The Flanderized Brigadier

A UNIT soldier holds his nose after a rare moment of public flatulence from the Brigadier.

Companion Tropes 40

I’m not a huge fan of The Simpsons, but I could probably have a good stab at naming most of the characters and listing their defining traits. When it comes to Homer’s neighbour Ned Flanders, I would probably mention his obsession with his faith, and that’s about all I could say about him. This is because he is somebody who started off with a more rounded character, but was gradually distilled down to just one character trait. This process is therefore known as Flanderization, when a character trait becomes the character.

The most common place to find this happening is in comedy, where realistic characterisation always has to play second fiddle to making the viewers laugh. To take my favourite comedy, Friends, all six main characters get Flanderized over time. As a general rule this works well, but the exception is probably Ross, whose obsessions, neuroses and extreme reactions to the constant disasters in his life reach the point where eventually he almost comes across as mentally ill.

The process is not confined to comedy, however, and there are actually plenty of examples in Doctor Who. This applies to Doctors, companions and monsters, so the Fourth Doctor becomes increasingly silly, Tegan becomes a big mouth on legs, and the Cybermen go from having an aversion to gold (but being able to walk around a whole planet made of it) to being killed by a coin being flicked in their direction. In particular, returning characters tend to be distilled down to one defining quality. Sarah Jane’s journalism is quickly forgotten during her original time with the Doctor (while she ages backwards), but when she returns in both K9 and Company and School Reunion it’s her raison d’être. The First Doctor’s irascibility fades away very quickly during his original run and he is more typically a giggling thrill-seeker (especially when he’s with Vicki), but every time he comes back in a multi-Doctor special he’s a grump, and his appearance in Twice Upon a Time is far more reflective of what people think the 1960s was like than actual 1960s Doctor Who, complete with casual sexism. But one of the most Flanderized characters in Doctor Who, and also one of the few where the process was reversed, is the Brigadier.

We have to be careful here not to fall into the trap of looking at what people think happened rather than what actually happened, a common problem with Doctor Who (e.g. “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”, which the Third Doctor almost never actually said).  It would be all too easy to overstate this, but it is fair to say that the character of the Brigadier was simplified and distilled down to some relatively negative traits over time, to a significant extent. He started off as a competent military man, and was clearly capable enough and open-minded enough to be placed in charge of UNIT. Spearhead from Space illustrates that well:

BRIGADIER: We deal with the odd, the unexplained, anything on Earth, or even beyond.
LIZ: Alien invaders? Little blue men with three heads?

Liz is the newcomer, and sceptic, whereas the Brigadier is the man who believes in little green… er, little blue men, apparently. But by the time of The Three Doctors he has turned into the sceptic:

BENTON: It’s not just a matter of the same country, sir. If the Doctor’s right, we’re not even in the same universe.
BRIGADIER: What? Oh, nonsense, Benton. I tell you that’s a beach out there. It’s probably Norfolk or somewhere like that.
DOCTOR: Oh, please, if you’d only listen to me.
BRIGADIER: Right, now I’ll tell you what we’ll do. You two stay here. See that nobody wanders in. We can’t have the place overrun with holiday makers. I’ll nip out, find a phone and tell the authorities exactly where we are. I’m fairly sure that’s Cromer. Back in a jiff.

This turns him into a fool, refusing to believe the evidence of his eyes and disregarding his knowledge about the Doctor’s travels. Similarly, he becomes a man who is generally incapable of dealing with any problem without the Doctor’s help. I know that’s the nature of the series, but it gets emphasised to the point where he’s pretty useless, whereas in his early appearances he is much more capable of acting on his own initiative, whether that be wiping out the Silurians or rescuing the Doctor:

“Thank you, Brigadier. But do you think that for once in your life you could manage to arrive before the nick of time?”

In the end, the lure of the clichéd military buffoon character is just something the writers cannot ignore. It’s the easy and obvious thing to do with the Brigadier, and it’s lazy writing. But I mentioned that the Flanderization process gets reversed, and this happens when the Brigadier makes his return appearances. This is unusual, because it is the opposite to what normally happens. Return appearances tend to be a mess of half-remembered characteristics (as per the First Doctor), but something very different happens with the Brigadier. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, there is no point bringing back the Brigadier in his Season 10 military buffoon persona. If you want a military buffoon in your script then it’s more useful to write a new one who can better perform their usual plot function of being a thorn in the side of the hero (just about every Admiral in Star Trek is one of these). Secondly, nostalgia comes into play. When the Brigadier comes back, particularly in Battlefield, it is a triumphant return, and he is seen to a certain extent through rose-tinted spectacles and redefined as a stalwart hero, a far cry from the man who travelled into the universe of antimatter and insisted he was in Cromer. It’s just a shame he ended up as a reanimated corpse, but life (and death) doesn’t always go according to plan in the world of Doctor Who. Let’s just hope he found his Cromer in the end.   RP

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The Maltese Penguin

MalteseStory 33½ … yeah, it’s a real thing.  Big Finish released a bonus disk: The Maltese Penguin for those who subscribed to the monthy range, which I had for a long while, until it became a bit too costly.  I think I’ll be going back to it soon though.  But this story is a welcome break after the tension that was McGann’s last tour de force with Neverland.  This story is a bit more comedic featuring Robert Jezek, reprising his role as Frobisher, the shape changing companion of the Doctor.

Now, for The Holy Terror, I confess Frobisher’s voice bothered me.  I guess I got used to it, because Jezek does a great job capturing the feeling of a 1930’s NY private eye.  Well, I say he did; that doesn’t make it right.  I wasn’t alive back then, contrary to what some of my coworkers think.  But then I need to give credit to Big Finish too, who did a great job capturing the film noir style music.  Everything about this episode feels like it was filmed in the 1930’s which is damned impressive.  Colin Baker stops by basically begging Frobisher to travel with him, which is perhaps the only downside to the story; it seems very un-Doctor-ly.  But, as the story is told largely from Frobisher’s perspective, that  could just be the way he interprets events.  Which is to say, not accurately.

Then we get the main villain, Josiah W. Dogbolter.  I would collect the Doctor Who magazine when I was younger and I imagine I had read one or two of the comics, because I remembered this guy perfectly.  That could have a lot to do with the fact that I also grew up on a cartoon called Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.  They had a main baddy they were always fighting too: The Frog, who spoke with a cigar in his mouth, see?  Now, Dogbolter is a bit more posh; he’s British after all, but he’s still the same character, as far as I can tell.  Probably cousins.  Oh and he wears a regular necktie, not a bow tie.  Taste, you know!

There’s a tremenous amount of fun to be had with this short journey; it’s just over an hour long.  Colin Baker plays the role of Frobisher as the Doctor which adds an extra sense of fun.  Hearing Baker pretending to be a 1930’s detective in the guise of the Doctor is hilarious.  Especially when some things come out sounding horrendous!  Someone at Big Finish was having a laugh at NY, I think.  It’s ok.  I’m from there and I make fun of the sound, so I’d expect nothing less.

Considering this is written by Rob Shearman, who brought us Dalek during Chris Eccleston’s run as the Doctor, you can expect quality.  It’s not a typical story, it is short, but it’s funny and has a happy ending for Frobisher too.  Though I still have a hard time understanding how taking the form of a penguin is, in any way, sensible!  How can he hold anything?  Oh, just go with it… it’s too much fun not to.  ML

PS: here’s a look at the character I grew up with, alongside the one from the Doctor’s universe.  Can you tell them apart?  (Well, of course you can, the picture of Dogbolter is at the top of this page, but that’s missing the point, see?!)

the two frogs

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Love, Election and Chocolate

lonely-michiruDo I like anime about love? Why yes, I do as a matter of fact. I love a soppy romance. Do I like chocolate? Of course. Do I like politics? Oh. Well, two out of three isn’t bad. If those three elements sound like rather random choices, don’t worry, because they actually fit together very well.

Yuki Ojima is a member of the Food Research Club at one of those posh schools that parents have to pay for kids to attend. The members of the club do little other than sit around eating sweets. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, but a school president election is coming up and the frontrunner, Satsuki Shinonome, is running on a pledge to disband clubs like this, which don’t have much of a purpose. The club members are naturally horrified, and come up with a potential solution to the problem: Ojima will stand for election himself.

That’s not quite as easy as it sounds, because the school is basically controlled by different student factions, and as an outsider Ojima stands little chance. He will need the support of somebody powerful, but what moral sacrifices will be have to make to achieve that? As much as I didn’t expect to enjoy the political side of this anime (and I do find the whole school being run by the students thing quite ridiculous) it is actually extremely well written, with a more sinister mystery running through the series, linked to all the election campaigning. In fact, we start the first episode with the sight of a student being deliberately run over by a car because she has found out some dangerous information, so this is not the light and fluffy series it might appear to be.

And yet this is still functionally one of those harem anime series where everyone inexplicably falls in love with the fairly unremarkable protagonist, which seems like a bit of an odd fit with the more serious political manoeuvring and student in a coma. To be fair to the writers, Ojima is a reasonable catch for the girls, with a strong sense of morality and the ability to bake them their favourite confectionery, but the scale of everyone’s romantic attraction to him is a little silly. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the other characters, to illustrate my point:

  • Chisato Sumiyoshi, Ojima’s childhood friend. In love with him.
  • Mifuyu Kiba, in love with Ojima, but holds herself back for the sake of Chisato.
  • Isara Aomi, bullied scholarship student who Ojima tries to protect. In love with him.
  • Michiru Morishita, very quiet girl who seems to behave oddly like a cat. In love with Ojima.
  • Satsuki Shinonome, Ojima’s main rival. In love with him.
  • Hazuki Shinonome, her older sister, and a teacher. In love with Ojima.
  • Oboro Yumeshima, the token gay character. In love with Ojima.

To be fair I’ve been a bit selective here. There are also characters who are not defined by their attraction to Ojima, such as a very funny inventor girl, and I’ve also exaggerated slightly. Some of those “in love with”s are really not much more than “is attracted to”. I was also pleased to see that Ojima does end up with one of the girls, and the one that makes the most sense too, after the girl in question is able to come to terms with a tragic aspect of her past. This is not one of those frustrating harem animes that doesn’t resolve anything.

The love interests for Ojima are a mixed bag. At the more valuable end of the scale in dramatic terms we have bullying victim Isara Aomi, whose story raises issues about discrimination against the scholarship students whose parents are not rich enough to fund their education, and Michiru Morishita, who is feeling lost without her only true friend and cannot find her. On the other hand, there’s the alcoholic teacher who pursues Ojima. She’s only 23 but it’s still uncomfortable to watch, although the exploration of her broken relationship with her sister is a compelling storyline. Worst of all is Oboro Yumeshima, who is the laziest kind of token gay character, who gets nothing at all in the way of characterisation other than his constant innuendo and perving over Ojima.

Love, Election and Chocolate has its origins in one of those romance computer games that are so popular in Japan, and thats all too evident in its harem anime leanings, although some truly great anime have come out of that genre (e.g. Clannad) so it’s not a barrier to greatness. This doesn’t quite hit the heights, but at 12 episodes and a very disposable OVA it’s not a huge commitment and it is also nicely self-contained, with the “love” and “election” aspects both resolved by the end of the series. As for the chocolate, this is a selection box of a series. You might not enjoy everything it has to offer but if you’ve got a soft centre like me you’ll appreciate the romance.   RP

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Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (8)

Episode 8: Prophets Don’t Know Everything


As the series approaches its climax, a lot is happening.  Aughra opens the episode with a lot of wisdom; I am beginning to realize how wise this old woman is!  She speaks of the benefits of scars: “mind forgets, scars remember!”  Remember that, next time we get upset over a scar!   She also speaks to vanity: “some dress to reveal their body, others to reveal their nature!”  And she speaks of wisdom, “most never see beyond their own rage!”  Nothing beats a good parable … except for a well stated line.  (It’s easier to retell!)  Aughra’s wisdom is profound.  We realize just how critical she is to the world of Thra, and like she says to the Archer, we had better hope she goes “on and on”.   Especially as she references the Seed of Hope that is carried by the heroes of Thra.

To counter Aughra’s wisdom, we have poor Seladon.  Seladon can’t see the truth even as the Skeksis strip her of her robes, her crown, and her dignity and even go so far as to admit they are draining her kind.  She tries to side with them, even accepting that she will give up 7 Gelfling from each clan, but they disregard her.  They have become greedy, gluttonous creatures that have no care in the world for what they are doing.  Unlike the devious Chamberlain who understands they cannot sustain themselves on their current course, they just move full speed ahead with their plan to drain the planet for their own sake.  They are, as I suspected, the 7 Deadly Sins personified, and a suitable allegory for the real world in which we find ourselves.  As the Emperor calls her, Seladon is now “ruler of the dead”, and she is taken away to be drained.  When she sees Brea, one of her sisters in captivity, she actually still blames Brea for all that the Skeksis have done.  As misguided as she is, I could not help but feel for Seladon, for she knows not what she does.  As Aughra said, she cannot see past her own rage.

SkekMal, the hunter, returns in this episode (hence Brea’s captivity) but is mortally wounded.  Again, the Skeksis Emperor orders as much Essence as needed to heal the Hunter.  “Bathe him in Essence…!”  Again, they are single minded and cannot understand the damage they are doing to the world around them; they think only of themselves.

Then we have The Ascendency, the spider-like hive minded race that have taken over Deet’s land.  Deet and Rian are captured by them, but Deet’s baby brother (ah, brothers and sisters!) seems to save them, then helps them forge an alliance between Ascendancy and Gelfling.  Here again, we have allusions to the nature of Thra.  The Ascendency, when attacked, state, “what one feels, all feel.”  This ties in with what is going on between Skeksis and Mystic.  There’s an interconnectedness that would make Dirk Gently blush.  “All signs and portents come together!”

There are so many interesting lines in this episode.  “Who decides who lives and who dies?” which might be important if the Gelfling don’t feel they have the right to make that decision.  The problem is that if they sit back and do nothing, they might not survive what’s to come.   Or there’s the shadow of things to come with “the age of the Gelfling has come to an end!”  Considering this is a Netflix show, we know the good guys have to win, right?  But how does that work with what we know from the movie where the Gelfling are all but wiped out?

And yet, with all that, it was Aughra’s line that confused me considering it’s the title of the previous episode: “It’s time to make my move”, she says.  Why is that here, and not in the previous episode?

Finally, the episode has a tour de force ending.  Rian is planning on going to battle the Skeksis alone, allowing Deet to return to her family.  “You’re not alone anymore,” she says.  This is another theme we’ve seen since the very start of the series, back 2000 years in the future.  Or 38 years in the past.  Whatever!  Deet absorbs the power of the dying Sanctuary Tree and sees the future.  She sees Jen, the hero of the movie, 2000 years in the future.  For this long-time fan, I got chills.  But we also saw Deet looking distinctly unwell.  What this newfound power has to offer Deet we must wait to find out.  And I’m probably going to be watching the last two episodes back to back!  ML

The View from my Rainbow Connection

What a sad beginning seeing all of Stonewood empty.

A quick pick me up when we see Mother Aughra save the threader (mini spitter) who she threw when it tried to steal her mind. She says while healing it, “the minds forgets, scars remember.” As a mother myself, I couldn’t help but think about my two c-sections. It’s so true how our minds forget pain in many circumstances. When I look at my scar from my c-section I remember what my body went through to have my children. I am even more thankful and in awe of the human body.

Back to stupid Seladon.  She actually thinks she will negotiate peace with the Skeksis.

Aughra slips her eye in to Seladon ‘s clothes to “keep an eye on her.” Puns are fun.

Chamberlain convinces the Gruenaks to replace The General’s essence with water and milk in return for their freedom. How about that? The scene went from Seladon to Chamberlain. They are mirrors of each other with their dark hearts.

We’re back at the circle of the Sun’s. Rian must retrieve the Glaive before saving Brea while Hup and The Archer stay behind to heal. Deet and Rian go to The Breath of Thra which is a tunnel where the air from Thra all runs together. Air surging like blood through veins throughout Thra. I almost cried here, thinking of how true this is on Earth. All being, no matter race or religion are touched by the same air. Those who have moved far from us, people we wish we could see, are all touching because the air around us touches our bodies. We are all one.

Back at the castle of the Crystal we see the Stonewood paladins Threaders release mind control right before they are drained of essence. Even the “loyal paladin” jerk.

Deet and Rian are soaring back to her homeland through tunnels on the Breath of Thra. (I’m signing “a whole new world” from Aladdin) Oh nuts! Spitters and threaders have taken over Deets land.

Remember Chamberlain’s idea of switching The General’s vial of essence? Well the other Skeksis are all bragging about the benefits of their drink besides General. He knows something is up but just not what yet.

This is the part we have all been waiting for. The new All Maudra Seladon pleads for mercy of Stonewood and the Skeksis say no. She asks for the other clans to receive mercy but is told no and laughed at. Skeksis reveal that they do drain gelfling now. She, like a moron, offers 7 Gelfling of each clan which is also turned down. Finally she tries to negotiate safety to just her sisters…they steal her crown and laugh at her as “ruler of the dead”. You’d think now she would be enlightened to her mistakes. Right?

Back to my girl Deet. Deets family home is destroyed and her family missing. Bobb’n, her little brother under mind control of the threaders, alerts the others by making a call of sorts. As the Spitters close in to kill Deet and Rian, a Nurlock unwittingly saves them by making lunch of the Spitter. Phew. That was close. Oh wait. No luck- Rian is bitten while escaping through tunnels and almost forced Deet to be bitten until cute little Bobb’n saves them by calling the threaders off.

Oh great. Back at the castle of the Crystal the hunter returns with Brea. Scientist checks on The Hunter who is injured and dying. The other Skeksis start to assume gelfling did this and becomes a bit afraid. The Emperor wants to give all essence to save The Hunter because he wants to feel as though the Skeksis are above death. Behind them in another room, we see Seladon in one cage and Brea in the other. Seladon still cannot see how wrong she is. She was willing to try to save many by sacrificing a few. Who made her God?? As a real kick in the gut we see Tavra is alive still but being mind controlled and doesn’t even recognize her own sisters.

Mother Aughra’s eye watches, like I imagine God/the universe/Mother Earth is always watching us to protect us. We too make our own decisions but need to always hear what our world is telling us.

Thank the good Lord that Deet is such a pure sole because of her mercy and Ariana’s courage while saving little brother Bonn’s from the nurlocks earlier is now a favor being returned. The Arathim explain they once lived in Groton caves and were promised the caves back if they fought against Gelfling.  Rian realizes the Skeksis tricked the Arathim since they are being killed by nurlocks and the darkening within these very caves. He explains this and the Arathim probe smarter than Seladon and join forces with Rian and Deet. I am sure my brother loved the nod to Doctor Who’s Daleks when the Arathim said “Exterminated” almost in the same tone as “exterminate.”

Arathim and gelfling will fight together now that the Ascendancy heard the truth.

Ironic that when this story began, it was Rian hunting a Spitter, yet now they are allies.

Wait- Deet has two fathers? Look at how hip and relevant this show is.

Ok so we are back to our Mini threader pal who tells Mother Aughra that the creatures are all in alliance with gelfling. (What one Spitter/Threader feels, all feel so I guess what one knows, all know.)

Back at the sanctuary tree, our two heroes discuss their next move. Rian must go alone to find the Glaive. Deet almost says she loves Rian before all hell breaks loose and the beautiful sanctuary tree is attacked and eaten from below by the Nurlocks. Before seeming to die, the Sanctuary tree tells Deet she must move the darkening. The sanctuary tree becomes one with the Deet to give its power over to her whether that be a blessing or curse. Deet drains the darkening from an infected Nurloc that tries to eat her and Rian by absorbing it’s darkening. If anything happens to Deet, I’m gonna lose my mind.

We end with Rian carrying Deet after she passes out and him telling her “don’t let go” which he means literally but I know in my heart he means in all ways. They love each other. I knew it from the beginning.

I am so smart.  DG


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The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya V

screenshot003The view from 5930 miles away:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if the cat could talk.”

Indeed it would, and it’s a lot of fun, although this episode is something of an anti-climax after the big dramatic moments last week, finally addressing Haruhi’s behaviour towards Mikuru. There is some evidence that she has learnt from what happened. Not only is this episode devoid of any Mikuru-abuse, but Haruhi also takes the trouble to praise her team’s efforts, rather than just taking everyone for granted:

“The footage looks great and everyone’s doing an awesome job.”

Before the events of the last episode, these would have been wasted words for Haruhi, and she would have been more like to say “I’m doing an awesome job”, so this is a subtle but significant shift in her attitude. Her faith in Kyon is unwavering, though:

“You can make the deadline if you work through the night.”

Somehow the world always seems to align so that Kyon doesn’t let Haruhi down when it matters. It’s no wonder she has so much faith in his abilities, but who actually puts the visual effects into the movie? The obvious answer is Nagato, but then again that is rather an active role for somebody who tends to be passive unless she’s saving her beloved (join the dots!) Kyon’s life. His alternative theory doesn’t bear thinking about, as Kyon himself points out.

“It could be someone who hasn’t shown up yet.”

Considering who was the only back-up for Nagato we’ve seen so far, that’s a scary thought. Other than that, the episode offers little in the way of excitement to bring the arc to a conclusion. Kyon’s solution to the problem of Haruhi blurring fact and fiction is a bit limp. We get some more cool world-changing stuff such as Mikuru’s contact lens shooting knives, but these moments are fleeting and wasted. Even the animation is occasionally sub-par this week, with some shadowing in a scene with Koizumi and Kyon that makes them look like they have moustaches.  On the other hand, we get this:

Kyon Stars

The main thrust of the episode seems to be to seed doubts about the honesty of Koizumi and Mikuru. There’s some good dialogue, but ultimately it all tells us nothing we didn’t already know, and the debate about whether Haruhi is a god or not is little more than semantics. Having said that, it does have an impact to hear the timid Mikuru saying things like “you shouldn’t believe what he says”, and it’s also interesting to see Tsuruya lurking in the background of that scene. There is clearly more to her than meets the eye.

We also get some medieval fantasy characters popping up, who appear to be something more than just students. There is a fan theory that they are sliders, which makes sense within the context of the episode, but I don’t think it works entirely. If you think back to Kyon’s meeting with Haruhi when he travelled back in time three years, he expressed the opinion that time travellers, espers and aliens all exist, which is probably the affirmation Haruhi needed to subconsciously call them into existence, but he expressed doubt about sliders, which is presumably why she doesn’t have one of those in her group of friends. It seems odd for them to pop up now, so I think it makes more sense that they are simply creations of Haruhi’s mind, the same as the pigeons and the Mikuru beam, and as soon as the filming wraps those things pop out of existence again. Shamisen (named after a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) becomes just a normal cat again (or does he?). At least we know why Kyon’s sister is holding a cat in the title sequence, at long last!

There is a coda to this episode, and its cleverness is perhaps a little too subtle for the casual viewer who is not immersed in the wider world of the Haruhi manga or light novels. Thinking back to when Haruhi first assigned roles to her team, Kyon was worried that the similarity between Koizumi, Nagato and Mikuru’s characters to their real identities was his fault. Here we get the reason for that, the conversation he was referring to, which actually takes place chronologically just after the end of the Melancholy arc, and was mentioned there as well. We finally get to see that conversation, and it shows Haruhi’s rational side after weeks of showing us her largely subconscious irrationality. It’s also very funny:

“Don’t mess with me!”

One final point to mention: without going into specific details, Koizumi tells Kyon that there is a lot going on behind the scenes of his agency. To find out more about that you will need to read the manga series, and even then the story is unfinished, with a huge amount of untapped potential. As always, the story of Haruhi remains frustratingly incomplete. RP

The view from 6,868 miles away:

Sigh.. of relief!  After my revelation in the last episode, I went into #5 with renewed confidence.  Like Haruhi herself, I felt like the series was back on track.  Talking cats, white pigeons, … no, extinct pigeons… medieval warriors walking through the school… oh, there are still mysteries to be solved.  Yes, the show is back and no child exploitation.  Thank heavens!

Picking up from where last week left off, thus once again telling me that these are all one long story, a lot happens. First of all, I love that Itsuki is more concerned with the type of cat Shamisen is, rather than the fact that he can talk.  Is the Japanese Bobtail really that strange?  Of course it is… I also think from a strictly ontological perspective, the dialogue Yuki, Miss Asahina, and Itsuki individually have with Kyon is fascinating.  There is no guarantee of truth.  This is both alarming and practical.  This puts Kyon in the unenviable position of not knowing who he can trust.  And these are his friends.  Of course, we might finally be at a point that he questions Ms. Asahina!

I also found some interesting things in those conversations.  When Ms. Asahina is talking to Kyon, there is a dark shape in the background that looks like Ms. Fang herself, Tsuruya.  Why was she there and what, if anything, did she learn.  Obviously, there was no need to put her there unless it means something later.  I am waiting to find out what!  During Itsuki’s conversation with Kyon, he talks about creating a different reality when a glass is put down “in front of the camera” altering the view of their world.  Again, it’s there, so one must assume it means something.  Haruhi also says something alarming, “or someone who hasn’t shown up yet”.  This one line actually stood out to me more than any other.  Thanks for taking lessons from Kosh, Haruhi.  A cryptic thing like that, and now I wonder.  The most obvious from the clues so far would be Tsuruya.  Unless it’s a red herring?

The end of the episode has Haruhi working with Kyon through the night to get the final special effects squared away.  Comically, Kyon falls asleep and awakes with the keyboard print on his face, but the video is done, complete with special effects of unknown origin.  Kyon and Haruhi meet at the café to discuss things before we see the final product.  Here, Kyon tells Haruhi the truth about everyone: the alien, the time traveler, and the esper.  Haruhi successfully identifies each… and then yells at Kyon for thinking she’s stupid enough to believe it all.  Fascinating.  Maybe it’s a calcium deficiency, but I haven’t figured her out yet.  The mystery will continue when I get to see the final product of their movie!   ML

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Babylon 5: There all the Honor Lies

b5I have to take a moment to breath when I see that we’re watrching yet another non-JMS episode.  This is one of Peter David’s episodes.  He wrote Soul Mates earlier this season.    That was far from my favorite episode.  What did this one do for the arc?  Did it help it or not?  I’ll give it this: whether you like Kosh or not, he does help us attain “one moment of perfect beauty”.  This scene alone has sent chills down my spine each and every time I view it.  The “moment” is nearly 4 minutes long, and consists of little more than Gregorian chanting, but it’s beautifully done and something I have loved since the first time I saw it.  If we use our brains a bit, it’s not a very sensible scene though.  Who are these hermits?  Are they people who left Down Below to live in Down In The Tightly Cramped Areas?  Are they human?  Are these creatures Kosh brought on board?  How did Kosh know they were there unless he got into those spaces himself?  Does it matter?  Is it just a chance for John to explain the color bars on his badge?  Perhaps it’s just there to buy us 4 minutes.  Or maybe it’s just to help John center himself with the situation he’s gotten himself into in this weeks episode.  Whatever the reason, I’ll shut down the logic center of my brain for a few minutes of beauty.  It may not add much to the story, but it takes nothing away.  There can be “beauty… in the dark!”  And in that beauty, he realizes that even in a bad situation, he can find peace if he gives himself over to it.  (Now, I will remind those of you who have not watched the show 4 times: Kosh told Talia to “listen to the music, not the words” all the way back in Deathwalker.  Perhaps this is a continuation of that message, or the same message intended now for a different member of the crew!)

As for the rest of the episode… Sheridan kills a Minbari in self-defense, and that leads to trouble.  We can call this the A plot.  Cleverly, what we shall call B plot is about Londo learning that he was considered a joke, as was working on Babylon 5.  This is a bit sad, but also a realistic warning about prejudging things.  We can speculate how Londo is being viewed back home, but we won’t have to speculate for long.  Things are changing and we will see more of that.  Meanwhile Sheridan’s plight is pretty by the book as far as this style of story goes.  Nothing is added that helps it stand out from any other episode.  He’s framed, we know what he did was in self-defense, someone is out to get him and by the end, he’s going to be free of the accusation.  It’s textbook.  It’s all about seeing how it plays out and if I’m honest, it is well played.  The story does hold the interest but like the “beauty in the dark”, you don’t have to exercise your brain.  It’s all about how the episode feels, and it does feel good, contrary to the textbook plot.  I still love seeing Sheridan come out on top.  Sadly, I think his legal representative is there solely for the benefit of the viewer: she’s the same actress who played Na’Toth but she adds nothing to the story!

On the other hand, one area of success for the episode is back to the binge-able nature of the show.   “A certain Minbari once had to protect a certain Centauri…”  We are in season 2, on episode 15.  Season 1, episode 21, A Quality of Mercy, had Lennier save Londo some embarrassment by doing what Minbari never do: lie.  But the lie was done to save face for another, which is considered honorable.  Even with all that is going on with the Narn/Centauri conflict, Londo remembers that.  It’s a subtle thing, a thing that could be ignored, but it isn’t and I love the reality that it brings to the show.  Again, it’s that bigger-than-television world building and I have yet to see another show do nearly as good a job with it as JMS did with it here.  Then there’s the humor.  I love Ba-Bear-lon 5… or was it Bear-bylon 5?  Whatever it was, the reaction Sheridan has to it is fantastic.  The final scene of it floating in space is hilarious.  (Although, would that really have shown up on radar?)  Equally fantastic and weird is the image of Londo finding his “action figure”.  The fisheye camera angle is both inspired and disturbing.  (And here too, we can laugh considering Londo’s doll is not “anatomically correct” , which effectively … emasculates him in the eyes of his people!)   But my favorite line from the episode is a jibe at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  “We’re not some deep space franchise!  This place is about something!”  Let me take a moment: when B5 came out, I skipped it.  I did not skip Trek and when people tried to tell me how much better B5 was, I laughed.  Of course it’s not better than Trek!  And DS9!  That was an epic Trek … that trekked nowhere.  Still!  Trek was classic!  … When I finally watched B5 all the way through, I was converted.  So when I watched it a second time, this line really made an impact.  Babylon 5 is no deep space franchise.  Alas, I don’t expect it to age as gracefully as classic Trek did and may never attain the status Trek still has to this day.  It will always be my favorite until someone else writes something as epic but for the populace at large, it may just be a 5 year blip.  But even a blip can offer us a moment of perfect beauty.  ML

The view from across the pond:

Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.

(Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man)

For the second week in a row we have the story of the week taking precedence over the season arc, and these continue to be the most watchable episodes. This one is a straightforward crime drama, with Sheridan being framed for a crime he didn’t commit (well, he did kill the Minbari, but the question is one of self-defence). In terms of the genre it does nothing remotely original, and the resolution comes via a simple act of bugging the culprit, but it is still a competent execution of this kind of story.

Writer Peter David uses the premise as an examination of xenophobia, but he fails to ask the right questions, never moving beyond the obvious, which is all very B5. Ashan is motivated by xenophobia, and he also has a deep hatred of Delenn, because she is different:

“I answer to other Minbari, not freaks.”

We are supposed to tut tut along to this, but in contrast we get the following comment from Sheridan played for laughs:

“Bald, with a bone on his head.”

All those Minbari look the same, you see. It’s funny, yes, but in an episode that is apparently trying to speak out on the dangers of xenophobia it’s awkwardly positioned. I’m not sure the writer quite realised what he was doing here, but casual racism is still racism.

“He’s still Minbari, with all the baggage that brings.”

All it needed was one line somewhere to indicate that the writer was not oblivious to the irony, and we shouldn’t be either.  The attempts to burst the bubble of the Minbari clan ethos work much better, and at times the writing is near-sublime:

“You can’t have larger ideals if the smaller ones get compromised. It’s like building a house without foundations. It can’t stand.”

It’s a bit of a strange one this week, with the episode constantly veering back and forth from great writing like that and moments that seem astonishingly unambitious and dull. A good example is Sheridan’s “lesson” where Mr Riddles sends him off to see some chanting monks for “one moment of pure beauty”. If he thinks a light show and a song qualify as “pure beauty” then he really needs to get out more. He should have said “one moment of pure cliché”.

The B5 Emporium stuff is also nothing more than pure padding, a bit of silliness to pad out the running time, with an in-joke for JMS’s benefit at the end (apparently the teddy bear eventually turns up in another show written by David). It’s funny (just about), but comes across as some kind of on-screen advertisement for B5 merchandise, and all that stuff with the Londo doll made me impatient for the episode to actually get on with things.

There were so many insignificant distractions throughout the episode, it was all like being thrown a load of crumbs and a meagre main meal. Even Talia popped up at one stage, just when I had blissfully forgotten about her existence altogether. But I did enjoy the B plot… no… C plot… D, E, F?

But I did enjoy the Z plot with Vir’s self-doubt, and Londo standing by his friend and building up his self-esteem and standing among his family. A couple of weeks ago Londo was looking for a real friend. His simple act of kindness this week showed that he was not quite “all alone in the night”.   RP

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Regeneration Influences

womanwhofellThe talk of companions influencing how a regeneration turns out in Rose the Friend Influence has sparked off some interesting discussions in the Junkyard, behind the scenes.  Here’s Mike’s fascinating take on the subject, where he has taken my spark of an idea and fleshed it out.   RP

There’s something that gets overlooked with the regenerations but through whatever wacky happenstance, there’s continuity here and it’s a rare word for Doctor Who but it may be the most important element of the character and it started with something the Fifth Doctor said.

After regenerating, the Time Lord body is like an open receiver.  He should use the Zero Room to filter out interference.  Since he almost never does…

As Roger said in his article, the regeneration from Hartnell to Troughton surrounded by the swinging 60s of Ben and Polly did create a product of that era, complete with 60s Beatles hair.  He was no longer the stiff that he was as Hartnell (I love Hartnell, so it’s not a dig, but he lost his Edwardian gentleman in favor of a hippy hobo approach to life.)

When he is forced to be the next Doctor, he spends the majority of Spearhead in bed, surrounded by Military personnel.  As a result, he’s the action Doctor.  His first companion is Liz, a brain, and he picks up on that along with the macho military personae and is absolutely the male chauvinist most of the time.  He’s absolutely a product of the two people he’s around the most.

Tom Baker’s Doctor is confused and “slightly erratic” possibly because the abbot pushed his regeneration along, who had also just regenerated, and partly because Harry and Sarah were his main companions.  Lethbridge Stewart too, which might account for his action-ish personality, but it’s more the mania that comes about from Sarah Jane’s independence along with Harry’s polite but strict mind.  Independence and following the military structure are pretty much polar opposites and would result in very erratic behavior.

Davison’s Doctor, without the Zero Room to do him the good he had hoped, is absolutely the mix of pouty anger, angst and bursts of brilliance.

Peri was a mess, probably riddled with the guilt from the Doctor giving all the bat’s milk to her.  She’s a brash American, wearing loud and colorful clothing and it’s no surprise that Colin’s Doctor would exhibit those traits including the confusion that he shows towards his companion.  (How confusing was it for Peri, who had just met this man, to see him die for her, only to spring back to life looking completely different!)

McCoy’s first encounter, with whom he spends most of his first few hours isn’t his companion: it’s the Rani.  A devious, manipulative genius.  He may have a good heart thanks to Mel, but no Doctor was ever as devious as this one!

McGann’s Doctor is the first to kiss a girl when the first person he spends any time with has the hots for him.  She’s happy, kind, and brilliant, and those three things do cover McGann’s Doctor well.

The War Doctor is hurt because of the time war, battle weary, angry.  He has not yet wiped out his own people.  The sisterhood is also angry about the Time War.  I’ll concede this is a leap as we know the least about this Doctor… but Eccleston…

He appears to have been recently regenerated but evidence shows otherwise.  Still, he’s just wiped out his own people and sees survivors (humans) as stupid apes.

But when he becomes Tennant’s Doctor, he’s with a woman he’s clearly developing feelings for (he just kissed at the end of the episode) and he becomes a man she can love, as he’s experiencing new feelings for her too.  Rose does heal the Doctor, but largely because she was healed by the Doctor.  They created a wonderful balance.

When he goes, his first encounter is with a little girl and the Eleventh Doctor is the most childlike.  He has once again forgotten all the humany wumany things and he’s back to second childhood.  Now here’s where it gets interesting….

When Clara asks the Time Lords to save the Doctor, he is given an older body again, like what we saw when we first met the Doctor as Hartnell (the actor was the same age as Hartnell when he took the role!)  On top of that, he’s with a woman who is lost – she’s lost her “boyfriend” and has this old man in his place.  She’s annoyed, but trying to accept him.  She dares him and he dares her, but he starts off annoying and tough to warm to.  It’s not until his second season that he starts to remember why he “chose this face”.  By his final season, he is the Doctor, true and true… and after spending an entire season with his oldest frenemy, the Master, who as a woman was finally showing signs of being his friend again, and then being brought back to the TARDIS by a female puddle and Bill, the Doctor’s lesbian friend who kisses him before he starts the regeneration…

Jodie Whittaker is born.  And women are always more mature than men anyway, so she fell out of the sky fully formed!   ML

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