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Sunday, Jul 26, 2009

Picture the following situation. You catch a bus to go home after a hard day’s work, pay the fare and take a seat. Suddenly there are sirens everywhere, a blinding flash of light, and a series of incredible jolts and accelerations. The next thing you know you’re stranded in an area of absolute desolation with death on the horizon.


Now while this is quite normal for American users of public transport, Britain is a green and pleasant land, so it’s a bit of a shock for the Doctor and his fellow passengers.


So what is the Doctor doing on a London double decker bus? It turns out he’s tracking a newly opened wormhole and the bus he was riding just drove through it. So now the Doctor and his fellow passengers are all stuck on the Planet of the Dead in a wrecked bus. Since there aren’t any Americans with public transport experience around, they are left to their own devices.


Luckily, the passengers turn out to be pretty resourceful. The better half of a sweet old couple from Brixton has psychic ability. There are two likely lads who start repairing the bus. And there’s a mysterious and aristocratic lady in a tight leather body suit who used diamond earrings as bus fare. She’s Lady Christina (Michelle Ryan), and has just stolen a very precious artifact from a museum. Half of the police in London were chasing her when she boarded the bus.


The London police may have their faults but they do know what to do when a double decker vanishes into thin air. They call in the normally hapless but always well intentioned folks at UNIT. UNIT is the United Nation alien rapid response team and this time they have a really good mad scientist, Dr. Malcom Taylor (Lee Evans), on staff.


All of this talent is going to be tested to the full as the Doctor has to cope with crashed alien spacecraft, a disgruntled alien crew, a rapidly growing wormhole and metallic, and planet chewing space locusts. Indeed, it’s a great show, which manages to duplicate some of the sense of joyful adventure from the old Tom Baker days. It’s the combination of the fast pace, originality and happy go lucky style that makes Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead one of the best adventures that any of the Doctors has had.


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Friday, Jul 24, 2009
An examination of Claire's portraiture in Six Feet Under.

In terms of popular discussion, Six Feet Under has been hailed for tackling an unorthodox subject matter, for its filmic production values, its multi-faceted representation of homosexual relationships, and much more. But rarely does one find comment surrounding its use of art photography, and the insight that this offers us into its characters. Yet, as viewers, we are fully aware that the character of Claire in SFU and her story arc are very much driven by her artistic aspirations.


At the beginning of the show, the aimless teenage girl is caught grappling with her father’s death, which she struggles to contextualize alongside her adolescence. But in the second series, her Aunt Sarah pronounces her an artist, and as such, her pursuit of the imaginative form propels her from complacency to a state of self-enquiry. Considering the impact of this event on her character development, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at some of Claire’s portraiture, and to consider their narrative implications.


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Monday, Jul 20, 2009

On a dark night in 1965, a busload of Scottish children is driving down a deserted road. The bus comes to a stop and the children nervously get out. A bright light appears in the sky and the children go towards it. As they get closer one child runs away unnoticed. The light gets brighter and suddenly the night is dark again and the other children have vanished.


Switch to a bright sunny day in 2009. Children are playing in the park or at school recess. Then they suddenly stop everything and are frozen in place. Frantic parents and teachers desperately try to find out what’s wrong but the children are mute and immobile. After a few moments they say in a flat voice “We are coming” over and over. Then it stops as suddenly as it started and the children resume what they were doing completely unaware of what has happened. It all happens at the exact time to every child in the world.


Now of course as anyone who’s been watching the Torchwood series knows, that the obvious thing for the British government to do at this point is to call the Torchwood team and ask them to sort it all out. But not this time since it turns out that the government has a secret that they want kept very badly. So the Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) wants all evidence of the secret to be literally wiped out and instructs a senior civil servant, Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) to make sure it happens.


Tagged as: doctor who, torchwood
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Friday, Jul 17, 2009

The History Channel is about to launch a new series focusing on the somewhat unpromising subject of a pawnshop. The series goes by the rather prurient but, I suppose, amusing moniker of Pawn Stars and features three generations working together in the pawn business, a business that served as the main form of credit in the United States until about 1950 and remains one of the oldest forms of banking.  This particular business is apparently the only family-run pawnshop in Los Angeles and indeed the family tensions and camaraderie make up a large part of the premiere episode. Thus the History Channel enters the world of (quasi-) reality TV in a manner in which only The History Channel could—mixing family and business dynamics with a genuine interest in historical artifacts.

Richard Harrison (often simply called “the Old Man”) started his “Gold & Silver Pawn Shop” in 1988 after losing millions in real estate. He dresses, at least for the credits, as an underachieving mob boss and because of his poor eyesight (presumably) he squints no end. Supposedly, he assesses the value of any piece of merchandise with remarkable exactitude (at least according to the press material) but in this episode he is exposed as having made a rather serious gaffe—he priced a Carson City coin worth roughly $500 at a mere $50 because he could not accurately read the back of the coin. His son and grandson finally convince him to visit the eye doctor but he insists on driving to the appointment!


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Friday, Jul 10, 2009
Here's hoping that CBS' murder mystery series will end with a bang (or a slice, thwack, or thunk) and not a whimper.

Harper’s Island finishes its run with a two-hour series finale on Saturday night. For those few of us who are still watching, it will be a kick to finally see who was behind it all. The main killer has already been revealed, but the question of which cast member or members were his accomplices is still up in the air. But the answer to the question “Why are there so few viewers left?” is worth pondering. Harper’s Island premiered to much fanfare in early April. CBS promoted it relentlessly during its primetime shows and during its coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament in March. The network even gave it a plum schedule slot, right after the still-powerful CSI on Thursday nights. The premiere episode scored great ratings, and yet by May the show was airing in the network dead zone of Saturday night. Even worse, CBS pre-empted the program during the final week of May sweeps in favor of airing reruns of other shows.


So what went wrong? Well, the viewers who tuned into that first episode expecting a taut murder mystery with a healthy helping of violence received the latter, but not much of the former. Truth is, Harper’s Island is not a very good show. There are too many cast members running around to give any character depth to all but the primary three or four leads. The rest are typical stereotypes you see in any soap opera or horror movie. There’s the rich daddy who isn’t happy that his daughter is marrying a commoner, the sleazy uncle who parties too much, the sullen drugged-out brother, the blonde princess with a tiny yappy dog, the earnest foreigner, the bride’s menacing ex, the bumbling fat guy, the douchebag, and the token black guy. Not to mention the residents of the island where the wedding was supposed to take place: the groom’s female best friend, her nice but sorta creepy ex-boyfriend, the bully with a chip on his shoulder, and the sheriff with a history. They needed all these characters because it was a given that the body count was going to be high. But in the early episodes this cast was handled with all the finesse of a daytime soap. They all came with pre-existing backgrounds with each other, but we couldn’t be bothered to care about any of it, especially since we knew most of them were just going to be offed anyway.


Tagged as: harper's island
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