"Asylum of the Daleks"

Oh dear, my carefully crafted image as a man of the book and too clever by half will now fall to the ground when I talk about “Doctor Who” fanboyishness. Ah well – let the egg roll, as they say.  I don’t ride motorcycles or jump out of airplanes, I just document my little life on the web and try to pass the time agreeably with all I meet.

Please don’t look at me as I type this. It’s embarrassing.

Now, on to my Doctor Who viewing habits:

  • I usually purchase a season pass via iTunes for the SD (rather than HD) version.
  • I usually download it on Sunday morning and enjoy watching it Sunday night.
  • A day or so afterward, I read what Ross Ruediger and Steven Cooper have to say about the episode, finishing with the Wikipedia entry on the episode, to get a sense of what the mainstream reviewers thought of the show and any interesting tidbits the other fellows left out. I find myself  more in agreement with Steven’s reviews, as he packs a lot of context and interpretation into his posts, and usually highlights the best lines that really express character or emotion.
Now, Season 7 just premiered on Saturday night all over the BBC-speaking world, the reviewers have had their say. I won’t attempt to compete with them as they do a far better job than I could. Here’s some of what caught my eye from the episode, in no particular order:
  • The classic rule of writing is that the ending should be in the beginning. Those seeds should be planted early on. And it is, during Amy’s model shoot where she punches at the camera with HATE and LOVE written on her fingers. Clever Mr. Moffat – signaling his themes right from the start, punched right in your face. (With a tip of the hat, of course, to Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter,” where Robert Mitchum’s character has those letters tattooed on his fingers. One of those movie images that has entered into the collective unconscious.)
  • Jenna-Louise Coleman as Oswin was brilliant. As she was never in the same room as the actors she was talking to, she had to generate all the energy and interest in the scene herself. And it was impossible not to fall in love with her.
  • When Oswin bids the Doctor to “remember her,” Jenna Louise-Coleman smiles and looks directly at the camera, breaking the fourth wall –  she’s asking US to remember HER. And we will, when she reappears in the Christmas special. Despite Ross’s impatience with the season 6 arc, it looks like The Moff is laying plans for another long-term payoff.
  • Making the audience see and fall in love with Oswin is rather like the device used in “A Beautiful Mind.” A clever trick played on an audience that believes everything it sees because that’s what medium forces you to do. Another masterful Moffat misdirection.
  • The moment when Amy hallucinates and sees a room of elegantly dressed men and women was so wonderfully surreal and unexpected that it took my breath away. A really bold choice; it doesn’t advance the plot, really, or reveal character, but it pushes the right buttons of disorientation and keeping you watching the screen to see what happens next. It’s the kind of moment you never see in a Davies script.
  • It was a show on a grand scale, but it didn’t feel as big or affecting as “Family of Blood” or “Amy’s Choice” or “The Girl Who Waited”. Hard to say why – possibly because it was so hard to believe that Amy and Rory’s marriage was over; the “Pond Life” mini-episodes that ran the five days prior to the season premiere showed them rolling with the flow of their odd life together. These two people have gone through fire for each other; this divorce gimmick felt like a gimmick and diminished whatever emotional power this subplot might have had.
  • Or the smallness of the show could have also been that there’s something terrifying about one maniacal Dalek on the loose or a small number of them in a confined space. But seeing a bazillion Daleks just sitting and quivering in place flattens the effect; more than one or two Daleks just isn’t scary. Though hearing a bazillion screaming Daleks is spine-chilling.
  • Loved the trapezoidal passageways in the asylum, as they call back to the First Doctor’s inital visit to Skaro.
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Moffat, Davies, and the New Who

Ross Ruediger had a rather sour take on season 6 of Doctor Who. He had problems with Matt Smith’s puppydog energy and showrunner Steven Moffat’s “celebration of the clever” in dialogue and plotting the season-long story arc, which culminated in the solution to the mysteries of how the Doctor “died” and his connection to River Song.

Weeping Angels

It’s a matter of taste. I believe Moffat when he says that kids have no trouble following the plot complications and it’s the fans and critics who complain the most. I certainly enjoyed the cleverness of how (most) everything in seasons 5 and 6 clicked together; I like trying to outguess a master storyteller like The Moff. And I don’t think the arc worked against the show’s episodic nature, although I could argue that this is a Doctor Who for the modern age of TV, and season arcs, DVD collections, and being a flagship moneymaker for the BBC necessitate all sorts of choices that couldn’t have been imagined during the Classic Series’ run.

I like Moffat’s and Matt Smith’s conception of the Doctor as a man who doesn’t ruminate and smolder over the past; there’s a colder, more cerebral, more dangerous edge to this Doctor than I’ve seen in the previous two incarnations. The choice he forces on Rory in “The Girl Who Waited” is a prime example of this

I agree with Ross that Smith is probably a better dramatic actor for this part than Tennant, but the modern Doctor is now an amalgam of producer and actor, more so than it ever was in the classic series. And, Moffat is giving Smith stuff to play with that Tennant never had. Moffat is clever and a little shifty, therefore so is the Doctor (and Sherlock!). And Smith adds his own dollop of secret sauce to the recipe; I always have the feeling that, in most every scene, Smith’s Doctor is holding back some information he’s telling no one else, and this knowledge informs the actor’s choices of glance and gesture. I daresay this is information that is never vouchsafed to the viewer.

Given that the Doctor is a time traveler, it’s inevitable that he will know more than the people around him, and so he has to guard against spoilers; therefore, he can’t really tell his companions all he knows. But also, as he hinted at in “Amy’s Choice”, he has a lot of darkness to contend with in his personal history. Being openly emotional might unravel his rather tightly wound demeanor. Without the distractions of monsters and dashing here and there and fixing the TARDIS, he would have to contend with his past. Maybe even forgive himself. Better, perhaps, to live in an eternal now – of Daleks, Amy and Rory’s marriage, life-threatening dangers, seductive puzzles – and not raise ghosts.

Ross pointed out a qualitative difference between Moffat’s cleverness and Davies’ naked emotion. For me, the emotion in Moffat’s work is more powerful dramatically because the characters are so restrained so much of the time. The Doctor’s tears at the end of “The Doctor’s Wife” and the utter joy at Amy and Rory’s wedding party are proof of that for me.

But I will allow that nothing in Seasons 5 and 6 have come close to the feelings of sadness and loss as did “Dalek” or “Family of Blood” or “Midnight” or “Turn Left.” Those moments were, I think, given some extra polish and handcrafting by Davies because those were the kinds of moments that moved him; Moffat would have emphasized different moments, different beats, different colors. That’s simply how writers are. Doctor Who is neither Davies nor Moffat; it’s both of them, and everything that came before them. And the mythos is greater because it can contain them all, from the mugging of Tom Baker to the gravity of Christopher Eccleston.

What I like particularly about Moffat’s stories, beyond the whipsmart dialogue and whiplashing plot twists (and even if it were only those things, I’d still love them), is something I never perceived in Davies’ work: the surreality of Moffat’s imagery. The child in the gas mask, the astronaut in the lake, the Weeping Angels, the mad version of London at the start of “The Wedding of River Song”: these are arresting images and TV thrives on arresting images. They’re attention-getting and get people talking. And they don’t lose their potency on successive viewings. The Season 7 opener contained one surreal sequence in particular that knocked me backwards; it was the kind of experience I’d never have had in a Davies story.

I had intended this to be a review of the first episode of the new Season 7, with a brief digression about  Ross’s review. But as usual, my words got away from me. Tomorrow: my stray thoughts on “Asylum of the Daleks.”

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Assorted links

  • One of my favorite writing sites is by England-based sitcom writer James Cary and called, appropriately, "Sitcom Geek". What I love about his posts are his practical and serious thoughts on the business of conceiving and writing situation- and character-based comedy (as opposed to sketch or standup comedy). Here's his latest post, echoing the feelings/advice I read on many academics' and fiction-writers' sites: Just start typing
  • Another favorite blog is by self-help writer and editor Doug Toft. Here's one of his latest: 7 things to know before you use a self-help technique
  • I also enjoy the rough and ready booster shot that is the language learning site, All Japanese All The Time. Khatzumoto continues to stun me with his inventiveness and cheek in generating advice on how to teach yourself any language (especially Japanese). A great read for auto-didacts and those who want to be. Here's a recent post that helped me make up my mind on a personal issue that had stymied me: The problem is choice
  • Who killed lard?
  • Zombie grammar rules that eat your brain. First on the menu: split infinitives.
  • Fascinating: Sewer workers (and dwellers) of Victorian London

Dear Ones, the ego self, that part of you that wishes to keep you small and separate in order to retain control, will rail up whenever you are about to take a huge leap in growth. It will do so by activating fear and doubt. So, why not, rather than allowing that fear and doubt to control you and stop your progress, see it instead as an indicator that something wonderful and empowering is about to break through? Remember all movement is forward movement and by staying in surrender and flow you will be navigating the Shift with the greatest amount of ease and assistance that is available to you. ~Archangel Gabriel

Yet another password creation rule

The paper dates from 2005 and it could be argued that the world it was created for has already passed. Google and now Dropbox are offering two-factor authentication to provide extra security for sites that can hold the keys to your online identity. However, if you don't have a password-generation program, Bernie's paper contains several different algorithms for generating personalized and tough-to-crack passwords.

The method relies on scrambling a word by adding numbers, capital letters, and special characters according to a set of input rules. By memorizing the input rules and a few tokens, you can create a medium to strong password for any site you visit.

So there are two parts to the following method, which Bernie explicitly identifies for generating logon passwords:

A. TOKEN CREATION

  1. Pick any special character you will always use with your password. Examples: !@#$%^& (*+)=-;:’”~`][}{|><?/.,
  2. Pick a Secret Code: a 3- or 4-digit number you'll always remember. It could be a special date (such as an anniversary) or, if this is a password you have to change regularly, it could be the date you change the password.
  3. Pick a very simple Memory Cue that you will remember. This will be the root word for the password. It could be the name of the site (Yahoo, CNN, New York Times) or the application, etc.

B. CREATE THE PASSWORD

  1. Surround the root password with the special character.
  2. Insert the Secret Code number after the second character of the root word.
  3. Capitalize the first character after the Secret Code.
  4. Optional - If you're changing the password every 90 days, add the creation date to the end of the password. Use the calendar quarter and the year to create a 5-digit number. So Q1 of 2012 would generate 12012.

Here are some examples of these rules in action from Bernie's paper:

  • @
  • 4556
  • Tim
  • @Tim@
  • @Ti4556m@
  • @Ti4556M@
  • @Ti4556M@12012

For a Yahoo account:

  • @
  • 4556
  • yahoo
  • @yahoo@
  • @ya4556hoo@
  • @ya4556Hoo@
  • @ya4556Hoo@12012

So, for any new site I visit, I can generate a memorable password that has special characters, capital letters, and numbers and (generally) avoids any dictionary words in its components.

What if the site I'm on doesn't let me use special characters or imposes a character limit? I usually drop the special character and simply go as far as I can until I reach the character limit.

Again, the paper has many more examples of different ways to mix and match these rules. He includes different tweaks on the rules to generate both simple to remember and difficult passwords.

The Old Adventures of Superman

Apart from Stevereads and the Ihnatko Alamanac have to say on the matter, I have paid no attention to the DC Comics reboot of its entire line of superhero comics. So when I see references to it in the mainstream press, I pay a little more attention.

The Golden Age Lois Lane and Superman, from th...

The latest news is that Superman and Wonder Woman are now going to be the ultimate power couple. (The Guardian article has good links to related sites if you want more info.)

Writing Lois Lane out of Superman’s romantic mythology just seems … weird. Like setting Tarzan in Alaska. How can you turn your back on over 75 years of all that history? I’m sure they’ll bring Lois back in somehow, and this lets the new writers cut loose on creating some new mythologies, but still … There’s something mysterious and seductive about an alien humanoid with godlike powers falling in love with an aboriginal female of a primitive species. Call me an old curmudgeon who hates change.

That said – today’s classic reading on the topic is Larry Niven’s hilarious essay, “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” and that title tells you everything you need to know. The gross-out implications almost write themselves, don’t they? Sit back, relax, and prepare to snort into your morning coffee.

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Pop Songs are Sad Songs

But if it seems to you that the songs of today don't have that same kick anymore, then science has confirmed your intuition. The BPS Research Digest summarizes an article from the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts proposing that pop songs have indeed become more sad and more emotionally ambiguous. Here's the paragraph that caught my eye:

Unambiguously happy songs like Abba's Waterloo sound, to today's ears, "naive and slightly juvenile", the researchers noted. And whilst modern songs in a similar style, such as Aqua's Barbie Girl, can still enjoy huge commercial success, they're usually seen as a guilty pleasure and savaged by critics.

I will at some point have to decide whether I can accept my pleasures as pleasures and to hell with guilt and shame.

Well, in that spirit, why not go out with one of my faves from that happy, happy time? I remember buying the 45 for this song because it had a great beat and just sounded like a fun record. I would sometimes listen to it after a hard day at my first job as a reporter for a smalltown newspaper. I put this 45 on, flopped on my sofa, and tried to draw in its energy and pulse, like it was caffeine. (This was before I started drinking coffee.) The video is meh but I recall it made a big splash when it appeared. Another sign of the changing times.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p-lDYPR2P8&w=640&h=480]