• 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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  • Television

    Maybe I Can Binge Watch After All

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    Image result for the flash

    Maybe it is possible for me to binge watch something after all.

    I’m specifically referring to The Flash here. Last Sunday afternoon, I caught up to current, and now I have to wait for new episodes with everyone else. In some ways that’s interesting and some ways it’s annoying.

    It’s interesting, because up until very recently, if I tried to actually binge watch something, I wound up overdosing on it and then setting it down, in some cases never going back, in some cases going back after weeks or months to see the next episode. In this case, I seem to been able to watch an episode every couple of days, or even two or three episodes per day on the weekend, with the ultimate result being that I was able to watch four solid seasons, and I guess we’re about halfway into the fifth, in a couple of months.

    It’s also alarming, because it actually means that I do have the possibility of deep diving into something and not coming up for air until it’s done. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I lean towards not liking it. It could turn something into a major distraction when I’m actually trying to get stuff done.

    Still, after four and a half seasons in a few months, The Flash. So far, at least, I like all the primary characters, and the growth and direction of them has mostly made sense in terms of the overall storytelling. And I like the overall storytelling, the characters have memory (and so do the writers), there’s an overarching story arc for each season, it’s layered, and there are things in the first handful of episodes that are still affecting what’s going on now. And while I have, more than once, had to remind myself that I’m watching essentially a visual comic book, once I settle back into that realization, it’s a lot of fun.

    But now I have to tolerate the teasers and cliffhangers along with everyone else and I can’t just finished watching one episode, be annoyed at one of those teasers or cliffhangers, and watch the first scene or two of the next episode to clear things up a bit.

    I think that’s okay. After all, it’s the way the medium is actually designed, right?

    Much as I enjoy The Flash, I’m probably still not going to do Arrow. I don’t really do dark and gritty for the most part. Not my thing. I prefer things to end or stand on an uptick, and for there to always be hope. It’s nice to have small appearances here and there by various characters from different shows, and I like that it reminds us we’re watching a show that’s part of a larger universe, but I don’t see a need to explore all the parts of that universe.

    Actually, sometimes I don’t like a reminder. Every year in the first half the season there seems be a giant crossover adventure that involves as many heroes as possible, spread across three or four shows that are too focused on showcasing everything all at once so no one really gets enough screen time to flesh things out. And not all of the shows are available on Netflix, so I have to go hunting for various parts story. Giant crossovers like that are one of things I don’t really like about comic books, but I get why a set of linked TV shows is going to do it. Really, it’s the same reason comic books do it: eyeballs.

    But still not my thing.

    I am, although movie much more slowly, and deliberately so, about halfway through the first season of Supergirl as well. I am curious to find out whether this show is going to be as addictive for me as The Flash in the longer run, because it is very much in the same heroic, hope-filled vein, and that’s working for me so far. I do feel like they’ve skimped a couple places on the special effects. A lot of her powers, only showcased when fighting villains, look really, really good, but the bits of things where she’s just flying look much more primitive to me, and not very impressive. It’s stylized, but I don’t like the style.

    And then there’s Legends, and Black Lightning. I’m not sure how much potential Legends has for me, though I like several of the characters involved, and I’m concerned Black Lightning is in the same dark and gritty tone as Arrow, but I will probably check both out at some point.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Television

    Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion

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    Image result for raumpatrouille

    Or, in the original German, Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion.

    Usually abbreviated as Space Patrol Orion or Raumpatrouille Orion.

    A classic 1960s science fiction television show, a cult classic, in fact.

    What’s that, you’ve never heard of it?

    Well, that’s probably because (as you’ve likely guessed) it’s 1960s German science fiction television, filmed in black and white, never dubbed, and, possibly only recently becoming available with subtitles. The only place I’ve found so far is on YouTube, at least in a way that I can enjoy it.

    How did I even find out about it, you ask? Well, on Facebook (yes I still have Facebook) a friend of mine posted a small clip from it that he gotten from some group or website or shared to him by some else with a couple of odd dancing scenes. Filmed in 1960s, in black and white, the caption was something like, “this was how people in 1960s thought we would dance in the future.” It was weird, stylized, formalized, and very structured. It was also very 1960s. So I decided I wanted to figure out the show it came from, to see if that was just as 1960s. In this day of everything interlinked everything else, it actually didn’t take an awful lot of Google to track down in German and only a few seconds longer to locate a version with subtitles.

    And I quite enjoyed the first episode.

    Special effects aside, and those were probably pretty impressive in the 1960s, especially the robots, the show is clearly a product 1960s. It’s hard not to set it beside the giants of the science-fiction TV genre from the same time and see it compare favourably, most specifically with Star Trek. There are certain similarities in outlook and ideas, but it’s also very, very different. A similar level of specialized technology and technobabble, some keen fashion sense on the uniforms. Sometimes, the pacing is what we might consider slow when put next to modern TV, but it works. Still comparing to Star Trek, in some ways the writing is less mature, and in some ways more complex. There is an overall story arc to the seven episode series (yes, only seven episodes, unfortunately) which, in North American TV was unheard of in time. Two episodes with the same story linking together were difficult in those days. But not, apparently, in Germany.

    And there was a lot more attention to background. Less use of background painting, and more physical sets, and in social places there were plenty of extras actually being social. See the aforementioned dancing, which never seems to be a real focus, but whenever characters are gathered in the bar on the base, which happens regularly during off duty time, there is futuristic music playing, and futuristic dancing going on.

    There’s an attempt to give the show international flavor, although not quite as international Star Trek, and mostly through the use of names. It is 1960s Germany, after all, and their choices of actors were fairly limited in that regard, so you get a German actor as an Italian character, a Swedish character, a Russian character, and so on. Not so different, really, but with fewer ethnic backgrounds available.

    It’s actually pretty cool to watch, and it’s sent me on the beginning of a search for other classic, non-English, 1960s, 70s, and 80s science-fiction to watch. I can pick up a word or two here and there of a number of languages, especially numbers, but don’t speak anything competently other than English, so I’m glad for subtitles (and actually prefer them to dubbing as that usually disrupts the tone of the speech for me). But there’s a lot more out there than North American entertainment. It’s a big world. As I get older, I want to explore more of it.

    The link to the first episode (subtitled) of Orion on YouTube is at the end of this post. If I come across anything else really cool in my search, I’ll probably pass that along, too.

    Orion, a serendipitous find through an unlikely moment, has made me wonder what else I’m missing, and it’s made me wish I had a lot more disposable income so I could go to some different science-fiction conventions around the world, and see what things are like beyond my own borders.

    Maybe someday.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Watching

    Six Seasons and a Movie!

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherSo for the last six months or so, I have been addicted to the television show Community, to the point where we have streamed all the episodes at least once, purchased the first two seasons, and downloaded the episodes of season five as they became available online instead of waiting for a Canadian channel to bother broadcasting them.

    Erik enjoys it, but Melanie shares my diction. As a matter of fact, watching them with her is probably what began my addiction. I had enjoyed the show before, catching it whenever I ran across it while surfing, but she found it on Netflix and started watching a dozen episodes a day. I think she’s probably seen every episode at least seven or eight times.

    I’m not sure what the exact attraction is for her, though the show has a lot to recommend it. For me, it’s probably the writing. It’s written very intelligently, and there are lots of little hidden gems in that sometimes you don’t catch at the time because the payoff isn’t for four or five episodes. Extended jokes, intelligent dialogue, entertaining characters, and great actors. It was a shame that Chevy Chase had to leave the show, but it’s still doing well since.

    Catchphrase, stolen from an episode, “Six seasons and a movie.” I’m not sure how they do a movie to wrap things up, but, I think the sixth season should be fairly easy, though forth and fifth seasons, in my opinion, were only half seasons at 13 episodes each. A bit disappointing, but still fun.

    Whatever happens next, I’m looking forward to it.

    Be well, everyone.

    (The season 1 DVD trailer gives a great taste of the show.)

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