My brother and I grew up watching Doctor Who on NJN. It was definitely one of our favorite shows. This was back before DVRs and On Demand when the only way to catch a show was to be lucky enough to turn to the right channel at the right time. The Doctor seemed to appear at random times so it always felt like a wonderful stroke of luck to flip over to PBS and find the blue police box fading into view with that signature groaning sound, instead of Nova or a nature show. Science fiction adventure with monsters and robots and time travel and silliness? It was the greatest.
When they brought the show back in 2005, we were both pretty excited, although I think my brother more than me. He'd become the bigger fan for whatever reason. I tried to keep up with it, but what I saw didn't really blow me away, and I ended up spending my time on other things.
Then poppy got interested in the new show. We watched a few episodes together and soon we were hooked. We're maybe a quarter of the way through the second season now. We're watching it the way you watch shows here in the future - multiple episodes at a time, streaming on Netflix.
The other day poppy and I were talking about the show, trying to figure out what it is we like about it so much. Of course, there's great writing and great acting. David Tennant is tremendous and is probably my favorite of the modern Doctors. The effects are even pretty good, which is something you definitely could not say about the original show; it was made on a shoestring budget and it showed. The monsters, weapons, and sets were infamously lame. Even on the new show some of the computer effects leave something to be desired. But the physical objects they've crafted are amazing - like the clockwork robots with creepy human face masks, ticking gear-filled innards, and saws that flip out of their arms.
Still, none of that is what makes the show truly great. What makes it great is the Doctor. The Doctor, and the host of totally normal people who are always there to help him save the universe.
Even though, as poppy pointed out to me, the show is really more properly categorized as horror than sci fi (a fact I realized was true with some surprise), it is also extraordinarily optimistic, with a wonderfully positive view of humanity. As the Doctor himself says, in 900 years he's never met anyone who wasn't important, and the stories bear out that theme. There are no unimportant characters, and in fact some of the most important characters are the most ordinary, normal people you could imagine, who simply see what has to be done and step out from the background to do it, saving themselves and the Doctor too more often than not.
The Doctor is a man whose true name is a secret, but who's chosen to call himself a healer. That's very important. That's how he sees himself. He arrives in the midst of chaos and trouble and he fixes things. He is the champion of the common man, the protector of the innocent, a radical pacifist who destroyed a weapons factory and replaced it with banana trees, and who goes into battle with nothing but a fancy screwdriver.
But like some real doctors, he can be arrogant, and he can be accused of having a God complex. He sees himself as the ultimate moral arbiter, the judge, the jury, and sometimes even the executioner. This conflict between his self identity as a healer and savior and his occasional habit of murdering his enemies is one of the central themes of the new show.
We meet him at the beginning of the series as the lone survivor of a huge and apocalyptic war, a war which he personally ended by destroying both sides. He's become a man capable of doing terrible things in the name of peace. But then he meets a woman named Rose and for once, the healer himself is healed. She reminds him of the difference between right and wrong, reminds him that there are things worth dying for, but very few things worth killing for. At the end of the season, he's given the same choice again: end a war by slaughtering both sides, or let the bad guys win. Be a killer or a coward. This time, he makes the other choice. "A coward any day." It's a powerful moment. His growth and change is nicely underlined by the fact that after this choice, he literally becomes a different person.
Doctor Who is a show that has the courage to never back away from the hard questions, to never let its heroes off easy. When the Doctor decides to return a criminal to her homeworld to face justice, she points out that that "justice" will be a cruel death, and that he must take responsibility for it. In the end he manages to avoid killing her, even after she betrays him, and instead gives her a second chance at life, quite literally.
The Doctor is not a human being, but he loves humanity, and he and his stories are deeply human, deeply moving, and full of bittersweet wisdom.
A while back I gave Griffin the old Vehicle Voltron that my brother and I shared. This is really an impressive toy. It's fifteen separate vehicles that can be assembled into three larger vehicles, or into one gigantic robot. My folks had kept it intact in their attic, in its original box, complete with original styrofoam insert, all these years. Needless to say, the box was soon wrecked. Griff kind of liked it, especially the cars it uses for feet, but in general it sat forgotten in the corner of his play room.
Then, just recently, Griffin discovered Power Rangers. I'd been thinking for a while that he'd probably like this show, as it involves a team of guys, each wearing his own bright primary color suit, who rescue people and fight monsters, and also ride in gigantic transforming robot animals. It's kind of totally his thing. He'd been watching it for a while when he started taking his Transformers Rescue Bots toys, stacking them on top of each other, and calling them Rescue Bot Voltron. I was surprised he even remembered Voltron, but I guess I'd mentioned it a few times in connection with Power Rangers. I've always thought of Power Rangers as a lame, live-action rip-off of the original, far superior Voltron (although to be honest, Voltron was pretty lame, too). Anyway, when I heard him say that, I couldn't help myself. I went down into the basement and brought up the bag that contained Lion Force Voltron. Yep, we had that one, too, and my folks also kept it intact in their attic. Well, Griffin's a pretty big fan. He played with it continuously for a couple of hours. "These lion Transformers are pretty cool!" was his comment.
Anyway, more later. I gotta get back to this episode of Power Rangers. Did you know the Power Rangers Samurai Megazord has different powers depending on his hat?
I'm a little embarrassed to include this on my list, because to be honest this album is just a bunch of cheesy hipster music. But it is really catchy, well done, emotionally effective, cheesy hipster music, so what can I do?
9. Neck of the Woods by Silversun Pickups
Although I like their previous stuff a bit more, the new record from Silversun Pickups is solid indie rock.
8. Blunderbuss - Jack White
Jack White finally strikes out on his own and... it sounds a lot like Jack White when he plays with other folks! Which means when it rocks, it really, really rocks (see embedded video). And when it doesn't rock... it's kinda dull. But mostly it rocks!
7. King Animal - Soundgarden
Dude, Soundgarden is back!!! No real surprises here - this is just another Soundgarden record - but I'll take another Soundgarden record any day. Steady, reliable rock.
6. Port of Morrow - The Shins
The Shins are probably one of my favorite contemporary bands. Unexpected, heart-piercing lyrics, beautiful music that just embeds itself in your soul. The song I've included here is probably my favorite on this record, but they're pretty much all fantastic.
5. Silver Age - Bob Mould
Gotta love Bob. Dude just keeps churning out the noisy rock year after year. He's doing it again here, louder than ever. Long may he reign.
4. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
I didn't expect to like this record as much as I did, mostly because it's classified as R&B, a genre I generally don't take to. But it's really more an expert melding of pop, R&B, and hip-hop, and it's clever and wry and personal and heartfelt.
3. Sun - Cat Power
I wasn't nearly as big a fan of The Greatest as everybody else seemed to be, but this record really impressed me - especially the track I've embedded, "Ruin." Catchy and powerful.
2. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do - Fiona Apple
Another raw, beautiful, poetic, bruised record from Fiona Apple. "Hot Knife" is probably my favorite track, but there are many stand-outs, including "Every Single Night" and "Daredevil."
1. Theatre Is Evil - Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
Warning: the video above, like pretty much all of Amanda's videos, is NSFW! I'm perhaps biased towards this record a bit because I contributed to its production, by funding Palmer's slightly controversial, but wildly successful, Kickstarter. But setting all that aside, I think if you give it an impartial listen you'll agree it's a pretty powerful piece of work, just as raw and brutal and personal as Apple's release, but with a New Wave spin. This record will tear your heart out of your chest and dance on it. (UPDATE: I feel it necessary to note that one of the B-sides for this record, "Ukulele Anthem," is easily one of my favorite songs of all time - a silly, angry, defiant, insightful, passionate, screaming, loving manifesto on art and life.)
Sounds from Nowheresville - The Ting Tings
A Blessed Unrest - The Parlour Trick (listen to the whole thing here, and then purchase if you like)
Partly as research for my novel, and partly just because I like them, I've been reading tons of fairy tales and folk tales lately. So I was kind of excited to see that a big-screen, Hollywood adaptation of Jack the Giant Slayer was in the works. But I should have figured that in the process of creating such a thing, they would have added all the typical big-screen, Hollywood trappings to the story. Corny catch-phrases, lame love story, overwhelmingly huge action set pieces, bombastic rhyming prophecies, tons of special effects. Oy. This trailer is just gross.
I never got into Lemony Snicket, but I've heard great things, and we do have a book we really like written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, so I'm curious about this book that the two of them are collaborating on, The Dark.
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, GeekDad got some fun details on the upcoming LEGO game. I'm a little disappointed that it will stick closer to the movies than the books, but not too surprised. Anyway, it still sounds pretty awesome.
There a whole lot of blogs involving artists redrawing/reimagining other art, but... well, here's another! It's a series of artists redoing all the character portraits from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe.
One of my favorite artist/bloggers, Noelle Stevenson, has launched her fantasy web comic Nimona. It's pretty good!
The very last Life In Hell strip was recently printed. Never really got into this strip too much, but definitely feels like the end of an era.
Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.
Hey, so this is cool. It doesn't really seem to signal any major change in policy, and it is coming a bit late, but still: the President said he thinks gay marriage should be legal. It's a step. A nice, big, symbolic step.
That comedy special that Louis C.K. sold on the internet for five bucks, thus altering the universe, is airing this weekend on FX - in an edited form, of course.
Argo looks/sounds like a pretty amazing movie. Here's the trailer. It's based on a true story about a CIA plot to sneak some Americans out of Iran disguised as the film crew for a movie that didn't exist. They even brought in Jack Kirby to do some concept art.