On May 18, 2013, in the final seconds of “Name of the Doctor” at the end of the seventh series, something pretty extraordinary happened: We were introduced to an incarnation of the Doctor that we’d never met nor heard of before. Six months later in“Night of the Doctor” we saw how this extra incarnation came to be, and a week after that in the 50th anniversary episode “Day of the Doctor” we watched this incarnation interacting with his Tenth and Eleventh selves (or would that now be Eleventh and Twelfth?) in the final adventure of his life before regenerating into the Ninth Doctor. But what about all the stuff in between? We know that this incarnation fought for a pretty long time in the Time War, since we see him in the form of a fairly young John Hurt in “Night” and far older in “Day.” Now, thanks to Big Finish Productions, we get to hear the War Doctor in action, embroiled in the Time War, in three brand-new linked stories collectively called Only the Monstrous.
I’ve always thought of the Sixth Doctor as “my Doctor.” My introduction to Whodom was the original broadcast of “The Five Doctor,” so I was immediately introduced to the first five (more or less) incarnations of the Doctor and the concept of regeneration. My PBS station at that time was in the middle of a run of Tom Baker stories, so after “The Five Doctors” they jumped back into the next Tom (which, for the record, was “The Masque of Mandragora”). From there I watched the rest of Tom and all of Peter Davison as the station broadcast them. I saw Tom regenerate into Peter, and that was thrilling, but since I’d already seen Peter in action, it didn’t have the big impact it could have. The first new regeneration I ever experience was Peter into Colin Baker. The Sixth Doctor was loud, bold, brash, irreverent, all qualities I enjoyed.
“Let me tell you something, when this “kid’s” big brothers come looking for him, they’re not gonna stop until they find him. And they’ll come looking for us, and they will destroy us. And they will not do any of the soul-searching that you’re doing now.”
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Written by René Echevarria
Directed by Robert Lederman
Original Air Date May 11, 1992
One of the things that Star Trek did better than almost any other science fiction television show is it took moral quandaries and explored them from every angle — or at least as many angles as was possible in a 45-minute episode without losing the sense of action and tension and grinding the episode to a talky, preachy bore (okay, it did occasionally commit that crime). It was also great at exploring the value of life and what it meant to be human. The Next Generation did this better than any of the other Trek shows. And “I Borg” is one of the finest examples.
I should start this review by providing a little bit of context: As a generality, I don’t like the Christmas episodes. Most of them are schmaltzy and overly trite. I don’t even like the idea of Doctor Who doing Christmas episodes. So it is with that bit of information fully divulged that I declare openly how much I loved this episode. It’s not only the strongest and most enjoyable Christmas episode we’ve had, it caps off the strongest season of modern era.
Yesterday, Christmas Eve, I saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens for the second time, and it has really reignited my love for Star Wars. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here. This is not a review of the film, but a very quick note to say how it brought me back into Star Wars fandom.
I used to be a massive Star Wars fan, with the original trilogy, when I was younger. I lost interest during the second trilogy. I just watched Episode III for the first time. That’s correct, I’ve never seen it before today. I watched it partly because I wanted to fill in the story gaps that I’d missed. But I also wanted to revisit those middle films and give them a fair shot, watch them with new eyes, so to speak. I don’t want to dog on Eps I – III, but what I learned today is that my initial reaction and a lot of the criticism of them is accurate. There are a lot of reasons why I never connected with those films, but I think the biggest one is character. I never cared at all about the characters in those films. Anakin, Amadala, Obi-Wan, etc., none of them seemed to matter. None seemed real or identifiable. Not even Yoda. The story is engaging, the political drama really interesting, but the characters are flat, wooden, emotionless archetypes that have no substance. I know that people always blame the writing and/or the directing and/or the acting, with a lot of validity. The characters are awful. The whole thing lacks HEART. It’s like Lucas assumed we were all invested in the world he built, not the characters he created, so any ol’ characters would suffice to say the necessary dialogue and sell the storyline.
With the very first movie, Episode IV, you immediately clicked with the characters – you cared about what happened to Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, etc. And those characters carried you through the following films because you cared about them and you wanted to know what happens to them, and secondarily because of the amazingly detailed world that was built around them. And that’s what’s so brilliant about The Force Awakens: you not only have all the original characters that you already love and care about, so in a way it’s like a homecoming or a family reunion, but you immediately love the new characters too and connect with them. I left the first screening wanting to not leave at all, wanting to know more about Rey, Poe and Finn, wanting to stay in their world. Caring about what happens to them. Wanting to know what happens next in the saga.
Seeing Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie again reminded me how much I used to love Star Wars. Meeting Finn, Rey, Poe and BB-8 – and even Kylo, Hux, Maz and the others – made me love it again in a completely new way. And because of that, “The Force Awakens” is easily my (close) second favorite movie behind “A New Hope”. And I absolutely cannot wait for the next one!
It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Written by Harry Essex, from a story by Ray Bradbury
Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by William Alland
Starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Russell Johnson
An amateur astronomer and his dishy girlfriend are stargazing one night when what appears to be a meteor lands in the desert. But of course, that’s no meteor! It’s actually an alien spacecraft. But the only person to see it up close is the amateur astronomer and he has no proof to back up his claim. Not until townspeople start going missing, that is. It’s your typical 1950s Commie Scare paranoia piece . . . except that it actually isn’t. It’s a straightforward bodysnatcher yarn . . . except, no it’s really not. What it is is a thoroughly entertaining story with solid acting (Barbara Rush won a Golden Globe for her work in this film), good characterization, and a pretty spiffy alien that you never see too clearly on screen.
“Captain, he is too alien! He makes me taste yellow root munched between flat teeth!”
“THE SLAVER WEAPON”
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Written by Larry Niven
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Original Air Date December 15, 1973
Spock, Uhura and Sulu are traveling by shuttlecraft to deliver an ancient artifact, a Slaver stasis box, to Starbase 25. Along the way, they discover a second box (an incredibly rare find) in the Beta Lyrae system and set down on an ice planet to investigate. They are captured by the Kzinti, who hold the other stasis box and used it as a lure. Confiscating the Federation crew’s box, they open it to discover what appears to be a Slaver weapon. The crew must escape their captivity and prevent the Kzinti from retaining the potentially devastating weapon. In the end, it is the weapon itself which deals with the Kzinti, eliminating them.
On December 5th the Ninth Series of Doctor Who (or as we old-timers call it, “Season 35”) came to a close, giving us Peter Capaldi‘s second outing as the Doctor and bringing to a close the Doctor’s friendship with Clara Oswald. It was a season that gave us Daleks (no big surprise there), a return of Davros, a major reappearance of the Zygons, and a brilliant new encounter with The Mistress, as well as some new monsters and one particularly important new recurring character. I found myself enjoying the show in ways that I hadn’t in previous seasons, my excitement growing each week. As I wrote reviews of each episode I found myself, more than halfway through the season, still referring to it as “the best season of the Modern Series.” But now that the whole season is complete, including the big trilogy of episodes that loosely make up the finale, do I still feel that way? Is it still the best season of New Who?
Doctor Who has always been about rebellion. It has been about the Doctor rebelling against the society in which he was born. It was always said that the Doctor stole a TARDIS and left Gallifrey because he was bored, because he staunchly disagreed with his people, the Time Lords, who held immense powers but refused to use those powers to aid others. He has repeatedly come into conflict with the Time Lords because of his chosen lifestyle; at times they’ve opposed him and actively sought to end his adventuring, and at other times they’ve taken advantage of it and used him to accomplish something that they couldn’t be seen to be involved in. In “Hell Bent”, the Doctor, after billions of years, steps out onto the surface of Gallifrey to commit his boldest act of rebellion yet. Because, you see, while this episode looks like it’s about Time Lords, and about Gallifrey coming back into the universe, and about the political fallout of the Time War, and about the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Hybrid, it really isn’t. It’s really only about one thing: a man who is losing his best friend and will take any action necessary to rescue her and keep her safe. Even if that means defying his own people. Even if that means threatening all of time and space.
“The Destructo beam on my rocket ship can disable the death ray, but only if someone gets inside the Fortress of Doom and can shut down the lightning shield.”
“BRIDE OF CHAOTICA”
Star Trek: Voyager
Story by Bryan Fuller; Script by Bryan Fuller, Michael Taylor
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Original Air Date January 27, 1999
Guest Stars: Martin Rayner (Chaotica), Nicholas Worth (Lonzak), Tarik Ergin (Satan’s Robot)
Voyager becomes “grounded” on a subspace phenomenon and is unable to get itself unstuck. While there, aliens that are native to the subspace region, beings from a photonic reality, detect a world that they intend to explore and make first contact. Unfortunately, the world that they detect is the photonic world of Captain Proton, Tom Paris’ holodeck program. What ensues is a 1930s style monochromatic high camp romp, with dialog, acting, and music to match.