Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Treatise in Defense of ‘Doctor Who’

(Buckle in, my little Nerdlings...)

The strata of nerd-dom is varied and constantly shifting, as the sands in the tide. For the most part, comic books have recently become slightly socially acceptable, moving from dark, dank basements to the big screen. More and more people of all ages are willing to wear T-Shirts emblazoned with Iron Man or the Joker, with suffering serious public ridicule. ‘Star Wars’ has also become mildly popular, especially with indie-kids attempting to assert individuality. ‘Star Trek’ has always remained close to the bottom of the nerd food chain, even thought the recent movie grossed over 2.5 million dollars (its embarrassing apparently, but everyone has seen it, odd). However, to find the lamest of the lame, the saddest of the sad, the absolute pinnacle of the bottom of the nerdy Sci-Fi franchise (at least in the U.S.) one need go no further than ‘Doctor Who’.

For those unaware, ‘Doctor Who’ tells the adventures of an timeless, alien being, called simply, the Doctor, who travels through time and space via a living machine called a Tardis, which appears like an old-fashioned British blue police call box, but in reality, is a shape and size shifting time and space machine, capable of being infinitely large on the inside, while appearing small and innocuous on the outside, which, unfortunately, is just a bit broken. The Doctor is the last of a race of beings called the Time Lords who were travelers who moved through all of existence not only bearing witness, but also acting as a sort of galactic peace keeping force, until they were wiped out in the Last Time War. The Doctor, the sole survivor of the Time Lords now leads a solitary, lonely existence, feared on some planets, legend on others attempting to distract himself from his solitary existence. Along the way, he picks up a constantly rotating entourage of fellow explorers who he finds interesting. Usually, his adventures find him accidentally stumbling across some threat to space an time if not existence as a whole, which he is uniquely qualified to stop.

Yeah, right? What’s embarrassing about that? Well, enter all sorts of alien life, everything from Space Rhinos, to Cybernetic Geonocidal killers to Space Witches feeding off of William Shakespeare, and yeah, you have to love Sci-Fi a bit to even make it through the first few minutes (although the theme song alone is worth it). Funny thing is though, its only mired in social stigma here in the United States, in the United Kingdom, it is one of the ratings box office leaders. Much of the appeal of the show comes down to the actor playing the title role, the Doctor. Using a plot device that allows the Doctor to ‘regenerate’ and grow a new body (face, height, voice, everything) the shows creators/writers have the opportunity to change up the lead actor whenever they want to. The current (the 9th) version of the Doctor is played by David Tennat, who, with most American viewers is probably best known in the U.S. for a bit part in the fourth Harry Potter film as Barty Crouch Junior (the dude who is impersonating Mad Eye Mooney). Tennat plays the Doctor as wise beyond human comprehension, but still completely amused by every situation he encounters, especially ones involving human beings, which he seems particularly proud of and entertained by (he comes across as humanities’ biggest fan). Given the way he runs around, putting things together at the same pace as the viewing audience, and the almost flippant manner in which he deals with issues of existence, life and death, make him likeable and admirable in a role where actors can easily come across as snooty and arrogant. His moments of revalation, where he pulls some obscure piece of his 900 years of life-knowledge out of nowhere as the missing key to the puzzle are ones of pure delight and emotion, usually after one of his companions makes some off-handed comment that is meant to mean nonsensical and humorous.

And then there is the weird, wonderful if not somewhat scary creatures and worlds that each episode showcases. Following is a list of five of the best episodes, with brief synopsis (in no particular order):

  1. “Love and Monsters” – Season 2 – This whole episode is told as a sort of video blog of a man (played by Marc Warren) who starts a group of like-minded individuals who have encountered the Doctor during one of his escapades. The group eventually falls under the control of a mysterious stranger who has his own plans for the Doctor.
  2. “The Shakespeare Code” – Season 3 – In this episode, the Doctor and his new companion Martha make a trip back to Renaissance England and meet William Shakespeare who is working hard on his (and this bit is true) long-lost sequel to Love’s Labor’s Lost. Unfortunately, he is being unwittingly manipulated by a trio of witch-like aliens whose science is so advanced it appears like magic.
  3. “Blink” – Season 3 – This is another episode in which the Doctor doesn’t actually appear much, in fact, for most of the episode he just shows up on TV screens as an Easter Egg DVD bonus. In the episode a girl is being hunted by aliens who appear as stone angel statues only when looked directly upon. If one looks away, or even blinks, the angel killers can move.
  4. “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances” – Season 1 – In this two part story, the Doctor and his companion, Rose, find themselves in London during the Blitz of WWII. While there, they encounter another time traveler, Capt. Jack Harkness, who has much cheesy bravado, he is impossible not to like. In this setting, an odd creature who appears to be a child in a gas mask is terrorizing the night, transforming all those he encounters. Spookily, all the creature states, repeatedly, is the question “Are you my Mommy?”
  5. “Partners in Time” – Season 4 – In this episode, the Doctor is reunited with one of his past companions, the loud, annoying Donna Nobel. Both the Doctor and Donna find themselves investiaging the same alien plot on Earth, unknowing that the other is involved. This stands as a great example of how funny the show can be, even when using Science Fiction as a genre. Even the aliens themselves, tiny cute anthropomorphized blobs of fat are adorable, if not gross.

Other episodes that merit attention include: “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Season 3), “School Renunion” (Season 2), “Gridlock” (Season 3) and too many others to list.

The last four season feature a veritable who’s who of modern British actors, everyone from Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) to Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) to Alex Kingston (ER) to Derek Jacobi (seriously, you don’t know who that is?!). The recent episodes have seen the resurrection of many of the classic Dr. Who villains from the Master to the Daleks to the Cybermen. Another of the show’s more possitive qualities is its ablity to build its own mythology and play off it. Season four saw references back to season one, and each of seasons has a way of bringing back characters through the show’s history and continuity. In fact, because of the attention to detail and continuity the re-launch of the series has lead to two separate spin off series, one of which “Torchwood” isn’t half bad in its own right.

Although it will never be really T-Shirt or Trapper-Keeper worthy, the show does demand a second look from those of you who dabble in the nerdly ways. Those who don’t well, know your enemy, maybe you’ll accidentally love it. If not, you are soulless and dead inside.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blast from the Awesome Theme Song Past!!

Oh, TGIF, gone, but not forgotten...
They just don't rock like this no mo'. Thank God.

And, just because I love this song (so corny...yet, it speaks to the working man in us all, does it not?)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My 5 Favorite (and Most Often Overlooked) "Ghostbusters" Quotes

Ladies and Gentlemen, the musical stylings of Ray Parker Jr.!!!
(I suggest just playing the thing as you read to set the right mood)

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) speaking to Egon Spangler (Harold Ramis)

"I'm going to take back some of the mean things I've said about you over the years. Go on (handing Egon a candy bar) you've earned it."

Ray Stantz (Dan Aykryod) addressing Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan)

"Gozer the Gozerian... good evening. As a duly designated representative of the City, County and State of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension."

Egon Spangler (Harold Ramis) speaking to Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts)

"I collect spores, molds and fungus."

Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson)

"Thats a big twinkie."

Conversation between Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and Egon Spangler (Harold Ramis)

Ray: "You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't had a successful test of this equipment."
Egon: "I blame myself. "
Peter: "So do I. "
Ray: "Well, no sense in worrying about it now. "
Peter: "Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back."
Ray: "Well, switch me on."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Old 97s: the best band you're not listening to

So yeah, you say "Alternative Country" people laugh, snicker or give you the "huh" look. Its a genre not a lot of people know about, and many disregard right away. The idea is simple, Old-School style country, but with a more modern message. Think of it like this: yeah, it sounds like country, but nobody sings about their girlfriend dumping them, stealing their truck and running off with the dog. Another way of thinking about it: what if Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard could really rock? Well, then you'd have Alt. Country. And its undisputed monarchs: the Old 97s.

They play fast, fun, cool country sounding music. While not a hugely successful commercial band, they briefly appeared in the 2006 Jennifer Aniston & Vince Vaughn movie "the Breakup" (Actually, the band had broken up until Vaughn asked them to get back together for the film). Front man Rhett Miller sings with a voice cracks and twangs like the country stars of old, but he sings about college students battling depression and hanging out in the boroughs of New York; no horses or cowboys in sight.

Saddly, they closest thing they've had to mainstream fame is a song called "the Question" which is played on medical dramas a lot for some reason (it was used in 'Scrubs', 'House' and 'Grey's Anatomy'). This song, while great, isn't a good example of a typical Old 97s song. My personal favorites are "Victoria", "Barrier Reef" and "Timebomb". I would suggest starting with one of their greatest hits albums, while they do rock, they have put out a lot of albums, not all of them were rock solid. Still, if you're looking for a new sound, and you have an open mind and your parents say its okay, check them out, thank me later.

Home Page for the Old 97s: http://www.old97s.com/

My Five Favorite Comic Book Heroes

Well, I actually get asked this question all the time (when I teach Seniors we do this whole unit on fictional heroes...so it does come up a lot). While most fans to comics go for Wolverine or Batman or the obvious choices, I kinda like the lesser-worshiped heroes.
  1. Green Arrow -- Oliver Queen: I like this hero, because he has the whole Batman thing going for him (normal person, no powers) but without all the weird Mommy & Daddy hang ups which always weirded me out. I know its tragic and all, but a healthy person should be able to move on. G.A. is cool because he has this whole liberal, leftist agenda which he doesn't hesitate to share. He is outspoken, rude and happily will yell at heroes and villains who could easily kill him.
  2. Nightcrawler -- Kurt Wagner: First off, he's German, which is fun to read (lots of 'V's where you should have 'W's) second of all, he just looks so cool, not human at all, but he isn't all depressed and mopey about it. I'm kind of tired of heroes who whine about how hard it is to be heroes (talking to you Spider-Man).
  3. Invincible -- Mark Grayson: Aside from being one of the most beautiful, funny and gory comics out there, he does the whole its-tough-having-a-secret-identity-thing without coming off like a cry-baby (paying attention Spidey?). On top of that, the conversations he has are so well grounded in real sounding dialogue, that its relatable, even if you don't have superpowers.
  4. Red Robin -- Tim Drake: The third Robin, all grown up, and ticked off. Yeah, his name sucks (Red Robin is a popular restaurant chain where I grew up), but I've been reading Robin since I was 16, its cool that he's finally grown up, and really angry. For years he's been this icon in the DC Universe for being calm and level headed and handling himself very well for a teen hero. Now that Bruce Wayne is dead, and the new Batman fired him, he's out to kick some major European tail. Awesome.
  5. Shadowcat -- Kitty Pryde: Sure, she's probably dead, but when she was still around, she kicked major booty. Aside from the fact that she has probably the coolest and most underutilized powers ever, the fact that she is trained martial artist and a world class computer hacker makes her nerdy enough that teenage comic book reading geeks (like I was in High School) found a heroine that gave us hope for being cool some day. Still waiting...
There you go, judge me if you, but I think this stuff is interesting, and therefore, cool.

What the Geek is Going on?!

Like you, I will weekly publish a 100+ word post.

I am a gigantic nerd. I still read comic books (I read real books too), I watch some really bad TV shows, and I take movies and other forms of Pop Culture way too seriously. I am, by all modern standards of social behavior, a nerd. I don't dress-up or go to conventions or anything, but if you wanna talk nerd-ish, put aside a few hours...I have some stuff to say. I like to think I make it look good, but, the truth is, I probably don't. Whatever. I like what I like, and I love the panicked looks on people's faces when I mention Superman, Romantic British Poetry, Star Wars or Dr. Who.

HA! You're probably making the face right now. And yes, I get to grade your papers. Tune in weekly, and I'll tell you what I'm geeking out about this week.