Doctor Who: Series 1 Mini-Review

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So, I’m re-watching Doctor Who again from the beginning as I would like to do an academic paper on it in the near future (especially in light of the casting of Jodie Whitaker as the first female Doctor).  I finished the first season of the show’s reboot from 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the Ninth Doctor and this is a mini-review of the season (full disclosure–I’ve seen this season already, back in 2005, although as I’ve noted before, this was before I understood how British TV worked and so I thought I’d missed episodes when in fact, I hadn’t).

Series 1 Grade: A (Excellent)

Is this season perfect?  No, it isn’t, but it re-established Doctor Who in the public consciousness and brought a clever, fun, and sometimes dour Doctor to the screen.  I’d only seen 1 or 2 episodes of the Doctor before this (I distinctly remember a story involving K-9), but as I was a child and had little reference for a time-traveling alien who changed his faces, I wasn’t able to become a “Whovian” until this reboot hit the air waves.

Eccleston has a pluckiness that he infused into the Doctor’s personality.  Eccleston’s Doctor could be dour and serious as the situation called, but there was an attitude of irrepressible joy (almost puckishness) in the delight that he got from traveling time and space in the TARDIS, captured perfectly by his catchphrase of “Fantastic!”  Billie Piper as Rose was also a great companion.  It is been note that the audience sees the Doctor and the world the eyes of the companions and Piper’s Rose has both that wide-eyed wonder and plucky demeanor that allowed me to become part of the Doctor’s circle.  The stories were varied and (mostly) hit for me, with only the odd episode just out of tune here or there.  While there were a few “dark” episodes, they mostly tended toward the lighter side during this first season with a recurring “motif” linking the episodes (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen the show).

In closing, I really liked what they did with Series 1 of the show and watching it again reminded me of why the show managed to grab me as an adult in the way it couldn’t when I was a child.  More emphasis on characterization, storytelling, and special effects were able to pull me deeper into the story than ever before.

Star Trek Enterprise Redux

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Image Source: Memory Alpha

On Friday, I finished the entire 4 season run on Netflix of Star Trek Enterprise.  I have to say that once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.  My overall impression is that it is a good Sci-Fi show that probably ended too soon, Here are some general impressions of the show (with as few spoilers as possible as I will not be discussing specific plot developments, but rather general impressions).

Seasons 1 and Season 2: “Exploration” was the theme of the first two seasons and I seem to be in the minority as I actually liked season 1 and season 2.  Most of the critical reception notes season 1 and 2 as “uneven.”  Yes, there were several episodes that I didn’t like (they tended to be the ones that focused on social issues) in the first two seasons, but they considered themselves as “explorers” and there was an enthusiasm for the “wonder” of it all.  Time travel and time manipulation was a key ingredient in these two seasons.

Season 3: “Conflict” was the theme of season 3.  Apparently ratings, which had started strong from the pilot episode, dropped steadily as the episodes of the first two seasons ran their course.  The writers.producers tried to course-correct and this leads to a season long conflict.  To go into anymore detail is to approach spoiler territory, but season 3 is much more action focused.  While I generally liked the action episodes more in seasons 1 and 2, here I found it made the crew (the captain, in particular) as one note.  They are all driven by the ideals of war and conflict and that leaves little time for wonder.  I liked this  season about the same as season 1 and 2.  There was more action, so it was always tense, but the loss of the shows wonder balanced out the increased tension.

Season 4: “Alternate History” was the theme for season 4.  While not the primary focus of the whole season, 4 of the episodes were given over to alternate history tales with both of the plots being two-part episodes.  I did notice some new names as writers in this season, but after that season long “epic” of the Enterprise’s crew searching the Expanse in Season 3, I don’t think that devoting such a large number of Alternate History stories back into the series was a wise move and towards the end, we also see real-world parallels with the rise of an “Earth-First” movement.  It seemed a little to convenient a set-up to try to get to the idea of the “Federation.”  The Season Finale (which turned out to also be the Series Finale) was also not great.  I like the idea of it (in theory), but for this episode to have worked, the show would have had to have continued.  To end the way it did, seemed forced and anti-climatic.  I know the producers knew that the show had been cancelled and wanted to give resolution, but it was done in such a way that it seemed to demphasize the hard work of the crew of the Enterprise.  I liked this season least of all.

Final Grade for the Series: B- (Good acting, special effects, and characterization let down by questionable story and plot choices, especially in the last season).  While Enterprise may not have had a seven year run like the other major ST series did except the first (to my knowledge), had ratings not declined and/or had the network had more faith, I think we could have gotten to see the Federation “born” more concretely in this series and ST fans would have been the better for it.

No Spoilers, Please!

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Image Source: Larkable.com

Wow. Just wow (but not in a good way).  So the first part of the two part storyline for the Season Finale of Doctor Who released over the weekend and it contained three MASSIVE revelations (i.e., spoilers to the story).  Do you know that I was “spoiled” on 2 of the 3 spoilers by people on YouTube?

Now, you know me, when I “review” something on this blog, I go out of my way to give “impressions” rather than actual “specifics” in order not to ruin the experience for others.  I HATE spoilers, unless I go looking for them.  What makes the spoilers for Doctor Who so  onerous is that I didn’t want to be spoiled.  I avoided looking at the “Coming Next Week” portion of the show (this is the first season I’ve actively avoided it), just so that I would have no clue as to what was coming next.

I’m trying to figure out the reasons (rhetorical) why someone would choose to be a part of the “spoiler” culture.  I understand that there are a group of people who get enjoyment for ruining things for others–but that’s not the sense that I get from the YouTuber who put the “spoiler” in the “thumbnail” for her video.  I had no choice to get spoiled because she put a spoiler not inside her video, but on the outside wrapping (as it were) to get people to click on it and watch her video (no, I do not subscribe to this person’s videos, but YouTube so “helpfully” put her video in my “recommended” feed, not recognizing that her thumbnail gave me way more of the story than I wanted).

I don’t think there was any malice in her video, but a kind of unthinking blindness to the fact that while you may know and want to discuss the story (before it is released), others just want to watch the story and then discuss afterwards.  I don’t want to paint her as just an unthinking fan (she did put the spoiler) in the thumbnail image for the video, so there was some forethought in the matter, but I think it was more of “isn’t this so cool,” rather than “I know more than you,” type of thought.

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Image Source: Radio Times

Either way, however, knowing ahead of time really blunted my enjoyment of this week’s episode (made worse that it wasn’t me who went looking for it).  I knew who the villain was and was able to make the deduction of what was going on about twenty seconds too early and figured out two of the three big reveals too early.  Not sure how I’m going to dodge the season finale’s spoilers, but starting next Thursday I may have to go on media blackout.  It’s pretty bad that it has come to this just to avoid knowing what’s going to happen in a story.

People always talk about the advantages of social media, but they never mention the disadvantages.  I remember when social media (or The Web 2.0 as pundits called back in 2010) was supposed to revolutionize the web.  Well, if this is the revolution, then I want to revolt against the revolution.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂

Star Trek Enterprise

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I am currently “binging” Star Trek Enterprise.  I am almost finished with Season 1 and I have to say that I’m enjoying it.  I tried to watch it during its first run, but not having many of the series staples such as shields, photon torpedoes, and limited Transporter use really dampened my engagement for the show, not to mention the overt antagonism between humans and Vulcans during the first season, so I ultimately stopped watching it.  I tried a second time while I was a Library Assistant at the Chattanooga Public Library as it was in syndication (re-runs) on one of the channels that I watched on my off day (on Wednesdays).  It was either on USA Network or TNT Network (or something similar) where they ran 3–4 episodes back-to-back of a show, so I’ve seen most of the first season already, but because TV was starting to go serial in nature (nothing like it is now for TV series, but there are fun little callbacks to previous episodes if you know what to look for), I wasn’t able to keep up.  When you miss large chunks of the narrative between off-days, its hard to stay invested in the characters/plots.

So far, I have to say that I’m enjoying it more than I had previously.  I still wouldn’t term it as my favorite Star Trek show, but it is no longer my least favorite Star Trek series.  I think this might have worked better as a movie.  Hear me out!  I think that this concept would have made a nice “filler” movie between moving from the original Star Trek cast with Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and the Next Generation crew on Star Trek Generations.  I’ve always felt that Generations wasn’t a strong enough film to follow The Undiscovered Country and that Generations’ should have been more “epic” rather than the “tepid” movie than it was.  I think that a more exciting movie than Generations would have really cemented the Next Generation crew into the minds of fans and movie-goers.

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Had Enterprise been a movie instead of a TV series (let’s call it “Star Trek: Enterprise”) and set it in-between The Undiscovered Country and Generations, and had this allowed the producers of the Star Trek brand to craft a stronger story for the Generations movie, then I think Star Trek brand would have benefitted and may have not needed a “reboot” as soon as it did.

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Still, digressions aside, I’m enjoying the show so far as it is a nice diversion until the new season of Dark Matter (my current favorite “starship” show) returns.  I will probably return to Babylon 5 after I finish watching Enterprise and Dark Matter this summer, but here’s hoping that I actually am able to finally see Enterprise in its entirety as it has (finally) gotten its hooks into me and I’m now invested in the show and the characters.

Stranger Things: Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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HORROR FOR A NON-HORROR FAN

I just finished watching Season 1 of Stranger Things (ST) and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I was afraid that the series wasn’t going to live up to the hype set up by online fans of the show.  However, after watching all eight episodes, I have to say that I really did come to enjoy it.  It started a bit slowly for me (Episodes 1-3), but the middle episodes (4-6) really ratcheted up the tension and while the resolution was good (7-8), they weren’t nearly as impactful as the middle episodes in my opinion.  This, I think, is why I didn’t rate it higher.  When it is good, it is excellent, but the slow beginning and the not as impactful ending really made the show seem not as suspenseful as it could have been.  Now, I didn’t “binge” watch it, but rather watched it one episode at a time on Saturdays (as a reward to myself for getting through a “hard” week), so perhaps that had something to do with it, but in my mind, a really good series should be able to be watched either one episode at a time or “binged” watched without it making a difference.

The one thing that the show really gets right (and makes the bulk of the middle episodes) is the idea of mystery and suspense.  These episodes drip feed the story to the viewer in just the right amount of atmosphere, suspense, mystery, character development, and plot progression.  We discover more about the characters, the world, the mystery of what is going on, and how all of this came to be in the middle episodes and that is what makes this show so great.  While there are horrific elements, the goal is less on trying to scare the viewers and more on creating tense and suspenseful encounters to place the characters and I really appreciated that as a viewer.

STEPHEN KING “LITE”

Okay, so I’m not really a “Horror” fan.  When I say that, I mean that while I have read some horror novels and seen some horror movies, they do not make up a major component of my genre experience (unlike Fantasy and Science Fiction).  I read authors such as Dan Simmons (in his “Horror” phase) and British author James Herbert (who would now be considered Dark Fantasy instead of Horror).  I’ve also seen movies such as Alien and others like it, but in general I prefer the feeling of wonder and excitement to that of dread and horror.

I used to read Stephen King (his 80’s and 90’s work) and ST gives me a Stephen King “Lite” vibe.  It has a construction of a less intense and less horrific version of Stephen King’s It.  I think that it is the focus on suspense rather than horror that really helped me to become invested in the series.

GOOD RESOLUTION (FOR THE MOST PART)

I liked the ending, although I have to confess, that I wanted the “love” subplot to go differently than it turned out.  The resolution of that subplot seemed forced and cliche and relied on a character change that wouldn’t have happened in real life based on the way the original boyfriend acted in the earlier episodes.  The character does a complete 180 change in behavior that was hard for me to accept based on his earlier behavior.  Also, the creators set up the early episodes giving the “new” love interest a lot of pathos by showing his backstory, his motivations, etc., but because of the old boyfriend’s abrupt change in behavior, this doesn’t go anywhere.

The ending of the main plot, however, seemed to end well and left itself open for a sequel, as shown by the Super Bowl Ad.  It definitely seems that while things resolved, it doesn’t seem like the sequel will be forced or unnecessary.   I’m actually looking forward to it.  I think it will take the show into some very interesting places.

RATING: Season 1 Grade: B+ (Above Average)

If you like suspense and mystery and don’t mind a few chills and scares, then this is a great show to watch.  Even though the cast includes a mix of child and adult actors, they all do a great job and are completely invested in the world that the show runners created.  I look forward to Season 2 later this year.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

I learned that putting characters that I like into dangerous situations helps to create suspense because you’re invested in that character and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to that character.  This tension is what creates suspense and why I think that the middle episodes (4-6) are so good.

Also, I learned that I shouldn’t change a character’s behavior mid-way through without a good reason (perhaps externally).  The show runners obviously wanted to show that the “old” boyfriend had a change of heart, but his change wasn’t earned well enough/strong enough (in my mind) to result in the change that occurred.  I need to remember to make any change in the character that deviates radically absolutely explicit to the reader to make the reader believe that the character could change realistically in the way I show by clearly showing the internal/external struggle that forces that change.

Did You Miss Me?

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I have been “gone” for a while and I’ve let my blog (in addition to many of my writing projects) languish over the course of these last few months.  This has been partially my fault as I have felt too tired, discouraged, or overworked at various times and in varying degrees during these past two semesters to give the blog (or my creative writing) anything close to the time required to keep pushing through as I did when I was a teacher.

However, one of my professors was instrumental in reigniting the fire of my desire to write creatively at a high level.  On the first day of class, she showed a short YouTube video about Neil Gaiman’s writing process that really inspired me and made me start to want to try to write again.  I’m including the link below (although according to WordPress’s analytics, no one ever clicks on the links to the videos that I include, but I’ll include it in the off-chance it will inspire someone as it inspired me.)

YouTube video: Neil Gaiman

I have started watching Babylon 5 (the first season–yes, I know it’s old, but it was on sale on iTunes and I never did get to see more than a handful of episodes during its first run–though strangely enough, I did see the conclusion, so I know how B5 ends–I just don’t know how it got there) and Stranger Things (I started with The Expanse, but didn’t like it, so I switched to ST and I’m about half-way through and really enjoying it).  I’ve also seen Logan and Kong: Skull Island. Expect Mini-Reviews for all those in the coming weeks/months.  I would also like to redo/revise my Marvel Movie listing as it is the most popular post on this blog and several movies, including Dr. Strange have come out in the interim and I would like to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

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While I don’t have a ton of time, I really don’t like not writing creatively.  If it means that I’m not a “true scholar,” then so be it.  I only have one life to live (to my knowledge as much as people rave about The Walking Dead, last I heard it was still only fiction) and I have to be true to myself.

I may never have the advantages that many celebrities have (like a Radio DJ playing a certain recording artist’s neophyte songs over and over for an entire summer until he got “discovered” by a major record label and now he’s an international star–true story).  And maybe I’ll never make the millions that the particular superstar is making, but if he gets to make the “art” that he wants because he had people to help him, then by golly-gosh, I’m going to make the art I want, even if I never have anyone to help me.  And if I die in obscurity and poverty, which is looking ever more likely as the years go by, then at least I’ll die knowing that I tried–and that’s all any human can do.