Time Warriors remember Stan Lee

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

All Spiderman photos on this page copyright Owen Quinn

Do you know what? When you think about it, our lives are influenced by strangers and you don’t realise it until they die.

With the sad passing of comic genius Stan Lee, this has been brought home to me through a simple question. I was asked to write a tribute to him and my first reaction was that I am not a comic aficionado like many of my peers.

By no means am I an expert on the Marvel universe. However the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Stan Lee had influenced me. I don’t need to be able to rhyme off the history of the Avengers or the Hulk or when Peter Parker was possessed by Doctor Octopus. This tribute is more than that. Just as Stan took us on a journey that will speak to future generations, my path with him began a long time ago.

Fantasy, science fiction and horror have always been part of my D.N.A. for as long as I remember. That was down to my late mother who started me on this journey of time and space and super heroes.

As a young kid growing up in Northern Ireland I lived in a world where it wasn’t cool to be a geek. It was a term of derision and you were seen as a freak. Halfway across the world Stan had been pumping out comics for several years before I came upon his world. As a writer myself, it is not the easiest thing to get your ideas out there and get the world on board with your dreams. But these were more than characters in a comic book. The beauty of Stan was he spoke to his audience through the characters he created.

He never wanted to be a comic book writer. All Stan wanted was to write and he ended up in a position writing for comic books. Initially he thought it would be a venue to gain some writing experience then move on to be a ‘writer.’ As we know now it was his destiny to never leave Marvel and like me he wanted characters that were flawed. The greatest trick of writing is to talk to your audience; to secure your story by speaking to something within them. Stan knew when he was asked to create super heroes they could not be the cardboard ones of old he despised with perfect lives and handsome features.

No, Stan knew if he were to get his readers on board he would have heroes that would speak to them in their own language.

The first time he spoke to me was through a certain webhead. I remember vividly picking up my first Spiderman comic and was immediately mesmerised. I wasn’t just reading fantastical adventures of a super powered kid.

I was Peter Parker.

As a bullied child in school, I identified with the character immediately. From the first instant I learned of Peter Parker I saw myself.

Peter was a geek like me. He was interested in other things that weren’t the norm like me. He didn’t play sport just like me. He wasn’t part of the incrowd nor was he successful with girls. Every day at school he faced bullies and felt alone and dejected. His world was his bedroom where he indulged in his passions of science. I retreated to my bedroom where I travelled the stars and walked in times future and past.

Here was someone else who experienced the same things I did on a daily basis. Stan and I were having a conversation without us even knowing it with the turn of every page. What he did brilliantly was connect with his audience…the geeks. He showed us that despite all the trials of school and growing up, you could still be special and make a difference. But being special was a mantle that you had to have a strength of character to carry with you. The murder of Uncle Ben is his way of telling us that family should be cherished as you never know when they will be taken from you. It is this along with Ben’s words of wisdom about power and responsibility that cements Peter’s mission in life to fight the good fight. He becomes Spiderman because he did the wrong thing at the wrong time resulting in the loss of his family. Regret and guilt spurns him forward to do the right thing making the world right in memory of Uncle Ben. Isn’t that what we do every day? To make the world better by honouring our parents and those that we have lost along the way? 

Despite all the bullying and derision Peter faces in life, he does the right thing by people as a force for good. This was telling me that you have to rise above the bullies and be a better person.

I was hooked from that instant. Peter Parker is still my favourite character. His journey was a message to all of us that things will turn out right in the end. Peter is smart, designs his own costume, creates his own weaponry and gets the girl in the shape of Gwen and Mary Jane. He does all this without the false fortune and glory you have being a jock whose lives were ultimately filled with fake friendships and insecurities. Stan showed us that nobody has the perfect life through his characters even if it appears to be so.

I knew life would get better and the bullies would eventually go. I wrote my own stories to match what Stan was doing. To this day, my characters are modelled on his template.

In the Time Warriors, Jacke, Michael, Tyran and Varran all have flaws. Michael is similar to Peter having been bullied but all of them still do the right thing by others. They stop the monsters to let normality reign despite what they have suffered. Their frailties make them better people.

Superman and Batman were super, super heroes. They didn’t really have flaws except to live dual identities. But Stan didn’t do that. His road was much more interesting.

Iron Man was an alcoholic with a dodgy heart. Hulk had anger management issues. Captain America was struggling to adjust to a time he was not born into. Indeed Steve Rogers had body issues leading him to take the super serum leaving him a muscled soldier. Vision was a kind of Data character. Hank Pym had insecurities that he wasn’t good enough in the eyes of others forcing him to become Giant Man. That flaw speaks to every person on the planet. At some point all of us have felt inferior to someone else that you believe is better looking or better dressed or have seemingly effortless success with the opposite sex. I most certainly have but Stan showed us that appearances are deceiving.

copyright Owen Quinn

All his characters had some sort of flaw attached to their personality. Nothing was taboo. Parent issues, drugs, domestic violence, racism, gender, celebrity, self discovery and immigration were just a few of the issues his stories explored. Like all good writers, he took the human condition and spun it against a super hero tapestry that caught me and millions of others like flies.

As a teenager I saw the x Men and the Fantastic 4 as a bunch of misfits each with issues just like the rest of us. As an adult I can see stories about immigration and prejudice with the government fearmongering in the comics.

Stan was way ahead of his time as his stories reflect what is happening in modern day America to those that are different.  But the one thing that binds every hero in the Marvel universe is the fact they are misfits trying to fit in. They are looking for a place where they are happy; a place where they are treated like everyone else. Isn’t that what we all want from life no matter who we are?

Nightcrawler looked like a demon yet he was deeply religious. Wolverine was in fact a victim of torture and suffering post traumatic stress and abuse issues. Even the Gods suffered as Thor fought to find his place in his father’s expectations.

Stan and I spoke for years after that first issue right up to the release of the Ant Man and Wasp movie. These movies reflected the themes he had written about for years. Tony Stark’s own worst enemy was himself but movie Tony lived in fear of death from the shrapnel in his heart despite his cockiness.

Although the new Spiderman in Homecoming for me completely undermined the beauty of Peter Parker by letting Tony Stark hand him everything including his suit. However that is a story for another article…

Everyone talks about how Star Trek explores social issues through its writing which it does beautifully but Stan did it long before Gene. He changed the world first to the point where he challenged the policies of the Comic Codes Authority indirectly leading to a change that is still in place today.

Stan was a dreamer. He wanted to write stories that reached the masses. Those stories reflected real people and real issues that we face on a daily basis. For those who were different he shone a light of hope. For those that looked different he told them they were equal to everyone else. He told us that it was society preconceived notions of what is normal was what needed to catch up to accepting us.

All of us that were different were the future.

 He told me that life was going to be alright despite the darkness. He showed that imagination had no limits, dreams do come true and never give up on yourself even if the rest of the world dissed you.

So why do I feel his death keenly when I never met him? It’s very simple.

Stan was just like me. He was the dreamer that never grew up. We have had in-depth conversations on what it is to be human and what it is to write a good story. He sat dreaming of worlds and people others couldn’t. It’s a rare gift to create a universe where you can instantly slot yourself into any character.

For years my conversations were limited to the geek community but how my heart explodes with pride today. Kids everywhere openly display their love of super heroes. The tide has turned and it’s weird for a kid not to like this crazy world we have enjoyed for years. It has brought entire families together in their love of the movies and inspired an entire generation to read again. In an ever changing world darkness is fought by the tiniest little boy or girl dressed as a Marvel superhero. They are embracing acceptance of others whether they are green or red or blue. They are seeing the person within no matter what they look like on the outside. They will follow in Stan’s footsteps like I did and write their own stories. They will develop their creative talents whether it is making movies or art and all thanks to a plethora of characters that don’t follow the norm.

I never realised this until I heard the news of Stan’s death. Now I will never meet him to tell him how much he actually helped in writing stories that talk to people rather than preach to them. But if there is an afterlife where superheroes go then I hope he is hearing the crescendo of love and adoration at his loss from young and old alike.

I know there are other kids sitting all around the world echoing his beginnings and dreaming up their own stories and heroes just like I did.

Stan has gone home but somewhere a child is picking up a Marvel comic and witnessing the light of a very special soul. His soul will whisper to generations yet to come that it’s ok to be different and dreams can come true. He will tell them the darkness will fall and to make mistakes is human as long as we learn from them.

Most of all he will tell them what he told me; there is a hero in all of us. In the end we are all stories. Stan Lee’s will stand for eternity.

Thank you Stan. You taught me more than you know.

Excelsior sir.

Time Warriors interview Deep Space 9’s villain Damar, Casey Biggs

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

Photo copyright Paramount Pictures

How did you first become interested in acting and what made you decide to do it as a career?

 I could always sing and in High school we did big musicals and I was in them….I realized that I liked being on the stage more than I like football!!!

What defines acting for you?

 As an actor you are a story teller…and your ability to do that defines you. It is a craft that you must train like an athlete to master.

What do you look for in a script before accepting a role?

 I look for challenges . Emotionally and physically.

What was your first breakthrough role?

 On stage it was in the musical’ Elmer Gantry”. I feel I have yet to have

 one in film.

Was your first day on a tv set everything you expected or not at all?

My first day on set was for a TV film call The Great Wallenda’s about a high wire circus family. We shot in Florida. I was a bit nervous but I had a blast.

How do you approach every new character you play.Do you stick to the script or do you have the leeway to add your own twist to the character?

 I was trained as a classical actor so I have high regard for the author. I feel we have a responsibility to honor their work. It’s your job to make the words come alive. You don’t say to Shakespeare, “Who wrote this crap?!”.

Were you a fan of Star Trek before you got the role of Damar?

Only the first series. I didn’t know DS9 at all.

How did you land the role and did you know what a Cardassian was?

I had no idea who or what a Cardassian was. After the audition I thought, “They could get an extra to play this, why am I here?”. I didn’t know they had such big plans for Damar.

What was the original character breakdown given to you and did you know he was intended to be a long running character?

I thought it was going to be one day’s work. I had five lines. “They’re in range Sir.” I ended up on the show for five years and became the leader of the Empire!!


Is it hard coming into an established group of actors on a show like DS9 or does having so many actors in prosthetics make it easier to bond?

DS9 was full of classically trained actor who really knew what they were doing. It was a great bunch who had great respect for the work. Everyone was very open and helpful.

Had you had much experience in the way of prosthetics and how did you find having to wear them?

Never. It was fun for the first few years then it got tiresome. Four a.m. for three hours!!!

You and Marc Alamo had a fantastic on screen chemistry. How much does that play into your enjoying a role?

It is terrific when you get along with the actors you work with. Mark and I had great respect for each other coming from the stage.

Damar had a lovely streak of sarcasm and came out with some great one liners (The one about Leeta’s breasts comes to mind) Was that something you were able to adlib? 

 There was no ad libbing. The writers were very strict as they should be in my opinion. They were very good at picking up your strengths as well and wrote to them.

On a show like Deep Space 9,how much collaboration is there between the writers and the actor about their characters?

The writers watch you develop and then write for you. For example. They liked the way I looked in Quark’s bar so I ended up and alcoholic for two seasons!!

Were you pleased when Damar became the saviour of Cardassia? No one could have seen that coming. 

It was great to play. I got to stop drinking that horrible Kanar!. Damar had a great arc.

What for you defined Deep Space 9?

The quality of the writers and actors. Especially Ira Behr.

What is the legacy of Damar you’re most proud of?

 He died to save his people.

You also appeared on Star Trek Enterprise as an alien Captain. There always seems to be a buzz when an actor from one Trek show appears on another.Did you find that?

A bit. They offered me the Part saying it is a new race and was going to figure in the story. Not!!

Were those prosthetics easier than Damar’s? 

Yes. Probably because they were saving money. I wasn’t very fond of the look.

What was attending your first convention like.Did you know what to expect?

It was a blast. I had great fun and respect for the fans. They pay so much to come and I think they deserve your attention.

How has these events changed your perception of fandom in general? 

I am a big fan of fans. For the most part they are smart, interested, and caring. Rarely do I think…as Shatner said, “Get a life!”

You are a part of history now because of your portrayal of Damar. What has been your greatest lesson about acting from playing the role?

Grace and respect.

Can you tell us about the Enterprise Blues Band?

It Vaughn Armstrong’s idea. He wrote some songs and got some of us who were musician’s as well to do them. It was great fun and it gave the fans another look at who we were. We have a large European fan base and love playing there. In face we would love to come and pal for you all!

You now teach acting and directing. How vital is it for an actor to have more than one string to their bow?

An actor need to be a Jack of All trades. I have played Aliens, lawyers, elephant tamers and the devil. Actor are the most interesting people I know. You must become and expert in whatever field you are playing so you always have a wide range of knowledge. Studying the craft of acting will make you better at whatever you choose to do even if you never set foot on a stage.

What is the greatest lesson you could teach someone about acting or is an ever evolving craft?

To be present in your life. No matter whatever it is.

Have you a message for your Irish fans?

I AM IRISH!!!. I want to come see you all!!

Casey thank you very much!!!

Heroes of Doctor Who: Kamelion

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

Owen once again looks at the characters from the history of Doctor Who who have helped form the character. All these characters – some you’ll recall, some you won’t – were vital to the series that we all love so well. This week… Kamelion.

Kamelion was one of those ideas that seemed brilliant at the time but turned out to be something of a disaster.

First seen in the King’s Demons, Kamelion was used a puppet of the Master to stop the signing of the Magna Carter to change history. Kamelion seemed to be linked mentally to the Master who took great delight in showing the fifth Doctor Kamelion’s shape shifting powers which included turning into the Doctor himself. To break this connection, the Doctor enters a battle of wills for control over the sentient machine. The Doctor wins, bundling Kamelion aboard the Tardis where he immediately shows self awareness and puts Tegan firmly in her place. His link with the Master seems to have been permanently broken. The Master, played by Anthony Ainley, had found Kamelion on the Xerephan homeworld and used it as a means to escape. This was a planet the Doctor had banished the Master to in a previous adventure, Time Flight, which ended Peter Davison’s debut season.

Kamelion could change appearance and look like anyone in the universe.

Then producer, John Nathan Turner, saw the potential of adding such a companion to the show but, in reality, Kamelion was little more than a mannequin that could do little more than turn its head and blink lights. Such a character could have opened great story possibilities and would have come in very handy recently on the banks of Lake Silencio when time decreed the Time Lord must die. But for some reason, Kamelion was doomed to off screen appearances.

Instead of having him become a person that could be more mobile, Kamelion stayed aboard the Tardis but was ignored story wise, bar a brief deleted scene in the Awakening with Turlough that was released on the story’s DVD release. And one question of continuity that fans have pointed out is in the story Frontios and Kamelion’s whereabouts. In that story, the Tardis is destroyed, seemingly in a meteor storm, but in fact has been ripped apart and displaced under the surface of the planet. Fans quite rightly asked where Kamelion was when the Tardis was left like that but answers as always were strangely mute from the mouths of the production office.

When Peter Davison decided to leave the show, Mark Strickson and Jane Fielding were to follow, and the decision was made that Kamelion needed to go too.

In Planet of Fire by Peter Grimwade, not only was Turlough written out and Peri introduced, but the fifth Doctor had to destroy Kamelion at his own hand to stop the Master’s plans.

The renegade Time Lord had linked into Kamelion’s mind, causing him to steer the Tardis to a volcano world where people from Turlough’s homeworld where banished as political prisoners. The Master had accidentally shrunk himself and needed the healing blue flames of the planet’s natural gases to cure himself.

Kamelion became an unwilling slave as he was forced to carry out the Master’s bidding by turning the religious zealot inhabitants against the Doctor as he became the Master to secure his will and death of the Doctor. Peri became his helpless prisoner before the conflict between being loyal to the Doctor and carrying out the Master’s plans allows her to escape. She is pursued across the planet surface by the robot which is constantly shifting between appearances as his mind falls apart. It seemed that the Master had somehow been able to re-establish his mind control over Kamelion. It is this conflict that finally allows the Doctor to stop his enemy when Kamelion sacrifices himself, his mind ripped apart by the pressure. In a heart breaking scene, Kamelion is lost, his mind shattered by the conflicting loyalties. He lies helpless begging for the Doctor to kill him and the Time Lord can only offer a few words as he destroys his companion. This sees the first time the Doctor has willingly terminated the life of a companion.

The robot was voiced by Gerald Flood, a veteran of television, but the whole experiment was far from successful. Kamelion could have been an asset to the show in ways K9 could never have been but again sloppy writing and bad back stage decisions saw Kamelion side-lined.

He would appear once more as a hallucination as the fifth Doctor regenerates showing the guilt the Time Lord has over his actions. And, like many companions, he reappeared in novels, the missing adventure range book the Crystal Buchephalus being the best example, written by Craig Hinton.

In a series that sees so many human and alien companions, it was a refreshing change to have a robotic one, but budgetary and logic restrictions often work against such characters. But in this case, lack of imagination on behalf of the Doctor Who production team made this concept a failure.

But while he has been rarely mentioned, Kamelion deserves our recognition. After all, if a human companion had sacrificed themselves in this way, they would have been heroes. Just because he was a robot, Kamelion deserves no less.

Doctor Who The Candle

Photo copyright Owen Quinn

Ghostbusters Afterlife new trailer

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors And Zombie Blues Have they just given away the plot of the movie with this new trailer or at least enough to let us piece the plot together? Let’s hope not because we’re looking forward to this.

The Walking Dead: Beginning of the End

Posted by Owen quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombi Blues This is it; the beginning of the final run of the Walking Dead as we come up against the Commonwealth. With such a deviation from the comic books how will they truly end the show? It all begins here…..

The Doctor closed his eyes as the Tardis began its familiar materialisation procedure. He shut the wheezing, groaning crescendo from his senses, letting the temporal vibrations wash through him. He had heard her a million times before but had never taken the time to try and feel how she felt when the time machine slipped through the depth of the time vortex, choosing its destination and pushing though into a new reality like a newborn coming into the world. Ever since he’d met the Tardis’ soul in the body of Idris out there in House’s domain, the Doctor had seen her in a different light. At times, he could still see her out of the corner of his eye, flitting round the console room like a fairy at the bottom of a garden in that golden trial like a billion gold stars at the end of a rainbow.

He took his hands off the console and raised his bowed head in an instant as if he’d been electrocuted. He frowned as his eyes darted over the place as he seemed like a kid that had just been caught dipping his finger in the strawberry jam after he’d handled worms.

“We’ve never done that before. I’m so sorry, old girl,” he said out loud. “All these centuries and we’ve never been to the end of the rainbow.” His voice was tinged with disbelieving regret.

“Still, maybe that’s a good thing. Imagine what the leprechauns would say if we spilt their pot of gold. They’re such fussy people; I never had that trouble with the Oompa Loompas.” He shook away thoughts of complaining short people as he raced around the console, fingers dancing like seasoned ballerinas. No, he decided, holding his hands in the air. Let’s live a little. Bounding to the Tardis doors, the Doctor took a deep breath, wishing for a second that he had gone to pick up Amy and Rory. It seemed like an eternity since he’d seen either them or River Song but then, in the life of a Time Lord, it could well have been an eternity. A small grin played about his face. Timey, wimey, spacey, wacey… oh, I really need a new phrase.

A damp chill clamped to his skin the minute he stepped outside, the beginnings of a thin mist forming in the early autumn night air. He licked the mist and smacked his lips.

“Hmm, five fifteen in the afternoon, November 23rd 1963, not a bad year,” he muttered wishing he’d worn his Stetson and that super scarf he used to sport back in the day. Super scarves were cool, but now bowties were even cooler, he thought wryly, spinning slowly on his heel to look around. He made a mild cooing sound of delight as he saw the familiar sight of a hospital. There’s bound to be a shop he almost clapped and it would still be open. As thoughts of jelly babies and brandy balls swirled in his head, he began rifling through his pockets and found some pound coins. With an enthusiastic rub of his hands, he set off, doffing an imaginary hat to a passing ambulance. He stopped, briefly watching it disappear, wondering if they needed his help. Thoughts of Rory came to him, so he made a mental note to go collect them when he had his bag of sweets. He went to walk when a shape in the mist caught his eye. It looked like a Rutan. It seemed to twist and twirl upwards and it was then something caught his eye.

In the greying veiled world of fog he could see a solitary light above him. Despite the darkness and shrouding fog, the light seemed almost smeared like a jaundice smudge. It reminded the Doctor of a single child staring into the darkness pleading for help. The Doctor stood staring at it for a few seconds oblivious to everything else. It called to him, sending out waves that it was calling to him. He threw the silhouetted Tardis a withering look.

“You’ve done it again, sexy,” he chided sweetly. Drawn like the proverbial moth, the Doctor set off towards it.

When he discovered that not only was there no shop but his pound coins were useless, sometimes the time zones blurred into one for him, making him forget that each had their own particular means and protocols, he grumped. He worked out where the light he had seen was coming from and slipped through the warren corridors like a ghost on a mission. The Doctor waved his psychic paper to a ward sister who stood blocking his way like a Zygon in a Skaresen nursery. She gave him a Sil like glare but melted upon reading his paper.

“You seem very young for a Sir,” she purred uncertainly, grey eyes flicking from the paper to meet his. He gave her his most disarming smile.

“Appearances can be deceiving Matron but we are making huge bounds in the medical world,” he assured her. Leaning forward, he picked his paper from her hands and grinned. “And before you know it, we’ll even have a little shop at the front as you come in. Medicine is more than needles and popping pills after all. Think of all those patients lying bored senseless all day and dreaming of sucking on a strawberry bonbon.” He gave her a stern look.

“Matron Billings, it will change the face of medicine as we know it. Trust me, I’m the Doctor.” He took her hand and kissed the back of it gallantly with a playful wink. “Carry on matron.”

Blushing, she went on her way.

The Doctor made his way down the corridor, artificial lighting making his eyes hurt. He disliked artificial lights; it reminded him of the Capitol on Gallifrey. He was five floors up and he had worked out in ten seconds exactly where the light was coming from. He paused for a moment, calculating his approach through every possible obstacle or outcome. Even to the Time Lord brain, hospital corridors could seem like a maze, the monotony, the sterility, the sameness, all reasons that contributed to his leaving his homeworld. He rarely mentioned it these days. He never needed to. There were bigger issues now. He whipped out his sonic screwdriver, its familiar ping the only sound as he waved it like some great wizard weaving magic. Hospitals were places where even time was distorted. Minutes seemed like hours and days were robbed of their very names. Wards were battlegrounds that saw the strong fight to return to their own lives while others lost the struggle. The Doctor could feel death sliding along the walls like an oil slick seeking his next victim. He checked the shadows; not Vashta Nerada then. He was fresh out of chicken legs anyway. The Doctor then looked sideways to a blue door, the green from the tip of his sonic reflecting in his narrowed eyes. Flicking it off he pushed the door opened and strode in like he owned the place. An elderly woman of around seventy looked at him in puzzlement. He stood there beaming, sonic screwdriver hidden up his sleeve as eyes shot round the room. She stared at him, pulling her neck high nightie even tighter around her neck not knowing what to expect. There it was. The light source he had seen from the grounds; the reason the Tardis had brought him here.

A lit candle. But why?

“Hello, don’t mind me. Carry on what you were doing!” he said cheerfully as he moved cross the room towards the simple candle on the window sill. As deftly as the best magician on the planet, his sonic reappeared, whirring again as he waved it over the candle. It was about six inches high sitting on a small circular glass plate, caked with melted wax in little mountain ranges and emitting a waxy smell. He could see beads of condensation on the window catching the flickering yellow flame and casting its reflection across the glass like a hundred tiny candles straining at the night. He flicked his sonic again and took in the readings, frowning at the result. He turned when the old lady made an exaggerated clearing of her throat. She had white curly hair, piercing green eyes that reminded him of ones he had when he was in his sixth incarnation and a demanding look on her face that made him squirm.

“You’re not a Plasmavore then,” he muttered before slipping cross legged into the chair by her bed. He extended his hand and she took it awkwardly. “Hello, I’m the Doctor, you’re looking well, Mrs….” He dipped to the side to look at her chart. “Bush.” The name dropped from his mouth like a stone as he looked at her. She stared back expectantly. The Doctor stared at her, words locked in his throat.

“I knew it,” she croaked. “I knew you’d come in my last hours.” She reached a wrinkled hand for him and he moved forward to take it, more to reassure himself this was real and not some trick of an Eternal or the Celestial Toymaker. He continued to stare at her, unable to find the words.

“Did you regenerate without a tongue? But at least you don’t have to drink any carrot juice with that waistline,” she teased. He bowed his head, almost in shame.

“Hello Mel. I’m sorry, but how? It’s 1963.” He could still see the curly red haired computer genius that had travelled with his sixth incarnation with her hyer-personality and determination to get his rather ample waisted persona fit and healthy. Funny enough he had never drank carrot juice since. Then again, it would probably have taken a couple of weeks stranded in a jungle to shift the pounds in those days.

Mel squeezed his hand and sighed as if a lifetime of stress had just been lifted from her. “Ever hear of the Weeping Angels?” she asked. His eyes flared at her with horror and disgust.

“They got you,” he said simply.

She nodded in answer, hiding the regret and sorrow of the decades. “It was after I left you. I got back to Earth and settled back into life, but one night I found myself being chased by a stone statue. At first I thought I was imaging things. It didn’t seem normal for the things that happened to us in the Tardis would ever follow me back home, but they did. I found myself alone back in the past. I had to survive on my own, using my skills without becoming obvious.”

“I’m so sorry Mel. I didn’t know. I checked on all my companions a couple of years back when things were not good with me and you were fine. I’m so sorry.”

She tried to hold back a vengeful glare. She pulled her hand away, “I thought you would come back and rescue me. There was no UNIT for me to call, but I did work for Winston during the Second World War. I was his favourite code cracker but could I get him to stop those cigars?” She laughed at the memory.

“And before you ask, I was there when he used those Daleks as a new weapon. He kept me a secret from you because of the timelines at my request. I assumed you had a good reason for not coming for me so I thought it best not to upset history.”

The Doctor leaned forward fixing her with his eyes: “You always were the clever one, at times more clever than me. The Angels consume their victim’s future lives so they have to live their remaining lives in the past. Not even the Tardis can bring them back. I am so sorry.”

“I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t just abandon me, but then again I felt like you did.”

“I never knew Mel. But then that’s me, I suppose. I check once and think that’s it. Everyone’s sorted; life after the Tardis is great. Were you happy?”

She waved away his concern breaking into a burst of excitable energy before suddenly deflating again. She pulled at her blanket, her emotions stirring.

“I made do,” she admitted, “no point in filling you full of waffle, not at my age. I resented you for not finding me. I was so tempted to grab you in Churchill’s war room and run back into the Tardis.” She fixed him with a stare filled with regret.

“I did meet someone but he was killed in the Blitz. I never had children. I always wanted children. There was a group called Torchwood who were set against you.”

“I know. I met them, It didn’t end well… for anyone.”

“Well, I kept removing any talk or reports of you from any archives. Churchill agreed. It was better they knew as little about you as possible.”

“Thank you,” the Doctor muttered sincerely as he held her hand tightly.

“Watch the circulation Doctor; it’s not as good as it was. Not that I expect it to be at ninety six.”

“You’re ninety six!” he cried disbelievingly. “I’d swear you were late sixties at most.” Mel chuckled.

“I told you to drink carrot juice. We can’t all regenerate when the going gets tough.”

“But what did you mean ‘your last hours’?” he asked, tucking her blanket in just to do something as guilt overran him.

She patted his hand feeling how young it was beneath her wrinkled skin.

“The old ticker is on its way out. I won’t last til the morning, apparently,” she explained. “But that’s fine. You’re here to see me on my way.”

“Where there’s life…” The Doctor encouraged her.

“You were my life, Doctor. Even when you were gone and I fell foul for those bloody angels, you were still my life. I fought the good fight all the way in honour of you.”

He held her hand and brought it to his forehead. She could see him welling up, something that she never expected to see. She could hardly imagine her Doctor being so emotional.

“Tears, Doctor? The older you get, the softer you get,” she commented. “It seems that applies to Time Lords too.” She took her hand back and wiped a tear from his cheek with her thumb.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

“Stop apologising,” she chastised, giving him a slight slap on the arm. “The good times out-weighed the regret and resentment, believe me.”

A wave of fatigue came over her, making her lay back against her pillow. Concerned, the Doctor waved his sonic over her and checked the readings. Her breathing was becoming shallower and he fluffed her pillow, making her comfortable. Mel managed a smile at him.

“I can still see you in there no matter how many times you change your face, you know.”

“Only those I let into my hearts have ever said that. I never did thank you Mel for trying to help me. You were a calming force for me back then. Although I never really cared for all that exercise stuff; Time Lords aren’t made for it. There has never been a track suit on Gallifrey never mind a pair of shorts.” Her laughter made him smile.

“You have a beautiful eyes,” she sighed. “I never really noticed that before. They light up when you smile.”

“You were always beautiful. Even more beautiful than a Vervoid or the Rani, especially when she impersonated you.” He cocked his head as he rested his elbows on the edge of her bed. He was barely containing his emotion and hoped the guilt consuming him wasn’t evident.

“Why the candle?” he asked. “Is it religious?”

She blinked at him.

“No,” she said simply, “there’s a tradition that if you put a light in a window it will draw lost souls home once more. So I figured since I was lost, it would draw me to you one last time.”

“You lit it for me?” His voice almost cracked, but he held it together.

She asked for a sip of water which he gave her gratefully. With a smile, her old eyes glanced at the candle.

“It’s been lit for eleven days,” she admitted. “I had never given up, even when the doctors told me the bad news; although ninety six years can hardly be called a bad run. My will is set and everything has been arranged and paid for.”

“Ninety six; pretty good for a human,” the Doctor nodded. He settled in his chair. “It worked Mel. Your candle brought me to you in your hour of need. And I won’t leave your side, I promise.” She blinked back tears.

“Promise me one thing Doctor; promise me you’ll always fight things like the Angels. Fight the good fight, no matter who you lose or what comes to test you. Don’t let them take any more like me.”

“Easy words Mel, but I will try.” She gripped his hand tightly.

“No!” she snapped. “You’ll do it. You are so lucky to live life again and again but we get only one shot. You will never know how hard it was watching the Tardis disappear from Churchill’s chambers that night, but I resisted.” She bit her lower lip as she felt her life ebbing away. “You are the Doctor, you always will be. You give people like me hope. My time with you was all I had when the Angels took me so please don’t ever give up or look back. Continue the fight, not only in my name but for all the others who’ve travelled in that beautiful, big, blue magic box. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last but I’ll live on in the hearts of a Time Lord.”

He stroked her hair sadly, nodding, the words caught in his throat. She put a frail hand on his cheek where he held it to his skin as if trying to give her some of his regenerative energy.

“What more could I ask for Doctor? What more could I need?”

The Doctor nodded. “You will forever be here.” He touched the left hand side of his chest, “and here.” He touched the right.

“I will not leave until the last grains of the sands of your time run out.” He brushed a stray wisp of hair from her fringe drinking in every moment of her. “Now sleep Melanie Bush. Move on, knowing the candle worked and brought this lost soul back to you. And know I will forever be proud to have known you and to call you friend.”

He sat there not moving, struggling to fight the slow pass of time. Mel slept peacefully and he checked her over, knowing the end was near. When she took her final breath, he offered a Tibetan prayer for her soul and gently kissed her forehead. He stood, limbs stiff, and turned to the candle. He stared at the flame for a few seconds. He had never watched death like this, not up close and personal. He watched the morning dew run down the window and, like the morning, was weeping for his lost friend. He vowed to Mel that he would fight on, cutting the head of evil as it rose, no matter where it was and he would protect his friends with his life, even the ones he hadn’t met yet. The Doctor wiped tears from his eyes before using his thumb to extinguish the flame. He walked to the door before giving Mel one final look. He lifted the melted candle deciding he had a nice spot for it in the Tardis. He whispered goodbye before fetching the nurse.

He stood by the Tardis door. He ran his hand down her panel.

“Thank you old girl,” he muttered. His breath fogged on the dawn air. His looked back at her room five floors up and smiled. Time to honour her and make sure nothing like that ever happened again.

“Heads up Ponds,” he said. “Here we go again.”

Phantasmagoria Mag #18 now on sale!

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues Get your copy of the latest packed Phantasmagoria magazine featuring talent from everywhere including my article on the Stephen King classic Silver Bullet movie. Click on the link below to revisit this scary werewolf movie with Gary Busey. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantasmagoria-Magazine-Issue-Trevor-Kennedy/dp/B096D1C5LB/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=phantasmagoria+18&qid=1624644609&sr=8-1

Salem’s Lot’s Straker: The Man with a Plan.

By Owen Quinn

The wonderful world of evil gives us villains and monsters in every guise. From the deadly Sith Lord Darth Vader to Doctor Who’s Master to the human hating robotic Cylons, each of these examples has a very distinctive look.

However, the most dangerous villains of all are the monsters wrapped in the cloak of normality. The Stephen King story Salem’s Lot gave us antique business man Richard Straker. In the television mini series he was brought to life by the late, great James Mason.

In a change from the novel, the Tobe Hooper mini series decided to switch things about. Here, Straker takes centre stage and Barlow is kept off screen for quite some time. This heightens the atmosphere immensely. Like waiting for the shark in Jaws to appear, we are waiting for that moment when Barlow finally rears his ugly head. When he kills Ned Tebbets in his prison cell, mist and the wave of a clawed hand mark his arrival before his full terrifying face marks the last thing Ned will ever see. The terror on his face is as palpable today as it was then.

But the unsung villain of the piece is Richard Straker. Outwardly he is an elderly Englishman dressed immaculately and living alone in the dreaded Marsten House preparing to open his antique business so he can retire. However, the truth is he is a man with a plan paving the way for his Master Barlow, to whom he has total devotion. He has selected Salem’s Lot very carefully for his ends. As he tells Constable Gillespie, it is a town similar to small towns all over the world. Is this an indication that he has sacrificed other towns to his Master’s cause?

In the Time Warriors books, Varran and the others know only too well that evil uses the cloak of normality to cause the most damage to us. Straker has planned the destruction of the town for a while. As writer Ben Mears (David Soul) later tells Doctor Norton that the town was chosen because it is insular, somewhat inbred and full blooded, quaint almost. Straker knows exactly how to take it down in advance and what obstacles he must remove. These obstacles do not involve the townspeople because Straker is simply there to pave the way and has lit the fuse.

Interestingly, it gives us an insight that he has done this before and knows what to do. Ben Mears’ comment about the town being full blooded is more accurate than he knows. The vampire plague uses the citizen’s connections with each other to spread.

Ralphie goes after his brother Danny who then goes after their best friend Mark having converted Mike Ryerson in the cemetery. Mike then targets Jason Burke, his former teacher and man who gave him refuge when sick. Susan Norton targets boyfriend Ben Mears. Alcoholic Weasel converts his former wife, boarding house owner, Eva Miller. The now vampire Ned Tebbet visits Deputy Constable Nolly Gardner because he threw Ned in the jail to sober up after attacking Ben. So closely connected are they all that the vampire conversion is swift. It’s a perversion of human community taking something we all are part of no matter where we live and twisting it to suit Straker and Barlow’s needs.

What could be more disarming than an elderly gentleman seeking to settle down with an antique business for the rest of his years away from a hectic city? He’s a stranger, a little odd as he says to the Constable therefore the perfect suspect when a child goes missing. Anyone else in the police spotlight would be panicking but Straker literally invites it upon himself.

He knows how to play games with humans and what buttons to press. It is his knowledge of the horror he protects and humans’ refusal to believe the same that cement his victory.

Estate agent Larry Crockett is fuelled by money and power. He is having an affair with his secretary Bonnie and these weaknesses are what Straker uses to gain entry into the town. Simply by plying Crockett with money, Straker controls him without Crockett even realising.

For him it’s good business. He is literally Straker’s Yes Man. There is nothing he won’t do to ensure Straker is fully installed into the town. This is Straker’s intentions as well but on a much grisly and darker scale. Indeed, Straker says that he has told Barlow how helpful Crockett has been and will be rewarded accordingly. As we discover this simple compliment is in fact Straker marking Crockett as the first to be killed and turned.

Even the location for his antiques store is a metaphor for what his soul really hides. It was originally a doctor’s practice, a place of healing which is now a place of old pieces of history; objects that were once important but now lie decaying in a shop.

That is exactly what is to become of the townspeople of Salem’s Lot.

Vampires are literally walking history books filled with the stories of the forgotten and lost. They are walking antiques which make Straker the perfect guardian for his Master. He is the guardian of ancient darkness. We know he had businesses in London and Hamberg and his knowledge on the subject is second to none. Even when Ben Mears reveals his knowledge of Georgian silver through the death of his aunt, Straker is dismissive. He comments that the death of the woman is an unfortunate way to acquire knowledge. However when Straker learns that Mears is a writer who wants to meet Barlow, he grins and comments that Barlow will find Mears a pleasure. Is the implication here that Barlow absorbs knowledge from his victims equipping him to survive in our world and evade detection?

Indeed Straker is steeped in dark religion which we see through his actions. This also allows us a glimpse into how the vampire world works. Even they it seems have rules that must be followed.

Straker’s plan is to unravel Salem’s Lot from within so the vampire takeover can go smoothly. This means he must remove any obstacles in his way.

Straker kills grave digger Mike Ryerson’s dog, Faithful, with his bare hands. This echoes the hound the guards the gates of Hell which is now Straker himself. This echoes Ben Mears comment later that Straker is a guard dog for Barlow himself. He now stands at the gates through which evil can now flow freely.

The second thing he must do is sacrifice a child. There is a hint that Straker has some supernatural powers because he conjures a wind to separate brothers Ralphie and Danny Glick. He murders Ralphie and takes him to the cellar of the house. Using more money he has gotten Ned and Mike to transport Barlow’s coffin from the docks to the house. However they don’t follow instructions and padlock the cellar doors as instructed. Barlow has gone by the time he gets there (as Larry Crockett becomes Barlow’s first victim).

Halloween Kills full trailer

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues We can’t wait for this to come out. Will it be the final showdown between Laurie and Michael?

Infinite trailer 2 released

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues Streaming June 10th comes the latest movie form Mark Wahlberg. Touted as a cross between Wanted and The Matrix, it deals with reincarnated warriors. From the looks of this action packed trailer this one is one for the list.

Loki Miss Minutes trailer

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues Meet the Time Keeper’s very own Miss Minutes coming June 9th on Disney+

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We get to see the façade slip as he gleefully unwraps the child’s body and leaves it as an offering to his Master. In this instance the entire town’s death warrants have been signed.

His second obstacle is the law. He knows full well that the disappearance of a child will bring attention to him as a stranger. Thus begins a beautiful game of cat and muse between him and Constable Gillespie.  Straker in his body language and speech has no fear of the law.

Indeed when Gillespie comes to him asking to present his suits for forensics in the murder of Ralphie, Straker acts like the implication offends him. When Gillespie claims he is always on duty, Straker is almost rolling his eyes as he replies how safe and snug that makes him feel. You can be sure that Gillespie is also near the top of the list to be converted quickly.

When giving the suits over he goads Gillespie by pointing out the police officer’s inherent racism towards Straker for being different from the locals. This difference is heightened by Straker’s unfamiliarity to the Yeown (a local term for children). Not one to be beaten he confuses the Constable with the word Chao (Italian for goodbye).

 By doing this Straker highlights how insular Constable is by not knowing a universally known term for goodbye. It really shows his contempt for these people. To him there are insignificant ignorant creatures ripe for harvest.  As he walks the streets his subtle glances around him indicate Straker is mentally filling his larder for his Master to feast.

Gillespie is a tough cop who will face anything. He isn’t used to any challenges to his authority so Straker is new. As a weathered cop, Gillespie knows Straker is involved somehow but he is powerless to do anything. Without proof, his hands are tied. With more and more people disappearing and the deaths of several others including Ned, Danny and Mike, Gillespie knows he is powerless.

Whatever is happening is beyond his experience and something he can’t simply shoot or arrest. His bubble of Salem’s Lot is burst when he learns that there is more to this world than the word Chao. It is something that is undermining him personally. He is sworn to protect the town but it is falling apart around him. He cannot protect the people any more. In desperation, Gillespie gathers his family into his car along with as many belongings as he can gather and flees the town.

The third obstacle is the religious powerhouse. Father Callahan is the town’s conscience and keeper of their sins. He is the man that God has appointed to forgive sins and save their souls. There is nothing stronger than a person’s faith so for this battle, it takes both Barlow and Straker to take the priest down. As the beacon for spiritual faith Father Callahan is their most deadly foe. We have seen that Holy Water glows blue in the presence of a vampire showing us faith is a great weapon in this fight. All you need to do is maintain it in the face of these monsters.

As a Christian town, Salem’s lot is already cracking with the likes of Bonnie and Larry’s extra martial affair. Mark Petrie’s parents have no faith in his love of monsters wanting him to be more normal. He is a closet embarrassment to them but it is this faith in his monsters that makes him the ultimate warrior. Ben Mears’ is seen as a suspicious character due to his wife’s death years earlier despite being one of their own.  He is a threat because his imagination allows him to accept the possibility of vampires. His terrifying childhood experience at the Marsten House when he saw Hubie Marsten hanging from the ceiling and opening his eyes strengthens his belief that evil is very real. That is why he knows that the house is a beacon for evil.

Straker and Barlow’s conversion of the people is too far advanced. Father Callahan has noticed his congregation is dwindling and yet he isn’t strong enough to ask the questions he needs to. Like so many secrets, it is swept under the carpet.

When Straker confronts him in the Petrie’s kitchen, we see him at his most vicious. His words are designed to destroy the brick wall that is Callahan’s faith.

It is the only time he and Barlow stand side by side in the entire series such is the threat Father Callahan poses. He is a servant of the Lord just as Straker is Barlow’s. Callahan is the polar opposite of Straker.

Yet God fails to appear in the priest’s hour of need. These demons have murdered Mark Petrie’s parents in front of the priest, destroying a loving family without being invited indoors. It seems that is also a myth. Evil incarnate stands before him with both demon and human faces. It shatters Callahan’s faith…almost.

Straker attacks like a rottweiler, his words ripping away at the priest’s faith. Straker taunts him by ridiculing him as shamen, priest, holy man. He forces the priest to sacrifice his life for Mark’s.

Mason perfectly plays it as his face twists with venom and bile towards what he sees as an abomination. Callahan stands ready crucifix before him, his faith dissolving despite himself. Barlow hovers agitatedly afraid to attack. Father Callahan’s faith is still strong but is failing. The impossible stands before him shattering everything he ever knew. If these demons can simply walk in and destroy lives then why isn’t God stepping in to stop them?

Again Straker challenges to pit his faith against Barlow’s faith. Wavering Father Callahan falls internally allowing Barlow to rip the cross from the helpless man’s hands. If it hadn’t been for Straker’s words then there was a good chance Callahan would have held his own against the vampire. The scene also shows how devoted Straker is to his Master. He rips away at Callahan relentlessly, again knowing exactly how to deflate his faith. He is virtually exploding with excitement at the prospect of ripping out the religious heart of the town. The priest’s death secures the end of the town.

It is also this moment that allows Straker to finally show his true colours. The monster is unleashed as Ben, Mark and Norton storm the Marsten house to destroy Barlow. The shade of an elderly man is wiped away when Straker lifts Norton off the ground, holds him like a butterfly then with superhuman strength impales him on a wall mounted pair of antlers.

He then rips a solid wood spindle from the staircase and lunges to beat Ben to death with it. The writer knows Straker is a souped up human, a guard dog for Barlow but even he isn’t prepared for Barlow taking five bullets before finally falling. Even in his last breaths, Straker makes to rip another spindle as a weapon.

Straker may have shredded Father Callahan’s faith but he didn’t plan for the attack from Ben and Mark. It is Mason’s expression that convinces the audience that this is no ordinary old man and that he is not a happy bunny. His meticulous plan is in danger of coming unravelled.  He forgot that faith comes in different forms and this allows not only his defeat but Barlow’s also. Mark and Ben’s belief in the impossible makes them the unlikely guardians who can bring some sort of salvation to the town by burning it to the ground. Doctor Norton fell because he was so entrenched in his own clinical beliefs that even the resurrection of Marjorie Glick before his very eyes doesn’t entirely convince him of the vampire threat.

Straker saw the town as a sacrificial lamb but didn’t expect them to fight back. Changing his importance in the story ensured that Straker became not only a palpable threat but one that would terrify audiences.

Seeing a vampire kill someone is not a repugnant as seeing an elderly man unwrap a child’s body without emotion. Mason deftly jumps the line between charming and malicious in a heartbeat. His expression of cold fury is curtailed in a second by a pleasant greeting. By underplaying the menace he succeeds in making it more frightening in the simplest of expressions and actions.

No offence to Donald Sutherland in the remake but he doesn’t compare to Mason in the slightest. No other actor could have taken a line such as ‘I feel so snug and safe’ and make it sound like he’s telling the police to F off. Indeed when Mrs Petrie asks for credit for an antique for her husband’s birthday, his refusal and then immediate offer of holding it until Friday is chilling. He knows full well they will all be dead in days yet the woman leaves happy in the knowledge she will give her husband a happy birthday. We know it will never come.

Mason’s looks at the people he encounters are so dismissive and contempt filled that it is never obvious. However we as an audience know what is coming which leaves us screaming at the people to run.

If nothing else James Mason’s Straker proved that the darkest evil of all wears a human face.

Heath Ledger: A tribute

By Owen Quinn

Black Summer S02 trailer released

Posted by Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues We love zombies here at the Time Warriors hence the Zombie Blues books so it was ecitment all round when we found the trailer for the new series of Black Summer. It looks even more action packed than the first.

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“You won’t kill me out of some sense of self righteousness and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

This is what the Joker says to Batman in the Dark Knight and somehow they are strangely prophetic. When Christopher Nolan decided to redo the Batman Movies as he saw them, he kept the Joker for the second movie. Many wondered who could possibly play the Joker in this new grittier series with many stating no-one would ever match or outdo Jack Nicholson‘s portrayal of the madman who killed you with a smile in Tim Burton’s movie. And when word got out that Australian actor Heath Ledger had been cast in the role, the world gave a collected gasp of horror. Ledger had been best known for Brokeback Mountain and first Knight, he seemed a strange choice and immediately fans went a bit gaga. Then images of his make-up emerged; a more terrifying version than the clean cut Nicholson or Caesar Romero of old. This was a Joker for Nolan’s world of Batman, a world that didn’t entertain comic characters in tights but ground the villains into a reality where you could believe they could exist.

The Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul had gone down well with audiences and with hindsight we know Nolan knew what he was doing. I remember sitting in the audience in the cinema mentally challenging them to confirm the reports I had heard that Ledger had completely redefined the Joker. I sat, expecting to be entertained but never for a second did I think Ledger’s performance would leave me open mouthed as it did. This was a scarred Joker both mentally and physically who knew Batman as well as he knew himself.

I sat there watching as the Joker told the sad tale of how his father had caused his facial scars and I immediately was sucked into the story. Then when he told a different version of how he got his scars I actually said out loud: ‘I believed him before.’ I was blown away. It was only at that moment that I realized how magnetic Ledger was as Joker. I completely believed his story and was genuinely shocked that I had been fooled. But that was the beauty of his performance. Those little tics of the face, the movement of his mouth, the blazing eyes from a canvas of smeared clown paint as he taunts his enemies is electric. Even when he laughs when Batman hits him completes the madness that is the Joker. Ledger did the right thing and ignored what was gone before. Although when he dressed as a nurse it made you laugh out loud. He was an extreme personality that would go to extreme measures to get what he wanted, even if it meant cross-dressing.

Instead of bullet firing umbrellas and nerve gas balloons we got a man that came out of nowhere almost as if he has been spewed from the mouth of madness itself. When he is in the police interrogation room, Ledger’s silence speaks volumes as he rocks slightly and is twitchy. He knows what his grand plan is and is a simmering volcano waiting to erupt the minute Batman and Gordon finally figure it out. Even when he has no dialogue you can see the intelligence burning behind those eyes as they dart about, waiting for his moment to escape when his plan comes to fruition. He is twenty steps ahead of the Batman and takes great delight in making him figure out the Joker’s lethal game plan. He doesn’t care that a boat full of people will die when a button is pushed. All he wants to see is how far people will go to survive and prove that they are as insane as him in their own way.

The Joker wants the world to admit it is as screwed up as he is and who better to prove that than a man who dresses like a bat and roams the streets at night. Both hide behind masks, both live dual lives and both are out to prove they are right. Batman wants to give the world hope while Joker wants to show that the world is hopeless. He sucks the characters into his mind just as he does us. To achieve that in a character that is established in fans’ heads is no mean feat. And for two solid hours Heath Ledger did what no-one has done before. He made the world believe madness had taken human form. He is sorely missed.

Heath Ledger 4 April 1979 – 22 January 2008

Luke Skywalker: Rebel Without A Cause

Photo copyright Owen Quinn

So on the back of The Rise of Skywalker, my mate Stephen and I were discussing the ins and outs of the final part of the Disney Star Wars trilogy. I use that word loosely to be honest. Anyway the conversation turned to how the whole movie served to repair the mistakes of The Last Jedi. To me one of the biggest things was how it served Luke Skywalker as a character. It’s no secret that this was a massive point of contention for a lot of people including, allegedly, Mark Hamill. His line in The Rise of Skywalker where he tells Rey he was wrong was for me a shout out to The Last Jedi’s treatment of him. Were we really to believe that with his old friends and sister facing obliteration at the hands of the First Order that Luke would huff on an island? Would he really turn his back on his sister given the death of Han? The murder of his oldest friend had no effect on him whatsoever? This, I said in all confidence, was not the hero that took down the Empire. This was not the man that was to lead the galaxy back into light after the darkness of Palpatine and Vader; Luke was a hero that would launch himself head first into the depths of Hell for his friends and family. Stephen then stopped me in my tracks with one line to hit me like a wet fish.

‘He was the worst Jedi ever!’

He then proceeded to remind me of the original trilogy and when I thought about it, dammit he was right! By the end of Return of the Jedi, the galaxy should really have been shitting itself.

But then I had another thought. Was the Luke we met in The Last Jedi a victim of the burden put upon him? Was this youthful kid filled with dreams of greatness he would never be able to fulfill so others could fulfill their hang-ups through him? Could it actually be that Luke was not the ‘new hope’ but a symbol of the old Jedi order limping its way out of existence? If so, then the Luke that Rey meets is indeed the last of a dead line and it was only right a new generation take over. Was Luke just Ben Kenobi’s pawn in a decades old plan for vengeance? Maybe, just maybe, because you’re the only Jedi in the galaxy, doesn’t mean you’re the best.

Back in the old days it started so well. A New Hope wore the baby face of Luke Skywalker, a lonely farm boy that had a habit of looking to the stars. All he wanted was to join his friends in the academy. He drifted through life on a moisture farm in a haze of far away planets and space battles but Uncle Owen wasn’t having any of it.

Young, frustrated, unsure of his place in the world and rebelling against his family’s wishes, Luke immediately connected with every young person in the audience. We have all been lost in life, unsure of where we belong and looking to fields much greener and further away. Everyone of that age was Luke Skywalker back then. In that moment he stood staring at the twin sunset seeking far horizons, we saw ourselves.

Suddenly we were all A New Hope. The dark days of the humpy Luke in The Last Jedi was something that was inconceivable. The future was all lightsabres and wrap around tunics ablaze with amazing adventures.

Photo copyright Owen Quinn

However, the signs of ‘Last Jedi Luke’ were right there if you looked for them. Drawn by the hologram of Princess Leia, Luke abandons his Aunt and Uncle to go chasing into the desert to find the runaway R2D2. You can breeze all you want about a greater destiny but let’s face it, Luke didn’t really give a toss about his Uncle and the farm. Indeed, it led him to nearly getting killed by Sand People. Why? Because he just blundered in without thinking. “Oh the ways of the young and the foolish” you sigh. That’s true because most heroes start off as dicks until life kicks them in the nuts to become wiser and defeat the darkness.

Only the timely arrival of a pensioner in a bathrobe wailing like Godzilla saves him. This is the moment Ben Kenobi has waited for all these years.

The minute the manipulative Kenobi fills Luke’s head about his father and the Force, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were out like the proverbial baby in the bathwater. He was tempted to clear off without even saying goodbye with an old guy he met two minutes ago. Family loyalty made Luke refuse initially but this wasn’t to stop Kenobi. He lies and manipulates Luke with stories off his father and his tragic end. He was a good friend bleats the old hermit which translates as ‘until I crippled him and left the git to burn.’ (I know Anakin murdered the younglings but Kenobi’s actions were classic dark side material which Yoda warned him about).

Add to this he then gives Luke his father’s lightsabre to further sway his mind to abandon his family to suit Ben Kenobi’s needs. Let’s remember Kenobi stayed on Tattoine for a reason and had plenty of time to stew over the mass slaughter of the Jedi. There is no doubt that his pride was damaged because he had allowed Anakin to stew under his nose for years. If he had listened to Yoda years ago and sent Anakin back to his mother, then the Emperor may never have been able to wipe them all out.  By dismissing Luke’s doubts about leaving to fight the Empire as merely his “uncle talking” just shows how dangerous Kenobi is.

Let’s remember that it was Kenobi whom personally entrusted baby Luke to Owen and Beru as his world burned around him. You don’t do something like that lightly or trust a man with the child of the deadliest guy in the galaxy. Owen was Anakin’s stepbrother by marriage so the only family baby Luke had. Owen had met Anakin when he was hunting for his kidnapped mother Shmi. He would surely have heard of the slaughter of the Sand People and knew his new brother wasn’t really one to have round for Christmas dinner. So by committing to raise Luke Owen was putting himself at great risk and knew full well the consequences if Vader ever found out he had a son. So by Ben running the guy down like that just to get Luke to come with him is a sick puppy thing to do. Here is a young man desperate for answers plagued by years of believing that there was always something more to his life. Something told him that he belonged elsewhere. Kenobi delivered on a plate for him. Luke putting his family first put a big dent in Kenobi’s plans. But fate, it seemed, was about to intervene… or did it?

All that work Uncle Owen had to do by himself since his precious nephew buggered off wouldn’t be too much of a burden because, well, you know, he was barbequed by the Empire. Oh that was because, you cry, the Jawas told the Sand Troopers where to find the droids. Are you sure about that? Who tipped the troopers off about the Jawas in the first place? Kenobi could have used a Jedi mind trick from afar to ensure Luke’s compliance. It was the murder of his family that spurred Luke to travel with Ben and join the rebellion to avenge their deaths. Yeah, what a coincidence that it all fell into Kenobi’s lap.

Even when he is found out, Kenobi justifies the lie of who Vader really is with a brewer’s droop excuse ‘from a certain point of view’. Given this influence was it really a surprise that Luke ended up a grumpy old git caring for no one?

Let’s face it; there is a serious trend in the original movies of Luke having to get his ass pulled out of the fire time and again. Leia has to take charge of her rescue on the Death Star. R2 has to save him from the trash compactor and only for the ghost voice of Ben Kenobi he’d probably have been shot to pieces by Stormtroopers in the hangar bay as he tried to kill Vader for killing his buddy. As a side note Kenobi manipulates his own death as well. By making sure Luke sees Vader murdering him and in essence his Dad’s best friend then there is no doubt Luke will go hell for leather to destroy Vader. This is Kenobi’s plan all along. By manipulating Luke’s love for his father and placing him in a situation where not only are his guardians dead but now his new friend, his Dad’s best friend, Kenobi has set Luke on the path towards The Last Jedi. This is demonstrated as not even the pleas of Leia, whom he had become obsessed with, could break him out of his anger. All emotional ties he had for her from the second he saw her hologram is thrown to one side. Yes, by the end of the first movie Luke had become the hero having destroyed the Death Star but his actions didn’t help him fare much better in The Empire Strikes Back.

Going into the sequel, Luke Skywalker is a great man, at least in the eyes of the rebellion. He is one of the big boys (and if you read the Marvel comics you can understand why). All this attention definitely stokes an ego. Even the strongest of people will get inflated ideas about themselves. It’s natural but in Luke’s case not only does the Rebellion hold him on a pedestal, we also have Kenobi the friendly ghost chirping in his ear too. We’re not twenty minutes into the movie until Kenobi shows up and sticks his oar in again. Luke clears off once again based on ghost Ben’s advice to find Yoda the Jedi Master. Now please note the rebellion had just been forced off Hoth with no base to flee to. They were refugees again and under threat as the Empire were hot on their heels. Luke had no idea if Han, Leia, Chewbacca or Threepio were still alive or killed by the Imperial ground assault. He saw the Falcon take off but how could he know who was on it? He didn’t have mind powers at this point.

Yet none of that mattered. For all he knew the Rebellion had been exterminated, ironically mirroring the situation they faced in The Last Jedi. They were on the run and could have been picked off by the Empire.

Once again, Ben says jump and Luke goes how high regardless of the consequences to those he cares about. He drops the Rebellion at the first hint of his own needs. Again this doesn’t give me hope that Luke really cares about the greater picture. It seems that the moment matters only as long as it suits Luke or Ben.

 But the point is Luke never had a chance while his head was being filled with this stuff. People are disposable. Thank God nobody ever sent him for a midwife.

Luke never gave a thought to the possibility that the Rebellion may not even exist by the time he got through with Yoda. Luke is a man riddled with self-doubt, anger and bull-headed stubbornness which sort of describes most of us. It’s just not handled very well in George’s writing. In his initial meeting with Yoda, the little green guy doesn’t want to know. In a beautiful symmetry to The Phantom Menace, Yoda dismisses the son just as he did the father only to be swayed by Kenobi. The old ghost plays on the tragedy of Order 66 to convince Yoda to give Luke a go. It is with great reluctance that Yoda finally accepts that he will train the son of Vader. Like most teenagers, Luke is stroppy, full of self-doubt and even Yoda is not sure he will be what Ben thinks he will be. Luke’s battle with the phantom Vader in the cave does not inspire the Jedi Master at all. Again in a nice parallel, Yoda lifts the X-Wing from the swamp to prove anything is possible just as Luke does with Rey years later in The Rise of Skywalker.

But before long Luke is off to Cloud City to save his friends from the hands of Darth Vader. Before you say it, I know I’ve pointed out already how his friends’ welfare comes and goes for Luke so I’ll give him that in this instance. However, he refuses to listen to either Yoda or Ben this time.  Although, if you stop and look at the scene, we witness the most half hearted, nay, I can’t even say half, it’s more like one eight of a millionth trillionth effort from Kenobi as he ‘begs’ Luke to listen. Look at the scene. He raised both hands like he’s about to do the Agadoo proving in body language alone, Kenobi is making sure Luke does what he wants.

As far as Luke is concerned he is ready to fight and will be back for ‘top-up’ training when he saves the day. Oh boy, does this kid never learn? Even Yoda’s puppet face bears the expression of WTF?

The Cloud City rescue for me is the perfect example of why Luke just isn’t really the person to rely on when you’re in a tight situation. I’m quite sure when Leia saw him coming for them she thought, ‘Aw Jesus, I remember the last time he came for me. Isn’t he a little short for a Jedi?’

 I swear to God she did.

Luke knows full well it is a trap but his confidence in himself is his undoing. He saves nobody and ends up having to be rescued himself. To be fair, he could never have seen what was coming because Vader had his own plans for his son. Lure him in and trap him in carbonite, whisk him off to the Emperor and show how good things are on the Dark Side. Any wonder this kid fell apart years later with being everyone’s pawn?

The ‘I am your father!’ would have felled Goliath himself but Luke didn’t really think it through. He was full of ‘I destroyed the Death Star’ and ‘I can lift rocks like a Jedi’ frame of mind but his short-sightedness’ was his downfall. Luke made no attempt to hide his approach to Cloud City. He might as well have sent invites announcing his arrival.

He gets his ass well and truly kicked by his dad. Han is lost to Boba Fett. Leia, Chewie and Threepio have to be rescued by former enemy Lando Calrissian and Lobot. Luke has no part in it whatsoever. Well, he has one less part because Daddy removes his hand. Now trapped like a rat Luke has to decide how to deal with his daddy issue and not become a Dark Side puppet. It’s not really good news for the rebellion or the galaxy in general because he decides to fall to his death. It’s all a bit of a mess. The Rebellion is homeless, Han is gone and Luke has decided to end it all which will completely demoralise the entire movement. They have lost both their hope for the future and a respected General.  Now that would have been a killer cliffhanger.

But, weakened physically and emotionally shattered, Luke is literally hanging by a thread until Leia rescues him in the Falcon. The great hero is a shrivelled prune, all previous go in guns blazing and save the day ideology suddenly ash on the wind. Luke is on his knees, everything he knew is a now a lie. His trusted mentor Kenobi is revealed as a lair and now Luke knows why he saw his own face in Vader’s cracked helmet back in the cave on Dagobah.

Luke is the very thing he hates most in the universe. His father wants him to rule the galaxy. The Rebellion wants him to restore it. The Emperor wants to seduce him to secure the Empire’s rule over the galaxy. It’s great to be popular but it’s a real Prozac moment.

Return of the Jedi is generally seen as Luke’s greatest triumph but when you look at it, he doesn’t really deserve the credit. As usual it’s all down to everyone else. He just gets over his Daddy issues.

But to give credit where credit’s due, his plan to rescue Han from Jabba’s palace is at least a plan; just one that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Either he knew what was going to happen or he had covered all bases which explains hiding his lightsabre in R2. It does show, however, that he has learned from the kick in the balls that was Cloud City which is positive; proved quite handy in the end, well, half handy…sorry, couldn’t resist.

Photo copyright Owen Quinn

If Luke cannot even organise a rescue, then how the hell was he ever going to successfully run a Jedi academy and restore the order?

The Jabba plan is so convoluted to be a head scratcher. While I know it’s really average writing to allow the toy companies to start production but sending his buddies in one by one into Jabba’s palace amid all the new figures and toy sets just doesn’t make sense. What was that all about? Was he hoping that Lando could rescue Han (I know he’s there for recce and infiltration too) or was Leia supposed to get Han out alive before anyone noticed? That was hampered by the fact Chewie was locked up but Jabba was on to her resulting in a gold bikini.

So for Luke to then stroll in all Mr Confident and suddenly a fully fledged Jedi looks cool but he’s not. He never finished his training but apparently has graduated to full knight status. (Don’t be crying by the way there is a book that fills in that gap and Luke did finish his training because it’s not canon and written years after to fill a plot hole, end of) Being dropped into the Rancor pit was not part of his plan but being taken to the Sarlacc pit was??? R2 knew when and where to wait to propel the lightsabre through the air for Luke to catch??? So was Leia a secret assassin or…???

Listen, my head hurts so I’m going no further with that pain (yes pain, not train) of thought. Besides how can Luke decide he’s now a knight when he can’t run super speed like Qui-Gon and Obi Wan in The Phantom Menace?

Now as we know a final massive attack is being planned against the Empire to destroy the second Death Star. It’s all hands on deck yet Luke decides to piss off to Dagobah to finish his training…supposedly. He promised he’d return but apparently got full training elsewhere the shock of which kills Yoda!

On the way back to Dagobah after the sand barge explosion, Luke tells R2 ‘I have a promise to keep’. Yeah Luke but that promise is very school of Kenobi i.e.; from a certain point of view.  With Yoda dead Luke feels he cannot go on alone but in wades Kenobi to stir the pot and further screw up Luke’s head. Kenobi is such a knob he admits he was lying but not really admitting he was wrong. How did the moral Jedi rule for so long? Lying is something bad guys do. This is the man Luke has pinned his hopes on to guide him from the start even from the other side?  He has been exposed as a fraud with no signs of apology or regret. His plan has worked. Luke is now committed to a final showdown with Vader. There is no way back now.

If you listen to the dialogue Kenobi is telling Luke if he doesn’t kill his father, then the Emperor has won. Kenobi’s plans are as bad as the Emperor. Could, in some Jedi mind fuzz, this advice came to haunt Luke as he was about to murder his nephew? It’s further evidence that Kenobi has a lot to answer for. What we learn when we are young shapes us for the future and if this was the guidance Luke got then no wonder he decided to retire to Skellig Island to milk blue walruses. But Luke is adamant his father can be saved.

Now I fully understand the need for the son to reconnect with the father because as Luke says he can still feel good in Vader…Ok but twenty minutes ago he couldn’t feel a Rancor under his feet; just saying. With the assurance of Kenobi that Luke has to kill Vader he returns to the rebel fleet and joins the mission to destroy the shield generator on the Endor moon.

The rebels don’t matter to Vader or the Emperor because it is all a giant trap but doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd that Luke abandons his friends once again to face his father and be brought before the Emperor? Seriously? How has this guy any friends left? He drops them quicker than a Love Island contestant when the Hello magazine deals run out. Luke is consumed by his need to save his father when the fate of the galaxy depends on the rebels successfully destroying the generator. How dumb is he to not even think for a second that if his Dad can sense him near then this might actually be a trap designed to wipe the rebellion out? Is it just me that thinks Luke is so caught up in his Daddy issues that nobody else really matters? Yes, I understand it but his timing sucks. He knows it too by the expression on his face when the Emperor reveals the whole thing was his trap.

Everyone he knows is about to die. Way to go Jedi Knight! Remind me again why he took the hump and cleared off to leave his family and friends to be slaughtered again in The Last Jedi? It’s ironic that he feels that his Dad needs saving but to hell with everyone else both now and in the future. Let’s face it; the Empire wasn’t defeated because Luke beat the Emperor. He didn’t. Vader did.

No; Lando, Leia, Han and Chewie along with the droids, Admiral Ackbar and every other pilot in the fleet beat the Empire with their inventiveness. It was Lando that came up with flying closer to the destroyers to save the rebel ships. Ackbar focused the attack on the super Star Destroyer. Chewie hijacked the chicken walker so Han could get the bunker opened. Plus the Ewoks kicked ass!

It can be argued the Emperor’s arrogance and faith in his visions made him sloppy but Luke had nothing to do with his defeat either. Vader died to save his son but moments earlier was quite prepared to hunt down Leia and seduce her to the Dark Side. Am I seeing a pattern of dumb behaviour in father and son? Both are puppets of other people when all they need to do is clear off and reunite as a family. Vader doesn’t save Luke to save the galaxy; he saves him because he is his son which is very cool. Equally when Luke joins the Ewok celebrations, why does nobody say ‘some bloody help you were’.

In the end it didn’t matter because the Emperor is not dead and if Luke was such a great Jedi Master in the end how come he never sensed him anyway? Don’t tell me that none of the Jedi ever sensed the emergence of Darth Sidious or Maul either because that doesn’t wash. By Luke’s time there was a hell of a lot less Jedi to learn from and Palpatine isn’t that powerful because he fails to see how father and son would end him; not end the Empire, just him.

Jump forward and Luke creates his academy with not a lot of pupils. One of which is his nephew young Ben. Maybe it’s the fact that this kid is named after the man that lied and manipulated Luke that causes him to falter. Maybe the effects of Kenobi make Luke throw a wobbler. Perhaps he believes that it would be in the greater good to kill young Ben and stop history repeating itself. It could explain a lot but it also doesn’t make sense for Luke as a character. He brought his father back from years serving evil yet his first instinct is to murder his nephew when he senses a bit of darkness? It’s consistent with Luke knee jerking situations to suit himself regardless of what else is at stake.

As a previous new hope, the arrival of Rey should have reawakened some faith in him to rejoin the fight but he doesn’t. Grumpy git syndrome has well and truly set in. A stranger has travelled across the stars begging for his help but he shuts down. When he appears to Rey in The Rise of Skywalker and admits he was wrong; all I could think was ‘About frigging time!’

 Although that thought was aimed at the bearded grump in The Last Jedi, it could also apply to his entire story.

Technically Luke is a victim of Jedi lies and manipulation but chose to have faith in himself where his father was concerned. Luke was peripheral to the battle, not integral. His Star Wars journey was all about reconciling with his father and becoming a man; not becoming a Jedi. He is the last remnant of a dead religion and literally flogging a dead horse. The Skywalker curse is that they will always fall to the dark side and maybe come back. That is not a legacy you want to build any new hope on. When Anakin appeared as a Force ghost alongside Ben and Yoda at the end of Return of the Jedi why doesn’t Anakin turn to Kenobi and say ‘You mind telling me why you told my son to kill me asshole? You burned me alive and cut my legs off. Jesus, talk about bearing a grudge’.

In the twilight of Luke’s life he is able to astral project himself across the galaxy (he can do this but still can’t sense the Emperor?) to visit his sister one last time and kick his nephew’s ass before dying on a rock for no apparent reason. There was no purpose to it story wise or logic wise and for me, that kind of sums up Luke. He had the mantle of Jedi but didn’t live up to it. It was a burden rather than a destiny thrust upon him by others desperate to avenge old wrongs. Like immortality it was a curse, not a blessing.

The Jedi Order was flawed to begin with and the relics of it reduced Luke to a victim and a pawn; a classic sins of the father figure.