Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 In Review - The Year of the Fangirl

2013 - The year for some really great memories. And here's hoping 2014 will only add to the pile of good things.
I guess it’s that magical time of year when we look back on the calendar year and (as long as nothing massive happens in the next three days) consider all the huge events that occurred.  I usually don’t do this because, well, it’s just a cheap way to make content.  The news media does it all the time as long as there’s (hopefully) no great natural disaster in a third-world country to do their fake hand-wringing about (come on - is there anything more insincere than a TV news anchor?)  Besides, there’s usually not much that I really want to discuss or even dig up from my past because it’s just too rage-inducing.  Plus, I never feel very connected to national or world events because I have such a low opinion of humanity in general and I know they’re all going to be idiots no matter what I do or say, so better to let them get on with the business of being idiots and maybe they’ll make enough rope to hang themselves with and I won’t have to do a damn thing about it (just because you may see feral dogs ripping each other’s throats out in public doesn’t mean you have to get in the middle of it to try and stop them. Words of wisdom, right there).

But you know, 2013 was one of my better years in recent memory - mostly because I decreed it to be the Year of the Fangirl and here’s the tweet to prove it:
Meaning that I was going to indulge in fannish delights and let the world sort itself out (or blow itself up - whatever it decided it wanted to do).  I guess since 2012 was such a colossal disappointment, I was tired of having high expectations for the year and I was envious of the people who didn’t seem to care that things were going to hell - so I decided to be one of those people.  The result: The Most Fun I’ve Had In a Good Long While.

(People talk about how pessimism is so damaging and terrible, but I think it was the best thing I ever did!  What’s the phrase? Now that I’ve given up hope, I feel much better).

Giving Reality the finger, one fanfic and Tumblr reblog at a time.
Anyway, I didn't start this to talk about how horrible the world is and how much faith I've lost in humanity.  I started this to talk about how ignoring all that shit helped me find the good things in life and enjoy them more fully.  So, here is the myriad of ways 2013 - The Year of the Fangirl - was the best year in recent memory -

- I started out as part of the Yule Ball committee, in which the library system I work for hosted a Harry Potter Yule Ball for teens.  It was basically a Prom for the literary minded and I found myself wishing there had been such things for me when I was a teenager (and I have no idea how this happened, but I have no pictures of it, sorry about that). In fact, that kind of dovetails into something else cool that happened this year - ToshoCON. Admittedly, I was more involved in ToshoCON than Yule Ball, but it all served the same purpose to show me how my hobbies and my day job combine to be something really spectacular and just a lot of fun.  I’m in my element with fellow geeks (even if they are younger than me - hey, they help me keep my priorities straight) and we’re just having a fun old time. So, yay library life!

- Speaking of conventions - this year I went to not one, but TWO conventions! The first I’d had planned for nearly a year previous and that was Gallifrey One in Los Angeles.  Meeting best friends I didn’t even know I had along with meeting stars of my favorite TV show - what could be more fun? (maybe going two years in a row would do it - fingers crossed!)

Oh, I know! Having the announcement a month later that Salt Lake City would be getting its very own Comic Con!  And after all the success and fun of that initial con - it turned into two! Recently, they announced that Salt Lake Comic Con would be expanding into two annual events, FanXperience in April and the regular Comic Con in the fall.  After being kind of an anomaly in this little niche culture we have in Utah, it’s nice to be recognized and appreciated for the growing demographic we are (and telling the scrapbooker, the outdoor retailer, and bridal conventions to suck it doesn't feel too bad either).

- Movies and books are always a hot topic in my life and 2013 was no exception.  A Memory of Light closed out “The Wheel of Time” in spectacular fashion. I took on the Goodreads Challenge to read (and review on Goodreads) 100 books by the end of the year (which I accomplished in October - clearly, I need to set a higher mark for myself) and I found some lovely little reads (and some not-so-lovely, but that’s part of the fun).  But another book I discovered this year was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (quite appropriate, don’t you think?)  And it’s all about fandom and being in a fandom and finding your way through real life while hanging onto fandom.  It’s perfect!

On the movie front - Marvel had some stellar entries with Iron Man 3 (shut up, it was good) and Thor: The Dark World. And count me as someone who actually enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness (I guess I don’t have all the fanboy history to get all up-in-arms about whatever the problems were) and I did enjoy Man of Steel as well. Ender’s Game and Catching Fire were great too.

- Okay, so the BIG event of 2013 (and one that I spent extensive time talking about - not just here, but on Tumblr, Twitter, and on Traveling the Vortex through feedback) was the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.  Between episode reviews/recaps and Librarian in the TARDIS and general geeking out over all things Who - I think that was a huge part of why 2013 was so great.  And the future of Doctor Who seems to be secure for the foreseeable future, so there will be plenty of wonderful delights to take part in soon - but the look back to the past this year was more fun than I can express.  Honestly, The Year of the Fangirl would not have been such a personal success without Doctor Who and for that I am extremely grateful.

So now, 2014.  I haven’t had a great track record with even-numbered years lately, but I’m ready.  The fangirling won’t stop and neither will the snark. So if you're expecting any of this to taper off... sorry - not happening!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And One Greeted Death Like a Old Friend

Below "The Tale of the Three Brothers," there are spoilers for "The Time of the Doctor" -

That was one hell of a regeneration!  But first - there was a story.

There are huge chunks of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure that we don't have accounted for, precisely.  Space between "The Wedding of River Song" and "Asylum of the Daleks" - plus all that time in Series 7 with the Doctor dropping off Amy and Rory and Clara and having adventures on his own.  I expect that Big Finish will have plenty of fun with those empty spaces when the time comes.  I only mention this because - it's almost fitting that we got something similar with "The Time of the Doctor."

I really loved this story.  We were introduced to the concept of Trenzalore back in "The Name of the Doctor," and it's right that Eleven gets to close that storyline out.  Give Twelve a fresh slate to work with and get down to business without having to clean up what was left behind.  But what I enjoyed the most about this is that it was treated like the Time War. Alluded to, mentioned, glimpsed at - but never shown explicitly. Ultimately, this story is about saying goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor - but not in an overpowering and intense way.  The flashbacks and small nods to the past are so perfectly placed within the story, just as fleeting reminders of what's come before.  As with the nods in this 50th Anniversary year, they are simply there to pay tribute and don't take over the actual story that's going on. Those little "kisses" (if you like) were just so perfect and wonderful.

We see the Doctor age and get old - spending centuries defending the town of Christmas. Probably the first time since his first incarnation that the Doctor actually got old and died. Clara pops back in and out (like the TARDIS has gotten used to this whole "Okay, Wednesday is Clara Day, so let's go get her!" Okay, maybe not really like that, but you get my drift).  The Doctor is ready to make his last stand and his last stand is supposed to be on Trenzalore.

But if we learned anything from "The Day of the Doctor" - indeed, if we learned anything from the Eleventh Doctor - it's that time can be rewritten and nothing is set in stone.  Not even the Doctor's gravesite.

This is Matt Smith's moment and all praise and gushing goes to him. So often, the Eleventh Doctor is described as an old man in a young man's body. Well, this time we saw the old man come out for a short time. Matt is going to go far in his acting career, absolutely zero doubt in anyone's mind (well, there better be zero doubt. If you have doubts, I'm coming after you with a stick!) No matter how he looked, he was still the Doctor (even with his head shaved - that was a clever little lampshade-hanging moment). Clara knew it and I knew it and everybody knew it.

And the regeneration - you know, I listened to today's Verity! Extra and something that got brought up was how much kids in particular have latched onto the Eleventh Doctor. When Ten regenerated, I was a sobbing mess - mostly because he was a sobbing mess (kind of).  But Eleven - Eleven was ready to go. And because he was ready to go, his fans (and I'm thinking of kids in particular) can be ready to let him go.  Yes, it's sad - yes, I shed a few tears (just like Clara did). But Eleven's time is up. He's lived a good long life (even if we'll have to wait to see... well, hear it) and he's happy.  His life wasn't a live-fast-die-young sort of thing that's happened so many times in the past. He had so many laughs and joys and heartbreaks and he's done. Even when he thinks he's used up all his regenerations... nope, Gallifrey peeks out through the cracks and says (in essence) - okay, here's some more golden-sparkly-stuff - go do your thing!

 But then - WHAM! And there's Twelve! No prolonged shower of gold sparks, no bonfire, no screaming - just... there he is prattling about the color of his kidneys and how do you fly this thing?

(And poor Clara is there thinking "Oh shit - now what?")

Other things -

- Wow. Gallifrey came back sooner than we expected!  Even before we knew it had come back.  That's what the cracks in Series 5 were about (wonder how much of this is Steven Moffat thinking it out in advance or if he just thinks of cool things at first and then figures out how to use it in later stories).

- On that note - all the explanations for all the strange things throughout Matt's era were there. Explained and gone and done with. And oddly - I'm okay with that.

- Clara Oswald is an English teacher at Coal Hill School. There is nothing I don't love about this.

- The Cyberman's head is named "Handles." And the thing kind of reminded me of K-9. Why does Eleven keep making friends with things he should be scared of? (Because he's the Doctor - that's why).

- The Doctor just happens to have the Seal of Rassilon from "The Five Doctors" in his pocket.  Because of course he does.

- I had a tough time settling on a title for this blog post. But I remembered the line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows about greeting death like an old friend.  And just now, I was looking through my notes and I said something about the Sontarans having an invisibility cloak on their ship - so there's some serendipity for you.

- "Ten had vanity issues." You know, when I heard that Moffat was counting that as a regeneration, I wondered how he was going to explain that so it didn't sound half-assed. But that line made it all okay.

- The Oswald Family Christmas. Most. Awkward. Christmas. Ever. But I liked the poem in the cracker that Clara read to the Doctor later.

- The clock struck twelve when the Doctor's regeneration blasted all the Daleks. Yeah, yeah - someone's gonna bitch about the nuclear regeneration energy. But the way I look at it - the Time Lords sent it direct, they might have built in the explodey-ness of it all - I'm okay with it.

- He takes off the bow tie and drops it to the floor right before he regenerates. The Feels.

- Though I am glad that he got his young face back before he regenerated. I just wanted to see his face as I knew him best before he had to leave.

It still hasn't quite settled in that Matt's actually gone and Peter Capaldi is actually the Doctor now. I have about eight months to get my head wrapped around that fact. I might even rewatch "The Time of the Doctor" later and still not accept it. Then again, I might watch it later and burst into big, fat, messy tears. I never quite know. I did watch BBC America's "Farewell to Matt Smith" before "The Time of the Doctor" (it's really nice being home for Christmas with my parents' satellite TV) and I was getting all choked up during that. I've said it over and over again (especially on Tumblr) that I'm just not ready for Matt to leave. But I am grateful to him for his part in making Doctor Who a huge success. Not just a commercial success (though that is extremely important) - but a success with individual people. And when I say "individual people," I mean "me." Sure, I started with Eccleston and went onto Tennant and then to Matt Smith when I first started watching Doctor Who - mainlining and all that. I started watching around the time that Series 5 was finishing up it's premiere run. Eleven was still very new to everyone and I wasn't sure he'd unseat Tennant as my favorite (and then I latched onto Davison and we all know how that turned out). But I will say this - if Matt had not been as good and wonderful as he was, I don't know that I would have continued watching the show. Doctor Who would have been just another show that I once watched on DVD because I was bored, but I never followed in real time (I do that a lot).  But between the stories and the characters and Matt's performance as the Doctor, I kept coming back. And Matt kept impressing me and making me fall in love with his Doctor. The same Doctor who has kept me going through some very dark times, even since that initial impression. Words will never adequately express what this show means to me, and that is due in a very large part to how Matt played the role. I may never meet Matt in real life, but I would like to just tell him how thankful I am for what he's done and wish him nothing but the best in future.

Thank you, Raggedy Man. For landing in a little girl's backyard - for not standing back and watching her cry - for making her laugh - for being her friend - for taking her hand and yelling "Run!" - for taking her through all your incarnations and feeding her love of stories and adventure and fairy tales. Because of you, she's going to be just fine. Through all of time and space - things will be okay. And it's all down to you.

You just watch us run.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas is Coming!

Okay, we'll just say I took December off (hey, 2013 was a busy year and I needed a break!)  But I didn't want Christmas to go unnoticed, so have some Muppet shenanigans for this lovely holiday week -

I will be back later this week with thoughts (and tears) on "The Time of the Doctor," so fret not on that score - and here I realize I never posted the trailer (ugh - December. Blah), so have it now -

Okay FINE! There's this thing too -


Anyway - I do have some things in store for the new year, Who-related and otherwise, so keep watching this space. In the meantime, have a safe and happy Christmas!

(please don't go matt...)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meeting Your Heroes

Title: Assisted: An Autobiography
Author: John Stockton with Kerry L. Pickett
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: October 2013

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
John Stockton's autobiography, Assisted, pulls back the curtain on his very personal life to show fans a thoughtful recounting of the people, places, and events that have connected with John along his path of extraordinary success. This book clearly illustrates the importance of his family, his faith, and his unparalleled competitive spirit.

My Review:

Well, I wasn't alive for the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 was still some years away - so here's my ultimate "Where Were You?" moment in history (fast forward to 5:14) -

May 29, 1997 - It’s late. My sister, Emily, and my brother, Mark, and I are all in our pajamas ready for bed. But none of us are sleepy. Mom’s gone to my Grandma Johnson’s to deliver her birthday gift (it’s Grandma’s birthday). My two youngest sisters are... somewhere (at ages 3-and-a-half and 2, they were probably in bed asleep. Or maybe Alison was there jumping on my parents’ bed with us and little Shalayne was probably with my mom. Hey, some details just aren't that important). Dad was watching us, but he was on edge just like us kids.

2.8 seconds. That’s all that’s left in the game. The Houston Rockets had scored to tie the game at 100 points apiece and the Jazz had possession of the ball and the lead in the playoff series (barely - damn Eddie Johnson). A quick timeout and the TV switched to commercial. My twelve-year-old brain mentally calculated “We’re either going to score or the game’s going into overtime. We have a good chance of winning either way. We’re either going to score or go into overtime.”

Of course, this “we” business didn’t really mean much in the long run. But they were my Jazz from the word go. And even at my tender years, I felt part of the moment. Everyone in Utah did (well, except for those boring old hipster douchebags who thought that cheering for the hometown team was too far beneath them and opted instead to cheer for scum like the Los Angeles Lakers. Whom the Jazz had dispatched from the playoffs weeks earlier, I might point out).

The game came back on and we scurried back to my parents’ room and onto the bed, eyeballs glued to the TV screen. The announcers said... something, I don’t remember what. All I saw was a line of purple uniforms waiting to inbound the ball and another line of white uniforms trying to disrupt it in any way they could. The ref handed the ball to Bryon Russell, who passed it in, starting the clock. Everything happened so fast - the clock ticked down, John Stockton got the ball at the three-point line, that one dopey announcer said “Uh-oh,” Stockton launched the ball over Charles Barkley, the ball went in, the clock ran out...

And our house went ballistic!

The kids jumped off the bed and ran around the house. Dad ran after us, high-fiving and cheering. Our celebrations mirrored those taking place on the court in Houston. With that one three-point shot - a shot I had seen John Stockton make hundreds of times on TV and I could only dream of ever making - my fandom life tipped over into a brand new watershed, though I didn’t know it at the time.

The Utah Jazz - scrappy, basic, clean-cut, fundamental little team that they were - were headed to the NBA Finals. And we fans were ecstatic!

To say I've been a fan of the Jazz my entire life - well, that begins to paint the picture, I guess. My earliest childhood memories are sitting on my grandmother’s lap with a big bowl of popcorn watching Jazz games on my grandpa’s big screen TV with the sound muted and the voice of the Jazz, Hot Rod Hundley, giving the much-higher quality play-by-play from the radio (when I was little, we had three-and-a-half channels and none of them carried the Jazz games, so we went to my grandparents’ house to watch. It was quality family-bonding time before the family all went batshit crazy. Well... before I realized how batshit crazy they were). As I got older, my Jazz fandom only increased - from playing in Junior Jazz (the little league basketball program the Jazz organization sponsors) to saving newspaper clippings of important games to devouring the monthly HomeCourt magazine. Even learning how to draw the Jazz logo so I could decorate my notebooks at school (in purple and teal, of course - none of this crappy powder blue nonsense). And from the word “go,” I had two basketball heroes - Karl Malone and John Stockton. The best basketball players ever to pick up ball and no one could ever convince me otherwise (I even traded an $80 Michael Jordan trading card so I could have a special Stockton-to-Malone print that wasn't worth near as much - an incident the boys at school never let me live down, but I didn't care. Michael Jordan had enough people fawning over him - he didn't need my adoration).

So, when John Stockton’s autobiography was announced earlier this year, I was ecstatic! Here was a guy who I admired for his basketball abilities - but also for his integrity and honor off the court. When I’d watch post-game interviews, he always struck me as a good person, someone who didn't get off on showboating or fame or celebrity - which, being from a down-to-earth rural background in a down-to-earth rural state was so much more appealing than all that flashy crap from LA and Chicago. Plus, Stockton was a quiet leader - something I identified with even as a kid. He didn't have to be the center of attention to make an impact on his teammates and community - he just showed up, did the job, set a good example and that was that.

Don’t think that didn't make an impression on a farm girl from Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah.

However, as I read Assisted, I found more and more that I really didn't know a whole lot about my hero. I did appreciate the insights into John’s childhood and how he came to play basketball. A lot of what he describes is in the vein of “And one thing led to another and suddenly, I’m in the NBA” (okay, okay - there was more to it than that). But, I guess is just how life goes for most people (though, without the part about playing professional basketball. Mostly). The whole thing reads the way I remember Stockton’s post-game interviews on TV - down-to-earth, no-nonsense, tell it like it is. He’s here to play ball and all that extra stuff doesn't matter - even though the media seems to think it does. And it’s just the perfect glimpse into the life of a guy who I've never met, but who made such an impression on my life that’s really difficult to put into words. I mean, I cried when he retired, but I knew that it had to happen eventually. Just didn't think it would be the same month I graduated from high school (oh, how life bookends itself sometimes). And watching Jazz games just isn't quite the same without the Old Guard anchoring the team (oh here, listen to me waffling on like an old lady, pining for the good ol' days of my youth).

This isn't so much a review as a reflection of my memories of watching the Jazz as I was growing up. I’m still a fan of the Jazz, but life has taken me elsewhere - far from that scrappy little twelve-year-old who tried to mimic Karl Malone’s footwork in the driveway, in hopes of someday playing in the WNBA (Ha! I barely made the JV squad my senior year of high school. I had much more confidence in my abilities than were actually there. The regrets and failed opportunities of my life could fill several volumes).

MY POINT IS - that this was a fun little read that let me revisit some of my own happy memories of cheering for the Jazz in those wonderful days of the playoffs and winning seasons, but also to gain insight into a remarkable man who happened to be one of the greatest basketball players ever. Someone who didn't care who got the credit, who embodied the spirit of competition, and who was just a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Back to that night in '97 - Mom stayed at Grandma’s house to watch the end of the game. When the game was over and everyone’s excitement had ebbed to the point that normal conversation could be had, Grandma turned to Mom and asked “Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Mom handed Grandma the wrapped birthday gift. “Happy Birthday, Mary. Though, I think John Stockton gave you the better birthday present.” (Grandma agreed - though that was just Grandma's way).

With the modern-day emphasis on glitz and glamour and fame in pro sports, I don’t think there will ever be another player like John Stockton to make it to the big leagues. On one level, that makes me sad, since I learned so much from watching him (and the rest of the team, let’s be honest) play and there are probably tons of kids out there who could do with some positive role models. On another level, it makes the time that he was playing that much more special. Magic Johnson gives way to Michael Jordan gives way to LeBron James gives way to... who the heck knows? (Jabari Parker, perhaps?) But there’s only ever going to be one John Stockton in the history of hoops. And maybe that is as it should be.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

There Are No Words Witty Enough to Headline This

After that wild and crazy weekend, I needed a few days to let the adrenaline rush go and calm myself.  But I would be sorely remiss if I never said a word about "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot" written and directed by My Doctor, Peter Davison (for all his self-deprecation in this, he really is the best ever Doctor and no one can convince me otherwise).  Just... watch -

(And because there's something in the HTML code that hates me, the damn thing won't embed. Seesh - would it kill the BBC to put this on YouTube or something? Oh well - here's a direct link to the page)

You know, I'd been run ragged by Saturday night. Running the emotional gamut - even before "The Day of the Doctor" aired, I was bouncing around the house in preparation of watching the episode.  Then actually watching the episode and writing up my thoughts about it and then squeeing over it for four hours with my friends Rachel and Brittany over on Google Hangouts - I was drained (and that's not even counting the emotionally harrowing experience of An Adventure in Space and Time). But I appreciated having this little palate cleanser of humor that was still Doctor Who-related.  I can't think of a more perfect little treat to cap off the most remarkable day in Doctor Who history and fandom.

Now, I'm off today on adventures in family and turkey (and I'm probably in for some teasing this week from the relations - at least, the ones who follow me on Facebook and have likely seen all my fangirl flailing there over the past week.  Eh... I deal with it).  So, everyone celebrating have a happy Thanksgiving break and I hope you're all recovering nicely.  I do still have plans for next year. There will finally be a break in my Doctor Who flailing and I'll be able to get some new things in my notebook - some children's and YA book reviews as well as movie and TV discussion as it comes along.  But all the Doctor Who 50th stuff has been so much fun and I'll find reasons to do more over time, I'm sure.  Until then - yeah... that's about it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oh. My. Gallifrey.

Everybody's seen "The Day of the Doctor," right? I don't need to worry about spoiling anyone?

Still shaking, still crying (though not as much as I was about a half hour ago).

Where do I even begin?  How can I even begin? The opening title sequence! Foreman's Scrapyard! Clara's a teacher at Coal Hill School! (with one I. Chesterton as Head of the School Governors!!!) Kate Stewart and UNIT! The girl with the Tom Baker scarf! Mentions of "The Three Doctors!" Companion pictures! Zygons! TARDIS interiors! (with commentary on the roundels and how none of the Doctors know why they're there!) And The Thing that happens at the end! (actually, several things) EVERYTHING! I LOVE EVERYTHING IN THIS STORY!

This special is so vastly different to any previous anniversary specials or multi-Doctor stories Doctor Who has done before.  It's not the fan-wanky goodness of "The Five Doctors" (though heaven knows I dearly, dearly love that one) - there is an actual story to tell. There's history to be made. We're not here to rest on our laurels and think that the future will take care of itself. But there are little nods to the past, appropriately and lovingly done.

There are actually two plots going on here.  The A-plot with the War Doctor on Gallifrey with The Moment (that takes the form of Bad Wolf - and not Rose Tyler. I sort of figured that was going to happen).  And then, the B-plot with the Zygons and Queen Elizabeth I woven inbetween.  Smack dab in the middle of this, is the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors meeting up and crossing timelines. Of course, we get the interplay with the three Doctors in the cell beneath the Tower of London.  They'd already gotten all the fun little digs at each other out of the way - Sandshoes, Chin Boy, that kind of stuff.  And then - The Story.

Steven Moffat has used the whole "timey-wimey" thing quite well to this point, so it follows that it would come into play in this multi-Doctor story in a huge way.  The War Doctor - before he does The Thing that makes him Not-The-Doctor - gets to see the future.  And the other Doctors get to see the past.  The story's really about making things right what went wrong and learning from your mistakes.  It's sort of like Back to the Future - Marty changed his past, but he still remembers what came before to get him to that point (and yes, hard sci-fi fans - I don't know how it works. But let's just pretend for a minute that you aren't a bunch of pedantic hardasses and let's have some fun with this).  The post-Time War Doctor has been emotional and angsty to this point and no one's going to take that from him.  He wouldn't be the Doctor we know and love if he did that.

But avoiding the Moment isn't about the Doctor.  It's about the people he's going to save. It's about putting aside his regrets and doing what he's spent 400 years thinking about how he could have fixed it and What Went Wrong and reclaiming his title and being the man that he's always been - the one we've loved for so many years and so many regenerations.  It's about second chances.  For once - the Doctor gets to save himself.

And, boy, did I squee when ALL THE DOCTORS appeared!  And I heard them!  I saw them! First Doctor! Second! Third! Fourth! Fifth (I distinctly heard Peter Davison's voice!) Sixth! Seventh! Eighth! Ninth! (yup - he was in there too - probably reused audio, but I don't care!) Tenth and Eleventh, of course. And...


(I think I might have died at this point. And then I regenerated. My second incarnation is typing this up).

So, the day is saved - and so are millions of Gallifreyans.  Gallifrey is out there, somewhere in a hidden pocket of the universe.  And that's the next step - go back to Gallifrey and see what New Who can do with that.  After 50 years - the Doctor is finally going back.  But not before the Doctor meets a certain curator... whose appearance is going to be discussed and dissected ad nauseum in the coming days and weeks.

Only because I know what this means to the fandom and I'm part of the fandom - yeah, I was hands-in-my-face bawling at this point.  Tom Baker came to the party.  The Doctor no one can ever really be sure of, but everyone still loves.  I know, I know - Tom Baker isn't my absolute favorite Doctor... but it was a special moment and I'm glad he came in for this cameo.

In "An Unearthly Child," the Doctor says that he and his granddaughter are cut off from their own world, but that they will get back one day.  Well, Susan is somewhere else but the Doctor remains.  He has remained for fifty years in our timeline.  He just saved his home world after having destroyed it.  But for once (and it wouldn't surprise me if this was mixed in the Christmas Special with all that Trenzalore stuff) - he has a purpose and a target.  He's going home.  Of course, we know that it's quite never that simple with the Doctor.  You step out to take a look around, and you inevitably find yourself captured before you can explain anything.  Honestly, the future of Doctor Who is secure (at least, from where I'm standing).

But we always love nostalgia and the past because we know that it's still there.  So, the Eleventh Doctor walking out of the TARDIS to stand among his past regenerations (including the War Doctor - oh, that made me happy!) was right and proper and good.  Made even better (probably because I've still got An Adventure in Space and Time feels running through my system) by the fact that the First Doctor stands in the middle of the circle and the first, the original, the one who started it all.  And then the credits put all the Doctors' actors names under "The Doctor" - by that point, sobbing and laughing and tears were pouring down my face and everything was beautiful and nothing hurt and EVERYBODY LIVES!

This entire special was a delicate balance between fanwank and moving the Doctor's story forward. And they hit just the precise balance with "The Day of the Doctor."  Doctor Who isn't going away - not anytime soon.  We now have a whole new direction to go and new places to explore.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No Regrets or Anxieties - Plenty of (Happy) Tears, Though

Spoilers for An Adventure in Space and Time below the video (this song popped into my head for about the last ten minutes of the movie, so I'm including it in my reaction/review post) -

Mark Gatiss, I hate your stinking guts. I still love you, but right now - you suck! (she said through a curtain of tears)

Doctor Who runs the gamut of emotions. One minute, you're laughing with absolute delight. The next, you're sobbing your eyes out. So, why would a docudrama about the origins of the show be any different? I ask myself these things after I have spent the better part of twenty minutes trying to compose myself well enough to write anything at all about this movie. At least, something that didn't consist of Tumblr-speak about FEELS and DONE! and WHHHYYYYYYYY?????

If tomorrow's "The Day of the Doctor" is about moving on into the future, An Adventure in Space and Time was the tribute to the past.

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who told us on the first day of class that history tells us what happened, but literature tells us how people felt when history was happening. So, I guess I should have remembered that going into this film. It's one thing to know that William Hartnell was the First Doctor and he played the part from 1963 to 1966 and he only quit because of ill health and then Patrick Troughton came in as his successor and the show has been about constant change ever since. But - seeing the people involved in those decisions - seeing how this show went from being regarded within the BBC as a silly little kids' show and even treated as a joke to becoming a national hit in Britain - and then seeing the people involved in the creation of the show moving on and having to understand why the changes are made… I'm never going to be able to watch "Dalek Invasion of Earth" without bawling. And forget "The Tenth Planet" (which I've never seen, but it's not going to be fun). I just… can't do it right now.

It's kind of stupid, really. That I would have this reaction, I mean. My hell, I know how this story ends. I know how things happened. Goodness knows I've listened to enough interviews and DVD commentaries and things to know the facts. But a dry laundry list of facts doesn't begin to tell the entire story. Something that the Doctor and his companions learn oh so well in every adventure in the TARDIS. You may "know" your version of events, but you haven't got a clue what's it really like. Not until you find yourself mistaken for an Aztec god and people worship you, but it also means that you have a shedload of responsibility that means life and death for these same strangers.

But damn - that ending!

That's what sent me over the edge. The tears were bubbling under the surface up to that point ("I don't want to go" - what the hell are you people DOING to me????) But then, William Hartnell looks over the console - and damn if it isn't Matt Smith staring back at him, not saying a word, looking apprehensive but excited about following in something that has become such a wonderful tradition. At first, I wasn't sure if Matt is supposed to be in character as the Doctor or if it's just Matt in costume. Either way, I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it's reassurance to an old man who thought he was being put aside and the world was moving on without him - that the world never really moves on. They never forget and they never let go.

Over the past year, I've grown to appreciate and love the Hartnell-era of Doctor Who. There's so much greatness bubbling under the surface, just waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to give it a chance and not dismiss it over the black-and-white or the limitations of 1960s TV. Over this past week in particular, I took some time to review each episode in "An Unearthly Child" and go in depth - more in depth than some fannish overviews and power ranking lists do (I hate those lists. I truly, truly do - Eff you, io9!) So many times, the Hartnell stories are just glossed over as "Oh yeah, that's what they did before they really knew how to make Doctor Who - it didn't really get started until Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker took over. William Hartnell was just this grumpy old man who was there until REAL and PROPER Doctor Who showed up."

Pardon my French, but that is complete and utter bullshit.

If anything, this exercise of mine - doing my little Unearthly Revisited series - has taught me that everything was already there. The seeds of amazing storytelling were planted by William Hartnell and Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman and Waris Hussein and William Russell and Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford from the get-go. Everything that has come out of Doctor Who since then has built up from these templates and foundations. Gallifrey, Time Lords, regeneration, companions, backstory, the Time War - everything can trace it's roots to "An Unearthly Child."

Even the Daleks - even the idea of a space monster that's more than simply looking scary and blowing crap up - it would not have worked without a sense of purpose and place for those deranged pepper pots to occupy within the bigger story. In fact, I adore the scene where Verity has to convince Sydney that the Dalek story is worth doing - and not for the monsters, but for what they represent and the moral challenge they present to Team TARDIS and, by extension, what people are going to get out of seeing a show like that. Because that's what Doctor Who is. And I wanted to jump up and shout for joy when Sydney gave the okay to use them (I limited myself to a celebratory punch-in-the-air because, dammit, it's the freaking DALEKS!)

Just - holy crap - so much good and so much to love. And so much love and respect in this film. David Bradley totally got Hartnell and Jessica Raine was the perfect Verity Lambert (there better be some shiny awards coming their way for this). I admired Verity from what I knew of her before, but this totally sent my love for that woman into the stratosphere and I am so very sad that she's passed on and there's never going to be any chance to meet her and tell her how wonderful I think she is.

Other Things I Liked -

- Something occurred to me (and it's probably just Mark Gatiss being a fan and giving fellow fans these little nods) - that several missing stories were alluded to in An Adventure in Space and Time - "Marco Polo" is the obvious one (seeing as it's completely missing, but there are some beautiful behind-the scenes color photos from the filming of that story). But also - they might have also included allusions to the two episodes of "The Reign of Terror" that are currently missing. Going by the costumes and the fact that William Russell was actually there for that filming day (he'd been on holiday for episodes 2 and 3) - it could very well be from the filming of the-now-missing episodes 4 and 5 (yes, yes, I know there were some artistic liberties taken with timing and stuff - just let me have this!) Plus, the opening and ending of the film is from the filming of "The Tenth Planet" episode 4 (which is mostly missing) - regeneration and all that.  So, if it was a conscious nod to those missing episodes, I loved it! (even if it wasn't - I'm going to pretend that it was).

- I loved the montage of the behind the scenes development of the show intercut with Verity telling Bill over lunch about how this show was going to have all the latest technology and best facilities. It was a good way to show how low-tech and ropey everything was back in the day (the best part was (presumably) Delia Derbyshire talking about how they created the TARDIS sound with a door key and piano strings). There are so many smaller stories within the bigger picture and the montage was a brilliant way to pay tribute to as many of these lovely little anecdotes as possible.

- Oh my poor, poor heart - the scene where Hartnell had to start the central TARDIS column moving up and down because he was the only one left who knew how it worked. And then the last time he ever did it (right before the Matt Smith cameo) - I was a sobbing mess by then ("I don't want to go" - DAMMIT GATISS!)

I can't say enough good about this. It's more than just presenting a bunch of facts about these events and people - it really cut to the heart of what Doctor Who has meant to so many people over the years. Not just to the fans (though those kids who followed Hartnell around in the park and asked for his autograph - oh my gosh, how can you stand it??) - but to the people involved in bringing it to life. For Verity, it was a chance to prove herself as a young, ambitious TV producer. For Bill, it was a chance to prove that he could still do something he loved and be relevant and have success.  And his interactions with his young granddaughter - just beautiful.  Beautifully done and beautifully paced.  The whole film was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

This was a fitting tribute to something that started in such a humble way, but has grown to fill the world and to fill our hearts. No, not everyone gets it. For example, just yesterday I got a phone call from my dad and he said "I don't know what it is you're busy with - it's just a show." And that's okay. I don't expect everyone to have that same level of love for it. It makes it more special that way. But it's good to know that others get it too, you know? I want to give Mark Gatiss a big hug for this (after I finish cussing him out for making me cry like that).

I'm not really sure how to end this post.  Because I don't want it to end.  I guess all I can say is thank you.  Thank you to Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman and William Hartnell and everyone else involved in getting Doctor Who started.  This show - which I knew nothing about four years ago - has left an indelible mark on my life.  The Doctors, the companions, the stories, the people behind the scenes, even my fellow fans - I feel like they're my family.  I can't say how much Doctor Who has come to mean to me.  It's been right there in my happiest moments and in some of my darkest.  I'll never be able to express my gratitude or repay what's been done - but I am grateful for it.

No, there are no regrets or anxieties (still plenty of happy tears). Just me going forward in all my beliefs. And Doctor - you'll never be mistaken in yours.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Formula is Set - We're Off and Running!

Librarian in the TARDIS - Unearthly Revisited, Part 4

Title: The Firemaker
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Adversary: The Cavemen
Originally Aired: December 14, 1963

(Tragical History Tour is back in business and the screencaps come from them!)

My Review:

Where “The Forest of Fear” sort of meanders about with Team TARDIS getting captured and escaping and being chased by killer cavemen and frightening creatures, “The Firemaker” finally gets around to the business of tying up the loose ends and moving on with the story. It’s not a bad ending to this initial four-part story of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who Season 1 - A Portrait in One Panel
It starts out with Team TARDIS being ambushed on the way back to the ship.  But it's kind of okay because they were planning on taking the wounded caveman back to the tribe anyway, much to the surprise of the one cavelady, who remarks that this new tribe treated them like a mother caring for a child. Still, no good deed goes unpunished in early 1960s Doctor Who and the four are tossed back into the Cave of Skulls - but this time, they aren't tied up (maybe that was the tribe’s idea of mercy, who knows?) Either as a last-ditch attempt to get the cavemen to let them go or out of sheer boredom (or both), Ian, Barbara and Susan work together to try to make fire.

I sort of feel like I need a peppy song about teamwork to go here.
And here, we get another interesting scene that informs on future interactions within Team TARDIS. The would-be caveman leader comes into the cave and sees Ian trying to make fire the old-fashioned Scout Camp way with a couple of sticks, some string, and dead leaves. The caveman asks if Ian is the leader of their tribe and Ian defers to the Doctor. He doesn’t give a reason for doing that - maybe it’s because the Doctor is the owner of the TARDIS and he’s the seasoned time-traveler or it could simply be old-fashioned deference and respect to someone older. Either way, it’s kind of a nice moment, considering the relationship between the Doctor and Ian up to this point has been prickly at best.

(Again, I don’t have much to say about the cavemen because I don’t find them that interesting beyond giving Team TARDIS an obstacle to overcome. But I do have to wonder - when you’re cast as a caveman and you’re told you’re perfect for the part, do you feel insulted or complimented? I’m asking for a friend...)

Caveman discovering fire for the first time or your typical fifteen-year-old Boy Scout? Really, is there a difference?
Anyway - back to the story. Another part that I absolutely love is when Susan starts fiddling around with the fire and she sticks a skull on top of a burning torch. For one thing, she’s gotten over her fear of dead things (which is remarkable, considering there’s a recently-dead caveman in there with them). And here we have one of the best escape plans in the history of escape plans - which probably only works because we’re dealing with superstitious cavemen here, but that’s beside the point

*obligatory Hamlet joke*
Ian gets the idea to stick four skulls on torches and pretend like they all died from - what? Fire exposure? Falling into the firepit? Poking each other with flaming sticks? (I tell you - boredom!) Who knows, but all we've got is a prank and a prayer and let’s hope this thing works! Which it does, funnily enough (hey, we've only got five minutes to close out and get back to the TARDIS!) While the cavemen are scared spitless, Team TARDIS takes this chance to sneak out the front door and take off running through the forest (*cough* BBC crew brandishing palm fronds *cough, cough*). The cavemen come to their senses at the last minute and give chase, but it’s too late. Team TARDIS has made it back to the ship and they take off, not knowing exactly where they’re going but at least it’s away from the cavemen.

Last one to the TARDIS gets out first on the next hostile planet!
Which still isn't good enough for Ian and Barbara. While these four did unite in their ordeal with the cavemen, once they get back to the TARDIS it’s back to the whole “Get us back home!” conflict. This is going to strain at the dynamic between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara with Susan caught up in the middle. It makes for a fascinating character study, even though it’s not at the forefront of the main story until “The Edge of Destruction,” which is among my very favorite Classic Who stories. This conflict is something that I quite like in these early days, though I am glad that it gets resolved later-on.

By the end of “The Beginnings” boxset, this Team TARDIS settles into a really neat little family dynamic that makes this group an iconic (dare I use that overused term?) set and would carry Doctor Who into it’s first wave of intense popularity. Sure, the Daleks were there to keep the public interest coming, but without these wonderful and compelling characters, even the cool-factor of the Daleks wouldn’t have been able to keep things going. Doctor Who was off and running from the very beginning and this story set forth the template for fifty years of great storytelling and madcap adventure, changing lives and influencing so many kids and adults to look at their world in a whole new light.

Or, simply to give us all something to look forward to.

Thus, ends the Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited series - I hope you've all enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed going in-depth on the story that started Doctor Who.  I mean, we talk about the Daleks and how that really kicked things into high gear - but you really need some great core characters for the weeks the Daleks aren't terrorizing the universe and I think this initial story really gave the show a good foundation to work from. You don't get to 50 years without a solid starting-point and "An Unearthly Child" (or "An Unearthly Child" plus "100,000 BC" - whatever you want to call it) laid the groundwork in spectacular fashion.  In the weeks following, viewers would get caught up in the Daleks and the historicals and so many other great characters and plotlines - but this is where it all started and this is what we're all celebrating.

Previously -
Part 3 - The Best Out of a Bad Situation

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Best Out of a Bad Situation

Title: The Forest of Fear
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Adversary: Cavemen and a really scary forest
Originally Aired: December 7, 1963

(Note: Soooo... Tragical History Tour had a bit of a tragedy in that their photo hosting service went toes-up on them (at least, for the next 24 hours). Thus, I'm going to have to do without screencaps for this post. Yes, I could try to make my own... but no one really wants me to do that because they'd look horrible. We'll just have to make-do with some links to Tumblr).

My Review:

I left the review of “The Cave of Skulls” on a character development cliffhanger. Now, have you ever been scratching a dog’s tummy and all of a sudden the dog started thumping it’s hind legs, meaning that you’ve found the sweet spot and you’d better keep scratching there because, oh boy, that’s just right? (okay, maybe it’s just my dog that does that). That’s me when a story gives me some great characters with great development. That’s probably why I stuck with the First Doctor’s era so long when I was first getting into Classic Who. Lots of veteran fans tell you not to plow through Classic Who from the start because you’re going to get bored. Well, in my case, that was most certainly NOT true. It started in the previous episode, but it really ramps up in “The Forest of Fear.”

Now, I've always considered the four-part serial known as “An Unearthly Child” to really be two stories. The first episode is its own stand-alone plotline and the subsequent three episodes are another story arc. Which makes “The Forest of Fear” the second part in a trilogy. And, generally speaking, the second parts of trilogies are usually the weakest installment. The story neither begins, nor ends. It’s just there to (hopefully) move the story along until it can be concluded, but not to actually end. I can think of several book trilogies that this applies to - the second book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth is kind of a muddled, meandering mess and the second book of the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie sticks out like a sore thumb between two very good installments. Also, traditionally Classic Doctor Who has this thing where the second-to-last episode of a serial is more or less killing time until the final episode comes in to end the story and interest kind of lags a bit. So... “The Forest of Fear” already has the deck stacked against it.

That’s not to say it’s a terrible episode. It’s just not the best that we've been given up to this point. And that may say more about the quality of the first two episodes than it does about this one. Because there are still good things to say about it - but they’re a bit more subtle and require some retconning to make work. Luckily, I've spent quite a bit of time on Tumblr and this “headcanon” stuff is like oxygen (which is kind of hard to come by over there, what with all the breathless fannish-flailing. I regret nothing!)

Fear Makes Companions of Us All

When last we left Our Intrepid Heroes... they’d been captured, tied up, and tossed into the Cave of Skulls. Things look pretty bleak for Team TARDIS. So bleak, in fact, that this scrappy little group of time-travelers - thrown together by the most bizarre circumstances - actually start to work together to find way to get out of the situation they’re in. And this, dear friends, is where the famed Man of Action Ian Chesterton comes to the forefront. Ian’s skepticism and doubt has completely vanished at this point. There’s no point in trying to deny that this weird stuff is happening anymore - Here is a problem and he’s going to solve it by being the default leader of the group.

I talked in the last review about how Barbara was the one willing to accept time travel and Ian was the one who had to be convinced of the reality of the situation - really, he only gave it a chance when he saw how adamant Barbara was about it. In this episode, there’s a bit of a role reversal which I find completely fascinating. It’s not a straight-across-the- board sort of thing, but Barbara’s given into despair and panic and Ian’s the one who has to pull her out of it. Personally, I rather like that trade-off between the pair of them. They both have their strong moments and their weak moments, which makes them each such realistic and relatable characters. This episode is chock full of moments where Ian and Barbara are shown to be almost perfect foils to each other. Really, I can’t think of any of their stories where that doesn't happen at least once. Some of that is down to the writing (I remembering reading somewhere that early drafts of these scripts did include hints of a romantic subplot between Ian and Barbara - oh, hey, here it is!), but I think most of that is because William Russell and Jacqueline Hill have such awesome chemistry together. Their performances create such a unique relationship between these companions and it gives me chills every time I see it (someone said recently that Ian and Barbara are Classic Who’s version of Rory and Amy before they got married. Can’t say that I disagree).

(Not to mention providing Tumblr with some excellent out-of-context screencaps for all your shipping needs).*

Well, that fills the shipping quota for this review (pun very much intended) - what about the other half of Team TARDIS? At this point, Susan’s just sort of... there. Though I do have to say that, given how the Doctor is acting, Susan deserves some admiration for being as positive and cheerful as she is in this episode. Because the Doctor is a far cry from the “can-do” hero that I had come to know from New Series Doctor Who. Honestly - I really like that he’s a bit of a coward early-on in this incarnation. This takes some ret-conning, but when have Whovians ever been shy about that? The First Doctor has even said that he doesn’t like Earth or the 20th century - but his granddaughter loves it. The Doctor holds nothing but disdain and contempt for Ian and Barbara. And, honestly, Ian doesn’t think very much of the Doctor either. The only reason Ian just doesn’t take Barbara (and maybe Susan) and leave the Doctor behind is because the Doctor’s the only one who knows how to fly the TARDIS (well, Ian’s sense of honor and decency probably plays a part in not wanting to leave a frail old man behind for the cavemen to... do whatever it is the cavemen would have done). In the grand scheme of things, this does wonders for the Doctor’s characterization and growth.

Any Hope Is Better Than None

And then, we come to the famous “the Doctor almost brains a caveman with a rock scene.” Which, I totally missed that on first viewing. After Team TARDIS has been fleeing through the eponymous Forest of Fear for the past ten minutes, the caveman-leader-dude and his ladyfriend - who have been pursuing Team TARDIS at this point - get attacked by some ferocious creature (totally off-screen because I highly doubt any kind of zoo animal was in the BBC budget at the time). After much screaming and an implied bloodbath, the caveman is seriously injured - and Team TARDIS can get away! Except... Barbara feels bad about leaving the poor caveman to die and she goes to try to help. Recognizing that this would be the right thing to do, Ian and Susan follow suit. And the Doctor... picks up a rock and decides that he is going kill their would-be attacker because that means they’ll get out of there quicker.

(Never let it be said that the Doctor was one to follow the crowd).

But the Doctor doesn't get the chance to follow through with his plans because Ian stops him almost as soon as the Doctor picks up the rock. And it’s just such a fast moment, but the Doctor is lost for words - almost for the first time since we've met him. And it’s more than just this one little plan has been foiled or that he’s cross that he hasn't gotten his way (as Susan says) - but I think this moment is when the Doctor starts to think that maybe humans aren't so beneath him as he once thought. He sees how Ian and Barbara are concerned over the injured caveman, how they clean him up and work to take him back to the safety of his tribe, even though it may mean they get captured again. And the only reason I think that this starts to change the Doctor is because that’s the kind of quality that I saw in the Doctor’s later lives. He doesn't seek to kill anyone and he doesn't look for violence or trouble. Obviously, something happened to change him and all that started with Ian and Barbara showing kindness and compassion to an adversary. If nothing else, that’s what “The Forest of Skulls” should be remembered for - the tiniest moment that started the Doctor on his path toward being better than he started out being.

Certainly, the Doctor’s character development goes on over the course of a very long time and we don’t actively see it played out on screen (beyond noticing differences in how William Hartnell plays the Doctor as time goes on - but you actually have to be paying attention to it because the change is so subtle). There’s a lot of reading-between-the-lines involved, but that’s something I totally enjoy and love, which is why I adore the First Doctor’s era so much. I've said this before with Classic Who (and I’m certain to say it many more times), but there is tons and tons of depth to these stories and so many people fixate on the effects or the low-budgets or the fact that these were filmed “as-live” or even that they’re in black and white and never see beyond those ticky-tack, nit-picky things to find the delicious meaty chunks of plot and story and character. And that’s totally unfair to these stories - but then again, that leaves more for me to enjoy. So - there!

*All joking about screencaps aside, Katie and Claire of Unwilling Adventurer actually go out of their way to provide context and analysis in everything related to the First Doctor's era. They're the best fan-create resource on the Hartnell era that I've ever seen online and I highly recommend their most excellent Tumblr.  As a bonus - here's their analysis of "An Unearthly Child" that they posted on the anniversary last year.  But don't think they never have their fangirl-flaily moments - oh, boy do they ever fangirl! :)

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited
Part 4 - This story is ending, but the adventure never ends!

Previously -
Part 2 - Baptism By Fire

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baptism By Fire

Librarian in the TARDIS - Unearthly Revisited, Part 2

Title: The Cave of Skulls
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Adversary: Kal and the Cavemen (sounds like an 80s punk-rock band, doesn’t it?)
Originally Aired: November 30, 1963

Synopsis (basically the same as yesterday)

Again - screencaps from Tragical History Tour

My Review:

"The Cave of Skulls" is really a story of two halves. There's the wrap-up of what was left over from "An Unearthly Child" - convincing the audience that, yup, we've time-traveled. And then… there's the caveman storyline. Which, I'm going to freely admit, I've never been that invested in. As far as I'm concerned, the cavemen serve only two purposes: (1) To prove that the TARDIS can travel in time (see also: "The End of the World") and (2) to create drama and conflict for the four main characters to interact with. The whole thing with making fire - eh, not that important. At least, not in and of itself. Mostly it’s there just to make Team TARDIS look good on their very first outing.  Which makes sense, when you have this core group of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara that you're going to be following throughout this series, you want the audience to connect with them.  You're not terribly concerned about these periphery characters that are just there to propel the story onward.

But that doesn't mean there’s nothing here to love. Most of fandom may just skip over these three episodes, but I've got plenty to say about them. So, let’s get going!

A New World For You

The Gallifreyans: Just another day at the office. The humans: ...the hell??
Once the cavemen characters have been established, the story cuts back to the TARDIS. Ian and Barbara are slowly coming back to consciousness from their first trip through the time vortex, and the Doctor and Susan are at the console, blissfully pretending that nothing out of the ordinary has happened. From this very first shot, you can tell that this isn't the first time the Doctor and Susan have done this. The image is very much that of Captain Kirk and his crew on the bridge of the Enterprise or even Han Solo and Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon. Just another trip through time and another day to check the instruments. I seriously love that sight of complete normalcy on the part of the Doctor and Susan, but Ian and Barbara are in the background helping each other up with looks on their faces of "What the hell just happened?" It's one of my absolute favorite things about this serial!

I have no reason to include this picture other than I like it.
Now, through the last review, I often referred to Ian and Barbara together. They work together, they came to the junkyard together, they were kidnapped by the Doctor together. They're fantastic individual characters, but I love their interactions together. That being said, I love how this first scene establishes that there are times when they are such very different people. No where does this happen better that when the Doctor and Susan are trying to convince Ian and Barbara that they're not in 1963 London anymore. Barbara believes them a lot quicker than Ian does. There's even a sense that Barbara is eager to get out of the TARDIS and see things for herself. Ian… not so much. He's actually more argumentative about it - vehemently insisting that this has all been a trick and there's no way they could possibly be anywhere except the junkyard (or maybe he's a bit worried about leaving his car parked out on the street for who knows how long - that's just me reading between the lines). You really can't blame him at all - Ian's a scientist. He's made his life around experiments and scientific proof and what he can see in front of him. He doesn't trust anything he can't see, hear, or touch, so it's no wonder that he doesn't believe what the Doctor is telling him until he's actually outside the TARDIS doors - but he's also reluctant to go there. At least, until Barbara asks him if he's coming.

Remember how I said I wasn't going to fangirl-squee over Ian and Barbara anymore? You know I was lying, right?
(Side Note: Something I never noticed when I've watched this before is when the TARDIS doors open out into the wilderness, the Doctor takes off his hat. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but he almost does it out of respect and reverence - as if William Hartnell did it on purpose to mark the historic moment when the TARDIS opened up onto an alien landscape for the very first time. Or maybe his head was itchy. Who knows?)

Disguising Itself Wherever It Goes

Nope. Definitely not Shoreditch anymore...
And here we get another brilliant piece of Doctor Who mythos - the TARDIS Police Box. That little moment when the Doctor first sees that the TARDIS hasn't changed and he's mumbling "how disturbing" it is, that used to bother me. Like William Hartnell wasn't quite putting his all into those lines. But then I thought about it some more and it makes more sense. Up until now, the Doctor has been the epitome of confidence in his time-and-space ship. Confident to the point of condescension, especially when he's dismissing Ian's protests that none of this can be possible. But then something goes wrong, and suddenly the Doctor's been wrong-footed. Suddenly, he isn't the smartest person in the room. He doesn't know why the TARDIS hasn't changed, but he doesn't want to admit that he might not be totally in control of the situation. So, he's going to run off and look for rocks or plants or whatever.

It falls to Susan to provide explanation. And seeing as how the Doctor's off… wherever... and Ian's still wondering "What the hell just happened?", Barbara is the one who's more keen on the newness of everything she's seeing. For reasons that aren't as easily explained as Ian's scientific skepticism, Barbara just soaking up this experience. She doesn't have a rational explanation, but she's more willing to go with it. She even admits that she doesn't really know why - she just believes that this is what's happening. So, it's fitting that Barbara is the one that figures out that the TARDIS is supposed to disguise itself wherever it goes. And, she actually sounds impressed by it. That one line is just so Barbara - she's rational and intelligent, but willing to accept new things that's she's presented with and add them to her ever-growing knowledge of the universe. It's something that I totally love about her character - and it makes her a perfect foil to Ian. In fact, that's probably the point when Ian starts to accept everything that's happened - he probably wouldn't have if Barbara wasn't willing to roll with it all.

Fire Will Kill Us All

I said that I wasn't too into the caveman storyline, and I'm really not. But I do have to talk about the end fight scene. Actually - before that. When the cavemen bring in the Doctor and the Doctor's laying unconscious on the rock, it's only when the Doctor wakes up that the scene gets interesting. Coming from New Who, I have no problems believing that this incarnation of the Doctor is still so very young and inexperienced. It's one thing to show off your shiny, futuristic toys to confuse people. But get him away from the TARDIS and all of his equipment - there's not much to him other than bluster. This is a Doctor early-on in his travels and he hasn't quite mastered the art of Social Interaction (compare this to later stories like "The Reign of Terror" when he convinces the jailer at Conciegerie Prison that he's some government official - well, a fluffy hat will do that). I know I'm coming at this backwards and a 1963 audience wouldn't have had that interpretation, but it's still something of note.

Caveman Negotiation 101 clearly wasn't covered at the Time Lord Academy.
Then, the cavalry arrives! For all the talk that Ian is the action hero (and he is, don't get me wrong!), it's interesting that Susan is the first one to jump one of the cavemen threatening her grandfather. Since realizing her grandfather was missing, Susan's been pretty much in a blind panic. I don't know how her travels with her grandfather have been up to this point, but I get the impression that she hasn't been separated from him very much, if at all. Plus, we're not sure of the circumstances of how they left their home planet. In many ways, Susan is probably a very lonely girl. I don't mind that she screams and panics a lot - many fans kind of dismiss her as just a screamer. But given everything that's implied to have happened to her (admittedly we don't know much - though I do know Big Finish has had some fun with pre-Unearthly Child stories), I really don't mind that she gets scared easily. In fact, I would be worried if she didn't get scared.

So, Team TARDIS gets captured by a bunch of irate cavemen who just want some fire (remember how Ian didn't have matches in the last episode? Boy, oh, boy he probably really wishes he had some now) and… what's this? The Doctor apologizes for getting all them into this mess? The condescending jerk that kidnapped Ian and Barbara and took them thousands of years into the past so they could get tied up and tossed into some smelly, disgusting cave?

Would you two on the left stop being all adorable and crap?? It makes it my job even more difficult!
That, my friends, is called character development. And there'll be more of it in the next episode!

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited -
Part 3 - In which there is an enormous amount of running involved.

Previously -
Part 1 - All There in the Manual

Monday, November 18, 2013

All There in the Manual

Librarian in the TARDIS - Unearthly Revisited, Part 1

Title: An Unearthly Child
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton (joins), Barbara Wright (joins)
Adversary: There really isn't one! (not for the first episode, at least)
Originally Aired: November 23, 1963

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
Susan Foreman is a mystery to teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, seemingly knowing more than she should about the past... and the future. Their curiosity leads them to follow her home one night, only to find that her 'home' appears to be a deserted junkyard. In the junkyard, they discover a police telephone box and a strange old man, who claims to be Susan's grandfather, and calls himself the Doctor. The journey of a lifetime is about to begin...

My Review:

I'm baaaaaack!

While my 50th Anniversary reviews of Librarian in the TARDIS are complete, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary celebrations are far from over. This Saturday is The Day of All Days and what other fitting tribute would there be than to revisit the story that kicked off this fantastic story of a strange old alien and his time-traveling police box?

I thought about reviewing “An Unearthly Child” all together as it’s own little Bonus Review, but the more I thought and wrote about it (just from memory - I hadn't watched it for a while), I realized that every episode is packed with so much detail and nuance and I didn't want to miss anything good. And I’ll probably get other chances to discuss and dissect this story (and others like it), but the thoughts I had felt right for the 50th. So, without further ado - let’s get started with Episode 1!

(Screencaps from Tragical History Tour)

A Mild Curiosity in the Junkyard

I came to Classic Who in an interesting way. I mainlined New Who in a little over a month, watched the Paul McGann TV Movie, then found a copy of “The Five Doctors” on YouTube that incorporated elements from New Series (and probably gave a fanboys a fair number of heart attacks, now that I think about it). After the glorious sampler plate of “The Five Doctors,” I wanted to dive into Classic Who headfirst. Problem was, I wasn't sure how to begin. I knew there were any number of points I could start with, but honestly - I was intrigued by Susan. I didn't know much about her, other than she was the Doctor’s granddaughter and how cool would it be to get some of the Doctor’s personal background? (how precious was I?) I took the same attitude I did with New Who (and that I do with any new show that I start watching), that I really ought to start from the beginning so I can get all of the background and have a good foundation for these characters and stories. I don’t like missing out on inside jokes and references, quite honestly.

So, First Doctor it was. I located a copy of “An Unearthly Child” (*cough*) online and went to town.

Well - I first went to the junkyard.

One wonders how close this guy came to being the Doctor's first human companion.
The initial opening shots of the junkyard (complete with the police officer that recently became the longest-running character in the show, thanks to a certain little tribute trailer) are, quite simply, a brilliant choice for starting things going. Director Waris Hussein deserves all kinds of praise for this because it would have been so easy to start with the ordinary, everyday scenes of Coal Hill School and then ramp-up to the fantastical revelation of the TARDIS. But starting with the little tour of the junkyard (with the theme tune still playing hauntingly in the background) sets up for the audience that all is not normal in this sleepy little corner of London. There is a mystery to be solved and we the audience are clued in on it right from the beginning. This is not going to be a typical educational show for kids - this is going to be spooky and intriguing and FUN! And, even though I knew it must be coming, I got a real thrill out of seeing the police box through the fog and that strange, tell-tale humming just beneath the surface.

Now that I think of it - why a junkyard? The TARDIS had camouflaged itself as a Police Box - it could have easily been set out on the street corner, right? But the junkyard is another brilliant choice - either by the director or the writer, I really don’t know who it was but they were genius for doing that (I wonder if anyone’s ever asked that question). Junkyards have their own creepy atmosphere - it’s a place where no one ever goes, full of things that nobody wants anymore. It could be dangerous to go inside, even. It’s like putting the Wardrobe to Narnia in the Spare Room that no one uses - it’s a place that is unclaimed, unused, unorganized. Anything could happen (and it probably will).

Phew - two whole paragraphs on the first minute of screen time! Boy, I’m glad I split this thing up!

“Thank You For The ‘We’”

Now that the mystery and atmosphere of the show has been sufficiently set up, it’s time to bring in the mundane and ordinary - a tried and true formula that has been a storytelling staple for Doctor Who for 50 years. Coal Hill School. Just your average, run-of-the-mill secondary school with a bunch of average, run-of-the-mill students racing to get out of the building as the final bell rings before their average, run-of-the-mill teachers give them more homework or get after them for running in the hallways. Average. Run-of-the-mill. Nothing to write home about. Nothing at all.

Now, when I hit “play” on “An Unearthly Child,” I had no idea that the Doctor had ever traveled with more than one companion at a time. Well, that’s not entirely true - I’d been floored when I saw “The Five Doctors” and saw that the Doctor was accompanied by (what I thought he was at the time) a redheaded guy who probably worked in investment banking (that would have been Turlough. Seriously - I was completely clueless). So, I was more than a little surprised when the story didn't start with Susan, as I expected, but with her teachers.

To be perfectly, 100% honest, I had never even heard of Barbara Wright or Ian Chesterton. Which is really weird to me now because I’d known about Sarah Jane Smith and I’d heard of Tegan and Nyssa and Peri and Ace and the Brigadier and Jamie and Susan, but the Doctor’s first human companions were a complete surprise to me. Looking back, I like that Ian and Barbara were a surprise to me - probably because I was going into Classic Who thinking that I knew all the backstory the show had to offer and there was no way that I could be surprised in any major way (in my defense - I was still so very new at this and I didn't have any veteran Whovian standing by the guide me in this).

This will be the only time I fangirl-squee over these two this entire week. Seriously. The ONLY time.
(Yeah, you know I'm lying).
But what I totally love about these initial scenes with Ian and Barbara is how fast I went from “Who in the world are these two?” to “Holy crap! They’re amazing!” And really, they haven’t even done much - just expressed concern over a student that they've both had problems with. But you do get the sense that, while they’re both very set in their ordinary lives, they also have a lot of potential to be absolutely magnificent. It’s much the same with Rose Tyler when the series came back. And this isn't the first time (as I’ll point out here in a bit) that Russell T Davies took cues from the Classic Series when he was crafting New Who. Ordinary people with ordinary lives on the brink of an extraordinary adventure.

Something else that I hadn't clued into until much later, but that I really love, is that from the get-go Ian and Barbara have a really strong relationship with each other. Whether you “ship” them romantically (as I do) or if you just think they’re good friends, there is an unmistakable bond between these two that carries the first few stories (and, arguably, much of the first season) and that bond immediately creates a bridge between the story and the audience.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but there are moments when the Doctor is being downright unpleasant and unlikeable that it’s really jarring (especially if you’re coming from New Who). But then Ian and Barbara say something to each other about it you’re back on board with the story.  For myself, it was reassuring that I was still watching the same show that I'd fallen in love with - there was an unspoken promise that this irascible old man would most certainly become the character that I knew and adored, I just had to give him time to get there. And really, that’s what kept me watching throughout these four episodes - I was still getting used to the different format coming from New Series Doctor Who and I hadn’t quite gotten my feet under me (so to speak). But I had Ian and Barbara to connect me to the rest of the story and as long as they were doing awesome things (which is pretty much all the time), I fell right in with everything else. They’re two of the absolute best companions ever in Doctor Who - and I’d even argue the foundations for these two characters are the basis for all future companions.

“What Are You Doing Here?”

So, Ian and Barbara go poking around in the junkyard looking for Susan (no way she could possibly be in that old police box... that's humming?) And - eleven minutes into the first episode - the title character arrives, waving his scarf around to clear the dust and examining all the junk lying around the place. Ian and Barbara (rather politely) ask this mysterious old man if he’s seen a young girl and the old man completely blows them off. It’s obvious the Doctor is hiding something - and Susan doesn't make it easy for him to keep his secret hidden, still calling out to her grandfather from... somewhere?

William Hartnell’s first appearance as the Doctor sets the tone for his character beautifully - indeed, it sets the tone for how the Doctor is going to treat Ian and Barbara, at least for the foreseeable future - but it also gives him room for character development. They’re bothering him. They’re in the way. They’re going to expose his closely-guarded secrets. Still, underneath all that bravado and bluster lies the beginnings of a spark of that very first Team TARDIS. Even before their characters truly know each other (as far as the story’s concerned), William Hartnell, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill positively sparkle in this first scene together and you just know that this is the start of an amazing team (well, I was excited about it, anyway).

The start of a beautiful friendship (eventually...)
A Thing That Looks Like a Police Box

One of the coolest things about the Doctor Who’s revival in 2005 is how much stuff Russell T Davies not so much “borrowed” as outright stole from “An Unearthly Child” when he wrote “Rose.” Both episodes start out with the Doctor’s soon-to-be companions in their normal, everyday lives. Both progress as the result of these normal, everyday lives being disrupted by the smallest weirdnesses. And both introduced the inside of the TARDIS - not in this grand, upscale camera shot, but by the companion’s initial reaction. The audience saw Barbara’s face before we saw the inside of the TARDIS and the same thing would happen with Rose 42 years later. It’s a genius move to create a sense of wonder in the audience, by first creating a sense of wonder in the characters we've already connected with (Hey, don’t fix what ain’t broke!)

Audiences and companions' first entrances into the TARDIS, from 2005 and 1963
And here comes The Exposition! In general, exposition can be really boring if not handled well, but for setting up the whys and wherefores of how this new science fiction program will operate - I have a damn hard time imagining that Verity Lambert and company didn't set up the entire Doctor Who mythos right from the very beginning. Even though I've heard stories about how most everything was done on the fly and by sheer luck and coincidence, the story is told with such utter confidence in everything that’s going on, you absolutely believe that there is already a plan to reveal the Doctor and Susan’s home planet and the circumstances of their exile. Sure, they don’t outright mention Gallifrey or Time Lords or regeneration (and those things wouldn't even be invented until years later), but coming from New Who, I feel like there’s a certain amount of mystery to be explained later. Indeed, there’s an unspoken promise that it will be explained later, but right now we've got the universe to explore!

Not exactly an average Parent-Teacher Conference, is it?
Here’s kind of an odd example of what I’m talking about - I've recently gotten into the show Person of Interest. Over the show’s first season, most of what we learned of the reclusive-yet-lovable genius billionaire Harold Finch was directly tied into the background of the Machine he built for the government that spies on people. We learned very little about his personal life that wasn't related to that project. But in Season 2, we do get more of his backstory that we knew must be there, but it was never a point of discussion in Season 1 because there were other things going on that directly related to the premise of the show.

The Doctor is very much a Harold Finch-type character - reclusive, eccentric, standoffish at first, but just a big squishy teddy bear once you come to know him. We know he’s protective of his granddaughter (and rightfully so - we don’t know the nature of the Doctor and Susan’s exile, but we know enough that the situation is dangerous for them both).

I've really got to talk about Susan here. Because what makes this Team TARDIS work is the connection that Susan has to her grandfather, but also the connection she has to 20th century Earth and, by extension, her schoolteachers. While the Doctor insists that he merely “tolerate[s] this century but [doesn't] enjoy it” in this first episode, Susan has already fallen in love with this planet, its customs and people. I have no doubt that love eventually inspires the Doctor to adopt Earth as his second home planet. There are other reasons that come later (in these reviews, in fact!) that the Doctor would start to soften his attitudes about Earth, but it wouldn't have happened at all if it wasn't for the innocent and sincere curiosity that Susan exhibited from the outset. Susan’s heart and tenacity make her a very unique companion - these qualities don’t get exhibited much in other companions (I think you could make a case that Jamie is that way - possibly even Rose, in some ways) and that really endears her to me. Here’s a young girl whose was obviously very close to her grandfather. She’s got his same desire to explore new worlds and she gladly tagged along for the ride when he ran away from Gallifrey. She enrolled in a primitive school on a primitive world in order to more fully understand the people of this planet - which, that has courage written all over it. And she doesn't shy away from a challenge. Sure, she’ll have moments where she’s scared out of her wits - who doesn't? But you have to admire a girl for trying new things!

Wanderers in the Fourth Dimension

And here’s the moment of truth. Ian and Barbara try to leave the TARDIS, but the Doctor locks the doors and takes off with them still inside - looking positively horrified at what could possibly happen next. Not much is said after the TARDIS takes off - there’s an extended sound effect of the TARDIS taking off, Ian and Barbara are knocked unconscious (because of the stress of first-time time traveling? Heck, I don’t know - it never happens again), scenes of London fall away as the ship rockets off into space and time...

...and comes to a stop on a desolate, rocky plain with a menacing shadow stretching across the landscape. The credits roll and the theme tune plays. Jaws are picked up off living room floors across the UK. For the second time in two days, history has just been made. This time it’s not an assassination an ocean away, but one scrappy little family tea-time program that’s going to be the talk of the town - a program that won’t soon be forgotten.

(Okay, I’m just imagining how things would have been for the average television viewer in the UK in November 1963 - but it’s as good as anything else, right?)

We're not in Shoreditch anymore...
There’s just so much packed into this one little 22-minute episode that I could have gone on and on about characters and story and plot elements. The writing is tight and engaging, there’s just enough mystery left to keep you excited for the next part - which will be the topic tomorrow. While “An Unearthly Child” has the reputation of being a stellar piece of television and the succeeding three episodes... not so much, I’m certain I can find something compelling to talk about in each one. Hell, it was good enough for the audiences to stick around before the Daleks finally showed up.

(Aw man... I wanna go watch this episode again!)

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited -
Part 2 - Caveman politics - bah! Let's talk character development!