Babylon 5: Confessions and Lamentations

b5I love it when a writer is skilled at world building.  I wish Doctor Who did a better job with that, but the nature of that show is different to a cohesive universe like Babylon 5.  When Straczynski puts proverbial pen to paper, he must be thinking about how he can make a more cohesive world and he does it brilliantly.  Remember in Knives, when Franklin mentioned a good Markab doctor he knows?  We’ll we are about to meet him: Dr. Lazarenn.   Lazarenn is aware of an outbreak of a plague that can wipe out his entire race.  Because it is viewed as a punishment for sinful behavior, the Markab keep it secret and hope for the best but things rapidly spiral out of control.  Franklin and the rest of the B5 staff have to act, but things are looking bleak.

Remember the discussion around the episode Believers?  That was a thought-provoking episode, largely because there was no clear answer to such an ethical debate.  Like Believers, this is not arc-heavy, but it does have a big impact on the world that JMS has built, and it does that within the structure of a morality story.  Frankly, that’s good SF!  Good SF should look at the human condition under an allegorical lens to see where we are going as a species.   While Believers impacted a small family, this story impacts an entire species.  And unlike many shows of the time (again years ahead of its time here), we don’t have a happy ending.  We are dealing with a 100% contagious disease and the Markab are afraid to say anything because it might mark them as sinful.  To the scientific mind, that’s crazy, but who are we to say what’s crazy when we deal with other cultures.  Why, just today I was told about the beliefs of a culture right here on earth that has beliefs very different to my own and how those beliefs might impact them physically.  So imagine that with another species altogether?!

As the Markab are herded like animals into a secure place to basically die together (which I doubt the efficacy of, considering the entire event takes place on a space station which by nature has recycled air anyway), we are privy to some marvelous moments.  Delenn and Lennier, both spiritual people, offer to go and give comfort to the dying.  The act alone is a beautiful one; one I wish I could say I’d do myself, but I know how big a germaphobe I am, and I don’t think I could do it.  So I respect the decency of these characters; the self-sacrifice needed to act in such a manner is worthy of praise.  When Delenn finds the little girl looking for papa, my heart breaks.  When she is reunited with family and staggers, the horror Delenn experiences is felt with 100% crystal clarity by at least this fan!  How can you watch this and not feel dreadful?  And for that matter, I’m not even on the station with them, so imagine what it must do to Delenn, who is already going through a hard time with her new body, as she watches people die by the dozens!

Speaking of Delenn, I do love that there is a budding relationship between her and Sheridan, but I question the motivation behind it.  See, I am happy it exists and I love that John is open to it, especially considering the bad blood that existed between Humans and Minbari.  It speaks volumes about his character and his openness to putting bad events in the past, where they belong.  But what does it say of Delenn?  This season has seen a lot of her people hating her for changing and in the episode And Now for a Word, we learn that humans aren’t too happy about her new appearance either.  So I can’t help but wonder if she’s not reaching out to John solely because he isn’t treating her badly.  But that’s the correct behavior for the captain of a starship/space station.  He or she has to put his or her feelings on the back burner or it jeopardizes the command.  So is Delenn really into John, or is she falling for the one person who is treating her with kindness?  (Lennier doesn’t count because he is like a student and she is not that kind of teacher!)  Regardless, I’m not unhappy about the relationship, just unsure about the motivations.  Since this is the episode that really starts driving that relationship home, it’s time to mention that fact.  Until now, we’ve skirted the issue, but when Delenn locks herself in with the sick population, her final line seals the deal like an airlock seals in the sick.  (Sorry, too soon?)  “Then I’ll see you in a little while, in a place where no shadows fall.”  I think that’s when John realizes he has started falling for her.  (Or perhaps it was over the Dinner of Sleepy Traditions!  I do wonder what he was mumbling about when he woke up.  The 9 and the 1?)  Whenever it starts, we at least realize that these two are together for a reason.

In the grand scheme, maybe this is another slow story that does little for the arc.  But not likely.  We’ve just seen an entire race wiped out.  That has to have an impact.  What I wonder is if this was a plan by someone or just damned inconvenient timing?  I am grateful that the race was not a one-off race like the Children of Time, from Believers.  This was the Markab; a race we knew, and had come to respect, just like Steven the Stim-Taker does.  And that’s another thing.  We’ve seen the negative impact of stim use.  Will Steven’s use of stims continue without ill effect?  Considering how well JMS builds his worlds, I’m going to say we’ll be back to that eventually too.  (But then, I have the unfair advantage of having watched the show 4 times, so maybe I’m cheating a little!)  Guess you’ll have to stick around and see in a little while, in a place where no plot threads are left hanging.  ML

The view from across the pond:

Well this episode certainly lulled me into a false sense of security. We start off with Dr Lazarenn’s comedy nose (I couldn’t look anywhere else), and then Delenn’s funny rituals before eating. Meditation between mouthfuls: what cruel torture is this? What would Delenn think of McDonalds? I’ve not seen many people meditating between their McNuggets. Then Sheridan falls asleep and denies it. When B5 does humour it does it brilliantly, which makes you wonder why we don’t get more of it. So it was looking like being a light, funny episode when… oh, a plague.

“It is 100% terminal, and 100% contagious.”

Not great stats. What interested me was this:

“The disease only appeared once before, centuries ago. A small island on our world noted for certain excesses. When it was struck down the rest of my people believed it was a punishment by the gods for their lack of morality.”

So my first thought is that this has to be an allegory for aids, but a quick bit of googling after the episode reveals that others have had that thought and that JMS denied it. His intention was only to draw a parallel with the Black Death, which also works. Here’s a quote from the Bishop of Winchester, 1348:

“But is to be feared that the most likely explanation is that human sensuality – that fire which blazed up as a result of Adam’s sin – has now plumbed greater depths of evil, producing a multitude of sins which have provoked the divine anger, by a just judgement, to this revenge.”

At one point Garibaldi even name-checks the Black Death. The plague of 1665 was also attributed to divine punishment for sins by many, especially Puritans, so this is a common response to epidemics. It’s human nature to cast around for an explanation for tragedies, and sadly to attempt to apportion blame. It also provides a vehicle for hope:

“We are the pure, if we believe then the dark angel of drafa will pass over.”

After smashing all his little jars, Franklin does find a cure, but too late. It’s extraordinarily bleak. Bill Mumy sells the moment well when Delenn and Lennier are found among a room of dead bodies, showing us the first ever chink in the armour of his calm demeanour. He looks rattled. Mira Furlan instead goes with a rather theatrical sobbing into Sheridan’s chest, although part of the point of this episode is to develop their relationship a little bit more, after nothing much happening since our first hints of romance, many episodes ago.  Finally we learn the full extent of the death toll:

“The entire planetary population has been wiped out by the plague.”

…and the bartender cracks a joke, just to rub salt into the wound. In the end, it was hard to see what the point of this grim episode was. What was it telling us? The human race will never really care about the fate of aliens (which we surely have to interpret in contemporary terms as foreigners)? Religion gets in the way of medical advances? It’s important to employ doctors who figure things out quickly and don’t smash so many little glass jars?

Who knows? Who cares? In the end, it was an episode that just heaped misery on the viewer and then ended. I need more than that from the television shows I watch. A modicum of hope would be a start.   RP

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The Empty Planet

the empty planet

Colonel Mustard and Sgt. Ketchup, I presume?

After the tour de force that was Death of the Doctor, I was not ready to get back to average episodes, but Gareth Roberts must have planned for that contingency by giving us a classic idea with a Doctor Who twist.  Fans of science fiction may not have heard of The World, The Flesh and The Devil but I’m betting a number of you have heard of The Quiet Earth.  Similar (even in title to the latter) ideas turn up in those: the world is empty; no one is left barring three insignificant people.  How will this dynamic work?  In all three, we have 2 males and one female.  In a family show with teenage kids, we’re not going to delve into where that could go, even if Clyde does get excited to think he and Rani may be the new Adam and Eve.  Taking the idea of a planet devoid of any other human life and leaving it to three children is actually far more frightening because children haven’t lived life yet.  Granted, Rani and Clyde have an edge, but ultimately they are teenagers.  And they are alone until they meet Gavin.

Before all of that, it’s safe to say that the first episode is “where it’s at”; it’s a heck of a build-up.  It starts with a reminder that Rani’s family loves her and Clyde’s mom loves him.  The episode goes out of its way, in just over 5 minutes, to make sure we know they both come from loving homes.  This makes the shock of being alone that much more heartbreaking for Rani and Clyde.  Then they meet Gavin who adds little to the story at this point, but provides Rani a chance to show just how British she really is… “I’ll go and make a cup of tea…”   For an episode that really would be unnerving to the kids, there’s still some of the humor exhibited throughout the series, as Rani and Clyde argue over who gets the cool bike.

Part one ends with a cliffhanger out of classic Doctor Who: Rani and Clyde, independently, are caught by two overgrown Rock’Em, Sock’em robots colored like a ketchup and mustard container (illustrated perfectly when Clyde picks up said containers). It turns out, they just want the sun and air.  It takes Rani a few minutes to piece it together, but the play on words is the clever stuff that we old time fans of Doctor Who grew up on!  They are actually looking for the Son and Heir.  It’s no leap that this has to be the one character we just met and know zero about.  Joining the ranks of Starlord, whose mom met an alien who then runs off and leaves a half-human kid behind, Gavin is to be the leader of another world.  He also wears a ring as a biodamper  (“With this ring, I thee biodamp”… no???)  which is why the robots can’t see him.  Of course, this clue is given to us far too basically as Rani takes his hands and we see the ring.  Why does this idea fail?  Because was he wearing it as a baby?  His fingers would have had to grow into the ring.   (On the flip side, I do credit Gareth Roberts for adding a simple but effective moment to the script.  Rani and Clyde keep using “stupid words” around Gavin and he calls them out on it.  It’s a subtle reminder that what our heroes call “normal” is anything but!)

Overall it’s a warm story with heart and having Rani returned to her dad is an especially fun moment.  Also, I’m not typically a fan of recycled music, but when a piece is good, I can turn a blind… a deaf ear and when Gavin recognizes his own importance, the music from last episode plays again, and Rani and Clyde are reminded how good it is to have people around who love them.  A short while later, they remind Sarah Jane how she is the best thing that ever happened to them.  A happy ending for all.  And that’s what we need in our television viewing these days.  I mean, I’m all for edgy stuff, but we need hope too and The Sarah Jane Adventures delivers again.  I don’t know how true Doctor Who fans could let this series slide.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.  And hell, Clyde gets to kiss Rani… if nothing else, he deserved that triumphant music!  ML

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Unusual Doctor Who Photo #4

Many fans of classic Doctor Who will have seen the photos of John Scott Martin sat inside a Dalek from the first Dalek story, but what about other monster actors taking a break from filming?  From the same, first series of Doctor Who, we present the Sensorites unmasked!


It’s one of a few similar photos taken at the time, but I don’t think you can beat this one for an incongruous sight.  Most recognisable of the monster actors is the chap standing at the back with the glasses, Peter Glaze, who went on to host Crackerjack.  If you’ve seen that Doctor Who spoof they did, his face is the one in the mock up of the Doctor Who time vortex opening credits.  The one in the middle is Bartlett Mullins, and on the right is Eric Francis.   RP

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The Ascended Astrid

Astrid Peth AscendedCompanion Tropes Extra 8

Doctor Who tends to shy away from religion. It’s probably a subject that’s a bit too emotionally charged on a personal level for a family series, and whatever it did would upset somebody. But that’s not to say religion has no part to play in Doctor Who. In fact, it often takes the imagery and themes of religion as a source of inspiration and uses them to weave sci-fi stories. It wouldn’t be too difficult to mount an argument that regeneration is inspired by either reincarnation or resurrection. The Doctor changes not just in body but in personality, so what remains of him each time? There are his memories (although they go cloudy, especially to start with), and the Doctor does say a Time Lord “is the sum of his memories” even more than a human. Other than that, we have to assume some kind of essence of being, such as a soul. Last of the Time Lords is probably our strongest example of the Doctor becoming a Christ-like figure, when he is renewed by the power of faith and adopts a crucifixion pose. And of course Buddhism is enormously important to the Third Doctor era, thanks to the beliefs of Barry Letts.

Most of the time though, when Doctor Who treads on the toes of religion, it is in a far less specific and more new agey way, offering vague ideas of something beyond a mortal existence. A few characters get to ascend to another level of being by one means or another (always couched in pseudo-scientific terms), and this is a remarkably common idea in sci-fi, which is a genre that loves to play with the idea of an afterlife.

To be clear, what we are looking at here is a very different thing to a straightforward acknowledgement of heaven. That very rarely happens in sci-fi, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer a rare and brave exception. Having said that, ascension (i.e. somebody being lifted up to a higher plane of existence), is a feature of many religions, going right back to ancient times. Many of the gods of Greek myth were ascended humans lifted up to live among the gods. Interestingly, that includes Diomedes, a name Steven (almost) adopts in The Myth Makers. But things are not usually specified so clearly in sci-fi. More commonly we get vague ascensions such as Jason Ironheart in Babylon 5, Cordelia in Angel, or Sisko in Deep Space Nine. Key to an ascension in sci-fi tends to be the idea of shedding the mortal body and existing on some other level of pure consciousness, which is Rassilon’s plan for the Time Lords in The End of Time. A similar thing happens to Bill Potts, who becomes some kind of a space-wandering entity. Interestingly it is made clear that she can return if she wants to, and that is often a useful way for writers to leave options open. An ascension is a way to write out a character, but leave the door open for a return in future. They are as good as dead in human terms, so we’re not going to be seeing them travelling in the TARDIS, for example, but it’s not a final end.

Theoretically, that applies to our festive ascension (although Christmas is most definitely not about ascension – quite the opposite, in fact), Astrid Peth. The Doctor cannot restore her to life using the teleport system so he turns her into “stardust” instead. The door is left ajar for a return, yes, but I doubt anyone ever expected a return appearance from Kylie would be on the cards. Instead there is a more valid point to it all.

Astrid is strongly pitched as the Doctor’s new companion. Voyage of the Damned, at least in terms of Astrid, is structured as a companion-introduction episode and fulfils all the usual plot beats we expect from that kind of story. We are led by the hand down the usual path of a new girl joining the Doctor on her travels. And yet this is Kylie’s character, so that’s not going to happen. It was a miracle that enough time was found in her schedule to do one episode, let alone a full series. So we were teased, and then she had to be written out somehow. That’s a tricky thing to do, because if you build up a potential new companion and then have them say no to travelling with the Doctor then you’re into Grace territory, leaving the viewers with basically two interpretations: (a) in the eyes of the companion/reject the Doctor just isn’t exciting enough (this is a very bad message), or (b) the companion/reject is an idiot for saying no (so our time watching her has just been wasted).

What happens with Astrid is a perfect get-out-of-jail-free card. The obvious way to put up a barrier between Doctor and companion/reject is to kill off the potential companion, but that’s not something Doctor Who can do a lot of, because it’s too depressing. On Christmas Day in particular, it would just be cruel to kill off the companion/reject and say that’s that. So an ascension gives us a bittersweet ending instead, one with hope. It might be the end of the story for the Doctor and Astrid, but it’s not quite the end of Astrid’s story.

“You’re not falling, Astrid, you’re flying.”

It’s a nice euphemism for being dead… but not quite. She’s not dead, she’s stardust.   RP

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The Rapture

the raptureFeel the music in your soul, says the CD case for Sylvester McCoy’s next adventure.  Issue 36 of Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who sees … or rather, hears… the 7th Doctor and Ace on the island of Ibiza in 1997.  Like the novel line of The New Adventures before them, Big Finish is able to do things with the series that could never have been done on television.  With its apparent demise on television, the series was now being made by the adults who loved the show as kids.  Like themselves, they felt the show was maturing and had “outgrown” television and that meant they could do more things with it in audio.  In some ways, that’s great; in others, not so much.  The idea of being more mature and growing up is a slippery slope when the writers don’t really understand what that means.

Growing up is an interesting thing.  When you’re young, you think being cool and mature is the way to be, but when you get older, you realize peoples values have degraded and you long for the days when people did put value into things.  I’m not knocking Big Finish.  I applaud them for experimenting and I applaud the fans for being open to it.  While I am glad for the experimentation, that does lead to some inevitable criticism.  But I have to say, for an episode that focuses on sex, drugs, and partying, Big Finish at least had the right idea: have Ace go through her own coming of age story.  We’ve only had bits and pieces of this in the television show, but after the death of Feldwebel Kurtz in Colditz, Ace is dealing with a lot and is ready to give up her “cool”, youthful moniker and go by the more mature McShane (because Dorothy wouldn’t be edgy enough… and in fairness, she’s right).  But here’s where a coming of age story may not work.  While the fans who were making these stories were the kids of yesterday who loved Doctor Who on television, I am fairly certain at this point, none of them had children who were knocking at the TARDIS door asking to be let in.  I say this without investigating but I say it because I have children who got into Doctor Who and I don’t know how I’d feel about them listening to this story.  (Well, now they are old enough, but when they were younger…)

I don’t need the F-word to show how mature I am.  I don’t need to take drugs to be cool.  I don’t need to say I’m going to kick someone’s ass, or call someone a bitch, nor do I have to say I’m going somewhere to “get laid” or “do a DJ.”  That doesn’t stop writer Joseph Lidster from adding those things to his “mature” script for the Doctor’s visit to Ibiza.  What does it add?  A sense of edginess, maybe, but it limits the audience.  Yes, I like hardcore science fiction, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that Doctor Who is not, and is never likely to be, that.  Doctor Who is hopeful Sci-fi-Fantasy; it’s a fairy tale.  Yes, if you’re going for edgy, at least McCoy and Aldred do it well, and I really liked the overall nature of this story but I didn’t need someone writing a script to effectively shout out, “hey, I’m an adult, I can talk about sex, and curse, and take drugs!”  Drugs and casual sex does not prove maturity and the idea of that being the Doctor’s remedy for his companion does make me question the Doctor’s wisdom.

Right, so on that note, the gist of the story is that the Doctor wants to take Ace… I mean McShane… to an island to party a bit and get the death of Feldwebel Kurtz off her mind.  They encounter a club run by “angels” who intend to hypnotize the populace into fighting a war on a far away world.  In the grand scheme of Doctor Who stories, this is a bump in the road.  What it does do well is explores the nature of brothers and sisters.  That was well played, reminding Jude and Gabriel why they were together and what they meant to each other as brothers, and later driving that same point home for McShane with her newfound brother Liam.  If you’re going to go edgy, investigate family dynamics!

That’s not to say the story gets it all wrong!  Viewed on its own merits, it’s a good story!  The brains at Big Finish do some really great things.  The theme music is different in every epsiode and, while dance music isn’t my thing, I found myself really enjoying it while driving, actually wishing for more.  Possibly my favorite cliffhanger has a radio host saying “well, that’s all we have time for…” as the dance version begins and I found myself bopping with glee as I drove into my office.  Exploring the aforementioned dynamic between brothers and sisters was heartfelt as Jude could not imagine his life without his brother, any more than could I without my sister.  Then there’s the nature of addiction, not just explored through drugs (with Anne Bird playing to perfection as Caitriona Henderson), but also the codependent addiction shown between Liam and Caitriona.  Showing her manic/depressive (bipolar) personality as something Liam has a need to “fix” or help, just shows he is unwilling to face his own demons.  This is some advanced storytelling; it’s meaningful.  It’s a shame it was hampered by some unnecessary “maturity!”  Truama is also addressed when the Doctor explains to McShane why Kurtz’s death was so damaging: it happened in the safe haven of the TARDIS.  The whole adventure is a veritable cornucopia of good ideas!  (And good music!)

There’s also some fun to be had with McShane mentioning “killer seaweed” to which the Doctor becomes surprised, misunderstanding her colloquialism for the real deal which he encountered in Fury from the Deep.  I also couldn’t help laugh at a murder to which the killer quickly say “God rest your soul”, as if saying that exonerated him of the evil deed!   Most of the cliffhangers are mediocre featuring the standard “ACE!” as the Doctor yells into the theme tune, but the story made up for that.  (The cliffhangers are really there to break up the listening, so I can accept if the cliffhangers are mediocre if the overall story is strong!)

I’ll give it this: this story was miles ahead of its time and far better than I remembered.  Listening with the intent of talking about them does give one greater clarity when listening.  I’ll be interested to hear how Ace develops in the future.  Will McShane be back for more, or will she revert and throw away the development we’ve seen here.  As the Doctor and Ace know all too well, only time will tell.  But the times, they are a’changin.  ML

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Sound! Euphonium

Kumiko Sound EuphoniumThe premise of Sound! Euphonium is just the sort of slice-of-life story that might baffle those who are not familiar with the world of anime. In the Western world in particular, we are used to our tidy little genres that everything fits into, whether that be drama, sci-fi, crime, soap, or whatever. What we don’t really get is slice-of-life. As they go, this is one of the more accessible ones. Unlike, say, K-on! where basically nothing much ever happens, there is a progression here, and plenty of dramatic plot beats.

Our point of view character is Kumiko Oumae, a first year student at Kitauji High School who decides to join the Concert Band Club, and makes some new friends there. It quickly becomes apparent that there is some bad blood between the second and third years, with a whole bunch of students having left the club under a cloud, the first of several gentle mysteries the series explores. The school has had little recent success in band tournaments, but a new teacher/mentor/conductor for the club has been appointed, and he has ambitions. He has personal reasons for that, which is another mystery to be solved. By a combination of his drive and influence and the students’ hard work and dedication, the impossible starts to become possible for them.

The first series focusses on the lead up to a qualifying tournament, while the second takes us through a higher tier of qualifying before peaking with the national championships, with a one-episode coda at the end. All sorts of issues are explored along the way. Some of them are the usual suspects: love triangles, family issues, that sort of thing, but there is also a very strong focus on the importance of friendship. The band can only really achieve success when everyone is working together and supporting each other, so this is a story of how vital a support network can be in life. Individual brilliance will only get them so far. Jealousies have to be set aside for the greater good of the band, such as who gets to play the solo parts. It has been traditional for the third years to do that, but the new teacher is immediately keen to shake that up and prioritise talent over seniority. In a country that focusses so strongly on respect for elders, that makes for an awkward vibe.

There are so many great characters in this series, and the characterisation is so strong that we get to know many members of the band very well over the course of the two seasons, despite them being only 13 episodes a piece (just over 20 minutes an episode, apart from the double-length opener to the second season). The cast is overwhelmingly female (well, this is an anime), and there is a strong sense of attraction between a few of them bubbling under the surface, which can be frustrating to watch as it never goes anywhere. Kumiko’s best friend (eventually) is a fascinating character named Reina, a melancholy girl who is incredibly gifted at the trumpet (her back story is examined in the second series and it’s brilliant). They are clearly drawn to each other in a way that comes across as more than just a friendship, and in one powerful scene they come very close to confessing their love to each other in an intimate and romantic moment at a beautiful viewpoint, on the night of a festival. And yet it all leads to nothing, with Reina instead going after the teacher (which also leads to nothing). I’m not keen on these things being thrown in to provide moments of drama if they then get ignored later on. I love a soppy romance, but this series just keeps teasing them without ever following through. It’s a common problem in anime, as if everyone’s afraid to break the status quo when they’ve come up with a good premise. A series that moves forward such as Clannad is a rarity. Sound! Euphonium, at least from the point of view of romances, goes nowhere. But that’s the only area where it doesn’t progress. In all other respects it’s fabulous with the characterisation.

It also has an amazing standard of animation. This is Kyoto Animation, after all, but they’ve outdone themselves with this one. They seem to have found a way to make the characters almost take on a three-dimensional appearance while retaining a traditional animation style, just by careful shading of the cheeks below the eyes, and the characters in profile look amazing. The backgrounds are as gorgeous as you would expect from this studio, utterly enchanting. As an added bonus, due to the nature of the series, there’s some great music. My personal favourite is the concert band version of The Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Rydeen (from 1979), which is accompanied by a fun bit of animation of some of the band members dancing.

The two seasons of Sound! Euphonium are far from being the end of the story. By the end of the second series the first year is complete and the third years are leaving. There are two films, Liz and the Blue Bird, which takes place before the end of the second series (and I will be writing about that next week), and Sound! Euphonium The Movie, which only premiered in Japan earlier this year and I am yet to watch. A third series has been announced, so I’m delighted to see that this is clearly a popular franchise doing well. Kyoto Animation deserve every success for this, which really represents in my opinion the pinnacle of their animation skills. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, even if the answer to that question, in line with the slice-of-life genre, is not very much at all.   RP

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Christmas Lost

“The Christmas Tree” by Albert Chevallier Tayler, 1911.

Looking back through some old Bioscope magazines, covering the early days of cinema, there are plenty of references to films that were made to pull in the punters at Christmas.  The following quote is from the 5th November 1914 issue:

In anticipation of the Christmas season, Messrs. the Eclair Film Company, has prepared a film novelty that will be a surprise and a delight, not only to children, who should simply revel in it, but to children of a larger growth. It is entitled “Willy and the Nurse,” the nurse being a fairy godmother, who translates Willy into fairy realms, and contains many delightful experiences.

Now, when I read things like this, what I want to do next is take a look at the film, but of course the usual internet channels turn up nothing.  Not only that, but I can find no mention of the film anywhere on the internet at all.  One wonders what became of it, but presumably it no longer exists.  A Christmas film mentioned in the 23rd November 1911 issue of Bioscope at least has a BFI entry, but that’s all.  Here’s what Bioscope had to say about “The Little Princess’s Christmas Gift”:

A most beautiful and pathetic Christmas legend, reverently portrayed amid gorgeous setting. King Othberg on his dying bed confides the care of his two little children—Prince and Princess Othberg—to his brother, Count Otto. The baby prince is to be presented to his people on Christmas night, and proclaimed successor to the throne. Gaunt Otto plans to poison the Prince, proceeds to the castle, and administers the poison to the sleeping Prince. The little Prince is found dead in the morning, and the royal mother and regal retainers are plunged into grief. Outside the grim walls, amidst the falling snow, the people are gathered, and the heralds wait to proclaim the Prince. They learn the awful news and disperse in sad silence. The next scene is in the Royal Catacombs, wherein the Prince is buried. Count Otto visits it, and gazes with mad horror. The scene again, changes, we see the infant Princess, a child of four, beside her bed praying – “Dear God, will you give me back my little brother as a Christmas gift?” She arises, and suddenly there appears a vision of an answering angel, who takes the Princess by the hand and leads her to the tomb.  Whilst looking at the Sepulchre, the figure of the Redeemer appears, the stone slab rises, and discloses the infant Prince alive.  The angel takes the child in her arms, and returns with the Princess to the great hall, where Count Otto is to be heralded successor to the throne.  To the Count’s amazement and chagrin, the infant Prince is produced, and is proclaimed King, amidst the rejoicing of the people.

Well, they clearly weren’t bothered about spoilers in those days.  And they don’t matter any more, because this film presumably no longer exists, along with so much of our cinema and television history.  One wonders how much of our current creative output will survive the next one hundred years, or even further into the future than that.  Today is 1st December, and for many that feels like the beginning of the festive season.  I’ll be raising a glass to the creative minds of Christmasses long past, whose work has blown away with the icy winds of a hundred Christmasses.   RP

You can find many more posts about Christmas past on my history blog: Windows into History: Christmas Articles.

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