October 2014

Re-thinking the letter-grade

October 20, 2014, OTTAWA — Well, never let it be said I'm inflexible.

Having now watched this week's follow-up to last week's Doctor Who episode, I fear I waxed a little over-enthusiastic in giving it an A-plus in the header, below.

On first look, "Flatline" was even more entertaining. Possible more well-written and definitely much better-directed. If "Mummy" warranted an A-plus, then "Flatline" deserves top possible marks.

And it's not quite that good. So changing the grade to a straight B. Subject-line modified accordingly.


Blogging Doctor Who, New Series 8



Mummy on the Orient Express:

Doctor Who takes the B Train

Image: Clara raises a glass to the last hurrah. Screenshot from 'Mummy on the Orient Express'.

October 19, 2014, OTTAWA — I know, I know. This series' ninth episode aired yesterday and here I am, posting about the 8th. I have no excuses, except that of "Life got in the way."

To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and missed me) I say, "Mea culpa and that I'll try to do better with 'Flatline'." To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and hoped I'd stay away), I say only, "You can't get rid of me that easily! But if it's any consolation, my reappearance comes with a surprise: I quite liked 'Mummy on the Orient Express'!"

What a difference a good script makes.

I was all-too-ready to dislike "Mummy On the Orient Express" as much as I did last week's "Kill the Moon".

MOOE's title suggested only another tired homage to, or rip-off of, someone else's creation. But what do you know! MOOE was funny and intriguing (if poorly-directed), with a believable interpersonal drama and Peter Capaldi's best performance yet.

In just 45 minutes, Jamie Mathieson managed what Steven Moffat and his previous collaborators could not in seven episodes: to make Clara's doubts about the Doctor believable.

Was "Mummy on the Orient Express" a perfect episode? Not quite. But it was better than most and a lot better than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

As usual, my full review is spoilery. Not so usual, it is hardly angry at all (which might help to explain why I am so late in its delivery). Also not so usual, this might be the first time I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Patches365. Which kind of makes me wonder if I'm wrong.

Click here for Clara's Choice.


Abort the moon! or

Après Moff, le déluge?

Image: Screenshot of spiders - or is that giant bacteria? - on the moon? Screenshot from 'Kill the Moon'.

October 8, 2014, OTTAWA — If Steven Moffat isn't trying to abort the program he has had under his control since 2010, at the very least it's clear that he doesn't care what happens to it once it grows up and moves out of his house.

"Kill the Moon" could be watched as a personal drama about the Doctor and Clara Oswald; it might be viewed as a girls' own adventure, with trouble-maker Courtney Woods finally given her chance to shine; or seen as a feminist fable, with three women — maiden, teacher, crone — deciding the fate of all humankind. Could. Might.

Other interpretations will no doubt be constructed; there are among Doctor Who's fandom those as creative as they are forgiving.


Transcripts R Us!

For those interested in the program's thematic debate, I confess I went to the trouble of transcribing the key minutes.
I don't know whether to apologize or to brag, but it is here if you want it.

I am not part of that wing. I don't want to "fix" the program with fanfic nor weave intricately-constructed academic analyses to fill in plot-holes and justify self-contradictions of character and story. All I want are stories that don't insult my intelligence.

Is that really so much to ask?

Apparently so. "Kill the Moon" offers as the basis of its plot a "physics" whose idiocy would have appalled Newton — or even Douglas Adams. To add insult to insult, "Kill the Moon" is an unsubtle morality tale pushing a political agenda that adds a kiloton of fuel to the idea that Steven Moffat is not exactly, shall we say, a feminist-friendly thinker.

In other words, Won't somebody think of the foetus?!? Angry words and spoilers — they all live behind the cut.


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September 2014

Blogging Doctor Who, New Series 8



Little care from The Caretaker — Take One

Image: The Doctor with sign reading 'GO AWAY HUMANS'. Screenshot from 'The Caretaker'.

September 30, 2014, OTTAWA — The short version?

I really enjoyed "The Caretaker" when I watched it late Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

I'd been awake almost 20 hours when I hit Play, had worked 11 of those hours at the day-job and spent nearly two more riding to and from there on my bicycle.

I was tired, and I admit cracked a beer or three as I live-tweeted my first reactions.

To my regret, those tweets were an enthusiastic tailings pond spill I wish I could take back. But they do represent as "real" a reaction as my subsequent re-evaluation. And since I don't believe in censoring reality, they will stay on my Twitter timeline and live on also as a sidebar — pre-commentary, if you like — to my review.

The short version is that I thought the episode pretty awful when I watched it by sunlight. To paraphrase the blogger Patches365, it was a mean-spirited "tragedy of blunders" built on — not one — nor two, or even three — but four idiot plots. And it was an episode that tossed aside its best performer in favour of the cheapest of cheap laffs.

The long version? The long version lives on my site, of course, along with spite, spoilers and some thoughts on patterns as we reach the half-way point of what we can only hope will be Steven Moffat's farewell turn as Captain of the foundering ship Doctor Who.

Click here for Little Care — Take Two. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Feels like a contractual obligation

Image: Clara looks resplendent in suit and tie.

September 22, 2014, OTTAWA — No real rant, certainly no rave.

I had a busy weekend, back at soccer on Sunday and entertaining (and being entertained by) an old friend come to town after far too long.

Still managed to check in on the latest episode of Doctor Who, but I almost wish I hadn't. I know I'm sorry I watched the episode a second time.

But I've made a commitment and I'm not breaking it. I live-tweeted the episode on Sunday morning and have added a few thoughts now. For the record, and probably for Geoffrey Dow completists only (dare I dream such folk exist?), click here for Time Waste.


Watching "Listen" (again)

Image: Detail of the Doctor at the new Tardis control console. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

September 16, 2014, OTTAWA — The first time I watched "Listen", home after an 11-hour shift that followed an early rise, I wrote, "I definitely enjoyed it, definitely want to watch it again." I also wrote, "It sounds silly when I type it out, but [the story] gave me the shivers ..."

Well, hell. I did watch it again and now it seemed silly when I watched as well. There were no shivers to be found.

What was there was a mixed bag of an episode, combining Steven Moffat's still-effective skills at atmospheric scenes, with a show-runner's determined but mis-guided need to further place his singular stamp upon Doctor Who's canon of mythology and back-story, and proof (as if any more were needed) that as a writer, he gives not a single damn for story-logic.

You don't have to read my review if you don't want your fun spoiled, you know. You really don't. Spoilers (in both senses of the term) ahoy!


Listen (to me!)

Image: Clara ponders date and Doctor in the Tardis. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

September 14, 2014, OTTAWA — I feel unesay.

Not because posting my inchoate, exhausted and half-drunk reactions to my first-watch of "Listen" makes me feel like an obsessive fan desperate to share his thoughts with all and sundry — although, clearly, that's what I am — but because I distrust the first reactions I so desperately want to share.

Yet here I am. Sharing my feelings instead of my thoughts, my knee's jerks rather than my practiced dance steps.

Steven Moffat has written an episode of Doctor Who that, on first viewing, I enjoyed quite a lot. I liked it. But — or should that be and so ...? — I feel uneasy. I am afraid of what judgement sober second thought may call down upon my first reactions.

So for now and for the record, those who care to read can find those first reactions here.

I liked it; what did you think? And do you think you're opinion will change when (if) you watch it again?


Maidentrip: A girl's own adventure

  Image: Text, She sailed 27,000 nautical miles over 519 days  

14 year-old girl fights child-welfare authorities
in quest to sail solo around the world
waves goodbye at age of 14

Image: Poster of Maidentrip
Maidentrip: Buy it at Amazon.

September 13, 2014, OTTAWA — Adventurers have long held a special place in the public's imagination. Brave and determined or selfish and monomaniacal, according to one's tastes, they are larger-than-life figures, accomplishing impressive — if arguably pointless — feats. Climbing the highest mountain, sailing the widest ocean, risking (and often losing) life and/or limb and leaving wives and children behind to wait, to wonder, and to mourn.

Why do it? we stay-at-homes might ask. Why trek from one coast of Antarctica to the other after failing to be first to the South Pole? Why try, not once but three times to be the first to scale Everest?

There probably isn't a better answer than George Mallory's laconic reply to a reporter before he died on that third attempt to climb Mount Everest: "Because it's there."

We certainly don't get any more a revealing answer from Laura Dekker, who at the age of 16 years, 123 days, achieved her years' long dream by becoming the youngest person to ever sail, alone, around the world, but Jillian Schlesinger's documentary, Maidentrip about her voyage is a moving and fascinating film despite its lack of firm answers.

The bare facts make for quite a story, and though its subject has disavowed the resulting film, if there is a young woman in your life who could do with something other than a Disney princess or a Kardashian as inspiration, click here for one hell of a girl's own adventure.


Blogging Doctor Who, New Series 8



The Doctor and the Outlaw

Image: Clara asks for the impossible dream - Robin Hood. Screenshot from 'Robot of Sherwood'.Travelling with the Doctor isn't enough. Clara longs for a real hero — Robin Hood! Screenshot from 'Robot of Sherwood'. Doctor Who Copyright © 2014 BBC.

September 9, 2014, OTTAWA — I don't know about you, but I can forgive quite a lot when I'm laughing. Plot holes, character inconsistencies, even magic arrows "Of Random Plot Resolution".

In other words, "Robot of Sherwood" was cracking good fun, a story that didn't take itself too seriously while still managing (mostly) to take the Doctor & Co. seriously enough. Our suspension bridge of disbelief swayed, but it did not snap and neither did it twirl.

Robot of Sherwood gifted us an episode rich with clever dialogue (banter, even), exciting and sometimes funny action sequences, good actors having a very good time performing a low-concept story (see its title) that far exceeded expectations.

Thank you, Mark Gatiss, for bringing fun back to the Tardis — and (oh, all right!) thank you, Steven Moffat, for staying the hell out of the way and letting it happen.

If you're old enough to remember (or like me, have travelled back in time to enjoy) "The Pirate Planet", you're almost sure to enjoy "Robot of Sherwood", and nevermind the lack of a tin dog or bird. Click here for the words of one critic clapping.


The good, the bad and the Doctor

Image: The Doctor and the dalek. Screenshot from 'Into the Dalek'.

September 3, 2014, OTTAWA — I feel dirty, like I awoke alone after a night of passion to realize my inamorata's clever words were lies, that her body had stained my sheets and her gentle caresses had left indelible, greasy streaks all over my body. Though I cannot deny the passions I had felt in the dark, with morning's light comes the fear that my wallet, and even my closet, may be empty.

I liked "Into the Dalek" when I watched it the first time. I really did. Even enjoyed it when I watched it a second time. Yet, when I began writing about it, started to think about what it was that had entertained me, the flaws shone ever brighter, like stars appearing one by one after the sun has slipped below the horizon.

"Into the Dalek" is the kind of episode that seduces with surface charms, then laughs at our pleasures, mocks our innocent hopes. Slick enough to entertain in the moment, the story shrivels under the the light of critical consideration.

Sorry, folks. I really thought this would be a positive review for a change. It was only when I began to write, and to really think about what I had watched, that I realized I had been fooled again. After all, The only good dalek ...


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New Who, Series 8

Image: Doctor Who Series 8 logo via BBC.co.uk

Doctor Who

Image: Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman with TARDIS in front of Parliament Buildings. Screenshot from BBCThe TARDIS crash-lands in Parliament Square. Screenshot from 'Deep Breath' via the BBC. Doctor Who Copyright © 2014 BBC.

August 24, 2014, OTTAWA — In April 2013, introducing my reviews of new Who 7th series, I started off apologetic. "I thought I was done talking Doctor Who," I wrote.

None of that this year. For better and for worse, I'm a fan. Which means I'm a little bit obsessed, and not likely to stop gnawing this bone any time soon.

Today is the big day. The return of Doctor Who to the small screen for 2014, and it looks I'll be blogging every episode yet again. Feel free to argue and debate, but keep it polite and without ad hominems. As others of noted of their blogs, this ain't a democracy.

Meanwhile, drop by in 24 hours (or less) and we can talk Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman and, yes, Steven Moffat. I'm crossing my fingers I'll have happier things to say than I did last year.

More here ...

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August 2014

Flashback, 2009: Bet Me

August 26, 2014, OTTAWA — Working on a review (coming very soon!) of the delightful romantic comedy, Austenland, I wanted to reference a book I read a few years ago called Bet Me. And soon realized I never did post what I wrote about it here.

It's a slight thing, I suppose, but I remember the book better than most and stand by my appreciation of it. Click here to read it.


Blogging Doctor Who, New Series 8



Deep Breath:

Moffat's misogyny holds on


Image: The TARDIS lands by the River Thames outside of Parliament buildings in 19th Century London. Screenshot from 'Deep Breath'.

August 24, 2014, OTTAWA — How soon we forget ...

Doctor Who is blessed with a remarkable fandom.

Way back on the 12th of July, a black-and-white "screener" of the 8th series premiere, "Deep Breath" was released onto file-sharing sites, following a similar surreptitious (and — need I add? — thoroughly reprehensible!) release of the scripts of the first five episodes the week before. The Scot was out of the kilt, as it were, and anyone who wanted to could easily download a copy.

And yet, those of us who did encounter the samizdat seemed all to subscribe to a gentlefen's agreement that there would be no spoiling for those who preferred to wait for the final product in all its CGI glory. (At worst, some critics might have taken advantage of the incident to draft his (or her!) review ahead of time.)

Though I read a number of Who-related feeds, I didn't come across any unofficial spoilers, not even after the episode was aired in a number of movie theatres around the world. (I didn't look hard, but the point is, one would have had to look to be spoiled.)

Now, finally, the official broadcast is history and we're free to discuss that for which we've been waiting the better part of a year: a new season and a brand-new (if almost elderly) Doctor.

Was it worth it?

If you're able to forgive or justify its internal inconsistencies, tawdry fan-service, cheap laughs and a misogynist streak that holds on like a mysterious infection laughing at ever-stronger doses of antibiotics, well then, yes, I don't doubt for you it was.

If, on the other hand, you were hoping against hope for a story whose details and characterizations made sense and for a climax that didn't take from the show's companion every bit of agency she had, you will have been as disappointed as I was.

Read more/don't read more, it's up to you. But don't say I didn't warn you! In the world according to Steven Moffat, a woman without a man to tell her what to do is nothing ...


Some brief thoughts on Michael Brown

Mansplaining, group-think and the need

To my big mouth shut while on duty

Originally posted on Facebook wall, 16 August, 2014.

Sweet Jesus. Having to keep quiet while two (white, male) pilots mansplain the Micheal Brown killing and subsequent riots to their (black, female) flight attendant was 20 minutes of psychological torture for an opinionated Young Geoffrey.

Horribly fascinating, though, to learn that even the flight attendant mostly accepted the dominant media narrative.

That Michael Brown DID jostle people and steal the cigars. That the riots were ONLY riots.

No mention of peaceful protests. Police over-reaction only admitted in reference to press being tear-gassed and in context that everyone (whatever gender, colour, creed) would be wise to shut up and obey when confronted by cops. Couldn't help but think of comments about what rape-victim was wearing.

The flight attendant did, tentatively, hint at systemic issues but agreed that, of course, no one knew exactly what had happened in this case. (But again, all three believed that Brown stole the cigars. No one asked why that 'fact' only came out yesterday.)

Customer service can be another kind of hell. But not nearly the hell that must exist in the hearts and minds of the people of Ferguson, Missouri.


Falling in love, with concrete and stone

Young Geoffrey re-visits San Francisco

Image: San Francisco, seen from Lombard Street
San Francisco, seen from the top of Lombard Street.

August 17, 2014, OTTAWA — How soon we forget ...

Or maybe not that soon. I first visited San Francisco as a callow youth, just entered my 20s. I drove there with a friend, switching off driving my 18 year-old Volkswagen microbus ("transporter", as the manual had it).

That was too close to 30 years ago for me to want to remember. And I fell in love with the city then.

This summer — a couple of weeks ago, in fact — I returned for the first time. As so often happens, time softens memory's details, replacing sensations and feelings with mere words.

Would the San Francisco I encountered at the age of 49 still be the beauty I remembered from my youthful fling, or would I find only flaws and reasons to mock my own, younger, self?

Short answer: I fell in love all over again. For the longer answer, click here.


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July 2014

Me and the BMI


Young Geoffrey is a great big fatso

Selfing the uncomfortable truth:
Don't suck in that gut, Young Geoffrey!

June 30, 2014, OTTAWA — I've been unhappy with my body since I was in grade school. I'm not sure where it came from — I was never the fat kid in my class, so I wasn't picked on or bullied about my weight — but as far back as grade 5 or 6 (at least — it might have started even before that) I was conscious of the fact that my clothes came from the Husky rack. That I was, not to put too fine a point on it, chubby.

Now barely six months away from 50 years old, I'm still not happy with my body. Or at least, I'm not happy with the way it looks.

Truth is, I'd still kind of like to have chiseled abs and buns of steel.

But a recent discovery — that according to a widely-used and (presumably) well-thought of metric, the Body Mass Index — seems to have set off a minor revolution in my self-image.

For the record, my personal health metrics are actually pretty good. Since I stopped smoking a few years ago, my heart rate has dropped 20 beats a minute and my blood pressure is consistently "excellent", if various nurses and physicians are to be believed. I play soccer with people half my age, I commute almost 15 kilometres to work (and back) by bicycle and, for the first time probably since I was 15 or so, I sometimes break into a jog just because I feel like it.

Grading on a curve then, for a 49 year North American, and taking into account what my body does for me, I have to judge that I am actually in pretty decent shape.

The BMI, on the other hand, begs to differ.

According to Body Mass Index I am not just carrying a few extra pounds, I am not "a little overweight", or even chubby. No, according to the BMI, I am OBESE.

And you know what? There's something wrong with that picture. There's something wrong with the fact that anyone at all takes that test or takes its results seriously. Click here for a rant on body image and the fetisization of the decimal point.

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