Doctor Who Celebrates Its Fiftieth Anniversary

doctor who

Doctor Who fans are still aglow over the recent fiftieth anniversary special “The Day Of The Doctor”, and for good reason!  It was inventive, frenetic and most of all it was  downright cool in so many ways. More importantly, “The Day Of The Doctor” was a loving tribute to the fifty-year-old program

Who’s Who?

For anyone who hasn’t watched, Doctor Who is about the adventures of a time-traveling alien called the Doctor, who can go anywhere in time and space. As a Time Lord, he often winds up in some misadventure while defending Earth and is accompanied by a long line of (mostly) human Companions. When the show first aired in the BBC back in 1963, it was more pedestrian than the madcap pace exuberated by hartnellthe modern show. The Doctor was played by William Hartnell, a distinguished older actor who was more cerebral  and sedate than his successors. Doctor Who was always plagued by low budgets and production values, which didn’t help its stature of being a children’s show. Still, it had an unmistakable charm and its youthful audiences loved the show. This happened after the show began steering away from historical dramas and introduced goofy aliens that were played by actors in bargain-basement costumes.

This status stayed with the show for many years and over many incarnations of the Doctor. You see, once Hartnell left the program in 1966, he was ingeniously recast. The Doctor was an alien, so it was established that he could regenerate into another person at the time of his death. Each Doctor that followed him was more and more outrageous in demeanor and attire, probably culminating in Colin Baker’s eye-hurting, multi-colored waist coat and his flamboyantly overbearing behavior.  But this concept allowed each actor to add his own touch to the character, making the Doctor a rather complex person for this kind of show. It was probably why Doctor Who began to catch on past the kids.

tom baker

The first significant introduction to American audiences of Doctor Who was the Tom Baker era from 1974 to 1981. His Doctor was distinguished by an overlong, multicolored scarf, and a huge afro. While he was quite daffy, Baker’s Doctor exhibited a cunning, intellectual side that was masked by his eccentric behavior. Still, the show was bogged down with horrible special effects and production values. While the show won many fans, there were just as many who dismissed Doctor Who as kiddie fare.

Eventually, Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 and the property laid dormant until 1996 when Fox aired a TV movie pilot that attempted to jumpstart the franchise. The film was actually good, but controversial with many longtime fans, who bemoaned the semi-reboot. For instance, the Doctor revealed he was half-human and shockingly enough he had a romantic moment with his Companion. Egad! Sure, it sounds silly but fans can be recalcitrant whenever changes are made. The movie didn’t lead to a series and so the attempt at restarting the franchise was stillborn.

Who’s Back

nine docBut like any good intellectual property, Doctor Who refused to die. Finally in 2005, a brand new series was launched that rejuvenated the stale franchise. Now Doctor Who had updated effects, the characters were dynamic and relatable and the stories were more adult. The ramifications and intricacies of time travel were explored in episodes like “Father’s Day”, “Blink”, and “The Name Of The Doctor”.  Others had outlandish plots best explained by their episode titles–”The Stolen Earth”, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Some others where actually heartfelt like “The Doctor’s Wife” where the Doctor’s spaceship attained a corporeal, sentient form . To its credit, the show still retained its sense of whimsy and charm. Episodes featured many unique images like the Doctor soaring through the air in a carriage pulled by a flying great white shark (!), or him and his Companion riding a motorcycle up a glass tower. For every lighthearted episode, there were those that were quite chilling, adventurous, wondrous, and more importantly, thought provoking.

A very important change made to the modern Doctor Who is that the Doctor is the last of his kind. His race, from the planet Gallifrey, along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks, had died off fighting in a Time War. The Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccleston, was more morose and subdued. It was even reflected in his dark attire. He was clearly suffering from survivor’s guilt and was wracked by what he did in the Time War (it was revealed that he destroyed both races). However, by the end of his run, Eccleston’s Doctor (the Ninth Doctor) seemed to be recovering thanks to the help of his Companions Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

Edgier, More Emotional Doctors

This change into a more optimistic demeanor was fully expressed with the next Doctor brilliantly portrayed by David Tennant. The Tenth Doctor was exploding with youthful energy and charm. He often rambled on at a mile per second and had an impish way about him. One couldn’t help but be delighted by his antics. Yet, the Tenth Doctor once in a while unmasked a haunted and frightful demeanor that was unsettling to watch. This was underlined by Tennant’s ability to convey someone who was much older than he appeared.

hi res bike

His successor Matt Smith also had this uncanny ability. But, being that he was the youngest person to portray the Doctor, that ancient quality shown in his eyes and mannerisms added to the dichotomy of the Doctor. Now that Peter Capaldi will be the new Doctor come the next Christmas special (“The Time Of The Doctor”), some of his conflicting aspect will be toned down since Capaldi is an older actor.

But what does that mean for Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)? She will seem more like a daughter next to Capaldi. It’s doubtful there will be any romantic tension a la Rose Tyler, who started falling for the Tenth Doctor once he came into the picture. Perhaps Clara will soon leave the show. However, River Song (Alex Kingston) seems more compatible with Capaldi’s Doctor since the actress is closer in age to him.

Continue reading

Advertisements

John F. Kennedy: Time Travelers & Alternate Historians’ Favorite Subject

kennedyThe myth and aura of President John F. Kennedy has permeated many aspects of our culture, including the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. This is due to the circumstances of his tenure as U.S. president and his assassination. Even though the Space Age began before he took office, JFK helped invigorate the nation’s space efforts with his pledge to land a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s. His short time in office also saw the closest moment to date of a full-scale nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then there is the tragedy of his assassination that even today is fraught with controversy.

Needless to say, almost all of these stories have to do with either time travel scenarios or alternate history. Often, the time travel yarns lead to alternate timelines where the slain president is never killed in 1963. Ironically, it turn out that JFK living past that fateful day usually leads to a disastrous timeline. It’s interesting to note this considering the admiration that many have for the slain leader. Of course, the reason is because these stories need some drama.

Literary Speculations

alt kennedys.jpgThere are too many sci-fi and fantasy books to list here that explore JFK and altered history. Some notable entries include Alternate Kennedys, a collection of short stories that featured alternate history accounts, as well as decidedly fantasy and comedic tales of JFK and his family. Some of the better stories in that collection are “The Winterberry”, “The Kennedy Enterprise” (in this tale, the Kennedy brothers are the big stars of a famous sci-fi TV franchise), “A Fleeting Wisp Of Glory”, and “Prince Pat”.

Stanley Shapiro penned a time travel book called A Time To Remember, which was made into a TV film Running Against Time that starred Robert Hays as a professor who wants to save his brother from dying in the Vietnam War. So he goes back in time to save JFK and thus prevent that war from happening.

Another novel about JFK living past 1963 being detrimental to history is Prologue by Greg Ahlgren. In this book, JFK never died and wound up pulling out of Vietnam. This decision led to the communistic takeover of the world, causing the book’s protagonists to travel in time back to JFK’s era and rewrite history.

One recent, high-profile work is Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 where the story’s main character time travels to the past and stops Oswald. The resulting timeline leads to George Wallace, and later Hillary Clinton, into becoming presidents and the Vietnam War escalating into nuclear war.

jfk king

Putting aside the fantastic novels and stories, recently many historians have written essays and books seriously exploring alternate timelines about JFK. Many of them are well worth reading for history buffs and fans of alternate history. The most recent example is If Kennedy Lived: The First And Second Terms Of John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History by Jeff Greenfield, a followup to his essay collection Then Everything Changed. In that latter collection of essays, Greenfield explored a timeline where Kennedy was killed before he was inaugurated. This terrible event led to the Cuban Missile Crisis becoming a nuclear war.

Getting back to fiction, there are novels about  alternate versions of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In these accounts the crisis turned into full-scale nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, leading to terrifying results. They include Resurrection Day by Brendan DuBois and When Angels Wept: A What-If History Of The Cuban Missile Crisis by Eric G. Swedin. Continue reading

The Hunger Games & The Movie On Fire

HungerGamesPoster “Up, up, up. It’s going to be a big, big, BIG day!” This was how I started the morning of March 22, 2012; almost expecting to wake up to a knock on the door by the manically upbeat Effie Trinket herself. Instead it was by my fellow fans getting ready for the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games. For months we had been eagerly awaiting the movie release based on the popular and controversial young adult novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. We couldn’t wait to finally see District 12, the gritty Hob, the dreaded arena, the wickedly fashionable Capitol, and just how much violence would make it into a PG-13 rating. As a Panemaniac myself, I was excited to see if the book-to-screen adaptation would burn like an inferno, or fizzle out into ashes.

I was drawn into the futuristic dystopian world that Collins had created in her book, where reality television has taken a twisted new edge to entertain its audience with a blood sport. In The Hunger Games, Panem is a nation in what used to be known as North America. It consists of twelve districts and ruled over by a totalitarian government from the Capitol, located in the Rocky Mountains. As a punishment for a long-past, failed uprising, once a year each district must hold a lottery to chose one boy and girl between the ages of 12 to 18 years old. These “tributes” are forced to compete in a nationally televised event called “The Hunger Games.” Like gladiator games enjoyed in ancient Rome, the tributes not only have to battle one another, but any lethal obstacle thrown at them by the Gamemakers. Twenty-four contestants enter the arena, but only one can survive to be the winner.

We follow the journey of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl from District 12, a coal-mining town in the poorest part of Panem. Due to the tragic death of her father she is forced to break the Capitol’s law and hunt for game in order to save her family from starvation. In this world, the Capitol keeps such strong food regulation on the districts that many people are literally starving to death.hunger games book Katniss uses her wits and her hunting skills with her father’s bow and arrows to provide food for her mother and younger sister, Primrose. When her sister’s name is drawn for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers as the female tribute, saving her sister, but condemning herself to death. Along with fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, and their unstable mentor Haymitch Abornathy, they try to find a way to survive against all odds, but at a terrible cost.

I was intrigued by the author’s view of how easily a society could break down. Panem is a society that has become so desensitized by excess and ignorance that they celebrate the slaughter of innocent children as if it were the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the districts’ citizens live without the comfort of having so much as a steady meal. I was also disturbed by the haunting idea of teenagers being taken from their families and forced to kill other children, or be killed themselves. Collins drew me into this world with her complex characters, descriptions of food and fashion, and her ultimate tale of love and just how far one is willing to sacrifice for freedom.

?????????????In anticipation for the movie, many of us showed up to the theater dressed as our favorite characters. It was the complex range of characters that really made me fall in love with this story. Right away, I was thrilled with the casting choices. Jennifer Lawrence was perfect as the tough and clever Katniss. Josh Hutcherson made us pine for the puppy dog-eyed Peeta Mellark. Amandla Stenberg as Rue, made us ache at the mere sight of her angelic face. And Lenny Kravitz stole the show as fashion genius Cinna simply by being himself. Sadly, there were a few characters that had been toned-down to keep things more suitable for the audience. Although Woody Harrelson was a convincing Haymitch, he was much more subdued than his tormented, alcoholic book version. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket was not nearly as over the top as her wardrobe. Even worse, their most memorable quotes had been altered or dropped completely, leaving out major developments in their characters.

???????????????

Certain adaptations by director Gary Ross were actually better than the print version. Instead of telling the story through Katniss’ inner monologue, we got to see events from multiple points of view. The charming Stanley Tucci made the Hunger Game’s emcee, Caesar Flickerman, a very minor part in the book, unforgettable. And while Seneca Crane had been little more than a name to us, Wes Bentley and his dapper Capitol-stylized beard could not have enough screen time.

The downside was the too-fast-paced speed of the film. Scenes rushed past before we could emotionally deal with them. I had hoped to see more details of certain things fans would recognize in the novel. The blood bath in the arena was not nearly as violent as what we had imagined. The deaths, while agonizing to watch were not as painful as the shaky camera work. Mostly it just ended up causing headaches. I was disappointed that Ross did not express how the people of the districts were truly desperate for food. It is difficult to get an American audience to think of what it’s like to be really hungry. And finally, the romance, or lack thereof, between Peeta and Katniss was never developed. We left the film not knowing if it just was all for the Games or not.

I was pleased with this film. It was not perfect and there were things that could have been improved, but it was an exciting ride. I’m looking forward to the story continuing in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Jennifer Drucker

Thor Returns To “The Dark World” Of Cinema

thor 2 posterPhase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well underway with the release of Thor: The Dark World. The sequel to 2011’s Thor stars Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role as the God of Thunder, as well as Tom Hiddleston as Loki–Thor’s treacherous stepbrother, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster–Thor’s human love interest, and Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father Odin. Joining the cast this time out is Christoher Eccleston as the film’s main heavy, Malekith.

The first Thor movie was unexpectedly rousing and fun thanks to the cast’s performances and expert directing. This time out Alan Taylor takes over the directing duties in this tale that takes place a couple of years after the first Thor movie. Thor and Jane are still separated from each other after the wormhole that first brought the hero to Earth in the first film has been shattered.

Thor: The Dark World introduces us to the Dark Elves, malevolent beings who wanted to use a weapon called the Aether to destroy the universe. Fortunately, the Dark Elves were defeated thousands of years ago by the Thor’s people, the Asgardians. But a handful of Dark Elves and their leader Malekith escaped and went into suspended animation. In the present day, Thor is in his home realm of Asgard and kept from returning to Earth and his love Jane Foster due to obligations. At this time, a space/time anomaly allows portals to open up everywhere and link worlds, including Earth. In London, Jane is unexpectedly sucked into one of these portals. Just as she is sucked into the passageway, Thor comes back to Earth looking for her and eventually reunites with Jane. After they journey to Asgard, she and the Asgardians discover that the ancient Aether weapon is within her.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Malekith is reawakened after sensing the Aether. Assembling his elven army, he uses this opportunity to attack Asgard to get the weapon and conquer the universe. As the Dark Elves wreck havoc on Thor’s world and threaten Earth, Thor is forced to turn to his imprisoned, hated stepbrother Loki for help in defeating Malekith and his vicious army.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Whereas the first film introduced audiences to Thor’s rich, majestic world that was obviously inspired by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early comic book stories, Thor: The Dark World presents us an expanded world taken from writer/artist Walt Simonson. Malekith was a supervillain introduced in Thor #344-349, which was during Simonson’s tenure on the title. Using the Dark Elves will please many Thor fans and general audiences who wanted to see something different in this sequel. The villain Kurse appears in this film and he is a faithful recreation from Simonson’s epic run. He looks like he stepped out from the comic books.

20131110-102628.jpg
Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable, humorous, and exciting adventure. However, it isn’t as satsifying as the first Thor movie. It does have a lot going for it, the special effects are top notch, as is the production design that showcases various worlds that Thor and Malekith battle in during their epic conflict. Regarding the acting, everyone does a fine job but Hiddleston steals each scene he’s in with his portrayal of Loki. Hiddleston simply doesn’t let go of his screentime. It’s clear that he relishes what he is doing and Loki is now the top villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s unfortanate that Malekith can’t compare to that. On paper he is a good villain but he comes as a by-the-numbers foe for Thor that lacks Loki’s gravitas.

The core issues with this film have to do with the feeling that the stakes are high this time out. Sure the universe is imperiled but it’s hard to feel as if there was any danger. We know that Thor and company will prevail, and even an important character death doesn’t have much impact. Adding to that problem is that Thor doesn’t have the emotional journey that he had in the first film. He doesn’t have to learn humility or any other lessons. Here, he’s an obedient son to Odin and is more of a traditional superhero with few faults. But now he doesn’t have that Arthurian journey to undergo.

Still, this is a well-crafted movie that adds to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Be sure to stick around for the two secret endings!

Steven L. Walterson and Lewis T. Grove

A Fan’s Angst About Star Wars Episode VII

I miss George Lucas. That is basically my reaction to the recent news and rumors of problems with the upcoming film Star Wars Episode VII. From the writer, Michael Arndt, being replaced with director JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (the writer of The Empire Strikes Back), to hints of tension between Lucasfilm and Disney about the film’s release date.

poor lucas

This is what I feared when Disney took over the franchise. Star Wars movies usually took three years to make and it was all that George Lucas and his company were focused on. Now it seems like Star Wars is just another piece in Disney’s massive empire. The idea of delaying the film to 2016 may seem like a long time to wait for some, but on the other hand it may not be such a bad idea since it feels like everything is being rushed. Abrams only recently finished Star Trek Into Darkness and now with a new script being written, there will be a limited amount of time to get the whole thing done by 2015 as Disney CEO Bob Iger relishes.

The other idea of having a new Star Wars movie every year makes all of this feel like these films will be churned out of a factory and will inevitably lead to people getting burned out on Star Wars. The anticipation for each new episode was part of the fun during the years between films. But with Disney and its shareholders demanding more profits this will not be allowed. See the glut of Marvel films as a reference. Lucas had his flaws but Star Wars was his life’s work and was solely concerned with it and the rich universe he created. This won’t be duplicated with whoever is running things now.

abramsGetting back to J.J. Abrams, one has to question how committed Abrams is to this opportunity. It has also been rumored that he was reluctant to move to England to film the movie, which if true would be ridiculous. How many directors are out there that would swim to England just to have a chance to direct a Star Wars movie? These type of projects just don’t come around too often.  Not to mention the problems several fans had with his Star Trek films that had plot holes all over the place. No doubt caused in part by the scripts. The fact that the Episode VII screenplay is now being rewritten does not inspire confidence except for Kasdan being involved. Having said all of this, I hope that Abrams can pull this out. I think he needs a strong producer lucas abramsto keep him on track and ensure that the problems that occurred in his other films are avoided. His first Star Trek film had nice visuals and good action sequences, so he does have some skill in that regard. He just can’t have free reign to do whatever he pleases, especially on a project of this magnitude. Disney is not going to change directors at this stage of development, so he is it for Star Wars Episode VII.  Down the line, I would like to see someone like Alfonso Cuarón take a stab at these films. He has been receiving great reviews for his sci-fi film Gravity. Having that type of vision for a Star Wars film seems like a great opportunity.

Hopefully, Abrams and Kasdan can come up with a quality script and do justice to the Star Wars saga. That is just as long as Abrams doesn’t bring in his buddy writers. Maybe Abrams will ultimately deliver a great Star Wars film, and all this angst we fans are feeling will be for nothing. We’ll just have to hope for the best.

C.S. Link