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Sixty Things I Like About Who: #17 – 23

December 16th, 2009 No comments

And here are still more ways in which Doctor Who has made me happy these past five years.

#17:  “The Fires of Pompeii”

There was just so much to enjoy about James Moran’s first script for Doctor Who. It firmly established Donna’s inquisitive, caring nature and posed a moral question that’s been at the series’ heart since the beginning. It also had the Doctor and Donna mistaken for “Mr. and Mrs. Spartacus.”

Visiting what they believed to be first-century Rome–but was actually Pompeii on the day before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius–Donna took a moment to ask something that a lot of fans had probably wondered. If the TARDIS had the ability to instantly translate their speech into the local language–in this case, Latin–what would happen if she started speaking in Latin? Answer: it’s translated into Welsh. (A Pompeii shopkeeper replied: “Me no a-speak Celtic. No can do, missy.”)

The central mystery of the episode was that although the town’s soothsayers had an unerring ability to predict the future, none of them saw the impending volcano. That’s because there was to have been no eruption. The alien Pyroviles had set up shop within the mountain and tapped its power as part of their scheme to convert all of humanity into their own kind. Suddenly, the Doctor and Donna found themselves with a horrible choice to make: allow the Pyroviles to conquer Earth or detonate the volcano themselves and be personally responsible for thousands of deaths?

“The Fires of Pompeii” also explained (sort of) why it is that the Doctor so often interferes with events except when he doesn’t. According to him, certain points in history are “fixed.” As a Time Lord, he can sense which must be allowed to play out. Granted that there’s an “if you say so” lurking here, but at least the point was finally addressed.

While the fate of Pompeii may have been fixed, Donna made the case that it didn’t necessarily apply to its individual residents. She convinced the Doctor into going back to rescue a family they’d befriended, claiming a small victory from the tremendous tragedy.

#18:  Murray Gold’s Music

Old-school Doctor Who relied heavily on electronic music. Some of it was eerie, some of it lacked any sort of recognizable melody, and some of it was nigh-unlistenable. (Try getting through the soundtrack of “The Sea Devils.” I dare you.)

New series composer Murray Gold was given license to change all that. His work has a grand, orchestral sound that makes Who feel like a big-budget space epic.

For me, it’s the inverse of classic Star Trek and its ’80s/’90s follow-ups:  old Trek‘s bold, memorable compositions were replaced by atonal noise meant to blend into the wainscoting. If Gold’s music calls attention to itself, so what? He’s as much of the ensemble as Billie Piper or David Tennant.

#19:  The Gay Agenda

Over the past few years, a noxious element within Doctor Who fandom has accused producer Russell Davies–an open homosexual who created the gay-themed drama Queer as Folk–of pushing a “gay agenda.”

And I agree with them: Davies does have an agenda. I would sum it up as this: wouldn’t it be nice if we acknowledged that there are gay people in the universe, and treated that as if it was no big thing?* So, when doomed tourist Sky Silvestry–who wound up possessed by an unknown entity in the chilling episode “Midnight”–made an off-hand reference to her recent divorce, we learned that she had been married to another woman. It had no bearing on the plot, it just told you a little bit about the character in her last hour of life.

*With the obvious exception of Captain Jack Harkness, who has made a tremendous impression on Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood. But pigeon-holing** Capt. Jack as gay is like describing the dictionary as a guide to the letter Q. Jack sees everyone and every thing with an orifice as a potential sex partner.

**Seriously, if the pigeon had a suitable hole…

#20:  The Macra

The episode “Gridlock” already had a fun idea at its core: imagine that you’re stuck in a traffic jam that feels like it’ll last forever, then imagine if it really did. The unlucky motorists of New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York (that’s not a typo; it was the 15th city to bear the name “New York”) had been trapped in their hovercars for more than 23 years by the time the Doctor and Martha showed up. It may not have been a completely believable premise, but it worked as a bit of dystopian satire in the vein of British sci-fi comics such as Judge Dredd and 2,000 A.D.

Then writer Russell Davies pushed it even further by infesting the “fast lane” of the underground motorway with monsters. And not just any critters, but a thoroughly obscure race of Doctor Who baddies, the crab-like Macra.  Prior to “Gridlock,” these crustaceans had appeared in only a single story, 1967’s “The Macra Terror.” Of that serial, only a few brief clips survived the ’70s purge of the BBC’s tape library.

Truth is that the big crabs were only incidental to the plot. Davies wanted something to be eating the motorists, so why not the Macra?

It was a fun piece of continuity-porn. It was also somewhat ironic, given that only a handful of classic Who monsters have been resurrected to date. We’re still awaiting the return of the Ice Warriors and the Silurians, but the freakin’ Macra got there first.

#21:  Psychic Paper

With single-episode stories of new Who clocking in at around 42 minutes instead of the 90-120 minutes of a traditional four-part serial from the old days, it’s important to keep the story moving. Hence the return of the Sonic Screwdriver, the Doctor’s all-purpose, “get out of jail free” device.

But not even Sonic will get the Doctor out of his usual problem of being immediately mistaken for a stowaway/spy/murderer by the authorities. That’s where the Psychic Paper comes in; it’s a blank notepad that shows the viewer whatever its holder wants them to see. Instant credentials allow the storyline to bypass the part where the Doctor spends 20 minutes in a jail cell because no one accepts that he just happened to be standing next to the dead body.

#22:  The Return of U.N.I.T.

U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) is another holdover from the previous era of Doctor Who: a quasi-military organization dedicated to investigating and combating alien forces. Introduced during the 2nd Doctor’s tenure, it became a fixture during the 3rd Doctor’s exile to Earth.

The reintroduction of U.N.I.T. to the new series nearly didn’t happen. The real-life United Nations decided that it no longer wanted to be associated with the fictional group. (Heaven forfend that the U.N. be confused with a highly-competent team that regularly saves the world.) Thanks to a slight name change (Unified Intelligence Taskforce), U.N.I.T. is back and kicking Sontaran ass.

#23:  Rose’s Scottish Accent

In “Tooth and Claw” the Doctor and Rose landed in 1879 Scotland, where they encountered Queen Victoria, kung-fu monks and a werewolf. And as fun as all that sounds, my favorite bit was Rose’s embarrassing attempt to fit in with the locals.

Clone Of Silence

August 18th, 2008 No comments

According to Box Office Mojo, The Clone Wars brought in only about $15 million this weekend, landing in third place behind the Dark Knight cash machine. That’s still five million better than The X-Files managed, but just the same, I doubt anyone at Lucasfilm is all that happy about it.

And yes, that total includes my own five bucks.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. Like I wasn’t going to go. Grow up.

It was strange to attend a Star Wars flick that began without most of the traditional trappings: the familiar theme music, the receding logo, the expository crawl or the 20th Century Fox fanfare. The latter is considered so much a part of the Star Wars experience that most of the soundtrack CDs begin with it.

Still, I got about what I expected from The Clone Wars: lots of glorious eye candy and things exploding. Since the droids and vehicles were built from the same digital assets as those used in the real Star Wars films, the battle scenes were on par with the prequels. One action set-piece arguably exceeded anything from Episodes 1-3: a spectacular sequence in which Ashoka the Jedi padawan rode atop the windshield of a Republic walker as it climbed up a mountainside.

The human characters were, as reported elsewhere, surprisingly stiff, springing into action only during the lightsaber duels. Digital Padme, I must note, did have a nice ass.

I found that I didn’t miss the original voice actors much. The guy that played Obi-Wan channeled Ewan McGregor, just as McGregor had previously channeled Alec Guinness. And at least Christopher Lee had a fair amount to do reprising his Count Dooku role.

I did find myself questioning one character choice: the decision to play the villainous Ziro the Hutt as a gay stereotype dolled up with feathers and given a Truman Capote voice. Like Jar Jar Binks–a character in the Stephen Fetchit tradition who was cast with a black voice actor encouraged to perform with a rasta accent–it’s one of those “what were they thinking?” things. Note to George: making him an alien doesn’t help.

As for the story…well, it was more a series of events than a story, which befits its origin as several kludged-together episodes of the forthcoming TV show. And I couldn’t get very invested in it. Will Anakin come to accept his new padawan pupil? Of course he will, until he kills her. Will the Republic convince the Hutts to permit military supply lines through their territory? Could I possibly care less?

Supercollector Adam Pawlus over at Galactic Hunter appears befuddled by the poor reception of the new film by Star Wars fans, but I think it’s pretty obvious. For one, this was more obviously kid-focused than the live-action films. (Indeed, virtually everyone at the 4:00 pm Saturday show I attended was a young child or a parent.) I would also point to the backlash against Lucas not only for the prequels but for the recent Indiana Jones feature.

But more important, I think, is that the fans could smell that there was no movie here. Lucasfilm has tried similar tactics before: the first Clone Wars cartoon was originally conceived as little more than a series of one-minute toy commercials until animator Gennedy Tartakovsky lobbied to make them longer and more elaborate. Prior to that was “Shadows of the Empire,” a between-the-movies, multi-media project that involved books, comics, toys and even a soundtrack, but no film. I believe that the fanboys saw that Lucas wasn’t even trying, so why should they bother?

And honestly, while I can’t say that I disliked the “movie” or felt that I wasted my money, neither can I recommend it to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan in it to see Shit Blowing Up. Or digital Padme ass.

Living La Vida Loca

July 14th, 2008 No comments

Last week was pretty awful. I can’t really explain the reasons for all the frowny faces here in public. Suffice to say that it was work-related and that I’m still employed.

It was no fun for Vic either, as her dad went to the hospital last Monday with breathing difficulties. It turned out to be less dire than we’d feared, but he’s at the age at which a trip to the hospital means that you need to drop what you’re doing and be there.

And so Vic was gone for nearly an entire week offering support to her mom. She didn’t get home until early Sunday evening.

Normally, I’m thrilled when I get a day or two completely to myself. It’s not Vic is keeping me from anything, but I welcome the freedom of just doing whatever I want whenever I want. A week, however, was a bit much.

After a while, I began to feel if perhaps a prediction we’d once made had come true. In response to the oft-repeated, irrational rant that same-sex weddings would somehow destroy the institution of marriage*, we’d jokingly theorized that as more gays wed, we ourselves would become a little less married each day. By the end of the process, we wouldn’t be divorced, but simply no longer together.

You see, you see? Less than three weeks from when Sulu picked up his marriage license, and already it was like I’d suddenly reverted to bachelorhood without the necessity of death or legal separation.

And it was amazing how quickly I turned back the clock. I didn’t cook one damned thing the entire week. I started keeping strange hours. I didn’t make the bed, and soon began sleeping on the sofa instead. (The latter started out as a back-related thing, but later I think I was regressing to kidhood, specifically those days when I’d stay up all hours watching TV in the family room from the fold-out couch.)

Still, it became a bit much by the end of the week, so I’m very glad to have Vic back.

*At least, destroy it more efficiently than does the prevalence of dumbfucks marrying dumbfucks, or even worse, otherwise smart folks marrying dumbfucks. Not to mention people marrying for unplanned pregnancies, green cards, health insurance, or (ironically) trying to pretend that they aren’t homosexual.

Categories: General Tags: , ,

Belated Blogging

May 27th, 2008 No comments

If you thought that I’d think the long Memorial Day weekend was a perfect time to catch up on my blog, you are clearly not me, because I instead thought it was a perfect time to play with my Wii, early and often. My games of choice were “Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection,” a retro simulation of classic arcade tables, and “Thrillville: Off the Rails,” a theme park management title. The latter was aggressively teeny-bopper in style and complexity, but that was okay with me, because it also downplayed the three parts of theme park games that I hate most: economic micromanagement, incessantly pissed-off guests and copious amounts of vomit. The coaster editor was intuitive and fun, with all manner of wild rides to build.

So it was that I was otherwise engaged in building the perfect suspended roller coaster rather than writing about my recent California trip.

This was an unusual vacation for us in that it began with Vic and I in different places: me coming from the PBS conference in Palm Springs via rental car, and Vic flying directly into LAX. I was a bit concerned about that, but everything worked out okay. The drive from Palm Springs was scenic, what with the massive, massive wind farm on its outskirts amid the craggy desert terrain.

This creepy sculpture guards the entrance of a PS bar appropriately called “Hole in the Wall.”

Once I caught up with Vic, who’d already checked into the hotel, we drove out to Santa Monica to the area around the pier. A midway has been built up along it, and there’s a lengthy outdoor shopping corridor nearby with lots of trendy shops and nifty topiary dinosaurs.

Fortunately, we did not attempt to go down to my old stomping grounds in West Hollywood that evening, because it turned out that very day the California Supreme Court paved the way for gay marriage, and the streets were clogged with celebrations. We did make it the following day, by which time the furor had moved on, presumably to the local office of the justice of the peace. (Oh, and without getting on a soapbox, good for them.)

On Friday the 16th we ate breakfast crepes at the Farmer’s Market and then went shopping along Melrose Avenue. Melrose has a lot of hip clothing stores which Vic and I are much too old to even gaze upon, much less enter. It also has the display manikin pictured below, which Vic realized was not only lacking panties but sporting (and thankfully, the camera didn’t pick this up well) a thicket of pubes.

Stay classy, Melrose.

It was then off to Hollywood Boulevard for another leg of my L.A. reunion tour. As New York did with Times Square, so Hollywood has attempted with its famed walk of…er, fame. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite succeeded. The clean-up surrounds the immediate vicinity of Grauman’s Chinese and the impressive Kodak Theater (recent home of the Oscars), but once you get a block or so past Disney’s refurbished showplace, the El Capitan, it’s back to shuttered storefronts and sex shops. It’s depressing to see which celebrated personages of Hollywood long gone are unlucky enough to have their star on the Walk of Fame in front of a seedy electronics store.

Vicky gets the vapors on the Hollywood casting couch.

Oh, and then there are the street “performers.” You may have heard about them: enterprising bums who dress up as various characters and hang out in front of the Chinese Theater hoping to pose for photos with tourists in exchange for tips. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they weren’t so repellent and poorly costumed.

You know he’s Elmo because he has an Elmo bag and backpack.

I mean, I am not the PBS Police, but damned if I didn’t want to turn that guy in for trademark infringement. And he wasn’t as bad as the Spidey in a sweat-soaked, dark maroon suit, or the woman who couldn’t decide if she was Batgirl or Catwoman and so split the difference. At least the two Jack Sparrows were pretty good, because Captain Jack is supposed to look mangy.

In addition to them were the religious hucksters, the Scientologists and the incessant peddlers of Hollywood tours, the latter of which must have accosted us every ten feet. Hollywood can build all the fancy, schmancy monuments to itself that it wants, but what it really needs is a high-pressure hose.

Saturday the 17th I got together with my old California roommate Guy, who still lives in the very same apartment building that he did 22 years ago (rent control is, I’m told, a wonderful thing). I was blown away by his sizable collection of memorabilia from Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.” He keeps his home (as the ride’s spiel says) “delightfully unlivable.”

After spending the afternoon knocking around the area’s horror-themed stores (there are more than you might think), we left Guy and drove down to Anaheim to visit one of my first loves, Disneyland. While I’ve been to Disney World in Florida a couple of times in the past few years, it’s probably been at least a decade since I’ve been to the original. And boy, has it changed. Happily, for the better.

I was amazed at just how built up the area has become. Disneyland had once been hemmed in on all sides by sprawl, but they’ve apparently managed to buy up enough of the surrounding area to do some proper landscaping and further separate their fantasy land from the outside world. (Something that had bugged me in previous visits was just how depressingly visible reality was from some of the taller rides.)

We stayed at a place called the Candy Cane Inn, a nice, non-Disney hotel that was literally walking distance from the main gate. It took me a while to get my bearings despite my old familiarity with Disneyland, as there’s now a second park (“California Adventure”) on the site of the old parking lot, as well as a smaller version of Florida’s “Downtown Disney.”

On the midway at California Adventure.

Now, I’m in many ways a Disneyland purist, but part of that is embracing Walt’s philosophy that the park will never be finished. And so I not only wasn’t bothered by the changes large and small that I discovered, but was generally pleased with them.

Among the enhancements was the addition of animatronic Johnny Depps to “Pirates of the Caribbean.” They were well-integrated into the storyline and, given that the films had so many visual nods to the ride, they fit right in. Also welcome were the now-floating head of Madame Leota in the “Haunted Mansion”‘s seance room, as well as the spruced up attic scene with its murderous bride. And while it’s been a long time since I’ve been aboard the Disneyland version of “Space Mountain,” the ride seemed much smoother and faster and kicked a tremendous amount of ass. Finally, the long-dormant “Submarine Voyage” was back, ridding itself of its absurdly outdated mechanical fish-on-sticks technology in favor of underwater projection systems featuring the cast of Finding Nemo. It was cute, if not necessarily worth the insane crowds lined up for it.

One of my favorite spots on Earth: the path leading up to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

I’ve always preferred the original Disneyland to its Florida cousins, and this trip reminded me why. It’s smaller, and thus easier to get around. It’s the only park with the “Indiana Jones” ride. It still has charming and unique Fantasyland attractions such as “Alice in Wonderland,” “Storybook Land,” and “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Its version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” is considerably longer. And it has the Blue Bayou restaurant, which overlooks the “Pirates” swamp and simulates a nighttime sky in broad daylight. We got a waterside table and watched the boats drift by on their way to Davy Jones’ Locker.

We also got stuck on “Alice in Wonderland” and had to be evacuated, the first time that’s ever happened to me. Not sure what happened, but all the lights came on and we were trapped amidst the giant flowers until a “cast member” escorted us out through a side door. Hey, at least we got to go straight to the front of the line once the ride was fixed.

The view from our “Alice” car.

“California Adventure,” which I saw for the first time, seemed to echo comments I’d previously read which suggested it was a theme park in search of an identity. As Vic put it, you’re already having a California adventure. My impression was that most of the attractions were things that you’d find at a non-Disney park, including the ubiquitous river raft ride. Still, I had to admit that the “California Screamin'” roller coaster was a hell of a lot of fun. I also enjoyed their version of the “Tower of Terror,” though in this case the Florida version is more extensive. And while the giant Ferris wheel–which has cars which slide back and forth as well as revolving–had me ready to hurl, both of us really enjoyed the Monsters, Inc., which ends with an animatronic Roz (the slug-like dispatcher with the gravelly voice) taunting riders in real-time via a hidden cast member. Honestly, I think you could take Screamin’, Tower and Monsters (plus the popular “Soarin’ Over California”) and ditch the rest of the park.

Most of the time we were in California it was 90-plus in the shade, with Palm Springs baking in the upper 90s as we flew out on Tuesday the 20th. Imagine our surprise when we got home and it was in the 50s, in late May no less. And today, as I look out the window at the rainy, 55-degree day, I find myself wishing I was back in California, eating a frozen Minute Maid lemonade and waiting to go back on “Space Mountain.”

Well, I Certainly Missed That Subtext

October 29th, 2007 No comments

Not that I could possibly care, but…Dumbledore is gay? Wha?

“Jo Rowling calling any Harry Potter character gay would make wonderful strides in tolerance toward homosexuality,” a Potter site webmaster is quoted. Sure, and it would’ve been an even bigger stride if she’d done it anywhere in her 4,195 pages of prose rather than a Q&A three months after the final book was published.

Just seems like it would’ve been worth mentioning.

UPDATE: Time columnist John Cloud generally sums up my feelings about the “outing” of Dumbledore, except that I’d add that doing so well after the hype of the final book died off seems uncharacteristically gutless for Ms. Rowling. Plus, by withholding this information from the text, it plays right into the fears of those who believe that closeted gays are after their teenage boys.

A Rare Thing

September 24th, 2007 No comments

This is a simply amazing piece of video: the Republican mayor of San Diego, who ran on a platform opposing gay marriage, makes a complete 180 degree turn in a tearful, heartfelt speech. This is the sort of thing I wish that more politicians–Republican and Democrat alike–would have the balls to do.

Categories: News Tags: , ,