Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doctor Who Indeed: "Night Terrors"


"Today we're answering a call for help from the scariest place in the universe: a child's bedroom."
--The Doctor, "Night Terrors"

Although "Night Terrors" was a fabulously good time, I was not as into this episode as I have been in previous Doctor Who episodes this season. I like to gauge my enjoyment of an episode based on how much it makes me cry. Although there were no glaring faults in plot or character, I did not get as much out of this episode. It was probably the ending, and my impression of it following such an episode as "Let's Kill Hitler" was not exactly plused. I'll get to that, trust me. Lots of good stuff in this episode, its minor faults notwithstanding. I'm afraid I'll be offending the fan-girls today, as I have some rather stiff criticisms of this one.

Basic Plot

"Making a house call."
"Night Terrors" is the story of a little boy named George who is scared of everything. The lift in his complex sounds like someone breathing. He believes the old woman in the flat across from his family's to be a witch. He has odd little rituals created to keep the monsters in his room at bay (flipping the light switch on and off five times), and he has developed odd little ticks, like blinking. His parents think he has something wrong with him and discuss in ear shot that George needs help. George wraps his little arms around his knees and whispers, "Please save me from the monsters." His plea is so desperate that it is received on the psychic paper in the Tardis. The Doctor immediately directs their coordinates to his apartment complex and they begin their search for the scared little boy. Rory and Amy get into the lift, which immediately plummets into another world. They find themselves in a strange house, without lights. The Doctor and Alex, George's dad, get banished to the doll house in the cupboard, where Rory and Amy have been all the while. The Doctor manages to squeeze from Alex that he can't remember George's birth. George has been using the cupboard for a psychic repository for everything he fears. Doll-like creatures pursue each of the pairs and eventually culminates with Amy getting turned into a doll. Rory, the Doctor, and Alex get trapped by the things on the stair case and try to hold them off, while George musters his courage and faces his fear: that his father and mother will send him away. George is a Tenza, "a cuckoo in the nest". Not a changeling per say but a creature that searches for a place to grow and assimilate. The Tenza that was George came to the parents of Clair and Alex because Clair could not have children. He became their baby, and wiped their memories to give them the impression that he had been born to them and was their natural child. However, when he began to fear the world around him, his adopted parents began to talk about sending him away. The feeling of rejection resulted in George's new-found fear of everything. George stops the madness by facing his fears, but the feeling of rejection returns once Alex realizes that his son is an alien. Alien or not, though, Alex rescues his son, promising never to send him away. The group returns to the apartment complex, and George's fears vanish as his conscious mind accepts his place and the things that surround him. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory leave and move on to their next adventure.

The Writing


The idea that an alien can choose his place in the universe and assimilate into a civilization is amazing, and the Doctor's dialogue that arrives at the conclusion that saves them all is equally brilliant. The story itself is not what I take issue with. There are pieces of this episode that do not sit well with me, despite my overall opinion that the episode is good. I have narrowed my problems with the episode down to two things.

The episode is classic Doctor Who, but it is also lacking in originality. Of course, many long-running television shows have a basic plot formula. For example, in the show House--a personal favorite--no matter how different the disease, no matter how thematic and engaging the sub-plot, the episode proceeds predictably: someone gets sick with symptoms that are seemingly disparate but are actually linked; House and his team come up with several treatments that seem to solve the problem until new, more horrifying symptoms emerge; Dr. House follows a trail of subtle clues and--through the amazing and accepted fictional understanding that he is far more intelligent than everyone else--deduces the real problem and treats it just as the patient is on the verge of death. Not all of the episodes proceed that way, and several of House's patients do die, but the majority of the episodes follow that formula. House and our Doctor are similar in that their experience and understanding are vastly superior to their team members'. Their deductions are usually derived from the irony that the audience and the companions are not privy to all of their knowledge, and must therefore accept that what the Doctor and House are saying is true. Also, part of the writing restricts character insight until the very end, giving the audience the impression that the fictional reality is concealed to everyone, including our heroes until the end when it is revealed in full, when subtle clues in the opening scenes or quickly following scenes reveal more to the audience than to the characters. This device is usually what builds tension. The less a character has to work with, the more desperate the situation is. The fact that the Doctor (in either case) cannot figure out the answer to a question in formulaic plots until the very end is that the tension must build into a climax, according to accepted fictional progression.

"Who are you, George?"
In the case of "Night Terrors" the tension builds marvelously, with the Doctor coming to the conclusion that the only creature with enough psychic power to manipulate its adoptive parents and assimilate into their society seamlessly is a Tenza. When this realization is completed, the Doctor shifts the responsibility of "sorting" the problem to Alex, whose worry for his son ultimately influenced he and his wife's decision to seek help, possibly even sending the Tenza away, which defies its prime directive: assimilation and survival. The dialogue from the Doctor and Alex make this conclusion fictionally sustainable, but the formulaic way in which the tension builds is what disappoints me. The plot is transparent. Aspects of the show like Rory and Amy's relative abuse as characters, means that one can always expect something terrible to happen to one of them. Since Rory's transformation in "A Good Man Goes to War," Amy has become the subject of abuse (as we will see again in "The Girl Who Waited"), getting turned into a doll, which is of course undone when the Tenza is reassured of his acceptance to his parents. This does not help the fact that the Doctor, even though responsibility shifts to a minor character, is the driving force behind George's acceptance, as we understand that the Doctor is the only one that can convince George that he is responsible for the world they are in, and can destroy it. The Doctor's speech that George must "BELIEVE" is also disappointing, as it render's Alex's ultimate responsibility, what should have been endearing, hypocritical. We are set up with the expectation that the Doctor can solve any problem. Why, then, is the speech necessary when Alex had the power to solve the problem all along. The "you must believe" speech is metafictionally distracting and unoriginal at best, cliched and pointless at worst.

"Tick tock goes the clock..."
Something else that bothered me was the whole-sale switch from the River Song chronology to the standard chronology. The fact that Amy and Rory flip flop from being frustrated parents to not really thinking about it is jarring. There was little in the way of transition from the last episode other than leaving River in college. Also, the end bit, with the reminder that eventually our Doctor must die, is disturbing, but out of place. The episode veers to far away from the previous episode's chronology to warrant such a reminder. I would have thought that the Doctor's future, now known to him, would have carried more weight than a simple ending reminder, or could have been left out altogether. The ending is held together by the earlier device of the song, which goes something like this from what I heard of it, "Tick, tock, goes the clock...tick, tock and all too soon, you and I must die..." The end reminder of what is before us and what was behind us culminates at the end with the out of place reprizal of the doll's song, "Tick tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor." The device is disturbing, and it is obviously meant to be so, but I wonder at the metaficitional purpose of it. What part of the plot or sub-plot of this episode had anything to do with the Doctor's death and his foreknowledge of it? Obviously its meant to ground us in the other chronology, but trust me, we don't return to that chronology for sometime, for today is the 21st and this episode aired two weeks ago. The last two episodes, "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex" do not fall into the River Song chronology, and therefore, their relationship to that chronology should not be forced into each episode. The end reprisal of the doll song, is, therefore, unnecessary. 

Best Lines


Any Doctor Who episode will have its most endearing lines, and this one is no less apt. One of my favorites is the Doctor's description of George's mania:

"Pantaphobia. Its called Pantaphobia. Not a fear of pants, if that's what you're thinking, but a fear of everything...including pants, I suppose."

Amy and Rory have a good one as well:

Rory: "We're dead aren't we?"
Amy: "What?"
Rory: "The lift fell and we're dead."
Amy: "Shut-up."
Rory: "We're dead--again."

Alex, George's dad, is completely unreliable and very malleable. This is when they get sucked into the cupboard. Allusions to the Tardis are always awesome.
Alex: "We went into the cupboard. How can it be bigger in here?"
The Doctor: "More common than you think, actually."

Conclusion


I'd like to thank everyone for putting up with this latest intolerably long blog post about things nobody thinks about. Altogether I thought this episode was great in terms of plot and character, even if I think Steven Moffat is much better about progression and the Doctor's dialogue seems more natural coming from his writing. I'd also like to announce that starting on the next Doctor Who post, I will be initiating the Tear Factor, which gauges an episode's affect on me by how much it made me cry. For "The Girl Who Waited" this is entirely apt.

The Doctor is a time lord of Gallifrey. Being a time traveler, he knows that foreknowledge can be a dangerous thing. The Doctor's appointed death looms into our near and distant futures. Whatever happens, his companions will be there alongside him, but can he protect them from everything the known and unknown universe has in store for them? Next in the count down of season six, "The Girl Who Waited".



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Monday, September 12, 2011

Countdown Doctor Who Season 6 part 2: "Let's Kill Hitler"


"You said she killed the doctor. The Doctor? 
Doctor Who?"

--The Doctor
"Let's Kill Hitler"



"You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What the Hell? Let's kill Hitler."

The second half of season six has begun...well, it began. Three weeks ago. My apologies. As regular bloggers go, I'm sort of a wash. My recent re-location, search for employment and illness have caused lapses in my usual punctuality. But let's move on, shall we? Travel back in time, so to speak, to episode 8 of season 6.

This episode is one of Steven Moffat's emotional episodes following the River Song chronology. As we know from previous seasons and the first half of season 6, River Song is a time traveller, only her time line is going in the opposite direction of the Doctor's and his companions'. Recently we have discovered that River Song is also part Time Lord, as she was conceived by Amy and Rory aboard the Tardis.

Now we encounter a new character in Amy and Rory's lives: their best mate, Mels. Mels is Amy's oldest friend, whom she shared her stories and adventures of the Doctor with while they were growing up. Amy would go on to name her daughter after Mels. Mels meets up with Amy and Rory after they summon the Doctor, dramatically, with the headline "Leadworth's Crop Circle". Mels, needing to escape police custody (again), kidnaps the Doctor, Amy and Rory at gun point. When prompted with where she would like to go, she answers with the age answer to an age old question, "You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What' the Hell? Let's kill Hitler." The Doctor sends them to 1938, where they accidentally crash into Hitler's office, stopping an assassination attempt by a robot carrying tiny people inside. Hitler attempts to shoot his attacker after thanking the Doctor for saving him. Since the robot is metal, essentially, the bullets ricochet off, one of them striking Mels. Astonishingly, Mels is mostly unhurt, and in an even stranger display, she begins to regenerate, which the Doctor quickly notices. He disables every single gun in the room, and Mels reappears as Melody Pond, or more specifically, River Song. Only River has no idea who she is, only that she is a buxom older woman with blond hair "that just doesn't stop, does it?" River jumps out the window and into 1938 Germany after she poisons the Doctor with her lipstick (an old trick). Amy and Rory follow, along with the Teselector, the robot with the tiny people. They catch her, and when the Teselector tries to apprehend River, the Doctor begs Rory and Amy to stop the little people and free River. River is non-plused, and the Doctor begs her to save her parents, as he lays dying and helpless on the floor. River extracts Rory and Amy with the Tardis. River gives all of her remaining lives and regenerations to save the Doctor. They leave her in the hospital and take off across the universe again.

In a nutshell, that's the episode.

Steven Moffat: The Writing and the Timeline


Steven Moffat has done it again. This episode, I would criticize as being slightly more confusing. It is not stand-alone, as episode 9 would be, but is part of the River Song chronology, which has been working backwards until now, when River Song has finally reached a point where she must begin again. At the end of "A Good Man Goes to War" we learn that Melody Pond, Amy and Rory's baby, is being turned into a weapon by The Silence to be used against the Doctor. Now that they have this foreknowledge, the team must leave River to discover herself. This means that even while the Doctor travels forward and River travels back, River must also travel forward in her search for herself, the River that Amy and Rory know in the future. Their contact with River must now be minimal, as they have too much foreknowledge. I don't like it, since Melody/River seems to be able to regenerate into different ages in different parts of her time stream. Its a bit confusing, and we lose precious moments of Amy's life, parts of her life that would have been spent raising a child. However, Melody/River is already an adult in their current part of the timeline. This is how Amy could name her child after her best friend and then her child be her best friend.

Mels regenerates as River Song
Though Moffat is a timeline genius, I wonder where we are exactly in Amy and Rory's lives. Their current time stream runs parallel to the Doctor's. The three of them are moving forward through their timeline. Along side their timeline is River Song, who is traveling backward in time. When they met her, she had an incredible amount of foreknowledge of the Doctor because she has seen his future. She is also in prison for a murder the group knows nothing about, but the audience is keenly aware of. As the Doctor gets to know River Song, he is also forgetting her. Things that River has become accustomed to over the years will one day be new to the Doctor. His first are her lasts. One day, the Doctor is going to meet her and have no idea who she is. However, this timeline is disrupted by a crossing on Demon's Run, when the Doctor discovers that the child he is setting out to search for is already known to him in adulthood as River Song. River Song can also alter her timeline. She can be both Mels and Melody Pond. She is River, yet she is not River. At the end of the episode, she begins to understand, but her past is unknown to her because of the brainwashing sustained by The Silence. The two River Song timelines begin to converge, as River becomes Melody and Melody becomes River.

Confused yet?

Alongside this timeline is the normal flow of history. This is how Amy, Rory and the Doctor can go back in time from their current position in history and change it. According to an operator on the Teselector, history can be re-written, yet there remain fixed points in time that cannot be altered. One of them is the Doctor's death. Anything else is fair game. The team and the Justice Department, who runs the Teselector, are moving along the same timeline, which is how they can both end up in Hitler's office. Moffat uses three different and distinct timelines to move the plot, each time stream interfering and interacting with the other. Episodes inside the River chronology have to do with Melody Pond and River Song. Episodes outside that chronology effect the present or near future (and sometimes the past) that Amy and Rory currently operate, though I understand that history and space seem to hold a sense of fascination for the companions. Chronology is useful for mapping out plots, and was used in The X:Files to develop the characters outside of the "Black Oil" chronology, which involves all of the extraterrestrial and conspiracy episodes, while the rest of the episodes involve other X:Files, moving character while not running out the timeline too quickly.

"I would ask you who you think you are, but I think the answer is pretty obvious,"
          
The Justice Department


A view of the Doctor from inside
the Teselector
Throughout history, mankind has wished whole-heartedly to be able to go back in time and erase its greatest mistakes. Contemporary opinion often maintains that Hitler should never have been allowed to happen, nor the holocaust and war he started. This is where the Justice Department comes in. The Justice Department is mankind's wish come true. Centuries in the future, mankind has been able to time travel and design robots that can morph into insignificant (or significant as the case may be) people in order to infiltrate and assassinate. The Teselector is one of those robots. The people inside the robot are in miniature, kept that way by a form of compression (the scientific mumbo-jumbo is not necessary to the concept). However, their goal is not just to assassinate, but to extract human lives near the end of their established timeline and, "Give em Hell" in exchange for all the suffering those people have caused to their timelines. The Doctor does a pretty bang up job of explaining to them why that's stupid with, "What, you got yourselves time travel, so you go back in time and punish dead people?" Not only does it render the Department itself useless, but also disables that age-old question, "If you had a time machine and a gun, would you kill Hitler?"

Our past and our mistakes define who we are in the present. This applies to the futility of killing Hitler in the past. How could we prevent anything like Hitler in the future if we have never dealt with him before? The concept also applies to River Song. Her past, whatever it was, is nothing to her future. She was born to be a weapon, a weapon that the Doctor disabled and turned into a person of extraordinary potential. If he allows the Teselector to destroy River in the past, she will never be able to experience her amazing future.

 Best Lines


Moffat's lines are by far the best. While Matthew Grahame has some good moments, Moffat's episodes are rife with one-liners. Several take place in the beginning, Mels' line being the first on my list, "You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What the Hell, let's kill Hitler." Mels also refers to some of the Doctor's "clever lines" in the opening scenes, "You said guns wouldn't work in here. You said we were in a state of temporal grace."

Amy and Rory have several good lines in this episode. This after Mels' regeneration and emergence as River Song.

Rory: "Is anybody else finding this day just a bit difficult. I'm getting this sort of bagin' in my head."
Amy: "Yeah, I think that's Hitler in the cupboard."
Rory: "That's not helping."

And this after Rory and Amy are shrunk into the Teselector:

Doctor Who?
Rory: "Okay, I'm trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I'm really trying not to see this as a metaphor."

The antibodies get a really good one, "You will experience a tingling sensation and then death."

And, of course, the Doctor his finest, "Never knowingly be serious."

Conclusion


The Doctor and his companions are content to let River find herself. They decide to move on, but not before the Doctor gets a peek at one big spoiler, one he was never supposed to know about. We have not heard the last of River Song, nor do I think The Silence have run to ground in the wake of their failure. However, life does go on on-board the Tardis. At least for now.

The Doctor is a Time Lord of Gallifrey, travelling the universe forwards and backwards with his chosen companions. With their daughter in the hospital, and the rest of the universe waiting for them, what new adventures will the team embark upon? Check back at The Squealing Nerd for episode 9, "Night Terrors."

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Friday, September 9, 2011

"The Ninth Day of the Month..."

Happy Ninth Day of the Month, readers! Today has been a strange day. Good, but strange.

He looks so cool, and he's
not even done yet.
As another Ninth is upon us, and almost over, I am sitting in my kitchen staring at a gorgeous vinyl model of Gary Oldman as Dracula, basecoated with red and white acrylic, waiting for the NyQuil to kick in. I reckon we got about twenty minutes. I will use this time to reflect upon how my day has been. The smoke from the fire was less irritating today. However, the fight to contain the fires in Bastrop rages on, and Magnolia has issued a cancellation of all Texas Renaissance Fair grounds activities until further notice, as there is currently an evacuation in effect. In the mean time, I have been sick for the past four days. The NyQuil is slowly easing my transition from a day wrought with sore throat and congestion to a night of sleeping with my mouth open as my nose takes turns being stopped-up and runny.

Yummy. That's the NyQuil talking.

The model kit is from the Screamin' series, who also brought us several renditions of Pin Head from Hellraiser. The basecoat is red and white and will take at least one more coat of each before moving on to the "wash" stage, where we let black and tan colors mixed with water find all the nooks and crannies in his skin, clothing and hair. Next comes detail and the finishing touches. I actually bought the model from a comic book store when I was in high school. I started putting him together, but never finished. I was afraid I would mess him up, and he was not cheap. I think in 2001 I spent $82 on him. I am very much looking forward to finishing him over the next couple of days.

My husband just handed me a hash brown smothered in tomato bisque with feta and basil. It will be the appetizer for the small dinner party I am throwing tomorrow to commemorate our settling into our new apartment, and its impressive library, complete with signed artwork by Bob Eggleton and Brian Lumley from Horror-Conn 2010, my statue of "Thibor Rising" and my collection of nerdy nick-knacks. I will be serving Julia Childe's Beef Burgundy Stew. I wrote it in English because I lack the presence of mind necessary to look up how to spell it in French.

I'm fading fast, readers. How do you like this blog post for train-of-thought creative non-fiction?

The Ninth of this month is also being heralded as the Friday before 9/11, a thought that prompted UT Austin to play the National Anthem on the bells of the clock tower. For those who were privileged enough to have heard it, it was spectacular. I am reminded that we are very lucky to live in a country so valiantly protected by their finest men and women, and also that this country is itself a protector: of freedom of press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion among the many other rights we enjoy and take for granted each day. This weekend, ten years from the attack in 2001, will find me at a memorial in Pflugerville with my sister, honoring those who suffered the wrath of terrorists, who paid for each and every one of our freedoms with their lives, who were slaughtered without honor in their places of business on a morning just like every other morning, until the sky came crashing down on them. I don't have to wonder at this, but I know many of my readers will be doing something similar on Sunday.

I hope everyone had an awesome a Ninth Day of the Month as I did, sick or not sick. May your evening be pleasant, your kitties be itty bitty, your dreams uneventful and your eggs be blue, not red. Goodnight, readers.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gaiman Begins a New Literary Halloween Tradition

Look out Great Pumpkin, Neil Gaiman has a few surprises in store for his friends this Halloween, and it has prompted several well known sites, such as Tor.com, to spread the fear around.

The idea is this: instead of giving the multitudes candy--stuff that we all love but will wish we never knew existed--we give scary stories and books. A novel idea, really--pun totally intended.

The Squealing Nerd is delighted to announce that we--and by that I mean I--am taking up the tradition as well. Every day during the month of October (including The Ninth), I will post a scary quote here on the blog, as well as on my SN Facebook group (with a link), and will include a brief synopsis and possibly even artwork. This is less expensive than, say, buying out HPB's entire stock of Dracula novels (though don't get me wrong, I'd love a Saberhagen revival--but most of his stuff is out of print).

The really amazing part is that The Squealing Nerd will be able to do this twice from its stronghold in the ghastly grave-yards of New Orleans this October 29th and 30th. I am going as the Grave-Robber from Repo! The Genetic Rock Opera--against the wishes of my friends, who think I should go as the Repo Man. I definitely look forward to participating in this tradition...that we just made up...and that I'm backing up with this picture of me with Neil Gaiman to cement this occasion in history.

Neil Gaiman with Ashley and Ben at Horror Conn 2010 in Brighton.
Photo courtesy of the guy behind us. Thanks again for all you do
Mr. Gaiman!

You can participate in Tor.com's giveaways as well as free fiction during the month of October.

The more in-depth details, as well as helpful tips, are available here: http://www.allhallowsread.com/

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Black Skies Over Texas

From treehuggers.com. Picture courtesy of DVIDSHUB via Flickr/CC
Yesterday, Texas made the world news. I was driving down to San Antonio listening to NPR's BBC World Service when I heard, along with the rest of the world, what I already knew: that parts of Texas are burning.

I had read that morning in the paper that parts of Bastrop and a little annex of Austin called Pflugerville had been burning since the high winds started up Saturday morning. As of yesterday, more than three hundred homes had burned in Bastrop and several more had sprung up in Cedar Park (Austin) and Pflugerville. People all over the city had reported seeing a wall of smoke coming from the South as over 300 homes were claimed overnight.

Right now, as I sit in the Starbucks at Parmer and Highway 1 in Austin--nursing a sore throat and wondering what to do--I can see a column of smoke coming from a fire that erupted just south of us, close to Highway 360 and Austin Community College. A student from the college getting a coffee confirmed the fire's location. Fire trucks continue to drive by in a continuous stream. Five have come by since I've been sitting here.

Oddly enough, many people are spreading word about the fires by word of mouth. Another student said that business proceeds as usual at the community college until further notice. Facebook has also been jumping with people posting images and sending prayers out to family and friends in the area. Local radio stations encourage people to heed evacuation warnings. The Texas Renaissance Fair in Magnolia has been keeping up a steady stream of information via Facebook and Twitter, since the fires seem to be affecting the area closes to the fair grounds, set to open October 8th, provided they are not caught in the blaze. The Starbucks on Parmer and Mopac (Highway 1) has begun collecting canned food and non-perishables to donate to the families affected by the blaze that has been burning nearly out of control since Saturday

The fires are the result of high winds from a cool-front as well as severe drought. Texas summers are usually stifling, but the state is suffering one of the worst droughts on record. According to the Washington Post, 81 percent of Texas is in the grips of a severe drought. The Post also reports that since the fires rage so close to home, Texas Governer Rick Perry has decided to put the campaign trail on hiatus, returning to the capitol to coordinate the relief effort.

According to ABC News, more than 852 homes have been destroyed as the fires rage across Texas. For many people in Austin and the rest of the state, the day goes by as usual, "with all of its comings and goings".   But was we sit outside, enjoying the relatively cool 83 degrees--relative to the 110 degree weather of last week--a pall hangs over the weirdest city in the country as black smoke curls towards the sky to the South.

ABC News is reporting at http://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-wildfires-852-homes-lost-48-hours/story?id=14454307

A report from this morning can be heard over NPR at npr.org.