Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Great TV Binge Quest of 2016

The last few days I have been asking people for suggestions for shows to binge. When I am cooking or doing something where I am not just watching TV in a dedicated manner I want something on in the background that I can tune in and out of without missing too much stuff.

My go-to default for most of my life has been Law and Order. I have seen most of the episodes so many times that once when I was waiting to go to the airport from a conference I saw the end of an episode with the sound off and I not only knew every detail of the story, but I knew that was the season finale of Season 14. That’s incredibly pathetic.

Law and Order was great because for a period of time in the early 2000s it was on ALL THE TIME. There were three cable channels that had it on. There were three iterations of it in NBC. If you were trying to kill twenty minutes with the TV on, odds were pretty good you could just throw on an episode of Law and Order.

Since I cut the cord and apparently cable TV has moved on to other shows, this is no longer the case. I have spent a good portion of the last six years trying to find a replacement for Law and Order. It isn’t that I think Law and Order is the greatest show that ever existed, it just had the right combination of characteristics that made it ideal for the purposes I had.

What makes an Ideal Crappy TV Show To Binge

Here are my criteria for what makes a good background TV show:

  • Must be at least five seasons long
  • Can’t be too engaging
  • Has to be somewhat repetitive
  • Has to have procedural elements

So far the best show I have found that meets these criteria is Grey’s Anatomy. I started looking for shows on Netflix that had at least five seasons and even though I really didn’t want to, I gave it a try. It’s actually quite a good replacement for Law and Order. It’s been on for a long-ass time and it’s going to keep going for a while. It has serialized elements in being a soap opera, but each episode has procedural elements where there will be some patient or case people are working on. There will be some kind of surgery. You can walk away for five minutes and still be able to kind of figure out what is going on.

Top Chef and Project Runway have worked pretty well too. Since they’re game shows the generalized structure of each show is the same so you can figure out what is going on if you stop paying attention for a while.

Shows That are Too Good

One problem I am having is people recommending shows that I should sit down and actively watch rather than garbage I can just have on in the background.

Breaking Bad is not a good candidate for my purposes.

Supernatural is also one that I can’t binge on. I have slowly worked my way up to season five, but it’s not something I can just passively have on for five hours.

Pretty much anything that has been on cable with abbreviated seasons like Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire are not good candidates because I want to actively watch them.

Any prestige TV is not a good candidate for my purposes. Prestige TV is something you watch to be actively engaged. There is a time and a place for Prestige TV, but when I just want a steady stream of macaroni and cheese I don’t want to deal with prime rib.

Shows That are Too Engaging

There are so many shows that are disqualified because they require you to pay attention. One of my early candidates to replace Law and Order was NCIS. That stupid show is way too intricate for what it is. You have to pay attention to every single thing people say and do to know what is going on. I listened to an audio commentary from the actors where they got distracted for a minute about something and were like “Wait, what just happened? Why are we in this basement now?” It’s not worth the mental capacity to pay attention to what is going on to get through the entire series.

The West Wing is nothing but people walking and talking. You have to pay attention to every bit of dialog and after a while it gets incredibly preachy and irritating because it’s the world as Aaron Sorkin wishes it would be rather than the world that it is and it just makes me angry and thinking about politics and then I can’t deal with anything anymore.

Shows I have Already Seen

People have suggested some really good shows. The issue is that I have already seen those.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Futurama
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Scrubs
  • Firefly
  • Doctor Who
  • Lost

Part of the issue is that I don’t want to just get into a rut where I watch the same show over and over again. There is scary amounts of stuff out there that I haven’t seen or read. Even if a book is shitty or a TV show goes off the rails, it’s still good to explore and absorb new things.

I find myself coming back to shows I have already seen like Alias and Chuck, but I would like to contemplate the possibility that there is an amazing show I haven’t seen yet.

That is what happened with Fringe. I tried to get into it a few times, but the first season was kind of slow. My affection for Walter got me through the rocky first season and I discovered a show that I actively looked forward to watching to see what would happen. When it was over I was so happy with how it wrapped up. It was like finishing a great book. But then I was sad that it was over and I can’t see it for the first time again. I want to hope there is something else like that out there and I won’t find it if I just keep watching Grey’s Anatomy over and over again.

Potential Binging Shows

Here is an informal list of shows that I keep forgetting exist that meet my criteria:

  • CSI (I watched it up through Season 7, so technically haven’t seen most of it)
  • Medium
  • Crossing Jordan
  • The X-Files
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (saw DS9 all the way through when it aired but not since, could never get into Voyager)
  • Stargate:SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe
  • Person of Interest

A lot of these are older shows. I think that with Peak TV come with the death of the kinds of shows I am looking for. Peak TV is similar to what is going on with film. There are lots of incredible prestige shows that demand constant attention and prompts rabid fan discussions on the internet. Then if you’re not a prestige show, you’re something like The Big Bang Theory. There is a huge amount of really bad, not funny or smart TV that is too bad to be good for having on in the background because when you do pay attention to it, you recoil in horror at the sexist, homophobic garbage being spewed.

There does not seem to be much of a demand for shows without vast mythologies and serialization that is fairly repetitive. Ironically, I am basically looking for the TV equivalent of the Marvel Movie franchise. Those movies are awesome. They are basically the same story over and over again with some variation in the setting and the primary hero.

I realize that by writing this huge blog post complaining about not finding bad TV to watch that it makes me seem like a couch potato neck beard who never leaves my parent’s basement. I think of this stuff as white noise going on in the background. It’s like trying to find a good radio station to listen to while you work. It’s hard finding music that helps you focus and doesn’t just make you flip through stations going “Nope, nope, hell no, aw this is the end of my favorite song and now they’re playing something I hate!”

I will continue my mission to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new shows and new storytelling. To boldly go where lots of other people have gone before!

Elementary

I have been taking some time off recently and catching up on some much needed rest. Part of my regime has been finding a bunch of TV shows I have been meaning to watch and going through them.

One of those shows is Elementary. I am a huge Sherlock Holmes addict. The recent versions with Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. have been interesting, but Jeremey Brett will always be my Sherlock.

Besides updating to modern times, one of the big selling points of Elementary has been gender switching several of the more prominent characters in the Holmes canon, namely the role of Dr. Watson.

I want to talk a bit about something I feel that they did right with this that I would like to see more of in the future.

Mentorship

In the original Holmes stories, Watson is Sherlock’s roommate and side kick. He acts as the reader’s eyes and ears reporting what a “normal” person would see and generally most of the resolutions in the crimes come as a surprise because Watson does not observe what Sherlock does, which makes it difficult to guess what the resolution of the stories will be.

CBS_ELEMENTARY_406_LOGO_IMAGE_702765_640x360In Elementary, Watson starts out as a sober companion for Sherlock, but eventually transitions to being his protégé. He sees potential in her and he helps her cultivate it.

This Watson is a dynamic character. Her skills grow and evolve. This is different than the static Watson character in the original stories who is purposely kept somewhat dumb to allow the reader to enjoy the story.

A lot of this dynamic spoke to me on a personal level.

Programming is a rather new field that is primarily male-dominated. All of my mentors have been men. I often wonder if men ever get to be mentored because there is an inherent social dynamic that seems to make it easier for men to mentor women. Our society assumes that women take a subordinate role and it’s simply easier when you are a woman to approach a man and ask for help and for guidance. This can have a pleasing feeling for both people because the man feels important because he gets to instruct and train a subordinate and the woman feels important because someone she respects and admires has chosen to take time out of their life to pass on knowledge and wisdom to them that they aren’t passing down to anyone else.

When you’re first starting out, this can be a very comfortable and emotionally rewarding relationship. However, like all things, this can’t last.

Partnership

At some point, the protégé starts to bump up against the edges of the relationship. The protégé wants to be acknowledged. They want to have their new skills be recognized and leave the nest and be seen as an equal.

This can make the mentor very uncomfortable. Their entire relationship is predicated upon being the source of knowledge. Once the protégé catches up to the mentor, it can cause a lot of issues.

Elementary-season-3-promo-watson-holmesIt can make the mentor feel very upset because they feel they’ve lost their identity as the person who knows everything. Sometimes the mentor succumbs to the urge to try and cut their protégé down to keep them in the subordinate role because that is where they feel comfortable.

Other times the mentor can become upset that the protégé wants to be seen as an equal. The mentor has spent decades honing their craft and this upstart person wants to be seen as an equal without putting the work in.

This relationship is very reminiscent of a parent/child relationship. At some point you realize your parents don’t know everything. Our relationships with our parents change as we get older because they must. Sometimes our parents cut us down to try and maintain the control over us that they have gotten used to. They want us to succeed, but not too much because it threatens their sense of self worth.

A mentorship relationship is more fragile than a parental relationship because of two reasons. One, our parents will always be our parents. As much as we might argue and fight with them, there is a blood tie that can’t be broken. The second is the one I mention at the beginning of this post, the gender thing.

Professional Respect

One thing that I respect Elementary for is the fact that, as far as I have gotten, there has been no effort to force Sherlock and Watson into a romantic relationship. All of their conflicts have been able to explore the mentor/protégé relationship without having to stoop to the cliche of putting them together in a romantic relationship.

I greatly admire the fact that the writers have been able to craft a compelling story about the mentorship conflict in a completely platonic context.

1355273194905.cachedAs the person who has been in the protégé role, I want my mentors to see me as an equal. I want to show them that they were right in sharing their wisdom with me and I would like to show I can manage on my own without being dependent on them. Joan Watson is similar. She wants to be a detective in her own right.

Sherlock doesn’t want her as an equal. He wants to keep her as a subordinate. They fight over her need to be her own person and not an extension of him.

Both characters have had romantic relationships with other people, so this isn’t a generic, Aspie asexual stereotype. The relationship between Sherlock and Watson is based on professional admiration and respect. Watson gets frustrated when Sherlock won’t give her the professional respect she feels she has earned.

I have found it incredibly compelling to watch this relationship being explored. It’s a painful situation for both Sherlock and Watson. Both of them are right. Both of them have been hurt by their evolving relationship. But it’s a necessary pain for them to experience so both of them can grow and change.

Lessons From Sherlock

I spoke about mentorship at CocoaLove 2015. I wanted to give advice to both mentors and protégés. I want to reiterate some of it now.

If you are a protégé, at some point you need to step out on your own. It’s comfortable and safe to be under the wing of someone with a lot of experience, but at some point you need to succeed or fail on your own. You will stumble a lot, but that is how your mentor learned. They stumbled and have given you advice about how to avoid the same stumbles they took. You will learn best through your own stumbles than you will hearing stories of your mentor’s stumbles.

If you are a mentor, please understand that this is a temporary situation. Don’t become so attached to the idea that you have to know everything that it creates a situation where you lash out at your protégé when they want to be seen as an equal. Your protégé has a lot of affection for you that can quickly turn into a toxic situation if you put them down in an effort to keep them subordinate to you.

The best way for a mentor/protégé relationship to go is if both parties go in wanting the protégé to become independent. If you’re a mentor and your protégé doesn’t seem to want to walk on their own, try to push them to take risks and fall and learn from their experiences.

Above all, remember that part of the reason you both entered into this relationship was because you like and respect one another. Just because your relationship changes as the protégé grows in experience doesn’t mean those feelings go away.

Halt and Catch Fire

I have a bunch of TV I keep meaning to watch that I tend to “save” because I know it’s going to be a good show and I don’t want to waste it on times when I just want junk food.

One of those shows is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s like Mad Men, only it’s set in the 80’s and it’s about the computer revolution.

I am generally attracted to anything computer related, but there tends to be a few stereotypes you encounter when dealing with technology. You wind up with things like Silicon Valley where the only female programmer you see is a girl dressed in pink whose business is “Cupcakes as a Service” who is wandering the crowd asking if anyone knows Java. You also get the main character, Cameron Howe, in HaCF who is the female super genius hacker chick who drinks and swears like a man.

Cameron is a cool girl. She lives off of pizza and orange soda while managing to weigh ninety pounds. She doesn’t wear a bra. When she gets stuck on a bug she sleeps around with people to get unstuck. She wants to name the operating system after Ada Lovelace and has people telling her she is the next Grace Hopper. She’s a manic pixie dream girl.

The second stereotype is a lot more flattering than the first stereotype. However, it is a stereotype. It is somewhat damaging. There is this idea that if you’re a girl in technology you have to follow a certain mold. You have to be cool. You have to be a nerd and play video games. You have to be attractive in a certain way. Above all else, you have to be better than everyone else. There is more scrutiny paid to you if you are a girl who is a programmer and you can’t just be a good generalist and blend in to the background. You have to be a super star. You have to be flashy.

I benefit from these stereotypes. I happen to enjoy geek culture. I am interested in hard things like OpenGL that most people don’t try or don’t make time for. I am a red headed extrovert who likes to generate attention for myself. I fit a certain mold and I benefit from the positive stereotype.

If Cameron was the only female character in HaCF, then I would not be writing about it. There is another female character in HaCF who I think is far more revolutionary than Cameron: Donna Clark.

tumblr_n7pz8huk9J1qfdofwo1_250The main hardware engineer in the show is her husband Gordon. They met while both of them were going to Berkley studying engineering. She wrote her thesis on data recovery. Donna works for Texas Instruments and is a kick ass engineer in her own right.

She is also a mom. She and Gordon have two daughters.

Donna is a character you never see on TV. She is a working mom in an intense field.

Even though Gordon is a main character on the show, it spends a lot of time from Donna’s perspective. While Gordon is complaining about how hard his job is, he is coming home to a hot meal that his wife made after an equally hard day at work. Except when she gets done with her job, work is not over. She keeps working after coming home. She has to care for the kids and keep her family afloat. Her parents lend her husband money and set him up with business connections to allow him to pursue his dream even though it is tearing their family apart.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

At one point in the first season, Donna has a business trip. She will be gone for one night. She leaves lasagna for the family and does everything she can to make things as easy as possible for everyone while she is gone. She comes back to find blood all over the floor, the sink completely disassembled, her children unattended, and her husband digging a giant hole in the back yard.

Compare Donna Clark to Skyler White from Breaking Bad. Even though Walter White is a murdering drug dealer, the show is designed for you to root for him. Skyler is vilified by fans of the show for being a killjoy bitch for cramping Walter’s style.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Compared to Skyler, we see a lot of what Donna has to put up with. We see her spinning plates trying to keep the family together while her husband throws the family into chaos. Gordon isn’t seen as this wunderkind genius whose every whim should be indulged and pampered. He is seen as an unstable, sometimes pathetic man who is being used by the people around him for gifts he has that he can’t control on his own.

We need more Donna Clarks on TV.

Back before everyone started playing the start-up lottery and tech became a casino, you had women who were engineers and mothers. It was a solid nine to five job. You had to be stable and reliable and it was possible for women to be mothers and engineers. That is far less tenable now.

There was a company board member I talked to at one of my previous jobs who I feel exemplifies the problems we are currently seeing in tech.

This guy was married with daughters. He also worked in the Bay area while his family lived elsewhere. He was telling me about how he only sees his family one day every week or two because he’s traveling all the time. I was upset for his wife and asked if it was hard. He told me he was used to it. I was annoyed and clarified I meant was it hard on his wife and kids. He smirked at me and said, “Well, they got used to it.”

I got the impression from this person that he figured I was doing programming as a hobby. I mentioned how one morning I made frozen pizza for breakfast and he said, “Hey, enjoy that while you can before you get married and have some kids.”

It was just assumed that I was going to get married and have a family. This was just something I was doing to keep a roof over my head until that happened.

I felt that this person saw no point in cultivating me. I think he saw doing anything to cultivate me would be a waste because I was just going to marry someone and fulfill my purpose of being a caretaker.

This attitude really fucking sucks, and not just for me.
worldPossible
I sacrificed a lot to be a programmer. I decided I wanted to be a programmer because it was something I didn’t understand and it bothered me. If I found a job that paid me to do it, cool. That was icing on the cake. I wanted to learn it and master it because I wanted to know it. I sacrificed my marriage and my mental health and my social life to push myself to get where I am right now. This isn’t some hobby that I am doing while I am waiting around to find some guy to give me children.

I would like to get married again and have a family, but I don’t want to do those things if it means I am lobotomized. I don’t want to be an effective single mom because the father of my children is never home. I don’t want to be with someone who assumes I will just give up on all of my hopes and dreams to make theirs possible.

Let’s say I found someone who would respect me for my hopes and dreams. Let’s say I find someone who wants to split the parent teacher conferences fifty fifty and will watch the kids while I go and speak at conferences. They won’t be able to do that.

Programming isn’t a job anymore. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cult.

After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people.

It’s not okay for you to tell your boss that you are leaving in the middle of the afternoon to take your child to the doctor. You can’t say that you don’t want to fly to China for two weeks because you want to be home to tuck your kids into bed.

hacf-s1-kerry-bishe-QA-120One reason everyone wants young guys as programmers is because they don’t care about this stuff yet. People say it’s because they are more up to date with the technology or that they are prodigies or whatever else, but it’s all bullshit. It’s about finding the most exploitable people you can to get as much out of them as you can until they break.

It’s just assumed that you either will never get married or if you do that your wife will make this life possible. Your wife will watch your children while you are gone 300 days out of the year. If you are a woman and you have kids, people will assume that you are going to be the one to care for them and you’re not cultivated because you’re not going to be okay with being gone 300 days out of the year.

This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.

As long as mothers are invisible, then no one has to bother thinking about how fucking broken this system is. Everyone goes along with it and won’t question it because they’re afraid of being cut off from it or seen as a trouble maker.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”, was notorious for refusing to sell out. He never licensed Calvin and Hobbes. No one had little stuffed Hobbes dolls next to their Dogbert dolls in their cubicle. No one has mugs with Calvin on them. He didn’t care about making a bunch of money. He didn’t care about being famous or being a public figure. He wanted to do the work that fulfilled his soul. He had an amazing quote about how he chooses to live his life:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Take the trouble.
halt-and-catch-fire-episode-103-pre-980x551

Star Wars: The Force is Tired

I am on my company Slack channel seeing everyone get really excited about the new Star Wars movie that apparently is coming out soon but people have been talking about for at least a year.

I am probably not going to see it in a movie theater.

I went to see the prequel movies when they had their midnight showings. I dressed up to go to midnight showings of all the Lord of the Rings movies. I was tempted to buy tickets to the various Marvel movie marathons before the Avengers and the second Avengers movie came out.

The last time I remember doing something fun and being a fan girl for a movie was when The Avengers came out. A friend of mine had an all day marathon of the previous movie. We had themed shots. I got drunk with the best group of coworkers I ever had, who will probably never be in the same room together ever again. It was a really special experience.

I am not feeling it anymore.

I am finding it difficult to be excited by anything in pop culture anymore.

Reading all the insane stories about people getting in line to buy the first of the Star Wars merchandise makes me weary. I am bitter and cynical and feel like the movie is nothing more than a vehicle to sell toys like the wonderful cartoons of the 80’s such as He-Man and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I am a child of the eighties. I have a lot of toys that I wish I still had from various things I was obsessed with as a kid. But I feel like this whole thing is a giant sensory stimulus that is simply trying to get me to buy shit I don’t need.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I read enough spoilers to know that this movie is basically a retelling of the original trilogy. Killing the Emperor didn’t bring about a new Galactic republic. The war is still going on.

I enjoyed the Extended Universe more than I would like to admit because it at least moved the narrative forward. We had several years before the Rebels were able to expel the Empire from the capital planet. There was governmental stuff that people had to figure out. Luke started his Jedi academy and we had actual new Jedi characters. There were still wars and remnants of the Empire, but the battles were at least different and somewhat psychologically interesting.

All that is gone now. The Rebels are still fighting the Rebellion. Luke is still the only Jedi. Nothing has progressed and everything our heroes did thirty years ago is essentially forgotten. We had progress! We had change! We had character development! Now we’re backtracking from all of that to say we’re basically back where we were thirty years ago?! What the fuck!

It’s like a god damned soap opera. All this has happened before. All this will happen again. There are so many stories that keep being drawn out longer and longer and I just want them to fucking end!

There is something to be said for ending a story. Having a satisfying ending to a story is like having dessert at the end of a good meal. You leave satisfied and remember it fondly. You don’t want a meal that will not fucking end where each course is worse than the one before it, but you can’t leave because they won’t bring you the bill.

I know that marketing and other bullshit exists to keep us in a state of perpetual need. We need more story. We need more books. We need more toys. We’re dangling this resolution just out of reach so you will keep buying our stuff.

I demand satisfaction! I am sick of being strung along for years and years on a meandering trip that goes fucking nowhere.

The Star Wars universe has enough compelling aspects to it that you don’t have to go and pretend like nothing happened for the last thirty years. As much as I hated the prequels, at least they did something different. They told a different set of stories than the original trilogy did.

I know that Disney wants to turn Star Wars into it’s own Marvel Extended Universe franchise. I know there is going to be a new Star Wars movie every year for the next like two decades.

I’m sorry, I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it anymore.

I am sure I will enjoy watching these at home like I do every other movie that’s come out over the last year that I simply couldn’t muster the ambition to put a bra on to go see in public. The idea of sitting in a dark movie theater for over two hours without being able to check my email without getting looks of disapproval by a hundred strangers has zero appeal to me at this point in my life. I am not going to complain about how shitty movies are now because even if they were good and targeted at me, I am too tired to go anyway.

For all of you who have been excited about this for a year, I hope you get what you wanted. If not, wait a few months and you’ll get another chance to be disappointed.

May the force be with you.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Empty Child

Are you my mummy??

Are you my mummy??


Four words: Are you my mummy??

Three better words: Captain. Jack. HARKNESS!!!

Oh yeah, some other stuff happens and we get a far better two-part episode than our last attempt at such things. Something about WWII and a scary child.

Captain Jack Harkness

Okay, confession time. Captain Jack is my spirit animal. I have a collection of nerd culture characters that I deeply identify with and Captain Jack is one of them.

My ex-husband was rather annoyed with my Captain Jack fixation. He thought I had a crush on him and got annoyed that I had a crush on a gay actor. It isn’t like that.

Captain Jack is the person we all wish that we were like. He’s cocky and confident. He flirts with everyone and it’s totally okay. He is just very much himself and he doesn’t apologize for it. He’s daring and charming. And I want to be him. Well, a female counterpart of him.

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!


I know that the actor, John Barrowman, is pleasantly surprised at how much of a role model he has become. As an openly gay actor he had some struggles with finding his place in the world and I know that he was very happy when this character who was comfortable with himself and his sexuality became such a prominent part of nerd culture.

I keep meaning to put together a female Captain Jack cosplay, but I forget until it’s too late to order the parts. I wanted to get a vortex manipulator replica to use as the band for my Apple Watch. I have a winter coat that is a feminized version of his, which is one of the only reasons I tolerate winters in Wisconsin.

Going to stop talking about Captain Jack before I start delving into my Ninth Doctor/Captain Jack fantasies…

Plot Overview

The Doctor and Rose are called to England during The Blitz to deal with a dangerous situation. They are stalked by a creepy little boy who is inexplicably in a gas mask asking, “Are you my mummy?”

There are aspects of the beginning of the episode that I had forgotten were important plot points. There is a nice scene of The Doctor asking around if anything has fallen from the sky with a large bang. This was an integral part of the plot that I had forgotten about.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn't a euphemism?? Aw.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn’t a euphemism?? Aw.

I also forgot that Captain Jack was introduced as a time-traveling con man. He was heroic in pretty much every other episode after this that it was hard for me to remember that he was responsible for the problems that were caused by the episode.

Trying to strike a balance about what to talk about in the first part of this episode. This is a rather difficult post to write because so much of the payoff from this episode comes from the end of the next episode. I am trying to make sure I talk about how the setup worked as opposed to its resolution.

Also, this seems like a parental horror story of perpetually being followed by a bottomless pit of need that will follow you to the ends of the earth and possess all your electronics.

Nancy

Don't answer the phone. It's a scam.

Don’t answer the phone. It’s a scam.

Nancy is a total bad-ass. I know that a lot of our kiss-ass female culture is predicated upon the idea that women shed their feminine and maternal characteristics because those things make them weak.

I disagree.

Nancy is fiercely protective of the children under her care. She is unwilling to put up with any greedy bastard’s shit when it stands between her making sure the orphans in the Blitz can have a hot meal at the table with proper manners.

When we think about bad-ass characters, they are ones that fight. Sometimes we don’t know why they fight other than they are the good or bad guys and that is what they do. We have a dearth of characters that are not particularly strong but are willing to fight for people who are weaker than they are and get away with out out of pure nerve.

Nancy is a good example of a true strong female character. Giving a girl a bow and arrow doesn’t make them a strong role model, so can we please get away from this cliche? Thanks, bye.

Conclusion

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date...

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date…

Again, this is a rather short review because there isn’t really a lot that I can talk about until the next episode. Half of this episode was Captain Jack sweeping Rose off her feet with champaign in his invisible space ship, which is loads of fun, but isn’t really conducive to literary analysis.

All work and no play makes Captain Jack a dull boy…

This was also a rather patriotic episode between Rose’s Union Jack shirt and the story revolving around the English resistance to the German war machine. I can imagine stories like this are to the British what Band of Brothers was to America. Sometimes we forget that other countries are just as proud of their heritage as we are of ours and it’s interesting for me to see.

Why I Hate “Up”

Look! If you look quick you'll see my life fly by!

Look! If you look quick you’ll see my life fly by!

This morning I was reading this piece by John Scalzi. There are a lot of people angry about the last episode of Game of Thrones that seems to have a rape scene in it that serves no narrative purpose. As opposed to all the other rape scenes that somehow serve narrative purpose. Bygones…

For years I have been telling people, mostly men, that I hate “Up”. I am angry that the only female character in the whole movie dies within the first ten minutes. I am met with looks of disgust from these guys who all tell me that I obviously missed the point of the movie.

My annoyance has been rattling around my head for many years, but I was never really able to articulate the exact words as to why it pissed me off so badly. This quote from Scalzi’s piece really helped to crystalize in my brain why I hate Up:

I can’t specifically remember what the story idea was, but I vaguely recall it being some sort Silence of the Lambs-esque thriller, in which an investigator and a serial killer matched wits, you know, as they do. And at some point, I dragged the investigator’s wife into the story, because, as I was, like, 24 years old and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot, I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator, and a good plot development for the book, for the serial killer to basically rape and torture the wife.

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Women in Refrigerators

The idea of the wife/girlfriend/mother being attacked by the villain is not a new observation. There is an entire trope around it.

When you have something as blatant as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character being beheaded in “Seven”, it’s obvious that the character serves absolutely no purpose other than to be red shirted. No one makes the argument that her character was somehow a vital and important catalytic character in the movie when I am pretty sure she gets more screen time than Ellie does in “Up”.

I would like to argue that Ellie is not simply a woman in a refrigerator. She is part of a more pervasive trend that I have noticed in story telling where you still have flat female characters, but that somehow they have some holy purpose in that their existence saves the hero in some form or fashion, even if they can’t save themselves.

Coughing, Radiant, and Disposable

The next iteration of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the idea of the consumptive heroine. You have literal consumptive heroines like Nicole Kidman’s character in “Moulin Rouge” and Jessica Brown Findlay’s character in “Winter’s Tale”. This trope also bleeds over into any other instance where you have a female character dying of some kind of incurable disease whose death is used to enlighten the main character.

EllieDyingAgain, many of these films are very poorly done, so you don’t get a lot of people defending Jessica Brown Findlay’s death in either “Winter’s Tale” or “Downton Abbey.” Her deaths are more symbolic of something other than who she was as a person. In Downton it was to remind people that childbirth is treacherous and that her dad is a backwards asshole who won’t listen to the wise advice of a man of modern medicine. Her death services Lord Grantham’s character development rather than her own and acts as an After School Special about the dangers of preeclampsia.

Ellie doesn’t just die. She dies in the first ten minutes of the movie. When I looked up the film they didn’t even list the voice actress who played her at the beginning. She literally has no voice. The vast majority of her time on the screen is part of a musical montage where you see her lose her baby, get sick, and die.

Ellie for all intents and purposes dies in the cold open. If Up was an episode of CSI she would be the body they find at the beginning before the obligatory opening credits sequence blasting a song by The Who. No one would argue that the body at the beginning of the episode is the most important character in the show, yet so many people I talk to argue about how important Ellie is and how it could be argued that the movie is actually about her.

Again, this is getting closer to the heart of the issue, but it still doesn’t quite explain why “Up” bothers me so much.

Thanks for the Adventure, Now Go Have One of Your Own

This clip is what bothers me.

Here is my book of all the things I won't get to do! Huzzah!

Here is my book of all the things I won’t get to do! Huzzah!

I have already mentioned that Ellie loses her baby and eventually dies. She wanted to travel the world. She never gets to go on any adventures. This isn’t uncommon. When I was a kid I wanted to be the first female president. I know at least two people who went to college and studied rocket science because they wanted to be astronauts but never made it into space. Most people don’t wind up living the life they plan to lead. Sometimes the things we do today didn’t exist when we were children. There were no cell phones when I was a kid. The possibility of doing this didn’t even exist when I was trying to figure to what I wanted to be when I grew up. We all grow up and most of us wind up doing something different than what we thought.

It bothers me that somehow, we are supposed to have our heartstrings tugged by the fact that Ellie is satisfied with her “adventure” of being married to Carl for the last fifty years. There is nothing wrong with that. What bugs me to no end is that somehow, we’re not supposed to think that he should feel the same way.

“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”

So marriage was enough of an adventure for Ellie, but it isn’t good enough for Carl?

So much of pop culture revolves around the male midlife crisis. For an example, let’s look at the movie “American Beauty.”

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

The main character, played by Kevin Spacey, lives a meaningless existence. He is trapped in a sexless marriage with an anal retentive shrew who makes it clear to him that he has disappointed her. He works a dreary job that he hates where he gets no respect. Then he meets an underaged girl who gives his life meaning. He realizes he shouldn’t have settled for this dreary, miserable life. He buys a sports car, gets fired from his job, then goes to work at a fast food place so he can be stoned all day.

There are no stories about middle aged women who wake up one day and realize that they’re trapped in a marriage with a family they don’t want. That privilege is reserved only for men. Women are supposed to smile and nurture and never convey that they miss their lost youth when anything was possible. A guy can say he wishes he’d never had children but a woman who says so is a sociopath.

It bothers me that the writers of “Up” basically just made Ellie a plot device. She’s a consumptive heroine. She leads a perfect, blameless life where she is simply happy to have lived then died to teach Carl how to live.

How much more compelling would Up have been if Carl had been the one to die? Watching Ellie learning how to live after losing Carl would have been just as, if not more, compelling as watching Carl go on his adventure. Would the writer have been brave enough to have Carl leave the message to Ellie thanking her for the adventure? Do we assume that women have lower hopes and expectations for their lives than men do?

We're holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can't show any more than this.

We’re holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can’t show any more than this.

Pixar generally makes great movies, but I feel like they really drop the ball on thinking about female characters. We finally got a movie around a female character and we wound up with Brave, which figures that if you give a girl a bow and arrow you don’t have to give her any personality. There is no reason that every main character in most of their movies has to be male. It’s just the default.

I am very excited for “Inside Out”, the next movie that Pixar is coming out with. It is the movie I have been waiting for Pixar to do. The movie takes place inside the mind of a tweenaged girl who is going through life changes. The main emotional character is played by Amy Pohler. This movie could have had either a male or a female main character and they picked a girl. I am hopeful that this film will start to make up for all the lazy female characterizations over the last twenty years.

Death Handled Well

There is a right way to handle death as a piece of character development. The best example of this that I can point to is from the pilot of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

In DS9, Benjamin Sisco’s wife Jennifer isn’t killed as a catalyst to either hurt or save Benjamin. Her death is tragic. She is killed by an anonymous enemy that destroys thousands of people. She is also killed in the first few minutes of the episode, but her death differs in some key ways.

She isn’t some inspiration to Benjamin about how important life is and to catalyze a moment of self actualization. Benjamin is a husk of a man after he loses her. He raises their son alone while he tries to cope with the trauma of losing her. Her death doesn’t inspire him. Her death arrests him. The entire episode is about showing how he can’t move on from the moment he loses her.

I can’t find a clip of this scene, but it’s brilliant and I strongly recommend watching the whole episode just for this scene. Here’s a transcript of what is said:

SISKO: What is the point of bringing me back again to this?
JAKE: We do not bring you here.
JENNIFER: You bring us here.
TACTICAL: You exist here.
SISKO: Then give me the power to lead you somewhere else. Anywhere else.
OPAKA: We cannot give you what you deny yourself. Look for solutions from within, Commander.
SISKO: I was ready to die with her.
TACTICAL: Die? What is this?
JENNIFER: The termination of their linear existence.
(and she puts her hand on his cheek)
TACTICAL: We’ve got to go now, sir.
SISKO 2: Damn it, we just can’t leave her here. Oh, no!
SISKO: I never left this ship.
JENNIFER: You exist here.
SISKO: I exist here. I don’t know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this.
JENNIFER: None of your past experiences helped prepare you for this consequence.
SISKO: And I have never figured out how to live without her.
JENNIFER: So you choose to exist here. It is not linear.
SISKO: No. It’s not linear.
(and he finally starts to grieve properly)

We’re not meant to think of Jennifer as a fully fleshed out character. She is a plot device whose specter looms over the whole episode. Benjamin is stuck and can’t move on from her death. The inability to move on from a tragedy is a powerful story that all too many of us can identify with that is rarely explored in media.

Now just make sure you don't go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

Now just make sure you don’t go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

The difference between Jennifer and Ellie is that we are supposed to somehow feel that Ellie is a main character who had a fully fleshed out life and existence. Even though she dies in the first ten minutes, we’re meant to think that somehow because she considered her life an adventure it makes up for the fact that she conveniently disappears ten minutes in so we don’t have to worry about her pesky emotional wants and needs.

I guess I also think it’s different because I feel like Ellie was tortured before she died. She didn’t get to live out her dreams. She lost her baby. She got sick and died. She had this miserable series of misfortunes and at the end we’re supposed to feel like it’s okay because she says she had a great adventure.

I am okay with Jennifer not being a fully formed character in DS9. No one is making the argument that she is. Sisco is the only captain on Star Trek who married and had a family. Showing the story of an African-American single dad is a story we basically never see. I am not going to quibble about Jennifer getting the short straw on this because it opens up another, richer story vein. Avery Brooks shows more naked grief in this clip than Carl does in the whole movie. Any time we can show any man, let alone an African-American one, cry from grief without being shamed for not manning up is okay by me. We need more of this.

Bringing it Back Around

So what was it about John Scalzi’s piece that really crystalized these thoughts for me?

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Someone who came up with the story for Up decided that killing Ellie would be an interesting character note. Her character was made to be this perfect woman that any man would love to be with. Her purpose was to make Carl happy and to have no agency of her own. Someone thought that having her die would be an interesting story note for Carl. There were no other female characters in the whole movie except for Kevin, who is assumed to be male for most of the movie.

All the men who come up to me and tell me that I obviously didn’t understand what the movie was about are coming from this perspective. They put themselves in Carl’s shoes and think about how happy they would have been to have had a perfect girl save them and be with them for fifty years and think that the life they led together was enough.

Me, I saw this movie when I was unemployed and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Seeing this woman who was very much like me give up on everything she wanted to give up and die chilled me to the core.

I did not want that to happen to me.

I did not want to lower my expectations to the point where I would give up on ever doing anything with my life. I have fought for over five years to try and make something of myself because I knew that I would not be happy having the life that Ellie led. I dare say most women would not be happy leading that life. Some men want to believe that women don’t have any aspirations beyond getting married and having a family because it absolves them of any responsibility for situations they are unhappy about. It allows us to think that somehow men and women want different things. Men want to be free and have adventures. Women want to settle down and nest. Somehow it’s not possible for both men and women to want the same things.

I think that we are limiting ourselves by writing off the other gender as unknowable and stereotypical. Not all women want to have children and not all men want to be perpetually single. If you go through life without trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you will miss a lot of the things that make life amazing. You might accidentally answer a personal ad from your wife because you never thought she might like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

up-pixar

Doctor Who: Series One- The Long Game

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

This is the last mediocre episode of the first series. Each episode after this is a classic or furthers the end game for this series. As such, this episode was kind of hard to get to because it wasn’t one of the ones I was super enthused about watching and reviewing for this blog series.

This one isn’t “bad” per se, it’s just not nearly as special as the stuff that comes after it.

Time to churn through this one and get to the good stuff!!

The Failed Companion

The point of the Companion in Doctor Who is to have an audience proxy. You’re supposed to be able to watch the show and imagine that you are the one traveling to distant times and spaces. They’re supposed to be relatable so that you can picture yourself as one.

Russell T. Davies trolled us a little with Adam. He established that not everyone is companion material. Some people are special and they get to be companions. People who are selfish Adam Eyeor thoughtless don’t get to keep their Golden Ticket, which is what happened with Adam.

Adam gets mentioned in an iO9 article about depressing Companion departures and for good reason. While his departure isn’t as depressing as Donna Noble’s, it still illustrates how one stupid decision can fuck you for the rest of your life.

I only saw this episode once and didn’t really grok why Adam was considered irredeemable. Going through it again, I am seeing small moments that foreshadow why he was kicked to the curb. We see the moment when he has the cell phone that can call the past that he knows he should give back to Rose, but you see him deliberate it and decide to keep it instead.

Things continue to get worse as the episode goes along. It’s rather disappointing to see someone give in to their base instincts. I realized as the episode went on that Adam is basically Biff from Back to the Future. If there was a sport’s record book available in Satellite Five we would live in an unfortunate reality. It’s too bad he can’t go back and invest in Apple when it was nineteen bucks a share.

Again, it’s really interesting to go back and see this episode and see all the stupid shit Adam does. I barely remembered this episode. Seeing the iO9 article I didn’t even remember Adam was a character. Going back and watching this I am puzzled why this didn’t leave a more visceral impact on me. The part where The Doctor is being given away because Adam opened up his mind to the High Intelligence to send a message to himself in the past to invent/invest in the right technology is really memorable and I honestly don’t know why it didn’t make a bigger impact.

Satellite Five

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Yes, I am going to get crap from Chris Adamson, but this whole episode seems like a giant cautionary tale about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. This is a prospective future where the human race lets itself be controlled by an infotainment industrial complex. There is a higher power using its influence to control the reality experienced by humanity to ensure that no one asks any questions about what is happening to society. People are allowing themselves to be blindly led and live in terror of amorphous threats with no solid or concrete parameters.

The plot device where people open their brains to the main computer is a decent allegory for our current social media experiment. People are voluntarily pumping their personal information out to people who capitalize on it and are using it to design ever more manipulative ways to contour our reality.

It’s kind of disappointing that they have Simon Pegg here and he isn’t using his real accent and he’s blond. All of his personality is kind of stripped. It makes me sad.

The Doctor and Rose

It’s fascinating to see how far Rose has come since the beginning of the series. This is only her seventh outing, but she is giving the grand tour to Adam like a pro. It’s kind of cute to see The Doctor watching her with a modicum of pride for her confidence in showing him the ropes. His little companion is growing up!! However, she hasn’t learned not to give away the TARDIS key yet. Bad Rose!

It’s interesting to see how proud The Doctor seems of Rose. In the first several episodes of this series he treated her as something of a pet. She was a curiosity. She was someone who was more remarkable than the people around her, but she was still an inferior human.

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

There are parts in the episode where The Doctor seems to delight in the growth that Rose has made over the course of the season. He chastises the woman who doesn’t think the heat is an issue by saying that Rose is asking all the right questions. It’s also fun to see Rose’s sort of smug, “Ha ha, I got praised by The Doctor!” look at this comment.

I find it personally fascinating to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this series. I don’t really feel that many other companions go through this process. The only other companion I can think of who really profoundly changes over the course of the series is Donna. This first series had to do a lot to introduce Doctor Who to a new generation of people while staying true to the old series. The decision to make The Doctor rather grizzled and militant and to have him slowly recover his lost whimsey was a really interesting and successful choice by RTD.

It speaks to the strength of their relationship that The Doctor didn’t kick Rose to the curb as well after this incident. She wanted to bring Adam with them. She gave him the key. She made a mistake. He could have decided he was done with her after this, but he needs her and he knows it. There wasn’t a moment when he even considers that course of action. It speaks to the strength of their relationship even this early in the season that it feels natural that he wouldn’t take it out on her. Also, that would have disrupted the season and that would have been an unwise choice.

One of the complaints that I have about the Moffatt era Doctors is how little they seem to grow and evolve. Yes, you can argue with me that this past series with Clara and Danny Pink was somehow different, but it really didn’t capture me in the same way this series did. I don’t know if it’s the chemistry between Eccleston and Piper or if he was just such a good actor that no one else has been able to approach what he did. I truly believe he shows the greatest range of realistic emotions of all the modern Doctors. Peter Capaldi never really captured the extreme goofiness and the extreme menace that Eccleston oscillated between throughout each episode of this series.

For now I am delighting in watching his relationship with Rose. When they break onto Floor 500, The Doctor comments that everyone seems to have dropped out besides Rose and himself. And he likes it that way. So does she.

Don't fuck with us.

Don’t fuck with us.

The Future is Fragile

One of the biggest aspects of most science fiction from the twentieth century is this pervading idea that humans will conquer the galaxy. Except we don’t mean militarily. We will colonize space and explore strange new worlds. If you look at Star Trek, humanity is at the epicenter of galactic civilization. In Doctor Who, thousands of races interbred and descended from humanity. In Doctor Who, humanity has a destiny that The Doctor spends so much time to shepherd to fruition.

One aspect of this episode that is interesting and terrifying is just how tenuous that future is. The future we view in this episode isn’t the future we expect from humanity, but one that is terrifyingly similar to the one we live in now. A future where all of humanity’s information about the world is manufactured and filtered through a mechanism to warp our basic potential.

One of the reasons I hate the current Star Trek movie reboot is that J. J. Abrams clearly didn’t understand what made Star Trek appealing to begin with. Star Trek came out at the height of the Cold War and it was created to give hope to humanity that one day we would overcome our differences and move forward into the future united rather than divided. I feel like this episode is kind of like what would have happened if at various critical points in our history our better natures didn’t prevail and we never progress past where we are now. It really drives home this idea that the future is fragile. We have the potential to do great things but it takes very little to derail our bright future.

However, it’s nice that in our evil media future that we no longer just have the male/female genders, we have male/female/multisex/undecided/robot. Tolerance is always a good lesson.

Conclusion

I am glad I went back and rewatched this episode. It didn’t leave a huge impact on me initially, but there is a lot of good stuff in here that I missed the first time through.

Now that we are through the slow part of the season, we get to go and visit one of the strongest episodes of New Who: Father’s Day. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Series One- Aliens of London

aliensOfLondonAh yes, we have arrived at the notorious “farting aliens” episode of Doctor Who. Many people who argue that the Moffat era is better than the Russell T. Davies era (who are wrong, by the way) usually point to this episode of a prime example of everything that was wrong with the way Davies ran the show.

Who are all of these people and why do we never see them again??

Who are all of these people and why do we never see them again??

Even though the aliens are the main attraction for this episode, there is actually a rather fascinating plot twist that Davies throws at the beginning of the episode. Instead of The Doctor bringing Rose home twelve hours later, he brought her home twelve months later. Oops.

Side note: How much control does The Doctor have over the TARDIS? Just last episode the TARDIS unilaterally decided to land a decade later in another part of the island than where The Doctor specified it to go. The entire Amy Pond mythos is built on her being The Girl Who Waited because the TARDIS was supposed to return in ten minutes but returned twenty years later. Is the TARDIS misfiring like the holodeck malfunction episodes of Star Trek? End side note.

Jackie

I think it’s hard to remember later in the series that Jackie has an excellent reason for disliking and mistrusting The Doctor. He is the reason that her daughter has been missing for the last year (which makes me wonder exactly when the phone call from The End of the World happened chronologically…).

Most awkward family reunion ever...

Most awkward family reunion ever…

There is a glorious writeup of Twilight from Bella Swan’s father’s perspective that isn’t too far off from Jackie’s perspective in this episode. Your daughter meets a strange man the day that all the mannequins come to life and disappears for a year. You have no idea what happened to her and she waltzes in a year later like nothing happened. No apology for the emotional agony you went through for a year thinking your daughter was dead but having no idea how or why. Additionally, Jackie already lost her husband, Rose’s father. That year had to be hellish for Jackie and it’s no wonder that she is actively hostile to The Doctor for a while after this.

When we watch the show, we tend to not think about the peripheral people left behind when the companion goes on her adventures. One of the weaknesses I have felt with the Moffat era is that he conveniently strips away these loose ends and doesn’t explore them at all. Amy’s parents get sucked into a crack in the Universe, so there is no one to miss her when she goes away. Clara conveniently has no parents or immediate family to notice she is gone. Rory Williams and Danny Pink get involved in the Doctor’s travels, so they aren’t around to worry about what happened to their girlfriends.

Hey, you know how I told everyone you murdered my daughter? Can we just forget about that??

Hey, you know how I told everyone you murdered my daughter? Can we just forget about that??

One of the reasons the J. R. R. Tolkien books are compelling is that they actually explore what happens to the characters after they get home from their grand adventures. Bilbo returns from his adventure with a trunk of gold to find that they are in the process of dismantling his estate because everyone thinks he is dead. He is forever changed by the experience and never feels quite at home with his fellow hobbits anymore. Frodo can’t go back to his normal life because of all he has experienced as the Ring Bearer, so he travels across the sea with everyone else. Only Sam is able to make a home and a family after his adventure and to continue to exist in the world after his experiences. He is the Martha Jones of the hobbits.

Those stories are compelling and worth telling and I have found the more recent seasons of Doctor Who rather soulless because they don’t do as much of this as they used to. I know that everyone is saying this most recent season went back to this idea with expanding Clara’s character and the fate of Danny Pink, but I don’t think Moffat’s strong suit is writing emotionally compelling characters and a lot of this season just didn’t do it for me for reasons I can’t articulate.

Micky

Oh Micky. Micky, Micky, Micky. I do not understand Micky. It isn’t that I think he is an unrealistic character. Quite the contrary, I think he is very realistic, which to me is rather tragic.

What do you say to your girlfriend who disappears for a year and whose mom tells everyone you murdered her?

What do you say to your girlfriend who disappears for a year and whose mom tells everyone you murdered her?

Micky witnesses his girlfriend jumping in a blue police box with a strange man, sees the box disappear, then becomes the prime suspect in his girlfriend’s murder. No one would believe hearing what actually happened and everyone believes he killed her. She comes back after a year and doesn’t bother to come see him. He finds out she is home because he once again observes the TARDIS disappear. We get an unnecessary slapstick moment when he runs into a wall trying to catch the TARDIS. She has no idea what trouble her decision cost him.

She feels kind of sorry, but she just doesn’t get it. Yet, in spite of all of this, Micky stays with her. Why? She did one of the most horrible things you can do to another human being, yet he stays and I don’t understand why. If anyone treated me half as badly as she treated him, I would walk away. I would want nothing to do with someone who was that thoughtless and who clearly had no regard for me, yet he doesn’t do that.

It’s nice that later in the series they actually evolve his character somewhat and give him a spine and let him be a bad-ass, but watching him in this episode is rather disheartening.

Harriet Jones and Toshiko Sato

The Gallifreycrumb Tinies. Look it up. You will be happy.

The Gallifreycrumb Tinies. Look it up. You will be happy.

Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North/Prime Minister. Yes Harriet, we know who you are.

I have a special place in my heart for Harriet Jones. When I started going to more and more programming conferences I started feeling a bit like Harriet Jones. “Hi, I am Red Queen Coder!” “Yes, Janie, we know who you are.”

I empathize with Harriet’s attempts to make herself important and her idiotic nattering about the Flydale infirmary when the government is dealing with a lists because of the aliens. Sometimes it takes a little while for the gears to shift in one’s head.

It’s really cool to see how the experiences in this episode change her. She goes from a rather unimportant person to being the Prime Minister. When I was a kid my dad used to tell me that the difference between a lucky man and an unlucky man was that the lucky one jumps when the universe says jump. Harriet was given an opportunity, much like Rose was, of expanding and broadening her horizons and she makes the most of that opportunity. She also validates my own personal habit of being somewhat nosy and wanting to know everything. Usually nosy people wander into situations they aren’t supposed to be in and they get murdered. Seeing one actually posses vital information and being a story catalyst is somewhat gratifying.

Sorry Harriet, that isn't psychic paper. You don't have clearance to be here.

Sorry Harriet, that isn’t psychic paper. You don’t have clearance to be here. Yet.

It’s fun watching the actress, Penelope Wilton, trading barbs with Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey. It isn’t really apparent in her appearances, but the actress is actually quite capable of holding her own against actors with quite a lot of presence and it’s nice to see that later she gets to stretch herself a bit more than she does here.

This episode also drops another Torchwood breadcrumb with the first appearance of Toshiko Sato. In Torchwood Toshiko is a computer programmer and not a doctor, so there is a nice wink to this appearance in her last episode on the show where we discover she was taking the place of Owen Harper because he was too hung over to come and analyze the alien. Over the last two episodes we have indirectly met the vast majority of the components that will eventually make up Torchwood.

The Slitheen

Yes, this episode has farting aliens. Yes. they have incredibly bad alien design and costume construction. There is no doubt that the Slitheen and the “alien” are the weak points of this episode. If the other stuff wasn’t so good this episode would be unsalvageable. It’s truly unfortunate that this atrocity got grafted onto the good stuff in this episode.

Breadcrumbs

Squee! This is the episode where Rose gets a key to the TARDIS!! That is a big moment in any companion’s relationship with The Doctor.

This episode includes the first modern reference to UNIT, which I believe we see in person for the first time in the 50th anniversary special.

We also get our first mention of Bad Wolf, which will be a rather important plot point by the end of the season.

Conclusion

This fourth episode of the series brings things around in a fairly satisfying manner. Like my other blog posts have articulated, there are certain kinds of episodes you can only really tell once. We have had the progression from the initial meeting, going to the future, going to the past, and now coming home. From this point forward, we aren’t really going to see a lot of stories that can only be specifically told at the beginning.

One of the challenges with New Who was introducing a new generation of people to what Doctor Who is without annoying long-term fans. These episodes have done a wonderful job of building a foundation about not only what Doctor Who is about, but also what the Davies era will be like. The Moffat era has been categorized by puzzles and the Davies era is categorized by relationships and character progression. Unfortunately, specifically with this episode, we are seeing that the Davies era will also be defined by a lot of things that are done in poor taste.

The next episode of Doctor Who is the second part of this episode, which unfortunately won’t have the wonderful character progression to anchor it in reality. I foresee the next episode being among my least favorite because I don’t think they will get into any of the stuff I watch Doctor Who for. We’re stuck with the Slitheen for another few episodes this season. Fortunately they aren’t going to be like the Weeping Angels that will come back to haunt us for an eternity.

Until next time.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Unquiet Dead

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You may or may not have noticed that I have somewhat dropped the ball on my recap/rewatch of the first season/series of Doctor Who. Not only have I been incredibly busy the last month or so, but I was also kind of dreading watching this episode.

The first time I tried to get through Doctor Who, this was the episode that derailed me. The first two episodes were weird but they were good. They had enough good aspects to endear them to me to the point that I was going to continue watching. When I got to this episode and they show a woman possessed by ghosts in the cold open, I was like, “Seriously, are you fucking kidding me!! I thought this was about aliens, not supernatural crap!!”

I quit watching and I had to try a few more times to get through this episode.

Don’t Know Much About History…

One thing that has struck me when I started watching this episode is that I can’t really remember the last time we had a decent historical episode of Doctor Who. In the many River Song episodes she mentions The Doctor taking her to different places and times on her many excursions out of prison, but we don’t have a lot of episodes where our team just travels somewhere in the past for no good reason.

seanceThe last episode I can remember where they went off on a happy excursion to the past was the Donna/Tennant episode where they visited Pompeii. Most of the Moffat-era excursions to the past had to do with whatever wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey puzzle agenda he wanted to deal with at any particular point in time.

One thing I feel is kind of missing with more recent seasons of Who is this feeling of adventure, of just going to places because they are there. Every episode deals with some kind of universe-threatening crisis that must be solved and it gets kind of tiring after a while. I know in the last season with the Ponds they talk about going on adventures, but we never see them.

We always have the reaction shot of wonder from each new Companion when they realize the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, why did they have to do away with the sense of wonder that comes with having a machine that will take you anywhere in time and space?

I feel like this season afforded the writers one and only one opportunity to tell certain kinds of stories because they could only be told for the first time once. That was one reason I was so impressed that they chose to show the end of the world in the second episode. What impossible story do you tell when you can only tell the first impossible story once? What has significance and meaning? The destruction of the Earth and the realization that everything ends is rather interesting for the second episode of a new show.

Wait, I am off on a tangent about other episodes of this show, not the one I am watching. Sigh. Excelsior.

Gwyneth/Gwen Cooper

There are several actors who have appeared multiple times in different roles on Doctor Who. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is current Doctor Peter Capaldi. He first appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii”, then later in the Torchwood series “Children of Earth.”

gwen6Supposedly, I heard that eventually the series would address the fact that Capaldi has previously appeared on the show in some form or fashion. They may have already but I don’t know about it because I am still behind on the series.

It’s interesting to me to see how they deal with these continuity issues. I believe when Martha Jones was brought on as a companion she mentions having a cousin who died at Canary Wharf as a way to bridge the continuity issue of Freema Agyeman having appeared literally two episodes earlier as a different character.

Eve Myles is the first of three eventual Torchwood cross plants from the main universe. Her character here is named Gwyneth. In Torchwood, her name is Gwen Cooper. It isn’t a big stretch to believe that the Torchwood version of Myles was intended to have been a descendant of this character that she plays. I’ll address the other continuity characters when we encounter them.

Also realized that the weird alien fault line that Torchwood is built over is introduced in this episode. It’s interesting how many seeds for Torchwood are planted in this episode. It’s possible the writers just simply took a lot of stray pieces and repurposed them, but it’s fun to go back and see the trail of breadcrumbs that lead to Torchwood. I went into this episode feeling like it was something of a filler episode, but I am now realizing just how many things that became part of the Who mythos were introduced here.

I don’t think Who should cannibalize itself by only doing Weeping Angels episodes, but it would be nice to see more of the world building they did in the first few seasons where you get a character like Cassandra O’Brian coming back.

Charles Dickens

We can’t talk about this episode without mentioning our celebrity guest, Charles Dickens.

charlesDickensDickens is played by Simon Callow, who will forever be to me the theater owner from Amadeus who commissioned Mozart to write “The Magic Flute.” Interestingly, he also plays one of the idiotic theater owners in the miserable atrocity that was the film adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.” The other theater owner was played either by Julius Caesar from “Rome” or Mance Rayder from “Game of Thrones”, depending on how old your pop culture references are. Yes, I watch entirely too much British media.

Callow interests me because I have seen him in a number of different things. He is well known for being the funeral in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” He also published an incredibly comprehensive three-part biography of Orson Welles. He is a fairly well known British prestige actor who either plays characters from Dicken’s oeuvre or Dickens himself. He is just well known enough that everyone has probably seen him in something, but not so well known that you can think of him as being that one guy who did this one thing.

It’s good that Doctor Who got decent actors to play historical figures in the show. More recently, when it became a huge success, I can’t imagine it was hard to get well known character actors to appear, but I believe getting someone of Callow’s stature to appear in the first three episodes was something of a coup for the show.

Period Garb

periodGarbAnother thing I just noticed with this episode is that The Doctor makes Rose change into period-appropriate clothing before turning her loose on the town. Again, this is another thing that the show has kind of crept away from in most circumstances. Usually when the companions travel back in time, they get to wear whatever it is that they normally wear regardless of the time period.

I noticed that Rose has been wearing the same outfit for the last three episodes. I like the authenticity of the costume designer acknowledging that Rose never went home to change her clothes because she impulsively jumped in the TARDIS with The Doctor, plus the fact that most people wear things more than one time. That lends a bit of continuity to the episode. However, it probably has more to do with budget reasons and laziness than actually putting thought into the continuity.

It’s also a nice lampshade on the show for The Doctor to claim he has changed because he changed his shirt. The Doctor always wears clothes on the same theme even if certain aspects of the outfit like the color of the suit will change.

Girl Talk

There is a wonderful scene in this episode where Rose and Gwyneth talk about their jobs and how they hated school. There are a number of scenes like this one from various episodes in the Davies era. There was the one from the previous episode where she talks to the maintenance person and one where Martha Jones is trying to get The Master’s nurse to swear in front of her.

GwenCooperFor the most part these scenes don’t really drive the action forward very much, but they do serve a great purpose in establishing that no matter where or when you are, people are not really all that different. An alien at the end of time still has the same thoughts and feelings as a doctor in the twenty-first century.

These scenes can only be done with the companions because they are a very human aspect of the show that The Doctor just doesn’t fulfill. The Doctor will protect and save humanity, but there is never any doubt that The Doctor is not one of us. He is not human. He never will be. He can like and respect his companions as people without ever really being one of us.

When Rose changes into her period garb, The Doctor is shocked and tells her she looks beautiful, for a human. That kind of sums The Doctor up in a nutshell. He can enjoy the companionship of Rose in an aesthetic way without ever really feeling an actual, real connection to her on a human level.

I currently have my pug sleeping on my chest. I love her and enjoy feeling her fur with my fingers, but I never for one moment think that we are on the same level. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love and care about her, I just know that we are not the same and we never will be.

Nature of Humanity

I find the nature of the conflict between Rose and The Doctor to be fascinating. The aliens asking to use the bodies of the dead is an interesting morality question.

Our culture sees the defilement of dead bodies to be an atrocity. But, if you see it from The Doctor’s perspective, whatever made those people who they were is now gone. We throw away millions of viable organs every year because people need to opt in to organ donation programs and many times the organs are either unusable or the doctors are too worried about being sued to harvest them.

GwenGhostIf you look at things logically, it should make total sense for us to let these aliens inhabit dead bodies. However, on a basic human level, we see this as abhorrent. It seems like a cop out at the end when we discover that the aliens are actually horrible people and we can feel good about denying them access to the bodies.

I also wanted to address Gwyneth’s death. I am a sensitive person. I am hurt very easily by other people’s pain. One struggle I personally have is trying to separate other people’s pain from my own. I keep feeling like I can take their pain from them and that they will feel better, but you can’t do that. Everyone has to experience their own pain.

Gwyneth’s willingness to allow herself to be a conduit for these aliens spoke to me because I could totally see myself doing the same thing. I would feel like I was special, or chosen because I could help save these angels and I would allow them to destroy me. I have done that before. There is something intoxicating about feeling like you are the only person who can help someone that sets you up to be in a position of being damaged by forces you don’t control. Extreme empathy can sometimes feel like a gift, but it is a gift that brings destruction if you can’t learn to protect yourself from its consequences.

Assessment

This episode isn’t as bad as I remember it being. I was kind of dreading having to watch this episode after the great one we just had and knowing the great episodes coming up before the end of the season.

I guess the thing that kind of makes this episode for me is all the breadcrumbs that would be picked up for Torchwood. I know other people don’t agree with me, but I don’t feel like the past few seasons have had the same world building that these first few seasons have. Introducing Danny Pink to be Clara’s boyfriend and to set him up to be sacrificed at the end of the season is different than having a few recurring characters who show up over several seasons.

I had also overlooked the plot point where everything hinges on Gwyneth’s embracing of her destiny to be destroyed by the angels. As much as The Doctor and Rose disagreed about whether it was moral for the aliens to inhabit dead bodies, if Gwyneth had not agreed to be the conduit, the argument would have been moot.

This is a pretty solid episode. The writers probably did right by going back in time. These first few episodes lay the ground for everything that comes after it. I think writing a critical assessment of this episode gave me a better understanding of the emotional resonance of the episode.

Up next, we have “Aliens of London.” We get to see the fallout of Rose’s decision to jump in the TARDIS and follow The Doctor to the end of the world.