Friday, June 30, 2017

I Hate Barbarians

In the comments section of my "I don't like clerics" post, I was asked which class I'd modify next.

As you may have guessed from reading the title, while I dislike clerics for being too good I absolutely detest the barbarian class. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of an illiterate savage who wears very little and tends to froth at the mouth in battle, it's the execution of the class that annoys me.
  • The level abilities they get stink of pandering. "Fast Movement? Well, okay, I guess if they don't have horses... Uncanny Dodge? Trap Sense? this is a melee class, not a rogue... DAMAGE REDUCTION? Oh, fuck right off."
  • They have 12-sided hit dice. Think about that for a moment: On the one hand, we have the Fighter, a class dedicated solely to combat, and it gets d10s for hit points; on the other hand, we have a class whose schtick is "get really upset and beat on things like the Hulk until they stop twitching" and they get d12s. No, that's just wrong.
Really, the only thing about this class which I like is the Rage, which I'm pretty sure is the main reason people play barbs. But look at how they progress: rage at 1st level, then a rage power every even level. This is the exact same progression as fighter bonus feats. 

So here's how I'd change things:
  1. Delete the Barbarian class altogether. 
  2. Increase the Fighter's hit dice to d12s, as is right and proper. 
  3. Make a "Berserker" archetype for the fighter which gives rage and rage powers in place of fighter feats. 
That archetype would look like this (with a lot of cutting and pasting from the barbarian class and replacing the word barbarian with berserker):

The Berserker (Archetype)
For some, there is only rage. In the ways of their people, in the fury of their passion, in the howl of battle, conflict is all these brutal souls know. Savages, hired muscle, masters of vicious martial techniques, they are not soldiers or professional warriors—they are the battle possessed, creatures of slaughter and spirits of war.

Rage (Ex)
At 1st level, a berserker can call upon inner reserves of strength and ferocity, granting her additional combat prowess. Starting at 1st level, a berserker can rage for a number of rounds per day equal to 4 + her Constitution modifier. At each level after 1st, she can rage for 2 additional rounds. Temporary increases to Constitution, such as those gained from rage and spells like bear’s endurance, do not increase the total number of rounds that a berserker can rage per day. A berserker can enter rage as a free action. The total number of rounds of rage per day is renewed after resting for 8 hours, although these hours do not need to be consecutive.

While in rage, a berserker gains a +4 morale bonus to her Strength and Constitution, as well as a +2 morale bonus on Will saves. In addition, she takes a –2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase to Constitution grants the berserker 2 hit points per Hit Dice, but these disappear when the rage ends and are not lost first like temporary hit points. While in rage, a berserker cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except Acrobatics, Fly, Intimidate, and Ride) or any ability that requires patience or concentration.

A berserker can end her rage as a free action and is fatigued after rage for a number of rounds equal to 2 times the number of rounds spent in the rage. A berserker cannot enter a new rage while fatigued or exhausted but can otherwise enter rage multiple times during a single encounter or combat. If a berserker falls unconscious, her rage immediately ends, placing her in peril of death.

This ability replaces heavy armor and tower shield proficiency.

Rage Powers (Ex)
As a berserker gains levels, she learns to use her rage in new ways. Starting at 2nd level, a berserker gains a rage power. She gains another rage power for every two levels of berserker attained after 2nd level. A berserker gains the benefits of rage powers only while raging, and some of these powers require the berserker to take an action first. Unless otherwise noted, a berserker cannot select an individual power more than once.

Any berserker who meets the powers’ prerequisites can select and use rage powers. Totem rage powers grant powers related to a theme. A berserker cannot select from more than one group of totem rage powers; for example, a berserker who selects a beast totem rage power cannot later choose to gain any of the dragon totem rage powers (any rage power with “dragon totem” in its title).

This ability replaces all bonus feats gained at even levels.

Greater Rage (Ex)
At 11th level, when a berserker enters rage, the morale bonus to her Strength and Constitution increases to +6 and the morale bonus on her Will saves increases to +3.

This ability replaces armor training 3.

Indomitable Will (Ex)
While in rage, a berserker of 14th level or higher gains a +4 bonus on Will saves to resist enchantment spells. This bonus stacks with all other modifiers, including the morale bonus on Will saves she also receives during her rage.

This ability replaces bravery 4.

Tireless Rage (Ex)
Starting at 17th level, a berserker no longer becomes fatigued at the end of her rage.

This ability replaces weapon training 4.

Mighty Rage (Ex)
At 20th level, when a berserker enters rage, the morale bonus to her Strength and Constitution increases to +8 and the morale bonus on her Will saves increases to +4.

This ability replaces weapon mastery.
I had hoped to be able to include a Hero Lab file for the Berserker, but it's taking me longer than I expected to figure out how to make the editor do what I want, so I'll have to post it later. But here's an archetype that does nothing but increase the Fighter's hit dice to d12. It has no other requirements so it'll stack with everything else. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Moment: The War Nobody Remembers

     The man sits alone at the edge of a small cliffside, on a planet that shouldn't exist in a time that shouldn't be reachable. He stares, impenetrably, into the distance, the lines on his face forming caverns that travel down eyes that have seen unimaginable horrors into the grayed forests that frame his perpetually scowling mouth. He looks tired, more tired than he has with any other face. Tired enough to give up completely. To check out of the horrors of this war that he didn't want to fight, and spent so long running from when he was young and dashing. But that young and dashing romantic man is gone now, leaving a hollow weapon in his place. A weapon that has expended so much ammunition it can't possibly fire anymore.

     From observing him, you would think that he is no longer paying attention. But he hears the soft rustle of bone and silk behind him and, without turning, he acknowledges the presence approaching him.

     "You shouldn't be here. It's not safe." 

     The young woman in the bone armour does not approach any further, but instead kneels almost reverently. She bows her head slightly, averting her gaze. "My apologies, Grandfather, but there is nowhere you can go that we do not see you." 

     "I'm not your Grandfather, and I want no more part of this," he grumbles, his voice at the same time soft and piercing.

     "I petition you, on behalf of what remains of the Eleven Day Empire. I petition you, Grandfather of House P-"

     "I'm not your Grandfather," he brusquely interrupts, "and your House can go hang itself, along with the rest of them. I've no more to do with this atrocity. Perhaps it's time the universe burns itself apart. Let something better take its place."

     The girl is silent for a moment, carefully considering her next words. She's one of the last of her House, having worked in secret through the war, tracking the Grandfather's movements as he cut a swath of destruction first through machinations of mutants, then through rogue elements of his own people. "Apologies, Grandf... sir. But there's something you should know. Something you wouldn't remember. Something only few remember, those who were outside it all. Our House remembers, the Sisterhood remembers, and would probably tell you, and only you, if you were only to ask the right questions."

     He turns, the first time he has moved in quite some time, taking in the appearance of his petitioner. Her armour crafted of the bones of creatures that never existed and covered in a black cloak that seemed to move of its own accord. But most importantly, her shadow, a shadow that drifts on the ground about her as if it were a sentry, and appears to be holding a rather large dagger that she herself is not.

   "Little Cousin. What's your name?" he asks, after a long moment.

     "Cousin Talia, late of House Paradox," she answers, with a hint of sadness.

     "And Cousin Talia, late of House Paradox, you are aware that your shadow seems to be holding a machete?"

     "Yes, Gra...yes, sir. I wield the Grandfather's shadow. I am all that is left. Cousin Eliza fell in an ambush, and passed the shadow to me."

     "Why are you here, Cousin Talia? Can't you see I want to be left alone? I'm tired of being swept up in a conflict that threatens to end the very universe itself."

     "Sir, there's something you should know. Something you wouldn't remember. The enemy you face now... is there any logical way they could be a threat to your people on this scale? Your people control time itself. The more ruthless amongst you could easily go back and do that which you chose not to do so long ago. Your people are weak. They were caught unaware after a greater conflict. One with an enemy that was not only greater than what you currently face, but was far older and more powerful than even your people could begin to imagine. You were in that war, you and the renegade you count as brother. You triumphed, but at great cost to the universe. Your people were too busy rebuilding time itself from the shattered fragments that were left over when the mutants attacked. Your most powerful weapons had been expended, your most potent soldiers sacrificed. That is the only reason why they threaten you now."

     The man does not respond at first to this. He turns inward, and turns away from Cousin Talia. His eyes scan the horizon physically, but internally, he is searching his memory for inconsistencies. He meditates on his past lives... and there. In the cracks of his memories. Three. Seven. Eight. The memories feel wrong, things missing, things that couldn't happen but did. Plaster, over cracks in the wall. He pushes at the crack and... there. The prior war, the one that ended before he was on a crashing ship with a pilot that hated him for being what he was.

     "You remember, don't you? Or you remember enough." She sounds almost confident now.

     "Yes. Enough. The moment has come. No more."

     He stands up, finally, and walks back towards the blue box sitting in the distance. He stops a few feet away from Cousin Talia. "Thank you. You've given me what I need. It's time for this to end."

     Cousin Talia, if you could see past her shadow and the bone shards framing her face, might be blushing when she responds, "Grandfather, it has been my honour. Spirits protect you... and watch over you." 

    As he slips the key into the door of his box, the man turns back to Cousin Talia, whispering a barely audible thank you to her, then pausing.

     "Cousin Talia, if you truly are all that is left, then surely you should consider yourself more than a Cousin, if you are to rebuild."
      She nods, before fading out in a whispering, groaning noise. He enters the impossibly large space inside his box, pressing a few buttons to set the coordinates for the Homeworld, steeling himself for what is to come. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I Don't Like Clerics in Pathfinder

Now that I have your attention: I don't like them because they're too good.
  • They have two "fast" save progressions;
  • They have a medium attack progression;
  • They are proficient in simple weapons (a mace or morningstar does as much damage as a longsword);
  • They are proficient in shields and medium armor;
  • They can cast spells in that armor without penalty;
  • With few exceptions, they have access to all the divine spells in the books;
  • They have nine levels of spells;
  • Plus two domains with extra spells and abilities;
  • Plus they channel energy to heal or harm or turn undead;
  • Plus they don't even have to memorize healing spells if good / inflict spells if evil. 
Basically, they're second-line tanks with both the ability to heal and cast spells. They're too good at what they do. The worst thing that can be said about them is that they're only adequate in combat and that their class progression is rather boring with just increases in spells and energy channeling, and even that can be mitigated somewhat with the right archetype. 

Oh sure, someone is going to say "Just take away their holy symbol and then they're second-rate fighters,", but that's missing the point, which happens to be "What would be a crippling loss to any other class merely inconveniences clerics. They can still contribute to the party in combat until such time as they can craft another holy symbol, or paint one on their shield, once combat is over." (Unless, of course, they took the Birthmark trait, which is a holy symbol that can't be removed without a very specific maiming.)

A well-built, well-run cleric will tear up an encounter. While it will never be the damage dealer the fighter is, nor can it call down quite the same FWAKOOM that a wizard can (although Harm and Flame Strike are nothing to sneeze at), the fact that it can stand knee-deep in the carnage and sling spells and radiate heals means the cleric is the heart of an adventuring party. 

Perhaps the cleric doesn't need fixing. Perhaps I'm proposing solutions in search of problems. But here are my thoughts on the matter.

Split the traditional cleric into two separate classes: Cloistered Cleric and Templar
(I would have used "warpriest", because the name fits perfectly, but I'm trying to avoid confusion with the class from the Advanced Class Guide. [and yes, there is a cleric archetype called cloistered cleric, but it's awful and no one in their right mind uses it.])

The Templar is what you think of when you think cleric 
Armor, attack progression, the whole bit. There are just two key changes:
  1. It is a spontaneous caster, like the oracle, including access to Cure/Inflict spells based on deity and alignment. 
  2. It only has six levels of spells, like the warpriest, and uses that spell progression. 
The Templar still has access to Channel Energy and Domains, adding domain spells to its list of those known. 

The Cloistered Cleric is more like a divine wizard
Because "cloistered" means "sheltered", the CC has spent much of his life in the temple being a professional priest and as such doesn't know how to wear armor or swing a mace. (Although there's nothing stopping him from spending the feats to do either.)
I'm not ashamed to admit that Etoh from
Record of Lodoss Wars was my inspiration.
  1. Skill points are 4+ Int per level, and all Knowledge skills are available. 
  2. Hit dice reduced to d6.
  3. Attack progression is slow. 
  4. Only one fast save progression (Will). 
  5. No armor or shield proficiency. 
  6. Proficient only in club, dagger, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, and quarterstaff. 
  7. Still able to Channel Energy. 
  8. Nine levels of spells. 
  9. Three domains instead of two. (From an aesthetic standpoint, I suppose that the Templar should only have one domain and the CC have two, but there are several archetypes which demand the loss of a domain. Having no domains would hurt the Templar class, especially since it's now a spontaneous caster and needs all the choices it can get.)
Speaking of Archetypes
Use your best judgement. Some, like Crusader or Divine Strategist, are clearly better suited to the Templar, while others (Scroll Scholar, Theologian) are obviously more scholarly and thus should be assigned to the Cloistered Cleric. Some need to be eliminated (the aforementioned cloistered archetype), and the rest (such as Evangelist or Merciful Healer) should be available to both classes. As always, the GM should exercise her best judgement and tweak as necessary.

I realize this is deeply heretical in terms of butchering sacred cows, but this notion intrigues me. I would greatly appreciate coherent, reasoned critiques on this proposal, specifically in matters of game balance.

Monday, June 26, 2017

MAG40: an LGBTQ review

Back in February, I had the pleasure of attending a MAG40 class taught by Massad Ayoob himself. Since I am queer, I decided to review the class based on how friendly it was to LGBTQ students.
Disclaimer 1: I met Massad Ayoob before taking this class. I don't feel justified in saying that we are specifically friends -- for example, I've never hung out with the man, drinking beers and sharing stories -- but I feel it's safe to say that we are friendly with each other. We're on a first-name basis, and I hope that I can get to know him better. 
Disclaimer 2: I grew up around military people, so I am used to things like inappropriate humor, the "command voice", and things like that. If you haven't been exposed to these then they might shock you if you aren't ready for them. I didn't feel any of it was rude or hateful or needlessly aggressive, and no one was singled out. As an example, Mas says "You don't need testicles to 'have balls' or a vagina to 'be a pussy'." I don't consider this offensive. 
Disclaimer 3:  I attended the classes en homme, aka in drab. I had some pretty solid reasons for doing this, mainly because it takes me 2-3 hours to go from ugh to reasonably female-looking and the classes start at 8 am and go until 6 pm or later. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of dressing up and then maintaining my appearance while sweating off my makeup at the shooting field. I decided that I was there to learn and not to pass as female. However, please see Is the MAG40 course LGBTQ-friendly? below. 
Is MAG40 a good value for your money?
It absolutely is. I realize it costs a lot of money (if it hadn't been for an angel offering to pay my way, I wouldn't have been able to afford to attend the $800 course), but what you get out of it is AMAZING:
  1. 20 hours of firearms training by a highly skilled shooter and a greatly respected member of the firearms community and his hand-picked cadre of instructors. This is akin to getting training in "how to throw a football" by a quarterback whose team won the Super Bowl multiple times. 
  2. 20 hours of classroom instruction on when to shoot, when not to shoot, and what to do if you are involved in a defensive shooting, taught by a man whose resume includes such jobs as "police officer" and "expert witness". 
  3. A guarantee that if you are put on trial for murder or manslaughter in a self-defense shooting, Mas will look at the details of the case and, if he agrees that your shooting was justified, will testify in your defense. Not only is Mas an expert witness when it comes to guns and self-defense, but he can also testify to the training you had and therefore why you acted the way that you did. 
What if I can't afford to attend?
$800 is a lot of money, I won't deny that, and taking a 4-day weekend to get 40 hours of instruction may not be possible for people with busy jobs or lots of children. Fortunately, there is a solution: the MAG40 class is also offered as two blocks of instructions of 20 hours each separated into Classroom – Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement and Live Fire.

If you can only afford one -- and I strongly encourage you to take both -- then I recommend the Classroom portion. My rationale here is that any trainer can teach you how to shoot, but you can only get the Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement from a MAG class.

Is the MAG40 class LGBTQ-friendly?
It is. When I applied for the course, one of the requirements was to provide proof of a clean criminal record (in my case, this was accomplished by sending a copy of my Concealed Weapon Permit). The reason for this is so that Mas can ensure that his class is taught only to "certified good guys" and not by people with criminal records who are looking for ways to get away with murder in the name of self-defense. I understand and applaud this, but for those of us who are transgender yet haven't changed our legal name or gender marker, this presents an awkward if not embarrassing situation.

In the email where I submitted my paperwork, I included the following statement:
Also, you may not know this but I am transgender. I bring this up because I have not completed transition and my legal documentation is still under my biological name. I do not want any special treatment; I'm just letting you know so you aren't confused or surprised. 
This was the response:
Thank you for your MAG 40 registration material that I have received by email.  Your preceding email noting that your legal documentation is still under your biological name is also appreciated. 
Since the inception of Lethal Force Institute and MAG (MAG – Massad Ayoob Group is LFI’s successor organization), Mas Ayoob has insisted upon requiring incoming students to show evidence of a clean criminal history.  His stated intention is that he is not going to teach people how to “murder” other people and get away with it.  Thus the insistence upon some proof of current clean criminal record.  I have no problem with this requirement, in fact, I support it wholeheartedly and believe that you do also. 
Here is our problem (that is not a problem), and a suggested workaround.  I have received your registration material in good order in the legal name of [name redacted]. If it is OK with you, I will log your registration for the desired February 2017 MAG 40 class.  That registration will be logged in your legal name – because I have all the supporting documentation for clean criminal history in that name.  When you complete the MAG 40 class, we will be aware that you wish to have your completion certificate made in the name of Erin Palette.  That is fine with us, because we will know that [legal name] (for whom we have documentation) and Erin Palette are one and the same good person.  (My wife, who makes out name tags and neck tags for students, will make all your desk and range material as Erin Palette.  You will thus be addressed as Erin Palette in the class.)  
I hope that this workaround will be “workable” for you.  If it is not, please let me know.  
We look forward to seeing you soon.
I found this to be a perfectly reasonable response and was quite happy with the workaround.

Some of you may be thinking That's all very well and good, Erin, but you still appeared cisgender and your name is ambiguous, so you benefited from social camouflage. This is a true enough point and I won't refute it. All I can say is this:
  • I am rather sensitive to feeling singled out or picked out. Not ONCE did I feel like I was looked down upon or treated poorly for being trans by the instructors who knew my situation (which was most of them, and nearly all were male and more than half were what you'd consider "older white men.")
  • There was NO casual homophobia, racism or sexism. Not even an offhand use of "gay" as a synonym for bad. In fact, both Mas and Gail Pepin, his girlfriend, invited me to speak to the class about Operation Blazing Sword so I know they're comfortable with LGBTQ people and topics. 
  • While Mas and the rest of the instructors have no control over the behavior of other students, my gut feeling is that anyone who was rude to another student would disrupt the SAFE (Secure, Asshole-Free Environment) that Mas requires for his class and they would be given one warning to cut it out before being asked to leave. 
Therefore, I feel 100% comfortable in recommending the MAG40 course to all LGBTQ students. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #149 - I will hug you and pet you and call you George

True fact: Erin has been called a "cuddle slut". Make of that what you will.
  • Beth was in Washington for The DC Project: 50 women from 50 states talking to legislators about gun rights. Now she's back to tell us about it.
  • Two men are arrested for shooting a third to death. Sean takes a look at the suspects.
  • What do you do if your bank wants personally Identifiable Information? Do you just email it to them? You might be tempted to do just that, but Barron explains why that’s a terrible idea.
  • Have you seen the video of the angry woman burning down a house in Milwaukee? Miguel goes over some lessons learned in this horrifying video.
  • We welcome Special Guest Andrew Greene of the Grayguns Shooting Team to the show to talk about how competition shooting is his therapy for PTSD.
  • Tiffany is still on medical leave.
  • Have you ever wonder why Erin hugs everyone? So did she. It turns out that there's a good physiological reason for it.
  • In the wake of the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, the Loaded Conversations crew cut an emergency show to let everyone know how much they hate those who disagree with them. Weer'd has the audio fisk.
  • And our plug of the week is $10K for 2A. Erin has cooked up a plan to humiliate Sean at the Gun Rights Policy Conference. She just needs your help to raise $10,000 for pro gun charities to make it happen. Don't help her. Please
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
Hugs and Pettings 
If you’re like me, when something goes wrong for someone you care about, your immediate response is to give that person a hug. I make sense of this by saying “Well, I can’t fix the problem, but I can at least help this person feel better,” and so I offer hugs. But I’ve never really been clear on WHY hugs are good for calming people.

As it turns out, the answer lies more in biology than in psychology. There are several reasons why skin-to-skin contact is amazingly helpful in reducing pain and trauma. The first is that mammals have specialized nerves which fire pleasurably when they are touched. Because these nerves are a distance apart -- half an inch or so -- a nice long scratch or stroke is needed to trigger them in sequence.

This is why, for example, holding hands is nice and all that, but a backrub is SO much better: you’re triggering more nerves in sequence. This also explains both why humans love to pet animals, and why animals love to be petted: the long, slow strokes feel good to both the petter and the petted.

Tying this in with last week’s segment on disabling the rage pathway of the brain, petting an animal is another of those slow, simple, repetitive physical activities which activates the seeking pathway. Having a pet you can stroke and cuddle is doubly helpful for helping humans overcome anger, grief, and other forms of trauma.

Hugs are similar. It’s not just the squeeze that’s important, but the whole package: sliding your arms around someone’s neck triggers those nerve clusters, as does the release. This is why hugging someone else who is hurting helps you feel better, as well.

Skin to skin contact also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of well-being and promotes the creation of social bonds. When oxytocin goes up, the stress hormone cortisol goes down. This is yet another reason to form a prepping tribe: the presence of other humans to whom we are bonded reduces our stress and makes us feel better.

So don’t go it alone -- ask for a hug when you aren’t feeling well. Offer a hug to a friend when they’re having a rough time. And definitely have a pet you can stroke and cuddle, like a dog or a cat, because making them feel good will make you feel good.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Doctor Who: The Cruelest Downgrade

The day's wearing a bit thin. I spent most of it drinking and watching NXT Women's matches. If you haven't seen Asuka in action, you really should.

Spoilers beyond here.
This week's episode, World Enough and Time, which shares a title with a fan-produced episode of Star Trek famous enough to have its own Rifftrax commentary, certainly started with a hell of a teaser cold-opening, which was enough of a tease that it hardly needed the cliffhanger it gave us. A cliff-hanger which certainly didn't fail to deliver, but was still hardly on the level of the opener.
Seriously, how do you follow that opener? 
I have not been looking forward to these last few episodes. I've made no secret that Peter Capaldi has been an absolute revelation for me since Doctor Who relaunched in 2005. A cranky, grouchy old Scottish man who is completely out of touch and alien to the niceties of human society, a sort of "House in space" that sounds progressively more indecipherable the angrier he gets, he's been my hands-down favourite of the new series.

So last week's trailer definitely gave the impression we'd get a Missy solo/hero episode while the Doctor kicked back, much like the Doctor-Lite episodes of the RTD era, but it seems that wasn't the case, because as soon as things went pear-shaped in the 400-mile colony ship Twelve came bounding out of the TARDIS to save the day... only for Bill to die again. I swear, she's aiming to take down Rory's record for "Most times dying in a series". I did get serious shades of Red Dwarf from those beauty shots of the colony ship, though.

"Nardole, do something non-irritating." It's like Capaldi's reading my mind. 

The establishing scene was quite good, though, giving Missy a lot of time to show off. I was rather tickled by her early-series shout-out calling herself "Doctor Who" and referring to Bill and Nardole as "Thing One and the Other One" and "Exposition and Comic Relief." Missy seems as apt at breaking the third wall as Deadpool in this episode. 
Nice to see a familiar face. 
Science is pretty hard in this episode, what with the time dilation effect of the black hole the ship is trying to escape. I loved the little detail of the clocks telling two different times, one being only two days into the journey, the other being years, and the implication of the crew that went down to a lower floor never having reported back. For all we know, they're almost finished with their mission, but the bridge won't know for quite some time.

Erin says:  "Hard." Sure. Look, I like the nod to time dilation, but:
1) The clock said 365,200-something. 365,000 days is ONE THOUSAND YEARS. You expect me to believe that in a thousand years, the ship's engines kept going without breaking or running out of fuel? 
2) The engines are clearly spewing reaction mass OUTWARD with the nose of the ship pointing TOWARDS the black hole, and yet we're supposed to believe they're "reversing". 
Sorry, no. I'm not buying it. 

I know Erin had a problem with Missy not remembering the events of the episode, but I recall back to the ending of the 50th anniversary episode, where the War Doctor realized that, even though he'd tried to save Gallifrey, he wouldn't remember it, and would continue on to the PTSD-ridden Ninth Doctor when he regenerated, thinking he'd burned the planet in an attempt to stop the war. This is, of course, in reference the finale of the episode, where John Simm makes his return, sporting a glorious Master-goatee after his unmasking as Mr. Razor.

I readily admit that I was fooled throughout the entire episode, not realizing it was John Simm playing both parts. This was shocking, considering I'm a classic Who fan and should be used to the Master donning disguises for no real reason. The (Simm) Master is apparently unhinged from his own timeline (probably his own doing), leading to the meeting between him and Missy. My only question is where in his timeline is he? He mentions being Prime Minister, but his body was burned after the events of The Last of the Time Lords, and he didn't have the goatee when he returned in the specials. This must be after he forced Gallifrey back through the breach but before regenerating to Missy.

I think this qualifies The Master as a cosmic horror, as he is a thing that truly should not be, given that he's exhausted at least two regeneration cycles now: One during the classic series, transferring his conscious to another body in The Keeper of Traken, and again in the TV Movie, and then being resurrected by human ingenuity later on after refusing to regenerate. Keeping track of his deaths and timeline is something that's sadly even outside of my realm of ability. 
More sinister than you can pack in one picture.
The episode did a very good job of lulling us into a sense of false security with Bill, having her form a relationship with Mr Razor. Making us think she could be repaired after the prosthetics on her chest replaced her heart and lungs and then shocking us with the revelation that she was one of the first Mondasian Cybermen. For the uninitiated, Mondas was the planet the Cybermen were originally from. The majority of Cybermen that we've seen in the new series were offshoots of the Cybus Corporation from Pete's World. This may be the first actual confirmed appearance of the classic series Cybermen in the new series, and tying Bill into it makes it heart-wrenching, considering the telepathic "Wait for me" message the Doctor left in her sub-conscious. 

All in all, an excellent episode after last week's lull. A definite must-see. I am totally not looking forward to next week, as I don't want to lose Capaldi, but at the same time I can't wait to see what happens next. This is the first episode of the season that had me verbally going "No no no!" when the credits rolled. You cannot afford to miss this one.

Next week: "Will you stand with me?" 

Friday, June 23, 2017

This is why Operation Blazing Sword exists

Even though it's been a year since Pulse, LGBTQ people are still at risk in this country. Despite being a tiny portion of our nation's demographic - only 3.4% of all Americans - we still have a whopping 20-25% chance of being victims of violent hate crime. 

Attitudes like this are why:

Yes, you read that correctly: according to Mark Hagerman, all LGBTQ people are sexual perverts, and therefore all LGBTQ people are a danger to "normal people", thus preemptive attacks against LGBTQ people are "understandable."

That's right up there with "All men are rapists", for those keeping track. 

Now, I am practically a First Amendment absolutist. I am a huge fan of free speech, and so while I find Mr. Hagerman's voiced opinion repulsive, I will absolutely fight for his right to say it. This also means I don't believe he should be fined for it, arrested for it, or lose his job for it. 

Which puts me in the delightfully absurd position of respecting Mr. Hagerman's rights more than he respects mine. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Erin, make up a title for me

It's Thursday, so I'm supposed to be writing something.

Well, it's actually Wednesday night, and I'm in an incredibly foul mood still, so as far as Gotham Rain goes, that's on hold for now. At least until something shallow in my real world life inspires me to continue it.

Approximately two months ago, I was laid off. I got some severance pay, so I'm still safe for the time being, but the last four months or so had been so stressful that I have not made a serious attempt at finding another job in that time.

I did start drinking again. Not to the degree that I did the last time it became a problem, and not to the point where I can't hit 5:00 PM without trembling. And seeing the world all sort of fuzzy for a little while at a time is pleasant again. But I've been moving back down from that again as well.

I was in a relationship, of sorts, and now I'm not. I don't really have anything going on. Been finishing up a few games I've been meaning to, and have caught up on Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Agents of SHIELD, in that order. Shaved my head again. Will probably start claiming unemployment next week.

I sincerely cannot think of anything I feel strongly enough to write about, and I apologize for that. I feel like I'm letting Erin, and all of you that click on my face each week, down. I'll try and do better. I'm not linking my paypal again, as I didn't get any donations, but Erin knows the address for it if she feels differently.

In the meantime, please accept this as an apology.
na na NA NA na na NA NA na na NA NA na na NA NA BAT DICK

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I have been doing nothing but putting out fires all week

Or at least that's how it seems right now. There was a... let's say "controversial"... post on the Operation Blazing Sword Facebook page, and some people took offense at what they perceived was us taking a political position, so I've been dealing with that and it's worn me out.

Since I'm talking about it, let me go on the record right now and state the following:
Operation Blazing Sword is non-partisan and non-political. We simply happen to speak about things which are wrapped up in current politics, because (unfortunately) both gun rights and LGBTQ rights are political issues right now. We wish this were not the case, because rights are inherent and should not be politicized.

Talking about political issues is not the same as being political. Operation Blazing Sword neither endorses nor condemns politicians, candidates, political parties, or legislation.

Our purpose is, always has been, and always will be outreach and education. Some of that education is teaching firearms operation and safety to people. Other aspects of the education are bridging the cultural divide between cisgender and transgender, homosexual and heterosexual, liberal and conservative, so that each can learn about the lives and values of the other. You cannot teach someone without learning a little about them; education flows both ways. This is the mission of Operation Blazing Sword: to teach, to bridge the divide, to break the belief that "If you aren't one of us, you're against us."
I'm discouraged that making this statement is even necessary.

Speaking of discouragement, let me just say that the hardest part of running a corporation isn't the amount of work involved. It's that I can work for hours and hours on really important stuff, and only a handful of people can see the progress that I've made. To everyone else, it looks like nothing has gotten done. That is incredibly discouraging, especially since the brain rewards tangible progress with dopamine, and since no visible, let alone tangible, progress was made, there's no dopamine reward for Erin.

In better-if-vague news, one of these unseen projects is nearing completion. I am not yet in a position to talk about it, but when it pays off it's going to vastly improve both the reach and capabilities of Operation Blazing Sword. I look forward to being able to tell you all about it with breathless enthusiasm when the time is right.

But this is something that I can talk about:
Operation Blazing Sword is now transoceanic and intercontinental! Special thanks to Steve Smith of Wondai, Queensland for being our first Australian instructor!

Finally, if you have a job that matches your charitable donations, please sign up for that with Operation Blazing Sword the recipient. Our tax ID is 81-4230880, and we're already registered with Benevity. If your employer uses a different method for charitable giving, please let me know what that platform is and I'll get OBS registered there as well. Remember, not only are you funding a good cause, but also every dollar you give to us is a dollar you can deduct from your taxes!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #148 - Welcome to the Suck

People are the reason we can't have nice things.
  • Beth is on assignment this week.
  • A Gastonia grandmother is tied up and robbed at gunpoint. Who would do such a thing? Sean checks him out.
  • Barron explains how setting up a dedicated firewall will protect your network from WannaCry 2.0 ransomware.
  • Florida just enacted Enhanced Self Defense Immunity. Miguel tells us why this is a very welcome development.
  • For our Main Topic we have Special Guest Lucas Apps from Triangle Tactical Podcast. Luke explains what he thinks the biggest problem is with advancing our gun rights.
  • You may have survived your ordeal, but how do you survive being a survivor? Erin talks about ways to cope with anger, guilt, and PTSD.
  • Tiffany is still on medical leave.
  • It's now the final week of Weer'd's audio fisk of the Demanding Mommies' protest at the NRAAM!
  • And our plug of the week is a call to action. Get in touch with us! Like us on Facebook, send us emails, and donate or subscribe to the podcast!

Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
Coping with PTSD
This week is the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Massacre. Many people were traumatized by this; not just those who were injured, but also the friends and family of the victims. A loved one being injured or killed is itself a form of victimization.

Anger, grief, survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder: all of these are the brain’s way of trying to cope with the loss of something cherished, be it a person or a body part or your sense of self. Any or all of these can be taken away through accident or violence.

Last year, I did a series of segments on Lawrence Gonzales’s books Deep Survival and Everyday Survival. This year, I’m going to do a series on his book Surviving Survival, which deals with what happens to people after they’ve made it through their ordeal - being lost at sea, the death of a child, having a spouse try to murder them - and the difficulties they face as they try to integrate the new person they needed to become in order to survive into their old life.

Flashbacks are very common with people who have PTSD. This is due to what is known as a conditioned response, and it’s exactly the same thing as when Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.

In neurobiology, when two nerve cells fire at the same time, even if by accident, they will fire together in the future. The phrase is “Fire together, wire together.” They become linked into what is known as a cell assembly, and so when one fires, they all fire. And if they are assembled during a moment of high emotion, then it becomes difficult to keep them from firing - to effectively un-wire them - even if the things which are linked are completely separate.

This is how and why flashbacks occur. If you hear a particular sound or smell a specific scent when something traumatic happens, the event will become paired with that sound or smell in mind. So if you were listening to a particular song on the radio right before you were injured in an automobile accident, your brain will associate that song with pain and fear and auto accidents, and listening to it will cause a fear or pain response.

It is this association which explains why we become attached to people. Their presence causes nerve cells to fire, and at the same time the cells for us being happy because of something they do or say fire, and so we associate their presence with that emotional state. The longer we are around them, the more those cells fire and the stronger the response is.

There are also nerves in our brain which are called “seeking pathways”, and they allow us acquire what we need to survive. If we are thirsty, a seeking pathway helps us find water. If we are tired, a seeking pathway encourages us to find a safe place to sleep, and so on. But if you are thirsty and cannot drink - if you are tired and cannot sleep - your seeking pathways cannot complete their task and this results in frustration, which is another form of anxiety. It’s one thing to just be hungry or thirsty, especially if you know (even subconsciously) that you can easily remedy the situation. It’s another to know that you are unable to fix it, because the human mind has trouble soothing a frustrated pathway.

If left unchecked, this anxiety activates another form of path, the rage pathway, which is an essential survival mechanism among mammals. It’s why your initial desire is to lash out when you’re hurt, because instinct tells us that whatever is hurting us is a predator and we have to kill it before it kills us. And so, if your brain is telling you that you NEED something and you cannot have it, that anxiety registers as fear, and your body believes it’s being attacked, and so attacks back. Suddenly, toddler temper-tantrums make a lot more sense, now don’t they?

When you want something that was taken from you - a loved one, a limb, that sense of innocence or feeling of not having been violated you had before you were attacked - and you cannot get at it, the rage pathway activates. Sometimes it’s violent and destructive; sometimes it’s focused inward, and manifests at grief. But in all cases, the underpinning desire is the same: Something bad is happening to me and I don’t want it to happen. Go away, bad thing!

The brain is essentially dominated by just these two systems, the seeking and rage pathways. We are either trying to draw something toward us - even if it’s something abstract, like the pleasure of a job well done - or we are trying to push things away from us.

What’s interesting about this - and relevant to people who are angry, grieving, or suffering from flashbacks - is that these two systems cannot activate at the same time. If you want to destroy, you cannot create; and if you are creating, you have no desire to destroy.Just be aware of how quickly one can shift to the other!

But it’s this rapid shift that can actually be of benefit to people suffering from loss, because it enables you to overwrite feelings of rage, grief and anxiety by engaging the seeking pathway. A simple, repetitive, constructive activity - like knitting, or weeding the garden, or physical activity, or hunting or fishing or shooting - activates the seeking pathway and deactivates the rage pathway.

Perhaps this is because humans are predators: if we are hungry we need to eat, and so our focus on getting the meal precludes our fear of being eaten by something larger. And perhaps this is how humans became tool users: the seeking pathway rewards our brain with dopamine when we accomplish something (like acquiring food) and so the act of creating tools similarly engaged our seeking pathways and rewarded our actions with dopamine.

If you take nothing else from my segment today, take this:  if you are angry, if you are grieving, if you are anxious, then engage in a simple, repetitive task that rewards you for completing it. You will find that not only will it soothe the pain you feel, but you will also have something to show for your efforts

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doctor Who: Death By Scotland

Well, that episode certainly happened, didn't it?

In all seriousness, The Eaters of Light isn't a bad episode. It's just a very small episode in which nothing of any great importance happens in the main story. There's a cave, a house, a field, a dodgy CGI monster that we barely see, and about a dozen young actors, one of whom screams very loudly, and half of whom are painfully Scottish.

Oh, and Bill falls down a hole again. I can't help but feel there's some sort of symbolism there, with Bill continuing to fall into holes.

But getting back on track: while this was a decently written episode, and well-filmed (especially the spacious open field shots), the lack of scale and obvious low budget makes it clearly apparent this is a filler episode where they saved money for the upcoming finale episodes. The trade-off for any actual content, unfortunately, means that this episode has enough Noggin scenes to make up for the entire series. He's on-screen probably as much in this episode as he is in every previous episode combined.

There were some good parts:
  • The Doctor mentioning being a vestal virgin (second class) in Roman Britain (that's almost certainly the Eighth Doctor. Or maybe the Fifth. One of the pretty ones). 
  • The conversation about humans no longer having intelligent conversations with crows, so they're all in a huff and no longer speaking to us. 
  • The Doctor's brilliant popcorn maneuver. 
  • Kudos to Bill for not only figuring out the TARDIS translation circuit on her own, but also being the first person to notice that it tricks your brain into seeing lip-synching as well. 
  • The guest cast is serviceable enough for what they are: two groups of inexperienced kids. 
  • The monster is an interesting design, but I'm not sure the CGI really does it any favours.

What else can I say about this episode, though? It's an obvious budget-saver episode, either because the BBC isn't giving the show as much money as it used to, or because they're saving up for a huge finale. There's exactly one thing memorable about this episode: the ending.
What will you do, how will you feel, when your sins catch up to you?
Missy's out of the vault and waiting for them in the TARDIS. The Doctor is extending a measure of trust to her, possibly hoping that trust will rehabilitate her. Surprisingly, the most poignant part isn't where she actually cries after taking his advice; it's when he isn't sure whether it's an act or not, and which might be worse. The implication here is that if someone who has done the things that she's done - committed the most vile and evil acts that she has - actually grows a conscience, she will be utterly crushed by the weight of all of that catching up to her.
"It's hard to resist."
"That's the trouble with hope. It's hard to resist." That's a line that'll stay with me for a very long time, given certain directions my life has taken recently.

Next week: The most retro-classic Cybermen in decades, and Missy gets her own adventure, with the last frames being the startling and terrifying appearance of John Simm with the one Master-esque thing he was missing from his previous appearances: the trademark evil goatee.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Correcting the Record: Anger Post

I am in an absolute rotten mood. I've been that way for a while now. Anyone that was looking forward to more Gotham Rain, I apologize. My mind's not in that place at the moment.

A few things over the last few weeks have caught my attention, though, and I have a few very simple messages before I go back to laying in bed watching Supergirl on Netflix.

A few weeks ago there was a petition on to change the settings of the upcoming Far Cry 5, which is set to take place in rural Montana, with the antagonists apparently being some sort of religious cult. The Petition is written with such ham-handed, overt usage of the language of social justice activism inverted into a strawman of gamers the level of which hasn't been seen since Gamergate that anyone that took it seriously and reported on it as such should turn in any journalistic credentials they think they still have the right to hold. In the words of Vreenak from the best episode of Deep Space 9, "It's a FAAAAAAAKE."

Mario got called racist and culturally approprating because of a sombrero outfit in the new game. Mexican gamers promptly fired back en masse with responses ranging from "we're cool with this" to "this is pretty neat" to "you assholes are why we lost Speedy Gonzales." Stop looking for reasons to be outraged. It's getting old. To everyone.

Some genius decided she'd take her activism to retail by moving tank tops for boys into the girls section because they had the NASA logo on them. At this point I'm sure that the perpetrator has never been in a Target before now, as retail staff are going to have to move those back, and I've never seen a man working in the clothing section of a Target. So congratulations for inconveniencing low-paid women! Also, Target fired back with a link to their selection of girls clothing with NASA logos on them. I haven't seen a burn that bad since Wendy's still had good social media.

Apparently, everything else can now take a back seat. Clean energy, crime, homelessness, wars; they're all unimportant. Our top priority now is legislating social media.

Oh, and I've been waiting to use this one. MUH FREEZE PEACH. So now free speech matters to you?

A congressman or senator or someone was shot, and another shot at, or something. All I know is that everyone further Left than me is scrambling right now, #NotAllLiberal'ing the shit out of it because the shooter was fervently Anti-Trump and Pro-Bernie.

Battle of Berkely. Evergreen College. Cheering on Antifa. Punch a Nazi. Kathy Griffin beheading the president in effigy and Madonna contemplating blowing up the White House. You've lost the moral high ground Lefties. Even Vice and the Anti-Defamation League know it.

You're no longer the "Politicks of Peace." You've got an extremist problem. There's blood in the water, and if you don't do something about, 2020 isn't going to matter, let alone 2018.

Erin's going to bullet point that paragraph, I just know it. 
I guess I showed you! - Erin

I'm going back to bed before this day gets any worse. Thank you, Erin, for the LEGO Batgirl. It made me smile for the only time this week that didn't involve alcohol and Doctor Who reruns.

You're welcome. Salem. [hugs]

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pulse: One Year Later

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #147 - The Stupid Episode

Listener Violet (age 4) tells us not to use the word "stupid" because it's a bad word.
  • Special Guest Noelle, age 3 and a half, talks with her mom Beth about gun safety.
  • Barron is on assignment.
  • NC "teen" rapes and robs a couple in Charlotte. Sean takes a look at this "teen's" history while Erin explains that she's not an awful person. 
  • Miguel explains to listener Violet that there are stupid people who do stupid things in stupid places, and you should never be stupid enough to join in.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin discuss the Pat McNamara video on Comedy Central.
  • A young child can still help out during an emergency. Erin gives you suggestions on what they can do and how you can reassure them. 
  • Tiffany is on medical leave. Wouldn't you like to send her a message of support using the GBVC Radio contact page?
  • How long can it go on? Weer'd is now in his third week of the Demanding Mommies' protest at the NRAAM!
  • And our plug of the week is the Czech Etched Glass Nail File Set. Sean recommended cooking gear last week, so Erin decided that nail files were a perfectly acceptable recommendation.
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
How Children Can Help in an Emergency
In response to Violet’s letter to the show, Sean asked us if we could aim our segments at children. Some of us, like Beth, were able to do that; and some, like Weerd, weren’t. I’m going to compromise here: I’m not going to aim my prepping segment AT children, but I will talk about how children can participate in prepping and how they can help in a disaster scenario.

Now first we need some definitions. When I say “child”, I mean “Any youngster who is in elementary school.” Any younger than that, and I categorize them alongside babies and toddlers in that they need constant adult supervision. Any older than that - definitely anyone of high school age, and possibly some mature middle schoolers - can be considered young adults, which means we can grant them a fair amount of independence and responsibility. In other words, if you trust them to be responsible and make sensible decisions while driving a car, you can trust them to be responsible and make sensible decisions to help the family out during an emergency.

So we’re specifically talking about young children who are able to do things, but perhaps not have the mental or emotional development to be considered responsible. They’re right at that sweet spot where they’re old enough to understand that something scary is going on, but not old enough to manage their feelings.

Disclaimer: I am not a parent. I do however have extensive experience being a child on a military base in Europe during the cold war, where we practiced evacuation drills, and so that forms the baseline for my segment.

The first thing to keep in mind is that children panic easily. However, they’re usually smart enough to know when things are going wrong, if for no other reason than the fact that the adults are acting strangely. Remember, children look to parents for guidance and reassurance, and have been doing that all of their lives, so they are essentially OPTIMIZED for detecting when Things Aren’t All Right With Mommy And Daddy.

So in my admittedly inexpert opinion, not telling them anything when the adults are worried is just going to make them panic more, because -- to their minds -- whatever is going on is SO AWFUL that their parents won’t tell them! Fear of the unknown is FAR more terrible than fear of the known. 

My advice, then, is to give them a very abbreviated version of what is going on, like “Some bad men hurt some innocent people nearby, and we don’t want them to hurt us, so we’re making ourselves safe.”
Immediately follow this with a reassurance that you, the adult, have this under control. “But don’t worry. Mommy and Daddy know what to do in situations like this, and we’re going to do them. It’s just like when you have a fire drill in school: it’s a bit scary at first, but when we all know what to do, we all end up fine.”

Kids will interpret this as “The grown-ups are doing grown-up stuff that I don’t understand because I’m not a grown-up.” This is fine, because - at least in my experience - that’s how kids process most grown-up activities. When you were a child, did you really understand what your father did for a living? Or did you just assume he left the house, did boring stuff, and then came back for dinner?

After you have addressed their curiosity and reassured them that the adults are On The Case, your next step is to give them a job. Children are restless and get bored easily, so you don’t want them wandering off in an emergency, but neither do you want them to get underfoot, so give them a task which is within their capability to perform but is rather minor or otherwise a pain for the adults to do.

If you have pets, this is very easy: put the kids in charge of the pets. Like kids, pets such as dogs tend to get underfoot when the adults are running around, and they can pick up on emotions of panic as well. Having your child pet or play with them keeps them calm, out of the way, and prevents them from running off. Cats are less likely to panic, but are far more likely to run off, so have them put into travel crates immediately. Smaller dogs can be crated, and larger dogs leashed.

Then, tell the child that what they are doing is important. Now maybe I was just a precocious kid, but even at age 6 or 7 I could tell when an adult’s “very important task” of sitting quietly was a bunch of B.S. So when you give this job, explain in simple terms WHY it’s important, such as “Mommy and Daddy need to pack, so your job is to keep Fluffy and Whiskers safe. We don’t want them getting stepped on, or being left behind! So you stay with them and keep them company so they aren’t scared or lonely.”

If you don’t have pets, other tasks can be filling water bottles, or getting everyone’s coats and putting them by the bags, or -- if they’re old enough, and you trust them -- having them load magazines.

Finally, keep checking in with your kids. Not only does this reassure them that they haven’t been forgotten -- which is a real worry for kids -- but it also allows you to make sure that things haven’t gone disastrously wrong, like your dog getting off the leash, or the water suddenly running brown, or your child loading your 9mm magazines with .40 cal instead.

And of course, if you are a prepper parent, make sure your child knows where his or her bug-out bag is, and have periodic drills for evacuating, or bunkering down, or whatever it is you do in an emergency. The more you practice, the less frightening it will be, and the smoother things will go for everyone involved.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

One Aim Seminar Rescheduled

I've been dreading having to do this, but I can't put it off any longer.

"Rescheduled" may not be the proper word to use -- I feel that without a firm date date it's not a rescheduling, it's a postponement -- but saying rescheduled instead of postponed or canceled is more positive.

Come hell or high water, we will have this event. It's just been decided that we'd rather do it right than do it right now. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Doctor Who: Space 1889!

The Doctor breaking into NASA is starting to become a habit. He really does play the best pranks on them.

You may be wondering about the title of the review, given that the episode's name is actually Empress of Mars. Or you may not, given the audience. Space: 1889 was a tabletop RPG that had a Victorian Era English Empire exploring and colonizing various planets, but since I'm really not one for tabletop RPGs, I found it through an audio drama series produced by Noise Monster (run by an associate of Big Finish, who do the officially licensed Doctor Who audio dramas). So when I saw, in last week's preview, Victorian Era British uniforms and Ice Warriors, I was pumped. Does the episode live up to my hype?

I approached it with some trepidation, as the writer Mark Gatiss wrote one of the best episodes of the first season, the worst of the second, one of the better of season 5 and the lesser of season 6, two good ones in season 7, and two bad ones in seasons 8 and 9 (including one of my absolute worst, the eye-booger monster episode).
NASA really should have seen this coming by now.
So after using the same baggy orange spacesuits for the last 8 seasons, the Doctor has finally raided the wardrobe for some flattering sleek black suits for he and Bill, which I must say accentuate his trim figure while still being functional and giving a much more imposing presence. (They don't look so bad on Bill, either.)

I have very few problems with this episode -- chief among them being Bill surviving a fall early on that looks as if it really should have shattered her face -- but I can forgive that given it forces Nibble to exit the episode around this point in order to fetch Missy for a rescue, thus ensuring Michelle Gomez gets precious more screen-time. It's also odd that the TARDIS exited when it did; the last time the HADS went off was in Cold War, also in the proximity of an Ice Warrior. You'd think that the Doctor would have remembered to turn it off at some point.

There are already websites reviewing this episode as "Socially Conscious" (which I guess is a fancy way of saying "woke" now that "woke" is quickly falling out of favour amongst their crowd). I will rebut this: It is no more "woke" than any other episode.

  • The British Empire was very imperialistic, thus statements like "We're British, Mars is part of the Empire now" wouldn't have been out of place had this happened. 
  • Bill's response to the Colonel's disbelief that a woman would serve in the police is the exact opposite that a "woke" episode would have had. A "woke" episode would have had her give a lecture on woman power and equity and privilege imbalances etc, etc, but Bill simply says "I'll make allowances for your Victorian attitude... well, because you are Victorian" and leaves it at that. 
  • Couple that with Twelve's poetic words about how vicious and yet how sensitive the Ice Warriors are, and Bill's comparison to Vikings, and you simply have an episode that is recognizing the differences and similarities between different people,  allwhile portraying historically-based characters accurately.

Finally! After 5000 years I'm free! It's time to conquer Earth!
Speaking of the Ice Warriors, it's good to see them again. They frequently top the "best classic bad guys" lists, despite not actually being that adversarial to the Doctor. The last time we met them was just a single soldier (albeit a very dangerous one). This time we see much more, even if they do their best to trick us visually by rarely if ever showing more than three on-screen at a time (a classic series budget-saving technique).

The exception to this, of course, being Empress Iraxxa, the titular Empress of Mars, who has a very striking visual design and a very imposing presence. When she first spoke, I could swear I'd heard her voice before, but the IMDB page for the actress, Adele Lynch, shows only this and a few episodes of The Bill. Quite an impressive performance on her part for someone with such a short CV! I have a feeling she's done her time on stage prior to this.

I would also like to mention that Ice Warrior weaponry, despite being completely bloodless, is horrifyingly brutal. That looks like an extremely unpleasant way to die.

If you know your Who history, and are paying attention, this episode loops back to a Third Doctor episode, with the Ice Warriors making contact with a familiar face... or eye, at least. Alpha Centauri of the Galactic Federation appears in two classic serials alongside the Ice Warriors (presumably taking place after this episode) and is voiced by none other than the original voice actor, Ysanne Churchman (who is now 92 years old!).

All in all, a very good episode. Not quite as good as Extremis, but as good as The Lie of the Land, I would say, and the second best this year. This season seems to be providing a lot of historical episodes: The Frost Fair, The British Empire, and next week we seem to be visiting the Romans and possibly dabbling in explaining some mythology (with aliens, I hope). But don't miss Empress of Mars. It's definitely worth a watch.

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