by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Three: "The Shakespeare Code"

Posted 5135 days ago in by Catriona

Right. I am entirely prepared for the live-blogging of this episode, despite a day of marking. (And not my most successful day of marking, either.)

I’m also uncertain about the correlation between Shakespeare and Dan Brown implied by this episode title—though I’m reluctant to push that one any further, lest I be accused once again of being a Leavisite.

I have also (just to embed yet another sentence in this series) done some light research, the better to enrich my live-blogging of this episode.

Yes, I only looked up some key dates. And, yes, I work in an English department. And, yes, I should probably have know those dates already. My only defense is that I’m not a Shakespearean scholar.

(My friend Drew would be able to give you those dates off the top of his head.)

We’re here in London in 1599, with the girl from Hex carrying a candle and smiling at a young boy out of her window, as he serenades her with a fairly atonal Elizabethan ballad.

Still, it works for him: he’s invited in with the double entendre, “Would you enter, bold sir?”

“Oh, I would,” he says.

But she’s called Lilith, which is never a good thing. And she introduces him to Mother Doomfinger and Mother Bloodtide, who tear him apart.

Lilith speaks to camera about the coming of the end of the world at the time of woven words.

NICK: Who is she talking to?
ME: It’s a soliloquy, darling.
NICK: Straight to camera?

I don’t see why not.

Martha, in the TARDIS, wants to know how he travels through time, but the Doctor accuses her of wanting to take all the mystery out of things, and then reveals that he failed his driving test.

They’re in Elizabethan England.

MARTHA: Oh, my god. We did it! We travelled in time!
ME: Or you’re in Disneyland.

Martha is reluctant to wander around, in case she steps on a butterfly, or kills her grandfather. The Doctor asks whether she’s planning to kill her grandfather, and she says no.

Martha wonders whether she’s going to be carted off as a slave, but the Doctor says he’s not even human: he advises that she just walk around as though she owns the place. He says it works for him.

So they go to the Globe Theatre.

DOCTOR: You can go home, tell everyone you’ve seen Shakespeare.
MARTHA: Then, I could get sectioned!

At the end of the play, Martha starts shouting for the author, which the Doctor implies starts the tradition, but Shakespeare looks fairly happy to leap out on stage, so he seems quite used to it.

Lilith, the mysterious woman from the beginning, pulls a voodoo doll out of her purse as Shakespeare wanders across the stage.

The Doctor is partial to Shakespeare, it seems.

Now, this is Love’s Labour’s Lost (believed to have been written 1595-1596, first published 1598, so is this a later performance? Would it have been published before it was performed?) and Shakespeare promises the sequel tomorrow night.

Martha says she’s never heard of Love’s Labour’s Won, and the Doctor describes it as “the lost play.” Ooh, Cardenio must be feeling pretty out of things at this point.

Martha asks how it went missing in the first place, and that piques the Doctor’s interest: he says they can stay a little later.

So, they burst into Shakespeare’s room, while he’s sitting with his players and insisting he’ll have the last scene by tomorrow morning. (Lilith is wandering around disguised as a serving maid, by the way.)

SHAKESPEARE: No autographs; no, you can’t have yourself sketched with me; and, please, don’t ask where I get my ideas from.

Shakespeare manages to offend Martha—about ten times in a row.

The Registrar of Plays—I’m assuming he’s an historically accurate figure? I know the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stage was heavily censored, but I’m not sure about dramatic practice in the sixteenth century.

Oh, it doesn’t matter: he’s bumped into Lilith, who is determined to have the play performed, and she and her “mothers” drown him through the powers of voodoo, and then stop his heart.

Well, that’s a bit mean! Why didn’t they just kill him? Why torture him first?

The Doctor tells people that he died of a sudden imbalance of the humours. When Martha challenges him, he says these people have one foot in the Dark ages: they’ll panic and think it was witchcraft.

MARTHA: Okay, so what was it, then?
DOCTOR: Witchcraft.

The Doctor and Martha take rooms at the inn, which allows Shakespeare to show how insightful a man he is, not least by noting that the Doctor is constantly performing.

DOCTOR: All the world’s a stage.
SHAKESPEARE: Hmm, I might use that.

(As You Like It would have been written about this time, in 1599 or thereabouts.)

There’s some bantering here about Venusian spearmint and the seventh Harry Potter book, but the Doctor spoils it all by saying Rose would know what was going on, and right now she would say exactly the right thing.

However you feel about Rose, that’s pretty tactless, when he’s currently sharing a bed with Martha.

Meanwhile, Lilith rises up to Shakespeare’s window and takes control of him with glowing green dust. Sorry, I can’t express it more scientifically than that. He’s now a puppet—literally: she has a marionette—writing what she and her “mothers” want him to write. And when she’s interrupted by the landlady, she turns back to her crone form, kills the landlady, and flies off—again, literally, on the landlady’s broom, right across the face of a full moon.

DOCTOR: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
SHAKESPEARE: I might use that.

Martha says Shakespeare should know all about witches, since he wrote about them, but the Doctor shushes her. (Macbeth was written somewhere between 1603 and 1606.)

But Shakespeare says that their architect was obsessed with witches, and that makes the Doctor think about the shape of the Globe (fourteen sides) and the magic of the theatre.

But the architect is in Bedlam—and Martha doesn’t know what Bedlam is, which seems unlikely to me. (It’s now part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, so it’s not as though it burnt down.)

DOCTOR: Come on, we can flirt later.
SHAKESPEARE: Is that a promise, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Oh, fifty-seven academics just punched the air.

Back in the Globe, the actors work on the play, and conjure up what they think is a spirit, but which looks remarkably like the witches. They agree never to speak of such things again.

Martha is horrified by Bedlam, but Shakespeare says he went mad once, and the thought of places like this sent him sane again. The Doctor mentions the death of Shakespeare’s son, and he says it made him question the significance of life.

SHAKESPEARE: To be or not to be . . . Oh, that’s quite good.
DOCTOR: You should write that down.
SHAKESPEARE: Maybe not. Bit pretentious?

As the Doctor does his Gallifreyan mind-meld on the architect of the Globe, the witches realise that something is going on, and they see the significance of the Doctor for the first time.

The Doctor hypnotises the architect, telling him that he can recall the entire scenario of the building of The Globe as though it were a story, “a winter’s tale.”

Lilith sends Mother Doomfinger out to Bedlam to doom the Doctor, as Peter (the architect) describes the story in terms that are strongly reminiscent of Edgar as mad Tom in King Lear. Or so it seems to me, anyway.

But Mother Doomfinger turns up then, and kills the architect.

But the Doctor says that he has knowledge that no human has, and he names her: Carrionite. Apparently, they use words as a kind of science, rather than the mathematics that humans chose.

Mother Doomfinger is not dead: she’s simply been flipped back to the rest of her coven. Lilith promises to destroy the Doctor, but says her “mothers” have to get to the theatre for the performance.

The Doctor questions the performance, asking Shakespeare what the play is about.

SHAKESPEARE: The boys get the girl, they have a bit of a dance; it’s all as funny and thought-provoking as usual.

But he admits that he can’t remember writing the last few lines, and the Doctor realises that it’s a spell, with the theatre itself as an energy conductor.

Unfortunately, Shakespeare, trying to stop the performance, comes across as rather drunk, so when the witches make him collapse (with the voodoo doll from earlier), his actors assume he’s in a stupor, and drag him off the stage so that they can continue the play.

Meanwhile, as they search for the witches, Martha insists (just as Rose did in a similar episode) that the world can’t have ended in 1599, because she’s still here.

DOCTOR: It’s like Back to the Future.
MARTHA: The film?
DOCTOR: No the novelisation! Of course the film.

Oh, this episode is all about texts and variants.

Martha is knocked out through the power of her name, and the Doctor talks to the Carrionites. Lilith says that the Eternals found the right words to banish them into the darknes.

(NICK: The Eternals probably got bored with them very quickly.)

But they have a plan for taking over the world, as all villains do.

Lilith manages to take the Doctor out with a voodoo doll (or DNA-replication something or other: I forget the exact term), but, because he has two hearts, it’s not a success.

Still, it takes him a little while to get back on his feet, and Lilith gets to the theatre in time for the final words and the opening of the portal.

The next bit is mostly running and screaming—including the Doctor telling Shakespeare not to rub his sore head, or he’ll go bald.

But there’s no time for that, because the Carrionites are coming, streaming up out of the crystal that the three witches are holding.

And the Doctor tells Shakespeare to reverse it: he says that Shakespeare is the wordsmith, the one true genius, and he can use the power of The Globe to banish the Carrionites.

I make no comment whatsoever on the comparative quality of this speech, not even to mention the blending in of “Expelliarmis”—though I do think the combination of Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling is something that will either fascinate or make the blood boil.

And there goes the copy of the play, into the void.

Still, the play is a roaring success, since people are inclined to think it was all stagecraft, especially now the witches have been trapped in the crystal ball.

Back in the real world, Shakespeare is trying to cop a feel from Martha.

Then the Doctor wanders in wearing a ruff (he says it’s a neck brace) and carrying a skull, apparently from the props store.

Shakespeare has already worked out that the Doctor is an alien and Martha is from the future: he is a genius, after all!

He salutes Martha with a sonnet to his “Dark Lady,” and I know this annoyed some people. (Has he really known Martha long enough to write twenty-five sonnets to her over the next ten years? Really? Who can say?)

And then Queen Elizabeth turns up, declares the Doctor her sworn enemy, and tries to have him killed.

Martha and the Doctor dash back to the TARDIS—Martha asking how he knows Elizabeth I, and the Doctor saying he doesn’t know, but he looks forward to finding out—as arrows thud into the door.

And we’re off until next week!

(As a bonus, here are three candidates for the Dark Lady, which I prepared earlier: Emilia Lanier, Mary Fitton, and Elizabeth Wriothesley. Now don’t say you never learn anything on this blog!)

House of Night

Posted 5137 days ago in by Catriona

So (through which I “obliterate all previous discourse and narrative” and simultaneously call for immediate attention—thank you, Seamus Heaney) . . .

I may have mentioned once, or twice, or, perhaps, even three times, my current fascination with vampire boarding-school stories.

What I haven’t talked about in any detail, though, is P. C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series, only five books of which have so far been published.

Now, I’ll be honest: I didn’t take to these from the start.

Partly, it was that I was uncertain about a joint-written work, and suspected that the daughter part of the mother-and-daughter team had been largely brought in to make sure the language was idiomatically and authentically teenage.

Partly, it was that the authentically teenage language made me feel, in the early chapters, as though I were too old to be reading these books, which is (firstly) probably true, (secondly) an uncomfortable reading position, and (thirdly) irrelevant.

And partly it had nothing to do with the books at all, and everything to with circumstances. I’d taken the first volume down to Sydney with me along with the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Intruments trilogy, not being certain whether I’d like either. Then I thoroughly enjoyed the Clare, and when it ended on a cliffhanger, I become so annoyed that I hadn’t thought to bring the second volume that I rather resented the book I did have.

When I gave the series another chance a month or so later, I was surprised by how much I did enjoy it.

You know, it’s almost impossible to write about vampire fiction, without talking about the modifications that authors make to the archetype. That, it seems, is the nature of vampire fiction: one selects a vampire protagonist, and then one tweaks the archetype a little (so that, to pull an example off the top of my head, your vampires sparkle in direct sunlight), and that’s all anyone talks about.

But it’s particularly impossible not to talk about that with this case, and I’ll explain why.

All vampire boarding-school stories that I have read have some justification for why there’s an all-vamp school. (This is one disadvantage that they have over the traditional boarding-school stories, since it seems that secret vampire societies don’t have any policies in place about universal education.)

So in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (and none of what is a spoiler: it’s all on the back of the first volume), there are two distinct forms of vampires, the “mortal” Moroi and the “immortal” Strigoi [yes, I have ret-conned this bit of the post: see Tim’s comments below], as well as the half-vampire, half-human dhampirs who act as guardians for the Moroi. Since the Moroi are in constant danger from the stronger, immoral, and immortal Strigoi, Moroi society is basically a succession of gated communities, of which the school is only one.

In Claudia Gray’s Evernight series, the school exists so that those vampires who were turned young and have lived long lives can find a safe place to learn about changes in modern society—so a vampire turned in the Middle Ages and living in isolation for most of the years since might find themselves programming an iPod as their end-of-year assessment task.

In the House of Night series, it all comes down to the changes to the archetype of the vampire.

In this world, vampyrism is a biological change that takes place in some people during adolescence. The new fledgling is “marked”: the tattooed outline of a crescent moon appears on their foreheads. At that point, they have two choices: they can die, or they can go to one of the world’s many Houses of Nights, where the adult vampyres secrete an airborne pheromone that helps keep the fledglings’ bodies stable.

Over the next four years, roughly ten percent of the fledglings die anyway, as their body rejects the Change. If they Change successfully, the crescent moon tattoo is filled in and another tattoo—unique to each vampyre, circling the eyes and covering the cheekbones—appears on their face at the moment of the Change.

So vampyres in this world aren’t secret: they can’t be, with sapphire-blue tattoos covering their faces. And, as an adolescent is marked, they become an emancipated minor under the law, free to choose their own names and subject only to the High Priestess of the House of Night and to their professors.

Interesting, huh?

And note that term “High Priestess.” These vampyres are both spiritual and matriarchal. They worship the goddess Nyx, the personification of the night, and, while the worship does involve blood, it also involves candles, herbs, circles of power, and such like.

And this is where my interest is really piqued. Because the heroine of these books is Cherokee, through her mother. And the vampyre rituals (and the threats to vampyre society that emerge across the books) become tied up with Cherokee legend and ritual.

(I’m far from informed on Native American legends, but it seems to me that these books modify aspects of Cherokee mythology to further their own plotlines—not that, as the cliche goes, there’s anything wrong with that. I can’t be certain, but it looks as though this Wikipedia page on the central villain of later books is drawn exclusively from the fiction, though presenting itself as an actual Cherokee legend: I’m assuming that, if that’s the case, it’s poor writing or confusion, and not deliberate obfuscation. On the other hand, authoritative sources show that this fictional threat is rooted in actual Cherokee legend.)

But, for me, it’s the mere focus on the Cherokee heroine that fascinates me, the fact that the heroine strengthens her rituals for Nyx by blending them with Cherokee purification rituals, that her knowledge of herbs (from her Cherokee grandmother) blends into this new religion that she never knew she needed.

When, later in the series, she is thrown into an accidental alliance with a Benedictine nun, and we see, running alongside the spiritual vampyres and the Cherokee wise woman, the matriarchal branch of the Catholic Church (and its elevation of the Virgin Mary to a position of importance with which other branches of Christianity are often uncomfortable), then they fascinate me further.

Does the teen-centric prose still frustrate me at times? Oh, yes.

But I’ve not read teen fiction quite like this before, and never a vampire boarding-school story like this. If only I didn’t have to wait until October for the next installment, alas!

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Ninety-One

Posted 5138 days ago in by Catriona

ME: Nicholas, is it because of your Y chromosome . . .
NICK: Yes.
ME: Or is there some other reason why you’re incapable of shutting cupboard doors?
ME: “No” isn’t really an inappropriate response to that question.
NICK: Well, I already answered “Yes” to the first part.
ME: But you didn’t know that I was asking then.
NICK: It’s almost always about my Y chromosome.

Live-blogging Torchwood Season One: "Combat"

Posted 5138 days ago in by Catriona

Now, you all know the first rule about weevil fight club.

So that means I can’t actually live-blog this episode. Sorry about that! See you next week for “Captain Jack Harkness”!

. . .

. . .

. . .

Oh, all right, then.

And here we are with the opening monologue. Oooh, I should have said that Heather is guest-watching with us again: let’s see if she can keep it PG this time.

We open with Jack chasing a weevil: he has “anti-weevil spray” and handcuffs. He is so Batman—except that the weevil manages to get a good hit in, which would never happen with Batman.

Rhys and Gwen are having dinner together, and Rhys flips out about the fact that she’s just absent all the time. Oddly enough, at that point, a weevil runs past, followed by Jack, whose shirt is torn open.

He grabs Gwen to help him grab the weevil, and Rhys tells her to “sit the fuck down.” I’m actually with Gwen when she tells him never to speak to her like that, though I am actually fond of Rhys.

Jack tells her to keep hold of her life. (In other words, stop shagging Owen.)

The weevil runs into a carpark.

HEATHER: Torchwood: we love carparks.
ME: Well, they’re cheap to film in.
HEATHER: Maybe Cardiff is just made up of carparks.

In other news, the weevil is grabbed by a carload of men with cattle prods.

Back at Torchwood, Jack wonders how other people know about weevils, and Ianto points out that there’s a higher incident of weevil attacks turning up in A&E these days.

Owen is not there, and his answering-machine message is typical for the kind of prat he is: “Leave a message. If you must.”

Gwen leaves an apologetic message for Rhys, and he deletes it.

HEATHER: Oh, great—here’s Owen!

He’s in a pub, drinking himself into a stupor and being chatted up by a barmaid, whose bar manager is the biggest prat in the world. Barmaids are always friendly with their customers: that’s how they make money.

Owen beats up the bar manager.

HEATHER: Oh, he is such a [redacted].
ME: I can’t put that on the blog.
HEATHER: Oh, that’s fair enough. He’s just such a [redacted].

Tosh reminds Gwen that Owen and Diane had a “thing,” and Gwen says, yes, she knew that.

She totally didn’t.

Down in the vault, a weevil is weeping. Jack says Owen decided they might have a low level of telepathic ability, so someone, somewhere is not only kidnapping weevils, but also causing them pain.

The people in question are causing the CC-TV cameras to go down as they do whatever is is they do with the weevils, which Jack says just makes him all the more eager to find out what they were doing.

I really don’t think that Noel Clarke can write for Captain Jack, actually.

Tosh and Jack head out to a warehouse, where they find a man lying dead on the floor.

TOSH: Is he alive?
JACK: Hello?

Yes, that is a highly scientific method of determining whether or not someone is alive.

Actually, he’s dead. And he has a terrible ringtone. But the main thing is that the people who were involved in his death ring Jack on the dead man’s phone, and tell him to back off.

Ah, they don’t know our Jack.

Owen is ordered into the Hub, and he determines that the man was killed by a weevil, but that he took a beating first, probably at the hands of a human, since weevils go for the kill.

Gwen is sent out to tell the family about the man’s death. (He was married with a child.) Owen—well, it’s best not to try and describe how he’s behaving in this scene, because I can’t really do it without swearing.

Nick comes up with a new nickname for Owen, but it’s obscene.

GWEN: Ignore him.
OWEN: Yes, just ignore me, Tosh. I can be such a wanker, apparently.
HEATHER: “Apparently”?

They send Owen into the weevil-kidnapping network undercover, because they already know about Jack and Tosh (at a minimum).

Owen is keen for the work, because he would think it would be fun to be someone else for a time.

NICK: Try being Mr Guppy! He was great.

I’m so proud of Nick for making a Charles Dickens reference.

He pretends to be an importer of jellied eels—or some kind of preserved eels, anyway—looking for warehouses on the docks; he bugs the offices of the real-estate agency that has on its books the warehouse where the dead man was found.

Wow, that back story they built for Owen is complicated—and where did they get all the people in white coats for the video? No, never mind.

HEATHER: Owen speaks wankenese.
Nick: Yes! Fluently!
HEATHER: That’s why he got the job: his fluent wankenese.

Gwen finally makes it home, and Rhys is dressed in his “pulling top”—that’s what he’s called it, ever since Gwen told him he looked sexy in it—and he’s off out to a stag night. (Well, a fake stage night, but it still involves a strip club.)

Gwen says she’s in tonight, but Rhys says he’s not, and he’s off out. Frankly, I’m on Rhys’s side in this one. Gwen is quite horrible to him.

Meanwhile, Jack and Ianto are interrogating the latest weevil victim to be admitted to A&E, and they’re not being overly gentle with him. But he says he can’t talk: they’d kill him. Jack asks who would kill him, and he says “everyone.”

So they release a weevil in the middle of Cardiff, with a tracking device in its boiler suit.

HEATHER: Yeah, see, I’ve always wondered about that. Do weevils have their own boilers suits, or do they need to be provided for them?
NICK: Yes. Yes!
HEATHER: Because when they captured that one in the first episode, he already had a boiler suit.
NICK: Maybe they’re genetically engineered to grow boiler suits.
HEATHER: Maybe they had a slogan: free boiler suit with every weevil.

Meanwhile, Owen is back in the same night club where he had the fight in the beginning, but this time he is seriously attempting to kill the bar manager.

Elsewhere, Tosh and Jack track the weevil, which is kidnapped. Tosh is furious: she says that they would never treat a human like that, but, apparently, weevils are free game.

Owen has headed back to the real-estate agent’s house, because the real-estate agent was impressed with Owen’s bar-manager beating skills.

Heather is quite insistent that the rest of this episode could be evaded if these two just had a shag. Try rewatching that scene between the two of them in view of that sentiment. It’s a lot funnier, if you watch it that way.

Back at Gwen’s place, she’s admitting her affair to Rhys, and then telling him that she’s ret-conned him. She wants to admit what she’s been doing and get his forgiveness, and then have him forget everything.

I’m even more on Rhys’s side than ever.

And, frankly, I’m quite pleased that Rhys falls asleep before he can do as Gwen is begging him to do, and forgive her.

We have a scintillating hypothetical conversation about whether it’s better to admit an affair or to pretend it never happened. Our conclusions are not relevant to the discussion.

In an upstairs room in real-estate boy’s house, we have a weevil chained to the wall, bloody and unhappy, and what looks like an entire S&M room. Apparently, this real-estate agent, who is a bigger prat than Owen, keeps the poor bugger around so he can punch it stupid.

He says we all need a punching bag, so I suppose we—though not the weevil—should be grateful he’s not married.

Real-estate boy knows that Owen is attached to Jack and Tosh, though he doesn’t know who those two are. And he challenges Owen to find out the truth about what’s going on, provided that Owen disarms himself.

HEATHER: Fine, I’ll just take my penis and leave it here.

Gwen turns up in the Hub with pizza, but no one is there, either. So much for balancing life and work, eh?

The rest of Torchwood are still tracking the weevil, but they find, instead, part of a boiler suit in a parking lot. So they’re stymied.

And Owen and real-estate boy sit in a parked car and watch a series of bored, entitled, self-involved, white-collar men trail into an abandoned building, though we don’t know what their intentions are, just yet.

Gwen sits and cries into her pizza. Aw, I feel so sorry for her when she cries. I know (and Heather has just reminded me) that that’s what she wants me to feel, but I can’t help it. She’s so cute.

But as she sits there, she hears a phone go off. She thinks it’s hers, but it’s not—it’s the corpse’s.

HEATHER: So, they managed to delete all his phone records, but they forgot to take him off the text list?

Sure enough, they did. So he’s been sent the address for the latest meeting. She tells Jack, and he tells her they’ll pick her up on the way.

Back at fight-club headquarters, real-estate boy explains that it’s all about reclaiming certainty in an uncertain world.

REAL-ESTATE BOY: All the certainties our fathers knew are gone.
ME: You entitled, white-collar, middle-class, public-school dickhead!

So, here we are at weevil fight club. Real-estate boy explains that it’s all about too much disposable income and not enough meaning.

Basically, you pay a grand to go into the cage with a weevil, and whoever lasts the longest is the winner.

I seriously, seriously, seriously hate everyone in this episode. Every single one. Except Rhys. Well, maybe him, too—in the beginning.

Real-estate boy demands that Owen gets into the cage (NICK: Is that a euphemism?), and pulls a gun out. (Which really just reinforces the euphemism aspect.)

Owen isn’t keen on doing this under duress, but he is keen on heading into the cage.

NICK: This episode defies description!

Well, thank you for telling me that towards the end of my live-blogging experience, honey.

Anyway, Owen is in the cage, looking a weevil in the eye and grinning—and I really have no vested interest in recapping this section of the episode.

NICK: It’s all chin acting in this episode!
HEATHER: I can . . . make it . . . come out of my face more!

Owen is quite horribly mauled, just as the Torchwood staff come haring in, complete with guns, and drag him out of the cage. But as Jack tells them that it’s all over, and the weevils have to be released, real-estate boy heads into the cage, and allows himself to be torn to shreds by a weevil while Jack watches.

Owen, in hospital, attacks Jack for “blundering in” while he was busy being “at peace with the world” in the cage with a weevil. He asks Jack whether Jack always knows best.

Jack simply orders Owen to head back to work.

But when Owen does, he gets Ianto to let him in to the room where the weevils are being kept.

NICK: I want a moment alone with my weevil.
HEATHER: Clarice . . .

And Owen shows his dominance over all weevil kind. Or something like that.

Next week: “Captain Jack Harkness.” Whatever you do, do not miss that one. When I say it’s sublime, I’m not lying. Though I may be mad. Who can say?

Post-House Inspection Strange Conversation

Posted 5139 days ago in by Catriona

NICK: Oh well, panic stations over.
ME: I wasn’t panicking! The house is shiny.
NICK: No! I mean in a metaphorical sense. We can stand down from alert.
ME: Metaphorical panicking? Is that a metaphorical alert, too?
NICK: Yes. Alert but not alarmed, anyway.
ME: And does this mean you’re going to start leaving crap everywhere again?
NICK: Um, I’ll try.
ME: Yes—you seem to have misinterpreted my last point, there.

The Varied Career of Cherry Ames, [Insert Word Here] Nurse

Posted 5139 days ago in by Catriona

According to Wikipedia, font of knowledge that it is, the Cherry Ames books were published between 1943 and 1968, written first by Helen Wells (also the creator of the Vicki Barr mystery series) and then (as Julie Tatham) by Julie Tatham Campbell (creator of the Trixie Belden series).

(And, while I’m here and being profligate with my own parentheses, may I ask the people who write Wikipedia to stop putting brackets in their URLs? It’s frustrating and makes it almost impossible to actually link to the site without going via Thank you kindly.)

Wikipedia also tells me that the series has a propagandist purpose, in that it aimed to get young girls to aid the war effort by becoming nurses.

Which explains this cover, from a 1945 addition to the series:

What it doesn’t explain is why Cherry, dedicated nurse that she is, seems more fascinated by the plane in the background than she does by the injured GI in the foreground.

But that’s all right, because her fascination with GIs is revived in time for the frontispiece:

(That image makes me more thankful than ever before—and that’s pretty thankful—that I never served in the U. S. Air Force during World War II.)

By the much later Cherry Ames, Jungle Nurse (1965), Cherry has essentially rejected an interest in actual nursing, in favour of the less profitable but more engaging pastime of eavesdropping:

The caption for this image reads “From inside the tent came the murmur of voices,” which is evidence enough the attraction of serial fiction often lies outside the actual plot.

Then there’s Cherry Ames, Rest Home Nurse (1954):

The caption for this one reads “Mr. Stanley wheeled to face her, a guilty expression on his face.”

Why? It’s almost impossible to tell what he’s doing from the picture, except that it seems to involve a door and a chair. Perhaps he’s been caught trying to make a break for it? Or perhaps she found him jamming a chair under his door handle, so the rest-home nurses can’t come into his room when he’s sleeping, steal his possessions, and draw a moustache on his face with a texta?

I think I prefer the latter explanation, myself.

And what do you suppose Cherry’s hand gesture is supposed to express?

Still, it’s more exciting than Cherry Ames, Night Supervisor (1950):

The caption for this one is “She hardly dared to unfold it and read the typewritten words.”

No wonder Cherry ended up in the jungle and then—luckily for her—had that affair with Nancy Drew, if opening an envelope is the highest excitement possible in the high-tension world of night supervision.

Pre-House Inspection Strange Conversation

Posted 5140 days ago in by Catriona

This conversation brought to you by the fact that I tripped over a mop while trying to avoid an inconveniently placed chair, which led to the following conversation taking on a slightly icy tone:

ME: Nick, listen to my words. Dust the chair and then put it away, before you use the dustpan and broom. Then we won’t have problems like this . . . (expressive gesture taking in chair and mop).
NICK: Well, I had actually already dusted that chair, before you asked me.
ME (deep breath): Well, then, when I asked you to dust and move the chair, the correct response is “Actually, I already did that.”
NICK: I see.
ME: What with me having sworn never to use my telepathy for personal gain.
NICK: That was very noble of you, Treena.
ME: It’s harder some days than others.

Macro Fun

Posted 5140 days ago in by Catriona

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Three: "Smith and Jones"

Posted 5142 days ago in by Catriona

I have to start this live-blogging by pointing out the following indisputably true fact: 35.4 degrees is a ridiculous temperature for the end of August.

Seriously, Brisbane? You need to stop with the insanity right now. Right now, I’m telling you, young man! (Young lady? Who can say?) Either way, stop it right now.

Frankly, it still feels stupidly hot now, but I think that’s just my house retaining the day’s heat.

It’s not helping my ambition to spring clean the house before my house inspection this Thursday. (Oh, it was clean before. I just thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. But in this weather? No, thanks.)

None of that is relevant, of course, but c’est la vie. Or c’est la live-blogging. (My French? Impeccable!)

And, apparently, we’re just sailing straight into the opening credits this week: no teaser. Well, that caught me wrong-footed.

We open with pedestrians on a London street. Martha (spoiler! Oh, wait: her sister just gave her a name) gets a phone call from her sister, complaining about her parents’ behaviour; then her brother, complaining about her parents’ behaviour; then her mother, complaining about her father’s behaviour; then her father, complaining about her mother’s behaviour—and it all comes down, apparently, to her father having run off with a much younger woman.

Then the Doctor turns up and takes his tie off, then walks off.

NICK: Well, that’s your life screwed, Martha.

As Martha walks into the hospital, a man in motorcycle leathers and a helmet walks into her, and walks off without apologising.

Martha is doing rounds in the company of a particularly smug consultant, when she sees two men in motorcycle leathers and helmets.

But that’s not important right now, because the next patient is the Doctor. Martha chastises him for running round outside, but he says it wasn’t him: and, no, he doesn’t have a brother.

Martha notices that the Doctor has two hearts, and he winks at her.

But the consultant gets a static shock off the patient’s chart, and his trainee doctors note the same thing has been happening to them all day.

He starts talking about Benjamin Franklin, and the Doctor interrupts, saying he got rope burns first and then he got soaked—“and then,” he says delightedly, “I got electrocuted!”

Martha, chatting to her sister on the phone, becomes aware that the hospital is at the centre of a highly localised storm cloud, and that the rain is, against all odds, falling upwards.

The hospital and its staff are shaken all over the place, but when they settle and are able to stand again, they see they’re on the moon.

There’s a beautiful CGI shot of the hospital, standing alone in the middle of a vast crater, then a lovely shot of the staff and patients staring wonderingly out of the window for a slow, silent moment—before completely and utterly freaking out.

The only one who is not freaking out is the woman whom Martha was looking at in the beginning of the episode, the one who has a salt deficiency from eating too many salads.

Martha tries to open a window, but her colleague freaks out, saying all the air will be sucked out. But Martha says no: the windows aren’t air-tight, so it should all have been sucked out already.

The Doctor, back in his suit, pops out from behind a curtain to tell her that’s brilliant, and is there a balcony nearby? She says yes: in the patient’s lounge. And he asks if she’d like to go outside.

They do, and Martha breaks a little, thinking of her brother’s birthday party. But she pulls herself together quickly, and says she wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The Doctor says they’re standing in the earthlight.

Martha says, in response to the Doctor’s question, that it must be aliens: she mentions the spaceships flying into Big Ben, and Christmas Day, and the Battle of Canary Wharf. She says she had a cousin who worked at Canary Wharf, and who never came home.

After a little banter about his name, the Doctor points out that there’s a forcefield, which means that this air is all the air they have. Once this is used up, the thousand or so people in the hospital will suffocate.

Martha wonders who would do that and, right on cue, here comes some space ships. Quite the CGI budget for this episode, isn’t there?

The Doctor points out that the aliens are the Judoon, but he doesn’t elaborate on who they are.

As they march towards the hospital, the consultant from before is confronted by the salad-eating, salt-deficient woman from earlier in the episode.

She explains that she was only salt deficient because she’s so very good at absorbing it, so she needs blood. She has the two leather-clad men from earlier restrain him, while she explains that his blood is exceptionally good because of all the fatty foods and good wines and Michelin-star sauces.

Then she pulls out a straw she prepared earlier, which is beyond creepy.

The Judoon, meanwhile, turn out to be heavily armed space rhinoceroses. No, seriously.

Of course, they manage to assimilate Earth English from one brief recording of a medical student begging for his life, which is pretty advanced technology.

The Judoon, the Doctor explains while he and Martha are hiding above the lobby (with the Doctor rhapsodising about the little shop), are interplanetary thugs—sort of like police for hire—who have scooped the hospital off Earth in the search for someone non-human.

They have no jurisdiction over Earth, he says: Nick thinks it’s stretching the point to steal an entire hospital, but I suggested that they might want to grab the hospital, find the alien, and return the hospital before anyone notices, what with the Earth not being fully networked.

I’ve missed a lot of material here about the Judoon wiping the hospital records and the Doctor not being human and why he checked into the hospital in the first place when he does, after all, have two hearts, but then Martha walks in on the salad-eating woman drinking the consultant’s blood, which seems to answer any questions about the non-human that the Judoon are seeking.

He and Martha flee (he grabs her hand and says, “Run!”, which is really just the first instance of Martha being played as, essentially, a poor-man’s Rose, which always annoyed me. It didn’t seem fair to her, somehow).

Also, the Doctor is expelling radiation through his shoe while I’m typing this.

The sonic screwdriver has been ruined in the process of killing one of the slabs—the leather-clad men—with the radiation.

But the Doctor has realised that the salad-eating woman is assimilating the consultant’s blood, not eating it.

NICK: That’s a pretty fine distinction there, Doctor.

But he argues that she can mimic the biology, and pass as human. The risks with this are two-fold: the Doctor is non-human, which makes him vulnerable to the Judoon, and, in addition, if the Judoon can’t find their target, they’ll find the entire hospital guilty of harbouring a fugitive and execute them all.

At this point, they’re ambushed by the Judoon, and run again.

This is almost old-school Doctor Who, with all the running.

Why don’t the Doctor and Martha just find a thick black texta and draw an X on their own hands? Then they’d look like they’d already been scanned.

The Judoon are coming, and the Doctor needs a diversion. So he snogs Martha, saying it means absolutely nothing.

Martha, a bit stunned, says, “That was nothing?”

But the Doctor is off. He’s found the plasmavore (previously known as the salad-eating woman) in the MRI room, and starts ranting about how he’d recommend this hospital to anyone, but then there were rhinos and they are on the moon, until she orders her slab to grab him.

He’s acting oddly human, isn’t he? Is that significant, I wonder?

Martha scans as human with non-human traces, and the Judoon grab her for a full scan.

The Doctor, meanwhile, listens to the plasmavore explaining that she’s going to nuke the hospital, the Judoon, and the side of the Earth facing the moon, so that she can escape in the Judoon ships.

He tells the plasmavore that the Judoon are increasing their scans up to level two, and she says she’ll need to assimilate again: she drinks the Doctor’s blood.

Just as his body drops, the Judoon break in to the MRI chamber. They try to declare the case closed, but Martha, running behind them, grabs a scanner and flashs it at her face—and, of course, she comes up as non-human.

She’s executed, but what she has already done to the MRI machines is already in place: they’re going to explode, and the Judoon prefer withdrawing to actually helping people.

They march past the inhabitants of the hospital, all of whom are weakened by lack of air.

Martha performs CPR on the Doctor, but I wouldn’t have thought that would be terribly effective when the cause of death is blood loss.

Then again, I’m not that kind of doctor. And, as Nick points out, it doesn’t look like she drained all his blood.

Either way, he wakes up in time to try and do something about the MRI machine, though he’s hampered by his lack of a sonic screwdriver. (His laser spanner would be good, here, but it was stolen by Amelia Earhart, cheeky woman.)

Still, he succeeds: he’s the Doctor.

And he carries the unconscious Martha through the halls of the hospital to the window, where he watches the Judoon ships take off and begs them to reverse what they did.

When it starts raining on the moon, he grins.

As Martha is greeted by an over-excited younger sister, we hear the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising.

Cut to Martha (ooh, reference to Mr Saxon, was it?) getting ready for her brother’s 21st birthday party—which collapses into a screaming domestic in the street, as the father’s girlfriend marches out, followed by various shouting members of the family.

But Martha’s not too bothered, because she’s just caught sight of the Doctor.

And, sure enough, he’s hanging around outside the TARDIS, trying to look debonair.

MARTHA: What species are you? It’s not every day I get to ask that.
THE DOCTOR: I’m a Time Lord.
MARTHA: So, not pompous at all then.

He asks Martha to go with him, but she’s caught up in the responsibilities of her linear life. And so he tells her that the TARDIS is a time machine, too—and proves it by flipping back and taking his tie off in front of her as she’s on her way to work.

She asks quite sensibly why he didn’t warn her not to go into work.

THE DOCTOR: Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden—except for cheap tricks.
NICK: That explains so much about the Doctor.

Cue the blustering about the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than the outside.

Now, Martha: you couldn’t tell there were some issues here right from the start? With the blustering about Rose and the “We were together,” and the insistence that it’s only one trip?

Nevertheless, she gets in the TARDIS, and off they go—after the Doctor releases the handbrake.

Well, she’ll find out soon, when he starts taking her to the same places that he took Rose.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Ninety

Posted 5142 days ago in by Catriona

ANNOYING WOMAN IN COMMERCIAL: That’s why I trust to the strength of Advil.
ME: I trust to the tenderness of Advil.
NICK: And I trust to the wisdom of Advil.
ME: Yeah.

(On that note, I’m trusting advertisements are shifting away from the horrors of Max Walker’s blood diamonds and back to something funnier: the fact that we were in hysterics over the new Flora Pro-Active advertisement earlier this evening gives me hope.)

Live-blogging Torchwood Season One: "Out Of Time"

Posted 5145 days ago in by Catriona

I’ve come into this just in time to see the ABC using Barack Obama as the authority on the quality of The Wire.

I understand The Wire is great, but that only gives me the impression that President Obama is . . . actually, what’s the opposite of an early adopter?

It’s a late adopter, isn’t it?

I really should have thought this through more, shouldn’t I?

Wow, Keeley Hawes’s hair is terrible in Ashes to Ashes, isn’t it?

Circulating Library: where we discuss the big issues.

But now with the Torchwood of it, as we watch, from over the shoulders of the Torchwood team, as a bi-plane comes in to land. The pilot is a lovely, dark-haired woman, who apologises for the “unplanned landing.” Behind her are a young woman in co-ordinated ashes-of-roses clothing and a man in a trenchcoat and hat.

The outfits makes sense as Jack, flanked by Owen and Gwen, pushes the pilot, Diana, to tell him when they took off, and she says “1953.”

The three people—Diane, Emma Louise, and John—introduce themselves to the Torchwood staff, after Jack takes them back to the Hub. The passengers think that it’s a trick, but Tosh shows them footage of the millennium celebrations, changes in technology, and the development of Cardiff over the past fifty years.

The Torchwood staff take the passengers through the lives—and, in most cases, the deaths—of their various family members.

Emma Louise’s parents are dead: Gwen’s cheery “Your mam lived to be eighty-three” probably doesn’t help much. John wants to know about his son, but the records from the 1950s are incomplete. And Diane says she never had a regular boyfriend: she never stayed in one place long enough.

The three are taken to a halfway house. Gwen bonds with Emma, who was going to stay with her aunt, to care for the children while her aunt is ill. It’s good practice, she says, for when she has children of her own.

Jack bonds with John—which is strangely narcissistic, when you phrase it that way.

The problem is that they can’t be returned to their own time: as Nick points out, not even the Doctor could fix that.

Jack sets them up with fake identities, but John rejects the idea that they should abandon their own names, that it’s the only thing they have left. (Shades of The Crucible, there.)

Ianto takes them out to give them some sense of modern developments and the currency, but they’re all just fascinated by bananas.

IANTO: Of course, bananas are much more interesting.

Well, in 1953, they have just come off rationing.

While John is staring at a scantily clad children’s presenter on the cover of a magazine, Nick comes out with the worst spoiler he could have managed. I shall not repeat it here.

John seems to be struggling with this more than anyone else. He says he’s going to check out the stadium, but he’s looking for traces of his own past. Emma and Diane, meanwhile, are respectively worrying about how they’re going to find either a husband or a career in aviation.

Diane heads back to her plane, where she comes across Owen—poor love.

DIANE: Terrible wind over the [geographical location I have forgotten. Some sort of ocean].
OWEN: Something you ate?

I choke, and Nick points out that, apparently, this is Owen being charming. I choke again.

Meanwhile, John and Jack are bonding over an early F.A. Cup Final (I could find out, but I’m betting it’s 1952: something to do with the late, great Sir Stanley Matthews), one of the earliest—perhaps the earliest—to be aired on television.

Emma is struggling with the two young girls with whom she’s living. Nick wonders if it’s really a good idea to put this refugee from the 1950s in with these two very modern young women.

But they seem to bond relatively well—unlike John, who has been chastised for lighting up in a pub.

And Owen and Diane are out to dinner. Owen is such a revolting man: “Let me get this straight,” he says. “You expect equality and chivalry?”

Owen, I have some advice for you, but I can’t write it on the blog because of my firm “no swearing” policy. (For the record, I really don’t want people to pull out my chair. But that’s no reason for Owen to be revolting.)

Back at the halfway house, Emma is off her nut (having been sharing drinks with the other two girls) and is viciously chastised by John, as he returns home from the pub.

Diane and Owen flirt.

John has called Gwen, to help him with the process of chastising her for having half a glass of alcohol. John really is over-bearing in this scene (and I won’t eat liver, either), but Nick says they deserve kudos for the warts and all portrayal of the 1950s’ pater familias.

Diane mocks Owen for his vast quantity of beauty products. They’re quite obviously going to sleep together.

Oh, there we go.

Meanwhile, Gwen has taken Emma home with her.

Sorry, I got bored with some of the pillow talk between Owen and Diane, just then. (Though, when Diane says, “When you take off together? It’s the next best thing to flying,” Nick can’t stop himself saying, “That explains so much about Top Gun.”)

And then Emma sees Rhys naked. Poor girl. Rhys can’t cope with Emma’s conservatism.

GWEN: Emma’s parents are a bit religious.
RHYS: I see. Well, best not tell them you saw my morning glory, then.

Meanwhile, they’ve found John’s son: he’s a childless widower, suffering from Alzheimer’s, living in a nursing home. John’s trying to show Alan, his son, pictures of them fifty years earlier, but Alan is not in a lucid moment.

Alan does remember who won the F.A. Cup when he was a child, and John—poor, desperate John—thinks this is a sign of returning lucidity. But it’s not, of course, and John is crushed.

Owen tries to get Diane up in an airplane again, but they’re booked solid.

And Gwen takes Emma to a nightclub, but she’s rather paralysed by the situation. And Gwen really should be paying more attention, instead of snogging Rhys, because Emma is not fit to be out in a modern nightclub on her own.

So when Gwen finds her in a back room with a cute boy, Gwen shows her some modern magazine, to explain to her that people are more sexually aware these days than they used to be.

This scene with Gwen and Emma is so gorgeous: Eve Myles is so adorable in this scene, as she tries to explain to Emma that sex between consenting adults is fine, but that Emma shouldn’t do it—not that there’s anything wrong with Gwen having slept with a number of men.

Diane is freaking out about being unable to fly, and I should sympathise with her, but I just find her annoying. Aren’t I unsympathetic?

Emma, meanwhile, has found a job, which Gwen thinks is fabulous—except that the job is in London, and Gwen isn’t comfortable with the idea of Emma going to London.

John, who we haven’t seen for a while, has a plan: to get a job and a driver’s license—though as Jack turns his back, John nicks some car keys, and lies to Ianto about looking for a bus timetable.

Owen, in a suit, takes Diane, in the lovely new dress he bought her, to a mystery location.

But Gwen, coming home happy with Emma, finds a cranky Rhys, who has spoken to Gwen’s mother and found out that Emma is not a relative. Rhys is furious about how easy it is for Gwen to lie to him, but Nick thinks Rhys should have noticed earlier, since it’s hardly a new thing.

Emma explains that Gwen should let her go, since she’s just causing more tension between Gwen’s two lives: Torchwood, and everything else.

Diane and Owen banter. I feel quite ill.

They also dance, so at least I can catch my breath.

Then they have sex, and I think I might check Facebook, to see if anything interesting has happened while I’ve been blogging.

And then Ianto rings Jack—to say his car keys are missing, that John was behind the counter earlier, and that he can’t raise him on the phone.

Jack, tracing the car, sees that John has “gone home”—which is to say, his old house before he disappeared.

But it turns out that “gone home” is also a euphemism: Jack finds John suffocating himself in the car in his old garage. Jack tells John that he’s lost, too—he was born in the future, lived in the past, and also doesn’t know where he belongs. He tells John that he—John—is still young: he can find a job, make friends, marry and have children. But John says he did all that: when he was supposed to, in the past.

Back to Owen and Diane. I’m bored.

Nick reminds me that I didn’t have any sympathy for this sub-plot last time. But I think it has to do with Owen: Owen is such a tart that there’s no reason to think he feels anything in particular for this woman. And Diane herself is a fairly thin character.

John and Jack talk about how John can hang on—as Jack has been hanging on for too long. But John says he’ll just wait until Jack’s back is turned, and then make sure he does it properly.

Oh, Owen is in love, is he?

OWEN: How have you done this to me?
ME: Oh, because it’s always the bloody woman’s fault isn’t it, Owen?
DIANE: I love you, too.
ME: Hmm, maybe they are a good match.

John and Jack sit in Ianto’s car and commit suicide together. Ave atque vale, John.

Diane tells the sleeping Owen that the problem with love is that you’re always at its mercy.

Gwen sees Emma off to London.

Owen wakes up alone, and tracks Diane down to the airfield.

OWEN: This is madness.
DIANE: If I’d listened to everyone who said that, I’d never have broken any records.
NICK: You’re supposed to say, “This is Sparta!”

Diane wants to head back through a rift, as she did when she arrived. Owen says she can’t go home, but she says then it will take her somewhere new.

Nick is distracted by how cute Eve Myles is in a beret.

Owen wants to go with Diane, but she says she flies solo. I really have no idea about the motivation of these two characters. Sadly, they feel like characters, like scripted players, and not like actual people. Because this makes no sense to me.

Either way, Diane takes off.

And we flash back on the interactions of the Torchwood staff with their charges as Diane taxis down the runway, takes off—and disappears? Or does the episode just end?

It’s ambiguous.

Ah, next week: well, you all know the first rule about weevil fight club.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Eighty-Nine

Posted 5146 days ago in by Catriona

The advantage to having the first mobile phone I’ve ever owned in my life is that I can now have strange conversations via SMS:

ME: And not the phone is playing up intermittently. Why? Why? (It has, a couple of times today, stopped making keyboard noises when I type and also run reeeeeally slowly.)
NICK: Hum. That’s odd. Could be a sign it needs a cold reboot.
ME: I don’t know what that means. Also, I just dropped it on the table, and now it’s working better.
NICK: Just hold down the power button until you see the red slider, then slide that. Wait a bit then restart by firmly pressing power button.
ME: You mean turn it off and on again?
NICK: Basically yeah.
ME: Well, why not say that?
NICK: Well I thought I had!


Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Eighty-Eight

Posted 5147 days ago in by Catriona

Having recommended Charlaine Harris to a friend:

NICK: Of course you did.
ME: What? I like Eric!
NICK: I know you do. It’s rather endearing.
ME: What, my habit of falling desperately in love with fictional characters when I actually already have a boyfriend?
NICK: Yeah. I like it. It takes the pressure off.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Eighty-Seven

Posted 5147 days ago in by Catriona

The dangers of IM:

ME: Freaking out a little.
NICK: Hey on the phome.
Sorry. What are you freaking out about?
ME: Phome?
NICK: Phoe.
ME: Phoe?
NICK: Phone.
Bloody new keybaord.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Eighty-Six

Posted 5148 days ago in by Catriona

Whinging about the administrative details that have piled up a little this week:

ME: They’re like an Ancient Mariner around my neck!
(Note: I know. I know. It’s ripped off from Sue Townsend.)
NICK: Of course, you have to take the rime off before you can eat an Ancient Mariner.
ME: Did you make that up yourself?
NICK: Yep!
ME: That’s quite clever.
NICK: Thanks.



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