Saturday, June 08, 2013

Star Trek: The Animated Series

I meant to sit and revisit this series a long time back, between my posts about Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it kind of fell by the wayside for a little while. I honestly didn't remember a lot about this series, and even though it had relatively few episodes, I knew I hadn't seen every one. My only real experiences with the show were through a brief period of time in the 80s when Nickelodeon aired it on Saturday mornings, and reading Alan Dean Foster's novelizations in the Star Trek Log series (books my Mom had; she also had James Blish's novelizations of the original series). "Yesteryear," being the one episode I remember really, really liking, was the only one I'd seen since I was 10. And since this was the only Star Trek series left that I had yet to see all of, I figured it was time to sit down and take a look at it. After this, I'm pretty well caught up.

The series, of course, has a reputation for being pretty cheap, and I know it's not really well-regarded. I'll discuss my impressions of the season as a whole after I go through the initial episodes, though. Of course, all of the cast came back, except Walter Koenig as Chekov (a cost-saving measure, which also saw James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett and sometimes George Takei doing many of the guest voices), and the show's very much in the vein of TOS, though the episodes are a half-hour long.

The episodes:

1. Beyond the Farthest Star (my rating: 3/5)
It's neat to see this show going right away for big, alien sights that would have been impossible to realize in live action at the time. One of the key differences between TAS and TOS is that the stories will feature more aliens and more space phenomena that give the Trek universe a more diverse and weird (in the old-fashioned pulp sci-fi sense) feel. I really, really like that weirdness. The story itself, involving an ancient derelict pod ship and one of the many malevolent entities floating around out there, is pretty good, thought the entity taking over the ship was a bit silly (but in a very Gene Roddenberry sort of way--after the third TOS season it's nice having his presence back, and Dorothy Fontana's especially). I like the innovation of the crew having life support belts, enabling them to survive in an alien environment without having to put bulky suits on.

2. Yesteryear (5/5)
I've mentioned before, particularly in my posts about TOS and Enterprise, that I love this episode and this view of Vulcan. This one really got to me when I was a kid, because of the death of Spock's childhood pet. People always talk about canon issues with this show (I'll talk about that later, too), but all of this stuff about Spock's childhood and the bullying and the kahs-wan has really worked its way into canon. It's a very emotional episode, though, very sensitive about the death of a pet, and it's wonderful that Mark Lenard played Sarek again.

It also features Aleek-oom, the Aurelian scientist, who is one of the coolest aliens ever.

That's pretty fuckin' neat-o.

3. One of Our Planets Is Missing (3/5)
Already back to the sentient clouds in space. Some of the drama is pretty good, but it hasn't dated incredibly well. Lots of Trek fallbacks, like sentient clouds in space. Scotty has a lot to do in this one, and I have to say, Scotty's alright, but going through the show again and everything, I have to admit he's pretty incidental to my enjoyment of Star Trek. I don't hate the guy, I just don't care about him too much.

4. The Lorelei Signal (2/5)
I'm a little torn on this one, because it falls back on some of the sexism you see in a lot of science fiction, and the men rapidly aging again (like in "The Deadly Years") is just as lame in animation as it is in live action, but I really love the bit where Lt. Uhura takes command of the ship in order to save everyone. That was just awesome. But the plot is a little "Spock's Brain."

5. More Tribbles, More Troubles (4/5)
I still think "The Trouble with Tribbles" was a cute-but-overvalued episode. I'm not sure it needed a sequel, but it was... well, it was cute. The big super-tribbles were funny, and I enjoyed Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones again. I have to ask, though: after two starvations now, who the hell wants to live on Sherman's Planet?

6. The Survivor (3/5)
The Enterprise makes contact with the missing leader of a scientific expedition, and you can tell something's not above-board because he dresses like he's in a Hammer period piece and he's going to one of those types of parties.
He does turn out to be an alien taking the man's identity to study humans, but I really like the way they resolve the ending with sensitivity and curiosity. It was a surprising, thoughtful way to end it.

7. The Infinite Vulcan (3/5)
Pretty neat story involving plant people and a giant Spock. Skiffy weirdness from episode writer Walter Koening, who went from this to write for Land of the Lost (including my favorite episode of Land of the Lost, which introduces Enik, my favorite character from Land of the Lost).

8. The Magicks of Megas-tu (5/5)
This is my second favorite episode of the entire series. At first it seems like another one of those silly episodes where a Q/Trelane type character comes in and is just a gadfly doing magic at inappropriate times to be menacing. But this episode goes so much further, first exploring the idea of magic as a scientific energy, and then doing the whole Roddenberry religious exploration number, but not in a tiresome way. This episode surprised me the whole way through with its discussions of ethics and science and its attempts to reconcile the fantastic with the rational. Great stuff.

9. Once Upon a Planet (4/5)
The "Shore Leave" planet goes crazy again. It's not a bad episode at all, but sometimes this series relies a little too much on doing sequels to earlier episodes. Uhura is quite good in this one. Kirk talks down another computer here, but it works. And I like Spock very much in this episode. Spock is pretty much my favorite fictional character of all time.

10. Mudd's Passion (4/5)
Well, you knew they'd bring him back, too (and Roger C. Carmel does the voice, which makes me happy). This episode is pretty delightful, and written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote the other Mudd episodes. Majel Barrett has a lot to do as Christine Chapel in this episode. Actually, this is the last time the Spock/Chapel relationship ever gets explored. She must have gotten over him after the events of this episode.

Also:
Love it.

11. The Terratin Incident (2/5)
I actually forgot about this episode until I looked it up online. It's the one where everybody starts shrinking. I guess it's not my favorite.

12. The Time Trap (4/5)
Commander Kor really would have made the archenemy for Captain Kirk. It's a shame they could never get John Colicos back until Deep Space Nine (even here he's voiced by James Doohan). I like this episode, where Kor and Kirk and their crews have to work together to get out of another space anomaly, this one a vortex that traps the two ships in a dimension with no time. Lots of interesting aliens in this one. We don't see the Klingons again in the series, unfortunately.

13. The Ambergris Element (3/5)
I love all of the underwater stuff with the Aquans of Argo (and the sea monster, of course). That's the kind of cool adventure stuff they couldn't do in live action. It's such a different environment for Star Trek. This is another episode where Kirk's physiology is changed. I hope Starfleet has a really great healthcare plan, because he's always getting aged or turned into something. They should explore more often what that stuff does to the human body.

(An aside: I wonder how long Captain Kirk could have lived. I was thinking about this recently when I watched the 2009 Star Trek movie and Scotty mentions Admiral Archer. By that time, Jonathan Archer would have had to have been 145 years old, but with time dilation, I suppose that's possible, the way everyone keeps warping around. I'd like to see someone comment a little more on how humans really age in the Star Trek universe if they work in space as much as people on exploration missions seem to. Does this mean Kirk would have lived to be 200 or more? I never really considered that.)

14. The Slaver Weapon (2/5)
I just got a little bored with this one and layering on all of the Larry Niven Man-Kzin stuff. The Kzinti were kind of lame.

15. The Eye of the Beholder (3/5)
Okay, the Lactrans were also kind of lame, but they were so weird and different that I didn't really care. Another skiffy cliche (human zoo), but still kind of a neat episode.

16. The Jihad (4/5)
Sort of Mission: Impossible with Kirk and Spock and a diverse group of aliens attempting to recover a religious relic that could ignite a holy war. Pretty good action episode, but where it really shines is in its sensitive, ethical treatment of mental illness and even religious zealotry. I always like to see science fiction stories--and any stories, really--come down on the side of understanding and reaching out with empathy rather than moral judgment. It's not a bad end to the season.

Overall, I found the animated series involving, consistent, and engrossing. I know this series isn't thought fondly of, but I think it needs to be reassessed. I know there are people, too, who dismiss it because it's not strictly canon, but you've probably been reading my blog long enough to know that I don't really give a hang about what's strictly canon and what isn't. As fans, we create our own personal canon, especially with something like Star Trek, which has had so many forays into novels and comic books and other media that you can sort of pick and choose what elements you like and make them part of what you love about Star Trek. For me, this (and the following season) are combined (along with some decent comic books I've read) the fourth year of the Enterprise's five-year mission. Frankly, I liked this a lot better than the third season of the original series.

Is the animation cheap? You can tell it's on a budget, and there are many well-documented production errors. But on the whole, those are inconsequential. What matters is that the stories are there. The scripts are generally very good, and the actors are committed to reprising their roles and really acting their parts. The animation is interesting, and offers a different look for Star Trek that doesn't wildly conflict with what's been established. It really feels like Star Trek, end of story.

This series also fulfills a lot of the desires I always have in Star Trek for more biodiversity and just more general weirdness. I love the alien crewmembers, like M'Ress and the helmsman, Arex.

This guy's fantastic. (In some of the IDW comics, they made him a telepath and gave him an interesting mentor-student relationship with Spock.) I honestly didn't miss Chekov. If I'm ambivalent towards Scotty, I just flat out don't care for Chekov. I like Arex better. I wish we'd gotten to see him play a more central role occasionally.

I also wish they'd give Christine Chapel more to do. It's a little bit annoying to me how we've got this reboot/alternate universe and they shove in Chekov and don't even think about finding a new Chapel (reducing her instead to a throwaway line in the new movie). Like, Chapel's not integral, but Chekov somehow is? Well, not to me. But that's me. That's my personal Star Trek canon. Honestly, I find Ilia more interesting than Chekov.

That's part of being a fan.

I'll have the short second season up tomorrow or more likely Monday.

Seriously, if you're a Trekker and you haven't given this series a chance, check out a couple of episodes.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Joe

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Health Report Update

Well, my earlier diagnoses are official: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Non-Specific Mood Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia. By some definitions, I'm disabled. By some definitions, I'm mentally ill. Now it's trying to adjust to that and to learn to control/regulate/manage this.

I haven't been writing much lately because I feel like I don't have much to say that's very interesting. I'm actually doing really well in therapy, but I do have my days of depression and I still get some bad panic attacks. The old defenses--the unhealthy ones, like being suicidal--are mostly gone, but the new defenses aren't very strong yet. It took me decades to build all that armor, and I'm like a raw nerve without it. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier and more comfortable to crawl back inside of it, but I know rationally that's not true.

A psychiatrist tried to put me on Prozac. I had an intensely bad blood pressure reaction to it and stopped taking it. It also did increase my suicidal tendencies, but in a different, darker way. I started to get this hard, stabbing throb in the vein in my left wrist. It happened over the course of two days at varying times and with varying frequency. After a while, it just hurt so much that I started to think the only way to stop it would be to just cut it open. I stopped myself from thinking that, but that I even had the impulse is scary enough. It's not how I've ever thought of suicide. I've learned that my thoughts of suicide were about trying to escape, and giving myself an emotional release and a feeling of control. But this... this was like an impulse, not something that was born out of trying to escape something that was depressing or scaring me.

So, no on Prozac.

My high blood pressure exacerbates these problems. I'm losing weight again. Trying to ease my physical/medical burden. I want this to be the time I actually lose the weight instead of just another interlude. I feel better and more capable and more in control. It's good because the high blood pressure makes my Panic Disorder especially bad--I have a tendency to go right from the first inkling of fear to outright panic, which can make it hard to recognize the signs and stop myself.

But I am doing better. I'm breathing and walking and remembering to eat. It's still hard to go out and to make initial contact with people. Some people are stressors lately, because they don't realize when they're pushing at me, and my disorders make it hard to rationalize it. I'm still scared a lot of the time. I still overreact initially. But I can talk myself down.

My therapist has her work cut out for her on the self-esteem stuff, though. There's a lot of damage there. Thank goodness they got me on the hardship program, because that's going to take a long, long time.

I know it doesn't sound like it, but I really am doing better.

Sheesh.

This Cockatiel Singing the Theme Song from "My Neighbor Totoro" Really Turned My Day Around

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Talkin' to Myself and Feeling Old

I was honored to contribute to Splotchy's great new LoveSong feature over on his blog. Check out my entry, where I explain why "Rainy Days and Mondays" is a cheesy song that is close to my heart.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

HUNGER (2008)
Steve McQueen directs Michael Fassbender in this dramatization of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. It's a hard, unrelenting film, focusing less on the politics of the situation and more on the resolve of the human beings involved, particularly Fassbender as Bobby Sands, who deteriorates before our eyes. It's deeply disturbing, but committed. ****

THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS (1979)
I didn't buy the pseudoscience of plants experiencing consciousness, but the time lapse photography and Stevie Wonder soundtrack of this documentary were nice. **

Monday, June 03, 2013

Doctor Who Again

Since I did this for the first half of Series 7 (here), here are my thoughts on the recently-ended second half of it. My thoughts about this half aren't as negative as you think they'd be, given how much I hated the first half. But I threw this picture up at the top because it manages to capture exactly everything I despise about Steven Moffat's approach to the show.

I'll just go right into the individual episodes.

:: "The Bells of St. John" had some interesting moments; there was a hint of real darkness in Celia Imrie's fate that I was struck by, and it was an interesting choice to bring back Richard E. Grant as the Great Intelligence. I really, really, really hated Clara on "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen," but here she annoyed me less. The Doctor's motorcycle drive up the side of a building I could have done without, but that's this show now. It's less Doctor Who and more Stephenie Meyer's Scooby Doo, Where Are You? I did like the bits about the Wi-Fi and capturing people inside of it; it was pretty daft, but it was Who daft.

:: I quite liked "The Rings of Akhaten," though I feel I might be in the minority on that one, given some of the commentary I've seen. But it was nice to slow down and just feel what an alien world is like, recalling earlier episodes like "The End of the World." This episode was actually the first time I liked Clara, also; it was much nicer getting to see her as a person rather than a plot device or some kind of shitty, misguided attempt to mistake obnoxious, rude smartypants for clever and proactive. I liked her here and I liked how she was used.

I think people really got hung up on the story of the leaf, and her assertion that it was the most important leaf in human history, because it was the catalyst that got her parents to meet. I don't think she was speaking as though she was the most important person in the world, but rather describing that it was the most important thing in the world to her; she was facing a being that fed on the emotional importance placed on objects, and that was her most important object.

The episode was also an interesting exploration of one of the Moffat era's more interesting themes, which is human beings as stories, and the events of their lives as stories at once informed by and influencing who we are.

I don't know, I thought this episode was great. It felt like real new-era Doctor Who. The episode itself was the first one written for the show by Luther creator/writer Neil Cross. I think it's worth pointing out that the character Alice on Luther is one that I expected to be cliched and obvious, but Cross made her interesting and unique. He did the same here with Clara, and that was a real surprise, because I expected to hate her even more than Amy Pond. Turns out I don't hate anyone as much as Amy Pond.

:: "Cold War" was pretty fun. Not much to say about it, but nice casting (Liam Cunningham, David Warner, Tobias Menzies), and I loved the stuff they did with the Ice Warrior. The only thing I didn't like about the episode was how much the show insists on fixed points in time that can't be changed, and suddenly this episode tosses that aside to say that this incident with the Ice Warrior could trigger World War III in 1983. So, history can't be changed unless it can be for reasons of dramatic tension. Whatever, Doctor Who. If that's possible then you can also just go back in time and stop things before they happen and then everything gets fixed easily. The first season episode "Father's Day"--which was fantastic--was all about how dangerous trying to do that was. So, fun episode, but trying to generate suspense that way was pretty cheap.

:: "Hide" was fitfully interesting; at least the characters were sort of consistent and it wasn't Clara worship. Still, haunted houses just aren't my cup of tea. I thought the twists were nice, but still, haunted house story? Wake me later. Also written by Neil Cross, but it didn't capture me the same way "The Rings of Akhaten" did.

:: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was particularly stupid. And the Doctor going back in time to warn himself as a way of simply undoing the episode feels like a cheat. It's lame and it feels like a cheat. Also, I really hate this season's theme of the TARDIS acting like a jealous girlfriend.

:: "The Crimson Horror" was flat-out terrible and made me feel really sorry for Diana Rigg.

:: "Nightmare in Silver" was okay. I'm not as enamored with Neil Gaiman's writing, and I thought the children Clara looks after were horrid and the twist was obvious a mile away. But Warwick Davis stole the whole episode, and I love Warwick Davis. His presence made it so much easier to swallow the incredibly stupid scenes of Matt Smith arguing with an evil version of himself like he was in an old Star Trek episode. Actually, I take back my assessment of "okay," this one is just dumb but has a fun role for Warwick Davis.

:: Which brings us to the finale, "The Name of the Doctor." A finale I found underwhelming to say the least. Underwhelming and problematic.

Let's do underwhelming first.

Steven Moffat has a tendency a little bit to act like some big mystery is going to be uncovered, and while we're all supposed to be looking around us and trying to figure out what the significance of the Doctor's name is or who River Song really is or how the Doctor dies, he swoops in and laughs it all away because that was never really supposed to be the focus in the first place. It's this whole other thing. It's just kind of annoying and anticlimactic. Not that I wanted to know the Doctor's name--dear god, I don't ever want to know, and I certainly don't want Steven Moffat being the one to come up with it--but all of the focus on it as a plot point diminishes the story because he's not actually focusing on the story. He's focusing on trying to be clever.

Underwhelming thing #2: the big villain turned out to be the Great Intelligence. What? Who? Why do we care? We don't know the Great Intelligence. I'm going to assume he's not meant to be the same Great Intelligence from the Patrick Troughton era, but even if he is, who cares? He's not a character with a long and rich history who is constantly foiled by the Doctor. We've really only seen him twice, and he's only directly confronted the Doctor once. So what do we care if he's mad at the Doctor? Get in line. It really didn't feel as epic as the episode was trying to convince us it was, because it wasn't a villain we were invested in at all. You can't just drop the guy into a cameo in one episode and then several episodes later have him step out from behind the curtain and reveal himself to be the season's Big Bad. Where's the set-up? Where's the drama? Who gives a shit? It's terrible storytelling.

Remember in the first season when Russell T. Davies subtly wove "Bad Wolf" into every episode? It was a presence that was on your mind, and it took a few episodes before it really started to seem like something. "Torchwood" in season two. "Saxon" in season three. It was a great set-up. Here it's just "Well, remember this guy? Sort of? Oh, well, he's the archvillain this time around." There's just no impact at all because this half-season was so concerned with the identity of Clara and the Doctor's name that this confrontation wasn't remotely set up, and when it happened, there was no payoff. You can't have payoff without setting it up.

Also underwhelming: I'm already sick of Vastra, Jenny and Strax, and I really didn't need to see more of River Song. River Song is beyond played out.

Now, the problematic thing: the identity of Clara.

Okay, so, Clara sacrifices herself to reset the Doctor's timeline to the way it was throughout his history. It was actually underwhelming as well as problematic, but let's talk about why it bugged me: because, like all of Moffat's female characters, she's just River Song. You can make her all flashy with her clever-clever smarty-smart dialogue and obnoxious familiarity, but it's the same thing: a character that seems independent but is really just created to be obsessed with the Doctor and to service the Doctor in some way. I just don't like this thing where instead of creating an interesting character, she's a character who is really only there to eventually play an important role in the fate of the Doctor himself. Maybe if we'd had another season or so before getting here, where the show could've really played with her identity instead of just being so obsessed about the actual mystery itself. Maybe the Doctor could have remembered seeing her in other places and times, or maybe we could've caught glimpses of her or other versions of her or something. If there had been something more active about it instead of just obsessing over an eventual reveal and finding out the answer is not really all that compelling. I wonder if Clara is going to keep being the companion, or if Moffat's done with her now that she's served this story purpose, because why have a character when you can have a plot device? It's just easier, I guess.

Of course, rather than dwell on what happened, the show rushes off to its next mystery: the identity of John Hurt's Doctor. The prevailing theory is that he's the Doctor during the Time War, an identity the Doctor has been running away from, which is interesting because it makes David Tennant the 11th Doctor and not the 10th, and maybe Tennant is the one supposed to fall at Trenzalore. My theory was that John Hurt is the Valeyard, but maybe there's something to the idea of being the Time War Doctor. That said, I know Tennant's in the upcoming anniversary special that is apparently going to be a 50-year celebration of only the last couple of years of Doctor Who, but I still suspect he's going to be that alternate half-human Doctor that stayed with Rose. Maybe I'm wrong, who the hell knows?

And then, of course, there's the speculation about who will be the next Doctor, since Smith is leaving after the Christmas special. As usual, I'd like to see someone older in the role again, but judging by the angry online comments from fans when they saw John Hurt and thought he was too old and unsexy to be the Doctor, I doubt the show will go in that direction. Matt Smith's been pretty David Tennant-lite on the show (although Matt Smith is very, very far from being the thing that's wrong with Doctor Who right now), and after the usual talk about whether the Doctor could be a woman (and I still think it could work) and the usual fruitless push for Chiwetel Ejiofor, I expect we'll some other wispy thin tall guy with a hipster suit and big hair take the role and be David Tennant-lite-lite. It's just how it works right now.

That said, my ideal choice is still Patrick Stewart. Even before Eccleston happened, it's been Patrick Stewart, because I just want to see Patrick Stewart be funny and goofy and silly in the role.

A fan can dream.

What I really want is for Steven Moffat to leave and be replaced by Neil Cross, anyway.

Kristen Bell Mondays


Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Beatles: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

I can't believe I haven't had the Beatles in this space since 2009. This is probably one of my five favorite songs of theirs, but trying to pick favorites with the Beatles is hard enough. It's a fluid, ever-changing list.