Saturday in Takoma

While most of today has been allocated to school projects (having finished off a research paper’s first draft, next up are three chapters in the oh-so-riveting Reference and Information Services: An Introduction textbook), I decided I needed a quick break for an hour. It’s a beautiful day outside, and while I’d opened up all of the windows and turned off the air-conditioner, that simply wasn’t going to suffice.

So, I took a quick spin around my immediate neighborhood. Strolled down to the library and picked up my reserved copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. I had a recent encounter with one of the Canal House Cooking books and while that’s a (hopefully) forthcoming post in its own right, it made me curious to see what their big cookbook was like. From there I headed the opposite direction down the street to Trohv, which is always worth a browse but in this case I was visiting specifically to buy the new issue of Kinfolk magazine. It’s always a pleasure to read, and knowing that this issue is all about weekends makes it even better. As I entered, I stopped and snapped a quick picture of the new construction at Takoma Central to send to Charlie. Not that I know much about building projects, but it certainly feels like it’s coming along nicely and should hopefully open on schedule next spring.

On the way home, I stopped in at La Mano Coffee Bar, which opened earlier this month. Ended up leaving with a mint rooibos tea, and two hand pies; one with peach and raspberry, the other with a spiced ground beef. Ran into one of my neighbors right as I was leaving, who was walking with her adorable daughter (who was on a sassy purple scooter).

Saturday Haul

And once I got home, I put everything down and thought to myself how much I love my neighborhood on days like this. Everyone’s out walking, there are adorable shops and businesses to visit, and there was a general air of friendliness. A couple that I saw leaving Trohv as I entered was buying a snack at La Mano, and as I walked from the library to Trohv I saw two other neighbors across the street run into one another and start chatting.

Sure, it’s not the “everything is happening all the time” nature of being right in the heart of downtown, and there’s a lot to be said for living there. But there are definitely charms that exist here, too, if you take the time to look. And now, having eaten my pies (the crust was buttery and flaky and delicious, and the insides were great too), I’m going to sit out on the balcony with my textbook and my iced tea and enjoy the great weather.

50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 2)

So! Picking up where I left off last time… part 2 of Sylvester McCoy’s run on the series, spanning all of Season 25 and the first story of Season 26.

 Dr Who - Remembrance of the Daleks
#152: Remembrance of the Daleks

Back in the day, the Daleks didn’t turn up every season (or almost every season), but were parceled out so they’d have a greater impact when they did. With this being the 25th season, the Daleks (and another major villain) were brought back for their one appearance in the McCoy era. It’s also easily one of the best stories. This is the first of two stories that Ben Aaronovitch contributed to the series, and I think it’s the better of his efforts. Set in late 1963, it’s a story that mirrors the Daleks’ belief that they are the superior race with the conflicts over race on Earth. It’s a smart script, one that picks up past elements of the Daleks story (most notably the civil war that began in their last appearance several years earlier, “Revelation of the Daleks”) but does so in a way that doesn’t leave behind anyone who hasn’t seen those stories.

This is also new companion Ace’s first story where it’s just her and the Doctor (after her introduction at the end of the previous season), and the dynamic is instantly more appealing than what we had with the 7th Doctor and Mel. It’s a story where it’s hard to imagine substituting Ace with any previous companion; she isn’t just headstrong and with a forceful personality, she’s someone who takes the fight to the Daleks. She’s the first formidable companion (in an action, fighting sense) since Leela a decade earlier, but instead of a knife or a poisonous thorn, she’s using high explosives and even a rocket launcher.

The Doctor himself is also portrayed differently than up until now, too. Having been given time to stop and plan out his time on the show (versus the scramble to just have something on the screen for Season 24), script editor Andrew Cartmel reworked the 7th Doctor into one who is more manipulative, a dark streak running beneath the clownish exterior. This could have been disastrous (and in one instance it is, but we’ll get to that shortly), but generally speaking it works well because Cartmel and the writers he chooses do so with a touch of subtlety. The Doctor’s motivations are always well intentioned and for the greater good, but for viewers up until this point, you can see where this ends up being a bit surprising. At any rate, “Remembrance of the Daleks” held up well on a re-watch. It moves at a good pace, it’s fun, and while some of the things that were new at the time are now old hat (and I’m not just talking about the Dalek that levitates up stairs), they’re still done with skill so that the surprise is gone but the quality remains.

Continue reading 50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 2)

50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 1)

We’re back! At a glance, it might look like I skipped a month. But that’s both true and not, as you’ll see below…

The 7th Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy, who came on board during an extremely troubled time for the show behind the scenes. It had already been cancelled then un-cancelled while Colin Baker was starring as the 6th Doctor, and while the show survived, Baker was fired in-between seasons. While Baker was eventually offered the opportunity to come back for one more story to bring his time to a close, he turned it down and we ended up with no real transition from one to the next (save for a pre-credits sequence involving new actor McCoy wearing Baker’s outfit and a big curly blond wig, only seen from behind).

More importantly, not only was Baker gone, but script editor Eric Saward had also left the series. In the earlier days of Doctor Who, it was the script editor (rather than the producer) who did the bulk of commissioning the scripts for the show, and by the time new script editor Andrew Cartmel was hired he ended up inheriting the first two scripts because everything was so far behind schedule. The end result was McCoy’s first season consisting of four stories where one had been written for Baker, and the remaining three for a “generic Doctor” because no one at the time knew what this new Doctor’s personality would be like.

McCoy had the role for three years, with a total of twelve stories, before the show was cancelled once more. This time it stuck. McCoy did return seven years later, though, to appear in the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to merge McCoy and McGann’s months into a big two-month-long viewing extravaganza (especially since McGann only had that one outing), and to watch all thirteen stories.

What I didn’t count on was work getting even busier, plus losing a lot of free time due to starting graduate school. So with still two stories waiting to be watched, I’m going to use this entry to tackle the first four stories (or first season) starring McCoy; a second and possibly third post will hopefully come soon with McCoy’s remaining stories as well as McGann’s solo outing. And with that in mind…

Dr Who - Time and the Rani
#148: Time and the Rani

Ask a Doctor Who fan which of McCoy’s episodes was the worst, and three out of four will tell you that it’s “Time and the Rani.” Sometimes fan lore leads you down a path of opinions that are based on hearsay rather than actual viewing. This is not one of those times.

“Time and the Rani” admittedly has a huge disadvantage; it wasn’t written for McCoy’s Doctor at all, and while writers Pip and Jane Baker and script editor Andrew Cartmel clearly tried to file off the edges of the previous Doctor once Colin Baker’s return was officially nixed, but it’s still trying to push a square peg into a round hole. The Doctor here is often snappish and rude, only to then veer off into pratfalls and slapstick. It’s a bungled mess right from the start.

Then you add in a nonsensical plot (one that relies far too heavily on sheer laziness of the main villain), some truly awful acting, and another rock quarry that’s standing in for an alien planet. At the end of the previous season, new companion Melanie had been introduced as played by Bonnie Langford, but aside from being energetic she was a complete non-entity, and that unfortunately carries through into this season where it’s quickly clear that no one is interested in writing for Mel. Langford gets a lot of flack for her time on Doctor Who, but I feel that’s not fair. She’s clearly very professional and does whatever the scripts and director tell her to do, but at the same time she’s also been placed into a show where no one is interested in her sticking around.

There are two great things about “Time and the Rani,” to be fair. The first is whenever returning guest actress Kate O’Mara’s character of the Rani disguises herself as Mel. Her fake chirpy-sweet voice mixed with genuine disdain and loathing for the Doctor is nothing short of hysterical, and her ever-building annoyance with everyone around her is a real treat in those first two episodes. Sadly once she pulls off the wig and stops pretending to be Mel, she’s straight out of an episode of Dynasty, complete with shoulder pads, lipstick, and a big glamorous hairdo. So much for the hard-working scientist who doesn’t want to take over the world; in “Time and the Rani” her goal is ultimately to take over the universe and rework it as she sees fit.

The other great thing is how director Andrew Morgan has the Lakyrtians run. This may sound strange, but you need to take my word on this. They’re supposed to be slightly lizard-like, and when they run, Morgan has them hold their arms back at an angle. It actually makes them look like a species of small lizard, and while some do it better than others (Karen Clegg as Sarn in particular) it’s at least an attempt to make them a little difference.

Otherwise? I have nothing good to say about this, perhaps save that if you drink a lot it gets funnier and funnier. But it’s bad. It’s really bad. Shockingly, appallingly bad. (Not as bad as “The Twin Dilemma,” which still edges this story out as “worst first story for a new Doctor,” but this is the nadir of the McCoy era, right out of the gate.)

Continue reading 50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 1)