Thursday, September 18, 2014

Doctor Who, "Robot of Sherwood"

(Huh. Looks like I wrote this and forgot to post it. Oops.)

A dazzling but very meta episode, “Robot of Sherwood” turns the usual Doctor Who historical inside-out and meditates on what it means to be a hero.

The Doctor asks Clara where she wants to go, and Clara decides she wants to meet Robin Hood. Although the Doctor is adamant that Robin is a fictional character, he sets the TARDIS for Nottingham in 1190, whereupon they meet… Robin Hood and his band of outlaws. Eventually the group meets the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, whose henchmen turn out to be… well, the title says it, doesn’t it? Robin, Clara, and the Doctor are taken to a dungeon, whereupon the two men engage in a hilarious game of one-upmanship until Clara shushes them both. Naturally, there are escapes, evil plans, aliens, and derring-do, along with a casual insertion of this season’s story arc, the Promised Land.

The Doctor “deduces” that Robin must also be a robot, part of the Sheriff’s scheme to use the peasant population as slave labor in order to give the captives hope. The Sheriff points out how silly that idea is, so Robin must be real. Or is he? The episode never resolves that with any certainty. But Robin seems content when the Doctor tells him that only the legend, and not the man, is known to the future, and Robin points out how similar he and the Doctor are, both men trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. This is part of an ongoing theme to the season - this incarnation of the Doctor doubts himself and questions whether he really is a force for good. As Clara did in the previous episode, here Robin says it’s the intent and attempt that makes the hero, not necessarily the outcome.

The episode is very light-hearted, from the bantering between Robin and the Doctor (and their constant efforts to belittle the other) to the archery match between Robin and the Sheriff (and, ultimately, the Doctor) - at one point the Doctor’s arrow caroms off a chest plate and onto the target. Clara has less to do in this episode than in the first two, serving mainly as the damsel in distress for Robin and as potential consort material for the Sheriff. And the resolution of the main plot seemed a little…thin even for the usual Doctor Who hand-waving. Nonetheless, it was a fun episode, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun, especially for Time Lords who have, in the past, occasionally taken themselves a bit too seriously.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Slightly Confused Rabbit

No, the title isn’t a metaphor. I came home from work, went to retrieve the trash can from the bottom of the driveway, only to see something start to cross the driveway. At first I thought it might be a chipmunk, but as I got closer I could see it was a baby rabbit.

2014 09 15 Baby bunny

(I tried getting some other object in the picture to show the size of the rabbit, but couldn’t manage it.)

The confused thing would run/hop a few steps, then stop, and finally came to what seemed like a permanent halt in the middle of the driveway. This didn’t seem like such a safe place, as two other houses share the driveway, so I tried to shoo the creature to the grass on one side or the other. No dice. I ended up grabbing a pair of outdoor gloves, picking him(?) up, and depositing the wriggling rabbit on the grass. Whereupon he made his way back to the driveway again. Okay, fine. I picked him up and moved him to the other side of the driveway, where he wandered about for a bit.

I went back inside, firmly refusing to think that a rabbit that size would make a nice snack for the hawks in the area...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Farewell to Macworld

I was working up to writing about something else - my approach to writing is akin to turning around the Queen Mary II; nothing happens quickly - when I saw the news that Macworld had discontinued its print edition and laid off much of its editorial staff. It's certainly a sad time for the talented people there who are looking for work, several of whom had just returned from a final hurrah at Apple's unveiling of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. It's also something of a sad time for me. I subscribed to Macworld years ago, when I had the original Macintosh, and re-subscribed in 2010 or so when I finally ditched my Windows PC for a MacBook. The magazine's sibling, PC World, discontinued its print edition some months back, and at the time I wondered if Macworld's print days were numbered. 

But here's the thing: much as I am happy to get a lot of my information from the Internet, which can provide news faster and cheaper than can print, I like magazines. They're the thing you can turn to sitting on the sofa with ten minutes to kill. You can refer back to them. You can use them in Internet dead zones, like much of the underground portion of the DC Metro. They're easy to stuff into a bag and carry for just such an emergency, and short articles mean not having to remember where you are in the plot, unlike carrying an emergency novel. I subscribe to a half-dozen magazines, and I used to buy a lot of single issues on the newsstand if something caught my eye. Not only are there fewer places to buy magazines these days, but the selection at, say, Barnes & Noble continually shrinks. Some hang on because a computer monitor doesn't do justice to the pictures: Scotland, and its siblingWhisky, are basically porn for Scottish scenery and booze, and wouldn't be the same in an on-line edition.

At any rate, print magazines seem to be a dying breed, and we're worse off for it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New York City and the 9/11 Museum

Over Labor Day weekend I made one of my periodic pilgrimages to New York City. Although Fountain Pen Hospital is closed on weekends and holidays, and Art Brown’s is now closed permanently, I found other things to occupy my find beyond frittering away money on more pens.

One purpose of the trip was to visit the 9/11 Museum, located near the site of the World Trade Center towers and close to the Freedom Tower - or, as I like to call it, The Finger.

2014 08 30 Freedom Tower
The Finger, er, Freedom Tower

On the actual footprint of the towers stands the 9/11 memorial, an elegant pair of waterfalls.

2014 08 30 WTC Memorial
The 9/11 memorial

The museum is built into what was once the PATH station for the WTC site, and lies almost entirely underground. A good bit of the space is devoted to how the WTC towers were built, using cutting-edge construction techniques, including the first self-elevating cranes. The remainder of the space is dedicated to the events of September 11, 2001 and to the victims of the two terrorist attacks on the towers (the other was the bombing in 1993, which claimed six lives and injured over a thousand more). It’s a somber reminder of the evil in the world.

2014 08 30 9 11 Museum retaining wall
Retaining wall

2014 08 30 9 11 Museum antenna

2014 08 30 9 11 Museum trident
One of the steel tridents from the facade of the building

2014 08 31 Central Park formal garden
Flowers in the Central Park formal garden, off 104th St.

2014 08 31 Sin Will Find You Out
Sin Will Find You Out

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Doctor Who, "Into the Dalek"

The second episode of the season starts with a bang - a fighter spaceship destroyed by Daleks, as the Doctor rescues one of the two occupants a moment beforehand. Before you know it, the Doctor has agreed to be miniaturized and sent inside a damaged Dalek. Shades of “Fantastic Voyage”! Meanwhile, Clara is introduced to and immediately hits on Danny Pink, a new teacher at the Coal Hill school and a former soldier.

There’s a lot going on in the episode, from the Doctor’s question to Clara: “Am I a good man?” to the efforts of the miniaturized crew first to repair the Dalek and then to convince the Dalek that it need not seek only to exterminate life. Add to that the budding romance between Clara and Danny, a brief reappearance of Missy and “heaven” from the previous episode, the Doctor’s unhappiness with soldiers (and, implicitly, how that will affect his reaction to Danny), and what goodness means in a universe filled with morally gray choices, and one can see that no episode can possibly do justice to everything.

What gives way in “Into the Dalek” is the plot. Doctor Who gets away with a great deal of faux science through appeals to jargon and offhanded witty remarks. That works when the rest of the plot is solid, but here the jargon and witty remarks merely underscore the Ghost in the Machine nature of the story: our tiny heroes climb upward through the Dalek casing, to the cerebral cortex, where Clara pushes some buttons that - presto! - reveal suppressed memories and the Doctor talks to the Dalek as though the latter is an errant schoolboy. Things don’t work out as planned, but work out well enough that there will be an episode next week.

That’s not to say there weren’t some excellent moments in the episode. Danny initially rejects Clara’s offer of a date, and we see his after-the-fact response that he realizes he should have made - only to find that Clara has been listening all along. “How much of that have you heard?” he asks. “More than you would like,” she replies, a grin on her face. At the beginning of the episode, the Doctor carries two coffees - which turn out to be the coffees that he went to fetch in Glasgow at the end of “Deep Breath,” only it’s now three weeks later for Clara. He continues to make rude remarks about Clara’s appearance, but cares enough that he returns her to the school only 30 seconds after she left - in time for Danny to wonder how she changed clothes that quickly.

An interesting, if not entirely successful, sophomore outing for the Twelfth Doctor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Take a "Deep Breath": Reflections on Doctor Who, Series 8

It seems as though it’s been ages since Trenzalore. Decades at the very least, possibly centuries. Of course there were other adventures along the way: televised ones, with older Doctors and 1970s styles and 1980s music; audio ones, with small casts and loud noises; print ones, with sexual escapades, expansive worlds, and levels of violence that could never have made it onto the small screen. Still, we wanted a new adventure, with a new Doctor. As it turned out, we got our wish on Saturday night , a mere eight months after “The Time of the Doctor.” Was it really just last Christmas we said goodbye to Eleven and started to anticipate Twelve?

Previews showed a dinosaur menacing the Houses of Parliament, and “Deep Breath” got that McGuffin out of the way early on. While earlier regenerations showed the new Doctor picking up exactly where the old one left off, here we have a presumably small gap between the end of “Time” (where Twelve asks Clara, “Do you know how to fly this thing?”) and “Deep Breath.” As Victorian London marvels at the dinosaur, the creature coughs up a familiar blue box and a slightly manic Doctor explains he seems to have flown the TARDIS into the mouth of the beast, dragging it with him to the nineteenth century.

But this episode is not about extinct animals. Rather, it’s about meeting the new Doctor and, in particular, about the changed relationship between Clara and the Doctor. The regeneration trauma is mercifully short: unlike Ten, who spent most of his premiere episode lying in bed before some restorative tea perked him up, Twelve starts out unable to remember basic things, including Clara’s name, ends up taking a nap for a short while, then sets out in his night shirt seemingly back to himself. He is more short-tempered than Eleven, less tolerant of the foibles of humans (but, thank goodness, he doesn’t attempt to strangle his companion, like a certain other recently-regenerated Doctor we know!), but ultimately the same man as before. (At one point, he comments that he has “made mistakes” in the past that he intends to put right. How intriguing!)

Clara mopes about, mourning the loss of “her” Doctor, the playful puppy-like Eleven, until Madame Vastra sets her straight. With the help of an old friend in an unexpected cameo later in the episode, Clara realizes that this man *is* the Doctor, strange face and all, and that he needs her help, not her whining, in this unsettled time for him.

Lest I create the impression that the episode was too serious, jokes were plentiful. I particularly liked how the Doctor thought everyone else sounded very strange until he realized that he’s Scottish. An annoyed Doctor complained that he was on the “planet of pudding brains,” and at one point confused Strax with one of the Seven Dwarves. At one point, the Doctor says to Clara that he was “not your boyfriend.” Clara says, “I never said you were,” to which the Doctor replies, “I didn’t say it was your mistake.”

The implication that Time Lords have some control over their appearance – hinted at in “Night of the Doctor,” when the Sisterhood of Karn gives Eight his choice of elixirs, and as far back as “The War Games,” when the Time Lords force Two’s regeneration and offer a choice of faces – becomes more explicit here. He chose a more serious face – an older (and wiser?) face possibly for a more serious time.

The episode even had a plot of sorts, bringing back the clockwork robots from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The control robot found people from whom to harvest body parts in order to keep the robots going as they searched for “paradise.” I’m not sure how successful that particular plot was, but it clearly sets up a story arc for later in the season. (Who built these robots, anyway? We’ve had two episodes in which they behave in murderous fashion. Would you want to be on a spaceship with these guys?) We also got a hint that we will eventually discover who gave Clara the telephone number of the TARDIS in “The Bells of St. John” last season.

In all, the episode gave viewers a great deal to appreciate and to anticipate – the new Doctor, the changed interplay between the Doctor and Clara. The script gave both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman much to work with, and they didn’t disappoint. Like Clara, viewers might take some time to adjust to the new face in the TARDIS before coming to the realization that, when it comes right down to it, this is the same Doctor we’ve always known.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A More Modest Ambition

My neighbor in Mayfair reverted to his older, smaller house - one that fits on the property better - and rotated the house 90 degrees, which also fits the property better.

The old:

Mayfair neighbor 6 21 14 001

And the new:

Mayfair 8 20 14 001

And having the same neighbor for more than a month is an unusual treat.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Americas

Not the John Edwards kind, wherein the U.S. is divided into the poor and John Edwards. It’s the divide between liberal and conservative.

One of the more amazing parts of the Ferguson, Missouri story is how, in the first days of coverage, both liberals and conservatives agreed that the behavior of the police was unacceptable. Unarmed man shot in the back, heavy-handed tactics to handle protests, police officers without badges or other identification, harassment of the press, and so on. What was so remarkable was that I often found myself double-checking which Twitter account a particular tweet or retweet came from, because all sides seemed united. (I’ll admit to being puzzled by one comment, that “Second Amendment supporters” should have handled the situation. I wasn’t sure what the author was saying, but he seemed to imply that supporting an individual’s right to own firearms obligated one to travel to Ferguson and blast away, which to me was both wrong-headed and poor advice.)

As more facts came to light, however, old positions reasserted themselves. The Right wants to make a big deal of the (apparent) facts that Brown robbed a store shortly before his fatal confrontation and that he was shot in the front, not the back, as a witness initially claimed. Yes, the first fact cuts against the “he was a good kid who just wanted to go to college” narrative, and the second fact undermined the “gun-happy police just shot someone in the back when the suspect couldn’t have been a threat to the cop” meme, but neither necessarily justifies the shooting, and certainly does nothing to resurrect the reputation of the police department for its subsequent behavior.

But the Left wants the story to be solely about the shooting, ignoring the rioting and looting that have taken place in the aftermath of the shooting. Protest all you want; march with others with your hands in the air to show solidarity with the victim; and demand that the incident be investigated fully by outside officials – all of those things are both within individuals’ rights and perfectly understandable. Heck, if you like, even invite racial huckster Al Sharpton to come and stir things up. It’s a free country. But no amount of bad behavior on the part of the police justifies individuals burning buildings, smashing windows, and stealing things. (I hasten to add that the protesters and looters are not necessarily one and the same, and, indeed, reports suggest that the looters are coming from elsewhere to take advantage of the situation.) The idea that righteous anger justifies taking someone else’s stuff is thoroughly misguided.

I keep reading stories by the self-aggrandizing press that night after night of looting is a result of unnecessarily heavy police tactics. But it’s become increasingly clear that some people are using the cover of protests to enrich themselves. Protesting is fine; stealing is not. This doesn’t seem to be a difficult narrative, and the distinction is not subtle – swiping hair extensions and sneakers is not protected speech – and yet I’m not seeing the tweets and blog posts from the Left that decries the thieves. In fact, if one wants to complain about police tactics, Rich Lowry points out that the police have utterly abdicated their role as protectors of property. This may seem to be unimportant in the larger picture right now, but business owners are less likely to locate in a spot when they have to worry about their investments going up in flames. If one wonders why the poor have fewer, lower-quality choices in shopping yet higher prices, this is one reason.

Friday, August 8, 2014

More Eighth Doctor and Charley

I’m continuing to work my way through the Eighth Doctor audio stories from Big Finish Productions, and just finished the excellent, if lengthy, and interconnected series of stories, starting with 2002’s “Neverland” through 2004’s “The Next Life.”

“Neverland” introduces the concept of anti-time and people who live beyond time and space. Romana, now President of the High Council of Time Lords, attempts to fix the rip in the universe the Doctor caused by rescuing Charley Pollard from the R-101 in the 1930s (in “Storm Warning”). The sequel, “Zagreus,” continues the story in the TARDIS – and on Gallifrey. By the end of the story, the Doctor is exiled from our universe, unable to return and under penalty of death from the Time Lords if he finds a way to do so. As Zagreus was the 50th story in the Main Range of Big Finish Doctor Who stories, it is longer than usual, at around three hours, and has a large cast, including actors who played other Doctors (Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy) and companions (Elisabeth Sladen, Nicola Bryant, Sarah Sutton, Nicholas Courtney) in different roles.

From “Zagreus,” the next stories take place in the Divergent Universe, a pocket universe created by Rassilon  to contain the anti-time creatures. In “Scherzo,” “The Creed of the Kromon,” “The Natural History of Fear,” “The Twilight Kingdom,” “Faith Stealer,” “The Last,” and “Caerdroia,” the Doctor and Charley explore the Divergent Universe while simultaneously trying to find the TARDIS and understand the world around them. By “The Next Life,” the Doctor thinks he understands how the pocket universe works, but he discovers yet more secrets before finally making his way back to our universe.  Along the way, the listener understands how all the stories are connected, with events from “Neverland” and “Zagreus” affecting those in “The Next Life.” It’s an ambitious project, and I enjoyed the series as a whole, even if some of the stories were hard to follow in places. (Thank goodness for the Internet and plot synopses!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carnival of Doom

Via Ziki Questi’s blog, I encountered Deadpool 2.0, where an abandoned carnival nestles against an insane asylum.

Deadpool 001

The roller coaster and Ferris wheel dominate the skyline, and the entire carnival focuses on the macabre and gruesome. Ghosts haunt the buildings.

Deadpool 002

Up a hill, past the skeleton on the ground, up the stone stairs flanked by trees in the shape of grasping hands, stands an asylum, as abandoned as the carnival.

Deadpool 003

Inside, lights flicker, illuminating the haphazard body or the occasional lunatic. The gentleman below has “Kiss the cook” written in blood on his toque and continues to grasp his bloody butcher’s knife.

Deadpool 004

The medical center is no cheerier, with the blood-soaked sheet over a corpse and the message “No escape” scrawled next to the gurney.

Deadpool 005
No doubt there was much more to explore, but the wiser part of me decided this was a good time to leave, while I was still among the living.

Deadpool 006

Deadpool 007

Deadpool 008