Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 22:57 on 02-01-2012, Michal permalink
at 20:36 on 02-01-2012, Robinson L
My mother, younger sisters and I watched the Christmas special on New Year's Eve, right after watching the season finale. The special was indeed made of silly, and had disturbing gender politics (apart from the pedestal business, this is the second time this year Moffat has made a great big Women Are Hopeless Drivers joke). All of which said, it was kind of nice, and the ending was refreshingly non-angsty.

@Shimmin: As far as picking the TARDIS' lock goes, I thought that was just for the one that turned out to be an actual police box, and the implication was that the Doctor found his key by the time they got to the real thing. Can't argue with the rest, though.

Arthur: Moffatt seems to like his Christmas Specials to be Christmas stories first and Who stories second.

I think this neatly encapsulates something that niggled me about both Christmas specials. Thanks, Arthur.

there's a whole lot of stuff which happens for the sole purpose of hammering it into something which might look a bit like Narnia if you squint at it, and a whole lot of other stuff which happens for the sole purpose of shoehorning some SF action in there, and the stuff in column A and the stuff in column B don't work well together at all.

I'd say that's a good way to describe it. It's kind of nice, but by no means smart.
at 13:48 on 02-01-2012, Arthur B
Moffatt seems to like his Christmas Specials to be Christmas stories first and Who stories second. I think this kind of worked for the last one because whilst it was clearly a riff on A Christmas Carol, the incorporation of the show's existing SF elements into the concept was well handled and the time travel angle was genuinely clever.

This time around, Moffatt seems to have decided "OK, we're going to do Narnia this year" but the episode doesn't do a good job of adapting that concept to Who - there's a whole lot of stuff which happens for the sole purpose of hammering it into something which might look a bit like Narnia if you squint at it, and a whole lot of other stuff which happens for the sole purpose of shoehorning some SF action in there, and the stuff in column A and the stuff in column B don't work well together at all.
at 00:27 on 02-01-2012, Shimmin
The trouble is, I think you'd have to pick one thing you want to include and basically ditch the rest, because it's more or less completely incoherent. Sorry, this will be long!

  • The Doctor survives in hard vacuum long enough to put on a spacesuit without help. Okay, a technobabble explanation is possible (but missing); the ship has an atmosphere field, or something.

  • The spacesuit protects him from all the passing explosion debris, from re-entry, and from impage with the planet at terminal velocity, despite being on wrong.

  • Madge calmly accepts that the stranger in a bizarre suit who crash-landed in wartime is an alien who needs a lift back to his magic box, and doesn’t feel the need to report this to the authorities, even though her husband is a pilot.

  • The Tardis door can be picked with a hairpin. There's a lot of antagonists would have loved to know that, given how much effort they've put to breaking into it over the years.

  • The Doctor mystically knows Madge has made a wish and comes back to help.

  • The problem is that her husband is dead. Solution? Get rid of the people who’re supposed to host them for Christmas (what about their Christmas?) and redecorate the house with anachronistic tech so the children will be more distracted, though probably not enough to stop wondering where their dad is! Apparently just going and rescuing said dad is too clichéd.

  • He decides it’s a good idea to give someone an active interplanetary portal as a present. Despite being aware that most people open their presents early (allegedly), he doesn’t stick a child-lock on it or anything. This is a safe and available enough thing to provide as a kids’ toy, but prominent elsewhere in canon mostly by its absence, despite how amazingly useful it would be.

  • The boy, who they seemed to be trying to show was fairly savvy, discovers a magic portal. He doesn’t tell his sister, or get any equipment despite the snow. He doesn’t mark his track or unroll a ball of string, nor take scientific notes (which would seem appropriate for the character and explain his distraction). For the rest of the episode he behaves oddly and acts woodenly for no apparent reason, being basically unphased by either alien weirdness or noticing that he’s locked into places. There’s no indication that he’s been hypnotised or thinks he’s dreaming.

  • A metal ball grows on a tree, hatches into a giant wooden being immediately recognisable as a medieval Western human king, and wanders off towards a magic tower, where he has no purpose whatsoever. Other metal balls grow, but do not apparently hatch into kings. On the other hand, a wooden Queen is in the tower with no sign of having hatched from anything.

  • The Doctor is inexplicably doing engineering at midnight, which doesn’t bother the girl. On finding that the boy’s gone through the portal they just follow him fairly ineffectually; though they’re just racing after him and he’s gawping, they don’t catch him up or call for him.

  • Madge then discovers the magic floating portal and wanders through it looking for the children. She is stopped by people. They are military enough to have heavy armour and guns, let alone a mech and teleportation. On the other hand they’re incompetent and silly. Are they useless recruits posted to a backwater where there’s nothing to do, or over-budgeted foresters playing at soldiers? They make weird feminism references and then leave.

  • It turns out the trees are an amazing fuel source, and humans are harvesting them! They do this by triggering a massive acid rain storm to destroy the trees. The solution, contaminated by whatever else is around, will then seep away into the soil, where it is useless to everyone. Step 3: Profit?!?

  • But the trees are intelligent and have a plan. They exude “pure life energy”, which is apparently now a canon thing in Doctor Who. The cunning plan is to separate their life force from their bodies, then have themselves carried away from the planet by a human female who they lure into their pseudobuilding in pursuit of her son (who has also been lured there after climbing through an intergalactic window carelessly left lying around by an alien time traveller responding inappropriately to a psychic message from the bereaved mother) and who then narrowly avoids death by acid rain by hotwiring a giant mech and intuiting how to pilot it, just in time to be crowned with a telepathic device by two rapidly-evolved wood-beings corresponding closely but bafflingly to quite specific human stereotypes, whose purpose is largely a mystery. Despite only being on the planet at all because she has an intergalactic portal, the human female will not return through it, but lift off from the planet in a spaceship and travel through a temporal rift, which she will only successfully navigate if a Time Lord happens to be on board to tell her how. At some point in the process the Pure Life Energy of the trees will dissipate amongst the stars, which is in some way more of a win than being melted by acid rain.

  • The plan would have been a lot smoother if their flawless ability to translate Tree into whatever the humans are understanding had not mysteriously broken down at the concepts of “male” and “female”.

  • Bizarre gender essentialism interlude!

  • Luckily, Madge thinks so hard about her husband that she takes the ship to his crashing plane. While she tries to pilot the ship and angsts, her children pester her constantly about their father’s death and the Doctor doesn’t bother to shut them up despite the risk to life and limb. Happily, her husband follows her through the time tunnel and lands safely. On landing, the noble and dedicated officer forgets his badly-wounded colleagues, who have apparently all died on board peacefully in their sleep, because they’re never mentioned again. The family have a Happy Ending, apart from the ones who the Doctor has magicked away from the mansion so he can take over Christmas, who are probably dead by now.

  • Meanwhile, the immortal alien time traveller is So Overcome by the thought of a festival practiced in one era on one planet across all the universes that he gets all dewy-eyed and runs off to see one set of the old friends he’s abandoned across time and space. Unfortunately, he has no time to respect the 48,902,770 other known festivals that fall on this Earth day! Maybe next year.

at 17:24 on 01-01-2012, Cammalot
Oh, definitely, I was completely manipulated and that fairly hamhandedly. Also, I'm extremely prejudiced in favor of Christmas scenarios that do not include imagery of the Doctor being borne aloft in angsty superiority on actual angels' wings.

I keep wanting to do counterfactual analysis on the thing (bad girl!); how could this have been made to work? Because I think it could -- I can accept twee-ness, and oh-so-convenient plotting, and saccherine at Christmas, but it was the icky gender essentialism that kept stubbing my toes.
at 09:09 on 01-01-2012, Shimmin
Oh yeah, it brought tears to my eyes a good few times, but cheaply.
at 05:07 on 01-01-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj

"I said come in, don't stand there! I said come in, don't stand there!"

Don't know why I had to post this. I am tired. And tipsy. And sitting in front of a computer on New Year's Day.
at 04:08 on 01-01-2012, Cammalot
at 04:07 on 01-01-2012, Cammalot
Despite the creepy pedestal business and the creepier marrying-your-stalked business, by the end I found myself crying for fifteen minutes. With out-loud sobbing and shit. I could be in a mood.
at 23:23 on 31-12-2011, Shimmin
Despite foreboding and having seen some underwhelmed reactions, I eventually agreed to watch the Dr. Who Christmas special. It's probably the most comprehensively nonsensical thing I have ever seen and I can't imagine how they persuaded anyone to accept the script. Bonus points for "I'm respecting her as a woman" and associated WTFism. Does anyone know if Joss Whedon was involved?
at 20:02 on 31-12-2011, Robinson L
My New Year's resolution: To go a whole year without starting a single Ferretbrain comment or Playpen post with the phrases "Oh wow," "Ye gods," or "Aw, sweet."
at 06:43 on 30-12-2011, Ibmiller
Valse - I did start Silk, but just wasn't getting into it. The writing was certainly quite well done, but the general setting and interactions weren't getting me involved. But I will keep my eyes out for more of her stuff.

Sunnyskywalker - sadly, I also saw Game of Morons while sleep deprived, and it didn't help me (the fact that I have no sense of humor probably didn't help).
at 23:27 on 29-12-2011, Sunnyskywalker
I just saw Holmes while feeling a bit sleep deprived and possibly in the early stages of the cold, and I have to say, that's the perfect (lack of?) mindset for the movie. "Oh look, there's Holmes in disguise and there's something about a bomb. Cossacks are acrobats? Okay, whatever you say. Oh, now they're running around on a train. Oh, now Holmes is sniffing the handkerchief with the suspiciously not-quite-blood-colored stain before throwing it emo-ily into the sea in a way which probably means he smells something that he'll mention in the next movie as the clue that told him the ridiculously convoluted reason why his wasn't the only faked death in the movie. Ooh, explosions! Wait, there were guys who looked like twins? I wasn't even looking at them because I assumed they were interchangeable goons anyway and it didn't matter. Oh, hello Switzerland! How do you handle the waste disposal in that castle? Hah, that upholstered chair disguise is funny!" And so on.

I definitely recommend staying up excessively late the night before you see the movie, because I quite enjoyed it in that state.
at 18:30 on 29-12-2011, valse de la lune
Ibmiller, did you say you were going to read Kiernan's Silk? Well I finished the thing. It's, er... unfortunate.
at 00:30 on 29-12-2011, Robinson L
Ah, that must have been the part that I missed in the bathroom. I got back into the theater just as they were leaving the Roma camp. I guess my timing is better than I thought.
at 21:15 on 28-12-2011, valse de la lune
I wouldn't be in a hurry to express an opinion either way on the Roma aspect, either, but the scene where they swarm over Holmes and Watson, then proceed to steal their clothes one by one? Uh, yeah. I suspect that's noooot exactly what you would call a positive, nuanced and non-stereotypical/non-offensive portrayal.
at 18:06 on 28-12-2011, Robinson L
@Ibmiller: Well, the observation was Ptolemaeus', not mine; I repeated it because it felt right. I'll grant that the one big fight scene with the giant French goon in the first movie was gratuitous; but I think the others advanced the plot adequately enough, though I'll further grant that they were unnecessarily drawn-out and stylized.

@valse: On further reflection, I think the only people who are going to enjoy the movie even moderately are going to be the ones who really, really liked the first one.

Fridging Irene Adler and sidelining Mary Morstan really bothered me, too. Although considering all the Doctor Who I've been watching lately (goddammit Moffat!) I was hugely relieved that the former event didn't trigger off a massive angstgasm, and also that Mary comported herself pretty damn impressively in the scenes she did make it into. Small consolation, but I take it where I can get it.

The Roma thing came off to me as 'I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect this is incredibly fail-y.'

I was also rolling my eyes at the depiction of the anarchists, though the situations are of course not at all comparable.
at 05:28 on 28-12-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
I haven't read it myself, but John Merriman's A History of Modern Europe at least fits chronologically. And I've heard some good things about it. You don't get many Big History books beyond text books nowadays I think. What with the hibernation of grand theories and linguistical turns and post-modernism and what not.
at 21:38 on 27-12-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Okay, looking for a book recommendation here.

After spending Christmas with the folks and perusing my mother's inherited copy of H.A.L. Fisher's History of Europe, I'm looking for a general survey of European history, preferably from 1500 to 2000 AD, but it's perfectly fine if it starts earlier. I want something above a first-year university survey textbook; I'd prefer if it could explain who Metternich was in more than three sentences, but still contained in one volume.

You'd think you could just stroll into a bookstore and just grab a book like this off the shelf, but no.
at 11:36 on 27-12-2011, valse de la lune
Re: A Game of Meh I saw it yesterday. It's, errr, I'd like to say okay if you turn off your brain but even provided that it wasn't much fun.

My eyebrows kept going up high and higher with the more or less writing out of all women except the Roma lady. On which note the whole Roma thing is kind of terrible.
at 00:12 on 27-12-2011, Ibmiller
Robinson L: Ah - that explains it. I'd be curious to know what you think of Snuff as well.

Interesting that you felt the action served the plot in the first film - actually, my reaction to the first film was half "I like where they're going with Holmes and Watson as characters and the dialogue" and half "Can we fast forward these incredibly dull and implausible and plot-static action sequences." But I think I would agree with the general sentiment that the general emphasis of the film shifted from any kind of intelligent plot to setpiece followed by setpiece, with whatever fussy idea of "events that have impacts on people and cause them to do things" disposed of in narrated flashbacks, like the bit where Holmes says that Mary and Lestrade have defeated Moriarty. Now THAT's a film I wouldn't have minded seeing. Instead we get "WWI TWENTY YEARS EARLY!"
at 22:30 on 26-12-2011, Robinson L
Ahh, the conversation has overtaken me again!

Ibmiller: That's a really cool anecdote - but yes, I am deeply puzzled about "The Three Gables." I'm curious, though - why start with The Yellow Face - isn't Silver Blaze first?

Yes, but as I said, we recently began reading it again. We finished Adventures of Sherlock Holmes over the summer and began reading Memoirs. However, we only just finished "Silver Blaze" before dropping my sister Ptolemaeus off at university (in fact, I'm pretty sure we finished reading it on the way to dropping her off). Thus, when she returned and we picked Sherlock Holmes back up again, we began with "The Yellow Face." (Although at the moment, we've been rather sidetracked from reading it by Snuff.)

We also saw Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Meh in theaters yesterday and ... I think the general consensus was "just kind of okay." We really liked the original(/shameless plug), and the sequel had enough that was similar for us to like it to, but as you say, it was pretty boring. I think the prize for most insightful comment on the movie once again goes to Ptolemaeus: "In the first movie, the action sequences served the plot. In the second movie, the plot seemed to be there primarily to set up the next action sequence."

And it's true, Jared Harris as Moriarty was spectacularly underwhelming. He came off more as a Bond villain than a devious master criminal.

@Andy: The sad thing is that considering we recently watched "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler" for the first time back-to-back the other day, that sounds like a significant improvement.
at 21:47 on 26-12-2011, valse de la lune
Speaking of terrible people, how about a compilation of spoiled brats whining about their presents?

...hasn't it occurred to them to save up and buy themselves iPhones? What's the furor over the white ones?

Finally, what the fuck is up with this comment:

You know what Mom and Dad should do? Gather together and ship these ungrateful, whiney, adolescent assholes off to some gruesome Southeast Asian sweatshop; where they'll be stripped of their posessions, beaten at the first sign of insolence and forced to live in cramped, ramshackle barracks where every other day they'll be paid half a bowl of rice seasoned with rotted fish-heads and water-bugs as they are forced to work hellish 18 hour shifts,….. assembling iPods, iPads and iPhones to sell to the West.

See, this is probably where I should trot out "fuck the west."
at 21:41 on 26-12-2011, valse de la lune
Oh, sorry about that. I saw the G and mentally misparsed it.

One's thing for sure: if you'd said that, I wouldn't be confused what perspective you're talking from :)

It'd also come out of nowhere! The article's about virginity, not so much "Muslims are, like, not people." (Some of which shows up in her novel, according to the reviews, but that's neither here nor there.)