SciFi Friday: Dr. Who, Kristen Bell is Legally Blonde, And Traveling at Warp Speed

I’m afraid tonight might not be a good night for television watching. You might as well watch High School Musical 2 instead of the SciFi Channel tonight. This week’s episode of Doctor Who is 42, which I found to be one of the worst episodes since the series was revived. From my comments after it first aired on the BBC:

Doctor Who returned from a week off with 42, one of the weakest episodes of the revived series. If the story wasn’t bad enough on its own, it repeated many features of last season’s two parter, The Impossible Planet and The Satin Pit, but in a poorer manner. The only good features were that Martha got a key to the Tardis and a phone with the best roaming plan ever. There was also more foreshadowing of the season’s confrontation with Mr. Saxon (who I still predict will turn out to be The Master.)

Prior to the show we thought the title might be a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy.Instead think of 42 as 24 backwards as the show takes place in a boring 42 minutes of real time. Fortunately things turn around quickly. The following two stories (one a two-parter) might be three of the best hours of Doctor Who of all time. After those episodes, the season ends with an excellent three part story (although the conclusion wasn’t totally satisfying). For those who want to keep the season permanently (and didn’t already download it when aired by the BBC) the DVD set will be out on November 6.
Flash Gordon is also on tonight. After seeing last week’s episode, I don’t plan to bother watching this week. There are many longer reviews available on line if anyone wants to waste their time.

Last Saturday featured the second episode of Masters of Science Fiction. It was entertaining, but had some of the flaws of the first episode. Yes, we know nuclear weapons are dangerous and we know to be dangerous of hard line presidents. I think they might do better to move on to other issues. A story about a simpler topic might actually be more effective in a one hour story.

The networks just don’t seem to get the fact that not many people watch television during the summer, especially if they have no idea a show they might be interested in is on. Last week I found, to my surprise, that The Nine was back on and a digital recorder programmed to record the series picked it up. At least it was on Wednesday as opposed to Saturday like Masters of Science Fiction. The Nine also aired the following week and now appears to have been pulled from the schedule. Most likely few watched as those who did enjoy the show didn’t know it was on. ABC now lists it as web only. They did change the manner in which shows are played on line and I was very impressed with the quality. They now make watching television on a computer screen like watching a show on a HD monitor.

The Bourne Ultimatum has more of a political message than the first two movies. Bill O’Reilly called it Un-American and I responded here.


Kristen Bell, formerly Veronica Mars, turned down a part as one of The Others on Lost, saying she did not want to move to Hawaii. Instead she will be starring in the Broadway adaptation of Legally Blonde.

This week’s science news sounds like a lot like science fiction. A pair of German physicists claim to have found a way to break the speed of light, perhaps some day giving us the warp drive. There are interesting consequences:

Being able to travel faster than the speed of light would lead to a wide variety of bizarre consequences.

For instance, an astronaut moving faster than it would theoretically arrive at a destination before leaving.

Traveling great distances and going back in time. Have they invented The Tardis?

Fans of The Matrix (the first movie, not those two awful sequels) might enjoy John Tierney’s column this week. Here’s a portion:

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

The math and the logic are inexorable once you assume that lots of simulations are being run. But there are a couple of alternative hypotheses, as Dr. Bostrom points out. One is that civilization never attains the technology to run simulations (perhaps because it self-destructs before reaching that stage). The other hypothesis is that posthumans decide not to run the simulations.

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