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!)