Sunday, 2 February 2014

What to Watch Next: The Empty Child & The Curse of Fenric

"Don't mention the war". It took the original series twenty-six years to get around to doing a WWII story, and the baddies are the Russians (and not as bad as all that, either). It took the new one nine episodes, and the baddies are the Germans again (though mostly theoretical ones, given that Moffat's much more interested in Making Kids Scared of Things).

"The Empty Child"

Publicity photos can be such fun.
"John Barrowman n' William Shatner"
Barrowman is gushy, Shatner is campy; it is an utterly characteristic performance on the part of both interviewer and interviewee. Anyhow, this sort of daytime children's television is where Barrowman had his start...

"Partners in Crime"
Nothing to do with David Tennant, this is a short from 1942 illustrating how profusely naughty it is to be buying meat off the black market. Starts off as quite the standard sort of thing - the profiteer archetype, the housewife - but takes a plunge into surreal meta-reference towards the end. One can only imagine the effect on the original audience.

"Child Evacuations"
Yes, the sound does cut off fairly abruptly. Most of the children being evacuated from major cities weren't shipped out of Britain altogether, just sent to the country (a la "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"), but it was certainly common enough to explain the Doctor's surprise. Nancy's brigade really shouldn't be there at all. 

"When Icky Morgan Played the Organ"
Glenn Miller did things besides "Moonlight Serenade" in his life. You'll have to scroll down the page to turn the song on, but it's worth the effort.

(What's that you say, you want a live video? Here's one from one of Miller's movies, "Orchestra Wives", where it starts off as yer standard big band before turning into a thoroughly brilliant dancing number by the Nicholas Brothers that would be worth watching all by itself. Backflips are involved.)

On that note...

"Nobody Here But Us Chickens"
The Doctor isn't quite being anachronistic, but the song that made the phrase popular didn't come out until 1946. It'd be nice to know whether the production team was doing that on purpose or not...

(The Muppet version is good too.)

Curse of Fenric

Always were, of course.

So, we have a 1979 Dracula movie with Sir Laurence Olivier and Sylvester McCoy in it - you'd think that it'd have to be quite good just on that basis alone. Not so much, as Olivier's turn as Van Helsing is mostly just "comedy foreigner" and McCoy has about four lines in the movie (he does get a lot of homely background scenes drinking tea while the main characters are running around panicking). Nevertheless, it's a rather entertaining adaptation - Donald Pleasence is good, and Frank Langella is wonderfully classy as the titular vampire.

"Minecraft - Logic Gates"
 No, seriously, Minecraft tutorial videos are about as good an illustration of logic gates as any, since visual examples are quite useful and the setup provides a good platform for concise examples about what's involved. TNT, among other things. This is all in aid of modeling actual computers in your video game, which is entirely possible.

(For those unfamiliar with the game mechanics, a textual rundown here - the one critical point is this line, "When redstone torches are powered, they go into an "off" state and stop providing power themselves." Odd from a worldbuilding viewpoint, but it's the only way that you would be able to make any logic gates, so just go with it.) 

"Enigma Machine"
Just the basics, for those who didn't learn about them at school.

Of course, since an Enigma machine is basically just some logic gates cleverly wired together, and you can simulate simple computers in Minecraft, you ought to be able to simulate an Engima machine in Minecraft if you fancied...and yes, someone's thought of that. Enjoy.

(Minecraft's not the only game you can do this kind of thing in, of course. Someone else built a Turing machine in Dwarf Fortress. Which leads us to...)

"He Dreamed of Machines"
In honour of Alan Turing, who haunts the whole story (the matter of whether Briggs thought he was allowed to write about homosexuality on a children's programme or not remains vexed, but there's no doubt that the line of thought that leads you from WWII machine theft to logic puzzles goes straight through Enigma machines.) This is something of a teaser for the upcoming Pet Shop Boys performance "A Man From the Future". They're planning their narrated/sung tribute this summer.

"The Master Game"
Item: it would be negligent to discuss Curse of Fenric at any length without mentioning the climatic chess game. Item: chess is usually the sort of thing that is far more exciting when you're doing it yourself. Happily for yours truly, the BBC used to cheerfully ignore this sort of consideration and had a rather enjoyable programme portraying chess in a pleasingly exciting fashion. The linked trailer and this review give a fairly good idea of the format, with player voiceovers matched up to the chess moves.

Or, you know, just have a clip off Bottom instead. The sad thing is that they're making about as much sense as Ace's comments about the pawn stratagems.

(Actually, she would be making a very intuitive sort of sense if she'd come to the realisation that it wasn't the ending of a game she was looking at but a helpmate, a perfectly standard kind of chess problem that involves both parties working together to checkmate one. In other words, the Doctor's puzzle was nothing to do with superiority of pieces one way or the other but with rethinking the assumptions of what it is you think that you're perceiving. If only that had come through more clearly...but it's vague in the novelisation as well, so it's not the production team's fault. Ian Briggs almost has the idea down pat but didn't quite articulate it.)

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