SciFi Friday (Sunday Edition): Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Surviving the Year 1000

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Every season there are one or two episodes of Doctor Who which really stands out, often winning the Hugo and Nebula awards. Most of these episodes have been written by Stephen Moffat, including The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink. Those of us watching (or downloading) the shows from the BBC have seen this year’s presentation from Stephen Moffat, a two-part story consisting of Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. This portion of SciFi Friday will contain many spoilers for those who are watching on the SciFi Channel which is a few episodes behind.

The two-parter essentially had three different aspects to it. The Doctor is called to a planet-sized Library. The story dealing with Vashta Nerada was the weakest portion. The Vashta Nerada are microscopic creatures which live in the shadows, and which are responsible for the fear of the dark which has arisen in many civilizations. They can devour an organism in seconds, making it necessary for all the people who had been in The Library to be saved. This served as a menace to drive the story but ultimately once the other two aspects of the story reached their conclusion this was resolved too easily to be satisfactory, with The Doctor convincing the Vashta Nerada to allow one day to get the humans away.

While I was dissatisfied with the conclusion of the story related to the Vashta Nerada, the nature of the menace was far superior to that of the previous episode. In The Unicorn and the Wasp The Doctor met Agatha Christie. Much of the episode had the feel of an Agatha Christie mystery, but having the menace turn out to be an alien who appeared like a giant wasp felt incongruous with the feel of the show. A more subtle menace such as the Vashta Nerada, which were either invisible or seen as shadows, would have better suited the feel of that episode.

One technique used in this story was to give the viewers answers which turned out to be different from what might be anticipated, but were consistent with the story. The Vashta Nerada were creatures of the forest, and in this story the forest turned out to be the paper of The Library. Even more important to the overall plot was the meaning of “saved.” Throughout the story we were told of people being “saved” with no evidence of life being found. Ultimately we find that the people literally were saved by the computer to its hard drive, with portions of the story taking place within an artificial reality created by the computer. Having this extra layer turned what would have been a mediocre story into an excellent one.

The third aspect of the story was to have The Doctor meet someone who had already met him. One important aspect of some of Moffat’s stories is that time actually plays an important role. In most stories The Doctor might travel through time to reach the destination, but once he arrives time travel is generally not important to any individual story.

In this story The Doctor meets archaeologist River Song (Alex Kingston, previously of ER) who summoned him for help. She had met The Doctor at a later point in his life and knew a lot about The Doctor and Donna. To The Doctor this was their first meeting. River convinced The Doctor to trust her by revealing that The Doctor had told her his real name.

Since Doctor Who resumed a few seasons back the formula has been for there to be a story which gradually builds through the season with parts revealed gradually in individual episodes. There may also be trends developing more slowly over seasons. The Doctor’s name has been mentioned in episodes including The Girl in the Fireplace, The Shakespeare Code, and The Fires of Pompeii. With Moffat taking over as show runner when Russell T. Davies steps down, perhaps the themes used by Moffat will become even more prominent in future seasons.

It will be interesting to see if we are actually shown the relationship between The Doctor and River as mentioned in this episode, with The Doctor knowing her ultimate fate (and how he saves her by transferring her intelligence to the computer after she appears to have died) from the moment he firsts meets her.

Having The Doctor meet River in such a manner points out a flaw I’ve considered ever since the series revived. Since the original series there was a war in which the rest of the Timelords were killed. I’ve thought that it does not make sense to have a situation where The Doctor will never run into the Timelords when he (and other Timelords who left Gallifrey) are moving throughout time. Just as The Doctor will first meet River (by his time line) at the time of her death (in River’s time  line), even though other Timelords have died (in The Doctors time line) he could still run into them at an earlier point in their lives before the time war.

I have one additional complaint about what was generally an excellent story. Racing to prevent the completion of a computer’s self destruct sequence has been done way too many times. There is never any real suspense as there is always a second to two to spare before the self destruct sequence is completed.

With another excellent story, despite some minor flaws, It appears the show will be in excellent hand when Stephen Moffat takes over as show runner. Besides his own work, there are rumors that he has convinced Neil Gaiman to write an episode in 2010.

Next season we will have far less of Doctor Who while David Tennant is busy in Hamlet (along with Patrick Stewart). Instead of a regular season in 2009 there will be occasional special episode. Now it also appears that we will also have very little of Torchwood. The BBC only plans five episodes, which will air in a single week. They will appear on BBC One, which probably means the show will also be watered down even more.

After the deaths of two major characters there has been speculation that Martha Jones would return to Torchwood. Freema Agyeman will also be busy on another show. She has a role in another old BBC show from the 1970’s which is being revived, The Survivors. The show is about the survivors of a plague which wipes out most of the population.

Captain Jack lived through much of earth’s history. The Doctor travels to any period and usually manages to fit in (although he wasn’t very popular in old England). Surviving in the past would be much more difficult for a modern American who happened to be transported back to Europe of 1000. This happened to be the topic of discussion at Marginal Revolution a few days ago. Being able to write, or even program, a blog would be a totally worthless skill. Most of what we know would also be pretty worthless back then, and discussing what we know could get us killed.

If we managed to survive after coming to an area which isn’t too friendly to strangers without knowing the language or having appropriate clothing, we would have a tough time with the manual careers available at the time. Working in the church might be the best bet, but would also increase our risk of saying something which could result in execution. Then we’d have to worry about surviving the diseases of the time. Having a Tardis is definitely the only way to ever consider visiting the year 1000.

Sci Fi Friday (Memorial Day Edition): Moffat To Run The Doctor; Terminator Changes the Future; Xavier Returns; And Great Moments for Nerds

It’s been a fairly slow week due to new episodes of many shows being postponed to avoid airing over Memorial Day weekend. I thought that at least the BBC would be showing Doctor Who but when I tried to download it I found that the scheduled episode, Silence in the Library, has also been postponed a week due to the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. This is a two-parter by Stephen Moffat, who has been responsible for some of the best episodes since the show returned.

The mild disappointment in having to wait a week for the Moffat two-parter was greatly alleviated by the news that Stephen Moffat will be taking over for Russell T. Davies as show runner for the series when Davies steps down for the 2010 season. Among the episodes written by Moffett are the Hugo-award winners The Girl in the Fireplace, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, and Nebula award winner (as well as nominee for this year’s Hugo award) Blink.

A plot summary has been released for Terminator:Salvation, the first movie in the next Terminator trilogy due for release May 22 2009:

The trilogy will be set after Judgment Day in the year 2018 and Christian Bale (who has signed for all three will take on the role of John Connor and will lead the human race to salvation. However, the future isn’t quite the one his mother trained him to save.

According to a Warner Brothers press release, the future is altered somewhat by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose final memory is of being on death row. Connor must keep an eye on the newcomer to establish if he has been sent from the future of the past.

At the same time, SkyNet prepares for a final assault that will end the war which forces Connor and Marcus to set off on a mission into the very heart of Skynet … and while there they will learn the terrible truth of SkyNet’s plan.

Those who left the last X-Men movie without watching the credits will have missed a late scene which provides hope that Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) remains alive. In a recent interview Stewart suggests that he will be returning to play Professor Xavier in X-Men 4.

Despite delaying the season finale of Lost until next week, ABC did have one weekly show which did involve jumping in time. The final moments of Desperate Housewives jumped ahead five years. This allows the show to get away from all the details of the last few years and have some changes in the characters. The biggest surprise was that Susan is living with a man other than Mike. Series creator Marc Cherry plans to leave after seven years and is even considering having the final season take place prior to the first aired season, before Mary Alice’s suicide.

How I Met Your Mother sort of jumps around in time between the present and the future. At the time this season’s finale was written it was not known if the show would be renewed and therefore the season finale ends with a scene which could have worked as the end of the series. Ted proposed to Stella (Sarah Chalke). Now that the show has been renewed the writers are free to either have Stella become Ted’s future wife or go in a different direction. With Scrubs coming to an end after a brief reprieve on ABC next year, Chalke will be free to become a more regular member of the cast. This could also mean that Stella’s receptionist, played by Britney Spears, might even return for a third appearance on the show. The finale also had Ted and Barney become bros again and there was the surprise revelation that Barney is interested in Robin.

Big Bang Theory has been the ultimate genre show of the past season. It is the only show where there are regular references to Romulans and many superheroes, and there was even an entire episode based around the time machine from War of the Worlds. The finale had Sheldon actually get a date with Penny, involving what might be the only prime time sitcom discussion ever of Schrödinger’s cat. While I doubt this romance will succeed, if it does it will be an even bigger victory for nerds since Jeremy (Joshua Malena) dated Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd) on Sports Night.

SciFi Friday: WGA Strike Edition

With nobody knowing how long the WGA strike will last I’m sure much of this is subject to change but we are starting to get an idea as to how the strike will affect many of the shows. The good news is that you’ll have a lot more time to read your favorite blogs.


Lost has only filmed eight episodes but has decided to go ahead and show them starting in February. If they are unable to complete the season, the eighth episode ends in a cliff hanger which will serve as a season finale.


24 was already delayed by the California fires, and has additional problems with Jack Bower Kiefer Sutherland having to serve time in a Chinese prison in jail following a DUI arrest. As of now the season is canceled.

The Heroes Origins spin off has been canceled and Heroes might come to an early end this December. In the meantime, we finally get an explanation as to what happened following the conclusion of last season on Monday’s episode. It’s a shame the season might be ending as Tim Kring appears to have figured out what he has done wrong. In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, Kring acknowledges that the pace has been too slow this season and that Hiro spent too much time in Japan. Is there anyone who didn’t guess that Hiro would wind up doing the good deeds attributed to Takezo Kensei and that David Anders would turn out to be a bad guy who survived to present time? I never did trust Sark.

Pushing Daisies will end after the ninth episode which was rewritten to serve as a season finale. If I knew it might only last nine episodes this year I might have stuck with it longer, but I gave up on it after the second, questioning how long the gimmick of bringing people back to life would work. (The idea did work well for Torchwood when they brought it back only one time following the series premiere in the episode broadcast on HDNet this week, They Keep Killing Suzie).

Many sitcoms are also shutting down early, including Big Bang Theory. This show was a pleasant surprise for the season. Episodes often include jokes which those who watch the shows regularly discussed here will appreciate. CBS is putting together a string of comedies on Monday nights to rival the classic “must see” Thursday lineups from NBC. Last I heard, How I Met Your Mother has remained in production but Rules of Engagement has been shut down.


Jon Robin Baitz, creator of Brothers and Sisters, wrote a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger requesting that he intervene in the strike which is up at Huffington Post. It just might take a killer cyborg to get the writers off the picket line and back to work.

JJ Abrams has stated he will honor the strike and not do any rewrites, but filming for the upcoming Star Trek movie began this week as scheduled. In casting news since my last update Bruce Greenwood will play Captain Christopher Pike, who preceded James T. Kirk in commanding the USS Enterprise. The most surprising addition to the cast was Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother Amanda. Some early pictures from the filming have been posted on line. In other Star Trek news, The Times of London has a feature on Patrick Stewart. Armin Shimmerman (Quark) and Lawrence Krauss are teaching students at Arizona State University about The Science of Star Trek.

At least Doctor Who won’t be affected by the strike. Alice Cooper is now discussing a guest appearance next season.

The comic books are also unaffected by the strike (other than for the many potential movie versions still to be made).The American Prospect has a story on how the comics are becoming increasingly political.

SciFi Friday: Madeleine L’Engle Dies; Doctor Who and Star Trek Join for Production of Hamlet, Battlestar Galactica Rumors, Awards, and High School Musical Scandal

Madeleine L’Engle has died at age 88. L’Engle is best known for writing A Wrinkle in Time, which won the John Newbery Award as the best children’s book of 1963 and has sold over six million copies. L’Engle also received a National Humanities Medal in 2004 from President Bush.

The BBC has announced plans for upcoming episodes of Doctor Who. As previously announced, the fourth season will air on the BBC next spring, with a Christmas episode planned for December. The fifth season has been postponed until 2010 in order to allow David Tennant to star in Hamlet in 2009 before returning to Doctor Who in 2010. In a unique Star Trek cross over with Doctor Who, Patrick Stewart will be playing Hamlet’s uncle Claudius in this Stratford-Upon-Avon production which wil run from July to November next year.

In order to help us get through 2009, there will be three special episodes broadcast instead of the usual single Christmas special. The BBC has also verified that Kylie Minogue will be appearing in this year’s Christmas episode and that Catherine Tate, who was in last year’s Christmas episode will appear in all thirteen episodes of season four. Freema Agyeman will return in the middle of next season.

This week those viewing Doctor Who on the SciFi Channel will see the conclusion of the two part episode, Human Nature and Family of Blood. These are two of the best episodes ever to appear, and I previously discussed them here. The episodes are based upon a novel which is available for download here.

The Doctor Who spin off Torchwood premiers on BBC America tomorrow night. The show will also start later this fall on HDNet (in high definition, obvioiusly). It’s a tough decision whether to watch now or hold out for HD. SciFi Storm has additional news on another spin off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. So far there are no plans to show it here in the United States and even access to the official web site is blocked to those outside of the U.K. One episode will include the return of the Slitheen, a family of Raxacoricofallapatorians who first appeared in the Doctor Who episodes Aliens of London and World War Three.

It’s bad enough that we must wait until next winter to see what happens after this spring’s cliff hanger on Battlestar Galactica. Now there are unconfirmed rumors that SciFi Channel might show half of the fourth season in 2008 and the second half in 2009 to get an extra season out of the show. Slice of SciFi has more reliable news on the made for television movie planned for later this year, which will also be released on DVD. Form the synopsis:

Battlestar Galactica: Razor takes you on an edge-of-your-seat adventure with an epic untold story of Lieutenant Kendra Shaw and the other Battlestar, Pegasus. Battlestar Galactica: Razor tells the story of Lee Adama’s (Jamie Bamber) first mission as commander of the Battlestar Pegasus and reveals the story of how Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) served her ship during the original Cylon attack on the Colonies. With clues to the fate of the entire Battlestar Galactica universe, this explosive adventure on DVD is a must own for fans before the final season of Battlestar Galactica airs on Sci Fi Channel.

The Hugo Awards have been announced, with Doctor Who among the winners:

2007 Hugo Award Trophy

  • Best Novel: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge [Tor, 2006]
  • Best Novella: “A Billion Eves” by Robert Reed [Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2006]
  • Best Novelette: “The Djinn’s Wife” by Ian McDonald [Asimov’s July 2006]
  • Best Short Story: “Impossible Dreams” by Tim Pratt [Asimov’s July 2006]
  • Best Related Non-Fiction Book: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon by Julie Phillips [St. Martin’s Press, 2006]
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Guillermo del Toro [Picturehouse]
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who – “Girl in the Fireplace” (2006) Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Euros Lyn [BBC Wales/BBC1]

Doctor Who has a good shot at winning again next year. Besides the episodes mentioned above, the subsequent episode, Blink, is even better. (I have also reviewed the episode here but advise those who will be watching on the SciFi Channel to avoid these spoilers until after viewing the episode).
The Promethius Awards were also released from the Libertarian Futurist Society:

Best Novel: Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Hall of Fame Award: (tie) “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis and “True Names” by Vernor Vinge

Special Award: V for VendettaJohn Joseph Adams

There’s news on a number of upcoming movies. Keanu Reeves will star in a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. A script has reportedly been completed for a second X-Files movie, with no details released. Considering his role in Californication on Showtime, I wonder if David Duchovny is demanding that Gillian Anderson appear nude. There are also rumors of a new movie based on Dune. Morgan Freeman is working on a movie version of Rendezvous with Rama.

The big movie question is how the nude pictures of Vanessa Hudgens, which spread rapidly around the internet today, will affect further High School Musical movies. There were rumors Hudgens would be replaced, but it appears that Disney will be sticking with her. You would think that by now everyone would realize that privately taken photographs can still wind up making it on line. (Those wishing to see much more of Vanessa can see the photos spread on line today here.)