Just about every sentient creature in the known universe has at least heard of Dr Who. Not surprising, since the show has been around since the JFK assassination. No really. As in Dr. Who’s November 23, 1963 premiere was briefly postponed in the UK for coverage of the horrific tragedy which had taken place the day before.
But for the benefit of the two or three people left in our solar system who do not know “WHO” – ahem – the good doctor is: Dr. Who is a British TV show about a Time Lord, an Earth-protecting alien from the lost planet Gallifrey, who travels around in a T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) – a sentient vehicle which looks like a British telephone booth – which takes him and his chosen companions to different times and places, usually of the Doctor’s choosing, but occasionally places where the TARDIS thinks he needs to be. And as though he were Superman’s nerdy British cousin, Dr. Who uses his brains, and plot convenient tech to do good, and usually dangerous, deeds across the multi-verse.
And as a side note, interesting, but somewhat irrelevant to the purposes of this article, in the most brilliant show contrivance in history, when the lead actor wishes to depart or his ratings drop they “kill” the current one off so that a “new”, but the same, Doctor “regenerates” into a different looking body. So you have the same character but with a completely different actor and personality. Soooo – since the latest incarnation regenerated into a woman the pronouns above could be he OR she.
With this kind of an intro, it should raise no eyebrows to learn that Dr. Who has run across more and weirder creatures than Star Trek and Star Wars combined: from flirting lady trees, to space whales that can carry all of England on its back, Cybermen and Daleks, vampire fish masquerading as people, water-bourne parasitic Martians which turn normal humans into water spewing zombies, disembodied vapor creatures who live in suns, the TARDIS herself (yes, she is a female), terrifying and untraceable hypnotic monsters who live in intense radiation on a planet with sapphire waterfalls, two-dimensional beings (and yes, that was a particularly creative episode), Western cybernetically enhanced victims of war crime experimentation, and psychotic Time Lords; NOT to mention the famous and infamous throughout history: Charles Dickens haunted by ghosts, Lady Pompadour pursued by robots, Shakespeare tormented by witches, Vincent Van Gogh (possibly my favorite episode) chasing a monster, President Nixon, Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and the prototype for Robin Hood.
BUT – one of the Oodest – or rather – Oddest of them all are the – Ood. Normally docile, meditative, both telepathic and empathic, they carry a portion of their brain — on the outside, holding it at all times. Come to think of it now I see why they are docile – kind of tough to wield a weapon while jostling a chunk of your cerebrum in the other hand – NOT to mention the vulnerability of it. Their sensitivity and awareness, their connectivity to other creature’s minds, their constant attention to this fragile link with all the other minds and thoughts of so many other creatures, their constant input of images and emotions of those around them – make them vulnerable to corruption by more powerful telepathic minds with evil intent … or even to enslavement. As they spend all their time continually monitoring the Ood hive mentality of their interconnectedness, it has engendered in them a subservience and lack of independence which crippled their society. At one time their slave masters even physically removed that external portion of their brain in order to replace it with a mechanized one in order to more easily control them, but which backfired on the slave masters allowing the suppressed Ood rage to turn them blindly homicidal.
While it is always nice, it is not always pre-requisite to have a logical basis for science fiction generated creatures’ unique characteristics. Nonetheless I couldn’t help but play the “what if” game, and wonder, if such a creature existed, why might God, in His infinite wisdom, craft or allow such a creature, so uniquely hobbled, to evolve? This one attribute’s disadvantages seemed to so spectacularly outweigh its benefits that it held their entire civilization’s progress back, dragging like an anchor against the promise of their potential development.
So I continued to puzzle. How might such a singularly disadvantageous and peculiar physical attribute EVER been catalyzed to manifest itself? I wondered how the concept of a portion of one’s brain being held in one’s hand EVER came about……..
A two season Star Trek show which was released (in real life) just before Picard, it takes a stab at gap filling in the story arcs of Star Trek in general and the characters of Spock and Pike in particular (even though they do not show up until the second season) during the (reel life) period between the two original pilots from the 1960’s.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
Adults only for: language, graphic violence, sexuality, promotion of alternative lifestyles and frequent examples of – best way to put it —- conduct unbecoming a Starfleet officer.
Star Trek, “The Original Series”, with Captain Kirk, debuted in 1963. I was four years old and lived in a house full of science fiction fans. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to correctly surmise from that I have followed Star Trek my whole life.
And in case anyone doesn’t know, and relevant to this article, as referenced above, there were TWO Star Trek pilots: the FIRST one with Captain Pike, and the SECOND, but better known one, with Captain Kirk.
Roddenberry, the brains behind everything Star Trek, (the way Lucas is for Star Wars), had some clout and a LOT of persistence. So when the powers that be did not like the first pilot, Roddenberry managed, in an instance as rare as finding a herd of unicorns, to persuade the producers to give him another shot at it. He changed much of the lead cast and told a different tale. The rest is history. Discovery looks at knitting these two scenarios together into the whole cloth of the Star Trek Universe.
I have seen all the filmed live iterations: TOS, Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, Picard, ALL the movies in both the prime and alternate time lines – and now into the fold comes Discovery. I have mixed feelings about this show.
The original Star Trek concept in 1963 was promoted by Roddenberry as “Wagon Train to the stars” to the powers that held the money. In fact, Roddenberry used science fiction as clever social commentary, much of which is still quite relevant almost six decades later.
As a framework for that cultural analysis was the idea that the best of mankind would strive and survive to reach out to the stars and, as has been so many times quoted, parodied, and ultimately followed, “…to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!” (Cue theme that only The Queen of the Night could sing.) Possibly the most famous split infinitive in literary history.
The eloquent words and profoundly inspiring message have been part of what has kept the Star Trek franchise alive for almost sixty years, across seven different shows, with seven different casts, covering hundreds of shows, and inspiring thirteen movies; not to mention: cartoons, novels, graphic novels, audio books, fanzines, comic cons, animation, games, technical manuals, coffee cups, bath mats, life sized cut outs, costumes (deep breath) – the list goes on and on.
One of the uplifting concepts that has kept this boat afloat (pun intended as the Star Trek universe has always had a naval feel) is the idea that these frontiers will be breached by the best and the brightest, the most humane and brave, the self-sacrificing, the merciful and the altruistic, to insure that we would go forth to that (following homages intended) Undiscovered Country (Star Trek VI) of this Final Frontier (Star Trek V) with our best foot forward.
Unfortunately, this is not what Discovery did. It began with a mutineer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) starting a war with the Klingons. Huh!??? And much of the next two years deals with the direct and indirect fallout from that. Granted, good comes out of this catastrophe, as well as discoveries of galactic-sized threats which are averted, in part, due to the setting in motion of events stemming from this war. (It gets complicated.) But my teeth were set on edge right away because this was NOT the Starfleet I remembered.
Set (in reel life) about 10 years before Kirk and not long after Captain Archer, I do acknowledge that this is Starfleet in its infancy – even embryonic. Captain Archer, in the series Enterprise, stepped WAAAY over the line more than once: hypocritically denying assistance to a freighter in one show, running rough shod over an alien species during a diplomatic mission in another, acting abrasively and belligerently to his crew on the bridge, and on one noteworthy occasion leaving a hatchery of sentient infants to die on a fading ship – because they were an enemy insectoid race – DESPITE the fact they were innocents. I have a lot of trouble with Enterprise too.
That all being said there ARE interesting characters and intriguing storylines within Discovery. There is, for example, a backstory on Spock (Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck) no one anticipated and information on Pike which fits nicely with the character to which we were introduced 60 (real) years ago. Like it or hate it or love it, I understand this is an effort by the crafters of the Star Trek universe to tie up the ten (reel) years between the first pilot with Pike and the opening proper in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” which introduced us to Kirk and company.
The cast is hit and miss.
Captain Pike’s character in Discovery, introduced at the tip end of season one, was a breath of fresh air in embodying the characteristics of the Starfleet captains with whom we grew up. I look forward to the future planned shows, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with Anson Mount’s Pike.
You will meet, if you will excuse the unavoidable pun, a much darker Mudd (Rainn Wilson, The Office alum) as in Harcourt Fenton —, than we saw in the original series.
A line often attributed to Louis B Mayer is: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”. Unfortunately, there has been a trickle which has grown into a monsoon of disregard for this advice amongst the writers, directors and producers of TV shows and movies over the last few decades.
One of the demonstrations of distracting and overt PC writing in Discovery is the prominent portrayal of a homosexual couple by engineer Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). As there are no other featured couples and as their relationship figures heavily as unnecessary subplot fodder in a number of the episodes, this smacks more of political correctness then plot craft. The shoe-horning in of scenes is distracting as well as making the show inappropriate for non-adults. To be fair, Kirk’s promiscuous bed hopping did not exactly contribute to a G-rated atmosphere either. But at least Kirk’s antics were to promote ratings amongst the teenage boys who already dominated the demographics for Star Trek: TOS. The relationship between Stamets and Culber is propagandistic posturing.
In addition, their relationship as portrayed was neither dynamic nor convincing. Dr. Who’s pansexual Captain Jack Harkness frequently conveyed, in one flirty grin to a total stranger, more connection and interest than Culber and Stamets did towards each other in two seasons.
Cruz as Culber does the heavy emotional lifting but only succeeds in coming off as whiny. Stamets is an interesting stand alone character as an aloof and snobby, but brilliant, engineer wrestling with a technology new to the Star Trek universe: a Spore Drive, which allows instantaneous travel from one point in the galaxy to another. Stamets was obviously in love with THAT. But there is very little chemistry between the two men.
Tilly (Mary Wiseman), another engineer, while also brilliant, should not have been allowed anywhere near a star ship bridge. She is flighty, immature, overly chatty, and tends to wander off in flights of irrelevance even in the midst of a crisis. This behavior would have either been trained out of her at the Academy or she would have been dismissed. And in one of the “Short Trek” shows, (15 minute lagniappe episodes), Tilly commits an outright crime of aiding and abetting a stowaway when she helps one to their home planet without even reporting their presence on board the ship. This would have been court-martial level grounds for cashiering in anybody’s reality aboard a military vessel of any kind.
There are bright spots. Saru (Doug Jones, who has the dubious honor of having played the amphibian man in the horrible Shape of Water SEE REVIEW HERE), a Kelpian, is the first officer. He is from a species which we have never before seen, and is unique to the crew. Jones, with his 6 foot 3-1/2 inch tall frame gives the skeletal visaged Saru a surprising physical grace. Saru is an officer who is thoughtful, considered, intelligent, calm under fire, attentive to the advice of the other crew, and who makes plain old good decisions. In the first season Saru is the one who reminds me the most of the Starfleet personality we should have had all along.
Jason Isaacs is Captain Lorca, of whom I’m hesitant to say much for fear of giving spoilers. Suffice to say that while more in line with the Star Trek: TOS personality, he pushes the envelope too much and too hard to be a comfortable character. These feelings ultimately fit well with his story arc and the structure of the two season plot but it can be very off-putting on first viewing.
The music by Jeff Russo (Star Trek: Picard) provides the same inspiring atmosphere we have come to know and love from the Star Trek universe. The special effects, gadgets and prosthetics are pretty cool, but nothing we haven’t seen before in the best of some of the shows.
The dialogue has too much profanity especially for a starship bridge crew, who are on the bridge and on duty. And remember I’m evaluating from the point of view of Star Trek not the reality of a naval cruiser on Earth, though I suspect some of the cavalier dialogue would not be well tolerated on a modern-day destroyer bridge either.
There’s been a good deal of complaint about the female-heavy cast: Martin-Green’s Burnham, Wiseman’s Tilly, Emily Coutts’ cybernetically enhanced Detmer, Oyin Oladejo’s Owosekun, Sarah Mitich’s android/human hybrid Airiam, Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou, Mary Chieffo’s female Klingon Chancellor L’Rell, Jane Brooks’ Admiral Cornwall, Rebecca (pre-Lawrence “Mystique” from X-Men) Romijn’s Number One – the list goes on. I’d have to agree. There is a grossly disproportionate number of prominent women in the show, especially when you consider that many of the men that DO make it to the cast list are either given only passing notice, like Ronnie Rowe’s Lt. Bryce, or are written as women-dependent and emotionally fragile, like former POW Ash Tyler (played by Shazad Letif).
While the women did a good job comporting themselves (mostly – with the exception of the aforementioned Tilly) as command crew who just happen to be female (as opposed to the creativity-destroying reverse) this is NOT the Amazonian brigade nor community theater! There MUST have been more men auditioning for these parts than is reflected in the casting choices.
Nonetheless, after Pike, my favorite character would have to be engineer Reno (played by Tig Notaro from Instant Family SEE REVIEW HERE) who comes late onto the scene. Carrying the blunt honesty of a single minded nerd who gets along better with her equipment than people, she is funny and refreshingly abrasive in her no nonsense exchanges. Sort of like a female Henry Higgins she treats everyone the same – as though they were ALL between her and the solution to the engineering problem at hand and life would be so much easier if they would just get out of her way! Yet, also like Higgins, she is almost preternaturally observant to those around her and, as such, and as she has little filter, is often able to offer unexpectedly apt advice.
So, overall, despite the heavy handed estrogen injections, the occasional forays into soap opera territory, and the aspects of the show that make it inappropriate for youths, I’d say Discovery was worth the time, if for no other reason than to tie up previously loose ends and establish a launching pad for Pike’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
But adults only – it’s neither the relatively more innocent nor mostly the example to be followed, as was the Star Trek of our youth. Even so, it still manages to point us to the stars.
Journey by a son in search of his father, set in space.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Older teens minimum for some language but mostly scenes of violence and the resulting dangers one might expect in tackling hard space. There is no sexual content.
Ad Astra (meaning “to the stars”) directed by James Gray, one of the writers, is a very interesting movie but not about what you might think. Ad Astra could have taken place as a western, underwater, in a haunted abandoned funhouse, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, in any normal day of a big city, or climbing a mountain. The writers James Gray and Ethan Gross chose to place this well told story in space and it is as good a backdrop as any of the others would have been. Combining allegory with pragmatic and brutal realism, Ad Astra plays out more like the Greek epic of discovery, The Odyssey or the Christian parable Pilgrim’s Progress, than a conventional science fiction story. Gray, writer/director, himself has compared his story to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
SPOILERS – BUT MINOR AND OBLIQUELY AS I CAN
The story is about Roy McBride, a top-flight astronaut, played by Brad Pitt (most recently in the wonderful role of a protective stuntman in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), whose father, Clifford, disappeared 16 years before. Roy’s father played by Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive, Captain America) is a brilliant scientist who went in search of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, then fell off the radar after leaving Saturn.
A series of catastrophic electronic storms have recently begun to devastate Earth. The Surges, as they are referred to, seem to be emanating from Neptune, and are suspected to be linked to Clifford’s disappearance. Roy is sent out to investigate with his father’s old partner, Thomas Pruitt, played by acting veteran Donald Sutherland.
As an aside, I am a big fan of Donald Sutherland. Sutherland’s career dates back almost six decades. Playing opposite the likes of Robert Duvall, Helen Mirren, Orson Welles, Gene Wilder, and Julie Christie, his career includes an incredibly eclectic collection of almost two hundred entries, ranging from comic to horror to personal drama. His resume includes everything from classics like Hamlet and Pride and Prejudice, to monster movies like the bad Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and the brilliant Invasion of the Body Snatchers, military black comedies like M.A.S.H. and Kelly’s Heroes, deeply emotional personal dramas like Ordinary People, the modern dystopian franchise The Hunger Games, screwball comedies like Start The Revolution Without Me, straight war movies like The Dirty Dozen and Eye of The Needle, and avant garde suspense like Don’t Look Now – the list goes on and on, and it was a pleasure to see him again even in a small character part.
Rounding out the cast is Ruth Negga (the prickly – in more ways than one – antagonist in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Helen Santos, an ally who appears, like a messenger from a Greek myth, to provide Roy information he needs to urge him along his quest. Another character who hands Roy along like a baton is Colonel Levant played by Sean Blakemore. Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings, Armageddon – so not Tyler’s first rodeo as a character enamored of a space cowboy) is Eve (to Roy’s Adam? – perhaps representing all mankind and their errors) the girl Roy leaves behind as Roy seems compelled as a lemming, without his father’s guidance, to repeat his father’s mistakes.
However, Ad Astra is not really about the search for Roy’s father, but ultimately an insightful, honest and frank inner journey undertaken by Roy to conquer the demons left behind by Clifford’s abandonment of Roy’s family.
Modern culture tries to expunge the need for a father in the home. Ad Astra highlights, at least in part, the fallacy of this destructive philosophy.
The tone of the film reminds me of, and owes a lot to, Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking but ethereally distant 2001: A Space Odyssey, which created a mythology about mankind’s leaps of progress. In contrast, Ad Astra is relatable, in that it is told from the intimate point of view of one man’s personal evolution. The pace of Ad Astra is very slow and deliberate, arguably even sometimes dull. But such adagio of movement is necessary for the contemplatively atmosphere necessary for this pensive tale.
The events that transpire during the course of the film are anything but boring. The theme of obstacles structure the story and manifest in every way you can imagine: verbal, bureaucratic, intentionally hostile, the indifference of nature, clandestine, emotional, instinctive brutality, and the simple fact of the mind-numbingly immense distances required to complete Roy’s journey.
The cinematography is magnificent. The depiction of the outer planets is stunning and awe-inspiring and brilliantly conveys the overwhelming majestic size of space itself, underscoring the enormity of the pilgrimage that Roy undertakes.
And pilgrimage Roy’s trip truly is. A pilgrimage of discovery. The pilgrim nature of Roy’s quest is underscored by the occasional but respectful and deliberate references to traditional Christian theology and belief. The spiritual nature of Roy’s expedition is also demonstrated by the way the writers strip Roy, piece by piece, of his armor plating – literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally – until he must confront his destiny as any questing knight must – face to face and alone. Roy’s progress is cleverly documented by way of periodic psychological tests he must take and pass in order to continue his journey. This serves as both a practical plot device as well as a metaphysical manifestation of Roy’s inner progress.
The music by Max Richter is both triumphal and eerily beautiful, contributing to the contemplative feel of this mystery.
Ad Astra is not for everyone. It’s not properly a science fiction story, though it is set in a pragmatic future vision of human-conquering space. But it is far more violent than the average audience for a movie which primarily deals with inner analysis.
So go see Ad Astra if you are of the right age and want to see a thoughtful, meditative but dangerous odyssey. But go without any preconceived notions, for it is not the kind of science fiction movie you might expect, but approach it as you might a friend mulling over a retreat inspired epiphany which he wants to share.
The recent Dr. Who shows have been FAR better than the pilot and rely on puzzles, history, and most importantly, in TheTsurangaConundrum, features — a pro-life message.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
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I was not wrong. The first of the new DoctorWho's was terrible. Click HERE to see why. However, the stories immediately began improving and I had already intended to write a revised blog. But episode 5, The Tsuranga Conundrum, put me over the top and inspired me to get it done.
Let me first say a little bit about the other improved episodes. Rosa, much like TOS StarTrek's "City on the Edge of Forever", where one person's decision changes the course of history, revolves around whether or not Rosa Parks will refuse to stand for a white person on a bus in the 60s. Her act of civil disobedience, striking a blow for the dignity of every human, sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The antagonist for the show was a fellow time traveler who wished to interrupt this key event. The Doctor and company were there to protect the time line. Rosa was a lovely story and the theme harkened back to Doctor Who's original 1963 intent of being a time-traveling historian and scientist.
The other shows highlighted the female Doctor Who's natural strengths of intellect and puzzle-solving. As a woman, she does not have the upper body strength to physically handle altercations. The other doctors, aside from Christopher Eccleston, though of "academic" builds, were still far stronger physically than this one could be. So her strength lies in her being, as David Tennant put it often, "clever". And this comes off very well again in this story.
While her companions are still not especially noteworthy, you kind of get used to them, and they have the virtues of neither being bossy nor abrasive as previous companions have been. Neither is there some long game arc with them as the linchpin to the mysteries of the universe, which is pretty refreshing. So the shows have definitely improved.
But the most recent Dr. Who episode was the icing on the cake and deserves special commendation. Doctor Who has always been pretty pro-life, much like Star Trek was pro-life. The value of sentient life was recognized, regardless of how they looked. And there was respect for life and Creation in general, (even though there was only rarely a reference to a Creator). And Doctor Who is very much in the same vein. Enemies' lives are respected, valued and protected with as much alacrity as friends' lives. Character arcs are often about redemption, and rarely does the concept of revenge in any form rear its head.
Acknowledgement of life's importance in all forms is an understood thread that weaves itself though both shows. But only once before this most recent Dr Who show have I seen the pro-life position so clearly and plainly stated as it was in "The Child," from Star Trek the Next Generation.In "The Child" Deanna Troi finds herself pregnant from an unknown entity. The consensus from the rest of the command crew was extreme caution and Worf, the Klingon security officer, even recommended abortion of the "fetus". But Deanna, not even knowing how she got pregnant, not knowing what was the intent of the entity who, frankly, raped her, flatly stated to her captain: "Do whatever you feel is necesssary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this, I'm going to have this baby". Not fetus, not product of conception, but "baby". The only issue to Deanna was protection of the child that she carried and an acknowledgement that it was indeed a baby.
DR WHO SPOILERS
I am so very pleased to commend this new Doctor Who, and obviously the writer, Chris Chibnall, for making the same clear pro-life statement. In episode 5, "The Tsuranga Conundrum", the premise is that The Doctor and her companions are trapped on a hospital ship without her TARDIS. Their literal deus ex machina is temporarily out of reach on a planet several days travel away. The main storyline revolves around an attack on the hospital ship by a new mysterious alien, the Pting. But that is not really relevant to the point of this blog, so I will let you enjoy that part on your own.
Their subplot, partially intended for comedy, is really the most important part of the story. Yoss is a young unmarried man, in the last stages of pregnancy. Now bear with me. Though the young man looks human, he is a different species and this IS a science fiction show. When asked how he knows the child will be a boy, he responds matter-of-factly: "Boys give birth to boys and girls give birth to girls. That's how it is." So – yeah – alien. Somehow this struck me as especially funny, as I am sure the writer intended. When two of The Doctor's companions, understandably confused, ask him how this could have happened, meaning – how could he, a man, become pregnant?!!! the scared new dad misunderstands and explains that it was the result of an ill-thought out one night stand.
Here is where the pro-life begins. There was never any mention of Yoss considering abortion even though he makes clear that pregnancy was the LAST thng he wanted at this time in his life and that he feels woefully underprepared to be a parent. In addition, the writer, through Yoss, goes out of his way to show the companions what his unborn baby looks like in a series of 3D ultrasound images. There was no plot purpose to this slide show, but it made a brilliant point and, I thought was the highlight of the episode. His species' gestation takes only 5 days, therefore the pictures he shows are a succession of developmental shots only a few hours after conception, then after the first day, the second day, third, and fourth, all of which show dramatic gestation of a species that looks just like a normal human child. The last picture of his unborn baby, taken three hours earlier, shows a full-term, perfectly beautiful, baby boy to the awe and delight of the attending companions.
I thought this masterfully done. Whether the writer intended to or not, he makes it clear, even to the most uninitiated, that it takes no time at all to get from "conception" to "baby". And giving this species a five day gestation brings that thought home in a very condensed way.
There are some predictable but still funny moments of two squeamish human men in a delivery room assisting with the C-section birth of a baby. But all the concepts are treated tactfully, so not to worry. The rest of the subplot is cute as well and involves his decision whether or not to keep his baby or give him up for adoption.
And there's a bit of lagniappe. Usually Doctor Who, and even my own beloved Star Trek, avoid religion at best and take sly jabs at it at worst. But in this Doctor Who, during the funeral for one of the guest characters, prayers are requested from saints! While, unfortunately, no mention of God was there, reference to saints, a distinctly Catholic spiritual concept, was a delightful and blessed breath of fresh air.
As I have not been shy of doing in the past, I have re-evaluated the show. I hereby backtrack on my previous overall negative impression of the new female Doctor Who. While I continue to maintain that the first was poorly done, it did not put her best foot forward. The steep incline of improvement has been quite a pleasant surprise.
So, I recommend for all of you Doctor Who fans who have not tuned in yet, to give Miss Whitaker's Doctor Who a try. Based upon shows 2 through 5 she deserves another chance.
And bravo to our new MISS Doctor Who for her profoundly pro-life message. I will be tuning in again.
AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ANT-MAN AND THE WASP REVIEW
Flawed selfish characters in a plot full of holes, but even faulty Marvel hero films are fun. If you do go – STAY FOR TWO IMPORTANT END CREDIT SCENES!
WHO SHOULD GO:
I’d advise parental discretion here. There is a lot to commend it as a fun action-adventure. But while Ant-Man is altruistic and focused on his family, the Pyms are selfish and unconcerned about the damage they do to others. And there is a sprinkling of mild “cuss” words as well as one very inappropriate strong profanity, especially for a child’s film, uttered by Hank in a moment of stress.
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Before I start my review, let me just say that I LIKED Ant-Man and The Wasp. The story and characters are very flawed, but like the oddly cut, and hard to place piece in a jigsaw puzzle, it fits into its own little niche.
TRIED NOT TO SPOIL BUT SOME REFERENCES INEVITABLY IMPLY THINGS SO HEREBY BE FOREWARNED
The Pyms are the singularly most flawed enhanced individuals in the Marvel Universe. I don’t call them “heroes” because during the course of the entire movie they don’t do one heroic thing. Lang and his ex-cons are another story, as they risk their lives, livelihood and freedom to help the Pyms. But outside of Loki and pretrained Dr. Strange, the Pyms are the most selfish “good guys” we’ve met. Strange reforms and Loki is at least witty and has spectacular style.
Even Thanos THINKS what he’s trying to do is for the good of the Universe and is willing to make personal sacrifices for others – no matter how colossally and tragically misguided Thanos’ intentions are.
And DEADPOOL! While, admittedly, Deadpool has an agenda of vengeance, his goal is to take out bad guys, which is to the benefit of innocents everywhere, AND he is willing to sacrifice his otherwise potentially immortal life for a kid he hardly knows. When Deadpool is a better moral example than the Pyms, you know the Pyms have issues.
Here’s another way to look at it.
Whether Ant-Man AKA Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the Wasp AKA Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly), and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are good guys or bad guys kind of depends upon whether or not their universe is full of NPC’s. For those of us not video gamers, an NPC is a non-player character, a critter or human which is really just part of the landscape serving as a decoration, target, or information access. Their deaths are irrelevant to the game’s outcome.
The premise of Ant-Man and The Wasp concerns the Pyms who are trying to retrieve Janet Pym, (Michelle Pfeiffer), the wife of Hank and mother of Hope, from the quantum realm in which she was lost three decades before during a mission to disarm a nuclear weapon.
To accomplish this they kidnap Scott from his house arrest 3 days before he will have served his full term, which sentence resulted from his participation in the events of Captain America: Civil War. This kidnapping puts Scott at risk of getting him thrown in jail for the next 20 years and missing his daughter’s entire youth. During the course of the movie the Pyms shrink and enlarge everything from cars to buildings to Pez dispensers and humans. In the real world many of these activities, especially when accomplished during car chases on busy highways and in populous areas, would have resulted, inevitably, in the collateral deaths of many bystanders.
All this in order to rescue one adult human, who, though lost performing a heroic act, volunteered knowing exactly what would happen to her. While their goal is admirable, the lengths to which they go are not. I understand WHY they do what they do but it does not justify their actions.
There is a Biblical truism which warns that no goal, no matter how good, can be justified with even a single evil act. While granting that rule must be temporized with common sense, someone committing a small sin to further the noblest goal would still have to take responsibility for their actions. And there is no doubt that wrecking havoc on an entire city and putting hundreds, if not thousands, of other people’s lives in danger for the benefit of a single person, is neither a small sin nor an admirable plan.
In addition, Hope Pym is another in a growing list of tiresome, condescending, feminist, “I can do anything better than you can,” chip-on-their-shoulder, self-absorbed, female characters which have most notably reared their ugly heads in the Star Wars franchise, as well as movies like Oceans 8. (Click on the names to access those reviews.)
All that being said Ant-Man and The Wasp is, kind of obviously even from the title, a fantasy science fiction. If we can keep that in mind, for the sake of this review, and the fantasy in which such stories live, let us presume that at least no innocent person, by some miracle, was harmed during the course of the movie and that all property damage was duly compensated by the Pyms using some kind of techno gizmo.
If you think that’s absurd, then consider that we are discussing a movie wherein the characters can shrink themselves down to quantum level size and enlarge themselves to the height of tall buildings in a moment and with no permanent ill-effects.
I can live with that.
Moving forward from there, I can safely say that Ant-Man and The Wasp is a very fun movie. It is a family-friendly action adventure with a couple of provisos. Scott Lang and his crew of lovably goofy but well intentioned fellow ex-cons, Luis (Michael Pena), Kurt (David Dastmelchian), and Dave (Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. aka T.I. shortened and altered into initials from the nickname “Tip” which his grandfather gave him), appropriately enough, run a security company. Who better would know how to stop a thief than another thief? They risk their new business to help the Pyms.
The dialogue is often tongue and cheek, such as when cliche comments are taken literally and responded to in kind. An example is a prolonged and funny discussion between Luis and the villain Sonny (Walton Goggins) as to whether or not the torture drug they are about to administer to Luis should be properly referred to as truth serum and then the Shrek style Pinocchio recitation Sonny gets from Luis of irrelevancies in response to asking where Scott is.
Little is taken really seriously so I suppose the car chases and suddenly and constantly expanding and shrinking buildings and people shouldn’t be either.
The plot is interesting, especially as there are multiple sets of conflicting interests. The Pyms wish to save Janet. Scott wants to help the Pyms but stay out of jail. Sonny wants the Pym’s tech to sell. Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) needs the Pym tech to solve her chronic state of quantum flux inflicted on her as a child when her father’s experiment goes awry, an accident she blames on Hank Pym. Foster has his own agenda. The Fed, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), wants to catch SOMEbody — ANYbody!. And the ex-con friends are just simply agog to be involved with super hero “stuff”. Frankly, given all the contrasting interests involved, the ONLY thing that maintains Hank’s priority of use of the tech is the fact that he invented and owns the technology.
Everyone believes their cause justifiable but only Sonny is seen as the real bad guy . Hwever, since Scott, the Pyms and their friends are the ones through whose eyes we see the proceedings, they are the ones for whom we are supposed to root.So we are to ignore when bystanders are put at risk……………??
OK. I’m fine with that. This is, after all, a science fiction fantasy. I mean, come on, the guy’s riding an ant.
Violence is cartoonish and the language is pretty clean until Hank lets loose with at least one over the top profanity I could have done without in a child’s movie. For parental guidance I am quick to seek information from www.screenit.com. Membership is cheap and well worth it.
The rest is what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Superhero Movie, with lots of exciting special effects which worked really well with 3D by the way. I’m not normally a big 3D fan but the flying-fighting scenes were ratchted up at least a half a notch by the glasses. The flashbacks featuring a younger Michelle Pfeiffer were the best I’ve ever seen, though Douglas suffered from the typical overly smoothed face and peculiar facial expressions common to this cinematographic magic trick. I think it is something about the mouth that just doesn’t look right most of the time. I’m not singling out Douglas. I am aware of his medical issues and that is not the problem because this is universal to any time older actors are “youthened” by CGI.
Also, Pfieffer’s character is the point of one of the biggest plot holes – how did she survive 30 years in a hostile environment with zero resources? Food? Water? Bathroom? She aged and referenced being aware of the passage of 30 years time. She didn’t even have a pack of cards so even if she didn’t have to eat or drink, how did she manage not to go insane? This is completely glossed over without mention and I’ve found no precedent for answers even from comic book geeks on the net.
Another one that bugged (sorry about the pun) me was the physics which operated conveniently to the plot. On the one hand, being shrunk seems to afford some survivability not usually possible – like falls and impacts which would destroy a normal unshrunk human. This would imply a certain enhanced density. Granted, the suit they wear must help a lot but does not account for every instance – such as when their helmets are off. If the humans had been tiny but undense they could have been swatted like fairies or butterflies. Instead they carry an enormous amount of momentum and punch in fights. This implies the matter is all there but concentrated. On the other hand, Hank can pick up an entire shrunken building and people carry it around as though it was made of styrofoam. Even a scale model of that building would have been heavier than presented had it been made of the same unconcentrated steel girder and concrete materials, much less how many thousands of tons it should weight even in its shrunken but dense state. So which is it guys?
On the positive side, the jokes are funny, Scott doing his best as a father was refreshing, and I enjoyed the lighter tone of the movie, especially since the previous one I saw was Infinity Wars. However, on that note, and without giving any spoilers — hold onto your seat. Let’s just say it is important to sit through all of the credits and that the FIVE screenwriters (talk about a story written by committee!): Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd (the Ant-Man, himself), Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, as well as director, Peyton Reed, were definitely aware of the aforementioned movie.
In short, without a score card, it is difficult to tell whether the Pyms or Sonny is the “bad guy” team. The Pyms’ goals are exclusively personally, relatively trivial in the grand scheme considering what they are willing to do to others, ignore the desperate needs of others, like Ava, casually put the safety and security of Lang’s family and friends at risk by yanking Scott out of his house arrest a mere three days before he will be free, dismissively ignore Hank’s possible culpability in Ava’s condition, and put thousands of innocent bystanders in mortal danger.
It is not their best Marvel movie, nor does it try to be but it does hold its own and finds its place in the Marvel universe. I especially enjoyed the addition of Michelle Pfeiffer as new blood into the mix and the return of Scott’s motley crue of comic convicts led by Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty), who is always a pleasure, especially when he is telling one if his overly convoluted stories.
So, you older geeks (like me) – go see Ant-Man and the Wasp, if for no other reason than to put another puzzle piece into the overall picture that is the Marvel Universe, but I’d see it before deciding whether or not to bring impressionable kids.
FINALLY, a return to the classic style and pacing of the original family friendly clean agenda free (mostly) Star Wars, in the origin story of the one and only Han Solo.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Pretty much anyone. Not as violent as Rogue One and less cleavage than Carrie Fisher's gold metal bikini in Return of the Jedi.
WARNING: CONTAINS A FEW CRUCIAL SPOILERS TO OTHER STAR WARS MOVIES.
When I was a kid I used to do jigsaw puzzles with my Dad. 300 piece, 500. I think the biggest one we ever did together was a 1,500 piece puzzle of the French Quarter at Night. Similar to this one.
No one piece stands out, except as you are fitting it into the bigger picture. Originally made from wood in 1760 and cut into pieces by a jig-saw, most jigsaw puzzles are now made of cardboard, but the fascination remains. Each piece has its own unique "personality" and has only one place where it will go to complete a bigger overall picture. While you are searching for just that right spot, that one piece becomes very important and you know, briefly, every detail of its shape – every tab and blank, edge and curve fitting specifically into one part of the tesselation that is a completed jigsaw puzzle. But then, when you figure out where it goes, its success is defined as how well it blends in with and disappears into the rest of the picture.
Solo reminds me of that – appropriate for such a movie to be named for a single, unpaired, individual – Solo is as unique in shape but as uniform in texture and picture as all the other Star Wars movies, so like a unique puzzle piece stands alone yet fits in beautifully to the overall picture. This is not a bad thing.
The point I’m making is that Solo fills an empty spot in the larger overall painting that is the Star Wars Universe. In the original films, Star Wars – A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – there was a LOT of missing back story to Han that worked as a mystery then, but over time became niggling points for which people would enjoy answers. What was this card game from which Solo won the Falcon "fair and square" from Lando? How did Solo and Chewy meet? Where did Han come from? How did he acquire the skills he so effortlessly displayed as a smuggler? There was no mention of a gang or family business. No mentor or sponsor. Were there any women in his life before Leia? Why does Chewy stay with and take orders from this annoying, snarky, only marginally successful representative of a significantly physically weaker race? Were there any defining watershed moments in his past which would help shape this surprisingly complex character, who was part scoundrel with a soft heart and part hero with a large Machiavellian streak? Why are Lando and I the only creatures in the Universe that think Solo’s first name should be pronounced with a short vowel – Han – like hand or fan? And where did he learn to speak —- Wookie? Well – MOST of these questions are artfully answered, at least in part by the new Star Wars installment – Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Personally, I find the timeline for the release of the Star Wars movies very convoluted. We start with Star Wars, originally released as a stand alone movie in 1977 but then renamed Star Wars – A New Hope IV in 1981 when they started making the sequels. The SECOND Star Wars movie made, Empire Strikes Back was numbered V and Return of the Jedi – really the third born, was numbered VI. THEN they made Phantom Menace and the sequels to IT 16 years after the Return of the Jedi but were subsequently numbered I, II and III. THEN THEN Force Awakens and Last Jedi were made in 2015 and 2017 but they REALLY belong after Return of the Jedi which was released in 1983. But THEN THEN THEN Rogue One’sstory belongs squeezed between number III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and IV – A New Hope which was released in 1977, which REALLY should force a renumbering AGAIN if it weren’t for the possibility that the Star Wars fans might storm Lucasfilms and…..wait……that changed too. Disney bought them out.
Where does that leave Solo’s timeline you might ask? Crammed between Revenge of the Sith (III) and Rogue One, leaving LOTS of time BETWEEN the timelines of Solo and Rogue One to fill in more of Han’s life adventures before he basically…catches up to himself.
Alden Ehrenreich (pronounced ALL-DEN ERIN-RIKE – I know I got THAT correct as I listened for it on an interview with the actor!) is wonderful as the young Han Solo. A terrific actor in general he made quite an impression in the Cohen Brothers homage to 1950's movie genres, Hail Caeser, as an endearing, stalwart, naive Audie Murphy-type character. Ehrenreich has JUST the right twinkle in his eye, spring in his steps, mischief in his manner, unrelieved optimism in his own abilities, confidence in his mannerisms and slightly arrogant attitude that make him SO familiar to the Han Solo we grew up with. Yet this Solo is neither an imitation nor a caricature. Ehrenreich makes Solo his own but is so convincing that, like a reigning dowager at a family reunion you would have known who this young man belonged to just by watching him for 30 seconds.
Donald Glover (the scientist who figures out how to get The Martian home) plays a young brash Lando with the expected pinache and verve.
Peter Mayhew – all 7 foot 3 of him – now retired living in Texas, was the original Chewbacca. This mantle, or should I say "walking carpet," is now worn by Joonas Suotomo, a 6 foot 11 Finnish basketball player.
Emilia Clarke (Game of Throne’sDragon Lady and the newest incarnation of Sarah Conner from the Terminator series installment Genisys) introduces a new ingredient into Solo’s early life – Qi’ra, a fellow street rat from his home world of Corellia.
Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Glass Castle(see my blog)and 2012) brings his own unique but familiar style to the character of ringleader Beckett. Charismatic as always, Harrelson’s Beckett runs a troupe of highly specialized thieves who takes Han on in the middle of a job.
Thandie Newton (2012, Crash, HBO's Westworld series, Mission Impossible II) plays Val, a member of Beckett’s gang. As a side note I thought it was only me who kept confusing her with Star Trek’snew Uhura and Guardians of the Galaxy’sGamora –
Zoe Saldana. For half the movie I was thinking: WOW Zoe is in EVERYTHING sci fi! I felt stupid when I discovered my mistake in the credits until I found these pictures and anecdotes about how other fellow actors confused them as well.
I mean, to be fair, they could stunt double for each other.
L3-37 – voice by Phoebe Waller-Bridge – is really the only sour note in the production. Intended, I suspect, to be their female version of C3PO, she is such an over-the-top feminist robot that she would have been better suited to an animated Shrek caricature or a replacement for Joan Rivers’ Dot Matrix in a Spaceballs sequel. So grinding was she that whenever she was on screen I couldn’t wait for her to be off. At least she makes Jar Jar Binks seem more appealing.
Finally, Paul Bettany plays Dryden Vos, a guy as bad as his Avenger’s Vision is Thor-hammer good. Bettany is fun to watch as he chews the scenary with calculated menace and the evil abandon required of any good Bond super-villain or Star Wars Hutt-style baddie.
Overall, I really enjoyed Solo. It’s completely family friendly. There is a bit of violence but no more than in the original Star Wars and less "cleavage" than in Fisher’s gold bikini in Return of the Jedi. The plot fills in a lots of gaps – like spackling over the holes in a well worn, well loved bedroom wall … or like one of the missing pieces of a puzzle, making it a very satisfying experience. Unlike the Last Jedi, which kind of trashed the continuity character of Luke, or the lame way they dispatched Han in Force Awakens, this story feels as Star Wars-ian as the original. It’s exciting, has lots of space races, neat aliens, is often funny and is basically a "throw back" in the BEST possible way, to the very first Star Wars – the foundational New Hope, which, personally gives ME hope that the Star Wars franchise might FINALLY be back on the right track..
Peter Capaldi’s exit from the Dr Who Universe is, honestly, a weakish episode. Twice Upon a Time, will be extremely confusing for the "uninitiated" BUT does have lovely resolutions for the conundrum involving the Captain and the extra twists for both the Captain and the Doctor’s regenerations.
The first part of this blog is for those not familiar with Dr Who. The second contains SPOILERS for Twice Upon a Time.
My husband, a friend and I all went to go see the latest Doctor Who Christmas special shown as a Fathom event at our local theater. The enthusiasm with which our friend accepted the invite led me to believe he was a fan. I sat and saved seats as my husband waited for our friend in the lobby. But as my husband sat down on one side of me and my friend on the other and the credits began to herald the beginning of the show, my husband leaned over and said our friend had never seen a Doctor Who episode before. Horrified I turned to our friend and was struck speechless with the idea of trying to condense 50 years of Doctor Who into two or three sentences.
To make matters worse it was not a standalone show as some are, but was a complex story heavily dependent upon knowledge of the background history.
The premise of Twice Upon a Time is that Peter Capaldi, 12th doctor, on the verge of regenerating to the 13th, meets himself just before his FIRST regeneration. The original doctor was played by William Hartnell who passed away long ago and is currently played by David Bradley (who was most famously known as the castle caretaker Filtch in the Harry Potter series). In the process of coming to terms with their own version of mortality, the Doctors are both reluctant to regenerate. This hesitation causes a temporal fracture and time to freeze in place resulting in a very puzzled British Captain (Mark Gatiss) being thrown out of his own time line just as he is about to be killed in a confrontation with a German during World War I. The three, the two versions of The Doctor and the beleaguered Captain, end up stranded together in a – literally – frozen landscape.
Both Doctors must find the resolve to move on as well as face the reality of having to return a very likeable and honorable human to his moment of death.
It occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with Dr Who. Amazing but true. So I offer a dozen points to get you started.
1. There are two distinct versions of Doctor Who: the original and the reboot.
The original Doctor Who started life in 1963 as the British version of Mr. Wizard, but who travels time and space to explore and teach. The special effects were cheesier than the original Star Trek. Dr Who was rebooted in 2005 with a bigger budget, better effects, more natural acting and a less self-conscious sense of humor.
2. When the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, started having trouble remembering his lines due to age and illness, someone came up with the most brilliant marketing device since product placement. When an actor can’t or doesn’t want to continue they have Dr Who become mortally ill or injured and instead of dying, regenerate into an entirely different body. Same memories but different personality. This periodically reboots and updates the entire show.
3. A WARNING: Unlike the original show the reboot occasionally gets Captain Planet on you, advocating a certain environmental activism or even occasionally includes lifestyles of some of its side characters completely inappropriate to a show which was originally targeted to a younger audience.
4. There are a few terms you should know:
Time Lord – the name of the species of which the Doctor is a member.
TARDIS – Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is essentially a sentient time and space ship which can move to any time – past, present, or future- and any place in space and sometimes even outside of the universe. It masquerades as a blue British 1960s telephone box and is both the Doctor’s vehicle and companion.
Sonic screwdriver – it’s a gizmo which sometimes acts as a "Deus ex Machina" to get him out of trouble – opening unopenable doors, emitting high shrieks which deter monsters, deactivating bombs, etc.
5. The doctor is a kind of combination Superman, MacGyver (the government agent who could make any needed device while on assignment out of the most mundane items) and Bill Nye the Science Guy – only Doctor Who needs gizmos to have the abilities that Superman was born with.
6. Dr Who travels the universe landing in places of crisis to fix whatever is wrong. This is likely why he is often referred to as The Doctor. He does his best to heal people, situations and places. While he's not always successful he is brave, kind, resolute, occasionally condescending, often snarky, generous, willing to self sacrifice unto death for even strangers, and always always clever.
7. Each of the doctors has a token expression and/or dress item. For example Peter Davison’s Dr Who inexplicably liked to wear a stalk of celery on his jacket lapel. Tom Baker was known for his big floppy hat and scarf. Christopher Eccleston, the first of the reboot doctors, wore a leather jacket and liked to say "fantastic". David Tennant wore a duster and was fond of the expression allons-y. Matt Smith’s Doctor thought bow ties were "cool" and exclaimed Geronimo frequently. Peter Capaldi experimented with an electric guitar, dressed like an old fashioned magician and frequently made fun of his own bushy eyebrows.
8. The doctor travels with companions who come and go. They're almost always completely platonic. There are some especially notable companions:
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – the only military man Doctor Who ever fully respected, called a friend, or would salute.
Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the favorite companion of the reboot.
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Slaydon) was the favorite companion of the original series. The actress as well as the character made an appearance for one last show in the reboot during Tennant’s tenure not long before she passed away of cancer.
River Song (Alex Kingston) was Dr Who’s wife, his intimate and lived backwards – he met her at the end of her life and she met him chronologically near the end of her own. A bit confusing but when you consider they are BOTH time travelers…….
9. Does not like and often refuses to use a gun – but when he does it is usually pretty dramatic. He is or tries to be a pacifist although he is sometimes also known as the War Doctor and a destroyer of worlds. He tries to be peaceful because he knows of what he is capable. This helps make him an extremely interesting and complex character to follow
10. He travels through time and space to right wrongs, help people, mend broken things, resolve disputes, save lives, and solve puzzles. It’s tough to tell if he navigates the TARDIS and lucks into problems along the way or if the TARDIS guides him to where she thinks he will do the most good.
11. The doctor has had a number of enemies. A few tend to repeat. The two most notable are the Daleks and the Cybermen. Each in their own way were originally human-like but managed to cut themselves off from their own Humanity in an effort to achieve an inhuman kind of perfection
12. His home planet is Gallifrey and is… Missing
SPOILERS FOR TWICE UPON A TIME
While I very much liked the resolution for the Captain and the twist in the end revealing of whom he was the grandfather, the build up had holes. For one thing, if Bill is to return as one of the last people to whom this Dr Who says goodbye, the only reason I can think would entitle her to this special place of honor is that she was one of the companions who died in his service. However, so did Clara – who they also brought back in a very quick cameo – and both Ponds, and, to be fair, so is Adric from Peter Davison’s 5th doctor, and so was River Song – in my book the best companion – the only companion who was the Doctor’s equal, not to mention his wife. I sorely missed seeing River in this show, especially given Capaldi was shown in The Husbands of River Song, to be the last version she knew.
The template for the glass woman was poorly chosen. She looked so much like Bill that I thought that was going to be the big reveal – that somehow Bill was now living in the future.
When they united Tennant, and Smith’s Dr Whos with John Hurt’s in The Day of the Doctor as The War Doctor they all had good chemistry – riffing off of each others eccentricities with the chronologically "younger" Hurt being the more mature and showing up the child-like mannerisms of the other two. The three were funny and worked well together.
In this recent Twice Upon a Time, while I thought David Bradley did a remarkably good job of bringing William Hartnell’s first Dr Who to life, when he and Capaldi were on screen together it was as though they were on two different sound stages. There was no chemistry between them. The spoke around, about and at each other, but never really to each other. There was no humor and no real conversation. We never get to find out what either thinks of the other. Not a flaw with the actors but, I think, with the script.
This all being said, "mediocre" Dr Who is much like "mediocre" Star Trek, or "so-so" fudge. It’s better than no Dr Who at all and often far better than much of what passed for "good" stuff elsewhere.
The only other major qualm I had about this episode was the apparently obligatory insistence on shoe horning in a reference to the lifestyle Bill leads which is totally inappropriate for what at its heart was intended to be a child’s show.
If you want to watch Dr Who by all means. But I would recommend you start with the Christopher Eccleston reboot in 2005 and work your way through in order.
FYI – Tennant is my favorite but Smith has some brilliant ones.
Twice Upon a Time requires some knowledge of Dr Who or much of what is shown will be lost on you.
The best of the reboot Dr Who "stand alones," or at least ones which could be watched with a minimal knowledge of the show and characters, were:
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
So until the next Fathom special Dr Who event – it was FANTASTIC! GERONIMO! and ALLONS-Y!
Have you ever gone into your parents’ attic, rummaged around and found an old favorite toy – a Teddy bear, a plastic sword, a doll house or an old board game? Suddenly you are flooded with the warm fuzzy nostalgia of childhood and the uncomplicated excitement of an anticipated adventure with like minded companions.
In a slightly different scenario, but one which will tie in to the previous analogy, have you ever been to a foreign country which had a McDonald’s? Amidst all of the unfamiliar occasionally unidentifiable store front names, the Golden Arches stands out like a beacon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go – if there is a McDonald’s, even with a variety of specials particular to the indigenous population, you will still be able to get the same Big Mac in Lesieux, France that you could get in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Sitting in a dark theater as the simple words “A long ago time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen in deliberate graphic print quality circa 1977 followed by the signature trumpet Star Wars fanfare I couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Now 58, when Star Wars first came out I was 18 years old. As I have repeated in my own cautionary refrain many times to my children – the only reason an 18 year old is now considered a legal adult is because of the Vietnam War. In short, when Star Wars premiered I was still a child.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, arrived on the screen 40 years 6 months and 20 days after the premiere of Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope much to the confusion of many inasmuch as there was no Episode 1, 2 or 3 for many years to come) but who’s counting, right?
During that time we have watched Luke and Leia be born, grow up, and grow old. Many of us have grown up and grown older right along with them.
How does this all tie in? Simply. Star Wars doesn’t change.Despite the moderate improvements in special effects the world of Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and Darth Vader, Emperor Pallapatine and the Cantina on Tatooine is the same now as it was when we were all much much younger. A few of the trimmings might be tweaked but it’s still the same Star Wars I came to love fresh out of high school.
Like the dusty rediscovered Teddy Bear or the Big Mac purchased in Tokyo, the opening scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are familiar territory to those of us who have tread these paths for 40 plus years of 7 movies, dozens of Halloween Vader masks, uncountable action figures, Youtube analyses, spoofs, comic books, Yoda backpacks, Millenium Falcon bed sheets, fanzines, shipping theories and both canon and non-canon books. This is not strictly speaking a negative thing. Nor is it a criticism, any more than someone who is fond of vanilla ice cream might note that there is a gallon or two of Blue Belle in the freezer.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks very little new ground, does not further the conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force much, or do more than mildly massage the dynamics of the characters we have come to know and love. Even those coming later to the party like Rey (Daisy “Murder on the Orient Express” Ridley), Finn (John Boyega reprising his role from The Force Awakens) and Poe (Oscar Isaac – the only really good thing in Suburbicon) fall into step with their predecessors – Luke, Leia and Han.
MAJOR SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
The entire gang is here minus the significantly notable (and I continue the debate with my kids as to whether or no it was entirely unnecessary) exception of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Mark Hamill is the aging Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels is C3PO, Frank Oz voices Yoda, and Peter Mayhew continues as Chewbacca. Princess Leia, too, has a major role to play, even though, ironically, the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, has in fact, actually passed away. (Hail the bizarre technology of CGI which enhanced Ms. Fisher’s last screen moments into a fully fleshed out part.)
The premise of Last Jedi is that Rey, the street urchin who discovered her powerful Force sensitivity in the previous Force Awakens, tries to get an extremely reluctant, jaded and worn out Luke to rejoin the fight against the Empire. At the same time the last remnants of the rebel forces attempt to escape the pursuing clutches of the Imperial Fleet directed by Emperor Snoke (Andy Serkis) and lead by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), in a caricature of evil Nazi-like officer. Hux seems to have, through a kind of Peter Principle, risen through the ranks to the limits of his capabilities, probably because of the attrition resulting from the execution of previous failed commanders. This is a source of mild amusement to the audience.
Which brings us to the one singular added refreshing ingredient to this familiar but very welcome recipe – the sense of humor which has been incorporated into the characters. There has always been an element of comedy – mostly the droids banter and the snarky comments from Han. But for the most part the other characters were straight men. Now, with a certain seasoning, they have allowed characters like Luke to include a few one liners and humorous moments. It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy has set the Gold Standard of humor, converting the likes of the Thor franchise from an almost medieval melodramatic fraternal conflict to a sibling rivalry which occasionally plants tongue firmly in cheek and wisely no longer takes itself too seriously, throwing in moments which might otherwise be considered bloopers. Star Wars has reaped the benefits of this informant as well, levitating the mood in much needed relief from its darker more sinister moments.
All in all Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows there’s plenty of steam left in this railroad or should I say fluff in this Teddy bear.
In short Star Wars: The Last Jedi is………Star Wars. And I wouldn’t want them to change a thing.
My sister and I just finished binge watching both seasons of Stranger Things over the last week. And if you gentically spliced together: Alien, Dean Koontz and……….Pretty in Pink – you would end up with this show. NOT that Stranger Things is derivative. By no means. S.T. is one of the most creatively original shows I’ve seen since Fringe. But it is POPULATED by and decorated with homages to practically every blockbuster movie of the 1980's and the early '90's.
At turns Stranger Things is funny, charming, whimsical, nostalgic, terrifying, grotesque, suspenseful, intriguing, and as addictive as Hershey bars.
The premise is that in a small Indiana town a group of three just pre-pubescent boys – Will (Noah Scnapp) Byers, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) Henderson, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) Sinclair bike home from the house of the fourth member of their group Mike (Finn "It" Wolfhard) Wheeler, after a game of D&D (Dungeons and Dragons – role playing, interactive board game involving mages, wizards and demigorgons). This is the ‘80's when there was a reasonable assumption that children could make their way at night safely this way. Like any other night the smallest – Will – bikes a shortcut through the private property of a local research center. Unfortunately his timing is astronomically and cataclysmically poor as on this same night "something" gets out of the research center’s secret lab at the same time a little girl dressed in a lab gown with a shaved head and supernatural powers, Eleven (MillieBobby Brown), runs into the boys on their forbidden venture to help find their missing friend.
The show revolves around the meaning and consequences of Will’s disappearance.
Without giving any but the smallest of spoilers: one of the things that makes this STRANGER things so watchable is the characters. The kids act like kids – they speak with the rhythm natural to kids – blunt, with a short cut language specific to their group. They spearhead the acceptance of the dangers they face with an openness born of a creative mind. The adults have flaws and blind spots like any other humans but they are caring, attentive and good people.
For example the Sheriff, Jim (David Harbour) Hopper, is a burnt out boozer suffering from a crushing past tragedy but is always there to do his job with judgement, calm and fairness and is both incredibly and recklessly brave.
Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), grows from narcissistic jealous jerky boyfriend to the best and worst babysitter ever and becomes one of the group’s big brother figures.
The parents of the other kids are distracted in their own ways but involved and generous with their time and attention, providing for their kids with a loving home.
The teachers genuinely care and are interested in their students' welfare and generously take time to help them when they can, especially Mr. Clarke who is always providing much needed expositional information, though he is not "in the know".
Even many of the smaller characters have memorable scenes – like Murray (Brett Gelman) Bauman the alcoholic snarky cynical investigative reporter who can see right into the heart of people. On for about 5 minutes but I wouldn’t mind if he popped up again in season three.
As most of the characters come from the same small town and grew up together, went to the same school and know each other they have a shared history reflected in their interactions which pull you into the story with a three dimensional feel that makes you a part of their group, just as Eleven is included in the group of nerdy boys.
And homages abound. The tribute references of situations, character personality traits or habits, items, set ups and visuals reads like a list of every iconic and blockbuster movie of the ‘80's and early ‘90's: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Goonies, Poltergeist, Alien, Carrie, The Excorcist, Stand by Me, Firestarter, Jaws and……….Pretty in Pink. Bikes and hiding the unusual creature from your parents, empty creepy halls full of monsters and unseen terrors that yank people into the dark. Other dimensions and super powers. Pre-pubescent crushes and coming to manhood and responsibility teens.
The songs conjure up my early college days: "Heroes" as sung by Peter Gabriel, "I Melt With You" by Modern English, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash, "Hazy Shade of Winter" as sung by the Bangles, "Sunglasses at Night" – Corey Hart.
Even some of the actors themselves are nostalgia incarnate:
Winona (Heathers, Edward Scissor Hands and here she thought Beetlejuice was scary??!!) Ryder plays Joyce Byers, Will’s desperate mom and I thought her performance was painfully spot on. As a mother of six it was wrenching to watch her go from mild concern to terror fueled panic as she discovers her youngest child missing then MISSING.
Paul (Diner, Beverley Hills Cop I and II, Mad About You, Aliens) Reiser is Dr. Sam Owens the head of the research facility on season two who has murky motives.
Matthew (Full Metal Jacket, Birdy) Modine is Dr. Martin Brenner – pretty much…a mad scientist.
Sean (Rudy, Goonies, Toy Soldiers) Astin is Bob Newby, the Byers family friend.
Charles Heaton plays Will’s older brother Jonathan Byers, beaten down from having to shoulder the responsibility of the "father" figure in his abandoned home but is kind and gentle. While he does not have the historic pedigree connection to the ‘80's the older actors do, he looks so ridiculously much like a young Stephen King I thought it must have been one of the audition requirements.
Like a treasure hunt in a haunted house escape room, the writers have placed little scenes and moments lifted out of other movies and positioned like decorations all over the movie. One example and a very SMALL SPOILER: Paul Reiser appears in the second season and during one crucial moment watches a radar making a distinctive noise that I KNOW goosebumped the hair on every inch of him with some SERIOUS Deja Vu. There are secret labs with evil government henchmen, horrifying monsters, alternate universes and —– humor.
One of the biggest charms of the show is its unpredictability. The characters are funny – not like a comedy but in the way only people can be funny in their day to day decisions, mistakes and the way personalities bounce against each other with familiar interactions born of long acquaintance. The secretary who snatches a donut out of the hand of the Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to replace it with a carrot. The clueless but well meaning and harmless deputies who come to useless conclusions. Eleven’s favorite food. The nicknames even the adults have for each other (Hop, Bob the Brain). The extreme adorable nerdiness of the boys. Dozens of moments defuse this otherwise very suspenseful show in healthy ways to create the ebb and flow necessary for a successfully scary watch. Otherwise the tension gets too much and you will numb up.
The kids are wonderful and adorable. The adults lend a relatable genuineness to their roles, not minding looking ugly or awkward if the moment requires it. People often either are not completely what they appear to be or genuinely learn and grow from their extreme experiences to become better people. Willingness to self sacrifice in many ways, generosity, loyalty, family/friend bonds are generously demonstrated by all but the most unredeemably evil characters. These are good, decent and plain old nice people – both adults and children – from a small town banding together to face the extremity of bizarre with courage and grace under pressure.
The show has some bad language and tastefully referenced teenaged intimacy. Much of the violence takes place off screen but you do see some aftermath, the suspense is intense and there are graphic scenes of characters being psychologically experimented upon, especially Eleven.
Obviously we are talking mid teens and up. Younger kids should NOT watch this show unless you want them sleeping in your room with the lights on until they move to college. But for those of you with even moderately stout hearts this is a show well worth your time – it's smart, scary, and surprisingly warm of heart.
Never thought I'd say this but I have come to recommend (tentatively) a TV show by Seth (Ted, 50 Million Ways to Die in the West) MacFarlane. The Orville is a homage to the Star Trek Universe … but only for mature sensibilities. Soaked in mild adult humor it is a charming combination of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest with just a pinch of Saturday Night Live thrown in for a bit of spice. In the honored footsteps of Gene Roddenbury, MacFarlane uses the setting of a space ship in the future to intelligently examine sensitive cultural issues, but takes this trip with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Ours is a three generation science fiction family – Heinlein, Asimov, EE Doc Smith were read to me as bedtime stories by my Dad.
I introduced my kids to Star Trek. I have been a Star Trek fan my entire life. The first show came out when I was seven years old and I grew up watching the shows in syndication.
I accepted the fact that Star Trek went off the air after 3 years and was excited by the movies. I was ecstatic when Star Trek: Next Generation appeared and devastated when it was killed at the height of its popularity and in its prime because it became cheaper to syndicate the old shows than create new ones. None of the other Star Trek shows quite hit the bull's eye for me the way STNG did. And the last show to date, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended on the lamest of notes by killing off one of its main characters as a flashback told by an embarrassingly … out of shape Riker. While I enjoy the reboot of Star Trek it has no TV show to back its alternate universe up…. And it's a long time between movies. *sigh*
So when they said there was going to be a new Star Trek TV show – Star Trek: Discovery – no one anticipated its premiere more than me – or was more disappointed to find out it was to be held hostage by CBS's membership "service" – like I need to pay for another subscription on top of Amazon, Netflix, Pureflix and Youtube payments.
Then out of nowhere, like a Galaxy class ship to the rescue, appeared an unlikely contender –The Orville – brain child of Seth MacFarlane – positively infamous for his crude humor, liberal attitudes and atheism. Hesitant is a massive understatement to describe my feelings about this project. But the trailer was funny and desperate for anything even close to a Trek fix, I tuned in through Amazon. Shocklingly, I found it good. NOT for kids – this is not your or your father's Star Trek to be sure.
I've seen all four of the shows they have released so far and I've come to the conclusion that THIS is what was REALLY going on aboard all those impressive star ships while Kirk and company presented us with the sanitized version of the events.
And no, it isn't even really part of the Star Trek universe at all. But it follows so closely in those stellar footsteps that thinking of The Orville as Star Trek's little brother is inevitable.
While not part of the Trek universe, everything in The Orville is a Trek echo, but with a slightly different spin. In The Orville universe the ships are part of the Union (And every time MacFarlane, as Captain Ed Mercer, refers to Union ships, I can't help but wonder if they get overtime. LOL) The aliens are "new" but very familiar. The Orville's Moclus – an all burly-male single-gender planet whose main industry is weapons making
are very much the Orville's version of Trek's Klingons, only without women. And there's Isaac, from Kaylon-1 – an entire planet of artifical lifeforms whose Greek chorus objective view of the human race is obviously a nod to Trek Vulcans and Data. Then there is the caring but tough female chief medical officer, Dr. Penny Johnson Jerald (Claire Finn – Kassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine), counterpart to Trek's Dr. Crusher and Alara (Halston Sage) a tough female security officer like Trek's Yar.
One early sub-plot examined a mainstay topic of our favorite emotionless aliens – humor. Without giving any spoilers, let's just say that there is a more "no holds barred" to their…ahem…Enterprises. The humor is rougher and slightly bawdier but nothing you wouldn't hear in a day to day after hours conversation with close friends. They gossip, they gripe, they insult, they even occasionally threaten each other – and that's just on the bridge.
This is not the cream of the crop. Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) makes no bones about why Ed has been chosen to captain The Orville – because with a new crop of 3,000 new ships to be manned the fleet was spread thin…and Ed was available.
The crew of the Orville are the guys who do the heavy lifting while crews like the Enterprise in Star Trek go on diplomatic missions and save the universe.
The command crew drink sodas and beer and watch old TV show excerpts while on duty. The First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki mostly recently Bobbi in Agents of Shield) refers openly to the helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes – Mystery, Alaska and Crimson Tide) as an idiot – and he will agree. There is an amorphous amorous blob named Yaphit who crassly flirts with the ship's doctor. First Officer Grayson is also the Captain's ex-wife who cheated on him – an event which, while a source of great regret to both Grayson and Mercer, is the source of a lot of needling by and occasionally unfiltered amusement for the crew.
These are not the dress blues we're used to, but the cargo ship-construction crew. Though everything looks spit and polished, there is a realistic familiarity among these guys which strikes a more homespun note than the tunic tugging Picard. Don't get me wrong – I LOVE the proper Star Trek universe. But these guys just SAY the things we KNOW darned well Kirk or Picard or Scotty or Dr. Crusher or even Data were DYING to say but couldn't – like Captain Mercer to a bigoted and cruely rude Moclus: "Dude, you have been a colassal d*** all friggin' day. Shut the H*** up." It wasn't polite or proper etiquette for a STAR TREK captain, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to applaud and laugh when he said it.
And the storylines follow quintessential threads: examination of other cultures in comparison to our own; time travel paradoxes; stifling tyrannical societies which MUST be exposed with the help of our intrepid heroes……maybe not heroes. More like good natured friends who will follow the rules most of the time because they don't want to get their butts kicked. And The Orville crew manages to clever their way out of problems just like the best of Trek – only with the occasional dose of deliberate silliness thrown in to remind us we are here for a good time. Kind of like Firefly only with more resources and a cleaner ship.
While they don't take themselves too seriously, they present the characters and stories with obvious respect and affection for the source concepts. There is humor but fights break out, career making/breaking decisions have to be made, people die and the scenarios have hazard – just like the original ST:TOS – if that was happening at your average family holiday get together.
And yes, MacFarlane has a liberal world view which comes out now and again. But I was pleasantly surprised to find he does not use his platfiorm to villify or unfairly castigate points of view he likely doesn't follow…at least not so far. MacFarlane has already begun to delve into hot button issues such as homosexuality and gender orientation but with tact and civility. For example, the Moclus, the all male planet, has an inevitable male-male couple who procreate by hatching eggs. But because it is another species it is, frankly, not as in your face as the heavy handed presentation of Sulu's "husband" in Star Trek: Beyond.
To be fair Roddenbury founded the Star Trek universe on the examination of the sensitive social issues of his time: racism, class structure, the hazards of interfering in less technologically developed cultures, the definition of life forms, the inherent dangers in protracted automated warfare, the tyranny of nanny states, the constant struggle with our baser natures. So it would be hypocritical of me to complain if The Orville explores the hot button issues of our times. And I was very pleased to find that MacFarlane is following Roddenbury's example. The Orville so far has reviewed these areas wth a certain dignified grace.
One story in particular dealt with the single-gender society in a way that I believe fairly examined the different sides – a rarity when most liberal agendas include screaming over their conservative opponents instead of debating. The issue of gender identity at birth became a leading topic, and was treated with thoughtful clear headed discussion resulting in the crew uniformly taking the conservative side!
All this being said, it is possible Mr. MacFarlane could be luring the mainstream population in to lower the boom and cram yet another politically-correct driven anti-"everything traditional" agenda down the throats of anyone near by. But for the moment Mr. MacFarlane has created an extremely well written show for its genre. Funny, occasionally bawdy, but thoughtful.
And as an added bonus – again no spoilers – but I will note there are a few jaw dropping "A" list guest stars MacFarlane has managed to acquire in just his first 4 shows.
The Orville is a charmingly whimsical combination of Star Trek (mostly, I think, Next Generation era) and Galaxy Quest, with a hint of Dr. Who and a restrained splash of Saturday Night Live. I'll give Seth MacFarlane credit for now and the benefit of the doubt ………… for now. I just hope he doesn't eventually hand us a politically correct disappointment.