Friday, July 31, 2015

45 Pedro Numbers

Pedro Martinez's Otherworldy Greatness Explained In 45 Cool Numbers | NESN

Pedro, Jim Ed, Pudge, & Yaz with their retired numbers in background.
Credit: Jim Davis / Boston Globe 
I don't normally post such an extensive quote (though I trimmed a few numbers) from a linked article, but NESN's website is such a hot mess of video, content blocking ads, & noise, I can't recommend you crash your browser with it in good conscience. So, thanks for the post NESN, your content rocks. Much love. Respect. Maybe though, and this is the guy with the blog full of GIFs and gadgets in the sidebar talking, tone it down a little on the web media.
16: Pedro’s age when he signed his first contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988.
20: Pedro’s age when he made his major league debut.
41.9: The percentage of starts Pedro completed (13 of 31) in 1997.
37.5: The percentage of batters Pedro struck out in 1999, tops among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. Randy Johnson ranked second at 33.7 percent. Tim Hudson ranked third at 22.8 percent.
82.8: The percentage of Pedro’s starts the Red Sox won (24 of 29) in 1999.
79.3: The percentage of starts (46 of 58) between 1999 and 2000 in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer.
2: The number of MVP ballots Pedro was left off entirely in 1999, paving the way for Ivan Rodriguez’s robbery.
5: The number of times Pedro led the majors in ERA, more than any other pitcher in MLB history. He won the MLB ERA crown in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003.
2.74: Pedro’s ERA in 96 career games (95 starts) at Fenway.
7: The number of times Pedro finished in the top four in Cy Young voting. As mentioned, it includes three first-place finishes (1997, 1999, 2000).
3.35: The difference between Pedro’s ERA (1.74) and the average ERA for an American League starter (5.09) in 2000. 1968: The last time an AL starter posted an ERA better than Pedro’s 1.74 mark in 2000. It was none other than Luis Tiant, who led the AL with a 1.60 ERA.
0.74: Pedro’s WHIP in 2000, the best single-season mark in MLB history.
756.53: Pedro’s peak performance score on June 6, 2000, according to Bill James’ Pitcher Wave Patterns. It made Pedro the highest-rated pitcher of all time.
190: Pedro’s ERA+ with the Red Sox, meaning his ERA was 90 percent better than league average.
[I don't know what this number represents, but it is Bill James' and it rates Pedro the highest of all time, so ...]
46: The number of starts with the Red Sox in which Pedro allowed three hits or fewer. 
26.3: The percentage of starts with the Red Sox in which Pedro allowed zero earned runs (53 of 201). 
3.59: The difference between Pedro’s strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.45) and the league average strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.86) during his time with the Red Sox. 
.760: Pedro’s winning percentage (117-37) with the Red Sox, tops in MLB during that span. 
64.6: Pedro’s average game score during his time with the Red Sox. It was the best mark among pitchers with at least 100 appearances, just ahead of fellow 2015 Hall inductee Randy Johnson’s 64.5 mark. 
53.8: Pedro’s WAR (wins above replacement) during his seven seasons with the Red Sox. Only Randy Johnson (54.2) had a better mark in that same stretch. Curt Schilling (47.5) and Mike Mussina (35.5) ranked third and fourth, respectively. 
313: Pedro’s single-season career-high for strikeouts (1999), a Red Sox franchise record. 
1.12: The number of strikeouts Pedro averaged per inning in his career. He’s the only pitcher in MLB history with at least 3,000 strikeouts (3,154) in fewer than 3,000 innings pitched (2,827 1/3). 
108: The number of times Pedro struck out 10 or more in a game. He trails only Nolan Ryan (215), Randy Johnson (212) and Roger Clemens (110) in total double-digit strikeout games since 1914. 
50.7: The percentage of career starts (207 of 409) in which he walked one or zero batters. 
.250: The combined career average (56-for-224) against Pedro for the 12 current Hall of Famers the right-hander faced. Frank Thomas and Barry Larkin are the only two players currently enshrined in Cooperstown to homer off Pedro. They each went deep once. 
35: The number of times Pedro struck out Jorge Posada in 86 career regular-season plate appearances. As you might recall, Pedro doesn’t like Posada very much. 
.687: Pedro’s winning percentage, which ranks second in MLB history among starters with at least 250 decisions. Whitey Ford (.690) ranks first. 
51.84: Pedro’s Win Probability Added (WPA), which is the fifth-best mark since 1974. 
141: The number of batters Pedro plunked in his career. He drilled a career-high 16 in 2004. 
3: The number of times Pedro was ejected in his career, according to BeyondTheBoxScore.com. 
43: The number of hits Pedro had in 518 career plate appearances. He had six doubles and two triples, and the rest were singles. He batted .099 in his career with 190 strikeouts and a .134 on-base percentage. So there was one thing he couldn’t do? Give the guy a break. 
19: The number of catchers lucky enough to catch Pedro during his 18-year career. Jason Varitek caught Pedro more than any other, totaling 168 games and 1,113 1/3 regular-season innings. Darrin Fletcher (92 games, 624 2/3 innings) ranks second. 
1: The number of times Pedro faced the Red Sox. He allowed eight runs (six earned) on seven hits over three innings in a start against Boston while with the New York Mets on June 28, 2006, at Fenway Park. Alex Gonzalez went deep for the Red Sox against Pedro in a 10-2 win that evening. 
37: The only other number Pedro wore in his major league career (with the Montreal Expos in 1994-95) 
1983: The last time a Dominican-born player (Juan Marichal) was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pedro and Marichal are the only two Dominican-born players to be inducted so far. 
49: The number of writers who didn’t vote Pedro into the Hall of Fame. [Also, the minimum number of writers who have no business being in the sports writing trade.] 



Between Two Stools ... heh-heh

On Giving a Shit | Review31


‘Celia, Celia, Celia, Shits!’ So goes Jonathan Swift in one of the most infamous lines in all of English poetry – the last word often blotted out with a demure dash to preserve the reader’s sensibilities. Happily, however, there exists another type of reader who remains just as interested in ‘shiterature’ as Swift and his literary predecessors were. Peter Smith is this reader, and his book, Between Two Stools: Scatology and its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to Swift, is dedicated to removing these types of elisions. 
A wise man once said, "All conversations tend towards shit." Literature, too.

Rev. Barber Profiled in Politico

The Moral Voice of the South - Errin Whack - POLITICO Magazine

The Reverend William Barber Gerry Broome/AP Photo via Mother Jones
Not much is simple for Barber lately. For more than 100 Mondays, he and thousands of others from around the state and country—collectively known as the Forward Together Movement—have protested what they see as the state’s unjust and extreme policies, pushing back against the GOP-controlled legislature’s moves to reject Medicaid expansion, cut education and impose strict voting rules that could affect thousands of citizens.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Video: Red Sox retire Pedro's No. 45 | MLB.com

Video: Red Sox retire Pedro's No. 45 | MLB.com


Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Jackie Robinson, and, as of yesterday, Pedro Martinez.

Watching Pedro go into Cooperstown was amazing, but this ceremony was every bit as emotional. The Hall of Fame is the greatest honor, but there are only nine numbers on the right field wall at Fenway, and I don't imagine we'll see another go up until after Big Papi goes into the Hall.


Good on you, Boston: #Boston2024 nixed.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Nixes the #Boston2024 U.S. Bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games - CityLab



Boston didn’t fall out of love with the idea of hosting the games; the city just doesn’t want to pay for it. While majorities of Boston voters and Massachusetts voters supported a bid that did not require any public funding, according to recent polls, the overwhelming majority of voters don’t think such an Olympic Games is possible.
John Oliver's piece on public financing of stadiums for private interests isn't one of my favorites of his, generally brilliant, take downs of our collective idiocy -- not because the case isn't good on the merits, the humor in it just missed the mark for me.

The Olympics bring a different dynamic to the argument, but I think the general argument remains the same: the taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for the expense. The myth that stadiums are somehow a long-term economic boon for cities has been debunked. Olympic stadiums have fared better than World Cup stadiums in terms of re-usability, and one would have hoped Boston would've been closer to London than to Brazil's experience, but it's still a huge gamble. Gambling not being one of the better uses of public financing.

Boston did the right thing. Here's hoping other cities follow this example and tell any extortioners coming 'round to try to drain money out of the public coffers to run their game on some other sucker.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Pop Culture is ‘Boring as F!@#'

Pop Culture is ‘Boring as F!@#’: A Playboy Conversation with Monica Byrne | Playboy

All art translates an artist’s inner world into the “real” world. But science fiction is uniquely oriented toward the future, and so, is inherently political: a hope or a warning, or most often, a complicated mix of the two.


Questions worth asking: "Nobody seemed to react to it much at all. Why was that?"

' ... During the interview Adkisson stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.'

I didn't see a lot of people showing solidarity with the folks who were killed in that church for their religious and political beliefs or declaring war on the people who held such ideas. Nobody seemed to react to it much at all. Why was that? 
July 27 is anniversary of the 2008 attack on liberal church by a conservative ideologue. For context, digby's post was published shortly after the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and several months before the Charleston shooting. Not once in all the coverage of Charleston did I hear reference to this shooting, despite the similarities in motivation. This shooters hatred may be somewhat more diffuse, incorporating liberals and gays, as well as blacks:
Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly. [Knoxville News Sentinel]
Two died and seven were wounded in the attack on the TVUUC. Let's remember the heroism of Greg McKendry (who died because he deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others), as well as John Bohstedt, Robert Birdwell, Arthur Bolds, Terry Uselton, and Jamie Parkey, who restrained the gunman. Remember, too, that Linda Kraeger was the other life lost in the attack.

Remember. And keep asking: why is it ever socially acceptable to vilify liberals, atheists, gays, blacks, or any other group? Why do media outlets that routinely give white supremacists, theocrats, fascists, and other hate group representatives a platform continue to enjoy broad support? Why are there still Confederate flags flying anywhere?  Why are there textbooks used by public schools that claim white supremacy and slavery were only side issues in the Civil War while utterly ignoring Jim Crow and the KKK?

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop teaching kids to hate, and giving cover to their hatred when they're adults, we can all get on the same page and work towards justice for all.




Sunday, July 26, 2015

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The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky - "I've got to give them a choice."

The Sontaran Stratagem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 4, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #196a) | Previous - Next | Index

Yeah you will.
Martha's back. And so are UNIT. We've already seen Rose, and will catch a glimpse of her again soon. The Sontarans are also back. And so are Wilf and Donna's mum. Yet, this manages to be less than the sum of its parts.

UNIT without a Lethbridge-Stewart, or a Sgt. Benton is not our UNIT, even with Martha Jones now attached. Pretty much everything about this one feels slow getting out of the gate. And, with a an annoying boy genius fronting the Sontarans, it never feels like we're going to really get to enjoy it.

Our reliance on cars, and the ecological nightmare that reliance entails, feels like a worthy topic for Doctor Who, but I'm not getting like a smart send-up vibe off this story. The boy genius's bravado and vulnerability feel like they are a potential thematic key, but to what lock? ATMOS as the corporate evil? We're getting a lot of corporate malfeasance with our DW these days, but one of the things I like to do when I watch with my kids is ask them questions about they're watching, so they're thinking about why the storyteller is telling this particular story? Watching this one with them, I'm stumped as to what question has a chance of bubbling up an interesting answer. Why this story, told this way?

I wish I knew.

Grasping at straws, I guess we could credit this one with some foresight and, with a Snowden-esque perspective, argue that this story advises skepticism about widely adopting a technology that can easily be used to track us and, potentially be used to control us. (Not that we haven't had enough of these sorts of warnings already.)



The Poison Sky - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 4, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #196b) | Previous - Next | Index


The list of things I remember about this one after watching it just a few days ago:

  • The Doctor disarming Rattigan, 
  • Rattigan's final in-your-face "Sontar ... Ha!" 
  • Martha getting caught up in the sudden trip to next week's adventure, 
  • wishing for more Wilf, 
  • that quick flash of Rose on the monitor,
  • the mention of the Sontaran conflict with the Rutan,
  • groaning when Donna's mum gives the eco-friendly speech about all the people riding bikes, even though I'd feel the same way,
  • the Doctor saying, "I've got to give them a choice."

Not that it was terrible, and a few of those are piquant moments. But -- here we go again again, just as in the write-up of the first part, the pattern for talking about this one is: "there was that, but" --
it's the low point of Series 4. All things considered, at least it's not (same writer's) low point of last series, the Daleks Take Manhattan two-parter. (I know, I know. That's what it would have been called if it had Muppets in it though.)


Additional Resources:
Tardis Wikia entry
chakoteya.net transcript
Sandifer post
Shabogan Graffiti
AV Club review
TV Tropes page

What is a political prisoner?

Reading Plato on Death Row - New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science:
We talked about whether Socrates was a political prisoner, which raised the further question: What is a political prisoner? Is it someone who is punished by the state for their beliefs or political actions? What about the person who is disproportionately punished for a crime in order to serve the interests of a few politicians seeking re-election? And where does this leave the prisoner who commited a crime, perhaps a horrible crime, but has managed to transform themselves within prison thanks to formal and informal educational opportunities that they never had on the outside? At what point does a prisoner become political, and what sort of resistance is possible for those who aspire to be principled rather than spineless?
 Leiter Reports


Friday, July 24, 2015

Mass Shootings in 2015 - Mass Shooting Tracker

Mass Shootings in 2015 - Mass Shooting Tracker

It's the 204th day of 2015; there've been 204 (including Lafayette, LA, not yet on the tracker at time of posting) mass shootings this year.


How we should be discussing the hoax sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood



Planned Parenthood facilities are one among many hospitals, tissue banks, and clinics that collect and store donated fetal tissue. All of them charge small fees for donated materials, as storage isn’t free, and securing facilities to maintain confidentiality costs money. These facilities all act as the third party between patients and the biomedical research firms that process donated tissue and make it available to researchers in either fresh or frozen state. Your donation could go into research that prevents miscarriages, helps treat abnormalities of fetal development, contributes to genetic therapies to treat conditions like Parkinson’s, and a variety of other medical advances. 
That’s pretty cool, and a far cry from the ghoulish nightmares being painted by the right in an attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood. The pro-choice fight requires a lot of battles, but if the right is going to turn your body into a political football, you might as well punt it and contribute to medical research that will save lives. 

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Euchre: The People's Card Game

The People's Card Game - The Awl

In the fall of 1872, nineteen travelers were marooned in the Arctic Ocean. Lost during the infamous Polaris expedition, this miserable band included sailors, explorers, and a newborn baby. They lived on a five-mile sheet of ice for months, building huts out of ice and snow, and hunting seals for food. During the ordeal, a German immigrant taught the survivors how to play a game with homemade cards called euchre. When they were rescued months later, the makeshift card game was memorialized in a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s memoir and a Congressional report about the disaster.
Never heard of euchre 'til I moved Wisconsin. (Setback was the game we played in Connecticut.) Never learned to play, so pretty much forgot about it until I came across this article.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pedro: Magic on the mound

Magic on the mound

GIF via the Boston Globe

The Globe's got a feature today that puts some of Pedro's achievements in graphic form.

It's also a good time to refresh our memories of this gem:



100 Great Movies By Female Directors: Part 1

100 Great Movies By Female Directors: Part 1 – Articles | Little White Lies


This is not "The" 100 Great Movies By Female Directors. It's merely 100 movies we love and honestly think you will too.
Part 2, Part 3 ...


Planet of the Ood - "They don't ask. Same thing."

Planet of the Ood - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 4, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #193) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via a study in floyd

Something's missing here. This one should be more memorable than it is. It's got some pointed, spot on dialogue that directly gets after how capitalism warps morality. Exchanges like:
DONNA: If people back on Earth knew what was going on here.
SOLANA: Oh, don't be so stupid. Of course they know.
DONNA: They know how you treat the Ood?
SOLANA: They don't ask. Same thing.
And,
DONNA: Oh, it stinks. How many of them do you think there are in each one?
DOCTOR: Hundred? More?
DONNA: A great big empire built on slavery.
DOCTOR: It's not so different from your time.
DONNA: Oi. I haven't got slaves.
DOCTOR: Who do you think made your clothes?
DONNA: Is that why you travel round with a human at your side? It's not so you can show them the wonders of the universe, it's so you can take cheap shots? 
This is exactly what Donna needed to hear. Empires built on slavery are evil, this isn't exactly news, but applying that judgment to our circumstances, that perspective can be difficult to internalize. How people become complicit in their maintenance is worth thinking about, so something can be done about it. I love it that DW does this. When it does, we should sing its praises. So, why don't I love this episode more than I do?

It is, perhaps, as simple as the fact that Donna calls the Doctor's dig about the provenance of her clothes a "cheap shot," and he apologizes for it. In his tailored suit and brand name sand shoes.

Look, I'm not arguing he should've set her straight with a stern lecture and refused to travel with her until she admitted the crack made a valid point. I'm not even saying the dialogue needed to be changed, only that the reading that situation required was different than the one Tenant gave. A hard stare, held for as long as it takes to draw a deep breath, then the "sorry," to suggest he's sorry she doesn't get it, yet, not that he's sorry he's said it.

There's always going to be this disconnect, isn't there? We need the condemnation, the moral clarity. But we aren't in a position, any of us, as individuals, to make the system right. And the work to do just what we can do within the system is so hard, we can't all do it all the time. (I say that, hoping it's true, because I've got DW t-shirts made in Pakistan or Bangladesh or somewhere in my closet. The clothes I'm wearing right now are from a Kohl's department store. No doubt made by slaves.) The show knows this and isn't a Frontline documentary on labor conditions in the East Asian garment industry. So it has to be a story that fits into a certain mold. It can prick our conscience, but it has to pick its spots and move on. Donna can't break down in tears over her complicity in neoliberal policies of the early 21st century and start making her own clothes from fair trade fabrics. (She can't, can she?)

I don't mean to single DW who out for the moral failings of being television entertainment of its time and era. Most shows get this far more wrong. Most wouldn't even dream of poking us that way. Never mind if it's only a poke that draws no blood. Even science fiction, where we can move the characters to any narrative space, any imagined time or location, anywhere in the past, present, or future of the universe, or even to an alternate universe, even with all this freedom to question, to examine, to speculate, to suggest -- we're still watching it today, right now, in our reality. We (the creators and consumers) are the limiting factors, not the TARDIS.

We want the truth, but we can't handle the truth.

Except, we can. It's just hard. (Hard to imagine the path that gets us from where we are to where we would be if we were free to live virtuous lives in a just society. We are society, society is us. Cells in the body politic, we burn something to produce something else, by doing this we survive and reproduce. How to burn so the cells around us can also survive and thrive? We work with what we have at hand. The milieu matters. What the other cells do matters. The aggregate effect of what all the cells do matters.)

Perhaps I digress. This is about the Doctor Who episode called "Planet of the Ood," where an enslaved brain is struggling to break free of its bindings. A man and a woman hear the song of the brain and it makes them sad. Another man falls into the brain, another man loses his humanity, because it was already lost, and humanity goes on. And the Ood go on. And the Doctor/Donna go on.


Odds-n-sods:

  • DONNA: It's weird. I mean, it's brilliant, but. Back home, the papers and the telly, they keep saying we haven't got long to live. Global warming, flooding, all the bees disappearing. DOCTOR: Yeah. That thing about the bees is odd. [Donna mentioned the bees disappearing in "Partners in Crime" as well.]
  • Donna's for West Ham. I'm no Premier League buff, but am curious about what a person's routing interest in a club may signify about their personality. Me, I'm a Red Sox fan, and as I read about West Ham, I can't help but think there may be some rough similarities between supporters of West Ham and die-hard fans of the Red Sox and Cubs -- big city teams with a long history of being generally successful, but not winning it all. (That's changed since 2004 for the Red Sox, of course, but for most of my life the Sox were loved, despite not being able to put it all together.) West Ham's song speaks to this lovable loser identity. 
    • This pretty much seals it. I've been watching the Premier League without a team to cheer for the last few years, mostly paying attention to Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, and the 'Spurs because they've been the top teams, but I like (minus the hooliganism, which I gather is endemic to sport) what I'm reading about the Hammers and their history. 
  • Jack Graham is, of course, more eloquent and insightful than I am on this one. Deliberately didn't read his post until after I was done so I wouldn't just throw my hands in the air and gripe that he'd already nailed it.



Additional Resources:
Tardis Wikia
chakotya.net transcript
Sandifer post
AV Club review
TV Tropes page

Living in the south, I have this conversation way too often.

Living in the south, I have this conversation way too often. (NSFW language, but you know, a gif) : HighQualityGifs


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Brain-Linked Monkeys Form Superorganism, We Are Probably Doomed

Brain-Linked Monkeys Form Superorganism, Deftly Control Robotic Arm — NOVA Next | PBS


Neuroscientists are still many, many years away from linking human brains, but the research points to some tantalizing possibilities. First, such research requires sophisticated brain-computer interfaces, which, once perfected, could allow people to deftly control advanced prosthetic limbs.
I, for one, welcome our Cybernetic Monkey Overlords.


Pedro Martinez humbled to have No. 45 retired

Pedro Martinez humbled to have No. 45 retired | MLB.com

Pedro identifies player he would have had woken up, so he could drill him in the ass.
"To actually have a number retired in one of the teams in the big leagues, your number retired forever, so your number is going to be there on an everyday basis and on a yearly basis, it's a great honor," Martinez said. "I'm extremely humbled and extremely proud to have my number retired."
Mr. Martinez is very much about respect and being respected. This weekend in Cooperstown, and next week in Boston, he will be paid the highest honors his sport and his team can bestow upon him.

The man has earned it. No doubt. Especially after he was denied a high honor during his career. The 1999 MVP? Yes, that too. But I meant how, had he not gone to a New York team after leaving the Red Sox, my son's middle name would've been Pedro. I feel a little bit sad about how let my disgust for the Mets influence my decision. But, it's not like Pedro would've ever known even if I had, so I won't go to the grave haunted by my failure as an MVP voter like a couple of sports writers who completely failed their duty.


What's next, Kim Stanley Robinson?

Kim Stanley Robinson, master of a sci-fi universe | The Sacramento Bee

KSR via Sean Curtin, Sacramento Bee

Q: What’s next?

A: I’m postulating a sea level rise and I’m doing a “drowned Manhattan” novel. For a Californian, writing about New York is scarier than writing about Mars.
Timely, both personally (for me, I just re-read "Venice Drowned" in the Best of Kim Stanley Robinson collection), and ecologically (of course).


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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Partners in Crime - "You're not mating with me, sunshine!"

Partners in Crime (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 4, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #193) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via death by flail
First time around, the beginning of Series 4 unnerved me a bit. Wasn't exactly a fan of Catherine Tate and had hoped all of Series 3 to eventually see Freema get a chance to play Martha without the unrequited crush angle. With the benefit of hindsight, knowing great things are ahead, that Tate's not in over her head with the Donna character, and we're going to care what happens to her later makes this a much more enjoyable experience. Plus, more Donna means more Wilf, and Bernard Cribbins is a delight to have around. Although, the companion again comes with a mom that's a bit of a pill, a trend that has me wondering how much Davies's The Writer's Tale might speak to what influence his family life had on his character development.

"Partners in Crime" larks about, giving Tennant and Tate plenty of room to shine as a comedy duo. The scene where they finally spot one another after all the near misses is gold, comedy gold. /borscht belt accent Between comedic stylings of T&T and those adorable Adipose with their one little tooth and Muppet Baby voices, the episode feels light and breezy, so much so that we forget how lonely the Doctor looked in the TARDIS when we see him at the beginning travelling without a companion. Then, boom, Davies let's us have it by bringing Rose back. It happens so quick we're still all "Wait! What?!" as the preview for next week starts to roll. Davies is having his way with us, lolling us into  thinking we're done with the big melodramatic story lines and putting all the heavy feels behind us, only to pull the rug from under us.

The other big return here isn't an actor (Cribbins from the movie with Peter Cushing) or an alien menace (the red-eyed Ood will be back next week), but it is a villain, perhaps *the* Big Bad of the Davies era: corporatism. Adipose, after all, is the name of the corporation slinging deceptive diet pills, not just of a species. The tools of this invasion are a call center and slick marketing. Sure, the Master/Harold Saxon was the architect of last season's villainy, but Arcangel didn't need a malevolent Time Lord to position itself as a global menace. Badwolf Corporation. Cybus Industries. Coming soon: ATMOS, Ood Operations. It may be that humanity in the DW universe is so often invaded not because we made a horror movie called Alien and offended the universe, but because our greed is so easily weaponized.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Love the phrase "unscheduled partenogenesis"
  • Long time readers of this blog will not be surprised my ears perked up when Donna mentioned the bees disappearing



Additional Resources:
http://www.chakoteya.net/DoctorWho/30-1.htm




Monday, July 20, 2015

The Awakening - "Tain't funny. She were screaming." "That's nothing to what Tegan would have done."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Awakening - Details

Season 21, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #132) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Spirit of the Hunt
A quick two-parter about the dangers of ... cosplay!

This one feels a bit like a somewhat less ambitious, Master-less reworking of "The Dæmons." Had this been a four-parter, I'm sure he would've been brought in to be engineering the awakening of the Malus, only to find himself unable to cope with what he'd done once he succeeded.

There's something to be said for these two-parters; they don't have to time for a bunch of padding, so even if mediocre, they wrap up quick and it's on to the next one. That said, they can also feel rushed towards a forced conclusion. For me, this one is registered at Camp Lessismore. Would probably spend more time making of fun of it had it been longer, but with the good sense to bow out early and a relatively impressive Malus prop behind the church wall, I'm inclined to let it off the hook.

Keith Jayne gets a lot of credit from reviewers for his Will Chandler, Boy Out of Time role; the praise is well-deserved, I suppose. However, I suspect folks would have tired of him had be been brought on as a companion as rumors swirled he might have been. As a one-off character he's charming, but not the level of the Robert Holmes-penned scene stealers, and one imagines the writers would have found themselves doing lots of explaining of just about everything -- though I don't think we got tired of Jamie on that account, so maybe they would have found a way to make him work. Still, we had more than enough in the TARDIS for the ride out to Frontios ...

The TARDIS has a Malus infestation.
Image via Wife in Space (where Sue, sensibly, recommends knocking it down with a broom)


Stray Thoughts:
  • The last utterance of, "Brave heart, Tegan." That was one of my favorite things about Five. Tegan could be difficult, but he was always encouraging.
  • The Jam's "Town Called Malice" was released a couple years before this aired. I kept hoping while watching the DVD extras there'd be an outtake of the cast doing a karaoke version with the Malus prop. (There wasn't, of course.)
  • If you think we see an extraordinary amount of the companions' families in the new series, just remember how many times Tegan dropped in somewhere to visit family. (She's got aunts, cousins, granddads in all the places.)



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mary Badham ("Scout") Comments On The Atticus Controversy

The Atticus Finch We Always Knew - The New Yorker

In the Q. & A. that followed, moderator Mary Murphy, the director of the documentary “Harper Lee: From Mockingbird to Watchman,” asked Badham if she was surprised by the evolution of Atticus. She was not. In the Alabama she knew, it was not unheard of for a white man like him to righteously defend a black man like Tom Robinson against an unjustified charge of rape, and at the same time believe, as Atticus says in “Watchman,” that black people were “backward,” not “ready” to exercise their full civil rights. She heard all that and much more growing up in Birmingham. We all did.
Honestly, I've heard more about the Atticus controversy than actually heard from anyone directly who felt aggrieved by Atticus's revealed racism. But, it's no surprise that there would be hurt feelings when such a lionized character would be revealed to be so deeply flawed, nor even that the character, Atticus, would himself be revealed to be steeped in white supremacist ideology. [Related: "Scholars Have Been Pointing Out Atticus Finch's Racism For Years"]

The lesson is that privilege warps the privileged. Also, that privilege is nearly invisible to the privileged. To the extent anyone is upset about the character of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman, I suspect we'll find an unwillingness to acknowledge the pervasiveness, perhaps even the existence, of white privilege. Scout and Calpurnia are the heart of To Kill A Mockingbird, a fact somewhat obscured by the film, where the greatest burden comes across as being an honorable white man in the South, when the obvious facts are that it is harder to be nearly every other character than it is to be Atticus. Harder to be poor and black, harder to be poor and white, harder to be black and female, harder to be white and female.

This isn't to dismiss Atticus all together. Only to acknowledge the world he lives in. We live in.

For all the love shown Mockingbird, maybe it's finally time to read it closer.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

#DoctorWho Blog Them All Progress Check - Summer 2015

It's been about a year since I checked my progress on blogging about all the televised Doctor Who stories. August of 2014, I was 68% complete after "Deep Breath" had aired.

The blogger's tools of the trade.
(Not pictured: hundreds of DVDs, the About Time books, all the Sandifer books on the kindle ...)
Scorecard By Doctor:
Hartnell - 23 of 29 complete - 79%
Troughton - 11 of 21 complete - 52%
Pertwee - 23 of 24 complete - 96%
T. Baker - 28 of 32 complete - 88%
Davision - 18 of 20 complete - 90%
C. Baker - 5 of 11 complete - 45%
McCoy - 4 of 12 complete - 33%
McGann - 1 of 1 complete - 100%
Eccleston - 13 of 13 complete - 100%
Tennant - 35 of 47 complete - 74%
Smith - 34 of 44 complete - 77%
Capaldi - 13 of 13 complete - 100%

Overall, 208 of 265 complete, so currently at 78% complete. Not too shabby. Of course, come September there'll be new episodes coming in to keep up with while chipping away at the older ones, so I've got my work cut out for me. Had hoped I'd be through all the old episodes by now and ready to just blog as they come out. Hah! This time next summer feels like a more realistic goal to up-to-date by.

Have a few Tom Baker, Davison, and Tennant story write-ups in draft though. The wheel of progress continues to turn. The arrival of Aurora and a change at Amazon (Doctor Who longer free to download on Prime) cut into my blogging time a bit recently. I'd have knocked a bunch more out, if I hadn't decided to give The Wire another chance. Since I could download those without additional charge, they filled up the kindle for my recent trip to New Hampshire; once I got hooked, I had to keep going ... 

Doesn't help that Who is on TV so often now either, ironically. Public TV is showing Pertwee stories as "The Pertwee Movies" Saturdays late afternoon, then Tennant stories at night. DisneyXD, which my kids frequently have on, shows Tennant stories all the time. So I'm watching DW, quite a bit, but lately I'm seeing a bunch that I've already blogged! (And my PBS station won't be showing "Planet of the Spiders," the one Pertwee I need, for months and months. Netflix tells me they don't know when they'll have it back in stock, so they moved out of my queue. Sigh.)



@spike, I want to believe you can do this: ‘Tut’

Spike Unearths ‘Tut’ For Six-Hour Miniseries | Variety

Image via Vulture / Spike TV
Probably going to regret cluttering up the DVR, but going to give this a shot based on:

1. I'm a sucker for anything ancient Egypt.
2. Want to take Spike seriously, despite a long history of not doing so, because Red Mars.
3. Ben Kingsley and Alexander Siddig. Legit.


Catching Up

I'm probably the only person I know who didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird in middle or high school, finally did that last year. I'd also never seen the movie, which I didn't remedy until last night with the missus at NCMA's outdoor screening. Apart from feeling like Calpurnia got a bit short-shrifted by the cuts made to the story to fit in on screen, and some of the acting (especially that of James K. Anderson as Bob Ewell) doesn't feel quite up to par for movie we'd call a true classic, I totally get why this one is 25 on the AFI list. Fascinating to see a young Robert Duvall as Boo Radley though. Clocks in at #30 on my flickchart.

Duvall as Boo Radley via can we rest now?

Y'all been raving about The Wire so long I've been meaning to take a second crack at it since not falling in love with the first episode and moving on a couple years back. It's been seriously impacting my ability to catch up on my Doctor Who blogging these last couple days.

Michael K. Williams as Omar via tumblr.com

Going to move on to the second season of The Wire as soon as I wrap up the first. Not sure where Go Set A Watchman sits on the To Read list; it's on there, but now that I've finished Aurora and am making my way through The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, I'm eager to re-read the Mars trilogy, which will likely lead me into Antarctica, which will likely be about the time I look to build out a Kim Stanley Robinson page here on the ol' blog. (Because it's not enough to have one massive project running ... )




Friday, July 17, 2015

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Leisure Hive - "Some galactic hobo with ideas above his station. The cosmos is full of them."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Leisure Hive - Details

Season 18, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #110) | Previous - Next | Index

Takes one to know one, eh Doctor? Image via Flight Through Eternity 

Well, here we are. The dawn of the John Nathan-Turner era. Going forward, for every good decision, there'll be a dozen absolute head-scratchers. Virtually every attempt to gussy up the show where it was perceived to have gotten long in the tooth leads disastrous design decisions; end result: the new things look and sound even more dated than the old stuff they were attempting to bring au courant. We'll see time and again how replacing humor with seriousness backfires horribly when forcing actors to be serious about utter rubbish. Instead of "undergraduate humor," we get undergraduate philosophy. An alleged to commitment to scientific realism sends writers scrounging back issues of New Scientist for gobbledegook they can spackle throughout their scripts and we end up with stuff like what we see here: tachyonics being used for zero-gravity squash and bizarre dismemberment visualizations.

The JN-T era has passionate defenders, especially in the latter seasons where Andrew Cartmel was purportedly laying the groundwork for what's been dubbed the Cartmel Masterplan. Regardless of what might have been, and what we can garner from the Virgin New Adventures novels, I'm only concerned with what actually made it to the screen for the purposes of this series of posts. And what made it to the screen was, as I recall, indefensible. Now, as I write this, I'm still working my way through a full re-watch of the series, so I will leave room to revise my judgment as I go forward, but much of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy era were the aesthetic equivalent of fingernails scraped down chalkboard and I will be surprised (gobsmacked) if they've aged better than I remember them.

Some very clever fans, well-spoken and evidently not trolling, make the case that things were getting better, the stories were more ambitious, and there was a genuine, viable vision underlying those last seasons that suggest the series was about to enter a new prime. "Remembrance of the Daleks" is the only story that I think this argument works for of the ones I've watched recently.  Anyways, it didn't seem that way to me back when they were new. But, I was young and put off. This time around I'm determined to give them their due and hope the arguments for the defense will be convincing as I get further into those last three seasons.  I've been jumping around a little and the experience of watching "Dragonfire" again did nothing to encourage me. "Battlefield" was OK, but Christopher Bahn over at the A.V. Club observes in his review of "Survival," that there was an "all-too-familiar Doctor Who pattern of starting strong and petering out into incoherence by the ending." "Battlefied" may have been one he had in mind.

As I recall, that persistent incoherence destroyed the series and undermined whatever masterplan was in the works. Mystery, dream logic, ambiguity, unreliable narrators, time being re-written -- any of those can, and should, be tolerated by a viewer as desirable elements of sophisticated narratives. Incoherence as a manifestation of incompetence simply can't.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, Season 18 has just begun, can't worry about Season 26 at this stage.

This story opens, (in)famously, with a long shot of a series of empty beach chairs and changing tents on a grey, blustery out-of-season English beachfront. After some time (several minutes? It's hard to say how long without a stopwatch. Subjective time dilates,) we find the Doctor in his new plum/burgundy get up asleep in a chair. Romana is, justifiably, griping to K9 about this sort of vacationing. So she murders him.

OK, not really, but she seems to know as soon as she's sent him to fetch a beach ball from the surf that he's going to short circuit. She then blames the Doctor for this rather ridiculous shortcoming in K9's design. A flaw in his sea water defense design may be the Doctor's fault, but it's the sort of reckless carelessness that signals passive-aggressive intent to do harm. We know the root of that thanks to JN-T's frequent admission that he disliked K9.

Look, it's like this: a bunch of other stuff happens, the one thing that always stuck in mind from this one is the image of the dying Argolins losing the marbles from their head hives. Plink, time is running out ... but you're going to be as somnolent as the Doctor on the beach before we get a good luck at a Foamasi outside of one of their undercover skinsuits. (That, actually, feels like an inspiration for the Slitheen.)

Much of the blame for how much of a slog this one becomes belongs to the incidental music. There's an awful lot it, and it's none of it particularly pleasant sounding.

The Doctor getting aged is another element of this one that we'll see again in the new series when Ten and Martha tangle with Harold "The Master" Saxon. Works better here in this one, in my opinion. The make-up is well done and Baker plays it subtly. Tennant's accelerated aging takes him right out of it though, too much CGI to make a proper comparison and Baker and Tennant's chops under these conditions.

So the JN-T has ambled out of the gate with the intent to shake things up. Change is in the air, but there's scant evidence in this story that change will be for the better.

Unincorporated Observations:

  • Barry Letts, is back as Executive Producer?! Yep. Maybe you can see it in the Foamasi having factions, similar to the Silurians back when Letts ran things? I'm perhaps fonder of the Letts/Dicks era than most, but this isn't one that reflects well on his C.V.
  • No more randomizing around. I guess the Doctor figures they've given the Black Guardian the slip.  He's taking back control of where they're headed going forward.
  • The TARDIS isn't helping the Doctor with translation of Foamasi. Lack of translation was a plot device in "The Creature from the Pit" as well.
  • The reworking of the main theme didn't bother me, but the star field effect is a step backwards from the iconic old title sequence. Typical bungling ... grumble, grumble ...
  • Where do you come down on the new plum duds the Doctor is sporting? Do the question marks on his lapels feel forced to you? (More grumbling about bunglers bungling from my side of screen ...)




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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Monday, July 13, 2015

The Creature from the Pit - "Have you ever thought of taking up another line of work? I don't think astrology is your forte."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Creature from the Pit - Details

Season 17, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #106) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Gifs
It is all but impossible to talk about this one without discussing the design of the creature. It is the single most phallic design in all of Doctor Who -- not an inconsiderable achievement given the existence of Alpha Centauri from the Peladon stories -- and I'm fairly certain outside of anything non-pornographic. It is comical, shocking, a little disturbing, and utterly, undeniably, a giant dick. Tom Baker can't restrain himself. His facial expressions are priceless. When he attempts to communicate with the creature buy grasping it's pseudopodic protrusion, blows into its tip, gives it a dismisssive little pat ... I am quite certain the cast and crew on set that day must have been falling down laughing.

An attempt was made during shooting to add other protrusions that are less dickish, including one with a forked tip, but it is too little, too late. The thing is a giant, veiny ball sack and penis, and the attempt to change its impression unfortunately only calls to mind a disfigured member, making the thing even harder to look at without wincing.

There's a case made here for regulated capitalism and a condemnation of greed that are nice touches. It's hard to give them their due though once you've seen the Doctor smothered by a giant scrotum.

The scripted goofiness is a reaction to the Hinchcliffe era, and will be reacted against after Graham Williams is gone. This has Douglas Adams all over it, but it is, if we are honest, a bit much. Take the scene where the Doctor, having been shoved into the pit, pulls a book on climbing from his pocket, for example:
DOCTOR (aloud to himself): It's in Tibetan!
(The Doctor gets a second book from his pocket.
Teach Yourself Tibetan.
DOCTOR (reading aloud): 'Pi-e pa-ha. Do not be afraid.'
(Something growls down below.)
It is, I think, a lovely comic mini-sketch. Tom Baker is brilliant in it. But we're twisting the narrative pretty hard to squeeze that bit of humor out of it. Ask yourself, does this work better as part of a story about the Doctor arriving on an alien world and attempting to liberate an imprisoned ambassador, or is it better suited to being a bit in a Children In Need special? Not saying the two are always mutually exclusive, nor that the line can't be toed, but if the answer is the latter, you're at risk of doing self-parody. But, don't be too quick to answer the latter, because I think you'll then find yourself in the company of the folks who were relieved when John Nathan-Turner came around to put an end to all the "undergraduate" humor and, in the process, run the series into the ground.

Image via Chair With A Panda On It

Unincorporated Observations:

  • Romana's imperiousness with the bandits is quite effective, and she's a knockout in that dress.
  • K-9 is not voiced by John Leeson here and it hurts.
  • There's an actor named Tim Munro in this one. If you're not also a Munro, this will be meaningless to you, I'm sure. 
  • The outcast astrologer, Organon, played by Geoffrey Bayldon, may ultimately be the best thing about this story ... 
  • Although Lady Adrasta is well-cast, and come to think of it, her vizier, Karela, has some scene stealing moments herself. All in all a pretty strong supporting cast of distinctive characters. (When it comes to the bandits, the case could be made for Torvin, at least, perhaps a little to distinctive.)
  • The wolf weeds were a nice touch. The kind of simple creature effect the show can pull off. 
  • Wood and Miles in About Time make a pretty strong argument that this story could be seen as a reaction to Star Trek's "The Devil in the Dark."




Sunday, July 12, 2015

Destiny of the Daleks - "One for casual, one for best."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Destiny of the Daleks - Details

Season 17, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #104) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Devon's pinterest

Two warring supercomputers at a logical impasse. Neither, apparently, willing to hire a consultant. One side chooses instead to find body of their creator, whom they killed, as far as they know, centuries ago, to consult it. The whole thing is ridiculous. Tedious, confused about what it is, and problematic on several fronts.

Even before we get to the improbabilities of the plot -- what the heck is Romana doing regenerating for no apparent reason? Either she's hopelessly vain and silly burning off a regeneration so she can look like someone she just met, or we're forced to imagine scenarios like she has some dreaded Time Lord disease that is forcing her hand, but she's too vain and silly to tell the Doctor the truth. There's simply nothing good about this regeneration sequence. (Can't blame Nation for this, it was Douglas Adams's doing.) That Romana ultimately settles on wearing a pinkified version of the Doctor's get up doesn't speak well for her either. It's not like it's a practical explorer's outfit. So why ape the Doctor? Again, the potential motivations aren't appealing, and not aligned with what we know about her character.

When the TARDIS lands, things don't get better. We go from an unpromisingly silly scene to yet another disused quarry, the TARDIS prop looking desperately cheap with one if its doors warped, shot in such a way to highlight the problem. Once we notice how rough a shape the TARDIS prop is in, it's more obvious that the Doctor's scarf is looking a bit ragged. Drab environment, shoddy props and costumes and no incidental music to speak of to distract the viewer from what they're seeing, a few minutes in and we're already bored and restless. Any one of these things can be overcome, and often is, but when everything is off, all the problems are exacerbated.

Hinchcliffe, discussing "Robots of Death," observed that they key to getting away with some of this stuff is not holding the shot too long. This advice must not have been relayed to director Ken Grieve. The shot of the Movellan saucer landing and drilling itself into the ground is excruciating.

The risk here is I keep going on about all the things that irked me about this story, and I'm really not interested in hammering away at the negative when it's a matter of several things not clicking. This one is just a clunker. The Romana regeneration fiasco is the closest thing to a problem that risks breaking more than just the episode. Regeneration is a concept key to the ability of the series to endure, so getting it so wrong strikes at the stability of the series itself. The other flaws here hurt the story, but I don't think do anything more than sap momentum, or fatigue viewers in a way that can largely be overcome by making the next story better. (The next story, by the way, is "City of Death," so this one could be quickly forgotten.)

What does work here is Lalla Ward as Romana and her chemistry with Tom Baker. (Baker and Ward were briefly married. Script Editor Douglas Adams later introduced Ward to Richard Dawkins, to whom she has been married since 1990.) She does as well as anyone could with the material given her, and really sells the performance Romana lays on the Daleks after she's captured. Whether bringing Davros back, at least in this fashion, was such a great idea is debatable, but now that he's back, he's going to become an important figure in the series in the years and decades ahead.

So, welcome Romana II, welcome back Davros, and farewell Terry Nation. The Daleks and Davros were your ideas, so thank you for that. Not so much for this or the prior story, but you deserve a great deal of credit for the series lasting as long as it has.

Leftover grumbles:

  • The Doctor, pinned under a fallen beam: "My extremities seem unimpaired ... " Sounds more like something a Movellan would say.
  • Why doesn't Romana say, "Hello," when she realizes she's being followed by one of the humanoids? Why didn't he introduce himself or ask her to? The sequence leading up to Romana falling down the shaft at the end of E1 is just puzzling. Feels like we're watching fearful, mute idiots, and that's not what these characters are.
  • Yes, Daleks are know for repeating themselves -- working themselves up to a fever pitch while shrieking "Exterminate!" is one of their charms. But they go to ridiculous extremes here. For example: "Do not move! Do not move! Do not move! Do not move! Do not move! Do not move! You are our prisoner! Do not move! You are our prisoner!" I mean, come on. 
  • The line Nation has the Doctor utter: "Just another race of robots, no better than the Daleks" is wrong on so many levels. For one, the Daleks aren't robots. You'd think Nation would know this? And, even if they were, there's something distressingly essentialist about dismissing an intelligent species on the basis of their not being purely organic. If they have consciousness, which the Movellans apparently do, they're not mere machines and to lump them with the Daleks, who are explicitly evil, and whom they are battling, strikes me as boneheaded. The Doctor isn't boneheaded, so this is hard to watch.
  • Expanding on that, are we really supposed to believe Rock, Paper, Scissors is the best the Doctor could do to explain a complex impasse? Wouldn't chess, which we've seen him play, or an invented game, or any other game involving actual strategy, have made more sense? 
  • Really feel for the actors scrambling over that terrain in their scarves.





The Invisible Enemy - "I thought you liked humanity?" "Oh, I do, I do. Some of my best friends are humans. When they get together in great numbers, other lifeforms sometimes suffer."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Invisible Enemy - Details

Season 15, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #93) | Previous - Next | Index



Painfully dumb. Notable for introducing K9, this story has precious little else to recommend it. (And, if you're a K9 hater, well ... you're in real trouble now.) Not that it's unwatchable; it's not malevolently bad, it's just not trying very hard. Somebody did yeoman's work on the models, and K9's design is appealing ...

But, now I'm about of nice things to say.

This isn't what Hinchcliffe and Holmes would have called TV made for intelligent 14-year-olds. This is for the littler kids, and the rest of us suffer for it. "The Horror of Fang Rock" got our hopes, we were in good hands after the big changes behind the scenes. Then this happened and things didn't seem quite as certain.

The Laundry List:

  • At some point, they had to recognize they needed to stop trying to make sleek, modern spaceship bridges. They couldn't compete. The inability to measure against Star Wars makes them look desperately cheap. 
  • Titan with Saturn in the background doesn't look half bad though.
  • Newberry's refurbished design of the TARDIS is a bit sterile, disappointing after the wood-paneled room. It'll do, but rather wish they'd put the budget into making the alternate control room bigger, more filled in, and put a little more into the center console.  
  • I somehow keep forgetting that K9 debuted after Sarah left.
  • Of all the stupid packed into this one, the miniaturized clones of the Doctor and Leela journeying into the "mind-brain interface," is utterly rubbish. You can do clones, if you put some effort into it. Likewise you can do Fantastic Voyage, if you get your ducks in a row. "Into the Dalek" managed it with much greater success. But to do both of those poorly on top of making a mush of anything like credible neuroscience is inexcusable.





Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Robots of Death - "Well, of course I can control it. Nine times out of ten. Well, seven times out of ten. Five times. Look. Never mind ..."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Robots of Death - Details

Season 14, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #90) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Gifs
The one on the jungle planet, the one on the blandly futuristic spaceship, the one where there's lots of running about in a disused quarry, the one with the medieval castle ... there are a handful of motifs that render even good DW stories difficult to hold apart in memory due to their repeated use. "Robots of Death" is not one of them. One look and you immediately know which story you're revisiting, whether it's the sandblasted exterior of the sand mining rig, the robots, or the crew, this one's got a style all its own. Happily, it's also a well-paced story with a mystery that, while not particularly mysterious, is stocked with distinctive characters and several charming scenes.

This is a milieu where Doctor Who can excel: the Pygmalion-inspired Doctor/companion dynamic dropped into a hard sci-fi mystery (Asimov's robots in Agatha Christie mode) on planet that's a little bit Arrakis, with a character that name checks Poul Anderson. It's borderline chop-suey -- if you want to see DW do this sort of thing not-quite-so-well later, contrast with "Terror of the Vervoids" -- but under Hinchcliffe & Holmes it's right in the show's wheelhouse.

Without getting too far into the behind-the-scenes politicking, I gather (from the About Time entry) Hinchcliffe was hogging the budget as his time was running out, spending money his successor probably would've appreciated having at his disposal. So as much as it's tempting to credit this team for doing so well in the design department with so little, it may be due to some less than generous cost overruns that had to be eaten later. If we put that aside and just consider what's on screen, this is the show confidently executing florid interior designs and daring fashion choices (especially for this line of work), not to mention impressive model shots of the massive mining crawler.

Hinchcliffe, on the commentary track, makes a clever point about that model shot that feels like a key to success for any show-runner trying to make the budget the work. The trick, he opines, is not to stay on the shot too long. Lots of stories before and after this one probably could've benefited from not giving the viewer quite so long to find the wires.

Leela is on her first trip (well, televised anyways, there may be stories in the audios or other media squeezed in between this and "Planet of Evil") and we catch up with her and the Doctor after opening on the sand miner. The Doctor is giving an Introduction to Transdimensional Engineering lesson in the wood-paneled alternate control room, a lecture that's not half bad, and to which Leela gives a completely sympathetic response.

As a youngster, I think I didn't take the departure of Sarah Jane very well, and held a bit of a grudge against Leela for following her. But Louise Jameson is fantastic and she works well with Tom Baker. Maybe forcing him to change gears and get out of having a best friend to play against, now taking on a somewhat more paternalistic role -- one that I suppose could've easily turned disastrously anti-feminist, but thankfully never did. Although I may have Dude's Blind Spot to just how exploitive her costumes are. I mean, OK, clearly they're "for the dads," but ... I should probably just stop.

Dialogue like this:
DOCTOR: I wonder where we are?
LEELA: You mean you don't know?
DOCTOR: Well, not precisely, no.
LEELA: You mean you can't control this machine?
DOCTOR: Well, of course I can control it. Nine times out of ten. Well, seven times out of ten. Five times. Look. Never mind, let's see where you are.
(Leela picks up the Tesh weapon.)
DOCTOR: You won't need that.
LEELA: How do you know?
DOCTOR: I never carry weapons. If people see you mean them no harm, they never hurt you. Nine times out of ten.
(Leela has her knife drawn as she leaves the Tardis.)
is what I love in a strong Doctor/companion dynamic and there was a plethora of it to be had under Hinchliffe and Holmes's stewardship.  Later, under Graham Williams the tenor of it changes ever so much more towards the absurdist (or what John Nathan-Turner dismissively labeled, "the undergraduate,") especially while Douglas Adams was script editor, that Tom Baker was brilliant at, but felt like the show straying a bit from it's roots in dramatic sci-fi. But that's a little later.

Odds-n-ends:

  • In the DVD extras, writer Chris Boucher mentioned he based Leela's name on a Palestinian freedom fighter, Leila Khaled.


  • Diversity isn't always DW's strong suit, so with Every Single Word currently (and entirely righteously) buzzing, it's nice to see characters played by a black woman and an Indian.




Additional Resources:
http://www.chakoteya.net/DoctorWho/14-5.htm




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