Saturday, October 26, 2013

WTF Iceland? Nábrók

Are these the most terrifying trousers ever? The 17th century NECROPANTS made from corpse legs - and are supposed to be lucky | Mail Online:

In order to make the necropants (called nábrók in the naive tongue) an individual had to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his death. The surviving member of the pact had to dig up his dead friend's body and peel off the skin of the corpse from the waist down in one piece without any holes or scratches, to make the magical trousers.
There's a picture of some nábrók over there. I won't put it here though. I don't want to have skinsuit nightmares.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Full Circle - "Why can't people be nice to one another, just for a change? I mean, I'm an alien, and you don't want to drag me into a swamp, do you? You do."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Full Circle - Details

Season 18, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #112) | Previous - Next | Index

In which the TARDIS slips into E-Space and Adric joins the crew after a bit of Creature From the Alzarian Lagoon shenanigans about evolution. One problem is, for a show that's ostensibly about evolution, it's got evolution all wrong and ... well, there's Adric. Which, in case you're new all this, means you've got to be ready to do a lot of cringing because never before has a regular character been so miscast. (I'll wait and re-watch some more Ace stories before I assert, as I remember, that Sophie Aldred gave Matthew Waterhouse a run for the title of Most Over His Or Her Head Actor To Play A Companion.)

So let's get Adric out of the way. We know he's going to be part of a very impactful event in the history of life on Earth down the line, but that's ten stories in the future. This is one of the ten of stories where he isn't crashed into a planet causing a mass extinction. (So much the worse for we, the viewers, a wag might opine.) How much of this is Matthew Waterhouse's fault? Certainly his portrayal doesn't disguise any problems with the character as written; however, it's as if he's written to be peevish, annoying, and unlikable. Mr. Waterhouse was an inexperienced actor, only 18-years-old, so it was probably unfair to put him in the position of playing a role that even an experienced, gifted actor would've had trouble making appealing.

I've not read Blue Box Boy, but I gather it must have tremendously difficult for a young kid who grew up as a devoted fan of the show to come in and, apparently, not fit in at all with the cast he's joined. I'm not sure what to make of his allegations, from the book, of Tom Baker being sour drunk either. Would it surprise me if he was drunk on set? No. (It would explain some things, like his performance in "The Invasion of Time," for one.) No matter how charming and genial Tom Baker seems to me in his interviews, I don't know the man; but, knowing drunks, it wouldn't surprise me if he were hard on his fellow cast and crew. Again, if true.

Getting this out of the way now, because in future, when I bash on Adric for being unbearable, I want to be clear that I've got no malice towards Mr. Waterhouse. Just as my dislike for Wesley ("The Adric of ST:TNG") Crusher has nothing to do with my feelings about Wil Wheaton, I've really got no opinion about Mr. Waterhouse except the default position that, as a fellow human being, I assume he's doing his best to make his way in the world, and is therefore deserving of respect and compassion. (Can't say the snippets I've read of his books courtesy of Amazon's 'look inside' function make we want to read them but if being a tedious writer of exaggerated self-importance were a crime, then the walls of my house look glassy in the waning daylight and I'm mindful of my own shortcomings.)

So how about those spiders? It's a shame this story doesn't appear to capture the fancy of GIF makers, because there are several moments here that cry out for the treatment. The first time we see one of those giant spiders pop from a riverfruit is one of them. When one pops out and bites Romana's face, that's another.

Not to be a broken record, but the incidental music in this story is torturous. A broken record would've been preferable. Years. Years of episodes where cheesy synthesizers are programmed to commit aural human rights abuses. This isn't just the judgment of thirty three years passing since this story was broadcast, they sounded rubbish when they were new.

Tom Baker's righteous anger when lacing into the Deciders is first order though. There's no clowning around here. When he castigates them for allowing Dexeter to proceed with the vivisection of the conscious marshman child, and for keeping the secret that their ship is already capable of flight, the Doctor's disgust with them is visceral. It's rather astonishing this story was written someone even younger than Matthew Waterhouse. Andrew Smith was just 17 when he submitted the story!

In About Time, Miles and Wood mark this as the true beginning of the JN-T era, where it seems to be the first complete realization of his vision for the show. The former rues the day, the latter sees it as "cracking" TV. The easy way out would be to say the truth is somewhere in between, but I think Miles has the stronger argument. There's something perverse about using actors as charming as Baker and Ward in the service of a vision for the show that is utterly charmless. Witty and charming isn't the only mode Doctor Who works in; it can do thoughtful, epic, romantic, adventurous, camp, suspenseful, even dabble in philosophical, but even when operating primarily in another mode, it's the show that continues to engage audiences over the course of decades when its sense of fun buttresses whatever else it's doing. There are things we can appreciate about what this production team is trying to do ... but when you have to work at appreciating the good bits while enduring terrible production values, overly stylized, garish costumes, dodgy science, and distractingly bad acting, your goodwill for the show is being expended instead of restored.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Baseball's Checkered (Distant) Past: "No One Is Innocent"

On July 9, 1903, the mangled corpse of baseball star Ed Delahanty was discovered at the base of Niagara Falls, several thousand dollars of cash and diamonds he was believed to have been carrying lost to the foaming waters. Missing for a week and only discovered after his leg had been sawed off by a boat propeller, Delahanty was soon the subject of whispers, no one sure whether murder, suicide, or a terrible accident had caused his mysterious plunge into the Falls. 
While Delahanty’s end might appear less appropriate for a baseball player than for a gangland loser or a victim of the sharp end of Tammany-era politics, he was hardly alone among baseball players of the period. Numerous stars from the sport’s earliest days came to grief, their tragedies as much as their exploits helping to frame our national pastime.
Not that the present is squeaky clean, just to point out the Black Sox weren't the only scandal of the early days of the game.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways - "Before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic."

Bad Wolf (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 12 (Overall Series Story #164a)

I worry about the potential for this one not aging well because, and please let this be the case, eventually everyone's going to forget about Big Brother and shows of its ilk and all the references to the the genre are going to stop making sense. Right? Please? More worrying is that "Bad Wolf" may be right to predict thousands of channels of this stuff into the far future. RTD's Doctor Who is very much a TV show that's about TV, at once a celebration and a revival, crafted from bits of the past and elements of the contemporary, but also deeply skeptical of the medium's ultimate role in human development. (You don't make an episode called "The Idiot Lantern" otherwise, right?)

Rose on The Weakest Link ("The Anne Droid!" *collective pun groan*), Jack getting made over, The Doctor in the Big Brother house, it's all daft fun on the warp, made interesting by the weft of menace ... but, that nagging worry that it's going to look terribly dated soon lurks around the edges of our enjoyment. When we realize where we are, back on Satellite 5, and that the Long Game is still being played, it feels like we're recycling sets to stretch the budget. The understanding that the Doctor missed that he'd only taken out a pawn during the previous visit, and that the power pieces were laying in wait, compounds the sense that we've been churning a bit, running around corridors to fill the time, not actually accomplishing much.

It may be though that I'm letting my disappointment that we're now in final hours of Eccleston's Doctor get the better of me. This incarnation's TV run is in its twelfth hour and already we're fast approaching a regeneration. It's not right. Heck, wasn't "The Daleks' Master Plan" itself twelve hours long? (No? Well, it was long. Series 1 is a snap of the fingers in terms of the TV life span, measured in screen time, of a regeneration.) At least we get references to unseen adventures to suggest we only got the stories directly related to the Bad Wolf, but that more happened. (Has anyone written about this crew's visit to Japan, 1336 yet? Have to imagine they met Ashikaga Takauji?)

But that feeling is outside the show itself, so we've got to bear down and focus on what's onscreen. Once we get past the reality show stages, things get more grounded in, well, not reality, but the reality outside the fake reality of 'reality' TV. Two characters start to come into their own: Lynda ("with a 'y'"), the sweet competitor who clearly wasn't going to win her season of "Bad Wolf presents Big Brother"; and, the Controller, a human who's been converted into the wetware OS that runs Satellite 5 on behalf of ... some horrible presence. The Controller's like something out of a Terry Gilliam dystopia but she's retained her humanity and, thanks to some solar flares and the tech she's integrated with, she's got a small window of opportunity to rebel against her masters. Those masters, the players of the Long Game? It's ... dramatic pause ... the Daleks. Lots of Daleks. And, they've got Rose.

Here's where we get the big payoff -- the heroic swell, the Doctor courageously asserting that he'll rescue Rose Tyler from middle of the Dalek fleet. They may have an armada amassed to sweep over him but, even without a plan, he's The Oncoming Storm, if only for the moment, and we get the full sense that this is the Doctor who put an end to the Time War, who can reach down deep and overcome anything. Every grand moment of the Matt Smith incarnation traces its roots back the closing moments of "Bad Wolf".

The next chapter of the story has its work cut out for it to deliver on the promise of this Doctor ready to fight to the good fight ...

The Parting of the Ways (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 13 (Overall Series Story #164b)

And off we go! The Doctor and Jack use Blon's tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator (super space surfboard) to shield the TARDIS (it needs shields?) from missiles as it flies through physical space (why not dematerialise?) out beyond the edge of the solar system. Oddness of that trip aside, there's another payoff, right at the start -- the Doctor rescues Rose, taunts the Daleks, and moreover we are introduced to the Dalek Emperor. That mad Dalek, driven insane by its travails in and escaping from the Time War is revealed to be the player of the long game. It's ready to lead the race of Dalek-human hybrids it has created on to universal conquest, first stop: Earth. This iteration of the Daleks, self-loathing servants of a mad god are a perfect distillation of the dark side of the religious instinct. That they have a concept of blasphemy is both hilarious and a brilliantly effective way to show how dangerous they are.

The race is on. The Doctor needs to figure out how to defeat the armada of Daleks, get Rose safely out of harm's way, and Jack needs to turn the ragtag group of game show contestants and television executives into a guerrilla force capable of holding off the Daleks long enough to buy the Doctor time to save them all. By building a delta wave generator to kill them all. (Uh, good plan?)  Rose and the TARDIS are shunted back to the 21st century and the real work of saving humanity and destroying the Daleks begins when Rose inspires Jackie to borrow a lorry to crack open the TARDIS console.

This time, not everyone lives. Lynda dies, all the supporting characters die, even Capt. Jack (for now). The Doctor could never fire the weapon he built and he's ready to accept defeat when Rose, who's now the Bad Wolf courtesy of a deep stare into the time vortex, arrives and calmly disintegrates every threat with her awesome new powers. The dialogue breaks down at this point:
DOCTOR: Rose, you've done it. Now stop. Just let go.
ROSE: How can I let go of this? I bring life.
(Jack breaths again.)
DOCTOR: But this is wrong! You can't control life and death.
ROSE: But I can. The sun and the moon, the day and night. But why do they hurt?
DOCTOR: The power's going to kill you and it's my fault.
ROSE: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be.
DOCTOR: That's what I see. All the time. And doesn't it drive you mad?
ROSE: My head.
DOCTOR: Come here.
ROSE: It's killing me
DOCTOR: I think you need a Doctor. 
It's not terrible, per se, but I grit my teeth and groan a bit at the "sun and the moon, the day and the night" line, and again with the last line. Even the bit about how he sees that way all the time doesn't sit right with me. When the Doctor talked about clinging to the surface of the Earth as it falls through space in "Rose," that worked for me, here though it's overwrought, we'll get better lines about how the Doctor perceives time later.

My sense of this season, for which I have no insider knowledge or behind-the-scenes evidence to support, is that Eccleston's decision to depart must've thrown a wrench in the works and added the need to graft in the regeneration where it wasn't originally planned. I love the line quoted in the title of this post. Rose was fantastic and, for the majority of the season, he's right when he goes on to say, "you know what? So was I." But here, at the very end, after his dramatic announcement and flight to rescue Rose, he really wasn't. He sent everyone to die fighting Daleks he had no intention of finishing off. Sure, he wavered on the delta wave device for a moment, but I think he was bluffing the whole time, thinking he could make them back off. He says himself he'll be a coward every time when it comes to making that choice. Here, I take him at his word. We gather during the Time War, maybe when he was the John Hurt version of the Doctor, he was the guy would destroy both sides to end the war; but, he's not anymore.

So his farewell line works as suiting tribute to Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of the Doctor; it just doesn't work as a line the Doctor would say after what all just happened.

And then he's gone.

Enter David Tennant ...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Boom Town - "I bet you're always the first to leave, Doctor. Never mind the consequences, off you go."

Boom Town (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 11 (Overall Series Story #163)

There's something about taking two characters on opposite sides in a violent conflict and dropping them into a restaurant for a conversation that is conducive to visceral drama. It's the tension between our competing instincts toward civilized behavior and violence that makes it work so well. Think DeNiro and Pacino in Heat, Aykroyd and Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, and, more recently, Willis and Gordon-Levitt in Looper. Now, Nine having dinner with  Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, AKA Margaret Blaine, may not have been the next such scene to leap to mind unless you're a hardcore Doctor Who fan, but it's one of the finer moments of the return series. And none of those others featured attempted poisoning by fingertip dart and excess gas cloud exhalation. It works well on its own and it carries forward nicely from the conversation where Margaret began playing on the TARDIS crews' consciences as they planned to bring her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius to face her punishment -- the death penalty.

The death penalty is, of course, the lazy, savage society's easy answer to handling the terrible dilemma of how to punish the worst criminals and attempt to prevent the most savage crimes. The Doctor has killed and, while generally more inclined to reason and conversation, has seen his share violence. Yet it clearly pains him to bring Margaret to that particular brand of justice, as it would anyone with a conscience.
DOCTOR: I don't make the law.
MARGARET: But you deliver it. Will you stay to watch?
DOCTOR: What else can I do?
MARGARET: The Slitheen family's huge. There's a lot more of us, all scattered off-world. Take me to them. Take me somewhere safe.
DOCTOR: But then you'll just start again.
MARGARET: I promise I won't.
DOCTOR: You've been in that skin suit too long. You've forgotten. There used to be a real Margaret Blaine. You killed her and stripped her and used the skin. You're pleading for mercy out of a dead woman's lips. 
It may not be the law he, or we, would choose, but it's the law she she fled and she, despite her capacity for mercy as evidenced by her sparing the life of the reporter who would foil her plans, has to be accountable for her crimes.

There's also Rose and Mickey to sort out, the world to save, and some groundwork to be laid for the upcoming finale. The last bit, the introduction of the tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator, was more trouble than it was worth and just raises awkward questions about the TARDIS later, but we'll get to that when we talk about "Bad Wolf" / "Parting of the Ways." The opening up of the TARDIS console here also sets the stage for later events and that's really the first of my nitpicks about this story: like "The Long Game," there are times it feels like we're watching the stage being set for use later. It's not terribly distracting, but it saps the energy of the story we're watching.

The bigger nit to pick is that it's best not to spend to much time thinking about how a(n understandably) camera-shy, skin-suit-wearing alien psychopath managed to get elected to public office in a 21st century city ... and arrange for nuclear power plant to be built in such short time. Because, clearly nobody responsible for making it plausible put much thought into it either. Blon/Margaret may be the closest thing to we get to a Shakespearean character in Doctor Who, the "The Shakespeare Code" notwithstanding, so it's a shame her character is in such an implausible situation, undermining the credibility of the story. That this seems to keep happening, complex themes handled by talented actors, not quite coming together in the service of the story during RTD's first year. As much as I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, Eccleston's portrayal, and most of every episode, it seems like there's a recurrent pattern in this season of gears slipping -- the engine racing, but the story losing momentum. We're never off the road in a ditch, but it's not a finely tuned machine yet.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yeti mystery solved?

Yeti mystery solved? Geneticist links Abominable Snowman hairs to bears  - NBC

via I Love The Yeti!
All Yeti, all the time around here this month :P
After a yearlong quest, a British geneticist says he has matched the DNA from hairs attributed to Himalayan Yetis, also known as "Abominable Snowmen," to a breed of Arctic bear that lived tens of thousands of years ago. Other researchers say that might be as good an explanation as any.
Sounds about right.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lost 'Doctor Who' Episodes Have Been Recovered

Lost 'Doctor Who' Episodes Have Been Recovered, Now Available on iTunes | Anglophenia | BBC America

The rumors turned out to be true, if the numbers were frequently exaggerated by the excitable and the gullible, but here they are: two previously lost (well, mostly lost, and not all of one) stories have been recovered, restored, and released. (Though only on iTunes so far. Boo.)

"The Web of Fear" is probably the more anticipated of the two, but if I recall my go-to source (who's also posted about these being found) for Who erudition had more to say about "The Enemy of the World." I've seen so little Troughton, relatively speaking, and not yet re-watched to write about a few others, so this is a fantastic opportunity to see more of him in action.

That said, I'm not buying the iTunes versions and will instead wait for the DVDs, so they're a bit in my future yet. (Forty-five years lost, a few more months won't break me.)  Work's been so crazy I've been sitting on scribbled notes from the last three Eccleston stories for a couple weeks now with no time to post about them and "Full Circle" has been sitting on the TV almost that long. As much as I'd like to these newly recovered stories as soon as possible, I want to watch them when I can block out the time for full appreciation.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...