by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Three

Posted 2734 days ago in by Catriona

Discussing the Sci-Fi Channel (or, apparently, “SyFy”) rebooting of The Phantom:

ME: Worse than the Billy Zane version?
NICK: Well, I didn’t have the sound on when I watched it, but it makes the Billy Zane version look like Citizen Kane.
ME: I often wonder why people say that. Because if the Billy Zane version of The Phantom had been like Citizen Kane, it would have widely missed its mark and its demographic.
NICK: Fine. It makes the Billy Zane version look like the original Superman movie.
(Pause)
NICK: Which is widely considered to be a benchmark film.
ME: Why can’t you just say that it makes the Billy Zane version look good?
NICK: That’s not suitably hyperbolic.

UPDATE: Here, watch it for yourself. And if you don’t spend half of it saying, “No! That’s . . . No!”, I’ll be surprised.

Dusty Sunset

Posted 2736 days ago in by Catriona

I took these on Sunday night, as the dust from the second dust storm was settling in the air.

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Three: "The Lazarus Experiment"

Posted 2736 days ago in by Catriona

I can’t think of anything clever to write at the beginning of this live-blogging post—except that I’m listening to the strangest mash-up of “Hit from the Bong” and “Sex on Fire,” which is rather ingenious. (I wish I could remember who these the people were, because this is working strangely well.)

Dear lord, I’m tired. Do I say that every Monday? It’s always true.

When they say that for some stars, being famous is incredibly difficult, I don’t think of Mickey Rourke. I tend to think of Leonard Nimoy. And that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about me.

(That was relevant in context, you know.)

And here’s the TARDIS landing—a perfect landing, the Doctor says. And Martha asks where they are: the Doctor says “the end of the line.” And, of course, they’re in Martha’s living room, the morning after they left. She’s been gone for four episodes and twelve hours.

Just then, Martha’s mother rings to say that Tish, Martha’s sister, is on the news, standing behind an artificially aged Mark Gatiss. And, though the Doctor has been all edgy, planning to leg it as soon as possible, he looks curiously interested in the news bulletin.

Of course, he still gets back into the TARDIS and dematerialises, leaving Martha looking heartbroken.

But then he’s back, popping out and saying, “No, I’m sorry. Did he [Gatiss] say he was going to change what it means to be human?”

Yes. Yes, he did.

Credits.

Actually, how did the Doctor manage to bring the TARDIS back to exactly the same point in time and space? He couldn’t normally control it that accurately.

Oh, Saxon reference. Drink! (Don’t mind if I do.)

Gatiss (the Professor) and his wife are talking about the billions of pounds of investment they have riding on this new project for Lazarus Laboratories, as Tish comes in with some documents. The Professor sniffs her, which Tish doesn’t care for. Can’t say I blame her.

Now Martha (in a fancy frock) and the Doctor (in a tuxedo, complaining that every time he wears black tie, something bad happens) head to the laboratories, and chat to Tish. The Doctor asks Tish what the machine is, saying it looks like a “sonic microfilter,” before Tish categorises him as “a science geek”—the Doctor doesn’t know what that means—and wanders off.

Ooh, I didn’t know Martha was tattooed. Edgy.

Martha introduces the Doctor to her mother, and the Doctor rather awkwardly manages to convey an entirely unfortunate impression of his relationship with Martha—well, unfortunate if you’re meeting her mother for the first time.

Then Professor Lazarus (subtle naming, hey?) spouts some bombastic technobabble, and steps into the sonic microfilter—which promptly overloads. Of course, the Doctor leaps onto the controls, and eventually pulls the power cord out. I don’t know why that isn’t always the first thing they try.

But when the machine stops spinning and Professor Lazarus steps out, he’s no longer five-hundred years old (well, seventy-six years old), but some thirty or forty years younger than that.

Oh, now: I’m sure I’ve seen Gob do that trick—sorry, illusion—on Arrested Development.

But when Martha asks if it’s a trick, the Doctor says no.

Lazarus’s wife wanders over to him, praising him for making them all wealthy. But he seems uninterested in her, and, also, extremely hungry.

Lazarus dismisses the Doctor’s knowledge of the theory of the science behind the experiment—telling him that what went wrong was a “simple engineering problem”—but since we’ve seen him doing an odd twitch-and-crunch spasm while chatting to his wife, I don’t think we’ll take Lazarus’s word for it, shall we?

Though, as Nick points out when the Doctor is spouting off about this being all about Lazarus and his customers living a little longer, the Doctor is one to talk, since he’s at least a thousand years old by this point (though I believe he’s currently lying and claiming to be seven hundred).

Lazarus and his wife, upstairs, reminisce about the war, and the destruction of his childhood home in the bombing. He used to shelter in the crypt of the cathedral, the living cowering with the dead. His wife says it’s fine: they’ll establish their own empire, and rule together. But he snorts, and forces her to face the window, telling her to look at herself.

Meanwhile, Martha and the Doctor notice that Lazarus’s DNA is constantly changing, rather than settling into the rejuvenated form.

Lazarus’s wife is ranting about how her money made it all possible, and they planned to rejuvenate together, but Lazarus says he’d never waste another lifetime on her—before he starts the twitching-and-crunching spasm we saw downstairs.

Only this time he emerges as some kind of scorpion creature. Odd, that.

Downstairs, Martha’s family are divided on the subject of Martha, before Lazarus reemerges and heads straight for Tish.

The Doctor ad Martha are upstairs, but, just as they decide they need to head back downstairs to find Lazarus at the reception, they see the desiccated corpse of his wife. Martha wonders if this means the change is complete, but the Doctor says that it may require much more energy.

Back downstairs, they hear that Lazarus has wandered off with Tish, and they dash off to find them, the Doctor knocking a glass of champagne over Martha’s mother as he goes. Well, that won’t help his case. As Martha’s mother mops the wine off her dress, a mysterious man wanders over and tells her that perhaps her daughter should choose her friends more carefully.

The Doctor confronts Lazarus on the roof, and there’s a brief exchange of Eliot quotations, while Martha tries to convince Tish to move away from Lazarus. It helps that, as Tish is complaining, Lazarus is transforming behind her.

NICK: That is terrible CGI.

I wholeheartedly concur.

MARTHA: Are you all right?
TISH: I was going to snog him.

Hmm. Can’t say giant, skeletal, vaguely humanoid scorpions are my type, but to each their own, I suppose. How else are new, monstrous meta-humans supposed to reproduce?

Cue the running and screaming, as Lazarus rampages through the laboratories.

A woman who was snarky to the Doctor when he tried to get them all to leave—telling him that the only danger is choking on an olive, which, frankly, is pretty dangerous—is grabbed by Lazarus and drained.

I really dislike that kind of narrative punishment for being rude to the hero, actually.

The Doctor distracts the Lazarus monster, as Martha tries to get everyone out of the building, including her poor concussed brother. But, of course, the security protocols have come into force, and the doors are all locked. Martha says there must be an over-ride switch and since she still has the sonic screwdriver in her hand, she’s able to get the doors open.

Martha, with her family, says that she has to go back inside, though her mother objects vociferously to this, despite the fact that the Doctor physically put himself in between her (and her son) and the monster not five minutes ago. How ungrateful!

The Doctor, while all this is going on, has been running, with some pauses for a bit of taunting.

Martha’s mother is still ranting about the Doctor when the mysterious man from before comes up again, and tells her that the Doctor is dangerous, and there are things she needs to know about him. When Martha’s mother demands to know what those things are, he leans over and whispers in her ear, but we don’t hear what he says.

The Doctor and Martha throw themselves into the sonic microfilter (if that’s what I’d been calling it: I can’t remember now), on the grounds that this is Lazarus’s masterpiece, and he won’t destroy it.

Unfortunately, while the Doctor is admiring Martha’s shoes—and they are lovely—Lazarus turns the machine on. After some spinning and screeching, the Doctor manages to reverse the polarity, which throws Lazarus back into his own body (technobabble!) and gives the Doctor another chance to quote Eliot.

Lazarus is carted off in an ambulance.

Then Martha’s mother slaps the Doctor in the face—but, honestly, if she thinks that (firstly) that the Doctor is dangerous and (secondly) that Martha is in love with him, why would she think slapping him in the face would work?

Just then, we hear the sound of an ambulance being torn apart, and the Doctor runs off to see what’s happening—followed closely by Martha and Tish.

DOCTOR: Lazarus, back from the dead. Should have known, really.

They find Lazarus in Southwark Cathedral, still talking about his experiences in the Blitz, though he’s still doing the twitching, crunchy spasms.

He manages to alienate the Doctor by saying that all the people who died were worthless compared to him, because he changed the course of human history. He then uses the phrase “ordinary human,” which always annoys the Doctor.

This conversation is interesting, though, because it’s the first time since the Time Lords were destroyed that we’ve seen two old men with young men’s faces talking about the weight of the history that they carry.

Then Martha offers herself (and, by extension, her sister) as bait, leading Lazarus up the narrow stone stairs to the very top of the bell tower, in accordance with a vague plan that the Doctor mentioned in passing earlier.

They don’t pause to kick their high heels off first, which would have been my first move. I used to waitress three nights a week in two- or three-inch heels, but I wouldn’t run up the stairs to a cathedral’s bell tower in them.

The plan involves an organ. Of course it does.

While Martha is hanging from the belfry, the Doctor tries to amplify the organ, saying he needs to “turn this up to eleven.” Oh, bless: an unexpected Spinal Tap reference.

Lazarus is driven mad or dizzy by the noise, and falls to his death from the belfry; Martha is saved from following him by her sister, so I suppose it’s a good thing she used her sister as bait.

Traditional end-of-episode promiscuous hugging.

Now, back in Martha’s flat, the Doctor is about to leap back into the TARDIS—and he offers Martha one more trip.

But she says no.

Go on, Martha: it’s only episode five!

But Martha says that she can’t go on being just a passenger, being taken along for one more trip. And the Doctor says “okay”—which Martha completely misinterprets. Honestly, all those years travelling with young girls, and he still doesn’t understand them.

But as the TARDIS dematerialises, we hear Martha’s mother leaving an answering-machine message insisting that Martha call her back, because her information about the Doctor being dangerous comes from Harold Saxon himself.

Oooh-er.

Harrison and Smythe's New Spring Collection of Barbie Playsets

Posted 2737 days ago in by Catriona

Once you’ve purchased your new Victorian Barbie from Harrison and Smythe’s new spring collection, surely you’ll feel the need to be able to put her into situations that threaten her virtue, her sanity, or even her life?

With Harrison and Smythe’s new collection of Victorian Barbie playsets, you can!

Victorian Barbie’s Colonial Adventure!
Not all Victorian Barbies need to be either confined to the centre of London, or locked in a Gothic mansion deep in the heart of Ireland, surrounded by mastiffs and irritating bucolic servitors.

No! Now, with one of our Colonial Adventure playsets, your Barbie can be imperiled in one of the many exotic locations available across the British Empire.

Wild West Escapades

Comes with
Frontier Barbie. Watch her complexion redden as this wilting English rose faces life on the prairie! (Note: reddening complexion may stain clothing.)
Sinister Native American Chief
Baby of Suitable Stealing Size
Horrified Friend

Sold separately
Lynch Mob
Best-selling Treatise on Theft of Innocent (White) Baby by Sinister Native American Chief
Setting Back of Colonial — Native American Relations For Decades to Come

Vaguely Sub-Continental Villainy

Why does Victorian Barbie need to travel halfway around the world to be imperiled by someone other than an English baronet? With our Vaguely Sub-Continental Villainy playset, she doesn’t!

Comes with
English Rose Barbie
Villainous Baronet Ken
Vaguely Sub-Continental Villain, Who Might Be From India, But We Don’t Really Feel the Need to Specify Anything Other Than “Foreign” (And, Also, Did You Notice How Short He Is? Tell Us That’s Not Villainous)
Luxurious English Interior (For the Better Creation of Contrast)

Sold separately
Generations of People Who Somehow Think You Can Use the Phrase “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire” Unironically

Boating Barbie and Ken

Nothing says peril quite like a boat, especially when you’re wearing your own body weight in petticoats and crinolines. But think of the possibilities available to you with this Barbie and Ken Boating playset! Are they eloping? Is she being abducted? Or is this all going to end in something that might be suicide or might just be a tragic accident, depending on how you read it?

Comes with
Ambiguous Barbie (Is that fear? Is it secrecy? You decide!)
Boating Ken (Now with Rowing Action!)
Boat

Sold separately
The Mill
The Floss
Debate About Whether It’s Even Possible for That Catastrophic a Flood to Occur in Low-lying Fen Country (Note: debate only available with the John Sutherland add-on playset for older and more pedantic children.)

Second-Wife Barbie

Even wondered what happens to Victorian Barbie after she marries that wealthy baronet who won’t tell her anything about his past life? With the Second-Wife Barbie playset, you can find out!

Comes with
Second-Wife Barbie, Who Should Probably Have Asked for More Details
Mysterious Baronet Ken
Broad Terrace (the Ideal Surface for Mysterious, Possibly Ghostly Footsteps)
Italian Statuary (for Casting Mysterious Shadows)
Insane Previous Wife (or Possibly Just Some Poor Dupe Who Looks Exactly Like Second-Wife Barbie Except Mad)

Note: Like Bigamous Ken and Meek Governess Barbie, Second-Wife Barbie also fits our Fatal Conflagration playset.

Harrison and Smythe Present Their New Spring Collection

Posted 2737 days ago in by Catriona

Despite the superior workmanship that Harrison and Smythe (Toy Suppliers to their Royal Majesty) insist on from the manufacturers of their Victorian Barbies and Victorian Barbie Playsets and Accessories, the constant seduction, destitution, unplanned pregnancies, attempted suicides from Putney Bridge, hairs-breadth escapes from over-enthusiastic baronets, and the occasional attack by a pack of rabid wolves on the Russian steppes often leaves the Victorian Barbie—and her wardrobe, bought separately—looking a little worse for wear.

So why not celebrate the new season by purchasing something from our new spring collection?

Investigative Journalism Barbie!

No, Investigative Journalism Barbie can’t actually write the stories herself! But, with the help of this new doll, she can be at the centre of a Completely Legitimate Newspaper Investigation into How Easily A Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Can Be Sold into Prostitution.

Sold separately
Best-selling issues of The Pall Mall Gazette
Moral Panic
Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885)
The Death of Responsible Journalism (available only with the Roland Pearsall Worm in the Bud playset for older children)
Life-long Psychological Scarring

Victorian Gothic Barbie!

This season, Harrison and Smythe offer two new additions to our range of Victorian Gothic Barbies:

Gothic Barbie and the Mysterious Trunk

Comes with
Perpetually Curious Barbie (Morning Dress Version)
Mysterious Trunk That, Fifty Years Earlier, Would Have Proved to Just Contain Linen or Something Innocuous Like That.
Your choice of either A Manuscript Revealing a Hidden Tale of Villainy, or A Laundry List.

Sold separately
Your choice of either Wealthy but Ultimately Evil Ken, or Wealthy and Ultimately Not Evil Ken, Who Can Never Remember Where He Left His Laundry List.

Gothic Barbie and the Woman in Grey

Comes with
Perpetually Curious Barbie (Evening Wear Version)
Poorly Lit Hallway
Mysterious Woman in Grey, Who Might Just be a Servant But Might be Something More Sinister
Unfortunate Choice of Easily Dropped Candle Holder

Sold separately
Fatal Conflagration playset (also suitable for use with Bigamous Ken and Meek Governess Barbie dolls)

Angelic Skipper!

Comes with
Casement From Which to Look Longingly Over the Rooftops of London
Pigeons That Double, Somewhat Improbably, as a Postal Service
Toys That are Not an Adequate Substitute for Neglectful Parents. (Note: Neglectful Parents dolls not available)
Touching Death from Something That is Probably Consumption, But, Let’s Face It, the Actual Disease Isn’t the Important Point Here.

Melodramatic Barbie!

Pull the string and watch Melodramatic Barbie fall to her knees and indulge in a hearty bout of hysterics!

Comes with
Eventual Lower-Back Problem From All the Extravagant Gesturing

Sold separately
Increasingly Annoyed Ken, Who Spends Much More Time at His Club Than He Used to (Which is Saying Something)
A Nice Healthy Career That Gets Melodramatic Barbie Out of the House Sometimes and Gives Her an Outlet for her Energies

Live-blogging Torchwood Season Two: "Sleeper"

Posted 2739 days ago in by Catriona

Oh, I am so not psychologically prepared for this episode.

In fact, I’m struggling to even spell “psychologically,” but I strongly suspect that that’s an entirely different problem.

I warned you about this season, and we’re about to see more of what Torchwood is becoming. Last week’s episode wasn’t representative, but this one is.

Opening monologue! Jack standing on buildings! Me being unable to type “Jack” correctly!

And here’s a woman, waking up in bed to hear strange noises. She asks her partner if he hears them, and he pulls a cricket bat from under the bed as she rings the police. But the husband is thrown back into the room by two men in balaclavas, who then hear the police talking through the phone, which she dropped under the bed.

And we see a lamp lying on the floor and hear begging and screaming.

Credits.

Then Torchwood tear up un the Torchwoodmobile, because two people have been thrown out of a window.

I take a brief pause from live-blogging to argue with a sixteen-year-old girl about whether or not Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a bit rubbish or not. That’s an exercise is futility, right there.

The policeman thinks that the husband did it, and that he was looking for trouble, or why else would he keep sports equipment in the bedroom? Jack says that the policeman should come round to his house for a game of hockey.

At the hospital, Owen says he thinks it’s the wife, because it’s always the one you least expect. Jack tells them to stay at the hospital, but Owen lies and says Gwen should stay on her own.

Then things start going odd about the hospital, like lights flashing.

But when one of the burglars wakes up (before promptly dying), he tells Gwen that the woman did it, and to keep her away from him—and so, next thing she knows, she’s in Torchwood with a sack over her head, and Jack reminding her of the details about Torchwood being outside the government and the police.

And then the lights go out again, which reminds Gwen of the hospital.

Gwen sends Jack out of the room, so she can use her lovely Welsh vowels to seduce Beth into making a confession.

Meanwhile, Ianto and Jack are flirting adorably about Jack’s dodgy interrogation techniques. Tosh tells Jack that there was a technobabble build-up around Beth, and Owen mentions the hospital.

Beth is taken for tests, and though she’s terrified, she’s also kind of blown away by the sheer scale and the steam-punk aesthetic of the Hub.

Owen goes to take some medical tests, but both needles and then a scalpel snap as Owen tries to pierce her skin. Jack asks her what planet she is from, and then shouts, “Stop wasting our time! We know you’re an alien!”

Ianto’s right: his interrogation techniques suck.

So Jack takes her down to introduce her to Janet the weevil.

But then Janet the weevil starts keening and backing away from Beth, and both she and Jack are slightly freaked out by this—not to mention Janet the weevil’s freaking out.

Beth asks how she can prove she’s not an alien.

So Jack gets out a mind probe, though Ianto reminds him what happened last time they used that. Jack says that’s not a problem: that species had unusually high blood pressure. So, as Ianto suggests, apparently their heads were supposed to explode like that.

Beth asks if it will hurt, and Jack says yes, it will.

BETH: Your bedside manner is dreadful.
GWEN: You should see his manners in bed. They’re atrocious. Or so I’ve heard.
IANTO: Oh, yes.

Most unprofessional outfit ever.

Sure enough, it looks as though it hurts like hell—Beth is screaming, and they’re not getting any readings that show her as not human, despite Jack telling them to go deeper—until the lights start flashing, and Beth stops convulsing and goes limp.

And then her forearm opens up.

I don’t know how else to describe it: apparently, it’s a buried compartment in her brain. Beth couldn’t have been aware of it.

Jack asks her who she is, and we get the same response to every question—I’m betting that’s name, rank, and serial number.

When they switch the probe off, she goes back to being Beth, and the strange mark on her arm disappears. She asks if they found anything, and no one answers.

Jack, in the conference room, tells his staff that Beth is a sleeper agent for a species that doesn’t leave any survivors. He says if they’re lucky, she’s the only one: an advance guard. But by the time her species attacks, they’ll know everything about the planet.

The point is that Beth doesn’t know she’s not human. Her false personality and false memories are dominant.

But Jack says they need to tell her, and they show her the video.

Gwen can’t cope with this, and tells Beth that her fake life with Mike, her fake memories, are real: she asks what makes her human, her mind or her body? But Beth says she wanted children and an ordinary life, and feeling human isn’t enough for that.

She asks them to make her human, but Jack says they can’t: one day she’ll activate, and then the invasion will begin.

Beth wonders if they’ll kill her, but Gwen says they only kill aliens as a last resort, when it’s kill or be killed.

Jack says they can’t let her go, because she’s too dangerous. Tosh recommends that they freeze her instead, using their alien cryostasis technology. (I think I spelt “cryostasis” wrong there.) But as they’re taking Beth to freeze her, her real memories of the attack on the burglars start coming back.

And, as she waits on the table for the procedure, Beth asks Gwen to promise that if they can’t find a way to make her human again, not to wake her up at all, but just to turn off the machine. Gwen says she can’t promise that, so Beth asks Jack—and Jack promises.

Tosh knocks out the transceiver, and Owen starts to knock Beth out.

But the transceiver is still transmitting—and now the other sleeper agents on the planet are waking up, including a white-collar worker who breaks his wife’s neck, an EMT guy who walks away from the man he’s performing CPR on, and a young mother who lets her baby carriage roll out into traffic.

As we watch the back of the young woman as she walks away, we hear the screaming of brakes and a dull thump.

Back at the Hub, Beth is vaulted in number 7 vault—in which she quickly wakes up.

I guess cryogenics don’t work on her planet.

The first thing Torchwood knows, the lights go out and Beth is gone. And, of course, she has all that information about Torchwood saved in the transceiver in her arm.

Owen says that perhaps Beth can disguise all her vital signs, so that she can looks as though she’s frozen, when really the opposite is happening.

Jack wonders why they aren’t all dead, but he assumes that Beth has some other agenda—and, sure enough, she’s in the hospital talking to her husband, telling him that she has to go away and stay away, or she might end up hurting him.

But even as they hug, they weapon embedded in her arm activates, and she stabs him through the abdomen. Wow, that’s a lot of blood.

Fortunately, Torchwood are there to take Beth back into custody.

Meanwhile, a man calls Patrick Grainger answers his door and is stabbed through the abdomen by the white-collar worker from a previous scene. And the EMT worker bombs a petrol tanker that takes out an underground fuel line used by the military in emergencies. Ianto realises that Patrick Grainger was the man on the council who had all the emergency protocols.

Jack realises that Beth is part of a cell and that they’ve activated.

Gwen asks how Beth got out of Torchwood, and Beth says that the technology is part of her, and she can turn it on and off. Gwen asks if she can track her cell mates, and, after some demurring, she agrees to: she says that there is one member of the cell left—the white-collar worker. (Both the EMT worker and the young mother turned out to be suicide bombers.)

But the white-collar worker is heading for an abandoned farm on the outskirts of the city, though they can’t work out why he would do that. Apparently, it used to be a coal mine—and, sure enough, Tosh says that the military is using the mine shaft to store heavy weapons.

Specifically, nuclear warheads.

Specifically, ten nuclear warheads.

Well, that’s just brilliant.

Naturally, everyone starts despairing. Well, everyone except Jack.

JACK: With a dashing hero like me on the trail, how can we fail?
IANTO: He is dashing, You have to admit that.

Ianto is much happier and cheekier this season, isn’t he? It’s amazing what the love of a good man will do for you.

Back at the Hub, the rest of Torchwood is less sanguine about the outcome.

OWEN (to Tosh and Ianto): Let’s all have sex.
IANTO: And I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse.

That transcription of dialogue brought to you by an extended shoot-out at the army’s secret nuclear-weapons facility.

Jack runs over the last sleeper agent, but he fails to reverse over him, which is what I would have done. So, as Jack questions him, he stabs Jack. Gwen manages to turn off the transceiver and forcefield, but the alien fortuitously provided himself with a bomb, and he blows himself up after telling Jack that the others aren’t coming—they’re already here.

Back at the Hub, Gwen tells Beth that they’ve refigured the casket, so that the cryogenics will work around the implant.

Beth asks what they’ll do when she activates. Gwen says they’ll work around it, but Beth says they won’t: she’s too dangerous, and they both know it.

The human side of Beth is paramount here, but she knows that the human side isn’t the only side, and she worries what will happen when she reactivates.

She’s right to worry, because she (seemingly) reactivates right now, and she takes Gwen hostage, holding her knife to Gwen’s throat. Every other member of Torchwood is armed here, all pointing their guns at Beth.

And Beth hasn’t reactivated, or not fully. But she knows that if she threatens Gwen, they’ll shoot her.

And they do.

Suicide by Torchwood.

Gwen attacks Owen for not realising that Beth was bluffing. But Owen says she must have known what they’d do, and Jack says she did—she just wanted to make it easier for them.

And we slowly pan up from Beth’s dead body to a satellite view of Cardiff’s brightly lit highways—which, from this angle, look remarkably like the neural pathways that we saw light up in Beth’s brain when Torchwood forced her to activate.

Gwen wanders into Jack’s office, and he asks about her wedding plans but, as she’s halfway through a spirited imitation of her mother, he cuts her off and tells her to go home and be human.

Well, that was a little rude.

But at least it was a change from the generally depressing tone of the episode.

Next week: frozen soldier.

A Monologue Over Instant Messaging

Posted 2740 days ago in by Catriona

ME: I have consumed things. I have been a consumer. I thought you would wish to know that.
(Pause)
I can tell you’re really excited. Too excited to type, even!
(Pause)
I find that exceedingly gratifying.
(Pause)
Gratification is rare, in modern society. Such gratification as I am receiving from your complete silence is, anyway.
(Pause)
You know, there’s an “away” setting on this thing. You could try using the “away” setting.
(Pause)
I wonder if Hamlet had trouble getting Ophelia to respond via instant messaging. Maybe that where he picked up the habit of soliloquising.
(Pause)
Because no-one would ever talk to him.
(Pause)
Because, you see, once you’ve started a conversation, it’s extremely difficult to actually stop.
(Pause)
Even if the other person is, apparently, dead.
(Pause)
Sod it: I’m going to get ready for work.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Two

Posted 2741 days ago in by Catriona

Nick returns triumphantly, bearing takeaway.

NICK: Dinner shall rise again!
ME: Shall it? When did it rise the last time?
NICK: Oh, the Civil War. It was defeated by the North. But it shall rise again!
ME: My dinner last rose during the Civil War?
NICK: Yes.
ME: I don’t think that’s healthy. Not with prawns.
NICK: I see your point.

Dust Storm at Home

Posted 2741 days ago in by Catriona

And another set of photographs, just because I don’t see why Sydney’s dust storm should get all the attention, even if their skies were much brighter.

(And, yes: if the dust storm leads to spectacular effects come sunset, there’ll be yet another set of photographs on the blog.)

Dust Storm on Campus

Posted 2741 days ago in by Catriona

I apologise for the quality of these: they were taken from my phone. Looking at them, I think it felt much worse than it looked—and we never did manage Sydney’s eerie orange skies, alas.

Still, the view from my fifth-floor office is rather apocalyptic:

Strange Conversations: The Twitter Edition

Posted 2742 days ago in by Catriona

Sometimes, Nick and I think, “What’s the point of talking face to face, when we’re socially networked, as well as actually living in the same house?” That’s why so many of these strange conversations take place via instant messaging.

Though, to be fair, Nick was on his way to work when we had this conversation via a series of tweets. And isn’t there something lovely about being able to chat to your partner while he’s on a long, boring bus journey across the city?

ME: I’m thinking I should probably ring to check that my parents aren’t buried under dust. But it would be only polite to wait until 9 am, yes?

ME: And if they are buried under dust, there’s probably not a great deal I can do about it from 1000 km away, so I may as well enjoy my coffee.

NICK: All a bit of a worry. Doesn’t bode well for the coming summer.

ME: You say that whatever happens! “I dropped the remote! Doesn’t bode well for the coming summer! Going to be a long hot summer!”

NICK: Hah! But I’m always right, aren’t I?

ME: Which suggests that it has nothing to do with your superstitious methods of prediction, but is just always a long, hot summer.

NICK: Hmm. I’m not so sure about that. I think I’m precognitive.

ME: And your precognition takes the form of being able to link the smallest event to the (inevitable) heat of summer, does it?

ME: I’ll just repeat that: you think you’re precognitive because you somehow manage to predict that summer—SUMMER—will be hot?

NICK: I knew before I posted that you wouldn’t find it all that convincing. #ESP_win

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Three: "Evolution of the Daleks"

Posted 2743 days ago in by Catriona

Well, it’s just been on of those days, you know? By which I mean, it’s Monday. And I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes distracting a restless Nick with shiny things, which led to this monologue:

ME: Honey, why don’t you have some brandy? Oh. Is that the only soft drink we have? Don’t we have any lemonade? Well, what’s that? Citrus flavour? Well, it’s brandy—how bad can it be?

Then we started singing, “Brandy, brandy, brandy, I can’t let you go.”

Then we had the following conversation:

ME: ACK!
NICK: What’s wrong?!
ME: It’s all right. It’s not an insect.
NICK: No?
ME: No. It’s a Ferrero Rocher wrapper.
NICK: Oh. Well, they are quite similar. They’re both brown.
ME: Yes. And . . . crunchy.

Actually, maybe there’s more to this than it simply being Monday. It has been rather warm and muggy the last couple of days, so I’ve barely slept. That might be it.

Perhaps I should just wait until the actual episode starts, shall I?

Okay, I’m back and being more sensible now. I have finished my brandy, though, and I didn’t care much for this episode last time around, so we’ll see how long I can continue to behave myself.

We begin with a recap of last week’s episode, complete with hysterical Daleks with a deadline, and the disturbing/improbable human-Dalek hybrid.

We come straight back into the episode with the human Dalek saying that all the intelligent humans (as they were divided last week) will all be hybridised. But then the Doctor leaps out and taunts the Daleks a little: it seems they managed an “emergency temporal shift” to the 1930s, which, as the Doctor points out, must have burned up their power cells. As he says, at one time, four Daleks could have taken over the world.

(But, just quietly, that’s mainly because the props are so extremely expensive in the pre-CGI days.)

The Doctor asks Dalek Sek, the human Dalek, what he thinks of humanity, but becomes frustrated by Sek’s insistence that humanity is, at its heart, quite Dalek. So he makes his radio—remember he was carrying a radio?—make a hideous noise, and they all leg it.

They’re pursued by Daleks and pig slaves, but, though they meet up with Tallulah as they flee, there’s no sign of Laszlo.

The humans escape via the ladders, which the Daleks cannot ascend.

Then two Daleks discuss their doubts about Dalek Sek, and this scene has my favourite bit in the entire series—when the first Dalek asks if the second Dalek has doubts, the second Dalek carefully swivels his head to check his boss isn’t behind him, before saying, “Affirmative.”

Love it. It’s so . . . human.

Back in Hooverville, the Doctor tells everyone they have to flee, because they’re basically breeding stock. But it’s too late: the Daleks and their pig slaves are already coming.

Thank goodness for the Second Amendment, because this is one well-armed camp of extremely impoverished people. You’d think that those rifles might have been worth selling, wouldn’t you?

Still, the rifles won’t do any good against Daleks, and that’s what we’re facing now: first pig slaves, herding everyone back into the camp, and then the flying Daleks.

Solomon steps forward to talk to the Daleks, despite the Doctor telling him to stop. Oh, this never goes well.

Dalek Sek admires Solomon’s courage, as Solomon says that, underneath, they’re all kin: they’re all outcasts. He speaks to them about his new knowledge about the breadth of the universe, and how it gives him hope for a better tomorrow. And he begs them, if they have any compassion, to meet with him, and stop this fight.

Of course, they exterminate him.

The Doctor then steps forward, demanding that the Daleks kill him, if it will stop them killing these people. And one of the Daleks is absolutely willing to exterminate the Doctor—which, from a Dalek perspective, makes perfect sense—but Sek steps in and says no: he wants the Doctor alive.

Behind Sek, all the other Daleks are swivelling their heads towards him, as though to say, “You what?”

The Doctor convinces the Daleks to spare the humans, and Sek tells them to obey the Doctor. We don’t see it, but I imagine that there are some “You what?” head swivels behind him at that point.

And, indeed, the other Daleks are getting a little stroppy with Sek: his argument that the Doctor is a “genius” and they can use him sounds a little thin, even to me.

Before he leaves, the Doctor gives Martha the psychic paper (with what sounds like an Elvis impersonation, but I might be wrong about that), but she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Back at Dalek HQ, the Doctor attacks the Daleks for killing people—and Nick points out that it’s odd that the Doctor is always so affronted when the Daleks kill people. I mean, sure: he doesn’t like killing, but these are Daleks. That’s what they do. And he knows that. And he’s committed genocide against them once (well, once at this stage), and attempted it on at least three other occasions, so why is he always so bewildered?

Sek is explaining to the Doctor that humans are the greatest resource on this planet—and he flips the lights to show dozens, maybe hundreds or thousands, of “empty” humans, ready to be filled with new Dalek ideas.

(As Sek explains his ideas to the Doctor, we see some more “You what?” head swivels from the rest of the Cult of Skaro.)

Back at Hooverville, Martha remembers that the Daleks were talking about the energy conductor, and she wonders where it might possibly be? So she asks poor young Frank from Tennessee, who has been hit pretty hard by Solomon’s death, and he points out that most of them were working on the Empire State Building.

Ah, technobabble! How I have missed thee! Let’s leave what they’re saying at this: what the Daleks are planning is especially impossible. And involves a giant solar flare. And the Empire State Building.

Dalek Sek questions Davros’s original plan for the supremacy of the Daleks—and we’re well past the “You what?” head gestures here, as the rest of the Cult of Skaro leap forward and say, no: Daleks are supreme.

But Sek says no: he wants them to evolve and change. Think, he says, of where they are now: skulking in the sewers, only four of them left in the universe. He says that if they don’t change now, they deserve to become extinct.

The Doctor taunts the Cult of Skaro, and they say, yes: they’ll support Sek, because Daleks must follow orders. The Doctor tries to argue, but Sek says he can take the new race of Daleks to a new planet, where they can start over. And the Doctor agrees, since he already knows that the “empty” humans can’t be brought back to their humanity.

Martha, Frank, and Tallulah are up on the top floor of the Empire State Building, trying to figure out what the Daleks are planning on doing with the building. Tallulah wanders off and rhapsodises about New York City.

Back in Dalek HQ, the Doctor, helping the Daleks, learns that the pig slaves only have a life span of a few weeks, and he tells Laszlo that he can’t reverse what’s been done to him.

Ah, there’s the obligatory “the Doctor is a medical doctor” joke.

Tallulah chats about what a great partnership the Doctor and Martha would be, and how the Doctor is different. Martha tells her that she has no idea how different he is, and Tallulah says, “He’s a man, honey. That’s different enough.”

In context, that makes absolutely no sense. “You’d be a great partnership, if only he weren’t so different, but then he’d always be different, because he’s a man.” Nope: still can’t figure that out.

Tallulah also rants against the Daleks for taking Laszlo away from her.

The Doctor helps the Daleks, while Martha and Tallulah figure out that the Daleks have added the Dalek bumps to the Empire State Building tower.

But finally, finally, the Daleks turn against Dalek Sek. That’s what happens, sadly, when you attempt to make yourself a hybrid creature and retain control over a psychotically xenophobic species.

Nevertheless, the Daleks have over-ridden the “gene feed”—meaning, in terms of the technobabble, that the new “empty” humans will not be brought to life with Sek’s blend of human and Dalek genes, but with pure Dalek genes.

With the help of Laszlo, the Doctor legs it, and heads up to Martha.

SEK: You have betrayed me.
OTHER DALEK: You told us to imagine. And we imagined your irrelevance.

It’s almost impossible to write bad dialogue for Daleks, isn’t it?

The Doctor, telling Martha that she needs to stay and fight, climbs up to the mast of the building to remove the Dalek bumps.

Apparently, the pig slaves are trained to “slit your throats with their bare teeth.” “Bare teeth”? Is that even a thing?

The pig slaves are heading up in the elevator, bopping quietly along to the elevator music, as Martha figures out that they can use the lightning as a weapon, if they create a metal pathway between the lightning—how can they predict where it’s going to strike?—and the elevator.

Meanwhile, the Doctor dropped his sonic screwdriver. He is remarkably careless with that thing, you know. So in the absence of any practical tools, he wraps himself around the mast, while Martha et. al. brutally slaughter some hapless pig slaves.

The Daleks’ human (well, humanish) army wakes up.

Martha, having brutally slaughtered some pig slaves, experiences a crisis of conscience, but it doesn’t last long, and she dashes outside to find the Doctor.

The remaining Daleks are checking that their army really think they’re Daleks, and then arming them, and sending them out to take over Manhattan.

Martha wakes the Doctor up—wow, two hearts come in handy—and gives him back his sonic screwdriver. But he didn’t manage to get all the Dalek bumps off, so I wonder what that will mean for the Daleks’ master plan?

Sek is chained up against the wall. I wonder—not that it’s highly relevant—whether the Daleks brought their own manacles with them, just in case, or whether they just found some lying around in the sewers?

The Daleks, the Doctor points out, are on a war footing, and using the sewer system to spread their foot soldiers around the city. But, he says, the “gamma strike” went through him first. Martha asks what that means, and Nick tells her it’s gibberish. I don’t think she heard him, though.

The Doctor activates his sonic screwdriver, telling the Daleks where he is, which is in Tallulah’s theatre. And the human foot soldiers come in first, followed by the Daleks, who have Dalek Sek crawling in chains before them.

Nick and I have long considered writing a joint paper on the theatricality of Doctor Who, and this is yet another example of this: the two Daleks on stage with Sek between them, as the Doctor stands on the red-velvet seats and talks to them across the footlights.

The Doctor taunts the Daleks with their humiliation of Dalek Sek, and they threaten to exterminate the Doctor—but Sek leaps in front of them and is killed.

The Doctor maneuvers the Daleks to the point where they agree to let the human Daleks kill the Doctor, but they revolt. When the Daleks give orders, the human Daleks say, “But why? But why?”, which freaks me out a little, because that’s what I always say to my students when I want them to give me the reasoning or rule behind something that they say.

But the human Daleks exterminate the two Daleks on stage—and, oddly, it never occurred to the Doctor that the Daleks might have built a destruct switch into their human Daleks, so he’s horrified and surprised when they all die.

He start ranting about genocide, but I ignore him, because—well, see my comments above about the Doctor and genocide.

All that’s left is Dalek Khan, down in the basement, controlling the battle. He tells the Doctor that he will be exterminated, but the Doctor says Khan should let him, the Doctor, show some compassion and help Khan.

But Khan’s having none of it, and he activates an “emergency temporal shift.”

Now here come Martha and Tallulah, carrying Laszlo with them. He’s dying, but Tallulah asks the Doctor if he can’t help. And the Doctor says “Just you watch me.” This is the tenth Doctor’s equivalent of the ninth Doctor’s “just this once, Rose, everybody lives!” speech at the end of “The Doctor Dances” in season one—though I preferred that one.

And Laszlo finds a home in Hooverville, despite the fact that he’s a pig-slave-mutant-Dalek-hybrid, to use the Doctor’s term.

And Martha and the Doctor leave, with the Doctor’s insistence that, yes, he’ll see the Dalek again. One day.

Next week, we’re back in London with Martha’s family.

[Tonight’s interesting live-blogging trivia: despite fewer typing errors than usual—and no, that’s not a challenge, so stop looking for them!—I must have typed “Doctor” as “Dalek” at least fifteen times while blogging this, though I caught it all but once. I’m assuming that’s a Freudian slip.]

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and One

Posted 2746 days ago in by Catriona

And who says you can’t discuss Star Trek on International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

ME: Well, you can’t use transporters through shields, can you?
NICK: They don’t make much use of them when the shields are down. They really missed an opportunity to commit some atrocities, there.
ME: Yeah. They could just beam everyone out into space.
NICK: That’s right. “Shields down, Captain!” “Well, we’re [redacted]. Take your suicide pill, Number One.”

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred

Posted 2746 days ago in by Catriona

The obligatory strange International Talk Like a Pirate Day conversation. (And, yes, I think that compound adjective should be hyphenated, but I’m too lazy.)

ME: I should have bought two skull rings. One for each thumb.
NICK: You don’t want to over-brand.
ME: Over-brand! Pirate queens can’t over-brand!
NICK: True.
ME: Over-brand! That’s why you’re still a cabin boy.
NICK: I think about that every night, as I’m polishing your . . . top-sail.
ME: Don’t worry—I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Strange Conversations: Part One Hundred and Ninety-Nine

Posted 2746 days ago in by Catriona

The confusion of reading Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog early in the morning:

ME: The problem is that every time he says “Dustin Nguyen,” I think he means the guy from 21 Jump Street.
NICK: What guy from 21 Jump Street?
ME: The guy whose name was Nguyen, and whose first name I’m pretty sure was Dustin.
NICK: I don’t know anyone from 21 Jump Street.
ME: You know Johnny Depp.
NICK: Well, yes.
ME: And you can’t say you don’t know Richard Grieco, because everyone knows Richard Grieco.
NICK: True.
ME: And you know Peter DeLuise.
NICK: Okay, I know a large number of people from 21 Jump Street. But I don’t know that guy.

(For the record, he didn’t mean this Dustin Nguyen at all: he meant this Dustin Nguyen.)

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