How's Who #11 - Kinda

 And you, the viewer, will give the same sideways glance to this vehicle when it shows up!

TARDIS Crew: The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), though she's only in it for like a minute.

The plot: A beautiful, paradise planet, Deva Loka. Its inhabitants, the Kinda, are a gentle and seemingly primitive people. On the surface, a perfect place to colonise. But if it is so perfect, why are the colonisation team disappearing one by one?

Unaware of this, the Doctor and his companions choose to rest on Deva Loka. Enchanted by the beautiful Chimes, "the place of dreams", Tegan sleeps and falls prey to the Mara, a malevolent force out to steal her mind. But just what are its ultimate evil intentions?

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Adric are captured by the surviving colonisation team's officers, Sanders and the unstable Hindle. When Sanders disappears, Hindle collapses into a world of paranoid delusions and suddenly the security of the entire base is at risk.


Can the Doctor rescue Tegan from the Mara and defeat it - before it pushes Hindle over the edge? And who is the mysterious blind woman who appears in visions? Will she help the Doctor or ultimately impede him? (QUOTED FROM THE DVD CASE)

The thoughts:  Kinda.  Oh, Kinda.  Most people dismiss you because of the admittedly dodgy snake in episode four, but you're so much more than that.  If only they'd see.

Definitely NOT the snake puppet that came with the Masters of the Universe Fright Zone playset.

Seriously, you guys... Kinda is fantastic.  One of the true gems of the Peter Davison era, but I think it tends to get lost in the shuffle behind stuff like The Caves of Androzani (famously chosen as the best Doctor Who story of all by the Doctor Who Magazine Top 200 poll a while back) or The Five Doctors (hard to ignore the combo of anniversary-inspired nostalgia wrapped in a big, bright, John Nathan-Turner production).  While puppetry may not be this story's strong suit, there's a lot of great work going on here.  Why do I think it works so well? 
First off, it's a fact that there aren't a lot of "Rudyard Kipling in Outer Space" stories out there.  Space Westerns, space samurais, space socio-economic class struggles, sure.  19th century British Imperial expansion, right down to the bushy mustaches and pith helmets... not so much.  And while the race of "noble savages" concept had been done before, this still felt like a fresh take.  This could very well have been another "base under siege" / "man messing with things he does not understand" mash-up, but this is different in that it is not only singularly British, but it echoes a time, place, and literature not often referenced in TV sci-fi, even the equally singularly British Doctor Who.

It probably doesn't hurt that the 5th Doctor's usual companions are frequently sidelined throughout.  Nyssa's usually pretty tolerable, so you're right to feel a little worried at the thought of four episodes wandering around a jungle with Tegan and Adric when everyone's favorite Trakenite goes down with a migraine.  But unusually for the era, Tegan and Adric are actually given stuff to do besides complain.  Well, Adric doesn't get to do much more (besides a quick apparent heel turn and some close-up magic that ends up being kind of important), but the Doctor does yell at him a few times and it's hilarious ("Adric, there's a difference between serious, scientific investigation and meddling." "Yes." "ISN'T THERE?!?").

It's Tegan that really gets to expand beyond her usual mouth with legs "Where's Heathrow Airport?" routine as she becomes the vessel through which the Mara enters the story.  Janet Fielding does some wonderful acting in some moody, intensely creepy scenes as she gets dragged into the Mara's dream world, and then gets to act the part of the beast itself for a few minutes.  Such a departure, and Fielding really makes the most of it.

There's some outstanding work by the guest cast, particularly Simon Rouse as Hindle, the colony expedition's de-facto second-in-command, and Nerys Hughes as science officer Todd.  I think Hindle's complete mental breakdown as he assumes command might happen a bit too quickly, as he goes from "a bit too stuck on regulations" to General Jack D. Ripper in just a few scenes, but once he does board the Crazytown Express, he gives a chilling performance.  And Hughes is wonderful from word go, as she quickly develops a rapport with the Doctor and is warm, funny, brilliant, and more than a little sexy (what with the glasses, pulled back hair, hint-of-cleavage lab coat, and the purple leggings).  She is such a fun character, and if I were to ever make a list of favorite single story pseudo-companions, she'd be right up at the top.

Helloooooooooooooo, science officer Todd! And some other guys.
As the Kinda themselves become more involved with the story (seeing as they're the indigenous population and all) and we move toward the revelation of and conflict with the Mara, things do get a little surreal and the hokum-related shenanigans increase.  And then, of course, there's that puppet (though on DVD you can watch the final episode with new special effects that actually look pretty good).  But the story hangs together in spite of all this, and whereas in the current version of the show the Doctor would be quick to rattle off some sort of pseudo-scientific explanation about how the Mara is from an out-of-phase reality that can only be breached telepathically by a brain in the midst of a trance not unlike sleep and blah blah blah... here the Doctor is pretty much along for the ride.  He's heard legends of the Mara, knows it's bad news, and concocts a solution to the problem not out of science but pretty much straight out of Earth mythology.  It's Todd that tries to apply the rational explanations, though she always comes up empty in this regard.  Sometimes the monster is just the monster.

Overall: Overlooked by too many fans (though the authors of The Discontinuity Guide sure seemed to like it), Kinda just may be my favorite Fifth Doctor story of all.  It wears all its weaknesses right on screen, sure, but it's a truly original piece of work - not just for Doctor Who, but TV science fiction in general - and is ripe for rediscovery.  For that matter, so is science officer Todd.  Yowsa.

Why the knowing look on the Doctor's face? Because he's positive that there's fanfic out there where they totally make out.

Okay, I am not Superman, but at least I can claim Kryptonian heritage

William-Am sounds like that guy from the Black Eyed Peas, or else an attempt to conjugate the first person singular form of the verb "to be" in Bizarro-speak, but I'll gladly take it (especially since my house crest is so cool).

This is from the Man of Steel Glyph Creator site.  You go answer a couple of quick personality questions and bam, instant Kryptonian.  I can only assume my powers are forthcoming.  I plan on going cape shopping tomorrow.

I am Superman and I can do anything.

As an avowed and proud Superman fan, I feel bad that I didn't post anything about the Man of Steel on April 18th, the 75th anniversary of the release of Action Comics #1.  But even if this is off by an entire month (and some change), I'm still doing this in a less-belated manner than DC Comics, which isn't celebrating the occasion until June 12th, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

(Not to knock entirely on DC for that decision, seeing how Action Comics #1 was cover dated June 1938 and it's really tedious explaining that whole cover date / street date thing to people who don't already know the difference and likely don't care.  Plus, Man of Steel is released later that week, and your average international multimedia conglomerate like Time-Warner sure does love some cross-platform synergy.  But still, it would've killed them to send a card?)

Anyway.

It's kind of hard to explain the place that Superman occupies in my headspace.  He's one of my favorite superheroes, sure (occupying a plateau with Batman, and the original Captain Marvel), though calling him one of my favorite fictional characters, regardless of genre or medium, is probably more accurate.  But that's not to say I read, watch, play, and/or collect everything he appears in or on, because let's face it, there's a whole lot of bad Superman material out there (the N64 game, for instance, which is the rare case of the internet understating how bad something is).

But I can overlook that because I look at Superman as more than just a character (which is helpful during the periods when you find the comics mostly unreadable*).  Superman, to me, is an ideal to be aspired to and embraced.  None of us can fly, change the course of rivers, or get someone else (whether robot, Batman, or JFK) to impersonate us when we need to be in the same place at the same time as our alter ego, but we can still attempt to live up to that ideal.

Whether you're the Last Son of Krypton or Joe Shmoe from Idaho, you're born with certain abilities, gifts, attributes... whatever you want to call them.  And sometimes people around you need help in ways both large and small.  You want to be like Superman?  Use what you've been given to help out the best way that you can because you can, because it's the right thing to do.

The cape, the powers, the secret identity drama?  That's all just window dressing.  What Superman is really about is basic human kindness (however ironic that may be given that he is neither basic nor human).  And that's not even just something we can aspire to, but something we can actually achieve.

That's why Superman is important to me, why I consider him a favorite even when I'm not actively following his adventures, why I can usually be found wearing something with his insignia on it every single day (usually my watch, though I do own / have owned plenty of shirts, hats, wallets, and other accoutrements through the years).

I don't believe a man can fly, but that doesn't mean we can't achieve the ideal in our own ways.



*Um, kind of like right now.  Sorry, Kal.

Doctor Who and the Suspiciously-Vital-to-the-Plot Supporting Characters

I think I'm ready for a regeneration on Doctor Who.  Maybe in the Doctor himself (though I like Smith alright), but definitely in the showrunner.  I think Steven Moffat was one of the strongest writers (arguably the strongest) in the early goings of the show's revival under Russell T. Davies.  But since taking over the show himself, I worry that he represents the sorts of problems that arise when you put someone who is too big of a fan into the big chair.

Being the caretaker of a long-running, ongoing serial narrative is a tricky task.  Add nothing to the story, and you do no better than mark time until the next caretaker comes along.  Add too much, and you risk angering or even driving away creators and audience alike.  There is a very careful balance that needs to be achieved, and neither the faint of heart nor would-be auteurs need apply.  And as is clear from the bulk of his work, Moffat definitely considers himself an auteur - and credit where it's due, he certainly has the resume to back that up.  However, I think his well-documented Who megafandom has robbed him of some of the perspective that would make him a better caretaker of the franchise.

Compare Moffat's run to Davies, the companion characters each created in particular.  Davies famously (or infamously, depending on your POV) created the first obviously canonical love interest in the history of the series; Jo, Sarah Jane, Romana, and maybe even Nyssa were always hinted at, of course, but it was never directly stated on screen; and the TV movie's Dr. Grace Holloway wasn't around long enough to seem like anything more than a one-story flirtation.  With Rose Tyler, though, it's made very clear that she and the Doctor are deeply in luuuuurrrve (even if it takes a few years after her departure to really say it say it).  But it can be argued that that change in the series norm was made to set the tone for the different needs of the modern audience, and it only served to bring to the fore what we always knew was going on in the background with Jo, Sarah Jane, et al.  The rest of Davies's companions?  Buddies for the Doctor, people for him to relate to, even act as a de facto family.  Different types of companions for a different series (much less running and screaming, and far fewer sprained ankles), ones that added new wrinkles to the established dynamic, but still recognizably Who.  Russell T. Davies really knew how to innovate with - but still respect - the established toy box.

Now look at Moffat's companions.  Two "impossible" girls who were not brought along because they seemed like fun traveling companions, but because they were Important Mysteries To Be Solved.  A man who was the most patient, loving, and loyal being in the history of Earth, and a man whose love was strong enough to somehow survive being erased from time.  And, of course, a woman so impossibly cheeky, uber-competent, and all-knowing that she had to end up being not just the Doctor's love interest, but the Doctor's kinda-sorta (but still somehow legally binding?) wife and the one person who knows every single secret in the show's history that she managed to learn them off camera because reasons.

In my eyes, the Davies companions are characters, but the Moffat companions are the Mary Sue-est of Mary Sues.  Maybe not in the direct-author-avatar sense, but they're all so Extraordinary In Every Way, Important To Every Plot, and the Knowers Of All That Which Needs To Be Known.  Just look at Clara's fate as seen in "The Name of the Doctor," in which (and I'll try to be vague here) she is shown to be not only important to this story, but Important To Every Doctor Who Story Ever.  No wonder Moffat insists that the show "has always been about the companions."  He really, really, really loves HIS companions!

And that's not to say they're bad characters; the Doctor - Amy - Rory grouping, for instance, is one of my favorite Doctor/companion teams in the show's history (even if I don't like every story they're in, I love how the characters interact).  But Moffat overestimates their importance, I think, and his desire to leave his mark on the show's long history betrays a desire to highlight his own creations at the expense of the overall narrative (and some of the theories I'm seeing for the season finale's Big Reveal don't do anything to disprove this to me).  His mark is looking more like a big, messy thumbprint as time goes on.

And this is to say nothing of his seeming desire to make EVERYTHING about the show into fairy tale (never thought I'd call a Cybermen story "twee," but I've done so TWICE under his watch).  And the recurring trend of introducing major plot threads only to sideline them ("She's the impossible girl!"  "Why?"  "Because she is, hey look a Russian submarine.") or ignore them completely (the whole exploding TARDIS thing from Series 5).  But the Mary Sues (or Larry Stus)... they're what's at the heart of my problems with the series since the Moffat era began, and what's dimming my enthusiasm as time goes on.

Look, Steven Moffat is a talented writer and producer, and there have been plenty of episodes I've enjoyed since he took the reins from Russell T. Davies (hell, most of the first half of this season was a lot of fun, particularly the Dalek Asylum, dinosaurs in space, and cubes/UNIT episodes).  And the performances from the cast have generally been pretty good.  But it's the overall direction of the show that is getting me down, and has in my opinion gotten too far away from what I'm looking for in A Good Doctor Who Story.  I won't be wandering away from the show any time soon, but I can't help but think I should be looking forward to November's 50th anniversary with unbridled enthusiasm, not mild curiosity and a dread that this, too, will miss the mark by a wide margin.