Tag Archives: Multimedia Me

Trips and Videos

In a couple weeks, we’ll be in Taiwan.

I’ve upgraded (or downgraded, depending on how you look at it) all our travel video gear. This year, in addition to digital cameras and phones that can record video, we’ll be carrying two different mini-HD cameras. Chu-Wan has a “Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes (Black)” (Flip Video) and I have a “Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera (Aqua)” (Eastman Kodak Company). So far, I’m particularly happy with the Zi8 because it uses SD cards, has a replaceable battery and a microphone jack. These small cameras really have a problem with camera shake because they’re so light your hand just naturally moves them around a lot.

I’ve upgraded my Vimeo account to handle all HD videos and I’ve setup a dedicated channel just for videos from this trip. You can subscribe to the Lone Locust Taiwan 2010 Channel right here.

Don’t expect greatness, but do expect some video from Taiwan…

Doctor Who – Review – Vampires in Venice – Spoilers

Summary

The Doctor decides that Rory needs to go on a date with Amy and so he picks him up at his stag night and whisks the two off to Venice in 1580. They encounter a mysterious Countess who runs a school for pale, slightly creepy girls who hate the sunlight. They are, of course, not really vampires but alien crayfish refugees intent on sinking venice and repopulating their race.

Analysis

No matter how hard I try, I just could not care less about this episode. I don’t actively hate it (like Love and Monsters – go on, read my review of that, at least I had some emotions about it) but I am completely and utterly apathetic about it. It killed the better part of an hour and little more.

…and… that’s… about… it.

Oh, surely I can come up with something to bitch about.

This reminds me a lot of Toby Whithouse’s other Doctor Who script, School Reunion, which was mostly enjoyable only for the return of Sarah Jane Smith and not for the imaginative story-telling. He’s got a thing for vampires and faux-vampires, though. Next thing you know, he’ll probably be writing a series about them…

I’m sick of the low-level perception filter gimmick. Let’s get back to aliens that either look human or look like guys in rubber suits.

The Doctor is completely trying to be Jerry Lewis in this episode. I hate Jerry Lewis.

Ben and I discuss this story on Episode 3 of the Fusion Patrol Podcast.


You can listen to it here


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Doctor Who – Review – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – Spoilers

We’ve heading into uncharted territory now. Historically, I’ve reviewed most new Doctor Who episodes right here on the blog, but now that we’re doing the Fusion Patrol Podcast, I’ve been letting it slip.

The fact is, we’re not really doing reviews at the podcast. I’ve likened to a book club discussion, although, not having attended a book club, how would I know? Basically, we’re just having a discussion about what we think about the episode – so, maybe it is a review. In any case, I’ll try to synthesize some of that down here as my “review.”

Summary

In Time of Angels, the Doctor is re-united with River Song, the archaeologist from the Doctor’s future, first introduced in Silence in the Library. River has cleverly arranged for the Doctor to answer her call and come to her assistance, where she is helping a crack military squad of clerics to neutralize a Weeping Angel: a bizarre quantum-locked alien species that can only move when they’re not being observed. The starliner Byzantium was carrying the angel, but it crashed on a planet, releasing the angel.

As the clerics attempt to work their way through catacombs towards the wrecked ship, Amy is unwittingly infected by one of the angels. The clerics are being killed off one-by-one and only too late does the Doctor realize that all the statues in the catacombs are angels, and they are being brought back to life by the energy from the wrecked starliner. Surrounded, and trapped in a cave just meters below the wrecked ship, things look very bleak indeed.

In Flesh and Stone, the Doctor manages to get the survivors aboard the ship, but the angels are aboard, too. As they make their way through an artificial forest inside the ship, the mysterious crack from Amy’s bedroom wall puts in an appearance, threatening to swallow everything.

Amy must keep her eyes shut to stay alive, and she is left in the care of the cleric, but one-by-one, they are swallowed by the crack and cease to have ever existed. Amy must pretend to be able to see, to fool the angels into leaving her alone, and navigate blindly through the forest to reach the Doctor and River.

Can the Doctor stop the angels and close the crack which threatens to devour the entire universe?

Analysis

From my point of view, this two-parter was an exemplary episode of Doctor Who. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d almost say the best episode since the series returned in 2005.

In pacing, it is unlike any new series episode to date. Even though it maintains suspense from end to end, it is slower than most new series episodes. Midpoint during each 45 minute episode, comes an almost perfect “cliffhanger” point – as if this story was written to be four, 22 minute episodes ala the classic series. I much prefer this pacing and really wish Steven Moffat would convert all the stories into two-parters. That said, the resolution to the problem of both the angels and the crack did present itself rather quickly and conveniently right at the end and wasn’t really any of the Doctor’s doing. In effect, his cleverness just kept them alive long enough for them to get lucky. That was probably the most dissatisfying part of the whole story to me.

We (the audience and the Doctor) are meeting River Song for only the second time, but from her timeline, she’s met the Doctor many times before, and knows about his future. Last time, we learned that she was someone very, very important to the Doctor in his future and that he trusted her with enough knowing his real name. This time, which is much earlier in her timeline, we learn that she is a murderer and is being held in prison for that crime. She has only been released so that she can help the expedition, “control” the Doctor and try to earn herself a pardon.

During the first episode, it’s not revealed that she’s a prisoner, but it is revealed that the Doctor might not help her if he knew “…who and what [she is]…” At that point, I began to suspect that a beautiful piece of plot contrivance on the Grand Moff’s part would be to have had River die in the first episode that the Doctor meets (which she did) and for the Doctor to die the first time River meets him. That idea was bolstered in my mind when she stated that she had “pictures of all his incarnations” which is only possible if she’s in a timeline after the Doctor is dead. That she was his killer also fit with the “who and what” comment, in that what she is is his murderer. Logical to assume that he’d not want to help her under those conditions.

I thought I was being particularly clever reasoning that out in the first episode, but then they started beating it over our heads in the second episode. Revealing that she was in prison for murder, they she’d murdered a great man, a hero to many. She herself even tells the Doctor, when confronted, that she killed the greatest man she’s ever known.

In slippery Grand Moff style, though, the crack in time has put the idea in the Doctor’s head that time can be “unwritten” and he seems oddly comforted by that idea. Perhaps he thinks he can unwrite River’s crime, or, on a bigger scale, perhaps he can unwrite the Time War, the rise of Rassilon and the destruction of Gallifrey.

On the other hand, if he tries something that big, perhaps he causes the crack himself?

I would like to point out that, while I don’t really give a toss about season-spanning story arcs, I am pleased that this seasons story arc at least appears to be playing out meaningfully during the season, rather than just being a series of catchphrases badly interjected into the scripts with no bearing on the stories. The Bad Wolf syndrome has a been a great, dead albatross hanging around the nexk of the past four series, and I hope it’s gone forever.

Amy, in this episode, is both playful, brilliant and somewhat useless in equal measures. The later is not really her fault, as she’s blind, about to die, all alone in a forest full of angels and terrified out of her wits. Who wouldn’t be useless under those conditions?

All-in-all, one of the best episodes for a long, long time.

No review of this episode would be complete without discussing the final scene, set in Amy’s bedroom, on the night before her wedding (also the night she left with the Doctor.) In no uncertain terms, Amy, having just been terrified for her life, tries to get a leg over on the Doctor.

Prudish I might be, but the tone and content of the scene just felt wrong to me. It didn’t really have a place in a program aimed (partially) at such a young audience, but this is a criticism I’ve had ever since the series returned in 2005. This was just the single most overt expression of it yet.

While I didn’t like it, it was logical. It’s the logical extension (at least in the TV world) of Amy’s lifelong obsession with the Doctor, her fears about marriage and her very near brush with death. It was a accurate portrayal of humanity.

What I did appreciate, though, was that the Doctor clearly felt the same way: This is a totally inappropriate Doctor/Companion interaction, and he puts a stop to it. My hope is that this is the Grand Moff telling us that, “…we’ve pushed the issue to it’s logical conclusion and there’ll no more of that going on in the TARDIS while I’m at the helm.”

Doctor Who – The Beast Below – Review – Spoilers

“Say, ‘Whee!'” – the Doctor

I’ll skip the usual synopsis/analysis section and cut right to the bone: this was another fine episode of Doctor Who. With only two episodes of Smith’s reign and Moffat’s stewardship, I could hardly be happier with their start.

This episode we get to see Smith in all his gangly, oddly walking Time Lord glory and he really does fit perfectly. I’m convinced now that he’s not aping Troughton and Davison, but that’s he’s settled on a persona that bears resemblances to them without being the copies. It’s perhaps the best example of “same man, different face” that we’ve yet seen in the actors who play the Doctor.

For the first time ever, the Doctor finds himself in a truly unwinnable situation: He has three choices and in all of them innocents will be grievously harmed or killed. Gone is Russell T. Davies “the Doctor is an absolute moral compass” – or perhaps it’s still there, but we realize even with a compass, sometimes life’s decisions are about taking the least of bad situations.

In the previous episode, the only thing that bothered me about the story was the fact that there were so many coma victims in such a small town, in this episode there were several points that bothered me:

  • Why did the smilers have rotating heads? Each smiler has three expressions, “Happy”, “Sad” and “Angry”, yet only two sides to their face – front and back. When ‘happy’ turned to ‘sad’ and then ‘sad’ turned to ‘angry’, the ‘happy’ face must somehow have been transmogrified to the ‘angry’ one. If the face could be changed, why bother rotating?
  • If the space whale refused to eat children over the course of their 200+ year flight, why did they continue to feed the children to them? Wishful thinking?
  • Having had the children not eaten, what do they do with them? Did they just collect the “zeroes” down in the tower?
  • When the children were inside the whale, as the Doctor and Amy were, how could the whale tell that it had children in its mouth rather than adults?
  • What was the point of having the recorded statement for the “protest/forget” voting booths? If you protested, you were killed, if you chose to forget, surely they would never let you see the recorded statement, otherwise, you could just tell yourself what you were about to forget.

All that said, all is forgiven for this story, a truly unique Doctor Who story.

Next week, the Daleks – I can already tell that I don’t like the idea of a phone-line to the TARDIS.

Fusion Patrol on Vimeo

I’m experimenting a bit with Vimeo instead of YouTube. So far, quality on Vimeo looks much better.

This is the first in a probably endless series of videos put together from years of all the junk we shot for Fusion Patrol.

Alternate Fusion Patrol Titles (1995, Unused) from Eugene Glover on Vimeo.

Originally shot in 1995, this is one of several attempts to revamp the opening titles for Fusion Patrol.

This footage was deemed unusable, largely because of the awful quality of the performances and pacing, and was never edited together.

Subsequent improvements in video editing software availability made it possible to digitally trick this into something… meh… but much better than possible using the old, finicky analog linear editor we had at the time.

Doctor Who – The End of Time – I’m still not going to review this mess…

…but,, here’s someone else’s review that hits on about 1/3 to 1/2 of the things that really irritated me about this dismal failure of a regeneration story.

From Behind the Sofa – Return of the Fan****king

Yeah, I welled up. Incredibly, I was still crying when I noticed that the glass doors weren’t even sealed. There are clearly gaps between the panes of glass so how the radiation is contained is anyone’s guess. But I went with it anyway. I was practically chewing the carpet in anguish when the Doctor started raging about how it wasn’t fair, and how a part of him really wanted to just leave the old fart to die. But when he bravely opened that door I was blubbing like a baby. And then he died… a bit like Spock (and Spock dying always makes me cry) and then… and then…

Look, I’m happy to cry as much as the next fanboy, but I can’t do it for 20 minutes straight. It’s too much to ask of me. If the Doctor had regenerated there and then I would have been happy. Well, infinitely sad, but you know what I mean. So what if the preceding 40 minutes had been utter nonsense, at least that moment would have been unforgettable and beautiful and simple and timeless – but no. Oh God no. Instead we get 20 minutes – 20 MINUTES – of Russell T. Davies slapping himself on the back in a self-congratulatory coda that simply beggars belief.

Move over Graham Crowden, this death goes on for so long you’ll need two YouTube links to see it all.


Please… go read the rest of it, so I won’t have to write anything about this episode. Please. Don’t make me write about this. Please…. the drumming, the ceaseless drumming in my head!

Ahhh, suddenly I’m fondly remembering the skill and panache of the Baker => McCoy regeneration.

Waters of Mars

Can you believe that the BBC would have the audacity to show a new trailer for Waters of Mars at the San Diego Comic Con – which is, I might point out, in the flippin’ United States – and then post the damned thing to their website and make it UK-only?

That’s over-the-line – and also totally ineffectual. Here it is:

Oh, and John Simm is back as the Master.

Torchwood – Who are the monsters? (Er, Children of Earth) review, spoilers

I loathe Torchwood. It is the Slitheen of the Doctor Who universe… oh, wait, the Slitheen are the Slitheen of the Doctor Who universe. In that case, Torchwood are the fart jokes of the Doctor Who universe – crude, boorish and juvenile. (While, at the same time, attempting to be all grown-up. “See, I can tell fart jokes, I’m an adult!”)

A program so awful that, after series 2, episode 1, I just gave up, and apart from a few clips here and there that I’ve seen on TV or online, I banished it from consideration of watching ever again.

…and then along came the reviews of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Reviews so positive and glowing, from blogs I generally trust to be reasonably compatible with my viewpoint, that it seemed impossible to reconcile with the train wreck that was Torchwood, series 1 and 2.

Well, I just had to see for myself.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is more of a mini-series than a normal year’s worth of episodes. It is one single story, aired (and told in five parts) over 5 consecutive days.

Brief Synopsis without a lot of the details

Nasty aliens come to Earth. They’ve been here before in the 1960’s and the British government gave in to blackmail back then and gave them 12 orphaned children to make them go away. Now the aliens are back and have announced themselves by “stopping” every child on Earth and speaking the words, “We are coming back.”

The first order of business: The British government must find a way to cover up what they did back in 1965, that begins with killing everyone that might talk. One of them, the man who actually handed the children over, was Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood. Torchwood, being what it is, an organization that investigates alien threats, must also be eliminated.

Captain Jack, being immortal, cannot be killed. Or can he?

A bomb is planted in his stomach (they have to kill him twice to get the bomb in him) and then he, and Torchwood’s HQ are blown into tiny parts. Ianto, Gwen and her husband Rhys go on the run from the assassins.

The aliens arrive and demand 10% of all children on the planet Earth. The alternative: the total extinction of the human species.

Jack pulls himself together (literally), so they encase him in cement, but Ianto and Co. rescue him.

The governments of the world reluctantly agree to the aliens’ terms and begin planning how to deliver 10% of the children to the aliens. Meanwhile, Torchwood uses the last of their Torchwood technology to record what’s being discussed regarding the plans. They use this information to blackmail the British into letting them fight the aliens.

Jack takes a valiant stand in front of the aliens, telling them that we’ll not give them our children and that we’ll fight. They aliens respond by killing the entire human race. Or they would have done if Thames House (where the aliens are represented) hadn’t been a bio-hazard lockable building. Instead of killing the whole world, they just kill everyone in the building, including Jack and Ianto.

Jack gets better. Ianto doesn’t.

Beaten and depleted, Torchwood gives up, and the government begins a campaign to round up 10% of the children, who will not be killed or eaten by the aliens, but will be permanently attached to the aliens’ bodies as a form of narcotic, where they will live as possibly still-sentient children indefinitely.

The round ups begin, and Gwen and Rhys try to save Ianto’s niece and nephew and several other neighborhood children from the cull. Meanwhile Jack’s daughter convinces the one-time assassin who was trying to kill Jack that he is the only one who can save the world. They spring him from prison and he hits upon an idea that could kill the aliens, but it will require a sacrifice. He send a signal back at the aliens using the brain of a child and the only child available is his grandson.

He saves the children of Earth by using his grandson and kills him in the process.

The story ends with Jack leaving the Earth, perhaps forever.

Analysis

Here’s a series that is saved – no, lifted up – by some truly awesome performances.

The supporting cast in this story, particularly the members of the British government, are exceptional. I can’t think of a better word for it. They are deep and nuanced in a way that has for decades set British acting above the rest in the world. Not the performances of the one-dimension heroes, but the performances of the “ordinary” people caught in extra-ordinary circumstances. Director Euros Lyn has also provided them a tight, dramatic canvas to work within and it comes off perfectly.

If there’s a weak spot, it’s the story logic, but even that isn’t bad and it’s punctuated with moments of real, human dialog that rings so real as you might think it was surreptitiously recorded from strangers rather than scripted.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way first before we get into the big questions. This series should not be set in the Doctor Who universe. This has become a major problem with the Doctor Who spin-offs. We can forgive the Doctor for not showing up for every Earth destructing event, but where was Martha Jones? Answer: on her honeymoon and Jack is forbidden to call her by Gwen. I must say, Martha’s husband’s “technique” must be mightily overwhelming that he was able to keep her totally oblivious to all the children on the whole planet stopping and chanting over the period of five days! For cryin’ out loud, didn’t those two at least stop to eat meals? Surely long enough to make a quick phone call to the Doctor. (I told you that damn inter-time, inter-universe cell phone was a stupid plot device that would kick them in the ass later, didn’t I?)

What about Sarah Jane Smith. She’s got a kid in that age group, she hangs out with kids in that age group. Didn’t she notice? Where was Mr. Smith identifying the aliens, or at least the location of their ships or just finding ways to block their signal?

No, this story needed to be isolated to convey the full menace of the situation and it wasn’t sufficiently. Further, by bringing up the Doctor once or twice, they reaffirm the interconnectedness of the whole thing.

From this point forward, I’m going to grant them their isolation and pretend the rest of the Doctor Who universe doesn’t exist.

A lot of the commentary I’ve read about this story revolves around the question of, “Who are the monsters?” That’s what I want to concentrate on mostly.

The argument goes that the British government (and presumably the other governments of the world, too) are the monsters in this story, because of their machinations or perhaps Jack is for killing his own grandson. I want to be very clear on this point – The aliens are the monsters.

The aliens come to Earth, threaten to kill everyone and demand blackmail. For the sake of this story, we have to take it as read that the alien threat is credible and that there is no doubt that they would follow-through. Also, we have to recognize that there is no time to craft an adequate defense plan. In the five days since the beginning of the incident, the knowledge of the aliens obtained is virtually nil. We don’t know where they’re from, how many there are, what the total of the defensive and offensive military might be. There’s no one to fight, no time to fight them, nothing to fight them with and no second chance.  Given that premise, what would you do?

It’s all well and good to say, “Yeah, I’d fight back.” Jack started to do that, and it was foolhardy and stupid. What was he going to do? Pose until the aliens we awed by his movie-star good looks?

Sometimes in this world you’re beaten and the phrase, “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day,” is never more relevant. Sometimes capitulation is the only option.

To give up 10% of the children to be used in what promises to be a horribly agonizing not-quite-death is distasteful (putting it mildly) but is that worse than condemning those same children to certain death, along with the other 90% and along with the rest of the planet?

It’s not a simple economic equation but, to Russell T. Davies’ credit, that’s the point of the whole story. People making very difficult decisions makes for good drama. And when the difficult decisions have no good answer, the drama can be even more intense. This choice between 10% of the kids and the entire species isn’t reality. It’s an absurd exaggeration that allows writers to explore human nature. That is, at its best, what Science Fiction is all about – the ability to play out scenarios that simply cannot happen and deconstruct the human element.

The discussion around the cabinet table about how to choose the children was the high point of the show. It rang so very real and, given the lack of time, I probably would have come to a similar solution. Given more time, other solutions (whole or partial) might come to mind – children dying in hospital, families with many children who really are on the dole, starving children in third-world countries. Again, nothing tasteful, but recognizing the reality of the situation and trying to minimize the overall damage as much as possible.

All that is to the writers’ credit (and what’s up with a single story being written in parts by different people?) for using the medium of Science Fiction to its potential.

But… Why did the aliens go about things the way they did? Did that really make sense? They can make the kids all stop and talk and point. It seems reasonable that they could make them walk. We know that have some level of granularity over their control because they can make different nations’ children speak different numbers. Why did they need to go through the ambassadorial rigamarole? Why not just walk the kids to collection points and hoover them up before anybody could even figure out what they were doing?

And, assuming they had some reason to go to the government, why establish quotas for each one? Why not go to India or China and force them to turn over 50% of their kids?

I think the answer is that this is just a contrived convenience to try to tell the story about the British government (oh, ahh, that’s obvious.)   

Obvious though that may be, it does make the alien threat seem more implausible. Rather than just do the job themselves, the aliens are forcing all the governments to do the dirty work, despite the fact that the approach would be inefficient and unlikely to achieve their goals in the shortest length of time, What if one single government refused or failed? Would they kill the whole human race? Would another government cough up additional children to make up the difference to avoid annihilation? Would that be more wrong than turning over the 10%? Does that then raise the issue of “not my kids” as was raised at the cabinet?

No, I’ll argue that the solution that the cabinet came up with does not make them monsters. What was monstrous was the attempts to cover it up. Oh, I don’t mean the false inoculation program, obviously the had to lie in order to get the children, but the unwillingness to stand behind their decisions, difficult though they were, made the Prime Minister, in particular, abhorrent.

So let’s turn, finally, to Captain Jack Harkness – immortal man.

One of my complaints about Torchwood is that Jack is… wrong. I don’t mean wrong in the same way a Time Lord just feels he’s wrong, but wrong in the sense that he isn’t portrayed accurately. This is not an indictment of John Barrowman.

Consider: As the series has progressed, we know more and more about how old Jack really is. I gather he was buried under Cardiff for a thousand years or so, but I’m not sure if he was conscious, but at the very least Jack has 150+ years of consciousness, and he’s used to seeing everyone die around him. It’s hard to imagine that Jack would behave recognizably like a human at all. The fact that he does act, for the most part, normal, leaves a deceptively false sense of familiarity.

Jack’s solution to the alien 456 is to destructively use his grandson as a weapon. Is that morally different from being willing to sacrifice 10%? Jack wasn’t willing to give up the 10% to save the others, but he was willing to kill one. The moral dilemma is the same, but his choice is the opposite. What changed his mind? Recognition of the futility of his earlier position? Revenge for the death of Ianto? Or a different perspective on death? Does he see a moral difference because in both cases he chose to fight? If he could have poisoned the 10% of the children so that they would have killed the 456, would he have gone along with that?

Heroically, I have no doubt that Jack would have laid down his life (such as it is) to save the children. I’m sure Gwen or Ianto, or perhaps even Froebisher would have laid down their lives too.

But that wasn’t the choice available to any of them.

Does the immortal Jack Harkness even comprehend death as we do? A mortal man could easily imagine that, in the normal course of life, his children or grandchildren will outlive him. Not so with Jack. He knows that it is just a matter of time before the boy dies anyway. Does that perspective change the morality of his decision?

In this, ultimately, the writers of Torchwood: Children of Earth have left us with more questions than answers and they have given us the chance to look, briefly, into the depths of the human mind.

For that reason, I recommend this series as an exceptional throwback to the days Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham.

But whatever you do… Don’t watch Torchwood series one or two!