Thursday, July 21, 2005


It was about eight years ago when I met James Doohan, who portrayed Commander Montgomery Scott on the classic 'Star Trek'.

A friend of mine from the Idiot's Delight Digest, Listener Mara, was working for the FOX cable off-shoot, FX. And she invited me to come and hang out behind the scenes while they broadcast a charity sci-fi auction.

James Doohan was the guest for the show.

The show was broadcast from the "Apartment", that mock-up of the ideal home from which they were doing their attempt at a morning show with Tom Bergeron and Bob the puppet.

(BTW - Bob was cool. Somebody should get him a new gig. If the Pets.Com Sock-Dog can get work with 1-800-BAR-NONE......)

Anyway, after the auction show was over, (and I had helped myself to more than my share of the backstage repast), I made ready to leave and worked up de noive to say goodnight to Mr. Doohan.

I held out my hand to shake his and with his firm grip I realized there was something just a little bit.... off.

As we broke contact, I had to look - and saw that he was missing his middle finger.

Afterwards I found out that he "gave the finger to Hitler" as it was shot off at Juno Beach on D-Day, 11 years to the day before I was born. (He was also shot once in the chest and several times in the leg. Luckily for us TV fanatics, they didn't stop him.)

It may very well be that Mr. Doohan's portrayal of Scotty on 'Star Trek' was one of the last two acting roles in Toobworld in which an actor's actual physical condition was not worked into the plotline. (The other one that comes to mind would be Gary Burghoff's slightly deformed hand, which for the most part was kept from view in 'M*A*S*H'.)

According to the obits in today's papers, the IMDb has noted that the hand with the missing finger shows up in only two episodes - "The Trouble With Tribbles" and "Catspaw". But those shots must have been by accident, as there was an episode in which Scotty had to give testimony in a court case and he had to lay his hand down on an identiscreen.

That hand has five fingers, so obviously a stunt hand had to be called in.....

Nowadays the digital deletion would have been addressed in the series; they might even have been able to build an entire plotine around it. That's what happened with Jim Byrnes as Lifeguard on 'Wiseguy'; we've seen Robert D. Hall handling his fake leg on 'CSI'. Heather Mills-McCartney portrayed herself on a soap opera so that she could address the issue in a few episodes earlier this summer.

At any rate, Mr. Doohan will probably be the only member of the original 'Star Trek' cast whom I'll get to meet. (I did get to ask a question of Leonard Nimoy at Universal Studios back in 1989, but I was in a big audience, so that doesn't really count.)

James Doohan died Wednesday, the anniversary of the first Moon landing, at the age of 85.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005



There's one last point I'd like to make about the two-part story of 'Doctor Who' dealing with the Slitheen.....

In a quiet moment just before all hell broke loose, the Doctor revealed to Rose that in "900 years of Time and Space, and I've never been slapped by someone's mother."

This shocks Rose, and she asks him if he is 900 years old.

Now, I would think that his previous statement would infer that he was older than that, that he had spent 900 years in traveling.

But you could tell he jumps on this figure as his age a little too eagerly, as though he didn't want to admit how old he really was. I suppose the argument could be made that he was just shrugging off the answer to avoid going into details with her.

(There has been some indication throughout the series that the Ninth Doctor is a bit disdainful of the Humans' capability to grasp certain concepts beyond their boundaries of comprehension. In general, Mickey Smith seems to be the stand-in for all of Humanity when it comes to these jibes. But there are also times when the Doctor snipes at Rose as well.)

Still I'd like to think the Doctor was insisting on being 900 years old because of vanity. (It wouldn't be the first time!)

After all, look how put out he gets whenever someone makes comments about his leather jumper, never mind his ears!

The contributors at Wikipedia, the great online encyclopedia, have worked out a rough estimate as to the Doctor's true age:

"The Doctor's age

The Doctor's age has been stated (or estimated) in several stories. In the serial The Tomb of the Cybermen the Second Doctor told Victoria that he was around 450 years old. The Second Doctor was also seen to carry around a 500-year diary in which he kept notes.

By the time of The Brain of Morbius, the Fourth Doctor was stated to be 749 years old ("something like 750 years" in the prior Pyramids of Mars). In The Ribos Operation, the first Romana said the Doctor was 759 years old and had been piloting the TARDIS for 523 years, making him 236 when he first "borrowed" it. In Revelation of the Daleks the Sixth Doctor was 900 years old, and in Time and the Rani, the Seventh Doctor's age was the same as the Rani's, namely 953.

In Remembrance of the Daleks the Seventh Doctor said that he had "900 years experience" rewiring alien equipment. In the 1996 television movie, the Eighth Doctor kept a 900-year diary in his TARDIS.

The large gap in years between the Fourth and Sixth Doctors can be partially covered by the fact that the Fourth Doctor traveled alone for a time or with an equally long-lived Time Lady as a companion, allowing for several decades or centuries of untelevised stories to take place.

There was also a gap just after The Trial of a Time Lord which can account for the Doctor's difference in ages between Revelation and Time and the Rani.

While the Fifth Doctor was never seen without a companion, there was a period where he was traveling with Nyssa of Traken, who, not being human, may not have aged normally.

How this figure [of being 900] is to be reconciled with the Doctor's age in the rest of the series and other (arguably non-canon) sources is uncertain. Possibilities include the Doctor estimating his age or lying about it out of vanity (in The Ribos Operation he gave his age at 756, although Romana insisted it was 759).

Another possibility is that the Doctor is simply referring to the years he has been traveling for simplicity's sake, which, if he began at 236, would make him 1,136 years old."*

I like the idea that he might be actually 1,1136 years old. It would then suggest that the Eight Doctor perhaps had a century or two of adventures we never saw.

(And there's no reason we can't one day go back and in Time to see these adventures with Paul McGann as the Doctor. After all, we went back in Time to see the early years of 'Star Trek' with 'Enterprise'.

At least with 'Doctor Who', it's a lot easier to play fast and loose with established History.)

Wikipedia does have one final word of caution:

"All this also presupposes that the figures given correspond to Earth years and not Gallifreyan."


* The Wikipedia entry also delves into evidence culled from "non-canon" sources like the novels. But I think I'll just give that a pass. After all, I don't focus on just 'Doctor Who', but ALL TV shows. If I incorporate spin-off novels for one, I'd have to do it for all. And I'd force the inclusion of "Ishmael", a 'Star Trek'/'Here Come The Brides' crossover story by Barbara Hambly before I'd ever consider the 'Doctor Who' books.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


'Doctor Who' is back on Earth!

Fifteen years after the last regular episode, six years after the one TV movie for the Eighth Doctor, we've had a full series of thirteen episodes featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Incarnation.

The final episode for this year has aired, signaling the end of Eccleston's tenure and marking the debut of David Tennant in the role.

And so to celebrate, most of my essays and all of the Crossovers will be dedicated to the Doctor for the rest of the summer.

Be forewarned: In my essays during this summer salute to 'Doctor Who', there will be spoilers for each of the episodes, especially in regard to summaries.....

First off, here's a recap of the episode:

Location: London, Earth
Date: March 2006
Enemy: Slitheen

With the Doctor, Rose, and MP Harriet Jones trapped inside Downing Street, the Slitheen make their move: Nuclear War. If the human race is obliterated, the Earth can be sold on the Galactic Black Market for a very reasonable price. It's up to the Doctor to defeat the Slitheen before the population of the Earth falls dramatically below recommended amount...
[Thanks to]


This is the second part of a story begun last week with "The Aliens Of London". I thought that episode should have been entitled "The Gas Exchange", while this week should have retained its original title, "Number 10 Downing". That had a nice play on words in it, considering what happens in the episode.

As often as possible, I want all TV shows broadcast, no matter the country of origin, to be incorporated into the main TV Land, Earth Prime-Time, AKA Toobworld. I don't care if the show is crap on tape, it deseves its place within the TV Universe.

But sometimes a show comes along that violates some precept of the established facts of Toobworld and which just can't be splained away. Even then, I try my damnedest to get it included - even if I have to do the Limbo with my splainins. (It might have helped had I been like Mr. Loopner on 'Saturday Night Live' - born without a spine.)

Take 'Space: 1999', for example. We know that up to a point, the events of that show DID happen. There were secret government bases already established on the Moon; we knew that since back in the days of 'Get Smart'!

And there was an explosion on the surface of the Moon in 1999; it was caused by Orlando Jones in a 1999 TV commercial for 7-Up.

So his laser beam detonated one of the nuclear waste dumps up there on the Moon and that keeps the show in alignment with the rest of the universe.

But it did NOT cause the Moon to break free of its orbit and head out in Unknown Space! Otherwise, how could it still be around for episodes of 'Futurama' and 'Enterprise'?

So my splainin? Commander Koenig was thrown into a coma by the explosions and everything we saw after the blasts was all created in the deep sub-conscious of his mind. That way, we get to keep 'Space: 1999' in the TV Universe.

(A similar splainin was worked up for 'Jack Of All Trades'. It didn't really happen; what we saw were the syphilitic remembrances of a deranged old man looking back on his youth in 1801. Jack Styles was more of a Baron Munchausen than a Jeffersonian James Bond.)

But when even a convoluted splainin fails, thank God there was a show called 'Sliders', as well as all the other series that ever dealt with alternate TV dimensions! At least we can find these "problem children" a good home somewhere else.

These two episodes of 'Doctor Who' (as well as that of the upcoming "Boomtown") fall into that category. There are three incidents that occur during "Aliens Of London" and "World War Three" which violate the established facts of Toobworld.

1] An alien spaceship crashes through Big Ben.
2] Prime Minister Tony Blair is murdered.
3] Number 10 Downing Street is blowed up real good.

I think I've established my argument already in essays past as to why the death of Tony Blair should eliminate this episode from being included in Toobworld. The world leaders of Earth Prime-Time must correspond to the established world leaders of Earth Prime. Other TV shows may still come along and either have an actor impersonating Mr. Blair, or make joking references to him, or - as was the case on 'The Simpsons', - Tony Blair might even make an appearance as himself.

Not that I'm expecting him to have an affair with one of the 'Footballers' Wives', but he might still drop in for a chat with 'The Kumars At Number 42'.

So to have killed him off, that shunts these particular episodes off to another dimension.

And yet this doesn't cause any problems about keeping 'Doctor Who' within the boundaries of Earth Prime-Time. That's because the TARDIS is able to traverse both time and space - and that includes other dimensions.

After all, the name of the contraption was coined by the Doctor's grand-daughter as an acronym: Time And Relative Dimension In Space.

It wouldn't be the first time the TARDIS traveled outside its home dimension. It did so during the Second Doctor's incarnation, in the story "The Mind Robbers". ("The Fiction Makers", a two-part episode of 'The Saint', would have been a MUCH better title.)

This alternate dimension would also have its own Doctor and its own Rose Tyler, both of whom were conveniently elsewhere at the time so as not to cause any embarrassing incidents of mistaken identity - at least between themselves. This dimension also had its own versions of Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith who had not seen Rose for nearly a year since she had skarkerd off with the Time Lord.

So when Rose finally returned, they naturally assumed that she was their Rose, and conversely, Rose thought of them as her own mother and her own boyfriend.

For his part, the Doctor is never seen correcting them on these assumptions. But then he has expressed often during these episodes that humans are apes who wouldn't be able to grasp the basics of the science which he deals with on a regular basis.

As far as I know, the alternate Doctor and Rose could have landed in the home dimension of their counterparts, Earth Prime-Time. And that would be just another unrecorded adventure which so many TV shows seem to have.

So now we have the Doctor and Rose landing in another TV dimension, which one is it? If you can remember back to the lead-off to this essay, then you'll know that I chose Earth Prime-Time Jed, the dimension in which 'The West Wing' takes place.

Obviously, 'The West Wing' can't take place in the main Toobworld for the same reasoning as these episodes. The President of the United States is Josiah Bartlet, not George W. Bush. (Or Bill Clinton, as in earlier seasons of the show.) On Earth Prime-Time, Josiah Bartlet is a doctor in Boston, as was once mentioned on an episode of 'St. Elsewhere'.

And we can't try to shove 'The West Wing' into the near-future, as they dealt with the coming Millennium in this administration, as well as with their own version of the attack on the World Trade Center. So in TV Time, this show deals in "current" events.

President Bartlet is not the only world leader who has replaced his counterpart from Earth Prime. We have seen alternate versions for the Prime Minister of Israel and the leader of the Palestinian cause. We have at least heard the name of the Russian Premier, if not actually seen him, and it hasn't been Putin or Yeltsin.

But there isn't a hard and fast rule over this. The Queen of England is still Elizabeth of the House of Windsor. (White House Counsel Lionel Tribbie received his cricket bat from her personally.) And Fidel Castro is still in charge down in Cuba. (Leo went down there on a secret mission to negotiate talks between both nations.)

(By the way, the fact that Castro and the Queen are still in power is another indication that 'The West Wing' is set in the present timeline. Neither one of them is a spring chicken and they won't be around for too many more years, I'm thinking.)

So it is possible that Tony Blair was the Prime Minister, even though his American counterpart was a fictional character. And since this story is set in a fictional dimension where anything could happen, Blair could be killed off by the Slitheen family.

The other two reasons why I was setting these episodes in the dimension of 'The West Wing' were the destructions of Big Ben and Number 10 Downing Street. As was the case with the Moon's disappearance on 'Space: 1999', you can't have something like that happen in the TV Universe without having it mentioned in other TV shows. Once Big Ben shows up in the background of a scene from 'EastEnders', let's say, it's all over.

But it should be okay so far as 'The West Wing' is concerned. Remember, "Aliens Of London" and "World War Three" take place in March of 2006. Now, if NBC follows the same path they did last year, they might let 'The West Wing' run its course uninterrupted by interminable repeats and finish its run by March of next year.

That's what they did with this, the penultimate season of the show; and we as the audience were able to experience a continuous build-up towards the season finale. It's my belief that this only strengthened the show and helped restore the audience's interest.

However, this is also going to be the final season for the series. And it's possible that the Suits would rather stretch out the season with repeats and preemptive specials so that they could do a big finish during May Sweeps. That's when the ad revenue rates are re-negotiated based on the ratings.

Still it's possible we could make it through those two months following the 'Doctor Who' story without any need to mention Big Ben, Number 10 Downing Street, an alien invasion of London...... It just seems odd that such a thing wouldn't come up even in passing during any episodes of 'The West Wing' which take place afterwards.

Then again, how often did their version of the WTC attacks come up afterwards? By my recollection, aside from any ancillary topics like Homeland Security, I think there was only that one misguided episode that Sorkin wrote to address the issue.

Even if 'The West Wing' does make it past the date of March, 2006, "World War Three" provides an out for any discrepancies that might crop up. Before the dust had even settled after the defeat of the Slitheens, the British government and the country's newspapers were working in collusion to pass off the entire event as a hoax.

That ruse might be able to work in the dimension of 'The West Wing'... unless the CIA reports their findings to President Bartlet (or his successor). I doubt we'll ever see a scene in which Jed asks Ambassador John Lord Marbury exactly what was the story with that alien pig. Nor will we likely see a summit meeting between President Bartlet and the new Prime Minister of Great Britain, Harriet Jones, formerly the MP of Flydale North.

But no matter. This version of the Doctor and Rose Tyler don't hang around to find out, as they're off to the main Toobworld.......


Sunday, July 17, 2005


These are the opening two paragraphs of the New York Times review for "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory":

July 15, 2005

Looking for the Candy, Finding a Back Story

From the outside, Willy Wonka's factory is a grim, imposing industrial edifice towering over rows of red-brick shops and houses - something out of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" planted in the landscape of Charles Dickens's "Hard Times."

It is not ugly, exactly - by now we are accustomed to seeing grandeur in this kind of architecture - but it is nonetheless forbidding. The interior, of course, is another story. This factory does not only turn out irresistible confections. As imagined by Tim Burton and his production designer, Alex McDowell, Wonka's candyworks is itself such a confection, a place of extravagant innovation and wild indulgence where the ordinary principles of physics, chemistry and human behavior do not apply.

If the laws of physics don't apply to the inside of Wonka's chocolate factory, could it be that the confectioner had access to Gallifreyan technology?

It certainly sounds as if a TARDIS is involved, in much the same way that a TARDIS was used for Professor Chronotis' rooms at St. Cedd's College. (And in the creation of Jerry Seinfeld's apartment building.....)

Where exactly did Wonka get those Oompa-Loompas? Oh sure, he says they come from "Loompa-Land", but I don't think those little freaks are from anywhere on Earth. I think it's more likely that he travelled to their home planet using a TARDIS.

And who but a Time Lord would really have the need for an Ever-Lasting Gobstopper?

See, for all I know, Willy Wonka could be a Time Lord himself! I mean, look at the way he dresses! And if we condensed his name to "Williwonka", it's sounds just as Gallifreyan as Runcible or Romanadvortlundir.

Beside, we know the "Cineverse" has its own version of 'Doctor Who', thanks to the two movies starring Peter Cushing.

Then again, this version of the Roald Dahl "classic" has created a back-story for Willy Wonka to explain away* his persona. I think the story - as disturbing as I've always found it to be - works better if Wonka remains a man of mystery. And that back-story doesn't fit the Gallifreyan otherworld-view.

That back-story doesn't exist in the first movie, and that movie's portrayal of Willy Wonka wouldn't be too outrageous an incarnation for the cinematic Doctor.

The TV Universe had Colin Baker as one of the Doctors, so could that Wonka be any... wilder?

I refuse to apologize for that.


*One doesn't "splain away" anything outside the TV Universe!