Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doctor Who: Graffiting History One Cliff Face at a Time

I really, really liked that the beginning was about the episodes that seemed to have little to do with the Crack in the Skin of the Universe theme -- Vincent Van Gough, Bracewell and Churchill -- Liz 10, brilliant as always. And I'm the bloody queen.

What do they call that -- spunk?

And speaking of spunk -- and pure cheekiness -- what about Doctor Riversong?

(and what about that corset she was wearing when she stole the painting?)

I got a very Indiana Jones feel from her this time around -- only very much cooler. Seeing her in prison, putting micro-explosives in people's wines, not having an apparent qualm in purchasing a

A vortex manipulator - fresh off the wrist of a handsome time agent.

I'm pretty sure Riversong is a Slytherin -- if the Harry Potter 'verse and the Who-verse collided. But really! The poor Time Agent - I felt my latent desire to write fan fiction stir -- I need more time!

But what I really loved about this episode was its core theme of perception.

Even the hallucinogenic lipstick is all about perceptions - and I'm pretty sure I could add in some comment about how Riversong uses her sexuality to muddle things up a bit - but I love how she's so much more than that. A true adventurer.

But what about the big perception, the nice, juicy twist at the end of the episode.

I know last week I mentioned that there were rumors that the thing in the Pandorica was the Doctor because the way the Doctor described the thing inside seemed to be descriptive of the Doctor himself (or so people said).

I never really got that.

River: [The Pandorica] was built to contain the most feared thing in the Universe.

Doctor: And it's a fairy tale, a legend - it can't be real!

[. . .]

Doctor: If the Pandorica is here, it contains the mightiest warrior in history.

[. . .]

Doctor: There was a goblin or a trickster or a warrior - a nameless, terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos - and nothing could stop it or hold it or reason with it. One day it would just drop down out of the sky and tear down your world.

Amy: How'd it end up in there?

Doctor: oh you know fairy tales - a good wizard tricked it.

Maybe it's because I haven't watched Classic Who - but I don't really get that sort of vibe from the New Who Doctor. Except for the fact that he's a trickster - he after all tricked the Daleks by threatening to blow up the TARDIS with a pastry (seems a bit ironic now). But a warrior? A thing that destroys worlds? I mean, the Doctor does has blood on his hands - but he usually attempts to help them (unless they're just downright nasty like daleks) first (I'm thinking of 9's Slitheen, 11's attempt to keep the Vampire-Fish lady from throwing herself into the water, etc).

I think that "Amy's Choice" really hinted at the darker bits of the Doctor rather nicely - and I don't think it matches the description of what he thought was in the Pandorica. Or even the second episode with the space whale - how he said he'd have to change his name from "Doctor" -- and doctors are the opposite of warriors. Anyway, I wasn't expecting to find the Doctor inside - one way or the other. So the twist was really surprising and jaw dropping for me and omg wtf-ery -- especially because of how it's playing with this idea of perception.

The Doctor and who we might consider the "good guys" might not think that the Doctor is a blood-soaked warrior -- but the people on the losing side would be more inclined to paint him differently, especially if they've been manipulated by the person who keeps on saying "Silence Will Fall."

(I also like how the Doctor's perceptions of his enemies blinded him to figuring out why they weren't just attacking him outright -- because, though I really enjoyed his speech and all -- Guess who! -- and generally thought it was brilliant, there was just no way they wouldn't blast him off that rock unless they had ulterior motives -- and, since I was thinking of these people as the typical big bads -- and hoping against hope we wouldn't have another shoot out like seasons 1, 2, and 4 -- I also didn't think they'd be working together.)

This depiction of the Doctor in different roles seems to be another ongoing theme. Vincent being even more intense than the Doctor, the Doctor living a domestic life as a lodger (positively nightmare-ish), the so-called Dream Lord -- it continues here by putting the Doctor as the most feared man of the cosmos and positing the Big Bad of the Season as the good guy/wizard (from a purely character based point of view of course). Gods, I love this exploration of character!

So who's the Good Wizard that out-tricked the trickster?

(May I take this moment to point out that if the Writers-That-Be wanted John Simms to reprise his role as the Master it would have been better to have brought him back for this story line rather than that ridiculous-let's-pretend-it-didn't-exist two part Christmas special that was just absurd and not in a good way. Also? It would have added a bit more irony since Ten wanted to lock him up in the TARDIS, nice safe and out of the way, though not quite so dramatic a statement as the Pandorica.)

But I honestly have no idea who the "Good Wizard" might be. But then again, I try not to predict stories - I feel it's sort of like those people who try to finish your sentences and sometimes they get it right but it's just annoying (especially since predictions come with pre-conceptions which can sort of miss out what the story might be saying - but that's just my personal opinion).

I'm pretty sure the Good Wizard is the voice that says "Silence will fall" - but then I'm not really sure why he's using the usual bad guys to lock the Doctor up safely out the way. They're doing it to save the universe from the cracks (some of which have silence on the other side from the vampire-fish-from-space episode), so why does he say that silence will fall in such a confident, prophetic manner unless he's using the cracks to manipulate the Daleks, Cybermen, and everybody else in order to gain other ends? If he knows that Riversong threw a stick in master scheme to keep the TARDIS from going kaplooie then why wouldn't he let her out if his intention was to stop the cracks and therefore the silence? I'm hoping this means there's going to be even more complexities to this already complex season. =}

Speaking of fairy tales -- the Pandorica, Amelia Pond, whose name is just a bit fairy tale -- perhaps the next episode will address duckless duck ponds?

And speaking of Amy - the perception of memory? And the return of --


*Happy dance of glee!*

I had seen his name on IMDB before the first episode - but I had honestly thought he'd just return as a flashback of some sort.

I was so, so happy because I love Rory and his presence was more than I had expected.

I loved how it was a unpredictable reaction to his re-appearance both from the Doctor and from Amy.

Doctor: Romans! Good, I was just wishing for Romans. Good old River. How many?

Rory: 50 men up top, volunteers.

Doctor: 50 -- not exactly a legion.

Rory: your friend was very persuasive - but uh, it's a tough sell.

Doctor: Yes I know that Rory I'm not exactly one to miss the obvious but we need everything we can get. Okay! Cyberweapons! This is basically a sentry box - the headless wonder here was a century. Probably got himself duffed up by the locals - never underestimate a celt.

Rory: Doctor -

Doctor: Hush Rory -- thinking -- but leave a cyberman on guard unless its a cyberthing in the box but why lock up one of their own okay no not a cyber thing but what, what -- noooo missing something obvious Rory, something big something right slap in front of me -- I can feel it.

Rory: yeah I think you probably are.

Doctor: I'll get it in a minute. [pokes Rory] Hello again.

Rory: Hello

Doctor: How've you been?

Rory: Good. I mean, Roman.

Doctor: Rory! I'm not trying to be rude - but you died.

Rory: Yeah I know I was there.

Doctor: you died and you were erased from time you didn't just die you were never born at all you never - existed!

Rory: Erased, what does that mean?

Doctor: how can you be here?

Rory: Well -- I don't know. It's kind of fuzzy - well, I died and turned into a Roman - it's very distracting.

And then, and then - this heartbreaking explanation the Doctor provides Rory for his existence:

The universe is big - it's vast and complicated and ridiculous and sometimes, very rare, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. and that's a theory - in nine hundred years never seen one yet. but this would do me.

And it's not miraculous at all - it's just heartbreaking and sad and tragic because Rory's an Auton - a "thing" as he called it -- oh my god, poor Rory.

It makes this end even more tragic because there's no clapping of the hands and a sweet I do believe I'm human, I do, I do like there was with Bracewell.

Crying out, I'm Rory, I'm Rory! isn't enough - it just isn't. Amy remembering him isn't enough. The ring isn't enough.

Oh my poor Rory (is it just me, or are the companions having a rougher time than usual this season? Not that I mind, it's just so incredibly sad in a good way).

Other Remarkable Moments (though the whole episode was pretty much remarkable)

So he's seen the fragment of TARDIS, he's seen the painting - and he's still so excited to go poke something unknown and weird with a stick. I love it, I love his child like wonder...(I think Wordsworth would approve...)

I loved the way the Doctor used his hands in this episode - the thumbs up to danger, the exaggerated hand movement when he whispered to Rory, "how are you here," the multiple times he bopped his head with his sonic screwdriver. I really think the emotional tone they hit here with his body language and physical dialogue was just right -- the music when they dragged him to the Pandorica, his intense pleading (that didn't sound desperate or weak) combined with his tangible fear -- very good (and I liked they focused more on the less predictable emotions that would have been involved).

Amy: Oh I know. My favorite topic in school. Invasion of the Hot Italians. Yeah, I think I got marked down for the title.

As a future English teacher, I want to say that I wouldn't have marked her down for it (if the essay itself was good) but on the other hand, I could see why they would have marked her down for it...bloody school! Sucking all the fun out of everything. ;)

Doctor: That's a memory. Friend of mine, someone I lost. Would you -- mind? People fall out of the world sometimes, but they always leave traces. Little things we can't quite account for: faces in photographs, luggage, half eaten meals -- rings. Nothing is ever forgotten not completely and if something can be remembered - it can come back.

More on the perception thing - very nice.

When you fight barbarians what must they think of you? Where do they think you come from? Where do I come from? Your world has visitors. You're all barbarians now. A fool would say the work of the gods - but you've been a soldier too long to believe there are gods watching over us.

I don't want to beat my hobby horse too much - but I do like this quote an awful lot.

Yeah it's just like being an organ donor only you're alive and sort of... screaming

Also? The Cybermen reached a new level of creepiness - my skin crawled when the face split down the middle, and then it crawled even more when it flapped it's little metal face-cupboards at Amy -- *shiver*

Rory, I'm sorry but you're going to have to be very brave now.

*sniffle sniffle*

Still -- if the Pandorica is a play on Pandora's Box - then, though Amy referred to it as holding all the "worst things in the world," there really was only one thing left in it when it was closed again -- Hope.

Oh, the different perceptions of Pandora's Box combined with the different perceptions of Doctor Who is very interesting.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Doctor Who: Triumph of the Sopha Man

First, the preliminaries:

1. I loved this episode because I thought Matt Smith was brilliant in it.
2. I hated this episode from a writerly perspective.

Spoilers beneath the fold:

The Mere Devices
  • The Ear Piece.

So the episode opens with the TARDIS taking off without the Doctor. Awesome. Because what and who is the Doctor without the TARDIS - an idea that was kinda/sorta addressed in Blink but again the story wasn't really about the Doctor being without the TARDIS - and I believe that this would have been an interesting episode in which to develop that relationship more. Or am I just crazy for wanting that?

The audience is given hints that the Doctor is a bit off -- not just his delightfully bizarre behavior when he shows up as the Lodger, but in his apparent identity crisis:

I'm the Doctor. Well, they call me the Doctor. Don't know why. I call me the Doctor too. [pause] Still don't know why.

or even

Call me the rotmeister. No I'm the Doctor don't call me the rotmeister.

and then an almost overzealous affirmation of his identity, as if he has to convince himself who he is:

Football player: We're going to annihilate them!

Doctor: Annihilate - no, no violence do you understand me not when I'm around not today not ever I'm the Doctor the oncoming storm and you basically meant beat them in a football match didn't you?

(Though I also think that last bit served dual purposes: poking a bit of fun at the life and death world in constant peril theme that weaves into the Doctor Who mythos -- showed up even in "The Lodger" because if he touched the thingamabob the solar system would go kaplooie; but I still think it also reveals a driving need to somehow reaffirm to himself that he is the Doctor.)

In my mind, this would be an interesting concept: TARDIS gone. Without the TARDIS, how can he be the Doctor? What about Amy? Oh my gods, how will he ever live his life again - will he be confined to a life of domesticity (as seen in "Amy's Choice") - a life which he described as a "nightmare?"

Instead, all that danger and tension is removed because of this:

This. Really. Irritated. Me.

Where did he get it? He tells Amy not to wreck his "new earpiece" - but where did he get it? And, more importantly, why did he have to have a new ear piece. It removes so much of the Danger aspect this episode had the potential to have. I felt cheated.

Instead of being completely separated from the TARDIS and Amy, he's still got a tenuous connection - which just...I mean, we already know it's going to work out alright in the end - why not just go all out and play with the idea of the Doctor being TARDISless for a while?

  • The Non-technology Technology.

It's art! A statement on modern society! Oo! Ain't modern society awful.

(Despite my comments below, watching the Doctor do mad science with his suspenders looped off and wrists cuffs rolled up was very...nice in an oddly, adorkable, attractive sort of way.)

But that said - I just honestly didn't get the point of this contraption. No traces of technology, all too normal -- and then there's a wanna-be-tardis on the roof. Even if the sensor was boggled with the Perception Filter (or the Doctor's ability to read it right)...I don't know, it just seemed like an excuse to get Amy to look at the plans of the house (which sounded so Supernatural to me). Which isn't bad in and of itself - plot basically consists of cause and effect - but this felt a bit to me.

  • The Psychic Connections


The Doctor was able to pull a Spock on Reinette, but being able to talk to cats? Has he ever talked to animals before (I haven't seen Classic Who so honestly don't know if it's truly out of character)? It's like the writers said, Oh the Doctor needs to find out that people go in but they never come out and since he hasn't observed this for himself we'll just have the cat tell him.

Uh huh.

Yeah, that

Personally, I think it would have been cooler and slightly more terrifying to have the people go upstairs-that's-not-upstairs for a spot of tea - the Doctor says hello, the rot grows, and then they never come down. Because then the audience would have been shown that and experience it with the Doctor instead of knowing what he doesn't know, precipitating the boring reading of the cat's mind scene to catch him up with the audience.

It's not that I don't like knowing something the protagonist doesn't know - I just find it boring when the character has to be "caught up" in a scene with a character telling another character what the audience already knows like a walking, talking billboard. It's not too bad when there's a Big Reveal about something the audience knew when there are different character dynamics at stake - intrigues and desires and so on and so forth.

But this was a cat.

It peeved me.

Plottable Inconsistencies

  • What's in the Second Floor?

So, at the beginning of the episode, they thought they were on some moon or other. Then the TARDIS leaves the Doctor behind. Then somehow he knows that there's something stopping the TARDIS and that it's upstairs in that flat. But how does he figure all that out? Did he talk Amy through it with the ear piece? If so, why couldn't the audience have seen that too?

(I am aware that I watched this all hodgepodge and that I'm writing this review days after I've seen it instead of hours -- so I probably missed something -- enlighten me?)

  • The Psychic Connection (again)

Reinette: intimate.
Kitty: sweet.
Craig: violent.


The Theme

Earlier on the episode we have a scene that is a reprisal of the Being Best of Humanity scene in "The Hungry Earth" but only on a much smaller, but still relevant scale:

Doctor: Well perhaps that you then - perhaps you'll just have to stay here secure and a little bit miserable till the day you drop. Better than trying and failing eh?

Sophie: You think I failed.

Doctor: Oh everybody's got dreams, Sophie. Very few are going to achieve them so why pretend. Perhaps, in the whole wide universe, a call center is about where you should be.

Sophie: Why are you saying that -- that's horrible!

Doctor: Is it true?

Sophie: Of course it isn't true, I'm not staying in a call center all my life, I can do anything I want.

Doctor: It's a big old world, Sophie - work out what's really keeping you here, eh?

Perhaps, simply because of where I am in life right now, I really, really liked this little speech -- even if it was slightly cheesy (but I like cheese, so).

Earlier, we had this exchange between the Doctor and Craig after Craig said he wasn't much of a traveler:

I can tell from your sofa -- you're starting to look like it.

With just the tiniest bit of disapproval - of course, Craig and the Doctor are polar opposites: one travels the whole of space and time, and the other can't even see the point of London. Or Paris. Or anywhere without Sophie (which really, really irritates me -- he'd rather be a sofa than actually do something with his life -- to live it to its fullest potential).

And then he saves the day because he is "Mr. Sofa Man" - even after being inside the Doctor's head. An entire universe and not one bit of him wants to go and be magnificent? Not only that but Sophie -- the girl who was going to do something with her life -- decides to stay, give up her dreams (because she helped turn off the machine, meaning she no longer wanted to stay) because Craig loves her.

I hate that idea. Again - it may be just because I'm in a particularly bad spot with my own relationship and it's coloring my interpretation -- but still. It rubs me the wrong way. And even though Craig said that he could see the point of Paris with Sophie -- I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting.

The Problem with Amy

And no - not referring to the widening of the crack because of her ring. She had like - nothing to do in this episode. She was just -- there. Would have been much more exciting if, in the same way the Doctor had to deal with being without the TARDIS, she had to deal with learning how to fly the TARDIS.

Oh god. I cannot believe I am about to say this considering how much I really disliked Rose as a character but --

Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS. And then she flew that thing right back to the Doctor. Amy, on the other hand, is so much more amazing than Rose (imo) - and what does the audience get? Just her pulling the zig zag thing, generally telling the Doctor to hurry it up, and just being there. In the background. All static and boring. With the obligatory necessary piece of info towards the end, of course. No character development at all.

And towards the end, she asks the Doctor why he can't find her a fella - right after she told Van Gough that she wasn't the marrying type. Though it does solidify her relationship with the Doctor as a nonsexual, nonromantic one - which is nice.

The Good Bits

But, divorcing myself from the structural aspects of the story, I really did like this one.

For example, I liked that they continued the theme of putting the Doctor out of his element, which they also did in "Vincent and the Doctor."

I love the Doctor's absolute cluelessness:

Less of a young professional more of an -- ancient...amateur. But frankly, I'm an absolute dream.

Have some rent. That's probably quite a lot, isn't it. Looks like a lot. Is it a lot? I can never tell. Don't spend it all on sweets, unless you like sweets. I like sweets.

My room? Oh yes, my room. My room. Take me to my room.

I believe this sort of thing enhances his alien-ness. Really, really well done. And not only his alienness, but they're also emphasizing more the fact that he's a Time Lord, which I don't recall being mentioned so often as it has been here:

Craig: Where did you learn to cook?

Doctor: Paris in the 18th century. No hang on. That's nto recent is it. 17th? No no no 20th. Sorry, I'm not used to doing them in the right order.

Craig: Has anybody ever told you you're a bit weird?

Doctor: They never really stop.

It just seems more time-lordy to me when they address the fact that he does experience time differently - which has been mentioned before, but never in such small, everyday ways (like the bit with Van Gough when he muses on how time passes normally...really slowly). It's just nice to have the different perspective on what we earthlings would consider normal. Makes him more three dimensional.

As always, I like how they continue to portray sexuality in the show:

Craig: [when Craig told the Doctor to shout] in case you'd want to bring someone round, a girlfriend or ... boyfriend...

Doctor: Oh I will - I'll shout if that happens.

They touched on this when he was 9 with Captain Jack (when Rose thought she should distract the guard when he was actually not into girls at all -- bit of a commentary on society's assumed hetero-as-the-norm perspectives) - but it was nice to see that it wasn't portrayed as weird or abnormal, sort of like how it is in Caprica. The Doctor doesn't care - he's more concerned with the shouting bit...and totally misunderstanding this earthly custom of which Craig is speaking.

And while I'm on the subject of sexuality, what about gender?

You know, usually it's women who are portrayed as those who nurse people back to health -- but here we have the Doctor doctoring and being heroic when those are roles usually reserved for two different people - one who is considered masculine and the other feminine. Really complicates and three dimensionalizes the Doctor as a person/character.

I love how smiley and child-like he was when he was jumping on the bed. :)

I think that 11 misses the brainy specs - first goggles, then snazzy shades that could see body heat, now this? Definitely.

Hello. Oops. Sorry. Don't worry I wasn't listening...just reconnecting all the elctrodes - it's a real mess. Where's the on switch for this?

Ah, 11, socially clueless as ever. =)

And the hair - the crazy hair, the madcap hair!

Yes. I did love Matt Smith's performance. I did fall even deeper in love with 11 than I had been before -- even though I still think it would be cooler if certain aspects of his character had been explored with more nuance and subtlety.

Which leaves me with the Perception Filter.

I didn't put it with the Plot Devices because I don't think it is one -- it does appear to be the recurring theme though, and I'm hoping that the finale episodes coming up will have something to do with perception, how people see things, that sort of thing.

All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it's like being ambushed by a grotesque. -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I've heard the speculation that, in the preview for the Pandorica, that the person the Doctor is describing is actually the Doctor -- which I'm not sure how I feel about that. I hope it's something a bit more complex than that - because in "Amy's Choice" we already got to see the Doctor's darker self -- hoping for something a bit new, more in the corner of your eye sort of thing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Doctor Who: Absolutely Gonzo

I honestly don't even know where to begin with this extremely dense, complicated, beautiful episode. But first, I'd like to apologize. In my previous Doctor Who post I said this looked like mostly filler -- I was completely wrong, please forgive me. This episode also reduced me to tears every time I watched it (which was three times, total). Also, apparently I have been mispronouncing Vincent Van Gogh's name. I am sorry, my good sir. American ears, American tongue -- oh don't even ask. (Also, forgive the pic spam - the cinematography in this episode was exquisite).

I suppose I will start with the title: "Vincent and the Doctor" -- because it really is all about those two, though Amy, you were magnificent too. And also with a brief nod to the plot: I was astonished when the monster died a full twenty minutes before the end of the episode -- it's so rare where the plot isn't about killing the ep's Big Bad but completely and totally about the characters. It was delicious.

But, for the first time, the Doctor's usual "role" was given to a human. Normally, it's people who don't see what the Doctor sees, humans who fear to look out of the corner of their eyes. Usually, the Doctor, in his 907 years, has experienced more than one human could in their paltry life span.

But this time, it's Van Gogh who sees differently, who sees what the Doctor doesn't see. This, of course, goes beyond a mere monster, but to aspects of the Universe which the Doctor probably couldn't even imagine.

It was a fascinating role reversal -- the character dynamics/exploration was fantastic.

Vincent says,

It's color - color that holds the key. I can hear the colors. Listen to them - every time I step outside, I feel nature shouting at me: Come on, come and get me. Come on, come on: capture my mystery!

And it's beautiful how the Doctor tries to hear what Vincent hears:

Then, another physical manifestation of the two role reversals: Vincent intrudes into the Doctor's personal space in a very Doctor-esque manner:

And, Van Gogh says, through tears:

Doctor: my experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly, always hope.

Vincent: Then your experience is incomplete.

As I said, the character dynamics in this episode are astounding.

The second major element in this episode is that of sight -- who sees what and who doesn't. Coincidentally enough, even though the crack doesn't show up personally in this episode (or did I just miss it?), I believe the idea of it is still there. In the same way that the Doctor can't "see" (as in understand) the crack in the universe, so can't the Doctor see the monster, though Van Gogh can. In the same way that Amy can't "see" Rory, so can't she see the monster, though Van Gogh can see the sorrow of her heart in the same way that he can see the monster.

Vincent: If Amy Pond can soldier on, then so can Vincent Van Gogh.

Amy: I'm not soldiering on - I'm fine.

Vincent: Ah Amy - I hear the song of your sadness. You've lost someone I think.

Amy: I'm not sad.

Vincent: Then why are you crying? It's alright - I understand.

Amy: I'm not sure I do.

Such a beautiful exchange - my heart almost broke (it was also fascinating to see how the Doctor reacted to Rory's death -- besides accidentally calling Vincent "Rory," whenever Amy seemed to get cozy with Vincent he'd always interrupt or change the subject; just heartbreaking).

The third element of excellence is that this episode is very, very meta. It was all about exploring both art and story and the purpose of such pursuits.

The episode answers the question of what art is:

Vincent: It seems to me there is so much more to the world than the average eyes see -- I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.

And, if you look hard enough -- you can find it, and show the entire world what they don't see, revealing to them the beauty of the universe.

Touching back on the first episode, people don't like seeing the things in the corner of their eyes. People cast stones at Vincent, describe him as mad, and even the Doctor at first believes Vincent is having a kind of "fit" when he faces the monster for the first time. And aren't all artists just a little insane? Don't we have to be -- to see what others don't? See, this is the importance of literature -- shedding light into an old, dusty world where people are content with the status quo.

The episode explores a flagrant literary device which has often become the Doctor's little I win button: the sonic screwdriver (otherwise known as the Golux of the Who-verse).

Vincent: But you're not armed!

Doctor: I am.

Vincent: What with?

Doctor: Overconfidence, this, and a small screwdriver - I'm absolutely sorted. Sonic never fails.

And then later (when the sonic most definitely failed), the Doctor says:

My only definite plan is that in the future I'm definitely just using this screwdriver for screwing in screws.

I just think it's cool that the writers-that-be recognized that yes, the sonic screwdriver is a plot device and they bloody well know it.

And what artist doesn't want to see his legacy, to know that somehow, they have shown the world something beautiful, that they have made the world a better place?

To me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. The most beloved, his command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world - nobody had ever done it before.

And isn't that a beautiful sentiment? Isn't that what artists should try to portray, to express?

Remarkable Moments

I believe that there is a timey wimey moment in this episode. In the beginning, you hear the creature stomping, stampeding through the fields of wheat. Then it pans to Van Gogh painting the same scene -- but there is no creature in the painting, like there was in the church. So, could he always see beyond the crack (and he just chose not to paint the monster) or was there a point in time when he could not "see"?

Loved the bow tie exchange:

Doctor: Nice bow tie. Bow ties are cool.

Curator: Yours is very --

Doctor: Oh thank you -- keep telling them stuff.

See, fashion isn't only limited to girls (gender bender) but can be adorably geeky too.

I loved, loved, loved the Doctor's use of morphemes in this episode (it almost sounded a tish Whedonesque - delightful):

So -- Vincent, painted any churches recently -- any, any churchy plans?

It made the fledgling grammar geek in training go squee.

Right you're here somewhere! I can't apologize enough! I thought you were just a useless gadget, I thought you were just an embarrassing present from a dull godmother and bad breath and two heads -- twice. How wrong can a man be?

I think it's wonderful and adorable how happy and excited the Doctor is that he was wrong about something. Also? The godmother? Very fairytale -- all turned on its head.

This is the problem with the Impressionists - not accurate enough. This never would have happened with Gainsborough (sp?) or one of those proper painters. Sorry, Vincent -- you'll just have to draw something better.

There was so much good dialogue in this episode -- it's just hard not to quote the entire thing from beginning to end:

Doctor: Okay, okay. So now, we must have a plan - when the creature returns --

Vincent: Then we shall fight him again!

Doctor: Well, yes...tick.

Amy: You do have a plan, don't you?

Doctor: No. It's a thing - it's like a plan, but with more grey bits.

And Vincent is obviously armed with an abundance of enthusiasm. ;)

Oh, and the Doctor bored!

I remember watching Michael Angelo painting the Cistine Chapel. Wow! What a whinger. I kept saying to him, 'Look, if you're scared of heights you shouldn't have taken the job, mate.' And Picasso - what a ghastly old goat. I kept telling him, 'Concentrate, Pablo, it's one eye, either side of the face. Is this how time normally passes, really slowly, in the right order? It's one thing I can't stand it's an unpunctual alien attack!

Ghastly old goat definitely filing that one away for when an insult is required.

But notice how very clearly that the Doctor just doesn't seem to understand art -- not like Amy or definitely Vincent (more intriguing character dynamics!). I really love how developed Amy was in this episode as one of my fears following her forgetting Rory and therefore the integral parts of the past three episodes was that her character would de-evolve, but instead, she develops!

She has a fondness for Van Gogh (never knew that before) and, even as she's watching him, it is immediately obvious that she's grown up.

She brightened the place up for Vincent -- looking amazingly gorgeous, I might add.

But, even at the end, when she's so full of joy, excitement, and expectation --

Time can be rewritten! I know it can! Oh the long life of Vincent Van Gogh - there will be hundreds of new paintings!

And she realizes that he still committed suicide -- it's heartbreaking.

I'm just glad she went forwards, instead of backwards.

This is what? A church depiction of St. George slaying the dragon? I thought it was a nice parallel with Vincent actually slaying the monster and the Doctor concluding that --

Sometimes winning -- winning is no fun at all.

Of course, they discover that the Monster is blind, and afraid -- ultimately humanizing the 'monster' -- that, compared with the engraving, seems to implicitly challenge the viewers to question, to explore their inherent assumptions about the world: are the dragons in our lives really evil - or do we just think they are?

I really appreciated the Doctor saying,

I suppose we could try talking to him [the monster]. Well, yes, it might be interesting to know his side of the story. Yes. Well maybe he's not in the mood for conversation at this precise moment. Well, no harm trying.

It reminded me of The Forever War -- and notice how he didn't depersonify the monster; he used the pronoun 'him' instead of 'it'.

Another meta moment as the episode expresses what artists do, reveals the things they see that others don't -- utterly beautiful, exquisite -- poetically visual to an awe inspiring degree (and quite possibly one of my favorite scenes in this episode).

Vincent: Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We're so lucky we're still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky - it's not dark and black without character. The black is in fact deep blue and over there - lighter blue. And blowing through the blueness and the blackness -- the wind swirling through the air and the shining, burning bursting through - the stars -- can you see how they throw their light, everywhere we look the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

Doctor: I've seen many things, my friend - but you're right - nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see.

I adore how much love features in this episode in the dialogue, in the characters' physical interactions with each other...

Doctor: Anyway, Amy, only one thought, one simple instruction: don't follow me under any circumstances.

Amy: I won't.

Vincent: Will you follow him?

Amy: Of course!

Vincent: I love you

And, near the end when Van Gogh says,

We have fought monsters together and we have won. On my own I fear I may not do as well.

The Doctor gives him this beautiful hug:

And it's so sad because Vincent is right: he ends up committing suicide -- and that's tragic. Also, the Doctor looks this image. Sad.

Amy: We didn't make a difference at all.

Doctor: I wouldn't say that - the way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey, the good things don't always soften the bad things but vice versa: the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.

This is such a beautiful, beautiful sentiment. It gave me the weepies.

Vincent: [Sunflowers aren't] my favorite's not that I don't like them, I find them complex, always somewhere between living and dying.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Forever War: A Review

As I'm reading The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, I've noticed that sexuality appears to be an underlying theme. At first, I couldn't determine if the author was homophobic or if the protagonist was homophobic or if its a little bit of both.

For example, when Mandella discovers that about a third of the population back on earth are homosexual he says,

I never had much trouble accepting homosexuals myself, but then I'd never had to cope with such an abundance of them.

Which isn't actually acceptance at all -- because, in his view, they are not necessarily people, just things to be dealt with or tolerated to an extent. I still haven't determined if Haldeman challenges this view by his depiction of homosexuals in the text, or if he reinforces this idea as the text continues.

Mandella's reaction to the idea that his mother had a woman lover was also ultimately negative because he left the house much earlier than he had planned. He also felt "hollow and lost."

Later on, Mandella says,

I'd gotten used to open female homosex in the months since we'd left Earth. Even stopped resenting the loss of potential partners. The men together still gave me a chill, though.

I found this mildly offensive - sex is sex, one shouldn't be worse than the other. Also, potential partners? He's ultimately putting himself first and the women as secondary of concern -- which is basically objectification. In other words, women are meant to be potential partners for himself, instead of their own individual selves.

But then we have this little conversation with an officer who is supposed to help him deal with the time dilation (he's technically a couple centuries old, even though he's only "lived" much, much less than that):

"The main problem is with, uh, you're [Mandella] heterosexual."

"Oh, that's no problem. I'm tolerant."

"Yes, your profile shows that you . . . think you're tolerant, but that's not the problem, exactly." [. . .] Only emotionally stable people are drafted in UNEF. I know this is hard for you to accept, but heterosexuality is considered an emotional dysfunction. Relatively easy to cure."

"If they think they're going to cure me --"

"Relax, you're too old [. . .] William, everybody on Earth is homosexual. Except for a thousand or so; veterans and incurables."

[. . .]

O brave new world, I thought. "[. . .] A billion perfectly adjusted homosexuals."

"Perfectly adjusted by present-day Earth standards. You and I might find them a little odd."

"That's an understatement. [. . .] Yourself, you, uh, . . . are you homosexual?"

"Oh, no," he said. I relaxed. "Actually though, I'm not hetero anymore either. [. . .] Nothing but metal and plastic from the waist down. To use your word, I'm a cyborg."

[. . .]

Sitting here in a bar with an asexual cyborg who is probably the only other normal person on the whole god-damned planet.

1. The officer calls Mandella out -- he thinks he's tolerant, but he's really not. I appreciate that. I also don't think the officer is tolerant either as there is still a sense that homosexuals aren't people, but some kind of Other (because they're odd). Now, I can understand the new recruits being odd -- but not because of their sexuality but because of culture/future shock (they come from different centuries after all).

2. Haldeman essentially flips the table on sexuality: instead of homosexuality in need of being "cured" (as some circles seem to think even today), heterosexuality is the one in need of being cured (I argue, why does sexuality need to be cured in the first place?). Instead of homosexuals protesting that they don't or shouldn't be cured, heterosexual Mandella instantly rebels against the very notion of changing or being "cured" -- like most people would (I wonder how the heterosexuals in The Forever War universe felt about being cured to homosexuality and if there were any riots/protests, etc).

3. Mandella still considers homosexuality to be abnormal, as evidenced by his discomfort when he thought the officer was a homosexual and his observation that, because of the officer's non-homosexuality, he is the only other normal person. Personally, I find it sad that Mandella would consider something inherently unnatural as machinery instead of healthy human organic material to be more natural than naturally occurring homosexuality (before, in terms of the story, people were engineered/cured to be homosexual that is -- which I don't really consider natural).

I also find the depiction of homosexuality in the book to be somewhat stereotypical:

When Mandella first found out the prevalence of homosexuality back on earth, the man who briefed him on how times had changed is described like this:

It looked as if there was something wrong with his skin, his face; and then I realized he was wearing powder and lipstick. His nails were smooth white almonds.

He looks unnatural, but more than that, he is unnaturally effeminate.

Later on, Mandella and his female lover are treated by a doctor who

fluttered his hands. [. . .] Foster was all right. A flaming mariposa, but he had an amused tolerance for heterosexuality.

A mariposa is a flower, which is often associated with femininity. And the fluttering of the hands is also associated with weak femininity -- you know, the kind that swoon into a hero's arms.

I found this portrayal of homosexuality to be constant throughout the novel. Towards the end, people could switch whichever way they desired -- I suppose that would be nice since it would be individual choice. But homosexuality is still given the stint.

For example, when they all get back and realize that the war is /finally/ over, they find that there are a lot of clones of a perfect individual running around. The clone says that heterosexuality is in vogue again in order to keep a good supply of genes on hand in case the cloning doesn't work out but that a homosexual doesn't

have to go to these breeder planets. You can stay on one of my planets [the clone planets].
And then later on Charlie, a homosexual, says that he's going to be switched over to heterosexuality because the alternative of having sex with a Male clone is less attractive than having sex with women. But surely there are other homosexual men who wouldn't want to make the switch? Am I missing something?

So why am I harping on this? Science Fiction is about the future. It's about exploring our souls in terms in hypothetical scenarios with a science-ish slant. It's about experimenting with different way to view things. It is for this reason that I believe Science Fiction is so ideal in breaking people out of their boxes and their preconceptions. Yet both Stranger in a Strange Land and The Forever War put decidedly negative, bigoted, narrow minded views about homosexuality. Sexuality is an ideal which much of the modern science fiction fare today is content to leave at the status quo -- which really frustrates me. It's one of the reasons I adore Caprica because they have non-stereotypical homosexual characters who are real and married. One of the characters can say that his brother would get the girls and he'd try to catch the eye of some guy -- it's portrayed as so normal and natural that there's not even a word for homosexuality in Caprican culture (or so I understand). This is what I'm talking about -- I adore it when science fiction uses it's hypothetical scenarios to just turn around and challenge the way people view the world.

I still appreciate the way Haldeman flips the tables -- this was written in 1975 and I think the scenarios Haldeman proposes questions what many people would have considered "natural" or "normal" in that time era -- and even today, really. Even as the prevalence of homosexuality is ultimately a social construction, I think the implication that Haldeman should be making is that the assumed normalcy and naturalness of heterosexuality is also a social construction, a revision or challenge of the socially constructed assumptions regarding the inherent normalcy (or naturalness, rightness) of heterosexuality.

However, as much as I hoped that the story would go in this direction, it ultimately did not: the prevalence of homosexuality in The Forever War universe is unnatural because people are engineered or cured to be homosexual -- in other words, aspects of their identity are being suppressed. I find this inherently problematic -- as if Haldeman is trying to say that heterosexuality really is the normative standard because people have to be forced/fitted to be homosexual. In other words, homosexuality is still portrayed as an unnatural occurrence in The Forever War universe, instead of being as natural as heterosexuality.