As part of our effort to expand Decorative Vegetable beyond just podcasts into a media empire we’ve started a blog. On this page you can find all of our blog posts, posted once a week on Fridays, and usually alternating author between Kiyan and Dylan with occasional guest posts.

The Never-ending Nightmare of The Prisoner Video Game

By Dylan • 5 March 2021

Hello all and welcome to the final part of my three part series on the Prisoner video game. If you missed the first part where I outline what the video game is and tackle some of the apocrypha surrounding it, be sure to check it out here. In the second part I recounted a play through of the video game from my point of view, you can check that out over here. In this part I’m going to wrap up some final thoughts relating to the video game and its relationship with the television show upon which it is ostensibly based.

Remember how at the end of part 2 I said if everything went right I would have escaped the Island by now? Well, I did not. I failed. Miserably. I didn’t actually figure it out on my own, but to be fair the estimate is that The Prisoner is a 60 hour video game and I gave it less than half of that. I’m a busy man you see, I’ve got two podcasts a week to edit. Speaking of which, as of this post we’ll have started our podcast on The Prisoner (2009) so go ahead and go give it a listen, I’m exceedingly excited to see where it goes this season. But beyond just playing it, let me talk a little about some conclusions I have about The Prisoner, how successful (or not) it is at being a Prisoner adaptation, and doing a little meta fiction dive.

But let us return to a question I asked in the first part of this blog series. Is The Prisoner the first Meta fictional Video Game? And the answer to that is, I’m fairly certain, yes. I could find no evidence in any of my research that any game before this one did a lot of the things that this one does in the vein of exploiting the meta fiction of the medium. The first Metal Gear, probably the next closest I could think of, wasn’t published until 1987, a full 6 years after the first version of The Prisoner.

And we should talk about that, because you may be surprised to learn that by the writing of this article, The Prisoner is not listed on the Wikipedia list of “Metafictional video games.” Which is a bit of a shocker because it really does delve into some really really trippy things. I’ve already talked about the one, in my very first blog post. In that post I mention that some versions of Prisoner 2 will fake a crash on a line number corresponding to your reason for resigning in an attempt to get you to input your reason for resigning into the crash window. Devious, I know. But think about that for a second. This is something that wouldn’t work in any other medium. A Prisoner book can’t just fake a crash. You can’t even interact with a Prisoner book in the same way. The Prisoner video game exploits the fact that it is a video game in order to defeat you. It would be like if the opponent king on a chess board decided to start jumping up and down to try shake the board enough to tip your king over (tipping your king is a resignation in chess), thus exploiting the physical nature of your chess game to defeat you outside the prescribed rules of the games.

This kind of gameplay, I would argue, makes The Prisoner one of the most immersive video games ever created, even 40 years after publication. The game is directly playing against you, and is devious enough to use that fact against you. Or even consider the town hall segment of the game where you are tasked with managing the Island’s resources as if you were #2. If you decrease surveillance below 100% you start to lose information. Maybe now you only know how much water we have on the Island every 10 seconds instead of every 1. Maybe you can’t tell if someone’s trying to escape and has killed one of your guards, so your guard number is no longer updating. It cunningly puts you in #’s shoes, forcing you to make the decisions as he would, with the same information. Which is really what the game is all about, lest we forget that the game is simply trying to get you to input a random three number string that it gives you at the start of the game. Obviously the game knows what the string is, it generated it for you, but that’s not the point. You become so thoroughly convinced that that #2 in the game is trying to get you that you guard that number like it’s your life. I know I did. Many times. Whenever I would get stuck though, in a puzzle I couldn’t defeat, or as in my last post an infinite loop I could not escape, I would input the code and try again from the top.

If there was one criticism I could level at the game, it’s that some of the minigames are just ridiculously overlong. For example, the schoolhouse. In the schoolhouse you’re presented a memory challenge, where you have to remember a sequence of numbers that appear on screen and then input them back. Each time you get it correct the length of the sequence increases by one. It decreases if you get a digit wrong, and your goal is to get up to.. I don’t know. I gave up at 30 digits long, and that alone took me well over 35 minutes to get to that point. It’s really slow because you have to wait for each digit to display before you can put the next. It’s horribly contrived and by 10 digits long I was writing down the sequences to make sure I wouldn’t make any mistakes. And then if you did make a mistake you still had to enter the required number of digits before the game would proceed. There were oft times at 20 digits I would mess up digit 4 and sit there spamming the 1 key until it gave me a new sequence. It does try to trick you at 25, where it gives you a three digit sequence that’s your retirement reason, but then it pops up to 26 when you put in some other random string of numbers (which I did). I mean, I get the desire to make the player really feel beat down like 6 was, but at the same time I just don’t have an hour to dedicate to inputting numbers into a computer game.

Which actually brings me to what I wanted to talk about, which is that The Prisoner is a really interesting video game adaptation of a visual property because it doesn’t ever directly adapt anything from the TV show. Sure the leader of the island lives in house number 2 and you live in house 6 and there are other suitably subtle but equally as interesting references to the television show that a well versed fan will pick up on. But you’re never actually playing as Patrick McGoohan, or Leo McKern for example. You don’t even live in The Village, it’s the Island. And yet somehow the game feels like the most faithful adaptation of a popular property that I’ve ever played.

I think the reason for that is the incredible job that The Prisoner does in adapting the feeling rather than the content of the product its adapting. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an equally successful adaptation because instead of trying to adapt a specific Batman story they made a game that focuses on giving you the feeling of playing as Batman.

One of the most successful elements of the game is the lingering paranoia that it imbues you with. Like the sequence of memorization above, every time a new sequence comes up you’re not just focused on memorizing it to get it right, there’s always a lingering thought in the back of your mind, checking every three digit string trying to see if it has your resignation in it. And that just makes it harder to memorize which makes it harder to progress so you get frustrated so you stop paying so much attention to whether or not your resignation appears in the sequence.

For some reason you’re always aware of being watched in the game. Just like how #6 is being watched for the entirety of his stay. But the comparisons go deeper. #6 is aware of his surveillance, and uses it against #2 (see Hammer into Anvil). And #2 in reciprocation is aware that #6 knows and uses that information against him. Now play The Prisoner. The video game is completely aware that you’re playing a video game and it uses that against you! Not just in the now famous fake crash. On occasion the game will recognize and admit that you’re playing a video game. Weren’t paranoid before? Now you are. Now the game recognizes you’re playing it just as much as it’s playing you. If that doesn’t drive you to the breaking point what will?

There’s a really bizarre sense of unease in knowing that the game is blending into the real world. You start to feel like there isn’t really a division anymore between the game and your real life anymore. When the game starts to mimic OS functions the line between “the game” and “not the game” blurs, disappearing almost completely. This is where I think The Prisoner exceeds expectations when it comes to metafictional video games. It reaches levels beyond that of many other video games by turning your entire computer into a potential battlefield. Just like when #6 is in the village, you can never let your guard down. You insist over and over that you’re a free man, but at the end of the day you lie down defeated, knowing that you’re not. Because you’re always wondering if the game is still trying to find out why you resigned. Which, by the way, why did you resign?

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Children of the Stones Intro Theme Song Lyrics

By Kiyan • 26 February 2021

Children of the Stones title card from the intro

Hi, folks. Kiyan here. It’s been a little over a year since Dylan and I watched the classic 1976 horror TV series Children of the Stones for Inevitable, our classic sci-fi podcast, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

I’ve been thinking about the utter helplessness it exudes, that perfect atmosphere of near-hopeless struggle against an evil close to home that is both propounded and caused by the fact that you’re experiencing it all through the eyes of a child.

I’ve been thinking about how it doesn’t shy away from the utterly eerie in its ending, instead leaning full tilt into the “scarred for life” abyss and dragging its young audience by the collar in with it.

But mostly, I’ve been thinking about its intro theme song.

Composed by the ineffable Sidney Sager, Children of the Stones’ theme music evokes just the right sort of fear, beckoning you aurally into a world of cyclical time and psychoastronomic phenomena.

But weirdly enough, try as I might, I couldn’t find the lyrics to the song anywhere on the public internet.

So I thought I’d fix that.

Without further ado, here are the official lyrics to the Children of the Stones intro theme song.


Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a moment before my memory gets blurry
And tell you how I escaped getting turned to stone at Milbury

In some part of England born and raised
Making sandwiches was how I spent most of my days
Banana, pear, apple crumble and all
While wearing a shirt four sizes too small

Then one day in a local junk shop
I saw a painting of a ritual that made me stop
I showed it to my dad and he said in a hurry
“Son, pack your bags, we’re heading to Milbury”

We arrived in a village quite out of the way
And all the townsfolk greeted us with “Happy day”
We didn’t think much at first of this odd little group
Turns out they were pawns in an ancient time loop

Perpetrated by Hendrick, whose ultimate goal
Was to channel our souls into a black hole
And turn us to stone, but we managed to scurry
And that’s how we escaped the town of Milbury

Well, there you have it. Children of the Stones has one of the most iconic TV intro themes of the 70s, and I’m honestly surprised no one has bothered transcribing the lyrics until now.

Well, that’s what we’re here for I guess.

Anyway, if you want to listen to what Dylan and I had to say about this creepy kids’ series, you can check out our episodes on it here:

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7

Have you watched Children of the Stones? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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An Embarrassingly Bad And Somewhat Disappointing Play Through of The Prisoner Video Game

By Dylan • 19 February 2021

Hello all and welcome back to my three part series on the Prisoner video game. If you missed the first part where I outline what the video game is and tackle some of the apocrypha surrounding it, be sure to check it out here. To give a brief recap, The Prisoner was released in 1980 for the Apple II by Edu-Ware. The first version of the game (the one that I played) is a top down text adventure, whereas the second edition was a full color first person version.

In this part I will outline some of the things you might expect were you to boot up the game yourself. Obviously I won’t spoil everything, I wasn’t even able to finish the game in the time I dedicated to it over the past two weeks, and this blog post serves largely to outline my first play through of the game. Two weeks from now in the third part I’ll give a retrospective on my time in game, doing a deeper dive into the metafictional aspects of the game and how they relate to the series as a whole, so stay tuned for that.

The game loads, my ears bleed from the chiptune emulated soundtrack, and for this run through the reason I’ve been given for my resignation is [redacted]. You didn’t think that I would just give that to you, did I? What if this blog is part of the video game? No way man, I won’t risk it. Just know that it was a three digit number. That’s all you need to know. The first challenge is a maze, with the least intuitive controls ever. You might think “well WASD isn’t so unintuitive, it’s just up down left right but in the middle of the keyboard,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But the control scheme was actually UDLR, for up down left right. Makes perfect sense, but is also incredibly inconvenient to use on the keyboard. Like really inconvenient. At the end of the maze is your first possible failure point. The game inquires as to your name and gives you 5 options. The first 4 are random symbols, the 5th is your reason for resigning. As I said in my first blog post, your name in the game is #, and you must correctly self identify here to proceed. Accidentally giving your name as your reason for resigning fails you instantly!

Once you pass this challenge you’re informed that the caretaker wishes to see you. The control scheme now switches to, well, NSEW. Each key corresponds to a cardinal direction, North, South, East and West. Easy right? Intuitive, three of the keys are right next to each other, it’s generally an “alright” control scheme.

From here you can go where you please, do what you want, you just have to try and fulfill the two primary goals of the game:

  1. Escape.
  2. Don’t reveal why you resigned.

By the way it should be noted here that I’m not kidding when I say that the soundtrack is ear bleed inducing. The failure noise is an ungodly mess of high pitched tones that form a sort of aural cacophony that just absolutely annihilates your ear drums. If #6 had been subject to this noise on the show I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would have given in Day 1. Not to mention the loading noise, which is just a random tone at a random point in the scale played at each half a second interval as the game loads. How did people play games in the 80s? I would never have survived.

I explored the first few little houses, encountering the news stand, the library and the bank. The library did not allow me entrance unless I had something to contribute. The newsstand only sold The Islander (remember that in the game The Village is replaced by The Island) and the bank didn’t allow me to deposit or withdraw anything without my bank code. I had a suspicion that if I input my reason for resigning here into the bank, I would fail, and the same at the news stand when they asked what paper I would like. I did find out that the bank would accept a black tie as a loan. Weird. I went off east to another screen of four identical houses and this was about the time I realized that it would be really helpful if I had a damn map. I would find a map later, only to discover it looked like this:


After some wandering I came to the hospital, where there’s a particularly ruthless test of memory and patience. You are presented with a continuous sequence of letters, numbers and symbols, and you are asked to… actually you’re not asked to do anything. This is a running theme throughout the game; absolutely no directions are ever given to you at any point. You’re left to discover how each minigame works through your own methods and experimentation. Through some experimentation I found that pushing the first symbol in each sequence progressed me to a new frame, before nearly getting tricked halfway through the game. For three consecutive frames the first three symbols were numbers that had I complied would have given away my reason for resigning! Later I discovered that in actuality you wanted to push the key of one of the symbols that had changes between frames, and not always just the first one. It just happens that the first symbol almost always changes.

I found the caretaker in house 2 (a sly reference to the show) where you are able to have a conversation with him. Responding to “I am the caretaker for the master” with “Who is the master?” receives the response “You are #.” It’s like I was playing out the intro to the show for myself! Thrilling! Asking him for help or giving him a response he does not understand leads to him booting you from the house. Oops.

In the center of each map was a white square which upon interaction turned into an information board. Here I discovered that my bank account number was 71521 and that I had 499 credits to my name. I used 5 credits to purchase a black tie and was met with the response that “I could bank on that selection.” The game is funny and smart! What more could you want!

I eventually discovered that the map is looping, so going too high north or too far west for example just looped around to the other end. One day while roaming I returned to the library having since purchased a book at the general store, which lead to the library administering me a personality test in which I had to select between two different books repeatedly. After that it knocked me out, returning me to my home where the next day I discovered that every door on the Island was locked.

I was distressed, disturbed even. Had I broken the game? Evidently not, as I eventually stumbled upon an infinite field of 2-dimensional flowers. I roamed there for an hour. Literally, an hour, before going to bed and returning the next day, at which point I stumbled upon a train station that took me to the city. It was here that I made my way to the company, where the general asked me to tell them why I resigned. I refused, the events of Many Happy Returns playing themselves over in my mind. He threw me behind bars. In much the same way Patrick McGoohan ended each episode behind bars, so too was I know behind bars. Sure my bars were embedded in the computer screen, and whoever was on the other side was really just a rudimentary AI coded in 1981, but the feeling was the same. If I pushed a key I would be taken back to the general, where I would refuse to give up my reasons. I was stuck in another devious loop puzzle, much like the endless fields of flowers, designed to drive me mad and give in. But there had to be way out…

…and that was where I got stuck. I had no idea how to proceed and didn’t want to tell them why I resigned. Not now, not yet, I was still so green behind the ears in my experience! But… I gave up eventually. The Prisoner had beaten me, for now. My playthrough had been going quite well until that point. I had received a gold watch from managing the Island in my turn at Free For All. I’d purchased a clone suit and was going to make my way to the Gemini Diner for my turn at Schizoid Man. Alas though, the Island had to resort to none too clever schemes. No, it was Chimes of Big Ben that took me down in the end. For now. I conceded and told “The Company” why I resigned. And then I lost and was treated to a headache inducing chorus of disapproving chiptune chimes. Ouch.

My final score was 33. Rest assured though that I did not stop there. I’m in the midst of a decidedly more successful playthrough where I have endeavored to avoid the company of The Company as long as possible. Perhaps we’ll meet again, perhaps not. Stay tuned to see how this exciting adventure ends in part 3, where if everything goes right I’ll have passed the game and escaped The Island successfully.

Were you disappointed in my play through of The Prisoner? Do you have faith that I’ll find my way off The Island before the third installment of this series? Pick up the red phone and send us a message on Twitter or Facebook to let us know.

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Top 7 Most Memorable Doctor Who Couples

By Kiyan • 12 February 2021

Love is in the air, folks.

That’s right: it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than to sit back, relax, and appreciate some of the most memorable Doctor Who couples ever to grace our television screens, computer monitors, phones, tablets and whatever else we might’ve happened to watch Doctor Who on over the years?

Without further ado, let’s jump right into a couple of Doctor Who’s most unforgettable couples.

Elton and Ursula (Love and Monsters)

Elton and Ursula looking incredulous

Who can talk about romance and Doctor who without talking about the seminal, nigh resplendent Series Two episode Love & Monsters, penned by the one. The only. Russell T. Davies.

No one, that’s who.

This downright euphoric piece of heaven posing as a Doctor Who episode has gone down in history as one of the most blessed 45 minutes of television for a reason, and it’s not just the inclusion of the wonderfully cute ‘n’ cuddly Absorbaloff.

It’s the heartwarming relationship between main character Elton (this is a Doctor and companion lite episode) and his girlfriend Ursula.

I won’t give away too much about their relationship for those who haven’t seen it (it’s a real romantic treat, so it’s worth experiencing firsthand), but Ursula and Elton are frankly perfect for each other. Even through troubled times, she really is his rock.

Leela and Andred (The Invasion of Time)

Leela, Andred, and K9 stand next to the TARDIS as it dematerializes

I know what you’re thinking: “A companion write-out marriage? Really? Those are about as romantic as a wet paper bag.

And the answer, dear reader, is yes: a companion write-out marriage.

Leela’s relationship with Andred (played, of course, by the ineffable Christopher Tranchell, who also lent his talents to The Faceless Ones as Steve Jenkins and The Massacre as Roger Colbert) is one for the Doctor Who romance history books.

True love so often leaves its most intimate intricacies — its most important innards, its vital viscera if you will — unsaid, and Leela’s and Andred’s emblemizes that idea to the utmost.

It embodies the unspokenness of true love so much, in fact, that Leela’s decision to stay on Gallifrey at the end of the Invasion of Time appears to come out of nowhere.

You know what they say though: true love blindsides. And this true love most definitely does just that.

This Lion and Itself (The Romans)

A female lion chewing on a bone

Fact: Romance wasn’t built in a day. And neither were romantics.

The two go hand in hand. Romance runs on the people who make it all possible every day. You just can’t have romance without romantics.

And boy does Doctor Who have Rome antics. So many Rome antics, in fact, that there’s an entire serial — yes, not just a passing scene here or there, not just a measly episode or two, but an entire serial — dedicated to Rome antics.

It’s called The Romans.

Don’t let its black-and-white-palletted persuasions dissuade you; The Romans has more Rome antics than you can shake an abacus at, including a revitalizing wrench that the serial gleefully yeets into the idea that romance — and therefore couples — must always be built, like the best of bicycles, for two.

The Romans, you see, come replete with lions, the veritable symbol of the most Roman thing ever: the coliseum.

The timeless majesty of this lone lion from part 3 (“All Roads Lead to Rome”) proves it: when you’ve got enough Rome antics at your disposal, romance really can be a lone venture.

Brian and Tricey (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship)

Tricey the triceratops licks Brian's face

Who says couples have to be romantic though? No one in their right mind, that’s who

There are all types of couples out there, and Brian and Tricey make up an unforgettable one, forming a close bond of friendship over the course of their too-short time together aboard the Silurian Ark in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship may be a visually dark episode, the saturated blacks and cool, metallic grays of the spaceship interior lending the prehistoric story a cold, industrial, borderline-utilitarian persuasion.

But the friendship between Brian and Tricey exudes a warmth that melts all that ice away in no time and proves once and for all that camaraderie draws no distinctions of species, uniting the best among us across time and space.

Ryan and Call of Duty (The Ghost Monument)

Ryan, Yaz, and Graham stand on an alien planet looking confused

Thirteenth Doctor companion Ryan Sinclair might not be the first character to come to mind when you think “Doctor Who couples.” But just because his soulmate flies under the radar doesn’t make the relationship any less meaningful.

Ryan loves the Call of Duty video game series — so much so, in fact, that he’s even willing to risk his life for it, charging into hostile territory with only a piece of advanced alien weaponry at his disposal to prove it in the episode The Ghost Monument.

Luckily Ryan makes it out ok, but in hindsight, things could’ve gone real south real fast for him there.

If that doesn’t say “true love,” then I don’t know what does. The fact that Ryan never mentions his love of Call of Duty ever again is just the final nail in this heart-shaped monument to affection: he’s so enamored with the series that he doesn’t want to share even the merest mention of it with anyone else.

And that’s ok. You keep doing you, Ryan, and never let true love falter.

The Twelfth Doctor and Pears (Twice Upon a Time)

The Twelfth Doctor stands hunched over the TARDIS console

The Twelfth Doctor has quite the curious relationship with the little lopsided pome known as the pear.

In Twice Upon a Time, the Twelfth Doctor relays some instructions to his future self. On the list? The infamous “never, ever eat pears.”

This may appear, at first glance, to raise a red flag for the relationship between the green fruit and the Twelfth Doctor.

But make no mistake, the bond between good old Twelve and these sweet, juicy seed-bearers is as close as can be.

Much like Ryan does when he chooses not to mention Call of Duty ever again after The Ghost Monument, the Twelfth Doctor only warns against the consumption of pears so that he can keep all the pears for himself.

The pears, it ap-pear-s, wouldn’t have it any other way either. A-pear-ently, The Twelfth Doctor and pears make the pear-fect pair, the pear-adigmatic pear-agon of romance gone not wrong, but oh so right.

Pear-sonally? I’m wishing this unconventional couple pear-manent happiness and bliss beyond com-pear in their relationship from here on out.

K-9 and No One (multiple)

K9, slightly worn and rusty, in the episode School Reunion

Poor K-9 never could catch a break.

Maybe it was all the ledges he tended to come across — those pesky landscape-ular leaps that always seemed to impede his progress and remove him from the action.

Or maybe it was the fact that no one loved him.

No matter the incarnation, K-9 always seemed to be the one after the affection of others and not the other way around, opting to stay with Leela (and thus Andred as well) in The Invasion of Time and Romana II in Warriors’ Gate.

But like a dog chasing its own tail, K-9 never caught up with love.

On the contrary: he always seemed to be on the receiving end of the vilest of undeserved vitriol. Constantly the butt of onscreen jokes and the target of the Fourth Doctor’s light but nonetheless concerning teasing, K-9 had not a true friend in the world in my estimation, which is why he and no one make one of the most remarkable duos in Who history.

Still, I suppose getting to star in your own spinoff (not once but twice) makes it all worth it. I’m just glad someone finally threw K-9 a bone.

Well, that about wraps that up with a heart-shaped bow. Reflecting on these wonderfully unforgettable relationships hasn’t just gotten me ready for Valentine’s Day; it’s gotten me positively pumped for it.

What are your favorite Doctor Who couples, relationships, and romantic moments? Let us know in the comment down below or on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to have a superb Valentine’s Day.

Posted by Kiyan in Blog, 0 comments

What is The Prisoner Video Game?

By Dylan • 5 February 2021

Did you know that there’s a Prisoner video game? Neither did I until the last episode of our Prisoner run through on Inevitable: A Classic Sci-Fi Podcast. Originally Kiyan and I had slated to talk about this video game during the second Prisoner season, but then we started a blog and it became evident that this would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

This week’s post is the first in what I plan to be (should everything go well) a three part series leading into our fifth season of Inevitable where we cover the Prisoner miniseries that aired on AMC. The first post (this one) will serve as an introduction to the video game, the second will concentrate on my experience with the game and the third will be a conclusion post and discussion on certain elements that I feel warrant further discussion.

The title screen of The Prisoner for Apple II

The Prisoner video game (which I will just refer to as The Prisoner from here on out) was released in 1980 for the Apple II by a company called Edu-Ware. Yes, that Apple II. Two years later Edu-Ware remade the game in full color with first person graphics. Yes, they turned an overhead game into a first person game. Weird. I know. For all intents and purposes though it’s the same game, but I prefer the text-adventure stylings of the first game. And, much to my disappointment, Edu-Ware was bought out in 1984 and slowly vanished in the next year. How sad.

The Prisoner is pretty difficult to play in [current year]. For legal reasons I shouldn’t tell you how to play it but I can tell you that a copy of the game may or may not be on and that there may or may not be a javascript Apple II emulator online and that to play you probably need to type “RUN PR” after pointing it to the requested floppy disk image. All of this is alleged, you understand. Prisoner 2, the color remake, can be played freely on the Internet Archive as part of their effort to catalog early computer programs and games, specifically those for the Apple II. The Prisoner has not been updated or rereleased on any new platforms since its original release, although other adaptations of the television show exist in other mediums. That makes the video game particularly unique as far as adaptations go.

Upon startup I was immediately struck by the bizarre metafictional aspect of the video game, and so sprung forth what seemed to be a bizarre blog post in waiting. We’ve seen a lot of metafictional video games recently, things like There is No Game, Pony Island, or The Stanley Parable, for example. Hell, Kiyan has a whole blog with posts just on the weird shit that the Metal Gear franchise does. But while playing I had a question. Was The Prisoner the first metafictional video game? This is the question I seek to explore over the course of this series.

Resignation code screen in The Prisoner

Which, let’s get this in here as early as possible. The Prisoner is weird. And I mean weird. How else are you going to adapt the most contemplative, allegorical, mildly science-fiction tilted television show pre-1980? I’m mildly convinced that this video game could pass the Turing test. Like a game of chess, you play against the video game itself. Upon startup you’re given a three digit number. This number is the reason you, the player, resigned from whatever you want. You make a choice on where to fly (I chose London, but Paris was tempting) and immediately get knocked out and taken to The Island (changed from The Village). For the rest of the game you have to do everything in your power to escape without giving the game your reason for resigning.

The game itself is the Village. Things will pop up, minigames will happen where questions are posed, tricks are employed, and just generally the game tries to outsmart you to get you to input your reason for resigning. Because of this I went in trying to avoid knowing anything about the tricks that the game was about to play on me. But I will first provide the sole example I knew before going in, perhaps the most meta of them all.

At some points the game will fake a crash. Yes, that’s right, the game will pretend to crash on a random line that happens to be your secret reason for resigning. On the Apple II you would, as I learned, input a command to view this line to see what caused the crash. By putting in your line number here you lose the game, because this was a fake crash and the game was still running. Checkmate.

So I went into this experience with only this knowledge and no more. And man was The Prisoner a wild playthrough. I didn’t even know how to get out of The Island, if there even was a way, and so this really was the closest I would probably ever get to experiencing Patrick McGoohan’s plight for myself. The first thing I did is I did what I would do as #6 with all the benefit of knowledge of what #6 went through. I just told the game why I resigned. I lost. Immediately. Expected but nonetheless funny. I realized that the definitely-legal-javascript-coded Apple II emulator I was using wouldn’t save state, and so put the game aside until I could sit down for a few hours to finish the damn thing in one sitting. Stay tuned for that in the next blog post.

It is interesting to note a couple of differences between the game and the show right off the bat. Most importantly, you’re not playing as #6 in the video game, rather you play as someone just referred to as #.  You could be #120313 for all the game cares, at least that is the impression I got. There are sly references to your position as #6-stand-in. Your house’s number, for example, is house number 6. The administrator of the island, The Caretaker, lives in a house numbered 2. Things like that. I’ll go more in depth comparing the video game to the tv show in the third part in this series.

Atari Power scan of the 'Playing Games with the CIA' article

I would like to address one last thing. A lot of sources allege that this game (well, more specifically Prisoner 2) was used to train special agents in the Central Intelligence Agency. I decided to do a little digging. I traced this claim back to Wikipedia, where on a talk page someone claimed that the origin of the claim was an issue of Atari Power from 1983. This allegation made it’s way into the references of the page, without a link to the magazine itself. So then I went hunting for it. And lo and behold I found it, with the article in question on page 18 of the pdf.  (A sidebar here to point out the extremely interesting article “The Revival of The Fine Art of Letter Writing” on page 14, where the author indicates that there are now companies that will print out the email you wish to send to a friend and then mail it to them as a physical letter, as well as the article on page 19 that seems prescient for today: “Electronic University Goes On-Line”. ) The article makes note of the CIA reference, of course, talking about how the CIA uses it to either screen applicants or to train them in terrorist handling techniques. But the much more interesting part of the article is a random line, buried somewhere in the middle. “We also learned that Prisoner 2 has been used in the psychiatric field to treat patients suffering from paranoia.” What?! From my experience with The Prisoner it might just be enough to give me paranoia, which makes it all the more interesting that some intrepid psychiatrist somewhere saw fit to throw it at some of his patients to see if it helped. I was unable to find out more about this, sadly, at least not online. And so that story probably lives and dies in that sentence. Alas.

Shorter post this week, but have you played The Prisoner, or do you have any thoughts on it? Pick up the red phone and send us a message on Twitter or Facebook to let us know.

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“An Ordinary Man”: On the New Who Companion and Formal Temporality in Revolution of the Daleks

By Kiyan • 29 January 2021

The Doctor, Ryan, Yaz, and Graham in a huddle

It’s 2021, and you know what that means: it’s the 58th anniversary of people moaning about Doctor Who.

This year, we’re off to a great start. As soon as Revolution of the Daleks finished airing, people took to the internet to wax on about why this latest Doctor Who special is an affront to all that’s good and decent about the world.

But among the slew of typical, lazy complaints — the companions suck, the Doctor is boring, etc. etc. — one in particular stands out:
“Why don’t the people of Earth recognize the Daleks in Revolution of the Daleks?”

This question has been weighing on my mind ever since I first started seeing it pop up in early January. Not because I care what the answer is (I don’t) or because I’m upset that Revolution of the Daleks introduces this discrepancy (I’m not).

But because it’s actually important.

It speaks to something wildly interesting that the current era of Doctor Who does. As different as it may be from what Modern Who accustomed us to from 2005 through 2017, Current Who (2018–now) embraces the show’s past in the most sly, spectacular of ways: by means of paradox. It takes the seemingly abandoned concerns of the earliest seasons of New Who and makes them formal instead of diegetic, disengaging with “canon” to explore, instead, past ideas through the schema of new rhetoric.

Because its companion write-outs break “canon” and employ “retcons” to translate the language of Doctor Who’s past persuasive aims from a diegetic one into a formal one and valorize the ordinary over the extraordinary, Revolution of the Daleks paradoxically engages with Doctor Who’s history to suggest that even though reconciliation takes sacrifice, its rewards far outweigh its setbacks.


Let’s dive in and find out.

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary

In its earliest seasons, New Who often preoccupied itself with the idea that normal, everyday people are important — more important, in fact, than extraordinary ones.

“An ordinary man,” the Doctor tells Rose in Father’s Day, is “the most important thing in creation.”

This sentiment carried on for most of those early seasons (and even became somewhat of a meme on our podcast.) It’s the ordinary, Doctor Who seemed to claim at the time, and not the extraordinary that is truly of value.

But a closer look reveals otherwise. Narratively, Modern Who (2005–2017) appears to leverage its cast in maneuvers whose meanings largely contradict its characters’ suggestions that the ordinary supersedes the extraordinary. On the contrary: it uses its principal cast’s write-outs and final appearances on the show to venerate people of remarkable persuasion or circumstance.

Featuring characters such as Amy and Rory, (who travel through time), Clara and Bill (who embark on cosmic voyages of their own), and Donna (who faces mind erasure at the end of her onscreen story), 2005–2017 Who consistently focuses on companions whose departures expand the spatiotemporal and hermeneutic boundaries of their lives and whose resolutions call on the extraordinary while edging the normal into further and further peripheries.

None of these companions return to normal life. Their lives, in fact, the show affirms, will never be the same after their travels with the Doctor. This is, of course, because of the experience and insight that travelling the cosmos has granted them. But it’s also because their journeys and stories proceed to the inevitable logical conclusion of progressively intensifying remarkability: extraordinary displacement, and in some cases, even more “cuh-raaaaaazy!” journeys that promise to continue offscreen the trend of increasingly out-there adventures, each wowing more than the last, that Doctor Who, at the time, embraced and around which it built its ever more convoluted “canon.”

But Current Who (2017–now), as the departure of companions Ryan and Graham in Revolution of the Daleks evinces, turns this formula on its head, transplanting what were once diegetic concerns of the show’s characters into the formal structure of Doctor Who itself to suppose the value of none other than the absolutely, incontrovertibly, at times even maddeningly ordinary.

Revolution of the Daleks and the Temporality of Reconciliation

Time-bound storytelling formats like traditional television shows necessarily include as a structural component the element of time because time necessarily relates to and often even governs their construction and organization. In other words, in television, temporality becomes explicitly formal.

As a traditionally broadcast television show, Doctor Who fits this mold. In Doctor Who, time is a matter of form.

Though its somewhat special status as a BBC production (or these days, a production for BBC or something like that — I’m not up to date on the specifics) means that Doctor Who is perhaps not as beholden to the same temporal constraints that other television programs are, financial and generic (“of genre”) concerns mean that, like any other time-restricted television story out there, Doctor Who has to determine what it will spend its (currently) 50-minute runtime on.

Curiously, Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t use any of its 70 minutes (it’s a special, so it’s longer than average) to address what you might think it would address given the revelations of the previous episode, The Timeless Children.

In The Timeless Children, the Doctor learns that she is not who she thought she was. She learns that she is not originally from Gallifrey as she (and we) always believed.

Distraught, the Doctor asks the Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin’s Doctor), who appears before her inside the Matrix, questions whose answers would help her align her thoughts and would shed clarifying light on the confusing murk into which these revelations have plunged her.
But the Fugitive Doctor doesn’t answer the Doctor’s questions.

In fact, her response to the Doctor seems simply to raise even more questions.

She asks the Doctor why the fact that “[the Doctor’s] memories aren’t compatible with what [she’s] learnt today” matters so much when the Doctor has never “been limited by who [she] was before.”

Revolution of the Daleks follows up on this conversation in the most literal sense: it spends time addressing what the Doctor learned on Gallifrey but offers no further insight into the many questions these revelations raise, instead spending time reiterating The Timeless Children’s takeaway and formally diminishing even further what little importance The Timeless Children seemed to suggest the potential answers to these questions might hold.

Partway through Revolution of the Daleks, the Doctor confides in Ryan. She tells him a bit about what she learned on Gallifrey, revealing that she isn’t who she thought she was and that her past holds many more secrets than she ever imagined it could. Ryan responds in much the same way the Fugitive Doctor did: he tells the Doctor that she is who she is no matter how things might change, affirming that he appreciates who she is now and who he knows she’ll continue to be regardless of her past.

The Doctor and Ryan talking in the TARDIS

“Have I ever told you how awful your posture is?”

In this moment, Ryan doesn’t just invoke the human and personal sentiment that Current Who (2017–now) embodies (and that borders on saccharine, but that’s a whole nother discussion for a whole nother time); he also emphasizes temporality. Ryan tells the Doctor that she will “find out about her own life” when they’re “done with this Dalek problem.” Addressing the revelations of The Timeless Children can wait, says Ryan. First and foremost comes the matter at hand: the Daleks. Revolution of the Daleks, Ryan in other words indicates, doesn’t have the time — and therefore does not have the formal (because temporal) wherewithal — to deal with matters of displaced canon and mismatched continuity.

It has bigger formal fish to fry.

Fish called Daleks.

But even when it comes to its own namesake, Revolution of the Daleks dismisses matters of continuity formally by spending its time on other stuff.

“Why don’t the people of Earth recognize the Daleks in Revolution of the Daleks?”

Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t answer this question.

Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t care. It dedicates its time to matters much more mundane (literally mundane in the etymological sense: “worldly”).

Because while Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t spend even one second addressing why the people of Earth don’t recognize the Daleks, it spends a great deal of time on its epilogue, a heart-to-heart moment between Ryan and Graham that brings them right back full circle to where they started.

In this epilogue, Graham has resumed teaching Ryan how to ride a bike. The two have received psychic paper from the Doctor and hint that they will continue to solve supernatural problems and right paranormal wrongs even though they have left the Doctor.
But like Ryan tells the Doctor, there’s a time and place for everything. “I’m not done here yet,” Ryan says of his cyclical travails, indicating what the episode itself indicates formally by spending its last bits of time not on the adventures on which Ryan and Graham may or may not go but the return to normal life (a first for a companion in over a decade) and the mundane but important challenge to achieve riding a bike with dyspraxia: that the ordinary truly does supersede the extraordinary.

By allocating its time like this, Revolution of the Daleks makes formal a topic that in past eras of Doctor Who was diegetic. It eschews concerns over canon and continuity to affirm formally what past eras denied narratively.

For nearly the first time in nearly 16 years, “an ordinary man” — in this case, two ordinary men — facing an ordinary problem truly is the most important thing.

That this scene depicts the relationship between Ryan and Graham and their return to their everyday lives in an unequivocally positive light is also telling. Where past companion write-outs tended to deal with matters of a sci-fi persuasion and with extraordinary consequences, this write-out divorces itself from sci-fi concerns of canon and continuity formally by refusing to address The Timeless Children and the Daleks. The result, as is visually evident in Graham and Ryan’s final scene, isn’t just good — it’s divine.

This, says Revolution of the Daleks via its form, like so much else, is a tradeoff. Revolution of the Daleks cannibalizes its own canon and continuity. But the result isn’t a disconnect from the past. On the contrary: Revolution of the Daleks embraces Doctor Who’s past while reevaluating it to build its future by marrying its once-disparate persuasive aims and character concerns in a moment as tonally holy as it is reconciliatory.

Though reconciliation might come at a sacrifice, then, of something so many hold dear, the results are their own reward.

Where many shows, movies, and stories at large — especially when it comes to the large-scale, corporate “pop culture” franchises that line the tops of may people’s watchlists — concern themselves heavily with “canon” — and their fans and followers with deifying dogma, decrying apocrypha, and obsessing over fitting together every piece, no matter how small, of a storyworld’s continuity puzzle — Revolution of the Daleks asks something else of us, something else entirely.

Embrace discrepancy, says Revolution of the Daleks.

Let contradictions be reconciled while also letting them be.

Though acceptance may come at the expense of what you deem important or even what you hold beloved, though reconciliation may hurt…

…it’s worth it.

What did you think of Revolution of the Daleks? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter or in the comments below.

Further Reading:

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Children of Earth and the “First Contact” Archetype

By Dylan • 22 January 2021

Allow me this week to take some time out of your day to actually write a blog post on something not only science-fiction related but also actually related to what we’re watching on the podcast. If you read my last post you know I talked in some unfortunate detail about Cars 2. This week I want to talk about Torchwood Series 3: Children of Earth (henceforth Children of Earth) and how it plays into tropes of the “first contact” archetype sub-genre of science-fiction.

Kiyan and I have talked at length about genre and specifically what science-fiction means as a genre term (you can find that discussion scattered throughout Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast) and I don’t think I have enough space here to continue that conversation. For the purposes moving forward I’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that I’ll be “analyzing” Children of Earth from a science fiction standpoint and specifically through the lens of a first contact story.

I’ve seen a lot of people refer to Children of Earth is pretty much a conspiracy thriller with some light sci-fi but I want to argue that its structure is actually pretty similar to two other first contact stories, specifically Contact (1997) and Arrival (2016) (which bizarrely both have single word titles). In fact I think the sort of “low sci-fi” angle of the story is a staple of this sub-genre and is not present in Children of Earth just because Russell T. wanted to write a conspiracy thriller. I should also note that as of writing I have yet to watch the final episode of Children of Earth, but I have watched the other four episodes. Moving forward there’s going to be spoilers for Contact and Arrival, obviously.

I believe that there are three distinct phases in a first contact story: the aliens arrive and are met with disbelief, humanity bands together to solve a common problem (either the aliens themselves or a problem the aliens present to them), and the aliens leave at the end having fulfilled their purpose. What makes a first contact story interesting is that the aliens exist as a plot element, but the main plot is driven by the character interactions and reactions to the aliens, as opposed to the aliens themselves like in most other sci-fi sub-genres.

The first and foremost staple of a first contact story is that when the aliens arrive, humanity will not believe them, or fail to understand their purpose here. For example, in Contact when the aliens “arrive” they send a coded message that is picked up by the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Jodie Foster’s character (Ellie Arroway) is the first to recognize it as an alien message, but the scientific community, nay, the world at large does not believe her. For a good part of the movie she’s ridiculed, disparaged, and quite frankly treated like shit. That is, until the aliens transmit a video of Hitler along with their initial message. This is the kind of “oh shit” moment where everyone realizes that this is actually serious.

In Arrival, too, when the aliens arrive, they are greeted with indifference and disbelief. Even though they arrive in giant pebble shaped spaceships that are kind of hard to ignore. Amy Adam’s character (Louise Banks) is called into help and translate the alien language since she already has security clearance and even she is incredulous until she’s actually inside the alien spaceship.

In Children of Earth this moment and plot point is represented by nobody in London really believing anything alien is necessarily happening when all the kids start talking in unison. They just think it’s pretty weird. It’s not until the kids start talking about “We Are Coming” that people really start to man up and go “hang on this could be something.” Even Frobisher doesn’t believe that this could be aliens and he’s encountered them before. He spends most of episode 1 and part of 2 decrying the return of these aliens.

This moment of disbelief is important for first contact stories because once it passes it serves as a catalyst for the human race to band together and work together to combat the alien threat (although in both the stories I have mentioned already the threat turns out to be quite benign). Let’s look back at Contact. In Contact the aliens transmit a set of blueprints that are encoded and encrypted. It takes first a huge collaborative effort (until John Hurt shows up anyway) to try and crack the encryption. From there the entire human race has to work together to build this giant structure even though they have no idea of its purpose. This mirrors aspects of Children of Earth, where London takes blueprints transmitted by the 456 and builds this chamber – Even though they have no idea what it does.

In Arrival, the different linguistical approaches taken by the US and China mean that they interpret an alien phrase differently. By the midpoint of the movie this tension in translation has lead to a breakdown of scientific collaboration, and Chinese and Russian teams have cut contact with the other countries teams. The aliens respond by providing linguists and scientists in each of the 12 crafts exactly 1/12th of a more complex message. It takes the entirety of the human race and scientific community to band together, tearing down these barriers to share what they know in order to translate the message and understand why the aliens have come to Earth.

Frobisher and Dekker look on at the chamber they've built for the 456

In Children of Earth this concept comes through when the 456 actually arrive in London, and Prime Minister Green (no relation) has to make the decision to share with the rest of the world that they have arrived in Thames House even though he would rather keep this fact a secret. He knows that anything that happens moving forward must be shared with the rest of the world. He’s going to need their help to fulfill the 456’s request for children. And once again the aliens force his hand by having the kids in each country recite the number of children they require from that country. It’s going to take a global effort to solve this problem.

Finally, at the end of the story the aliens must leave. This is quite obvious for Arrival, where the aliens leave having fulfilled their purpose. In Contact after Ellie makes, well, contact, with the aliens they reveal that they will have no further communication with humanity for the time being, as they’re not ready to join the galactic federation (or whatever it was, honestly the ending of Contact was a little unclear).

Which brings me to my prediction for Children of Earth. Torchwood, UNIT, Frobisher, someone ends up dealing with the 456, perhaps even killing the ambassador. And after that they leave to never be heard of again. Gone. Just as the sub-genre intends, just as the story requires. I don’t think the 456 will be killed off in their entirety. But I do think we’ll just never hear about them again. I do know that I’ll certainly find out in the next 24 hours, when I watch episode 5. But I’m pretty confident that I’m right here.

Based on the evidence presented, I think I’ve made my case that Children of Earth mirrors the first contact type story told in Contact and Arrival. And weirdly enough along the way we learned that Contact and Arrival are pretty similar movies, surprisingly.

Do you think that Children of Earth is a first contact story? Or do you think it’s a conspiracy thriller with alien elements? Or even both? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

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Chris Chibnall, Yasmin Khan, and the Slow Burn

By Kiyan • 15 January 2021

It’s been almost two weeks since Revolution of the Daleks aired, and one of the biggest complaints about this latest Doctor Who special that I’ve seen online since is this:

“The Doctor should have spent more of the episode imprisoned.”

Well, maybe that’s a bit disingenuous.

It’s not that the Doctor should have spent more time in Judoon prison, people are saying.

It’s that the special’s marketing — its trailers, its pre-release screenshots, etc. — all seemed to indicate that she would spend more time imprisoned than she ended up spending.

I thought so too. But then again, look at this:
Revolution of the Daleks poster with the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz, Graham, and Jack
See what I mean?


Look closely. See Yaz? There in the center-right? She’s smiling. And she looks super happy.

And Yaz smiling and looking happy was even less a part of the episode than the Doctor’s imprisonment was.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Yaz understandably didn’t have as big a role in this episode as Ryan or Graham did, but when it was her time in the sun, she was mopey, gloomy, and likely suffering from bouts of obsession, depression, or both.

But were people crying “misleading marketing” when it came to Yaz?

Oooooooooooof course not.

Look, I like my words like I like my meat: not minced. So I’ll say it:

Yaz is the unloved stepchild of the Chris Chibnall era of Who.

It’s sad but true. And also not surprising in the slightest. Back in Series 11, Yaz was a puzzle box of a character. Who was she? We didn’t know. Sure, we knew she was a cop. Sure, we knew a little about her family and how she got along (or failed to) with each of them. Sure, we knew a bit about her values — what she thought, what she believed in.

But compared to Ryan and Graham, we didn’t quite know as much about Yaz. Not at the time.

Flash forward to early 2020 (15 years ago at time of writing). Series 12 gave us more to dig into with Yaz, revealing a bit more of her backstory and delving into what makes her tick in episodes like Can You Hear Me?

But even still, her role and her character continued to fall by the wayside, backing off, it seemed, to make room for more screentime devoted to the Doctor and the Master and, indeed, Ryan and Graham.

On that front, this latest special is no different. Ryan and Graham (and cameo appearance/fan-favorite Jack Harkness) take center stage yet again in Revolution of the Daleks, leaving Yaz with a scant few minutes’ worth of the episode devoted to her.

It’s understandable. After all, Revolution of the Daleks is Ryan and Graham’s final episode. Of course it would be dedicated in the main to them.

The Doctor, Ryan, Yaz, and Graham huddling in Revolution of the Daleks

So despite my poking fun at people ignoring the discrepancy between the poster and the finished product, it ultimately makes sense that this small inconsistency would go unnoticed: Yaz’s emotional state understandably plays second fiddle to, well, pretty much anything else you might compare it to in the episode.

Still, even though Revolution of the Daleks has bigger fish to fry, the months Yaz’s spent obsessing over the Doctor and the unequivocally unhealthy lens through which the episode portrays her decision to stay with the Doctor are important.

They speak to the mode of storytelling we’ve been seeing on Doctor Who for the past two and a half-ish years, the mode of storytelling that sets this era of Doctor Who apart from what came before.

The Chris Chibnall era of Who has a very different feel from the RTD or Moffat eras. And that’s largely thanks to how we see characters like Yaz play out.

Once upon a time (2005-2017), Doctor Who was nothing short of a televised incendiary device. It liked to explode, putting its characters through bombastic, life-changing, outlook-shattering, horizon-broadening events each episode and packing everything it had into firecracker finales that left no grenade pin unpulled, all to the triumphant blare of Murray Gold’s unmistakable score.

In other words, Doctor Who liked to put all its chips on the table and, like a little kid too eager to tell a secret, giggle its way through the rest of the game until it got to show its hand. It kept nothing up its sleeve, played every card it had.

Plot beats, backstories, reveals: these came fast. Each episode sucker punched you and then took you on an emotional ambulance ride. Each season was synecdoche to the episodes themselves, propelling you through what felt like the entire range of human emotion, a months-long analogue to each week’s 45-minute slice. And it all culminated every year in gut-wrenching, heartrending finales the likes of which surely, you said, could never be topped.

And you were right. They couldn’t be topped. Which is why each season of New Who from 2005 to 2017 felt increasingly as if it had to outspeak, outperform, and outdo the last.

Along the way, there were a few soft resets that turned the “emotional” and “bombastic” dials back down to zero, or at least close to it. Matt Smith’s first episode for example. Capaldi’s third season.

But this was largely how things were, the modus operandi for 12 years.

No more.

New Who… New-er Who is different. When Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor fell to Earth, she brought Doctor Who right back down to Earth with her. Now, the characters are more grounded. The Bad Wolf and The Impossible Girl and The Girl Who Waited and The Last Centurion give way to a bus driver with cancer, a depressed cop, and a guy juggling dyspraxia with some serious family issues. The “greatest woman [Ryan] ever met,” Ryan explains at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, isn’t who the episode leads you to believe it is at first. It’s not the Doctor; it’s Grace. This is a show, says that first episode of 13’s era, not about how amazing someone like the Doctor is, but about how “special” — that’s the word Ryan uses — an ordinary person like Grace can be.

Now, things are slower and more contemplative. There’s time now. Time to breathe and time to let words, sights, and sounds all sink in. Steven Moffat may have given Doctor Who time travel, but Chris Chibnall gave it time. What would have happened all in one season back in the day takes multiple seasons — years — in this current incarnation of Doctor Who. As of Revolution of the Daleks, the 13th Doctor still hasn’t decided what she feels about the revelations in The Timeless Children yet even after discussing it with her companions a couple times. We’re still waiting on that.

In Revolution of the Daleks, Yaz isn’t front and center. Her story, like the 13th Doctor’s, doesn’t culminate neatly in season finales or specials. Her life, like the 13th Doctor’s and like a real person’s in the real world, doesn’t change instantly thanks to single moments or simple platitudes or epic, emotional climaxes. Her story instead takes its time to grow. We’re still in the middle of it. It’ll show when it’s ready. If it’s anything like Ryan and Graham’s, it won’t end with the Doctor because (unlike how things sometimes felt with the companions of Doctor Who past) her story didn’t really start with the Doctor to begin with.

Yaz fades into the background in Revolution of the Daleks, just as she’s done since the very beginning of the 13th Doctor’s run. Who is she? Who is Yasmin Khan? We still don’t know. Not fully.
But I’m willing to bet we’ll find out.

So though New Who no longer adheres to its initial schema ― no longer winks and smiles and embarks on extravagant gambols and all-or-nothing gambles ― don’t fret and don’t despair.

And embrace the slow burn.

Two+ years in, what do you think of Yaz and the “slow burn” of current Who? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

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Rewriting Cars 2: Solving the Mater Problem

By Dylan

Ok, let me confess right off the bat that I actually kind of like Cars 2. I have a weird softspot for it in my heart, and I think it’s because I saw it at the exact perfect age to like this movie. Looking back on it I can freely admit that if you’re not in this razor thin margin of ages that Cars 2 really has nothing for you. Unless you really like art design porn. Like, for example, photorealistic Italian hills.

So I decided that I, a complete and ordinary man with no film cred whatsoever except making a bunch of movies as kid that far exceed the quality of this movie and who has hosted a weekly podcast for 7 years, will try and fix this movie.

Before I get started I have to get a few things out of the way. In order to fix Cars 2 I decided it had to fit into the trilogy as best as possible, because really, it actually kind of doesn’t fit Cars 1 and 3 at all. Making this rather broad statement requires me to define what I think the “Cars Trilogy” is actually about. Cars (the first one) is about life being what you make of it, and in many ways, how to use the past and nostalgia to make advances in your life. Cars 3 is about reconciling the past and the future. In this framework I see Cars 1 as a “ghost of Christmas past” and Cars 3 as a “ghost of Christmas future”.

Cars 2 is about… uh. According to Vanity Fair, it’s about OPEC, but I disagree. Cars 2 is about nothing. Cars 2 has no meaningful tie in to this idea I’ve set up. Which is why I think it fails. Thematically and tonally it is completely disingenuous to what the Cars franchise is. Part of that, too, is because Cars 2 isn’t even really about Lightning McQueen. It’s about Mater.

So my proposed fixes to Cars 2 thus would take efforts to try and mold it into a movie that thematically links Cars 1 to Cars 3. For this exercise I will assume you know the plot of Cars 2. I have also set myself the task of trying to change as little as possible about the movie while still improving it. I will have to immediately violate this to indicate, well, Lightning has to be the main character. That’s a big change but I’m sure you agree. We need to do this because Lightning needs to have agency over the story. In the original Mater makes the decision for Lightning to race, instead of him, which given Lightning’s love of racing in the other two movies doesn’t really make sense.

We need this to be a sort of “ghost of christmas present” story. Lightning has learned to be a kinder person, less arrogant. In this movie he needs to learn how to accept his friends for who they are, he needs to learn that sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to “for the greater good.” Not that I really like that term much, but it pertains. For this he can still be reluctant to race, but he has a desire to. When the World Grand Prix comes around, he’s torn between wanting to race and not. To strengthen the ties between the trilogy, Lightning specifically doesn’t feel like he can race without Doc. Doc was his secret weapon Cars 1 is a movie about being mentored, Cars 3 about being a mentor, Cars 2 should be a movie about facing the world solo.

In my new Cars 2, the WGP is less about finding the best racer but rather about finding the best country at racing and so Jeff Gorvette eventually accepts the American mantle before Lightning is able to make a decision, thus making the decision for him. The plot to discredit alternative fuel is now, well, a subplot (and you’ll see how I change the ending shortly), and in the first race Jeff is the racer who gets injured and cannot race due to this plan. Lightning must eventually step up and take his place, as the only racer good enough to represent the American team. In fact lets double down, let’s kill off the American agent right now and have Lighting get confused for being him.

Lightning must then stumble and fail in his second race out. He doesn’t do poorly, he just doesn’t do great. Solidly middle of the pack. Just well enough to put him in the position that if he wins the final race, he can still win the World Grand Prix for the US. Not only that he’s a little distracted by having to be a super spy. Sucks right? This is the turning point, the inflection point between act 2 and act 3. Lightning is at his lowest, he doesn’t think he has anywhere to go but down. For now.

In act 3 Lightning realizes that the power to be a true racer was within him all along™. He wins the race and the WGP, and in the process derails the plot to undermine alternative fuels. By the way, in my version, this is just Prof. Z. trying to discredit alternative fuels because he’s a villain, instead of Sir Miles Axelrod trying to pull the Cars equivalent of Goldfinger. No twist villain. It’s all straightforward. It’s a subplot, no more, and for that it just needs to feel suitably linked to the main plot to be satisfying.

In my version of Cars 2 Mater barely even features. He’s just Lightning’s friend, that’s it. Lightning is the one who interacts with Finn McMissile, who teaches him the value of teamwork and trust. He serves a cross between a mentor and a friend. The movie serves as a stepping point for Lightning’s character, where he relearns faith in his own abilities that he lost after Doc dies. In fact, we can make this stronger by having Lightning delegate his task during the final race to Mater, establishing trust between the two, plus showing character growth from race 2, where Lightning tried to do everything at once and failed. He’s learning that he can’t do everything, that sometimes he has to ask for help, and that’s ok! Which we can then tie into Cars 3, where he learns how to be a mentor to Cruz and cedes not just part of his task, but the entire race, to Cruz. Character growth!

I think my version of Cars 2 is stronger than the theatrical, by 100 fold. It ties into both Cars and Cars 3 by providing Lightning character development that clearly happened between the two. I also remove what I think is the biggest sin that Cars 2 commits: that of introducing a moral counter to that of Cars. At the end of Cars Lightning learns that being a dick is kind of not a good policy to get you what you want. At the end of Cars 2 Mater learns that being a fucking asshole is ok as long as you’re sort of funny to kids. That’s like, not ok man.

Do you agree with my assessment? Do you think that I’ve improved Cars 2? Reach out and let us know, either in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted by Dylan in Blog, 0 comments

Torchwood Children of Earth and the Steven Moffat Effect

By Kiyan

On Trust Your Doctor, we’re currently deep in the weeds of Children of Earth, the third season of Torchwood.

And what wonderful weeds they are.

Surprising and surprisingly grim, Children of Earth leaves fetid, gnarly gashes where the previous two seasons of Torchwood contented with surgical cuts. It’s brutal, at least compared to what came before, and that’s a good thing. And we’re only two episodes in.

It’s with this brutality that Children of Earth delimits itself from what came before. “If you expected the same old Torchwood, think heckin’ again,” says Children of Earth as it dedicates its first episode to the wholesale destruction of everything Torchwood had been up until that point — from the new mini-series format replacing the standard 13 pisodes to the seeming disinterest in fantasy alien tech (“The technical name is a gizmo,” Gwen tells Clement of a device she uses to deactivate a security camera, waving a remorseless goodbye to the detail with which previous Torchwood seasons would have tackled this moment). It all culminates in the literal, sudden, upsetting destruction of Torchwood (Torchwood itself, the hub), which gets blown to smithereens shortly before the first daily installment of five is through. It’s a bold refusal to stick to the surefire, to rest on laurels already drooping under the weight of a(n admittedly great) second season. Right off the bat, everything changes.

But what really strikes me the most about Children of Earth so far is the balancing act that the season plays. Every moment of edge-of-your-seat action gets its quieter, more meditative complement, every further fathom of mystery into which the story plunges you its vitalizing oxygen bubble to keep you going — backstories for, revelations about, and contemplations on characters you care about; concrete (😎) stakes that keep you on solid ground while a sea of larger puzzles steeps off to the side. It’s an adventure as lost as it is found, offering the tonally and narratively new up in equal measure alongside remeditations on stuff you already know (and maybe even care) about. Children of Earth takes you on a journey that tiptoes the line between the unprecedented and the familiar, remixing the show’s brief past into its own future vision.

This approach ring a bell? It should for any Doctor Who fan. Because it’s largely what Steven Moffat did over the course of his 10+ years of work on Doctor Who.

Steven Moffat didn’t work on Children of Earth. He didn’t work on any of Torchwood for that matter. But Children of Earth feels more Moffatesque than many actual Moffat stories, and it all comes down to the Steven Moffat Effect.

And that’s not too surprising. Because the explosion? Turns out it doesn’t work. The hub may be gone, but Gwen, Jack, and Ianto all survive.

The explosion doesn’t destroy torchwood. It lays it bare.

What is the Steven Moffat Effect?

But what is the “Steven Moffat Effect?” Well, other than “the term I came up with to give this blog post a clickbait-y title,” the best way to answer that question is with another question:

“Is Doctor Who about time travel?”

Someone who’s only ever watched Classic Who will probably tell you no, or otherwise explain that time travel is really just the show’s conceit, that Doctor Who never really thematizes or, to appropriate the linguistic term, topicalizes it.

Ask someone who’s only watched New Who though, and they’ll probably say that, yes, of course Doctor Who is about time travel. What else would it be about? Blink is great. Haven’t you ever seen Blink?

This is the prime example of the Steven Moffat Effect. The 2010-17 era of Doctor Who takes what was once just a conceit, a usually minor detail in the background that was never a main plot point or even really a big deal, and makes it important, primarizes it. Under Steven Moffat, Doctor Who became a show about time travel in a way that it never was before.

You can see the same thread in other Moffat works as well. Because believe it or not, the same is true of the 2011 Tintin movie that Moffat co-wrote… minus the time travel stuff. In the original Tintin comics, Captain Haddock’s drinking problem serves largely as comic relief. But the 2011 movie turns levity to gravity when it hinges its emotional climax (so its climax) on Tintin’s calling out the Captain’s alcoholism after it gets them stranded in the desert. (Though it’s been 15+ years since I last read a Tintin comic, and I saw the movie once in 2011, so some of this may be wrong(?), and if it is, feel free to correct me.)

Doctor Who and Tintin both have legacies that stretch back longer than most can remember (and the few who can probably don’t care to admit it), and when Moffat (and his co-writers) took the reigns, they ended up reevaluating what were once minor components in a much more comprehensive way and bringing them, in the process, to the forefront.

That’s the Steven Moffat Effect.

And to a large extent, it’s how Children of Earth approaches its being the third season of Torchwood: by taking what were once minor points or jokes and honing in on them with laser focus.

For example, take the…

Big Bad Bureaucracy

Children of Earth remixes a familiar facet of the Torchwood team — their close relationships with one another — and uses it to comment on something that extends far beyond either Torchwood (the team) or Torchwood (the series): bureaucracy.

If acquaintances agree where friends argue, Torchwood must have been really good friends. Because back when Owen and Tosh were alive, these MFers were at each other’s throats 25/8. So yeah, Torchwood is a close-knit team. And as both their somber moment together at the end of Exit Wounds and their adroit teamwork in Children of Earth indicate, Gwen, Jack, and Ianto remain closer than ever into their third season together.

In seasons one and two, this intimacy as a team usually serves as a source of either comedy or, well, basically strife.

But Children of Earth takes things in a different direction. This time, Torchwood’s close bond isn’t just about the three members who are left. It’s also about the possible dangers and potential pointlessness of bureaucracy. Throughout the first two episodes of Children of Earth, the Torchwood trio makes it out of what would otherwise be fatal scrapes either because they’re a small team, because the people they’re up against are the opposite of a small team, or both. In the first episode of the season for example, the team learns about the bomb embedded in Jack’s stomach just in time to save themselves because they’re a team of three who can communicate face to face. And in the second episode, where the government organization out to kill Jack has to pass information through bureaucratic channels coded and riddled with secrecy, Torchwood is able to communicate with each other while evading detection thanks to the intimacy of their network, such as when Ianto tells his sister via postcard to meet him “where dad broke [his] leg,” or when Gwen tries to set up a rendezvous point with Ianto by meeting up where they last “had ice cream together.” Reevaluated and contrasted with the workings of an organization whose commitment to secrecy (even going so far as to namedrop the Official Secrets Act) and middlemen has, so far, been its undoing (Gwen and Rhys are saved because John Frobisher needs someone to answer his phone for him), the close relationships our Torchwood members have with one another and the intimacy of their small team don’t seem so bad. The memory of the downsides that seasons one and two presented still lingers, but there’s a value, says Children of Earth, to the proximity, an importance to not getting so caught up in the business of running a business or an agency or a government that you forget, like Prime Minister Green, to care about other people. It may just save your life.

Ianto and Jack

Children of Earth also explores the relationship between Ianto and Jack in far more detail than ever before, detailing its implications and the effects it has on Ianto more deftly than season two does. When Ianto visits his sister and her family in the first episode of the season, we learn that he has never been in a romantic relationship with another man before. Complicating matters further, Ianto tells his sister that “[i]t’s not men [… i]t’s only [Jack].” And complicating matters further, Ianto’s sister has probably told a bunch of people about it against Ianto’s wishes.

Thoroughly exploring its ins, outs, and implications, Children of Earth mirrors Ianto and Jack’s relationship with its outlook on Torchwood’s intimacy. The latter, Children of Earth claims, isn’t all bad. Likewise, the former, it says, isn’t all good either. The happy fun times of Ianto and Jack’s relationship are just one of its faces, one of its facets. For Ianto, this relationship poses an entire sea of hardship to navigate, and he’ll likely have to crest more than a few challenging waves before all is said and done. As Children of Earth hones in on these difficulties that season two never really concerns itself with, the Steven Moffat Effect is in full force.

All in all, I’m enjoying the direction Children of Earth is taking things. Using familiar points as the launch pad to explore new reaches is an exciting method and a revitalizing approach to creating a new season of an established show. The Steven Moffat Effect, in other words, is indeed, uh, in effect. I couldn’t be more excited to see where it takes us.

That’s it for now. What are your thoughts on Children of Earth and its approach to the Torchwood formula? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted by Kiyan in Blog, 0 comments