Doctor Who Season Eight, Part Two

In the first half of this season, there was a good, fun episode (“Robot of Sherwood”), a bunch of okay ones, and a couple of stinkers (sorry, I still think “Listen” was a load of junk.) So how did the second half turn out?

Mummy on the Orient Express — One thing Doctor Who usually excels at is “Base Under Siege” stories, and this one stuck to the formula well. The monster was sufficiently creepy, its motivation was interesting and poignant, and Capaldi got to really get going. While nothing amazing, I think this episode is more of what I’d like to see. Not surprisingly, it was also one with not-so-much Clara in it, though what we did get of her was more of this tedious, “my boyfriend doesn’t want me doing this what should I do” wankery that I don’t in the slightest care about.

Flatline — Without a doubt, the best episode of the season. The monsters are especially creepy, even before you see them. The nervous system on the wall was chilling. And despite liking the resolution to the previous episode, I also like that sometimes the alien invaders are just plain bad and need to be smacked. The size shenanigans were fun as well. A solid episode that shows what we could be getting in this series.

In the Forest of the Night — Wow, this season is really picking up! I can’t wait for the next episode, it’s gonna be…oh, dear. Especially on the heels of “Flatline”, this one was just plain dire. There’s invisible pixies, there are sentient trees looking to save humanity, the solar flare that’s brushed away because trees oxygen something something, there’s Danny Pink not wanting to even look at the Earth from orbit because he’s seen the amazing beauty of Afghanistan, there’s Danny an Clara showing that under no circumstances should either of them have been put in charge of children. We have the child who doesn’t need her brain medicine, she needs to be open to the magical language of the trees! And then the trees return her lost sister who’s been…I dunno. Living in a shrub? This dumpster carnival was everything that people who don’t remember “The Doctor’s Daughter” think “Fear Her” was.

Dark Water/Death in Heaven — And then it got worse. Not only can I point to the exact line where I groaned in disgust, I can apparently buy it on a t-shirt. But we’ll get to that.

I cannot find the words to really express how much I hated this thing, how much of a waste of time it was. I knew going in who Missy really was. I also knew there were Cybermen involved, which should have been a giant red flag because when we last saw the Cybermen, they could suddenly move SUPER FAST, which they never could before and which they stopped doing about 15 minutes into THAT SAME EPISODE because everyone on the show forgot they’d just said they could do that. Oh wait, no, that wasn’t the last time we saw the Cybermen. THAT was when the Cybermen, in order to infiltrate the village of Christmas, decided that making a Cyberman out of WOOD was a viable strategy. Heavens me, I got my idiotic Cybermen moments all mixed up.

This time the Cybermen are involved in a plot that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Cybermen now have “cyber-pollen” (their term, not mine) that turns organic material into fully fledged metal-encased Cybermen. Like, sprinkle this on you and bam, Cyberman.

Just add water.

Okay so let me explain the plot. Missy (the Master, back as a woman) has been somehow grabbing the minds of the recently deceased (including hit-by-a-car Danny Pink, which gave me some hope) and storing them in a Nethersphere, a sort of Time Lord mental hard drive. The Cybermen all fly (they fly now) into the atmosphere and explode, releasing this cyber-pollen over graveyards. The dead bodies (including an apparently well-preserved one from the 18th century) all then turn into Cybermen, which crawl out of the ground.

Meanwhile, Danny Pink — now a Cyberman, but still with his emotions — takes Clara to one of these graveyards, but I don’t know why. The Doctor turns up and says he needs Danny to go full Cyberman so he can know what the plan is. Note that at this point there are literally dozen of Cybermen stumbling around at arm’s reach who are not hostile yet because they’re essentially cyber-toddlers. Yet only Danny going cyber can reveal the plan. So Clara does that and they find out the plan which is: make it rain cyber-pollen on the alive people and turn them into Cybermen too. Thanks, Danny, we never would have otherwise figured that one out. So why the dead people? So you can have minds in the dead bodies to run the Cybermen, except we only want no-emotion minds. Why we didn’t just skip all this nonsense and cyber-up the living people in the first place is a question never asked, along with the question of, if the Cybermen can do this pollen jazz, why did they need Missy’s help for this plan? Why hide any of it? The only thing that gets the Doctor to them is Danny getting hit by a car, and there’s no mention of that being part of Missy’s weird scheme. So what’s the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed point to all of this?

Missy then comes in and gives the Doctor a bracelet to control the Cybermen. Now he has an army he can use to right all the wrongs and then he’ll be like her. She says she’ll make the army go against live humans unless he uses the army to go after baddies and prove he’s really just a bad guy or something. He refuses and it turns out Danny still resists the controller. Danny leads the Cybermen into the air and they all explode, which gets rid of the clouds of cyber-pollen, saving the day.

Along the way UNIT showed up, led by Kate, the Brigadier’s daughter. Apparently every nation on Earth has decided that in case of a full-scale alien invasion The Doctor will be declared “President of Earth” and this happens. Just roll that around in your mind for a bit, I’ll wait. So they’re on Earth Force One or whatever and Missy blows out the door, which sucks out Kate, the TARDIS, and the Doctor. The Doctor skydives into the falling TARDIS, and Missy’s lackey does this:

That’s the actual line. Someone wrote that and someone approved that. This was seen as a thing that needed to be included in a Doctor Who episode about, essentially, cyber-zombies. I grabbed that image off Tumblr, you won’t be surprised to know. That was the line. This is one of the many shirts.

At the end of the episode, Kate shows up alive and it turns out a Cyberman saved her, which is implied to be the cyber-animated dead Brigadier. Cyber-Lethbridge-Stewart shoots Missy, who I’m sure is really most sincerely gone.

Oh and Danny could somehow come back from being cyber dead with the bracelet but only one person can do so and instead he sends back some Afghani kid he killed when he was a soldier, telling Clara to find his parents.

Clara and the Doctor break up, each lying to the other, and go their separate ways.

Then Santa Claus shows up. I’m not kidding. That’s the lead-in to the Christmas special, which I haven’t felt inclined to watch.

Why so serious?

So The Master is back as Missy, except he hasn’t regenerated into The Mistress, he’s regenerated into The Joker. “Bananas!” is her catchphrase, referring to her mental state. She’s full of cockamamie ludicrously intricate plans that only come about due to blind chance and has no motivation except to screw with the Doctor and show him he’s just like her. The Master was always the Doctor’s Moriarty. Given what Moffat did with Moriarty in Sherlock, I shouldn’t be surprised here.

This is my frustration with Doctor Who. I don’t know what’s worse, when the rest of the season before Moffat comes in and Moffats all over the show is dull and unremarkable, as in season five, or when you have moments like “Robot of Sherwood” and “Flatline” taunting you with glimpses of a better show before it all comes crashing down. I’d heard things were better this season, and in general I suppose they were, but it’s all relative when you have garbage like seasons 6 and most of season 7 to compare it to. I’d really like to get someone at the helm who didn’t have the power to put trash nonsense like “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” on the screen without anyone being able to tell him it’s not very good. For season nine, will there be enough good episodes to make it worth enduring the onslaught of bad ones?

PS: look at that, I didn’t even mention how Gallifrey is still “lost” even though they went there at the end of “Listen”.

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My Second-Favorite EC Comics Character

I’ve been reading Spawn of Mars, another volume in Fantagraphics’ series of EC reprints, this one focusing on one of my favorite comics artists, Wally Wood. This collection has a recurring character that has stolen my heart. Let me introduce you to:


They’re millions of miles from Earth, stuck in a fragile tin can surrounded by unforgiving vacuum, a delicate bubble of safety amid the vast universe, but Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship doesn’t care! He is comfortable in this environment, and comfort includes his favorite pipe!

It’s a long journey! He’s going to need his boardgames, his dog (Dog Inexplicably Brought Along on Space Mission is another character I’ve been seeing often), and the fresh smell of pipe tobacco!

What does the Captain have to say about this? Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship is the Captain!

Sometimes Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship is busy, so our attention turns to his slightly lower class, slightly more blue-collar companion, Guy Smoking a Cigarette in a Rocketship.


Who’s my first-favorite EC Comics character? Why, The Secretary of Defense, of course, who makes a cameo appearance in this volume!

Time to start a new sketchbook of Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship commissions!

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10 Years of Boardgames

Every so often someone at Board Game Geek gets his meeples in a twist because he’s worried that some people out there are rating games after only one play. Some games, the argument goes, only reveal their hidden magic after a number of plays. What if these conclusion-jumpers are skewing the ratings??? I responded the way I always respond to these things: if you want to pay me to play a lousy game I didn’t like to make sure it’s lousy, fine, but otherwise I’ll just rate what I feel like. (These people are always worried about the low ratings, never about the people who declare everything new as a triumph because it’s another game they can buy.) I also pointed out that I’ve been playing these games regularly for about a decade now and have a pretty good idea what I like, what I don’t like, and how a new thing is going to go for me.

But that got me wondering about those exact numbers. Well, I track boardgame plays at BGG (it’s super simple: the day after I play some games, I go over there, look up the game, and hit “record a play”), and it turns out the very first one I recorded was nearly 10 years ago. On February 28. 2005, I played Australia, Caribbean, and Gloom.

In fact, thanks to this play tracking, I can give you all kinds of information, but here’s the biggie:

In the past 10 years I’ve recorded 2549 plays of 816 different games.

More or less. The numbers aren’t accurate. I show only one play of Russian Railroads and I know I’ve endured that at least twice, so I haven’t been 100% diligent.

For Sale is the game I’ve recorded the most plays of, at 52. That makes sense, as it’s known as a “rain dance” game, one we often play on Sundays while waiting for others to show up. It’s quick and easy, so it doesn’t surprise me it’s number one.

The rest of my most-played games, the ones I’ve played more than 20 times, are:

Liar’s Dice (43)
7 Wonders (31)
Pandemic (31)
Power Grid (31)
Jambo (30)
Small World (25)
Dominion (24)
No Thanks! (24)
Lords of Waterdeep (22)
Crokinole (21)
Rummikub (21)
San Juan (21)
That’s Life! (21)

Looking at just that list, 7 Wonders and Dominion are the only ones there that I used to own but don’t anymore. And Crokinole I’ve never owned. Otherwise, I still have all of those.

Of the 816 different games I’ve logged, 402 of them (49%) I’ve only played once. This is not to say that they’re all junk, but hoo-boy, there’s a lot of junk in there. 671 of them (82%), I’ve played fewer than 5 times. In fact, in ten years, out of all the games I’ve played, I’ve only played 53 of them (6%) more than 10 times.

Let’s see how that compares to just last year. Last year I played 154 different games. Of those, 101 (66%) were only played once. Yikes! That 6% above I’d played more than 10 times? That same percentage in 2014 covers the 9 games I played more than 4 times.

What do these numbers say? They put me squarely in the “Cult of the New” camp, the group of gamers who are always looking for the next release, the new hotness to move on to. But that doesn’t really describe me as I am an certainly doesn’t describe where I want to be. It does, however, describe the groups I game with, which do have people who are constantly grabbing new stuff, and since I’m at the table too, I end up playing it. If you recall, out of those 154 unique games I played in 2014, 100 of them were new to me.

I don’t mind playing new stuff from time to time but honestly, I’d really rather skip some of the things I’ve been spending time on. And I’m not just talking about the obvious junk, but even some of the “good” stuff. As I said back when some of you were still paying attention, I’ve been doing this for a decade and I’ve built up a pretty nice library of games. There are a lot of them I think are great, and I’d rather spend more time with them than with something that’s even just good, much less something mediocre or worse. I’d like to start adding more depth to that “games played” list and less width.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged

Cappy’s February Frustration

You may have heard that New England has gotten some snow lately. We here in the hinterlands haven’t gotten as much as Boston, but there’s still a good three to four feet in most places with huge drifts as well. We’ve had to rake the roof several times, have the dreaded ice dams wreaking havoc and have been pretty miserable. In addition to the snow and ice it’s also been just plain bitterly cold, with sub-zero temperatures and crazy winds all the time. It’s been pretty miserable for us.

But we have it pretty good because we’re not little dogs who are used to getting walks and running around the yard and getting our ya-yas out. For us, staying indoors and taking it easy is not too much of a problem, but Cappy has energy he needs to burn off.

He hasn’t been able to go for too many walks because even with his coat on it’s very cold. He’s got very little fur to keep him warm and the ice hurts his feet. Plus the snow in the back is past his belly. It’s just miserable for him. What he can do to help use up some energy is tear up boxes, which he loves doing.

The other day Becky got some flowers in a big cardboard box. This weekend Cappy set to work on that box. Here’s the beginning.

He likes to methodically tear bits off and then spit them out. He doesn’t actually swallow any of the cardboard. If he gets off a big piece he’ll sometimes focus on that one until it’s torn up enough. Paws are involved too. He will hold a piece down with his paw and worry it with his teeth. Sometimes he’ll try to do this with a teeny tiny piece that is pretty much completely under the paw.

Here’s the box status as the weekend went on.

He had some help. He likes when someone holds a piece and he has to pull on it to rip it. I usually hold it and he tears bits off (he’s very careful about my fingers!). When the piece gets too small I often toss it in the air for him to jump and catch, which is also fun.

After the box was thoroughly shredded, we picked up the pieces and he proudly posed next to his handwork.

It’s no substitute for a good walk and yard romp, but he enjoys it.

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Space Cabby by Adam Prosser

When it rains, it pours, and it’s been raining Space Cabbies over here! While showing off my Space Cabby Gallery on Twitter, Adam (Prankster) Prosser said, “Hey, I’d like to get in on that!” And this is what he drew for me!

(click to make megalopolis-sized)

“I’m kind of amazed more people haven’t gone to town on the Space Cab itself,” Adam told me and whoo, he wasn’t kidding. Space Cabby’s trusty vehicle is all tricked out with more jet pods, a sweet engine upgrade under the hood, and stylish chrome. Also fangs! You probably want to let him go in front of you when you get to that asteroid tunnel, lest your space-muffler gets chomped. But Space Cabby! Don’t let your sweet ride distract you from the lady needing a lift!

Adam Prosser is Phantasmic Tales, and his book, Lemuria, can be purchased through Comixology. It’s a fine compendium of swords, sorcery, and sass, and not the usual fantasy stuff. Check it out!

Thanks so much, Adam! I and Space Cabby appreciate his hella sweet-ass new whip!

Are YOU an artist who would like to draw Space Cabby for me? Please let me know!

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The Movies-To-Watch List: Yojimbo (1961)

I don’t know what I was expecting from Yojimbo. I’d never seen a Kurosawa film before, and it seemed like a good place to start. I knew he was influenced by westerns and my experience with that genre is pretty sparse (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly didn’t do much for me). I guess I thought this would be a moody period piece.

I was not prepared for the amount of humor in it. I wasn’t prepared for the jazzy soundtrack. I wasn’t prepared for the lighthearted subtitling (I loved it when Inokichi says of the Samurai, “He’s tough as hell!”) I figured the movie would be good; I didn’t realize it would be so much fun.

And of course, Toshirô Mifune is fantastic in it. As with Kurosawa himself, this is someone whose work I’d always heard glowing descriptions of, and it was a treat to finally see it for myself.

I am completely ready to see more Kurosawa. I know I’m well behind on this, but I’m glad to finally start catching up.


And that completes 2014’s Movies to Watch list, only a little bit behind schedule. This was a fun activity and I’m looking forward to diving into the 2015 list.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance

(Full disclosure: Tom Digby is a colleague of my wife’s and a pal. He gave her a copy of his book and after she finished it, I read it.)

Yesterday this article was going around Twitter, or at least the parts I bump up against. It’s a discussion of “Gamergate” and how that “movement” represents a reactionary male attempt to maintain control on whatever it is that passes for geek culture. This is correct, but only partially so. “Gamergate” is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with (video)gaming and never did. It’s all about straight white men trying to silence women (and anyone else who isn’t one of them) in any arena where those men are, and doing so through harassment, threats, and violence.

If Gamergate were simply immature male nerds, it would actually be a little easier to deal with, but the movement has found allies such as Mens’ Rights Activists, the right-wing, FOX News, and anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Summers, none of whom give a fig about videogames or “geek culture” but are very interested in pushing back against Feminist gains. While the average Gamergater stalking that hashtag on Twitter might think he’s doing something about some nebulous concept of journalistic ethics, these allies are simply happy to have footsoldiers in a much larger battle.

And a battle it is. Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance, by Tom Digby, a philosophy professor at Springfield College, lays down an argument that America, as a militaristic society (one that values and puts faith in war and warlike behavior as a social tool), has developed concepts of gender and sexuality that serve a conflict more than a community. The “Battle of the Sexes”, Digby says, is a literal battle on literal battlefield because we can only process these things in terms of war.

In such a society, the argument goes, the gender lines are firm and fixed. Men have a duty, women have a different duty, and anything that violates this segregation is a tool of the enemy. The male role is that of procreator, provider, and protector. It is his duty to spread his seed (as a wartime population is always in need of replenishing), provide security for his family, and fight to protect what is his. He must be willing to suspend or repress his emotions so that he is able to kill others without concern for their lives and sacrifice his own without similar concern. The woman’s role is to bear the children the men sire, provide whatever the man asks for, including and especially sex, and otherwise stay out of the man’s way.

Thus, women who demand something more to life than serving a man or men and women who do not sort comfortably into one of two genders or a single sexuality cause problems for this machine. They interfere with its smooth running and therefore jeopardize the entire enterprise, just as if whoever the perceived enemy is had purposely sabotaged it.

And the fuel for this machine is a steady diet of fear, hate, and unfocused militaristic propaganda, pointing out threats in all directions and calling for constant violent retribution. Movies, TV, videogames, comics, and other forms of media in which only a non-stop barrage of violent action can possibly do anything against the number of threats facing our usually white male protagonist. These images keep up the militaristic society, and the militaristic society develops these images. It’s no surprise, then, that a videogaming culture fed an endless supply of military, football, and other male power fantasy simulations would react to female “trespassing” as they have, nor that there would be an already organized anti-Feminist community to welcome them.

Digby isn’t pointing out anything particularly revelatory here. It doesn’t take long to look at American society and note that it hates women and loves guns. But along the way he connects some especially subtle dots. He lays out his examples with wit and humor, and in layman’s language, and goes places I had no idea existed.

The most interesting part, though, is at the end, when Digby points out that not only is such a militaristic culture outdated for a civilized country, it’s outdated even for a militarized country. The type of war that a militaristic society is intended to fight isn’t at all how wars are fought anymore, and thus the roles we’ve asked genders to play aren’t even valid when it comes to actual war. We demand our military have the latest and most efficient weapons and technology, but we still seek to operate them with a bronze-age population. Digby sees this as hopeful that we will change our society in response, but I’m more pessimistic and wonder: when the actual military has outgrown your militarization, maybe it’s not designed to fight the war you think it is.

Digby’s book is a helpful way for someone like me, an average Joe just trying to reconcile these different things that sure seem related into a cohesive narrative. It’s a book that helps you look at the Gamergate phenomenon and realize it’s not about the soul of geek culture (I’d need to be shown there’s both a culture there and a soul to even be had) but is far more nefarious and far-reaching. It’s a part of a larger, more organized whole, and Love and War shows it’s been going on for a long time.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , ,

I Had That For A Year

Yesterday’s I Had That is number 52, the last in a weekly series that lasted only a little more than a year, allowing for a couple of missed Sundays. Part of the success of me sticking to the schedule was because although I didn’t have the entries written in advance, I had a list of them all planned out. Some things on the list didn’t make it — I remembered the thing, like the die-cast spaceship above, but there wasn’t much to say about it — and some stuff got added later, usually when something else reminded me of it. It also helped that for some of the entries I re-ran old blog posts that fit in with the concept.

Two things I do a lot on this blog are reminiscing about my past and bitching about nerds, and it’s kind of weird for me to bitch about nerds buying up plastic junk and then me going on for a week about the plastic junk I used to have. I was a kid, and I was not immune to the siren song of stuff. I’m still not completely immune.

Thanks for coming along for this feature, if you did. I got some good feedback about it and I’m glad it resonated with some of you.

I’ll be taking a short break on Sundays and then will return with a similar year-long feature, I Played That!, which will look at computer games from my VIC-20 days until the mid-90s, when I got my first(!) console. (I never owned a Nintendo or Sega, so you won’t be seeing any Zeldas or Marios.) It will probably focus more on the games itself than my memories associated with them, largely because most of those memories will be, “I played this in my dorm room while listening to REM albums” or somesuch.

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