Eight Turns 20!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the (in)famous Doctor Who TV movie. It was a British/American co-production that the powers-that-be hoped would jumpstart a brand new Doctor Who series in America. Of course, things didn’t happen that way; it would be another nine years before our favorite Time Lord would permanently return to television (nine-year wait for the Ninth Doctor, I just realized that), but it was still a memorable venture into the Whoniverse.

“Oh, yeah, sure, memorable for saying the Doctor is half-human. Memorable for being the first time we see the Doctor kiss his companion. Memorable for Eric Roberts’ terrible performance as the Master.”

Okay, first of all, I will go on the record as saying I actually liked Eric Roberts as the Master. He was sly, scheming, maniacal–everything a good Master is supposed to be. Granted, he was no Roger Delgado (my favorite Master), but I still think he carried off the role and generally did a good job. Honestly, sometimes I think most of the grief Roberts was getting came from the fact they had the audacity to cast an American as the Master. The horror.

As for the half-human thing…yeah, I got nothing on that one. Neither does the show, apparently, because it was the first and the last time the Doctor was described as being half-human (although Steven Moffat alluded to it in season 9). And it’s important to note that Paul McGann was against the Doctor’s having a romantic relationship with the companion and protested very loudly, even purposely messing up the kiss scene!

But think of all of the wonderful Big Finish audio adventures that never would have existed if there hadn’t been a TV movie! We may never have gotten to enjoy Paul McGann as the Doctor! There never would have been this regeneration scene (which happens to be one of my favorites)!

Happy birthday, Eighth Doctor. We may not have gotten enough of you on our screens, but we love you anyway.

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A Sampling of Science Fiction

May 25 was, I believed, merely Towel Day, a day for celebrating all things Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Lo and behold, I learn it is also Geek Pride Day, a day for celebrating all things geeky and not just for the Guide. Well, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about some of the science fiction novels I’ve read over the years (and trust me, I’ve read a lot). Many of those novels helped to shape me into the person I am today, and others were ones I enjoyed simply because they told a good story. Chances are you’ve already heard of most of these, but maybe there will be a surprise or two for you.

  • Dune: Any list I create of favorite science fiction stories will always have Frank Herbert’s immortal classic at the very top. Of Dune, Arthur C. Clarke famously opined, “I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.” This is perhaps the simplest–and best–explanation to give when someone asks you to describe the plot. The tale of how Paul Atreides becomes Muad’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, as well as the leader of the entire Fremen people captivated my imagination from the very first moment I read it. However, its lessons about politics and the nature of power are what really add a third dimension to the story, and at the end you can’t help but feel–or maybe it’s just me–that Paul’s victory seems more than a little hollow.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz: If Dune is always at the top of my list, Walter Miller’s apocalyptic thriller is never far behind it–and not just because of the heavy Catholic content, either. It’s the story of the Monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz and their quest to preserve the world’s knowledge after a nuclear war nearly destroys the planet. Civilization slowly rebuilds itself, and the Order of Leibowitz attempts to guide it onto a path that will ensure a nuclear war will never happen again…but man never learns from his mistakes. Throwing off the monks’ guidance, humanity finds itself on the brink of a disaster worse than the last one, and this time there may be no survivors.
  • The Bright Empires Saga (The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp, and The Fatal Tree): Stephen Lawhead’s five-book blend of science fiction and historical fiction weaves the intriguing tale of Kit Livingstone, your average 30-something Londoner whose great-grandfather happens to be a time traveler–and he just so happens to need Kit’s help to retrieve the Skin Map, a map tattooed on human skin that is the only safe, reliable guide to navigating the different time zones of the universe. But the scheming Lord Burleigh is close behind them, and as Kit, his great-grandfather, and their friends all rush to stay ahead of him, they realize that the Skin Map not only tells them how to navigate time–it leads them to a place that will allow them to alter time itself. It sounds cliche, but what really makes this series stand out is Lawhead’s intricate and detailed descriptions of all the different times and civilizations the heroes and villains visit. The vivid details make you feel as if you are visiting these places–be it ancient Egypt or 1800’s England–right alongside the characters.
  • Starship Troopers: Robert Heinlein’s futuristic military epic has long been a favorite of mine. On the surface it might just seem like another coming-of-age story wherein the protagonist, Johnnie Rico, changes from boy to man while in the army, but there are so many rich, complex layers beneath the surface. It’s got politics and social commentary and is one of those stories that forces you to think about what you are reading. Even if you don’t agree with everything Heinlein presents, you may still find yourself admiring some aspects of the future he outlines in this story.
  • I, Robot: Isaac Asimov is pretty much the science fiction author to end all science fiction authors, so how do you choose just one of his stories? Simple–you pick one of the ones he is best known for writing (although some people may associate him more with Foundation). I, Robot is set in a future where robots have become commonplace, but as a young journalist interviews the legendary roboticist Dr. Susan Calvin, he learns exactly how primitive they used to be and how powerful they have become…and they have the potential to grow even stronger. There are several parallels with how technology develops in the book and how it has developed in the real world, and it can make you wonder what the next step will look like and how it may affect us.
  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea: This classic Jules Verne novel is one of the first science fiction books I read, and it’s still a favorite of mine. The mysterious Captain Nemo, his amazing submarine, and the wild and unpredictable adventures outlined in the book grabbed my attention and got me excited to seek out other science fiction authors and stories to see if they were just as exciting.
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet: Most people know Madeleine L’Engle for A Wrinkle in Time, but I always preferred A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in her Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time). Charles Wallace, now 15, teams up with the time-traveling unicorn Gaudior to stop the rise of Madog “Mad Dog” Branzillo, a mad South American dictator who intends to launch his country’s nuclear missiles and plunge the world into World War III. Their mission is to change history so that Branzillo never comes into power–better yet, that he is never even born. But time is not on their side, and they’re not even sure how they can stop Branzillo if they can find him at all.
  • Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s famous tale of the mad scientist who seeks to create life in his own image is considered by many to be the first example of modern science fiction, so I decided to include it here. My particularly favorite parts were always the philosophical debates between Frankenstein and his creation, and I think that some of the points they argue are especially applicable in science today. And here’s a little bit of trivia for you–there really is a Frankenstein Castle in Germany, and at one point it was the home of John Konrad Dippel, a scientist who was rumored to be doing experiments with death in an effort to discover the secret of eternal life.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hey, it’s still Towel Day, so I couldn’t very well let it go by without giving a shout-out to the Guide. The cover on my copy describes it as “a wildly funny novel about the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow”, and it’s pretty hard to top that description. Stay hoopy, my friends, and always know where your towel is.

Well, that was an exhausting list. There were others I could have included–FYI, Planet of the Apes is a novel and an amazing one at that–but I think it’s long enough for now. And I think it’s pretty clear that I’m a geek. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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No Matter Your Gifts, There’s a Place for You

The upcoming release of X-Men: Apocalypse has me revisiting everything I love about the X-Men movies (in an earlier post, I even admitted that I prefer the X-Men over the Avengers)–the characters, the emotions, the battles…and, of course, I’m super-excited about the return of Nightcrawler, whose Catholicism has made him one of my favorite characters. As I excitedly geek over the new movie, however, I remember one of the things that struck me the first time I watched an X-Men movie–Professor Xavier had a place in his school for all the mutants, no matter what their abilities were. It didn’t matter if they could master the elements like Storm, shape-shift like Mystique, have awesome stabby claws like Wolverine, or siphon other mutants’ powers like Rogue. Professor X welcomed all of them and taught them how to make their powers work together to accomplish a goal far greater than any of them could achieve on their own.

In a strange sort of way, this kind of openness and unity reminded me of the Catholic Church. I’ve been a Catholic all of my life, and I’ve seen the different talents and personality types that make up both an individual parish and the Church as a whole. There have been scholars and musicians, saints and sinners, artists and engineers, scientists and farmers. Do we all get along? Heck no. Do we fight with each other? Of course. But the good priests, just like Professor X, get us to stop arguing among ourselves and teach us that our different talents serve the Church in different ways, but no talent or purpose is greater than another. We need all of them–we need each other–to work together in order to attain our ultimate goal of spreading the Gospel and spending eternity with God in Heaven.

This is probably just another instance of Catholic Nerd Girl making connections that are only in her head. But, well, I can’t help the conclusions I’ve drawn. Professor X invited all mutants to join his team and didn’t make them feel as if they were any better or any worse than their fellow mutants; instead he showed them how all of their powers could work together for the greater good. In a similar way, the Church invites all to join her fold, regardless of what they can or cannot do, and encourages them to use whatever gift they have to work towards the common goal of spreading the Gospel and attaining Heaven. I don’t know about you, but I find something comforting in the knowledge that the Church can probably find a use even for the bizarre ramblings of a Catholic Nerd Girl like me. And if she can find a purpose for someone as strange as me, she can find a purpose for anyone–and everyone.

X-Men Full Cast

Every parish is an eclectic group. The fact that we manage to get along at all is a testimony to the power of God.


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Happy Star Wars Day!

Yes, Star Wars Day is upon us once more, the first since the release of The Force Awakens. I believe that the return of Star Wars to theaters has made people more aware of what today is and more eager to celebrate its importance.

My contribution to the festivities is this music video from Revenge of the Sith. Say what you will about the prequels, RotS holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw in a theater. And, to be perfectly honest, 12-year-old me didn’t care about the acting or the dialogue or the pacing or whatever. 12-year-old me only cared about the lightsabers. Did that make me shallow? Maybe. But I know a lot of girls my age were obsessed with boys, and frankly I think my obsession with Star Wars at that age was an indication that I had better taste.

May the Force be with you!

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When Life Imitates Art

Random Phantom of the Opera post here again. They just won’t die (not that I want them to).

It’s pretty well known that despite being described as blonde in the book, most Phantom adaptations portray Christine as brunette. I can think of only two or three versions where she’s shown as a blonde; most versions show her as brunette, and I just kind of came to accept it as the imperfect world where book adaptations are never 100% faithful to the book.

But then I found this video of Emmi Christensson, who is currently playing Christine in the London production of The Phantom of the Opera. What is so notable about Emmi?

  1. She is Swedish, just like Christine is in the book.
  2. She is a natural blonde, so they let her have a blonde wig in the production.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, we have a blonde Swedish soprano playing…a blonde Swedish soprano.

What makes it even better is that her voice sounds remarkably close to the voice I imagined for Christine when I read the book. So now I have found my ideal Phantom (John Owen-Jones) and my ideal Christine (Emmi Christensson). There’s even an audio recording of the two of them singing the title song together, which makes my nerdy little heart extremely happy.

Now all I have to do is figure out my dream Raoul (Hadley Fraser is extremely close), and then I’ll have my ideal cast.

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Mauve Alert! New Doctor Who Companion Announced!

After months of intense speculation, we finally know who will be playing the new companion on Doctor Who. The Doctor’s latest companion is a 2017 Earth girl named Bill, portrayed by Pearl Mackie.

We don’t know much about her other than she likes to ask questions and say things that pretty much everyone who has ever watched the show has thought at least one time. But from what I’ve seen so far, I like her.

Welcome aboard the TARDIS, Bill!

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Victor Frankenstein: Surprisingly Good

A couple of weeks ago I got around to watching Victor Frankenstein, a fanciful little tale that came out last November. I knew right from the get-go that this movie was going to have 100% nothing in common with the book. I knew the prickly pedant in me would not hesitate to tear it to shreds for all of its divergences. I knew this version of the Monster would still not be the philosophizing phenom that Mary Shelley wrote in her book. I knew all of these things, all of them–and I watched it anyway because the trailer looked cool.

But you know what? It was actually a pretty good movie. It follows the story of Igor (which is automatically a dead giveaway that this is nothing like the book because there’s no Igor in the book) and how he became Frankenstein’s assistant. In this version, Igor is a clown in a traveling circus and is often mocked and abused because of his hunchback. He finds comfort in books and is a self-trained doctor of sorts, treating the various ailments that afflict his fellow circus performers. These skills prove invaluable when he saves the life of Lorelei, a trapeze artist who slips and falls in the middle of a performance. Frankenstein is one of witnesses when Igor saves Lorelei and realizes that this man has a great mind and is made for better things than the circus, so he takes him home, fixes his back, gives him clean clothes, and puts him to work as his assistant.

One of the things I wanted to give this movie credit for doing is avoiding the love triangle cliche. As soon as I saw Lorelei, I thought, “Oh, boy, here we go, Victor’s going to fall in love with Lorelei, too, and it’s going to cause tension between him and Igor, and it’s going to be one of the reasons they stop working together, and why are these things so stupid?” But that isn’t what happened at all. Igor and Lorelei got to have a happy little relationship with very little interference from Frankenstein. Granted, he didn’t approve of their relationship because he felt it distracted Igor from their work, but he didn’t stand in their way, either. On a similar note, I was surprised that there was no mention of Frankenstein’s fiance Elizabeth. Maybe in this version he wasn’t engaged (which is easy to believe), but her absence still seemed a bit odd.

The friendship between Frankenstein and Igor was unexpectedly layered, thanks in part to James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe’s excellent acting. Radcliffe brought Igor to life, making him feel like a real person instead of a caricature, and McAvoy electrified (no pun intended) the screen as Frankenstein, capturing the mad scientist’s charisma and passion in a way I have rarely seen. He also brought out Frankenstein’s arrogance, most notable in the way he treats Igor. He regards Igor less as his own person and more as an object–at one point he even tells Igor, “You are my greatest creation.” Igor, on the other hand, is a loyal friend, grateful to Frankenstein for the way he changed his life yet willing to challenge him when he thinks he’s going too far. I think Frankenstein does recognize and appreciate that loyalty even if he doesn’t do a very good job of reciprocating.

Another aspect I liked was the philosophy portion. So many movies these days are all flash and no thought, but Victor Frankenstein requires you to think. There are many conversations about God, science, if there should be a boundary between the two, and how far that boundary should extend. There’s one scene where Frankenstein and Igor are trying to convince Lorelei of the importance of their work, and Lorelei is understandably cautious, yet she cannot help but be enthralled by the picture Frankenstein paints of the good he hopes his work will accomplish.

I know this movie didn’t get very many positive reviews, but I found it unexpectedly enjoyable. They left the end open for a sequel, and if that movie is of the same caliber as this one, I wouldn’t complain in the least.

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