Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When Rumors Are Right

I don't like being wrong, but I'm human and it comes with the territory. It is rare that rumors are true, but twice this year they have proven true and proven me wrong. The more recent was right here on my blog. The rumor was that John Hurt was playing Doctor 8.5 (meaning between 8 and 9). I was insistent that this did not have to be the case, but as it turned out, it was exactly correct.

I'm a writer and I tend to think of an array of possibilities and I found that rumor to be the least likely. However, after watching the two Doctor Who specials in the last two months, that really is the only way this story could have been told. I can only guess where or when Moffat got the idea, but how things worked were chance just a few years ago.

When David Tennant's Doctor almost regenerated four years ago, I'm sure we all hoped that didn't count against the regeneration limit we all knew was approaching. But when you rewatch that episode, there really is no other conclusion. Then Christopher Eccleston declined to be in the 50th Anniversary special. That left Steven Moffat with a whole to fill, followed very shortly by Matt Smith stepping down from the role. We all knew Trenzalore was coming, though we didn't really know what it signified. The hints were that it would be Matt Smith's last episode (what else could "fall of the eleventh" mean). Then we were there early (or late from Trenzalore's perpsective) in The Name of the Doctor. The Tardis window cracked on landing and the giant Tardis had the exact same crack. Clara jumped into the Doctor's timestream and saw 11 faces. It has taken a while for that to sink in. From that point we knew the Trenzalore was where this Doctor would fall and it would be the end of the line. There was a missing regeneration and we had to wait until the Anniversary to find out that the Doctor we know so well did not fit in the Time War, so he had a regeneration dedicated to fighting and ending it. This incarnation did something so terrible that his later selves buried the memories and pretended he didn't exist. The Time War is locked so no one would know there had been another Doctor. But the terrible thing he had done turns out to be an illusions. He intended to do it, but he and two of his future selves found a way around it leaving Gallifrey hidden. Then we come to Trenzalore, the Doctor's final battle. When you take Eleven and add in the forgotten Doctor and the wasted regeneration, this, the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor, is the last. Except the Timelords have their own tricks to fix things. A whole new life cycle. The pieces all fall into place and it is so fitting that the Doctor ends his first life cycle at the 50th Anniversary and starts a new one.

So while I could think of many alternate explanations for John Hurt's Doctor, and many ways to preserve the familiar sequence, what Steven Moffat has done is genius. We couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate 50 years and say goodbye to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor. And it all hinged on a wasted regeneration and Christopher Eccleston not participating. It was so obvious that he was new to the face in Rose and it would have been another glitch to have him play the Doctor who fought in the Time War. We have enough of those with the Second Doctor's several returns.

So all in all, I am glad I was wrong. I think the story has turned out just as it should. Still, it is fun to imagine the other possibilities.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Age of the Doctor (Revisited)

Back in September, I posted on this blog about the Doctor's age. That held fairly accurate until yesterday. The Time of the Doctor has added to that. First a brief rundown.

236 - when he borrowed the Tardis (or it borrowed him)
450 - or there abouts at the time of his first regeneration
600 - or there abouts at the time of his second regeneration
750 - give or take a bit at the time of his third regeneration
800 - at the time of his fourth regeneration
900 - at the time of his fifth regeneration
953 - at the time of his sixth regeneration
1136 - when he met Rose and subsequent regenration
1143 - at his most recent regeneration (you might argue it should be 907, but between when he met Rose and he regenerated, his age changed from just traveling in the Tardis for 900 years to being 900 years old, so you have to add in the 236 years before he borrowed the Tardis)
1339 - the most recent age the doctor gave (1103 plus 236)

Yet when he met Clara he reduced to just 1000, rather than 1103, proving that he lies about his age. In The Day of the Doctor he gave his age as roughly 1200 and admitted he wasn't sure because he lies about it so often.

Then we come to Christmas and The Time of the Doctor. We start out with the Doctor over 1300 and then he spends 300 years on Trenzalore in the town of Christmas while Clara clings to the side of the Tardis. Then he sends her away again and spend an unknown time, but enough to age considerably more so I am assuming it is over 300 more years. My best guess is another 500 years. That makes The Time of the Doctor the longest episode in terms of the Doctor's life. He ages 800 years. Starting at 1339 at a minimum, that puts him at 2139 years. It could be considerably more than that and whatever the Doctor says about his age is probably wrong and less than his real age.

So as Peter Capaldi takes the reins to start off the Doctors give of a complete new life cycle (so does this mean 13 more incarnations of the Doctor or 12? Was this regeneration the first of the next 12? Guess we'll seen in another 50 years), he is over 2000 years old, but he probably won't admit that. It will be interesting to see. Not every Doctor states his age, but all of the new ones have.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts on the Doctor's Origins

I'm a geek. I think about things like this. Especially as I watch the first season again. No, I don't mean Eccleston's Doctor, I mean Hartnell's.

We know he came from Gallifrey, that isn't what I'm talking about. No, I'm talking about the inconsistencies that have arisen from where the show started to what it has become. But the genius of that first season is that there are lots of touches that when we consider what our favorite Timelord has grown into, offer some interesting possibilities for his past.

The Doctor did not originally have two hearts. That came later, after we learned he was a Timelord. Nothing about the Doctor's physiology is seen as particularly surprising until after that. He is even examined on at least one occasion by some high tech medical equipment (The Wheel In Space). But there are hints with the first Doctor, especially in light of more recent comments by the Doctor, as to what the issue might be.

We have to remember the First Doctor is old. He was seen as a very old alien at first. When you do some subtraction on the figures Romana gives for the Doctor's age, he was 234 when he stole/borrowed the Tardis. That is still a respectable age, though far less from the 600 or 400 he was originally written to be. And William Hartnell, although only 56 when he took the role, was suffering from arteriosclerosis, making him seem far older. Plus he was playing older. What we get is that the Doctor is a really old man, weak, in need of frequent rest. He does not spend much time running, he leave the strenuous activities to his younger companions. We don't get a leaping, active Doctor until after his first regeneration.

This all comes back to his hearts. He's a Timelord, we know that now. He has two hearts. Yet this man in his prime (let's face it, he is young for a Timelord) is very delicate. They answer lies in his cardiovascular system. The Doctor has recently said what his limitations are when one heart isn't working at all. They sound very similar to our aged First Doctor. I can imagine a wound or disease that has damaged one heart (it would be the right one), leaving him with one good heart. Perhaps he's been told even a regeneration might not fix it. That plus his rebellious nature, and he steals a Tardis and runs off. But a damaged heart makes Hartnell's portrayal make complete sense.

The other big thing I have noticed is that Hartnell's early portrayal of the Doctor is that of your typical Timelord. He doesn't want to get involved, he wants to look and explore and leave. Yes, he is out running around Time and Space, but he is still a stodgy Timelord. But as time goes on, we see that early twinkle grow into the crusader he has become. And later when we see the Timelords, they are exactly what the Doctor was when he started. It was the adventures the Tardis took him on and the influence of Ian and Barbara that shaped him into the hero he is now. And this is all good character development in the first three years. It only got stronger when the Doctor became a younger, more energetic man and faced more deadly enemies. But it all started with a crotchety old Timelord who landed in a junkyard on Totters lane in London.

There is much to learn from these old episodes, both in what the producers and writers intended and how the actors approached their parts, that really enriches the tapestry that is Doctor Who. There are, of course, plenty of glitches that really don't make sense. Troughton's two later appearances in The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors don't fit with the continuity of his original appearance, and the first two Doctors helping to save Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor last month doesn't fit with them being on the run. But these are minor points. They can drive you crazy if you let them, but if you ignore them you get to enjoy great TV drama.

There aren't any other TV shows I know of that have been so completely able to transition through different casts and production teams. Doctor Who has completely changed so many times that such changes are almost integral to its success. It has remained fresh and relevant for most of its run. But it really all goes back to the success of the First Doctor and it is fun to see how those early decisions have so shaped all that has come after and that it still fits. That you can believe that William Hartnell and Matt Smith are portraying the same character is a testament to just how much Hartnell's portrayal has shaped all the following ones.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lost and Found

At the risk of turning this blog into a Doctor Who blog, I have more to say. Namely, on the fabled lost episodes.

Many know that the first nine seasons of Doctor how are far from complete. Virtually none of the video tape survives and from before 1970, many episodes have not survived at all, at least not in video form. Off-air recordings made by a number of fans have preserved the missing episodes, at least in part. But through the years some episodes have come back to us. Usually one here, one there, but occasionally an entire story.

Earlier this year, the 50th Anniversary year, we were given the gift of 9 episodes that had been unseen in decades. But that was not it. The rumor was not a mere 9 missing episodes found, but nearly all of them. That is probably a dream, but that is what rumors are for, to give us hope.

Some rumors have been persistent. Marco Polo, the fourth story, seems to be more than just idle rumor. But the question is what shape is it in, can it be restored, will they be releasing it soon. Marco Polo celebrates its own 50th anniversary on February 22. I hold out hope that we will be able to see it by then if the rumors are true.

Other missing stories claimed to have been recovered include The Dalek Masterplan, The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, The Macra Terror, and The Power of the Daleks. Any one of them would be a gem.

Those of us who have been long-time fans of Doctor Who have seen many rumors over the years and many have proven false. I am hopeful at the nature of the news, but I cannot bring myself to count on any of these finds being real until an official announcement is made or until I see it for myself. We have been disappointed before. Still, there is hope that this time it is true because we have already had 2 stories brought back. The way it happened opens the possibility for more.

Until these gems are recovered, I will make do with the reconstructions. Most of these stories are incredible even taken in that limited way.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Will the Real Ninth Doctor Please Step Forward

Now that the 50th anniversary is behind us and we have been shown where John Hurt's War Doctor fits in, a question begs asking; Who is the real Ninth Doctor?

This is not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, what do we mean when we talk about the Ninth Doctor. Do we mean the Ninth incarnation of the Timelord we know as the Doctor? That would clearly be John Hurt. Or would it. Or do we mean the Ninth actor to hold the role in the series? That would clearly be Christopher Eccleston. But it isn't even as clear as that.

We were first given a Ninth Doctor in the 1999 Red Nose Day special, The Curse of Fatal Death. Rowen Atkinson played the Ninth Doctor for most of the story, before a quick series of accidents lead to Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the 10th through 13th Doctors. It was also Steven Moffat's first Doctor Who story.

That was followed in 2003 by the first post Eighth Doctor story, the Scream of the Shalka, staring Richard E. Grant. He was going to start a new series of Ninth Doctor stories, but very shortly after that, the BBC greenlit Doctor Who for a return to BBC ONE.

So who is the real Ninth Doctor. I have a double answer. Rowan Atkinson's appearance is obviously for comedly and should be taken as nothing other than a spoof, so he is out. John Hurt is a warrior, not a Doctor (and this goes along with what Steven Moffat has said) so he is not the Ninth Doctor. That leaves Richard E. Grant and Christopher Eccleston.

My take is that had the Time War not happened, events would have transpired that led to Richard E. Grant's Ninth Doctor. He is from an alternate reality where the Time War did not happen, but he is the Ninth Doctor for that reality. But in the reality where the Time War did happen, we have the events that led to the Eighth Doctor trying to stay out of it, crashing on Karn, regenerating into a version of himself who would be willing to fight and kill in order to stop the war he had not otherwise been able to stop. He no longer called himself the Doctor (though everyone around him did). Then when he regenerated (and for now we can assume that it was into Eccleston's Doctor, but we didn't actually see the result) he resumed being his normal self and resumed calling himself the Doctor.

In real world continuity, John Hurt's character is no more counted in the numbering (though he does have to be counted in the regenerations) than Richard Hurndall's portrayal of the first Doctor in the Five Doctors. He was a story device so that the Doctors of the past could comment on the Doctor's of the present. The first three actors are dead and the next four are really too old to reprise their roles, so John Hurt stood in for all of them. the only real difference it makes is in the count against the 12 regenerations. He takes up one, but he does not displace the actors who have been cast as the Doctor since 1963. While it is true that Paul McGann only had a one off appearance, that movie was supposed to be a pilot for a revived series, but it did not get the ratings to make that viable. Had it gotten picked up, as it was later in the audio adventures aired on BBC7, he would have had many more episodes. Hurt came in a prequel and went out in the main story. His timeline is locked in the Time War. To the outside world he is not the Doctor.

This all changes when you go to Gallifrey, where they only call him the Doctor because that is how he chooses to be identified. On Gallifrey he is the Ninth incarnation of our wandering Timelord. they don't care what he calls himself. But when you put the two together, the numbering and the name, you have to skip all but Christopher Eccleston. He IS the Ninth Doctor.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Changing Doctor Who

I've been a fan of Doctor who for more than 30 years. I sat in my living room as a kid and watched the 20th Anniversary episode, The Five Doctors (oddly enough 2 days before they saw it in England). That was my first exposure to the first three Doctors. My how things have changed since then.

Which is the point. Change happens and we cannot stop it. The way Doctor Who has lasted for 50 years is by adapting and changing. Yes, for a time there was no new Doctor Who on TV, but that time was filled with reruns, audio adventures, and the 1996 TV movie. Doctor Who was never gone, he just stepped away for a moment.

Yet after the phenomenal 50th Anniversary special, there are many who are decrying Steven Moffat's choice to bring back Gallifrey. They say it undoes everything that came before and is too big a change. Seriously? I know there are at least as many people who were not happy with Russel T. Davis' decision to base the new series on that premise.

The one thing I will say right now, is that every person had their own tastes and every comment is valid... from that person's point of view. However, many people make sweeping comments intended to imply a fan-wide belief and that is not the case. Each opinion (even my own) comes from a very personal perspective and there will be those who agree and disagree. I'm making this post in response to those who take these changes too much to heart and don't give the show a chance after that.

And here is the logic. What we have today is not the Doctor Who that Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, and William Hartnell created back in 1963. The character and nature of the show are nowhere near the same, yet it is the same show. There has never been a big jump, a great change (although there were some near misses) that has altered the show into something completely unrecognizable.

In the beginning we have a fleeing Timelord and his granddaughter and two nosy teachers. I realized it after watching the The Day of the Doctor that the Timelords are personified as the Doctor was originally portrayed - unwilling to get involved. Well, thank goodness for character development. The Doctor has certainly had a lot and yet very little of the mystery of his origins has been revealed. The changes in the early years of the first two Doctors were gradual and subtle. The biggest change came in The War Games. Suddenly we know the Doctor is a Timelord. Not only that, but the Doctor stole the Tardis and his constant interference is a violation of Timelord laws. He is punished with exile to Earth in the 20th century. The show had probably its biggest change ever. Not only did the Doctor change, but the series went from 42 black and white episodes a year to 26 color episodes. No longer did the Doctor fly around in his Tardis, he had to sit on earth and deal with the problems that came his way. That was accompanied by a complete turn-over in the creative team. But, if you look back, this was not a sudden change. UNIT was introduced first and the stories led up to the change.

But it was a change destined not to work for long. The Doctor needed to fly, both as a character and for good story ideas. But he didn't fly far. For many years after The Three Doctors, the Doctor kept coming back. With the departure of Sarah Jane Smith, ties to Earth were broken and the Doctor went back to flying. Then came the Key to Time. A problem to solve that resulted in two seasons of the Doctor having to fly randomly to avoid the Black Guardian.

Probably the single worst decision in Doctor Who history was Colin Baker's Doctor. Oh, not in casting that actor (a marvelous man - just listen to the audio adventures), but in his post-regeneration insanity. That plus a poor story (The Twin Dilemma is very forgettable) coming at the end of a good season for Peter Davison, and it derailed the show. Add to that, Baker's first season was comprised of 45 minutes episodes and only half as many. What made it worse is that when they went back to 25 minute episodes, they didn't increase the number so for the last 4 seasons you have the smallest seasons in Doctor Who history..Baker's Doctor is fine. He is brash and loud and his clothes fit his personality. But the timing and way he was introduced left a bad taste in the mouth for many fans. This is not just opinion, it is reflected in the viewership stats.

Typical of a show in decline, there are some bad stories. The original Star Trek suffered from this its last season as well. Then Doctor Who was gone. Here in the US, we had reruns. By that time it was of all 7 Doctors, including the newly recovered Tomb of the Cybermen. US audiences got to know the full range of the series and slowly it came out on home video so just about anyone could enjoy it. Even the orphaned episodes, the last remaining parts of otherwise missing stories, came out, plus the audio recordings for the missing episodes and then the reconstruction by some enterprising fans. Some of us have gotten to experience the full 50 years of Doctor Who through what remains.

The one constant in the history of Doctor Who is change.

That was true when Doctor Who returned in 2005. This was not the same old man in a box. This was a hurt man in a box. He was haunted by what he'd done (or thought he'd done). Gallifrey was gone, the Daleks were gone. Yet the Daleks came back. And came back in a big way more than once. So Davis reversed his own idea first. He even tempted us with the Timelords coming back, but these were those of the High Council who had escalated the Time War and were so determined to win at any cost. The Doctor had the choice of Gallifrey or Earth and he chose Earth (as he usually does). But this story of Davis gave us the possibility of the return of the Timelords.

Then Steven Moffat takes over and he doesn't give us anything so big so soon. He builds it up for 4 years. He gives us a series of mysteries and the surprise of changing the total destruction of Gallifrey into the hope of Gallifrey's return. It is like the recent recovery of two of the Second Doctor's stories. For years they were lost, presumed that all copies were destroyed, then hope of finding them surfaced (the shipping records) and then they were found (in Nigeria of all places).

Each lead producer of Doctor Who has faced criticism in the direction they took the show. Some have overstayed their time and their decisions had consequences, but few have truly ruined the show. Even now, if you watch the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, their stories are good, the portrayed is solid. They both (along with the Fifth and Eighth) have gotten a very good extension in the Big Finish audio dramas.

So the claims that Moffat has ruined the show, ruined the last seven years of the war scarred Doctor, are out of step with history. Yes, they may not like the changes, but there is little to prove them right at this point in time. Will this change be like turning the Doctor from a reluctant hero into a man of action (the First Doctor), or like his exile on Earth (the Third Doctor), or the Key to Time/Black Guardian (the Forth Doctor), or the Gallifreyan Mystic (the Seventh Doctor), or the War Scarred Last of the Timelords (the Ninth Doctor)? If so, it will not hurt the series at all. None of those have. The only thing that ever has is having the Doctor strangle his companion and bad writing. Oh, and the BBC big-wigs messing with it.

So virtually every change made in Doctor Who by the production staff over the years has proven successful. They know the show, they care about the show, and they are after shows that will please their audience and attract more people. Only two Doctors have been able to sustain more than 10 million viewers for a full season. The First Doctor did it in the second season. The Fourth Doctor did it in 4 out of his 7 seasons. The new series has been very constant, having its biggest success with the specials (the Christmas specials and the 50th Anniversary).

The end point is that change is good. Change the revamps what came before is normal. Change is what gives Doctor Who its long lasting appeal. Each actor brings something new. Each producer brings something new. It's been around 50 years because of change so we should not be so fearful of change. It usually works out of the best and the fans who come after wonder what the big deal was.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pertwee Era Color Restoration Critique

I recently acquired and watched all the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who episodes that have been restored to color through various processes. I thought this would be a good time to share my opinions on them.

To start with, Doctor Who had a major change following the departure of Patrick Troughton. It switched from about 48 episodes a season, to 26, went from black and white to color and most of the production team changed. Much of the same practices existed so even though all the Jon Pertwee episodes were converted for US viewing in color, the original video tape masters were wiped. Only a handful of episodes remain as the original PAL 2" video tape masters. Most of the rest that have existed in color were tapes returned to the BBC from the US market. I was fortunate to see virtually all these episodes in color in the early 80's.

But there are several big holes in what the BBC holds. While they have a black and white copy of every single Pertwee episode, they do not have ever episode in color. After a lot of hard work, they have been able to restore the original color to all but 2 individual episodes. The Mind of Evil episode 1 has no color data at present and Invasion of the Dinosaurs episode 1 is missing the blue color data. Other than that, they have all been restored using original color data and those two episodes have been restored using colorizing techniques and the color data from the other episodes.

The two techniques they have used to restore the color leave something to be desired when compared to even the NTSC copies. The first technique was to use inferior off-air US broadcast recordings and overlay the color on the black and white film copy (which has superior resolution). As the original recording was made according to the standards, it was a black and white layer and a color layer superimposed (so that black and white televisions could interpret the signal). This process was complicated by the warping of the image when converted from video to black and white film (the mechanics were to show the program on a television screen while filming it with a camera). The second method makes use of the detail of that filming process. For many of the episodes (except the two noted above), the detail on the film is such that the individual pixels on the television screen can be made out. This can then be converted to color data based on the red, green, and blue pixels and used to restore the image to color.

My critique comes in the inconsistencies that glare when viewing them. Don't get me wrong, seeing them in color is far superior to having to watch them in black and white. And knowing that the colors are original is magnificent, but the errors could be fixed to make this a much more enjoyable and seamless viewing experience.

One of the flaws relates to how the image was recorded. There are some issues with filming a television screen. You end up with some ghosting. It is especially bad when you have portions of the image that are very bright or very dark. Bright areas have a lighter halo around them and the dark areas can be too dark. This extends back to the first six seasons as well. But with the color, it causes a distortion in the colors.

The other major flaw is in color consistency and color ghosting. I must say that the color ghosting only is noticeable in the episodes restored from the off-air NTSC video tapes. In particular an abundance of magenta near darker flesh tones. The real problem is a frame to frame inconsistency. The two processes yield two slightly different results, but it is the same issue. There are color fluctuations that distract. Some ares need some of the colorization stabilization techniques. In particular I recall an orange curtain in the background that had unrealistic magenta stripes than flickered off and on and change position in the scene. In the other process (which I forgot to name as the Chrome Dot technique), some frames loose the color intensity in the middle of a scene. Usually when things move. Both of these issues could be solved by applying some of the colorizing software and some creative computer editing to create a more accurate and realistic color across all the frames. It is kind of bad when a completely colorized episodes (The Mind of Evil episode 1) looks better than the restored color.

But they have come a long way from the colorless versions I last saw. I am suitably impressed at what they have done, but they still have a way to go to get it to a final state. I think they have tried too hard to be faithful to the slightly flawed color in their source material at the expense of the final product. The whole point is to try to make these episodes look like they were never lost in the first place. They have come damn close. They have already tried to restore from the NTSC sources more than once and the current restoration is a vast improvement on the last, but they need another go at it. They need to further compensate for the flaws in their color sources and try to make these episodes look indistinguishable from those that exist as NTSC conversion masters or the original PAL masters.

Just considering the quality of image, I'd rate these restored episodes a three out of five. Just considering what they managed to do with what they had, I'd rate them a five. Just incredible.

Who knows, some fan in the US may yet have these Pertwee era stories on video tape. I think if all the episodes could blend both methods, giving us the best of both methods, that these episodes would then look identical. Sadly that is not possible at this time. I look forward to seeing their next pass at restoration.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Day of the Doctor - A Triumph

Today marks 50 years since Doctor Who first aired on BBC. To celebrate, BBC America has been taken over by the Doctor for the week (Monday through Sunday), but the magic day was today. At 12:50 pm, here in Colorado, The Day of the Doctor aired simultaneously around the world. (if you care, here is your only spoiler warning)

Very fitting for the occasion, the opening Titles were the original 1963 titles and that set the tone for the entire event. John Hurt, as the War Doctor, is faced with how to end the Time War. He steals an ancient artifact called the Moment. It has consciousness and it manifests in the form of Rose Tyler. If the War Doctor wants to use the Moment, there is a price. The War Doctor does not want to survive so the price is to survive and see what using the Moment will shape his future.

The rest of the story is the Eleventh Doctor in the 21st century, the Tenth Doctor in the 16th century, in a plot by the Zygons (whose planet was destroyed in the time war - Terror of the Zygons never mentioned what war). In the Tenth and Eleventh foiling the Zygon plot, John Hurt sees that his actions will mold his future selves into a crusader to save lives. He goes to use the moment and as he prepares to do it, he is joined by 10 and 11 who do not want him to do it alone.

Then inspiration strikes - a way to save Gallifrey. The Doctor calls all of his selves to use their Tardis's to save Gallifrey. Not just three, but all thirteen (and we get a glimpse of the face of the Twelfth). Gallifrey vanishes and the Dalek fleet is destroyed in the process. Gallifrey is saved, but only the Eleveth Doctor will remember due to the crossed time streams. For the 400 years he lives after the fall of Gallifrey he will continue to think it burned. But now he can try to find it.

And then we are given a sweet epilogue. The Eleventh Doctor is sitting in the gallery looking at the painting of the fall of Gallifrey when the curator comes in. That voice was instantly familiar and the conversation neither confirmed or denied who the actor was playing (was it the Doctor or just a batty old curator). But having Tom Baker, the oldest living Doctor, take part was priceless. And then we were given a shot of all twelve (up to now) incarnations, Second through Eleventh in a V with the First at the center behind them.

Not only was the story complexly woven, it was up to Steven Moffat's normal standard - absolutely excellent. The man did not disappoint. He reshaped the series, removed some of the darkness and opened a new chapter for the Doctor. None of the actors who have been so perfect as the Doctor could have pulled off the role that John Hurt had. It required a different persona and the story weaves perfectly into what we know.

It does, however, remove a regeneration. He has one left that he will use up at Christmas to become Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor. And that leads us back to the last two episodes of The Trial of a Timelord and the Valyard - said to be extracted during the Doctor's final regeneration. Are we about to see a piece of history return? The Valyard was mention in The Name of the Doctor, so it is possible, but we shall see in just over a month.

This whovian  has nothing but thanks toward Steven Moffat for crafting one of the most epic and outstanding Doctor Who episodes of the last 50 years. Bravo.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Tumultuous Time War

With the release of the short prequel to the 50th Anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor, we find ourselves in the middle of the Last Great Time War and a few rumors are now fact. Or are they?

The thing we need to be careful of is anticipating just what Steven Moffat has up his sleeve. In the previous episode, The Name of the Doctor, Clara roots around in his timestream and she only glimpses John Hurt's incarnation as the Doctor comes to rescue her. She knows the other 11 faces of the Doctor, even so far as to have suggested which Tardis the Doctor should take in the first place, but she doesn't know Hurt's Doctor.

We are dealing with a Time War. That is not just a normal war, it involves time travel, time is changed and rewritten and what was once true may no longer be. We now know that the Eighth Doctor was caught up in the Time War, but refused to participate, instead he was up to his usually thing of rescuing others and getting into trouble himself. In the prequel (and if you haven't seen it yet, you really should before you read another word) we see the birth of Hurt's Doctor, now dubbed the War Doctor.

The question now is what happens from there. I feel confident that what we are going to see in The Day of the Doctor is the War Doctor's solution to the Time War. Everything will Burn, as the 9th Doctor has said. But what will the War Doctor's actions do to time itself. The Time War is locked. The Eighth Doctor went in, the Ninth Doctor came out, but what lies in between. Do we now have 13 (with the regeneration due in this year's Christmas Special) successive incarnations of the same Timelord, or is Hurt's War Doctor a side branch, lost in the Time War. Will it count toward his 13 total incarnations. And with the regeneration aided by the Sisterhood of Karn (not to mention River Song's regeneration energy), is the Doctor limited to 12 regenerations (giving us 13 incarnations). I feel sure we will get those answers in The Day of the Doctor, but I have no clue what those answers might be.

One thing to consider is how long this television series can last. It can't go on forever, as much as we all want it to. We have seen the Doctor's grave on Trenzalor. How many more incarnations lie between now and then. After the Day of the Doctor we might have a better clue. What better way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary than to answer this question, at least in part. That is assuming that the Doctor is a normal Timelord. He's always seemed to be, though hints were dropped here and there that he isn't.

I can't wait to see what Moffat has come up with for us.

The First Piece of the Puzzle

As Steven Moffat requested when he posted it, I will not tell you anything about this, but here is a prequel, of sorts, to The Day of the Doctor, the 50th Anniversary episode. Oh there are answers and spoilers here. Lots of revisits.  It is a must watch. Very well made. I'll probably babble more on it later.

Click to watch The Night Of The Doctor!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Release Sale - Dust Between Stars

At last, Dust Between Stars (Zaran Journals Book 4) is out. It is Live on Smashwords and Amazon at the introductory price of 99¢. It will be at that price for at least a the first week.

eBook Cover 

Those who haven't read the previous books in this series might be wondering if they want to plod through three other books before this one don't need to worry. This book stands on its own and is a great place to meet Ven Zaran. There is an ongoing story that carries through all the books, but each book in the Zaran Journals chronicles an episode in the life of Ven Zaran, space trader, smuggler, and troubled soul.

When galactic trader Ven Zaran is accused of piracy, he’s on his own to clear his name.

Independent galactic trader Ven Zaran is wanted for piracy. Trouble is he was no where near the system where the attack occurred, yet the evidence against him implicates him specifically. The authorities seem to be convinced of his guilt and have set one of their best inspectors on the case. Ven chooses to go on the run to find the evidence that will clear his name. He has to use every trick he knows to stay ahead of the inspector. Only adding to his troubles is a ghost from his past who manages to find him faster than the inspector can and knows too much to leave behind. Ven must juggle his new traveling companion and his own investigation while covering his tracks to keep the inspector at bay. Unless he can uncover the real pirate, his career as he knows it is over.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Grindstone

The trouble with being a writer is that on occasion you need to write. While I do most of my writing the rest of the year, I have had good luck participating (unofficially) in NNWM. This year I am back at it to pen my fifth installment of the Zaran Journals series. If the end result is as good as the idea in my head, this should be a good, action packed, book. I'll likely be only about halfway through by the end of the month, so this may be the last major post from me before Christmas. There is, of course, a special SF anniversary coming up in just over 3 weeks that might elicit a blog post or two, but I have nothing planned right now.

Watch for my new book at your favorite ebook retailer in the coming weeks. Dust Between Stars has plenty of action and mystery and early readers have really enjoyed it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Speculation

Steven Moffat and the BBC are being very tight lipped on the 50th Anniversary specials. I know of 3 so far; the special 50th Anniversary episode, The Day of the doctor, the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, and a documentary. Unfortunately I can't quite understand why they are being so secretive about the later two. The special episode makes sense, it would be hard to show much without giving too much away. However, they aired a trailer for it at Comic-Con this summer, so there are a few people out there who know more than the rest of us. The docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, was also previewed at Comic-Con, it has no connection to the story of the 50th Anniversary episodes, and as of yet, no date or time has been announced and the trailer (viewable as a very bad cell phone video) remains unreleased. I would think they would want to build interest in that.

Then there are the hints and rumors. There are lots of rumors, few should be headed in any way. The only things I've been paying attention to are Steven Moffat's posts on Facebook. One of them was delightfully intriguing about John Hurt's Doctor without actually revealing anything. Hurt's Doctor is definitely earlier in the Doctor's timeline, but so far nothing official from Moffat about when. There are delightful hints of the Time War or maybe something much earlier, but nothing definite.

But there is one possibility that has occurred to me that allows for John Hurt's Doctor without changing our familiar sequence of Doctors. In the Time War things changed. Who knows what alternate timelines might have happened. It is seeming more likely that John Hurt's Doctor is the 9th Doctor, but not from the main timestream we are following. I see two possibilities; that he is from an alternate timeline that was erased/sealed by the end of the Time War, or that he is the same incarnation as Eccleston, but something happened to rejuvenate him without regeneration. In either case, I think, if all the theories about the Time War prove to be correct, that Hurt's Doctor is the one who ended the Time War and destroyed Gallifrey and the Daleks. That is monumental enough for the shame heaped upon him. Still, this is all just speculation and the only source that Hurt's Doctor comes between 8 and 9 isn't from a reliable source for the plot. The pieces do seem to fit together, but we will see.

With the regenerations we've seen in the series, the only places Hurt's Doctor could fall (if he is a separate incarnation and not some variant of one of the others or from and alternate timeline) is before Hartnell, between Troughton and Pertwee, or between McGann and Eccleston. All the other regenerations have been seen on screen and even the Troughton to Pertween regeneration was implied, thought not actually shown (Pertwee exits the Tardis in Troughton's clothes).

And Hurt's Doctor being from the Time War does have one strong bit in its favor. Clara went all through the Doctor's timeline and didn't see Hurt's Doctor. The Time War was locked so nothing could escape and nothing could get back in. That would likely apply to routing through the Doctor's own timestream so Clara would not have seen any of the Time War and not seen Hurt's Doctor. But then, how do we get to see him in this special? The more ideas pop up, the more questions there are to answer. But we are now less than a month from the 50th Anniversary and that much closer to seeing the episode and knowing. Until we get better clues or get to see the episode itself, it is all just speculation. Don't get your hopes up on any of these guesses. Keep your mind open so you can enjoy it as it unfolds.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Age of a Timelord

I must confess I have the Doctor on the brain. Likely because I have been watching a selection of old episodes in preparation for the 50th Anniversary Special to air on November 23. I have watched the first 9 Doctors and it has led to what I think is the answer to a question: How old is the Doctor.

We are only given his age from the perspective of an outsider one. Romana, when she first came aboard the Tardis, corrected the doctor on his age saying that he was 759 and had been traveling in the Tardis for 523 years, placing his age at 236 when he "borrowed" the Tardis (now shown on screen toward the end of the 7th season of the new series). Outside of that we have to rely on the Doctor's own measurements of the passage of time.

I'm not about to get into whether the Doctor is talking about human years or Gallifreyan years. I'm assuming that since we watch the Doctor in English that everything is in Earth years (and converted from whatever other measurement might be used to Earth years by the Tardis translation circuit if you want to go that far). But that one scene in the Rios Operation gives us a good clue about how accurate the Doctor is about his age. He isn't. He openly lies about it all the time.

That leads us to an estimate of his age at each point in time. 236 when he "borrowed" the Tardis. About 450 at the time of his first regeneration. We have to guess at the next one, but I'd say about 600 at the time of his second regeneration. About 750 for his third regeneration (which jives with what Romana said). But just over 800 at the time of his fourth regeneration. By the time of his fifth regeneration, he was 900. We are given an age of 953 for his sixth regeneration. The accuracy of that number is questionable. His next incarnation was over 1000. And that is where the old series ends and we appear to have a bit of an issue.

But it is a phantom issue. In the new series, the Doctor gives his age as 900 frequently. But that 900 has a source and the Doctor himself gave it to us. It isn't his age, it is how long he's been traveling in the Tardis. We of course have no estimate of how long between when he left Gallifrey in the Tardis to when Ian and Barbara joined him and it got stuck in the familiar form of a Police Box, but it wasn't long enough for Susan to age much (provided we even had a clue how old she was in An Unearthly Child or when she left Gallifrey). But the Ninth Doctor specifically says 900 years of phone-box travel which means he has lopped off the time before that, or 236 years. This makes the Ninth Doctor about 1136.

The Tenth Doctor kept his age in the 900's so we have no idea how much time might have passed. While that fits with his earlier age before he regenerated, it doesn't give us a clue to how long this incarnation lasted. He went out saying 906 (adjusted to 1142 to account for when he left Gallifrey). The Eleventh Doctor started off at 907 and claimed up to 1103 (1339 adjusted for when he left Gallifrey).

The Doctor leads a dangerous life. More so than most timelords. His first regeneration happened naturally and from that we can guess that timelord life expectancy is something like 6000 years. Yet the Rani was nearing 1000 and had not regenerated and the Master was done with his 13 lives by the time the Doctor was 750. If the Rani is more typical (and there is nothing to indicate she is) then a timelord should live for 13,000 years. But given Borusa has a different regeneration every time we see him, I would say that it is very variable.

Given the Doctor's tendency to lie, estimate, and reset his age, nothing he says about it is accurate. Another thing the we have to question is how his companions age as they travel with him. Do they age normally or slowly. Is part of his lying to avoid telling his companions that they have been with him for ten years but only aged one. Plus the Doctor has periods when he is alone. How well does he keep track then. For a TV series that has such a fundamental mystery at its core (who is the Doctor), it really isn't surprising that we have no answers for most of these things.

I think it is safe to say that the Doctor never has said he is older then he is (not without some ulterior motive) so as we wind down the Eleventh Doctor's time and look to the Twelfth, we can be assured that he has shaved at least 300 years off his age when he told Clara he was 1000. With all the things he has done off camera, I think it is safe to place the best estimate for his age at about 1500 as he goes through his eleventh regeneration this Christmas. That's assuming there aren't a lot more side trips unaccounted for.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Theory vs. The Supporter

My surfing online has yielded many interesting articles and has led me to form a theory of my own. There are a great many crackpots out there, but not everything they come up with is pure idiocy. Yes, if you read their work you come away with a deep understanding of how unhinged they are, but once in a while they come up with a theory that has more merit than we give them credit for.

Take, for instance, one article that purported to explain why our planet was much younger that it appears by arguing against the slow, gradual speed of plate tectonics. The theory went that there had been giant asteroid impacts that had pushed the plates at great speed and then the plates had slowed down. At face value that theory is rubbish. However, look closer at it. Throw out his improbable idea that the plates have so radically change speed and just look at the idea of how giant asteroid impacts might affect plate tectonics. It makes sense. We know there have been some fairly large impacts, but what if there had been a few larger ones, ones that pushed plates in new directions and at faster speeds. It would explain India.

Another of the crackpot ideas is intelligent design. I have yet to find anyone of a serious scientific bent who give it any credence. It's supporters are all striving to prove their religion rather than seeking out theories to explain scientific findings. Yet the core of the idea, that there is a greater intelligence out there, has found a cadre of supporters to solve a problem with certain scientifically derived findings. The two theories of a greater intelligence are not even remotely the same, but the core idea, that there is something greater out there, lie at the heart of both. The issue with intelligent design as a theory is that it was not derived with the scientific method in mind, but rather just to give people of religion a quasi-scientific theory to bolster their claims that God exists and created the universe like their holy book claims.

That is why I have come up with the theory that you must separate the idea behind a theory from the person who created it. Crackpots have their own agenda and their arguments are usually discounted as completely worthless. However, An examination of the ideas they come up with can lead to some gems hidden in the dung. If we look at those ideas in the more sane light of mainstream science, they often have merit once divorced from the crackpot who created them.

In the end, it is the idea that matters, not who came up with it or what they were trying to prove using it. Each individual idea should be taken on its own merit and considered independently. We might find some overlooked ideas if we start looking past the agenda of the person who came up with it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary and John Hurt

My mind keeps wondering over what we know about John Hurt's character. Out there are some interesting theories, but theories that don't seem to fit the facts. What we will find out in the 50th Anniversary Special in November remains to be seen, but here are my guesses.

John Hurt did what he did "without choice - in the name of peace and sanity." He is the Doctor's secret and did not do what he did as the Doctor. Clara saw 11 faces, 11 Doctors. What could this all mean. She jumped into his time stream at his tomb. She should have seen all the Doctors, from the first to his death, but she did not see past the Eleventh or before the first. Now, the Doctor had a life before he became the Doctor. He had a family and a granddaughter, Susan. We know that there will be a twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and long ago, at the end of Trial of a Timelord, it was hinted there would be a thirteenth and something pulled from that regeneration that we knew of as the Valyard.

The two key points to my way of thinking are the timestream and the Twelfth incarnation. Clara saw 1-11, and if there was something buried in the middle, she would have seen it. But there was before and after as well. I do not think that John Hurt is playing a part that fits anywhere between An Unearthly Child and The Name of the Doctor. I strongly feel it must be before, after, or (a remote possibility) something to the side (like the Valyard). I think the 50th Anniversary is key to what the event is. I think that a celebration of 50 years is going to be key to the story. I'm strongly leaning to John Hurt being the Doctor before he took that name. A different incarnation? Possible, but doubtful.

Now, we have a couple of examples of side Doctors. The 10th nearly regenerated, but instead ended up with a clone from his severed hand. The Valyard, a mysterious amalgamation of the Doctor, also, was a separate being. Both are technically the Doctor, but not. Perhaps there is another and instead of the secret of why he took the name of Doctor and ran, it might be a mysterious amalgamation from between his Eighth and Ninth incarnations, a tool used in the Time War. That would also harken back to the Doctor's past.

The other possibility is that we are looking toward the future. Perhaps John Hurt is the last Doctor and the terrible thing he did was what we saw on Trenzalor.

Still, looking a the event and what might be possible in the Doctor Who universe, I still am leaning toward a pre-Doctor first Doctor and an event that made him run. But we need to wait until November to find out.

Introducing The Twelfth Doctor - Peter Capaldi

Doctor Who is a show filled with mysteries. The title is the first indication, but it doesn't stop there. There are many things we don't know. We don't know the Doctor's Name or very much about his life on Gallifrey before he stole a Type 40 time Capsule. We don't know how he knows half the stuff he does or how he has gotten his hands on some of the most important pieces of Gallifreyan technology. What we do know he can regenerate (at least) twelve times and we are about to see it happen for the 11th time.

William Hartnell
Patrick Troughton
Jon Pertwee
Tom Baker
Peter Davidson
Colin Baker
Sylvester McCoy
Paul McGann
Christopher Eccleston
David Tennant
Matt Smith

and next...
Peter Capaldi

Congrats, Peter. Can't wait to see where you take our favorite Timelord next.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Big Mystery of Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary Special

As more information comes out and more theories surface, it has become clear that John Hurt's Doctor as revealed in the last episode, creates a deep mystery of who the Doctor really is. We have watched in the surety that we have seen all the incarnations, starting with the First Doctor who ran away from Gallifrey with his granddaughter (whose fate has never been revealed) up through the Eleventh Doctor who found himself facing his own grave on Trenzalore. We are given this partly because we have seen each incarnation morph before our eyes. Or have we? There is one break in the middle. We have not seen the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the Ninth.

That makes three different periods in our favorite Timelord's life where John Hurt could fit; he could be a later incarnation, between the Eighth and Ninth, or before the first. I am hoping for earlier, but in any case, if John Hurt's Doctor turns out to be another incarnation, it means that when we see the regeneration at the end of the Christmas Special, this is the last Doctor.

Or is it? I love to put on the old episodes and I am currently running through at least one story from each season and the first and last episode of each incarnation. There are some fun facts to be found, especially when you do some searches and find out the mind of the story writers and producers who created the stories. What I've found is that during the eras of the Fourth and Seventh Doctors, there were some ideas afoot. In The Brain of Morbius, Morbius and the Doctor engage in a mental wrestling match and the Doctor loses. We see all of his former selves and some others. While most people today think this is Morbius, it is indeed the Doctor and the writers and producers intended it to be the Doctor. The faces are those of several of the production staff at the time. Then a few episodes later in The Deadly Assassin, we are given the limit of twelve regenerations causing the idea of many previous Doctors to be lost. Then in the era of the Seventh Doctor, there was a substory being built to restore much of the mystery to the Doctor. He was more than he seemed and it was implied, but never stated, that he wasn't just a Timelord. Rumor has it that he was the third member of a trio of Timelords who founded Gallifrey, the others being Rassilon and Omega. And as was established in the 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors, Rassilon was immortal (which makes his return during the Time War make sense).

So is the Doctor limited to 13 incarnations (which the 12 regeneration limit gives him)? We will have to wait and see. One hope is that John Hurt is not playing a new incarnation, but one of the previous ones. The most likely is an older Eighth Doctor or a younger First Doctor. I think a younger first Doctor makes more sense, especially considering some rumors about the 50th Anniversary Special and that inserting another incarnation will cut the show shorter or force them to deal with the question of the number of regenerations the Doctor ends up with. It would be an interesting question to find out why the Doctor ran away from Gallifrey. What did he do, who was he before. It can be answered in several ways that does not ruin the mystery of our favorite Timelord.

I've been happy with Steven Moffat's writing so far, so I have high hopes for the special and subsequent Christmas special and the introduction to a new Doctor. The story of the Doctor has been in many hands and it has changed a bit over the years. When dealing with the story of a time traveler who does so much, we can surmise he might have even changed his own past a few times, but it has been oddly consistent in certain aspects. A man on the run from his own people in a rackety old Tardis. As Clara said, "Run, you clever boy, Run!"

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ender's Game - Spoilers Of A Different Sort

Unless they have completely rewritten the story, it is pretty hard to spend much time on spoilers for Ender's Game. Read the book if you are interested. But this film is being spoiled in a different way. The writer of the story it is based on, Orson Scott Card, has become an outspoken opponent of marriage equality. It is a mistake that the studio should have picked up on before green lighting this film, but now that it is made and ready for release, there is a lot of backlash against the film for Card's bigoted political activism.

There are different opinions of how to handle this movie. Some are calling for a complete boycott on the chance that Card might earn some more money or that they might green light a sequel. I don't share that view. A movie is a group effort, even if it is an adaption of a written story. You have hundreds or thousands of people who got together to turn a writer's vision into a visual spectacle. In particular, the actors who have taken part in this production deserve our support. With this story being mainly about children, many of the best young stars in Hollywood are in it. I'm sure that everyone involved in the production is acutely aware of Card's homophobia.

David Gerrold today posted a very reasoned argument why we should not boycott the movie and I whole-heartedly agree with him. Yes, Card's views are reprehensible, but he rarely put that into his stories and this movie is a great vehicle for the Hollywood professionals who were involved. We just need to send the message that we want no more of Card's work brought to life by Hollywood. I think they have got that already. Though, if not for Card's views, this could have been a good series for a studio to invest in.

This brings me to authors and politics. Authors dabble in politics at their own risk. Card has dabbled and lost. sometimes, especially far out from the final outcome, it can be hard to know which side is safe. But in this case, Card became more active that closer this topic came to gaining national acceptance. That is always a recipe for disaster and Card is now a poster child for it.

I sometimes dabble in political discourse, but I do my best to not be extreme. It is the extreme views that more often get you in trouble. Card wasn't paying attention and is now paying the price. All authors should avoid being too extreme, but should have causes. The thing is that if you do a bit of research, it will be readily apparent which way our world has been heading for a very long time and to buck that trend is to ask for trouble. Sometimes opinions are best left in private. A person who engages in extreme politics risks cutting their audience in half. It is hard enough to be a writer without doing that to yourself.

Quiet Summers

Well, quiet at least here on my blog. I can't say the summer is quiet in general. The day job is busy, the home life is busy, and I'm trying to do some reading and editing at the same time. Plus I'm planning 3 writing projects. I can't say I set out to deliberately mirror Lucas' long promised 9 part saga, but it has turned into that. I have written the first three novels in Ven's journey. Now I'm working on the second three (1 written but not edited, 1 planned but not written, and 1 yet to be determined). The last three have always been a no-brainer. If you've picked up Edge of Hyperspace, the last story is a bit of a preview of what will come. War always makes for good stories. After that I haven't decided, but Ven will retire from the featured role in novels and it probably will descend on Chup. Plus there are other stories to tell. Plus I love short stories so I probably will come up with a few more collections.

So while I may be quiet in my social media output at the moment, I am far from quiet behind the scenes.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sexism In Speculative Fiction

Here we are, already a decade and a bit into the 21st century, and we again have to put up with holdover ideas from the 19th century. Let me be clear right up front. Sexism, either intentional or accidental, has no place. Especially not in any of the areas of Speculative Fiction. Women are just as capable of writing and serving as lead characters as men. Any thought to the contrary belongs to the 19th century.

I believe in full equally. In gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion, etc. In all things. That said, I also believe in being historically accurate when writing a period piece. But there is a big difference between writing a sexist character from the 19th century (or even early 20th century) and being sexist in your writing.

This subject has only arisen because of a bit of a fiasco with the SFWA quarterly Bulletin. For their 200th issue, they featured a very classic painting of Red Sonja standing over the body of her enemy with a bloody sword. Problem is she is scantily clad. A great many people object to that type of image, and they have every right to. But rather than have respect for that opinion, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg ranted in the 202nd issue about censorship. While I personally do not have an issue with how Red Sonja was dressed (her in-world associate, Conan, is usually pictured in the male equivalent), it was inappropriate for the subject matter of that issue and I have a big issue with how Resnick and Malzberg handled it.

Rather than coming across as the wise older gentlemen of the field, they came across as angry teens caught doing something they shouldn't. Being a writer is not just about stringing words together, anyone can do that. It is about doing it skillfully. One part of that skill is knowing what to defend and what is outdated rubbish. Yes, a particular editor might have had incredible looks, but there is a way to say it that is sexist and a way that is neutral. You don't defend someone who flubbed it just on the grounds that the comment was innocent enough. And you really don't defend it in a manner that comes off as even more sexist than the original comment.

I read a scanned copy of the Resnick/Malzberg dialog in question and I found it so offensive I didn't even finish it. They need to come out of the 1960's (a la Mad Men) and join the 21st century. You have to change with the times. The SFWA is not a boys club. C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Ann C. Crispin, and many others, already fought this battle and proved that girls are just as good as boys. We should be building a world of equals, not trying to climb back down the ladder to the ignorant beliefs of our forebearers.

I am by no means perfect myself. I discovered after the fact that I had created a world that seemed like a boy's club and I have made the conscious decision that I must rectify that as I move forward. In doing so, maybe I can comment on this problem and help be a part of the change rather than a symptom of what is wrong. Contrary to the joking of a good friend (who says I'm an alien), I am only human. I abhor hypocrisy and stupidity, but I know I am occasionally guilty of both. The thing is that I strive to be better. What we need to take away from this fiasco with the SFWA Bulletin is that sexism has no place. We need to move forward and support our sisters as they fight this old problem. Yes, some of us may make mistakes, but we shouldn't defend them.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Coming Soon - The Twelfth Doctor

It seems that the news that Matt Smith would be returning for Series 8 of the new Doctor Who was premature. Although he was reported to state that he would in early may, the official word has come out from BBC, with quotes form Matt and Stephen Moffat, that Matt will depart after the Christmas Special. While that means the spoilers I previously mentioned about the 50th Anniversary Special are still correct, it means that we will soon have a new Doctor. The twelfth and next to last. While we know nothing of who might be cast or what direction they may take, we do know that we are soon to reach the time of the Valeyard, an amalgamation of the Doctor from between his twelfth and final incarnations.

Speculation is brewing as to who might be cast as the new Doctor. Some wonder if we will see some variation in race or gender. I doubt it, but I wouldn't bet against it. I would guess they will play it safe to avoid alienating fans. What we can expect without question is a fantastic actor who will do the role proud. While I am sorry to see Matt leave, I am excited at the prospects a new Doctor brings.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Information

If you consider casting news to be spoilers, then you might want to avert you eyes. At this point the cast is about all we know, but it does provide some interesting information.

What we do know leads us to a gathering of three doctors. Our current 11th Doctor, of course, his predecessor, the 10th Doctor (David Tennent is back), and a future Doctor. There is no indication whether John Hurt is playing and old 11th (doubtful), the 12th, or the 13th incarnation. Just that he is the Doctor. It is the first time they have looked into the future like that.

That, plus the casting news the Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman will be back for an 8th season, means that we won't be seeing a regeneration or anything happening to Clara.

We also know that Rose is back, as is Kate Stewart. IMDB gives a few more cast members in roles that either are yet known or that don't mean much.

There are no hints of the plot as of yet. While I am more than willing to divulge a great many spoilers, Doctor who is a show with a lot of mystery and maintaining that is a good thing. I won't be looking for or sharing the great secrets of the plot, only the initial setup.

One cool thing I found was the following video:

Most of the rest of what I have heard are rumors. Some say that John Hurt's Doctor isn't a future one, but a past one. The rumored antagonists include the Zygons and Omega. And Queen Elizabeth I may make an appearance. But I can't trace any of these back to a source of any repute. So I will wait and see. More will follow as I know more.

One of the more interesting setting tidbits is that we might be revisiting Coal Hill School and Totter's Lane. It remains to be seen if this is actually connected to the 50th Anniversary Special or if it is a false link from sets used for An Adventure in Space and Time. In any case, it looks like Moffet has a wild ride in store for us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek At The Movies

With this new film now out and through its opening weekend, I thought it might be fun to see how it stacked up to its predecessors. The numbers tell an interesting story.

First, any comparison over such a span of time cannot be done by just comparing the total dollars. The new movies always win so it is an unfair comparison. Fortunately the best site for finding a movie's stats, Box Office Mojo, tracks based on both actual dollars and adjusting for inflation. I found some startling information.

Some of what I'm about to delve into breaks down these movies in extreme detail. Hollywood and the theater business have changed immensely in the past 40 years. 40 years ago we had lots of single screen theaters and a growing number of multi-screen theaters. These days, there are few of those single screen theaters left and the number of screens in the muli-screen theaters had jumped. I've only lived in Colorado for about 30 years, but in that time we have gone from the largest being a 4 screen theater to the largest being a 16 screen theater. My point is that an opening weekend today does not compare to one from 30 years ago. A movie today can open on over 3,000 screens and the same type of movie 30 years ago might have opened with less than half that number.

The surprising thing is which Star Trek films come out on top. Star Trek (2009) wins in just about every category. Just about. When you start looking at the number of theaters and look at the average per theater, Star Trek: The Motion Picture did the best. While it played on under 900 screens, each theater took in the modern equivalent of $44,000. Whereas with the 2009 film, each theater only earned the equivalent of $20,800. Just using the numeral of the movie, they stand in a per theater ranking of, 1, 4, 2, 11, 3, 8, 6, 12, 7, 5, 9, 10.

Just in case that might be a fluke, let's look at the total movie income. STID will be ranked where it currently falls, which is no indication of where it will finish up. I considered leaving it out, but it is still interesting where it falls after just the opening weekend. The movies rank as follows for total income; 11, 1, 4, 2, 3, 8, 7, 6, 9, 5, 12, 10. Yes, that is correct. STID, just in it's opening weekend beat Star Trek: Nemesis. And that is adjusted for inflation. The surprise, at least for most die-hard fans, is that of the older movies, Star Trek: The motion Picture raked in the most money (adjusted for inflation). Even not adjusted for inflation, it ranks fifth.

One of the things I'm attempting to point out is that box office income does not always equate to quality. Other factors are in play. At the time it came out, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first new Star Trek since the original series was cancelled. It rode the wave of the Star Wars driven science fiction mania. The story is weak and the film has too many special effects. It is a slow, cerebral piece, just the way Roddenberry wanted it. I think the 2009 film had a similar boost, being the first Star Trek since Enterprise was cancelled and done by J.J. Abrams. That leaves the two films that have taken their place at the top of the list of popular Star Trek movies, and the linking one. Films 4 and 2 are the fan favorites and 3 isn't far behind. With the number of people interested in a good action film, STID may rise in rank to knock some of them down (total income adjusted for inflation), but I doubt if it will beat its predecessor and it will have a hard time bumping Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In any case, it will be interesting to see where it finally falls.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Broken Plot - Why Star Trek Into Darkness Fails (Spoilers!)

The more I read the more reviewers critical of Star Trek Into Darkness, the more I come away with the image of a broken script, full of plot holes and inconsistencies. As a writer, I am keenly interested as it pertains to my profession. Using my knowledge as a writer, I am going to break down the flaws in the script. Major spoilers are bound to follow so read at your own risk.

When stepping into an established universe, the first rule is always to aquatint yourself with what has been established so your work can fit smoothly. Even if you want to take it a different direction, you still need a grounding in what you are doing. J.J. Abrams made it clear that he was not acquainted with Star Trek and from the two movies that he has directed, it is clear he had only picked up the minimum he needed to take on the project. And while the failure of the films are on his shoulders for not catching and correcting the mistakes, everything wrong with both of his Star Trek offerings can be traced back to the screenplay and the writers.

All I'll say about the first movie is it had a weak villain and an implausible plot. That is the past. I'm more concerned with the current movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote the screenplay (Damon joining the team that brought us the screenplay for Star Trek in 2009). Right there lies one issue. It was a team effort. It would be fun to learn the details of how they went about sharing the writing duties, but for now I will have to give each of them an equal share of the blame.

The movie starts out with a setpiece that sets up the beginning of the main story. The crew of the Enterprise is trying to save a planet and it seems that the existence of the ship's transporter has been forgotten. Spock is willing to sacrifice himself to stop a volcano and preserve the Prime Directive. Where do I begin. There is nothing about this situation that would be a violation of the Prime Directive. There is no reason for the ship to be under water and there is no reason they can't beam Spock out of the volcano. The writers have failed to craft a scenario that should lead where they want it to go so they force it to. Bad writing.

Then we have a man who is forced into an act of terrorism. Except that the promise is delivered before the act is committed negating any need to carry it through. This part makes no logical sense, but the writers force us through it anyway.

Then there is the reveal of Khan. It seems to be a "yeah, so?" moment when it was clearly supposed to be a big deal. Why doesn't this work? It is because Khan is a nobody. No one has heard of him and they have no idea what he is capable of. In fact it lessens the impact of the movie. John Harrison, rogue Starfleet agent has great potential. But now that he is a late 20th century superman he is just some other type of crazy. If they had pulled out another old Trek villain, Garth of Izar, it could have enhanced their story. Instead they go with someone who isn't even perceived as a danger until Old Spock pops up to tell them how bad Khan is. This adds nothing to the tension within the story, though it might for some viewers. The only part where Khan makes sense is that it provides reason for Khan to help Kirk deal with Admiral Marcus.

That leads us to another can of worms. Admiral Marcus, somehow he stumbled on the S.S. Botany Bay with Khan and his people and is holding the other hostage to Khan will work for him. He is also manages to build a huge dreadnaught that dwarfs the Enterprise in secret. This strains credibility, but the film hides some of these flaws by not giving you time to think amid all the action.

Lastly we have far too many homages to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And that is all they are because they lack any of the impact they had the first time around. Kirk dies. So? Spock goes after Khan and screams his name. Okay, can we say unvulcan behavior? And something miraculous about Khan's blood brings Kirk back. Um, yeah, right. Khan is a genetic masterwork, not a creature of magic. Is he part vampire now? What sort of dreck is this. How can they think this makes a good plot?

Smoke and mirrors. The writers have chosen to give us a fast paced action film and aren't concerned with the details because they don't think you will notice. Well, sorry to say, people have noticed. (These links are filled with more spoilers than I have shared)
If you buy into the illusion of the action and special effects, you might miss the poor screenplay underneath. If you aren't wowed by the spectacle, the poor writing shows through plainly. In fact it is hard to hide. The sad thing is that it doesn't have to. A few alterations here and there and you would have essentially the same story, but packing more punch.

I've been writing for a long time, I even tried my hand at screenplays. While shorter than a novel, it really isn't a different process. What this screenplay lacks is writers knowledgeable about editing their own work. They missed so many things that would have been so easy to fix at that early stage. It shows that something about this writing team is seriously flawed. Not only do they lack the necessary knowledge of Star Trek, but they can't even create a dramatic sense of tension without relying on the action scenes (which are many). It is all smoke and mirrors to cover people who aren't good at their job. The addition of a new person to the team for this film obviously didn't fill this gaping maw in their ability to edit their own work.

Peel back everything on the surface, and this movie has one of the worst scripts to make it into production on a Star Trek movie. Ultimately it is the script that makes this movie fail. Add to that an unfortunate casting choice and those who know what a good story is find this movie to be a failure.

Updated 5/19/13 with new link. And again 5/23/13, 5/24/13, & 5/28/13.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness - More Spoilers

Since I am boycotting the movie, based mostly on the horrible whitewash casting of Cumberbatch, and have no plans to see it, ever, finding this detailed breakdown of the major plot holes, courtesy of actor/producer James Cawley, gives me a detailed report from someone I trust as to just how bad this movie is.

It really makes me call into question J.J. Abrams ability as a director. On one hand, he is technically good at his job. He can turn a script into moving images that capture the imagination. But a major part of a director's job is to make sure the final product turns out good. In that Abrams has failed. The failure leads back to either poor writing or poor execution on his part. I'll be generous and blame the writers. Bad writing was responsible for the horror that is Star Trek: Generations, so there is precedent for that. A good director would catch those things and question them. There are far too many plot holes in this movie and it is quite apparent that a good script was sacrificed to bring us more action. Action is great. But there are ways to write action and create a cohesive story without plot holes that are so easy to point out.

The movie opens with a sequence that makes no sense. Why is the Enterprise put underwater and why does it need to fly to Spock's rescue. Obviously the writers and director haven't watched much Star Trek and have forgotten what the Transporter is for. This sequence creates a nonsensical violation of the Prime Directive that is just stupid when compared to the real violations that Shatner's Kirk perpetrated and got away with.

And why does Pike have such blind faith in Kirk? It's great, but where did it come from and what is with the constant change of command. That kind of situation should lead to a breakdown in crew morale.

Cawley notes, but moves past the miscasting of Cumberbatch as Khan and focuses on the writing issues with his character. The original Khan is perhaps the greatest of Trek's villains. In this film, he isn't the primary villain and he even helps the Enterprise crew. A truly great character has been dumbed down and marginalized. No one is denying he made the most of this role, but the bad writing couldn't save it. Instead of a reprise of the greatest Trek villain, we have just a genetic superman. And the Mercy of Kirk and crew in their original encounters is absent.

And it just gets worse from there. The other guest stars are similarly written doing nonsensical things, from the bomber to the admiral to the Klingons. And the women's roles are handled badly. It's just one thing after another to grate on the nerve of a long time Trekkie. To the casual viewer who just wants an action romp, this may well be a great film. But for the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise, it is an embarrassment. Cawley does comment that it is better than the 2009 film, but for me, the miscasting of Cumberbatch makes it worse. He is a good actor and really deserved a part written for him, or at least one he would have had less difficulty in making his own. Ricardo Montalban was Khan. He inhabited the role, especially when he reprised it in Star Trek II, with a ferocity that is hard to match. Best of all, he was a well written villain in two well written scripts.

The failings of Star Trek Into Darkness all rest on the shoulders of the director. Bad writing and bad casting combine to make this the worst Star Trek movie. Please take the time to read Cawley's full report and don't see the movie. Trek can and has done so much better. Shatner did better with Star Trek V. I hate to admit that I would rather rewatch Star Trek: Generations than this latest installment of a half assed reboot.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Spoilers

There are times when you just need to know things about a movie before you see it. My enjoyment or even desire to see a franchise film is often based on what they do with the story. I'm a long time Star Wars and Star Trek fan and so certain key aspects of the new Star Trek film have seriously pissed me off, to the point of where I feel it is my responsibility to share.

Having started out with Star Wars before migrating to Star Trek (the movies hooked me before I actually got to enjoy the entire original series, then Deep Space Nine and Voyager lost me) and then back to Star Wars, I've experienced the movies as they came out and have a pretty reasonable view of how good or bad they are. Prior to this reboot, Star Trek Generations was the only one I found unacceptable. I went into this reboot and this sequel with an open mind. The last movie lacked a villain of any character and the story left a lot to be desired, though they did a good job of capturing the original characters, mostly thanks to good casting.

Which brings me to Star Trek Into Darkness. There has been this buildup over who Benedict Cumberbatch's character is. Then they release the name and the hype made no sense. That is until a few people dropped a hint yesterday and then I checked out IMDB and looked up the spoilers for the film, which I had confirmed by someone in Europe has seen it. Cumberbatch is actually Khan Noonian Singh. Yes, that is right. They hired a white English actor to play an Indian. This is at odds for their excellent recasting of the other roles, including Carol Marcus.

So, we have the racist recasting of an Indian with a white guy that isn't revealed until halfway through the movie. From there the movie devolves into lots of action scenes that mimic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and parts of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. The did mix it up a bit and reversed Kirk and Spock. Kirk dies and is resurrected while Spock battles their foe and yells, "Khaaaan!" In the end McCoy is able to bring Kirk back to life because of something in Khan's blood. (For more detailed spoilers go here.)

When I found this out last night, I was still willing to give it a shot, but the more I've thought about it the more I've decided I am not going to watch this movie at all. The way my friend in Europe explained it is that if you are a true Star Trek fan, the second half of the movie is terrible. If you aren't, it's a good action flick. It just isn't Star Trek.

I would recommend anyone who likes Star Trek avoid this movie. Wait for it on Netflix, rental, on demand, or something like that where you don't have to pay more than a pittance. This movie may be visually stunning, but J.J. Abrams has again delivered a dud that fails to have a story that makes any sort of sense. Plus the casting of Cumberbatch as Khan is offensive. That really was the tipping point. Ricardo Montalban was at least an ethnicity that could pass for Indian (I know several people from the sub-continent who have been mistaken for Mexican). Cumberbactch isn't even close and they didn't even try.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Back to Serious Space Exploration

I stumbled upon a wonderful article today (www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-04/16/f-1-moon-rocket). A must read.

In the late 1960's, as the US strove to be first to the moon, Werner von Braun and his team, and the many different contractors who did the grunt work, created the Saturn V launch vehicle. It was truly the pinnacle of Rocket technology. We can learn many lessons from what they did. The above article describes how a team is currently at work to reverse engineer two of the remaining mighty F-1 engines that lay at the heart of the Saturn V. These are the engines that carried us to the moon. 24 men went, 12 walked on the surface. And we have never been back and the Saturn V has passed into history. 3 complete launch vehicles remain, stored outside and corroded past usability. But two of the main engines were in storage. One with NASA, the other with the Smithsonian.

The engine at NASA has been completely disassembled and is being scanned to create a hyper accurate computer model for virtual testing. The Engine from the Smithsonian is being put back into working order for testing with hopes that they can fire up the F-1 for the first time in nearly 40 years.

While this may seem like a history lesson and not much more important than restoring your Dad's 57 Chevy, it is very relevant and pertinent to our future. There were a number of designers who achieved great things in the days before computers and their achievements have not been matched. The Saturn V and the SR-71 stand at the top of their respective fields and are unmatched in performance by anything created since. We can learn a few things from these incredible feats of engineering.

It may be that the next step that was missed 40 years ago is at hand. The Saturn V's F-1 engines may lead to a new generation, a merger of 1960's ingenuity with 21st century production and refinements, and create something even better. It just goes to show that sometimes we need to dip into the past to go forward into the future.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Breaking of Barsoom

Many years ago I copied the 1970's Martian surface survey maps and assembled them and copied them into a single Mercator projection that I then proceeded to color for elevation. I was imagining a terraformed Mars, but the result was an interesting observation that not many people have repeated. I was reminded of it again this week while watching the Science Channel.

The Mars we know today is a dead world. We have yet to find a trace of life on it. Everything we have found, except for dust storms and some freezing and thawing cycles, has been lifeless, but shows that once there was more activity than there is now. And while I use Burroughs name for the planet in the title of this post, perhaps evoking thoughts of the alien species he envisioned, the use is more poetic. I don't think they was every life on Mars. Calling it Barsoom before the event I am about to describe is more about the chance of life cut short.

Mars features many of the Sol System's most extreme cases: the largest crater, the largest volcanoes, and the largest canyon. These features do not fall at random locations and are interconnected to the same ancient event roughly 4 billion years ago.

The crater is called the Hellas Crater. It is 8 km deep and ringed by highlands. It is 2100 km in diameter and it has been estimated that the asteroid that created the crater was over 200 km in diameter. It is larger than anything known to have hit Earth since the Moon was formed.

Which brings me to Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris. I keep hearing them cited for their size, but their size brings into question of how and why they formed. There is no good answer for that. Between them lies the Tharsis Plateau, an area as elevated as the Hallas Crater is deep. And there is the link. The impact that caused the Hellas Crater also caused the Tharsis Plateau. The force of such an impact was almost enough to break the planet. For practical considerations, it did. We will never know what the planet might have looked like had the impact not occurred. Much of what we take for granted on Mars may not be the case. Many theories exist on why Mars has so little atmosphere and water and such an enormous impact provides a much more likely reason that most others.

The impact not only raised the Tharsis Plateau, but led to the extreme vulcanism that dominates that region. The Valles Marineris is the remains of a crack that did not spew forth lava and it probably much filled in from what it once was. Time and erosion have turned a deep crack into a wide valley. The force of the impact would have sent material flying off, possibly at sufficient velocity to escape Mars orbit. What might have once been on it's way to becoming a cold but almost habitable world is now dead and lifeless.

These are just my observations and suppositions, but I have found I am not alone in my analysis. Others have come to the same conclusion that these features are all related. What erases any doubt in my mind are how extreme and unusual for the Martian surface they are. Some may point out a smaller grouping of volcanoes north of the Hellas Crater, but I would also point out that directly opposite on the surface of Mars is another sizable crater. Proportionally, they match the Hellas Crater and the Tharsis Plateau with its volcanoes. Both incidents indicate that the early Mars (or euphemistically, Barsoom) had a crust and molten mantle just like Earth still does. It accounts for the traces of running water that now seems to be absent and the lack of a viable atmosphere. It's a plausible explanation that fits the pieces of the puzzle.

Burroughs dreamed of a Mars that might have been before we fully understood it. His Barsoom is closer to what Mars might have been without the impact that produced the Hellas Crater. Barsoom was broken and leaves us with a challenge; can we bring it back?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Conversation On Black Holes

Sometimes it is good to be an outsider. I consider myself to be an armchair physicist and cosmologist, but not an expert by any means. I just know enough to write science fiction. I definitely am not adept at the higher mathematics needed to work the calculations, but fortunately there is more to these sciences that just math. Most of it is quite easy to grasp and understand even without the math.

One area that has come to my attention is the ruckus over black holes. On one hand you have Stephen Hawking who at first said matter is destroyed in a black hole. Then you have his detractors who said that violates the principle of conservation of information (meaning that if you could reverse the process you could recreate anything that appeared to be changed or destroyed). On top of that you have the larger work of all of physics. Hawking has since come out and said that because of something he thought of that matter is both destroyed and not destroyed. Another physicist postulated that the when a black hole takes in matter that it's size changes and because of that an image of anything destroyed is preserved thereby allow the retrieval of the information.

I find it all a bit ridiculous. These people are so focused on studying black holes that they are ignoring other areas of physics that already have the answer. The secret to the answer came to me when I read Michio Kaku's Hyperspace. In there he revealed that the mathematics of both black holes and the singularity behind the big bang resulted in the same unsolvable mathematical riddle. I haven't looked it up lately, but I believe it was the square root of infinity.

So the answer of what happens to matter that enters a black hole is that it returns to whatever state it was in before the big bang (or the early stages of the big bang). Therefor no information is lost, but the matter ceases to be matter. String theory has some good answers to what the sequence of events was that led to the creation of matter so it would just be reversed in a black hole. Rather than a string cooling and resonating in our space and creating a particle. The particle warms up so much that the string can no longer maintain the particle and the particle disappears leaving the string to do what it did before it created the particle in the first place. From simple 4 dimension physics, the big bang created matter and black holes destroy matter. When you add the proposed additional dimensions of String Theory, there is a source for matter in the big bang in a black hole it just returns to that source. No need for crazy theories or to grasp for straws. It all makes sense and there is no need for controversy.

I've noticed that this focused (a polite way of saying narrow minded) approach is pretty typical in higher academic circles. I've seen it in history, Egyptology, physics, and a few other subjects. Solutions that seem so plain to an outsider are missed by the pros. I think that is why it is the younger generation who always make the leaps. Einstein made the leap to consider time a variable dimension. Hawking made great leaps in understanding black holes. Both men have failed later in their careers to make the same kinds of leaps of logic that they did when they were younger. They built on their initial success, but were never able to expand on it. I look forward to seeing what the next generation of physicists and cosmologists come up with. I'm sure it will be amazing.