Overdue Who Review: The Power or the Daleks

“When I say ‘run,’ run like a rabbit…”

4th season; Season 1966; six 1/2 hour episodes.

Partway through the season, the Doctor regenerates for the very first time, and we enter the Patrick Troughton era. This is an exemplary Who episode, even though the original films were lost and this story was reconstructed in 2016 using the original audio and animation (re-finessed in 2020, which is actually the year that the story is set).

An Earth colony on the planet Vulcan is terrorized by Daleks after an overzealous scientist reanimates them from an inert space capsule. The scientist sounds like a muppet performed by Terry Jones. The new Doctor seems a bit queer (not gay but acting erratically) and emotionally distant from his companions, and the story gets intensely dark by episode 6.

The animation is quite limited, you can hear a lot of action happening in the audio, especially during the climax, but it is not reflected in the animation. This limitation of the human characters is actually offset by doing away with the limits of the daleks on a practical set. Instead of having the few dalek models moving about with cardboard cutout of a dalek crowd behind them, it’s like these guys were designed to be made into 3-D models and replicated in this environment. So that at least works better than the original!

One of my favourite episodes!

Overdue Who Review: Horror At Fang Rock

Season 15, 1977

In which I learned about the Schermuly pistol rocket apparatus (see below).

Horror At Fang Rock is probably the Who episode I’ve seen the most times, and therefor have the most memories of, with the possible exception of “Unearthly Child.” It’s also one of the most suited to a Call of Cthulhu RPG adventure – a few people in a lighthouse are victimized by an alien blob that is trying to call its fleet of spaceships to decimate the planet.

Interesting and well portrayed cast of characters, but don’t get too attached to anyone. e. Includes the folksy old-timer who believes in sea monsters, who, to the actors credit, becomes the monster, after a fashion. Castaways include sleazy stock broker reminiscent of Carter Burke in Aliens, and the high-strung secretary who provides more than enough screaming and fainting spells until her inevitable demise.

Leela does some fine companioning in this episode, unlike previous eps her ideas and actions are not pooh-poohed by the Doctor and all the men. She’s in control and in her element, fighting monsters. This is also the episode where her eyes change colour, because actor Louise Jameson was tired of wearing brown contact lenses for the character, so they wrote a bit into the script where she was blinded, but when she recovered her eyes became blue. Why they would care what colour her eyes were when the character was introduced is beyond me.

All in all a fun, spooky bottle episode that could serve as a great introduction to Doctor Who for folks who like period horror.

Next up: The Invisible Enemy

Overdue Who Review: Talons of Weng-Chiang

Final episode of Season 14, 1977

So I’ve never actually seen Phantom of the Opera but I expect if you threw in a dash of Jack the Ripper, ‘Oriental’ racism, and an enemy from another time this would fit the bill.

This is a six-part serial that could have been compressed to 4. Briefly, real British actor John Bennet puts on yellowface to portray evil “Chinee” (to quote the local copper) actor Li H’san Chang, a hypnotist with an animated ventriloquist dummy (that we later learn is part pig). They both serve a Chinese god Weng-Chiang who of course isn’t actually a Chinese god but a despot from the future. The Doctor refers to him as the Butcher of Brisbane so I guess he’s a (white) Australian?

Anyway this is a series of Leela having good ideas and actions that either end with her inconceivably failing to stab someone in the back after successfully sneaking up on them, or simply being told by men to not get involved because it’s too dangerous for a woman (even the Doctor, who knows she’s a capable warrior).

There are several actual Asian actors, though they all play opium-addicted thugs. Racism aside, the intrigue and characters are mostly enjoyable, although the time despot chews almost as much scenery as Jeremy Irons in the Dungeons and Dragons movie.

The writing includes lines like “In my country we have saying: Man who goes too quickly may step in bear trap” and “On my oath, you wouldn’t want that served with onions. Never seen anything like it in all my puff. Oh, make an ‘orse sick, that would.”

Next up: The Horror At Fang Rock

Voice Acting Tips for Dungeon Masters From An Actual Voice Actor

Don’t eat the lead miniatures

Hi! I’m Toren Atkinson! In addition to being a Dungeon Master and an illustrator for D&D and other RPGs, I’m also a professional voice actor! I’ve done voices for video games, cartoons and commercials.

While voice acting is not necessary to be a good DM (or player), I think we can all agree it adds a lot to keep characters lively and memorable. But I’ve heard a lot of people say that they just can’t do voices. And to that I say – you can! And I’m here to help!

Let me tell you my secret: If you’re like me, you’ve got a notebook that you bring with you to your gaming sessions. In my own notebook – on the last page (the back inside cover, in fact) – I have a list of character voices that I am comfortable with (I’ve included it below). Every time I need a new non-player character to interact with the players, I flip to that page and pick a voice that’s suitable, and when I’m not in the thick of roleplay, I’ll remember to make a note beside that voice as to which character it belongs to, so that if the players come across that NPC again, I can refer to the list and keep things consistent. Some of the voices are impressions of celebrities or existing film & TV characters, while others use broad accents or my own repertoire of character voices.

“But Toren,” you say, “I’m not a professional voice actor. I can’t do impressions or accents!”

There are a lot of ways to provide vocal character without doing accents or impressions. Let’s say you’ve got an English noble character, but you can’t do a British accent to save your life! Well, you can try to simply use refined, proper diction. It helps if you literally look down your nose at your players while doing so. Conversely, for a lowlife dock monkey, slurring your words and talking in slang, with every second word a profanity can absolutely get a great character across (for added fun, they don’t have to be offensive or modern curse words)

You can change your cadence – maybe someone speaks super quickly with run-on-sentences, with eyes darting and face twitching. Or, they speak robotically with the same emphasis of every syllable. Or portray the always bored and/or “too cool for school” cynic – who speaks in slowly and monotone, like Daria or the teacher from Ferric Bueller’s Day Off (“Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…”). Perhaps an old shell-shocked veteran speaks softly while staring into the middle distance. Another character speaks only in whispers, but they do so with wild enthusiasm. You can whisper, can’t you? Meanwhile there’s that guy who doesn’t have an ‘inside voice,’ always talking to you as if you’re on the other side of the street. And how about the character who is chronically constipated, with the strain coming through in their voice?

An old voice actors trick is to actually change your voice by physically interacting with your face, whether it be holding your nose, pulling your cheek out with a finger, or whathaveyou.

Don’t overstay your welcome.

For throwaway NPCs a strident or grating voice can be amusing and memorable, but for main NPCs that the players will see over and over, I recommend not going over the top. Nobody wants to hear your Gilbert Gottfried or Elmo impression for 3 hours.

It needs to be said: avoid offensive caricatures. My rule is if a player of a minority was at my table (let’s say a South Asian) and I did a stereotypical caricature of that minority (Apu, for example), would I feel weird? If the answer is yes – don’t do it. This goes for sexual preference and those with any kind of disability as well. Your mileage may vary.

And as always, be mindful of others within earshot of your game. After overusing ‘shouty guy’ in your friends living room you may find you no longer have a place to play.

This is the list that I use. I hope that it will inspire you to try something new next session!

Stereotypical Brooklyn guy
Stereotypical Canadian guy, eh? (McKenzie Brothers)
Stereotypical Scandinavian
Stereotypical Russian
Stereotypical Australian/Steve Irwin/Bruce
Stereotypical Italian/Mario
Yarrrr stereotypical pirate voice
Edward G Robinson
James Mason
Alec Guinness
Wolfman Jack
Sir Ian McKellan
David Attenborough
Dracula (Bela Lugosi)
Tim Curry
Tom Waits/Nick Nolte
Jason Statham/Ray Winstone
Christopher Lloyd
Tracy Morgan
Billy Connolly
Inigo Montoya
Charlton Heston
Lennie from Mice and Men (“I will call him George”) AKA Patrick Star
Bane
Emperor Palpatine
Dustin Hoffman
Ricardo Montalban
Christopher Walken
Christoff Walz
Kennedy/Mayor Quimby
Morgan Freeman
Jay Baruschel
Brando
Beavis/Butthead
Montgomery Burns
Transatlantic accent
Elvis
Watto (Star Wars)
Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter/Mayor McCheese)
Brian Blessed/John Rhys-Davies
Jesse Ventura
Bob Dylan
Kermit the Frog
Hagrid (Harry Potter)
Chris Rock
Wallace Shawn
Jack Nicholson
Clint Eastwood
Sean Bean
Korg (Taika Waititi)
Harvey Fierstein
Drunken Dudley Moore
Thurston Howell the 3rd
Samuel L Jackson
Cobra Commander
William Shatner/Zap Brannigan
Gomer Pyle
Grimlock (Transformers)
Jimmy Stewart
Maude Flanders/Fargo
Alice Glick/Maude Frickert/Old Lady
Monty Python old British lady
Teen with Cracking Voice
Fat Albert
Hank Hill
Boomhauer (King of the Hill)
Al Pacino
Owen Wilson
Jack Sparrow
Michael Caine
Aku/Mako
Robin Leach
Hippie surfer dude
Caesar with lisp (Life of Brian)
Ozzy Osbourne
Comic Book Guy (Simpsons)
Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel (Simpsons)
Doctor Girlfriend (Venture Bros)
Red Skull
Agent Smith/Hugo Weaving
Alan Rickman
Ahnold
Raphael (Sarcastic clerk from The Simpsons)
Humphrey Bogart
James Cagney
Peter Lorre
Jack Palance
Marvin the Martian
Lumpy Space Princess (Adventure Time)
Southern Belle/Tree Trunks (Adventure Time)
Mayor of Townsville (Powerpuff Girls)

Power Enterprise: The Voyage Continues

Today John Burton, Chris Woods, Peyton Woods, Warren Banks and I played what I think was the 285th session of Power Enterprise the roleplaying game.

It was a real trip revisiting this game that I created in the 80’s and refined over the years, and playing with the original crew and a representative from the new generation!

269 DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? (cont’d from 268) (2021/08/28)

The lead Mouvetran “thinker” alien speaks to the group via the ‘flora-link’ attached to the back of Spykos’ head. The thinker suggests the group come to the Mouvetran base and be a part of the research. It explains “Perhaps if we join our minds together we can accomplish great things. Unlock the secrets of the planes. I’ve already done the hard part, I’ve found a way to capture magic. I understand some creatures of this realm are immortal, impervious to harm and death, or they were before I took their magic. Perhaps we can find a way to harness these powers and bestow them upon yourselves and your collective.” The group agrees and will head towards the base which is at the edge of the big lake to the East. They then disconnect the flora-link and Spykos is disoriented but okay. 

Olympus’ doggy notices something in the woods behind them, and it is discovered that a group of elflings has followed them, offering to help them with whatever their quest is, along with some delicious vitality-giving berries. The group lets them tag along. Nomad offers some of his magic items, a flame-throwing crossbow and an invisibility cloak, to the earthlings, since the foes are invisible to his senses. Olympus takes the cloak. 

the alien base

When they reach the lake they see a towering tripod-like vessel, 100’ high or more, with the doors open and a bunch of Mouvetrans waiting for them. Nomad, who cannot see the mouvetrans or the ship, does detect a roiling energy ball hovering above the lake, and the group deduces that there’s some magical nexus in the top level of the base. Olympus uses the invisibility cloak to sneak into the vessel, which is surprisingly de-powered and all the doors are in the open position. He climbs up the shaft of a non-operational lift, and sees a research lab with bagmen, geranium men, minijens, and katyr technicians. He senses the thinker and the thinker psionically detects him as well, and asks him to wear a flora-link as a gesture of good faith. Olympus rebuffs the offer but offers to go get the rest of his group. When he climbs back down to the doorway, he sees a human worker with a flora-link, telling the Tenejen that she should be there to help facilitate communication with the Earthlings. 

Solaris, Moses and Sliderman are beckoned to the craft and when they arrive the geranium men move to don flora-links. A fight breaks out! It seems the mouvetran tech is failing, as the mouvetran energy weapons keep sputtering, leaving the aliens with punching and stabbing weapons. The elflings too gather to assist, even though they cannot see the foes. Meanwhile, Spykos disappears into the woods (again) and Olympus’ marble doggy is killed in the fray.

The horde of geranium men

After all the mouvetrans are dealt with, Sliderman notes that the human (now hiding in a side room) looks very similar to his patron, Felix Smets. The heroes pull the flora-link off her and she explains that she is Smets’ twin sister, an expert in the field of dimensional physics. She was recruited to work on a project and the next thing she knew she was a mouvetran slave. She tells the group all the ways that they could stop the project, and the heroes climb up the shaft to the lab, where there’s a line of geranium men protecting the machinery, along with minijens and bagmen and katyr technicians. They plow through them but Olympus and Ujurak are being drained of magical power, especially after the thinker cranks the machine up to 11. Solaris is pitched down the elevator shaft by a minijen, Olympus magic cloak stops working, and Ujurak is unable to maintain his rock form, reverting to human form. They continue to pound on the mouvetrans, setting the magic device on fire and finally smashing it. The force field holding the magic nexus is disrupted and a huge explosion of magic blows everyone back.  With the anti-magic field down, the mouvetran ship begins to register for the locals, and the elflings dance the dance of victory. The heroes are infused with random magical energy, giving them new powers. Sliderman uses the scroll of planar travel to get them back to earth, but it seems like something has gone wrong, for when they return to Earth, the skies are filled with ash and the city is in ruins!!

CAST:

Sliderman (Peyton), Solaris (John Burton), Olympus (Chris), Ujurak (Warren)

Nomad, Spykos the Nephilim giant, Dr. Felicia Smets, elflings

Mouvetran thinker, minijens, bagman, geranium men, a Tenejen, a Katyr soldier and many katyr technicians

Overdue Who Review: Robots of Death

Gosh I wonder who the bad guys are in this series? Robots of Death has not one but two persons of colour, who sadly are killed by ep 2 (of four episodes). Everyone, including the robots, has a futuro-baroque fashion sense, which is both incongruous and kind of refreshing to see something different. The robots don’t have a ‘robot voice’ but they do have robo-vision, when we see their victims through their eyes kind of like Predator. And of course when they go evil, it initiates the evil red glowing eye effect, as per their programming, I’m sure. The Doctor comes up with an ingenious plan to take out the robot controller, as well he should. Not too bad, overall, even though automatonophobia is misnamed as robophobia.

Next up: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (oh lordy)

Overdue Who Review: Face of Evil

Season 14, 4th story, January 1977.

I thought this was going to be one where the Doctor had visited the planet before and created a terrible legacy, like violating the Prime Directive, which interfered with the natural development of the local society, but it turns out that the computer that they worship like a god is only partly the Doctor’s fault. And he references the past trip to the planet but they should have made this a revisit to a planet we’ve seen before. Anyway, it’s a fairly decent plot and this is the introduction of the companion Leela, of which I am a fan. I liked this one.

Next up: The Robots of Death

Overdue Who Review: Deadly Assassin

Season 14, Serial #3, 1976

Is this the first episode without a companion? At first I was excited but by the third (of four) episode my attention waned. I think this is the first time we visit Gallifrey the home of the Time Lords, and no surprise they’re all narrow-minded, stuffy white geriatrics. The Doctor is framed for murdering the president of the Time Lords (what?) by The Master, who looks like a ghoul from Fallout because he’s past his 12th regeneration or some such sillyness. There’s a deadly game of cat and mouse inside a psychic matrix where the danger of death may or may not be real. The climax is reduced to eyeroll-inducing fisticuffs.

Also there’s a panopticon, which is pretty cool.

Next up: Face of Evil

Overdue Who Review: Hand of Fear

Season 14 ep 2 1976, Fourth Doctor

“The Hand of Fear” should have been called “Eldrad Must Live!” and includes a non-white actor for a change, though not in a significant role. In which the Doctor calls a pod of whales a school, tells a peon to go collect an obviously dangerous artifact and pays the price for it, and has an oops moment with an actor’s bosom. Looks like it was filmed in a milk plant but it was an actual nuclear power plant. Companion Sarah is dressed like a toddler and spends most of the time screaming and being a liability, hailing back to the early season companions. This was her last episode before coming back in a 2006 Tennant episode. I enjoyed that the Doctor worked to save the villain, even though it would obviously turn on him. A few clever and enjoyable turns.

Next up: The Deadly Assassin

Overdue Who Review: Masque of Mandragora

Season 14 ep 1. Fourth Doctor

Back to a 4 episode story. An energy thingy uses the TARDIS to bring it and our heroes to 15th century England for some Shakespearian noble intrigue and an evil cult (not the good kind of cult) with prophecies and ‘magic’. The resolution is pretty lackluster and again the Doctor gloats over a pile of corpses. I liked the previous one better.

Next up: The Hand of Fear