones; there’s certainly none of that here, unless you count Ian laughing about how they’re going to explain their two-year disappearance.

Doctor Who – The Space Museum (1965)

When the TARDIS lands, everyone is concerned when suddenly they find themselves wearing their usual clothes, not the thirteenth century costumes that they had been wearing since leaving Jaffa. The Doctor waves off their worries by mumbling something about the “relativity of time”, but then Vicki swears that she watched while a glass of water that she dropped and shattered on the floor reassembled and flew back into her hand. Through the TARDIS’ monitor Barbara notices that outside there are spaceships. Ian guesses that they’re in a spaceship graveyard, but the Doctor observes that the ships are all from different eras. Venturing outside, they find that, even though the atmosphere is hospitable to life, the planet seems dead. The Doctor is finally disturbed when Ian points out that, even though there is a layer of dust on the surface, they’re not leaving any footprints; worse, they find that someone or something had taken the TARDIS. Approaching a building, the Doctor and the others find two men who don’t seem to notice them even though they’re only a few feet away. Seeing various exhibits of technological devices, including the armor of a Dalek, the Doctor deduces that they’re in a museum. When other members of the museum’s staff appear, they find out that not only are they apparently invisible to the people but also the TARDIS’ crew can’t hear what they’re saying. Next Vicki and Ian discover that their hands pass through solid objects. Eventually they find that the TARDIS has been set up as an exhibit, but when the Doctor tries to enter he only phases through it. Not only that, but they see that their bodies are also propped up as exhibits. The Doctor that the TARDIS skipped a “time track” and that they’re trapped in “the fourth dimension.” He adds that they’re only looking at a potential future and to have a chance at setting things right they only have to “wait for themselves to arrive.” Soon enough the Doctor is proven to be right and the TARDIS’ crew find that they’ve actually “arrived.”

Elsewhere in the museum, Lobos, the museum’s administrator and governor of the planet under the declining Morok Empire, complains to an underling about his job and wishes that his term of office would expire faster so he could return home. Lobos is informed that an unidentified ship has arrived and worries that they may end up helping “the rebels”, but muses that perhaps the aliens can be added to the exhibit. Lobos turns out to be right; two natives of the planet, the Xerons, who have been enslaved by the Moroks, hope that the visitors have weapons. It’s a bit late, and the Doctor is captured by Morok troops, but even though Lobos has the technology to scan minds the Doctor outwits him in the interrogation, but in the end an enraged Lobos condemns him to be made into an exhibit. An attack by the Moroks forces Ian, Vicki, and Barbara to scatter. Vicki and Barbara are found by the Xerons, who explain that the Moroks wiped out most of their people and use the survivors as a slave race. A fiery Vicki encourages the Xerons to seize the museum’s armory, using her knowledge of computers to gain access, while Barbara tries to rescue the Doctor from the chamber where he’s being frozen, unaware that Ian has forced Lobos with a gun stolen from a soldier to retrieve the Doctor from the chamber and revive him. Unfortunately, just as the Doctor is taunting Lobos, a squad appears.

Barbara and Vicki are caught too and wind up in the freezing chamber with the Doctor and Ian. Barbara darkly muses that they all had four separate choices and they all seemingly led to the same conclusion. The Doctor points out, though, that their decisions may have had consequences that didn’t really change the course of fate for them, but changed the circumstances around them. Outside Vicki’s revolution is overtaking the Moroks. Lobos and all the Morok soldiers stationed at the museum are killed, the TARDIS’ crew is liberated, and the museum is destroyed. Back with the TARDIS, the Doctor finds the technical problem that caused them to skip the “time track” in the first place. Before they leave, the Doctor takes one of the exhibits, a “Space Time Visualizer.” On a nearby planet, the Daleks monitor the TARDIS’ departure and vow that their “greatest enemies” will be “exterminated”…

Continuity Notes

The Doctor admits that even he doesn’t completely understand the implications of time travel and “the fourth dimension.”

When asked by a Xeron why she wants to see them revolt so much, Vicki says something cryptic about “I have as many reasons as you, perhaps more, to want to see the future changed.” A reference to her tragic past as we saw in “The Rescue” or a hint about more of a backstory that was never incorporated into an episode? I doubt the showrunners at the time put as much planning into building character bibles and continuity as that, but who knows?

After so many episodes that barely if at all mention that the Doctor is an alien, there’s a brief indirect bit about how the Doctor, if not his entire race, has a more remarkable and durable physiology than humans. Here being almost cryogenically frozen only causes the Doctor to have an outbreak of rheumatism (and get pissed off!).

Vicki mentions how she learned about the events of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from her history books, which at least spells out for modern sci-fi fans, now inundated with the idea of multiple realities and diverging timelines, that, at least originally, the “future stories” in “Doctor Who” were meant to be in the future, not a future.

Comments

It’s funny reviewing an entire series like this and seeing one’s complaints being addressed in later episodes, over forty years after the fact. With this serial, Vicki does get her own adventure and proactive role, although it is a little unnerving, seeing Vicki single-handedly engineer a violent uprising. At least she’s in character as her cheerful self all the while, even once the Xerons really start mowing down the Morok troops.

Apart from Vicki taking an unexpected turn as a latter-day Pancho Villa, there’s not much else worth noting, at least that’s good. The first episode is the first time the technical side of time travel affects the story, but aside from the characters pondering fate and the possible futility of trying to avoid the event they witnessed throughout the serial very little is actually done with it past episode one. Otherwise it’s the stock “The TARDIS crew help kind, pacifistic aliens overthrow/resist other evil aliens” plot we’ve seen in quite a few non-historical serials, enough that it could be the First Doctor era’s version of the 2005 series’ “Aliens launch global invasion of contemporary Earth, but ultimately no one seems terribly affected by it” plot formula. Even the museum setting just seems like an excuse to use a set that requires nothing more than a few pieces of machinery here and there. For whatever reason the quality of the dialogue has also taken a dent, at least in the “realistically handling exposition” department, unless people really do typically remind each other of how many days are in a year according to their society’s calendar.

So, not a good serial save maybe for the first episode, but there is one point for you hardcore nerds out there: the actor who played Boba Fett is in there somewhere…

RIP Llanview, PA (1968 – 2012)

Today One Life To Live aired its last episode.  Well, there is a longshot that this obituary is premature, since the rights to the show belong to a company still trying to make it into a completely online program, but more and more the signs point toward today being the absolute end.

I won’t really review the finale in this space.  I suspect most of my readers won’t get the references anyway and, besides, the whole thing was so much a consolatory letter to fans that it’s practically review-proof.  I will say they probably took the best approach possible, treating it more or less like an average episode (and even ending with a twist/teaser, which I suspect they would have done even if the hopes that the show would go online weren’t still fresh at the time of filming) but at the same time providing a degree of closure to most of the on-screen characters.

I should add too that the showrunners have been superb with addressing their grieving fans.  One of the storylines that started soon after news of the cancellation hit the news involved the cancellation of Fraternity Row, which had for many years been OLTL‘s “soap within a soap.”  One character, Roxy, who matched nearly every popular stereotype about soap opera viewers from being…well, not exactly book smart to being aggressively low-class, organized a protest to save the show.  The story culminated with Roxy (along with long-term character David Vickers) storming into the studio where Fraternity Row was filmed and Roxy having an elaborate fantasy where she, and most of the “real” cast, had become characters on  Fraternity Row.  The result was a single episode dedicated entirely not only to mocking soap conventions (and the less than stellar quality control!), but some of OLTL‘s own recent storylines. But even the lighthearted, postmodern joke episode had to end on a bittersweet note, as Roxy and David – and, of course, their actors – walked out of a vacant and darkened studio hand in hand.

Neither am I going to try to justify my sense of loss or write an apologia for soaps, which are probably the most maligned sub-genre of entertainment in the US right now (besides maybe pro-wrestling and reality TV).  I already did all that, after all, and actress Erika Slezak, speaking through her character Vicki Lord (Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Carpenter Davidson Banks), put it all better than I did.

Instead, like any mourner, I’ll just speak briefly about what the deceased meant to me.  Since both my parents worked during the day, I spent nearly every weekday with my grandmother, who happened to live next door.  Her stories of choice were Days of our Lives and One Life to Live.  Even as I got older, I kept watching via VHS tapes, savoring not just the ritual but also the very concept of watching this vast, complex, unfolding, and seemingly infinite story revolving around an entire community. In  ’99 when I went off to college I stopped watching (and for the most part television in general).  I started again in about 2004/2005, when re-entering academia freed up my schedule and I needed brain candy like never before.

So I literally grew up with the show.  I definitely grew up alongside the character of Jessica Buchanan.  We went to high school and college and got diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder at pretty much the same time!  (I’m kidding about one of those…).  Now of course I can’t say I’m devastated that the show is gone now, despite it being a small but constant part of my life for so long.  However, it does feel…off, wrong even, that One Life To Live won’t be around for me to awkwardly confess to watching to my next boyfriend, for using as an excuse for a break while I iron out the last chapters of my dissertation, and for watching for the first time in the first home I plan to live indefinitely in. I can’t help but admit, that actually will hurt.

Spiritual Warfare Part 1: Surviving the Christopher Hitchens Memorial Park

There is one historical figure who really ought to appreciate this blog, and that’s Jesus. Think about it: no single figure has had more trashy, sub-par, C-grade, disposable culture dedicated in His name. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Christianity used to produce things like the Sistine Chapel and Johnny Cash and Wise Blood, but in more recent decades here in the United States it’s unleashed a garbage island’s worth of shallow, forgettable imitations of popular music, TV shows, video games, etc., etc. It’s not just that Christians have become a demographic to be pandered to and told what their tastes are by our consumption-based society, but that some Christians have declared that they are a demographic apart, segregated by choice from the other decadent, corrupting, and secular demographics. Unfortunately, this has made Christians terrified of secular contamination the golden goose. After all, why should anyone bother producing anything original or, well, good when you’ve got an audience that won’t even look at any alternatives outside their own moral quarantine camp? Let ’em eat the crappy, distaff version of cake!

Now this might sound like an exaggeration, but let’s consider today’s case study, Wisdom Tree, formerly Color Dreams. A maker of mediocre and badly received games like Crystal Mines and Menace Beach (as Wikipedia diplomatically put it, they had a “…reputation for releasing poor games”), Color Dreams renamed itself Wisdom Tree and began making Christian-themed games…mostly by just changing this and adding that to their old unsuccessful games. I don’t want to cast doubt on the sincerity behind whatever caused the people at Wisdom Tree to so drastically change course, but really they had found what was at the time untouched territory: Christian fundamentalist parents and their kids. In fact, virtually all the religious-themed games for the Nintendo were from Wisdom Tree, as the Angry Video Game Nerd’s hilarious series on Nintendo religious games reveals:

I really don’t have much to add to the AVGN’s analysis, except to say his review made me curious about one game, Spiritual Warfare. Like even the Wisdom Tree games that were not dressed up leftovers from their Color Dream days, it was a slapdash rip-off of a popular Nintendo game, in this case The Legend of Zelda. Yet the sources I found agreed that it probably was the best game done by Wisdom Tree – although admittedly that’s like saying being pickpocketed is the best kind of crime to happen to you – and, worse for me, I was genuinely curious how one would go about turning The Legend of Zelda into a video game that would make even Carrie White’s mom say amen. And so I did play Spiritual Warfare, and, lo, it was a very awful game indeed…

For starters, the game doesn’t even make an effort to disguise the fact that it’s a Zelda clone. There’s a top-down view, stairways leading to dungeons, a landscape divided into single screens, occasional underground side-scrolling parts, the ability to equip two different items or weapons that you use through the A and B buttons, an inventory screen, and items like a raft and a special item that lets you push boulders. Even when you start out, there’s a room where someone (in this case an angel) gives you your first weapon.

The only big difference is the plot. Instead of taking place in a fantasy world (or ancient Palestine or whatever), Spiritual Warfare is about a modern city where all the people are not Christian and therefore they do nothing but go around trying to kill your character, some random boy God picked because for no other reason than it’s funny to pit a twelve-year old against an entire city of sociopathic atheists.

Your only defense against these God Delusion-reading marauders is…fruit. When you throw the fruit at an enemy, they begin praying and disappear. Sometimes a demon will pop out of them and make a beeline for you, but it moves so slowly it’s never a threat. Okay, I get that it’s a metaphor – in the inventory screen they even say the different fruits represent modesty and patience and whatever – but isn’t it disturbing that you convert people by just hitting them with pieces of fruit? Don’t most Christian arguments about why evil exists in the first place and salvation boil down to free will? Oh well, I guess when you’re evil because you have a demon stuck up your ass free will doesn’t even enter the equation.

You start the game in a park – at least, the game claims it’s a park. It just seems like a random assortment of black spaces and grass that, thanks to the stellar graphics, looks like it stabs through anybody that walks over it. The enemies are guys wearing sunglasses and carrying switchblades, thugs running around with baseball bats (I guess?), and bicyclists who aren’t really out to get you – they just ride back and forth in a demented pattern – but you get to kill…I mean, “save” them anyway.


There’s also this random guy playing basketball. Naturally because this is a Nintendo game my first thought was, “How do I kill this guy?” Sadly I couldn’t find a way to get past the bleachers that inexplicably surround the basketball court. I guess his soul is just damned forever because my character can’t get around some inexplicable bleachers. You can’t even blast your way in with bombs. Okay, they’re not bombs, but “vials of the Wrath of God.” This opinion might surprise you, but they’re not nearly as much fun as the bombs in Legend of Zelda. For one thing, there aren’t even any mountain walls you can try blasting an entrance into. For another, they can blow up boulders but the bicyclist who rode right into the blast radius just started praying, instead of having his little 8-bit head blown off (I’m just repeating the experience of everyone who ever played this game).

Well, anyway, you also start off right next to what I assume is the first “dungeon.” I use the term “dungeon” loosely because there are no puzzles or mazes, it’s just climbing up and down stairways in a side-scrolling stage and facing off against these slow-moving enemies. There is a boss at the end who you fight for the “Belt of Truth,” the item you need to push boulders, but what the hell the boss is even supposed to be I have no idea. It’s just somebody hiding behind a big garbage bag and shooting demons at you. It’s so easy a fight that it took more effort to kill myself just to see what happens when you die. Naturally, the one thing they don’t steal from The Legend of Zelda is the save feature. Instead the player gets those infamous long passwords that were the bane of many a Nintendo player.


I’ll probably have more to say later (assuming I don’t get so bored with the game I give up on this series), but there’s nothing like playing a badly designed game to make you understand what makes a great game great. In The Legend of Zelda, almost every screen seems like it might a secret stairway or cave hidden under a tree or behind a mountain wall and it’s not long before you’ve got Octorocs spitting stones in front of you and Zolas shooting fireballs from the water on the side. With Spiritual Warfare, most of the screens are empty except for the occasional boulder blocking a path that you just have to blow up – you know there’s nothing hidden because there isn’t even anything it could be hidden behind – and slow-moving enemies that would only pose a threat if you’re a really bad player or if you just get so bored you don’t care whether or not the brat on the screen gets to see his intestines thanks to a knife-wielding thug (which was my case). It’s hard to explain unless you’ve played both games for yourself, but comparing the two makes it obvious that there’s much more to making a fun video game than just filling screens with enemies. You have to make it engaging and fun without making every screen a death trap. It gets depressingly clear very soon what makes Spiritual Warfare the perfect example of the entire species of Christian knock-offs; the body is there, but ironically the spirit is completely missing.

In other words, I’m in for a really boring and pretty crappy ride.

Doctor Who – The Crusades (1965)

This time the TARDIS lands near the city of Jaffa, right in the middle of the Third Crusade. While looking around the group is ambushed by Saracen soldiers, who abduct Barbara. The soldiers also capture William des Preux, a Crusader who lets himself be captured while pretending to be King Richard I of England in order to distract the enemy, while the rest of the TARDIS crew manage to rescue William de Tornebu, a nobleman also serving under Richard. The Doctor hopes that by helping de Tornebu recover from his wounds and by returning him to Richard’s court they can get the king to help them save Barbara. At Saladin’s camp, des Preux interrogates Barbara, curious about her “strange clothes.” Barbara ducks his questions and finds out about des Preux’s charade. Concerned for Barbara’s safety, des Preux tells Saladin’s ministers that she is Richard’s sister, Joanna. Meanwhile the Doctor steals clothes for himself, Vicki, and Ian, from a merchant in Jaffa, so they can fit in.

A Saracen emir, el-Akir, presents Barbara and “Richard” to Saladin and his brother Sephadin, but Saladin sees through the ruse. An enraged el-Akir threatens to have Barbara tortured, but Saladin angrily rebukes him and dismisses him. Barbara actually tries to tell Saladin the truth of who she is and where she’s been, but he just assumes that she’s telling him in a roundabout way that she and her companions are traveling entertainers. As such Saladin considers keeping Barbara on as his entertainer. At Richard’s court, the Doctor and the others find an extremely ill-tempered Richard, who is glowering under recent setbacks in the Crusade and the news that his brother John is trying to usurp the English throne. Regardless Ian insists on begging Richard to send him with an escort to Saladin to arrange for Barbara and des Preux’s release. Richard declares he’d let Barbara rot in a cell before he would negotiate with Saladin. The Doctor and Vicki join in and convince Richard to reconsider by pointing out des Preux’s ruse and the potential embarrassment Saladin will feel when it turns out that des Preux is not the king. Amused by his way of thinking, Richard invites the Doctor to join his court as an adviser.

Elsewhere Ian is sent on a diplomatic mission by Richard to beg for des Preux’s and Barbara’s release as well as for the marriage of the real Joanna and Sephadin. So Ian will be qualified to serve as a royal emissary, Richard knights Ian as “Sir Ian Chesterton of Jaffa.” Ian delivers Richard’s message to Saladin and learns from des Preux about Barbara’s fate. Despite des Preux’s warning about robbers in the countryside around Jaffa, Ian is determined to set out to find Barbara. El-Akir, who wants revenge against Barbara for humiliating him in front of Saladin, arranges for Barbara to “escape” and then tries to sell her as a harem girl. Barbara gets away and is helped by Haroun Eddin, an enemy of el-Akir. At Richard’s court the Doctor argues with the Earl of Leicester in front of Richard; the Doctor backs Richard’s plans for peace and the marriage of Sephadin and Joanna. After Eddin is wounded by el-Akir’s men, Barbara gives herself up to keep Eddin’s daughter from being captured.

The Doctor seems to lose Richard’s favor when Joanna finds out about his plans to marry her to “an infidel” and he blames the Doctor, who knew about the proposed marriage alliance. Meanwhile Barbara is handed over to el-Akir, who promises, “The only pleasure left to you is death, and death is very far away.” However, Barbara slips away once again, finding refuge in el-Akir’s harem. Ian has his own problems when he’s overtaken and tied up by a robber named Ibrahim, who thinks from his clothes that Ian is a rich man and plans to get him to reveal the location of his “wealth” by luring ants to Ian’s body with honey. Richard apologizes to the Doctor and Vicki for blaming them; he knew that Leicester had informed Joanna about the marriage plans to try to turn him against the Doctor, but had to act to keep Leicester’s favor since he is a good general and Richard expects, since he cannot make the marriage match with Joanna’s vehement opposition and likely disapproval from the Pope, that he’ll have to soon fight Saladin again. To keep the Doctor away from his newfound enemy Leicester, Richard orders the Doctor and Vicki to go to Acre. Before they leave, the Doctor assures Richard that he will someday see Jerusalem. Vicki feels sorry that they have to leave Richard to fight a war he’ll never win.

In the harem, Barbara finds Haroun Eddin’s daughter Maimuna. Just as el-Akir is about to uncover Barbara, Ian, who tricked Ibrahim into letting him go, and Haroun ed-Din appear at the harem. Ian and his new ally, Ibrahim, help Barbara escape while Eddin kills el-Akir. On their way back to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Vicki see that they’re being followed by Leicester, who thinks the Doctor is a Saracen spy and Vicki is a witch. Near the TARDIS Leicester captures the Doctor, who convinces Leicester to let him see Jaffa one last time before he’s executed. This gives the Doctor enough time to make it into the TARDIS. When they see the TARDIS vanish, Leicester swears his men to silence, so they won’t be “branded as idiots or liars.”

Comments

It’s the first completely “straight” historical serial we’ve had since last season, but it sticks closely to the formula that’s been established throughout this season. True, the TARDIS crew has always ended up separated, but here once again they diverge the same ways: the Doctor and Vicki wind up together and having the (if only relatively) “safer” adventure, while Barbara and Ian are forced to split up and carry most of the action and suspense in the serial. In a strange way it does make the Doctor seem like a more proactive character, especially compared to the beginning of the show, since it leaves him to operate without the show’s original center, but it also illustrates too well how Vicki has virtually nothing to do but serve as someone for the Doctor to talk with. Now Maureen O’Brien does do a good job playing Vicki and she manages to bring some sparks of a personality, but they come in spite of the script.

As for the serial itself, it is, like most of the historicals we’ve seen so far, quite strong. It’s certainly the best acted serial we’ve seen yet, with Julian Glover depicting Richard I with Shakespearean flair. The screenwriters certainly feed him the spotlight: the argument between him and Joanna, played equally well by Jean Marsh, is good drama, as is the moments where he portrays a war-weary but still ambitious Richard. Bernard Kay also pulls off a very good Saladin, depicting a monarch that manages to be convincingly ruthless and compassionate at the same time. It might lack the use of the implications of time travel that existed in “The Aztecs” and to a lesser extent “The Romans”, but looked at in isolation it actually does work as a decent interpretation of the historical actors involved (even if Richard I is painted as being at least a smidgen less martial than he certainly he was in real life). Unfortunately, the whole serial trickles down to an anticlimactic conclusion in the last episode. Ian and Barbara’s escapades are wrapped up a little too neatly (for one thing, why did Eddin suddenly wind up invading the harem where his daughter was kept after all that time?), not enough time is spent with the fascinating idea that the Doctor is willingly letting Richard run into a dead end or even with Richard’s anxieties over what is for him still the future, and overall all the various plots seem to end simply because they must.

Despite that, and the lack of any real distinction apart from the quality of the acting, it’s arguably the strongest serial in the season yet. At the very least it’s another example that can be cited as evidence that the current showrunners should maybe consider reviving the “Doctor Who” historical format.

Final Fantasy Retrospective 1B: Final Fantasy Adventure

Also known as The Final Fantasy of Zelda.  

Unlike the SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend games, Final Fantasy Adventure, originally known in Japan by the poetic title Holy Sword Legend: Final Fantasy Supplementary Story, actually was originally intended to be a spin-off from the Final Fantasy series.  It was only later that Square decided to make the Mana franchise out of it.  Simple enough, except for the fact that in Europe this game is known as Mystic Quest, which later became the title of another Final Fantasy spin-off.  It’s still not quite as confusing as, say, the history of many competing Zombi sequels, but it can be close.

At the time I actually did like this game more than the original Legend of Zelda, since it combined the early action RPG elements of Zelda with the (for the time) elaborate storytelling of Final Fantasy.  It wasn’t until later that I learned to appreciate that a RPG can have a simple story – so much had Final Fantasy influenced my expectations even as a kid – and today I’d probably pick the first Zelda out over this game, just because in the long haul Zelda was the better game.  I don’t know why, really.  Final Fantasy Adventure had a more varied world, a wider variety of weapons and more options for battle, and, hey, you didn’t have to commit suicide every time you wanted to save the game.  Yet Zelda just still seems more fun in retrospect.

Not to say that this was a bad game by any stretch;  on the contrary, it’s definitely a classic, with strong and simple gameplay (despite a few bugs that, depending on how reckless you are about where you save, could leave you stuck in an unwinnable state) and an emotional score by the rightfully celebrated Kenji Ito.  The story itself is quite good, too, starting out like a traditional Nintendo game of the era (the first antagonist is even named the “Dark Lord,” which makes you wonder how he approaches PR issues) but then you escape from slavery, fall in love with a woman doomed by destiny and duty, find yourself caught up with a once powerful but all extinct order of heroic knights, watch as one of your friends slowly turns into a monster and is unable to end her own suffering, and finally stand by helplessly as the one person you were fighting to save is condemned to a strange, solitary existence in order to ensure a bright future for the world.  That’s pretty heavy stuff for a Game Boy game.  And I dare you to at least not get a little depressed by the ending, although even that was pretty cheerful compared to the storyline in the real Final Fantasy sequel no American fan got to play for years to come…

Yes, This Really Happened: Scrooge McDuck Destroys A Society With Capitalism

As much as I try to keep “Trash Culture” apolitical, I couldn’t help but be amused and horrified (amorrified? horrifused?) by FOX News’ denouncement of the recent Muppets movie. Really, a movie just having a businessman for a villain makes it anti-capitalist? That’s almost like saying Batman comics endorse euthanizing the mentally ill. If the Powers That Be at FOX really want to see a bit of children’s entertainment with an anti-capitalist message they should look in perhaps the unlikeliest of places: Duck Tales.

Well, maybe it’s not that weird. After all, in the original comics Scrooge was, true to his name, a ruthless and hate-filled tycoon. It was only over time that he became the cool gazillionaire amateur archeologist and treasure hunter that we all love and that most people of my generation encountered through the TV series. Even after Scrooge became less…well, “scroogey”, the original comics (especially the stories by the now legendary Carl Barks) and to a lesser extent the TV show weren’t shy about depicting Scrooge as a ruthless misanthrope. True, Carl Barks was anything but anti-capitalist, but Barks established that  Scrooge once deliberately frightened and exploited an African tribe in order to take their rubber-producing land, something that put him on a spiral of guilt and depression that lasted decades. So, yes, Scrooge was kind of in the same league as King Leopold of Belgium! Nonetheless, the point in the comics – and even in the cartoon – is that having a conscience and ethics is what really gives Scrooge his edge, especially over the heartless Flintheart Glomgold, the second richest duck in the world. It’s not as ragingly anti-capitalist as The Muppets supposedly is, but it’s not exactly an endorsement for the robber baron lifestyle.

Besides all this, one episode of the cartoon that FOX News should really be notified about is the episode “Land of TraLa La,” based on one of Carl Barks’ original comics. By their standards, it starts out promisingly. Like any good job creator, we find Scrooge besieged by people looking for a hand-out (including a representative from the League to Ban Billionaires!), which is enough to cause him to have a bona fide nervous breakdown. The only cure is for Scrooge is to go to a place where there is no money, Trala La, which is supposed to be a legendary locale yet it comes casually recommended. I guess in Scrooge’s world money can take you literally anywhere, even places no one is sure exists! Take that, Dante!

Anyway, a lot of the Duck Tales episodes adapted from the comics replaced Donald Duck with another character. At first it was Launchpad; later on it was Fenton. Now, I have to ask, my five or six readers, did anyone like Fenton? I mean, sure, his alter-ego was Gizmo Duck, who deserves some cred for just apparently being a very oddly placed homage to RoboCop, but he always seemed so…unnecessary next to Scrooge. Think about it: Scrooge is the cool, eccentric uncle who’ll tell you tall tales about how the Welsh were really the first Europeans to come across North America and take you to some iffy but fantastic archeological site to prove it. Fenton is the nerdy cousin who corrects your knowledge of “Star Trek.” Plus in this episode Fenton turns out to be the one who ruins everything (a role much better suited to Donald Duck or even Launchpad, but I digress).

As soon as Scrooge, the nephews, and Fenton arrive in the Himalayan valley of TraLa La, the episode’s anti-capitalist bent really kicks in. See, the usually skeptical Scrooge instantly becomes delighted to learn that there is no currency in TraLa La; instead everyone is “only happy to help one another!” Socialism! Anyway, this Eden falls apart with Fenton playing the role of the serpent. Fenton stumbles across a farmer finding a bottlecap that fell from Scrooge’s plane during their arrival. Fenton points out that in the valley of TraLa La the bottlecap is rare, making it valuable. Incredulous, the farmer shows the bottlecap to others and parrots what Fenton told him about “value.” The people respond by offering to give the farmer sheep in exchange, leading to this exchange:

Mr. Fenton, I’ve already been offered seven sheep for my bottlecap! What do I do?

Hold out for fifteen!

It’s at this point where Fenton being penciled in over Donald Duck really doesn’t work. When you think of people whose cynicism and greed can alone destroy a utopian society, it’s Donald. Anyway, as soon as Scrooge becomes happy with the tranquil life at TraLa La, he finds the people squabbling over bottlecaps. An annoyed Scrooge orders Fenton to fix the problem by giving everyone in TraLa La one bottlecap each, but the plan falls flat when one person manages to get two. So Scrooge asks Launchpad to drop a billion bottlecaps over the valley, assuming that bottlecaps will become so common they’ll become worthless. Instead the TraLa Lans end up creating an elaborate currency system. It isn’t this that pisses off TraLa La’s leaders, though; instead Scrooge, Fenton, and the nephews are threatened with execution by drowning (in fiction utopian societies, when push comes to shove, usually do not fuck around) for the crime of littering…well, extreme littering. In a rather dark twist, Scrooge and Fenton are allowed to go back to the Himalayas in order to stop Launchpad from bringing back more bottlecaps, but only if they agree to leave Huey, Dewey, and Louie behind to be killed if they fail (so that’s why Scrooge always brings along the nephews!). Needless to say, Fenton and Scrooge succeed, albeit by accidentally causing Launchpad to crash, and are exiled from the once moneyless Paradise.

Admittedly the main problem with the episode, besides Fenton being a poor replacement for Donald Duck, is that it shifts from a “money is the root of all evil” message to a weird environmental (if that) moral. There is one last scene showing how the TraLa Lans invent an insanely elaborate and irrational currency system, but after that we don’t even really learn what happens to TraLa La or how much the introduction of a currency system has changed their society. I think even the brain trust at FOX News would agree that makes the whole episode a less than satisfactory indoctrination lesson on Socialism, but compared to Muppets the episode is a scathing indictment of the very philosophical underpinnings of capitalism. After all, just building a whole episode around “Money is a completely arbitrary and socially constructed concept” is a pretty heavy lesson to lay on the kids – or, for that matter, the people who run FOX News.