LEXX 3.06: K-Town

The LEXX crew are forced to from the inhabitants of K-Town (whose schtick is that they like throwing rocks at people) through a warren of brutalist tunnels, and before you can say, “has this series made enough of the concept of everyone in the Light Zone having a Dark Zone double?” they’ve encountered the Dark Zone double of Mantrid, and have to enlist his help in rebooting Light-Zone Kai.

For me this was the weakest episode so far, partly because it’s the first one that’s had serious continuity with Season Two, and I confess I’m starting to forget some of the details.

On the plus side, the location footage is great, and there’s some, erm, pornographic surrealism as we find out that Kai’s control switches are located in an area which for most men is simply a *metaphorical* control switch, and Xev, well, literally turns him on.

LEXX: 3.05: Gondola

All the regular and recurring characters bar our-universe-Kai and May are attempting to fly over the deserts of Fire in an air balloon that’s sinking rapidly, and before you can say “isn’t this the LEXX version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 survival movie Lifeboat?” they’re facing the problem of which of them to throw overboard so the rest of them can survive. There’s some good twists, particularly regarding the identity of the inevitable traitor. I’m rather liking how the longer series-arc format is allowing the writers time to take diversions, and the practice of reincarnation on the part of some of the people of Fire and Water is shaping up as a surprisingly versatile recurring plot device.

LEXX 3.04: Boomtown

And before you can say “Didn’t Russell T. Davies write a story by that name?” I can answer, “LEXX beat him to the punch by eight years”. Also, even though there’s at least once instance of LEXX doing a story which anticipates a RTD one surprisingly well, this one has nothing in common with the Doctor Who episode bar the name.

Anyway, this one does have more of a plot than last episode. Civil war breaks out on Fire as Duke squares off against Prince, and we learn that everyone in the Light Universe has a Dark Universe double, yes, even Kai. Meanwhile, on Water, the crew of the LEXX have sex with the locals in various ways and combinations. I’d say this one was entertainingly bonkers, in all senses of the word.

Also: shoutout to Bunny, who will be one of the few reasons to watch Season 4.

Guest blogging on “Gangsters”

This month, I’m guest blogging for the Oxford Doctor Who Society about one of my very favourite series: “Gangsters”, the Birmingham-made surrealist postcolonial crime drama you might not have heard of, but which runs through the DNA of every series you love, including Doctor Who! Read it here— you can buy a print copy of the society magazine at the link too!

LEXX 3.1: Fire And Water

And before you can say, “isn’t LEXX’s third season the point where they find the right series length, and the right balance between mind-twisting space opera and occasionally tasteless body horror?” we’re back! The opener to this leaner, shorter season is an amusing riff on the Sleeping Beauty legend, as the LEXX crew have been drifting in cryogenic suspension for millennia, only to be wakened by a Prince– arguably handsome, depending on how you feel about a young Nigel Bennett. Personally I think Bennett is one of the most watchable actors of his generation, but I also watched “Fire and Water” suffering some whiplash from having recently seen Bennett as the police chief with the Dreadful Unspeakable Secret Life on Murdoch Mysteries.

The setup for the season, the war between the desert planet Fire and ocean planet Water, are well set up and the crew get separated off to their destinations nicely; there’s the usual body-horror grotesquery, rather toned down from the telemovies, but much in line with what we saw in Season Two.

Overall the only thing wrong with this one is that it was rather heavily padded out with flashbacks to explain a setup which was clear from five minutes’ worth of expository dialogue.

The Least of the Mohicans?

With some trepidation I’ve been watching Hawkeye And The Last of the Mohicans (ETA: Available at Talking Pictures TV, and also streaming on-demand on PlutoTV). Trepidation, because it was made in 1957 and clearly is going to warrant Talking Pictures TV’s Contains Racist Language And Depictions title card; however, it’s one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television programme still viewable, so I felt I should give it a try for historical reasons.

My takeaways:

  1. While the brownface is indeed shocking to a modern audience (Cec Linder in makeup and a war bonnet as an “Indian Chief”, no kidding), and the depiction of Native culture ridiculous (e.g. Hurons living in tipis), one point in its favour is that the Native characters are all given fully rounded characterisation and interesting motivations; their resistance to colonisation is presented as fully legitimate, and they have as complicated internal power politics as you can depict in a 30-minute episodic series. So not to apologise for, or forgive, the other parts, but at least it didn’t go the route of having the Natives as the unreasonable faceless horde of cowboy movies or Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  2. Clever old CBC, making a “settlers and Indians” series which is set before the American revolution, and in a vaguely defined “Huron territory” that could be anywhere from New York to Eastern Ontario. That way you can sell it on both sides of the border without having to deal with the sticky political wicket of rebellion against/loyalty to the Crown.

Guest blogging!

As well as being an anthropologist, a writer and a teacher, I also like to make miniatures. In that capacity, I’m a guest blogger on the Glasgow In 2024 Worldcon Bid page today, teaching you how to make a tiny armadilo! Click the link to create your own.

Also, Alan Stevens and I have a new fun listicle up on the Kaldor City Doctor Who reviews page, taking apart the 1970s story “The Mind of Evil”… if you like the snarky TV reviews on here, you might want to check them out.


Leadership Lessons from GI Joe

Russell A. Smith challenged me to watch GI Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! (follow along at the link) and write about the leadership side of the story. Well, challenge accepted.

Some members of Cobra senior management, and their fetishwear.

The plot, for those of you not wanting to sit through two hours of mid-Eighties American cell animation, is as follows: Doctor Mindbender, a high-ranking and somewhat kinky member of terrorist organisation Cobra, has concerns about the leadership of the organisation by its current shrieky CIC, Cobra Commander. After a trippy dream involving a DNA helix, he decides the best thing for it is to manufacture a Cobra Emperor out of the DNA of various famous past leaders, gets Cobra senior management on side, and spends the next three episodes raiding a bunch of tombs, finally succeeding in producing an individual called Serpentor, of whom more later. GI Joe, allegedly the heroes of the story, singularly fail to prevent any of this happening (even though the Cobra operatives all repeat over and over in very loud voices that they’re after the DNA of historical figures, it takes the Joes several episodes to finally catch on). Owing to an intervention by Joe alpha male Sergeant Slaughter, however, Sun Tzu’s DNA remains uncollected; Doctor Mindbender manages after great effort to obtain Sergeant Slaughter’s instead, but is thwarted in including this in the mix as well. The implication is meant to be that the throughly insane and irrational being which results would have been less so had things gone according to plan, but, given that Sergeant Slaughter is hardly the most stable electron in the atom, one doubts the logic.

…and the ego of Norma Desmond.

It’s hard to know where to start with all this, but perhaps it’s best to begin with the observation that Doctor Mindbender is clearly an advocate of the behaviourist school of leadership: namely, that good leaders have certain traits, which can be acquired, and that acquiring these produces a good leader. Mindbender himself says early on that he intends his creation to have “the military genius of Napoleon; the ferocity of Genghis Khan; the leadership of Alexander; the evil of Ivan The Terrible.” Sun Tzu is of course included because it’s 1986 and every Yuppie worth their brick-sized cell phone is reading The Art of War and convinced, using the same fallacy as Doctor Mindbender, that it’ll make them a better manager. The rest of Mindbender’s wish list includes Montezuma, Julius Caesar, Hannibal and Geronimo, as well as somewhat more dubious examples of leadership as Vlad Tepes, Rasputin, Erik the Red (I don’t know, maybe Doctor Mindbender thinks his creation should have a good sense of direction?) and Xanoth Toth-Amon (allegedly an Egyptian general, but actually a character in Conan The Cimmerian, probably the result of letting a group of English graduates loose on a cartoon series with few instructions other than “mention the new battle tank toy, don’t suggest Vietnam was a bad idea, and try not to include any naughty words”).

Sergeant Slaughter: warrior, motivator, and winner of the All Forces Dance-Off 1986.

However, let’s consider Cobra Commander’s leadership style. While he’s got issues with interpersonal relations, has problems inspiring loyalty among middle management, and really ought to be delegating his military leadership function, he has all the hallmarks of a perfectly good transactional leader. He motivates Scrapiron, Sergeant Slaughter and even Serpentor to do things for him over the course of the story (bargaining with them to do so– a classic transactional-leadership move). He has been doing a pretty good job of getting Cobra outfitted with cool planes, mini-tanks and battle androids thus far, and the only reason Cobra loses the battle at the start of the story is because Sergeant Slaughter appears to be a human mutant capable of smashing said androids with his bare hands, which Cobra Commander could hardly have anticipated. And at the end of the story, the main reason the Cobras lose their battle is that they run out of fuel and ammunition, such logistical considerations apparently being beyond Serpentor.

This rather suggests that what Doctor Mindbender is actually after is charismatic leadership, since this is the main trait that Cobra Commander lacks. It might also make sense of the more unexpected names on his wish-list, such as Rasputin (arguably not much of a leader, but famously popular with the Moscow chicks), and also why he thinks Sergeant Slaughter might make a good candidate for inclusion, since he’s the most charismatic member of GI Joe’s leadership team. And it has to be said, Serpentor certainly is charismatic, inasmuch as the Cobra members all seem irrationally inclined to follow him. The problem is that, as noted elsewhere on this blog, charismatic leaders can also be toxic, or, as in this case, mad as a bag of frogs.

General Hawk: Mostly he points at things.

Finally, it’s worth noting that leadership among Cobra’s opponents, GI Joe, is basically nonexistent. There are four official leaders: Hawk, in overall charge, Duke and Flint, who seem to run most of the on-ground activities, and Sergeant Slaughter, who one would expect would be Senior NCO but actually seems to be a bit of an anarchist. The former three characters don’t actually seem to do any leading, bar basic troop deployment. Sergeant Slaughter provides some leadership in that, as noted, the Joes find him charismatic, and he does force them onto a training programme at the start of the story which, we are told, puts everyone back on their game (somewhat belied by the fact that Cobra then score four easy victories in succession, but never mind).

However, for most of the story the Joes, Slaughter included, seem to operate very much on an individual or small-team basis, with no real need for leadership, making ad-hoc decisions and with leadership roles being similarly rough-and-ready. Nobody seems to have much respect for rank either. The same, incidentally, seems to hold true for their Russian counterparts, the October Guard, who make a cameo in Episode Three; I’m reasonably sure the tall dark and handsome one’s officially in charge, but since he barely does any actual leading, it’s hard to tell.

The secret of GI Joe is out: they may look like they’re a propaganda vector for the US military, but in fact they’re a small-scale anarchist-terrorist collective.

Robots of Death: The Stage Play

People who’ve read my book The Black Archive #43: The Robots of Death (and if you haven’t, you can buy it at the link), may remember that I talk about a stage adaptation of the classic Doctor Who story which was produced in 2012. Well, as a bonus, someone’s only gone and found some footage of Paul Darrow in the inaugural performance!