nuWho: The Christmas Invasion

Not unlike “Rose”, we pan from the Moon down into Jackie Tyler decorating her Christmas Crimbo tree. It’s white and gold with pastel lightbulbs, the better to blend in with the room. Then she picks up her present for Rose and looks at it with concern. Some naughty prop artist has underlined her name on the tag with a Jesus fish. Religion in a Christmas episode? What do you think this is, EWTN?

Anyway, she and Mickey both hear the TARDIS materializing, impressive since Mickey’s immersed in Automotive Repair Foley and bad British Christmas covers. They reach the usual landing spot, and the TARDIS appears overhead and they scrunch waaay down a good few seconds before it actually heads at them. It bounces off a few buildings but manages a two-point landing, and a strange man pops his head out. He has loud body language and accosts Rose and Mickey physically as he tries to recall what he needs to tell them. He announces “Merry Christmas!” and falls over unconscious.

Rose pops out next, and announces that this isn’t a spacetime hobo, it’s the Doctor. “Doctor who?” a befuddled Jackie insists, and with that ding! we’re off to the intro. The green and red have been toned down, just in time for Christmas, to pink and lime. That reads sarcastic, but it’s much appreciated.

The Doctor is now in a comfy bed in the Tyler residence. Jackie has “borrowed” a stethoscope from another flat, but she thinks what the Doctor really needs is a hospital, with a proper doctor in attendance. Maybe next companion, Jackie, as Rose has visions of alien dissections dancing in her head. Upon hearing the Doctor has two hearts, Jackie immediately wants to know if he also has two . . . anything else. One imagines she wondered the same thing about Spock back in the day. The Doctor exhales a drop of golden regeneration energy, and we get to watch it whisper its way into space.

Rose is teary-eyed about having to get to know a new Doctor. But she quickly decides her mother’s sex life is more interesting. You’re all alone on that score, Rose.

Then Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister, talks to the press on the telly. Remember when the Doctor said Harriet Jones would preside over Britain’s Golden Age, which was at least a different flavor of dumb in a generally dumb episode? Well, for whatever reason, PM Harriet is getting written out this episode, and it’s not like last season repeatedly told us “history can change”, so we’ve got to prove the Doctor right. So Jackie declares that her wages have gone up and that everyone is already calling Jones’s reign Britain’s Golden Age. That’s asinine, even in this day when everything must be labeled right away. Generation Y, indeed.

Rose is also all alone in recalling the Slitheen episodes fondly, but she did good there so it’s understandable. Meanwhile Harriet Jones is defending her space program on grounds of national pride, but it’s a probe to Mars. I expected a cheap satellite broadcasting “HELLO WORLD” or aiming a Fisher-Price telescope at the stars, but no, this sucker’s preparing for descent, destination Mars as they speak. It’s Mars — don’t you wait until the probe disappears before you start bemoaning the cost? I sense subtext. I think the “waste of money” must refer to bloated budgets and maybe a no-bid contract or two, and Jones just avoided the issue with a “YAY BRITANNIA.” Will it actually do any science, Prime Minister? Whose palms are being greased here?

Anyway, Guinevere One promptly smacks facefirst into a moon, which turns out to be an artificial construct that sucks it in. Wow. Mars expeditions peaked under Queen Victoria and it’s been downhill ever since.

Rose is out with Mickey, who joshes at her for talking about nothing but her TARDIS adventures. Their romance is still on the rocks, but they can laugh and accept each other better now. Rose tries to just enjoy herself, but notices the street music is being played by people covered by identical Santa Claus masks and robes. This is creepy when you’re in Doctor Who. And then they all lower their instruments and stare at Rose. This is creepy wherever you are. And then one strokes his trombone and it blazes forth Yulefire at her, which is a universal red flag. The other Santa Clauses (Santa Clausi?) also open fire, and everyone screams and runs away.

Rose and Mickey flee using fruit stands for cover without knocking any over, which I needn’t tell you violates basic rules of storytelling. Then a Claus launches a TUBA missile at them, knocking a tree over onto himself. No witty one-liners, no tomatoes flying everywhere. This episode is sinking fast.

“Santa got SLEIGHN!”
“Jolly old Saint DEADolas!”
“Looks like he’s PINING for the fjords now!”
“O Christmas Tree, O NOT THE FACE!”
“Hey, Santa’s really SPRUCED himself up for the holidays!”
“O come, all ye FATALITIES!”
“Deck the Claus with boughs of FOLLY!”
“Are you sure it isn’t Halloween, cuz you just got TRICK-OR-TREE-TED!”
This isn’t hard. I
even made a tree.

Rose and Mickey race home to Jackie. Rose is practical, wanting to go to ground far away, but is distracted by a standard green Christmas tree in the corner of the room. The tree waits politely for them to figure out it shouldn’t be there, then lights up and whirls at dangerous speeds and advances upon them. If you know exactly where a Time Lord is, just send a spinning tree to kill his buddies, and then send some Santas to comb the city for them because apparently you don’t know exactly where they are.

I know, it’s a silly Christmas episode, doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at it.

Anyway, Mickey (per usual) tries to fend the tree off to cover their escape, but Rose won’t leave the Doctor, so they wind up barricaded in with him. Desperate, Rose puts the sonic screwdriver in the Doctor’s hand (remember this is when you had to have some clue about how to operate it), then leans over and whispers that she needs help. The Doctor pops up as if he’d been faking all along and explodes the tree. He then leads them outside to find several Clausia holding the tree’s remote control. They back off and teleport away, because you don’t mess with a Time Lord before his new regeneration has woken up properly.

The Doctor says the Santae were attracted to the tremendous regeneration energy he’s radiating. The Doctor mentions a “neural implosion” resulting from being awakened early and says he needs something, at which Jackie rattles off painkillers and food until he tells her to shut up. The Doctor warns them that there will be something bigger coming, then collapses into a pained sleep.

The Doctor gets tucked back in, looking worse for wear, and the humans all shaky-cam watch a press conference about the Mars probe, starring a stammering nerd that someone cruelly promoted out of his natural habitat. This being a Christmas episode, Mickey spells out the “sharks following pilot fish” thing the Doctor mentioned again, then we get probe footage of a bony, red-eyed, wolfish, snarling visage.

I’m guessing this is our bad guy.

Anyway, the world is flipping out, and Over-Promoted Nerd confers with UNIT and Harriet Jones. Penelope Wilton puts a strong personality into Jones starting right now, forceful and practical without any coldness. You’d hate to let her down on a professional or personal level. They all watch a scary red blip leave Mars for Earth. Rose and Mickey watch along on a laptop, because I guess “buffalo” is still the password for everything everywhere. And then the aliens cut in and rhapsodize in Huttese.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality?

Rose is upset that the TARDIS isn’t translating the Huttese for her, because the only explanation is that the Doctor is “broken”. Rose’s descent into despair never takes over the episode, but is a vital part of its emotional core, and she pulls the viewer down with her to be properly receptive when the Doctor makes his grand entrance at the end.

Meanwhile the U.S. President wants to take over from UNIT, and we all know the only thing Americans do with things that scare them is pew pew. So Harriet Jones tells the President off, then confers with a UNIT officer. No report of the Doctor. No thought of tracking down Rose. Torchwood comes up for the second time. Harriet allows nobody is supposed to know about Torchwood, but she does know, and she’s willing to activate them on her authority — clearly A Drastic Step.

The translation arrives: the Sycorax own Earth and its inhabitants, so surrender or watch ‘them’ die. Jones sends back a message of peace or begone.

The Sycorax response is to activate a blue light around the heads of billions of people around Earth. These people just blankly walk around, until they find a high spot where they’re one step away from plummeting to their death. It’s a frightening process, with people seeing their loved ones stripped of their selves and put into a clear hostage situation. Rose, who has moved on to the “frustrated inadequacy” phase of the grieving process, tells Mickey that “there’s no one to save us. Not anymore.”

But O.P. Nerd has figured something out: the K-Mart people must all have A+ blood. The Sycorax have done something with the blood sample from Guinevere One. Uh, I don’t see the point of having stuff meant for aliens onboard a Mars probe. Mars is dead as far as Nerd knows. Frankly, it’s an unacceptable contamination hazard.

So P.M. Jones goes on the telly and asks the world for calm, then begs the Doctor for help because she has no idea what to do next. Rose breaks down, taking the Doctor’s condition personally, telling Jackie that “he left me, Mum.”

But there’s no time for that, as the Sycorax (great alien race name, btw) enter the Earth’s atmosphere, producing a glass-shattering sonic wave that murders whatever that glass pineapple thing is. O.P. Nerd has a very GIFable take, rising into the shot, delivering his line with his eyes focused desperately at the cameraman’s thumb, then sliiiding his eyeballs to the side to look at . . . who knows?

Outside, the spaceship glides into view like an asteroidal leaf on the wind for all the extras to stare at, and stare at, and stare at some more. This episode certainly likes to set its own pace. It works, but one notices it. Rose looks long and hard at the ship, and comes to a decision. They’re going to take the Doctor into the TARDIS and just hide there.

Meanwhile the Sycorax beam Harriet & co. up. Remember the Santas beaming up? Feels like an entire episode ago. Anyway, the humans materialize in the Klingon court from ST: VI, which isn’t very reassuring. A Sycorax removes the wolfish helmet to reveal what looks like bone and muscle underneath. I’m with Nerd: put the helmet back on, please. Nerd tries to sort of inverse-Picard speech some mercy out of the Sycorax, but the alien flays the meat off him with an energy whip. The UNIT chief protests that that was a bad show, old fellow, and gets skellified in turn. Harriet Jones identifies herself, to which the Sycorax becomes the third person to tell her that, yes, he already knows who she is. He also tells her that she has a choice between letting half of Earth be enslaved or letting the third that has A+ blood die. Nasty choices indeed. Incidentally, what are the A+ infants doing?

In the TARDIS, Mickey and Rose fiddle with the central console’s screen dealy to see if they can pick up a broadcast. Somehow their fiddling is heard in the alien ship, and the Sycorax get paranoid and beam the TARDIS onboard to see what the Earthlings are hiding from them. Rose wanders out to see what Jackie is up to and gets nabbed immediately. Her scream brings Mickey out and he gets nabbed too. All that’s left safe in the TARDIS are the Doctor and Mickey’s Thermos, which drips tea onto a blue mushroomy bit of machinery.

Harriet recognizes Rose. Rose tells her that they’re on their own, then they all get lined up in front of the TARDIS for a photo I guess. The lead Sycorax decides that since Rose has the shiny box, she’s the one in charge. Despite having felt useless, Rose accepts the responsibility: “Someone’s got to be the Doctor.” Split between fear and bravery, she invokes Article 15 of the Shadow Proclamation blah blah blah, but the Sycorax just laugh it off. The lead Sycorax calls her a child, but his words turn to English as he nears the end of his monologue. Everyone turns dramatically as the camera zooms in on the TARDIS, and 41 minutes into the episode, the doors open and the Doctor appears at full tea-empowered strength. He smirks just a bit and asks, “Did you miss me?”

The Doctor yanks the energy whip from the lead Sycorax’s hand, breaks his other weapon over his knee, and immediately begins to assert his full personality in classic style, telling the lead Sycorax to just stay put for the moment. It may be significant that the first thing he does is give Mickey a delighted greeting. No residual disdain here, thank goodness.

Anyway, he intensely asks Rose how he looks, and after being disappointed at not being ginger he tells her off for giving up on him — but then acts a little surprised at how “rude” he’s being. Then he reassures Harriet that he is the one and only Doctor and begins to catch up with her. All of this, of course, without regard for their circumstances. The lead Sycorax demands to know who this person is, which is of course the very hook the Doctor needs to go off on a ramble about all the things he might be, but doesn’t know about yet . . . and then the Doctor catches sight of the pink jewely orb that the lead Sycorax has been standing by most of the time.

He investigates, tastes the blood in the dish underneath, identifies it as human A+. That’s one Time Lord ability I could have done without knowing about, but it puts him on the right trail. “I haven’t seen blood control in years!” he exclaims delightedly. Then, talking about how he just doesn’t know how he will react to a “great big threatening button that should never ever be pressed,” he grins maniacally and pushes down on it.

That frees the A+ people. With the lead Sycorax trying to save face, the Doctor explains that blood control can’t actually force anyone to kill themselves. It was all a bluff. The Doctor tries to persuade the Sycorax to leave humanity alone to realize its potential, and accidentally starts quoting “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. When that doesn’t seem to have any effect, he challenges the lead Sycorax to a duel. “You stand as this world’s champion?” the alien roars. “Thank you. I have no idea who I am, but you’ve just summed me up,” the Doctor replies.

They fight with longswords. Just basic longswords. Or broadswords maybe. Not an expert, but the Sycorax’s form doesn’t impress me. I know, Christmas episode. Anyway, the Doctor is getting the worse of it, so he heads outside for a change of venue. That doesn’t work so hot either, as the Sycorax quickly cuts the Doctor’s sword hand off, then turns away to roar his victory to the onlookers. But the Doctor grows a new hand into existence, then when Rose throws him another sword, declares it to be a “fightin’ hand” and goes on the attack.

The Doctor wins and the lead Sycorax swears to leave Earth alone forever. He hugs Rose and walks away chattering about the fruit he found in his borrowed houserobe. Upon hearing the Sycorax come up behind him to kill him, however, he throws the fruit at a button that causes the “ground” to retract from under the alien (why?), leaving the dirty cheater to plummet to his doom. “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man,” the Doctor grimly says.

He goes back inside to deliver a warning to the Sycorax assembly: stay away and warn others to stay away. They’re all teleported tellyported back down to Earth and get to watch the Sycorax ship fly away to the sound of triumphant music.

On being asked, the Doctor tells Harriet Jones that, sure, there are thousands of alien species out there, and they’re noticing Earth more and more! He clearly means it as a “chin up and have a blast” sort of message, but Harriet takes it the other way. On hearing that Torchwood is ready, she sadly, reluctantly gives an attack order. Death Star beams lance out from London and destroy the Sycorax ship.

The Doctor is of course angry, calling it murder. Dead UNIT Guy would agree. Harriet insists that it was necessary, to prevent word about Earth spreading to others who might plunder the planet while the Doctor was not around. He refers to the human race as monsters, and she wonders whether she will have to protect the Earth from him. He threatens to end her ministry with six words, and when she doubts him, whispers in the ear of her sidekick, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” . . . and simply walks away with his Tyler retinue, freaking Harriet out.

The rest of the episode is Christmas and wardrobe festivities, Harriet sliding down the slope of public opinion, and festive meteors and snow-ash falling from the sky.

The main takeaway about Tennant’s Doctor from this episode is his dominance. When awake, he dominates every frame he’s in. He dominates the screen when he’s loud or soft, when he claims to be at a loss or when he knows every letter of what he’s doing. He strides regally onto the balcony to confront the Santa Claus aliens. When he catches himself drifting into Disney song, he never loses any intensity. He dominates the lead Sycorax from beginning to end . . . well, we’ll call the swordfight a tie. Harriet is built up to be forceful and charismatic, but her PMship is sacrificed so that his personality can steamroll hers the moment she moves against his wishes. I think this was done so that “Is the show still worth watching?” was answered not by his looks or personality, but by his sheer force of presence. You may not actively like this Eccleston replacement, but he demands your attention . . . and meanwhile the other characters you love are still around. And that grants Tennant the time to grow into a Doctor you do like.

Rating: 3 Sycorax wolf masks

Favorite dialogue: Mickey: That’s fascinating, because I love hearing stories about the TARDIS. Ooh, go on Rose, tell us another one, ’cause I swear I could listen to it all day, TARDIS this, TARDIS that.
Rose: (grinning) Shut up.
Mickey: “Oh, and one time the TARDIS landed in a biiig yellow garden full of balloons!”

Me and my big mouth: thinking I’d never have to talk about the Slitheen mess again, back in the S1 summary

Featuring bits from: ST III, ST VI, SW V

Shoutout to: The late Adams Douglas Adams, when the Doctor mentions meeting Arthur Dent

Christmas rankings:
1. The Christmas Invasion


On political philosophy

I grew up a political conservative by default, a rules-concerned little boy in a largely conservative family. As I matured, I became more liberal. I still consider myself largely a conservative, but I hold a more liberal viewpoint with respect to some issues. Now, this isn’t a screed about how brilliantly correct my politics are; my politics have evolved enough over my life that I know perfectly well whatever I write now will be cause for wincing when I reread it ten years in the future. No, lucky reader, this is yet another screed about how screwed-up American politics are, and yet another plea for sanity.

It won’t be long, no worries. I just have three points to make, nice and simple.

#1: Conservatism, liberalism, whateverism: these are at most rules of thumb, not ideals to be attained.

When I say I’m largely conservative, it’s more of a general thing than identifying with the current political meaning. I don’t throw ideas out just because they’re “old”. I like being cautious, especially with decisions that are important or look like they could spin out of control. I don’t care for fixing things that aren’t broken. And things that are broken should be fixed carefully, with some forethought, lest they become even more broken or cause problems elsewhere.

Conservatism (or liberalism, or moderation) should be considered a temperament, a tendency, not a law of nature. “Let’s hang on to whatever’s in place” is a stupid law to live by, just as much as “Let’s ditch whatever we have” or “Let’s just go down the middle”. Look at the problem, look at the data, look at the proposals. Apply ideals, apply history and personal experience. Then make the call: what should we do? If at any point you ask, “Well, what does my party think? I’ll just follow their lead” then at best you are not contributing, and at worst you’re part of the problem.

#2: The universe is too complicated, and people are too messy, for a single political philosophy to completely describe a practical society.

Forget about politics for a moment. Let’s say your high school yearbook calls you “Sweetest Person” in your graduating class, and you’re kinda proud of that. Is that going to rule the rest of your life? Are you going to refuse to ever lose your temper again just because of a few stupid words? How about if people call you a penny-pincher, and you’re proud of how frugal you are? Are you willing to rule out an “impulse buy” that would be worth it, just for pride’s sake?

No? Then why do people act like that in politics? Embrace the label as far, as strongly, and as long as it accurately describes your concerns; the moment it doesn’t, cast it off.

#3: Stop hypocritically circling the wagons.

This was actually what, ahem, inspired me to write this post. If the other person does it, and you call them out, apply the same standards when one of your people does it. If you piled in on the other person without mercy, now you don’t get to say, “Well, technically these cases are different because [piddling difference] . . .” or “Let’s wait until all the facts are in.” Did you stop to consider the details in the first case? No? Then the details don’t suddenly matter when it’s your side’s reputation on the line. If you’ve changed your mind and the thing does or doesn’t matter to you now, (wo)man up and admit you were wrong before.

Same thing holds in reverse.

I can respect you whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, or even a Cubs fan. I can respect you if your politics show a desire to change the world for the better, to avoid losing good things to fear or hate or apathy or plain old foolishness. The moment you start defending people just because they have the right letter next to their names, however, is the moment I start losing respect for you. I don’t care what ideology you think you’re fighting for. We aren’t here, ultimately, to play at tribalism. We are here to make lives better, even when it means we have to change ourselves in ways we might not appreciate.

My politics have changed over the course of my life. Right or wrong, they’ve changed to reflect my understanding of the world, and my desire for America to be the best it can be. I think that’s healthy. They didn’t change just to blindly match whoever happens to say things I like. I think anyone would agree that would be unhealthy. And, need I say, this country’s politics are very sick indeed right now.

MST3K 11×14: No goose in this one

“Edgar R. Burroughs? They’re really trying to spread the blame around.”

The movie: At the Earth’s Core, which feels like it might have been better if they had come up with the idea themselves instead of adapting a book

No smoking in the giant drill, but you’re taking along your fine china? Okay then.

I suspect if this movie were made today, the guy would have gotten the girl somehow or else she would have ended up dead. Not sure which era of movie-making that reflects more positively on.

All the host segments are good here. The meta backhanded compliments as Crow and Tom tell Jonah he’s pretty okay for not being Joel or Mike, the steampunk robots (although Crow is just eh), the camaraderie, fun songs, the approaching and actual wackiness, and what’s this? Dynamic camera angles for the big finale? Yes please. Everybody’s clicking, Cynthia certainly included.

Max confesses the movie is kind of fun, and it seems likely the riffing team thought so too: A lot of fun references here, ranging from Carol Burnett to Hungry Hungry Hippos to Tim Burton, and fun riffs in general.

That was quite a shock ending, and Kinga’s reaction is flawless. Not a hint of humanity there, without coming off as a monster. So, was Jonah not sure if he’d want to come back, or was Joel not confident of getting a second season, or did they just want to do something different?

I say hidey-hole.

Push the button: A strong ending to the season. Overall it’s a pretty good, enjoyable season, especially if you allow for the actors settling into their roles and relationships.

Top of the top episodes: Reptilicus, Yongary, Wizards I, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

The not-so-great: Loves of Hercules, Wizards II

The episode I mainly remember as “Oh, and that one happened too”: The Land That Time Forgot

Funniest invention: Probably the Afterlife Alert in Time Travellers

Funniest host segment: Probably Gypsy’s time travel safety lessons from the same episode

#12: The Millennium Falcon was brainwashed by Hydra during ESB

Straight from a disturbing part of our subconscious, it’s . . .

The Top Eleven Plot Twists We Want To See in The Last Jedi

11. The heroes get into a fierce sabers-vs.-blasters fight, but Mara Jade comes out of nowhere, tells Luke, “I got your back, hon”, and turns the tide. WOOHOO!

10. Kylo Ren either grows a spine or gets over himself.

9. A battle for an orbital robotics factory ends with the factory exploding, with droids and droid bits spraying in all directions. Stopping the DVD at the right frame reveals: droidekas, V.I.N.CENT, Bender.

8. While dealing with her late husband’s belongings, Leia finds Han’s stash of C/7 Voyager fanfiction.

7. There’s a subplot about trade disputes and it’s absolutely gripping.

6. Finn goes to Endor’s moon to recuperate from trauma he feels because of all the evil things he did as a stormtrooper, and finds he shares a love of show tunes with Wicket III. And yes, that leads to the final celebratory scene at the end of the trilogy in exactly the way you expect.

5. “Shoot, Rey! SHOOOOOOOOOOT!”

4. Snoke turns out to be a fist-sized human-salamander hybrid who just sits really close to the holoprojector.

3. Artoo dresses up as Darth Vader for Halloween Death Day and totally scares the stuffing out of everyone.

2. Remember all that nonsense about midichlorians boosting your Force powers? Turns out that was just propaganda from the eugenics-industrial complex.

1. Luke has no deep philosophical convictions about wanting the Jedi to end. He’s just been depressed since the last Quizno’s within a parsec closed its doors.

Void Pyramid: it’s pretty okay

Void Pyramid is an old-school computer game released in 2016 by A. Hagen, Shea Kennedy, and DJ CJ Buckets (don’t blame me, I’m just reading off of the credits screen). It’s free on Steam and elsewhere. In this game, you are a lowly Egyptian banished to the Void Pyramid by the Prime Pharaoh. Your mission is to escape the Pyramid. Since the V.P. gets its name from being a pyramid that flies through the void of outer space, and since it’s filled with random encounters that want to kill you, rob you, and devour your soul, this is going to be a difficult task.

Combat is very simple, there being a few permanent powerups that may or may not appear in any given game, plus a couple of combat items that can be bought. Mainly you mash the attack until the enemy is dead. If you play at all cautiously, survival should not be an issue. The game’s attraction lies elsewhere.

Part of the fun is good old-fashioned stat grinding so that you can win fights more easily, pass stat tests, and thereby penetrate deeper into the labyrinth. And I think the game is well-balanced in this regard.

The stats themselves are worth mention. There are the usual Attack/Defense/HP, but there are also three special stats that make the game much less grindy. Brawn increases the chance that you will insta-kill an enemy, taking you straight to the reward message. Wits increases the chance that you will get a proper reward from winning a combat. By default, a combat earns you perhaps 1-20 Deben, the currency. There is a chance to get a “reward”, however, in which case you either win about 100 Deben or a stat increase. Since increasing a stat costs 100 Deben, Brawn increases the chance you’ll zip through the next combat without risk, while Wits helps you gear up to survive future encounters. Both are very helpful in decreasing the sense of unfun grinding. There is also Agility, to help when a pickpocket tries to relieve you of your consumables.

But the main fun comes in being clever. The game makes it very clear within the first few rooms that you should pay careful attention to the graphics, crude though they might be. Paying attention will allow you to get through rooms, discover hidden passages, solve puzzles, and find caches of goodies. Thinking about the rules of the game is also necessary to solve the game completely: there is a list of artifacts that are hidden within the Pyramid, and getting each requires a different method. Admittedly, I felt the need to look two or three of them up, but all were achieved in ways I could be reasonably expected to try.

Although combat may be monotonous, the environment is not. As might be expected, the Pyramid is divided into several sections, each with their own visual scheme and background music. Individual rooms often have their own environmental hazard, such as one screen with several blacked-out hallways to choose from to get from the west entrance to the east exit, each hallway containing increasingly dangerous enemies as well as statues to bump into. The enemy sprites are entertaining, ranging from “scary” to “freaky” to occasionally funny.

The descriptions of items and surroundings are also welcome, often supplying some indirect world-building to expand upon how strange the game’s world is to us. I mean, really, ancient Egypt and space travel.

Replay value exists, but is limited unless you’re really into the game, as the game itself is about the right length for feeling like I’d gotten a full experience out of it. The special “permanent power-ups” I alluded to above are probably the main attraction in this regard. (I found a knife that boosted my crit rate, as well as a shield that blocked most enemy crits. Those were pretty sweet.) Three classes cause you to start with different levels of stats, but you should be able to eventually grind all your stats to whatever level you need them. Mainly, I would guess their effect is that different early areas are accessible earlier or later based on what class you take. The end of the game, as an Internet FAQ makes clear, varies depending on several factors, so that adds some replay value, as one tries to get better (or simply different) results.

It’s free and it only takes up a few MB, so if you like this sort of game, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s no world-shattering experience, but it is well-designed on all counts, and worth killing some time with. For me, it’s the sort of game I play through once and enjoy, then leave untouched until an idle afternoon years later, when I remember it and think “Hey, I enjoyed it that one time, why not give it another go.”