I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to write about the passing of Art Bell, purveyor of strange ideas and the poser of questions concerning all manner of mysteries of the universe. He was for many years the host of Coast to Coast A.M., one of the most successful radio programs of the last half century. Art’s was a fantastic and fascinating format, as he basically just opened the phone lines to anyone who wanted to call about whatever topic he was covering in a given night. Ghost stories? He took `em. UFO sightings? He wanted to hear about `em. Were you a time traveler? Give Art a call if you were in the same year. He might not believe you, but he’d let you tell your story.
I wish I could say I grew up listening to Art Bell, but if a radio station in my area of Mississippi broadcast his show I was unaware of it. I learned of him in the late `90s while working as a radio DJ myself in Tupelo, Mississippi. I can’t recall for sure how I came to know of him, but likely from one of the various conspiracy, UFO, or cryptozooloigic websites I was a fan of in the day. I know for a fact that I had read a creepy story or to featuring his show in an encyclopedia of Fortean topics I owned at the time (but which has mysteriously disappeared from my shelf now). He was a fascinating figure, even if I couldn’t hear him on a regular basis. I was able to download clips of his shows from his website, but streaming was an odd creature in the late 90s. And then, in 1998, just as I was learning of Art to begin with, he retired under mysterious circumstances. It was to be the first of many such retirements, almost all of which didn’t take for very long. Art was soon back on the air.
When I moved to North Carolina in 1999, Coast to Coast was broadcast by one of the sister stations to the one I worked for in Charlotte. And during the two months or so I did an overnight shift there, I often found myself switching over to the AM feed and listening to Art in real time, rather than downloads days later. It was always entertaining. However, my thankful departure from that shift and Art’s various other premature retirements kept me from regularly hearing him much after that.
Bell is, of course, the inspiration for my fictional character of radio host Rik Winston and his UFO All Night program, who is referenced in my short story “…to a Flame.” (You can read more about that story in the Moths & Men blog series elsewhere on this site.) In the story, one of the characters, Virgil–loyal Rik Winston listener–tells the tale about a “doctor guy” who calls in to Rik’s show following an alien encounter. This was inspired by a real series of calls to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM from the 1990s. The real story turned out to be a complete hoax, of course, which the “doctor” guy eventually admitted on Art’s show. However, this hasn’t stopped that guy from trying to make money off of it to this day. (UFOWatchdog has more about the real story and the “doctor’s” actual identity HERE.)
While Rik is also the “author” of the foreword to A Consternation of Monsters. But he’s only turned up in one short story, so far. However, he’s been referenced and even makes an audio appearance in three of my short plays. I call them the Ellipses Cycle, as they all have titles featuring ellipses and are thematically tied together by their strange and unusual (and often West Virginia-related) subject matter. They also all mention Rik Winston. They include the stage adaptation of “…to a Flame,” the inspired-by-a-true-story African lion adventure “…and Tigers and Bears,” and a third play set in the waiting room of eternity called “A Game of Twenty…” It’s a story about a guy who finally gets to ask for answers to all the questions about strange and unusual things he has wondered about. Naturally, he loves every single answer he gets. That play has been produced for Greenbrier Valley Theatre as well as a staged reading at the 2016 West Virginia Playwright’s Festival. And, in May, it will again be performed as part of the Opera House PlayFest 2018.
I’ll have to dedicate it to Art Bell. Hopefully now, the man has all the answers. But here’s hoping it’s another early retirement.
(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.)
This is Funko POP! Vinyl’s version of a TARDIS keychain. It’s meant to be a miniature version of their TARDIS POP! Vinyl Toy, albeit one without working doors. (Or, rather, door, but that’s a complaint for the future.) For those unfamiliar with the plague that is Funko POP! Vinyl, the toys are primarily figurines of pop culture characters with disproportionately large heads and black circles for eyes. The figures are usually about four inches in height, but Funko made a series of keychain models that shrunk them down to around an inch and the TARDIS is just a smidge over that (unlike the larger toy version, which is nearly half again as tall as the figures).
I call POP! Vinyl figures a plague because, while I own around ten of them myself (of the Doctor Who, MST3k, and Portal 2 varieties) I don’t give the ass of a flying monkey about 90 percent of their output and kind of resent the fact that there are now layers of them under foot in all nerd/videogame/movie/music stores, where they glut entire walls. I weep for our landfills.
Like all the other TARDIS keychains, I ditched its chain as soon as I was able to. It’s super-blocky size would make it inconveniently large to use as a keychain, though I must note that Funko’s choice of a rubbery plastic for the production would lend itself to durability. (At least for the TARDIS, as most people I know who have bought and used any of the figure-model keychains quickly find they have nothing left but decapitated character heads dangling from their keys after the bodies snap off.)
Much like its larger counterpart, there’s not a lot of detail on this thing. But that’s the POP! Vinyl aesthetic to start with, so one cannot complain about the lack of woodgrain or the fact that it’s super chunky. (It’s so chunky, in fact, that I’m not sure it would actually fit very far into a standard shot glass.) I t’s fine. I’ll give it a full four TARDi and save the tale of the larger model for another time.
Over the weekend, I finally finished the second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which has gathered in my DVR. While the season felt like it took a while to get going, I truly enjoyed where it went and, more importantly, the strange places each of the characters wound up.
Much like season 1, it was a fun journey with lots of twists and turns and some truly great characters both old and new. I’m a sucker for a story with a good family dynamic and this develops multiple ones. And, much like Douglas Adams novels, it does a great deal of world building along the way with some pretty cosmic concepts that look like they would have continued into season 3 had BBC America not cancelled the show.
Not since Firefly have I wanted a show to continue so much only to have it snatched away. (The fact that Alan Tudyk is in both shows is also not lost on me, as his character of Mr. Priest is now one of my favorite over-skilled, overzealous government badguys ever.) Maybe this is down to me being such a Douglas Adams fan that I would want one of his creations to continue its life. However, I suspect the real attraction here is mostly down to the quality of what the cast and creators of this show put together. The books are great, mind you. But Dirk, as depicted in the show, is not precisely in line with the Dirk of the books–who is far less personable than Samuel Barnett’s charming portrayal. It’s quite possible that the Dirk of the books might be unsustainable as a character people would want to root for–which may also explain that while he’s the central character of the books, they’re both told from the perspective of another character looking on. Barnett’s Dirk, however, is just a chipper champion of the universe, even if he doesn’t know why. And while the show isn’t an adaptation of the source material anyway–which it seems to mostly treat as backstory–I firmly believe Douglas Adams would have been on board with what they’ve done 100 percent. It’s VERY Douglas Adamsy. And I can’t believe he would not have found the concept of a Holistic Assassin (Fionna Douriff’s character Bart, who is simply amazing) one he would have wished he’d thought of himself.
A quick search for “Bring Back Dirk Gently” took me to a Change.org petition. Dunno what good it can ultimately do, but it’s at least a way to voice an opinion. If you’re of a mind to voice yours, I invite you to do so and perhaps to tweet about it as well. #bbcamerica #SaveDirkGently
TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The 12th Doctors’ Flight Control TARDIS (Burning Through The TARDi, Part 3)
(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.)
Underground Toys, thankfully, wasn’t done with their 5.5″ line, but they also weren’t done making frustrating choices with it.
Oh, sure, they still put out some classic ’80s figures in that scale, such as new versions of the 8th Doctor and the War Doctor, to reflect their appearance in Night of the Doctor and Day of the Doctor. And after Peter Capaldi was cast as the 12th Doctor, they quickly released a 5.5″ figure for him. Except, it wasn’t Peter Capaldi in his actual Doctor Who costume (the black coat with red-lining and all), but was instead the post-regeneration Capaldi wearing Matt Smith’s final, pre-regeneration, purple-coated costume from the Name of the Doctor Christmas Special. It still looked great, cause the purple coat was a look that worked well, but it was still very annoying since it wasn’t Capaldi’s official costume. This meant that folks like me who had previously bought the 11 Doctors figure set, and who have them on display on a shelf by their desk, could not really add the 12th in there cause he just didn’t look right. Or, we could add the 3.75″ Capaldi figure in the proper costume and have him out-of-scale from all the others. However, for quite some time, these were the only Peter Capaldi figures to choose from.
Around that time, 2015 or so, I began paying attention to a Facebook page called Save Doctor Who 5 Inch Figures in the hope for word on an eventual properly costumed Capaldi who could join the ranks on my shelf. The site had, in fact, floated a rumor that such a fig was in the works. And this page was also where I first heard Underground Toys/Character Options were working on a 12th Doctor Flight Control TARDIS for the 5.5″ scale line. Supposedly, the rumor went, the new TARDIS would not only be in a truer blue to the new TARDIS prop, but would also be returning all of the functionality of my beloved 10th Doctor TARDIS with one major change–it would come with a lighted door sign. Turns out these rumors were all true.
See somewhere during Matt Smith’s run (I think it was during The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe that I first noticed it) the TARDIS developed a light up door sign. And by door sign, I mean the instructional sign on the left hand door, which actually serves as a smaller cabinet door behind which is the direct-to-police telephone unit which puts the “call” in “call box.” The text of the sign begins “Police Telephone Free For Use of Public…” and ends with “PULL TO OPEN.” For some half-assed reason–I expect just cause it looks sort of cool–the TARDIS on the show began backlighting that sign, as if it were made from semi-transparent plastic. It wasn’t lit all the time, but in most night shots they turned it on. And, y’know, the TARDIS can do what it wants, I guess, but I just never saw the logic of it. Certainly the original police call boxes which inspired the look of the TARDIS never had this feature. While I was and remain critical of the addition, at the exact same time, I have to sort of admit that it did look pretty cool in those night shots. It just helped make the TARDIS read as being more TARDISy on a graphic-design level. You could instantly recognize it from its silhouette, lighted windows, above door signage and now stupid door sign, and didn’t require the entire front be lit from any separate light source. A toy that did the same thing, I supposed, would be interesting, even if I still thought it was essentially of questionable worth. It would also mean that such a TARDIS toy would be the most functional TARDIS yet.
And this is where Underground Toys’ continued making of frustrating choices comes back into play. Cause the thing is… while I am delighted that they were kind enough to produce another TARDIS and restore the features of the 10th Doctor’s Flight Control TARDIS, the end results did not quite match up to the wondrous thing that existed in my head. (Again, I’m ruled by my inner 4th grader who had vivid dreams.)
Yes, all the light and sound functions of the 10th’s TARDIS were restored, as well as the addition of the dumb/cool door sign. But–and this is pure speculation on my part–Underground Toys was probably able to afford to do all this by skimping in other areas to make up the cost. My theory, based solely of the evidence of the thing itself, is that they wound up skimping on the quality of the plastic used in its construction.
Like the Tennant TARDIS, the Capaldi TARDIS has lights inside that illuminate the windows, the interior area, and the Police signs above each wall. But the plastic for the roof and doors is so thin that you can completely see the light bleeding through it from within (as illustrated in the image at right). Even in daylight conditions, this bleed can be seen all along the edge where the doors meet. This might have been better concealed with a layer of paint, but this model (unlike the 10th’s) is unpainted. Now this unpaintedness is nothing new, as the blue sections of all subsequent models were also unpainted. It’s just that this time it hurts the overall design. I’m of half a mind to add a coat of blue myself to see if it helps.
The other irritating thing, which was not true of the Tennant model, is that the windows themselves, when illuminated from within, allow something of a view of the inner workings of the toy behind the curve of the screened interior card. The Tennant model’s windows were more opaque while the new Capaldi TARDIS has relatively clear windows. Through them, you can clearly see the back of the interior card itself and even the backs of adjacent windows. The other difference that affects this is that the light on the interior underside of the roof is a good deal brighter than that of the Tennant TARDIS, possibly so that it will be able to illuminate not only the windows and CALL BOX signs, but the door sign as well. The roof lamp is also brighter and the light bleeds through the paint of its cap. Further adding to the frustrating nature of this toy, the plastic POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX signs do not quite fit snugly within their frames, allowing light from within to bleed over the tops and bottoms of them.
As for the dumb door sign… it lights up. yay. But in doing so it has now lost its function as a cover for the phone. Not that I mind this so much, because the phones can make the left door difficult to open, depending on their design. But having a phone there was a key plot point during Capaldi’s first episode. Granted, it isn’t as if I was planning to recreate that moment, but it’s nice to have the option.
It’s a poor thing to complain about the flaws in something that is so basically cool. The 4th Grader in me would have LOOOOOOVED to have owned this. (He would also wonder why it is blue when the poor color of his 10 inch Zenith television had led him to believe it green for most of his school years, but that’s another story for another time, if I’ve not told it already.) It’s just that Underground Toys came SO close to getting it right. It pains me to do so, but I’m going to give this a 3.5 TARDI rating.
I look forward greatly to Jodie Whitaker’s run as the Doctor. The media shot that has been released of her costume and TARDIS gives me hope, because it returns the TARDIS to the dingy greeny blue of the ’70s and restores the dark, non-glowy door sign, yet keeps the illuminated call box signs and windows. Seems ripe for a toy that hearkens back to Tennant’s toy in many respects.
TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The 11th Doctors’ Spin & Fly TARDIS (with a bit of the 10th too) (Burning Through The TARDi, Part 2)
(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.)
Around the time of the introduction of Clara Oswald as the Doctor’s companion in 2012, Underground Toys, in my humble opinion, lost their way a bit. They made the bold move to switch their main line of Doctor Who figures and toys from the former 5.5″ scale used since 2006 to a 3.75″ scale. One might speculate that this move was decided in an effort to continue to keep manufacturing costs low, and one would be correct in this, which Underground themselves said as much at the time. And so their figure line for 2013 was at the smaller, less-detailed, 3.75 inch scale. This, naturally, annoyed me greatly, but only to a point. While I was irritated at the scale shift (as a fellow who’d invested a good bit of cash on an 11 Doctor figure set and a number of TARDi might be) I also knew that the new scale would mean a new TARDIS in that scale and I was pretty interested in owning one of those.
Soon enough, Underground produced a scaled down TARDIS to accompany their new Doctor and Clara figures. Instead of calling it an Electronic Flight Control TARDIS, they switch the title to Spin & Fly TARDIS. This is because this TARDIS wasn’t simply a miniaturized version of the Flight Control model, but they’d changed up (i.e. further reduced) its features a bit. Instead of a concave spinning spindle on the bottom, allowing the TARDIS to rotate when spun via the roof lamp, they included a clear plastic base that fit into the bottom of the TARDIS itself, which allowed the whole thing to be spun when set upon a table, or even in the hand. (Alternately, you don’t need the base bit at all, so I don’t choose to use it and am uncertain what I’ve even done with it at this point.)
The Spin & Fly TARDIS still has the opening doors, the dematerialization sounds, and the lighted roof lamp. It also has the interior background card of the redesigned TARDIS from the Clara era of Doctor Who. But gone bye byes are all the other features of its larger predecessors. Now, granted, the reduced size of the toy also reduces the space for all the electronics necessary to make all the previous functions work. (Also, the doors of my particular TARDIS refuse to both stay open, which is one of the only remaining non-electronic functions left.)
Ultimately I felt the reduction in size of the line of figures, as well as the TARDIS, was a cheapening of the toy line as a whole. And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, for Underground Toys soon issued statements about the matter saying that it was necessary in order to be able to continue making toys at all. Still didn’t mean I had to like it.
Now, all that said, I still really dig the 3.75″ scale TARDIS. There’s just something about the sturdiness of the basic four posted design that I find satisfying, reduced sounds and lights be damned. Even in the smaller scale, it loses very little of that satisfying feeling for me. I’m going to give it a 3 TARDI rating and will even admit to wanting to give it four. But the cheapening of the line, to me, is not something I support so I’m sticking with 3. I even wound up buying a 3.75″ scale Peter Capaldi to go with it, but only cause Gamestop was having a nice sale.
It seems that the 3.75″ line has kind of petered (no pun intended) out. Underground did some play sets for Matt Smith and then a cursory few things for the first season of Capaldi, but not so much in terms of the most recent season. They did release a third wave of figs, including a David Tennant figure, whose appearance is reflective of the flatter-haired version of his Doctor from Day of the Doctor. And, for a hot hour or so, I became wildly excited because I found the image at right which appears to depict not only a 3.75″ scale Tennant figure, but an Amy Pond in that scale (not his companion, but what evs), and, most amazing of all, a Tennant era TARDIS done in the 3.75″ scale. I was very excited indeed, because this would definitely be something I’d want for the collection. However, upon further research, this appears to actually be a die-cast TARDIS toy from 2006 that so happens to almost match the scale for Tennant’s newer 3.75″ figure (though not perfectly, to my eye). See the image below for the products that were apparently combined to make this “set.”
Now I have to start scouring ebay for the die-cast TARDIS. It’s nice to have a quest.