Stargate SG-1 2.2 – In the Line of Duty

I’ve noticed that the blog’s been a little less upbeat than I’d prefer lately. Xena is uneven, we hit some Doctor Who I didn’t enjoy, and a old favorite Godzilla movie let me down. So now’s not the best time to travel back to 1998 and start the second season of Stargate SG-1, which is still firmly in its crap period. For posterity’s sake, assuming we survive this mess, we’re in the “only about 6000 dead” phase of the coronavirus. I’m sure you’d rather read something more enthusiastic than anything I have to say about this; all I can say is come back tomorrow, things should improve.

For the record, I picked this episode because it introduces us to the Tok’ra, a gang of Goa’uld who are not evil like the System Lords, but just as insufferable and arrogant. Rather than living parasitically with human hosts, they live symbiotically, with their host’s permission. That doesn’t stop one from jumping into Sam’s body in desperation when its host dies. Sadly, this is another example of watching a mediocre hour of television to meet an alien race which will become more important later.

Doctor Who 3.13 – Last of the Time Lords

The kid has really not enjoyed the last five episodes of this series, but he liked this. He thought it was thrilling and exciting and absolutely loved the Master’s plan falling apart. He did everything short of standing up and cheering. So I’m glad that he liked it!

I think of it this way: three of Russell T. Davies’s Doctor Who series come to absolutely splendid and satisfying conclusions, and three out of four is a pretty amazing feat. I think “Last of the Time Lords” is far too depressing, its resolution is completely ridiculous, and the reset button is completely obnoxious.

And I really can’t stand how the episode completely ignores the biggest what-the-hell moment in just about any work of ongoing fiction I can thing of: the British Prime Minister had something to do with an alien first contact that left the American president dead before dying himself, and there’s apparently no fallout from this whatsoever. Put this into the context of June 2007: imagine if the incoming PM, Gordon Brown, arranged for the assassination of George W. Bush. I would want to know what happens next. I think it’s a massive missed opportunity. I like Kylie Minogue as much as the next fellow, but I could wait to see what happens with her on the Titanic. I want an episode that explores what the hell happens when the leaders of the US and the UK both get killed in some scheme with little silver aliens that nobody ever sees again, and how in the world the Doctor managed to get the PM’s body out to some rocky beach for a Viking funeral out from under the biggest CIA / MI6 / NSA / UNIT operation in the history of either nation.

But we don’t get that. We get Kylie. And Peter. But those are stories for another day. But it’s goodbye for now to John Barrowman and to Freeman Agyeman as the Doctor leaves Earth alone again. We’ll see them both again very soon.

We’ll put Doctor Who back on the shelf to keep things fresh and pop back again for the two specials in May. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who 3.12 – The Sound of Drums

Disagreeably, we watched this episode the same day that Twitter enjoyed a big tweetalong to the first episode of Life on Mars, the oddball period cop show which starred John Simm, and instead I watched him in something I don’t like. I think the world of Simm; he’s a marvelous actor, but I don’t like his Master at all, and I really don’t like this story.

It isn’t fair to judge every Master against Roger Delgado – I’ve never heard anybody grumble “Bill Hartnell wouldn’t have worn 3-D glasses and say ‘timey-wimey'” – and every Master should be every bit as different as every Doctor, but here Simm starts an affectation of INSANE and WACKY like he’s channeling Jim Carrey from any one of a dozen identical performances in the nineties that influences both of his successors, and I just find it tedious, dull, and predictable and wish like anything for somebody to play the villain as malevolently, effortlessly cool as Delgado did. A couple of the villains in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock went down the same boring path; none of it wears well with me. About the best I can say for Simm is that he’s such a tremendously good actor that at no point does he look or feel even remotely self-conscious with his antics.

For what it’s worth, I do love that the Master retains his love of British children’s television by watching Teletubbies. Sunday night, I showed our son that moment in “The Sea Devils” where Delgado’s Master whistles along to Clangers to remind him of this great little character quirk. I like the Doctor’s phone call with the Master. That’s about it. The cliffhanger landed with a thud because as soon as President-Elect Winters is killed, I started looking for the reset button. When a story’s gone so far that it’s going to need to be reset, I start looking for devices in the narrative with names like “paradox machine.”

The kid hated almost every second of this one. He allowed that he liked the Teletubbies bit, and he liked the visuals when the Toclafane spheres fall out of the big red rip in the sky. He also went to bed furious about another cliffhanger. Funny how those didn’t bother him when we watched series twelve as it was broadcast, but the two-parters in the older episodes annoy him.

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.20 – Ties That Bind

I thought there were a couple of interesting things somewhere in this very predictable episode. Seriously, when you bring back the very manipulative Ares and simultaneously introduce a character who’s very passive-aggressive in his own manipulations, the only people who are going to be fooled that this isn’t Ares in a supernatural disguise are the under-nines in the audience. And while I do like the way that Ares can count on Xena’s unresolved daddy issues to make her lose her temper, I didn’t like the way that she went directly from the angry but careful tactician of every previous adventure we’ve watched into an uncontrollable battlefield lunatic. I didn’t buy it. The kid found it pretty boring as well despite lots of fighting. Maybe it would have been better if we hadn’t known from the very beginning that Ares was up to something?

I’ve not commented on any of what the fans call the subtext of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, because as far as I have approached this show, Xena and Gabrielle are simply a couple who occasionally have wandering eyes for cute boys and the camera’s just never on them when they’re holding hands. I don’t need to spotlight lines that read as “They’re gay” when I know perfectly well that they’re gay. That said, however, I can appreciate the fannish desire for evidence of this POV, and the story ends with Xena telling Gabrielle with bedroom eyes “Our friendship binds us closer than blood ever could.”

This episode is about a quarter century old and yet I still heard a cobweb-covered Usenet group spark back into life with the posts of thousands of fanfic writers squeeing with delight and punching the air over that sentence.

Worzel Gummidge 1.7 – The Scarecrow Hop

The first series of Worzel Gummidge ends with an episode that’s far less riotous than most of the others. The final moments are really contemplative and evocative, but the big show-stopping dance number is more whimsical than silly. It’s set the day after that remarkable food fight, and begins with Aunt Sally getting sacked, with neither wages nor a reference of course, and having no place to go but Worzel’s old barn. She agrees to attend the village dance with Worzel, and even enjoys herself in the end, once the band plays a tune that Worzel’s dancing head can recognize. But any future that the couple may have is stymied by her owner. Michael Ripper’s character, Mr. Shepherd, finds and reclaims his lost property.

But in the end, Jon Pertwee and Geoffrey Bayldon share an wonderful scene where the Crowman quietly implies that he understands the “magic kingdoms” in the heads of scarecrows and aunt sallies, and that Worzel’s beloved will be much happier in Mr. Shepherd’s attic, where she can quietly daydream of foreign lands and dukes and princes, just like Worzel will be much happier in Ten Acre Field, where he can daydream of rooks and fledglings. There are times, watching this show, where I would like to spend just a few minutes talking with the Crowman about the night sky.

The silliest thing happened next. I was so taken by Pertwee and Bayldon’s scene that I remembered that we don’t often get opportunities to see the same two actors sharing scenes, so I popped in The House That Dripped Blood, which we watched, in part, a couple of years ago, and skipped to Pertwee and Bayldon’s scene in it. Our son said “I know that older man is the Crowman, and the actor playing the actor is one of the Doctors.” “He’s also Worzel,” I said, hoping those last two synapses would click, but they didn’t. “I know I’ve told you that Doctor played Worzel,” I said, disbelieving, and Marie agreed that I had, several times, but Pertwee’s transformation was so complete that our kid, who admittedly has no eye for faces in the first place, couldn’t tell that they were the same man less than four minutes apart. At least he was a little impressed by his chameleon powers. Wait until he’s old enough to start watching Robert de Niro movies.

We’ll put Worzel Gummidge back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh, but we’ll return for series two in May. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who 3.11 – Utopia

I knew this one wasn’t going to go over too well with our kid. He doesn’t like surprise cliffhangers, and he doesn’t like the Master. Tonight, he clarified that the only villain he dislikes more than the Master are the Cybermen. Making things worse, he was really enjoying this story. It’s written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Graeme Harper, and it’s one of those unfortunate stories where nobody remembers the details because they’re all overshadowed by the last six minutes. Kind of like “The War Games” if you think about it.

But for a putting-things-in-place tale, it’s not bad. I was kind of ambivalent about watching this because, with the exception of a couple of moments, I really don’t care for the next two episodes. But “Utopia” is pretty good. I like Derek Jacobi, and I love his adorable assistant Chantho. John Barrowman’s back as Captain Jack Harkness, and I love the idea that he had to live through the 20th Century waiting for the correct Doctor to come along.

I don’t like John Simm’s Master. I don’t like him at all, until he gets some really good material in “The Doctor Falls” several years later. Well, there is one moment in the next episode that I enjoy. We’ll see what that might be Wednesday evening.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

It’s the way of things. Sometimes a beloved old movie just doesn’t hold up. Today’s heartbreak: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, which I may have seen about twenty-five times when I was much younger and have often said is my favorite monster movie. That’s not a claim I’ll make again. I’ve also said that the human stuff is the most interesting material in these movies, and while the material here remains interesting and very watchable, the giant monster stuff is, bluntly, wretched. This is not how I remembered it, but watched just two weeks after Mothra vs. Godzilla, I can see both a far smaller budget for special effects and the intrusion of kid-friendly comedy for the first time. When Mothra shows up to convince Rodan and Godzilla to join forces against a new monster from space, the bigger beasts’ brawl has deteriorated into playing volleyball with boulders.

I still like the human stuff. It revolves around a princess from a south Pacific nation who’s been targeted by killers in a political coup. Someone who looks just like her turns up in Japan, dressed like a bum and drawing crowds with her wild predictions of imminent doom for the planet. She claims she’s from the planet Venus, but the rival faction in the missing princess’s home country wants her dead anyway. I love the leader of the gang. He never once removes his sunglasses in this movie. Instead of the usual battles between Godzilla and the military, this movie goes for a smaller scale, and has a policeman trying to protect the “Venusian” from the four killers in several shootouts. None of these guys could hit the broad side of a barn.

Even though I was underwhelmed by the monster business, our son loved it. The comedy of the squabbling monsters – Rodan in particular enjoys a good laugh – had him charmed and the action had him enthralled. King Ghidorah is, at the end of things, an absolutely amazing design, and the destruction of that city with his lightning-rays remains a pretty impressive bit of miniature effects. It’s a movie that’s pitched straight at eight year-olds, and this one says it’s his favorite of the five that he’s seen so far. We’ll see how he feels when Nick Adams shows up in the next one we watch, in April.

Image: Criterion

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.19 – Altared States

Ehh… it starts well, at least. I absolutely love swimming with a waterfall, with or without two attractive actresses having a bath, so I was really enjoying the sights of the Hunua Falls, which the Loyal to Xena site tells me is about 15-20 miles southeast of Auckland. Then Xena beats the daylights out of six dudes while armed with only some fish on a rope. Then Baby Karl Urban shows up. Seriously, he was about 23 when this was filmed and he looks about ready for his learner’s permit. Urban will show up in other episodes as different characters. (Oh, and that’s not him in the picture above, but the director never framed Urban with the waterfall behind him. I like to choose screencaps with the guest star, but, sorry, Karl, waterfalls win out.)

Sadly, the rest of the episode didn’t live up to the opening. Gabrielle gets drunk off some drugged nutbread, which is hilarious, but the story is a take on the parable of Abraham and Isaac, which as far as I’m concerned was only ever good for inspiring the first verse of “Highway 61 Revisited.” Our son didn’t enjoy it at all, in part because this was another Bible story we never bothered to tell him, but mainly because the sight of families being horrible to each other just eats him from the inside. This one didn’t really appeal to any of us, but it does make me hungry to go swim at Foster Falls again this summer.

Worzel Gummidge 1.6 – Worzel Pays a Visit

It’s the one with the food fight. I wondered whether I would lose consciousness laughing before our son. It’s epic.

There’s so much in the comedy of anticipation. The setup is completely wonderful: Aunt Sally has found employment as a housemaid to the local penny-pinching snob, Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton. Sue has told Worzel where she can be found, over the objections of her brother. This scene also had me roaring with laughter, because I’d seen our son’s older siblings have arguments exactly like that, carrying on silently when I told them to hush.

But because Aunt Sally is a very proud liar, and because Worzel happens to come a’courtin’ while Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is engaged in some social climbing at another area snob’s invitation, she passes herself off as the owner of the estate. She says that she does not remember Worzel, because she ’as so many friends, and Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is her companion, not employer. But she chooses to entertain “Mr. Gummidge,” despite “staff problems” requiring her to do the serving, and she brings out more freaking cakes for tea than any two people could possibly eat. The more food that she brings out, the more hilarious it gets. It gets even funnier as it becomes evident that neither Worzel nor Sally can count, and Una Stubbs almost breaks down laughing herself as she explains that six is more than seven. And then they become cross with each other.

I don’t want to oversell it, just in case anybody reading this is thinking about ordering this series and expecting something on the level of the pie fight in The Great Race. No, it’s more contained than that, but still a majestic single-take wonder with cakes and eggs and sugar and buckets of water, all the while knowing, absolutely knowing that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is going to return much earlier than expected. It was already the funniest thing ever, and then we learn that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton doesn’t have just a pack, she has a whole freaking army of little yipping dogs, and a shotgun. Everybody involved deserves a standing ovation.

Doctor Who 3.10 – Blink

A predictable choice for a picture? Probably.

I won’t write much about what I think of “Blink.” I think it’s staggeringly good, every bit as thrilling and fun now as it was thirteen years ago. Many writers and fans praise it as one of the program’s most inventive episodes, ranking toward the top of every survey of the best Whos and it deserves every bit of it. The guest star, Carey Mulligan, is so good that I find myself selfishly resenting her subsequent Hollywood success because even though I know perfectly well that Sally Sparrow’s story has been told and she doesn’t need to be revisited, I still want to see her again, and hope that the Sparrow & Nightingale shop of antiquarian books and rare DVDs is doing well.

In retrospect, though, the Matt Smith years were a victim of this episode’s success. The law of diminishing returns set in for the Angels like no other monster in the show’s history. Steven Moffat concluded that the non-linear “timey-wimey” storytelling that everybody loved when spread across one installment would work just as well spread across thirteen. It works pretty well in series five, and that Angel adventure has a couple of good moments even if it disappointed me overall. I don’t think it works as well in series six. But that’s another story for another day. “Blink,” on its own, is perfect and wonderful.

And the kid hated it. He hated everything about it. He was scared out of his mind, he retreated upstairs when Larry has a staring contest with the ground floor Angel. He didn’t like the Doctor not being in it much, he didn’t like the storytelling from another character’s perspective, and he thought that the closing montage of other statues all over the place was meant to be a cliffhanger ending and he was going to have to put up with more Angels tomorrow. Then when I told him that he was mistaken and that was it for this story, he was embarrassed and annoyed, and he hated that, too. So there you go, for those of you who think this story’s really overrated, somebody in my house agrees with you.