This is probably going to turn into a rant, but before it does, let me first and foremost say that I recommend Patrick Rothfuss’s novels, In the Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear. The main character, Kvothe, is brilliantly drawn. It’s been a while since I’ve been so attached to a protagonist that I literally cheer on his accomplishments while reading. I still haven’t finished Wise Man’s Fear yet (life has gotten in the way, as has writing), but I expect to soon, and I am still enjoying the series a good deal.
I do, however, have one incredibly annoying problem with the book: Denna, the love interest.
Denna is not attractive to me. Denna is worse than unattractive, I find Denna actively repulsive. I would flee from this woman like she had cholera. I honestly cannot stand her; she drives me bonkers. And yet Kvothe, whom I adore, is madly in love with her. I find myself screaming at the text “Kvothe you moron! THE GIRL IS BAD NEWS! MOVE ON!” It’s like witnessing a good friend of yours going out with a complete zero and you knowing you have no real control over it (it’s their life, etc.), but it also seems to occupy your every thought during every conversation you have with them. It’s an eyelash in your eye, an eggshell in your omelette.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, Denna is, essentially, the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope from modern film. If you don’t know who I mean, think Natalie Portman from Garden State, Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, of even Catherine from the classic French flick, Jules et Jim. The MPDG was defined by film critic Nathan Rabin when he said:
“[The MPDG is] that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
The MPDG is flighty, free-spirited, and playful. She is in need of a man to give her stability in life, but refuses to submit to a man’s authority. The man, conversely, needs the MPDG to teach him to love and laugh and grow. They feed off one another, they banter and they play, and ultimately complete each other in a kind of perfect love.
This sounds nice on paper, I suppose, but only if you assume the MPDG is some kind of puzzle piece and not an actual human being. MPDGs would be, in reality, emotionally damaged people. They cannot trust and are afraid to love due to deep-seeded psychological issues that only they (and perhaps a licensed therapist) can repair. They are not relationship material, no matter how quirky or fun they appear. This is not to say, of course, that quirky and fun women are automatically bad news in real life (far from it!), but when that quirkiness is really just a shield for self-destructively low self-esteem and emotional unavailability, well, it’s not good.
Denna fulfills this trope well – she is mistrustful, flighty, and the rest of it. Rothfuss (through Kvothe’s narration) portrays this as wonderful and enchanting and intoxicating, which drives me bonkers. No, Kvothe, it is not charming when Denna gives you a little wink while on the arm of another man. It is hurtful to you, to her, and dishonest to everyone (especially the guy whose arm she is on). It’s emotionally destructive behavior. Denna keeps secrets and dislikes inquiry into her past (WARNING FLAG, Kvothe!), she refuses to pursue Kvothe or be pursued by him for fear of being hurt. She can’t take criticism. She is unreliable.
As if this wasn’t aggravating enough, Rothfuss parades a variety of far more attractive women (at least to me) under Kvothe’s nose. There is Fela, the intelligent, well-spoken, honest, courageous, generous classmate at the University. There is Devi, the confident, talented, street-smart, and curious loan-shark. Hell, there’s even Felurian, a faerie princess and the most beautiful woman in the world. Granted, she isn’t human and would eventually devour Kvothe with her affections, but at least the woman would supply some degree of emotional satisfaction to the poor man before his heart gave out.
Now, it may well be that Rothfuss is perfectly aware of what bad news this Denna girl is. He is making the series out to be somehow tragic, anyway – maybe Denna is part of it. All I know is that it’s been two books now of Kvothe mooning over a girl who, were he a real guy and my friend, I would do my best to dissuade his interest. Denna is bad news, man. For Tehlu’s sake, ASK OUT FELA!
So, first off, I like Batman. I like Batman a lot. He is one of my favorite superheroes of all time. I also like Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Prestige are some of my favorite movies. You know what I didn’t like, though?
Rising Rises (sorry, didn’t like the movie enough to remember its precise title). Ugh.
Okay, I’m going to rant a bit here, and massive quantities of spoilers below, if you still care. I feel like I’m the last person to see this movie, so I doubt it matters, but still…
What I Liked
Before I get into tearing this mostly ridiculous movie apart, let’s go over the stuff that was honestly good. First on the list is Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle – very well done, good character arc, good one-liners, etc.. Second is the character arc of Bruce Wayne himself, which was a fitting conclusion to the series as a whole. I also loved Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in this flick, and I would totally go see a Nightwing movie with him in it.
There we go. Positives done with. Let’s go through the problems, one-by-one, starting with:
#1: Batman is Such an Idiot
Batman is supposed to be smart. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective. He’s supposed to have a plan for everything. So why, then, is he caught so flat-footed by Kyle’s betrayal in the sewers? How on earth is this surprising to him? She’s a crook and a con-artist and he’s going to follow her into the base of the guy she’s been working for and he doesn’t have a back-up plan? Seriously? This is where the movie, which was holding on until this point, starts to go downhill.
When Batman fights Bane, apparently his only plan is ‘punch Bane until he falls down.’ Then, when he doesn’t fall down, Batman’s plan is ‘punch Bane more.’ Errr…maybe a change in tactics is in order? Haven’t you got a taser or something? Knock-out gas? Something?
Then, Bane charters the private jet to Central Asia that, you know, he has just lying around to shuttle himself and Bruce Wayne to that prison in the middle of nowhere. For giggles, you know? To show how he ‘grew up in darkness’ (despite this being the sunniest prison I’ve ever seen, but whatever) and to torture Batman with cable news networks on satellite TV forever. Mwa-hahahahaha! Oh yes, so evil. Sunny prisons with their own private climbing wall, no apparent guards, and free reign of the facility sound awful.
Now, while I generally like the ‘Bruce Wayne clawing his way out of the pit of despair’ thing, I do have to question the man’s intelligence again. Indeed, I think that perhaps this entire prison is designed to capture the irrevocably stupid rather than the wicked. Take a look at the picture to the right here. Look at it long and hard.
Am I the only person who sees the rope?
What the hell, guys? They have a pulley system set up to belay. It appears to go to the top of the pit. Hasn’t anyone in this ridiculous prison figured out that they could just hoist a guy to the top with the stupid belaying line and then he can climb out? Even if the pulley doesn’t go all the way up, it goes higher than that jump nobody can make. Has anyone considered, I don’t know, swinging from the rope for a while to cross the gap? I mean, of all people, shouldn’t Batman be able to figure something like this out? Jeez…
#2: Meanwhile, Back in Gotham…
Bane hatches his evil plot. His evil plot involves manipulating the entire Gotham PD to go into the sewers. At this point in the film, my wife (who works in disaster management, homeland security, and interfaces with numerous police departments) starting laughing uncontrollably at the television. So, a couple things here:
- Why the hell would you send every cop you had into the sewers? You need cops to do other things all the time like, for instance, work security at a professional football game happening simultaneously.
- Are we to believe that every cop in the Gotham PD was put on duty? Yeah, that makes sense. All the cops on duty at once, sure. See what the police union has to say about that.
- Major cities have more than one police department in them. Boston, for instance, has the BPD, the State Police, around three to four university police departments, Transit Police, the Sheriff’s Department/Correctional Officers, and so on. A much bigger city like
New YorkGotham would probably have even more.
So, we’re to believe that all of the cops went into the sewers and then Bane blew up all of the entrances to the sewers? Sure, whatever guys.
Then, in order to show Gothamites that they are ‘liberated’, he blows up their football team. Because, you know, the best way to get John Q Public to do what you want is to blow up his favorite professional football team. Good plan, Bane. Yes, obviously you and your dozen mercenaries are going to be able to restrain tens of thousands of angry, half-drunk football nuts, especially since you say you have a nuclear bomb. Obviously. People are reasonable like that. They are going to listen to your ‘you are my hostages now, congratulations! Oh, and by the way, I have no demands!’ and say ‘the man makes a good argument. Plus the bums had a 5-6 record, so screw them.’
I’m not going to stray into the whole ‘what would people really do’ argument too far here, but lets just say this: in the five months that Gotham is under martial law, the only people who seem to actually live in Gotham are the half-dozen cops who weren’t in the sewers, the two dozen or so of Bane’s thugs, and Catwoman and her roommate. Everybody else stays home, I guess, for the entire five months. Patently ridiculous, of course, but let’s not get into it. Still…
#3: I Have Some Logistical Concerns
How many dudes does Bane employ, anyway? I ask because they seem to be freaking everywhere. Again, drawing on my wife’s expertise, she estimates it would take about 10,000 personnel to lock down a city like Boston (population 600,000). If Gotham is Manhattan-sized, it’s much bigger than that. Now, granted it’s an island, so let’s give Bane the benefit of the doubt and say he needed 15,000 men to keep Gotham under wraps. Fifteen thousand seems an unrealistically high number of guys for him to possibly employ. I mean, sure, he’s been collecting disaffected youth in the sewers for a while, but how the hell does he even feed all those guys? What are they paid? Are we seriously expecting all of them to be that loyal to him? Really? The dude in the wolfman-mask is scary, yeah, but wouldn’t most of those juvenile delinquents prefer playing Xbox on a stolen television in some dumpy basement apartment? Like, where’s the upside working for Bane? What does he promise them, exactly, and why do they believe him?
Okay, okay, I’ll stop. He’s got upteen-billion fanatical followers, sure. Whatever. I just can’t quite figure out how the hell this is supposed to work. There’d be so many holes in this ‘blockade’ it would be ridiculous. People would be leaving (and entering) via little boats every night. The forces surrounding the city would be engaged in some serious planning to isolate the bomb, negotiate with the terrorists, and play hardball whenever they can, nuke or no nuke. Fine, though, I get it – Batman has to save the city. I know, know. So let’s to it:
#4: Batman Saves The City with Punching
So, Bruce Wayne, broke, penniless, and a fugitive from prison, manages to effortlessly walk out of whatever central Asian territory he’d been imprisoned and hops a flight home, easily bypassing the blockade (along with, I presume, innumerable others).
He then busts the cops out of the sewers (seriously, guys? Five months?) and they come out, looking unusually healthy for guys who’ve been in the cold and dark for that long. They all then muster up somewhere (I’m guessing the park) and, deciding it’s the 18th century, march in ranks against the assembled ranks of Bane’s thugs (who also seem to have gotten the memo that today was going to be a big fight at city hall). The Thugs, who also seem to think it’s the 18th century, fire their machine guns once, and then charge in for fisticuffs. At this point in the film, my wife and I started singing “When
You’re a Jet, You’re a Jet” from West Side Story. Seemed appropriate.
Then comes the climatic battle between Bane and Batman; they begin fighting, taking turns punching each other. At last, as though struck by a bolt of lightning, Batman has a revelation: Oh! I should punch Bane in the face! Ah-ha!
So then Batman loosens a tube on Bane’s face mask which, apparently, is really important. Bane has trouble breathing, Batman wins. Sort of. Some girl stabs him, but that turns out to not be that important, since stabbing action heroes in the stomach is a mild disadvantage, at best. The stomach, you see, is for eating, and since Batman isn’t eating, he should be fine. Plenty of time to see a doctor. Seriously. Blood loss isn’t really a thing. Neither is sepsis. Chill out everybody, it’s Batman.
Naturally, after all that, Batman picks up the nuke and flies it out to sea, since we all know that nuclear weapons that explode over the ocean aren’t dangerous. I’m sure there will be no ill effects. We’re all saved. Hooray Batman!
In retrospect, I am forced to wonder what other endgame did Bane and company have in mind. I mean, he clearly didn’t cause much of a panic. He basically gave the children of Gotham a five-month snow day, more or less. I mean, if he wanted to nuke the city, couldn’t he have just nuked the city? Isn’t the idea to destroy the city, after all? Oh, right – he wanted Gotham to suffer. But they didn’t suffer, did they? Like, maybe a little, but if they did, we didn’t really see it. Some rich folks got their houses looted. They made some people drown. They blew up the football team. It seems, though, that for the most part everybody just stayed home, watched On Demand, and waited for Batman to show up and do something about it. So, yeah, dumb plan, Bane.
And I’m not even getting started on the terrible editing, the overbearing soundtrack, or the absolute ridiculosity that is Christian Bale’s Batman Voice. Wow, silly. Michael Cane hasn’t done a sillier movie since Jaws 4, honestly. I hope, at least, that the house this one bought is equally as fabulous.
Vrokthar the Skullfeaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, is greatly angered this holiday season. So angered that he has subdued the soft wetlander that commands this magical, glowing word-slate and has taken the time to tap out his complaints, letter by letter, so that the gods of Inter-net may hear them and tremble.
So, hear me, feeble word-gods of this future world! Vrokthar commands tribute from you, for you hath offended him deeply. Listen well:
Bring me the head of the man who created modern packaging, and you and your lands may exist un-pillaged and un-razed.
Surely this is among the most reasonable of requests, as Vrokthar cannot imagine that you would protect such a miserable and aggravating weakling as he who decided to encase all of Vrokthar’s new memory cards in plastic so impenetrable that Mook’ta, the God of Mindless Hatred, would have difficulty opening them. Vrokthar had need to smite these thin, clear plastic boxes with his greatest axe to free them, and this has damaged the treasures within. It has also, Vrokthar is informed, voided his ‘Warranty’, which sounds bad. If the purposeless meddling of this fat, mewling inventor has exposed Vrokthar to evil curses, long shall his screams echo across the tundra.
Vrokthar, however, is as generous as he is mighty. Though he cursed the heavens with many bloody oaths after smashing his memory card, it occurred to him, in calmer moments, that perhaps this impenetrable force-field of plastic was needed to protect valuable objects from raiders. This is a weakling thing – Vrokthar fears no thieves, and keeps his things in sacks, preferably carried by his harem of female slaves – but Vrokthar must remember that you wetlanders are entirely populated by puffy weaklings. Very well then, reed-thin un-men, protect your valuable electronics with your womanish technological arts. This makes sense for you, sons of lambs that you are.
But packages of Macaroni and Cheese? What the flying fuck?!
Why must Vrokthar track down a pair of scissors to open up his cheesy powder-flavoring to enjoy a box of pillaged food products? Such sustenance is less than worthless – there is no market to sell such objects and one must travel about with a great pallet of such sub-foods in order to be traded for a simple slave-wench. Yet, here am I, Vrokthar, Mighty of the Mighty, straining his cable-like muscles to open a simple plastic bag full of noodles. Then, when the foolish bag is sundered by my great power, the fucking noodles fly everywhere! ARRRGHHHH!
Vrokthar demands satisfaction. Bring me the foolish engineer’s head. BRING HIM TO ME! Let me feast on his blood! Let him be dipped in a boiling cauldron of his own fiendish plastic and have his screams be encased forever, so that his seared corpse may be left standing as a monument on the Wastes to all who would annoy the Skullfeaster.
So it shall be!
So, my brother-in-law generously gave me his old lawnmower so that I, new homeowner, could reduce the jungle growing up around my house before the Na’vi took up residence and started all their environmental nonsense. Anyway, the mower was hard to start – I think that Briggs & Stratton build engines specifically designed to frustrate me – and it took me a while fiddling with it before I could get it to go. One of the things I did was fill it up with gas. This necessitated me purchasing a new gas can, and here our story begins.
You know what drives me nuts? No, don’t guess – let me just tell you: when people create ‘improvements’ to things that DO NOT NEED IMPROVEMENT. Case in point, this gas can, like all gas cans since gas cans were a thing, has a little spigot/nozzle/tube thing that comes out the end so that you can easily pour gasoline from the can into whatever device you’re looking to fuel. Those little things are not only useful, but ridiculously simple, cheap, elegant, and almost completely foolproof.
My new gas can didn’t have one. It had a ‘new improved’ version with a safety lock on it and some mechanism wherein you had to push down on the nozzle to make the gas come out. This thing, of course, promptly either broke or was so byzantine in its function that I found myself completely unable to get it to work. Gas was spilling everywhere. I shook my fists at the heavens and at whatever moron decided this doohickey was somehow essential to the operation of my little 1-gallon gas can.
Seriously, under what circumstances is something like that needed? Am I filling my lawnmower on the pitching, heaving deck of ship that is currently on fire and, therefore, should one *single* drop of gasoline go awry, the entire place would explode? Do they expect me to need this gas can in some apocalyptic wasteland where every single cubic centimeter of fuel is such a precious commodity that I need redundant systems to prevent any loss whatsoever? Do the regular purchasers of this gas can have a kind of palsy that makes them shake and tremble so that conventional spigots are ineffectual. I mean WHAT THE HELL, GUYS?
This stupid spigot is indicative of what we’re doing with technological advancement today. We are wasting our intelligence and effort on pointless gadgets rather than trying to solve something important, like the energy crisis, the population bomb, hunger, disease, space travel, etc., etc.. Take the almighty iPhone, for instance. I don’t have one. I don’t have one because (a) they are expensive and (b) I already have a phone that works just fine. Yes, I cannot use my phone to take quality photographs or e-mail people or play games or check Facebook, but I don’t need to do that. At all. It might be fun, but it’s also frivolous and silly. I’m pretty much the only person on the train who observes his surroundings anymore. I could pick everybody’s pocket in there, if I wanted, and escape without notice, because everybody’s powers of perception are wholly poured into a tiny little rectangle of light held in the palms of their hands. Why? Because they can’t stand the thought of not being entertained for fifteen goddamned minutes. We can’t get ourselves off relying on fossil fuels, but we can watch reruns of Futurama any freaking time we please.
There’s a lot of other garbage like this in our modern world, from those little GPS computers that tell you where you are and where you’re going (when a decent map or even MapQuest would suffice) to the asinine contents of every single SkyMall catalog to those stupid cars that can parallel park themselves (what, can’t you, I don’t know, LEARN?). We’ve become a people so paranoid of boredom and discomfort that we’ve decided to outsource our brains to some engineer somewhere who thinks she can make a gadget that does it better.
I wound up pouring gas into my lawnmower engine with no spigot at all. Like a goddamned savage.
Dear Mr Toppumhat,
Like everybody here on the island, I am a frequent patron and user of our extensive train system. While I have certain reservations about the sheer number of tracks laid across our relatively small island (they do have cars now, you know, and I’d like to be able to ride a bicycle occasionally without having to lose fillings while bumping over tracks), in general the presence of the train lines makes life more convenient. Or would, perhaps, were it not for those stupid damned trains.
I realize that having autonomous, artificially intelligent trains is both extremely cutting edge and a draw for tourist dollars, but I for one am tired of having my livelihood depend upon the random and often childish acts of computerized trains with the emotional maturity of five-year-olds. It doesn’t matter one button how many stupid tourists our island gets if the damned trains they ride decide that it would be ‘more fun’ to take them to see the ironworks instead of stopping at my fruit stand. Do you have any idea, sir, how important that fruit stand is to paying my bills? I swear, the next time Toby cruises by my farm with that stupid grin on his creepy, latex face while taking my customers on some stupid joy ride they neither want nor need, I am going to spike the damned rails. See that I won’t! It isn’t as though the damned trains don’t derail themselves all the time for God knows what juvenile reason. I swear I saw Thomas playing chicken with Gordon - chicken! - over some schoolyard disagreement over who was bluer. There are people’s lives at stake, you fat dimwit!
Here’s an idea, you bloated technophile: rather than treating our island (and our home) as some sort of high-tech playground for your stunted AI trains, why don’t we do what the rest of the world does and get some normal trains that are piloted by actual people? Do you have any idea what the unemployment rate is here on the Isle? Think of all the jobs that would be available if we took those creepy robot engines and sold their positronic brains for scrap and then hired skilled laborers to replace them. Derailments would go down, schedules would be kept, and that stupid tow-truck at the iron works would drive at a reasonable pace and would stop accidentally lobbing railroad ties across town. Old Lady Martin’s China Shop is still trying to recover from that time what’s-his-name got over excited and dropped a half-ton boiler through her roof.
Think of the peace, quiet, and consistency of our rails if we were to finally rid ourselves of those ten-ton mechanical toddlers. They’d stop tooting at my chickens for no good reason (I can’t remember the last time I had fresh eggs), they’d stop lollygagging around as they sort out their petty emotional problems (for once I’d get to market on time), and I’d wager that 100% fewer cars filled with VIPs would get covered with soot because Edward has some kind of hissy fit over the quality of his paint.
You can swear me off as some grouchy old man if you like, Toppumhat, but I’m not alone on this island. Shape things up, or we’ll see about finding someone who will.
Amos Trotter, Farmer
My friend, John Perich, recently drew my attention to this article by Kyle Munkittrick regarding the importance of Mass Effect and its universe on science fiction overall. As a science fiction author, someone deeply involved in the tropes and subgenres of science fiction, and as a lifelong fan of the genre, the article rubs me the wrong way. Mass Effect, while I expect it is a fine game with a well-realized world and excellent storyline (my critique is in no way directed at the game itself), the authors claims seem to indicate to me a certain ignorance of science fiction in general that bugs me.
The author’s central thesis is this:
Mass Effect can and does take ideas to a new plane of existence. Think of the Big Issues in your favorite series. Whether it is realistic science explaining humanoid life throughout the galaxy, or dealing with FTL travel, or the ethical ambiguity of progress, or even the very purpose of the human race in our universe, Mass Effect has got it. By virtue of three simple traits – its medium, its message, and its philosophy – Mass Effect eclipses and engulfs all of science fiction’s greatest universes.
In essence, it is his claim that the Mass Effect world has managed to effectively supplant all preceding science fiction by virtue of its scope and philosophy. This is, of course, complete and utter nonsense. I can say this without ever having played the game, and the reason I can do this is simply because all of the things pointed out by Mr. Munkittrick as being unique and special to the game have not only been done before, but done before multiple times and done very well. Apparently, because the game does all of them at once, this makes it automatically superior to any individual exploration of various aspects of this theme, which, to my mind, is sort of like saying WalMart is automatically superior to any other store since they sell all the things the other stores do collectively. If we are approaching literature in the same way we approach the purchase of bath towels, then I suppose the argument might stand. Literature and, indeed, all art, is not to be so quantitatively assessed. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go through the claims of the article one-by-one.
In this portion of the article, the author puts forward the idea that Mass Effect, by virtue of being a video game, grants the work a kind of special power. This isn’t altogether untrue, of course–you, in a video game of this nature, have unparalleled control over the path of the storyline, something like those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books of old. This, of course, facilitates a level of engagement that is altogether different from that of a book (it also dilutes authorial control and symbolic and thematic resonance, in my experience, but I haven’t played Mass Effect, so I will give it the benefit of the doubt by saying it is an exception to this phenomenon).
More specifically, however, the author makes three claims. First is this:
The first advantage, setting, involves the portrayal of alien species and alien worlds with ease. Novels require descriptions, comics require painstaking drawings, films and television require either hours of expression deadening makeup or expensive CGI. In a video game, rendering an asari or a hanar requires the same amount of work as a human. Want a cast of thousands? No problem. Need a mob of hundreds of individuals representing fifteen different species rendered inside an colossal ancient space station? No sweat.
So, if I can paraphrase, the argument is that novels use exhausting words to convey meaning, comics have to actually draw things, and film costs lots of money to make this diversity possible. Video games, however, do so effortlessly, somehow, as though the programmers and graphic artists and game designers of these games haven’t spent years and years of work fashioning this environment with every bit as much effort and work as your average novelist, artist, or movie producer.
Furthermore, and more importantly, this is supposed to be somehow novel or unique. Nevermind that it’s been done before, and often. You would have an awfully hard time matching the diversity inherent in Banks’ Culture novels. Furthermore, if you want to talk non-humanoid, bizarre lifeforms and marginalized humanity, there are plenty of choices to pick from, not least of which are the humans of Stephen Baxter’s novels, which at various times in his 4,000,000 year chronology shows humanity being conquered by the Squeem (an aquatic, collectively intelligent species of fish) and the Qax (a species of intelligent marshland–yeah, you heard me) or being completely embarrassed and marginalized by the god-like Xeelee.
The second and third points in the Medium argument circle around the fact that you can control the main character’s choices and even form, which increases engagement in the work. This I won’t bother to contest–it’s true, no doubt. This fact, however, doesn’t make Mass Effect some great contribution to science fiction unless, for some reason, you lack the attention span or capacity to focus on challenging things like ‘books’ to bother seeing what else is out there or what other characters you can identify with. I’m not certain if this argument is the intention of the author, in that it seems to assume that our modern culture can’t or won’t support artistic mediums wherein we cannot control and shape characters ourselves. It strikes me as a cynical and depressing view of modern audiences.
In this segment of the article, Munkittrick presents the central message of Mass Effect as this:
Mass Effect has a simple message: human beings are delusional about their importance in the grand scheme of things.
This is fair enough–a theme often explored by science fiction, and has been hit upon by many, many authors through the years. Munkittrick, however, is primarily focused upon Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar: Galactica, and a brief aside to Starship Troopers (though I’m thinking he means the movie, though, since Heinlein’s message for humanity is rather more in keeping with Mass Effect’s) and Ender’s Game.
This narrowness of scifi allusions tells me, first of all, that the author doesn’t really know enough about science fiction to appropriately assess how important a contribution Mass Effect is likely to make to the genre. Those five works are, essentially, sticking your toe in the shallow-end of what scifi can and has done. I, and I’m sure every scifi writer and fan, are pretty damned tired of having everything we read or have done being compared to Star Wars and Star Trek. Quite simply, the marginalization and racism against humans in Mass Effect for the purpose of, to borrow the author’s phrase, “destabiliz[e] the player’s sense of confidence in his or her own skin,” is an old storyline. For reference, think of The Time Machine (1895), War of the Worlds (1897), Planet of the Apes (1963), Childhood’s End (1953), Battlefield: Earth (1982), Excession (1996), and so on and so forth. Granted, not all of them do *exactly* the same thing, but I think that’s a sufficient crosssection of work to demonstrate how ‘done’ this storyline is. It’s a perfectly good storyline, mind you, but not a landmark one.
The philosophy under discussion is ‘Cosmicism’, which is basically the idea that humans are too insignificant to understand or construct true meaningful existence in the universe. It is, as the author points out, posited by HP Lovecraft. He also claims that Mass Effect is the only work since then to bother with this postmodernist take on human existence. This is, of course, false (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is perhaps the most prominent work to approach the same material, as did Childhood’s End and a lot of Clarke’s other work, as does, on a thematic level, much of the cyberpunk subgenre–or the good stuff, anyway).
In any event, the author proceeds to present a wide variety of storylines that have analogs in other works and all tie this into postmodern thought. This isn’t especially novel, since the other works are also tying it into postmodern thought, because that’s where they got the idea, and HP Lovecraft and the creators of Mass Effect aren’t the only two artists to consider such things. Now, Munkittrick is clearly a big fan of Cosmicism and a devout postmodernist, so the praise he heaps upon Mass Effect I feel, to some extent, is due to his discovery of a video game that simulates his own worldview or, perhaps, allows him to entertain questions he likes entertaining. To state, as he does, that “Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity” is simply not true except, perhaps, for the word ‘blockbuster’. I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘blockbuster’, exactly. I would think that Neuromancer does and it, indeed, has such heavy postmodernist themes that it should least qualify as intellectual precedent.
I don’t want to sound as if I’m getting down on Mass Effect–I’m not. What I’m reacting to here is the willingness of some people, who seem poorly read in science fiction, to make assessments that this science fiction property they just discovered is going to change the genre forever. It’s disingenuous to the genre and to the artists and authors who have worked so hard to advance it. I’m not going to get into how I find Cosmicsm an interesting but ultimately pointless endeavor, or point out how all the ‘aliens’ you can ever imagine are really just humans in different clothing or symbols of concepts humans deal with and that, therefore, giving a franchise crap for having ‘too many humans’ is like criticizing language for using too many words–no, that’s just me spouting my own version of the Good News just as this article is doing here. Instead, this is just me saying:
Before handing things awards, do some more research.
Okay, gentlemen, I have a serious question for you: What is the deal with the picture on the right here?
I’m following the idea that she’s showing a lot of skin–I am a man, after all–but you kinda lose me as soon as you get into ‘crouching over dismembered bug-aliens and wielding battle-axe’. This gets my circuits all jammed; I’m not sure how it doesn’t for you.
Let’s skip the part where I point out how this is objectifying and degrading to women–we all know that. I’m even going to jump past the clear ‘realistic’ problems here (why on earth would anyone go into battle naked? I mean, even the Celts painted their whole bodies blue. And what’s with those blades sticking off her arms? You can’t tell me that one of those wouldn’t wind up stuck in her ear or back…). I want to get down to question the basic, underlying assumption here: Why do men consider this sexy?
The difference between this shot and the picture you’d encounter in your average skin-mag is really only a couple things: the weird glowing eyes, the bizarre armor, the weapon, and the dead things. I would like to address each one in turn, if I may:
- Glowing Eyes: I have been laboring under the assumption that we, as human beings, are attracted to other human beings. How is it an attractive thing for this woman to not be a human being? Like, she might eat you. She certainly seems violent and odd (look at her toes!). Granted, everybody’s got weird fetishes, but I really don’t get this. Human women are clearly superior, and in a wide variety of ways.
- Weird Armor: So, the ostensible sex symbol is clad in pointy, sharp things. Is this some kind of metaphor that appeals to the underlying assumption among geeky men that they will not, cannot, and should not be able to have a romantic relationship with a woman who they consider actually beautiful? In the first place, that’s pretty damned sad; in the second, it is also untrue. Also, how the hell is she supposed to reach over her head without impaling herself? How do you, as a geek, not concern yourself with that?
- The Big Damned Axe: Phallic imagery–I get it. I mean, it’s an axe and not a sword, which sort of messes with the metaphor a bit (it’s a chopping weapon, not a thrusting one–get it?). What I find strange about the weapon as phallic image in this context is that it–being a penis–is being wielded by a woman. To kill things. Doesn’t this strike you, penis-owning male, as somewhat…uncomfortable? I mean, I’m all for women having power and equality, but you can’t seriously sit there and tell me that’s what this picture is about, can you? As a sexual fantasy, why would you want the sexual object to have weaponized your own sexual organ to, potentially, be used against you if you misbehave? Is this an S&M thing? Anyway, I don’t find it all that attractive…just…odd.
- The Dead Things: You know what doesn’t go with sex? Violence. Any kind of violence. At all. Ever. It is disturbing that anybody, anywhere thinks otherwise under any circumstances. When we add in the fact that she has, apparently, just slaughtered a wide variety of bug aliens, it gets weirder. I can tell you with perfect confidence that one of the least likely times my wife will want to get it on is immediately after I have crushed a cockroach with my bootheel. Indeed, that is one of the times I am unlikely to want to get it on. Violence/killing things doesn’t go with sex. I shouldn’t have to say this.
The chainmail bikini thing is a bizarre fetish that I don’t understand. I mean, the women are attractive and everything, but they don’t make me want to woo them. We can be friends, sure, but they’re going to have to show me that they can be nice and kind and funny and smart before we get to the whole ‘making out’ stage. Does this mean I’m intimidated by strong women? I rather doubt it–I have a lot of strong women in my life and I admire and love them a great deal. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the above picture is about women being ‘strong’; it’s a reflection of a regrettable and disturbing lack of confidence among geeky men and their confused and often stunted views of the opposite sex. It’s more sad than anything else.
Okay, so I’ve been doing this blog thing for about 5 months now, and I suppose it’s time for some self-reflection. When I started this blog, I swore to myself that it wouldn’t do or be about a couple things.
- No Navel-gazing: That is to say, the blog won’t be about me, my personal life, my problems, or anything like that.
- No Politics: I’m not interested in starting political arguments, I’m not interested if people think my opinions regarding the state of the world are right or wrong, and I don’t want to be tempted into debating things with people who don’t agree with me.
- No Random Spam: If I’m putting something on the blog, it’s mostly going to be my own thoughts or reactions to some idea I’ve had or been inspired to discuss by others. I’m not just going to, say, post a picture of a thinking monkey I found on the internet somewhere and go ‘LOL!’
Now, with the exception of #3, I’ve avoided this stuff (I had a post at some point just linking to the Straight Dope wherein they discussed the practicalities of a cube-world. It was awesome; forgive me). I intend to keep sticking to my rules; I like them.
What I have been putting on the blog is a fairly even mix of critiques about sci-fi or fantasy topics, random ideas and observations or even analyses of spec fic topics, and finally my own fiction. Of it all, the stuff that I’ve liked the most has been my fiction, but the stuff that everybody else has liked the most has been the other stuff. As it is my intent to become a successful, published author, I’m not sure what to make of that. Furthermore, friends of mine have drawn my attention to this blog post entitled “How Not To Blog,” wherein the author tells me that posting unpublished fiction on a blog is a Bad Idea.
If I may digress on this point for a second: Why not? Well, yeah, I guess people don’t read it all that often (I average 30-ish hits for non-fiction posts and only 20-ish for fiction, both of which are tiny), and obviously if I were to post an entire story here, I’ve given up or decided not to publish it professionally, but I really can’t understand how it hurts my chances of getting an agent. First off, the stories I publish up here are usually pretty damned good, if I may say so myself. Are they my best stuff? Well, no–that stuff I’m sending off to sell. The excerpts of novels I’m trying to sell, well, I guess I can see it as being a bad idea to post stuff I hope to publish, but those instances are really only the barest fraction of what the work entails. I’m not serializing it, and it isn’t like I’m not querying through the normal channels in the meantime.
Furthermore, if I’m a fiction writer and I’m not supposed to post fiction, then…why am I here again? Are folks really tuning in to read my opinions on why Avatar sucks, but repulsed by my own stories? WTF, internet. Is that what blogging is about? It’s okay for me to bitch and moan about my personal problems or go all glassy-eyed about that one time I saw that really pretty rainbow or rip apart somebody else’s creative work, but when I try to create something myself, it’s not okay? Hmph. Sounds a lot like academia, to me–yeah, get your PhD in How To Read Everybody Else’s Stuff and you’re the toast of the town, but get your MFA in Making My Own Stuff and you’re a second-class citizen. Bull and Shit. If this is how the Publishing Industry works or some facet of Self Promotion I don’t understand, then that goes to show that I really ought not self-publish, since I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Alright, rant over. Back to reflection. Cue the soothing music. Light up the incense (let me get my inhaler…pfft…okay, yeah, light it now).
Anyway, traffic around here has steadily increased, so that means I’m doing something right. I have more followers than when I started, which is also a good sign. I think for the future I’m going to focus more on posting fewer longer stories and cut the novel excerpts out entirely (better safe than sorry). That won’t stop me from posting the occasional vigniette or short-short–stuff I wouldn’t sell anyway. I will probably up the amount of RPG posts I’ll make, since those seem to be popular. I’m currently posting 2-4 posts a week, which seems a manageable pace. Furthermore, and against my original predictions, I have enjoyed posting here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too, since I’m going to keep doing it. Tough luck, Facebook.
I’m very open to suggestions or comments regarding my blog thus far. If you have an opinion of what I’ve been doing, good or bad, let me know. Oh, and thanks ever so much for reading!
As has been happening this week, conversations on Facebook have been firing up my desire to write blogposts. In this instance, it was the comment from a friend of mine that she had just finished Doctor Who, Season 2. The consensus from a lot of the comments were that it was an episode they enjoyed. Before I start tearing into it, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t begrudge people their enjoyment of Dr. Who and, if you liked the finale, good for you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. I, however, finished saw the Season 2 finale myself a few weeks back and it basically confirmed my general difficulties with the show and has seriously dissuaded me from watching any further episodes.
Allow me to elaborate (spoilers below):
The two part finale begins with Rose and the Doctor arriving back in London to, presumably, visit Jackie. They discover that the world has become infested with some kind of ghosts, who show up and walk around and people are generally excited to see. Jackie insists that the ghost that shows up in her house is that of her dead father or grandfather or something. Since this show rarely deals with phenomena that aren’t interested in mass genocide of some kind, I am skeptical Jackie is correct, but whatever.
The Doctor is also skeptical, so he breaks out a bunch of his stuff from the TARDIS to perform an experiment involving 3D glasses. I wonder what the deal is with the glasses, of course, but the other people on the show stick to their general lack of curiosity about the things the Doctor does and nobody asks. I’m still with the episode at this point, so I don’t make a big deal out of it.
Oh! I forgot to mention that this episode was preceded by a maudlin speech by Rose Tyler indicating that what follows is the story of how she dies. I’m pretty excited by this, since I can’t stand Rose Tyler and I think her being killed off is an excellent idea. I digress, however…
The story begins to take a turn for the absurd when we find out that Torchwood is actually running these experiments with some kind of interdimensional hole that produces a lot of power and, as a side effect, seems to admit these ghosts to the world. The first thing (of many) that is pretty stupid about this is that they have the levers that control the weird portal and the work stations for the scientists monitoring it in the same room as the phenomenon. What kind of idiots are running this place? Who finds themselves an interdimensional hole and then puts all their workers right in front of the damned thing without so much as a pane of security glass between them and who-knows-what? If I were working on that project, I’d be asking questions like ‘might long term exposure to whatever is coming out of this hole be bad for us or mess with the computers?’ or ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep this hole behind thick doors in case it, you know, explodes or something?’ This, however, is the world of Dr Who, and the Idiot Ball is hugged with all the affection and tenacity of a little girl hugging her teddy on the way to school.
The next stupid thing that happens is that two of the Torchwood personnel go off to fool around in some abandoned part of the building. It just so happens that cybermen are hiding in there and they start lobotomizing the Torchwood people, one by one. Okay, reality check: (1) it makes sense that, given how fast they were building this skyscraper to reach the magic hole, that there would be unfinished and unfilled parts in the building; (2) it makes no sense whatsoever that these unoccupied parts of the building wouldn’t be surveiled by security on a regular basis; (3) it makes no sense at all that the people who work at the ultra-secret high-security defense organization wouldn’t be made aware of what was going on in the abandoned parts of their office suite; (4) even if they weren’t, it doesn’t make any damn sense why a cyberman would hang out there, apparently indefinitely, and hope against hope with all his little heart that the *exact* people he needs to control would just happen to wander in and they would just happen to be alone and he would just happen to be able to come upon them unawares and that they would just happen to have their screams unheard. What happens if a painter wanders in one day? Does the Cyberman kill him? Isn’t he reported missing? Don’t they smell the body? Really, really stupid plan, Cyberman. Idiotic.
Okay, so the Doctor and Rose trace the location of where the ghosts are coming from (who, it should be noted, aren’t just in England but are covering the entire globe–important for later) and zap over there in the TARDIS. Jackie happens to be on board (because we needed a way to keep her in the episode, I guess, which is just as well because I like her). Torchwood is waiting for them and are very excited to meet the Doctor. The director takes him around, shows him the stuff, tells him he’s a prisoner, and so on. He tells them Jackie is Rose and leaves Rose in the TARDIS. This is among my favorite parts of the episode, because I like the Doctor and Jackie, and Rose isn’t there to foul things up. The Doctor convinces them that opening and closing an interdimensional portal just to see what happens is a bad idea (which they should have known anyway). The director agrees (oh, yeah, her *office* is one thin pane of glass away from the evil portal–STUPID DESIGN) and orders it stopped. Of course, the cyber zombie people the hidden cyberman has been creating over the course of the past few hours open the thing all the way, which causes tons of trouble.
Turns out all those ‘ghosts’ were really cybermen. They’re from that other dimension, where we ditched the other good character in the show, Ricky, because he made things actively interesting between the characters and we can’t have that in Dr Who, now can we? Anyway, the cybermen now appear all over the Earth at once and start making demands. This leads me to ask the following question: Why did they bother with the whole ghost nonsense in the first place? If all they had to do was turn the dials to 11 and let them all through, why didn’t the lone cyberman they could get through (and how did they do that, exactly? Well, nevermind…) just waltz into the control room, electrocute anybody who got in the way, and open the damned portal himself or hold someone hostage until they did it for him? WTF, cybermen?
The people of Earth proceed to be spectacularly incapable of fighting slow moving armored people, despite some guy somewhere realizing the rocket launchers work just fine at killing them. No lights go on in any heads, nobody starts any kind of guerilla campaign, nobody figures out that they can just run faster than them or hide or whatever. Airpower is never deployed, tanks never hit the streets, the whole Earth just rolls over. Fine, I’m willing to give it to them. Let me ask a larger question though:
What the hell are the cybermen doing here in the first place? If they had umpteen billions of cybermen (the number you’d need to lock down the whole world), why not just conquer the world they were on? If they couldn’t win against the forces of righteousness on the alternate Earth, why hadn’t the alternate Earth people already wiped them out? When we finally get an answer to this question (when the good guys port in from their own dimension and start kicking ass), it’s ‘they’d barricaded themselves in their factories!’ Well Jeez, I guess they got you there. The human race sure hasn’t figured out how to blow up factories. That’s never happened–we’ve never pulled it off. Factories are just too damned tough to blow up, I guess. What’s that? Oh, it seems like Torchwood has passed the Idiot Ball! I beaut of a throw, snatched from the air by the nimble metal fingers of the cybermen.
Hold on, though, we aren’t done with the eye-rolling, yet. You see, the way the cybermen got here was by hitching a ride on a voidship, which travels through the emptiness between dimensions (well…you know what, nevermind–let’s not get into the inherent paradox of movement or existence in a non-place defined by its lack of space or existence. The show has the good sense of having this baffle the Doctor, so we can take it. To be honest, I thought the concept was pretty cool). Of course, the voidship contains Daleks. True to Dalek form, rather than killing everyone in the room immediately (which would make sense), they decide instead to chat. Rose (who got there by pointless misadventure), Ricky (who got there for a good reason) and the scientist guy (who should have called security as soon as he found Rose, but I guess they were busy being idiots somewhere else) are now having conversations with Daleks for a while. Everytime this happens, it drives me absolutely bonkers. WHY THE FUCK DO DALEKS PARLEY? Once, just once, I’d like them to show up and shoot everybody as soon as they walk in. No conversation, no exposition, no nothing–just killing. It’s what they’re supposed to do! Of course, they are the Grand Masters of Idiot Ball Conveyance, so they don’t.
Eventually we get some fun with Daleks and Cybermen yelling at each other. Of course, the Daleks should just start shooting (because what do they care what the cybermen are doing? They aren’t Daleks, therefore they ought to be destroyed. Where is the nuance in that philosophy? Why do they have conversations with other people at all? Why do they even bother yelling EXTERMINATE when actually what they should yell is DELIBERATE!), but they Daleks don’t shoot and the ensuing conversation just goes to show everybody just how idiotic the behavior of the villains in this episode really is.
Anyway, the Daleks have their hands on a Time Lord artifact that is a prison full of Daleks, which the Daleks open and release millions of Daleks into the world (you know, for a species that is supposedly ‘wiped out’, there sure are a buttload of them still out there). They proceed to have a little cybermen/dalek/human war across the world, where they fly around and shoot things occasionally and everybody runs around in the street like an idiot (dude, go inside!).
Our heroes, meanwhile, run around and avoid cybermen in the Torchwood building; this mostly involves running up and down stairs. For reasons completely in violation of the cybermen rules, the Director of Torchwood, now a cyberman, somehow resists her assimilation and starts killing cybermen. Way to break the rules for no reason, Dr. Who. Jackie and alternate-world husband have a touching reunion. I like this part.
Of course, by now we’re all waiting around for the Doctor to pull the solution out of his ass, just like always. He does so, by saying that he can reverse the portal and all the people from other dimensions will get sucked in. That’s what the 3d glasses are for, I guess–seeing who’s from another dimension. Anyway, because the portal is in the same room as the levers that open and close it, it’s dangerous for Rose and the Doctor, since they have visited the other dimension and come back at some point in the episode. The others go over to the other dimension where they’ll be safe, but Rose won’t go. Fine, whatever.
They pull the levers, the vacuum turns on. In violation of all physics, even theoretical or imaginary physics, all the cybermen and Daleks all over the world get sucked through the portal in, like, two or three minutes. I don’t need to do the math to point out just how ridiculous this is. What about the cybermen in India (who we were shown)? Did they go through the planet or were they dragged along its surface at a billion miles an hour? How much stuff did they destroy along the way? How many people were killed? Why wasn’t the building built around the portal ripped apart? How were the Doctor and Rose not ripped off the levers either by the force of ‘suction’ (since it obviously had to be incredible) or by getting banged into by passing cybermen/Daleks. Why aren’t the Daleks still shooting people on the way (sorry, side point)?
Inevitably, we know that Rose gets sucked off. Somehow, by a sheer chance that strains the imagination to accept, her non-father appears and grabs her out of danger at the last second. How the hell does he do that? How does he know where she is? How does he know the right timing? How does he have time to grab her and hit the button before getting sucked in? Does he have some kind of interdimensional periscope? Who the fuck knows. The show isn’t interested in making sense, and it can’t hear me over the sound of how cool it thinks it is, so fuck it.
That leaves us with the touching final scene, involving the Doctor somehow contacting Rose and drawing her to a beach (why? Why can’t he appear to her somewhere else? Ah, whatever…) where they say their goodbyes. The Doctor tells her
she’s officially ‘dead’ in the other world. My wife boos and hisses at this; I nod in agreement. We wanted Real Death, dammit. They kill everybody else in the damn show, why not Rose? Anyway, the episode ends. I imagine I’m supposed to feel bad, but I don’t. Rose is lame and I’m glad she’s gone.
There you have it. Those two episodes aggressively refused to have anyone act in an intelligent manner besides the Doctor and strained my suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point. It was, in a word, ridiculous.
I have a feeling this post is going to be unpopular, but here it goes: Dr. Who is an unimpressive television program. I have tried–I’ve really tried–to like the show, but I just can’t stop rolling my eyes most of the time. At this point I’ve slogged my way through about two seasons–the Chris Eccleston season and the majority of the first David Tennant season–and I can’t quite see what it is that has all you Whovians hooked. It took me a little while to formulate exactly what it was that I disliked about the show, and I think I have it narrowed down. What follows is my critique, for your perusal and (possibly) ridicule, though I can’t for the life of me figure out what has so many folks obsessed.
What I Like
Since I like to keep myself fair and even-keeled when it comes to ripping up popular scifi/fantasy properties, let’s start with what I like about Dr. Who. In the first place, I should point out that I really wanted to like Dr. Who, and so these various facts were the things I kept bringing up early in the first season to defend the show against my wife, who thinks it is overall pretty stupid-though-tolerable television.
In the first place, I like the overall concept well enough–the idea of an ancient alien who travels space/time alone and helps people along the way isn’t a bad one. I never thought it was particularly amazing or innovative, per se (I mean, isn’t that the structure of about 75% of the adventure television programs ever made, just this time across space and time instead of some other more earthly setting? I mean, from The A-Team to Kung Fu to Paladin to, hell, even to The Shadow, that’s basically how they all work). It took me a while to work up the interest to watch the show, mostly because catching up with a television show is a lot of work and the concept wasn’t really calling out to me.
Then, when speaking with a friend of mine who (I presume) enjoys the show, he pointed out the thing that I did (and do) like quite a bit: the tone and the main character. I love how positive the Doctor is–so much sci-fi is all doom and gloom and it gets oppressive and miserable sometimes. I love that the Doctor actually enjoys travelling around and that, despite all the evil he’s seen, he hasn’t gotten jaded and miserable. Lonely perhaps, but not miserable. That was fun, watching the Doctor grin and laugh and joke his way through horror and mayhem. The sense of humor sprinkled across the episodes and the Doctor’s banter in general is quite good and amusing, and if I ever watch any more of the series, that constitutes the sole reason.
So, okay, enough with the positives.
What I Don’t Like
There is a good bit more about Doctor Who that I find anywhere from annoying to lazy to unpallatable, and this might take a little while. Settle in.
Charge #1: Poor Supporting Cast
Rose Tyler is a very boring character. I gather that she vanishes or dies at the end of this season (I’m not quite there yet), but whatever–she bores the hell out of me. I mean, seriously, what’s her deal? If you’re struggling for an answer there, it’s because she HAS NO DEAL. She’s a prop, as like as not. She has no desires (that I can detect), no obvious fears or baggage (well, her dad, I guess, but that’s pretty standard ‘girl with father issues’ crap and not very interesting), no compelling relationship with anyone besides her mother (who’s a much better charater, by the way, and I would have preferred to see the Doctor and Ginny galivanting across the universe in a heartbeat), no set of interesting skills or hobbies, and just about nothing else I can figure that would make her an interesting character in any way shape or form. This is only made even more frustrating by the fact that the Doctor is so damned enamoured with her. “I trust Rose Tyler” and “She’s stronger than you think” and “I believe in her” and all that crap. Why? She’s a damned blank slate, man. It’s like saying you believe in the wisdom contained in a sheet of blank paper.
In addition to this, of course, is the fact that just about every other character is a one-shot person whose actual characteristics are either glossed over or unimportant. There are exceptions, of course, in individual episodes (like that guy who founded the Doctor fan club only to get all his buddies absorbed by the ridiculous fat alien–very good character, that guy. Too bad the end of the episode made the whole thing absurd as opposed to touching), but generally the whole group is a wash. For my money, besides the Doctor, the only good characters have been Mickey and Ginny, and the show keeps shoving them aside instead of using them in interesting ways.
Charge #2: Frequent and Irresponsible Use of the Idiot Ball
First off, I appreciate very much that the Doctor isn’t walking around with an arsenal in his pocket and doesn’t go out of his way to pick fights or blow things up or kill things–true to character and a refreshing change from most TV sci-fi fare. The thing is, though, the show keeps the Doctor alive not because the Doctor is all that clever (he isn’t), but because the enemies are usually overly stupid or slow-witted or otherwise inept. If you don’t know what I mean by the ‘idiot ball’, go here–this show uses it ALL THE DAMNED TIME. Like, in just over half the episodes at least, probably more. If the Doctor is being chased, the enemy moves at a walk. If the Doctor is being threatened, their weapons don’t work or they miss or something. If the Doctor is captured, there is usually a fairly convenient method of escape that presents itself that a reasonably intelligent adversary would never have allowed. It’s RIDICULOUS.
Point in case–remember the first David Tennant episode? The one where the giant spaceship of nasty aliens shows up and gets a whole third or quarter of the Earth’s population under its control and has them held hostage? Well, generally I liked this episode (it was one of the good ones), but there were a number of things that I found ridiculous and pertaining to the idiot ball. First off, the TARDIS shows up aboard their ship and the Doctor strides out (after being revived by tea, of all things–more on that later, though) and starts talking. So, a few questions: (1) why don’t the aliens capture and incarcerate the unidentified alien who isn’t part of the diplomatic party? (2) why are all the people aboard the vessel and surrounded by hostile aliens still alive in the first place? (3) Once the Doctor calls their bluff on the Blood Control thing, why don’t they just kill him right then with their rayguns rather than have a duel? (4) Why did the aliens let the Doctor look at the Blood Control thingy in the first place, since they knew they were bluffing and wouldn’t want him to figure it out?
I mean, in all reasonable situations, the Doctor would be captured, pinned, killed, or otherwise neutralized as soon as he shows up. Don’t even get me started on the Daleks, who, for such an advanced race of killing machines, have probably the least efficient method of going about killing people ever. What is the rate of fire on those stupid death rays, anyway? Muskets fire more often, for crying out loud.
Then, of course, the Idiot Ball is fielded almost as often by the supporting cast as it is by the villains. So, I just watched that episode where the kid can draw people and then suck them into the drawings. If your kid could do that, and you knew your kid could do that, and the Doctor told you your kid could do that, and you were told not to let your kid do that, would you leave your kid alone? Even for a second? Then, even supposing you did make the mistake of leaving her alone once, would you do it a second time? What the hell, lady? It would have been one thing if that kid’s mother was meant to be portrayed as negligent, but she wasn’t, so far as I could tell. She was just spontaneously stupid becuase the idiot ball had lodged itself behind her left ear and wasn’t letting go.
Charge #3: The Doctor Isn’t Very Clever
Look, he isn’t. He’s just not all that smart. If he were, he wouldn’t need the idiot ball to hit the field quite as often as it does. For most of the episodes I’ve seen, the Doctor wins on a technicality. He doesn’t outsmart the opposition, he doesn’t overpower them, he doesn’t outmaneuver them, he just remembers something he learned once about X and then applies it and viola! “Oh, right, Blood Control doesn’t work like that!” or “He just needs a hug from his mom” or “obviously the telescope kills werewolves!” It’s ridiculous. I find myself throwing my hands up in the air more often than not and rolling my eyes.
There have been other shows that have done this, of course–Star Trek: The Next Generation is chief among them. What made TNG a better show, though (and it is a better show) is that, while the A plot designed to solve the ridiculous alien cloud or whatever was invariably solved by Data shooting some kind of subatomic particle at it and everything working itself out, the underlying character arcs at play in the B plot were actually compelling and interesting. This was done by having good characters that we liked, as opposed to the Doctor and Rose doing nothing for no reason all the time and, therefore, giving us nothing much to fall back on. We just sit there and watch, inevitably, as the Doctor whips out his sonic screwdriver and solves the problem by use of pseudo-science and xeno-archaeology. We have to accept his solution, of course, since we have no prior knowledge of what’s going on, anyway, and his explanation is as good as any, but it’s still fairly lame. The Doctor’s no genius, he’s just read more books than us. I’m unimpressed.
Charge #4: The Show Buys into the Doctor’s Mystique
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that just assumed the audience’s belief in the coolness of the main character more than Doctor Who. Let me think for a second….hmmmm…well, maybe Knight Rider or the A-Team, but since they had characters that actively earned their cool more often, I’m not certain. In any event, the show just assumes that everybody watching thinks the Doctor is the coolest thing since James Bond, and it goes out of its way to prove it. They play up his history at just about every opportunity, play eerie music when outsiders are thinking about him, and all that would be fine if they didn’t insist on having him perform ridiculous stunts like recover the Olympic Torch. Jesus–it didn’t even make sense that he would be there, let alone picking it up and running with it.
At times the show does this well, but much of the time I find myself rolling my eyes and saying ‘whatever, man–you’re just a dude who bums around the universe with a blonde sidekick, you aren’t Nelson Mandella.’ Now that I’ve said that, of course, there’s probably an episode where the Doctor teaches Nelson Mandela how to read and write or some just paternalistic garbage. Anyway, moving on to my final point:
Charge #5: It Just isnt’ that Scary
Doctor Who doesn’t scare me. Maybe I’m jaded or heartless or something, but I just haven’t found any of the episodes to be really all that creepy. That one in WW2 with the gasmask kid asking for his mummy? Eh. How scary can a slow moving child really be, anyway? That, of course, really comes down to the heart of it: why should I be scared of creatures that aren’t even all that dangerous to a dude who flies around the universe with a screwdriver and a trenchcoat? I got a trenchcoat, I got a screwdriver, and I’m every bit as smart as that guy in his magic phone booth (yes, ‘police box’, I know–I’m trying to goad you), so why am I scared again?
Well, to make a long story short (too late), I’ve found Doctor Who to be underwhelming at best and downright stupid at worst. There have been perhaps 4 episodes I’d call ‘good’ so far, and none I’d call ‘great’. The closest they came was the first Tennant episode, where the Doctor actually did something clever (“Don’t you think she looks tired?”), and past that…eh. I could take it or leave it. If Doctor Who were on television at the same time as Star Trek Voyager, it would be a coin flip, I kid you not.