Inor Out: The Green Hell of Inor (Le Franc Tireur) Released

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Fresh from the fervid Francophones at Le Franc Tireur comes The Green Hell of Inor, an unofficial expansion for Multi-Man Publishing’s Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) that adds new counters, sixteen scenarios, a large map, and three campaign games to the venerable tactical wargame system. Focusing on the early war battles between the French and Germans in 1940 around Inor, a town situated on a canal off the Meuse, the module’s thesis, as laid out in the handsome seventy-page historical booklet, suggests that even a nondescript French second line division such as the 3eme DINA (Third North African Division) showed a determination to fight that was at odds with the lack of preparation and will exhibited by higher French military and political authorities during 1940, holding up a German advance for three weeks under increasingly untenable conditions.

Overview of The Green Hell of Inor

At their best, wargames, and conflict simulations more generally, make assertions about history and provide gamers with the ability to test them, driving a heightened understanding through the process of play. The designers of The Green Hell of Inor—Lionel Colin and Xavier Vitry, assisted by a number of scenario designers—seek to provide an opportunity to examine French conduct under fire, in situations approximate to those actually faced, not at a higher operational level but at the squad level that ASL depicts, where fighting spirit, training, and tenacity matter more than grand strategic concerns.

Map detail from The Green Hell of Inor

Perhaps ASL is not the best device for a serious study of war; it has been described, fairly, as an exceedingly accurate simulation of war movies rather than the chaos and uncertainty of any real battlefield. But various tweaks, as the designers have provided using different French squad types, all represented on the two die-cut countersheets, change the basic experience of playing “the French” enough that long-time ASL players feel the difference in deploying these mostly colonial soldiers, hailing from Algeria, as opposed to the usual French soldiers seen in the game. The actions represented in the sixteen scenarios are not broad armored thrusts with impregnable tanks or dire city fights between grizzled veterans; they represent meeting engagements, surprise encounters, haphazard offensives, nighttime escapes, and foolhardy charges in tanks that move scarcely faster than men. The scenarios attempt to depict the slog of every-day fighting by unblooded soldiers learning their trade the hard way, rather than set piece battles whose names live on in history.

The production itself meets LFT’s usual high standards; they and Bounding Fire Productions consistently produce the finest in third-party ASL content. The scenarios come on double-sided, glossy but thin stock A4-size pages, and the rules and historical background books are saddle-stapled with glossy pages and a thick stock cover. The two countersheets, with color figures and vehicle depictions, show sharp registration and clean die cuts, and add new French squad types as well as additional counters for the scenarios and campaign games. The two map sheets, on thick stock paper—together roughly 33″ x 47″, or A0—are printed well, depicting the hilly, wooded area around Inor, including a canal with river barges (and, of course, rules for them). Three campaign games, with accompanying charts on the same paper as the scenarios, round out the impressive package. I might have preferred a thicker, matte stock for the scenarios, but there’s no denying that the colors pop on the pages as provided.

River Barges!

Ownership of tons of other ASL product is expected for full use of this module, which should come as no surprise to anyone who contemplates a purchase.

On the whole, this pricey but pretty presentation is worthy of study—and acquisition—by any ASL player with even a passing interest in the early war period, and frankly that should be all of them. It may be that the story of the 3eme DINA is not well known, even inside of France, but that’s not due to their efforts in The Green Hell of Inor.

Doctor Who Project: Nightmare of Eden

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Always do what you’re best at.

Nothing says Doctor Who quite like monsters running rampant on a spaceship, and Bob Baker’s “Nightmare of Eden” (Story Production Code 5K) delivers a passable, if somewhat overwrought, story where alien beasts drive the narrative forward as the main source of danger in the story while also being victims of the real villains of the piece: drug smugglers. The true nightmare from the planet Eden comes in the form of Vraxoin, a drug so addictive and lethargy-inducing that the only planet known to supply it was incinerated.

Economy Class to Azure

Baker, writing his first solo effort without his usual partner Dave Martin, revels in creating elaborate settings for his stories by means of a few choice details, and when he succeeds, as in “The Armageddon Factor” and “The Sontaran Experiment,” the world feels real without needing to be completely sketched out. Starting proceedings on the interstellar cruise liner Empress, with shots of passengers packed into economy-class seating and wearing protective garb, helps establish the story’s setting; the package tours and entitled tourists of the year 2116 could as easily have been on a chartered 747 to the Canary Islands as on a warp-drive flight to the planet Azure. A collision between the Empress and a small survey craft in the wrong orbit around Azure results in the two ships being dimensionally stuck, with the smaller craft engulfed by the larger when the liner came out of warp.

Smushed Spaceships

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the scene with no explanation and dive straight into attempting to separate the two craft, pretending initially to be agents of Galactic Salvage & Insurance. They soon meet a scientist, Tryst (Lewis Fiander), whose over-the-top German accent and square-framed glasses immediately cast him as suspect. Tryst has been collecting samples of all the flora and fauna in the galaxy using a Continuous Event Transmuter (CET), which dematerializes whole areas of planets and transfers them to laser crystals for storage, an undertaking the Doctor finds both fascinating and horrifying—mostly the latter. The primitive (to the Doctor) technology interacts poorly with the dimensional instability caused by the collision of the two ships, allowing passage into—and out of—the captured milieux.

Gateway to Eden

Between the need to free the ships from their trans-dimensional embrace, the revelation of Vraxoin being present on the Empress, and an unknown assailant who knocks out the Doctor, Baker and director Alan Bromley deliver one of the finest monster reveals in years, even better than Scarlioni’s unveiling in “City of Death,” because it comes as an actual surprise. Though signposted by a crewman who dies with claw marks on his face and neck, the sudden appearance of a large, scaly, green-eyed alien from a hole in the wall cut by K-9 nevertheless delivers as much shock as Doctor Who has provided in ages.
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Doctor Who Project: The Creature from the Pit

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We call it the pit.

In seasons past, one would have expected David Fisher’s “The Creature from the Pit” (Story Production Code 5G) to provide exactly what the title promises: a beastie in an underground labyrinth posing a deadly threat. Season Seventeen, under producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams, continues to subvert expectations, with the featured creature instead being a well-spoken interplanetary ambassador on a thwarted trade mission, albeit an envoy some two hundred feet in length, covered in a sickly green membrane, festooned with unfortunate appendages, and given to crushing people inadvertently.

Intergalactic plenipotentiary and giant blob, at your disposal

Deadpan humor abounds in this story, which sees the Doctor and Romana landing on the planet Chloris—a verdant jungle world, in case the Nation-esque planet name didn’t give it away—after homing in on a distress beacon being sent out by what appears to be a giant egg shell. Unbeknownst to our time travellers, however, they have landed in the “Place of Death,” so named because anyone found there is put to death by the servants of Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances), the most powerful person on the planet thanks to her monopoly on metal. The Doctor’s curiosity about the shell leads Adrasta’s lady-in-waiting, Madam Karela (Eileen Way), to spare the Doctor and Romana, so that Adrasta can question them.

Madam Karela and the Fourth Doctor

No sooner do they head off for Adrasta’s palace than a group of bandits waylays them, intent on stealing as much metal as possible, kidnapping Romana in the process. The bandits’ scruffy appearance, particularly in comparison to Adrasta’s sharply attired guards, serves to highlight her power and wealth and the poverty of the rest of the planet, but the social commentary disappears as soon as the bandits begin to speak. They come across as greedy bumpkins, driven solely by their desire for metal of any kind; their predations stem not from penury but from avarice. While their behavior does emphasize the scarcity of metal on Chloris, the comedic presentation drains them of any degree of menace or threat, a danger sapped even further when Romana just sternly orders them to let her go, which they do, with a little help from K-9.

Romana and K-9 face off against a scruff bunch of bandits

Comedic moments in Doctor Who work best when they provide a counterpoint to the drama and the action, when they stem from the events on screen rather than being the whole purpose of a scene. The earnest yet literal-minded detective Duggan from “City of Death,” for instance, and the glib con-man Garron in “The Ribos Operation,” lighten the mood because they are juxtaposed against more serious events rather than attempting to be humorous in and of themselves. “The Creature from the Pit” feels like everyone wants in on the funny business, from veteran director Christopher Barry through to the deposed court astrologer Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon), who survived being thrown in the dreaded pit after displeasing Adrasta. When the Doctor meets Organon, after he jumps in the pit himself to escape from Adrasta’s clutches, the two exchange such a wildfire patter of witticisms and bon mots that one almost doesn’t notice the green pulsating creature stuffing itself through a doorway, trying to reach them…
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Whittaker Waves Goodbye: Thirteenth Doctor to Regenerate

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The BBC announced today that Jodie Whittaker intends to step down from the role of the Thirteenth Doctor after three seasons on Doctor Who, the final season airing later this year and her run concluding with with a trio of specials in 2022:

Much like with Peter Capaldi’s exit as the Twelfth Doctor, the BBC has made this announcement a good year ahead of Whittaker’s last scenes on the series being aired. News like this, though, would be nearly impossible to keep under wraps in this day and age. The set of specials to end the run calls to mind David Tennant’s departure, and while his specials were uneven at best, being freed from any running arc or companion linkages kept the focus on his Tenth Doctor, as befits a farewell.

Jodie Whittaker deserves no less. Her performance thus far, though hindered at times by the writing just like Capaldi, has kept Doctor Who both fresh and resonant. She has embodied an infectious joy and curiosity in her iteration of our favorite time traveller, with just a bit of the Second Doctor’s cheek and Fourth Doctor’s wit always lurking in the background.

Show runner Chris Chibnall also departs at the end of the specials, marking all change on the series. I frankly haven’t been terribly impressed with his overall impact on the show. While I love Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, and would happily watch a full series of her pre-Hartnell exploits, the wholesale reconfiguration of the Doctor Who canon that accompanied her revelation takes some getting used to, even as someone who accepts the Morbius Doctors without much complaint. Change in general is fine, canon being a secondary consideration to good storytelling, but the story that accompanied the changes here just didn’t earn the right to such wholesale revision.

Jodie Whittaker was, of course, the first woman to play the role of the Doctor, and ideally not the last. One hopes that the BBC continues to expand the definitions of who the Doctor can be.

Doctor Who Project: City of Death

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Is no one interested in history?

For all the fantastical planets and places Doctor Who has presented on screen, its location shooting has tended, for obvious financial and logistical reasons, to center within a day’s coach drive of Television Centre, making David Agnew’s “City of Death” (Story Production Code 5H) all the more striking for its quite exotic setting: Paris. Rather than dress up a London street as the City of Lights, the production team skipped over the Channel, providing some of the best location shots in the series to date. Normally, scenes of the Doctor and companion running around would be dismissed as filler, but here, the pleasant dissonance of seeing Tom Baker scampering down the middle of the Champs-Élysées, scarf flying, with nonplussed Parisian pedestrians paying him no mind, yields ample justification for the narrative interludes. No alien planet could provide such a backdrop.

Average Parisian traffic

Pleasantly, the story on offer lives up to the grandeur of the location. The pseudonymous duo of producer Graham Williams and former script editor Anthony Read delivers a smart tale that makes time travel integral not only to the outcome but also to the intermediate complications in which the Fourth Doctor and Romana find themselves embroiled. Just as their prior story together, “The Invasion of Time,” delved deeply (if at times awkwardly) into Gallifreyan history, adding to the series’ lore while simultaneously mining it for plot beats, Williams and Read here use the full measure of the series’ core conceit of time travel, having the Doctor travel through time within the story—itself a rarity—only to discover the Doctor’s urbane foe, Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover), got to Renaissance Florence first. Or did he?

Count Scarlioni, I presume?

That Scarlioni, first encountered in Paris in 1979 funding experiments and plotting grand larceny, is somehow linked to Scaroth, a green tentacled, one-eyed creature known as a Jagaroth seen in the opening scene of the first of the story’s four episodes, is obvious from the beginning; their names alone give it away. It’s the nature of the linkage that drives the intrigue and interest, with the audience learning the details slowly along with the Doctor. Indeed, there’s so much going on by the end of the first episode—time slips, thugs in Parisian bistros, an artist drawing Romana with a broken clock for a face, a plot to steal the Mona Lisa, wild experiments with chickens, and a gung-ho gumshoe—that it comes as a mild shock when Scarlioni rips off his human face to reveal the Jagaroth beneath.

Behold the Jagaroth

More curious still, however, is why an alien might need to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre when he already has six of them walled up in a long-undisturbed cellar in his Parisian château…
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Doctor Who Project: Destiny of the Daleks

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It’s what’s on the inside that matters.

During Doctor Who‘s first dozen seasons, the Daleks appeared with tedious inevitability, losing some their power to frighten and amaze each time they trundled onto the screen in increasingly bumbling fashion. And then, after 1975’s “Genesis of the Daleks,” arguably the finest Dalek story since, well, “The Daleks,” they just…vanished. These iconic antagonists would not reappear until five years later, with Season Seventeen’s opening story, Terry Nation’s “Destiny of the Daleks” (Story Production Code 5J). Though the title gives away the surprise, as it tends to with Dalek stories, “Destiny of the Daleks” nevertheless builds on the strong foundations of the prior story. Terry Nation returns his beloved pepperpots to the top rank of Doctor Who villains by making sure they don’t play too large a role in the proceedings, setting them against formidable foes and bringing back their creator in a tightly-plotted story that demonstrates both Nation’s growth as a writer and the benefits of letting the Daleks lie fallow for a time.

A quick jaunt to Skaro

Still on the run from the Black Guardian, the Fourth Doctor and a newly regenerated Romana (Lalla Ward) trigger the TARIDS randomizer circuit to arrive at an unknown place and time. Random, that is, in the way a loaded pair of dice is random, for they arrive on a deserted, radioactive planet that the Doctor vaguely recalls from prior visits: Skaro. Nevertheless, Nation neatly avoids confirming the Doctor’s—and the audience’s—suspicions until the end of the first of four episodes, only announcing the planet’s infamous name seconds before a column of Daleks smashes through a barrier, pinning Romana against a wall with their sucker arms in a knowing recreation of their initial introduction, when Barbara suffered the same fate. The Daleks do certainly know how to make an entrance.

Shades of Barbara's introduction to the Daleks

But even with the Daleks revealed, Nation continues to layer on narrative mysteries, through both extensive world building and deliberate obfuscation. Another group makes an appearance, the Movellans, a multi-cultural platoon of humanoids dressed in white leotards and silver braided wigs, ostensibly keeping tabs on the Daleks. Typically in Doctor Who, the audience has knowledge that the Doctor lacks, a technique that drives tension as we watch the Doctor and companions figure out the plot complications. The Doctor’s trademark cleverness comes through more strongly in this structure, as his logical (and illogical) thought process becomes part of the story. Here, though, Nation gives the Doctor moments of awareness that he keeps to himself, both in his supposition about what the Daleks dig for on Skaro and, more significantly, his realization of Movellans’ secret. This structural decision shifts the story’s focus from the Doctor onto the Daleks and Movellans, a vintage Terry Nation approach when it comes to prioritizing his own creations.

Meet the Movellans

In retrospect, all the clues are there from the moment the Doctor enters the Movellans’ diamond-shaped spaceship, but one is overwhelmed by the visual impressiveness of both the ship’s interior and the costume design of the Movellans themselves, which owes far more to the 1970s than the 3070s. Indeed, the most striking aspect of the Movellans’ presentation comes from the refreshing casting, with an even split of male and female actors, most of whom are actors of color. For a series where the number of speaking parts by non-white actors can still, some seventeen seasons in, be counted on two hands, it’s a noticeable decision. So once can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing these disco-fied, idealized humanoids as robots themselves. As far as Dalek enemies go, they’re no Mechanoids, that’s for sure…
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