Apologies for the lack of my Alternate Wednesday posts of late; oddly enough, it’s a matter of not having enough time for them. I thought the biweekly schedule would be manageable, but with a novel to revise and multiple deadlines for various projects (including several other blogs I contribute to–see below), it has been the easiest thing to put aside. But I enjoy writing them, and I hope some of you enjoy reading them, so they will continue–but perhaps on a sporadic basis for the moment.
But I tell you, this episode is exciting, not least because it fills in some of the time between Kirk’s era and the TNG years, with the introduction of the Enterprise-C. (It hits some of the same buttons for me that “Babylon Squared” on Babylon 5 does, my favorite episode of the first season in which the Babylon 4 station reappears due to a temporal anomaly…) And I love this vessel, a beautiful melding of the best features of the Constitution-class and Galaxy-class designs. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” also has high stakes, gruesome deaths, and it looks and sounds more cinematic than anything on the show previously. I’m also a sucker for stories in which one ship or one person makes a huge impact for others–even in failure; we always root for the Enterprise to survive, but the idea that one crew’s sacrifice could still be a victory of sorts is gratifying.
Pop over there to see my episode recap and read reviews by me, Torie Atkinson, and our fine commenters.
I also had two other guest blog posts this week, if you haven’t had enough of me:
We always pay a lot of attention to the mechanisms of time travel–a DeLorean, the Millenium Shortcut, slingshotting around the sun at warp speed–but every time traveler has another important tool: a watch. Sometimes it’s just there for symbolism, like the paradoxical pocket watch in Somewhere in Time, but often it serves a more practical purpose, what it was made for–to keep track of time.
Clocks are everywhere in Back to the Future, and Marty McFly’s digital watch is more than just a gag; there’s a reason that the poster shows him checking his watch: being in the right place at exactly the right time is a major plot point. Recently, another timepiece caught my eye in one of my favorite science fiction shows, Fringe.
Without spoiling the surprising twists the series takes, in its final season, there’s a certain amount of time travel involved. In episode seven of season five, “Five-Twenty-Ten”, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) needs to pay very careful attention to the time at which specific events take place… and I really liked the watch he used. (I have no idea how you keep that synced while jumping around in time, but whatever.)
I figured it would be tricky finding it since the brand name was blacked out for the episode, but naturally, someone else on the internet had already identified it. Thanks, internet! (It turns out that identifying watches worn by celebrities is a hobby for some people.) Ultimately, I learned it’s a Fossil Relic watch, model ZR15552… which is no longer in production. Darn! But hey, there’s eBay. Thanks again, internet! In short, I now own a little piece of Fringe history and I’m prepared for my next temporal displacement.
I’m really gonna miss that show.
Watches almost seem like anachronisms today, with many people just using their cell phones to tell the time. Do you still wear one? Have you ever bought something because you saw it in a TV show or film?
Most people would probably guess that my favorite time machine in fiction is the DeLorean from the Back to the Future films. That’s a pretty good guess, and I would definitely like to own one someday! Preferably one that runs on a garbage-fueled fusion reactor and can fly. But the time machine I like the most is the Millennium Shortcut.
Never heard of it? The Millennium Shortcut, likely a riff on Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, was the time machine used in the five-part DuckTales miniseries, “Time is Money.” I loved the simple yet elegant design, clearly inspired by old-style alarm clocks—a giant leap forward from the first time machine Gyro Gearloose invented, the time-tub.
If you never saw it or no longer remember the premise of the story, which first aired as a TV movie in 1988, Scrooge McDuck tries to claim prior ownership of a cave of diamonds—before Flintheart Glomgold can steal it from him—by traveling back in time and scrawling his symbol, $, all over its walls with a laser. Through a series of mishaps (after all, Launchpad McQuack is piloting the Shortcut), they accidentally go much farther back, to prehistoric times, where they pick up two stowaways: cave duck Bubba and his pet triceratops, Tootsie. Hijinks ensue, and in the end, Bubba Duck joins the main cast for a season, and Duck Tales jumps the megalodon.
Okay, so the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even for a time travel story. But it’s so unabashedly nonsensical, with plenty of sappy moments, I couldn’t help loving it. And I always enjoyed multi-part episodes of my childhood cartoons because stories spread out over two, four, or five episodes were so much bigger in scope than your usual 22-minute episode.
But my favorite thing about the Millenium Shortcut (other than its name) was the unique power source that enabled it to travel in time: bombastium. It was a rainbowy element that took the form of a popsicle, and it had to remain frozen in order to work. You didn’t even need a time machine to use it, but without a computer to control it, licking it would take you to a random time period, with no reliable way home. I had thought Gyro somehow invented bombastium, but when I just researched it, I learned it isn’t even original to DuckTales.
Like many stories and plot elements in the series, bombastium was borrowed from a Carl Barks comic. (I really need to read all of those.) According to Wikipedia:
Bombastium is stated to be the rarest element in the world. Even though it is very coveted, its usage potential is not entirely known. One characteristic is that it tastes different every time you try it, and scientists eventually discovered that one atom of bombastium dropped into a barrel of water becomes one barrel of ice cream: a different flavor of ice cream each time. To avoid evaporation, bombastium must be kept frozen.
On Duck Tales, bombastium just melts, which adds a kind of ticking clock (ha ha) to the climax of the story where Bubba is running out of time (sorry!) to get back to Duckburg. Fortunately, the computer is smart enough to locate the correct time just by fixing on his crudely drawn sketch of Uncle Scrooge and the directive, “Find Scooge!” Nonsense maybe, but the Shortcut was designed specifically for Launchpad to operate, after all.
There were some other great time machines to come out of the Disney Afternoon, which I will probably mention in later posts. But now it’s your turn: In the comments below, tell me about your favorite method of time travel in fiction.
The U.S. celebrated Groundhog Day a couple of weeks ago (is there an international, or even fictional equivalent, I wonder?), and as usual, it was an opportunity for geeks everywhere to show our appreciation for one of the greatest time travel films ever made: Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andy MacDowell. Like I need an excuse to re-watch it! But this year the occasion reminded me of another film that is not nearly as well known…
Before the Syfy Channel (née Sci-Fi Channel) built its reputation on making so-bad-they’re-good genre films, Fox was the champion of low-budget SF movies-of-the-week. The nostalgic and sometimes faulty part of my brain fondly remembers the 90s as the heyday of TV movies, and Fox gave us instant classics such as Generation X, W.E.I.R.D. World, and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (starring David Hasselhoff in the titular role). Many of them were obviously backdoor pilots for new TV shows or cheap knockoffs of Hollywood blockbusters, but my favorite of the era was 12:01.
Starring Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie’s), Helen Slater (Supergirl), Jeremy Piven, and Martin Landau, on the surface it looks like a rehash of Groundhog Day. Whereas the latter film doesn’t really try to explain the cause of the 24-hour time loop, 12:01 attributes it to a science experiment that threatens to trap the entire world in the same day. Silverman is not quite as talented or entertaining as Bill Murray, but he got the job done. I remember liking him and Slater and in general appreciating the film on its own merits. And it turns out it may not be a ripoff of Groundhog Day at all–in fact, the creators maintained that Groundhog Day stole from them.
Could be. 12:01 was based on a 1990 short film directed by Jonathan Heap called 12:01 PM, which was in turn adapted from a short story of the same title by Richard Lupoff, published in the December 1973 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. (Lupoff followed up with “12:02 PM” and “12:03 PM” in issues from 2012 and 2013–I’ve gotta track these down.) In the short film, which aired on Showtime’s 30-Minute Movie series, Myron Castleman (played by Kurtwood Smith) repeats the same hour over and over again, from 12:01 to 1:00 p.m. At least it’s his lunch break.
Director Jack Sholder expanded on this premise for 12:01, which aired on Fox on July 5, 1993. Groundhog Day was released on Feb. 12, 1993. Suspiciously close timing, but I can understand the skepticism–at least as far as the film versions go. Whichever came first, it’s a shame because there’s no avoiding the similarities, and 12:01 actually compares pretty favorably. Good enough that even though I haven’t seen it in a while, I may just grab it on DVD instead of digging out my old VHS tape from storage.
If you’re curious about this time loopy alternative to a beloved film, here’s the trailer for the Fox film, 12:01:
And here is the rarely seen short film version, which I hadn’t even heard of until researching this post.
So here’s my question of the week: If you could re-do anything from the last 24 hours, what would it be?
Last week, I was delighted and astonished to learn that Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson had reprised their iconic roles as Blackadder and Baldrick in a stage sketch written by Ben Elton for a benefit titled We Are Most Amused. If you aren’t familiar with this British comedy, it’s about a scheming man named Blackadder whose cunning plans for power and fortune are frequently thwarted. Each season took place in a different historical period in England, along with a few one-off specials, capped by a time-traveling adventure called Blackadder: Back & Forth, which I’ll probably write about here in more detail later. It was a clever approach to the show, allowing Atkinson to reinvent the character in different incarnations, much like our favorite Time Lord (a role he has also portrayed.)
Anyway, this and the impending holidays reminded me that it had been a while since I had rewatched Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which I quickly remedied. Clearly it’s based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the ubiquitous seasonal classic which has been adapted, parodied, and referenced countless times since it was first published in 1843. This has to be one of the earliest instances of time travel and alternate universes occurring in fiction, though it employs magic (through the visions visited upon Ebenezer Scrooge by the spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Future) and could be read with some ambiguity. If you know of other stories that predate it, I’d love to hear about them.
Of all the different versions of A Christmas Carol out there, my favorite is this Blackadder special from 1988. (Alas, I have never seen Patrick Stewart’s one-man show. Bad Trekkie!) It’s fairly standalone, but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you’ve seen and loved the preceding two seasons of the series and/or get a kick out of Rowan Atkinson. The reason I like it so much is because of its twist, which I will now spoil: When the story begins, Ebenezer Blackadder is a good, altruistic man who gives so much to beggars and family that he and Baldrick are left with no food or presents at Christmas. The spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane!) turns up and makes the mistake of showing him how horrible his ancestors were, with fresh scenes taking place in the 16th century and 19th century eras of the series. But Blackadder’s nasty, clever, charming predecessors only convince him that there’s more fun and profit to be had in being bad than good, although this naturally backfires on him in the end.
"This is all getting a bit sillah!"
The biting, offensive humor may not work for you; much of it relies on Blackadder coming up with brilliant insults of other characters, particularly Baldrick. And some of the jokes made me wince this time around. But I still think it’s great fun and the cast is terrific: Jim Broadbent as Prince Albert; Hugh Laurie returning as George, Prince of Wales; Miranda Richardson as Queenie; Stephen Fry as the obsequious Lord Melchett. And then there are their futuristic counterparts in the Grand Admiral Blackadder segment.
And of course there’s a moral to be taken away from this, that you shouldn’t let people take advantage of your kindness–in a rare instance, most of the people Blackadder eventually lets loose on actually deserve it. And it turns out that even when he’s being nice, there’s a subtle nastiness to him. It’s kind of interesting to see him insult Baldrick and the others good-naturedly. If it’s one thing he has going for him, it’s that his barbed comments are so clever that many people don’t even realize they’ve just been verbally assaulted to their faces.
Mrs. Scratchit: No goose for Tiny Tom this year. Ebenezer Blackadder: Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop.
If someone asks if you're the Ghost of Christmas Past, you say "Yes!"
My other favorite A Christmas Carol “adaptation” is an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, “X-mas Marks the Spot,” written by J. Michael Straczynski. I just rewatched it and it’s a bit goofy, but it’s also brilliant in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. You have to forgive a lot and suspend disbelief, but the Ghostbusters accidentally get time-slipped to Victorian England, where they encounter Ebenezer Scrooge. Yeah, I know.
But see, they’re Ghostbusters, so they capture the spirits that haunt him before they realize who he is, and when they get back to their own time, everyone else hates Christmas. So to restore the proper timeline, they have to retrieve the Christmas ghosts from the containment unit and return them to Scrooge–meanwhile, Peter, Winston, and Ray try impersonating the ghosts, which gives us scenes like Peter in a dress and wig pushing Scrooge around in a wheelchair with a Viewmaster strapped to his face to provide the “visions” of his past. Silly, but fun! I particularly liked that this startling development was foreshadowed early on: When the Ghostbusters try to collect their fee from Scrooge, he asks, “How do I know they were real ghosts? Maybe this was all some kind of trick.” In a way it was; if I’m interpreting it correctly, all of this happens just so that Peter will learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is that it isn’t so bad. *shrug* Oh, and Santa is also real, probably.