Saturday, February 25, 2012

USS Enterprise

Thanks to a good high school buddy of mine, Lieutenant Commander Zak LaPointe, Brooke and I got a fascinating tour of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier today. Really a once in a lifetime experience.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, February 24, 2012

Doctor Who: Boom Town

In episode 11 of season 1 of Doctor Who, entitled "Boom Town," we have the reintroduction of the family Slitheen from the planet Raxicoricofallipatorious (spelling?).

This was a very interesting episode, especially in relation to the Doctor's characterization as a god.  The series has constantly been playing with the idea that the Doctor should be viewed as some sort of god.  The show's background is, of course, not that of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  It does not suppose one, all powerful God, besides which everything else is part of creation.  Rather, we are closer to ancient polytheistic mythology.  Each alien species might be considered a "god" due to their advanced technology. Yet, the show is always pushing right up against the notion of the Doctor as a god in relation to humanity.  Indeed, the Doctor does fit into such a characterization, especially in this episode.

The episode starts as if it were going to be just boring day.  The Tardis is recharging (didn't know it had to do that) on the space/time rift in Cardiff of Wales that we encountered in 1-3, "The Unquiet Dead."  Captain Jack Harkness has joined the show and is along for the ride.  The Doctor, Rose, and Jack meet up with Mickey (Rose's old boyfriend) in Cardiff for a day on the town while the Tardis recharges.

The day of relaxation is interrupted when the Doctor notices the image of Margaret, the human body suit that contained one of the family Slitheen members from the double episode 1-4/5 "Aliens of London/World War III"  The Doctor knows something is up, and it is.  In the meanitme, Margaret Slitheen has become Mayor of Cardiff and has plans on building a nuclear power plant designed to fail, causing the time rift to implode, allowing Margaret to ride the shockwave on her special surfboard (huh?).  Of course, the Doctor will not let this pass, and with little ado, the Doctor, Rose, Jack, and Mickey are able to apprehend Margaret and take her into custody.  Now comes the real intrigue in the episode.  Margaret's wicked plan seems to be merely an attempt to escape from Earth.  The Doctor offers to return her to her home planet Raxicoricofallipatorious.  The problem: she has been condemned to death on her home planet, to which the Doctor responds: "not my problem."  The Doctor will coolly and without emotion deliver Margaret Slitheen to the justice she so deserves.

Yet, as the episode plays out, the question shifts: is the Doctor as innocent as he seems?  Is he in the moral position to judge.  He carries the responsibility of a god, to judge or not to judge, yet can he play that role? The Doctor is in a position to either condemn to death or extend mercy and life to this known criminal.  This is nowhere more evident than in the Doctor's dinner conversation with Margaret (known to her own people as "blond) Slitheen.

In their conversation over dinner, Margaret (Blond) Slitheen tries to kill the Doctor 3 times separate times, highlighting her murderous tendencies. After describing the type of death that she will endure after she is taken back to her home planet,  the conversation goes as follows:
Doctor: "I don't make the law."
Slitheen: "But you deliver it...."
And a little bit later, Blond Slitheen explains how she had mercy on a person just that day, she had a moment of conscience and resisted the urge to kill them.  The Doctor responds that that is how she justifies her existence, by the fact that from time to time she lets one go, has mercy on one, saves one.
Doctor: "And that's how you live with yourself.  That's how you slaughter millions.  Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind's in the right direction, you happen to be kind."
Now Blond Slitheen turns the tables.
Blond Slitheen: "Only a killer would know that.  Is that right?  From what I've seen, your funny little happy go lucky life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on because you dare not go back.  Playing with so many people's lives, you might as well be a god.  And you're right Doctor, you're absolutely right, sometimes you let one go."
Back on the Tardis, at the moment of decision, the Doctor opens up the central panel to reveal the heart of the Tardis, the Time Vortex itself.  Upon looking at it, Blond Slitheen is "Reborn."  Contemplating her life and looking at the heart of the Tardis, she regresses to an egg, a restart of her life.  Perhaps the Tardis is the real god, able to extend mercy, forgiveness, and a new life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doctor Who: Empty Child and The Doctor Dances

Episodes 9 and 10 of season one form a two-part episode: The Empty Child and the Doctor Dances


This still remains one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who.  I did not know this at the time, but it was written by Steven Moffat.  Moffat has written many of my favorite episodes, including "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink," and much of seasons 5-7.  Moffat is more into the fairy tale aspects of story telling.

In this episode, the Doctor and Rose are in London during the Blitz in WWII.  We get the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness, who will become a regular on the series and the star of the spinoff Torchwood.  Harkness, a former time agent (what?) turned con man, saves Rose from falling to her death during the Blitz.  He then proceeds to try and seduce her, but his angle is primarily a con.

The episode is high on the creep factor.  The creepy comes in the form of a little kid with a gas mask who keeps repeating, "are you my mommie?" This child can make telephones ring, radios blare, even if the telephone is not connected (like the phone on the Tardis police call box).  Moreover, people all over the area are developing "injuries" that match those of the boy.  Namely, they are replicating his physical injuries, as well as growing gas masks out of their very skin.  The implication, given time, humanity will be reduced to a bunch of walking, mommie-spouting, zombies with gas masks.

There is not a lot of fodder for religious/sci-fi intersections.  The Doctor figures out the problem: the alien tech nano-genes that crashed on earth are doing their best to "heal" the human race, but the best model of the human race that they have to work with is this little boy who was killed during a bombing raid while wearing a gas mask.  With this genetic information, they nano-genes are repairing all with whom they come into contact by replicating the state of the boy.

The Doctor figures out what is happening, but does little beyond making the solution possible. He introduces the nano genes to the boy's mother, and hopes that they will recognize what a human truly should be like.  They do, and the true healing commences.  At the end, the Doctor revels saying "everybody lives."  Life triumphing over death is the greatest possible outcome for the Doctor.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Doctor Who: Father's Day

Episode 8 of season one of Doctor Who deals with the common trope of "changing the past," especially when it comes to interfering in one's own timeline.


This was an interesting episode in that we got to travel into the past to see the death of Rose's father.  At first, Rose just wants to go back in time to be with her father as he dies, having been killed by a hit and run driver.  As the scene unfolds, Rose cannot bring herself to be with her father, but just watches him die from a distance.  She asks for a second try, but when the time comes, she cannot help herself, she rushes past herself and the Doctor (the previous versions) and pushes her father out of the way of the oncoming car, saving her father from death.  She has changed the past, her father survives.  But, as any sci-fi fan will no, all hell is about to break loose.  You cannot mess with history in this way, especially when it comes to your own past (Back to the Future anyone?).

The Doctor, of course, goes on a condescending tirade against Rose, calling her just another "Ape."  He had thought her smarter than that, but in the end he just has another stupid human ape.

The "all hell breaking loose" comes in the form of really cheesy computer animated dinosaur-bird type creatures who are devouring all of time (including the people).  Rose, her father, mother, and a select few are holed up in a church where they were supposed to be attending a wedding.  The "old" walls of the church serve as a protection agains the creatures.

At one point, when one creature manages to get into the church, the Doctor, in a reversal of his M.O., i.e., sacrificing someone else, he actually sacrifices himself, offering himself to the creature as the "oldest thing in here."  His sacrifice is pointless though and is to no avail.  In the end, it is the sacrifice of a human that will set things right.  Pete, Rose's dad, must submit to death by throwing himself in front of the car that was originally meant to kill him, thus healing the wound in time.

Couple of notes.  In this episode, the Doctor seemed really helpless, he literally had no solutions, nothing that could heal the wound in time that Rose had caused.

When the doctor seemed to have a solution, a way to make the Tardis appear in the church and thus bring salvation, the Doctor, like a good authoritative preacher, stepped up to the church pulpit and announced the "good news" of coming salvation.  Unfortunately, like I have noted before, all of the efforts of the Doctor in this episode came to naught and in the end it was the sacrifice of Rose's dad that brought salvation.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Doctor Who: The Long Game


Episode 7 of season 1, "The Long Game" takes place in the year 200,000, the fourth great human empire.  This was supposed to be the height of human achievement.  Yet, things have gone terribly wrong.  Humanity seems stunted, people are rude, and the diverse alien life is nowhere to be seen.

The Doctor and Rose have picked up another passenger in the Tardis, Adam, a tech guru they picked up in the last episode.

This episode was filled with subtle and interesting satires of religion.

First, the setting is on a broadcast satellite, Satellite 5.  This satellite is responsible for broadcasting all of the news from the entire galaxy.  The workers on this satellite all want to be promoted to "floor 500" where apparently the walls are made of gold.  This was an interesting intersection with religion with the commonplace that in heaven the streets are made of gold.  One can see similar motivational tactics on Satellite 5 and in some stereotypes of Christianity:  Do good and you will be promoted to/inherit walls/streets of gold.

Of course, this is a lie.  Floor 500 is actually a frozen waste, and the only people promoted there are done so because they have come too close to discovering the truth that Satellite 5 is actually being controlled by a malicious alien (I won't even try to spell its name) who is controlling the human race by controlling all of their news media.  This served as a double layer satire in my mind.  On the one hand, the show was providing a satire of current news media, perhaps even and especially Fox News, as a media outlet that controls the news stories, thus shaping the realities of its viewers.  On another level, this could be a satire of religion, which once again stereotypically, has been seen as an institution that must carefully guard and control the flow of information in order to control its constituents.

One final and non-related intersection with religion was the short story arc of the character of Adam.  Adam appears on Satellite 5 and is immediately blown away by the strangeness of this new world.  But, as a computer geek it takes him almost no time to get in trouble.  He starts exploring Satellite 5's computer terminals but keeps getting locked out due to his lack of human chip technology.  Adam is directed toward the medical level to have a chip installed, where he is seduced with the possibility of knowledge by having a chip installed in his brain, in fact, having his brain itself become the computer processor.  Adam's primary motivation seems to be self interest, as his plan is to call home and leave a voice message with 200,000 years worth of technological advances, presumably setting himself up to be rich and powerful.   Adam's pursuit of knowledge almost becomes disastrous as he betrays information about the Doctor and Rose to the satellite's administrator, "The Editor" (played by Simon Pegg).  I think Adam's name was chosen nicely, as this is a nice parallel to the biblical Adam sinning in a pursuit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden (though actually it was Eve, but Adam is the more visible of the pair).

In the end, the Alien is defeated, all is set right with the human race, Adam is ditched back on earth, and Rose and the Doctor are off to more adventures.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Doctor Who: Dalek

In episode 6 of season 1, "Dalek," we are once again dealing with a earth-ending crisis.  


We see two things in this episode that are very rare for Doctor Who.  1) The doctor is scared for his life, and 2) The doctor does not mind wielding weapons for himself.  What prompts these Doctor Who rarities? The Dalek, the Time Lords' arch enemies and adversaries in the Time War which wiped out both species save for the Doctor, and it appears, one lone Dalek.  This was obviously an interesting episode as it had the mirror images of two lone survivors.  Both feel alone in the world.  

When the Doctor first recognizes the Dalek, we see true fear.  The Dalek belts out its usual "TERMINATE" slogan, and the Doctor, realizing that he is locked in a room with the Dalek literally tries to claw the doors open, but only for a second.  Once the Doctor realizes that the Dalek is powerless, his fear turns to immense anger, vitriol, hatred, and vengefulness.  Like I said, it is rare to see such emotions from the Doctor.  Sure he is often condescending to humanity's stupidity, penchant for violence, and lack of forethought, yet, here the Doctor seems all too human.  The Dalek brings out what is usually hidden in the Doctor. 

As we've seen in previous episodes, the Doctor's guilt (or possible guilt) over his past or future actions paralyzes the Doctor, and it is no different here.  As the Dalek is regenerated (by Rose's DNA), the Doctor scrambles for a solution.  He knows that this one single Dalek could wipe out humanity and that the only solution is to lock him 53 floors below the earth.  Yet, the complicating factor is that Rose is stuck down there with him.  In the end, his fear/anger toward the Dalek trumps all else and Rose and the Dalek are trapped.  Yet, proving once again that the Doctor cannot think clearly when Rose or the Daleks are involved, he lets them out of the trap. 

In comes the twist.  The Dalek is changing.  It is no longer the purely evil killing machine bent on destroying all things non-Dalek.  It cannot kill Rose.  Her DNA is causing the Dalek to mutate, to change. 

The climactic scene comes as we have a face-off between the Doctor, now wielding an alien tech weapon bent on wiping out the last of the Daleks, Rose, caught in between, and the constantly evolving Dalek who is beginning to see the uselessness of his quest.  The Dalek is evolving into a feeling creature, the Doctor is is devolving into a raging murderer, and Rose brokers the deal between them.  In perhaps one of the more touching scenes of the series so far, the evolving Dalek asks Rose to order him to kill himself.  The Dalek appears unable to act without orders, yet he seeks death as the only solution to his evolving with emotions.  The Doctor wades through this scene with a flabbergasted look on his face.  He can't believe what is happening before his eyes.  

It is good to finally meet the Doctor's arch nemesis and realize that there are primarily two situations in which the Doctor is fairly useless: when he is confronting the Daleks and when he is fearing the loss of his companion.  In those two situations, the Doctor cannot control his emotions, cannot think clearly, and appears to revert to just another "human" character, one as flawed as the next.