Monday, October 18, 2021

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales

In the Star Wars universe, Life Day is a stand in for Christmas, but there is no stand in for Halloween. So the new Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales (which can be found on Disney Plus) uses the Dark Side as the basis to tell some "scary stories". Let me clarify what I mean by "scary": these three stories claim to be terrifying, but they are really very tongue-in-cheek. As they should be. In true Lego fashion, they make fun of their own jump scares, they put lightning inside the buildings to broadcast how "scary" the scenes are, and they go over the top in breaking the fourth wall. This show is geared toward kids, with a few jokes sprinkled in for adults. Any given Treehouse of Terror is scarier, and even Sesame Street has more humor geared towards adults. 

But Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales is still an enjoyable show, if you can enjoy the fact that it’s for kids. There are some good references to The Twilight Zone, Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Lost Boys, The Shining, and The Fly. The battle droids become zombies saying “Roger! Roger!” instead of “Brainz!” Fun, silly stuff.

There are some simple lessons to learn about the balance of fear and courage, about being careful what you wish for, about tenacity, and about the dangers of greed. There are good references to the existing Star Wars canon, especially in "The Wookie's Paw" which is really just a clever adaptation of A New Hope. But as with any Lego property, the best parts are the background gags and the self aware humor. Darth Vader saying "Feel the power of the dark side … at the Empire Emporium!" Stopping to do wordplay in the middle of a battle. Using the name "Mr. The Hutt". 

The humor in this special, just like the most recent Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, is a little juvenile and over-the-top when compared to the much better jokes of Lego video games. But that’s to be expected. This is a Halloween special aimed at kids. But even still, there really are a few great moments of self-awareness and humor mocking the original Star Wars franchise itself, which older fans will definitely appreciate.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Creepy Pokedex Entries

has been part of my life since early in elementary school. It’s definitely a kids’ show and everything, but if you look into the depths of the franchise, it’s obvious that it’s not just for kids. Perfect example are ghost Pokemon. Have you ever looked at the Pokedex entries for some of these Pokemon? Sometimes you get ghost Pokémon that are relatively harmless, like Misdreavous feeding off the small amounts of fear it induces by pranking people. Even Shuppet feeding off vengeful people isn’t too crazy (that’s pretty much how Joe lives his life). But then you have others that’ll send a chill up your spine. So in honor of Halloween, take a look at some of these chilling Pokedex entries. 

Banette: “A doll that became a Pokémon over its grudge from being junked. It seeks the child that disowned it.” (Black/White)

Drifloon: “Wandering souls gathered together to form this Pokémon. When trying to make friends with children, Drifloon grabs them by the hand.” (Ultra Moon)

Dusknoir: “At the bidding of transmissions from the spirit world, it steals people and Pokémon away. No one knows whether it has a will of its own.” (Sword)

Duskull: “If it finds bad children who won't listen to their parents, it will spirit them away--or so it's said.” (Heart Gold/Soul Silver)

Froslass: “The soul of a woman lost on a snowy mountain possessed an icicle, becoming this Pokémon. The food it most relishes is the souls of men.” (Moon)

Haunter: “Its tongue is made of gas. If licked, its victim starts shaking constantly until death eventually comes.” (Silver)

Litwick: “The flame on its head keeps its body slightly warm. This Pokémon takes lost children by the hand to guide them to the spirit world.” (Sword)

Mismagius: “Its muttered curses can cause awful headaches or terrifying visions that torment others.” (Ultra Moon)

Palossand: “Each of its grains of sand has its own will. Palossand eats small Pokémon and siphons away their vital essence while they're still alive.” (Ultra Sun)

“After a lost child perished in the forest, their spirit possessed a tree stump, causing the spirit's rebirth as this Pokémon.” (Sword)

Yamask: “Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry.” (Alpha Sapphire)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

What If... Two Bloggers Debated What If...?

Ryan: I just finished watching What If...? and I found that the series really does what Marvel does best: focusing on character development and letting the story flow from well developed characters. Marvel doesn't minimize their characters to, say, just a power, or just the color of their skin. For instance, there were concerns that Episode 2 (T'Challa becoming Starlord) would just be "Black Star-Lord". But I was pleasantly surprised. T'Challa brings his own set of quirks and character traits. So when he steps into the role of Star-Lord, it becomes so much less about just swapping roles, and so much more about how one character would respond in various different situations.

Joe: T'Challa did bring a different quality to his role as Star-Lord, his biggest accomplishment being that he turned Thanos. However, I feel that the series was far too constrained. I feel that they could've explored some less paid attention characters in the cannon, like Drax or Rocket. Drax as a bartender was not enough. Also why was Iron Man completely shafted? He builds Killmonger a few mechs then that's it.

Ryan: I feel like Tony Stark's death must be an "absolute point" in the timeline. I mean, except for the last episode, Tony Stark died in every timeline we saw. Interesting.

Joe: What was your favorite episode?

Ryan: The two that stick out to me the most, for completely different reasons, are:
  • Episode 4, about Dr. Strange. It was much more character-centric instead of plot driven. I feel like we really explored a different side of Stephen Strange, and really got to know him as a character. We also saw some new aspects to what he is able to do, and ultimately the consequences of acquiring too much power.
  • Episode 5, ZOMBIES! Just because it was fun and different and I’m a sucker for a good zombie thriller.

Joe: I have to agree completely. Dr. Strange's episode was dark and almost felt like it came out of a Dungeons and Dragons story. While the zombie episode had zombies, which were glorious, and had two of my favorite MCU characters in focus: i.e. Spider-Man and Scarlet Witch.

Ryan: And Ant-Man's head!

Joe: Quit having such great taste! I'm trying to find somewhere that we argue.

Ryan: How about the fact that Hawkeye is a better character when he's animated than as a live actor?

Joe: Exactly. Okay, what was your LEAST favorite episode?

Ryan: Probably Party Thor (Episode 7). I just found it to be kind of jokey. I’m still not quite sure why the Watcher chose him to help save the multiverse.

Joe: Okay, see no. I thought that one was hilarious. Thor's personality keeps going between the jock with a sense of humor and a classic D&D Paladin. In Episode 7 he had a distinct personality and I found it hilarious.

Ryan: True, it was fun to watch. I just didn't find his standalone episode to be very compelling. Which was YOUR least favorite episode?

Joe: As much as I loved T'Challa Star-Lord, I thought Episode 2 was the weakest episode since they had to find a villain to fill in for Thanos. They chose the universe's most avid Pokemon trainer.

Ryan: I really appreciated the idea that there was a power vacuum that The Collector filled. Would you have chosen somebody else is a villain? Or do you think there would just be no villain to take the place of Thanos, and everything would be hunky dory?

Joe: I liked the power vacuum but it didn't make any sense that The Collector would fill it. Even his brother, Jeff Goldblum was more threatening than The Collector.

Ryan: So you have a problem with the show because they didn’t do it the way you wanted them to do it? I see. I got your number. 😉

Joe: I'm a backseat comic writer. Classic geek move. We could've had the Ravagers, the blue dude who wanted the Power Stone, or Star-Lord's dad fill the vacuum if we have to reshuffle the existing canon. And this is my biggest problem with the show: All they did was shuffle all the already established characters around. This could've been a great way to introduce some fresh blood, like Adam Warlock, Galactus, or some of the other lesser known characters from the comics.

Ryan: Good suggestions. But there's something about Episode 3 that I really liked. I enjoyed seeing Tame Thanos. I enjoyed seeing what would've happened to Nebula is she weren't so badly abused. I enjoyed seeing the influence T'Challa had on his sphere. And I enjoyed the concept of the power vacuum, and seeing how The Collector filled it. I really appreciate, overall, how the episode highlighted some of the differences between Star-Lord and T'Challa. Again, for me it goes back to character development, and What If...? layers three-dimensional characters with depth, personality, and clear motivations in really unique ways. 

Joe: But I don't know if I needed to see a highlighted difference between Star-Lord and T'Challa. They did it well and I'm glad we got Chadwick Boseman for an episode, but it felt like it was just there to do something with the Guardians.

Ryan: "Need"? No, we probably didn’t need anything in the series. But I really like that we got to see that T'Challa is more than just a princely hero. Even when he's a Ravager and a thief, he's still classy and principled. He still believes in building bridges instead of putting up walls. He still sees the good in people. He's still selfless. And in that episode, he uses those traits to bring about good in his world. Or galaxy. Honestly, it made me reflect on what T'Challa did in the "What If Not..." timeline. All of his accomplishments really were a result of him and his values, not just being the right guy in the right time and place. Instead T'Challa himself was kind of destined to be a force for good no matter where he was. He bloomed where he was planted.

Joe: And that was fun to see, but not really as revelatory or as interesting as the rest.

Ryan: Fair enough. So what were your overall impressions, especially with how the last two episodes tied everything together?

Joe: Overall I did like it. The animation was solid and the last two episodes tied everything together beautifully, even if Dr. Strange was overpowered and the entire exercise felt like we were only working with a limited amount of Lego figures, and the other person never read the comics.

Ryan: I'm glad the series wasn't just a bunch of one-offs, but rather deepened the understanding of the MCU, gave insight to existing characters, and told a complete story that all tied together in the end. My biggest gripe was understanding why those particular characters were chosen to fight infinity Ultron. Like, why did it have to be Party Thor? Why not get a few Captain Marvels on the team? If the multi-verse is truly infinite, then why not get a version of Ultron that is good to fight Infinity Ultron? Or recruit a few thousand versions of every single Avenger? I’m willing to accept that a corrupt Killmonger had to be on the team, but I don’t see a compelling reason why the team had to be those exact individuals, and that's it.

Joe: That's the thing though, in the comics the Watchers do crap like that and then say "Mysterious ways..." before floating away.

Ryan: There are too many variables. I mean, it makes for good entertainment, but it's hard to swallow the pill that that was the only way to stop Infinity Ultron.

Joe: Agreed. And why was every Captain Marvel the same?

Ryan: Because she's a lame, overpowered character.

Joe: Homegirl just shows up bold as brass. No new haircut, no scars...

Ryan: Now we agree on something!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Muppets Haunted Mansion - A Match Made In Disney+

This is another account where as soon as this thing was announced I knew I was in. 

If I didn't my Disney pin collection would be very disappointed in me. 

Muppets At Their Best

The Muppets are at their best when they're either pretending to be celebrities or they're parodying something classic, and here it's a mix of both. The story is that Gonzo is challenged to spend a night in the titular Haunted Mansion, thus adding another accomplishment to his long daredevil career. Inside he finds that the mansion is truly haunted and that he'll have to face his biggest fears, which are not the ghosts of the mansion. Pepe, his sidekick for this excursion (I sincerely wonder how Rizzo feels about Pepe becoming Gonzo's new sidekick, and if Camilla the Chicken felt the same way when Rizzo took her place) is looking for a fun celebrity party and is terrified of the house's happy haunts. Most of the ghosts are, of course, either recast Muppets or celebrities. 

So it's not anyone reinventing the Muppets, it's Muppet classic but this time they're spoofing a ride at Disneyland. 

The Family-Friendly Muppets

Those of us old enough to remember the original Muppet Show know that some jokes went above the heads of kids. Not that they were dirty, they just had some sly jokes for the grown ups in the audience. Muppets Haunted Mansion isn't as interested in hitting the adults, as Disney+ has been careful to make its entertainment as woke and child friendly as possible. So the jokes are very family friendly, meaning puns, visual gags, and references. We don't even get the physical violence we got in some other Muppet outings. Not to say that the show wasn't funny, it was just an extremely safe funny. 

For better or worse, this is probably the Muppets we're going to get from now on, as Disney likes to play it safer and safer as the years go by. Muppets Now having RuPaul as a celebrity guest is probably as edgy as we're going to get from the Muppets anymore. 

Music Connection

The Muppets brought back their bafflingly entertaining musical talents to the piece. It doesn't make sense that the Muppets music is so good, but listen to the Muppets Christmas Carol and tell me those aren't great songs on their own. The only miss here was that they didn't have more of it, topping at about three songs, and one was a remix of Be Our Guest. Disney recognized two strengths of the Muppets, And while the songs they chose were fun I would've loved more of it. 

New Halloween Classic? 

Making a new special for a holiday is always a hit or miss thing. Every year dozens of studios try to create something that people will watch every year. Remember those weird spy elves a few years ago? I don't know if Muppets Haunted Mansion is going to become the newest classic, but it would certainly be ashamed if it was completely forgotten. I wouldn't mind adding it to my Halloween rotation, which despite being quite robust already, there's always room for one more. 


Friday, October 8, 2021

Darkness and Fear: How Much Can the Youth Handle?

 In my youth, I remember watching a few great pieces of Anime from the early nineties, namely Ronin Warriors, Escaflowne, and Card Captors. The stories captivated my imagination, and inspired countless dreams and daydreams. It wasn’t until much later that I found out these classics were actually edited a decent amount for content before they were released stateside. I think this was actually the case with a lot of  shows before anime became more mainstream. However, I would posit that these shows didn’t need to be edited, and that the youth can handle more than we often give them credit for. 

Do you remember The Secret of Nimh? It’s the story of a brave, little, anthropomorphic mouse and her quest to find medicine to save her ill child. I was having a conversation with Joe recently about the director Don Bluth. He did work for Disney at one point but Joe told me cut ties with them, wanting to produce animation that was a little scarier for children. I LOVED this film as a child. Was it super intense? Sure. Did the scene where Mrs. Brisby had to sneak into the farmhouse terrify the Honey Nut Cheerios out of my five-year-old self? Abso-freaking-lutely! But did the darker subject matter bring extra meaning and gravitas to the whole experience? You better believe it. As an adult, I can appreciate how Don Bluth wouldn’t shy away from darker subject matter. Sure, many of the plots in Disney movies are actually pretty horrifying if you break them down… but I think they abstracted away some of the details at least in the early nineties to make things more suitable for children. 

One of my favorite lines from Saving Mr. Banks comes when Emma Thompson as PM Travers-Goff attests that Mary Poppins doesn’t shield the children from the darkness in this world, she prepares them for it. I think it is important to have more nuanced media available to our youth for this exact purpose. Obviously, parents should exercise good judgment when selecting media for their kids (we probably shouldn’t have taken our young’uns on the Pinocchio ride at Disneyland…), but I hope we can start giving kids more credit when it comes to “scary” scenes in kids films and shows.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Sorting Team Avatar into Hogwarts Houses

After Avatar the Last Airbender hit Netflix during quarantine, I took the opportunity to watch the series (and Legend of Korra) for the first time from start to finish. So in honor of Team Avatar, I wanted to give them the Hogwarts sorting treatment. Credit to fellow writer Joe for helping me come up with these sortings--some of these statements are even taken directly from our Facebook chat about it.

Aang - Hufflepuff

In some ways Aang is very Gryffindor about being the Avatar, running into danger and being careless with his actions (just ask the cabbage guy). However, Aang's main drive is to do what's right, especially after he fails so hard at first by abandoning his responsibilities. He came back after 100 years into the war ready to be a better man, even when it meant sparing his mortal enemy. This kindness and fairness puts him in Hufflepuff.

Sokka - Gryffindor

I don’t think this one should surprise anyone. I’m not sure any character in any franchise is as daring as Sokka. Ready to jump into battle at a moment’s notice, he’s a Gryffindor through and through. He’s got nerve, just ask Katara. He even broke into an unbreakable prison to rescue the girl he loved.

Katara - Ravenclaw

Katara was constantly seeking information and intel throughout their journey, from her procuring the waterbending scroll to training with her grandma's side piece, to her becoming a teacher in later years. She was the first of Team Avatar to reappear in Legend of Korra and she demonstrated absolute patience with Korra, helping her become a water bending master. Someone who sought such wisdom and creativity could only go to Ravenclaw.

Toph - Slytherin

Toph is motivated mainly by her need to be stronger. During the war, her desire to grow stronger was utilized for good. However, the quest for strength doesn’t come without its costs. She forsakes relationships, including with her daughters to drive her ambition. She quit the police force rather than be disgraced for getting her daughter off of possession charges.

Zuko - Slytherin

Another that shouldn’t surprise much of anyone. Yes, Zuko was a good guy in the end. And in Legend of Korra he had inherited much of Uncle Iroh’s wisdom. However, even as a good guy in Avatar, Zuko demonstrated cunning and resourcefulness that lends him to Slytherin. And then throw in his obsessive ambition to restore his honor.

Iroh - Hufflepuff

While Iroh could belong to any house, by the time we meet him his main goal is to show kindness, whether that's to Zuko or to random strangers, like Toph or the people of Ba Sing Se. He’d been damaged emotionally in the war and through the death of his son, so his loyalty wasn’t to the Fire Nation anymore. Instead, he wanted fairness and tolerance across all four nations. It should also be noted that a prime Hufflepuff trait is loyalty--Even after Zuko betrayed him, Iroh was loyal to Zuko, because he knew what was really in Zuko’s heart. Even if Zuko didn’t at the time.

If you liked these sortings, make sure you check out some of our other Hogwarts sortings by clicking the “Hogwarts Houses” link below. Also, check out Joe’s thoughts on Avatar and Appa.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Connection vs. Escapism

I had a conversation with a friend about Dear Evan Hansen. She said, "Oh, I couldn't stand that movie. It was so dark and depressing. When I go to the movies, I want to ESCAPE! I don't want to be reminded of all the problems in the world." I countered, "Not me. When I got to the movies, I'm not looking for escape from my problems. I'm looking for CONNECTION. I want to relate to what I'm seeing, and gain perspective that help me with my problems."

I think this is a fundamental difference in approaching movies, and even in approaching the world. Neither is more right than the other (except the one that's my viewpoint -- that one is more right, of course). 

Dear Evan Hansen was definitely heavy. I wouldn't call it dark and depressing, even though it certainly dealt with big topics like suicide and depression and mental health. But to me, what was more important than the tone of the movie was its relatability. 

I first saw DEH on Broadway, just two months after my best friend died by suicide. It was gut wrenching and raw and difficult to watch. But cathartic at the same time. I related to Evan being the last one to talk to Connor before Connor's suicide. I related to his feelings of helplessness and despair. I related to Evan's own suicidal ideations. 

Watching the show anew, two years later, all the feels hit even harder. I still connected with the messages about suicide and feelings of hopelessness, even though I'm further removed now from witnessing my friend's death. But watching the film version of this story brought about different connections for me. I related to the social anxiety Evan exhibits, and couldn't help but think of my own kids and the struggles they have. I know this is not what Evan Hansen has, but I have a child with autism who is amazing and has the most incredible brain. I have another child who struggles socially, and often feels like they "have always been that barely-in-the-background kind of guy". 

Watching Dear Evan Hansen in the movie theater, I didn’t want to escape life. I wanted to connect. I wanted to feel my feelings, as raw and ugly and complicated as they might be. Feelings can be tough to face sometimes, and it feels like they are somehow easier to access when watching a show with a story or characters I can relate to. At least, this is my experience. I don't want to escape my feelings, I want to feel them. Because in the end, just like Evan learns, I want to let the sun come streaming through, I want to live my life. I want to be alive. I want to connect, not escape.

I don’t want to disappear.

If you are having suicidal ideations or you don’t know where to turn, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Pitfalls in Book to Movie Translation: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and A Wrinkle in Time

Translating a book into a movie is very difficult to do. Things that can be done and expressed in a book don't always translate well into an engaging, watchable film. Often, filmmakers have to make difficult decisions about plot points and other aspects of the book that don't translate well into film. Usually, however, there is a way to convey the core of the book into film. There are a lot of films that I really like that don't really follow the narrative of the book closely, but end up being very enjoyable movies. One of these is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The thing that distinguishes movies that take liberties with plot points that end up being successful from movies that flop is, in my opinion, that the core message and feeling of the book is maintained. I particularly enjoy Prisoner of Azkaban because it captures the feel of the book so well. In fact, that is my favorite among all the Harry Potter films particularly because it is so different yet feels like it really pulls you into Harry's world.

Two of my favorite books of all time that have been made into movies are The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L. Engle. Both movies are well done in their own right, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a decent adaptation of the book. These books rank among my favorites because they marry exposition of Christian doctrines with enjoyable narrative, with the main purpose to teach those doctrines through the narrative. The movie version of Voyage does a reasonable job of maintaining this narrative. However, Wrinkle fails spectacularly in this regard.

The narrative of Voyage of the Dawn Treader as expressed in the book is a series of mini-adventures, each with a lesson about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My favorite adventure therein is Eustace Scrubb's encounter with a dragon. After falling asleep on the dragon's hoard thinking dragonish thoughts, he finds himself changed into a dragon. He had, for some time, been a rather dislikable and mean character, thinking only about himself. The dragon form he took on was merely an outward expression of his inner thoughts and feelings. After becoming a dragon, Eustace begins to realize how awful he had been acting and wishes he could change. After some time, and in a beautiful, symbolic way, Aslan heals him. The chapter containing this narrative does an excellent job of capturing the change of heart that a turning to Jesus Christ creates in people.

Eustace tries, in one part of the book, to remove his scaly skin and fails. He realizes instead that Aslan has to remove it for him. This imagery of Eustace trying to remove his scaly skin, but failing, and having to rely on Aslan to change him back into a boy is a device to expose our reliance on Jesus Christ in order to successfully change our hearts. C.S. Lewis also reminds us that change is a process, and says of Eustace's change:
"It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that 'from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.' To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun."

This message, part of the heart and soul of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is expressed fairly well in the film. The film took large liberties with the major, overarching plot, but the Christian themes, and especially Eustace's redemption, are well maintained throughout the movie. As a result, I like the movie adaptation.

A Wrinkle in Time is another of my favorite books. That book, and the series it is part of, does an excellent job of marrying the knowledge and truths obtained through science and those obtained through faith. Madeline L. Engle did a particularly good job in her novels of showing how faith and science are compatible, complimentary and necessary ways of arriving at truth. A major theme of A Wrinkle in Time is our individual worth, the gifts that God gives to us, and our responsibility to use those gifts in service of Him as we work to support good and light.

The movie of A Wrinkle in Time does an excellent job of being faithful, where possible, to the major plot points. It is an entertaining movie, and has excellent special effects. It is dazzling, and even teaches some good lessons. When I first watched the film, though, I had a deeply unsettling feeling about it. Though I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong, I knew it had something to do with the fact that those making the movie decided to remove all of the Christian features from the narrative. Unfortunately, it is not merely the fact they removed those features that ruins the film, but that in doing so, they turn the main message of the book on its head.

They might have been successful at expressing a partial message of the book in the film even while removing direct references to Christ (though I am skeptical doing so is possible), but they went further than that and actually ended up making the opposite point from what the book makes. Another author expresses how this happened much better than I can:

"Again, DuVernay comes so close. A message of self-acceptance is in so many ways profoundly good; Meg has, throughout the first part of the movie, a degree of self-rejection that’s frightening: she does not want to be who she is. Her desire to be otherwise means that re-materializing after she tessers is hard for her: she rejects her own being. To say yes to existing as oneself, distinct and different, is a crucial yes. That’s what she must learn, and she learns it as she learns that she loves and is loved by Charles Wallace. 

"And her temptation is in fact also very effective: IT tempts her with being something other than herself. IT offers her the popular (and straight-haired, rather than natural-haired) mean-girl version of herself. And she passes the test: choosing to forgo that twisted power, and choosing to accept her own being. But this choice, self-acceptance, is shown as something that can only happen if one accepts that one is not distinct and different and created: you are only valuable if you find yourself to be part of the All, and to have being in yourself, rather than receiving it as a gift. It’s another kind of self-erasure, because it rejects the idea that you have limits. 

"“You have everything you need in yourself,” a friend summarized it as we got ice cream after the movie. She paused. “Boy, that’s going to be a hard lesson for kids to unlearn.” 

"The lyrics of the final song over the credits perfectly encapsulate this message: “Today I saw a rainbow in the rain / It told me I can do anything / If I believe in me,” Demi sings. And then the chant before the chorus: “I can, I can, I will, I will / I am, I am, no fear, no fear.” Learn to take on yourself the name of God, the I AM, and you have learned the lesson of the movie version. 

"It is precisely the opposite of the message of the book. The wisdom here is precisely counter-wisdom. And this is why, while Jennifer Lee’s version of perennialism seems to mirror L’Engle’s, it does not."

It's interesting to me that in the process of attempting to remove Christ and God from the narrative of Wrinkle, they were unable to maintain the true message of the book. Perhaps there's a lesson here about the effects of attempting to segment our lives into spiritual and worldly spheres.

Maybe someday a movie version faithful to the heart and soul of Wrinkle will be made. Until that time, I think I'll stick to the book. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Twelfth Doctor

Back when I first joined the Geeks, I did a series of posts highlighting the First through Eleventh Doctors. When I finished with Eleven, we had just finished with the Twelfth Doctor--and forgotten much of the first two seasons. Now he’s been done for a couple years, but I’ve had the chance to rewatch the series. Now I can properly highlight Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. So after rewatching Series 8-10, here we go with Twelve.

Series 8

Top Story: Dark Water/Death in Heaven

First off, I hate that Danny Pink died. Why? We built it all up with him and Clara for a whole season (remember Orson Pink?) and then BAM! He walks into traffic. But Danny Pink is a rant for another day. Besides Danny’s death, I loved this story for bringing in so many Doctor Who characters in brilliant formation. We got UNIT returning with Kate and Osgood, Missy (as the regenerated Master), and even an appearance from the Brigadier (in Cyberman form). I love it when Doctor Who reinforces its continuity in episodes like these. We finally found out who Missy was and why she was meeting all these dead people from throughout the season. Unfortunately, she was killed off too soon…. Or was she?

Flop Story: Listen
When I first watched this episode, I thought it was great. Maybe even on par with “Blink”. However, upon rewatching it, it bugged me. If a creature is the perfect hider, why did it suddenly decide to “show” itself to the Doctor and tease its existence? And then in the end, it was just Clara to instill this fear in the Doctor? And what was that thing on Rupert’s bed? It’s a thrilling idea and a great episode in a way, but there are so many plot holes that upon rewatch it was unbearable.

Honorable Mention: Deep Breath
This was quite the regeneration story. To some extent, I don’t agree with how upset Clara was from the start--but once he started abandoning her, I felt like she was justified. However, by the end, the Doctor was himself again (well, his new self) and we even got a cameo from his past life. This was also our first introduction to Missy (we’d later find out who she really was) and we got an allusion back to the Tenth Doctor era and the Madame de Pompadour. I always love a good Easter egg. 

Series 9

Top Story: The Husbands of River Song
After such a dark season it was nice to get some comic relief during this Christmas special. Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi working together was amazing. I wish we could have had more of these two together. Their dramatic and comedic timing was amazing. It was so sweet to see River realize that the Doctor cared for her as much as she did for him. And in the end we got to see River’s story come full circle, as she spent her last night with the Doctor before the Library.

Flop Story: The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived
I didn’t like this story for one simple reason: I didn’t find Ashildr/Me intriguing. The story felt kind of bland compared to other Twelfth Doctor stories and I didn’t like that by the end of the second story Me was just left without closure. Oddly enough, I actually liked her character in “Face the Raven” and “Hell Bent”, but not in her introductory episodes.

Honorable Mention: Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent
These three episodes were separate enough stories that it was almost more like a trilogy of stories instead of a three-part story. Clara had a good send-off in “Face the Raven'', fitting for her character. The three-part finale gave us the return of Ashildr/Me (which I’ve already addressed above). Finally, it gave us the return of the Time Lords and Gallifrey for the first time since they were saved by the thirteen Doctors. I love that they brought back Rassilon (regenerated after the Master killed him in “The End of Time”) and the General from “The Day of the Doctor”. But of course the Doctor ended up running away, leaving the Time Lords for another day.

Series 10
Top Story: Extremis/Pyramid at the End of the World/Lie of the Land
Another trilogy of episodes that pulled me in. “Extremis” was mind-bending. Kind of left a chill like the audience had to wonder if they could be in a simulation and not know it. We never even knew that the Doctor wasn’t real until the very end. Then we go into “Pyramid”, racing against time (and they didn’t even realize it), leading directly into “Lie of the Land”. It was exciting and heart-warming. The solution is love—love is stronger than fear. A lesson we could all use as human beings… but then again, as the Doctor noted, we never learn from our mistakes—humans forget—a symptom of pride and the human experience.

Flop Story: Smile
This episode was possibly the creepiest of the season, even more than the monks. It should have been my favorite episode, but instead of finding any sort of meaningful resolution in the story, the Doctor just reset the Vardi and told the humans to figure it out. Felt anticlimactic. The concept reminded me of “Happiness Patrol” where it was illegal to be anything but happy. It’s ok to have emotions; it’s human. If we didn’t have emotions, we’d be Cybermen. The Vardi treated grief as a virus, but it’s part of our humanity. “Granting all your wishes is not a good idea.”

Honorable Mention: World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls
The return of the Mondasian Cybermen. Bill’s tragic end. Return of the Master. It was a wonderful amalgamation of Doctor Who continuity. It was an interesting writing choice to “kill” Bill early on and turn her into a Cyberman. I really liked Bill! Why’d they have to kill her? At least she got a happy ending in her own way--same with Nardole. I loved seeing Missy show that she’d truly changed and come to the Doctor’s side… even if he never saw it. Goes to show what can happen when someone believes in you. And finally the ending… the Doctor… the original.

Special Story: Twice Upon a Time
It’s been decades since we had a multi-Doctor story for a non-anniversary episode. This episode featured the return of David Bradley, who had previously portrayed William Hartnell in "An Adventure in Space and Time". I loved the callbacks to the First Doctor’s regeneration story. We also had the introduction of the Brigadier’s grandfather and the return of Rusty. In the end, it was a nice send-off for the Twelfth Doctor. He was already fatally injured fighting the Cybermen, so his regeneration was inevitable. So instead of having some mystery big bad for the episode, we found out the “big bad” wasn’t so bad. 


Clara (11th Doctor) - Hell Bent
Nardole Extremis (flashback) - The Doctor Falls
Bill The Pilot - The Doctor Falls

Favorite Companion: I was pleasantly surprised with Bill’s character. I wrote my first impressions in a post after “The Pilot” but she got even better as the season went on. I liked her optimism. She’d been through a lot in her life, but she kept her positive attitude regardless of what hit her. Even after it seemed like the Doctor abandoned her in “Lie of the Land”. The world could use more people like Bill.

Least Favorite Companion: I loved Clara as a companion of the Eleventh Doctor and even through her tenure with Twelve. However, during my rewatch, I got annoyed with how awfully she treated Danny, lying to him and sneaking behind his back. And then after his death (which I’m still mad about) she got so reckless; it would have been much nicer if she’d said goodbye to the Doctor during “Last Christmas”.

Which was your favorite Peter Capaldi story? Would you want to see the Twelfth Doctor return for a 60th anniversary special in 2023?