Category: Television

Doctor Who: An Appreciation

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I stood my ground, there on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics: "Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains into puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!"

Harlan Ellison

Fifty years ago a member of a minor race of gods, like Prometheus, fled from his technological Olympus to bring a gift to man: the gift of intelligent science fiction television programming. It's a gift that has lasted and grown, in one form or another, to the present. Before Doctor Who, televised science fiction consisted of Rod Serling anthologies and the like, some of which were pretty good but all of which were hampered by the enforced convention of the plot twist ("Sorry Burgess, it's not enough to make an entertaining story of a bookworm freed from all his cares when he oversleeps through an atomic war – his glasses have to break at the end of the show), and …

Space westerns.

In the vibrant post-Doctor Who world of television, we have variety: the Serling anthologies have largely vanished, but at least in America we've had plenty of space westerns! Lost in Space, Star Trek, Space: 1999, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica in both its incarnations. And the X-Files, which is not a space western.

Moreover the Doctor has what some people may refer to as "BALL".

Doctor Who is most assuredly not a space western. Doctor Who, through the years, can be and has been anything you want it to be. It's alternate history. It's a detective show. It's horror. It's political drama. And sometimes, it's a space western. The show's premise is straightforward. An alien scientist, from an astonishingly advanced and decadent civilization known as the Time Lords, steals a time machine and flees to the backwater planet of Earth, which he fancies for about the same reasons Gandalf admired the Shire. From the Earth, with one or more (usually) human (often) lady (always) platonic companions, he flies around space and time, having adventures!

But oh what adventures. Through its fifty years (minus an almost 20 year hiatus enforced by BBC bigwigs who thought the show childish), the show has ranged from historical melodrama to gothic horror to Douglas Adams comedy to straight space opera. With a variety of actors playing the central character, from William Hartnell's cranky old victorian gentleman to Tom Baker's loveable scarfed oddball to Christopher Eccleston's tough guy in black to Matt Smith's wise young action hero. You see, through the amazing alien technology known as plot contrivance, whenever the Doctor suffers mortal injury (or whenever an actor tires of the role), he can regenerate into a new form and body, with the same memories but a different personality.

In fifty years the show has built up a supporting cast of recurring friends and villains that would fill an encyclopedia volume, some of whom are as interesting as the central character, including what must be television's second greatest recurring villain (after J. R. Ewing):

In honor of the show's fiftieth anniversary a special broadcast episode, the Day of the Doctor, will run on television and in theaters all over the world today and Monday, with a special guest appearance by Queen Elizabeth I. If you've never watched Doctor Who, what better time to start?

Here's to another fifty years.

That poster

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In case you were wondering, that poster on the wall in the background at the end of this season's premier when Levitt was talking to Houston was an 1899 production by Strobridge Lithographic featuring the minor magician Zan Zig:

Zan Zig, courtesy of trialsanderrors

Zan Zig, courtesy of trialsanderrors

Ciao, Andy

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They may bury him in the earth,
And be hopey that his Backer,
Keeping reaping Grim at lock and key,
Will inspect the barn he built and see
His worth, that he was one good cracker.

Not Looking Forward To The Dothraki Recipes, Quite Frankly

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I have resisted what amounts to a dare by Patrick to geek out in front you all over the progress of the HBO series Game of Thrones, which has had two episodes now. Suffice it to say: I am rereading the series (in my iPad this time) in preparation for the 5th book in July, I am faithfully watching and enjoying the series, I am attempting to keep my dear wife (Happy Anniversary, dear) interested in it, and I am using it to think about the necessary differences between art forms. But I am reserving the more effusive geekery to other locales, so as not to embarrass Patrick. It's really the least I can do.

That said: one of the great things about this series of tubes is its ability to deliver to us not only pure geekery in its unrefined form, but geek fusion, in which different types of geekery are combined in new and exciting ways. In that spirit, via the man himself, I give you The Inn at the Crossroads, a blog that documents attempts to re-create both medieval and modern versions of the foods described in GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire series.

I am so making the hot spiced wine this weekend.

This Moment In Bad Grandparenting Was Brought To You By The Department Of Health, Education And Welfare

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There were many ways this old man could have handled his grandson's query about prejudice, a word his grandson was too young to understand. Or even to pronounce.

He could have explained, without being judgmental, why it's best to think of our friends as individuals rather than classifying them as part of an arbitrary group.

He could have given his grandson a short, sanitized history of anti-semitism, explaining why Jimmy legitimately felt ostracized by being classed as "The Other," while, in his grandfatherly fashion, getting his grandson to agree that, as good people, the grandfather and the grandson are above this sort of name-calling and labeling. He could have started his grandson down the right path, to a future in which the boy judged individuals on their merits, rather than by race, religion, or class. He could have made the boy part of the team.

But did the grandfather do that?  No.

Grandpa lowered the boom. He told his four year old grandson, so young that he still lisped, that the boy was an incurable bigot. Beyond redemption. A thought criminal with no hope of reform.

There is a reason the camera fades away in the last seconds of this public service commercial: so as to avoid showing this boy's face as his own grandfather deals a traumatic blow, an emotional punch in the stomach, that will follow the boy to his shame for the rest of his days. There is no way the child will ever think of himself as a decent person after this. Every time this child looks in the mirror, he will hate the face that looks back at him. Whenever he sees his friend Jimmy, he'll be filled with self-loathing.

Kinder that the grandfather had removed one of those hooks from his hat and gouged out the boy's eye.

Today that kid is probably a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, bouncing between parole and prison in a meth-fueled haze, praying to Wotan, in his lucid moments, that the government never connects him to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Thanks a lot, grandpa. And thanks a lot, Jimmy Carter, for traumatizing kids with this sort of shit during their After School Specials.

In The Year Two Hundred Forty Two Thousand, She's Alive And Well And Fighting Daleks

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Until then, I'll miss Elisabeth Sladen, who passed away after a long fight with cancer this morning.

Fans of Doctor Who know Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, who accompanied the Doctor in the series' first golden age, while Tom Baker was playing the character in the early and mid-1970s.  The character, and the actress who played her, was so appealing that alone among the cast in the series' "first" 25 year run, Sladen was brought back in the series' modern, second run.  Where she was just as enjoyable, so beloved that she was brought back for her own, children's oriented series, in which she still starred.

Au revoir Ms. Sladen.


Speaking Of Tendentious Multithousand Page Fantasies Written For An Audience Of Salaried Adolescents

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HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's Game Of Thrones premiers Sunday.  Set your clocks, and your hearts, for this once in a lifetime event Popehat readers.

Unlike Ken (who I know is counting the seconds until Sunday night), I enjoy Atlas Shrugged as much as I enjoy A Game Of Thrones, which is to say, I enjoy it mildly. Rand's followers compare her work favorably to that of Plato and Dostoevsky. Martin's followers call his work C. S. Lewis for adults, or Tolkien meets the Wars of the Roses (and therefore, implicitly, Shakespeare). To call any of these comparisons a stretch is to be kind.  At least Rand knew how her book would end (with a 78 page speech) before she wrote it.

Martin is just stringing his audience along.  When he dies, his fans will compare A Game of Thrones to Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.

But as long as we understand that going in (we surely do four books in), that's entertainment!

Now where is my twelve hour adaptation of Cryptonomicon?  That would be art.

E! Wins Satire Immunity Challenge

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Like I keep saying, the writers over at cracked continue to offer insightful political and social satire and commentary disguised by numbered fart-and-boob jokes.

But some things are so freakishly wrong in the first place that they can't really be satirized; even the best writers are left sitting back and gaping in horror, making a few half-hearted jabs.

Take, for instance, Cracked's take on the E! Channel reality show Bridalplasty, in which brides-to-be compete for free plastic surgery.

I thought, at first, that Cracked was having us on — that it was describing a fictional, over-the-top show in order to satirize reality TV.

Oh Lord, how I wish that were true. Because the show is real — and, if anything, worse than Cracked's heroic but futile attempts to ridicule it would suggest. E! thinks people want to watch this sort of shit. And they're right.

What the hell is wrong with us?

There's Life In The Dead Yet

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Friends on the west coast who haven't had a chance to see the premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead tonight, should.

I didn't expect to like it.  I expected to see the first episode, satisfy myself that it wasn't worth watching, and move on.  Though I'm a fan of George Romero, I don't like most zombie movies, because most zombie movies are, to put it plainly, awful.

But here we have a true contender.  I highly recommend The Walking Dead to fans of George Romero or Max Brooks, but also to anyone (with a strong stomach) who enjoys a good suspense or horror yarn of any sort.   On the evidence of one show, this will be a top notch television program.

Maybe The Universe Has A Sense Of Humor. And Maybe She's A Geek Who's Into British Television.

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The head of the University of California at San Diego's robotics laboratory, tasked with creating a lifelike, human seeming robot, is named Javier Movellan.

The British science fiction television show Doctor Who, in the 1970s, featured a race of aliens named Movellans.   The Movellans were engaged in a galaxy-spanning war against the better known Daleks.



Here's where it gets weird.  The Daleks were a race of living creatures, cyborgs, who required robotic shells to stay alive.  Opponents of the Daleks often mistook them for robots.  Horrific, genocidal robots, but robots nonetheless.



The Movellans, on the other hand, looked and behaved like humans, so much so that they were mistaken for living creatures. But in fact they were robots, less like humans than the Daleks they fought.

Just like the machines that Dr. Javier Movellan is trying to create.

Vultures Circle Over Mayberry, But Barney Fife Still Has His Bullet.

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Look guys, I voted for Bob Barr because I think John McCain's a RINO, but when you attack Andy Fucking Griffith, you've gone too damned far.

"Andy Griffith Throws Away Fifty Years Of Good Faith In Thirty Seconds."

Sheriff Taylor's approval ratings are, supposedly, down in North Carolina because he participated in a commercial supporting Obamacare.  I have my doubts.  I've lived my entire life in the state, and would guess that Andy's ratings are down because the state's younger generation are a bunch of videogame addicted illiterates who think Larry the Cable Guy is classic comedy.  But that's just me.

The older generation knows.  And the kids will come around.  Eventually they'll rediscover "What It Was Was Football," "No Time For Sergeants," and hardcore oldschool Andy Griffith Show reruns, in black and white, not that miserable Mayberry RFD pap.

But don't take my word for it.  The surest sign that Andy is still relevant, still funny, and STILL A TITAN WORTHY TO SIT AMONG NORTH CAROLINA'S GREATEST SONS (roughly speaking, Thelonious Monk, George Clinton, Thomas Wolfe, John Coltrane, Andrew Jackson, and Andy Griffith) is that Bill O'Reilly has jumped on the bandwagon. If Bill O'Reilly is against Andy Griffith, he must be doing something right.

As Jon Stewart asked, "How do you turn against Opie's pa? Matlock! He's a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. What happened, North Carolina, did Griffith wipe his ass on one of Dean Smith's old jackets?"

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mayberry WTF
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Look, Andy Griffith could endorse Satan-worship from a toilet stall in an elementary school girls' restroom, and I'd still be a fan. Long after Bill O'Reilly's show is cancelled following the host's horrific death from having his head sucked into the vacuum of his ass, the Andy Griffith Show will remain a classic.