Doctor Who Project: Attack of the Cybermen

This looks familiar.

John Nathan-Turner takes no chances with Season Twenty-Two, rolling out those crafty bio-mechanical cyborgs as the marquee attraction to open the Sixth Doctor’s first full season in Paula Moore’s “Attack of the Cybermen” (Story Production Code 6T). Indeed, the entire story, told in the new format of two forty-five minute episodes airing weekly in the once-traditional Saturday evening time slot, bespeaks an attempt, at times seemingly desperate, to appeal to Doctor Who‘s roots, with scarcely five minutes passing between references, both oblique and obvious, to the series’ history. The resulting tale succeeds quite resoundingly at integrating Colin Baker’s recently regenerated Doctor into the fabric of the show, but as with prior attempts by producer Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward to reward long-time viewers with moments of in-group recognition, the excessive reliance on audience awareness of key moments and figures from the Doctor’s past mutes the effect for more casual viewers, who are more likely to be confused than thrilled at the mention of Telos…

A puzzled Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) peers outside the TARDIS

The Doctor’s more immediate history comes into play from the start, with a very familiar face planning a diamond heist in central London, circa 1985: Lytton (Maurice Colbourne). Last seen escaping to 1984 London via time tunnel from the chaos of the exploding Dalek ship in “Resurrection of the Daleks,” with two Dalek-enslaved bobbies in tow, this mercenary from the planet Vita 15 sets up an interplanetary distress beacon that draws the TARDIS to Earth. No expository set-up to his prior role occurs during the first episode, and while Colbourne plays Lytton with an ominous air, the full impact of seeing him only affects those who remember that prior story, which aired almost a year earlier.

Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) scheming again

And where, indeed, does the TARDIS land? Oh, just 76 Totter’s Lane, a nondescript little junkyard owned by one I.M. Foreman. This return to the series’ birth feels so on-the-nose that, frankly, one wonders why it took twenty-two seasons to happen. While it would take a cold heart indeed to not smile at the moment, it’s sadly played here as a one-off, just a visual name-drop in a story filled with knowing nods to the past. In short, there’s reference, but no reverence, as though simply showing the place itself should suffice to convey meaning. The Sixth Doctor and Peri leave as quickly as they arrive, without a word said about the location’s significance.

The Sixth Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) come full circle

The general lack of respect for tradition goes somewhat further in the case of the TARDIS, whose chameleon circuit the Doctor has finally “fixed,” after a fashion. Upon materializing on Totter’s Lane, it takes the form of a painted Victorian cabinet, and later appears as a pipe organ and a wrought iron gate. Even though the chameleon circuit returns to its “broken” state by the end, it’s a discomfiting change from the familiar blue police box, done for no reason other than that it hadn’t been done before. Too, the prior inviolability of the TARDIS has, under Nathan-Turner’s aegis, fallen by the wayside; from being blown up in “Frontios” and invaded by inter-dimensional imps in “The Awakening,” it’s a small step to being easily opened and occupied by Cybermen later in the plot. Entire stories once revolved around Daleks and other ne’er-do-wells laying siege to the previously impenetrable TARDIS doors.

The, erm, TARDIS?

The story’s first episode establishes Lytton’s efforts to lead his heist team into the sewers, with the opening scene showing two workers killed by a mysterious figure whose identity is fairly easily guessed given the cybernetic fuzz of the first-person camera work, should the tale’s title not have sufficed. (And, of course, long-term viewers will remark to their less-than-impressed friends that the Cybermen set up shop in London’s sewers back in the 1970s as well.) The Doctor and Peri track Lytton’s distress signal to a workshop with an entrance to the sewers, and they follow him down below, though not before knocking out Lytton’s two faux-police guardians, who, like the intergalactic rogue himself, are not explained at all for viewers lacking familiarity with “Resurrection of the Daleks.” When the first episode reaches its midpoint, or what would be the normal cliffhanger for a “standard” length episode, the Cybermen finally make their grand entrance, appearing from behind a hidden door in the sewers after Lytton calls to them, suggesting that Moore originally wrote the story for a four-episode format. Old habits die hard…

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Doctor Who Project: The Twin Dilemma

That hardly sounds in character.

Each new Doctor’s inaugural tale must fulfill two objectives, often at odds with each other. In addition to providing a rousing introduction for the new title character, one that establishes a tone, an arc, for the adventures to come, the story must still function as a narrative whole, placing the new Doctor in some engaging situation that puts the fledgling Time Lord’s fresh attitude to the test. Not all of Doctor Who‘s post-regeneration stories work as well as others, and Colin Baker’s proper debut as the Sixth Doctor, in Anthony Steven’s “The Twin Dilemma” (Story Production Code 6S) doesn’t quite deliver the comprehensive punch of, say, Jon Pertwee’s “Spearhead from Space,” which introduced the Third Doctor in as compelling a tale as possible.

Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker as Peri and the Sixth Doctor

In part, this narrative disconnection comes about because producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward seem intent on telling one long story with their run on Doctor Who. Most other Doctors take over at the beginning of a season, with months passing between the prior Doctor’s regeneration and the new Doctor’s first real appearance, separating the audience from their memory of the predecessor. Here, Colin Baker assumes the role in Season Twenty-One’s final story; only six days pass between the Sixth Doctor popping up with a burr under his saddle at the end of “The Caves of Androzani” and the first episode of “The Twin Dilemma.” Having built the Fifth Doctor’s story as a continuous slide into ruin and despair with the first six stories in Season Twenty-One, Nathan-Turner and Saward seem intent on directly addressing the trauma they caused by inducing a regeneration crisis in the Sixth Doctor that leaves him initially with no discernible character at all.

A less-than-impressed Peri taking in the Sixth Doctor's gesticulations

Such a character-driven focus can pay real narrative dividends, and a more daring approach might have seen this as the sole focus of a story, a tight two-episode tale along the lines of Season One’s “The Edge of Destruction,” where the TARDIS crew turns on each other in an existential fugue, revealing far more of their true identities than any encounter with a Dalek ever could. But as with Peter Davison’s initial story, “Castrovalva,” Nathan-Turner’s concept of the “regeneration crisis” in “The Twin Dilemma” starts out strong and then flounders as the “action” part of the plot fails to keep pace. For once again, the notion of magical sums comes into play.

Romulus and Remus (Gavin and Andrew Conrad) -- or maybe the other way around

Two precocious, mathematically gifted twins, with the unfortunate names Romulus and Remus (Gavin and Andrew Conrad), disappear from their home on Earth, kidnapped by Professor Edgeworth (Maurice Denham), who seeks to harness their genius in order to move planets. Adric, it might be noted, similarly found himself trussed up in a skien of webs in the Master’s TARDIS in “Castrovalva,” his own calculation skills used to power the “block transfer equations” that create the mysterious town of the same name out of sheer nothingness. Much of beginning of “The Twin Dilemma” establishes the twins and the efforts of the Earth authorities to rescue them, padding out the story by introducing characters never seen again, save Lieutenant Hugo Lang (Kevin McNally), whose squadron of space fighters explodes while chasing Edgeworth’s space freighter to the asteroid Titan 3.

Maurice Denham as Professor Edgeworth (for now)

The Sixth Doctor, inevitably, turns his sights on supposedly abandoned Titan 3 as well, seeking a hermitage in which to recover his senses; the Fifth Doctor obviously never replaced the TARDIS “Zero Room” he retreated to (and then ejected) during his own regeneration crisis. His behavior immediately after his regeneration veers wildly—madly, even—at turns irascible, cowardly, brash, and, in a frankly shocking twist for the character, violent. Throughout “The Twin Dilemma,” the Sixth Doctor, and indeed Nathan-Turner behind him, seems to be daring the audience to dislike the Doctor. By the time he accuses Peri of being an alien spy and pushes her to the ground, throttling her, one might well say he succeeds…

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In Scale: 1/48 Hasegawa A-4F Skyhawk (Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, 1969)

For the first installment of my In Scale series of scale model aircraft builds, I’m pleased to present my just-completed 1/48 scale Hasegawa A-4F Skyhawk, wearing the colorful test livery of BuNo 154175, assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, circa July 1969 (reference photo).

1/48 Hasegawa A-4F Skyhawk

Build Overview

The venerable Hasegawa A-4 tooling has been around for nearly a quarter century, first debuting in 2000 and re-released, in Hasegawa’s inimitable way, with new parts and decals over forty times since. This build comes from the A-4E Skyhawk “Top Gun” Limited Edition (2023), which contains parts for both the E and F variants of the Scooter. The kit’s various foibles have been well documented over the years, the most notable being the step in the front slat wells on the leading edges; the real aircraft has a continuous slope from the well to where the wing resumes. I chose not to fix the error, as my scratch repair job would have been far more noticeable than a subtle geometry error that one has to know to look for.

1/48 Hasegawa A-4F Skyhawk

The build itself posed few tricky situations, with more-than-acceptable parts fit in keeping with the “TamiGawa” reputation from Japan’s two major kit makers for effortless builds. I did have some difficulty with three specific areas.

The engine exhaust piece failed to fit snugly once the fuselage was sealed, possibly owing to an imprecise seating of the exhaust trunking, necessitating a fair bit of filler (and, eventually, an aftermarket exhaust cover) before I was satisfied.

1/48 Hasegawa A-4F Skyhawk

The engine intakes, with their red banding and white interiors, turned into a mini-model of their own, needing to be painted, assembled, and masked before they were faired into the fuselage. I removed the molded stiffening plates, in keeping with my prototype, which made matters easier, as the plate, split between the intake piece and the fuselage piece, wasn’t going to match up no matter my sanding or a (mostly) judicious application of force. I added aftermarket intake covers, but mostly for visual interest; rest assured that the intakes are a paragon of precision painting…

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The Not-So-Peaceful Pacific: Le Franc Tireur 16 (LFT) Released

Fresh from French shores comes Le Franc Tireur 16, the latest issue of the well-appointed magazine and scenario combination by the company of the same name for use with Advanced Squad Leader. Focused entirely on the Pacific Theater of Operations during (and shortly after) World War II, the publication, which can be broadly compared in content and approach to Multi-Man Publishing’s ASL Journal, comes as an A4-sized magazine of seventy-eight pages of glossy stock with a thick stock cover. The fifteen scenarios arrive on ten A4-sized glossy stock sheets without much thickness, separate from the magazine, with several scenarios running longer than a single card.

Component overview for LFT 16

Third-party producers have been creating products to be used with the Advanced Squad Leader tactical combat game system for just about as long as the original Squad Leader itself has been around; early issues of TSR’s The Dragon contained new SL scenarios as early as 1980. These days, third-party products—which is to say, any game materials published by other than the holders of the ASL license, Multi-Man Publishing—run the gamut from scenario packs to full-blown modules with maps and counters. LFT 16 also comes with maps and overlays, after a fashion.

Initially, LFT intended to provide twelve double-sided geomorphic maps with LFT 16, as well as seven sheets of overlays, and apparently copies sold outside the USA will contain the components, which are redrawn versions of the original Avalon Hill/MMP PTO maps and overlays, with bespoke terrain graphics. Though details remain thin on the ground, one might assume that the redrawn maps run afoul, at the least, of the tacit agreement that MMP has cordially maintained with the various third-party producers in terms of respecting MMP’s intellectual property rights. Given that images of the maps look busy and cluttered beyond belief, and that LFT itself acknowledges in the magazine’s “Editor’s Foreward” that the new maps’ lines-of-sight differ from those on the real maps, I personally find their omission to be no significant loss (and indeed, the lower price for LFT 16 without them makes for a more palatable purchase).

Article detail from LFT 16

What is here looks quite promising, at least as far as the scenarios are concerned. The magazine itself contains a variety of articles, including several tournament recaps, a player interview, and some potted history pieces. More useful are primers on playing PTO scenarios, arranging defenses as the Japanese side, and on conducting seaborne assaults, all of which come in quite handy with the actions on the included scenario cards. (If it isn’t obvious, I purchase LFT products almost exclusively for the scenarios; the accompanying articles are an occasional bonus.)

Article detail from LFT 16

Indeed, the scenarios remain the star of the show here, and on a brief perusal of the fifteen encounters on offer, numbered LFT327-341, I see several that jump right to the top of the play queue. Each scenario is set notionally in the PTO, though not all invoke PTO terrain, and other than one scenario, FT338 RJ177, which is termed a “micro-campaign game,” none should take more than a decently-long game day to finish. Four scenarios use the amphibious landing rules—with one, FT336 Fourteen Paddles, giving water transport to both sides!—and two scenarios are set at night, including one of the seaborne assault actions, FT327 Thai Beaches, representing the same landing as in AP83 Thai Hot! from MMP’s Action Pack #9.

Scenario detail from LFT 16

My picks from the scenarios on offer here include the aforementioned FT336 Fourteen Paddles, with New Zealander infantry landing against Japanese forces trying to conduct a seaborne evacuation; a armor-on-armor confrontation between the Japanese and Americans in the Philippines in FT329 Gaining Time at Baliuag; and FT340 Spring Cleaning, a cat-and-mouse affair pitting the French against the Viet Minh in early 1946.

Article detail from LFT 16

It should be noted that three third-party geomorphic maps are required to play all the scenarios in LFT 16: Hz1 from Hazardous Movement and LFT’s own LFT1 and 2. Otherwise, just the regular gamut of MMP maps are required, as is ownership of just about every official MMP module, given the inclusion of Italian, French, British, American, Japanese, Chinese, Axis Minor, and Partisan counters in the scenario set. It’s truly one of those ASL products where to play it all, you have to own it all, and then some.

Cover detail from LFT 16

Given my eclectic tastes in scenarios, LFT 16 is an easy product for me to recommend; putting Thai or Punjabi forces in a scenario makes it a personal must-buy, though I would have been far happier if the scenarios were simply sold as a pack on their own. Your value proposition might be altered by the extra expense of a magazine that is the epitome of a hobbyist publication, for good and for ill. The tactics articles do seem worth their cost this time out, given that they work through some of the wrinkles in the PTO rules, which are not exactly the pinnacle of clean rules writing themselves. For PTO enthusiasts, as well as aficionados of obscure forces and rule sections, it’s worth a look, assuming you own the needed counters and maps.

Doctor Who Project: Peter Davison Retrospective

While Peter Davison might have been the youngest actor, at 29, to take on the title role in Doctor Who when he became the Fifth Doctor in 1981, in many ways he stands as the most adult of the Time Lords to grace our screen. From the very beginning, in “Castrovalva,” Davison’s Doctor shepherds his copious flock of companions to safety, and while they certainly support him in turn, the overall effect throughout his twenty-story run feels very much like a beleaguered teacher on an intergalactic field trip, hoping to get all the kids back on the big blue box bus.

The Fifth Doctor and Companions survey the Urbankan spaceship

In part, this sense of heightened responsibility for his youthful charges—Tegan notionally being oldest, somewhere in her early-twenties—dovetails with producer John Nathan-Turner’s increasing focus on the Doctor being old, not just in terms of having a massive well of off-screen experience to explain whatever might be needed to move the plot along, but also bearing the emotional scars from those hundreds of years of regeneration-fueled existence. And at its best, Davison’s ability to harness this reservoir of painful knowledge imbues his version of the Doctor with a depth of character that transcends the often uneven scripts. For the Fifth Doctor, more than any other, fails.

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa, realizing Adric is dead

Three stories in particular—”Earthshock,” “Warriors of the Deep,” and “Resurrection of the Daleks“—highlight (for lack of a better word) the ways in which the Fifth Doctor faces the limits of his power and the limitations of his belief system. Like many a person in middle age, he comes to terms with his regrets. It’s no longer a series aimed at children…

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Doctor Who Project: The Caves of Androzani

Curiosity’s always been my downfall.

After twenty stories, spanning nearly two and a half years, Peter Davison hangs up the Fifth Doctor’s cricket sweater in “The Caves of Androzani” (Story Production Code 6R). Producer John Nathan-Turner entrusts this valedictory story to a Doctor Who legend, Robert Holmes, both a prolific writer and a former script editor for the series, a recognition of the importance of this milestone moment. The ensuing four episode tale takes the Fifth Doctor on a journey into his core beliefs, confronting issues of life and death against an incredibly violent and grim backdrop. Strangely, though, the Doctor only peripherally interacts with the conflict that dominates the story, between the military from Androzani Major and a small band of androids led by their disfigured creator, waging a war on Androzani Minor for control of a life-extending drug.

Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant as the Fifth Doctor and Peri

Holmes, with the tacit agreement of Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward, puts the Doctor through a grueling test in “The Caves of Androzani,” forcing him to choose between his own life and the continued well-being not of the universe, or even a whole planet—like many a prior Doctor’s regeneration story—but of one person, whom he just met: Peri (Nicola Bryant). They arrive, apparently straight after “Planet of Fire,” on barren Androzani Minor (its name an awkward Nation-esque play off of the android inhabitants) looking for glass to repair a faulty TARDIS circuit, only to be stricken immediately by a deadly toxin produced by raw spectrox, source of the precious rejuvenating elixir being fought over. Before they can return to the TARDIS, alas, they stumble upon a gun-runner’s cache of arms, destined for the rebels, just as General Chellak’s (Martin Cochrane) troops close in, apprehending them as traitors to Androzani Major.

Peter Davison and Martin Cochrane as the Fifth Doctor and General Chellak

If captivity and the increasing severity of their condition, known as spectrox toxemia and signposted by weariness and progressively unnerving makeup on their skin, were not enough, the owner of Androzani Minor, the businessman Morgus (John Normington) orders them executed, pour les encourager les autres and so forth, showing no interest in learning what they might know about the source of the weapons, preferring to get back to his financial scheming. The first episode cliffhanger, one of the most disturbing yet, shows Chellak carrying out the order. Guns blaze forth, with the Doctor and Peri slumping to the ground in their red execution hoods to open the second episode. Viewers tuning in expecting a regeneration story—or indeed those who have witnessed the inevitable violence and tendency to the unexpected during John Nathan-Turner’s run as producer—might be excused for thinking that the Doctor could die in such an unheroic manner, but instead the Gallifreyan and his companion have been replaced by perfect replica androids.

The Fifth Doctor and Peri, replaced by androids just in time

Their erstwhile savior, Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable), created the androids to mine the deadly spectrox in alliance with Morgus, but when the tycoon turned on him, leaving him to die in one of the mud magma flows that plague Androzani Minor, the horribly scarred Jek vowed to avenge his fate. Hence, the android rebellion, aimed at cutting off the flow of spectrox that the people of Androzani Major rely on to the point of psychological addiction. Far from being an uprising for the rights of sentient robotic life, then, or any other noble cause that might tug on a Time Lord heart(s)-strings, Jek fights solely for revenge, demanding as a condition for ending the rebellion nothing much, just Morgus’ head on a literal plate. Jek’s whole demeanor, from his black-and-white leather face mask to his frequent unhinged rants, set him off as perhaps the most irredeemable villain yet in the series, a pantomime version of the Phantom of the Opera (stealing a march on Weber by two years), made all the worse by the fact that his besotted, and frankly creepy, behavior towards Peri comes across as unwelcome as a Dalek slug’s tentacle…

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