Monday, March 30, 2015

Eighth Doctor Reviews: The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

     Shortly after the events of the ham-and-cheese-tastic TV movie, the Eighth Doctor is finishing up The Time Machine (finally) when he discovers the Master left another trap, because the Master is nothing if not persistent. The Doctor gets hit with a terrible bout of amnesia (again) and doesn’t even know where he is. But Rassilon’s Force Ghost a vision of a floating head tells him to “trust the TARDIS”.

     He arrives back in Totter’s Lane, where he is once again caught up in a gang war. Luckily he is not shot, but after saving young Sam Jones from drug dealers and seeing the girl safely off, the police see him holding a bag of crack and, because this is Doctor Who logic, promptly arrest him and declare that he is the supplier for the local drug dealers. After a great deal of nonsense from the less than intelligent drug dealers, which mostly involve paying people to run into the police station and shout at them (oh, England), the Doctor escapes back into the TARDIS.

     He makes it to the first serial just in time to stop his first incarnation from bashing that caveman’s head in. After they mindmeld trade memories, the Doctors realize what he has to do: he has to visit every single one of his incarnations to regain his memories. Complicating this are the bureaucrats on Gallifrey, watching with concern as the Doctor flagrantly violates the law against meeting up with his other incarnations (which, to be fair, has hardly stopped him before). President Flavia (several regenerations after the Fifth Doctor absconded from his presidential duties) knows the Doctor has a good reason for this, but some of Borusa’s old crowd are still around, and they have connections to the mysterious Celestial Intervention Agency (which is not a way to make fun of the CIA in America at all).

If the CIA can't handle eight, no wonder they were rendered speechless when even Capaldi showed up for the anniversary special.


     Add in some extra conspiracies surrounding the Sixth Doctor’s trial, a quantity of good Gallifreyan wine, and multi-Doctor squabbling, and you have yourself a fun little adventure. I would have preferred to see more of Sam before she did an Indy-slide into the TARDIS at the end. I feel like we didn’t get much of an introduction beyond “Sam doesn’t like drug dealers” and “Sam is totally unphased by the TARDIS”. I also didn’t like Dicks assigning misogynistic attitudes to the Doctor (complaining about how companions are so different and don’t just cling to him and scream like they used to-really???) I’m torn about the cultural misogyny seen on Gallifrey, because given how messed up the Time Lords are it wouldn’t be surprise me if they hadn’t advanced culturally as much as they thought, but the Doctor seems more open-minded. The closest we got to this attitude in the TV series was the Doctor enjoying the awe-struck reactions to his “brilliance”, and that extended to basically everyone. The Doctor’s got an ego, but it’s at everyone’s expense.


     Overall, I thought this was a good way to kick off the Eighth Doctor novels. A little look back before heading into the future is always fun, and it cleared up some confusion regarding the Sixth Doctor’s trial. We also learn a little more about Gallifreyan culture and politics. Now, if only we can find out what turned Rassilon from a helpful, if cantankerous Force Ghost, to Crazy McOmnicide seen in the new series…

Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie Review: Patton


     I know much less about General Patton than I should. In fact, I don’t remember much at all about him, except a vague mention of his simultaneously reckless and effective strategies in battle. So I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I decided to watch Patton.



     The opening scene is quite powerful, and tells us everything we need to know about Patton. Brilliant but egotistical, war-hungry, and charismatic, an opening scene focusing solely on him tells us he will dominate every scene. One by one, we are introduced to the different facets: the strict commander who arrives to whip the boys into shape; the cultured poet who dreams of past wars; and the reckless hothead who jumps out a window to shoot at German planes. With a pistol. (It didn't happen in real life, but it wouldn't be a bit surprising if it had.)

BEST SCENE EVER


     Patton was a very divisive figure, and I think this movie showed why. He was a brilliant thorn in the side, a military genius who didn’t know when to quit, a charismatic leader with an ego he could not control. Yet all this time we see him gaining self-awareness-slowly, but still steadily. Near the beginning of the movie, he slaps a soldier suffering from PTSD and calls him a coward. Near the end, he finds a shell-shocked man after a devastating battle and kisses his head. At the end, he recalls the Roman triumph custom of having a slave whisper in the returning general’s ear of the elusiveness of glory.

     It was an emotional movie. It’s hard not to root for Patton, even when he’s being difficult, which probably owes as much to George C. Scott’s portrayal as it does to the character of Patton. This is an amazing film all should see, showing multiple facets of World War II through the lens of one general.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Movie Review: Doctor Who the Movie

     
     Once upon a time, in the mid-90’s, people tried to bring Doctor Who back.
     
     It didn’t work.

     But darn, if the movie wasn’t cheesy fun.

     It all begins when the Master is executed by the Daleks for his heinous crimes. Since the Daleks are terrible, presumably their idea of “heinous crimes” was making Dalek plushies and selling them. Anyways, the Master’s last request is that the Doctor take his ashes back to Gallifrey. The Doctor, ever the optimist, picks up the ashes, only for the Master to turn into a snake, leak out of the box, crash the TARDIS, and escape. The Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS just in time to be shot by a gang.

     He is taken to the hospital, where Grace Holloway attempts to do surgery and becomes the only companion to actually kill the Doctor. Yep. Stabs a needle in that other heart they all thought was a fluke on the X-ray. The Doctor regenerates in the morgue and busts down a steel door, forever traumatizing morgue guy. Just kidding! Morgue Guy is perfectly happy and well-adjusted later on in the movie.

     Meanwhile, Chang Lee, the kid who is alive only because the TARDIS experienced a critical timing error, has snatched up the Doctor’s belongings and discovered the TARDIS key. The Master has possessed someone because he realized being a snake never helps, and convinces the poor idiot that the Doctor stole the TARDIS from him, and he totally is legit, can’t you tell by his hammy, evil acting?

"As you can see, Lee, I am the legitest person that was ever legit. Ever."


     Grace has been fired, not because she killed a patient, but because she wants to study the two heart thing, and the hospital finds it embarrassing rather than "scientifically fascinating". She hops in her car only to find the Doctor waiting for her, very puzzled and not quite sure where he is, or who he is. He proves his identity by pulling the out the cardiac probe. At this point, Grace’s boyfriend has broken up with her for having a career (okay, she left their date to go to the hospital to do surgery, but she’s on call, you don’t get around that he wants her to risk her job for a date with him), so she takes the Doctor home, where her boyfriend has taken half of her furniture before leaving. Classy! Grace retaliates by giving the Doctor his shoes. The shoes, for the record, FIT PERFECTLY, which excites the Doctor enough to remember who he is. He snogs her and kicks off the trend of companion-snogging (is it just me, or is snog the greatest word ever?). Everyone is happy and smiles.

Fans rejoiced, and a thousand shipfics spontaneously generated.


      Until the Master gets Lee to open the Eye of Harmony, because it will only open for a human retina, because the writers decided to make the Doctor half human, a plot point that has been shoved off into a dark corner and told to think about what it’s done. The Eye is going to suck all of Earth into it. Hooray! The Doctor spazzes and babbles about an atomic clock, prompting Grace to forget the epic snog and call an ambulance. The ambulance driven by Lee and containing the Master.

     The Master spits like a snake, the Doctor and Grace escape on a motorcycle, and we have to have one of those stupid party scenes where someone in a mask turns to randomly stare at the camera for no reason whatsoever. (Seriously, wouldn't their friends be like "Uh, dude? What...what are you staring at?" "It's a camera, man! You gotta look at it while wearing your mask, because 90's!" "Dude, you've had too much to drink...") An atomic clock is acquired, but alas! The Master’s snake…venom…stuff…has put Grace under his influence, and the Doctor is soon captured. The Master wants to take all of his regenerations, because he can’t stand being upstaged by the Valeyard.

     So…how do we take this movie? It was fun, it was cheesy, it was filled with plotholes. (Not that Doctor Who isn’t filled with plotholes, mind you…)

     The biggest problem is that some of the dialogue sounds more like quips written specifically for the trailer, and that pesky half-human thing. I think my favorite theory is that he used the Chameleon Arch to trick the Master. (It’s a long story.) Also, we don’t know why the Eye of Harmony is on the TARDIS instead of on Gallifrey. One could wish the writers had done a slightly better job of keeping plotholes to a minimum. But that’s all water under the bridge, because WE ARE ON NUWHO NOW! Tune in next time for a look at the first of the Eigth Doctor novels, and stick around for Christopher Eccleston's ears.


     A/N: While reading about the movie, I found out two Pythons and Tim Curry were all considered for the role of the Doctor. Can you imagine Tim Curry as the Doctor? Good Lord. I can see him as the Master though. Maybe when Missy gets tired of being a girl she’ll turn into Tim Curry.


...forget I said anything.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Movie Review: Brave


     So I finally saw “Brave”, another of Disney’s attempts at changing up their usual formula for their movies. I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t like it; there’s no random musical numbers, and while there is some slapstick humor, the tone is somewhat darker than a Disney children’s movie usually is. However, I think it had merit, and feel like some of the criticism regarding it misses the point of the movie.

     Merida is a princess of the Highland clan Dunbroch. She takes after her father, a wild and noisy brawler, and after he gives her a bow and arrow she prefers shooting and riding to learning court manners from her mother. They exasperate one another, and it all comes to a head when Merida ruins the attempts to marry her off by winning the competition herself. After an explosive argument, she runs off into the forest, where she runs into a witch. Merida asks for a spell to “change” her mother so she won’t be married off, and the witch gives it to her-but not in the way she expected. What follows is Merida’s attempts to repair her mistake while the clans’ tenuous ties start loosening.

To be fair, her poor mother is surrounded by Weasleys.


     I think what made this film less popular than some of the other recent ones was the self-conscious attempt at making a feminist film. It’s a bit clunky, but at the same time the story itself is a moving one. Merida is a flawed heroine but one that learns her lesson without being completely altered at the end. She learns that she doesn’t have to flout all social conventions in order to be herself; if anything, like the movie her attempts at being different from her mother seemed self-conscious. At the end she has not lost her spirit or her interests, but she has become more comfortable with herself and with those different from her. Nothing is perfect; the movie is set in a time where Merida will most likely have to marry; but the concession to let her marry when she’s comfortable with the idea is practically a revolution.

     It was also nice to see a more realistic character style. I followed the discussions on curly hair forums when Merida was first introduced, and the animators made the hair very realistic. (You can see different types of curls in her hair, which is normal-no one with naturally curly hair is going to have uniform curls unless they use curlers or a curling iron.) She also looks like a fifteen or sixteen year old. Her proportions are not stylized, and she doesn’t look like she’s wearing makeup, which so many heroines, regardless of time period or social class, do.

On the other hand, her hair does have the magical ability to always stay out of her face at convenient moments. If only mine did the same...


     One of the biggest criticisms I read about the film is that the men are all useless buffoons. First off, I refuse to believe that putting a bunch of hot-tempered Scotsmen in the same room will not end in hilarity. Secondly, while Fergus is often used for comedy relief, he also has moments of a blunt sort of wisdom, and he really is very protective of his family. In fact, no one character is ever wholly good or bad. They all have their problems, but they all come together in the end.

     So, was it a good movie? Yes. Not the best Disney movie I’ve seen, but it had a refreshing premise and some fun characters. Also, the Scottish music used in the movie was amazing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Let's pull out Lutheran Satire again for this one...




Time to get riotously drunk and vomit into the Chicago River to celebrate our conversion! YAYYYY

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Quick Lit: March 2015: I Cannot Brain Anymore


     So I was on that ancient history kick for a while. It was fun. I learned lots of fun, interesting things.

     Then my brain broke.

     I picked up another book about ancient Egypt, and it just...happened. I stared at it blankly for five minutes during lunch, then decided, "Nope. Not happening." That's what studying for history midterms will do to you.

     Instead, I grabbed up The Eight Doctors, because everyone needs more Doctor Who in their lives.


1.


     This kicks off the series of Eighth Doctor novels that followed on the heels of the TV movie. Shortly after the events of the movie (Long story short: The Master turns into a snake and it doesn't help, the Doctor starts his habit of snogging companions, and those shoes FIT PERFECTLY), the Doctor is hit by a last boobytrap set by the Master. He wakes up with a huge bout of amnesia, and only a voice telling him to trust the TARDIS sets him back on the path to regaining his memories. He must defy Time Lord law (which, to be fair, was never much of a concern for him anyways) and meet with each of his past selves to regain his memories. But he has enemies on Gallifrey determined to use this to destroy him once and for all. 

     I'm actually near the end. So far it's been a wild ride, and I love multi-Doctor stories like I love chocolate cake. (Which I am also eating as I write this.) Terrance Dicks does a great job of capturing each of the Doctor's personalities, and there is nothing better than Sixxie and Eight getting drunk off the best Gallifreyan wine together. 



2. 


     This is a story told by an anonymous peasant in 1800s Russia. After hearing the verse "Pray without ceasing" at a liturgy, he walks from town to town, trying to discover the meaning behind these words. How do we pray without ceasing when we are beset by distractions? The story introduces us (and the peasant) to the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." (A longer version goes: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.") After learning this and using what little money he has to purchase a copy of the Philokalia, a collection of works by the church fathers on the subject of prayer, the peasant then roams the countryside, seeking a refuge where he can practice his prayers. Along the way, he meets many people who are also searching for the same thing, and the way they encourage each other is wonderful.
     I've read this before, but I'm re-reading for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge (a book translated from another language.)


3. 


     I started reading this on a whim before bed, and realized yesterday my timing is impeccable.

     Don't ignore the ranting old guy on the streets, kids.

Edit: I cannot brain so much that I forgot to link up to Modern Mrs. Darcy! There it is. Go forth, and add even more books to your no doubt ridiculously long reading list.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Photo Saturday: Happy Pi Day!


This is a tasty rhubarb pie from Yoder's Bakery in Kalona, IA. So tasty. So delicious. Especially with coffee.

Now go eat pie and watch Life of Pi.

It was really a tiger, I tell you! A TIGER

Friday, March 13, 2015

ClassicWho Reviews: The Seventh Doctor

     First off, I wrote this review, then forgot to back it up on my Google Drive and lost it when my computer suddenly decided it had enough of this hard, hard life of writing papers and watching stupid YouTube videos. So this might be a little less organized than I intended.

     Also, I only managed to get hold of two Seventh Doctor serials. This is a minor tragedy, people.


Dragonfire

     The Doctor and Mel arrive on Iceworld, which is basically the I-80 Truck Stop In Space. There, they meet up with Sabalom Glitz, who has another wacky scheme-he’s going to steal treasure from a dragon! Nearby, a waitress named Ace dumps a drink on someone’s head and declares herself the greatest companion ever.

     I mean quits. She quits her job.

     While Ace and Mel chat, the Doctor and Glitz head off to search for this treasure. Turns out, Glitz owes money to the local ice mogul, a guy named Kane who is probably actually Mr. Freeze, up to and including having a sad ice sculpture of his lost love. He is also a slave owner and all around jerk, and plans on taking Glitz’s ship (and probably doing worse). As they make their way deeper into the caverns, the Doctor tries to climb over a railing, later revealed to be because of the Great Intelligence….for some reason…and we are left with a literal cliff hanger, whilst (according to The Name of the Doctor) off-screen Clara shouts fruitlessly across the gulf. Or something. Clara confuses me sometimes. As does the Great Intelligence.

Yog-Sothoth had a plan! A good plan, a smart plan, carefully laid out! But he got bored.


     Mel and Ace decided Glitz and the Doctor are bound to screw something up, so they head off for their own adventure (Ace carrying a backpack full of nitroglycerin), only to be kidnapped by Kane’s men. Kane offers Ace a place in his slave army. Ace rejects his offer, then blows up the door with nitroglycerin and declares herself the greatest companion ever.

All the fans made this face as well.


      I mean escapes. She and Mel escape.

     Our four confused heroes arrive in the dragon’s “lair”. The dragon is…a robot? It turns out Iceworld is actually a huge prison ship, and Kane (and his lost love) were the prisoners. The robodragon has the key to the ship in its head, because leaving the key with the prisoners was a great idea. Kane also decides to get rid of all these annoying tourists by herding them onto Glitz’s ship then blowing it up. Because Kane is a terrible, terrible person and can’t seem to understand this is why he was imprisoned in the first place.

     It ends in the Doctor talking the villain death, as he is wont to do; Mel arbitrarily deciding to leave with Glitz (let’s just head-canon this into “that’s why they were together when they showed up for the Sixth Doctor’s trial); and the Doctor decides to take Ace back home to Earth via the scenic route.


Remembrance of the Daleks

     Welcome back to Coal Hill School, where the headmaster is mentally controlled by Daleks and a creepy child sings nursery rhymes because we all needed some nightmares.


Sleep well!


     They arrive in Totter’s Lane, shortly after the First Doctor and company have left. The Doctor has something very important to check on…something he left behind. They are attacked by a Dalek, which is killed via…you guessed it…nitroglycerin. The Doctor leaves Ace to flirt with a UNIT officer, who manages to ditch her and followed the Doctor instead. He buries the coffin containing a powerful Time Lord weapon, which feeds into my head canon that all those alien weapons in Deep Storm were actually weapons for the Time War against the Daleks. (You can't take my head canon from me.)

     In the meantime, Ace realizes she left her giant 80’s stereo in the school, and goes back only to find lots and lots of Imperial Daleks wandering around. One Dalek calls her small. Ace beats it to death with a baseball bat powered by the Hand of Omega and declares herself the greatest companion ever.


Watch this and hope to absorb a fraction of the awesome.


     By the time the Doctor arrives, the Daleks have started a war. Gray Renegade Daleks are still mad at Davros, and now all are fighting for the Hand of Omega, a very powerful Time Lord weapon, which is promptly dug up by another Dalek groupie, because it turns out Ace has terrible taste in boys and the UNIT officer was Evil All Along. They trace the Daleks back to their headquarters, where they have hooked up the aforementioned creepy girl to a battle computer, because it’s not enough to blow things up, they have to be jerks about it too. The Doctor then prank calls Davros about unlimited rice pudding. Davros rants about the Omega Device then sets off said device, only to find out it was rigged to accidentally Skaro's sun and cause a supernova, destroying the homeworld of the Daleks.

    Yeah, no, to explain why Skaro is still around, they said it was another planet that was terraformed to look like Skaro, ostensibly to keep Davros from, you know, doing what he just tried to do; but I think it's because Daleks are precious and get homesick when they’re out on long exterminations.

     Then the creepy girl tries to kill everyone before the Doctor talks the last Dalek to death and breaks the control over her. She leaves the serial, only to come back completely insane in the novels. Yay…?

     I wish I could have seen more Seventh Doctor. I enjoyed this quiet, manipulative schemer and the snarky way he mentors Ace. Also, more Ace is always good.

     Because she is clearly the greatest companion ever. OBVSLY.




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz

          “This is not a book about ancient Egyptian culture; it is a book about ancient Egyptians.” Barbara Mertz starts out her book with this line, and it perfectly describes her work. “Red Land, Black Land” gives details of Egyptian life in different periods of history. She traces life from birth to death in all the myriad ways life can go.

     Mertz has a pleasant, conversational tone throughout the book that makes it feel more like you’re listening to her describe a personal experience over tea rather than reading a lecture on a time long past. I especially loved the chapter where she took the reader on a mental trip down the Nile. One thing I didn’t know was how popular touring the monuments was even at the time they were built. (It gives the hilarious image of an Egyptian dressed like a modern-day tourist, silly hat and all.) (Yes, I did try to find a wacky picture like this, but alas. All are of modern-day Egyptians, none of whom are wearing silly hats.)

     One of the best aspects of the book is her cautious skepticism when it comes to “expert opinions”. The study of ancient civilizations is an evolving process. Each year, scholars learn a little more about the language and writing, or scientists develop better technology for examining artifacts, and something is discovered to be different than what was once considered fact. Mertz’ refusal to equate theories with facts and to emphasize the subjectivity humans are never entirely free from (and admitting when she prefers a theory for subjective reasons) may make it less popular with those who want “just the facts, ma’am” but is a more realistic touch to the subject. She also has a bit of fun at the expense of occultists and ancient alien enthusiasts alike, without sounding malicious or contemptuous.

     Inside are both photographs of artifacts and Mertz’ reproductions of some of her favorite Egyptian art. I especially liked the drawings of some of the delicate jewelry the Egyptians produced. The reasoning behind their peculiar art style is sound and free from that patronizing tone people usually take when referring to it.


     It was a fun, informative read, and I definitely enjoyed her style of writing. I was pleasantly surprised to find she is also one of my favorite authors: she writes the fabulous Amelia Peabody series under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters, which is one I recommend to anyone who enjoys learning more about ancient culture and mystery-solving couples. I’ll be getting her other nonfiction book, “Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs” while continuing on the Peabody series.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

KITTY!


Battle Cat is Best Cat.

Does anyone want me to try putting Frenzy in armor? I'll do it. I will.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: King Lear by William Shakespeare


     The February book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge was King Lear: A Book Your Mom Loves. I hadn’t read this book before because it simply looked really depressing. And it was. But it was also, as usual with Shakespeare, an excellent play.

     King Lear begins the play as a rather dictatorial and somewhat harsh king, softened only by his love for his children, particularly the youngest, Cordelia. But even that love is tainted by his desire to be important, and when Cordelia cannot match her sisters’ over-the-top flattery, Lear banishes her, and the Earl of Kent, who tries to defend her. The King of France, by contrast, admires Cordelia’s honesty and marries her.

     Cordelia’s absence leaves plenty of room for the two sisters to play King Lear like a fiddle. With the power of the kingdom in their hands, they begin abusing the king, whittling down his support base to nothing but his Fool, who mocks the king’s own foolishness while still remaining loyal. However, alone they cannot withstand the sisters’ cruelty, and the king slowly goes mad at the realization that his daughters actually hate him.

     In the secondary plot, the Earl of Gloucester has to deal with a similar problem in the form of his flattering illegitimate son Edmund and his legitimate heir Edgar, who spends much of the play in disguise, as his brother has convinced the Earl that Edgar is planning to usurp his power.

     The most obvious point of the play is a very old piece of advice: honesty is better than flattery, no matter how sweet that flattery sounds. Both King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester believe they deserve flattering, blindly obedient children. Taken in by flattery, they throw off their honest children and find themselves abused by the ones that once flattered them. Goneril is not immune to this attitude, as she comes to prefer the deceptive Edmund to her honest husband.

     In King Lear’s case, the two people most loyal to him are also the bluntest. Cordelia honestly tells her father she can’t come up with words to express her love, while the Fool outright mocks him constantly. In the end, they are the two people that are loyal to him from beginning to end.

     So yes, the play was very sad, but it also ended in a hard lesson learned.


     Let's lighten the mood, now, shall we?

REGAN DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET DE FIYAHHHHH*


*Actually this explains a lot about Gambon's Dumbledore. A whole lot.