Mages mess

I confess!

Has anyone noticed that I stopped posting my Clarion Write-a-Thon progress on Twitter, LJ and FaceBook? In case you did and were wondering, no, I have not stopped working on my Heirs of Mâvarin edit. I've worked on it every night, albeit for just a few minutes on the night I put together The Messenger for church.

But I stopped reporting my progress because I stopped making progress, in the sense of moving forward from chapter to chapter in my actual edit. Eventually I started over on it. I'm a little embarrassed about that.

The further I got with my attempt to break the novel's chapters into bite sized chunks, the less actual editing I did. I had decided to double back afterward and edit the new, shorter chapters, but I wasn't quite sure where it was that I stopped giving the actual words my full attention. At the same time, I was finding the 10 to 15 page chapter length I had attempted to be unworkable, given the lengths of some scenes and the rhythm of my storytelling.

So I started over, this time shooting for 25 page chapters, more or less. Are the same time I started rereading each chapter and making further edits for length, clarity and to reduce awkwardness in certain passages of dialogue. I'm up to Chapter Six, which was Chapter Nine, and before that Chapter Four. I'm on page 129 right now, but there's no way of knowing what other page numbers have been associated with Shela's revelation that Rani's coin is the one the mages gave King Jor before his kidnapping.

You may think it's silly, all this fussing with chapter lengths. If so, you're probably right. What's more important is, it gives me one last chance to see what can be cut and what can be tweaked, and to get rid of stuff that doesn't quite work, but survives edit after edit because it's so familiar that I don't read each word of it anymore and therefore don't notice. Not this time.

Today is Saturday. I've been working six day weeks for a while, and the seventh, Sunday, is just as busy with all my obligations at church and with two disabled friends. Last Saturday I didn't work, but I drove half an hour across town to renew the dogs' licenses, and later took Pepper in for grooming. Today I don't work, don't have any obligations outside the home. I've got housework to do, but that's it. This is my chance to read through the text with care and comprehension, and fix things that still don't quite work. And yes, I'll be working on chapter lengths at the same time.

No, really it's a good thing. I'm back on track, and I will get this done.

Lest we forget, this Clarion Write-a-Thon isn't just a chance to get me moving again on my fiction. It's also a fundraiser for the Clarion Workshop at UCSD, the current iteration of the sf writers' workshop where I first met John in 1977. Please help support their good work here. I will match each contribution up to $20 per person. Thanks!

Fried Brain

Clarion Write-a-thon Week One Questionnaire

From the Clarion Blog comes this Week 1 Writing Challenge for the Clarion Write-a-Thon. Off we go!

For those who do not yet have concrete writing goals of your own, we at the blog would like to offer you up a series of goals to focus you over the summer. Next week Monday through Friday, we’d like you to turn your attention to that novel you’re writing. Not writing one? Well, now you are. As memorable as short stories can be, the economic lifeblood of science fiction, horror and fantasy is the fans’ continuing love affair with novel-length fiction. Whether you do or do not have a novel in the works at this point, this challenge applies to you! Please answer the following questions regarding your novel, and if you’re not too shy or territorial, why not share them with other writers in the comments section? This questionnaire is meant to focus your writing and give you the basic structure that even the most outline-phobic needs to shorten the time between first draft and finished manuscript.
  1. Who is the character whose actions and decisions most drive your novel? (We will call this person the hero.)  This is the tricky thing about Heirs of Mâvarin: I have two protagonists, Del and Crel Merden, who share the novel-driving duties more or less equally. They're twins, so it seems like a fair distribution of labor.
  2. Describe your hero in five words or less. Teenage hidden royalty, revealed.
  3. What has to happen for your audience to know that the novel is over? (We will call this the goal.) The twins must reclaim their royal status.
  4. Describe this goal in ten words or less. Survive poisoning and imprisonment, find the King and overcome usurpers.
  5. What is the one most profound or pervasive reason that your hero cannot accomplish the goal right away? (We will call this the primary obstacle.)  Most people don't know that the current royal family are impostors.
  6. Describe the primary obstacle in ten words or less. The usurping regime is entrenched; the twins are powerless unknowns.
  7. What person most clearly drives, creates, or causes the primary obstacle? (We will call this person the antagonist.)  Archmage Sunestri of Mâton.
  8. Describe your antagonist in five words or less. The power behind two thrones.
  9. Look at the answer to question 2, and find three other sf&f novels whose hero could also be described in these exact or very similar words.*  The Secret Country by Pamela Dean, The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, and Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.
  10. Look at the answer to question 4, and find three other sf&f novels whose conflict could be described thus. The Return of the King (sort of) by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, and Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Well, they're in the neighborhood, anyway.
  11. Look at the answer to question 6, and find three other sf&f novels with the same basic primary obstacle.  Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, The Little Lame Prince by Miss Mulock, and The Hobbit (sort of) by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  12. Look at the answer to question 8, and find three other sf&f novels whose antagonist meets this description. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
  13. Which novels appear more than once in your answers to questions 9-12? List them here by name. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, and Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Honorable mention to LotR.
  14. List the ways in which your novel stands in stark contrast to each of the novels listed in question 13. The twins are not known to be hidden or missing because of the impostors who replaced them, and they learn their royal identities early in the book and spend the novel incorporating this change into their lives and personalities, rather than having royalty thrust upon them at the end of the book. And did I mention there are two of them? And that their best friend is a newly-transformed monster? 
I see what the thrust of this questionnaire is. The novel is expected to incorporate classic storytelling elements (c.f. the work of Joseph Campbell) and yet not be a knockoff of something else. Yes, I know that. Onward!

Fried Brain

Things I Still Don't Know About Heirs of Mâvarin

As The Clarion Write-a-Thon proceeds, and I work on what's meant to be my final edit on my first novel, there are still things I wish I knew:

1. How important is it to have short chapters? I used to have this book broken into chapters that ran from 31 to 51 manuscript pages each. Each chapter had a title reflecting a theme that applied to several scenes in the chapter, sometimes several storylines. But after surveying some of my favorite books, I decided to break my mega-chapters into more bite size chunks. But that ruins, or at least dilutes, my chapter titles and themes organization. Does that matter? Do editors care whether chapters are long or short? Do readers?

2. For that matter, are chapter titles terribly passe and juvenile, even for a YA fantasy?

3. Does it matter that my new chapters average around 11 to 13 pages, but there's an outlier that's 23 pages long?

4. When I finish this edit, where the heck am I going to send it, or a query about it? I've used up most of the major fantasy publishers and more than a few agents in past attempts.

5. If I fail at #4 (i.e. get rejections or no response at all...again), is it time to consider e-publishing?


Sponsor my Clarion Write-a-Thon efforts here.
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne

More on The Big Bang

Cribbed from my GB posts other than the one reprinted below:

My pre-review review:
26 Jun 2010, 2:34 pm
Re: Rate / Review "The Big Bang"

I usually wait until I've seen an episode 2 or 3 times before rating, but I have to go photograph a wedding now and won't see it again until tonight. (Bit exciting - never photographed a wedding and I'm not very good with dark interiors.) But there is no question that I was absolutely thrilled with this. 10/10 - and I'll be back later to figure out why.

On the callbacks to The Eleventh Hour in The Big Bang:
Re: Did we see the "totally obvious" thing from The Eleventh Hour?

It's actually a different take of Amelia in the bedroom. I noticed from the way she said the word "emergency."

I think the shadow on TEH could still be the Doctor, and some of the time weirdness in Leadworth could still be due to the crack, even though it wasn't mentioned in TBiBa. Or the Silence. Or.... Back in a moment.

In short, the fact that some things we noticed still don't match up or pay off doesn't mean they won't - next season. And even if they don't, we have enough timey-wimeyness to explain them to ourselves.

On Matt Smith as old man, and the episode's thematic content:

Re: Rate / Review "The Big Bang"

I often think that Matt Smith looks eerily like the old man he's supposed to be. I think it's a combination of the shape of his face, makeup, lighting and great acting. In this one, it's especially evident in the goodbye scene at the Pandorica and the "remember the TARDIS" goodbye scene with Amelia.

And I agree with those who have pointed out the potency of the themes of story and memory, and the use of humorous elements to convey plot points and help create the serious moments.

On paradoxes and the Doctor's predicament:

Re: Rate / Review "The Big Bang"

For what it's worth (and I'll grant you, it's probably not worth much), I find this kind of causal loop/predestination(?) paradox much less troubling than a purely ontological one, of the sort Moffat has employed at least twice before. Even without a starting point, the handing off of the sonic through time to get the Doctor out of the box makes a certain amount of sense. You can trace the loop, and see where and when each piece of it happens, when the Doctor finds out about each element of it, and how each person got the sonic. As long as you don't insist on a starting point (which some do, but perhaps shouldn't) you're sitting pretty.

But consider the multi-award-winning, poll-topping Blink, and the well-regarded Time Crash mini-episode. In the latter, the Doctor "didn't have to" figure out the trick with the Helmic regulator and the Zeiton crystals. He doesn't have to learn how to do the clever thing. He just passes the knowledge from older self to younger self, becomes the older self and fulfills what he already experienced. Somehow, for me, knowledge acquired from nowhere is more problematic than actions with no starting point. Blink is far worse in this respect, with the Doctor reading a transcript of his own words, conveying exactly what he wants to say in the way he way he would normally say it, sounding spontaneous while being anything but. Freaks me out, that does. And yet people love it. Heck, I love it, despite my freakedoutness.

I think if you can buy into those paradoxes, then the one in The Big Bang is relatively easy to cope with. The Doctor is doing stuff out of order, but learning about it in a linear way along his personal timeline. He doesn't do anything until he's found out what to do, even though from the pov of others he's already done it.

The issue I have more trouble with is, why does the rebuilt timeline have no TARDIS or Doctor in it, when both are integral to the survival of the universe several times over? Is the reconstituted universe imperfect in this "small" way, with the Earth being safe from Daleks and Cybermen and Time Lords and Reality Bomb a mere anomalous artifact of what's gone, like Amy's ring before the reboot? After overseeing the explosion that restores everything, why does the Doctor need to slip out of the Universe through the crack in Amelia's wall in order to finish the job? Claims are made about him being necessarily stranded in the void, but I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around the why and how of it. It doesn't begin to ruin the story for me, but I'd love to be able to put this niggle to rest.

Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne

My Comments on the DWM 2010 Season Survey

I've just emailed my Doctor Who Magazine Season Survey, filled out in plenty of time now that I'm a subscriber. (The time lag for DWM to reach U.S. bookstores is pretty horrendous and getting worse!)

Does the body of an email count as "comments on a separate sheet of paper"? Here are mine:

Best Overall Story: Some of my personal ratings have changed since I voted on the Gallifrey Base rate threads, in both directions. I initially liked The Hungry Earth, but the mother's behavior in Cold Blood is so upsettingly awful that I'm unwilling to watch the story as often as I normally would. I've been watching just the last ten minutes of the story, for Rory's death and its aftermath. I initially found it hard to rate The Pandorica Opens at all; I just wasn't sure what I thought or felt about it in advance of The Big Bang. Then I realized I was obsessed with the story. When The Big Bang aired, both parts rated an easy 10 - even if most of the fan theories about Amy's house and other conundrums went unconfirmed (so far!). Victory of the Daleks is destroyed by the premise of sending Spitfires into space with about 10 minutes from theory to launch, along with the lack of even a vague explanation how mention of Dorabella can stop Bracewell from exploding.

Best Writer: Steven Moffat's captivating scripts that bookend the series make him the only choice for this award, and his other two stories are only slightly less successful for me. If I could nominate a runner-up, it would be Richard Curtis, writer of the year's best Who script by someone not nicknamed the Moff (Vincent and the Doctor).

Best Director: This year, the choice of best director is "a tricky one." I gave Toby Haynes the nod for great visuals in several places (especially at the openings and closings of the Pandorica) and for encouraging truly outstanding performances from Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, enhanced by great choices in lighting, shots used, and music or lack thereof. That said, Catherine Morshead did an outstanding job on Amy's Choice (especially scenes of the frozen TARDIS) and Jonny Campbell painted his own beautiful pictures in Vincent and the Doctor. The scene with Amy and the sunflowers (as opposed to The Sunflowers) was just lovely, as were the field with crows, Vincent's flawlessly-recreated bedroom (with the despairing Vincent on the bed) and the cafe.

Best Actor: Matt Smith utterly deserves the #1 spot in the acting category this year. He's been a revelation, every bit as good as Steven Moffat promised if not better. How can a man that young convey great age so utterly convincingly? He's the world's most graceful klutz, at once goofy and dignified. Whether he is shouting his anger and frustration, teasing or testing a friend, or barely able to speak at all, he is utterly captivating and believable. The Doctor's essential qualities shine through Matt Smith at every moment of his performance. Every time he appears on the screen, it becomes a little harder for me to continue to claim that David Tennant is "my Doctor." Arthur Darvill as Rory is no slouch, either. He has excellent comic timing and a core of believability, and by the end of the series his character is utterly heroic as well as lovable. Tony Curran's Vincent is engaging and tragic and real, especially during the character's high and low points. If I could nominate a fourth actor it would be Toby Jones as the Dream Lord, the Valeyard reimagined as the King of Snark.

Best Actress: Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston are a lot of fun to watch, although it must be said that neither approaches the quality of Matt Smith. Fortunately, they don't have to. I went with Sophie Okonedo in the third spot because she's just so engaging as Liz Ten. I could almost as easily have selected Meera Syal, who was the main highlight of the Silurians two-parter.

Best Monster: It wasn't that monster-y a year, despite the cast of thousands shutting the Doctor up in the Pandorica near the end of the season. Aside from the under-Henge walk-ons, the only monsters that posed a real threat were the army of Weeping Angels. The expansions to their modus operandi were interesting and caused viewers some seriously tense moments, especially when Amy was trapped with the Angel from the recording. The premise of Angel Bob, although basically an extension of the data ghost idea of two years ago, was nevertheless inspired. The one thing that didn't quite work with the Angels this year was it was very difficult to believe that they were following the old rules as well, in terms of when they could and could not move.

Best Villain: The Dream Lord was sinister and funny, a great personification of the Doctor's inner critic, that nasty voice inside each of us that whispers we're no good and should give up now. Cross the Valeyard at his strangest with a sarcastic Doctor Who fan, and you end up with a character very much like the Dream Lord.

Best Male Supporting Character: There's no question on this one: it has to be Rory Williams. Rory is funny and likable from his first moments on screen, and just grows from there. Even as a relatively unadventurous stay-at-home in this early stories, he's reacting with intelligence and common sense to all he sees, noticing what others do not. He proves himself when defending Amy with a broom, and later hauls her to safety with an apology for every bump up a flight of stairs. He tries to save the Doctor from Restac, overcomes his Auton programming (just a little too late) at Stonehenge, protects Amy in the Pandorica for nearly 2000 years, and by the end of the series is nearly as adventurous as Amy and utterly worthy of her (but is she worthy of him?). What's not to love?

Best Female Supporting Character: Caitlin Blackwood's Young Amelia was utterly perfect in The Eleventh Hour, and almost as good in The Big Bang. Amelia deserved a ride in the TARDIS much more than her older self did, although a seven-year-old companion would undoubtedly invite criticism and nasty accusations. I suppose the series was largely about restoring adult Amy to the person Amelia could have grown into were it not for the losses she suffered along the way.

Best Special Effect: This wasn't a really effects-heavy season. I don't think there was anything wrong with such images as Prisoner Zero as itself, the stars and galaxies being destroyed, etc., but they didn't really stand out, either. The sky about Provence morphing into a version of The Starry Night was magical, though, not so much visually but in the context of the scene. My honorable mention  would go to the dilapidated exterior of Starship UK.

Best Music: Murray Gold's most memorable music this year was introduced in The Eleventh Hour and reappeared throughout the season. I'd love to know the names of the individual pieces. I wasn't a big fan of using pop songs in later episodes - well, except Crazy Little Thing Called Love at the wedding!

Greatest Contribution: I put Steven Moffat just ahead of Matt Smith here, but on another day I might have swapped them around. They were both outstanding. The number 3 spot is tougher. As good as Karen Gillan is, did she contribute more than the other executive producers? I don't really know. On the assumption that others will vote for Karen because her contribution is a highly visible one, I went with Piers Wenger instead.


(Mavarin Karen on Gallifrey Base)
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne

NuWho Review Redux: The Big Bang

And so we come to the end of the season...

Re: Rate / Review "The Big Bang"
Okay. Okay. I'm back from a real life wedding, very exciting, my first-ever gig taking pictures for money. Although I wasn't qualified to be a wedding photographer, I did my best. Now I've come home to a very different wedding, also very exciting!

Whatever else you say about Steven Moffat, he's full of surprises. This isn't quite the story we expected, is it? At least half of the questions we've been asking are deferred until next series. How did any of this happen, and why? How does one TARDIS destroy the Universe, who made it explode, and what is the Silence? We still don't know. There was no Omega (yet) or other Big Bad (I didn't think there would be); and almost none of the little continuity glitches and other possible clues that we pored over and debated endlessly paid off. I suppose if you're a half-empty sort of person who believes that if the answer isn't right there on the screen, today, that it's a plot hole, then to you The Big Bang is probably one massive plot hole.

This definitely wasn't the episode in my head, at least not before I clicked on one too many spoiler boxes.

And I don't care in the least. I feel like dancing in the streets!

The Doctor cheating his way out of the Pandorica, his wait minimal, courtesy of plastic Rory and River's vortex manipulator! Amy with her life restored, Amy as she should have been, thanks to the Doctor, emotionally connected at last! Faithful Roman Rory, protecting his beloved for nearly 2000 years, and rewarded with his human life back, only better, and a marriage that isn't built on shifting sands. The Pandorica, its original purpose subverted, put to use restoring the universe! The Doctor, very nearly most sincerely dead, wiped from existence and then brought back by a story and a wedding tradition! River, one step closer to being the Doctor's wife, and quite possibly his killer. Little Amelia, believing in the last bits of reality as they disappear from her world, with no raggedy Doctor to help, just a couple of mysterious notes. Come along, Pond! Shooting the Fez! Weddings, family, crazy dancing and happy endings!

I won't make the claim that this is the greatest story in the history of Doctor Who, although just at this moment it's my very favorite. I will, however make the claim that Doctor Who is the greatest television series of all time, from the original Big Bang to the end of the Universe.

Just three bits of advice to others, now that I've had time to read some of the comments on Gallifrey Base:

1. When a Doctor Who episode is as highly anticipated as this one, people tend to speculate wildly in advance of the airdate, building up a scenario in their heads of how it will play out. This is a lot of fun. I do it myself. BUT. Once you do that, there's a danger that your expectations will get in the way of enjoying what's actually on the screen. Steven Moffat is under no obligation to match up to the episode in your head. Nor was RTD, or Robert Holmes or any other Doctor Who scripter ever. It doesn't have Omega in it, so it's bad? There is no villain, so it's boring? No, and no. Let go of expectation, and enjoy what's there on its own terms, not according to some fannish checklist. Oh, and btw, it's perfectly possible to praise or criticize RTD or the Moff without saying nasty things about one's less preferred writer by comparison.

2. This is a more complicated episode than usual. The season finales generally are. If you don't follow exactly what happened the first time through, that doesn't mean it was badly plotted. It means a second viewing is likely to enhance your understanding and enjoyment - unless of course this kind of story is so completely not to your taste that soaking in more of it won't help.

3. Every single episode, a certain number of people will absolutely hate it and others will absolutely love it, with some episodes doing better than others in the polls or in AI. If someone hates it and feels the need to say so in an over-the-top way, people who love it sometimes feel as if something they care about has been attacked, or even as if they personally have been attacked. If someone's posts consistently upset you, feel free to put that person on your ignore list. But please realize that we're all human (as far as we know), with a right to basic courtesy even if our opinions are completely at odds. Suggesting that someone stop watching may seem like a perfectly reasonable point of view, but it turns out that it's not at all helpful. (It also won't have the desired effect. You're not going to convince the other person to stop watching or stop "attacking.") Nor are personal attacks ever justified, against a fan, a writer or anyone else. There are lots of fans here I nearly always disagree with, but what of it? That doesn't justify rudeness. Ever. End of rant.

"It's a Thing; it's like a plan, but with more greatness."
Find me using that magical word, Mavarin.

TEH: 10.
TBB: 8.
VotD: 7 (but should have said 6).
TToA: 10.
FaS: 10.
TVoV: 8.
AC: 8 (should have said 9)
THE: 9 (should have said 8)
CB: 8
VatD: 9 (should have said 10)
TL: 9
TPO: 10
(I don't grade on a curve.)
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne

NuWho review Redux: The Pandorica Opens

Re: Rate / Review "The Pandorica Opens"

I've just read 20 pages of the GB rate thread, and am about to watch the ep for the third time (excluding the bits I rewatched while wading through the posts). I have not rated the ep yet, and may not do so until next weekend. That, for me, would be unprecedented. I always rate an episode within 24 hours, after watching it two or three times.

But I truly don't know what my opinion of this one will be in the long run. So much depends upon how it all shakes out next week. I trust the Moff to fit it all together, but I'm not so sure how much I'll like the final puzzle.

Some points:

1. Anyone complaining in advance about a pending reset button should perhaps consider that the concept of time being rewritten or even unwritten has been building all series. That needs to be paid off, because otherwise it's a violation of the Chekhov's Gun principle. It's not a cheap Get Out of Jail Free card if it's integral to the entire series. To NOT see time rewritten in the finale would be the cheat from a dramatic standpoint.

2. As of the last few seconds of the episode, the armada is gone, the stars are gone and the Earth is gone. We don't know for an absolute fact that the TARDIS is destroyed, but it's the most likely cause of the rest of the Universe (at least the Earth and vicinity) suddenly disappearing. If the Earth is gone, Amy is definitely dead, Auton Rory ceases to exist, and the Doctor, unless he's already escaped somehow, ceases to exist (assuming the Pandorica isn't dimensionally transcendental, which is probably isn't). Unless you want Doctor Who to continue with no Doctor, no TARDIS, no Earth and probably no Universe, of course time needs to be rewritten. Exactly what shape that rewrite takes we don't know yet, but clearly it has to be enough of a "reset" to get the Earth back at the very least. And no, that's not a fake reality, as far as we can tell. It's the one we'[ve been in all season, crumbling into nothing. It's only the Auton Romans that are faked, in the same multi-species conspiracy that created the Pandorica and the fairy tale about it.

3. There is still the possibility of somebody escaping nonexistence via a Crack. Just sayin'. Also, River ruefully wonders "Oh, Doctor. Why do I let you out?" Hmm. [Did she already free him in her personal past? Has it anything to do with her murder conviction?]

4. It isn't necessary that all species in the alliance be the Doctor's enemies per se, nor that they get along in perfect harmony, or even that they all be time traveling species (or based in 102 AD). The species that do time travel could easily give the others a lift via time corridor or whatever, once the threat is recognized across time and space as well as the perceived need to stop the Doctor from (as they believe) destroying the Universe. Even the Daleks didn't set out to destroy reality for the heck of it; they believed they would survive Davros' reality bomb. In this situation they would want the Universe to survive so they can get back to exterminating everyone else and become the masters of the Universe. Since the Doctor has defeated or outsmarted almost all of them at one time or another, an alliance is a reasonable strategy.

5. The above is basically observation, logic and speculation, but from here I go to my opinions about the effectiveness of the episode itself. I liked the pre-titles setup very much, loved Roman Auton Rory, loved River's cheeky notes on the cell wall and the cliff face, and liked the parallels between Rory and Bracewell. The latter is almost enough to redeem that part of VotD, but the fact remains that there isn't the slightest patina of logic or explanation in the Bracewell bomb scene, whereas Auton Rory fighting his programming and Amy trying to help him do that makes a lot of sense. Their failure makes the attempt even more powerful.

6. The Doctor trying to delay the armada with a speech of awesomeness is kind of annoying at first blush; this device loses power each time it's used. What redeems it this time, as others have said is that it's a double bluff. The aliens are outmaneuvering the Doctor, and he doesn't know it yet.

7. Granted, I saw the Peter McKinstry sketch showing the Doctor confined in the Pandorica, but even before that it was obvious to me that there is only one being in the Whoniverse that remotely fits the description of the Pandorica's prisoner. I spent much of the episode berating the Doctor for not figuring this out. But it took my husband to figure out, partway through the ep, that the Doctor wasn't in there yet. The Doctor's obtuseness here is consistent with his many other moments of obtuseness through the season, but I don't like being that far ahead of the Doctor when it comes to figuring out something that important. The Doctor absent-mindedly taking Roman Rory for granted at first was also mildly annoying. [Then it became my favorite scene.]  I think these niggles are a matter of personal taste on my part, not a problem with the writing.

8. On the other hand, the developments in the Amy storyline were brilliant. My annoyance all season with the word Pandorica, which sounded like a lame sf-redress of the name Pandora, disappeared when it was revealed that it was supposed to be exactly that. Add to that the Doctor revealing his concern over the girl alone in a big, time-cracked house, and the revelation that the Romans and Pandorica were devised from her memories really works pretty well.

All these elements will either get more awesome as Moffat frills in the massive holes (cracks?) in our knowledge next week, or become less satisfactory if some element doesn't quite work in the end. Until then, I suspect that whatever grade I give this one will be regretted by me later, when I want to raise or lower it.


Favorite scene:

The Doctor: Okay, Romans. Good. I was just wishing for Romans. [Barely glances at Rory.] Good old River. How many?
Rory: Fifty men up top, volunteers. [points at Cyber suit] What about that thing?
The Doctor: Fifty? You're not exactly a legion.
Rory: Your friend was very persuasive, but, uh, it's a tough sell.
The Doctor: Yes, I know that, Rory. I'm not exactly one to miss the obvious...
[Rory tries and fails to interrupt]
The Doctor: ...but we need everything we can get. Okay. Cyber weapons. This is basically a sentry box. The headless wonder here was a sentry. Probably got himself duffed up by the locals. Never underestimate a Celt.
Rory: Doctor...
The Doctor: Hush, Rory, thinking. Why leave a Cyberman on guard unless it's a Cyber-thing in the box? But why would they lock up one of their own? Okay, no, not a Cyber-thing but what? What? Nooo, missing something obvious, Rory, something big, something right slap in front of me. I can feel it.
Rory: Yeah, I think you probably are.
The Doctor: I'll get it in a minute.
[The Doctor walks away. A moment later there is a crash as he drops the Cyber-weapons. He reappears and stares at Rory. He pushes against Rory's breastplate. Rory rocks on his heels.]
The Doctor: Hello again.
Rory: Hello.
The Doctor: How have you been?
Rory: Good. Yeah. Good. I mean, Roman....
The Doctor: Rory, I'm not trying to be rude, but you died.
Rory: Yeah, I know. I was there.

Re: How will Amy not die?

Notice everything. What happens at the very end, AFTER Amy dies and the Pandorica closes?

1. The TARDIS appears to blow up.
2. Everything out in space around the Earth blows up and disappears - the armada, stars, galaxies, whatever.
3. The Earth disappears.

Now, unless the Earth slipped into another universe, it doesn't matter what state Dead Amy and Auton Rory were in just moments before. The planet is gone, taking them with it, as well as the Pandorica itself. There is no way forward for those characters from that moment in time.

But what were we told repeatedly in Flesh and Stone, supported by later episodes? Time can be rewritten. Time can be unwritten. Cracks are appearing throughout space and time, starting from the explosion of the TARDIS on 26 June 2010. The cracks connect "two points in space and time that should never have touched." Furthermore, the Doctor stuck his hand through a crack and survived. Prisoner Zero slipped through a crack and survived.

Amy's house may be a TARDIS, or contain a TARDIS, or contain part of a TARDIS.

And River has a time agent's vortex manipulator. [Actually, no. We last see it lying on the ledge of the Pandorica exterior with the Doctor. No, wait. She's wearing it in the TARDIS scenes.]

For any of this to be solved, the Doctor has to be freed before the Earth ceases to exist in 102 AD. I see three ways for that to happen. Any one of them works for me:

1. via crack
2. via River and her vortex manipulator
3. via Amy and her mysterious third floor.

Or maybe all of the above.

Fried Brain

NuWho Review Redux: The Lodger

Re: Rate / Review "The Lodger"

9 out of 10 for me. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of that. Well, except for the air kisses. Someone should have told the Doctor that only actors do that. Which of course MS is, but let's not get too meta here. The placement of this story in the season is pretty much perfect - from caverns full of Silurians to famous artist plus monster to ordinary people in Colchester, all leading to the season-ending blowout.

Having no prior experience liking or disliking James Corden or his work, I expected, and got, exactly what I saw in the preview clips, a likable, low-key Everyman character, convincingly played. I genuinely felt for Craig, with his ongoing dilemma over his inability to express his love for Sophie, his helpless frustration over the status quo (the Doctor's analysis of Sophie's personal rut applying equally to Craig) and his bewildered discomfort over the upheaval the Doctor brings to his life.

As for Matt Smith's wonderfully eccentric Doctor, I don't find his performance here at all a departure from his excellent portrayals throughout the season. Not one incarnation of the Doctor, even Pertwee, could pass as normal while sharing a flat with a human. The Eleventh Doctor is a bit more "out there" than most of his previous selves, and that's part of what I love about him. That said, I have a very low tolerance for "embarrassment humor," the kind that comes from a character behaving idiotically or unrealistically. (For example, I pretty much can't watch I Love Lucy.) Gareth Roberts flirted with the edge of my tolerance range in The Unicorn and the Wasp (mostly in the poisoning antidote scene), and this episode could easily have sailed over the edge and become unwatchable for me. But it never did. By the time the Doctor did his third set of air kisses, I was even prepared to accept those! Transmitting what Craig needed to know by head butt was unusually violent, but on the other hand I can't see Craig agreeing to let this weird guy he's trying to evict hold his head in his hands for a gentle and loving tête-à-tête. And the Doctor was in a hurry, after all! Also, he and Craig clearly found it painful, and the Doctor said he would never do it again, so that's a clear warning to the kiddies not to "try this at home."

The Something at the Top of the Stairs really worked for me as well, so much so that I was genuinely stressed out as Sophie headed up there. That was clearly not the contest winner's TARDIS design, but given the plot constraints it probably couldn't be a cobbled-together Rube Goldberg creation like the Doctor's TARDIS. The episode didn't try to explain the origin of the timeship, but that doesn't bother me. There may well be a payoff to it in a future episode. Nor does the "kiss the girl" denouement seem nearly as nonsensical or contrived as (for example) talking Bracewell out of exploding earlier this season. In fact I think it kind of worked and made sense!

And finally, there's Amy in the TARDIS. I wasn't expecting to see much of her this episode, and applaud the idea of the "TARDIS Bluetooth." That fits right in with Rose's and Martha's Superphones and the TARDIS having a phone number that Churchill can call. People who complain that Amy is "shouty" here are not taking into account that she's being thrown about in an extra-loud TARDIS in crisis. She's hardly going to use her quiet voice. I can understand if people don't enjoy the character at her loudest, but Karen G. is matching Amy perfectly to her situation here.

The crack at the end started out to be a step back to the almost-gratuitous appearances at the end of The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks, only to turn into a big step forward. When Amy finds and opens her ring from Rory, the crack starts to open. Clearly it's a cause and effect! Is it next week yet?


"It's a Thing; it's like a plan, but with more greatness."

Find me using that magical word, Mavarin.

The Eleventh Hour: 10.
The Beast Below: 8.
Victory of the Daleks: 7 (but should have said 6).
The Time of Angels: 10.
Flesh and Stone: 10.
The Vampires of Venice: 8.
Amy's Choice: 8 (should have said 9)
The Hungry Earth: 9 (should have said 8)
Cold Blood: 8
Vincent and the Doctor: 9 (should have said 10)

(I don't grade on a curve.)

NuWho Review Redux: Vincent and the Doctor

Re: Rate / Review "Vincent and the Doctor"

I feel churlish giving this "only" a 9. I absolutely loved it, and was on the edge of tears at the end.

Unusually for me, I don't have much to say about this one yet, even after having watched it three times. The portrayal of Vincent was utterly wonderful, so vulnerable and mercurial and lovable and real. It was thrilling to see all those famous paintings sitting unregarded in the artist's home, and the director, set designers, cinematographers etc. did an amazing job of recreating Van Gogh's Provence, with all the right colors and iconic images. The Starry Night scene, with these three wonderful characters holding hands and the sky transforming above them, was nothing short of magical.

As always when I'm tempted to rate an episode a 10, I looked hard for something flawed or inconsistent, or even something I didn't like. I thought the first time through that there was a problem with compressed time from night to day as the Doctor goes off to his TARDIS and gets the mirror / identifier gadget. Watching it again, through, I see the sky lightening with dawn as he approaches the TARDIS, and the implied lapse in time before he finds the gadget. Meanwhile, Amy and Vincent have presumably gone to bed, having been up nearly all night talking, as often happens in an intense new friendship. Nor is Vincent awakened the moment the Doctor gets back, we can assume, because breakfast is prepared before the "wakey-wakey" moment.

That leaves just one tiny thing to bother me in the entire episode, and that's the Doctor being so appallingly bad at deducing where the monster is based on Vincent's position and actions. In retrospect, I probably should not have docked the episode a full point for just that!


Tony Curran as Vincent Van Gogh

On Vincent's ability to see an invisible monster:

Indeed, it's a bit of a science fantasy trope, that the mentally ill can see what others cannot. In Quantum Leap, for example, people who were drunk or mentally ill could see Al's hologram, which normally only Sam could see. In Buffy, the people whose sanity had been stolen by Glory could see that Dawn was the mystical key, and that her human life prior to transformation was a lie.

And if you think about it, it fits in with the popular conception of some kinds of mental illness, the idea that the brains of such people operate differently, giving rise to a different set of perceptions. Which can be literally true in the case of people who hallucinate.

PS. I just want to link to this review because I love it and can snag episode quotes from it:
Flick Filosopher: ‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Vincent and the Doctor”
Crack, Doctor Who, Cayenne

NuWho Review Redux: Cold Blood

8/10 from me, not because there's anything wrong with it (I gave last week's a 9, when in retrospect it should have been an 8), but because this is quite a bit darker than I like my Doctor Who. This is Torchwood territory, and I don't mean that in a good way. This is like when Torchwood gets too dark for me, as in Chris Chibnall's Countrycide, or, goodness knows, in Children of Earth. Midnight was traumatic enough. I didn't want to see Doctor Who get this deep into the "drak side of humanity" vein.

Structurally, I don't think there's much wrong with this. Although the business with the Crack appears to be arbitrarily shoved into the story at that particular moment, I don't suppose it really is. We know from past episodes (and now from the "shrapnel") that it is somehow related to the TARDIS, and also to Amy and Rory's wedding. Naturally the Crack would appear by the TARDIS just as Rory's death is about to come along to destabilize things further. As for the rest of the story, while it's tonally very different from last week, everything that happens here was already set up, in that episode or in the season generally.

Let's see, specifics. I'll go by character. Tony Mack worked for me, because I could just about buy his hiding his green veins problem from a daughter already wild with worry about her husband and son. It may even have been a reasonable choice, given that he probably knows how she might react to the additional stress. What little we got of Elliot this week fits in fine with what we already know of him. I guessed from the moment Tony was set to stay behind that Nasreen would stay too; it makes perfect sense for her character and beats the heck out of her getting killed off.

But oh, that Ambrose. Oh, dear. She was such a loose cannon, almost from the beginning, that she was barely likable even before she did the single worst and stupidest thing possible. She's just about believable, but only because of the nuances the actress gave her throughout, and only because she didn't actually murder Ayala. She only tortured her to death. Yeah, that's much better. *shudder* But what I mean is, she didn't deliberately do the really stupid thing of leaving herself without a hostage to exchange for her family. She actually says that she expected Ayala to back down and tell her how to save her dad. "I would have," she says. So. Believable, but really, really unpalatable. She's the reason I turned to my husband once during the episode and said, "I'm really hating this."

And then there are the two fanatically genocidal warrior sisters. Does the one not understand that the other would deliberately turn her captivity to a virtual suicide mission in order to achieve martyrdom and provoke a war? Is it such a surprise that Ayala is dead? And given that Restac is keen to assume the humans are attacking and exterminate them regardless, Ayala's ploy/sacrifice seems unnecessary, unless the non-warrior class characters need to be convinced. Now those two, I like. I'm not sure Malohkeh's character quite holds up under scrutiny, the earlier scenes of dissection and medical experiments quite fitting in with his later gentleness and geniality; but I suppose I can just about buy that he means no harm. Certainly Mo seems none the worse for "dissection" aside from an interesting scar. And Stephen Moore's Eldane is the Silurian we've been waiting for all these years, the reasonable person willing to negotiate in good faith, and not easily pushed into "humans must die" mode. (And frankly, it's a thrill to get Stephen Moore into Doctor Who anyway, as a character so very different from Marvin. I like his recordings of the H2G2 books at least as well as the Douglas Adams ones.)

And finally, finally, we get a result other than the humans killing off all those murderous Earth Reptiles. It's been a long time coming, forty years in fact. One question, though: why are all the nasty Silurians female, and the nice ones male? Ah, well. I suppose there would be more of a mixture in the general populace, but nearly all the non-warriors sleep through the story.

The end bit? I spoiled myself earlier in the week, and was dreading this. Overall it was well done. My only real problem is that the Doctor is safe from being erased from existence while actually sticking his arm through the crack, by virtue of a handkerchief on his hand. Really? Maybe it's only when the time energy (or whatever) comes out of the crack that it becomes a cosmic eraser, but that's not actually said. And if it's a matter of not touching his skin, well, I think the time energy light is only up to Rory's covered legs when the Doctor abandons his body. It's possible to make this all work, but as it appears on screen it's more than a little dodgy.

Rory's death scene itself was perfect. Every word and every expression from Arthur Darvill was just right. Amy's shell of wisecracking unflappability falls away for the second time this series, and for the same reason. Notice that her "clingy" remark earlier is her making light of her own danger; her delivery of that line is not genuinely carefree, but more a show of defiance. At least, it is to my ears. Amy doesn't go to pieces easily over her own peril, something we've known ever since fish custard. But actually losing Rory makes her go to pieces. He's the one reliable source of love and stability in her life, even if she seldom appreciates this until he's threatened or killed.

Which brings us to the whole forgetting thing. I was worried that she'd just instantly forget him, la-di-dah, let's go meet Van Gogh. But no, she has to be pulled away from his body, and then struggles to keep his memory alive with the Doctor's help. That really works for me. It comes off very differently from Donna's superficially similar memory loss, largely because the Doctor has the opposite intent this time. It was nice to see a flashback sequence that has a strong in-story reason (it's not we who need to remember, but Amy), and that has scenes NOT appearing in previous episodes. That's a good touch, emphasizing that Rory's presence in Amy's life didn't start the day Prisoner Zero was caught by the Atraxi.

Then Amy loses Rory anyway, through mechanics of memory and rewritten time that are kind of the opposite of what I'm used to seeing. In Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, for example, it's the people closest to the rewriting of history (Charles Wallace and Meg) that remember the original timeline. Here that is inverted, with Amy remembering strangers erased from history but not her own fiance killed in front of her. Our Amy becomes a different Amy, who never made Rory dress up as the raggedy Doctor, who didn't run away from her wedding, and who has no reason to be upset of angst-y as she sails off into the next adventure.

The poor Doctor, on the other hand, racks up mixed results with the Silurian negotiations, a major loss with the death of a companion for the first time since Adric, a secondary loss with Amy losing part of her history and identity, and the knowledge of future loss as he holds a piece of the TARDIS's destroyed outer shell in his hand. Amy's suffering here is finite because of what happens to her memory, but the Doctor's suffering is profound - and he's not allowed to show it, for Amy's sake. But then, that's what the Doctor does anyway. He buries his hurts and goes on.


"Time is not the boss of me." --The Doctor

Find me on Twitter, Blogger and elsewhere using that magical word, Mavarin.

The Eleventh Hour: 10.
The Beast Below: 8.
Victory of the Daleks: 7 (but should have said 6).
The Time of Angels: 10.
Flesh and Stone: 10.
The Vampires of Venice: 8.
Amy's Choice: 8 (should have said 9)
The Hungry Earth: 9