Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Klingon? Kling-off!

This week were leaked several photos from the next Star Trek movie, depicting Spock and Uhura in combat with the movie’s villain.

da dah DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH dah dah dah dah ...

These don’t reveal any spoilers, and the baddies for Star Trek 2/12 are still the source of much speculation, mainly will they be Klingons? and of course will they have head bumps?

The producers of the Star Trek reboot winked at
this idea in the previous movie (albeit it in a deleted scene). But the answer to the question will they look like old school or new school Klingons is the wrong question. That doesn’t matter. Forget about the head bumps. They’re just decoration.

Kor, 23rd Century (left), Kor, 24th Century (right)

People think that the Klingons really took off as an alien species in the movies and in TNG because they had fancier make-up. And they also “developed” the angle of Klingons as these awesome warriors, but they were always warriors, right? Well not really. All of this business about Klingons being warriors was based on one line from “Day of the Dove” where Spock says the Klingons have “maintained a dueling tradition,” which is an unimportant detail from the Klingons’ origins.

In the spinoff shows, we see Klingons as this warrior race (which is fine) who value honor (which is also fine) to such a degree that it frankly became preposterous (which was preposterous). According to depictions on screen, a Klingon could suffer execution or lifetime dishonor (which could often lead to suicide) for any of the following transgressions:
By DS9 they took things even further by establishing “blood oaths,” where if any member of your fellow house were murdered (or even offended) by someone in another house, you’d be honor-bound to exact revenge on them … so in addition to the risk of casual murder/lifetime dishonor of daily Klingon life, you have whole families ready to go to war with other families at the drop of a daktag.

All of this creates a race that’s so absurdly fixated on capital punishment that you can’t imagine that they’d ever run an interstellar empire or develop warp drive or ever even get out of the Middle Ages. Obviously the original version for the Klingons was not stupid bloodthirstiness. In one episode of DS9, O’Brien compares a Klingon crew to “a gang of ancient sea pirates” – confessing how silly the race had become.

Almost as silly as the nickname "Scotty" for a Scottish person

TOS Klingons were an obvious analog for the Soviets during the Cold War and repeatedly demonstrate the idea “These people are our enemies but they’re not an evil race – they’re just like us.” Maybe the franchise went all out with the “We are Klingons / we are crazy space Vikings” business because by the 1990s, the Russians weren’t our enemies anymore and we didn’t even really have any enemies. So without that as a framework, the franchise kind flailed to find the right model for the Klingons … and they settled on Star Trek III, as we’ve discussed before, which was a huge misstep.

The Klingons in ST3 are renegades led by a truly evil warlord, a character completely unlike those depicted in classic episodes, seen as follows:

Day of the DoveKang and Kirk become fast friends by the end of the episode after allying against (spoiler alert) Melllvar. Kang’s wife says she’s heard the Federation abuses their prisoners – showing that both sides use propaganda against the other.

The Trouble With Tribbles Kirk permits Klingons to visit station K-7 as a sign of friendship under the Organian Treaty. While Kirk is irritated with the Federation bureaucrat and the unscrupulous businessman, he and Koloth are practically flirting with each other throughout the episode (“My dear Captain Koloth” / “My dear Captain Kirk”). When a fight breaks out between Klingons and Starfleet, Kirk punishes his own men because he knew they’d started it!

A Private Little War A parallel to the Vietnam War so obvious that Kirk comes out and says it, this episode shows the Federation supporting one side of an arms race while Klingons support another. Yes, the Klingons started it, but the message is we can’t judge our enemies too harshly because we use the same tactics they do most of the time.

Errand of Mercy Kor really is a bad guy in this: torturing Spock and ready to murder Organians by the thousands. As the character who put his feet in the wet cement of the Klingon race, Kor is truly magnificent to behold. And this clip here shows the idea “the Klingons (and by extension the Russians) are just like us” better than anything else in the franchise.

Despite TNG already being five seasons into messing up Klingons by 1991, Nick Meyer and Leonard Nimoy understood the race’s core premise when they did Star Trek 6: Klingons and Humans (and even a Vulcan!) were conspiring together to murder and even start a war.
They went so far as to have Kirk say “You know what, Spock, everyone’s human.” Even Shatner got it right with Star Trek 5! After the Klingon bad guy tries to kill Kirk so he can become “the greatest warrior in the galaxy,” his government forces him to apologize, because they know that’s no way to run an empire. (Note: apologize, not kill himself to death.)

So here’s the message for JJ Abrams and his friends doing Star Trek 2/12. If you use them as villains, remember that Klingons work best when they’re Klingons, not space vikings.

Well ok: these guys can be space vikings

Friday, February 24, 2012

New Who: What Happened To The Cosmic Daddy-Daughter Date?

Having finally accepted the advice of my friends to get into the new series of "Doctor Who" (or "New Who"), I am finally getting into the new series of "Doctor Who." I watched most of the classic version during my youth on PBS and liked it despite never really enjoying it, if you follow. Written to be a serial, most episodes of Classic Who are long, drawn out, and (frankly) boring. Produced by the BBC, they had production values that make the original "Star Trek" look amazing (up until the Seventh Doctor).

New Who has been much more popular in America than its predecessor, due to
  1. advanced CGI effects,
  2. greater acceptance worldwide of sci-fi and geek culture, and
  3. making it less family friendly
What do I mean by that? Well.

"Doctor Who" was always designed for family audiences and there was never the notion that he might (ahem) be involved with any of his (overwhelmingly) female companions. The Doctor was typically a lot older than his companions, and you always got the impression that these adventures were like a cosmic daddy-daughter date, which made it appeal to the whole family.
  • Dads could like it because the patrician lead character was always portrayed positively
  • Moms could enjoy the idea of a father-figure spending a lot of time with "the kids"
  • Sons could enjoy the adventures
  • Daughters could appreciate all the special attention their surrogates were getting from dad
Efforts to sexualize companions typically didn't work too well ... seriously, ew

So romantically involving The Doctor with any of his companions would have ruined the innocence of the show. From the classic show, the only one that comes close is the Fourth Doctor's relationship with Romana II, but this was OK because she was (spoiler alert) also a Time Lord (so it didn't seem like The Doctor was taking advantage of some young Earth girl) and because Lalla Ward also technically married Tom Baker.

This daddy-daughter date model really solidified in the Sixth Doctor years, where they started the trend of having The Doctor adventure with just one female companion. But the Sixth Doctor abused her, which didn't endear him to anyone.

But the new show (starting with the failed 1996 reboot) chucked that idea out the window in favor of younger Doctors and sexual tension between him and his female companions. The biggest step they had to take to accomplish this though was younging down The Doctor. Also note that I used the actors' ages, not the characters', as The Doctor ranges up to ~900 years in age. Voila.

In each case I used the primary female companion for each Doctor (that is the one with the most episodes) using this page as a reference, so these were:
  1. Susan (who underscored the idea of a daddy-daughter date by being the First Doctor's granddaughter!)
  2. Zoe
  3. Jo Grant
  4. Sarah Jane (best companion ever)
  5. Tegan (closest in age on the list, but never even a hint of romance)
  6. Peri (Peri signified an effort to make companions sexier)
  7. Ace (probably the best Doctor/companion pairing of the classic series)
  8. Grace (first companion to kiss her Doctor)
  9. Rose (this is where the Doc-on-comp sexual tension really started)
  10. Martha
  11. Amy Pond (introduced as a "kissogram," so clear sexualization right from the start)
Despite some exceptions, we can see a clear trend in younging The Doctor over time, while aging the companion (albeit only slightly).

The biggest windfall of this change has been adult female viewers, who are able to project themselves into the female companion, whereas classic companions were typically designed to appeal to young girls.

I've only dipped my toe in New Who, and I'm looking forward to watching the whole series. They seem to have done a brilliant job resurrecting the spirit of the classic series while deviating as needed from the details (just like "Star Trek" '09 did). Also given that "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost" have been off the air a couple years now, there's nothing else really cool for nerds to glom onto as the current cool thing. (As evidence I'd cite something like shirtoid's plethora of Who shirts -- even more than their Star Trek shirts!) "Doctor Who" seems to be benefiting from that nerd vacuum.

Particularly with the resurgence of classic characters like the Brigadier and Sarah Jane (before the actors' unfortunate deaths in 2011), a vocabulary of the classic series can enhance the show, though I can understand if watching 27 years worth of admittedly difficult-to-watch British sci-fi is daunting. I'd recommend catching up on the highlights at SFDebris.

Or YouTube!

Note that they've also retconned the relationship between Doctor and companion for the classic series, having Sarah Jane express romantic feelings for her Doctor(s?). Also despite having shared episodes with Doctors 1 through 5, the first one she even just hugs is David Tennant!

Sarah Jane: when she was alive, the Internet was afraid to be won by her, and when she died, it wanted to die itself

Thursday shows roundup - 2/24

#1 - Parks and Rec

One of the advantages of an ensemble cast is the dynamics of variable couplings of the character. The "Leslie is trying to have it all but needs Ron as the voice of wisdom" isn't terribly new for the show (though still executed with the right amount of humor and tenderness), but the Chris/Andy/Champion the One-legged Dog bit was fun and new as was the Tom/Ann/April story.

Also the gimmick of accidentally putting a URL on sign was hilarious.

#2 - The Office

This one was pretty good, but the B story in Scranton is a lot more interesting than the A story in Florida. The episode juggles about 20 different characters and gives them all the right amount to do, with Dwight leading the show -- and the series' producers have realized he has to in the post-Michael world: not Andy or Robert California. The cold open with Oscar/Pam/Angela was hilarious.

#3 - 30 Rock

The concept of a show about Leap Day is original, and the "show within a show" "Groundhog's Day" parody was very clever ... but the rest of the episode falls a bit flat.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thursday shows roundup - 2/2/12

This Groundhog's Day was excellent for our favorite shows on Thursday night. All three were winners.

#1 Parks and Rec

Of course Parks and Rec kills this, jumping the gun on a Valentine's Day episode that delivers enough love for the whole year. Ron's on point in a Da Vinci Code spoof, April shows her heart of gold, and Leslie's masterminding romance for Ann was delightful. Great call back to earlier episodes (Lil Sebastian, the gay bar, "Gal"entine's Day, etc.).

#2 30 Rock

This is a close second this week. The show was dense, like Arrested Development dense, with three terrific storylines: Liz v. Jack, Kenneth climbing the ladder, and Tracy/Jenna antics that didn't bother me. Good cameos (Suze Orman, whoever that girl page is) and Liz with aRachel Maddow's haircut (that they never point out, letting the joke just hover there like an angel) made this a top-knotch ep.

#3 The Office

So I think they figured out how to get on without Michael Scott: make the episode totally the crap about Dwight. Anchoring the A story (about Jim's ducking work) with Dwight and making him the crescendo of the B story (about Angela's baby) worked brilliantly. Creed also had some great one-liners along the way.


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