Monday, February 23, 2015

ClassicWho Reviews: The Sixth Doctor


The Twin Dilemma

     The Sixth Doctor is not having a good regeneration. He puts on a ridiculous coat, then concludes that Peri is evil and attempts to strangle her, and the fans simply will not shut up about it. Then, when he realizes what he’s done, his solution is that they must BECOME HERMITS.
Dramatic hermits.

      Meanwhile, elsewhere, two extremely creepy identical twins are being geniuses. They are such geniuses that when a guy somehow gets in their locked house, they don’t question it at all, and are promptly kidnapped. Luckily, they are taken to a deserted asteroid where the Doctor has decided to become a hermit. However, instead of becoming a hermit, the Doctor discovers a Commander Lang, who has been searching for the missing “geniuses”. Seeing that the Doctor happens to be in the same area, he concludes the Doctor is responsible, because no one in this series understands logic.

     While exploring, the Doctor and Peri run into an old friend of his, the master of Jaconda, with whom he (as the Fourth Doctor) got drunk. Apparently hijinks ensued, but that doesn’t matter, because this “old friend” is in fact the kidnapper. It seems he is working for the slug-like creature Mestor, who wants to use the “genius” twins to bring two planets into Jaconda’s orbit, which will cause a supernova to hatch the slug eggs. It’s all very complicated. Also Mestor gets a crush on Peri despite being a slug creature. Then at the end of a very strange first run as the Doctor, Sixxie tells Peri and the audience to deal with it.
And "talk to the hand", and any other 90s catch phrases you can come up with.

     So…it wasn’t really that good of a serial, but it did introduce the Doctor’s new, strange persona. And that coat. That horrible, horrible, wonderful coat.


Attack of the Cybermen

     The Doctor is trying to fix the chameleon circuit. Unfortunately, the TARDIS likes being a blue box, and behaves erratically as a result. The only good thing is the extremely up close view of Halley’s Comet…which has Peri a touch worried.

     But none of that matters, because Commander Lytton is back, sans silly Dalek hat! He’s planning a heist, you guys, a bigger heist than George Clooney ever planned. He and his cohorts crawl through a sewer, and he activates a device, which gets the Doctor’s attention.

     They land in Totter’s Lane…again…where the TARDIS turns into a stove, because Sexy is a trolltastic box. They search for the source (discovering it’s actually coming from the sewer), and park nearby, where the TARDIS is now an organ.

     Meanwhile, Lytton discovers Cybermen, and promptly surrenders, because this is probably how the guy wound up working for the Daleks in the first place. One of his cohorts (an undercover officer) flees and finds the Doctor (who, truth be told, can’t be that hard to find wearing that coat). They head back to the TARDIS, only to be ambushed by Cybermen. They head to Telos (where the Cyber Controller is apparently still alive), and the Doctor tells a plot-important story about the Cryons who used to live there.

     The TARDIS turns into a gate.

     Cybermen are waking up and going on a rampage, two guys are trying to get their time machine back, and the Cryons lead everyone in a round of “Let It Go”. Also we get a genuinely horrifying scene that could make Mary Waterhouse go into a fit of hysterics.

"Crush my hands all you like, but don't make me wear another silly hat."

     This was actually a pretty decent serial. The Cryons were interesting, and I would have liked to learn more of them before this episode. The Doctor also starts coming into his own a bit, although he is still rather unpredictable (and calling Peri the wrong names, but that’s not unique to this regeneration). This also shows the Sixth Doctor has much less of a problem dealing with issues in a rather more violent manner. He has a sonic lance (because a sonic screwdriver was too boring for the writers, apparently???) and also blows things up. Also, the trolling TARDIS was wonderful.


Revelation of the Daleks

     The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet of Necros, a funeral planet, to pay their respects to the Doctor’s old friend Arthur Stengos. Blue is the color to wear to funerals here, so the eye-searing coat is covered up for the time being. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop them being attacked by some mutant. Peri accidentally kills the thing, and before it dies it claims it was used in experiments by the “Great Healer”, who is clearly an entirely new character.

     While this is going on, The Most Annoying Disc Jockey Ever is entertaining people in suspended animation, awaiting life-saving surgeries and medicines. He switches to different music eras while attempting to be American (like Peri), and does commentary on the Doctor and Peri’s struggle with the mutant.
He also does cosplay. Lots and lots of cosplay.

     Speaking of mutants, it appears a bunch of Daleks are there with Davros’ severed head. There are intruders, which turn out to be Natasha Stengos and her boyfriend looking for her father. He’s not in his suspended animation tube OH LOOK HE’S A DALEK NOW.

    In a third plot point, a food distributor, Kara, is under the “Great Healer’s” thumb. (If you don’t know who the “Great Healer” is by now, I pity you.) She hires…a former knight turned mercenary? No, he’s seriously a knight. With a squire. It’s precious.

     So all three of our plot points are thrown into the city of the dead together, trying to figure out what’s going on, and also there’s this random sub plot involving a woman who isn’t pretty having the nerve to like a guy? Either way, it’s not that important, and other Daleks show up, because apparently the bulk of the Dalek empire is still mad at Davros. So he gets betrayed by his creations. Again.

     Also, the DJ redeems himself by defeating some Daleks with the Power of Rock.

     Overall, this could have been good if the plot line had been tightened up a bit. It also adds a bit of horror, as the whole “using relatives’ remains for soylent green” seems to be completely acceptable to Davros, who hints that this was what the Kaleds were driven to by the end of the war. Also, Davros being surprised by the Daleks' betrayal is completely hilarious. Dude just never learns.

"So Davros, explain to me again how you planned to keep the Daleks from betraying you this time?"



The Trial of a Time Lord (Or, What Actually Happened When The Sixth Doctor Era Ended, Looking At You Michael Grade)


The Mysterious Planet

     A bewildered Doctor has been forced to Gallifrey for a trial. Also he has been deposed as president for not showing up ever. The chief prosecutor has a magnificent robe on, and is made of awesome. He is also called the Valeyard, and this will be very, very important later on. Because there are many, many ways you can screw up the name “Valeyard”.
"Barnyard Jailyard Boatyard Vineyard--"
"Mock my name all you want, I'm not the one wearing a rainbow coat."

     The Valeyard insists that the Doctor has meddled too much with other planets, and uses Ravalox as an example. It turns out to be a displaced Earth from the future. The Doctor wanders off down a tunnel, and Peri is immediately kidnapped. Meanwhile, two criminals, Sabalom Glitz and his partner Dibber banter back and forth and try to destroy a beacon. Unfortunately the locals think it’s a totem, and the two are hauled off to the Queen.

     Underground, an entire society is formed around prepper culture and a robot called Drathro. No one believes anything can survive on the surface, so everything is meted out carefully in rations. The Doctor takes a drink of water and is promptly arrested, because that’s the kind of life he has.

Also, they found the coat offensive.

     Meanwhile, Katryca, queen of the tribe living aboveground, has sentenced Glitz and Dibber to death for being star travelers and offered Peri several husbands. (Peri thinks one would be more than enough, thanks.) Afterward, they’ll use the criminals’ guns to attack “The Immortal” Drathro and take over the world! Or something.

     Either way, our heroes (and criminals) need to destroy the “totem”, because the black light converter is about to implode. While the Doctor rushes off to stop it, Glitz explains to Dibber the real reason they’re there, which is OH WAIT ONLY THE HIGH COUNCIL CAN HEAR THAT NEENER NEENER.

     Because arbitrariness is the name of the game.

     Either way, this ends well, and as the Doctor points out, doesn’t seem to be evidence against him at all. But apparently the Valeyard has more tricks up his voluminous sleeves, because there are still three more parts to this thing.


Mindwarp

     The Valeyard insists the Doctor has done devious things other than wearing a terrible coat, and decides to prove it with his antics on Thoros Beta.

     It’s actually a pretty place, but then they are captured-again-this time by an arms dealer named Sil of the Mentors, who is supplying the warlords of Thordon with weapons. They are brought to a Dr. Crozier, who is trying to find a way to transplant minds so they can save the leader of the Mentors, Kiv. One of the prisoners there is BRIAN BLESSED, who is king of the warlords.

YES, HE TALKS JUST LIKE THIS THROUGH THE ENTIRE EPISODE

     The Doctor pretends to switch sides to discover the entirety of the Mentors’ plans. At one point, he roughly interrogates Peri, and claiming he has to do it or his mind will be the one supplanted by Kiv, something he doesn’t remember at all (an indication the Matrix records have been meddled with again).

     The last time Peri is captured, it’s decided to use her head for Kiv’s brain. Right before the Doctor and BRIAN BLESSED arrive to save her, the Doctor is drawn hypnotically into the TARDIS, and the king and his men are delayed long enough that Peri’s brain is taken over, so Kiv will be permanently killed when the soldiers burst in.


It turns out Kiv was Sinead O'Connor's biggest fan.



     The Valeyard insists that the Time Lords totally weren’t at fault for any of this, while Colin Baker genuinely looks like he’s going to cry, and the feels, you guys, the feels for the Doctor, they hurt me.

     But the Doctor has decided to fight back, and not just by calling the Valeyard names. (“BONEYARD!”)


Terror of the Vervoids

     The trial is getting so silly that the Doctor decides to fight back with equal silliness. Assuming he’s going to become a better person, he decides to find a future adventure.

     In the future, he will have an 80’s-haired exercise freak who tries to force carrot juice on him and makes him use an exercise bike. Poor Doctor.

Welcome to the 80's, Doctor.

     Then the TARDIS gets a distress call from the Hyperion III, a luxury space liner. Rescued from the horrors of carrot juice, he and Mel arrive to investigate. The Doctor senses “something evil”, and starts poking around, while Mel…exercises. (That at least explains why the girl is so darn skinny.) Luckily, that means Mel can overhear The Evil Plan from the head plant researcher, Lasky. But the Doctor dismisses this, because he will still be a jerk in the future. Also, the hydroponics bay explodes, and Mel screams on an F note to segue into the stinger music.

     Meanwhile, as the Doctor looks over the passenger register, he realizes nearly everyone there is hiding something. Several people try to hijack the ship and steer it into a black hole, and it turns out they all know what kind of experiment is going on.

     Plants have been genetically engineered into being sentient, but unfortunately, they live by killing people and using them for a compost pile. They also look very, very…uncomfortable. The Doctor is forced to poison the Vervoids before they reach Earth and destroy all animal life on the planet, and the Valeyard screams “genocide” before the Doctor can come up with another alteration to his name.

"But Valeyard, they made me feel uncomfortable. Like I needed an adult."
"Doctor, your prudishness will come back to haunt you! Next thing you know you'll be snogging companions left and right!"
"Nonsense. I would never do such a thing."


The Ultimate Foe

    The Doctor and the Valeyard are having a magnificent argument, when suddenly a Wild Glitz and Mel appear! Realizing the Doctor hasn’t even met Mel yet, everyone wonders just how the two got there…when the Master appears on screen and laughs at them all! Also, he’s the one that brought Glitz and Mel to Gallifrey. Glitz reveals that Ravalox had Time Lord secrets that were stolen by “Sleepers”, who had a base on the planet. The Time Lords, instead of just walking in and taking them back, dragged Earth several light years away and annihilated a bunch of life at the same time. The Doctor launches in what is probably his best monologue ever on the decadence and corruption of the Time Lords (which has far-reaching implications throughout the series).

"And lastly, Valeyard, Time Lord fashion sense is terrible!"
"Obviously."

     The Master then drops the biggest bombshell of all: the Valeyard is in fact an amalgamation of the Doctor’s dark side split off from around the last of his regenerations, and has been promised what’s left of the current Doctor’s regenerations if he pins everything the Time Lords did on the Doctor. The Valeyard flees into the Matrix (which is like the Matrix, but isn’t really the Matrix—look, it’s exactly like the Matrix, but completely different), and the Doctor and Glitz follow, eventually finding their way into the Master’s TARDIS.

"Word of advice, Glitz. Don't start dressing like the Doctor. Just don't."

     Turns out the Master is genuinely scared of the Valeyard. That’s how bad the Doctor’s dark side is.

     The Doctor and the Master come up with a great plan to fool everyone-which is ruined by Mel bursting in to save the day. Glitz steals the data from Ravalox, but when the Master tries to use it, it paralyzes him, because the Valeyard is one step ahead of everyone. The Doctor, of course, has to save the day by sabotaging the Valeyard’s bomb…thing. (The Valeyard wanted to destroy Time Lord society, because of course he did.)

     Then the Inquisitor for the trial drops another bomb shell-it’s okay, guys, they just pulled Peri and Yrcanos out of the way in time and now Peri gets to be married to BRIAN BLESSED, effectively undoing a very emotional companion departure. Nicola Bryant didn’t know about this until much later.

    Also the Valeyard is now disguised as Keeper of the Matrix, and disappears never to be seen again, because he is a continuity hole bigger than most continuity holes in this series.

A continuity hole bigger than his sleeves, even.

     And then the Sixth Doctor was sent off to the land of Expanded Universe stories, also never to be seen again. (Except at conventions.) Good ol’ Colin Baker.

     I actually did like Trial of a Time Lord. I feel like the writers put in a last big effort for Colin’s send off, although Robert Holmes unfortunately passed away and left the others to put together the last one as best they could. Michael Jayston was magnificent as the Valeyard, and honestly, I wish they would find a way to bring the Valeyard back . (Current producers have stated that they won’t, because, again, continuity black hole.) I feel like this was a “what could have been” if it hadn’t been for executive meddling. On that note, I plan on looking for the expanded universe material, because this world needs more Sixxie.

     Tune in next time for Radagast, sans birds’ nests.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Quick Lit: February, 2015-We're still in the ancient past, y'all

So I've been reading more. This is good, but part of that is reading for my college classes. I've been reading more poetry, both for my poetry writing course and my survey literature course (pretty sure those two professors are comparing notes over coffee). I'm also taking a Western Civ course, and we're just finishing up with the Greeks. But meanwhile, my personal reading is still in Egypt.

1.
 
 
My brother recommended this one as a good overview of the culture in ancient Egypt. So far I'm enjoying the details Metz gives, as well as the healthy scholarly skepticism over certain ambiguous parts of the culture. I'm on the fighting techniques, which seem to consist of "run at them and hit them a lot". Also there was that time two random guys told the Pharaoh that the enemy army was going another direction, and he thought they were totally legit.
 
 
 
2.
 
 
I finished King Lear! It was a heart-wrencher, that's for sure. It took me longer than I thought because I tried to sit and puzzle out the Fool's cryptic nonsense before giving up and reading the footnotes. I understand there's an adaptation with Michael Gambon as the titular character, which probably explains a lot about his portrayal of Dumbledore as well.
 
 
 
3.
 
 
There are My Little Pony comics! And they are just as good as the show, trust me. In fact, I would almost say the comics were written more for the older fans of the show rather than the target audience. It feels like the storylines are both a bit darker, and a little more self-aware. The first volume contained several Anchorman references (SPIKE HAS A TRIDENT) as well as some trope-ish jokes about villainous behavior. Also, Twilight has just about reached Dark Phoenix levels of power, which is completely awesome. I'm on the second volume now, and it appears that the Nightmare Moon entity is back, and there are wooshie things. Good show, wooshie things.
 
 
4.
 
 
So I've been wanting to read this one for a while. It sounds creepy, and it was one of the winners of the Iowa Children's Choice Awards, but luckily I didn't have to fight off any small children to get it. I haven't started it yet; that will probably be tonight, and then we'll see.
 
 
So that's my current reading. You can go check out the other lists at Modern Mrs. Darcy!





Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: The Memory of Trees by F.G. Cottam

     When Tom Curtis gets a call from Saul Abercrombie, an eccentric ex-hippie billionaire, he is intrigued. He is even more intrigued, and slightly alarmed, when he discovers why Saul has called him. The man wants to re-plant an ancient Welsh forest on his estate, and wants Tom to oversee the operations.

     It’s a good opportunity for Tom. After an indiscretion his ex won’t let him see his daughter, and he can make the money needed for a court case suing for joint custody. But when he arrives at Saul Abercrombie’s estate, he senses there is far more going on than a benevolent environmental project, and as the supernatural incidents grow, it becomes clear that more than just a forest has woken on the desolate Welsh land.



     This book…was a disappointment. There’s no other word for it. It promised a creepy, atmospheric horror story involving ancient evil, and instead gave a confused mish-mash of vague legends and clichés.

     The atmosphere itself was not bad. Cottam describes the creepy, foggy, fast-growing forest well, and the animate thorn bush was both frightening and had an interesting twist to its presence. However, all this was lost in the story itself.

     Let’s start with the characters. Most of them are only two dimensional. I can tell you a few things about Tom Curtis-he loves his daughter, still has feelings for his ex, and likes his job. That’s it. He is so relentlessly bland that I’m on the verge of calling him a male Bella. This is a shame, especially since he is the descendant of a great hero. Even in his last “heroic” moment, he just seems vaguely bored. And therein lies part of the problem. Cottam sets up a good, creepy atmosphere, and spoils it with the character reactions to things. It begins well enough, with Tom getting weirded out by the animate bush and being frightened by one of the monsters. After that, he just seems to become inured to strange things, and by the time he confronts the ancient “evil”, he seems more bemused by her than anything else.

     Cottam seems to have a problem with telling. We are told a lot of things about the characters, but never see these things. One particularly egregious example is with Dora. In her first appearance, she has been biking along a trail. Everything seems fine. Then, almost at the end of the book, she gets a call telling her she has lung cancer. She then thinks back to that biking trip, and thinks about how she had trouble breathing. This wasn’t mentioned at all at the exact moment she said she sensed something was wrong.

     Pete’s demise was similarly done with seemingly no intention in mind but whacking another side character. He genuinely believes that Dora would order one of her students to live in a dank cave by the ocean, and thinks the girl must have enough stuff to fill the cave and warrant some time to re-pack. This was done only to get him in contact with the monsters. There's little logic to this at all.

     Last, I’m going to touch on a subject I rarely mention. I don’t review books based on any "agenda" If it’s a good story and well-written, I will like it (even if it contains problematic elements). But there is something wrong here with the way women are portrayed.

     Every single woman in this book seems to revolve around Tom Curtis. I'm not just saying in a "well, he's the protagonist, he's plot important" way. I mean, they have little characterization beyond their connection to Tom Curtis.

     First, let’s talk about his ex, Sarah. She is supposedly an extremely successful, intelligent woman. But what do we do with such a character? Make her a stereotypical bitter ex and have her there only so we can see her daughter’s creepy drawings (which, by the way, didn’t really seem that scary) and to be a sounding board for the old professor (who worships the old gods, but this never really comes up at all when you would think it would be needed). Every scene she’s in involves her thinking about Tom and how she’s mad at him for cheating.

     Let’s talk about the girl he cheated with. Her motives centered around manipulating him for the villainess. We don't know how or why she got involved; she too was so super smart and intelligent and independent, but her only actions in the book that don't mention Tom Curtis are her just standing around being a ghost. Doing nothing.

     Let’s talk about Dora. She agrees to work with him so she can get in his pants. Not because it’s a good opportunity, but to get in his pants.

     Let’s talk about Francesca. She stays on the creepy estate to be with her father. Not that bad; she's clearly a daddy's girl. She spends time painting, but it’s to escape the guy whose attentions she doesn’t want. Then everything else she does is to help Tom. The only time we see the slightest bit of character development is when she talks to her mother’s ghost, which takes up all of half a page. (Oh yeah, there are ghosts. They…don’t really do anything. Like at all. They’re just there.)

     Finally, let’s talk about our villainess. A force of nature, an eldritch horror? It doesn’t matter, because the only real characterization we get from her is that she is an evil seductress, and yes, her motivations center around Tom Curtis, and his ancestor was the only person able to seduce her. I am not kidding. The villainess is stated to be “evil”. We never see what she did that was so terrible that Tom’s ancestor had to go defeat her. Her forest is kind of creepy, and there are mushrooms, and her pet monsters eat people, but they would eat people regardless of whether or not they were her pet monsters. In fact, every time she has done something evil on screen, it’s been in retaliation of something someone else did. Cottam, you are not doing a good job setting her up as a threat. Also, she somehow managed to magically force Tom Curtis into cheating, because that would bring him back to the forest, so she could get “revenge” by proxy. That is her entire motivation. Revenge on Tom because of his sexy, sexy ancestor.

     You want to know the full proof that Tom Curtis is a male Bella? The muscle-bound security guy is jealous of him, because Saul likes him and Francesca has a crush on him. I did not sign up for a bad YA novel.

     The book is mildly entertaining. If you’re bored, it could give you something to do. But other than that, don’t look for consistent characterization (there is a lot of arbitrary skepticism) or even interesting characters (beyond Saul Abercrombie himself).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie Review: La Belle et la Bête (1946)



     About a month ago, I stumbled across Kyle Kallgren’s review vlog “Brows Held High”. He’s part of the Channel Awesome team and takes a look at arthouse films. This review I found was a multi-part review between himself and Tony Goldmark of Some Jerk With A Camera, discussing two very different adaptations of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Kallgren was wistfully nostalgic of a 1946 version by Jean Cocteau, while Goldmark took the side of Disney’s animated version.

     I had heard of the Cocteau adaptation before, but never paid much attention to it. But this review pointed out how much the movie influenced the Disney version. I love the Disney version very much. The animation is beautiful and the story is compelling. But now I had to see Cocteau’s take on the old story.

    Jean Cocteau was part of the avant-garde artists in France. Or, rather, he was avant-garde enough to make Americans feel clever and pretentious when watching his films, but not avant-garde enough for the others in France, who I imagine turned up their noses at him while drinking Fairtrade coffee and adjusting their ironic scarves.

     It probably wasn’t as surreal as some other movies from that era are. (I actually plan on watching some of the surreal German films from the 20’s and 30’s. That should be interesting.) But there is a dreamlike quality to it that I think fits well when adapting a fairy tale to film.

     It begins with Cocteau asking us to view the movie through a child’s eyes, which makes sense: fairy tales run on “child logic” (as Kallgren and Goldmark pointed out in their review).

     We open, not with Belle, but with her two spoiled sisters, dressed up and going out on the town despite their bad financial situation. Belle is left to clean the house. While her brother Ludovic and his friend Avenant mock the two sisters, they aren’t much better. Both are gamblers, and Avenant (who is in love with Belle) gets close to being put on a special police list.


Avenant, we need to have a discussion about "boundaries"...


     Things look up when their father’s money is recovered, and the story proceeds as normal: he stops at the Beast’s castle for the night, and after disembodied arms try to serve him dinner he decides to board the Nope Train, but not before grabbing a rose. The Beast comes right out of freaking nowhere in a rage, and the father returns home with the bad news.

     Belle sneaks out on the Beast’s horse, Magnificent, and thus begins her adventure. Her journey through the castle is beautiful. White curtains flutter out from the windows, concealing her from view as she moves slowly down a corridor.



     The relationship between Belle and the Beast is different from the perception those of us who grew up on the Disney version got. Here, the Beast really isn’t that bad at all. (Unless you count kidnapping and threatening, that is. But, as pointed out before, child logic. It helps when watching a fairy tale.) He and Belle develop a calm friendship that clearly grows into romance, although Belle will not admit it to herself until the very end. Also, the Beast’s curse involves him acting like a Beast. He is compelled to chase and murder animals, and when he does, smoke comes off his hands. (That actually gave me weird dreams of my own.)

     Meanwhile, Belle’s father grows sick with worry for her, and it’s compounded when Ludovic stupidly gambles away their fortune at Avenant’s encouragement. When Belle is allowed to return for a visit, wearing an expensive dress, her brother, sisters, and Avenant (driven partly by jealousy) contrive to keep her away while the two men head off to kill the Beast. (Without a song and dance routine.) Here, it’s simple greed. Belle proves herself to be worthy of these expensive gifts because of how willing she is to give them away. She tries to give one sister a necklace which turns into a hunk of wood when the greedy girl takes it. She gives her mirror to them, which only shows them as they are inside-a monkey (the sister asked for a monkey earlier-I laughed really hard at that) and an old woman.

     I won’t give away the ending. Everyone knows how it will end generally, but there’s a twist that’s slightly baffling and takes some thinking to understand.


     If you enjoyed the Disney version, then definitely give this one a try. The visuals are similar, as well as some of the plot points (Avenant is a proto-Gaston). There are some humorous moments (such as the monkey, and the drunk servants), but mainly, it’s simply a beautiful film for a beautiful story.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: Babylon by Paul Kriwaczek

     You would think that a title like Babylon would indicate that the book was in fact about Babylon. You would be wrong.



     This wasn’t a bad book. It was interesting enough, and the author has a compelling writing style, but the bulk of this book was about the Sumerians, and actually felt kind of like a Cliff Notes version of The Sumerians.

     What saved it was little bits of mundane, every day detail we didn’t get elsewhere. Obviously the archaeologists and experts that study this subject have learned more cuneiform, and new technology allows a more in-depth study of materials. Furthermore, Kriwaczek does finally get to the Babylonians and Assyrians. I can see why he wished to start out with Sumer. In some ways, those two civilizations carried on with Sumerian traditions and weren’t very distinct.

     In fact, this was another book that I felt torn about. Kriwaczek begins the book by describing the extent to which Saddam Hussein used the legacy of Sumer and Babylon to set himself up as a figurehead. By hearkening back to ancient traditions, long before Islam became the religion of that area, he was able to take power away from the Muslim clergy.

     I found this incredibly interesting. However, as the book went on, and Kriwaczek began making increasingly narrow comparisons between the development of Sumer and our own society, I found it grew tedious. While the broader concepts in these comparisons make sense (such as between the invention of cuneiform and the computer-both changed the way we handle economics and information sharing), his use of phrases such as “eerie foreshadowing” make it seem as though we will learn about our own future by watching the future of Sumer. At one point he even references a scientist who claims to have discovered, mathematically, the patterns of decay in civilizations. While it’s intriguing, it also doesn’t take into account different cultures.

     The last quarter of the book is dedicated to Babylon, Assyria, and to some extent the Persians. It shows the development of Sumerian culture through these other three political powers. I think my main disappointment was that I expected the book to be more about Babylon by itself.

     Overall, the book isn’t bad. I would say it’s more of a layman’s version of The Sumerians, while Kramer’s book is more academic. That said, I definitely prefer The Sumerians, not least because Kramer didn’t try to make specific comparisons between cultural phenomena.  I find myself a bit underwhelmed. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Photo Saturday: Standing on the Threshold



A couple years ago, I was able to visit the St.John Chrysostom Monastery in Wisconsin. I posted about it in my November thankfulness blogs, but here's a picture just outside the main building.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fun With Poetry: Anglo-Saxon Riddles

I'm taking a poetry class this semester, and I've decided to start posting my terrible, terrible poems here for your benefit. We actually started out with Anglo-Saxon riddles, and then I got all excited and fangirly when I realized that the poetry Tolkien wrote for the Rohirrim follows the same form.

So, here are some riddles. Figure 'em out.



I swim under silver       so cold and so wet
But my body casts shadows       over barns red and brown
I am alive, I always move       but I search all lands for death
Men fear me and hate me       though I clean up their messes
My many names are known to you       now give me some thanks!


I am running all the day       and all the night long too
You love to look at me       my face is lovely and true
When I stop you like to swear       and when I start you like to sigh
I govern this whole world       I am the great god of your lives

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

HARPER LEE HAS WRITTEN A SEQUEL

...well, technically To Kill a Mockingbird was the prequel. But WHO CARES WE HAVE A SEQUEL.

Because there is not enough Atticus Finch in this world.

Monday, February 2, 2015

ClassicWho Reviews: Castrovalva, The Visitation, The Five Doctors, The Resurrection of the Daleks, Planet of Fire, Caves of Androzani

Castrovalva

     The Doctor has just regenerated into Peter Davison, and is feeling more than a little loopy. After wandering lost through the TARDIS, unraveling his scarf and trying to find the Zero Room, the Master attempts to force the TARDIS to the beginning of the universe, presumably where it will be destroyed in the Big Bang. They make it out when the Doctor jettisons part of the TARDIS….which unfortunately contained the Zero Room. With Adric mysteriously missing (he was possibly on a bender, if the actor’s state of health at the time of filming was anything to go by), Nyssa helps the Doctor build a coffin-like box out of bits of the TARDIS walls, and Tegan discovers a place called the Dwellings of Simplicity, which sound very pleasant.

     HA! Did you really think they would be pleasant? After arriving at a lovely castle, the Doctor has no time to relax at all, because they are basically in the Matrix. They are in a “recursive occlusion”, made by block-transfer computations via Adric, who has been captured by the Master.

No, seriously. What.


     This was a fun little beginning for the Fifth Doctor. He’s much calmer than his previous incarnation, but he’s ridiculously snarky. (“That’s democracy for you.”) It was also, if I recall, the first serial to feature the Zero Room.

     And it ends with the Doctor putting celery on his coat, because of course he does.

Celery's great, but don't even mention carrot juice.



The Visitation

     The Doctor is still trying to get Tegan back to Heath Row. They’ve made it, all right, they’re just…315 years early. Tegan is not pleased. While bumbling about outside, they run into highwayman/thespian Richard Mace, who tells them about the plot. A “comet” landed nearby, and the townspeople are all in a tizzy over it.

     The Doctor and Nyssa crawl through a window, to Mace’s horror, who believes stealing is fine but breaking and entering is just right out. There, they find an android who looks like he might be from KISS, who kidnaps Tegan and Adric. The others escape, discover a spaceship, and are attacked by mind controlled townspeople wielding axes. Against a spaceship. Yes.

     The Doctor, who is surly today, makes Nyssa go build an android jamming device, because the sonic screwdriver isn’t that useful yet. Then, after building the device, she also has to build a sonic booster for said device.

     Meanwhile, it appears the fugitive is a Tereleptil, who has been banished from his planet, and who wants to…yeah, take over the world. Tegan has been mind-controlled to release a plague via rats to destroy the population of Earth. A fight ensues, which causes a fire at their location, which is…



     DAMMIT DOCTOR. HOW MANY TIMES ARE YOU GOING TO START HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT FIRES?

     Also, the sonic screwdriver is destroyed, but presumably the software is stored somewhere, because otherwise Day of the Doctor couldn’t work out the way it did.


In Earthshock, Adric dies in a fiery blaze, and a lot of fans were very happy about this. I did not see it, but it’s referenced as the greatest serial ever. (Poor lil’ Adric.)


The Five Doctors

     Five for the price of one!

Well, okay, Tom Baker was a waxwork, but...


     In various parts of the Doctor’s timeline, someone uses a time scoop to grab the five incarnations and some companions and bring them to Gallifrey. The First, Second, and Third Doctors arrive in the Death Zone, along with Susan, Sarah Jane, and the Brig, while the Fourth Doctor and Romana get stuck in the time vortex. The Fifth Doctor, meanwhile, is trying to have an actual pleasant vacation with fellow snarks Tegan and Turlough (the TARDIS will not see this much snark again until Amy and Rory), when he feels the pain of his incarnations being taken out of their respective timelines. They head for Gallifrey, where they meet up with the others, and basically throw a party on the TARDIS.

"My boy, if you would just let me remove that vegetable..."
"DON'T TOUCH MY CELERY STICK"
"Psst, what's with the celery stick?"
"We don't know, Susan. We don't know."


     Meanwhile, Lord President Borusa, Chancellor Flavia, and the Castellan discover all these hijinks, as well as a draining of the Eye of Harmony (which has nothing to do with ponies). They summon the Master, because they figure he’s the only one crazy enough to help, and offer him a new set of regenerations (which becomes a very happy plot point eventually). But the Master can’t get anyone to believe him, even with the seal, and is knocked out by Cybermen.

"No, seriously, why are you wearing that stupid cape again?"


     Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor heads to the Capitol to investigate the goings-on; they find a transmat device and some of Rassilon’s old writings on not-magic in the Castellan’s quarters, but the Doctor is still suspicious. Which is a good thing, but a little too late, as Borusa reveals his Evil Plan ™ and temporarily takes control of the Doctor’s will.

     In the Death Zone, the other Doctors and their companions have made their way to the Tower of Rassilon. The Master attempts to kill them all, but the Brig just punches him out in the most hilariously anti-climactic fight scene ever. But now the question is this: just why are they all here, why is Borusa doing all this, and what did they really think would happen when they tried to get the Doctor to be president?

     This was a fun 20th anniversary, with lots of amusing cross-serial interaction and jokes, and introducing us to more of Time Lord society (and, as said before, some very important plot points).

I just had the weirdest dream...




The Resurrection of the Daleks

     At a London warehouse, some futuristic humans are gunned down by a group of men wearing Very. Funny. Hats. They are working for the Daleks, who presumably designed the hats for maximum humiliation. They are planning on rescuing Davros from a prison station In Space.

THE HATS, YOU GUYS. THE HATS.


     Meanwhile, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough happen upon Sergeant Stien, who managed to escape the Funny Hatted Men from before. They return to the warehouse, where they find a bomb squad dealing with “unexploded bombs”, and Turlough is so smart he manages to wander into a time corridor and wind up on the Dalek ship. After a brief fight, in which a Dalek is defenestrated, Tegan is knocked out, and we get lots of exposition from Davros (who has basically been conscious in his cryogenic chamber for 90 years, and is incredibly bored) and Commander Lytton, who helpfully explains this cool plague the Movellans developed against the Daleks.

     Back in the warehouse, we get to see that Daleks aren’t exactly helpless without their armor. Sure, they’re squishy, but they also have tentacles, for strangling and cephalopod tea parties. The Doctor shoots the Kaled mutant repeatedly, because he is a pacifist, you guys,  and the cat brought in for the cat scare is given a bowl of milk for its efforts. Stien reveals himself as a double agent, and apparently the Daleks have plans to clone the Doctor to assassinate the High Council on Gallifrey. Mind-probing ensues. Also, Davros is smart enough to realize that the Daleks are totally going to betray him, and takes steps toward controlling them.

"And I will ban all pepper shakers from the world."


     Everything is set for the really big fight at the end, wherein the Doctor, despite gunning down a Kaled mutant in cold blood, won’t just shoot Davros. (Not that it helps. He and the Master are having a competition for “most times a villain can inexplicably come back to life”.)

     I enjoyed this serial, even though it’s hard to take Daleks seriously after watching them spew shaving cream. However, I thought it was actually a nice send-off for Tegan, who basically can’t stand the pressure anymore of constant “adventuring”, particularly when it ends so horribly. (Not gonna lie-I did kind of feel sorry for all the Daleks exploding shaving cream at the end. That’s such an ignominious way to go.)

     And then deviantART user despisedandbeloved made this:




Planet of Fire

     On the planet of Sarn, people worship s god called Logar. They have a chosen one, who has a plot symbol burned into his arm.

     Meanwhile, an artifact with that same symbol is found on Earth by an American archaeologist, whose stepdaughter thinks it’s completely legit to run away with two men she just met. She tries to escape the boat by swimming away with said artifact, and of course nearly drowns, because Peri isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. She is saved by Turlough while both are as little clothed as possible, who then decides to ransack her backpack, because that’s a good idea, and discovers the artifact, revealing that he has the symbol burned into his arm as well.

Move along, nothing to see here...


     The Doctor, not thinking that maybe they should take the girl back home, decides to go to Sarn. So Peri gets to run off with two men she just met anyways. While they poke around outside, Kamelion first takes the form of Peri’s stepfather, spawning a thousand uncomfortable fanon ideas, and then falls under control of the Master.

     Sarn is having a very unhappy day. First, they’re told the mountain they worship is in fact a volcano, and then a second chosen one shows up, and then the Master arrives and declares himself to be the Outsider, who is some super important prophet in their religion. Naturally, this means the Doctor is thrown into jail, because reasons.

He did a THING.


     Turlough reveals that Sarn is a prison world. There was a rebellion on his home planet, and the losing side got shipped away. Even though he was a child, he was still a criminal-by-association, because his home planet is full of jerks. The Master, meanwhile, is revealed to be very tiny because he somehow shot himself with the tissue compressor, and that is why he is possessing Kamelion. Peri tries to squish him, and the Master has broken things trying to get the cure for his shrinkage problem and that’s why the mountain is about to blow up. Turlough does the only smart thing and calls his people for help, even though they’re Complete Jerks.

     In the end, the Master “dies” (because of course he isn’t dead), and Turlough discovers the jerks on his planet were kicked out of power, presumably for being jerks. Peri would prefer to travel with a man she just met, so she and the Doctor head for further adventures.

     This was a pretty decent serial. It gave Turlough a good back story, and honestly, I do like Peri, even though poor Nicola Bryant (the actress, not the character from The Thick of It) can’t do an American accent to save her life. I feel like Peri gets a bad rap simply because she winds up being the only companion around to be inevitably kidnapped. Also, Anthony Ainley is amazing as usual.

" 'Perpugilliam'? What was your mother smoking?"



Caves of Androzani

     What does it take to make the Doctor really crazy? Well, this serial answers that question.

     The Doctor and Peri arrive on Androzani Minor, the source of a powerful medicine called spectrox, only found in the caves of gigantic freaking bats. They go out to explore, only to get shot at, then step into poisonous webs. They are also shot, but luckily those were android duplicates, manufactured by the Phantom of the Caverns, Sharaz Jek. He is in a kind of war with the businessman who controls the spectrox sources. It turns out Jek likes kidnapping people for forever because he gets lonely, and decides the Doctor would be a good friend to talk to, and Peri a good “friend” to…

Jek, we need to talk about your being endlessly creepy.


     Hey, that rash isn’t looking so good, is it? Yeah, you’re going to die a lingering death without the spectrox. Then, everything goes downhill, as an attempt to escape leads the Doctor to getting captured and taken to Androzani Major and snarking at people a lot. Meanwhile, Peri is unconscious, and Jek gets increasingly creepy toward her. The politicians start killing each other off, and the Doctor hijacks a ship to get back to Androzani Minor, while fighting off regeneration. He convinces Jek to give him directions to the Gigantic Freaking Bats, and since Jek is inexplicably in love with Peri, he does so.

The Doctor gets a little intense when he plays GTA V.


     The Doctor manages to get Peri back to the TARDIS in time, but, having spilled some spectrox, gives her what’s left and then becomes SO OVER THE TOP HAMMY IT’S LIKE A WORLD OF HAM JUST FELL INTO THE TARDIS.

     I love Sixxie.

Look at that hair! Even the hair is crazy!



     This was probably the darkest serial of the Fifth Doctor’s run. Between the creepy intents of Jek to the Doctor’s traumatic regeneration, it sort of paves the way for what the Sixth Doctor himself will be like.


     Also, since yesterday was my 500th post (about the Super Bowl, no less), we are going to celebrate with the Sixth Doctor.



Awesome celebration.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Annual Super Bowl post

Dear Seahawks,

    If you...

    You know what? I got nothing this year. I was expecting a Cowboys Super Bowl and my hopes were dashed to the ground. I would root for the Patriots, but now I can't even take them seriously with this whole "deflated balls" thing. I can't even take Seattle seriously because of that abomination of a movie that's coming out on Valentine's Day. The only thing you have going for you is coffee.

     So, uh...win the Super Bowl. For coffee.