Friday, May 20, 2016

A few words from Roger Zelazny

Tor has a piece up about Theodore Krulik's biography of Roger Zelazny.

I came to the biography after I had already read the majority of Zelazny's work. I think my problem with it was that I had already read the biographical segments from the Collected Stories, and the Collected Stories did the same thing as Krulik's biography, but in a more engaging fashion. In addition, since those segments were written later, they provide a more comprehensive picture. Had I come to it earlier, I might have come to a different opinion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Big Finish Audio Drama Capsule Reviews: The Waters of Amsterdam, The Beautiful People, Terror of the Sontarans

The Waters of Amsterdam: I bought a subscription to the Doctor Who main range several months ago, and this was a part of it. I think I downloaded the story shortly after it became available, but didn’t listen to it until recently. Why would I? It’s not just a Fifth Doctor story, which are renowned for their astounding blandness, but a Fifth Doctor story focusing on Tegan’s backstory. You know, when she wasn’t traveling in time and space. Back when she was a stewardess. Riveting stuff, I’m sure.

But on Monday morning, I found myself without anything to listen to, so I reluctantly loaded it on to my phone, so I would have some background noise while I was working. I couldn’t have been more surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I think it’s the best Fifth Doctor story since the Kingmaker.

There are some concepts that are so bad that they can’t be repaired without fundamentally changing what they are. I considered Tegan as a character such a concept. There was no way to put a positive spin on her salient attributes. She was terminally annoying and that was that.

She’s mellowed a bit in the Big Finish releases, but is still recognizably Tegan, but now possessed of something new that I can’t quite define. Part of it is her chemistry with the Doctor. He’s got a bit more personality instead of the bland milquetoast he was in the series. There were some elements of amusing pedantry in his television portrayals, but never rising to the level of an actual character trait. He’s interesting here as the enthusiastic nerd.

Other thoughts: I liked the Queen in exile before she went into full-on mustoache twirling. I could take or leave Big Finish’s fifteenth variation on gurgly-voiced aliens, but the water sound effects were beautiful. Tegan gets some great lines (“Leonardo!”, “Did you go anywhere nice?” Very, very rarely.”, “Good landing” “We didn’t even have to grab on to the console or anything.”) Even the android gets good characterization. I’d like to see him again.

One of the best Fifth Doctor stories ever told.

Rating: 5/5

Companion Chronicles: The Beautiful People: I avoided the Companion Chronicles at first. The full cast audios have spoiled me. Who cares about somebody narrating a story when you could have a bunch of people acting out a story at about the same price?

Except this was a Romana II story, read by Lalla Ward. I love Lalla Ward as a reader. She was wonderful in Shada where she did a great Fourth Doctor voice.

The story was almost incidental. Something involving an evil weight loss clinic. The style was where it shined.

It was perfectly suited to Romana’s dry wit. ("The Doctor shambled through the doorway. For some reason, the Doctor was incapable of walking through doors naturalistically ")  It felt a lot like City of Death, and the language had a distinct Douglas Adams feel to it, with lines like “Someone had lavished a great deal of money on making it look like a great deal of money had been lavished on the place.” The Doctor later claims to be a researcher for a “Well known guide for the space traveler on a budget”, which did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.

I also like the idea (and have incorparated it into my head canon that) suggests the K-9 really does understand colloquialisms, but is just having fun with the organics.

Rating: 4/5

Terror of the Sontarans: The medium is the message, and there are recurring tropes in all forms media, dictated by the particulars of that medium. Audio plays have the “I’m going to loudly describe what I’m seeing!” Big Finish usually makes it work, but this one starts out like a bad session of improv. “The room is empty!” “Don’t say that to those statues behind you!” “Do you know where the garbage can is?” “You’re holding it!” The One Doctor played it for laughs, but it doesn’t work when played straight. This was constant in the story in the beginning, but they stop with it after the first part. (The creators address this a bit in the audio extras, to their credit.)

Bonnie Langford does a fine job, (as she usually does. She’s not bad, just not to my liking) but it really should have been an Ace story. If the Seventh Doctor is going to solve the problems by blowing things up, you just need Ace.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Doctor Who: If I ran the zoo: Conclusion

This is the final installment covering the multi-season story arc I would produce if I were showrunner for Doctor Who.

Part One:Intro
Part Two:Characters
Part Three: Stories

When we last left the Doctor, he had been abandoned by his companions who felt betrayed by his machinations.  His future self arrived, and the companions who had abandoned the Doctor joined the future version on his travels.

We’ll split the show between the Doctors of different eras. The new Doctor radiates charisma like a sun, enthusiastic and utterly charming,  and the old Doctor is at his lowest desperate and grubby and petty.  The new Doctor has easy solutions to complex problems, and the old Doctor lights desperate firebreaks, compromises and often has to choose the lesser evil.  The new Doctor takes his companions on exciting adventures and lavishes attention on them

Over time, but we’ll slowly reveal his dark side. At first his companions adore him, though Daisy is always somewhat reserved, but they have their doubts, which eventually progress to fears as they see him for what he is.  He’s the Tenth Doctor, but shown in such a way that highlights his failings, rather than excusing them as the show did.

He picks favorites. When he’s captured by the Daleks, he builds them a doomsday device that will kill billions, rather than a treasured companion to be hurt.

He loves humanity, but as one loves a favorite pet. He’s amused by our tricks. Whenever we try to advance beyond a certain technological threshold, he’ll knock us back down, ostensibly because we’re not ready for the knowledge, but really because he likes culture as it is, and doesn’t want it to change.

When he destroys the Harriett Jones of a world in a fit of pique, we see the consequences, the millions of thrown into chaos, and we see it on a smaller scale, when his disproportionate revenge destroys the lives of those who offended him.

Meanwhile, the old Doctor is trying to think of a way to conspire against a foe who already knows every move he will make.  He charges to Prisoner to conspire against his future self and then dismisses him, so his future self will not know what to expect. He programs several stored procedures into the TARDIS, and then contrives to have himself judged by an alien race that takes memories as a form of punishment so his future self won’t know what to expect. He realizes how ridiculous is, but he does it anyway, because he’s out of good options.

Near the end of an episode, the New Doctor has done something egregious. Let’s say he topples a society because they keep pets of some animals. “Don’t you know they become sentient in 50,000 years?!” he roars in his righteous indignation.

Hector and Dorothy try to intervene, but they are unsuccessful. “I’ll deal with you later.” He knocks the civilization down to barbarism, then departs. His companions try to flee whilst he’s doing this (They hear the exchange as they run “Don't kill me. Please.” “I'm so sorry…”) but they turn down a city street and find that it’s somehow just a corridor in the TARDIS. “Going somewhere?”

Cut to the console room, where the New Doctor shivers with icy anger as he tries to figure out how to
punish these young people who abused his generous hospitality. Think David Tennant as the Purple Man. He’s really, honestly wounded, and thinks he’s the victim here. Just as he’s about to pronounce judgement on them, the doors open, and the old Doctor enters the TARDIS. End episode.

We flash back a bit to show that Daisy has summoned him, and then we have the confrontation between the old and the new. I can’t find the exact quote about the structure of Damnation Alley, but it’s something along the line of “A good man goes bad and a bad man goes good and they meet in the middle.”

There are measures and counter-measures, elaborate feints and reversals, but in the end, the old Doctor approaches the new, takes hold of his head, and says “Contact.”

The battle moves the mental plane, and becomes one of dueling philosophies. We see how his bad deeds grew out of the best of intentions, but we also see witness the flaws of the old Doctor’s approach, how he needs to temper the aid he gives with compassion.

On the mental plane, they accept their flaws, and the physical world, both men are unconscious. The old Doctor begins regenerating, but merges into the body of the new, as did the Watcher when Four regenerated into Five. Perhaps he’ll even have the same last words: “It's the end... But the moment has been prepared for.”

His first act is to offer to make amends with his companions. They’re nervous at first, but they give him a chance. The new Doctor has a fresh lease on life, and has a chance to become the hero he always imagined he was.  I’m imagining him like Bill Murray at the end of Groundhog’s Day. He knows everything about everybody, is deeply interested in their lives. He always knows what to say to say to make their day better, and what to do to make their lives better. Diplomatic, kind, enthusiastic but humble, tempered by his vicissitudes. He was very wrong very a long time, and that informs his actions.  While Moffat’s stories were often about how important the Doctor is, and his role in the cosmos, I want to go the opposite direction. This Doctor will be almost invisible as he nudges his companions and those they meet towards the voices of their better angels.  He won’t even inspire them directly, but will show them others whom he knows will inspire them.

There will be other Time Lords for the Doctor to meet, but only exiles and renegades. Gallifrey itself will mostly be kept off stage. We’ll return to the Time Lords of the Troughton era, which was never really the dominant portrayal, but it’s the one I prefer. I want them to watch the universe with intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic.  I'm certainly not interested in the modern portrayal of Gallifrey, with a Doctor who is the best Time Lord ever, and the others are so feckless they can barely stop drooling on themselves long enough to sit on the curb and clap when he goes by. My favoured interpretation is a Doctor who is not as technically adept as his fellows, but who stands above them as first among equals because he has experienced so much and has a much broader perspective than those who have never left Gallifrey.

City of Death is just about the perfect Doctor Who story, and while we can’t tell it every week, we can have a few stories that progress along those lines. I think Doctor Who, moreso than most modern genre series, can work along a mostly episodic format.  We’re not going to end the universe for every finale. We’ll tell smaller, more personal stories, with strong supporting casts, our latter day Jagos and Lightfoots (Lightfeet?). The Prisoner may return as an adversary, but this Doctor will follow the example of Abraham Lincoln and destroy his enemies by making them his friends.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Eight Years of Egg Shows!

Another year, another egg show!

Since it's Mother's Day, I thought I'd share some of my favorite photos of Lily and her mom.

Year One: 2009
Year Two: 2010
Year Three: 2011

Year Four: 2012
Year Five: 2013
Year Six: 2014
Year Seven: 2015 

Year Eight: 2016