Doctor Who Project: Resurrection of the Daleks

It seems I must mend my ways.

Given producer John Nathan-Turner’s iconoclastic approach to Doctor Who, the most surprising element of script editor Eric Saward’s “Resurrection of the Daleks” (Story Production Code 6P) is just how long it took the two of them to get around to remaking the most beloved villains in the series’ history. By Season Twenty-One in 1984, fully three and a half seasons have elapsed since Nathan-Turner took over, and in that time he brought back many an old foe, from the Silurians and the Master to Omega and the Cybermen, often giving them a harsher, less subtle, and more menacing aspect. As for the Daleks—in their first full appearance in nearly five years, since 1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks,” not counting their brief cameo in “The Five Doctors,” and the first not written by creator Terry Nation in over twelve years, since Louis Marks’ “The Day of the Daleks” from 1972—the perfidious pepperpots come out of the Nathan-Turner and Saward transmogrifier with a surprising twist: they are defeated.

The Mighty Daleks

Saward’s story draws heavily upon Nation’s “Destiny of the Daleks,” which sees the Fourth Doctor and Romana in the far future outwit, in turn, the Daleks; their new forever enemies, the robotic, disco-bead-wearing Movellans; and Davros, the latter being captured and placed in suspended animation for transport back to Earth. Some ninety years later, the war between the excessively logical rivals has ended. The Movellans introduced a virus that targets Dalek genetics, wiping out most of the mutated Kaleds and scattering the remainder to far-flung corners of the galaxy to escape its effects. Hoping to engineer a cure, the Supreme Dalek, aided by a small core of followers, turns to their creator, Davros, for help once again (as they did in “Destiny of the Daleks,” after having tried to kill him in “Genesis of the Daleks,” if anyone is keeping score).

Terry Molloy as Davros

They can’t do it alone, though, as their power has waned and their ability to think strategically has diminished. They turn instead to a band of brainwashed human duplicates, led by Lytton (Maurice Colbourne), to serve as their shock army, and also, for reasons that Saward never really tries to explain, to guard a cache of Movellan virus canisters in an abandoned London warehouse in 1984, accessed via a “time corridor” created by the Supreme Dalek’s spaceship. It’s this corridor that the TARDIS finds itself trapped in at the end of “Frontios,” and by the time the Fifth Doctor breaks free of it, the temporal-spatial momentum brings the blue box down on the banks of the Thames, right near a street where a group of armed bobbies guns down a band of escaped slaves from the Dalek ship in the story’s opening scenes.

Not quite your average bobbie.

This opening in particular, with its sense of disorientation, juxtaposing the familiar with the unexplained, sets out the stakes for the entire two part story. (To accommodate the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, the four original twenty-five minute episodes of this story were edited into two fifty minute ones, per Howe and Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion.) More than anything, the first few minutes call to mind the ruined London of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” and the shock when the usually unarmed contemporary police appear and kill in cold blood causes confusion and dismay in equal measure. Saward and Nathan-Turner intend to bring about just what the title suggests, a “resurrection” of the Daleks, returning them to their rightful place as the ominous, frightful, ruthless killers that they are. But then they take a page from the campiest of all Dalek stories, “The Chase,” and have the Doctor bundle a screeching Dalek out a window to its explosive demise…

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Doctor Who Project: Frontios

I think this joke’s gone far enough

The degree to which Doctor Who has changed since Peter Davison took on the title role can best be seen through the lens of Christopher H. Bidmead’s “Frontios” (Story Production Code 6N), given the extent to which this story, by a former series script editor during Tom Baker’s run, feels completely out of sync with the tone and tenor of the Fifth Doctor’s past two seasons. As with Bidmead’s last script, “Castrovalva,” the Fifth Doctor’s inaugural story, “Frontios” is as much about creating a deep and rich world as it is about how the Doctor deals with the narrative dilemmas created by the same. There’s little to no character development across the four episodes on offer here, no room for the Doctor or his companions to reflect or pause; every scene pushes the action forward or establishes the complex setting, filled as it is with multiple speaking guest stars and a veritable mob of extras. And that’s even before Bidmead introduces the pillbug-like Tractators, the most alien-seeming creatures since the Menoptra from “The Web Planet,” strange precisely because of their vague familiarity and slow, dance-like movements (and, like the Menoptra, played by dancers rather than actors).

Two Tractators

Everything about “Frontios” suggests grandeur, with several large, elaborate sets depicting a wrecked colony ship and an extensive tunnel system, all effectively filmed by veteran director Ron Jones to create a palpable sense of size and scope. Even the narrative setup, with the TARDIS triggering a temporal “boundary error” alarm as it enters the Veruna system in the far future, home to the sole surviving human outpost after the Earth is destroyed by its sun, bespeaks a tendency to set the stakes as high as possible. This is, to put it plainly, Fourth Doctor stuff—the last of this, the first of that, the end of the entire human species—for real this time. The Fifth Doctor has certainly confronted major crises, having averted the destruction of Earth in the 21st century just two stories before, but the scale of his confrontations has always leaned towards the intimate, the intricate. Not so “Frontios,” where the Doctor employs his words for deception and humor in a sweeping manner rather than diplomacy and empathy on an individual level.

Peter Gilmore and Jeff Rawle as Brazen and Plantagenet

A powerful gravity beam pulls the TARDIS to the site where, forty years prior, a colony ship from Earth crashed on the planet Frontios in mysterious circumstances. The Doctor wants nothing to do with the situation, emphasizing that the Time Lords forbid him to intervene with such a delicate pivot in time, but seeing people wounded by a meteorite bombardment that coincides with the blue box’s forced landing causes him to stay and help. He, Tegan, and Turlough quickly find themselves accused of helping to perpetuate an invasion of the planet, in league with the unknown force that has been saturating the colony site with space rocks for thirty years. Led by the callow Plantagenet (Jeff Rawle), son of the original expedition leader, Captain Revere, the colony teeters on the brink of extinction, with people mysteriously vanishing; eager to establish his command after the recent death of his father, the youngster prepares to have the Doctor executed, but neither the Time Lord nor the audience really notices. Bidmead, with the approval if not outright urging or instigation of producer John Nathan-Turner, goes where no story has gone before: he destroys the TARDIS…

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Doctor Who Project: The Awakening

It’s a living history.

Of all the many changes producer John Nathan-Turner brought to Doctor Who, the regular appearance of the two-episode story structure stands as one of the most successful. Forced by necessity to strip down the story to its basics, the writers for the two-part tales have consistently turned in taut, if not always coherent, narratives, and Eric Pringle’s “The Awakening” (Story Production Code 6M) stands as no exception. From the very start of the story, with a contemporary figure being menaced by Cavaliers on horseback, Pringle plays with the notions of temporal fluidity that are at the heart of Doctor Who—if the Time Lords can travel through time, so can other beings and forces, a plot device used frequently in the early days of the series but seldom evoked by the time Peter Davison dons the Fifth Doctor’s mantle.

Cavaliers on parade

The local magistrate, Sir George Hutchinson (Denis Lill) explains to the flustered schoolteacher, Jane Hampden (Polly James), that he and his fellows are merely re-enacting the events of the English Civil War, and that it’s all simply a bit of fun that the entire village has decided to participate in, except for her. Once they have simulated the final epic battle fought in village of Little Hodcombe between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads in 1643, all will go back to normal. It’s an interesting twist, as the viewer has been conditioned by the very nature of Doctor Who to accept, and indeed expect, the very real possibility that the figures had somehow appeared in 1984 from out of the past.

Denis Lill as Sir George Hutchinson

By virtue of lovely narrative happenstance, Tegan’s grandfather, the historian Andrew Verney (Frederick Hall), lives in Little Hodcombe, and the Fifth Doctor brings the TARDIS to town for a visit at the very same time as Sir George’s men are rounding up Roundhead stragglers. But instead of materializing normally, an unexpected energy field forces the blue box into the crumbling crypt of the long-abandoned local church. While heading to the village, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough find themselves waylaid by the wanna-be Cavaliers, who forcibly escort them to Hutchinson. The magistrate’s demeanor turns from conciliatory to vindictive once Tegan mentions her grandfather, with Sir George ordering them to be held under guard.

Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, and Janet Fielding as the Fifth Doctor, Turlough, and Tegan

Jane Hampden, along with the viewer, realizes not all is quite as it seems; the participants in the wargames, with the exception of Ben Wolsey (Glyn Houston), take proceedings with an earnestness that borders on the maniacal, treating the fighting as real. Once our time travellers inevitably escape, they split up, the better for Tegan and Turlough to get caught before the end of the first episode. The Doctor, having returned to the church, finds himself buffeted by phantom sounds of combat, then sees a roughly-clothed young man tear through a weak brick wall. Named Will Chandler (Keith Jayne), the lad is trying to escape the battle raging outside the church—in 1643. Some further narrow escapes, this time with Jane, now also on the run from Sir George, sees the three confronted, in proper end-of-episode fashion, by the source of all this confusion, the giant face of the Malus…

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Ohiofest: ASL Action Pack #18 (MMP) Released

To most people, Oktoberfest conjures up notions of Bavaria, beer halls, and bratwurst, and all fine contributions to human culture they are. To aficionados of Advanced Squad Leader, however, Oktoberfest means a week-long celebration of wargaming in some nondescript hotel in and around Cleveland, Ohio, the longest running (and arguably finest) ASL tournament going. In celebration of this carnival of camaraderie and competition, Multi-Man Publishing, stewards of ASL, just released their fifth scenario-and-map Action Pack in conjunction with ASL Oktoberfest.

Cover Detail of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

ASL Action Pack #18: Oktoberfest XXXVII features two geomorphic mapboards (91 and 92) in the now-standard “Starter Kit” style of thick cardstock plus fourteen ASL scenarios, AP191-204, all on traditional cardstock, sandwiched between front and end sheets on glossy stock with cover art depicting a Crocodile blazing away by Nicolas Eskubi. In keeping with the general “tournament” nature of this Action Pack, the scenarios tend towards the compact, with only two clocking in at seven or more turns and three at a mere four-and-a-half turns. Unit density likewise reflects an emphasis on the manageable, and all should be playable within a six hour span, assuming reasonably punctual players.

Contents Overview of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

The new maps, 91 and 92, hail from the talented Charlie Kibler. Board 91 is a riot of greens, with woods and brush everywhere and a long Level -1 Valley that runs the length of the map. It’s a striking board, one of the strongest in recent years. Board 92 depicts a more normal crossroads village, though curiously dominated by stone row houses more often seen in purely urban settings. Two roadside hills offer intriguing defensive opportunities.

Map Detail of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

All fourteen scenarios were designed Pete Shelling and the late Bill Sisler, both hailing from the Buckeye State, making this an all-Ohio affair. The Germans appear on quite a few of the cards, against American, Russian, Partisan, and British opposition, with a single scenario set in the Pacific and, pleasingly, four actions taking place during the Korean War with the North Koreans facing American troops from the 1st Cavalry. The latter quartet might be considered a continuation of sorts from Action Pack #17, the entirety of which covered the actions of the First Team in World War II and the Korean War. It’s good to see MMP continuing to support the Korean War module with additional scenarios. That conflict represents the furthest extent the ASL system can really cover, chronologically, being so close to World War II as it was in terms of weapons and tactics. Hopefully more gamers will give those scenarios a try.

List of Contents of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

My personal picks from the scenarios include AP191 East Wind by Bill Sisler, with its rarely seen Extreme Winter conditions making life miserable for Russian and German alike; Pete Shelling’s AP194 Not Fade Away, pitting a German defense on the two new boards against American infantry backed up by some Shermans; and AP204 Southside Seesaw, also by Shelling, with a thin force of North Korean defenders holding against a mass of US 1st Cavalry infantry lugging a recoilless rifle up Alpine Hills on Deluxe maps, not something you see every day. Honorable mention goes to Sisler’s AP197 Killer Cats & Easy Eights, an all-AFV affair in the snow that gives 11th Armored’s CCB a total of sixteen up-gunned Sherman variants against half as many German tanks and tank destroyers.

Scenario Detail from ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

As ever, to play it all you need to own it all when it comes to Advanced Squad Leader, and Action Pack #18 proves no exception. For the player with everything, though, or at least close enough thereunto, Action Pack #18 is yet another automatic purchase. The two new maps, particularly 91, give scenario designers even more options, and the scenarios avoid being big, tedious slugfests, the time, space, and force constraints that are inherent to “tournament” scenarios forcing players to use what they have to the best of their abilities, while still having room for a beer and another scenario right afterwards—which, if we’re honest, is the whole point of a tournament anyway…

Doctor Who Project: Warriors of the Deep

You must decide, Doctor.

As Season Twenty-One dawns—and with Peter Davison entering his final stories as the Fifth Doctor—producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward continue their policy of serving up deep cuts from Doctor Who‘s history, enlisting Johnny Byrne to dredge up the “Warriors of the Deep” (Story Production Code 6L), catching in the narrative net not one but two long dormant foes: the Silurians and their aquatic kin, the Sea Devils. Last seen during the Third Doctor’s run, these prehistoric reptilian rulers of Earth occupy a delicate space in the Doctor’s past; far from being mindless monsters or craven conquerers, they hold legitimate claim to co-existence with the “ape primitives” whose descendants came to rule the planet. Twice, in “Doctor Who and the Silurians” and “The Sea Devils,” the Doctor has attempted to bring about a truce between the humans and Silurian-kind, and twice he has presided instead over their destruction. Of his many regrets, the case can be made that these are the Doctor’s most keenly felt failings.

Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor

But Doctor Who has changed appreciably since, with the kind of moral nuance seen during Jon Pertwee’s turn as the Third Doctor giving way to a breezier, more rollicking and less ambiguous style by the time Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor steps from the stage. The overarching question for “Warriors of the Deep” is whether Byrne’s four-episode script can honor the duty owed to the Silurians by the Doctor while fitting Nathan-Turner’s requirements for contemporary Doctor Who, particularly given that both prior stories unfolded leisurely over six episodes, the better to balance action and adventure with diplomacy and discussion.

Behold, the proud Silurian

There’s no mystery as to the putative antagonists of “Warriors of the Deep,” with the Silurians revealed within the first ninety seconds after the title sequence fades from the screen. Their well-realized underwater battlecruiser plays cat and mouse with the scanners of Sea Base 4, crewed by a vaguely British military force whose uniforms and general base aesthetic owe a substantive stylistic debt to Space: 1999, with stark white techno-cool walls and color block attire. Set in 2084, exactly a hundred years from story’s first broadcast date, these soldiers represent one of two dominant political blocs on the planet, each ready to annihilate the other with “proton” missiles launched from underwater bases.

Preston (Tara Ward), Nilsen (Ian McCulloch), Vorshak (Tom Adams), and Bulic (Nigel Humphries)

The Silurians’ motivation, however, remains initially unclear, as they first focus intently on reviving their Sea Devil brethren, entombed for “hundreds of years” after their hibernation process went awry. At this point, though, it becomes clear that a scrupulous adherence to the previously established, “canonical” Silurian/Sea Devil timeline will take a second place to the narrative needs of Byrne’s story. If the Sea Devils’ travails link directly to the Third Doctor having destroyed their underwater lair circa 1975—UNIT story dating being its own minefield—when his attempts to parley with them fail, caused equally by the Master’s conniving and the humans’ fear-based attack on their base, then scarcely a hundred years have passed, at odds with the stated passage of time. A minor quibble, to be sure, and one quickly forgiven by any devoted viewers who might notice, given that Silurians and Sea Devils finally appear on screen together for the first time…

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Taking a Gander: TCS Goose Green (MMP) Released

Though best known for their prodigious output as the current benevolent custodians of Advanced Squad Leader, Multi-Man Publishing also shepherds various other wargame series, including the Tactical Combat Series (TCS) pioneered by Dean Essig (and previously released under the aegis of The Gamers, now folded into MMP). The most recent TCS title is Goose Green, designed by Carl Fung, focusing on the initial ground combat between British and Argentinian forces in and around Goose Green and Darwin on the Falkland Islands in May 1982.

Cover sheet detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

As with the last TCS entry, Ariete, Goose Green comes as a ziplocked, rather than boxed, presentation, with a single standard 22″ x 34″ map on glossy paper; half a countersheet of die cut 1/2″ counters; series and special rules on glossy paper; some charts on relatively thin, glossy stock; and thick front and back cover sheets. It’s a tidy package at an agreeable price. TCS has never seemed to be as big a seller for MMP (or The Gamers previously) as the other series in their stables, so it’s good to see the series continuing in a format that gets the games out to players at a price that is as close to “impulse buy” as wargames tend to get.

Component overview for MMP's TCS Goose Green

Goodness knows I’ve bounced off of TCS more than once in the past, having owned (and sold and owned and sold) several titles in the series over the past two decades. What has thrown me off—and others, I would wager—is the innovation at the heart of TCS: written orders. Like ASL, TCS focuses on tactical battles, highlighting small unit engagements, typically at the platoon level as opposed to ASL’s focus on the squad. TCS, however, requires written instructions for units to act, orders that must pass through the chain of command. No telepathic, instantaneous communication between units here—orders are orders, and just because the player wants to react to an opportunity (or mishap) in one area, the written orders take precedence until new orders can be cut.

Rules detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

For gamers used to pushing counters at will, it’s a difficult, or at the very least different, mindset to adopt, particularly at the tactical level, and while most TCS series games have small scenarios, the thought of orchestrating a major offensive in writing can be daunting. The relatively small focus of Goose Green feels like an ideal setting to try to come to grips with TCS; even the full campaign for Goose Green should be within the realm of the possible, given that there are a grand total of 140 counters in the game, fewer than half of which are actual units. The game contains a total of five scenarios, ranging from five to forty turns, each turn representing between twenty minutes to an hour duration, depending on light conditions.

Map detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

Too, with the fortieth anniversary of the conflict in the Falklands just past, Goose Green feels a somewhat timely addition to the relatively thin conflict simulation corpus surrounding that clash in the South Atlantic. Designer Carl Fung goes to significant lengths via the special rules and scenarios to portray the difficulties facing the British as they attempt to conduct a rapid assault against numerically superior Argentine defenders, themselves well dug-in but on the receiving end of an advanced combined arms fusillade. Both sides need to make tough decisions about when to press and when to yield, decisions compounded and complicated by the TCS orders process. Besides, any game with counters for that lovely homegrown Argentinian close air support aircraft, the Pucara, deserves a place in my collection.

Counter detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

The components themselves are up to the usual handsome MMP standards, the maps hewing broadly to the standard Gamers style, with graphics work by Nicolas Eskubi. Love them or (more likely) hate them, the trademark Gamers’ “every five hexes” printed map coordinate system rears its head here, as does TCS’ legendarily finicky line-of-sight process, but those are small quibbles to bear for a fairly unique take on one of the most important, and overlooked, land battles of the late 20th century. Goose Green promises to be worth the effort involved in finally coming to terms with TCS, in order to examine this signal moment in military history.