Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Bow ties are cool" - Doctor Who, Series 5

Spoilers, sweetie? Oh yes, spoilers.

The Eleventh Hour

The Matt Smith era starts with the TARDIS crash-landing in the back yard of young Amelia Pond, who is hearing voices from a crack in her bedroom wall. After an amusing scene in which the newly-regenerated Doctor has the little girl prepare him various foods so he can determine what he likes to eat, he promises he'll be back in five minutes. He misjudges, and it's 12 years to her before he returns. He and the now-adult Amy Pond have 20 minutes to find an escaped alien prisoner for a battleship full of soldiers seeking the prisoner, or the ship destroys the Earth.

Another two years passes for Amy - one hopes this Doctor gets better at aiming the TARDIS - when he returns to ask her to travel with him. She agrees, provided that she be returned before the next day. The camera pans to her closet, where a wedding dress hangs.

Smith's Doctor seems to be playing the role more for laughs than either Tennant (who alternated joking around with being quite serious) or Eccleston. He's very good at the humorous side of the Doctor's personality, but it remains to be seen how he does actual drama. As a bonus, when he steals clothing to wear, part of the outfit includes a bow tie, because "Bow ties are koo-ell," as he puts it.

The crack in the wall will be a recurring theme this series, with the crack appearing in different places in every episode. Other clues about the crack are scattered throughout the series as well.

The Beast Below

Mankind has taken to the stars, and England has its own spaceship. (Naturally, Scotland, to be difficult, has its own ship.) Society seems fairly sinister, with circus-like "Smilers" enforcing the rules. The Doctor notices that the ship does not seem to be powered by engines and goes to investigate. He encounters "Liz 10," who helps him, and is later revealed to be Queen Elizabeth the Tenth. (The royal family seems to have become more racially integrated in the future.) She has been in power since the starship left Earth, centuries ago, though she believes she is only about 50 years old. The group descends into the lowest part of the ship, where in the "Tower of London" the warders explain that the ship is riding on the back of a star whale, the last of its kind, that arrived when the Earth was being destroyed by a solar flare. The humans have been torturing the whale to keep it moving, enraging the Doctor. He believes the only solution is to lobotomize the whale, so it no longer feels pain, though he is loathe to do this. Amy comes up with the better solution: she frees the whale from the device feeding current to its brain and, freed, the whale freely continues to transport the humans on its back. Amy analogizes the whale's behavior - as the last of its kind, it came to the rescue of the humans - to the Doctor's and surmised that the torture wasn't necessary.

Nice development of the relationship between Amy and the Doctor, though the story was a little scatterbrained.

Victory of the Daleks

The Doctor receives a call from Winston Churchill, fighting the Battle of Britain. On the screen, the Doctor sees a Dalek with Churchill and goes to investigate. Churchill is relying on Daleks - who are serving the British - as his secret weapon against the German bombers, and we see an incoming set of planes shot down with the Dalek's weapons. The Daleks were supposedly the invention of a British professor, Edwin Bracewell. When the Doctor identifies the Daleks as his ancient enemy, the Dalek ship above uses the Doctor's "testimony" to prove to a device called the Progenator that these Daleks are "true" Daleks and can authorized the Progenator device to create millions of new Daleks. Professor Bracewell is revealed to be an android. The Doctor uses future technology to soup up three Spitfires in an effort to destroy an energy beam coming from the Dalek ship, as well as the ship itself. They are successful in the first but not the second, as the Daleks activate a device on Professor Bracewell that, if detonated, will destroy the Earth and the Doctor has to use his efforts to de-fuse Bracewell, during which time the Daleks escape.

The series runs hot and cold about changing past events.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

The episode opens with the Doctor and Amy looking through a museum in the far future when the Doctor encounters an out-of-place object that turns out to contain a message from River Song, requesting help. The TARDIS arrives to find a spaceship about to crash, and rescues River just in time. On the planet, River explains that the cargo hold of the ship contained a Weeping Angel, and that the leaking radiation from the ship will make it stronger. With the help of militarized "clerics" from an orbiting ship, the group attempts to find the Angel.

As the group moves through a maze of statuary, they realize that the two-headed natives of the planet were unlikely to create one-headed statues, and thus they are surrounded by dormant Weeping Angels, all absorbing energy needed to revive.

The group arrives in the crashed spaceship. Amy has the image of an Angel in her brain, which is about to kill her, so the Doctor orders her to keep her eyes shut. (I'm not sure why that works, if the image is in her brain.) The crack from Amy's bedroom wall reappears in the spaceship and appears to erase the identities of those who are caught in it. The Doctor says the crack is a rift in time created by a time explosion and can only be closed by a "complicated space-time event" enter it. He removes the ship's gravity field, causing the Angels to fall into the crack. As they disappear from time, the image from Amy's brain also disappears. River and the Doctor determine that the time explosion occurred on June 26, 2010.

Amy and the Doctor return to Amy's house on the night they left. She shows him the wedding dress and tries to seduce him. (Matt Smith is at his best trying to avoid the advances of a beautiful woman.) When he realizes the next day is June 26, he takes Amy away again to buy time.

I love the idea that the Doctor and River are meeting each other in reverse order. When we see her first in "Silence in the Library" it is their last meeting from her perspective but the first from his. She resolutely won't tell him what's to come, cheerfully shouting "Spoilers!" to quiet him. We also learn that the TARDIS doesn't have to make that shrieking noise when it materializes; River points out that the Doctor just doesn't bother to release the brake. Sigh.

The Vampires of Venice

To defuse the tension with Amy, the Doctor crashes Rory's bachelor party and takes him in the TARDIS for a romantic trip with Amy to Venice in 1580. They discover a girls' school that is run by vampires. Amy infiltrates the school but is later captured, to be turned into a vampire. She kicks at the head vampire, who is revealed to be an alien. The aliens fell through a crack in time and plan to use the watery city to re-create their watery planet. As the Doctor stops the plan, the last of the aliens throws herself into the water and accuses the Doctor of exterminating another race.

Hmm, well, better than Twilight?

Amy's Choice

Amy, Rory, and the Doctor alternate between two existences: in one, Amy and Rory have not travelled with the Doctor in five years, and are married and living in Leadworth, with Amy very pregnant. In the other, the three are in a disabled TARDIS, heading toward a "cold star" that will freeze them to death shortly. A man calling himself the Dream Lord appears and tell them that one of the scenarios is false. They must decide which is the false reality and die in it to escape the trap. After Rory is killed in Leadworth, Amy decides that she would rather end her own life if this scenario is the real one rather than be without Rory, so she allows herself to be killed as well. The Dream Lord reappears on the TARDIS to congratulate them and restores power to the TARDIS. The Doctor realizes that this is also a false reality and  destroys the TARDIS, at which point all three wake in the real TARDIS, out of danger. The Doctor says that, because he realized the Dream Lord had power over both scenarios, neither could be real, and that the Dream Lord is actually a manifestation of his own dark side.

The episode had me looking for clues as to which scenario was the "true" one, and it became a clever puzzle. And, of course, Amy made her choice between her two men.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Landing in a small village in 2020 instead of in Rio (allowing Amy to wander through the episode in tiny shorts), the Doctor, Amy, and Rory discover a drilling project that has reached nearly 21 miles down. People start disappearing, and the Doctor discovers that deep below the surface lies a Silurian civilization. The drilling has wakened the military arm of the sleeping Silurians, and three travel to the surface to kill those involved with the drilling operation, which the Silurians see as a threat. One is captured, and the Doctor urges the humans to "display the best of humanity" so that "no one dies today," but one of the women kills their captive while torturing the creature in an effort to find out what happened to her son. The Silurian leader has been awakened and realizes that the two races need to coexist. The military tries to stage a coup, which the leader is able to thwart, sending his people back to sleep for another thousand years.

Back on the surface, relatives of the dead warrior try to kill the Doctor. Rory steps in front of the shot and is killed. The crack in time appears, and Rory is erased from time. The Doctor tells Amy that she can keep his history alive by remembering him, but she can't keep concentrating and forgets him.

I liked the message - when faced with an alien race, shouldn't we all display the best of humanity? - but the story seemed weak, especially for a two-parter.

Vincent and the Doctor

Amy is enjoying Van Gogh paintings when the Doctor sees a monster painted into one. They go to 1890s France to meet Van Gogh, a tortured genius. Together, they kill the monster (which only Van Gogh can see) and try to show Van Gogh how much his art will be valued in the future. Amy thinks this will keep him from committing suicide, but, alas, his demons are too much for him. Still, back at the exhibit, the monster is gone from the painting - and "Sunflowers" is dedicated to Amy.

This was one of the best episodes of the series. I'll admit it was a little cheesy, but the scene in which the Doctor asks the museum curator how Van Gogh is ranked among painters - "Possibly the best ever" - as Van Gogh himself listens with amazement is emotionally powerful.

The Lodger

The Doctor must room with a human to find out what is causing the TARDIS - and Amy inside it - to be stuck in a time loop. The focus is really on the landlord and his girlfriend, who are obviously crazy about one another but won't admit it - until they are forced to do so in order to save the Doctor. A very sweet episode, and very funny. Craig is excellent, and the Doctor's soccer game is priceless. ("Are you any good at football?" "Football? Why, yes, I think I am. Football, now that's the one with the sticks?")

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The big payoff for the season! River Song summons the Doctor to Roman-ruled Britain in 102 A.D., near Stonehenge. The Doctor and Amy find River posing as Cleopatra (!) River shows them a Van Gogh painting she recovered, called "The Pandorica Opens," showing the TARDIS exploding. They travel beneath Stonehenge, where there is a vast chamber and a cube - the Pandorica, thought by the Doctor to be a myth. One of the Roman soldiers helping the group is Rory, a situation inexplicable to both Rory and the Doctor. The Doctor's enemies gather overhead. River tries to use the TARDIS but ends up in Amy's bedroom on June 26, 2010. Exploring Amy's bedroom, River finds a book about Pandora's box and another about Roman soldiers in Britain, and realizes that the Pandorica must be a trap for the Doctor. The Doctor tells her to leave the TARDIS, but River finds herself trapped as the TARDIS starts to explode.

At Stonehenge, the Roman soldiers, including Rory, turn out to be Autons - plastic creatures - and the Doctor is captured. Above ground, Amy finally remembers who Rory is, but his Auton identity is too strong and he kills her. Below ground, various alien species converge on the Doctor and imprison him in the Pandorica, as they believe he is responsible for the cracks in time. As the TARDIS explodes, all of the universe, other than the Earth, fades out.

As Rory mourns over Amy, the Doctor appears (a slightly older version of the Doctor, not imprisoned in the Pandorica, used River's vortex manipulator) and hands Rory his sonic screwdriver, telling him to use it to free the Doctor and place Amy's body in the Pandorica, explaining that the Pandorica will restore Amy with her DNA. (This makes no sense, but we're going with the flow at this point.) The Doctor, now freed, takes the vortex manipulator and travels forward nearly 2,000 years. Rory then guards the Pandorica for all that time protecting Amy until it can be opened again.

In 1996, young Amelia Pond follows clues from the Doctor to the Natural History museum, where she opens the Pandorica, releasing her older self. They are joined by the Doctor and Rory, still standing guard, now as a security guard at the museum. After evading a Dalek in the museum and rescuing River from the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor flies the Pandorica to the TARDIS, creating a second Big Bang as the universe is re-created. The Doctor is outside that universe, however, and his existence starts to fade out.

In 2010, Amy awakens on her wedding day. River has left her River's diary, and though it Amy remembers the Doctor. This brings back the Doctor, who arrives in the TARDIS at Amy and Rory's wedding reception.

Despite some odd lapses in logic, this two-part series of episodes provides a real emotional impact, from Rory's return (Pinocchio-like, does he become a real boy? We presume so.), to his nearly 2,000-year post guarding Amy, to the destruction and recreation of the TARDIS, to the Doctor's sacrifice and return. (One presumes the Doctor knew he could be brought back into the universe, as he told Amy more than once that remembering someone would keep them alive, but he couldn't be sure Amy would do so, having screwed up remembering Rory after his death.) Well done.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Modern Prometheus

The second meeting of the discussion series "Magic, Monsters and Other Worlds: The Fantastic in Victorian Literature," held last Wednesday in the Caledon Library reading room in Victoria City, focused on Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus. (While technically not a Victorian novel, close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and literary eras.)

Victorian Literature discussion  Frankenstein 001

We had a number of people ready to discuss the book, and the discussion was a lively one, exploring a variety of topics, from the reliability of Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster as narrators to Shelly's purpose of including Justine and her trial for murdering Frankenstein's brother.

Victorian Literature discussion  Frankenstein 002

A complex and yet readable book, Frankenstein differs greatly from most of the movie versions, touching on topics from the moral limits of science to the relationship between creator and created to guilt and revenge. No staid 19th century characters here!

Victorian Literature discussion  Frankenstein 003

Victorian Literature discussion  Frankenstein 004

Next month's reading is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aether Salon - Siam

Admiral Invertigo Caldwell, of Steeltopia, was the speaker for February's Aether Salon, discussing some of the wonders of Siam, in Bangkok, Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace.

Aether Salon  Siam 001
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach introduces the speaker

Aether Salon  Siam 002
Admiral Caldwell reflects before he begins his talk

Aether Salon  Siam 006
I take my usual seat

Aether Salon  Siam 005
A small but enthusiastic and engaged crowd listens

Aether Salon  Siam 003

Aether Salon  Siam 004
A very big Buddah

The full transcript, as always, is available at the Aether Salon's aetheric location.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dancing Away Violence

(I meant to publish this a few days ago, but better late than never...)

I realize I'm going to sound curmudgeonly, but I can't take this whole "One Billion Rising" thing seriously, or its Second Life counterpart.

First, it has Eve "Vagina" Ensler behind it. Anyone who has contributed to the debasing of college culture as much as she has can't be taken seriously, however serious the cause.

More to the point, while violence against women - rape and beatings are specifically mentioned, making me wonder whether Ensler is cool with female genital mutilation, whipping, or any of the other charming practices in certain Third World hellholes - is terrible, the idea that having "Women, and the men who love them," "walk away from their homes, businesses and jobs on Valentineís Day and join together to dance in a show of collective strength" will have any effect is doubtful. Heck, at least the breast cancer walks actually raise money.

Susie Tompkins Buell, writing for the Puffington Host, declaims "Words are not enough," and yet… dancing is enough? Does she read her own copy?

I also question the statistics underlying the event - the "one billion" representing the claim that a third of all women are "raped or beaten" in their lifetimes. I don't know how anyone gets statistics on "beatings," but there must be an awful lot of beatings to make up for the (relative) paucity of rapes, according to the U.N. Again, not to minimize the terrible things that happen to some women, but exaggerating the problem isn't helpful.

So walk away from your home and dance if you like. If it makes you feel better, the event has some positive value. But let's not kid ourselves.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"I don't want to go" - Doctor Who, Series 4

Soldiering on… (spoilers ahead)

Voyage of the Damned

This season's fun Christmas romp. The TARDIS crashes into a spaceship called Titanic, but sabotage threatens to bring the ship crashing to Earth, destroying the planet. The "tour director" who gives the tourists to Earth incorrect information about Earth customs is hilarious.

Partners in Crime

The Doctor meets Donna Noble again, both investigating Adipose Industries, makers of a successful diet pill. The pill causes fat to leave the body - in the form of cute little aliens who simply walk away. We're also introduced to Donna's grandfather, the wonderful Bernard Cribbins (who was briefly in "Voyage of the Damned" as a newspaper vendor).

The Fires of Pompeii

Instead of Rome in the first century A.D., the Doctor and Donna land in Pompeii, the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts. The TARDIS is sold to a wealthy merchant as "modern art," the volcano is inhabited by aliens who want to convert the human race to their own kind, and Vesuvius blows. Donna provides - not for the last time - a humanizing influence on the Doctor.

Planet of the Ood

Taking Donna to a random point in time and space, the Doctor encounters an Ood (from "The Impossible Planet"). The Ood are being developed as a slave race.

The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky

Martha Jones summons the Doctor to help investigate ATMOS, a satellite navigation system that also captures harmful emissions. The developer of the system is a brilliant young man - who turns out to be working for the Sontarans, and together they have devised a plan to poison the Earth's atmosphere so the Sontarans can use Earth to clone more soldiers.

The Doctor's Daughter

A tease of a title, as we discover early on that the "daughter" is a clone. The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Donna, and Martha to a planet in the midst of a multi-generational war between humans and a race of fish-like creatures, fighting over "the Source," a mythological place of power. The episode tries to make a point about war and forgetting what one is fighting for, but ultimately seemed unsatisfying.

The Unicorn and the Wasp

The Doctor and Donna travel to an English country estate in 1926, where they invite themselves to a party, as one of the guests is Agatha Christie. There's a warning about "the Unicorn," a wily jewel thief, and they encounter an enormous wasp creature. One by one, partygoers are found dead, murdered in ways shown in Christie's books. They team up with Christie to solve the case - and, along the way, explain Christie's real-life 10-day disappearance. Nothing deep here, but a fun episode.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

The TARDIS arrives in a planet-sized library in response to an emergency call, but find no one living. At the same time, a team, including archeologist River Song, arrive to understand the final communication from the Library: "4,022 saved, no survivors." River knows a great deal about the Doctor, including his future, but refuses to provide "spoilers." The group discovers the Vashta Nerada, microscopic creatures that disguise themselves as shadows before devouring their prey. At the same time, we see a young girl in a household with her father, being attended to by a psychiatrist, Dr. Moon. She can see some of the events in the Library. As the group attempts to escape the Vashta Nerada, the two plots ultimately converge. A truly scary episode with a satisfying ending.


While Donna stays at the spa on the resort planet Midnight, the Doctor takes a bus ride to see the Sapphire Waterfall. The Doctor tries to bond with his fellow passengers. The shuttle takes a different route than its usual one, and they run into engine trouble. Soon they hear knocking from outside the bus, from the surface of a planet that is supposed to be uninhabitable. The creature inhabits one of the bus passengers. Frightened, some of the other passengers want to eject the possessed woman, over the objection of the Doctor. Then the creature inhabits him… A taut tale about how humanity behaves in a crisis.

Turn Left

It's a Wonderful Life, Doctor Who-style. On an alien planet, Donna becomes separated from the Doctor. A fortuneteller asks Donna to describe the event that led her to first encounter the Doctor. Donna replies that, in a car trip with her mother, the two argued about which potential job would be better: turn left, and take a temporary job with H. C. Clements (Donna's employer in "The Runaway Bride"), or turn right to apply for a secretarial job (Mrs. Noble's preference). We then see what happens in an alternate history when Donna takes the right turn instead: she never meets the Doctor, who dies in the events of "The Runaway Bride," and is therefore not able to save the Earth again and again. When the Titanic crashes into London (in an alternate version of "Voyage of the Damned"), England declares martial law and descends into a military state. Rose Tyler, working with UNIT, appears to tell Donna that she must go back in time and convince her younger self to make the left turn instead of the right. An interesting concept, though with considerably less meaning to anyone who hasn't watched the episodes referenced in "Turn Left." With the Doctor absent in most of this episode, somewhat less interesting, even if Catherine Tate is better able to carry an episode than some of the other companions.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End

Before the Doctor and Donna can get back to Earth, the Earth is teleported out of its orbit, joining other missing planets (referenced throughout the past season). The Doctor, following Donna's clue that the bees have been disappearing, tracks the Earth to the Medusa Cascade, a rift between universes. They set out for Earth. Back on Earth, the Daleks subjugate the planet, with pockets of resistance led by Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood), Martha Jones (UNIT), Sarah Jane Smith, Rose Tyler, and Prime Minister Harriet Jones. They help the Doctor locate the Earth, though the Daleks find and kill Harriet Jones. As the Doctor rejoins Rose, a Dalek shoots and kills him, and he begins to regenerate. He makes it inside the TARDIS, where he is able to halt the regeneration process once he is healed, directing the remaining regeneration energy into his severed hand that has been traveling in the TARDIS since the 10th Doctor's first appearance. Donna touches the hand, which transfers energy to the hand, forming a replica of the Doctor, who saves the TARDIS from destruction by the Daleks. The Daleks' plan is to use the "compression field" from the alignment of the stolen planets to form a "reality bomb" that will destroy all matter in every universe. The although the Doctor and various former companions are captured, the ersatz Doctor and Donna arrive in the TARDIS. A Dalek hits Donna with an energy beam, activating Time Lord knowledge within her (from her touch of the regenerating hand), allowing her to take control of the Dalek machinery, disable the reality bomb, and helping the Doctor destroy the Daleks' ship. The TARDIS tows the Earth back to its correct orbit. The Doctor then returns his companions home, including Rose back to the parallel universe from "Doomsday." The second Doctor is revealed to be part human and unable to regenerate. He stays with Rose. Donna, however, cannot handle the Time Lord knowledge in her head and starts to burn up. To save her, the Doctor removes all memory of their time together and returns her to her mother and grandfather, admonishing them that she can never remember any of it or she will die. He leaves, alone.

A wonderful episode, bringing together a number of plot threads left dangling for a season or more, resolving Donna's time with the Doctor, and reuniting the Doctor (or a Doctor, at any rate) with Rose. As with much of the series, it doesn't pay to think too hard about the logic of the plot, and in an episode like these two it doesn't matter.

Counting the "season" of five episodes as part of series 4, we have:

The Next Doctor

Despite the provocative title, the next Doctor turns out to be a man suffering from amnesia after a Cyberman attack on his family in 1851. The man calls himself the Doctor, holds a pocket watch that could be a Chameleon Arch ("Human Nature," "Utopia"), has a companion and, he claims, a TARDIS - which turns out to be a hot air balloon. The Cybermen are working with Mercy Hartigan, a woman bitter that her gender holds her back from dominating society. She uses children from workhouses and orphanages to work on behalf of the Cybermen. They ultimately betray Hartigan, converting her to the controller for the "Cyber-King," a enormous mechanical device that  wreaks havoc on London. The Doctor uses the hot air balloon to get near the monster, severing Hartigan's connection to the Cyber-King, which topples over. Both Jackson, the false Doctor, and Hartigan regain control over their lives because of their emotions, something the Cybermen lack, suggesting that human emotions are ultimately an asset to the race. A fun story, if a slight one.

Planet of the Dead

In present-day London, Christina, a young thief makes a daring break-in to a museum to steal a golden chalice, escaping on a London bus. On the bus, the Doctor is tracking a wormhole. As the police close in, the bus goes through the wormhole to a desert planet. They need to repair the bus before return to Earth through the wormhole. As a desert storm approaches, the Doctor and Christina explore the surrounding area, discovering a species called the Tritovores, whose ship has crashed on the planet. The Tritovores explain that this was a thriving world, with billions of inhabitants and was not desert-like. They send out a probe that discovers the "storm" is really a swarm of metallic, stingray-like aliens that devour everything living on a planet before creating a wormhole to their next destination - in this case, Earth. The Doctor, with Christina's help, fixes the bus in time to move it through the wormhole, where UNIT is waiting to close the wormhole before the aliens can travel through it. Interesting story, and terrific interaction between the Doctor and Christina, who gives as good as she gets.

The Waters of Mars

The Doctor travels to Mars in 2059, where he finds the first human base on Mars - Bowie Base One - and is taken captive, and led to the base commander, Captain Adelaide Brooke. The Doctor realizes that the date is the day on which the base is destroyed, with no survivors, though Brooke's descendants would eventually head to space and begin to explore the universe. He notes that the event is fixed in time, and thus he can't change it. Before he can leave, the crew begins to develop problems in the bio-dome - the water appears infected by a water-based life form. Though Brooke, her crew, and the Doctor try to contain the infection, they are unable to do so. Rather than risk bringing the life form back to Earth, Brooke recognizes she has no choice but to destroy the base. The Doctor, however, decides that, as the last Time Lord, he answers to no one, and uses the TARDIS to save the remaining uninfected crew members, including Captain Brooke. Back on Earth, Brooke says to him that no one should have that much power. She enters her house and kills herself in order to try to maintain the time line. The Doctor realizes he has gone too far.

I liked the episode on its own - it was a scary little tale with a race against time to discover the cause of the infection and then devise a way to defeat it before all the crew died - and the ending, with its tie-in to the next two episodes, gave it additional emotional impact.

The End of Time, Parts 1 and 2

The Doctor learns from the Ood that the Master will return, heralding the end of time, and that the Doctor's life will end soon. Acolytes of the Master attempt to bring him back from the dead. His human wife, Lucy Saxon, partially thwarts the effort, leaving the Master in a state of constant energy expenditure, which allows him superhuman strength and the ability to throw off that energy, but also constantly hungry. The Doctor finds Wilfred Mott, Donna's grandfather, and tracks the Master. The Master, however, is kidnapped by billionaire Joshua Naismith, who believes the Master can fix a device that will make his daughter immortal. Though the Doctor and Wilf track the Master to the Naismith mansion, they are too late, as the Master has fixed the device to place his own DNA into everyone on Earth, save for the Doctor, Wilf, and Donna. The Time Lords are shown, planning a way out of the time lock that the Doctor has placed them in just before Gallifrey is destroyed. The Time Lords lock on to the sound in the Master's head by means of a white star, and bring Gallifrey to Earth. The Doctor destroys the white star, breaking the link and sending Gallifrey back to its fate. When the Lord President attempts to kill the Doctor, the Master, enraged that the Time Lords betrayed him, intervenes and is himself killed. Alone with Wilf in the Naismith mansion control room, the Doctor hears four knocks, the sound that was foretold would signal his death. Wilf has locked himself into a chamber that will soon be flooded with radiation. Though the Doctor first wails that it's unfair and that he doesn't want to die, ultimately he takes Wilf's place in the chamber. The radiation floods his body and the regeneration process begins. He has enough time left in his current body to visit his past companions - sometimes saving them, sometimes just interacting with them - before he regenerates into the Eleventh Doctor.

If the coda - the Doctor's "reward" - doesn't bring tears to your eyes, you might have the emotional center of a Cyberman.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" - Doctor Who, Series 3

My watching is again getting ahead of my writing, so I have to rely on memory and notes to wrap up the David Tennant years.

The Runaway Bride

Our introduction to the tornado that is Donna Noble. She starts off very angry - seemingly at the Doctor, but she's also angry at the way her life has been going: dead-end job, unsatisfying love life until her recent engagement, and her fiancé turns out to be an alien who is just using her. On top of that, she finds herself in the TARDIS. I like how her relationship with the Doctor grows over the course of Series 4.

Smith and Jones

We meet this season's companion, Martha Jones, medical student, who is the only person in her hospital to remain cool when the hospital is suddenly transported to the moon. Middling episode, though.

The Shakespeare Code

A grand time as we meet Will S. himself, writing his sequel to Love's Labours Lost, called Love's Labours Won. Lots of humor.


Just as the Doctor took Rose to New Earth, so does he take Martha there - only to find that much of the population has taken to the highways, so much so that they live their lives in endless, three-dimensional gridlock. Naturally, aliens are to blame. The Doctor gets to jump from car to car to find Martha before she becomes monster food. I presume the gridlock is an allegory to our congested highways and resource usage, but the episode didn't do much for me.

Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks

The Cult of Skaro has survived their earlier encounter with the Doctor through an "emergency temporal shift" and find themselves in 1930s Manhattan with a plan to integrate human DNA into themselves in order to…well, it's not clear. Make themselves more inventive and thus be able to overcome the Doctor? Add in the Depression, a Hooverville in Central Park, the building of the Empire State Building, and a showgirl in love, and you have a fun episode.

The Lazarus Experiment

An elderly scientist discovers a way to make himself young again - and suffers the consequences. Interesting back-and-forth between the scientist and the Doctor on the downsides of a long life, but ultimately a disappointing episode.


Trapped on board, the Doctor and Martha have only 42 minutes to stop a spaceship heading toward a sun. I liked how the episode unfolded nearly in real-time, but the plot was thin. Another disappointment.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood

In order to hide from a group of short-lived aliens who want the Doctor's body, he uses the Chameleon Arch to make himself a human named John Smith and to forget about his life as a Time Lord; he and Martha then hide out in 1913. John Smith works as a lecturer in a boys' school while Martha works as a maid. Even as he is hunted by the Family of Blood, the Doctor falls in love with a young widow. This is one of the great episodes of the series. At the end, Joan, the widow, tells the Doctor that the seemingly cowardly Smith was braver than he, the Doctor, was: while the Doctor hid from his enemies, Smith was willing to sacrifice his life to make things right.


In 2007, Sally Sparrow investigates a creepy old house, only to find messages from the Doctor from 1969. Another terrific, poignant story featuring the Weeping Angels that explores the nature of time travel.


Captain Jack Harkness returns and grabs hold of the TARDIS as it dematerializes. In an effort to shake him off, the TARDIS travels to the end of the universe, in the year 100 trillion. He, Martha, and the Doctor encounter the remnants of the human race are trying to escape to a place called "Utopia." A Professor Yana is unable to get the engines of the escape ship working. The Doctor helps him. Martha notices that the professor has a pocket watch just like the one "John Smith" had in the episode "Human Nature." Yana is revealed to be the Doctor's old enemy, the Time Lord who calls himself the Master, having used the Chameleon Arch to make himself human to flee the Time War. The Master steals the TARDIS, returning to Earth and stranding  the Doctor, Martha, and Jack.

The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords

Following on the previous episode, Jack uses his vortex manipulator to bring the Doctor and Martha to Earth where the Master, having taken the name Harold Saxon, has become Prime Minister. He uses the phone network to control the population and an "alien race" called the Toclafane as his army. He captures the Doctor and uses the Lazarus machine to age him. Martha escapes and, in the next year, travels the world, secretly preparing the human race to use the telephone network against the Master.

* * *

It's hard to recall the subtleties of this season because I've been spending my time watching the Matt Smith seasons. The good episodes stand out, while the so-so ones blend together. Tennant seems to get a fair amount of grief in the fan commentaries, but I rather like his Doctor. Most of the time he plays the role as very human, only occasionally reminding the viewer that, no indeed, he's not human at all. ("The Sound of Drums" most obviously.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

One Flower

The weather in Mayfair so far this winter had been mild, and the snows were not too deep. This was not the case throughout Caledon - witness nearby Rothesay, which was continuously covered in a deep white blanket.

Our luck was not destined to hold, however. Shortly after the new year, after I had recovered from the week-long hangover that resulted from an ill-planned New Year's party but before I forgot the pain involved with that incident, a winter storm raged across the seas from the Mainland, gathering strength over its long ocean journey. For two days the wind howled and snow descended with a fury, burying the landscape.

Kathy and I did not set foot outside our cottage, drinking endless cups of tea, re-reading favorite books, and generally getting on one another's nerves. When, on the third morning, the sun rose and we could see the endless cascade of snow had stopped falling, I could take no longer being confined to the house. Donning my warmest boots, coat, hat, muffler, scarf, and gloves, I forced open the front door - drifts of snow had risen nearly a third of the height of the door - and stepped into the white ocean.

I am not tall, and though the new snow was powdery I struggled to walk through its knee-high depth. For about a half-hour, the effort had a strangely calming effect, and I felt my grumpiness at Kathy dissipate. The next half-hour went by in a blur, with little in my head, and I walked as though in a trance. When I became aware of my surroundings again, I realized I was soaked through to the skin below the waist and freezing cold. Furthermore, I had no idea where I was.

Through my discomfort I realized it was crazy to think I was lost. I had lived in Caledon for years; I knew the place intimately. Yet I would have sworn I had never seen this area before. True, the landscape was different from its usual vibrant colors, displaying little more than a uniform shade of white. But where were the trees, the houses, the people? I was alone in a prairie of snow that extended as far as the eye could see.

The only thing that interrupted the snow was a small object far in the distance. Though hard to tell in the glare, the object appeared to be… a single Caledon rose, growing uncertainly through the blanket of snow. How could this be?

The exhaustion rippled through me as a wave. With single-minded focus, I staggered toward the rose. The rational part of my mind urged me to stop, to harness my fading strength and find shelter. But I was drawn to that unlikely, that impossible rose, alive and growing despite the efforts of Mother Nature. I forced myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, slowly drawing nearer to my prize.

Close now. The rose - and, indeed, it was a Caledon rose - was tantalizingly near. With the last of my strength, I reached out to the flower as though it would re-energize me. I extended my arm, extended my fingers… and found myself falling face first into the snow.

* * *

 I woke in my house, in the parlor, Kathy hovering anxiously over me. Someone - Kathy, I hope - had taken off my wet overclothes and swathed me in layers of blankets. "Welcome back, Rhianon. You gave us quite a scare." I looked around, realizing that the parlor contained a number of my neighbors. I felt very under-dressed.

"What happened?"

"When I finally left my bed, I saw that you were gone. When you didn't return for several hours, I inquired with our neighbors as to whether they had seen you. We followed your footprints in the snow to the meadow behind the house. You had collapsed in the meadow and were freezing to death. Now drink this chicken broth. You're not too old to be bossed around by your elder sister."

"And the rose?"

"The rose? Whatever are you talking about?"

"The Caledon rose, growing out of the snow."

"Sister, you must be more ill than I had thought. How could a rose grow this time of year, much less through the snow?"

I sipped the broth. How indeed? How could I have become lost in the small meadow? So much of what we see is illusion.

(Written to Bella Morte's Where Shadows Lie album, especially "Winter" and "December Dreams," and to Dinosaur Jr.'s I Bet on Sky.)