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September 2017

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Alert readers may have noticed that I haven't been posting much about Doctor Who lately. This is partly because I'm still working my way through Peter Capaldi's first season, and I figure nobody really wants my hot take on episodes that aired over a year ago, and partly because my feeling about the show at the point where I am in my viewing can be neatly summed up by, "Keep the Doctor; regenerate the showrunner."

To be clear, I don't think that Moffat is a bad showrunner, although I think he was generally better as a writer when he was writing for Russell Davies as showrunner. (I'm kind of sorry that we never got to see Davies write for Moffat's Who - maybe he'd also have been a better writer with someone else running things.) But I'm getting really tired of Moffat's particular tropes and obsessions, and I'm really not much caring for how the Doctor/companion relationship has developed in Capaldi's first season. Also, if you manage to bring an episode as stupid as "Kill the Moon" to fruition, you're clearly not showrunning to the highest standard.

I have had many conversations with fellow fans about who might replace Moffat, and most of them have ended with my saying, "Honestly, I don't really care who it is, as long as it isn't Chris Chibnall." I have nothing against Chibnall personally. I'm sure he's a lovely man. But he is pretty much responsible for all of my least favorite Doctor Who and Torchwood episodes ever. (Except for "Kill the Moon". It does not appear that anything about "Kill the Moon" can be blamed on Chibnall.) And I still haven't forgiven him for what he did to the Silurians.

So, the BBC have just announced that Steven Moffat will be leaving the show after the next season (which will apparently be airing in 2017, because the BBC has realized I need time to catch up or something) and will be replaced by...Chris Chibnall.

I'm trying to be optimistic. It's entirely possible that just as I think that Moffat is an excellent writer for Who but only a fair showrunner, I may end up thinking that Chibnall is a lousy writer but a good showrunner.
Well, the early buzz on "Robot of Sherwood" had given me low expectations, so when I actually got around to watching it, I actually found it pleasantly enjoyable. The plot was a bit on the silly side, but there were two things I really liked about the episode.
Very minor spoilers )
Dat title sequence. Damn. That is a thing of beauty.

In terms of the episode itself, I think it mostly does what a regeneration episode needs to do: it convinces the viewer that this new actor is the Doctor, and sketches out in broad strokes what this incarnation is going to be like. I kind of liked the way that this story sort of had Clara to stand in for the viewers who are new to the concept of regeneration and aren't sure what to make of the new Doctor, and Jenny, Vastra, and Strax to stand in for those viewers who are more familiar with the idea and are thinking, "Yes, he's the Doctor. Get over it." I think the last regeneration episode to actually have a regular character around who understood what was going on was Tom Baker's "Robot".

Part of me does wish that there was some way to do this without making Clara the clueless one. Because she's almost played/written as if she doesn't remember any of what happened last season. I think her reaction could have been slanted a bit more towards, "Okay, I totally understand about regeneration and I've even met a couple of the previous ones, but I'm still really freaked out when it's my Doctor that changes," rather than, "Why did the Doctor change?!"

I did really like the scene where Clara finally reconciles herself to the new Doctor. I thought that was really well played on both actor's parts, and really lovely.

As far as Capaldi's performance, I thought he demonstrated that he can cover the full range of Doctorishness. (There's a thought: part of the excuse for the post-regeneration wackiness is to allow the new Doctor to be run through his full emotional range.) I wouldn't say that I'm completely in love with this new version of the Doctor yet, but I like him, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in future episodes.

Compared to other new Who regen episodes, I'd say I didn't like it quite as much as "The Eleventh Hour," but quite a bit more than "The Christmas Invasion". Not a bad way to start the season.
We started off today by walking down to Cardiff Bay, which is a lovely area to stroll around in and is chock full of locations that have appeared in Doctor Who. Some of them are looking a bit different right now - there's a carnival fun fair going on in Roald Dahl Plass, and the water tower sculpture that marks the entrance to the Torchwood hub is currently covered in giant stickers of strawberries. Still, I got some good photos of the tower and Millenium Center.

It was raining on and off through the morning, so we ducked into the Pierhead and later the Welsh National Assembly building to get out of the rain. The Pierhead has some cool Victorian terra cotta tile work, and few nifty odds and ends on display, like the binnacle from the ship that carried Scott on his ill-fated Antarctic voyage. It's not a place I'd recommend making a special visit to, but it's a nice spot to shelter from the rain. The Welsh Assembly building is actually pretty interesting, although it would have been still more interesting if the Assembly had actually been in session. There's a visitors' gallery above the assembly chamber that allows you to watch the proceedings, and a glass-walled corridor that you can walk along and look into the committee rooms from.

And then we were off to the Doctor Who Experience. Possibly more accurately described as the "Daniel patiently takes photos of Wendy standing next to Doctor Who props and grinning like a loon" Experience. When you walk in, the first thing you see is the 3rd Doctor's car, Bessie, and a Dalek made of Lego. If you can tear yourself away from those delights, and the temptations of the souvenir shop, then you can enter the Experience proper.

For the first half-hour, you're led as part of a group of thirty-odd people through an audio-visual experience that feels a bit like being dropped in the middle of a slightly silly webisode. The conceit is that the Doctor is trapped in the Pandorica Mark 2, and has been trying to get a signal to Amy and Rory, but instead he's reached you, a bunch of people out shopping. So, your job is to find the TARDIS and help the Doctor escape - which involves getting in the middle of a Dalek war, passing through a room full of Weeping Angels, and even getting to help fly the TARDIS. (Children get priority at the controls. There was one "child" who is two days short of her fortieth birthday working the navigation controls, but I promise you, I made sure that all the actual kids had a spot before I jumped in.)

The second part of the Experience is an exhibit of props and costumes from the series, old and new. They have costumes from each Doctor, sonic screwdrivers, Daleks, Cybermen, replicas of various TARDIS consoles. I took tons of pictures.

I had a blast, and even Daniel, whose interest in Doctor Who is much more casual, enjoyed it. I recommend it. (They'll be closing in September so that they can update it for the new Doctor. Which I guess means I have a perfect excuse to plan a return trip.)

We had a late lunch at the Bosphorus restaurant on Mermaid Quay, which in addition to serving tasty Turkish food, happens to have been the spot where the 9th Doctor, Rose, Mickey, and Jack Harkness had breakfast in the episode "Boom Town". Captain Jack, alas, was not in evidence today.

We spent the remainder of the day lazing around, drinking tea and reading and soaking up the Cardiff atmosphere. It's been a nice break from the hecticness of London. Tomorrow, we head back to the hecticness of London.
Doctor Who: Army of Death (Big Finish Audio Drama, #155)Doctor Who: Army of Death by Jason Arnopp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't have high expectations of this going in - the "army of the walking dead" concept didn't really excite me. I was pleasantly surprised by the first half, which is a tense, fast-paced political thriller. I loved it. (Though I might also have been riding on the high of having just seen "Night of the Doctor", which had me basically bouncing around going, "Eight! Eight!! Eight!!!" for approximately 72 hours after viewing.)

I thought the second half let things down a bit. Act 3 has a lot of plot by convenient bad timing, while Act 4 suffers from a big baddie who apparently studied at the Brian Blessed School of Dramatic Subtlety.

I also had mixed feelings about the Mary-falling-in-love-with-the-Doctor subplot. On the one hand, it was handled in a way that I thought was both very character appropriate and the way I've always pictured many potential Doctor/companion "romances" resolving: Mary realizes that she's falling for the Doctor, confesses her feelings in an awkward conversation with the Doctor, and then comes to her own realization that Ancient Space Aliens Who Routinely Decide the Destiny of Civilizations Do Not Make Suitable Boyfriends. On the other hand, I think it's a unfortunate that this story happened to be written during an era of Doctor Who in which we seem, on the whole, to be vigorously making up for all those years that we spent denying the possibility that any of the people who traveled with the Doctor might have had other than Platonic feelings for him. And so the whole subplot feels just a tad obligatory.

Anyway, I'm very happy that they've left the door open for more adventures with Mary Shelley, because she is a really fantastic companion.

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Doctor Who: The Cold Equations (The Companion Chronicles, #5.12)Doctor Who: The Cold Equations by Simon Guerrier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the previous story in this trilogy featuring newly-created companion Oliver, this really captures the feel of Hartnell-era Doctor Who. The meticulously worked-out details of zero-gravity navigation even evoke some of the show's original purpose as education television, without getting tedious.

I continue to really enjoy the relationship between Oliver and Steven, and this play does a lot to showcase it, since the second half is mostly a two-hander featuring the two of them. They present a nice contrast to each other: Oliver is shrewd, slightly devious, but very much out of his depth in the realm of time and space travel. Steven is much more open and plain-spoken, but comes from far in Oliver's future.

We also get to find out what Oliver's secret is. I think they made a smart choice to reveal it now rather than trying to string it out for suspense. I'd had my suspicions about what it was, and they happened to be correct. Oliver's confession and Steven's reaction to it were pitched just about perfectly.

I'm very much looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy.

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So, say what you want about Steven Moffat, but there's no denying that he is an old-school Who fan, and when he wants to, he can lay on the old-school fanservice thick. In just under 7 minutes, we've got a glimpse of the Time War, an appearance by the Sisterhood of Karn, an unambiguous nod to the Big Finish audios, and a proper regeneration sequence for Eight. Not to mention another plausible excuse to completely ignore the 12 regeneration limit - if Eight was technically *dead* before taking the Sisterhood's elixir, who's to say that it didn't kick off a whole new regeneration cycle?

I am curious about whether this mini-Episode has any resonance with people who primarily identify as new series fans. (Not that it needs to - that's why it's a web episode. But I'm still curious.)

Doctor Who: The Witch from the Well (Big Finish Audio Drama, #154)Doctor Who: The Witch from the Well by Rick Briggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had decidedly mixed feelings about this one. Some of the pluses: Mary Shelley continues to be just about the perfect Doctor Who companion, demonstrating an ideal blend of curiosity, resourcefulness, and fearlessness in the face of the unknown. I wish she could be a companion on the TV series. I enjoyed the two time-zone nature of the story. I know that lots of listeners have complained that it deprives us of Doctor/Mary interaction, but on the flip side, it gives Mary a chance to shine. I also quite enjoyed the characters of Beatrice and Agnes, who could both have easily been stock characters straight out of central casting, but who, thanks to some combination of the acting and the writing, really come alive.

Some of the minuses: The plot is only sustained by our heroes being idiots at key moments. It starts with the Doctor's willfully ignoring the signs that anything odd is going on with the twins. Not only is this rather at odds with his usual attitude towards new people, but you'd think that the Doctor would at least pick up on the hint that he's crossed his own timeline. When you write an 8th Doctor audio, you really don't get to pretend that he's unfamiliar with how time travel works. And then there's the long stretch of time during which the Doctor and Mary are separated in two different time zones, during which the listener is wondering when it will finally occur to her to use the fast-return switch which was carefully explained in episode 1.

On the whole, the pluses just outweigh the minuses for me, making this a reasonably entertaining if imperfect story.

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Jun. 1st, 2013 03:20 pm
wshaffer: (fan)
Well, I'd been idly wondering since Matt Smith rolled into his fourth year playing the Doctor if we'd see an announcement like this: Matt Smith to leave Doctor Who. And here we are.

I think Smith has been a superb Doctor, even if I sometimes wish he'd been given better scripts to work with. (Or, I think I do. I have not been keeping up with the current season as obsessively as I have seasons past, although I can't quite put my finger on what seems to be missing for me. It may be that nothing's missing at all, and this is just part of the natural ebb and flow of my fannishness. In the nearly 30 years that Doctor Who has more or less consistently been my favorite television show, I've noticed that now and then I need to step back from it a bit.)

Anyway, what do I hope for in Doctor number twelve? As I think I said last time the casting was up for grabs, I'd like them to go for a somewhat older actor. Not because I think older actors are inherently better for the job, but because we've had a few now on the younger side, and I think it would be nice to restore the balance. Doctor Who has often provided excellent actors who weren't classic "leading man" material a chance to be leading men, and I think perhaps we risk losing that.

I'd also be delighted if they cast an actor of color.

Yes, Patterson Joseph still ticks all my boxes. Failing that, I don't have any other names that spring to mind. Given past casting patterns, it'll be someone I've never heard of, and they'll be brilliant in the part. I guess we'll see.

I wonder if they'll really do the regeneration in the Christmas episode, though. Christmas episodes are usually so fluffy and feel-good, and a regeneration will have us all crying into our eggnogg. I wonder if this is a tiny bit of misdirection, and the regeneration will actually happen in the 50th anniversary episode. And when Smith says he'll be back for the Christmas episode, he means the pre-credits reprise of the regeneration sequence, or some flashbacks, or something. Given Moffatt's penchant for wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, we could easily have a post-regeneration episode featuring both the new Doctor and his current incarnation. That could be interesting.
Well, now that I've properly caught up on Doctor Who, I might as well put down a few half-baked thoughts.

mildly spoilery thoughts on Asylum of the Daleks )

Largely non-spoilery thoughts on "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship":
Chris Chibnall has finally written an episode of Doctor Who that didn't make me want to stick a spork in my eye. I'm so pleased, because he seems to be a permanent part of the writing rotation.

How awesome is Nefertiti as a companion? Very awesome. More Egyptian pharoahs in the TARDIS, please. (Although was I the only one who kept waiting in vain for a shout-out to Big Finish's Erimem? Surely not.)

I love how Doctorish Amy gets to be in this episode, and how competent Rory gets to be, and Rory's dad.

Roll on, episode 3!
I'm back from Worldcon. I had a great time - I think I did a better job of managing my social energy than I often do at Worldcons, which means I spent less time at parties but had more fun at the parties I attended. A good trade.

When people ask me, "How is your con going?", I tend to think they mean the one I'm helping to run, rather than the one I'm attending. I had a lot of accidental conversations about FOGcon that way.

As with last year's Worldcon in Reno, I really enjoyed the "Stroll with the Stars" morning walks. I don't often get to chat with the "stars" much, but it's a great low-pressure environment in which to chat to fellow fans, and to get familiar with the area surrounding the convention hotel. (Admittedly, in Reno, the area surrounding the convention hotel was one that I'd have been content to remain unacquainted with. Chicago had a lot more to offer.)

It was a fairly mediocre year for programming, I think. To briefly summarize the panels I attended...
The Good: The SF Squeecast recording was an absolute hoot - I recommend checking it out when it shows up on their podcast feed. I came away from the "F**k Your Knight and the Horse He Rode in On, Part Deux" panel with a long list of book recommendations.

The Bad: "Girl Power in YA SF and Fantasy" was marred by the sole male panelist spending the first half hour talking more than all the female panelists combined. It wasn't intentional, and parity was eventually restored when the women just started interrupting him. "Do We Need Print Books?" was frustrating because people kept bringing up supposed problems with e-books that have either already been technologically solved ("You can't lend an e-book to your friend!" Yes you can!) or will be easily technologically solved once someone brings the right product to market ("E-readers aren't durable enough for small children," or "You can't read an e-book in the bath.") I was annoyed. The three people sitting with me, who are much bigger e-book proponents than I am, were nearly incandescent.

The Meh: "Have Sonic Lipstick, Will Travel" proved to be an hour plus of a roomful of people going, "Yeah, Sarah Jane was awesome. Lis Sladen was awesome." While I can happily spend an hour singing Sarah Jane's praises, I'm not sure a Worldcon panel is the best format to do it in - we'd probably have done better to all go down to the bar and chat. There were brief moments of differing opinion on K-9 and Company and "School Reunion", but the panel didn't really catch fire. (Also, this is nitpicky, but I wish that fandom in general could praise Sarah Jane Smith without (probably unintentionally) belittling prior companions. Sarah Jane was not the "first feminist companion," the "first companion who was a career woman," or "the first companion who stood up to the Doctor," although she was arguably the most effectively-realized character matching those descriptions that the show had had in a while.)

Quibbles about programming aside, it was an excellent con overall.
Doctor Who: RobophobiaDoctor Who: Robophobia by Nicholas Briggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were to force me to pick my single favorite televised Doctor Who story, I might well choose Robots of Death. First, because it actually seriously engages with a science-fictional idea (albeit one largely stolen from Isaac Asimov). Second, because of its visual design, especially of the robots, which perfectly illustrate the idea of the uncanny valley, being just not-human enough to be creepy. And third, because Leela's in it.

So, I wasn't entirely sure how I'd feel about a direct sequel done on audio featuring a companionless 7th Doctor. It does engage with a science-fictional idea, but it's basically the same one as Robots of Death. And it has no visual design and no Leela.

On the plus side, though, I do tend to love the solo 7th Doctor stories that Big Finish does. For one thing, they offer the opportunity to see the Doctor introduce himself to a new proto-companion. I enjoy the ritual of seeing the Doctor introduce himself to a new person and gain their trust, and it's particularly fun with McCoy's doctor because his Doctor somehow combines the bizarre mercurialness of Tom Baker with a certain gentleness.

This audio also has the 7th Doctor at his most enigmatic. I suspect that if I listened again with a more critical ear, I'd find moments where his stringing along of the other characters seems counterproductive in retrospect, but on a first listen, it helps build the tension nicely.

I was kind of expecting the storyline to be "Robots of Death 2: More Robots, More Death", but writer Nick Briggs has come up with a few twists that make it more than that. And the cast give excellent performances - I actually got a bit teary during one of Toby Hadoke's later scenes in the play. And here I thought the man was merely a funny comedian, gifted writer, nice bloke, and walking encyclopedia of Doctor Who trivia.

My only niggle is that rather than seeing this in the visual style of the original Robots of Death, my mind's eye insists on picturing something much more utilitarian and functional looking. The cast just don't sound like they're swanning around in garish eye-shadow and silly hats. The robots sound perfect, though.

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Trailer for Doctor Who series 7! I must admit that I'm slightly less excited than usual about the upcoming season of Doctor Who (by which I mean that I'm merely tremendously excited to see it, rather than leaping out of my seat and demanding that it be autumn NOW). But it has the Doctor riding a triceratops, and River Song, and proper Daleks (in addition to iDaleks). Can't be bad.

This is shaping up to be a bad year for 70's era Doctor Who companions. The BBC is reporting that Mary Tamm, who played Romana I, had died from cancer.

When I was young and watching Doctor Who meant endless repeats of Tom Baker's era on PBS, I always looked forward to The Key to Time season rolling around again. At the time, I'd have put it down to the sheer novelty of a story arc that lasted and entire season (!), but when I watched the season on DVD again recently, I realized how much of it was due to Mary Tamm's performance as Romana (as well as a couple of stories with great scripts.)

Here are a couple of clips from Tamm's first appearance on the show, from "The Ribos Operation":
Running Through Corridors, Volume 1: The 60s: Rob and Toby's Marathon Watch of Doctor WhoRunning Through Corridors, Volume 1: The 60s: Rob and Toby's Marathon Watch of Doctor Who by Robert Shearman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke spent a year watching every episode of Doctor Who in order and writing down their thoughts about it. If your reaction to that idea is, "Wow, that sounds fun!" then this is the book for you; If your reaction is, "Wow, that is...exceptionally geeky," (or worse), then you should probably pass.

Shearman and Hadoke are possibly the perfect people to take on this project. Both are Doctor Who fans, and have been from an early age. Both are a bit obsessive. In addition to sheer fannish enthusiasm, though, Shearman brings a seasoned dramatist's eye for pacing and story structure, while Hadoke brings to bear both his own experience as an actor as well as his incredible knowledge of British character actors. I don't think I've ever read another book on Doctor Who that bridges the technical and professional perspective and the sheer fannish sense of delight so effortlessly. (Well, maybe The Writer's Tale. But that's a very different beast.)

It's not exactly a quick read, partly because it is so dense with opinion and information, and partly because it will make you want to stop and rewatch the episodes they're discussing. If you are a fan of 1960s Who, you should have this book.

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BBC news is reporting that Caroline John passed away last week.

Caroline John played Liz Shaw on Doctor Who. Whenever I look back, I'm always surprised at how important Liz was to me as a character: she appeared in just four stories, one of which I never got to see when I was a kid because the then-available video was in such poor shape that my local PBS station wouldn't broadcast it.

But when I was a little girl of 10 or 11, Liz Shaw was absolutely everything I wanted to be. She was a scientist; she was unashamedly intelligent; she had a wicked sense of humor; she got to save the world on a regular basis; and she wore fabulous boots. I can't remember any other character on television like her at the time.

It's hard to know how important such role models are, but it is surely not a coincidence that today I have a degree in chemistry, am known for being reasonably funny, and own a couple of pairs of fabulous boots. I've never saved the world, but I can probably fix your computer. Thanks, Caroline John, for helping little girls dream big.
So, my personal trainer asked me how I spent the long weekend, and so I had to explain what Doctor Who is.

He said, "You know, when you said Doctor Who, at first I thought you meant Dr. Seuss."

At that moment, I was running laps around a basketball court while holding dumbells in the air over my head, and I decided that that was not an ideal circumstance in which to try to explain Horton, the Elephant Who Waited.
Here's my usual round-up of Big Finish news from this year's Gallifrey One convention. Not as news-heavy a year as some have been, but I do have a few exciting tidbits to pass along.

You will be unsurprised to hear that there are audios planned for 2012 )
Later this afternoon I will be heading down to Los Angeles for a fun-filled weekend of Doctor Who conventioning. I'll have some internet access, but probably won't be posting much to Livejournal or Google+, so you'll have a few days respite from Skyrim fanfic, updates on my workouts, and whatever else my brain sees fit to spew forth onto the internet.

When I get back, I plan to do my usual roundup of all the Big Finish news and gossip that I've managed to glean. Plus regale you with tales of how I bumped into Louise Jameson in line at Starbucks and was totally suave and not at all a wibbling fangirl. If I'm lucky, they might be true. ;-)
When I saw Neil Gaiman read from "A Study in Emerald" at the Toronto Worldcon, he remarked something along the lines of, "I think it's deeply unfair that my favorite thing that I wrote last year was Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu crossover fiction."

I'd say that it's deeply unfair that my favorite thing I've written this year is Doctor Who/Dr. Seuss crossover fiction, but since it's still only early February, it's possible that I might be able to top this before the year is out.