“Ghost Light”

GLight2“Ghost Light” features the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and is the second story in the rather excellent 26th and final season of classic Doctor Who. What’s really impressed me this season is that on top of the usual twisty-turny plot mechanics that we’re used to with classic Doctor Who (and is often lacking in modern Doctor Who), this season has a greater reach, with villains that have motivations reaching farther than just the story at hand and with more relevance to the Doctor and companion than just landing themselves in the trouble-of-the-week.

Spoilers, of course!

The Doctor brings Ace to 1883, to a house that Ace, when she was younger, had burned to the ground a hundred years later because she had felt something evil there. The house currently belongs to a strange man named Josiah Smith, who lives there with his ward Gwendoline, a housekeeper named Lady Pritchard, an explorer named Redvers Fenn-Cooper, who has gone insane, and a Neanderthal butler named Nimrod. Also visiting is the Reverend Ernest Matthews, who staunchly opposes the theory of evolution that Smith has been spreading. All of the people they encounter are very strange, and the serving staff carry guns, making this a very surreal episode.

I’ve actually had quite a problem trying to write this review because it relies so heavily on the surreality of the situation, the reveal of all of the secrets, and the motivation behind the main villain. It’s difficult to talk about it without rewriting the entire plot out, and I really don’t want to do that, so I’ll try to hit the major points here. Through the first two episodes of the story, you encounter strings of images that simply make no sense, from the Neanderthal butler to the gun-toting maids to the transformation of the reverend into an ape to the owner who seems to consider all of this perfectly normal. You’re just as confused as the Doctor as things begin to develop: there’s a spaceship beneath the house, in which an observer called Light arrived millenia ago to catalog all life on Earth. When it completed its work, it went into sleep, and its servant, the survey agent now known as Josiah Smith, continued to experiment. His current plan was to overthrow Queen Victoria to take control of the British Empire and make it a better place. The Doctor releases Light, who is upset that life on Earth has evolved, making his catalog obsolete, and decides to extinguish all life on the planet to stop it from changing. While the Doctor argues with Light and convinces it of the futility of opposing evolution, causing it to dissipate, Josiah Smith’s experiment control, a being named Control, rebels against him and gains the upper hand, and leaves with Cooper and Nimrod in the spaceship.

Now that summary doesn’t sound particularly interesting, or coherent for that matter, but that’s part of the brilliance of the episode. You spend the nearly the first half of the story trying to make sense of all of these strange things going on, and you find that they do make sense, though it’s sense on a more grand, cosmic scale. Then there’s the story of Light. I am fascinated by stories of nearly-omnipotent beings that are bound fast by rules that are barely comprehensible to humans (which is one of the reasons I love Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman). Light has only one purpose, to catalog life, and when he’s stymied by evolution, he can’t handle it. The only weakness to this episode, in my mind, was Smith’s plan. It’s very interesting that his purpose was to make the Earth a better place, but the method, taking over the British Empire, was odd.

Add to all this the Doctor. Not only was he in his fine manipulative form, his purpose for coming here was to investigate an important event in Ace’s life. He wasn’t just wandering as he normally does. Other than possibly “The Key to Time”, the latter half of the Seventh Doctor’s run has the most coherent and intricate storyline of the classic show, revolving around his relationship with Ace, and this episode is significant in establishing both Ace’s past and how much the Doctor treasures her, setting up the emotional basis for the next episode, “The Curse of Fenric.”

Sometimes I feel that every time I watch an episode of Doctor Who, I have to rethink who my favorite Doctors are, because the one I’m watching always pops to the top. After a bit of time, the list usually reorders to my usual favorites, but the Seventh Doctor keeps bubbling up the list, because of episodes like this one.

An update on Doctor Who: Legacy

I miss the old start screen.

I miss the old start screen.

I haven’t talked much about Doctor Who: Legacy in a while, but that neither means I don’t play it nor that it’s any less of a brilliant game. The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been playing it since launched in November of 2013 and it’s just difficult to stay rabid about any game for that long. I played and beaten every level, and I own every single character at level 50 (except two that I’m leveling up); there’s just nothing for me to do in the game at the moment. I still log in every day to collect the daily bonus, and I follow their updates for the latest news.

They have a new version of the game coming out within the next couple of weeks, which will add gameplay and bug fixes. Usually with version updates, they also release a new chapter, which is what I’m waiting for: a large chunk of new, challenging levels, with innovative enemies and new allies to collect. They’ve said they’re steering away from their original model of going backwards through the TV series, which is a bit disappointing, personally, because the next series they should be doing is Series 4, which is the one I’ve been looking forward to. However, they’re incorporating more classic seasons, which is always a good thing to me. I think the thing that impresses me the most, though, about their game design is that they continue to come up with great ideas for new enemies and powers, always increasing the variety, interest, and challenge in the game.

Between their major content releases, they trickle out new levels here and there, with Time Crystals, allies, and costumes as rewards. My favorites here are the expert levels, because they really make you think about how to put together the team you need to defeat them and you have to be very careful with your strategies. Another thing they’ve recently added to the game is Anna’s Playground, two levels that have easy-to-defeat enemies and one less color of gems to work with, so that the game can be played by very young children.  Now, how’s that for supporting your young fans?

A lot of their recent content, however, has been in the Fan Area, which you unlock permanently by buying at least $5 worth of Time Crystals in one purchase. They have been beefing up the Fan Area in order to entice more players to unlock it, which only makes me urge you again, if you love the game, to show your support for the game and for Doctor Who, by making even the smallest purchase. Remember that they might call the game model “free to play”, but it really isn’t: behind that gorgeous game is a lot of people who are making their living by creating this for you.

Tiny Rebel Games continues to offer excellent customer support and community engagement, so the game is still excellent on all levels. Have you played Doctor Who: Legacy? No? Then download it now and get to it!


 

Two days ago, they added some Time Fragment farming levels to the Fan Area. I wrote a post quite a while back about how to farm Time Fragments efficiently, so I thought I would discuss the new levels and what I thought about them. Please note that I’ve played each color level once.

In the Fan Area, there are five new levels (one for each color) explicitly designed for Time Fragment farming, with higher-than-normal probabilities of dropping Time Fragments. They are tuned for level 40 characters, and each level consists of two stages, the first of which has two minion enemies and the second of which has two minion enemies and a boss enemy. As usual with most of the rest of the game, the color of the Time Fragment corresponds to the color of the monsters on the stage, so you can tune your farming team to be extra efficient at killing the monsters in the stage. These levels provide no experience points for the allies in the party.

In my farming strategy guide, I named five stages in Chapter 2 (Season 6) that I prefer for farming Time Fragments: “Whispermen Nightmares” (black), “Time Attack: Run!” (gold), “Time Attack: Dinosaurs!” (red), “Angels over London” (blue), and “The Girl Who Waited: Apalapucia?” (green). I chose these levels for the following reasons:

  • They are all single-color levels with enemies with about 15,000 health, so you can tune your farming team to beat them easily.
  • Coming from Chapter 2, they are easy to beat with a team of level 20 characters.
  • Because they’re from Chapter 2 (rather than Chapter 1), these levels also drop pink Time Fragments, which you can’t get in Chapter 1.
  • Each level has a lot of enemies, so there are more chances for dropping Time Fragments.

How do I feel the new levels stack up against my choices? I think they are terrible for farming. Why? Let’s take a look.

The first thing to think about is who needs to farm Time Fragments? Well, first, there are new players who are trying to level up their allies but don’t have enough Time Fragments to do so. These levels, tuned to level 40 allies, can’t be won by new players. These levels are only accessible to people who have level 40 allies. It takes 52 Time Fragments (18 of each of two colors and 16 pink ones) to get an ally to level 40, and another 43 Time Fragments (three of them advanced Time Fragments)  to rank them up to rank 5 so that they can get more powerful, and that’s only one ally. To get a team of six level 40+ characters, that’s more than 570 Time Fragments (“more than” because Doctors take more than allies). A new player won’t be able to use these levels any time soon.

Once you do get that team of level 40+ characters, you may be able to win these levels, but it’s not very likely that it’ll be easy, because they’re probably all different colors. If you’re trying to farm blue and three of your characters are primarily red, they’ll be nearly useless. The best way to farm these levels would be to have the right color on all six characters, to maximize your damage. Five teams of level 40+ characters now means 3,420 Time Fragments you’ve spent leveling them up. In reality, it won’t be so bad, since you don’t have to use a completely mono-color team (and you’re probably best served to have a couple of non-mono-color allies in each team).

So, let’s say you have a nice stable of farming characters to choose from and you’re ready to start farming fragments. These levels are built for challenge. I estimated the health on one of the boss enemies at over 150,000 health. (Enemies in Chapter 2 have around 20,000 health at the most.) The minions have powers such as “stun all characters with colors that I’m vulnerable to” (meaning, the enemy is blue, so stun all green characters), blindness, “nullify all gems that are the color I’m vulnerable to”, “remove all pink gems”. On the first of these levels I tried, I nearly lost. Now, part of this is my fault, because I had two allies that I was leveling up in the team, but even if I had a fully level-50 team it still would have taken a lot of thinking and time to beat the level. In a later level, the enemies kept all of the characters that it was vulnerable to stunned for the entire fight; luckily, I had one matching-color level 50 ally in the party (I love Gabby!) who managed to kill the entire encounter single-handedly, after about ten minutes of playing.

In the end, this is the experience I had with these levels, compared to the levels that I normally farm in:

  • Each level had five monsters and takes two to four times longer to beat, compared to 10+ monsters that can be beaten in one or two minutes.
  • These levels take strategy to beat, compared to levels that can be easily beaten while watching your favorite Doctor Who episode (I do this a lot).
  • These levels need level 40+ characters, compared to levels that can be beaten by level 20 characters.
  • These levels award no experience, compared to levels that can be beaten by low-level characters who would love to be earning 10,000 experience every two minutes or so.

Of course, the draw of these levels is that they have a higher Time Fragment drop rate, so how many Time Fragments did I get from them? In five plays, one for each level, I received 3, 1, 0, 3, and 1 Time Fragments. Now, this is not a valid test, since I played them so infrequently, but I’m used to at least two Time Fragments from each play of my farming levels (usually more, and some of the bigger ones often drop four to seven Fragments). Considering that I can play these levels two to three times in the amount of time I can play one of these new levels, the better choice is clear.

In conclusion, the new farming levels are not worth it. Do buy Time Crystals to unlock the Fan Area because there’s lots of great content in it, but don’t do it for the farming levels, at least not until they redesign them.

The protective mother

It's all a matter of a mother's love for her daughter.

It’s all a matter of a mother’s love for her daughter.

One of the Doctor Who characters I really like is Francine Jones, Martha’s mother. To be clear, I doubt I would like her at all if I met her in real life, but the character was well-drawn. I’ve seen a number of discussions about the character in which people felt that she was unbelievable and too hostile to the Doctor for no reason, and I disagree. Her opinions and actions may seem to be unbelievable, but that’s because her character was developed with a lot more subtlety than most of the other characters on the show.

People who don’t like Francine point to “The Lazarus Experiment”, where she first meets the Doctor and takes an immediate and fervent dislike of him. Granted, he does not make a good impression. While he thinks he blends in well with humans, he really doesn’t, and he outdoes himself in this instance, trying to make small talk and more or less implying that he’s been sleeping with her daughter. Detractors point to this scene, saying that Francine is extremely judgmental here and should not have hated him so much after just one meeting.

However, Francine’s reaction to the Doctor must be considered with her personality and history in total, which we learned of back in “Smith and Jones”. We only see very little of her and her family in that episode, but the scenes were expertly crafted to give you a very good overview of everyone in the family. We first see her when she’s talking to Martha on the phone, telling her daughter to refuse to allow her ex-husband Clive’s girlfriend Annalise to attend Leo’s birthday party. She only gets about five lines before the next phone call, from Clive, cuts her off, but those five lines are very telling. We see that she lives in a nice house and wears fine clothes. She’s obviously upset primarily about the divorce and her husband’s young and vapid trophy girlfriend, but her exact complaint is that the girl’s appearance at the party would make the family “look ridiculous”. Thus, her concern is status. Her family is well-to-do (as is evidenced by Clive’s ability to afford an expensive convertible sports car), and she’s very concerned about how they’re viewed. Later on, we see that she’s very proud of one daughter studying to become a doctor and the other becoming the personal assistant of a prominent scientist.

That night, her fears about the party come true: there’s a huge, embarrassing fight between her and Annalise, ending with almost all of the family chasing Annalise and Clive down the street yelling. This scene and the cell phone montage paints a complete picture of the entire family, with Francine being the one who’s used to being in control, Clive being ineffectual and letting his women walk all over him, and Martha as the level-headed one who usually acts as the peacekeeper. However, there’s one last thing that happens here: Martha disappears from the party, and no one knows where she went. This is obviously something unusual for her: her mother mentions it the next day, and Tish makes a comment about Martha, the ambitious and studious sister, suddenly having a social life.

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Thus, this is the stage that’s set when Martha arrives at Professor Lazarus’ event. Francine is there to celebrate her younger daughter’s success, something that reflects well on her and her family, but her older daughter arrives witth a strange man no one has heard of before, after disappearing the previous night. Rather than tell the approximate truth – that her friend accompanied her because he’s interested in Lazarus’ project – Martha introduces him as a doctor who she’s been working with. However, on speaking with him, Francine finds him to be socially inept and rather idiotic, certainly not someone you’d think was a doctor. He’s unable to come up with anything that he’s done with Martha, and it’s implied that she jumps to the conclusion that they slept together. From a mother’s point of view, this is the worst kind of man her daughter could hook up with: stupid, flippant, distracting her from what’s important. It’s also very possible that he reminds her of the previous stupid, flippant, distracting person who disrupted her family – Annalise – and in that vein, his apparent race does him no favors.

Once the episode’s action starts, the Doctor only makes things worse. As he’s concerned only about Lazarus and the dangers he’s unleashed, he ignores Francine and knocks her drink down her dress, and once the family is safe outside, Martha leaves them to go back into danger to help him. And thus, her hatred of him is cemented: he appears to be everything that’s wrong for her daughter, and her daughter has taken leave of her senses to follow him. It doesn’t matter that he saved the lives of most of the people at the event. Francine’s statement that Martha “abandoned” the family for him is very telling: in her eyes, Martha is giving up all of the things that Francine feels is so important – status, a comfortable life, a good education, a career – for this unworthy man. Any mother would feel the same way.

Things only get worse from here. Remember, from Francine’s point of view, all of the events of Series 3 happen over the course of a couple of weeks at most. “Smith and Jones” occurs only a few days before the election of Harold Saxon as Prime Minister, and in the UK, the new Prime Minister takes office as soon as the old one resigns and the new one is appointed by the monarch. The Doctor and Martha go off to have their adventures, and all Francine knows is that Martha is suddenly never home and not answering her frequent calls, except for a couple of strange emergency calls which imply that Martha has started to cheat on her exams. Of course, Francine is also being swayed by Harold Saxon’s people, who are feeding her exactly what she wants to hear: how dangerous the Doctor is and that she has to get Martha away from  him. It isn’t until she’s taken prisoner does she start to realize that the people she’s been listening to are lying and maybe the Doctor isn’t so bad.

Taken as a whole, Francine is an understandable character: a rather imperious but otherwise protective mother who is attempting to prevent her daughter from falling in with who she perceives as the wrong man. The thing is, her history, personality, and values are established in about ten lines of dialogue five episodes before she makes her judgment about the Doctor, and if you didn’t remember them or didn’t pay attention because they didn’t seem important, her reaction to him would seem rash and overly harsh. It’s important to examine recurring characters in this show very carefully, because you might miss something otherwise. The show focuses on the Doctor and his companion, but anyone that it feels deserves enough attention to be brought back is usually beautifully drawn and characterized and often has their own story to tell.