Um . . . Where Am I?

Source: Screen capture from Dominators DVD
Skirts from Ikea's home furnishings catalogue.

Okay, so I took a break after The Wheel in Space as I attempted to decide if I had money in the budget for The Dominators.  Thankfully, my local library had a copy of the DVD, so I get to save the money that I didn’t really have.  Then we had Thanksgiving, which was a lot of fun.  My wife and I hosted at our house this year and were able to squeeze fourteen people into a three bedroom house.  It was cramped but a lot of fun.  But you probably don’t care as much about that, so . . . Doctor Who.

I started watching The Dominators tonight.  After series five, which was a lot of reconstructions, I thought I would be looking forward to this mostly-complete season.  Sadly, I’m not.  I feel like I’m dragging my feet to keep interest.  I’m not sure if I’m just burned out going in to the holiday season or if I haven’t been enjoying Doctor Who as much as I did a year ago.  In truth, I miss William Hartnell.  Oddly enough, I find that I am also missing Russell T. Davies Doctor Who and that really surprises me.

Regardless, I’m pressing on.  I haven’t heard good things about The Dominators and after the first episode I haven’t quite been sucked back in to the project with enthusiasm.  But we will see.  If nothing else, I’m only nine episodes away from The Invasion.

Has anyone reading this seen The Dominators?  Should I dread it or is it surprisingly good in the end?

Doctor Who Story Number 43 – The Wheel in Space

Written by David Whitaker from a story by Kit Pedler
Directed by Tristan de Vere Cole

Having left Victoria on Earth, The Doctor and Jamie arrive on an abandoned space ship.  The only crew, a solitary robot.  What happened to the humans on board?

“That’s marvelous isn’t it. ‘The Doctor told me to protect it’.  But don’t give them a reason and leave me to get you out of trouble.”

If fan consensus is anything to go by, I’m not supposed to like this story.  And yet, there is something undeniably appealing to me about 1960s Cybermen stories.  The Cybermen of this era are the best because they are cold and emotionless.  Sure, sometimes their plans were convoluted and didn’t make sense, but the same could be said of Series Six and people seemed to enjoy that.  Okay, possibly an unfair shot there, but still, I would take a 1960s Cybermen story over just about any televised appearance they have made in the intervening years.

By no means do I think this story is perfect.  It is slow, which at times conveys an ominous atmosphere and at times boredom.  I wasn’t too big on the space corridor that The Cybermen pranced along, but I’m sure none of the actors involved knew how to convey walking along a space corridor.  It still looked silly.  Indeed, the faults of this story probably do work better in audio than visually, but I was grateful for both the episodes that still existed.

There were some great images in this story, which is not to say that they were conveyed well on screen.  I’m using the word “images” the way my college poetry teacher did, which basically means a striking picture in your mind.  The images that stick with me from this story: An abandoned ship with a solitary robot keeping it running, metal spheres (which are Cybermats) ejected into space that eventually burrow into The Wheel space station, Cybermen stored in giant, metal eggs for deep space travel.  No, we never saw The Cybermen like this before nor do we see them like this again, but at least it was something new and different.  I loved the episode where Duggan finds a Cybermat, whom he nicknames Billybug, and thinks it is a cute life form of some sort.  He puts the Cybermat in the closet, only to discover later that it has been consuming metal.  I loved the interactions between Zoe and Jamie as she constantly puts him down, which The Doctor likewise does to her.  There is a definite hierarchy of intelligence between the three, and The Doctor sees it his duty to break Zoe’s dependence on pure logic.  In the end it works since she does something decidedly illogical: she stows away on The TARDIS.

I realize many male viewers enjoy the cat suit Zoe from The Mind Robber, but for some reason I think she looks better in space gear. Not sure what this says about me.

I had been dreading this story because I had heard so many bad things about it (largely that it was bad), but in the end I enjoyed it.  It was a fitting end to a season that went from one base under siege to another.  It also provided a nice bookend, starting and ending the season with Cybermen stories much like Troughton’s first season started and ended with Dalek stories.  But on the whole, I have to say I wasn’t really taken with this season.  It felt incredibly repetitive as all stories save one repeated the same scenario with slightly different details.  Almost all the stories felt too long.  It felt as if I was reading old issues of Ultimate Spider-Man where you would get to the end of the year and find that despite having twelve issues, you only had two stories.  This season had, what, 40 episodes and only seven stories?  This was honestly the first season where I thought about just letting the project drop and never returning to the blog.  Sure, I love Troughton, but this season felt a bit stagnant to me.  No wonder the ratings were beginning to drop and producers started thinking about changing the format.  As for me, I have The Dominators to look forward to.  However, I think I need some time to purge a bit after this season . . . and to wait until I have money in the DVD budget.  Hopefully the wait won’t be too long.

Grimm – Beeware

Written by Cameron Litvack and Thania St. John
Directed by Darnell Martin

The one with mob flash dancing and bees.

I decided to give Once Upon a Time five episodes to win me.  Best out of five.  I’m giving Grimm the same, and so far, while OuaT is up by two, Grimm is down by the same amount.  But to be fair, my dislike of Grimm’s previous two episodes isn’t as deep as my dislike of OuaT’s pilot.  You see, I really want to like Grimm.  I told my wife that Grimm is the show that would fill the hole left by The X-Files if you haven’t yet found Fringe.  It involves outlandish, often ridiculous, murder investigations in the same vein as The X-Files.  It can provide good doses of horror.  And yet, as much as I want to love this show, I seem to keep it at a slight distance.  There is a story arc rumbling beneath the surface, but I’m not sure where it is going yet so I can’t tell if I like it.  I certainly don’t find it compelling yet.  As it stands, it is a show that I would watch if it was on, but probably not seek out, which is a problem as I watch most of my shows on either DVD or the internet.  If I get behind on Grimm, I would have to purchase the episodes via iTunes or Amazon, and I’m not sure I want to pay for this show.  The fact that this show now has two strikes against it out of three episodes, concerns me.  Again, I want to like it.  With the exception of the girlfriend, I enjoy all the characters.  I like the premise.  I like that often the crimes have been normal human crimes committed by non-humans.  I guess I just want to see more of the world.  Sure, monster-of-the-week is a type of world building, but I know there has to be some amazing mythology deep in the story because The Brothers Grimm wrote their book centuries ago and these different races would have developed their own cultures and the Grimms would have created their own as well.  I feel like we are only scratching the surface of the bubble of ideas, and not even hard enough to break it open.  I want to see something bigger and more interesting than merely Grimms hunting monsters and monsters hunting Grimms.

I’m trying to be fair with the monsters as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching Beeware, but when I was telling my wife about the episode, I became aware of how silly the plot was when you reduced it to its core.  Bee people killing lawyers during mob flash dancing.  Now, I don’t have a problem with that sentence, per se.  I just couldn’t help feeling that such a premise should have been written by Russell T. Davies.  It’s rather absurd, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad.  Grimm takes it seriously, which is fine, I guess.  It just didn’t hold up to thinking about it.  I feel rather stupid discussing the appropriate tone about a story of murderous bee people in the context of a show about a secret society that hunts fairytale monsters.  But it still stands.  What is the appropriate tone for a story about bee people?  Do you play it silly and absurd and just make it fun or do you play it as horror and try to make it disturbing?  I don’t think I have the answer to this.

Fables Book One: Legends in Exile

Created and Written by Bill Willingham

I’ve mentioned it in my reviews of Once Upon a Time and Grimm, so I figure it is time to talk about Fables in more detail.  I couldn’t help returning to the first story arc, the pilot if you will, after watching the premiere episode of Once Upon a Time.  The two stories are quite different.  While both involve fairy tale characters leaving their world for ours, the motivations and narratives couldn’t be more distinct.  Where Once Upon a Time is a quest to reawaken the characters to their true nature so they can break a curse, Fables sees characters from both fairytales and folklore in exile in a small ghetto in New York City.  They remember who they are and where they came from.  The basic premise is that they have lived in our world for centuries after being compelled to flee from a being known only, as of book one, as The Adversary.

The Adversary came upon the Fablelands slowly, conquering outlying regions one at a time.  Before many of the inner kingdoms realized that his plan was total domination, it was too late.  He conquered and enslaved.  Many Fables found their way to our world and upon the discovery of The New World (America), they started a colony.  This colony, now a small ghetto, is presided over by King Cole (mayor of Fabletown) with Snow White doing the bulk of administration.  Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf . . . get it?) is a detective in employ of the city.  He has taken human form, and option given to all non-human Fables.  It is required of all who live in the city.  Those who refused the enchantment were relocated to The Farm, an isolated piece of property in upstate New York that has enchantments that discourage visitors.  A general amnesty is offered to all Fables upon acceptance into the community.  All crimes committed prior to exile are forgiven. Just a note, despite the amnesty Bigby isn’t allowed on The Farm due to unpleasant encounters he had with some of the tenants prior to the exile.  At the moment both communities live in peace, but King Cole and Snow do worry from time to time as the peace is contingent on the various Fables continuing to abide by the agreements they have made.  It could all fall apart in short notice.

Now that the backdrop is in place, the first book deals with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister.  Her wrecked and bloodied apartment is discovered by her boyfriend Jack (the subject of all the “Jack Tales” you may have heard).  Bigby is brought in to investigate, Snow tagging along much to his annoyance.

In many ways, Legends in Exile is similar to a television pilot.  The story is primarily concerned with introducing the concepts described above, while introducing the myriad characters that populate this world (well, Fabletown at least.  The Farm isn’t visited until Book Two).  Character dynamics are explored throughout the investigation, and the tension between Snow and Bigby is signposted quite clearly.  He is drawn to her, something that is explored in the back-up short story.  And while the investigation is interesting enough, the writing and characterizations are still a bit rough.  At times, Snow seems even more hard-nosed than later portrayals.  Perhaps that is down to Lan Medina’s artwork.  This is the only story arc Medina illustrated.  He was replaced by Mark Buckingham as the primary artist, and I prefer Buckingham.  His style suits the story, alternating between whimsical and serious.  Legends in Exile, while compelling in concepts, still hasn’t found its stride.  Fear not, however, as that will be achieved soon enough.

Following the five-part collection is a short story by Willingham entitled A Wolf in the Fold.  It tells the story of Snow White’s first meeting with The Big Bad Wolf while still in the Fablelands.  This story is prose with illustrations, and its writing is much stronger than that of Legends in Exile.  I was a bit concerned that I was mis-remembering how good Fables was as I read Legends, but A Wolf in the Fold reassured me.

Part of the fun of this title is identifying the legends and fairytales that are peppered throughout, both obvious and not-so-obvious.  In the obvious camp we have Boy Blue, The Frog Prince, Beauty and The Beast, and a flying monkey from Oz.  One of the more subtle references is to Aslan and Narnia, which Willingham could only imply as both are still under copyright.  A Wolf in the Fold even references Vlad Tepes, if I’m not mistaken.  There’s also a fun reference to both Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Bullfinch (of Bullfinch’s Mythology fame) on the first page if you pay attention to street names.  There’s a lot on the page to reward the eagle-eyed.

So, while Legends in Exile may not be the strongest offering of the Fables series, it is still a good read and it is essential to start at the beginning.  It only gets better.  If you are apprehensive about comics because you don’t like superheroes or you feel they are just for kids, this is a good starting point.

Content Note: Fables is published under DC Comics “Vertigo” imprint.  Vertigo comics are meant for mature readers, meaning they can often deal with adult concepts or themes.  They also may include strong language, graphic violence, nudity or sex.  Fables: Legends in Exile does have some strong language and one sex scene though there is no actual nudity.  It definitely isn’t for children.

Once Upon a Time 1×02 – The Thing You Love Most

Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Greg Beeman

In which we find out how the Queen got the curse and what she was willing to sacrifice to cast it, and Emma finds herself the target of Storybrooke mayor Regina.

“A horse?  This is the curse to end all curses!  You think a horse is going to do?”
-Rumplestiltskin to the Queen on her choice of sacrificial victim

Now I didn’t expect that.  No, after a pilot that failed significantly to impress me, a pilot that made me want to revisit a similar story that I felt was better told, I expected to find more reasons to pick apart Once Upon a Time.  I expected to find the show good but a pale comparison to Fables.  But no, this episode completely negated the lackluster pilot, proving once more that one should never judge a show by its pilot.

The device that worked so well for the early seasons of Lost were the character flashbacks.  The action on The Island would usually focus on a particular character and would be intercut with flashbacks to the character’s life before the plane crash.  Once Upon a Time is using this device to great effect.  I admit to being apprehensive when it first started, but Kitsis and Horowitz are doing great character work.  Once Upon a Time is quite reminiscent of Lost’s first season.  Characters are more important than plot.  And honestly, I think that is a good move at the moment.  This is what hooked me on Lost, the character studies, and it seems to be working in this show as well.  Exploring the motivations of The Queen really helps us to sympathize with her real-world counterpart Regina.  And because of the revelations in this episode, she is made into a tragic figure, a woman who chooses to destroy herself by pursuing revenge.

While I enjoy the flashbacks, I’m still apprehensive about the meta-narrative.  I don’t mind the existence of the curse and the before and after worlds portrayed in the show.  What worries me is that, given the trend in American network television, narrative cannot sustain a show long term.  While Lost continued to work (and frustrate) by revealing layer upon convoluted layer, the narrative of Once Upon a Time is quite simple and straightforward.  The Queen cursed all the fairytale people.  The curse must be broken.  Emma Swan is the one who can break it.  Sure, we can spend a good part of season one exploring the lives of the characters we have met so far (The Queen, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, the sherif-who better not turn out to be a wolf), but the overall narrative of the curse cannot believable sustain the show for more than two seasons, and I think I’m being generous with that estimate.  What I would love to see is the curse plot resolved by the end of the season and a second narrative set into motion.  Perhaps we find out that the fairytale world still exists and is still inhabited.  Maybe Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin can travel between the two.  Maybe the power vacuum led to some sort of takeover.  Granted, the latter would begin to delve even more into Fables territory, but the point is that the writers should do the unexpected by changing the plot from time to time.  This show doesn’t have big mysteries on the scale of The X-Files or Lost, and it shouldn’t pretend it does.  Let the characters grow and be amazing while giving us story-arcs with actual endings.  British shows do this more than we do and, surprise, surprise, it actually works!
So, where does this show stand at the moment.  One vote for and one vote against.  I’m thinking of giving it best out of five.  If I still like it, I’ll keep with it.  I don’t really have enough time in my life to keep with a “decent but not great” show.  And at the moment, it could go either way.

Doctor Who Story Number 42 – Fury From the Deep

Written by Victor Pemberton
Directed by Hugh David

A natural gas mining project in the North Sea gets terrorized by a creature out of sailors’ legends.

“Everything in the sea is living, Jamie.”

Fury from the Deep is a story that I want to like.  Indeed, there are elements that I enjoy quite a bit, so I’ll start there.  Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill are extremely creepy in audio.  I have no idea how they were on screen, but they are silent, deadly, and seem malicious.  They remind me of the assassins from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.  They seem to be moving from one drilling rig to another, sabotaging them so that the weeds can gain access.  In the end, their identities are implied to be the first two workers converted by the weeds. And this is the other thing that I like, the idea of an ancient, yet all too terrestrial, evil buried away on our planet.  While digging for natural gas, one of the drilling rigs began to suck up an old variety of seaweed.  This weed was sentient and telepathic.  It thrived in the natural gas environment, but when it was brought into the pipes, it attacked, taking control of the minds of Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill.  The ultimate goal of the weed was to take over the British Isles and possibly the world.  In the end, sonic waves from Victoria’s screams defeated the creature.  The mind control, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, weed creatures rising out of sea foam, and Harris’s wife walking out into the ocean were all creepy elements of this story and they are the images that stick with me and really make me enjoy parts of it.

Unfortunately, the primary reason I feel this story fails is the pace.  It just seems to drag on to me.  I think there are some good characters and great imagery, but the story really takes its time.  In the beginning we have some great set-up and characterization, some good atmosphere, but in the middle I just want things to move along at a better pace.  The story even ends with one of the longer denouements of this era.  We see celebrations (so The Doctor does eat family meals on occasion), Robson returning to work, and an extended goodbye to Victoria.  The Doctor and Jamie even stick around one more night before leaving.  Sure, this is for Victoria’s benefit, but it is in stark contrast to the previous stories this season where they bolted back to The TARDIS before the monsters breathed their last or the dust from explosions settled.

Victoria, quite suddenly, decides to leave.  On the one hand, I understand her desire to have a bit of normalcy for a bit.  She had started to feel overwhelmed.  Okay, I get that and it is understandable, but why now?  What was it about the seaweed adventure that suddenly felt like too much?  Why not the Yeti in the sewers?  Why not being held captive by The Ice Warriors?  I understand that this was dictated more by Deborah Watling’s desire to leave than by story or character demands, but I wish the character had more of a developing arc, something that gave indication that she had changed in some way.  That wasn’t how television worked back then, and Pemberton did the best he could, but I guess I’ve just been spoiled by shows with good character development and had the luxury of plotting in advance.  I believed Rose’s departure as well as Martha’s.  Ian and Barbara’s departure worked.  Honestly, they probably had the best departure of companions thus far.  Regardless, Victoria is gone.  Probably not a bad thing as she wasn’t being written as much more than a female companion for the last few stories.  She was a good kid, though.  We shall see you again in Companion Chronicles.

Grimm

Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf


Not only is Nick Burkhardt a gifted profiler, he is also able to see supernatural creatures disguised as humans that have appeared in the writings of The Brothers Grimm that are not fairy tails but diverse races of creatures that the Grimm line has been hunting for centuries.

“I couldn’t sleep the last two nights thinking old Aunt Marie was gonna cut off my head and stick it on a lamppost…That’s how my great Grandma ended up you know.”

A second fairy tale-based offering from the major American networks, Grimm is a play on the “monster-of-the-week” format in the tradition of The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  The comparison is apt as the creators have worked on either one show or the other.  The show may not be breaking any new ground conceptually, but what matter is the story telling, and from that perspective, Grimm shows some promise.  The characters are largely likeable, and Nick is a wonderful fish-out-of-water as he finds himself awakened to a new way of viewing his family and the world.

The basic format, from the first two episodes, has been putting a modern spin on classic fairytales.  The pilot involved young women dressed in red being abducted and murdered by a wolf creature.  The second episode was a play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the mother and son engaged in a centuries-old coming of age ritual that involved hunting humans.  This show almost has more in common with The X-Files and Millennium than it does Once Upon a Time, and as I liked both of those shows, I’m certainly eager to see how Grimm unfolds.

The only problem I see at this point is the meta-narrative.  This early in the show, while a meta-narrative is present, it isn’t clearly defined.  I certainly want to see a successful monster-of-the-week format as Grimm could do this very well and provide some good scares along the way (something that has been lacking lately on American network television), but I think the show will need a strong arc to keep the format fresh.  My concern is that it will either be too-arc driven (going the route of Lost or the most-recent series of Doctor Who) or that the arc will be similar to The X-Files where we have an overall mythology that gets revisited for about six episodes per season but very little progresses in those six episodes.  Ideally, and I feel the same way toward Once Upon a Time, the show should take its time introducing the world and concepts, then have arcs that are smaller, resolving quickly but the consequences may bring about future arcs.  This was something Babylon 5 did quite well.  Already Grimm seems to be setting up Nick as a character who might shake up the old us vs. them mentality of the Grimms and creatures.  He has enlisted the occasional help of Eddie Monroe, something that is unheard of in this ancient conflict.  I enjoy that the show isn’t painting this conflict as black and white, but adding nuance.  Some of the creatures just want to be left alone to live their lives.  They are aware of the history of their people and The Grimms, but would just as well want to leave this behind.  Unfortunately, not all the creatures feel this way, and wish to embrace the ancient battle.  I can almost see this being an allegory of the conflict between The West and Islam, albeit an unconscious one.

It is tempting to try to determine which show is better, Grimm or Once Upon a Time.  However, both shows are telling very different stories, existing is similar but distinct genres.  Once Upon a Time is, at the moment, a quest to break a curse.  Grimm is a police procedural with fairy tales.  All comparisons are primarily either superficial or must deal with technical aspects, but one is not inherently better than the other.  It all comes down to preference.  As it stands, I’m not sure which I prefer.  I like the ambition of Once Upon a Time, but I distrust the way American networks handle ambitions meta-narratives.  Grimm may find an easier run as it is more episodic in nature.  I like the X-Files feel, but have yet to be amazed by the show, despite it being a fun watch.  But both shows have enough to keep me coming back.

View the pilot episode at NBC’s Grimm website.