Binge-Watching River Song

Since River Song is coming back for the Doctor Who Christmas Special (hurrah!), I thought a bit of re-watching was in order. My sister had already suggested watching the episodes from River’s perspective, so that’s what we decided to do. Selecting an order is more difficult than it might seem, though, because there’s so much wibbly-wobbly happening that you can’t just watch them backwards by air date.

We decided to start with the episode when River met the Doctor (and was old enough to know it was him), then continue from there following her adult timeline. I used the timelines on Comparative Geeks and Tardis Wikia as references. What follows isn’t the exact order we watched them in, but it’s the one I’d recommend after re-watching them all.

Warning: watching in this order will leave you emotionally compromised by the end of “Forest of the Dead.” Like, even more than usual when watching Doctor Who.

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Na Na Na Batman!

My younger sister had a birthday this weekend, and we celebrated with Batman. Though the first episode aired 23 years before I was born, my sister and I grew up watching classic Batman on TV Land at our Grandma Baker’s house. Even now, the first thing I think of when I hear someone say “Batman” is the voice of the 1966 narrator talking about the batphone ringing in the “stately home of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson” as Adam West and Burt Ward run toward the secret batcave access poles in the library.

When the series finally came out on DVD last year, we knew we had to have it. Amazon ran a special earlier this year, and I’ve been hiding the collection in my bookshelf for months praying my sister wouldn’t decide to buy it before her birthday. Well, she didn’t and we’re watching episodes 3 and 4 as I type.

For me, running around on film in cape and cowl doing rather strange square-jawed things was much like playing Batman as a kid. The great difference being tongue planted firmly in cheek. Yes, it is a comedy, but certainly not to kids. — Adam West

I’m enjoying Batman just as much today as I did when a child, but in a different way. As Adam West said in his introduction to the DVD set, the show is a comedy, but I didn’t see it like that as a kid. I laughed, of course, but Batman was a hero to be taken seriously (at least, most of the time). Now, I’m laughing because I get the humor, and much of it is rather clever.

Take the episode we’re watching now, for example. The Penguin doesn’t have any ideas for a dastardly crime when he’s released from prison, so he gives Batman a tricky umbrella that Batman thinks is a clue. The umbrella is bugged, so all Penguin has to do is wait for Batman to figure out what he thinks the Penguin is planning so Penguin can use that plan to commit a crime. Only three episodes in and they’re already using self-referential humor, gently poking fun at Batman’s ability to make sense out of even the most senseless clues. I love it ❤

Robin Hood Meeteth the Lord of Time

I knew I would love the latest Doctor Who episode, “The Robots of Sherwood.” I’ve been curious about it since the first set photo of Clara in a Medieval dress was released, and giddy with anticipation when the title let me know it had something to do with Robin Hood. I can’t remember not being fascinated by Robin Hood. The first time I met him was in the animated Disney film, which my Mom says we brought home from the library so often that the librarians teased her, “Aren’t you ever going to buy that movie?” I vaguely recall finding a copy of Howard Pyle’s “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” in a little back corner of the library, then buying my own copy and wearing it out (quite literally — the cover fell off).

“There’s no such thing as Robin Hood”

“The Robots of Sherwood” begins with Clara making a request I can easily identify with: take me to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor obliges by setting course for 1190-ish, though he maintains that Robin Hood is merely a legend even after the TARDIS is shot by the famous bowman. The episode progresses in a lighthearted story that covers classic elements of both Doctor Who and Robbin Hood, and culminates with a conversation between the Doctor and Robin about how history lost sight of Robin the man and turned him into stories, much like the stories Clara tells Robin about the Doctor.

Doctor: “I’m not a hero.”

Robin: “Neither am I. But if we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps, we will both be stories.”

Are They Heroes?

As a child-fan of Robin Hood, I saw him as an heroic figure — the good in a good-verses-evil conflict. But even the versions of the legends specifically written for children have a complicated definition of morality. Robin Hood steals and kills people (typically in defending himself or others) to fight against a government which commits worse crimes. But does he really have the right to take justice into his own hands when his country’s law dictates that justice belongs to appointed authority figures and his God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”? (Robin is presented as Catholic in most legends.) I want to root for him and justify his every action, but I can’t always do that.

Errol Flynn (who the Doctor has apparently fenced with) as Robin Hood

It’s much the same with the Doctor. He flies around the universe saving people, but there’s often a lot of things that go wrong. As a show, Doctor Who has a surprisingly high casualty rate. In the tenth episode of “new-Who,” the 9th Doctor joyfully shouts, “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once — everybody lives!” And as far as I can remember, it really was “just this once” that everyone makes it to the end credits alive. And the Doctor has a thoroughly dark side which complicates defining him as a hero (if you need convincing, here’s an article discussing the Doctor’s 13 Darkest Moments).

So, are they heroes? Depends on your definition.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. — Joseph Campbell

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. — Christopher Reeve

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

These sound like rather good descriptions of the Doctor and Robin Hood. I couldn’t find the quote (even with Google’s help!), but I read once that heroes are simply people who’ve been observed doing what good men do as a matter of course. There’s some question of whether or not the Doctor qualifies as a “good man,” but he has been seen doing good and heroic things. As for Robin, all but the earliest legends present him as someone who does more good than harm. Even if they’re not “heroes,” they want to be.

The “Real” Robin Hood

Robin Hood by Louis Rhead

Speaking of the earliest legends, I’m going to digress for a moment and talk about my one peeve with how this episode portrays Robin Hood. I’ve done no little research into the history of the Robin Hood legends, and know that the earliest tales set him during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377), not during the time of King Richard and Prince John. The earliest version of his character that we can track down presents him as a “famous cutthroat” and “forest outlaw” who was both intriguingly mysterious and alarmingly unknowable (Stephen Knight; Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography).

Now, for Doctor Who’s version we could say that the Robin legends took on a sinister aspect in the 100-some years following Clara and the Doctor’s meeting with the “real” Robin, before shifting back to something closer to “reality” in the 1590s, when stories of Robin Hood as a displaced earl begin showing up. But it would have been much more in keeping with the records we have of Robin Hood legends, to present Robin Hood in Doctor Who as a clever, outlawed yeoman. Someone could have at least done enough research to know that the legend of Robin Hood splitting his opponent’s arrows at an archery tournament didn’t show up at all until the 1820 publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (though it did make for a humorous scene with the Doctor).

Perhaps Mark Gatiss, who wrote this episode, agrees with his version of Robin Hood that,  “History is a burden; stories can make us fly.” And I’m inclined to cut him some slack, in terms of how “authentic” Robin Hood has to be for Doctor Who. Most viewers just want to see the typical aspects of Robin Hood — the fight on a bridge between Robin Hood and a stranger, the archery competition for a golden arrow, the battle between Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham — with the familiar Earl of Locksley back-story. At this point, trying to bring Robin back to something the Doctor and Clara might actually have discovered in history would have been more confusing than anything else. Gatiss made up for ignoring the oldest Robin Hood source material by including references to multiple version of Robin Hood in film, an almost-quote from Shakespeare, and several nods to both classic and new-Who. All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable, though fairly typical, episode of Doctor Who.

Thoughts On The New Doctor

I started watching Doctor Who a few years after “new Who” started, begining with Eccleston and continuing on in order. I liked Nine, but fell in love with Ten. Even though I was still catching up at that point, knew it was coming, and had Matt Smith episodes that I could watch, I went into mourning for a month after he regenerated and refused to watch any of Eleven’s episodes. But I finally did, and I liked him almost instantly.

And then just a few years later he left. By that time I’d caught up with all the episodes, so there wasn’t the assurance of knowing who’d replace him. It was, in many ways, more traumatic than David Tennant leaving because on top of losing a Doctor I loved, I didn’t know who might replace him. It could have been anyone — a woman, an American (the Horror!), a non-Whovian …

… and then it was Peter Capaldi, and I stopped freaking out. That’s when some of my friends started freaking out, though — he’s too old and too grumpy and shouldn’t be trusted with our favorite character. But I had a good feeling about him for some reason.

SPOILER WARNING

I think I was right. It takes a while the first episode after the Doctor regenerates for him to settle into a personality, and he flitted through a few of the old ones before we got a good sense of who he’ll be now (including asking for a very long scarf and screaming “Geronimo”). Still, I think I’m going to like the Doctor this way. And I have very, very high hopes for the upcoming “Robot of Sherwood” episode (I’m a bit obsessed with Robin Hood legends. Actually Medieval things in general).

There’s plenty of in-depth reviews already, so I’ll just touch on a couple things I though were of note …

Steampunk title sequence! Last time they changed the title and music I was upset, but this time I liked it. I suppose the gears are actually supposed to make me think of time and watches rather than steampunk, but who cares — it was cool. Like bow ties.

The cameo appearance of Matt Smith might not have been surprising for some people, but it was for me. And it was splendid. Clara needed it, and I think some of Matt’s fans probably did, too. *cue sobbing*

“Girl In The Fireplace” is my favorite episode, so I loved the parallels here. Well, “loved” in the sense that I liked how it reminded me of this episode even though robots harvesting human beings for spare parts is bloody creepy.

Clara was splendid. There have been rumors floating around that Jenna Coleman will be leaving in the Christmas episode, and I really hope that’s not true. I’ve liked her as a companion, and I like her even more after seeing her stand up to Madam Vastra and try to convince The Doctor that she’s not an egomaniac by shouting “Nothing is more important than my egomania!”

One of my favorite scenes is where the Doctor is talking with a homeless man (didn’t catch his name, but planetclaire.org says it’s Barney) about his new face.

The Doctor: Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking? I’m not just being rhetorical here. You can join in.
Barney: I don’t like it.
The Doctor: What?
Barney: Your face.
The Doctor: Well I don’t like it either. I mean it’s alright up to the eyebrows. Then it just goes haywire. Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You could take bottle caps off with these.
Barney: They are mighty eyebrows indeed sir.
The Doctor: They’re cross. They’re crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows. That’s Scot, I am Scottish and I’ve gone Scottish.
Barney: Yes you are. You are definitely Scot sir. I hear it in your voice.

Love the bit of Scottish attitude that’s showing up along with his new accent, and I particularly like the more reflective side we’re glimpsing in this Doctor as he puzzles over why he chose this face — what message his past selves are trying to send him. On the same subject, there’s a particularly heart-tugging line of dialogue at the end where he tells Clara, “You can’t see me, can you? You look at me and you can’t see. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please just… just see me.”

We see you, Mr. Capaldi. And you look like The Doctor. Not my Doctor perhaps, but certainly a Doctor we can learn to love.

12th Doctor Sale going on at my Etsy store until the end of August

 

Hiatus

EDIT: oops — I accidentally scheduled two posts for today instead of an edited version of this one for next Monday (here’s the post meant for today). Oh well. I guess you just get two today 🙂

I’m experiencing an absence of blogging ideas today, so I decided to write about another absence that has showed up in my life recently — new TV episodes to watch. Every show I like is now 1) cancelled or 2) on hiatus.

  • Almost Human — cancelled (not that I was shocked Fox cancelled a sci-fi show I liked after only 13 episodes …)
  • Doctor Who — back in August (new trailer!)
  • Downton Abbey — season 5 is filming
  • Grimm — on hiatus, but renewed
  • Falling Skies — back on June 22
  • NCIS: Los Angeles — on hiatus, but renewed
  • Sherlock — who knows. (BBC wanted a 2014 Christmas special, but there’s scheduling conflicts. Could be years. In other news, the phrase “hiatus intensifies” has come back to Pinterest and Tumbler)
  • White Collar — cancelled, but at least we get a 6-episode final season

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is on hiatus, too, but there are episodes I haven’t watched yet and I still haven’t decided if I like that show or not. It’s been renewed, though, so I’ll have a second season to make up my mind, if need be.

This lack of new episodes isn’t all bad, though — I’ve read a mountain of books. The latest 5 are were Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, Chalice by Robin McKinley,  The House At Riverton by Kate Morton, and  Shadows by Robin McKinley. I’m currently re-reading The Hobbit, and I picked up four more at the library on Friday, all young adult novels. I’m calling it “researching the target audience” for my novels.

 

 

Dark Fairy Tales

I recently started watching the TV show Grimm. I’m still about a season-and-a-half behind, but catching up pretty quickly (no spoilers if you’ve watched more than me!).  For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s about a homicide detective named Nick who recently inherited his family’s gift for seeing strange creatures known as Wesen. Together with his detective partner, his girlfriend, and a reformed Blutbot (aka “the big bad wolf”), Nick discovers that a surprisingly high number of Wesen happen to commit crimes in Portland, Oregon (seriously, are there no human criminals?)

The thing that makes Grimm different from other crime dramas, and what initially attracted me to the show, is the folkloric element. The stories are loosely based on fairy tales and myths from a variety of cultures, most notably those collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Each episode uses elements of an original legend, but changes the plot. Another “change” that has been made is that Grimm is much darker than the popular idea of fairy tales as Disney princess stories.

I say “change” in quotation marks because the fairy tales most of us grew up with are MUCH tamer than the original versions (or, more accurately, the earliest versions we have written down). Yet many people assume fairy tales started out innocent and have been corrupted by our modern culture. Take this quote from Plugged In Online’s review of Snow White and the Huntsman, for instance.

I’ve always liked fairy tales, whether in cartoony-flick or storybook-for-the-kids form. But it appears that those “once upon a time” sweet and innocent versions don’t often make the grade nowadays. Today’s reimaginings usually have to come with a bit more bite.

The trend with today’s versions of fairy tales, including Grimm, isn’t so much making the stories darker as it is returning to fairy tales’ darker roots. Even the fairy tales we consider “sweet and innocent” used to have a darker side. Cinderella’s step sisters cut off their toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper. The Little Mermaid’s prince marries someone else and she considers murdering him, but dies instead. And I’m not even going to talk about Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel.

Why read/watch "Dark Fairy Tales" marissabaker.wordpress.com
background image of Dunnottar Castle

Don’t misunderstand me — I love Disney films. And they can get pretty dark, at least so far as the villain is concerned. But I love the older versions as well. I wouldn’t read all of them to a young child, but it is possible to shelter children too much (see my previous post where I talk about banning fairy tales). And there is certainly no reason not to read fairy tales as an adult. In the words of C.S. Lewis,

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

Lewis also said, to those who think fairy tales belong in the nursery,  “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” My own fairy tale reading did not begin in earnest until I had graduated high school, so I suppose by this definition the more fairy tales I read, the more grown-up I get.