Category Archives: Science Fiction

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- Father’s Day

PeteRose

I am probably going to retract this by the end of the season, but this is the best episode of Doctor Who so far. The first half of the season was acclimating new viewers to the Who universe and doing a lot of setup and stories that could only be done once.

This episode is the first real episode to explore what Doctor Who is capable of. Everyone wants to be the Companion and run away with the madman in the box. However, the strongest Doctor Who stories have always been character studies about specific companions and their own lives and stories. The fact that the “monster of the week” isn’t the Cybermen or The Master or some other outside force other than Rose’s desire to save the father she never knew makes this episode far more compelling than later outings with the Tyler clan.

It is my feeling since Stephen Moffat took over we are getting further and further away from actual stories about the Companions and getting more entrenched in JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box phenomenon. And no, this past season with Clara and Danny has not changed my assessment. It’s an improvement, but nothing dealing with Clara has has the same emotional gut punch that Rose, Martha, or Donna have had. For better or worse, I feel that Russell T. Davies had a much better handle on how to tell an emotionally driven story than Stephen Moffat has. If he would just make better wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey puzzles for his story arcs, I would be happy.

So it goes.

Pete and Jackie Tyler

I believe this is the first time we hear about Rose’s father in the series. We have met her mum and her boyfriend, but her father is out of the picture. Until now we didn’t know if he just walked out on the family or if he was in jail or what happened. We never really thought about it. It makes sense that he would not have been spoken about much since he died so long ago. Time heals all wounds and since Rose never really knew her father, he was just this empty spot in her life.

You don't miss something until it's gone.

You don’t miss something until it’s gone.

It’s interesting to see how Jackie describes Pete to Rose as a child and how she reacts to him when he is still alive. She talked to Rose about all of Pete’s wonderful inventions and all the ideas he had when she was scornful of them while he lived. That is such a realistic touch to his portrayal because people have all kinds of quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive you insane that endear you to them later when they are gone.

My grandfather died when I was in my twenties. He and I had been close when I was a child but as he grew older we grew apart because he was basically an overgrown child himself. We didn’t get along and I was sad when he died, but I didn’t think I cared all that much.

When I went to the funeral the minister giving the eulogy talked about all the things he loved doing and all of my memories of childhood came rushing back to me. He was the first person who ever treated me like I was special and he was a good friend to me when I needed one as a child. I started sobbing hysterically because there were so many memories I had of him that I had packed away because our relationship was too painful that all surfaced after he was gone. Human relationships are vast things far more complicated and compelling than any time paradox could possibly be.

The Doctor and Rose

One thing that strikes me going back and rewatching this episode is how it begins. Rose asks The Doctor if he can take her anywhere and he tells her that her wish is his command. He should know better than to put the universe at risk by possibly creating a time paradox. He does it anyway.

Trying to avoid making a stupid "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" joke here.

Trying to avoid making a stupid “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” joke here.

You could make the argument that this is sloppy storytelling, that The Doctor behaves irrationally because the story demands it. However, it doesn’t play that way.

The Doctor cares about Rose. He wants to make her happy. He is willing to do whatever she asks because he cares about her. Later it dawns on him that she might only have agreed to come with him so that he would do this for her and it hurts him to feel that she used him. Their relationship is become more complicated because he is allowing his attachment to her to become way too personal. The behavior is irrational because emotions are irrational. He is angry with her, not for putting the universe in danger, but because he feels like she used him and doesn’t actually care about him the way he cares about her.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won't walk off at the end of the season.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won’t walk off at the end of the season.

Watching Rose uncomfortably go through their house ratting on about all the stuff her dad had that she heard about and the camera cutting back to Eccleston standing in stone silence is awesome. I have always said that it’s great in shows where when the main character is angry they get really, really quiet. In Battlestar Galactica when Adama has to reprimand both Starbuck and Tigh after their escape from New Caprica, he doesn’t yell. He just gets very, very quiet and says the most devastating things he possibly can. This choice to just show Eccleston pissed was fantastic. He’s so angry he can’t verbally articulate it.

In spite of how angry he is at Rose, he does everything that he can to try to save her father, even to the point of trying to sacrifice himself in Pete’s place.

Even though they go to a lot of trouble to say they aren’t a couple, they certainly act like one. Rose’s knowing look when The Doctor comes back for her is great until she realizes exactly why he’s come back.

Dude, where's my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Dude, where’s my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Also, I hadn’t remembered why The Doctor came back for Rose. Going and seeing him walk into the TARDIS and seeing that it was no longer bigger on the inside, then seeing the wheels turning in his head processing why it was like that before panicking and yelling, “ROSE!” was great. He’s mad, but she’s in danger and he’s not going to just leave her there, even though it’s her fault. Actually, I don’t think he had much of a choice considering the TARDIS couldn’t take him away anyway…

Rose and Pete Tyler

It’s interesting to me to see the dynamic between Rose and Pete change over the course of the episode. When she saves his life he gets rather uncomfortable with her attention to him. He has no idea that she is his daughter or that he was supposed to die. Seriously, if some stranger pulled you out of the way of a moving car and started at you expectantly and you didn’t know why, how would you feel?

I think it’s to the credit of the writer that Rose has to come up with reasons to stay with her dad by lying about going to the wedding and needing a ride. I always hate it in TV shows where people wind up doing extraordinary things for strangers with no compelling reason other than the story needs it to be done. In the TV show Leverage you see the main characters taking up jobs in four person companies and no one bats an eye as to how they got there or why they are there and it’s tremendously frustrating.

Even though a lot of trouble has been made to show Pete as a screw-up, he is able to piece together that Rose is his daughter and that all of the damage that is happening is his fault. This episode takes a normal, ordinary man on the worst day of his life and allows him to be a hero he never was. He gets to see the daughter that he won’t be alive to see grow up. The episode makes it his choice to go and fulfill his destiny to die being hit by that car. How many people could do that, honestly?

Pete realizing that he is dead by listening to Rose tell him about this great dad he knows he is never going to be is completely heartbreaking. It’s got to be difficult to listen to someone describe this amazing person they think you are to realize that it isn’t you and it never will be.

It’s kind of awesome that The Doctor comes up with an impossible plan to save the day at the last minute that gets fouled up by the human emotions and irrationality present in a difficult situation. We get so used to The Doctor pulling a solution out of his ass that saves everyone at the last minute that it’s kind of awesome that they actually kill Pete Tyler and he stays dead. Not only that, but he’s made the choice that he will die to save everyone and everything.

1x08-Father-s-Day-doctor-who-17495248-1600-900

Ordinary People

A large, recurring theme in this episode especially is the idea of ordinary people. Rose argues that saving her dad isn’t a big deal because he wasn’t an important person. The Doctor says that the most ordinary person is the most important person in the universe. He tells the bride and groom that they are important.

So much of this first season of Who was about celebrating the ordinary. Rose is a normal, working class girl with a mundane, ordinary life. We get so wrapped up in the idea that everyone has to be Harry Potter that we lose track of the importance of common people. Each and every single person is the center of their own universe. We are not a world made of NPCs. We all work and love and live and that makes each and every one of us important.

After Thoughts

  • First off, I wanted to say that the person who scored this episode did a fantastic job. When Rose saves her dad and other bad time paradox things hit, the score shifts into a dissonant glissando. The music changes abruptly to a way that is wrong, which perfectly fits with the theme of this episode. Also, when Rose and The Doctor are talking about The Doctor having to let his entire world and people die, there is no soundtrack. None. It is silent. It is just him, his words, and his pain. Sorry, geeking out about music.

  • Holy crap. I didn’t process/remember that the best man at the wedding who was trying to talk the groom out of not marrying the mother of his child and to just live in sin for ten years was the guy’s father. LOL!!!

It's the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

It’s the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

  • I have no idea if weddings in Britain are the way they are portrayed in Doctor Who and other British media, but I think they’re fantastic. You have all of these women dressed like they are going to the Kentucky Derby who are hanging out in the basement of the Rotary Club. All the men are wearing tails while driving around in rusty old cars. Having this wedding taking place in the 80’s and having the hybrid of the hats and the 80’s fashion is absolutely fantastic.

  • I love the moment when The Doctor yells at Jackie to shut up and do what he says and when she actually meekly does it, he’s like, “Wow, I should have done that a long time ago!” It’s nice to have a moment of earned levity in the middle of a dark episode.

  • Also nice little jab at how clingy Mickey is even as a child.

  • The Doctor to Baby Rose: Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?

Seriously beautiful and amazing episode of Doctor Who. There is no grand mythology or puzzle to be solved. This is simply an episode about the power of love. Love can result in people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or doing the right thing to save the people we love and cherish.

Next up we have the equally amazing two-part episode “The Empty Child” and the introduction of one of my personal favorite characters, Captain Jack Harkness.

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- Dalek

EXTERMINATE!!

EXTERMINATE!!

Ah yes, the inevitable Dalek episode. It was always coming. It would be like having a Star Trek series without Klingons. It just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s hard to remember a time when the Daleks hadn’t been run into the ground. After half a season of new villains, it’s kind of nice to see a familiar face. We are also treated to a few breadcrumbs about the Time War that destroyed the Time Lords.

The Dalek

I do have to admit, I was a little more thrilled at seeing the Dalek than I thought I would be. Even though the species has been retconned and run into the ground, the moment when the lights come on and the Dalek starts yelling “EXTERMINATE!!” is still incredibly exciting. The reveal was done incredibly well and this has helped this episode age pretty well.

It can be hard figuring out a good way to reintroduce an old character to audiences who may not be familiar with the source material. Seeing how genuinely terrified Eccleston looks after handily dealing with a bunch of crises over the last few episodes is one of the reasons this episode is still so effective.

I realized that nearly every Dalek episode from New Who follows the same theme of them finding a Dalek that seems to be different than the other Daleks, one that has feelings and is capable of growth. The companion tries to convince The Doctor that this one is a special, unique snowflake. The Doctor gives the Dalek a chance, only to find out he was right all along. It’s really repetitive. It’s like watching Lucy snatch away the football from Charlie Brown.

I haven’t watched any Old Who, so not certain if this repetitive theme was actually a new idea back in 2005.
DalekEccleston

The Doctor

Eccleston does a tremendous job of selling The Doctor as someone who can be genuinely menacing. He spends a lot of time in the series being cuddly and adventurous, but this episode really drives home the point that The Doctor is a powerful being who has killed people in the past. He is the sole survivor of a war that wiped out two races of people, one of which was his own. The first few episodes sell him as the lonely god, the last of his kind. This is the episode where you realize that he is the one responsible for him being the last of his kind. His confrontation with the other last member of a wiped-out species is incredibly tragic.

On one hand, you can point to him and say that he made choices. He pulled the trigger that wiped out two species and he survived. What does he have to complain about?

It’s incredibly difficult to make the hard choice and to live with its consequences.

The Doctor’s interaction with the Dalek force him to process and deal with something he’s been running from since “The End of the World.” He doesn’t want to think about how he is responsible for a mass genocide. He wants to heal and explore. He didn’t want to be put in the position of destroying his own people. He wants to forget. This theme is explored in much greater detail during the 50th anniversary special, but it’s bones are established here, in this episode.

Facing uncomfortable reality.

Facing uncomfortable reality.


The scenes watching him torture the helpless and ridiculous looking Dalek are kind of disturbing. We’re used to this idea that The Doctor saves people and does impossible things. Watching him sink to a level of torturing a helpless creature and enjoying it is terrible.

I am actually interested in how many times The Doctor does terrible things. I know he’s done many over the course of the new series, but every time we encounter one it’s always disturbing.

On some level we expect The Doctor to be better than us. He’s not a human. He has lived for a thousand years. We expect him to be above all of our petty, meaningless concerns, to be more than we are. Watching him behave like a beast who enjoys tormenting the Dalek is terrible, not just because the act itself is terrible, but because the person doing it should be beyond such behaviors.

Adam Mitchell

We’re going to get into him a little more in the next episode, just wanted to mention that we are going to see him again.

Henry Van Statten

It’s nice seeing what the British think about Americans, but all things considered, if the Daleks were real I could totally see some asshole one percenter being the person who collects extra terrestrial artifacts.
roseDalek

Conclusion

This was an important episode in that it brought an iconic villain back to the Whoverse. I guess I didn’t have as strong of a reaction as I thought I might all things considered. The episode was good, but its impact has been blunted over the years by seeing the same Dalek story over and over again. Supposedly this Dalek and The Doctor are the last of their kind, yet the Daleks keep coming back over and over again. Why is it that the Daleks can keep coming back over and over again, yet the Timelords are irretrievably lost in time and space and meaning? Hell, we found out a year ago that they are still out there and not a peep about them in the current season. Well, except for The Master, but let’s not get into his own problems right now…

Up next, we have “The Long Game,” in which we find out what happens when The Doctor picks up someone who isn’t really meant to be a companion.

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

smiling
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.

Doctor Who: Series One- The End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…

Everything has its time and everything dies.

I had forgotten how many things this episode introduced us to. We got Lady Cassandra O’Brian, The Face of Barrowman, er, I mean, Boe, and we find out for the first time that The Doctor is the last of the Timelords.

The Doctor being responsible for wiping out the Timelords and the Daleks is such an ingrained part of the new series’ mythology that it is difficult to remember there was a time when discovered this information instead of just knowing it. We don’t discover The Doctor’s complicity in this episode yet, but we are introduced to the Lonely God, the Last of His Kind that will haunt the rest of the series from here on out.

It is strangely appropriate that the second episode of the new series is about the end of the world. The second episode of each season tends to be a disappointment because it’s hard to figure out where to go after the premiere. I am not saying this episode is a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it really does help set the tone for what the series is and what it could be. By introducing the fact that The Doctor had, offscreen, lost his entire race and showing Rose that everything she knows will end one day, it really does emphasize how small we are compared to everything in the Universe. It really puts our place in perspective.

Mum, you're breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

Mum, you’re breaking up! I only have one bar out here at the end of world!

In the middle of the episode we get Rose talking to her mother on the phone. Jackie is still in her unawakened state where she doesn’t really think about the fact that everything is going to end. Rose has had her perspective completely altered and her talking to her mom underscores the whole fact that she has been changed by her experiences, even as early in the series as it is.

There is a great part towards the beginning of the episode where Rose assumes that The Doctor is going to step in at the last minute and save the Earth. He tells her he won’t because its time is up. This is something we see less and less frequently in Doctor Who. We rarely see The Doctor refuse to step in and meddle with things. He will still occasionally say that something is a fixed point in time, like the destruction of Pompeii, but we have seen him jump through a multitude of hoops to avoid any real consequences of anything actually dying or being destroyed. Just look at the number of times Rory comes back from the dead.

Please start dancing and saying "I am Groot!"

Please start dancing and saying “I am Groot!”

It is nice that Doctor Who makes some token attempt to explain why every alien we encounter in the future is humanoid. By saying that humans left the Earth and interbred with various other species, we can at least have a logical explanation of why every species is bipedal and looks like human being in make-up. I know it is easier to just do make-up on actors in sci-fi, but I always like it when they at least attempt to explain why everyone looks like a person and speaks English.

One thing that I think is cool about having a working class companion is that we see interactions with a lot of people you might not see interactions with. The scene where Rose is chatting with the plumber is really cool. Yes, there are all of these important dignitaries there to watch the Earth die, but every time you have a function like that, there are a lot of nameless, faceless people who are working behind the scenes to make sure that things come off without a hitch. As cool as it is to see The Doctor hang out with various Prime Ministers, it is also really neat to take time to talk to Mitt Romney’s 47%. I don’t know if it is a function of Russell T. Davies being a member of an underrepresent minority, but his dedication to racial and gender diversity, along with showing people whose stories don’t normally get told is commendable.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

This Tainted Love is kind of Toxic.

One aspect of this series that delights me to no end is watching Christopher Eccleston being goofy. In this episode when they haul out the “iPod” and play the classical music tune “Tainted Love” watching Eccleston dancing to the music is all kinds of awesome. There are so many terribly cheesy or just plain bad things in the this season that only work because Eccleston has the gravitas to pull it off. Eccleston has been in a lot of terrible blockbuster action movies where he has been absolutely wasted. It is painful watching a movie like “Thor: The Dark World” where his character could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered.

The conversation between Rose and The Doctor where she tries to get him to tell her about himself and his people is very well crafted. The Doctor is going through the painful process of coming to grips with what has happened. Healing is not a linear process of slowly feeling better. Generally speaking, when you go through a trauma, parts of you shut down. The Doctor wants to take his new companion on a nice, fun adventure. He doesn’t want to think about or deal with the fact that he is responsible for the destruction of his people. Rose pressing him for straight answers begins to awaken uncomfortable feelings for The Doctor and you can see him trying to retreat back into his comfortable numbness, but he just can’t. The dragon has awakened and you can’t put it back to sleep.

Denial of Reality.

Denial of Reality.

You can run, but you can't hide...

You can run, but you can’t hide…

Seeing The Doctor go from dancing and being goofy to having to talk about the painful reality of being the last of his kind is a pivot that not a lot of actors could do. His work in the scene where he is confronted about being the last of the Timelords is painfully subtle. Eccleston conveys so much with his stillness and his silence.

I still maintain that Eccleston and Piper have the best chemistry of all the Doctor/Companion pairs. This is only their second episode but they have such sparky energy with one another when he is modifying her phone so she can call her mother. I am a highly sensitive person and I get all gushy inside watching the two of them interact. It makes me all kinds of happy. Watching this its hard to believe that these people have not been together for years. Their banter and comfort with one another is just so natural that it absolutely drives me insane that we only have a baker’s dozen episodes of the two of them.

I find the theme of this episode to be highly ironic. The episode deals with the inevitable end of everything, yet everyone involved in this episode has unnaturally extended the time they have been allotted. Lady Cassandra has morphed and mutated herself in a doomed attempt to avert and cheat death. The Earth has been artificially prevented from ending at its natural time. We don’t know it yet, but The Face of Boe is the immortal Captain Jack who was altered accidentally and is an abomination that the TARDIS will flee to the end of the Universe to try to escape. The Doctor himself is an immortal god.

Everything has its time and everything dies.

This episode spends so much time talking about so many people who have unnaturally extended their time in this existence. Life is precious because we have a finite amount of it.

The end of all things.

The end of all things.


The idea that trying to unnaturally extend your life is evil is a very common theme in sci-fi and fantasy. Vampires are cursed because they try to cheat death and they are marked by their curse. In the Harry Potter series Voldomort is physically maimed by his attempts to cheat death by breaking his soul into pieces and scattering them to the four corners of the globe. In Lord of the Rings, the wearers of the rings of power are granted unnaturally long life at the expense of their soul. Death is to be feared, but far more scary is the terrible cost at trying to avoid the inevitable.

Each and every moment we are given is precious. I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to do. I push myself very hard and make myself sick trying to make up for time I squandered when time felt limitless. I forget that sometimes it is important to just take a day or two to stop and look around at the wonder that exists all around us.

I went to Greenville, SC for a conference a few weeks ago. I got there half a day early and I spent the entire time just walking around a park in a place I have never been and might not ever see again. It recharged my soul to get away from all my worries and responsibilities and just exist for a few hours.

It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Sometimes you just have to accept that everything is going to end one day and take time to stop and smell the chips.

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let's eat chips!

Everything ends and everyone dies. Let’s eat chips!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten Episodes- All Good Things…

This is the final entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

The End

I know it is something of a cliche to include either the pilot or the final episode of a series in a top ten list, but this episode did such a great job that I had to include it.

Q_PicardEnding a long-running series is tricky. There is a multitude of nerd rage over shows that did not end in a satisfying manner. “The Sopranos” is the most prominent example, but there are plenty of other shows that have dropped the ball at the end.

It is tremendously difficult to strike a good balance between giving closure to the fans and going too far in the other direction and pandering to what you think the fans want to see. “Breaking Bad” recently wrapped up their series and it was the third-to-last episode that really packed the emotional punch for the series. The last few episodes wrapping things up but it wasn’t nearly as emotionally satisfying as that almost last episode was.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was from an earlier time before the mass serialization of TV became the norm. TNG had a few recurring characters and several plot threads that popped up over the years, but beyond a few two-part episodes there was not a lot of continuity from episode to episode.

One of those characters and plot threads was the omnipotent, ever-present Q. Q made his appearance in the pilot to put humanity on trial. That was a rather ballsy move to make in the pilot and it pays off in the finale because the writers could call back that scene to provide a nice bookend for the show.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

The only other Trek series to do anything like this was Deep Space Nine. DS9 had the awesome moment in the pilot where Gul Dukat strolls onto the station and you are immediately struck by what a menacing presence he has. DS9 at its core was a battle royale between the forces of good in the form of Benjamin Sisco and the forces of darkness in the form of Gul Dukat for control of the wormhole and its inhabitants.

If Gul Dukat or Q had been poorly cast, neither of these callbacks would have happened. In spite of the fact that TNG and DS9 were syndicated, relatively low budget shows, they got incredibly lucky with a lot of their casting. Getting an actor who could stand toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart who was genuinely menacing was awesome, which is why the writers kept bringing Q back over and over again. It’s difficult to remember that Q only appeared in just over a half dozen episodes of the series since his presence is such a vital part of its DNA.

Structure

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn't realize the NSA still exists in the future!

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn’t realize the NSA still exists in the future!

One benefit of having the plot driven by an omnipotent super being is that you can bring characters back from the dead without things seeming forced. Being able to send Picard through time and space without having to worry about the mechanics is a gift.

The best time travel episodes of Trek don’t bother to worry about how their heroes go back and forth through time. Look at “The City at the Edge of Forever.” Our heroes jump through a large rock and wind up back in time. They never talk about how they get back to the future because it doesn’t matter. Kirk fell in love with a woman who he had to let die to allow time to proceed as it should.

(Side note: I would give anything to see a cold open for Doctor Who where the TARDIS shows up on the Enterprise bridge, they talk to Patrick Stewart, fly off, and you see that they are in the middle of shooting an episode. Seriously Moffat, make it so!)

There have been a few moments in Star Trek where Picard has been tortured with the idea that he remembers things that are not real. Between “The Inner Light”, “The Chain of Command”, and “The Best of Both Worlds” I am shocked that he doesn’t have some terrible psychological trauma. I guess they have found a cure for PTSD in the future. One would hope at least.

It was kind of nice to see that at some point Picard and Beverly Crusher hook up, it just would have been nice to see it happen while the show was still going. I am surprised they never picked that thread up in any of the movies. The actors clearly had chemistry and the writers kind of flirt around with the idea without actually going there. If they were going to hook Worf and Troi up for the last few episodes of the series, couldn’t they have at least done the same thing for the two characters who actually made sense?

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Oh yeah, one of the low points of the finale is that in the future Worf and Riker hate one another because they both loved Troi and she mysteriously dies to fuel their irrational conflict. ”Women in Refrigerators” trope for the win!

It’s kind of nice to see how the writers were able to use the death of Tasha Yar so many times in the series to show that things were wonky without overusing it terribly. Each time they brought Tasha back it was in a great episode and she was used respectfully. I am glad that Denise Crosby was classy enough to come back the number of times she did for the fans of the show.

Paradox

The primary reason I am including this on my list is the central paradox in the episode.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

As I have written about a lot, I started programming rather later than most people did. I had a period of several years where I terribly abused my brain. I would come home from school and just stare off at a corner for half an hour because I couldn’t think enough to be able to know I had to take off my coat and my shoes.

I have stretched, broken, and healed my brain so many times that I think I might be addicted to the pain. Watching Picard go through the episode trying to piece the paradox together spoke to me on a fundamental level that a lot of Star Trek didn’t.

There was one quote in particular that really speaks to me. It happens at the end of the episode when Picard has saved the universe and is speaking to Q about his displeasure at being put on trial:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You know no matter how hard you try you'll never know everything, right?

You know no matter how hard you try you’ll never know everything, right?

Last year I was determined to learn Core Audio. I spent two months working my way through Chris Adamson’s Core Audio book. He was doing an all-day workshop on it at CocoaConf Boston and I moved heaven and earth to be able to go there. When I got there, I was incredibly worried about my future. I felt beaten down and broken by trying to get through programming. That was a really dark time for me. I used to feel joy when I learned and figured things out that had all but disappeared from my life. I was in a despair that I would never feel it again.

Going to that workshop changed my life. It was like a lot of concepts were floating around in my brain like iron filings and someone turned a magnet on and suddenly everything snapped into place. I couldn’t explain to anyone about what I realized, but for a brief moment everything clicked into place. I nearly cried because all of these things I couldn’t figure out suddenly came into focus. I could see how they fit together. I was so buzzed by this revelation that I didn’t sleep for a week.

I felt like I had made a pilgrimage through the desert with no hope that anything would be at the other end to discover that a paradise existed. I felt like my will and my tenacity had been tested and that I passed the test. I knew that anything else I tried to do would not be as difficult as the last year had been. I knew that I would be okay. I knew I would not fail.

Engage

I guess the main theme of this episode is talking about what Star Trek is really about. J.J. Abrams doesn’t fundamentally understand why people like Star Trek. It seems like this dated, wimpy show about a bunch of unrealistic peaceniks who have this stupid utopian view of the way the world should be. Those qualities are exactly what make Star Trek special.

It is superficially about exploring space and meeting weird exotic aliens, but it is about far more than that. It is about exploring what it means to be human. We encounter aspects of ourselves in the various species encountered by the Enterprise crew. The show is a hope for the future where we can bypass the issues we have now to work together for a better future.

We need this, now more than ever. We have a deeply divided country where half of us want to move backwards and half want to move forward. We have a group of people deeply suspicious of scientists warning us that if we aren’t careful we will make this planet uninhabitable. We have become terrified of bogeymen in headscarves that we are afraid will blow up our buildings, so we let our government treat all of us like criminals. We have militarized police turning their weapons on the people they are supposed to protect.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I need to believe we can transcend this period of our history. When Star Trek originally came out, we were at a similar precipice, except the bogeyman was nuclear war and had a Russian accent. Star Trek came at a time we needed to believe that it was possible that we could do better. We need that now, more than ever.

Our great challenge as a species isn’t to make it to the stars, it is to push ourselves to do better than we thought we could. That is the ultimate message of both this specific episode and of all of Star Trek. That is why this series has endured for nearly fifty years.

I want to finish up this post, and this series, with a quote from the pilot that I feel sums up my feelings about what Star Trek means to me. I want to thank you for reading my posts and I hope that they were not too terribly boring.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Some problem, Riker?

Commander William T. Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. – Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Favorite Episode- The First Duty

This is the ninth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth...

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth…

The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!

That quote, in a nutshell is the reason that this episode is my absolute favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever. I picked this episode over “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Tapestry”, and all the other wonderful episodes on my list.

Wesley Crusher

Wesley Crusher is among the most hated and problematic characters on TV. He was introduced in the first season of TNG and the writers didn’t really know what to do with him. Frankly, the writers didn’t really know what to do with any of the characters for the first few seasons of the series.

Yeah, well I don't really want to be here either...

Yeah, well I don’t really want to be here either…

I went to see “Datalore” in a movie theater when they were releasing the Blu-Ray versions of the each season of TNG. There is a point in the episode where Wesley is the only character who realizes Data is not Data. At that point, Picard snarls, “Shut up, Wesley!” Everyone in the theater burst into cheers. It bothered me that the writers would make Picard do something so unprofessional and out of character, but honestly he was saying what everyone probably thinks.

Wesley also wound up getting placed in this terrible characterization of always saving the ship. You had the elite, best of the best officers serving on the flagship of the Federation being made a fool of by a teenaged boy. I remember there was an episode where he creates a program that simulates voices and uses it to hack into the computer and make himself captain. I give props to Wil Wheaton for doing what he could with the character because I think I would have gagged over nearly everything he was given to do.

That was one reason this episode was so great. You had this problematic character who somehow miraculously always knew what to do who was now put in the very human situation of making a mistake. Not only did he make a mistake, he doubled down on his mistake by trying to cover it up.

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit...

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit…

I remember growing up somewhat isolated and not having a lot of friends. I found a group of friends in college. My father wanted me to transfer to a better school my last year of college. I chose not to because I found friends for the first time in my life and I thought that was more important. A week after the deadline to transfer all of my friends turned on me and I spent my last year of college alone. Wesley’s decision to stick with his friends out of loyalty rings true to me. It is very hard to betray people you know and want to like you, so his behavior is completely understandable. It is also understandable why he chooses to finally do the right thing. If everyone had to look Patrick Stewart in the eye while he tells them they disappointed him, then no one would ever do anything wrong.

Ensign Sito

One episode I had on my top ten list that I dropped because I realized it would overlap was “Lower Decks”. That episode appealed to me because it follows up from this episode.

Don't try to stare down Picard. Just don't.

Don’t try to stare down Picard. Just don’t.

Sito Jaxa is one of the members of Nova Squadron who is punished for her role in the cover-up. She doesn’t make a huge impression in “The First Duty” because you have powerhouse performances by Patrick Stewart, Ray Walston, and Robert Duncan McNeill.

When she comes back in a few seasons, you probably don’t remember her. You get a reminder that she has a backstory later in the episode.

Her story is interesting to me because it is a story that doesn’t get told very often. She is a person who made a mistake and was punished for it. That mistake could have ruined her future. She had to repeat a year of school and she lost all of her friends. She was known as one of the cadets who killed a teammate and tried to cover it up. The pressure of that drove Wesley to drop out of the Academy.

In fiction, we like self-contained stories. Person does something stupid, they get punished for it, the karmic balance of the universe is restored, let’s go have cake. There is a reason all the princess fairy tales end with “happily ever after” after the wedding. At that point stuff starts getting real and messy and complicated.

Sito Jaxa undercover

Sito Jaxa undercover

It is a very real thing to have your life torn apart and having to figure out where you go from there. One reason I find Steve Jobs compelling is that his story could have ended back in 1985 when he was forced out of Apple. Man starts company, is in over his head, flies too close to the sun, then crashes back down to Earth. Nice and tidy.

Except it isn’t. Your life crashes around your ears and you keep living. You can’t stop. You keep having to move forward. You learn. You change. You gather the pieces of your life and you start over.

I have encountered many people over the years who tell me that one false move will destroy my career. I do one wrong thing and it is over.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I thought my life was over six years ago. I had everything I worked for evaporate overnight. Everything was gone. I was 27 years old and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I did know, however, that I had to endure. I knew that I could not just give up on myself. I knew it would take time and it would be hard, but that I needed to get over it and keep going.

I don’t think that one bad decision I made when I was in my 20s should label me a failure and determine that I will never succeed. I think people are fully capable of learning from mistakes and becoming new and better people. I am not the same person I was five or ten years ago. The fact that they brought this character back and had her talk about having to pull herself together and persevere after nearly having her career destroyed by a mistake was just awesome.

Picard and Boothby

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my parents was to always be nice to support staff. Support staff are the people who really know what is going on. Being mean to them is tacky and it is also a really bad idea because they usually know more about what is going on that the people in “charge”.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

It is telling that when Picard gets back to the Academy the first person he goes to for the inside scoop is Boothby.

It is interesting that in my last recap, “Tapestry”, Picard got a chance to go back and prevent himself from making a mistake. Boothby helped him with some trouble that is completely different than the territory they covered in Tapestry.

I find it interesting that so much of the series is focused on breaking down Picard. He lost his heart by being stabbed. He got kidnapped by The Borg. He was tortured by the Cardassians. There is a running gag in Deep Space Nine that each season they have a “torture O’Brian” episode. They may have gotten the idea from torturing Picard.

I really can’t think of any other character in any form of literature whose development comes close to that of Jean-Luc Picard. Picard is the only character I know who has been allowed to fail and come back from it. He has failed many times. He is the only character I know of who is shown as a successful adult at the height of his career who got there by failing upward.

It is really nice that you have Picard getting advice from Boothby as a cadet, becoming the wise older man, then paying it forward to Wesley.

Seriously, I don’t think you can be human and be given this speech without feeling like complete and total crap:

Come on, don't tell me you don't want to sit in the Captain's chair too!!

Come on, don’t tell me you don’t want to sit in the Captain’s chair too!!

Do you remember the first day you came aboard this ship? Your mother brought you on the Bridge. And you even sat in my chair! I was annoyed! A presumptuous child playing on my ship! But I never forgot how you already knew every control, every display. You behaved as though you belonged on the Bridge. And then, later, when I decided to make you an acting Ensign, I was convinced that you could be an outstanding officer. And I never questioned that conviction… until now.

The biggest thing that has bothered me when I have failed is when I have let down someone who gave me a chance and believed in me. One of the things that helps me gather my fortitude and carry on is wanting to be able to show that person that they were not wrong.

Tom Paris, no, I mean Nicholas Locarno

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

Just want to make an aside about why the hell the creators of Voyager didn’t just call the Tom Paris character Nicholas Locarno when they cast McNeill. The character has basically the same backstory and personality. I understand that sometimes Star Trek actors get recycled, like how Dr. Leah Brahms turns up in Deep Space Nine as an admiral of some kind, but the characters are vastly different.

Maybe Tom Paris is just a shapeshifter. That would explain an awful lot, especially in that god-awful episode where they break the warp 10 barrier…

Truthiness

Earlier this year I read an article by a start-up founder talking about the cost of lying.

The general gist of the post is that when you lie to yourself or your investors, you are not living in reality. You are placing yourself in an aspirational reality that prevents you from being able to fix what is broken.

The last job I had before I dedicated myself to programming was for this company where our team leader didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Instead of talking to his bosses, he decided to hide the truth from them.

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

My second week on the job he told everyone to pretend to be busy. He would shame you if you asked any questions by implying that asking questions makes you look stupid and that if you have questions you should just keep them to yourself to avoid being judged and eventually fired. If he thought that anyone was talking to anyone else who was not on your team he would take you to an empty office and eviscerate you. He broke everyone down so that people would not leave or look for other jobs because they were convinced they were worthless and no one would ever hire them again.

All of this eventually caught up with him because I reported his behavior and the company had to deal with the fact that many things they thought were the case were based on lies. I was punished for my complicity in this scheme, which was fine. I really needed to figure out what to do with my life and that gave me the kick I needed to follow the path I needed to be on. All of this could have been avoided if the team lead had just told the truth right away and said “I don’t know what you want us to do.”

Unwillingness to deal with the truth is my smell test of whether I want to work for a company or not. If I talk to people who don’t want to deal with reality, then it is going to bleed into other areas. Most companies that have a bullying culture are unwilling to deal with the truth, so it gets ignored and swept under the rug.

Conclusion

I know this probably isn’t everyone’s favorite episode of Star Trek, but it was mine. It has many of the same themes as Tapestry, but I found this one slightly more compelling because you don’t really know what is going to happen to the characters. With Tapestry you know at the end of the episode Picard will be alive and that he will feel better about his mistakes. This ends on a question mark. There is no “happy ending” here. Wesley loses his friends and his leader gets expelled. You don’t know what is going to happen to Wesley.

Stand and deliver.

Stand and deliver.

I would argue that this incident is the reason Wesley kind of falls on his ass and drops out of the Academy.

Some people deal with adversity better than others. People either learn from their mistakes or those mistakes bring them down. I know that for me personally I have learned and grown so much from my mistakes that I would not trade them for anything. Other people get destroyed by incidents that happen to him. I am glad that the writers gave Wesley some grey areas instead of just having him graduate from the Academy early and be lined up to captain a ship right out of the Academy like some other Star Trek properties I could point to.

For those of you counting at home, I have only covered nine Star Trek episodes out of a Top Ten list. As we all know, “All Good Things…” must come to an end…