Monday, April 30, 2007

House of Hard-Earned Lessons #3


Housing properties in rural areas are not as easy to sell as they are in urban areas.

Not everyone may appreciate your fondness for bondage.

Doc Ock had to turn to crime after he sexually harassed his ballroom dance teacher. Don't let it happen to you.


Star Trek 143: The Dauphin

143. The Dauphin

FORMULA: Elaan of Troyius + The Undiscovered Country (I realize this is retroactive)

WHY WE LIKE IT: The cast seems to be having fun with their romance advice to Wesley.

WHY WE DON'T: Cheesy effects. A sappy little love story. Anya is an incredibly annoying character.

REVIEW: It couldn't last. After two spactacular episodes, we're given this turgid piece about love at first sight between a warp theory nerd and a shape-shifting blob of light. Oh, Salia's played well enough by Jaime Hubbard, but it's never a good idea to give too much emotional material for Wil Wheaton to play. It's all a little ridiculous, and then you have the classic switch where he's angry at her for being an alien, and then does the right thing. Spare me.

To add to the problems, there's the Anya character. As a governess, she's mean and unreasonable, but worse, she's always saying stuff like "I'm more powerful than all of you", with extra grand-standing when Worf is nearby. I'm glad the Klingon doesn't let himself be intimidated, and though those scenes go on too long, Worf is at least interesting in them. But Anya does have other forms, and they just don't make sense in the context of her character. What's with the girl Salia's age? And what about that teddy bear form? Is she teacher, friend, guardian AND pet? It's needlessly confusing. The Trek canon is also extremely fond of creating mythical shape-shifter races. Never the same one, but everyone is always amazed creatures like this exist (chameloids, changelings...). Anyway, in this case, the effects are pretty awful, between hairy rubber suits (about Man Trap caliber), claymation-type morphs, and cheesy bluescreen effects.

If there's saving grace, it is those scenes where Wesley seeks advice about love. Riker and Guinan make a fun double act, engrossed in their little improvisation, parodying flirting, but at the same time enjoying it. Guinan returns later with good advice, though there's nothing new here. Worf's discussion of Klingon mating rituals is so over-the-top, you have to wonder if he's not having a bit of fun with Wesley, but over-the-top in a good way. Still, it's hard going for the rest of the episode.

LESSON: Girls are icky.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Despite a couple of cute moments (I am NOT including Wesley's kiss in there), this romance is dead on arrival, and the episode is further sunk by over-reaching effects, an OTT performance by Paddi Edwards as Anya, and the lack of a decent B-plot to take refuge in.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

This Week in Geek (23-29/04/07)

Buys

What am I? Made of money?

"Accomplishments"

So the Northrop Frye Literary Festival here in Moncton wanted to change its image a little and make it more "fun". And they decided the best way to do that was to trot out the "graphic novel" as the wave of the future. Had this been the late 80s, maybe I would have thought this a fresh idea. The keynote speaker, again to keep things "young" and "fun" was, of all people, Harvey Pekar (American Splendor). He attended three events this Friday, so I had my choice. Round table discussion between him, a local comic strip guy, and two names I'd never heard of? Not at 10$ a pop during work hours, thanks. Book signing at the LEAST adult-oriented comic store in town? I don't like meeting the artists behind the art, it makes me feel like a creepy groupie, so again, pass. So that left "Harvey Pekar Live" in the evening, and since my friend Carolynn was going "to laugh at the nerds", I decided to go. Harvey was exactly as I've always seen him in interviews or in the American Splendor film. He spoke about how he got into comics and what the medium meant to him, all the while keeping his hands on his forehead to block out the audience, showing extreme anxiety. It seemed painful to him. But during the question-answer portion, he was very much engaged and the hands fell down. His usual crabby and ascerbic self, he called the typical comics fan (i.e. who was into superhero comics) poorly educated, and as if to blow that preconception out of the water, there was this enormously pompous "typical comics fan" behind us who went on and on (was there a question in there? I don't know) about Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Will Eisner, blablabla... So I have to side with Harvey given the evidence. At least he didn't compare Seinfeld to Shakespeare like some other dude did, sheesh! Overall, I found Harvey to be a very intelligent and humble guy. If I didn't ask a question, it's because I would almost certainly have sounded exactly like that McCloud/Eisner guy. Glad I went, but glad to get out of there.

Catching up on stuff before I get to the (surprisingly large) selection of stuff I read or watched this week, I finished 9 more cards for my WhoCCG (all from The Sontaran Experiment; The Invasion will be next). As for Warcraft, Lynda went from level 36 to 39½. Tried for 40, but there are only so many hours in the day I can devote to my carpal tunnel syndrome, y'know?

LOOK KIDS, COMICS!
Among the books I finished was JLA: Terror Incognita, probably the last JLA trade I'll ever get. The return of the White Martians was, I think, a better tale than Mark Waid's previous efforts, but I think I may have read too many high-concept comics like this of late. I'm due for something else. The Santa Claus vs. Neron issue was fun though.






I followed that up with I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, a trade collecting JLA Confidential #4-9 and starring the "sitcom Justice League" that may not be "Earth's greatest heroes", but you know what? They were pretty damn entertaining. And still are, though it almost seems like Giffen and DeMatteis are putting too many one-liners in this one, it's so crazy. Following the events of Formerly Known as the Justice League, this is pretty much the last time you could enjoy many of these characters before they were ruined or killed in the last couple years' slew of crossovers. Last chance for Blue Beetle, Elongated Man and Sue Dibney, Maxwell Lord and soon, no doubt, Mary Marvel.

But while these were fairly entertaining, the real gem is James Kochalka's The Cute Manifesto. I'd bought it when it came out, but it was mislaid. I found it again and read it. I don't mind telling you it brought tears to my eyes. Now, I love Kochalka, and he certainly doesn't have to justify his cute or naive style to me. (You know the comic book store I sorta trashed above? Well, the clerk there once told me the expensive trade I was buying could have been drawn by his little cousin. Needless to say, I don't feel the need to order stuff from them anymore.) His ideas about craft, story and artistic process are thought-provoking and told incredibly lyrically, but there's some good autobiographical stuff in there too. The juxtaposition of 9/11 and his decision to have a baby sandbagged me, and how he tied it all into the rest of the manifesto, well... You just have to read this thing. It'll inspire you to new things.

I'm not gonna have a baby, mind you (a big congrats to my brother-in-arms Paul Ward who now his his second on the way, however!), but I might give birth to some new projects soon. Yeah, as if I needed any more.

LOOK KIDS' DVDs!
Flipping DVDs isn't just a hobby, it's a vocation. Some are easy to get through because they don't have very many extras. Such is the case with Teen Titans Season 3, probably the weakest season I've seen to date, if only because Brother Blood doesn't pack the punch Slade does. But fun nonetheless. As was Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, a direct-to-video "original movie", which was kinda like Lost in Translation meets every manga style you've ever seen (well, cat-girls and Astroboy, at any rate). It at least had the decency to further the Robin-Starfire subplot more than in the show, cuz I really hate it when they make you shell out an extra 20 bucks for an irrelevant, longer episode.


I've grown to become a big fan of Sam Peckinpah's films over the past year. I own six and the fifth one I've watched, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, may just be my very favorite. I've been trying to come up with a satisfying summary, but it defies description. It's a western, it's a religious allegory, it's slapstick, sexy romantic comedy, tragedy, tone poem, morality play, almost-musical... Jason Robards is excellent in it, and David Warner's lascivious preacher has got to be seen to be believed. The main song will stick in my head for a looooong time yet, and I had to rewatch the editing on the final sequence 4 or 5 times, just because of how masterful it was. I'll again admit to bawling like a baby, but that's just what powerful aesthetic experiences do to me. That's twice this week... eeech. Commentary on these Peckinpah releases are all by a trio of gushing authors/experts who tend to go a bit far sometimes, inferring themes where they aren't, so I'm surprised they didn't mention that the movie takes place on the road between Gila and Deaddog, and visually starts on a shot of a Gila Monster and ends on a Coyote. Would have though this was their kind of thing. As a counterpoint to their limitless raving, there's an interview with Stella Stevens where she soundly trashes Peckinpah for being a mean drunk. So there.

Last but not least, and it surprises even me that I hadn't seen it before, I flipped the tape on The Day the Earth Stood Still. It wasn't what I was expecting as far as the story goes (cuz they always advertize the robot coming out of the spaceship and little else), but it was excellent. Very, very convincing, especially for 1951. I think I may have a thing for Pamela Neal now. The DVD comes with a newsreel that could have been run just before the movies, so try it, it's pretty cool (and relevant to the film). The commentary track has Nick Meyer interviewing director Robert Wise (Trekkies, you know why this is interesting) and is always relevant and interesting. I especially like how Meyer trashes Hugh Marlowe (the boyfriend) for being so phoney. Another extra that made me laugh was on the documentary: Billy Gray's (the kid) suspicions that something was going on between his real life stage mom and Michael Rennie (Klaatu). A lovely surprise all around.

Website finds

What, I gotta surf the net for you too?!?

RPGs that time forgot... Toon

Toon
Tag Line: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game
Makers: Steve Jackson Games

What is it?
A game where you pay cartoon characters in Looney Tunes-type scenarios ("short subjects" or even "feature films"). The 208-page main book contains the rules, a cast of sample characters, and some 130 pages of sample adventures.

Neat Stuff
-The GameMaster is called the Animator, one of many lovely touches in this game.
-Your character cannot be killed, only "fall down". After all, how many times has the Coyote fallen to his death, or Daffy Duck been dynamited?
-The game encourages you to leap before you look and to act before you think. It really is "anything goes" like an old WB cartoon. If it's entertaining, then it's allowed. A 50% Rules basically says that if a player asks if there's a mailbox here, there's a 50% chance there is. And mail orders are instantaneously delivered, is why I give that example. If you're caught thinking about strategies, then your character is "boggled" (it goes all Tex Avery and doesn't do anything except roll up its tongue for that turn).
-In addition to your 4 basic Attributes (where it's actually useful to be dumb, because then you might not know about gravity and could run in mid air), your character has a Shtick, which may range from superspeed to Disguise to Cosmic Shift (like going through a tunnel you just painted on a wall). As far as equipment goes, up to 8 things can fit in your back pocket, from a stick of dynamite to a grand piano.
-The book has one of the best collections of tables ever put to paper. If someone calls a taxi, roll and a Sherman tank might arrive. There's a random trap table, a random disguise table, silly/really silly/unbelievably silly species tables if you want to throw some randomness into character creation, and more. Randomness is a good thing in Toon.
-The large collection of adventure scenarios makes this a one-stop shop for hours of role-playing fun. Especially since the same cartoon can be played over and over with various twists (how many times have we seen Coyote vs. Road Runner in the desert, for example?). There's even an easy random adventure generator (and an apocalyptic big finish table to round it out).
-I could go on and on with the little bits of cartoon madness in this thing, and it already seems like I have... portable holes, signs, independent shadows, the angel and devil on your character's shoulder, instant fine print, sound effects... it's great.

Bad Stuff
-It's really only meant to simulate the madcap cartoons of Tex Avery, Warner Bros., Walter Lantz and perhaps Jay Ward. The game does suggest genre campaigns (especially in follow-up books), but the crazy nature of the game makes it difficult to keep the plot ontrack. But it's most often a question of having a contract between Animator and players as to how far the game can go. There's no reason Toon couldn't be used to simulate the Powerpuff Girls or even the Teen Titans, but it IS geared towards American cartoons, and not anime conventions.

Quote
"The second way to end the game is by time limit. Allow 20 minutes per player for a Short Subject [...] and when the time is up, the time is up! Each player is then given an Action to do something for a good punch line ending."

How I've used it
I've got a couple of character sheets from the early 90s, including a potted plant that was played in a solo adventure by my girlfriend of the time, and a samurai rabbit who just didn't fit the game with his goal of finding converts to his religion or whatnot. So I definitely ran games, but probably no more than an introductory scenario. It was probably the Toon Olympics loose structure discusses in the rules, and probably more than once. I did photocopy many of the characters in the book to make the game more visual without resorting to showing the open book, but like many of my "going all out, we'll be playing for YEARS" plans, nothing really came of it.

In conclusion
With it's subject matter and extremely simple rules, I should think this would be a great first RPG for kids, though the pressue of being funny can be daunting for even the most experienced player/Animator. I run with the improv crowd, so that's no trouble at all, and I'd love to run a few games. Toon is an excellent complete package and worth the read if only to change your preconceived notions about what an RPG should be.

Star Trek 142: The Measure of a Man

142. The Measure of a Man

FORMULA: Court-Martial + A Requiem for Methusalah + Where No One Has Gone Before (but it defies formula)

WHY WE LIKE IT: Great courtroom theatrics, coupled with some touching and tought-provoking scenes.

WHY WE DON'T: Can't come up with anything... How about Maddox's age? It doesn't really jibe with Data's timeline.

REVIEW: That's two in a row now, and I dare say this episode is better than the last. In fact, I think it rightfully has its place in TNG's top 10, the earliest episode to merit that position in my opinion. Data's sentience is addressed in a courtroom episode that transcends that genre and manages to touch me profoundly.

There are two big moment for me. One is when Riker goes up against Data and uses the Pinocchio metaphor he came up with back in Encounter at Farpoint, when he first took to the android, to nail the case shut. Not only is it great oratory, but the "what have I done" look on his face after that is priceless. Right after it, we get a scene between Picard and Guinan where she makes Picard see the truth behind the case: That treating Data like property is tantamount to signing off on slavery. The way she does this ("You're talking about slavery." "I think that's a little harsh.") is brilliant, and comes from just the right actress too. It has real weight and sends Picard into his own great oratory. (Face it, we don't know anything about 24th-century law, so oratory is what good tv lawyering is all about. Picard has always been great at this.) Anyway, I don't mind telling you those two scenes make me sob.

The episode also scores points by making Maddox somewhat sympathetic, and Data extremely gracious to both the cyberneticist and Riker. Captain Louvois is bit of an odd character, but I think the characterization is consistent even if her moods are not. She seems to be someone with a big mouth, who nonetheless has trouble with confrontation. She wants to be sassy and say what she thinks, but at the same time, regrets it when there are consequences to her words (I know the feeling well). I can definitely see how Picard developped a grudge against her, and that's well played too, since it seems undeserved. But life is like that. Nice touches throughout.

LESSON: Toasters are people too.

REWATCHABILITY - High: One of my all time favorites (in my personal top 3, I would imagine), it starts off with an interesting question about android sentience, and becomes so much more. Great work.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Star Trek 141: A Matter of Honor

141. A Matter of Honor

FORMULA: Coming of Age + Heart of Glory + The Voyage Home

WHY WE LIKE IT: Riker as a Klingon commander. Gagh!

WHY WE DON'T: Captain Kargan is disappointingly stupid.

REVIEW: The second season is pretty ropey, but there are a couple of gems in the middle of it, including this fine episode. Ok, I can't say I'm a big fan of Mendon, but he at least gives us a chance to compare how different cultures might have different protocols. If he was there to learn, he certainly had something to bring home to Benzar. His scenes are all tied up with the microbiotic colony B-plot, which is just a MacGuffin, but works fairly well (especially Worf's part in all this). As long as we don't stay on this story too much...

Because the Klingon side of this episode is da bomb! Now, when I'm asked who my favorite TNG character is, I always say Riker. My guess is that this opinion was first formed after seeing A Matter of Honor. What a great showcase for this character. Riker is able to gulp down a Klingon feast with relish (and later, live gagh), maneuver himself politically and in matters of honor aboard the Pagh, create a camaraderie with his new crewmates, and kick some serious butt in the physical department. Excellent scenes, great dialogue, and a lot of insight into the Klingon psyche. Riker never misses a beat and comes out on top.

If I have a problem with A Matter of Honor, it's that Kargan isn't made interesting or even intelligent. I'd rather spend more time with Klag, "Dukath" and the females than go back on the bridge to suffer that single-minded fool again. I hope Klag did his "duty" not long after this. There's even something wrong with Kargan's make-up. I don't know if it was designed to stay under red lights, but when beamed aboard the Enterprise, it just looks awful. On a small note, since I mentioned O'Brien in my last review, here he's given a healthy sense of humor. Not big moments, but character-building nonetheless.

LESSON: Riker WOULD have eaten those maggots in Conspiracy.

REWATCHABILITY - High: A Matter of Honor manages to make both Riker and the Klingons very cool indeed. When they're not onscreen, it's not as interesting, but still not boring.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Doctor Who Week Epilogue

I've been sucked into the circle of violence from Always Bet on Bahlactus, where Friday Night Fights rule! Now what could I do to rival Dracula's bitchslap...

Oh I know!

Daleks versus pterodacyls!!!

B&B 2-in-1 Round 13: Golem vs. Deadman

Batman's in the biggest lead of this fight yet at 7-5 over the Thing, which sets the stage for... Round 13!

In the orange corner... it's the Thing and the Golem written by Roy Thomas and Bill Mantlo and drawn by Bob Brown and Jack Abel, Marvel Two-in-One #11, The Thing Goes South!

In the black corner... we've got Batman and Deadman, written by Bob Haney and drawn by Neal Adams, Brave and the Bold #79, The Track of the Hook.

Comfortably seated? Alright, let's begin. DING DING DING!

The Stars
Ben Grimm's on a vacation to Florida with his lovely blind girlfriend Alicia, so of course hilarity ensues... and Alicia doesn't get it. That serves the Thing for serving up so much slapstick. For example, when they're about to miss their train, Ben does the only sensible thing...
And then he pays for the damages with Reed Richards' credit card. And SPIDER-MAN's a menace to society? The lesson: You WILL hold that train/bus/plane for the Thing. It's not all good for ol' Ben though (or Unca Benjy as he's taken to calling himself - I blame YOU Wundarr!!). He spends the rest of the issue dragging Alicia into a warzone by the arm until he realizes that yeah, she could easily get hurt by a flying car. That, and editor-cum-writer Roy Thomas is ignoring the previous story's character development, turning Ben back into an emo rockpile that mopes about being a monster. I guess it doesn't help that all the passengers on the train find new seats after he boards. +3 points

This month's Brave & Bold showcases a pretty callous Batman who doesn't give a fig about a murder when it doesn't seem to connect to his big, headline-grabbing case against the "Syndicate". It takes Deadman bringing up the Waynes' murders to coax him to action. This issue also sees the Caped Crusader pull a Sean Penn when the cameras start flashing:
Of course, he's never been this intense in a Brave & the Bold yet, and he gets to knock a few heads, and solve a mystery using the powers of... ENGLISH LIT!!! That's right. His power is knowing his Coleridge. +4 bat-points

The Guests
Before appearing in Nick Fury's Howling Commandos Monster Force, the Golem had a handful of appearances in the 1970s, including this one. Basically, he's a mystical Jewish creation now possessed by Professor Abraham Adamson's spirit and linked to his nephew and niece, a couple of crazy Scooby-Doo kids. The Golem's just come off fighting some demons and is now an inert statue... until the villain of the piece (see below) takes control of the Golem's clay and makes him destroy downtown St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia). How do we know Adamson's spirit is in there?
That's a baseball move, isn't it? After hitting a homerun with the Thing, he follows up by knocking Ben into a phone booth which goes a-tumbling. But while he can't speak, he can make the Hebrew word for "Truth" appear on his forehead, which instantaneously gives Ben a full explanation of what's going on. I wish they could've done that at the start of the issue so I didn't have to suffer through a couple of pages of flashback and exposition. And when the Golem flashes his secret word at the demons, they go away. Yay! And then it's back to being a statue. Glamorous. +6 points

I loves me some Deadman, especially while he's still on the quest to find his killer. And because it looks like Hook might be behind Batman's "little murder", he takes the Dark Knight over, discovers his secret identity, and makes a tape explaining the whole deal to play on his sympathies. It works too. Boston Brand's a down-to-earth kind of ghost, which makes him highly sympathetic, and he's got a knack for jumping into and possessing the right people to do some good. Of course if jumped into the villains, there might not be so much carnage, but there ya go. +7 points

The Villains
Carrying over from Golem's previous appearances, the big bad demon of the piece is Kabbala, "the overlord of demon-ruin", whatever that means. I'm a little perplexed by his name, since the Jewish Kabbalah probably shouldn't be connected to satanism. But ignoring that, Kabbala's plan is to take control of the Golem and wreak havoc. I can't discern much more to it than that. Why it's so important to him when he can easily flood part of the city will have to remain an unknown. When it doesn't work out, he gives Ben a light sunburn and then goes WHOOSH. I'm gonna go ahead and call him lame, ok? +2 points

The Batman/Deadman story feature a bunch of human villains, all part of the same "Syndicate", and they all DIE!!! Go read the story if you've got it because I'm about to spoil the mysteries...

No really, do it...

Done? I'll just have to trust you, I guess. Batman's on the trail of "The King" who will turn out to be newspaper mogul "Kubla" Kaine. Styling himself on Colerdige's famous poem more than the Mongol leader, his home was called Xanadu and it sat on a "sacred river". The King is also a somewhat ecclectic man, since Xanadu looks like an aztec pyramid, and when discovered, he turns out to be a trained samurai wielding a deadly katana. Dies by a stray bullet meant for Batman. He's got a couple of henchmen who don't really wind up dead so much as start out dead, like "Whitey" and "the Paymaster". The killer for hire in the story doesn't turn out to be the Hook, who killed Deadman. No he's Max Chill, the previously unknown brother of Joe Chill, the man responsible for the murder of Batman's parents.
His hook is a fake to confound witnesses and police alike, and he dies when a number of slot machines fall on him. Yes, a one-armed bandit joke. This is totally Haney, by the way, creating a "relevant" character like this and killing him off in the same issue. So you didn't know Joe Chill had a brother? Turns out it doesn't matter, cuz we won't see him again. +6 bat-points

Odds vs. Ends
From Marvel Two-in-One:
-This looks like a transition issue, with former editor Roy Thomas plotting it out, and new writer Boisterous Bill Mantlo only scripting it (only adding words after the pages have already been drawn). And it looks like Mantlo doesn't think much of Roy's work. Check out the meta textual commentary by the Thing:
It's not just Ben saying the story makes no sense, it's Mantlo himself:
Fortuitous indeed. Hey boys, can't we all be friends here? +3 points
-The ending lets us believe that the Golem is gonna get his own series set in St. Petersberg. I guess the letters didn't come inundating in. Maybe a personality or the ability to talk might have helped? -1 point
-This is a story that relies entirely too much on detailed special reports coming through radios and televisions within 5 feet of the Thing. Were television stores still doing that thing where they put tvs right up to the window in the 70s? -1 point
-The next issue blurb promises "the most unexpected team-up of all!!! The Thing and - WHO?" Since this will turn out to be Iron Man, I'll just have to assume they didn't know who the heck it was gonna be yet. -1 point

From Brave and the Bold:
-The Brave and the Bold is all grown up, all of a sudden. If anyone asks what's the big deal with Neal Adams, just show them this issue next to the previous one. Same ridiculous and convoluted Haney script (one presumes), but Neal Adams makes it three-dimensional, dynamic and what shouldn't work, works. The first page is a totally silent sequence where the "Hook" murders a man. I don't think we would have seen that kind of thing before. +3 bat-points
-There are little touches here that could be attributed to Adams, or if from Haney, would have been obvious and hokey when done by another artist. For example, I only noticed this panel on a later pass; it occurs as Max Chill gives up his evidence:
I don't if I'm supposed to be seeing our heroes hit the jackpot, or Max's raw deal as a lemon, but I love it. +2 bat-points
-My favorite panel is this, however:
Batman ferrying dead souls across a sacred river? BRILLIANT. Don't forget to pay the ferryman, Deadman! +3 bat-points

Farewells and Scoring
The Thing's Unfriendly Farewell isn't exactly venomous or anything, but it's far from warm. After all, the Golem has reverted to being a statue, so it's really kind of pathetic.
It seems to Ben that there's "a momentary flicker of understanding in the stone-being's eyes", and he feels less alone. Wow. Poetry. But he may be reading a little too much into it. Hey Ben, you want to be less alone? Go and find the blind girlfriend you left near some wreckage somewhere. +2 points

Meanwhile, Deadman shows us how you can have a Friendly Farewell without being able to truly interact with your co-star.
He possesses Batman and leaves him a message using a bat-sharpy. Adios, guys! +3 bat-points

Final tally has Deadman bulldozing the Golem 28 to 13, with a rather important assist from new regular artist Neal Adams. So what's the Thing to do? 8 to 5 for Batman and losing ground fast... Time to bring in your own gun. Watch for it, kids: Bill Mantlo. He is coming.

Star Trek 140: Unnatural Selection

140. Unnatural Selection

FORMULA: The Deadly Years + Space Seed + Lonely Among Us

WHY WE LIKE IT: Makes you warm up to Pulaski. The character of Miles O'Brien really begins here.

WHY WE DON'T: Now goes against canon. The feeling of déjà vu. The reset button ending.

REVIEW: Well, I must admit Unnatural Selection was better than I expected. After all, what you remember from it is the rubber ageing make-up that reminds one entirely too much of The Deadly Years, but with less quality (if you can believe it!). It has other problems, of course, but some redeeming elements as well. For example, after making us dislike Pulaski intently in the last few episodes (and the damage was irreversible for many), she's entirely too brave and competent here not to redeem her somewhat. Yes, she's still fighting with Picard, but we learn that she quite admires the man, and both of them address the clash of personalities that neither had intended. She also collaborates with Data, to whom she's been pretty harsh in the past.

Another character of note in this episode is Chief O'Brien. He's been on the show on and off since Encounter at Farpoint, and regularly in the transporter room since the start of the second season, but in Unnatural Selection, he becomes the character we will later watch every week on Deep Space 9. He's as smart and inventive as the bridge crew regulars here, and a brillant engineer that can patch anything together. This is the first time he's been so competent and active. It will be interesting to see him grow further.

But while the characters are fine, the plot is not. For one thing, it makes problematic use of experiments on human DNA, which are illegal according to future shows. The genetically engineered children are creepy supermen that are adults at 12 years old and have antibodies that attack our own fragile immune systems. There's a reason this stuff is illegal, people! I do like the scientific investigation elements, and the final answer is interesting as well, so it's not all a wash. But while I think O'Brien comes into his own, the reset button he provides is uninspired and gratuitous. Just another magical cure thanks to the transporter, despite the almost contrived obstacle of finding Pulaski's DNA on file. Weak climax.

LESSON: The fountain of youth may be found in Transporter Room 3.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Watch it for the characters and the true introduction of Chief O'Brien. The plot is best forgotten however.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Spring Cleaning: A box of junk

Doctor Week ends, yes, but the end of something is often the start of something new. And as we soon head into May, it may be time to do some spring cleaning...

Or since I never throw a damn thing away, Spring Cleaning - capital S, capital C - a new recurring feature here on the SBG! In the next few weeks, I'll be rummaging through some boxes full of crap I've accumulated over the years and I'll be showing them off on this here blog. I'm almost scared of what I'll find.

But in the spirit of the present celebrations, I'll start with something Whovian, no?
These are Dalek lead miniatures made for the FASA RPG, and they are totally RUBBISH! Or as we would say on this side of the pond: They're CRAP! Tiny when compared to the hobby standard, a Dalek wouldn't be much taller than a dwarf paladin and about half as wide. The miniatures further had problems with what we call "flash" (pieces of the mold still on the lead mini that you must file off) and were extremely fragile. It was entirely too easy to break off the gun, the plunger or the eye, and they were nigh impossible to glue back on. As you can see from the picture, I never got very far painting them. Two are primed and the other has some metallic paint on which I often used as an undercoat before applying actual details.

But I don't keep this for the Daleks. I keep it for the adorable little box they came in! That little TARDIS is just too precious for words. Swear to God, the Daleks are in a drawer somewhere, but the box is right there on my nightstand.

You have been visiting the depths of my geekitude. Be careful on your way up.

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Doctor Who Week Celebration Extra! This space reserved for other Doctor Who posts today.
-Dorian finally got a chance to sound off about the new series over at PostmodernBarney.com.

Star Trek 139: The Schizoid Man

139. The Schizoid Man

FORMULA: Turnabout Intruder + Datalore + Requiem for Methuselah

WHY WE LIKE IT: Dr. Selar and Ira Graves are real charmers, each in there own ways.

WHY WE DON'T: Graves as Data has a completely different personality, and it doesn't really work.

REVIEW: The episode starts well enough, with a funny but abandoned bit about Data's beard, and a show-off shot of Pulaski boarding a turbolift and arriving on the bridge without a camera cut. Nothing much to do with the plot though. Then we have the ridiculous near-warp transport that makes no sense at all when you examine it, even at a distance. Ok, let's gloss over that. Ah, we meet Dr. Selar, Suzie Plakson's first Star Trek character, and she's so memorable, fans frequently clamored for more. (She became a regular in Peter David's Excalibur series.) The cool Vulcan doctor probably has little bedside manner, but this short appearance has remained intriguing and engaging. (Were they just trying to keep Pulaski off the transporter pad for the next episode, or what?)

Can't say I liked the sappy Kareel Brianon character, but W. Morgan Sheppard's Ira Graves is excellent. Arrogant, yes, but also philosophical and quirky. His scenes with Data are top-notch, full of great lines and a high acting level. It's extremely disappointing, then, that he has to die to be replaced by a) a dummy corpse that doesn't really look like him, and b) a Graves-possessed Data that doesn't really ACT like him. I mean, Brent Spiner does another take on "evil Data" that's fine in a vaccum, but I don't see how it truly relates to the Ira Graves we previously met.

So the rest of the episode is a little slow-going, as Data-Graves piles insubordination atop insubordination, and partakes in a dull little romance with Kareel. It's a big yawner that ends like you expect it to. And what should we think of scenes like the funeral? I could believe Data would say stuff like this in a failed attempt at poetry, but a genius like Graves? It's very badly written. Enough said about the second half of the show, it's just getting me riled up.

LESSON: You always hurt the ones you love, and the ones you know, which is the same thing.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Great performances in the first half of the show are let down by a predictable possession plot that's not very well written at all. Still, your only stop for a live action Dr. Selar.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where's the Racism?

How they resisted calling the latest episode of Doctor Who "The Daleks Take Manhattan", I'll never know.

The thing that struck me about the reaction ("on the boards" as they say) to this episode is all the talk about racism, or lack thereof. New Who has been rather diverse when it comes to presenting minorities, and while half the world screams "Gay Agenda!!!", I just shrug. It's easy to accuse Russell T Davies of pushing the so-called Gay Agenda. He was the creator of Queer as Folk, after all. But why no prejudice against black people in New Who?

It sounds terrible when I put it like that, doesn't it? But that's exactly what has many viewers crying foul. We currently have a black companion who has no trouble walking around 16th-century London or 1930s New York. And further, RTD has shown us black people in Versailles and other historical locales. Daleks in Manhattan calls attention to it with a hand-waving speech about Hooverville being egalitarian. Money is the great equalizer. Or poverty is.
The show proposes this unprejudiced view of history for laudable reasons. Classic Doctor Who was NOT very diverse in its casting, with many minorities being represented by white men in make-up.
More enlightened times call for more enlightened choices, and so what if they aren't historically accurate? (Not that we would really know what was acceptable in Elizabethan London among the theater folk.) But I prefer onscreen, in-story explanations.

I could try to go through each example, show how it's not a mistake in that specific case and rack up the no-prizes, but I'll cast the net wider with a couple theories. In Martha's case, it may be as simple as the Doctor's telepathic good will (which I mentioned at the start of Doctor Who Week) keeping her safe. Good-hearted people automatically respond well to the Doctor and his companions, no matter who they are. Not that I believe for a second that Frank in this week's episode wouldn't be friends with Martha on account of his being from Tennessee. When I hear this sort of thing, I have to wonder just where the prejudice actually lies.

But the Doctor's telepathy doesn't explain a black courtesan in 18th-century Versailles. Or black people on the same street as whites in a 1950s suburb. Or a black man leading a shanty town in the middle of Central Park in 1930. Well, I don't think it's that far-fetched myself, but let's say I believe that historically, those people who not have been allowed those roles. This isn't our world though. It's the Whoniverse.
We can accept that Britain is more of a super-power than the U.S., and that it has an active space program, but we can't believe the attitudes towards blacks presented on the show? Think of the Doctor's world for a minute. We've got a 1000-year-old Time Lord travelling through time and fixing wrongs, championning freedom and decency wherever - WHENEVER - he goes. And he frequently allows 20th-century humans to tag along, with all their anachronistic attitudes and politics. What is the impact of Rose telling Nancy Britain does not fall in WWII? Probably not very much. What about a 1000 such trips, by dozens of "enlightened" companions, all of them saying things they probably shouldn't? A nudge here, a poke there, people being inspired by the Doctor and friends all over the timeline, and next thing you know, you might just have a more ethically advanced history. But I could be wrong...

Other thoughts on Daleks in Manhattan:
-I didn't know about the shanty towns in Central Park, but looked it up and it's real. That really shocked and surprised me. Even touched me. In fact, the first half of the episode really struck a cord (kind of reminded me of the Deep Space 9 episode "Past Tense"). I was even sorry to see the Daleks show up.
-These were some of the best American accents I've heard on the show, so much so that I was wondering if they actually filmed in the States. Talullah's faux-Chicago was pretty terrible however, and I find myself disliking the character in the extreme.-First half of the episode had some heart, but overall, I haven't warmed to this one yet. Daleks made over to look like Scaroth... it's a bit of a dead end, really.
-More religious references what with Solomon splitting bread in half.
-The Ghost of Rose: Not mentioned by name for the first time this Season, she was still present when the Doctor saw the Daleks were back. "They always survive, while I lose everything." Nothing worse than a sacrifice made in vain (three times now).
-Scene I could have done without: Which to choose, which to choose? Anything with Tallulah could have stood some trimming, for example. Her beau Laszlo acted so creepy in the opener that I wondered if he was up to no good, and then the reunion in the sewers where she can't even recognize his voice. Yeeech.
-Favorite line: "This day is ending. Humankind is weak. You shelter from the dark. And yet, you have built all this." Wistful Daleks! Only in the Cult of Skaro...

Doctor Who Week Celebration Extra! This space reserved for other Doctor Who posts today.
-I'm glad to discover's Tonpo's blog, Resistance is Futile, soon to be added to my side-bar. His contribution to DWW: A good long post about Martha Jones!

Star Trek 138: Loud as a Whisper

138. Loud as a Whisper

FORMULA: Too Short a Season + Is There in Truth No Beauty?

WHY WE LIKE IT: That freaky x-ray laser effect.

WHY WE DON'T: Like all of Deanna's romances, it seems, pretty boring.

REVIEW: Here's the thing. While the idea that in the future, handicaps will be seen in a positive light, is a worthy one, if ultimately too PC, the episode sort of works against its own argument. After all, Geordi has a VISOR, and Riva a chorus. And in Geordi's case, it's not that I found it unlikely that he wouldn't give up the bulky and painful prosthetic for more normal vision (though go back and watch The Naked Now for another point of view), but that we never get closure on the subplot. Disappointing.

Of course, it is Riva's show, and on that character, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I quite respect the decision to cast a deaf-mute actor in the part. On the other, as with Okona, the script would have us believe he's this incredible charismatic. Sorry, but once again, I had trouble with this. The character is less than expressive, a little creepy in the romantic scene (much too overbearing, for example), and so arrogant and picky, that I couldn't see him in a mediation role. The chorus didn't really work for me either, and as with all of Troi's romances to date, there's no chemistry on screen.

That said, I did like that Troi was a useful member of the crew, and how she forced Riva to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. An elegant solution. Also cool are the x-ray lasers used by the Solari to disintegrate the chorus.

LESSON: It occurs to me that most enemy factions can only ever agree on a single, specific mediator.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Very close to Low, as it is let down not so much by the casting, but by how the script relates to that casting. It's really too bad that most Troi-heavy scripts are on the dull side.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Doctored Panel

A meme has been floating about, and I had no clue what to do... until I realized it was Doctor Who Week!

From Lady, that's my skull:
Bad taste in clothes, bad taste in men, they go hand in hand here. Who else does she love? Wesley Crusher?

Life is a Highway

And it continues with a meditation on Gridlock (spoilers aplenty). Russell T Davies' far future is very much in an Orwellian vein. It's about ideas. It's satire. It's a fable. But it's not really credible as a possible future. And that's fine. It's not the first time Doctor Who's been down that road (The Sun Makers would be one example only), so it's definitely part of the Whovian vocabulary.

In the past, we've seen a variety of 21st-century themes taken to their extremes: Plastic surgery, morbid tourism (The End of the World), continuous news networks (The Long Game), reality tv (Bad Wolf), stem cell research (New Earth) and with Gridlock, I suppose it's highways.
Or is it? I've heard a lot of interesting theories about what Gridlock is actually about, the least of which being that it's a metaphor for the Internet (people content to sit in front of their screens with the illusion of doing something, but not really getting ahead at all - and the Friends Lists helps). One contingent would have the episode be about organized religion, a notion helped along by the cat nun and the hymns. And I must admit it has merit.

In this interpretation, there is a paradise up above and a crab-infested hell below. Humanity is trying to reach that paradise, but is merely running around in circles, and those that want shortcuts (the "fast lane") end up going to hell. More cynical is that heaven is a wasteland and all the gods are dead, with "God" (played by the Face of Boe) broadcasting lies to pacify the faithful. Is Martha's kidnapping really an attempted conversion (they have to carry three to get to the fast lane)? At the end, the Doctor acts as Saviour and gives them their heaven. Since he kinda plays the junior immortal to the Face of Bow, is it supposed to be a Father/Son relationship? I'm wondering how much any of this was done on purpose...

Other thoughts on Gridlock:
-The couple in the teaser is clearly the one from Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic, which leads me to wonder who all those other passengers were. The white guy. The red guy. The wolfboy with the two girls. The sophisticated chap. The Japanese girls. Anyone know if they referred to anything?
-There are tons of neat moments if you'll let yourself be charmed by them, from the woman who had kittens to the return of the Macra 40 years after their first (and only other) appearance. The sequence where the Doctor goes down from car to car is great too.
-Martha keeps taking a back seat to the Doctor, when compared to Rose, but a lot is said about her character anyway. She actually sits the Doctor down and forces him to pony up. That's a great moment.
-Did you notice the Doctor pulling the arrow from the last episode out of the TARDIS?
-The Ghost of Rose: The Doctor brings all his girlfriends to the same places, BWAH-HA-HA-HA! More seriously though, the Doctor's scream as Martha was taken away echoed Doomsday. He definitely can't bear to lose someone else. And how about that Bad Wolf reference? Yep, there it is in Japanese on a poster in one of those cars:
-Scene I could have done without: I love the scene where Martha sits his ass down, but the story of the Time War is getting tedious, especially if told the same way. In a way, it's realistic. We all tend to tell our stories the same way each time we tell them, but does the camera have to be rolling at that moment?
-Favorite line: "You're taking me to all the planets you took her. Ever heard the word 'rebound'?"
-So who IS the other surviving Time Lord? There can only be one. And if you browse the Internet at all, you'll know which one. Or if you're aware of the classic series and have any kind of sense. Let's just say it's not Drax, and leave it at that. I hate spoilers, don't you?

Doctor Who Week Celebration Extra! This space reserved for other Doctor Who posts today.
-Televisionary tells us when the Sci-Fi Ntework will air Series 3 in the States.
-Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator knows how to Doctor a meme as much as I do.

-As does Cullen Walters over at Every Girl's Crazy About a Sharp-Dressed Man.

Star Trek 137: The Outrageous Okona

137. The Outrageous Okona

FORMULA: Mudd's Women + Symbiosis + Code of Honor + Han Solo

WHY WE LIKE IT: Lucious Terri Hatcher!

WHY WE DON'T: Thinks it's funny, but thoroughly isn't.

REVIEW: A dismal failure. The main plot deals with Captain Okona and his being wanted by two different worlds for different (but related) reasons. It's standard stuff, but made particularly unmemorable by not one of the main characters being the instruments of that plot's resolution. The episode is much more concerned with repeatedly telling us that Okona is a charming, appealing and lovable rogue. It can say that all it wants, I'm not buying it.

I'm afraid this Han Solo knock-off is rather lacking in charm. Oh, the girls fall for him (including Terri Hatcher's small but well-remembered part) and the boys laugh at his jokes, but it's because the plot demands it. I'm afraid William Campbell doesn't quite have the charisma the script pretends he has, and if Data doesn't get his jokes, it may be because they really aren't funny. And then that whole story devolves into an Elizabethan misunderstanding that's very poorly acted, with Okona coming up on top. Give him is own show, why don't you? I dare you.

The subplot about Data exploring the concept of humor should have been more entertaining, but it isn't. Just like the rest of the episode, it is NOT funny. Joe Piscopo doing Jerry Lewis impressions? Jokes about various ethnicities walking into a bar? An 80s audience? What were they thinking? Data chose his Comic poorly, it seems (from zooming on the list of available comics, all of them people that work on the production, his name was Ronald D. Moore - poor Ron!). Very, very few jokes work in the episode ("My timing is digital" for example), which is sad considering the comic talent of many of the people involved (Whoopi Goldberg and Brent Spiner especially).

LESSON: An unfunny script can make funny actors appear unfunny.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Humor doesn't always work in Star Trek, but I've never seen it work so badly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

They had me at Shakespeare, but lost me at Code

A few thoughts on The Shakespeare Code... This really could have been a favorite of mine, but it makes a couple of mistakes. In many ways, it's like The Unquiet Dead: The Doctor and companion meet a famous author who helps them prevent some kind of supernatural invasion. But the respect writer Mark Gatiss showed for Dickens is sadly lacking in Gareth Roberts' Shakespeare.

Now, I usually like Gareth Roberts' stuff. He's especially good at send-up, but I suppose Shakespeare is a sacred cow of mine. If it was only Shakespeare in Lust, I'd be fine with it, I think. But ol' Bill is such a pompous jackass that's it's very hard to like the character.
I think you can be a genius and still not act like a jerk. He's worse than Colin Baker's Doctor! But ok, you send up the author, whose life is extremely sketchy, in a way that's fine. I suppose there's some fun in cleverly throwing the big lines around, and Bill stealing them from the Doctor (don't start thinking about paradoxes, they'll hurt your head). My real problem is that the episode references two of the most popular, and thus worst, authors of the 21st century, and I can't get behind that.

It's bad enough that the title refers to Dan Brown's DaVinci Code, but that the Doctor is a fan of J.K. Rowling? And that Martha uses Harry Potter to win the day? GAHHHHH!!!! I've got nothing against people who read those books, but to me, they're pale copies of other works. I don't need to read The DaVinci Code, cuz I liked it better when it was Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And I don't need to read Harry Potter, since I thought it was amply superior as The Books of Magic. I mean, COME ON! I guess I'm just one of those 57 academics who punched the air that week.
And for all that, I still think Martha's charming. She doesn't care if they throw feces out a window, she's seen worse bedpans. She's charmed by Shakespeare's euphemisms like Nubian Princess, etc. She's pissed at the Doctor when they share a bed and he doesn't look at her twice.

Other thoughts on The Shakespeare Code:
-Hey, that Elizabethan London looks great.
-Rewriting the universe with words instead of block computation is a great idea, but I didn't think William's words at the end there were particularly great.
-Once again, Martha restarts one of the Doctor's hearts.
-An arrow hits the impervious TARDIS and sticks... Should it? It does lead to a cute moment in the next story, so we'll allow it.
-If you think we'll actually visit Queen Elizabeth a FIRST time in the season, I would say you're wrong. I think that'll remain an untold tale... unless it seguays into one of the novels?
-Scene I could have done without: The frilly neckbrace.
-Favorite line: "Psychic paper, uhm, long story. Oh, I hate starting from scratch."

Doctor Who Week Celebration Extra! This space reserved for other Doctor Who posts today.
-Jim Squires at bits bytes pixels & sprites has played TARDIS Tennis and told us all about it.
-Thoughts from an Empty Head by fellow Whovian SAP makes the cut by mentioning Doctor Who as a favorite tv show. (But more Who content throughout the blog.)
-And at Retroactive Continuity Redux, De makes sure to mention the newest episode in his Monday Miscellany. Heck, he mentioned Who the day before as well.