Happy New Year the Science Fiction Way

Science/Fantasy Monday: Happy New Year the Science Fiction Way

Happy New Year to everyone!

On Saturday night, as I was waiting to welcome the new year, I kept thinking about my two favorite science fiction new year’s events: The pilot episode of Futurama, and the Doctor Who made-for-tv movie from 1996.  And I suddenly I found myself trying desperately to remember what other tv shows featured an important New Year’s Eve related episode.  I could only come up with a couple more.  Here’s what I came up with:

Doctor Who (made-for-tv movie, 1996):

In this movie, the only on-air portrayal of the 8th Doctor by Paul McGann (though he is featured in many radio dramas and in the comics and tie-in books), the 7th Doctor is killed while attempting to bring the remains of the (supposedly executed) Master back home to Gallifrey, and the 8th Doctor awakens in a hospital on New Year’s Eve in 1999.  While the Master (in the form of a strange ooze) takes over the body of an EMT with plans to eventually take over the Doctor’s body instead, the Doctor finds himself working with a medical doctor, Grace Holloway to stop the Master and save the world (again)… just in time to ring in the New Millennium.

Futurama – “Space Pilot 3000” (Season 1, Ep 1, 1999):

This, the pilot episode of Futurama, began us on one of the greatest animated televisions shows of all time, as Philip J. Fry, hapless pizza delivery boy, falls into a cryogenic chamber on New Year’s Eve 1999 and awakens on New Year’s Eve 2999.  Having found himself alone in the future, Fry quickly befriends the smart-ass robot Bender and the tough one-eyed woman Leela, and finds a new job of a delivery boy working for his Great-great-great(ad infinitum)-nephew Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth.  And thus, a legend was born.

Babylon 5 – “Chrysalis” (Season 1, Ep 22, 1994):

This was a BIG episode, folks.  It was the finale of the first season of Babylon 5, and almost every single scene in this relentlessly paced episode was vitally important to the complex main story arc.  This is the episode the kicks off all the major events that will comprise the main conflicts of season 2 and onward.  Mollari makes his infamous devil’s deal with Morden, leading to the deaths of 10,000 Narns, and leading G’kar to leave the station to investigate.  The President of Earth is assassinated, making the corrupt Vice President Morgan Clark President.  And Delenn enters the cocoon that will eventually lead to her transformation from a pure Minbari to a Minbari-human hybrid.  Like I said, folks: this was a BIG episode.

X-Files – “Millennium” (Season 7, Ep 4, 1999):

And speaking of big episodes: this episode of X-Files was big for a couple reasons.  First, it was a cross-over episode with Millennium, Chris Carter’s other big conspiracy theory mystery tv show, which followed ex-FBI agent Frank Black as he investigated the mysterious criminal actions of the shadowy Millennium Group.  This cross-over was important because Millennium had been unceremoniously canceled and Chris Carter wanted to give the show some kind of closure.  But the REAL importance of this episode, as all true fans know, comes from the ending of the episode.  After the events have been wrapped up, with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve playing on a television in the background, Mulder and Scully share their first on-screen kiss.  The thing we’d been waiting for practically since the pilot episode in 1993.

I keep thinking there have to be more science fiction episodes that feature New Year’s Eve, but I just can’t remember anymore!  If you can think of any I’m missing, please let me know!

In other New Year’s news:

2011 was an interesting year for me.  After graduating with my Master’s degree in 2010, failing to get into a PhD program that year, and going through a bad depression cycle in the second half of 2010, I entered 2011 with very few expectations and quite a lot of bitterness and cynicism.  But 2011 proved an important year for me.  I traveled a lot to visit friends one of whom I had not seen in 3 years!  I went to Disneyland for the first time! I got my footing in blog-writing, and was even featured on WordPress’s front page “Freshly Pressed.”  I was FINALLY accepting into a PhD program in the Spring, and then began the coursework for that PhD program in the Fall.  Two of my papers were published in a brand new small academic journal at University of Houston.  And over the summer, I did something I had begun to fear I would never do I finished a whole draft a novel.

I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am to the Powers That Be that 2011 ended up being a much better year than I thought it would be.

And now I have big plans to make 2012 just as good, or even better.  the Spring 2012 semester will be the first big sign of whether I can actually survive the PhD program or not.  One of my papers will be published in a larger, fairly-well-known academic journal in Summer 2012.  And I plan to finish revisions on the second draft of the novel I finished writing last year.  And that’s all for starters.

Now, if only I get a date on occasion, I’d be all set… ^__^

In any case, I have high hopes for 2012, and I hope you all to do.  Hope can be difficult, and sometimes silly, but sometimes it makes all the difference, and sometimes it’s the only thing we have.  So here’s hoping!

If you’d like to share some of your hopes/plans for 2012, please feel free! I’d love to hear about them!

Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Pt 3

Science/Fantasy Monday: Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Pt 3

Here we are at last!  The end of my three-Mondays-long countdown of my personal Top 10 SciFi TV Shows.  For those of you who missed the first two parts, or just need a refresher, you can find them here:

“Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Part 1”

“Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Part 2”

Back?  Good.  Now, let’s get down to business.  I’m sure that most, if not all, of you can probably guess what shows are coming.  The big question now is what order did I put them in?  Which show got #1 and which got pushed down to #2?

Well, wonder no longer!  We have a tie for First Place!  And it goes to Star Trek and Doctor Who!  (Who’s shocked?  Raise your hand.  No one?  Didn’t think so.)

#1: Star Trek (whole universe) and Doctor Who (original and revival)

I love them both.  They are both amazing and brilliant.  They were both so foundational to science fiction television, and scifi of any medium.  I simply could not find any way to say definitively that either was better than the other, so a tie seemed the best solution.

Star Trek:

Star Trek: Original Series

Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry and first aired in 1966 and ran for three seasons before it was canceled due to low ratings.  It wasn’t until it went into syndication that Star Trek: the Original Series (TOS) truly gained the immense popularity that made it the icon it is today.  It was followed by a short-lived Animated Series, and six movies: Star Trek the Motion Picture, The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, and The Undiscovered Country.

Star Trek: Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) started in 1987 and last seven seasons, during which time it became, I believe, the most popular of all the series.  Even many of those who grew up with TOS are usually willing to admit that TNG is better.  There is a decent-sized group of people who would argue that the third series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is actually the best incarnation of the show.  My brother, a few of my friends would count themselves among that group.  I’m sort-of, kind-of there too, though I’m a little more on the fence.  For a more detailed discussion of my reasoning behind that argument please see: “The Age Old Question: Which Star Trek is Better?”

Still, TNG was an absolutely fantastic show.  And even if I like some parts of DS9 better, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starfleet Enterprise NCC-1701-D will always ALWAYS be MY Captain.  He is one of my favorite characters ever.  Data, the android who wants to be human is definitely near the top of my favorite list also (and TNG’s answer to Spock who is also one of my favorite characters).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

As for DS9… it was much darker than either of the two series that came before it, which is also cited as a mark against it, but which I really enjoyed.  And it had a large overarching plot that really tied the show together and gave it an amount of tension and suspense that TNG only managed on a few occasions (though it was AWESOME when TNG pulled it off, most especially in “Best of Both Worlds,” Pt 1 and 2).  But again, you can get more of rant about DS9 on my previous post, linked above.

During this time, there were four more movies, focusing on the TNG crew: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and NemesisStar Trek: Generations was emotionally-taxing because we all had to watch Kirk die not once, but twice.  But the best of the bunch has to be Star Trek: First Contact, which featured fantastic special effects, the creepy arch-nemesis of the TNG crew The Borg, a cool plot, and Picard at his absolutely most awesome.

Star Trek: Voyager

After DS9, we had Voyager. This was the first Star Trek show to feature a female captain (there have been plenty of woman captains within the universe of Star Trek, of course).  Voyager has been argued about for a number of reasons.  It is very popular with some fans, and hated by others.  It was, admittedly, a little hit-or-miss sometimes, but the first four seasons, at the very least, were consistently good.  Most of the characters were well-written and complex.  But I think many people didn’t like the heavy focus on romance in a number of episodes, especially in the second half of the series.  This is a complaint I understand, and I would admit that some of the relationship stuff definitely got tiring.  But overall, the show was intelligent, well-acted, exciting, and fun.  And Captain Kathryn Janeway was an absolutely KICK-ASS female character.

Star Trek: Enterprise

Last on the list is Star Trek: Enterprise.  I watched most of the first season, and I have seen a few other episodes here or there.  But this series just could not match up to the Star Trek tradition.  The producers/writers tried to change too much, make it more “theirs” instead of Roddenberry’s, and it just didn’t work (though Capt Archer, played by Scott Bakula, was a pretty good character).

What I think makes Star Trek so important, despite its flaws, the occasional hit-or-miss series, the cheesiness, etc… is that it is able to critique society (like much of scifi) and show us ourselves in all our nastiness, but it is ultimately built on a fundamental hope and optimism.  Star Trek: The Original Series featured the first interracial kiss aired on television.  It attempted to show the world that tolerance and peace and prosperity were possible, despite all the problems we face.  And that optimism seems even more important now than it did in the 60s.

I will add, briefly, that the newest movie was very good.  I approached with trepidation, but it seriously impressed me, and I’m looking forward to the next one.  There are also rumors of a new Star Trek series, which would be AWESOME, because it’s just a tragedy that it’s been so long since we had a new Star Trek adventure to enjoy every week.

Doctor Who:

The First Doctor: William Hartnell

Doctor Who premiered in 1963 and run for 26 consecutive seasons until 1989, making it the longest running science fiction television show of all time and one of the longest running tv shows of any genre (even before its revival).  In 1996 a television movie was released in the hopes of reviving the show for an American audience. This failed.  But in 2005, the show was finally revived by BBC and has now run for 6 more seasons.  This revival is not a reboot, but an actual continuation of the same universe and timeline, which means that seasons 6 of the revival can also be called season 32 of Doctor Who.  And the show is still going strong.

Anyone who knows me (and people who have been following this blog for awhile), knows that I am obsessed with Doctor Who.  I could go on about the show for hours if you let me (I don’t suggest you let me if you plan to do anything else for the next few days).  Thankfully, I have already written three blogs about various aspects of Doctor Who. So, rather than ramble for quite as long as I did for Star Trek above (which I haven’t written about as much before), I will now start by referring you to those previous blog posts:

“The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1”

“The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 2”

“They’re Never Really Gone: The Top 3 Doctor Who Villains”

These three posts should give you good handle on some of the major elements of Doctor Who.

DALEKS!

It always fascinates me that Doctor Who was originally intended as more a history lesson for children disguised as action-adventure television.  But very very quickly the historical episodes (which are still a ton of fun) gave way to the flashier, more dramatic, more iconic Doctor Who-ish space/alien episodes.  Doctor Who is still the most popular television show in England, and whoever is playing the Doctor at the time, is consistently one of the most popular actors of the time.  Every single person in England knows who the Doctor is, what Dalek is, understands the significance of celery and a really long striped scarf, and realizes that the Master is never really dead.  Now, thanks to the revival’s growing popularity in America (which, I think, was actually spurred on by Torchwood: Children of Earth, surprisingly), almost everyone in America is beginning to know these things too.

Doctor Who is smart, crazy, exciting, hilarious, dramatic, intense, and occasionally depressing, all wrapped up into one insane hour-long program.

10th Doctor with companions: Rose, Martha, Donna, and Sarah-Jane

It has featured some fascinating characters as the Doctor’s companions, such as his granddaughter Susan Foreman, The Brigadier, Sarah-Jane Smith, Ace, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness, Donna Noble, and most recently Amelia Pond and her husband Rory Williams (who is awesome, by the way).  While the Doctor does sometimes travel with a variety of aliens and even robots (such as the robot dog K-9), he has always had a special affinity for human companions (despite the fact that he often looked down on humans as the First Doctor).  And these human companions are US.  They are our entrance into his world, they are our emissaries into the insane, exciting, dark universe of the Doctor.

John Sims as the Master

What I think makes this show so amazing and enduring is that it can take the strangest characters, the strangest places and plots, and make them emotionally important.  We care about alien races destroying each other.  We care about the Companions who die, or get left behind.  We are terrified (and exhilaratingly fascinated by) the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Master.  But really, it’s all about the Doctor.  He is a genius, a pacifist and warrior at the same time, compassionate and, at times, ruthless, always off for an adventure, with a entourage of humans and aliens and robots, and yet ultimately alone.  He is an alien, of course, and in so many ways he is completely non-human.  And yet, he is very human.  And that’s what makes him so amazing.

To end, here is a quote about the Doctor from episode 9 of Season 3 of the revival, “Family of Blood.”  It’s a little melodramatic, but it’s awesome anyway: “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”

All Eleven Doctors

That concludes my Top 10 SciFi Television Shows list!  Please let me know what you think!  I love to hear from you! See you on Wednesday! (and I’ve got to stop using so many damn exclamation points!)

They’re Never Really Gone: the Top 3 Doctor Who Villains

First, I apologize for the lateness of this post.  In my defense, I’m preparing for a trip and had to deal a few minor crises today.  And THEN, when I finally had time to sit down and finish writing this blog, we got hit by a huge storm and my power went out, taking my internet connection along with it.

BUT, here at last, is the post I promised on friday:  A brief explanation of the top three villains of Doctor Who.  These are villains that come back again and again and again, no matter how many times the Doctor believes he’s finally and completely defeated them.  They are simply NEVER really gone.

3) The Cybermen

The Cybermen were originally a completely organic and humanoid species that lived on a twin planet of Earth’s called Mondas.  As Mondasians began to die out, they slowly modified their bodies, replacing more and more parts with mechanical parts in an struggle for self-preservation.  Eventually, all that was left were their brains in metal bodies, and they had lost all emotion.  They were cold and logical.  They also became conquerors who could only ‘reproduce’ by invading worlds and forcibly converting other organic beings into Cybermen.

The Cybermen were first introduced in “The Tenth Planet” (1966) which was the First Doctor’s last episode and the Second Doctor’s first.  They first attempted to invade Earth in “The Invasion” (1968).  The invasion was stopped by the Doctor, with the help of the newly formed “United Nations Intelligence Taskforce” (UNIT), which would become a recurring group in the series, both original and revival.

In the revival series, the Cybermen first appear in “Rise of the Cybermen” / “Age of Steel,” when the Doctor and his companions accidentally break through the void into a parallel dimension where a corporate mogul has created the Cybermen in a last-ditch effort to save his own life.  This version of the Cybermen eventually find their way across the void to “our” dimension and version Earth.  They haven’t played a major part in the series since the Eleventh Doctor’s arrival, but I suspect they will at some point.  They always come back.

2) The Daleks

Like most things in Doctor Who, the long-running nature of the show has made the history of the Daleks is somewhat fluid.  When first introduced in “The Daleks” (1963), the Daleks’ origin story was that the Dals and Thals were warring races on the planet Skarro, and in the course of the war, the Dals were mutated by nuclear weapons into the Daleks.  However, in the serial “Genesis of the Daleks” (1975) this origin story was changed somewhat, and became the version usually referred to in later stories.  In the newer version, the Daleks were originally the Kaleds, locked into battle with the Thals in a thousand-year war of attrition that used nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.  All of this slowly mutated the Kaleds.  However, an injured scientist of the Kaleds, called Davros, experimented on his fellow Kaleds and is the one responsible for their final form: small mutated creatures inside tank-like mechanical devices.

Their emotions only pertain to war: anger, revenge, the joy of victory, fear of death, etc.  And they have become hell-bent on destroying all other civilizations, which they see as inferior.  The Daleks became the Doctor’s most dangerous enemy in the very first season, and have returned many times no matter how many times the Doctor believes he has finally destroyed them.  In several stories, some Daleks have been intentionally or accidentally influenced by humans, giving them full human emotions and leading them to either kill themselves or be killed by their fellow Daleks as abominations.

In the revival series, the Daleks have appeared a number of times, and in “Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End” the season finale of season 4 (2009), the Daleks and Davros who should have been dead, but was brought into the future through the time lock moved 27 planets out of their orbits in order to harness their energy to destroy the universe.  Obviously, they were stopped by the Doctor, and practically the whole cast from the first 3 seasons of the revival.

Since the arrival of the Eleventh Doctor, the Daleks have only shown up twice: once in England during World War II and once in the season 5 finale as part of a whole conglomeration of past villains trying to kill the Doctor.  However, you can rest assured that they will show up again eventually.

1) The Master

6 versions of the Master (left to right, top to bottom): Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, John Simm.

The Master, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord, and has therefore changed faces on several occasions.  He was conceived by the writers to be something like Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, being of equal intelligence and power, but evil.  They have been rivals and enemies for a long time, and the Master takes cliché-villian-glee to new and impressive levels.  His ambition, in true villain fashion, is to rule the universe, and to do so he must defeat the Doctor.  While he has tried to kill the Doctor more times than I can count, he also often shows the Doctor a certain amount of respect.  The Doctor, likewise, seems to view the Master with something like pity.  The Master has been captured by the Doctor on a number of occasions, but always managed to escape.

The Master has been played by 8 actors: Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley, Gordon Tipple, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, and John Simm.

John Simm, played the Master in the revival series, beginning in “Sound of Drums” through to “The End of Time.”  The Doctor had believed the Master killed during the Time War, however it is revealed in “Sound of Drums” that he managed to escape, by locking his Time Lord identity in a Chameleon Arch ( a device the Doctor once used to disguise himself as a human), during which time he lost his memory of ever been the Master.  The Doctor’s arrival in the place where the Master hid led him to remember who he was.  He then goes back in time a year and makes himself Harold Saxon, the Prime Minister of England and nearly succeeds in defeating the Doctor before, supposedly, being killed once more.

In The End of Time, the last Tennant episode, the Master is brought back to life (one more time).  It is revealed that the Master was driven insane by the leader of the Time Lords, Rassilon, by placing a signal in his head so the Master could pull the Time Lords out of the time-lock placed over the Time War.  (Lot’s of ‘time’ in that sentence… wow.)  He seemed pretty seriously dead at the end of “The End of Time,” but rest assured he will return.  He’s the Master for cryin’ out loud!

A few of my other favorite Doctor Who villains:


The Silurians


The Rani


The Weeping Angels

So, which Doctor Who villain is your favorite?  From the original run?  From the revival?  Which is your LEAST favorite?

The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 2

On Wednesday I gave a brief overview of Doctors 1-5 from the BBC scifi television show Doctor Who. If you missed that or a need a recap: “The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1.”  Today I will discuss Doctors 6-11, bringing you update with the revival of the show and the newest Doctor.  So, we left off with Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor.  Next up:

The Sixth Doctor: played by Colin Baker (1984-1986)

Colin Baker, not to be confused with Tom Baker, took on the role in a time of change.  The writers and producers had decided to change the length of the show from 26 half-hour episodes per season to 13 hour-long episodes per season.  They also moved the show to Saturday evenings.  C. Baker’s Doctor was also a very different kind of Doctor, criticized by some as being too overbearing the Wikipedia page uses the word “bombastic” which I think is a good descriptor for the Sixth Doctor.  There was also some complaint about several episodes in which the Doctor uses deadly force against his enemies, a level of violence not seen before in the Doctor.  C. Baker’s role as the Doctor was also injured by an 18month hiatus, and by the end of 1986, the new Controller of BBC One demanded a new Doctor, and Colin Baker was dismissed before the end of his contract.

The Seventh Doctor: played by Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

After Colin Baker’s dismissal, the main Doctor Who producer intended to leave the show but was instructed by BBC to remain, and thus had little time to prepare for the next season.  He therefore hired an inexperienced new scriptwriter for the show, and the little-known Scottish comedy actor Sylvester McCoy to portray the Seventh Doctor.  In keeping with his comedy background, in his first season as the Doctor McCoy played the character with comedic, even goofy, charm.  However, the new writer soon changed that, bringing in darker tones.  McCoy’s Doctor eventually developed into a much darker character than previously: he always seemed be playing a deeper game than anyone knew and could manipulate people like chess pieces, with a tendency to be ruthless.  This Doctor (and the Doctors after him) is completely opposed to use of force and especially against the use of firearms.  Instead, he used his intelligence to talk or trick enemies into submission: on several occasions he quite literally talked his enemies into committing suicide (most memorably in Remembrance of the Daleks).

Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor saw the cancellation of Doctor Who by the BBC Controller, after 26 consecutive seasons.  However, in 1996 after many fits and starts to expand or restart the series, BBC was able to interest Fox Network in doing a television movie that would be a direct continuation of the series, and could be optioned as a new series in the US should it receive decent viewer ratings.  Unfortunately, though the movie did well in England, its ratings in America were less-than-stellar and Fox did not option the show.  The Doctor Who movie, then, becomes the only television production featuring the Eight Doctor.

The Eighth Doctor: played by Paul McGann (1996)

For the television movie Sylvester McCoy agreed to return for a brief cameo in which his Doctor is killed by the Master and regenerates into McGann’s Doctor.  In the movie, the Doctor’s regeneration occurs after U.S. emergency room doctors, not realizing he’s an alien, try to revive him a defibrillator.  The electric shock disrupted his regeneration process, causing him to be extremely disoriented, with gaps in his memory when he awakens.  Therefore, much of the first part of the movie shows McGann’s Doctor trying to figure out who he is: slowly growing more confident and knowledgable as the movie continues.  McGann’s Doctor, in contrast to McCoy’s, was joyous and energetic, alternating an boyish charm with an old-soul demeanor that made him very popular very quickly.  Sadly, viewers never had the chance to see him again, though he still has a long-running radio drama series about the Eighth Doctor’s continuing adventures.

In 2005, seemingly out of nowhere, Doctor Who suddenly got new life.  In a series revival headed by uber-fan Russell T. Davies, the 2005 season of Doctor Who gave us old fans reason to fall in love all over again and brought a whole new generation of viewers along as well.  What is important to remember about this series is that it is a REVIVAL, not a REBOOT.  Everything that happened in the first 26 seasons is still canon.  The Doctor remembers all his past incarnations.  However, Russell T. Davies began with a premise that allowed for a certain amount of blank slate space, giving new viewers easier access to the well-established mythology of the series.  This premise was: just before the show begins, there was a Time War, a war between the Time Lords of Gallifrey and the Daleks.  And the Time Lords lost.  The Doctor managed to destroy the Daleks, but not before the Daleks had destroyed Gallifrey.  Furthermore, the war was so devastating to various planes/dimensions/etc that the entire event in time-space was “time-locked” so that not even the most powerful time traveler (ie, the Doctor) could go back and attempt to change things.  Now, it’s a whole new ballgame, bringing us to:

The Ninth Doctor: played by Christopher Eccleston (2005)

The Ninth Doctor is a bit of a paradox.  He is playful in some instances and dark in others.  Generally serious and burdened by his 900+ years of existence and the events of the Time War, he still manages to be goofy on occasion especially as his newest human companion, Rose Tyler, loosens him up.  However, he is the last of his species, the last Time Lord, and he blames himself for losing to the Daleks, so it is understandable that he would be a bit on the dark side.  Like McCoy’s Doctor, he does not believe in using firearms, however, he is not about using deadly force of other sorts, as demonstrated in the first episode of the 2005 season when he uses a poison to kill an invading alien entity.  Eccleston, a well-known actor in England who has also played several villains in US movies, brought an amount of gravitas to the role was downright impressive.  He was also emotional and human in ways many of the Doctors before him had never been.   This, I think, made him that much more popular.  I, personally, would have liked to see him stick around for longer, but from the beginning Eccleston had an understanding with Davies that he would only do one season because he feared being type-cast.

The Tenth Doctor: played by David Tennant (2005-2010)

Yes, this is my favorite Doctor now.  I could gush about him for hours.  Having stated that, I will now NOT gush about for hours.

The season finale of the first season of the revival (yes, they started renumbering the seasons, much to my chagrin, but what can you do?), ended with the regeneration of Eccleston’s Doctor into Tennant’s Doctor.  His companion, Rose, like many viewers, was not happy about this at first.  Tennant’s Doctor begins much livelier and fun-loving than Eccleston’s Doctor had been.  He is reminiscence of McGann’s Doctor in a number of ways: bringing boyish charm to the role again, and always finding wonder in the world.  He’s famous (or infamous) among the characters for always seeming happier the worse things get.  He just loves the excitement.  Season 2 brought one of the biggest changes ever to the series: Rose Tyler became the first companion ever to fall in love with the Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor was the first one ever to reciprocate.  I hoped this would be the last time too, but alas no.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Rose, unlike some fans, but I think the “falling-in-love” angle should only be done once.  After Rose’s departure at the end of season 2, Tennant’s Doctor becomes more solemn, burdened with the fact that he always loses the people he cares about.  By the end of the fourth season, Tennant’s last, the Tenth Doctor had become probably the darkest, most melancholy, and emotional Doctor ever.  And Tennant played it to heart-breaking perfection (okay, I had to toss in that one bit of gushing).

The Eleventh Doctor: played by Matt Smith (2010-current)

With Russell T. Davies leaving the show to pursue other interests, and Stephen Moffat (another uber-fan) taking over, Tennant decided to leave and give the show a clean slate.  Thus, Matt Smith was brought in.  Matt Smith, at 26 yrs old, is the youngest actor ever to portray the Doctor (and I hope he’ll remain the youngest, any younger than that just becomes unbelievable), but his character is in some ways the oldest the Doctor has ever been.  That’s not to say he’s crotchety or slow or anything like that: he’s more like a goofy grandfather, or a crazy uncle.  He wears suspenders and a bowtie and thinks that’s still cool.  He is very absent-minded and his words always a few miles behind his brain. He rarely seems to take anything seriously, he plays matchmaker on several occasions, flirts with every girl he sees, and is really good with children.  Moffat and Smith consciously made a choice to bring the Doctor back to a lighter, happier time for awhile after the heaviness of Tennant’s last season and his departure.  It was a good choice.  Something to clear the palate, as it were.  And Smith plays goofy and comical with an edge of old-man weariness very well.  Also, the mystery of the character River Song, who knows the Doctor far better than the Doctor know her (thanks to the craziness of time travel and tangled up timelines) gives the Eleventh Doctor a wonderful foil.  (The mystery has been revealed in the last couple episodes of this season, but I’m not going to say a word about it, for those who haven’t seen it yet.)

And this, ladies, and gentlemen, brings us up to speed on the eleven Doctors the world has had the pleasure of meeting.  There is, of course, so much more I could say.  I could probably write blogs for a month just about the many companions who have traveled with the Doctor over the years.  And another month about all the villains.  And yet another month about the many other Time Lords seen on the original series run.

However, this is long enough.  But I hope it was interesting and/or instructive.  I had a decent number of hits on Wednesday’s post, but I’d really love to see some more comments.

So, now that I’ve covered all of them: which Doctor is your favorite?  If you were a fan of the original run, how do you feel about the revival?  And if you started with the revival, how do you feel about the original run?  (You can catch some of it on Netflix, you know!)  Any favorite companions?  Least favorite?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Please come back Monday for a very brief breakdown of a few of the major villains from Doctor Who, because no hero is complete without really cool and/or creepy bad guys to fight.

[Side Note: Once again, all pictures came from the wikipedia page: History of Doctor Who]

The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1

As many probably know by now, I am obsessed with the BBC tv scifi Doctor Who.  I honestly believe it is the best scifi television show ever. Period. And I mean that to include both the original run that began in 1963 and the new revival that began in 2005.  (And yes, Star Trek is a very close second.)

Doctor Who began in 1963 in England as a family educational television show with the characters traveling backwards in time in order to teach children about different points of history.  However, the writers quickly added in the alien plotlines, which became the more famous and important elements of the show, beginning with the second serial: The Daleks.

The basic run-down is this: The Doctor is an alien from a species called the Time Lords (and Gallifreyans, as they come from the planet Gallifrey), who possess ships known as TARDISes (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), that allow them to travel anywhere in space and time.  The Doctor is a bit of a rebel among his species and stole his particular TARDIS to travel without the restrictions placed on him by the leaders of the Time Lords.  The Doctor, who has a strong affection and curiosity for humans, always has at least one human companion with him as he travels around (also sometimes having aliens and robots along as companions as well).

It was not until the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, became ill and decided to leave the show, that the writers came up with an ingenious way to switch actors while leaving the series continuity and mythology alone: they decided that as the Time Lords have a special ability to heal themselves when dying or gravely injured, a process called regeneration which results in changing into a different body/face each time.  Each time the Doctor regenerates, his is played by a different actor, and even his personality changes to some extent or another, but he is still essentially the same person.

Here is a brief explanation of Doctors 1-5:

The First Doctor: played by William Hartnell (1963-1966)

Hartnell’s Doctor was cantankerous, bossy, and occasionally ruthless, though the character was softened slightly and made more paternal in later episodes.  He was accompanied by his granddaughter, Susan, who is generally considered to be Gallifreyan and able to regenerate, though it is never explicitly stated in the show.  In the second Hartnell serial, we are introduced to the Daleks, a completely non-humanoid alien species who had been mutated by war and were thus fixated on war and the extermination of any species that was not them.  The Daleks became the Doctor’s most dangerous enemy, who return again and again throughout the series no matter how many times the Doctor believes he has defeated them once and for all.

The Second Doctor: played by Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)

Troughton’s Doctor was a little more light and comical, though he retained the same passionate desire to fight evil and oppression (perhaps the most identifying character trait of the Doctor throughout the series).  He did, however, have a darker side that showed up on several occasions, when he manipulated his friends and those around him to influence the outcome and “for the greater good.”  It is during the first serial with Troughton’s Doctor that we are introduced to the Cybermen the Doctor’s second most famous and dangerous recurring enemy.  The Cybermen were originally a humanoid species who became to modify their bodies to become mechanical for survival, until eventually everything but their brains was machine, and they lost all emotion and began a mission to convert everyone else.  (For the Trekkies out there, yes, this could easily be the inspiration for the Borg.)

The Third Doctor: played by Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

Jon Pertwee was originally intended to bring his comedic experience to the character.  However, Pertwee decided to play the character as a the straight man, and though there were some comedic touches, he kept his Doctor serious.  Pertwee also made the Doctor more action-oriented as he liked to ride various vehicles in the show, including a motorcycle, hovercraft, and the Doctor’s vintage roadster “Bessie.”  In 1973 the show celebrated the 10-year anniversary with a special called “The Three Doctors” the first of several specials that would show several incarnations of the Doctor working together.  Hartnell and Troughton returned to reprise their roles for this special.  Also, during Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, we meet The Master he is also a Time Lord, conceived as being like Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, he is equal in intelligence and power, but evil (like the Daleks and the Cybermen, he is a recurring enemy throughout the series).

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker (1974-1981)

Tom Baker was quite a bit younger than the first 4 to play the Doctor.  He is also STILL the actor who has portrayed the Doctor for the longest time (7 years), and arguably the most popular and best-remembered incarnation of the Doctor (though both David Tennant and Matt Smith have been giving him a run for his money in the last couple years). (Baker was my favorite until Tennant came along. I’m sorry, Tom Baker!)  Baker’s Doctor was shown to be caring and passionate at time while cold and aloof other times a conscious choice on Baker’s part to highlight the Doctor’s status as alien and essentially non-human.  During Baker’s stint, the writers began introducing much more humorous storylines, which Baker played up with wonderful eccentricity.

The Fifth Doctor: played by Peter Davison (1981-1984)

To counteract the enormous popularity of Baker’s Doctor, the writers and casting directors made many changes for the Fifth Doctor.  First, Davison was much younger than the first 4 portrayals of the Doctor.  Davison gave the Doctor something of an aristocratic air, in opposition to Baker’s more eccentric portrayal.  The writers also made this incarnation of the Doctor much more human in behavior, with vulnerabilities that were highlighted and played up in a number of episodes.  He also tended to only react to situations, rather than being proactive as Baker’s Doctor often was.  (Davison is my brother’s favorite incarnation, as well as David Tennant’s favorite.  Tennant even did a special short for a fundraiser in which his version of the Doctor meets Davison’s Doctor, and tells him “you were my Doctor.”)

I had originally intended to give a run-down of all the Doctors here, but it has become so long that I’ve decided to split this post into two.  So please come back on Friday to learn about Doctors 6-11.

In the meantime, for those Doctor Who fans out there: which Doctor is your favorite?  And why?

Side Note: all images come from the History of Doctor Who wikipedia page.

Torchwood: Children of Earth and “The Greater Good”

On Wednesday, I exposed a portion of my major geek cred by discussing Star Trek at some length.  Today, I’m going to continue the geek trend to talk about another scifi show: Torchwood.

Torchwood is a spin-off of my favorite and possibly most spectacular scifi show ever: Doctor Who, however I’m saving the Doctor Who rant for later and focusing on Torchwood because the season premiere is tonight.  Unfortunately, whereas the first 3 seasons were shown on BBC America, the new season is being released by Starz making it much less accessible for some.  I have a currently have a free preview of Starz so I’ll actually get to watch the premiere.  Thank goodness!  But I won’t be able to see the whole season, sadly, and I will have to resort to waiting for it to get onto Netflix or something.

Torchwood follows a secret group of people responsible for investigating and controlling dangerous alien activity.  Torchwood, originally instated by Queen Victoria and comprising several bases of operations, now has only one stronghold in Cardiff, Wales, where a rift in time and space allows more than the usual share of dangerous aliens and technology into the general population.

The group is led by Capt. Jack Harkness (played the amazing and HOT John Barrowman *ahem*), a former conman from the 51st century who was first introduced in the Doctor Who season 1 episode, “The Empty Child.”  Jack was accidentally made immortal and sent to 19th century Earth and is forced to live the long centuries back toward his original time.  During this time, he joins and eventually becomes the leader of Torchwood.  He is also bisexual and is the first openly non-heterosexual character to be portrayed in the Doctor Who universe.

from left to right: Ianto, Gwen, Jack, Toshiko, Owen

The other members of the Torchwood team are: Gwen Cooper, a policewoman recruited by Torchwood in the first episode, who is generally the moral compass of the group and the audience’s entrance into the established universe of the show.  Owen Harper, the snarky, occasionally morally-ambiguous medical officer.  Toshiko Sato, the team’s tech/computer specialist who is secretly in love with Owen.  And Ianto Jones, who begins as an administrative assistant but is given more important roles as the show progresses he also enters into a romantic relationship with Jack in season 2.  The last regular character is Rhys Williams, Gwen’s fiancé (and then husband), who is at first unaware of Gwen’s job with Torchwood until he learns the truth in season 2.

One of the things I love about Torchwood is that it takes many of the alien-related situations from Doctor Who and plants them squarely and unblinkingly on Earth, amid real people with problems, conflicting ideals and personalities, (and occasionally some serious angst).  It becomes a show not just about strange aliens and flashy scifi tropes, but about how people deal with the unknown, with each other, and with themselves.

There are many things I could say about Torchwood, but what I really want to talk about now is season 3, called Torchwood: Children of Earth.  After threats of cancellation and enormous budget cuts, Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies was only allowed the money and airtime for this 5-part mini-series.  The BBC producers did not believe the show would do well, and were greatly surprised when all five consecutive nights Children of Earth aired received high viewer ratings.

WARNING: Some major spoilers ahead!  You have been warned!

Children of Earth opens when every child in the world, at the same exact moment, freezes in their tracks and speaks in English “We are coming.”  This event signals the arrival of an invading alien force, which the British Home Office calls “the 456” based on the radio frequency they use to communicate.  The 456 have come demanding 10% of the Earth’s children.  If this demand is not met, they will destroy the planet.

As the world learns this, the Torchwood team, consisting of only Jack, Gwen, and Ianto (after the deaths of Toshiko and Owen at the end of season 2), are attacked by British forces.  Jack is taken into custody and Gwen, Ianto, and Rhys (because he’s married to Gwen) become fugitives.  This reasons for this shake the team (and, I might add, the audience) to the core: in 1965 the 456 approached the British government offering a cure to a new strain of Indonesian flu that will wipe of 25 million people, and all they ask for in exchange are 12 children.  Without public knowledge, the British government agrees and soldiers are sent to hand-over 12 orphanage children.  Jack Harkness was one of those soldiers.

From here things just get crazy.  The British Home Office Permanent Secretary John Frobisher (played to perfection by Peter Capaldi as simultaneously infuriating, pathetic, and sympathetic) is forced to take control and responsibility of the situation, leaving him with the blame and the blood on his hands.  The Torchwood team tries to stop the 456 before the world sacrifices its children.  And Jack must deal with his own culpability and make a damning choice.

This 5-part series rose Torchwood to the level of genius.  Art.  Mastery.  Though the aliens are powerful and evil and creepy, this is not a story about aliens.  This is a story about humanity, about the sins committed in the name of “the greater good.”  This story forces the audience to question their own stance on what constitutes that “greater good” and how far we are all willing to go in order to protect it.  And whether or not those choices in fact taint, and even destroy, the greater good.  It is intense, exciting, and heart-breaking.  I cannot stress enough how completely brilliant Children of Earth was.

And so, we come to the new season airing on Starz at 10pm EST.  Season four is titled Torchwood: Miracle Day, and will be only 10 episodes long.  I don’t know much about what to expect, but I do know that the only returning characters are Jack, Gwen, and Rhys.  Two new characters will be introduced.  And it’s set in the U.S.  So, if you have Starz, go watch it!  And if you have Starz or not, go watch the first 3 seasons, but ESPECIALLY Children of Earth.  I guarantee it’s worth the time.