SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Canceled Series, The Fringe Alternative Universe, New Star Wars Rides, & RIP Frank Frazetta

BBC America concluded the two part Doctor Who story The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone. This post will include major spoilers for the episodes which have now aired in the United States with some limited information on future episodes.

Steven Moffat used major components of two of his top stories from past years along with the crack in time from this season. The story began with River Song using an ingenious method to summon The Doctor to rescue her. The two episodes teased us with both the possibilities that River will wind up marrying The Doctor and/or that she winds up being imprisoned for killing him. At least this is the speculation after we found that she was in prison for killing “the best man she ever knew.” As the time lines of the two are crossing in different orders The Doctor does not know what to expect from her.

The episode also had the return of the Weeping Angels from Blink but they were quite different from the Angels in that story. The crack in time is shown to be able to rewrite time, most likely explaining why Amy did not recall the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks. The Angels suggest that The Doctor should know more about the crack in time, and it appears we might learn more when River Song next meets The Doctor when the Pandorica opens–which Prisoner Zero also mentioned earlier this season. This is presumably related to June 26–the wedding date on the alarm clock in Amy’s room and the date the episode is scheduled to air in the U.K.

It appears that the episode will be a major event with the climax of the crack in time story arc from this season. It is also possible that The Doctor goes back in time to the events of Flesh and Stone. At one point in the episode The Doctor is dressed and acts a little differently, raising suspicion it is a future version of him. Playing with time travel in such a manner would be the type of thing Steven Moffat is likely to come up with. There’s also been rumors that the episode will include the return of the younger version of Amelia Pond.

The episode ends with Amy having The Doctor return to earth where she makes a pass at him. This leads into the following two episodes which have aired on the BBC which both lead to Amy choosing between Rory and The Doctor.

There was a lot of news this week regarding the upcoming television season. V and Chuck were both renewed. FlashForward, as expected, was canceled. The show began strong and has been excellent in its closing episodes but did go through a weak mid-season stage when it turned into an overly complex FBI investigation instead of concentrating on the characters involved. Reportedly the final episode was edited so it won’t end with a cliff hanger but the story is not likely to be satisfactorily wrapped up. Originally the producers suggested that it would take two seasons to complete the story behind why the flash forward occurred.

Heroes was also canceled, also coming as no surprise. The show started out strong  first season but in subsequent seasons fell in both quality and ratings. There continues to be talk of a two hour show to conclude the series, which I think is a good idea. The last season ended with Claire revealing the existence of the heroes. Concluding this would provide a different story from past seasons (and hopefully one different from the X Men). I also suspect that many viewers who have abandoned the show after the first season would watch a two or four hour event to definitively conclude the story.

Added to Dollhouse , 24, and Lost this means a large number of genre shows are not returning.  However there are many new ones planned. IO9 presents a run down of seven new genre shows including The Cape staring Summer Glau.

During my reviews of Fringe last year I had mixed feelings about the show. I am certainly happy I stuck with it. An excellent season is ending extremely strong with a two part episode in the alternative universe. This will also probably be the last we see of Leonard Nimoy who says he is retiring and will not return to Fringe or the Star Trek movies. Of course we’ve seen many actors say this but get lured back. Nimoy has also said that when J.J. Abrams calls he does answer the phone.

We know that disastrous things may happen as a result of contact between the two universes but I cannot help but be intrigued by the alternative universe. So far we learned earlier in the season that they had digital cell phones years before us. This week we found that the alternative Olivia is hotter than ours, Peter’s parents appear more sane, and that The West Wing remains on television. On the other hand, the Fringe unit seems paramilitary and I fear we will find other unpleasant things about that universe.

Also this week we learned much more about Jacob and his brother on Lost but the island still feels like a big mystery regardless of how many answers we receive. has pictures of this years Star Trek themed ornaments from Hallmark, including the above which is the first based upon the 2009 movie. Other ornaments include a scene of Kirk and Spock fighting from Amok Time.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland will be having their last trips to the planet Endor as the Star Wars rides are reimagined. The new Star Tours will be a 3-D ride with a  high-speed pod race on Tatooine. It is expected to re-open at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland in May 2011.

The sad news of the week is that legendary comic and pulp fiction artist Frank Frazetta died at age 82.

Noam Chomsky Denied Entry Into Israel

Israel has denied Noam Chomsky entry into the country to speak at Bir Zeit University.

Professor Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and left-wing activist, was denied entry into Israel on Sunday, for reasons that were not immediately clear.

Chomsky, who was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University near Jerusalem, told the Right to Enter activist group by telephone that inspectors had stamped the words “denied entry” onto his passport when he tried to cross from Jordan over Allenby Bridge.

When he asked an Israeli inspector why he had not received permission, he was told that an explanation would be sent in writing to the American embassy.

While I often disagree with Chomsky’s views I do find his work worth reading, and exposure to a wide variety of views should be part of the function of a university. The Israeli government shows a poor understanding of this concept in making this decision, as well as undermining Americans who support Israel out of a support for a democratic nation in the middle east. While Chomsky has been very critical of Israel, those who disagree with him would be wiser to respond to his arguments than to deny him entry into the country.

Update: Not surprisingly some among the authoritarian right do not understand the belief  of liberals in defending freedom of speech–even when coming from those we disagree with. Donald Douglas writes that “some folks on the left — unsurprisingly — are outraged. See for example, Steve Clemons, Ron Chusid, Taylor Marsh, and Village Voice.”

I do not feel threatened by people such as Chomsky expressing views I disagree with. I do see governments who prevent people from speaking their opinion to be a danger. I also do not agree with Douglas equating censoring Chomsky with defending its  sovereignty. As I noted in the original post, a far better response would be to defend their position and dispute Chomsky’s views.  (I also find it unusual to be linked to Taylor Marsh since the 2008 Democratic race).

Democrats Retake Lead In Generic Congressional Polling

I have always limited coverage of polling far in advance of elections as they have very little predictive value. This spring many bloggers as well as professional journalists have been obsessed with polls suggesting big Republican wins this fall. While that may or may come about, I felt it was far too early to make any definitive predictions. More recent polls from the Associated Press and Gallup are suddenly upsetting the conventional wisdom showing considerable improvement in the prospects for Democrats.

The AP poll shows Democrats moving ahead of Republicans in the generic poll:

The tenuous 45 percent to 40 percent preference for a Democratic Congress reverses the finding a month ago on the same question: 44 percent for Republicans and 41 percent for Democrats. The new readout came as the economy continued showing signs of improvement and the tumultuous battle over the health care law that President Barack Obama finally signed in March faded into the background.

“To the extent that Democrats can focus on job creation rather than health care, they tend to do better,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at California’s Claremont McKenna College.

Of course this is a generic poll–in many races the candidates have not even been chosen making predictions in specific races extremely difficult.

Simply looking at the fundamentals, Republicans should pick up seats this year. The party out of power typically does well in off year elections. Republicans are especially trying to capitalize on this trend by blaming Democrats for problems which are actually the result of Republican mismanagement when in power. Republicans also benefit this year because George Bush is no longer in office or on the ballot, Barack Obama is not on the ballot, younger and independent voters who now tend to vote Democratic are less likely to vote in an off year election, and the Democrats must defend many seats which traditionally have been in Republican hands.

There are many factors which make it too early to predict the outcome. Republicans have done better than the Democrats in the spin war since Obama took office, but they also might have peaked too soon, leaving the Democrats time to sharpen their message. While turn out by the young and Democratic-leaning independents will be less than in 2008, the Democrats are trying to mobilize them.

It is not clear to what degree health care will remain an issue in the fall. From a political perspective the Democrats did make a mistake in supporting the individual mandate (originally a Republican idea) along with passing a bill which most voters do not understand when the benefits will not be seen for a few more years.

The economy is likely to remain the most important issue. While the economy is improving it is too early to predict whether it will rebound enough, as well as to what degree voters will blame each party.

We must always keep in mind that issues and events we cannot predict could totally change the electoral picture, as with the 9/11 attack and Katrina. At other times issues which we think have major importance wind up being forgotten by election day, such as with George H. W. Bush looking unbeatable after the first Iraq war.

Another factor which makes this election more difficult to predict than usual is the strong anti-incumbent sentiment. The poll reports:

Only 36 percent said they want their own member of Congress to win re-election this fall, a noteworthy drop from the 43 percent who said so in April and the lowestAP-GfK poll measurement this year. Much of the restiveness seems to be among Republicans: While Democrats were about equally divided on the question, Republicans expressed a preference for a new face by a 2-to-1 margin.

Despite this I have my doubts that many Republicans will suddenly vote Democratic this year to throw out the incumbent. This might be seen more in primary races as the tea party movement (ie the far right Republican base) replaces Republican incumbents with even more conservative Republicans.  I suspect that in November there will be some surprises but most seats which have not changed hands in recent years will remain in the hands of the same party unless there is a real demographic reason for a change.

The most prominent cases of throwing out the incumbents has been with the tea party movement moving the Republican Party to the right. It is also too early to predict what the effect of the tea party will be in November. The increased enthusiasm from the Republican base might help the Republicans. It is also possible that their efforts to push the GOP to the extreme right will lead independents who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, but wavered in recent polling, to reject the increased extremism of the GOP and vote Democratic.

Tea Party vs. Democracy

I’ve discussed many of the off the wall beliefs of the tea party members many times in the past but today I found out about one position I wasn’t previously aware of. They want to repeal the 17th Amendment which brought about direct election of Senators. While technically repealing amendments would bring us closer to the original Constitution, this would also make the federal government far less democratic. Here is their rational for this:

The “Repeal The 17th” movement is a vocal part of the overall tea party structure. Supporters of the plan say that ending the public vote for Senators would give the states more power to protect their own interests in Washington (and of course, give all of us “more liberty” in the process.) As their process of “vetting” candidates, some tea party groups have required candidates to weigh in on the idea of repeal in questionnaires. And that’s where the trouble starts.

Historically the far right has supported states rights in order to support state sponsored racial discrimination and suppression of civil liberties without interference from the federal government.

The linked article notes that some mainstream Republicans are having trouble with this position. I would think that mainstream Republicans should also have trouble with many other positions of the tea party movement which seeks to move the country to the extreme right and far from the values of the Founding Fathers.

Chinese Censorship Reaching Beyond China

An essay by Emily Parker in The New York Times discusses the problem of Chinese censorship–not in China but in the rest of the world. Increasingly China is using its international clout to pressure other groups, leading to self-censorship by many authors who are afraid of offending the Chinese government:

As China’s influence spreads throughout the world, so does a willingness to play by its rules. In March, Google shut down its Internet search service in mainland China, saying it no longer wanted to self-censor its search results to comply with “local” law. But these laws may not be local anymore. Interviews with a number of writers and China watchers suggest that Chinese censorship is becoming an increasingly borderless phenomenon.

“I remember clearly the days when you could safely assume that as long as you wrote something abroad, it was free and clear from repercussions within China,” said Orville Schell, the director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations (where I am a fellow) and author of nine books on China. One turning point, he said, was the growth of the Internet, which increasingly unites the once “discrete worlds” of Chinese and Western reading material. Another factor is the growing business entanglement between China and the rest of the world.

“Suddenly we’re all Hong Kong, where no one wants to offend the mainland because it’s too close,” Schell said.

Last fall, in advance of the Frankfurt Book Fair, China pressured organizers to disinvite two dissident writers to a symposium on “China and the World.” (They were reinvited after a public outcry.) But more often, potential critics silence themselves pre-emptively. In a 2002 essay in The New York Review of Books called “China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier,” the China scholar Perry Link described Beijing’s censors as a dangerous creature coiled overhead. “Normally the great snake doesn’t move,” he wrote. “It doesn’t have to. . . . Its constant silent message is ‘You yourself decide,’ after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments.”