Gone but not forgotten

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to this blog – over a year, judging by the date of the last posted entry. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one of them is not a loss of interest in Doctor Who. Not at all. Though there are a lot of other things I do, it still consumes my life. I don’t get to watch episodes that often (and there are still many, many classic stories I have never seen), but I’m almost constantly thinking about the show in some way. I listen to audios to and from work. I write fanfiction. I discuss the show with friends, both local and online. I went to Gallifrey One this year and met some of the most amazing people, both fellow fans and people who work on the show.

Part of my inattention to this blog stems from having a sense of not having enough time to keep it up. It takes me a long time to compose even a short, simple post, and usually my posts are neither. I do love to organize my thoughts about different aspects of the show and get them down on paper (I’ve always loved writing), but, as you know, life changes and the time you used to have to devote to an activity evaporates. I would like to start keeping this up and I’m going to try, but I can’t promise anything.

Another large part of my absence has been caused by the show itself. One of my most recent posts was about my disappointment with Series 8. It was written before Series 9 was aired and expressed hopes that the upcoming season would be much better. Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Series 9 made many of the same mistakes I felt it made with Series 8. It continued to deviate from the adventure format that had served it so well for the previous fifty years and instead concentrated on the relationship and friction between the Doctor and the companion. What adventure that was there seemed to be contrived to make a point, rather than a story of conflict and solution that happened to have a broader point (best demonstrated by the terrible writing and setup in the Zygon episodes to push the characters to the final scene and the Doctor’s speech about the follies of war, but also by all of the episodes involving Ashildr). “Face the Raven” was an exploration of the kind of trap that must be woven to catch the Doctor and gave Clara a beautiful and fitting ending, and of course “Heaven Sent” was a masterpiece, but both were thrown away with the travesty that was “Hell Bent”.

I could go on, but I won’t – there’s no point other than to complain. Just like with Series 8, Series 9 left me angry and upset that the show that I loved so much was just so bad. The announcement that Steven Moffat was leaving after Series 10 and Chris Chibnall was going to be the new showrunner elated me, because I could hope that he will turn the show away from its current angst-fest direction and steer it back to a more story-driven course. Mr. Chibnall’s Doctor Who episodes have the adventure feel to them, even though some have been, well, terrible (I’m looking at you, “Power of Three”). And, of course, I’m a huge Broadchurch fan, and I’ve always loved “42”.

But back to my point. I stopped writing here after Series 9 debuted because I want to keep this blog to its purpose, which is documenting my explorations into the Doctor Who universe and fandom. While that does mean criticizing the show when it deserves it – and there are tons of episodes and audios out there that are just plain bad – I want to keep the tone of this blog positive; after all, I still love Doctor Who. There is, sadly, very little positive I can say about Series 8 and Series 9, and since, at the time, Series 9 was the only thing to really talk about, I had nothing to say here. And then, of course, I forgot about this blog for a while.

Hopefully, though, I’m back, to talk about all the things I love about Doctor Who. That means the classic show, the modern show from Series 1 through “The Day of the Doctor” (well… Series 7 was really shaky…), and the Big Finish audios. I think that a lot of my posts are going to be reviews, to jot down what I liked or didn’t like about things, especially the audios (there’s just too many of them to remember). And there’ll be a bit about the fandom itself, as I attend conventions, recommend some fan artists I like, and discuss DW fanfiction. There’s just too much to love!

“Short Trips: Repercussions”

Short_Trips_RepercussionsBetween 1998 and 2009, BBC Books then later Big Finish published 32 books of short stories in a series called “Short Trips” featuring all of the classic Doctors. The idea of this appeals to me mostly because I rarely find myself sitting down to read an entire novel, but short stories are nice bite-sized chunks. These books are all out of print, but I’m working on collecting them, and the first of these that I’ve read is “Short Trips: Repercussions”.

Spoilers to some extent.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I knew that the stories all had to do with the repercussions of the Doctor’s actions, and that it dealt with how the Web of Time is affected by his meddling, but that’s a pretty vague notion. What I didn’t know was that the stories were all connected to each other by an overarching story. At the very start of the book, Charley wakes up on an airship that she knows is not the R101, but she doesn’t know where she is and the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. She asks around and she finds out that everyone on board knows the Doctor. Some of them like him, some hate him, and some are indifferent, but they’re all going in the same direction; what direction that is, Charley doesn’t know. The Steward on board suggests that she learn their stories, and that forms the basis of the anthology. It’s all rather like The Canterbury Tales in that all of the stories are titled “The _______’s Story”, everyone has a story to tell, and they help pass the time on their journey.

As Charley hears the stories, she realizes what they all have in common: everyone telling the story had their life significantly altered by the Doctor, usually either by chance or as a result of something he was doing that was only tangentially related to them. For example, when visiting a planet where a colony had died years back, the Doctor discovers the ghost of girl who wants to come back to life. He realizes that the girl and the colony had been killed by a semi-sentient lichen, and having accidentally brought some of the lichen into the TARDIS had given the lichen the ability to project a shadow of the girl’s consciousness. This tormented ghost of the girl should never have existed, but he created her by accident. The point is that whatever the Doctor does has repercussions: some bigger than others, but it’s something he always has to be aware of.

In short, I enjoyed the book. Of the sixteen stories, there were two or three that I really didn’t like, but the rest were average or above. These are the tales I enjoyed the most.

“The Rag and Bone Man’s Story”: Unlike most of the stories in this book, the repercussions for this man were beneficial, rather than harmful. While at Coal Hill School, Susan uses what amounts to a good luck crystal to try to get her fellow students to like her. When it backfires, she buries it, and the protagonist of the story finds it. It brings him incredible luck, giving him a comfortable life and a family. This story was well-written, and didn’t end in misfortune and despair, as I expected it to.

“The Inquisitor’s Story”: The titular Inquisitor condemns the Doctor for having saved the life of a child that was being executed at the time because their seers had foretold that the child would grow up to be a cruel, brutal tyrant who caused a civil war in which millions had died. That foretelling had come true, and when the Doctor returned to the world, he was taken prisoner to pay for the deaths of all those people. This story explores all of the ways to view such an event and the results of that action. The characterization of the Doctor in this story was perfect.

“The Schoolboy’s Story”: Bobby, an intelligent but timid boy, travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, but he finds that telling people about his adventures, and maintaining that he’s telling the truth, as his parents and teachers have always told him he must do, doesn’t have the effect he expects.

“The Juror’s Story”: I heard about this story, and it’s the reason I bought the book, and it didn’t disappoint. The First Doctor is on trial for murder and is pleading self-defense, having killed a young girl who he claims was a werewolf and was about to kill him. The debate in the juror’s room slowly changes the opinion from all but one saying he’s guilty to a unanimous vote of not guilty. How the verdict is transforms so completely is just wonderful Doctor Who.

“The Tramp’s Story”: The Doctor saves a tramp’s life. Why? This one is a little hard to get into, as it’s written in snippets from the point of view of a number of people who are tangential to the tramp’s story, but once you get used to the cadence, it’s rather brilliant.

 

 

“The War Games”

The War Lord, the War Chief, and the Security Chief

The War Lord, the War Chief, and the Security Chief

There’s just so many classic Doctor Who episodes that it’s often very difficult to choose one to watch. So, one night recently, we decided to roll a die to choose the Doctor, and it came up ‘2’. I then listed out the Second Doctor episodes we have, and we both yelled out at the same time, “The War Games”! I believe we both had the same idea in choosing that one: we wanted to see the Second Doctor’s regeneration into the Third Doctor.

I pulled down the DVD and opened the case and read the labels on the discs: Episodes 1-5 and Episodes 6-10. Ten episodes! That’s nearly five hours for one story! With a bit of trepidation, we started it up and settled in. We ended up watching the first four episodes on one night, then the last six three nights later.

Summary first, so spoilers!

The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land in the trenches what seems to be World War I, where they are arrested by the British forces for possibly being German spies. The commander of the British forces, General Smythe, runs them through a farce of a trial, condemning the Doctor to death, declaring Jamie a deserter from the Scottish regiment and ordering him to be sent back there, and sentencing Zoe to return back to civilian lands. However, it’s very obvious that he’s using some kind of hypnotic suggestion to convince the soldiers to believe that the three outsiders are spies. After the Doctor escapes being executed, the three of them, plus Lieutenant Carstairs and Lady Jennifer (a nurse), who seem to have broken through the hypnosis, begin investigating and find that they’re not on Earth, but instead are on some alien world which is partitioned into multiple areas, one for different Earth wars, and the soldiers there have been lifted from their times on Earth to fight the battles here instead. This turns out to be all an experiment run by an alien called the War Lord, to find the best human soldiers to create an army with which to take over the universe. The War Lord is assisted by a renegade Time Lord called the War Chief, who provided the space-time machines (the SIDRATs) used to transport the soldiers to the battle zones. The Doctor defeats the War Lord, but cannot contain him or return all the soldiers to their appropriate times, so he is forced to call in the Time Lords to take care of it. After finding the War Lord guilty of his crimes and dematerializing him, they also find the Doctor guilty of interfering and force him to regenerate, exiling him to Earth.

Ok, summary done.

With such a short summary, it’s impossible to convey just what happens during the episode that takes five hours to tell the story. There’s a lot of fleeing different armies that consider the TARDIS crew spies, traveling around trying to find out what’s going on, and then later, the aliens trying to contain the Doctor and figure out why he’s there and what he’s trying to do. There’s a bit of cat and mouse going on as the Doctor learns more and more and starts trying to sabotage what the aliens are doing. The most amazing thing about this episode, though, is that though the story takes five hours, it is riveting throughout the whole thing. It is paced a little slow for modern tastes, as are most of the classic episodes, but there actually was never a moment the entire time in which I sat there unentertained. There was always something going on, and it all was important. I have a tendency to play Doctor Who: Legacy on my iPad while watching shows, and I kept it next to me during “The War Games”, but never once had any urge to play it – I wanted to keep my eyes on the screen. As a counterexample, I play DW:L all the way through Arrow episodes, because though they’re interesting enough, the plots of the individual episodes and the characters are never compelling enough to warrant my full attention.

One of the side plots of the episode was the relationship between the War Chief and the Security Chief. The Security Chief didn’t trust the War Chief, especially when he found out that the Doctor was a fellow Time Lord, suspecting that the War Chief called him in to assist him in overthrowing the War Lord. The War Chief did intend to overthrow the War Lord but not with the Doctor’s help, and he hated the Security Chief because he was always in his way. Both characters were played almost to a hammy extent, but it worked well, giving them both very alien personas.

It’s always a little difficult taking the special effects seriously in these old serials, and the thing that made us giggle the most were the computers and the SIDRAT controls. In this episode, they were basically refrigerator magnets of different shapes. Need to dematerialize the SIDRAT? Twist that U-shaped magnet on the panel. How about deactivating the control panel? Just take the magnets off the panel. It was absolutely hilarious, but on the other hand, it was rather ingenious. Why do highly-advanced Time Lord controls need to look like levers and toggles and dials? Why can’t they be simple-looking inscrutable shapes on a flat panel?

So, bottom line, this was an excellent episode that was completely worth the time. I’m not sure I will watch it again, simply because it is so long, but it was enjoyable and I highly recommend it as a fantastic classic story.

Thoughts on Series 9

DWTMAI realized today that Series 9 has been in production for a few months now and I hadn’t even thought about it. I mean, not at all. And that saddened me. At this time last year, we were barely able to hold in our excitement for the next season and didn’t know how we would be able to survive the anticipation until August. What a contrast! This year, I don’t even know when the show is slated to return. A co-worker mentioned that he heard it was this fall, and my first thought was simply, “Yes, that’s a reasonable time.” I didn’t even bother to go look to see if there was a more precise date.

What happened? Was Series 8 that disappointing? I have to admit, yes. I try very hard to keep this blog positive, and because of that, you might notice that I’ve posted very little about Series 8. There were a couple of great episodes – “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” had me on the edge of my seat – but for the most part, I found them to be average or below, with a couple of real stinkers. (Sorry, Mr. Moffat, but if you have to tell the media that you believe that despite popular opinion, you think that in a few years that people will realize that “In the Forest of the Night” was fantastic and that it will be emerge to be a classic, you’ve pretty much tacitly admitted that it was terrible.)

But you know, one bad season doesn’t doom a show, at least in my eyes. The presence of some good episodes and interesting themes and plots demonstrates that the show has the potential that captured my imagination two years ago. The thing is, in order for me to have faith in that potential, it also has to demonstrate that something’s going to change, and that, unfortunately, hasn’t been evident.

My problem with the current show centers around Clara. During Series 7b, she was a non-character: simply a chipper, bubbly companion that served as a puzzle for the Doctor to solve, with a personality and skill set that changed depending on what the episode plot needed her to do. Sometimes she was bold and confident, other times she was scared and timid. Sometimes the TARDIS disliked her, other times the TARDIS did what she wanted and talked directly to her (something the TARDIS doesn’t do with any other companion and was explicitly mentioned in “The Doctor’s Wife” that the TARDIS doesn’t do, even with the Doctor). Then she became the Doctor’s savior, making everything he’s accomplished dependent on her, which was both an interesting mechanic and a disappointing deconstruction of the hero. And then suddenly, in “The Time of the Doctor”, she fancied the Doctor, something there was no hint of before this.

Once the Clara puzzle was solved, we hoped that she’d be developed as real person. For the first time since Moffat took over the show, the companion was given some other person in her life to interact with that wasn’t a member of the TARDIS crew: Danny Pink. I’ll admit that I didn’t really like the character of Danny – ill-defined, whiny, kind of always had a deer-in-headlights expression – but it always felt to me that he existed not to be Clara’s life beyond the TARDIS but to provide someone to oppose the Doctor. He was presented as an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, and yet the PTSD never manifested except in his reactions to the control-happy Doctor; meanwhile, the Doctor, having been designed as soldier-hating, only viewed him as a soldier and refused to consider him anything else.

The writers worked really hard to bring Clara and Danny together – making Clara to basically force herself on him after Danny refused her multiple times, and then again after Danny told her to get lost at the end of their disastrous date – almost as if they couldn’t imagine that these two people would normally hook up. But once they kissed, suddenly they were in love. I remember Clara talking to him on the phone and saying, “I love you,” the episode after that first date, and it was shocking to hear that; no show time was spent showing that their relationship had gotten serious. That’s one of the major problems with Series 9: it tried to give Clara a life and a relationship, without actually developing them on camera. And since Danny was only important as Clara’s hanger-on, he never developed on his own. Danny only appeared whenever they needed to make the point that Clara had a reason to not want to travel with the Doctor, to show Clara lying to one or both of them, or to have Danny argue directly with the Doctor. To me, the only time that Danny actually appeared to mean something to Clara was in “Last Christmas”, in the dream sequence where she’s celebrating Christmas with him. In all other interactions, I wondered why Danny (or Clara, for that matter) was sticking around.

So, Clara’s normal life didn’t work well, but what about her self? She didn’t start well, trying to deny that the Doctor had changed and hoping to find a way to bring the old Doctor back, even though she’s the one person who knows exactly what regeneration means and how the Doctor changes faces and personalities. Then, throughout the season, she fixates on two things: lying and trying to be the Doctor. Multiple storylines dealt with her calling the Doctor to task for what she decided was lying, while simultaneously lying to both the Doctor and Danny. Then she starts trying to be the Doctor without really understanding what being the Doctor actually means. After a series and a half of adventures, you’d think she’d know that the Doctor is a complex blend of exploring, universe-guarding, moral choices, and self-sacrifice, but instead, she thinks it’s a formula that she can follow to lead people out of danger. And when she does successfully follow her formula, she demands to be complimented on  her performance.

All in all, Clara comes across as very self-absorbed, obsessive, and controlling. I disliked Rose Tyler because of the way she manipulated her men – the Doctor, Mickey, Adam, Jack – leading them about by their noses and flaring with jealousy the moment they looked away, but Clara actively sets hers against each other to secure their devotion to her. And unlike Rose, who was a teenager with a background that explained how she became the woman she was, Clara had an about-face in personality between Series 7 and 8, as if the writers suddenly decided she needed personality flaws to be interesting and started adding them. There was no character development, just sudden shifts, much like the sudden shift from her first date with Danny to being deeply in love with each other.

Then, at the end of “Death in Heaven”, Clara and the Doctor has one of the best scenes in the entire series. For each character, things have turned out poorly, but the other believes they’ve turned out well. Both characters realize that their lives and their relationship has been terrible for the past year and that it would be better for the other person if they went their separate ways letting the other person think that everything turned out well for them: the Doctor thinks that Danny is alive and that Clara will be happy with him, and Clara thinks that the Doctor found Gallifrey and is going to return to his people. Sacrificing their own welfare, each of them puts on a happy face and tells the other that everything’s great, and they part.

Oh my god: character growth! Two selfish characters (yes, the Doctor was selfish all the way through the series, too) learn to give up what they desperately want, for someone else. It was a gorgeous scene, and with Clara in particular, it strengthened her in a similar manner as Martha’s departure strengthened her… only to be dashed one minute later with Santa appearing to tell the Doctor to go fix her. Yes, it doesn’t completely negate her moment of growth, but she no longer needs to follow through on her sacrifice for the Doctor (and vice-versa). And at the end of “Last Christmas”, everyone’s happy and she doesn’t have a care in the universe again, because she’s back in the TARDIS. She’s not even mourning Danny anymore, because a dream her mind invented told her that she doesn’t need to. I once read an article which talked about how the story arcs of the Eleventh Doctor moved him away from working through moral problems and towards “cheat codes” so that he didn’t have to make choices, and this trend continues in the current show.

And that’s why I am not enthusiastic about Series 9. No, I don’t like Clara, who is returning, but that’s only a very small part of the problem. It’s the writing, the poor plots, and the schizophrenic character and development design that’s turning me off, and all the way to the end of Series 8, that trend continues. Is it likely that it’s going to change in Series 9? I don’t see any evidence of that. I could see myself enjoying Clara if her story and personality and reactions were in any way understandable (I point back to my opinion of Rose, another character I don’t like, but whose story I liked because the character was well-developed and progressed naturally in response to her experiences), but it doesn’t seem likely that their handling of her, or the Doctor or any other character, is going to change. I’ll watch the new series when it debuts, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Sorting the Doctor

Hogwarts_School_of_Witchcraft_and_Wizardry_Coat_of_ArmsAt work, we use the program HipChat as our official IM client, which is particularly useful because it makes it easy to set up chat rooms to work with people remotely. Of course, one of the first rooms we set up was for discussions of <i>Doctor Who</i>. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the one who set it up. We have about eight regulars in there, even though there are plenty of people in the company who are devoted fans, as well as quite a number of casual fans.

I’m not quite sure how we got on the topic, but today, we started Sorting the Doctors into Hogwarts houses, and it was quite an interesting exercise. We had to first agree what the houses stood for, since their descriptions in the Harry Potter novels aren’t always consistent (Hufflepuff is described as comprised of people whose main trait is loyalty, yet the founder of the house is said to welcome all comers) and aren’t always realistic. (Why are all the evil kids in Slytherin ? I think Sluggy Freelance said it’s so that it’s easier to keep an eye on them.) This is what we came up with.

  • Hufflepuff – Loyalty, and to a lesser extent, compassion
  • Slytherin – Cunning, which is not the same as evil. Possibly domineering and/or manipulative.
  • Ravenclaw – Intelligence, a devotion to learning and exploring
  • Gryffindor – Courage, with an emphasis on doing what’s right

Then came the Sorting. It’s harder to do than you think. All of the Doctors are brave (though some more than others), but does a particular incarnation favor a different trait more? Are you actually considering the definition, as opposed to the way the students were portrayed in the books? For example, when we discussed the Fifth Doctor, everyone immediately said Hufflepuff, because he’s known for being placid and calm and, well, “vanilla” was the word that was bandied about. However, that’s the way the Hufflepuffs were portrayed in the books, but the trait we’re looking for here is loyalty, which is not particularly applicable to the Fifth Doctor. Sure, he was devoted to his companions, but beyond that, he was a scholar and an explorer. Not a Hufflepuff.

So, without further ado, here is the way we Sorted the Doctors.

First Doctor: Slytherin

I will admit, our group is not particularly conversant with the First Doctor, but we all agreed immediately that he belonged in Slytherin. He was definitely the master of his TARDIS crew and always convinced that he knew the best.

Second Doctor: Hufflepuff

The Second Doctor is probably the least Gryffindor of all the incarnations. He’s another one that we’re not too familiar with, but from what little we do know, he was very protective of his crew (we’re most familiar with Jamie and Victoria).

Third Doctor: Ravenclaw

UNIT’s scientific adviser was always working in his lab, and then once he was able to leave Earth, he enjoyed exploring. I would put Gryffindor as a secondary choice.

Fourth Doctor: Gryffindor

The Fourth Doctor could be Ravenclaw or Slytherin, but we decided that his courage is really what set him apart. He walked into any situation without fear, taking control and turning it around.

Fifth Doctor: Ravenclaw

As I discussed above, the Fifth Doctor’s life was devoted to exploration and learning.

Sixth Doctor: Gryffindor

Our first instinct for the Sixth Doctor was to put him in Slytherin, because of his reputation of being supercilious and manipulative. However, even though he was very arrogant, he always displayed a strong desire to do what’s right, no matter what it takes. And that puts him in Gryffindor.

Seventh Doctor: Slytherin

This wasn’t even a question. The Seventh Doctor is easily the most cunning of the incarnations, using his unremarkable physical appearance to lull his enemies into thinking they have the upper hand and then easily turning it around on them.

Eighth Doctor: Hufflepuff

Another incarnation the group in general was not familiar with, in my (limited) experience, the Eighth Doctor was fanatically devoted to his companions. His love of exploration would make Ravenclaw a secondary choice.

War Doctor: Hufflepuff

Interestingly, we chose Hufflepuff over Gryffindor for the soldier. His defining trait is his compassion, not his courage.

Ninth Doctor: Gryffindor

Coming off the Time War, the Ninth Doctor wanted to make up for his sins by doing good wherever he went. That was his driving force, and it puts him in Gryffindor.

Tenth Doctor: Ravenclaw

This was a hard decision. The Tenth Doctor was certainly brave and tried to do what was right, but was also the most tempted by power, and so could easily have been a Gryffindor or a Slytherin. However, his main focus was exploration, and his love of technology puts him in Ravenclaw.

Eleventh Doctor: Hufflepuff

This was also a hard decision. All of the Eleventh Doctor’s storylines (the Pandorica, Lake Silencio, the Impossible Girl) were all about his manipulation of events and his enemies, and so our first instinct was Slytherin. However, we decided that his defining trait was his devotion to Amy, and to a lesser extent, Clara. Thus, Hufflepuff.

Twelfth Doctor: Slytherin

The Twelfth Doctor is all about cunning and manipulation.

So there you have it, all of the Doctors neatly Sorted. Four Hufflepuffs, three Gryffindors, three Ravenclaws, and three Slytherins. There’s certainly a lot of room for discussion here: the four Houses overlap a lot, and no realistic character embodies only one personality trait. What do you think?

“The Dark Husband”

thedarkhusbandUsually, when I decide to listen to a Doctor Who audio, I look through the list of audios I own and choose one that sounds interesting. However, with a couple of hours to kill and no Internet connection, I pulled out my iPod and chose a random  audio to listen to, and it was “The Dark Husband”, the 106th audio in the main range, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex. Unfortunately, it turned out to be pretty disappointing.

Spoilers, of course.

For a bit of a break, the Doctor takes Ace and Hex to what he calls the greatest festival in the galaxy, on a gorgeous planet. When they get there, they discover that the planet is in the middle of a centuries-long war between the two different races on the planet, the red-haired soldiers called the Ri and the bald philosophers called the Ir, who both worship their god, Tuin. The festival does occur as scheduled, as it’s the one time when truce is called and all hostilities are set aside. The Doctor then announces that he actually knew that the planet had been at war and had come here to stop the war by offering himself as the Suitor. He’s immediately proclaimed to be the Dark Husband, and the search is begun for the Shining Wife, and the war is to end when the two are married.

As the search proceeds, the priests of Tuin tie the Doctor up to be sacrificed to the god by fire. Ace fights through the crowd and soldiers to get to him to free him, and is proclaimed to be the Shining Wife, the woman who shows the sought-after bravery. However, before the ceremony can continue, Hex then offers himself to be the Dark Husband, to free the Doctor from having to marry Ace (and possibly for his own reasons as well…) The two are then mind-controlled by the god, and the Doctor discovers that the marriage is followed by combat: the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife are destined to fight until one of them is killed.

Through talking to the Ri and Ir friends that he’s made, the Doctor discovers what’s really going on. The planet, Tuin, is the god that the Ri and Ir worship, and it wanted to create the perfect species but couldn’t decide which was better, strength or cunning, so it created the two races and had them fight each other. Since they couldn’t overcome each other, it then decided that once each side had its champion, the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, the two would fight, and it would transform all of individuals on the planet into the winning race. The problem, of course, is that the two champions were human, so no matter which one won, the planet would not be able to transform the people into the champion’s race and the entire species would die. At the last moment, the Doctor’s Ri and Ir friends declared themselves the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, then chose to die together, forcing the planet to create the species from both of them, at last uniting the two races into a whole.

The overall story was interesting enough, but it went at a plodding pace, with not much happening for most of the story. The side characters – the Ri and Ir friends – were rather two-dimensional, with the Ri soldier only interested in fighting and drinking and the Ir philosopher only interested in making snarky comments; this was disappointing because Doctor Who is usually really good at creating interesting, deep guest characters. It also felt really weird that the Doctor decided to offer himself as the Suitor when he really had no idea what that entailed at all. The war had been going on for thousands of years and no one had ever offered themselves as the Suitor, so you’d think that the Doctor would wonder why.

The one strength of the story was that it had humorous dialogue and the banter was great. It also gave me (someone who doesn’t listen to audios in the right order) a little taste of Hex, though I think I need to listen to some of his earlier stories to really see his character progression.

Bottom line, though, I wouldn’t recommend this audio; there are far better ones out there to listen to.

Raleigh Comicon, 2015

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written here! The main reason is that, well, I’ve become much more busy at work, moving into a new position that I’m not quite comfortable with, as well as the coincidental timing of a huge project at work: two weeks of eleven-hour days (including eight hours each day during the weekend) has not been conducive to watching/listening to much Doctor Who, much less writing in my journal. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about it – it’s still what I think about when I’m not busy – but I just haven’t had the time to devote to it.

However, the big project is done and I’ve had some time to decompress, just in time for the 10th anniversary of the debut of modern series. On March 26, 2005, “Rose” was broadcast in Britain to a very appreciative audience, and the show hasn’t stopped since (paused a bit here and there, but not stopped). There doesn’t seem to be any official celebration coming from the BBC, as they have said they are keeping their anniversaries in line with the debut of the original show in 1963, but the fandom is certainly celebrating. I hope to do the same in the coming days here, but I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do. At the very least, I have a meme list to write about: you know, favorite episode, favorite moment, etc. We’ll see how the week goes.

An amazing, gracious man

An amazing, gracious man

In the meantime, I got the chance to go to the Raleigh Comicon this past weekend. It was timed at exactly the right time, as in “finish big project on Thursday, get on the plane on Friday.” If we had missed our deadline, I would have had to cancel. But, it worked out, and here is my adventure.

A little over two weeks ago, they announced that David Tennant would be at the Wizard World Comicon in Raleigh. My husband, the wonderful man that he is, immediately told me to make reservations and go, to make sure to get in before it sells out. So I did: fly in Friday night, spend Saturday playing the creepy stalker, and fly out Sunday morning.

I won’t waste any bytes here describing Raleigh or the trip itself, though I will say that I am very sad that I didn’t get the chance to see the city or NCSU much; I love exploring new cities. Saturday was the big day: photo ops at 11 a.m., autographs at 1 p.m., and panel at 3 p.m, followed by photo op and autograph sessions for the other group. I honestly don’t know when the poor man had time to eat, as he went directly from one event to the next. No wonder he’s so thin.

The photo op was mostly a blur to me. It was literally walk in, “Hi! How are you doing today?” (him), “Great, thanks!” (me), *SNAP*, and the handlers shuffling me out. The autograph session gave a little more time. First, he wasn’t behind a curtain, so you could watch other people getting their things signed. When it’s your turn, you hand your item to be signed to the handler, and the handler gives it to DT. Almost everyone wanted a picture signed, either the picture from the photo op or one of the pictures they had available (you received one for free even if you didn’t want it signed; I was disappointed they had nothing newer than Series 4 and especially no Alec Hardy, so I chose a print of the Doctor and Donna), though I did see two people, a mother and daughter, who brought in one poster and one Tenth Doctor cardboard standup. I had the item that I have always wanted him to sign: my cricket ball. When the handler handed it to him, he stared at it and said, “Um, I think this is for someone else.” I assured him that I really want the ball signed by both him and Peter Davison, and he said, “Okay. Though I don’t really know how I’m going to do this.” I got the chance to thank him for inspiring me and changing my life (because I wouldn’t be traveling and I wouldn’t be writing and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his performance as the Doctor), and we exchanged a couple of other sentences before the handler pushed me out (which was fine – there were other people waiting, of course).

Then there was the panel. I won’t describe it, because you can go watch the videos on YouTube (though I did film the entire thing), but I really enjoyed it, mostly because I was in the room with him and I could really get a feel for his personality. Who he is, and simply his personal energy and presence, just doesn’t translate over video, you know? He amazed me with how excited and warm he was, to this mass of probably six hundred people, after spending the last four hours in a whirlwind of over-excited fans. When a young child came up to the microphone to ask a question, he knelt down to listen to her. It was beautiful. Oh! And the way he expresses himself! He used the word “vertiginous” in casual conversation! I’ve always admired the way he weaves his words, and his extensive vocabulary, but to hear it in person…

I enjoyed every bit of my experience with Mr. Tennant. But I have to say that I was not impressed with Wizard World or the con. Now, understand that I’ve never been at a con like this before (my only other con was the very first Minecon, and that did not have celebrity appearances), so I really don’t have anything to compare to, but I felt very much like sheep. Everything was geared toward getting as many people through as possible, and the plan for the throughput was not well designed. (At one point, after waiting for 45 minutes, a few hundred people who arrived after us started moving ahead of us because the lines were poorly designed and were not guarded by the handlers; my friend and I had to cut ahead to regain our place.) I understand that they are in this to make money and therefore they’re not going to turn away anyone who’s willing to pay for the “VIP Experience” (I am sure con attendance doubled when they announced that DT would be there), but it really wasn’t a VIP experience. It was an assembly line. (Pro tip: If you’re getting a photo at the con to get signed, buy your own 8×10 hard plastic sleeve and bring it. They cost about $1, if you buy them in packs of 25, or $1.5 if you buy them individually, but Wizard World will sell them to you while you’re standing in line for $5 apiece.) Wizard World just announced that DT is going to appear with Billie Piper at their con in Philadelphia, and I weep for the people who pay to attend that. Raleigh was small; Philadelphia is going to be a madhouse.

The con itself had nothing else of interest to me, but that’s really my fault for being very specific in my interests. I had hoped that the dealer room would be interesting, but that was also disappointing. Probably because of DT’s appearance, the vendors were concentrating on Doctor Who merchandise, but at least to me, you can’t hold my interest with stuff that I can get on the web. There were a few local fan artists with interesting things (and I purchased an infinity scarf embroidered with Gallifreyan writing), but scant few. And for a “Comicon”, there was very little actual comic art. There were a few booths of artists selling their comics, but not much, and certainly no representation from Marvel or DC. And no anime.

However, I’m not going to dwell on the bad things. I had a good time! I met a lot of people, most of which I chatted with in line about all kinds of things, and three of which I hung out with and have connected with on Facebook. I don’t have many friends who are Doctor Who fans, so it was nice to get to spend time with a crowd of people with the same interests. And I really can’t say enough about how wonderful Mr. Tennant was. Even in the few seconds I got to interact with him, he was interested and attentive and actually happy to meet me. He was absolutely brilliant.

“Ghost Light”

GLight2“Ghost Light” features the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and is the second story in the rather excellent 26th and final season of classic Doctor Who. What’s really impressed me this season is that on top of the usual twisty-turny plot mechanics that we’re used to with classic Doctor Who (and is often lacking in modern Doctor Who), this season has a greater reach, with villains that have motivations reaching farther than just the story at hand and with more relevance to the Doctor and companion than just landing themselves in the trouble-of-the-week.

Spoilers, of course!

The Doctor brings Ace to 1883, to a house that Ace, when she was younger, had burned to the ground a hundred years later because she had felt something evil there. The house currently belongs to a strange man named Josiah Smith, who lives there with his ward Gwendoline, a housekeeper named Lady Pritchard, an explorer named Redvers Fenn-Cooper, who has gone insane, and a Neanderthal butler named Nimrod. Also visiting is the Reverend Ernest Matthews, who staunchly opposes the theory of evolution that Smith has been spreading. All of the people they encounter are very strange, and the serving staff carry guns, making this a very surreal episode.

I’ve actually had quite a problem trying to write this review because it relies so heavily on the surreality of the situation, the reveal of all of the secrets, and the motivation behind the main villain. It’s difficult to talk about it without rewriting the entire plot out, and I really don’t want to do that, so I’ll try to hit the major points here. Through the first two episodes of the story, you encounter strings of images that simply make no sense, from the Neanderthal butler to the gun-toting maids to the transformation of the reverend into an ape to the owner who seems to consider all of this perfectly normal. You’re just as confused as the Doctor as things begin to develop: there’s a spaceship beneath the house, in which an observer called Light arrived millenia ago to catalog all life on Earth. When it completed its work, it went into sleep, and its servant, the survey agent now known as Josiah Smith, continued to experiment. His current plan was to overthrow Queen Victoria to take control of the British Empire and make it a better place. The Doctor releases Light, who is upset that life on Earth has evolved, making his catalog obsolete, and decides to extinguish all life on the planet to stop it from changing. While the Doctor argues with Light and convinces it of the futility of opposing evolution, causing it to dissipate, Josiah Smith’s experiment control, a being named Control, rebels against him and gains the upper hand, and leaves with Cooper and Nimrod in the spaceship.

Now that summary doesn’t sound particularly interesting, or coherent for that matter, but that’s part of the brilliance of the episode. You spend the nearly the first half of the story trying to make sense of all of these strange things going on, and you find that they do make sense, though it’s sense on a more grand, cosmic scale. Then there’s the story of Light. I am fascinated by stories of nearly-omnipotent beings that are bound fast by rules that are barely comprehensible to humans (which is one of the reasons I love Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman). Light has only one purpose, to catalog life, and when he’s stymied by evolution, he can’t handle it. The only weakness to this episode, in my mind, was Smith’s plan. It’s very interesting that his purpose was to make the Earth a better place, but the method, taking over the British Empire, was odd.

Add to all this the Doctor. Not only was he in his fine manipulative form, his purpose for coming here was to investigate an important event in Ace’s life. He wasn’t just wandering as he normally does. Other than possibly “The Key to Time”, the latter half of the Seventh Doctor’s run has the most coherent and intricate storyline of the classic show, revolving around his relationship with Ace, and this episode is significant in establishing both Ace’s past and how much the Doctor treasures her, setting up the emotional basis for the next episode, “The Curse of Fenric.”

Sometimes I feel that every time I watch an episode of Doctor Who, I have to rethink who my favorite Doctors are, because the one I’m watching always pops to the top. After a bit of time, the list usually reorders to my usual favorites, but the Seventh Doctor keeps bubbling up the list, because of episodes like this one.

An update on Doctor Who: Legacy

I miss the old start screen.

I miss the old start screen.

I haven’t talked much about Doctor Who: Legacy in a while, but that neither means I don’t play it nor that it’s any less of a brilliant game. The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been playing it since launched in November of 2013 and it’s just difficult to stay rabid about any game for that long. I played and beaten every level, and I own every single character at level 50 (except two that I’m leveling up); there’s just nothing for me to do in the game at the moment. I still log in every day to collect the daily bonus, and I follow their updates for the latest news.

They have a new version of the game coming out within the next couple of weeks, which will add gameplay and bug fixes. Usually with version updates, they also release a new chapter, which is what I’m waiting for: a large chunk of new, challenging levels, with innovative enemies and new allies to collect. They’ve said they’re steering away from their original model of going backwards through the TV series, which is a bit disappointing, personally, because the next series they should be doing is Series 4, which is the one I’ve been looking forward to. However, they’re incorporating more classic seasons, which is always a good thing to me. I think the thing that impresses me the most, though, about their game design is that they continue to come up with great ideas for new enemies and powers, always increasing the variety, interest, and challenge in the game.

Between their major content releases, they trickle out new levels here and there, with Time Crystals, allies, and costumes as rewards. My favorites here are the expert levels, because they really make you think about how to put together the team you need to defeat them and you have to be very careful with your strategies. Another thing they’ve recently added to the game is Anna’s Playground, two levels that have easy-to-defeat enemies and one less color of gems to work with, so that the game can be played by very young children.  Now, how’s that for supporting your young fans?

A lot of their recent content, however, has been in the Fan Area, which you unlock permanently by buying at least $5 worth of Time Crystals in one purchase. They have been beefing up the Fan Area in order to entice more players to unlock it, which only makes me urge you again, if you love the game, to show your support for the game and for Doctor Who, by making even the smallest purchase. Remember that they might call the game model “free to play”, but it really isn’t: behind that gorgeous game is a lot of people who are making their living by creating this for you.

Tiny Rebel Games continues to offer excellent customer support and community engagement, so the game is still excellent on all levels. Have you played Doctor Who: Legacy? No? Then download it now and get to it!


 

Two days ago, they added some Time Fragment farming levels to the Fan Area. I wrote a post quite a while back about how to farm Time Fragments efficiently, so I thought I would discuss the new levels and what I thought about them. Please note that I’ve played each color level once.

In the Fan Area, there are five new levels (one for each color) explicitly designed for Time Fragment farming, with higher-than-normal probabilities of dropping Time Fragments. They are tuned for level 40 characters, and each level consists of two stages, the first of which has two minion enemies and the second of which has two minion enemies and a boss enemy. As usual with most of the rest of the game, the color of the Time Fragment corresponds to the color of the monsters on the stage, so you can tune your farming team to be extra efficient at killing the monsters in the stage. These levels provide no experience points for the allies in the party.

In my farming strategy guide, I named five stages in Chapter 2 (Season 6) that I prefer for farming Time Fragments: “Whispermen Nightmares” (black), “Time Attack: Run!” (gold), “Time Attack: Dinosaurs!” (red), “Angels over London” (blue), and “The Girl Who Waited: Apalapucia?” (green). I chose these levels for the following reasons:

  • They are all single-color levels with enemies with about 15,000 health, so you can tune your farming team to beat them easily.
  • Coming from Chapter 2, they are easy to beat with a team of level 20 characters.
  • Because they’re from Chapter 2 (rather than Chapter 1), these levels also drop pink Time Fragments, which you can’t get in Chapter 1.
  • Each level has a lot of enemies, so there are more chances for dropping Time Fragments.

How do I feel the new levels stack up against my choices? I think they are terrible for farming. Why? Let’s take a look.

The first thing to think about is who needs to farm Time Fragments? Well, first, there are new players who are trying to level up their allies but don’t have enough Time Fragments to do so. These levels, tuned to level 40 allies, can’t be won by new players. These levels are only accessible to people who have level 40 allies. It takes 52 Time Fragments (18 of each of two colors and 16 pink ones) to get an ally to level 40, and another 43 Time Fragments (three of them advanced Time Fragments)  to rank them up to rank 5 so that they can get more powerful, and that’s only one ally. To get a team of six level 40+ characters, that’s more than 570 Time Fragments (“more than” because Doctors take more than allies). A new player won’t be able to use these levels any time soon.

Once you do get that team of level 40+ characters, you may be able to win these levels, but it’s not very likely that it’ll be easy, because they’re probably all different colors. If you’re trying to farm blue and three of your characters are primarily red, they’ll be nearly useless. The best way to farm these levels would be to have the right color on all six characters, to maximize your damage. Five teams of level 40+ characters now means 3,420 Time Fragments you’ve spent leveling them up. In reality, it won’t be so bad, since you don’t have to use a completely mono-color team (and you’re probably best served to have a couple of non-mono-color allies in each team).

So, let’s say you have a nice stable of farming characters to choose from and you’re ready to start farming fragments. These levels are built for challenge. I estimated the health on one of the boss enemies at over 150,000 health. (Enemies in Chapter 2 have around 20,000 health at the most.) The minions have powers such as “stun all characters with colors that I’m vulnerable to” (meaning, the enemy is blue, so stun all green characters), blindness, “nullify all gems that are the color I’m vulnerable to”, “remove all pink gems”. On the first of these levels I tried, I nearly lost. Now, part of this is my fault, because I had two allies that I was leveling up in the team, but even if I had a fully level-50 team it still would have taken a lot of thinking and time to beat the level. In a later level, the enemies kept all of the characters that it was vulnerable to stunned for the entire fight; luckily, I had one matching-color level 50 ally in the party (I love Gabby!) who managed to kill the entire encounter single-handedly, after about ten minutes of playing.

In the end, this is the experience I had with these levels, compared to the levels that I normally farm in:

  • Each level had five monsters and takes two to four times longer to beat, compared to 10+ monsters that can be beaten in one or two minutes.
  • These levels take strategy to beat, compared to levels that can be easily beaten while watching your favorite Doctor Who episode (I do this a lot).
  • These levels need level 40+ characters, compared to levels that can be beaten by level 20 characters.
  • These levels award no experience, compared to levels that can be beaten by low-level characters who would love to be earning 10,000 experience every two minutes or so.

Of course, the draw of these levels is that they have a higher Time Fragment drop rate, so how many Time Fragments did I get from them? In five plays, one for each level, I received 3, 1, 0, 3, and 1 Time Fragments. Now, this is not a valid test, since I played them so infrequently, but I’m used to at least two Time Fragments from each play of my farming levels (usually more, and some of the bigger ones often drop four to seven Fragments). Considering that I can play these levels two to three times in the amount of time I can play one of these new levels, the better choice is clear.

In conclusion, the new farming levels are not worth it. Do buy Time Crystals to unlock the Fan Area because there’s lots of great content in it, but don’t do it for the farming levels, at least not until they redesign them.

The protective mother

It's all a matter of a mother's love for her daughter.

It’s all a matter of a mother’s love for her daughter.

One of the Doctor Who characters I really like is Francine Jones, Martha’s mother. To be clear, I doubt I would like her at all if I met her in real life, but the character was well-drawn. I’ve seen a number of discussions about the character in which people felt that she was unbelievable and too hostile to the Doctor for no reason, and I disagree. Her opinions and actions may seem to be unbelievable, but that’s because her character was developed with a lot more subtlety than most of the other characters on the show.

People who don’t like Francine point to “The Lazarus Experiment”, where she first meets the Doctor and takes an immediate and fervent dislike of him. Granted, he does not make a good impression. While he thinks he blends in well with humans, he really doesn’t, and he outdoes himself in this instance, trying to make small talk and more or less implying that he’s been sleeping with her daughter. Detractors point to this scene, saying that Francine is extremely judgmental here and should not have hated him so much after just one meeting.

However, Francine’s reaction to the Doctor must be considered with her personality and history in total, which we learned of back in “Smith and Jones”. We only see very little of her and her family in that episode, but the scenes were expertly crafted to give you a very good overview of everyone in the family. We first see her when she’s talking to Martha on the phone, telling her daughter to refuse to allow her ex-husband Clive’s girlfriend Annalise to attend Leo’s birthday party. She only gets about five lines before the next phone call, from Clive, cuts her off, but those five lines are very telling. We see that she lives in a nice house and wears fine clothes. She’s obviously upset primarily about the divorce and her husband’s young and vapid trophy girlfriend, but her exact complaint is that the girl’s appearance at the party would make the family “look ridiculous”. Thus, her concern is status. Her family is well-to-do (as is evidenced by Clive’s ability to afford an expensive convertible sports car), and she’s very concerned about how they’re viewed. Later on, we see that she’s very proud of one daughter studying to become a doctor and the other becoming the personal assistant of a prominent scientist.

That night, her fears about the party come true: there’s a huge, embarrassing fight between her and Annalise, ending with almost all of the family chasing Annalise and Clive down the street yelling. This scene and the cell phone montage paints a complete picture of the entire family, with Francine being the one who’s used to being in control, Clive being ineffectual and letting his women walk all over him, and Martha as the level-headed one who usually acts as the peacekeeper. However, there’s one last thing that happens here: Martha disappears from the party, and no one knows where she went. This is obviously something unusual for her: her mother mentions it the next day, and Tish makes a comment about Martha, the ambitious and studious sister, suddenly having a social life.

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Doctor + Mother = Slap!

Thus, this is the stage that’s set when Martha arrives at Professor Lazarus’ event. Francine is there to celebrate her younger daughter’s success, something that reflects well on her and her family, but her older daughter arrives witth a strange man no one has heard of before, after disappearing the previous night. Rather than tell the approximate truth – that her friend accompanied her because he’s interested in Lazarus’ project – Martha introduces him as a doctor who she’s been working with. However, on speaking with him, Francine finds him to be socially inept and rather idiotic, certainly not someone you’d think was a doctor. He’s unable to come up with anything that he’s done with Martha, and it’s implied that she jumps to the conclusion that they slept together. From a mother’s point of view, this is the worst kind of man her daughter could hook up with: stupid, flippant, distracting her from what’s important. It’s also very possible that he reminds her of the previous stupid, flippant, distracting person who disrupted her family – Annalise – and in that vein, his apparent race does him no favors.

Once the episode’s action starts, the Doctor only makes things worse. As he’s concerned only about Lazarus and the dangers he’s unleashed, he ignores Francine and knocks her drink down her dress, and once the family is safe outside, Martha leaves them to go back into danger to help him. And thus, her hatred of him is cemented: he appears to be everything that’s wrong for her daughter, and her daughter has taken leave of her senses to follow him. It doesn’t matter that he saved the lives of most of the people at the event. Francine’s statement that Martha “abandoned” the family for him is very telling: in her eyes, Martha is giving up all of the things that Francine feels is so important – status, a comfortable life, a good education, a career – for this unworthy man. Any mother would feel the same way.

Things only get worse from here. Remember, from Francine’s point of view, all of the events of Series 3 happen over the course of a couple of weeks at most. “Smith and Jones” occurs only a few days before the election of Harold Saxon as Prime Minister, and in the UK, the new Prime Minister takes office as soon as the old one resigns and the new one is appointed by the monarch. The Doctor and Martha go off to have their adventures, and all Francine knows is that Martha is suddenly never home and not answering her frequent calls, except for a couple of strange emergency calls which imply that Martha has started to cheat on her exams. Of course, Francine is also being swayed by Harold Saxon’s people, who are feeding her exactly what she wants to hear: how dangerous the Doctor is and that she has to get Martha away from  him. It isn’t until she’s taken prisoner does she start to realize that the people she’s been listening to are lying and maybe the Doctor isn’t so bad.

Taken as a whole, Francine is an understandable character: a rather imperious but otherwise protective mother who is attempting to prevent her daughter from falling in with who she perceives as the wrong man. The thing is, her history, personality, and values are established in about ten lines of dialogue five episodes before she makes her judgment about the Doctor, and if you didn’t remember them or didn’t pay attention because they didn’t seem important, her reaction to him would seem rash and overly harsh. It’s important to examine recurring characters in this show very carefully, because you might miss something otherwise. The show focuses on the Doctor and his companion, but anyone that it feels deserves enough attention to be brought back is usually beautifully drawn and characterized and often has their own story to tell.