I’m reviving an attempt at a semi-regular feature I did last year. Mainly because this week is an extraordinarily good week to be a geek.
Last Saturday/Sunday: Doctor Who: “Nightmare in Silver” by Neil Gaiman
Bringing the Cybermen back in an anniversary year doesn’t always work out so well. The classic story Silver Nemesis, for example, was a jumbled mess of a story. Worse, it’s basic beats and themes were almost identical to the same season’s much better Remembrance of the Daleks.
“Nightmare in Silver” isn’t quite the piece of brilliance it could have been, but it’s a much better return to the Cyber-mythos than almost anything the New Series has produced since the “Age of Steel”. I find myself wishing for a copy of Mr Gaiman’s actual, submitted script. I have a great deal of respect for his writing, so I find myself wondering how many of the things that marred “Nightmare in Silver” were insertions or deletions at production time…
But frankly, I want to talk about what worked more than what didn’t. Once again, Doctor Who proves it’s general ability to world-build in a matter of seconds. We know almost nothing about this particular iteration of the Earth Empire (although diehard fans know there have been several), for example, but in a very short time we learn enough. One gets the impression that this Empire is almost-but-not-quite entirely a defense agreement against threats like the Cybermen, for example, in very short order.
The series also proves its ability to reinvent its villains as easily, and as successfully, as it reinvents its main character. Gaiman manages to capture the two essential elements of the Cybermen: patience and opportunism. Their way is to wait for the right moment — for centuries if necessary — and then pounce. It doesn’t always work out for them, but only because the Doctor so often turns up at the moment they pounce!
From there, however, he spins an entirely new, deadlier iteration of the race. One that can move like lightning when it needs to, and that adapts continually. One might complain about the similarity to the Borg, but of course, the Cybermen originally predate the Borg, and this development is only natural in a cybernetic organism. When the Cybermen were invented in 1966, nobody really knew anything about computer networking or the mania for upgrading that the modern electronic age would create. Now that we know, it’s foolish to expect a truly modern iteration of the Cybermen not to include those features, no matter who else it makes them similar to.
So, yeah, that was a good place to start.
Last Sunday: Commander Hadfield’s Serenade
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has become an Internet Celebrity by staying in touch with Earth via social media. Sunday, as he prepared to leave the International Space Station, he regaled us with a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (actually…more filk than cover, to be honest). He’s pretty good, too!
Tuesday: Agents of SHIELD trailers pop up
I feel a little bit dirty admitting this, but I think I’m going to have to watch a network television show this fall. Because from both the 30-second and 3-minute trailers that are now circulating, I would say that this series has at least some potential to Not Suck.
Of course, there’s more than a little pressure on this project to Not Suck.
First of all, show-runner Joss Whedon is not exactly Midas, but he does seem to have some idea how to tell a story, most of the time. People expect a lot from him, and now he has to deliver.
Second of all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in general, has raised the bar for telling interesting stories about comic book characters on screen. Until now, they only had to deliver once a year, or so, and they had lots of time and money to spend on making it all look spiffy and exciting. Now, they’ll be subject to the exigencies of weekly television. People will be expecting a certain level of “blockbuster” awesomeness that may be very hard to deliver.
And lastly…Coulson Lives. OK, that’s great. I really have no issue with it whatsoever, for the same reason most people don’t: Clark Gregg is a solid actor, Agent Coulson is a great character, and except for the fact that he looked pretty dead in Avengers, he’s the perfect character to lead a team of agents at this point. I don’t really even care how he’s still alive. I don’t care if he’s a robot, a clone, or just secretly has Wolverine’s healing factor.
All I care about is that they don’t waste him with crap scripts. They’ve gone out on this limb, and now it needs to pay off!
Tuesday: Confirmation of Doctor Who Season 8
At the BAFTA awards, Stephen Moffat confirmed there will be an eighth season of the revived series. Internet speculation is rampant about how long he, Matt Smith, or Jenna-Louise Coleman will continue to be involved, but regardless of who’s writing it or who’s starring in it, the series will be back in 2014.
Thursday: Star Trek Into Darkness
I was deeply skeptical of Star Trek (2009) when it was released.
I wound up seeing it no fewer than 13 times in the theaters. So obviously, I’m mostly OK with JJ-Trek, so far.
But the skepticism is still there, honestly. I don’t really like the main rumor of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character really is (no, no spoiler — you can Google for it yourself if you really want the spoiler). I think it represents a failure of imagination, a missed opportunity, and something of an attempt to one-up the Original Series and OS films by creating a direct point of comparison. I think that’s a huge mistake, and no matter how much I like the film itself once I see it, that disappointment won’t change if the bad guy is who I now think it is.
That said, I am past the point I was at when the rumor first started flying, when I declared that I wouldn’t even see the film once if it turned out to be true. I will see the film. I am prepared to enjoy the film for what it is, even if I wind up criticizing it for what it could have been. I will do everything I can to leave the chip on my shoulder at home, because honestly, in the end, I want to like this movie, and I want them to keep making them — ideally more often than once every four years!
Saturday/Sunday: Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”
Speaking of skepticism…this week’s Season 7 Finale is itching me a bit. No, I haven’t seen it yet. No, I don’t have any problem with its stated premise, nor even if they actually pay it off and tell us some of his Deep Dark Secrets. It’s just that I don’t trust Doctor Who finales to not suck any more!
First of all, I think the New Series has at best a mixed track record with its finales. All too often, the impulse to be “bigger and bolder and better” than the year before results in something that’s just absurdly broken. For example, “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” comes across like questionable fan-fiction — the sort where you find excuses to mash all your favorite characters together even if they have no reason to even know about each other. The difference, of course, is that the fan writing this fiction was also the show-runner, Russell T. Davies, and he could get away with it.
And then, there’s Stephen Moffat. When he first took over, I was truly looking forward to his tenure, because other things I’d seen him write, I’d enjoyed.
But Mr. Moffat has come to rely entirely too much on the fairy-tale/fantasy aspects of Doctor Who. “Timey Wimey” has become code for “Inexplicable Magic with no rhyme or reason to it.”
Combine these two trends together, and I’m left with some severe trepidation about this Moffat-penned finale, in an anniversary year when he knows he needs to deliver something more than average.
This entire season has marked a second serious attempt to explore the mystery of the Doctor — his past, his name, what makes him who he is. The last time they did it, the series was cancelled before they could pay it off! At the very least, at least this time, we know the series will get to pay it off, and will continue on afterward and have to actually live with the consequences of what it reveals!
And that, even in Moffat’s hands, could be exciting. If they don’t pull back from the brink, if they actually reveal Important Things, then it could mark the same sort of “reinvention” moment that the Time War did for the Revived Series in the first place, a chance to shift the game in such a way that new viewers can come on board at the beginning of Series 8 and have almost a level playing field with old hands. That, in turn, could maybe shake it loose from some of the ruts it’s fallen into!
So I guess, in the end, I’m willing to put up with even a bit of Moffaty incoherence and series-finale bombast if the result is something new and interesting!