Author Archives: B. Keller

About B. Keller

Inscrutable, disputatious lawyer-type living in the city the good Doctor first visited in “The Impossible Astronaut.”

Lime reviews Edge of Destruction: “What’s going on here?!”

Doctor Who is about two things: (1) a really cool time-traveler and his really cool time machine; and, (2) the stand-ins for the audience, or the Companions. Edge of Destruction, in two quirky episodes, gave us the Companions, as we know them today. Here’s how, and why you must watch Edge:

1. Small budgets do wonders for artistic creativity. The 7-parter The Daleks, featuring miniatures, metal-ish Dalek corridors, explosions, and several Daleks themselves, had gone over-budget. And the production team faced another impending 7-parter, Marco Polo–a costume drama, also with miniatures and elaborate sets (and one of the “lost episodes“). Budgets were tight. Series script editor David Whitaker was tasked with writing a two-parter on the cheap.

Whitaker also faced another problem. Unearthly Child and The Daleks portrayed The Doctor as fiercely distrusting of Ian and Barbara, his “kidnapees.” If Who was to have any legs, this dynamic had to end: somehow, that plotline needed to disappear to both permit further character development, and to free up script space for more engaging and ambitious ideas.

Whitaker’s solution was a product of tight pursestrings and deference to the preceding two serials. But, it was genius. Using only the TARDIS set and the cast of four regulars, Whitaker penned an amazing two-part story. None of the cast knew of the budgetary origins of the spartan script, though Jacqueline Hill guessed–incorrectly–that the Marco Polo costumes simply weren’t ready yet.

And so the cast threw themselves into the script with gusto. As written, it risked becoming little more than an avant-garde moody-artist piece with disjointed, stilted performances. As acted, it’s very satisfying, from Ian’s dazed recovery in the beginning, to Barbara’s strong performance overall and particularly in her substantial speeches (directed at the Doctor) in both episodes, to the Doctor’s transformation from possibly malignant manipulator into the “protector of companions” we have today.

One additional note: it’s interesting that Peter Brachacki, designing the TARDIS control room, made one of those budgetary constraints calls that carried through to today’s TARDIS. He saw a 3″ piece of molded plastic with a repeating pattern of round holes. He liked it so much that he had that very same piece of plastic photographed and enlarged, and printed: it became the 2-dimensional console room walls of roundels, repeated and modified for the next half-century of Who. Now that’s cool. And, again, it was initially simply “on the cheap.”

2. Barbara vs. The Doctor, or, The Birth of the Companions. The audience is roped-in with Ian’s incredulous outburst, early in the first episode, just under ten minutes in. We’re yanked into the story because Ian’s disbelief exactly mirrors what we, the audience, are thinking: why are the regulars passed out, draped over the TARDIS console and floor? Is this performance art?

Barbara immediately takes the baton from Ian, and carries it through the remainder of Edge. She, as Ian, and as the Companions always do, is the conduit to the audience–she’s us. She immediately assumes care for the Doctor, waking and comforting him, and calms the unbalanced Susan. We cheer as she forcefully rebuts the Doctor’s unreasonable accusations against her and Ian. Her fiery rejection of the Doctor’s suspicions presage the final, seminal scenes of episode two. It must have been a recognition of Jacqueline Hill’s strong performance in rehearsals, and it was a smart move, that several of Ian’s lines were transferred to Barbara.

Finally, it’s Barbara that solves the underlying mystery: she pieces together the clues and saves the day, only moments before total annihilation. The scenes that follow witness the birth of the modern Who Companion. Barbara stares into space, hurt by the pain the Doctor inflicted on all of them; and when the Doctor formally, if stiffly, acknowledges his debt to her saving the TARDIS, Barbara flinches, and bolts from the room.

But the Doctor, in a new and significant turn of character, pursues her. He sits close to Barbara on the couch–the gap between the characters is finally physically narrowed. He explicitly admits his failings–and narrows the psychological gamp. He, in essence, tells her that by learning from Ian and Barbara, he has finally discovered himself. And so the rift from the first episodes is bridged. The Doctor now is not mistrusting, distant–but is the Doctor, grandfatherly, self-admittedly flawed, and protector of his companions. This is the birth of the Companion.

The physical closeness continues: he offers his arm, and he and Barbara walk to the console room. And the Doctor even offers his arm, or hand, to Ian–it’s hard to tell if it’s a Hartnell flub or improvisation–and they walk out to join Susan for a snowball fight. And this new dynamic is our dynamic today: Doctor as protector of companions, as grandfatherly figure. When you watch the concluding scenes of Edge, you’ll see the birth of modern Who.

3. “My machine can’t think!” The second innovation was equally a product of budget. Constrained to the TARDIS as the only set, and the regulars as sole cast, Whitaker needed dramatic tension. Whitaker’s brilliant solution was to bring the TARDIS to life: the eerie poltergeists plaguing the TARDIS, we learn, were the TARDIS itself leaving clues for the crew. The TARDIS doors open and close by themselves in response to the crew’s actions; the scanner displays the same sequence of images, repeated several times; the “fault locator” lights and warning bells activate, inexplicably, every 15 seconds; the TARDIS causes physical pain to the crew, but only when they approach certain parts of the console; the TARDIS displays misleading indicator lights on machinery that is otherwise working perfectly.

It’s the origin of the idea that the TARDIS is alive. Directly from Edge we get the power source that’s “held down” by the time rotor, the “heart of the TARDIS,” that reappears in Arc of Infinity, Terminus, Boom Town, and Parting of the Ways. We get here the first indication that the TARDIS is sentient, that the TARDIS has mind of its own, revisited en force in The Doctor’s Wife. Interestingly too, we get the first inklings of the Matrix: in Edge, just after Susan drops the bomb that she and the Doctor had, earlier than Unearthly Child, visited the planet Quinnis “in the fourth Universe,” we learn that the TARDIS records all the Doctor’s journeys. This returns in Trial of a Time Lord.

4. The Doctor’s crazy-manic love of science. It’s telling that Sydney Newman required Verity Lambert to subscribe to “New Scientist” and read it, monthly. One directive of early Who was to feature science front and center, and be educational.

Here, the Doctor’s turnaround involves a lengthy speech by Hartnell–the first such speech by the Doctor–about… science! It begins with the Doctor leaning back against the TARDIS console, the lighting strikingly altered for the scene–the Doctor lit in dramatic chiaroscuro–and the camera slowly tracking towards Hartnell (this was before the BBC had zoom lenses).

Hartnell was nervous about the speech’s length, famously forgetful of his lines. But it’s a fine performance: you can almost see hubris and the hunger for serious actor’s cred in his eyes during this soliloquy. He deserves it: it’s a memorable speech, and it conjures images of Baker’s toothy grin and wide eyes wondering at some scientific anomaly, or Tennant’s luscious drawl at a newly discovered alien species, “awwwwww, you’re beautiful!”.

Hartnell thus delivers, and we get the paradigm for future Doctors’ zealous-manic love of all things science.

5. Who trope: the unintended consequences of small actions. Whitaker had one final puzzle piece to place: if the TARDIS was the fifth cast member, what caused the chain of events? Whitaker’s answer, human, or unintentional error, was brilliant and is one of the repeating and often most successful themes in Who. The cascading consequences of small, unintended errors underlies some of Who‘s best episodes, including one of my favorites, Gridlock, but also The Doctor’s Daughter and many others.

So Edge is weird, quirky, but it’s uber-cool.

A few final observations: (1) it finally fully dawned on me in watching Edge the extra bells and whistles from the interior of Hartnell’s TARDIS that were transferred to Eleven’s: the bulky rectangular grid of square panels that disappeared in Who’s early years, reappears beautifully in Eleven’s console room. And as I’ve noted before, there’s the hanging thingie of concentric circles that’s Hartnell era, as well as the faux CRT scanner that is so steam-punk lovely. (2) first true on-screen date with the Doctor’s Wife (well, they’re going out, but before both sides realized it was a date, you know, a sorta Emma and Mr. Knightly thing going here). (3). The Daleks, the 7-parter just preceding Edge, introduced the Doctor’s longest standing enemy and gave us the words “Skaro” and “Thal.” Edge, in contrast, is the avant-garde moody art piece that gave us a sentient TARDIS and the modern Who companion. Edge: for depth of substantive impact on Who history, it’s the hands-down winner.

Who Verdict: Acquittal. Watch!



Filed under Dr. Who, William Hartnell

Lime reviews Curse of the Black Spot: “Captain! What’s our next move?”

The Who Verdict on Curse of the Black Spot is in: acquittal! Spoilers follow: proceed at your peril!

1. “What made you do it? What made you turn pirate?”. Curse is, as many have noted, a Who on Splenda after the Rockstar Soda hyper-caffeinated episodes we saw in Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. But that’s only in comparison. Curse is also a lovely, character-driven episode, with the character-driven elements impeccably placed to draw us in.

And the character-driven highs are held aloft by some nice tension. All before our first shot of pathos only 13 minutes into the show: (a) we lose an off-screen crew member in an already skeleton crew: (b) we lose a second crew-member on-scene and see the enemy in full glory; (c) the monster of the show, the Siren (Lily Cole), comes for Rory, and makes to attack Amy; and, (d) the crew is scared to death by a leech. The first character scene, with the little boy, is a surprising tear-jerker; barely a quarter way into this show some are calling “lite,” we care about this scraggly Captain (Hugh Bonneville) and the little boy (Oscar Lloyd).

The second dose of pathos comes half-way through the episode again with the Captain and the little boy: and again it is small, intimate, lovely, and it opens up a significant question about this relationship–reprised later in a nice moment between the Doctor and the Captain, topsides. This question is finally answered in an action scene, with most of the remaining crew members, where it all comes together. (I believe one pirate’s fate was left on the cutting room floor, but who’s counting.). And of course the answer sets up the catharsis in the episodes’ final minutes quite nicely. So again, Curse is small, but it’s tightly and coherently written. It focuses not on our time travelers, but on the Captain and the boy. (And the kid, Oscar Lloyd, simply shines–he’s fantastic. As is Hugh Bonneville. Another inspired round of casting, after Mark Sheppard last week as Canton Delaware.)

2. “Two cars parked in the same space.” But that’s not all, folks. Curse isn’t relegated to the two non-time traveling protagonists: it’s also about two cars, parked in same space–not an infrequent plotline in the Whoniverse. (See also Inferno, Battlefield, Rise of the Cybermen, inter alia.) As the Doctor explains his newfound TARDIS troubles, she “can’t see because it thinks the space doesn’t exist.”.

The Curse of the Black Spot was meant to be Series 6, Story 9. But the move to Story 3 must have worked perfectly, in Moffat’s mind, and if my hypothesis is correct about the season. Why? Foreshadowing. The idea of parallel universes will, I suspect, play large in this series. After far too much perusal of the evidence thus far spread out by the Moff, I expect parallel universes to be the key to understanding the arc.

It’s just circumstantial evidence, but circumstantial evidence is enough to convince me. I suspect the Doctor that died in The Impossible Astronaut isn’t our Doctor, but either (a) a Doctor from an alternative universe whose timeline is running the same direction as River Song, or (b) an amalgam of the Doctor and some big bad like Omega (see Arc of Infinity or the excellent audio drama Omega). Whichever one it is (or even a third), I think Beach Doc is really dead.

And that’s the simplest explanation, which in reality would be favored (don’t bother me with trivialities: this is only tv you say?): the Beach Doctor, whether amalgam Doc/baddie on a good day, or an alternative/parallel universe Doctor, needed to save the universe from the crossovers between universes, so set up the meeting and his own death to save both universes. Tragic, the more so if and when we realize what really happened.

Amy’s Choice then becomes almost a parable (more?) of what’s happening now: if they die in the dream (that is, in the the other world), you’re fine in the real world–but what happens when you cease being able to tell the difference? Don’t forget, Amy was pregnant in one of those worlds too–but now she’s both pregnant and not. And in Vampires of Venice, Rory understood the TARDIS a little, mentioning he’d studied all about FTL travel and parallel worlds. And of course Signora Calvierri, speaking of her race fleeing the Silence/Silents (but which?), spoke of cracks, some as big as the sky, and seeing through to parallel worlds. No, the roads have led to this parking lot, and the lot is now full: twice over. (I love a show with a canon big enough to encourage this sort of irresponsible but irrepressible speculation.)

I half expect that Amy is supposed to tell the Doctor about his future because that’s the only way the Silents/Silence/our Big Bad/whomever can ensure the Doctor and his future self “merge,” or to avoid the Doctor sealing off the cracks between the universes once and for all, or because it will somehow cause a greater rift, furthering our baddies’ ends (that the Silents demand that Amy tell the Doctor “what he must never know” sounds pretty portentous.) That is, I expect that first Impossible Astronaut scene, the immolation and somber sunset on the beach in memoriam to a Time Lord, will one day become more poignant. It was a pretty significant death–and perhaps (well, with Moff this is expecting a little too much) it will even close out this series or make the half-way point. I think we’ll be back on that beach.

3. “Things can suddenly change when you’re least expecting.”. The Doctor asks: “who are you, Henry Avery? …How did you end up here with rogues?”. The captain: “I’ve set my course.”. And the Doctor: “things can suddenly change when you’re least expecting,”. And I think that’s the theme of Moffat’s second series, season 6. Moffat’s grand scheme was to, I suspect, lead us to think that Season 5 was about several things–the alliance of baddies trying to trap the Doctor and ruin the universe with cracks, and the Doctor foiling their plans with River’s help by sealing the cracks and “rebooting the universe.” But as I mused before, I’m not sure that’s what it was about at all. I think that was merely prologue.

Similar to the “two cars”/two realities issue, I suspect that River will, indeed, surprise us. Her being the wife of Omega or Other is a favorite theory I’ve heard. (And who wouldn’t be thrilled by Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch emerging either as a multi-episode or recurring Omega?) River’s encounter in Impossible Astronaut with future/Beach Doctor lends some circumstantial evidence to the alternate/parallel universes theory too: in a complete turnabout, this Doctor broke out an identical “TARDIS diary” that was being completed, and he had shared experiences with River (“Jim the Fish”), indicating timelines that aren’t getting progressively further from each other, but share a common direction. If Beach Doctor was our Doctor, 200 years hence, River would scarcely know him.

But she knows him well, and they swap stories. No: unless I’m missing something, this cannot be our Doctor. Which leads me back to the alternate universes idea: she’s traveled with this other Doctor–or it’s really a Doctor-Omega/pick your baddie amalgam. Perhaps she’s a baddie too. Now that would be a change from what most expect–and a delicious one. And of course River fulfills the “prophecy” by emerging from the lake to, or being complicit in, killing the Doctor/amalgam Doctor.

(Or the little girl, Amy, or some nefarious other suited baddie, pulls the duty.)

That’s admittedly only my latest theory. But tea leaves are in support. There are also abundant alternate theories out there, each with merit: River will turn out to be our Doctor’s wife; River is Amy’s daughter (which I could see happening); & many other variations. Cheers to all of them. I’ll just say I’m licking my lips at the return of the wonderfully deep Who lore that underlaid the series for three-odd decades. It’s wonderful stuff. Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, anyone?

4. This is the second story with a “prequel,” the first being Impossible Astronaut. Unlike the first episode’s prequel, you’re missing little if you miss this one: this one is nice, but tells us little we don’t discover during the episode: primarily we learn that the ship has been becalmed for 8 days.

5. And some new and old questions: (a) The previously mentioned eerie twittering sound in the TARDIS is now joined by at least half of the roundels in a lights-out or lights-flickering state. Why? Symbols of something big happening? Signs of simple disrepair in the TARDIS? Merely Moffat’s symptom of an episode-specific rift in Curse? (b) The Doctor’s tie here is red–my understanding of one theory is that Eleven’s tie was blue in the “past” episodes.

And then there’s just the wonderful fluff. I count five: (1) we learn that in Eleven’s TARDIS, there is not only the previously mentioned swimming pool and library (the latter officially portrayed in the BBC Adventure Game TARDIS), but now we also know about a kitchen and three loos (see also the wonderful TARDIS chase scene in the Fourth Doctor story Invasion of Time); (2) Amy’s performance is stellar, from swashbuckling start to the finish, saving Rory: it has been a hard-earned trust, but from Amy’s, well frankly, shallow beginnings, we can now plainly see new depths in her feelings for Rory, the more so after last week’s “stupid face” confusion and late-episode righting. And Arthur Darvill, again, is great. (3). The finale, the pirates traipsing off to actually visit what the Doctor and Captain mused about way back when, standing on the ancient vessel and staring at the double stars–a very nice touch, when paired with the Captain/son denouement. (4) The Rat-faced creatures’ uniforms read “D.I.H.S.”. A joke? A clue? Some spin on R.O.U.S.? (5). Nice touch, VR consent form! Future of the law!

Who Verdict: acquittal!

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Filed under Dr. Who

Lime reviews: Day of the Moon

So, I’m about to pass judgment on Day of the Moon… What’s the Who Verdict? Let me run through a few salient issues that spring to mind after watching this one twice:

1. Beautiful production values, but the energy devoted to the shock & awe surely has both benefit and cost. Who now rivals in pacing and intensity the best of Lost and 24, gripping shows in their own right. Who has never looked this good, but it has also never depended so much on CGI and visual spectacle to make its case. Plot and acting, not one-liners and flash, used to be far more leaned on as regular train-drivers. That’s all changed. Not completely, but the balance has palpably shifted. If Who doesn’t lean as heavily on the same canon and plot values it used to, one worry is that the show can continue with the same vigor, while leaning so heavily on quips and flash. We shall see. The same beloved characters and backstory are always available for the writers, so the momentum is indisputably on the show’s side.

2. Whether the love triangle (quadrangle?) and the related confusion over the Time Lord-ness of the young girl are (a) based in fact–that is, do the Doctor and Amy have a thing, or do the Doctor and River have a thing, or both?; (b) is Amy really pregnant?; or, (c) is this all based on misdirection? I’d love to dismiss all of the first options, but Moffat has proved, not least in Girl in the Fireplace, that romance and the Doctor are squarely set in Moffat’s scriptwriting boudoir. So I expect Moffat to tease us more as to the various possibilities, then tie them up one way or another.

Some or all of it may be resolved as misdirection, though. Amy may not be pregnant: as the character most directly tied to this “crack” in he wall, she could be a living link between two different universes: one where she’s pregnant, one where she’s not. Rory, after all, admitted in DOTM that sometimes he still remembers waiting, as an Auton, for Amy–sometimes he doesn’t. So perhaps he too is crossing universes. And the Doctor-River relationship may end before it starts (well we know it does, but in a different way!) River kissed the Doctor in DOTM, River being younger than we’ve yet seen her, and the Doctor was taken aback at the kiss, and River acted as if it was the first time the Doctor had been taken aback. So the next time the Doctor sees River, two possibilities: either it’s the first time River kisses the Doctor and the last time the Doctor kisses River–or we it gets drawn out. Moffat’s track record favoring hopeless and tragic situations would suggest the former… but we’ll see.

3. How important are the Silents? And is it “Silence will fall” or “Silents will fall?”. Clearly Moffat has been planting clues about the presence of the Silents in multiple episodes–one-off frightened looks by the main characters that are then shaken off and normal dialog resumed–since early in S5. But we’re told the Silents have none of their own technology. The FAUXDIS of the Lodger thus isn’t of Silent origin–where’s it from? (Could it be River’s? The Doctor mused in DOTM that he was about to find out how the Lodger FAUXDIS became abandoned, and River meets the Doctor in reverse order…) And the door to the room in the orphanage which had a small window, and then didn’t, reminded me strongly of the upstairs illusions in the Lodger. A FAUXDIS in the room? Could explain how Amy suddenly found herself in the FAUXDIS itself. But then the TARDIS materializes in the FAUXDIS? Been seen before, hasn’t it? Logopolis, The Time Monster… And the teaser for S6, Space and Time. Recursive loops do wonders for time. Wibbly wobbly, all that.

And so while the Silents were apparently present throughout S5 and are the front and center enemy of these two episodes, terrors of this magnitude in Who–recursive loops, attempts to build TARDISes, killing Time Lords to steal their regenerations, blowing up stars or the universe, and cracks in space and time–have been sins of the greatest order, reserved for the worst of enemies. Not that new enemies can’t be created, but the worst of the worst have included Omega, the Master, the Black Guardian among others. And so I suggest that the Silents are not the big bad we’re looking for. (But for an alternative view, jump over to The Edwardian Adventurer.) As a matter of fact, what better MacGuffin than a race of easily dispatched Silents to distract and please and inhabit the FAUXDIS when the real Silence is trying to simultaneously build that same FAUXDIS and possibly escape through a crack in the universe into our own Doctor’s universe? Remember, the Doctor saw nary a single death caused by a Silent, and Amy presumably forgot the one she saw: so planning all this after noticing a massive infestation and the kidnapping of Amy, to genociding the Silents out-of-existence, doesn’t strike me as the Doctor’s typical M.O. when he’s not under the influence, so to speak.

4. Unresolved matters, new mysteries, and Moffat-isms I need to itch: (a) the eye-patch lady at the door who exclaims, “she’s still dreaming.”. Who is dreaming–Amy? This smells of the little girl in Silence in the Library, doesn’t it? (b) Amy wandered into the orphanage, saw some peculiar graffiti, and confidently called the Doctor to announce that yup, the girl and the Silents had been there. That’s not an impossible narrative leap, but it smells just as probably of Silent psycho-suggestion to get the Doctor, a companion, or the TARDIS in the vicinity of Renfrew, the orphanage, the little girl, &c. (c) What’s the incessant eerie clicking sound seeming to come from the console in the TARDIS? When did it start? It appears constantly in Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, but I don’t recall it ever happening inside the TARDIS except maybe in the dream sequences of Amy’s Choice. Is it something with the TARDIS? The Silents? Just incidental creepy sounds? (d) What to make of not just one fact that most commentators note but, in conjunction, two: Amy’s on/off pregnancy; and Rory’s comment that he has a Schrodinger memory too: on being a Roman, he says “I don’t remember it all the time. It’s like this door in my head. I can keep it shut.”. (e) Humanity decided suddenly to go to the moon because the Silents needed a spacesuit? Really? (f) Was it our heroes’ idea to build the perfect prison around the TARDIS, or was it the Silents’? Because we only see the TARDIS decloak inside the prison–not dematerialize.

And this one feels big: (g) Why did River seem completely unsurprised by the FAUXDIS in Impossible Astronaut? She wasn’t phased at all, but went straight to the control panel–what did she operate at the control panel? And she quickly identified the sound from the FAUXDIS as an alarm. She almost acted as if she knew what the FAUXDIS was. How? See my musing above: is it her ship? (h) The Doctor asked for the Silents’ total surrender and wanted to drive them off earth, and was complicit in their total destruction, despite them only killing one person (in the White House loo), which Amy didn’t even remember? Really? (i) Renfrew: bow tie? (j) When the TARDIS seemed to travel from inside the “perfect prison” to Florida at about six minutes in, there was no dematerialization sound. (k) Were there too many sets of stairs in that orphanage? (l) Why did the Silence identify our heroine not as Amy, but “Amelia Pond… We do you great honor. You will bring the Silence.”?

I was wrong that the season premiere would introduce a classic “big bad” like Omega. A quick reintroduction at the end, a la the Master by RTD, would have whet the appetite for more and carried through the season. But I remain convinced: the Silents seem like bit players in a bigger game. Moffat knows that Big Bads are the stuff Who is made of. I think it’s just matter of time before we’re all bowled over by this drawn-out homage to either a new Big Bag–or the reintroduction of an oldie, but very very goodie, Big Bad. I can’t wait.

5. Regeneration Follies. I’m with the growing choir: Moffat, this one-note regeneration song is getting old. (See this brilliant post from my good friend over at Confessions of a Neo-Whovian.) Change is good, but some things: well, they must change, and not remain absolutely static. So it is with the Doctor’s regenerations up to RTD: each had slightly differed, some greatly, depending on the circumstances of death.

That is, until now: and now we get Highlander-esque, boring, shooting golden pixie dust from the sleeves and collar–each and every time. No, there need be no rhyme or reason to regeneration: there wasn’t for three decades, and it kept a healthy dose of mystery to the show, to Time Lords, and to what the next regeneration would bring, and how. It’s very odd that in wanting to nod to the show’s past repeatedly (the stream of images in Eleventh Hour, for example), this prime feature of the show–regeneration–has become a predictable and boring sequence. Mr. Moffat: bring back the uncertainty, the freshness, to regenerations to Who!

6. Finally, TIA and DOTM were unapologetic plays for the American audience. For France, City of Death gave us the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The S6 opener was a full-on play for the nation. (a) it gave Nixon an out, surely something that will make Americans chuckle in the expansion of Nixon’s fictional boundaries from source of shame to good dramatic and comedic character. American appreciation for turning their shame goes a long way. (b) No less than the President endorses the Doctor. (c) America is called again the most powerful country. Shucks, thanks, Moffat.

And then, there was so, so much to simply love. Let me count the ways. “Zero-balance dwarf-star alloy”: pure Who technobabble–not classic or “nu,” but just plain old Who. I adore River Song. Casting Kingston was a stroke of genius, and the writing is equal parts Time Lord (see Romana) and modern heroine for our times (or baddie–my mind’s still open for what she turns out to be). I eat up the mysteries that Moffat sets up, many of which may go nowhere, but seem to lead somewhere: the very secret of past Who and Tolkienesque success. And, I love that Moffat is so possibly playing not only with modern sci-fi tropes, but also simultaneously with established Who. I’m not yet certain that Moffat sees any break in Who from classic to old–I think he’s one of the true believers in Who continuity–I have a sneaking suspicion we’re in very, very good hands.

Verdict: Full Acquittal. Watch now!


Filed under Dr. Who

Lime: Unearthly Child, Ep. 1

I first watched Doctor Who in or around 1977; it was a Tom Baker episode–the Fourth Doctor, teeth and curls, all that. My first introduction to the First Doctor wasn’t until The Five Doctors–and that wasn’t even the real deal, it was Richard Hurndall. The original actor, William Hartnell, died in 1975, shortly after appearing in the Third Doctor’s episode, The Three Doctors.

But there is a brief opening clip to The Five Doctors, an excerpt from a real Hartnell episode, which I instantly fell in love with back in 1983 when The Five Doctors aired. Partly because it was so, well, inscrutable. I memorized it instantly, typed it out on our trusty IBM Selectric typewriter, and read and re-read it to myself, amazed at having just seen a black and white incarnation of my Doctor saying something so mystifying. I think I’ve got it still pretty much verbatim, stored away upstairs. I trotted it out every once in awhile as a kid, to myself, when I needed inscrutable inspiration. It goes like this: “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, and no anxieties. Just go forward in your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

It was never just the words, but it was the decades-long show, the angst over whether it would be continued, the exceptionalism of the character of the Doctor, and the conviction that Hartnell gave those words. All that carried through the decades and combined to make quite an impact on my young mind, an impact far greater than any of the pithy quotes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, or any of the other numerous sci-fi or fantasy fare I consumed as an adolescent.

I didn’t see Unearthly Child, or any Hartnell episode, until the advent of Netflix instant streaming introduced me to Hartnell and the 2005 resurrection of the show revived my active interest in the show overall. At first viewing, with my kids, I surfed through it, preoccupied with work, letting my kids enjoy it. But scenes stuck in my mind. This was am amazing debut, aired first the day after President Kennedy’s assassination, on November 23, 1963. I ordered it again, and rewatched it with my friend Fredegar. Here’s what struck me:

First, as all the initiated know, the title song by Ron Grainer, and arranged in “electronica” by the fantastic Delia Derbyshire, is for all intents and purposes identical to the title song today, right down to the drumming and droning base beat, and the heroic soaring section that simply lifts the spirits to hear. My young son loves that part, and started singing to the old original just as he does now to Matt Smith’s title sequence. Derbyshire’s arrangement of the Grainer tune is one of the very first all-electronic television themes, and it is pure genius.

A bobby walks to, and away from, the doors of a junkyard in misty London, a junkyard whose doors read “I.M. Foreman, Scrap Merchant, 76, Totter’s Lane.”. The Grainer theme plays as the junkyard doors squeak open by invisible hands and the camera glides through the doors, swinging right to alight on the windows of a (we know to be blue) Police Public Call Box, which seems to be the source of a strange, mid-pitched hum. Our first glimpse of a prop that kids will gleefully adore for the next 60 years and counting.

And cut to the Coal Hill School, where students leave classes in a rush, and we follow a proper and attractive history teacher, Barbara Wright, leaving class and sitting down to commiserate with a fellow teacher, the dashing Colin Firth-like Ian Chesterton, about her terrible day–caused by an overly precocious student, the 15-year old Susan. And so the stage for mystery and curiosity is set: Ian agrees, Susan knows more of science than he’ll ever know, but Susan only lets her knowledge out gradually, to not embarrass him. Ian thinks Susan is a genius, and worries tongue in cheek about having to hand his class over to his student. Barbara, in contrast, wants to give Susan some guidance, has already obtained Susan’s home address–76 Totter’s Lane, which the viewer already knows to be a junkyard–and Barbara herself has now discovered, having visited the address to confront Susan’s grandfather about Susan’s suffering homework. And so Ian, with Barbara the proxies for the audience and the only characters we’ve had any extended interaction with, is drawn into the mystery. Who is the genius girl that lives in a junkyard?

Cut to the history classroom, where we first see Susan, the genius. Commentators make much of this scene: Susan, a pixie-like short-haired brunette, angular and attractive, if odd looking, dancing to 60s music, holding a radio to her ear. Ian and Barbara enter, we learn that Susan insists on reading and returning the voluminous book on the French Revolution Barbara lends her the next day: she needs no longer. Susan declines a ride home, Ian and Barbara leave, and Susan opens the book, eyes alighting with concern on some statement of fact about the Revolution exclaiming “that’s not right!”. Another mystery.

The teachers drive through the night fog and park across from the junkyard, waiting for Susan to arrive home. Ian insists the mysteries will have a simple explanation; Barbara disagrees, noting that Susan doesn’t even know how many shillings are in a pound. A third mystery. A flashback to students laughing at Susan, who shrugs off her mistake at thinking Britain had moved to a decimal system: “of course it doesn’t… It hasn’t started yet.”. Susan arrives and walks through the junkyard doors. The teachers follow her into the junkyard.

At first we see everything but the Police Box. Two mannequins. Mysterious music. Then the Police Box in the background as the two search the junkyard for Susan. And they see the Box, touch it–notice it is humming. Why is it here, instead of on the street where the public can use it to summon the police? The sound–the vibration–Ian exclaims, “it’s alive!”. And then coughing, someone is coming. They hide.

An old man, with a black Karzai hat and flowing white hair, a pale scarf and a dark coat, arch looking, enters the yard and starts to open the Police Box. Susan’s voice comes from nowhere: “There you are, grandfather!”. Ian makes his move and approaches the old man, says he’s looking for a girl, Susan Foreman. (The old man is holding a silver device–some think this is the first appearance of the famed Sonic Screwdriver.). The old man denies any knowledge defensively, distracting himself with an old painting that he’d never noticed before. Ian insists on looking inside the Police Box: the girl’s voice had to come from somewhere, and she’d totally disappeared.

But before the Doctor can turn their attention, Susan again calls from the Police Box. Ian and Barbara push themselves in, and are confronted by the blinding white and constant hum of, well, the bigger-on-the-inside TARDIS. Susan quite calm and comfortable. Hexagonal console and–as seen again now finally in the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS–the hanging concentric metallic circles on the ceiling. The roundels on the white walls. And the coatrack, and a few other sparse furnishings, including a fascinating metal clock. At the Doctor’s command, Susan operates a control on the console and closes the doors. Susan tells the teachers she indeed lives in this strange Police Box, which is bigger on the inside.

Three times in this sequence the Doctor looks straight at the camera and talks to us, the viewer, while ostensibly talking to Ian or Barbara: first, telling us that he’s not hindering us finding Susan–“if you … want to make fools of yourselves I suggest you do what you said you’d do–go and find a policeman”–muttering “insulting” after that line: second, once inside the TARDIS and in response to Ian and Barbara’s confusion, telling us “you don’t understand, so you find excuses”; third, “the point is not whether you understand, what is going to happen to you, hmmm?”

And then we learn: Susan and this Doctor are cut off from their own planet, exiles, but “one day, we shall get back.”. But the Doctor determines that Ian and Barbara now too must be exiles from their planet. They barged into the TARDIS, but now cannot leave–they will tell others about the Doctor and his ship. Even Susan refuses to help Ian and Barbara now. And so the Doctor operates some controls, the center column rises and falls, and we see London shrinking as this TARDIS falls through the wavy white feedback loop we saw first in the show’s title sequence.

In sum, the first episode of Unearthly Child is a triumph of acting, pacing, cunning camera angles, and story. And it gains richness with repeated watchings. I would be surprised if any of you could watch and not be amazed at what the BBC accomplished back in 1963 in the very first episode of Who.

And what’s more, the three quotes from Hartnell said directly to us have some bearing as we delve ever deeper into the mind of Steven Moffatt, director of the Eleventh Doctor (and writer of several RTD-era stories), and Moffat’s Grand Plan for Who. I’m mystified by that plan. Some dislike it. Many are thrilled. But what keeps all of us coming back for more in some sense relates to those three questions. If we don’t like it, we can stop watching, change the channel–abandon the mystery. If we don’t understand, well, we can explain it to ourselves however we want to–and we do. Witness the explosion of interest and talk in all things Who over the last half-decade. Finally, we come back because we want to find out what happens to our Doctor, and the characters we care about. And as Hartnell says the second half of the third one, he turns right back to Ian. Because after all, that’s what this is all about: the characters.

Thanks, William Hartnell. For all the line flubs to come, you were a fine, fine actor. Small wonder the show has lasted this long, after having you as its first leading man.


Filed under Dr. Who, William Hartnell

Disappearing Ice on Mars, According to NASA

Too exciting not to post about, NASA now believes what they thought might be ice–or salt–is, in fact, ice.  NASA’s press release is here.

Whatever the substance is, the lander has found another hard layer at the same depth in a location to the right of this trench (aka “Snow White 1”).

Enjoy the animated gif below, depicting the evaporating substance in a before-after sequence:

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Filed under Science

Lawyers that Game: Dianne Bonfiglio, Esq., aka, Hot Chief PMS

Hot Chief PMS, aka Dianne Bonfiglio, Esq.This interview is the first of a planned series of interviews of professionals — lawyers naturally among them — that are avid, earnest, unabashed gamers. I conducted this interview back in September, but a number of issues kept it from appearing on A.O. Without further ado, here’s my interview with a remarkable attorney from Florida who happens to also be a very skilled competitive gamer. Enjoy. Lime

AO: Hot Chief, thanks for doing this interview. Just by way of introduction, I met you via a comment you left on my blog… I Googled your name, and discovered that lo, you were not only Dianne Bonfiglio, Esq., but also “Hot Chief PMS,” of the online all-female gaming clan “PMS Clan.” Since Halo is one of your forte’s and I’m a Halo addict–and an attorney–I was immediately smitten. You agreed to do an interview, and so here are a few questions: how do being an attorney and a hard-core gamer jive. First off, for the law: what type of law do you practice?

HC: Harry, thank *you* for the opportunity to speak with you! It is my pleasure. Professionally, I’ve been practicing law for about five years. I am a business major and had substantial experience in business before I entered law school in Continue reading


Filed under Entertainment, Gaming, Law, PC Gaming, Sports, Xbox 360

Obtaining a Name Change in Montana


Apparently this spurned husband didn’t take it so well when his wife entered into
a dalliance on a business trip.  William L. Managhan of the Managhan & Kortum-Managhan Law Firm, reportedly sent the following email to the entire membership of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, detailing exactly how best to change your name in Montana:

Managhan & Kortum-Managhan Law Firm will no longer be known as such. The name is returning to Managhan Law Firm as Santana Kortum-Managhan is leaving the firm. Turns out that she was having sex with Tim McKeon of Anaconda while attending MMLP hearings in Helena. Call me silly but I no longer fill comfortable with her as my law partner or wife. Some will think this is an inappropriate announcement, but considering the small legal community in our state, I might as well preempt the roomer mill. Please address communication to William L. Managhan through Managhan Law Firm.
Managhan Law Firm PLLC

That’s a big “[sic]” for all those typos.  Whether the email is authentic or no, it’s quite a story, isn’t it.  The firm’s “Profiles” page reads “This page is currently unavailable,” lending a suspicious air of credibility to the tale.

And Mr. Managhan: if you did indeed send this out, can’t you take the time to be a real lawyer and run a spell-check before burdening us with your linguistic/romance woes and simultaneously trashing your wife’s reputation (if indeed that is you . . . hellooo?)?


See also HERE and HERE for more on the story.

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Filed under Humor, Law