• Life,  Television

    The TV SF of my formative years – Pre-1980s

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    By which I mean shows made before the 1980s, although a couple of them spill over a bit. A couple of these, I didn’t actually discover until about 1990 and living on my own in second year university.

    I made an offhand comment on Facebook a couple of days ago that I was searching out the “greatest SF television of my formative years” for stretched out binge watching during the shutdown. (As previously noted on more than one occasion, I’m not wired to be able to do standard binge-watching. I can’t do one thing for that long at a time.)

    I even listed the shows I was after, most of which I’ve come up with. I’ll add one, which will surprise no one. Star Trek The Original Series.

    I’ve been a Star Trek fan for literally as long as I can remember. One of my first memories is sitting in my father’s lap watching a rerun of “The Immunity Syndrome”. That’s the one with the giant space amoeba. Not all of it has aged well, but some of it holds up as excellent storytelling and more of it is culturally relevant today than most people would suspect from a distance.

    The rest of the list:

    I remember watching the TV movie of Battlestar Galactica in a hotel room somewhere during the drive across Canada when Dad was posted to the west coast. It only ran one season, plus a 10-episode spin off series that picked up a generation later, and it was cheesy with inconsistent writing, but it was fun, had mostly clear lines between good and evil, and swear words you can still use today if you want to.

    Buck Rogers was produced just after the first season of BG with the same creative team and, I suspect from the shared FX, the same company. The writing wasn’t as good, but the cheese factor ramped up and the idea of a fun space adventure was front and centre.

    Blake’s 7 follows the story of a group of criminals and semi-anarchists as they fight a guerrilla war against the Terran Federation, a totalitarian government that tries to control everything its citizens do and think. Something to keep in mind: 1970s BBC SF production values.

    You never forget your first Doctor, as the saying goes, and Tom Baker was mine, discovered on a local TVO station in the convenient after the bus dropped me off time slot. I watched as often as I could, but even now I don’t think I’ve seen all of the Tom Baker episodes. Time to change that.

    I discovered the Avengers during second year on a bored Sunday afternoon at about the beginning of the Diana Rigg run. Hooked immediately, it’s still the Steed/Peel relationship that defines the show for me even though I’ve seen most of the rest, before and after Ms. Rigg’s time on the show. Worth noting that the first half of her run was in black and white. It was the 60s and things were still transitioning.

    I actually have the Space 1999 theme on my phone as part of a small play list of SF themes, along with a couple of other themes from this list. Ah, that guitar. I used to love this show as a kid, and while I don’t think I’ve watched an episode in a couple of decades, I have fond memories. Fun but a little darker than a lot of stuff happening at the time, and with the FX ramped up as close to realism as could be produced in the 70s. Probably the biggest SF show of the decade next to The Six Million Dollar Man.

    So there’s my list of potential binge watches for the next little while. There are a few other things that might have made the list, but these are what I’m going with.

    Did I miss anyone’s favourite?

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Television

    Doctor Who In the Modern Era

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    So, here’s the thing, I’ve been having a hard time with the modern era Doctor Who for a while. I know it’s been running for like a decade and a half now, and sometimes it’s getting hard to call it the modern era, but I think it completely lost me a few years ago.

    The Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who was at times goofy, and the writing wasn’t always there, but it was fun. The show started to really hit its stride well towards the end of his season, but the next Doctor was my favourite.

    David Tennant, and it’s entirely possible it’s as much due to him as the actor as the rest of show as a whole, pretty much defined the modern Doctor Who for me. It was fun, exciting, and mostly things make sense.

    The Matt Smith Doctor was a bit weird to begin with but functioned well for the first couple of series before slowly beginning to get weirder. I mean weird for Doctor Who. Not weird aliens or creatures or situations, because that’s the show, but we started to slide into what I think of as sort of the 1980s and 90s James Bond syndrome. You know, that group of movies across a couple of actors where it didn’t matter what was going on, Bond was an expert in it.

    Towards the end of the Matt Smith years, and definitely into the Peter Capaldi times, more and more of the solutions seemed to be just pulled out of the Doctor’s ass with no reasonable explanation for the story to date. Doctor Who lost me and my youngest daughter, who I’d been watching it with, somewhere late in, I think, series 9. We actually paused in the middle of an episode and never went back. Peter Capaldi is a good actor, and I generally enjoyed his performance, but the crap he was given to work with most the time wasn’t worth sitting through.

    When Jodie Whittaker was announced, I was actually excited about Doctor Who for the first time in several years. Well, probably more than several. Here was an opportunity to tell some new stories, to make things different, to expand the universe and hopefully the minds of the people watching.

    There is a little bit of shame as I type that I haven’t actually seen a single Jodie Whittaker episode yet.

    And I think the reason this actually comes down to fear. I’m afraid it’s actually not going to get better, but it will, in fact get worse and just become a pandering fan service experience and I would almost rather preserve the idea in my mind that this New Doctor will revitalize what to me is a dying franchise.

    Silly, isn’t it?

    As you’re reading this, keep in mind that I grew up mostly on Tom Baker as the Doctor, with a sprinkling of Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. In those days, story was king, and while the stories weren’t always great, they made sense, and they worked. They had to, with the BBC’s special-effects budget probably measured in tens of pounds sterling per episode.

    But I whine about that a lot these days.

    We live in an age of eye candy, story isn’t king or queen anymore. Most the time it’s not even Princess or Duke or Countess. It seems like a lot of the time the story is only there to stitch together the action set pieces and a beautiful videography.

    I know that’s not always the case, and maybe I’m just watching the wrong stuff. But I’m not alone in that. I don’t think the right stuff is actually getting in front of large audience, because it’s much easier to aggressively market something that looks pretty.

    I know I fairly regularly complain about wanting film and television to tell new stories rather just rehashing the same thing they’ve sold us a hundred times before, but there are days when I would settle for simply good stories. I’m tired of retellings and reworkings and reboots and re-imaginings, but I miss the days when telling a good story was the most important thing, not a bonus.

    Is it just me? Shouldn’t story be the prime mover, the centerpiece, the king or queen of the production? We aren’t really that shallow as a society, are we?

    I’m not alone, am I?

    I’d love some reassurance that the writing for the newest series of Doctor Who will be good enough to actually tell stories that don’t just rely on jump scares and special effects.

    Be well, everyone.

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