Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Time Monster - "It was the daisiest daisy I'd ever seen."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Time Monster - Details

Season 9, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #64) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Gifs
(Where it's pointed out this clearly inspired "The Lodger")
Started drafting this post focused on the gizmos and gadgets -- time detectors, speedy Bessie, and whatnot (as the GIFs still reflect) -- and how this story, and this era, occasionally tip too far away from the core of what makes Doctor Who such great fun. Replacing the joy of exploring time and space in a (science sufficiently advanced it appears to us) magical blue box with a reliance on the Doctor driving up in Bessie to reverse the polarity and rig up a spinny-thing was a series-level miscalculation that hung over the production from its implementation in Series 7.  However, I'm going to let the spinny, silly things speak for themselves, and not rehash the observations about how the 70s were obsessed with von Däniken, ancient aliens, Atlantis, cryptids, Pyramid Power, and all kinds of hokum that would never fly with today's more sophisticated viewers of Finding Bigfoot and Ghost Hunters and ... oh, never mind.

Instead, I want to focus on just two scenes that are, if not brilliant and marvelous, have admirable aims and keep the spirit of the show alive despite the format having tied one hand behind the series's back. The other alternative approach would be to tackle the well-intentioned, I think, but groanworthy attempts to work in feminist characters railing against sexism. Letts, Dicks, and co. may have aimed for education about, and acceptance of, the Women's Liberation movement, but are so patronizing in the effort, I wince just remember some of the dialogue.

The more significant of the two is the scene after Jo executes the Time Ram and the TARDISes of the Doctor and the Master find themselves in Kronos's realm. This scene highlights the compassionate nature of the Doctor -- and is well in-tune with where Moffat has put Twelve, as opposed to how that aspect of his character took a beating at times under RTD (think of the Family of Blood) - while serving as a case-in-point for Clara's pointed barb when Missy/the Master's fate is in the Doctor's hands again in the cemetery scene near the end of "Death in Heaven". Here, the Doctor asks Kronos to spare the Master from a punishment of eternal torment. The series doesn't always endorse this position, or take the position that it is always wrong to kill, but notice how the Doctor here doesn't ask for the Master to receive only a swift death; he'd rather the Master go free than even suffer that more merciful, though final, sanction. When it comes to thinking about defense and punishment. We may need the lesson of Three more today (more than ever) than even Twelve's more position -- one that is more nuanced, perhaps, but ultimately includes the death penalty.

The other is the scene where the Doctor tells Jo the story of his blackest day, the day that was also the best day of his life. If the story of how the Doctor, as a young boy, sought the advice of hermit is a direct lift from a kōan, it's not one I could find in a few minutes of searching. But, the elements of his tale are a direct lift from that tradition. Hermits on mountains being questioned by a student seeking understanding, and that student receiving confusing or paradoxical replies to test their progress on the path to enlightenment, are common to many kōans. In his case, the Doctor went up the mountain miserable, for unspecified reasons (maybe because his friend was exposed to the Untempered Schism and went mad? or because someone grabbed his ankle from under his bed in the night?), and received the unexpected wisdom of a Gallifreyan hermit.

Here's the dialogue, courtesy of Chrissie's Transcripts:
DOCTOR: I felt like that once when I was young. It was the blackest day of my life.
JO: Why?
DOCTOR: Ah, well, that's another story. I'll tell you about it one day. The point is, that day was not only my blackest, it was also my best.
JO: Well, what do you mean?
DOCTOR: Well, when I was a little boy, we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. And behind our house, there sat under a tree an old man, a hermit, a monk. He'd lived under this tree for half his lifetime, so they said, and he'd learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me.
JO: And he told you the secret? Well, what was it?
DOCTOR: Well, I'm coming to that, Jo, in my own time. Ah, I'll never forget what it was like up there. All bleak and cold, it was. A few bare rocks with some weeds sprouting from them and some pathetic little patches of sludgy snow. It was just grey. Grey, grey, grey. Well, the tree the old man sat under, that was ancient and twisted and the old man himself was, he was as brittle and as dry as a leaf in the autumn.
JO: But what did he say?
DOCTOR: Nothing, not a word. He just sat there, silently, expressionless, and he listened whilst I poured out my troubles to him. I was too unhappy even for tears, I remember. And when I'd finished, he lifted a skeletal hand and he pointed. Do you know what he pointed at?
JO: No.
DOCTOR: A flower. One of those little weeds. Just like a daisy, it was. Well, I looked at it for a moment and suddenly I saw it through his eyes. It was simply glowing with life, like a perfectly cut jewel. And the colours? Well, the colours were deeper and richer than you could possibly imagine. Yes, that was the daisiest daisy I'd ever seen.
JO: And that was the secret of life? A daisy? Honestly, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Yes, I laughed too when I first heard it. So, later, I got up and I ran down that mountain and I found that the rocks weren't grey at all, but they were red, brown and purple and gold. And those pathetic little patches of sludgy snow, they were shining white. Shining white in the sunlight. You still frightened, Jo?
JO: No, not as much as I was. 
"The Time Monster" is more than a little bonkers. It's heavily padded to reach six episodes. It's science and philosophy are all over the place, and Atlantis is not well-realized. At the same time, it lays more than a little ground work for aspects of the show that we accept as commonplace now, but were firsts here. Tat Wood points out several of these in About Time, not the least is in introduction of the idea the TARDIS travels in a time vortex and spins on its axis as it travels. It's also the first appearance of voluptuous Hammer horror star Ingrid Pitt in DW. She'll be back in "Warriors of the Deep," but she's more recognizably in her element here as Queen Galleia.

Odds and Ends

The time detector is quite the phallic symbol. "Jo, I've built a time detector. Hold it in your lap. It vibrates a bit. And mind the whirly bit at the tip, it's very sensitive." (Not an actual quote.)  More like an Ingrid Pitt detector, if you ask me.

It's a time detector. Why? What did you think it was?
I've been linking these BBC official site pages for the classic series, this is first time I've com across the archived page note? Hmmm... I'd hate for all these classic series posts to end up with dead links because the BBC got away from their documentation of these older shows.

Benton gets the advanced space time theory in this one. Then is turned into a baby. Baby Benton. There is a distinct vibe of Early 1970s sitcom about this one. Like a sci-fi Three's Company.

With "Last Christmas" fresh in mind, I feel like I left something out if I didn't at least mention that this one starts with the Doctor having a precog-ish dream featuring, some reason a volcano. I can't make any sense of it, but there you have it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

You can't trust Fox News. Ever.

I've said it before and will say it again. If you're a network not operating in the public interest, especially if you're operating against it, you should lose your license. It's one thing to make mistakes, it's another entirely to deliberately misinform.

Last Christmas - "There's a horror movie called Alien? That's really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you."

Last Christmas (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

xmas 2014 (Overall Series Story #257) | Previous - Next | Index

*** SPOILERS ***

The Christmas Special is a strange beast. Its producers, or their bosses, deciding to tie one hand behind their backs and encumber the show with a very special message of hope and goodwill towards men while not gagging on the requisite Santa-is-real-even-though-he's-not instruction for children to Believe. The structure of Doctor Who's production schedule also means that these Specials aren't just asides, they're season cappers, or starters, for the most part, and tend to feature regenerations, new companions, and other significant events that give these particular shows what we might argue is undue weight. I mean, we get about 13 episodes a year, and one of them is sort of always dealing with this theme (or baggage), so a remarkably high percentage of all new series DW is set at Christmas. I'd argue it was time to take Christmases off, except this one was so good it seems it can be done without being done to death.

What better way to take on the Christmas Special than to shove Alien and Inception down its throat? Rather like spitefully shoving a tangerine down the gaping maw of a Christmas stocking. (I'm rolling with critical consensus of citations here despite the fact we could tick off The Thing, Miracle on 34th Street [both on Shona's Christmas Itinerary, so we're on firm ground there],  "Amy's Choice", Brazil, The Matrix, at least a few snowbound Base Under Siege episodes from both the new and classic series, and Star Trek: Generations as other likely sources/influences.) If you have to tell a Christmas story, might as well have a surprise underneath the de rigeur bows and ribbons.

Moffat is making explicit, again (in a way that strikes me as reckless -- though possibly brilliant) that his version of Doctor Who is a dream archetype, a story built on the self-awareness we feel upon exiting a dream that we're in a dream, but one we didn't recognize as a dream while it was happening, and the subsequent need to interrogate reality when we awaken to determine whether we're still dreaming. If we even can. It's a bold choice for how to make television, one that flirts with metaphysics, if not exactly practicing it, while it messes around with critical theory. It's an especially bold choice for a family show built to draw huge ratings after the family has spent the day practicing capitalist excess and non-ironic sentimentality.

For many, "Last Christmas" may be too much of a good, or bad, thing. There are valid criticisms to be leveled against it, though I admit I'm not particularly motivated to make them. Moffat's reiteration of monsters that are depended on how we perceive, or don't perceive, them can legitimately all be considered variations on the Weeping Angels. They work because that idea is so effective for TV. But, to keep drawing from that well may suggest you're a One Trick Pony.

So Clara's staying. Which may be good news because Jenna Coleman is great; but, again, Moff can't keep drawing us back to the same well. The tension around the notion she may or may not be leaving practically every episode grows tiresome. Though, I keep coming back to how talented an actress Jenna Coleman is, and how there's still plenty of room for her character to grow. The call has gone up from all corners of the internet to have Shona join the crew, and I'll be surprised if we don't see her again, which raises the possibility of a new dynamic in the TARDIS with two young companions who don't need to have a romantic relationship to make them interesting, together and apart. (Yellow flags: she's got a Dave she's working on forgiving, which could make for challenges passing the Bechdel Test if she does return; and, her itinerary also left the door open for her to have Daddy issues, which I don't trust Moffat to handle well.)

Speaking of Shona, did anyone not love her dance moves as mental distractions as she made her way through the infirmary?

Me, I loved it. My son did as well. He was proud that he figured out before the reveal who the sleepers in the infirmary were, and he couldn't wait to cop some of Shona's moves. My daughter, who's more skeptical of the show in general, also enjoyed this one, so it was a crowd-pleaser in our house at least. (The poll at Gallifrey Base shows it seems to have hit the right notes for most. There are, of course, the usual lot of Worst. Episode. Ever. scrooges, but very few of them present any compelling reasons for being so down on this particular story.)

Odds and Ends:

No call back to Eleven mentioning he knew Santa as "Jeff." Mercifully, no other allusion to having the last room at the inn that silent night as Ten made in one of his specials -- escapes me at the moment which that was ...

Dreams being a chance to travel time and space harkens back to the conference call in "The Name of the Doctor". And, in "Doomsday", Ten was able to guide Rose to alternate universe Bad Wolf Bay by calling to her in a dream.

A redditor pointed out one of Santa's elves was sporting a Red Ryder BB gun.

Nick Frost was pitch perfect as Santa. Wow. He did as much as anyone to sell me on scenes that could have gone so, so wrong. That was a casting coup.

[edit] This comment over on TARDIS Eruditorum points to one of those things I hate about the obvious ... missing it.

[edit] Here's another possible inspiration: Matthew over at Tea with Morbius recalls an X-Files episode with a very similar structure.

Did I imagine it or does Frost's Santa break the Fourth Wall as blatantly as we've seen since the Christmas episode of "The Daleks' Master Plan" by saying "Peter, shut up!"?  I couldn't believe it and wonder as I write this if that wasn't something that happened in a dream. The way my temple hurts I can't be certain ...

How did this one go over in your house? Let me know in the comments!  Also, if I've missed anything.

And, I'd be remiss if I didn't wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to come!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

On Civility ...

NYT Weighs in on Civility and the Salaita Case | Corey Robin
[I]ntentionally breaching civility by refusing to merely engage in calm persuasion — is itself part of the very process by which social-political perspectives shift. If it ought to have been true that only awful human beings would support this attack, how do we move society toward that point? One way is reasoned argument, no doubt. But it’s also important to exhibit the perspective, and not just argue for it; to adopt the perspective and provocatively manifest how things look from within it. 

GWAR cover "West End Girls" / "People Who Died"

GWAR covers Pet Shop Boys | A.V. Undercover | The A.V. Club

How to care for introverts

How to care for introverts:

1. Respect their need for privacy.
2. Never embarrass them in public.
3. Let them observe first in new situations.
4. Give them time to think; don't demand instant answers.
5. Don't interrupt them.
6. Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.
7. Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing.
8. Reprimand them privately.
9. Teach them new skills privately.
10. Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests & abilities.
11. Don't push them to make lots of friends.
12. Respect their introversion; don't try to remake them into extroverts.
Sounds about right.

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