Posts Tagged ‘The Doctor’

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Adding comics to the mix: Introducing Steve

April 27, 2009

From the very beginning, we’ve planned on bringing other voices to the Not A Planet Anymore forum to offer different opinions on the discussions of the day, as well as their expertise in their own sub-genres of geekery. Today I’m pleased to introduce our newest columnist: Steve.

You’ve probably seen me refer to Steve in the past, usually in reference to items from the British SF Invasion. A buddy from work who I happily discovered was a fellow SF fan, he’s been the vanguard of the SF redcoats – my pipeline to the new Red Dwarf episodes (which, shockingly, I haven’t managed to watch yet) and a ton of tidbits on The Doctor. He’ll even inflict some hard-core Starfleet damage on you if you’re not careful (although, with my own fondness for The Black Hole, I really, really shouldn’t be judging anyone).

But beyond that, Steve is a comic kingpin. With a collection that would put Mallrats‘ Brodie to shame – hell, his inbox stack alone would put many comic stores’ back issue shelves to shame – Steve is The Man when it comes to the comic scene. As the newest member of our team, Steve will be, among other things, adding some representation from the world of comics to our site with his columns.

Welcome, Steve!

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The return of the Rani

April 25, 2009

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

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The top 5 SF sidekicks who wouldn’t make the cut as “Doctor Who” companions

February 12, 2009

We’ve known for a while now who’s been selected to play the 11th Doctor, but despite an active rumour mill, there’s still no confirmation from the BBC of who will be Doctor Who’s next Companion.

To that end, I’ve assembled a list of five notable sidekicks from around the SF universe who just wouldn’t cut it as one of the Doctor’s famed cadre of tag-alongs.

5) R2D2
In many respects, this little astromech would make a welcome addition to the Doctor’s team: he’s brave, loyal, able to figure ways out of a tough spot, and he doesn’t take up much room. That being said, there’s no place for Artoo in this exclusive club because with his vast array of built-in tools, there’d be no need to use the Sonic Screwdriver, and we couldn’t have that, now could we?

4) Chewbacca the Wookiee
The big walking carpet is a good friend to have at your back in any kind of situation, whether it’s scouting for fares at the bar, fixin’ droids, puttin’ the boots to Imperial stormtroopers, piloting your starship, or keeping you warm in a damp cell. Chewie’s the kinda guy who would have looked the werewolf from “Tooth and Claw” in the eye and said “Bring it on, bitch.” (not that anyone would be able to understand what he said) The problem with Chewbacca is that he likes his guns, and the Doctor does not. That, and he’d probably shed too much, and you’d never be able to get all the hair out of the TARDIS.

3) Jack Burton
The swaggering, John-Wayne-imitating owner of the ol’ Porkchop Express is good to have at your back in a fight (sometimes) or a game of fan-tan (definitely). Problem is, he’s pretty clueless and would probably spend most of his time ogling alien women rather than helping the Doctor solve the mystery behind whatever big trouble they’d get themselves into from week to week.

2) Arnold J Rimmer
If you need to clean out the chicken soup dispenser on your interplanetary mining ship, Rimmer’s your man. Want to have someone constantly whine, complain, be rude to you, and find new ways to humiliate himself? This technician second-class is the hologram you need. Sadly, the Red Dwarf’s most famous deceased crewmember would probably be too cowardly (unless it was his alter-ego Ace) to even step inside the TARDIS, never mind join the Doctor on an adventure.

1) Marvin the paranoid android
In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books, we encounter strange methods of powering and moving spacecraft, like the improbability drive and the bistromath drive. If only they’d learned to tap the bottomless resource of Marvin’s depression, Arthur Dent & co could have had the powers of gods. The Doctor is probably smart enough to harness the potential of this self-pity, but this is never likely to happen. Marvin’s ability to be a downer is so utterly relentless that it might even be able to crush the Doctor’s seemingly boundless optimism. It would be the irresistable force meeting the immovable object. Matter and anti-matter colliding. They’d simply cancel each other out. That’s why there’s probably a sub-clause somewhere in the Shadow Proclamation that decrees that these two never meet, and thus Marvin would be the last entity, anywhere, anytime that would have a shot at being a Companion.

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“Doctor Who”‘s 45th anniversary

November 26, 2008

The Doctor has the prescription for longevity. Not just because he’s a seemingly immortal Time Lord, but because his show has been around for 45 years (31 years on-air).

Over the years, we’ve seen many faces of Doctor Who – literally, through his 10 regenerations (soon to be 11), but also figuratively through the sides of his personality the writers and actors have given us. Goofy, serious, weary, enthused, compassionate, terrifying, cold, noble, regretful, sad, awestruck and even lovestruck, The Doctor has been many things, but he’s always been the gateway to chance – the opportunity to explore the seemingly impossible, for his more-or-less normal Companions to pit themselves against the odds (with varying degrees of success and sometimes tragic failure, because travelling with The Doctor is a gamble – there are no guarantees of a sunshiny outcome) so that, despite the external adventures (and what grand adventures they are), they can understand more about themselves and maybe the universe.

45 years of history, and most of that with new content running on-air, is a staggering, geologic, god-like, near infinite amount of time in the world of broadcast. Fitting for a show about a Time Lord. Much deserved for a show that’s endeavoured to tell entertaining stories with interesting characters.

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The end of the 10th Doctor

November 1, 2008

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

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What form of media makes the most effective SF gateway?

October 21, 2008

Further to the last post to slam into Not A Planet Anymore, I got to wondering about the larger question: what form of media (books, TV, movies. video games) makes the most effective SF gateway? What’t the most effective way to introduce a non-fan to SF, or for a mainstream to stumble into SF on their own? What’s the media that’s most likely to hook their interest and encourage them to pursue SF further?

I think, first of all, we need to be clear that when we’re talking about the most effective gateway, I mean for adults. WIth kids there’s a different way of thinking at work that I suspect makes it easier for them to get drawn into something a lot faster.

But getting back to the question of the most effective of the four major incarnations of SF culture… I think there are a couple that we can knock out of contention right off the bat.

The first: movies. SF movies, be they monster summer blockbusters or quiet, late-in-the-year thought pieces, certainly attract the biggest audience of mainstreamers – and of mainstreamers who deliberately seek this SF out – but I think in large part these are one-off circumstances. A mainstream movie-goer is quite likely to see many SF flicks over the course of their lifetime, but probably not because they’re specifically seeking out SF; they’re probably more attracted to the size of the film, or the action or comedy elements, etc. I doubt mainstream movie-goers demonstrate any loyalty to the specific genre of SF films. And I don’t believe they actually make the connection that whatever good qualities they’re picking up from the SF film they enjoyed can be found in SF books or TV or games. In fact, I’m fairly confident in saying that you could probably pick 10-20 people randomly from a lineup in front of a theatre for an SF film and ask them “Are you a sci-fi/fantasy fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll be an SF fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll want to explore other forms of SF entertainment like sci-fi books or TV shows or massive multi-player online fantasy role-playing video games?” the answer would probably, in most cases, be a flat “No.” (likely accompanied by derisive laughter and choice epithets) Sure, in some cases you might get a mainstream movie-goer who likes an SF movie so much that when he or she is passing through a book store they might pick-up a movie tie-in novel, and from there might get into other SF, or who might stay on a channel one night that was running an unrelated SF TV show, but I think those people are in the minority. And I certainly don’t think a movie would inspire hordes of them to start playing video games. No, I think that while movies may bring SF notoriety, they don’t ultimately increase the adult fanbase significantly and thus are not the most effective gateway.

In a similar light, (and I realize I’m stepping out on thin ice here ’cause I’m not a gamer) I don’t think video games are the most effective gateway media either. I’m kind of curious how many adult, non-SF fans suddenly pick up gaming, follow it loyally, then branch out into other areas of SF culture. I doubt it’s many. I suspect your average mainstream adult who gets into gaming is likely picking up a system and game as a one-off or limited interest sort of thing – they want to play a cool-looking game based on their favourite sport when the real games aren’t on the tube; or, and this is probably more likely, they’re picking up a platform for their kids, and while buying games for the kids to go with the system, they pick up a copy of Madden Football or Gretzky Hockey or something for themselves and play it once in a while. I would expect that the amount of time required for a lot of games these days is probably a disincentive for an adult with no previous grounding in SF to follow it religiously, much less to branch out into other areas of SF culture. As for those who do stick with it, the question remains of how much of a gateway does it really become for them? Do they just stick with one type of game, and thus have more of a door to a short, empty corridor, or do they really get interested enough to follow other SF avenues – the true gateway to the SF universe? Would it really get them to start watching BSG if they hadn’t before, or inspire them to read the classics by Clarke and Bradbury (or even media tie-in novels that might lead them to weightier fare)? I’m not so sure. Again, as with movies, there probably are a few mainstreamers who get the light switched on by video games and explore other avenues of SF, but I suspect they’re very much in the minority. For that reason, I don’t think gaming is necessarily the most effective SF gateway.

That leaves us with books and TV – two very strong contenders. But as they said in “Highlander” (the first movie, that is – not the idiot sequels or the sappy TV show): There can be only one.

Books should be the most effective gateway to SF. In my opinion, they are certainly the best gateway. The massive selection of SF books out there, the shallow and the deep, the new and the old, with the multitude of specialty genres, guarantees there is a story for everyone if they can only find it. Discovering a great story that hits home for a person is pretty much guaranteed to get them to seek out more books by the same author, then similar books by other authors, followed by experimentation. This seeds a deeply-rooted love of SF that easily promotes the other forms of the culture because it intrinsically carries respect of the subject matter (as long as it’s treated well and to the reader’s tastes). Someone who enjoys SF novels and short stories will have no qualms about watching an SF TV show or movie, and might make the time to play a video game or even buy a system and enjoy many games. The fact that even the dumbest book requires you to use some imagination (and, in the case of intelligent books, requires you to use your analytical skills and ability to understand metaphor) indicates that books are an active medium, they insist that you make some effort which, I think, in turn encourages a person to be active in seeking out more that they will enjoy, thus increasing their chances of exploring SF movies, TV and gaming.

But books do require you to think (at least on some level), and your average mainstreamer who could potentially become an SF fan may not initially want to invest the time and effort on a book in a genre he/she has no experience with. And buying an SF book (substitute checking one out at the library, if you wish) would require a mainstreamer to go into a part of the bookstore/library where they might encounter someone who appears to be a refugee from his mother’s basement, and the thought of having to deal with this nerdy stereotype might keep them away. Or, even worse for an image concious mainstreamer, they might go into the SF section of the store/library and someone might see them and think they were a geek pursuing less-than-popularly-acceptable reading material (gasp!). The fear of being labeled as having the SF cooties by other mainstreamers might keep potential down-the-road fans away from the chance to experiment with SF. And then there’s the problem of the rate of recreational reading in our societies today. One of the panelists at the Canadian SF panel at the recent VCon I attended pointed out (and I haven’t had time to check these figures, so feel free to take them with whatever size of salt grain you feel necessary) that only 1 in 4 Canadians are recreational readers, while a mere 1 in 7 Americans are. This is deeply unsettling in countries with education systems that aspire to ensure universal literacy. And yet, not surprising given the variety of different forms of entertainment out there (like the other major types of SF culture!) and the heavy demands on personal time from work and, in some cases, family and/or education. If the public isn’t battering down the doors of our bookstores and libraries, it’s hard to make the case that books are the most effective gateway to SF for mainstreamers.

And then there’s television. This is a feast or famine form of media, where there are times with few, if any, SF shows, and other times (like now) where it’s hard to turn on the tube on any given night and not be able to find something (and that’s just taking into account the modern/current shows, never mind the reruns available on all manner of specialty channels). During the good times there’s a lot of mediocre and poor fare, but you also get your works of inspiration like the new “Battlestar Galactica”, the new “Doctor Who”, or (looking back a couple of years) “Firefly”, or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, or “Babylon 5”. And the pattern of lean times and SF gluttony on TV is cyclical enough that there aren’t more than a few bad years before SF shows start to pop up here and there, followed by copycats and franchises and a few more originals, and pretty soon there’s a good selection again to entice new fans. And the shows that are good, are generally REALLY GOOD (so good that they might even draw the grudging appreciation of mainstream critics). But even the bad and mediocre shows can draw loyal followings. Unless a show is heavy on necessary backstory, it’s usually possible for a mainstreamer flipping through the channels to come across SF, catch a moment that interests them and then stay for the rest of the episode and perhaps follow the rest of the season. From there it’s a short hop to seeing SF movies (which they’re probably doing anyway) and allowing themselves to check out a title or two in the SF section of a bookstore or give some consideration to a video game they see advertised on TV or in a mall. Moreover, once a person becomes a fan of a certain show, they’re more likely to pay attention to other, similar shows, giving SF a good chance at gaining a foothold in their entertainment preferences. TV is also a safe gateway for mainstreamers – no-one else needs to see them geeking-out to BSG or The Doctor, or, heaven forbid: Trek. This allows them to be privately and gently, but none-the-less heavily (given the long-term investment of time following a show through a season) immersed in SF over time, eventually allowing the former mainstreamer to come out of the closet to some extent as a fan and begin experimenting with other forms of SF. In this way, television is an excellent medium for existing SF fans to expose and acclimatize friends and family to their passion and eventually get those others interested in it as well. And, ultimately, television is in pretty much every home in Western cultures, offering plenty of easy, cheap opportunities to get into SF.

TV does have its drawbacks though. The really good SF shows do tend to require consistent following to be aquainted with crucial backstory and to develop bonds with characters (BSG or B5, for example, would be difficult to pick up in the middle of their gigantic and complex story arcs). Another problem, as seen with “Firefly”, is that networks are far less patient with SF shows that they “don’t get” or that are suffering in the ratings, or (and this is most definitely not the case with “Firefly”) are poor quality, and are more likely to cancel them before they’ve had a chance to develop. In this respect, a potential fan could get interested in a show, only to have it yanked from the air before he/she was able to get into it enough to want to branch out to other SF. The other problem with network execs (or should I say, an other of many problems with network execs) is the current trend to create SF shows, and then, in mortal fear of the SF cooties and losiing suspicious mainstream audiences, backpedal for all their worth and publicly declare that the shows are NOT SF, but rather political dramas that just happen to be set in space (this line has been used with BSG), or dramatic stories with occasional uncommon or supernatural elements (“Lost” has been given this treatment). These cheesy cop-outs serve to drive away mainstreamers who may watch and enjoy these programs, but get negative stereotypes of SF reinforced and thus don’t bother to accept SF as intelligent and worthwhile entertainment and fail to expand their horizons.

But for all of that, I think, sadly (because -and I will state it again – I think books are the best gateway), that TV has the slight edge. Because of the larger audience potential and the ease of encouraging private acceptance and further exploration, TV is ultimately the most effective SF gateway.

Your thoughts?

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The best SF gateway TV show

October 18, 2008

What’s the best SF television show to encourage someone in the cultural mainstream to become a genre fan? What show has the magic combination of character development, interesting plot line(s), and, most importantly, easy accessibility (you might argue that sensawunda is another key element, but I’d count that as a sub-branch of plot – and an optional one) in sufficiently compelling quantities that make it the perfect gateway show to entice a person into becoming an SF fan?

Certainly, as geeks, we all have our favourites that we would like mainstreamers to adopt because of character and plot. But accessibility is the crucial factor here for a gateway experience – if your show has too many SF tropes that are unfamiliar to mainstreamers or ones that are too frequently stereotyped, or if your show even looks too weird, then mainstreamers will be driven off, fearing, as an old editorial in On Spec so brialliantly put it: “the SF cooties”. Also in terms of accessibility, a mainstreamer must be able to tune into pretty much any episode and be able to get into it despite their lack of backstory/previous episode experience.

With those ground rules in mind, what SF series (ongoing series, new series, and old series in active reruns all count – old series that are not currently being aired do not count) would make good gateway experiences and which ones wouldn’t?

Here’s my take:

Anything Star Trek is immediately disqualified. To the mainstream mind, Trek = nerd. No matter how good some of the episodes may have been in some of the series, the amount of scorn the franchise suffers in the minds of mainstreamers is about as high as a pile of Tribbles in a quatrotriticalene silo. The fact that some out there on the net may be chomping at the bit to correct my spelling (admittedly probably inaccurrate) of quatrotriticalene only adds weight to the argument. The dialogue in any given Trek is also heavily freighted with self-referential jargon, guaranteed to lose the interest of a mainstreamer in about a half-second. Let’s not even get into the shadow of The Shat.

“Reaper” is also off the list of potentials. It’s funny as hell and one of my favourites right now, but despite the presence of various supernatural baddies, I don’t think the mainstream audience would really be stimulated by it to take up other SF shows or start reading fantasy novels. They’d be more likely to enjoy it as a one-off.

Similarly, “Chuck” and “My Own Worst Enemy” are probably out too. I think mainstreamers would probably view them as shows with a spy bent, and perhaps tacitly acknowledge any sci-fi flourishes, but wouldn’t be driven by them to pursue SF any further.

I think “Heroes” is also unlikely to create any new fans. Putting aside the continuous downward spiral of the plot’s quality, at best “Heroes” probably resurrects some fondness for the superhero sub-genre, but I doubt it’s enough to get people out buying the latest Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic or tracking down old editions of George R. R. Martin’s “Wildcards” anthologies.

“The Sarah Connor Chronicles”? Maybe. Not a high degree of likelihood, but maybe. The big action and disfunctional family drama components might draw them in, and these might make the obvious sci-fi elements represented by the various Terminators more palatable. Would it be enough to inspire mainstreamers to crack open a Harlan Ellison collection, or hunt-down stories involving robots or time travel? I’m not totally convinced, but I’ll allow that it’s possible.

“Battlestar Galactica” is another maybe. Certainly it has the highest calibre of characterization and plot. But the accessibility is pretty iffy. The show has a gigantic story arc that could easily lose someone lacking sufficient backstory – despite the recaps at the top of each episode. The setting is aboard starships, but, aside from occasional exterior cutaways and the occasional battles, most of the story takes place within the confines of the vessels, and thus could be anywhere, making the sets reasonably accessible. The Cylons in their cybrid forms are easy to accept, and the traditional centurion models offer enough overt sci-fi menace to remind the audience that this is an SF show. BSG is one of my all-time favourite shows, so it certainly pains me to not say definitely that “this is the gateway show!”, but the weight of the backstory makes me think this would be a tough one to use as a gateway experience. You’d certainly have to pick the right episode.

The other possibility on my list is the new “Doctor Who” (somewhere, harrysaxon is cheering – it’s his personal mission to make every human being on Earth a fan of The Doctor – which, in fact, could be the plot of an episode of DW – whoa). The plots are consistently entertaining and the characters have enough depth to be worth watching. Accessibility with this show is a bit of a see-saw: David Tenannt certainly makes The Doctor a character you want to watch, and the various Companions are excellent vantage points for the perspectives of the audience – they’re just as confused as we are by all the strangeness going on from episode to episode. But it’s the over-the-top weirdness of some of the far-future or alien settings or the surreal TARDIS itself that might lose a mainstreamer. Again, “Doctor Who” is like BSG, you’d have to find the right episode for it to be effective as a gateway experience.

I have to confess, if I could break the rules and nominate a show that’s no longer on-air, I’d have to say that “The Twilight Zone” was probably the best SF gateway show ever. Different episodes featured different subject matter (from the disturbingly near-normal to the far-out) with different actors, written by different authors. It was a showcase of SF variety that had something for pretty much anyone, and if an episode was good enough, not only could a mainstreamer get hooked on the series, they might also be motivated to check out other SF shows or, hopefully, books. Ah, the good old days!

Harrysaxon’s been chomping at the bit to weigh-in on this topic, so he’ll take it from here.

Harrysaxon’s take:

“I agree with much of what bloginhood has to say about the topic – and certainly wholeheartedly endorse Doctor Who as a gateway show. The new series, of course, not the old, which is so thick with bad effects and complex backstory that even a lot of North American sci-fi lovers view it as somewhat esoteric. But the new series has added a great deal of the human element; the arc of Russell T. Davies’s tenure is less about the Doctor, and more about his first companion of the new series, Rose Tyler, a sympathetic Cockney from a working-class background who clicked instantly with fans in the UK. The personal drama – detractors may say soap opera elements – that Rose and her family brought to the series made it much more accessible to a wide-scale audience. The references and characters from the original series are there for the hardcore fans, but it’s immediately accessible for new fans as well. But most important, this is a show which can conjure powerfully emotional scenarios that make even the most macho of dedicated viewers feel a little thickness at the back of the throat. I’d personally recommend starting at the beginning, with S1E1 “Rose”; however, the one-off S3 episode “Blink”, in which the Doctor plays a peripheral role, may be a better introduction for those not sure they’re ready to commit to the full arc of the series. I’ve certainly used it to hook at least two people immediately, one of them hard enough to travel to the UK last summer to see David Tennant play Hamlet on stage.

But that’s just my addition to bloginhood’s nomination. My nomination is somewhat less obscure, as it is a pop culture phenomenon; Lost. Now, when Lost moved from the realm of a scripted Survivor-like experience in the first season firmly into the realm of science fiction with the second series, it turned a lot of viewers off (as well as ending its Emmy success, as they cannot abide science fiction for some reason). But that came as a surprise to viewers, hooked on an experience of watching a bunch of people try to find food and shelter and cope with a threatening group of outsiders on the island. Anyone coming into the series at this point, prepared with the foreknoweldge that it is a science fiction series, shouldn’t be as taken aback by the appearance of underground bunkers protecting electromagnetic anomalies as the early adopters.

Just to get it out of the way, some may call it up for debate that Lost is science-fiction at all; certainly there have always been elements of the supernatural creeping around the edges as well. But at this late date, I’m willing to accept the creators’ word that the remaining mysteries will ultimately have scientifically plausible explanations, albiet involving fictional technologies. I’m choosing to avoid spoilers, but the most recent major cliffhanger we were left with, as impossible as it seemed, was familiar ground for people acquainted with Doctor Who’s futuristic technologies which have plausible scientific backing.

But the reason I think it makes a great gateway is because the sci-fi stuff isn’t all up in your face. The major focus of the show is action and drama, with a heavy dose of romance and tragedy. It’s not a science fiction show with strong dramatic elements; it’s more a drama with strong science fiction elements. If you can get hooked on the personal stories of Jack, Kate, Locke, Charlie, Hurley et al., then you may find that the scientific mysteries surrounding characters such as Desmond begin to draw you in as much as wondering whether Kate will decide to hook up with Jack or Sawyer. It’s a good show, too; it lacks the strong dialogue and bold characters of my favourite shows, most of which have appeared on HBO, but it’s still compelling. Well, except for that 8 episode mini-arc that opened season 3. That was a bump in the road towards what looks to be one of the most compelling series finales of all time.”

But we want to hear from you: what TV shows do you think would make the best SF gateways?