Links and Stuff

We’ve passed the Autumnal Equinox, so however you slice and dice it, Fall is here. The temperatures have dropped a bit, but it’s still warm for late September here in Eastern NC. And with the rain we’ve been having, it can get a bit muggy which isn’t pleasant. But cooler days are coming, I’m sure.

But enough about the weather! You want to hear how things are going with moving house. I don’t have much to report, although we did achieve a milestone this week: we signed all the documents to get the mortgage process going. My goodness what a lot of documents–disclosures and approvals and certify-you-saw-this, and affirm-you-agreed-to-that… it took about an hour and a half to get through everything! The next big milestone is today, when we have the house inspected. If the Lord wants to grind this process to a halt, this would be another place he could do it. I’ll let you know how it goes…

The first couple of links today are of a Biblical nature. We begin with a report from the New York Times back in April, talking about new archaeological discoveries that demonstrate literacy in the Holy Land as far back as 600 BC. Of course, as a Christian, I have no problem with the idea that people of that region were literate well before then. I certainly don’t subscribe to the view of “most scholars” (as the article states) who date the writing of the Hebrew Bible later than 600 BC. There are plenty of scholars who agree with a much earlier date for the writing and compiling of the Torah and other Old Testament texts. While this discovery doesn’t prove the earlier date, it certainly lends physical credence to that position.

And then, just this week, we are told new technology has been applied to a burned scroll containing a portion of the text of Leviticus, enabling scholars to read it. The scroll was one of a number discovered in the 1970s that have remained unread because experts feared trying to unroll them lest they fall apart. Forty-plus years on, modern digital technology can do what scientists back then couldn’t: scan the burned scrolls and digitally unroll them to reveal the text within without damaging the scrolls themselves. This technique was applied to one burned scroll, revealing text from the first two chapters of Leviticus. Experts in paleography date the scroll to the first century A.D. And those that can read it confirm that the text is identical to the Hebrew text as we know it today. This means we can be sure that the Hebrew text of Leviticus 1 and 2 we have today is the same as that which would have been around at the time of Christ. I think this bolsters our confidence that the text of the Bible has come down to us almost intact. What disputed readings remain between manuscripts are largely minor questions of spelling and word order. Even a radical skeptic like Bart Ehrman admits as much–at least in his scholarly books. The real issue people have with the Bible is its authority, and that’s a whole other discussion for another time. 🙂

Here’s a link of interest to my writer friends. Author Sarah Dessen stumbled upon rejection letters she received from agents back in the mid-90s when she was in the query trenches. Back then querying was done almost exclusively by snail mail. Sarah, now a New York Times Bestselling Author, posted some of these rejections (concealing the names of the agents) to give encouragement to aspiring writers.

Finally, some sad news for those who swear by the Five Second Rule. What’s the Five Second Rule? The Five Second Rule claims that any food dropped on the floor can be eaten, provided it is not left on the floor for more than five seconds. The popular theory is that it takes more than five seconds for bacteria and other nasties to infect the food. But according to a new study, that’s baloney. It seems bacteria will transfer onto the food in less than a second. The good news is, the number of bacteria increases the longer you leave the food, so while the Five Second Rule doesn’t eliminate the possibility of ingesting bacteria, it does lessen the odds of ingesting a lot of bacteria. Well… that’s something!

That’s all for this week. How has your week been?

Who Review: The Ark in Space

On leaving U.N.I.T. HQ, Harry Sullivan gives the TARDIS’s helmic regulator a sharp turn, and the crew find themselves on a space station in the far future. The Doctor dates the station to the 30th century, but is convinced they are at a time centuries beyond that. His theory is confirmed when they discover records of the human race stored on microfilm, and row upon row of cryogenically preserved people. A couple of the station’s residents, Vira and Noah, revive and inform the Doctor that the people stored on the station are the last survivors of planet Earth. Centuries ago, scientists predicted solar flares would soon consume all life on the planet, so they selected the best representatives of mankind to be held in suspended animation, along with records of all man’s achievements, until such a time as it was safe to return to Earth. But something has gone wrong. The station’s residents have been asleep longer than planned because someone, or something, cut the power to their wake-up call. And that someone, or something, has already taken over one of the sleepers, and is using his knowledge of the station to stage a coup that will wipe out the human race…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Ark in Space” was written by new script editor, Robert Holmes, after previous attempts at the story by other writers fell through. Holmes was new to the script editing job, but certainly not new to Who, having written stories for both the Second and Third Doctors. Robert Holmes is, in my estimation, one of the best Classic Who writers, certainly the best post-1970, and “The Ark in Space” is often held up as an example of why he is so highly regarded as a Who writer. I have to say, I fully concur with the assessment. This is a great story, and, along with its predecessor, “Robot,” helps firmly establish both the character of the Fourth Doctor, and Tom Baker as the new Doctor.

Holmes, and new producer, Philip Hinchcliffe, wanted to make Doctor Who a little darker and more adult. Today, that would involve not only gritty stories, but gritty effects and sets. In 1975, the budget for Doctor Who didn’t exist to do visually grittier, so the story had to compensate for what the visuals lacked. And does it ever! The idea of an alien insect race that lays its eggs in a dormant human host is quite nasty. And seeing the gradual transformation of Noah into the Wirrn swarm leader was quite cutting edge for children’s television at the time. It’s not just the outward change, either–it’s the mental struggle we see as Noah’s mind fights against, but eventually succumbs to, the Wirrn possessing him.

The space station set is very well realized, even if the Wirrn themselves lack. And really, where they lack is in money, not imagination. The dead Wirrn looks very good, but the living ones move like actors in costume. The same goes for the Wirrn larvae which are, essentially, stunt men in big bubble wrap sleeping bags. To be fair, bubble wrap was new at the time, so most people wouldn’t have recognized it. But it is, perhaps, a bit overused, though, again, it must have been hard trying to create the effect on such a tight budget. I think the Wirrn larvae in the solar stack, squirming around and looking out the window, is probably the most effective of all the creature shots in the show.

The story itself, however, is hard to fault. A great idea (which is often claimed was stolen by Ridley Scott for the movie “Alien”), a plot that works well, some great lines and memorable moments (the Doctor’s “Homo sapiens…” speech, for example), and superbly acted by all. Even newcomer, Medical Officer Harry Sullivan, proves useful (though modern sensibilities will grate at his old fashioned view of women).

A couple of interesting moments. First, the High Minister, whose voice comes on the intercom while Sarah is getting ready to be preserved, sounds a lot like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At the time this broadcast, Thatcher was only just starting to make her mark politically, so I doubt it was intentional. Nevertheless… Also, I found it curious that Vira refers to “Noah” as “a name from mythology,” clearly showing no regard for biblical faith. However, a later voice on the intercom talks about how the planet’s “prayers” are with them, and says, “God be with you.”

Another point of interest is the fact that this story follows directly on from “Robot,” and continues directly into the next story, “The Sontaran Experiment.” Indeed, this whole season forms a story arc, though not quite in the same way as the New Series season arcs. That kind of story continuity was not common in Doctor Who, especially after the Hartnell era in the early-to-mid 1960s.

To sum up, this is Classic Who, and without doubt a must watch (in bold type) for Whovians. It’s simply one of the best serials of the Classic era, and it played a big part in solidifying Tom Baker as the new Doctor.

Links and Stuff

I know you’re all anxious to hear the latest in the house-hunting news, so let’s get right to it…

Last week I said we might be honing in on the house we think is “it.” So we prayed, “Lord, if this is the house, remove the obstacles. If it’s not, make them insurmountable.” On Monday, we visited the house for the third time, making notes on things that we would need to change, and things we would like to change if we can afford to. We came away with a consensus: it’s not the perfect house, but it will work for us, and everyone is willing to go for it. Of course, views vary among the kids from “Actually, now we’ve seen it again, and had a chance to really think about where our stuff will go, I like it!” to, “I’m not a fan of it, but I’ll make the most of it.” As I said last time, I don’t expect a ringing endorsement from everyone, but we don’t have a lot of choice. We’re being forced to move, so time is not our friend. We’re simply grateful the Lord has put a house in our path.

So we put in an offer. A low-ball offer. A $12,000-below-asking-price low-ball offer. Our realtor said it wasn’t unreasonable, but he’d be surprised if they took it. He expected the sellers to negotiate hard. Okay, Lord. Here’s an obstacle. Stop us here if you want!

The sellers rejected our offer, but countered with one of their own: a mere $4,000 higher than our offer. That’s $8,000 below asking price. Jaws dropped. We accepted.

Okay Lord, so far so good. There’s still the inspection, and other due diligence things we need to do. Still plenty of opportunity for the Lord to throw in some insurmountable road-blocks. But at the moment, it looks like we have a house! 😀

We continue to covet the prayers of those that pray. And now for some links…

Have you noticed that books tend to publish on Tuesdays? If you’re a writer, or a publishing professional, this is probably no surprise. But why? What’s so special about Tuesdays? Why not publish on Wednesday, or Friday? Well, Laurie Hertzel did some investigating and published her results in a Minnesota Star Tribune article. It seems many in the publishing world have no idea why–it’s just kind of a tradition. But some have plausible reasons to offer.

Literary Agent Jessica Sinsheimer recently announced the launch of The Manuscript Academy. This venture seeks to bring the benefits of a writer’s conference to your home and your digital device. By using high-quality video instruction, along with internet forums, and other online technology, Jessica and the faculty of The Manuscript Academy want to make writing and publishing industry education affordable and accessible. It’s a bold venture that reminds me of WriteOnCon, an online conference that ran for a few years. Indeed, it was at WriteOnCon that I first met Jessica Sinsheimer. She hosted a one-hour forum that ended up going for three hours because we were all having such a good time. The Manuscript Academy isn’t free, but it’s cheaper than most conferences, especially if you factor in hotel and transportation costs. They also aim to eventually raise enough money to be able to provide scholarships to people who want to intern within the publishing industry. Many internships are unpaid, which, given the cost of living in NYC, makes the prospect untenable for many otherwise well-qualified people. Anyway, check out the link and see for yourself what it’s all about!

Finally, I discovered this week that former Wings guitarist Henry McCullough died this past June. He was 72 years old. Henry joined Wings in 1972, and left in 1973, just prior to the recording of the “Band on the Run” album. He continued to play for a variety of artists, as well as recording his own material, right up through 2012, when he suffered a major heart attack from which he never recovered. Of the Wings songs McCullough played on, the most notable are probably the James Bond movie theme, “Live and Let Die,” and the classic song, “My Love” which goes something like this…

That’s all from me for this week! How has your week been?

Who Review: Robot

In an attempt to keep the newly-regenerated Doctor from flying off, the Brigadier involves him in a case of disappearing parts. It seems someone, or something, has stolen what appear to be the parts needed to make a disintegrater gun. Their worst fears are confirmed when the top secret plans for such a gun are taken from a Ministry of Defense advanced research center. From his investigation, the Doctor determines that whatever stole the plans is very large, very heavy, and not likely to be human. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane Smith goes to visit the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research (“Think Tank”), armed with a U.N.I.T. pass. The Institute has created a giant humanoid robot, K1, that is programmed to replace humans working in hazardous environments. Its creator, Professor Kettlewell, used to be a member of Think Tank, but left to pursue alternative energy solutions. The director of the Institute insists that the robot is benevolent, obeying its prime directive to serve humans and not harm them. But as the Doctor and Sarah start connecting the dots between the thefts and “Think Tank,” they come to the conclusion someone is overriding the robot’s prime directive. A conclusion that puts their lives, and the lives of all humanity, in danger…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The primary purpose of the first post-regeneration story is to introduce the audience to the new Doctor, and if nothing else, “Robot” fulfills that purpose flawlessly. Aside for some (at times lengthy) cut-aways to show the robot stealing things, the first half of episode one gets us into the wacky character of Doctor number four. Cho-Je warned the Brigadier and Sarah Jane that the Doctor’s behavior might be “a bit erratic” to begin with. That was a fair warning, as the new Doctor creeps around in his nightgown, ties up Harry Sullivan, and tries on a variety of outlandish costumes before arriving at his iconic hat and scarf. But in the midst of this, we see the wacky-but-serious Doctor that we will come to know and love for the next seven years. There’s no mistaking this is the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker puts his stamp on the roll from his opening lines. Of course, we can only say such things with hindsight–audiences still had to get used to this wild, bug-eyed, Harpo Marx character. But it is interesting how little Tom’s Doctor’s character changed from this opening story in 1974/1975 to his last in 1981.

The story itself isn’t particularly spectacular. It’s essentially a riff on King Kong, with the monster forming a bond with Sarah Jane, and protecting her from the destruction he plans for the rest of humanity. At the end, when the robot is no more, Sarah can’t help feeling sorry for him. So, perhaps a little clichéd, but certainly not the worst in the Who canon.

The robot design is actually pretty good. If anything, it’s the CSO, or “green screen” effects, that let the story down visually. The strangest part of the story for me is the emotional breakdown the robot has after it kills Kettlewell. In fact, this robot is very highly strung for a mechanical monster, which stretches credulity a bit. I also wonder why the U.N.I.T. soldiers continue shooting at the robot even when it’s obvious their bullets have no effect. Surely it would be better to try a different strategy rather than waste time and ammunition with the same futile effort?

At the end of the story, Harry Sullivan, the U.N.I.T. medical officer referenced in episode one of the previous story, “Planet of the Spiders,” becomes a member of the TARDIS crew. We also see the Doctor offer Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan a jelly baby. From that moment on, the Fourth Doctor will never leave the TARDIS without his white bag of jelly babies.

To sum up, as Doctor Who stories go, “Robot” is nothing special. What makes it special is that it’s our introduction to the man who would become the face of Classic Doctor Who. It also marks the end of an era, as Terrance Dicks passes the Script Editor baton to the inimitable Robert Holmes, and Barry Letts hands producer duties to Philip Hinchcliffe. And so begins what is arguably Classic Who’s golden era.

Links and Stuff

I don’t have a whole lot to talk about today, probably because Janet Reid returned from her blog vacation and I’ve spilled so many words on her comments that I have few left for myself.

boxesofbooksOn the moving front, as you can see, I am making some progress with packing. Most of those boxes contain books, and I haven’t finished yet. Still nine more shelves to go. It’s possible we might be zeroing in on THE house, not because we are all giddy over a particular property, but by a process of elimination. As Christians, we believe there is a house the Lord wants us to have, and if we don’t recognize it, he will make sure we know which it is. When we first moved to Eastern NC, it wasn’t my plan to move here. In fact, this place wasn’t on any of our radars as somewhere we would like to live. But after four months of unemployment and scouring the country for a job, this was the only place that offered me one. Some may say that’s just “chance” or “the way things go.” Our worldview sees the hand of God putting us where he wants us to be. So it is with this house. The only other house on our list that was a strong contender just went into “Pending” mode on Zillow.com (meaning the seller has accepted an offer from a buyer). Neither we nor our realtor have found any other houses within our size and financial parameters. This leaves us with one house that, while we don’t love it, meets our needs. But we’ll see. We haven’t signed anything yet, and the Lord may throw us a curveball between now and then. I’ll keep you all posted.

Some Doctor Who news. It seems BBC America and BBC Worldwide (the US and UK commercial branches of the BBC) have co-sponsored a complete animated restoration of the Second Doctor’s first story, “The Power of the Daleks.” This story no longer exists in the BBC archive except for a few clips and the complete audio soundtrack (courtesy of devoted fans who, back in 1966, hooked up their tape recorders to their TVs to capture every sound). The well-regarded animators taking on the project have coupled the existing soundtrack with their animation to bring the story back to the archives.

This isn’t the first time missing stories have been restored by means of animation. “The Reign of Terror,” “The Tenth Planet,” “The Moonbase,” “The Ice Warriors,” and “The Invasion” have all had lost episodes animated. However, this is the first time that a complete story has been restored using animation. It is due to be broadcast in November, and then made available online and on DVD.

So far the BBC has only released a 30-second trailer (see below), but it looks like the same animation style as with the previous efforts. That, to me, is a bit of a disappointment. While those animations weren’t bad, and certainly sufficed to present the story visually, they look cheap and rough. I would love to see these missing stories given a Pixar-style treatment (like “The Incredibles” or “Ratatouille”), and you wouldn’t have to pay Pixar to do it. Have you seen some of the cut scenes from recent video games? There’s some incredible computer animation being done by game designers and amateurs who would jump at the chance to be involved in a project like this.

I don’t doubt this’ll be a good attempt, and I’ll certainly buy the DVD when it’s available in the States. “The Power of the Daleks” is a great story, and worth the attention. I just wish they would get away from the Flash animation, cardboard cut-out look, and try something different.

Here’s the trailer:

Finally, this week, September 8th to be precise, marked the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the first episode of the TV series “Star Trek.” With its multi-racial crew, the show sought to break new ground in television, attempting to promote a non-theistic philosophy of peace and co-existence through reason and science. The original series was not a resounding success, and only lasted a few seasons. However, a devoted cadre of fans kept the candle burning, and the show returned in the 1980s, starting a movie franchise, and then some well-received spin-off TV shows (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” etc.). I was never a Trekkie, though I did appreciate the show, was familiar with the main characters, and enjoyed watching it. So happy birthday, Star Trek!

Are you a Trekkie or a Whovian–or both… or neither?

Who Review: Planet of the Spiders

Shaken by the events of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” Mike Yates has gone to a Tibetan meditation center in the English countryside to find peace of mind. While there, he observes some strange goings on. He invites Sarah Jane Smith to investigate with him, tempting her with the idea that it might be a good story for the magazine she writes for. While there, they see a group of men, led by a former salesman named Lupton, perform a chant which conjures a giant spider. Meanwhile, back at U.N.I.T. HQ, the Doctor is conducting experiments into clairvoyance and precognition when a package arrives. It’s the blue crystal he took from Metebelis Three and gave to Jo Grant as a wedding gift (see “The Green Death”). It seems the Amazonian natives are scared of the crystal, so she has returned it. But this crystal has incredible power, and the current inhabitants of Metebelis Three want it back. Their plans for global domination depend upon it, and keeping the crystal from them will come at a very high cost for the Doctor…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

For the Third Doctor’s last story, the production team pulled out all the stops and gave Jon Pertwee the opportunity to fight, fly, drive, play with gadgets, and hang out with familiar faces. For the action-adventure Doctor, this was the perfect story on which to exit the series. It was ostensibly written by Robert Sloman, but as with other Robert Sloman stories, it was actually written largely by producer Barry Letts, with Sloman contributing.

The serial starts with references back to “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” as Mike Yates talks about the business with the “Golden Age” and him pulling a gun on the Brigadier. We get another Who back-reference, when the Doctor hands Clegg the clairvoyant his sonic screwdriver, he has visions of drashigs from “Carnival of Monsters.” The last major back-reference is the appearance of the Metebelis crystal from “The Green Death,” which becomes central to the story’s plot.

Let’s deal with the story’s weak points. First, and most prominent, has to be the chase scene, which has the Doctor in Bessie, the Whomobile, a gyrocopter, and a hovercraft. It’s all padding, though in this instance, perhaps somewhat forgivable to indulge Jon Pertwee and his love of such things one last time. And if you’re not convinced that the chase was completely pointless, the fact that, in the end, the spiders transport Lupton from his boat back to the meditation center, demonstrates it conclusively. The spiders could have done that before the chase even started!

There’s some very good acting, and some really not-very-good-at-all acting too, mostly on the part of the “two-legs” on Metebelis Three–especially Neska. They don’t seem to be putting much effort into making their characters believable, which becomes even more obvious when they are in scenes with Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), who is acting her heart out.

And then there are the spiders. It’s notoriously difficult to make convincing model spiders, especially when they have to move. Even if you get them to look authentic, the moment you have to make them scuttle across a floor, all sense of reality is lost–unless you use computer animation, which wasn’t available to the Doctor Who team in 1974. What we have here is a valiant effort that maybe looked realistic to kids in 1974, but unfortunately doesn’t hold up today.

During the course of the story there are some flashback scenes which drip with hoakiness. The one with Tommy, especially. In all honesty, I don’t think these were necessary at all, but clearly the producers felt the audience wouldn’t remember key plot points over the space of a few weeks, so they needed the flashback voice-over “cellar… cellar… cellar… Lupton in the cellar… Lupton in the cellar…”

Lastly, there were a couple of times things were introduced into the story out of left field to save the day. The first was the Doctor’s machine that we had never seen before, and now suddenly revives him, and helps him identify stones that can counteract the spider zaps. The second was the fact that The Great One was actually planning to use the crystal to complete a circuit that would enable her to rule the universe. But completing the circuit produces an unhealthy amount of positive feedback that kills her and all the spiders… and blows up their mountain dwelling, of course. This development was dropped in at the end, having never been talked about before, which was a bit deus ex machina for me.

The two major positives about the story, and two of the main reasons you should watch it, are the story itself, and the acting from the main cast. Yes, there’s padding, and some questionable moments as noted above. But on the whole, it’s a good, coherent story, and a fitting end to the Third Doctor’s tenure. We are introduced to the concept of “regeneration” through K’anpo’s death, which prepares us for the Doctor’s own transformation. And both Lupton and Tommy’s story arcs are developed well.

As for the main cast acting, Lupton is quintessentially duplicitous and self-serving, deliciously played by John Dearth. Tommy, the simple-minded man who stares into the crystal and becomes enlightened, is brought to life by John Kane in a very convincing performance. It’s a shame they didn’t cast ethnically Asian actors for K’anpo and Cho-Je, but given the production team were deliberately casting people Jon Pertwee had worked with before in Doctor Who, the choices were understandable. Kevin Lindsay (Cho-Je) previously played the Sontaran, Linx, while George Cormack (K’anpo) had played King Dalios in “The Time Monster.”

The regeneration scene is, perhaps, the crowning moment of the story. Beautifully acted with no incidental music, Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee give it their all. The only disappointing part is the actual regeneration itself, which is a simple cross-fade from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker. It hardly lives up to all that preceded it.

In short, I would call this a must-see story. Yes, it has its failings, but it’s fun, and dramatic, and really sums up the Third Doctor’s era.

Links and Stuff

Hello again! This coming Monday is Labor Day in the US, which is both a celebration of the working person (so it’s a national holiday–go figure!), and also the end of the Summer season. Yes, technically Summer ends on September 22, but as far as schools, retailers, and just about everyone except astronomers are concerned, Fall (or Autumn) begins on Monday. The last few months seem to have whizzed by. Doesn’t it seem that way to you? Maybe that feeling is just another symptom of getting older…

I don’t have much to report on the house-hunting efforts. We looked at a couple more houses this week, but we are at the end of the list, and now need to start whittling that list down. This is going to be tough. Prayers are appreciated from those who are of the praying inclination.

J.K. Rowling has been getting some stick on Twitter recently. For many years, Rowling has been a staunch supporter of Britain’s Labour Party (the current opposition party), crediting Labour policies for helping her when she was in the depths of poverty. The Labour Party are, however, going through a bit of a leadership struggle at the moment. There’s a growing contingent within the party who consider current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, unfit to continue in charge. A large part of that feeling may stem from his apparently ineffective campaigning on behalf of the “Remain” vote during the Brexit debates. In any case, Rowling has come out as a vocal opponent of Corbyn’s continued leadership of the Labour Party, and that’s what has caused people to get snarky with her on Twitter. She has been accused of forgetting what it’s like to be poor, and no longer being able to understand–or speak for–the “little people.” Naturally, she objects to such criticisms. She simply believes Corbyn is not the right leader to get Labour back in power, and would rather someone more electable was leading the party.

I bring up Rowling vs. Twitter not to discuss the merits and demerits of Jeremy Corbyn (after all, as a US citizen, I have no horse in the race–it doesn’t matter to me). Rather, I want to consider for a moment the cost of acquired wealth and celebrity. I see it happen all too often, that people root for someone to be successful, to find a way out of their poverty, or out of a hard situation, and when they over-achieve–i.e., not just getting out, but becoming ludicrously successful and wealthy–those same people who cheered them on turn on them. It’s as if they are saying, “We wanted you to do well, but not that well!” And yet when people talk about income inequality, no-one suggests that Rowling, or Hollywood celebrities, or sports celebrities share their wealth. It seems to me there are some very confused and complex rules to being wealthy, especially in the arts. It almost seems as if some believe artists should shun financial reward, showing their artistic integrity by volunteering to live in squalor. Only then can they have legitimate opinions about things that “ordinary people” care about. We’ve talked about writing and money before, but this is a bit of a different angle. What do you think? Should celebrities keep their opinions to themselves? Does fame and fortune in the arts or sports disqualify you from voicing opinions on politics and culture?

Finally, this week actor Gene Wilder died. He was 83. When I think of Gene Wilder, three movies spring to mind: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Young Frankenstein.” Of these, the latter two probably gave me the most laughs, especially “Young Frankenstein.” Here’s the Associated Press announcement:

 

Who Review: The Monster of Peladon

The Doctor wants to pay Peladon a return visit, so he takes Sarah Jane back there, with the intention of dropping in on his old friend, the king. However, it is now fifty years after the events of “The Curse of Peladon,” and there’s a new monarch: Queen Thalira, King Peladon’s daughter. And there’s trouble brewing. The miners don’t like the conditions under which they are forced to work. And yet the precious trisilicate they are mining is essential in the Galactic Federation’s war with Galaxy Five. Now that Peladon is a member of the Galactic Federation, it is obliged to help, but the miners are resentful of the Federation since it’s because of them, and the new tools and weapons they want to introduce, that they are suffering. Alpha Centuri, now a Federation Ambassador, is on Peladon to help settle the dispute. Then visions of Aggador, the beast worshiped by the Peladonians, start appearing, killing miners. Chancellor Ortron is convinced it’s a sign of Aggedor’s displeasure with the aliens on Peladon. The Queen isn’t sure, so she calls on the Doctor to help find out what’s going on, and bring peace to the planet. But there’s more to the situation than disgruntled miners. It seems Aggedor may not be the only monster on Peladon…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This six part story is one of the few times in Doctor Who when the Doctor makes a return trip to a planet he visited in a previous serial. Last time he was on Peladon, he took Jo Grant, who ended up getting a marriage proposal from the king. This time, he takes Sarah Jane, who tries to instill some feminist values into the young queen.

While “Monster of Peladon” harks back to “The Curse of Peladon” from two years previously, it works as a stand-alone. If you’ve never seen “Curse” you can follow “Monster” without any problem. If you have seen “Curse,” though, there are some things you’ll pick up on. The opening shot, for example, looks identical to the opening shot of “Curse.” You’ll also pick up on the references to the Doctor’s last visit, as well as the Doctor’s way of dealing with the physical Aggedor (which takes a bit of the punch away from one of the cliff hangers). As with the last visit, we have visions of Aggedor being used to scare people toward a certain point of view. But this time, there’s more to the plot, with a hidden enemy attempting to control the war with Galaxy Five through the supply of trisilicate, and a double agent on the scene trying to get rich from the precious mineral.

The double agent was a good twist to the plot, and, I think, necessary given one could quite easily figure out the main monster reveal. Brian Hayles wrote the story, as he did “The Curse of Peladon.” In “Curse,” the Ice Warriors played a prominent role. Brian Hayles created the Ice Warriors, and wrote the stories that introduced them in the Second Doctor era. It only makes sense that the Ice Warriors would play a part in “Monster,” too. While the Ice Warriors in “Curse” were trying to play nice with everyone, the ones in “Monster” are from a faction that want to return to the glory days, when the martians were a fearful military force.

On the whole, this is a good story, with an interesting plot. As I said, the double agent was a good plot twist, and one that wasn’t revealed until late into the story. You get hints that this person might be up to no good, but nothing overt, especially at first. The costume people did a great job with Azaxyr, the main Ice Warrior. The scaly mouth works well, and holds up even today, I think, with our high special effects expectations. Another special effects win (I think) is the scene where the Doctor and Sarah are thrown down a pit. The director achieves this by showing them being pushed, then cutting away to them flailing around against a black backdrop, and then cutting to them falling on the ground. It sounds a bit cheesy when described, but it’s actually quite effective.

On the negative side, we have the badger-headed miners. Okay, so it’s not their heads so much as their stripy hair. It just looks odd, like they’re wearing close-fitting fur hats. Which they probably are. And then there’s a scene where a guard sits sharpening his sword. A few moments later, he holds it by the blade. Ouch! A bit of a continuity oversight, methinks. 🙂

“The Monster of Peladon” is the penultimate story of Jon Pertwee’s final season as Doctor Who, and it seems that for this season, Jon wanted to get as much fighting, sword play, and other action hero kind of stuff in as possible. In “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” the Doctor got his new car. In this story, as with “The Time Warrior,” the Doctor gets into some sword fights, as well as an epic fist fight.

Looking ahead, there are a couple of lines in this story that will reappear in the next. In one scene, Sarah quotes the Doctor as saying, “Where there’s life…” In another scene, Sarah weeps over the Doctor, thinking he’s dead. The Doctor’s eyes flicker open and he says, “Tears…?” There’s a poignancy to where these lines crop up in the Third Doctor’s last story.

To sum up, I’d say “The Monster of Peladon” is worth watching. The plot is twisty enough to stay interesting, even if it does repeat some themes from the previous Peladon story. Yet there’s enough that’s different to make it worthwhile. And despite the miners’ hair disaster, is not bad visually.

Links and Stuff

So… what’s been going on this week? I’ve been doing more packing. It’s tough packing away stuff when you have no idea when you’ll be moving. Do I pack this book, or will I have time to read it before we go? How many books will I need to prepare Sunday School lessons? And for how long will I need them?

Speaking of moving, we looked at more houses this week. I only have a few more houses left on my list, so unless our realtor and my wife have more for us to look at, we might be getting close to decision time. There are a couple of strong possibilities among the ones we viewed, but none that really captivated us. We were hoping that by now we would have found a place we all love and fits our budget. However, I’m beginning to wonder how much stock we should place in the “love” department. Affection for a house can be a fickle thing. Sure, plenty of people have fallen in love with a house and continued to love it as long as they lived in it. But there are others who moved into a place for reasons other than an overwhelming desire to live there, and over time, came to love that house. Or at least grow attached to it, if only through familiarity. So maybe we should consider more of the practical aspects, and hope the emotional side will take care of itself? I don’t know. I think I’m just ready to get on and be moved! 🙂

On the links front, a few weeks ago we talked about money and writing. Well, The Writer magazine published an article saying that independent authors are now starting to outsell traditionally published writers. In other words, indie writers, which includes self-published writers, are finding an audience large enough to at least sustain a writing career, if not rake in quite a bit of money. The article mentions six-figure incomes as being not entirely uncommon. It’s a well-established fact that self-publishing has the potential to make a lot of money, if only because you’re cutting out all the middle men (e.g., agents and marketing people). Of course, that doesn’t mean such incomes are guaranteed. You still have to write good books that people want to read. And you are still responsible for a lot of things that, in a traditional model, the publisher would take care of for you (cover art, some portion of publicity, etc.). Personally, I’m still attracted to the idea of having an agent represent me and my work, and having people around me that can take care of the business side of publishing, leaving me to write. But it’s food for thought, at least.

Next, did you know there’s a 15th century Spanish manuscript written in a language that no-one has yet been able to decipher? It’s called the Voynich manuscript, and, according to this article in The Guardian, a small publisher recently won the rights to publish it. Before you go placing your pre-orders, the print run won’t be large, and it’ll be priced way beyond most people’s budgets (we’re talking hundreds of dollars). So it’ll probably find an audience mostly with academic institutions, and very rich people with lots of money to burn. I am fascinated with languages, so the thought of this book intrigues me. Why has no-one figured it out yet? What kind of book is it? Given some of the accompanying illustrations, some speculate that it’s a mystical work, perhaps occultic. Fascinating, nevertheless.

Finally, you might have heard about France’s secular government imposing a ban on the “burkini”–essentially swimwear for Muslim women that enables them to enjoy the beach without violating their modesty. Here’s an article from the BBC about it. France takes great pride in being a secular nation, and has ever since the French Revolution. This is nothing special. The US is, to all intents and purposes, a secular nation, though it’s clear the US Constitution was written from a Judeo-Christian worldview. What baffles me is, if the French government (and, apparently, 64% of the French people) as so secure in their secularism, why do they feel so threatened by Islamic clothing? What does the French government have against modesty on the beach? It seems there is no tolerance in French secularism. And my fellow Christians should take note: this is one of the most severe restrictions of religious freedom I’ve seen in any so-called “free” country. Even with all the recent terrorist attacks in France, such a ban makes no sense aside from being a counter-exertion of the French irreligious sensibility. In which case, it won’t end with Islamic swimwear.

UPDATE: A French court overturned the burkini ban just this morning. I still wonder about, as the article puts it, “France’s rigidly enforced secularism.” Isn’t this just another form of extremism? What happened to diversity and the freedom of expression? Isn’t a “rigidly enforced secularism” just another form of oppression, no better than the Taliban?

That’s all from me for this week. How’s things with you? If you’re a homeowner, did you love your house when you bought it? Any advice for us?

Who Review: Death to the Daleks

As promised at the end of the previous story, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” the Doctor is taking Sarah Jane to the paradise planet of Florana for a well-deserved holiday, when the TARDIS experiences an inexplicable power drain. Using an oil lamp to guide their way, the Doctor and Sarah Jane go outside to find they are not on Florana at all. After a run in with the planet’s native inhabitants, they encounter a team from the Marine Space Corps who, like the TARDIS crew, have been forced to land due to something interfering with their power supply. The MSC crew’s interest in the planet, Exxilon, is a mineral called Parrinium, which they need to cure a deadly plague that threatens the lives of 10 million people. However, no-one is leaving Exxilon until they discover the source of the power interference. And to complicate things, old enemies of the Doctor have shown up with plans of their own…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“Death to the Daleks” was broadcast between February 23rd and March 16th, 1974. The four part story was written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, and features a lot of classic Terry Nation problem-solving puzzles. In typical Nation world-building style, the planet’s inhabitants, the Exxilons, are divided into two groups: those that worship the beautiful city with its glowing tower, and the heretics who see the city as the cause of their problems, and want to destroy it. The city worshipers chant and perform rituals, such as sacrificing foreigners to the city by dropping them into a pit and leaving them at the mercy of the creature that lives beneath (more about that in a moment). The heretics live underground in fear of the fanatics, plotting a way to bring about the city’s downfall and freeing their people from its tyranny.

And then there’s the city itself, built by a highly advanced civilization to be self-sustaining to the point where it acts like an organism, repairing itself and creating antibodies to deal with invaders. It’s the beacon on this city that is preventing the flow of power within any machine that comes within its vicinity. This includes flash lights, but not oil lamps. For some strange reason, it also includes Dalek guns, but not Dalek motors–they are still able to move around.

The acting in the story is good, especially Elisabeth Sladen. She plays Sarah Jane with such conviction, you can see in her eyes she is totally sold on making you believe this is real. It’s a shame Nation gave her the ultimate cliché Who companion line, “What is it, Doctor? What’s happening?” at the moment the lights go out in the TARDIS. It seems out of character for her. Otherwise, we begin to see why Sarah Jane fast became a fan favorite.

For that alone, this story is worth watching. There are plenty of odd moments that, strangely, make time spent with “Death to the Daleks” even more worthwhile. These odd moments fall into two categories, odd in a good, quirky or unusual sense, and odd in a… well, just plain odd sense. On the “good” side, we have the Doctor going off without Sarah Jane while she goes to change into something a bit warmer than her beach costume, just after Sarah Jane tells him not to go off without her. We see Daleks unable to use their weapons, so they adapt their guns to fire bullets. Also, there’s the Doctor’s ominous command to Sarah Jane before he enters the city: “If I don’t come back, go with them” (i.e., the Marine Space Corps). That line adds a level of intensity, showing a hint of trepidation, that the Doctor really doesn’t know what he’s getting into. And then there’s the Doctor’s almost inappropriate humor at the end, as the city melts, undoubtedly killing all who are within: “Pity. Now the universe is down to 699 wonders.”

On the just-plain-odd side, we have the Daleks using model TARDISes for target practice with their new weapons. There’s the awkward battle between the Dalek and the “root” monster in the underground pit, clearly a victim of budget constraints. The “root” looks like a vacuum cleaner hose with a headlight. In fact, it probably is a vacuum cleaner hose with a headlight.

And then there’s the whole puzzle scene at the end of episode three and beginning of episode four, which deserves its own paragraph. For some reason I thought these puzzles were reminiscent of Nation’s “The Keys of Marinus” from 1964, where the TARDIS crew had to go through a series of quests to find a set of keys. Unlike the “Marinus” trials, though, these puzzles are a bit lame. First, we have a maze. A big maze on a wall. And in the room are the skeletons of those who couldn’t figure out how to draw a line from start to finish, and spent so long on it, they died. It’s a MAZE for crying out loud! They’re not that hard. Even one this big! If you take your time, perhaps an hour or so, it wouldn’t be that hard to solve. Sorry, but I would hardly call that an intelligence test. Then we have the floor puzzle, which the Doctor doesn’t even figure out; he just uses the sonic screwdriver to tell him which areas are safe. Where’s the logic in that? AND… they made seeing the floor puzzle the episode three cliffhanger!! “Look out!” says the Doctor to Bellal, his Exxilon friend, and the camera zooms in on the extremely threatening red and white floor tiles!!! DUH DUH DUH!!!! Eeeeerrrrrr… oooeeeoooo…. *sigh* That really wasn’t well planned. And then there’s the mind attack, which was probably the most effective of the “challenges.” While all this is going on, the Daleks are hot on the Doctor’s heels. Except… how did they solve the maze when the Dalek’s plunger couldn’t have reached to the starting position, and is too big to accurately trace the correct path? And since they got through while the Doctor and Bellal were just about finished with the Tiles of Doom, how come they didn’t catch up? What’s more, the Daleks were able to glide over the tiles, sustaining little damage from the electric bolts that would have fried the Doctor. And yet it took them ages to get anywhere close to the Doctor and Bellal!

One more point of odd interest. There’s a scene where the Daleks are using the Exxilons and the Marine Space Corps crew to mine for Parrinium. One Dalek is guarding Jill, a crew member, in a cave, but Jill escapes, with help from Sarah Jane. The Dalek realizes its prisoner has fled, and instead of immediately setting out to recapture her, has a complete mental breakdown. This is Dalek depression at its worst. “I have failed! I have failed!” it cries out until it shuts down completely. Are the Daleks aware of the deep psychological issues some of their number have?

Oh, and just one last thing: I have never understood the title. Why “Death to the Daleks”? Isn’t that what everyone wants in a Dalek story? Perhaps someone could explain that to me.

To sum up, as I said, this serial is worth watching for the performances and the generally good story. It’s even worth it for all the strange and quirky parts I mentioned above. 🙂