Classic Doctor Who “An Unearthly Child”

Upon viewing the very first episode of Doctor Who, would anyone have believe that the series would still be on the air fifty-plus years later? Yes, there were gaps, but you know what I mean.

In retrospect, “An Unearthly Child” is probably the most un-Doctor Who story of all, but everything has to have a beginning. There have been any number of TV shows that evolved over the years, and some of them for the better. The X-Files started off in an episodic “story of the week” fashion, but when the mythology and serialized storylines were introduced, it really became the show we remember. Then it went on far too long and nothing seemingly was ever resolved, but that’s another story.

Series creator Sydney Newman had the idea to create a science fiction series for childen that was also eductional, so it makes sense that the opening scene is in Coal Hill School. We meet Susan, (Carole Ann Ford) a student that seems to know more than most scientists of the era. Two of her teachers, Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton, (William Russell) have concerns about Susan. One evening they go to what is listed as her home address, 77 Totter’s Lane, and find a scrapyard. But… That’s not all they find.

Upon further inspection, Ian and Barbara come across what appears to be a disused police box, but now we the viewers know it’s far more than that. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to see that police box for the first time. Having not seen Doctor Who until I was a teen and knowing the secrets, it didn’t have quite the same effect.

But it was still cool.

Ian and Barbara hear a humming noise and realize it’s coming from the police box. It’s almost as if it’s a machine, or is it alive? What it is, is downright creepy.

Susan exits the box and explains that this is her home; not the scrapyard–the box. Needless to say, Ian and Barbara were not convinced. And then we meet Susan’s grandfather.

Another striking aspect of “An Unearthly Child” is that the Doctor isn’t quite the Time Lord we recognize today. Yeah, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor can be surly and Scottish, but William Hartnell’s Doctor could be downright mean on occasion. Over the course of time, the Doctor did soften up a bit, and he was not a character without humor. A few stories later, he accidentally becomes engaged. Some things never change.

I would also like to take a moment to mention original series producer Verity Lambert. Without her hard work, dedication, and utter brillance, Doctor Who would be yet another show that never quite made the cut. We all owe her a great debt.

Melancholia

Let’s face facts: Either the pills are working or I’ve totally given up, for I watched a Lars Von Trier film. It’s not my first, but the first in a long time. Last night I saw Melancholia, and yes, I am aware that it’s the second film of the Depression Trilogy. I don’t know if I will ever be mentally stable enough to ever watch Antichrist. But… It is part of the Criterion Collection. Maybe if up my dosage.

Melancholia starts with an eight and a half minute prologue. Or is it an overture? It’s a series of slow-motion shots set to Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Yeah, I read the credits. Some people may skip this section when they watch the film for a second or third time, but it really is effective in setting the tone of the movie. I would have liked to have seen it in a theatre on the big screen, but I am not sure which is worse: watching a Trier film with a bunch of other people who may or may not know what they are in for, or sitting at home all alone with animal crackers, strawberry yogurt covered pretzels, Coke Zero, and my movie blanket.

Part One: Justine

Played by Kirsten Dunst, Justine has just married Michael, (Alexander Skarsgard) who seems like a nice enough guy, but has gotten in way over his head. Justine is a very depressed person, and everyone keeps telling her that this should be the happiest day of her life, but that only seems to exacerbate matters.

We don’t get to see the actual wedding, so I don’t know how it went, but the reception goes right off the rails. Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) keeps trying to stay on schedule, but Justine can’t keep it together for very long. It makes me wonder why Michael would want to marry her. Does he believe that a wedding is a miracle cure? And what about Justine’s family? Did they ever send her to a therapist or try to get her on some kind of medication?

Speaking of family, Justine and Claire’s parents are a hoot. Dexter (John Hurt) is a guy who is fun to be around, especially if your name is Betty, but he cannot stand his ex-wife, Gaby, (Charlotte Rampling) who has a black belt in buzzkill.

A wedding reception gone wrong feels like something we’ve seen before, but we haven’t seen it until its given the Lars Von Trier treatment, which sounds like something one would receive in a clinic in Copenhagen. If for no other reason, it’s worth it for Udo Keir’s perfomance as the exasperated wedding planner. That man is a World Class Scene Stealer. Remember him in Armageddon?

Part Two: Claire

Of the two parts, I like this one most, because this is where everything happens. At this point, I should mention that Melancholia is not only the state Justine is in, but is also the name of a rogue planet that may or may not be headed on a collision course with Earth.

But seriously, who names a planet Melancholia? That’s some old school Doctor Who planet naming right there.

Justine is now living with her sister and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland). John is some kind of a science boffin, but it’s never explained what does or who he works for. All we know is he’s mega-rich, and owns a Downton Abbey-like castle, complete with a stable, and eighteen hole golf course. Personally, I’d rather have a cricket ground.

Melancholia is a gorgeous film, masterfully shot by Manuel Alberto Claro. It’s all handheld, so a word of warning to anyone who is sensitive to such things. It may seem odd that a CGI heavy film would be shot in this manner, but with today’s technology, everything works seamlessly. And despite my minor criticisms, so does the film.

Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe’s new film, Aloha, opens on May 29, so I thought I would take a look back at some of his previous films before we all get caught in the deluge of summer blockbusters. Besides, I can only write so much about Star Wars and comic book movies.

Who am I kidding?

Crowe’s screenwriting career began with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a.k.a. “The one with Phoebe Cates.” Yeah, there is a lot more to that movie than just that scene, but try telling that to me and my fourteen year old friends at the time. No one in my school ever had a pizza delivered, mainly because no place around delivered. I did get a friend to bring me a burger from the Pool Room, once. And we did send one guy to the store every day. Oddly enough, after high school, he got a job in a supermarket.

Next up is The Wild Life, which is not as good as Fast Times…, but is still better than a lot of 80s movies. Plus, any film that features original music by Edward Van Halen can’t be all bad. I was browsing through the local Goodwill recently, and I thought I found a copy of the soundtrack, but it turned out to be merely a laserdisc. What are the odds on that?

Say Anything… is an absolute classic. I was a fan of John Cusack from films like Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer, but Say Anything made him a household name. The film also launched Crowe’s career as a director, and I thought he was going to be the next John Hughes. But Crowe had other plans.

Singles was about twentysomethings living in Seattle at the time “grunge” was starting to become a thing. I was discussing the movie with one of the clerks at Musicdrome record store, and he put it best: “This film could have been so much more.” I’ll leave it at that.

Then along come Jerry Maguire, which is a brilliant satire of all the tropes found in romantic comedies. It nails all the cliches of the genre, such as the single parent with the way too smart kid, and the cheesey dialogue, such as: “You had me at ‘Hello’,” “You complete me,” “Help me help you,” and the rallying cry of athletes and type A-holes everywhere: “Show me the money!”

Moving on to what I consider Cameron Crowe’s masterwork: Almost Famous. Loosely based on Crowe’s early career as a writer for Rolling Stone, Almost Famous is a wonderful amalgam of the 70s and the music of the era. Unlike Dazed and Confused, and to a certain extent, Boogie Nights, Almost Famous isn’t entirely the 70s I remember, but it is the 70s I would have liked to experienced.

I have never watched all of Vanilla Sky; I have only seen bits on TV. It looks interesting, and I own the soundtrack, which is great, depite the fact it contains the short version of “The Porpoise Song” by The Monkees.

Boy, do people hate Elizabethtown of what? It’s the film that caused critic Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club to coin the term: “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” in reference to the character played by Kirsten Dunst. I enjoyed Elizabethtown, and it has nothing to do with MPDGs.

Orlando Bloom plays a guy who has to fly across the country, from Oregon, to deal with his father’s funeral arrangements. When a film is set in the South, I tend to cringe, since few filmmakers get it right. Crowe got it right. He nailed all the small details where most people would paint with a broad brush. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Southerners can be a funny lot, especially when it comes to death and funerals. In certain circumstances, I refer to these types of people as: “Redneckrophiliacs.” (See, I can coin terms, too.) And don’t even get these people started on the subject of cremation.

I know people like the ones who kept saying that Bloom’s character, Drew, was from California, and he had to constantly correct them. Oh, and the “Freebird” scene? It had me rolling. That… That scene is for real.

As for We Bought a Zoo, I’ll have to have a double feature with Vanilla Sky, someday.

It’s Not At All Like Shooting Womp Rats in Beggar’s Canyon

Hello to everyone at Star Wars Celebration this weekend. I hope you are having a good time. I wish I was there with you to partake in the festivities, but some of us have to deliver the pizzas.

I wasn’t my intention to make this discussion of canon into a trilogy, but that’s how things tend to work in the Star Wars galaxy. For better or worse.

A long time ago, when the Expanded Universe began, no author, game developer, etc., could contradict anything stated in the films. But, the films could contradict the EU, because George. The flims, and a handful of George Lucas approved bits from the EU were canon–everything else was just a nice story.

Under the new regime at Disney: it’s all canon, all the time. Someone has to keep this straight, and this daunting task belongs to Leland Chee and Pablo Hildago of the Star Wars Story Group. Sure, it sounds like a cool job, but I wouldn’t want it. Heck, I couldn’t even keep six seasons of Lost straight.

As I have stated before, there will be twenty(!) books published between now and the release of The Force Awakens in December. Not even the Empire knows what the tally will be between now and Episode IX. If it were left up to me to keep all that stuff straight, I would be like Luke in the gun turret of the Millennium Falcon: “They’re coming in too fast!”

Now that there can be no contradictions, everything will fall in line. But, is that a good thing? Lucas had the ability to ignore the EU, because the films took precedent; as they should. Now, that is no longer an option. At the rate the novels, comics, and games are being released, will there be any good stories left for the film series?

I guess that you could limit the new EU to stories set in the past, but is that what the fans want? And what era will the standalone films be set in? Creators have the ability to pull ideas from what is now refered to as “Star Wars Legends,” but do we want a rehash of old plots that may be inferior to the original? And, no filmmaker will be able to contradict the EU, even if they have an idea for the best Star Wars film ever.

Maybe this will actually work out in the long run. It probably will… In my lifetime. But, if for some reason there is a contradiction, intentional or not, not even Obi-Wan Kenobi can save us from the Internet.

Classic Doctor Who

I don’t have a ton of memories about the classic era of Doctor Who. I would watch the occasional episode on Saturday night, but it was the Eighties and I was a teen, so I got out of the house as often as I could. Considering that I had no luck with women, I should have stayed home. (Some things never change.) Since I didn’t watch Doctor Who that often growing up, I can now watch the older stories as if they are new. Well, they’re new to me.

For some reason, which I cannot explain, I waited until after series five of “NuWho” to delve into the classics. Like many others, I wondered where to start. I figured that since the Doctor was a time traveller and things happen out of order for him, I could sort of go anywhere I wanted, and it would work itself out.

I didn’t want to be a “best of” viewer, since we all know that person whose music collection is comprised exclusively of greatest hits and compilations; I didn’t want to be that guy. I felt that I owed it to myself to take the bad along with the good. I couldn’t call myself a “Whovian” without sharing the pain, but I didn’t want deep hurting right off the bat.

I thought the logical place to start was with “The Unearthly Child,” since that was the very first episode, and go from there. It was part of “The Beginning Collection,” which also included “The Daleks,” and “The Edge of Destruction.” The plan, if there actually was one, was to start at the beginning, then watch one story from each of the Doctors, with each of the various companions. That way, I could get a sense of what the various characters brought to the show.

I always liked Sarah Jane, and I really enjoyed The Sarah Jane Adventures, so the next story I went with was “The Brain of Morbius.” I had read good things about it, yet it wasn’t considered a “Top 10″ story; maybe top 20. I enjoyed the story and I am glad that I chose this one, since it was referenced in the 50th anniversary minisode featuring Paul McGann. I did see the TV movie, sometimes refered to as “The Enemy Within,” when it aired in 1996, and while I thought McGann made an exceptional Doctor, I think we can all agree that it was for the best that it didn’t go to series.

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across a YouTube video called “How to Watch Classic Doctor Who by RitchandSpace. This video changed my thought process entirely. One of his suggestions was to watch the stories one episode per week, since that was how it origionally aired. All except for those time when it aired twice a week. Prior to this, I had “binge watched” the entire story at one sitting. For two and four part stories, this isn’t so bad. Any more that that, and I would pause between episodes to refill my snack tray. Yes, this does mean that it will take the rest of my life to watch all the available stories, but I will go broke at a much slower pace.

Another suggestion was to watch each of the various Doctors in chronological order. That is not to say, start with “The Unearthly Child” and make your way to the TV movie, but watch the first William Hartnell story, then the first available Patrick Troughton story, or even skip around and go to Peter Davison or Tom Baker. By doing this, you get to see the characters and relationships develop along the way.

Okay, maybe you should wait a bit on the first Sylvester McCoy story.

Locke

Locke is a film that answers the question: What’s it like to be in a car with a guy who has made some questionable decisions? Or, at the very least, is having the worst day of his life.

I won’t spoil the film, and I am not even going to bother with telling you any of the plot details. Locke is a film that is best seen with as little foreknowledge as possible. Let’s just say the Ivan Locke, played by Tom Hardy, has to take a trip from Point A to Point B because reasons. It’s not a sojourn he wants to make, but one he feels he has to make. Oops. Spoilers.

Okay, I will give you this much: Along the way, Locke makes and receives a series of phone calls. I refuse to say who Locke is talking to, or what his relationship is to them.

I know, I know, you don’t want to spend ninety minutes watching some dude in a BMW taking phone calls. You can see that for free every workday. This is true. But, and this is a Kardashian sized but, the guy next to you in bumper to bumper traffic is not a World class actor. Unless of course it is.

Alfred Hitchcock (Yeah, it always comes back to him) described the scenes in many of his films that contained no dialogue as: “pure cinema.” That is to say that the picture told the story. In the case of Locke, an arguement could be made that Tom Hardy is engaging in “pure acting.” In a sense, he is perfoming a one person show. So to speak. There is not another actor in the car to play off of and react to–it’s acting via telephone. Okay, yeah, Lily Tomlin and Bob Newhart have been doing something similar for decades, but . . . Forget about it, just watch the film.

So, You’re Telling Me I Read all those Star Wars Books for Nothing!?

Now that the vast majority of the Star Wars expanded universe is no longer canon–except those parts that are–fans now have to start from scratch. Well, that’s just wizard.

Aside from the films, there isn’t a whole lot that is canon… At the moment. Both The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series are canon, but the former ended prematurely. The good(?) news is that the story will be wrapped up in a book. Yay reading.

You can take those EU books, now labled “Star Wars Legends,” off the shelf, since you will need to make room for the twenty new books that are on the way… This year. This may be the time to invest in a Kindle, otherwise you will have to get your mail carrier a really nice gift for Christmas.

Mind you, some of these will be young adult books. Yeah, Star Wars fans and Twihards intermingling at Barnes & Noble will be an interesting visual. One of the books will cover the various vehicles and ships of the films. By the way, Various Vehicles and Ships is the name of the place where Uncle Owen got a good deal on a slightly used Land Speeder.

And, there will be sticker books, as well. Yay! Stickers are now canon! I had Star Wars stickers in my Blue Horse notebook when I was a kid.

Yeah, I’m old. But I’m not Yoda old.

Then there are the comic books, which are also canon, and have pictures, but I have read mixed reviews so far. Plus, they are a bit pricey. I always wait for the trade paperbacks, but since they are published by Marvel, they won’t be cheap. And if they are released in hardcover form first, not even Stan Lee knows when the TPBs will hit the shelves. Hopefully, by the time Episode IX comes out on blu-ray, or whatever form we will be using in the future.

Now that “It’s all connected,” I don’t want to have to feel that I have to read twenty books before The Force Awakens comes to theatres. I hate homework. Some of the novels take place between the films in the original trilogy. They contain “… Clues and hints about the upcoming film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, making them a must-read for fans old and new!” according to the press blurb. There’s even an exclamation point, so they must be important. But I doubt it.

I have read some of the comic book preludes to various Marvel films, and they were mostly “meh.” The only thing of value were the reprints of old issues, such as the ones for Guardians of the Galaxy, but I don’t think it was worth $14.99. The Age of Ultron Prelude is $16.99! Ouch. I haven’t even bothered to check the price for the prelude to The Force Awakens. I also have no idea how much will be all new, and how much will be reprints.

I know I will catch hell for bringing up Star Trek in a Star Wars post, but their preludes published by IDW were pretty good. The one for Into Darkness fleshed out something that was referenced in the film. It wasn’t important, but it was nice to know.

Maybe Marvel will take a hint from IDW, but I doubt it. That being said, Disney did hire the guy who directed the last two Star Trek films.

Just saying.