Sunday, April 28, 2013

Travels with the Doctor

Having whizzed through the modern revival of Doctor Who, naturally it was time to take a look at some of the classic episodes.

With 156 (mostly) multi-part stories in the show's 26 seasons - plus the 1996 movie - to choose from, I've only scratched the surface. Nonetheless, I'm fortunate that BBC America is showing a serial from each of the Doctors in honor of the show's 50th anniversary, with the first two monthly programs already aired. I was thus able to see  "The Aztecs" (First Doctor) and "The Tomb of the Cyberemen" (Second Doctor) for free. Thanks to iTunes and the magic of, I also saw
  • "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (First Doctor)
  • "Spearhead from Space" (Third Doctor)
  • "The Three Doctors" (well, just as the title says)
  • "Carnival of Monsters" (Third)
  • "The Green Death" (Third)
  • "The Time Warrior" (Third)
  • "Planet of the Spiders" (Third)
  • "Robot" (Fourth Doctor)
  • "The Ark in Space" (Fourth)
  • "Genesis of the Daleks" (Fourth)
  • "Pyramids of Mars" (Fourth)
  • "The Brain of Morbius" (Fourth)
  • "The Deadly Assassin" (Fourth)
  • "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Fourth)
  • "The Keeper of Traken" (Fourth)
  • "Logopolis" (Fourth)
  • "Castrovalva" (Fifth Doctor)
  • "Black Orchid" (Fifth)
  • "Earthshock" (Fifth)
  • "The Five Doctors" (yes, well, exactly)
  • "Planet of Fire" (Fifth)
  • "The Caves of Androzani" (Fifth)
  • "The Two Doctors" (Second and Sixth Doctors)
  • "Ghost Light" (Seventh Doctor)
  • "The Curse of Fenric" (Seventh)
  • "Survival" (Seventh)
  • "Doctor Who: The Movie" (Eighth Doctor)
As one can see, the good Doctor has been keeping me busy. Still in the queue are a number of other stories.

One problem with the earlier stories, particularly in the Troughton years, is the number of missing episodes. At the time, the networks, including the BBC, would re-use the master tapes, a problem I ran into when watching the early seasons of The Avengers. Many of the lost masters were replaced by other copies, from fans of the show, while still others were re-created in various ways.

The contrast between the classic and new shows is vast. The special effects are terrible and the looks - 60s, 70s, and 80s clothes and hairstyles, old monochrome CRTs that are supposed to represent the height of futuristic technology - are dated, but just as important are differences in writing, story arcs, and pacing. The four- or even six-part stories of 25 minutes each, with a brief reprise of the previous episode's cliffhanger to start subsequent episodes, requires a big commitment on the part of the viewer, and presents a challenging plotting problem for the writers.

The modern series provides neatly-wrapped 45 minute episodes (generally speaking, at least), season-long story arcs, and fast-paced action. In both the classic and new series, plot holes big enough to pilot a star liner through are legion, but my sense is that the plotting has improved in the revival.

Most of the Doctors have had their own distinct charms. The First was the stern, grandfatherly sort, while the Second was a clown - until it mattered, at which point he would assert himself. The Third was a man of action, the James Bond of the series. The Fourth looked and acted a little crazy, enjoying his jokes and antics in the face of danger. The Fifth was unassuming, almost to the point of having little screen presence, but was kindly and seemed sincerely fond of his companions. The Sixth was full of himself, and that outfit was retina-killing, and he didn't seem to be very nice at all, at least from my single story with him. I can see why he didn't go over well with the viewing public, though Colin Baker has said that his two-season stint did not give him enough time to develop and "unpeel" his character. The Seventh was an eccentric English gentleman, the Eighth an action hero who also seemed at ease with himself, the Ninth a war-weary veteran with an unexpected sense of humor, the Tenth a happy-go-lucky sort with an occasional cruel streak, and the Eleventh an overgrown child who likes to unravel mysteries.

It's interesting to me that every commentary I've read on the show accepts the idea that one of the Doctors is "my Doctor," the one with whom an individual viewer most strongly identifies. I wonder how much of that is driven by the fact that, until recently, a viewer started watching the show during the tenure of one of the Doctors, identified with that one, and saw subsequent versions as inferior. (This is similar to fan opinion on which James Bond is the "best," I suspect.) However, while I started with the revival of the series and Eccleston's Doctor, I watched all three 21st century versions of the character in short order, and then watched only a handful of each of the classic series Doctors. In terms of the number of episodes, "my" Doctor should be Tenannt or Smith. Seeing the classic show at the same time as the new one, and seeing stories out of order, creates less of a continual narrative than one in which all time is occurring at once (to paraphrase a line in "The Wedding of River Song"). True, the quality of the stories changes from season to season, and some Doctors have been saddled with weaker writers, but each brings something interesting to the show.

Soldiering on… Next up: Season 16, and the season-long story arc of the Key to Time.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aether Salon - Steamwave

April's Aether Salon brought Miss Emilly Orr to New Babbage to discuss Steampunk music - "Steamwave," in her term. Miss Orr's blog has long discussed Steampunk music, among many topics, both Second Life-related and related to her excursions around the Aetherwebs.

Miss Orr spoke broadly of Steamwave, describing it, in part, as "mak[ing] art that is fiercely individual." She pointed to a group, Steam Powered Giraffe, as a prototypical Steamwave band. Later, she observed that the kind of music that fell into the category was fluid, including musicians who incorporated rap into their songs, such as Professor Elemental, Mr. B, the Gentleman Rhymer, and the Desert Rose Theatre (in their takeoff of "Baby Got Back," entitled "Lady Has Bustle").

Unfortunately, about three-quarter of the way through Miss Orr's talk, I fell into a swoon - too much absinthe too early in the day, I fear - and missed the end. [Or the typist opened one program too far and Firestorm crashed. Take your pick.] Nonetheless, the entire talk is available at the Aetheric site of the Aether Salon.

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Miss Orr

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Baron Klaus Wulfenbach with Miss Orr

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Some of the attendees. Though the Salon looks sparsely populated in these pictures, at one point the two Babbage sims had 29 residents, all at the Salon.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Victorian Fantasy: Lord Dunsany

This month's meeting of "Magic, Monsters, and Other Worlds: The Fantastic in Victorian Literature" featured three stories by the writer Lord  Dunsany: "The Sword of Welleran," "The Fall of Babbulkund," and "The Highwaymen." (All three are available in the volume The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories.)

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Sir JJ Drinkwater

Ably led as always by Sir JJ Drinkwater, we had a lively discussion about Lord Dunsany's writing style - florid, deliberately archaic, and, as Sir JJ commented, reminiscent of the language of the King James Bible - and about the stories themselves.

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Mr. Rory Torrance and Mr. Muse Starsmith

"The Sword of Welleran" describes the town of Merimna, and the great heroes that defended the city against foreign invaders years before, and Rold, who took up arms to defend the city in its time of need. "The Fall of Babbulkund" tells the story of a group of travelers, bound for the legendary city of Babbulkund, who heard stories of the wonders of the city from fellow travelers. However, before the group reached the city, it was destroyed." "The Highwaymen" tells of a hanged highwayman, Tom O' the Roads, and his friends who returned to bury him. Strange tales indeed.

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Miss Ellie Edo

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Mr. Zantyago Mannonen

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Miss Herndon Bluebird

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Your humble scribe

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Miss Jessie Darwin

Next month, the group will be discussing two poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "The Lady of Shallot" and "The Lotus Eaters."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Trip Down Neva River

Neva River is a private sim owned by Neva Crystall, and is open to the public only periodically. It was open from March 20 to April 7, and reflects "hidden valleys, moss covered paths and fresh sea air."
Here are a few shots I took while there:

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sometimes I'd Prefer not to be a Member of the Human Race

The (largely uncovered) story of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is horrifying beyond belief. From screaming babies to filthy conditions to infecting patients to disparate treatment based on race, the story is stomach-turning.

The news media obsess over some stories, but others seem to exist in a vacuum.

The political Right wants to make this a story about abortion and my guess is the political Left - and their allies in the media - don't want to cover the story because then it's a story about abortion. But it's not a story about abortion, not really. It's about despicable, dehumanizing medical treatment. It's about the failure of regulatory agencies to do their jobs. It's a reminder of the darkness that sometimes lurks within humans.

It strikes me that's a story worth covering, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Recently on Twitter, one (quasi-) celebrity retweeted another (quasi-) celebrity with a gratuitous swipe at Christians. The exact swipe isn't important. It's part of the usual drivel from a certain kind of atheist, the kind that is not content with his or her state of non-belief, but must insist that he or she instruct others in the rightness of that state of mind. I think of those people as the non-believer equivalent of the guy who stands on the street corner and tells you you're going to Hell for some reason or the other.
It's interesting that these strident folk will attack Christianity, often for being narrow-minded yahoos who have the bad sense to have faith in an unseen being, but those same folk will not say a thing about, say, Islam or Judaism, or any small religion. Wiccans, you're safe from ridicule from atheists. (Mitt Romney might have lost the election, but he can take solace in the knowledge that the atheists in this country surely believe that Mormons are Christians; otherwise they would not have felt so comfortable attacking his religion.)

Just the other day, a story on the Aetherwebs claimed that the student government association at Johns Hopkins University denied a pro-life group official status. One member compared the group to a white supremacist organization while another said that "we have the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable. Why should people have to defend their beliefs on their way to class?" The right to be "comfortable" - at a university, no less! Who'd have thunk it?

These strident complainers are usually the first to preach tolerance - for causes they support. Gay marriage? Better not say anything against it. Same with illegal immigration, "green" energy, gun control, or any other trendy cause. Speak out against any of those issues and one becomes a pariah. Complain about their anti-Christian rants, however, and you're accused of trying to suppress their FIrst Amendment rights.

Guys, it's not about First Amendment rights, it's not about your right to think and believe anything you want. It's about civility, and our interest as a society in getting along with people of different beliefs.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Flying the Black Kite

Black Kite is a private sim open to the public, below 100 meters, at least, and excluding the owner's house. It's a very atmospheric place, filled with shimmering green and blue hues and plenty of places to sit and chat.*

The telehub takes visitors to a welcome sign and a weathered bench.

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The island has a number of houses and rooms, including this one, with musical equipment.

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Below, a house surrounded by ships in bottles.

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The bunny looks hungry. Can he come in?

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*As it's not an Adult-rated sim, sit and chat are the operative words.