Reading, Watching, Thinking August 2007

08 Aug 2007

It has been a while since my last blog entry. Life gets busy.

Isaac and I have been watching Doctor Who. To kick it off, we watched disc 1 of season 1 of the new series that started in 2005. I was favorably impressed — while it still has that cheese factor and silly monsters that make the show what it is, the new series seems to have considerably higher production values. I like Christopher Eccleston as the ninth doctor. Billie Piper does a very credible job as his companion Rose Tyler, at least in the episodes we’ve seen so far. Apparently, Eccleston only lasted for one season, though, and they are now on doctor number ten. David Tenant has completed two seasons and is apparently signed on for 2008. According to the show mythology, the Doctor only gets twelve regenerations, and so the thirteenth doctor seems destined to be the last. It will be interesting to see what happens if the show gets to that point and the show’s writers have to figure out what to do next. Maybe there is another Time Lord surviving somewhere in space and time? And, of course, there can be any number of spinoff stories.

To try to give Isaac a sense of what Doctor Who is all about, I also interleaved a series of old Doctor Who episodes in the queue. So immediately after the 2005 series we were watching the very first episodes with William Hartnell.

I was expecting the original episodes to be unbearably cheesy, looking more like a school play than a real television production, with horrendous audio and picture, but they surprised me. While there are some gaffes in the writing, the first episode really makes up for it with the strength of the acting. It is interesting to contemplate how these episodes were shot. They seem to be made up of very long continuous takes, where the camera rolls even through the transitions between sets. Is this because they were shot on film and they did not want to waste film by bringing the camera up to speed and re-synchronizing with the dialogue? I’m not really certain. But the effect is almost like a documentary shot by video steadicam, and more like watching a play than a modern show with constant cuts.

After the introductory episode, the next few episodes involve a tribe of cave-people on a quest for fire as their planet appears to be entering an ice age. This is a pretty weak story and drags quite a bit. There are a few scenes that are very much worth watching, though — there is a staged fight scene that seems to be lit entirely by a fire. It’s really stunning and quite well-choreographed. It is also very violent — in fact, it is quite surprising how violent some of the original Doctor Who material actually was.

We’re continuing on with Doctor Who. We received a mis-filed disc from Netflix that was supposed to be “The Daleks.” It was actually the two-part serial called “The Edge of Destruction” and the disc was taken from a set called “The Lost Years” also featuring Hartnell. The DVDs look very similar, so it is not a huge surprise that it was mixed up. Anyway, “The Edge of Destruction” was shot entirely inside the Tardis, and has a very weak script; the Tardis is malfunctioning because of a stuck button and as a result is hurtling backwards and forwards through time and space and somehow making all of its inhabitants violently crazy. The device somehow knows it is malfunctioning (apparently it has an artificial intelligence) and all the disturbances are a result of it somehow attempting to communicate that it is in trouble. According to Wikipedia,

This story was written by story editor David Whitaker within two days. It was created as a hasty “filler” story so that the series would fit a thirteen episode run, which was all that had been granted at that stage. Budgetary restrictions meant that only the four regular actors and the TARDIS sets could be used for the filming. Perhaps as a result of this, this is the least expensive Doctor Who serial ever, and the second episode (“The Brink of Disaster”) is the cheapest episode ever.

Yep, it is pretty bad. The label on the “fast return” button is written by hand in felt-tip pen, which gives you an idea of the budget involved. It is a “bottle episode” that has almost no long-term bearing on the story arc, except that it shows the characters that the Doctor could be a bit of an asshole. There are old Star Trek episodes that are worse, though. At least the doctor keeps his shirt on.

Anyway, next up is disc two of the 2005 series, and the original Daleks. We’ll see how many of the old shows we can stand. There are a lot of them — nearly 750 episodes of Doctor Who have been broadast. It is truly a science fiction soap opera. Tragically, though, a lot of the early episodes, including many that have the most interesting storylines, are missing and exist only in various degrees of reconstruction. For example, the serial after “The Daleks” is “Marco Polo,” which was a seven-part story set in the year 1289 in Asia. None of the original footage exists. Again according to Wikipedia:

In all, 108 of 253 episodes produced during the first six years of the programme are not currently held in the BBC’s archives, although many more were thought missing in the past before episodes were recovered from a variety of sources, most notably overseas broadcasters.

That’s a tremendous loss; whether the show is actually any good or not is beside the point; it is a piece of history.

Anyway. I don’t get a lot of time to read, but usually have a few minutes in the morning before the babies are awake. I’ve been re-reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of my all-time favorite novelists. He writes stories that fall somewhere in between science fiction, magical realism, and modern realist fiction. Events often follow an inner logic, a metaphorical logic, a dream logic. This is one of his best novels and I highly recommend it to anyone who is not put off by a little magic.

I have also been working on my guitar playing. I am taking lessons again, for the first time in 23 years, and trying to put together more of a repertoire. I don’t get very much time to do concentrated, focused, heads-down practice, but I am able to get at least a little playing in most days. That’s helped to keep me sane in the midst of screaming babies and our ongoing barely-breaking-even finances; we’re getting to the end of our debts, and so very soon we should be able to divert the $1,000 or so we’ve been spending on debts each month (for the last five years) into various forms of savings, and perhaps even take a modest little vacation, although we also need to figure out how to replace our car.

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Paul R. Potts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The CSS framework is stylize.css, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Crawford.

Year IndexAll Years IndexWriting Archive