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Doctor Who (2005 series): Ratings and averages for the first eight seasons May 15, 2015

Posted by ce9999 in Doctor Who.
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A while back I made a disparaging comment about recent Doctor Who episodes, and when I went back later and read those remarks again, I realized it might be a good idea to double-check what I said.  However, in order to do that adequately, I realized it would also be a good idea to re-watch the entire Doctor Who 2005 series, from beginning to end.   So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few months.  I’ve finished season 8, and only have one Christmas special to watch after this writing.

In an attempt to bestow a hopefully useful level of objectivity on this, I decided early on to use a special rating scale that I devised for my iTunes library over 10 years ago.  You may be aware that iTunes has a built-in 5-star rating scale, but after using that for about a year I realized that five stars wasn’t enough.  There were a number of five-star songs which were clearly better than the rest, as if they deserved an additional star.  They “broke the rating system,” so to speak.  I realized I could use the “grouping” column in iTunes to mark each one of them as a “6-star song,” and adapt my existing smart filters to act as if the extra “star” was just as real as a normal iTunes rating.  Over the years this has worked surprisingly well, and, to date, my iTunes library contains a total of 130 songs with this improvised 6-star rating (out of a total of 3055 songs).

When I decided to re-evaluate all the 2005 series Doctor Who episodes, I decided a similar setup would be useful for that as well:  The normal part of the scale would be a simple 5-point system, with the 5 point rating meaning “excellent.”  The six-point rating would be reserved for episodes so outstanding that they “broke” the normal scale, but they would still act like any other number in terms of calculating averages.  I could then come up with a score for each season, and for each Doctor.

So, without further ado, here are the season ratings:

  • season 1: 4.08
  • season 2: 3.77
  • season 3: 3.62
  • season 4: 3.77
  • season 5: 3.46
  • season 6: 3.23
  • season 7: 2.92
  • season 8: 2.36

The theoretical maximum average would be 6.00, however that would never happen in practice, since the six point rating is only used in exceptional circumstances.  That means an average score above 4.00 is really very high.

Some additional remarks need to be made.  First, I do not include ANY of the following in the seasonal averages: Christmas specials, David Tennant’s four farewell specials at the end of his tenure, and Matt Smith’s two series-anniversary specials at the end of his.  None of those have any effect on the seasonal ratings, not even The Snowmen, which occurred midway through season 7.  All of these specials do, however, affect the overall ratings for the four Doctors:

  • Eccleston: 4.08
  • Tennant: 3.66
  • Smith: 3.39
  • Capaldi: 2.67 (with one story to go)

I didn’t start out with the aim of having Eccleston come out on top.  In fact, I went into this with a strong bias against the early seasons simply because I find Russell T. Davies’ histrionic production style to be so annoying.  But, after the re-watch, I have to admit that the man is a very talented writer, and season 1 is overall the best of the eight so far. Eccleston is quite excellent as well—I sometimes wonder what might have been if he had stuck around for a second season. Then again, we would have been deprived of the David Tennant/Billie Piper interaction which proved so fruitful in season two.

I don’t think the four Doctor ratings are entirely fair to the actors.  Capaldi, in particular, has only had one season so far, which happened to be the worst season in the history of the series. Smith’s last season was almost as bad—in fact, the second half of his last season featured the worst continuous run of episodes in the series’ history. Is it Capaldi or Smith’s fault that the series is currently plagued by mediocre (or worse) writing?  Does the fact that Eccleston’s single season happened to coincide with some of the best stories in the history of the show mean that he was also “the best” of the four?  My answer to that is “no” in both cases.

In fact, I rather like Peter Capaldi and am looking forward to what he comes up with in season 9, while keeping my fingers crossed that the writers will grow a brain or two between them.  I also liked Christopher Eccleston quite a lot, but not to any degree more than the others.  Overall, I think we have been incredibly lucky to have four such talents playing the role, and if the series appears to be falling flat of late, it’s due to the writers and to the completely ridiculous political climate that television is a part of nowadays.  (That, however, is a whole other subject.)

Getting back to the original topic, the very best episodes, those that “broke the scale” and rated at 6 points, are:

  • The Parting of the Ways (113)
  • The Girl in the Fireplace (204)
  • Doomsday (213)
  • Blink (310)
  • The Time of the Doctor (special)

(Numbers in parentheses are episode numbers, where applicable.)

We have one in the first season, two in the second, one in the third, and then a long, long dry spell.  With the exception of the 50th anniversary special, there have been none of these top-drawer episodes in seasons 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8.

The listing of 5-point episodes is a bit longer.  Remember, these legitimately qualify as “excellent” or “outstanding”:

  • The Unquiet Dead (103)
  • Father’s Day (108)
  • The Empty Child (109)
  • The Doctor Dances (110)
  • Bad Wolf (112)
  • The Christmas Invasion (special)
  • School Reunion (203)
  • Army of Ghosts (212)
  • The Shakespeare Code (302)
  • Gridlock (303)
  • The Family of Blood (309)
  • The Fires of Pompeii (402)
  • Forest of the Dead (409)
  • Turn Left (411)
  • The Stolen Earth (412)
  • The Eleventh Hour (501)
  • Vincent and the Doctor (510)
  • A Christmas Carol (special)
  • The Impossible Astronaut (601)
  • The Doctor’s Wife (604)
  • The Angels Take Manhattan (705)
  • The Rings of Akhaten (707)
  • The Day of the Doctor (special)
  • Listen (804)

Tallying that up we get five in season 1, which is the best of any season.  If you also include the one 6-point episode in season 1, that comes to six total, which is the best proportion of excellent episodes of any season by far.  After that, we have two in season 2, three in season 3, four in season 4 (unfortunately, this pattern didn’t maintain itself), two in season 5, two in season 6, two in season 7 and one in season 8. Plus three in the specials.

I’m not going to separate out all the 4-point and 3-point episodes because there are just too many of them.

This next part should be fun:  The list of BAD episodes.  First, the worst of the worst, those receiving the ignominious 1-point rating.  In the vernacular, this rating means “epic fail” or “steaming pile,” depending on your preference.  There are (thankfully) not very many of these:

  • Fear Her (211)
  • The Lazarus Experiment (306)
  • Night Terrors (609)
  • Cold War (708)
  • Kill the Moon (807)
  • Dark Water (811)

Only five overall, but I see a definite clustering in the more recent seasons, with none at all in seasons 1, 4 and 5. More ominously, note that two of these turkeys fall in season 8, and fully 66% of them in seasons 6, 7 and 8.  Yowch.

The 2-point episodes are unfortunately far more numerous, especially in more recent seasons. These are bad enough to merit punishment or derision, but fall short of utter failure:

  • Last of the Time Lords (313)
  • Journey’s End (413)
  • The End of Time, Part 1 (special)
  • Vampires of Venice (506)
  • Cold Blood (509)
  • The Lodger (511)
  • The Rebel Flesh (605)
  • The Almost People (606)
  • A Town Called Mercy (703)
  • Hide (709)
  • Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (710)
  • The Crimson Horror (711)
  • Nightmare in Silver (712)
  • Into the Dalek (802)
  • Robot of Sherwood (803)
  • Time Heist (805)
  • In the Forest of the Night (810)

There is one more episode to re-watch, so this or the 1 point list may yet be revised.

Obviously there is an increasing quantity of crap episodes in the more recent seasons, compared to not a single bad episode in season 1, only one really stinky episode in season 2, two bad ones in season 3, only one in season 4, plus another in Tennant’s string of four farewell specials.  Season 6, on the other hand, showed a marked uptick with three baddies, and then the shite really hit the fan in season 7 with six bad episodes.  That’s as many bad episodes as there were great episodes in season 1.  What’s really notable, though, is that five of the six are clustered in the second half of that split season, with no less than five crap episodes in a row. Wow. It’s a wonder I made it through that season at all.  Luckily, The Name of the Doctor was a very good 4-point episode, otherwise I might have given up.

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, season 8 turns out to be even worse!  Six bad episodes again, but this time two of them are 1-pointers. They’re also spread around the season more evenly, leading to a more general impression of crappiness.  There is no significant clumping of non-bad episodes in season 8 the way there was in the first half of season 7.  So, I hope you will pardon my French, but seriously: WTF?

Lastly, here are all of the episode ratings. Please keep in mind that a rating of 3 is perfectly respectable, covering the range from “average” to “good”:

Season 1                                 4.08
101    Rose                                 3
102    The End of the World                 4
103    The Unquiet Dead                     5
104    Aliens of London                     3
105    World War Three                      3

106    Dalek                                3
107    The Long Game                        3
108    Father's Day                         5
109    The Empty Child                      5
110    The Doctor Dances                    5

111    Boom Town                            3
112    Bad Wolf                             5
113    The Parting of the Ways              6

       The Christmas Invasion               5

Season 2                                 3.77
201    New Earth                            3
202    Tooth and Claw                       3
203    School Reunion                       5
204    The Girl in the Fireplace            6
205    Rise of the Cybermen                 3

206    The Age of Steel                     4
207    The Idiot's Lantern                  3
208    The Impossible Planet                3
209    The Satan Pit                        3
210    Love & Monsters                      4

211    Fear Her                             1
212    Army of Ghosts                       5
213    Doomsday                             6

       The Runaway Bride                    3

Season 3                                 3.62
301    Smith and Jones                      3
302    The Shakespeare Code                 5
303    Gridlock                             5
304    Daleks in Manhatten                  3
305    Evolution of the Daleks              3

306    The Lazarus Experiment               1
307    42                                   3
308    Human Nature                         4
309    The Family of Blood                  5
310    Blink                                6

311    Utopia                               4
312    The Sound of Drums                   3
313    Last of the Time Lords               2

       Voyage of the Damned                 3

Season 4                                 3.77
401    Partners in Crime                    4
402    The Fires of Pompeii                 5
403    Planet of the Ood                    3
404    The Sontaran Strategem               3
405    The Poison Sky                       3

406    The Doctor's Daughter                3
407    The Unicorn and the Wasp             3
408    Silence in the Library               4
409    Forest of the Dead                   5
410    Midnight                             4

411    Turn Left                            5
412    The Stolen Earth                     5
413    Journey's End                        2

       The Next Doctor                      4

       Planet of the Dead                   3
       The Waters of Mars                   3
       The End of Time, Part 1              2
       The End of Time, Part 2              4

Season 5                                 3.46
501    The Eleventh Hour                    5
502    The Beast Below                      4
503    Victory of the Daleks                3
504    The Time of Angels                   4
505    Flesh and Stone                      4

506    Vampires of Venice                   2
507    Amy's Choice                         3
508    The Hungry Earth                     3
509    Cold Blood                           2
510    Vincent and the Doctor               5

511    The Lodger                           2
512    The Pandorica Opens                  4
513    The Big Bang                         4

       A Christmas Carol                    5

Season 6                                 3.23
601    The Impossible Astronaut             5
602    Day of the Moon                      4
603    The Curse of the Black Spot          4
604    The Doctor's Wife                    5
605    The Rebel Flesh                      2

606    The Almost People                    2
607    A Good Man Goes to War               3
608    Let's Kill Hitler                    3
609    Night Terrors                        1
610    The Girl Who Waited                  4

611    The God Complex                      3
612    Closing Time                         3
613    The Wedding of River Song            3

       The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe 4

Season 7                                 2.92
701    Asylum of the Daleks                 3
702    Dinosaurs on a Spaceship             4
703    A Town Called Mercy                  2
704    The Power of Three                   3
705    The Angels Take Manhattan            5

       The Snowmen                          4

706    The Bells of Saint John              3
707    The Rings of Akhaten                 5
708    Cold War                             1
709    Hide                                 2
710    Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS  2

711    The Crimson Horror                   2
712    Nightmare in Silver                  2
713    The Name of the Doctor               4

       The Day of the Doctor                5
       The Time of the Doctor               6

Season 8                                 2.67
801    Deep Breath                          4
802    Into the Dalek                       2
803    Robot of Sherwood                    2
804    Listen                               5
805    Time Heist                           2

806    The Caretaker                        3
807    Kill the Moon                        1
808    Mummy on the Orient Express          3
809    Flatline                             3
810    In the Forest of the Night           2

811    Dark Water                           1
812    Death in Heaven                      4

       Last Christmas                       ?

Well, that was fun! :)

Leonard Nimoy February 27, 2015

Posted by ce9999 in Star Trek: The Original Series.
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So, Leonard Nimoy has passed away today.  He was 83 years old.  I guess that means he lived pretty long, and, as one of the world’s most beloved actors, he also prospered pretty well.

What a tremendous contribution he made.

iPads November 1, 2014

Posted by ce9999 in Doctor Who.
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Favorite dialog from the latest Doctor Who episode:

“You have iPads in the afterlife?”

“iPads. We have Steve Jobs!”

That gets a LOL.

Overall, though, I’m probably going to give up on this series.  It’s not about entertainment anymore so much as scoring as many leftist propaganda points as they possibly can.  It’s just tiresome to watch.

Lies, Damned Lies and Damned Shows May 19, 2014

Posted by ce9999 in House of Lies.
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I really ought to post more stuff here, considering how many shows I watch.

Anyway: House of Lies.

Odd, this show. I tend to hate it with a fiery passion. Except when I love it with a fiery passion.

Lately I’ve been catching up on season three. 2nd episode, so far. As always, I am watching a whole bunch of episodes all at once, rather than waiting for the stupid network to get around to broadcasting them on their lame-o weekly schedule.

Anyway. The show features exactly ZERO likeable characters, along with a per-episode overdose of PC crap. The two of those together would normally be the kiss of death for me, but nevertheless I keep watching because, sometimes, something wonderful happens, such as Marty Kaan’s bitch ex-wife getting stabbed in the leg by her cutie-pie marketing staffer employee who has had as much abuse from her psycho-bitch boss as she can take.

Yes-indeedy, on a show where every single character is some species of loathesome asshole, you want to be sure there are as many stabbings as possible. Praise Louis B. Mayer!

Clannish trivia October 17, 2013

Posted by ce9999 in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation lately. I’m not here to comment about that. I’m here because something is bugging me. Tonight’s ST:TNG episode is The Vengeance Factor. One of the characters is “Yuta of the Clan Tralesta.” Yes, the spelling is a bit iffy on that. I’m also getting a lot of Google matches on “Trilesta.” Spelling it correctly is not really the point, though. Read on:

What’s bothering me about this is that I am POSITIVE that the word “Tralesta,” or something phonetically almost indistinguishable from it, was used in another TV series that I enjoyed, to refer to some other female character. Odds are it was spelled differently, though, and the other problem, obviously, is that nothing else is going to generate many Google matches compared to a ST:TNG episode. I can sort of hear the pattern of syllables in my mind, though: [name1] [name2] of the Clan Trilesta. Not that that helps all that much. What might be more of a clue is that I’m thinking it was a more assertive and protagonistic character than this Yuta person. She stated her name proudly, I seem to recall: Mmm-mm Mmmm-mm of the Clan Trilesta! As if daring the listener to disparage it.

Because of that, I thought for a moment that it might have been one of the female Nietzscheans in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. I was thinking the first season episode Double Helix, actually. But that is wrong. Nietzscheans are members of tribes, not clans, so I’m now having doubts about that series being the right one at all. That leaves a lot of possibilities, though, even if I assume it was some sort of fantastical sci-fi or fantasy series. Maybe it was a movie.

I’m thinking the mystery character was a guest, not a series regular. Which narrows it down to what, 2 million? :P

Stupid brain cells. 20 years ago I could have remembered this easily.

Anyway, if anyone happens to read this and actually knows what I am talking about, please comment. :)

Elisabeth Sladen – RIP April 19, 2011

Posted by ce9999 in Doctor Who.
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This is a sad day. Elisabeth Sladen has died.

It’s a total surprise (to me) that this happened.  She was only 63 years old, and had been battling cancer for a while, apparently.

I know I’ve been critical of Russell Davies in the past, but at a time like this, I am not surprised at all that he knows exactly what to say (audio clip and brief article). He was always good at the emotional stuff.

Longer article: Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen dies

Would I have ever become a Doctor Who fan if the very first story I ever watched hadn’t had her as the companion? It was The Seeds of Doom, one of the earlier Tom Baker episodes, wherein some suspicious pods are found in Antarctica, and one of them somehow develops into a giant, killer plant monster. Classic stuff, including the squeaky styrofoam peanuts used as fake “snow” in the Antarctica scenes. I distinctly recall being impressed with how cute and interesting Sarah Jane was. She was certainly a factor in getting me to tune in to my next story. This was back in the days when the stories were appearing every weekend on Wisconsin Public Television. They would edit the four to six episodes of each story into one, luxurious, movie-length program, which was wonderful. The four-episode ones were of ideal length, typically running 90 minutes. The six-episode ones tended to get a bit long, typically around 2 hours and 15 minutes. With no commercials, of course. The best was when they would have Doctor Who marathons, airing several stories in one afternoon. These could stretch for eight hours or more (including pledge breaks). Those were the days. :)

Of course, I ended up seeing many more stories, with many more companions, but Sarah was, at some level, always my favorite. So much so that when my 10th grade English class was tasked with breaking into teams where each team would create a short film, I decided that I was going to do my own Doctor Who story, and of course, Sarah Jane Smith would be the companion. The whole endeavor ended up being a comedy of errors, with two or possibly three of my female classmates playing the role (ever try to schedule high school girls who aren’t really invested in something? It’s a challenge, LOL), but in the end, the effort was enough of a success that the teacher used it in succeeding years as an example. I suppose he might have been using it as an example of how several major things can go wrong without actually destroying the overall project…but still. ;)

Someone posted some still shots from the Planet of Evil story on Usenet, of Elisabeth and co-star Tom Baker. I’m going to repost a couple of them here, in commemoration. I’m pretty sure the second one is an outtake:

Click on the pics for full-size view. They’re wallpaper sized, 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio.

Good news, bad news: Chuck renewed for season 4; Heroes axed May 17, 2010

Posted by ce9999 in Chuck, Heroes, Stargate: Universe.
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I admit I was pretty surprised to hear that Heroes is not going to be back for another season.  The previous season ended on such a promising note, it was all too easy to forget that network execs don’t base their decisions on what’s happening in the story.  All that matters is the ratings, and the ratings for Heroes were, apparently, continuing downwards.

There has been some talk of doing a wrap-up miniseries or two-hour special of some kind.  Personally, I’m hoping for something more substantial than a two-hour special.  The cliffhanger at the end of the last season opened up a huge can of worms, now that the public at large has become aware of Claire’s special healing superpower, and I fail to see how that could be resolved in a mere two-hour special (which would really be only 90 minutes, allowing for the 25% of air time wasted on commercials).  Unless, of course, they plan to end it all with total nuclear annihilation, super-volcano, world-spanning locust plague, black-hole annihilation, etc. ;)

Anyway, on to the main point of why I am writing here tonight:  Much to my surprise, and delight, Chuck has been renewed for season four!  Awesome! :)

I write this after watching tonight’s episode.  Near the end of the episode, they did what they have often done in Chuck episodes:  They throw in some cool song to jazz things up.   And, as has happened several times before, I find myself going directly from the end of the episode to the iTunes store to buy a copy of the song.  This week it happens to be “I Am Your Skin” by The Bravery.

This has happened enough times now that I’m beginning to be amused by it.  I find myself feeling sort of like the dog must have, when Pavlov rang the bell: “Oh, here I am, drooling again.  Silly me.  But I can’t seem to help myself when that bell rings!”

I wonder if NBC is smart enough to be making money off of this somehow?  Music as product placement.  The show could undoubtedly benefit from some additional help on the commercial side of things, and the series does lend itself really well to a bit of musical montage (unlike, say, Stargate: Universe, where every montage sequence clashes in nails-on-chalkboard fury with the rest of the show).

To be specific, I’m not talking about selling soundtrack albums, nor am I talking about standard product-placement deals.  I’m talking about treating the song like a banner ad on a website, and then measuring the number of clicks.  The website collects money based on the number of clicks.  In this case, the clicks would be people buying the song on iTunes, Amazon.com, or wherever.  In order for this model to be credible, there would need to be a way to distinguish show-based clicks from ordinary, random clicks.  Probably the way to do that would be to graph the sales of the song over time, and if there’s a spike right after the airing of the show, that would be attributed to the show itself, with consequent payment for those excess sales.

Hmm.  Should someone be paying me for this idea?

I wonder how much money it would be possible to raise this way.  Not nearly enough to pay for an entire episode, obviously (not at the $1 per copy that iTunes usually charges), but like I said:  it would help.

[One more thing:  “I Am Your Skin” gets four stars out of a possible five on the iTunes scale.  It’s a good song, but flawed.  The flaw comes from excess.  Specifically, raising the vocals into a higher register for part of it was a mistake and a particularly inappropriate cliché, which keeps it well out of five-star territory.  The song also doesn’t have an ending, it just cuts itself off.  (This is a real pet peeve of mine.  It’s as if actually knowing how to end a fucking song has become a lost art.)  However, there’s enough else to like that I can give it an initial four-star rating.  Whether it stays there will depend on whether I get bored with it.]

“So long, nerds!” The Network-which-shall-not-be-named flips the bird to science fiction fans May 2, 2010

Posted by ce9999 in Caprica, Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: Universe, The Sci-Fi Channel, Uncategorized.
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I came across this little item yesterday.  It’s a “must read” for those who enjoy what little quality science fiction programming occurs anymore on the Network-formerly-known-as-the-Sci-Fi-Channel:

So long, nerds!
[The-network-which-shall-not-be-named] doesn’t need you

Particularly worrisome is the news that the best shows on the channel are going to be moved from Friday night to Tuesday night, just so they can put Friday Night Smackdown on Friday night.  Having Caprica and Stargate: Universe on Tuesday is going to suck.

I figure this is the beginning of the end for that network. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s chapter two or chapter three of the end. Stargate: Universe and Caprica will run their course, probably three seasons each, at which point the powers-that-be at the network will give us a song and dance similar to the cancellation of Stargate: Atlantis, that is, something along the lines of, “we think it would be a great idea to continue this, only as a sequence of individually released DVD movies instead of a weekly series.” Well, have there been any Atlantis movies? No? One is supposedly in the works, but at this point it seems to be entirely vaporware, and it was two years ago already when all of this was announced.

Supposedly they’re having difficulties on the money side of things.  In particular, the unexpected change in relative values of the American and Canadian dollars has made it more expensive to shoot in Canada now than, say, five years ago. Universe, however, is being filmed in Vancouver anyway, as is Caprica, so I am not sure if that argument holds water. [edit: looking back on this, I am no longer sure what my reasoning was for that statement…actually, it sounds as if I may have just been wrong outright…oh well…] Perhaps if they hadn’t made the mistake of canceling Atlantis, it would still be airing just fine and dandy! Ooops!

The thing is, although Atlantis sometimes ventured into the realm of brilliance, on the whole it was a show that never quite lived up to its potential, so I don’t bemoan the loss of it all that much. Mostly I miss David Hewlett’s performances, and I regret that, with its passing, the ratio of quality to crap on the network has gone down once again. Caprica and Universe, on the other hand, are both turning out to be pretty excellent programs.  If, perchance, either one of them was lost just so the network could experiment with new ways to make money, it would be a bitter pill to swallow.  All that would be left of quality science fiction television programming, in that case, would be Doctor Who.

Don’t get me wrong.  The network will still be there.  It will still exist as an entity.  It’ll just be focused on other stuff.   They’ll have to change the name again, too.  Just watch.

Caprica January 25, 2010

Posted by ce9999 in Caprica.
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(After much delay, I am finally finished with this…)

In 2003, the Battlestar Galactica miniseries told us “The Cylons were created by man,” and proceeded to delight us over the next several years with a story of war, flight, despair, reconciliation, and rebirth, not only for the human species, but for the Cylons as well. Caprica takes us back to the point of that initial statement, but with a different approach in mind. Yes, the Cylons were created by man, but how did it happen? And why?

One of the things that made the re-visioned Battlestar Galactica series so excellent was that it persistently addressed the question: What does it mean to be human? This is a fundamental philosophical question in science fiction, and in Battlestar Galactica, it’s stated in more than one way. “What kind of people are you?” or “Are you alive?” are questions posed, at different times, by different characters, both clearly pertaining to the core question. In context, the latter is sort of a rephrasing of Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum,” only in question form (the questionee is definitely not being asked whether he is alive in a crude biological sense), and is the very first line uttered in the entire series. The core question is also presented in more extended ways, the first being William Adama’s speech in the miniseries: “When we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question ‘Why?’ Why are we as a people worth saving?” The humans of the colonies fought to save themselves because humans are animals, and that’s what animals always do. Animals always fight to survive. But what about as people? Shouldn’t there be something more? His speech actually provides a good philosophical summation of the series, in less than a minute of screen time.

The question of fundamental human meaning is also directly related to a more practical scientific matter, namely the problem of strong artificial intelligence. The AI of the Cylons is an ideal story mechanism for exploring this relationship. In real life, it is unclear whether we need to truly understand what it means to be human in order to create strong AI, but the position taken by the Battlestar Galactica series is that no, it is not necessary for that understanding to exist beforehand, but on the other hand, humans damn well better start thinking about it soon thereafter, or there’s going to be trouble.

Caprica will also be addressing this, but starting from the beginning of the story, rather than the end. If Battlestar Galactica was the epilogue of the Story of Human and Machine, then Caprica will be Book One. As in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, there is one key scene which lays it all out: In Galactica, it was William Adama’s speech, in Caprica it is an argument between Joseph Adama (Esai Morales)and Daniel Greystone (played by a longtime favorite actor of mine, Eric Stoltz). Does a perfect, fully intelligent, virtual copy of a human being qualify as a person in its own right? Greystone and Adama fundamentally disagree on this question.

The story of how this copy comes into being begins with two key elements already place. Daniel Greystone, already mentioned, is a Bill Gates type of figure, having made a fortune five years previously from the introduction of a photorealistic, full-immersion virtual reality technology. More currently, he’s working on a very thorny robotics problem for the Caprican military. He’s a computer genius. His teenage daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), turns out to be an even greater genius than her father. She has taken her father’s VR tech and combined it with her own innovations to come up with strong AI itself, the elusive holy grail of artificial intelligence research. The specific strong AI in question is a duplicate of herself.  Rather than create a crude but visually exact avatar of herself, like all the other Caprican teenagers, Zoe has created a copy who thinks and feels, and who has her own, independent motivations. Virtual-reality-Zoe is a fully fledged person, even if her objective form is nothing more than trillions of binary digits flitting back and forth across a computer bus.

The real Zoe is killed early in the story, along with Adama’s daughter Tamara (Genevieve Buechner). This places VR-Zoe much further into the realm of self-determination, with her creator not there to guide her anymore.  It also leaves her as the primary remnant of real-Zoe for father Daniel Greystone to find. Naturally, Greystone is completely bowled over, not just because she is an exact copy of his daughter, but because he knows full well what a startling theoretical breakthrough she represents.

The script actually takes an interesting approach to that aspect of her, hypothesizing that all we are as individuals can be recreated through a meticulous compilation of the traces we have left as we move through the world—emails to friends and family, school transcripts, medical and public records, vital statistics, video rental preferences, and so on. Realistically, I am not sure how to react to that. It seems grossly oversimplistic, except that it might really be almost that simple. Since the dawn of humanity, the self has been placed in the realm of the mystical, but this originally happened because people started thinking about it at a time when they had no hope of finding a better answer. Once established as a core tenant of early religions, the idea has been passed down in that same basic form ever since, complete with an aura of unknowable mystery. It seems to be a virtually universal belief, too—is there any religion that doesn’t postulate some type of life after death? Or some variation of “the ghost in the machine,” an invisible, unknowable spark that makes us people and separates us from mere animals?  But what if “the self” turns out to be something basically simple, that we’ve overlooked for thousands of years because we’ve only recently begun to understand how the brain really works? This appears to be the position taken by the writers of Caprica, although I have to wonder if they go that route more as a matter of script simplicity than due to actually believing it. The previous series took a quite spiritual viewpoint from start to finish, so I’d be pretty surprised if Caprica did a complete about-face in that regard.

Greystone, being a genius, immediately realizes the applicability of his daughter’s invention to his own research. He proceeds to capture VR-Zoe and plug her into his malfunctioning robot prototype, in a move strongly reminiscent of his almost-namesake, Dr. Frankenstein. As in that other story, something goes wrong and it appears that VR-Zoe has been erased. Greystone eventually proceeds with his original project, though, and thanks to a very special stolen computer chip, his prototype now becomes the fulfillment of the wildest dreams of his military contract partners. The very first Cylon has been born.  Unknown to him, however, Zoe is still there, stuck inside the Cylon prototype. What is she going to do? That’s where the story ends, in a clear tease to us Galactica fans, who know full well how much havoc that one human spark will wreak, decades down the line.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. The Adama family begins as innocent bystanders, fellow victims of the bombing which kills Zoe. Joseph Adama, father of the speech-giving William Adama character in Battlestar Galactica, just happens to meet Daniel Greystone shortly after their daughters’ deaths.  Sharing their grief together, they become fast friends. But Adama isn’t in this story to act as a cheerleader to Greystone’s inventions, nor is he there simply because the producers wanted a marketable connection to the previous series. The disagreement between him and Greystone is not only the key to this whole pilot, but will probably prove to be the key to the entire series. Is the copy of Zoe real, or not? What does that even mean, anyway? Does she have a soul? Can a soul be copied? If not, does a person without a soul qualify as a person? Is there such a thing as a soul at all? Adama’s position is clear: an AI is not a person, regardless of how realistic it is. Greystone disagrees.

Their disagreement continues: Greystone not only wants to help his grieving friend, but to win him over to his point of view. He constructs a VR/AI version of Adama’s lost daughter Tamara, using the same techniques that Zoe used to make the duplicate of herself. He then introduces Adama to the “recovered” version of his daughter.  Unlike VR-Zoe, though, VR-Tamara knows nothing of her nature. She is terrified of being all alone in a very dark place (an empty VR universe), she feels no heartbeat in her chest and has no comprehension whatsoever of what has happened to her and the real world she remembers. Her entire existence is a state of confusion and panic. Metaphorically, it’s as if Greystone had captured her soul and cast it into hell, but realistically what it suggests is that a key element of successful AI construction is missing in her.  Adama, however, is too angry to even consider that. His offense makes it clear, perhaps, that the two men are poised to become antagonists as the series progresses.

All of this causes an interesting dilemma for those of us who have watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series, because we know how this issue is resolved in the end: Greystone’s view is eventually borne out, but only after incalculable loss for the human race. This suggests that, in the short term, Adama’s viewpoint will hold sway. This is also consistent with backstory presented in Battlestar Galactica itself—the Cylons were created to help humans, but they rebelled. Why did they rebel? Because they resented their enslavement.  And that is not characteristic of anything which fails to qualify as a full-fledged sentient being.

Since the ending of the series is already known, the joy is going to be getting there. This is a good thing—the very best stories often turn out to be the ones where you already know the ending.

There are a few other notable people involved who I haven’t mentioned yet:  Paula Malcomson and Polly Walker, who have both been fabulous in other series (Deadwood and Rome respectively).  They play Zoe’s mother Amanda Greystone and Sister Clarice Willow, a faculty member at the school attended by the daughters.  There is also Magda Apanowicz as Zoe’s friend, Lacy Rand, who, while unfamiliar to me, was quite delightful in the pilot.  We’re also being treated to musical scores by the magnificent Bear McCreary once again—that I am greatly looking forward to, and indeed, he’s already gotten off to a great start in this pilot.  Ron Moore, is also involved, thank the gods. ;)  I’ve also noticed on the Caprica Wikipedia page that James Marsters is listed under guest stars.  He’s apparently going to be doing what he does best, that is playing a very bad, bad boy in some future episodes. ;)

The regular broadcast schedule of Caprica began last Friday, January 22. I’m guessing, though, that the most rabid fans of Battlestar Galactica either own the uncut, uncensored DVD version already (complete with dancing naked people), or have at least watched the free version available on the official Caprica website. Thus, Friday’s opening was a bit of an anti-climax for us. What I am really looking forward to is the first regular episode, on the 29th. I predict I will be frustrated at an all-too-short running length (only 42 minutes when all the non-programmatic material is removed), but what can you do—that’s par for the course on TV these days.

(Note: This piece references the DVD released last year, rather than the pilot that was shown last Friday. I had originally assumed that the differences between the two would be minor, basically amounting to no more than replacement of the nude scenes with equivalent non-nude scenes, but apparently it’s more than that: I came across a datum stating that the broadcast version is about 4 1/2 minutes shorter than the DVD version. That’s fairly substantial, but whether it’s true or not is hard to say.)

The Author Returns January 18, 2010

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I’m going to take another stab at this blog.

Where have I been for the last nine or eleven months?

There’s really too much to explain very well. For the most part, I was spending most of my free time on another interest of mine: photography. I actually have another blog on WordPress now, pertaining largely to photography, although it’s “officially” described (by me) as “a vaguely defined blog.” Originally I just called it “My Pics”, (which is cute enough that I am still tempted to go back to it at times, even if it isn’t accurate anymore). Then I changed it to “ce9999”, figuring I would eventually think of a better name. I never did, so it remains ce9999, named after my WordPress account. Probably what I’ll do is refocus that blog onto general creative and intellectual interests of mine.

I’ve also been watching a lot of TV stuff during my absence. There are a lot of great programs that don’t fit very well into the scope of this blog. Six Feet Under, for instance, was a great show and I rented every season of it from Netflix. I also did that with Deadwood and Rome.

These all happen to be HBO shows, which I seem to be gravitating towards. The lack of censorship in HBO programming is one factor, but the main issue is that, when HBO decides to make an idea into a TV series, they really pull out all the stops. Rome, for instance, was apparently so expensive to produce that even though HBO and the BBC were pooling their resources, they still couldn’t afford to keep it going, regardless of its popularity. The Sci Fi Channel (whose new name I am not willing to use) could use a little bit of that sort of ambition.

In any case, one mistake I tended to make the last time I got into this was to try to cover too many things in individual blog posts. I’m going to avoid that this time. So that’s it for now. Back soon with more! :)

Why you should watch Dollhouse February 23, 2009

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Better stories, fewer commercials.

What more do you need?

Well, if you actually do need more than that, here are some additional reasons: Eliza Dushku. Tamoh Penikett. Amy Acker. Created and written by Joss Whedon. Also involved in the writing, Tim Minear. And a bunch of other good people who I’m not as familiar with.

Remember the first season or two of Alias? You know, when the show was actually entertaining—it was kind of silly (but at the same time not silly) and fun, with a strong, female protagonist who got to go out on secret missions every episode. Dollhouse bears some superficial resemblance to that, but has its own unique and interesting take on the idea. It toughens up one of the premises of Alias by three or four notches: Instead of simply going out on covert missions for each episode, series heroine Echo becomes a completely different person in each story. Her real identity has been wiped from her mind, rendering her a blank slate upon which the Dollhouse can impose any new and useful personality it wishes, for whatever reason it wants. Directly related to this are the questions of who she was originally, why she is where she is now, and how on earth she’s going to deal with a predicament which she isn’t even aware of. Echo and her peers (called “Actives”) are slaves, body and mind. If someone wants to purchase a girlfriend for the weekend, they can imprint an appropriate personality into Echo’s brain, and she’ll not only do it, she’ll believe in what she’s doing. The client in the second story wanted something like this…and then something much more sinister afterwards. What makes Echo’s situation even more compelling is that Actives exhibit an especially docile, childlike innocence when their mission personalities are wiped. They do what they’re told, sweetly, obediently, willingly. (Except there was one who went bad somehow, and slashed everyone up. More will obviously be revealed about that in upcoming episodes, and it will likely be tied up somehow with Echo’s own personal rediscovery.)

I’m already impatient for episode three!

Anathem – a new novel by Neal Stephenson November 26, 2008

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A brief foray into an older medium: Books!

Last weekend, out of boredom, I stopped at a corporate book-vending unit (aka “bookstore”) for a quick look around. Among other things, I checked out the sci fi section. I still check this section every time I go there, even though the state of sci fi book publishing, at least in a corporate store like this, has gotten so sad that it’s hardly worth the effort anymore.

Surprisingly, I did see something of interest this time. Neal Stephenson had apparently published a new novel a couple of months ago, and only now was I first seeing it. Had it been that long since I’d stopped by? Or was it just that the store was lax about getting it in stock?

Either way, there it was. Anathem was the title. I picked up a copy. Hefty, about 900 pages. This didn’t surprise me, given some of Stephenson’s other work. I took a peek at the dustjacket blurb. As I read, my eyebrows began to rise a bit, then a bit more, and as I got closer to the end of the blurb I began to run out of forehead! There were lots of made-up words, just casually bandied about, and the fact that they were used in the dustjacket blurb was pretty unusual. Typically, publishers will attempt to make a blurb fairly generic, so as to avoid scaring off any potential readers. Here, though, they were putting all of this odd, made-up language on flagrant display. Why? I supposed that the novel itself consisted of some very hard-core worldbuilding, and the words were intended to tease potential readers.

I was suitably teased. I sat down on a bench and took a look inside.

The book began with a brief dictionary definition of the word “Anathem”, which made even less sense than the dustjacket blurb. I began to recall my first reading of Dune, where, for much of the story, I had to laboriously refer to the glossary in the back to figure out what was being talked about. By the time I was done, my paperback copy looked like it had been read three or four times! I took a peek at the back pages of Anathem to see if there was a glossary. There was some explanatory stuff at the end, quite a lot of it, in fact, but the end sections were also titled with strange, made-up terms. Clearly, the book was constructed in as immersive a fashion as the author could possibly devise. That could be a good thing, if it worked, or it could mean disaster. Or exasperating boredom.

I turned the page. There was a table of contents, which offered some clarity on what was going on at the end of the book. The appendices were quite helpfully labeled “appendices”—in plain, 21st century English—even though each individual appendix was strangely named. There was also a “note to the reader” right at the beginning. Oooo, good. I took a look at it. It was fairly short, explained some basic stuff about the setting, and offered some very minimal pronounciation tips. The majority of the “note” consisted of a timeline, summarizing the 6000 years leading up to the events in the story. Wait—6000 years of backstory?!?!? Oy. Stephenson really doesn’t do anything halfway, does he? :)

I flipped to the beginning of the first chapter. I must admit, I was having some pretty serious doubts by then. The idea of the book, and what I’d seen of it so far, reminded me of books I’d read by Gene Wolfe. I realize that a lot of people really enjoy Wolfe’s novels, and that some even consider him to be the best American writer currently alive, but I found myself frustrated while reading them. I eventually gave up on them entirely, in spite of being quite impressed at the level of worldbuilding detail. I was really torn, too—I think I finished four or five of them before finally throwing in the towel.

The first few pages of Anathem, though, didn’t strike me as frustrating at all. They were in Stephenson’s characteristic style, which is not at all like Wolfe’s, and even more surprising, I found it fairly easy to understand what was going on. Remember that old skill we were all supposed to learn in school, the ability to discern the meaning of a word through context? It’s totally essential to be able to utilize that skill while reading a book like this, but a big part of being able to use it rests on the question of how well the context defines the strange words. That is the writer’s responsibility. As a reader, if the context doesn’t tell you what you need to know, there isn’t a lot you can do about it. It seemed like Stephenson did a pretty good job—better than Frank Herbert did with Dune, actually, judging by the first few pages. I didn’t have to refer to the appendices at all to understand what was going on.

I forced myself to put the book down after about five or seven pages. I was starting to get drawn into it, and I didn’t want to spend $30.00 on a book that day. There’s a good chance I’ll grab a copy from the library, though, if they have it. They probably do.

(But first, I’ve decided to take another stab at Stephenson’s earlier, huger work, The Baroque Cycle. THIS time, I’m not going to allow myself to get sidetracked after only 200 pages. I’ve heard that things really get going in the second book, so perhaps the first book is something akin to a 900-page-long prologue? Hmmm. Why can’t he just get to the point? On the other hand, one of the things I really enjoyed about some of his other books were the interesting digressions. Some of the ones in The Diamond Age were especially enjoyable. So the idea is for me to just sit back, read, soak it all up, and trust that the author knows what he’s doing.

I’m also curious to puzzle out the Cryptonomicon connection. There is clearly a connection between the two works. Is the connection is simply incidental and gratuituous, or is it integral to the story? I’m really looking forward to finding out. And if I enjoy it enough, maybe I’ll end up buying a copy of this new book!)

Heroes: WTF??? November 20, 2008

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I’m not the only person who seems to be having difficulty with the current (3rd) season of Heroes. A couple of weeks ago, a couple of the show’s producers/writers got canned by NBC, in response, apparently, to massive complaints about the show. Well, hopefully whatever further action is taken by NBC will eventually improve things, but for the time being, the episodes we’re seeing this fall (or spring, for southern hemisphere folks) were finished while the old writing/production team was still in place.

So what the hell is going on, anyway? This is perhaps the broadest question that comes to mind when I caught up with the latest two episodes a few nights ago. I’ve decided that there is too much going on for me to gain any benefit from watching the show every week. It seems to work better when I can watch at least two episodes back-to-back, and I suspect four would be better…the problem there, of course, is that doing so would require waiting a month or more between viewings. As is, waiting two weeks is bad enough. I am not sure if it helps me more to have more material presented at once, or hurts due to the increased time since the previous installment. Perhaps what I need to do is go back and rewatch the entire season so far! I’ll probably do that once the “Villians” storyline is completed anyway—I always seem to enjoy a show more when I can watch multiple episodes at once.

In any case, the biggest bugaboo for me on the show right now is the “two Peters” question. At any given time, I find myself not really knowing which Peter I am looking at. At first, it was easy to tell the two Peters apart, but as the Peter storyline has progressed, somehow I’ve gotten confused to the point that even the facial scars don’t help me anymore. Which leads to another question which really bugs the hell out of me, namely HOW exactly did “future-Peter” get those scars? Wouldn’t the healing power he got from Claire have healed them? Obviously it would have, so that means future-Peter didn’t have that power. But that raises the further question of why future-Peter didn’t have that power, when present-Peter does. (Or did, since he now doesn’t.) Is future-Peter a direct causal descendant of the events that are currently happening? Or is he a direct causal descendant of no-longer-existing events, meaning the scar happened in a future that is no longer possible? Or what?

There’s also the question of the missing-in-action characters. Ali Larter’s previous characters are apparantly dead now, and all the New Orleans characters, I guess, are not going to be reappearing. Are they? And where is Maya? I can’t even remember what happened to her now—did bug-Mohinder wrap her up in one of those cocoon thingees? Or wait—did Papa Petrelli suck her evil power out of her? I can’t even remember. She does seem to be gone now, though. Claire’s flying boyfriend (West Rosen) from season two appears to be MIA as well, which is too bad. They took him out of the picture right when I was just starting to like him. On the other hand, would he have served any useful purpose by continuing to be on the show? All he was good for, at first, was looking sympathetically at Claire. That was annoying. In fact, he sort of reminded me of that annoying boyfriend guy from the first season of Alias (who annoyed me so much that I stopped watching the show). What saved West from going down that path, though, was when him and HRG started kicking some butt. He seems to be gone now, though. Oh well.

On the other hand, there is a positive note in that Sparky (Kristen Bell) is still around. I know, her name is really “Elle.” But I can’t understand why some character on the show hasn’t figured out that “Sparky” would be a perfect nickname for her. It would be amusing. :) I also find myself liking the transformation in Sylar this season. Having him continue to be an unabashed villain would have been a rerun of where he was in season one, and what would have been the point of that? I understand that a lot of fans have been displeased by him turning into a sort-of good guy, but frankly I think it makes his character much more interesting because, you know, he could revert back to his old self at any time. He’s still scary and dangerous, he’s just acting nice at the moment. You never know when he might decide that all this redemption stuff is just not worth it, and that he’d much rather get back to slicing people’s skulls off. :)

A character who I am more confused by, for now at least, is HRG. His shifting, back-and-forth morality would be challenging enough, but when we also see him in year-old flashbacks it makes it even more complicated. I continually have to re-ask myself the question of whether I like this guy or not, and that’s kind of irritating. I think the main problem is that, like a lot of the characters on the show, he’s not getting enough screentime to maintain character continuity, and it happens to be more confusing with him because of the complexity of his character.

Well. Hopefully some of these issues will be addressed in the second half of this season. We’re already coming up on the end of the “Villains” story, only two more episodes on that, as far as I know. How on earth they are going to resolve all this is beyond me. I am not even entirely sure what all needs to be resolved. Papa Petrelli needs to be gotten rid of, obviously, but beyond that, what else? Does Peter get his powers back? Will “the formula” be destroyed? Does Mohinder get to be a regular human being again, or is he going to be stuck in semi-insect form from now on? Is Hiro Nakamura going to remain a perpetual 10-year-old now? Perhaps most importantly, which characters are going to get killed? You know they’re going to have to get rid of some of them, because there are just too many of them for the writers to manage. So, who’s going to get offed? Whichever way they go with that question, I find myself dreading the inevitable deaths.

David Tennant calls it quits October 29, 2008

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Huge news:

David Tennant quits as Doctor Who

He’ll be missed, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t count him as my favorite Doctor of all time, but he’s been pretty good in the role. I get annoyed when he talks so fast sometimes. Other than that, he’s been very cool.

He has some appearances left yet, so we’ll all have time to get used to this idea of him leaving. They’re doing another Christmas special, and then the four special episodes in lieu of a regular season next year.

Russell Davies has promised that Tennant’s final appearances will be “spectacular”, “spectacular” (yes, he said it twice) and “enormous”. Actually, that kind of scares me. I admit I haven’t been too happy with some of what Davies has come up with in recent seasons. His thing is maximization of drama, and hang all other considerations. So, for instance, we end up with that travesty double episode season-ender back in 2007, where the Doctor was shrunk down into a living voodoo doll and all sorts of other ridiculous things happened.

That whole story was just awful, although it did manage to avoid my main beef with what has happened over the past several seasons: Historically, Doctor Who has always kept the teeming masses of Earth sheltered from the direct impact of alien plots and machinations. The Daleks may plan to destroy the earth, for instance, but we never find out about it. This allows us happy fans the delusion that the Doctor is actually out there somewhere, we just don’t know about it because he, and the UNIT people, have been doing such a good job of keeping things out of the public awareness. However, in Russell Davies’ Doctor Who, that is no longer true. In some instances, the general public has become aware of what’s actually been going on. This, sadly, relegates Doctor Who into the less desireable category of “actual fiction.” Any fantasies of us being companions someday, of perhaps running happily towards the TARDIS like Rose Tyler, are forever gone.

Don’t get me wrong: None of us are actually dumb enough to have believed that the Doctor was really real. But there can sometimes be a slight gray area between pure fantasy and reality, where one can temporarily, for one’s own amusement, imagine what might happen if the fantasy wasn’t really a fantasy. One can feel, just for a little while, what it might be like if it was all really happening. This is possible because the tale has respected the boundaries of our own day-to-day realities. We can allow our own reality and the story to meld, just a little bit.

This melding, this little side-trip we take into the fantasy world, it may not even be a conscious thing. But it definitely adds a certain element, giving the fantasy a little extra zing of excitement. That element is now gone from Doctor Who, forever. It was the Slitheen who started it, by the way. You and I, all of us, we know full well that there have never been Slitheen smashing into Big Ben. This puts a permanent wall between our world and the world where the Doctor lives.*

But I digress. David Tennant is leaving, after next year. I wonder who they’ll come up with to replace him? Whoever it is, I find myself hoping the choice isn’t made until after Davies leaves the picture.

The other issue that’s going to have to be dealt with sooner or later is the question of the Doctor’s 12 regenrations. He’s only got three left. (Yes, three, not two. William Hartnell’s Doctor was not regenerated, which makes Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor the first regeneration, and so on. That means Tennant’s Doctor is the 9th regeneration, leaving three more. This is confirmed in “The Five Doctors”, where Peter Davison’s Doctor identifies himself as the fourth regeneration.) Three may seem like plenty, but it’s really not. How are they going to get around this? Does it matter that the Time Lords are no longer in existence? Does the elimination of Gallifrey from the Universe somehow negate the limit on regenerations? Furthermore, didn’t David Tennant’s Doctor already regenerate back into himself or something like that, back at the end of the last season? I admit, I can’t remember all the absurd details of that little farce. But if he did, then maybe that really does leave us with two, which makes the question even more urgent. So, would someone at BBC Wales please start paying attention to this problem? Thanks. :)

————-

*Honestly, there were some pretty big gaps in my viewings of the original series, so perhaps I am wrong about all of this. But for me, at least, that incursion by the Slitheen right near the beginning of Davies’ tenure as producer of the show, that was where the line was crossed.

Sanctuary premier: Yawn. October 5, 2008

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get into this at all. In fact, I had to struggle to stay awake.

Sci-Fi had been hyping it for a while, and even shuffled up their regular Friday night schedule to put the two-hour premier into a prime spot, but frankly, I didn’t think it was worth all that effort.

It’s a show about monsters. Yeah, monsters. Interesting, no?

Well, no, actually, it doesn’t turn out to be all that interesting.

It’s not that the “monsters are actually real!” idea is inherantly worthless, because it’s not (check out True Blood if you don’t believe me). The problem with Sanctuary is that all it seems to offer the viewer is a long sequence of “oohs” and “ahhs” over the monster effects. That’s not enough to base a show on. I mean, what are they going to do in subsequent episodes? Just hunt monsters and put them in their big, secret monster zoo? Is that all?

Actually, it’s clear that the main hook on the show is intended to be Dr. Magnus (played by the fabulous Amanda Tapping). Problem is, not only was a lot of the mystery about her given away in this first double episode, but she is only one character. The male lead, whose name I can’t even remember at the moment, is virtually devoid of interest, and the daughter is about the same. One semi-interesting character and two cardboard cutouts are not enough to base a good show on, especially when most of the mysteries for Dr. Magnus are already revealed. Where else can they go? There are questions left open relating to Dr. Magnus’s longevity, as well as the story of how she got to where she currently is. Will that be enough? For myself, I can already tell the answer is “no.” (There are some wildcards, namely some of the more sentient creatures inhabiting the sanctuary. Will they play a role? Take the mermaid, for instance. Will they do anything interesting with her, or is she just intended for decoration?)

As for the story itself, there were actually two of them sandwiched together. One involved a boy with a prehensile tentacle growing out of his rib cage. The tentacle featured a mouthlike thing on the end that looked a lot like the mouth of a larval Goa’uld, only with four jaws instead of three. As a fan of Stargate: SG-1 and Amanda Tapping’s role on that show, I thought this was amusingly ironic. (What’s sad was that this moment of irony turned out to be the most interesting thing about the show.)

The other story centers around a villian, who turns out to be someone that Dr. Magnus had an affair with over 100 years ago. The affair led to a pregnancy, and even though this was over 100 years ago, Dr. Magnus, being brilliant and cutting edge, managed to extract the embryo, freeze it for close to 100 years, and then implant it (in herself, presumably), resulting in her now having a fully grown daughter. The girl’s father is evil with a capital “E”, though, and has to be done away with. Oh, and he’s got super-speed. Whoopee.

I don’t know about you, but I just wasn’t all that taken in with either of these ideas, especially when Daddy Evil turned out to be Jack the Ripper, an idea which felt like a totally gratuitous throw-in. Jack the Ripper references tend to annoy me anyway, because everyone knows that the Jack the Ripper mystery was already solved on the original Star Trek series over 40 years ago, in the episode “Wolf in the Fold.” ;)

In any case, I’m not going to belabor this anymore. I almost fell asleep at least a couple of times while watching, which means the interest level really wasn’t there for me. Why spend any more time on it?

Unless I end up hearing some real raves about subsequent developments on this show, I’m done.

Tracy Strauss???!?!? September 23, 2008

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Ok, so what’s the deal with Ali Larter’s new character in Heroes? Niki Sanders is apparently dead for real, for all we can tell, and who the hell is this new icewoman person, Tracy Strauss?

Well, I have a theory: She’s the real Jessica.

Recall that Niki’s “Jessica” personality was based on a sister of hers named Jessica. We even got to see her grave at one point. I don’t recall them saying this explicitly, but I got the distinct impression that Jessica and Niki were twins. Apparently, Jessica was killed by their father, as she was trying to protect Niki.

Perhaps what actually happened is that the death was faked by the Company, who spirited the young Jessica away, and sent her to an appointment with the Haitian for a memory wipe, which means she doesn’t even remember Niki anymore. Notice how Tracy is a lot more Jessica-like than Niki is? I’m guessing I’m hardly the only one who initially thought she was Niki’s Jessica personality.

What kind of scares me is that this theory actually makes sense. :) Only question is, was the Haitian around at that time? My guess is, yes he was. He did get started with the Company when he was only a boy, after all.

Lots of other questions in these first two episodes, but I’m happy that I at least have a theory for this one, which bothered me the most.

I also have a theory that Mohinder is turning into a bug, but that’s just a crazy idea of mine. :)

Zap! You’re gone! Or, be careful not to get seperated while time-travelling into the future, and other matters. September 22, 2008

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Let’s say you travel a year or so into the future. You take someone with you. While the two of you are there, you get separated. You come back to the present, but your friend is still stuck in the future. Then you do something which eliminates the possibility of that future you visited ever happening. What happens to your friend, who didn’t come back with you, who is stuck in that no-longer-existent future?

It’s an interesting question, one I’ve never thought of before. Typically when we think of issues with time travel, we think of paradoxes which might happen due to travelling into the past. Travelling into the future seems so much more straightforward, doesn’t it? Except when you come back, because then you are travelling into the past again.

This situation is precisely what happened with Peter Petrelli and his new Irish girlfriend Caitlin, late in season two of Heroes. While in the future, they discover a plague has wiped out almost all of the world’s population. They get separated and Peter accidentally comes back to the present, without her. Once he’s back, he realizes the plague needs to be stopped. Does he realize that, by doing so, he may never be able to see Caitlin again? The story doesn’t deal with this question, other than by making it clear that he really does want to get her back.

Anyway, a few nights ago, I ended up watching those next three episodes of Heroes which I had mentioned in my last post, plus two more, for a total of five. That brought me right through to the end of season two, so I’m all caught up now. Sylar’s got his power back, Niki is presumed dead in a fire/explosion, Nathan has been shot, Adam buried alive, HRG was dead and brought back to life (and is once again making deals with the Company to protect his family), and Peter and Hiro save the day, with a big assist from Matt Parkman.

These five episodes turned out to be significantly better than the previous six, which is why I ended up being dumb and watching all five of them in one night, leaving me with no more to watch over the weekend. :) A lot of my complaints about the earlier half of the season were addressed, too. Peter and Nathan were reunited, as were Hiro and Ando. And there’s a lot of other good stuff. For instance, Hiro got to say goodbye to his father. I wasn’t expecting that, because of the small detail of his father already being dead. But Hiro, being a time traveler, obviously wouldn’t be constrained by that. The scenes between the two of them were really wonderful.

One thing I got totally wrong was my cutesy theory about Peter’s head being blown off and regrown. I was mostly kidding about that anyway. :) Turns out the Haitian wiped his memory. I should have known that was what happened, except I must have been having trouble remembering if the Haitian was actually alive anymore. Recall there was an alternate future where the Haitian was killed, by Mohinder, if I remember right. But that future was averted, so nothing in it actually happened, meaning the Haitian would still be alive. This stuff can be hard to keep track of!

So Peter’s problem was actually induced amnesia, and it turns out that regenerators like Peter can recover from that, simply by repairing the brain damage that’s causing the memory loss. This leads to an intriguing theory. Regenerative characters, we now know, also have the ability to temporarily transfer that ability to others with a brief transfusion of their blood. So it follows that anyone could use that method to recall their memories, provided they had access to some of that blood. Right? I wonder if the writers have realized this. Perhaps a better question would be, if they have realized it, are they going to be able to make any use of it in the story?

Another thing that occurs to me is, how does Peter know if he’s recovered all of his memories? He’s not a computer, so it’s not like he can run a checksum on his brain, is it?

And I’m still wondering how he got the ability to walk through walls. I keep thinking that this is a continuity error, because I recall Peter meeting up with DL in that alternate future where the Haitian was killed. But since that didn’t end up happening, that means Peter didn’t actually meet up with DL, or else the meeting happened somewhere else. Perhaps it happened towards the end, when all sorts of characters were showing up prior to the big explosion. That’s possible.

Anyway, there’s a lot more that could be said about this season, such as how my initial antipathy towards West ended up fading quite a bit once him and HRG teamed up. I’m completely glossing over some other, equally important stuff, too, but I don’t want to drag this out any longer, since the season premier is tonight!!! :)

The Big question: What happens to Niki Sanders and Nathan Petrelli? One of them has been shot, the other presumably burned alive in a fire. I’m thinking Nathan is probably safe, but I’m not so sure about Niki, unless she managed to superpower her way out of that fire somehow.

Other question: Will we see Caitlin again? I’m thinking no, it’s not even possible.

Heroes, Season 2 – Broken Relationships? September 18, 2008

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I’ve been watching season two of Heroes over the past few nights, and I’m currently six episodes in. Oops—I mean six chapters. :)

I’m enjoying season two, but after last night, I find myself concluding that this season simply isn’t as good as the first one.

Why?

At first realization I couldn’t pin it down exactly, but it didn’t take long to realize the obvious: One of the primary strengths of season one was a focus on the relationships between the primary characters. In every single case (except possibly one), those relationships are not playing critical roles in season two. In some cases, they have even been ended, due to death, presumed death, or other reason.

To illustrate:

Matt and Janice Parkman

In season one, in spite of the fact that the two of them were having marital difficulties, it was made pretty plain that underneath it all they loved each other very much and preferred to continue their marriage. How did they go from there to divorce? The initial explanation was that Matt read in his wife’s mind that her pregnancy was attributable to an affair, but then it’s said that Matt should have known better than to believe that. In other words, the baby was really his, and the fatherhood issue was just a pretext for their split. Huh? How on earth did that happen? I’d speculate that the real-life reason was Lisa Lackey having a new baby of her own, meaning she couldn’t continue with a full-time acting job for the season, but damn, the shift was quite abrupt, wasn’t it?

Peter and Nathan Petrelli

How often have I seen a major television program deal with a relationship between brothers? Offhand, the only one I can think of was on Dallas, and not only was that a long time ago, but Bobby and J.R.’s relationship was hardly a stellar example of brotherly love, was it?. Nathan and Peter Petrelli felt like something new and important to me, especially since I come from a family where my brother and I are the only two children. Nathan and Peter’s relationship was a primary story point in season one, but now it’s virtually absent. Nathan mourns Peter’s presumed death, and Peter doesn’t even remember who he is. Obviously Nathan is really suffering, but it’s not a point that seems to be driving the story much. Peter himself, remembering nothing of his former life, is basically in isolation except for his new Irish cutie girlfriend. Obviously, something had to be done with him after the end of season one, because at that point he was getting to be too powerful. He would have been the “K-9” of Heroes, meaning the writers would have had to constantly come up with reasons for him not to just wave his hands and magically make it all better. Wiping his memory and forcing him to relearn the extent of his power is actually one way of doing that—they’re making him not really Peter, which means super-Peter can’t just swoop in and save the day. But it’s frustrating, because Peter was one of the best characters on the show.

(Incidentally, I have a theory about Peter’s memory loss. Recall he was blown up at the end of season one, but at that point, he had also assumed Claire Bennet’s regenerative ability, which includes the ability to regenerate severed body parts. So what if Peter’s head was blown off by the explosion, and his body grew a new head? Obviously the new head wouldn’t have any memories, would it? This would also explain his hair being different. :) One other thing about Peter—at what point did he gain DL’s “walk through walls” talent? Recall when he’s tied up and manages to dephase his wrists to escape? When did he pick up that ability? Did he actually encounter DL sometime in season one? Maybe I’m forgetting that meeting. Otherwise, that’s a continuity error. Ok, digression over.)

DL Hawkins and the Sanders family

This relationship actually includes four people: DL himself, Micah Sanders, Niki Sanders and Jessica. Yes, Niki and Jessica have a relationship, even though they are two fragments of the same person. Very early in season one, the Niki and Jessica thing was probably the most intriging aspect of the show for me. Rather than explicitly explain what was happening with them, the writers left us to puzzle it out over time. Honestly, it took me a good chunk of the season before I fully understood that not only did Niki suffer from multiple personality disorder, but that the disorder wasn’t really part of her power at all. Her power was actually pretty simple: superhuman strength. It just so happened that only the Jessica personality knew how to access it at that point, and the only times Niki was aware of Jessica was when she saw her in a reflection. The mystery was positively delicious, especially since, at the beginning, I thought something quite different was going on, something mysterious that I’m not even sure how to explain. The writers and directors deserve a huge amount of credit for making something so interesting out of Niki/Jessica, and Ali Larter totally rules for playing and differentiating the two roles so well.

A big part of what made Niki/Jessica interesting was the completely different ways that the two women related to DL, and even to Micah. However, DL is dead now and Micah has been shipped off to live with relatives in New Orleans. Setting aside for a moment my enthusiasm for the New Orleans idea and the new characters it brings into the show, not having Niki and Micah together is definitely a loss, as is the comparative lack of interplay between Niki and Jessica. In fact, when Niki showed up as Mohinder’s new foil at The Company, I admit I wasn’t entirely sure if it was her or Jessica. Ali Larter was playing her like Jessica—that much was obvious—and yet I got a lot of Niki vibe from her too. Have Niki and Jessica been successfully integrated through psychiatric treatment? Who knows. Whatever has happened, the new season has left Niki with very little to do. The situation with her and Mohinder could prove to be interesting, but so far there hasn’t been much.

Hiro and Ando

This one is bad. Hiro is stuck in 17th century Japan, and Ando is left where? Reading scrolls and trying to look surprised? Season two isn’t working out very well so far for Ando, and without him, Hiro is diminished as a character. Not having the two of them together is sort of like giving each of the Smothers Brothers their own, seperate shows. Or Penn and Teller. Name your comedy duo of choice, really. Sure, Hiro and Ando are nice enough characters, but they work so much better as a team, when they can play off each other. Their ongoing repartee was a highlight of season one, and now it’s just gone. Hiro’s not the happy-go-lucky guy he was first season, either, which is also a significant loss. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all in favor of character development, and if Hiro has to evolve from happy-go-lucky guy to someone resembling the future-Hiro we saw in season one, that’s fine, but that needs to be done in a better way. It would be more fun if Ando was there, not reading along from 300 years in the future.

Simone Deveaux, Isaac Mendez, Peter Petrelli

Two of them are dead, and Peter I already talked about. This triangle, which played such an important part of season one, is just plain gone. I miss Simone and Isaac. A lot. Simone was wonderfully fabulous. I admit I am biased, because out of all the female characters on the show, she’s the one who set off the most “potential girlfriend!” alarms in my silly male brain. As for Isaac, once he got off the drugs, he was a seriously cool guy. It would have been great to see something sweet-yet-tortured develop between the two of them, as they struggled to reconcile their love for each other with the fact that they probably weren’t all that good a match. I also loved Isaac’s paintings, and loved seeing more of them come into play with each episode. In season two, the writers have been digging up heretofore unknown Isaac Mendez paintings as continued plot devices. How much longer are they going to be able to continue doing that? Already it has a feeling of contrivance to it, so I hope they stop soon. Besides—Peter and Sylar can both do that too now, and Sylar has a really interesting style. :) (But first, he has to regain his power! Oh well.)

Claire Bennet and Zach

Thomas Dekker (Zach) unfortunately left the show in the middle of season one, and besides that, having the Bennet family forced into hiding made the continuance of that very important relationship impossible. So instead we get another guy, West Rosen, and he annoys me. Who knows why. Is it because he flies? Probably not. Flying is a pretty cool power. Maybe it’s because, unlike Zach, he hits on Claire constantly. Or perhaps it’s because what I was really hoping for was an exploration of what might happen if Claire and Peter Petrelli had a chance to get to know each other. When they first met in season one, we didn’t yet know that they were uncle and niece, so there was the possibility of some forbidden love between the two of them, which I’m sure would have played really well on this show. I could easily see Claire developing a huge crush on Peter, and given his empathic nature, there’d almost certainly be some strong feelings on his part too. Even after Peter was revealed to be a relative of hers, what passed between the two of them during their brief meeting in “Homecoming” was something substantial, for both of them, so it would have been great to see some type of enduring relationship form between them. It could yet happen, I suppose. But for the time being, Claire is stuck out in California, at a new school, with annoying fly-guy. She even has to deal with a new head cheerleader bitch. Which reminds me, why are we being subjected to another head cheerleader bitch in season two? Wasn’t the one in the first season enough? Do the writers of the show have something against cheerleaders? I realize Cheerleader Bitch is just a plot device, a way to draw Claire and West together (which is annoying because I have no interest in seeing that happen) but why did they have to smack us over the head with the “stuck up cheerleader” stereotype again?

Anyway, I miss the Claire/Zach thing. That was cool, even after Zach’s memory was wiped.

Claire and HRG (aka Noah Bennet)

It could be argued that their relationship is the one relationship among all the first season primaries which still survives and is continuing from where it left off. It’s hard to specifically disagree with that position, but I still find myself thinking there’s something missing between these two. The circumstances of the story have reunited them, after the painful parting at the end of “Company Man”, but it’s also throwing them back into the state of lying and distrust that existed for much of the middle of season one. It seems like that should be a good thing, but somehow, it’s not really working for me. I haven’t figured out why yet. It’s not that I want Claire and HRG to be all happy and lovey-dovey all the time, it’s more that things just don’t feel right between them. I don’t mean that in the sense that the writers are cooking something up, either. I mean it in the sense that the writers have messed something up about the relationship. Perhaps the next episodes will clear this up. I hope so.

The problem with all of these changes is that characters are largely defined by their relationships with other characters, and that is especially true on a show like Heroes, where relationships play such an important role in the storytelling. Take away the relationships, and what do you have left? Parkman’s is who, without his wife? A telepathic guy with a roommate, and both of them try to take care of an orphaned girl? And by the way, he’s now on the NYPD? Well, that’s interesting enough I suppose, but it doesn’t have the depth or the pull that his marital relationship did. Who is Nathan Petrelli in season two? So far, he doesn’t seem to be much of anyone: He’s a lonely guy, a drunk, a nobody who’s not allowed to talk to his own kids, and who hallucinates visions of some horribly burned person who appears to be either his brother or himself (I can’t actually tell for sure who that’s supposed to be). Again, there’s just not as much to grab onto as there was first season, when the question of Nathan’s motivation was one of the big issues of the show.

There is also another difficulty with this season: With the exception of Peter (and initially Monica), all the characters in season two have a good understanding of their abilities and have made a lot of progress in integrating those abilities into their lives. Getting to that point was virtually the essence of the show for much of season one. The lack of it leaves a pretty big hole in season two. So far, I don’t see that hole being filled.

Still, I do think Heroes is a great show, and I’m certainly planning on camping out in front of the TV again tonight to watch the three episodes on the next DVD. I’ll be there for the season three premier next week, too. It’s possible I may have something to say about it, even. :)

New blog by Jack Coleman & Season 3 approaches! September 16, 2008

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Interested in Heroes? Then you may want to check out Jack Coleman’s blog, the HRG Files. It’s new, with only one entry so far. But he’s off to a good start, and the spoilerish content is so negligible that even I, who hasn’t seen all of season two yet, was not spoiled.

Less than one week now, until the premier of season three! Are you pumped? I am. Looks like I’ll be finishing up with season two just in the nick of time, too. :)

Heroes – various thoughts from late in season one September 11, 2008

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been enjoying watching the first sesaon of Heros, which I’ve been renting. I’ve been averaging four episodes a night, on nights when I have a fresh DVD available. I love this show. :)

Right now I’ve got five episodes left in season one. In the previous episode—sorry, I mean the previous chapter, Claire Bennet leaves home, and it is revealed that her father Noah, who is surely one of the most ambiguous characters I’ve ever seen on television, may actually be the biggest hero on the show. At least, from her perspective he is. In other respects, is he working for or against his company’s interests? I admit I’m still a little fuzzy on that one, especially when he goes to New York to deal with Isaac, and he’s right back to his old, ruthless ways. I suspect what he’s doing is working in his company’s interests when it suits him to do so. What an intriging character. I love it. Jack Coleman is quite an actor.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Sylar mostly. The maker of timepieces, who goes on to become the murderer, the psycho, the boogeyman creeping out of the closet to suck out your brains. He’s such an ironic character. With his ability, he could be a healer, a fixer, he could solve the problems of so many people, and be the biggest hero of them all. For those looking in vain for a “cure” to their abilities, I have no doubt that Sylar could figure out how to cure them. He could cure them all, even Nuclear Ted. All he’d have to do is look into their brains, see how their abilities work, and figure out a way to turn them off. Problem is, he couldn’t do that for himself. I wonder if he realizes that at some level, and that’s what drove him mad.

Since I have five episodes left in this season, it won’t surprise me if there are further revelations about him or other characters. I wonder if I’m right about this? Anyway, as I left the last episode, Sylar was about to gouge Peter Petrelli’s brains out. What an awful cliffhanger. I knew I should have called it a night at the end of “Company Man”, but I just couldn’t help myself. There was one more episode on the DVD, and I just had to go and watch it, didn’t I? I’m a junkie for this show. :)

One other thing. In “Company Man”, it was revealed that Hiro’s father (George Takei!) is the power behind “the company.” Add that together with this helix icon that’s been appearing in various places, including on the hilt of an ancient sword that is supposed to bring superpowers to its bearer…and things really seem to be taking shape now. I think tomorrow is going to be a long day, as I wait to watch those last five episodes. (And then I heard there’s a gigantic cliffhanger at the very end. That just hurts. But oh well.)