Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Doctor Who: Risk - The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is rightly regarded as one of the greatest stories of the original Doctor Who. The Daleks burst onto the scene in the Doctor's second story and were almost single-handedly(?... Single-plungeredly?) responsible for saving the fledgling show from cancellation. The following season, the Daleks were sent to Earth in an epic and game-changing adventure. I've made no secret of my love for that story and for how it was updated and referenced in modern Doctor Who, and the new board game from Hasbro/USAopoly is a fantastic addition to it.

Based in modern Doctor Who, this special edition of Risk doesn't exactly follow the story from the original serial. To quote the box:
Earth. Early 20th century. The planet has faced many invasions in the past, but never has mankind faced an assault like this, as multiple Dalek armies descend from the skies, seeking to destroy one another and conquer the world.

Many years ago, an ancient artefact was hidden somewhere on the planet, an artefact that will enable the Daleks to reign supreme across the universe, defeating any who stand in their way. Such an object is so valuable that even the Daleks cannot agree how best to wield it, and have split into renegade armies, each as cunning and determined as the next...

As you fight for supremacy, the Doctor will do his best to stop you, bringing peace to a different territory each turn, and if your army is not victorious by his eleventh regeneration, then the battle is over and all Daleks must retreat as the Oncoming Storm saves the Earth.
The gameplay is comparable to the classic version of Risk, and veteran players will be comfortable with it. There are some alterations to give it the flavor of Doctor Who, the obvious one being Daleks. You control one of five competing Dalek armies, either classic or New Paradigm (the hugely unpopular candy-coated version). The box says you're supposed to get three armies of the former and two of the latter, but when I opened my box it was the other way around. It would have been neat to have Daleks fighting the human resistance (and maybe some Cybermen or something), but it is understandable why they would opt to just mass produce Daleks in different colours. The contrived story about the ancient weapon - a black hole maker called the Heart of Darkness - is irrelevant. The weapon never comes up in play. It is solely the fig leaf of excuse needed to get a bunch of Daleks together, exterminating each other.

Gameplay is augmented with a small number of "power cards" and "mission cards." The mission cards depict an enemy local to a territory on the map. If you have the card for that territory and you conquer it, you can turn that card in for extra Dalek reinforcements. For example, two of the mission cards are for the Aztecs in Central America and Tergana in Mongolia (from the First Doctor stories The Aztecs and Marco Polo respectively). Power cards can upset the balance of power by granting rerolls, adding 1 to each die roll, and things of that sort. The theme for each card draws from elements of Doctor Who history, such as a UNIT counterstrike lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart or a photo of the Third Doctor with his catch-phrase "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." The only problem with these is that there are so few of them and so much rich material from the show to work with.

The real game-changer is the Doctor. At the beginning of each turn, the TARDIS lands at a randomly selected territory, making it impossible to attack, defend or move troops. This has a real effect on the game, as in my first play-through when I was ready to take over Madagascar and the Doctor shows up there, spoiling not only my plan for that turn but changing the course of my whole strategy. The game is also timed according to the Doctor's regenerations. To the side of the board is a "regeneration strip" with photos of the first eleven Doctors and a token of Clara Oswald (recalling when she plunged through the Doctor's time-stream... the season arc of series 7, made obsolete by The Time of the Doctor, because Steven Moffat is not necessarily as clever as he seems to think he might be). As the territory the TARDIS lands in is selected, the Doctor may or may not be forced to regenerate. When he reaches his eleventh incarnation, the game ends.

To give an idea of how this can also affect things, one of my playmates had just swept through North America, taking it over but at the high cost of severely depleting his own troops. Next was my turn, and I was prepared to turn in a bunch of cards and reinforce myself with a nearly insurmountable army of Daleks so I could mop up that continent for myself (just as I had for Europe on my previous turn, because apparently I become Genghis Kahn when playing Risk). Before I could do that, the Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith. This ended the game and my playmate won. Had the game not ended there, it was highly probable that I would have won instead. It's all fun and games, and certainly changes the dynamic of things.

The big advantage of the limited number of turns is that it limits the duration of the game. A regular game of Risk can go for hours. An average game of The Dalek Invasion of Earth goes for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Yes the Doctor may have cost me a victory, but shorted games were the only condition by which my wife allowed me to buy it to begin with! Rather than an endless slog for only the most dedicated of players, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a nice bit of fun for casual gamers who were drawn in by the Doctor Who license.

And so it begins...
Ashley at the ready with her army of Daleks.
The Doctor interferes!
Me preparing to go Genghis.
An hour after we started.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

20,000 Leagues to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar

One of the real treats of the latest set of renovations to the Disneyland Hotel at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Intended as the resident hotel bar, it quickly became the go-to regular bar for residents of Orange County. For example, Paul Barrie of the fantastic Window to the Magic podcast holds court there every week.

Two things really make Trader Sam's the enchanted place its moniker promises, after the fact that it's just a cozy little hang-out. The first are the animatronic touches of Disney design that activate whenever certain drinks are ordered. The house special Krakatoa, served in a souvenir tiki mug, will cause the lights to go down and the volcanoes in the windows to start spewing lava (all while the patrons of the bar shout “WE'RE ALL GONNA' DIE” and the bartenders wail on their sirens). A Shipwreck will cause exactly that for the poor ship-in-a-bottle over the bar, while simulated rain appears to pound outside.

The second are the walls filed to the brim with references to Disney films and attractions. A map to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye is mounted in a case, courtesy of Indiana Jones himself. Those who remember Walt Disney World's legendary, and defunct, Adventurer's Club will weep at the sight of photos from the beloved drinking establishment. Tucked away in there is even a photo of Walt himself, taken on his goodwill tour of South America.

"Do... not... look... into... Nah, I can't read it. Whatever, we'll be okay."

Of course, the Mightiest Motion Picture of Them All could not go without tribute! It would take a full afternoon to comb the entire bar, as it is so packed to the gills with ephemera, but I managed to find the three most obvious references and dutifully photographed them for you.

The note says "Sam, This comes with a whale of a tale. Ned."
Harper Goff, designer of the Nautilus, was also the
banjo player for the Firehouse Five Plus Two (a Dixieland Jazz band
formed by Disney animators) and taught the banjo to Kirk Douglas
so he could look like he was playing it properly on film.

Trader Sam's has proven so popular that it is also being imported to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto will have many touches peculiar to WDW, including a number of references to the defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride. In the concept art below, we see a squid tentacle, a diving helmet behind the bar, and a Nautilus-shaped Tiki mug. This new Trader Sam's is set to open later this year.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Victorian Invention of Christmas

On the odd occasion when I am asked what the greatest invention of the Victorian Era was, I tend to step sideways on it. Yes, various industrial, scientific, entertainment, and transportation technologies are interesting, but I think the best invention of the Victorian Era is the middle class. The idea of the bulk of persons in a society standing between obscene wealth and dire poverty, being able to enjoy opportunity and the fruits of their education and labour, to experience personal freedom as a birthright rather than a class privilege, is a remarkable idea virtually unprecedented in human history. For my second favourite Victorian invention, I may have to say Christmas.

Victorian card of Father Christmas
in his traditional green coat.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Year in Review 2014

Once more we have reached the end of another year on Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age, and quite the monumental year it was. The biggest event happened off the blog, of course: I got married! Ashley and I were wed on August 29th in nearby Banff National Park. In addition to posting about it here, we also shared photos and a honeymoon report on our Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy weblog. That weblog is still going strong as well, after a brief and ill-conceived interruption when we hooked up with the Internet's preeminent Disney-bashing website.

Here on Voyages Extraordinaires, our year began as it usually has with Doctor Who. Having run out of First Doctor episodes (and with the latest season being must-avoid TV), our attention turned to the audio-dramas. The most notable of these was The Beginning, telling the story of the Doctor and Susan's first adventure after swiping an old Type-40 TARDIS.

In February, I finally got to feature something I've wanted to for some time: Dinotopia! If you've never read Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time, The World Beneath, and Journey to Chandara, do yourself a favour and ask for them for Christmas.

From March onwards, I tried a little experiment, which was to go beyond our typical theme months to spend an entire month delving into a particular work and rooting out its sources and inspirations. The first was the video game Bioshock Infinite (and I did voice my views on an ongoing controversy in gaming culture later on in the year) and the second was the film The Adventures of Mark Twain. With respects to Bioshock Infinite, we examined its roots in American Exceptionalism, New Religious Movements, and the City Beautiful Movement (as well as waxing on the game's beauty and what could have been). This study was implicitly extended into the following month when we looked at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was also an influence on the game. As a bit of a preamble, we looked at the work of American artist Thomas Cole, particularly his epic paintings The Course of Empire, The Voyage of Life,The Past and The Present, and The Cross and the World.    

The Adventures of Mark Twain is one of my favourite movies and my affection for it lead me on to reading the works of Mark Twain himself. Among the stories referenced in the film were Tom Sawyer Abroad,The Mysterious StrangerCaptain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, and some of his meditations on Halley's Comet. The space between Bioshock Infinite and Mark Twain was bridged by Walt Disney, the Gay Nineties and our return to Main Street USA (and commenting on Mechanical Kingdoms, The Disney Gallery's Steampunk exhibition). This "American Series" ended mid-year with our return to space, including the quite good novel A Honeymoon in Space and the pretty not good novel A Columbus of Space.

After taking September off to get married, we came back in October with a look at Vincent Price and Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe films for American International Pictures. In November, I got the chance to share some of my studies into Jacques Offenbach's Voyage Dans la Lune operetta and how it may have influenced Georges Méliès.

Which brings us up to today. Most recently, we debuted Voyages Extraordinaires' new companion weblog Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction. And we switched to a new biweekly schedule! There is one more post for this year, on Christmas Eve, and then join us in the new year with our new format.

Thank you all once again for your ongoing support of Voyages Extraordinaires! It is sincerely appreciated. We could not have shared this journey of seven years without you to share it with!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Introducing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World

Voyages Extraordinaires has a new companion weblog: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction!

In this new weblog - which will publish at least once a month or so - we will explore the seminal novel of prehistoric adventure and its original 1925 silent film adaptation, as well as other adaptations and classic Victorian-Edwardian prehistoric fiction and dinosaur films from the silent and early talkie eras.

News of updates will be shared on our Facebook page, so if you're already a member stay tuned for that. Otherwise, don't forget to take a look at our new weblog and bookmark it at

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Our New Schedule

So that I may enjoy the Christmas season with my new wife, Voyages Extraordinaires is going to be going on its brand new schedule starting this December. Based on the feedback we received when the question was posed, we are going to be going to a biweekly schedule. Next Wednesday we'll be publishing a genuine article, and then again with our Year-in-Review on Christmas Eve, and then again on January 7th, and so on.

In the mean time, enjoy your Christmases, Hanukkahs, Kwanzaas, and Solstices!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Lost World: Collector's Centenary Edition

With Christmas coming up, I thought it would be a good time to call something to the attention of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and dinosaur fiction fans once again.

Published in 2012 for its centennial year, John Lavas of the University of Auckland has compiled the definitive collectors edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. This edition includes the complete text of my favourite single Scientific Romance novel, as well as a profuse series of original illustrations by Lavas, and supplementary essays by a number of scholars.

Lavas has himself supplied a biography of Conan Doyle. Dana M. Batory writes on the real-world inspirations behind the classic novel. Consequently, much of The Lost World in based in real geology and geography, which geologist Norman J. Snelling discusses, drawing from his past field work in South America. Educator and historian of palaeontology David Spalding looks at the literary precursors to The Lost World. And both lastly and leastly, yours truly, Cory Gross, writes on later adaptations of The Lost World with a focus on the 1925 silent film version.

If you're a reader of Prehistoric Times Magazine, then you've already had the benefit of sampling John Lavas' writings on The Lost World in the Fall 2014 issue. Do yourself the favour (or do the favour for someone you care about) and order the full book!

Original illustrations by Harry Rountree. 
Original illustration by Zdeněk Burian.
Original illustration by John Lavas.
This self-published, limited edition must be ordered from John Lavas directly. He can be reached via e-mail at J.lavas at The edition is priced at $140NZ plus Shipping and Handling. Paypal and personal cheques are accepted. Questions can be answered and details can be provided upon request.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906)

Georges Méliès once more conflates astronomy with astrology and technological wizardry with the more traditional kind in his 1906 film The Merry Frolics of Satan. Though ordinarily seen in excerpted form, focusing on the celestial carriage ride, it is actually one of Méliès' longer films. In it, a young engineer and his servant pester an alchemist for the means to travel across the planet, and get much more than they bargained for.

Ever the consummate stage magician, Méliès loves misdirections, redirections, and disguises. His alchemists and magicians rarely act only in the single capacity. In A Trip to the Moon, they are alchemist-astronomers... Relatively benign. In The Merry Frolics of Satan, the alchemist turns out to be the Devil himself (played by Méliès of course). The engineer ought to have looked at the fine print when signing his deal for a magical talisman that would enable to him to fulfill his dream of a high-speed global adventure.

Returning home, the engineer (Crackford, according to the script) drops the talismans, which transform into steamer trunks, out of which pop pairs of footmen and more steamer trunks, out of which pop more footmen and steamer trunks. One almost catches the whiff of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in this segment. The footmen proceed to place all of Crackford's furnishing and family in the steamer trunks, then transform them into a diminutive steam train. Off they go through town, to the jeers and lobbed vegetables of disdainful townsfolk. They should have turned around, because they don't get too far before a disaster claims the bridge over which they were travelling and the cars in which Crackford's family were riding. He has no time to be stopped by the tragic loss of his family, however. There is a journey around the world that he must make!

Next they arrive in a quaint Italian town and an inn-keeper... You-Know-Who... offers to put them up for the night. Méliès once more performs one of his "haunted inn" or "haunted room" skits, reminiscent of 1903's The Inn Where No Man Rests. Seeking escape from the ambulatory furniture and demonic acrobats, Crackford and his manservant hijack a horse-drawn carriage, which is in turn hijacked by the Devil. Mephistopheles transforms it into an infernal carriage pulled by a skeleton horse, and then uses an automobile to push it up Mount Vesuvius. An eruption projects them into the Heavens, where Crackford sees sights beyond his wildest imaginings. He is soaring through the celestial spheres, past comets and planets, and such sights undreamed of.

Then a storm ends it all. The carriage is dashed on a thundercloud, and the intrepid explorers are thrown back to Earth. Crackford is relieved to be home, but the deal is not yet done. Satan comes to claim his soul, the film ending with Crackford being turned on a spit in Hell.

The Merry Frolics of Satan was a free adaptation of a stage play by Victor de Cottens and Victor Darlay, form whom Méliès had previously supplied short films as part of their féerie stage revues. He altered the name and some of the sequences to avoid litigation, but it's fair enough, since the entire setting is a rendition of Faust set to the Edwardian Era. In particular, Méliès is sending up the fever for exploration and world travel that captured the minds of the upper classes. His Faustian character is not even looking for arcane knowledge of the supernatural, only a way to make it around the world pretty fast. Méliès' fantastic journeys usually end up in disaster, but in this case, it ends up in full-on damnation.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding

Since we only plan on getting married once (not counting vow renewals), we'd like to share some more of our wedding photos with you. I know calling it a "fairytale wedding" is fairly stereotypical, but considering that we lacked a pumpkin carriage and did a good part of the planning and organizing on our own, I think we did pretty well.

Our wedding took place on August 29th, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada. For anyone counting, our ceremony venue was Tunnel Mountain Meadow, and photos were taken there, at Cascades of Time Gardens, and the Banff Springs Hotel. Photography was provided by K&E Imaging of Calgary.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Long Distance Wireless Photography (1908)

Long Distance Wireless Photography constitutes another of Georges Méliès' long line of trick films. An inventor welcomes an elderly couple to his workshop to see his innovations on wireless photography, and there isn't too much more to say about it than that. Hilarity ensues!

Méliès consistently dances between magic and science, fairyland and industry. Like much Science Fiction to follow, he uses the imagery of science and technology to produce the stuff of the supernatural. Long Distance Wireless Photography could just as easily have taken place in the den of a sorcerer or prestidigitator, but this time he chose the lab of that most miraculous of magicians, the engineer.