Tuesday, July 25, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season Finale: Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways

"I told you it was Daleks."

"I never doubted it."

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack are kidnapped off the TARDIS and stuck in futuristic version of what I later learned are contemporary reality and game shows. Some fans have expressed skepticism that this episode would hold up with people who weren't familiar with those shows. I wasn't, and I still got enough of the jokes to laugh at it. They bust out of their respective TV hells and we find ourselves back on the TV station satelight to meet it's real Masters, the Daleks. Then it's round up the troops and mount a defense, now we know why the London Blitz was brought up earlier.

Jack organizes a defense by some of the remaining humans, which ultimately fails but still buys some valuable time. The Doctor has a bad idea. Rose has two bad ideas. Between them and Jack's forces, the Daleks are defeated but the Doctor is forced to regenerate. A lyrical ending to a beautiful series.

There were many feel-good and teary-eyed moments, but the one that hit me like a sledgehammer didn't involve any of the main characters. It was the fate of the extras who were trapped on the space station with a Dalek invasion coming at them. Some of them went to fight the Daleks, knowing they were going to their deaths, while some of them hid and hoped they would be spared. You know what? They all died at about the same time. But some of them DID something with their deaths, even if it was only buy a few minutes time.

Watching that, all of a sudden I'm a teenager again. I'm different from other people around me, and they're trying to force me to change into someone who isn't me. Violent threats are made against me. I'm terrified. I'm convinced that someday soon someone is going to kill me. Looking back my fear was overblown, but it didn't seem that way at the time.

Then one day I realized that there was one thing "they" could NOT do. While "they" could line me up against a wall and shoot me whenever "they" felt like it, only I could decide if I would be cowering at the foot of that wall or standing on my feet staring back at them when it happened. I owned my death. It was a golden coin even my murderers would not be able to take it away from me. Once I realized that, I realized I owned my life as well. I grew up a lot that day, but that is another story.

This is a theme that echoes throughout this entire season. "The ordinary man is the most important thing in the universe" because at any moment the ordinary man might decide to become a hero or a villain. Everybody has a chance to be a hero, no matter who they are or what they do. Everybody is a hero everytime they help the people around them. "Go on," the Doctor tells a young thief stealing food for her children at one point. "Run along and save the world." And she does. So do servants, writers, reporters, doctors, con men, soldiers, and shop girls. Even a tow truck driver named Rodrigo gets to help save the world although we never see him and he'll never know it. But he helped someone who needed help, and that's what saving the world is all about. The world is saved every day by thousands of "ordinary" people who help each other and do the right thing. Without those people doing what they do each and every day, the world would never make it to sundown.

That's not to put down the "professional" heroes, but I'll get to them in my summary post. Then it's back to talking about schooling.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: Boom Town

More consequences of the Doctor's actions are explored here in questions the original series never asked.

The story opens back in Cardiff, which thanks to the events in "The Unquiet Dead" can now be used as a TARDIS fuel depot. I thought that was a loveley way of thanking the production team's hometown. Mickey comes to visit Rose, who has evidently had quite a few adventures with the Doctor and Jack since the last episode. The crew on board the TARDIS is tight and giddy with shared victories, and Mickey feels very much the outsider.

I enjoyed seeing the Doctor flirting again, this time with Jack. It's a shame our oversexed mainstream culture has forgotten so many of the old rules. Here's one about flirting: flirting can either be a prelude to sex or a replacement for sex. In the latter case it comes from two people realizing that flirting is as close to sex as they care to get, so why not kick back and enjoy it? It's much more bearable than the modern equivalent, the dreaded "can't we just be friends?" line.

The fact that the Doctor flirts with Jabe and Jack says nothing about his level of sexual activity. Some of history's greatest flirts have been celibate, the theory was that it provided them a release valve. I'm greatly releived to see the Doctor flirting for just that reason.

On the other hand it says nothing about his lack of sexual activity, but Rose wouldn't understand and that crew is too tiny to weather that level of emotional tension. Not that this will slow down most of the slash fans.

Margaret the Slitheen is back trying to blow up the world again. The crew catches her, but while they're topping off the fuel tank she takes the opportunity to plead for mercy from the Doctor over dinner. Unfortunately she doesn't understand how to do it. You can feel the Doctor rooting for her, "Come on Margaret! Let's have some genuine remorse, atonement, restitution. Convince me you really will turn your life around if I let you go!" Alas, she fails to offer any real recompense for her deeds, and the Doctor is left to take her back home to her execuation.

BZZZTT! The "overused meme" buzzer goes off again, this time on pregnant brides. So far we've had Jackie and Sara in "Father's Day" and now another one here. Doesn't anybody in Britain marry without getting knocked up first? Throw in the unwed teenage mother from the last story, and you've got way too many out-of-wedlock pregnancies for one season.

Meanwhile, Rose and Mickey are having a date. Mickey is having a hard time dealing with being in effect a sailor's girlfriend. It's a completely different life from anything he's known before, and he doesn't know how to handle it. I once heard a woman whose family has been military since the 14th Century talk about how difficult it is for "outsiders" to adapt to that lifestyle. I can sympathize with Mickey's plight.

Then Margaret's backup plan kicks in, and the TARDIS itself has to save the day. That wouldn't have happened in the original series, but it does follow up on hints that the TARDIS has been growing in sapience over time.

Overall, I really liked the way this episode served as an anchor to keep Dr. Who grounded in reality. Science fiction needs that sort of grounding to keep you caring about what happens next.

2005 Dr. Who First Season: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

It's amazing how many of the best Dr. Who stories ever are in this one season.

Twenty seconds into this episode and we know we're in the hands of a wonderfully witty comedy-action writer.

Two minutes into this episode and we know it's the "let's make fun of American TV & Film" episode. No problem there. That's a genre that needs skewering.

An alien ship has sent out a distress call and crashed in London. Should be easy to find, right? Just ask about the thing that fell from the sky and find the big crater. Pity it's during the height of the London Blitz. The scene where the Doctor inadvertently becomes a stand-up comedian by asking those questions right before the air-raid siren sounds in priceless.

Once again they drive home the message that in spite of being from an insanely advanced alien culture the Doctor is a people person, not a techie person. Hmmm, there would be an interesting meeting. Can you see the Doctor and McCoy swapping tales over mint juleps?

Now we get the additional message that in spite of being an adventurous sort of guy, the Doctor isn't a stereotypical action-adventure hero. That role goes to our new cast member Captain Jack Harkness, as perfect a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood as you're likely to find, only updated for the 21st Century. It's wonderful to see another old favorite tastefully modernized in this way.

Haha! Hello Jack-me-boy, I know your Daddy! Your spiritual Daddy at least.

For those of you who missed the glory days of independent comic books, Donna Barr's award-winning The Desert Peach focused on a bunch of people who picked the wrong time to be born German. They ended up fighting in the German military during World War II. None of them were ideological Nazis, many were from groups the Nazis loathed, but there they were trying to stay alive and off the radar of both the Allies and their own increasingly out-of-control government. I highly recommend it to anyone who is not childish.

One of the most memorable characters is Luftwaffe Oberleutnant "Rosen Kavalier" (Yes, it is a made up name. You wanna make something of it?) Physically he looks exactly like Captain Jack: the face, the jaw, the cheekbones, the hair, the build. He wears a black leather World War II combat pilot's uniform, the most important part is a fancy oversized watch on it's black leather strap. He's a cocky, charming, insanely courageous, bisexual, amoral, suave, thrill-seeking, promiscuous combat pilot who becomes a con man after leaving the military, and who grows up a lot after falling in love with an honorable and much older man. Captain Jack is so much like a kinder, gentler version of Rosen, it's astonishing.

Back to this story. Something apparently connected with the crashed ship is turning people into gasmask wearing zombies. BZZZTTT! That's the "overused meme" buzzer going off. We now have three different zombie stories in the first season, and the limit is one zombie story. Yes they're all wonderful, but one of the producers should have put his or her foot down all the same. And they're not even a satire on people who don't think, so they don't even have that excuse.

The Doctor investigates and is told to consult "the Doctor", a character whose story obviously parallels on our Doctor's own story. "Once I had children and grandchildren. Then the way came. Now I have nothing left but my work taking care of others." There are hints as well that the Time War paralleled Britain's experience in World War II without the American cavalry coming over the hill, including a lovely "it's always darkest before the dawn" speech that doesn't say "it's always darkest before the dawn".

The parallels point out something else about Dr. Who. In spite of all the efforts to describe him as alien, he's not. He's very foreign, he's haunted by baggage both known and unknown, but at no point in his entire existence has he ever seemed alien to me. He's the "stranger in a strange land."

Speaking of parallels, Jack is also a former "Time Agent". What's that? Did some sort of "Time Agency" step in to fill the void left by the extinction of the Time Lords and solve the problems mentioned in the last episode? If so who's running it? I get a delicious but highly improbably image of a future Doctor as Jack's ultimate boss, then after Jack mentions his little amnesia problem a delicious and only slightly less improbable image of the Master in that role. And how many "Time Agents" are there anyway? Jack's apparently run this same con a lot, but in order to completely snooker a new one each time there would have to be hundreds of agents not cross-checking with each other.

I could go on about the Doctor's witty banter with Jack and Rose in the second half, but that's been over-covered already. I will point out that this story is a companion piece with "Father's Day". In "Father's Day" it's a Daddy who saves the world, here it's a Mummy who saves the world. It continues the season's excellent theme that it's ordinary heroes -- doctors, reporters, Moms and Dads -- who save the world every day. Which isn't to say you don't need a "professional" from time to time, but without all those "amateur" heroes taking care of people on a daily basis the world wouldn't last until sundown.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: Father's Day



Here's a story Dr. Who fans have waited decades to see. The Doctor warned us back us back in the early 80s that when time travelers tried to change their own personal histories, Very Bad Things happened. Bad Things that even a renegade Time Lord didn't want to mess with. So what kind of Bad Things were they?

Now we know.

Eccleston's tight-lipped "say nothing more than is necessary" Doctor is the real culprit here. Bad enough he can't even bring himself to tell her the name of his people's planet, here his failure to go over the basic safety rules of meeting yourself in the past and his willingness to bring three Roses to the same time set up an event that threatens all existence.

Rose's father died when she was a baby. She wants to go back in time to see him, and thanks to the Doctor's failure to explain the rules about this sort of thing, ends up saving his life in such a way that it causes a rift in time. This rift allows the Very Bad Things to come through, and they are Very Bad indeed. The Doctor tries some fancy moves to save everybody and fails. Rose's Dad tries a simple move, and sacrifices himself to save everyone else.

When the Doctor explained to Rose that "his people" used to prevent this sort of thing but now they're gone, I felt my first touch of fear. So who's protecting the time stream now? And what will happen if nobody is?

It's a simple, beautiful episode, with incredible acting. I was crying by the end of it. The current season seems to have a theme running through it that everyone has the potential within themselves to be a hero, if they would just reach inside past all the banalities of their day-to-day world and find their true strength. The Doctor happens to be very good at enabling other people to realize this truth. In the course of trying to get this message across the story has the Doctor getting saved by other people a lot, but I can put up with a lot to hear one of my favorite messages getting out. Besides, it makes the stories more interesting when you get to guess exactly which person (or what combination of people) is going to save the world this time. Ensemble shows are so much livelier that way, and for the first time since the 60s Dr. Who is starting to look like an ensemble show.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: The Long Game

I dub this episode the Most Annoying Episode of the Season. Doesn't sink to the depths plumbed by the "Aliens of London" two-parter, but doesn't soar to the heights of that story either. And what's up with Adam?

The Doctor shows off what his TARDIS can do to Adam the New Kid by landing them in the far future, at a time when human civilization is at its height. But something's gone wrong. Someone is holding humans back by controlling and manipulating the news. Nothing wrong with that storyline at all, it's wonderful and timely. But there's a McGuffin in our tale and the Doctor fell for it.

The Thing allegedly holding humanity back is a Big Ugly Monster who lives on the ceiling of the news control nexus. But what does it DO up there? It doesn't need to kill people or give orders, both of those can be accomplished by its human attendants. It was installed by "a consortium of banks" who are it's backers. Yes, the Doctor and his team manage to kill it, think they've done something really great, and ride off into the sunset; leaving their newfound friends going "But, but, but...." and me screaming, "It's a STOOGE you great big idiot! It's a ceiling-sized fall guy! How could you be stupid enough to fall for that?" It would have worked in the 1960s but by 2005 we know the real sinister enemy is that "consortium of banks" and whoever or whatever is behind THEM.

The performances of the guest stars are first-rate, but most of the interesting bits came in Adam's subplots. We learn (and old fans are reminded) that in spite of being from a civilization with an insanely advanced technology the Doctor isn't a techie kind of guy. Given a choice between talking to a machine or talking to a person, he'll go out of his way to talk to a person.

Adam demonstrates that not everyone is cut out to become a Companion. Instead of responding with excitement to highly foreign climes, he responds with severe culture shock and opportunism which endangers the rest of the crew and gets him taken home. Adam's scenes seemed like superfluous filler, but they did provide the best part of the entire episode, which was my husband's reaction to Adam's new data-port:

My husband got to his feet, pointed, and cried, "Wait a minute, wait a minute! Genius, deeply into alien technology, phobic about things that are different, knows and resents the Doctor, "third-eye"-style dataport in the center of his forehead! Do you know who that is? That's Davros, the creator of the Daleks!"


"Yeah! It matches perfectly! He had already met and resented the Doctor prior to his earliest appearance. This could be his real introduction."

"Well -- Adam's last name is never mentioned, nor does the Doctor say the name 'Davros' around Adam or anyone who knows him. It could be his last name or his email addy. And the Doctor did tell Von Statten that V.S. was just like the creator of the Daleks, so that might be where Davros learned his modus operandi. Maybe. But Davros is from Skaro. Adam's stuck on Earth."

"Sweetheart. Adam's a genius who knows he's living in the same country as a Time Lord's Companion. He can get to Skaro."

"Okay. It's a nice, tight conjecture. We'll see how it holds up."

"And I also think I know where Gallifrey is. It's been pushed deeper into the time stream, is only accessible from inside the TARDIS, and is now a 'city in a bottle'."

"Oh, now you're speculating way too far in advance of the data. Besides, bottled cities are so lame."

"So are ceiling monsters, but that didn't stop them. As you said, we'll see."

It would have been a good episode in an earlier age, but in the 21st Century I feel sorry for anyone watching it without as entertaining a Companion as I had.

2005 Dr. Who First Season: Dalek

Before we get started, could everyone who thinks this is really and truly the last Dalek we'll ever see on Dr. Who please join me in this corner? I've got a fabulous offer on shares in the Brooklyn Bridge I'd like to tell you about.


The TARDIS intercepts a distress call. Answering it lands the Doctor and Rose in a secret museum of alien artifacts under the Utah desert, which gives the BBC a wonderful chance to clean out their prop room.

The collection is the private property of arrogant American billionaire Henry Von Statton. Von Statton's first appearances are the only point in the series where I cringed. Are arrogant American billionaires really such jerks? But wait, it turns out later he started out as a computer geek. I guess that explains it. (end sarcasm)

The collection's prize is a living alien still in its little space suit that Von Statton has been torturing to try to get it to (literally) open up. The Doctor reacts like a bull who just had a red flag waved in its face. He charges in to save the little alien from the nasty humans. He comes in all soft and quiet to rescue the poor frightened creature, trying to win it's trust, saying, "I'm the Doctor. I'm here to help you.", and guess what it is?


It's a Dalek of course, says so right in the title. The Daleks are one of the Doctor's oldest and deadliest enemies. While it is in a severely weakened state, looking as pathetic and comical as they always do, the Dalek and the Doctor have a very revealing conversation. Then the Dalek regains it's strength, and a whole new generation learns how scary a "cosmic dustbin" can be.

This episode is the finest acting we've ever seen by anyone playing the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston shows off why he has a shelf full of dramatic awards to his name. He runs a gamut from compassion, terror, rage, grief, self-loathing, and sadism. This is not the Doctor of our childhoods. This is a haunted combat veteran out of touch with his inner Galifreyan, who doesn't know how to get back to his earlier self yet. Brilliant.

The entire cast and crew performed like they were trying for Oscar nominations, a delight in any TV show but especially welcome in a "children's show". Eccleston said in any interview that his motivation for doing the Doctor was "to show children what good drama looks like, so they'll know what to ask for when they're grown." He lives up to that goal in this episode.

Back to that revealing conversation, which is possibly the best acted sequence ever on a Dr. Who episode.
Reportedly Eccleston's intensity during his first meeting with the Dalek frightened co-stars who weren't even on stage with him. I can believe it. The Daleks supposedly have all been destroyed by the Doctor, 10 million ships worth. We learn later a Dalek ships holds "just over 2,000 Daleks", so quick pencil work here, that's "just over" 2 HUNDRED BILLION Daleks.

That's an awful lot of blood on his hands.

Then we learn that the Time Lords are all destroyed too, in the same instant that the Daleks were supposedly destroyed. So was the Doctor also responsible for the destruction of his own people?

That's an awful lot more blood on his hands.

It's almost impossible to believe. In spite of whatever falling out he and the Time Lords had before the original series started -- the one that cost him his place in their society, led to them cauterizing a portion of his brain, and left him on the run in a broken-down time machine as a single parent looking after his only remaining grandchild -- the Doctor has always been their staunchest defender. He constantly derided them but he constantly derides humanity as well, and he never stopped protecting either race from alien threats. So what happened to convince him such a drastic step was necessary?

Oh, right. The Daleks.

He's always gone out of his way to give the Daleks another chance before. Now he goes out of his way to deny a Dalek another chance. What's happened to change things? What's happened to change him?

The rest of the story is predictable. Of course the Dalek escapes, kills a bunch of people, and menaces the main characters. What couldn't be predicted is how very well done that part was. It had you wondering if a single pepper-pot really could exterminate an entire planet. it also raised some other questions.

"The Time Lords cauterized the part of his brain that could connect with other Time Lords back before the very first episode. He says he can't sense "them" anymore but he hasn't been able to sense "them" in decades, except maybe in the aggregate."

"What's bothering me is where is Gallifrey? It was removed from time and space, and could only be reached by Tardis. So how could it have been destroyed? Maybe it wasn't destroyed. Maybe it was simply pushed further out of reach."

Oh, and Rose picks up Van Statten's former alien antiques' buyer, a cute genius English lad named Adam. You can almost see the Doctor rolling his eyes, "As long as he doesn't mess in the TARDIS."

Overall, this episode will go down in the Hall of Fame.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Face of Hope

I don't like the sort of music videos they play on MTV these days. I prefer the early '80s-style videos. For years I've been going to Music-axis.com to watch brand new early-80's style videos set to some of the most beautiful music in the world. It's a popular site and often the links are so overloaded it's hard to find anything that will download, but it's worth the wait.

These videos are from Lebanon. They are made by young Lebanese musicians and dancers. They are full of beauty, intelligence, wit, and most of all hope for the future.

The majority of Lebanese people are not terrorists. They are cosmopolitan young people who are working to build a future for their families. They are burdened by the troubles of their heritage, but they are also buoyed by the wonders of that heritage. They are scarred by the violent war of their childhood, but they believe in peace. In the over 100 videos I've watched on this site, I have not seen a single one that calls for war with Israel or anyone else. Always they call for peace and an end to violence.

Watch some videos. Enjoy the lush photography, the music, the humor, the gorgeous men and women, the beautiful location shots.

When Israel bombs Lebanon indiscriminately, this is where those bombs land. These are the building that fall. These are the streets and the neighborhoods that are torn apart. These are the hopes that fade. These are the dreams that crumble.

These are the people who die.

Please look. It's important.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: Aliens of London & World War 3

"That's more like it!" my husband said at the end of this 2-parter. "That's even better than Firefly!"

Episodes 4 & 5 form the first two-parter, a refreshing change since Dr. Who has traditionally had 2 hour stories. The 45-minute format was starting to feel a bit cramped.

The Doctor and Rose return from their "first date". Supposedly they've only been gone for 12 hours. Actually they've been gone for 12 months -- oh that pesky glitch in the navigational system. Rose's disappearance has led to some pretty serious consequences for her family.

Some people have complained about the "soap-opera" aspect of this story arc, but it plugs a major hole in the Dr. Who meme: what happens to the Companion's family when they're gone? People have thrown conniptions about relatively minor continuity glitches, but I always wanted to know what really did happen when Sara Jane failed to show up in South Croydon? What did Teagan's aunt think when Teagan disappeared for so long? These issues were either not treated at all in the old series or they were treated as a joke. I like that they are taken seriously now.

Post World War I Modernist fiction had an orphan fetish. Every hero, from Hemingway's crowd to Superman, were supposed to be orphans. Orphans were supposed to be better, "purer", sexier because they had fewer messy entangling alliances with other people. This conceit hung on in series media far longer than it should have because it made characters simpler to write. Unfortunately real people without those messy connections end up with serious psychological problems. Thank goodness we're finally getting away from that conceit and showing people plugged into more realistic relationships. Science fiction and fantasy stories especially need all the realism they can get.

People have complained, "It's supposed to be escapism!" Yes well it's also supposed to be a children's show; and it's a good idea that children find out that cutting yourself off from all family ties is usually Not a Good Idea. Exceptions exist, but they are rare.

I didn't like Jackie at first, but what does she do when her daughter disappears for a whole year? She devotes herself to trying to find Rose. And what does she do when her daughter reappears with a scruffy nameless stranger who offers an extremely lame explanation? She slaps him into the middle of next week. I love Jackie for that blow. Many an earlier supporting character has wanted to do the exact same thing. Both Jackie and Mickie get a chance to develop as strong, intelligent, compassionate people.

The Doctor tells Rose he's 900 years old. Huh? 60 years ago he wa not quite 800. There's some missing decades in there somewhere. What was he doing then, and how long was he involved with this "Time War"?

The plot -- someone who shall remain nameless (but whose initials are RTD) has been watching too much X-Files. An alien crash-lands a spaceship in the Thames -- but it's a fake alien. UFO experts from around the world gather to look at it -- but it's a trap to kill them set by the real aliens, who have taken over the government. Mulder would feel right at home.

And what is the alleged goal? To get the Earth to nuke itself so they can sell off the radioactive bits. There's billions of dead worlds out there you can nuke and sell off. Why bother with all that subterfuge (which was uncomfortable for the aliens) just so you can nuke a live world? It doesn't work....

...unless, in true X-Files fashion, the plot with the real aliens is a cover for another plot with another set of aliens. The Slitheen were a family business. Maybe they weren't working on spec. Maybe they were working on a commission which included a generous side package. Maybe that signal wasn't just the announcement of a fire sale, but also a signal to their real client. I ran that idea past my husband.

"You know who its got to be then," he said. "There's only one set of Who villains with a habit of working through intermediaries."

"There's two out of the Big Three, but only one uses intermediaries AND conquers planets. We're speculating way ahead of data here, though. We'll see."

After all, if you're going to do X-Files "conspiracies within conspiracies", you don't stop at just one layer. You go all the way.

The acting was excellent, but the Doctor is seriously off his feed. As my husband put it, "Tom Baker's Doctor would have figured it out in time to tell everyone to take off their badges." Or at least stolen the General's suit.

I had trouble with the Doctor's reluctance to get involved. It's not his style to sit on the sidelines, and he couldn't keep it up for long. Why did he try in the first place? Is there some reason he wants to stay out of the interplanetary limelight? What kind of attention would he attract? But that's speculating in advance of data.

I had an easier time with his difficulty coming to terms with endangering Rose, because his trouble with figuring out when it is acceptable to be responsible for the death of another, friend, foe or neutral is an ongoing plot in this season.

There's a juvenile aspect to the story which involves farting aliens. *Deep sigh*. I feel like Jackie here, "I suppose somebody put you up to it, did they? Well, you've had your fun. Just don't do it again. Ever. You hear me?" It worked in this particular story, but you can only pull a stinker like that off once without getting too camp to watch any longer.

Pst: Aren't You Supposed to be Posting About Homeschooling?

I am posting about homeschooling! Right now we're taking some time off to homeschool with Dr. Who.

Besides, I've got these utterly depressing posts I'm working on about fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers and new state public school teaching guidelines. I need to remind myself that sensible people still exist somewhere in this world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2005 Dr. Who First Season: The Unquiet Dead

Episode 3: as Rose's first date continues, the Doctor takes her into the past. The TARDIS is running even rougher than before, and all these two adrenaline junkies do is laugh about it. Hello! How long's this craft supposed to hold together?

The story is a Dr. Who staple: a period costume piece with a 1950s-style "alien technology disguised as the supernatural" story. It's distinguished by how well the historical characters are fleshed out. Both the writer and the actors did an excellent job there.

We also learn that the pinpoint navigational system is still broken. The Doctor aimed for 1860 Naples and landed in 1869 Cardiff. Why Cardiff? It's not the sight of the location shots, and they're doing plenty of other "on location" stories in Cardiff. They could have set this one somewhere else.

The pacing problem with the climax seems to be worked out. Now they need to work out their more subtle pacing problems as well.

As far as the sub-plots go, we learn the name of our Great War, the "Time War", that a lot of "higher races" died in it, and that this episode's guest species lost their bodies in it. A psychic mentions that Rose has "seen the Darkness and met the Big Bad Wolf." Dunno who the Wolf's supposed to be. The Doctor? He has to be the bogeyman for dozens of would-be conquering races. If Daleks had children they would warn them, "Eat your peas or the Doctor will get you!"

In classic Dr. Who tradition, these are villains who will return. In modern TV tradition there were 3-4 subplots worked on in this episode that will return as well. That's one modern tradition that dovetails nicely with the Dr. Who universe.

2005 Dr. Who First Season: "The End of the World"

Episode 2 is a standard science fiction plot with an Agatha Christie climax. All the important things happen on the sidelines.

The Doctor shows off the TARDIS by taking Rose far into the future to see the death of her planet. Odd choice for a first date, unless a person happens to already have wholesale death and destruction on their minds. Where did you just come from, Doctor?

The TARDIS is badly in need of it's 10 trillion year tune-up, and it appears that he's been jerry-rigging the controls. Sure the chameleon circuit and the pinpoint navigational control have been broken since the series began, but why is it running so rough? He was on good terms with the Council last we saw, he should be able to take it in for a tuneup.

The Expensive People have all come to watch on a posh movable observation platform. I hereby proclaim Lady Cassandra the ultimate winner of the anorexia contest. Yes, you can be too thin.

But what's this? The Doctor suddenly gets a whole lot less wooden around Jabe the tree lady. Could it be he's sexually attracted to powerful older women with a commanding presence? There weren't a lot of those in the original series. The Doctor was 792 when we first met him. This might explain his platonic relationships with most of his Companions. I can hear it now, "She's a fine girl, and she'd be a great lady in another 250 years. That's the problem with human women. By the time they're old enough to be interesting, they're dead."

Rose asks the Doctor personal questions. He's always been reluctant to answer those, but now he blows up completely. Why? Then he turns around and soups up Rose's cell-phone just so she can keep in touch with her family. Why does he value her connection to her people so much, and refuse completely to talk about his connection to his own people?

Jabe is aware of whatever war he fought in. Apparently all the Time Lords are believed to be dead. She's astonished to find him alive and offers her condolences over what happened. That makes him cry. What did happen?

Jabe's dead -- arrgh! A heroic death, but I wanted her to live. And the Doctor is a lot more willing to inflict pain and suffering on others. (Not death, though. Look at the blue cylinder.)

The Doctor tells Rose that his planet was destroyed in war and his people are all dead. That explains much about him and the TARDIS that is different.

"But where's the Eye of Rassilon?", my husband the continuity buff asks. "The TARDIS shouldn't work at all if that's gone. Wait a minute, didn't they hint in an earlier episode that they hid it on his TARDIS?"

"I thought it was in the Cloister well."


More special effects this time, but it was set in the future. The pacing at the end is a still rough, but a great improvement over the first episode. Still looks good.

Review: 2005 Dr. Who First Season, "Rose"

Yippee! Amazon had a sale on BBC collections, and I got the first season of the new Dr. Who. Dr. Who ran on PBS when I was in high school and college. The episodes I saw were over a decade old by then, but the stories were still miles ahead of anything on American TV at that time. Yes, the special effects were cheesy, but I liked the BBC's attitude toward them. "Something just happened, but lets not dwell on it. We've got a story to get back to." I liked that a lot better than the Star Trek attitude of "let's bring the whole story to a grinding halt while we gather round and watch the expensive special effect." Bo-ring! STTNG acted like science fiction fans were brain dead idiots who just liked to watch explosions. Ugh!

Now, the great thing about Dr. Who is that it's a children's show. This means I can watch it with my small fry instead of having to sneak in an episode after they've gone to bed, like I have to do with Firefly. With Dr. Who I can say, "It's what The Magic Tree House is based on." So after a brief (for Dr. Who it was brief) explanation we pop in the first disc. The children giggle at the first episode, but by the end of the second they're starting to worry about monsters.

"Does Dr. Who spend all his time fighting monsters?"

"Not all, but a lot."


"Well, first it's to show you that not every alien is a monster. The Doctor is an alien, and he's not bad. Most of the aliens you meet are nice. No matter what people look like on the outside, it's the ones who act bad that are the monsters."

"But why does he fight monsters all the time?"

"Because -- it's a fairy tale, all right? All fairy tales are wonder tales, and science fiction is a special type of wonder tale where everything is supposed to have a scientific explanation. The reason monsters appear in fairy tales is to show little girls and boys that yes, monsters are scary and like to do bad things. But monsters can be fought. No matter how scary they are, they can be defeated by girls and boys who are brave enough to fight them and clever enough to figure out how to win."

They liked that explanation, and have begged to see each succeeding episode.


We have a potential Companion who is not a generic Bond Girl ripoff. She has a life, she has family who will miss her if she's gone. I don't particularly care for her mother Jackie or her boyfriend Mickey as characters, especially not after Jackie's clumsy attempt to seduce the Doctor. Honesty forces me to admit I've got worse relatives though.

I'm reminded of the ad for Pierce Brosnan's remake of James Bond. "The name is Bond. You know the rest." The episode deals with iconic elements in almost a cursory way, because you'd have to be living under a rock not to know them. The exceptions are where those elements would be new and strange to Rose. There we get to see them through her eyes, and the writers and directors wisely give her time to explore her reactions instead of rushing on to the next scene. This is the way science fiction should be filmed. The camera should dwell on people, not explosions.

The Doctor has changed again. He's got the shortest hair and scruffiest clothes we've ever seen on him, which is odd because through all his regenerations he's always been a relatively long-haired clothes horse. He's also much more distant with people and highly irritable. And his "adrenaline junkie" side is far more dominant than it's ever been before. It doesn't look "alien", except that we've never seen it on the Doctor before. He looks and acts like a soldier who's just returned from a long and terrible war, one who's seen too much on the battlefield and hasn't had time to come to grips with it yet.

Ahh -- there has been a Great War of some sort, and the bad guys are among the dislocated refugees. He's followed them here off some battlefield. And apparently they blame him for something that happened in that war, a charge he protests but does not completely deny. What have you been up to, Doctor?

There's a strong X-Files element. Let's hope they don't get silly like X-Files did. After all, we know very well there are aliens out there. We're rooting for one of them.

The special effects are nice, without being overdone. Okay, maybe the belching trash bin was a bit over the top. I think they're trying to remind us it's a British show. It was a little tasteless and juvenile, but sometimes life is a little tasteless and juvenile. As long as they keep that part to a minimum I won't complain.

Their biggest problem was that the pacing at the climax stunk. It's a first episode, hopefully they'll get better.

Mickey has a sensible person's reaction to the TARDIS -- get away from me! Rose has an adrenaline junkie's reaction to the TARDIS -- more! I loved how the Doctor not-quite-begged her to stay. Alien or not, like most people he needs another person around to remind him that he is a person.

All in all, a very impressive start.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Is the public school system harming teachers?

My husband is a high school teacher. He frequently complains that his work starves him of any chance to have an intelligent conversation with another adult during the school year. Since school let out this spring he's been talking my ear off in a sort of compensation. Yesterday we had the following conversation:

"...that's my best conjecture at this point. What do you think?"

"You asked me what I thought at 9 a.m. I had an opinion then. It's now 2 p.m. You've talked for 5 hours non-stop."

"Oh. Sorry. What were you going to say?"

"I've had so many thoughts over those hours I can no longer remember any of them."

"Well, I'm almost finished. Let me get this out...." He then talked for 2 more hours, while eating and doing maintenance work at the same time.

Do other teachers do this? He didn't act like this before he became a high school teacher. It can't be healthy.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Summer Not-So Fun

KVETCH WARNING: serious kvetching ahead. You have been warned. But will you listen? People never do...

Summer got off to a rotten start. The Library's Summer Reading Program was a total bust. In the entire program, nobody read the children a single book. Only once did one of their "special guests" actually show up, most times nobody did anything with the children who were present.

This year's Catholic Charities program was run by the First Grade Teacher From Hell (retired). She herded the children through a terrible reading program without first determining if they needed it or not, whose high point was showing them the same online programs we already use. Sunshine got so stressed she started throwing up.

All the children's clubs, classes, and programs that we and people we know of have tried to start have fallen through.

We replumbed the bathroom, replaced all the polybuterate pipe and the plastic sink last week. The new sink's stopper broke it's drain pipe tonight. Talk about poor engineering.

The air conditioner broke and was sending a waterfall into the house before we replumbed IT.

My husband needs some linen cord for a project. He called around and found out that the Irish factory that made it had been bought up by an American conglomerate and shut down three days before he made the call. "222 years in business, and the week I want to buy something they go under", he muttered.

We won't be able to make this summer's Mississippi Homeschool Conference due to scheduling conflicts with his job.

The summer training program his school district wants him to take just got rescheduled for Brighteyes' birthday.

We advertised for sales positions for a business we're trying to start up. 25 people called in to answer the ad. None of them showed up for an interview.

Aaand the DVD remote has vanished.

All of which has me feeling pretty blue. The only bright spot so far has been the tiny local annual rodeo last week. I'll try to post that story soon.