On "Time-Flight"

Tuesday I stopped by the local Suncoast, and there on the shelves were four copies of “Time-Flight.” Imagine my surprise; the local Suncoast is absolutely terrible at getting Doctor Who videos (no “Invasion of Time,” no “Revelation of the Daleks,” etc.), and since I needed a Who fix the way a junkie needs heroin, I picked it up.

I’m not sure that I’d ever seen “Time-Flight.” I must’ve, since I vaguely remember watching “Earthshock.” Okay, so we’ll assume that I hadn’t ever seen it; I just can’t remember it. (Though to be fair, it would have been fifteen years ago at a minimum when I would have seen it.)

First, it’s a story impossible to take seriously. I’m not sure if it was meant to be as laughable as it was. Because watching it I couldn’t help but laugh at it.

Second, Tegan wasn’t the annoying bitch that I remember from later stories. Instead, she spent most of the time acting like a real airhead, letting Nyssa and the Concorde pilot do the heavy character lifting.

Third, Davison managed to rise very well above the nonsense going on around him. (And I loved his comment that he should never have gotten rid of the scarf.)

Fourth, the Master’s plot seemed rather dull. Okay, he’s stuck in the distant past and wants to escape. Uhm, bore me, why don’t you. He’s got his TARDIS; I’m sure the Master could find a way to put himself into suspended animation for 140 million years, escape the distant past one day at a time, and then in the 20th century find the tools he’d need to repair his TARDIS, all without drawing the Doctor into the plot. Okay, that’s a problem when I can out-think the super-villain.

I always liked the theme music of the Davison era. I wish we could have that on the Big Finish audios rather than the Tom Baker era music. It’s just music, I know, but it’s a slight matter of preference.

The ditching of Tegan. Handled pretty well. I liked the way the camera closed on her face at the end as she says that she thought she was going with the Doctor, too. I imagine sometime after “Arc of Infinity” Tegan would have confronted the Doctor about his abandonment of her, and he’d say, “Nyssa and I just popped out for a few moments because it was a rather sticky situation with the bobbies, you see, and one thing led to another and you know how tetchy the TARDIS can be and we did mean to pop back and pick you up right away, but one thing led to another, and where did I leave my cricket bat?” Or maybe not.

I think it’s interesting that Davison would have rather had Nyssa as his Doctor’s companion than Tegan. A pity that his desire couldn’t have happened. Nyssa, to be honest, worked talking technobabble, giving the sense that she was on the same page as the Doctor most of the time. I realize Doctor Who almost requires a dim companion so the Doctor has an audience avatar to explain matters to. Hmm.

A random observation. I started wondering if Davison’s decision to only do three seasons harmed Doctor Who. If memory serves, the reason Colin Baker was sacked was because he had been the Doctor for three years, the same as Davison (ignoring the fact that Colin only had the two seasons), and with Doctors changing every three years that was bound to put the audience on unsure ground, giving people more of an opportunity to bail on the program. I wonder if Davison had done a fourth season (as I understand he wanted to, but after JNT had made the preparations for Colin to take over the role) if Doctor Who wouldn’t have gone through the traumas of the cancellation crisis, etc. At this point, who can say?

On Cats and Life Lessons

My cat presented me with a present this morning. Her name is Tails (due to her tail which is bent at 90 degrees about halfway up, the result of a fairly traumatic accident, I think). She’s six months old, if that. She found her way inside my garage one day in the fall and then she never left, and she’s become a very happy indoor cat.

She’d left for me, in the middle of my living room floor, a dead mouse. I’m glad she found it; my hope is she found it in the garage. I don’t think she’s ever seen a mouse before, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought she’d have known what to do when presented with one. Obviously, I was more than a little wrong.

I had another cat some years ago. His name was Mozart, and a more regal cat you couldn’t imagine. He seemed to be somewhere else, somewhere above the fray. One day I was sitting on my back porch and he comes up the walk and up the steps carrying something in his mouth. It’s a frog, and a very unhappy frog at that. I have no idea where he’d found the frog, and it was painfully apparent that he had not the slightest idea what he was doing with the frog. He’d found a plaything, I suppose. So before he killed it by accident, I pried his jaw apart and released the frog. Mozart didn’t seem to mind losing the frog.

Is there a point to this? Not really, except the observation that things just seem to happen in this universe of ours. There’s neither the rhyme nor reason we get from fiction. There’s no universal balance, no eternal battle between the White and Black Guardians, between the forces of Law and Chaos. Life just is.

Dave Smeds wrote, “It’s enough to make a guy wonder if the universe requires some sort of counter-balancing for every streak of good and/or bad times.” True, you do have to wonder, but what seems most clear to me is that life isn’t a zero-sum game. If it were, we’d hit a good-luck streak just when things seem to really be heading downhill, and in my experience that’s never happened.

Life is what it is, and we get excited about the good stuff and bemoan the bad. I think that we might forget or overlook the good things that do happen to us because they’re likely not as obvious to us. Good things don’t seem quite as momentous. It’s the bad things that we really notice because they just aren’t how we want the things in our lives to be. Speaking for myself, I tend to hear criticism much more easily than I hear praise; it’s the things that people think are wrong that stick in my mind than the things that people think are right, even though the right might outweigh the wrong by a factor of one hundred.

I didn’t get the job I wanted in Northern Virginia, for instance. Oh, how I wanted the job; it would have made my life so much easier in a number of ways, but it wasn’t to be. I don’t think that’s a strike against me, though. It’s not the universe conspiring, pouring on the pain and the heartache. It’s just that it wasn’t meant to be at this juncture.

I’m rambling as I’m wont to do, and if point there was I think I’ve misplaced it somewhere. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy on the universe’s part that life can go so wrong, though.

On Peter David Novels

Since someone asked, my quick take on some Peter David Star Trek books…

Q-Squared was a solid romp. Alternate timelines, the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the tragedy of Jack Crusher. My favorite scene has to be the three Datas discussing their sexual habits while the Enterprise-D is about to crash. The scene is so utterly surreal that it’s impossible to believe.

Vendetta is the best Borg story, ever. Even better than “Best of Both Worlds.” “BoBW” had much higher personal stakes for Picard, but Vendetta had a lot more personal depth to it. We didn’t get a sense of how “BoBW” affected anyone, but Vendetta fired on more emotional cylinders. This might have been the last book to carry the dreaded Roddenberry disclaimer, too. (The reason for the disclaimer: PAD wrote in a female Borg, and at that point in time female Borg hadn’t been established on the show. Talk about Richard Arnold being anal retentive.)

Imzadi was recently voted the best Star Trek novel of all time. I happen to love the book, but the love-story aspect doesn’t do much for me. Instead, I much prefer the conflict between Admiral Riker and Commodore Data; when at the Guardian of Forever Admiral Riker states that he will do what it takes to save Deanna Troi’s life in the past and Commodore Data states flatly that he will kill Deanna Troi himself, you know that you’re about to get deep. I loved the tagline for this one: “The adventure across time in which death is only the beginning.” This should be filmed.

New Frontier. The first four books are pretty good. I don’t think they’re PAD’s best work by any stretch. They do what they need to do, introduce us to a brand-new crew and their adventures. As a pilot story it’s okay. But not a great work.

His best NF work is probably Once Burned, the story of Mackenzie Calhoun’s greatest failure: the death of his Captain aboard the USS Grissom. The story is handled so well, Calhoun’s voice is so distinct, that it’s just a good novel, and who cares that it’s a Star Trek novel. Even if you haven’t read New Frontier, even if you don’t care about The Captain’s Table, Once Burned should be read by all Star Trek fans.

The Excalibur trilogy, though, I have very mixed feelings about. I feel that it began well in Requiem, that Renaissance was a middling effort (mostly because of the boringness of the Lefler storyline), and that Restoration was a first-class disappointment. I’ve analyzed Restoration at length elsewhere, and if pressed will do so again. I will say this: the Excalibur trilogy is neither the jumping-on-point or the turning-point that the series was sold as being.

The Captain’s Daughter is excellent. I really enjoyed this novel, delving into the background of Hikaru Sulu, showing us where Demora came from, and what kind of Captain he became. Very well written, especially the scene where Rand and Sulu are talking about losing a loved one. The way that scene turns you suddenly realize who it is they’re talking about, even if names never enter into the equation. Recommended.

Another one I’d recommend is A Rock and a Hard Place.

Oh, and the first original DS9 novel, The Siege. Talk about intense. The scene where Meta kills the Cardassian has to be one of the most brutal scenes in a Star Trek novel.

I loved Q-in-Law. I think it’s one of the funniest Q stories ever done. Haven’t read it in almost ten years (my gahd, has it been that long? came out in 1991….), but I remember it as being a laugh-riot, more so than even Strike Zone.

Triangle: Imzadi II never caught my attention. I’ve read it, but I’ve never been excited about it. I’ve always been left feeling vaguely uneasy about it. And I couldn’t put my finger on what is wrong with this one, either.

Peter David’s work sells, and it sells very well, and I’m glad that it sells very well. But I don’t think that his work today reaches the same heights that it did five or ten years ago when he might put out only one or two Trek novels a year. I’d love to see him take a sabbatical from Trek, but the New Frontier novels consistently outsell all other Trek novels, so the chances of Peter David leaving the world of Trek novels for any appreciable length of time is nil.

On The Doctor and the Enterprise, and FOX

I read Jean Airey’s The Doctor and the Enterprise recently. :)

The Doctor and the Enterprise (tDatE) is frivolous fun. I’d slot it right after “The Deadly Assassin” and before the Doctor picks up Leela, but there’s a reference to K-9, so perhaps it would be best after Leela and before Romana I, so right before “The Key to Time”? Anyway, the story isn’t anything to write home about. It doesn’t have a plot, just a series of interconnected scenes (sounds like Doctor Who, doesn’t it?) that seem to happen. But it’s handled well enough that you can forgive the story for that.

There’s not any sort of sensible plot, instead there’s a series of events that just seem to happen one after another, and it doesn’t really all hang together. The Enterprise gets tossed into another universe, they fight the Sontarans, the engines are going to blow, the dilithium burns out, they visit a world under attack by the Daleks, there’s some tribal ritual, etc. Not exactly a linear progression. But it’s done with some style, rare enough in fanfic.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the reason the story seems to wander as it does is related to the fact that Jean Airey stumped during the writing of it and put it away for a time. It’s certainly possible, to lose the initial muse, then to go back months or years later and try to figure out where the story was going when it was stopped.

I had some problems with Kirk’s characterization. He seemed way to diffident and dismissive towards the Doctor. I admit it’s the reader bias creeping in–we know that the Doctor’s one of the good guys, but Kirk obviously doesn’t. However, you’d think that once the Doctor had done some good for the Enterprise and proved his worth that Kirk would have come around, rather than at the very end. I mean, saving the Enterprise from the Sontarans has to count for something, don’t you think?

I’ve discovered that Trek/Who crossovers are fairly common on the Internet. Most are forgettable, thankfully. There’s a sequel to tDatE I’ve found that’s positively wretched. The Fourth Doctor remembers the events of tDatE when the TARDIS lands on the Enterprise-D, but he’s travelling with Sarah Jane. (Uhm, no, because he’s travelling alone and with K-9 in tDatE, and K-9 didn’t show up until Leela’s day.) And then when the Doctor leaves the TARDIS throws the Enterprise-D into a confrontation with the Cybermen and the Seventh Doctor appears. It’s a dreadful story; about the only useful thing in it is the suggestion that the Celestial Toymaker was Q. (Random observation. I’ve seen pictures of Michael Gough as the Celestial Toymaker, and I’d be damned but he looks like Leonard Nimoy way back in the day!)

Jean Airey herself wrote a sequel to tDatE, entitled “The Lieutenant and the Doctor.” My guess is that Dorcy Stephens stowed away aboard the TARDIS when the Doctor left, and she traveled with him for some period of time before he dropped her off somewhere and then got on his with normal adventures. I haven’t read this one; I’ve never been able to find it, and I’ve been checking eBay regularly. Published in “The Blue Guardian,” issue 13 if you ever run across it.

Switch gears, to ranting about the FOX television network. My opinion of FOX is this: they have their heads up their asses. Doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. If FOX shows it, they’re going to find a way to fuck it up, unless it’s so established that they can’t fuck with it. I think the problem with FOX (and with television in general these days) is that shows aren’t given the time or the opportunity to find and build an audience. It’s the drive to get the great ratings now, to win the timeslot and win it big, that’s causing promising concepts and shows to languish for a few weeks and then vanish without a trace. Sometimes, pulling the plug is a mercy-killing; Action! deserved to be yanked when it was (the Jay Mohr sitcom FOX showed last year about a film producer). But other times, the networks are pulling something that has potential and if marketed correctly could be the next-big-thing.

It’s an unfortunate cycle, and it is a cycle since we see this happen every year. Short of giving up on television completely, I don’t think we’ll see matters change. That would mean changing the entire culture of Hollywood, and that’s not going to happen. The only thing that could would be the impending strikes, and I don’t think even the strikes could alter in any fundamental way the manner in which the studios and networks do business.

Will we see The Lone Gunmen go the way of so many other FOX shows. Frankly, I’d be surprised if it didn’t, Chris Carter’s protestations to the contrary.

In retrospect, I’m sort of glad FOX didn’t pick up Doctor Who, not that they were going to. I shudder to think what they might have done with it.

On Star Trek, Series V

TrekToday has some interesting details on the next Star Trek series, in particular who the characters will be. Is it for real?

I’ve talked with some friends of mine about the TrekToday article. All agree that it’s bogus for a couple of reasons. The names are a little in-jokey. A real casting bulletin wouldn’t go into detail about the role of each character; instead, it would list the physical attributes they were looking for (without actually naming the character). Someone suggested it looked more like a page out of a possible series bible, but I’m not even sure of that.

However, given the sheer number of rumors that the series is going to be pre-TOS, I wonder how close to the mark the “casting sheet” was.

Could they make a prequel series look as though it took place before TOS? I’m not sure. How do you make something look more advanced than now, but less advanced than TOS (which, frankly, looks less advanced than now in some respects)? It would be difficult.

Honestly, here’s what I’d do, if I were the one in charge. Set it either in Kirk’s time, or maybe even Pike’s time (though I don’t know that I’d go the whole route and do a series about Pike). Set it on a sector starbase near the Klingon border, so it would be like DS9. But also have a starship attached to the station and we’d follow that starship’s adventures maybe a third of the episodes (and for several episodes at a stretch, even). Setting it during Pike’s era means we could have the Enterprise drop by (and it would mean recasting Pike, Number One, Spock, etc.) and maybe even have a young Kirk breeze through the place. I haven’t figured out how this would be much different than DS9 or Babylon 5, though.

We’ll see how it all plays out. We should know something definite shortly, by April or May at the latest, if the series really will debut in September.

On Whovian Ruminations

Yes, I do have a number of the BBC Doctor Who novels, mostly in the Eighth Doctor range, rather than the Past Doctor range, and there’s a reason for what I own and why. That will take some explaining, though. What follows is entirely my opinion on the subject. I could be off-base, I might be spot-on-target. I really have no idea. This is just how I view matters Whovian.

Doctor Who fandom today is where Star Trek fandom was circa 1976. For the most part; it just occured to me I should qualify that statement. What I mean is this: the show has been gone for a number of years, work is afoot behind the scenes in the halls of The Powers That Be to bring the show back in some form. In a lot of ways, I think that’s the parallel between the two fandoms, albeit with two differences, both major.

The principle difference between being a Star Trek fan in 1976 and a Doctor Who fan today is that it was far easier to be a casual Trek fan in 1976 since the show was widely syndicated, but to be a Doctor Who fan takes work since the show is damned near impossible to find. Unless you have Doctor Who videos around the house, you probably aren’t going to be watching the show.

The other difference is this: there was no official Trek product coming out in 1976 beyond three or four novels from Bantam, while there’s more Doctor Who product being released each year now than the show had ever produced between the Big Finish audios and the novels from the BBC, a grand total of 34 stories a year. However, those products are reaching a very small portion of the audience, the hard-core fan population of Who, just as Star Trek novels might touch ten percent (at best) of the Star Trek fanbase.

And then there’s the odd nature of Who fandom. No fandom is a monolithic bloc, Trek least of all, but Who fandom can be downright vicious, especially on the question of where Doctor Who should go from here. It’s described as a struggle between the “rad” and the “trad,” those favoring modern and post-modern storytelling approaches versus those who would prefer Doctor Who rehash past glories in endless pastiche.

If I had to peg myself in Who fandom, I’d label myself a “rad,” but that’s an uncomfortable label because it doesn’t quite describe my feelings. The Doctor Who of twenty years ago isn’t going to come back, nor should anyone expend their energies trying; The Phantom Menace shows all too well what happens when you try to revisit the past by redoing the past. Just as Deep Space Nine played around with what Star Trek was, so do I think the next Doctor Who series (which will happen sooner or later) should play around with what Who is.

This is why I don’t find DWM particularly interesting. The Time Team, who cares? What’s so important about four people watching ’60s-era Who stories? What’s so important about reading the Target novelizations in publication order? Why does this matter, and how does this take Who fandom into the 21st century? In Trek terms, it would be like reading the Blish novelizations and saying that Trek has never been better.

So, the novels. Because I don’t want a rehash of the past, I generally steer clear of the Past Doctor novels. If it’s an historical, I’ll pick it up. If it’s by an author I like, I’ll pick it up. But mostly I stick with the eighth Doctor novels.

I don’t know that the Eighth Doctor books are going particularly anywhere. I am, I admit, a few books behind–Endgame and Father Time are in the pile to read. I thought for a while that the novels were going somewhere–the Doctor encountering his own future, the destruction of the TARDIS, Compassion’s transformation, the attempt of the Time Lords to influence the course of the future War. That all ended (and badly, I think) with The Ancestor Cell. Since then the direction of the novels has been interesting, with the Doctor abandoned on Earth, to live out a hundred years, and what’s a hundred years when you’re virtually immortal?

Hannibal

Went to see Hannibal last night. Random thoughts.

I wasn’t grossed out. I’ve heard the final ten minutes were supposed to be gross, with a serious ick factor. I’ve heard of people vomiting in the theatres. Me, I was more impressed with the special effects work that made the dinner party scene work. I was sitting there, thinking to myself, did they do blue-screen work? Is that how it was done? Pretty damned effective, if you ask me.

The ending of the film worked for me. Sort of leaves the door open for a sequel. What will Hannibal do? What will become of Starling? What’s with all the pigeon crap?

It’s a schizophrenic film. The Italy portions were brilliant. The cat-and-mouse between Lecter and Pazzi drove the film better than anything else did. Had the film been content to be about that, I’d call the film a work of genius. But the Starling angle was needed, the revenge plot drove that, and so once Pazzi meets his fate the film shifts into a very different gear, one that caused my attention to wane.

Except for the pigs. What a laugh-out-loud moment. What devilish irony it was, Verger trying to eat away Lecter and meeting that fate instead. It was all a little coincidental to me, but films work that way, especially in the timing.

Gary Oldman’s make-up was incredible.

Jodie Foster wouldn’t have worked in this film. The Starling role really had very little to do, and Foster would have wanted to be at the center of the action. The problem was, it’s not Starling’s film. It’s Lecter’s.

The Union Station sequence. I came so close to laughing at that point.

Overall, I’d say it’s a good film. Not a great film. Ridley Scott directed the film far better than most people would give him credit for. I’d rather have seen David Fincher direct Hannibal, but perhaps that would have been retreading ground Se7en had done so much better. But Jonathan Demme behind the camera wouldn’t have worked. I have this sneaking suspicion he got lucky with Silence; his work since hasn’t been worth speaking of (Philadelphia being vastly over-rated in my opinion).

I imagine you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, I think there’s a lot you’ll like. It’s certainly surprising.

The Psi-Phi Project: Re(8629): Andorians seen in Trek

John wrote:

You’d definitely be correct if Humans and Vulcans had evolvedseperately from different evolutionary ladders, etc. That’sprobably not the case, though. It’s been clearly established that an ancient race seeded the galaxy with their genetic code. Humans and Vulcans are most probably the same basic species — just widely variated and at the edge of speciation due to their long isolation from each other.

“The Chase.” Yep, I knew someone would bring that up. Daleks chasing the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki across time and space, and the story where Ian and Barbara finally return to their time.

Oh, wait. Wrong “The Chase.”

You mean the TNG sixth season episode. The one with the progenitor race.

I can’t think of this episode without getting angry. Diane Carey might write crap novels, but nothing approaches the level of scientific idiocy displayed in “The Chase.” I can forgive Ron D. Moore a lot of things, I can even forgive him for Generations , but “The Chase” will always be a black mark against him in my book. Even if what the Progenitors said in “The Chase” were true, that doesn’t mean that humans and Vulcans (and everyone else for that matter) are related in any meaningful way.

First, let’s deal with the timescale. Seeding planets four billion years ago is all well and good, but obviously it didn’t do any good here on Earth. It took another three-billion years plus some for their seeded genetic material to be able to do anything multicellular. Multicellular life on Earth is less than a billion years old on Earth. Life has lasted a long time, but for a good ninety percent of Earth’s history the planet has been little above the lifeless stage.

Second, the genetic material encoding a message. If such a message existed, it would exist (like 42) in everything on Earth. Your dog would have about as much of the message as you, and for that matter, so would some volcano feeder on the bottom of the ocean. Then the timescale comes into play. Across a span of four billion years the message would have been subject to such genetic drift that it would no longer exist.

One phone call to a high school biology teacher would have been enough to tell Ron Moore that, “No, science says this won’t work.” Perhaps if the Progenitors had gone through the galaxy somewhat less than a billion years ago, I might be able to fudge the scientific issue away, but I can’t. Not at four billion years. We don’t know today why the Cambrian Explosion happened. We don’t know why multicellular life took three billion years to happen. But that’s what happened, and no amount of hand-waving will make that go away in the Trek universe. Either Galen had the story all wrong, or the Progenitors didn’t do jack squat.

Any way you cut it, the scientific gaffe in “The Chase” almost makes Ship of the Line look like poetry. And y’all know how I feel about Ship.

The Psi Phi Project: Re(8615): Andorians seen in Trek

I agree with Jim here. There’s nothing implausible about Spock, if we make the assumption that Spock’s genome was built from the ground up. No, Spock was not an accidental child; the odds of Vulcans and humans having compatible genetic code is only slightly less than the odds of me and Jim McCain growing more hair on our heads, which is to say not at all.

I assume that Spock is either genetically fully human or fully Vulcan. Assuming the latter, I believe Amanda’s DNA was decoded, then rewritten as the Vulcan DNA-equivalent, then matched with Sarek’s DNA. Some human genes aren’t going to have Vulcan analogues, and likewise some Vulcan genes won’t be represented in the human genome. But overall, Spock does carry genetic traits from both sides of his heritage, but he doesn’t actually carry human DNA.

It’s a tricky concept, but it’s what I believe. Some might say that the scene of Spock’s birth in Star Trek V is impossible under this scenario. Again, I say that it is possible; when designing Spock’s genome, I think the genetic coding for a human placenta could have been done, and then Amanda was given drugs to prevent her body from rejecting Spock.

Spock, poster-child for the ultimate in test-tube babies.

The Psi-Phi Project: Re(8561): Dissappointments

John Ordover has said in the past that Pocket was one of the last publishers to raise the prices on their books. Keeping books smaller in the page count is a way to keep those costs down. If a lower-than-average page count is done in conjunction with a slightly smaller typeface (to fit a 270 page book into a 220 page book), I’m not going to complain. It’s when the typeface typically used in a 270 page book is used in the same point size in a 220 page book that it’s painfully obvious that we’re dealing with a shorter book, and complaints are, I think, justified.