purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

Doctor Who annuals, necessarily constrained to telling very short stories aimed primarily at 10 year olds often written by people who have never seen the show, have a tendency towards the bland and a bit rubbish, occasionally enlivened with stuff that is a bit bonkers. The annuals in the late 1970s went for the bonkers end of the spectrum with enthusiasm which these days makes them far more interesting than many of the others. As a child I recall just being very bemused by both the story-telling and the artwork which seemed to bear relatively little relation to the show I loved.

I recall the above panel clearly. The Doctor has helped a group of apparently very nice men escape from a planet on which they were trapped, only for it to be revealed that once outside the special atmosphere of the planet they revert to psychotic monsters. This panel reveals them in their monstrous state (their psychosis is never actually shown to us, were are simply told they are also psychotic). The Doctor tricks them back down onto the planet by pretending to be stranded and, despite being (allegedly) psychotically evil, they return because of the debt they owe him. They are not happy to find themselves trapped once more and the Doctor (in a detail I missed as a child) weeps as he abandons them.

It's a difficult story. Even as a child I was concerned that the Doctor accepted so easily that these creatures must be evil and I do wonder if its trying to say something about assumptions that to be ugly is the same as to be evil (a message Doctor Who occasionally strays into, much as it also has stories that assert the opposite). Given the Doctor's tears at the end I wonder if the artist also had doubts about the message the story seemed to be conveying.

All that said, it has the merit of not being remotely bland.

The Pilot

Apr. 25th, 2017 09:08 pm
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Season openers and companion introductions are always a little insubstantial. They generally have a lot of ground to cover, in introducing (or re-introducing) characters while at the same time wanting to keep things fairly fast-paced and not too serious. In general I would say that Doctor Who has erred on the side of "light and fast-paced" with a focus on the companion's reaction to adventure. The Pilot clearly chose to go a little slower than usual in its introduction of Bill. It spends a lot of time establishing her relationship to the Doctor in the absence of any peril or adventure and only then brings the sci-fi plot of the episode forward.

On the whole I thought it did a good job of introducing Bill. I'm not as super-excited about her as a lot of people are, I got a sense of the script trying a little too hard to be funny in places. An "Educating Rita" relationship between Doctor and companion is an excellent idea but there is a fine line between portraying someone as bright, but uneducated, and being a little condescending towards your character and I'm not sure the script always got this right. That said I thought it was interesting that, while the show made much of how like the Doctor Clara was, in manner Bill is much more like the Doctor - in particular her tendency to gabble when either she is trying to deflect a line of questioning or she is simply nervous. She also has some of Capaldi's awkwardness of manner. I thought the monologue about serving her crush chips was great and very Doctorish in a lot of ways*.

A big deal was made in the pre-publicity for The Pilot that Bill would be a lesbian and, paradoxically, that big deal would not be made of this in the show. I was a little bemused in advance about how this could be achieved. Let's face it, Doctor Who is not the kind of show in which people discuss their sexuality a great deal (albeit this has been more common in NuWho than in Classic Who). How, I wondered, does one casually throw a mention of sexuality into a Doctor Who story? The answer, in retrospect, was obvious. I liked that the plot was driven by Bill's romantic interest.

That said the plot itself felt like it had some glaring holes in it. It is always difficult with a science fantastical show like Doctor Who to discuss what is, and isn't, realistic within the world of the show. However Heather, as the Pilot's, ability to cross time and space in sequence with the order of events as experienced by Bill and not in strict temporal order seemed... unlikely. The plot was also, as "Deb from Philadelphia" in the Verity podcast pointed out, something of a "greatest hits" of a number of things we have seen several times before in NuWho - all the more so when you throw "Educating Rita" into the mix. There were some lovely moments but on a story level, I wasn't particularly excited by this.

The set up shown, of the Doctor semi-fixed in a contemporary university is, hopefully, a chance for the show to be a little different this season. This is certainly a very different Doctor in lots of ways from the one we saw in seasons 8 and 9. One of my favourite moments in the story was the realisation that he had gone back in time to provide Bill with missing photos of her mother. This is a very different person from the one who had to read out cue cards, supplied by Clara, in order to interact appropriately with distressed humans. Nardole may have commented on his obliviousness to Bill's distress at the end, but this still seemed like a Doctor who had come a long way in his understanding of, or at least his willingness to deal with (I was never entirely convinced that the Doctor was oblivious to the feelings of those around him) the emotions of everyone else.

I've no strong feelings about Nardole. I like his dynamic with the Doctor which is so different to the typical Doctor Companion dynamic, but he was very much in the background here.

Overall I liked this. I thought it was a little slow at the start, but the new Tardis team and the university setting (albeit, as Tame Layman pointed out, university's don't work like that - though universities remain quixotic enough that it's not beyond the realms of possibility) have promise. As a long time fan, I'm rarely particularly excited by season openers, especially when they are designed (as this one clearly was) as a jumping on point, I'm too keen to get on with the story, but this one did its job.

*and yes there was a fat joke, but surely Bill as a character is allowed to be awkward about her attitude to weight - it's not like most people don't have an awkward relationship to weight.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

My second venture into the fanzine world was The Tides of Time. I can't find my copy of issue 1, fortunately [personal profile] sir_guinglain has has archived them all. It surprises me that of all the fanzines that have come, and mostly gone, since the 1980s The Tides of Time is one of the few that still produces issues, albeit on an irregular basis.

I've not been involved with it since issue 7, but [personal profile] sir_guinglain is the currently editor and, I believe, possibly looking for contributions...
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Tame Layman had sufficiently fond memories of The Talons of Weng Chiang that the Teenager was summoned to watch it with us. She indulged us, but I don't think she was really sold on it. She quite liked Leela and could take or leave the rest.

She prefers The Avengers, I think, which is possibly fair enough.

More under the cut )

Tame Layman and I had a lot of fun watching Talons and felt we were reminded what a great companion Leela was, but the Teenager's relative indifference makes me think that this is not a classic with real staying power. It is a bit too long for the material to sustain, it relies a little too much on tropes from stories that are no longer in vogue, and Leela (out of context) is not as refreshing and different as she appears to older eyes.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

I acknowledge the truth of this under the cut )

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

The first batch of Star Wars crochet figures.

B. somehow managed to mistake C3PO for Chewbacca. He claims it was incorrect choice of yarn colour on my part (TBH, it isn't really golden enough, but choosing yarn colours on the internet is non-trivial and it was called "gold").
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

Survival has always felt like a thoughtful story that the show, at the time, didn't have the resources to do justice to.

I'll be interested to see in a few (10?) weeks' time how, nearly 30 years later, Rona Munro's next script fares.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
This is the last travel picspam for a while I promise. I was there to deliver a lecture on Verifying Autonomous Ethical Systems to Matryoshka's Machine Ethics class.

Pictures under the cut )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
After Washington, I spent a day in Pennsylvania with [livejournal.com profile] firin and family. We had planned to go to Philadelphia but miscellaneous events intervened so we went to a local Botanic garden instead.

Flowers under the Cut )
purplecat: (academia)
At the start of March I spent 2 Days in Washington at a slightly odd workshop on Incorporating Ethics into Artificial Intelligence. I knew, from following [livejournal.com profile] gregmce on Strava, that there was a nice looking run around the National Mall and so most of the photos below are from that - often early in the morning because Jet-Lag.

Picspam Under the Cut )
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

The Doctor is extremely lucky that his captors are prepared to believe in Time Travel on relatively flimsy evidence.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

Blake, pictured here circa 1979 was an extremely fine cat, and very aware of the fact. His mother belonged to the local liberal candidate (this being in the days before the Liberal Party merged with the Social Democrats). He was named after Blake, from Blake's 7 because the cleaning lady said she wouldn't feed a cat called Avon.

It has been, since Saturday, a very Liberal Democrat dominated week. I feel mildly hunted.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Plantagenet England by Michael Prestwich. A weighty tome which briefly touches upon the works of Robert Burnell who may be (but let's face it, probably actually isn't) an ancestor of mine. I'm about 200 pages into its 600 and Burnell has already come and gone. Still it's interesting in a recall my school history but get more detail and analysis kind of way.

Listening: The Verity Podcast is, as is so often the case, currently at the top of my Podcast playlist. But I feel I say "Verity Podcast" most weeks. The Zombies! Run! podcast has reanimated itself and I listened to that but while I like Zombies! Run! I'm not sure I'm really fannish about it enough to really appreciate the podcast.

Watching: The Child has become a Voltron: Legendary Defender fan so we have watched through the whole thing with her. I feel a bit old, I'm not convinced it is as great as all that and I never saw the original Volton as a child and so don't have any particular feeling of nostalgia about it. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not feeling the "it's soo great!" love that Child has.

Linky Links

Apr. 4th, 2017 08:53 pm
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I Helped Create the Milo Trolling Playbook—Stop Playing Right Into It | Observer

A really interesting read. Over the past few weeks I've become increasingly concerned about the culture of outrage. I'm not against it per se, I went on the Women's March and I remain glad I marched. But the hysterical and knee-jerk reactions to anything certain groups do, the name-calling and labelling, the refusal to debate, the implications that significant proportions of the population are on some level too evil or too stupid to be allowed to vote - this all deeply concerns me and it feels profoundly counter-productive. This article highlights one of the ways in which it is counter-productive.

- - - - -

Flattering emails will get you everywhere, except when they're from junk journals

I think the spam email I got commending my expertise in "pulp and paper engineering" was better than this one, though I didn't follow that up as the author here did. TBH, there's not much in this article beyond the suggestion that someone else may be planning to take on Beall's work (and given the criticism of people like [personal profile] londonkds, one hopes someone who will apply a more consistent and moderate standards).

- - - - -

Experience: I accidentally bought a giant pig | Life and style | The Guardian

Does what it says on the tin.

- - - - -

Fake news is a problem for the left, too

I've been saying this since the run-up to the Brexit vote and it bothers me a lot that an awful lot of the people I say it to respond with "but the other side is much worse."

- - - - -

Why sitting is not the 'new smoking'

I've always been deeply suspicious of the "sitting is bad for you" messages. Maybe it is because I believe, as a general rule, that it is better for your body to be comfortable than uncomfortable and I develop backache after an even short amount of standing (I'm fine walking or running but standing mostly definitely and consistently hurts after quite a short while - buffets, museums and guided tours all tend to be bad news for me). This article clearly believes that it isn't the sitting so much as the low levels of physical activity that are the problem.

- - - - -

Why are some black Africans considered white Americans? | Black History | Al JazeeraM

I find the issue of who counts as "black" fascinating. Mind you, this headline is misleading, it is not that Sudanese descended Americans count as white, so much as they count as "brown" (a classification of which I was unaware).

- - - - -

'It feels like a wilfully ignored secret': how commentators painted Stoke-on-Trent all wrong | UK news | The Guardian

It has to be said my experience of Stoke is mostly through the eyes of [livejournal.com profile] claraste and her family, but they expressed the same frustration as articulated in this article that the city they knew, one that was troubled but full of grassroots enterprise striving to make it a better place, was not the one they were seeing reported in the press.

- - - - -

Revealed: How Isis turns normal towns and villages into theatres and factories of death | The Independent

A grim piece. To quote the conclusion "It is the Isis message. Holy judgement is about punishment and death. The town square is for execution. The place of fruit and agricultural growth is a factory for shells. The school is a place of military recruitment. The hospital is to repair men for further killing. The only joy is to be sought in paradise. Nothing Deir Hafer’s former rulers left behind had the slightest connection with life."

- - - - -
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

This has never bloomed before (just goes to show what a persistent gardener and a bit of tlc can achieve, I suppose). We think it is a camelia.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

This was one of the first novelisations I ever bought (though I already had The Abominable Snowman - IIRC I bought this one because I recognised the yeti on the cover) and it completely terrified me. I seem to recall setting it aside because I couldn't continue it, and eventually got through it by reading backwards from the end in chunks.

It doesn't seem that scary these days.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
I thought that I had seen Death to the Daleks but it didn't feel particularly familiar when we sat down to watch it. Well apart from the obvious familiarity of a Dalek story filmed in a sandpit in Kent, with an additional section in which someone tries to sacrifice Sarah.

In some ways it's an oddly disjoint story. The Daleks don't appear until the end of the first episode and are sidelined for much of the last. To be honest I think Terry Nation was more interested in the concept of the (somewhat ill-defined) anti-electricity planet, the empty city and the people who worship it, and the extent to which a bunch of humans thrown into this environment would cope. He has some fun with the idea of Daleks also adapting to this environment. Deliberately de-powering the Daleks and then showing them overcome this obstacle and still be extremely dangerous is a clever way to side-step the tendency for each Dalek story to need to up the stakes. It has been observed that Nation had a predilection towards survival stories in which man (mostly manly man) must overcome the environment and this definitely fits into that trend. However survival stories are actually a pretty good starting point for a Doctor Who story and beyond a certain humourlessness Nation's stories tend to be pretty watchable.

Since this is a Terry Nation story, there is a character called Tarrant. I was a little take aback when Tarrant turned out to be a woman, however.

The City of the Exxilons is a nice idea in concept, and is a good driver for the plot that takes place outside its walls, but it's internal puzzle-solving aspect is very poorly realised. Obviously portraying the idea that the city is a sequence of fiendish traps which no one in hundreds of years has successfully navigated, while at the same time making each trap or puzzle something that can be made readily understandable to the audience in under a minute is a big ask. But the ultimate effect is a feeling that the city's puzzles are frankly a bit rubbish. The money had probably run out by this point as well - the set design inside the city is noticeably inferior to that elsewhere. Even the Exxilon costumes (which teeter on the brink of failure) ultimately look good enough.

I want to like this story more than I do. It has some nice ideas, an at least moderately interesting cast of supporting characters, keeps events moving and is trying to do something novel with the Daleks. Somehow it all feels a bit by-the-numbers though. Possibly it is because of the familiarity of the sand pit, Sarah getting sacrificed, the running down tunnels and so on - all its interesting parts are very much slotted into the standard template of a Doctor Who story. Its a perfectly solid piece of second rank Doctor Who, but it had the potential to be something more yet never quite managed to gel and become more than the sum of its parts.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Snakedance, the sequel to Kinda, is one of my favourite Davidson stories. It doesn't have Kinda's single-minded focus on its themes and is prepared to be much more traditional in form, but that has the advantage of making it a great deal more accessible to the average viewer.

One of Snakedance's successes is in trying to depict a complex society in which a space-faring federation is interacting with a still superstitious but far from primitive local populace. Budgetary (one assumes) considerations mean this is only really reflected in the bustling market place of Manussa, but the production team are clearly working hard to evoke a sense of place through both costume and music. Doctor Who doesn't often attempt to give its alien societies much by way of history and tradition, let alone attempt to portray them as particularly complex, so it is nice to see that here.

One could argue that actually explaining the Mara's origins somewhat diminishes it, but I actually really like the way Snakedance works with Kinda. In the former both the Kinda and the survey team are working from a place of ignorance with no real mechanism available to learn how the Mara came about. As such, it remains a mystical force of a nature - a thing that simply is and must be accepted - most of the story is about the break down of understanding and then acceptance. On Manussa, where the Mara originated, far more information is available and the mechanisms for uncovering it are far more familiar to the Doctor although even here he ultimately has to interpret Dojjen's cryptic pronouncements (delivered via telepathy in a set which, one feels, has suffered from the money spent on the market place and cave). Taken as a pair Kinda can be see as setting up a mystery and Snakedance as resolving it.

All that said, shortly after watching Snakedance we watching Nightmare of Eden (not as part of The Randomiser, Tame Layman just randomly picked it). Halfway through Tame Layman pronounced Nightmare of Eden much better than Snakedance* so I suppose you can't win them all.

*No, I've no idea why.


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