30 January 2016

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During the week I came back from house-sitting for friends.  They were away for six days, up and down the island, showing it to visiting family.  I looked after their cats while they were away.

Part of the visit allowed me to raid their digital television cache for things I wanted to catch up on or see.  I don’t usually bother with downloading things at home so this is a treat.

What did I watch?

  • Doctor Who: I hadn’t caught up with all the episodes of Season 9.  I have been eratic about this.  I felt the Zygon episodes could have been better.  They kept a light hand on dealing with issues of terrorism and radicalisation of minorities which could have been more forward; and UNIT still are used as stooges.  I also hadn’t seen Heaven Sent and enjoyed this episode, placing Hell Bent in context.
  • The Expanse: Recommended.  I watched the first five episodes and loved it.  It’s Engineers in Spaaaaace! An empire-building space opera with hard science as humanity expands to colonise the solar system two hundred years in the future.  As they are based on a series of books I am now wanting to read the first title, Leviathan Wakes.  Apparently the series has been faithful to the books so far.
  • The Last Ship: season two of this post-apocalyptic series.  I liked the acting and writing in this series, and a second season did not disappoint me.  I am looking forward to a third season.
  • The Shanara Chronicles: Oh. Dear.

Promise? Yes, please, I’ll wait.  Make it good!

Doctor Who Series 8

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200px-Doctor_Who_Series_8_boxsetMy treat for Blank Holiday (popularly known as the Day after New Year) was to sit down and binge on Doctor Who episodes from Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series.  I saw Deep Breath at the cinema screening, and downloaded Into the Dalek soon afterwards.  The rest I held off watching, and avoided spoilers until the DVDs came out.  I haven’t changed over to digital signal yet and missed them when they played on television.  The last few days I have watched from Robot of Sherwood to Death in Heaven.

Favorite episodes from Series 8: Listen (it felt like themes from Midnight pushed further, and the monsters never appear) and Flatline (Afterwards I picked up the short story Details by China Miéville and read it again).

Disappointments: Kill the Moon (giant bacteria spiders?!), In the Forest of the Night (it felt like a Torchwood episode and didn’t live up the William Blake expectation hinted in the title), and the series finale two-parter (Doctor Who series finales just don’t work for me, I’m afraid).

Thoughts that occured to me during the episodes:

  • Would mirrors be sufficiently advanced to do stage magic in the 1190s?  I know it is a throw-away line, but still . . .
  • It is probably possible for a good fighter to defend against a sword armed only with spoon.  You would have to be very good.
  • If the sonic screwdriver doesn’t work on wood then how did the Doctor manage to blow up archery butt so dramatically?
  • I would like to see a story where selective memory wipe is used for therapeutic healing from personality disorders and phobias than just a plot device.
  • Clara is too easily distracted by the Doctor’s presence at Coal Hill School to be a good teacher.  She will loose control of the kids if she lets him distract her.  A teacher needs strict control of a class to teach, and of their parents.
  • References to previous incarnations: the yoyo; and left alone on the Orient Express the Doctor was beginning to sound like his fourth incarnation; in Flatline Clara was beginning to look like Sarah Jane Smith.
  • Psychic paper is defenseless against a mean-spirited lack of imagination.
  • I was expecting a Krynoid to turn up in In the Forest of the Night.
  • I would have thought that the Doctor has been in enough mythologies to know how to break into an afterlife.
  • There are places where the Doctor cannot navigate the Tardis: the end of time, lost Gallifrey.  Humans can navigate into those spaces.  The Doctor has not picked up on that yet.
  • Gallifrey is in another dimension.  It is not lost.  Missy came from there.  Gallifrey is still waiting.  It’s possible that other Time Lords will follow the same route, perhaps separately; perhaps in large numbers.  What will be their motives?

Doctorsday: The Adventures of Grandpa, Sandshoe and Dickybow

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I’ve seen the Doctor Who Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor; and the web episode, The Night of the Doctor.  If you haven’t seen the Night of the Doctor here is the link below.  It is worth watching.

The Sisterhood of Karn are keepers of the flame of immortality.  The Time Lords rejected immortality as a dead-end development, choosing regeneration.  Potentially members of the sisterhood have lived for billions of years.  Karn is one of only two worlds known in the Doctor Who Cosmology where an immortal flame exists.  The other is Sarn.  Who thinks up these names?

The Sisterhood can use meta-concerted telekinesis to make Karn a graveyard in space and discourage explorers.  It is entirely possible they brought down Cass’s ship to draw out the Doctor.

We now know that the Eightth Doctor took no role in the Time War.  He wasn’t the Doctor who ended Gallifrey.  We still haven’t seen what the Time Lords did to become as terrifying throughout time and space as the Daleks.  We are told that time and space was on the knife edge.  I can think of three home-worlds that were destroyed in the Time War: the Nestenes, the Gelf, and the Zygons.  The General mentions that they have used nearly all of the forbidden weapons, the last being the Moment.  Considering what has been revealed has been available to the Time Lords in the past: star-killers, time scoops, prison worlds, and disintegration weapons, what they have done is terrifying to speculate.  There has been mention of the Nightmare Child, the Would-be King and the Never-Weres.  Did the Time Lords raid the multiverse and the Howling for their mercenaries?

It was still not enough to stop the Daleks who barricaded Gallifrey and broke through its defences.  The Fall of Arcadia did not look like that a concerted defence was possible.  It is a broken firefight.  I doubt if the civilians have anywhere realistic to which to retreat.  The Master said he fled the battle when the Emperor Dalek entered the Panopticon.  He hid among the Last Men at the end of the stellaferous age.  It is possible from the Panopticon the Daleks could seize control of the Matrix and the Eye of Harmony.

Other thoughts:  I want to see Paul McGann return and do more as the Doctor, and the chemistry that John Hurt brought to his role as the War Doctor was enjoyable to watch.  The UNIT subplot disappointed me.  I don’t mind that they are soldiers and they make stupid mistakes.  I do mind that they have no character or humanity.  They are faceless.  This is not the role that UNIT played when it was first introduced.  They are the first line in protecting us against the monsters.  For all their stodginess give them some personality.  Even Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is someone for the Doctor to lecture because he is the Smartest Man In The Room, and bore me to sleep.

Final thought: Gallifrey is coming back.  It is simple as that.  It always had to.  Its return will be a story that always had to be done after it was destroyed.  The Doctor saved Gallifrey in a way that was artistic and wonderful, the way the Time Lords failed to wage the Time War.  However there are two factions on Gallifrey now, there’s the rub.  There’s the High Council revealed in The Last of the Time Lords under mad Lord Rassilon trapped in the time-loop of eternal struggle, and there’s Gallifrey hidden in a moment of time where two billion, seven hundred and forty thousand children did not burn!  Game on! Which will it be?

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

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A friend loaned this to me and I have been watching through it.  I guess it was matinee cinema for the 1940s.  Each episode was about half an hour long and ended with Flash facing fatal death and the ominous THE END.  Presumably this was to hold the attention of the boys until they came back the next Saturday.  They could play out their own adventures during the week.

The emperor Ming is the stringy-bearded dictator of the empire of Mongo, the home of the dreaded yellow peril perhaps.  He is seeding the earth with the purple plague in prepation to his invasion.  Between trying to conquer his enemies with scientism and turning the universe into his minions Ming likes to relax in his throne room watching dancing girls.  Politely!

Curiously enough Ming sounds disturbingly like Winston Peters!

Once his plans to conquer the earth fail Ming turns his attention to his rivals in the Ruritanian kingdom of Arboria which is defended by the men in tights.  Flash and his chums have to fight off suicide drones and flaming bombs while flying around space rockets powered by sparkers with only minimal special effects to aid them.  Fortunately in an age before Captain Kirk no shirts get ripped, and in black and white, no one gets to be a red-shirt!  There’s no kissing either.  This is for boys!

Between the black and white television and the American accents I was constantly expecting the Marx Brothers to burst out of cupboard and start firing off wisecracks!  Then in the Land of Death the final secret is revealed.  The original language of the forerunner humans of Earth and Mongo is, in fact, back-masking!

In an technology that has radio phones, the car alarm and glowing water coolers they still haven’t invented a helmet that protects a guard from stunning blows on the back of the head!  That happens at least twice!  Despite being a genocidal dictator Ming has surprising loyalty from his closest minions.  They are obedient to his commands and not treacherous to him.  Apart from Princess Aura, Ming’s daughter and Princess Consort of Arboria only Ming’s scientists and Arborian agents in his court change sides.  His soldiers and own agents in Arboria remain loyal to him.  He must pay well!  Despite all his posturing and threats none of his own allies are punished for their failures.  The merits of a small cast perhaps?

At the end of the serial Ming is defeated and everyone goes home.  Please get your ice cream and return to your seats before the main feature begins!

Doctor Who: Cold War

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“Life’s too short”, and defrosting an Ice Warrior from its corpsicle is an effective way of making it shorter!

Enter the Doctor, in the middle of a crisis; and exit the Tardis.  Is this related to its doors jamming to refuse Clara access last week?  Or is it playing games?

It’s behind you!  The monster of the week is revealed quickly.  That’s sudden.  A Grand Marshall of the Ice Warriors, with inbuilt sonic weaponry, classic!  Re-imagined Who establishes Ice Warriors as Martians in cyborg-armour.  The cyborg reference is new.  The adventure takes advantage of the new description as the Grand Marshall shucks his armour and runs amuck in a Cold-War Russian submarine like some sort of Cybermat.  We never get a complete look at an unarmoured Ice Warrior, just its face, which is rudimentary, and its arms, which look like E.T.  A small-fast alien perhaps?  What distinguishes Ice Warriors from either Cybermen or Sontarans now?  Nevertheless, even without its armour, it’s fast and strong.

It thinks it is the last of the Ice Lords, with nothing to lose, not even it’s own code of honour considering the way it exposes itself without its armour.  In the end its lost species proves to be still out there, among the stars, in the future.  Quite literally they break through the ice.  We never get to see the modern Ice Warriors, or the interior of their ship.  They leave without revealing themselves.

It turns out the Tardis disappeared because the Doctor re-activated the Hostile Action Defense System (HADS).  That’s the first time I think it has been referenced in the television series since Doctor Who and the Krotons back in the days of the second Doctor.

Guest star appearance goes to David Warner as a Russian Scientist with a taste for Ultravox and Duran Duran.

With the end of the analogue signal my television has succumbed to the blue screen of death and that’s the end of my Doctor Who reviews for now.

Doctor Who and the Rings of Akhaten

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Somebody can’t spell Akhenaten?

It’s cold, it’s autumn.  Yes, I’m feeling that right now.  A background story introduces Clara’s parents.  Yes, I’m aware of the significance of the date on the tombstone.  It’s the date the mannequins attacked London in the first story of the re-imagined series.  Is there a connection between the Doctor’s return to Earth after the Time War and the Oswald family?

The sound of a TARDIS landing.  Cue a slow smile from Clara.

Where would you like to go? Well, if it had been my choice I would like to have travelled back to Eighteenth Century London and gone to a concert with Handel.  That would be nice.

Instead we arrive at the Rings of Akhaten.  There are supposed to be seven worlds which seem to be planetoid-sized and capable of supporting life in the Rings around a central star, and a gravity that appears normal for the Doctor and Clara.  Curiously enough all the buildings we see face the same way up on the worlds we see and that is the same as the angle that the TARDIS lands for our perspective of the Rings.

The Doctor last visited the Rings of Akhaten with his granddaughter.  That is probably a reference to his first travelling companion called Susan Foreman.  We know she came from the same homeworld as the Doctor.  Presumably she was of the Time Lord caste.  The Elder god of Akhaten is known as the Grandfather.  This is Science Fiction, never trust anything that calls itself a god.

Why did the TARDIS lock?  Is there something special about this child?

One thing you need to know, well apart from the blue box and the two hearts.  I don’t walk away.

The Doctor is very attached to his sonic screwdriver.  A bit of an issue on a world where objects of sentimental value counts as currency.  Come on, Doctor, give it the magic wand shtick.  You have managed without it in the past.

The Doctor makes a promise.  Cross my hearts.  Both of them.

What’s too much for a psychic vampire?  The secrets in the Doctor’s head?  An artefact that represents all the stories that cannot be fulfilled?

The Doctor refers to visiting a universe where the laws of physics are made by a madman.  Is that a reference to Omega, the architect of the Time Lords, forever trapped in an anti-matter universe?

Once again the Doctor stands in between the children and the monsters in the darkness who claim to be gods.  The ending became confused to me.  I don’t know if I trust this Doctor now.  He has all the secrets of the universe from its beginning to the end of time in his head.  He stands among the gods that he protects us from.  Never trust a hero who knows the things that should not be learnt.  They need to be challenged, why not?  Why should they say what’s good for us!

I am disappointed that so little time could be spent exploring the cultures of the Rings of Akhaten.  That part was over all too quick.

Doctor Who and the Bells of Saint John

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I’m not going to see current Doctor Who until the end of the season.  The analogue signal goes off before that and I have made no plans to upgrade to digital at this time.  What I see after April will probably be through downloads and maybe I’ll wait and buy this season on DVD.  I’ll report on what I watch until the screen goes off.

Did you notice that the ‘I-don’t-know-where-I-am’ screens almost blend into the glass planes on the TARDIS in the opening sequence?

A Time-Lord in a monk’s habit, a nod to the character of the Meddling Monk, perhaps?

The emergency telephone on the exterior rings.  “That’s not supposed to happen!”   Have you forgotten already what happened the last time that phone rang, Doctor?

“Am I in the wrong time-zone?”  “Sort of.”

“Is it an evil spirit?”  “It’s a woman.”  The young monk crosses himself.

The bad guys have a removable conscience.  Now, that’s useful when you’re evil.  On the other hand the Doctor has a mobile phone, in a blue box!

When story-book characters come walking down the stairs I think I would risk letting in the monk banging on the door.  The worst he could do is leave a copy of The Watchtower!

The truth is revealed!  The Doctor does not tie his own bow-ties!  On the other hand, he’s wearing a frock-coat!  I’m a fan of the Doctor in a frock-coat.

It looks like Clara Oswald’s writing style has not changed since she was eleven years old, looking at how she has written her age, up until twenty-four.  Is that suspicious?

The lights are acting up.  At this stage I think I would follow his advice and get into the blue box.

The Doctor on a Triumph motorbike.  YES!  A classic motorbike in my opinion.  Go Trumpies!  Such great-looking bikes.

Considering where the story-line is going, the number of ads in the commercial break involving using a computer pad is disturbing.  Notice the Wi-Fi does not affect the Doctor.  He knows how to use their technology against his enemies.

UNIT turns up.  Still not the real UNIT of my memory.  The real UNIT has real soldiers with character, not bit-part walk-ons.  It looks like the season arc has a re-occuring villain, the Client.  I won’t reveal that spoiler.  Will we see him again?

Clara Oswald has a family she cares for and doesn’t want to leave.  We end up with a children’s adventure.  “All of time and space, and home for tea.” I wonder if we will see her background family developed as characters around her and the Doctor?  And note also: again, she died.  Even if this time it wasn’t permanent.

Also, nice to see Celia Imrie, an actress who I like to spot when she appears as a guest-star.  Perhaps I should go and watch Gormenghast again.

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