Offensive, harrassing or baiting comments will not be tolerated and will be deleted at my discretion.
Comment spam will be deleted.
Please leave a name and either a valid web-site or e-mail address with comments. Comments left without either a valid web-site or e-mail address may be deleted. Atom Feed LiveJournal SyndicationLOLcats feed
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Paperback Book Club
Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol, 1990, Graeme Curry The Doctor overthrows the government of a thinly veiled Margaret Thatcher in a single night. Ah, the 90s...
There are so many things worth mentioning here, but I can't stand the possibility of spoilers, so let's do it this way:
The re-union of Sarah-Jane and Davros is a brilliant touch.
Captain Jack meets his match in Donna, though his flirting with Sarah-Jane was a nice touch.
Rose is the most selfish, spoiled character I've ever seen, because even when she's given the one thing she (and all the shippers) want, her own private Doctor she doesn't have to share with anyone, she still manages to complain because he's "only" a clone.
The fate of Donna will break your heart. If it doesn't, I don't want to know you.
As we're coming to the end of the series, I've decided to switch up the format a little. Think of it, if you like, as the Doctor Who reviews from a parallel universe. That's thematically appropriate, at least.
Catherine Tate's performance is very nuanced. Her "Donna that never met the Doctor" is still recognizably Donna, but the distinctions let us see how much the character has progressed since her first appearance.
Yes, Rose is back. Luckily for us, this is the Rose we saw in Rose, the one we liked, the one who brought the Doctor back from the black place he was in after the Time War.
The notion of the Doctor as "the man who makes people better" is hammered home here, to the point of exhaustion. We didn't need a somewhat tacky Godwinism about England's government to get the point.
This is a very continuity-heavy episode. I lost track of the characters and plot threads from the last four season, Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood that are referenced here. If you haven't been watching those other shows you may be lost at one or two points.
I'd like to say that this is the episode that puts to rest the nagging Who fans who can only seem to complain about Russell T. Davies's writing for the show, but Who fans just wouldn't be Who fans if they weren't complaining about something. Which is a shame, because while the nuttier aspects of Who fandom are out there complaining about "the gay agenda" being shoved down our throats because of an off-hand line from one character, or the fact that money was saved on the effects budget by never actually showing the monster, it means they're missing out on one of the best episodes not only of the current season, but of both the original and current series as well. With Midnight Davies has written a truly dread-inspiring horror tale touching upon the fragile nature of identity and self, along with an inspired take on the old sci-fi chestnut "and humanity turned out to be the real monster all along."
David Tennant gives his best performance of the season in this claustrophobic little number, especially in the scenes that drive home the ways in which the Doctor needs a companion, not only to ground him, but to humanize him while he's trying to help others. A companion less Doctor doesn't quite work, and the near disastrous consequences of the Doctor going off on this adventure without Donna spell that out: his alien nature makes him as much of a threat to the scared as the real menace. Lesley Sharp makes the most of a role that doesn't require much of her for most of the episode, which is a shame, as the scenes where Sky is still Sky make for an intriguing character study, and Rakie Ayola gives another nice performance as a character who manages, in a few carefully chosen words and deeds, to exemplify both the best and worst natures of human beings.
The conclusion of Steven Moffat's latest two-parter takes advantage of the rather dramatic separation of Donna and the Doctor from last week to tell two parallel stories, one of the Doctor and his dwindling band of astronaut's efforts to survive the attacks of the carnivorous shadows, and Donna's experiences in a strange world in which time moves in leaps and bounds. Structurally it's quite a neat trick Moffat pulls, with revelations doled out between the Doctor and Donna so that neither of them alone quite manages to pull together the complete picture, but the audience can, as the audience shares the omniscient perspective of the mysterious girl from the last episode. Some of the more chilling ideas from the last episode don't really get followed up on very strongly here, with the Vashta Nerada becoming something like just another Who monster, though the Doctor's realization of how they came to infect the library is really quite good touch from Moffat. Surprisingly, the great strength of the episode is Donna's sub-plot detailing her experiences in the other world, as Catherine Tate gives an extraordinary dramatic performance that puts to shame what passes for acting and emotive ability in science-fiction dramas.
It seems almost criminal to even review this episode, given the emphasis on avoiding spoilers that the story has, but it would be a shame to let it go without comment. This has been a strong season for Doctor Who, and this is another excellent episode, which isn't too surprising given that it's another one written by Steven Moffat. Moffat seems determined to turn a generation of British children into neurotic paranoids, and here he manages to come up with a monster that should be even more stunningly familiar to people than statuary or clocks. He also gives us more of his trade-mark exploration of the Doctor's personal and romantic life, this time in the character of River Song, played beautifully by Alex Kingston, a woman who knows far more about the Doctor's future than she should. Add to it some of the best dialogue you're likely to find in a Who episode, and a location so off-kilter that statues with real human faces is one of the least disturbing things on display (and I mean that in all seriousness...the concept of the data ghosts is heart-breaking in the extreme and real for true nightmare fodder), and we've got a really, really special episode.
Plus, we get some more nice eye candy in the role of Proper Dave:
After last week's...unpleasantness...it was refreshing to get back with another fun, light adventure that showcases the comedic talents of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, which Gareth Roberts' The Unicorn and the Wasp does quite nicely, in addition to being a strongly written episode. And don't make a mistake, this is one of the most deliberately comedic episodes of Doctor Who I can ever recall seeing, and it is to the episode's credit that the comedy comes from a strong sense of the character's and the setting, never devolving into a Murder by Death-lite farce, which a story involving Agatha Christie and a murderous alien wasp was easily in danger of. Instead, we got a story that balanced humor with an appropriate seriousness regarding the events from the characters.
If there's a fault in the episode, it's in the lack of character development in the supporting cast. Fenella Woolgar gives an outstanding performance as Agatha Christie, playing her as a sparklingly intelligent woman, beset by personal doubts and the fear of irrelevance. The rest of the guest cast, however, are left with fairly one-dimensional roles. There aren't any bad performances in the episode, to be sure...though Charlotte Eaton as the mysterious Miss Hart does grate in a few scenes, but slightly more depth to the characters might have made their secrets and fates more affecting.
That I've found this to be one of the most enjoyable episodes of the current series, despite that flaw, isn't surprising. Gareth Roberts also wrote one of the better episodes of last season, The Shakespeare Code, and both episodes share a strong sense of the main character's personalities and crisp dialogue, rich with allusion and wordplay. It was also worth noting that, despite how the new series of Who overall has been very gay-friend and gay-positive, this is the first episode in which we get an explicit gay rights sub-plot, instead of just the casual, matter-of-fact inclusiveness that has characterized almost all the other occurrences of gay characters and themes on the show. It goes without saying, then, that this episode really annoyed a certain type of Doctor Who fan, not to mention those fans who were outraged by the (hey, spoilers) anti-Christian sentiment of the episode that those prone to over-analysis in search of something to be offended by found. I'm just enough of a contrarian to be pleased that something I enjoyed annoyed people I find stupid and unpleasant.
"Best episode" and "worst episode" is one of those personal preference things that you're unlikely to find more than two Who fans to agree on. For years, I'd say that The Power of Kroll was probably my least favorite episode of the original series, with Tooth and Claw and Gridlock as close ties for least favorite new series episodes. (And yes, that does mean that I'm the one person who doesn't mind either Love and Monsters or Fear Her.) However, that being said, and I really do hate to say it, Stephen Greenhorn's The Doctor's Daughter is easily, bar none, my least favorite episode of both old and new Who combined. And, here's the thing, I can't talk about why I so strongly dislike it without spoiling big chunks of it, so you may want to come back on Saturday to read past the nice fish-man thingie.
Let's get the fanboyish nonsense out of the way first. As appealing an actress as Georgia Moffett is, and as promising a character as Jenny could be, she is not, in fact, the Doctor's daughter. She's just a clone of the Doctor. Here the producers of the show had a chance to do some real meaningful work on the Doctor's back-story, and instead they chicken out and give us a fake-out. It's frustrating, as it's the kind of cop-out that seems calculated to appease both the "the Doctor must never have any kind of a hint of a sex-life" old-school fans and the "Rose is the Doctor's one true and only love" new school fans.
But, even setting all that aside, there are serious flaws in both structure and concept in this episode. The notion of a colony destroyed by warfare is fine, the notion of the war only lasting a short while is fine, but the notion of the war lasting only a short while, and the colonists not realizing this because they're all clones and the original colonists are all dead doesn't hold up. If all the soliders we had seen were in their apparent twenties, but when the leader of the human forces is obviously approaching middle age, he's either deliberately lying about the length of time the war has lasted or no care was taken in the casting. Martha is also completely wasted in this episode, doing little more than providing an excuse for the fish-like Hath to reach the central colony ship at the same time as the humans. The one good thing in this episode is the infectious joy that Georgia Moffett brings to the role of semi-Time Lady Jenny. Watch it for her, and try to blot as much of the rest of the episode from your memory.
I'm a bit under the weather, so let's try for a "under one hundred words" review.
The conclusion of the fourth season's first two-parter manages a few "wow, that was neat" moments, while nonetheless unfolding in a manner that was fairly easy to predict given the set-up of the first episode. It strives for an epic conclusion, but only peters out rather tepidly. There are clever moments, and the callbacks to previous episodes that added to the appeal to nostalgia of the first part continue, but the whole thing does wind up with a bit of an "oh" feeling.
The first two-part story of the first season, Helen Raynor's The Sontaran Stratagem feels a lot like a throwback to earlier eras of Doctor Who story-telling. There's a lot of nostalgia on display in this story. We have the return of an old enemy, we have the return of U.N.I.T. (now with a less United Nations annoying name), and we have the return of last season's companion, Martha Jones. We even have a plot-line, evil GPS devices of potentially alien origin and a super-genius with fascistic tendencies collaborating with aliens, that is highly reminiscent of the Jon Pertwee era of the show. We also have a rather too long flashback to this season's previous stories. Thematically, it works with this story, as the story as a whole functions as a kind of dividing line between the earlier episodes, the "meet Donna Noble" period of the season, and the later, more meta-plot heavy episodes. The look back grounds us in where we've been, so that we have a fresh slate going into the remaining episodes. It's also nice, for a variety of reasons, to see Freema Ageyeman return as Martha, even if it's only for a limited engagement. The new series of Who has often been criticized for its focus on "domestic" scenes, rather than grand space opera, but it's a change in the format that has worked for the better, I feel, as it means that there are consequences for traveling with the Doctor, not just for the companion but for their families and for the rest of their lives, a notion that the original series only rarely dabbled in. It's also rather a nice touch here that Martha and Donna get on, as one of the most tedious aspects of the prior "new companion meets old companion" story, School Reunion was the childish jealousy both Rose and Sarah Jane indulged in.
Threads to Watch For ATMOS pays off Other than that, slow week for meta-plot
After the heights of the previous two episodes, it feels like damning with faint praise to point out that Keith Temple's Planet of the Ood is merely good. Following up on a two year old plot thread, the Doctor and Donna find themselves on the Ood-Sphere, next door to the Sense-Sphere (and seemingly our completely gratuitous minor old series continuity reference for the season). The Ood are in the midst of a semi-rebellion, with formerly subservient Ood turning into rapid killers and attacking humans. The Doctor, feeling guilty over failing to save the Ood in his last encounter with them, or to ask how it was even possible for a sentient race to willingly sell themselves into slavery, determines to uncover what is happening to the Ood and the best way to help them.
Overall, it IS a good episode. We have a nice action piece, a big explodey battle sequence, and some nice moments with Catherine Tate and David Tennant. Donna in particular gets several good scenes here that emphasize her compassion for others, which are nicely contrasted with the Doctor's more "big picture" perspective. He sees the problem in macro; she sees it in the suffering of individuals. It was also nice to see the return of several themes from both the old and new series highlighted here, chiefly the banality of evil, which is expressed here in the form of an evil corporation and a blisteringly obvious comparison of the Ood's lot to contemporary factory workers in the Third World. What I would have liked to have seen more of was the nice inversion of the standard sci-fi cliche that takes place in this episode, namely that the evil, enslaving aliens are humanity.
Plot Threads to Watch For Bees disappearing "Your song must end soon."
I'm apparently going to really have to take the time to track down a copy of James Moran's film Severance. Not only has he written one of the stronger episodes of Torchwood, "Sleepers," but his premiere Doctor Who episode is one of the most emotionally compelling stories they've aired on the program in years. At the root of the episode are questions that the show has rarely dwelled on in its history; to what extent is the Doctor responsible for the lives he endangers by his presence? What gives him the right to meddle in certain aspects of history, but not in others? Moran's script takes these questions and puts them into the context of a very old-school-Who-ish "monster of the week" alien invasion story. When the Doctor and Donna attempt to land in ancient Rome, they find themselves instead in the city of Pompeii, the day before the Romans learn what the word volcano means. Immediately the Doctor and Donna find themselves in conflict, with the Doctor wanting to flee the scene as soon as possible, and Donna insisting that she and the Doctor do something to try and save the citizens of Pompeii. Naturally, the Doctor discovers a deeper mystery, hinting at alien involvement with the city, which he must solve with a very precise deadline hanging over his head.
Little touches that Moran brings to the story make it more than a simple "the Doctor fights aliens" story. In keeping with the tone set by the previous story, there's a good deal of comedy on display, mostly centered on the domestic scenes that have become the trade-mark of new Who, as the Doctor and Donna befriend an upwardly mobile Pompeii businessman and his family. Some of the jokes are even a bit overly pun-based, including a bizarre in-joke regarding character names that only makes sense if you took Latin in a British school (or have it explained to you over the internet by someone who did, in which case the impact of the joke is...not so much). The conflict between the Doctor and Donna is handled well, with Donna arguing from the perspective of compassion and the Doctor from necessity, and with it a strong subtext of an earlier critique of the Doctor from Donna, way back in "The Runaway Bride," that what the Doctor really needs, sometimes, is someone to stop him. It's the sort of argument you can't imagine Rose or Martha, or even very many of the Doctor's earlier companions, ever having with him. It's very nice to have a more mature companion, one without stars in her eyes, as it allows this kind of surprisingly sophisticated conversation about morality to occur on what is a family adventure show. And Catherine Tate and David Tennant do an exceptional job once again with the acting in these scenes. It appears that the two of them bring out the best in each other as performers.
Plot Threads to Watch For "She is returning." "There is something on your back." The Medusa Cascade Missing planets
I do my best to temper my fannish enthusiasm for Doctor Who with a reasonable step back in an attempt to view it objectively. But, even when doing so, I'm inclined to call the fourth season opener, "Partners In Crime," one of the best episodes of the new series, and one of the better Who episodes overall. The new series of Who has always had its own, distinctive voice, and in this episode that voice now feels both matured and self-confident enough in itself to play around with the expected format. New Who has done comedic episodes before, but it's never felt as if the comedy was as integrated into the script as it is here. This is a Who that is willing to laugh with the audience a little bit more.
A lot of this is down to the very sharp interactions between Catherine Tate and David Tennant as returning companion Donna Noble and the Doctor. Donna is a more mature companion than either Rose or Martha, and she retains the wide-eyed sense of joy and thrill at exploring space and time that is necessary in a companion, but without the hero-worship of the Doctor, or worse, the goo-goo eyes, that Rose and Martha, more often than was probably necessary to get the point across, frequently exhibited. It's also telling that, unlike Rose and Martha, who in their introductory episodes were presented as running away from their old lives, in this Donna is quite consciously choosing to run towards something. It's a very subtle distinction, but it's an important one. Rose and Martha entered the TARDIS almost entirely on whims, at highly emotional moments. Donna is seeking it out, actively pursuing a new way of life.
Tennant is also remarkable in this, and he's not often praised for the quality of his acting, as he inhabits the character of the Doctor so easily and effortlessly. It's already very hard to think of the character, to my mind, without thinking of his portrayal. But he does a terrific job here of emphasizing the loneliness of the Doctor, his separation from the rest of the world, and his desperate need, not to have someone to be clever at, but to have someone to share the universe with. And as strong as his performances with Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman, his performance with Catherine Tate is I think even stronger. They play off each other in a rapid-fire manner, and Tennant is frequently placed in the uncharacteristic role of the straight man. In terms of character development, it's also worth noting that the Doctor has matured enough, after 900 years or so, to recognize when he has been in the wrong, with both his past actions and in his treatment of his companions, particularly Martha.
The plot is fairly low-stakes by Who standards. There is no big, menacing threat that endangers the whole world; instead, the "evil" is infinitely more banal, an exploitation of human weakness for alien ends that, were it not for the amoral practicality of the Doctor's opponent wouldn't even be that big a deal, as even the Doctor reluctantly acknowledges. That this plot leads to the creation of what are, easily, the most irresistibly cuddly alien monsters the show has ever seen, leading to one of the most sublimely ridiculous "aliens march on London" sequences ever shown.
Plot Threads To Watch For Missing bees Missing planets ATMOS The girl in the jacket
It's two whole months in a row where there was enough amazing/horrifying things in Previews to warrant a post.
Let's start with Dark Horse
That is easily the evilest cat I've ever seen.
But that's okay, between Indiana Jones Adventures, The Complete K Chronicles and Wondermark: Beards of our Forefathers the publisher easily makes up scaring a year or two off my life-span with horrifying Japanese cats.
It's not directly relevant to the issue of Buffy solicited here, but I do want to note that straight guys congratulating themselves for their commitment to diversity by putting hawt lesbo sex into their films, comics and tv shows really aren't fooling anyone at this point. Of course, I'm sure someone will pop along any minute now to lecture me about how Buffy having sex with another woman for the titillation of her male fanbase is empowering to women...somehow...
There are actually quite a number of things coming out from DC that are interesting, but they're interesting in that "I've been reading super-hero comics for 25+ years and this looks like an entertaining example of the genre." Which is a rather select value of "interesting" but there you go.
Image has a new issue of Tod Nauck's under-rated Wildguard comic...and another beefcake-ish figure from McFarlane Toys...that's two months in a row. Weird.
Avengers/Invaders is drawn by Steve Sadowski, so that'll look good...and, yeah...that's about as nice as I can be to Marvel this month.
All I'm willing to say in public about Dave Sim's Judenhass at this time: yeah, something tells me this isn't going to end well.
This is awfully random merchandising:
I know others have mentioned it, but this “zombie variant cover” shit has got to stop:
At this rate I fully expect Archie to get in on the action.
Gemstone brings us the third collection of Carl Barks Duck stories paired with a sequel by Don Rosa. This is a very good thing.
Knockabout Comics has an adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Hunt Emerson. This is going to be one of those very good, very worthwhile comics that almost no one will talk about.
Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who story “The World Shapers” is collected by Panini. Doctor Who. By Grant Morrison. It pretty much goes without saying that you should be buying it.
Platinum Studios has something called I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space. For ninety-nine cents. From Platinum Studios. Only $ 0.99. Platinum Studios... I’m genuinely torn...
Radical Comics seems to have slipped under my radar, but I see they have a Free Comic Book Day sampler coming out, and a very potentially beefcake-tastic Hercules comic, as well as a Western retelling of Arthurian legends. Both these ideas are interesting to me, even if the samples in Previews look a bit heavily Photo-shopped for my tastes, coloring wise. I’m cautiously curious.
There is what appears to be a fumetti version of the live-action Asterix film Asterix at the Olympic Games coming out from Sterling Publishing. I’d really rather know when a Region 1 release of the live-action films can be expected.
Viz is re-releasing Rumiko Takahashi’s One Pound Gospel, which surprises me, as I seemed to recall it not selling well during its inital release. At all. Like, below Urusei Yatsura levels, which Ranma 1/2 and Inu-Yasha fans seemed to reject in droves. I’ll probably pick it up this time. Though I would really like to see the return of Urusei Yatsura... They’ve also got the Kazuo Umezu series Cat Eyed Boy, which feels pricey for manga at $25 a volume, but look at this:
Yeah, I’m there.
Okay, so I know I was just praising the idea of Indiana Jones Adventures, but an Indiana Jones Magazine just seems like over-kill. We’re going to be sick to death of Indy by the time the movie comes out, aren’t we. It’s going to be The Phantom Menace all over again.
Of course, a magazine isn’t as much overkill as a "fake leather" $75 hard-cover...
Previews also has John Barrowman’s auto-biography, Anything Goes, solicited for sale...that’s a little surprising. It’s mostly about his career in theater.
"Say Mr. Comics Retailer, I wish to purchase a t-shirt that advertises to the world my devotion to the lowest lows of pop-culture ephemera." "Well, young lady, how do you feel about a shirt featuring a pedophile with erectile dysfunction that is allegedly a Star Wars parody?"
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we started to get Song of Fire and Ice merchandise of this nature but still I was surprised to see this:
Eddard and Sandor look fairly book-accurate, but something about Daenarys feels really off to me. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable with a somewhat sexualized statue of a fifteen year old girl...
Dear Japan, A cloak and knee-boots are not acceptable winter wear;
A page and a half of Sweeney Todd merchandise...at last, the real motive for making the film is revealed; giving Hot Topic something to sell the nine months out of the year no one gives a fuck about Nightmare Before Christmas.
Rose would be played by an actress half Billie Piper's size.
Mickey would be Miki, Rose's peppy yet nerdy side-kick.
Both Rose and Miki would be straight, but there would be plenty of lesbian innuendo between them aimed at male audience members.
The Doctor would only appear for five to ten minutes of each episode, acting as Rose's mentor as he helps her fulfill her special destiny.
Captain Jack would be incompetent and straight, yet his relationship with the Doctor would be even more homoerotic.
Everybody would be in love with Rose because of how special she is, even though the traits people say they admire her for are never actually demonstrated. In fact, she acts like a selfish, spoiled, stuck-up bitch pretty much all the time.
Rose would frequently talk about traveling in time and space, yet we would never actually see it happen on the show.
Everybody would be white. Except for Martha, who would show up for two or three episodes and then get killed off. We can't have anyone threaten to displace Rose as the most interesting character, now can we?
For that matter, Donna would never appear on the show. What, you think people want to watch a show about an old lady having adventures? And forget about having Astrid, even as a guest star. No competing blonds, are you insane?
The Master would be in every single episode. He would be in love with Rose. Eventually his love for Rose would cause him to reform, therefore robbing him of what little bits of characterization made him interesting in the first place.
The show's fixation on Rose would last past the point at which the story structure makes sense for it to focus on her at all, past the point at which any compelling drama can be wrung from the character or her situation. To the point, frankly, where other characters start to look and act like total dicks because the show's creators don't trust the audience to move on past Rose. Uhm...hold up...
There was some recent toy news that got me excited, for appallingly fan-boy-ish reasons.
There's a new 3 3/4 inch line of DC figures coming out, featuring the usual suspects (Batman, Superman, Hawkman), some pleasent surprises (Question, Commishoner Gordon, Batwoman), some head-scratchers (Hush, Weather Wizard) and several generic figures (Gotham PD, Thangarian Wingmen). And of course, an absolute MUST HAVE figure for everyone:
There was also an official announcement of the long-rumored Doctor Who Mini-Mates. These were a no-brainer buy for me anyway, but this seals the deal:
What kind of interesting tableaus can I create with a Mini Jack Harkness, Mini Wildcat and Mini Leather Daddy Wolverine...
For a show that has weathered more than its fair share of painfully literal story titles, Voyage of the Damned still manages to feel like a particularly acute name. Even considering that the average fatality rate for Doctor Who is around the 90% rate, writer Russell T. Davies still managed to put out a particularly bleak and down-beat special episode for family-hour Christmas viewing. And remarkably it works quite well. This is largely due to the deft hand Davies has developed on the show in balancing humor and drama. A good portion of that humor in the episode comes from a clever inversion of the usual Doctor Who formula; instead of taking a human into space and exposing them to the wonders of the universe, the Doctor takes aliens to Earth. Kylie Minogue's Astrid is given a particular good moment as an example of this, expressing amazement at the beauty of an ordinary street, much to the Doctor's befuddlement. Davies takes full advantage of Hoka-ish misunderstandings of Earth culture on the part of the "people" of Stow on their journey to Earth for jokes, building engaging personalities for the supporting characters and putting the audience at ease before the horrible things start to happen.
The inversions of the usual Who tropes becomes an important point in the story. Davies is fond of foreshadowing character developments far in advance, by happy accident or design. The Doctor's absence in The Christmas Invasion leading to disaster sets up the Utopia, The Sound of Drums, The Last of the Time Lords trilogy. The Doctor and Rose's cavalier attitude towards danger and death sets up their separation in Doomsday; it's the consequence of their flirtation with danger. Donna's comment in The Runaway Bride that the Doctor needs someone him presages Martha's role in the third season, by establishing both the need for a companion and the required personality type. The theme that is hammered home in this episode is, chiefly, that the Doctor in the end is fallible. After the build-up the Doctor has had over three seasons as the "lonely god" and a savior figure, the Doctor is now returned to the role of a single man struggling against fate and inevitability. He's knocked back several notches and humbled in the worst way possible. In the end, to a certain degree, the Doctor can't save people. The wrong people live. The wrong people die. The question of who lives and dies has nothing to do with virtue or worth, but chance. It's an important lesson for the Doctor to learn, and as Mr. Copper tells him, in a thematic continuation of Donna's warning from last year, "If you could decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster."
Kylie Minogue work as an actress isn't familiar to me, but she's charming, and immediately makes alien waitress Astrid an appealing character. Astrid has a loneliness and wanderlust that resonates nicely with David Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor. Clive Swift is also quite good as well-meaning but horrendously mis-informed Earth-tour-guide Mr. Copper, and is the source of most of the misunderstandings of Earth culture humor that worms its way through the episode. In fact, apart from some scenery-chewing from the ultimate villain, which rather undermines the notion of the ultimate banality and selfishness of evil which he represents, the entire cast turns in good performances, ranging from the slightly slimy to the good-hearted but out of depth. It all makes for a very good episode of Doctor Who, easily one of the best of the new series.
Some of the recent talk about gay representation reminded me that I wanted to point out an example of someone doing it right. I usually read light fantasy and humor novels on my lunch breaks. It gives me something to get my mind off of managing inventory and purchasing for half and hour to forty minutes, and so I want something I can open, read a bit of, and finish, without having to feel any pressure to really think about what I'm reading. For this, the "young adult" aimed novels that tie into the Doctor Who show are great. I can get through two or three chapters of easily digestible prose while I eat, then go back to work.
Now, one of the hallmarks of the latest incarnation of the show has been the commitment to racial and sexual identity diversity. Not every character on the show is white, not every character on the show is straight. It's a science-fiction program that actually acknowledges that not everyone in the world now is a straight white male, much less everyone in the future or the past. In one of the recent batch of books, Forever Autumn, by Mark Morris, there's a gay character. It's a minor role, just a hapless townsperson the Doctor and Martha must rescue, but he's there. And the text acknowledges he's gay. It's just his interesting back-ground detail, something to keep him from being Mr. Generic Town Guy. This is a young adult novel that ties into a massively popular (in its home country) television show. And it deals with gay characters (and black characters and Asian characters and female characters) as just yet another aspect of the world.
The Doctor Who franchise can do this because the producers and creators want to do this. They could very easily have brought the show back and had a curious dearth of characters with melanin. They could have avoided those icky sexuality discussions entirely. They chose not to. And that's the difference.
In much the same way, one of the most successful authors of our time, an author that has already borne much undeserved scorn for her works by closed-minded people, found time to obsessively detail every adolescent heterosexual crush of her characters, but decided that openly dealing with the fact that some boys like boys and some girls like girls wasn't something she was interested in doing. In much the same way, a major American comic book publisher could have decided not to hire the outspoken homophobe to write a book featuring two lesbians of color. But for that author and that publisher, dealing realistically and positively with issues of sexual orientation, well...it's simply something they didn't want to be bothered to do.
IDW finally manges to put out a book I'll buy. I mean, sure, it'll cost about $1 to $2 more than it should, but it's Doctor Who! Of course, I'm not optimistic about it's sales potential. Doctor Who is pretty much a cult show in the U.S. Comic books are a niche market. Comic adaptations of TV properties are even more of a niche market...you see where I'm going with this, right?
Bad enough we have one of those damn manikin things. But a salt grinder is suspect enough...cooking with sea salt is damn suspect...but combining the two, throwing in roasted garlic, and oh yeah, let's make sure the sea salt is Mediterranean? Gay.
"Zygons? When did I meet Zygons? Wait a minute...this book isn't in continuity!"
Another true tale from the comic shop, from when Employee Aaron heard about my twelve inch Doctor figure: Aaron: Did they make a Captain Jack figure? Dorian: They did in the six inch line, but I haven't heard of one in the twelve inch line. But, from what I've heard, a John Barrowman figure should really be ten inches. Mike: Gyah!
No one would ever forget the day that Scooter was roundly rogered by a kangaroo.
I opened up my copy of Previews, and it immediately flopped to this postcard. That's a hell of a thing to have to see right off.
And no, no "Boob Count" this month. Do you have any idea how damn depressing it was to do last time?
Groo is apparently coming back, and bringing with it some of its subtle political themes. Of course, I don't remember online conversations about politics being quite so...vitriolic...the last time a Groo comic was on the stands. No doubt we'll see a "hilarious" blog post from the conservative comics blogosphere debunking the "Global Warming Myth" hinted at in the solicitation for Hell on Earth.
Dark Horse is bringing John Norman's Gor books back into print. One of the most blatantly misogynistic fantasy series of all time, if not the most misogynistic fantasy series. A series alleged to have inspired real-life crimes against women. And I've yet to hear a peep about it from anyone...
Yet another new edition of The Pro is due out...man, Ennis is just determined to cause Steranko a coronary, isn't he?
Oh, great...more zombie crap...
No, seriously...Gold Digger still comes out? Well, good for Fred Perry, I guess.
This is me avoiding a cheap shot at The Unfunnies.
Dear Bluewater Productions: you are, in fact, allowed to use colors other than brown.
I think DMP needs a theme song. Any suggestions? (Yes, "Dude looks like a lady" is too obvious.)
Has anyone been reading these Fangoria comics? I've flipped through a couple in the shop, and they're incredibly unpleasant. Both in terms of quality and subject matter. Real pandering to the lowest common denominator stuff here. I'm half curious to know if anyone out there actually is enjoying these things. But then, I also think they may be aiming at a market other than comic fans. Have they been hyping these things in the magazine and the horror fandom circuit?
Also, this seems as good a time as any to mention it, but if you've never gone through the "Adult Previews" supplement, I highly recommend it. There's nothing quite like that moment of cognitive dissonance you get when, after going through three or four pages of solicitations for soft-core lesbian porn you come across a full page ad for Japanese boy-love comics.
Oh, all right. "The Unfunnies? Talk about truth in advertising!"
So, after all that grief Diamond gave Tim Leong about Comic Foundry not meeting their standards (reminder: Diamond carries such products as the Rich Little Bitch DVD and Girls and Corpses magazine), they carry it and give it a "Spotlight On" tag...Granted, Housewives at Play: Lez Be Friends is also a "Spotlight On" item. Also, go tell your friendly local comics retailer that you want Comic Foundry.
You thought I was kidding about Girls and Corpses, didn't you?
From the solicitation for God's Gift: Over 100 Studs, Stallions and Dreamboats of the 70s and 80s: "From Arnold Schwarzenegger and Patrick Swayze, to Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds and Mr. T, this sexy collection of over one-hundred Lotharios, Romeos, and Casanovas from the '70s and '80s is sure to make your pulse race..." Now, I lived through the 80s...I don't remember Mr. T at any point being considered a hunk. Hell, I think they're stretching to include Arnie...
"You're sure this is a legitimate modeling gig, right? Not some weird fetish mag?"
Surprisingly, not the gayest toy in Previews this month.
Oh, so Asian kids don't get names, is that it? Mezco are a bunch of racists! (That last line may have been a joke...)
Who's the cutest widdle mass-murderer? You are! Yes you are! Oh, yes you are!
This would be the gayest toy in Previews this month:
There, fangirls, are you happy? A man being objectified in the exact same way as all those girly statues and toys! Happy? Satisfied? (That last line may have been a joke...) [Yes, it really was a joke! He's in a strong, assertive pose, not waiting to be mounted. So not at all like any of the girly statues, really.]
Oh, I think I may have found a cuter widdle mass-murderer!
Pete, if you're reading this, no, I do not really find mass-murderers cute.
Actual conversation I had with that jerk Mike when I placed my order for this: "You know Dorian, you should really get a Cyberman. Martha and the Doctor need someone to fight." "Oh, they're not going to fight, Mike." "Gyah!" (Yes, I did order the Cyberman. But not Novice Hame. Though, man, she does look cool...)
Man, a new edition of Talisman and a Kingdom Hearts CCG? Nerd Bliss! (Admit it, some of you are shocked that I'm a geek for one of those things, much less both of them.)
The news that Catherine Tate will star in the fourth series of Doctor Who as a full-time companion has been causing melt-downs in Doctor Who-fandom for almost a week now. It's a full-on, fan entitlement, "the official canon contradicts my fan-fiction", "it sucks because it's not the way I would do it" fantrum spree on every Doctor Who fan-site and message-board. I'm having fun with it, because, you know me, if it causes this much hair-pulling in fandom, I tend to think it's probably a good thing.
Funny thing is, the last time I saw this much fanguish in Doctor Who, it was when the series came back and they announced that it would be co-starring some Britney-wannabe pop singer.
Me, I'm kinda warming to the idea. We need another Tegan. Besides, it could be worse...we could be getting another Adric...or Peri...shudder...
Music Video Stream of Conciousness: Doctor Who Edition
Rouge Traders, "Voodoo Child"; I loved the use of this song in The Sound of Drums. A lot of Doctor Who fans seem to think it was somehow blasphemous to use an electro-rock tune with a good beat to score an alien invasion. Never mind that the song is actually used diegetically; it's actually being played in the scene by one of the characters. It's a deliberate sick joke on the part of the villain. He's planned his end of the world scenario down to the last detail, including choosing theme music for it. Now, that's dedication to evil.
Britney Spears, "Toxic"; Now, if you want to complain about the use of pop music in the show, take this piece of garbage. Lousy, lousy song. Granted, in the episode The End of the World the song is explicitly used as a joke. And at the time, the world thought little Brit-Brit was just a marginally talented teen starlet, using her sexuality as a cover for her lack of singing ability. We didn't know at the time that she was batshit fucking nuts. Still...horrible, horrible song.
Gary Williams, "Song for Ten"; One of the features that has developed in the Christmas specials for Doctor Who is the use of an original song. Of the two we've heard so far, I prefer the song from The Christmas Invasion. Lyrically it resonates with me more. This live version was from a charity concert where Murray Gold's music for the show was performed live.
KLF, "Doctorin' the Tardis"; I was the only person in my school who had any clue what this song was about.
And, just for fun, here's a rather nice mix of the various title segments and variations on what a lot of people consider one of the all time best television themes.
At some point, I still plan to talk about the Doctor Who episodes that have aired since I last reviewed any, but I wanted to gush over the latest episode a bit. If you're reading this in a newsreader, you shouldn't get spoilers. If you're not, and you don't want to be spoiled, don't scroll past the picture of Katy Manning and the Dalek.
I figure the picture alone should scare off a good 75% of my readership as it is...
The new season of Doctor Who recently began in England, the third of the current series, the second starring David Tennant, and the first starring Freema Agyeman as the Doctor's newest companion, Martha Jones. I've had...access...to the episodes, and overall I've been very pleased with this latest series and wanted to share some thoughts on it, in as non-spoilerish a manner as possible, for those Doctor Who fans without...accesss...to the episodes.
As far as season opening episodes go, Smith & Jones follows very much in the tradition of Rose. The primary purpose of the story is to introduce us to the new companion. S&J has a slight advantage over Rose in this respect in that all it has to concern itself with is the introduction of the new companion and getting the audience to respond positively to her, whereas the first season opener had to do all that, and introduce the Doctor and the concept of the show in a way that was accessible to a new audience without alienating the pre-existing audience. Removing that burden from S&J makes it, in the end, a more successful episode. The story is, by the stakes of the show, fairly low-key, focusing on the Doctor trying to avoid alien police-men while directing them towards their real target, in an effort to save everyone inside a hospital. And so there's no vast or complicated plot and no larger story to link up to, and the interesting visual designs of the space-cops, the Judoon, a kind of space rhino can be played off a rather camp nemesis for the Doctor, can take a more secondary role.
The focus on Martha in this episode reveals a companion that, already, I like more than Billie Piper's Rose. After so much was made in the Christmas special, The Runaway Bride of the Doctor's need for a companion, we see the Doctor essentially testing Martha, examining her potential for the job. What we as the audience see is a woman who is competent, inquisitive, brave, keeps her head in a crisis and excited by the possibilities of life with the Doctor. In the end, when she decides to travel with the Doctor, it's a deliberate choice to go and fully experience a new and exciting world, as opposed to Rose, who seemed to run off with the Doctor because, to borrow a phrase, it was either that or off to the Dole queue on Monday.
And as charming as Billie Piper's Rose was, I have to say that I much prefer Freema Agaya's Martha. While Rose could be selfless, she could also be petty and jealous. Look no further than her continual mistreatment of Mickey and Jackie for proof of that. And she always struck me as more in the mold of a Jo or Tegan or Mel or (God help us) Peri, with her role being primarily to be exposistioned at by the Doctor and to get into peril in order to move the plot along. Martha has already been conveniently exposistioned at many times as well, but in her reactions to danger and in her banter and (deserved) cross-ness with the Doctor, she seems to fall more into the Liz, Sarah-Jane, Romana and Ace camps in terms of personality and relationship to the Doctor.
The second episode, The Shakespeare Code somewhat sidelines Martha, focusing instead on the "celebrity guest star," William Shakespeare. It's a very good episode, easily one of the best of the new series, and for a Shakespeare nerd it plays nicely with some metanarrative conceits and semiotic ideas. There's a lot of clever jokes, by English major standards, about Shakespeare's tendency to steal ideas and phrases from others, and a particularly impressive bit of casting against popular conception in setting up Dean Lennox Kelly as Shakespeare, as a sort of Elizabethan rock-star. We still get quite a bit of Martha's natural curiosity and intelligence, as she asks the right questions about the nature of time travel and fluidity of history, in between being flirted with by Shakespeare. She even gets to tell the Doctor off a little bit in the third episode, Gridlock, both for his refusal to get over Rose not being with him anymore (a sentiment I share, three episodes and a Christmas special of the Doctor whining about Rose being gone was two episodes too many) and for lying to her. Sadly, Martha being annoyed with the Doctor were the best things about Gridlock. The central conceit, a motorway so congested that people spend years, if not decades, trying to reach their goal, while something sinister eats people who go into the fast lane, isn't a bad hook to hang a story on. But the episode is so busy dealing with current series continuity, and dredging up past series continuity so obscure even most classic series fans are hard pressed to remember the significance of those villains (though do check out Dave's overview if you don't mind the spoiler), not to mention finally getting around to kicking off the through-story for the season, that the good parts of the episode sort of get crowded out.
One of the aspects of Doctor Who that I always think deserves special note is the integration of gay themes and characters into the show. Most science-fiction fans have politics that could, charitably, be described as Neolithic, yet for the most part Doctor Who has managed to incorporate the radical suggestion that not everyone in the universe is heterosexual into its world. Oh, to be sure, there is the normal grumbling about a "gay agenda" when such unspeakable things as Shakespeare flirting with the Doctor or a nice elderly lesbian couple or a well-timed joke about musical theatre show up, but nothing anywhere near the scale of what you might expect were, say, anything remotely similar ever to happen on Star Trek or in Star Wars.
There are a few reservations here and there. For those who dislike the soap opera and family drama elements that were introduced with Rose, the Jones family manages to be even more dysfunctional, and the number of episodes for the current season which promise to be set in contemporary Earth (or near-future Earth...the timing of the last couple of seasons versus real world chronology is threatening to make UNIT dating arguments seem tame) make it look as if we'll be seeing plenty of them. I don't mind the family dramas, I think it makes for a needed look at the consequences of traveling with the Doctor on those left behind, something the classic series never dwelt on. There was also, especially in Gridlock a return to the overt religious symbolism and metaphors which began to creep into the second series and the spin-off Torchwood. It doesn't sit well with me, as it never feels like it fits the tone and world of Doctor Who. This is a world, remember, in which Demons are, quite literally, just another race of aliens. The concept works better when it stays secular, to my mind.
So, the popular rumor of the day is that Jake Gyllenhaal is being considered for the title role in any Captain Marvel (the good one, not any of the Marvel ones) adaptation that may come out. Personally, I think it's premature to worry about casting in a film like that, and Gyllenhaal is a bit younger and trimmer than I think Captain Marvel should be, but it's not as if he's a bad actor or couldn't add muscle to his frame.
But go ahead and guess how comic book fans reacted to the "news." Go ahead. Did they make reference to his latest role in Zodiac? Or perhaps to the role that first brought him to prominence, the sci-fi film Donnie Darko? Or perhaps his early, ground-breaking performance in Bubble Boy?
If you guessed that they made trite Brokeback Shazam jokes, well congratulations, you've obviously encountered fanboys before.
Via Dave comes an interview with Doctor Who producer and writer Russell T. Davies. It's an interesting article, not least for this paragraph, on how the show responds to fan complaints and criticisms.
But then, everything creates uproar in the Doctor Who online community. Fans spend hours logging what's right - and what's wrong - with Davies's doctor. He just ignores them. 'In the community of sci-fi shows, I think we're the only one that actively ignores its online fanbase. American shows seem to court them, or pretend that they do. That way lies madness. I can't think of a show that's improved its quality, or its ratings, by doing it. It's like going in search of a massively biased focus group - why would anyone do that?'
You might as well retitle that paragraph "Why no one cares about Star Trek anymore" or "What will kill (what's left of) the comics industry."
Ahem...that being said, I would be perfectly happy to see Davies quit the blatant Judeo-Christian symbolism in series 3. The Torchwood finale and Impossible Planet were rubbish.