Monday, September 29, 2014

Star Wars Rebels Teases

I have to admit that I am very excited for Star Wars Rebels. We get to jump into the world a few years before A New Hope. The sense I get is that the old Star Wars RPG is coming to life. I've heard some comments about the inclusion of Jedi and I have to think back to cracking that West End Games book and finding Jedi character templates. Isn't Luke supposed to be alone? Well, not necessarily.

Kenobi and Yoda changed the beacon message at the Jedi Temple to warn the Jedi away. They have no idea who may have survived. Darth Vader evidently hunted down those he could find, but we know he didn't find Kenobi or Yoda, two of the Jedi he knew best. Plus we already know that some Jedi have left the order, including Ahsoka Tano. That leaves a surprising number of Jedi or partially trained Jedi who could have survived. So including someone like that in Rebels is not so outlandish.

It seems we are going to get to see at least 5 characters we already know reappear. Kenobi will appear in the form of the message he recorded in the Jedi Temple, Bail Organa, R2-D2, and C-3PO will appear in person in guest roles and Luminara Unduli appears on a surveillance tape. Who else may appear in the course of the series is anyone's guess.

Rebels promises to give us the state of things before A New Hope and a taste of what Star Wars fans everywhere have been dying for. Just the teases I've seen so far have me excited for the possibilities. I hope it delivers. There is a good chance with some of the team from Clone wars back.

The Fate of the Expanded Universe

Star Wars Episode VII holds the key to the fate of much of the Expanded Universe that has grown from the many non-film stories set in the Star Wars universe. According to the Rumors, much of the story following Return of the Jedi will be different from what has been Chronicles in books and games.

However, while rewatching Clone Wars I have come to realize that much of the Expanded Universe will still stand because it goes back so far, both in real time, and in the Star Wars Universe. Also, with Star Wars Rebels, there is more from the past that could be preserved..

The Expanded Universe began with the first 5 Star Wars novels and the original Marvel comics. Names were given to races, vehicles invented, a society described, and so much more. Many of those things from the original Star Wars novelization, Splinter of the Minds Eye, and the Han Solo Trilogy, have become so embedded that they cannot be shaken lose or rewritten.

A few things were slightly disturbed by the Prequel trilogy, but others were enhanced. Clone wars went even further, including so many things from the expanded universe and adding new things of their own. I think particularly of the speeder bikes that made their debut back in the February 1978 issue of the Marvel comics and Jaxxom, the 6 foot tall green martial arts rabbit. Clone Wars harkened back to that early speeder design and included a dead rabbit in the same uniform. Clone wars even used the Kyber Crystal, though in a completely different form and purpose than it appeared in Splinter of the Minds Eye.

So those predicting the death of the Expanded Universe should take breath and sit back and see what comes. I think much of the later tale woven by the books will be rewritten, but I don't think it will be completely ignored. Too much has already been used and I think only the narrative will suffer.

Caretaker of Coal Hill School

This week's Doctor Who episode takes us back to the beginning. We've had a few odd scenes in Coal Hill School showing Clara teaching, but this is the first time the story has centered around this location since 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks. It is, of course, the place where we first met Barbara, Ian, and Susan back on November 23, 1963.

The Doctor, trying not to disturb Clara, is working on saving the planet form some danger that he won't tell her about. To do so, he goes undercover as the school's caretaker. She doesn't think he can pull it off, but he does. But some of what Clara fears materializes when Danny Pink gets curious about the Doctor's activities and finds some devices he placed around the school.

That ends up derailing the Doctor's plans and initiates a confrontation between him and Danny. Clara has to explain each of the men in her life to the other.

This episode continued the exploration of the characters more than the alien danger that has dominated this season so far. The story is more drama about the characters than science fiction action adventure. In many ways this is a return to the older format of story telling which focused very much on the people more than the monsters. I hesitate to say that it is focusing too much on character interaction because I enjoyed watching the episode so much. Still, I have this feeling that if the season continues to go this way, without some really dangerous foes, that the ending won't be satisfying. Still, from what little I know of where the series is going, this character interaction is important to this season's arc. We are getting a short hand, as we did with River and Amy, that there are many more adventures that they have gone on than we are seeing. But so far, most of the Doctor's foes this season have been relatively easy to defeat. Robot of Sherwood was not served well with the deletion of a full minute of the climatic action sequence.

But that brings me to Courtney. She is a young student who takes an interest in the Caretaker and finds the Tardis. The Doctor gives her a brief ride, setting things up for an interesting lineup - the Doctor and a student and two teachers from Coal Hill School. Now all we need is for the Tardis navigation to get all wonky again and we'd be back at the beginning.

On its own I would rate this episode very high, but the trend to have throw away monsters that fail to pose a real threat isn't working. We need monsters with substance to go along with the strong character interplay. And deaths. We need some harsh deaths. That has been lacking since the dinosaur burst into flames. That is the main way the series has put across how dangerous being around the Doctor is.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time Heist

This week we were treated to a fairly standard Doctor Who story. Time Heist gives us a mystery, exploration, and conclusion with little in the way of extra character development that we have seen in the previous 4 episodes. Basically it is time to get back to normal for the Doctor and Clara, except for that one little quip the Doctor makes toward the end.

The episodes starts with the Doctor intruding on Clara again, and then the Tardis phone rings. After a quick conversation where the woman in the shop who gave Clara that very number comes up, the Doctor answers the phone. Next thing we know, the Doctor, Clara, and two others are sitting at a table where they are provided proof they submitted to this willingly and then are told they are going to rob the most unrobable bank in the universe.

From there is is a fairly standard heist story with tension as they reach and get past each hurdle. We meet the Teller, a being who can read minds and find deceit and can then literally eat your mind (or turn it to soup, or both).

Typical of Doctor Who, people die and at one point it looks like Clara will, but one of the others sacrifices themselves. The final prize turns out to be something uniquely appropriate for the Doctor to agree to this venture and a few fun twists.

In all this was a good solid Doctor Who episode that really needed Twelve's hard-line approach to carry off. It was a great story that really felt appropriate to this point of the season. The next one promises some fun character development.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Star Wars Episode VII Plot Rumors

I'm rather into spoilers, so be warned, I tend to share whatever I come across that I think is plausible.

As I write this, Star Wars Episode VII is filming. They have kept things under wraps, but in this information age, it is hard to stop information from getting out and getting everywhere.

There have been some pretty wild rumors, ones I tend to discount. I'll stick with the ones that are newer and seem to ring more true for the Star Wars universe.

It is no secret that the core of the original cast is returning (at least for this episode - someone important usually dies in the first installment of a trilogy a la Ben Kenobi and Qui-gon Jinn) along with many new faces.

Han Solo is rumored to be a retired Republic fleet officer and Leia is an important political leader. Luke is rumored to be missing for something like 10 years (the initial reports said since Jedi, but newer sources have reduced that to a more believable span). Mark Hamill is sporting what he calls a required gray beard, making him look very much like his mentor, Ben Kenobi. It appears that the movie starts with a quest for Luke after some of the new characters find his lightsaber. It is unknown if this is the one he lost in Empire (Anakin's) or if it is the one he built in Jedi and the loss is part of the story.

There is more information in the rumors as to the identity of the good guys. Daisy Ridley is Han and Leia's daughter. John Boyega is playing a former Stormtrooper. Someone is playing Lando's Son or Daughter (Lupita Nyong'o possibly?) and Han and Leia might have a son who is flying the Millenium Falcon. The Falcon is definitely in the movie and it looks like in a big way. The interior sets have been built (with the same impossible configuration as ANH and Empire) and a chunk of the exterior. Plus we've seen an updated X-wing.

The situation in the galaxy appears to be that the Empire is smaller, but still in existence and in a state of cold war exists with the Republic.

But they are the real enemy. There appears to be some Sith or Sith-like group who are out to cause trouble, possibly with an immense weapon.

As to the plot itself, it is largely a mystery. We have Daisy Ridley and John Boyega finding the lightsaber. Some sort of rescue of Luke that leads to some conflict where Luke saves the day. But he has changed and he didn't save it in a good way (whatever that means).

My guess is that what has leaked is no more than you usually find in a movie trailer and that the real secrets of the story will remain so until it opens in a little over a year. Though I would hope we get a little more than this. I'll post updates when there is something new to report. Until then, I have a book to finish and Series 8 of Doctor Who to watch.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Listen to the Doctor

In more than 30 years of watching Doctor Who, only Steven Moffat's has written a script that scared me. He has come damned close a second time with Listen.

The fourth episode of Series 8 started with the Doctor sitting on top of the Tardis as it floats in space. Then he carries on a monologue as he contemplates evolution and survival traits and arrives as hiding as the ultimate survival trait. Then ponders that if a species developed perfect hiding, how would we know they are there and how would we know if we are alone.

The Doctor quickly becomes obsessed with this idea and gets Clara's help in investigating. He plugs her into the Tardis telepathic circuits so he can find her dream of being grabbed by something under the bed. Unfortunately he keeps talking and he distracts her at a critical moment. Instead of going to her dream, they go to Danny Pink's dream (Clara's date for the evening... a date that did not go well).

Next stop, Danny's great-grandson, filled with hints that Danny and Clara are connected, but just shy of hints that Clara is his great-grandmother. Definitely hints that Danny will be on the Tardis. But for the Doctor, it is the creatures that knock on the airlock at night. He decides to let them in.

Clara quickly tried to use the telepathic circuits and they end up with a child crying in a barn. Clara quickly guesses the situation and what all has been going on.

Yet there was that figure on Danny's bed. Is the Doctor being paranoid or does he have something? We don't get the answer, but what we get is a creepy episode. Really creepy and we get to know the Doctor, Clara and Danny better. This episode was filled to the brim with Character Development and creepy.

Each episode of this series has been a very different type of story, but each has forwarded the characters and each has been excellent. Listen has an excellent resolution, even if the Doctor's question isn't answered. Moffat has done it again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Battling the Robots of Sherwood

Before writing this review I caught a couple of others and have to begin by recalling Clara's book of things to do/see. She has longed for adventure and to see things and which of us who harbors such desires doesn't also have a few historical places we'd really like to see.

The Doctor asks Clara where she'd like to go. She warns him it's silly and then says she wants to visit Robin Hood. The Doctor writes him off as a legend but sets the coordinates anyway to prove himself right. That they land in the right place and Robin Hood is real, much less that he sticks and arrow in the Tardis (with a neat effect of the Tardis healing itself when the Doctor pulls the arrow out), comes as a complete shock to the Doctor.

Clara is reveling in the history while the Doctor is trying to find out how this was faked. The classic trap of an archery contest draws Robin Hood, with the Doctor and Clara tagging along, to deliberately spring the trap. It probably would have gone down like the classic story, except the Doctor had to get involved and try his hand at shooting. A couple of trick shots and he seems to be the victor, but no matter, the Sheriff has other plans and his robot soldiers move in.

From there proceeded the normal mayhem that surrounds the doctor along with some very interesting character moments. On the surface this is a silly story about Robin Hood and robots. But it goes deeper. Again, like all the episodes so far this season, there is a deeper level to the stories. Here the Doctor is compared and contrasted with that most English of legends, Robin Hood. This episode very clearly states that the 13th century had Robin Hood and the 21st century has The Doctor. Very appropriate from the writer whose previous Doctor Who related project was An Adventure in Space and Time.

This Doctor is still settling in, but the whole process is fun to watch. And he is obsessed with writing equations in chalk. What he is writing I haven't been able to piece together, but I would be it is important.

And it was a nice touch to see him wear a different shirt. If Pertwee inspires his wardrobe, we can expect more variations in costume like that.

The one thing I really felt in this episode is that Capaldi is most certainly the Doctor. He has fully inhabited the role and while he is making it his own, the character comes across as familiar, just hard to place. As someone who viewed each of the first Doctors during their tenure, I feel the ghosts of Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee coming out in every episode.

The Troughton Years - An Overview

As part of my efforts to get better acquainted with some of the older Doctors I missed pieces of, I started with Hartnell and have moved on to Patrick Troughton. Oh, I've seen all the extant episodes of both the first two Doctors many times, but this is only the second time I have gone through every episode - including the missing ones. Fortunately all the audio survives thanks fan made recordings and most episodes have stills that allow for slide show type reconstructions. A fan group, Loose Canon, have gone the extra mile and gone beyond static slides and added motion and really made many of these episodes come alive. They also put a lot of work into creating something for the episodes that lacked much of any visual reference. Photoshop is a wonderful thing.

Yesterday I finished War Games, concluding my second viewing of Troughton's episodes. In general I have to say that while I find his Doctor fascinating, I am not quite enthralled by the stories. They are good solid stories, but the tendency to default to much longer episodes tends to give them a slower pace. There are some damn good cliffhangers so there is plenty of excitement, but they don't quite get to the point very fast. Oddly, Troughton's longest (and last) story, The War Games, is one of his best.

I should point out that initially, Troughton's series were hardest hit by missing episodes, but various recoveries have given us much more that we had the first time I watched these stories back in the early 90's.

The Power of the Daleks - Replacing the main actor was a bold choice. How they did it was genius. This story starts of with some interesting scenes of the Doctor examining his new face and his two companions wondering what has happened. Troughton eases into the role, by being very understated before he gradually reveals his slightly more comic take on the character. The way the Daleks were handled was masterful and the story really makes you wonder if they could have changed, but only for a moment as they reveal what was probably their most cunning and subtle plan to date.

The Highlanders - A stirring historical drama with a good share of mystery and deception. It is most notable for introducing Jamie McCrimmon who joined the Tardis crew at the end and stayed on for the rest of Troughton's tenure, becoming the longest serving companion (by number of episodes - Sarah Jane Smith served as companion for more seasons (just over 3) but fewer episodes).

The Underwater Menace - Sometimes it is hard to see past the effects to the story itself. This is one of those times. There might be a good story here, but it doesn't seem executed very well. But as usual, the cast did a magnificent job.

The Moonbase - The Cybermen return. A much better story than their first outing in The Tenth Planet earlier in the season. Better costumes as well.

The Macra Terror - Something is lurking in the dark but no one knows what it is. This was a well done episode, one I would love to see, but even in reconstruction, the story comes off nicely.

The Faceless Ones - A well written, complicated, alien invasion story with some interesting twists. By this point Troughton has a good stride and his performance seems effortless. It is a good story to see Ben and Polly go because it puts them back in their own time. They see the story through to the end before they decide to leave. A nice touch considering the last departure (Dodo) was so abrupt.

The Evil of the Daleks - Daleks again, this time they are playing with time travel again. Definitely a high point to end the season on. Daleks, misguided allies, and a hostage to hold someone else in line mark just some of their evil workings. The Doctor does his best, but can't save Dr. Waterfield. His daughter, one freed, would rather travel with the Doctor than remain alone.

The Tomb of the Cybermen - The Cybermen are back, a third time in less than a year. This time it starts as the innocuous exploration of a Cybermen tomb. The Doctor can sense the danger and he turns out to be more right than he really likes. Once again deluded humans wreck havoc and lead to all the challenges in the story. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria each show their strengths in bringing the story to a close.

The Abominable Snowmen - The first of Troughton's well known adversaries. The Yeti are robots controlled by a disembodied intelligence. The remoteness of the location does not east the danger and the Doctor and his companions pull out all the stops.

The Ice Warriors - The second of Troughton's well known adversaries. Set in the future, this story is probably one of Troughton's best. The ice bound Ice Warriors are few in number but pose a real threat to a world teetering on the bring of climate disaster.

The Enemy of the World - Newly recovered, this story is amazing. Not quite as good as the preceding story, and probably one that would be better if it was shorter, but still outstanding.

The Web of Fear - This newly recovered nearly complete story is a worthy sequel to the Abominable Snowmen. Set some 40 years later, Dr. Travers is now the unwitting vehicle of the return of the Great Intelligence. This story sees the first appearance of the longest running companion/guest character, Allister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, starting out as a mere colonel.

Fury From the Deep - Deadly foam, intelligent seaweed, and possessed worker make up the bulk of this story. Some wonderful moments with the Tardis crew and an emotional departure for Victoria

The Wheel in Space - The Doctor and Jamie land on a drone space ship after a fluid link in the Tardis releases mercury vapors. The ship turns out to be part of a Cybermen plot. The Doctor and Jamie meet Zoe, a young technician and genius. She helps them out and leaves with them when the Cybermen are defeated.

The Dominators - The Dominators themselves are annoyingly arrogant characters and their Quark robots are a bit silly. The rest of the characters are well done and the concept is interesting.

The Mind Robber - This fun story features the only episode where Jamie is not played by Frazier Hines and they worked it into the story quite well. This is a very well done story.

The Invasion - Very similar to The War Machines, but with Cybermen and the Doctor meeting people he knows. This is the first Unit story and was done to test the concept for the next season. It comes off well and is probably the best of Troughton's Cybermen stories.

The Krotons - A mysterious space ship and the robots within have enslaved the natives of a planet. The Doctor and his companions arrive and disrupt the long parasitic relationship and free the natives. Not the best story, but the Doctor and his companions carry the day.

The Seeds of Death - The Ice Warriors return and try to destroy life on Earth with strange pods. Earth has put all its transportation energy into T-Mat and abandoned rockets. This nearly proves their downfall. The Doctor is there to save the day. I rather enjoyed this story.

The Space Pirates - The last story with missing episodes. It is quite interesting and the character of Milo Clancy is quite memorable. The level of double crossing and secrets that are revealed it quite fun to see unfold. Definitely high on my wish list.

The War Games - Here we meet the second member of the Doctor's people (well, fourth if you count the Doctor and Susan). The War Chief has given Tardis technology to an alien race who are using it to steal soldiers from Earth and make them think they ares still fighting the same war in order to build a formidable army. The slow reveal from the initial WWI battlefield to the full scale of the operation is well executed. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe each have their own adventures before the Doctor is forced to call in his people, the Timelords. This is probably the longest single cohesive story in Doctor Who history and it is incredibly well done and a fitting exit for Troughton's Doctor and his companions.

What we get with the Second Doctor are the majority of things that have remained throughout the rest of the series. The series departs from the historical dramas (sad because those are some of the best written stories) and focus's primarily on science fiction stories. That's not to say that the Doctor doesn't go into the past, he does quite frequently, but there is always some alien invasion or the like to deal with. Only in the Fifth Doctor story, Black Orchid, do we again (and apparently for the last time) have a purely historical story with no science fiction content.

So really the pattern of the stories is now set, but the last piece of what has become quintessential Doctor Who won't appear until Pertwee takes over. Jamie was the last male companion of any significance for quite some time. Most of the time post The War Games it has been the Doctor with a female companion.

The Second Doctor poses a lot of continuity problems. He starts out at around 450 years old, according to what he tell his companions. Then he has continuous human companions for his entire tenure and the third Doctor is 700. Troughton has the record for the most returns to the main series at three. He came back for The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, and The Two Doctors. Yet the return of he and the First Doctor in those stories brings up interesting issues. In particular, the opening of The Two Doctors breaks continuity with the series as the Second Doctor cannot maneuver the Tardis so would not have left Victoria and he did not tell Jamie about the Timelords until The War Games. Still, it was great to see him back those three times.

Next up are the 5th and 6th Doctors and maybe the 7th. I've seen Peter Davison's first seasons very often, but not his last season or the following season with Colin Baker. I missed recording them from PBS so I had all of the 3rd, 4th, and 7th Doctors, but not the 5th and 6th.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome to Laniakea

Cosmology is one of my favorite subjects. It is also a subject that isn't often in the new, or subject to bloggable topics. Today, however, news has broken that a cosmology mapping project and reached an amazing discovery. They have used several measurements to determine that the Milky Way, our local group, and the Virgo Cluster, are all part of a much larger structure they have named the Laniakea supercluster. Our galaxy is located on a dense spur that sticks out to one side.

Previously it was hard to tell where one group ended an another began leaving cosmologist to stick to the obvious clusters and groups, but with this, it is now possible to definitively assign each galaxy to a supercluster and actually see the structures and how they relate.

It is also interesting to see that we are located in a very dense region. The neighboring Perseus-Pisces supercluster appears to have some influence and may be the cause for the increased density.

Much of this is academic and does not appear to be of much use, but it furthers our understanding of the structure of the universe and through that, our understanding of the Big Bang. So while this might seem like something on such a scale that it is pointless, it could impact the theories of science that the next generation will build upon. So it is very exciting on several levels.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Han Solo Adventures and the Birth of the Expanded Universe

To finish up my summer reading, I returned to some classic stories that I enjoy every time I pick them up - Brian Daley's three Han Solo novels from 1979.

So, what existed when these were written? Well, it was the first movie (then just titled Star Wars), the novelization of the first movie (ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster), and Splinter of the Mind's Eye (by Alan Dean Foster). So it was a pretty small universe that Daley expended on with these three novels.

Han Solo At Star's End
This episode finds Han and Chewy in need of repairs for the Falcon, several years before Star Wars. In the process they get dragged into a conspiracy of disappearing people. Han doesn't want to get involved until Chewy is captured. The climax involved a power system overload that sends an super-reinforced tower into a suborbital trajectory. Daley did a fantastic job of making it seem plausible, but something about the scenario just seems cheesy. Still it is a fun romp with Solo and the wookie.

Han Solo's Revenge
This episode has Han and Chewy take a job out of desperation that turns out to be a slaver ring. That goes against their ethics so the slavers are soon dead and the slaves freed, but Han and Chewy are out the payment and set out to rectify that. The slaver ring turns out to be part of a large ring of corruption and no one they encounter is quite who they seem to be. This one may be the best of the three and feels like the Han Solo we know from the films.

Han Solo and the Lost Legacy
In this Episode, they run into an old friend who has a mission for them - a long lost treasure. The trail leads to a backwater world where they are ambushed. They all escape, but the Falcon is taken (literally picked up and hauled away by a loadlifter). Han sets out to get his ship back. In the process, they stumble on a community of pre-republic castaways who turn out to have ties to the treasure, but they barely escape with their lives. They manage to get the Falcon back and find the treasure, only to discover that it is largely worthless minerals that once had value before technology make them obsolete. It ends with talk of Jabba the Hutt and a Kessel Run.

Each story is about sixty thousand words and is fast paced. Very suitable for a child of nine to pick up and devour and also for a quick read for any adult. This is the Han Solo who shot poor Greedo. He is hard, callous, but underneath he cares. He has been wounded too often to let himself show it. Daley's characterization is spot on and the additional characters and technology he crafted have become part of the staple that was included in the original role playing game and the other expanded universe books. While Alan Dean Foster was the first writer to visit the Star Wars Universe, Brian Daley was the first to explore it.

The best part of these stories is that I enjoyed them as much as a seasoned writer of 44 as I did at 9.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Journey Into the Dalek

The second episode of Series 8 takes us someplace new. The Doctor and his traveling companions have been shrunk before (Let's Kill Hitler), but this time it is to journey into a Dalek to find out why it has turned good in order to do the same thing to other Daleks.

The episode pays homage to Fantastic Journey, with the Doctor even saying it would be a great idea for a movie, while at the same time being quite different and thought provoking.

We get to learn much more than ever before about how a Dalek works. We also get a nice comment from the Doctor (which applies to the character and the series) that it was his visit to Skaro that changed him.

The episodes also gives us some nice moments with Clara, both in her own life and in her travels with the Doctor. We also get an introduction to a fellow Coal Hill School teacher, Danny Pink.

Without giving too many more spoilers, I'll just say that this was a dark episode. The end was not what I expected, but when it came, it was exactly right. A wonderful episode that was over all too soon.