Lost Worlds and A Strange Visitor From Another Planet

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I just re-watched the pilot of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1996).  It is actually pretty good, especially for a late-1990s superhero show.  It’s sly and clever, and does a nice job working around its obviously-inadequate effects budget.  There’s real chemistry between Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, as well.  Hatcher really sells Lois Lane as a modern women, the natural progression of the character’s strong arc since her introduction.

One thing really did stand out to me about this pilot, though, that is both endearing and maybe a little depressing.  The writers went with the “evil businessman” version of Lex Luthor that’s been common since the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  The pilot had to have Lex plotting some nefarious scheme for the sake of pure profit.  But what?

The sabotage of the space program.

Really.  The “Congress of Nations” is about to launch the first 100 colonists to a new space station (Prometheus).  Lex wants to blow up the launch, doom Prometheus, and replace it with Space Station Luthor.  (Of course.)  His motive is the billion-dollar patents that will flow from research done in zero-g on new drugs and treatments.  The loss of the first transport is greeted as a national tragedy.  The launch of the replacement (with the colonists) draws a viewing public all over the world, with everyone on the edge of their seats.

That’s what I find both endearing and sad.  When was the last time our (crewed) space program elicited that sort of enthusiasm?  Heck, we can’t even launch people into space anymore.   For the writers of this show, movement forward into space was the obvious, almost inevitable mark of progress, of there being a future.  It might well be the last time popular TV treated it that way.

And to me, that’s a little sad.  We have miracles and wonders today, of course, but somehow everything seems … small.  Musk and Bezos are slogging forward and dragging us, I suppose, but it certainly doesn’t fire the popular imagination any longer.  I hope we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the technology to meet its potential, but I don’t know.

(By the way, Superman — of course — foils the sabotage and lifts the transport into orbit himself.  Because, hey, Superman.)

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 9: Flatline

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Oh, heaven above, Steve Moffat is just determined that we all love Clara, and he’s going to keep forcing tripe like this on us until we give and accept she’s the bestest, most wonderful Companion ever, isn;’t he?

Spoilers below.

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Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 7: “Kill the Moon”

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Ugh.  This hasn’t been a great season, and this is far from the best.

Let’s begin with the very-overused flash forward.  It’s getting kind of old.  Used well, it can be very effective.  But Doctor Who isn’t using it very well.  They’ve used it as a cheap dramatic tool.  Actually the episode was full of cheap dramatic tools: The arbitrary countdown timer; the introduction of two characters whose sole purpose — almost literally — was to die to ratchet up the tension.

Perhaps the most telling flaw was the absolutely shameless theft of the idea behind Jack Williamson’s “Born of the Sun”, namely, that the solar system bodies were really eggs waiting to hatch.  That was awkward in the golden age of pulp, and here it’s just recycled pulp — and not even done as well!  The biology is ludicrous and the conclusion laughable.  And though I know Doctor Who is not hard sci-fi, I nearly choked on the idea that the egg was just gaining mass.  First of all, 1.5 billion tons would not be nearly enough to generate Earth-like gravity, much less world-ending tides.  Second, of course, an egg starts off with its full mass, which is merely converted by the embryo into, well, more embryo.  It doesn’t magically spawn new mass.  The not-quite-spiders are just icing on the screwed-up biology cake, of course, and hardly worth mentioning, since their only role was to pose a false threat and kill the hapless Mexican miners and the two men of the expedition.

Clara is faced with a terrible choice and attempts to punt.   (Turn off the lights?  Really? What about the half of the planet in daylight?  Who’s going to turn off the lights — individuals?  Electric companies? Governments?  How will it be weighted, by population or by lumens?  Luckily, of course, every single human on Earth votes to kill the creature, so at least there’s no awkward need for balancing ayes and nays.)  She decides to kill it, then decides not to — and is then mad at the Doctor for making her decide.

“It was cheap, it was pathetic ; it was patronising.”  Here, at last, I can find something about Clara Oswald with which I agree.  Oh, wait, she wasn’t talking about herself.  I think her anger is incoherent and forced.  I think she sounds like a spoiled child who, as the Doctor says, hasn’t even taken the training wheels off yet.  The emotion of her fight doesn’t ring true to me, and I share the Doctor’s befuddlement if only in trying to understand why I should care that she’s upset.

Up until now, Clara has been meh.  Now she’s small.  The Christmas special really can’t get here soon enough.

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 1 “Deep Breath”

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I finally got around to watching Season 8 Episode 1 (“Deep Breath”) of the revived Doctor Who.   It’s the first one with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  (What do we call him, anyway?  Is he the 12th Doctor, even though we know that Matt Smith‘s 11 was really the twelfth?)  So it’s probably worth a few words.

Warning: This will be rife with spoilers for which there will be no further apology.

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All good things may come to an end, but you can sometimes revisit them

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Today (2014 May 23) is the 20th anniversary of the airing of “All Good Things…”, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It cannot be denied that this series is directly responsible for the resurgence of American sci-fi on television – without the Enterprise-D, there would have been no Babylon 5, no Stargate, no reimagined Battlestar Galactica.  Without the evidence that “geek culture” could make real money, there might well have been no Dark Night, no Lord of the Rings (movies), no Game of Thrones (series), no Avengers assembled.

Watching it again, I was surprised how well this episode holds up as a capstone to an amazing series.  Sure, there are glitches – the anomaly grows larger in the past, except when it doesn’t, after being created by tachyon pulses emitted by three Enterprises except one of them was the Pasteur.  But that’s just nitpicking.  The key to Trek has never been the technobabble.  It’s been the intricate interplay between sharply-drawn characters who wear their humanity on their sleeve, and the ineffable possibilities of existence itself.  And ST:TNG still had that ineluctable optimism that characterized the original.  It had hope in the stars and hope in us.   As much as I enjoy the grittier fare we generally get these days, I will admit to missing that simple faith in the future.

Information in Action: What is a parent?

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I was just watching a season 2 episode of Castle called “When the Bough Breaks” and it annoyed me, by going along with a societal convention that annoys me.  In it, a young Czech immigrant is murdered and, after a convoluted investigation, it’s revealed that a doctor had switched his baby for hers in the delivery room.  The doctor’s child had an untreatable always-fatal condition and he couldn’t face it, so he changed the babies.  Eventually, she figured it out, arranged to get access to his son (which was in reality the child she bore), swap the boy’s mouth for DNA, and get a lab to confirm the identity.  The doctor panicked and killed the woman before she could tell anyone.

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