Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Vast Cultural Wasteland

Current Reading: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Inspirational Quote: "All of time and space, everything that ever was or ever will be... where do you want to start?" -- The Doctor

You'll need a time machine for this one.

I think the year was 1981. I was a high-school teenager, and spent most of my evenings, especially on Fridays, hanging with my friends playing RPGs and crude video games like Pac-Man. But Friday nights, when I got home late, I'd tune in channel 5 which was a PBS channel broadcast up from Rochester New York, I think... WXXI if memory holds.

They played Doctor Who! And not just one episode, but the whole week's worth of half-hour Doctor in one sitting!

Tom Baker was the Doctor, and he was brilliant. Funny, charming, wise... I remember him holding off a group of primitive warriors by threatening one of them with "an explosive jelly-baby." Great stuff. The last episode I ever saw was the one where the Tom-Doctor regenerates. For some reason, I never got into the Peter Davison version and don't remember ever seeing a full episode of his. It's possible that around that time WXXI found something more important to do with their funding.

Anyway, skip ahead a few decades and The Doctor is back. It's not that I've been avoiding him, it's just that I've been a little busy the last while and haven't been able to catch ANY of the previous four seasons. A couple of weeks ago, though, I sat through a Saturday afternoon of Doctor Who movies on the Space Channel. David Tennant was wonderful, but the marathon led up to the 10th Doctor's regeneration.

And now I'm watching the new 11th Doctor episodes, trying to make it appointment television. It's everything I remember: silly, melodramatic, surreal... and vastly entertaining even though the spaceships aren't cardboard anymore and it's harder to see the zippers in the monster costumes. If you're looking for good science fiction... well, I can't help you. If you're looking for gripping drama... again, nothing to see here. But if you're looking for a series infused with intelligence, humor and whimsy, any season of Doctor Who will work for you and this is as good a point to start watching as any. The next episode has Vampires! In Venice! And probably other things that start with V! (Vegetables? Vagabonds? Violence?)

None of which has anything to do with Stargate Universe, which I'm enjoying immensely. This show has some great acting and some serious drama. Cast in the Battlestar Galactica mode of character-based plots, it too is heavy going for those used to the lighter Stargate series. Although the show is set in a science-fiction universe, I don't consider it true science fiction because it doesn't explore the impact of science or technology on the characters. It does, however, explore the impact of isolation, deprivation and interpersonal conflict on some deeply flawed characters.

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