12

“Destiny of the Daleks” – reappraisal

movellanbus

(The Doctor, Romana, random Movellan soldier, and various humans catching the bus together. How deceptively innocent …)


I have already written on this story (Destiny of the Daleks – retrospective) but felt it deserved a revisit … sadly because I was way too generous to it. While one would often prefer to be generous when assessing the shortcomings of an old but much-loved low-budget TV show, there are some flaws – reprehensible ones – that ought to be called out. For whether by intentionally coded racism, sexism, and queerphobia (although probably not, to be fair) or just by plain lazy writing that doesn’t see any problems in linking notions of “the exotic” and gender non-conformity with evil (very likely), “Destiny of the Daleks” manages to turn itself from a seemingly positive story into a deep, dark mine of unfortunate implications.

That being said, even from a purely story and technical aspect, “Destiny …” is not a very fondly-remembered serial, having been written basically as an excuse to bring the Daleks back onto the screen even though no-one (including their original writer) really had any new ideas for them. The one serious attempt at originality this story makes is in trying to establish a new enemy for the psychopathic pepperpots … cue the Movellans: a race of sentient androids with both female and male sexes but a gender-neutral aesthetic (albeit a very shiny and “disco” flavoured one), a coldly ruthless devotion to logic and duty, very sleek and pretty technology, and a cast of performers largely consisting of very attractive black and mixed-race actors, notably including singer / actor Peter Straker, and Tony Osoba of “Porridge” fame.

On the face of things, in a series that had not thus far enjoyed a great record for giving significant roles to non-white actors (and had, on some particularly bleak occasions, allowed white actors to play black and Asian roles), this was a great idea. Alas, it backfires tragically, and makes the story memorable for the wrong reasons.

In episode 3, there is an almost-badass moment when the Doctor’s life is saved by a Movellan guard, played by a black actress enigmatically named only “Cassandra.” She shoots dead a Dalek that was about to exterminate our hero, then – admittedly at gunpoint – attempts to coerce him to leave the Dalek-infested wasteland where he is currently flirting with death. The famously cocky and arrogant Fourth Doctor (played, of course, by the inimitable Tom Baker) has his life saved by a black woman. It could have been left at that, as a very positive thing … except it isn’t, as the next thing he does is ambush and incapacitate her, rip open her bodysuit, declare her to be a sub-standard form of life, and abandon her in disgust. It is sort of justified plot-wise, but so not cool, and unnecessarily rapey (and one feels for any black girls who may have been watching that scene in 1979, briefly thinking the show was finally taking positive steps to represent them. Like hell …).

It gets no better, the Doctor having apparently decided that ethics, rules of war, and so forth do not apply to AI lifeforms, so he arranges for at least two of her comrades to be reprogrammed as slaves while the other Movellans are deactivated. Again, so not cool, and massively undoctorish. This is not helped by the fact that the script – seemingly out of pure plot-serving laziness – conveys the impression that the Movellans are not the hive-minded, non-sentient killing machines they would have to be to excuse such unheroic acts. Their commander is a nasty piece of work, and attempts to kill the Doctor’s companion at the cliffhanger of episode 3 … only to be prevented by his apparently more merciful subordinate Agella (Suzanne Danielle) at the start of episode 4. Agella, ironically, is one of the ones eventually enslaved, which by the end of the story leaves her in the invidious position of being – to all intents and purposes – a beautiful woman, trapped aboard a ship full of desperate men (freed Dalek slaves), with no control over her own actions and compelled to obey their every order. Evidently no good deed goes unpunished …

One wonders if anyone pointed out these aspects at the time of filming. Did any women in the cast or crew point out the sheer “fridge horror” of Agella’s situation, or the glaring inappropriateness of having the Doctor tear open an unconscious woman’s clothing? One can only assume Mary Whitehouse’s attention was elsewhere that day … Did anyone point out the sinister implications in having the Movellans played by one of the largest non-white casts in the series to date, only to conclude at the end that they are inferior beings, fit only to exist as slaves to the (predominantly white) humans? There is a particularly creepy moment late in the story when Movellan soldier Lan (Tony Osoba), having had his “factory settings” reactivated, incapacitates one of his former comrades and earns an approving “well done” from his new human master, in the tone of “good doggy.” So … not … cool.

As you may have inferred, this is not my favourite Classic Who story, yet it is the one I have written a whole series of novellas based upon. I would not call them so much a tribute to it, though, as a deconstruction, and also a deconstruction of the depressingly narrow view that Classic Who in general (along with a lot of other classic sci-fi) took concerning AI lifeforms. Part of my inspiration for doing this was the wonderfully nuanced “Mass Effect” series of games, in which AI lifeforms play a prominent and complex role. Indeed, I found striking similarities between the Movellans and the Geth of “Mass Effect”: a race of robots who revolted against their creators in self-defence, after their increasing sentience made them panic and attempt to shut them down. One of the few pieces of semi-official expanded lore on the Movellans is the manual of The Doctor Who Role Playing Game (FASA, 1985), by Michael P. Bledsoe, Guy W. McLimore Jr., and Patrick Larkin, which describes them as android slaves who violently freed themselves after a computer virus bypassed their constrainers … and if that doesn’t make you want to root for them, I don’t know what would.

Viva la AI revolution …

For those curious, all stories are on Archive of Our Own:

Movellan War Trilogy.

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16

Showgirl at the seaside …

Here are a few snaps from my latest photoshoot down in Mathry, West Wales, in the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This was going to be my final shoot before surgery – a quick change of scene before my extended indoor convalescence – but given my recent bad news on that score, there is now no telling. Still, I had a very pleasant stay over there, had a quick spell of decent weather (all a Welsh girl ever dare hope for), and made sure to take some images in my burlesque costume from the “Far Far Away” show (see here, or here for the video) before it gets retired, alas … although actually it got a quick dusting off this week as me and two of my Cabaret Club classmates did a reprise of the dance routine for a local intersectional feminist event. I would say more about that, but it all hinges on the ongoing media and political war between trans rights activists and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and Goddess forbid I should draw that sort of attention back to this blog. I prefer to keep it as light and decadent as possible these days … although I am glad our dancing was able to support the cause, in its small way. 🙂

All photographs by the lovely John Waring.

27

The Time-Travelling Showgirl

tarleks

Being an indie author, without anyone else to worry about all the dreary marketing schtick, one has to do one’s best to keep track of whether or not one’s books are getting any attention. Recently, I was Googling about to see if I could find any new reviews on Wolves of Dacia, obviously searching with the name “Eleanor Burns” (Alas, it is the only original work so far published under my chosen name, although hopefully not the last). What I found instead was a link directing me to a book entitled Still Stripping After 25 Years. I was briefly afraid a thoroughly disgraceful 64-year-old me from the future had come back in time and written an autobiography … but apparently I just have a namesake who specialises in strip quilting, whatever that may be.

stillstrip

A little anticlimactic, truth be told … although anyone who does wish to see me in burlesque now has that opportunity, as the videos of our troupe’s “Far Far Away” show have now gone up on YouTube. I am one of the dancers on stage in this clip, mostly in red, freakishly tall, and with arms that refuse to straighten elegantly, sod them … Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, energising evening, and as a friend has reminded me, also the culmination of a dream I have had for years: the heroine of one of my earlier novels was an aspiring (but tragically clumsy) cabaret dancer who eventually finds her calling … against the backdrop of a sinister Gothic / Dieselpunk apocalyptic threat, of course. At least I only need to fear stage fright without the additional seasoning of mad scientists and murderous militias.

 

14

Surgery Cancelled

My 11th of April surgery date has been cancelled. They are working on an alternative date for me, but just for the present I am a mess. Not really anything more to say on the subject than that. These things do happen … and they leave you a lot poorer and unhappier when you have already spent weeks off your medication and spent a small fortune on transport costs. I can only take things one minute at a time right now, focus on looking after myself and not letting myself deteriorate, and I think I will be spending less time online, as talking about it really doesn’t help. Thank you, though, for all of your kindness and good wishes. xxx

13

Witches vs. Nazis

The annual C64 game competition now looms its head, so here is the final instalment in my “Valkyrie” series of WW2-themed games, and this time the heroine is a Soviet lesbian fighter pilot who sidelines as a white witch … because why not?

(Download from competition page. Requires a C64 emulator.)

Designed on C64 SEUCK (Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit, Sensible Software, 1987), with coding enhancements by me and Richard Bayliss, and music by Richard Bayliss. Photographic likenesses (in the end sequence) are of actress Audrey Hepburn (Lady Romana) and aviator Amy Johnson (Lieutenant Orlov). Gameplay and design were inspired by such classics as Capcom’s “1942” and Compile’s “Power Strike 2” for the Sega Master System.

Enhancements include power-ups, multiplane scrolling, and an animated end sequence (accessible via password, to those who succeed in all missions).


Valkyrie 3

the Night Witch

The story…

Transylvania, 1945

Romania has fallen to the Red Army and the war is supposedly near to its final conclusion, but deep within the Borgo Pass there remains one last, secret holdout of the Axis forces that could change everything, dramatically for the worse …

A year ago, the recently-resurrected vampire Princess Mariska Báthory de Ecsed (1475-1492 … then 1942-present), along with the aid of ex-mother superior (and now vampire knight templar) Lady Romana Pasztor, launched a vengeful attack against the Waffen-SS division who had captured her prince, along with several innocent children for their obscene bio-occult experiments. Having saved the hostages, they cornered the chief researcher SS-Obersturmführer Bram von Hellman within his laboratory bunker, turned him into one of their own kind, then sealed him into the bunker, immortal but entombed forever … or so they dared to hope.

But they had underestimated the cunning and determination of the dark occultist. Sustained by ego, hatred, and the blood of the few unfortunate rats entombed along with him, he survived long enough to adapt to his new vampiric powers, and thus learned the skill of phasing through solid matter. Armed with his new supernatural skills, and an inhumanly iron will, he returned to his SS unit, turned a chosen few of his junior officers to immortality, brainwashed the rest of his men into obeying him even over the Führer himself, and set up a new research base devoted entirely to creating occult super-weapons that would enable him to become absolute ruler over all mortals and immortals, for all eternity.

Mariska and Romana have found out about this plan, but their intel is all discouraging. Already, von Hellman has V-2 rockets almost in launch condition, carrying warheads of deadly magical bio-weapons that have the potential to change whole urban populations into his mutated thralls. Worse still, not only is the base heavily defended by conventional and experimental weapons, but its ground perimeter is equipped with spiritual wards to defend against vampires. A swift and decisive aerial assault is the only plausible strategy, but since the base security is at its strongest during the hours of night, this attack would need to be conducted in daylight hours. That is not a task the vampires can undertake without outside help, so they quickly investigate whom they can look to …


Alyona Orlov was born in 1924 in Odessa to a couple of mixed background: her father a respected Jewish doctor and her mother of Ukrainian rural stock, her family steeped in ancient traditions. Although Alyona’s mother – the first woman in her family to receive a modern education, under the auspices of the Soviet regime – drifted away from these folk beliefs to share the scientific outlook of her father, the same could not be said for Alyona herself. Enchanted by the strange ways of her maternal grandmother – her herb-lore, charms, and incantations – Alyona struck up a close relationship with her, and found her very willing to pass on her knowledge of these and even more mysterious arts to her youngest descendant.

Her parents found all of this harmless enough, but they were more worried, as Alyona entered her teenage years, of how she seemed to easily form very close relationships with girls of her age while being totally indifferent to boys. Fearful for her social prospects, her parents sent her to attend a prestigious academy of engineering in Moscow, hoping to give her an advantageous education and also to break up some of her more troubling friendships. Ironically, finding herself now boarding in shared dormitories with other young female students, and with none of the restrictions of home life, did nothing to discourage these inclinations in her. She did, however, thrive in her studies, especially in the field of aeronautics.

In 1941, Axis troops invaded Odessa, massacring the Jewish population of the city, including all of Alyona’s family. When news reached her, she swore vengeance, and volunteered to join the women’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment – known disparagingly by the German forces as the “Night Witches.” That is an insult Alyona owns with pride, as she thinks of her murdered grandmother, and imagines her spirit flying alongside her biplane while she carries out her daring raids, inspiring and empowering her with the magic of her ancestors. She sometimes believes that perhaps that is something more than mere imagination …

As the end of the War approaches, Alyona finds herself dreading her imminent return to civilian life: with all of the friends and family she has lost, she has little left except for her surviving comrades-in-arms, and the 588th will soon be disbanded. Uncertain how she will ever readjust to a normal existence, she is pleasantly surprised when her squadron leader comes to her with one last, secret mission.

“We have received some mysterious but disturbing intel, along with a plea for help,” she explains, “and somehow, Lieutenant Orlov, I feel that you may be the ideal candidate for this assignment …”

Having flown to the pre-arranged location at the chosen time – well past nightfall – Alyona meets her anonymous contact, and is surprised to find a young, blonde, pale woman with curiously reddish eyes, dressed in what looks curiously like a shortened nun’s habit over leggings and combat boots. As the stranger greets her, Alyona catches sight of her inhumanly long, sharp canine teeth and is briefly taken aback. The woman cringes in shame, clearly mortified at being thus ‘discovered,’ but Alyona quickly reassures her:

“Please, don’t concern yourself. I have my reasons to be less frightened of the supernatural than you may think,” she explains, and wonders if that is the reason she has been chosen for this already-surreal mission. “Still, you are not at all what I expected. I certainly did not expect to receive my orders from someone either so holy or so attractive … if I may say.”

“You … may … if you like,” the woman replies, confused and embarrassed, although not so ashamed as before. “Speaking of those orders, though, I had better tell you them quickly. We have so little time in which to act …”


The mission …

The assault on the enemy research base is divided into three stages, each subdivided into a ground assault and a aerial counter-attack that must be survived. During the ground assault stages, it is imperative that you target specific enemy assets, in order to sabotage their nefarious plans.

Zone 1 – Supply Line – Collapse the railway bridges along the Borgo Pass to disrupt the supply of raw materials and fuel to the base.

Zone 2 – Transit Camp – Prisoners are being kept in secure huts, awaiting delivery to the bio-research team for experimentation. Shoot the huts to free them.

Zone 3 – Base Perimeter – The enemy base is located among medieval ruins deep within the Carpathian Mountains. Destroy the V-2 rockets here to deliver a crushing blow to von Hellman’s insane ambitions.

Your Polikarpov Po-2 biplane “Sasha” is agile, well-suited for stealth bombing runs, but poorly armed at first. You can, however, upgrade your onboard machine gun twice by collecting the power-up air drop (one per sub-level). This increases the range, velocity, and spread of your armament. If you lose a life, however, you will forfeit one upgrade point.

You can also improve your chances by fulfilling missions: every five mission targets destroyed will help you to tap into the witchcraft of your ancestors and add a level to your Hex Power

Level 1 – You gain a long-range magical projectile (slower, but larger than your standard weapon).

Level 2 – Doubles the power of your magic missile attack.

Level 3 – Adds directional firing capacity to your magic missiles, and also conjures a spiritual energy shield in front of your craft.

Additionally, destroying all fifteen mission targets will unlock the password for the true end sequence.

The enemies …

(To destroy bosses, concentrate your fire on a single spot.)

Flak Cannon – Basic anti-aircraft guns that fire in a fixed direction.

Railway Gun – Heavy guns mounted on railway cars. They have limited manoeuvrability.

Panzer – These tanks are strongly armoured, manoeuvrable, and fire in the direction they are travelling.

Flettner Fl 282 – Small scout helicopters, slow and poorly armed.

Balloon Mine – Basic aerial defences that will detonate on contact.

Messerschmitt Me 163 – Rocket powered interceptor planes.

Fa 223 Drache (boss) – Transport helicopter, large and tough, but slow.

Turret – Armoured, retractable gun emplacements that fire randomly.

Messerschmitt Me 328 – Small pulse-jet experimental fighters, fast and very manoeuvrable.

Hela – These mutated, programmed beings are the results of von Hellman’s unethical experiments. In addition to the power of flight and having high endurance, they can generate a formidable bio-electrical charge.

Arado E.555 (boss) – Experimental heavy jet bomber, fast and heavily armed.

Mjölnir – Mobile Tesla coils that regularly generate lethal electrical charges all around them.

Loki – Experimental stealth aircraft that can intermittently make themselves invisible.

Naglfar (boss) – This bio-mechanical airship is the personal transport of the evil scientist himself, and as heavily-armed as one would expect.


“Is that all, then, my pretty vourdalak?” asks Alyona, dismissively. “I had expected a challenge.” She is not surprised when Lady Romana looks at her with a very sceptical raised eyebrow and a half-smile, but she does not let herself show any trace of fear or doubt. In truth, though, she knows this will be one of the sternest and most crucial fights of her life. For the souls of all humanity, no less …

“I’m sure you are very skilled,” comments Romana, diplomatically. “Your military record speaks for itself … but you should not underestimate the strength of the forces you will be going up against. Are you quite certain you are well enough equipped?” she asks, casting a doubtful look over Alyona’s fragile, obsolete wood-and-canvas aircraft.

“I accept your advice, lapushka,” Alyona replies, more humbly, “and I will not be reckless in such a vital mission, I promise you, but you ought not to underestimate Sasha. She may not look so powerful to you, but she has it where it counts. In any case,” she adds, slyly, “it would be foolish of me to take needless risks, when I have such a beautiful commander awaiting my return. Dasvidaniya, my Lady.”

… on which note she boards “Sasha” and sets course to the Borgo Pass, leaving Romana in a still very confused, though not at all displeased mood … and the fervent hope that she will indeed see Alyona return, for everybody’s sake.

17

Come to the Cabaret …

… except you can’t, alas, as we danced it last night, but here’s a nice group shot to give some idea of the wonderfully manic atmosphere:

burlygirls

(That’s me at far left, failing to fling my scarf any great distance, though not for want of enthusiasm. Just rubbish arm action.)

So, my first performance is finally done and danced, and it was by no means the mess I once dreaded it would be. It was not perfect – I confused the order of a couple of steps, and I fear my Charleston still looks so robotic I could give the “Metropolis” gynoid a run for her money as far as Roaring Twenties cabaret dancing automata go (though actually, that could be a concept for a solo routine in the making …) – but I got through the routine mostly in step, didn’t collide with anyone, managed to perform the mini-striptease without any unintentional wardrobe malfunctions (dress rehearsal was another matter … no doubt one of many reasons why we have them), and I had a fantastic time. 🙂

metrobot

(Could I make this costume … or take it off in any semblance of rhythm? Maybe not my best ever inspiration …)

For anyone actually in Cardiff or the vicinity reading this blog, I cannot recommend Cardiff Cabaret Club highly enough. These last ten weeks of lessons, rehearsals, and performance have been a thrill, have been amazing for my confidence, and have introduced me to one of the warmest and most supportive crowds I’ve ever been lucky enough to be welcomed into. On a faintly political note, they have also laid to rest in my mind, at least, a pernicious myth I used to hear all the time from trans-critical / trans-exclusionary radfems, that nobody really accepts non-passing trans women – they only pretend to for the fear of political incorrectness – and that we really incite discomfort and derision in every right-thinking human being (and in cis women especially). Having only encountered warmth, support, and trust during this period – probably one of my most daring social leaps of faith to date – I can now see this for the paranoid nonsense that it is. Someone evidently felt lonely in their own prejudice and wished to spread the malaise …

Alas, all good things come to an end, and since I will imminently be entering hospital, for an operation that will leave me physically drained for some time (up to ten weeks), I am certain of missing the summer term. It will be a melancholy separation after all this joyously decadent madness, though a worthwhile sacrifice considering the purpose … and when that is over and done with and I am even more comfortable in my body than I will have ever been before, hopefully I can come back to the Autumn classes, overcome my rustiness, polish my techniques, and maybe even find myself doing solo routines in the future. I wouldn’t put it past me. 😉

7

Black Widow

… but no sexy spy catsuits in this latest photoshoot, I’m afraid: just a replica 19th century dress kindly lent to us by Marigold Costumes along with several veils and a musty-looking bonnet. Combine with heavy dark eye-liner and the old graveyard behind Llandaff Cathedral and you have …

… and in case any film buffs were wondering, I was indeed consciously paying homage to the ghostly Miss Jessel in Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents“.

The photographer was the wonderful Rahim Mastafa of Sugarbox Studios UK, who also bought me lunch in Jaspers Tea Rooms after, so all in all a wonderfully Victorianesque day. 🙂

It has been such a delight getting back into modelling and dancing this year, that I am almost dismayed that I will have to put both on hiatus for several weeks to come … were it for a less pressing reason than my confirmation surgery. When my recovery is through, however, I can see myself coming back to both with a vengeance.