The Best (or My Favorites, More or Less) of 2013

End of the year "best of" lists are allegedly becoming passe - NPR seems to be eschewing them altogether this year (at least as far as books are concerned) - but I'm a list maker, damn it, and I gotta be me.  At least I'm compiling everything into one big list as opposed to making one for each category; this is both for our mutual convenience and because even though I'm free of the yoke of grad school, I still don't have as much free time to spend soaking in the various pop culture media as I'd like.  I'd have a hard time populating a Top 10 Movies of 2013, for instance, because I don't think I got out to see 10 new release movies in the past year (and although I bet they'll be great, it will be some time before I get out to see stuff releasing now like American Hustle, Her, or Nebraska).

So with little regard for order or medium, here are some brief words about what rose to the top of whatever pile in which it happened to be in 2013.  Maybe not the "best" of 2013, per se, but the stuff I enjoyed the most:

 Bandette - I get the feeling I'm missing a lot of the more subtle jokes based on my limited knowledge of bandes dessinĂ©es, but Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover's (too infrequent!) series about a female thief working on the side of the angels (when it suits her) is fun, exciting, and often laugh out loud funny.  The only comic series so far I've followed faithfully in digital form, and then ponied up for again to get the nice-looking hardcover collection from Dark Horse.  As they say on the netwebs, shut up and take my money.

Gravity - I generally hate 3D, but for once it seemed like a crucial part of the experience and not just a ploy to jack my ticket up another $5.  The plot was fine and all - certainly entertaining and intense - but I wonder if it plays nearly as well in just two dimensions (I mean, I felt I was missing out as is by not seeing it in IMAX)?  Regardless, Gravity was proof that the scariest movies have nothing to do with monsters or body horror and everything to do with tension.  I hope Sandra Bullock gets nominated for the various awards.

Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor / The Day of the Doctor - First of all, kudoes to Steven Moffat and the BBC for keeping the big surprise of The Night of the Doctor under wraps until it appeared online.  I managed to catch it before the internet conspired to ruin it for everyone, and I legitimately gasped out loud.  As for The Day of the Doctor itself, it might not have delivered everything I wanted to see in the 50th anniversary story (which, let's be honest, was impossible due to time constraints, budget constraints, and that whole life/death thing), but it had that rare quality of being a good celebration story while still being a good story story (as much as I like The Five Doctors, for instance, it doesn't hold together well as a narrative).  And I was skeptical, but John Hurt was totally the Doctor.  I still refuse to renumber (Hurt is the War Doctor, not the 9th Doctor), but he carried out the role fantastically.

Doctor Who: The Light at the End - Besides, if my 50th anniversary dreams of a classic Doctors meet and greet couldn't happen on screen, Big Finish came through by bringing them together in audio form, where you don't have to worry about budget, storyline explanations for visibly older actors, or even the life/death thing, as Doctors 1, 2, and 3 are subbed by William Russell, Frazer Hines, and Tim Treloar respectively(Hines's Patrick Troughton voice is especially good).  The plot's a bit convoluted, but it's such fun to hear the different Doctors paired off (Paul McGann and Tom Baker make a great duo) that I didn't really mind.

WWE NXT - Simply put, my favorite wrestling show on TV (even if it's only on Hulu), and far and away the best show the WWE is producing right now, which is unexpected considering these are supposed to be the people on their way up, not the seasoned vets.  But the wrestling is usually fast-paced and energetic, the commentary is entertaining and legitimately informative (particularly when William Regal is on the mic, as his years of experience allow him to give the audience some amazing insight into what's happening both on-screen and in the wrestler's heads), the gimmicks are goofy but enjoyable (particularly guys like selfie-obsessed "model" Tyler Breeze, would-be thespian Aiden English, and hugs, robots, and headbands enthusiast Bayley), and the crowd is just super into all of it.  Also, the show's only an hour, so endless jibber-jabber promos are at a minimum to make room for the wrestling.  Hopefully some of these people (particularly my favorite, Sami Zayn) will make it big when they transition to the main roster, but I'm quite happy to see them excel on NXT for as long as possible.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen - It's hard enough to write well about food and eating in a way that takes a common, even communal experience and makes it interesting (which is why I think there are more truly great chefs than truly great food writers).  I'd imagine it's harder still to write AND draw about it, but Lucy Knisley does an amazing job of it, combining tales of growing up living among cooks, gourmets, and foodies of all stripes (and being one herself) with the context of the importance food in general and certain meals in particular have had in her life, and then mixes in some amazing-sounding recipes to boot.  If there's any justice in this world, she'll not only win an Eisner Award, but a James Beard Award, too.

Pacific Rim - A lot of people complained about the dialogue or the shallowness of the relationships between the human characters.  Um, folks?  This is a kaiju movie.  Be thankful that there were human relationships at all (and that they didn't take too much screen time away from the monster fights, which is a mix that not even the almighty Toho Studios itself could always get right back in the day).  I think what these people lose sight of is that this is a movie in which a giant robot walks up to an equally giant monster and then clubs it with a battleship.  If loving that is wrong, then may I never be right.

Hawkeye - Everybody and their brother loves this book.  There's a reason for that, you guys - Matt Fraction is telling stories that are both fun and tension-filled, that are light but have serious stakes, and focus on small moments that impact characters' lives and Marvel universe as a whole.  David Aja's artwork is pretty much perfect, too.  So expressive but with an economy of line that you can't help but admire... not a bit of anything out of place or extraneous.  Delays have hindered the current storyline a bit, but it's still the best book Marvel is putting out right now.  And yeah, the Pizza Dog issue was interesting, but it was Kate Bishop's first solo case as a Hero for Hire in the last issue that was the best of the year for me.

Captain Marvel Fandom, a.k.a. the Carol Corps - Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel series has been a lot of fun and I'm happy to see it's getting relaunched in the spring.  If you're not reading it, you should, it's a terrific book.  My favorite thing about it, though, is the positive fan community that has sprung up around it.  Search "Carol Corps" on Twitter or Tumblr and you will just see post after post after post of people sharing their enthusiasm about the book (especially comics newbies), fan art, cosplay photos, crafty items (a lot of people are knitting Carol's "lucky hat," it seems), and all manner of other things.  Every fandom should be this upbeat and supportive!

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - I'm only an episode or two in, and this premiered in 2012, but it's relatively new to Netflix and I just discovered it and it's my list anyway so whatever.  Anyway, brilliant, ballsy, gorgeous female amateur sleuth in jazz age Melbourne, Australia, and hunts down murderers with the help of her eclectic friends and household staff, all while vexing the local police inspector / inevitable would-be love interest... formulaic, sure, but it's done with style and the performances are great, so what's not to love?

Lego City Undercover / Lego Marvel Super Heroes: The Video Game - The Lego video games of the past several years have been almost universally good (except for when they tweak the formula too much, like the second Indiana Jones game or the Starcraft-like elements added to the Star Wars: The Clone Wars installment), so it's no surprise that these would be good.  I thought they'd have a hard time topping last year's Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes in terms of size, scope, and variety of options, but damned if they didn't do it in both of these games.  The former (a Wii U exclusive) is the first non-licensed game from Lego & TT Games thus far, and gives me hope for further original properties, especially in the way it combines the tried-and-true Lego game experience with the open sandbox gameplay world of games like the GTA series (indeed, many nicknamed this "Grand Theft Lego").  The latter takes the comics- and movies-inspired gameplay of Batman 2 and kicks it up several notches with an even greater array of characters, vehicles, and recognizable environments (bonus points for creating a very recognizable Manhattan that also seamlessly blends in some of the most famous Marvel landmarks).  Flying's still a pain in both games, though, which makes hitting that 100% Complete goal frustrating.  Still, they're both great fun.

And yes, I own a Wii U.  I like it.  Shut up.

Pretty Sketchy: My 11 Doctors

Today (November 23rd, 2013) is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, there have been 11 Doctors (officially), and I happen to have a total of 11 Doctor Who sketches I've picked up over the years.  Most of these have been the subject of Pretty Sketchy posts before, but the first 3 are ones I've gotten in the last few months.  Click on any image to TARDIS-interior size it, of course.

Sara Richard
Picked this up at Rhode Island Comic Con a few weeks back.  I've admired Sara's art for a few years now and was happy to finally get a piece from her, and given her mastery of awesomely funky wavy line work, I figured the 4th Doctor would be a slam dunk for her (that she's also a giant Whovian didn't hurt, either).

Bill Walko
I got this 10th Doctor/Jonah Hex team-up from Bill at this year's Boston Comic Con.  I was going to commission a sketch from him but then found this in his portfolio and, obviously, had to have it.

Denver Brubaker
 Commissioned this sketchcard of the 6th Doctor in the blue "Real Time" version of his infamous outfit from Denver via his website.  You should do so, too!

The Trusty Plinko Stick Guide to Classic Doctor Who Part 3

More recommendations for folks interested in exploring the original Doctor Who.  Some are good, some, well... some aren't, but I think they're all important to see for one reason or another.  Go back and read part one and part two if you're interested.

We are firmly in John Nathan-Turner country now, boys and girls.  Beware... things are going to get very, very gaudy from here on out. 

5th Doctor - Peter Davison
Davison's quieter, more compassionate Doctor can seem like a jarring transition from the big, boisterous, and often self-centered version portrayed by Tom Baker, and I think a lot of people overlook and/or underappreciate this Doctor as a result.  Davison was my first Doctor, though, and still a favorite as a result.
  • Castrovalva – Davison’s debut.  A bit uneven, but Davison really sells the post-regeneration crisis the Doctor experiences, including some decent imitations of his previous incarnations as his brain tries to settle itself.  Some fun moments in the titular city itself, and if you recognize that the name comes from an M.C. Escher painting, you'll appreciate some of the plots shenanigans toward the end.
  • Kinda - Basically, a Rudyard Kipling story in sci-fi drag, and though some people find it really weird, I think it's brilliant.  Some good commentary in here about cultural imperialism, the nobility and power present in cultures we might immediately dismiss as primitive, and that old Who chestnut science vs. the military.  Lots of spooky bits in the middle, and the script finally gives companion Tegan (Janet Fielding) something to do besides complain (and seriously, Fielding does all kinds of awesome things here... her best moments of her time on the series by far).
  • Black Orchid – A real departure for this era of the show: a straight-out period murder mystery, completely free of science fiction elements save the regular cast and the TARDIS.  Basically, it's like the Doctor crosses over into a particularly violent episode of Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey.  It might not be everyone's cuppa, but it's an interesting diversion, and at just 2 episodes, it moves quickly.
  • Earthshock – The Cybermen return in a story that's full of plot holes if you think about it too much, but it's an Important Story with Big Consequences for the cast.  Plus, I really like the Cybermen, and this story debuts my favorite design for them.  I defy you to watch this (or any subsequent Cybermen appearance) without breaking out into your best imitation of David Banks's CyberLeader (Exxxxxcellent.  Earth WILL be destroyed!)
  • Arc of Infinity – Continuity-heavy and (mostly) Gallifrey-centered story that really depends on your having seen The Three Doctors, The Deadly Assassin, and The Invasion of Time before it, but still: Time Lords in funny hats!  Plus, Colin Baker plays a Time Lord soldier a few years before he would be cast as Davison’s replacement, and he gets saddled with the most ridiculous helmet ever (seriously, did the Doctor Who wardrobe people just hate this guy or something?).
  • Mawdryn Undead - The first part of a trilogy of stories featuring the return of villain The Black Guardian from the 4th Doctor's "Key to Time" season, but really you're going to want to see this one because it features the return of the Brigadier and a whole lot of timey-wimey.
  • The Five Doctors – I talked about the 20th anniversary special back in the first post, but long story short: any weirdness aside it's a fun celebration of the series as a whole up to that point and a great place to start for new Whovians.
  • Resurrection of the Daleks – The 5th Doctor's only on-screen run-in with the Daleks.  And man, is it grim.  80s Doctor Who has a reputation for being really, really violent, and this story is one of the main reasons why, with what I believe is the highest on-screen body count in series history (though don't quote me on that).  It's a good Dalek story and all, but man, it's dark.
  • The Caves of Androzani –The 5th Doctor's final story is probably his finest hour, and in the eyes of many fans, the high point of the series as well.  The curiosity he always complained would eventually get him in trouble finally does, and by story's end he pays for it, though nobly. This one's pretty grim, too, but not relentlessly so, and instead of a needlessly high death toll we get a fascinating mood established by the performances, lighting, set design, and scene/shot construction.  It's almost sci-fi noir, and probably exactly the sort of thing the series should have been aiming for all along in this era.

6th Doctor – Colin Baker
 Look, Colin Baker’s era… it has problems, chief among them The Worst Costume in Television History (though it has grown on me over the years) and a script editor (Eric Saward) who preferred that the Doctor took a backseat to the Leatherclad Mercenary of the Week.  Seriously, that man had issues... watch interviews with the man now and he's one big ball of bitter.  This Doctor fares much, much better in the many audio adventures Colin Baker has recorded with Big Finish, but I think there’s at least some goodness to be found in his TV stories.
  • The Twin Dilemma – Baker’s first story.  Follows on directly from the end of Caves.  I can't even say it's divisive or controversial because pretty much everyone hates it.  But it's still Baker's debut, and I think he does a good job of portraying the Doctor in a real sense of flux and crisis.
  • Vengeance on Varos – Violent and grim (lots of Baker stories are), but some sly commentary on TV programming and audiences make it worthwhile.  Sean Connery’s son is in this, for what that’s worth.
  • The Mark of the Rani - We're introduced to renegade Time Lady known as the Rani (played by Kate O'Mara), an amoral scientist experimenting on humans during the Luddite riots as she gets dragged into a typical Doctor/Master showdown very much against her will.  Her performance here is wonderful, like an older Hermione Granger completely lacking a moral compass... the Doctor and the Master are up to their usual shenanigans and she is just over it and wishes they'd leave her be so she can get back to work.  The Doctor's dueling disgust and admiration of her genius is fun to watch, too.
  • The Two Doctors – Odd, grim, and needlessly bloodthirsty, but it's a chance to see Patrick Troughton as the Doctor one final time and though it's very hard not to wish the circumstances for that were better, it's still a blast to see him and Jamie palling around again.  Physically they've aged, but in spirit it might as well still be 1968 for them.  Plus you get to see some Sontarans strutting around in the campiest way possible, and that's always a good time.
  • Revelation of the Daleks – Just plain weird, but worth watching to see the Doctor trade barbs with Dalek creator Davros. And also to see whatever the hell it is that Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones is doing.
  • The Trial of a Time Lord – A season-long story made up of 4 smaller arcs retroactively known as The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe.  The Doctor is taken out of time by the Time Lords to be tried for crimes against Time Lord intervention laws, which is fitting because in the real world, the show was on trial with the BBC having just come off an 18 month hiatus and its continued future was in doubt.  The stories are linked by courtroom sequences that some people find annoying (they do tend to hinder the progress of the individual stories being told), but the interplay between Baker, Michael Jayston as sinister prosecutor The Valeyard, and Lynda Bellingham as the Chief Inquisitor is a lot of fun.  Jayston, in particular, makes a wonderful villain, even if his plots and motivations don't stand up to much scrutiny.  Taken individually, Terror of the Vervoids is the best story of the bunch (another example of Doctor Who doing "Agatha Christie in Outer Space"), while Mindwarp is bizarre and a bit unsettling, but I enjoy the season as a whole.

 7th Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
McCoy is almost two different Doctors unto himself, given that he spends his first season as a malapropism-spouting, spoon-playing clown, the his final two seasons as a master manipulator, working situations, monsters, guest stars, and even his own companion like a chessmaster.  Either way, the man can roll his Rs like nobody's business.
  • Time and the Rani – McCoy's debut, and the return of the Rani.  It has its moments, but it's not all that good.  Arguably the best of this first season, mind you, but still.  If you want an intro to the man, here you go, though since he and the tone of the show change significantly from this season to the next, maybe just skip straight ahead to…
  • Remembrance of the Daleks – The 25th season starts out with the Daleks and a return to the setting of the first episode not long after the Doctor and crew originally left Earth.  Lots of references to 1963 England (good and bad) in general, and to the origins of Doctor Who in particular (with a nice little Easter egg or two for fans of another British sci-fi mainstay, Prof. Bernard Quatermass, thrown in for good measure).  Truthfully, it's a better celebration of the show's anniversary than the actual 25th anniversary story, and probably my favorite Dalek story of the original series.  If you watch just one McCoy story, make it this one.
  • Silver Nemesis – The actual 25th anniversary story.  The Cybermen, a time traveling Lady Macbeth type who knows the Doctor, and neo-Nazis converge on Windsor Castle in 1988 in anticipation of a crashing comet which has ties to the Time Lords and, it is strongly hinted, the secret history of the Doctor.  Weirdly repeats a lot of the plot beats of Remembrance of the Daleks, so maybe don't watch them back to back.
  • Battlefield – It's old home week with this big love letter to the 3rd Doctor era featuring the return of UNIT, the Brigadier coming out of retirement for one last (on-screen) adventure with the Doctor, and Jean Marsh (who played former first Doctor companion Sara Kingdom) in the role of Morgaine LeFay, leading a group of knights from an inter-dimensional Camelot.
  • Ghost Light – BIZARRE haunted house story.  The plot is kind of hard to describe, but it's important to the ongoing story of the Doctor's companion Ace (Sophie Aldred), so if you find yourself invested in her character growth, it's worth watching.
  • The Curse of Fenric – An ancient (though heretofore unseen) enemy of the Doctor returns with a plot that has actually been playing out throughout most of this era.  The Doctor, on the other hand, shows just how far he's willing to go to fight it, even if it comes at a personal cost.
  • Survival – Some people like this one a lot, but I kind of don’t.  But it’s the final episode of the original series, it's the last time we see Anthony Ainley as the Master, McCoy gets a few great, yelly speeches, and the closing monologue is brilliant and a bit inspiring.

8th Doctor – Paul McGann
Well, now, this is interesting, isn't it?  Until very, very recently, McGann only got one official on-screen appearance as the Doctor, the 1996 TV movie.  However, it seems like his story may yet have a least a bit more on-screen life to it, we'll just have to see...
  • Doctor Who (a.k.a. “The TV Movie") – This movie was co-produced with the Fox network in hopes of being a pilot for a new series in both the US and the UK.  It wasn’t picked up in either place, unfortunately, and over the years it has taken a lot of heat for the look, feel, and tone of the story (it's very 90s, very American, and very Fox) and for some of the "revelations" sprinkled into the plot which the spin-off media have backpedaled furiously away from ever since.  But McGann is great as this newer, energetic, more passionate Doctor, Eric Roberts, of all people, chews the scenery with utter glee as the Master, Sylvester McCoy shows up at the beginning to hand over the reins of Doctorhood, and a lot of the things that people complained about at the time (GASP! The Doctor kissed a... g-g-g-girl!) are pretty commonplace in the new series and hardly anyone bats an eye at it now.  Worth a look to see what sorts of things made it over into the newer, successful revival, and to think about what this could've been had it continued.
And that, kids, is it.  There's lots more classic series Doctor Who-related media to consume, of course, in the form of novels, comics, computer games, and audio dramas from both Big Finish and the BBC, though there's always some debate on how "canonical" any of those can be considered (although Big Finish looks to have gotten a big thumbs up thanks to a line in "The Night of the Doctor").  That, however, is a post for another day.  In the meantime, get out there and watch some Doctor Who!

TV Binge (and Purge)

We cut the cord on cable over a year ago and haven't looked back.  Most of what we watch is readily available through the various streaming services (and subscriptions to multiple services is still far cheaper than cable), and the stuff that isn't we either wait until it is, pony up for it on Amazon or something (because it's a lot more palatable to pay for a program we do watch than thousands we don't on cable), or else skip it entirely.  It only ever seems to be a problem with sports - NESN doesn't stream the Red Sox, and NBC limited its online Olympics coverage to cable subscribers only - but as those are the only two sports we care at all about in our house, even that's not that big a deal.  And the upshots of this entire process are that we all find ourselves watching fewer television programs and reading a lot more, so we're better for the experience.

There's one aspect of the cord cutting lifestyle I haven't been able to adapt myself to, though, and that's binge watching.

With so many programs available in their entirety online - and with new programs being made specifically for the online audience that put the entire series up at the same time - a lot of folks are dramatically changing the way they watch TV, devouring whole seasons (or complete series) all in one go.  I saw an interview with Kevin Spacey recently where they talked about this in relation to his Netflix series House of Cards and he compared it to the way people read; most folks don't parse a novel out at the pace of a chapter or two a week, they read it all the way through until they're finished.

It's an apt metaphor, and I certainly read like that, but for whatever reason I can't watch TV that way.  It's kind of like eating donuts... I could probably sit there and eat the entire dozen given half a chance, but by the end, at best I'll be sick of donuts for a long time, and at worst I'll be just plain sick.  For instance, take The West Wing.  I never watched it when it was on but I heard great things from people I trust so when I found it was available on Amazon Prime and Netflix, I gave it a shot.  Yeah, as it turns out, it's a fantastic show, but 3 and a half seasons in my pace has slowed to a crawl, no matter how tense, compelling, or witty it may be.  Even with a show this good, I just need a break.

In the end, I need as much variety in my TV diet as I do in my real one, or at the very least I need smaller portions.  I've always like the British model for TV production... a single season/series goes for about 6 to 12 episodes, and if that's popular enough they do another set and maybe a Christmas special, and so on.  It's a lot easier to digest than the typical American 12-24 (or more) episode seasons because unless you're setting out to watch every episode ever of something with a long history like Doctor Who or, I don't know, East Enders, you're not as likely to get sick of it as quickly, especially if you're just taking a season at a time.  But I suppose portion control has never been our strong suit in this country, has it?

TARDITBODO (Time and Relative Dimension in Tiny Bricks of Danish Origin), or Who's Lego?

I was playing around with Lego and thinking about Doctor Who the other night (pretty typical night here at Trusty Plinko Stick World Headquarters (thousands of miles beneath the Earth's crust!), and of course got to thinking that I should combine the two. I've made some mostly purist (i.e.: pulling together without add-ons or parts modification) attempts at Doctor Who minifigures before*, but haven't gone much beyond that.  Such a project may not amount to a hill of beans, but this is my hill, and these are my beans, so I went diving in the Lego bins and this is what I came up with.

The 4th Doctor here is made up of mostly Hobbit parts, since Frodo hair + Bilbo torso = a pretty good approximation for the early Tom Baker Doctor.  The Dalek and K9 were based on designs I had found in various places online, though tweaked a bit based on some personal aesthetic choices and parts availability.  The console should probably have two more work stations, but it'll do for now.

But having put this together, of course I needed to add at least a little bit of the control room to go with it.

I'd like to figure out a decent way to make the roundels look recessed into the wall rather than sticking out from it, and it should be a gray wall with white roundels, but that didn't look very good.  All things considered, I'm happy for a first go at it.  And yes, I added a scarf for the Doctor.  Sticker paper from Staples is a Lego customizer's best friend.

Here's another angle:

Not content to stop there, I had to make a few more Doctors.  Some of these I made a few months ago, but I made a few tweaks to a few and took a shot at the 3rd Doctor the other night.  Here, left to right, are 3, 6, 9, 10, and 11.

The bandolier on the pirate torso bugs me, but it was hard to pass up the frilly cravat.  The Collectible Minifigure Small Clown torso was as close as I was going to get to 6's amazing technicolor dream coat, but I did switch out one of the arms for different shade of red since the real costume's sleeves don't match, either.  9, 10, and 11 all came together pretty easily, though 11's hair is a customized piece ordered from BrickForge (regular Lego hair just wasn't floppy enough).

Here's my go at a Cyberman and the Master

The Master came together pretty easily (I'd have preferred him to look a little more like Roger Delgado, but maybe a different had would fix that), but the Cyberman was a challenge.  He came out pretty weird looking, but I kinda like it.  It's almost more like one of the originals from The Tenth Planet (minus the big accordion looking chest piece).  The biggest problem here was getting that T-bar into the head.  Ended up having to cut it down so it would fit in.  I should probably trim it down a bit more, in fact.

Finally came my favorite grouping, the 2nd Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe.

I think I need a different head for Zoe, but otherwise I'm super happy with how these three came out.  The face for 2 does a good job of capturing Troughton's impish grin (even if the eyebrows don't match the hair), and the Collectible Minifigures' Bagpiper kilt made pulling a decent Jamie together a snap.  As for Zoe, well, how could I not use Catwoman's body to make everyone's favorite astrophysicist/librarian/logician's sparkly catsuit?

And now I still want to make more!  I'm thinking the 3rd Doctor needs Bessie, and even though I have the Character Building TARDIS, I still feel compelled to make one.  And I'm open to any suggestions people may have.  As long as I have the will, the imagination, and enough bricks and bodyparts largely lifted from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Super Hero lines, I'm willing to press forward.

*Which may seem redundant in the face of the generally-pretty-good Character Building Doctor Who sets, but good as they can be (and I do have a few), come on, those aren't really Lego.

Pretty Sketchy: Captain Marvel by Amy Reeder

Awesome sketch of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel drawn for me by Amy Reeder at this year's Boston Comic Con.  Had a nice conversation with her as she sketched this, finally picked up the first trade of the Madame Xanadu series that she did with Matt Wagner (been meaning to get that for a while), and I'm really looking forward to her upcoming time travel book with Brandon Montclare, Rocket Girl, which I'm pretty sure ships this month.

The Trusty Plinko Stick Guide to Classic Doctor Who Part 2

Carrying on from the first post (in which I cover the first two Doctors and suggest that the best starting point for the newbie crowd is actually the 20th anniversary story "The Five Doctors"), here are more recommendations for folks who want to check out the original Doctor Who series.  Some of these stories are quite good, some are bad-but-enjoyable, and some might even be just plain bad (but still important to the overall series for one reason or another), but these are my suggestions.  And they are just that: suggestions.  Feel free to follow or ignore them as you like, and if you classic series Whovians out there feel there's anything I've left out or woefully misjudged, please let me know in the comments.

Anyway, bust out your frilled shirts, cravats, plaid cloaks, Venusian aikido manual, and the keys to your favorite yellow roadster as we continue with...

3rd Doctor – Jon Pertwee
  • Spearhead from Space – Lots of firsts here... Pertwee's first story, the first story filmed in color (the first shot entirely on film, for that matter, and it looks great, but don't get too used to that), the beginning of the Doctor's relationship with UNIT as its scientific advisor, the debut appearance of the Autons and the Nestene Intelligence, and the start of an (almost) entirely Earth-bound run for the series (storywise it's because the Doctor was exiled by the Time Lords; serieswise, it was to cut down on costs.  It's an interesting era for the show, and at times feels more like The Avengers than what you typically think of as Doctor Who (with the Doctor as Steed and various attractive & capable women standing in for the Kathy Gale/Emma Peel/Tara King role), but when it works well it's still a hell of a lot of fun.
  • Inferno – The Doctor tries to get the TARDIS working again in order to escape exile and winds up transporting himself to an alternate reality where all his friends are eeeeeeeeevil, a la Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" (with the evil Brigadier's eyepatch playing the part of evil Spock's beard).  As with many 6-parters, it feels a bit padded, but it's a lot of fun and the regular cast clearly enjoyed playing their fascist counterparts.
  • Terror of the Autons – The Autons return, but who the hell cares because the series's greatest non-metallic monster, the Master (originated here by Roger Delgado), debuts.  Every story from this season (and several throughout the next) features the Doctor's own personal Moriarty, and though that might be overuse, Delgado and Pertwee play off one another brilliantly, truly selling the idea of two former friends who realize now that one of them will most likely end up killing the other.  The Doctor's companion Jo Grant first appears here, too, and she's fun, but honestly, this one is all about the Master for me.  Several actors have portrayed the character since this era due to Delgado's tragic and untimely death, and though they all have their moments, none of them hold a candle to this man.  He was the Master, and you would do his bidding.
  • Day of the Daleks - Admittedly I don't remember this one really well, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit when I was 10.  There's a lot of mucking about in the whole "you can't change history / a time traveler can't undo something he's already done" debate, the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect" gets thrown around for (IIRC) the first time, and as the title implies, the Daleks reappear (for the first time since early in the 2nd Doctor's era), and they have gun-toting ape-men (Ogrons) for helpers, and who doesn't love a gun-toting ape man?
  • The Three Doctors – The 10th anniversary episode, and the first time we see multiple versions of the Doctor team-up.  William Hartnell was quite sick in real life at this time, so he doesn't do much more than offer advice from a TV monitor, but Pertwee and Patrick Troughton are amazing together, constantly annoyed and bickering with one another as you'd likely do, too, if forced to hang out with your embarrassing past (or future) self.  The plot of the story itself is kind of silly, the monsters hokey, and for some reason the Brigadier seems to lose IQ points in the high double digits, but there's a lot of fun to be had.
  • Carnival of Monsters - A weird little story in which Doctor Who takes a side step into Irwin Allen territory (all I'll say for now).  Garish costumes, bad special effects, and about $100 worth of odd in a $10 package.  I can't say that I like it, really, but it's strangely interesting all the same.
  • Frontier in Space / Planet of the Daleks – Two stories that make a bigger one.  You have Delgado's final appearance as the Master, there's Ogrons and Daleks, and the lone appearance of the Draconians, who seem to have cast a long shadow in fans' minds despite this being their only "canonical" (i.e., on TV) showing.
  • The Green Death – Once again, maybe two episodes too long, but lots of dodgy giant insect puppets and Pertwee in drag, so at least it tries to keep things interesting.  Most notable for the departure of Jo Grant, and the Doctor's bittersweet (if not outright sad-as-hell) reaction to this event sweeps away the idea that classic Who was altogether free of the sort of romantic Doctor/companion feelings that we see in the new series.

  • The Time Warrior – We meet the warlike, potatoheaded Sontarans for the first time (well, a Sontaran at any rate), but more importantly the late Elisabeth Sladen debuts as prime "Doctor Who Girl" Sarah Jane Smith (who rather than being impressed with the Doctor right off the bat, is very suspicious of him for most of the story and even almost gets him killed a few times).
  • Planet of the Spiders – Pertwee's final story, which hinges off a plot point from The Green Death, plays with some funky Time Lord regeneration practices that we'll see again 7 years later, and in fact uses the term "regeneration" for the Time Lords' bodily renewal process for the first time.  It, too, goes on a bit too long, so if you get bored skip ahead to the final episode.
4th Doctor – Tom Baker
Baker played the Doctor for 7 years, and in the eyes of many people he is the Doctor to this day, so there’s a lot to pick from with him.  Still, I think I managed to keep this list fairly manageable.
  • Robot – Tom Baker's debut.  Very silly in spots, particularly in the beginning as the Doctor settles into his regeneration and pretty much any seen with the titular robot (especially as it grows), but it's fun.  Shot entirely on video, which they won't do again for years and years.  Looks a bit cheaper, but it's consistent throughout (I hate that "film in the field, video in the studio" thing BBC did for so long).
  • The Ark in Space / The Sontaran Experiment / Genesis of the Daleks / Revenge of the Cybermen / Terror of the Zygons – Five individual stories that all make up one big adventure.  You can watch them all individually of course, but I think if you watch them all and get the bigger picture of the story it's that much better.  The best of the cycle, inarguably, is Genesis of the Daleks - which may be the best Dalek story ever, actually, and for being a six-parter it doesn't feel padded at all - so if you're going to watch just one of these, watch that one.  The Sontaran Experiment is fun, too, and at just two episodes moves along at a nice clip.  Most people dump on Revenge of the Cybermen, and yeah, it has all kinds of problems, but it was one of my very first Whos and remains a sentimental favorite.
  • Pyramids of Mars – Incredibly popular in Who fandom, but I've never really warmed up to it.  Though to be fair, it does have some great moments, like Sarah mocking the Doctor's maudlin speech in episode one.  She also claims to come from the year 1980, which will confuse the hell out of fandom for years as everyone tries to figure out just when all those UNIT-related stories take place.
  • The Deadly Assassin – Fun whodunit featuring the return of an old foe and lots of palace intrigue on Gallifrey.  Pretty much everything we know about Time Lord society going forward (and backward, for that matter) stems from this one serial, making it one of the two or three most important stories to the show's mythology.  This one should not be missed.
  • The Robots of Death – Basically Agatha Christie in outer space.  Brilliant production design throughout, definitely one of the best examples of the show rising above it's budget.  The robots, the costumes, the mining vessel they're on, even the logo for one of the tools that figures into the plot... so much thought into the look and feel of this one.  The story is good, too, of course.  One of the two best "random sample" stories you could pick if you're new to the Tom Baker era.
  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang – Doctor Who does Sherlock Holmes.  Fantastic story by Robert Holmes, with one of the best "double act" sets of non-companion characters in the show's history (Professor George Litefoot and theater impressario Henry Gordon Jago, characters so popular they almost got their own TV spin-off and, many years later, did get their own audio series spin-off from Big Finish).  The characterization of the villain, a Chinese man played by someone who is not at all Chinese, may come off a bit racist these days, though, so you've been warned.
  • The “Key To Time” series: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, The Armageddon Factor – A season-long story where all of the individual serials combine to tell one larger, connected story.  The Doctor is forced into a mission by the White Guardian of Time and given a new Gallifreyan companion, Romana.  Uneven, but fun overall.  You could watch these individually, but it's probably best to watch the whole thing.  The Pirate Planet was written by Douglas Adams, so there’s that.
  • City of Death – Co-written by Douglas Adams.  Fun and very funny story set in Paris featuring aristocratic art thieves, the Mona Lisa, an alien from the dawn of time, time travel experiments, and a British cop who can't stop hitting people before they can actually talk.  Maybe my favorite original series story ever, and the other best "random sample" story from the 4th Doctor's run.
  • Shada – Another Douglas Adams story, but one famously unfinished due to a BBC strike.  Stitched together for VHS release in the 90s, though, with Baker narrating the gaps in the footage, and it was also recently re-released on DVD with this version, along with the webcast version recorded with the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, for Big Finish and BBCi.  Worth watching to see how much of this plot Adams ended up reusing in the Dirk Gently books.
  • The Keeper of Traken / Logopolis – Keeper follows on in a way from The Deadly Assassin (though I won't say how to avoid spoilers), and leads directly into Logopolis, in which we learn a whole lot about higher maths and Block Transfer Computations and the like, a mysterious stranger who seems to be tracking the Doctor's moves and making him very melancholy indeed and, at last, his regeneration into the show's then-youngest-serving Doctor, Peter Davison.
And that will wrap it up for part 2.  Next time: cricket, indecision, garishness, the Worst Costume in Television History, a producer more interested in flashiness than story, a script editor who doesn't like the main character and constantly tries to sideline him in favor of leather-clad mercenaries, and performances that somehow manage to overcome all of that.

My lesson from Boston Comic Con 2013: the kids are alright

I had the opportunity to go to this year's Boston Comic Con a few weeks ago, rescheduled from April due to the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt.  Though there was a lot of a lot of griping about the postponement at first, I think the show was better for it... safer environment, better weather, and a significantly better venue (if you have to wait in a huge line, a seaside view sure as hell doesn't hurt).  And the crowds... if people had been disappointed, it didn't show because they turned up in huge numbers, which made moving around difficult at times but everyone was generally polite, supportive, and pleasant.

That was my biggest take-away from the event... so many people, particularly the younger folks (and, sadly, I'm old enough that my idea of "younger" now extends into the twentysomethings) were happy to be there, excited to find cool things, show off their costumes and admire those of others', get together with old friends, make new ones, meet some of their artistic/entertainment idols, and so on.  It was a stark contrast to the sort of misanthropy you tend to associate with fandom when you interact with it mostly online, and a definite mood brightener.  Happy begets happy... we forget that sometimes, but it's often true.

Better still... they were proud of their nerdiness.  For people of my generation and our forebears, even though we passionately embraced our nerdy interests, there was still enough of society putting us down for it that it always felt shameful.  If we called ourselves nerds or geeks or whatever, it was an attempt to take back the words and redefine it without the hurtfulness it was meant to embody.

Well, if these kids are any indication, the words have been taken.  The words have been redefined.  We called ourselves nerds as an act of defiance.  They call themselves nerds because they want to, because they (and a larger - if not truly large - segment of "non-nerd" society) realize what we always knew but couldn't/wouldn't admit: being a nerd is fun and our stuff is awesome.

I might be romanticizing things, of course... middle school and high school are probably just as miserable now as they ever were, but thanks to social media and the internet in general, I think its a lot easier to find your pod now than ever before, particularly if you don't live in a major metropolitan area.  I grew up in a part of Maine that had a good comic book store, a couple of decent bookstores, and an okay record shop or two, but even that felt remote.  I knew a few other kids into comics and Star Wars, fewer still into Doctor Who... it was hard to find people who liked that sort of thing.  For kids in even smaller towns, it must have been really lonely.  But now it's a lot easier to connect with like-minded folks, strike up friendships, and arrange gatherings.  For instance, while I sat in an out-of-the-way spot to eat lunch I watched a huge group of Homestuck cosplayers gather for photo ops, and though it had clearly been pre-arranged people were introducing themselves to each other left and right.  It was fun to watch, even if I still couldn't tell you what the hell Homestuck actually is.  But whatever... these people clearly found their tribe in a way I would have loved to be able to have done when I was at that age.  I admire it a lot, and I kinda envy it a whole lot more.

Long story short, this generation of nerds has it pretty great.  They are proud, happy, confident, and seem to lack the negative self-consciousness bred into and, paradoxically, embraced by my peers and those who came before.  That's a good thing, and I hope that never changes for them.  I hope I can in some way make sure that it doesn't.

Pretty Sketchy: The Fifth Doctor by Tressina Bowling

Custom bookmark (how much cooler than a regular ol' sketch card is that?!?) of the fifth Doctor (as portrayed by Peter Davison), drawn by Tressina Bowling.  She just absolutely killed this one and I couldn't be more pleased.  Best of all, she laminated it so I can actually use it as a bookmark if I want.  For a librarian, a bookworm, and a Whovian, it's the best of all possible worlds.

My first MOC: the wrestling ring (or, Legomania is runnin' wild, brother!)

As has probably been pretty clear on this blog, I've gotten back into Lego in the past few years thanks to playing with the kiddo, and recently I decided to have a go at my first real MOC (My Own Creation) / scene, a wrestling ring.  It's very much a work in progress, and though I've been building actual kits for a while now, I'm still very much a newb to the AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego) world and I'm not going to be getting the call to go be an official Master Builder anytime soon.  I think I'm off to an okay start, but I've still got a ways to go before I feel like I'm satisfied and if there are any other AFOLs (or KFOLs, for that matter) out there who have any literally-constructive criticism and feedback for me, I'm all ears.]

Here's an overview of the ringside area.  I'm already not very satisfied with the green baseplate.  The color doesn't really work for the environment, and the basic square is a bit too small to build out with much hope of giving an arena feel (not going to build the whole arena, but I do want to have room for guardrails, front row fans, and maybe an entrance ramp).  They make the larger gray plates which I may upgrade to eventually, but then I think I need to make different-colored stairs into the ring.

Closer view of the action in the ring.  Wrestling rings usually have three sets of ropes and turnbuckles, but I tried that and it didn't really work with the scale of the minifigures.  Not as much room on the ring apron as I would've liked, but moving the ring posts in resulted in too little room within the ring itself.  The dimensions are still a bit small, but a.) I wasn't making it specifically to scale; b.) this was what I had access to, brickwise.

An even closer view of the action.  El Funkistador is putting the hurt on The Birthday Boy, but Surfer Rosa is attempting to turn the tide.  I still need a ref.  I'd also like to replace the ribbon I'm using for ropes with a nice, thick cord or twine, but again, that's what I had access to (thanks to the wife's craft table) and it works well-enough for right now.

The announce team calling the match from ringside.  Yes, this is supposed to be Jim Ross (r.) and Jerry "The King" Lawler, because I watched a lot of wrestling during the Monday Night Wars and that's just how it should be, man.  I'm reasonably happy with them, not so much with the table.  I need another monitor, for one thing, and I'd like to find a way to have them look recessed into the table the way you see with WWE announcer tables.

The ringside PA announcer (yeah, that's supposed to be Howard Finkel, too) gets ready to call the result.  I've already replace the microphone head with something smaller, and if I can get 3 more of those pieces, I may use those for the tops of the ringposts instead.  I think I'm going to look for an actual microphone piece (like the one that came with the rapper collectible minifig or the rock band set from the Lego Store) or 3, also, so all these guys can be properly miked.

One more shot of El Funkistador and Birthday Boy.  E.F. is, of course, the Super Wrestler from the Series 1 collectible minifig wave, though I got him from the Build-A-Minifigure assortment bins at the Lego Store, which is why he also has an Afro because it was there in the bin and he needed another accessory and I don't have to explain my ways to you people.  Birthday Boy is an amalgam of various parts.  The torso is from a party favor kit because we still had a few extras kicking around from my son's birthday last year.

All this is what I came up with a few weeks back.  Haven't had much time to work on it since, but it's been in my head pretty much the whole time.  As I said, feedback and suggestions are greatly appreciated... let me know what you think!

The Trusty Plinko Stick Guide to Classic Doctor Who Part 1

Ever since the current Doctor Who series began airing in the States and gaining in popularity, I've had people approach me saying they were interested in exploring the original series and ask where they should start.  Enough people that I started making lists.  Enough, in fact, that I ended up making one big list that I saved as Google Drive and Evernote docs so I could just send it out to any new people that asked rather than have to recreate the thing from scratch every single time.

After getting their assurances that, yes, they knew what they were in for and that their imaginations would have to fill in a lot of the things that are being taken care of by the special effects budget nowadays (I've heard people compare classic Who to filmed plays rather than "typical" TV programs, and I think this is often spot-on, particularly in the early days), I send them my recommendations for the stories I think they should watch.  I always include the caveats that these are my recommendations, that their tastes may differ, and that I include a few widely-accepted-to-be-bad stories in the mix because they may still be technically important to the show's history and/or I just happen to like them in spite of their shortcomings.

I've expanded the list a bit for bloggy purposes, but the same caveats apply.  These are my recommendations, yours may vary wildly, and there's a bit of bad in here because if you want the full classic series experience, you need to experience a few groaners, in much the same way everyone interested in Star Trek needs to see Spock's Brain or the one with Space-braham Lincoln.

I've also only included stories known to be complete (or mostly complete) and available commercially on DVD/VHS because it's just easier that way.  If someone wants to experience the (sadly many) lost stories through recreations or on CD, they can explore those avenues on their own.

Classic Series Starting Point: The Five Doctors.  No question at all.

Although it has its flaws (the original first Doctor had long since died and was replaced by another actor, Tom Baker opted out and is replaced with un-aired footage, Sarah Jane falls to her near-death down an ever-so-slight incline, certain story beats don't jibe well with series continuity, etc.), this 20th anniversary story is the best starting point because you get a feel for the then-current Doctor and each of his predecessors, various companions and monsters, and some costume-drama-esque palace intrigue besides.  It's a Whitman's Sampler for the entire series up to that point, and a great way to lead you off into other eras if you want to learn more about, say, this Pertwee fellow with the cloak and the yellow roadster.  I'm also partial because this was one of the earliest stories I ever saw, and it went a long way toward explaining to 8 or 9-year old me how this was a show about all these guys who were really just the one guy.

Moving on by Doctor (not necessarily the order I think everyone should go, by the way, but certainly the easiest way to list everything)...

 1st Doctor – William Hartnell
  • An Unearthly Child (also called 100,000 BC or The Tribe of Gum) – The very first story, and unarguably one of the most important.  It introduces us to the characters and the concepts (establishing the alien natures of the Doctor and his first companion, his granddaughter Susan, right out of the gate), and sets the entire series in motion.  Unfortunately, the three episodes of the serial that follow the first episode (from which the serial gets its now-accepted name) are pretty boring (the Doctor and company get trapped, escape, and get trapped again an awful lot), so don't feel bad if you skim those in fast forward or skip them completely, but that very first episode is a must.

  • The Daleks (also called The Mutants or The Dead Planet) – First appearance of the show's most famous villains (whose popularity rivals or may even top the Doctor himself), the titular Daleks.  At 7 episodes, I think it goes on too long (a frequent complaint about the black and white era), and a lot of the backstory established here gets contradicted later, but again, it's important to the show's mythos and there are a number of effectively chilling bits that help explain why so many Brits grew up watching this show while hiding behind their sofas.

  • The Edge of Destruction (also called Inside the Spaceship) - After cavemen and Daleks, the cast get a "bottle episode" story taking place entirely within the TARDIS.  Things get a little surreal, but it's a great chance to get inside everyone's heads.

  • The Aztecs – In the early going, the series would switch narrative focus between serials, alternating between a sci-fi story and a straight historical adventure (which often had few or no SF touches at all besides the whole time travel thing).  This story is one of the earliest of the historicals, and often cited as one of the best.  It's also the earliest example of the series's back-and-forth philosophy about whether or not you should directly attempt to change the course of history.

  • The Dalek Invasion of Earth – Once again, a few episodes too long, but this really establishes the Daleks as the series's one, true Big Bad (they don't just invade Earth, they have already conquered it by the time the story begins!).  It also features the first time we see a companion depart the series, leading to Hartnell's brief, wonderful monologue that kicks off The Five Doctors.

  • The Chase – The Daleks get their own time machine and chase the TARDIS all over creation.  Lots and lots of fluff here, just packed to the brim with tons of silly and episodic padding (and a blatant attempt to recreate the Daleks' success that just falls flat), but I think it's fun.

  • The Time Meddler – The first important story for the show's mythology (and what little we ever get on the Doctor's backstory) since the very first one because we finally meet another member of the Doctor's race, himself an on-the-run renegade.  We're still a ways from hearing the words Time Lord thrown around, but we get our first look at another TARDIS and get confirmation that the Doctor's is an older (and quirkier) model.  We also get more talk about just how involved a time traveler should be in the flow of history.

  • The Tenth Planet – Important for two reasons.  First, we're introduced to the Cybermen (my favorite Who monster), who may look like body-stocking wearing accordion-fetishists here but they end up being twice as creepy as a result (the early Cyber-voices add to the effect).  Second, and more importantly, it's Hartnell's final story.  He doesn't get a lot to do throughout the story (his health was failing in real life), and at its end we find out why, as his body gives out and we find ourselves saying goodbye to one Doctor and hello to another for the very first time.  The final episode is one of the many that are lost, but the regeneration scene still exists, and this is being released on DVD in the coming months with the complete final episode being replaced by an animated stand-in.

2nd Doctor – Patrick Troughton
(Frustratingly, most Troughton stories (and a sizable chunk of Hartnell's, for that matter) no longer exist in complete forms.  Stupid BBC and the short-sighted archiving policies of early television in general!  You can see sample episodes from some of those - the Lost in Time box set has a bunch of loose ends from both Hartnell and Troughton - but here’s what’s worth watching in more-or-less complete form.)
  • The Tomb of the Cybermen – The best Cybermen story ever.  A lot of early Who, Troughton's era in particular, consists of "base under siege" stories, but Tomb is unique in that rather than something trying to break in, the cast is trapped inside with the monsters.  It's a little bit sci-fi, a little bit Hammer horror.  Some nice Doctor/companion moments, too, particular with then-new crewmember Victoria.  You'll have to overlook some painful sexist dialogue and badly stereotyped Americans, though.

  • The Mind Robber – The Doctor and companions are taken to a land where fiction becomes reality, and a creepy place it is, too.  For once, the thriftiness of the production actually becomes a strength rather than a hindrance because it helps lend to the surreal qualities of the setting and the story. Also contains a very clever way to write out an ill castmember for an episode and Wendy Padbury in a spangly catsuit.

  • The Invasion – Another great Troughton-era Cybermen story, one that's officially incomplete but missing bits were filled in with narration on VHS release and full animation on DVD.  Fun for the character beats, scenery chewing human villain, bizarre fashions, and lots of great shots of Cybermen stomping through 60s London.  Important to the series because it contains the second appearance of recurring character Brigadier Allistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stuart and the very first appearance of UNIT, an organization of questionable secrecy that defends the Earth from various threats and becomes very important in the Pertwee era.

  • The Seeds of Death - Feels a bit padded, but I think the Ice Warriors are fun villains, the story has a nice message about the continued value of some technologies (and people) society declares obsolete, and Troughton really does his best to sell a giant pile of soap suds as a threat.

  • The War Games – At 10 episodes, I've always thought Troughton's final story was WAY too long, but the penultimate episode of the story features a problem too big for the Doctor to solve on his own so he has to call in the help of the Time Lords, and the series would never be the same.  We don't get a lot of backstory, but we get a little more about the Doctor's origins and a lot more about his motivations.  Even if you skip most of the rest of the story, watch the last two parts, especially for Troughton's memorably unusual exit.
As this post has long since passed the TL;DR mark, I think we'll end part 1 with Troughton.  In part 2, we'll get to frilly shirts, long scarves, fancy cars, robot dogs, and quarries.  Oh, so many quarries.

On Plinko, Cliff Hangers, and Childhood Trauma

A week or two back, NPR blogger and podcast host Linda Holmes wrote a post on Monkey See (NPR's pop culture blog) about why she thinks The Price is Right's pricing game Plinko is both flawed and boring, despite the fact that it is the show's most popular game - so much so that they recently taped an all-Plinko episode to be aired this fall (it was this news that inspired the post, 'natch).  Her anti-Plinko argument (which spilled over into an interesting discussion on her podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour) was based on the idea that the game's success is based almost entirely on random chance and requires very little of the sort of home economics skill that would help you win most of the show's other pricing games.  Podcast co-host and NPR music writer/editor Stephen Thompson added that the game itself has a tendency to not work properly, as the chips frequently get stuck on the Plinko board's pegs, requiring the host (be it Bob Barker, Drew Carey, Tom Kennedy, or whomever) to knock them free with the... wait for it... trusty Plinko stick.

Now it's probably pretty obvious unless you missed the masthead up above, but I'm decidedly a Plinko fan.  And while a lot of the game does come down to dumb luck in dropping the chips, that's hardly any different than, say, Secret X, Punch-A-Bunch, or Shell Game.  I don't know that an entire show's worth of Plinko is anything I want to see (though a show devoid of those quickie "Which one of these three things is the most/least expensive" games would be welcome), but as a recurring feature, I'm all for it.  I'm pro-Plinko and I vote.  Holmes is a good and frequently funny writer, though, and a charming podcast host besides, so I'm willing to overlook the difference in opinion even if she is Ms. Wrongette Wrongerson from Wrongsburgh, Wrongsylvania.  I can even overlook the fact that she thinks The Golden Road is a better pricing game, despite the fact it goes on way too long and I don't think I've ever seen anyone win.  No, my problem is the fact that she champions Cliff Hangers!

Even if you don't know the name, you know the game.  The contestant guesses the price of an item, and a little dude in lederhosen climbs a step up a mountain for every dollar that they're off, all while yodeling music plays.  Like this:

Yes, I understand that this is a popular game, unarguably one of the all-time greats where this show is concerned.  But it scared the hell out of me when I was a little kid!  I couldn't even be in the same room when it came on.  Even though I knew it was just a little plastic guy who was in no real danger except for maybe chipping when it hit the floor.  And if I'm being honest, it still makes me a little uncomfortable to this day.  So does yodeling (Nordic or cowboy), for that matter, but I admit that might just be a taste thing.

We're not talking deep-seeded, lifelong trauma here (and certainly nothing approaching the real-life trauma it allegedly caused former Barker's Beauty Janice Pennington, whose husband perished in a presumed mountain climbing accident), but it always struck me as surprisingly grim for such an otherwise upbeat, gaudy bright show.  I'm also no fan of heights, nor of plummeting from them.

I can understand if Plinko isn't your bag, but if you're looking for a pricing game that offers big prizes and a certain amount of drama, pick 3 Strikes, Race Game, Clock Game, or jeez, even Ten Chances (in which the drama stems from wondering when the contestant will realize that zero is always the last number, dammit!).  Let the poor Yodelly Guy hang up his hosen and take a well-deserved rest.  It will be so much easier on the part of my soul that is, was, and always will still be 4 years old, please and thank you.

Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Lego Minifigures

Although I think some Lego fans bristled at first at the idea of their collectible Minifigures Line (the folks who are brick purists and kind of resent the entire idea of the minifigs in the first place, and from what little I've dabbled in the AFOL world in the past few years, I can assure you they're out there), there's no denying that the line has been a success from the start (it was at least Series 3 or 4 before I could ever count on seeing these in stores with any regularity... they'd sell out too quickly!). The tenth series was just released a few months ago and series 11 on the way.

These have been really fun to collect, both solo and with the kiddo.  For one thing, there's thrill of the blind-packaged hunt, and I don't care how silly I look standing in Target or wherever going through the display and trying to feel for specific pieces inside the little foil bag (much easier than trying to decipher the "bump codes").  And then there's the fact that although the various Lego product lines have had their fair share of astronauts, cops, and knights (not to mention Star Warriors, super heroes, and boy wizards since they started making licensed sets), there haven't been a whole lot of, say, Elizabethan-era playwrights, rock stars, or ape men.  The Minifigures line has been an adaptable, Danish godsend for people who wanted super-specific character types but used to have to either a.) hope and pray someone at Lego got a particularly oddball product line approved; or b.) make their own.  And since this is Lego, the creativity of the latter group hasn't been hampered, but instead increased by factors of ten thanks to all of these new pieces.  It's a great time to be a Lego fan, kid or adult.

All of this is to say that the line has put a lot of great new minifigs into the world, but if I had to pick a top 10 (with a little bit of cheating) based on what has come out so far, this would be mine:

10. (Tie) Baseball Fielder (Series 10) - There was another baseball player released earlier in the line, a batter, whom I also liked a lot, but I like the fielder just a bit more because a.) he's on a different team, so the batter actually has someone to play against; and b.) the glove is a specialty hand, not just an accessory. It's unique, and it makes the fielder easier to find by giving you something specific to feel around for in the sealed bag.

10. (Tie) Battle Mech (Series 9) - The look of this character is instantly evocative of Ultraman, the Shaw Brothers' Super Infra Man, the Power Rangers, or a number of other Asian-import monster fighters you can name, but it's unique enough to stand on its own and inspire kids' (or AFOLs') own adventures.  He/She/It also fits in well with the old Exo-Force or current Galaxy Squad themes.

10 (Tie) Musketeer (Series 4) - Simple design, but evocative of the many, many Three Musketeers adaptations and similar films I loved as a kid.  I also appreciate that they went the extra mile with the floppy hat and cavalier-style dueling sword (and if you wanted something a little more accurate, you could always supplement it with something from BrickForge).

9. Forestman (Series 1) - They've done several Robin Hood-styled sets and minifigures in the Castle line since the 80s, but those were all pretty bland and featured the basic "smiley face" head, or maybe the "smiley face with triangular mustache" head if you were lucky.  Those were generic forest robbers, but one look at the costume and face on this one, and there's no doubt this is your top-of-the-line Errol Flynn-model Robin Hood.  Been seeking out this one for a while and will finally be getting it in the next few days.  Thanks, eBay!

8. Bagpiper (Series 7) - I always describe my ancestry as "British Isles mutt" (Irish/Scottish/English), and Lego has done pretty well by all my peoples in this line (well, maybe not the leprechaun), but the Bagpiper is my favorite.  Not only does it capture a stereotype without being, well, ugly and stereotypical, but the three unique additions here (bagpipes, tam, and a kilt as a separate object rather than just being painted on the legs) make this one really stand out.

7. Crazy Scientist (Series 4) - The wild hair, the goggles, the mad grin, the spattered labcoat... yup, this guy's aptly named, and just really, really cool looking.  Like many of the classic movie monster trope figures this line has produced, Crazy here was later ported over (with a few cosmetic changes) to the Monster Fighters theme.  The MF crazy scientist has a bit more detailing to him, particularly in the form of a dual-expressioned head, but I think I like the simpler, original version just a bit more.

6. Medusa (Series 10) - They've dropped at least one monster into every wave so far, but the current wave's Medusa is the best, and certainly the scariest-looking.  Having access to the pieces (like the snake body) created for the likes of the Ninjago theme serves this line well.  I can't wait to see if/how they adapt Chima pieces in the future.  Also, although she looks great fighting my Wonder Woman minifigure right now, I hope we get a Perseus somewhere down the line to go with her.

5. Skater Girl (Series 6) - There have been a few skateboarders produced in this line, but Series 6's Skater Girl is by far my favorite.  Cool design (love the skull & hair bow logo on the torso and board), unique color scheme, the flair of the colored streak in the hairpiece, and the smirk.  So much of Skater Girl's awesomeness is right there in that smirk.

4. Lizard Man (Series 5) - As much as I've always wanted a Lego Godzilla, I think I appreciate having a Lego "guy in a Godzilla suit" that much more.  One of the great joys of watching any Kaiju movie is knowing that there's a guy in the monster suit sweating his ass off as he stomps model buildings to entertain me, and I appreciate that that's been captured here.  One of these days I'm going to build a micro-scale cityscape for him (and Series 3's Gorilla Suit Guy) to stomp around in.

3. Super Wrestler (Series 1) - This luchador is hands down the figure I wanted most from the first series - very basic design, no accessories other than the cape, but so easy to depict in Lego minifigure form that I don't know why no one thought of it (officially) sooner.  However, I missed out completely the first time around and was put off by his initial aftermarket eBay price.  So I was pretty excited when we discovered his individual pieces scattered among the selections at the Create-A-Minifigure bins at the Lego Store.  When my son found all of the individual bits, put them together, and said "Dad, you need to get this," I knew I was raising an awesome kid (well, I've had other indications, but you know what I mean).

2. Librarian (Series 10) - Yes, I have an admitted occupational bias here.  Yes, this plays into a stereotype.  Yes, she looks more like Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory than any actual librarian I've ever worked with or met.  Don't care, she's awesome, and like the Nancy Pearl "Shushing Librarian" action figure, she plays with the stereotype more than she embodies it.  And the book title is a fun poke at a familiar library school story... someone involved in the line either has an MLIS or is close with someone who does.  She's so "inside baseball," what's not to love?  Also, to date she is the only figure I've actively sought out doubles of - one for home and one for my desk at the library.

1. Detective (Series 5) - Alongside Superman, Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional characters of all; certainly my favorite prose character.  And although easy to portray (as evidenced by the fairly basic character/hat/accessory treatment seen below), Holmes (or the Detective, but, come on) was still no one I would have expected to see given the Lego treatment, even in a product line such as this, so this particular minifigure was really a dream come true.