Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holiday Season!

The Compound Geekery blog will be taking some time away to relax and enjoy the Holiday Season. Here's wishing you happy days ahead as well!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Talking Without Speaking

So I was re-watching bits from the Disney movie Wall*E the other day and again being amazed at how the characters expressed themselves so wonderfully without actually speaking many words.

This got me thinking about how, in many ways, human beings are pretty good at getting our point across without saying a single word... and yet we do spend so much time speaking.

In dance we can express an entire story with only music and physical movement..

In the days before movies with music actors got their point across with facial expressions and motion...

And then there's what was done with Wall*E -- creating a character with a whole sympathetic personality using only expressions grafted onto a non-human face and a few noises.

And all this ties in to how often we see people talking one thing but acting something else. "Do as I say, not as I do." "Actions speak louder than words." Maybe it's time we spent a little less time listening to people's words and more time looking at their actions, at the language their body speaks, at the 'words' in their expressions and the sentences in their eyes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

So.... "Tron Legacy"

So, I just came back from seeing this one and....


I wanted better.

As someone who IS old enough to have seen the original Tron in theatres (and DID see it in a theatre) I was really disappointed and underwhelmed.

It wasn't bad enough to make me walk out of the theatre but it never got my blood pumping and I came to realize that I only laughed ONCE in the entire movie and I was the ONLY person in the theatre who got the joke.... and yes, it was a joke. The other scenes which you could tell were SUPPOSED to be jokes fell flatter than a pancake.

I splurged for the 3-D but because I suspected the movie was going to probably not live up to my expectations I went to a matinee so I didn't pay full price.

I'm glad I didn't.

Although I have to say that, on one level, it was worth it to see it on the big screen with all the special effects.

But overall.... The original Tron was a lot closer to sci-fi. Yeah, it was fantastic but it was grounded in early computer programming and the way computers functioned. For Legacy they seemed to throw all of that out the window in favor os Sci-Fantasy. I'm no computer expert but I didn't hardly hear ANY discussion about the way all this stuff was supposed to be functioning in an essentially computer world. And then there was the stuff that just plain wasn't explained. Like Kevin Flynn existing in the computer world with food and water. Where did it come from? In the original movie Flynn drank what looked like liquid but was actually a form of electrical energy. Here they're chowing down on what looks like green beans... were these constructs? How were they created? Why "make" food like that? And that's just ONE problem I had with unexplained stuff. There were tons more and each one kept tearing me out of the movie. Like rain. It RAINS in a computer program world. How? WHY?!

And, getting back to the programming stuff -- well, all the rules in the first movie again were tossed away in favor of some kind of Hollywood Cinema Zen Buddhism Rip-Off. The Kevin Flynn of the first movie who was a rebel but still a logical, computer scientist is replaced by a guy who spouts hippie dialogue that was corny even back in the 1960's! Even figuring the idea of the years changing someone this just wasn't the same character.... at all.

Oh, and the plot twists? If you don't see every single one of them coming from a mile away then you're REALLY not paying attention. There was nothing surprising here -- not even the ending (and no, I won't spoil the ending all I'll say is that if you go into the movie figuring you know how it's going to end... you're right).

Perhaps worst of all, the movie feels like it's stolen bits and pieces from other (frankly better) movies and just sewen them together and put a new skin over them. The film hopes to distract you from noticing this but it just can't hold interest enough for you to NOT sit there and go: "Stole that from Batman Begins, stole that from Star Wars (they steal a LOT from Star Wars), stole that from A Clockwork Orange, stole that from Blade Runner, stole that from The Matrix, etc., etc., etc.

But the special effects and the action set pieces? Yeah... pretty good. The 3-D DOES add something to the proceedings and most of the action IS good, although again, it never quite grabs you and I think the reason why is that you never quite care enough about the characters. Sam Flynn is easy on the eyes (and they WAY could have used more shirtless scenes with him -- one was NOT enough) but you just don't CARE about him or his life. And Sam and Quorra, despite supposedly being the romantic center of the movie, have as much chemistry as the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Virtual Jeff Bridges as the villain Clu? Again, you just don't care. He never seems.... villainous enough. So in order to care about the action you have to care about what happens to these characters and you just... don't.

And then there's the computer tricked out Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner -- made to look young again. This actually works most of the time. It looks pretty damn realistic and it's frankly a little scary. I mean, we're probably now only about one or two years away from actors, no matter how old, being able to play as young as they like thanks to special effects. All those rumors about George Lucas going to make a movie with dead actors now seems scarily plausible.

I also have to say that the movie is, in a way, mis-named. Although, in the original film, Jeff Bridges character of Kevin Flynn was certainly the focal point of the movie he shared the hero role with Boxleitner's character of Tron and, in the end, Tron was the one to destroy the bad guy. Here Tron is an afterthought. It's a name tossed around for most of the movie but he's not really a PRESENCE here.

It should be noted that the filmmakers also DO leave the door open -- and obviously so -- for a sequel and all things considered the film will probably do well enough for that sequel. But I, for one, don't hold out hope that they will bother to fix what went wrong here.

Long story short (too late!), if you liked the original, don't bother with this one. If you're looking for smart, original sci-fi, again, don't bother with this one. Save up your money for when something good comes along.

Personally, I'm hoping that The Green Hornet exceeds expectations.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Did I Ever Mention I Have a Minor Obsession With "Carol of the Bells"?

Doctor Who Useless Trivia: "Rose"

Here's a couple of interesting trivia nuggets.

When Rose meets Clive who runs the Doctor conspiracy website Clive produces a drawing which indicates the Ninth Doctor was on hand for the erruption of Krakatoa. The Third Doctor, however, also states in the story "Inferno" that he, too was present for the erruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

And I don't know if this was deliberate or not but...

Clive also reveals that the Doctor was in the crowd on November 22, 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated. November 22, 1963 was also the day that the first episode of Doctor Who aired. Of course, due to the news out of America not many people bothered to watch the show and the BBC re-aired the first episode the next week.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "Rose"

Brace yourselves people, this is going to be a long one....

This was the first episode of the new series when it launched in 2005. I've already covered the fall of Doctor Who in 1989 HERE and I've covered the roots of the 2005 new series HERE so there isn't much more to say by way of background. Therefore... on to the review!

The Plot: Young Rose Tyler has a working class life -- living with her mother and working the sales floor at a department store. Then, one night, all that changes. She has a run-in with living store mannequins, meets a strange man in a leather jacket, and watches as the department store is blown up.

The universe isn't done with Rose Tyler yet though and strange events spiral around her... events which keep coming back to the mysterious man in the leather jacket. A man known only as... the Doctor. Rose doesn't know it yet but she's in for the time of her life.

My Take: One can see producer Russell T. Davies' vision for the new Doctor Who right from the start; right form the very name of the episode: "Rose". No other companion ever got a story named after them. And it is Rose's story. In fact, that is one of the complaints to be had here -- this story isn't really about the Doctor, it's about Rose.

This was all part of the change that RTD had for the show; he wanted to emphasize ordinary people who find it in themselves to be extraordinary or to find the extraordinary in the mundane. He tried to combine that philosophy here with the traditional companion role of being the audience stand-in -- the bridge between the audience and the Doctor -- but it comes out skewed. In the past we have met the Doctor (or a new incarnation of him) alongside the companions. With "Rose", however, we see him only through her eyes. This actually ends up kind of limiting the Doctor.

Christopher Eccleston chose to do only one year of the series and I've seen a number of fans sadly say that just as they were really getting to know Eccleston's Doctor he was gone. The thing is, this isn't a fault of Eccleston's performance, to me this is the fault of the scripts. We, as the audience, take so long to really get to know the Doctor because we're only allowed to know him through Rose. It's a weakness of the format which starts here. Later seasons and series would not have as much trouble because they had the benefit of building on what had gone before.

There were also complaints over the decision to put Eccleston's Doctor in more modern dress. It's true that the later seasons of the Classic series got carried away with the quirkiness of the Doctor's outfits (*cough*ColinBaker*cough*). In fact, there is a great bit in the recent series 5 story "Amy's Choice" in which the villainous Dream Lord says: "If you had any more tawdry quirks you could open up a tawdry quirk shop. The madcap vehicle, the cockamamie hair, the clothes designed by a first year fashion student; I'm surprised you haven't got a little, purple space dog just to ram home what an intergalactic wag you are." which seems to sum up the history of the show's costumes. Putting Eccleston in modern clothes was supposed to emphasize the modernity of the series. It also pushed Eccleston harder to get the Doctor across. By that I mean that the Doctor's quirky and/or anachronistic clothes were always a shorthand way of showing audiences how 'odd', 'crazy', and/or 'alien' the Doctor was. It helped sell the Doctor as 'not from around here'. Eccleston didn't have that to fall back on and so he had to sell the Doctor's alienness with words, inflection and mannerisms. It was a bold move and a part of me applauds it but it shows up another place where "Rose" falls down on the job.

There are some great lines of dialogue and they are delivered excellently by Eccleston. Many of them have become modern classics -- quoted and re-quoted time and again by fans -- but aside from this there isn't much there to show us the Doctor as a being who is truly alien in his thoughts and perceptions. We, as the audience, don't really get to see the Doctor figuring things out or being so very, very clever. For example, the Doctor waves around the bomb which will destroy the department store -- he's already built it. He waves around the vial of Anti-Plastic which can destroy the Nestene Consciousness -- he's already whipped up a batch. Heck, from the very start of the story he already knows that it's the Nestene Consciousness behind it! We don't get the tension or the insight of seeing him puzzle things out and cobble together solutions.

The one area where the script really does do Eccleston justice is with the new, harder edge to the Doctor. Past incarnations have been arrogant and dismissive of humanity but Eccleston delivers a kind of cold, faintly sneering edge to his arrogance. This, combined with his actions at the climax, gives viewers their first hints that this version of the Doctor is 'walking wounded' -- scarred by war and loss. This is a Doctor we've never seen before. This is a Doctor with new vulnerabilities.

There is a bit of a creepy side to the Doctor, however, that I actually didn't notice the first few times I watched the episode. The Doctor essentially forces Rose into the TARDIS. When being chased by the Nestene duplicate of her boyfriend the Doctor could have easily helped Rose to escape and told her to lie low for a few days until things were all clear. But no, instead he leaves her with two choices -- enter the TARDIS with him or face a raging Auton. And don't try to tell me that he was trying to keep Rose safe. He, himself, admitted that the Autons were after him and he was going to confront them. Was she really any safer with him? It really comes off as... well.... as I said -- creepy. The Doctor has already made up his mind that he wants Rose to travel with him and he manipulates her into it.

"Rose" would also set a pattern in which companions were "wrong", "broken" or "needed" the Doctor to fix them or make them something more. In the classic series there was generally nothing wrong with the companions and in many cases they had quite nice lives with budding careers which they put on hold to travel with the Doctor. But here the audience is pointed out at every turn that Rose doesn't have much of a future. No college education, no chance for career advancement where she was working, facing an uphill battle to find a new job and a mother and boyfriend not likely to push her to become more out of fear that she might end up thinking herself "too good" for their way of life. Enter the Doctor to take her away from all of that. Similar themes would be explored in nearly every companion after this. Which really gets annoying after a while.

As for the performances -- well, everyone involved turns in a good performance given what they have to work with in the script. Some characters are little more than broad stereotypes and you know exactly what they will say and how they will say it before they do. If there is a misstep among the cast it is Noel Clark's who just seems uncomfortable in the role of Mickey, Rose's boyfriend. He never seems to settle and there is always a sense that you really are just watching someone act rather than disappear into the role.

Overall, "Rose" is important in relaunching the series. It was yet another evolutionary leap forward for a show that has been making such leaps for decades, A new series for a new generation and I have to admit that the special effects and lighting are wonderful here. The music sadly drowns out the dialogue in some places though. There is also a lovely refurbishing of an old Doctor Who villain in the Nestene Consciousness and it's Autons and one still gets a shiver when hearing the old, familiar sound of the TARDIS dematerializing with the new effects.

"Rose" isn't ideal -- it has flaws as a story in general and it has some deep flaws as a Doctor Who story specifically. It should not be missed, though, because everything the new series is builds from here (or in some cases builds in opposition to what comes here). There are some good ideas and concepts which balance the bad and as long as you don't think about the plot too much it passes muster and is entertaining.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Romans"

Ah, it really seems as though I keep doing a lot of First Doctor stories -- which is odd because the Grab Bag is totally random and I don't have all *that* many First Doctor stories.

At any rate... here we go again, into the William Hartnell era with "The Romans".

There isn't a lot of background to this story. The show was well into it's second series by this point, Maureen O'Brien's new character of Vicki had just been introduced in the previous story, "The Rescue" and so O'Brien was still new to the show. The rest of the cast and crew were somewhat stable. Verity Lambert was still producing and the only other change was that Dennis Spooner, the writer of this story, had been named as the new Script Editor but he would not take over the duties there for another few months.

Lambert had long been wanting to expand the range of the show and so she collaborated with Spooner to have "The Romans" written as an action/adventure-comedy or, some would argue, a dramedy. Either way, "The Romans" would be Doctor Who's first foray into a more comedic style. It wouldn't be the last.

Just for some context as well -- this story follows directly on from "The Rescue" and the story that would follow this one was "The Web Planet" (previously reviewed HERE).

The Plot: The Doctor along with companions Ian, Barbara and Vicki make a rather bumpy landing in ancient Rome. 64 A.D. to be exact. We are immediately whisked away to nearly one month later where we find that the TARDIS team has found an empty villa in a little town not far from Rome and moved in. The rest and relaxation, however, comes to an abrupt end as the Doctor gets a case of wanderlust and decides to go visit Rome with Vicki tagging along. Shortly after the Doctor leaves Ian and Barbara take a more frightening and unexpected trip as the duo are kidnapped by slavers and taken away. Ian is sold on the road to Rome but Barbara travels on to the capital city where she is bought as an attendant for Empress Poppaea, wife of Cesar Nero!

Meanwhile, on the road to Rome the Doctor finds the body of a famous musician, Maximus Pettulian, murdered! The Doctor is mistaken for Maximus and decides to play along out of curiosity as to who might have killed Maximus. Their path takes them not only to Rome but to Nero's palace where the Doctor learns that Maximus himself was supposed to assassinate Nero and Nero, jealous of Maximus's fame with the lyre, had ordered Maximus's death! Now the Doctor must dodge more murderous attempts on his life and extricate himself from the plot to kill Nero as well.

In another part of the palace, Barbara has caught Nero's eye and tries to escape his amorous advances. All of this has not escaped Poppaea's notice and she tries to have Barbara killed to eliminate her as a rival. All this time, Ian has been having adventures of his own, escaping the life of a galley slave he makes his way to Rome to try to rescue Barbara.

With plots and counterplots, with jealous rivalries, with murder and executions hanging over all their heads can the various time travelers escape from their situations and make it back to the TARDIS?

My Take: "The Romans" is a bit of an odd-duck story but somehow it all manages to work. There is no denying the comedy and yet there is a dark streak running through the story and even a dark streak to the comedy. For example, we meet the "official poisoner" of the court and her matter-of-fact description of her job and the way she goes about it is deadpan funny but, at the same time, the fact that, in that time and that place, political killings were rather common is sobering. There is another moment when Nero gives one of his slaves a cup he believes is poisoned and orders the slave to drink from it. The slave does so and drops down dead. The scene is exaggerated and played for laughs but on the heels of that laughter you realize that Nero quite casually killed another human being and showed no remorse at the act.

There is also the situations of Ian and Barbara. Barbara, the former history teacher, flat-out states that the role of a slave in ancient Rome is a frightening prospect. We see Ian treated like dirt as a galley slave and, for all the humor in Nero chasing Barbara around like a farce one is uncomfortably reminded that female slaves could also be subject to rape. And for Barbara, Nero's advances place her between a rock and a hard place.

The more lighthearted part of the story is with the Doctor and Vicki. They face no hardships and we get to see the Doctor as a sly and crafty old bird as he avoids revealing that he is not Maximus and confounds Nero's schemes at every turn.

It is Spooner's script that manages to make everything gel so surprisingly well. Nearly every line of dialogue is a treat and he wrote genuine warmth and admiration into all the character relationships. In point of fact, his scenes between Ian and Barbara are downright flirtatious! It is also a really different story in that Spooner takes his time with the plot -- although not in a boring way -- it is one of the only Classic series stories where viewers get to see the characters truly relaxed and taking time to enjoy themselves. The usual Doctor Who method was to throw the characters into danger right away and the difference works well here.

Spooner also manages that deft balance that is required in black humor. If you push the darkness a little too hard you end up with a story that is disturbing instead of funny but if you don't push the darkness hard enough the story stays a little too light. Here the lines are perfectly drawn. As a four part story things really do not drag either. The action and interactions keep things moving and happening and at no point does the viewer get bored.

All of the actors involved also turn in lovely performances. Both William Russell and Jacqueline Hill prove to have a talent for comedy and William Hartnell, with a background in comedy, is obviously getting a huge kick out of going back to his roots and his enjoyment adds an extra spark to his performance. Character actor Derek Francis is also quite obviously going for the comedy jugular with his turn as Nero. He manages to balance a bit of menace with a kind of bumbling ineffectualness that is absolutely hilarious.

The story is also studio-bound but the BBC manage an excellent job with costumes and set dressing so that the viewer neither notices that much nor cares. Although it must be said that the minuscule budget means that some things have to be left out to the detriment of the story. For example, the audience is told about Ian's escape from the galley rather than being able to see it for ourselves.

Even if you're not a fan of the First Doctor take "The Romans" out for a spin. Hartnell's Doctor is light, happy, cunning, and having a grand old time instead of being slightly cantankerous. There is action, adventure, intrigue, lots of humor (even if the history is really lacking, but what the heck, if you can't laugh at history what can you laugh at?) and quite a bit of fun.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Doctor Who Grab Bag Reviews: "Genesis of the Daleks"

Indeed, it is the return of the Grab Bag Reviews. And this time around the grab bag has gifted us with a story which many fans consider to be one of the best of Tom Baker's tenure as the Fourth Doctor and also one of the best stories of the Classic Series.

Back in 1975 Tom Baker was only in his first year in the role. Baker was following the popular Jon Pertwee and was also facing the fact that Pertwee had lasted longer in the role than any other actor to date -- 5 years. This meant that for a certain generation of fans the only Doctor they had ever known was Pertwee.

Along with a new Doctor there was also a new production team. Script editor Terrance Dicks had formally handed over the baton to new script editor Robert Holmes and producer Berry Letts had yielded the field to Philip Hinchcliffe (who would go on to put his own unique stamp on the series).

Before leaving Dicks and Letts had asked writer Terry Nation to submit a new Dalek story. Nation, who had created the Daleks and had written nearly every one of their stories up to that point, submitted something which both Letts and Dicks rejected as being too much like all the other Dalek stories of the last few years. In counterpoint, they urged Nation to instead tell a real origin story for the Daleks for a change. Nation liked this suggestion and soon crafted the script for what would become known as "Genesis of the Daleks".

Both Hinchcliffe and Holmes, as the new leads on the production team, were eager to move the show in a new direction and start using all new monsters. Letts and Dicks though convinced then that the Dalek origin would be too interesting to pass up. And in the end, despite Hinchcliffe and Holmes' stated desire for all new monsters, Tom Baker's first season was filled with old, familiar faces -- the Sontarans, the Cybermen and the Daleks.

Hinchcliffe and Holmes also returned to the old tradition of linked stories -- each serial followed on the heels of the previous one. Hence, "Genesis of the Daleks" follows immediately from the preceding story -- "The Sontaran Experiment" -- and "Revenge of the Cybermen" follows immediately after "Genesis of the Daleks".

Now, on to the review!

The Plot: The Doctor and his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan are interrupted as they are trying to get back to the TARDIS after their last adventure. The interruption caused by a representative of the Time Lords who tells the Doctor that the High Council on Gallifrey has seen a potential future wherein the Daleks conquer all life in the known universe. This cannot be allowed to happen so the Doctor is ordered to see to it that the Daleks are never born or else that they made in a less vicious image.

Thus the Doctor and his friends find themselves dumped on Skaro without the TARDIS in the middle of a horrifying war that has been raging for over a thousand years between the Kaleds and the Thals. Can even the Doctor actually accomplish the task set out for him though? He knows what may happen if he fails but what cost might he have to pay if he succeeds? And throughout all of this he and his human companions must face terrible dangers, monsters, and even the shadow of death.

My Take: There is no getting around the fact that this story has been one of the most influential in Doctor Who history. To give you some idea just how influential... This story introduced the villain Davros and each incarnation of the Doctor with the exception of the Eighth and Ninth would have stories featuring Davros. Russell T. Davies, who relaunched the new series in 2005 has stated publicly that the roots for his idea behind the Time War came from the fact that the Time Lords tried to destroy the Daleks here. Davies would also return Davros to the new series with the epic-in-scope (if not in actual execution... but we'll deal with that much later) story "Journey's End". All of this brings baggage which can make it a little difficult to look at the story clearly -- but I'm going to try to strip all of that away and just look at the story itself.

Going straight to the writing, from the beginning, Terry Nation crafted the Daleks as a kind of way of hashing out World War II for a generation of children who were growing up with no memories of the war. With "Genesis" Nation increased those parallels even more strongly. This is actually kind of a bad thing because it was obvious enough in the original story; here it becomes something akin to being hit on the head with a brick. The Kaleds run around dressed in black with jackboots and jodhpurs; the character of Nyder even wears what appears to be an Iron Cross around his neck. There is also nothing subtle in their insistence that the Kaled race remain "genetically pure"; although here, instead of referring to people or Jewish or African descent it is used against Kaleds who have become mutated due to the biological, chemical and radiological weapons of the war.

One big difference is that, in the original Dalek story the Thals come across as pacifistic and rather nice people. In "Genesis" Nation throws that out the window and shows the Thals to be generally just as ruthless, uncaring and bloodthirsty as the Kaleds. The Thals use captured Kaled soldiers as slave labor as well as the genetically mutated victims of the war -- referred to derogatorily as "Mutos" and dehumanized even more by calling them "it" instead of "he" or "she".

This does lead to one of several interesting moral themes running through the story. Both the Kaleds and the Thals have ruined their planet and decimated their populations. They both talk about wanting peace and an end to the war but in every case they believe that peace can only be achieved through the total destruction of their enemies and they stubbornly refuse to see any other path to peace. The war has nearly destroyed them all and yet they war on.

The other moral theme is one explicitly stated by the Doctor -- does he have the right to destroy the Daleks? He is committing a form of genocide and no matter how evil the Daleks may be who is he to make such a decision? Is it evil to destroy utterly in order to prevent evil? How far is too far? There is some really meaty stuff here.

Nation's script also does a pretty good job with all of the characters. Tom Baker's Doctor is a tour de force as he gets to run from goofy lightness, to fear, to questioning, to righteous anger and all points in between. The script also lets the character of Harry Sullivan take a slightly more heroic turn giving him the start of a real character arc. When the season started Harry was largely the butt of jokes and his old-fashioned ways and wide-eyed disbelief didn't necessarily help matters any. "Genesis", however, shows Harry more and more coming to grips with the reality of traveling with the Doctor. The one regular character who doesn't fare as well in Nation's script is Sarah Jane Smith. While it's not quite as bad as some of the other female companions got Sarah comes of kind of uncharacteristically scream-y and wimpy here. She does little on her own initiative and most of what she does is react to situations instead of being more proactive.

The real standouts for this story, though, are with the villains. In Davros Nation created something truly chilling. The complete lack of compassion and empathy make Davros seem far more alien than the Doctor. His casual mania, god complex, and lack of appreciation for the value of life make him one of the stronger villains of the series. There is also the point that often the Doctor is facing off against a group of aliens. He faces Daleks and Cybermen in bunches and so there isn't always a sense of having a one-on-one relationship between hero and villain. There is a tendency among writers to give every good hero a good villain who is their equal and opposite -- For every Sherlock Holmes there is a Moriarty, for every Superman there is a Lex Luthor for every Batman there is a Joker and now for every Doctor there is Davros. One of my favorite scenes is one in which Davros tortures Harry and Sarah Jane to force the Doctor to reveal all of the future defeats the Daleks will suffer so that he can program them to win instead. After this display of callousness Davros turns and nicely invites the Doctor to sit down with him as two men of science. It is the equivalent of beating someone up and then asking them to join you for a cup of tea! It is the height of arrogance and madness and actor Michael Wisher portrays it all beautifully. Wisher manages to take his performance as Davros right up to the top but without going over it. Something that others who would play the character over the years were not always able to do.

And right up there with Davros is the slimy, equally evil Nyder. Davros's right hand man and yet with ideas all his own. He follows Davros not out of the desires of a bootlicker who hopes to ride coattails to the top but as an honest acolyte -- someone who truly believes in Davros's vision. Even when most of the other Kaleds realize what a monster Davros has become Nyder refuses to see it. One sociopath is chilling enough but having another character who is essentially just as sociopathic makes it doubly creepy.

But the script isn't all that perfect. As a six-part serial the story still drags quite a bit. There is far too much capturing and escaping and getting re-captured and re-escaping going on and it actually becomes dull after a while. There is also quite a bit of needless corridor running and the separation of the Doctor and companions in various combinations is a bit too forced and obvious.

There is also the aforementioned brick-to-the-head Nazi parallels (seriously, subtlety was not Terry Nation's strong suit) and a sad case of "Earth-alike" -- you know, that tendency in certain science fiction stories for alien races to develop weapons or societal ideas along lines remarkably similar to Earth's? Here while the idea of weaponry regressing in the face of a long war as resources are depleted is a very interesting idea it is stretching credulity to think that said alien races would develop weapons that look exactly like Earth rifles and land mines. I know the BBC props department was trying to save money but they could have done something to at least make them look a little more alien!

The filming for this episode, on the whole, worked quite well. There are all kinds of jokes about the show always filming in old rock quarries but for once it works. There is a kind of bleakness to it that puts the viewer in mind of a 'no man's land' -- of a land that has been abused by the fires of war to the point where little survives or grows or thrives. Everything is gray and cheerless -- even the sky. The real trouble comes in that, at that time period, the BBC used film for outdoor shooting and videotape for studio shooting. So the picture quality and overall look changes drastically from the location shoots to the studio sets and when they are put next to one another it is really jarring. The studio sets, on the whole, also look suitably militaristic and perfect for the Kaleds -- cold, sterile, scientific and unadorned.

There are some obvious prop problems though, the biggest one of which are the 'vicious, giant clams'. I wish I could say I was making that up. One of the elements of the story is that Davros experimented on other creatures -- mutating them -- before he created the Daleks. We hear the cried of some of these supposedly deadly creatures but we only see one in passing and one featured and the one chosen to provide that little bit of suspense and tension? A giant clam. First of all -- alien world -- what are they even doing having clams in the first place? Second of all -- a giant clam. A. Giant. Clam. They are not, on the whole, known for being very fast or very mobile (and here they're on dry land to boot) nor very vicious. And the fake-looking prop clams used here are no exception. No matter how much the actors try to sell it, it just doesn't work. It's obvious that most of the prop clams aren't moving and even the ones that do move just don't seem that threatening.

Stupid clams and padding aside, does this story live up to it's reputation? Does it deserve the high position it holds among fans as well as in the pantheon of Doctor Who stories? Well...... Yes. It may not be Emmy winning but considering the time period and considering the limitations of technology and budget the story was really reaching and stretching; expanding the boundaries once again of what the show could do and be. While some of the storytelling is simplistic and obvious there are also some weighty and meaty ideas raised and there is stuff here that even modern audiences can chew on and mull over. Tom Baker turns in an excellent performance and one can see that, within a very short time, he has already settled into his role as the Doctor, made the character his own, and would continue with a reassuring consistency of performance for most of the seven years he was on the show.

If you are a fan of the new series and if you're interested in RTD's idea of the Time War then this story is definitely worth a view. It's easy to see where he got the idea that this is where all the trouble really started. If you also want to see how Davros got his start well here it is. And, of course, for anyone interested in the Classic Series in general this is an excellent serial to view. Even with the problems the story still shows that Doctor Who had come a long way from the early days in terms of maturity of storytelling and serials like "Genesis of the Daleks" would only be the start of yet another step forward for the show.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wear and Share Star Wars Day Tomorrow

So it has only recently been brought to my attention that tomorrow is "Wear and Share Star Wars" day in honor of the little girl, Katie, who was teased because of her love of Star Wars.

As you can tell by the nature and title of my blog and the fact that I proudly call myself a Geek Girl that I am a Geek. But, like Katie, when I was young I was told I was "weird" and "strange" because I, too, liked Star Wars stuff and other "boys'" toys.

I had thought, in this more enlightened age, that we were getting past some of the old gender stereotypes and restrictions but Katie's story has shown that we have not and are not.... yet.

So, in honor of Katie, everyone is encouraged to proudly show off their Geeky sartorial style by wearing any Star Wars or other geek culture apparel and also to buy at least one Star Wars toy or other sci-fi toy and donate it to a toy drive of your choice -- whether that be Toys for Tots or a community toy drive for your city or town or even your church (if you be religious).

I don't happen to own any Star Wars clothing items (having become somewhat jaded and cynical about George Lucas... but hey, that's MY hang up) and all of my lovely, lovely comic book t-shirts are thin and made for summer wear and it's winter where I am now so they're all packed away. BUT I do have a number of pins and buttons featuring superheroes so I will adorn my scarf and jacket with those tomorrow.

The geek culture is always held up to ridicule and yet you would be surprised at how many of us are out there and we embrace all kinds. We are Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica (both classic and new), Doctor Who (both classic and new), we are fanstasy, Sci-fantasy, dark fantasy, horror-fantasy, flat out horror, Gothic, Steampunk, Tesla Punk, Sc-Fi, Comic Books, Superheroes, and much, much more.

We are geeks and we are proud of the fact and we will not hide and we will not stand for the world telling us or anybody else what we should or should not like.

So join me tomorrow fellow geeks. Show your true colors and let's help stamp out the practice of teasing others for not bending or bowing to society's conventions.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Okay. So prunes are just dried plums. In drying fruit you remove the water/moisture/juice.

So all that being true.... how do you get prune juice?

And why did I even start wondering about that?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Chicago Comic Books: "The Complete Bone"

Two Words: Holy crap. In a good way.

Writer and artist Jeff Smith's magnum opus was over a decade in the making and at over 1300 pages quite possibly the longest graphic novel ever written. It has won multiple awards and takes epic fantasy to all new places.

The Plot: Three strange little creatures -- the Bone cousins Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone -- are run out of their home of Boneville. After getting lost and separated in a desert they seperately find their way to a forested valley and the small town of Barrellhaven. There they find shelter with humble farmer Rose Ben (called Gran'ma Ben by most) and her granddaughter Thorn.

Rose hides a secret, though, a secret that cannot remain hidden once an evil force begins to rise again. Rose and Thorn have a destiny to fulfill but it seems that the Bones are also getting caught up in events. If they all fail then humanity as they know it will fall under the sway of the darkest evil.

My Take: Holy crap. Again! Alright, so it has to be said, that Jeff Smith ticks pretty much every box on the standard 'Fantasy novel quest story'. The plot points will be familiar to anyone who has ever read anything from Sleeping Beauty to Star Wars. The inventiveness of the plot is not what makes this story so compelling. Instead, what keeps your interest is how well Smith uses all of these plot elements. He weaves them masterfully in and around with all of the characters until they become something more than what they were. Along the way Smith manages to balance mystery, action, drama and genuine humor. It is easy to find yourself laughing out loud, chuckling or at least smiling as you go along and then suddenly going from that laughter to a sense of dread and foreboding.

And it is the characters who win it. Each one of the carefully crafted characters are fully formed, well rounded and even complex. Each character grows and changes and faces experiences which make them more than what they were. And we CARE about them. Smith makes us fall in love with each and every one of them and by the end it is impossible to close the cover without at least a feeling of melancholia not least because the story is over and our time with all of these great characters has come to an end.

What makes matters even better is that Bone is one of those great kind of All Ages comic books I'm always talking about -- the kind that adults can enjoy and that kids will get a kick out of too. There is sophistication here and while there is violence it is treated with respect, maturity and an eye toward the plot rather than shock value or a juvenile attempt to seem more "adult".

Such a large tome, even in a comic book form, might seem a daunting read but Smith originally serialized the story so it actually breaks up into readable chunks nicely while still flowing well with the overall story. And for those of you with kids Scholastic has been re-publishing the series in nice, relatively inexpensive, digest-sized books as well and I cannot recommend it enough. If you've got kids who hate reading try them on Bone and see what happens. And if you're an adult, go ahead and buy the big, massive, collected edition tome like I did it really won't take you long to get through it once you get hooked into the story.

The Complete Bone -- there's something here for everyone so what are you waiting for?