Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Who? (Doctor Who Christmas Specials)

Merry Christmas... Well, 4 days ago it was. Having just watched the new Doctor Christmas special on Friday night I thought a good idea for is week's post would be the Doctor Who Christmas specials. Ever since the reboot in 2005, we've had a Christmas special of Doctor Who each year, giving us a total of 11 Christmas specials as of is past weekend. So yeah, here we go. Spoiler alert up to each episode unless otherwise indicated!

The Christmas Invasion (Minor spoilers up to Series 4)
Main Setting: London, Christmas 2005
Just on the heels of the Ninth Doctor regenerating, Rose and the Tenth Doctor arrive in London just in time for Christmas. More specifically they arrive just in time for the Sycorax invasion of Earth. However, the Doctor is in a post-regeneration coma, so he's not much help in stopping them... At first. One thing I really liked about this episode was the return of Harriet Jones from the Slitheen attack in "Aliens of London"/"World War Three". It also featured the return of UNIT, who would later be more prominent during Martha Jones's time with them and during the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor eras. One thing I didn't like about this episode was the fact that the Doctor was unconscious for most of it. I know that was the whole point... It just got a little boring, like all that was happening was him asleep and Rose crying. I know that post-regeneration sickness happens (like with the Third and Twelfth Doctors) but at least they played a major part during their initial stories despite being down for the count. This one felt almost more like the Doctor was an afterthought or that it came together a little too easily at the end. That being said, the Doctor's interactions with the Sycorax was a pretty good representation of what he would be like throughout the rest of his tenure.

The Runaway Bride (Spoilers up to "Turn Left")
Main Setting: London, Christmas 2006
At the end of "Doomsday", the Doctor has just said a tearful goodbye to Rose when suddenly he sees a random woman in a wedding dress in the TARDIS. Enter Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, my favorite companion. The comedic timing of the Doctor and Donna is just wonderful and quite honestly it's a refreshing to have a companion who isn't in love with the Doctor. Specifically about this episode, I loved Donna's innocence when she found out her fiancé had used her. She honestly loved him and didn't understand why he'd lied to her. It goes with what we see in Series 4 that even though Donna talks big, she doesn't have a lot of self-esteem. We also see in this episode just how crucial that companion is for the Doctor. Specifically, as we later see in the alternate reality in "Turn Left", the Doctor wouldn't have gotten out in time had it not been for Donna. This is easily one of my favorite Christmas specials. It's light, but fun, and how can you beat the Tenth Doctor on a Segway? (By having him fight off monsters with a water pistol, like he did in "Fires of Pompeii")

Voyage of the Damned (Spoilers up to "Turn Left")
Main Setting: The Titanic, Christmas 2007
Martha has just left and just as the Doctor takes off BAM! He gets hit by a ship that appears to be the Titanic. Is the TARDIS the iceberg the famed ship hit? No. It's actually a space cruise ship named after the original Titanic. But of course this ship starts to "sink" as well and the Doctor and a few others have to get through the wrecked ship to save it from crashing to the Earth killing the survivors and at least a chunk of England (as we saw in the alternate timeline in "Turn Left"). Of course, along the way many of the Doctor's new friends die, but they eventually make it and the Doctor is able to stop the ship from crashing into Buckingham Palace. Though this ended up being her only appearance, I liked having Astrid as the Doctor's companion. Adventurous and brave, she was the perfect companion... Until they killed her off. But at least she died being heroic, making it possible for the Doctor to save countless lives.

The Next Doctor (Minor spoilers up to "The Day of the Doctor")
Main Setting: London, Christmas 1851
The Doctor has recently left Donna behind after wiping her memories and is now traveling alone. As he arrives in 1851, he hears someone calling his name... Though it's someone else she's looking for. Turns out it's someone who appears to be a future incarnation of the Doctor. As the story goes on we find out it's not the Doctor but a man named Jackson Lake who took on the identity of the Doctor after some Cybermen-induced trauma. Though not the Doctor, Jackson manages to help the Doctor save the day from the Cybermen. I will say I love the premise of this episode, in that the Doctor runs into a future incarnation of himself. We've seen him encounter past versions of himself ("The Three Doctors", "The Five Doctors", "The Two Doctors", and "Day of the Doctor"), but never a future version. I think it would be a clever way to introduce the new Doctor before he regenerates, kind of like Peter Capaldi's cameo in "The Day of the Doctor". I also really liked having a male companion for once. There was Rosita as well, but I felt Jackson was the main companion. It just adds a different dynamic to the show. Also, it was a very interesting use of the Cybermen, having them in the past. I've watched all of modern Who and I'm currently in the Fourth Doctor era of classic Who and to my recollection this is the only Cyberman story to not be set in the future or the present.

The End of Time (Spoilers up to "The Day of the Doctor")
Main Setting: London, Christmas 2009
The Master is back, Gallifrey is coming, and the Doctor knows he's soon to die. The story starts out with the Doctor returning to Earth after being shown a vision of the Master by the Ood. He's back and he manages to turn the entire human race (apart from Donna and her grandfather Wilfred into copies of himself). It later turns out that this is all part of Rassilon's master plan to escape from the Time War and ascend above their current capacity. Fortunately, the Doctor was able to stop him (with some help from the Master) and send the Time Lords back into the Time Lock. This story was interesting as it was two parts (one aired on Christmas and one on New Years), making it longer than other Christmas specials. In a way, I felt that it was too long as a result... Though on the other hand I don't know how you could have shortened it either. It was interesting to see the Time Lords and the Time War for the first time in the modern series. In a way, this sort of set the stage for "The Day of the Doctor". My first couple times seeing this story I wasn't a fan of the Doctor's death. I felt it was drawn out unnecessarily. Since then I've warms up to it. I'm still not a fan of David Tennant's Doctor dying, but I like how he took the opportunity during his slow painful death to check on all of his past companions (we learn in the Sarah Jane Adventures story "Death of the Doctor" that he visited ALL of his companions, not just those from his tenth incarnation.

A Christmas Carol
Main Setting: Sardicktown, Christmas 44th Century
A spaceship is crashing to the surface and cannot stabilize because of the icy cloud layer. Turns out a cranky old man, Kazran Sardick, can control the cloud layer, but since he's a Scrooge he refuses to help the Doctor save Amy, Rory, and everyone else on the ship. Getting inspiration from Charles Dickens, the Doctor travels back along Kazran's timeline to act as the Ghost of Christmas Past (and later the Ghost of Christmas Future) and help him change. With the help of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Amy), a beautiful woman named Abigail, and Kazran's younger self, the Doctor is able to save the ship and they help it to land safely. As I mentioned with both Mickey's Christmas Carol and the Muppet Christmas Carol last week, Charles Dickens's story is a powerful tale of change and redemption. The Doctor Who rendition is no exception. Granted that it's partly from the Doctor meddling in his past, but we see a great change in how Kazran views human life from the beginning to the end. It's fun and light (despite impending doom) and as much as I held reservations about Matt Smith as the Doctor, it was a great first Christmas Special for him.

The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
Main Setting: United Kingdom, Christmas 1941
The Doctor comes in to help Madge Arwell, who he feels he owes a favor to, but in the process ends up getting her two children stuck in the future on a planet that is about to be burned by acid rain. Only the strength of motherhood can get them back to safety. I'm a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia, so I really enjoyed this one. Though there were no explicit references to Narnia, this episode was constantly alluding to it (i.e. Children being taken out of London during World War II, a magic wardrobe (the TARDIS), a snowy forest, and trees talking). It gave Narnia fans something extra in the episode, though the episode would be interesting for anyone, in my opinion. One thing I really loved from this story was the explicitness of calling motherhood a strength. In the church, we've heard a lot of talk about the attack in the family and I think I prime part of that is how motherhood is degraded in favor of career, education, etc. However, in this story, motherhood is a strength powerful enough to take a planet's worth of tree spirits through the time vortex and to safety (that's kind of a big deal). Also, as much as I didn't like Amy, I was pleased with how Madge convinced the Doctor to go to Amy and Rory at the end, to be with the people who care about him, instead of letting them believe he's dead.

The Snowmen
Main Setting: London, Christmas 1892
Amy and Rory have been trapped in the past and the Doctor is alone and heartbroken again. With the help of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax he isolates himself in Victorian England. However, a barmaid/nanny named Clara pulls the Doctor out of isolation to help defeat the Great Intelligence and their evil snowmen. Clara ends up dying in the process, but not before the Doctor realizes that he once met her before as Oswin Oswald at the Dalek Asylum. This sets him off on a mad chase to find this impossible girl. One thing I really liked about this episode was that it was the first real time I was made to care about Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Their appearance in "A Good Man Goes to War" didn't sit well with me, since we had never seen them before and then all of a sudden we're supposed to know this lesbian couple and Strax the Potato. In each appearance since that episode, I've loved them, but that first one... No. This episode was when I specifically grew to love Strax ("Madam Vastra was wondering if you were needing any grenades... She might have said help."). I never thought I could have a favorite homicidal potato before I was introduced to him. Now, I love it!

The Time of the Doctor
Main Setting: Trenzalore, The Future
The Doctor has just found out he may have saved Gallifrey and now all of a sudden there it is... Or so he's told. Turns out that it's Trenzalore where he's supposed to die. The Doctor ends up staying on Trenzalore in the town of Christmas defending the people from invading Cybermen, Sontarans, Daleks, Weeping Angels, etc. who are all bent on stopping him from releasing the Time Lords. Finally as the Doctor begins to die of old age, the Time Lords send a new set of regenerations through the crack in space to save the Doctor, just in time for him to regenerate into the Twelfth Doctor. One thing I really liked about this one was how, though we as Whovians often complain about Moffat, he tied up the loose ends of the Matt Smith era with the Silence, the cracks, Trenzalore, and the oldest question. To me it gave Matt Smith a nice send off, ready for Peter Capaldi to take over. Also, as much as I didn't like her, it was cool to see Amy Pond return to bid farewell to the Doctor (even if he was just hallucinating). It was a nice book end for Matt Smith's time. One last thing: RIP Handles.

Last Christmas (Minor spoilers up to “Hell Bent”)
Main Setting: North Pole, Christmas 2014
The Doctor, Clara, and a team of scientists are being attacked by Dream Crabs at the North Pole. Only one person can save them and help them wake up: Santa Claus. It was great to see the Doctor and Clara back together, especially after how unsettled I felt at the end of series 8. I needed closure desperately. With them back together, closure didn't need to happen for another year. I liked how the Doctor did with proving to the scientists and Clara that they were all dreaming. Though, that being said, I felt like a lot of the dream-related stuff that happened in this episode could have been taken directly out of Inception. Overall I liked the story and the theme of every Christmas being last Christmas was great... I just wasn't into the dream within a dream thing. I smell plot holes. One final note: I did like how the Doctor and old Clara pulling the Christmas cracker apart was reminiscent of Clara and the old Doctor pulling a Christmas cracker apart he previous year.

The Husbands of River Song
Main Setting: Mendorax Dellora, Christmas 5343
Finally we arrive at this year's episode. The Doctor arrives and is instantly pulled away to help his wife River Song (who doesn't recognize him) operate (or rather kill) her husband (don't worry, she only married the diamond). As the story progresses, the Doctor and River get deeper and deeper into trouble before River finally realizes she's been with the Doctor all along. Together again, and finally out of trouble, they spend Christmas night on Darillium, where the Doctor knows will be their last night together before she dies at the Library. Like I mentioned with "The Time of the Doctor" I really like how Moffat wraps up loose ends. It's been years since River was introduced and we saw her die. I think most people had given up hope on seeing the singing towers or the Doctor giving her the sonic screwdriver. However, Moffat made it happen. He both made us happy and angry at him for breaking our hearts. Oh well, such is Doctor Who. I really enjoyed the back and forth of River and the Twelfth Doctor. I wish we could see more of them together, but it won't be so. The ending scene with the Doctor knowing he'd never see River again was heartbreaking. I love our favorite psychotic archeologist. But that's ok. Maybe someday the Doctor will go see her at the Library and we'll get to see her again? Overall I loved this episode, though the fast paced nature took two times through for me to take in exactly what was going on. I absolutely loved the moment when River realizes that he's the Doctor. She realizes that he does love her and he always has. Also, their back and forth gets even better when she knows her husband is with her. Loved it! Also, it was nice to see Alex Kingston get credit during the title sequence after being on the show for so long.

Well, that's all the Christmas special. Check back next week. I'm gonna start some Doctor Who posts about Classic Who. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Very Disney Christmas

(Streaming options updated as of 12/5/19)

Hi. I'm Spencer and I'm a Mormon Geek (waits for reply of "Hi, Spencer")... Oh that's not what this blog is for? Oh well. I guess I'll just get into introducing myself and then into the meat of things. I am a Mormon Geek and I'll be taking over your news feed on Tuesdays. The things I geek out about vary, but right now I most geek out about Disney and Doctor Who (that one should be obvious from a guest post I did a while back). Anyway, enough of introductions. Time to get jolly with a Christmas-themed post.

Like I said, one of the things I geek about is Disney. I can out-Disney most people I know. At my last job I actually made the claim to a coworker that I can work a Disney quote into any conversation (this is especially true of The Emperor's New Groove). Today however, I'm gonna forego Disney Princesses and talking llamas in favor of something more timely: Disney Christmas specials and movies.

We see a lot of holiday specials floating around this time of year, including Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and so on. I'm just gonna focus on some Disney specials though (sorry, Charlie Brown). So here we go...

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas
(Available for streaming on Disney+)
Can't beat Mickey and friends right? I'll come right out and say that two of the three segments of is show are a bit cliche, but overall it's still a great show. We get Mickey and Minnie in a version of The Gift of the Magi, featuring them, Pluto, Figaro, Daisy, and Pete. It's heartwarming to say the least and definitely worth the watch. In another segment we get Huey, Dewey, and Louie causing all sorts of trouble for Uncle Donald on Christmas Day, only to make the clichéd wish that Christmas was everyday. So mix that with Groundhog Day and you've got a recipe for disaster as the trio uses their repeating day to wreak some havoc without the consequences. Everything works out alright in the end, of course, and the trio learn to cherish Christmas. Finally, the third segment is Max and Goofy, both having their doubts in turn about Santa Claus. I liked his one for its uniqueness, however I take issue (probably because of the LDS view of faith) with both Max and Goofy trying to find proof to believe in Santa. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of faith? Overall, I liked this one. My only complaints are the clichés of Mickey and Donald's portions and the faith thing with Goofy's. If you don't over analyze these things like me, you'll be fine.

Snowed in at the House of Mouse
("Mickey's Christmas Carol" available for streaming on Disney+)
I remember watching the House of Mouse when it was on tv (I think I was in middle school, so disregard the fact that it's supposed to be a kids show... Because I don't care). The cameos of all the Disney characters and little animated Mickey and friends shorts just makes this show amazing. Pure Disney Magic. The Christmas special gives such a wonderful display of Disney Christmas shorts, perfect for any age. This show also includes the wonderfully classic Mickey's Christmas Carol. What better Scrooge than Scrooge McDuck? I remember him specifically from Duck Tales and there is definitely a reason he's named Scrooge. I love this rendition of Charles Dickens's story, accommodating for the personalities of each of our favorite Disney characters (nothing can beat Goofy as Jacob Marley).  Just watch it. Ok? Good.

Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation
(Available for streaming on Disney+ -- Ep 2x21)
Not a Disney classic by any means, but it is a must-view for me each year. We get some allusions to Christmas classics (Frosty the Snowman, for example) but we also get explicitly away from some other clichés (like the villain having a vendetta against Christmas). The thing I find most refreshing about this holiday special is that instead of being about Santa coming and delivering the presents and getting only his milk and cookies in return, Phineas, Ferb, and their friends go all out to show their gratitude for what they're getting. I think it's great to see a kids show promoting gratitude for what they get. I also really liked the concept that this show used to demonstrate nice kids vs naughty kids. Instead of being a good deeds vs misdeeds tally, they show at being good means being a good person with good intents and a good heart, because everyone makes mistakes. From a gospel standpoint, this is a soapbox of mine, the idea that we have to balance out our sins with our good works. That's not how it works. Just no. Nuh uh. Sorry. Period. I won't get on that soapbox here, but I'll just say that I like how the elves in this special explain it.

The Santa Clause
(Available for streaming on Disney+)
The whole trilogy. I'm not a huge fan of the third movie, because, like most movie trilogies that weren't planned as trilogies, it gets weaker the longer you go. That being said, this is the perfect Christmas classic. It's unique. It's fun. It's funny. Alluding to my comments about faith from "Once Upon a Christmas", I really like how they dealt with her concept of faith in this movie. Though everyone was telling Charlie that his belief about his dad being Santa was crazy, he knew what he knew and it was because of his faith in his dad (not just in Santa) that helped his dad have the faith to be Santa. If not all three movies, I recommend at least watching the first movie in the trilogy this season. It's packed full of references to Christmas carols (eg. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town") and other Christmas traditions (eg. "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") and taking a look at those things from how a child views them (eg. The North Pole being a pole). It's full of childlike wonder which is amazingly refreshing during such a stressful time of year.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
(Available for streaming on Disney+)
Like I mentioned with Mickey's Christmas Carol, this is a fun way to enjoy Dickens's Christmas classic. Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) and Rizzo give this movie the occasionally needed comedic timing, balancing out some of the darker parts of the show. Also, this movie has some amazing music.  The Ghost of Christmas Present and the townspeople sing the song "It Feels Like Christmas" and I can't help but smile and be happy when I listen to it. I think that song does an amazing job of capturing the feeling of Christmas. Finally, I have to mention how, like Mickey's Christmas Carol, this one does a great job of incorporating the Muppets' personalities into the characters of A Christmas Carol. I especially loved seeing Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit. You will never see a sassier Mrs. Cratchit. Also her two daughters, Belinda and Betina, are a chip off the old block. Love it!

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
(Available for streaming on Disney+)
I know I said I'd forego Disney Princesses this post... Well, Belle is the exception (this will be even more true when Emma Watson plays her). This magical story takes place mostly in the middle of Beauty and the Beast. With the Beast having forbidden Christmas, Belle takes it upon herself to have Christmas anyway. The villain, Forte the Organ, is despicable and creepy. I probably hate him more than Gaston in the original movie. One wonderful theme of the movie is having hope and more specifically finding hope no matter the circumstances, like Belle did while she was a captive in the Beast's castle. Another perfect Christmas song appears in this movie as well. "As Long as There's Christmas" describes hope as the the best Christmas present we can give. Incidentally, as my roommate pointed out, hope was the first Christmas present. The Savior was born about 2000 years ago to give us hope of redemption from the Fall. Because of His Atonement, we have hope.

That's all I have for Disney Christmas specials. Next week I'll be back with the Doctor Who Christmas specials. In the meantime, what Christmas movies and specials do you watch every year (Disney or otherwise)?

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

One of the Christmas traditions in my family is every year each of us receives a Hallmark Christmas ornament. Over the years, I've developed quite the collection of these ornaments. And many of the ornaments I've received cater to my geeky interests.

My nephew Robby, receiving a Hallmark Christmas ornament
A few years ago, I purchased a small artificial Christmas tree. Unfortunately, due to its size, not all of my ornaments would fit on it. However, I found that there was still enough room to decorate my tree with a geek theme.

My Christmas Tree came pre-lit with lights
The last two or three years, though I've put my tree out for Christmas, I haven't felt motivated to decorate it beyond the lights that came attached to the tree. But this year, I did feel motivated.
And so now my tree is up and decorated--geek style!

My Christmas Tree decorated with ornaments
Part of the Star Trek and superhero themes
Part of the Star Trek and Star Wars themes
Part of the Star Trek theme
More of the superhero and Star Trek themes
Yet more of the Star Trek theme along with Mr. Monopoly and Bert of the Muppets

More of the Star Wars theme and...yes, you guessed it--Star Trek theme!
I also found that once I decorated my Christmas Tree with themes that matched my interests, I also felt motivated to continue decorating. So out came my ceramic Nativity set. Stockings were hung over the fireplace. And for the first time, I also put up some outdoor Christmas lights.

Traditional Christmas decorations, including a ceramic Nativity set
I even did some decorating outside this year
Though I am glad that I have some more traditional Christmas items that help me and others remember that Christmas is really about Christ, and I think it's important that these get put out as well, I'm quite pleased that anyone that looks at my tree can tell that I am a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, Green Lantern, and the Avengers, just to name a few.

No doubt about it...
This is a geek's Christmas Tree!
So with both my geek and traditional themes on display, I'm pleased to say that in my home, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Geeky Gifts for Nieces and Nephews from a Weird Uncle

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I take pride in being a geek. While when I was younger, there were aspects of my geekiness that I kept hidden to avoid appearing weird to others, I am no longer ashamed of my interests.

In fact, recently I was a volunteer staff member for a training experience for young men, in which older men that mentored these younger men were affectionately referred to as “weird uncles.” Although I am not old enough to be an uncle to most of these young men (as most of them were in the age range of my younger brothers), after a bit of thought, I realized that I am a weird uncle to my own nieces and nephews, and it is a title I claim with joy.

My niece, Aili, receiving a more traditional gift for Christmas
When my first nephew was born, I tended to give him gifts that were more mainstream. I didn’t want to give him something I would have liked if he wasn’t likely to enjoy it. Though over time, and as more of my nieces and nephews joined the family, I found that I could find a balance between the two. I could still be the weird uncle that gave geeky gifts, though I could also do my best to make sure they were gifts that my nieces and nephews would also enjoy.

And I’m definitely starting to see that my nieces and nephews have their own geek interests. My oldest nephew is really into Minecraft and likes Avatar: the Last Airbender (even dressing as Avatar Aang for Halloween once).

I gave my nephew, Robby, the XBox 360 edition of Minecraft for Christmas
The oldest of my nieces has developed an interest in superheroes (due in no small part to the influence of her dad), and whose favorite superhero is the Flash. When she was only four years old, I can recall her correctly naming all the characters on a Justice League t-shirt I was wearing.

I gave my niece, Evie, a Lego
Justice League t-shirt for her birthday
Another of my nieces is a big fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have often found her watching the latest TMNT cartoon series, and take an immediate interest to anything turtle related.

I gave my niece, Kylie, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt for her birthday
While some of my nieces and nephews are still too young for me to have noticed any particular interests yet, I no longer shy away from giving them geeky gifts. I will still get gifts that I believe fit their personalities and see if doing so might pique their interest in something new. If they don’t take a particular interest in that, I always have the opportunity to try something different the next time.

I gave my nephew, Kelly, a Superman t-shirt for his birthday
I have found that my gifts to my nieces and nephews (and to others as well) not only gives me the opportunity to express my geeky nature and be a weird uncle to them, but also gives me a chance to relate to them around common interests. I have had many a discussion around Minecraft, the Justice League and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with them.

My niece, Jolene, being taught superhero
poses by her dad, while wearing the
Supergirl shirt I gave her for her birthday
Although they are still young, it’s fun to see them begin to get into some of the fandoms that I have loved for years, and find their own interests that they may come to enjoy and love for years to come.