Sunday, November 28, 2010


Long-time logophiles know that curious words crop up to describe groupings of animals. An unkindness of ravens, a parliament of owls, so forth. And on the same day that a friend of mine was bemoaning the sheer number of metaphors she had to wade through, I came across this delightful Wondermark comic.

So I thinks to myself, what's the word for a whole bunch of metaphors crammed together? A commonwealth? A congress? A translucence? Then I had it. And after spending more than a little time that should have been spent sleeping and precisely NO time researching whether or not this had been done before, I had it. Collective nouns. For English.

You're welcome.
  • A mix of metaphors.
  • A likeness of similes.
  • A pause of commas (suggested by Andrew).
  • A stoppage of periods (also suggested by Andrew)
  • A tensor of parentheses.
  • A squadron of semicolons.
  • An ass-load of regular colons
  • An impertinence of innuendo.
  • A Constitution of articles.
  • An obviousness of foreshadowings.
  • A head of metonyms.
  • A confession of references.
  • A forest of symbols.
  • Anastrophe of vector a.
  • A ray of hyphens.
  • An aside of dramatic ironies.
  • A misinterpretation of regular ironies.
  • A happening of gerunds.
  • A perigrination of participles.
  • of in medias res.
  • A constellation of authors.
  • A recurrence of flashbacks.
  • A missive of quotations.
  • A spl-fucking-it of tmeses.
  • A skyscraper of isocolons.
  • A frustration of anticlimaxes.
  • A good relationship of climaxes.
  • A stormcloud of pathetic fallacies.
  • An implausibility of allegories.
  • An association of analogies.
  • A sponnybrook of doonerisms.
  • A tautology of tautologies.
  • A siege of ontologies.
  • An antibiotic of non sequiturs.
  • An inzameling of polyglots.
  • A reunion of cognates.
  • An ENTIRE FUCKING UNIVERSE of hyperbole.
  • A stream of consciousness.
  • An asylum of grammarians.
  • An irrelevance of bloggers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Secret Identity

When you're going to step out on your wife, you'd better have a plan, and Mark Maitland had a doozy. It wasn't that he didn't love Stephanie, he was the first to point that out, even (and usually) to whichever girl he was explaining the intricacies of his marital woes to. No, he loved Stephanie. Which is why he bought the spandex, ultimately. He didn't want to hurt her.

Annual company shareholder dinner. He was there with Stephanie, the both of them suffering through disjointed insufferable conversations and the kind of chicken curry liable to get whoever crafted it called before The Hague. She looked beautiful, standing there across the room making small talk with Artie Preston about whatever goddamn thing Artie Preston was in to these days.

It was sheer elegance in its simplicity, the plan. After all, Mister Upstanding had to be somebody, and Mark was of the right build and you never saw under the guy's Mecha-Halo, right? Mark kept a police scanner in his study, not obvious but something you could find if you were looking for it, and if there was a bank robbery in progress or if Mesmeron or the Preying Mantis threatened to blow up the Triboro bridge, he had his permission, tacit, no questions asked, to step out for the evening.

The hard part was finding the right color of spandex to match the guy's traditional bluish purple and leaving a swatch of the stuff in just the right place. Again, not too obvious, but he didn't want to go to the whole trouble of telling the girl at the fabric store that his wife was really, really in to Mister Upstanding and hence the bolt of the damn stuff he was buying, of which he'd only use a scrap, and enduring that knowing look as she scanned through and why couldn't it have been one of those frumpy women you so often find in stores like this?

There had been the predictable craze of 24-hour news speculation on who the flying wonder who averted the terrorist strike and locked up The Human Pyramid could be, but as with any news story that doesn't gain immediate traction, after a while it was forgotten and the question of just who Mister Upstanding was faded into the dull obscurity of B-list celebrity deaths and environmental catastrophes. But he had to be somebody, and why not Mark Maitland, mild-mannered accountant for a great metropolitan banking concern?

Shareholder meetings are their own brand of depressing, and that was before Holestyn & Tamura lost twenty percent of its net value in a single year. Mark had been on the task force assigned to massage the message to HT's annual dinner for its bigger stakeholders, to finesse the truth, to insert phrases like "emerging markets," "new direction," and "history of excellence" and just let them lie there in Don Holestyn's speech, for anybody to find. After dinner there was supposed to be dancing, an affair that in years past had been jubilant to the point of getting him nearly caught with Norma from Accounts Payable giving her the ol' Accounts Receivable. This year? Not so much. Dour as a Junior High dance, this was, with Investors and Employees on opposite sides of the dance floor milling around uncertain and vaguely resentful of being here int he first place. Stephanie was a real champ at these things. he was always glad to have her in his corner.

He didn't notice the rumbling at first. He was talking to one brave investor who'd managed to breach the enfilade of low-ranking employees to ask him point blank what HT was going to do in this positively ghastly market when Mark finally noticed the rumbling.

Then the ceiling tore apart. And giant robot spiders flooded in.

What is it about supervillains and the maniacal laughter entrance? The Tarantulist, astride a fifteen-foot mechanical spider, descended upon the party with an army of soulless killer arachnids aiming to be the second-worst thing to happen to Holestyn-Tamura since the Recession started.

"Bring me Don Holestyn!" the villain demanded. "I have six-hundred shares in this fucking company!"

Somehow, in the panic, Stephanie had made her way to his side. Mark was too busy trying not to wet himself to possibly anticipate what she was about to say.

"I'll hold them off."

"What?" he asked. Fucking spiders! Fucking ROBOT fucking SPIDERS! They were the size of dogs! Prowling around, herding them to the center of the room.

"I'll hold them off. You know. Create a distraction. A disturbance. Get their attention. So you know."

"So I can WHAT?!"

"It's okay, Mark. I know. I know. It's okay."

Oh, fuck.

He gulped. He hoped not too outwardly obviously. Then he said the most perplexing thing he'd ever said in his life. He said "Okay."

Stephanie smiled the smile of a woman married to a superhero. She moved to the center of the crowd. Don Holestyn was crouching under the hors dourves table. Several people looked like they were positively rooting for the Tarantulist.

"Hey!" Stephanie shouted. "We're in an economic recession, you jerk! Holestyn & Tamura isn't any better off than any other company!"

He had a window. And he had a duty, a moral imperative to his wife, to get past the robot spiders and escape to safety. He would call the police, that's what he would do. The police would warn Mister Upstanding and the whole thing would be taken care of. Yeah. Yeah! He could do this.

Slowly, he insinuated himself backward, not looking for the spiders, not yet. People were actually listening to his wife. Go figure! And she was making sense! He ducked past a chunk of fallen masonry and by the barest breath of good fortune slipped past a spider that was attenuating its laser-guided unpleasantness toward Stephanie's back to reach the double-doors and slip out of the ballroom.

He eased the doors shut and began to run. The hallway was perversely quiet. He bolted down the deserted corridors of Holestyn & Tamura, forgoing the elevator, skipping down steps three at a time.

Gotta get out.

Gotta get out.

Gotta get out.

All at once he was in the night again, the city awash in familiar sounds, ignorant, apparently, of the ordeal inside. Only then did he try his phone. And...nothing. Jammed? If he got farther away...Mark had already started to run again when the light and the whoosh like a low-flying jet signaled that, right on time, Mister Upstanding had arrived.

Mark couldn't see the man's face, not clearly, not enough to make it out. The halo was like a lens-flare on God's movie camera, just obscuring the hero's features. He was taller than Mark, broader-shouldered, and in that moment of first contact Mark was seized by the reality that, really, he didn't look a thing like this guy.

"Tarantulist," Mark huffed at the--still floating, the bastard--superhero. "Inside."

"I know." Oh, and the voice. Deep, rich, crackwhorefucking baritone. Stephanie was going to know. She was going to know for sure. He wanted to retch.

"How many hostages?" Upstanding asked. The deal on Mister Upstanding was this: Far in the future, we will evolve past greed and cruelty and stepping out on your wife and tax evasion and over-watering your lawn and then we'll have technology--something called post-singularity by all those commentators who sprouted up back in September of '01 after Upstanding averted those plane hijackers--which will basically allow us to do anything. And, as the hero explained to David Letterman's highest ratings ever, they sent that technology back in time to be used by a person of perfect moral goodness. Not quite his direct words, but seeing him now, Mark wanted to punch the smug asshole straight in the face.

"Seventy," he managed. "Maybe wife is in there. Sir. My wife is in there." He had no idea where that last part came from. At the mention of hostages, Mark could swear he caught a grin through the man's fucking lens-flare halo. No moral ambiguity here. Just a bunch of innocents and one pissed off guy with a robot spider army. Simple.

"Stand aside," the hero said. "Leave it to me."

Monday, May 10, 2010


"People are always talking--psychiatrists--about how it's your Mother's going to screw you up. Well, not my Mom. My Mom was a peach. She put up with the whole thing all her life, never said anything to him or to me."


"No, it wasn't anything like that. It wasn't. My Father was just what you'd want. He never hit me, he never touched me, he just...he wasn't my father. I mean, sure, he was my actual, literal father, that's not what I mean. What I mean is...we have doctor/patient confidentiality in here, right?"


"Right. Sorry. Figured, just thought I'd check. I've never been in therapy, actual therapy. Seen it on TV, of course. I'm forty now. You'd think I'd have managed it earlier on, with everything."


"Yes, with my Father. I thought my father was a professor of astronomy. I never talked about it with Mom. I especially never talked about it with him. She knew, she must have known. I found the basement when I was eighteen.

"I think she knew I knew, too, then. In hindsight it's impossible to think after that Thanksgiving dinner she didn't know something was up, but still, we never talked about it. And now he's dead. Last week. I gave the eulogy. They actually put me up there, on a stage, in front of people, they actually put me up there to talk about my father as if I knew him. As if I had any damn idea at all who he was, in the end."


"...My father...Doctor/patient, right? My father, Ward West, was The Comet."

"Yes. THAT Comet. The superhero. Our house was in Grosse Pointe, well away from the city. I wasn't really aware of it, of him, growing up. Like I said, I thought he was a professor of astronomy, at the University. I just never imagined. Not some maniac in purple spandex and a white satin cowl. That cowl, that's what everybody remembers, how his cape came out from the back of the cowl."


"No, there weren't--no, I mean, looking back, there were times when he wasn't at home, but I thought he was out stargazing, or something. I don't remember if Mom told me that at first and I just internalized it. 'Oh, Dad is out stargazing.' It's night. It's plausible, right? I don't know. That's just the thing, though! You go through the whole back-catalog of your life, looking for signs he was ducking out. Was that time he missed my tenth birthday really a freak once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower That sounds stupid just saying it out loud. All of this stuff, all of it I'm just saying out loud now, for the first time.

"'THE COMET! MOST WANTED MAN IN THE CITY!' Some news headline, I remember, from '82. It turned out to be agents of H.A.V.O.C. or something, responsible. After I found the basement, after I went back to MIT, I started collecting things. Old newspaper clippings--the political cartoons always got the cowl right, streaming behind like the tail of, well, you know. Hasbro put out a toy. I wonder who got the money on that? Who gets the rights? He'd have had to come forward. He was technically breaking the law, of course. I bought one of them on ebay, a Comet figure. Swear to God I carried the thing in my pocket for like a week."


"By now you can figure what's in the basement. I took the house for granted, my whole life, growing up. Sure, it seemed weird that I was the only one of my friends without a basement but when you ask your father that question at the tender age of four or something, sitting on his knee as he smokes his pipe in that old cardigan of his, smelling of tobacco and pomade, and he says, 'Craig, my boy, they just didn't build it with one,' you take it at face value because he is your father. And I didn't think about it. I thought those low narrow wooden rectangles, set in from the rest of the wall by a half inch and framed for all the world like they were, or had been at some time, windows, I thought those were artistic touches, until Thanksgiving, that first year at college.

"It was like seeing the place for the first time, coming home. Like the scales were lifted from my eyes. You ever have that? I had taken the place for granted and then there I was, on the day before the Day, standing outside, by myself, staring at the front of the place. I began to become obsessed with the question of Does My House Have A Basement? The day before the Day. Dad was at his office at the University, presumably, and Mom was out shopping. We were supposed to have Uncle Neil over, only he wasn't Dad's brother, just a collaborator at the University.

"I circled the house. I didn't have measuring tape so I counted steps. I searched around inside for some kind of discrepancy in the internal geography of the place, something that didn't match up with the outside. I went back out again, tried to push or bash my way past the painted-over-to-match boards I knew had to have once been windows."


"Very narrow, like the ones where if they were still there they'd be almost too small to squeeze through. I must have looked like I was trying to rob the place, only I'd left the front door wide open, and, really, it wasn't that kind of neighborhood.

"Eventually I figured it out. In my father's study, there was a door underneath the rug, like one of those that you pull down from the attic and it becomes steps. Very low-tech, really, which left me utterly unprepared for what was below, in the Comet's lair."


"I don't know. Cave? Fortress of Solitude? Oort cloud? I don't know what I was going to find, down there. I could hear my heart in my ears. Whatever I was about to do was Not Supposed to be Done. Secret things I was fucking with.

"There was light coming from below. I went down.

"It was low, the ceiling, I remember now. It was a proper basement, all low and cement-floored, missing the water heater and the furnace because at some point of course they'd been dragged upstairs to maintain the ruse. And there was a door at the end of the basement, like a garage door. The whole place had the feeling of a garage, the smell, of oil and stale exhaust. I could peer through the tiny window on the garage door--who knows how he got it down there or how he dug a tunnel from Grosse Pointe to Detroit proper without anybody noticing, but it was all darkness.

"There was a desk, with a row of computer screens. On the chair, tossed casually as if he were coming right back--and for all the world he probably was, the fucking Shooting Star was missing--that's his car, the Shooting Star--on his chair was a disembodied Comet costume.

"There were more of them in a rack in the closet. Not just your regular superhero costumes, but also some Comet scuba gear, a desert outfit, snow gear. There was a rack for various esoteric weapons. Two racks, really. One for his ice guns and one which was all stuff he'd collected from his enemies. Heliovore's Thermoscepter. Professor Zodiac's Wheel of Misfortune. The Human Pyramid's Turntable of Crime. All of this stuff crammed in to the basement with just enough room for that car of his.

"It's probably all still down there. He retired, what, a couple years after that? He was fifty-five. And my father was fit all his life, don't get me wrong. Scary fit, compared to the other dads. But even at fifty five, you gotta figure you're pushing your luck tussling with some tweeker at three in the morning with only your satin cowl and an ice gun you built in 1965."

"So I'm standing there, my heart about to just explode out of my chest, when I hear the sound of my mother getting home. Saying something about the lines at Meijer. Complaining about some woman in front of her buying more cranberry sauce than truly stalwart mortals should be able to process. Funny what you remember.

"I booked it upstairs. I kicked the rug over the ladder/door thing and rushed out, tried to look casual as I came in to the kitchen and offered to help Mom with the groceries.

"I didn't sleep at all that night."


"Of course I didn't say anything! What was I supposed to say? Hey, Mom, was snooping around in Dad's study and found out he's got a rocket pack and six changes of spandex tights hidden under the floorboards? I'm from the Midwest, Doc. Confrontation's not something we do. And who knows if she even knew anything. I thought she did. I think she did. She must have, right? Anyway, the morning came and Uncle Neil and Aunt Claire came over. I remember staring at them all through dinner. Like I said, my father was an only child, he didn't have any brothers, we just called him Uncle Neil.

"But so then Uncle Neil comes over and I'm...I'm just staring at him. At him and Dad and Aunt Claire. Were they in on it. I couldn't stop, who were they? Mister Midnight? Radium Girl? The Stoplight? The Hourglass? I tried to imagine Aunt Claire in that old green-and-black Hourglass costume. You remember the one? From the Seventies? Form fitting. Well, I guess they were all form-fitting. But with her there was just so much....form. Where was I?"


"Oh yeah. Yeah, right, yeah. Under her clothes! Who was she under her clothes? And Uncle Neil as well? Under his sweater-vest and his half-windsor, has Uncle Neil got on the old garish yellow-and-red-and-green number? With the cowl stashed maybe in the pocket of his tweed overcoat, kept just out of sight. All through dinner I'm thinking this, like maybe they're talking in code, like maybe they've been talking in code all my life."


"The funeral was last week. I flew out, I saw my Mother again for the first time in a couple years. He was there, in his casket, like some wax doll of himself. All his secrets, gone for good. I kept thinking there'd be some letter or some video message, maybe, explaining things. Nothing. And then so I'm there, and I spent the whole flight over practicing in my head the eulogy, the speech I'm supposed to give in front of a room of Uncle Neils and Aunt Claires and people who all knew him better than I did, I'm sure.

"I stood there, I'm standing there, looking out at them, with my tie and my manicured words about my father. It hits me again. Who are these people? How much did any of them know him, really? How many of them--how many of us--all of us, really, I think now, carry our tawdry, lurid selves around with us, just underneath."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Greatest Hits

So I hate the new theme song. Let's just get that out of the way, first. The negativity. Because I am a geek and therefore on some level cannot be happy unless I have something to grouse about. I hate the new theme song. Beyond that, when "Silence in the Library" came out back in 08, and Steven Moffat was announced to be Dr Who's new show-runner, some fans worried that he'd rather run out of ideas. The squareness gun, the 51st-century setting, the "Everybody Lives" moment. (So far no one has died in a Moffat story save from old age, still, unless you count River and company, which the message of "Forest of the Dead" seems to philosophically contradict. Ie: Everybody Lives, Even When They Don't.) And "The Eleventh Hour" certainly keeps up this tradition of running through previous Greatest Hits of The Doctor, especially those from Moffat's stories. Amy's story is much like poor Reinette's in "The Girl in the Fireplace;" the aliens-talking-through-anything-with-speakers is the same as "The Doctor Dances;" and the central conflict of the episode--an alien prisoner loose on Earth being pursued by some pretty draconian aliens--is pretty much the exact storyline of Russel Davies' season-3 opener, "Smith and Jones."

But who the hell cares about plot? This is Doctor Who! There are monsters every week; that's not important. What's important is how our hero and his companion react to those monsters. Much more importantly, this is a new Doctor story, and there's only one question: How'd he do?

I'll admit I was put off by his youth. When the announcement was made, when the first publicity photos hit the air, I was a bit miffed. He's younger than I am, for God's sake. I am older than the Doctor, now. That's just not right. Not right at all.

However, I'm pleased to inform that my petty first impressions were entirely unfounded. Smith knocks it out of the park. And the script gives him ample opportunity to do so. There are a few lines which sound as though they could have been written for Tennant, but Smith does the one thing, the most crucial thing in this role: he makes it his own.

Favorite line: "Do you know when adults tell you everything's going to be fine and you're pretty sure they're lying?"
"Everything's going to be fine."

Just the reading of that line is fantastic. Smith takes to the role with energy and authority and absolute commitment. And he moves, the way he moves, all awkward and gangly, in direct contrast to Tennant's bounding about the place and Eccleston's stalking swagger. (Which was awesome, don't get me wrong. Awesome.)

Bit of trivia: This is the third time the Doctor has stolen his clothes from a hospital.

I quite like the new companion, Amy. With "Rose" in 2005 we got reintroduced to the Doctor through his companion's eyes, and it happens the same here, only with a slightly different, fractured-fairy-tale spin. He becomes an imaginary friend, a story she tells herself then forgets was ever real, until he comes back. This is the kind of thing Steven Moffat has been doing extremely well in his Doctor Who stories these past five years. I'm entirely confident that the next five years will be utterly brilliant. I can't wait.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't Let Them Take Babs, Neither

Not only do there continue to be little whispers of rumors of a US Torchwood remake (and the almost inevitably straightened-out Captain Jack that would follow) but another rumor rumbles and bubbles and gurgles and does other nasty things, that of a Barbarella remake.

This is a terrible idea, for the following reason: Americans would make it.

When Barbarella premiered in 1968 it was a French production (albeit with an American actress) based on a French comic. And not anything against American movies in general, but let's just go through the plot of 1968's 'Barbarella,' shall we?

Barbarella gets the call to go to Tau Ceti and stop evil scientist Durand-Durand. She rather crash lands, runs afoul of some evil children, gets rescued by this hairy dude, sleeps with the hairy dude, goes on her way, meets an angel, bangs the angel in to being able to fly again, gets in to some trouble in the City of Night, hooks up with the resistance, saves her angel, defeats Durand-Durand's orgasmerator and the evil one-horned cyclops chick whose name I can't recall and books out of the City of Night with her angel Pygar and the aforementioned cyclops lady.

Let me tell you how this would work in the United States in 2012, or whenever. Barbarella (now played by Megan Fox or some other Real-Doll) crash lands on Tau Ceti, where she's rescued by Sam Worthington or some other hunky bottomless pit of charisma from whence there is no escape, they banter "sexily," she stays hung up on him the whole film despite some second-act Lipstick Lesbianism, they blow the living SHIT out of the City of Night, and Worthington conquers her in some soft-focus missionary that cuts out with a bad pun before the movie ends.

Shoot me.

Take the American TV landscape, for instance. Tell me if I'm wrong, but with the exception of 'Sex and the City' and other ostensible "by girls, for girls" TV--and especially in the case of genre TV, something usually fronted by guys--if you're a Lady Protagonist you're bound to spend the entire series shacked up with pretty much one guy while the Highlander two channels over is busy banging chicks from here to 16th-century Scotland. The Ghost Whisperer, that chick from Underworld, that Medium lady, the girls of 'Charmed' (one of whom, Rose McGowan, was rumored for the part when she was dating Robert Rodriguez) they all have some constant male companion of greater or equal ability in the Getting Shit Done Dep't, or they're like Sydney from Alias: one lover dies early on and the other is this slow burn for half the gawdang series.

In the original film, Babs is free, self-assured, and capable of doing her thing without using sex as manipulative tool or following some dude around doe-eyed because one time he looked at her funny. A character like this, in full possession of her sexual superpowers would like as not be a villain in any major US production. So, please, Hollywood. Make 'Transformers 5' instead.

Addendum: Because it amuses me, here is the entirely NSFW Orgasmerator scene:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And then it hit me

If St. Patrick's Day is essentially a celebration of the broadest, most negative of stereotypes about the Irish, suppose we expand on this? For example:

St. Patrick is also the Patron Saint of Nigeria, so next March 17th, try and commit as much Internet fraud as possible.

May 3rd. Take May 3rd off. It's the feast day of St. James the Lesser, patron saint of Paraguay. Nobody gives a crap about Paraguay.

May 30th is the Feast Day of St. Joan, the Patron Saint of France. Let's all commit adultery and surrender to somebody.

June 5th is St. Boniface, of Germany. Get yourself really organized, exterminate some innocents, and annex Czechoslovakia.

June 22 is the feast day for St. Nicetas of Romania. Give your children away.

Doubting Thomas is the Patron Saint of Pakistan. His feast day is July 3rd, so you have two months to get really good at cricket and then blow yourself up.

Saint Rose of Lima's Feast Day is the 23rd of August. She's the Patron Saint of the Philippines, so you have until then to learn "My Way" and then kill a bunch of people.

October 4th is St. Francis of Assisi, Patron of Italy. Go out and steal something.

November 30th is St. Andrew's Day. Andrew the Apostle is the Patron Saint of Russia, so drink vodka until you're silly, embrace political corruption and try to get involved with the meanest gang you possibly can.

December 3rd: St. Francis Xavier. Japan. Two words: Tentacle. Porn.

December 4: Iran. St. Mathuas. Death to America. You know what to do.

December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico. Stop working.

By the time the new year rolls around you'll be ready for St. Ansgar, patron saint of Sweden, and you'll finally have something to do with all those Allen wrenches.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

There are many things which fill me with anger. Other drivers. John Boehner. Things that make no sense. John Boehner. The Texas Board of Education. The Itawamba School Board. Drunk people on a Wednesday afternoon. John Boehner. But there's one thing that sticks most in my craw, today.

Mad Men Barbie.

Now, normally I'd be content to dismiss this as yet another marketing scheme, like, say, Mad Men Transformers, My Little Mad Pony Men, or Lego. But this is beyond the pale.

Barbie Joan.

Mattel: This:

Does not equal this:

Not here. Not anywhere. The only way in which these two could possibly be confused is by inhuman tentacled alien explorers from the Andromeda Galaxy who, without frame of reference, might confuse the two for being in the same genus.

There are a perishing few unapologetically curvy actresses in the state of Hollywood, and the sight of one being reduced to an impossible caricature just FILLS ME WITH RAGE. I want to kill them with fire.

Hagiography II: Stigmatic Boogaloo

Once again it is St. Patrick's Day and despite my move from downtown Ann Arbor to downtown Ypsilanti, my (admittedly beautiful) afternoon was smudged a bit by random bouts of emerald-clad drunken revelers. So, in lieu of buying a three-piece orange suit and pissing off the people to whom this holiday actually matters, I'll act out by pointing out more saints than the Patron of Delirium Tremens:

For heaven's sake, how did I miss him last year? Today is the Feastday of St. Joseph of Arimathea, so we should all be drinking our watered-down green piss out of clay cups, because if you've seen 'The Last Crusade,' you know what his deal was. HOLY GRAIL, people. Holy Grail.

Paul of Cyprus was martyred for not being an iconoclast and Jan Sarkander was canonized by none other than JP2 for being a Catholic with the wrong zip code at the start of the Thirty Years War.

And if you missed celebrating today, raise a glass tomorrow to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (not to be confused with that son of a bitch Cyril of Alexandria) who fed the poor in Jerusalem and hung fast with the Athanasians rather than the Arians during the whole Nicea business.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gay Panic

Rumors persist that Torchwood, the BBC's "for adults" Doctor Who spinoff starring the omnisexually fabulous Captain Jack Harkness may be making the trip across the pond, like so many successful British shows, to a series in the United States. And like so many UK/US remixes, including the DOA travesty that was 1996's FOX 'Doctor Who' TV movie, this fact is troubling. Take a look at this comparison between Steven Moffat's wonderful early-aught's sitcom 'Coupling' and its US version.

It's called acting. Google it. And while you're there, check out the televisual abortion that was the US version of 'Red Dwarf.' Worst. Adaptation. Ever.

It's not that Torchwood is a phenomenal show, either, and occasionally the sun shines and the wind is in the right direction and we get something like 'The Office' (hell, 'All in the Family' is a remake of a British show). What concerns me more is Captain Jack.

Captain Jack Harkness sauntered on to the scene in 2005, and by the time he got his own show a year later, had emerged as really the gayest action hero ever. Tell me, America, because I'm dying to learn. Is there anyone else? With the exception of Ianto Jones, Jack's lover in the second and abbreviated third seasons of Torchwood, alternative sexualities don't fare very well in actioners. Sure, you can be a butch lesbian Vasquez-esque action hero if you're a gal, but if you're a guy and you enjoy anything other than the love of a good woman (not that there's anything wrong with that) you're reduced to mincing ineffectuality. The only exception I can possibly think of is from 2008's 'Death Race,' in which it's slyly hinted that Tyrese Gibson's Machine Gun Joe is, possibly, gay as hell.

Would a US version of the show smooth Jack out for NASCAR Dads? Is America ready for a bisexual male action character? Adam Lambert, openly gay American Idol contestant raised the collective hackles of America when he smooched his dancing partner in the finale for 'So You Think You Can Dance.' Angry letters were written. Call-in shows were called in to. "My kids watch this crap," they say, though we've been getting girl-on-girl love at prime time hours for at least a decade. It's totally fine if Olivia Wilde makes out with some lady (or ladies) in a given episode of 'House,' but if Omar Epps were to do it? (Admittedly, it might finally make Foreman interesting.)

My money is on "you betcha." Should Torchwood emerge in the United States with the same male lead it had in Britain, my presumption is that Harnkess' proclivities won't, to say nothing of a relationship between two men that doesn't paint itself in a super-broad, 'Will & Grace' sized brush.

If you ask me (and you haven't) at root of all this is the fact that female sexuality is not taken seriously by the media at large. Perhaps not by the culture. Olivia Wilde's makeout scene in House is harmless because lady-to-lady sexuality is harmless, unthreatening, and, let's face it, kind of awesome. But male sexuality, now that is serious business; and male homosexuality, if it's used in an action-TV show context at all is likely to be employed as threatening, prison-set Soap of Damocles. This is a shame.

Here's hoping they prove me wrong.

Monday, March 8, 2010

First Contact

(1) The Great Beyond

It was during simulated midnight when the good ship Josephine Baker powered down above 61 Cygni B II and Barstowe told them it was going to be just like that film Alien.

“I’m telling ya,” he said from the secondary Nav interface. “Strange radio transmission, little backwater planet, us…we’re gonna get all kinds of chomped upon.” Barstowe had this theory, and by now all 96 of the Baker crew had heard it. His theory was the movie Alien, and Star Wars and Star Trek and what-have-you, on and on, these movies were all part of a conspiracy, going back two centuries, to the 1940’s. They’re preparing us, Barstowe would say, desensitizing us to the prospect of alien life because they know its’ out there. They know who we’re dealing with.

Someone would inevitably point out that humans had been in space a whole century now and nobody had heard so much as a rustle in the proverbial trees (the actual, literal trees also being absent) with respect to alien life.

Greer said nothing. The only thing more useless than whatever it was Barstowe was on the ship was Greer. A thousand ships in the competing navies of Earth and not one jot, not even the barest suggestion of extrasolar life. There was nobody onboard less useful than the ship’s Theoretical Anthropologist.

The planet was a gray, hulking rock, a little larger than Earth but less dense according to the screens. Only the thinnest of atmosphere blanketed the place. There were books, whole volumes dedicated to what might be out there while silent ships a thousand strong surveyed the stars, alone. Haltham Greer had begun to suspect his life was one long, boring joke.

"We even have a Vasquez,” Barstowe joked, pointing at the ship’s geologist.

“Pipe down.” Captain Ching. “Besides, Vasquez was in Aliens, not Alien.” Didn’t that just shut Barstowe up. Finally. In the ensuing quiet the control deck’s crew shifted attention to Lieutenant Chandrasekhar at the comm cowell. His headphones on. Scanning through frequencies, through flavors of oscillation. Searching.
Sixteen years ago an imager probe traveled through 51 Cygni, picking up faint radio waves, possibly artificial. The good ship Josephine Baker was dispatched eight years later.

“I’ve got something!” Chandrasekhar announced, and there was a feeling on the control deck as though the air had gone out. Tense. Waiting. “Coming from the planet below. It’s very faint, but…could be artificial.”

“Confirm, Lieutenant,” Ching said, her voice tight with the anticipation they all felt. “Is this the real thing?”

“I don’t know how else you’d see a radio source like that.

There was another long moment of silence and then a deafening cheer. They’d found life. They were sitting on it.

Haltham Greer hated Jeremy Barstowe. The man was crass, aggressive and totally at ease with himself in a way Greer desperately envied. Ching rode in the liftcar with them to the hangar deck, detailing their instructions. Greer was to lead the operation. “After all, Doc” she said, “You’re our boy.” Barstowe, Vasquez and two grunts would fly down with him in a minnow and scout around. Whatever civilization that might be there had to be subterranean; the Baker could find no trace of them on the pitted, cratered surface of the planet.

“Good hunting,” Ching told them as the minnow left Baker’s hangar deck and angled its way down to the planet. “We’ll be awaiting your signal.”

A half hour later they landed and Barstowe immediately began giving orders. “Doc, you and Vasquez scout to the north. Al-Hamidi, Huang and I will establish a perimeter.” Greer didn’t know whether to be annoyed or relieved at Barstowe for this. He wasn’t a leader, after all, right? He was a scientist, and frankly the responsibility for those people’s lives—not to mention the billions AstroCorp had spent on the Baker—made his stomach churn. Still, Barstowe just marched in wherever he felt like. This could be the most important day in human history and already it was off to a rotten start. Greer was absorbed in this line of thinking when he realized that Vasquez had vanished without a trace.

(2) A Hole in the Sky

It should have been to the interval. To the interval would have offered a perfect, bitter irony. Sub-Hierophant Chttk of the Northern Warrens (Divided) moved quickly through the detention block. He scented his apologies for his brusqueness to the guards. Thirty-four seasons nearly to the interval, and here he was standing next to one. An alien. A Heavensent. A nightmare angel.

And what a creature, too. Flat, with only four limbs and what was apparently a swiveling head, all bound up in a carapace. One of the invaders was dead already from a pierce in its carapace. “They bleed air” was the rather baroque description radioed during the encounter. Two creatures captured, the so-called air bleeder being dissected now.

Of course Chttk’s disciplined scientific mind, well divorced from the heat of the moment of actually meeting one of these creatures, took the carapace for what it was. The angels could not breathe the thin air of Up Above either.

The creature stirred, and spoke. At least Chttk thought it spoke. Its voice, if it could be called that, was slow and soft like stones falling on moss. How could it see with a voice like that? Chttk sounded a greeting. In the name of Peace. In the name of Understanding. Please identify yourself.

Nothing. Not even a change in the thing’s posture, really, just more slow dull sound. Chttk remembered the day, thirty-four seasons before, that Kyrrkyr broke through the wall of Up Above. He was driven mad by that great expanse above the ceiling of the world. The hole in the sky. It was all he said, when he returned. Great vastness, so that he could not see a higher ceiling above. Simply an unending airless plain, beyond glimpse of sight. There was nothing above them. Nothing.

So where did the creature come from?

More noise now, a frantic call from General Vllst, two more creatures sighted in the south warrens, attacking with some kind of heat weapon.

(3) The Walls of Heaven

Jeremy Barstowe was breathing hard, hunched behind a wall, waiting for the laser to cycle up. Aliens. Real, honest aliens. He let it sink in for the first time. He wondered wildly at the implications of, say, his belief in Jesus. Did Jesus preach to the moles? Was there a Molechrist out there? Betrayed by blind mole Judas, in the dark?

They were blind, yes, and totally eyeless, but they could see like bats, which meant (a) he only had a chance if their back was turned and (b) just about every surface was covered in a frieze or bas relief of something. Not that the words “frieze” and “bas relief” were of easy retrieval in Barstowe’s brain.

Greer was nearby. The guy could barely hold his gun. So much for a fancy degree in fake aliens. Barstowe had that degree, surely. He’d seen Alien a dozen times. He hissed at the “scientist” to get over here. “Greer! Greer we gotta beat feet back to the minnow. Come back with reinforcements! The cavalry.” His breathing was still labored. They should have been awakened weeks before, from cryo.


“Why, what do you mean, why? Because everybody is dead.” What this was not time to do was nurse some sort of existential crisis, Barstowe had a pretty good bead on that.

“Why do they listen to you and not to me? Did. Why did they listen to you and not to me? I’m smart, I have qualifications.”

“Are you going to make this about you now?” Barstowe said. He looked over the low wall, casting about with his AstroCorp flashlight. The moles must be regrouping. Tough fuckers, but lasers they do not have. “We have to go.”

He was altogether surprised when Greer shot him from behind, in the head.

(4) Conssions of a Theoretical Anthropologist

Vasquez is dead. So are al-Hamidi and Ng. I can only surmise that if Barstowe is not, he soon will be, at the hands of the moles. His term, not mine. It’s all gone a bit wrong, I’m afraid. I’ve nearly got the minnow working, and I’m gone. Back to the good ship Josephine Baker. I’m leaving this. My confession, and my warning, for those who may come after us.

61 Cygni B II is inhabited by a race of blind, mole-like creatures living in an ecosystem a mile beneath the planet’s crust. Somehow, life evolved from the underground seas and lava vents. Algae provide oxygen at a level which is agreeable to the moles but unfortunately toxic to humans. The moles live in a large network of caves and lava tubes. Vasquez fell through a fissure, a weak point in the crust, the source of our radio transmissions. She was probably dead by the time the moles found her.

They are quite intelligent. They have carved great cities from the rock. They have weapons, too. Their speech is based on the same supersonic frequency they use to echolocate. All our attempts to communicate with them so far have failed. I am not optimistic for future attempts.

I’ve run the tests. I know every vagary of every simulation. I know what will happen if Captain Ching finds out the truth. That we are not alone. The moles will not survive us.

That’s why I did it. Why I will do it. Why I must. Imagine your whole life spent in a cave, never seeing sky. Imagine you and your ancestors, spreading back to the dawn of time, never even having words for the sun and stars. Imagine breaking that wall. Or worse. Imagine seeing it broken by something else.

Barstowe was right: we’ve been telling ourselves stories of what it might be like out there. The moles haven’t. Not once. Not ever.

The Minnow’s engine backfire should be enough to fuse together the small hole in the rock we found. I’m leaving this recording device behind. Officially, my report will read that the radio source was due to a decaying element in 61-B2’s core and that a caving mishap killed everyone but me. Should you find this, you’ll know I am a liar. Know however that I did this all with the best of intentions, for Earth and for 61-B2, which I would like to rechristen Barstowe’s World, in honor of my good friend Jeremy Barstowe, who gave his life in the quest for understanding between human and alien.

If you have landed here I beg you, turn back. Barstowe’s World belongs to the moles, not to us.

(5) As Above, So Below

Geonauts confirmed that the fissure opened by Kyrrykr to Up Above had been closed. At Chttk’s orders, no attempt was to be made to pierce the Wall again. It was decided at the High Council that the events of that terrible interval be carved over. Rumors would persist, of course, too many people saw the strange figures for rumors not to persist. But there was no reason the Church’s overall plan could not incorporate them. Eat your blooms, Chttk imagined countless mothers intoning to their broods, or the Nightmare Angels will come for you.

They must have come from another cave system, somewhere across Up Above. Vllst agreed at this, and already had begun to lobby for the expansion of the military. More expeditions into the South Tunnels was clearly called for. What they would find would be anybody’s guess. In the meantime the Nightmare Angels would fade, be replaced by predictable worries about the economy, polar fever vaccines and the possibility of war with the Jtmpr Barbarians. They would become a story. The nation would march on.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea, just in case, to start telling stories.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another Way to Die

One day, more intelligent minds than mine will mine the rich depths of trashy TV, I'm talking Spike TV levels of awful here, specifically Spike TV's "1000 Ways to Die," which is on now, for the thesis of TV as a method of social control.

I'm watching this shit. It's on RIGHT NOW. "1000 Ways to Die." Some smug, gravelly-voiced asshole is intoning--again, smugly--all the miserable, urban legend-worthy (and probably a majority of them are actual urban legends) tales of accidental death. Stepping in to a giant dryer. Leaning too far while being some kind of peeping tom. Accidentally electrocuting yourself while on death row. Having the absolute gall to be beautiful and miserable and to die in your sleep. Most of these people, the narrator's coming-attractions-worthy voice assures me, aren't exactly what you'd call model citizens. Take voyeur guy. Overhearing, it turns out he caught his neighbor diddling herself, leaned in for a closer peek, and fell to his death. I dunno. He was in a tree or something. I'm trying not to pay attention.

This is what I get for not having Internet at my house. Still. In March.

There's a subtle undercurrent to these Implausible Tales of Mishap. Don't step out. Don't do something stupid, or perceptibly stupid, because you will die and be mocked in your grave. Don't be an asshole because God will electrocute you while you're watching Oprah. Except for all those assholes who never get electrocuted because they're not on death row they're in Congress. Or they own NewsCorp. Above all, be happy with what you have, because if you're not, there are a thousand ways to die.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


It appears I was wrong about Lost. Stray no further if you are among the unanointed and don’t want to be spoil’t.

Way back in May, I prophesied, falsely, it now seems, that Juliet’s final act would simply have caused “The Incident,” the very thing Jack was aiming to prevent. The show’s insistence on keeping up with the Sideways Universe now pretty much shoots that theory all to hell. I think I shouted “WHAT?” at my laptop screen a half a dozen times through the run of “LAX.”

I find the whole development disappointing, and not just because I was wrong. Alternate realities are a convenient cheat of time travel stories, and in a show that has blathered on incessantly about destiny and fate since day one, having their ultimate fate sidelined by a big ol’ bomb seems counter-intuitive. I’ll wait to see what happens next. “The Substitute” offered us two versions of the John Locke we’ve been following for five years, but neither one was actually him.

The stakes, admittedly, are somewhat different. Take Back to the Future 2 as an example here. Biff Tannen rewrites history by giving himself-in-the-past a sports almanac. Woohoo gambling money. The universe’s rules haven’t changed, only the sequence of events. In “LAX” however, we already get clues that this isn’t the case. We see Desmond on the plane and, in a key line, Hurley tells Sawyer “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” My guess is, Tricia Tanaka ain’t dead, neither. And, as was pointed out to me, in the original pilot it’s Jack who reassures Rose and not the other way around, as in “LAX.”

And, in the big whopper last Tuesday’s “Lighthouse,” we learn that this Jack has a son. A piano prodigy, by the way, the same way as Daniel Faraday was. I don’t know how or if that’s significant, as the parade of Island-dwellers now transplanted to 2004 LA continues, I’m really not sure what the hell is going on. Over at Medialoper, blogger Jim Connelly’s theory is that the two realities are going to start to bleed together, a theory backed up a bit here by Alterna-Jack not knowing where he got his appendix scar, something it turns out he’s had for years.

Bringing the two paths together seems inevitable, especially for making the drama of these “new” characters work. But what does it prove? “Lighthouse” was besprent with mirror imagery, and not just in its eponymous never-before-seen tower. What does seeing how their lives might have been give us? What’s the point? From the beginning the show has been about duality, and this seems to be an outgrowth of that, but, really, does having these two opposites bleeding in to eachother undermine that duality? What are we left with?

PS: The image at the beginning if this post is from a fabulous collection of fan-made Season 6 posters by Mattson Creative
PPS: Alterna-Jack should totally grow a goatee.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And another thing

I've found my Lois Lane. That is all.

Look Up in the Sky

Since my attempts to blog about politics tend to devolve in to rants (seriously, you should have seen the one I planned about cherry-picking the Real America. Completely. Imploded.), I've decided to direct my ranting powers toward something a little more down-to-Earth. I'm talking here about Superman, the Man of Tomorrow.

News has reached me of the rumor that Christopher Nolan will be shepherding, "godfathering," in fact, a new Superman film while at the same time continuing his fine work on Batman.

I like Christopher Nolan. The man does fine work. 'Memento' is a revelation, his work on Batman has been top-notch, I'm even looking forward to 'Inception,' though every trailer seems only to up the "what the HELL?" factor. But I think this is the wrong direction for a prospective Superman sequel.

Nolan's pedigree with superhero movies is he puts 'em back in the grim and gritty category, and that works great for Batman. He's been doing that schtick since '86 and it works fantastic. But Superman...not so much. For evidence, check out the Singer version.

Singer's Superman is loaded down with hopelessly on-the-nose Christ allegories and a talky plot that's all about how Superman--played by an actor who's 25--has been gone for five years, leaving Lois--who's played by an actress who's 23--with an infant son because he schtupped her while still pretending he and Clark were two different guys. The ick factor alone coming off this film was enough to doom the project. Darkness does not equal quality. Grittiness does not equal greatness.

So, for what it's worth, and for anyone reading this who hasn't heard my constant entreaties to check out Grant Morrison's 'All-Star Superman,' let me hold forth the example of how the Superman reboot should be handled--and every Superman project, really.

One of the many, many good things about 'All-Star' is how it captures Superman's origins in four panels. The latest spate of superhero franchise movies all start with the origin story. Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, even (gagh) Daredevil and Ghost Rider, all follow the same beats. The only thing 'Superman Returns' had going for it was ditching his familiar-as-rote origin story. Unfortunately it replaced all this with baggage from a film that was released twenty-six years before.

Superman needs to not be about x-raying through your ex's house walls and listening to her phone conversation. It needs to not be about deadbeat dads and just the terrible, terrible burden it must be to fight giant cube planets full of zombies, here to eat the Earth.

Superman as a character tends to get the short shrift. He's dismissed as dorky and anachronistic and leeched of drama because, really, you have to drop a mountain on the guy to hurt him. These are not elements that can be fixed by making him, well, Batman.

Warner tried this tactic once before, with a TV adaptation of 'The Flash.' Following Bruce Wayne's cinematic success in 1989, Barry Allen followed suit with a dark, set-at-night show where he growls at people a lot. You've never heard of it. There's a reason.

I don't think Warner Brothers understands this. Morrison knows it, though. That you can tell stories with a mythic quality and still make them human. That the crux doesn't have to be "will Superman survive?" but rather "Can he save everyone?" And the answer to this is always going to be "no," even for him, and he's going to keep fighting anyway, and that's what makes him great.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Whatever Happened to Mister Garibaldi?

A number of complicated, trenchant, well-phrased and generally bloggable thoughts came screaming through my head as I glimpsed the inaugural authorial work of one Mr. Gerard T. Doyle.

Who is Jerry Doyle?, I hear you asking. THIS is who Jerry Doyle is.

Or was, rather. For five years, Doyle played Chief of Security Michael Garibaldi on the syndicated TV show ‘Babylon 5’ Garibaldi was an intensely likeable, average-joe type, with a history of drinking and, you know, a raygun. And that was it. That was pretty much his life. He briefly tried to run for Congress in Orange County, quipping when asked why we should take his campaign seriously “I’m the only candidate with my own action figure” but he largely disappeared from the TV landscape. Imdb lists one screen credit between 2004 and 2010. It also tells me he’s good friends with premiere American nutjob asshole Michael Savage.

Three thoughts ran through my head as I considered this, Doyle’s first work of non-fiction. The first was a pointed, “Fuck YOU, JD.” I don’t need fucking actors, even actors whose work I enjoyed when I was eighteen, even actors whose politics I like and respect, weighing in on the current political discourse. I resolved to do up an angry blog post about it.

Which brought me to Thought 2: Since when am I qualified to bitch about Doyle’s qualifications to bitch about the current political discourse?

Thought 3: This is AMERICA. Doyle can say whatever the Hell he wants, no matter how ill-informed, bent, or insane. That somebody gave him a book deal because he knows the right people or because they thought the whole “This is the moment I was born for” fight against the invisible Shadow beasts was, well, let’s face it, pretty bitchin’ means nothing. People of arguably less talent and ability have produced more. See also: Michael Savage.

Thought 4: Hm. Doyle’s been out of circulation since god-knows-when (imdb would later fill in the blanks for me). I smell a PLOT! A plot to resuscitate an image that, frankly, no one cares about.

Thought 5: I’m not even going to bring up ‘Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys.’ I just won’t. You’re welcome.

Thought 6: Well, Largo, if you’re hell-bent on bitching about the thing, least you can do is read it. (See also: Atlas Shrugged.) So I did.
…And I didn’t get that far. Seriously, I can’t even listen to the RADIO half the time before wanting to kick someone. So let me give you the highlights, because I’m not a book reviewer and my father used to tell me if I kept torturing myself, I’d go blind.

Doyle opens his book with the cigarette tax and SCHIP. He explains, with an irony that’s so heavy-handed on-the-nose it could be sued by a personal injury attorney, that he smokes cigarettes “for the children.” He expands on this premise, slyly decrying “sin” taxes and generally coming off as just your average joe who wants to sit back and enjoy a beer and the game without all the damn liberals in Congress getting on his damn case about it.

It was around here that I put the book down. I picked it up at a random spot a little further on where Doyle explains that he left his career in film and television (and what a lucrative career it was, ladies and gentlemen) to run for Congress. I remember reading on the imdb that, when asked why his campaign for California District 24 should be taken seriously, Doyle replied "I'm the only candidate with my own action figure."

In here there's little of that. Doyle says his career as an actor was never brought up because his opponent, incumbent Brad Sherman, knew he had too much of a command on the issues. To be fair, he doesn't spoil the rod when it comes to, say, Tom DeLay and his rigging of the Ethics Committee (p. 203) to protect his own ass. Though, mostly, the book is a tirade against what Doyle perceives as Economic Fascism and the Media Obsession with President Obama, something which already dates the book by several months and it's only been out one.

Turns out Doyle's got his own radio show, which is nationally syndicated, so that shows me, I guess. The book is less of a cynical attempt to reform his career than I thought. Following his electoral defeat in 2000, Doyle declared himself an independent and started 'The Jerry Doyle' show.

The problem with Doyle's (and Bill O'Rielly and Glenn Beck's, really) brand of Independent Conservatism is it comes from a false premise, that the sense of privilege we enjoy in this country is our God-given right, and that if somebody wants you to, say, give a damn that people in your own country are starving to death, for instance, well then you're a goddamn Communist, and if you want to legislate ANYTHING, well, then you're infringing on every American's God-Given Right to Be American, Damn It. Nevermind anybody else. This sense that things are OWED us, simply because they are the things we're used to. It's this myopic sense of entitlement that tells us the Fifties were the best time in history, that the world outside doesn't exist except when it sends us Islamofascist Terrorists and High-Quality Hungarian Porn, and Secret Kenyan Plots to Rule the World. Boo.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Lesson in Hollywood, from Uma Thurman

When you're eighteen, you play Venus.

When you're forty, you play Medusa.

That is all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Geeky Blog Post

[image 1]

Single word conveying exasperation. Witty statement. (1)

[image 2]

Point-by-point analysis of how image 1 is simply Missing . The. Point., starting with the tips of the guy's wings. Witty statement. Briefly bring math in to this. Assert that image 1 is incapable of appearing realistic on screen. Rational acceptance that the vagaries of prime-time television can't allow for the kind of literal translation one would expect. (2) Point out, however, that they've been doing this kind of crap before. For, like, ten years. Supporting example. And another, because seriously, that painted-on mask wasn't fooling anyone. What if it rained?

Summary of argument. Conclusion. Labored invocation of an even more obscure figure in popular culture (3). Witty statement.

  1. Footnote
  2. Second footnote, reminding us this isn't the first time the character's been handled poorly. Remember those Baby Ruth commercials?
  3. Probably Zatanna, because really.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Essential Viewing

So, you've got through David Tennant's swansong and are eager for more 'Who?' Can't wait 'till Spring to see it turned up to 11? Want to bone up on your classic series knowledge? My recommendations for the best serial for each of the seven classic Doctors is below. Where possible I've included a clip of the episode, although in the case of One, Five and Seven, they're fan-made trailers.

First: The Aztecs—“You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!” Most people who grew up with First Doctor stories say his fourth story, “Marco Polo” is his best, but that one got chucked in the bin. To save space, the BBC wiped dozens of Dr Who stories from the Sixties (Syndication hadn’t been invented yet) and “Polo” as one of the casualties. However, as historical adventures go, you can’t get much better than “The Aztecs,” which sees The Doctor’s companion Barbara trying to steer the course of Aztec society away from human sacrifice, only to cement it. It was the beginning of a kind of waxing and waning when it came to what you could do with history, but as a story and as an example of what the series could do even with a limited budget, it’s stellar.

Second: The Tomb of the Cybermen—The story behind this serial is almost as cool as the story within it. Though lost from the BBC archives, a print of “Tomb” was found almost twenty-five years later in a basement in a Hong Kong BBC affiliate studio. The story is the second to feature the Cybermen, and easily the strongest story they’ve been in. Troughton’s Doctor plays to his strengths here, pretending to be a buffoon while playing a group of archaeologists against each other, all to buy enough time to stop the Cybermen from awakening from their frozen tombs and slaughtering them all.

Third: The Sea Devils—Does what Pertwee’s era does best. Monsters, The Master, and a plot to take over the world. The Sea Devils are an offshoot of an ancient race of reptiles that lived on Earth millions of years ago, then escaped underground when catastrophe threatened. Now they’re back. Except they’re not all bad. They’re being manipulated by The Doctor’s opposite number, The
Master, played by the incomparable Roger Delgado.

(The guy with this clip disabled embedding. It's here: )

Fourth: City of Death—Tom Baker’s era on the program can be separated in two: the brooding, gothic-horror inspired tales of his early run (such as “Pyramids of Mars” and “The Brain of Morbius”) and the more Star Wars-flavored space opera of the latter end, like “The Ribos Operation” and “City of Death.” Both, incidentally, wear Douglas Adams’ fingerprints all over them, which is why “City” remains my favorite of the Baker era. Adams was script editor for Doctor Who in 1979 before going on to some other sci fi series no one’s ever heard of. “City” brims with Adams wit and flair for language and shows off Baker at his zany, weird best.

Fifth: The Caves of Androzani—It’s kind of a tragedy that Peter Davison’s far and away best serial would be his last in the role, but “Caves” is a classic, one of the all-time greats of the whole series. “Caves” remains an object lesson: rather than being about galaxies exploding or timelines erasing, reality bombs or Dalek armies, this serial manages to ratchet up the tension by placing just two people in danger, The Doctor and his companion Peri, who has been poisoned and is slowly dying.

Sixth: The Mark of the Rani—By the time Colin Baker assumed the role, things had gotten a bit stale. Baker hardly has a good serial to call his own and struggled under the demands of a role that shifted underneath his feet by the time he got it. “Mark” has a lot of classic Who elements—historical setting, bad guys mucking about with time, mindless drone henchfolk—enough to become rote, but Baker, in this serial at least, invests it with enough verve and joy to compensate. It wasn’t until much later with the audio plays, that we got a full idea of what we missed from this era.

Seventh: The Curse of Fenric—By the Seventh Doctor’s era, things were changing again, and “Curse” was meant to be a sign of things to come. Sylvester McCoy had first been charged with portraying the character as a blundering fool, but his portrayal of the character darkened in Season 26, becoming much more the manipulator, willing to place his friends in danger in order to achieve a greater goal.

He Will Knock Four Times

Where to start? I finally watched the Dr Who New Year's Special yesterday, and like everyone else, I was half keeping my eye out for that last minute. For our first glimpse of The New Guy, Matt Smith.

So let me get that out of the way first:

So there's that, then. He still looks too young to even shave, and his first few lines didn't do much to dispel the off-put feeling I felt when his casting was announced. Still. Back in time.

Part 1 of "The End of Time" was a tremendous letdown at first because it didn't follow up on what "Waters of Mars" was promising, that somehow The Master's return was linked to Ten screwing with history like, well, The Master. Instead we get some bizarrely over-the-top cliched prophecy bullshit, and wild overacting from Simm. I miss Roger Delgado.

It was all lead-up to this, though. Part 2 was a vast improvement, with more of those quiet moments Davies does well when he's not threatening the Universe in some bizarrely new convoluted fashion.

For those of you who aren't as rabid as I am, Timothy Dalton plays Rassilon here. Rassilon is basically Time Lord Jesus. In the classic show he sort of originated their entire society millions of years ago, and every other damn thing is the Staff of Rassilon or the Key of Rassilon or the Coffee Mug of Rassilon. He showed up once in the classic series as a talking mummified corpse; the Time Lords must have brought him back to lead the fight, or something.

And speaking of Time Lords, I don't know who that lady Claire Bloom was playing was. The most obvious answer is she was The Doctor's Mum, or Susan (his grand-daughter) or Romana (the only Time Lord other than Susan to travel with him). Lucky thing that she managed to switch from her red robes to a smart white suit number when traveling across time-locked whoozits.

I'd always figured they'd come back in some form or another (Davies doesn't like to let anything lie) but was pleasantly surprised when it was just to grumble around and threaten the Universe in, again, some draconian and excruciating way. The Doctor as re-envisioned by Davies has been personified by his survivor's guilt, and that's explored more in depth here, rather than being absolved by some McGuffin.

Far and away, however, the best bit of "Part Two" was the end. Just like The Ninth Doctor's tenure, we're given a whole bait-and-switch through this episode. We expect the four knocks to come from The Master, and they don't. We expect Wilf to somehow save Ten, by taking up arms (even though we know this is the end) and he doesn't. We expect a lot of sound and fury (because this is Russel T. Davies) and we get that (again: Russel T. Davies) but it's not the sound and fury and universe-ending peril that does Ten in.

In really the only good scene in Part 1, (a quiet scene, note) he explains the stakes to Wilf, and to the audience. The Doctor is functionally immortal. He's got thirteen lives (though I'm sure if the show remains as popular as it is right now, they'll find a way around that). He's died more times than Gary Coleman's career, so it's hard to imagine the stakes here. So Ten lays them out. He's not going to walk away from this, someone else is. Someone else with his name and his memories but not him. A new man in the way they've all been new men.

The best Doctor send-off of the classic series was the Fifth, in "The Caves of Androzani." There's good reason for it. Rather than galaxies exploding or the Cybermen turning everyone's brains in to rice pudding, "Caves" is all about The Doctor racing against time to save his friend. Just one person, just one life. And in what I'd unabashedly say is the most affecting scene of the series, The Doctor does what he does best. He jumps in, feet first, and saves somebody.

Tennant's resignation to his fate is the series' most affecting moment because it's the series'--and the Doctor's--most human. We're about to be separated from him (again) and unlike the byzantine reasons he gets separated from his companions (walls of the universe, Time Lord Metacrisis) this is a human one. He doesn't want to go, but the man he's become, the man he's worked all his life to become, won't let him go any other way.

And this is where Tennant really shines. Drop the overpresent musical score, no growling Time Lords or shrieking Daleks or scene-chewing Masters, just him, and old man, and a locked room.

And then we get a series of goodbyes long enough to make you think The Doctor had fought Sauron or something, which would feel self-indulgent if it didn't feel earned. And then he changes, his last words being what anyone's last words would be. "I don't want to go." It's a grounded moment, a human moment, and in a show like this--a bull loose in the china-shop of physics--that human moment is critical. It grounds us, reminds us, and sends off this character with whom we've spent all this time in a proper fashion. Allons-y.

Looking back:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Way-Back Machine

Full Disclosure: I have not seen the 2010 New Year's Day Dr Who special, "The End of Time, Pt. Two." It's on its wholly legitimate way to me right now. So I'm sitting here, studiously avoiding spoilers for the next few hours or so, and I'm thinking, what with this being a milestone and all, the passing of David Tennant's--an actor who has become as synonymous with the role as anybody--era, that I'd take a little trip in time of my own and go back and revisit that first glimpse I had of that blue box on the TV screen.

Oh, and happy 2010.

If you grew up in the United States in the 1970's, you got first exposed to Dr Who through that great medium of PBS, which brought us other such gems as Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served? and Blackadder from the British Isles. I didn't. I grew up in the Eighties, and despite the fact that two of the aforementioned shows also came from the Eighties, the PBS affiliate in my home state didn't carry Who by the time I was of the impressionable age for it to be most appropriate. I can't imagine how I would have grown up if it did, how terribly it would have exacerbated my wanderlust.

What I did have were the Target novelizations, all in a rack, in the Westmoor Elementary school library. They existed in this no-man's land between describing the show to someone who'd never seen it and seeming to rely on an insider's knowledge of the show's internal logic.

Still. What fun.

I didn't actually see an episode of Doctor Who until I was fifteen, when it made its ill-fated landing on these shores. Short version: The BBC serial was canceled in 1989, after 26 years and a progressively dwindling rate of return. Almost immediately there was interest in reviving it in some form, frequently distilling to the form of a big-budget Hollywood picture. Steven Spielberg's name was dropped. Animations were tested for a new, less clunky version of the Daleks, called Spider Daleks. We didn't see them, but you can find about 6 seconds of the footage on YouTube.

These big-screen dreams never materialized, and Doctor Who floundered in Hollywood until a script got optioned for a pilot. It aired on Fox in March of 1996. And then it died. I want to say that it died because it was a bit crap (which it was) but this is TV and the two are hardly ever connected, unless conversely. No, it died because of poor marketing and, if memory serves, because it was put up against Roseanne, a heavy-hitter of the time.

So no Who for me. Despite this, and despite the fact that the pilot was a huge clunker in terms of plotting, pacing, and (as I would understand later) betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about how this hero should be presented, the thing stayed in the back of my head for a few years, until I got to college.

College was where I met Tom Baker.

Well. I say "met" but that's rubbish. What I mean to say is that it was in college where I rediscovered Doctor Who, specifically Tom Baker's mid-1970's run, specifically in these VHS collected editions of his stories. Starting with "The Robots of Death."

That's The Doctor explaining--as well as he can to his assistant Leela and to the audience--how his time machine works. The whole "Robots of Death" serial is fantastic. Here's a show ostensibly aimed at children and, apart from all the deaths in it, Baker's Doctor goes on to casually explain the whole theory of the uncanny valley and why all robots are slightly creepy, when he's not dealing with some demento who takes to robots like Buffalo Bill took to attractive young ladies.

I was hooked. Here was a guy who could go anywhere. Past, present, future, anywhere in the universe. And that to me was his gift. Not his sonic screwdriver or his two hearts, or any of the other alien gifts that came with the package. Here's a guy who just went, who carried on his boots the dust of a thousand worlds and times. Plus: Leela. Total babe. And Romana. Both of her.

I didn't get back in to it 'till 2006 and the BBC revival on the SciFi channel. I remembered why I got hooked in the first place. I tracked down all the Baker serials, then Pertwee, Troughton, Hartnell, the other Baker, Davison & McCoy. I devoured them voraciously. And even the rubbish episodes--of which there are quite many--couldn't diminish that first promise, that if you turned the right street corner, stepped in to the right box, that you could go anywhere.

See you in the future.